Participants: Julie Charlesworth, Gerald Hornsby, Sandy Stuckless, Anita Belli, Ellie Holmes, Maria Johnson, Glenda Thompson, Julie Chang, Deborah Klée
Participants had different experiences of publishing including, no experience, self-publishing, Indie small press publishing, and hybrid – self-published and indie publisher.
What are the advantages of going the traditional route of finding an agent and securing a publishing contract? What advice would you give an unpublished writer who is working towards this goal?
Gerald: All of the ‘production’ of your book is taken out of your hands – editing, formatting, etc. There is also a perceived quality from traditional publishers. The downside is less control over what and when you write. And, of course, the royalties are much lower.
Glenda: I think it depends on your publisher. I loved not having to format. I had tons of input on the cover and final approval but didn’t have to do the actual design work. As far as editing, each round my editor made suggestions—great ones—but the final say was mine.
Gerald: Yes. I didn’t mean authors had no input – I meant you don’t have the responsibility of actually doing the work. It’s a big learning curve for authors who have never published before.
Deborah: I think it is a good idea to start with trying the traditional route unless you have good reason not to. My advice is don’t send too soon. You need to develop your craft first.
Sandy: Yes! Sending out a bad MS can sometimes do more damage than not sending one out at all.
Gerald: I’d absolutely agree with the ‘don’t send too soon’ thing. Same applies to self-publishing.
Glenda: I agree. Polish, polish, polish but don’t fall into the trap of analysis paralysis. It will never be perfect but it will be great enough!
Deborah: Good point. The agent’s editor and the publisher will provide edits too.
Maria: Yep I am grateful for this lol! I proofread it as much as I can and it still comes back with all the typos highlighted for me to amend in tracked changes lol. So hard to spot all of your own typos!
Sandy: I’m lucky to have some awesome beta readers like Glenda who tell me the honest truth but will also tell me what’s working
Sandy: They (Traditional publishers) pay for editing & much of the marketing. They have the contacts to get the book into the right hands quickly. Advice: Research. Don’t just send your MS to the 1st agent you see. Find out what they’ve represented before and if they’re looking for your type of thing.
Deborah: You can always go back and submit for/ or publish earlier works. I am currently editing the first novel I wrote several years ago.
Julie Chang: Now that you are going back to your first novel, what do you make of it? Many people I have met look back on their first one with a bit of embarrassment? I’m just wondering whether to leave mine in the drawer!
Deborah: Not at all. I sent the MS of my first novel to agents and was asked for a full MS straight away. I also won a cometition with it. That’s why I feel it must see the light of day. It is just hard returning to something when you have moved on.
Maria: I don’t have an agent, but as other people have said, a pro of the traditional route is having editing, proofreading, front cover & making it into a book taken care of! Also means more accessibility for paperback i.e. being able to order my book from Waterstones or bookshops.
Ellie: My indie books can be ordered from Waterstones too – that’s not unique to trad books alone
Sandy: Also, traditionally published books are easier to get into brick and mortar bookstores. You won’t find many self or indie publications in Barnes and Noble (or Chapters here in Canada).
Deborah: I wrote an query letter that got a great response from several agents – ‘stood out from the pile’,’ ‘best I’ve seen in a long while,’ I based it on one shared by Juliet Mushens and Jessica Burton. Here is a link to the article http://jessieburton.co.uk/the-miniaturist/dear-juliet
Maria: One thing I’ve seen is that some self-published authors have that as their ‘plan A’ option as they are passionate about having control over the process/they choose exactly what happens to their book & how they sell it etc.
Anita: I think this is so true. Self-publishing is usually seen as the second-best option for those who can’t get a traditional deal, but for many, it is their first choice
Deborah: Joanna Penn is a good example. She is a very successful best-selling author and made a choice to become an Indie Author rather than take the traditional route.
Ellie: Networking can often help an author secure an agent if they want to go the traditional route.
Deborah: I know you found the RNA helpful in that respect Ellie
Ellie: Yes the RNA gave me the opportunity to learn so much about the business and I got my agent through one of their panels at a writers’ conference. Nowadays agents do panels at lots of other writers’ events. Hopefully post covid we can all enjoy those events once more!
Deborah: It is a good idea to meet agents at writers conferences. A personal connection always helps.
Sandy: It’s the old adage. Sometimes it’s not what you know, but who you know. Having the right connections is paramount in this business.
Anita: Networking is essential! And even if you don’t know anyone to start with, you soon will! Joining in is the best way, on social media to start with, and then at writer events
Sandy: I joined a Facebook group in 2015(??) called #10MinuteNovelists. Changed my writing journey. No exaggeration. I met so many people, most of them close personal friends now that have helped me. I wouldn’t be published at all without them.
Gerald: I’m a member of the 20booksto50k Facebook group. Incredibly motivational to see new and experienced writers creating a writing career, giving up their day jobs, etc. With self-publishing, being a mid-list author can be a full-time career.
Anita: Also, have a great hook and premise and polish your letter and synopsis
Deborah: Most publishers expect authors to do some marketing but if you secure a contract with one of the big 5 then there is a lot less pressure to market
Sandy: It’s kind of unfortunate, but there’s also the name recognition aspect. Readers will more likely pick up a book by one of the ‘Big 5’ than an indie or self-pubbed author. Not saying it’s far. Just the way it is.
Maria: I agree – unless it is a huge publishing deal, you will still need to do loads of marketing as you will probably be one of many published books and next month there will be new ones to promote so even a traditional publisher won’t be able to spend time on just your book.
Anita: An advantage for me, when I was published by a small press, was that they designed a beautiful cover and got a book bub deal
What are the advantages of securing a contract direct with an independent publisher? What should you consider in taking this route?
Maria: Indie publishers, especially small press, are great at giving unknown/never published before authors a chance. You can often get in the door without an agent and they can also really take on board the ideas of the author. Mine have been brilliant about tweaking front covers.
Anita: I agree Maria. They have small windows where they are open to unsolicited MSs but it is well worth keeping an eye on them.
Ellie: Indies will often be more passionate about the work and want to get to know the authors more because they are handling a smaller number of authors so they have the time to do that.
Deborah: Not all small presses/indie publishers are equal. Do your research and look for the right fit.
Sandy: I realize it’s not possible for everyone, but if you can afford to hire an IP lawyer or one well-versed in contracts, do it to go over it with you. They can save you a ton of money and heartache in the long run.
Anita: I think you have to; check out what they publish. I would never pay a small press and I would expect them to do the edit, cover and print versions.
Maria: Main thing I’d consider is read any contract extremely carefully. Some are hybrid offers and you may be asked to contribute a fee. This is not necessarily a scam and can be a legit road to go down, but authors need to be very careful and have their eyes open to the terms
Gerald: This is so important. There are companies posing as ‘traditional publishers’, inviting submissions and so on. But if they reject you, they offer a ‘publishing service’. Authors need to be sure of what they’re paying for, if it’s what they really want.
Maria: Yes. I’ve heard a lot on the other extreme too – that any hybrid model that has any kind of fee involved, it is automatically scam/not a real publisher. I get it is a real concern but it can be discouraging for authors who have legit gone down that road.
What are the opportunities and challenges of being an Indie author – self-publishing?
Gerald: Honest evaluation of your manuscript in the first place. Is it good enough to publish? A poor quality product (either story or production) could tarnish your author name for the future.
Anita: Opportunities; freedom to write what you want when and how! Challenges, like all publishing; selling books and juggling priorities
Sandy: Opportunities are you have more control/say over the final product. You control timelines and information flow. Challenges are obviously the expense. You pay for everything. Visibility is also a challenge. You have to work harder to get your work seen.
Deborah: It is important to publish a well written and well produced book. If not then you damage your reputation from the outset.
Ellie: Going indie is a lot more work. As writers we find writing the books hard enough so you need to think carefully about whether you have the time to manage the business side of things. Going indie is also a steep learning curve so it’s not for the faint hearted!
Deborah I second that. I have had to learn so much this year. I have loved learning and the lockdowns have helped. But you need time, energy and commitment
Ellie: But with great risk comes great reward – if you are prepared to put the work in and master a host of new skills or hire pros to do it for you, you can reap the benefits. I prefer indie to tradional.
Gerald: And then doing the actual work. We’ve done so much (of our own and others’ work) we understand the process and we have techniques and software to help us. But editing (multiple rounds), proof reading, and design is a lot of work for authors who have never done it. Which is why we’ve produced this offer: hardpressedbooks.com/publish-your-b… – because for some authors, they’d rather get on and write the next book(s). Also good for memoir writers, who just want a book to give family members, and not necessarily a writing career.
Anita: Not everyone is technically minded and can’t always manage the self-publishing process. And memoirs are especially hard to place with agents and publishers unless you are famous.
Julie Charlesworth: Has anyone here paid to have their work looked over before submitting it elsewhere? Any recommendations?
Sandy: Opinions vary on this. Personally, I wouldn’t. I know enough people with experience beta reading and editing willing to review my stuff for free. On top of that, agents, etc will have their own people look over it too.
Gerald: And let’s not forget the royalties on self-published books are much more reasonable and fairer to authors. That needs to be balanced with the ability to market and the reach a Self Pub author is able to get, and resultant sales figures.
Maria: That is another pro of small press/hybrid models as often they have higher royalties than other trad companies.
Would you consider being a hybrid author? A combination of traditional and Indie published books? What are the advantages and challenges of this option?
Ellie I find traditional published authors often indie some of their back list to have more freedom. For indies it’s usually because they have found success as an indie and a trad publisher then comes knocking. Interesting difference.
Anita: I am both. Advantage is flexibility. I don’t think there are any challenges; it seems to me like the best of both!
Sandy: Absolutely! Why limit yourself to one format? You get the name recognition and support of the trad. pub. world, while the freedom to do niche projects that interest you that a publisher might not take. Obviously have to be bit more of a business manager as well.
Ellie: It’s a bit like the Hollywood actors who do one for the studio and then some indie films as passion projects. It’s all about control and freedom. Writing is hard so we need to make it fun as well!
Maria: I am published by a small press hybrid publisher and I am very happy with them. Advantage of more feeling like I partner with them- they allow me more control and are happy for things to be tweaked. Also, I personally like being attached to a trad publisher. I really like the flexibility of both. The only challenge is that I may have to do more marketing than some trad companies – but I think unless you are one of the big 5 you have to expect to do quite a bit of marketing anyway!
Finally, what advice would you give a writer who is considering which route would best suit them?
Anita: Be realistic. Know your market. Understand who your book is aimed at. Do your research. Keep going! The only failure is giving up!
Ellie: They need to be honest with themselves. If they want a trad deal they need to make sure they are writing a genre that sells and have a great hook for their book.
Anita: Because … Writing is an Art. Publishing is a Business
Sandy: It really is all about the research. Do your homework. And when you think you’ve finished your homework. Do more homework. The industry changes rapidly so make sure you have all the details before making a decision.
Gerald: Take time to understand the publishing business. Remember it’s all about selling a product for them, so if they don’t choose your book, if may be nothing to do with your writing. They may already have something similar, or they might find it hard to place in a genre.
Sandy: Reach out to authors who have gone both routes. Pick their brains for a while and be ready to adjust your plan. Also, be patient. You may want the world now, but building up your brand takes time
Ellie: Weird isn’t it we are prepared to spend years writing a book but want success instantly – writers, eh?!?
Deborah: I know. Instant gratification. Or we throw up our hands in despair and desperation! You have to be resilient that’s for sure
Sandy: Yes. This. Rejection doesn’t automatically equal failure. The publishing industry is still driven a lot by preference. What one agent/editor adores; another might loathe.
Maria: All routes are valid, but all routes need to be carefully considered by the prospective author, whether it’s indie, self-published, hybrid. Get your book as polished as it can be and don’t be afraid to ask for support/fresh eyes, especially when it comes to contracts.
Anita: Keep your options open and see Indie as a viable option – not just second best! There is lots of help and support around!
Sandy: Oh! This really needs to be said, particularly if you’re a newer writer. Be wary of anyone looking to take advantage of you. Make sure you’re not signing up with a con artist or vanity press. Any publisher that asks you for $ upfront is not your friend.
Thank you to all of the participants who contributed to this great tweet-chat. I always learn something new.