Welcome back to my blog! I hope you’ve had a productive and fulfilling writing week thus far and that this post adds some fuel to your fire!
A few weeks ago, one of my newsletter subscribers by the name of Angela emailed me a few topics she requested I write about:
“I would love to know if your perseverance in writing a book sometimes falters, how you published your books, if the people you most loved influenced your journey, and what would you tell to someone who wants to write a novel.”
Angela, thank you so much for your email; I am more than happy to oblige! I’m going to address each segment over the coming weeks, beginning with the first two topics you mentioned: perseverance and how I published!
“Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak.” – Thomas Carlyle
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines perseverance as “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.”
I don’t know of any successful author who hasn’t faced some sort of difficulty, failure, or opposition through which to persevere.
- Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times before it was published.
- Gertrude Stein submitted poems for 22 years before one was published.
- Beatrix Potter had to publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit herself.
- Carrie, by Stephen King, was rejected 30 times before it was published. He was told that science fiction “which deals with negative utopias” does not sell.
- Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, was told to stick to teaching.
- E.E. Cummings mentioned the 14 publishers who told him no in his poetry collection, No Thanks.
- Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book and numerous poems and short stories (and a Nobel Prize winner!), was told by the San Francisco Examiner that he didn’t know how to use the English language.
- Dune by Frank Herbert was rejected 26 times before it was published (it won a Hugo award in 1966).
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was rejected 12 times, and J.K. Rowling was told not to quit her day job.
And as for yours truly, who definitely has not had the success of the aforementioned authors (yet! ;-)), I’ve also had my fair share of discouraging days. (You can read about my un-success story with my first literary agent here.)
I’ve never wanted to quit (writing is like breathing to me, so to quit writing would be suicide), but I have been dismayed and brokenhearted to the point where I’ve wondered if I’m crazy to keep going. If it weren’t for perseverance, I wouldn’t be typing these words to you right now.
Now for more of my personal “difficulties, failure, and opposition”…
I began my publishing journey way back in 2008 after finishing my first faith-based fitness book for young women. There was no KDP back then and few, if any, self-publishing options. (There were no e-books either, to my knowledge).
I, like most authors, sought the traditional route first and reached out to countless agents who represented Christian authors, and I received the standard, “Your book isn’t a good fit for me.” One agent generously gave me a more detailed response, saying “Christian fitness is too niche.”
I submitted the book to christianmanuscriptsubmissions.com, and a few weeks later, I got an email from a small publishing company in Missouri. They would gladly format and publish my book – all I had to do was cough up the money to buy 1,000 copies to cover their costs. (It’s a wee bit tough to type this without wanting to punch a wall…)
I was still in college, with no money and nowhere to warehouse 1,000 paperbacks, so my charitable and super-supportive parents funded the publication. Long story short, with no online presence whatsoever and zero desire to sell the books by hand, I had those books in my life for a very, very long time…
You’ve heard the phrase, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” right? Well, the next part of my publishing journey was a major shame on me…
The year was 2011. I’d written yet another faith-based fitness book titled Fit for Faith: A Christian Woman’s Guide to Total Fitness. I was super excited about it and felt hopeful I could get an agent this time – even though nothing had changed regarding my author platform and what the Christian market looked like. (I was young and naïve and irrationally optimistic, bless my heart!)
I remember scoping out Christian publishers’ websites one day when I stumbled across one that featured an imprint labeled as a “co-publisher.” Because it was part of a ginormous publishing house, I had high hopes. I submitted my manuscript, and a few weeks later, I got an acceptance email. (To this day, I don’t know how competitive the submission process is in such publishing houses. It seems to me they’d accept anyone willing to pay them 10 or 15 grand for what should only cost them a thousand – or less – but I digress…)
Basically, a co-publishing agreement is one where the author and the publisher “share publication costs” to get the book in print (Sharing is an incredibly generous word. The companies I worked with stole from me, in my opinion.) In my experience, co-publishing companies take the author’s money up front while the author assumes all the risk. They do provide great services, such as typesetting, cover design and editing, but the author shouldn’t have to invest in 1,000+ books just to cover the publisher’s tail.
If a publisher truly believes in your book, they will pay for the bulk of the bill because they’re confident they’ll recoup their investment after the book’s release.
If you find yourself stumbling across a co-publishing or hybrid publishing website that claims it can make all your publishing troubles melt away, I urge you to take a long hard look at the fine print.
Here are some red flags to look out for:
Requesting the Rights
All rights to your work should remain with you. If the company you’re considering asks that you transfer any rights to them, you may want to reconsider. While some self-publishing companies provide support services for an author, such as creating an Amazon Author Central page, purchasing an ISBN, etc., none of those things require any transfer of rights.
Claiming a Royalty Percentage
Online retailers like Amazon and print-on-demand services like CreateSpace may claim a percentage of your royalties, but it is not a standard practice for self-publishing companies to do so. I mean come on – the self-publishing company has already required you to pay for their services, so why should you have to give them a piece of the royalty pie too?
Their Agreement of Services is Unclear, Or Worse, Nonexistent
Since self-publishing is essentially self-regulated, you need to be extremely vigilant. Be sure to read any agreement before signing your name to it, and if you can, hire a lawyer to give it a look also. Don’t be afraid to request changes and clarifications!
They Refuse to Send You Sample Books
You should always be allowed to see a sample book before it goes to print so that you can check for errors. After all, it’s your book baby!
The Book Covers Stink
Before you sign the dotted line with a self-publishing company, go have a look at their portfolio. Readers actually do judge a book by its cover, so if the publisher’s covers are subpar, there’s a good chance the cover they’ll design for you will be just as mediocre.
They Say Publicity and Promotion is at Their Discretion
When you see this or similar language in the agreement, the publisher may be trying to convince you that it actively promotes and publicizes its books (because they know that’s a major perk for authors), while ensuring that it can blow off your dissatisfaction when they end up doing very little or nothing at all. Before you sign, find out whether the publisher really does provide marketing support.
They Say They Don’t Guarantee the Sale of Any Specific Number of Copies
This is a fancy way for the publisher to justify failure and dismiss poor performance, not to mention it’s likely a certain marker for little or no promotion.
For more on small presses and what you need to consider before signing on with one, check out this extensive article from Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.
Wow, I got a little long-winded with this one! I’ll be back next week with what happened after my short-lived season of co-publishing. If you have any questions for me or suggestions for future topics, please shoot me an email at email@example.com!