Flood Lights on Publishing!

Balboa – Bout One

  1. Fascinating stuff — this whole new world of self-publishing. Perhaps you could write a post on how you picked this press over the others? All the best with this venture!

    This was her request, I answered her but realized my answer was hastily conceived. It was a fairly long and involved process. At first I went traditional – as in sending queries to traditional publishers, waiting to hear back, or not – as they are inclined to do. Some wrote back stating that this type of ms. was not for them, or they reached their quota. Try again in the spring, fall, summer. Some gave feedback – loved your writing, I cried at your descriptions, haunting, etc – but memoirs written by unknowns are a hard sell.

    Eventually I accepted the fact that the likelihood of a traditional, even small, press accepting the economic output for me was slim. I went into crazy editing mode. Again. Then I was given wise counsel to just do it! It’s good enough. Manage my expectations and get the story out there. Let it live, breath, walk on its own. It was doing nobody any good sitting within the confines of my computer.

    So I checked into a few self publishers. I won a contest at SOOP – and thought that might work. But I wasn’t happy with the contract or the fact that I had to secure large numbers of pre-orders. Bye. Then I looked into Turning Press, Lulu, and Balboa. I liked the people at Balboa and the fact that they were connected to Hay House – which could (maybe) be useful for a book like mine. This is a gamble, friends – but one worth taking if you want to see your book in print.

    I do intend to keep a running commentary of anything that seems useful to report. If anyone has specific questions they’d like answered, like Stephanie, please feel free to ask. These are my opinions of course, but the process of inquiry does shed light on a topic that needs large floods coming in from as many directions as possible.




About wendykarasin

I am complicated and seeking - joy and sorrow, country and city, competition and cooperation. After behavior of a gregarious nature, I require down time to refuel. My loves are children, family, friends, reading, writing, blogging, fitness, and health. I feel most alive when I stay true to my core values. Beauty makes me happy, pain helps me grow.
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2 Responses to Flood Lights on Publishing!

  1. CK Wallis says:

    Hi Wendy,
    It’s important to stay optimistic and enthusiastic, but also…as you’ve learned…to stay alert. I owned a small, independent bookstore for about fifteen years (I sold it last year). While my relationship with publishers was, obviously, quite different from an author’s relationship with a publisher, from my experience I learned: (1) most of the people involved in publishing love reading, writing, and authors; that’s what leads them to the publishing business, (just as it leads some to buy retail bookstores); (2) publishing is a complex and competitive business; (3) the growth and influence of the internet, especially Amazon, has made publishing even more competitive; (4) the sudden growth of vanity presses and self-publishing, while it has created new opportunities, has also further complicated publishing, especially for (in my opinion) authors and retailers.

    During my years with the bookstore, I was fortunate to meet many authors, and was always delighted and inspired by their enthusiasm for and commitment to their work. But, some of the self-published authors also broke my heart when it became clear their dreams of seeing their book in print had left them so vulnerable to financial exploitation.

    (1) Lesson one: One of the reasons these authors could be financially exploited was that they understood so little about the retail book business. First lesson, if you want your book to compete with similar books at the retail level, it must have a similar price, especially for new, unknown authors.

    For example, about five years ago a woman brought in a trade paperback cookbook she had written based on recipes from her Italian family. I asked her the book price, and she replied $25.00. Then I asked her what my cost would be, and, looking a little confused, she again replied $25.00. After explaining the difference between a retail price and my cost, I explained that if I purchased a book for $25 I would be expecting to retail it for $40-$50, making her book a little more expensive than most hardcover cookbooks with lots of glossy pictures (her book was all text, no pictures) by famous chefs. Walking her over to the cookbook section, I handed her a $15.95 paperback by Rachael Ray with a glossy color cover and lots of pix, telling her—as gently as I could—that was her competition when it came to shelf space in a bookstore. In other words, books or other product must earn the space they’re occupying–they have to help pay the rent–or they must go. Obviously, if a bookstore is going to stay in business, it must make a profit. The margin on books is very small compared to most other retail, that’s why bookstores sell so many sideline products to increase their margin. The devastation set in as she explained to me that she had paid $20 per copy and that she felt she had to make some money on it just cover the expenses of traveling around, promoting the book. I eventually agreed to take 2 copies at her cost ($20–like I said earlier, people in the book business love authors and appreciate the accomplishment writing a book represents). I never sold them. In fact, they were on the shelf just a couple of days before I discovered they had been so poorly edited I couldn’t sell them.

    (2) Lesson two in financial exploitation: signing with a publisher that does not require or offer professional editing. Spell-check and Grammar-check are not editing. While Amazon may not have any qualms about the quality of the books they sell, my little bookstore served (and still does) a rural community of about !0,000, with the next nearest bookstore over 50 miles away, and out of respect for my customers, I felt I had an obligation to assure the quality of what I sold. Depending on the time of year, my store had 3000 to 4000+ titles on hand, obviously far too many for me and my staff to read them all. That’s why most bookstores rely on the major publishing houses—because we know their books have at least been well-edited. Going back to the Italian cookbook, the introduction was so poorly written it was embarrassing, and actually contained the author’s resume (which, as it happened, had nothing to do with cooking). But the worst part of it, and the reason I pulled it, was that she had used the brand names of food products throughout the book without a single attribution. Clearly, someone was all too-willing to take her money to “publish” her book, leaving her to deal with any potential legal problems. (There’s a big difference between publishing and printing.) While books like Fifty Shades of Gray have certainly challenged and changed the image of “vanity” presses, booksellers still need to know that self-published books meet the standards of the other books on their shelves.

    (3) Lesson three: As most people know, the major publishers no longer have big budgets to promote books and/or authors—however, most bookstores have never had even small budgets for this. But what they do have is “co-op”, which is credit or money from a publisher for in-store promotion of a book, book placement (face-out on an end-cap) newspaper ads, ads or reviews in store newsletters, etc., which is another reason why bookstores rely on the major publishers. Also, most traditional publishers make returnable books available so there will be plenty on hand for events like book signings.

    With the growth of self-publishing and/or small “boutique” publishers, bookstores have been almost inundated with self-published authors requesting that the store buy their book, host book signings, etc. (Over the last 5-6 years, even my out-of-the-way store was getting sometimes 8-10 requests a week during the summer travel months. ) The requests have become so numerous that some of the larger bookstores have started charging self-published authors to use their space for a couple of hours for a book-signing or to introduce themselves and their book to the store’s customers. Obviously, self-published books do not come with the possibility of co-op to pay for or offset the cost of a book-signing (posters, ads, etc.) or other promotion. (To be clear, the major publishers don’t usually offer co-op on everything they publish, just for the big names, big books they’re promoting.)

    However, traditional publishing houses also provide ARCs, or Advance Reading Copies, of many of their new books. Personally, I think ARCs are critically important, especially for a new author. Most of the self-published authors I’ve encountered are reluctant to “give their books away” because of what they’ve (sometimes over) paid for them. But, I would encourage all self-publishing authors to either work with their publishers to come up with a couple dozen free/or very cheap books to give away, or bite the bullet and give them away at the author’s cost. I think the most important thing a new author can do is get their book in the hands of someone in a bookstore, or someone else who is encountering other readers on a daily basis. Readers talk about books. I used to joke about the “mini-bestsellers” in my store, meaning the in-store bestsellers we created because I and/or my staff loved a book, talked about it and recommended it (note: most people entering a bookstore don’t have a particular book in mind, they just want something to read; they may prefer a genre or topic, but rarely a specific book).

    (4) Lesson four: ease of reordering. This is especially important for retail sales—how easily can a book be reordered by a retailer, and at the traditional retail discount (40%-50%)? Most bookstores use Ingram’s, the country’s (and world’s?) largest book distributor and/or Baker and Taylor for their orders when not ordering directly from a publisher. (Most publishers front list—i.e., new titles—come out in the spring and fall, and that’s when most retailers order their front list, back list, and midlist from them, so in between they use distributors like Ingram). A few years ago, a regional author wrote a lovely romance based on some local history; it was not only well-written, but its’ local connection made it a natural for my store. I would have kept it in stock except that it was nearly impossible to get, and after a few tries I gave up. With all that goes on in a retail store every day, there just isn’t time to keep looking for a single product or book. So, make sure your book can be reordered by retailers as well as by you.

    Well, it seems I’ve gotten a little carried away here,, but I feel that for everything I’ve included there are ten things I’ve left out. I guess a lot depends on how you’ll be marketing your book—will it be strictly internet, or will you be marketing to bricks-and-mortar stores as well? Again, publishing is complicated and competitive. Self-publishing can be a viable option, but it has its’ own pitfalls and is just as complicated and competitive. Be careful– I don’t think anyone was ever hurt by being a little extra cautious.
    Good luck!

    • wendykarasin says:

      I cannot thank you enough for all the information (and lessons) you have crammed into this note. I shall keep your suggestions in mind. This is what I hoped would happen as I wrote and continue to write about my exoerience. That others (like yourself) would chime in with what you’ve learned through the years. Again, thank you and stay in touch, your comments are most welcome!

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