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?

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