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Author: Iola

I provide professional freelance manuscript assessment, copyediting and proofreading services for writers of Christian fiction and non-fiction books, stories and articles. I also review Christian novels at www.christianreads.blogspot.com.

Don't Sell Me Tell Me

Book Review | Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me by Greg Koorhan

Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me is a short book encouraging business owners to use stories as part of their marketing toolbox. These ideas are reminiscent of what Lisa Cron says in Wired for Story, but reworked for a business audience. Koorhan says:

We are predisposed to learn from stories. “Tell me a story” is a familiar phrase to most parents. “Teach me a lesson” is said by no children.

Avid fiction readers know a lot of this information, either from reading Lisa Cron, or other fiction teachers, or from their own intuition. But there is a large group of people who won’t read fiction, because it’s just stories. And stories aren’t real. That’s true. But it ignores another truth: that we learn better from stories than from bland facts, because stories make us feel.

This is important for anyone who owns a business, or who works in marketing or communication. We can use stories to tell people about our business and our brand. People relate to stories, so we can use our stories as a subtle way of showing our target clients they can relate to us.

There is a lot of good information in Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me.

There are also some exercises to help you find your brand stories and brand voice. Koorhan also touches briefly on Carl Jung’s twelve archetypes (for a more in-depth understanding of how to use archetypes in building your author brand, I recommend Author Branding by Rayne Hall).

Overall, Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me is a short and easy-to-read book which demonstrates the importance of story, and gives some great tips for finding and telling your brand stories.

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

About Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me

You cannot underestimate the power of a good story.

Learn how to apply the fundamentals of storytelling to your business and you can uplift, inspire and connect to the hearts of your audience. You can move them to tears, to laughter, and most important, you can move them to action!

Packed with advice you can put to use right away, you’ll learn how to keep your audience eager and ready to hear from you.

  • What pragmatic and actionable tactics will you learn?
  • How to quickly communicate your unique value.
  • The secret to connecting with the emotions of your desired audience.
  • The foolproof method for standing apart from your competition.
  • The most common marketing mistakes even smart business owners make and how to avoid them.
  • The singular best way to create an authentic, consistent brand.

Also the following insights:

  • The 4 critical elements you must have in place to keep your audience engaged.
  • Six different ways you can use stories in your business.
  • A step-by-step guide for finding your most powerful brand voice.
  • How to structure a story so that your audience feels compelled to listen.

PLUS, examples to jumpstart the process!

Here’s what this book ISN’T: this isn’t about picking new colors, redesigning your logo or developing your website. This is about building a consistent, unique and authentic brand that attracts your most profitable customers.

Find Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Goodreads

Read the introduction of Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me below:

Email Lists Made Easy by Kristen Oliphant

Book Review | Email Lists Made Easy by Kristen Oliphant

Email Lists Made Easy by Kristen Oliphant is a short and easy to read yet comprehensive introduction to the importance of email lists for authors. In the book, Oliphant takes readers through:

  • Why we should have an email list (because it’s OURS).
  • Choosing an email service. She recommends ConvertKit, but I think MailChimp or MailerLite are sufficient for most authors.
  • Optimizing your signup (give people an incentive to share their email address).
  • Using autoresponders for onboarding.
  • Creating content that will give people a reason to open and read your emails, and getting the timing right (i.e. how often you send emails).
  • Increasing engagement, including learning what not to do.
  • Growing your list by getting traffic to your content.
  • Creating freebies and content upgrades that relate to your other content.
  • Keeping your list clean.
  • Planning autoresponders.

As I write this, I’ve just signed up for a new email list because I was interested in the freebie. They sent me six emails in the first fifteen minutes … including three sales emails. People, that is the wrong way to do onboarding and creating content.

One lightbulb moment for me was this quote from ConvertKit:

All email marketing providers determine opens based on whether or not a 1px transparent image was loaded in the email.

I don’t know about you, but my iPhone doesn’t automatically open images. That means anything I read on the iPhone isn’t tracked as an open unless I also click to download the images. If you’re concerned about your online privacy, then reading on a mobile device might be a good idea.

As a list owner, it does mean that your mailing list provider might be understating your open rate … unless you can persuade readers to click a link or download the images, so their open is tracked.

Kristen Oliphant on social media:

To sum up a social media strategy: Consider what platforms you want to utilize and then rock those platforms. Post new content. Post links to your older content. Share your work. Period. Note: Sharing links to Amazon over and over is not a social media strategy.

Top Tips

  • Make sure the email comes from you (e.g. iola@ iolagoulton.com).
  • Ask questions (and respond).
  • Use a plugin like What Would Seth Godin Do or Bottom of Every Post to add a subscription signup request (I use Bloom from Elegant Themes).
  • Download the CSV file of your email list every month (to provide a backup).
  • Try something new every few months.

Finally, she points out that people unsubscribing isn’t the worst thing. The worst thing is deleting without reading (or adding your email address to a service like Unroll.me).

The one possible complaint is that this book was published in 2016 (and hasn’t been updated as far as I can tell). That means it doesn’t discuss GDPR, and autoresponders are now free with MailChimp, as are landing pages and signup forms.

If you already have a mailing list, then it’s possible you already know most of what Oliphant covers in this book.

But if the whole ideas of mailing lists is new to you, then Email Lists Made Easy is a great introduction.

About Email Lists Made Easy

Email is the most powerful tool authors and bloggers can use. Period. This is THE book that authors and bloggers need to make the most of email marketing.
Email Lists Made Easy for Writers and Bloggers is the missing piece to get your list on lock. Far from a boring read on “email marketing,” it will speak in terms that writers and bloggers understand.

Personal Connection – Email is far more personal that any other social connection you can have with your followers. Learn to harness that power.
Permanent Connection – You can literally download your subscribers’ emails and hold them in your hand. Try doing that with Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Powerful Connection – The ROI of email beats the pants off anything else you’ll try. A 2016 study from Campaign Monitor found that for every $1 you spend, you’ll get $44 back.

Get specific training on how to create and grow an effective list, from that very first signup form to more advanced tools like autoresponders series. With a free workbook you can download upon purchase, this book will be more than just ideas. It will be a practical guide that will help you learn to love (and get the most from) your email list.

Plus, you’ll also get a glossary of terms you need to know and a section with the most frequently asked questions about email lists. The accompanying workbook also includes a checklist for setting up your list so that you won’t miss an important piece.

No one ever says they are glad they waited to start their list. Let your email list work for you. Starting … NOW.

Find Email Lists Made Easy online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Goodreads

You can read the opening to Email Lists Made Easy below:

Author Branding: Win Your Readers' Loyalty and Promote Your Books by Rayne Hall

Book Review | Author Branding by Rayne Hall

If you read my post last week, you’ll know that on Monday 4 March 2019 I’ll kick off my annual March Marketing Challenge: Kick-Start Your Author Platform. This is the third year I’ve run the challenge, and it’s been great to see writers take their first steps to building an online platform.

As part of my preparation I’m reviewing and updating the challenge, removing references to Google+ (yay! One less social media network to worry about!), and adding information about GDPR and Gutenberg.

(If you can’t join us on Monday or if you’re reading this post after Monday, don’t worry. The challenge is available throughout the year. The only difference is we won’t all be working through it together. Click here to find out more and sign up.)

I’m also reading a bunch of books about marketing to see what else I can or should add to the Challenge, and I’ll be posting several reviews over the next few weeks.

For this reason, I was thrilled to be asked to beta read Rayne Hall’s newest craft book: Author Branding: Win Your Readers’ Loyalty and Promote Your Books.

Understanding author branding is the beginning of creating your author platform.

Author Branding by @RayneHall is a must-read for authors looking to build an authentic and manageable author platform #AuthorPlatform #BookReview Click To Tweet

I read a lot of writing craft books, and I’m always impressed by Rayne Hall’s way of giving readers a step-by-step approach to an issues, whether it’s writing, editing, or something broader like using Twitter as a writer. Her book on author branding is no different.

Hall explains the importance of consistent author branding, then takes readers through twelve archetypes. These form the basis of her approach to branding—we should each pick one archetype and develop our brand around that. Just as we should pick a target reader, we should pick a single archetype and “be” that person when marketing, whether online or in person.

I found this approach both refreshing and freeing.

Refreshing, because there were enough archetypes that I could “find” myself (unlike other books I’ve read, where I was supposed to choose from five), but not so many that the decision was difficult. And freeing, because it gives us permission to ignore what others are doing.

Once you’ve identified your archetype, Hall takes you though how that might apply in different areas of branding e.g. how we present ourselves online, and what we might choose to share on social media (yes, she states we don’t have to share everything on social media. We get to choose).

Freeing, because Hall points out that we should only share material that’s consistent with our archetype. We don’t have to be everything to everyone. We don’t even have to be everything to our target reader. So I don’t have to share what authors A and B and C are sharing if they’re obviously a different archetype.

Instead, I can focus on sharing what fits my archetype and do that well.

(Which is what I’ve been trying to do, but it’s great to have someone else validate my approach and give a solid rationale for it).

The Kindle version of Author Branding by Rayne Hall is currently on a pre-order sale–just 99 cents (click here to buy).

It’s a bargain and a must-read. It’s also a quick read, so you have time to buy it now, read it over the weekend, and use that new knowledge as you develop your author platform.

And if you don’t have an author platform yet, maybe now is the time to start. Click here to check out the March Marketing Challenge, and I’ll look forward to helping you kick-start your author platform!

Endorsement from Carolyn Miller

Building Your Author Website

4 Decisions to Make Before Building Your Author Website (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

I’ve been busy building websites. The demise of Google+ has meant we’ve created a new WordPress-based site for Australasian Christian Writers, and I’m now doing the same for International Christian Fiction Writers. And I still need to review my own sites …

I’ve been reminded that building your author website is a lot easier if you make some of the key decisions before you start. This site was the first I built, and it took weeks—simply because there were so many decisions to be made. The most recent site only took two days, because I made all the big decisions before I started (although we still haven’t officially launched the site … and I’m not responsible for the content).

Here are the big four decisions:

1. Decide on your platform

Website design has come a long way from the days when people had to speak html as a second language in order to be able to develop a website. Now there are a variety of free and paid options that mean even the least tech-savvy person can set up a website.

The most well-known options are Blogger and WordPress. Other options include SquareSpace, Weebly, and Wix. All have free and paid options, with the paid options allowing you to use a custom domain name (i.e. www.iolagoulton.com rather than www.christianreads.blogspot.com).

Blogger (powered by Google) is probably the easiest to use, especially if you’re not especially tech-savvy. However, it’s an old platform, needs investment, and it’s unclear how the death of Google+ will affect Blogger commenting going forward (and existing Google+ comments will be lost, along with images stored in Google+).

WordPress.org (the paid version) has a huge range of themes and plugins you can use to customise your site, but most people would need the assistance of a web designer to undertake any customisation. The advantage of using a WordPress-based site is that it’s designed to be a website not just a blog, so the finished product looks a lot more professional.

(If you want help building a WordPress.org site, either click here to sign up for my March Marketing Challenge, or check out Shannon Mattern’s free 5 Day Website Challenge.)

2. Choose a Theme

WordPress has a virtually unlimited number of themes, both free and paid. It might be tempting to use the standard theme (currently Twenty Nineteen), but that’s soon going to date your site … and you run the risk of your site looking exactly the same as all the other sites using the same theme.

I use the free version of the Make theme from Theme Foundry on this site—it’s fully customisable, but not difficult to use (especially not if you sign up for the 5 Day Website Challenge). A lot of people use and love Divi, available from Elegant Themes.

The most important things to look for in a theme are:

Mobile Responsive

More and more people access the internet using mobile and tablet devices, so you need to chose a theme that automatically adapts to the size of the screen.

Customisable

Many themes have a limited number of fonts and colourschemes. That might not matter if you don’t already have your own brand fonts and colours. But if you do, you’ll want a theme you can adapt to your own branding rather than being forced to use the preset colours and fonts.

3. Decide your colourscheme.

The problem with picking a colour is you’re not at school any more. You have more than the standard eight colours of crayon on offer at school (although you might have been one of the lucky kids to have Crayola crayons with 64 colours).

No, now you have an almost unlimited choice (somewhere around 16,700,000, if I’ve calculated correctly).

Colour should reflect your genre: black and red probably aren’t the best choices for a contemporary romance author.

How do you choose? What colours go together?

Don’t worry. Canva.com has some blog posts which will give you some good ideas around possible colour combinations:

4. Pick your fonts.

Fonts are both easier and more difficult to pick than colours. Sure, there are less than 16,700,000 choices, but you have to choose two, or maybe even three.

You need an easy-to-read font for your body text, and another font for your headings (perhaps more than one, as you can have several levels of headings and subheadings). You can be a little more creative with this choice, but it still needs to be consistent with your genre and author brand.

Canva and Elegant Themes have some excellent blog posts on font choices:

It can be tempting to stick with the tried-and-true Arial or Times New Roman fonts, perhaps because it’s hard to decide on a font. But some fonts are best avoided.

As you look through the font lists, you’ll see a lot you don’t like, some you like but which aren’t right for your brand, and (hopefully) a smaller number of appropriate font choices. Then you need to consider which two or three fonts you can use together.

Here are some useful resources on font pairings:

That last resource is very cool. Pick a font, and it doesn’t just tell you what fonts would pair well. It shows you four or five options on a mock website, so you can really see how the fonts look together (hover over the text for it to tell you the font name).

Just set a timer: there are so many options that it’s easy to get lost!

Do you need help in developing your website or your author platform?

If so, check out my March Marketing Challenge: Kick-Start Your Author Platform. It’s a 40-day Challenge, and I take you through every step, from considering your genre and target reader, to a real live website. You’ll receive a 70-page workbook, and membership to our exclusive Facebook group—a great place to ask questions.

Click here to find out more.

This post is part of the monthly Author ToolBox Blog Hop, organised by Raimey Gallant. We now have over 40 blogs participating. To find more Blog Hop posts:
Is my novel good enough to be published?

Dear Editor | Is My Novel Good Enough to Publish?

I recently completed a manuscript assessment for a new client. After I’d given her my feedback (a lot of feedback), she emailed back with a number of questions. One stood out:

Is My Manuscript Good Enough to Publish?

Easy answer: yes.

The advent of ebooks and print on demand (POD) technology means everything is publishable. But, to misquote 1 Corinthians, you might have the ability to self-publish, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.

It’s especially not a good idea to self-publish through some “service” aka a vanity press—apart from the quality issues, it’s not good Christian stewardship to spend thousands on something you could organise yourself for a fraction of the cost.

So is My Manuscript Good Enough to Publish?

Hard answer: not yet.

Why not?

Anyone can publish anything at any time. But just because we can doesn’t mean we should. And when people say “publish”, they usually mean published by a reputable publisher. Is your novel good enough for your dream publisher?

It depends.

It depends on who you want to publish your novel: a major US publisher, a smaller US publisher, or a local (e.g. Australian) publisher. Attracting your dream publisher will depend on your book scoring well in these areas:

  • Representation
  • Setting
  • Writing Craft
Is your novel good enough for your dream publisher? That depends on representation, setting, and writing craft. #WriteTip #PublishingTip Click To Tweet

Representation

You’ll need to be represented by a literary agent to have a shot at any of the big-name US CBA publishers like Bethany House or Thomas Nelson. You don’t want just any agent—you want an agent with a track record of selling to the major CBA publishers. (Check out my post on how to find a Christian literary agent.)

In order to get signed by an agent, you’ll need to have credibility as a writer. One way to build credibility is to enter and final in major writing contests.

And you’ll probably need to attend a major US Christian writers’ conference such as the American Christian Fiction Writers conference, as major conferences give you the opportunity to meet agents and publishers in person.

Setting

Your novel will need have to have sales potential. Big sales potential.

Major US Publishers

Major US CBA publishers prefer books set in the US, because that’s what they sell best. They will sometimes diversify and read a historical novel set in England or Scotland, but for the most part, they prefer their fiction to be set in the good old U S of A. Or, at the very least, with an American lead character. For example:

  • Close to You, Kara Isaac’s debut novel, capitalised on the US love for all things Lord of the Rings by having an American hero and a Kiwi Lord of the Rings tour guide heroine.
  • Mail Order Bride, Lucy Thompson’s debut historical romance, is set in Colorado and utilises the much-loved mail-order bride trope. There may even have been a cowboy.
  • The Elusive Miss Ellison, Carolyn Miller’s upcoming debut, is a Regency romance set in England.

Australia

Australian publishers love books by Australian authors with Australian characters and settings. They tend to accept submissions direct from authors (so no literary agent required), and it’s easier to get to meet them in person (the best opportunity for Christian writers is at the Omega Writers’ Conference in October). Personal connections help.

The downside is the Australian market is smaller, which means fewer potential buyers (a fact many Australian authors have lamented on). It also means our small publishers can’t publish every manuscript they see, much as they might like to.

Smaller US Publishers

There are a myriad of smaller Christian publishers, mostly in the US, who may be open to submissions.

If you want a free list of over 100 publishers who publish Christian fiction, click here to sign up to my mailing list. This list does not constitute an endorsement, and I don’t recommend any specific publishers … although there are a few I recommend people steer clear of (like the publisher which offered me a publishing contract without actually seeing my manuscript. Or the publisher sued for deceptive practices. Or the publisher convicted of extortion).

Writing Craft

There is also the aspect of writing craft: is your manuscript good enough?

The bigger the publisher, the better your manuscript has to be. There are so many authors fighting for an ever-decreasing number of publishing slots that anything less than excellent isn’t good enough to get the attention of a major publisher. Publishers get so many excellent submissions that they don’t have time for could-be-excellent submissions or almost-excellent submissions or submissions they can’t see a market for.

Genre

The most saleable manuscripts are those which fit clearly into a popular genre. With novels aimed at the Christian market, this includes meeting the expectations of CBA readers, and being careful regarding ‘edgy’ content—topics so expansive I could write a book about them.

The closer your manuscript aligns with a popular and established genre, the easier it’s going to be to sell to a publisher. But what if you don’t fit a popular genre (e.g. Christian Science Fiction, or New Adult)?

This is when you might consider self-publishing.

But if you pursue self-publishing, pursue excellence as well. Don’t self-publish as a shortcut, to fulfil your publishing dream. Instead, write something good enough to win a major contest or be published by your dream publisher, and choose to self-publish because that’s what you believe God has set out as your path.

Because there are several paths to publishing, and—surprise!—I’ve written some blog posts about them:

To go back to the original question.

Is my novel good enough to be published? That depends on how you want to publish it. Is your novel good enough for your dream publisher? Click To Tweet

Your challenge is to work out how you want it to be published, and do the work necessary to achieve that. Start by checking out 9 Keys to Writing Your First Novel. And pursue excellence.

 

 

 

 

 

Chawna Schroeder Shares The Christian Writers Code

I’m a member of American Christian Fiction writers.

I’m not sure if it’s the biggest organisation for Christian writers, but it’s certainly one of the biggest. And it’s not just Americans, despite the name. One of the benefits of ACFW membership is a free monthly online training course covering some aspect of writing, publishing, or marketing. One course that stood out to me was The Writer’s Code, run by Chawna Schroeder.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the title, but it turned out to be one of the most interesting and thought-provoking courses I’ve taken (or lurked in). Chawna started by saying:

Craft - how we tell a story - is only half the equation. The content of our stories is equally important. - Chawna Schroeder

This is especially true for us as Christian writers, as Chawna went on to demonstrate using the standard set in Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

This is what Chawna has dubbed The Writer’s Code: the eight qualities of Philippians 4:8. I think it also provides a solid basis for considering what is Christian fiction … and what isn’t.

The Writer's Code: the eight qualities of Philippians 4:8 adapted for the Christian writer by Chawna Shroeder #ChristianFiction #ChristianWriter Click To Tweet

Whatever is True

Our writing needs to reflect truth—a conformance to reality. This includes the truths of historical fact, scientific principle, moral law, and human nature. As writers, we can bend historical fact or scientific principle if it benefits the story and depending on the genre (e.g. science fiction or fantasy). What we can’t or shouldn’t do is bend the truth to deceive readers. But bending the truths of human nature can mean we’re writing unrealistic situations.

Whatever is Noble

We need to write about noble heroes and heroines (the antagonists don’t have to be noble). Characters who know right from wrong and live accordingly, who treat others with respect, and who don’t manipulate or deceive others. I would agree this is where our main character needs to be at the end of the novel, but great fiction shows a change in character—such as becoming a more noble person.

She also points out that we should handle difficult situations in a noble manner: we don’t need to graphically show everything. Sometimes the noble choice is to fade to black.

As Christian writers, we should handle difficult situations in a noble manner: we don't need to graphically show everything. Sometimes the noble choice is to fade to black. @ChawnaSchroeder #ChristianFiction Click To Tweet

Whatever is Right(eous)

This means writing stories which conform to the Bible and reflect the standards of God, the character of God, and the will of God. For me, this is what sets true Christian fiction apart from fiction written by Christians—the Godly themes and messages. This doesn’t mean only showing characters doing right: that’s going to become boring and preachy. And it goes against the first rule, writing what is true. People are not perfect, so our characters shouldn’t be either.

Whatever is Pure

Purity is freedom from contamination—we should show good as praiseworthy, and evil as something to be avoided or overcome. Chawna also addresses the nature of “clean” fiction, and points out that human standards of what is “clean” change, but God’s standards of what is pure do not. Guess which one we should be aiming for?

Chawna also points out, rightly, that a pure book which reflects God’s truth may have some less-than-savoury elements, while many “clean” books reject the existence of God.

Whatever is Lovely

Yes, we need to pursue loveliness in writing! People appreciate beautiful writing, so add vivid description, use rhetorical devices, add cadence, add variety—anything to engage our reader’s emotions, evoke sympathy and compassion, and perhaps even inspire our readers to change and become better people.

Whatever is Admirable (of good repute)

This quality is about us as authors (and people) as well as about the content we create. Chawna points out that we gain our reputations through association, consistency, and by being memorable.

What she calls reputation by association I call author brand. We all have a brand, and we manage and develop that brand by carefully considering how we are seen online and in the marketplace, and through acting that way consistently (we don’t need to share everything, and we certainly shouldn’t overshare).

Chawna also encourages us to be memorable by seeking excellence, not settling for mediocrity … which leads us nicely onto the next point.

If Anything is Excellent

Chawna challenges us not to write with a “good enough” attitude:

Rather than striving to make every word count, rather than polishing our stories to our fullest ability, rather than digging deeper, we settle for the minimum to gain what we desire. We make our novels good enough to snag an agent, good enough to publish, good enough to win that coveted award … Excellence is never satisfied with “good enough”.

She also uses this commandment to address the spiritual aspects of our writing:

How often do we stop with just proclaiming the simple truth rather than delving into its rich depths in a way that helps our readers not merely know the truth but understand it and even experience it through the lives of our characters?

Click To Tweet

Yes. Pursue excellence.

If Anything is Praiseworthy

Praiseworthy has two meanings: earning praise from God, and earning praise for God. Chawna suggests writing with God as co-creator rather than writing for him. And seek to glorify God with our writing. I think this goes back to the previous point of seeking excellence. We do not glorify God by publishing a “good enough” novel. The readers will see it, and the reviews will reflect it.

Chawna finishes with a Writer’s Pledge, which she has given me permission to share:

I, ______________________________________, hereby pledge I will learn more and more to create stories which are worth thinking about, conforming to the qualities listed in Philippians 4:8, stories which:

  • Conform to reality in historical fact, scientific principle, moral law and human nature (true);
  • Offer noble characters, handle serious matters with respect, and deal with ignoble characters/matters appropriately (noble);
  • Reflect the standards of God, the character of God, and the will of God (right);
  • Offer characters worth imitating, portray sin/evil for what they are, portray God for who He is, show the consequences of actions (positive & negative), and employ the power of suggestion when appropriate (pure);
  • Please the senses and move the reader’s heart toward love (lovely);
  • Promote a good reputation through appropriate associations, consistency, and being memorable (admirable);
  • Go beyond the status quo and pure entertainment and are the very best I can produce with the time and ability God gives at any point (excellent);
  • Earn commendation from God, and most of all, glorify Him (praiseworthy).

What do you think?

You can find Chawna Schroeder online at her website (www.chawnaschroeder.com), blog (www.chawanschroeder.blogspot.com), and on Facebook.
Vanity Publishing

Paths to Publishing 4 | Vanity Publishing

Over the last three weeks we’ve looked at trade publishing, publishing through a small press, and self-publishing. Any of those can be good options for authors, depending on your genre, writing, and aspirations.

Today we’re looking at a path to publishing that is rarely a good option for the author: vanity publishing. That’s because vanity publishing goes against publishing’s most important maxim:

Money flows from the publisher to the author

If money is flowing from the author to the publisher, that’s commonly referred to as vanity publishing.

Money flows from the publisher to the author. If money is flowing from the author to the publisher, that’s commonly referred to as vanity publishing. Avoid vanity publishing. #PubTip #WritersLife Click To Tweet

And that’s one of the first ways you can tell whether a publisher is a vanity press: they claim they are not. Instead, they say they are a co-operative publisher, a partner publisher, a subsidy publisher, a hybrid publisher, a self-publisher or even a traditional royalty-paying publisher. Vanity publishers are experts at appropriating the language of legitimate publishing in order to squeeze money from the uninformed.

The key way to distinguish a genuine publisher from a vanity press is to consider how the publisher makes money.

A trade publisher (large, small or micropress) or a self-published author make their money the same way: by selling books to readers.

A vanity publisher makes money differently: by charging authors.

The most common vanity publishing business model is pay-to-publish—selling publishing packages to authors.

Pay to Publish

Packages vary in cost and quality, but start at $999 and go up into the thousands. Packages don’t routinely include editing, even when it is obviously needed. The author is encouraged to pay extra for marketing opportunities, which can be anything from blog tour to expensive print advertising at roughly the price of a new car (often double the price of advertising directly through the newspaper or magazine).

Purchase Requirement

The other common vanity publishing model is the purchase requirement—publishing “free” but requiring authors to purchase a minimum of 1,000 copies of the published book (an estimated minimum cost of $10,000). This more than covers the publisher’s production costs, but leaves the author with hundreds of paperbacks and no way of selling them.

It would be nice to think that publishers operating in the Christian market would be better than this, that they would be honest, truthful, looking out for the best interests of everyone … you know, Christian. But there are many vanity presses specifically targeting the Christian market, perhaps because Christians tend to trust other people who say they are Christians.

If you don’t believe me, check out Tate Publishing.

You won’t be able to see their website (or the websites they built for the 2,200+ authors who’ve laid charges against them). That’s because the founder and CEO of Tate Publishing—who marketed themselves as a Christian publisher—have been convicted of:

“charges including 44 counts involving embezzlement, attempted extortion, extortion, conspiracy and racketeering.”

Author Services

Some publishers offer author services, and it can be difficult at first to tell whether it is a vanity publisher, or a printer specialising in book printing who has expanded their services into areas like cover design, editing, ebook creation, and distribution. This is especially the case when the publisher offers both traditional publishing and services for authors intending to self-publish.

An author services company may offer some or all of the following services:

  • Developmental editing
  • Line editing
  • Copyediting
  • Proofreading
  • Cover design
  • Interior design
  • Interior formatting
  • Ebook coversion
  • Printing

An author services company may also be able to assist with uploading electronic ebook files to online retail sites such as Amazon and iBooks, and with uploading the files for the paper books to sites such as Amazon KDP and IngramSpark.

Some of these providers are specialists serving the author community, companies like printers or distributors. But some are not. Some are offering overpriced services. Some aren’t delivering on the services they offer. Some are offering useless services, like pitching to a Hollywood agent.

Above all, services should represent good value for money—and that’s my worry with  author services providers. Authors can almost always find better value services from freelancers who have less overhead to cover. Then the author is self-publishing, which we discussed last week.

As Christians, we are called to be wise stewards of our time, talents and resources.

That means understanding the different publishing models, and not getting caught in the snare of a vanity press. It’s not good business, and it’s not good stewardship. Instead, learn the basics of self-publishing and ask for (or pay for) help when required.

Do you understand the different paths to publishing? This week I'm discussing vanity publishing and author services: when authors pay to publish #PubTips #WritersLife Click To Tweet

This is the final article in this series. If you’d like to know more about any of the topics raised over the last four weeks, please leave a comment below.

Self-Publishing

Paths to Publishing 3 | Self-Publishing

By Iola Goulton @iolagoulton

Over the last two weeks, we’ve looked at two paths to publishing: working with an agent to attract a major trade publisher, and publishing through a small press or micropress.

This week we are looking at the third option: self-publishing.

Paths to Publishing 3 - Self-Publishing | Self-publishing has soared in popularity since the release of the Amazon Kindle and competing ereaders. #PubTips #WritersLife Click To Tweet

These, along with affordable print-on-demand (POD) services mean no author needs to get stuck with hundreds of copies of unsold paperbacks.

Unfortunately, it also means anyone who can type and open an email account can publish on Amazon, which has led to the “tsunami of carp” (at least, that’s what was called on the old Amazon discussion forums. They had strict guidelines around language).

Self-publishing is also referred to as indie publishing, a reference to the indie film industry. As indie film-making is making and distributing a film independently of the major film studios, indie publishing is publishing and distributing a book independently of the trade publishers.

However, self-publishing is also somewhat of a misnomer, as it implies the writer is publishing alone.

This isn’t true: there are many tasks which have to be completed in order to publish a book, and the savvy self-publishing author knows they will need to outsource some of those tasks.

The main tasks which need outsourcing are:

Developmental Editing

Someone (who isn’t related to you) needs to go through your manuscript and suggest how it can be improved. This can be a critique partner or beta-reader (in which case they help for free on the understanding you will return the favour) or a developmental or structural editor.

Editing and Proofreading

Even the best editor can’t proofread their own work. We read the words we intended to write … which might not be the words which actually ended up on the screen. We need one (or more) editors as part of our publishing team.

Cover design

This is best outsourced unless you are a trained graphic designer with experience in book cover design.

Other Tasks

Then there is a range of tasks which a savvy author can learn to do themselves, or can outsource as time and money permit.

These include:

  • Interior formatting
  • Uploading the final version to distributors for printing and epublishing
  • Claiming online author profiles
  • Website development and maintenance
  • Email list development and maintenance
  • Organising advertising and sales promotions
  • Writing newsletters
  • Social media management
  • Organising book reviewers
  • Ensuring books are categorised correctly in online stores
  • Organising blog tours
  • Writing guest blog posts

And the list goes on …

The essence of self-publishing isn’t that the author does everything themselves, but that they are in control of the process and contract out those parts of the process they can’t do themselves (like editing) or that could be done better by a professional (e.g. cover design). Some contract tasks like social media updates or website maintenance out to a virtual assistant.

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).

Hybrid Authors

Some authors are known as hybrid authors: they have some self-published some books, and have others published trade publishers. Author Earnings reports suggest hybrid authors have the best of both worlds: they have the advantage of having books in physical bookstores which helps develop a reader base. They have some marketing support from the trade publisher, and while this is specifically for their trade-published titles, it will build name recognition, which will carry over into their indie titles.

Self-publishing doesn't mean doing everything yourself, but it does mean managing the process yourself. | Paths to Publishing - Self-Publishing #WritersLife #PubTips Click To Tweet

Next week we’ll look at the final option around publishing: using external author services to publish.

It sounds like a great idea, but there can be a real sting in the tail for the unwary.

Paths to Publishing - Small Press

Paths to Publishing 2 | Small Presses (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

Last week I talked about traditional publishing, specifically discussing large publishers. This week I’m looking at another area of traditional publishing: the small press.

Small presses and micropresses follow the same business principles as the major traditional publishers. Small presses take on the full financial responsibility for publishing and distributing the book, although you’re less likely to see their books on the shelf at your local store, or in your library.

Many will accept direct submissions from authors.

Few small presses pay advances, but all pay royalties. As with trade publishers, reputable small presses don’t charge you for publishing or require any compulsory book purchases (if they do, they’re a vanity press, which we’ll get to in a later post).

Paths to Publishing: Small Press | The potential problem with small presses is that they are often less experienced publishers, which can impact on quality. #WriteTip #PubTip Click To Tweet

The main differences between a larger publisher and a small press are:

Small presses are more likely to be owned by individuals.

Trade publishers are often owned by multinational corporations or churches (in the Christian arena). This means the person you are dealing with in a small press has an actual stake in the success of your book.

Small presses will have a smaller team

The owner may well be the acquisitions editor, the structural editor, the line editor, the copy editor, the proofreader, the formatter, the cover designer, and the sales and marketing department. This has advantages and disadvantages: it means the person you’re dealing with is the one with the power to make decisions, but it may mean the publisher becomes stretched too thin, or are undertaking roles they aren’t suited for.

A small press is less likely to pay advances.

However, they often pay higher royalties than the major publishers, especially for digital sales (although it can be argued a higher royalty rate is only useful if the book is selling).

Small presses may offer digital-only or digital-first contracts.

This means only books with a high enough ebook sales record will get printed and distributed. Alternatively, they may sell paperback copies through a print-on-demand service such as IngramSpark rather than printing and distributing stock (because printing and warehousing costs money).

Small presses may not distribute to bookstores.

This is a factor of cost: books are distributed to bookstores on a sale-or-return basis, and a small business may not have the financial backing to make in-store sales financially viable.

Advantages of a Small Press

Most small presses accept unsolicited submissions from unagented writers.

However, just because you can submit doesn’t mean you should. I find many small presses produce books with bad writing, amateur covers, insufficient editing, and little or no marketing support. You might be better off self-publishing (or not publishing) rather than submitting to a bad small press.

Here are some suggestions of what to look for before submitting to a small press:

A good small press will operate in a niche (e.g. Christian romance)

They can’t be all things to all people, and they don’t try.

Cover art will be professional, and reflect the specific genre.

While their cover art won’t reach the standard of the best Big Five publishers, it will be as good as the cover art of the best indie publishers. Readers do judge books by their covers, and many of the small presses (unfortunately) feature cover art best described as average.

The writing and the editing should be excellent.

I often find the copyediting is solid, in that there are few or no typographical errors, but there are fundamental writing issues (e.g. headhopping, or telling not showing). Mistakes like these show the publisher or their editors lack an understanding of the essentials of good fiction. Small presses who produce excellent non-fiction may well be lacking in the necessary skills to produce excellent fiction—and vice-versa.

Books are available in major online stores.

However, books may not be available in physical bookstores, especially if the small press utilises a digital-first or digital-only model to control costs.

Prices are competitive for both ebooks and paperbacks.

Readers are unlikely to pay more than USD 5.99 for the ebook version of a full-length novel (80,000–90,000 words) from an unknown author or publisher. Paperbacks should retail at USD 12.99—USD 15.99 to be competitive with the major publishers.

What next?

Once you are confident the small press has the high standards your book deserves, make sure your book shines. To employ a cliché, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and you don’t want to waste that chance on a manuscript that has issues you didn’t fix because you didn’t know they were issues.

Paths to Publishing 2 - the Small Press | Advantages and disadvantages of publishing with a small press #AuthorToolboxBlogHop #PupTip Click To Tweet

There are an increasing number of small presses and micropresses publishing Christian fiction. To receive a current list, click here and sign up to my monthly newsletter.

Next week I’ll be looking at self-publishing and hybrid authors (authors who trade publish and self-publish).

Meanwhile, what questions do you have about small presses? What advice do you have to share?

This post is part of the monthly Author ToolBox Blog Hop, organised by Raimey Gallant. We now have over 40 blogs participating. To find more Blog Hop posts:
Paths to publishing - trade publishing

Paths to Publishing 1 | Trade Publishing

When new writers ask how to get published, they’re usually asking how to get published by a traditional royalty-paying publisher, one who will get their books in bookshops. What they often don’t know is there are other ways to publish—and there are “publishers” who prey on newbie writers.

It’s important for all writers to know and understand the main paths to publishing, and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Over the next four weeks I’m going cover the four main paths to publishing:

1. Trade Publishing
2. Small Press Publishing
3. Self-Publishing
4. Vanity Publishing

Note that while these are all options, only three of them are options worth considering, and the “best” option will depend on your personal aims in writing and publishing. There is no one right answer for everyone. But there is one wrong answer!

Trade Publishing

Trade publishing is the official term for what can also be called traditional publishing, trad publishing, or legacy publishing. It’s what most people mean when they say “publishing”.

If you visit your local bookstore or library, most of the books you see on the shelves will have come through these big trade publishers, with names like HarperCollins, Penguin, Random House, or Simon & Schuster.

Most publishing houses have a range of imprints, each of which will target a different market.

For example, Harlequin, Love Inspired, Mills & Boon, Thomas Nelson and Zondervan are all imprints of HarperCollins.

Few trade publishers accept direct submissions from new authors, preferring to deal directly with literary agents. (Click here to read my post on how to find a Christian literary agent.) Authors are paid through advances and royalties, with a portion (usually 15%) of each payment going to their agent.

Under the trade publishing model, an author writes a book, and a publisher purchases the rights to publish and sell the book in specified formats (e.g. hardcover, paperback, digital, audiobook) and in specified locations (e.g. the United States and Canada, Australasia) in a specified language (e.g. English).

In return for the specified rights, the publisher will pay the author a royalty on the sale of each book. The royalty is expressed either as a percentage of the recommended retail price, or as a percentage of the actual selling price. Trade publishers may also pay an advance.

A publishing advance is similar to asking the boss for an advance.

It is an up-front payment which will be credited against future earnings (in this case, royalty payments). An author who gets an advance won’t get any other payments from the publisher until the book has sold enough copies that the royalties on the sold copies equal the advance payment made. In publishing terms, this means the advance has “earned out”.

For many Christian fiction authors, this is the publishing dream.

A contract from one of the major publishers, whether a Big Five imprint, or one of the major independent publishers operating exclusively within the Christian fiction market. These are probably are the publishers who publish your favourite Christian writers, authors like Irene Hannon, Karen Kingsbury, DiAnn Mills, James L Rubart or Susan May Warren.

These are the paperbacks you see in your local Christian bookstore, online at Amazon or Christian Book Distributors or Koorong, and in large print hardcover at your local library.

The big publishers publish four or more fiction titles a month. They have beautiful covers. The books are well written and well edited. The authors have pretty websites. Their Amazon pages are full of glowing reviews (often because the publishers have included an expensive blog tour as part of the book’s marketing package).

It’s easy to see why any Christian fiction author would want to be published with one of these companies. It’s a sign you’re a ‘real’ author; you’ve made it.

But there is a down side.

While these publishers produce four or more fiction titles a month, that’s only a tiny fraction of the manuscripts submitted to them. Most of their books will be from established authors. They may have as few as six slots in their annual publishing schedule for novels from a debut authors.

That means a lot of competition for those coveted publishing contracts, and a lot of pressure to deliver in order to win the next contract.

Next week, I’ll be back to look at small presses: trade publishers which don’t require an agent. In the meantime, what questions do you have about trade publishing?