We have an in-depth guest post from author and editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail. Inside this meaty post, Danielle shares with us the available options to writers who would like to see their book(s) published. Let’s welcome her to enlighten us about – the possibilities and pitfalls of publishing.
“The Changing Face of Publishing” ~ By Danielle Ackley-McPhail
It used to be there were two options—yes, just two—for getting published: Trade magazines and a traditional publishing house. Okay…make that two industry-accepted options for getting published. After all, there have always been countless people out there ready to stea…take your money just to put your name on a book.
With the advent of the internet authors have many more options for releasing their words to the world. Perhaps—dare I say it?—too many… What was that you said? With all those potential routes, how can you tell the right one for you? Glad you asked! Let’s take a look, shall we?
Vanity Press/Subsidy Publishing – Basically the same thing with just a name upgrade. This has by far been the quickest and easiest way to see your work in print, right along with varying degrees of expensive. It also—in my opinion, the least satisfying. Why? Because no one has recognized the quality of your work. These people will publish anything if you throw enough money at them. And while they are doing it charging you for every step of the publishing process? Wherever they can they get you to do the actual work. But it gets worse. Not only do they charge you buckets of money and put the least amount of effort into producing your book, but some of them in their attempt to put a pretty face on it give you a “contract” and an “advance” and, for the crappy book they put out where you potentially did a good chunk of the work, they write into that contract clauses that trap you as an author from taking the book away and getting it published with a more conventional publisher. One who won’t charge you. Yes, you will have a book to hold up in the end and that book will (presumably) have your name on it. But it is a gamble if you will be proud of that book in the end. And, unfortunately, no matter how well it is put together a certain percentage of the industry professionals out there—publishers, editors, other authors…and even (or especially readers)—are going to automatically assume your book wasn’t good enough to be published conventionally, whether it is or not.
Self-Publishing – Now, before you go into a huff thinking I’m repeating myself with different words…this doesn’t mean quite the same thing it used to. See, places like Amazon and LuLu want you to give them your money one way or the other so they have started facilitating the world’s desire to be published in a more honest manner. They profit from this, but not in the same slimy way that Vanity or Subsidy Press do. Many of these publishing portals are free, with the sites making their money on a portion of the sales. The plus? Creative control. The drawback? Complete creative responsibility. When authors use these portals they go into it knowing they are going to do all of the work, only they don’t have to pay for the privilege. This option takes research and learning about what it takes to actually put together a professional quality book in either ebook or print. Well, that or the money and contacts to pay people to do the parts you aren’t skilled to do. The difference? You keep the profits (minus the portal’s fee), you decide what gets done when, and you control the product. Now that also means a heck of a lot of work and a crash course in being a publisher, designer, and marketer all in one. There is also the risk that after all that effort…the book may or may not sell. But you know what…as authors, we all run that risk, no matter what method of publishing we chose.
On-Line – Don’t think its any easier getting published just because the venue isn’t in print. Any reputable on-line magazine, blog, or newsletter that might be a plus in your list of publishing credits is still going to have the same strict quality guidelines…as well as the same crush of submissions. Do your research. Make sure the place has a good reputation professionally and prepare to wait. Well, unless they reject you right away…that happens a lot too, no matter where you submit. Not hearing back right away can often be a good thing if the wait doesn’t kill you. On-line venues are often genre-specific. Some pay, most of them don’t. They also have the drawback of disappearing from time to time as sites go defunct. A plus of this method of publishing? Things sometimes come out quicker and are seen by more people than a print magazine might.
eBook – Just about every publisher does eBooks these days. Small press or conventional, they all realize the money is in the electronics. Why? Well…from a financial standpoint these types of books cost less to produce and don’t come with warehousing fees. You also don’t have to ship them, count them, or throw them away if they don’t sell. The other reason? America and most of the world is going digital. eBooks take up infinitely less room, in theory are cheaper to buy as well, and while not impossible to lose your place, it’s a lot harder for the bookmark to fall out. Know what this trend means for you as an author? eBooks make your titles more accessible to the public, and also more attractive to a reader who might not be familiar with your work. They’ll take their chances on a $5 (or free) eBook, when they might not fork out the price for a print book of a new author. Of course, virtually every eBook reader is proprietary and if your publisher doesn’t know what they are doing, the formats get glitchy, which ironically ends up reflecting poorly on the book and the author, rather than the publisher. The other drawback of eBook-only publishers…no physical product to sell at author events or to autograph for a fan.
Small Press – These have always been around. Actually, this is how publishing started out. But as with all things that begin small, they grew big until people forgot that was where it all began. With the advent of electronic publishing the small or niche publisher has had a resurgence. They don’t have the resource of a publishing conglomerate, but they also don’t have the same restrictions either. Small press can publish what they are interested in, whether or not the current market agrees. They also have the added benefit that titles they publish usually remain in print as long as the publisher remains in business, rather than going out of print if they happen to drop below a certain sales threshold. With small press you have to do your research, though. Well…with ANY publisher you have to do your research, but more so with small press. First you have to make sure they operate professionally (you know, responding to emails, keeping schedules…oh…paying their authors…that kind of thing). You also have to search to see if there are any legitimate complaints about them. Meaning the information comes from a reputable source and is supported by other accounts. You need to make sure they are a good fit for what you publish and what the quality of their finished product is. You also want to check the visibility of their products in the market place. Are their titles on the major book seller sites? Are the entries complete? Do they have a reasonable sales rank and/or reviews? All of these are indicators if a particular publisher is or is not a good gamble. (Yes, I most definitely meant to say gamble.) Another thing about small press, authors tend to get more creative input in the final product. Sometimes this is a good thing…sometimes NOT. In either case, often production values will be a mark down from what a traditional publisher would produce simply because small press does not have the same resources or access to design talent that a publisher with a dedicated staff does. They also don’t generally have the resources for things like advances. What they definitely do have is flexibility, a passion for what they do, and a vested interest in working with their authors to help titles succeed. There are no guarantees, but you definitely have a more informal relationship with small press that can work in your favor over the long term.
Traditional Publishers – Visibility. Experience. Connections. For the most part this is what a traditional publisher has to offer you right now. They don’t cater to their authors as they did in the bygone days. Very few talents get special treatment or even a piece of the promotional budget. However, if you have the patience and determination to pursue a traditional publisher you will get on bookstore shelves…at least for a little while, and you will be touted at book fairs and will find it easier to get reviews, schedule author events, and exposure to a larger potential audience. However, you get little say in the design of your cover, you will definitely have to invest the same amount of time a small-press author does promoting your work, and you are more likely to go out of print or to have subsequent books canceled if your initial title does not meet expected sales goals. This is where the advance can bite you hard in the butt…if you don’t make it back in sales for your publisher it is awful hard to negotiate future books. There is a prestige in being with a traditional publisher, and as mentioned, certainly higher visibility, but not nearly the perks their used to be. And rarely, if ever, are they flexible when it comes to taking a chance on books that might not fit the current or projected market trends.
So…there you have it. The various publishing options you as an author have before you. Dizzying, isn’t it? Really, in the end, what it comes down to is what feels right for you? Any method you chose is going to have drawbacks, just as any of them will have benefits as well. What is most important to you? Having a say in how your book is produced? Getting onto the book shelves in a brick-and-mortar bookstore? The satisfaction of your name in print? Be wise…research, have terms and procedures explained to you no matter what method of publishing you pursue. And remember…it is a gamble, but you can hedge your bets by putting in the time and effort to make your book a success. For most of us it’s a marathon, not a sprint, no matter how much we wish otherwise. And remember, there is nothing saying you can’t use all of the above. The right place for the right project. The best advise I can give you is to be open to the possibilities…and be aware of the potential pitfalls.
Very clear and informative; thank you Danielle!
Stay tuned, because coming soon we have yet another great post from this author. It’s about writing short fiction.
Danielle Ackley-McPhail’s novels include The Eternal Cycle (first three titles link to samples of the books) - Yesterday's Dreams, Tomorrow's Memories, Today’s Promise, the writers guide The Literary Handyman, and more. She edits the Bad-Ass Faeries anthologies and Dragon’s Lure, has contributed to numerous anthologies, and has recently published a collection of science fiction short stories called A Legacy of Stars. For more about Danielle link to her sites below: