Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Equation Occasion - When

Looking for wildflowers for sandy information, click here.

Looking to check out this week’s Equation Occasion, read on.

The When Installment of 
(W5+ H) x (IP ÷ RMs)
The Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of Indie Publishing - R McCormack Style

I first began this series with the question Who.  The focus was on asking who you are as a writer or illustrator and if self-publishing could be a match for who you are as a person.  Last week I shared What I’ve learned about self-publishing so far, which includes the nuances of this industry.  Indie publishing is a nuance, and I think I drove home the point that anyone moving into this marketplace would do well to be dedicated to the same professionalism and quality that a publishing house/press would assume.  Moving into the Indie market also means you’d be less likely to hire a printer or vanity publisher to produce the book for you and more likely to involve yourself in all aspects of creating the final product, using online retailers to sell your book as a POD and eBook.  Today we add to the equation by asking: When is Indie publishing a good fit?  But, now that I think about it, it may be useful to understand when it isn’t a good fit first.  This means we need to take a look at traditional publishing.

The path to traditional publishing typically starts by signing with an agent.  The agent’s role is to handle all the business of writing, which includes advising on and negotiating contracts, as well as following up on contractual agreements by acting as spokesperson for the author.  Some agents will help with revisions and editing, too.  Once the agent sells a manuscript to an editor at a publishing house, the author and editor begin to polish the book for publication.  The editor and art department assist with all interior formatting, the book cover, and graphics and illustrations inside the book.  The editor would also work with the marketing team to discuss the promotion of the book and getting the book reviewed.  If the book has potential to sell in large numbers, the marketing budget is bigger and the effort more widespread.  New titles also appear in seasonal catalogues that are viewed by book buyers and libraries.  I’m oversimplifying here, but the point is that the author’s main job in this process is to produce writing.  These days, with less money available for public relations, the author’s second most important part may be to do as much marketing as they can on their own.  This entire scenario can happen without an agent (though not often), and you can see what responsibilities you’d be left with if you contracted directly with the publishing house.

So, this doesn’t sound too bad, huh?  Well, it would be lovely, and I think many will see the benefits of having both traditionally published and Indie published titles.  But there are authors who’ve begun to express their frustration with traditional publishing when compared to Indie publishing.  Here are some of their complaints:

1.  Giving up copyright to work
(with Indie, you own everything)
2.  Low royalty returns
(with Indie, you earn significantly more)
3.  One to two year timeline to bring book to print
(with Indie, your book can be live in a matter of months)
4.  Having little control over out of print backlist titles
(with Indie, you can re-launch a book at anytime)
5.  Marketing cut backs
(with Indie, you decide how much or little you do and spend)

Now, I could go back and forth arguing against these complaints and then supporting them again in the same breath.  The truth is, some things are better with traditional publishing and some things are better with Indie.  So, when the rubber meets the road, when does the time come to just go Indie?

1.  When you want it your way

Obviously, if anything in 1 through 5 above struck you as a concern, Indie is a great option.  Also, you may have a specific vision for the interior format and structure or the book cover, or you may want to develop a series.  In traditional publishing, they’ll hear you out and get your approval, but design is mostly left to the internal staff.  It is their job, and they tend to be pretty good at it.  As for a series, in traditional pubbing you may hear, "Whoa, slow down cowboy!  Let’s see how that first book sells."  This doesn’t mean your wrong for wanting to follow through on your artistic viewpoint, and this is where Indie gives you the liberty to be your own brand of expressive.

2.  When you’ve reached your limit on rejection letters

I joke, but really this is a factor.  Submitting to the agents and editors that have stated an interest in your genre/subject matter and are open to receiving manuscripts is important.  It’s a valuable exercise where you must follow directions with reverence to the system and try to sell your work.  And though you may receive your share of form rejections, other times you’ll get feedback that you can use to improve your writing.  They may even encourage you to revise and resubmit.  With this said, there will come a point when you must ask yourself if the rejections are due to the work not being up to snuff.  If you feel it is quality work, then consider if your story/writing is too unique, niche, or not commercial enough for it to be worth the risk of investment.  Remember, publishing is a business and taking a book to print is expensive.  If your concept is deemed not marketable to a large enough audience, publishing houses have to pass.  This isn’t to say an independent press (publishes 10 or fewer books a year) wouldn’t be willing to take on a less-than-mainstream title, so keep trying.  But if you can’t bear to read another rejection and you feel confident that your material is well-written, illustrated, designed, then it may be the right time to consider going Indie.

3.  When you want to go a certain direction with the marketing or your platform

This may sound like I’m rephrasing the know-your-audience discussion, and I am.  It can’t be overstated that we must know our audience, but to take this a step further, we also benefit from having a purpose…even if it’s to entertain.  The truth is, Indie publishing can be used to create all kinds of interesting books.  For non-fiction, it can be used to publish community and family cookbooks, a grassroots group or organization’s story, or a guidebook to support your public speaking efforts.  For both non-fiction and fiction, I encourage you to look at your writing like a piece of art because you are an artist.  When I first entered the self-pubbing world, I didn’t know I’d feel so at home among the mass of authors/illustrators who weren’t just interested in writing a book, but creating a world.  This is what makes Indie different within the self-publishing model…Indie is about design that's aimed at a particular audience.  Sure design includes fonts, interior material, and book covers, but with Indie, an author/illustrator can use titles to also design a platform.  A place to stand and announce, this is how I want to make difference.  Platforms can absolutely be built within the traditional publishing world, and I think most agents and editors want to assist authors/illustrators on their individual paths, but again, marketing budgets are being cut.  If you have to do (and pay for) this yourself, Indie gives you more freedom to make an impact with your book(s).

To this point, I'll reference my urge to do something to help the Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts.  I could have just logged on to Red Cross's website and turned over some cash, but part of my influence while writing wildflowers was the attention that Hurricane Katrina brought to human's responsibilities to and within nature, and somehow I wanted to do more.  I knew that by pooling my own funds with donations, I could give more money to Red Cross, but I also thought that maybe a few more people would read my book and be influenced to do their part, environmentally speaking, and to have hope in the future.  The book is also about relationships...the one Keifer has with himself, as well as his sister, family, friends, and community.  I liked the idea of enticing my readership to band together in support of a community that needs it.  Anyway, if wildflowers had been traditionally published, I'm not sure I'd have been able to create the donation drive...for lots of different reasons.

Before I sign off, I'd like to mention another valuable charity event happening in Phoenix next weekend.  On November 10th, a benefit for the Lake Titicaca Literacy Project in Peru is being held at the Barnes and Noble at Desert Ridge Market Place at Tatum and the 101.  Greater Paradise Valley Reading Council hosts this project that builds libraries on Amantani Island, brick by brick, book by book.  All special activities, including local author book signings and donation opportunities, will take place from 10am - 2pm.  For more information about the project, click here.  This is an excellent example of authors acting from their platforms.

Next week, the big Indie equation variable, where do I start?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

wildflowers for sandy

wildflowers for sandy
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and many other towns in the Gulf Coast area.  The world slowly awoke to the truth about how environmental moments reshape the way we live.  I've long been dedicated to understanding my own responsibilities as a human living in nature.  This influence shows up in wildflowers, and though the book is fiction, it contains a message based in the reality I've experienced as more and more natural disasters occur around the world.

Hurricane Sandy has become our most recent devastating weather event, sending the East Coast into a state of emergency.  Today they're surveying the landscape to assess the damage, which is already being called historic.  There are teams of people who will study this storm in order to discover the science behind the moment, and many will later offer us restoration ideas.  For now, though, people need help, and I'm hoping you'll join me in a wildflowers for Sandy donation drive.

From now until Saturday November 3rd, I'll be donating 50% of all the profits from book sales to the American Red Cross, whose website this morning says, Your financial donation can make the biggest and most immediate impact.

If you haven't yet purchased wildflowers, now is the time.  The wildflowers for sandy donation will be calculated from all sales on Amazon/CreateSpace, Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords.  If you've already bought the book, consider buying one to give as a gift for the upcoming holidays.  It's classified as a young adult novel, but written for all ages.  You could also donate the copy to a local literacy program or library.

Please use the links in the left hand column to purchase, especially for a print edition from Amazon.  The link takes you to my CreateSpace store within Amazon, which is designed to ease the transaction for the buyer and, due to a lower fee schedule, will allow me to make a larger donation.  I hope you'll also join me in posting this on Facebook, Twitter, or linking back to rmccormackwrites in your blog or email.

In times like these, I'm most touched by people pulling together to create hope and share love.  I'd be honored if you showed your support and offered donation through wildflowers for sandy.  I'll report back on Saturday to let you know the results.  Thank you!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Equation Occasion - What

The What Installment of 
(W5+ H) x (IP ÷ RMs)
The Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of Indie Publishing - R McCormack Style

This week I welcome W2, also known as What, the next variable in our Indie publishing equation.  Many of you may be surprised to learn that our generation of writers isn’t the first to ask what self-publishing is all about.  And book publishing isn’t the only industry with an independent component. 

When musicians independently publish, they “self-release” a recording.  This has been done by some well-known bands, both as downloadable music and in CD form.  We also see this happening with the rise of small businesses and local restaurants, who offer us a more unique product than big corporate entities. 

As for books, artists (of all kinds) and illustrators use self-pubbing to create art narratives, portfolios, graphic novels, and coffee table books.  And when it comes to fiction, you may again be surprised to know many best-selling and recognizable authors have self-published.  Most might think of Fifty Shades of Grey, but I’m talking about novels like Virginia Woolf’s Between the Acts and JK Rowling’s eBook versions of Harry Potter.  And if we go way back and look at the early favorites and masters, we’ll see a long list of authors who, due to timing and circumstance, never blinked an eye at producing and marketing their own work.  These include Dickinson, Whitman, Austen, Twain, and more.

Of course, these Creatives had many resources at their disposal.  For the early authors, once they gained readership, I doubt they were hunched over a table with ink-stained hands, pressing lettered stamps on homemade paper to create their books.  These folks had connections.  And for those successful authors who came later, they had connections, but also an incredible amount of industry knowledge and/or funds to create their Indie publishing platforms.

One thing is for sure, the publishing industry is changing at a rapid pace and we must ask: 

What is Indie Publishing now?

Today, in simple terms, Independent or Indie publishing is when one (or a few) author-publishers self-publish a title.  The term Indie publisher used to refer to small presses that were not aligned with one of the Big Six publishing houses.  An author who ends up at one of these small presses will receive many of the same services one would get from the corporate houses because these smaller, niche publishers are part of the traditional publishing market, putting out about ten titles a year.  These presses are not printers or vanity presses.  Those who go with a printer or a vanity press pay those entities to print books for them.  Now, before we move on to how these terms have evolved, here’s one other label to toss out there: boutique press or house. 

Boutique is one of those terms to be careful with.  Small presses, printers, and vanity presses can all call themselves “boutique”.  Most do this to indicate that they deal with unique titles, but some printers and vanity presses assume this branding in order to disguise their status.  There have been many a writer/author who was lured into paying for their printed book when they thought the press was covering those costs. 

So, leaving boutique out of it, how do all these other terms fit into today’s marketplace?

Small press is still the term for, you guessed it, small presses, and those do not fall under the self-publishing umbrella.  As for printer and vanity press, those have mostly been absorbed into the bigger term self-publishing, but we still hear them used.  Indie publishing is the one term that seems to be in a state of flux.  It could still describe a small press, but with the advent of eBooks and print-on-demand (POD), a small press could be one gal or guy with a computer.  In addition, with the economic recession, the Big Six have reduced the amount of titles they publish, and with individuals doing more and the Big Six doing less, the small presses find themselves with space to take on more work.  As these small presses grow, they shed their Independent Publisher designation, which, remember, originally put them at around ten published books a year.

Now, let’s make one other important distinction.  Most self-published authors aren’t using printers or vanity presses anymore because they can use the eBook and POD markets (defined in moment).  This, my friends, is where Indie publishing breaks away from the self-publishing model.  As an offshoot, Indie publishing holds the basic tenets of its parent-template, but the difference lies in who it attracts.  Remember our Who Am I questions from last week?  Here’s how we add it all up:

The Indie published author is one who accepts the same responsibilities and quality level of a small press while maintaining their individual status and self-publishing a book.

So really, what is Indie publishing?

All this talk about responsibility and quality may sound a bit snooty and even, well, vague, as it can be difficult to define what it means to be accountable to standards.  What we really need to know is, what does Indie publishing look like?

In my own research, I’ve found that as self-published authors move more and more toward certain standards, it begins to look more like the Indie film community when they transitioned away from the “low budget film” tag.  In that transition, the unique voices, ideas, artistic expression, and niche topics were elevated by improved technology and…dedication to craft.  And that’s what Indie publishing is becoming.

Now, some would claim to have authority over evaluating levels of excellence, but the truth in Indie publishing is that you’re asked to be your own judge and jury.  A good litmus test is to compare your ideas of quality to an author or book that you love and are willing to give your personal stamp of approval.  You can also go to agency or publishing house websites and view catalogues to see how they present what they’ve deemed quality work.  You’ll want to do this with your marketing ideas, too.  Look around at promotions and campaigns that you admire.  As you assemble your criterion for a job well done, you’ll start to understand what self-publishing means to you.

The truth is that all of self-publishing is about artistic freedom.  We're seeing traditionally published authors creating projects just for this market, and we're seeing self-published authors willing to cross over and publish traditionally.  It's a craft bonanza, and writers, illustrators, and even industry professionals are feeling empowered by the creative possibilities.

The other truth to self-publishing is that in choosing this route, you will affect your reputation.  But you get decide if the affect is positive or negative.  Look, the stigma attached to self-publishing has always been about one question:  Is it well-crafted?  In the beginning, when folks had a vision to see their words in print, but were turned down in the traditional marketplace, few knew (or accepted) the value of critique, editing, formatting, or design.  There was a level of professionalism missing from many of the self-published titles.  I’m not willing to squash the creative expression behind any self-published title, and those not-so-professional books did pave the way for more knowledge and better printing options.  Lots of early self-published authors were pioneers, and on their backs the self-publishing marketplace was carried, becoming what it is today.  And the evolution continues…with more refined and polished works making up the Indie publishing movement. 

What’s all the fuss about?

Okay, okay, you get the point.  Quality matters in Indie publishing.  But what are the basics?  The need-to-knows?

As I mentioned last week, with all self-publishing, you create the material for the interior—whether words or art or both.  You also design or get help designing a full cover, as well as the front and back matter inside the book.  This includes the copyright, acknowledgements, and bio pages.  You then choose a printer, vanity press, eBook, and/or POD publisher.  If you only have a printed form of your book as the original and aren’t familiar with computers, you would need to go to a printer or vanity press.  These choices will cost you money up front, and eBook and POD are free.  Yes, free.  The companies listed below allow you to upload your content for free, and charge only a small percentage when you sell a book.  These days, it makes sense (cents) to become savvy and work within the online publishing world.

Still, there are artists who prefer to work with printers or vanity presses due to the way they create their visual art.  These kinds of books are extremely personal and stylized, and the quality rests on how their hardcopy art is scanned and put into print.  If you want to take a 30x36 original on canvas into printed form, but you don’t have a large enough home scanner, you could either use a printer or have it professionally scanned and adapted to a usable computer file.  This would allow you to use all the online services below.

The online publishing world is made up of groups like KDP for Kindle, Pub It for Nook, and Smashwords for Mac and Sony eReaders (though Smashwords and Kindle have apps and links for almost all reading devices, including smartphones and desktop computers).  POD publishing is a growing industry, but I used CreateSpace by Amazon.  Lulu is another popular site.  Print-on-demand means that your book isn’t printed until someone orders it.  In all these cases, you upload your interior and book cover files directly to the individual sites.  We’ll chat more about this process later in our equation.  For now, just know that this is the basic What of self-publishing, and there’s actually not much fuss with this process beyond learning curves and patience.  Oh, and knowing When it’s the right choice for you.  Check back next week for the W to the third power.

What?  You'd like more information?

Check the links in the left column under Helpful Places.  And to see more about my self-publishing journey, read my interview in Heidi Horchler's author series at Chroi and Me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Equation Occasion - Who

The Who Installment of 
(W5+ H) x (IP ÷ RMs)
The Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of Indie Publishing - R McCormack Style

Here we stand.  At the edge of a new world.  It may seem like the appropriate first question to ask is: What is this place?  For me, starting with a more introspective query gives me the opportunity to decide if the new world is a place I’d like to go, explore, dwell in.  So, I ask: Who am I in relation to this place?

This is the same first question I’d urge anyone to consider when deciding between a traditional path to publication and the Indie or self-publishing marketplace.  Why?  Well, this question happens to be the one I avoided until I found myself creatively tapped out and spent.  Now, going through this internal rassle lead me right where I needed to be, so I’ll never regret it.  But had I reflected on who I was as an author and who I wanted to reach with my writing, the ride would have been more pleasant.

With that said, I suspect that most Creatives today understand the general aspects of self-publishing, which essentially requires dedication to the production and marketing of a product.  Next week I’ll dive into the channels and off-shoots of this industry and describe the differences between the self and Indie labels, but let’s keep our focus with the general framework of this thing called self-publishing in an effort to see who we would want—and need—to be in this new world.

Who am I?

If you really want to blow your mind, sitting in deep thought and pondering this question can do the trick.  And though I won’t suggest weeks of silent meditation (unless you’re up for it), I will say self-publishing does require that we know ourselves on many different levels.  Some things to decide:

Am I the kind of person who enjoys dedicating my heart and soul to crafting a quality product?

Am I the kind of person who refuses to let confusion or frustration with learning curves destroy my self-motivation?

Am I the kind of person who easily manages my time, the health of my body and mind, and my inner critic?

Am I the kind of person who is willing to accept my mistakes and know that, in the end, perfect is impossible?

Am I the kind of person who will have fun with this process, including the marketing, which is about innovation, pacing, and patience?

After spending some time answering these questions, don’t be discouraged if you said No to one or more, because there’s a follow-up question:

Am I the kind of person who’s willing to change or ask for help when I need it?

I hope you can see how each of these questions would apply to the commitment you need to make when deciding to self-publish.  And if you aren’t yet sure, but are willing to admit that you may need to be flexible in the face of changing times and are willing to accept that you won’t know all the answers and will have to learn when to do it yourself and when to get help, you can overcome most any disruption. 

Beyond this initial introspection, it will also be important to know if your work would fit into the self-publishing marketplace.  Really, any book, including artist books and those with illustrations, will work as a self-published title.  Quality becomes the issue here, and you may like knowing that on the traditional path, the editor and art department will assist you with cover designs, front and back matter, choices for fonts, and all interior formatting and structure.  This is in addition to editing the content and grammar of your book.  If you aren’t the kind of person who cares to be the designer and editor as well as the writer and/or illustrator, that’s okay.  You just have to be willing to get help.  This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pay an expensive industry consultant or professional to do the work for you.  You could trade services or ask an expert to teach you.  Still, you must ask: is this who I am?

The truth is, defining who you are on the front end of the self-pubbing quest is monumental because once you get into the minutiae of this world, you will be tested.  Self-publishing isn’t happening in a vacuum; it exists and operates in our larger fast-paced, do-er world, and as most of us know, it’s easy to lose your footing out there.  It’s easy to become disconnected from your instincts and disregard your an artist and as a human.

Who is my audience?

Another important part of the Who in this equation is to define the audience that will buy and read your book.  This question alone can help you decide that, yes, self-publishing is the place for you.  The reason?  Some concepts are just too unique or niche for a traditional publish house to invest in.  This isn’t to say boutique presses wouldn’t be willing to take on a title like, Whales and the Women Who Love Them, and it isn’t an expression of annoyance with what editors in the traditional houses are buying.  Publishing is a business, and publishing a book is an expensive process.  It’s better that a big house tells you they can’t sell your idea than to end up out-of-print with few sales and no audience for future titles. 

So, who is your reader?  Is your audience so small that you could go old school and print up just the amount of copies you need to gift/sell to your friends and family?  If your audience is larger, consider whether they would buy your work as an eBook and as a print-on-demand title, or only as one or the other?  The more ways you plan to sell (you-as-salesman, eBook platforms like Kindle, or in print through entities like Amazon’s CreateSpace), the more time it will take to create (and market) your product.

You also have to think about where your audience hangs out, buys books, talks about books.  And what are their expectations on quality and style?  Are you the kind of person who can deliver on their wants/needs?  Are you the kind of person who can reach them in their natural habitat?  Or are you the kind of person who can draw them—and maybe crossover readers—into your own world?  Maybe you can do both.  If you answer the Who Am I? questions, you’ll know.

So, here we stand.  At the edge of a new world called self-publishing.  As we go along in our discussion, we’ll add more elements to our equation, and hopefully in the end, you’ll be closer to a solution that fits your writing life.  Just remember, the answers you come up with in the beginning stages will help you decide if you can navigate this universe without losing track of who you are as an author, artist, Creative.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

updates and up next

It's been a little over a month since wildflowers hit the eMarketplace, and many exciting moments have occurred.  Here's an update on some of the latest, as well as a sneak preview of r mccormack writes upcoming blog post series: 

The Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of Indie Publishing


Thank you to Scottsdale Library for accepting wildflowers into the LOCAL collection.  The book will be available for check out within the next four weeks, after going through the cataloguing and shelving process.  Visit Scottsdale Library online by selecting link.

I'm honored to be featured on Chroi and Me, a blog written by Heidi Horchler, who is dedicated to providing informational resources for writers (and horse owners, cooks, and artists of all kinds).  Heidi writes an Author Interview series that features a variety of authors.  Read my interview here.

Beginning Wednesday October 17, 2012:

The Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of Indie Publishing - R McCormack Style
(W5+ H) x (IP ÷ RMs)

Every Wednesday for the next six weeks, r mccormack writes will host the Equation Occasion, a solution-focused look on the questions surrounding Indie publishing at the moment.  Though these posts will chronicle my individual experience and perspective, I will cover general information and resources, too.  We'll ask:

Who am I? Who is my audience?
What is Indie Publishing?
When is Indie Publishing a good fit?
Where do I start?
Why is the market changing?
How do I make the most of my Indie experience?

I hope you'll join me to share your own feelings and ideas.