Tag Archives: getting published

Lesson Eleven –The Market –Big Press, Small Press, Self-pub

By Jeanne C. Stein

We’ve reached the last lesson. I hope I’ve given you one or two nuggets to strengthen your writing. This lesson will increase your understanding of the business. The two go hand in hand. If you are truly serious about a writing career, it isn’t enough to immerse yourself in the creative process. You must also be aware of how publishing works. Publishing, for good or evil, is a business and as such, profitability is of utmost importance. The authors that sell are the authors who will continue to be published.

Last time, we talked about agents. This time we will look at the different publishing venues. I must add here that I’m not going to be talking in depth about e-pubbing. There are lots of venues you can check if that’s what you’re interested in. Just google JA Konrath and you can get a wealth of information. I’m going to talk about the mainline route—Big houses, small presses and self-publishing.

We’ll start with the traditional publishing houses. The big boys with the familiar names: Penguin/Random House, Harper Collins, Kensington, and on… What are the advantages of going with a big house? Are there any disadvantages?

To start, lets look at the process. For those of you already published, this will be a review. For those of you YET to be published, this will be a brief overview of what to expect. Some people are surprised.

We’ll talk about money first. If your manuscript is accepted at a big house or small, whether through an agent or plucked from the slush pile, you’ll be offered a contract. The contract will stipulate the amount of your advance (upfront money paid against future sales) and how the balance will be paid out. For instance, you’ve been offered a $5,000 (which seems to be the norm now) advance for your first book. Your first check will be 50% or $2500. If you have an agent, he will get 15% of that (that’s the usual fee.) The remaining $2500 will be divided into two payments—$1250 upon delivery and acceptance of the manuscript and $1250 upon publication of the book. Again, the agent gets 15%.

So far so good—what about royalties? Let’s say your book is published in trade paper back—the larger paper back size. Retail price is $15.00. Your cut is most likely 8% of $15.00 or $1.20. To make back the $5,000 advance, you have to sell roughly 4100 books. That means, 4100 books sold before you see a royalty check. Okay, you’ve sold 4100 books according to the latest statement. But where’s the check for your full royalty? All you’ve gotten is maybe $300? Why? Because publishers hold money back against returns. In other words, publishers want to hedge their bets. They want to make sure if Barnes & Noble returns 400 of your books, they haven’t paid you for them. They can hold that money for as long as your contract stipulates.

That’s the way the money works. What advantages are there to going with a big house? First off, you’re probably going to get a larger advance. The big houses have thousands of authors generating millions of dollars. Those big names who get the seven figure contracts really pay the way for the mid list writers. The Stephen Kings and Nora Roberts of the publishing world bring in vast amounts of revenue.

Secondly, large houses have marketing and publicity departments. They send out bound review copies ahead of publication to generate interest in an author. They have art departments to design original covers. They have contacts with the media. They have a sales force to make sure your book gets to the stores.

What don’t they do? Generally they don’t pay for a first-time author to go on tour. They expect you to arrange your own book signings although they will make sure a supply of your books gets to wherever you intend to be. They won’t pay for advertising in magazines but they will design the art if you want to pay for the space. In other words, they rely on you to do most of your own promotion.

What about a smaller publishing house? I’m speaking here of independents. The little guys who put out 12-20 books a year. Most likely, you will get little or no advance--$100 - $1000 is the average. They may not have the distribution channels available to make sure your book is available to the B & N’s and Border’s or the contacts to get your books reviewed. Cover art may be less professional, i.e., generic or stock. You may get less editorial support. Small presses operate on a shoestring and sometimes, they go under, taking your book with them. It is so important if you go with a small house and you are unagented to have an entertainment lawyer check out the contract. Things to check are ebook and media (TV/Movie) rights. You don’t want to sign these away. It will cost you down the road. There should be a clause stipulating when you get the rights to your books back—especially if something happens and the house either goes under or doesn’t publish your book. This sometimes happens with a small house.

On the other hand, you may get much more personal attention with an editor who has ten rather than thirty authors to work with. Your book may be released months rather than years after purchase. You may have more input into cover art and cover copy.

Pros and cons. Look at each. I’ve been published by both a big and a small house. In my case, bigger was definitely better. More exposure, more reviews, more professionalism by far. But if you think you’d like to start small, by all means do it. Your comfort level is what’s important. How do you find the small imprints? Join writers’ organizations—Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, Horror Writers of America—most have local chapters in big cities. Investigate local groups. Find them through libraries and community colleges. Then attend the meetings. Often the speakers are editors of small houses (and agents looking for new stuff) who will listen to your pitch and ask you to submit. Just like polishing your query letter, practice a one or two line pitch.

What about self-publishing? We’ve all heard about the Christmas Box. Richard Paul Evans wrote the book, self-published it and sold it out of the trunk of his car. Now it’s a mega-best seller picked up by Simon & Schuster and sold around the world.

Lightning does strike.

But the truth is, self-publishing a book is fraught with problems. Most bookstores will not carry a book unavailable through one of the major distribution channels. Neither will they invite you to sign. Self-publishing is expensive and time consuming. You must design your own cover and format. Register your own copyright. Reviewers are seldom interested in a self-published book, no matter how well written. You are the sole marketing agent, warehouser and distribution agent for the book.

So why do people do it?

Frustration with normal publishing channels is the most common reason people choose to self-pub. They have a story to tell and want to find an audience. They are too impatient to wait the one-two years necessary for a book to go from acceptance by a publisher to print. They want to keep all the money for themselves, not understanding that often to make back the cost, they have to charge an exorbitant amount for each book.

But again, like choosing a big house or a small house, self-publishing is an option. Just do your homework before you decide. And remember, there are literally millions of books out there. The trick to successful self-publishing is to have three or four books ready to go before you publish your first. Then release a second book four to six weeks after the first, the third, four to six weeks after that, etc. Build a readership. Make them eager for your next release. In the meantime, be writing books five, six, seven and eight.

Rinse. Repeat.

We’ve reached the end. Writing is a solitary endeavor and it’s important to find support and encouragement. Here are a few of the national writing organizations I mentioned before you might want to check out:

Sisters in Crime http://www.sistersincrime.org/

Mystery Writers of America http://www.mysterywriters.org/

Romance Writers of America http://www.rwanational.org/

Horror Writers Organization http://www.horror.org/

There are many others and most have local chapters, too.

I hope this class has provided you insight into what genre writing encompasses. Many of you are well on your way to writing your own. You have the tools to write a well-crafted book, the knowledge to avoid pitfalls and mistakes, an awareness of what publishing venues are available to you.

I want to thank all of you for participating. I’m always available at Jeanne@jeannestein.com and will answer every email.

Below is a list of a few of my favorite writing books in no particular order:

Jack Bickham SCENE AND STRUCTURE

James Frey HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL

Dwight Swain TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER

Lawrence Block WRITNG THE NOVEL FROM PLOT TO PRINT

Carolyn Wheat HOW TO WRITE KILLER FICTION

Patricia Highsmith PLOTTING AND WRITING SUSPENSE FICTION

Happy Writing!

“Murph” On Writing

By Mark Stevens

I’m turning this month’s blog over to Murph, The Asphalt Warrior.

Denver cab-driver and wanna-be-a-famous-writer Brendan Murphy, a.k.a. "Murph," has collected some of his favorite commentary on being an unpublished novelist. (What is below is just the tip of the iceberg of insights.)

I thought you could—relate. And maybe grab a laugh.

These quotes are from the first six novels by the late Gary Reilly that have been published to date – The Asphalt Warrior, Ticket to Hollywood, The Heart of Darkness Club, Home for the Holidays, Doctor Lovebeads and Dark Night of the Soul.

Pick Up at Union Station - Final JPGMurph #7, Pick Up At Union Station, launches Friday, June 19 at The Tattered Cover (2526 E. Colfax Ave.) at 7 PM.

(You are all invited.)

--

“I’m an unpublished novelist, but it’s been a long time since I haven’t published anything. I keep promising myself that I’ll sit down and start another unpublished novel one of these days, but if you know anything about unpublished writers then you probably know that the worst thing that can happen to one is to run headlong into a wall of free time. That’s when his bluff is called. That’s when he knows he has to get creative—and he does. You’ve never seen a writer get more creative than when he starts thinking up alibis for not writing. I’m as prolific as James Michener when it comes to excuses.”

“My brain is like the print-spooler on my word processor, which holds a failed novel long enough to print it out before it is deleted from the RAM and replaced by a rejection slip.”

"A writer can become obsessed with the peripheral rituals of writing—such as sharpening pencils or visiting the Grand Canyon—when he should be focused on the most important part of writing, which is leafing through Writers Market and making lists of agents who don’t charge reading fees.”

“I started thinking about writing a book called Face the Music, Chump. It would be a gut-wrenching tale of rejection slips. I wondered if there was a place where a guy like me could get rid of the craving to scribble. Some kind of Writers Anonymous, although most writers are anonymous. A place where human wreckage with Smith-Coronas could gather to cure themselves of hanging around office supply stores while their kids starved. I needed a 12-step program and I needed it bad. Step #1: admit you have a plotting problem.”

With a novel, you have to do an outline first and then write the book, but with a screenplay you just knock out the outline and sell it. I don’t know why the publishers in New York don’t take a tip from Hollywood and just publish the outlines of novels rather than the completed books. Let the audience use their imaginations, as my Maw always says about radio. I would much prefer to read an outline of War and Peace than slog through eight hundred thousand words. Why do I need Tolstoy to describe snow? I can imagine snow, whether Russian snow or just regular snow. But book publishers seem to think that the authors should do all the work, and the readers should be waited on hand-and-foot like a buncha goddamn prima donnas.”

“I have some bookshelves in my apartment that are built out of old novel manuscripts. The rest are brick and plank, the way hippies and broke people do it. I’ve written a lot of novels since I was in college, but I use only manuscripts that have absolutely no hope of ever being published to build the bookshelves. I use them in place of the bricks. Admittedly bookshelves made out of paper are not the most structurally sound things on earth, but neither are my novels.”

“The desire to write is one of the few desires I possess that doesn’t overwhelm me in the way that the desire to drink beer or smoke cigars does. Or watch TV. Or date. Or sleep till noon. I’m not that good at resisting desires, but for some reason I’m able to fend off my desire to write. Sounds inconsistent if not completely illogical I know, but there you have it.”

“A lot of artists start out as failed poets, then move on to being failed short-story writers before they finally break through to the big time and become failed novelists. If they’re like me, they branch out to become failed screenwriters. A few take the high road and become failed playwrights, but most just stick with being failed novelists because the potential to not make lots of money is greater.”

“I was afraid that if I went ahead and wrote a Western, I would be dipping into the realm of what my creative writing teachers called ‘formula fiction.’ I hated the idea of becoming a formula fiction writer. What if I got the formula wrong? Think of how embarrassing it would be if I tried to become a formula fiction writer and found out I didn’t have the talent to sink that low?”

More: www.theasphaltwarrior.com

All Six Covers NPR Huge Fun

Twenty Years of Sharing the Dream

By Mary Gillgannon

Many RMFW members are attending the Colorado Gold conference this weekend. I, unfortunately, have to miss it due to a trip with my daughter later this month. But I’ll be waxing nostalgic the whole time. I went to my first conference over twenty years ago, and I can still remember what a magical experience it was.

I started writing fiction about two years before that, and had a completed historical romance and a second one started. I was actively marketing the first one with no success. Back then, I worked in a public library (where I’m still employed). It’s an ideal job for a writer because everyone, co-workers and patrons alike, love books and are incredibly supportive. So, of course, when my co-workers found out I was going to a writers’ conference, they were all convinced I was on the verge of my “big break”.

I was more skeptical. I’d heard all my life how hard it is to get published. But that didn’t stop me from lying awake most of the night before my pitch sessions. On some deep level, I was convinced that this was my chance and I was terrified I’d blow it.

The actual appointments with an editor and agent were kind of a let-down. The editor, who’d heard me read my manuscript opening in the previous day’s critique session, listened rather impatiently to my pitch and then said, “Send it to me.” I asked, “All of it?” and she said “yes.” The agent interview was even terser. She asked me if I saw this book as a series and I said “yes”. She nodded her head and told me to send her the first three chapters and a synopsis. Of course, she didn’t offer to waive the agency’s $50 reading fee, which meant that it would take me months before I felt flush enough to send it to her.

But it wasn’t really those encounters that were memorable about the conference. It was the exhilarating experience of knowing, for the first time in my life, I was with people who understood and shared my dream. It was that sense of camaraderie and the excitement of feeling that anything could happen for any of us, that I remember the most. Quite a number of the people I met at that conference are still involved with RMFW. Two of them have become my dearest friends.

The other memory I have is of rushing back to my room on the second night, getting out my notebook and immediately starting to revise the beginning of my book. After nearly a year and a half of writing and revising, and revising again, I had, deep down, sensed that the book wasn’t quite “ready”. But after attending several Colorado Gold workshops, the light bulb went on. I finally knew what was wrong and how to fix it.

And the real magic did happen. Nearly six months later, I got a letter from an editor who worked at the same publishing house as the editor who’d asked me to send her my manuscript. This second editor wrote that she “loved it” and wanted to buy it. Thus began the most exciting time of my life.

A lot has changed in twenty years. Nobody writes on a typewriter anymore (like I did with my first draft). It’s all about web presence now, and tweets and likes and blog hops and a dozen other things that didn’t exist back then. But some things never change. Like the joy of being part of an organization that’s all about sharing dreams, and the thrill of knowing you’re setting off on the great adventure of being a novelist with a couple hundred compatriots by your side.

Colorado Gold rocks!

Listen to Your Heart

By Mark Stevens

According to one website, the first draft of Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire was 1,400 pages long.

400,000 words.

He has since whacked it down by one-third, but the projected 900-page novel drew a $2 million advance.

The deal was announced a few weeks ago.

First novel.

Hallberg had previously published one novella, A Field Guide to the North American Family, way back in 2007.

It was 144 pages long and, apparently, out of the ordinary in its own way.

Check this description from an online review: “...a compendium of brief one-page thoughts titled alphabetically and matched with a photograph that illuminates the words written. And as if this weren't clever enough, the entire book is a marvel of design, taking the form of a notebook one would take on a journey, a collection of musings, paraphernalia, variations in paper types and typefaces, and printed in such a way that the reader feels almost guilty about opening the cover of someone's private diary, so intimate is the structure and the content. This is an art book—but it is so very much more.”

Sheesh.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? I just ordered a copy.

I guess we will all have to wait on City on Fire, see what we think of the 900 pages. (No publication date is set.) The advance buzz is, of course, quite buzzy. As with all hype, it’s over-the-top. Hype: short for hyperbole.

But can you imagine querying an agent today? “Dear Literary Agent of My Dreams: I have recently completed my first novel, a 300,000-word novel about...”

I sit here and think, yeah, Hallberg lives in Brooklyn—right there in New York City. He can move in those circles. He can flash snippets of his prose here and there, pique the interests of the Publishing Powers That Be. And it’s a novel about, get this, New York in the 1970’s. New Yorkers love New York. New York publishers love books about New York. (Okay, who doesn’t?)

Turns out I’m way off.

Hallberg isn’t saying much about the sale or the novel, but he’s been quoted as saying he doesn’t write for people in the publishing biz.

“They’re all very bright and good-looking and well intentioned — but they’re not the ideal audience to have in mind when writing, I don’t think,” he said.

Good looking, really? Maybe flattery got him what he was after.

In the two-day bidding war for City on Fire, 10 publishers offered over $1 million. (I didn’t know there were 10 publishers left that could offer those sums; I thought we were down to “The Big Five.”)

Anyway, somebody knows how to stage a frenzy.

So, great for Hallberg. (Film rights have already been sold, too.)

That whopper of an advance is great news: reading is not dead. Twitter hasn’t turned us to monsters who require ideas fed to us in rapid-fire fashion one minuscule morsel at a time.

Publishing lives.

I hope Alfred A. Knopf makes a bundle from their $2 million investment and turns the dough right back around to support 100 other up-and-comers, too.

I love Hallberg’s audacity—circulating a 900-page doorstopper. I love that the agents and publishers are going to make it happen—and the fact that they believe there are enough readers out there (book buyers!) to make this happen.

And I already like Hallberg—taking six years to execute the story he imagined.

He listened to himself, followed his own instincts, set his own course.
He wrote the story he wanted to write. How many times have we heard THAT advice?

Bottom line? You gotta listen to your heart.

It’s art.

There are no rules.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mark StevensMark Stevens is the President of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

You can learn more about Mark and his novels at his website. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.