The Big Choice: Traditional vs. Self-Publishing

*This was originally posted on Linda Lee William's blog, but I will post it here as well.

June 30, 2013

I’m sure everyone has read this kind of article.  Today, I am only going to highlight the steps and benefits of each type of publishing.  I have tested both waters a little so I feel I can offer some advice.  Of course, no one is an expert on anything, as one of  my Creative Writing professors said to me once.  Anyone who claims to be is probably wrong.  Everyone has room to learn more.  We add to our knowledge every day, I hope.  We eke by, adding tidbits of advice here and there until we have something pretty substantial to build on.  Right?  Well, I hope. 

If you choose to go the route of traditional publishing, you need to have tenacity, or at least the ability to push forward despite the obstacles.  There are many hurdles along the way.  

Let’s start with a manuscript.  Well, everyone knows you have to have a manuscript.  So let’s assume you have that.  Next…have you edited it to death?  Make sure you have.  Make sure you have had several critique partners look it over.  Whether you have gained these partners through simple networking, or maybe you’re in a class/workshop, it is very necessary.  For my latest release, I used Yahoo! Groups.  I think they were RWC (better known as Romance Writer’s Critique group…and there are many divisions of it) and RomCritters.  Of course, if you don’t write romance, then these suggestions won’t help you.  I think there may be a good science fiction critique group on there.  The best thing to do in any case is to research before you commit to any of them.  Find out which are the best ones to use because that’s your baby out there in the world.  LOL.  Pred-Ed, or Preditors and Editors (http://pred-ed.com/), has a good list of editing services.  Some people choose to go this route, have it professionally looked at before they send it off to a publisher.  And that is fine if you have the budget.  The most important thing is to find someone, or several people, who are familiar with the genre (both in writing and reading) to seriously evaluate your work.  You wouldn’t send something that wasn’t edited to a major publisher.  They’d most likely throw it in the trash.  So, you want it be polished before they even read it.  And keep in mind you need it edited if you want to self-publish as well.  

Now, let’s say you are satisfied with your manuscript.  It has been  polished .  You are ready for the next step!  Well, what is the next step?  Well, some people might say to start looking for a publisher.  Wrong.  More writing is required.  Now you have to write something professional.  The dreaded two words.  Synopsis and query letter.  I’m sure you’ll find countless tips online to help you do this.  You will need both to appeal to agents and publishers.  And you will polish these to death too, I promise.  Even the affectionately named P&E has some suggestions for this.  http://pred-ed.com/pubsubs.htm  Do whatever you can to make the query letter and synopsis look good.  They are actually selling tools.  Think of it as your first foray into the marketing domain of publishing.  

Next, let’s say you have these things accomplished.  You are ready to find a publisher/literary agent.  I use two tools that I think I would have been lost without before.  Remember the days when we used to buy those  Writer’s Market books?  They had listings of publishers from all over the world.  I have several that are totally outdated.  Yes, I’ve been wanting to get published for years.  Well, they still make those.  But, they really aren’t necessary in this day and age. 

Remember those tools I mentioned before?  One is QueryTracker (http://www.querytracker.net/).  This should become your friend.  Register for a free account as soon as possible.  It will get rid of all the headaches you’d have if you did without it.  What is this tool?  Well, it not only helps you  find the best literary agents and publishers for your genre, it also helps you keep track of which ones you’ve already sent to and how long you’ve been waiting for a response , not to mention  what kind of replies you got.  It also gives you a pretty good idea of what issues other authors have had with said agents or publishers, as they sometimes will leave comments.  It tells you what each agent/publisher expects.  You will still have to go onto each agency or publisher’s site to review the guidelines, but QueryTracker helps a lot.  

Okay, so you think you’ve found a good agent or publisher.  Wait!  Don’t send that query letter or submission yet!  I will mention the lovely P&E again.  Why is P&E (Preditors and Editors) such a valuable tool?  Well, P&E did their homework on most, if not all, of the agents/publishers you found.  So, take an extra step, do yourself a favor, and look them up on this site as well.  P&E will inform you if they charge, they have bad contracts, etc.  You will know pretty much right away if that agency is good to work with.  You will know almost immediately if the publisher you chose is actually a vanity publisher instead of a traditional one and will charge you to publish.   And, if by chance, the place you chose is not listed for some reason, you can contact P&E about them, and they will respond promptly.  They will do a bit of research and let you know what they think.  Preditors and Editors relies on the feedback of other authors and their positive/negative experiences to make recommendations.  If the publisher/agent you chose has a RECOMMENDED or HIGHLY RECOMMENDED sign in pink font, count yourself lucky.  Not only is that a great choice because it has had good feedback, you didn’t have to gamble with your own material.  Oh, and do try to avoid publishers that don’t take manuscripts without an agent.  You’ll need an agent first before you approach them.  

Now, I’m not saying this game is not risky.  It is.  It definitely is.  Every time you send out a submission, you  take the risk that you might get a not so great response back.  That leads me into my next topic.

Rejections.  It’s a more dreaded word than query letter or synopsis.  Well, you will have them, unless you a very fortunate person.  Nearly all of us get them, whether our manuscripts are stellar or not.  Why?  Because it is based on personal opinion.  Each agent/editor/publisher feels they have a nose for the industry.  They know what sells, or rather what has sold before.  So, taking risks is really not something a literary agent wants to do.  You will get rejections and probably a lot of them.  That’s okay.  If they offer suggestions, use them if you want.  Most will probably not say much.  In fact, you will receive a “form” letter in most cases.  This will say something like…”This is a subjective business.  Though this didn’t move me, it doesn’t mean that someone else wouldn’t like it, etc.”  This is a kind response, but pretty standard.  

You will want to track your rejections.  How depressing, right?  Okay, let me rephrase that.  You will want to track your submission (any time you send a query letter or anything to a publisher or agent).  That’s why I mentioned QueryTracker.  You can track when you sent it, whether it was simply a query letter or a full or partial manuscript, and what the response was, etc.  It really is a good idea to put what the response was, if you had a response.  That way, you can pretty much check off that agent or publisher from your list.  In most cases, bothering two agents at one place isn’t a good idea, unless they specifically say in their email or letter that what you sent doesn’t fit them, but might be better for another agent at the agency.  That’s why you really need to evaluate who you send it to.  Visit the agency sites.  Read the descriptions of each agent.  Most of the time, it says what kind of authors they take, what they like to read.  If you have hit a particular agent’s weakness (maybe they really like vampires or something), then you might have struck gold.  Take these risks, but do your research.

Rejections will happen.  Just keep going forward.  With some, you may not receive a response at all, and that’s not out of the ordinary.  These people are busy.  I had a practice of sending out five at a time, which was probably stupid.  But, I didn’t want to give up.  And the submission/waiting process took a long time.  I’d give them a month to respond, then send out more.  If I got a response, I’d put it in QueryTracker.  If I didn’t receive any response, then I’d just overlook that agency.  Most of the time, P&E will give you which ones are good and which ones are bad.  I went through all the highly recommended and recommended ones first (agents and publishers), then I went to the smaller publishers.  In a lot of cases, P&E won’t give a recommendation for a small publisher.  That is okay.  The fact that they are listed at all is a good thing.  If there was anything bad about the publisher/agency, it would be stated there.  So, these are options as well.

If you have exhausted your traditional publishing options, you may decide to self-publish a book.  Don’t worry.  It is possible.  You still have to polish your manuscript.  Make it the best it can be.  Next, you need to research self-publishing venues.  Some people choose vanity publishers that do it for you.  But, you have to pay them, and probably quite a lot.  There are also other options.  Lulu.com  is a nice place.  It is free to publish and you only pay for your proof copies.  It is a discounted price, however, but it is an invaluable option because you can make sure your copy looks good before you release it to the world.  Proof copies on Lulu  run around $6.00 or $7.00 and then you pay $3.00 in shipping so it really is affordable.  CreateSpace is also an option.  I haven’t used them yet, but several people I know swear by them.  Of course, you’ll want to offer it in e-book form , and you can do that for free on the Amazon  Kindle Direct program. Barnes&Noble, Smashwords and Kobo all have e-book self-publishing capabilities.  I haven’t tried uploading to these personally yet, but I’ve heard they are good.  

The next thing is formatting.  Formatting will drive you pretty crazy.  Each publisher has a specific format they prefer.  Once you get the hang of it with Lulu, it’s pretty easy.  The key is to actually make your document the size of your book or it’s not going to work.  So, if you choose 6x9, make sure your file is 6x9.  

Finally, you want a nice cover.  Some places offer special cover services, and you can choose that if you want.  Amazon Kindle Direct can put a basic cover on for free, but it’s not going to be impressive or anything.  It’s just basically a title page.  I have self-published fifteen books and I have to say the cover is the main attraction (aside from the description or blurb of your book, of course).  But, that image is something that potential readers will see (at least as a mini jpg) so you have to make it good.  There are cheap options.  This year, I went back and not only revised my books, but changed the covers.  I am almost finished with that project, but I made sure to choose appropriate covers.

If you are like Linda and you have an artist husband who can design a cover for you, that is awesome!  My fiancé is also an artist/inventor and  maybe on my third round, I can get him to do the same.  For now, I have gone a different route.  But, I digress.

A cover is your most important selling point, aside from having an excellent story.  Some people choose to hire out to have a cover designed.  If that is within your budget, that is fine.  Most cover artists charge between $100-250 for a good cover.  If you are like me and that price just makes you cringe, then you might want to find a free option.  There are some decent sites out there that offer free pictures.  As long as you inform the artist/photographer that you are using their work and you give them credit as the cover artist on the copyright page, you are in business.  Some sites I have used are freedigitalphotos.net, Stock Xchng (http://www.sxc.hu/), stockfreeimages.com, pixabay.com, Fotolia, Photobucket, morgueFile.com.  If you use Dreamstime.com or Shutterstock, you’ll probably have to pay for using their images.  I think they only have a handful of free images.  On any of these sites, you have to be pretty unique with your search terms or you won’t find what you’re looking for.  If you want a sneak peek of the kind of images you can find on free sites, please visit my website, http://marielavender.webs.com/, and you’ll see the covers.  All the ones under Erica Sutherhome, Kathryn Layne and Heather Crouse were self-published.  

For some of the image sites, you might have to login or register to use the photos.  And make sure you use the free ones.  Occasionally, they’ll throw in ones you have to pay for, which is fine if you want to go that route.  In most cases, it is affordable.  But, I don’t really want to have to pay for something that should be free on a free image site.  So, I choose free photos.  For the artist or photographer, it will have a username usually.  If you click on that, it should give more information about the photographer and their rules for using their pictures.  Observe these rules please.   And don’t forget to credit the photographer as the cover artist in your book.  Even Lulu recommends you have a copyright page, and  it’s a good idea to have if you want it to look professional in any case.  Dreamstime recommends you do something like “Lee Snider | Dreamstime.com”, but as long as you credit the photographer and the site you got it from, you’re fine.  Everyone wants to be acknowledged for their work.

So, let’s say you have a cover and you’ve done the formatting.  Now you’re ready to publish.  If you’re using Lulu, the only way to seriously publish is to add a distribution package to your cart.  There is a free option.  That is what I choose.  It is called Extended Reach.  It gets you on Amazon.  There is a $75 option  that will get you more attention.  It is called GlobalReach.  And if that is within your budget, I say go for it.  It will get you on Barnes&Noble as well, and it will make it so that private bookstores can carry your book, if that is what you want.  Self-publishing has many options.

Now for marketing.  Lulu has a lot of paid services for marketing.  I don’t do that so I have no idea if they’re any good in that regard.  I just do it the old fashioned way.  Social networking and word of mouth.  I sell a few books here and there.  If you really want to ramp up your sales, there are lot of ways to advertise out there, but it costs money.  If you can do it, more power to you.  I don’t have many recommendations in there as I haven’t tried those yet.  I’ll let you know if I do!  

I’ve told you about traditional versus self-publishing.  Whatever choice you make, know that everyone has been through it before.  Reach out to other authors on the social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, even Twitter.  Look for advice anywhere you can.  Be receptive to learning.  You will get there.  We’ll all get there.  And I hope I have helped you with your foray into the publishing world today.

Guest Blogger Bio

Marie Lavender lives in the Midwest with her family and three cats.  She has been writing for over twenty years.  She has more works in progress than she can count on two hands.

At the tender age of nine, she began writing stories.  Her imagination fueled a lot of her early child’s play.  Even growing up, she entered writing contests and received a certificate for achieving the second round in one.  She majored in Creative Writing in college because that was all she ever wanted – to be a writer.  While there, she published two works in a university publication, and was a copy editor on the staff of an online student journal.  After graduating from college, she sought out her dream to publish a book.

Since then, Marie has published sixteen books.  Marie Lavender’s real love is writing romances, but she has also written mysteries, literary fiction and dabbled a little in paranormal stories.  Most of her works have a romantic element involved in them.  Upon Your Return is her first historical romance novel.  Feel free to visit her website at http://marielavender.webs.com/ for further information about her books and her life.  Marie is also on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

A list of her books and pen names are as follows:

Marie Lavender:  Upon Your Return

Erica Sutherhome:  Hard to GetMemoriesA Hint of ScandalWithout YouStrange HeatTerror in the NightHauntedPursuitPerfect GameA Touch of DawnRansom

Kathryn Layne:  A Misplaced Life 

Heather Crouse:  Express Café and Other RamblingsRamblings, Musings and Other ThingsSoulful Ramblings and Other Worldly Things  

Connect with Marie:  
                             Sunday, June 30, 2013
Marie Lavender - Romance Novelist


 

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