So You Wanna Be A Published Author?

I read a lot about the publishing industry. Just like any other career, it pays to keep up with what folks in your field are saying. The majority of people not affiliated with a Big Six publisher are talking about how print is going away, how e-books are the wave of the future, yadda yadda. (I still like bound paper books, thank you.) Friends and acquaintances are asking me how I got my two books published. For posterity’s sake, if nothing else, I thought I’d share my two experiences thus far.

Book #1, Herbs: Medicinal, Magical, Marvelous!, is through a traditional publisher. I had no clue what needed to be done past the writing stage so knew I needed a traditional publisher for the first book. I submitted a query letter, they decided to accept and we agreed to a partnership. (Don’t bother trying to change the contract terms. They’ll just say ‘no’ and move on to the next author.) A partnership, I might add, where they do some work and take the lion’s share of the profits on all books I don’t personally sell. (I make approximately 75¢ on a $19.95 book or whatever Amazon/B&N have it listed for today.) The benefits? As far as I can see, the only one has been dealing with one person (my editor) through the entire process. I still had to approve the cover, correct galleys, etc., and most of the onus of marketing is on me.

When I finished book #2, A Green Witch’s Formulary, I thought if I was going to do the majority of the hard work marketing, I wanted a bigger share of the pie. I wanted this book to be print and e-book. After book #1, I knew what needed to be done to bring a book to market. I did my homework. I scoured hundreds of websites and did estimates of what each phase of publication was going to cost. A couple of friends suggested I look at what is now called “assisted self-publishing”. An old-fashioned but probably more appropriate term is “vanity publishing”.

I scoured those websites, too, and did calculations. My final choice was a package with a vanity publisher that cost $70 less than the total estimate if I did all the work myself … and that didn’t include my time lining up cover and interior designers, the printer, getting the ISBN and Library of Congress numbers, listing with booksellers, etc. I was also willing to pay money up front for someone to do all those things for me.

The upside: it took approximately 3 months from manuscript submission to market on #2 versus 15 months on #1.  I make more money on Amazon and such-like sales than my paltry royalties on #1. (I’d happily share approximately how much per book with you but I can’t access my royalty statement. See below.) When I had a wee problem with delivery, they hopped on it … as soon as I pitched a fit let them know there was a problem.

The downside: First, just like a traditional publisher, I have to recoup my pre-publication costs before I can make a profit. “Assisted self publishing” companies take your up-front money and they also take a share of the “profit” – the difference between the printing cost and sales price. It will be awhile before that bottom line turns from red to black.

Secondly, I have lost count of the number of people I’ve dealt with at this company, both during the production process and after publication. They have a “consultant” for virtually every phase. If I want to order more books, I have to call one person (and I think I’m on number three or four in that position in a six-month period) but a technical glitch with their website can’t be passed on by that person; I need to make another phone call. You know: “not my job”. (2 days later, after that second call, I’m still waiting for that technical glitch to be fixed.)

And then there’s the sales pitches both by phone and email for add-on services or asking if I need to order more books. I don’t want/need the add-on services and trust me, I’d be calling if I needed another supply of books. But I still get contacted about once a week.

I am entirely pleased with the final copy of both books – cover and interior designs are wonderful. Sales ain’t too bad, either, and I can’t see a difference in the marketing efforts of the traditional publisher vs. the “assisted” publisher. Book #3 is in the research phase. What will I do when that is ready for publication?

I’m not entirely sure. I am computer-literate enough to format an e-book on my own and upload it to sites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. However, based on sales of #2 (#1 is not in e-book format due to the number of tables) and talking with people in my target market (very important people!), they want paper. I’ll be back to the cost to do it myself versus paying someone else decision. But I need to get it written, first! Then I’ll make my decision on costs versus time consumption.

Should you go traditional, assisted or totally self-published? That depends. Certainly, you want to be sure the final product has a professional look: editing, proofreading (one of my pet peeves), cover and interior design. If you feel you can do all that yourself well and have the time to shepherd your baby through the entire process, by all means, do it all yourself. If you want to hand the grunt work to someone else & are willing to pay for it, assisted may be for you (but be prepared for the hounding – I doubt this company is alone in wanting to up-sell you). If you’re not comfortable with any of it or don’t have the funds to front for publication, start submitting those query letters. Not to any of the Big Six (they pretty much have a “don’t call me, I’ll call you” attitude) but to one of the dozens of indie publishers out there who publish your particular genre.

Once you’re on the road to being a published author, remember that the majority of the marketing is up to you, regardless of the chosen path.

Good luck!


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