Today’s Publishing World by Natalie Cannon

Hello again! This is the third installment of Natalie’s Notes from Ventura County Writer’s Weekend. The first post on Social Media for Authors is here. The second post on Book Marketing 101 is here.

As has been said and will no doubt be said again, today’s publishing world is a mess of opportunities. There are so many things you could be doing that the only visible truth is that there’s many ways to go about publishing a book these days. The main problem plaguing writers isn’t that their book can’t be published: it’s garnering enough attention for readers to slow down their fast -paced, digital lives to read your blog post and buy your book, no matter what format it’s published in. And you have to do that while everyone else is vying for attention as well.

Ignoring the minor stomach ulcers and groaning from everyone who knows what I’m talking about, the Ventura County Writer’s Weekend panelists did a broad sweep of what every sort of writer could do to get published, and I’ll try to organize their thoughts.

Making a book is a three legged journey: writing is only the beginning, and the second leg is producing the book, and the final leg is marketing the heck out of it until everyone you want to know about it, knows about it (and hopefully has a copy). Writing and marketing are their own things and discussed in previous blog posts. The panel wanted to focus on the production aspect of the book-making process, which you should focus your energies on when you’ve finished writing and revising. First, we’ll speak about what it takes to produce each portion of a book (cover, pages, back cover etc.), and then I’ll go into different ways to go about this production.

Note before we begin: what you take away from this blog post will depend on how you answer the following two questions: why are you making a book and what do you hope to get out of it? The panelists repeatedly said writers should ask themselves this question, and it’s an excellent starting point.

The answers to these questions vary greatly and determine what you’re going to do with your manuscript. Writing for money and fame is very different from writing for the enjoyment of a group of family and friends. Let’s examine what the perfect book looks like, piece by piece.

Front Cover—This is where an author’s going to make the majority of their first impression. The average browser spends 7 seconds looking at the front cover, 15 seconds reading the back cover, and, if still impressed, will go on to the first paragraph. You’ll want to be completely obsessive about your covers: have an eye-catching title; make the font fit your story and easy on the eyes; don’t put “by Author Name” but just “Author Name;” have a tagline for your novel discretely in the corner. Another thing most professional covers have is reviews. Once your story is polished, ask a magazine, newspaper, blogger, friend, fellow writer, or anyone with recognized reading authority to review your book. Make sure to give them at least three months to read it, and, assuming they get back to you put positive quotes from their reviews on your book jacket. These mini-reviews can go on the front, back, or even on the first few pages of a book. It lends authenticity to your book and encourages doubtful buyers. Moving on, the images on your cover say a lot about your book. There was that whole #Coverflip shindig about gendered covers, but, whatever you have on there, make sure it suits your book and is suitably eye-catching. For the digital age, it’s good if your image looks recognizable in thumbnail size—or at least not an incoherent blob.

Copyright page—Make it look as professional as possible. Even if it’s just a Smashwords copyright, it’s yours and you don’t want people messing with it. If it looks professional, then people will assume you’re a professional. Sketch copyright pages make your book look sketch, and so help me I will blackmail any plagiarists.

The part you wrote—Overall, the quality of your writing is your best business card and your best insurance for future business. You can have fantastic ideas, but if you can’t coherently get them down on paper, then no one will be able to read it. Hit the reader with your best shot—no matter what manner you publish in, have someone you trust give your manuscript a once over. Besides having your best writing foot forward, you want to be internally consistent. The chapter heads, page numbers, page headers etc should all look professionally neat and clean. Chapter heads must be in a larger sized font, if not a different font altogether. Page numbers. Please have them. (Charlotte inputs that if this is an e-book you shouldn’t have page numbers because it will be different on every device and is distracting if they’re wrong.)

Back Cover—This is similar to your front cover in that you want it to be aesthetically pleasing and nicely designed. A brief, cliffhanger summary of the book—called a blurb in the pub biz— should be on it. In traditional publishing houses, copy editors write your blurb because they have more distance from your book and an eye on the market. Reviews can also be on the back cover. One thing you’ll also want if it’s not already on your book’s back pages is an author bio and photo. As discussed previously, your name is your brand and attaching an image to that name will make it all the more memorable. Depending on your photography chops, you may want to have your photo professionally done or at least professionally retouched. If you want an example of a good author photo, just think of your favorite author—do you remember their face? Then they had a successful photo.

Book Jackets & Other Formats—Above are the basic bits and pieces for a good cover. They may be moved around depending on the specific book—hardcovers’ book jackets usually have the blurb, author picture, and author bio on their flaps and reviews on the back cover. If you’re looking for guidance or need an example, go to your local bookshop or Barnes & Noble and examine the book covers you like, want to emulate, and/or are in your same genre. This can generate ideas for cover images, font style/size, and overall design and formatting. The same goes for e-books too—notice how they’ve transferred the traditional book format to the Kindle or Nook. If you have a series, having the cover of the next book at the end of the preceding one is a great marketing tip, as it encourages the happy reader to immediately purchase the sequel.

The above is the anatomy of a book’s production, and there are many achieve all the different parts. The author has an unprecedented about of say and choice in the process, and I’ve tried to lay them out in an easy-to-reader manner. I’ve also summarized the cost and benefits of each choice at the end.

Traditional—This is a very familiar, well-trodden path. It’s also the most difficult to get going. Traditional publishing means a book with the Big Six aka Penguin, Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Scholastic, or Macmillian. These powerhouses also own 20+ “imprints” that specialize in publishing a certain type of book or genre, but are still owned by their parent company. For example, HarperCollins owns Amistad Press, which specializes in works by or about people of African descent. To garner the attention of these publishing gods, you can send a cold query to their acquisitions editor, but your best bet is to find yourself an agent who has established personal relationships with the publisher’s editors. Agents will make sure your manuscript is as polished as possible and present it with a few marketing ideas for the company, which makes the publisher’s job much easier. For any press, it costs around $5,000 to print an initial order of your book and $1 after that, so publishers are only interested in books that are more or less guaranteed to sell a minimum of 10,000 copies. This means that only authors appealing to a broad audience will do, and preferably these authors already have connections on the web or in large communities. However, the Big Six will do most of a book’s production and marketing for you: they’ll polish your manuscript even more, design your covers, get your reviews, put your book on the right shelves, organize book tours and author appearances, pay for adverts, organize/pay for your copyright, deal with publishing rights, manage your image/publicity, and the thousand other little things that make for a monetarily successful book. If your book does well, they’ll ask you for another and even organize a writing timetable. Some authors become disgruntled over profit percentage or their lack of say, but these companies will work hard to get the best bottom lines.

Cost: It’s really difficult to get in, they are very concerned with bottom lines, and the author’s percentage of the profit is lower.

Benefit: Most of the marketing and production is done for you, they’re very concerned with the bottom line (that’s a cost and a benefit, depending on how you look at it), and the amount of copies sold & therefore profits accumulated is high for a successful book.

Small/Indie/University/Specialty Press—Small presses are basically publishing companies not owned by the Big Six. There’s hundreds, if not thousands online and in real physical places. They can digital, print, or some combination thereof. Academic presses like Columbia University Press (http://cup.columbia.edu/) and presses that strictly publish a certain type of book fall under this category. For those not wanting a huge amount of pressure to be instantly super successful, they have lower expectations—they’d ideally like 3,000-5,000 copies sold. Their size also means authors are given more say and individual attention, which is a plus, though in turn the author is expected to be more involved in promotion and marketing. The thing to watch out for with these is they are the definition of mixed bag. Some are fantastic and lovely, their staff filled with talented designers, editors, and publicists, but others are plain scams. LearningIsland (http://www.learningisland.org/) is an excellent digital children’s book press, filled with pleasant, hardworking people that will do their best for your book. iUniverse and Xlibris have been known to ask you for $3,000 and then do nothing to help you sell (http://www.iuniverse.com/). Before you sign anything or agree to give your book to these presses, make sure its run by people who know what they’re doing and have a long track record of happy authors. There are excellent small presses out there, but be careful.

Cost: They have less promotional and marketing resources, you are expected to do more, and you must watch out for scams.

Benefit: It’s more hands on with the production process and perfect for books meant for smaller audiences. There are many presses to choose from.

You & Freelancers/other groups/Print-on-Demand—Alternatively, you can mostly do everything yourself. There’s a near endless amount of freelancers looking for work (says the freelance editor looking for work). You can be your own small press and do as much of the book production process as you like and hire other people to do the rest, from manuscript editing and publicity to graphic/cover design and the actual printing. You can even hire book shepherds like Ellen Reid to guide you through the whole process (http://www.bookshep.com/shepherd.html). Again, make sure the people you hire know their stuff and are worth their salt. See if they’re listed anywhere, part of an association, or have a record of happy customers. For example, here’s the website for an Editorial Freelancer’s Association http://www.the-efa.org/. If you’ve been following Charlotte for a while, you know she went this route with Those We Trust—she hired a freelance editor (me) to polish her manuscript, enlisted some help from the Invisible Ninja Cat (http://invisibleninjacat.wordpress.com/) with the initial cover design, and then put that fantastic, heartbreaking novella up on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Those-We-Trust-Charlotte-Blackwood/dp/1483944875/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1371063176&sr=8-2&keywords=those+we+trust+amazon) , BN.com, iTunes, and Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/248902) herself.

Cost: You have to pay the people you hire, and there’s varying amounts of author involvement, depending.

Benefit: All profits go to you, and you’re the boss.

All by myself & Print-on-Demand/Online Platforms—Alternatively, alternatively, you can do everything yourself. Really. Once your book is written and revised, and your cover is set, you send it to a print-on-demand company and/or post it on Amazon, Smashwords, iTunes, BN.com, or any other selling online platform you wish. Make sure to check out the design/formatting guidelines for submitting to these places.

Cost: It takes lots of time and everything is on you to sell this book. You do all the writing, marketing, and promotion yourself. Some people become wildly successful with this, but most do not, sadly. Please consult this article: http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2013/05/27/survivorship-bias-why-90-of-the-advice-about-writing-is-bullshit-right-now/

Benefit: You receive 100% of the profits, and you do all the writing, marketing, and promotion yourself (some people like it).

Whoo! Long post is long. Next time’s notes are from the Literary Agents Panel. Hope to see you then!

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Progress Report

Hey, all! Here’s a quick update on how things are going in my writing world!

Those We Trust: Still trying to figure out that silly cover while familiarizing myself with all things Smashwords. I’ve finished the formatting guide, which was lovely and helpful and wonderful and now I’m looking at the marketing guide and the book of secrets to e-publishing success. I highly recommend checking both out (they’re free!), no matter who you decide to publish with. They’re just packed full with general tips.

To the Death: I’ve put it through it’s first official round of editing. Natalie is putting it through the second (or she’s supposed to be…. I’m not entirely sure it’s happening quite as quickly as she’d like, but I’m pretty patient). Since I’m still waiting on ways to earn my copyright fees for Those We Trust, I’m not too particular.

But What Can I Do?: E.M. and I have decided to wait until our Camp NaNoWriMo experience for the year is well over before cracking down on our adaptation, and even then it will be brainstorming and figuring out details, not doing the actual work involved because we’ll both be in classes and whatnot. This is pretty much on hold, sadly, but it’s not like we’re ditching it for good.

Morrison Girls: The outline is completely finished (okay, so that’s been that way for a while) and it’s just waiting for August  1st so that I can start writing it. E.M. and I are racing to 50k words this time, so as much as I don’t care about getting a head start on this sort of thing, it wouldn’t be fair in this instance. I’ve got a couple of the poems written, but that doesn’t really count. I basically had those written YEARS ago. It was more tweaking than writing, and I’ll probably change them again before I actually put them in the novel.

Whatever I’m Calling This Princess Thing: Yeah, I’ve finished the prologue of the first book, anyway, and started the first chapter. I’ve been writing it by hand, but as I have an internship now three days a week I’m suddenly exhausted ALL THE TIME again and I literally fall asleep about five minutes after getting into bed and don’t have the energy to write then like I did before. That should change at Christmastime when I’m not doing work or school or anything but making and eating fudge. Gosh, I miss Christmastime already and it’s not even here yet….

To the End of the Earth: This is the so-far title of the sequel to To the Death. I’ve got the first five chapters outlined, but I’ve only written a chapter. I’m trying to outline a chapter for every third of a chapter I write so I don’t get ahead of myself in writing. I might hit a moment of inspiration and just take off, but I’m trying not to do that. With such a piece as this where it needs to be structured right or it’ll fall apart, I need to keep myself focused and not take to flights of fancy too often. Which is really too bad in a way because I just LIVE for flights of fancy in my writing.

Fan Fiction: I’ve basically gone on a fan fiction writing spree because I finished my chapter obligations for the MONDO collaborative project Natalie, E.M., M.N. and I are working on, so now I have time for all my OTHER fan fiction obligations, like finishing stories I’m writing for people (requests and things that people fell in love with), and in some cases STARTING stories I’ve promised fans I’d write. I had a request for a Severus/Hermione pairing…. I really don’t know how I feel about it, but this reader is a great regular reviewer (albeit a newer one) and I’d like to keep them happy. So we’ll see how that goes. AH, this isn’t for the faint of heart or the under-18, but Mark of Mark Does Stuff (great blog, btw, check it out!) read aloud a fan fiction I wrote on YouTube. My friend Meg (who he errantly says is the author a few times in the video, but I promise it’s not hers) got him to do it, I guess by paying for it. Apparently you can do that now. I wish I could pay him to read all my stories, it’s great advertising because he calls me a genius a few times in the video even as he’s squirming in his seat. Just search Mark Reads The Forbidden Fruit and it should come up. Enjoy!

Work: So, as I mentioned above, I have an internship now, which means I can’t just sit on the couch and write all summer… OR DOES IT? In actuality, I’m an intern for public relations/communications at the local theatre, but what I’ve ended up doing (rather than the budgeting project I was started on) is writing a MURDER MYSTERY. Yes, that’s right, I get legit experience in public relations for my resume and I get to sit around and write one of those interactive murder mysteries. They’re usually dinner theatre, but this is downtown, and people get to walk around and ask the characters questions. Think like if they did a murder mystery at Williamsburg or something like that where they have people doing period acting. I mean, I’m writing the mystery and whatnot, but I’m also doing a press release for a call for actors and working on promotional materials, so I AM getting PR experience, it’s just not in the way I originally thought. Best boss ever.

That’s it for me for now! What are you all up to? Tell me what sorts of projects you’ve got going in the comments! Let’s get some conversation going, guys!

Cheers,

C

Book Covers

Creativity comes in all shapes and sizes. Some of us have verbal creativity. Some of us have visual creativity. Some of us are blessed enough to have both.

My creativity is strictly verbal. I realized I was going to have to provide my own book cover when self-publishing and I wanted to run away screaming. Literally, I nearly failed seventh grade art class. My brother, on the other hand, is incredibly creative when it comes to the visual arts. He basically spent grade school doing ridiculously awesome art projects, and he was good at it.

So, the first step for the photo-editing inept was finding images I could use for my novella that weren’t too specific but still relevant. I found some images with blood, a rose covered in blood, some guns, and a picture of a hand taking a picture with a nice camera.

My brother, who hasn’t actually read my novella but is young enough to be able to take my plot description and pick out the least-disturbing pictures chose the rose and the camera, so we made up a cover using Paint.NET, which Smashwords recommended. I have to say, if you’re a photo-editing idiot, it’s actually not to difficult to figure out! With about an hour of fiddling, we came up with a decent first draft. I’ve sent it off to my editor and her friend, who is more artistically inclined than myself by far, to get some input for my second draft.

It’s starting to come together nicely! Now I just need $35 dollars for copyright…. Any volunteers?

How many of you have tried making your own cover? Any recommended software or general tips for those of us making our way in this unfamiliar artistic endeavor?

Cheers,

C

Preliminary Decision… E-Publishing

Unless something big happens to change my mind, it’s looking like my first publishing experience will be with e-publishing, which is of course, for e-books. Right now, I’m trying to decide between Smashwords and Lulu, but I’m leaning toward Smashwords because they seem more well-known for the type of work I’m trying to do. Granted, they don’t have a free cover-art building thing, but I’ve got tech-savvy artistic brothers for that if my brilliant friends and readers don’t come through!

The fact of the matter is, getting an agent who’s not going to see ‘20,000 words’ and say, “next please” is going to be so difficult that it almost doesn’t merit wasting their time. There’s just not a market for paperback novellas these days, which is understandable in the digital age, but it happens to be the perfect length for a digital book because it’s nice and short, to the point, without being absolutely tiny.

If you’ve got any advice on e-publishing, or would like to know a bit more about Smashwords, Lulu, or the e-publishing process in general, let me know and I’d be happy to rant some more about it!

I probably will, anyway.

Cheers,

C