Good/Bad/Ugly: Lessons of a NY Pubbed Author Gone Hybrid
Like many NY published authors, I've watched the publishing landscape change over the past years - watched friends opt to self publish. I was curious, even, at times, envious. But there were contracts, and deadlines, and edits (oh my!) so even a trial-balloon-novella was out of the question.
I've had an idea for a book for years. You know, the one that keeps tapping your consciousness, saying, 'I'm here. I'm waiting.' I finally couldn't resist any longer - see, this was my sister's book. The baby sister I lost to cancer, twenty six years ago. I wrote it in a blizzard of emotion, the story pouring out of me in ways that surprised me. The plot is not autobiographical in the least, but the underlying theme is (don't you love when that happens?). When it was done, I felt it was a fitting tribute to the most important person in my life. I loved this book.
But. I'd written it from the inside out; I hadn't thought a second about the market, or a publisher. I think readers are going to love it, but New York was not going to want this book.
I'll be releasing this book January 11 - but it's available for preorder HERE.
Here are some of the zillions of lessons I've learned. I hope they help anyone considering self publishing.
CAVEAT: I’m an experienced author, fairly tech-savvy, and a marketing loving extrovert.
Your results may vary.
It’s not as hard as I thought. There is a ton of software out there to help you. If you're not techie-inclined, there are many experts who you can contract to help you. My best tip? Vellum. Randy Ingermanson recommended it for formatting manuscripts in his November e-zine (If you're not signed up for his ezine, you should be. Great tips for every level of the journey). It only works on a Mac, but you can format a book in two hours (one, if you've done it before) for $30. And it comes out beautifully; it even breaks out chapters, has drop caps, and pretty ornaments for chapter breaks. When I was done, the only errors I found were mine. It then dumps into every format known to man.
It’s freeing. It's my title. My cover. My blurb. I have control of everything, from placement to pricing. I can't tell you how good that feels.
It's great for a one-off book. I'm not done with NY (and thankfully, they're not done with me). But it's wonderful to have this option for a book that doesn't fit the narrow confines of what NY wants.
It’s MINE.When you sell a book to NY, it's no longer yours. Yes, it's your story, and your name on the cover, but it doesn't belong to you any longer. I don't have to let go of this very important book. I can keep it forever. Ahhhhh.
Mistakes are costly. Hire the wrong editor? Formatter? Cover designer? It can be costly, not only monetarily, but legally. And that's not even considering the weight of stress. Personal recommendations help, but this is a relationship - just because someone works well with a fellow author, doesn't mean they'll be your style. Don't be afraid to interview them as you would any vendor in your day job. Be sure they're professionals (have a contract, etc).
No one else to blame. Mistakes in a NY published book? Not my bad. In this one? All my bad. I've edited it many times, it's been critted, professionally edited, and read by my agent twice. And still, when I read it to check for formatting. there were errors - and they were all mine. And anyone who finds a mistake in the finished book will know it.
This is a huge time suck. I haven't written on my WIP in weeks. I've been searching for cover photos, playing with fonts, formatting, researching info . . . I start out at daybreak, and realize I'm hungry at two. Don't get me wrong, I love doing this, but nothing else is getting done. Nothing.
It’s MINE. There's a certain stamp of approval that comes with a NY publisher's name on the copyright page. I don't have that this time. It undermines my self-confidence in ways I hadn't foreseen. Dumb, I know, but it's there.
Nail biting. Will readers judge it differently than one of my NY published books? We can talk all day about the line blurring, but has it been wiped out completely? We'll see, I guess.
Waiting isn’t over. One of the most frustrating things about NY is the waiting. Every. Step. Along. The. Way. Guess what? Anything you're not doing yourself, you're still waiting! Ugh!
It’s MINE! A critical review of my other books stung, but it didn't bite deep. After all, I'd sold the book, so it put a distance between myself and the story. It became a product to a certain extent. Not so, this book. This is close to my heart, and if readers doesn't like it, it's going to hurt.
I've enjoyed every step of the process so far. I'd do it again in a heartbeat!
How about you? have you considered self-publishing? If you've tried it, what was your Good/Bad/Ugly?
Laura Drake is a city girl who never grew out of her tomboy ways, or a serious cowboy crush. She writes both Women's Fiction and Romance.
She sold her Sweet on a Cowboy series, romances set in the world of professional bull riding, to Grand Central. The Sweet Spot won the 2014 Romance Writers of America® RITA® award in the Best First Book category.
Her 'biker-chick' novel,Her Road Home, sold to Harlequin's Superomance line (August, 2013) and has expanded to three more stories set in the same small town. The latest, Twice in a Blue Moon , released in July.
In 2014, Laura realized a lifelong dream of becoming a Texan and is currently working on her accent. She gave up the corporate CFO gig to write full time. She's a wife, grandmother, and motorcycle chick in the remaining waking hours.
Laura: This is informative and I feel the emotion in every word you wrote. There comes a time in every writer's life when it's imperative to write a specific story because you care about it. Doesn't matter if it sells a lot or a little. The words and the love are memorialized in paper. I will pre order soon. Thanks for this. Sandra Masters
You're exactly right, Sandra. Have you tried it yet? I feel that since I have no expectations of sales on this one, I can't lose! Thanks for reading first thing on a Christmas morning!
Laura: I would read anything you write! Yes, Merry Christmas. Busy writing my fourth novel, but I too have a story that tickles my heart. It's a homage to our veterans. It is partially completed. It's a sweet inspirational. A departure for me since I tend to write spicy romance, but this is a story that honors our military. In these times, it's so important, so I have to finish it. Almost done with it. I just might self publish if I can't find someone who will want this. I'm not technically sufficient to work with specific programs, but I can learn. I'm thinking of a novella, though my characters are speaking to me. It's modern day and filled with football, Italian meatballs, pizza and love is in the air. Our hero is a special ops person. I call this book For Love of Charlie. Charlie is his brother who was killed in action. And thereby hangs the tale.
Sounds fascinating, Sandra! And I think NY would love it!
New York's response to my Golden Heart® winner from last summer has been a deep and abiding disinterest. And I'm not really surprised. Even though it was well-received in the contests I entered, I kind of expected a retelling of the story of Job as a paranormal romance wasn't going to make eyes gleam in the Big Apple.
So, once I complete the other two books in the trilogy and write a novella to offer as a loss-leader, I plan to start down the road you just described.
Thanks for the tips!
Good for you, Jean! Yell if I can help you at all! You may be surprised, and enjoy the process!
Sorry about the lack of NY enthusiasm. I think contests judge on quality of the writing and the story - NY only worries about the market. You go the better half.
Honestly though, between the two, I'd rather have a good book, no matter who published it - wouldn't you?
I am planning to try it this coming year. I am excited, scared, hopeful, and all of that. But why not I decided. Thank you for your blog. It helped cement my determination to do what you have done. My first try is my grandmother's story.
Sounds like a great fit for self publishing, Older!
Laura, Merry Christmas, first! Second, off to Amazon I go. Third, so would you mind sharing how it works with your agent helping you go Indie? Do you share the stock % with them?
BTW, Love the title!
Thank you for preordering, Morgyn! You know how that helps rankings, right?!
Actually, some agents help in self publishing - mine does not. But from what I understand, they charge their usual percentage if they help with self pubbed books, too.
Funny, the title came from an ad for fiber optics I saw on a bus stop when I was riding my bike one day...it stuck with me as a super title! Fits the theme of my book perfectly!
I want to be just like you when I grow up, Laura.You're an inspiration. I'm planning to self publish a series this year and this blog boosts my courage. Thanks for all the great posts from WITS!
My print publisher remaindered my first book just when Amazon and Kindles hit the market. I still have my old eBookwise, because my other publishers were digital first, and there was no Kindle, Nook, Kobo, or anything other than a PDA (remember those) for reading ebooks. I had nothing to lose by following JA Konrath's advice, and although my numbers weren't in the same universe as his, I learned a lot about how to get a book ready to self-publish. Your advice here is excellent, and the only thing I'd mention for emphasis is Don't Push The Button Too Soon. Too many people will go indie before they've made sure their product is as good as it can be, and that does mean hiring an editor, cover artist, etc. I do my own formatting, because when I started, there was no other way to get it done, and since I've learned how, why pay someone else for that step.
Sage advice, Terry. Well said. People, listen to a master!
does anyone ever actually produce a printed book, not an e-book, as an indie. I love printed books so much that I'd like to go that route but don't see any examples of anything other than ebooks.
Maggie, YES! Createspace is Amazon's POD (Print on demand) arm. You set up an account and upload your book - it'll be available on Amazon as a paperback. Nook also, but I'm in the process of doing that next, so I can't tell you about that yet.
Although only the ebook is available for pre-order, as of January 11, you'll see the paperback of Days Made of Glass on Amazon. Great question - good luck!
I've done CreateSpace versions of almost all of my books. The learning curve is much steeper (but levels off after you've done it a few times...and remember to keep notes on settings, etc.). Laying it out can be a challenge, especially if you want to follow the 'norm' for print books which is no headers or page numbers on the first page of each chapter, fancier first letters/words/sentences, etc. The one thing I hire out is getting the page numbers and headers right. It's not that hard once you know how to do it, but it's tedious. NOTE: Use SECTION BREAKS, not PAGE BREAKS between chapters if you're using Word. You can do a find/replace for sections to page breaks, but not the other way 'round. I've done some blog posts about formatting for print. I'll be happy to point people there if they're interested.
You're right, Terry - the paperback was challenging. But worth it, when you finally have the perfect version in your hand, no?
By all means, give us links!
Here are a couple of the posts I wrote about formatting for print.. (Ignore any outdated giveaway type information.) If you have any specific questions, I'll be happy to answer them if I can.
Tina, when you get into it, if you have questions, email WITS - if I don't know the answer, I'll find out for you. You go, girl!
Laura: Question: How much did the fact you are published author with an existing fan base go into your decision? Why do I ask? Your post never mentions the word marketing. That's the MAJOR drawback to self-publishing, especially for fiction authors who are not writing erotica. Even if you market your new book to your blog followers, email subscribers, et al., will you be able to reach a large enough market to recover your cost in time and money spent to produce the book? That's why after 5 well-received self-published novels, I'm going to try NY with #6.
Another - that's a great point. And why this book is a great test. I have had some success as a NY author, but I haven't gained the 'auto-buy' readership that I'd hoped by now. But really, with NY, you don't know much about your readers (NY isn't free with that info), so this book is a test of my reader base as well.
New York, unless you're a BIG name, doesn't spend a lot of marketing dollars on you. Don't get me wrong, they got me into blogs, etc., I couldn't have gotten into on my own, but with shelf space shrinking like the polar ice cap, being NY pubbed is no guarantee of shelf space, either.
I think of the publishing choice for authors as being a candle, with a wick on both ends....whether you start at the indie end, and work up a readership through several awesome books, or at the NY end, and gain a readership, where we're all hoping for, is the middle - a choice to do either, and a large readership, who couldn't care less about the company name on the copyright page.
Thanks for the great question....what do y'all think?
I've read a couple of your romances, Laura, that I snatched up when I found them at BAM, but this new book sounds even more appealing. Merry Christmas to you because I just pre-ordered it! Someday I will probably self publish and in the meantime I am gleaning info about it so I appreciate your sharing your experiences.
Thank you so much, Melissa! I've always written solidly in the trench between WF and romance, so a departure either way isn't a huge departure for me. Hope you like the book!
Just went through the self-publishing process for the first time. There was a LOT to learn. But I do think the next round won't be so time-consuming. (That's what other writers keep telling me, too.) Yes, all the decisions are up to me, but I like that.
I think it's a good learning process for a writer. Good luck to you!
I agree, Laurie - it's a good match for our skills and personality. But it might not be a good choice if technology scares you, or you're terrified to make a mistake. That's why this book was such a perfect opportunity for me - I wrote it for me, so if low sales happen, it's not going to hurt, because I have no expectation of sales (at least I don't think I do....we'll see!)
Good luck with your debut indie!
Snagged my copy and excited to read it! Much success, sweet Laura and Happy Holidays, my friend. (And . . . here's the obligatory . . . RTR) 🙂
Aw Deb, that was SO sweet!
And you HAD to ruin it at the end with reference to your bloated, arrogant, entitled college football team reference.
I love you in spite of that.
I selfpubbed my last novella and loved the process. It WAS a lot of work though. I'll do it again!
I'm interested, Alina, if you don't mind sharing - did you see a big change in sales from your publisher's releases?
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First, congratulations on the new book and taking the self-publishing plunge! I loved your logical approach to this topic. There's good and bad in both types of publishing, but I will say that after going through traditional publishing, I feel more prepared to attempt self-publishing. I've learned so much working with a publisher and professional editors. Because the editors have an interest in the outcome of your book, they don't ever coddle with their editing advice. Because of that, I've grown in my craft.
And yet, there are times when the red-tape at the publisher gets tiresome--esp. when you are trying to compete when authors who can drop their prices or stick their books in a bundle and sell at a whim. Your finished MS doesn't have to sit on a desk, waiting to see if it's "what they want from you." The turnaround in getting anything out the door is faster etc. I can see both sides...
You've given some sound advice in here. If I decide to take the "self" plunge like you, I'll be back to take some of your advice.
Can't wait to read the new book! Knowing what inspired it makes me want to read it all the more. What a beautiful tribute to your sister.
Thank you, Sharon, and you make great points. I agree that having a publisher first gave me invaluable information, on everything from edits to marketing. Yell if you have questions when you take the plunge!
As for me, I can't wait to read it. And it's my dream as well to be a hybrid author -- with some projects through New York and some done on my own. Thanks for sharing your journey.
Thanks, Julie - I have no doubt with your work ethic and professionalism, you can end up anywhere you wish to!
Thanks for this, Laura! I've filed it away for future reference too. I'm writing my second historical now, but have a one-off book (WF) I wrote years ago in a manner much as you wrote yours. It's close to my heart and different from my other books, so I've no idea how to sell it, though all my critters love it so far. This is a great article I will come back to for so many reasons! Merry Christmas and congrats!
Wow, Christine, I thought I was the only one! How wonderful is it to have choices?!!!
Y E S ! I love this post. I have published twice independently, and as arduous as the process seemed at first (it does get a little easier, maybe just because I know what I'm getting into) I don't think I'd do it any other way. I started with two e-books within two years, and then turned my first e-book into a paperback (thanks Create Space and Joel Friedlander for his templates, which helped enormously). I'm in the process of turning the second e-book into a paperback (due to popular demand - yeah) and writing my third book. I won't be looking for an agent or publisher - I love all the positives that you list above. They make being Indie totally worth it. Good luck to you with your January publication.
Roughwighting, you're braver than I! I wouldn't have had the guts to try unless I had the hand holding of publishing with a publisher first. Even so, it took a long time. Best to you and your books!
You STILL rock, Laura! This post has it all. Thanks!
Muah, Fae - thanks!
You're not alone, Laura. I just pre-ordered it for my Kindle. Happy Writing! And reading. 😉
Thank you, Zan! I know I can count on you for a review, too! Merry Christmas!
Congratulations, Laura. Writing and publishing something that burns in your chest is an amazing accomplishment. I too am filing this away with all your advice and the advice from your commentators. Thank you and wishing you the best with this. So want to read it. Beth
When you jump in, I'm here with water wings, Beth - just let me know! Thanks for reading!
Congratulations on your new book Laura. I self-published my first book, "Sonflower Seeds" which is a book of poetry and short stories. This was in the days before Createspace. Then for my historical fictions, "The Late Sooner" and "The Late Sooner's Daughter" and my "God's Little Miracle Book" (three book series) I went with a publisher. For my two 365 day devotionals, "Looking Deeper" and "Daily Walk with Jesus" and a cookbook, "Family Favorites from the Heartland" I went with Createspace. I really appreciate their prompt help when I hit a bump in the road. All the books except the first are paperback and e-readers.
Wow, Sally, you're an old hand at this! Any tips for a newbie?
In formatting here are some tricks:
Use italics if a word needs to be italicized... do NOT underline.
To start a new page (after the end of a chapter or section), insert a "page break." In Word, it’s the ctrl-enter keys. Do NOT hit the enter key several times until you get to a new page.
If you're formatting poetry or recipes and want the next line immediately below the current one hit Shift + enter to make the lines hang together without a space between.
Congratulations on your book and thanks for sharing your experiences! Excellent post with good tips.
Thanks for reading, Judy.
Hi Laura, First of all, congratulations on your upcoming release!!
Thank you for this awesome post and tips. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm a hybrid author, starting out with self-publishing my first book in 2013. It's been quite the journey, filled with mistakes and "Oh, man, I wish I could take that back" moments. I made a change in how I publish, opting to enroll my titles in Kindle Select. I've seen a huge change in sales versus other sales distribution sites. This year three of my books were picked up by a digital imprint. Since I'm relatively an unknown, my books through my publisher haven't done as well as my self-pubbed work. Someone else may have a different opinion, but I think a new author on the threshold of considering self-publishing, may like to consider Kindle Select to get their feet wet in the industry. I have found a new group of readers who use Kindle Unlimited and their support has been amazing.
Thank you for taking the time to share your story. Best wishes!
Wow, I'm so happy for your success, Beth - you must be a very good writer!
I have a question for you - I've heard that Kindle Select was a profitable option in the beginning, but that the 'pool' is shrinking every month, and it's getting less profitable for anyone not in the top 10% best sellers.
Have you noticed that with your titles?
Thanks for the reply, Laura. I'm just a writer, lucky enough to be doing what I love most. Happily, I have a forgiving family, especially when I forget to do the laundry or burn lunch. 😉 It happens...
To be honest, I have only had my books enrolled in Kindle Select for the last six months and my sales have been better than when I used more diverse sales distribution. For now, this method works for me. Who knows, I may change my mind tomorrow, but that's okay too. There's always a bit of risk involved no matter what option.
And it's good that we have the option of experimenting, Beth, right? And you just reminded me...I have sheets in the dryer. Back in a bit...
My experience mostly echoes yours. Self-publishing is nowhere near as tough as I thought it would be, and the rewards have been well worth the learning curve. One observation: As an indie, if you hire the wrong editor (I did), you simply send them on their way, your pocket somewhat lighter. If you get into a bad trad situation, it can go on for three, interminable books (or more), with no recourse. Worse than no recourse for some, because the person causing you the trouble might also be the person deciding whether to offer another contract/or how to market your books/or how to design your covers. etc. You lose a lot of flexibility, control, and the ability to nip problems in the bud when you accept that advance. The effort and frustration involved are all wear and tear on the author, much as the indie learning curve and "working without a net" feeling can be.
Always, the resource allocation Rubik's cube, but for me, the indie path has worked well.
Great post Laura. I will have to wait until the first of January to order your book. I'm stuck in rehab for knee replacement surgery. I live alone so it was decided the best thing was for me to go to rehab. Unfortunately, the only approved facility is 50 miles from home, and ancient as the hills. I enjoyed reading your post. I am working on book book 4 in series about a group of Navy SEALs. I know it's over done but I'm an army vet as well as an army spouse for 20 years. I decided to write one book in 2012 for NaNo and decided to write about the rest of the guys on the team. There's a novella and most of the books need to be edited and revised but I ended NaNo and this story wanted to be written so I decided since I was facing knee replacement surgery I could write it during December. I did a double NaNo this year.I am wishy washy about Ny or Indie. i like the idea of the control, but to walk in Wal Mart and see my book on the shelf is a dream 🙂
Happy New Year from Texas where it's turned frigid over night. I'm hoping to escape Rehab for New Years. I was sent here because I live alone. Sigh. I just want to go home now lol.
The very thought of self publishing gives me a visual of the bootleg purse man selling me a few Louis V's on a Detroit street corner out the trunk of his car when I was in my 20s. Not because there is anything wrong with it in any way, (live strong, hustle on) but simply because I believe some like the gifted and talented you in more ways than one have a skillset designed to basically be an entrepreneur and many, many, many do not. And I my dear am the later at this moment in my life. That moment representing 4 kids at every academic level, college administrator position, PHD candidate, ministry leader, and, and, and.... I haven't figured out the traditional route yet and its DAUNTING. I can't imagine the self pub industry. But you know what, each day in this journey I'm growing and learning and you never know. This may be in my future somewhere down the line. Therefore thank you for the knowledge, tips were excellent as always. I will tuck this neatly away in the file of ideas that I've discovered as life goes on, finds a way to come a'knocking.
Hi Laura, I have been a freelance writer of articles and speeches for nearly 20 years. But, my writing began as a result of escaping and abusive relationship. I began writing what I thought would be a "pamphlet" for my church's ladies ministries. My end product was a non-fiction book, Home Should Be Safe: Hope and Help for Domestic Violence Victims. Obviously a niche subject. I totally self-published it, no self-publishing company involved. It took me about 5 years as I researched, wrote, edited and studied the self-publishing process. Although my sales have not been tremendous, I have it on my own website http://www.minaraulston.com, Amazon and now on a domestic violence resources website. I also sell them when I have the chance to speak and in my church's bookstore. I learned so much from this process about writing and publishing and I do plan to publish more books. I also have author friends now asking my advice.
Congrats Laura! Welcome to the dark side. 😉 I LOVE being a hybrid author.
Thanks, Beth! Following in your footsteps! Best to you and your writing in 2016!
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