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Self-Pub Success Story!

This Wall Street Journal article (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204770404577082303350815824.html) opens by saying that author Darcie Chan’s debut novel, The Mill River Recluse, has sold 400,000 copies and has placed her on the best-seller list “next to writers like Michael Connelly, James Patterson, and Kathryn Stockett.” Then the next paragraph goes on to say, “It’s been a success by any measure, save one. Ms. Chan still hasn’t found a publisher.”

Needless to say, a statement like that grabbed my attention (something of an understatement, to tell the truth). And Ms. Chan’s story turned out to be inspirational, as well as instructional–one more light on the horizon for those of us who’ve decided to try a DIY (do-it-yourself) angle or two on our publishing journeys.

If you haven’t read this story yet, I promise that you’ll learn at least one thing you don’t know already about the worlds of self-publishing and e-books. Furthermore, if you’re trying to decide which way to go with your next book, I suspect that you’ll be a little closer to that decision by the time you finish this article. Enjoy!

The Big Reasons Indie Authors Aren’t Taken Seriously

Sometimes we writers have to pull our hands away from our ears and force ourselves to listen to tough words. At least, that’s what we need to do if we’re serious about growing in our craft and eventually finding a wide readership for our work. This article (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/30/indie-authors-struggle_n_1242935.html?ref=books) puts some of those tough words right in our faces!

Still assimilating the wealth of information from the 2012 Writer’s Digest Conference two weeks ago, I was drawn to this article for a number of reasons, the most important of which is the subject of editing. Not only were there dozens of references at the conference to this critical element of the publishing process, especially if you’re opting for a DIY avenue. But there are dozens more such references in the first year or so of this blog, as I was bringing my second novel, Separation of Faith, into life. Having learned the hard way what happens if you don’t invest in a book’s editing, I was determined to produce a novel comparable, or even superior, in editorial quality to anything coming out of the traditional world.

Separation of Faith has now placed in more than a dozen competitions. First Place continues to be elusive. But the novel has earned Runner Up to the grand prize winner several times, in addition to multiple Bronze prizes and a list of highly ranked Honorable Mentions. And most recently, even though there wasn’t an associated placement, the 2012 Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards produced the following feedback from one of the judges:

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “poor” and 5 meaning “excellent,” please evaluate the following:

  • Plot: 4
  • Grammar: 4.5
  • Character Development: 5
  • Production Quality and Cover Design: 5

Judge’s Commentary:

What did you like best about this book?

Congratulations on writing and publishing your novel! The cover design and packaging is very professional. The back cover copy does a good job of maketing the book to potential readers. You have clearly done a great deal of research, which shows in the historical details and description that bring the scenes alive for the reader. You have created some interesting characters and brought them to life with strong dialogue and characterization. Good job balancing action, dialoge and narration. Good job with grammar, proofreading and formatting of the interior of the book.

How can the author improve this book? (Cheri’s Note: I decided to include this part as well, because I learned something, and I thought some of you might as well. And, we do need to strengthen our nerves so we can hear the improvements along with the accolades!)

Watch out for the overuse of italics, as this can be difficult to read, dilutes the emphasis, and makes the pages look a llittle disorganized. (Cheri’s Note: This comment addressed letters and journals written as part of flashbacks, several of which I formatted in italics.) Also, the book’s price seems a little high. These are minor concerns for a book that is quite strong overall.

The winners’ list for this contest will be announced by the end of this month, and I’m anxious to see who beat me. But the main thing I want to point out here is how important formatting and interior quality are with any book, but especially with self-published books! And even though Separation of Faith didn’t win a slot in this particular competition, the novel, as I said earlier, has placed in more than a dozen others. And there’s no doubt in my mind that a primary reason for that success is the quality of editing. (That’s also a main reason why I truly believe this entire endeavor will eventually take off! 🙂 )

Enjoy this important article (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/30/indie-authors-struggle_n_1242935.html?ref=books) — and have a wonderful Super Bowl weekend!

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Sunday, January 22–Panel Members:

  • Phil Sexton–Moderator of Panel; Publisher, Writer’s Digest
  • Karen Cooper–Publisher, Adams Media
  • Michelle Howry–Senior Editor, Touchstone (an impring of Simon & Schuster)
  • Donya Dickerson–Senior Editor, McGraw Hill

A. What is the most common mistake writers make in nonfiction proposals?

  • Too much emphasis on the manuscript.
  • Not enough evidence of need. Why does this book need to be in the marketplace?
  • Not enough emphasis on the author platform.
  • Not enough competitive analysis. Need to do research: a) Where will this book go on the shelf in Barnes & Noble? b) How does this book contrast with competitive titles? c) What does this book provide that no other book does? Check publicity volume of competition and occupied shelf space in bookstores. Also check Book of the Month Club offerings and other visible signs of a book’s sales/popularity.
  • Writer is not realistic about competition for books by a “new author.” In proposal/query, presents him/herself as “the next ___________ (fill in the blank with a famous author’s name).” This approach brands the writer as inexperienced and unrealistic. Instead, the writer should answer: a) Here’s how my book fits into the market, and b) Here’s how my book differs …”

The approximate length of a nonfiction book proposal should be thirty pages, not including any sample chapters.

Include suggestions about where book could be sold outside of the trade (ex., Walmart, Costco …) Research should include publishers and where they sell.

———————————————————

B. How important is the author’s writing in nonfiction?

  • Depends on the imprint, the book idea, and how hungry the editor is for an acquisition.
  • Authors should not have someone else write the proposal. Both the manuscript and the proposal need to have the same style. Editors can tell if they’ve been written by different people.
  • Editors/publishers vary regarding how important the writing is. If the concept is great, the quality of writing is not as important. Writing can always be beefed up through input from agents, editorial staff, or even ghost writers contracted through publishers.
  • The author’s platform plays a role in how important the writing is. The more the author already has in place to help sell the book, the less important the actual writing becomes.
  • Editors differ with respect to the weight applied to a) good writing, b) promotion, and c) platform.

————————————————————

C. How has the view of self-publishing changed?

  • All three editors said they would enthusiastically look at proposals that included self-published books.
  • Writers should keep in mind that, if an author is doing well with self-published book saes, then there is a strong case to be made for not going with a traditional publisher.
  • However, publishers can offer access to additional distribution channels, unique book promotions, etc.

———————————————————

D. What is the most compelling proposal you ever received, and why?

  • Wreck This Journal. Original proposal was a mock-up that was intended to be torn apart (as is the final product). Sometimes editors have to do a hard-sell job with odd ideas like this one, when channels like Barnes & Noble and Amazon have decided to passed on a project.
  • The Starbuck’s Experience. Author had gained full access to Starbuck’s operations. (The publisher was instrumental in changing the title from the original.)
  • The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. Author had secured permission from J.K. Rowling to use the Harry Potter name.
  • Retail Hell. The proposal came in as a self-help book. The publisher reworked it into a memoir.

Editors and publishers want authors who are cooperative and willing to listen, who respond positively to input, and who want to work in a partnership to produce the best quality book possible.

–Cheri’s Note: I’m now studying up on how to write a nonfiction book proposal. I will keep you posted on what I’m learning and how the process unfolds once I actually begin writing the document.–

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What the heck is the pitch slam anyway? Well, depending on the person answering that question, the pitch slam can either be comparable to walking the proverbial plank, or the experience can be a writer’s nirvana. Technically, the setup involves a whole bunch of agents sitting at little individual tables arranged around the edges of two huge hotel conference rooms. And those agents are waiting for hundreds of aspiring writers to line up in front of the little tables, in order to pitch, one-on-one, their books du jour.

Expectations tend to run pretty high with writers who’ve never been to a writer’s conference before, and I spoke with lots of young men and women who were truthfully anticipating the signing of a book deal by the end of Saturday. In reality, this is an exercise of practice–practicing the pitch, testing out the story idea, gaining a little feedback from several “someones” in the business, and maybe–at best–getting a request to submit a proposal or a chapter or two. We were specifically instructed not to hand any of the agents any materials at all–not even a business card. And yet I watched as dozens of writers tried to force flash drives or varying sizes of manuscripts into the agents’ hands. Needless to say, by the end of the three hours, there were hundreds of folks who’d come face-to-face with a major expectation/reality adjustment.

This three-hour session is the only reason lots of writers attend this particular conference. In fact, the conference attendance pretty much doubled on Saturday (same thing happened last year), because there’s a Saturday-only registration option. Such an approach seems to me a bit like jumping into the middle of the open sea after foregoing your swimming lessons. But what do I know? And I have enough to worry about, with respect to my own plans and expectations, without worrying about my conference-mates!

Actually, as those of you who’ve been following this blog know, I wasn’t planning to participate in the Pitch Slam at all this year, believing that on Day 13 of my fifth chemo round I wouldn’t be able to project my strongest, most energetic, and promotable self and book story. Plus, since my first book-length priority for 2012 is my nonfiction project (although I’m being driven nuts by the next novel clamoring to get out of my head), I didn’t feel confident that I was far enough along with the manuscript to confidently pitch the work. However … I was so totally energized from the conference sessions by Saturday morning that I decided I didn’t haven’t anything to lose by pitching, and I figured I’d be totally stupid to bypass such a gaggle of agents who were only there to listen to book pitches. (None of the agents who participated in the Pitch Slam received any compensation for being there, which is pretty amazing all by itself!)

Directions in the Friday evening session designed to prepare everyone for pitching Saturday afternoon cautioned against developing pitches that are too long, for a variety of reasons. First, this is the way the three hours were organized: Approximately 60 agents (eight or nine were last-minute cancellations due to the Saturday snow storm, but three or four local area agents were added in) were seated at their little tables around the two huge conference rooms. In the conference directory, the agents were listed alphabetically with the specified genres of books they were looking for, and each attendee selected a group of agents that appeared to be a match. As soon as the doors opened at 2:00 Saturday afternoon, we all filed in and formed lines in front of the first agent we wanted to pitch to. Generally, there were about 6-10 people in each line, and each pitch session was three minutes in total.

Here’s another reason why our pitches were supposed to be ultra short: The first person in line sat down in front of the agent when “start” was signaled, and a 60-90-second pitch was designed to leave another 60-90 seconds for the agent to comment and/or to (hopefully) request some sort of submission to follow. Once the “time is up” signal sounded, the next person in line was supposed to sit down in front of the agent. (Can you imagine how cross-eyed those agents must have been after engaging in three-minute pitch sessions, one after another, for three consecutive non-stop hours? They deserve a lot of credit and admiration for such duty!) At any rate, as you might imagine would happen, most of the attendees had never pitched a book before, and the majority were failing miserably with the 60-90 second pitch objective. Instead, they talked continuously for the full three minutes, leaving the agent only a few seconds to say anything at all (and usually after the “time is up” signal had sounded). So, the next person in line started their own pitch late and, in order to be fair, would take the full three minutes even though the “time is up” signal sounded a long time ago. Consequently, all the lines were growing restless with the timing that was becoming increasingly out of whack. Eventually, the conference staff began to enforce the schedule, walking around and making sure that pitch sessions were ending at the signal. By hour number two of the three, the lines were finally moving at the planned pace. When someone finished a pitch, they would then go to the end of the line in front of the next agent they wanted to pitch to, and depending on how many people were already in that line, most attendees were able to pitch to six or eight agents during the three hours.

Typically, after each pitch session, I could tell that most people were spending their time revising their pitches while they were waiting in the next line–and I was doing the same thing. I’m not used to pitching nonfiction, not to mention that I’d only started to prepare that morning. So, I had afforded myself minimal practice time prior to sitting down in front of the first agent. Still, I had pretty good luck. The lines I was standing in were especially long, because there were fewer agents looking for various categories of nonfiction–and there were even fewer of those looking for the “health” category. And because I started feeling tired after two hours, I only pitched to four agents, whereas if I’d been feeling more on my mark, I could have easily squeezed in another two or three in the final hour. (Apparently, there were a lot of complaints last year about too few agents (I think there were 40-something) and not a big enough Pitch Slam time slot (only two hours instead of the three hours this year). The conference organizers really responded to that input, and I didn’t see or hear about anyone who felt that there wasn’t enough time to see all of the agents they wanted to meet.

The four agents who listened to me (and I was pretty good about keeping the pitch close to 60 seconds) had plenty of time for comments and input. Two of them enthusiastically requested a proposal and a sample chapter. One requested the same information but with noticeably less enthusiasm. And the fourth agent waited until I’d finished the entire pitch before telling me that she didn’t represent the health category of nonfiction (even though “health” was clearly listed under her name in the program). But since I hadn’t even planned to pitch at all when I arrived on Friday, I felt good about the experience and the end result. I learned a lot and had fun, and that’s where expectations should realistically be set for this type of exercise at a conference with close to 1000 other writers chasing the same dream.

Now I have to write a proposal 🙂 (and fortunately I attended a nonfiction session that included a few things about how to do that, plus I bought an e-book on the subject–The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Book Proposals & Query Letters by Marilyn Allen & Coleen O’Shea, partners in the Allen O’Shea Literary Agency). Some agents were more interested in seeing the book and the writing. Others told me to stop writing the book and focus on writing the proposal (which is supposed to end up somewhere around 30 pages in length). One agent in particular made a couple of significant points, especially for me, who’s really a fiction girl but who’s writing this nonfiction book because I believe it needs to be written. She said that a completed nonfiction book can be a disadvantage because, once the concept is contracted with an agent, an editor will enter the scene who will have major input about the book’s structure. A huge percentage of editors will not want to take on the structural rearrangement of a book that’s already entirely finished. The agent also told me that going through the process of writing the proposal will prove invaluable to me once I finish the proposal and then refocus on the book, especially if I do, in fact, decide to publish this one on my own as an e-book first. She told me as well that following that DIY path will not eliminate the traditional publishing path for that book in the future!

So, my new direction is to write the proposal, which I will then submit to the three agents who requested information, along with a sample chapter (which is not supposed to be the first chapter but one that’s in the middle of the book). Following those submissions, I will give the agents a reasonable amount of time to respond. Then, unless some miracle happens and my submissions turn into something other than rejections, I will refocus my attention on finishing the book, which I will proceed to publish as an e-book, with a separate print option. The goal is to get this one, as quickly as possible, into the hands of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer, so I’m not going to wait very long for someone in the traditional publishing world to say “yes.” I’ll get the book “out there,” and then continue to approach agents the old-fashioned way while I start working on my next novel. If someone eventually wants to acquire the nonfiction project, that will be terrific. In the meantime, I will have met my objective of making the information available to my breast cancer target audience.

Although there will be additional posts forthcoming on the Day 3 (Sunday) conference sessions that I attended, along with the incredible, outstanding Closing Address by Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month, I want to say here how valuable I found this year’s Writer’s Digest Conference to be! And even though my expectations for the Pitch Slam were really low, I walked away from that afternoon feeling invigorated and inspired. If you’re looking for a writer’s conference that will actually send you home with practical information and experiences you can really use on your literary journey, I strongly recommend that you give this conference a try. Apparently, there will be a west coast version later this year (in September, I think), and then the east coast version will happen again in January 2013. Not sure if that one will be in New York again or in some other east coast city. But you can bet that I’ll be there, if I have to drag myself on my hands and knees!

Stay tuned for the final “chapters” of WDC 2012! And have a terrific weekend!

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(Cheri’s Note: Not only is Barry Eisler a successful author  of an impressive stream of thrillers (traditionally published), but he also made publishing history in Maarch 2011 by turning down a $500,000 two-book deal with St.Martin’s Press in order, instead, to published his next novel electronically. That next novel, Detachment, was released in the fall of 2011, and you can read all about the story at:  http://www.npr.org/2011/10/07/141116856/barry-eislers-detachment-from-legacy-publishing. Hearing him speak at the conference was a huge treat!)

Day #2, Keynote Address: The New World of Publishing, and What It Means for You–Barry Eisler (www.barryeisler.com— Eisler directed us to his Web site’s section “For Writers” and then to a sub-section “Resources for Indie Writers.” I checked this out, and the information is both useful, easy to reference, and comprehensive. Anyone considering launching out in the DIY direction would benefit greatly by visiting this site. Thanks, Barry!)

Despite all of the changes taking place daily in the publishing industry, one thing has not changed. Readers still love to read and are willing to spend some amount of money to get their hands on good books.

Writers are their own CEOs. And being your own boss carries with it the responsibility of writing the best book possible (and the best edited).

Even when they’ve written the best book possible, writers need to understand the realities of the publishing world in 2012.

  • Even with a great book, making any measurable amount of money with the endeavor is not a good bet.
  • 93% of all published books (and this includes cookbooks, self-help, history, politics–everything) sell less than 1000 copies over the life of the book!
  • The average book only sells 83 copies over the life of the book.

The most important thing to Eisler is getting his books into the hands of readers as expeditiously as possible. (Traditional publishing can add years to this process, especially if the writer is new/unknown.) So, what has changed in the publishing world due to the onset (or onslaught) of digital publishing?

  • Paper books require a distribution partner, and that role has traditionally been filled by traditional publishers, which is one reason why publishers’ contracts with authors typically specify an 85% take of the book sales for the publisher.
  • Digital books, however, do not require a distribution partner. Consequently, Indie writers are now on a level plaing field with huge publishers.
  • Amazon was the first company to offer authors a direct-to-consumer marketing plan.
  • Writers now have choices regarding how they get their work into the hands of readers.
  • This, according to Eisler, makes authors the number one players in the new world of publishing.

(Eisler’s remarks were relatively brief. You can find a ton of extremely useful information “For Writers” on his Web site: www.barryeisler.com. )

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Day #2, Session 3: Seven Secrets of Successful Self-Published Authors–Keith Ogorek, Sr. VP of Global Marketing with Author Solutions. (Full disclosure: Author Solutions is the parent company of iUniverse, Inc., which has been my publishing choice for both of my novels. They helped me create beautiful products, by the way–and my second novel, Separation of Faith, is winning accolades for both the editorial quality and the production quality/cover design. Although I had a lot of input on the book’s appearance both inside and out, the iUniverse staff deserves most of the credit for those elements. And I learned a huge amount from them during the process, which will be of enormous help if I move forward with my own e-book.)

  1. Know the Target Audience. Picture the target audience–gender, age, interests, and where they go for information.
  2. Believe in Your Work. The main goal of publishing a book is to impact people in some manner through your writing. Know your strengths, and promote them.
  3. Set Deadlines for Yourself. Deadlines are important from the time the first inspiration for your book arrives in your head. One of the most important is the date you want to hold the first copy of your book in your hands. Then work backwards to set interim deadlines, coordinating with your publisher (traditional or promoted self-publishing) or with any organization helping you to make sure you understand all of the steps involved with the publishing process. Then set promotional deadlines after the book is released, marketing wherever possible at birthday or holiday parties, speaking engagements, etc. (For both of my novels, I set up a table any place I could get permission–restaurants, libraries, local fairs/festivals. You won’t believe how easy it is to find people willing to give you a little space to sell your work. But you have to be “out there” asking for the permission!)
  4. Create Timelines to Meet Your Deadline(s). Work with someone who’s familiar with the publishing process as you establish milestones. Understand all of the steps involved. Completing the manuscript is first and foremost, if you’re writing a novel. Lots of new writers tend to forget that the book should be finished before you begin any of the next steps. (Nonfiction can vary with respect to whether or not the manuscript needs to be finished first. Some agents/editors focus on the writing while others focus on the book idea and proposal. Obviously, if you’re going the DIY route, the manuscript needs to be finished before you start worrying about anything else.) Once the book is finished, then proceed with editiing, submission (whether you’re pursuing a traditional path or one of self-publishing), design (interior and front/back cover), revisions, printing. Understand the list of tasks within each of these steps and make sure every task is plotted on your timeline.
  5. Understand Your Goals & Options. There are basically three options for getting your work into print: a) traditional publishing, b) DIY self-publishing, and c) supported self-publishing. (iUniverse, Inc. is an example of a supported self-publishing organization.) Key differences: a) who own the content, b) investment of time & money, and c) speed to market. (Traditional publishing can take as long as three or more years to get your book into the hands of readers–and that’s after you’ve secured an agent! Once the agent finds an interested editor who then successfully sells your book up the food chain in his/her publishing house, time to market can still be as much as two or more years.) Which option is for you? That depends on your talents, level of commitment, and patience. Also, keep in mind that self-publishing a book to get started and begin putting your work in readers’ hands does not eliminate the traditional publishing option down the road, especially if you’re able to demonstrate success with your marketing. More and more agents are looking at self-published books to validate an author’s work. Social media helps develop a following/establish your position as an expert. Understanding your target audience is key. A blog should be your social media centerpiece. To enhance your blog, interview other bloggers for posts, or bring others into your blog as guest bloggers. Facebook and Twitter are critical as well. Use all social media to provide real-time updates on events and news related to you and your book(s). Use tags effectively.
  6. Put together a Marketing Plan before Publication. Include a video about the book. (Video book trailers have become common and important. YouTube has plenty of examples with a simple “video book trailer” serach. Another interesting idea (especially if you’re doing any form of self-publishing that affords you control over the book’s cover) is to use your blog/Web site to sponsor a contest where your followers vote on book cover ideas. Offer three options. Otherwise, your marketing plan should begin promoting your book before you actually have a book to sell. If possible, give readers the opportunity to pre-order. Once the book is released, schedule yourself into every venue that will give you time and space. Send press releases to all local media. Remember that readers will not buy your book if they don’t know the book is there. (Cheri’s Note: Here are a couple of links that might be useful. Free & Low Cost Book Marketing Links: http://www.thewriterssite.com/direct_pages/marketing.html.  Book Marketing with Free Giveaways: http://www.bookbuzzr.com/blog/book-marketing/how-to-market-your-book-with-free-giveaways/. BookDaily free promotion: http://www.bookdaily.com/lndpg/lndpgv1. Even if you’ve already been promoting a book for awhile, these links might give you a fresh shot of inspiration [if you haven’t found them yourself].)
  7. Plan a Book Launch Event to Celebrate the Publication. This can be a great motivational occasion (something I can attest to, from my own experience). To save money, combine your book launch party with things like family reunions, speaking engagements, church events, etc. (Cheri’s Note: Whether you hold the party at a reunion or as a separate occasion in a hotel meeting room, just have a book launch party somewhere! I’ve known self-published writers who opted not to have any sort of launch event, and most of them struggled to get the book off the ground. You need to build a “buzz” about your book, and nothing does that better than your being there in person with a crowd of folks to celebrate the launch of the work you’ve labored for years to create!)
  8. Before Deciding on a Self-Published Option, Ask Yourself These Questions: 1) Is there a book out there just like mine? 2) Is there an audience for a book like mine? 3) Can I sell this book on my own? 4) How will I garner publicity for my book? 5) Can I create professional packaging on my own? 6) What good does it do to die with a manuscript in my drawer? 7) How many people would you say you have to impact with yor writing before you would say that publishing was worth the effort?

For more information on this subject and presentation, and on the presenter’s input from the conference, go to: www.indiebookwriters.com.

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Cheri’s Note: The next session summarized below seemed important to attend, even though I’ve been going the self-published route for some time now. But I wanted to hear what was new and what has changed since I listened to a group of agents at last year’s conference. A year ago, I mentioned in a blog post that I was surprised to discover that some of the agents were allowing self-published books to be pitched during the Pitch Slam. This year I was sort of blown away to discover that there’s been yet another tectonic shift, leading to a huge percentage of the conference sessions and panels not only addressing but embracing the self-publishing aspects of the industry and how to navigate through the morass.

And there didn’t seem to be any agents or editors in attendance this year who were openly expressing concerns about talking to/hearing from self-published authors. Part of that shift appears to be coming from a huge improvement in the quality of self-published books, in addition to the somewhat embryonic but impressive movement of established traditional authors into self-publishing, especially through e-books. So, for those writers out there who’ve grown weary of querying, the stigma of going the self-published route for at least your first book no longer exists. In fact, agents and editors seems to admire authors who’ve taken charge of the situation, in order to get their work into the hands of readers. No one knows better than the agents and editors how difficult traditional publishing is these days for unknown writers. Traditional publishing houses continue to slash the number of titles they publish each year, and debut authors are getting fewer and fewer of those slots. But self-published authors, who’ve written a quality book that’s been meticulously edited and who’ve had any reasonable success marketing their book(s), now have a better chance of getting noticed, in many cases. So, keep the faith out there–and continue plowing ahead!

Saturday, January 21–Ask the Agents Panel, Moderator: Chuck Sambuchino (Author, and Editor of Guide to Literary Agents)

Agents on Panel:

  • Mary Kole, specializing in YA (Young Adult) at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency
  • April Eberhart, adult commercial and literary fiction at the April Eberhart Literary Agency (openly looks for self-published books “done well”)
  • Diana Fox, adult fiction at the “boutique” Fox Literary Agency
  • John Willig, prescriptive and narrative nonfiction at Literary Service, Inc.

Sambuchino: What are an agent’s primary duties?

  • Communicate with authors
  • Read manuscripts
  • Represent authors
  • Edit manuscripts
  • Sell books to publishers
  • Guide authors through the publishing process
  • “Trusted Advisor”
  • Receive 15% of eventual book sales

Sambuchino: What are the most common reasons for rejections?

  • Writing is not good in the query letter. (Yikes!) And/or the writing in the first five pages is not good.
  • If a submission gets beyond the query letter: a) The story doesn’t get off to a fast start in the first paragraph! b) Writing is not good, leaving the suspicion that one person wrote the query letter, and another person wrote the manuscript. Agents can tell the difference in style and structure. c) Authors are not responsive to agent communications. (I just can’t understand what such writers must be thinking.) d) Authors are uncooperative/unresponsive with respect to suggested edits. (I did see a change in the attendees this year, in that a lot more of them have reached the understanding that they’re not going to get anywhere if they don’t secure quality editing. And that requires an openness to suggestions as well as letting go of the “this is my work” attitude. There were still a lot of young “newbies” at the conference who were hearing all of this stuff for the first time. But, in general, the group (I think there were about 800 of us there) was realistic about what they would have to go through with respect to someone else editing their work.)
  • There is not a strong storyline.
  • There is not the desired level of quality writing plus exciting plotting.
  • The author is not a team player.
  • The author’s “voice” is not coming through. There is an absence of authenticity.
  • There is too much “telling” instead of “showing.
  • The story lacks structure.
  • An exceptional level of creativity is not apparent from line 1.

Sambuchino: Nonfiction is gaining attention. What are you looking for from the authors?

  • One agent said that sample chapters were more important than the proposal. But others preferred focus on the proposal because a finished book means that necessary editing and restructuring becomes more difficult, if not impossible.
  • Authors need to “drill down” to a niche target audience. Books too generally targeted will not be successful.

Sambuchino: Explain the value of “the platform.”

  • It signifies a built-in audience for the book.
  • The world has changed with respect to how readers get their information. Authors have to compete through their platforms by answering, a) How is my book a better for what I’m writing about than other sources? (For example, better than sources like WebMD for a medical book) and b) What is unique about my book that doesn’t exist in any other book or information source? c) Why am I qualified to write this book?

Note: The audience for this panel was packed, and the session could have gone on for hours. But we were limited to 45 minutes. In my conference survey, I suggested expanding the time a bit, especially since the conference organizers have expanded the Pitch Slam (which I’ll cover in more detail when I get to that point). 

More later …

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Note: All of my notes from the Saturday and Sunday sessions are forthcoming. Here’s what I’ve been able to put together so far. Also, since you’ll only be seeing summaries of the sessions I attended, the WDC staff said that there will be some sort of summary on all of the sessions posted on the conference site at http://www.writersdigestconference.com/ehome/27962/home/?&. I just checked, and they don’t have anything posted yet, so mine will have to do for the moment. 🙂 And I will get them up for you as quickly as I can.

Saturday, January 21–Session #1: E-Book Publishing 101–Jane Friedman, Media Professor and former editor of Writer’s Digest Magazine (This session was of huge interest to me because, even though there was a bit of agent interest in my nonfiction book during the Pitch Slam, I’m still leaning heavily toward the e-pub option for at least that next book. Not only am I excited about the potential of that option, but I really want to learn firsthand what’s involved and how it all works.)

E-pub vs Print on Demand (POD)–author has full control of pricing, cover, etc. with E-pub. Author control varies and can be very limited with POD.

What about author rights with e-pub?

  • Copyright is secure
  • Author has full rights re: publishing & distribution except for new Apple rules (covered below).
  • Authors are not killing future chances with traditional publishers if they go e-pub. Might have been true in the past, but no longer.
  • All rights are the writer’s to sell.
  • Caution re: possible exception(s)–Authors previously published with traditional publisher need to check their contracts for rights on existing titles.

Major e-book retailers, devices & formats

  • Kindle (mobi format)–50-70% of the market
  • B&N Nook (epub)–20-30%
  • Apple iPad & iPhone (epub & the newly announced iBookAuuthor, which is only readable on Apple devices–more later)–less than 20%

These three are the main devices and formats. The others on the market are:

  • Sony (epub)
  • Kobo (epub)
  • Desktop/Laptop (PDFs)

Writers going the e-pub route are working with distribution channels and retailers rather than with publishers. Distrib/Retailer options:

Single Channel (Fomatted to work on only one device) versus  Multiple Channels (Push books out to all single channels)

  • Kindle                                                                                           BookBaby (This one looks really interesting, by the way.)
  • B&N                                                                                               Smashwords
  • iTunes                                                                                            PublishGreen
  • iBooksAuthor*
  • GoogleBookStore
  • Scribd

*The new iBooksAuthor will only work on Apple devices. More in a minute.

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Most distribution services and retailers will accept Word documents.

  • Smashwords: takes MS Word. Free to publish. Author keeps 85% of the net. No Kindle distribution, however. Would need to publish on Kindle separately.)
  • BookBaby: Free conversion from Word, HTML, RTP, Apple Pages, plain text. $99 to publish plus $19 annual fee to sustain. Author keeps 100% of the net.) Also offers print service option plus add-on services for ISBN and cover design.
  • PublishGreen: Converts from MS Word, PDF, InDesign. $399-$999 for “full service” package. Author keeps 90-100% of the net.

When is it better to prep your own e-book files? When you:

  • have text-driven work.
  • are not scared by HTML, CSS, and/or MS style sheets. (Guess this answers the question for me. 🙂 )
  • plan on offering PDF versions of your book.

Formatting & Conversion Definitions 

Conversion is an automated process and = exporting files from one format to another without any editing or styling.

Formatting is a manual process and = editing & styling to “look good” on e-reading devices. Process also corrects things that got messed up during the conversion process.

If you’re comfortable doing these things yourself, here are recommended programs: SIGIL for Formatting and CALIBRE for Conversion. (I am definitely not going to be worrying about this. I’m looking at BookBaby. They had an exhibition table at the conference, and once I get through the last of my treatments, I’ll be following up with them for more detail.)

DIY (Do It Yourself) Formatting Tools:

    • Scrivener–$45
    • PressBooks–free. WordPress based, exports e-pub files.

iBooksAuthor. Newly announced by Apple. Limited to iOS devices for both reading as well as sales (iBook format). Free but limited to Apple products and can only sell through Apple bookstores. Beautiful program, easy, drag-and-drop. But exclusive to Apple products and distribution. Industry had hoped that iBooksAuthor would also create e-pub format. Didn’t turn out that way. If you’ve already created a book for sale/distribution elsewhere and then decide to use iBookAuthor for your e-book, you can continue to sell that book everywhere. But if you use iBooksAuthor for your first effort to publish a given book, your Apple agreement will state that you cannot sell that book through any other channel that iBookstore.

  • VookMaker–forthcoming. Not an Apple product but will be similar to iBooksAuthor in terms of being user friendly with drag-and-drop, etc. But this one is expected to support multiple sales channels.

Again, if you opt to do your e-book with a company like BookBaby, you don’t have to worry about any of these Conversion and Formatting tools and programs. 

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Three biggest factors affecting e-book readership base: (These all seem so obvious that I’m wondering if I missed something.)

  • Price
  • Cover
  • Readership Base

Kindle currently represents 60-70% of all ebooks.

An author’s Amazon Page may very likely be the first and only page a reader looks at. Reference: www.DigitalBookWorld.com — see article by Carolyn McKray on optimizing an author’s presence through their Amazon Page.

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“Sweet-Spot” Pricing for Novels:

  • 99 cents drives volume and Amazon rank, for which Amazon pays 30% royalty.
  • Amazon pays 70% royalty on books prices from $2.99-$9.99.
  • Authors who are getting the hang of things will switch off their pricing between 99 cents and $2.99.
  • The lesser known the author, the less you should charge.
  • If you have a series, consider starting with a loss leader (99 cents to start).

For nonfiction, study what your competition is charging. Go to the Kindle store and drill down to your category to start your analysis.

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Cover: First and most important impression. Needs to look good in thumbnail.

ISBNs:

  • Not mandatory for Kindle.
  • Required for distribution through iBookstore.
  • If you’re going the full DIY e-pub route: ISBN.org to buy ISBNs–$125 (cheaper per unit the more you buy).

Online marketing is critical for e-pubs. Draft a marketing plan and include an in-depth online and social media presence.

Some resources to further pursue research on the e-pub option for your book(s):

Here’s a link for a copy of this entire presentation: http://bit.ly/2012wdc

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Well, there you have it–one of the reasons I’m taking so long to get this stuff out to you. But since this particular topic is of such intense interest to me, I’m hoping that some of you will feel the same way, and I want to make sure I’m sharing as much detail as I captured. And because this one is so extensive, I’m going to publish this post separately, finishing up the other Day #2 sessions in another post. (They’re all shorter, by the way.)

P.S. I entered Separation of Faith again today in the latest Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) competition, which began accepting entries today. Last year the book made the first cut. We’ll see what happens this time around. If you’re interested, this is really a fun contest, and it’s free! Check out the details at: http://www.amazon.com/Breakthrough-Novel-Award-Books/b?ie=UTF8&node=332264011.

Hope your week is off to a good start! See you again soon.

 

 

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