I hope you’re doing well and enjoying this last little bit of summer! Ben and I went to see The Dark Tower last night (we highly recommend it, by the way…if you’re a sci-fi fan!), and before the previews the theater played an ad for a Christmas event they’re hosting. I know a lot of people dislike it when talk of Christmas pops up prematurely, but I personally love it. It instantly puts me in a merrier mood! (subliminal messaging, perhaps?)
In writing news, many of you know that I recently published (indie published, more specifically) my third novel, Age of the Ashers. Books 2 and 3 in the series are complete, they just need to go through the editing process (which sounds quite simple, but mind you, it is draining!). I’m shooting to release Book 2 (War of the Ashers) early next year!
I also just typed “The End” in my third Orchids book. I’m going to take a little break to clear my head and shift mental gears, then tackle the fourth and final book in the series. I have to admit, I’m beginning to feel a little overwhelmed by all the editing that awaits me, but there’s nothing else I’d rather do than continue along this crazy writing road – bumps, ditches, vertical inclines and all!
In this week’s post, I’m going to share yet another experience I had in publishing, namely working with small presses.
Small presses, as the name suggests, are publishers who operate on a much smaller scale than the Big 5 publishing houses (Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, MacMillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, Simon and Schuster). Here is a wonderful article by Jane Friedman on the pros and cons of small presses, but suffice it to say, what attracted me to them was that they handle the editing, production, and distribution of your book.
With indie publishing, you are in the driver’s seat. You make the calls on editing, formatting, cover design, distribution, and promotion. After having exhausted myself with each of those things with my first indie-published book, Perfect Fit, I was eager for a change. I wanted someone else handling all the nitty-gritty technical bits I loathed so much.
While researching publishing options online, I stumbled across a small company that specializes in faith-based material. Unlike the co-publishers I’d worked with in the past, this company required no money up front (if a publisher requires you to pay them, RUN!). They earn money when their authors do.
Their submission process was like that of a literary agency. I sent a query letter, a bio, and a summary of the book, and once accepted, they took care of polishing and getting the book ready for distribution to online bookstores.
Overall, this company did a great job with my book. I was happy with the edits, interior layout, and was pleased that they stuck to the agreed upon schedule. However, there were a few things I wasn’t so thrilled about…
- The cover. The one they originally designed for me was – there’s really no euphemistic way to say this – atrocious. I could’ve done a better job using Canva, and I am not the least bit artistic. I ended up spending my own money to have a better cover made. I should have taken a more thorough look through their catalog of books before agreeing to sign with them – none of them are particularly eye-catching, sad to say!
- The marketing. Other than posting the book on their site and including it in their monthly email after its release, this company did zilch when it came to marketing. Once again, I should’ve researched them by looking up their social media platforms and reaching out to other authors they’ve worked with. I was far too hasty!
I’ve since learned that just because a publishing company is interested in your book doesn’t mean they’re going to care all that much about its success. For one, they have lots of books that are generating revenue for them. For two, with so many books releasing each month, it’s almost impossible for them to devote much attention to them individually. Promoting is, understandably, up to the author.
If I had it to do over again, I would not have signed on with the small press. Yes, I would have had to pay for editing and formatting myself (I already paid for the cover), but I would have had control over distribution, i.e., what stores the book was sold in, and, most importantly, price points. Since I’m not the publisher, I have zero control over the book’s price. I can’t run giveaways or sales or alter the metadata (things like keywords and categories) in the book’s description as a way to reach more readers.
My hands are tied, which is a predicament I personally despise. I thought handing over control was what I wanted, but now I realize that we, the authors, are the best advocates for our works. Why give all the control to someone who will likely forget about your book in a year or less?
I’m embarrassed to say that I made the same mistake twice. Although, in my defense, I was quite optimistic that the second time would go better…
I found an agent via the 2016 Guide to Literary Agents. Only, the agent wasn’t exactly an agent, as I later came to find out. She operated a small press, much like the one I’d previously worked with. What appealed to me about her agency/company was that it was targeted toward women and exuded an inspirational, heartwarming tone that aligned well with my novel, Armor for Orchids. I felt hopeful that my book would find readers by virtue of being associated with the company’s brand.
After a long phone conversation with the publisher, I was convinced her company was the best home for my book. She’d been in the industry for years, knew her marketing stuff backwards and forwards, guaranteed a stellar product with a beautiful cover, and genuinely enjoyed my story.
The cover for Armor for Orchids is among my favorites of all my books. However, the paperback interior was disappointing. The pages were white, not cream. The margins were way off. And the font was, well, just wrong. One would open it up and judge it as an amateurish attempt at self-publishing – and it wasn’t even self-published (the electronic version is just fine, thankfully!).
My latest book on the other hand, Age of the Ashers, would fit right in at Barnes & Noble. The pages are cream-colored, the typesetting immaculate. The font, the drop caps, the front and back matter, and the indentations are perfect. I was more than happy to pay for the excellent services the company (Book Cover Café) provided.
I will say that the Armor for Orchids publisher has been wonderful when it comes to working with me on price promotions. If I want to do a sale, she sets it up for me on Amazon. However, I don’t like having to go through a middleman to get to my book. I much prefer being able to log into my Kindle dashboard and changing the prices and tweaking the metadata myself. I feel like a nuisance each time I go to her. But that’s just me!
Working with the two small presses solidified this fact for me: No one cares as much about my book as I do. And I think that’s true for most authors.
I think there’s this notion, especially with newer authors, that if they can just get an agent or sign with a publisher (no matter the publisher’s size), then all their marketing worries will go away, enabling them to just caffeinate, brainstorm, and write all day. I certainly subscribed to that notion. I thought having a publisher meant they would do all the tedious “business-y” stuff. How very wrong I was…
No matter which route you take as an author, whether it’s indie, traditional, or a blend of both, you will have to market your work to some degree, whether via book signings, blogs, interviews, YouTube videos, doing Facebook and Amazon ads, running promotions on the various promo sites, you name it. Unless you’re a big-name author, there’s just no escaping it. The competition inherent to the digital age necessitates that we take an active role in marketing our products, which is exactly what books are.
“ …the work of promoting the book requires just as much work as writing the book, if not more so.” – Adam S. McHugh
Yes, it can seem daunting when you’re just starting out and know nothing about how to take your work from an unformatted file on your laptop and turn it into a high-quality, pro-level novel for sale online. But it’s worth it to educate yourself and learn for sure whether or not you really want to go through a publisher, who will definitely take a cut of your royalties but may not do much in the way of marketing.
As an indie author, there are some things I’ve chosen not to do myself (even though many indies do), namely copyediting, typesetting, and cover design. I would rather pay professionals to do those things and thereby give myself more time to write, blog, research, set up promotions, communicate with my readers, etc. The key is to find out what you prefer, and that requires trial and error.
“The most important thing to focus on is an attitude of play, experimentation and learning. We can gather all kinds of ideas from other people, but in the end, we have to make our own decisions about what works for our books and our lives.” – Joanna Penn, How to Market a Book