The Manhattan Project--2016 A to Z Theme

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dee Ready : Self Publishing

           Recently I reviewed Dee Ready's   Twelve Habits of Highly Successful Cats & Their Humans , a book that rather surprised me for reasons that you can read about in that review post.  Today I've invited Dee as my guest to tell about her experiences with publication.

Self-Publishing Vs. the Traditional Route

           I’m sitting here at the computer grateful that Lee has asked me to guest post and yet unsure exactly where this posting is going to start or end up. That is the way with many writers. We simply have a wee idea and we sit down before the monitor and see where the mustard seed takes us.

            The first idea that comes to me today is that we all write differently. Let’s take Elizabeth George. She’s a world famous mystery writer whose books have sold millions of copies. In Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life she explained her method. Her way is so foreign to me that I could never begin to use it.

            Because before she begins to write she has everything planned out. She knows exactly where she’ll begin and where she’ll end. And she knows every detour along the way. She knows exactly who her characters are. They hold no surprises for her because she’s written pages detailing them. She knows her setting, her plot, and her denouement as well. She is a meticulous planner.

            That has worked brilliantly for her. It’s just not the way I work. Most of the time I don’t know what I think until after I start to write. Slowly my characters reveal themselves, as does the setting. That’s what happened with A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story. I sat down at the computer and felt as if Dulcy channeled the story through me.

            That happened also for Dulcy’s companion book: Twelve Habits of Highly Successful Cats and Their Humans. It has also happened for the three novels for which I’ve completed rough drafts. With those novels, I’ve simply sat and let the words and the worlds come. They have revealed themselves to me.

            For me, that’s one of the great joys of writing—discovering the characters in my mind and their thoughts. Letting myself go with the flow. For me, writing is like prayer. It centers and focuses me. I am never more present to the moment, I never live more in the moment, than when I’m writing. So I take joy in the act whether or not I’m published.

 Let’s talk about getting published in today’s world.

            We all know that we can write—with a plan like Elizabeth George or by following the flow as I did with Dulcy’s book—and never get published. Today’s publishing world seems, to me, to be in disarray. Many editors and agents seem to want the next Elizabeth George mystery or the next Frank McCourt memoir or the next Amanda Hocking paranormal romance.

            Who’s Amanda Hocking? She’s the woman who discovered the profits that can be found in self-publishing. Within two years, she made over $2 million with several young adult urban fantasy and paranormal romances. Amazon tells us “she is widely considered the exemplar of self-publishing success in the digital age.” 

            How was she able to sell so many books independently? That’s the question all self-published writers ask.

            She didn’t start out a phenomenon. In many ways, she was like all of us committed to writing. That is, she loved to write; she wrote several books; and she met a brick wall, unable to find an editor or agent who’d publish her work. So she began a blog. On it, she wrote about writing from her Minnesota home. She also promoted her self-published e-books and trade paperbacks.

            Her books sold. And sold. And sold some more. After she made that $2 million, several New York publishers engaged in a bidding war for her next four books. This year, St. Martin’s Press is publishing her most recent book.  

            How do we do the same? How do we find an editor/agent or self-publish and have broad sales?

            First perhaps, we need to read the type of book we want to write. We need to note how writers we admire write that genre. We need to study writing styles. I mean STUDY. Note sentence construction. Dialogue. Transition. The arc of suspense. Plotting.

            Second, we need to be writing a genre that many people want to read. Since 1996, when Angela’s Ashes was published, memoirs have been extremely popular. But in the fifteen years since 1996, countless memoirs have been published. No longer are editors/agents interested in the memories of rape, incest, alcoholism, abuse, poverty. They no longer want horror stories of growing up. And many readers on longer want to read them.

            What the public and the editors/agents of traditional publishing want is something new. Fresh. Original. A fresh take on an old story. Or a new setting. Or world event. Without those qualities and without an exceptional writing style, I think that getting a memoir published traditionally is going to be very hard in the future. And if it’s self-published, the readership will also probably remain small.

            Third, if we self-publish, we need a blog that many, many, many—I say MANY—readers follow because how else can we market and publicize our books? How do we reach the large reading audience out there? How do we let people know there is a book?

            Fourth, we must be willing to move away from the blog and the computer and do some marketing in the wider world for our self-published book. We must try to get readings and signings in bookstores. If our book is for young readers we might arrange to visit classrooms and talk about writing.  
            One fellow blogger—Melissa Ann Goodwin—has self-published the young adult novel The Christmas Village. On her blog she often recounts the most recent school she’s visited. (Click here for her blog and look at the left side for the upcoming classes she’s visiting.)

            As I see the world of publishing today, if we are to have stupendous sales, we need to write books that are popular at the time. And right now books about vampires and werewolves (paranormals) are. So Hocking was in the right place at the right now with the right story.

            All of us who want to get published—and who would like to make a little money doing so—and who would like to reach a large audience with our writing—must decide how we can do this realistically. The truth, as I see it, is that unless we are writing something that fits the trends and the temper of the time, our self-published book probably won’t sell a lot of copies or make a lot of money.  More importantly to writers who want to be read, the self-published book won’t reach many readers. So our thoughts and characters won’t touch the lives of a large audience.

 So what to do? What to do?

            The truth is that I wish I knew. Finding an editor or an agent is more or less impossible today. The one really good thing is that most of them will accept e-mail queries and so we no longer have to wait so long to hear from them.

            Believe me, back in 1990 when I was trying to get someone interested in A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story, I had to wait months to hear back from editors by “snail mail.” And yet finally, in April 1991, I did hear from a senior editor at Crown Publishing in New York and got a contract.

            So today, with an eye to being published, I think we must look for agents and editors to publish us and at the same time consider self-publishing and what it entails.  For myself, I’ve decided to devote seven months—from July through December—to finding an editor or agent for my third cat book, which is a young adult fantasy. I’m going to send out only e-queries so as to save money and to cut down on time.

            If by January 2013, I’ve experienced no success, I will self publish and hope for the best. That is, I will try to find ways to not only self-publish but also self-publicize my three cat books and any novels I ultimately publish. I will try for signings and readings at places where readers of these books might congregate. I will look for “a hook” to see if I can get newspapers, magazines, and radio talk shows interested in these books. But I know that unless I do something the books will languish on Amazon, selling one or two copies now and then.

            So it’s up to me—to do the writing, the publishing, and the promoting. But as Edna St. Vincent Millay said, “but, ah, my foes, and oh, my friends” I so hope that in the next six months I can find an agent or editor because at seventy-six I don’t look forward to expanding the energy that self-publishing calls for!

Now some questions for you: 

           What success have you had with self-publishing?   With traditional publishing?   With finding and agent or an editor?    How have you marketed your self-published books?   Has that worked well for you?    Do you enjoy the writing so much that the getting published matters little?

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  1. I'm content with my small publisher right now. Both books have been Amazon Best Sellers and I doubt I could've done that on my own.

  2. I was lucky enough to find a wonderful home with small publisher for my romances. They have been wonderful. My first book debuts this fall, but I can see many more coming after that.

    Writing isn't the hard part of what we do. If you ask me, it's the easiest thing we do. Everything that comes AFTER that will be the biggest struggle of our lives. And those struggles will determine if we have the guts to ride it out and make a success out of ourselves (whether with self-pubbing or with traditional publishing). It's such a selective world out there, and while that's sad because so many great books go unnoticed, that's the way it works. The only thing we can do is keep doing what we love: writing.

    Best of luck to you with your writing/publishing goals! ;-)


  3. Hi Lee -
    I am flattered that you actually visited my A to Z blog yesterday - you must be an amazingly busy man and yet you are still visiting those sites. I look forward to following you here. This blog business is fun!

    I have never self published anything. Are you kidding? I am miles away from that. I don't imagine that the drivel I write is worth the effort but also I work full time (and then some) and that takes much of my energy. Perhaps someday when I have a) more confidence and b) more discretionary time I can explore this.

    I think it is as you suggested: at this point, I just want to play with the writing challenge. What the heck. Glad to be following you. You always have cool things to say! JT

  4. I don't have any answers but I enjoyed your advice. There is so much to consider when it comes to publishing.

  5. I'm pre-published so this information is invaluable for me. My hope is to go traditional - agent to publisher. The thought of going solo and self publishing is too scary right now.

  6. I self published my first book and it's on Amazon and Kindle, but I don't thinks it has sold much. Another Indie Author told me that his science fiction book,My Half of Tomorrow, which had several good reviews and was actually quite good, had totally stalled. I tried to help him out with five star reviews on Amazon and Good Reads. I don't think that there is any magic formula in making your book a success.Given the tremendous amoung of competition in todays' marketplace, I think there's a lot of luck involved. A right time at the right place type of thing.

  7. Dear Lee, thank you for inviting me to guest post. I learned a lot from reading the six comments above this one. And I so agree with Robin Levin that getting published and selling enough books to make a little money is mostly a matter of luck.

    Getting Dulcy's first book published was a fluke. The editor I sent it to just happened to love cats. That's the only reason she asked to see the complete ms.

    So I wish all your readers great luck in getting published.


  8. Dee -- Thank you for the wonderful post. I'm sure there are more visitors to come.
    I think any success is partly right place/right time/ right content, but we can'd discount action taken either. If you hadn't been out there getting your book into the hands of the publishers then not of the other ingredients would have matter. One has to persist with a dream.

    Thanks to all of the visitors who have stopped by so far.


  9. Asides from my yearly excursion into the world of NaNoWriMo I don't get much writing done and I never plan to make any kind of career out of it. I don't really have the first clue about publishing or anything like that! On the other hand, I do find it a fascinating process to see how a novel can go from draft to fully published book and love reading about different aspects of it and ways in to the publishing world. So, thank you for this post, I really enjoyed it!

  10. i am glad to see her cut to the chase--fascinating and helpful

  11. A lot of us are on the same journey. Good to know we're not alone.

  12. Dee, your advice is super! Thank you for laying it out so well with its pros and cons.

  13. Dee, this was a great post and really hit home. I self-published my first book a few months and have been experimenting with trying to get sales. I used Amanda Hocking blog posts as a blueprint of what to do, but obviously, not everything translates. You had some great ideas of getting out from behind the computer to promote.

    Lee, thanks for hosting and thank you for the comments on my blog.

  14. I haven't self-published anything, and I don't have an agent either... well okay I'm still in the beg stage, but in my little experience in trying to get an agent with my first book, you're right that it's very difficult... It's a hard one..

  15. no success with traditional yet, but i am still trying. i will self publish when i feel i'm ready too. a ways to go yet. its amazing how many authors are out there!

  16. Thank you, Lee and Dee, for sharing this. I am always interested in hearing about author's journeys.

    I've self published a booklet for homeschool parents; I did more marketing when it first came out 6 years ago. Lately, though, I haven't done much. My plan is to revise and update it and make it available in ebook form.

  17. Nice, thoughtful post! I think the issue of self versus traditional (or somewhere in between) is really one where you consider GOALS (readership versus money--traditional reaching more people, self letting you keep more of the profit), personality (are you a person CAPABLE of getting a fabulous professional product out there without a publishing house?) and GENRE--some genres still sell HUGE through bookstores and traditional routes. And these genres are easier to find agents and editors for. I write cozy mystery and the publishers want them so badly they reach out TO WRITERS for books not even written yet (this is how I got my contract and first agent--a referral for a series they had set out parameters for). Other genres are unique enough that if they aren't TOP 10 material, agents think 'I wouldn't know how to sell that or who to' and editors think 'I have to invent the bloody wheel to get that marketed'. Those will do better with a small publisher or self-published. I've also seen some people do really well with a hybrid model--I love that Talli Roland did her first two with a publisher to learn the ropes, then is doing the rest self-published as she felt she could put out a lot mroe books that way--cuts out the red tape layer, if you will.

    I am sticking with traditional for my cozies and YA (I have a second agent repping my first of those) but may self publish some of my other stuff once I feel like I have my legs under me.

  18. I'm not self-published yet, but I hope to be soon. I published two books the traditional way before I decided to try my hand doing it myself. I see very little difference in terms of promotional work, but I do see a lot of difference when it comes to rights and returns. I figure that if I do most of the work, I should make most of the profits and be able to do with the material whatever I choose.

    Lovely cat books. Thanks for the great post.

  19. Excellent post. I'm about to start my journey into self-publishing this year. I tried for a number of years to go the traditional route with no luck, and now that my family must come first, I decided that self-publishing would be best for me right now in life. I like the control and the fact I'm accountable to no one other than myself with deadlines. Yet even if I never published, I'd still write! It's part of who I am. :)

  20. I'm about to self-publish my first book. I'm hoping it is successful enough to attract an agent/publisher. Regardless, I loved writing my novel and am so excited about its release. This was a great post. Thanks.

  21. This is a great article. Arlee, thanks for having Dee on! And Dee, your article had a wealth of information that was both helpful and straight forward without sugar coating anything.

    Sarah @ The Writer's Experiment

  22. I am not looking to publish, but I do know others who have self-published, sold small, & caught on in a bigger way, picked up by a larger entity. The self-publishers I've known had such a great love of writing that even if the reading was confined to Aunt Mabel & a few neighbors, they were OK with it. .. but of course a bigger following is always welcome.

  23. Dee, thanks again for the visit and my thanks to all who left their comments.


  24. You give such sound advice. The next time I write a new series, I'm going to really research what's selling.

    This section also struck a chord with me :)

    "First perhaps, we need to read the type of book we want to write. We need to note how writers we admire write that genre. We need to study writing styles."

    Thanks, Dee.


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