Archive for May, 2008

Getting Published, part 6

May 20, 2008

What is Print on Demand?    Simply put, books are printed one at a time using computer technology, instead of gobs of them printed at a time on an offset press.  So…POD is clean, green, and economical.  Then why is it a pariah to many in the writing world–from authors to publishers to booksellers to writers’ organizations like Mystery Writers of America?

Simply stated, as in so many things, our technology has rushed ahead of our ability to accept or utilize it.  Libraries and booksellers don’t like POD because most books produced that way can’t be returned.  (Though that is beginning to change.)   There may be a delay in filling orders, especially if they’re large orders.  POD is often a tool of vanity publishers, and that alone can give it a bad name.   Mystery Writers of America will not accept anyone as an active member today (May, 2008) who can’t point to an initial print run of at least 500 books.  Other organizations have similar restrictions.   Many of those making exclusionary rules say they only want to keep out self-published and vanity press authors.  Even Amazon.com is shutting down sales for all POD books except its own brand.  This hits, not only those from XLibris, IUniverse, Lulu, and others who print for hire, but smaller publishers who have found that POD fits their needs.

For whatever reason, prejudice toward small publishers and the technology many of them use is especially strong right now, and at least some of this is initiated by larger publishing houses and their authors.  Why?  The most common reason given is that more experienced publishers and authors are trying to save the rest of us from being taken advantage of.   May be.  There are probably many reasons, but think about this:  According to statistics from Publishers Marketing Association, independent publishing in the United States today is an industry with almost a hundred thousand fiction and non-fiction small presses who collectively outsell the larger mainstream publishers by (depending on who’s count you rely on) fifteen to twenty percent.

So, how about those small publishers?   Some call them vultures waiting to rip off an author at a vulnerable time.  And, unfortunately, in some cases that is true.  However, one author’s poison can be another’s meat, and I can’t think of a better example than PublishAmerica.  They’re a favorite whipping boy of those who call the presses who’s publicity promises “We’ll publish you” vultures.

The first sign of a vulture, by the way, is when they ask you for money up front.  So far as I can learn in research, PublishAmerica doesn’t do that now, though they may have in the past.   However, there are quite a few authors who have had bad experiences with PA.   Here’s a quote from one of them that pretty well outlines the problems.  “People think they are selling their books to publishers like PublishAmerica and Author House.  They aren’t.  They have just become salesmen for high-priced books printed by these outfits.”    PublishAmerica currently gives only a 5% discount to major distributors, and firms like Ingram and Baker and Taylor would lose money ordering PA books at that price, so they don’t order, even if a customer requests the book.  You can’t blame them!   And, PA authors must do about 99% of their own publicity and selling.

I can confirm that PublishAmerica books often seem overpriced in relation to similar books from regular publishers.  However, their books can be attractive, with good cover art.  Editing is often a problem.  Authors have the option to have PA edit their manuscript or not.  I am assuming spelling and punctuation peculiarities as well as other problems I have seen in PA books are due to the option not to edit.  (But I don’t know that!)    PublishAmerica does give a 45% discount to booksellers who order directly from them, and they will now take limited returns.   (This information from a PA author as well as from their web site.)   I have also learned that those who ask for increased benefits and help from PA often get them.   One friend went with PublishAmerica because the subject of her “faction” novel was in her 90’s at the time she finished the book, and the author wanted the subject to see the book in print.  PublishAmerica put the book out very quickly, (in very few months), whereas a “legitimate” press might have taken up to two years or even longer, not to mention the author’s time querying and submitting until he or she found a publisher who’d accept it.   As long as authors are alert, aware of possible perils, and not TOO eager to be published (shall we all laugh here) after facing many rejections, an informed decision to go with almost any publishing method may be the right one for an individual author.  Especially in today’s publishing climate, few of us will be picked up by one of the large NY conglomerates.   But, let the buyer beware.   As has been said in other markets, if something looks too good to be true, it probably is!

More about small publishers next time.   (Most of them are NOT vultures.)

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Getting Published, part 5

May 14, 2008

Writing is a creative effort not wholly unlike acting or painting or music.  In all of these, it’s manditory to keep polishing the craft, overcome the disappointment of rejection, and forge on.

BUT!  Actors, if they don’t make big-time, can take bit parts on TV, do commercials, and act in Little Theater.  Painters display at craft fairs, in restaurants and small galleries, and even along sidewalks.  Musicians play in local music groups and perform in restaurants and night clubs.

What does the writer do for validation?  Sure, writing itself is a wonderful experience–a big “high.”  But to receive validation most of us need to be published in something more than “Letters to the Editor.”  We can find satisfaction and a career in journalism or writing magazine features, as I have done in the past.  But, sooner or later, a surprisingly large percentage of us will feel the urge to create a BOOK!  Assuming we do write that book and try the top publishers for a time with no sales…what next?

Well, publishing options are enormous and increasing daily.  Did you read about the woman in Japan who wrote a novel on her cell phone?  It was the number one best-seller in Japan during 2007.  Twenty million people read it on line and on cell phones before it came out in hard cover and sold millions more copies.  It’s now being made into a movie.  I read about Mika and her novel, “Love Sky,” in The Christian Science Monitor last February, and, a few days later, saw in the New York Times that five out of the top ten novels in Japan in 2007 were written and published on cell phones.

Talk about new technology!

Okay, how many of you writers out there would rather hold a “real” book with your name on the cover in your hands?  Downloading a book to your Kindle or even your cell phone may be the wave of the future, but there are those confounded tiny screens and, well, real books made of paper feel and smell so nice!  Though my own books are available as e-books, those are a small percentage of sales and, call me old-fashioned, but I still prefer reading books printed on paper.

A recent article in the New Yorker magazine assures us that books will endure.  It says, in part:  “New technologies don’t triumph just because they work well; they have to solve a real problem.  And for most people the physical book offers no problems at all.  The book–portable, intuitive to use–is an almost perfect technology.”  (Don’t you love that!”)

The article goes on to opine that it isn’t books that are in trouble, but publishers, partly because they have been so slow to adopt new technology like Print on Demand.

Next:  The plus and minus sides of Print on Demand.

Getting published, part 4

May 9, 2008

There are certainly advantages to being published by a large conglomerate publisher–prestige and recognition, for example, as well as (usually) a larger advance and larger print run.  Sometimes there’s more publicity support.  Disadvantages can seem insignificant–the sometimes difficulty in getting to speak with your very busy editor and the danger of being dropped if your book sales don’t meet expectations are two of them.    Then of course there’s the huge problem of being accepted by a conglomerate publisher in the first place.  In today’s tight market and the increasing “bottom line” mentality in any large corporation, entry opportunities for beginning writers are decreasing.

Ah ha!   We come to the thousands of small press publishers in the United States and elsewhere.

As authors who have worked with both large and small presses affirm, the friendly and individually caring attention in a small press can quickly trump advantages in a conglomerate.   Some legitimate smaller presses do offer  advances, good editing, decent royalties, publicity support, print runs of a thousand or more, and a connection to major distributors like Baker and Taylor and Ingram.   But beware…there are also “vultures” out there, promising publishing and maybe even some of the advantages listed above.   The first sign of a vulture is a request for payment for services rendered.   They do give those services, but problems down the line often outweigh advantages.  More about that later.

No matter how you publish, you’ll eventually need to take off your writing cloak and become a sales person.  The time to begin promotion work is while you’re writing your book.  Perhaps you can think of gimics related to your story and writing life that offer promotion topics.  You should certainly begin cultivating connections with media representatives–from small towns to as high as you can reach.  Get a web site.  Get to know book sellers, at least in your home area, learn how they operate, visibly buy books from them.  Investigate sources for a few promotional materials.  (Posters?  Flyers?  Book marks?)  Save money to pay for a few of these if your publisher doesn’t.  Learn about writers’ conventions and conferences if you haven’t already, and begin attending a few, especially those close to home.   Even the biggest publishers won’t normally pop for fancy book tours and Morning Show interviews for beginning authors.

Next…”Writing is a creative effort not wholly unlike acting or painting or music…BUT…”