Hello, all my fellow writers. I’ve talked about a lot of this before, but think it’s worth rehashing. So, I thought I would write about picking your path. And, what do I mean by picking your path? I’m talking about how you decide to publish your book. I’m not going to to say that one way of publishing is better than another in this post because I truly believe each of us are different.
I want to start by defining a few things. I think we need to do this because when I talk about writing and publishing, I look at them as two very different things. By defining what I mean by these terms I think it will clear up any confusion anyone might have.
When I say writing I’m talking about the actual writing of a manuscript. This is the creation of a story and getting the book written. When we write we are in artist mode. For me, when I’m in this mode I have a completely different mindset than when I’m thinking about publishing. I just want to share my work with the world and/or sometimes dream of being a big name that somehow frequents red carpet events. I like this mindset: it’s a lot of fun and it’s what allows me to come up with stories.
I often tell people that writing is my hobby and publishing is my job. When I say this I don’t mean to say that for some people writing isn’t a job. In a way it is for me too, but I just don’t see it that way. I think there are two reasons I see writing as a hobby rather than my job. The first is I worked in a cube farm for years spending my day praying for the end of my shift to come. To me, that was a job. Something that you could live with that paid the bills. I just can’t see something I love that way. I love to write and tell stories; it’s my passion. I don’t want to cheapen that wonderful feeling with the J word. The other reason is that I would keep on writing and coming up with stories regardless of if I published them. If when I was in said cube farms, had I not gotten paid, I wouldn’t have showed up for work. That’s not the case with writing. Now, I’m not trying to say that writing is always easy because I, like everyone else, have to push through sometimes. And, if you want to say that writing is your job, that’s totally fine for me.
I’m talking about this because this is all writers’ common ground. You know, the writing part. We generally don’t start shunning each other until we get to the publishing phase of the game. At this point, we are comrades in arms so to speak. We come up with cool stuff and that’s pretty great.
Publishing is what happens when you are done writing. And, it’s a completely different mindset than when writing (a different hat so to speak). I’m going to say that publishing is when a project goes out to the public in some form. Note that this covers the whole range of options from posting on a blog or going with a big six publisher. Publishing in this definition does not look at price or avenue–it’s just available to the public. When we publish, this is when we look at cover art, editing, printing, ebooks, paperbacks, hardbacks, talking to agents, talking to publishers and all of that kind of stuff. If you’ve published something already, you know just how much work all this stuff is. If you haven’t published before, you’re going to learn how much work all of this is. Now, right now, I know some people are thinking “I want to do the easy one.” Bad news. Whether you go the traditional route or self, publishing is a lot of work.
I like publishing. For the most part, I find it to be fun and satisfying. But, unlike writing, I wouldn’t do it just for fun. Now, I love getting my story out into the world as much as the next guy, but publishing is my job, and the reason I publish the way I do is to make money. This doesn’t mean that I’m materialistic or a media whore or anything evil; it just means that like everyone else I have bills that need paying. When publishing no longer makes financial sense, I’ll change things up or stop publishing all together.
When it comes to publishing, there are a lot of ways of getting it done and there are a lot of possible outcomes. This is also the stage of the game where writers start getting testy with each other and start drawing lines in the sand about traditional vs. self publishing. If you don’t believe me, surf the web for a while and you’ll see otherwise-friendly people all but calling for writers who don’t publish the way they do to be tarred and feathered. I’ll save my opinions on this nonsense for a later post that I’m sure will be more of a rant.
Now, when it comes to publishing, this is also where a lot of writers get scared, which is totally understandable. Helping to get over those fears is what most of this post is about. There are a few things one needs to decide before publishing. So here goes…
Define YOUR Success
I wrote “your” in all caps for a reason. Before you publish you need to figure out what you consider to be success. Success is different for every single one of us and that’s important to know. For some people, money will not be a factor. For others, money will be. Still others want confidence or prestige. For the bulk of us, success will be a mix of things. For me, I want to be able to do something I love while sharing something with people and make a comfortable income doing it so I can support myself and family. You see, for me, my publishing has just as much to do with my lifestyle as it does with anything else. But, part of my definition of success also has to do with my writer side. I really love taking people on a journey with my writing and connecting with people so that also has to be part of my success. It’s this way for most people so when deciding what is success, ask yourself what kind of life you actually want. Really, what do you want from life? A lot of us say fame and fortune, but when we really think about what we want, it may not be fame and fortune.
This is important because what you define as your personal success will shape how you publish. If we look at publishing as a means to an end that can help. There are a lot of tools in the publishing tool box and just like when you build something, using the right tools for the job is a big part of things. So, before you even think about what path of publishing you want to go down, figure out first what you want. Then, when we look at some of the tools in the publishing box, you’ll be able to choose those tools that best fit your needs. And, when making that choice, make sure you are looking at what you want and not what others want. I’m pretty big into self publishing because, for me, it was the tool that I needed. Don’t let my zeal or that of anyone else’s taint you because if I find a tool that I deem better, I’ll use it instead.
Paths of Publishing
Okay, here we go. Now we are into the paths that we can take. I’m going to be generalizing a lot of things here because really publishing is so vast you could fill several books with it. Nothing that I talk about is set in stone; you can mix and match all you want with publishing. I’ll be breaking things down into several different paths that I generally see–none of these is better or worse than another because each is just a tool. These paths I’m going to talk about are more mindsets than anything else. Remember, it’s a different hat.
The hobbyist is generally someone who is not in publishing to make money. They are more putting their toe in the water to see if they like it. Truth be told, this is where the majority of us start out. Most times, hobbyists do not invest very much in a book if anything at all. These books are oftentimes free or $0.99 because the author just wants to share the book with the world and that’s ok.
You will also find in this category people who are primarily publishing something for family and friends. These books often find themselves in the general market but aren’t really publicized. On these books, oftentimes great amounts of money are spent as a person is looking to create a legacy.
The hobbyist is one of the broadest ranges in publishing because, like so many hobbies, people come in at all levels. My general definition for a hobby book is a book that was never meant to make money–a publishing mindset that isn’t a business mindset. Also, these writers generally only produce one or two titles in a career.
In general, when you hear people complaining about self-published books, these are the books that are being talked about. This is also where most would-be writers leave the game. For many, they don’t see any money and take a hike. Sadly, many of these writers could do amazing things if they stuck it out for a while.
The Independent Publisher
This is the other side of self publishing. When you read blogs advocating self publishing, this is what they are talking about. As an independent publisher (indie), you fully take on the role of a publishing house. For many of us, we have filed companies (mine is Somnium Press, LLC) and run our houses like a business because that’s what they are: a business. Indies have to take on the entire publishing process and the cost associated with it. We pay for editing, cover art, layout and print. The biggest pro to being an indie is the amount of freedom that you have. You can go to market when you want and how you want. You can publish as many titles as you want a year, and you can market yourself how you please. You also have a great deal of control over the cost of publishing. I’ve met indie’s that have a budget that’s around a few hundred dollars and also those that have spent tens of thousands.
It used to be that to be an indie meant doing a print run. This was a costly process and I mean that. I have some clients that have spent near fifty thousand dollars by the time they came to me. For these authors, they travel around the country selling their books by hand or what we call selling in the back of the house. This method of indie publishing is highly costly, but for the right author, it can be very lucrative.
Now with the digital age, you don’t have to go with a large print run. In fact, many indie’s choose not to have print books at all or use POD (print on demand). It’s completely your choice. With the digital age, as an indie, you are also able to charge less per book and make more per book. For example, if you choose to go direct to Kindle you can make 70% of the list price of your ebook, something you will not get with a publisher. The downside to being indie is that you will have more work and cost as you are the publisher. Many find it a challenge to learn how to market and to find services to help them. Most indie’s are very much so DIY types of people because the more you know how to do on your own the less you’ll have to shell out in services. As an indie, you are only restricted by your budget and drive.
Here’s a note on all of the many services that are out there to help indies. Be careful. There are some great services out there and some real douche bags. I would recommend reaching out to other indie authors and asking whom they use for services.
For years, it was hard to make a living being an indie. I’m going to be honest with you: it still is; though, it’s also a challenge if you go with a publisher, too. That being said, there are more and more people making a living wage as an indie. I am an example of this. I don’t make a great living being a writer, but I make enough to live on, which is pretty cool. I meet more and more indies that are working full time as writers. So, if you are a bit of a control freak, like to learn and are willing to take some risks, being an indie might be good for you.
Small, Medium or Regional Press
Now, we are getting closer to the traditional publishing route. Like anything, there are pros and cons to this route, too. For the sake of argument, I’ll refer to small, medium and regional presses as “small press.” A small press might work for you. Like indies, there are all kinds of small presses out there. Some of them are on a regional level and others publish books globally. Like with any publisher, you lose some of the control when you go with a small press, but in exchange, you gain the support of the publisher. I’m not going to talk about if you have a bad publisher or a crap contract–that stuff happens. If you are looking into small presses you are going to want to look at the company and make sure it fits for you. Also, also get an IP attorney to look the contract over. But, “isn’t that what my agents are for?” you ask. Well, yes and no. Some will argue that you don’t need an attorney and that your agent will do. Personally, I don’t sign squat without having my attorney review it.
While we are talking about agents, this is a good time to address them. For some small presses, you wont need an agent, but for many you will and for a large house you definitely will. An agent is your representative; he is the one that gets you the publishing deal and is supposed to be on your side. Some of these people are wonderful individuals who will help you along the way, but like everything else, some agents are scum so watch yourself.
The cons to a small press are that you do have to find an agent, which can be a pain in the butt, and then you have to find a publisher, which is also a pain. On the flip side, if you find the right publisher with the right contract, you have a great career and make a good living. There are a lot of authors that are with these houses and swear by them. Their house is good to them and they are good to their house. Another thing to keep in mind with both small and large press is that you will make lower royalties off of books, meaning the publisher will take a cut of the sale. If you are someone that is not comfortable with doing everything on your own and/or you don’t have the money to do so, then a small press might be the thing for you. Like anything, cover your butt and be smart about it.
These are the big boys or the small imprint of the big boys. There are some large companies out there. You will ofter hear them referred to as big six or New York. Not all large press members are from the big six, but a lot are. I’m going to come right out and say it. If you want to be a top shelf author, your best shot of getting there is with big New York house. These people can be king makers when they want to be. With a big house, you are going to lose a lot of control over your book and how it’s published. If your house wants to make you a king, you can do what they tell you. If, however, they aren’t planning on doing that, then maybe large press isn’t for you. With a large house, you will get a lot of prestige that comes with it. You will be able to join large writers associations (which have a lot of benefits) and you will most likely get your books on the shelves of brick-and-mortar stores.
Now, you’ll see a lot of people referring to big houses as the devil and I don’t see them that way. I think they are a business and, like any business, they are here to make money. These houses have tons of money, by the way, so keep that in mind when you sign a deal. While a twenty thousand dollar advance may sound good to you, to a large house that’s not even a drop in the bucket. Why do I address this? Well, many of the horror stories you hear from people about their publisher revolve around the publisher not backing the author. This always seems like a mystery to most of us. After all, the publisher spent a lot of money to put a book in print, right? Well, yes they did, but what is a lot of money to us isn’t to them. If you get an advance that is over six figures, they’ll support you. At that point, they have some skin in the game. In fact, the larger the advance the more marketing support you’ll get so keep that in mind. With a small press, sometimes a small advance speaks to them being frugal (a good thing), but for a large house, in general, you want a big fat check or you have a higher chance of getting screwed. Another thing to keep in mind is if you go with a big house, it will take longer for your book to come out into the market place… like a couple of years in most cases.
There are a lot of pros and cons to large press and, like anything, you need to be careful, but for many people this can be a great option. While I am an indie right now, I certainly wouldn’t turn my nose up if someone offered my an obscene about of money. Like I said about the amount of time for a book to come out, I would recommend looking at your options here. One of the biggest reasons I haven’t looked at big houses or any publishers is that I can likely make more money in the next two years with indie publishing than I can off of an advance. You may or may not be the same.
This last path is for those writers that have a backlist that’s on the larger side. What you do in this model is you sell some books to publisher and you indie publish others. In this, you have to deal with the cons of both indie and traditional publishing, but you get to leverage the pros from each as well. Many authors find this to be a good way to maximize their efforts. I’m not going to go into a lot of this last path as to do it you need several books written. If you’re in the position to choose this path, you will most likely have a fair amount of publishing experience already.
In conclusion, you can see there is a lot that you can do, BUT you need to decide what is going to work for you. If you are still working on your first book, I would recommend spending some time learning about all these different forms of publishing so you can make an educated decision. Most indies are willing to talk to people so ask a few of them what they’ve thought, what pitfalls they’ve seen and what they would tell a new author. There are also a lot of individuals with traditional houses so talk to them if you can. In this industry, the more you know and understand, the better off you’ll be. I meet and work with a lot of authors and the number one thing that hurts them is ignorance of the industry or being narrow minded. Keep an open mind, learn, and put in the work.
I know this was a longer post, but I didn’t want to short change anything here. As always, if you have any comments or questions, please leave a comment. Or, if you aren’t comfortable with that, feel free to email me at nick at legonbook dot com. Thanks.