Friday, January 29, 2010

A Tale of Two Authors

Author Matilda Butler is here today to take us along on the journey of two authors, each wanting to follow a different publishing path. She starts the tale here with some informative statistics and the 6 paths to publication. Then she links you to Part 2 of this great post.

Matilda is the co-author of Rosie’s Daughters: The “First Woman To” Generation Tells Its Story. She’s also a writing coach and helps women tell their life stories in her classes on women’s memoir writing. She has published more than 50 articles about women, contributed chapters to published books about women in education and work, co-authored the award-winning book Women and the Mass Media and co-edited the book Knowledge Utilization Systems.

Welcome, Matilda.

A Tale of Two Authors, Part 1
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us...”
Ask authors and most would agree that Charles Dickens’ words could just as well characterize the Publishing Revolution as the French Revolution. Even “Off with their heads!” as pronounced by the Queen in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is only slightly too strong of a characterization of today’s publishing environment.

Publishing Revolution in Progress.

Yes, writing is only one of the concerns of authors. Publishing is the other major issue whether this means getting a few copies for family and friends or reaching the bestseller list. If you’ve been following Straight from Hel this week, you already know that Helen Ginger is moderating a publishing panel at Story Circle Network’s Stories from the Heart Conference in Austin next week, February 5 - February 7. I hope many reading this blog are getting ready to pack their bags and head to Texas. If you haven’t signed up, there’s still time. But whether you are or aren’t, if you’re a writer you’re concerned about the state of publishing. And yes, sometimes publishing seems like it is its own nation-state, definitely a foreign country to many.

I’m fortunate to be on Helen’s panel, and she asked the panelists to write a guest blog on her site to discuss some of the publishing issues as we see them. I’m doubly honored.

I thought one way to approach this topic of Getting Published would be to look at two authors to see how they are reacting to this Publishing Revolution because just like the French Revolution, it’s possible to lose your head if you don’t act wisely.

But first, let’s do a round up of a few recent events and statistics. I’ll list the item, and you decide whether this is good news (the best of times) or bad news (the worse of times):

1. There are almost 200,000 new book titles published each year.

2. 80 percent of all books sales flow through the coffers of just five companies -- Random House, Time Warner, Disney, Viacom/CBS and Rupert Murdock’s News.

3. The six biggest publishing conglomerates are: Random House, Penguin Putnam, HarperCollins, Holtzbrinck, Time Warner, Simon & Schuster.

4. In November of last year, book sales increased by 10.9 percent and were up almost 5 percent for the year.

5. Between 8000 and 11,000 new publishing companies are created each year.

6. 27 percent of Americans didn’t read a book (2007). [So much for thinking “everyone” wants to read my book.]

7. 913 popular, copyrighted books were illegally downloaded 9 million times during the final months of 2009.

8. Trade e-book sales were up almost 200 percent between November 2008 and November 2009 (approximately $18 million for November 2009).

9. The self-publishing industry is estimated to grow about 30 percent per year.

10. AuthorHouse published approximately 1 of every 20 new US books in 2008.

Wow. That’s a lot to take in. What does all this mean? Like everyone else, I’m not sure. I do know that the publishing industry is in a turmoil right now. Established publishers are closing their doors or merging at the same time that new publishing companies are being founded. Bricks and mortar bookstores are going out the business at the same time that Internet book sales are soaring. Paper costs as well as shipping costs are soaring at the same time that electronic delivery of digital books is coming into its own.

Publishing Options.

What’s an author to do? This is a big topic and one that Kendra Bonnett and I will be exploring all year in our weekly blogs about Book Business over on our Women’s Memoirs website. In this post, I want to explore the various options open to an author and consider the tale of two authors.

Here’s my list of six options. Someone else will have a slightly different list, but I hope these are useful distinctions:

1. Traditionally, authors have looked toward the big corporate publishers. There was a time when you could meet an editor at one of these houses or even send a book proposal that would be reviewed. That was before you “had to have an agent” to represent you. Many of these big publishers have now been gobbled up by even larger corporations. It’s getting harder to get in the door, but not impossible. Because these companies need to keep an eye on the bottom line, they are certainly less likely to take a new untested author unless she brings something special. These days that frequently means more than a strong manuscript. It also means an audience, a following that will buy your book.

2. Just down in size are medium-sized independent publishers. This is the group I used to know quit well. I say “used to know” because many of them are gone. It’s hard to even find their ghosts on the Internet. Because I had good relationships with several of these publishers, I went looking for them a few years ago. I wanted to see if they’d be interested in a book idea I had. They are just gone with no trace left behind. There continue to be some of of these medium-sized independents, but many were bought out when publishing had its own bubble and everyone wanted to buy publishers.

3. Academic publishers are another avenue for writers. They have good credentials and are able to get to certain markets. They are usually wonderful to work with. Unfortunately, their business model means they will price your book too high for the typical reader.

4. Small independent publishers are gaining in stature. Because they are small, they take an active interest in their authors. Many of these are regional or focus on a specific niche. If you can find the right one, and there are many more “right” ones in this pond than in the other publishing ponds, you are likely to develop a good relationship and be pleased with the outcome. Don’t look for big advances although some offer small ones. You’ll still need to bring your willingness to market your book. We always recommend that authors explore the option of these smaller independent publishers before they consider self-publishing.

5. Self-Publishing is an option that doesn’t require an agent, doesn’t require much up-front money, but does require due-diligence. There are a number of companies in this category, and some have strong track records while others do not. Some make it easy to have your book on Amazon at a discounted price while others don’t. Some offer flexibility in the price you charge while others don’t. If you want your book out sooner, if you know your marketplace, if you want control over the look of your book, then you may find this to be a good option. There is absolutely nothing wrong or inferior with this option. We only recommend exploring the smaller independents first because they usually have more to offer you -- an existing catalog, a customer base, an active website for promoting your book, suggestions for how you can market your book, etc.

6. Becoming your own publisher. This is the ultimate in self-publishing and not for everyone. You can set up your own publishing company for your own book or books. You could even join with several other interested authors and create a single publishing company that will bring out all your books. This means you need to be willing to learn the basics of publishing -- buying your own ISBNs, finding a print-on-demand company (POD) that will print your books even one at a time or in small numbers, determining distribution channels, etc. These can all be learned. The Internet is a wonderful source of information and practical advice. Not for the faint of heart, but this option assures complete control and the possibility of the greatest revenue. Remember, I said “possibility.”

A Tale of Two Authors.

Okay. Where are we? We have a publishing revolution afoot. We have more options for authors than ever before. What is realistic to expect, and what’s likely to happen? Kendra and I provide coaching to authors and talk with even more authors. Needless to say, we’ve heard a lot of stories. To conclude this post, I’m going to aggregate some of the stories we know into two author profiles. Then, if you’d like to follow me over to our Women’s Memoirs website, I’ll share a real-life tale of two authors. One squanders her opportunities while the other is making good choices and still learning.

Composite Author #1: Let’s call her Abigail. Her story is short and not-so-sweet. She met with me while I was serving on the Ask-A-Pro session at a writers’ conference. She wanted my advice on how to find a publisher. I started by asking her to describe the audience for her book. She replied, “Everyone.” I said, “No, really. Who do you see reading your book? Who will find it of interest?” She repeated, “Everyone.” I said, “Do you mean six year olds? Men in their nineties?” Finally, we worked out a likely target audience for her memoir. Then I began to talk about the realities of publishing in order to determine what types of marketing she was willing to do. She said, “I don’t want to do anything. I want a publisher to do it all. I’ve done my part. I wrote it.”

Well, you get the point. To the best of my knowledge she has never gotten her book published. If you were a publisher would you want to take on her book?

Composite Author #2: We’ll call her Joanne. She began writing her memoir three years ago. At first, she worked on her own, but then joined a writing group. Sharing exposed her to new ideas about her writing and helped her start to think about the readers for her book. At the suggestion of one of the group’s members, she started a blog. The blog gives Joanne an opportunity to relate some of her stories. She has many and can’t possibly put them all in the book. She considers these her out takes and gladly shares them. In the process, she’s building an audience for her writing. It is still small, but it is a start. She’s now on FaceBook and has just converted from a personal page to a professional page. In the future, this means she can be more open about promoting her book. It’s on her list to begin building a presence on Twitter. She has limited time for social networking so she’s trying to do a good job with a few rather than spreading herself too thin. Her book? It’s almost finished. She is currently looking for an editor in order to give it the final polish it needs. During that time, she’ll devote more energy to her blogging and to building an audience. She’s realistic about how much marketing she’ll need to do. She knows she won’t make much money, but thinks she can build a place for her book so that she’ll have success.

Conclusion. I started with a Tale of Two Cities and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The first of these depicts the power of the peasants and the second suggests the power of the monarchy. As we begin the second decade of the new millennium, we see evidence of both of these models. Authors have more power in the form of more options today than we have ever had. Even more options are on their way, including multimedia books for Apple’s just announced iPad that will generate opportunities for new creativity and new business models. At the same time, a few publishers still hold considerable power in the marketplace.

At this point, authors need to be informed and find the best options for them.

Hope you’ll join me for A Tale of Two Authors, Part 2 where I’ll share stories of two authors we know.

Thank you Matilda.

You can find Matilda Butler over on Women’s Memoirs, of course. And also on FaceBook and the site Rosie’s Daughters. Please leave a comment or a question for Matilda before you link over to read Part 2 of this great post.
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  1. This is an excellent analysis and explanation, Matilda. As an editor, I work primarily with authors who become their own publishers, but I have encountered many #1s. Our relationship never goes much beyond a single phone conversation or e-mail exchange.

    I'm headed over to read Part 2.

    Thanks, Helen, for inviting Matilda to guest post.

    Lillie Ammann
    A Writer's Words, An Editor's Eye

  2. Fascinating topic! Thanks for talking it over with us today. I think it's terrible that 27% of people didn't read last year. What are they thinking?!

    And publishing has changed tremendously, hasn't it? Great overview of the possibilities.

    Mystery Writing is Murder
    Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

  3. That was great. I read all the way through even though it was long because it was so informative. I agree with the lady who is working hard to do all she can for her book. We need to know what we are writing, why we are writing it and who in the end our writing will be for. The first lady can't have written a synopsis or query letter for that memoir, because both of those things will nail down many of the questions she was unable to answer. Memoirist need to know the key 'thread' of what they have written, why it differs from all the other memoirs out there and why someone would be likely to pick up your memoir over another. When that's nailed down, building a presence on the net is very important. I also think memoirs should be incredibly well written. Some memoirs that I have read seem to think that an amazing story will hold a reader and never mind about the way it is put together, 'plot' 'focus' pacing' etc are still vitally important.

    Thanks for the chance to chime in :)

  4. Fascinating post!
    And I'd heard the total number of books last year was closer to half a million.

  5. Wow - that's a lot of great information to digest! 27% didn't read a book - yikes - those poor folks!

  6. I am a book reader, not writer. I have never written a book, but have read a hell of alot. I must admit I'm a big fan of public libraries. Sorry about that all you writers, it probably makes your income smaller. I have one favorite book that I read on the beach every summer (The Player by Dostoyevsky), but most books I read only once, don't want to own them and store them for the rest of my life. I rather get them from the public library. Some time ago I gave basically all my books to the Salvation Army (not The Player, of course), so they can sell them and make a little money, money that should have been in the pockets of the authors, I guess?

  7. Will definitely tune in for part two!

  8. Fascinating post, I've been seeing more and more the advice that authors need to bring not only the book, but the audience, to the table. Any advice to do this other than social networking?

    P.S. I clicked over for Part 2, and it said "Page not Found." Will try again later!

  9. Joanne, I've corrected that link. Somehow a space appeared in the link, which broke it. It should work now.

    Cold As Heaven, authors love libraries. For every reader who reads their books, but never buys one, there are lots of readers who read their book in the library and love them and then go out and buy others by that author.

  10. Thanks for this info-packed, informative and well analyzed article/post. The Old Silly actually learned a thing or two today! (smile)

    Marvin D Wilson

  11. Thanks for all these great comments.

    Lillie: By now I hope you have read Part 2 of this post over on women's memoirs. Helen mentions the link is fixed. My real life example shows how the myth of instant success actually hurts an author who has unreasonable expectations.

    Elizabeth: Love your comment -- "27% of the people didn't read last year. What are they thinking?" We probably guess that they aren't thinking. At least they don't have their minds open to new thoughts and ideas.

    My father was one of those who thought that the glass was half full rather than half empty. So he would say "Amazing, 73% of people read at least one book last year."

    Tabitha Bird: Thanks for your discussion. You focused on a topic that I always include in my workshops -- theme and message. Some get it right away, but for others this is quite difficult. I think it is a matter of some necessary distance from you story.

    You also mentioned the "thread" of a story. Let me share two blogs with you that go into the concept of the "golden thread" and how it can be used to help with writing. The first is a guest blog on our website by author Karen Walker. She discusses writing her memoir and then gives a writing prompt about the golden thread. Here's the link to it: The week after her writing prompt appeared, we interviewed Karen. During our conversation she talked more about this concept and how it helped her determine what would go in her memoir and what wouldn't. We posted the audio of that interview and you can find it as:

    Diane: Thanks for the update on number of books. These numbers change depending on the source.

    Jemi: I like your take on the number of people not reading a book. Given the richness of books in all categories, it is their loss. However, with the Internet as a source of reading material, I like to think that at least some of them read about new ideas that way. (See comment above to Elizabeth. I clearly am an optimist.)

    Cold as Heaven: Thank goodness for you. Where would the world be if we were all writers and not readers. Libraries are incredibly important in our society. Most authors, myself included, are very active in supporting libraries. Besides, they buy the books you read.

    Alex: Hope you tried the link over to Part 2 after it was fixed.

    Joanne: Thanks for your comment. Rather than answering it here, Kendra and I will write a post on that topic in a couple of weeks. We'll let Helen know so that she can tell her readers. It's a good point.

    The Old Silly (AKA Marvin): This seems to be the day for memories of my father. Your comment "learned a thing or two today" reminded me of him. He always said that he learned something new each day. It was his mantra until he died at the age of 90. We'd talk on the phone (he lived in Oklahoma and I live in California) and perhaps I'd be describing the behavior of the parent quail with their newly hatched babies. There'd be a pause and then he'd say, "Well, I've learned something new today." Let's all hope for young attitudes that keep us learning.

    Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments.

  12. Thanks Ladies! It's true that no two journey's are the same. As individual as we are so is our success.

    I look forward to part 2!

  13. Tamika, part 2 is already up, just link over. It, too, if very informative.

  14. Thank you for the very informative post, Matilda. I'm going to put a link here from my blog. This is a good reality check for anyone interested in starting the journey to getting published. Wow.

  15. Hi Tamika: Good point you are making. Our journeys are unique both in life in general and in publishing in particular. The nice part of a journey is that we can meet others along the way and learn from them about the road ahead. The more we share with each other, the more rewarding the journey will be.

  16. Amy: Thanks for the comment that you left on our website as well as the link to that post from your blog. I invited you to leave your blog url in the Comment section of our Part 2 post if you think our memoir writers/readers would find it of interest.

    NOTE: This, by the way, is an invitation to others who visit Helen's blog. is in the process of developing its blogroll. We invite you to let us know if you'd like to be listed. Be sure to give the url and a brief description.

  17. This post and yesterday's was great. What a wealth of experience and information shared here. Thanks so much Matilda for taking the time to put this all into one place for us.

    And just a note to Cold as Heaven, I don't think any of us authors object to you getting our books from the library. The library has to buy the book in order for you to read it. Yes, I know the return is greater if every library patron would buy their own copy, but since that would never happen, I am happy with the library sales of my books.

  18. So much great info this week. Wish I could be in Austin next week. Libraries work hard to reduce the 27%, so I'm happy to support them. Even to pay the occasional late fine makes me think I'm helping out!
    Thanks for the valuable information.

  19. Matilda, when you put it that way, the glamorous and now old-fashioned view of the writing life doesn't sound so great.

    When my first novel was published, I was too shy and too embarrassed to do much self-promotion. And I imagined that I could be successful as well as reclusive, like J.D. Salinger, Margaret Lawrence, Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf.

    But these days, it obviously doesnt work that way!

    Why is converting a personal Facebook page into a business page better than `keeping a personal page and creating a new page that your friends join?

    Thanks for sharing some ideas about promotion. I'll be reading you and Kendra on

  20. Those statistics vary from very encouraging to scary. Everything is changing so fast I hope I can keep up. Thanks for all the great info and I'm looking forward to tomorrow.

  21. Everything is indeed changing very fast. It's difficult to keep up. Sometimes you just have to keep writing.


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