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Talking About Books With Agents

A few weeks ago, I wrote about turning in pages of my new novel to my agent. I heard back from her and the news is neither victorious (“these are the best pages I have ever read and I already talked to five publishers and we’re holding an auction next week”) nor fatal (“you can’t write and I don't want to represent you and you should give up and find another occupation.”)

The news was, in fact, somewhere in the middle of those extremes – imagine that! Here is what she said:

  • There are some things working well with my story – a good premise, some good moments, a strong sense of timeliness, a strong sense of the “stage” ofthe story – why it happens where it happens, how it unfolds.
  • There are some things that are not working well with my story – the structure (the way the character actually tells the story – why she tells us what she tells when she tells it) may not be serving the story in the way it needs to; the character is not yet wholly on the page yet and therefore someone the reader wholly cares about; there are some holes in the story logic that need to be repaired.

 
In other words, if I want to write a book that a big publisher believes is worth investing in, I have a lot of work to do. There is no "good enough" in this game.

For about four hours after hearing this news, I was depressed and deflated. It was not what I wanted to hear. 

I thought about just not doing it. After all, who cares if I ever write another book? I’ve written eight. That is a lot. That is good run. And the world will not stop spinning if I stop writing. I have another job I love – two of them, actually. It’s not like I need to fill the hours of the day.

But I only entertained that thought for about an hour.

I don’t want to stop.
I love a challenge.
I love my story.
I love the work of writing.

For about three seconds I thought about ditching my agent and finding someone else who thinks that everything I write comes out of my computer ready for prime time. I’d show her!

A writer friend of mine who shall not be named got similar news last week from her agent. But she did not believe her agent was right. She was ready to fight, to argue, to defend her fledgling project.

But I had none of that fire, none of that urge. 

Because my agent was right. What she was saying resonated with me – which is the key thing every writer has to ask about every piece of feedback she gets.  

I’m ashamed to admit that the thought about leaving her lasted even three seconds long. I love my agent. I trust her opinion. She is smart and savvy and she has my best interests in mind. She has stood by me for almost nine years. I would be an idiot to leave her.

I shook off my nasty alter-ego and then recalled that in the midst of telling me what was wrong with my book, my agent said some very flattering things about me and my writing and our relationship and this story that will become my next novel.

I realize what a gift it is to have such a person on my side – and it is one of the reasons I still believe so strongly in traditional publishing. There are lots of very compelling reasons to self publish, and I will no doubt do it again, and I will no doubt support many of my clients who decide that it is the right path for their books, but being chosen by smart people who are in the business of curating the books that get promoted to the most readers is a powerful thing indeed.

The time I spent with my agent in New York this week was, in the end, totally galvanizing. We had oatmeal and coffee in a wonderful little coffee shop, and talked about books and writers and writing and the state of publishing and the state of my writing career.

I don’t want to let my agent down.  She is part of the reason I want to succeed. I would love nothing more than to make her a ton of money. She has supported me for so long with so little return. 

So onward I go.

What I will be doing next:
 

  • Doing an assessment of my schedule/calendar in order to make room to do the work I need to do. I need a schedule that supports my effort. I have been trying too hard to cram in the writing. Something is going to have to give.
  • Doing an assessment on when and how and from whom to solicit feedback. There are times in the writing process when having consistent feedback is critical and times when it’s best to just listen to yourself. I need to figure out where in the process I am.
  • Doing an assessment on the pages themselves – what is worth keeping? Any of it? And if so, WHY is it worth keeping? I’m sharpening the knives for sure. I am very tempted to start with a blank page just to see what happens if I let the 93 pages go and start over again.
  • Going back to the fundamentals of the story in order to work on the logic. Answering some hard questions about secondary characters and the protagonists’ origin story. Who is she, really?
  • Going back to the fundamentals of the story in order to assess the structure I designed. Measuring what is there to see that how it is serving the story and where it is not.

I share all this with you just to make sure you know without a doubt that even I – the book coach who just came back from a gala awards ceremony with a client, the editor whose clients have big books coming out over the next few months, the well-published writer with the wonderfully supportive agent and the editor at the big house waiting to see what I write next – doesn’t get a free pass.

And neither do you.

So if there's something you have not faced about your work, something that is holding you back, something you need to dig down deep to figure out, just do it. And know that I will be doing it, too.

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Newsletter Announcement + What's Hybrid Publishing All About, Anyway?

In the above video, I am announcing a slight change in my newsletter format. Fridays won’t change at all – on Fridays, I will continue to offer insight, inspiration and lessons about writing, publishing and the writing life.

The change is that I am adding a short post each Tuesday, starting next Tuesday. I have so many things coming up – free webinars and programs and courses and cool alliances with amazing people – and I didn’t want to bog Fridays down with all the news and announcements. So Tuesdays will be where I highlight all those events and opportunities. Feel free to ignore Tuesdays if you don’t feel like any of that applies to you right now.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

What's Hybrid Publishing All About Anyway?

Hybrid publishing is a new way of publishing that has developed in the gap between traditional publishing and independent or self publishing. I have had three clients take this path recently, and it wasn't so long ago that I had never heard of it! The time seemed right to do a post on it.

This post has two parts: Part 1 is a summary about what hybrid publishing is all about (a huge thanks to Jade Eby, my assistant, for her research and work on this piece.) Part 2 is a Q&A with Author Accelerator member John Robin, who has a book in the pipeline with hybrid publisher Inkshares. This interview gives great insight into why an author might choose this path, and what they will encounter once they’re on it.

Part 1:

 Hybrid Publishing is a term used to describe an alternative way to publish.

  • Traditional Publishing is done through a publishing house like Random House, Penguin or Simon & Schuster, and in conjunction with a literary agent. Authors get an advance up front and are paid a percentage of sales as a royalty. The publisher produces the book and participates in the marketing, but authors are also expected to contribute to the marketing of their books.   
  • Self-Publishing is where you, the author, take on all the financial risk and all the roles typically performed by the publisher. You, in effect, become the publisher, and as a result, you reap all the profits.
  • Hybrid Publishing is thought of as being “in-between” these two extremes. Some people refer to it as having more flexibility than traditional publishers but more support and guidance than self-publishing. There are several different types of hybrid publishing. Below, we’ll take a look at the most common.

 

Agent-Assisted Publishing

Some agents have started offering services to help publish books from their clients that may not have sold to a traditional house or that may benefit from a non-traditional publishing approach. In the past, the agent’s job was very distinct from the publisher’s job, so this new approach is blurring the lines a bit. An agent obviously knows a lot about the publishing industry as a whole, but doesn't typically have the production or marketing capabilities of a publisher. As they add these capabilities, this will be an interesting development to watch. Example: Trident Digital Media and Publishing

Partnership Publishing

A partnership publishing model means the author pays to publish under the publisher’s imprint. While the authors receive a high percentage of royalties, they also take on most of the financial risk that is associated with publishing. The publishing company will offer benefits that most self-publishing ventures can’t, such as print distribution, bigger and better marketing efforts, and the ability to submit the books to traditional and popular review outlets such as Kirkus, Romantic Times, Booklist, Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly. Examples: She Writes Press, Ingram Publisher Services

Reader Powered Publishing

Recently, there’s been a new model in the hybrid publishing space -- one where authors get some of the traditional support of a publisher, but where they do not pay as much upfront. There are even several versions of this model:

  • Model #1. This is where the readers become the ones to decide which books get published and which don’t. The publishing company may absorb the cost of publishing the book and offer slightly lower royalties. Examples: Kindle Scout, Swoon Romance
  •  Model #2. These companies crowdfund your book by asking readers to pay a certain amount for the book within a certain period of time. If the book reaches its “goal” they will use those funds to publish your book. If the goal isn’t met, none of readers end up paying anything and your book doesn’t get published. Think Kickstarter for books. Examples: Inkshares, Unbound.  NOTE: This is not the same thing as using crowdfunding platforms to raise funds to publish yourself. PubSlush, Publishizer, Indiegogo and Patreon are examples of this path, but they are only the intermediaries that help you raise the funds. They do not help you publish.

Team Powered Publishing

This is where an author submits a book to the publishing company and upon their acceptance, chooses their publishing team of professionals. That means an author will select their cover designer, their editor, proofreader, marketing manager, and formatter. The team works together to produce a quality book to release. The catch? No one is paid and no one pays in until the book is released. Then, as the royalties come in, they are divided up in pre-determined percentages to each of the team members.

The theory behind this type of publishing is that it allows an author to publish without investing a dime of their own money and with the support and benefits those at a traditional publishing house usually receive. This type of publishing also ensures that every team member is invested in the success of a book. They are not getting paid for the work upfront so they must work hard to ensure that royalties come in. This keeps everyone accountable and competitive. The downside is that even if hard work is put into a book, there is a chance that it might never make money. Example: Booktrope

Traditional Publishers Offering Hybrid Deals

Some traditional publishing companies are making deals with authors that are out of the “norm.” For example, a publisher may make a deal with Jane Author that she pays X amount upfront to help with marketing costs. Not many traditional publishers talk about these kinds of deals so there is not much known about what types of agreements or standards to look for.

Now that we have a sense of what hybrid publishing is all about, let's hear from an author who is in the midst of doing it.

 

 Interview with Author John Robin

John Robin is an Author Accelerator member who is writing an epic fantasy called Blood Dawn that currently stands at 760 pages. He is planning to publish with Inkshares if he gets enough votes.

Jennie: This is a test, John: can you give us a one-sentence description of your novel?

John: A weaver discovers that her gift is a gateway to magic and the key to restoring light to a fallen empire, but in order to do so she must leave behind all that she was and face a future where comfort and safety are uncertain.

Jennie: Nice job! Would you like to say a few words about how you have used Author Accelerator to develop your book?

John: With Author Accelerator, I’ve written a set amount of pages every week, knowing that I can submit them to an editor for review and feedback aimed at helping me stay on track. The brilliant thing about the Author Accelerator method is it works for outliners or discovery writers – I’m a bit of a hybrid of the two. The editor’s goal is to ensure forward narrative drive, which is necessary no matter what method you use, and that’s allowed me to write my draft with confidence every week. It’s also allowed me to set a predictable goal for completion, and a sense that there is an end to the novel-writing process, rather than the guesswork of drafting alone and waiting for feedback until after I’ve invested a lot in various story choices. Author Accelerator has kept me open as I carefully balance the tug of war of editorial revision with new drafting. Simply put, it’s accelerated me in a process that otherwise might have no real feeling of an end.

Jennie: I love that! Thank you for that. Okay, now let’s get down to hybrid publishing questions: When you were doing research on your publishing options, what drew you to hybrid publishing in general and to Inkshares in particular?

John: I read about hybrid publishing in a Writer’s Digest article, in particular, a model called partnership publishing. In this model, traditional publishing services partner with authors, meaning that authors can pay for editing, design, and distribution on par with what they would receive through traditional publishing.

However, these services are expensive – tens of thousands of dollars. In doing my research, I found Inkshares, which uses a crowdfunding model similar to Kickstarter, to raise these funds. What drew me to their company was their basic philosophy: writers write, readers decide, Inkshares publishes. Instead of allowing in-house editors or agents to decide which books get published, Inkshares determines if there is enough reader interest by allowing reader’s to “vote” on prospective books through placing pre-orders. Books which reach their pre-order goal will go to publication.

Jennie: What do you believe is the advantage of publishing with a hybrid publisher versus self-publishing or traditional publishing? What was the defining point for you?

John: Unlike traditional or self-publishing, Inkshares allows authors to connect to readers for their book well before it’s published, even during drafting. Their goal is to create an interactive community where readers can get excited about books right from initial idea, all the way to final, published title. Being with Inkshares has allowed me to build a platform around Blood Dawn and build a fan base unlike if I toiled away on my book and kept quiet about it.

What’s also great about Inkshares’s model: should Blood Dawn reach its funding goal and go to publication, that will mean I already have 1000 copies sold and several hundred relationships with readers. And this is all before the book even goes to production. After it reaches its funding goal, I will have the time the book is under production to continue pre-selling copies. This seamless interface between author and reader is, for me, what makes Inkshares such an excellent place for an author to get started.

Jennie: What is the process like when you publish through Inkshares?

John: When a project reaches its funding goal, it goes to production. At this point, Inkshares connects the author with the editing, design, and marketing teams. Inkshares values the titles it puts out, much like a traditional publisher, wanting not only to build a high-quality catalog, but to also release bestsellers. Inkshares also connects successful books with reviewers, including the NYT, USA Today, and the Washington Post. Inkshares also has relationships with numerous independent bookstores and distributes through Ingram, with titles ending up in Indigo and Barnes & Noble.

Jennie: What do you think about the fact that if your book does not reach the “goal” set by Inkshares, your project will not be published (at least not through their company)? Do you think this is a downside to their business model? To hybrid publishing?

John: I think even if a project fails, there is still a great opportunity for success.

During the funding process, I will gain numerous fans and prospective readers who have followed the project and subscribed to my newsletter – fans who will be eager to follow Blood Dawn’s progress while I decide what my next steps will be. Whether I choose to self-publish or submit Blood Dawn to agents and try to publish it traditionally, I will already have a very active platform and fan base for the book, making success in both those cases much more likely.

Jennie: Do you feel better knowing that Inkshares will take care of things like copy editing, cover design, and distribution or do you wish you could retain control over some of those aspects of the publishing process?

John: One thing that steered me away from the idea of self-publishing was the overwhelming odds of producing something substandard. The other angle was reach: I could self-publish a book with excellent editing and design, only to be stuck with a book that I have to do all the legwork to get into bookstores.

For this reason, I would gladly give up full control if it means I can focus on writing and connecting to my audience, while a company rooted in the tried and tested editing, design, and marketing know-how of the traditional industry does the backend work. This feature is what drew me to Inkshares and why I feel I’m in good hands with them.

Jennie: Your book, Blood Dawn, is currently in the Inkshares funding process, which means you’re taking pre-orders. Can you tell us what marketing efforts you’ve taken to get people excited and interested in your book?

John: What’s worked well for me has been the process of reaching out to other Inkshares authors with an offer to help promote their books. In doing this, we’ve slowly formed an author co-promotion community that now has grown to about 500 members (and moved onto a Goodreads discussion group). I’ve connected with numerous Inkshares authors and helped them, expecting nothing back in return, and found that not only have several authors stepped up to help improve my project (i.e. one author made me a better cover, one helped me make a trailer, another made me a dragon emblem), they’ve sent several readers my way as well. I’m now at 316 pre-orders, and counting, and am finding that having a higher pre-order count is drawing in random catalogue browsers too. In fact, about 3 out of 4 pre-orders now are from people I don’t know.

Jennie: What has been the most challenging part of the Inkshares process, thus far?

The most difficult part has been finding a way to get beyond my personal network and start reaching general readers. Because Inkshares is a new and unfamiliar publishing model, I’ve had to learn to develop not just a Blood Dawn pitch, but an Inkshares pitch as well. I’ve brought in terminology like, “Traditional publishing meets Kickstarter.”

I’ve found that sending people to my Inkshares page has had little effect if I’m telling them to check out my book, because they think I’m trying to pre-sell a book that’s not published yet. Whereas, if I tell them that my book will be published by a stellar publishing company, but only if I can get readers to back it through pre-ordering a copy, I often have them asking where they can find it and, about a day or two later, I see that they’ve bought a copy (or three, or seven).

Jennie: What has been your favorite part of the process so far?

John: I’ve loved connecting to readers. Inkshares notifies me of every pre-order, giving me the option to email my backers. I take the time to email everyone, thanking them and inviting them to sign up for my newsletter (where I offer the first 13 chapters of Blood Dawn to subscribers only), as well as telling them where they can connect with me. Many of these readers have emailed back telling me how excited they are about Blood Dawn. I’ve had more than 60 readers sign up for my newsletter, and I’m receiving random fan email. One of my favorite, humbling moments was when a published Inkshares author emailed me one morning saying he’d read my opening chapter out loud and recorded it for me. Listening to someone read my opening chapter – just knowing they’d been fascinated enough to make the effort – really meant a lot to me.

Jennie: What advice would you give to authors who are just learning about the different alternatives in the publishing industry?

John: There are many opportunities out there for you. Inkshares is a great starting place, because regardless of whether or not you reach your funding goal, you have the opportunity to get feedback on your work from readers and other writers, and you get a chance to practice book promotion and build an audience.

I think it’s a mistake to believe you can build an audience out of a vacuum. While it’s true that some books get hyped up by publishers before release and an author with no platform whatsoever can become big just from the publisher’s efforts, I think it’s a mistake to rely on this. It’s smart to expect that no one is going to know who you are or have any reason to believe they should be interested in your work. Your job is going to be to determine: how you can connect with them? How can you build your readership? How can you brand yourself? And you don’t have to wait until you’ve signed a book deal to figure that out.

Whether you self-publish or seek a traditional route, I’m a strong advocate for Inkshares because it’s a great place to get some exposure and start building a name for yourself.

Jennie: Where can people find/support you and your novel, Blood Dawn?

John: http://www.inkshares.com/projects/blood-dawn

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