Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Publishing World

Venturing into the publishing world can be a daunting task. I am no expert and if that is what you are looking for it is probably best you stop here. What I can and will do is share what I have learned along the way and what I am still learning.

Several weeks ago I decided to try my hand at substitute teaching and bring a few extra dollars of needed income into our home. I will not dazzle you with my experiences but if I was not as aware of the challenges teachers face before I now have a somewhat clearer perspective.

Some of the classes I have subbed for were English classes and some of those students were in the process of writing stories. I love to ask a simple question to these classes.

How many copies does the average book sell?

The hands shoot up and you can count on that first answer being at least one million. Finally, some astute kid after I shake my head to all the previous answers decides it is far less. But even then it is not as low as two hundred copies, which is what I was told by a publishing team I have become friends with. That is counting traditional, self, and hybrid publishing.

It is easy to view writers such as John Grisham, J.K. Rowling etc. but there are a vast number of authors with virtually no name recognition such as myself.  

As an author of my first book, The River Hideaway, it goes to show that I would not be subbing if the answers of one million copies sold was anywhere near true. It would be nice if it were so.

Anyone that has a desire to write basically has one dream in common. They want to see their book in print. The first day my books arrived-to see that cover with the title and my name on it..It was a humbling, fulfilling experience. Even better was to hide a copy in the wine cabinet already signed for my wife. I suggested she retrieve a bottle of wine for us. She should have known something was up as I am not much of a wine drinker. The sheer excitement when she so excitedly grabbed the book. That is a moment for which there is no price tag.

I wrote the bulk of The River Hideaway in 1997. The second publisher I sent it too was John F. Blair. I still have the letter from Anne Waters, who read and loved my book. She could not persuade the board to choose my book for their one fictional title for the year. Still, she gave me a list of five publishing contacts that she knew personally and she vowed to buy a copy when it was on the shelf. Slam dunk from here right?

Three of the five immediately responded-no new fiction and no new authors. They would not even agree to read it. One of the publishers had decided to publish only children's stories and the other moved to open another publishing company. I finally found him and when I began to explain what it was about-he cut me off. Anne had already spoken on my behalf and he was excited to read The River Hideaway. Here is where it really got frustrating. He never read it. He was busy with running a new company and he passed it off to his acquisitions editor. They kept it for two years. I even came home to a phone call one day of how much they liked it. Ultimately, they passed. 

I knew getting traditionally published was difficult. Here is what I did not know. I had no clue how difficult it would be to even persuade them to read your novel in its entirety. Many will ask for a one page query letter and that is all. Some will ask for three chapters or the first fifty pages after that. It is an accomplishment to persuade a publisher to read your entire story.

Currently, I have another manuscript in front of a publisher. Here is an example of what you may deal with in getting published. The publisher has decided they will commit to one more title for next year. They have narrowed it down to two books. The other is nonfiction and the author has a built-in speaking circuit. I write fiction and have no such platform. I take it as a positive that they have not already said no.I have been on the fence with them for months.

People suggested often over the years that I self publish. That is certainly an option for writers. Often it is the best way to go, especially if you have a profession or an expertise that has you traveling and speaking to groups.

Maybe I just craved the approval that someone would read my book and say we want to publish your book. I think the traditional publishing rejection rate is 98-99 percent. That is frustrating and can be so demoralizing that some choose not to even try. Self publishing is 100 percent successful because you are footing all the bills. Of course if your book takes off you are also going to gain the large percentage of the profits.

I received no advance for The River Hideaway & I make less than $2 per book. But the important part of my contract for me is that I would not be asked for any money. I could buy my books at a discount, which I have for private signings but there was no stipulation requiring me to buy a certain amount.

Would I sign the same contract today? No. But do I regret signing the one I did? No, as well. I have seen my dream in print. It is off my bucket list to be traditionally published.

Since I have not self-published I certainly am no expert but I will share what I do know. Remember we all have that dream of seeing our books in print. Publishers know this as well and there are many self-publishing companies you would do well to steer clear of. Don't let your dream for being published get in the way of your business sense. Read the contract carefully. Hire an attorney to read it. That may not be cost wise for many of us. At least find a good business person you know and have them read it. I did.

Beware of package deals of self-publishing. I don't know how many people have said they said my package was going to cost $3,000 and it wound up being much more.

We have a huge advantage with the Internet. I was contacted one day by someone who had heard I got published. They said their friend had been offered a publishing contract by a major publishing company and they wanted my advice about the contract. Later, I talked with the friend and they mentioned how they did not want to have to take a loan out for the contract. I researched the publisher and read countless reviews of how they scammed people. I am not making fun of anyone. But when you have such a huge dream you can rule out your good common sense that God hopefully gave us all. It is not a major contract for you if you are carrying all the costs. I did this as delicately as I could. I suggested that anytime before entering into a contract with any type of publisher or agent that you simply type the name added by the word "review" or "scam". You may find one, maybe two scathing rebukes by a disgruntled writer. I don't think that is much too be concerned about. But if there is a pattern of hundreds, I would be wary.

The sad thing is that the publisher mentioned in the above paragraph scammed countless people while parading their company as a Christian establishment that published Christian writers. So if you view yourself as a Christian writer, don't give your trust and your money to a company thinking because they say they are Christian that they will be honest and fair. I think that these type companies, in all walks of business, have gotten so bad that when someone puts a fish symbol on their work vehicle I begin to be more suspicious than trusting. Now, before anyone shoots me an ugly message, I know this is not the case with all businesses and there are many with their fish symbol on the work vehicle who are loyal, honest, and live their faith even when it comes to money.

All self-publishing is not bad. I know a local author who has always self-published her fiction. She has a certain niche that buys her every book & she is comfortable with that. She also found a very good self-publisher. The publisher has been very honest with her and even chose not to charge her for certain items when she reordered. I know another inspirational writer who wrote a wonderful book that I read. He has a speaking circuit and he really did his homework about publishing his book. He also had a mentor to guide him who has written and had several books published traditionally. The key is he researched his options. His book has been successful and most of the profits are his.

My encouragement is that you do your homework.  The same is to be said for hybrid publishing. Read the contract many times and have someone you trust read it as well. My guess is that as more publishers have financial concerns, the growth of hybrid publishing will grow exponentially.

I know many people prefer self or hybrid publishing so their stories do not get altered dramatically. I went with a small press and fortunately, they only edited & at the end asked me to shave a few thousand words to keep the cost of the book down. My story stayed intact.

They were also open to my book cover ideas and ultimately they chose the one I pushed for the most. I can't tell you how many compliments I have received for the book cover of The River Hideaway. My friend, Robbie Johnson, gave me his photograph and the only payment he received is my great appreciation that he shared his art.

Please, regardless of who you seek to publish your book check out their current book covers. Do they look professional? Do they draw your attention? Also, do not be shy about speaking with their authors to see if they are happy with the publisher.

I know it is easier said than done but don't throw away your business sense or your money because your desire is so great to see your book in print. I understand. I pursued getting published on and off for fifteen years before a publisher said yes. It was my dream and I received plenty of discouragement along the way. I had not sent anything out in years when my new wife demanded I try again. I sent it to one publisher and they offered a contract several months later.

Let's say you get published traditionally. Please harbor no illusions that your publisher is going to spend a lot of time & money promoting your book. The promotion is on you. I was able to get my book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble. Was it easy? No. I talked to them and the manager at the time said, "We will order six books and if they are not sold in two weeks they get returned. They sold quickly and they placed another order that sold quickly and then they invited me for a book signing.

I tried to tell them how hard we were networking but they said I would be lucky to sell a dozen books. That is not a bad figure. I have had other signings in other places where I sold less than that. They had thirty books on hand and they were gone inside of forty five minutes. Fortunately, I had two boxes in the truck. There were over two hours left in the signing and I knew more people were coming. I was not going to have people take their time from their busy schedules and make a trip for nothing. We sold another thirty books before the day was done & a few months later they had me back two weeks before Christmas & we sold over fifty books & nearly sold out again. It also led to Barnes & Noble offering me signings in Jacksonville and Raleigh, NC. The one in Raleigh came within a few books of selling out as well.

I have often joked that if I would have made $100,000 on The River Hideaway that it would amount to about minimum wage. One day, I broke the calculator out & began estimating my time spent writing, rewriting, promotion, etc.. Guess what? I don't think that the minimum wage statement is far off.

As much as I pray that one day I might be successfully financially being an author-of even more importance I have had many poignant moments derived from this little story. A man I greatly respected was being read this story the last week of his life. I have had several people say to me that they hated for the story to end. (My favorite compliment) I have had good Christians say that it made them think about their relationship with the Lord. Some said that it made them think-did they see truly beyond race & as my favorite character, Clarence said- Hearts have no color. People were drawn to characters derived from my heart & mind.

I got to see two dreams come true. That someone would be reading my book on the beach and enjoying it. I also know it was given many times as a Christmas gift. What value can be placed on being part of someone's Christmas?

So for all the disappointments along the way. The many times I gave up. Would I do it all over again?

You bet I would.

The journey continues. Remember writers write. Don't waste your time talking about writing. Write.