Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Many Paths to Publication... And Sex? Baltimore Book Festival Recap

by J. Lea López

I had the pleasure of attending the 2012 Baltimore Book Festival this past weekend. I learned about the festival after our own Sophie Perinot announced she would be attending and speaking on a few panels there. After checking out the website, I knew I had to be there. It was part book sale, part street fair, and part writing conference that took place over three days. I was only able to attend Saturday and part of Sunday, but it was more than enough to know I'll likely attend again in future years. Today I'll be sharing with you some of my thoughts on two excellent panels.

There were a lot of great things going on at once, so I didn't make it to Sophie's women's fiction panel, but if you all know me, you'll know I couldn't possibly miss her panel about SEX! Okay, it was about sex and the historical fiction writer, but really.... it was about sex. I don't even write historical fiction, and I honestly don't read much of it, either. But this was a fun and informative panel. (Let me take a second to point something out: Sophie is such a sweetheart! And so funny!)

One of the panelists mentioned that there is a misconception that women's rights and women's roles in society have progressed in a linear manner throughout history, which isn't true. I admit I had the same impression until the panelists pointed out some of the aspects of ancient civilizations that show how women often had greater roles than we give them credit for. A few examples:

  • There's a theory that the royal bloodline passed through the females in ancient Egypt. So if you wanted to be Pharaoh one day, you'd better marry Pharaoh’s daughter.
  • In some societies/cultures, divorce was commonplace and not frowned upon. The wife could often take part or all of her dowry back if the couple split.
  • Women could own property, and ownership of it did not (always) immediately transfer to her husband when they married, or after her death if she died first.
  • Best of all, even though a husband may have practically owned his wife's body, there was this little thing called the marriage debt. Sex was a husband's duty and something he OWED his wife.

Yeah, you hear that, ladies? Bring that up next time your husband wants a sandwich! By which I obviously mean, Take that historically accurate information to heart next time you're writing some old-timey sex!

Look, it's Sophie! And her book!

The last panel I attended was on Sunday afternoon, about the many paths to publication. There were six authors on this panel, speaking about their experience with everything from self-publishing to ebook-only publishers and small presses, to the traditional agent route to publishing. Most of them had hands in two or all three publishing processes. It was refreshing to see a group of authors in agreement that there isn't one “right” path to publication and that one isn't necessarily better or worse than another. There are two main points that I took away from this panel that I think are useful.

Edit, edit, edit

All of the panelists mentioned quality editing several times in the hour-long discussion, expressing that it is very difficult to get the quality you want all on your own.

Kate Dolan said “Regardless of the path you take to publication, the editing is so important.” She stressed that you really need to get your book into the hands of someone who “can tell you what you don't want to hear.” She also mentioned that the quality of editing will vary, even between editors from the same house.

Christi Barth shared that she had one editor who made her remove all semi-colons from her manuscript because it was a “house rule” despite the fact that semi-colons are a perfectly legitimate form of punctuation.

Amy Villalba, who is self-publishing her novel, said that the editor she uses initially charged her $2.25/page. Six months later, due to increased demand, her rates had increased to $6/page. Because she was a repeat customer, she was able to get her down to less than $4/page. She estimated that you should budget $2,500 to $3,000 per book to get a good product out there. (That amount included editing and paid advertising on sites such as Kindle Nation Daily.)

Other panelists also mentioned bartering your own skills with other writers for editing (and other) services. Networking and simply being around other writerly types in order to learn and ask questions was another theme during the discussion.

There are reasons...

To self-publish. To seek an agent and a traditional book deal. Or a small press. Or an ebook-only publisher. In other words, there are reasons which validate each path. Self-publishing just because you don't want to deal with the “hassle” or process of querying an agent is not a good reason. And quite frankly, if you don't want to deal with that hassle, you likely won't enjoy the hassle of going it alone, either.

The biggest pro to self-publishing is also the biggest con: you have complete control over your project from beginning to end. Complete control means complete responsibility, even for the aspects you may not be comfortable doing yourself. So you pay someone to do it for you.

Publicity support varies. Eliza pointed out that while some small presses do have at least a little bit of publicity support, such as a publisher blog where authors can write posts, not all of them do. One small press she was with had no advertising or publicity at all. Traditional publishing often has more marketing and publicity support because they have the money to do so.

However, no one was suggesting that traditional publishing means the author can sit back and relax on the publicity front. I think we all know what the panelists stated: even with traditional publishing, authors are still expected to do as much as they can to get their name out there. Marketing and publicity will vary across big and small presses and is something else to take into consideration when blazing your path to publication.

Royalties. It's no secret that you can get the biggest royalty percentage with self-publishing, and the least with traditional publishing. But traditional publishing gives you a bigger amount up front, which can be great. Self-publishing pays you smaller increments, but more often. Small presses are somewhere in the middle. Different situations will work for different people.

The market. Megan Hart, who admittedly likes “a lot of people to take care of a lot of things for me” had an idea for a 10-part horror serial. She wanted to put a new one out each month. There isn't really a traditional place to go with that, but it's perfect for self-publishing. Christi talked about how, after not having much luck shopping a particular manuscript, she realized that it was a good book, just not for that market. “Sometimes publishers stick with tropes,” she said, and if your book doesn't fit into a particular trope at that time, you're out of luck. Not because you aren't a good writer, but because that publisher wants more vampires when you're querying zombies.

I have even more thoughts to share about the 2012 Baltimore Book Festival, including my experience at the erotica discussion and reading, so if you'd like to hear more, please join me at my personal blog.

Have you ever been to the Baltimore Book Festival or similar event near you? What was your experience?

J. Lea López is a writer with a penchant for jello and a loathing for writing bios. Find her on Twitter or her blog, Jello World. She has had some short stories published, most recently in the Spring Fevers anthology.


Jean Oram said...

Thanks for sharing! And how cool that you got to meet Sophie? :)

Kay Elam said...

Good post, Jen. It sounds like you had a great time.

A. Lynden Rolland said...

Great recap, JLo!! I love hearing stories about writers and their journeys through the publishing world! (And of course advice and recommendations!) I was so bummed to miss out on the festival this year!

Jemi Fraser said...

Sounds like a great time! And so cool you and Sophie got to meet!! :)

J. Lea Lopez said...

Yes, it was very exciting to meet Sophie! I bought her book and she signed it for me, too. :-)

Amy, let's try for next year!