Thursday, May 20, 2010

Publishing Ground Zero

 I’m happy to introduce you to Scott Nicholson, author of The Red Church, Drummer Boy, The Skull Ring, Burial to Follow, Ashes, The First, and Flowers. He's also edited the freebie writing manual Write Good or Die and works as a freelance editor and journalist in North Carolina.

Scott operates a freelance editing business (and has recently joined the blogging editors on The Blood-Red Pencil) and started the digital publishing company Haunted Computer Books. You can find out more about him on his website or on his blog, Haunted Computer Books.

Welcome Scott.

Publishing Ground Zero

I did it. I crawled across broken glass and barbed wire and the blood of my fallen comrades to the base of the Ivory Tower, knocked on the gate, and a hand reached out with a slip of paper that said "Yes."

After 400 rejection slips, I had sold a paperback. Life was good, I was an alternate selection of the Mystery Guild Book Club, my novel THE RED CHURCH had an amazing sell-through of nearly 90 percent, and the publisher quickly typed up a contract for two more books. The next book had barely hit the shelves when a three-book contract was proffered.

Shortly before that three-book contract kicked in, I made the sinking realization that the publisher was letting my early books go out of print--while they were still publishing me! For that and other reasons, I amicably parted ways with the publisher, left my agent, and spent a couple of years working on new novels, screenplays, and comic books. When I was ready to crawl back to the Ivory Tower, I found much had changed in seven years. Now not only did industry professionals take six months or more to respond, they often didn’t bother to reply at all.

After I got back the rights to my first novel, I wasted a year figuring out what to do with it while I waited for agents to bother not replying. I’d followed the developments of the Kindle, but I was still too shellshocked from my industry indoctrination to seriously consider self-publishing. Every professional writing organization I’d ever been in had a list of “approved publishers,” and you couldn’t call yourself a “professional” unless you sold a book to someone on the list. It didn’t matter that some of the publishers on the list might only pay a $500 advance.

Since nothing else was in imminent danger of happening, I figured I'd test the waters and loaded up The Red Church e-book for Kindle. To my delight, readers found it and not only was the "free money" welcome, the opportunity to reach new readers pleased me greatly. I put up some story collections, and then a couple of original novels, figuring I could always write more.

I never dreamed I’d self-publish, much less release an original novel. I had to step out on the tightrope and realize no one—agent, publisher, or another writer—was going to save me. If I wanted a career, I’d have to risk it. I believed.

The mere act of taking action rejuvenated my writing, put control and outcome back in my hands, and opened an entire new world. The only limit to my growth is my ability to connect with an audience and please it. If readers like the work, they buy it and I write more books. Shortly after that second novel was released, I was contacted by an agent, and hopefully I will be releasing paper books through New York again. In the meantime, I am trying to get back the rights to my out-of-print novels. Sometimes it feels like seeing that Ivory Tower was the worst thing that ever happened to my writing career. Not only is this new era good for writers, but it's also the launch of many small supporting industries, such as editing, graphic design, formatting, and the coming transmedia need for HTML coders developing interactive books.

You are competing with New York if you take this route, but the traditional industry's competitive advantages are rapidly evaporating: getting your books on store shelves, paying you fair advances, and offering you prestige and promotion through association. I am not worried that some of my peers may not consider me a "professional" because of some arbitrary guidelines crafted 10 years ago. I did that, and it was hard but it wasn't special. Right now, with a good designer and years of experience as a freelance editor, I feel more professional than New York, because I can craft a product and marketing vision that serves my goals. Publishers have goals that only rarely align with the author's. They also take the bulk of your book's proceeds, which is one of their main goals. Publishers are great at what they do, but make sure it's not something you can't do yourself. As the e-book and print-on-demand revolution continues, the only thing the publisher can do better than you is lose money.

Thank you Scott!

Scott not only writes novels, he writes comics, poetry, non-fiction magazine articles and stories. As you can tell, he knows about the e-publishing world. Feel free to ask questions about publishing e-books, his journey to multi-published, award-winning author, or whatever is on your mind. He’ll be stopping by today.

I’ll start it off with this:
Scott, the idea of publishing my own e-book is intimidating. In the beginning, as you learned, how difficult was it? Should authors today work to publish their own or turn to a niche company like yours for help?
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29 comments:

  1. This is really intersting and I'm with him all the way. Good on yer, Scott!

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  2. Very interesting! I think it was savvy of you to realize that, despite the success of your BOOK, that your publisher didn't have your back as far as the backlist was concerned.

    Thanks so much for the post, Scott and Helen!

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  3. Very interesting and ... impressive, I must say! Thanks Scott and Helen for sharing today.

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  4. Fadcinating stuff. Gives one much to ponder.

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  5. Quite impressive and very interesting. Well done, Scott! And thanks, Helen for sharing.

    Laurita
    Brain Droppings

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  6. Interesting post. I'm amazed to hear how the industry changed.

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

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  7. The industry has changed and is still changing.

    Welcome Scott.

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  8. Thanks, Scott and Helen. Helen asked my question. I'm concerned that publishers aren't paying high enough e-book royalty's. It appears the standard will be 25%, but that's 25% of the 70% publishers will receive, so we'll actually be receiving 17.5% I still think we need agents, but there has to be better options than the one the big publishers are offering.

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  9. Like Helen, I find the idea of self publishing intimidating...but with the growth of "supporting industry" its likely it won't be long before there will be experienced professionals to consult with through the process...

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  10. I've heard often of self-publishing e-books, too, but don't know the first thing about it. So I'm interested in the answer to Helen's question. And what great advice not to worry about what our peers think. We've got to chart our own courses.

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  11. Thank you Scott and Helen. As more traditionally published authors step up to the plate and go the self-published route I believe the stigma will be removed, to the benefit of us who have chosen that route in the first place.

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  12. I admire and respect him for taking on his own publishing company! Times are a changin'.

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  13. I love that you took responsibility for your own success. My questions are the same as have been stated so I can't wait to hear what you have to say.
    life certainly isn't static and I still think that's a good thing.

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  14. Wonderful entry! Gives so much hope! Congrats Scott, and thanks for making me feel the possibilities again! I am going to forward this off to all my writing friends and my writing teacher.

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  15. Thanks, all. To answer Helen's (and Simon's) question--if you don't want to self-publish, you shouldn't, because the hardest part of the whole business is selling a book to a reader. It's harder than writing a book.

    I'd had some ebook short stories published seven or eight years ago by Fictionwise and never thought much of e-books until the end of last year. I regret that I didn't start in early 2009, because it was a fertile environment as the Kindle was catching on and there were few e-books offered.

    There are some simple guides for e-book formatting, most notably the style guide at Smashwords.com. There's also a free one for Kindle you can download through Amazon (it may be a buck or two now). It took me a few hours to figure out how to do it well, and now I can do a novel in an hour or two, depending on the state of the manuscript (ebooks are closer to one long Web page, so all the tabs, page breaks, etc. have to be stripped out). I'm far from a techie so I'd say the average computer-literate person should be able to do it.

    There are also companies out there who do it for a fee. I do a little on the side, charging $25 for a novel if the manuscript is in decent shape. Niche companies or cooperative ventures can also do it, but protect your rights and royalties. Through Haunted Computer Books, the writer gets 85 percent of the net proceeds, so the company basically gets 15 percent for formatting and managing the accounts, plus some promotion. But promotion is stillt he writer's job at everything below the bestseller level anyway, so why not keep more of the money?

    Scott Nicholson

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  16. More in-depth on Simon's question--that is the $64 billion question. How fast before more brand-name authors like J.A. Konrath say, "Hmm, I can get 25 percent form the publisher, minus my 15 percent agent cut, or Amazon will pay me 70 percent? Whatever should I do? And, what are THEY doing that I can't do myself?"

    I suspect by this time next year you'll start to see the major defections after more authors do the math. When ebooks become a more important part of the revenue stream, the gains of print won't make up for the revenues lost through signing a deal with a Big 6 publisher. Right now Big 6 can make a chicken-and-egg argument--they show their authors ebook numbers are lousy so they sign their e-rights away for a song, but the e-book numbers are lousy because they're trying to sell the e-book for $15. That's pie-in-the-sky pricing that consumers laugh at, and Apple played publishers for fools as a publicity stunt. The only people in the world who think e-books should be $15 are bestselling authors used to getting $5 per hardcover sale and the brain trust of the Big 6 (I don't think publishers actually believe e-books are worth that, but it's the short-sighted strategy). But market forces--the reader/consumer--will set the price, which I fully expect to be around $5 in a year or two for a new release. Indies will be $1 to $3.

    But I wouldn't be surprised if the value of the content declined in five to 10 years where only the bestsellers were selling at any price, and the rest might have to go to an ad or sponsorship model. I hope that's not true but the digital content revolution is rolling faster than any of us realize. Just look at what's happened to newspapers.

    Scott Nicholson

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  17. Wow. This is the first interview I've seen that convinced me I need to get my memoir converted to an e-book. Thank you so much, Helen and Scott, for this informative, very helpful post.
    Karen

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  18. Loved the analogy of having to cross a battlefield to reach the ivory tower. I've self published. and will introduce my e-book to the world next month. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us and best wishes for your success.

    Stephen Tremp

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  19. I also don't want to dissuade anyone whose dream is to publish in NY. It's still worthwhile--it's just not the only way to do it anymore. I do believe a NY foundation will help augment your own foundation. But it absolutely needs to be YOUR foundation, because publishers, agents, and book deals come and go.

    Plus, all things being equal, it's still a lot easier to sell one book to one book to 20,000 different people.

    Scott

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  20. Good questions! Thank you Scott for answering.

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  21. What a helpful post and series of comments. I have a few books up via Smashwords and direct to Kindle, and the main challenge is promoting them. I have followed Konrath's story for a year or so and use his tips for promoting. Still, I have not reached the numbers he has. I think Scott is so right when he says it is a name recognition issue. It takes time to build that, so a new author moving into this form of publishing can not expect to be making much money in the first year or so.

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  22. Thanks Maryann. It helps to hear that from someone who knows.

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  23. You're an inspiration, Scott. I'm so happy for your success.

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  24. Thanks, Scott, and Maryann for your comment. The name recognition is the only thing that's preventing me from going straight to e-books. I'm realistic, I'm not a salesman, but ten years ago I wasn't a writer. I feel like I'm a writer now, and I work hard at being a better writer. This tells me that I can learn to market myself, my services, and my product. We have to educate ourselves and be confident enough to seize opportunities.

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  25. This is really interesting. It's a convoluted process to be published - no matter how you go about it! :)

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  26. Convoluted is an apt word to describe it, Jemi.

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  27. It is great to hear from folks who have persevered to enjoy success.

    I like Scott's taking control of the journey--when he saw things he did not like, he courageously made changes and took risks.

    I respect that.

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  28. Thank you, Scott (and Helen)! This is something I've been pondering lately, and you've given me quite a bit to think about.

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  29. What an interesting story. There seems to be no official route to publication (and success) anymore.

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