Self-Publishing Pros and Cons with Dotti Enderle

SeveredThe changing publishing industry is offering new opportunities to writers, but is self-publishing for you? My friend and great writer Dotti Enderle (aka Dax Varley) has been published traditionally and self-published. Her most recent release, SEVERED (A TALE OF SLEEPY HOLLOW), is a young adult novel that’s gives its own version of the Icabod/Katrina story. It’s a fun story with great characters, and I recommend it.

Dotti offers us a little insight into the pros and cons of doing it yourself…

Most of you know me. I’ve been writing since the 1900s, but my first book wasn’t published till 2002. I’ve published forty more since then and have six books coming out next year. These are my traditionally published books.

It so happens, this past spring, I found myself with a YA novel that wasn’t trending. Humor for girls. Check the shelves. Seriously. I think Louise Rennison is pretty much alone. But I loved my book. I had faith in my book. And there was only one person who’d publish it. That’s when my self-publishing adventure began.

But wait…Dotti…does that mean you’re now one of those 99 cent millionaires? Hahaha. How cute. I’m not even a 99 cent thousandaire…yet. I’m not going to bore you with all the details of my journey, but I will lay out the pros and cons and what I’ve learned in my mere five months of self-publishing…or indie publishing…or my new favorite, author publishing. Whatever you call it, it’s still you uploading your work to Amazon, B&N and Kobo.

Here we go.

PRO: DIY kicks butt. I’m the master. I’m in control. Me like.

CON: DIY kicks your butt. There’s definitely a learning curve.

PRO: The indie community is a group of fabulously supportive authors who are willing to hold your hand, give advice, and help you across that troll infested bridge.

CON: Your traditionally published friends now look at you funny. It’s like I’m back in high school and they’re the A List. Not all of them, of course. But some of my lunch buddies no longer invite me to lunch. This hurts my heart a little.

PRO: You can do all your promoting from the luxury of your couch.

CON: You have to be a social media maven. I’m not. But gosh darn, I’m giving it my best.

PRO: Swelling with pride when you see your sales numbers grow.

CON: Dying a little inside when one person returns your book for a refund.

PRO: Your finished (edited, copyedited and formatted) book can be published in a matter of days.

CON: All that stuff in parenthesis costs money.

PRO: Reinventing yourself.

CON: Sometimes the patent office is closed.

Maybe I’m just hardheaded, but in my case, the pros outnumber the cons…except for that whole not being a 99 cent millionaire. But here’s one important thing I’ve learned from the indie community: Your best promotion is you next book. I’m building a readership. And I intend to keep them happy. When you get down to it, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Thank you, Dotti. I wholeheartedly agree.

Anyone have any pros and cons they’d like to share?

Find out more about Dax Varley on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

When to quit querying and self-publish

Books and fingersRejections are tough, and when they stand between a writer and his dream of getting published, the call of  the world of digitally self-publishing can start to echo louder and louder. But when is the right time to quit querying and self-publish?

We’ve all heard those stories of great books getting turned down by agent/editor after agent/editor then going onto success as a self-published title. There’s Lisa Genova, who spent a year getting rejections from agents for her novel Still Alice, then finally self-published (ignoring advice from an agent who said it would kill her career) and building the novel’s sales into such a success, the book was picked up and published traditionally by Simon & Schuster.

Then there’s Amanda Hocking, who sold $2 million worth of her self-published her YA novels, attracted the attention of an agent, signed a four-book deal with St. Martin’s Press and has gone on to sell movie rights.

And J.A. Konrath, who was a traditionally published author before ebooks became viable, but has found much more success self-publishing his previously rejected novels than he ever did through traditional publishing.

Of course, these don’t represent the results for the typical self-published writer. Just like in the traditional publishing world, there are J.K. Rowlings as well as mid-list authors you’ve never heard of.

So, the question is, is self-publishing right for you? In an interview with WritingRaw.com, agent Eddie Schneider said he’s wary of writers who self-publish because it “implies that the author has poor impulse control.” But he goes on to say, “That being said, there are books that people (publishers and agents alike) just don’t get and have to be shown, by sales success, that they ought to get.”

In his keynote speech at the 2010 SCBWI summer conference, former publisher and now agent Rubin Pfeffer outlined the economic benefits for authors putting out their own ebooks.

Does this translate to: Getting rejections — just do it yourself? No. Absolutely not. Or maybe.

Rejections to query letters could mean a number of things: the query isn’t strong enough, the writing isn’t good enough, the story isn’t interesting enough, the characters aren’t developed enough. Let’s face it, plenty of us have sent out queries for a book we thought was ready only to look at it later and think it wasn’t.

Or the rejections could simply mean the agents/editors just think the book won’t sell, as in the case of Still Alice. With form-letter rejections and no-response policies, it’s hard to say what your specific rejections mean. So, this is where the hard work and gut come in.

Before you quit querying and consider self-publishing, think about these:

  • Have you worked your novel over and over until the plot is brilliant, the characters come alive and the writing is spectacular?
  • Have you gotten feedback from critique groups?
  • Have you gotten feedback from a professional editor?
  • Have you given yourself time away from your novel and then come back to it with a fresh eye?
  • And, do you believe in this story? Truly, deeply, you’ve said yes to all the above and you really believe in this story.

If your answers to all the above are yes and you’re thinking about quitting the querying and self-publishing, consider this:

All the success story writers I’ve mentioned here worked hard not just writing their book, but also marketing it. As a self-publisher, you’re not only the author — you’re responsible for sales too. So, you’ll have to drum up attention in the online bookstores, get reviews, get interviews, build a buzz. And sure, nowadays, even traditionally published writers have to do the same, but they have an easier time getting reviews and notice just for having that publisher’s name behind them. And after all that marketing and building a following, you’ll have to write more books and market them, etc. It takes hard work, discipline and lots of passion. And success won’t happen overnight.

If you choose to go the self-publishing route, to be successful, you must treat it as any traditional publisher would. That means, get a good book cover, write great promotional copy and — most important — hire an editor. I suggest hiring a good content editor as well as a good copy editor.

Content editors will help with plot, character, tension, show you where you need to build up the action and when to add more description. Copy editors will make sure you have your commas in the right place, that sentences aren’t awkward, spelling and grammar is correct (your word-processor spell-check won’t catch the difference between “they’re” and “their”). Traditional publishers have a main editor for a book and a team of copy editors who go through the manuscript word by word. Even they miss mistakes occassionally, but you want your self-published novel to be at least as professionally produced as theirs. So hire good editors. That could be the best money you spend.

Is it time to quit querying and self-publish? That depends on the writer. Agents sign new clients every day, and Publishers Marketplace lists lots of book deals for debuting authors. It just takes one Yes, and the next query you send out could be the one. But if you think you have what it takes to produce a quality book and market it yourself, today’s technology has made it more accessible than ever.

Whatever you choose, don’t stop writing.

What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

Image source

Story first

boy readingThere’s a consensus that young readers will read books depicting the life of a protagonist who’s older than them. “Reading up,” so to speak. And, generally, that’s true. So, what do you do if your story is more powerful with a protagonist that’s more middle grade but the voice and style of the book will appeal more to readers of YA or older?

Well, that’s the dilemma, finding the balance between being true to the story and writing for the biggest audience, i.e. the most money. Publishing is, afterall, a business.

There are books, of course, that have faced this issue and still found huge success. Markus Zusak‘s highly acclaimed — and beautiful — novel The Book Thief is for grades 9 and up, and yet its protagonist starts the book at age 9. In Orson Scott Card‘s brilliant science-fiction classic Ender’s Game, the hero is age 6, but the book is definitely not for readers that young.

Call me naive, but I believe that a good story will find its audience. That’s not to say writers shouldn’t consider the business side and listen to agents and editors, but when they’re creating, writers should first write the best story the can. When they’re revising, they can open their mind to ways they can change the story for business.

As a story creator, I like the idea of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose quote from The Lost World is in a book I’m reading right now, Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer. Doyle wrote:

I have wrought my simple plan
If I bring one hour of joy
To the boy who’s half a man
And the man who’s half a boy.

Write On!

Image source

Self-publishing and ebooks

Going into the Austin SCBWI chapter’s annual conference this weekend — it was great, by the way — I was curious to find out how middle-grade novels are selling in ebooks, as that’s what I write. I’ve seen lots of articles in the Publishers Lunch enewsletter saying that ebook sales are rocketing in adult books and even taking off in young adult, but I suspected that middle-grade was behind. According to Egmont‘s Elizabeth Law, I was right. She said they’re not seeing noticeable ebook sales in middle grade.

Anathema book cover

Megg Jensen's self-published YA novel Anathema

Even though MG is slower to this technology, it’s great to see ebooks being embraced so quickly. As I wrote in January, sales of ereaders were stellar for the Christmas season, with many places selling out. Although I still love — LOVE — physical books, whether a book is printed on paper or eink, it’s still a story. And if this new technology is enticing more readers to stories, that can only be good.

The new technology also is changing the publishing landscape. With ebooks, it’s easier than ever — and less expensive — to self-publish books. Author J.A. Konrath has written about this extensively on his A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing blog. He had gone the traditional route before he started publishing his books on his own as ebooks, but he gives good arguments of why that doesn’t matter. YA author Amanda Hocking is an example, selling more than 185,000 ebook copies of her self-published novels.

Now, I’m not saying all writers should stop submitting to agents and editors of traditional publishing houses and go it alone. There are definite advantages to being signed by an agent and getting your work published by someone else. Let’s face it, most writers are not so great at the business end. And throwing an ebook on Amazon or Barnes & Noble or wherever doesn’t automatically mean it will sell; there’s marketing, publicity … oh, and the book should be good (editors are invaluable) or repeat sales won’t be much.

But the advent of ebooks has made it easier for writers to take the publishing of their work into their own hands, and blogs and social networking make it easier to build publicity.

YA author Megg Jensen is trying just that with her novel Anathema. And so far, it looks like she’s off to a great start. The book launched on Tuesday, and as of Wednesday, she had already sold 50 copies. She’s hosting a contest right now where people can guess how many books she will have sold by March 11, and the main prize? An ereader. Now that’s what I call promoting future business.

What do you think? Would you be willing to read a book if it’s self-published, either in print or as an ebook?

Write On!

Save our libraries

Revision update: Still on chapter 21 of 30 because yesterday, I spent the day working on my synopsis so I could take it to our critique group last night. Then our critique group was canceled. Oh, well. At least I’ve got the synopsis done. Back on the book today.

With the economic crunch all around, libraries are being hit hard all over. In the last few days, I’ve seen so many posts about this, I wanted to share them.

Libraries are the way that many of us fell in love with books. I still love going into a library and seeing all those shelves after shelves of books. They support the publishing industry not only by buying books, but also by creating readers who go on to buy their own books. And, librarians are a wealth of knowledge. I recently wrote about how one local librarian helped me in my search for a book with beautiful language. So, check out these links below, and if there’s anything you can do to help these libraries, or any other libraries, please do.

On her blog, author Tina Nichols Coury has an editorial about saving the Los Angeles Public Library from former librarian turned award-winning writer Susan Patron. And this SaveTheLibrary.org website details the problems that library is having.

Writer Beverley BevenFlorez also has been blogging about the Los Angeles Public Library.

And writer Carl Schwanke wrote about the problems hitting his local public library system in Charlotte, N.C.

Writer Jennifer R. Hubbard is doing something about the problem, and we can too. Jennifer is running a blogger challenge today through March 27 where bloggers donate money to libraries for every comment they receive on their blog. So click over to Jennifer’s blog post here, write a comment, and then click over to the participating blogs (the list is on Jennifer’s post) and write a comment on their blogs too. Each comment will help raise money for needy libraries.

Get commenting!

Dreams do come true

Manuscript update: Started my new final round of revision yesterday. The last round was the make-every-word-great round, after going through plot and scene revision rounds earlier. So this is the polish, the I-want-to-make-sure-every-word-is-still-great-and-I-didn’t-type-something-weird-last-time round. I’m excited, and plan to be finished in a week or so. Fingers crossed.

With the economy the way it is and all the bad news that has been coming of the publishing industry the last few years, it’s great to see all the deals still being reported by Publisher’s Marketplace. But when it’s a deal for a debut writer, it’s even more wonderful, it’s inspirational.

As I was shutting down my computer last night, I saw fellow blogger Beth Revis had posted the news that her book, Deep Freeze, has been picked up by Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin, for a spring 2011 release. According to Publishers Weekly, Razorbill editor Bill Shrank “said he thinks the book will do for popular sci-fi what The Hunger Games did for postapocalyptic fiction.” Wow!

Beth also scored a three-book deal, which shows the confidence Razorbill has in her writing.

This is fantastic news for Beth, and I’m so excited for her. I also can’t wait to read the book, because it sounds wonderful.

But it’s also exciting news for all unpublished writers. It shows us that despite the layoffs and low financial quarters at publishing houses, editors are buying books, and they are buying books from unpublished writers.

Sure, I’ve heard over and over that manuscripts need to be really polished before they’ll even attract an agent nowadays — hence my new polish round — but if you put in the work, the rewards will come.

Go on, dare to dream, then get to work on making that dream a reality. It will take work, a lot of hard work, but it will be worth it in the end.

Write On!

Young adult still strong and other links

After my vow to stop whining and start doing yesterday, I finished my taxes (even though I did do some more whining about having to do them. 🙂 ) So, I’m so excited today to be back on writing. This afternoon, I plan to work on my query letter. Exciting!

But I digress.

I’m catching up with some blog/email reading and found some interesting newsy tidbits I wanted to share.

First up, a lovely Los Angeles Times story about the strenth of YA. The paper reports that adults are reading YA now — no news to us regulars in this sector — and that Harry Potter started this, followed up by the Percy Jackson series, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games and Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief — again, nothing new to us — but here’s the nice part:

Where adult hardcover sales were down 17.8% for the first half of 2009 versus the same period in 2008, children’s/young adult hardcovers were up 30.7%.

Yay! That’s worthy of a celebration, I think. Now, I write middle-grade, but the way I see it, is any good news in the children’s section is good.

And why are all these adults choosing YA over fare written for older folks?

Well-written, fast-paced and engaging stories that span the gamut of genres and subjects.

Exactly what we’re striving for.

And here’s a great quote from Lizzie Skurnick, author of the Shelf Discovery collection of essays about YA literature:

“YA authors are able to take themselves less seriously. They’re able to have a little more fun, and they’re less confined by this idea of themselves as Very Important Artists. That paradoxically leads them to create far better work than people who are trying to win awards.”

🙂 Yeah, I agree. We have much more fun.

Another sign of the strength of YA: Lerner Publishing is starting a new YA imprint called Carolrhoda Lab. According to Publisher’s Weekly, the Lab’s launch line will have four fiction titles.

In more news, an independent publishing line focusing on middle grade and YA fantasy and science-fiction that features characters of color, Tu Publishing, garnered $10,000 in donations to launch, and, thanks to the haul, attracted the attention of bigger publisher Lee & Low Books. Recognizing that something great was going on here, Lee & Low has acquired Tu Publishing, and here’s the cherry on top — the donation money is going to be returned to the donators. Nice to see a corporation doing the right thing.

Got any other news to share?

Write On!

John Green says it's ok to suck, and other links

Catching up on some of my blog reading today, I found a great YouTube video (I can’t display it on here, but check it out at Beth Revis’ Writing It Out blog, it’s worth it) with Looking For Alaska author John Green telling us what NaNoWriMo does:

  1. teaches us discipline because you need that if you’re going to write 50,000 words in a month (Note from me, especially in November. Seriously, NaNoWriMo creators, why did you choose November, which has Thanksgiving and the beginning of holiday shopping?), and
  2. it’s ok to suck in the first draft.

And for all writers who hate to revise, Green says that in all his books, he has cut 90% of the first draft in revisions, and some of the best parts of his book were written in revision. I saw Green talk at the SCBWI summer conference a few years ago, and, funnily enough, he was talking about revision then. So, he obviously really believes in it. And hey, if it works for him and he’s so successful, might be something in that. 😉

Now for some other cool links:

This one is from January but for some strange reason popped up in my Google Reader today. Publishers Weekly has an article on Penguin’s hopes for the U.S. debut of Catherine Fisher‘s Incarceron, and it looks like it’s one of those books children’s book writers should put on their must-read list. I’ve added it to mine.

Guide to Literary Agents has an interview with Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency, and Tamar takes books from middle-grade older and she really likes fantasy. She looks like a good one to check out.

And here’s a nice bit of economic news, with a great showing of how wonderful the children’s book world is. Amid all the reports of bookstores closing, Publishers Weekly reports that Michelle Witte, an associate editor with Gibbs Smith is planning to OPEN a children’s book store in Centerville, Utah. Fire Petal Books is set to open its doors next month thanks to some help from HarperCollins Children’s Books editor Molly O’Neill and author Neil Gaiman, who have both provided items for a fundraising auction. The auction ends on March 20, so go to the Fire Petal Books page and check it out to show your support, because we can never have too many children’s bookstores. Good luck, Michelle!

Write On!

Editor Nancy Feresten on the future of publishing

Revision update: Still on chapter 22 of 30, thanks to a car that needed an alignment and wheel balancing (why do these things take so long), laundry and some others. Don’t you hate the way the nitty gritty of life gets in the way of your writing? 🙂 I’ve got eight chapters to do this weekend to keep my goal, and I’m thinking I won’t make it. But I’m going to try.

In my fourth report from the Houston SCBWI conference, National Geographic Children’s Books editor-in-chief Nancy Feresten talks about the future of publishing.

If you missed my earlier reports, Simon & Schuster editor Alexandra Cooper talks about submitting to an editor, including herself; Scholastic editor and author Lisa Ann Sandell talked about making your query letter package stand out; and Balzer & Bray editor Ruta Rimas talked about what makes a great book.

First off, Nancy said that National Geographic has become one of the few major publishing houses to reverse its policy of not accepting unsolicited queries from writers. She said she wants to hear from writers, which is why they’ve opened their doors again. But, she said their team is too small to respond to every query, so they have instituted a policy that they will only respond if they’re interested in your work.

Nancy tackled the subject of the publishing itself, and she had some interesting things to say. Quoting a Kaiser Family Foundation study, Nancy gave these stats:

  • Kids spend 7.5 hours a day with some kind of media, up from 6.5 hours a year ago.
  • They spend 38 minutes a day out of school time with some sort of print media (books, magazines, comics).
  • Most of their time is spent with TV, over videogames, music and movies.
  • Over the past five years, time spent reading books is up, whereas magazines is down.
  • Girls read more than books, which has been a constant in the study for years.
  • If a child watches a lot of TV, that does not correlate with a drop in reading unless the child has a TV in his or her bedroom.

This shows that kids are busy, but as Nancy said, “Our big challenge is to figure out what they want to read.”

She said that studies show that being smart is now more important to children than being popular, a switch from past years.

In non-fiction, children want facts, photos, true unexpected stories and to laugh and have fun.

To that end, National Geographic is looking to publish:

  • Serious reference books that are fun and educational. They’re looking for writers and illustrators for this on a work for hire basis;
  • Innovative narrative non-fiction that are smaller stories, potential award winners. They’re accepting proposals for this, but again, will only respond if they’re interested;
  • Fun reference books, which offer photos, facts and fun at a low price. These will be written on a work for hire basis.

With all the new technology available now, with ebooks, etc., Nancy said the market is changing, but challenges bring opportunities.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both print and digital, but she sees a future when the best of both will be combined for a different kind of market than one we know now. Children will have their own ereader, which will be big enough to accommodate the beautiful pictures in children’s books. Families will go to libraries and see print-on-demand version of books, choose the ones they like best and download them to the child’s ereader. These type of ereaders also will be useful in classrooms, with children having less to carry, and teachers being able to make changes to textbooks as they go along.

No matter how technology changes, however, Nancy emphasized that it will be up to writers to create the future. Children will always want good stories, information and fun. Writers will be the ones experimenting with the best ways to use the new technology to tell these stories in the best ways possible.

Sounds like a great future. What do you think about the future with ebooks?

Check in tomorrow for my final report from the Houston SCBWI conference, with literary agent Sara Crowe.

Write On!

Editor Alexandra Cooper on submitting to an editor

Revision update: On chapter 18 of 30. Getting a little behind my goal, so tomorrow, I’ve got to step up my game.

Alexander Cooper headshot

Alexandra Cooper

In my third report from the Houston SCBWI conference, Simon & Schuster editor Alexandra Cooper talks about submitting to an editor, including herself.

If you missed my earlier reports, Scholastic editor and author Lisa Ann Sandell talked about making your query letter package stand out, and Balzer & Bray editor Ruta Rimas talked about what makes a great book.

Alexandra said she works with picture books, middle-grade and young adult fiction, but not easy readers or non-fiction. The exceptions are a few non-fiction picture books that came out of an idea she had and she assigned to a writer and illustrator.

When considering manuscripts, she takes into account the balance of her list as well as the list of her imprint. She said editors are responsible for bringing in books to add to the company’s bottom line, so they can’t always publish everything they’re passionate about. They will turn down good books if the imprint already has similar books, for example. However, she said, outstanding books won’t be turned down.

Editors want a balance between backlist authors and new authors (looking for writers she can work with again), as well as a balance between commercial and literary books.

Right now, she’s signing more novels than picture books, but it’s cyclical, she said. One of the reasons publishing companies are more cautious on picture books right now is the cost and economy. Color picture books are printed in China, and the weak dollar is making printing costs rise.

Finding an editor is like dating, she said, and as such, writers should want someone as committed to the book as the writer is.

The Internet and conferences such as the SCBWI ones are good places to find out about editors, she said. (And I fully agree. These conferences are great!)

As for the issue of most publishing houses not accepting unsolicited manuscripts except through conferences, Alexandra said a lot of the time it’s because of legal reasons. The company doesn’t want to open itself to a lawsuit if they turn down a book that’s similar to one they’re already working on.

However, she said the first book she acquired was from a query, so they do work.

Check back tomorrow for notes from National Geographic‘s Nancy Feresten.