“Is that quiet, ‘nice’ person who writes like an angel ready to become a marketing demon?”
FOR the first time, a Write, Regardless! article has a question in the title not an exclamation mark. If you’ve done the work on your manuscript, sent it off to publishers for a minimum of six months and heard nothing back, you don’t need a call to action, you need to give some serious thought about where to from here. Here are some of the major questions to ask yourself before leaping into independent publishing.
Can you meet your own expectations?
So your manuscript has been rejected by multiple publications. As Julia Child said in Nora Ephron’s screenplay, Julie & Julia: “Boo-hoo…” (spoken with Julia Child-like hooting). Don’t let anyone tell you your hurt is invalid. Rejection sucks. When you’ve come out of your shell, it’s time to ask yourself if your writing journey is over, or if it’s only just beginning? If you envisaged your book would be published one day, it’s now up to you to see it done.
Can you be a publisher?
Although it creates books, publishing is not a particularly creative process, it’s a form of business. I suggest you read the Wikipedia entry on publishing and come to terms with the industry’s two-pronged nature: production and distribution. One process does not stand separately from the other. It doesn’t need to be a book-trade behemoth, but if you want to publish your book, you’re going to need to start, and operate, an independent publishing business.
Can you meet reader expectations?
Publishing is a business because millions of readers consume books. Standing on the brink of a publishing venture, ask yourself whether you can meet their needs. This means researching publishing genres and finding where your titles fit in, which requires the ability to be objective about your work. Publishing your own books will bring you face to face with hungry, experienced, critical, opinionated, readers across the world. Are you ready to meet their energy with confidence in your quality books, books and more books? Many of them will hate you for having the courage to self publish, are you ready for that?
Can you meet buyer expectations?
Books are a consumable commodity, sold in units. It sounds obvious, but people part with money to get them. Publishers, and all the operators in the book trade, from publishing platforms to book distributors and bookshops (online and bricks-and-mortar shops on the high street) all deservedly take a cut of the ever-changing unit price of books. Positioning yourself at one end of this competitive chain requires meeting the expectation of the buying public and booksellers. It means providing high-quality book elements: great covers, memorable titles, sensible use of word length and serialisation, and providing books in what publishers call ‘lines’ – that is, a range of titles on an annual basis. No publisher in the world publishes just one book.
Can you work the marketing machine?
I’m really going to cut the crap and ask if you’re prepared to be a pushy arsehole at times? Marketing your books will take persistence, guts, working the room, pressure, stress and being annoying. It will keep you awake at night and take time away from your writing and your family. There are millions of books out there. You are going to have to grab and hold peoples’ attention through an ongoing marketing campaign that, for as long as you want readers for your brainchildren, will never end. Is that quiet, ‘nice’ person who writes like an angel ready to become a marketing demon?
Can you take it up to booksellers?
The book trade is enormous, a place where the agenda is dominated by the need to make money. How will you react when a bookshop hasn’t paid you for those copies of your book a year after they’ve been sold? How will you respond when a bookseller calls for in-store publicity materials, and they want them yesterday or your book won’t be in the shop window? When your publishing platform is tardy in passing on your royalties, who do you talk to, and what do you say? Booksellers are businesspeople, some are jaded as all get out, and others are too enthusiastic for words. Are you ready?
Can you meet media expectations?
The media, as we knew it, is gone. Social media is where the bulk of communication is happening, with the average Facebook account holder operating as a free distributor for the mainstream (or ‘traditional’) media’s stories. In this frenetic, limitless arena, publishers are promoting and selling books in ways that evolve every week. For independent publishers, savvy use of the social media in not an option, it’s a necessity. If you choose to become a publisher, you need to be presentable, professional, and immune to a certain degree of negative feedback about what you’re doing. Lucky you’ve already built that social media platform, right? (Or are you still thinking it’s not necessary? LOL!).
Can you work the system?
Independent publishing requires the use of multiple online platforms to produce printed books and eBooks. Many of these do not differentiate between established book publishers and independent operators. The systems are often complicated and frustrating for beginners, but they are designed to publish and distribute quality books that would not look out of place on a high-street bookshop shelf. Are you ready for episodes of tearing your hair out and throwing things at the computer when it says no?
Are you up for joint-venture publishing?
“Readers are not easily fooled by bad product.”
For many writers, the answers to many of these questions is no. Lack of time and skills means a better option is to seek out a joint-venture publisher, one of the fastest-growing arms of the book trade. Many large and small publishing houses have joint-venture imprints, providing publishing and marketing services to writers, for a fee, often with a spirit of ‘sharing the risk’. As with all products and services, working with a joint-venture publisher means negotiating a sound contract with all parameters agreed before setting out. There is currently no standard of fees, but if you’re seeking to hand the entire process over to someone else, you’re looking at thousands of dollars.
Is a joint-venture all that?
Many joint-venture publishers provide individual services (proofreading, for example), while others seek to stream writers into buying their entire suite of services. If joint-venture publishing is more your thing, there’s plenty of choice out there, but be aware that independent publishers have exactly the same access to the global publishing industry as joint-venture publishers. While it can be a great relief to benefit from the support on the nitty-gritty of publishing processes, don’t be under the impression that a joint-venture publisher can deliver anything independent publishing can’t in terms of getting your book in front of readers.
Are you up for vanity publishing?
Many writers seek only to publish a book for friends and family, not a role in the international book trade. This process is called vanity publishing and has been around for decades, delivering quality books for happy customers. Don’t conflate vanity publishing and joint-venture publishing. Vanity publishers have garnered a questionable reputation for high fees, sometimes very high, so be cautious when negotiating the details of your contract. Never hand over money before agreeing on all the terms of the process, and certainly don’t pay the entire fee before seeing results – part payments are best when working with vanity publishers.
The publishing industry, from the largest publishing houses to the smallest independent presses, uses the same publishing platforms as self publishers, and it’s become harder to tell the difference when you see books on shop shelves. This increase in access only works for consumers when the highest standard of publishing is pursued – readers are not easily fooled by bad product. If you want to become an independent publisher, be ready for a journey that demands the highest quality work, attention to detail, and marketing energy. There are no more publishing secrets in the book trade – they’re all freely available to everyone who wants to produce a book and find readers, but they must be used wisely and well.
An extract from Write, Regardless!
© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.