Getting Published: No Magic Wands or Treasure Maps

My guest today is Sia McKye. McKye writes:

I’ve been in marketing/publicity for quite a few years.  I’ve sold, promoted, and publicized various products and services over the years. To be effective one has to know the product or service being offered-which in this case is selling you as an author and your book.  Knowing the business end of the product you’re selling, which in this case would be publishing.

I write quite a bit about marketing, promotion, and publicity.  I work with a couple of small independent publishing companies to promote their authors and increase sales.  I am also a writer.  So learning about the publishing field is a must.  As I learn about it, I write about it.  I get comments, sometimes emails from aspiring authors who want to be published and want to be a success.  I’ve had questions from published authors on suggestions I might have on marketing.

One unpublished author wrote to me:  “I am an aspiring writer. However, I am having a bit of a time getting published. I know it is nearly impossible to connect with a large publishing company. So I am trying to decide if I want to do self-publishing or use a print on demand service. Any suggestions?”

I hear things like this frequently. Everyone wants a shortcut.  I have no magic wand.  I share what I learn.  This is actually a two-part question. The first part is how to get published and the best route to accomplish that.  The second part is how to be successful as an author once you are published.   I thought about it and answered.

As an aspiring author trying to get published, the main thing is belief in yourself and in your ability to tell a story. The second thing is polishing your craft. That means learning and applying-what works and what doesn’t. If you receive critiques or suggested changes from editors, agents, or your writing group, don’t get on your high horse and think your words are sacred and descended from God.  Be willing to look at the critiques and suggestions and see if they’re valid.  Third, keep an eye on what’s selling out there.  What do you see on the bookshelf-especially in your genre?  How does your writing compare in premise, character development, and presentation?  Fourth, as a published author, building a reader base by marketing yourself and your book.

POD (Print On Demand) isn’t a shortcut, although many think it is. A shortcut denotes a quicker way to get from point A to point B and going POD isn’t going to give you that, other than you have a book out there with your name on it.  POD can be a good place for some to start. You can build a readership base, see what works with plots and story lines and what doesn’t. An author has more control over their books and any profits generated which is why some choose that route.  Many POD publishers also make the books available as an E-book on places like Amazon.  POD has changed considerably over the years and it’s not at all like the old Vanity press of years gone by when a person could self-publish anything-most of it poorly written. They went the route of self-publishing because they couldn’t get a contract from a larger publishing house and part of the reason was the story was not saleable due to the way it was written.  What came first?  The chicken or the egg?

Unfortunately, some POD books out there are still poorly written and there is a reason for that.

If you choose to go the route of Print on Demand, be careful which POD publisher you go with.  If you have to pay them to publish your book, this is not the one for you.  If you find a reputable POD publisher your work is still cut out for you.  This is where an author discovers that POD isn’t a shortcut. There are very few POD publishers with an editing staff to filter your writing.  That’s up to you as the author. They’ll print your book at no cost to you, they will also offer you a contract-be sure to look it over carefully-and they will offer a percentage of the profits on each book sold and send those royalties to you either monthly or quarterly. Once you receive the proof book back from the printer, be sure you really proof your story well before it goes to final print. Presentation is everything and in this case, it’s up to you to make sure it looks professional and error free.

The thing to keep in mind with POD is it will require an enormous amount of work on your part to promote yourself and your writing. You don’t get an advance to work with and funding for publicity and promotion is very important.  You don’t have the avenues available to you in promotion and publicity that a traditional publisher can offer. You are writer, agent, and business manager, all wrapped in one person. Getting your name known is daunting but necessary.  This actually needs to be started before you have your book in print.  Build an interest in you as an author, and create expectation for your book.  Creating that interest can seem overwhelming to a debuting author. But, it can be done through the Internet, via blogging and social networks such as Facebook, Gather, Twitter, MySpace, and a host of others.  Keep in mind; you still have to allow for time to continue writing.  Producing a product to sell.  That isn’t an easy juggling act as most authors also have a day job and families.

If you don’t want to go POD, and there are many who don’t, make it a point to look into some of the smaller Independent publishing companies. There are a few good opportunities to get on with one if you write genres they publish.  Still, even with a small publisher or even a major publishing house, you will be required to promote yourself and generate publicity for your book-unless you’re a debuting Dan Brown-there isn’t much in the way of dollars for marketing/promotion available for debuting authors.

Regardless of the route you take to being published, caution is necessary.  Make it a point to check out the company or agent you’re considering with Editors and Preditors.  Consider them the Better Business Bureau for writers. There are a lot of scams out there, predators with basically a storefront, whose sole purpose is to make money off your dream and give little or nothing back.  The horror stories I’ve heard would curl your hair.

Agent Query has a good list of agents and their submission requirements and they also have a good list of small independent publishers as well the big boys.  It’s worth looking at and then doing some research on them.  Writing isn’t just a creative endeavor.  It’s a business.  You are the proprietor of that business.

So, as an aspiring author, you need a strong believe in your ability to tell a good story, spend time perfecting your craft as a writer, and keep abreast with what’s currently selling in your genre on the market. Be willing to invest time in building name recognition long before you’ve been published.

But what if you’ve already sold your book?  What can you do to help sell your books?  I will discuss this in part two, Being a Successful Author–Magic or Work?

Writer Cliff Burns Talks About Book Promotion

When I asked Cliff Burns, author of So Dark the Night, if he’d like to guest host my blog, he responded that he’d rather have a discussion. I was thrilled. I enjoy talking about writing, but even more than that, I love learning how other writers approach the craft. This is the book promotion part of the discussion.

BERTRAM: is possible to become an author people will read even without the “help” of corporate publishing?  

BURNS: I self-published my first book back in 1990 — it sold out its print run in less than 5 months and earned praise from various reviewers, as well as Governor-General Award-winning writer Timothy Findley. I started my blog, “Beautiful Desolation” 18 months ago and since then I have ceased submitting work to other venues — my work (including 2 novels) now goes directly to my blog and I’ve never been happier. Corporate publishing is dying, the profit margins aren’t big enough and soon the Big Boys will be dumping their publishing arms. The new technologies allow writers to have access to readers around the world — I only wish this stuff had been around ten years ago, it would have saved me a lot of frustration and fury. Kindle? E-books? POD? Why not? Anything that allows the writer to get a bigger slice of the pie is all right with me… 

BERTRAM: How did you promote your self-published book in 1990? What would you do differently today?

BURNS: That was my book Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination and a lot has changed since then. For one thing there are far fewer independent bookstore and those were the folks who sold the lion’s share of Sex. I took copies with me everywhere I went–Saskatoon, Regina, Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto–approached every indie bookstore I could and sold them (usually on consignment). The vast majority of those book stores are gone now, sad to say. Sex cost $3000 to publish, my second collection, The Reality Machine, cost $6000 in 1997. Nowadays print-on-demand might save me some money–that’s something I’m looking into, likely using Lulu.com. Can’t quote you any price for that (as yet) but I’ll be using my blog and the vast reach of the internet to spread the word..

BERTRAM: Is there one website more than another that brings you readers? Any suggestions for authors just starting to promote?

BURNS: Hmmm . . . well, I try to reach out to sites that discuss writing and publishing and I have a RedRoom authors page. I comment on a lot of blogs, replying to posts that amuse or annoy me for one reason or another. My blog, Beautiful Desolation, is my primary promotional venue, to tell the truth. I’m also on LibraryThing, a place where bibliophiles can hang out and chat. They don’t encourage “blog-pimping” (a term I loathe, by the way), which is ridiculous because often I’ve written a lengthy post on “Beautiful Desolation” regarding a point under discussion. So I refer people to the post anyway and slap down anyone who dares accuse me of self-promotion.

BERTRAM:  It seems to me that this is one of the best times to try to peddle a book because of all the online resources, such as blogging and discussion forums. It also seems as if this is one of the worst times because of the hundreds of thousands of “writers” looking for readers. (Some of those so-called writers are barely literate.) I’m hoping that someone like me who is willing to do the work to promote can reap the rewards.

BURNS:  Yes, everyone can claim to be a writer these days and the new technologies allow people to publish their crap, regardless of the quality of their work. How do we separate the wheat from the chaff? I chose to publish on-line, I chose the “indie” life because I detest the notion of anyone having control or input re: my writing. Some folks who don’t like me would say I’m doing it my way because I’m not good enough for traditional publishing. I say the quality of the work wins out in the end and I’m willing to let readers decide if my work is worth reading. But the surfeit of bad writing on-line drags down the professional status and quality of craftsmanship of those of us who struggle mightily to compose good work. I implore potential readers to use their critical thinking skills and don’t lump us all together.

Writing Discussion with Cliff Burns — Part I

Writing Discussion with Cliff Burns — Part II

Writing Discussion with Cliff Burns — Part III