donderdag 16 oktober 2014

Drama Llama teaches a valuable lesson.

Let’s be honest for a moment here… there is a lot wrong in the small press / indie world,  which is, according to some (not me), the lowest order of the publishing realm. Recently there has been a lot of drama surrounding a medium / small press.

Permuted Press is providing the dramatic role of the perfect scapegoat at the moment, (which they deserve for the nasty stunt they pulled) but come on… we all know this is just the tip of the iceberg. I don’t know how things fair in traditional publishing, though I have a sneaky suspicion there might be an iceberg or two in there as well. That’s not for me to judge.

Anyway, I recently wrote a blog about reading your contract. What inspired me to write , you may ask? A contract I was offered myself. I actually read the whole thing in disbelief. The contract was asking a lot, no… not just a lot… it was asking EVERYTHING surrounding those books, for the extent of the copyright, and I couldn’t help wondering what the publisher was actually offering me in return. A hundred copies a year, that’s all I could find. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but that’s not a lot. Even with my current novella, short story collection and short story I sell a lot more than a hundred copies a year each. Those aren’t even novels yet. The other conditions were equally dodgy. They would offer me a limited say in the cover art, but that sounded rather hollow. No real marketing promises except that I would be mentioned online. This could be anything really, if
they did a facebook post they would have lived up to the contract, so I wasn’t impressed with that. Even the editor wouldn’t be paid, they would just get a percentage of the earnings. A lot of alarm bells went off in my head.

At first I decided to let the whole thing lie, why bother talking about this right?… until I realized that two years ago, when I first started out –desperate to be published—I would have signed that contract. I would have signed away my soul for a five book deal with a publisher… any publisher. Only because I didn’t know any better; I just wanted to be published and that was the only way I knew how.
Judging from the amount of people who signed that contract after I saw it, I know there are more desperate souls out there. We writers are dreamers, and that can make us a little naïve at times.

This got me thinking about what my expectations were when I started out. I was going to write a book. That was step one. Then I would send the book to an agent, (probably a few agents, I wasn’t that unrealistic) but eventually my book would be picked up and it would go to a big time publisher, who would then put my book in the real live stores. I was convinced my books would then sell enough to at least make a living out of this profession. Even if it was just minimum wage.

Yeah… I can hear all of you who have been in this business for longer than 6 month laugh at me. I laugh at that me too. Unless your name is Stephanie Meyer… that’s not going to happen.  And even if it is Stephanie Meyer, if you haven’t written Twilight… it’s still not going to happen.

There are thousands of writers out there. Some of them really good, some of them really bad and a lot of them nice and average. They are all trying to make it. A few lucky ones do, the rest of us keep struggling. Even if you get a decent publisher, they won’t guarantee you get into a shop. I think even some big five now sell ebooks first, and if you do well, you earn a place in bookstores (not sure about this, I’m basing it on rumors)  

A lot of people turn to self publishing. In the beginning I frowned when someone mentioned going at it alone. Let’s face it, there is a lot of poor quality in self publishing land. It’s filled with interesting ideas and terrible executions. This is because a lot of self publishers forget one crucial thing… they aren’t just authors… they are publishers too. Going down this path you need to do all the things the publisher would normally do, and be critical about your own work. This is very difficult for any writer.

Now, I know… I know… Tip My Hat is considered self publishing too. And that’s fine, I am not ashamed of it. The only difference is, I’m not doing it all by myself. In fact, I’m doing none of the publishing stuff; I do the writing part, that’s it. I have editors and proofreaders to make sure that what I write doesn’t suck, and yes, I’ve rewritten things at the request of my editor and even omitted stories. I get a say in what happens, but not about everything.

My husband handles the finances and the marketing. He is also the one who updates my page most of the time, and he deals with the formatter and Amazon, or the shop he’s gotten me in. I don’t even handle my own website, one of my friends does this, and we provide the content. The reason why we do it this way is that I would be a terrible publisher. So I wouldn’t want to publish my own work.

 I know people who are great self publishers, they are really smart and business savvy. They know what they’re doing and some of them make a lot of money doing it. It’s very possible to be a grand success as a self publisher… if you have the right skills. Otherwise you will be another name on Amazon, with one of the thousands of  books, that may or may not be good, for most readers to overlook.

I hear that some people only sell about 10 books a year. That’s utterly depressing. I probably would sell no more than that if I didn’t have a team to back me up. So I’m content with the way some of my work is ‘self published’. That doesn’t mean I’m not looking for a good publisher. I do, and I’ve found one for at least one of my series.

Now here’s the tricksy part. You see… just like anyone can call themselves author… anyone can call themselves publisher. As soon as someone starts up a press, all we eager writers swarm around them like flies, because we want to be picked up by someone who knows what they are doing. We want someone to help us with the big bad marketing aspect of things, to really sell our books. Most of us don’t have a clue what we’re doing, or where we can find readers that will love us. So we look to the publishers.
A fair amount of small press / indie publishers that have great ideas and know what they are doing. They will invest money into their company and are willing to invest. They know their company will start out as a money pit, but will eventually –if they do
the right things—pay off. These presses will have open submissions and look very critical at the submitted works, picking only the cream of the crop. They hire great cover artists, good editors, have proofreaders and maybe even get a few beta readers. Their books will be well formatted and look professional. They will have marketing strategies. Now… the latter are never a guarantee to sell books, but they will help. These presses will only take on the books they can handle, and have an allotted time to work on each one with care and love.

The benefits of a small press / indie press is that they will usually be more personal. Where they lack the ability to get you in all the big book stores, they will take your books to conventions, talk to people about your work and do their very best to promote you. They often have good connections with popular blog sites, and they know just where to show off your book covers. If you look around you can see the ones who do this. They are always promoting their authors, and their books will be beautiful. It doesn’t mean these presses will make you a millionaire, but you won’t be worse off selling your books to them. Personally, I think you will do better with them, than you would self publishing, unless you have a killer plan and can do what they do.

But… there are also presses who don’t do all this. Basically these guys are self publishers who just want to make money from your book instead. Not all bad presses have mal intentions. A lot of them truly want to put up a good press. Some of them just don’t know what they are doing. There are a few presses that might actually get better in time once they learn more about the business. It’s not all predators out there, but there is a lot of incompetence. There are a few more devious among them.

I have seen a lot of badly produced books come from small presses. Some, like Permuted now, won’t even bother with a print version. The books are often terribly formatted and the covers are done by unprofessional artists. They don’t spend time on blurbs, don’t advertise (posting your Amazon link on Facebook is not exactly advertising, unless they have a following of more than 10K) and take on as many books as people are willing to give them. I even wonder sometimes if those publishers have a slush pile or if they will produce anything offered to them.

I urge you to remember why you want to sign with a publisher. What do you need them to do for you that you can’t do yourself? I'm not saying you don't need them, but you need to understand WHY you do. Personally I would rather work with a publisher than self publish, but if they won’t offer me anything good and I have to give up a percentage of my money… what’s the point? If your book won’t get properly edited/ formatted/ promoted… what is the reason to give your precious work to a publisher?

A lot of writers are looking for a ‘family’ to belong with, and I have seen publishers promote their brand as a family. I get it, I’m very happy to be part of the ‘Horrific Tales Publishing’ family, but it’s not wise to publish somewhere just because you like the people. It’s nice if you can get both, I rather not work for assholes either.

Because of the Permuted debacle, I wanted to post something hopeful on my Facebook wall, and most of all something helpful. I asked people to recommend a publisher. After a few recommendations I was starting to despair. I received an alarming number of personal messages by various Facebook friends about 2/3rds of the recommended presses, warning me about them. I heard complaints about bad
editors / formatters, about no editing at all, about unprofessional behavior, people not getting paid, people getting no sales, people being forced to promote books they didn’t agree with. In the end, my whole hopeful thread was just depressing me. Even a few medium presses, who I was hoping to submit to myself, were starting to look a bit shady. I got messages of people having to fight back for the rights of their stories, that were just being left to collect proverbial dust.

I understand why some people consciously choose to self publish. Maybe it’s not so bad to keep it close to home?

Yet I stick to my initial conviction, a good publisher is beneficial and I would gladly give up the majority of my profits for someone who does the work.

I am not speaking out against publishers at all. All I am saying is that you have to be critical about who you sign up with. This is difficult because most of us don’t know what we are doing. Here are a few tips on what I do. Maybe they’ll help (maybe they won’t… remember, I don’t know what I’m doing either)

Don’t jump into signing with anyone. Just check them out first. Always see who they have published. Do they have good named writers in there? (this isn’t a prerequisite, especially with newer presses). I always go to Amazon and check out the first page of one of their books (actually, I check out two or three of their books). My aim is to see if the books are well edited. If they are full of grammar and spelling mistakes, I scratch that publisher of my potential list. If the formatting seems crap, I’ll probably do the same. After that I look at the sales rankings, and I start with the newest authors. If an author has only been out for a month and the sales rank is over 100K, that can be a bad sign (doesn’t have to be, it can be). I check out some of the other authors. Are they at decent rankings, or are they all around the million mark? This should tell you how a press does. Though it’s not guaranteed, they could be having an ‘off month’. But it’s as good of an indication I can get.

Check what you can find out about your press. Google them. See where they promote. Where can you find book reviews on the books they publish? Are the bigger reviewers picking up on them?
How many authors are they publishing? Unless they are a HUGE company, it’s usually a bad sign if they publish a new book a day. Publishing books properly takes time.
Are they giving an advance? This sounds petty, but getting an advance means the publisher trusts that your work will sell. No advance means no risk for the publisher, and all the risk for you. It means they don’t have to push your work to get their money’s worth.

Lastly if all of this seems okay, and you’re sure… (yes, here I go again) read the contract.
Always read the contract and only sign if it’s a good one.

Please do yourself a favor and don’t just sign your work away to anyone. Only give your work to
a publisher who will do a better job than you can. I know it will seem hard to even get a publisher. Rejection is part of our existence. Rejection is to a writer what water is to a swimmer. Don’t despair, if your work is good enough, it will be picked up by a worthy publisher. If it doesn’t, polish it some more. Don’t just be critical of the publishers, also be critical of your work.

The starry eyed wannabe writer in me died a horrible death when I truly entered the publishing world. I’ve learned a few lessons in the two years I’ve been publishing. There are no clear answers to success, and a lot of us are making it up as we’re going along. Don’t let other people’s confidence fool you, there is a big chance they don’t know what’s going on either. Let the drama that's been going on be a lesson to all of us writers.     

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