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How (Not) to Talk to an Author #4

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Jul. 15th, 2013 | 08:05 am

"You know, my uncle Olaf submitted his book to ______________. He says they're not like other publishers; they read -all- the manuscripts sent in to them. His was published in only two months, too. You should try them!"

I've actually been told this, by a well-meaning neighbor who was. no doubt, sorry for me because I had to keep waiting forever for the whole publication process to pan out. (I still have no book in my hands.)

Notice that I said well-meant. It was. This neighbor and I are on friendly terms. We played bunco together. What this was symptomatic of is that she suspected I didn't know my options. That I hadn't done all the homework, and that her uncle Olaf had trumped me on that score.

The truth is that I was quite familiar with Uncle Olaf's publisher. When I was treasurer of OWFI, we wrangled about this publisher a lot, trying to determine what the organization's stance was regarding its 'legitimacy' as a book publisher.

I've also known someone who published his book through Publisher T. He hadn't done his homework. He'd sent it to them because someone he knew at work had a cousin who worked for the publisher. Turns out his publisher was a subsidy press, charging him for editing, cover design, and creating a book trailer. He'd already purchased a hundred copies of his book, too. But hey, it was going to be out in only a few months.

I bought a copy of that book because I try to support my friends. The cover smeared when I brushed my fingers over it. I would not have been satisfied with the editor's work.

But there are plenty of publishing options out there, and they have different uses.

So a short primer on book publishers behind the cut, with links:
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1) Self-publishing
Difficulty Level = 3
There's a great article at Writer Beware that discusses the merits and pitfalls of self-publishing. This is hotly contested, BTW. Writers who self-publish -can- make good money, although history shows that the vast majority who go this route don't.

Personally, I HAVE used this method. Among my ebooks, I have only 1 that's sold really well. My others haven't. Since they're mostly reprints (work that has been published elsewhere before), and I put them up on-line primarily to make them -available-, I don't spend a ton of time promoting. But I want to point out that there are definite uses for this method.

The main difficulty here for some authors is learning all the formatting. And designing covers. And editing. You can pay others to do these for you, but that cuts into your pocketbook.

And if you don't have your story-telling skills and editing skills together...then readers will ding you mercilessly in the reviews. Something to keep in mind.
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2) Small Press Publishing
Difficulty Level = 8
Why do I think 8? Because a small press editor is still an editor who reads the manuscripts to determine quality and 'fit' to their imprint.

Note: I HAVE published novellas with small presses. I loved my editors, and I respect those presses with whom I've worked. Small presses can be awesome.

OTOH, I was given the cards of a couple of other small presses at cons. I didn't submit to either of those. I didn't know their reputations, so I balked. I lucked out, because now neither exists. This is one of the problems for small presses. They don't always make it and can collapse, taking your rights with them if you're not careful.Writer Beware has a good list of what to look for in a Small Press, which people should read before going that route.

((BE WARNED: There are presses out there that call themselves Small Presses, but ARE NOT. They are vanity or subsidy presses. In fact, many of them specifically say on their websites that they are not vanity presses....but I suspect that if they feel a need to say that, it's because someone thinks they are.))
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3) Major Press Publishing
Difficulty Level = 10, possibly higher

I'm also being published via a Big 6 (5? 4?) publisher. I got this contract because my agent is full of awesome. And I tried to land an agent for a few years. And I had to rewrite. And rewrite. And edit and edit and edit. And it's going to be well over two years from landing the agent to seeing an actual book. Sometimes this takes even longer.

Yes, there are people out there who land contracts without agents. I'm just saying that I wouldn't have been able to do so. Nor would I have had the knowledge or clout to negotiate improvements to the boiler-plate contract like my agent did.

A large part of the difficulty level on this is its level of rejection. You have to endure a LOT of that along the way. Rejection by agents. Rejection by publishers. Rejection of books after you land a publisher. It's not all glamour. In fact, there's very little glamour these days.

But they have promotional advantages over other publishers. So that's something to keep in mind, and the reason that I chose to pursue this road. Because they can bring me more readers, and that's what I want.


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And then there's
4) Vanity/Subsidy Publishing.
Difficulty Level = -10

Yes, NEGATIVE 10 because they want to publish your manuscript. And they can edit it for you for a small fee. And they can design a cover for you for a small fee. And they can....well, whatever...for a small fee. See the pattern? This is what my friend used, and I think he's still in the red.

These are the publishers who don't follow Yog's Law: All money flows toward the writer. Writer Beware has good discussion of this here as well as a list of publishers they have questions about here (scroll down).

Now, I HAVE NOT used one of these. I'm a believer in Yog's Law.

However, I will say that I can perfectly understand why some people might chose this route. Not because they've not done their homework, but because they would prefer to pay someone to handle the publication process for them. If they're primarily interested in actually holding a book in their hands and aren't worried about the money involved, this can be a valid option. Also, if they don't have the time to wait or are writing about a tiny niche interest (family cookbook?), this can be a valid way to go....just not for me.

ETA: In a discussion below I mention that one of the easiest ways to tell a small press from a subsidy press is to look at how many authors they have. Subsidy presses make their money from selling services and books to the authors, so they want to have as many authors as possible. If you see hundreds of writers on their author list, then they're probably a subsidy press.

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The issue here is that most people writers talk to don't know the difference between a book published by a POD publisher and Random House. To most, a book is a book is a book. That's Shakespeare, right?

When a writer goes to a con, though, they're among people who DO know the difference. People who have (one hopes) done their homework. And there are a lot of old prejudices about these types of publications...so #1s may think that #3s are snobs or #3s may think they're better than #2s....and everyone sneers at #4s. (This is being batted around in one of my RWA groups (via email)).

But that's a topic for another day...

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Comments {12}

texanfan

(no subject)

from: texanfan
date: Jul. 15th, 2013 03:07 pm (UTC)
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4 Does have it's place. A group putting together a cookbook as a fundraiser, someone printing a family geneaology for the next big reunion (I've seen a lot of these), etc.

My biggest problem, how do I tell the friend who has done one of these that they have not cracked the publisher code as to their book attempts. I had one friend who had clearly gone with a vanity press and was utterly convinced she was launched on a new career as an author. I couldn't figure out how to tell her she had sunk money into a project that would never see returns. I hand out links to Writer Beware but people are disinclined to believe. They want to believe in the golden ticket.

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J. Kathleen Cheney

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from: j_cheney
date: Jul. 15th, 2013 03:46 pm (UTC)
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Yes.....I totally agree that 4 has its place. I know a lot of people are vehemently against them, but there are people who do their homework and choose that option with eyes open.

My suspicion on the second part is that people want their choices to be validated. And you will find people online who tout each choice as the absolute -correct- way to go, so they can just run to that on-line sanctuary and find others who agree with them....and disagree with you. Because those people tell them that their way -is- the golden ticket.

And each method has some examples of BIG MONEY. It' just that some methods have a higher precentage than others.


Edited at 2013-07-15 04:11 pm (UTC)

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marycatelli

(no subject)

from: marycatelli
date: Jul. 16th, 2013 12:13 am (UTC)
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No, that is the place for Printers. Easily distinguished from Vanity Publishers by the way their website babble not about the newness of their publishing paradigm, but by the newness of their printing equipment.

The place for Vanity Publishers is for dolts who haunt writers' workshops for advice and react with extreme abusiveness when they get it. This keeps them out of the way.

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J. Kathleen Cheney

(no subject)

from: j_cheney
date: Jul. 16th, 2013 12:15 am (UTC)
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:;chuckles::

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marycatelli

(no subject)

from: marycatelli
date: Jul. 16th, 2013 12:18 am (UTC)
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I remember a time online when we -- many of us who had fought very hard to dissuade people from signing with Publish America -- were bouncing up and down with glee that one jerk had done so. Serves him right. He had gotten thrown out of two writers' forums for abusive behavior in response to solicited advice.

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J. Kathleen Cheney

(no subject)

from: j_cheney
date: Jul. 16th, 2013 12:25 am (UTC)
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Yeah....there is that...

I remember WorldCon in Glasgow where someone in an audience asked an agent panel about her book published by Author House, and the audience gave off an audible groan.

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Terri-Lynne DeFino

(no subject)

from: bogwitch64
date: Jul. 15th, 2013 03:30 pm (UTC)
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There are presses out there that call themselves Small Presses, but ARE NOT.

These are the ones who make small presses have to put that disclaimer on their site. So annoying. I think this is one of the reasons Eric likes "indie press" better. ;)

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J. Kathleen Cheney

(no subject)

from: j_cheney
date: Jul. 15th, 2013 03:56 pm (UTC)
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Yep...but the subsidy presses confuse the issue by using that disclaimer too.

For my money the easiest way to tell a subsidy press from a legitimate small press is to see how many books/authors they have.

A 'real' small press will have a small stable of authors and a limited number of books put out per year. For an example, anyone who's reading this, look up Hadley-Rille Books, Panverse Publishing, or Paper Golem. Note that these publishers have stables of a few dozen authors at the most.

A subsidy press will have a huge number of authors and books. If you're seeing 800 authors, you should suspect their validity.


Edited at 2013-07-15 03:56 pm (UTC)

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Terri-Lynne DeFino

(no subject)

from: bogwitch64
date: Jul. 15th, 2013 03:58 pm (UTC)
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Oh, good call! I hadn't thought of that simple way to tell the difference.

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J. Kathleen Cheney

(no subject)

from: j_cheney
date: Jul. 15th, 2013 04:03 pm (UTC)
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It's because real presses have REAL EDITORS who have to read the manuscripts over and over. They -can't- have hundreds of authors ;o)

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(Deleted comment)

J. Kathleen Cheney

(no subject)

from: j_cheney
date: Jul. 16th, 2013 05:45 pm (UTC)
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But there are -so- many people who don't do their homework before jumping in, It's kinda sad.

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LiveJournal

Interesting blog posts about writing – w/e July 19th, 2013

from: livejournal
date: Jul. 19th, 2013 03:07 pm (UTC)
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User jongibbs referenced to your post from Interesting blog posts about writing – w/e July 19th, 2013 saying: [...] to Talk to an Author #4 (J. Kathleen Cheney aka j_cheney) j-cheney.livejournal.com/581002.html [...]

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