Posts Tagged business
I’ve had two questions recently about small publishers. First, Stacy Green: ‘Do you think self-publishing is a better option for new authors than a small publisher whose focus isn’t solely on the next bestseller?’
Also Tahlia Newland: My agent is waiting for the last 3 big publishers she queried for my book to get back to her. If no one wants it, it’s just small publishers left. I’m thinking I’d rather ebook self-publish than go for a small publisher who hasn’t got a big distribution. I’d be doing most of the publicity anyway, so why not be in a position to keep control and maximise profits? What do you think?
There’s an excellent piece here by Michelle Davidson Argyle on what a publisher should be able to do for you.
What I’ll add to that is my own opinion, from my own experience and that of author friends.
The term ‘small publisher’ can cover anything from the small adventurous imprints started by publishing professionals who have decamped from the major companies – to decidedly less qualified outfits led by people who are chancing their arm at publishing. With varying motives.
Quite clearly, the publishers started by the publishing professionals will have the edge. They have the experience, the expertise and the contacts – and you can weigh up an offer simply by googling them and finding out about their reputation. But some small – and micro-small – publishers may not be as good for you as going it alone.
It all comes down to what they will give you in return for the chunk they take and whether that suits you. And in some cases, you have to be able to assess whether they are properly set up to do the best for your book. Leaving aside the crooks, some of the very tiny publishers do not have enough experience in key areas of the business – but they don’t know how important those are. You’ll see from my horror stories below.
But first, here’s a run-down of the major areas in which a publisher can help you and the self-publishing alternatives.
Editorial help certainly can cost. If you go it alone you can hire a professional to do this, but it’s a hassle to set up and takes time away from your writing.
Art, editing and formatting all come with the package when you sign a publishing deal. Even harder to put a price on is the input of an editor who is in tune with what you want to do. The right editor, who chose your book from their company’s slush pile, has fallen in love with your work – unlike an editor you hire. Any good editor can make you better than you believed possible, but one who had to woo you will probably go the extra mile (provided you agree with their vision). They can guide you to revise and revise, and can reassure you when you’ve done enough. An editor you hire can only carry on as long as your purse can hold out. Having a trusted team around you who are helping you hone your book is terrific and irreplacable.
However, if you’re tied to a publisher you’re tied to their professionals. You may love the words people, but not like their cover artwork at all. And you may not get much clout to refuse cover designs you don’t like.
Moreover, you might be right to distrust those designs. I looked at the list of one small publisher and thought at first they were producing municipal leaflets – all their fiction had ugly covers produced with the one template. Yet they’d managed to get authors to sign up with them.
Distribution is where your book is stocked. If you go it alone, you can buy packages for this from the POD companies but if you don’t know what you’re getting how do you know what’s worth paying for? And let’s face it, it’s the least creative part of making books, so who has the patience to become expert in it?
But the grass isn’t necessarily greener in a publishing deal. Especially in companies that were set up solely by editorial or production people. And have never had to handle distribution. And don’t know what they don’t know.
I know of one publisher who produced beautiful copies of an author’s work – superior even to the very good quality that POD can produce – but couldn’t organise how to get the books onto Amazon. Instead they sold them through ebay, where no one buys books, and through an obscure website for that genre. They sent the author to a major fair to showcase his work and couldn’t arrange for copies of the book to be available there so that they could be sold. They got reviews in major magazines and the book still isn’t on Amazon.
Another question you have to ask yourself is: what is the publisher’s market reach? Can they market to more readers than you can on your own?
Publishers with rigorous selection procedures will be able to get reviews in places that never touch self-published works – such as the national newspapers. That’s a gate you simply can’t open on your own, no matter what you do.
But a couple of reviews aren’t enough to sell your book. You need other gates opened too – to wider audiences. I know of several small publishers who are well enough connected to be able to get reviews in influential places. But some aren’t at all, regardless of how much they talk about how passionately they love good books. Now that we all build tribes, this aspect of a publishing deal is like royal marriages. Some publishers’ tribes aren’t as big as those of some bloggers!
What rights do they keep?
This is a thorny question indeed and is why it is good to have a reputable agent on your side. I’m not offering legal advice here in any capacity, and every single case is different. So if you are currently studying the fine print of an offer and are worried about it, please get proper help. If you don’t have an agent, a rights lawyer can do it for you – although it will cost you (which is one of the reasons why an agent deserves their percentage).
Traditionally, most books are ‘in print’ for a period and once the run is sold they go ‘out of print’ or are printed again. After a certain period you may get your rights back or your contract may come up for renegotiation. Sometimes you can take the book elsewhere if you want.
Many small publishers launch a book through e-editions and print on demand. Print on demand allows a publisher to print a book only when it is needed, saving on warehousing. If a publisher uses POD, they might have a clause that says they will keep your book in print in perpetuity – and that means you can never take advantage of a better offer from somewhere else with a more prestigious reputation. Of course, to look at it from their point of view, they don’t want you using them as a stepping stone to something better, after they’ve put so much effort in (which they may or may not have, of course). Although any legal agreement can be undone if it’s wrangled enough, that’s messy and expensive.
There might even be clauses governing what you may work on in future and who owns it.
Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We mustn’t forget that being published is the most important milestone a writer can imagine. What most of us want to do is write great books and find someone to handle the less interesting jobs and treat us fairly. A publishing offer may indeed do this. More than that, it may give you moral, emotional, practical and technical support that is beyond measure, pulling you out of isolation and into the ‘proper’ world of writing. After all, it’s not just about money; writers have an innate urge to share, communicate and to know our work is cherished.
But any deal you do is also a business deal about your career. Not all businessmen are nice. Or some may be terribly nice and awfully incompetent.
If you get any offer from a small or micro-publisher, look very carefully at what they will give you for what they will take.
Thank you, Very Urgent Photography, for the picture
Do you have any experience with small and micro-publishers? Share in the comments!
Oh – shameless plug – My Memories of a Future Life launches on August 30!
A crucial part of introducing your novel to agents or directly to readers is identifying your novel’s central theme. But that can be mighty hard to do. Here’s how I did it
Final tweaks are being twaught. Kindle hell beckons. Blurb hell too. But cover hell is over, at least the front.
And what theme is this pretty book scratching away at, you may ask? What questions are burning out of the red piano and the blue sky?
Answering that has caused me considerable grief. The journey in the book takes 100,000 words. How do I find one sentence – just one – that captures the heart of it?
It took me a while. Much pacing up and down.
My first thought was, it feels like it’s about the whole of life itself. Everything. The universe.
As a theme, ‘everything’ was a bit, well, vague. And it’s the very least you’d expect of a self-respecting well-rounded novel.
Then I made lists of common themes in fiction, as if I was doing an essay for A-level English. It was no help at all.
Everything seemed to fit. Love, loss, friendship, fate. Cheating, lying, haunting, being haunted. Nature, confinement, superstition, the weather. It was easier to find themes that weren’t in the book than themes that were.
I had to pull away from ‘subjects’, because every multi-layered novel will have plenty of them. So I asked myself: what are people doing in this book that gives it its distinctive flavour?
It had to come down to the MC. Her relationships. Her central problem. The patterns that repeat again and again with everyone she meets. The things she reacts to that show what she’s searching for. Her peculiar situation and what she needs to understand.
After quarrying down that seam, I had it. This is what My Memories of a Future Life is about.
How do you find where you belong?
You can follow My Memories of a Future Life on Twitter – @ByRozMorris. Not only did the story take 100k words to unroll, its title busts the Twitter name limit
Red piano: Bonnie Schupp Photography at iStockPhoto
Have you found your novel’s theme yet? If so, how did you do it? And if you have, share it in the comments
I did live radio last night! I was guest on Page Turners, an internet radio show on BlogTalkRadio hosted by Meg Collins, Antoinette Dickson and Nancy Denofio. These ladies live to write. Meg is a poet, scriptwriter and the author of scores of children’s books and resides at the delightfully named blog The Diary of a Starfish. Nancy is a debut poet and the author of the hauntingly titled What Brought You Here? and Antoinette is taking her first steps to becoming a published author and has a blog A Serendipitous Sojourn.
As I said, we all live to write – so of course were quite challenged to get a hook-up across the Atlantic without using Skype. Just don’t ask why we didn’t use Skype – you won’t get a civilised answer, not least because none of us know. So the first part of the show, Antoinette and I had the airwaves to ourselves while Nancy was shouting into a dead line and Meg was marooned in another pocket of communications limbo.
While Antoinette and I made writerly chit-chat we were all conducting a fraught conversation on email and Facebook: ‘Where are you?’ ‘You have to log in’ ‘I am logged in’ ‘I can see you on my desk but can’t hear you’. ‘Roz you broke BlogTalkRadio’. And so on.
But the airwave fairies released Nancy and Meg in the end, and they grilled me about how many books I’ve sold ghostwriting, my film with Matt Damon, the Morris writing household … and got me to talk quite a lot about the novel I have on submission, My Memories of a Future Life.
You can listen to it again here… and a proper post is coming tomorrow – on stories within stories, and fantasies within story worlds.
I just got Twitterviewed – interviewed on Twitter, asked enormous questions to which I had a titchy 140 characters to reply.
Twitterviews are the brainchild of Novel Publicity, which has a helpful blog and a website that offers marketing services to authors. You can find out more about Twitterviews here, including how to request one for your book or as part of your blog tour.
But get in training to be snappy – I was asked all the big questions - why I write, what Nail Your Novel is, what my novels on submission are about … answers on a postage-stamp…
Also, the other half of the Morris writing clan has been out and about in interviewworld today. If anyone’s curious about Husband Dave, he just did a considerably less squeezed, but lovely interview at Dorothy Dreyer’s We Do Write.
I had this email today, and have to share it. ‘I am in my early 30s and took a degree in IT. I have had 3 jobs in the past 10 years and feel this is still not where I am meant to be. But it was drummed into me that you can’t get a career or financial stability as a writer. It’s all I ever do in my spare time. I borrow about 7 books from the library each week, I love to share what I see in the world with others. How do I take that first step? Jes’
Jes, you are starting the way all writers do, by doing it because you can’t help it and because meanings nudge you wherever you look. That’s what I did (you can read more about it here).
I’m sorry to say the naysayers about writing income are right. Most published writers don’t earn enough from writing to do it full time. But you can still do the day job and count yourself a full-blooded writer – that’s what the vast majority of published writers are already doing. So IT isn’t where you want to be – but it doesn’t have to define and confine you. It’s what makes your really important work possible. Here’s an excellent post on the mixed blessings of a day job from Joanna Penn.
As for careers? There are no guarantees that you will get a lucky break. Or that before then you will happen upon the right teachers. Or that when you do you will be receptive to learn. The only way is to start and see where your quest takes you.
But how do you take the first step? Keep reading, keep writing. Keep trying to find out how to make stories out of those half-understood murmurings, so that others can hear their importance too. And do you know what? You have already started.
Guys, how did you start being a writer? And what would you tell Jes?
It’s time to call the novel doctor. But how do you know which one
to choose? In case you don’t know,
I’m rather experienced at this,
so here’s the inside track
The novel is finished, or at least as far as you can tell. It’s time for critiques. Your beta readers may be enough; if they have sound critical sense and the ability to tell you about your blind spots. But if you think you need more help, you might want to use a critique service or novel doctor.
There are hundreds out there, both individuals and large consultancies. How do you choose a good one?
Look at publishing credentials Go for someone who is a published writer, or an experienced fiction editor or a literary agent. Not only have they earned their spurs in the market, they understand writing from the inside, and how to guide you from raw idea to a presentable manuscript.
When you contact them, notice what questions they ask you A good writing critique service will ask you a lot of questions before they agree to take on your novel. The most important are style and genre. If you’re writing a metafictional experiment with a literary form, this needs totally different critical sensibilities from a rip-roaring thriller. Kids’ and YA novels require their own experienced editors.
No consultant will be able to handle every single genre. Reputable independent consultants may turn away half the clients who approach them because they do not feel they can do justice to all the novels they are offered. Bigger consultancies will probably have a variety of readers and should be able to match you with a reader who is suitable for your genre.
From this another thing should be clear. Make sure you can talk about your novel’s style and subject – which you may never have had to do before.
They may ask to see a synopsis. Don’t panic – this doesn’t have to be the polished one-page you’ll send to an agent. Just send a summary of the story, condensed as much as you can. We consultants know how hard it is for you to give an accurate flavour of your novel’s direction and style, so looking at a synopsis will help us see what’s important to you about the novel’s events.
Even if a synopsis isn’t asked for at this stage, do write one as your consultant will need it. Don’t worry about a character list or location maps – the synopsis is usually enough.
The consultant may make some preliminary suggestions I might say to a client, ‘if I were critiquing this I’d suggest you make the MC less passive’ or suchlike – to make sure the client is happy with the kind of feedback I would give. But as far as I’m concerned, nothing is outright wrong until I’ve seen how it works in the text. If you have deliberately made the MC passive, we can discuss your aims at this stage, to make sure I understand what you’re aiming for. Or you may decide I’m not the critic for you and wave bye-bye.
You might want to ask to see a sample report This will give you an idea of the kinds of comments you might get and whether you will relate to the way the critic phrases their explanations. If I supply these, I send just an excerpt, with the specifics anonymised. Good consultants should respect the confidentiality of their clients.
So that’s how to make up your mind about whether the consultant is right for you. Next, there are some nuts and bolts to establish.
Timescale We know you’re gnawing your nails, but don’t expect you’ll get it back the following week! The consultant needs to read your novel, give its strengths and weaknesses proper consideration – which takes time. Most services quote about six weeks, because a reader is rarely available immediately and has to finish other projects etc.
Expect it is not going to be cheap. A critique of a 100,000-word novel might easily cost you £800 (GBP) or more than US$1000. To read a novel and give a thorough, considered critique can easily take two weeks’ solid work.
However, many consultants will critique a portion of the novel on a pro rata basis, or a submission package (letter, synopsis and first 50 pages). These offer good value as the consultant can often identify your work’s major strengths and weaknesses and you can then use this to guide your revisions of the whole manuscript.
What a critique service can and can’t do
The second part of finding a satisfactory critique is in making sure you know what a consultant can and can’t do for you.
They should give you a detailed report, highlighting your novel’s weaknesses and strengths, with plenty of examples that explain how to make the best novel you can out of your material. Where you need to understand certain techniques, such as show not tell, they should provide you with clear illustrations. They might recommend other websites or books.
They don’t usually solve plot problems, do actual rewrites, or correct your spelling, missed apostrophes and grammar mistakes – although they might as an enhanced package.
Some critique services have links with agents and if your novel is good enough, they will give you a fast-track introduction. They often take a small percentage for this.
Find out what aftercare your package includes.
Of course, when your report arrives you’re bound to have questions. And although we try to sound as encouraging as possible, you’re bound to focus just on the criticisms and the recommendations to change and rewrite. Before you fire off a horrified email and tell us we’ve totally misunderstood you, let the comments settle. After a few days you’ll be able to see the good points that are highlighted as well as the bad, and then you’ll be able to formulate the questions you really need answering.
Bear in mind that when your novel is no longer so fresh in our minds it’s easier for us to answer a long email with lots of questions, than dribs and drabs every few days.
Assessing rewrites isn’t usually part of the package. Some consultants will offer this, or offer an email mentoring service where you can submit multiple rewrites and ask as many questions as you want for a set time period, for instance, a month. Usually, though, this is more expensive than a straightforward critique. And it’s debatable whether such a service is necessary. We can hold your hand for some of the process, but ultimately the person who will make your novel work is you. A good critique will give you the tools to do that and to improve the ones you write afterwards.
But most essential, no matter how much time has passed, when you get good news about your novel, don’t forget we’d love to know.
Have you any tips to pass on about choosing or using critique services? Have you had good or bad experiences, and what was good or bad about them? Share in the comments!