Friday, June 12, 2015
#WriteWeird pt. 2- Publishing and Promoting the Words
#WriteWeird is a brainchild of Toby Price, Rusul Alrubail, and myself supported and egged on by others. It came about because I wrote two books and that means people think I know how to write books. I try to be friendly, which means people feel comfortable asking me for help writing. I like that. I'm a teacher, helping people is pretty much what I do. That and shouting at children. And I love writing, so helping people write is a bigger bonus. And as an even bigger bonus, I have smart, funny friends who have a lot to say, so helping them write means I'm helping myself because I get to get a bigger chunk of their words in my eyeholes.
What I'm saying is this whole thing is a selfish endeavor.
The plan for #WriteWeird is this- I'm going to write two blogs covering a lot of what I know and I've learned about writing a book, getting it published, and helping people find it. There will be one (at least) formal twitter chat about writing and getting published under the hashtag #WriteWeird. Date and time are to be determined. After that the #WriteWeird hashtag will exist for us as a writer's circle. A place to post links to pieces, get feedback, and ask for help, advice, encouragement, and money.
Part Two- Publishing the Words
So you've written a book. Now what? Authors today have more options than we used to. As recently as five years ago it was hard to be an independently published author. Sure, you could be, but distribution was a pain. Barnes and Noble and the like controlled sales, and the only things that get into big book stores are traditionally published books. If you wanted someone to actually see your book you had to go through the proper channels. You had to probably get an agent, who, for a fee, would send your manuscript out to a bunch of publishers, who might or might not throw it straight on to the slush pile. If it made it into someone's hands at the publishing company who liked it then magic happens (I'm not 100% clear on this part), and at the end you have a book published and in stores. Maybe they even promote it. It exists in paperback, maybe hardcover, and you can visit it on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. You're an Author.
That's a lot of gatekeepers. A traditionally published manuscript seems like a miracle when I think about it. It's like a bill making it all the way to a law. It's like Sam Worthington having a career.
But you feel like an Author. Someone said, "Your book is worth our time and money and we will print it for the masses." That sounds really cool.
Here's the thing- that complex is going the way of the music industry. The internet and ereaders means it's easy to get your words into someone's hands. And you can even get paid for it.
Independent publishing. It's a risky game but it's becoming more and more viable. Popular author John Scalzi started out an independently published author and now he's fairly huge, as far as science fiction authors go. He also sold enough books that a major publisher picked him up. Make no mistake, there are benefits to having that much weight behind you. Book tours become a real thing. But you don't need them.
Think about your target audience. I'll use my first book as an example. He's the Weird Teacher is aimed at a very niche, fairly small audience. Teachers. Yes, there are a lot of us but outside of the profession the likelihood that someone seems my book and decides to buy it drops significantly. So how hard would a major publisher push the book? Realistically, would they throw much weight behind it?
Know what they would do? They'd take a cut of every sale. And Agent Man would take a cut of every sale. And amazon takes a cut of every sale. You're not going to get rich being an author, but can you see that profit margin shrinking?
You don't need to be traditionally published anymore because the market is online now. Find a way to get your words into ebook form and paperback (smashwords and createspace) and people can buy them. The cream rises to the top. Word spreads.
Choosing the right independent publisher, or doing it your own way, takes out those middle men. Now, I want to be clear that I did not go it alone. My experience has been amazingly positive because I found who I did.
Independent publishing is a Wild West, which means there's a lot of people out there to screw you. I've heard friends talk about being told it will cost thousands of dollars to get their book out. Thousands. That's insane. Even for a full color picture book it shouldn't cost that much. You're being robbed because you haven't looked enough and you're too excited by the prospect of seeing your words in print to slow down and shop carefully. Say no and walk away. Your words aren't going anywhere.
I found Ray Charbonneau through a friend who published her book with his company, Y42K. I reached out to her to ask how she got published and she sent me to the same website I'm going to send you to. I was nervous and prepared for him to hit me with a giant price tag. I had literally no idea how much putting a book out would cost.
y42k.com. Ray was and remains easy to work with. He's the Weird Teacher cost me $250. That included formatting, and setting up amazon, iTunes, smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and createspace accounts. It included Ray returning nervous emails from me daily. It included a few phone conversations. It was such a positive experience that there was no question in my mind when I wrote THE Teaching Text (You're Welcome) how I would get it out. I emailed Ray before I was even done writing it.
Ray doesn't edit. Like I said in Part One, editing is the author's job. Or you can pay to have it done. There's tons of places online that do that. I did it myself with the help of some friends.
The other thing not included in Ray's price is creating a cover. He can, but it costs extra. I used a friend. Dorothy Dean is a friend from Hawaii who is a photographer and graphic designer. She's awesomely talented. We worked together, using Ray's template, to create the cover of both my books. By "worked together" I mean I told her want I want, she made it pretty, I gave small suggestions, she made it prettier. Is a cover important anymore? Do you look at the covers of ebooks? I think so. I think spending the time on a nice cover is worth it. I bet if you reach out to Dorothy and tell her I sent you she'll be super nice to you.
Ray walked me through all the steps and did most of the footwork himself. Now my book is in digital stores, it exists in paperback form, it has a cover, it's a Real Book. Now what?
Now I have to sell it. Well, if I want people to buy it. I could have put it out and been shy about it and never mentioned it. Why go through the trouble then, though?
Selling books is hard. It feel weird to tell people, "I wrote a thing, please spend money on it." Especially on social media you have to find a balance between being yourself and reminding people you have a product you'd really like them to check out. You cannot be a walking commercial. Everyone hates that. You should post a link to the book in your profile, then be interesting and charming. People will connect liking what you have to say in conversation with probably liking what you'll have to say in a book.
Chuck Klosterman, an author I love, told Aisha Tyler on her Girl on Guy podcast that the only thing that sells books is a person telling someone they liked it. That's it. Commercials, videos, ads, nothing works like word of mouth to sell a book. And in my experience this is 100% true. You need a street team. But again, don't exist to sell your book. Exist to be cool, and people will try your book.
Which brings me to the last piece of the publishing puzzle, something that some, but not all, independent publishers let you control- Price. I can't speak for anyone but Y42K, but Ray helped me control my price point. I'm writing for teachers. Teachers don't have much money. I'm not trying to get rich. So with his guidance I chose prices that were reasonable and afforded me some profit, but not a ton. Ray takes zero percent of my sales. None. So when you buy a copy of one of my books amazon takes a percentage, I think it's 35%, and that's it. The rest goes to me. That's why THE Teaching Text (You're Welcome) is $0.99 in ebook. It's just over 19k words. He's the Weird Teacher is over 65k words. In ebook it's $4.99. I did that on purpose. Low price point makes you more likely to buy it. THE Teaching Text (You're Welcome) would never be considered a "book" by traditional publishers, why should I charge you like it's a full-length book? It's super short, so it's a buck. In paperback it's $5.99, which is literally as cheap as I could make it and make any profit at all. My philosophy on pricing is I price for volume. The books are cheap, so I'll sell more, and that's how I'll make any money. As I said, I'm not looking to get rich, but I did work hard on these and I deserve something for them.
Personally, if your independent publisher doesn't help you control your price, I'd say walk and find someone who will. I'd send all of you to Ray at Y42k. Seriously, I've never had a better working relationship with anyone. Every time I write a book he's the one who will publish it.
Be smart about who puts your work out. Shop around. Find someone who won't gouge you because they think you're a noob who doesn't know any better. Find someone cool, easy to work with. Make sure you retain the rights to your work.
Use your friends. Everything that went right about He's the Weird Teacher that wasn't in my direct control went right because I have wonderful friends. The editing, finding Ray, working with Ray, getting two beautiful covers, and getting the word out. All friends.