Do we need Gatekeepers?

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Recently the concept of a ‘gatekeeper’ seems to have become a pejorative term for the agents, editors and other players in the traditional publishing world. With the advent of ‘indie’ publishing we’ve seen a lot of negativity surrounding the concept of ‘gatekeeper’ and for some, I think, the concept itself seemed outdated and irrelevant. 

I’ve come across two recent posts, however, defending the ‘gatekeeper’ – one by author Chris Pavone (see In Praise of Editors, Agents and every other Gatekeeper in Publishing) and the other by book editor Daniel Menaker (see The Gatekeeper. In praise of publishers who move readers and units) and they raise some interesting points in praise of the profession. I do believe that my own books benefited from the rigour imposed by this ‘gatekeeper’ model (both in terms of books acquired and not acquired:)). Along the way I always felt my writing improved from each round of revision and feedback. That of course, doesn’t have to happen within a traditional model – there are many fine independent editors who can apply just the same level of rigour to an author’s work (I just haven’t used them so I can’t really speak to this experience). 

I thought it would be interesting to get your take on both these ‘defences’ of the gatekeeper model and to see how TKZers felt the current state of the industry helps or hinders authors in terms of both curating the best work possible and getting readers to connect with writers (and books) that they might enjoy. There’s no doubt in my mind that the book world is now an incredible crowded one – one that I personally find hard to navigate as both a reader and a writer.

So what do you think?
Is there still a place for the traditional gatekeeper model? 

Branding Through Cover Art

Nancy J. Cohen

Series branding can be just as important as author branding. What’s the difference? Author branding tells who you are and what kind of stories you write. For example, my works blend elements of murder, mystery, romance, and humor. Readers know they’re in for an entertaining yet suspenseful ride with a satisfying ending. I also write stories set in Florida, and this tropical flavor adds a layer of depth to my work.

Currently, I’m working to revise and reissue my earlier mystery titles. I hired a new cover designer and liked her idea of putting a collage together of photographic images. Similar to an art sheet from a publisher, I filled her in on what might make an appropriate scene and what elements it might include. I looked at the images she subsequently sent me and picked ones that seemed perfect.
All went well until she put them together in a cover mockup. My stomach sank. It didn’t work for me. The images were fine. So were the colors and title placement. But the whole didn’t speak to me as a cozy reader. Where was the humor element? The fun factor that would make me smile and want to buy this book, like these covers below?

ManicureMM    Shear Murder

And so I did a search on Amazon for “cozy mysteries.” The overwhelming majority of them were illustrations, not photographs. I’d given this designer a list of covers that appealed to me, but she didn’t seem to “get” the genre. My original cover artist, who’d had to bow out for personal reasons, had sent me a mockup of a cover that I’d really liked. Looking at them side-by-side, I had a bad feeling about the photo-based imagery. It wasn’t right for the genre.

Even if I rebranded myself by having all my reissued titles have similar designs, would these more realistic covers attract cozy readers? I didn’t think so. It certainly wouldn’t appeal to me. As a cozy reader, I look for a certain style. Normally, you can identify a cozy just by looking at the cover. And so I regretfully parted ways with designer number two. I approached my original artist to see if she was available again, and to my joy she said yes. We’re back to fixing the details on the original cover, and I feel much happier about the process.

What is the lesson learned? It’s not only about your author brand. It’s also about reader expectations. Readers can tell from the cover what type of story to expect. Go for a change if you want to broaden your readership. But if you want genre appeal, stick to the tried and true. Flowers never did it for me as a romance reader. I still like the old-fashioned clinch covers. Remember the old gothics, with a woman in a gown running away from a spooky mansion? You could tell at a glimpse what genre it represented. So yes, your cozy or thriller cover at a glance might resemble others in the genre, but that’s what readers want and expect.

Whichever route you go, plan for series continuity via the same font, author name and title location, series logo, design style and color statement (i.e. pastels or bold and bright).

Does reader expectation figure into your cover art or does this aspect not concern you?

Facing Down the Harsh Realities of Publishing

Why doesn’t Phil Ivey get to the final table every year in the World Series of Poker? In fact, why hasn’t he ever won the main event? Every observer of the game puts Ivey at the top of the charts in terms of all-around poker skill. He wins a lot of tournaments, but never the big one.

It’s because poker isn’t only about skill. You’ve got to get the cards. You can go all in with pocket aces only to see your opponent from Hoboken draw that third eight on the river.

So yeah, it’s a mixture of skill and luck. While you may not feel you have the skill to succeed when playing poker on an online uk casino, this doesn’t mean you can’t win big. Which pretty much defines any endeavor in life.

Of course, stronger skills increase your odds of success. As one wag put it, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

In the writing world, especially now, you’ll hear a lot about luck and the “harsh reality” of publishing. Whether you’re self-pubbing, going with a traditional house (large, small or in between), or doing a mixture of both, the truth is it’s hard to break through to big numbers.

A few weeks ago the highly successful, and most generous indie author, Hugh Howey, wrote the following in regard to a post on Joe Konrath’s blog.

I think Joe comes as close as anyone to sorting it all out. Like me, he includes luck in his secret recipe, and he qualifies that with the hard work that magnifies luck. Let’s say luck, as an ingredient, accounts for 30% of the Breakout-Sauce. That’s enough to explain how some authors go nuts with a single book, or expensive books, or books with crappy cover art (like mine), or books with technical faults. It would also explain how someone with a dozen excellent titles isn’t taking off. How someone who does everything “right” doesn’t have success.

If that’s the reality of it, then what’s the answer? The same answer you’d give anyone starting a business. Do you really want to do this? Are you willing to pay the price? Can you live with risk and uncertainty? Can you look reality in the eye and make adjustments? Is this business enough of a passion that you’d do it even if you barely clear your bottom line (e.g., run an independent bookstore)?

Yes? You will keep writing? Even if things are not taking off? Okay. Then:

1. Keep your expectations low

The great world religions, and various schools of philosophy, teach that unhappiness comes primarily through expectations unfulfilled. Expectations can form images in your mind, such as seeing your ebook hit the Kindle Top 100 list, or some such. When it doesn’t happen, your brain orders a secretion of chemicals that make you feel like pig slop.

Set goals and have dreams, yes. But temper them with your mind telling you not to be dependent on them for your happiness or productivity. “If you can dream, and not make dreams your master . . .” Kipling wrote.

2. Keep your work ethic high

I believe I said this best in my post called “How to Make Money Self-Publishing Fiction.” Especially the part about constantly learning the craft. Get feedback. Read books and articles on writing. Keep learning. Try new things. Experiment with short form. Maybe you’ll find a new genre you like, and that readers like, too. At the very least, you’ll be exercising your skills. Dean Koontz was a middling writer for the first ten years of his career. But he was crazily prolific. And all along the way he taught himself about the craft. When he intentionally took a leap into deeper characterization (with Whispers) he shot up another level. And he’s had several leaps like that since.

3. Keep your joy hot

I also wrote about joy in your writing being a key to success. You see, it’s always a combination of things that betters your odds. Knowing how to free your voice is one of those things. It’s also more fun to write this way. You might as well have fun at this thing.

4. Keep your grumbling cool

I used to say that if you got a rejection from a publisher or agent, let it hurt for half an hour, then get back to your keyboard. Same if you self-publish. Your latest release mired in mud? Okay, grouse to somebody about it, or bay at the moon, but then get back to work on your next project.

5. Keep on writing for the rest of your life

If you love to write, why would you ever stop? If writing doesn’t make a living for you, do it because you love it, and do what you can of it. Keep your day job but find your “quota sweet spot” and stick to it.

Persistence plus production plus quality improvements all along the way. That’s been the formula for business success ever since Eli Whitney (did you know the cotton gin didn’t make him rich, but muskets did, years later? Well, now you do).

Let Hugh Howey, from the same comment I linked to above, have the last word:

Which leads to my point of this long-winded nonsense: Time has to be an ingredient. An important one. This revolution has barely gotten started. Good luck and bad luck require time to even them out. If you’ve done everything right, your works might take off in ten years. Who knows? We haven’t been at this long enough. I think it’s too early for any of us to say something isn’t working or that it won’t work. I just have to remember back to writing seven novels over three years and watching them sit between #335,204 and #1,302,490 in the Amazon store. I didn’t care. I just kept writing. I read about Amanda Hocking, and I thought: “Hellz yeah!” And I kept writing. I gave myself until I was 40 and I had twenty titles published before I worried about whether I sold enough to pay a bill. And even if that never happened, it was an excuse to publish twenty titles. I could always say that. No one could take it away from me. And anyway, I’d sold a handful of books and heard from people that they loved them. I remembered when that was just an idle dream.

So how is the reality of writing treating you? What do you intend to do about it? 

A Transmedia Plan

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Last weekend I attended the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon and there were some great speakers who really helped open my eyes regarding the nature of the media and publishing industry today. 

One such speaker (Luke Ryan) gave a terrific presentation on what he termed  ‘transmedia’ and the need for writers to think beyond their ‘box’ (be it novel writing or screenwriting). He defined the term ‘transmedia’ as (and I paraphrase) ‘a narrative built across multiple platforms that grows exponentially with little repetition of content’. In other words, as writers, we need to be aware of all the different forms of media that could carry pieces of our narrative/story and which engage audiences in their own unique ways. We are in essence world builders and, as such, given the current state of the media and publishing industries, we need to think ‘outside the box’ if we are to grow our brand/story and readership. 

Makes sense, right? It’s also pretty daunting when you think of all the media platforms available. For writers like us some of the key media platforms might include things like:

  • Film
  • TV
  • Graphic Novels
  • E-books
  • E-book ‘shorts’/or serialization (see Jim’s post yesterday)
  • Graphic Novels
  • Apps
  • Social Media
  • Audio books

That’s a vast array of options for a writer but the key message I took away from Luke’s presentation is that we need to consider our work across these forms of media and identify ways in which these other elements might factor into building the ‘world’ we have created in our novels. 

The other key message I took from Luke’s presentation is that this does not mean merely reproducing or repeating content across various forms of media – because readers are hungry for fresh, unique content. An author should therefore look at their work across a continuum of media opportunities. You might have written a thriller but then produce a series of unique e-book shorts that focus on a minor (yet intriguing) character within that book. You might also work with a graphic artist to produce a series of graphic novels that involve stories from the main protagonist’s past. In each of these different mediums you are producing new content which nonetheless feeds into the core story (your thriller).

After listening to Luke’s presentation I was both excited by the myriad of possibilities for my own work and also (I admit) overwhelmed by them. However, I learned that, as writers, we must always be thinking about unique opportunities to bring readers to our stories, to rise above the ‘noise’, and to provide great, unique content that supplements the main stories we write. So I wanted to ask all you TKZers, how do you envisage tackling a ‘transmedia’ platform for your own work? Too overwhelming or are you already ahead of the curve and have a ‘transmedia’ plan of attack?

How Self-Publishing Has Changed the Industry

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I read a recent blog post on The Guardian book blog about the 10 ways self-publishing has changed the book world and, after Jim’s post yesterday, it got me thinking about how I would explain the current state of the book world to friends and family who are neither authors, nor wanna-be writers, but who, as book readers, are nonetheless intrigued by all the changes going on in publishing. 

I’ve summarized the Guardian’s top 10 list below and am interested in whether or not you agree (though I do think most of them are pretty self-evident):

  1. There is now a wider understanding and increased visibility about what publishing is (and acceptance that it’s more difficult than it looks). Self-publishing has enabled people to learn the process and understand what is involved which has led to a wider awareness and diversity in the publishing process.
  2. We are no longer confident that publishers and agents know what everyone wants or should read. 
  3. The copy-editor is now in strong demand as writers realize the limitations of self-editing. Freelance copy-editors are now in high demand by both self-publishing authors and traditional publishing houses.
  4. The book as a ‘precious’ object is re-emerging as publishers produce limited, luxury editions.
  5. Authors are being empowered to do their own marketing and are no longer reliant on publishers to mediate the relationship between authors and their readers. Looking ahead, authors are likely to be less compliant with what their publishers demand of them.
  6. The role of the agent is also changing. With self-publishing, agents need to find new ways to make their work pay.
  7. New business models and opportunities are springing up offering ‘publishing services’ from manuscript and plot development to editorial and marketing assistance. Publishing is thus emerging as a process – accessible as a variety of different services – rather than an ‘industry’ as such.
  8. It’s not all about making money. Self-publishing means recognizing and preserving content that has value for someone but that doesn’t mean the process has to yield an income to be worthwhile.
  9. The end of the ‘vanity press’ put down. Self-publishing is now seen as the ‘homing ground of the instinctively proactive’ – those who can identify the market, meet its needs and deliver directly. 
  10. Self-publishing brings satisfaction and happiness in and of itself as each writer meets their own needs (which may only require a finished product or small sales to a niche market).

The most important element I take from this list is the notion that publishing is emerging as a range of processes, accessible to all, rather than an industry that so many viewed as an impenetrable fortress. I am also intrigued by the comment that authors will probably become less ‘compliant’ with the demands the publishers place on them, as they are empowered to understand their own market and reader needs (especially as authors now have many of  the tools [such as social media] to meet these needs directly).

Here at TKZ we have had a number of blog posts regarding the question of self-publishing, its challenges as well as its rewards. So what would you say is the number one way self-publishing has changed the book world?

What to Expect When You’re Expecting…to Be Published

by Boyd Morrison

If you’ve just gotten an offer for publication of your debut novel, congratulations! Keep the celebration short, though, because you’ve got a lot of work to do ahead of its release. Before I got that magic phone call, I didn’t realize how much an author has to do in preparation for a book launch. It’s no longer a hobby; it’s now a job. So here’s a compact primer on the responsibilities you’ll have during the gestation and birthing of a published book.

1)   Sign the contract. At this point, you will usually receive one-third of your negotiated advance (sometimes a fourth portion of the advance is retained until paperback publication of a hardcover release).

2)   Deliver the manuscript to your editor.

3)   Receive notes from your editor. These can come as comments in the document, a summary letter of notes, or both.

4)   Revise, revise, revise.

5)   Deliver revision to editor. Continue steps 3-5 until revisions are complete.

6)   Editor officially accepts the delivered manuscript! You get the second third of your advance.

7)   Receive the copyedits. The copyeditor is a different person from your editor, who comments on story issues. The copyeditor comments about typos, grammatical errors, repeated words, inconsistencies (name changes, timing issues, etc.), and typesetting notes (italics, bolding, etc.).

8)   Copyedits are also called galleys. The cover of a galley is typewritten with the title and your name. You suggest other authors to send these galleys to for possible blurbs. I often get blurb requests that require me to read the book in two weeks, which is usually impossible for me to do because of other commitments. You want to give authors at least 2-3 months to read it, and even then it’s very possible they won’t have time because of other galleys on deck for blurbs or deadline issues.

9)   Go through all the copyedits and either accept each change, modify it, or write “stet,” which means you want it the way it is.

10) Send the approved copyedits back to your publisher.

11) Approve the cover. Most authors have no say in the cover art, so the publisher usually sends it and says, “Isn’t it great!” But some authors get consultation so you can at least raise concerns if you find something objectionable. However, the final decision is with the publisher.

12) Write the book jacket and back cover summary.

13) Write your author bio for the book jacket.

14) If you don’t yet have a professional-quality author photo, get one.

15) Receive the proof. This is what the book will actually look like in print.

16) Proofread the book. This process is called proofing.” Sometimes you will get a second proof to read.

17) Send proof back. A part of you hopes you never have to read this novel again.

18) Once you approve the final proof, it goes to the printer. No more changes can be made unless they’re incorporated into a future edition.

19) Ooh and aah over any ARCs (advance reader copies) that are sent to you. ARCs look like the final book with the actual cover, except it is in paperback instead of hardcover. ARCs are typically sent to reviewers and bookstores to generate reviews and excitement about the book.

20) Approve or write publicity releases. These will be sent out with the ARCs or to news outlets to create buzz about a book.

21) Approve or write marketing materials. These will be used for advertisements, catalog inserts, or in-store promos.

22) Approve or write website materials. These can be for your own website or the publisher’s website and can consist of your process for creating the book, extensive Q&A sessions, or book club guidelines.

23) The book hits stores! You get the final third of your advance. But you’re not done…

24) Write blog posts to promote the book. This can be done as part of a blog tour, where you visit a new blog every day for a few weeks.

25) Keep Twitter and Facebook followers engaged and informed about the release.

26) Double-check all of the online booksellers where your book is listed to make sure there aren’t any errors (this has happened to me many times—e.g., bookcovers that were the wrong version, inaccurate descriptions, broken links).

27) Respond to written interviews. An interviewer gets to email you 5-10 short questions, and then you have to write all the (sometimes lengthy) answers the way you want them to appear because they will be published verbatim.

28) If you or your publisher has put a good effort into publicity, you’ll need to do phone or in-person interviews with radio and TV stations.

29) Even if you only visit bookstores in your own town, you’ll be doing some booksignings. This can also involve traveling to multiple cities. You may be booked to appear at writers’ conferences, fan conventions, or bookfests. You’ll need to come up with some sort of presentation for all of these—sometimes you’re just on a panel and other times you might be the only one talking to a roomful of readers.

30) Obsess over your Amazon ranking and reviews. You know you shouldn’t, but it’s almost impossible to ignore them.

31) By the way, while all of the preceding is going on, you need to write your next book. Have fun with your new job!


by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

On Friday, John provided a great blog post responding to specific questions regarding the agent/publication process. One of these questions considered the issue of deadlines – something I want to expand upon today. Deadlines, both those imposed by editors/publishers and those self-imposed, are (I think) one of the defining elements of being a professional (as opposed to hobby) writer. As we certainly can’t rely on like so many college students do nowadays.

Deadlines make you both accountable and responsible. But what does that really mean when you aren’t as yet published? It means you know that in order to achieve your larger goal (writing the novel, getting it published etc.) you need to divide the task into manageable chunks and (here is where it gets tricky) you need to meet the deadlines you impose upon yourself. Otherwise you’re just like the billions of amateur writers whining about how ‘one day’ they will write a book but (insert excuse here…) they never seem to get around to it. In today’s post I want to deal with both publisher as well as personal deadlines.

Publisher Imposed Deadlines:

As John said in his blog post on Friday, these deadlines are pretty much inviolable. If, as the author, you miss these then there is a cascading effect on the whole publication cycle. Worse case scenario the publisher views it as a breach of contract and pulls out of the deal. Best case scenario you inconvenience a whole lot of other people. So if you do need to extend, you’d better have a pretty good excuse. 

My rather strict view of deadlines also extends to how you fulfil them. I’ve heard of an author who views the submission date with her publisher with a bit of a shrug – sure, she gets them the manuscript, but she’s not too concerned about making it perfect as she knows the editor will get back to her with comments, so she views the deadline as a necessary evil and continues to work through the book even while waiting for the editor to peruse and comment upon it. I differ on this in that I go into each deal with the belief that, whatever I submit has to be as damn-near-perfect as it possible. To me this is how professionals fulfil their obligations – not with a half-hearted shrug but with a commitment to demonstrating their craft to the highest degree possible.

Of course when it comes to an authors first book, the initial draft manuscript is what was acquired but any amendments to this (based on editorial feedback) should be treated with the same level of professionalism and adherence to deadlines. If an editor doesn’t provide a deadline (which would be highly unusual) then I would request or set one – that way the author remains on track and accountable to a timetable.

So what do you do if you have to seek a deadline extension?

This is where a good agent can act on an author’s behalf to mitigate against this – but the author must still have a genuine excuse for seeking an extension given the potential impact it has on the publisher. When it comes to agents, I would also recommend setting deadlines (for the agent as well as yourself) to ensure there remains a level of responsiveness and accountability that demonstrates an author’s professionalism.

Self-Imposed Deadlines

As a professional writer I like to set myself specific goals for my WIP to keep me on track. Typically I lay out a timetable to complete certain chapters or parts of the books to ensure I don’t face the overwhelming panic of producing a novel. When the tasks ahead are in manageable chunks the path seems far less onerous (or scary). The first thing I do is also set the date I want to get the draft manuscript to my agent and then work backwards from there. 

Sometimes I give my agent an initial deadline for the first 5-10 chapters and the proposed plot outline so I can get his read/feedback on the project ahead. Then I always tell him the date I propose getting the complete manuscript to him – it helps establish my own timetable as well as alerting him to my goal (and, I hope, demonstrate I am tackling it in a serious, professional manner). 

As a terrible procrastinator, self-imposed deadlines are vital to keeping me on track as a professional writer.

So what about you? 
Do you set your own deadlines? Do you meet them? 
Have you ever had to negotiate for a deadline extension from your publisher and if so, how did it go?


Continuing Jim’s great discussion yesterday, I heard a term last week that I think sums up one of the challenges in this new e-book publishing revolution – “discoverability“. It’s one of the things a traditionally published author would look for in a publisher – their ability to get your book noticed. “Discoverability” is about being able to rise above the noise out there in e-book land and, for me at least, I think it represents a real and ongoing challenge.

While I agree that we authors should view this brave new world as a marathon not a sprint, I also think its hard enough already to juggle writing with all the publicity currently demanded. This marathon could, for so many writers, become a marketing slog to the detriment of honing their craft. For me, therein lies the dilemma. While I would love to be putting out independent e-books as well as traditionally published titles, I worry about how I am going to fit in all the marketing and publicity I need to make both a successful endeavour. Likewise I see the vast wave of self-published e-books and worry how will my books be noticed amid all the flotsam and jetsam.

So just how can a writer increase their “discoverability“?

First off the quality of the writing needs to be there – that’s a given…but then what?
  • Social networking sites, websites, blogs, twitter feeds etc. are all necessary components but there is still a lot of ‘noise’ (and a lot of writers hawking their wares!) out there in all of these;
  • Advertisements (in all print, media and digital forms) – although I think many authors have had mixed results when it comes to traditional forms of ‘advertising’;
  • Word of mouth – the most powerful of all and the driver of almost all successful novels. I suspect however that ‘discoverability‘ is an important precursor to getting this;
  • Reviews and review sites (by industry, readers as well as peers) – definitely an important component of any marketing plan – but nonetheless there remains the age old problem of books that receive great reviews but still fail to garner much in terms of sales or recognition;
  • Personal networking opportunities – still, I suspect, as important as ever, but with book tours falling by the wayside, writers have to increasingly use social networking media to achieve this.
What else should be added to the list?

Do you think that despite the revolution, traditional publishers may be able to regain an upper hand by offering more opportunities to achieve this elusive “discoverability” (and the jury is out on this one as many publishers paid little attention to getting their authors noticed anyway!).

So what does “discoverability” mean to you? How are you going to try and achieve it?

State of Play

I had a great visit to New York, justified in part by our friends’ wedding anniversary (a fabulous rooftop renewal of vows ceremony and dinner) and, in part, by a desire to touch base with my agent. The major downside about moving back to Australia is the sheer distance it is from anywhere else. It literally took a day and a half of travel to get from Melbourne to NYC…so I was really hoping that the visit was worth it!

It was.

Meeting my agent was important for three things: 1) to get feedback on my WIP; 2) to discuss next proposals and plans; and 3) to get insight into the industry (as it continues to change, an agent’s perspective is always helpful). I also think there is no real substitute for a face-to-face meeting.

Thankfully, the feedback on all three was extremely positive, and perhaps just as importantly, my agent seemed pretty optimistic about the publishing industry in general. A year or so ago he seemed much more subdued – but (no surprise for us TKZers here) the success of e-books has definitely buoyed the industry. Here’s a few things I took away from our meeting:
  • Though the YA market continues to be vibrant, the mystery/thriller market is still tough going, with many houses streamlining their lines and focusing (again, no surprise) on their bestselling authors. It remains tougher than ever to get published (in fact, I doubt my first book would ever have sold in this market – which is a depressing thought!).
  • E-books have become extremely profitable for publishers and are creating greater opportunities for publishers to target readers. A few years ago most publishing decisions were driven by what the buyers from Barnes&Noble and Borders liked. Such market concentration wasn’t necessarily a good thing (for writers or readers) but now, e-books present a huge opportunity for a more ‘level playing field’. Even Amazon doesn’t command a massive market share and the growth of the Nook and other e-reader/book options is making the market more ‘democratic’ and accessible. Good news for authors and readers alike!
  • Given all the industry changes, agents are re-evaluating how they can advise and work with their clients on publishing e-books (particularly for their backlist). As there is potential for conflict of interest, agents are looking into the options carefully. There are now companies who work only with agents and their published writers in this respect. I think it will be interesting to see how this pans out – especially as many writers are already choosing to go it alone and self-publish their e-books with or without an agent.
So my question to you all is: how do you view the role of agents changing in this current environment (apart from selling your work to a traditional publisher)? Have your expectations regarding an agent changed with the success of e-books? If you are unpublished, are you still seeking agency representation?

E-Pub versus Indie Pub

My last topic here was on The Self-Pub Adventure. Here are my conclusions so far.

For three backlist titles in my futuristic romance Light-Years Trilogy (Circle of Light, Moonlight Rhapsody, Starlight Child), I went with Belgrave House to convert my books into digital formats. For no costs up front on my side, I had them scan the printed book, send me the file for proofreading, got a decent but simple cover, digital conversions, and all the titles uploaded to numerous e-book sites. My titles are priced at $5.00 each and I split the profits 50% with the e-publisher. They only accept works by previously published authors who have reversion of rights.

For my last remaining backlist title, I’d decided to try the indie route. One look at the Smashwords Style Guide, however, and I changed my mind. I would probably screw up my Word program forever if I followed their directions. Better I should hire someone to do the conversions than spend hours figuring this out. But once the file is ready, I’ll still have to upload it, as well as do all the marketing. 

With a cover and a conversion, this is likely to cost me up to $300…unless I stick to paying for the cover alone and uploading my doc file just to Kindle. I’ve hired a cover artist and for $125, she’ll make me a custom cover. I wanted one that’s competitive with the paperbacks out there. 

Let’s say I pay for conversions as well as a cover. If my indie published backlist book does well and I make this money back, it would be worth going the indie route again for original works. But if not, I would rather submit to a legit e-book publisher than go it alone. I’d have to give up a certain percentage of my royalties, but I need the services they’d provide. Indie authors make everything sound easy and profitable. But for how many, or how few, is that true? 

The Wild Rose Press gave me a beautiful cover for Silver Serenade, editorial assistance, digital conversions, and publicity opportunities. I get a 35% royalty for books bought at their site, where my title costs $7.00. On my own, I could be making double that amount on Amazon and control my own sale price. Yet their price point is somewhat understandable considering they have to pay cover artists, editorial, etc. as part of their publishing costs. But they also have no overhead in terms of office space, warehousing, etc. And readers want to pay $5.00 or less for an e-book.

It’s a very tough choice to make, whether to step off the gangplank on our own or swim the calm waters of having a publisher do all the work for us. You have to know what you’re taking on. But my adventure isn’t over yet. Once I get my new cover, I’ll see how it goes with uploading the file for this backlist title myself.

Here’s a great discussion on some of these topics:

And if you’re in Florida—or not—you may want to attend this important publishing industry event: