Publishing: Pros and Cons to Traditional


Pros and Cons 

to Traditional

Last week, I discussed an overview of the main types of publishing and warned about looking for services versus a vanity publisher (see here). Today, we focus on traditional publishers. Over the next couple posts, I'll visit small presses and self publishing. Remember, there is no "best" path as it depends on the author's preferences when it comes to money they want/can invest, the control they desire, and their goals for their novels. 

This day is dedicated the the traditional path: query an agent, get a contract, then agent gets you a publisher, and your book comes out through mainstream venues.
You'll get a quality product, with a famous name housing your book. Your novel will be on the big store bookshelves, have wide readership, and most distributors will produce (not POD--print on demand). Your publisher will market some for you, and find you professional reviewers. You'll usually have higher sales due to more exposure. Lucky authors get advances (can be a lot of money, but rare). When preparing your book, you'll have access to expert cover designers, experienced formatting folk, and the industries most qualified editors free of charge--they are years of successful experience behind them. In comparison to other routes, you don’t have to do much; you do have a say with edits, and the perk of having full legal protection. These powerhouses pump out lots of novels annually, make all book formats including audio, and costs you nothing. There is higher potential for fame or becoming a bestseller.

You need an agent to negotiate for you, who are difficult to land sometimes (they do not take unsolicited manuscripts), and an agent usually takes 15% of your royalties and a percent of the advance (but nothing until the book is sold to a publisher). The publisher will give you roughly 8-12% in royalties, which means as an author, you make nothing until advance is paid for and then only get that percent thereafter. The price of book is controlled by them as well as promotions. The biggest complaint by some authors is that the mainstream industry caters for sale--not the most artistic, well written, or unique book. Authors have reported their books being altered so much that it no longer felt like theirs. You don’t have to do much (some people like full control, so this is a benefit or drawback depending on the author). Depending on the wording in the contract, an author’s input during edits can be overridden; he/she could be bound to agent and/or publisher, so a lawyer is a good idea before signing. It can take a long time to publish, so prepare for 12-18+ months for query agents through seeing it on the selves.

In short, lowest royalties and control, but the best experts given at no costs and higher sales and exposure; the main path to becoming famous. 

My experience with traditional publishers is limited, but with agents I dabbled. The above is through years of research, but I was at the stage where negotiations and contracts were in the works with an agent. Unfortunately, it fell through, and I made the decision to choose a different path: see the inspirational story here. The short of it is I queried about 30 agents, and had 5 full manuscript requests, that resulted in the aforementioned deal falling through after I thought I was so close to "making it." I also had 2 R&Rs (when an agent asks you to revise and resubmit). These R&R's were too much to ask--drastically changing the entire novel's tone, scope, and frankly would make it "vanilla." It was a moment in my life where I could sellout to get a chance at a book deal or stick to my vision. I chose the latter. My book was later picked up by a small press who did not want to change my vision. See this book here.

Small presses--or indie publishers--I'll visit next week. I'll try not to be biased as my experiences with two of them have been fantastic.

Publishing Tales: What's Your Path?

Publishing Tales: 

What's Your Path?

I was asked through two different avenues to do a lecture for the community through the local library and the university where I teach. Since my writing group got the library to house our workshops--that sadly won't happen due to the COVID-19 pandemic--I decided to collect my thoughts here as my lectures at the university might still happen in the fall. I also wanted to pass on the information the public won't get to hear in person.

A few people from my writing group tasked me with discussing publishing. I have researched publishing for about a decade--my, it is ever-changing!--and I've published 3 novels (2 more are with publishers now) via a small presses (the traditional route sans agent). I have some experience with agents as well, despite not choosing that path. I will also discuss self-publishing, something I have learned a lot about from author friends, particularly my writing group.

Let me preface this by saying the most important thing you need to know about publishing that some authors argue about endlessly: which path toward publishing is the "best" way? The fact is there is no best way to publish, but different routes that subjectively depend on a person’s preferences for costs, control, and goals. I'll be presenting pros and cons of each over the next few weeks including my own stories. This week is an overview. I will also break down each path as we go. Today, I want to focus on the most important aspect: avoiding scammers.

Traditional publishing: a legitimate, prestigious publisher releases your book to the world. “The Big 5” refers to the huge publishing powerhouses in the US—Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster
*note: these 5 conglomerates have imprints, meaning smaller houses they run that might be genre or reader-age specific (for example, Hachette houses Disney and Hyperion labels)         

In short, lowest royalties and control, but the best experts given free of charge, higher sales and exposure; the path to becoming famous. Extensive research and long process to find an agent who will make the deal for you; from getting an agent to seeing your book in print roughly is 1-2+ years

Small/indie presses: independent publishers, pretty much every publisher outside of the Big-5 and their imprints who are not a self-published label, a vanity press, or a publishing service.
*note: often referred to as indie publishers for "independent," people lump them in as indie yet traditional. I have given them their own group here as I feel they are in between.

In short, higher royalties and control than traditional, experts on it free of charge, but lower sales and exposure; extensive research for ones that have everything you want, roughly 6 months-1 year from contract to publication.

Self-publishing: an author publishes a book themselves
In short, highest royalties and control, but author must do it all (or must hire help) for publishing process; can be free but can become costly (depends on talents, hired assistance, and preferred quality one wishes for), extensive research needed, but instant publication once it is ready.

There's something that was called "hybrid" publishing. I don't like this term as the definition simply is something between traditional and self. With tons of small presses popping up, this definition is too vague. A legitimate publisher, even if small press, shouldn't ask for money. A "hybrid" these days is more like a service you pay for that helps you get your book in a publishable condition and format with the intents to self-publish. I warn anyone who is contemplating paying for any service through someone calling themselves a publisher to do your research. There are two kinds of these companies and others that fall in between them, making it difficult to see the difference between a great company and a scammer.

Publishing services—these are legitimate companies who help authors with any publishing service, usually a-la-carte, in order for someone to self-publish a quality, professional book. Authors can choose marketing, editing (levels of editing), and/or book cover design, etc. They take no royalties and should not lock you into a contract after payment is met. To tell them apart from scammers (below), they are transparent about what they do, how they are not publishers but help you independently publish, and about their rates. They are pickier about manuscripts, meaning if it is too much work for those rates, they might suggest having others read it and help you get it more polished before submitting. Here is an example of legitimacy (they have an ethics award):

Personally, I did submit to this company when they had a tier system that they don't do anymore (they were bought over and became a service connected to a bigger publishing company). I had sent my manuscript in during the transition, so they had to tell me they wished they could've published it, but they were now only a service and offered me amazing rates. Instead of going for it, I queried elsewhere and the book was published. You can see the novel here. I thought they were courteous, transparent, and professional.

Vanity press/publisher—these are scammers (for the most part) who prey upon inexperienced people who want to publish or use publishing services to self-publish. They pose as “real” publishers but escape legal implications because they say they do charge for their service. They accept almost every manuscript they receive because only a smaller pool of people will be able to afford their rates. Some will pose as more honest and give you a quote, only after you pay that, more is needed. Some authors never get anything back from them (after they do this to too many people and receive threats and poor reviews, they create a new website and name). Others do the service to avoid being sued, but give poor quality (ex. $1500 for them to run it through the free version of Grammarly that you can do on your own). The most “legitimate” will perform all the editing and book cover services for high rates and “market” it by placing it on their website, but care little for the quality of the content. They can take royalties and might have a contract that drops you after so many years and allows you to self-publish it; this is to avoid too many bad reviews with their name on it. The plots get deeper and scarier. If they say they are a publisher (rather than a service) and ask for money up front, DON’T DO IT!  Here are 8 red flags to look for:

I recently looked into a situation for someone and what I found in the contract was full of terrible traps preying on those who are inexperienced with the industry. Bottom line: if you can afford to pay these people for their services--thousands of dollars, 5k+--you can hire a lawyer first to tell you they aren't worth the money. Never sign a contract you don't fully understand. 

Everyone's path is different and scammer versus legitimate services are hard to discern. If you feel uneasy at all, please don't go with it.

Next week, I'll discuss the traditional route and my experience with it.

Author Feature: Fred Nolan

Author Feature: 

Fred Nolan

The author

Fred Nolan was born in Pennsylvania and has hazy recollections of Erie, Atlanta, Denver and a small, wooded development north of Houston. By age 15 he settled in Dallas, where he has worked with a commercial subcontractor for 24 years. Empty Oaks Magazine (RIP) published his first short story in 2015. Emery Press Books published his debut novel, Alexei and the Second Empress, in November 2018.

Where to Find Him:
Other Links

Alexei and the Second Empress  

These are the final days of the tsars and Alexei Shafirov, an infirm skeptic, is bedridden after a fall. Throughout the long recovery his loved ones speak to him of fables, uprisings and a royal family under house detention. At the heart of their stories is Alexei Romanov, the heir apparent. Like him, the Romanov boy is a hemophiliac, near the center of a decades-old political cabal. Both children are prone to mischief, self-indulgence and illness. But some insist their connection runs deeper than that.Alexei and the Second Empress is an account of the end of Imperial Russia, told in equal measures fairy tale and cruel realism. It is a story of opulence, folklore, addiction and secrets. And the most profound of those may not come to light without a price.

Check it out here.

Some free stories from Fred Nolan can be found here.

The Interview

What’s next for you?
As I type it’s April 5, 2020. It is about a month since the U.S. began its various COVID-19 responses. Tomorrow will start my third week working from home, in near-absolute quarantine. My job is secure, my family is healthy. I am working on a book and a play. I am certain both could reach audiences in some form. I hesitate to use the word privilege, but I am in an extremely fortunate position, there is no doubt.

So how, then, would I dare charge for either of these forthcoming works when people are dying alone in hospitals, or struggling for breath in their bedrooms? For all we know, this will be our annual September routine: hospital personnel will be exposed to a horrible contagion without proper equipment; they in turn become sick and then suffer or die alongside their patients. North Texas shoppers will empty supermarket shelves faster than grocers can keep them stocked, and their food bill will be two, three or ten times what the checkout clerks could afford. They will defy shelter-in-place laws and then, on social media, hail police officers as heroes.

In this climate, in which people are contributing so much and receiving so little, it seems a betrayal to charge $16 for a book.

I’ve mentioned this on Twitter at least once, but it bears repeating. I would love to create a Bandcamp-styled web platform for distributing books with a name-your-price option. Bandcamp might already be the best choice: it has an audiobook section and allows sellers to list various merchandise types. But people know Bandcamp for the music, and audiobooks aren’t exactly cheap. Studio time is about $1,000 per 100 pages; double that if you aren’t narrating it yourself. Even if you read your own book in a home studio, you’ll need expensive software and a professional-grade microphone.

So the short answer to your question is this: What’s next is a lot of deliberation. In fifteen years of writing I’ve never had a moment of writer’s block, but my gut-check on the subject of distribution is every bit as crippling as writer’s block.

What a moving and truthful look at the future of our industry, including marketing which is vital for authors. What has worked best for you?
My pre-2020 answer was: Start locally. Let your spouse, parents and loved ones do some of the heavy lifting. Appear on a friend’s podcast. Submit your novel to local book groups. Do readings at a nearby bookstore. A writer can’t live without Twitter, but you won’t sell many books there. To sell more than a few hundred copies, you’ll have to turn the computer off and go do things inherently mortifying to writers.

Today, what constitutes effective marketing is anyone’s guess, and we should cast a jaundiced eye on any headline that mentions a resurgence in reading. I suspect the best a writer can do now is to engage with the reader. Ask them not just what they want from fiction, but what they need from book publishing. 

Yes, marketing is anyone's guess and we have to learn what works for our particular brand at a given time. Aside from marketing, what have you learned most through your publishing experience?
Someone is going to intensely dislike your work, and take it personally that you wrote it at all. It will insult them that they read a single page. Never engage with them, there is no sense in both sides of the argument taking things personally.

On the other hand, someone is going to love your work, and for reasons you were not prepared for. They will totally miss your creative intent yet still connect very deeply to the story.

Your favorite of your short stories might never be published, yet the ones you aren’t sure about will almost certainly be published, sometimes nominated for awards. Do your best to fall in love with those works, if for no other reason than someone else has.

Thank you for your time. Please, check out Fred Nolan's book and those free stories (links above). 

Writing Tip: How long does writing a book take?

Writing Tip: 

How long does 
writing a book take?

This question came up on Twitter by a nice guy who had a lot of free time because of the pandemic. He wanted to fulfill his dream of writing a book. He had a poll that asked how long it took to write the first draft of a novel and in it the choices were 1) under a month, 2) 1-3 months, 3) and 3+ months.

Well, most of the #writingcommunity was nice and supportive, but there was a lot of sarcasm and insistence that it must take years for a first draft of a book to be quality. Remember, he only asked about the first draft, not start to finish. One person said nothing good could come out of a novel written in under 1 month. I simply posted (not with that comment because the person might've attacked me) to the main thread that I have written a first daft in a month when I wasn't working (this man admitted he had lots of free time now too), but normally takes me 2-3 months. Taking in the responses, I wasn't alone in being a quick writer, even though answers did vary from 1 month to 15 years.

It ruffles my feathers when authors make ultimatums--and tell a novice--when it comes to advice that realistically hinges on the individual not some set formula. Instead of engaging with this person who inadvertently called people's writing like mine inferior, I decided I would create a blog post in response.

First off, we are talking first draft, and the man's post made that clear. If you are a writer who has a messy first draft (guilty), who is a pantser, meaning no plotting or limited research included (guilty), time on your hands and write every day (I don't work in the summer), and your first draft is usually about 10-20k words shorter than your final draft (obviously describing myself), it is easily possible to write a 60,000 worded manuscript in 1 month (I've slayed NaNoWriMon's 50k in 3 weeks, working full-time and being a mom). Do the math: that's 2000 words a day. I timed myself once in a group writathon and hit 4,005 words in a hour (that's 66 words per minute--when going for a typist job that I didn't get I took their test and clocked 75 which wasn't good enough). I could write 2000 easily a day because theoretically (without interruption, lol), I could write that in about a half hour. I type fast to keep up with my brain which thinks super fast, and I see my story as a movie I must record. All this speeds things up, and I hardly consciously think or pause. Therefore, Twitter person, I can write a book in a month--first draft. And it probably won't be as rubbish as you proclaim it must be.

On the flip side, the person whose first draft took 15 years might have had limited writing time, life obstacles or setbacks, a slower or normal paced of typing, and maybe had writer's block or a lack of inspiration. It happens. Also, some genres need more research than others before a writer can start--historical and sci-fi, for example. Some people plan a lot, take their time. But to insist that someone's work is inferior because they are too quick or too slow is not very understanding of all the different practices and approaches to writing. I think the person who was having a go calling fast writing inferior misunderstands the idea of a first of many drafts. This writer might be one of those authors whose first draft takes a couple years but it looks like my draft 4. They may be an edit-as-you-go type writer.

For me, I simply write, then I have two revision stages of sometimes "killing my darlings," but mostly adding, doing research to fix things, or add detail, like "street in New York" turns into an exact intersection after referring to a map. That takes me about 2-4 months on top of that 1 month it took to write. If that is what this person considers a first draft--everything put in up until line editing, with no additional content or words added--then it takes about 5-6 months for me. But to insinuate my speed of my now published books must be inferior to one's own because they took more time to write than me shows a willful ignorance or a snobbery towards one's way being the only right way.

Taken in Swansea, Wales
This is one of many posts I have made defending my methodology of what I believe are good books. I know a lot of fast writers who are great. I know a lot of slow writers who painstakingly plot every beat and character arc out, who edit as they go who are great. Never could I distinguish merely off the book itself whether it was created quickly or not. That is what editing is for.

So let's stop giving ultimatum advice to newbies. Let's support new aspiring authors who want to fulfill their dream and say exactly what the quite more knowledgeable Twitter folk did tell this man--everyone is different and it takes as long as it takes. In short, don't worry how long, enjoy the process, and even more so others should stop judging authors who don't write the way you do.

To put it all in perspective, my local writing group only allows in authors who plan to publish a book within a year (self-pub or contract in hand), as they deem that the line of a serious writer. "Serious," however, is not a mark of talent, but of ambition and time. "Ambition is critical"--Twin Town


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