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Review: The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine

The Fine Print of Self-Publishing should be required reading for anyone considering self-publishing, publishing through a small press, or publishing through a “traditional publisher” which requires the author to contribute to the publishing or marketing, or requires that they purchase books at “cost”. Seriously. Reading this book could save you thousands … if you remember a few things that he doesn’t mention. Like the number one rule of publishing:

Money flows from the publisher to the author.

Now we’ve finished the public service announcement, let’s get back to the review.

The author is the owner of a self-publishing firm, and the book is very much from that perspective. I’m not convinced by his explanation by of the difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing, but he defined what he meant, and that was sufficient to give the context for the rest of the book. I’m also not convinced by his underlying belief that authors need outside help in producing a professional product, that they are unable to do it themselves. I agree that everyone needs an external editor and/or proofreader, as no one can fully edit or proofread their own work, and people who aren’t trained graphic designers need to pay for a professional cover design. And an author may well decide to outsource tasks such as formatting.

But I don’t believe that a “self-publisher” is the best place to obtain all these services. I’ve read books from several of the self-publishers referenced in this book, and while the formatting in all of them was professional, the cover designs were of variable quality, as was the editing (one was, in my opinion, 150 pages longer than it needed to be, which priced the book out of the market).

What Levine didn’t do was give an author looking to self-publish any reason to outsource the publishing rather than do it themselves using freelance contractors. He points out that all the self-publishers he refers to (other than CreateSpace and Lulu) outsource the printing to Lightning Source. Yet a savvy self-publisher can deal directly with Lightning Source and avoid the printing markups which seem to be a major way these “self-publishers” make money.

This, for me, was one of the key strengths of  The Fine Print of Self-Publishing: a clear analysis of how “self-publishers” make money not just from being paid to produce the book, but from the ongoing sales. The author also takes readers through the real meaning of standard contract terms, including royalty calculations, and the relationship between printing markups on selling price—and how excessive printing markups produce a book that’s priced too high to sell. He also covers some of the “marketing” activities these organisations offer, with some idea of the relative cost and benefit of each.

One of the disadvantages of any book examining the current state of a market is that is can get outdated quickly. The Fine Print of Self-Publishing is no exception: one of the featured publishers (WinePress) has already gone out of business since the book was published three months ago (there’s probably a lesson in there about the reliability of some of these firms).

There are also a couple of areas where I would have liked to have seen more information, specifically with regard to one publisher mentioned in the book. While they don’t charge for publishing, they do require authors to contribute $4,000 towards marketing the book … but don’t say what that $4,000 buys. Personally, I’m not going to even look at spending that much without knowing exactly what I’m getting for the money. In fairness, the company wouldn’t disclose their contract without having a manuscript—something the author couldn’t exactly provide, given the nature of this book—so that’s not the author’s fault. But I’d really like to know what an author gets for that money …

The other thing Levine doesn’t cover are the firms who publish for free, but require authors to purchase a set number of their books. Based on the printing markup figures used in the book, the cost of 1,000 copies could easily exceed $10,000. These companies are, I believe, especially deceptive, as they often claim they aren’t self-publishers or vanity publishers, but traditional royalty-paying publishers (only they don’t pay royalties on the books the author buys, and what’s more “vanity” than requiring the author purchase 1,000 or more copies of their own book?).

Despite what looks here like a laundry list of complaints, I do believe any author considering self-publishing should buy and read this book. While the author never comes out and says “use Company X not Company Y”, the analysis makes it pretty clear who are the best options. It also provides a basis for the savvy author to calculate figures such as print markup for other companies not featured.

Buy the paperback and a new highlighter pen. You’ll need it.

Thanks to the author and StoryCartel for providing a free ebook for review.

Publishing 101: The Christian Market

Publishers Operating in the Christian Market

At first, I was going to call this post ‘Christian Publishers’, but I soon realised that while some of these publishing houses are owned and operated by Christians, many are not. For example, two of the biggest names in Christian publishing, Thomas Nelson and Zondervan (respectively, publishers of the New King James and the New International Versions of the Bible) are owned by HarperCollins, one of the ‘Big Five’ of publishing, and owned by News Corp. Thomas Nelson also offer a self-publishing option, WestBow Press, managed by the notorious Author Solutions (who are owned by another ‘Big Five’ publisher, Penguin Random House).

Over the next few months, I’m going to profile some of the publishers operating in the Christian market. Some are major trade presses, publishing dozens of books a year, fiction and non-fiction. Others are small presses, publishing a handful of titles annually focused on specific genres. Some specialise in ebooks, and don’t offer print editions. Some are vanity, subsidy or co-operative presses, working with authors to publish their books for a fee. Some are reputable. Some are not.

What information is covered?

In looking at each publisher, I’ve tried to find out the information I would want to know as a fiction author needs to know in making a decision about the most appropriate publishing choice. Note that what is the best option for one person might not be the best for another.

  • How many books do they publish each year?
  • Do they publish fiction? What genres?
  • What books and authors have they published recently? Do the reviews or samples highlight any publisher issues (e.g. editing)?
  • Do they accept unsolicited submissions, or do they only accept submissions from agents?
  • Are they a Big 5 publisher, small press, vanity press or something else?
  • What services do they offer? Do they charge for these services? If so, how much?
  • What editorial and marketing support do they offer?
  • Are there any red lights?

In each case, more information will be available from the website of the respective publisher.

How did I choose the publishers to feature?

My profiles will focus on publishers of novellas or novel-length fiction. If you are interested in finding out who publishes magazines, short stories, poetry or non-fiction, I recommend you consult the latest edition of The Christian Writer’s Market Guide, which is updated annually.

This list includes:

If you seek traditional publication, then the ACFW Recognized Publisher List is a good place to start. Recognized Publishers must meet certain criteria, but meeting the criteria does not imply endorsement by ACFW (or Christian Editing Services!). The criteria are:

  1. The publisher publishes novels written from a Christian worldview in any Christian fiction genre (i.e. should not contain profanity, graphic sex, or other objectionable material, and must otherwise conform to generally accepted standards of the CBA, as determined by ACFW.)
  2. All of the publisher’s fiction is Christian, or the publisher has an imprint devoted entirely to Christian fiction (in which case only the imprint will be recognized).
  3. The author must not participate financially in the production or distribution of the book (including a requirement to buy books).
  4. The publisher must pay royalties.
  5. The publisher must have been in business at least one year, and have previously unpublished books of Christian fiction by at least two authors (other than the owners) in print over the past year. Two books must have gross sales of over $5000 each in a twelve-month period.
  6. The publisher’s books must show evidence of professional editing and cover art, and the content must reflect biblical principles.

The revenue requirement is new, and although I don’t know what has prompted it, I suspect it has to do with those small presses who were created to publish books by the owner, have expanded, but offer little in the way of marketing support. A minimum gross sales figure should help eliminate those who have no distribution networks, provide insufficient support or expect their authors to do all the selling.

 

Are you intending to submit your manuscript to a publisher? Which publishers are you considering?

Publishing 101: Publishing Options

There are three main ways of getting your book published: trade publishing, vanity publishing and self-publishing:

Trade Publishing

Trade Publishing is the accepted term for the traditional royalty-paying publisher (also referred to as a legacy publisher). You may receive an advance (particularly for second and subsequent books), and you will be paid a defined amount for each copy of the book sold. Actual terms will be outlined in a detailed contract, and for your own protection, you should have this reviewed by a professional before signing.

The Big Five publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, along with all their associated imprints) will almost always only accept manuscripts from a recognised literary agent. Unsolicited submissions are likely to be returned unread (or, worse, trashed unacknowledged and unread).

However, there are many small press publishers that still accept direct author submissions, particularly in Australia and New Zealand. They may suggest or request that all manuscripts have been professionally edited prior to submission. Even if they don’t, paying for your own professional editing may be a worthwhile investment, as the editorial standards at some small presses are low.

Small presses are a lot more likely to work with the author to develop the product, such as having a say in choosing the title of the book and the cover artwork (which means that your novel with a dark-haired heroine is less likely to appear with a blonde bombshell on the cover). However, they will not have the same level of marketing support, or the in-store brand recognition of Zondervan or other major Christian imprints.

Vanity Publishing

Under the vanity publishing model, the author signs a publishing contract with the publisher (just like if they were working with a reputable trade publisher). The difference is that subsidy publishers don’t follow the first rule of publishing:

Money flows from the publisher to the author

Vanity publishers get your money in one or more of a variety of ways:

  • Offering publishing packages for an all-inclusive fee
  • Publishing for free, but requiring authors to commit to purchasing a set number of books
  • Publishing for free, but requiring authors to purchase some form of marketing package
  • Publishing for free, but selling ‘special services’ (e.g. a ‘rush fee’ to get your book into print faster)

Of course, with all the bad publicity around, no one actually claims to be a vanity publisher. No. They will insist they are not a vanity publisher—they are a traditional royalty-paying publisher. Or a subsidy publisher. Or a  co-operative publisher. Maybe they are a partner publisher. Sometimes they will say they are a self-publisher (clue: self-publishing means you do it yourself).

Vanity  publishers should be approached with caution. They frequently feature at well-known blogs such as Writer Beware and Predators and Editors (or just Google ‘Publish America Scam‘, and think about the possibly apocryphal story that Publish America accepted a compilation of shopping lists for publication, despite claiming that their Acquisitions Editors will “determine whether or not your work has what it takes to be a PublishAmerica book“).

As an aside, PublishAmerica have recently employed the tried-and-true method of escaping bad publicity (such as that associated with class-action lawsuits): they’ve changed their name. PublishAmerica are now America Star Books.

Self-publishing

Those who choose to self-publish will be responsible for everything. You will either have to do it yourself, or pay (or bribe or beg) someone else to do it for you. This involves a lot of decisions, and you would be wise to get advice from someone who has been through the process before (and recently – things can change very quickly, particularly when it comes to e-books).

In terms of the product, you will be responsible for decisions around whether to publish a paperback, an e-book or both, and for arranging external editing and/or proofreading, then formatting, preparing cover graphics and the back cover blurb, and getting an ISBN number, either yourself or with external assistance. You will need to arrange the e-book conversion, printing and distribution.

You will then need to consider where you are going to sell (online or through shops), price, and then get on with the hard work of building your platform and promoting your book at the same time as trying to manage your personal life and write your next book.  This can be a lot of work, but the rewards can be huge.

I will be going into greater detail on the advantages and disadvantages of each method of publishing over the next few weeks. Sign up to the email list on the right to ensure you don’t miss any posts.

Marketing 101: Top Ten Blogs to Follow

Last week I looked at five things not to do when promoting your book online, mostly focused around reviewing ethics. The week before I looked at marketing from a Christian perspective, and concluded there are a lot of ‘experts’ telling authors what to do, and it wasn’t always easy to tell the gold from the dross.

How do you tell who is giving good advice? I’ve spent a lot of time surfing the internet, learning about publishing and book marketing over the last few years. This post will introduce you to what I believe are the top ten blogs for Christian authors to follow.

Actually, they are the top 10 blogs for any author to follow (while some of them have a Christian focus, most don’t). Some are focused on traditional publishing, while others have more of a self-publishing bent. It’s important to read both, in order to make an educated decision about the type of publisher you want to work with.

So, in alphabetical order:

  1. Books & Such Literary Agency
    Books & Such is a literary agency representing a range of authors published in the Christian and general markets. As with most agent blogs, each agent will post on a regular basis, and they also have some guest bloggers (usually authors represented by the agency). When reading agent blogs, be aware that they make money by selling books to traditional publishers, so their focus is on encouraging authors along that path—which might not be right for everyone.
  2. Rachelle Gardner
    Rachelle is a literary agent with Books & Such (above), specialising in Christian publishing. I have noticed that the quality of her posts has declined over the last year (her best posts are now just links to Books & Such), and her commenters tend to be overwhelmingly agreeable (I suspect most of them hope to land Rachelle as their agent one day). Despite these drawbacks, there is a wealth of information on her blog about writing craft and literary agents, and you would be advised to spend some time going through her archives.
  3. David Gaughran
    David is the author of Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible. Like several other bloggers on my list, Gaughran has a nasty habit of unveiling the truth about spurious publishing headlines. (Marketing hint: when responding to a controversial post, calling the other person “full of s***” means you have lost the moral high ground—and the argument).
  4. Joe Konrath at A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing
    Joe offers excellent advice on self-publishing and marketing. His vocabulary is often a little, let’s say, earthy (he’s not a Christian, and his language can reflect that) and his tone is self-congratulatory. He’s earned around $1m from Amazon sales over the last year, so I think that gives him the right to say he knows a bit about writing and book marketing. Joe has little patience for traditional publishing, which makes his blog an excellent contrast to the agent blogs.
  5. Steve Laube
    Steve is owner of the Steve Laube Literary agency, and the new owner of Marcher Lord Press, publisher of Christian speculative fiction. His blog doesn’t get as many comments as some of the others on my list, but the posts are intelligent and insightful, and include weekly posts from each of the four agents.
  6. Amanda Luedeke
    Amanda is an agent with MacGregor Literary, owned by Chip MacGregor, and writes “Thursdays with Amanda”, a weekly marketing post (that I read on Friday, because of the international date line). The blog also has regular posts from Chip, from his other agents, and some guest blogger posts. These are good, but Amanda is better. Again, I’d advise you to go through the archives (or read Amanda’s book).
  7. Kristine Kathryn Rusch
    Kris doesn’t post regularly, but when she does, it’s worth reading. She is especially good on explaining the business of writing and publishing, and issues with contracts (such as interpreting royalty statements, assignment of rights, and reversion clauses). Essential reading.
  8. The Creative Penn
    Joanna Penn covers self-publishing and marketing, with a combination of blog posts and podcasts. A wealth of information, much of which is covered in her book, How to Market a Book.
  9. The Passive Voice
    The Passive Voice isn’t a like most blogs, where the blogger (or a group of bloggers) post their own views and experiences. Passive Guy compiles interesting and relevant posts on publishing and marketing from around the internet and adds a dry comment or two. (He also posts relevant literary quotes, and the occasional promotion for Mrs PG’s new book).
  10. Writer Beware
    What’s going wrong in the world of publishing, including agents, awards and publishers to avoid (and why). Writer Beware is one of the best places to look if you think something looks fishy (see their invaluable “Thumbs Down” lists). Again, an extensive and informative archive.

If you only have time to follow one blog, which one would I recommend? Easy.

The Passive Voice.

Why? Two reasons:

  • The Passive Voice is run by Passive Guy, a lawyer specialising in contract law, so he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to publishing contracts and legal issues. Mrs PG is a self-published historical fiction author, so he has an interest in self-publishing. You can find his professional website here.
  • The comments are outstanding—comments on many blogs are mostly congratulatory, but PG attracts a range of readers and encourages friendly debate. For an example, see the recent post on author earnings which attracted over 300 comments.

What writing blogs do you read? Which ones do you recommend, and why?

2013 CALEB Award Shortlist

I’m pleased to share the shortlist for the 2013 CALEB Awards, organised by Omega Writers, especially as I have worked with several of the authors. Congratulations, everyone!

The full shortlist is as follows:

Fiction

A New Resolution, Rose Dee

Contagious Hope, Debbie Roome

Henry’s Run, Amanda Deed

The Greenfield Legacy, Deed, Vince, Resce, Dee

Sarah’s Gift, Skye Wieland

 

Non-fiction

Youth Ministry on the Front Foot, Zachary Veron (ed)

The Heart of Marriage, Michael Hill

Teen Sex by the Book, Dr Patricia Weerakoon

Living Life at the Top, Paul Clark

Hardwired to Christ, Graeme Schultz

All In 2Night, Lynne Burgess

 

Biography

Soul Friend, Jo-Anne Berthelsen

Adventure with a Glass Eye, Julie Anita Raymond

William Booth and his Salvation Army, David Malcolm Bennett

Down Humdrum Street, Peter Clyburn

Silent Tears, Taikaawa Savage

Doctor Sahib, Elva Schroeder

 

Poetry

In God’s Hands, Lisa Limbrick

Taking Flight, Janette Fernando

Gestures of Love, Andrew Lansdown

 

Children

Wonderfully Madison, Penny Reeve

Marty’s Nut-Free Party, Katrina Roe

More than a Mouse, Penny Reeve

Attack at Shark Bay, Denis W Shuker

Adoptive Father, Kayleen West

Friends, Mark Hadley

 

Boom Prize

Ellie’s Dream, Jada Rolston

Feeding Sparrows, Aimee Reid

Galloping Friends, Hannah Austin

It Couldn’t Happen, Heidi Silsbee

 

Unpublished Manuscript

Adele Jones – Integrate

Cheryl Urek – Cappadocia

Elizabeth Greentree – Sally Hunt vs God

Elizabeth Klein – Ice Breath of the Earth

Janice Gillgren – It Wriggles and It Giggles

Jenny Glazebrook – Where the Heart Lies

LeAnn Orams – Ngaro: Valley of the Singing Stars

Linda Truss – History Changers

Peter Baade – Falcastra

Phillip McKerrow – The Adventures of Drip and Drop

Valerie Ling – I can’t wait to see you bloom!

For more information on Omega Writers and the CALEB Award, see the Omega website.