Kindle Scout—What Happens When You Win?

Coming soon from Kindle Scout!
Coming soon from Kindle Scout!

If you haven’t heard the news by now, my Kindle Scout campaign was a success! My book, Call Me Zhenya, was chosen for publication by Kindle Press. I received just under 700 page views, with a surge at the very end in both views and in time spent in "Hot and Trending." The page views necessary to get into Hot and Trending dropped significantly at the end--I'm not sure why, or if that's built into their process to get last-minute votes, or how that works. As with most Amazon algorithms, there's no real way to look under the hood. But I kept up the promotion to the very end, as anybody who follows me on social media can attest, probably with an eye-roll at my multitudes of posts. I got the notification only a couple of days after the campaign ended. Everything has happened a bit faster than their materials indicate--in a day or two rather than a week or two, for example--which is cool.

So what happens next?

Basically, what happens next is that the contract as printed on the website goes into immediate effect. I was asked to look over my full manuscript and my cover art, make any changes I wanted to make, then reupload them. The next step is to fill out financial information so they can pay me my advance. (This isn’t going as smoothly—it looks like I might have broken their site. Typical of me and my weird electromagnetic field.)

The letter I received indicated that, if they feel it necessary, I’ll receive a letter with recommended edits. After that is all settled, they’ll give me a date when the book will go up for preorder. Also, I’ll presumably receive notifications when the book goes up for special promotions. So far, I’ve heard about people getting .99 deals for a period of time, special Kindle Fire deals, and other promotions directly through Amazon. Based on what I’ve seen from other Scout winners who’ve talked with me, promotions aren’t guaranteed, and of course the success of any individual promotion isn’t guaranteed, either. But a number of people seem to be pretty happy with the results they’ve gotten.

As far as the overall experience so far—for those who like personalized communications from their publishers, this won’t fulfill those needs. Most of the communication has been via form letters, though I do have an individual I’m talking to about the problems with Amazon Payee Central. You can also request a phone call if you have any questions, which I haven’t done as of yet.

Overall, it continues to be an interesting process. I’m learning a lot of things, and have discovered a whole community of Scout winners who offer help and guidance to newbies on the block. There’s a great group of people there that I wasn’t even aware of until the announcement went out about my book, so it’s cool to know there are even more resources to delve into.

As the time comes closer to publication date, emails will be going out with information on preorders, and those who voted for the book will receive their free copies. Hopefully, I’ll get some good reviews from the Scouters, and things will be off and running.

Thanks to everyone for their support, and if you have any other specific questions about Kindle Scout, the process, or anything else, feel free to ask, either here or via email.

Next month, I’m going to chat about Thunderclap/Head Talker and the pluses and minuses I saw from those platforms.

Current Climate in Publishing: The Sky Didn’t Fall, So Now What?

After the recent Colorado Gold Conference, I found myself wondering about indie/self-publishing and traditional happy-b-day-picpublishing. When I joined my first Gold Conference back in 2008, I/S publishing was the DEVIL. No, really, like the actual end of the world four to five horsemen. (I first typed horsemint, which is, according to word, any various coarse mints. Thought you might enjoy my overeagerness about just how bad it once was to I/S publish, that or my fat fingered typing ability).

This past conference, the vibe was MUCH different, and in fact, most of the I/S pub workshops were filled (I should know, our Rejection Panel went up against Nathan Lowell’s Amazon workshop Saturday morning. Thank you to the five people who joined us). Also, for the first time, iPAL the independently published version of PAL, was awarded a Writer of the Year (Lisa Manifold, who deserved it greatly for a) successfully writing and marketing great books, but more so b) being a leader in our community).

So my question to you, dear readers, and for once, comment dang it!, how do you feel about publishing these days? When you think of your current WIP, is it slated for traditional route or a more indie one? Have you come to the dark or maybe light side (depending on who you ask) of publishing?

Right now I publish with both. I see good things and bad for each. Nothing is ever going to be simple or perfect in publishing. Yet this is the first time I see I/S publishing tipping in favor to traditional. Or maybe just with my tribe. So let’s hear it. Good and bad. Beautiful and ugly. What say you about today’s publishing format climate?

It’s About Who You Know: The Truth About Successful Publishing

Word Cloud "Social Innovation"I won’t claim to know what makes a successful writer. I do know what it takes to be a working one. Let me start this post by dropping a little knowledge: A working writer is a writer who works. I know, right? Who knew? A working write writes. They often write a lot.

I’m a working writer.

I don’t write every day.

I don’t outline.

I don’t do many booksignings or other promotions.

I get sick of writing.

I get even more sick of publishing.

I am a bad working writer.

I still write.

This past weekend me and about 400 of my new closest friends spent three days revealing in A) workshops and B) the fact we aren’t alone. No, dear writer, you are not a freak of nature…okay, you might be, but the rest of us surely aren’t.

There were so many fantastic workshops. I learned lots of things. I pitched to an editor. I met my agent in person for the first time since 2007 when I signed with her. I hung out with people I don’t spend enough time with. Met so many more who I now adore.

And in the midst of the madness, it came to me. THIS IS WHAT PUBLISHING IS ABOUT. Being part of a tribe. Being a part of something bigger than my writing cave, bigger than my isolation. If I sold a million books tomorrow, I’d know, while the money and fame are nice, it’s about the people I consider my tribe.assassins_kiss

Don't believe me? Fine, buy 10 copies of my latest book, and then tell 10 friends.  ----->

You never know when that person you meet today, turns out to be the very reason you become rich and famous. Thank you to all those I met this conference. To those I hold dear until next year, when you forget to buy me a whiskey.

Hope you had a lovely conference too. Tell me what you enjoyed most--Who you met? What you learned?

Pitch Like a BOSS by Angie Hodapp

Originally published in Nelson Literary Agency’s monthly newsletter

Pitching your book to an agent or editor is daunting. How are you supposed to cram the essence of your entire novel into a pithy couple of sentences? (Hint: You’re not.) Here’s a formula for a concise pitch that will set you on the right track. Ladies and Gentlemen, James Scott Bell‘s “three-sentence pitch”:

First Sentence: Your lead character’s name, vocation, and initial situation. Will Connelly is an associate at a prestigious San Francisco law firm, handling high-level merger negotiations between computer companies.

Second Sentence: “When” + the main plot problem. When Will celebrates a recent merger by picking up a Russian woman at a club, he finds himself at the mercy of a ring of small-time Russian mobsters with designs on the top-secret NSA computer chip Will’s client is developing.

Third Sentence: “Now” + the stakes. Now, with the Russian mob, the SEC, and the Department of Justice all after him, Will has to find a way to save his professional life and his own skin before the wrong people get the technology that can be used for mass destruction.

Boom. Three sentences. The first introduces the protagonist in his ordinary world. The second presents the inciting incident. The third is what your character stands to lose if the antagonistic forces prevail. Here’s another example:

Dorothy Gale is a farm girl who dreams of getting out of Kansas to a land far, far away, where she and her dog will be safe from the likes of town busybody Miss Gulch. When a twister hits the farm, Dorothy is transported to a land of strange creatures and at least one wicked witch who wants to kill her. Now, with the help of three unlikely friends, Dorothy must find a way to destroy the wicked witch so the great wizard will send her back home.

Give it a try, but keep each sentence brief. Having taught this formula at pitch workshops, I know how tempted writers are to pack those three sentences full of backstory, secondary characters, and world-building. Resist that urge!

Now, can you boil your three-sentence pitch down further to create an even more concise pitch? Conversely, can you expand it to craft an evocative query letter? Whichever way you go, start here: with three sentences.

#

Above, we looked at a quick three-sentence formula that will help you start to craft your pitch. Did you try it? Yes? Awesome!

Did you thwart the temptation to squeeze in a bunch of backstory, secondary characters, and world-building? No? Alas. Go back to those three sentences and whittle, hone, refine, and polish. Until you do, your pitch probably isn’t ready.

Go ahead. Do it now. I’ll wait.

Are you back? Excellent. Then let’s get you ready for your pitch appointment:

Ditch the idea that your pitch is supposed to be a complete summary of your novel. It’s not. Your pitch is a conversation starter. Pitch appointments at writing conferences tend to run about ten minutes. Deliver your pitch, then let the agent you’re pitching to ask you questions about your novel. About you. About your writing in general. Relax and have a chat.

Focus on character and plot. Ten-minute pitch appointments fly by, and many are wasted by the author who spends…way…too…much…time…explaining (1) his protagonist’s backstory, (2) his world-building elements, or (3) all the cool historical facts he discovered when researching his novel. Seriously. I once listened to a pitch during which the author never actually told me a single thing about her plot. Even when I asked questions about the story itself, her replies remained focused on backstory and setting. The agent wants to know if the story you put down between page 1 and page 350 is something they can sell. That’s what’s on the table, so focus on that.

Be prepared to respond to feedback and questions. Things I’ve said (gently, I hope!) to writers during pitch appointments include: (1) You’re pitching this as YA, but it’s coming across as a middle grade. What makes it YA? (2) How will your novel stand out among current bestsellers in your genre, or how will it appeal to readers of those bestsellers? (3) What are the last three books you’ve read in your genre? (4) What is your novel’s inciting incident, and how far into the manuscript does it occur? (5) In the story you just described, it concerns me that your protagonist isn’t actually the one who solves the plot problem. (6) The conflict you describe is very internal to your character. What is the story’s external conflict, and how does it get resolved and/or relate to the internal conflict? (7) Has your manuscript been critiqued by a critique group or beta readers?

Bring a copy of your query letter. If the agent stops you in the first minute of your pitch appointment with something like “I don’t represent that genre” (or anything else that feels like a shutdown/letdown), then politely ask if she wouldn’t mind giving you her quick impression of your query letter. After all, it’s your ten minutes. You paid for the appointment. And her input on your query letter just might help you land a different agent—one that’s right for you, your genre, and your project.

Understand that a disappointing pitch has zero bearing on your future as a writer. There will be other conferences, other pitch appointments, other opportunities. Keep pitching. Keep sending out query letters. The more doors you knock on, the more likely one (or more) will open.

And above all, keep writing.

 

AngieHodappAngie Hodapp has worked in language-arts education, publishing, professional writing, and editing for the better part of the last two decades. After completing her master’s thesis, a work of creative nonfiction, and leaving academia, she gave herself permission to write what she really wanted to write: speculative fiction and romance. Angie is currently the contracts and royalties manager at Nelson Literary Agency in Denver. She and her husband live in a renovated 1930s carriage house near the heart of the city and love collecting stamps in their passports.

Conference Workshop Preview: 25 Things I’ve Learned Going from Pre-Published to Multi-Published

Since I typed the END to my first manuscript to the release of my 10th traditionally published book on August 15th
(The Assassin’s Kiss,if you’re interested) I’ve learned so much about the business and industry we’re in. Some good. assassins_kissSome bad.

In September at the RMFW Conference I’ll be facilitating a workshop on the things I’ve learned, but in the meantime, I’ll spill some BIG INDUSTRY SECRETS.

Like I know any.

But I do know the struggle--the ups and downs, the roller coaster of signing contracts, marketing, failing and getting back up.

If you didn’t already know, I hold a record of specific distinction around town. I amassed over 1,000 rejections before I sold my first book.

So trust me when I declare, this business is all about patience. That’s my greatest advice. The slow and steady wins this race. Write. Work hard. Submit. Grin and bear each rejection. And celebrate the hell out of each victory.

25 Things I’ve Learned Going from Pre-Published to Multi-Published

Friday, Sept 9th 4-4:50pm Durango Room

Last workshop of the day! Margaritas welcome and very encouraged.

Do you have any burning questions about going from pre-pubbed to multi? Or better yet, any advice for the journey you’d give a new writer?

Publish Or Perish

Gutenberg_PressOnce you have a final manuscript, ebook* layout and design is easy. Keep it simple. Use default fonts. The readers will use the fonts they want anyway. Don’t get tricky with putting the text on the page because readers will change the size, the flow, the color, everything. Those hours you spend putting together the perfect layout to add that certain something to the story? Wasted as soon as the first reader inverts the text or changes the font size so they can read it on their phone.

Here’s the secret of good typography. Nobody notices it.

If it’s good – really good – it’s like the texture of the paper. It does its job by getting out of the way. Simple is better until you can learn enough to be subtle and elegant. Those purists who love books because of the scent of the ink and the texture of the paper? The feel of the book? No. I like books, too. While there’s something sensual about the feel of the book, that’s not why I buy books. I don’t keep a library of books because I like to periodically sniff them or take them down and fondle their leaves. I buy books for the stories. If the story is good, I don’t care what the ink smells like. If the story is bad, I don’t care how lovely the paper feels. A book is a box. A simple, utilitarian box – executed well – will do the job of holding your stories.

Formatting is easy with free tools like Sigil. Simply save your word processing document as an HTML file and open that file in Sigil. Save the epub. You’ll want to do some things like add cover art (a smallish version to keep the file size low), put in some front and back matter, and perhaps a table of contents. The file will be bloated and ugly on the inside because word processors add kruft but readers won’t know. If you’re fluent in HTML, you can clean it up easily with a few judicious find/replace commands.

There are a couple of gotchas to look for.

One is scene breaks. Many authors use a couple of carriage returns in their manuscripts to break scenes. Those get ignored in HTML rendering so you need to do something else. A couple of dashes, centered, serves admirably and doesn’t require any special graphics or formatting skills.

The other is the page break before a chapter heading. While it seems a bit silly to force a page break on an ebook, it really does make a difference in the reader’s experience. It’s not difficult. In Sigil, go to the top of the chapter heading, press control-enter. Sigil will break the HTML file at that point. Repeat for each chapter. Now each chapter has its own file within the EPUB framework and Sigil kept track of it all for you.

Yes, there are codes that you can embed in the files to tell ebook readers to break, but they are not universal—even within a single architecture. Putting each chapter in its own file is. It won’t matter what version of ebook device the reader uses, your chapter headings will always start on a new page.

One last step before uploading to KDP. Convert the file to .mobi using the Amazon Offline Previewer.

The previewer is a free tool that you download from Amazon. Run your epub into it and the Previewer will convert it to the current valid .mobi format unless there are errors. It’s much easier to find and fix the errors before you upload. Upload that .mobi output file to KDP and you’re on your way to publishing your first book.

The hard part's over and you've spent $50. Now all you need to do is sell it.

Next time: Making A Mark In Marketing

* The ebook market is where the money is. While you may want to publish a book in paper, let's leave that for the time being. I'll come back and address printed books in a later post. Hint: Saving your word processing document as PDF and uploading to CreateSpace is not going to give you the results you want.

Software Mentioned:
Sigil can be found at https://github.com/Sigil-Ebook/Sigil/releases
The Kindle Offline Previewer can be found at http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1000765261

Things I Hate to Admit to Myself

There's nothing that turns me off of a keynote speech at any gathering of writers - be it conferences, workshops, retreats, whatever - more than when the speaker starts out by telling you how impossible it is for you to become a successful writer. When they say that less than 1% of all books submitted get published, and fewer still make any profit, and yet fewer still become best sellers and launch an author's career. Or when they point out such cold hard facts as: it takes sales of 500-1000 books in the first few days of release to even get on most book-lists' radar. I could go on, but I'm guessing you hate these statistics as much as I do.

I finally sat down the other day and asked myself a very hard question: Why? Why do I hate such statistics? They are facts, after all, facts based on very real hard data, and as such they are inescapable. Resenting a fact is like hating a peach pit - you can go on hating it all you want, but every peach you eat is still going to have a pit, no matter how much you hate it. You can have someone remove the pit for you before you eat it, but this is only hiding the pit from you, not changing the fact that every peach has a pit. (Those of you who read last month's post may well wonder what's with this author's obsession with fruit. Well, mind your own business.)

We can hide from facts all we want, but that doesn't make them any less implacably true.

But I still hate these publishing statistics. And after some self-examination I know why, and why you do, too. Such statistics are like the bully who joins a pickup game of stick ball only to hit the ball over the fence and across the highway where no one can retrieve it. They are the arrogant young punk who gets on the light rail train with death metal music booming out of a portable speaker. They are the one spoiled shrimp in an otherwise delightful shrimp cocktail that makes you sick all night. They are...well you get the idea. They are spoil sports, the thorn in your side, the burning vomit that comes out of your nose as well as throat.

We hate these statistics because they ruin our fun. The fun is writing, and having others read our stories. We have been conditioned to think that we are failures if we don't have thousands and thousands of readers, and more often than not it interferes with our ability to continue writing. But is that really true? While we may dream of that, how many of us, realistically, expect to make an independent living on our writing these days? Even writers you consider quite successful continued to work other more conventional jobs during the height of their success. And many others who didn't could hardly have been called wealthy or even well off. Many more died in obscurity.

My point is, why let these statistics and reality spoil the fun? Most of us who started writing didn't do it to become wealthy (and I submit, as has been said many times on this blog, that if you did you're in the wrong business.) Most of us got into writing because we had stories to tell, we love telling stories, and we can't stop. There is nothing wrong with tracking your sales and aspiring to stardom, but for God's sake don't let lagging figures and disappointing ciphers on a page beat up on your muse. It isn't her fault readers are a fickle lot, and there's no telling what may grab their fancy at any given time. Compartmentalize your business aspirations - thousands upon thousands of sales - from the fun you have when you write. I promise you, even if you die tearing tickets at a theater, or pushing rocks with your backhoe, or building submarine sandwiches for hungry briefcase warriors, or even if you're one of those warriors yourself, you'll never regret the stories you told when you could, even if only a small circle of close friends and colleagues were your audience.

Staying Positive in a Negative Industry

It can be difficult for a writer to keep her chin up. For a person who needs to be sensitive enough to reflect the most compelling attributes of humans and humanity through story, the harsh landscape of a writer’s world can be difficult to endure.

Like our beloved characters, writers contend with a multitude of external and internal conflicts seemingly hell-bent on keeping us from our personal MacGuffins.

Perhaps at the top of every writer’s list of roadblocks, there is the often dreaded rejection, a seemingly never-ending parade of “No” echoes around every turn. Agents, editors, magazines, conferences, bookstores, reviewers, even other authors. If being a writer is primarily about connecting with the readers waiting for your story, some days feel like there are a hundred gatekeepers standing between your characters and the people waiting to meet them.

And yet, for all the disappointment in every rejection, the sting, the bite, the venom that slow drips into the writer’s heart is not the actual “no.” It is the poison laced through all the words unsaid. It’s what we fear drives that “no” to our doorstep again and again—judgment. Of our work, our ideas, our thoughts, our abilities, maybe even ourselves. The people with the power to say no formulate judgments we are rarely privy to. We are instead left to our own imaginings about why we have failed to make the cut.

And writers have excellent imaginations.

Enter the writer’s psyche. If ever there existed the worst hot mess of internal conflicts, it surely took root and sprouted from a writer’s self doubt, anxieties, fears, and the ever dreaded peer comparisons. We fear these no’s may be based on negative judgments that are correct.

What if I suck?

What if I can’t write?

What if it’s me?

Am I horrible, vile…not mediagenic?

What are all the things “THEY” are not telling me thus making it impossible for me to revise these personal imperfections and failures?

A writer can end up mighty frustrated.

I hate this.

I hate writing.

I hate publishing.

I hate wanting this thing that doesn’t seem to want me back.

Maybe…maybe it’s time to quit.

Does any of this sound familiar?

If yes, I have some good news for you. It doesn’t have to be this way. More importantly, it shouldn’t.

I happen to believe it is possible to stay positive despite all the negativity. But first off, inhale, exhale. Again. Deeper this time, really fill those lungs, hold it…now let it out. Do this several times an hour.

Next, don’t quit writing. If you truly love it and are not just hoping this is a get rich quick exit strategy from a demoralizing soul sucking job you’re hoping to escape, don’t quit writing. If it is just a escape plan, make a better plan.

Realize this:

Writing is a terrible way to try and get rich quick.

Writing is a terrible way to try and get famous.

Writing is a terrible way to try and feel important, special, unique, talented, or better than other people in general because there is ALWAYS someone else more special, unique, and talented than you and chances are pretty good you will end up in the same room with this person. Likely you will be listening to them read aloud from their amazing, New York Times Bestselling, National Book Award winning novel.

If these are the motivations that drive you to the keyboard, you are probably wasting your time and setting yourself up for failure because your sense of “success” is contingent on criteria that is either controlled by outside forces or dependent upon who else is in the comparison pool with you.

Write because you love story so much you are compelled to try and create it yourself. Be motivated by the desire to live a creative life. If this is why you write, you will NEVER fail. You can NEVER be rejected by outside forces. Outside forces are not allowed to interfere with this, they don’t get to control it, they cannot say no to it. I dare them to judge it. This love is yours, you decide when, where, and for how long to live in a space of creative energy and output.

Secondly, try to wrangle that spinning, spiraling, better-future-seeking brain of yours. The worrying, obsessing, hoping for that big break so you can finally be whatever it is you think you’re not already—STOP. Right now, in this moment, you are already amazing. An agent won’t make you any better of a person than you already are. Neither will an editor, or an award, or a book deal. These are only things and other people you may one day co-work with on projects (who have their own neuroses and personal hang-ups I might add). When you get an agent, you will wake up the next day exactly the same person you were the day before. If you win an award, you will take it home and hang it on your wall…eventually it will get dusty just like all the other crap in your house. If you get a book deal, you will one day find your hardcover book on the remainder shelf being CLEARANCED for 3.99. Try not to confuse other people’s opinions and the bestowing of plaque shaped things with your own feelings of self-worth and personal validation. Other people change their opinions and things don’t last. Keep your power and decide for yourself if you’re a good enough writer or not. And if your answer is that you are not yet producing your best work—learn to get better, then do it.

“But,” you might say. “I need these people and things in order to achieve the writerly goals I’ve set for myself. I need an agent to open the gilded New York Literary Gates and awards to prove to the readers that my stories are good and worth their time and monies.”

And I would reply, “No you don’t. Well written stories that readers like to read prove to them that your stories are good and worth their time and monies. Guided passage through the Literary Gates and awards are one way to get your stories to readers, and for sure it was once the only way. But now, there are other ways too. Most readers don’t know all the gory details that happen behind publishing curtains anyway, they only know a story they love when they read it. Get that story to them by any means necessary. You may find that love from your readers is the only external validation you ever really wanted in the first place.”

Find your personal center, remember why you started writing in the first place, then try like hell hold on to it--no matter what.

Tips For Evaluating a Traditional Publishing House

The explosion of small and micro-presses in the United States (and elsewhere) makes it more important than ever for authors to investigate publishers carefully before signing a publishing contract. While even diligent research can't help you foresee and avoid every possible problem, here are some tips to help you evaluate whether or not to accept a publisher's offer:

1. Does the Contract Require the Author to Pay for Anything?

If the answer is "yes," do not pass go, do NOT pay $500...or even $1. This is not a traditional publishing house. It's either a "hybrid press" (where the author shares the costs--and benefits--of publication), a "vanity press" (where the author pays far too much for far too little), or a scam. If you think it's a hybrid press, contact an agent or a publishing attorney you trust and arrange for professional review and negotiation before you sign.

Do not rely on the publisher's word that the contract is "hybrid" or "fair"--and don't forget: a traditional publishing house will never expect the author to pay anything out of pocket (and none of the publishing costs, except for unreasonable changes demanded by the author after the proofs are approved). No exceptions.

2. Does the Publisher Also Offer "Paid Marketing Programs"?

A number of vanity presses have recently started offering "fully traditional contracts" which also require the author to participate in paid "author training programs" and "marketing programs." The marketing contract is an addendum to the "traditional publishing deal" and can cost the author several thousand dollars out of pocket. Legitimate traditional publishers never make authors pay for anything out of pocket, either as part of the publishing contract or in a separate (but required) agreement.

3. Does the Publisher Make Any Claims About Success, Sales, or Reviews?

No legitimate publisher can or will ever promise an author success (financial or otherwise), sales, or good reviews (they can't even promise legitimate reviews, let alone good ones). Any publisher whose website contains statements like "Make extra money writing books!" or "Become a bestseller by publishing with us!" -- or anything else of that nature -- is not a legitimate, traditional publishing house. Run, don't walk, in the other direction.

4. Does the Contract Require Authors to Purchase Copies of the Finished Book?

Some small presses' contracts require the author to purchase a stated number of copies of the book upon release. Many times, the author is also required to pay for these books (in part, or completely!) before the publication date, and sometimes before the author even sees the proofs of the finished work. Legitimate presses will never make an author commit to purchasing any copies of the work (though often they do offer authors a discount on copies the author elects to buy).

A little related publishing math: if the author commits to paying the publisher $8,000 for copies of the work at $16.00 apiece, how many additional books does the publisher have to sell to pay for its investment in the book? (The answer is generally, none, especially since these publishers normally publish "Print on Demand," which means the publisher keeps no stock of the printed work.) 

5. How Long Has the Publisher Been in Business?

The answer to this is not a deal-breaker, but it's something to consider. The longer a publisher has been in business, and the more books it produces, the better authors can evaluate the publisher's history of contract compliance, sales and distribution, and successfully published work. It's perfectly fine to take a chance on a newer publisher if you choose...but only if all of the other factors align with industry standards. Also, authors should be aware that working with newer publishers represents a business risk, because publishing houses have high failure rates--so make sure the contract contains appropriate protections for the author (including appropriate termination rights).

Note: new presses that work with experienced counsel, or have experienced editors or publishers at the helm, generally present a smaller risk in this regard. 

6. How Much, And What Kind of, Publishing Experience Does the Publisher/Editor Have?

Again, while not a deal-breaker, authors should be aware that many small publishers open with great intentions, but little or no practical experience in traditional publishing, sales, and distribution. This creates enormous risk, both for the publisher and the author. Before signing with a small press, always ask about the publisher's experience, distribution program, and how many books they have in bookstores outside their local area. Also, publishers without much practical experience tend to have a more difficult time negotiating contracts and complying with contract obligations--not from malice, but because they simply don't understand what's involved in running a traditional publishing house.

7. What Do Other Authors & Industry Watchdogs Have to Say?

Never, ever sign with a publishing house unless you've researched both the house and the publisher/editor with industry watchdogs like Publisher's Marketplace, Writer's Digest, Writer Beware, and Preditors and Editors. Pay attention to what you see there, too. While lack of a listing may suggest the publisher is legitimate, it also might indicate a publisher is simply too new for the watchdogs to have flagged its bad behavior. For maximum safety, don't sign with any publisher unless you can actually confirm legitimacy and positive ratings with industry watchdog sites.

Also: always talk with at least 2-3 other authors published by the publisher before you sign a contract. Ask the publisher to give you authors' names and contact information, or find them online--make connections through friends, if you can. If authors won't speak with you honestly (or tell you the contract won't let them talk about the press), move on. Don't ever commit yourself and your work to a press that doesn't get glowing reviews from its authors--no matter how big or experienced the press.

8. What Do the Publisher's Other Books Look Like?

You have seen their other books, right? In print? On Amazon ("look inside" should be enabled, and you should actually do it) or in bookstores. Find them. Hold them--on an e-reader if they're ebook only. Look at the font, the production values, the covers, and then ask yourself: is this what I want my book to look like? Would I be proud if my name was on this cover?

9. Where Are the Publisher's Other Books Sold? 

Many small publishers don't have distribution arrangements, and even if they do, that may or may not translate to actually having books on shelves in stores. Ask where the publisher's books are sold. Confirm it. This isn't a deal-breaker, one way or the other, but you need the information to decide whether this is a house that will be able to support your work the way you want them to.

10. How Many Books Does the Publisher Release Each Year?

Again, not a deal breaker, just something smart authors evaluate. Sometimes a lower number works in your favor, and sometimes larger numbers work against you. Sometimes, it's the opposite. Generally speaking, the more books a publisher releases each year, the fewer resources the publisher has to dedicate to each individual book. That's especially true when you consider that many publishers dedicate the lion's share of advertising time and resources to A-list titles by authors who already have a substantial following.

11. Does Anything Else Seem...Odd?

Trust your instincts. They're better than you think. If anything seems "odd" or "not quite right" about the publisher, remember: you're better off with no publishing deal than signing a deal you later regret.

12. Even if Everything Else Looks Good, Consult a Publishing Lawyer or Agent Before You Sign the Contract.

Starfleet regulations don't allow a compromised captain on the bridge...and every author is compromised (to one degree or another) when it comes to evaluating a publishing deal. Always consult a lawyer or an agent before you sign a publishing contract, particularly if you're not experienced reading and negotiating legalese.

I can't promise these questions will save you from signing a publishing deal you regret, or protect you against every predatory or inexperienced publisher. That said, if you keep these in mind, you'll have a much better start when evaluating prospective publishing houses for your work.

*Disclaimer: This post does not constitute legal advice, create an attorney-client relationship between the author and any person, and is intended for educational purposes only. Author makes no representations that this post is complete or contains all relevant information required to protect authors when choosing a publishing house, escaping from zombies, or trying to avoid a swarm of lawyers wielding bee-infested carp. Your experience, legal rights, and favorite cupcake flavor may vary.

The Changing Face of Entertainment

Netflix just premiered a new sitcom (sort of, more of a situation dramedy) from the makers of Two and A Half Men called The Ranch, and the reviews of it set me thinking. I watched the show before I read the reviews and I found it funny, fresh, thought-provoking, and original. The reviewers I read (about seven) didn't like it. I'm not going to get into why (I'll start to rant about political correctness and the new Thought Gestapo and all that, and that's not what this post is about.) The important thing is that the critics, to a one, missed the entire point of the show and why it's good.

Having lived in Colorado, where the show is set, I know a lot of rural people like this. The critics clearly don't. Like most who live on either coast they have no clue who people in the middle states are. There is a segment of the country to be served by a show like this, who have minimal interest in shows by Hollywood scions who assume everyone lives, speaks, and thinks like them.

The Evolution of ManI submit that a show like this is perfect for a new, wet-behind-the-ears, upstart entertainment source like Netflix (new in the sense that they have only been offering original programming for the last few years.) Netflix is more interested, at the moment, in building a viewer base than they are in bowing to convention. So shows that the networks and cable cabals who think they rule the industry would never green-light are getting made and broadcast anyway.

Likewise the recent boom in electronic publishing has allowed for the publication of books that the big New York/Los Angeles publishing houses would never consider. They are getting distributed, read, and enjoyed by thousands. Add POD (print-on-demand) services like Amazon's CreateSpace.com, and suddenly the market is being flooded with books that would otherwise never see the light of day. And I'm surprised to say that as far as I can tell, for the most part the quality remains relatively high, considering how abysmal many predicted it would be.

It's the great democratization of the entertainment industry. No longer are a few gatekeepers with a whitewashed point of view about their industry the final say in what the public gets to choose from for their entertainment dollar. And many of these electronically published books have gone on to great commercial success as well (most notably 50 Shades of Grey and The Last Ship.)

So while the sudden opening of the floodgates has many feeling overwhelmed and afraid that their book will never be seen or read amid the cacophony of other books suddenly flooding the world, I submit this is a good thing. The industry is changing (perforce) and change is scary. But another equilibrium will be found eventually, and in the meantime we are witnessing evolution first hand.