Category Archives: Publishing Industry

What type of publisher would suit you? 2

Last week, we looked at the traditional publishing houses and the advantages and disadvantages they offer authors. Before we move on to digital only publishing, I want to make a last comment about publishers that offer self-publishing services and hybrid publishers.

Some of the big traditional publishers offer self-publishing services. Penguin Book used to do so although I think they have shut this service down or sold it. Simon & Schuster still has a self-publishing arm called Archway Publishing. Be very careful about using these services. Authors sometimes think that by using a publishing house’s self-publishing arm, they will gain access to the actual publisher. This is not true, and you will pay a premium for using their services.

Similarly, be very careful of hybrid publishers who want to go into ‘partnership’ with you in the ‘brave, brand, new world’ that is publishing today, charging you for production costs and sharing profits with you. If a publisher is charging you for editing services, layout, cover design or ebook conversion, they are not a proper publisher, large or small. If they don’t have a sales distribution service in place, they are not a proper publisher.

The problem with such organisations is that most of them are not discerning when it comes to manuscript selection. If you are prepared to pay for it, they are prepared to publish it. The result is usually a great deal of expense and not that many sales. If criticism scares you, rather self-publish and keep all the profits for yourself. The RWA and other organisations offer excellent courses on how to go about self-publishing. While there may be some good hybrid publishers out there, most of them are perilously close to the definition of a ‘vanity press’ where you are paying for the pleasure of seeing your name on a book without being worried about whether it will sell or not.

There are a couple of red alert signals to watch out for:

  1. They are more concerned about print books than ebooks. There is upfront money to be made in print runs. It goes out of your pocket and into the ‘publisher’s’.
  2. When you ask about sales, they say something like they will keep the books in the warehouse for you and you can direct booksellers to them. That’s a not-so-subtle way of saying you’re the sales person. Bricks and mortar booksellers don’t work like that. Booksellers have accounts with publishers and large distributors and expect reps to call on them. They want thirty-day terms and ‘sale or return’ privileges. This means that if the book doesn’t sell in ninety days, they can return it to the publisher for a full refund. You will end up with a warehouse full of very expensive gifts that are hard to store or post – books are heavy and take up a lot of space.

This brings us to another good option, especially for first time authors – digital first or digital only publishers. These publishers are geared up to focus on ebook sales. Sometimes they do small print runs to complement the ebook publication. Sometimes they don’t. Examples in Australia include Escape (a division of Harlequin, HarperCollins). International examples include Tule, Entangled, Sourcebooks, Carina Press, The Wild Rose Press and many others.

The disadvantage to the author of a big publisher – that you can be a small cog in a huge wheel – is the advantage you have when signing with a smaller press. You are likely to have a more personal relationship with the team and be on first name terms with everyone from the publisher down. Small publishers tend to operate along the same lines as bigger publishing houses, but they outsource more work and have fewer permanent staff. For example, they probably employ a core group of freelancers they use to design covers, edit manuscripts, and do layout and typesetting as well as outsource their sales to independent distribution companies. They will still not charge you for editorial services, cover design, or any other aspect of production. This is the core advantage to going with a publisher over self-publishing. They cover editing and production costs. The core advantage of self-publishing is that you maintain control over the product.

Back to digital first/digital-only publishers:

Pros

  • Keen to work with first-time authors
  • More personal relationships
  • Most based overseas (America is the biggest market for all books)
  • More experimental; will consider diverse and cross-genre publishing
  • Quicker timeline to publication
  • Larger percentage royalty/book paid
  • Pay royalties more frequently than traditional publishers (four plus times per year as opposed to twice a year)
  • Digital sales and presence are the keys to success for a romance author

Cons

  • Only one operating in Australia; most based overseas
  • Smaller staff; use freelancers
  • May not print paperback of book
  • Paperbacks may be more expensive due to small print runs
  • No advance
  • Offer basic marketing and sales services; may offer additional opt-in paid opportunities

This columns was originally published on the Romance Writers of Australia website.

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What type of publisher would suit you 1

While every author dreams of a six-figure contract and of going from obscurity to fame and fortune like JK Rowling and Nora Roberts, the reality is that hard work is required to find ‘instant’ fame. Part of that hard work is learning about the industry and identifying what type of publisher would suit your personality, style and genre.

Publishers aren’t always easy to identify, especially for new writers. Within the industry, publishing houses are well known and distinguished by the same characteristics that are used to separate other large organisations – success, ethics, innovation. However, publishers are focused on marketing their product brands – their authors and books – so they don’t put significant money into advertising their logos and companies. This has changed with the growth of social media; publishers now have Facebook pages and tweet under their company names. However, they still don’t have the brand profile of organisations like Apple, Amazon and Microsoft.

Not all publishers are created equal. There are the traditional publishers including the so-called ‘Big Five’, hybrid-model and digital first publishers and self-publishers, also known as indie-authors or indie-publishers. There are positives and negatives to each publishing type.

Traditional publishing houses focus primarily on print books although they all now publish ebooks as well. Some have long and distinguished histories. Many have merged over the years. Ebooks are usually published as an addition to a hardback or paperback, not as the only format. The Big Five are Penguin Random House, HarperCollins (now including the famous Harlequin Mills & Boon romance house), Hachette Livre, Simon and Schuster and MacMillan. All of the Big Five have romance lines. There are numerous smaller traditional publishers including Text and Allen & Unwin. They are more niche and not all of them publish romance.

Pros

  • You will not have to contribute any funds to production or marketing.
  • You will probably get an advance on your royalties (an upfront payment).
  • Excellent editorial support.
  • Superior book production.
  • Confirmed marketing support, including bigger and better marketing and promotion campaigns including a tour if your book is a focus title.
  • Additional support if you are a local author.
  • Publication in paperback and ebook, possibly audiobook. You will be able to hold your book in your hands and see it on a shelf.
  • Large sales and distribution networks.
  • Foreign rights specialists who may be able to sell your book into other markets.

 Cons

  • You may need an agent to approach a traditional publisher, especially in America and England.
  • The Big Five publish hundreds of titles per month. Your book will have internal as well as external competition.
  • The ‘machine’ will roll on a month after your publication to other books.
  • You have limited to no control over final title and cover, sales strategy and marketing spend.
  • Traditional publishers focus less on digital sales, the primary market in romance.
  • Their ebooks are more expensive which can price your book out of the market.
  • They concentrate funds and energy on big names and money earners; if your book is a ‘midlist’ title you’ll get minimal marketing support.

Next week, we’ll look at the smaller publishing houses, digital only publishers and indie publishing.

This column was originally published on the Romance Writers of Australia website.

 

Getting a manuscript ready for submission

In the not to distant future, my romance novel will be published. This is the first in a series of blog posts about my path to publication. I hope it is inspiring and helpful to other aspiring writers out there.

I’ve wanted to write a novel worthy of readers’ delight since I first went to university, saw creative writing on the course list, and realised that real people wrote books. Maybe, just maybe, I could be one of them.

I struggled on my own for years before I found my tribe at the Romance Writers of Australia. With the support and guidance of various members, I’ve made steady progress. I finalled in one competition, learnt from others, and eventually finished my first manuscript. It placed second in the Emerald Award for unpublished manuscripts. I was thrilled but still plagued by doubts. The praise received was consistent; readers liked the setting, my heroine and the dialogue. The criticism coming back was also consistent – my hero was hard to know. Although I spoke to a few publishers, I never submitted, choosing to rework it instead. I say ‘choosing to rework’ and that’s partly true. Part of me was also retreating. If I wasn’t good enough to win, was I really good enough to publish? Would I make a fool of myself submitting it to publishers? Fear of failure can be crippling. It can also be a strangely comforting bedfellow, one which makes sure you never move out of my comfort zone.

But … I really wanted to be a published novelist. I wanted it more than I feared failure and humiliation. So I set myself a goal. By the next year’s conference I would be ready to pitch my revised and improved romance to publishers. I added 30,000 words to the story and thought about the story a lot, what worked, what didn’t. I also thought about what I would do if no one wanted it. I could self-publish. However, I really wanted to take my first steps in publishing with someone more experienced holding my hand. I wanted the support and the learning curve an author gets when working with an experienced editor and publisher. I’ve worked in the industry for years, so I know how valuable that experience can be.

When the annual RWA conference came around again in 2017, I was ready and prepared to face the threat of rejection again. I’d changed my title from the sweet-sounding Alpine Kisses to the sassier The Millionaire Mountain Climber. I put in my pitch request for the speed dating sessions with editors and agents. As a backup, I also made myself a list of romance publishers who accepted submissions direct from authors. I composed the list from the names of publishers who have attended RWA over the years as well as those who publish the books I like to read. I went online to their submission pages and copied their requirements. If the pitches didn’t go well, I had a plan B.

The pitches went okay. One agent was, frankly, rude, but said I could submit anyway. I did so, but didn’t hold my breath. Just as well because neither I, nor anyone else who pitched, ever heard back from her. One publisher was delightful and enthusiastic, and I submitted with some confidence. Another publisher said I didn’t fit their criteria, so that was a no.

However, with only one genuine show of interest, I didn’t like my odds. A month after conference, I hauled out Plan B and submitted to another ten publishers and one agent. It took time. Each one had different submission criteria. Some requested only the first five pages. Some wanted the first three chapters. Some wanted the whole manuscript. Everybody wanted a synopsis and to know a little about me, but not a one of them matched another. Each submission was unique. Some of the publishers I targeted were Australian; others English and American. I changed spelling according to the submission. While I didn’t get it all right, I reckoned it was respectful to at least make the effort. Those submissions took me another month, to the end of October 2017. I meant to submit to more agents, but decided to first see what came of round one. I also decided that if I didn’t get interest from anyone by end February, I would self-publish. I felt my story had legs now.

Next time: The call … make that the email.

Small steps beginning of big change

Sometimes, the iniquities of the world we live in overwhelm me. It’s easy to be dragged down into a space where it seems change for the better is impossible. Then an individual or organisation will do something to prove me wrong and remind me of the best qualities of humanity, like resilience, resourcefulness and hope. Last year the world seemed to going backwards, reverting to hate and bigotry, focusing on stirring up fears of  ‘otherness’ rather than looking for commonalities and humane, empathetic solutions.

This year bad things continue, but in this first quarter I have seen things to restore my hope. Teenagers marching in the US demanding better gun control. And the Romance Writers of America making a small but significant change to level the playing field of their important RITA awards for indie authors. This year, publishers and authors were required to enter a PDF not a paperback. Why is this important? Because corporations (like publishers) will always tread the conservative, proven path to success. Until proven otherwise by a massive bestseller produced at somebody else’s risk, they will confidently declare is no viable market for:Dreams Key Representing Hopes And Visions

  • wizard boarding school books in the 21st century
  • LBGTQI heroes and heroines
  • romances featuring POC
  • steampunk
  • authors from non-mainstream (read English-speaking, white, heterosexual) cultures)
  • etc. You get the idea.

The authors for these stories have found their voices in independent publishing (self publishing). Many critics still rail against the standards of indie publishing. It’s true the barriers to entry are lower. It is not true that the best of traditional publishing is better than the best of indie publishing.

The changes to the RITAs resulted in 22 indie authors making the finals – out of a total of 78 finalists, almost one third and the most ever. Other minority demographics are also better represented even if not to the same extent.

Jackie Horn has done an excellent job of analysing the data of the RITAs and what it means for diverse authors and characters. I recommend reading her post at Romance Novels for Feminists.

Small changes, big results. Go RWAmerica! Thank you for leading the way.

And go students of America! Thank God for the passion and idealism of youth.

Diversity in Romance: US report finds only 7.8% of romance titles by people of colour

Diversity in romance is a hot topic at the moment. It’s fuelled by questions around cultural identity and sales.

Who has the right to create characters from different backgrounds? On the one hand, no one is better positioned to write a character with, say, an African American background than an African American. On the other hand, taken to extremes, that argument would mean no Othello, no Ophelia and no romance heroes with their own POV, at least not when written by female writers. And does this mean that a writer from an Asian background can’t write Regency Romance, even if she wants to? And what does it mean about aliens and shape-shifters? The world would be a much duller place if writers only wrote what they knew.

There is also, of course, the issue of unrepresented minorities in history. We think of medieval Britain as an island predominantly populated by white people, but what of the descendants of the African Roman soldiers stationed along Hadrian’s Wall before the collapse of the Roman Empire?

Then there is the thorny issue of sales. Which comes first, the demand or the story? I’m inclined to favour the perspective that the way forward is to ensure diversity within publishing houses. If editors and publishers have diverse interests and backgrounds, they will find those great books which have universal appeal regardless of the cultural identity, nationality or race of the characters.

The publishing industry certainly isn’t there yet. Bookseller and Publisher covered an 2rippedbodicereport2016Entertainment Weekly story on The Ripped Bodice’s report on the racial diversity of romance publishing in the US during 2016. The Ripped Bodice is a romance specialist bookstore. They found that only 7.8% of romance titles published were written by people of colour. ‘People of colour’ is a broadly descriptive term that not all writers of non-Anglo Saxon heritage will identify with. However, given that US census figures indicate that up to 28% of the American population identifies as either black or Hispanic, the diversity book is clearly not balanced.

Half of the 20 publishers surveyed had fewer than five percent of their books authored by people of colour, and only three publishers had at least 10% of their books authored by people of colour.

The report co-authors and owners of The Ripped Bodice, Leah and Bea Koch, said they were motivated to conduct the study ‘because they often found themselves short of options when customers come in looking for traditionally published books by authors of color’.

‘We have found it difficult to continue the conversation about diversity in romance without hard data,’ said the Kochs. ‘For many years the common refrain from publishers has been “we’re working on it.” Every year we will track industry growth and see if that promise rings true.’

The report notes that all of the publishers mentioned were invited to contribute statistics to the study. More than half engaged directly, with the missing data gathered from publisher and distributor websites.

I think this is an excellent initiative by The Ripped Bodice. I’m also giving a shout-out to all those publishers who participated willingly and all the indie authors who publish diverse romance but weren’t covered by this study. The more we talk, the more answers and solutions we’ll create and the more great romances we will have to read.

Australia has a very diverse, multicultural society. It would be interesting to see a similar study done here. I suspect the numbers would not look much better although I do know many publishers who actively hunt for and publish magnificent stories by individuals from marginalised or misunderstood groups, whether because of their cultural background, sexual preferences or other factors.

If you’re looking for a reading list of diverse authors and characters, try one of these four books, or have a browse on GoodReads, where there are many recommended book lists complete with comments.

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