Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ten Truths You Need to Know about Publishing, No Matter How You Do It

I want to speak a moment to those of you who aren’t “making it” in publishing the way you’d hoped. J.A. Jance, Dan Brown, James Patterson, J.D. Robb: you can quit reading now.

For the rest of you—those who’ve been struggling to place your book with an agent, those who’ve placed a book but suffered disappointments when it comes to sales and readership, those who’ve published on your own but aren’t finding readers—these ten truths are for you:

·         No one way of publishing is better than the rest. Each route—Big Five, small press, self-publishing, hybrid blends—has its own advantages and disadvantages. Inform yourself of the options and choose the path that’s best for you and your book.
·         Finding readers isn’t easy. To upload an e-book or a print-on-demand file to a vendor and hit “publish” is simple. But if you want readers, you’re going to have to do a lot more, which is why authors continue to publish through traditional channels.
·         There’s a content flood, and it’s not going to recede anytime soon. As reported by author William Dietrich in a piece published by the Huffington Post, an estimated 130 million books have been published throughout human history. That number is growing by the minute—and with e-books, titles stay in print forever. Bottom line: the supply of books far exceeds the demand.
·         Statistically speaking, your chances of “making it” as an author are small. Dietrich cites a 2004 Nielson Bookscan report which found that of 1.2 million books tracked by Bookscan, only 2 percent sold more than 5,000 copies. And that was before the digital publishing revolution set off the real content flood.
·         Trying to second-guess the market can be frustrating—and unproductive. It’s great to know your brand and your niche, but don’t try to remake who you are to fit someone’s ideas about what’s selling and not.
·         Real advertising takes money—lots of it—and the returns may be slim. Publishers spend big money advertising books by celebrity authors, and not so much on the rest. The small budget they have for your book—or the little you can afford, if you self-publish—will do little to generate sales if the book isn’t one that captivates readers.
·         There’s no gaming the system. Yes, it helps to have connections if you’re trying to publish through traditional channels. Yes, getting in on the ground floor of the self-publishing revolution was wonderful timing. But as far as what you can do right here and now to get noticed, there are no “tricks.” Learn what you can, but don’t believe anyone who claims to know the secret to becoming a bestselling author.
·         Wonderful books are overlooked, and some that aren’t so wonderful sell more than anyone could have predicted. As they say, there’s no accounting for taste. But if sales are steady, and if a title stays in print long enough and is popular within a niche market, it may in the end outsell certain flash-and-burn bestsellers.
·         We all measure success a little differently, and that’s how it should be. Don’t appropriate someone else’s idea of what makes you successful. If your primary aim is to make money, there are better ways to do it.
·         Write what you love and make each book the best it can be. That’s the one aspect of publishing over which you have complete control.

The author of sixteen books with six different presses, Deb Vanasse is co-founder of the 49 Alaska Writing Center and founder of Running Fox Books, an independent press and author collective. Her most recent books are What Every Author Should Know, a 5-star Readers' Favorite, and Write Your Best Book. While Deb is a regular contributor to the IBPA Independent, the opinions expressed here are solely her own. A sought-after teacher and editor, she enjoys writing at her mountain home in Alaska.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Publishing: Do You Want to Grow Your Business?

(Credit: iStockphoto/stokato)

I’ve never had any formal management training. Yet I’ve ended up running more organizations than I ever intended.

It started when I was a first year teacher, age twenty-two, and I took over leadership of a small school as a principal-teacher, which entailed doing everything that a principal does plus teaching a partial class load. From there, I developed and ran a new program at a community college—the college president even said he’d help groom me for his position, but I declined. I led a high school language arts department. I ran a real estate brokerage. I ran a writing center. I run an author’s collective.

I’ve also run a host of small businesses: educational supplies; a bed and breakfast; educational services; writing and editing services; a book publishing venture. In each of these, the only person I supervised (and answered to) is myself. That’s how I like it. Despite (or because of?) my experience, I don't enjoy running things, especially when it involves supervision.

When I started publishing on my own, I vowed from the start that I wasn’t going to get sidetracked from my creative work. I wasn’t going to start acquiring books by other authors and dealing with all the hassles that come from growing into a bigger operation. Personalities. Expectations. Production schedules that affect anyone besides me.

For me, it feels like the right decision. But from a business standpoint, it may not be the smartest.

I’m working on a series articles for The Independent, the monthly magazine of the Independent Book Publishers Association. One of them is on self-published authors who grew their own highly profitable publishing companies. Like Dominque Raccah, who founded Sourcebooks in a spare bedroom back in 1987, most of these incredibly successful businesses started with a single title.

I’m interested to discover how—and why—people like Raccah made the leap into full-fledged publishing. Who knows? Perhaps what I learn will change my publishing vision.

What about you? What sort of nudge would it take for you to expand your publishing reach—and increase your profit potential—by handling titles other than ones you’ve written yourself? If nothing could convince you to expand beyond your own work, why not?

(Feel free to leave your name and a book title with your comment if you’d like me to consider it for the article).

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored sixteen books. Her most recent are Write Your Best Book, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest; What Every Author Should Know, a comprehensive guide to book publishing and promotion; and Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Deb lives and works on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Author Collectives: Triskele Books

For a recent article published in the IBPA Independent, I interviewed representatives of several author collectives. What I discovered was too exciting to keep to myself! Here, the second in a series of interviews on author collectives, featuring a Q & A with J.J. Marsh of Triskele Books

Who started your collective? What was the initial impetus and vision behind its founding?

The collective is formed of Gillian Hamer, Liza Perrat, Jane Dixon Smith, Catriona Troth and me, JJ Marsh. In 2011, several of us in an online writing critique group discussed collectives as the ideal ‘third way’ between trad publishing and going indie alone. So we met in London and hammered out an ethos: Triskele Books would stand for high quality writing, professional presentation and a strong sense of place, whilst maintaining full creative control.

When was the collective started? With how many authors and books represented?

December 2011. Three authors and three books.

How many authors and books are now represented?

Five core members and three associates, with a total of eighteen novels and one work of non-fiction, The Triskele Trail, which is the story of how we did it.

How does the collective reach readers? How are the books published and distributed?

We have a network of channels to reach readers: our blog, website, social media presence are all vital. We also create events such as the Indie Author Fair, and make appearances at conferences, book fairs, etc. In addition, we have an established profile in the shape of Words with JAM magazine (for writers and publishers) and Bookmuse, a review site for readers.

Publication and distribution is through all the ebook channels – Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Nook and so on, and print books through Ingram and Createspace. Audio is through Audible and independently. 

What distinguishes your collective in the marketplace?

We have a strong brand and a high profile identity as a supportive part of the indie author community. Our books are gaining increasing respect as being well written and attractively designed, plus our USP is Time and Place - location plays a key role in all our work.

How do you vet membership?

Right now, we don’t. We recently took a decision not to take on any more associates for the moment, due to the high amount of work involved. While we are committed to supporting other writers and creating opportunities, our own writing must come first. So at least until 2016, we’re not seeking new members.

What are the challenges of running a collective? 

      Significant workload - it’s not something that runs itself so requires a great deal of effort and energy. Play to your strengths and assign roles and responsibilities accordingly.
      Four-eye principle – we have to agree on everything that goes out under our name. This is time consuming and sometimes frustrating as we live in three different countries and two time zones.
      Commitment – start with a clearly defined sense of what the collective is and what you hope to achieve. When new opportunities arise, refer back to those original principles to decide what is right for the team as a whole.

What are the advantages of a collective over a traditional publishing arrangement?

      Creative control – we decide what we write, what our books look like and how they are marketed
      Timing – we can put out a book when it’s ready, as we’re not bound to a publisher’s schedule
      Editorial input – each of us benefits from four different editors and the commitment to the brand makes us raise our game
      Marketing teamwork - our geographical and genre spread means wider networks and greater awareness of opportunities
      We keep 100% of our own profits – there’s no middle man. Any expenses are shared equally
      Differing skill sets – we get to be publishers, marketers, financiers, speakers, editors, coaches and business people as well as writers
      Good fun! We all get on well and enjoy the collaborative process

What advantages does a traditional publisher have over a collective?

Probably only marketing budget. But you only benefit from that if you are one of the big sellers. Mid-list authors are expected to do the majority of the grunt work themselves, just as we do.

What do you think the future holds for author collectives?

I’m convinced this is the way forward. The collective concept is what traditional publishing used to be, and many small publishers still are: creative minds with a variety of skills coming together to support, promote and develop good writing. Not to mention finding new routes to readers. I foresee many great books emerging, standards rising and a positive, powerful force for readers in the hands of the authors themselves.

The Triskele Books blog contains interviews, advice, tips and a book club. Check it out here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Are You a Real Author?

Are you a real author?
It’s not a rhetorical question. There are certain practices and attitudes that separate real authors from the rest.
Allow me to illustrate. Recently, I agreed to read a manuscript for a writer. It was a swap situation, one I won’t repeat. I spent over six hours reading and commenting on the book, focusing on areas for improvement, as the writer requested. Her response: “Wow…I guess you hate my book…Thanks.”
Real author? Not yet.
For a few years, I sold real estate to help my children with their college expenses. (Want lots of money? Sell houses, not books!) Decades ago, when the real estate industry was first evolving, there was recognition of the need for industry professionals—if indeed they were to earn the right to be called professionals—to police themselves by agreeing to adhere to a code of ethics. To this day, it’s primarily the Realtor Code of Ethics that distinguishes professionals from those who are just in the biz to make a quick buck however they can.
Now more than ever, authors need to prove that they are professionals. By adhering to a few fundamental principles, they earn the right to be treated as such.
Here’s my proposed Code of Ethics for all authors, regardless of how they publish:
The Author Code of Ethics
1.      An author respects the right of readers to choose books from an open marketplace.

2.      Acknowledging that writing involves learning and growth, an author handles criticism with grace.

3.      An author respects the right of fellow authors to choose the path to publication that is best for them and their books.

4.      An author refrains from deceptive and fraudulent practices, such as plagiarism, over-inflated taglines, and purchased reviews from vendors who have not read the book.

5.      Aside from accepted forms of literary criticism such as reviews and critical studies, an author refrains from public disparagement, by name, of other authors and their work.

6.      An author’s engagement with readers and other authors is courteous and respectful.

7.      Acknowledging the importance of literature in a free and vibrant culture, an author strives to write well, within the expectations of genre and audience.

8.      As a responsible member of the literary community, an author interacts with the public in ways that exemplify the professionalism of all authors.

9.      For the purpose of improvement, an author cultivates objectivity with regard to his or her work.

10.  An author affirms the importance of open discourse.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Free Books: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

A scam: don't fall for it!

Let’s keep this simple.

Everyone likes to get things for free. (Whether they value them is another matter; mostly, they don’t.)

Say you want free books. There are good ways to get them. Libraries, for certain. If they don’t have the book you’re looking for, ask them to order it.

If you like e-books, there are thousands and thousands of free ones available through legitimate online vendors (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.). True, a lot of them aren’t that great, but if you search, you’ll find some gems, one being the Alaska Sampler that David Marusek and I put out each year. There are also legitimate e-newsletters like BookBub that will match your reading interests with time-sensitive offers for free and discounted books.

If you’re a book blogger and/or reviewer, you can be swimming in free books, via NetGalley and/or having a following that will attract the attention of authors and publicists.

Another great way to get free books is to follow an author via her website or on Goodreads. Authors and publishers often arrange giveaways—drawings for free books. And authors sometimes seek out beta readers and early reviewers, with whom they share e-books for free. Authors who have control of their book pricing will generally be happy to let you know about sales and such—a newsletter or email alert function on the author’s website will keep you in the know.

The bad way to get free books is piracy. It used to be that authors worried (if they worried at all) about plagiarism. Now, pirates steal whole books, making money either directly or indirectly off the backs of authors who work hard and earn little, statistically speaking.

Piracy of intellectual property, like everything else in the economic realm, is fundamentally about value.

A Starbucks latte has value.

A McDonald’s Big Mac meal has value.

A novel in which I poured my soul—not to mention three years of my life—has value.

I know, we all make our choices. All I’m saying is that when you consider all the legitimate ways to get a book for free, there’s no reason to pirate it, and there are ample reasons not to.

Which brings me to the ugly. A lot of those free book download sites are straight-up scams, using books as bait to lure in the unsuspecting. They post fake conversations about the books, including review language they lift from legitimate sites and even­—get this—fake “good cop” admonitions against pirating, along with “bad cops” who offer links to the pirating sites.

When you click through to the “free download” button, you’ll be asked to input your credit card information, so the scammers will have it “on file,” in case you want to buy a book later.

Guess what’s next? Fraudulent credit card charges. Nasty malware installed from what you thought was a legitimate website. (The malware is as clever as the fake discussion boards about the book: it tries the password out on your email account and uses it to send emails to your contacts, ostensibly from you, encouraging your friend to click on the link that will load malware onto his or her device.)

Don’t risk it. Get your books the way everyone else does. Authors rarely get rich. But your small contribution to our efforts is much appreciated!

Mark your calendars: Deb has a legitimate free book offer coming up. On Feb. 26 and 27, the e-book version of What Every Author Should Know will be available for free through Amazon. Thanks to author David Marusek for research and links for this post. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Publishing Your Way: The Author Collective

The new IndieVisible graphic, featuring renderings of its members

For a recent article published in the IBPA Independent, I interviewed representatives of several author collectives. What I discovered was too exciting to keep to myself! Here, the first in a series of interviews on author collectives, featuring a Q & A with Chelsea Starling of IndieVisible

Who started your collective? What was the initial impetus and vision behind its founding?

Indie-Visible 1.0 began in October 2012 with Jordan Rosenfeld and myself as the founding members. After a year, with a collective of about fifteen authors, things weren’t moving along as we all hoped they would, even though a handful of our members were able to publish books during that first year. Our membership activity slowed, and we lost focus along the way. Also, we had two distinct camps of writers in the group - half of us were more literary-minded and half of us were genre writers.

Our vision for Indie-Visible became split and Jordan and I had a meeting and agreed to disband, realizing that our different visions were making forward motion impossible- everything had slowed to nearly a halt for about a year. Jordan began a new collective called Scarlet Letter Writers, and I kept Indie-Visible.  Two of our original members, Christina Mercer, and Victoria Faye stayed on, and we began thinking big. On a long road trip, my mind went on wild brainstorm session, and I called Christina. For three hours, we hashed out a new outline for how we’d like to see IndieVisible grow, and decided to make it our mission to find all of the people we needed once we got to Nashville in June to attend UtopYA Con. 

When was the collective started? With how many authors and books represented?

IndieVisible 2.0 began anew in June, 2014. At UtopYA Con, we found a handful of incredible women to join us in creating the new vision for the collective. We added cover designer Regina Wamba of May I Design, blogger Toni Lesatz of My Book Addiction, blogger Maria Pease of The Paisley Reader, editor Crystal Bryant of The Plot Ninja, Marketing Diva, Beth Isaacs of True North Publishing. Our numbers have risen over the past few months, and we are now eleven incredibly talented women, with author James Matlack Raney being the first dude to join our ranks, making us a dirty dozen. Many of our members are in the process of prepping debut novels for publication, while some have published entire series, trilogies or multiple books.

You’ve recently undergone a major reorganization. What’s the reason behind that, and what results do you hope to see?

We are actually incorporating IndieVisible in January, 2015 as an LLC. My vision for IndieVisible is and has always been to create a way for authors to quit their non-writing day jobs and get paid to write, and we’ve finally found a way to do that. 

IndieVisible 2.0’s focus is on promoting Children’s, Middle Grade, YA and clean-ish NA fiction. (No erotica). The biggest issue we’ve been trying to solve is how to get books directly to the kids, tween and teen audiences. We’ve finally solved that problem with our Adopt-an-Author program we’re Beta launching in February 2015, which will pair indie authors with classrooms around the world, delivering books and exciting interactive reading/writing courses that will incur no cost to the schools, and will give our participating authors a nice income to afford more time to write.

With the reorganization, many authors and books are now represented?

Our current members are as follows:

Chelsea Starling, Christina Mercer, Crystal Bryant, Heather Sutherlin, Victoria Faye, Regina Wamba, James Raney, Kristen Day, S.M. Boyce, Maria Pease, Beth Isaacs & Toni Lesatz. We also have partnerships with a handful of awesome bloggers and freelancers, who will be bringing our two blogs: ReaderHub and PubHub to life at indie-visible.com. Some of us have published a handful of books, some entire series, some are still working on debut manuscripts. Regina is a book cover designer and photographer, who has created some gorgeous journals with our branding wizard, Victoria Faye.

How does the collective reach readers? How are the books published and distributed?

We will be reaching readers via our ReaderHub blog and through the program we’re launching in February. We have a collective reach that is pretty huge, so we’ll be sharing across all of our social media platforms. We’re also staring an Indie-Visible street team in the spring, which will be run by our marketing diva, Beth Isaacs. 

What distinguishes your collective in the marketplace?
Our collective is different than many because we have members who are bloggers and freelancers in the industry in addition to authors. IndieVisible 2.0’s new website will give indie authors a single place they can visit to find and hire reputable freelancers to build their own dream publishing team. Readers will be able to interact with writers via our ReaderHub blog where we have a team of bloggers creating fun content, book recommendations, and interactive contests. We are also different because we are building a business around our collective that will ultimately offer significant financial support to authors who work with us in the Adopt-an-Author program. 

How do you vet membership? What’s required of authors who participate? What benefits do participating authors enjoy?

At this point, I have been the sole Collector of Awesome People. I have chosen each member based on a gut feeling that they would fit into our team, and so far I have been fortunate enough to have assembled the most incredible group of superstar humans to carry this project forward. Authors who are interested in joining our Adopt-an-Author project once we’re past the beta phase will be vetted via an application process. Benefits to authors joining this program include direct contact with readers across the globe, and financial security that will allow authors to afford plenty of time to write, which is always the most challenging aspect of being an indie author.

What are the challenges of running a collective? What advice would you give to authors who either want to start a collective or join an existing one?

Our collective model is wild and unconventional. We are creating something that doesn’t exist yet, and with the creative minds on board, it’s been really fun. Our biggest challenge is going to be making the transition from everyone volunteering their time, to being able to pay our people for the efforts they contribute. We feel like we are on to something pretty special, as we have been able to navigate a handful of time zones and even countries with our members in an organized manner. We have a facebook group where we all keep in touch, weekly meetings which are either recorded or detailed minutes are taken by our resident Virgo/Bookkeeper, Christina Mercer. My advice to people starting a collective is to choose people to join the collective who share a vision, and be sure there is a leader who isn’t afraid to lead. Every collective has its own purposes, and ours is definitely outside the box, what we’re doing isn’t for everyone.

What are the advantages of a collective over a traditional publishing arrangement? What advantages does a traditional publisher have over a collective?

It’s hard for me to answer this, as I’ve not experienced a traditional publishing arrangement. For us, we have become such good friends, we are all wonderful collaborators, so ego doesn’t get in the way of what we do. We have a “lift as you climb” mentality, which is a phrase we learned from Janet Wallace at UtopYA Con, and there is something absolutely magical about working with such positive, uplifting people. We are all rooting for each other, celebrating each other’s individual successes, and looking for ways to make something amazing that can help other authors, whether they are brand new to being indie, or want to join our Adopt-an-Author program. And we’re making an amazing way for readers to find fantastic new books, and have a chance to interact with authors in fun new ways. 

What do you think the future holds for author collectives?

The publishing industry is experiencing so many exciting new changes, and I believe that author collectives will continue to pop up and establish themselves as a legitimate part of that landscape. It’s an exciting time to be a writer, to be an indie, and to be a reader, and author collectives are definitely a great way to create a solid community in what has historically been a lonely vocation. I love my team, I love what we’re doing and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Why My New Book Won’t Sell

My new book won’t sell.

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. A few readers will buy it, ones like those who’ve kindly endorsed it.* But I’m not expecting it to attract a huge number of readers.

I expect you’re wondering: Why would I bother writing a book when I don’t expect to sell many copies? The answer, in part, is that this book is a “passion project,” one that’s entrenched somewhere deep inside me, one that I feel compelled to share with however few readers might appreciate it.

Another reason I decided to go ahead with this book is that I’d already written parts of it, published online at here The Self-Made Writer, my teaching series for writers, now in its fourth year. Not that you can just push a button and turn a series of blog posts into a viable book. As with any meaningful collection, the material needed to be curated, organized, and amended. It needed revision for voice. It needed new chapters, to fill in the gaps. It needed cohesion.

In draft, this book was actually incorporated into another book that came out at the beginning of this year: What Every Author Should Know: No Matter How You Publish. But early readers suggested that there were really two books—one a comprehensive guide to publishing and promotion, the other a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest.

Here’s the problem: My plan had been to sneak the craft portion, the part about writing your best book, alongside the part that I knew would attract the larger audience, the part about how to publish and promote. From traffic stats at The Self-Made Writer, I knew that page views for posts on publishing and promotion are on average four times greater than page views for posts about craft.

That trend is visible all over the web, in chats and on reader boards, in Google Plus groups and LinkedIn discussions. The MFA crowd aside, there’s a huge concern with how to get published, and an even huger concern with how to get your book noticed.

I get that. It’s a confusing time in publishing. There’s a content flood, so even the most experienced marketing people at long-standing publishing houses are less certain than ever about how to attract readers for authors who aren’t flying celebrity class.

Nevertheless, I firmly believe this: Reading may be a subjective experience, but there are still certain qualities readers expect of great books, whether they’re fiction or nonfiction. Readers may not be able to articulate these expectations, but believe me, they have them. If you want your work to get noticed—if you want to find readers—your writing needs to rise to the top. Good isn’t good enough. Your work needs to be exceptional.

No amount of marketing, no amount of agent or publisher clout, will make readers love a book that’s poorly conceived and badly written.

And in the changing world of publishing, where who’ll buy and read your work is in many ways beyond your control, what you can control is the quality of your work and your efforts to continually improve at it.

If you agree, and you commit to writing your best book, I believe you’ll gain an advantage in the marketplace by studying how best books are made and applying those processes to generate your own best work.

Statistically speaking, however, you won’t do any of that. If you’re like most authors, you won’t consult my new book, or other books devoted to helping writers improve their craft. You won’t commit to writing as a lifelong process of learning.

I don’t begrudge you that. We all have to do what we have to do. For me, it was writing this book. Even if it won’t sell.

*  "Some of the best advice available today on the craft of writing.” Tanyo Ravicz, author of Ring of Fire; “An excellent resource for writers who are serious about their work.” Stephanie Cole, author of Compass North

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored fifteen books. Her most recent are Write Your Best Book, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest; What Every Author Should Know, a comprehensive guide to book publishing and promotion; and Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Deb lives and works as freelance editor and coach on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier.