My publisher recently celebrated a marker birthday and I was offered the opportunity to send a message about why I love her. That's right. Love her! How many authors know their publisher personally, much less spend time writing them birthday messages? I am far from the only author at my small but vibrant press, who did not hesitate for a nanosecond to make that effort. It's a new age out here in book land, and my relationship to my pioneering publisher is demonstrative of the opportunity, amidst the myriad paths to publishing, for authors to craft more personal, productive engagement in their publication process. With hard work, cultivation of a network of support, and reasonable expectations, that experience can be satisfying and successful.
From writer to author
Eighteen months ago, I was an unpublished writer with no platform. (I thought a platform was something on which to pitch a tent, or the overbuilt sole of shoes I could never really walk on.) I'd written successfully in a lengthy career as a teacher and speech-language therapist. I'd cultivated a talent as a narrator- a storyteller. I'd seen my name in print with professional articles and an early story or two. But book publishing? I didn't know the first thing about it.
I did, however, have a book- a 100,000-word novel, Even in Darkness, based on the life of a great aunt who had inspired me and whose legacy I felt moved to preserve. I'd spent 15 years researching and writing this book. I'd had it professionally edited, and I'd pitched it to 15 different agents at writing conferences or online. The manuscript had won an award, and was praised by different agents, but there were no offers for representation or publication.
Four Reasons to go Hybrid
Then I met my publisher, Brooke Warner. She was co-presenter of a webinar on publishing options and after participating in that session, the confusing world of publishing pathways became much clearer. I pursued the option of hybrid publishing with She Writes Press (SWP). In Brooke's own recently published work, Greenlight Your Book, she explains in detail the differences among self, hybrid, independent, and traditional publishing, and the steps an author must take to bring a book to publication.
Hybrid publishing involves author financial investment, professional services from the publisher, and higher royalties. Distribution to bookstores and libraries should also be part of the package. My personal choice to work with She Writes Press, a hybrid press, resulted because,
1. I'd never published before, and wanted to "do it right." I recognized that the learning curve would be steep and that I needed expert advice to shepherd me through.
2. Many in my novel's anticipated readership still prefer print books, and still go to bookstores. This meant that professional distribution of the print book was an important element of my publishing plan. My press's books are distributed through IPS-Ingram Publisher Services, the preferred distributor for many booksellers, because bookstores can return unsold books, and orders can be filled nationally in a timely way. This is particularly important for smaller independent bookstores, of which I am a fan. IPS's knowledgeable national sales force was also a major draw.
3. I had worked for several months to get representation from an agent, and realized that even if I was successful, it might be two or more years before a publisher bought and then brought the book to publication. I wanted to publish Even in Darkness sooner, and I had a second book in the works. It would take only 10 months from the time I signed my contract with SWP to my publication date.
4. The notion that I would have a significant voice in publication decisions, and in exchange for my upfront investment, would receive higher royalties, appealed to me.
My manuscript entered the pipeline and the flurry of decisions around cover design, editing, book descriptions, etc. began. To my surprise and chagrin, I had to build an "author platform", including a website, blog, articles for periodicals, book reviews and endorsements for my book. I had to greatly increase my social media presence. To help me accomplish all this, I hired a publicist, (PR by the Book), and website assistance, (AppMe Solutions). The significant expense of these services was daunting, but I'd been advised that both were crucial to bringing my book into the world.
I agonized over my book's "metadata", including which key words would best lead an internet searcher to my book. I had to designate my novel's subgenres, and craft a one-paragraph book description. This data is critical to book sellers, the distributor, and anyone who might search for a book like mine.
I learned how to use twitter (kicking and screaming all the way). I wrote and pitched articles related to my novel. I wrote questions and answers for book bloggers and book clubs to refer to. I arranged speaking events at libraries, book groups, community centers, university classes and writing conferences. I cultivated an email list through my website, of those interested in following my progress as an author and my appearances with Even in Darkness.
On the Back Side of Publication
As soon as my book came out, I started to field requests to buy ads in publications that had reviewed my book, and whose readers matched my target audience. I made choices about spending advertising dollars. I discovered how challenging it is to monitor accurate book sales information to determine how advertising investments translate into sales. I traveled, spoke, wrote, and sold books at events.
The results? I've had modestly successful book sales. Even in Darkness has won four book awards, in both literary and historical fiction categories. Numerous high ratings and rave reviews have been put up on Amazon and Goodreads. After sixteen months, without entirely giving over the hard press of promoting and marketing Even in Darkness, I've recognized that there is a "natural" arc to the year and a half of time surrounding a book launch. I've realized the time has come to focus on getting my next book finished and out...because that's the other element of becoming an author and choosing to make writing and publishing a serious professional pursuit. There's always a next project.
How did I learn all this? It started and continues to this day with a publisher who manages an innovative and successful press, and devotes significant time to mentoring authors in the publication process, encouraging networking and peer communication. This includes moderating dedicated face book groups, active participation in a writing community website, (shewrites.com,) monthly group phone calls, weekly phone "office hours," webinars, and publications about publishing. Brooke has become a leader in the world of indie publishing, and routinely shares with authors the trends and changes in this complex business as she sees them.
I have also come to understand that in this brave new world of book publishing, we must, as authors, educate ourselves, and work as hard on the post publication side of publicity and marketing as we do on the front end, writing our books. The collaborative open relationship with publisher and authors at She Writes Press has been an important element in the press's success and is a pioneering model for book publishing. What better birthday message than this one?