I was recently asked a question by a past student who is now in college and considering stepping into the publishing world. It's a question I've been asked before and one I thought best answered here: What has your publishing experience been like, and do you have advice?
As to my publishing experience, it is different from a lot of traditional authors. Originally, I wrote poetry and then short stories for a time. I like my poetry (I haven’t written enough to compile a book of it yet, so as of now I may be the only one), but never really did much with it, and before I ever started submitting my short stories for publication, I outlined and wrote a novel. The novel, Invisible Dawn, only covered the beginning of the story I’d outlined, so I’ve been working on the rest a bit at a time. I revised and edited it eleven times after getting people’s feedback and realizing what rough shape it was in. During that time, another idea hooked me. So, I wrote a second and separate book, A Life of Death. While writing this novel, I shopped Invisible Dawn to publishers and agents. I also researched, researched, researched.
What I came to discover was that in this digital age, when more ebooks are being sold than physical books and at a much reduced cost, publishers are tightening their belts like everyone else in this down economy. I discovered in my research that many traditional publishers were eliminating overhead costs by reducing full-time employees; often this meant editors because they could hire freelance editors per project and not have to pay benefits or a salary to them between jobs. I also spoke with some well-known authors that I look up to and was told that even they were fearful that their publishers would drop them if just one of their books didn’t do well in its first few months out. I found prominent author like Konrath and Scott Nicholson, bloggers, and some agents that talked about how scarce it had become for traditional publishers to take on new, unproven authors due to the risk of paying to create, market, and manufacture a book that had no guaranteed readers or following. Would they get their money back? According to those agents and authors, that was a risk traditional publishers were much less inclined to take. Visit Konrath or Nicholson's blogs to see some examples of what I'm talking about, and these are authors published in New York traditionally who turned to self-publishing and found great success. Basically as a result, what had been incredibly difficult for many years, getting your book into a publishers hands and getting them to bet on you, had now become almost impossible. Look at Borders and other book stores that have closed as a result of shrinking sales. (Writers Readers) Small publishers have been pushed out too and they are often the ones seeking out new talent. However, some still exist and are open to taking a few risks, but not much.
Around a year ago I went to a writer’s conference and met a very nice publisher who ran her own small publishing company, Little Creek Books. I pitched A Life of Death to her, offered her a summary, and emailed the information about the book after I got home, as she requested. A few weeks went by before she got back to me, but when she did, she wanted to schedule a meeting. I went and we had a very long discussion about books, marketing, and specifically, A Life of Death. She said she was interested and offered to publish the book, even saying she had another novel she wanted to market with it locally. However, the catch was that she was a very small publishing house and couldn’t afford to pay for the initial run of books because there was no guarantee they would sell; meaning, I’d have to come up with over $2,000 for her to publish the book. She said that she was very interested in A Life of Death and would cover the costs for another edit, cover design, type setter, etc . . . and even the print runs for all books beyond the first if it sold. I believed her and still do today.
I understand the difficulties of having a small publisher. She seemed very sincere and like a very good publisher to work with. She was open to new ideas and was very family oriented. Unfortunately, being the lowly teacher and suffering as many people are through this economy, $2,000 was an insurmountable amount. However, there was also something many people told me: Your book is only valued by a publisher based on how much they are willing to put into it; meaning, if a publisher doesn’t want to front the money for a book, including the print run, marketing, editing, cover, etc . . . and pay you a royalty, or at least a much larger percentage of the profits than the 6 - 12% most traditional publishers give authors, then your book won’t do well. It’s simple. The old adage, “You get what you pay for,” still applies in this world. Publishers make money from books. They do. If they believe and are interested in your book, then they should be willing to take a risk on you. This small publisher was interested in giving me a much larger percentage than 6%, which I would have liked, but most of the marketing would have to be done by me due to the financial limitations of such a small publishing company, and the first $2,000 would have come out of my pocket.
At the time, I’d already had multiple editors go through the book, I am a trained English teacher, writer, and editor, and I already had a working cover. I’d formatted the book for print and had print copies available through CreateSpace.com, Amazon.com, and Barnes & Noble. The book was also selling in ebook on various online retailers like the aforementioned net stores, Sony, Kobo, and others. In the few weeks the book had been available, I’d received five or six reviews by readers, bloggers, and literary critics, and all of them were very good; most were even glowing five-star reviews. I couldn’t see paying money for something that I would get a lower percentage of in the end and still have to market myself online and to bookstores. So, we discussed other options, and she stated that her offer would still stand if I later changed my mind. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great meeting and from the little experience I had with her, I’d recommend Little Creek Books to authors, assuming they have the money to pay for the first run of books.
As I walked out, I couldn’t for the life of me believe that I had actually turned down an offer for publication. It would have meant that I’d have been traditionally published, if with a small publisher. After searching for a publisher for over a year, I’d turned down the answer to my prayers. I felt like I might have just turned down my one chance, but in the modern digital world of publishing, I’d already done everything she’d mentioned. Paying more just to get the first printing of books just wasn’t in the cards, or my bank account.
So, since then I’ve continued with my independent publishing through CreateSpace.com and Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. For a time I used Smashwords.com too, but with the recent development of Kindle Select, I couldn’t help but give it a try. So far sales and fans are picking up, as are the giveaways I sometimes do. I’m glad to see my books making it into the hands of thousands of readers. I also began submitting short stories for publication, which Thadd Presley Presents expressed an interest in and has now published in a couple of their anthologies, including Creature Feature, Murder, and a couple upcoming anthologies that have yet to be released. Right now I’m not actively looking for a publisher, but can’t say I wouldn’t consider representation by an agent and/or publisher. However, I have complete control as an independent author. It is a trade off compared to the marketing potential and connections many big publishers have, but it’s a choice you have to make. Up to now, the offer hasn’t been right, but you never know what the future holds. The modern publishing world is ever-changing.
I realize that was quite a diatribe, so as to your second question, I wouldn’t be too concerned if you continue to get rejection letters when attempting to publish a book through a traditional publisher. It is often an intern looking through the slush pile to find the gems, and whether you get through to an actual editor or publisher is just based on their opinion. However, if they give you personal advice in the rejection letter, consider it. A personal response means they took time and put thought into getting back to you. That is saying something in today’s world of copy-and-paste rejections. Your first book, more often than not, will require revision and work. I’d recommend an editor if you haven’t already had a professional go through it. As an editor and an author, I still have a trained editor go through my books. The reason for this is that your mind sees what it thinks is there, and you need fresh, knowledgeable eyes to find what your mind is missing. It is almost impossible for an author to truly step back and take a look at books they’ve written because there is so much there. Your mind reads it as it is supposed to be read, not as it actually reads. After it has been professionally edited with a fresh set of eyes that know what they’re doing, you most likely still won’t be ready to enter the publishing ring. But the remaining lessons you have to learn are what some call OJT, on the job training. So, at that point, give it a go. It will probably be the worst book you’ve ever written. It won’t be perfect. Don’t kid yourself. I only have a few books under my belt at this point, and there are things I would go back and change, but at some point you have to stand back and ask yourself, “Is it good enough?” You will never reach perfection, but you will improve throughout your career. I look forward to eventually becoming a good writer myself, someday. Strive to get better and ask yourself if your story’s good enough.
You can do this by writing smaller things for publication: poetry, short stories, and novellas. There are many exciting places to publish your short stories and some will even give you feedback on how your stories can be improved. Dark Fiction Spotlight, Thadd Presley Presents, and many others accept fiction stories from lesser-known and unknown authors. They are looking for a good story, not necessarily a renowned writer. However, don’t expect to get into the most prestigious publications like the New Yorker with your first story. Try places like Duotrope.com and the Poets & Writers list of magazine publishers. They are quite handy and allow you to sidestep the time-consuming task of searching for each publication individually. And for my final word of advice, do your research and follow the submission directions. If you foul up even one particular thing, such as submitting your manuscript stapled instead of with a paperclip, your loving manuscript will only reach the trash can in many publishing houses. They are particular and put the instructions up on their site for a reason.
Weston Kincade ~ Author of Invisible Dawn, A Life of Death, and Strange Circumstances