Publish It Yourself- Lecture notes/Session 1

Session 1 Notes

Slide 4- Trad Pub.

  • Traditional publishing, which you’ll alos hear called “trad-pub” or “trade pub,” used to be the only respected path to publication.
  • The defining characteristic of a traditional publisher is that the company pays the author for the right to publish their work, for a set period of time, usually 3-5 years, and assumes the financial risk of bringing the work to market. After purchasing the work, the publisher provides various services that typically include professional editing, a cover, formatting, some level of promotion, and distribution to retailers, both brick and mortar stores, and online. Often publishers sell books directly from their websites. There are no upfront fees, or charges for editing, covers, print production or anything like that.  Some publishing companies do charge fees, and we’ll talk about those eventually, but for right now, we’ll limit our discussion to companies that pay the author, not the other way around.
  • How are the authors paid? Large publishers will pay an advance before a book is published, which is a portion of what they think the book will eventually earn. The larger the advance, the higher the sales expectation, and usually publishers will put more promotional money behind these books. The reality is that most books do not “earn out” their advance, but the author does not have to pay the publisher back.  After the book is published, authors are paid a royalty, which is a percentage of their sales.
  • Distribution often includes brick and mortar retail stores in addition to online sales, though unless the book is a top seller, it may not remain on the shelves for longer than a few months. However, online sales can continue for as long as the publisher holds the rights to the book.
  • Because the publisher is assuming the financial risk, there is always an expectation that the company will make money. This is why traditional publishing, like every entertainment company– from Walt Disney Pictures, to that two woman digital publishing company specializing in erotic romance– is a balance of commerce and art.

Slide 5- Trad. Pub.

  • Traditional publishers range from conglomerates with hundreds of imprints, to small presses serving specific markets, academic publishers, to digital presses with a staff of two.  Essentially though, what defines a traditional publisher is that the publisher assumes the financial risk in bringing the book to market.
  • The so-called Big 5, are the largest and best-known companies. They’re based in New York, or at least have a New York presence and may publish hundreds of different imprints. Anyone know what an imprint is?
  • An imprint is kind of like a mini publishing company within the big one, and typically it’s dedicated to a particular type of work. For example, within Harper Collins, there’s the Harlequin imprint, which is dedicated to romance and women’s fiction, and the Zondervan imprint, which is its Christian publishing branch. What gets complicated is that even the imprints can have imprints, which are usually referred to as “lines  The little logo on the spine of the book, or for digital books, on the cover, identifies the imprint. The copyright page at the front of the book will tell you who the publisher is.
  • The medium sized houses, we’ll call them the Next 5– though I listed six here and there are lots more I could have included. They can be based anywhere. Sourcebooks is actually in Naperville. They’re sometimes specialized– Baker is a religious publisher, Scholastic specializes in books for kids and teens. These publishers also have imprints dedicated to specific types of books.
  • You’ll noticed that Amazon is on the list. A lot of people don’t realize that Amazon has a traditional publishing arm, which is different from it’s self-publishing platforms. Amazon’s traditional publishing imprints include Montlake, which is romance, Thomas & Mercer, suspense; Little A for literary fiction; Waterbrook, which is religious, and many more. Amazon’s traditionally published books are sold through major retailers, and include digital, print and audiobooks.

Slide 6

  • Small presses generally have just a few imprints, small staffs and budgets. That doesn’t mean that they don’t produce high quality books, some are extremely selective in the works they accept. But the companies may have less distribution to book stores, though the books are available online. But because publishing is a difficult business, the companies often come and go.  Within my genre, romance I can think of at least 3 well-known small publishers (Samhain, Ellora’s Cave, and LooseID) that have closed their doors within the last three years.
  • The advantage to a small or specialized company is that they’re often more open to accepting new and lesser-known authors, and some even specialize in the types of works that larger commercial publishers ignore, such as literary short fiction and poetry.
  • I include academic publishers in this category, not because they’re small, but because they’re highly specialized.
  • Last are the small companies that specialize in particular type of book, or serve an industry.

Slide 7- Trad. Pub. Positives

  • Among the benefits of working with a traditional publisher is that the publisher can do things for the author they can’t do for themselves– such as get them into major retail stores, gain attention from major media, etc. 
  • An author won’t have a significant financial outlay, so it will take less time before she begins to profit from her writing.
  • And while self-publishing has gained respect in the industry, there’s still a prestige factor to traditional publishing. Reviewers are more willing to review traditionally published books, retailers are willing to stock them, and so on.  It’s highly competitive, so the fact that a book sells to a traditional publisher gives it a stamp of credibility.
  • The final product tends to look very professional. The company’s reputation is riding on it.
  • And while traditional publishers don’t offer new authors a lot of marketing support, they do offer some. They often will have contacts with bloggers and reviewers that a new author won’t, so for a first time author, it’s an opportunity to learn where and how to market their books.
  • Finally, the thrill of seeing your book for sale in a store. Retail sales are a much smaller piece of the pie than they used to be, but can be immensely valuable in helping an author get discovered by new readers.

Slide 8- Trad. Pub. Negatives

  • There are downsides too.
  • It’s tough to sell to a traditional publisher, and you very likely will need a literary agent to do it. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.
  • In terms of title, marketing, cover, editorial, the publisher calls the shots.  My first book sold with the title “Falling Hard,” but my publisher felt there were too many books with that title– including a recent erotic romance release, so they changed the name to Pairing Off.  It took me a while to get used to it, and my mom still insists that Falling Hard was the better title.
  • A combination of low royalties and modest sales can make it hard for a new traditionally published author to make money.
  • The industry is in flux, so you see a lot of changes. Editors come and go. Publishers come and go. Not only is this unsettling for an author, they can also lose money when a publisher suddenly closes. Just as digital platforms have empowered authors, they’ve also empowered start-up publishers, who may go in with the best of intentions, but aren’t savvy enough to survive. They’re also opportunities for scammers who promise big and deliver nothing, bad contract terms and poor quality. So especially in the case of small presses, it’s important for authors to do their homework.

Slide 10- Self Pub Overview

  • While self-publishing has been around for years, previously it was done through vanity publishers, which were paid by the author and produced several hundred print copies which the author was responsible for selling on their own.  But the internet changed that.
  • How?
  • The major shift began around 2007 and 2008, when two things happened.  First,  Amazon introduced its Kindle e-reader, which was immediately popular with readers, even through there was a limited amount of material available.  In 2008, the recession caused publishers to cut imprints, editors and as a result, authors.  Some of these authors saw an opportunity to continue their careers, through Amazon’s new self-publishing platform.
  • By 2010, a Kindle was only $139, and other companies had introduced their own e-readers. There was also a wealth of high quality digital books available for less than $5.00 each. That launched a boom in the industry that continued for years afterward.
  • Romance and erotica writers were among the first to embrace digital publishing, sci-fi and fantasy writers were also early adopters. Even today, those genres dominate self-publishing.
  • Most fiction sales are ebooks, though print is essential for hand-selling, and it’s also preferred for certain types of books, such as children’s books and non-fiction. Audiobooks are also a rising trend.
  • Though the gold-rush is behind us, there’s still plenty of opportunity in self-publishing

Slide 11- Reasons to Self Publish

  • One of the biggest advantages of self-publishing is that authors have complete creative control, in regard to content, title, cover and how it’s marketed.
  • It’s an opportunity for the author to run a small business of their own product, that can supplement their family’s income. Every author earns something, some earn a lot.
  • Self-published authors earn higher royalties than traditional publishers, and many are unagented, which means that they keep more of their royalties.
  • It’s a way to bring your project to life, even if it’s not a book with mass commercial appeal.
  • If you enjoy learning new things, it’s fun, it’s creative and there’s lots of information out there to help you. Throughout our lessons, I’ll list books and websites I’ve found helpful.
  • While its true that everyone can publish, it doesn’t mean everyone should. Tridtional publishers used to act as gatekeepers, but now that’s gone, which is both a good and a bad thing.  I see a lot of classes, blogs, etc. that teach you how to publish your first novel.  But a lot of first novels aren’t ready for prime time– at least not initially–, so it’s important to be honest with yourself and make sure that you’re putting out the best book you can.
  • If you’re writing non-fiction, its important to take time to establish your platform, which can consist of a website, blog, speaking engagements, your business, or all of the above. That does two things– it creates an existing audience for your book, and helps establish you as an expert for readers who are just discovering you.

Slide 12- Reasons for Caution

  • I’d originally titled this slide Reasons Not To Self-Publish, but  I don’t want to discourage anyone. But there are some common misconceptions out there, and simply things you should be aware of:
  • First, most self-published books are not going to be picked up by a traditional publsiher. There are exceptions The Martian, 50 Shades), but what’s much more likely to  happen is that an author will self-publish, have some success with a book or series, then approach a trade publisher with a new project.
  • Its your first book. I touched on this before, that you shouldn’t be in a rush to  self-pub. Give yourself time to create the best book you can, so readers will return for the next book, and the one after that.
  • If you’re not comfortable working on a computer or online, or if you don’t have much time to invest, you can hire someone to publish your book for you, but it’s going to be more expensive.  Self-publishing can be done inexpensively, but there is still going to be a cost outlay for services you can’t do yourself. We’ll talk more about that as we move into the specific steps involved in publishing.
  • You want to be in stores everywhere.  While many local independent book sellers do a great job of supporting self-published authors, the responsibility of getting your book into those stores is yours. Mass distribution through Barnes and Noble stores, Walmart, etc. is extremely unlikely, unless your book is a major best-seller like 50 Shades or The Martian, and maybe not even then.

Slide 13- Expections

  • This one deserves a slide of its own, because there’s plenty of bad info out there about how much authors, particularly self-published ones make.
  • You may have heard about self-published authors making huge amounts of money from their writing, and those successes exist. Many launched their careers in the early days of self-publishing, before the market was as crowded.  Some are using less than scrupulous means, such as purchasing reviews, and click farming, to boost their book’s ranking and earning. Others are fortunate enough to hit upon a trend, have a great book and the right marketing at the right time.
  • It’s something that every author hopes will happen, but the fact is, there are MILLIONS of books for sale on Amazon. While they don’t release official numbers, the current estimate is something like 6 million. Obviously, it’s hard to get noticed and visibility is one of the author’s major challenges. We’ll get more into that when we talk about marketing.
  • The truth is, that most writers– traditional or self-published don’t earn a living off their books. My first royalty check from three months of sales– with a publisher’s promotional push, was around $200.  Subsequent checks have been around that. I’m not unusual.  According to the blog, the average traditionally published book sells around 250 copies per year, and about 3,000 in its lifetime.  A self published book sells about 250 copies– in its lifetime.
  • I tell you this not to discourage you, but to encourage you to measure your success in different ways.  When my first book came out, I was focused exclusively on my sales. My publisher was, so it made sense for me to be too. I was trying very hard to make a splash on the market but I was one book out of millions, and I was not a marketing expert. Most authors aren’t. 
  • So my advice is to set some publishing goals that aren’t sales or income related. Good reviews, participating in book signings, speaking at a writers’ conference, publishing the next book…these are all valid ways to measure success, that are going to leave you feeling much better about what you’ve accomplished.

Slide 14

There are actually 2 approaches to self-publishing.  DIY– do-it-yourself–is what we’re gong to focus on in this course.  But there’s another route, one which most people are familiar with because of TV ads.

That’s Assisted Self-Publishing.

Slide 15- Assisted Self-Pub

  • Remember when we were talking about the traditional publishing model, being one where the publisher pays the author? With assisted self-publishing, the author is paying the publisher.
  • Years ago, this was called “vanity publishing.”  While that label is largely gone, but the pay to play model still continues.  The companies are sometimes called “hybrid publishers.” Authors might query and submit their work to an editor, just like a traditional publisher, but upon acceptance, the author is expected to make some sort of financial commitment to publish the book. This can include editing costs, cover design, agreeing to purchase a set number of print copies, or paying for promotion.
  • For authors with more money than time, or who only intend to publish one book, say a family history, it can help them get their book out fairly easily. 
  • Publishing packages can start at around $1,000 and will include various services. The problem is that the services can be overpriced– you’re paying a premium for convenience, and may not be of the quality you expect. Editing might simply be proofreading.  The companies charge for things like uploading your book to Amazon, which are actually free. A frequent promise is that these companies will get your book into bookstores. Don’t believe it. Most likely, your book will be listed in a catalog that is mailed out to retailers, and that’s about it. 

While there are some legitimate companies out there– the Alliance of Independent Authors rates providers– there are a lot of scams too.  Buyers, beware.

Slide 17- DIY

DIY– do it yourself– self-publishing is what we’re going to be talking about in this class.

The term is also a bit of a misnomer.

While you might do some things yourself, you’re going to find freelance providers to do the things you can’t. And while that might sound a little intimidating– most people don’t just happen to know a great cover designer or editor– we’re going to talk about that, and a lot more, in the next three weeks.

Slide 18- Good Fit for DIY

  • Projects that are good fit for DIY self-publishing. include fiction that may not have as wide of a commercial appeal as traditional publishing. This can mean a genre that’s been popular in the past, but isn’t currently as popular; stories that  don’t follow genre expectations, or something experimental.
  • DIY authors are usually those who see themselves as publishing more than one book, and who not only want to control the creative aspects of their work, but also enjoy the business end of their work. They might have some of the essential skills,  or just look  forward to learning them.
  • They’re also authors who perfer to be able to set their own publishing schedules, rather than have one imposed on them.

Slide 19- DIY Advantages

  • A few of the advantages we talked about before. The author has complete control over content, cover, marketing and pricing.  Even if you’re using a freelance provider, you as the author have final say.
  • Though some self-published authors work with agents who shop the book’s subsidiary rights– such as film rights,  and world language rights, that doesn’t apply to most new self-published authors, so the money you earn from book sales is yours to keep.
  • Uploading your ebook and print book are to most self-publishing platforms is free, or in a few cases, there is a nominal set up cost of $50-$100. Print on demand means that you don’t have inventory to store.
  • You choose the people you want to work with.
  • Your book never goes out of print, and if you have a number of books available, that means more money in your pocket, as sales of new titles drives sales of older ones.

Slide 20- Royalties

  • Self-publishing royalties are also higher than in tradition publishing.
  • While this can vary somewhat by publisher and contract, these rates are a pretty typical.
  • Hardcover deals tend to be those with the highest sales expectations. But more typically, a new author in commercial fiction isn’t going to get a hardcover deal. She’ll likely get paperback and ebook, with the potential for audio if the book hits a sales target of maybe 10,000 copies– which is not easy for a newbie author.
  • A new author who sells 10,000 copies is considered a success, though most authors don’t hit that mark, at least not on their first book.  Which is why traditional publishing is more of a long game that a one-shot deal. If that new author releases a sequel to her first book, even it if it doesn’t sell as sell as the first book—which is typical– that second book will drive sales of the first book. If she releases another book, it will drive sales of the first and second, and so on.

Slide 21- Self-Pub Royalties

  • Now compare that to self-publishing royalties, which can also vary, depending on how your book is priced. But even Amazon’s lowest royalty rate of 35%, is higher than the best rates offered by traditional publishers.
  • Royalty rates vary by retailer, the price of your book, in some cases, the size, and whether you place direct, or use an aggregator, which is a service that places your book on multiple retailers.  Because Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform also offers a way to produce print books that can be sold both on Amazon  and distributed to other retailers, the royalty on print after printing costs, is 60 percent for books sold on Amazon, and 40 percent for Amazon-produced print books sold everywhere else.
  • Barnes and Nobel also offers a print option too, but I’m not sure if it offers distribution outside of B&N.
  • Itune’s royalty structure differs for books placed direct, verses those placed through an aggregator. We’ll talk more about aggregator’s in next week’s class.

Slide 22- Formats and Audiences

  • Self-publishers can offer their books in three formats: Ebooks, print and audio.
  • Ebooks are popular with authors because they’re inexpensive to produce, and require no inventory. Readers like them because they’re portable, require no physical storage and they’re inexpensive to purchase.  Ebooks appeal to younger readers, and those who are comfortable with technology.
  • Print books appeal to older readers, and to those who want a book they can easily refer back to, highlight or make notations. How-to books, cookbooks, and reference books are all popular formats for prints.  For authors who intend to sell their work at signings, and speaking engagements, print is essential. The nice thing is that Print on Demand means an author can purchase a small inventory of print books as needed, rather than having to store hundreds of copies.
  • Audiobooks are a newer entry into the self-publishing market, and companies like Amazon, and Draft2Digital offer authors a turnkey way to produce an audio book.

Slide 23- Distribution

  • There are a number of ways for self-published authors to get their work to readers.
  • The biggest avenue is through online retailers. There are the giant booksellers, like Amazon and B&N, and Kobo, plus the shopping sites for large retailers like Wal-Mart and Target. Placing your book directly with the major booksellers isn’t difficult, although Google Play may still be closed to indie authors. And getting your book carried by Walmart or Target isn’t easy for any author, but self-published works in particular.
  • Local/regional bookstores are often open to selling books by independent authors, especially iff there is a local connection to either the author or the subject.
  • If you are a non-fiction author, selling your books in person as part of a presentation is probably going to be an important part of your marketing strategy. More authors are selling their books direct from their own websites, and this is become a more popular option for fiction authors too.

Slide 24- Your Project/Fiction

  • Commercial fiction covers the biggest selling genres. It’s also referred to as “genre fiction.”  The emphasis is on story, and  there are pretty clearly defined expectations for your story, in terms of settings, characters, and plot.  A romance novel ends with the central couple together. A mystery ends with the crime solved.  In a thriller, the good guy wins, and so on. This where you find your mega bestselling authors– James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Stephen King, John Grisham.
  • Literary Fiction can upend those conventions. There’s less emphasis on story-telling and more focus on the quality of its writing. Which isn’t to say that commercial fiction can’t be well written  or artistic, or that literary fiction can’t be entertaining, because we can all think of examples.  But literary fiction is less sales driven, and more prestige driven. Some of these authors include Jonathan Franzen, Meg Wolitzer, Tom Wolfe, Joyce Carol Oates.
  • Children’s three broad categories– Picture books tell their story with illustrations, and minimal text. I saw a stat somewhere that picture books have around 2,000 words and are roughly 35 pages long. Middle grade books are for kids who are independent readers. The books may still have some illustration, but they’re heavier on text, divided into chapters. Usually these are series books– The Magic Treehouse, the American Girl series.  YA are longer and more complex novels that appeal to preteens, teens and even adults. Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, the Fault in our Stars.

Slide 25- Your Project/Non-Fiction

  • Non-fiction accounts for a large percentage of published works.70% was one figure I read.
  •  Prescriptive works are aimed at helping the reader achieve or learn something. These include the writing guides I love so much. Cookbooks, craft books, diet books. Anyone working on a book like this?
  • Narrative non-fiction includes books that tell a story or an event. While there might be a teaching element, or a lesson to be drawn, it’s not the primary goal. Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” and Jeanette Walls’ “The Glass Castle” fall into this category.
  • Is anyone working on something like that?
  • Academic books are intended to be used in a classroom or teaching setting, and are going to be of limited interest to commercial/non-academic publishers. 
  • Finally, there are anthologies of short writing, such as essays, blog posts, devotionals.  Usually these authors are well known and have an audience before they publish.  David Sedaris, Roxanne Gay, Angela Davis, William F. Buckley and C.S. Lewis are a few examples.

Slide 26- Formats and Genres

  • Ebooks and audio work well for most types of fiction and narrative non-fiction, such as memoirs.
  • These are also good formats for books that are targeting a younger reader, as more ebooks are purchased by younger readers. As for audiobooks, I see a lot of older people checking these out from the library where I work, either to enjoy on long roadtrips, or because vision problems interfere with reading.
  • Books that have few images, for obvious reasons, and books that will be sold online.
  • Print is a good format choice for fiction, narrative non-fiction, and also prescriptive non-fiction– reference books, how to guides. People like to be able to skip around in these books, and make notes.
  • Print appeals to older readers, and is also a more popular format for reaching children, especially if your book has a lot of illustration.

Print is also crucial if you plan to sell copies of your book at events such as signings, conferences and speaking engagements.

Announcements: Next week we’ll be meeting in the Harper College Library, in the David K. Hill Family Library building (F).

Bring a pen and notebook—we’ll be drafting sales descriptions for our books.

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