Those LDS Ladies of Indie Publishing

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Zoe Murdock owns, with her husband, H.O.T. Press, which for years published tech manuals. When she decided to write fiction–the semi-autobiographical novel Torn by God: A Family’s Struggle with Polygamy–she just went ahead and published it herself. (personal website, twitter)

Moriah Jovan started B10 Mediaworx to publish her novel The Proviso. The novel is the first in a six-part series. The second volume, Stay, will be released around Thanksgiving. (blog, novels website, twitter)

Riley Noehren is the author of Gravity vs. the Girl. And, yes, she published it herself under the name Forty-Ninth Street Publishers. (blog, twitter)

Table of contents

On the seemingly larger number of LDS women than LDS men in indie publishing
The future roles of traditional publishers vs indie publishers and traditional distribution vs e-distribution
How to get folks to your site
On editing for publication
On paying the bills
On selling out
What we can expect from them in the future
Back to work

On the seemingly larger number of LDS women than LDS men in indie publishing
The future roles of traditional/indie publishers and traditional/e distribution
How to get folks to your site
On editing for publication
On paying the bills
On selling out
What we can expect from them in the future
Back to work


Now let’s start by letting them introduce themselves:

Riley Noehren: I’m Riley Noehren. I entered the indie publishing arena because I wrote a novel and was either too lazy or too underconfident to find an agent and go the traditional publishing route. I did [try that route]. I believe I sent it to all of six agents and then gave up on it for a few months before I considered publishing myself. I was promptly rejected by four of the agents. Over a year later, I still haven’t heard from the other two. Perhaps it’s a long read?

Zoe Murdock: Back in the early 80’s when the personal computer arrived on the scene my husband and I started a technical documentation company to write tech manuals. We wrote books for some of the largest computer companies in the country and some in Asia. We created H.O.T. Press to publish some of our own technical books, books which we are still selling today as e-books. When I finished my novel, Torn by God: A Family’s Struggle with Polygamy, the timing was perfect. Warren Jeffs was on the FBI’s most Wanted List. Polygamist wives were appearing on Oprah and the other talk shows. I started sending queries to the top New York agents and, surprisingly, got a very positive response. Lot’s of requests for the whole manuscript. And no, I never thought I would publish it myself. I went through the agent process for more than 2 1/2 years, just because I was getting so many requests and positive feedback . . . but in the end no takers. Very frustrating. My book kept demanding my attention and it was driving me crazy. I had to get it out in the world so I could get on with my life. That’s when I decided to publish it through H.O.T. Press. I have a lot I can say about that whole process of looking for an agent/publisher.

Riley Noehren: Thank goodness the Polygamists kept your topic newsworthy while the agents were sitting on your manuscript.

Zoe Murdock: Yeah. I think my “keyword” helped a lot in that way, Riley. But it also kept me from getting my book out when the timing was best.

Moriah Jovan: I spent most of the 90s writing and submitting. I got a contract with one publisher, who very soon went out of business (weird situation), so that wasn’t published. A second manuscript got me an agent (who was not all that great). A third manuscript got me a second agent (who was young). A fourth manuscript got me a call on a Saturday morning from an editor who asked me to overnight it. By Tuesday, she called me back and said she didn’t like the ending. Number two manuscript got me a call from an editor who said that she had wanted to buy mine, but she had purchased one vaguely similar to mine two months before and, while mine was superior, she couldn’t justify another to her editorial board. At the same time, I had been in a critique group for 6 years (under the auspices of an RWA chapter), and the group was struggling internally. So under all those very close calls and critique group problems, I not only stopped submitting, I stopped writing. Anyway, in 1994 I wrote a short story for one of my senior creative writing classes, and at the same time, I was taking a 400-level course in Hamlet, and a whole bunch of ideas converged to give me this little scrap of an idea, but I didn’t know how to make it work. It kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. After I quit writing and submitting, I just put it on hold. For lots of reasons, in Aug 2007, I woke up one day and my whole plot problem was solved. I had to scrap most of what I’d written and most of the idea itself, but the kernel was there. I wrote 1200 manuscript pages in 2 months.

Zoe Murdock:  I heard the “I’m already working on a similar one” excuse, Moriah. From an editor. By the way, Riley, you’ve got to send out a lot more than 6 queries. Perserverance is the name of the game.

Riley Noehren: I know, Zoe! I just didn’t have it in me as I was so busy with work and other issues. I think everyone’s comments regarding agents are relevant to the indie publishing discussion, though. It’s important to note we all attempted to go the traditional publishing route first. That’s the state of indie publishing today–it’s everyone’s second choice. In the music and film industries, the term “indie” carries a certain credibility, a pride in not having “sold out” to the suits. I hope that someday indie publishers will be considered the same, but I believe we are at the bottom of a very large hill in that regard.

Zoe Murdock: Now that I’ve done it, I think there are definitely advantages to being in charge of the publication of your own book. I like the fact that the book will be available forever and that you can change things if you want to.

Moriah Jovan: I got about 100 rejections for that book and I knew I didn’t want to go through all that again. Years and years and years of pain and suffering. The landscape had changed so much, and then I saw the e-publishers in romance doing land-office business and that’s kind of when my snobbery about self-publishing start to change.

Zoe Murdock: Wow! 1200 pages in 2 months. I can type 100 wpm, but I think that must break my record.

Moriah Jovan: Zoe, it was there in my head, all laid out. I had to wiggle a few things around and track some of the business threads of the story, but otherwise, it was all there. I just transcribed it.

Riley Noehren: Transcribing it is one thing, but I can imagine editing 1200 pages was no walk in the park.

Moriah Jovan: And then I went back and fixed as many holes as I could.

Zoe Murdock: Riley, I think the publishing industry is changing dramatically, but we are still in the middle of things. The national publishers still have all the clout when it comes to getting reviews/ interviews withthe big media outlets. And as we all know, that is important at this point.

Moriah Jovan: Anyway, I had to get over my self-publishing vanity if I ever wanted anybody to read this and that was what I wanted. Because to me, submitting constantly in the hope that you will find validation with an agent or an editor is actually the vanity.

Riley Noehren: Moriah, I think getting over one’s “self-publishing vanity” is a step every self-published author takes at some point. And as Zoe said earlier, it’s usually fueled by a desire to put one’s project to rest, to just get it out there and move on. At least that was the case for me. Of course, the reality is that, as a self-publisher, you can never fully move on from a book. You have to constantly promote it, etc.

Moriah Jovan: I also had the booming example of the electronic presses in genre romance to look at and go, “Look, they did it. They made it work. People buy those books.”

Zoe Murdock: And Moriah, I do think a book can keep on you and on you until, finally, you just have to put it out in the world. You know you’ve written something and, afterall, writing is an act of communication. There’s no communication going on when the book is in a “drawer.”

Moriah Jovan: Yes, I totally agree to that. The act of writing isn’t complete until the writing is read. It’s a communion between writer and reader.

Zoe Murdock: Boy, ain’t that the truth, Riley. The book never lets you go. And the book is never finished. Every time you rework it you learn something new, which makes you want to rework it again.

Moriah Jovan: In my case, I knew my book was hopeless for Getting Published. There was no way anybody would read it if it was just on my hard drive. My husband pushed me to it, though.

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On the seemingly larger number of LDS women than LDS men in indie publishing

From Gravity vs. the Girl: “Men tolerate silence far better than women.”

Riley Noehren: I wrote that?!

Moriah Jovan: I’m not sure you want my real answer to that.

Riley Noehren:  Well, it’s true, I’m just surprised I said it out loud.   Or put it in a book for that matter.   I agree with Moriah, these are murky waters.

Zoe Murdock: I don’t know why men don’t do it? I’m not sure they don’t.

Moriah Jovan: First of all, there’s just the general vanity of the validation of GETTING published. That happens to every writer everywhere.  Second of all, I find LDS men to be completely cultured to need things to be done by committee. I believe that LDS male writers who want to try to find this balance are not enough of outliers that they can let go of the committee mentality. I made an executive decision. That never happens at church.

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The future roles of traditional publishers vs indie publishers and traditional distribution vs e-distribution

Zoe Murdock: I think even mainstream publishers are going to go to POD. Why not? It will save printing and throwing away books they can’t sell. You can spend your money on publishing more books. Indie publishing fits right in with that. Everyone can publish their own book, but the proof will be in the pudding. Will anyone buy it? Will anyone even hear about it? It’s all about marketing. And that takes us away from writing.

Moriah Jovan: Traditional publishing popped Thanksgiving week last year. There is no going back.

Riley Noehren: I also think that, after years and years of existence, e-books are finally starting to take off.

Zoe Murdock: Yes, e-books are taking off because of all the new e-book readers. But we’ve been selling e-books for years. Probably 20-25 years. To be read on the computer. Technical books mostly, because techies are willing to do that.

Riley Noehren: Sure, Zoe. But I think the influence of mp3s for music and people watching movies on their computer has made the general public more receptive to not holding an actual book in their hands.

Moriah Jovan: I hate to rehash a whole bunch of things going on in genre romance right now, but it comes down to the fact that the ROI of writing a book and selling it is less than it is for self-publishing. I don’t have room to expound on that much here. The higher cost of POD is a lower cost of storage and shipping and waste.

Zoe Murdock: I don’t think POD books are higher cost, because of all the waste that comes when you publish in a traditional way.

Zoe Murdock: Yes, and I think the younger generations are growing up on computers and they will actually want their books on an e-book reader. But there are still a lot of older folks out there who want a book in their hands.

Moriah Jovan: Also, it’s a function of the bookstore discount, 55%. I can sell my book for $10 less on my site than it will sell to a bookstore.

Riley Noehren: POD and e-books are also a far greener method of publishing. That is going to have some clout in the future.

Zoe Murdock: Right, Riley. Green is good. And saves some on junkyard space.

Moriah Jovan: My philosophy is to give it to the customer any way s/he wants it.

Zoe Murdock: Yes, Moriah. But you’ve got to get folks to your site. How do you do that? That’s what I want to know. It’s a ton of work.

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How to get folks to your site

Moriah Jovan: Zoe, it is a ton of work. I blog. Not every day. I’m trying to now be consistent at every other day.

Moriah Jovan: I tweet. I love Twitter. Drives traffic like crazy.

Zoe Murdock: You are very good at that, Moriah. I like that you work in so many formats. I think Twitter is one of the most powerful ways to make contact. But it can get perseverative. Still, it’s great.

Riley Noehren: Zoe, I saw on your Amazon Author’s site that you have done quite a few book signings and interviews. (1) How have you arranged those, and (2) do you believe they have had a marked effect on your sales?

Zoe Murdock: Riley, I think the key to book signings are the interviews and articles that go with them. You can’t have one without the other and you’ve got to sign them up simultaneously. An event gets the bookstore interested and the bookstore gets the newspapers, etc., interested. The newspapers reach a larger audience and I think that’s the key to all the effort. [But] I think the real key to indie publishing or “direct publishing” is marketing. What else do you two do?

Moriah Jovan: We got an ad in BookPage. That didn’t do much. Other than blogging and tweeting, I don’t do much, really. I dont’ know what else to do.

Zoe Murdock: That’s an interesting thing about being in control of the publishing. You have immediate access to sales information. You know immediately what’s working and what’s not. But then there is also momentum. Things build over time.

Moriah Jovan: Yes! That’s another great thing about direct publishing. No shelf life. You don’t have a set amount of time (~90 days) to be on the shelf before it’s pulled.

Riley Noehren: I’m pretty new to the marketing game. Again, I originally published as a culmination of a project or hobby and have only recently decided to see how far I can push it. So far, almost all of my sales have been based on word-of-mouth. That is where being LDS comes in handy.

Zoe Murdock: How about other bloggers? I think that is the future, as bloggers, bookclub sites, review sites take over the role of the newspaper book pages that are rapidly falling. It’s up to you guys.

Moriah Jovan: You have time to establish your name, establish a backlist, and establish a reputation for quality.

Zoe Murdock: Or should I say, gals?

Moriah Jovan: From my background in genre romance, our marketing task is no harder than any traditionally published author’s. Actually, it’s easier. We don’t have to make sales numbers. We don’t have a shelf life (as I said). We don’t have to live in fear our contract will be canceled or our next book won’t be picked up.

Zoe Murdock: Yes, I’m having a lot of “word-of-mouth” sales too. Problem is they keep passing on the damn book. No sales there. But it’s okay, really. I love the fact that people are reading it and getting excited and passing it on.

Zoe Murdock: That’s right, Moriah. That is the great thing about indie publishing. Your book is out there forever

Riley Noehren: I agree with Zoe that established book review websites or blogs seem to be the new reference point for book-lovers.

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On editing for publication

Moriah Jovan: I think the hardest part about self-publishing was finding an editor. I had to hold my nose and jump a long way. I think she did a good job. I think it could have been better if I’d had the money to go through a second edit, but I didn’t.

Riley Noehren: I am a true self-publisher in that I edited myself. This was a mistake–in that it resulted in mistakes in the final product. And while, as you said, Moriah, you can always correct an e-book version, the print version cannot be corrected without purchasing a new ISBN and labeling it a second edition.

Zoe Murdock: I edited my own book – but it didn’t work too well because everytime I’d approach Torn by God, I’d start reading and rewriting. Couldn’t make my writing brain stop and let my editing brain take over. Well, I’m doing it now and will put up the fixes tomorrow.

Moriah Jovan: Riley, not true exactly. You can change up to 20% before you have to do that. And I refuse to edit myself. It never works and I don’t have enough faith in myself to ever be secure about it.

Zoe Murdock: I can fix my print version without a new ISBN. What I heard was as long as you don’t change more than 10%, you can keep the same ISBN. Is it 20%? I always edited our technical books and I think I have a pretty good eye for it – as long as that right brain/writer brain leaves me alone. Got to focus on one sentence at a time.

Riley Noehren: I agree. I have editing experience and am confident in my ability to edit others, but, as Zoe says, it is impossible to remove yourself from the content and focus on the technical stuff when you are both author and editor.

Moriah Jovan: However, Riley, a true self-publisher does farm out those chores he can’t or shouldn’t do himself. I have a company name and my own ISBNs and all that, plus I’ve published someone else now, so technically I’m a publisher.

Riley Noehren: I also thought it was 10%.

Moriah Jovan: Hmm….I’ll look that up. I just meant typos and stuff.

Zoe Murdock: I’ve got help. My husband and I do that for each other, but I got too impatient to get Torn by God out. I pushed it out without checking to see if it had all it’s arms and legs. And we also have the ISBNs and have been a publisher for 20+ years. I guess that makes me a real publisher, too.

Moriah Jovan: I think the problem with my book was that I am too close to it emotionally. I find that work I am THAT emotionally attached to is not my best work. The second book thus far is proving to be better than the first (so people tell me) and it’s because I’m not as emotionally invested. So I think that affects editing.

Zoe Murdock: Ahh. I am always very attached emotionally on the first draft. Then I switch and look at it more objectively on the 2-10 drafts.

Zoe Murdock: I think that affects editing, too.

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On paying the bills

Riley Noehren: Well, I am a more-than-full-time lawyer. It makes finding time for writing hard, and I don’t see writing being able to pay off my student loans anytime soon. However, it provides a lot of material.

Zoe Murdock: I think being in the world does provide a lot of material, Riley. I acutally liked moving in and out of it. Stimulating.

Moriah Jovan: Riley, really? What kind of law do you practice?

Riley Noehren: I’m a litigator. Again, the biggest problem is finding the time and energy after my day job to either write or promote.

Zoe Murdock: I’ve more than paid back my expenses with sales. So that’s not a problem for Torn by God. And I guess it’s an investment like anything else. The big question is how many review copies can you afford to send out. If I sell two books for every review copy, it’s worth it.

Moriah Jovan: I’m self-employed with a day gig. Not going to tell you what because it depresses me, but it pays the bills and gives me the freedom and time I need to do this.

Zoe Murdock: I have the luxury of being able to write full-time. But I wrote fiction while I was running the tech-writing company too. Biggest problem is my butt gets sore.

Moriah Jovan: I’m paid really well for the time it takes me to do what I do and my job’s pretty secure. I *want* to be able to replace that with writing income, but I don’t hope for it, otherwise, my job would be unbearable.

Riley Noehren: But, not yet having read , I would agree that self-publishing is NOT a viable career choice in and of itself. I kept my expenses on Gravity vs. the Girl really low (i.e., by not hiring an editor, etc., with some regret) and was therefore in the black with just a few sales.

Moriah Jovan: At this point in time, I look at writing and publishing as an investment for future residual income.

Zoe Murdock: You have to love writing, I think. To make it all worth it until the big bestseller hits.

Moriah Jovan: I have an unusual plan. I have six books in my series. I’m going to write those and then stop. Maybe.

Riley Noehren: I don’t have children. I am more than aware of the benefits this gives me in finding time/focus to write.

Moriah Jovan: But again, the awesome thing about direct publishing is…I can plan out my publishing life. I don’t have to depend on anybody else to do it for me.

Riley Noehren: I agree, Moriah. Self-publishing means your writing/publishing schedule can be designed to accommodate the demands of the rest of your life, rather than the other way around.

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On selling out

Moriah Jovan: Honestly, the best thing about DIY is the total independence you have.

Zoe Murdock: Yes, but I’d still like my next novel to be picked by a national publisher. Want to learn all about that. I’ve had non-fiction books published, but not fiction.

Moriah Jovan: I go back and forth on that. Would I or wouldn’t I? I don’t know. Right now I’m happy where I’m at, as long as I keep my eye on the bigger picture.

Zoe Murdock: I’d like to compare the two processes directly. My husband and I teach an advanced writing workshop–have done for the past 10 years–and I’d like to be able to tell them about that side of things.

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What we can expect from them in the future

Zoe Murdock: I think my next novel will be more mainstream. Not so much of a hybrid. Torn by God is a Mormon/mainstream hybrid, a fiction/memoir hybrid, and a adult/YA hybrid. Now what book shelf are you gonna put a book like that on?

Moriah Jovan: Mine is two-pronged. I have the 6-year plan for my own series. Then I have my plan to find other work I like and publish it.

Riley Noehren: Oh, I’m so behind these two (as usual). Right now I have two simple goals: (1) continue to promote Gravity vs. the Girl, and (2) get to work on that second novel. I’m not going to worry until it’s finished whether I want to self-publish again or attempt traditional publishing. As everyone has said, the love of writing has to be the most important thing or there’s no point in doing it.

Zoe Murdock: I’m working on a novel about Alzheimer’s as a state of enlightment. Lot’s of humor. Love this book. I’m about a third of the way through the first draft (althought the first 17 chapters have been reworked about 10 times. I keep having to go back through the whole thing to get back to it after promoting Torn by God.

Moriah Jovan: In book #2, I stepped away from the Mormonism a whole lot, but kept it and made it significant to the characters. Book #3 is going to be an allegory of the Atonement, with the myth of Mary Magdalene and Jesus being married.

Zoe Murdock: Interesting, Moriah. My next novel also have a bit of Mormonism in it, but it is only part of back story. Not central.

Moriah Jovan: Book #4 is just a swashbuckler pirate historical romance, Revolutionary War era, so obviously no church references. Book #5 is a post-apocalyptic story and turns the church’s history of polygamy on its head with law-mandated polyandry. And Book #6 is an epistolary novel set in the Vietnam era, and Mormonism is central.

Zoe Murdock: Ahh . . . You’re going to work with the polygamy “keyword.” Got some interesting stuff coming down the pipeline, Moriah. What’s your next one going to be about, Riley?

Riley Noehren: I’ve got ideas for a couple of novels and am not sure which one I’m going to run with for the next one. But with me, you can rest assured it will be about a quirky woman with some sanity issues. I don’t write LDS-themed stuff and have yet to write about an LDS character, but I’m not opposed to the idea in the future.

Zoe Murdock: Well, I do think, non-LDS makes it more marketable to the mainstream.

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Back to work

Zoe Murdock: Is that it, then?

Riley Noehren: I’ve got nothing else, I’m afraid.

Moriah Jovan: Awesome. See ya!

Zoe Murdock: See you all on Twitter.

[Theric’s note: I used brackets where I added words, but I did not mark where I left words out or rearranged.]

53 thoughts on “Those LDS Ladies of Indie Publishing”

  1. Fantastic. Thanks Zoe, Riley and Moriah (and Theric, of course).

    “First of all, there’s just the general vanity of the validation of GETTING published. That happens to every writer everywhere. Second of all, I find LDS men to be completely cultured to need things to be done by committee.”

    The funny thing about this validation (and I have only experienced this in minor ways) is that it lasts for about 2 minutes and then it’s gone. The DIY ethos, on the other hand, can create relationships and a driving philosophy that can last decades. Ian MacKaye is still going strong.

    I don’t feel cultured to get things done by committee (c.f. benevolent dictator); I just feel tired (at some point that will no longer be an excuse, but I’m sticking with it for now).

    Also: I now understand the cryptic comments about CoverItLive from Twitter.

  2. The funny thing about this validation (and I have only experienced this in minor ways) is that it lasts for about 2 minutes and then it’s gone. The DIY ethos, on the other hand, can create relationships and a driving philosophy that can last decades. Ian MacKaye is still going strong.

    For me, the transition from the need for validation to DIY in terms of publishing was not easy for me. I’ll DIY just about anything else (including a bathroom, wherein I paid an electrician and plumber, but that’s all) without a blink of an eye, but publishing? That’s a different animal.

    It took me a long time to come to terms with what it would mean socially/financially to DIY. How I would be seen (lumped together with crap work). How I would have to hustle for every sale. However, I’d been down the other road with no success whatsoever.

    Since what I had been doing wasn’t working, it was time to try something different.

    I think your point about being tired is very real and probably larger in an author’s emotional landscape than anybody realizes. I can credit battle fatigue with driving my decision to self-publish.

  3. I think indie presses will become more and more viable in the future. Not necessarily the “one book” press, but small presses that put good books into the world that wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day. It’s a beautiful act of democracy when the control of what is available is wrestled away from a small number of folks (mostly in New York) who think they know what everyone wants to read. Some people might say that we need that kind of control to maintain quality, but more and more the big publishers have wanted to put their money only into “blockbuster” books, or known quantities (i.e., established authors or author’s with a pre-existing “platform). I think it has resulted in a disturbing trend of monetary censorship.

    Zoe

  4. The one thing the big publishers can give you is time and a certain insulation from all the details required to be an indie publisher. On the other hand, that insulation can sometimes be a major stumbling block in terms of production. It also means that you don’t have the expertise to DIY.

    So, for example, MoJo has spent a decent amount of time learning to tweak layout for several different eBooks formats. On the one hand, that’s time not spent writing or doing other things she enjoys/prefers. On the other hand, it’s technical expertise, it’s hands-on (so-to-speak) knowledge which not only is useful in reaching her goal of providing her novels to consumers in a variety of formats, but is also, in my opinion and experience, gratifying in its own way — it’s creating something like a craftsman does.

  5. I agree William. The learning that takes place in DIY is very gratifying. It’s the best part of taking on your own book project. And I think those of us who are doing it (to one degree or another) are on the leading edge. I’m very impressed with Moriah’s expertise re all the different e-book formats. She may know as much about that as anyone. And I love the cover on Proviso!

  6. .

    Everyone seems to. Except for me. What’s wrong with me?

    Frankly, I think coverart is one of the great weaknesses still in DIY. Riley’s a notable exception (according to my wife, whose taste I trust practically and professionally). Some BFA design students should offer cheap services. Great training for them, good service for DIYers.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about Moriah’s validation-by-committee theory and I think that the need for my writing to be stamped by the Right People has been a driving force for me.

    My main issue with DIY itself (and I’m sorry I didn’t think of this at the time of the interview) is that my marketing is stuck within my own social network. MSM still offers big advantages, not because it goes outside its social network, but because its social network is So Big.

    But like they said, DIY means the book is seen at all. Which should count for plenty.

  7. The one thing the big publishers can give you is time

    I disagree most emphatically. They give you 90 days on the shelf to prove yourself. If your sales aren’t adequate, they will not buy another book. And woe unto you if you don’t get into Wal-Mart. I can give you several examples of this happening.

    Independent publishing has no shelf life. I have the luxury of time to build a following, build a backlist, and I’m not beholden to anything but my checkbook for my next book.

  8. On the one hand, that’s time not spent writing or doing other things she enjoys/prefers. On the other hand, it’s technical expertise, it’s hands-on (so-to-speak) knowledge which not only is useful in reaching her goal of providing her novels to consumers in a variety of formats, but is also, in my opinion and experience, gratifying in its own way — it’s creating something like a craftsman does.

    Absolutely.

    And may I say that I *enjoy* formatting e-books, designing covers, and doing websites, so it is rewarding in a different way.

    As I’ve said before, I don’t outline. I just write. But before that writing takes place, I think about it. A lot. So the technical and business aspects of being a publisher let me expend mental energy learning an objective task and, once learned, it becomes a rote exercise that lets me percolate my writing at the same time.

    In other words, I wouldn’t write during those times anyway because I’d be thinking. This way, I get something constructive accomplished related to what I’m percolating.

  9. .

    With that and citing St OSC, he had to be careful scheduling the release Alvin Maker books because they didn’t sell as well as the Shadow books, and if a poor-selling Alvin book followed a NYTBS Shadow book, the computers would think no one liked Card anymore and they would buy diminished numbers of the next Shadow books.

    Really, someone like him or, even better, Stephen King, should ditch publishers all together. A few blockbusters banding together to publish DIY could end the NY system permanently.

  10. DIY means the book is seen at all. Which should count for plenty.

    Yes. And again, I want to stress that you have the luxury of time.

    If you’ll forgive me for pasting a long quote instead of linking, this is how I perceive the breakdown of continuing to query for weeks/months/years and DIY’ing:

    1. The unpublished authors seeking publication via the normal route (query/reject/revise/repeat). They’re hustling to get an agent’s attention, and possibly spending money on ink/toner, paper, envelopes, and postage to do so. They aren’t earning any money.

    2. The midlist authors having to prove their numbers in order to get their next book contract, which means they have to hustle and market and fight to make sure people know their books exist (especially if they aren’t in Wal-Mart or Target). They probably aren’t earning enough to write full time.

    3. The self-published authors having to fight just to let people know they and their work exists. They probably aren’t earning enough to pay the cost of producing their book(s), much less earn a living.

    4. The career category authors (Harlequin/Silhouette) and e-published romance authors (Samhain, LooseId, Ellora’s Cave), a good portion of whom can earn a fairly decent living cranking out the books, but there’s a catch: Putting out enough books to make that kind of living has to be grueling. At least, it would be for me. YMMV. The advantage to e-publishing over career category publishing, though, is that your titles never go out of print and you have A) time to build a backlist and B) your backlist is forever available to any late-night shoppers with a credit card.

    5. The A- and B-list authors who have pressures of their own, I’m sure, to which I am not privy. This includes anyone who may (if they choose to) write only one book per year or fewer and earn a comfortable living doing so.

    It’s better, IMO, to have taken one’s destiny in one’s own hands.

    This is what guides me. After yet another very close call with an editorial board (I was depressed for weeks), my mother finally said to me, “Why are you basing your goals on decisions someone else has to make?”

    I gave up not only submitting, but writing. There was no affordable option to DIY at the time and then it really was the kiss of death.

    I’m glad I did that. Quitting gave me time, experience, and helped me develop an entrepreneurial spirit that eased my way into deciding to DIY. If I had not already built two businesses, I would never have published my own work, much less started a publishing company to do it.

  11. She may know as much about that as anyone.

    No, there are a lot of e-publishers out in Romancelandia and code geeks who know a lot more than I do, and upon whom I rely heavily for guidance. (You should see my earliest tweets, all cries for help.)

    However, I will go so far as to say I know more about it than anyone in LDS publishing.

  12. Not to mention the problem of books by the big publishers going out of print and never being seen again.

    Sites like Smashwords and Feedbooks are great places to garner publicity in the DIY ebook world. You don’t need to know anything about ebook formats. You only have to discipline yourself to keep the formatting simple.

    A little time spent studying typesetting goes a long way. The cover is definitely the hardest part.

  13. Really, someone like him or, even better, Stephen King, should ditch publishers all together. A few blockbusters banding together to publish DIY could end the NY system permanently.

    There have been people asking this for a year or more. This article backs up you.

    However, I have seen Nora Roberts say outright she would never do that, and while Stephen King seems to be saying all the right things, he petered out on his first attempt and has not only not finished the novel he serialized, he’s still not eager to try again.

    And why should he or Roberts, for that fact? The system works perfectly well for them.

  14. MSM still offers big advantages, not because it goes outside its social network, but because its social network is So Big.

    This is true. If someone has a title that they really think could break big with a publisher, I would suggest that they shop it. Of course, the emphasis there is on the “really.”

    I disagree most emphatically. They give you 90 days on the shelf to prove yourself. If your sales aren’t adequate, they will not buy another book.

    I agree with your disagreement. What I left unstated is that they only give you time to write if you reach a certain level of sales and those sales don’t drop off too much. We’re talking about just a few stars here and even they have to continually prove themselves. This is why literary fiction has fled to the MFA programs — teaching provides a steady icome.

  15. This is why literary fiction has fled to the MFA programs — teaching provides a steady income.

    Right. I think what literary fiction doesn’t realize, though, is that romance (I’ll say that as opposed to “genre fiction” since it’s the only genre growing) is what supports it and lets whatever *is* published to be published. Most houses take a loss on litfic, and romance sales subsidize it.

    Even within romance, it’s the big sellers that subsidize the books that take a loss.

    And, well, just to make us all sick to our stomachs: $3.2 million.

  16. From the link above: “The novel will be ‘an allegory–this time about the Holocaust–involving animals,'”

    Truly, the world doesn’t deserve a genius like Yann Martel (yes, I know everybody loved Life of Pi — I couldn’t bring myself to read it. It oozes middlebrow, limp liberal orientalism).

  17. In the introduction, Riley wrote:

    That’s the state of indie publishing today”“it’s everyone’s second choice.

    Well, I’m not sure that I’d say everyone. I think there is a very real place for “indie” publishing as you call it. A lot depends on what expectations the author has, and what can reasonably be expected of the book, given its subject, style, genre, etc.

    In the future roles section, Zoe wrote:

    I think even mainstream publishers are going to go to POD.

    Um, Zoe its already happening, and has been for the life of print-on-demand. Both LightningSource and Booksurge have actively approached traditional publishers, trying to get them as customers. That’s how I was first signed up.

    Using Print-on-demand is especially popular with Academic publishers (most University presses, for example) and with others who have relatively small demand for each title. Financially, my own calculations lead me to believe that it is usually cheaper per copy to print traditionally once you need to print 750 to 1000 copies at a time.

  18. Financially, my own calculations lead me to believe that it is usually cheaper per copy to print traditionally once you need to print 750 to 1000 copies at a time.

    And Lightning Source makes it easy to switch over to offset at that point.

  19. In the future roles section, Zoe wrote:

    I don’t think POD books are higher cost, because of all the waste that comes when you publish in a traditional way.

    As always, this depends on how you count your costs. Most of the time, general accounting procedures don’t calculate unit costs (i.e., cost per title) that way. The biggest problem here is that you don’t know ahead of time how many copies you will sell. If you did, then traditional publishing would be cheaper (if you printed more than the minimum), because there would be no waste.

    You are right that this waste can lead to higher costs when printing traditionally. My own prediction is that large publishers will eventually set up inhouse printing facilities to print low demand quantities when traditional printing has larger risks than what is acceptable. Smaller publishers will use firms like LightningSource and BookSurge and Replica Books instead of having their own inhouse presses. Only the smallest ‘indie’ publishers will use pod exclusively–at least until the unit costs of pod get a lot closer to offset.

  20. In the future roles section, Moriah wrote:

    Also, it’s a function of the bookstore discount, 55%. I can sell my book for $10 less on my site than it will sell to a bookstore.

    Moriah, that is not accurate.

    Standard discount for retailers (i.e., bookstores) is 40% to 45%. Amazon is the only retailer with enough clout to insist of 55%, and even then it can only get that from small publishers and independent authors. It is true that many publishers give 50% to 70% to wholesalers and distributors, who then give a 40% discount to retailers.

    I should add that this is the standard discount for “trade” books. Some other areas (academic, education) have different standards.

  21. This is all so great to read. I recently self-published a cookbook. It was a bit of a chore to do all the formatting, etc., but very satisfying in the end.

    I really liked Life of Pi.

  22. 🙂

    One shouldn’t lambast what one hasn’t read. Perhaps one day I’ll get around to it. But it smacks of what I said above.

  23. In the future roles section, Riley wrote:

    POD and e-books are also a far greener method of publishing.

    I agree that ebooks are greener. POD is still a book, and books generally compost fairly well. The problems for books in this area are mostly in the paper-making process, which creates dioxins in the water run-off. Yes it is greener to reduce the 10% to 20% of books that are pulped as waste, but it is likewise inefficient to ship books one-by-one like happens with POD.

    POD is not “far greener.” Ebooks are.

  24. MoJo (25), consider yourself given a Gibbs-style slap to the back of the head. Are you offering them 55%? or are they asking for it? If the former, then don’t offer. If the latter, then its because they see you as an author, not a publisher, and think they can get away with it.

    I suggest you find a way to make it seem like the publisher has more than one employee, who is also the author of the book. It will also help when your company has a list of more than say 10 books.

  25. Keep your slaps to yourself, Kent. 55% is what is demanded.

    I suggest you find a way to make it seem like the publisher has more than one employee, who is also the author of the book. It will also help when your company has a list of more than say 10 books.

    Ya think?

  26. In the Editing for publication section:

    not true exactly. You can change up to 20% before you have to [use a new ISBN].

    Actually, R. R. Bowker and the International ISBN agency have not specified any percentage.

    The real issue is whether or not the book is substantially different from the previous edition. If all your changes were correcting grammar and spelling, I wouldn’t change the ISBN, even if it was 75% of the book. OTOH, if you added an entire new section or chapter that was just 5% of the book, I’d likely use a new ISBN. [A good example of this is a work like the Baseball Encyclopedia, which is published annually. Even though the new statistics for each year are less than 5% of the book, it still gets a new ISBN.]

    Its a judgement call. I’d simply ask myself, is the average reader going to consider this a new edition? or Do I think there is enough new material in this edition that I can market it as a new edition?

  27. All I can say is wow. This has got me thinking more about the state of my own writing and the avenues available for poets, even though the discussion has centered on novels. (I’m sure someone knew the poet thing was coming and I hate to disappoint.) Lots to mull over.

    And Wm.: I got about halfway through Life of Pi, but couldn’t bring myself to finish. I keep thinking I’ll get back to it, but every time I think of starting again, I remember how I was force fed bad readings of it in my undergrad academic writing class and I throw up a little in my mouth.

  28. Th (10), wrote:

    Really, someone like him or, even better, Stephen King, should ditch publishers all together. A few blockbusters banding together to publish DIY could end the NY system permanently.

    I’m not sure what you man by “the NY system” exactly, but if you mean big publishers producing blockbusters, I don’t think it will ever go away. If, on the other hand, you mean the concentration of power in the industry in New York City, that’s been going away since the 1950s. It was accelerated in the 1970s by the advent of B&N, and has further accelerated with the advent of Amazon.com. I’m not really sure that the concentration is even very important in today’s market, where the retailers have all the power.

    If neither of those is it, I’d like to know what you mean by “the NY system.”

  29. MoJo (15) wrote:

    And why should he or Roberts, for that fact? The system works perfectly well for them.

    Exactly right. The large publishers are structured to find and sell blockbusters. Were a group of popular authors, as suggested, to set up their own publishing company, its very hard for me to see how they would earn any more money. What costs would be different for them? Why would they sell as many books as the large publishers do for them?

    I can’t see any reason to think that this would be to their benefit.

    Small DIY authors, OTOH, do have some benefits:
    * they get published when they might not otherwise.
    * they sometimes can get better marketing done for their books than the publisher would do otherwise, resulting in more sales.
    * Increasingly these days they can turn out a better edited product than a large publisher would do for them.

    But they also have some real disadvantages:
    * they have to work hard to reach the marketing success that a large publisher does by simply publishing the book.
    * they rarely have access to the resources the large publisher has for both marketing and editorial work.
    * they often don’t have the inclination, experience or expertise needed to do a good job publishing a book. Just because you can write, doesn’t mean you can publish. Some people just aren’t capable of doing what you need to do to publish.

    I tried to cover this in one of my first posts here on AMV: The Difficult Path of Self Publishing. IMO, for almost every author, self publishing will result in fewer books sold than they could get from a mid-sized or large publisher, or even a well-run small publisher. Unfortunately, getting published by a well-run publisher isn’t possible for most authors.

  30. How could I forget about those posts, Kent? Must have been a temporary lapse in memory or the one-year-old who started begging for attention while I was typing my response.

    Both post are worth returning to, I think (for me, that is), as I formulate some plan…to take over the world…(who’s in?)

  31. Unfortunately, getting published by a well-run publisher isn’t possible for most authors.

    There’s the rub.

    I stopped visiting agent blogs awhile back because all I saw were commenters who seemed to pooh-pooh the odds of getting an agent. The “rah rah rah you WILL be published if you keep submitting” cheerleading is totally devoid of any reality whatsoever. And that’s not counting the UNworthy books.

    What’s sad to me is that the people who could salvage the reputation of self-publishing (those who write good books that otherwise can’t find a publishing home) are afraid to do so.

    I will say this. Just after Thanksgiving last year, the consensus against self-publishing seemed to do a 180 rather abruptly.

    Aside: I wish I could find the link, but a romance author (can’t even remember her name) blogged that she’d received a $7,000 advance for her first book and spent every penny on marketing, because her publisher expected her to do the bulk of the marketing herself. I spent less than that to publish mine and I get 100% of the profit, even though I have to market, too. To me, the pros and cons of each are a wash.

  32. .

    (Tyler: email me.)

    Kent: I don’t mean a literal New York, but the big publishers in general and the sway they have over public consciousness. If someone like King were to self-publish the idea that SP is only for unpublishable hacks would take a hit. Among those who think about these questions, things are changing rapidly. But most people are settled in and not looking to change their mind about anything.

  33. Th, I’m glad you didn’t mean the literal New York. After all, New York IS Zion. I ought to know, I’ve been here for 21 years now.

    As for the prospect of a blockbuster author self publishing, I don’t see it happening, although I agree that it would have something like the psychological effect you describe. There isn’t much upside for the blockbuster author dong this, and there would be a lot more risk.

  34. .

    I don’t know. B&N et al would buy it, Amazon would carry it, the author gets a bigger cut…. I don’t see why they wouldn’t. Let the secretary handle the hassle.

  35. Dave Wolverton/Farland couldn’t get a break from Deseret or Covenant, so he is self-publishing his own Handcart novel. And even if it is just catering to the LDS market I imagine he is going to make a lot more with it, than if it had gone through a lackadasical DB.

  36. I think Kent’s point (#35) that just because you can write doesn’t mean you can publish shouldn’t be overlooked. I see Zoe, Riley, and Moriah as women who have demonstrated a breadth of ability and intelligence as authors and self-publishers – not as authors for whom self-publishing was some miracle pill (take two and post on AMV in the morning). Didn’t I read that a couple of these ladies are self-employed small business owners?

    Coming from a background in the entertainment business, I wonder if there isn’t a place in publishing for “the manager.” Everyone knows about agents. Agents handle have two primary purposes: 1) Book gigs or auditions for the client and 2) Negotiate terms. On the other hand, a manager does not have the legal authority to negotiate terms but because managers don’t handle clients in bulk, their relationship with the client is much more intimate. You get better opportunities because they’re coming through a better filter. Very few actors or writers in LA don’t have both: The manager to find the gig and the agent to make it official.

    I read this post and think to myself, “Is it more advantageous for me to self-publish by my lonesome or to get publish by another experienced self-publisher? Somewhat like the manager model in its intimacy? (I’m speaking or publishing rather than representation). If there is some kind of profit-sharing involved, both parties stand to benefit. The experienced self-publisher bears no cost (other than time, which for all I know is substantial) and pulls in a percentage of any profit. And like the manager, the self-publisher only takes on a very limited number of “clients.”

    I’m sure Kent or someone else has posted on this before. If so, I’d appreciate the link.

  37. Very interesting discussion going on here with some knowledgeable folks. I hope it continues. Always nice to learn something new. Just wanted to let you know I’m following along.

    And I’m curious, Kent. What kind of books do you publish? And how long have you been at it?

  38. And ET, it’s true that having run a fast-paced, turn-key, technical publishing company in the eighties was a big help when it came time to publish my novel. My husband and I have thought about working with other writers who want to publish their work, but we’ve decided we want to spend that time writing. Got lots of stories to tell and there’s not enough hours in the day to even do that.

  39. Th (40), the point is that they would find out that to do the job properly, they would need to hire employees who knew how to do the job, facilities to do the work, etc., and this would still cost very close to or more than the same amount that the publisher is taking out of the sales for the blockbuster author’s books.

    Your comment actually implies a kind of contempt for publishers, assuming that they don’t offer anything that a smart author can’t buy separately and assign a “secretary” to manage.

    That isn’t true. If it were, every blockbuster author would be doing it.

  40. David (41): I wish Wolverton well.

    While I’m quite a critic of DB, I don’t think they are incompetent, and I suspect they are better than what most first-time self published authors can pull off. They are “lacadasical,” as you suggest, with some authors when the author isn’t perceived as important to all of their staff. Many medium-sized and large publishers end up doing the same thing — usually its because their staff can’t do everything and they prioritize by title.

    What would interest me most is why Wolverton did this. It is certainly possible that Wolverton looked at the proposed contract terms with DB or Covenant, and thought they weren’t generous enough, given what he was able to get from New York houses. I wouldn’t be surprised if he couldn’t get DB or Covenant to go higher or give better terms.

    Of course, it is also possible that DB or Covenant wanted editorial control that he wasn’t willing to concede.

  41. ET (42), I’m not quite sure how to respond. I can’t say that I’ve that much experience structuring non-traditional arrangements like you suggest. In theory, almost anything can work, and I have considered and tried to make a couple of things like that work. If you have an idea and want to try something, go ahead. It certainly can’t hurt to try to find a partner.

    The problem can simply be finding a partner willing to do the non-traditional structure you want. It can be hard because even outside of your partner, others will get an idea of how its suppossed to work and force your arrangement into a particular structure that is more like what they expect.

    [For example, if you have a distributor that is selling, but not shipping, that could cause problems with your customers, who are expecting the traditional arrangement — they might reject shipments from you because they expect them from the distributor!]

    If you know the industry well, many things are possible and are done from time to time.

    Its kind of like what I once read about design. Good design is knowing all the rules, and breaking at least one. Something similar can be said of structuring partnerships. You ned to first know all the rules — your expectations and those of your prospective partner and those of the industry and environment. Then you can break a rule, because you know the effect of breaking that rule.

  42. Zoe (43), I mainly publish books in Portuguese for use in North America. I’ve also been dabbling in LDS-related books, trying to find a niche where I can work and that fits my views of what is important and worthy.

  43. .

    Kent (46) —

    DB might well be incompetent. I just learned that, with just a couple recent exceptions (now past), DB has fails to make a profit nearly every year.

  44. A reminder:

    Theric has learned from an anonymous source that DB has not turned a profit recently. I don’t know his source and have no reason to believe or disbelieve the assertion above. Absent any documented proof, any commentary on this assertion is just that — commentary. And without full access to the DB balance sheet, any speculations about where the problems are is simply guesswork.

  45. Th (49), this is the second time I’ve run into this rumor, with the other time going so far as to claim that the Church will try to sell the company.

    Since I’ve already written a response elsewhere on this, I may try to address whether or not the Church could ever successfully sell Deseret Book in a post.

    I will say here that, given that such information isn’t public and hasn’t been confirmed as true, I have my doubts about how important this could be. Are these substantial losses? ones that affect the ability of the company to exist? Are them more than 10% of sales? or less than 1%? Do the losses come mostly from the bookstores? or from the publishing operations?

    To be very honest, without more detail, even if this rumor were confirmed, it is hard to guess what effect it might have. If the losses are bad, however, the first think I would expect to see is layoffs, and, if things are really, really bad in the bookstores, store closings.

    But, we don’t have the information to say if that is possible or not.

  46. .

    For clarity’s sake, the exception years where when things like the Wednesday Letters and Fablehaven were doing beaucoup sales for Shadow Mountain. And now that SM is getting as conservative as the rest of DB, they’re back in the red.

    Again, I don’t have documentation, but I will say that from my perspective, this is much better than a mere rumor. But since I’m not sharing my source, I agree that to everyone else, a rumor is what it is.

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