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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 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 ( with the initial cover design, and then put that fantastic, heartbreaking novella up on Amazon ( ,, iTunes, and Smashwords ( 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,, 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:

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!


Book Marketting 101: by Natalie Cannon

A Note from Charlotte:

Hi, guys! I’ll be posting one of my posts in the next couple of days, but to tide you over, here’s another lovely post from my fantastic editor, Natalie Cannon! Enjoy!


Hello again everyone! This is the second installment in our series on publishing today, as gathered from The Ventura County Writer’s Weekend. You can read the previous one on this blog. The following, however, is a summary of my notes from the first panel of the conference.

Book Marketing 101

Whether you want to be traditionally published by Scholastic or the next self-published superstar on Amazon, you need to be follow the cardinal rule of publishing: Promote Yourself. People can’t buy a book they don’t know about.

More and more traditional publishers are looking for authors who already have a presence, whether on the web or elsewhere. Self-publishing authors have to do more or less all their own promotion, depending on if they’re attached to a digital publishing company or not.

So how do you do it?

First, think of yourself as the CEO of your book. You’re in charge of its fate, whether its going to sink or swim. Look at your manuscript. Isn’t it beautiful? Can you tell me where it would go in a bookstore? Children’s? Adult fiction? Memoir? Poetry? Fiction? Second, is it a particular genre? Fantasy, Science Fiction, Young Adult, Historical Fiction etc. If you don’t have a manuscript yet, think of the book you have in mind, or that you plan to write.

Excellent. The panelists suggested you now do two-fold research. This is in addition to the research you have to do with social media, but it too pays off. First, what’s going on in the publishing industry today? Charlotte has come to the conclusion that self-publishing is the true wave of the future, and traditional publishing is a slowly sinking ship. I’m slowly starting to agree with her, but we both want to traditionally publish something at least once. Great ways to find out publishing world happenings are writing group meetings/conferences and the internet (the archive of news blog posts on Publisher’s Weekly is good). The next post will also be addressing Today’s Publishing World, so please stick around for that.

The second thing to research is what’s going on in your genre and who are the top authors. What are they doing that’s so successful? You should probably read some of them, just to see for yourself why readers find it so captivating. You certainly don’t want to copy their work, but if you notice a general trend of elaborate plots and a lack of internal conflict for characters, it’s something to note (Dan Brown’s conspiracy fiction is often like this, for example). For this, you can also attend conferences, use the internet, and simply talk to other writers. On a more personal level, what about the genre resonates with you?

After research, you need to establish a platform, also known as a “brand,” and a marketing plan for that platform. I spoke about this briefly in my last blog post, and be assured that I’ll not repeat myself too much. Your marketing plan is what it says on the tin: your plan to market your book. The following marketing plan tips are not social media focused, but rather center around more face-to-face, author-to-individual interactions.

  • Start Early. One panelist said to start the minute you decide to write. Another said at minimum start promotion six months before you know the book will be publically available. The general principle behind this advice is that the larger your following, the more people you can instantly reach that might be interested in your work. You have to build this network, however, and that takes time.
  • Only do it if it fits you and your book. For example, a romance writer wouldn’t necessarily need to go to a nonfiction sports writing conference. This might seem obvious, but it’s still a good thing to keep in mind.
  • Personality/Personal Contacts Sell The Most Books. If you’re a memorable person, then people are more likely to remember to buy your book. Though sometimes social relations are difficult after spending a week in your writing cave, please try. Families, friends, and even work colleagues may be interested in your writing career, and they may tell their friends about you. These personal contacts can also be wonderfully (and surprisingly) helpful for getting you an agent, retrieving your manuscript from a publisher’s slush pile, or helping you revise your manuscript. They are also potential buyers. Celebrities often don’t have trouble with book sales because many people already know them from television, movies, politics, or what have you.
  • Go where your target audience is. Who are your primary readers? Just like with social media, you’ll want to use promotional outlets that your audience will see. Keep this in mind for the following tips.
  • Become an Expert. This is more for non-fictionish writers, but it’s good to establish yourself as an expert on the topic you’re writing on. Is your target audience academics? Write in academic journals. Newspaper articles, group newsletter articles, a Dear Abby column if your book is about relationships, being interviewed on radio shows: all these things make you look smart and demonstrate your knowledge on a topic.
  • Public Appearances. Though some find sometimes anxious-making, these are highly effective for selling books. Again, make sure to go where your target audience is. Libraries and bookstores usually love to have visiting authors. You can also format them as you like: some authors prefer reading some of their work out loud and then taking questions, some just read, others give a speech based on their book’s research and have the questions focus on that.
  • Organizations. Organizations like the Mystery Writers of America, the Romance Writers of America etc. are great for authors. They foster supportive communities, often provide valuable tips, host great events like the Ventura County Writer’s Weekend, and have newsletters in which you can promote your work. Remember to keep it relevant to your book/genre however.
  • Conferences/Workshops. Come dressed nicely with business cards, notebooks, pens, and a smile. Not only can you learn a lot, but agents of course lurk here. As a panelist or just as a spectator, you can promote yourself, your work, and your knowledge with greatest ease here. Make sure to check out the booths after the sessions as well. Please note that conferences do cost money. Workshops vary at their dollar amount. Writer’s Digest holds a lot of these, and, honestly, I don’t think most of them are worth the triple figures. I would really only go to a workshop if someone famous in your genre (or that you really like) is hosting it, or the information is not available on the internet (which is very, very rare). I can see a workshop’s networking potential, but $800 is a lot of money to meet writers who are more or less in the same boat you are skill-wise.
  • Cross-Promote. As I mentioned in the last blog post, you can attach yourself to another author. When they come out with something, tell people about it, and purchase the work. You can help them revise, put your blog posts on their blog (like this post right now), and generally be a vocal cheerleader. They’ll do the same for you.
  • Make a Press List. This is basically who you’re going to alert the minute your book becomes available. Mine consists mostly of friends, family, and acquaintances at the moment. If you are writing for a newspaper or being interview on talk radio, make sure they mention a publication date or at the very least the fact that you’re writing a book.

All of these things you can do before your book is out. Most of them you can continue to do afterward, but here are some specific ideas for promotion:

  • Publication Party with ~SWAG~ bags. Readers generally love new things to read, and people everywhere love free things. When your book comes out, have a party! You’ve earned it! Invite all your friends, people on your press lists, your neighbors, relatives, co-workers–basically all the living humans you know–to the party. Provide free copies of your book along with bags full of related items. While this may seem counter-intuitive, having people have your book means they might read it and talk to someone else about, who actually will buy your book.
  • Hold a Contest. This also operates on the principle that people with copies of your book will promote it for you. Whether online or through your print/personal network, hold a contest. The winner receives a copy of your book (and possibly other things).

One last thing before this ends: one panelists had four top rules for interactions between an individual and an author wishing to promote their work.

  1. Every time you meet someone, it’s an interaction. This is a rather business-like way to view the world, but it’s also true. Every literate person is a potential reader for you, and if you have an audiobook, everyone with a working set of ears.
  2. Concept of Brevity. The shorter and more concise the sound-bite, the more it’s going to carry from person to person. People have short attention spans, so keep your book pitch to the point and with a clear objective.
  3. It’s a conversation/relationship. Never make your book the entire topic of conversation. You want to build sustainable relationships with your readers, ones that keep you happily writing and them happily reading. You want them to be able to trust you. People love to talk about themselves, and have someone to share their thoughts with. They also might know someone/be able to do something/have a skill that’s useful to you.
  4. Tell the Reader what the book will do for them. Is it entertainment or an interesting spectacle to while away the hours? Will it transform them, make them think, stay with them a long time, puzzle them, make them cry, make them laugh, or all of the above? What will readers get out of it, basically. Again people generally like it when they are given something.

Aaaaaaand, that’s it! Again, this was really quite long, but I hope it’s useful. Thank you for reading!

Exciting News!

Those We Trust is available on Amazon!

That’s right, if you were waiting for the Kindle version, or would really like it on paperback, it’s now up for both on Amazon! Get your copy today!

Also, if you really want the book and don’t feel you can afford it, contact me via my email or Twitter and I’ll get you a coupon code on Smashwords for an agreed-upon price.




Here’s What’s Up

All right, I’ve caved in. I’ve given up. I’m going to start working on publishing Those We Trust on Amazon, despite the fact that it’s going to take SO MUCH WORK. I know this instinctively, of course.

I’ll let you all know how it’s going as it goes, naturally.

ON another note, I got another idea for a novel… based on the dream I had last night. It’s pretty spectacular, and at the moment the working title is Children of Conflict. I’ll tell you more about it as the idea simmers and develops and so on.



Review: The Slaves of Solitude

Through reading for class I have discovered one of the unsung greats of all of literature: The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton.

I’ll deal with the obvious question first. Why, if so great, unsung? Well, that’s because time and anthologies are cruel to all but Shakespeare, and to all in varying degrees, naturally. Hamilton has gotten the short end of the stick in my opinion, and if you want a more intellectual reasoning on this, get the version with the David Lodge intro and he’ll tell you all about it. He even gives spoiler warnings partway through the intro, isn’t that lovely?

This story is set in a boarding house during World War 2, a strange sort of place in the best of times, perhaps, but with all the people driven out of London by the bombings, there’s quite a cooky bunch gathered at the Rosamund Tea House (which is not, in fact, a tea house, but rather a boarding house). It’s pretty short, it’s hilarious, it’s profound…. I really can’t think of a reason anyone would NOT read this book other than not having heard of it.

My personal favorite character is Mr. Thwaites, the boarding house bully who’s so absurd that the reader at first wonders if such a person could exist. And then the reader calls to mind several such people, laughs out loud, and realizes that he’s so absurd he HAS to exist. I’ve gotten to the point where I laugh every time he’s mentioned, just on reflex. He’s a very Dickensian character. Actually, the whole thing is very Dickensian, apart from not being Victorian.

Maybe that’s why it’s so wonderful.

Seriously, check this out. ALSO for the rest of this week, you can get my ebook for $1.00. Just go to Smashwords, search for Charlotte Blackwood’s Those We Trust, and enter the coupon code REW75. ENJOY!



Review: The World in Words

Not long ago on LinkedIn I was asked by the CEO of TradOnline (who’s in one of those lovely groups I’ve been telling you about w/ me) to look at their recent publication, The World in Words.

Let’s start by talking about what this book/project actually is. Basically, they got 50 translators together, asked them about eight or nine questions about their home culture/country/language, and present each country through that translator’s eyes. All the proceeds go to charity, AND the contact information of all the translators are in the book, SO if you need a translator for your work…. *wink, wink*

And let’s talk about price and size for a moment. You have the option to buy this on Amazon either in paperback or for your Kindle. The work is 410 pages, at about 2 cents a page in paperback and about a penny a page if you get the Kindle. This is WELL PRICED stuff, and certainly I’m rethinking the pricing of my own work at the moment, so it’s given me some ideas about how to adjust it.

What I was able to read of the work without buying, as I’m a poor college student, tells me quite a lot. I got through North America, and through most of Honduras (each continent is Alphabetical, generally). The writings on each country are not comprehensive, nor do they try to be. Most of it is refreshingly candid and interesting. Canada in particular did a great job, where I felt that the USA translator failed to localize her experience to her region (as the Canada translator did) or generalize the American experience (as she tried to do). Other than my disappointment with my own country, it was a great read, and if you’re looking for a well-priced and for-a-good-cause slice of global culture, this could very well be it.

So that’s that on this particular piece. I encourage you to check it out. Keep your eyes peeled for a review of a much older book that I have recently fallen in love with.



What’s REALLY Going to Happen in the Publishing Industry?

First you hear to traditionally publish, then you hear that self-publishing is the way to go. Print will always be the best, then e-books are vastly outselling physical books.

With Borders out of business, Barnes and Noble following, and who knows what going on where actual publishing companies and agents are concerned, it’s a very relevant question: What is REALLY happening in the publishing industry, and what does it mean for writers?

Though I don’t really have an answer to this question, I will give two answers actual authors I have met in the past month have given to this question, and why I think one of them might be right.

Firstly is one Joyce Carol Oates, famous writer of a variety of fictional works, writing instructor at Princeton University, and winner of several life-time achievement awards in the work of fiction. These credentials, of course, mean that she is excessively well-versed in the publishing industry. She’s published time and again, and with much success. What did she say about the idea that e-books might put print books out of business?

Well, of course, e-books would never fully replace print books, she said. The great masterpieces of print wouldn’t likely have been made, she argued, if all they’d had to show for their work was a digital copy, and not a massive tome of paper and cover and binding that would fill bookshelves and be collector’s items, of sort. Similarly, she said, the great directors weren’t likely to put as much effort into their works if all they had to show for it was simply a inch-by-inch screen version.

I’ll talk about my thoughts on this later, and she was thoroughly, if a bit inarticulately, lambasted by a student who felt that she was completely wrong.

The second writer was one Amy Sterling Casil, well known to the Claremont Colleges, as she was a distinguished graduate of Scripps College, which was why she was there giving a talk during Parent’s Weekend. The talk was about, naturally, the way the publishing industry is heading.

Very simply, she was of the firm belief that non-traditional publishing, as it is often called today, is the way of the future. In fact, if she’s right, it is not too far off to be the only way of the future, and that the traditional publishing houses and the agent system are relics of the past, eventually to die out as self-publishing and e-publishing overtake them. In such a world as this, Smashwords, Amazon, and iTunes are likely to thrive, as well as the likes of Kobo and Diesel. Conglomerates of authors working together to benefit from each other’s publishing strengths and boosting each other where one has a weakness are not only advisable, but the most logical, profitable strategy for all parties. If one is good with covers and a friend a crack-hand at formatting, why not give each other a hand to save time and frustration?

I did tell her about what Joyce Carol Oates said, and we both agreed that she, herself, is a bit of a holdover from that previous era of the traditional workhorse that is finally meeting its end. After all, she was born in the thirties, published quickly out of college. Of course to her it seems that the physical book is the best representation of a work. However, Dickens wouldn’t necessarily agree, living in a time where the serial publication was king. We’ve already seen that publishing format die out, effectively. Why is it so strange to think that traditional publishing will die out too?

That’s not to say that I won’t try to be traditionally published, at least once, before the ship sinks. It’s a vestige of my childhood that I feel is an important part of the cultural history that will be studied by future generations, just as we study the serial today, and I want to be a part of it. But Natalie and I have already started talking about creating our on author conglomerate to help each other in the world of self-publishing, as well as our own literary magazine (because we’d be great at it). Sticking a toe on a sinking ship isn’t so bad. Jumping onto it when the dock is still very stable is foolish.

I’m preferring, at this time, not to put all my eggs in one basket, but I do think that self- and e-publishing are the way of the future. But just in case I’m wrong, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared for traditional publishing sticking around, now, does it?

What do you guys think? Where will the publishing industry be in the next ten, twenty years? How are you preparing for this?