September 30, 2015

Hybrid? We Aren’t Talking Flowers

By Jeri Westerson

Boy, does the writing industry change. While I’m typing this article, about twenty new things will be happening out there. Readers of digital books have tapered off; bookstores who specialize are keeping their heads above water; blogs are out, Twitter is in; Twitter is out, blogs are back…and authors are becoming hybrids.

What does that mean exactly? It means that once upon a time, every author wanted that big New York publishing contract. Heck, we still do. It means prestige, it means getting your book listed in their catalogue, the imprimatur that your book has “made it” even if you aren’t pulling six figures or anything near it for your advance and royalties.

If they couldn’t get that big New York deal, they’d settle for a mid-size publisher. And if they couldn’t land that, they’d go with a small press. But what happens if even that didn’t pan out? Vanity press had a bad reputation that rubbed off on you. Then the boom with Amazon and Kindle, and suddenly self-publishing became respectable. Sort of. And while many of us are still traditionally published with agents working for us and getting new contracts, maybe we had that book in us that we knew just couldn’t even get over the transom with publishers, large or small. We didn’t say good-bye to that manuscript. We said hello to self-publishing….while at the same time continuing to be traditionally published. That’s what we mean by “hybrid.”

It seems everyone’s doing it. At least with a traditional publisher behind you, you get some street cred and your name out there. It’s very helpful to have that. If people like your other work, they are likely to give your indie book a try, and anyway readers don’t care how the book is published, just that it is as good and as polished as the other work they loved so well.

So that means you don’t hit the “Publish” button as soon as you type “The End” any more than your publisher would. It means homework on your part, finding content editors and copy editors, good cover designers and interior formatters. Don’t for one second think it’s all free and you can do it yourself. Unless you have a graphic design background (as I did as an artist and art director) don’t do your own covers. I can spot an indie cover a mile away, and people do judge a book by its cover.

And what’s the rush, anyway? Professionals take their time and only put their product on the market when everything is in place.

When you decide to delve into self-publishing, you need to make a list. I love lists. It’s good to have goals in mind, a direction to move toward. Since you are now the publisher, you need to think ahead. For one, if you want your book to be reviewed by newspapers, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, and any other venue that suits your genre, you need to give them a lead time of three to six months before publication. Yup, that’s right. Lots of time to sit on your hands. Well, no. You will have plenty to do. Get a blog list together of blog reviewers, and since you are already published you have probably been networking with other authors. They have blogs, they might offer you a blurb you can use in advertising and press kits (Google “press kits.” You’ll need to generate your own).

Now it’s time to get that cover artist because you will likely want that done before you send out the advance reader copies (Arcs) for review. Investigate publishing platforms. Createspace is the easiest and cheapest but it may not be the best choice for you. IngramSpark charges fees but includes Ingram distribution which offers returns, making your book attractive to independent bookstores. There is always give and take, but none of it is free. You have to spend money to make money. How much money?
·       Editing, both content editing and copy editing. If you have been published for a good long time, you may not need content editing (the storyline, how do the characters shape up, pacing, etc), but you will most certainly need copy editing (grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, fact checking). This can run you anywhere from $200 to $2000, depending on what you need.
·       Formatting for the inside of the print edition and for the digital edition. From $50 to $1500
·       Cover design, from $200 to $2000 (and please don’t skimp on this.)
·       Marketing—bookmarks, postcards, Google Adwords, advertising—expect to shell out anywhere from $200 to $6000. This is where networking is most important. Ask your author friends what worked for them and what didn’t work. You will save yourself a lot of grief and a lot of money.
·       Website—does it need sprucing up? It should certainly have a domain name at this point:
There’s still booking yourself for your launch at bookstores or other venues pertinent to your genre and book, libraries and women’s auxiliary organizations in which to make presentations. You need to let people know you have a book coming out!

Bottom line, it may not fill your bank account, but something will come of it and your name will still be out there in new and different ways. Newer books sell older books.

Last year I released two indie books. One was a prequel to my medieval mystery series called CUP OF BLOOD. The six previous books of the series were published by powerhouse New York publisher St. Martins, but they declined to publish more. While searching for a new publisher (Severn House picked up the series), I decided to publish a prequel, something perfect to fill the space between publishers and publication. Then I pulled a historical novel from my “vault” of novels I never tried to publish or that were rejected. First up was THOUGH HEAVEN FALL: A Medieval Parable, a Quixotic tale of fantasy and faith. And this year, I pulled another from the vault, reworked it, and recently published ROSES IN THE TEMPEST: A Tale of Tudor England, inspired by the lives of two real people weathering the storm of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. By following the guidelines above, I am experiencing the fruits of my labors and slowly expanding my audience.   

Maybe you want to test the waters of another genre like me, something your agent has no interest in. Or maybe you just have a book that doesn’t fit into any category, but it’s too darned good to leave in a drawer. Whatever your decision to add “Indie Author” to your title, now you know it’s under your control. Authors have to find multiple ways to bring in income because God knows most of us won’t make a living at it.

What it means to be a hybrid comes down to this: options.
Jeri Westerson writes the critically acclaimed Crispin Guest Medieval Noir novels. She just released a standalone indie book, a historical novel entitled ROSES IN THE TEMPEST: A Tale of Tudor England. Set amid the onrushing storm of Henry VIII's break with Rome, obsession opposes faith in this tale of a wealthy knight and the last prioress of Blackladies convent. See excerpts and more on her Website:
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