Friday, August 22, 2014

What's the Difference Between Independent and Self-Publishing?

by RS Mellette

I've been noticing around the industry lately that people are starting to use the terms "Independent" and "Self" synonymously when it comes to publishing.  I find this quite disturbing, as there is a tremendous difference.  Sure, among the Big Six publishers or the average bookstore owner the variances might be too small to see, but to the writers in the trenches – or the online shoppers – they are worth noting.

A good independent publisher is also a traditional publisher.  What makes them independent is that they are not a part of the Big Six (is it still six?) major houses.  Fine, then what is traditional publishing in the online world?

There are several hallmarks that make a publisher "traditional."  First and foremost, they take no money from the author.  More on that later.  They employ professional editors, which might sometimes be the publisher himself or herself.  They will also employ a copy editor who is not the actual editor.  No one can do a copy or line edit of their own work.  A traditional publisher will also employ a professional artist to design their covers.  And finally, a traditional publisher will generate financial reports for the author according to a pre-agreed upon time table listing income, costs and payments to the author (if any), etc.

Regarding the money, a few decades ago this was an easier puzzle to solve.  If the author was expected to put in any money at all, then the publishing company was disreputable.  If there was no advance, then the publishing company was disreputable.  The author's risk was in the time taken away from his or her life during the writing of the book; the publisher's was in the investing of money into production, distribution and marketing.

For whatever reason, the majors started cutting back on marketing authors, so some writers started putting in their own money to promote both their books and themselves.  Often, the money came from the ever-shrinking advances.  As that has become the norm in major publishing, one cannot fault independently published authors from taking the same route.  But that doesn't change the rule of thumb regarding which way the money should flow in legitimate publishing.  No money should go from the author to the publisher, period.  If a publisher says, "If you hire our publicist, you'll save money," then the author is not dealing with an independent publisher, but a con artist.  The author is not being published independently, but is self-publishing.

On the other hand, if the publisher says, "If you want to go out and hire your own publicist, that's up to you," then that's the same as than the major houses.

What difference does independent or self-publishing make to authors and readers?

No matter how many hired guns a self-publisher brings into polish their work, the bottom line is, the only person willing put in their time and money on the project is the author.  That's generally not a good recommendation.  More on that below.  The best editor in the world can't fix a bad manuscript, and even the best authors can get too close to their work to know if it's any good or not.  But there is no, "We're going to pass on this one" in self-publishing.  Every word, worthy or not, gets printed – or transmitted – and the consumer has no way of knowing what's good and what's not.

Traditional publishing, independent and otherwise, starts with the premise that a book is so good that the house is willing to bet their own money on it.  For independent publishers, it's often literally their own money.  How good does a book have to be for a person to say, "I'm going to dig into my own savings to invest in this stranger's story"? 

Personally, I'm more impressed with that than I am Harper Collins saying, "This is one of the hundreds of books we're going to put our stockholders' money into, and whether it wins or loses we've mitigated our risk by the volume of our library."

The independent publishing approach is also more intriguing than, "I've written a book, and since no one else will publish it, I'm going to put my own money into it." 

I should close this essay by pointing out that I do not mean to speak about the quality of writing on any individual project in any of the three forms of publishing, nor the levels of success, but rather potential quality.  Some absolutely horrible books are published by majors, independents and self-publishing houses every year.  On the other hand, some of the contributors to this blog have made a good living self-publishing extremely high-quality work. 

All I'm saying is that there is a difference between independent and self-publishing and that we who are in the business of words should not causally make them synonymous when they clearly aren't.

Look for R.S. Mellette's new book, Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand in December from the independent publisher, Elephant's Bookshelf Press.  

R.S. Mellette is an experienced screenwriter, actor, director, and novelist. You can find him at the Dances With Films festival blog, and on Twitter, or read him in the Spring Fevers, The Fall: Tales of the Apocalypse, and Summer's Edge anthologies.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Facebook for Authors: Page or Profile?

by +J. Lea Lopez

Let's talk about using Facebook as an author. I've gotten a lot of questions from fellow writers who aren't sure how to use Facebook as a tool, what they're supposed to do with it, how exactly they're supposed to do it, and so on. Eventually I plan to do a few posts on some specific how-tos, but in this post I'm going to talk about the differences between interacting with fans/readers through a page versus a profile.

I prefer to use a page, while others prefer to use a profile, and I'm not going to argue which is better or right, because I don't think there's a definitive answer. For a quick look at the differences, you can scroll down for a handy infographic that you're encouraged to share. Keep reading for some more detail and explanation.

Author Profile

If you have a personal profile on Facebook for keeping in touch with friends and family already, then you know how all of that works. Many authors will create additional profiles for their pen names, or even if they don't use a pen name, they'll create a profile for "Author J. Lea López" for the purposes of connecting with fans and having an online presence as their writing selves. It's easy, there's no learning curve because they already know how to use FB in this manner, and they can keep personal details out of their professional timeline and vice versa.

Attending FB events like launch parties and cover reveals and giveaways is easy to do. For event attendees, they get notifications whenever other attendees (who have RSVP'd) post in the event. This is great if you have some people who are waiting for Author You to show up and play games or run a giveaway. They don't have to babysit the event page and keep hitting refresh. Attendees do NOT get a notification when someone posts in the event using their page persona. It might seem like a small detail, but it can be important. Speaking as an attendee at one event, I was confused when I stopped getting notifications for a solid chunk of time, only to realize that the scheduled author was indeed posting in the event, but was doing so as her page persona. I was annoyed I'd missed out on some things.

A profile is a great option if you want to run a street team or a reader's group where you give away ARCs or a secret group to share sexy pictures of cowboys poll readers about what to name your heroine. ;-)

For me, the downsides of using a profile are many. As a reader, I don't personally want to send friend requests to all of the authors whose pages I would like in a heartbeat. There's a certain amount of distance with a page that I'm happy with maintaining. I don't want to share my life with them; I just want to see the fun things they share and learn more about their writing. As an author, I also don't want to share all of my life with my readers. And if you know me, you know I share quite a bit on social media. But I don't want to share everything, and the thought of creating a separate profile to share little more than I'm already doing on my page seems like too much work.

Author Page

When you create a page, you (personal profile you) are the admin for that page and you'll log in to FB with your regular profile when you want to share things from your page. There can be a learning curve and some confusion about how to share what where so it shows up correctly to your fans on your page instead of scaring your dear Aunt Ida with those sexy cowboy photos when you accidentally share them to your family and friends instead of your page. Getting the posting just right can be tricky at first, but at least you don't have to log in and out of different accounts or keep two separate Internet browsers dedicated to two (or more) separate profiles. If you have multiple pen names, you can have multiple pages all accessible from your regular FB profile. And as someone who does a huge amount of social media sharing via mobile devices, it's much easier to manage multiple pages in a single app than it is to manage multiple profiles.

You can send and receive messages from readers with a page the same as you would with a profile, and people can also post to your page publicly. There's still plenty of room for two-way communication with a page. There's no reader apprehension about "Does this author really want me to friend them? Is that too intrusive? Will they accept my request?" and no author apprehension about "What kind of person is this that I'm friending? Are they going to post things I hate? Will I have to hide them from my feed or unfriend them at some point?" Plus it's just super easy to click the Like button.

It's no secret that FB has narrowed the organic reach of pages, which is partially why I suspect a lot of people are using profiles instead, but there are some techniques you can use to broaden your reach whenever you post from your page. Hashtags, time of day, types of post, etc can help ensure that more of the people who've liked your page actually see the content. It's yet another learning curve. However, you do get some analytics with a FB page that you don't get with a profile that can help you target your audience better. The stats aren't perfect, but you'll get information about the overall reach and engagement of each of your posts, and you can look at that data in historic graphs to help you understand which of your posts perform better. You don't get any of that with a profile.

Of course, there's also the old-fashioned way of reaching more people: paying for it. You can pay to promote a public post on a profile, but that $6.99 goes toward pushing that post to the top of your friends' newsfeeds. It will ensure more of the people you're already friends with have seen the post, but that doesn't mean anyone else will. As a page, you can pay to boost a post with a budget as small as $5, and you can target by age, location, gender, and interests, meaning you have a better chance of making new connections and getting new fans.

A public profile is great for extensive networking, maintaining groups, planning and attending events, and connecting with readers in a format you're likely already familiar with. A page is great for sharing things with readers while maintaining some distance, analyzing the effectiveness of your posts, targeting paid FB promotion, and having access to all of your personas in one place. It's up to you to decide which you think is the best fit for you.

Here's that infographic I promised, which I made (for free!) using Piktochart. Feel free to share it around! (click to enlarge)


If you have one, do you prefer using a public Facebook profile or a page to connect with readers? If you don't, which do you think would work best for you?

J. Lea López is an author who strives to make you laugh at, fall in love with, cry over, and lust after the characters she writes. She welcomes online stalkers as long as they're witty and/or adulatory. Kidding. Maybe. Check for yourself: Twitter, Facebook, Blog.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Plotting Without Explosions

by Jemi Fraser

Have you heard any explosions lately? No? You must not live in Northern Ontario. My brain has been exploding randomly and quite loudly recently.

Why?

I'm attempting to plot out a rewrite of a story.

KaBoom!

Problems:

  • I'm NOT a plotter
  • I need more tension between characters
  • the external tension needs some polishing to make it more realistic
  • the characters are too sweet

 Solution:

  • I came across a post by Rula Sinara over at Kelly Steel's blog the other day talking about the synopsis
  • Hmmm. I could write a synopsis BEFORE I start the rewrite
  • this worked out pretty well, and helped me add in some tension between the characters, BUT it also pointed out new...

Problems:

  • saggy middle
  • most of the conflict comes to me as I'm writing. How am I supposed to know the middle before I get there???

Solution:
  • google 'visual plot outlines'
  • find this post by Chuck Wendig
  • celebrate a little because writing the synopsis first is there (proving I'm not completely losing it!)
  • find new ideas (writing backwards sounds BRILLIANT!!! I always know my ending before I begin so this might work)
  • feel better when I see story bibles (I've done those - maybe I can do this plotting thing after all!)

Problem:
  • not sure if any of this will work

Solution:
  • give them a whirl! I won't lose anything by trying (plus I LOVE trying out new things)
  • if I can't deal with the explosions any more, maybe I'll just Pants out a new version and hope all this thinking helps me make that version stronger!


So how does any of this help you out?

  • some new ideas on plotting
  • a reminder to keep open to new ideas. You never know when something will send you scurrying in a new direction. For me, the best learning experiences have been when I learned something I'd never even considered before
  • another reminder that none of us work the same way -- and that's okay. Writing is a creative exercise and we should approach it that way. There is no one tried and true method that works for everyone. Don't be afraid to be unique! And, conversely, don't be afraid to borrow from others.

How about you? Are you a plotter? What has sent you in a new direction lately? Any other non-linear plotting techniques that might help me out?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. In between cranial explosions, she blogs  and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Building Partnerships

By Matt Sinclair

As writers, we tend to write what we know. For most of my life and my entire professional career, I’ve been involved with the nonprofit sector as an active volunteer, a paid employee, and a professional journalist, and – in an unexpected way – as a publisher.

While I’m working to build a successful and profitable publishing company, Elephant’s Bookshelf Press, like many of the writers who have been published through it, has always had a little bit of “nonprofit” feel to it. Although it has been true for the anthologies, the more obvious example is our novel Battery Brothers by Steven Carman, the proceeds of which will go the Sunshine Foundation, which was the first organization to focus solely on providing seriously ill children with their wishes, such as providing a trip to Disney or setting up a visit from a celebrity.

The partnership works for both sides: Sunshine Foundation has helped spread the word about Battery Brothers in its newsletters and on its Website. We can include their logo on the EBP Website and to link to them. The organization will receive the proceeds from sales of the book. We had everything outlined in a contract between us.

But even if you haven’t spent your career in the nonprofit sector, it’s possible for just about any writer to build that type of partnership. As with any new relationship, you need to develop it; it might not happen immediately and it might not happen at all or in the way you initially hoped. Still, the potential for mutual benefit is there and worth pursuing.

How do you do it? Each organization is different, so sometimes the best contact person is in the public affairs or media office, but it could also be someone in the fundraising or development department. In my opinion, a writer’s initial goal should be to ensure that the story maintains believability. Could a person with diabetes run a marathon, for example? It’s possible, but a group like the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation or the American Diabetes Association can help you understand the conditions in which it’s most likely, or possible challenges that might add tension to your story. A call to the organization can open the door to someone who’s willing to talk to you.

It’s best when there’s a clear connection. For example, if you have a significant character who suffers from a specific disease, it’s always a good idea to do your research so the depiction is accurate. There is likely an organization that provides services or funds research that can help you. This type of relationship works best because you both have something to gain: you get accurate information and they have the opportunity to educate people. Be sure to thank the organization in an acknowledgements section of your finished work.

But even if there’s not a clear connection, you might be able to work something out. The key is communicating with the organization. Perhaps a character in your story has been beaten or abandoned. There are numerous human service organizations that help people in those situations, and they might be willing to highlight your book in a newsletter. It might only require a polite request.

As an important caveat: don’t simply use an organization’s name and say that the organization will receive a portion of the proceeds if you don’t have an actual agreement. Most organizations don’t like it when their name is used without permission; some will file suit.

The key is building a relationship, a partnership. There’s no telling where good relationships can take you.

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published Battery Brothers, a YA novel by Steven Carman about a pair of brothers playing high school baseball and about overcoming crippling adversity. Matt also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Serendipity

by Charlee Vale

Allow me to tell you a story.

One July evening in 2008, my family is participating in one of our favorite pastimes: hanging out at the bookstore. We are separate, but together. My mother is perusing craft and art magazines in the comfy chairs in the cafe, my father is in the music section with his head buried in a book about classical guitar technique, and I float. I drift from fiction to children's to teen and back again. I swing by science fiction and end up in drama.

Now, this was back when Border's was Border's, and at this local store I knew the sales people, the layout, even the music they would play. Some families had Sunday dinner, we had Sunday bookstore time. And Monday, and Tuesday, and whatever day of the week we felt like going and diving into what seemed like endless stacks of books.

After getting my father to but me a chai tea latte from Border's Cafe (which, to this day, is still the best chai I've ever had), I found myself perusing the stage plays. I had just completed my freshman year as a theatre major and wanted to consume as much theatrical literature as possible. I suddenly stop in my tracks as I see the cover of a play. A black and white photo of a woman. Just a woman, staring out at the camera with immeasurable sadness. I picked it up and turned it over and read these words:

     "This happened on December 30, 2003. 
           That may seem a while ago but it won't when it happens to you..."

Chills ran over my entire body.

I immediately took the play back over to the cafe and began reading. I read a good 30 pages before we left that night. I purchased it, and finished it that night, dumbstruck. That play was the one woman show The Year of Magical Thinking, adapted from Joan Didion's memoir of the same name.

Three years later, I performed that show as my capstone. My Senior Theatre Project. I went on an amazing journey with this play, and it's still something I am so proud of. But what would have happened if I hadn't been at Border's that one night in July?

Looking around, many people get their book recommendations from the internet, social media, friends, as they should. But my life has been so affected by books that I just stumbled upon, possibly more than the books I sought out, that I can't help but try to get other people to try it.

I discovered my all time favorite book--The Scent of Magic by Andre Norton--by running my fingers across the spines in a library. I tripped over Watermark by Joseph Brodsky in that same Border's, and he is now one of my favorite writers.

This will sound cheesy, but books have power. The ones that are meant to change your life will find you if you let them. So why not give it a try? Go to a bookstore, turn off your phone, and just look. Go to a section you normally don't visit. Maybe it will be something in the cover, maybe the first sentence will make you gasp, maybe there's nothing but a feeling, but it's worth a try.

So that's my story. I believe in book serendipity. Do you?

Charlee Vale is a Young Adult writer, bookseller, photographer, and tea lover living in New York City. You can also find her at her website, and on Twitter, and randomly picking up books of of shelves. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Difference Between a Hook and an Elevator Pitch

By RS Mellette

The trend these days seems to be writers working on hooks for their queries, which is fine.  Query letters definitely need a hook.  Personally, I like to think that every sentence in a query letter needs to hook the reader enough to want to read the next one – and the last sentence needs to make the reader want to hit REPLY, but that’s just me.

As I read through a bunch of hooks in Agent Query Connect, it occurred to me that there is a big difference between a hook (written) and an elevator pitch (spoken).  I’m not sure new writers appreciate the difference, so I thought I’d talk about it here for a bit.

You might have the best query letter ever conceived, but if you’re heading to a writer's convention, that’s not going to help you answer, “So, what’s your book about?”

For that, you need to have a single sentence so well memorized that you don’t have to think about the answer.  That’s an old acting trick.  They’ll speed through a scene saying the words as fast as their mouths can move.  By hyper-memorizing something, when it comes time to do the scene for real, they can say their lines without having to remember them.  They just come out naturally.

But to do that, your elevator pitch – that single sentence – has to sound like natural dialogue.

Think about it as the hook is your formal version, and the pitch is casual.

For example:  Here are the first two lines of my query letter for Billy Bobble Makes A Magic Wand.

"E = mc2 is no longer the most powerful force in the universe. Your wand is."

Twelve-year-old Billy and his best friend Suzy Quinofski didn't mean to change the universe.

Of course, I’d never say that out loud if someone asked me, “What’s your book about?”  For that, I go with.

“It’s about a kid who is into quantum physics and his best friend – she’s into micro biology – and together they make a real, working, magic wand.”

That sounds very causal, but in fact it has been carefully calculated. 

“A kid” = Young Adult or Middle Grade.
“Quantum Physics & Biology” = The Science of Science Fiction
“She’s into” = His friend is a girl, so we have that demographic covered.
“Magic Wand” = the fiction.

After a brief pause to make sure what I just said has sunk in, I’ll follow up with, “Of course, they don’t know how to use it.”

Always remember that a pitch is a conversation, not a monologue.  Memorize where you are going to stop and listen (with all five senses) as well as what you’re going to say.

And finally, an elevator pitch can also be a defensive maneuver at a convention.  When you’re trapped by a person you don’t want to talk to who asks “What’s your book about?” you add “excuse me for a second” to the end of your elevator pitch, and step away without being rude.

I probably shouldn’t have given that last trick away in public, huh?

R.S. Mellette is an experienced screenwriter, actor, director, and novelist. You can find him at the Dances With Films festival blog, and on Twitter, or read him in the Spring Fevers, The Fall: Tales of the Apocalypse, and Summer's Edge anthologies.  Look for his new book, Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand in December from Elephant's Bookshelf Press.