In Your Corner: Choosing a Quality Publisher

You’ve spent absolutely ages writing your book, and now it’s as perfect as it gets! Why choose a sub-par publisher who’s just going to mess it up—or worse, betray your trust—by providing a sub-par final product?

Here’s the thing: no one in their right minds does make that choice—at least, not knowingly. And there’s the rub! Sub-par publishers sometimes give off a very real impression that they’re anything but. Sometimes, they’re more convincing than the bonafide deal, the companies which are legitimate and will treat you right, but struggle to stand out in a marketplace crowded by phones, vanity presses, and other publishers who’re like as not prepared to milk you for every dollar you have, and satisfy their obligations by producing the bare minimum in terms of quality product.

In a sense, you’re in a double-bind as a self-publishing company! The onus should be on the publisher to provide the best possible product they can with the funds available … but because it’s difficult for regulators to enforce this—and because publishing, especially self-publishing remains ahead of the curve in regards to legislative oversight*—the reality is that you, the author, are ultimately the one person you can trust to make sure you get the best deal possible.

* One day legislation may in fact catch up to the ever-evolving products and services which have risen along with the Internet, but that day is not today.

decision making

You want a quality publisher who will give your book the attention that it deserves.  How to ensure this happens?

  1. Spend time researching your publishing options.
  2. Learn what your publisher will do for you before your book is published, while your book is published and after your book is published.
  3. Think through what’s important to you and what you need (as opposed to those nice things you really, really want but can get by without).
  4. If you need someone available to help you, be sure you choose a publisher that offers help and support.
  5. If you know you need an amazing cover design, choose a publisher that offers a custom-designed cover. Same goes for marketing services, formatting, and everything else. Do you have the necessary skills? No? Make sure your publisher does—and for a reasonable price.
  6. Don’t turn your book over to just anyone. Your book is your book, not something you can afford to let anyone else ruin.

You’ve spent the time getting it just right … and now it’s time to find that company which will treat your book with the dignity and respect it deserves. Not to mention, which will treat you the same way.

You are not alone. ♣︎


Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner : Shopping for a publisher? Three lessons from a lingerie counter.

No–I promise the title isn’t just for clicks!  One of the critical components of a conversation about lingerie that should be a part of a conversation about publishing–but often isn’t–is that of support.  How does your publisher affect your book sales?  Does your publisher offer support before, during, and after publication?  Does your publisher offer marketing solutions to help your book sell?  Making an informed decision prior to publication will help you long afterwards, as you transition into the life of a published author and begin to weigh some of the risks … and, hopefully, the rewards.

***

So what’s this about underwear and support?

lingerie

Lesson One:

Your publisher should be your advocate and ally, not just a platform.

In today’s competitive world, authors have more choices than ever in terms of where they take their manuscripts for publication–whether traditional publishing, hybrid publishing, or self-publishing.  We’re still in a somewhat weird place where the market is flexing, and where supergiant corporations like Amazon can afford to be monolithic and self-absorbed, but the paradigm is shifting in favor of the reader.  How do I mean that?  More hybrid and self-publishing companies are serving as fierce advocates for their authors above and beyond basic tech support.  The term “support” has come to mean a dedicated band of professionals working together to find a marketing solution for your specific book, and companies are sitting up and realizing that they need to do better.  Even traditional publishers have begun to realize that they need to be better, especially in respect to their treatment of their authors.  The downside of being a traditional publisher or massive corporation (like Amazon) today is that it takes a long time for even the clearest of realizations to trickle down into actual corporate behavior.  It’s like turning a behemoth around–smaller, more nimble companies will leap ahead of the curve…and this is what we’re seeing with small presses, hybrids, and completely self-sufficient self-publishing authors.  Don’t settle for mediocre support!

Lesson Two:

You’re paying for support–support–and that means highly structured, organized assistance.

Here’s another fundamental fact of the universe: when you pay someone to publish your book (according to the hybrid and self-publishing model) or allow someone to take a cut of your book’s royalties (according to the traditional publishing model), you are not paying for therapy.  You have the rightful expectation of seeing more than a tepid response to your book, a lukewarm attempt at promotion, or a scattershot approach to marketing.  You have every right to expect–and demand–meticulous, highly structured support.  Even if you choose not to pay for a full-fledged marketing campaign, you are the beneficiary of the best work of each professional you engage with over the course of the publication process.  And if you’re not getting it?  Here’s where feedback is important.  There are two ways to go about giving feedback: asking for better treatment, and actually taking your money elsewhere.  Realistic expectations are important, but if you’re worried that you’re not getting real advocacy from your publisher, it might be time to start asking the tough questions.

Lesson Three:

A good publisher + good marketing + your book = good sales.

The implications are clear, right?  If one of these components is broken, every other element in the formula for success will fall out of joint.  If sales are not strong, apply a microscope to the work done by your publisher.  Are they showing real dedication?  Do they display a sense of organization and interest in your work, specifically?  A half-baked marketing plan will only ever produce half-baked sales figures, and a haphazard publishing package will take you to the exact same place.  It’s hard to strike the balance as a self-publishing author paying for a minimalist publishing package, but there are still options.  Don’t be content with the first bare-bones self-publishing website you stumble across!  Read the fine print.  Call up the help center.  See what all is available to you as an author in terms of targeted support and guidance.  Only you can decide how much of the marketing process you want to take on, and how to spend your money effectively.  Don’t let a company decide that for you!

You are not alone. ♣︎

ElizabethABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

From the Archives: “7 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT TRADITIONAL PUBLISHERS”

Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.

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[ Originally posted:June 18th, 2010 ]

Things every author consider when considering self-publishing vs. the old-fashioned model…

7 – Traditional publishers lose money on over 85% of the books they publish, so they only accept around 2% of those that are submitted.

6 – They typically accept manuscripts only from established authors who have demonstrated a proven track record.

5 – Authors lose content control of their work during the editing process.

4 – Authors must still invest an enormous amount of time, energy, and money promoting a traditionally-published book.

3- Authors typically receive 5-10% royalty on the wholesale price of the book, and from that have to give 15-25% to their agent. Do the math.

2 – The majority of books published by old-fashioned publishers go out of print within 3 years. Many books that are stocked on book shelves remain stocked for as little as five weeks before being returned, unsold, to the publisher.

1- Old-fashioned publishers acquire all rights to your book and keep them, even when the book goes out of print or the publisher goes out of business. Yikes.

Publishing is hard and weird, and the process takes far more energy and attention than it rightfully should.  If you’re lingering in the balance between opting in to the traditional publishing mechanism or choosing to pursue a self-publishing option, this list from 2010 may just provide the last swing vote.  To pretend that we are unbiased would be disingenuous, I know, but isn’t there another side to this list?  Isn’t there some dirty laundry to air about indie, hybrid, and self-publishing companies, too?

Yes, no doubt.  That’s the honest answer.  The self-publishing model isn’t for everyone, and there are certainly the requisite number of soulless opportunists who have spotted a new means to exploit newcomers, as there are in any industry, but for the most part I do find that the people who work with and alongside self-publishing authors are a good lot.  They’re genuinely interested in helping you succeed–according to your own standards and expectations, not under the unrealistic ones set by traditional publishing.

So here’s my claim for the day, with a proviso:

When self-publishing is done right and all of the people involved in a project operate by the foundational tenets of the indie spirit, the experience provides authors the exact opposite experience of traditional publishing.

7: Self-publishing has no gatekeepers, censors, or men in suits wagging their fingers at innovation.

6: Anyone can self publish, no matter their background or prior experience with publishing (traditionally or otherwise).

5: Authors retain full artistic and legal control over their work.

4: Authors get to see a direct proportional relationship between the time, energy, and money they spend promoting and marketing their book–and sales figures.

3: With no middleman to split the earnings, self-publishing authors can keep anywhere up to 100% of their own royalties.  That’s, well, a lot better.

2: Self-publishing authors have a weapon in their artillery that traditionally published authors do not which resolves both the overstocked and the understocked problems facing traditionally published authors and their distributers: Print on Demand (POD).  Because you can always go back and print more copies of your book, there’s no danger of running out.  And because you get to choose how many books you print in the first place and how they’ll be distributed, you’re not shipping crates of untouched books to distributers who will never be able to move copies.  Precision targeted sales, that’s what POD enables!

1: Nobody will ever own your work except you.  Nobody.


When you cast things in a certain light, it gets really and truly hard to see the benefits of opting in to a broken system that has yet to meet the rapidly-evolving needs of a digital market where they live.  And I’m not just saying this because I’m biased–I am biased, 100%–but because I’ve been through the wringer of traditional publishing.  I know what it’s like.  Like most self-publishing authors, I’ve dipped my toe into the world of traditional publishing and come away angry, hurt, and disappointed.  And I’m committed to making sure as many authors get to move on to far better and more positive things, as I have.  I’m committed to making sure authors know they have another, better option.

And yes, it’s called self-publishing.

Thanks for reading.  If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠

Self-Publishing & Merchandising : Working with CreateSpace & Others

In this, my tenth post in an ongoing series about Self-Publishing and Merchandising, I’ll be taking a close look at how you can optimize your use of the CreateSpace platform––as well as recommending a few others for your consideration––just as last week I put together a few words about working with Barnes & Noble to merchandise your work, and the week before I examined Amazon’s platform to similar effect.  (And really, these brick-and-mortar or digital retailers end up doing much of the work for you, which is lovely of their algorithm-wranglers.)  I also mentioned the fact that much of the merchandising we’ve looked at together over previous weeks takes for granted that the book is its own complete product, the sum of its parts (see: book covers and jacket design, interior design, special additions, and the blurb), and the sum of other parts, too (see my posts on the book review, as well as how to get and give blog reviews).  While retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble certainly have a head start and therefore an enormous edge over their competition, it’s still worth taking a peek at a third party or two to see what they have to offer!

CREATESPACE :

First, to clear the air: CreateSpace is an Amazon subsidiary.  Back in the days when it was known as CustomFlix, the company that is now CreateSpace was mostly known as a place to create “flix” or movies.  These days, its mission is “to profitably connect filmmakers, musicians, and authors to their worldwide audience,” a mission that has seen it rise to the top of companies offering Print on Demand (POD) books as well as Audio Books on Demand (ABOD)––a wonderful mission for readers and self-publishing writers on the whole, but not necessarily good news for those who wish to publish out from under the shadow of the giants.  If you’re looking for a platform that gives you glossy and polished POD books as well as the benefits of beautiful algorithms that will more or less take care of your merchandising for you, then keep CreateSpace on your list––and follow my directions for working with Amazon.

If you’re looking to branch out, here are a few more options for you!

  • BookBaby allows authors to distribute their ebooks through Amazon, Apple’s iStore, and elsewhere. This platform’s nonstandard payment model makes it a great fit for those authors hoping for strong sales of their books: rather than subtract from royalties, its basic package charges $99 in an initial sign-up fee and then $19 for every following year.
  • Booktango creates opportunities to convert, upload, and edit manuscripts, distributing through Nook, Amazon, and other digital retailers. Booktango claims to offer authors 100% of royalties from its own online bookstore as well as 100% of net royalties from other online retailers once they’ve sliced away their own commissions.
  • FastPencil serves as a publishing and networking service for authors and publishers by providing assistance with content, distribution, marketing, and workflow for both print books and ebooks.
  • Kobo Writing Life is the digital publishing arm of Indigo’s Kobo hardware program. It offers analytics, a learning center that helps guide new users through the (global) publishing process.
  • Lulu provides for-pay premium services, such as editing for manuscripts and promotional video creation, not to mention free e-book conversion.  In addition to commission fees charged by distribution websites like Apple’s iStore, Lulu charges an additional 10%.
  • Outskirts Press (and other hybrid self-publishing companies) offer paid publishing services for authors who are looking for entry into the self-publishing market without the hassle of taking on all of the work themselves.  The best part of choosing a hybrid self-publishing company like Outskirts is that authors get to keep their profits (thereby recouping the original expenditure of purchasing a publication package) while benefiting from professionals who really know what they’re talking about when it comes to editing, design, distribution, and––yes!––merchandising.
  • Printful + Gumroad have teamed up to create a simple payment and digital delivery system which will allow authors (or anyone else with digital products to sell) to weave e-book sales directly into their website. Websites like Sellfy, DigitalDeliveryApp and e-Junkie offer similar services.
  • Pronoun (formerly known as Vook) is currently going through a transition before it relaunches, but has a history of offering design work for both digital and print books, marketing, and distribution. It makes (made?) room for video and audio features, and polished, professional-looking POD books. Vook offered free consultations before it even provided a quote, and distributed through all major online retailers.  It also had a lovely dashboard.  There’s no reason to believe that in its next incarnation, Pronoun/Vook won’t continue to offer the same services.
  • Smashwords remains one of the largest distributors of self-published ebooks in the world, and its “Meatgrinder” program lets authors convert their Microsoft Word documents into any of the offered ebook formats for sale in any of the big online ebookstores. Authors get around 85% of net sales made through Smashwords’ online store, a bit less through other retailers.
  • Wattpad is a social writing and reading platform built for those looking to create visual design-driven projects, including interactive novels. The process begins with choosing a template, then text and images, animation and three-dimensional objects. It does not provide authors with ISBNs for their books, but those can be purchased elsewhere if necessary.

In short, if you’re looking for a new indie platform on which to launch your latest work, we’ve got you covered––or rather, the internet does, and we simply put a few words together.  We hope you take the time to explore them all––and to learn the peculiar quirks and wonderful merchandising benefits that each has to offer! ♠

I’m realistic, or I like to think I am.  This topic is bigger than just me and my own thoughts.  I’d like to open the floor to you, dear reader.  If you have any thoughts to share on the topic of merchandising, or questions you’d like answered, send them my way via the comments box below!  I want to hear from you, and I love nothing more than a good excuse to do a little research if I don’t know something off of the top of my head.  Jump on in!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Diversity & Self-Publishing (ep. 5)

On this most auspicious of post-St. Patrick’s-Days, we will answer the last two questions in a series of questions (and blog posts) on the role (past, present, and future) of diversity in publishing, and particularly in self-publishing.  If you missed any of the blogs in this series, you can find them here, here, here, and here.

The first of our remaining two questions may seem deceptively simple:

  • Should we make diversity happen?

But I should like to protest against any intimations of straightforwardness.  There are very few people in this world, I think, who would openly declare “No!” in answer to such a question, but there are a great many–perhaps even the majority of our regular authors and readers–who do unconsciously, or subconsciously, respond in the negative.  How is this so?  It is so because recognizing a need, then stepping out and actively contributing to positive change and forward momentum, is incredibly difficult.  What is that quote we attribute to Edmund Burke?  “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  Anything–any inaction–that allows an unjust or under-representative system to continue is a silent, but extremely resounding, “no.”  Whenever we come up against the status quo, creating change is going to take more than a little goodwill, or even a great deal of goodwill.  It takes vision, energy, resources, and endurance.  Perhaps the question we need to ask isn’t “Should we make diversity happen?” but rather, “Why aren’t we doing this already, and how can we make good on what we already know to be the right thing to do?”

Having determined that encouraging diversity in the world of books is a good thing, our next question necessarily follows:

  • How can we better foster a self-publishing community that welcomes diverse authors and readers?

I think we need to take a long and honest look at the systems we trust to install agents, editors, book buyers, illustrators, executives, and even CEOs.  This holds true for other industries apart from the world of books, of course, but when talking about the life of the mind and the imagination, we need to be especially aware of the insidious influences of a stagnating infrastructure.  In essence, we need to reevaluate what we’re already doing, and jettison the injustices actually built into publishing DNA.  We need to be honest with ourselves and with others about who holds power over who gets published, and who gets the resources to self-publish.  There are subtler, even more sinister workings behind-the-scenes that we need to reevaluate, too, such as the tendency to grandfather in unspoken assumptions and expectations when it comes to what the industry sees as risky, or the “right fit.”  If we use patterns of the past to justify the future, we had better make sure those patterns include a rich texture of voices and stories and authors.

The playing field is slightly more level in the world of self-publishing because diverse authors should not, in theory, be facing the same editorial and agent-related hurdles that a traditionally published author is.  But we need to be honest, here, too, since self-publishing companies are made up of people and packages that may, by dint of being human, possess biases or flaws in reasoning.  Many of these companies are small in terms of staff, so they may or may not have the option of setting up an ethics and diversity committee, but it is worth every company’s while to make sure they are actively promoting diversity in both the workplace and in the products and services they offer.  If you are an author seeking self-publication, it never hurts to ask if such a committee exists, or whether the company you’re working with has any strategies in place.

So, if self-publishing were a kind of building, I’ve taken a quick survey of its architecture from the top down–from its executives to its staff to its authors.  But there’s another key component I haven’t mentioned yet: the market.  That means you, dear reader.  If you read books, you’re driving the market.  Every book bought and sold shifts the flow of money toward or away from various authors and industries.  If you want to see diversity in the world of books as much as I do, then there’s no better way to effectively contribute to that change than by putting your money to good work.  Buy self-published books by diverse authors, and you’ll see more diverse authors publishing.  It’s as simple as that.  Or rather, it may not be the only avenue through which you can create change, but it’s a simple and practical one that will see important and long-term effects.  That’s the kind of action I can get behind!

And that’s all the space I have for the week.  I know that these ruminations of mine barely barely scratch the surface of these questions, much less the conversation as a whole.   Over the next week, as I attempt to pull together a coherent summary of my responses to the questions I posed four weeks ago (and what all of this has to do with self-promotion), please drop me a line in the comments section below with your own thoughts or suggestions!  And of course, check back next week as we delve into still more of the self-publishing world!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

What makes for a great self-publishing company?

Many of the questions I hear most often, working as I do in the self-publishing business, can be distilled down to one very simple one: “What makes for a great self-publishing experience?”  The answer is equally simple: “A high-quality self-publishing company.”

First, we have to consider the business side of things.  A self-publishing company is, in the end, a company––and a company works according to profit.  As end users, either clients or readers, we want to know that we are receiving the best possible product and service for our investment.  You definitely want to look for a balance of:

  • reliability
  • affordability
  • quality production
  • excellent customer service, and
  • out-of-the-box thinking and solutions on offer

Of course, we don’t want to reduce the process of writing and publishing a book down to a simple exercise in corporate dynamics.  Book lovers, both writers and readers, know that there’s something, well, special about literature.  The advent of self-publishing has seen fierce debates spring up over the role of literary agents and publishing companies as “gatekeepers” for the written word, and rightfully so.  The stakes are very, very high when it comes to the stories we create and let influence our lives.  And because the stakes are high, it’s important that we look for a few more things out of a great self-publishing company, in addition to sound business practice.  We should look for:

  • sound ethics (from start to finish)
  • self-awareness (including of the company’s place and stance on being a “gatekeeper”)
  • authenticity (including a genuine interest in the client’s and reader’s satisfaction), and
  • sensitivity to a changing market and a changing world (which can translate to adaptability, but also to advocacy in the broadest and best sense)

Do your research!  Check online for customer satisfaction ratings––impartial ones––and contact the companies you’re interested in beforehand to gauge their possibilities.  After all, once you commit to a self-publishing company, you’re likely to be in close contact with them for quite a long time.

Now, someone might honestly point out that I work for one specific self-publishing company and therefore that I’m likely to view my own company in a favorable light, but here’s the thing: a great self-publishing company doesn’t need to be territorial.  All a great self-publishing company needs to do is offer a good product––a great package––and a service that puts its clients first and advocates endlessly for them.  The wonderful thing about the self-publishing industry is that at its core, it is a kind of fellowship of free (or freer) spirits who believe that the more voices that are heard, the more stories that are told, the better off we will all be.  So I’m not just an advocate for one company; I’m an advocate for the whole movement!

 

These are just a few thoughts to get us started.  What do you think makes for a great self-publishing company?  Drop me a line in the comments section to join the conversation.

 

ABOUT JODEE THAYER: With over 25 years of experience in sales and management, Jodee Thayer works as the Director of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable customer service reps and publishing consultants; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process in order to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Jodee Thayer can put you on the right path.