Writerly Wednesday: A Hodgepodge

Wow, I go offline for a few days and holy crap the world just tips on its axis. Rather than ignore it – I thought I’d touch on two recent issues – both via Harlequin – Carina Press, the new digital publishing line and Horizons, a vanity press. The usual goes here: I am not an expert other than on the things I’ve experienced. What I say here is my opinion. But it’s at my blog and if anyone brings nasty here, I will smack you down. Disagreement makes the world go round, but nasty is for the weak minded. Don’t go there in my living room.

Digital Publishing: Though for some reason this is being connected to Horizons – digital publishing is not vanity publishing. There are many reasons to choose digital – for me, the timelines are shorter, which keeps my books coming out regularly and to an established readership. I like the immediacy of purchase for my readers. I like that digital publishing takes some chances that traditional publishing can’t. Readers see a lot of things in NY now that digital broke for them. This is a plus to all of us.

I like getting paid monthly and the ability to see how my books are doing (with NY, it’s six months out). I like the smaller nature of it. Shrug. If you choose correctly, an author can have a great, long term career in digital publishing.

However, authors have a responsibility to do their homework and yes, to not just sell to some house because they wanted you and you kept subbing to smaller and smaller houses instead of perhaps revising or trying another book. The better the house the better the distribution and editing you’ll receive, the better marketing they’ll have, the better the covers and in the end, the better your bottom line. If you sell to monkey butt press don’t show up on an author loop and whine that you only sold 3 books.

Choose carefully. Look at the website – is it easy to navigate? Who are the authors? If it’s the same four – red flag and they’re probably all pen names for the same person – the owner, or the owner and their bff. How easy is it to buy the books? Do they have some jury rigged system where you can only pay via pay pal? Are the books downloadable instantly? Read some of them. Are they good? Solidly plotted? What’s the editing like? What are the covers like?

Contact some of their authors to see what their experience has been like. I did this back when Samhain first came about and it really helped me make my choice. What is their response time like? Do they state their expectations clearly? When you contact them, how do they respond? Do they promise pie in the sky (warning sign, there is no pie in the sky, which makes me so sad, because who doesn’t love pie?).

What are their contracts like? Personally? I’d never sign a contract with an option clause if I wasn’t getting an advance. I also HATE giving away print rights if they won’t be used. I learned the hard way on this and regret trusting the system in place when I signed, because that system went to hell shortly after and now I’m stuck. What are the royalties? I’d be suspicious at very low ones as digital publishing has a different sort of structure which means traditional publishing rates of 10% and under seem, to me, untenable.

Don’t send them the crap you can’t sell anywhere else. Approach this like you would anything else you take seriously. Do your best work, let that be your calling card. Even if the editor doesn’t like that piece, if you’re good, if you’re professional they will remember that. I’ve had that experience in traditional and digital publishing. It means a lot and it will serve you in the end.

I’m a huge proponent of digital publishing. I would NOT send my work to the majority of digital publishers in existence right now due to several of the things I mention above. But it can be done right and it can be done well and I think it’s a viable way for authors to get their work out in front of readers with a vibrant horizon of possibilities.

Self Publishing/Vanity Publishing: I am not opposed to vanity publishing in all circumstances. Some people use a vanity press to put out family histories, cookbooks for friends and family, etc. This is a smart thing in those cases since your audience is clear and small and your distribution is very specific.

However, I have not seen any evidence that would convince me that good fiction comes out of vanity presses on anything near a regular basis. The two people who got attention and sold to a traditional publisher do not make up a big enough sample to create anything but an exception to the rule.

Obviously if you, as an author, wish to make that choice, you go on ahead. I respect that some people simply don’t want to go the traditional route, or they’re just done with it. But self publishing, while it does, by definition, make one a published author, does not make one an author on par with one who did the work, tried an tried some more and sold to a publisher. Not in and of itself. You will always be fighting against the perception that you are not a real writer (and hey, I write erotic romance, I get this all the time) Then went through revisions and edits and had the book published and distributed by your publisher – all without YOU paying a cent to your publisher.

Many successful authors have gone the “don’t touch” route in their contracts and I can tell. I can see it on the page when the book is about 100 pages too long, has loads of hanging threads, plot holes and storylines that go nowhere. Everyone needs an editor. EVERYONE needs an editor. And while I can see the appeal and reason behind hiring a private editing service to help you polish a book before you submit it – I cannot say I find paying a service of an established publisher to put your book out and then KEEP 50% of your royalties to be fair, equitable or a choice a “career focused” author should make.

Distribution is huge. HUGE. This is what people really don’t understand when they think about self publishing or signing on with a very small house. If your books don’t get on shelves or out to readers, who will buy them? Without some publicity how will readers know you’re out there? I’ve seen, first hand how important distribution is. The amount of exposure for an author when she writes for a house with great distribution is mind boggling. Self published books quite often will not get stocked in chain stores, though you can put them at amazon, how will readers know to look for them? Moreover, where my publishers have catalogs to send out to libraries and bookstores, will your vanity press have that? Will it cost you even more money for that?

Publishing at any cost is not a laudable goal, IMO. This is not to say it’s an invalid goal for other people, each of us makes our own choices. But if you pay several thousand dollars to get your book out there, why on earth would you let your printing press keep 50%? Aren’t you worth more than that?

The money should flow TO the author. Period.

Most of the time a book gets rejected because it’s not right for that editor at that house at that time. It does not mean the book is awful. It might mean you put it aside and keep trying with another book. However, it also does not mean your words are precious and if only you pay several thousand dollars to a vanity press AND give your royalties up that people will see how awesome you are. This business is hard, it takes perseverance and a thick skin and a lot of energy.

I absolutely understand what it feels like to think you’re never going to sell. I know what that sadness is. I cannot tell you how distressed it makes me that any writer, at the moment she gets a rejection would be offered this other choice – a choice that takes away a lot from the author. And in the end, you’re only published by definition so what have you gained? Sometimes it’s more painful to mimic something and know it’s just a mimic than to just keep at it and try again and again.

EDITED TO ADD: RWA HAS REVOKED RECOGNITION STATUS FOR HARLEQUIN. I’m going to write more on this later this week.

2 comments to “Writerly Wednesday: A Hodgepodge”

  1. Ann Aguirre
    November 18th, 2009 at 2:35 pm · Link

    Well said.

  2. Christine
    November 19th, 2009 at 12:55 pm · Link

    Very interesting blog as usual. Being not knowlegable about the writing world what does your last comment mean in refernce to RWA & Harlequin?