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NEWS NOTES: July 18, 2016

Foreign Rights: If you write non-fiction, consider sending your book to the Frankfurt International Book Show in Germany. Selling rights to translate and publish your book by a publisher in another country costs very little but can net you big profits. As a member of the Independent Book Publishers Association, we have participated in their cooperative exhibit at the Frankfurt Show and sold rights to our books to publishers in Germany, Korea, Thailand, Serbia, Croatia, Brazil, and others. Cost per book is $185. IBPA’s deadline is August 31. I specify non-fiction because unless your novel is a huge bestseller, other publishers are not going to take it on. IBPA is well-known at Frankfurt and its impressive exhibit displays books face out.

IBPA also offers other cooperative marketing services as well as workshops, seminars, and their annual conference, Publishers University. Check it out.

State Associations: I am the new president of the Maryland Writers Association, and we have an excellent, hard-working and committed board. Like other writing associations, Continue reading “NEWS NOTES: July 18, 2016”

Ever Upward

The commencement speaker at our grandson’s graduation from MIT in June was MIT alumnus Drew Houston, class of 2006 and CEO and co-founder of Dropbox, a service now used by millions around the world. Dropbox grew from the simple idea that people should have a way to access their files anywhere without relying on e-mail attachments or thumb drives.

His talk was unassuming, personal, and inspiring, which was a surprise to me since Houston is so young, granted that he is a millionaire many times over.  I scribbled a few notes to share with you, but essentially, his talk was about plunging forward, not worrying about making things perfect but about having an adventure. Life has no warm-up, he said, no practice buttons and failure doesn’t matter. “You only have to succeed once.”  

You can read his commencement address online at http://www.networkworld.com.

 When my husband and I started our publishing business, we had no idea what we were getting into or what a complex and frustrating business it is. But it has been an adventure and many times it has been fun.  As I’ve talked to other small business owners, I’ve found that for most of us, we had to take the leap and just begin and plunge forward. No warm-up, no practice button. You tackle things as you come to them.

 And now as I prepare to launch my third novel, The 90s Club & the Whispering Statue, I realize the same goes for this publishing venture as well. I have had two critique groups, two editors, and three beta readers peruse the book and comment on characters, plot, writing, and other aspects of a mystery novel. I could do this indefinitely in an effort to achieve perfection.

But at some point, the author has to say “I’m finished with this book and I’m ready to move on.” On the other hand, continuing to tinker with the manuscript delays the scary risk of sending it out to meet the critics.

Better to think of it all as an adventure, a learning experience, and a step forward in my own development as a writer. What I’ve written so far is the best I could do at the time, but what will I do next time? Where will I go next? How will I improve?

 At the conclusion of his talk, Houston said that his grandmother always ended their telephone calls with the word, “Excelsior,” which means “ever upward.”

I’ll end this blog the same way. Excelsior!

Query Letters

Since we are publishers as well as writers, we receive a number of query letters. They give us a general idea of the kind of queries agents and other publishers receive, and we are not impressed. No wonder the rejection rate is so high.

The worst query we ever received was typed across one side of a 3” x 5” postcard with no margins and no space between the lines. Other queries showed not even the least understanding of what we published or the audience and genre for the book they’d written. Sometimes we’d get phone calls from hopefuls who had an idea for a book and wondered if we’d give them an advance to write it (extremely unlikely).

I received a query yesterday from a man who’d written a picture book and simply wondered if we’d like to publish it. No return self-addressed stamped envelope enclosed—a real no-no. The query letter, only one paragraph, seemed so respectful and unassuming that I could feel the writer’s hope and fear. Who was he? I thought he might be a high school student or a retiree. He thought he’d written a worthy story for a picture book and included the first couple of pages. They weren’t too bad.

So I wrote him back a kind rejection letter. I told him we don’t publish that kind of book, which he should have known. I suggested that he join a writer’s group in his area and read the numerous sources on the web and in the bookstore on how to write an effective query letter.

I hope this good deed will go unpunished and that it will help him.

Years ago, I read the biography of mystery author Earl Stanley Gardner, a hugely popular and best-selling author in his day, in which he told about the many, many rejections he had received. Then one day he received a rejection and the editor had written a note attached to the manuscript commenting on what was wrong with the story. Gardner read the comments, rewrote the story and resubmitted it with a letter of thanks for the comments. He found out later that the comments had been meant only for the editor’s secretary, not for Gardner, but she’d forgotten to remove the note. Gardner speculated that the editor bought the resubmission out of embarrassment.

Earl Stanley Gardner’s first mystery, The Case of the Velvet Claws is written as if he followed a mystery-writing primer step by step. Conflict? it’s hurled at the protagonist, Perry Mason, from every character in the book, even his secretary and his client. Considering Gardner’s great success, he obviously got it right.

About Self-Publishing

I received a comment from a “rookie writer” who’s afraid to self-publish because she doesn’t have any money and because promotion is a dark mystery.

I think the fear is misplaced. The real fear should come from the act of self-publishing, not the cost, which can be minimal, or promotion, which is daunting. A self-published book means that it doesn’t have the approval of an agent, review panel, editor, and publishing house and, therefore, lacks credibility to the buying audience. The praise of friends and family doesn’t count.

When I self-published my novel, Shadow of the Rock, I met that fear head-on. I’d been working on the novel for years. Now I was throwing my baby out to the wolves. Was I going to be obliterated by the steel blades of heartless reviewers? Would a reviewer even notice? Would all my friends and family snicker about the book behind my back?

But I surged ahead, because I had years of the sometimes savage critiques of my novel from the two critique groups I belonged to. These groups, formed under the auspices of the Maryland Writers’ Association, helped me hone my writing, throw out the information dumps, kill the adverbs, delve more deeply into my characters, and refine the plot points. Sometimes the critiques were hard to take, but they were always valuable.

I self-published because I couldn’t get an agent. But I knew my book was a good read; that I had written it well, and that it provided interesting insights into Florida and Moroccan history. It also had the foundation of excellent and painstaking research.

I’ve received two positive reviews from the reviewing media (Midwest Book Review called it “a riveting story of time and humanity, highly recommended”) and positive comments on Amazon.com and from friends and family, I feel good about Shadow of the Rock. Most comments do say it’s a good read and hard to put down.

So my best advice is to write, write more, read books about writing, and join a group of writers to critique your work. That’s the way you’ll grow as a writer, become a good one, and self-publish with confidence.

As for the cost of self-publishing, you can learn how to format your book as an e-book and mount it on smashwords.com (which has a complete manual on formatting) and Amazon.com. This costs little.  You can also use a print-on-demand house to print your book, but your book needs a professional layout and cover. This can be costly (around $1300 for both layout and cover) although you could learn to do the interior layout yourself, but it needs to look like a book interior. It needs to look professional. You absolutely do need a professional cover design.

Caution: Don’t self-publish until you know what the business of publishing is all about. Join the Independent Book Publishers Association (ibpa-online.org) and your regional publishers affiliate. Read about self-publishing. Learn. This is a highly complicated business with a steep learning curve.

Promotion, aka, getting the book out of the basement, is another issue, for another time.

Barriers Still Tough for the Independent Publisher

Amazon.com and the Internet have opened up publishing, promotion, sales and distribution avenues for the small press, but one hurdle remains. That is the archaic and mostly inaccessible review system still in place today.

This system is so jurassic that prestigious review organs such as Publishers Weekly and Library Journal still require perfect-bound galley proofs. Galley proofs! Nobody’s seen an actual galley for 50 years. And they require these bound proofs at least three months ahead of publication date. Even the Washington Independent Review of Books requires bound galleys at least two months ahead of pub date.

If you’re a small or self-published press, though, you don’t have to worry about this because they aren’t going to accept your book for review. That’s because you lack the credibility that comes from acceptance by an agent and then an establishment publisher. Never mind that these people pander to anyone who has a big name regardless of the quality of their product.

One way you could get this credibility is through good reviews from respected media. And you ain’t gonna get that. See above.

The two or three month requirement before pub date also belongs in the same extinction barrel as the galley proofs. Books can be printed and available for sale in two or three days with current print on demand technology. If it’s ready enough for bound galleys, it’s ready enough for sale.

I suggest an easy answer. Review media should accept finished books when they are available and publish the review when it’s completed regardless of pub date. The publisher can launch the book’s publicity and promotion efforts in line with the review’s publication, but the book could be available before that.

The Independent Book Publishers Association has done much to even the playing field for small, independent and self publishers. Their publishers’ University and other workshops have improved the quality of the books so that many of these publishers’ books can compete on the same level with the big guys.

Reviews are the last hurdle. How can we open up or expand access to credible review media?

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