Friday, 22 January 2010

A trouble shared?

I knew a woman on Staten Island who had a knack for finding coins. She, being a devout Catholic, thought it was some kind of telepathy / magnetism thing rather than any mystical ability (and no, she didn't have a metal detector walking-stick). By all accounts, she racked up a tidy sum over the years - in dimes, nickels and pennies.

I've developed a bit of a talent myself, lately. It seems that wherever I submit my books, the first thing the editor says in reply is: 'Have you got any spare money?' Well, it's more subtle than that but the end result is the same. I'm talking about shared cost publishing. I have mixed views at this point; a cocktail of disappointment, hope, cynicism and bewilderment.

On the one hand, I can see that publishing a book is expensive, especially where one of my novels works out to almost 500 pages (I did the maths on Lulu and gave up!). And I'm not blind to the global financial meltdown that's still pooled at our feet like last month's candles. But somehow it feels like I'd be buying someone's endorsement rather than earning it.

The excellent Writers Beware waves from the shore to steer me from the rocks of vanity publishing. I could quote you horror stories aplenty now, of writers who invested their cash only to see poor quality material - or no material at all - and a non-distribution service to match.

Then there is the question of sales. It's one thing to see your work on Amazon but another entirely to generate enough actual sales from the web and shops to get a return on your investment. And let's not forget that you'll likely be selling off your debut work. Something that may have taken a long time to create.

So, what to do? Well, apart from checking with Writers Beware and the Society of Authors, you could try my approach. I ask straightforward questions. They're not difficult - any self-respecting publisher should have them to hand.
They are:
1. Will it be Print on Demand or Print in Advance (conventional printing)?
2. What's the distribution network? i.e. Are you linked in with Gardeners / Atlas so that shops can order the books as well as there being web sales?
3. How do the costs break down - and how much money is involved?
4. What is the break-even point? This is crucial if you aim to recoup your investment and / or turn a profit.
5. Is there a marketing plan for my book? Basically, how do they propose to sell it?
6. What's the success rate with other authors?
7. Can I speak to two or three of those authors?
8. What's the frequency of payment for sales?

I think, if writers approach it as a business proposition, they're less likely to be swayed by other factors that might part them prematurely from their hard-earned cash.

As for me, I remain open to all options, while I wait for three different lists of answers!

http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/


8 comments:

  1. Don't do it. Don't even think about doing it. It is a waste of money. It won't do anything for your career. It will lead to nothing but disappointment.

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  2. Hi Brian and thanks for speaking out. My immediate challenge is that I have two completed novels now (a third is first draft only), plus three little humour books and none of them are contracted yet.

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  3. The thing is that it's not just producing a book that matters. It's selling it. And a shared cost publication will not sell copies of your book. You will lose money and your precious store of hope will be significantly depleted.

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  4. I agree with you Brian. I think, what draws writers in is the hope that getting a book out there will get your work seen. I have to say, even on the little research I've done, often the presentation can leave a lot to be desired. I suppose the question for every writer - myself included - is this: what do you do when none of your books are being accepted? Answers on a postcard!

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  5. Well Derek this is a difficult question but to some extent it answers itself because if you really are a writer, you don't have any choice, you just have to keep at it. It's a bloody curse and you're stuck with it. If not, you'll probably give up at some point.

    Now that's a simplification, obviously, because there must be people who really could be writers but lose hope, as well as people who only get discovered after their death. But still, it's broadly true that writers are compelled to keep writing. So what you should do is you write a fourth novel.

    Now I haven't seen your other books so I don't know why they didn't get published but the answer is possibly one of the following:

    1) You just can't write. I doubt this because your blog is engaging. However, it's always possible that your novels aren't as good as your blog, or that you try too hard in your novels. However, let's discount the possibility that you can't write and move to reason number two.

    2) You aren't writing novels that convince publishers they will be able to sell enough copies to make publishing them a commercially viable proposition. This is the commonest reason why otherwise capable writers fail to get published. So what can you do about it?

    Well one thing to consider is this: do you (a)just write the novel you want to write and then hope you can sell it, or do you (b)study the market carefully and then try to write a novel that you will enjoy writing but that also fits well into the current fiction market?

    If the answer is (a), then there's your problem. If it's (b) then you're not reading the market correctly. Study it more carefully and don't start another novel until you believe you have come up with a really stonking premise. Not just a good one, but one that seems unturndownable.

    See how other people react to the premise. Do they say, (c)'yes that sounds like a terrific idea'with genuine conviction? Or do they (d) sound as if they're saying 'yes, it's a good idea' just to be friendly?

    If it's (d), try again; if it's (c) you're in business.

    All this has probably already occured to you. But remember, the market is more difficult right now than it ever has been. Publishers are trying to only bet on certainties. You have to offer them something that looks like an absolute certainty from the word go.

    Any help?

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  6. Lots of help thanks, Brian. A good dose of objective common sense!

    In the case of Standpoint, my first thriller, I've had positive feedback from a couple of agents and one publisher but it needs more work (or, as you say, a new novel to build on what came before it). In the case of the fantasy novel, my first editor died before the vcontract was signed and my second publisher went bankrupt after the contract was signed. I'm thinking of sending back that family size bag of rabbit's feet!

    The reality is that each writer's path is individual and what makes us writers is that we continue to write. No exceptions. I'd be interested in knowing how you started and what turned the corner for you.

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  7. I've posted about it on my blog.

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  8. I've just read it at:
    http://www.odyllicforce.blogspot.com/2010/01/how-i-got-published.html

    It's a great example of using personal experience, setting priorities and keeping focused.

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