You've Written Your Book, Now What ...
By Leslie Grace / A! Magazine for the Arts | June 26, 2012Until recently that meant print only. It could be a traditional publisher, a niche publishing house or self-publishing. But just as the Internet is transforming the way music is sold and produced, it is beginning to have a similar effect on publishing.
Estep uses the traditional and the electronic. When her first book was published, e-books were not an option. She found an agent and went with the traditional route.
Her first book, Karma Girl, was published in 2007. "It was about the seventh book I wrote, and the first that sold. I got hundreds of rejections," she says.
Estep's first three books were paranormal romance novels, and she says that joining Romance Writers of America was a great resource. "It provides lots of educational programming on how to find an agent, write a query letter and networking opportunities."
What she learned from the Romance Writers of America helped her find an agent. Her agent markets Estep's books to publishers, negotiates the contracts and irons out any problems that arise during the publishing process.
"It's nice to have a buffer when something goes wrong," she says.
Estep has branched out into two other genres: urban fantasy, The Elemental Assassin series; and the young adult market, the Mythos Academy series. She enjoys writing "series" because she can watch her characters' journeys.
Estep's books are published by Pocket Books. Her seventh book in the Elemental Assassin series is due out Aug. 12, and she has a contract to write three more. Her third book in the Mythos Academy book came out in June, and she is under contract to write three more in that series, as well.
Last year she got back the rights to her first romances, The Bigtime Series, and began to e-publish those.
According to Estep, it's very time consuming to e-publish. She must write the book, find a copy editor, hire an artist for the book cover and someone to format the book as an e-book, and then market the book.
"There are a lot of upfront costs with e-publishing, but you also have more control. If you want to change something, you can," she says. Consequently, she is updating the technology in her first three books. "When I wrote them, we didn't even have flash drives."
While her publisher does marketing for her, Estep also markets her books on her own. She sends out flyers, maintains a website, writes a blog and has guest blogs on other writer's blogs, sends out advanced reader copies, does book signings, attends conferences and uses social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. Her publisher retweets her messages.
Bradley also uses a traditional publisher. Her books have won numerous awards and starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus Reviews.
Her first children's book was published in 1998 prior to e-publishing. She did not have an agent for her first book. She felt it was not really necessary in her field of children's literature. But after a year, she signed with an agent.
However, Bradley's writing career did not begin with her children's books. "I worked as a freelance writer for equestrian magazines in college, and later as a part-time editor," she says. "While my husband was in medical school I worked as a research chemist but wrote at night, on weekends, and sometimes in the very early morning. From freelancing I moved on to ghost-writing.
Fortunately, I began to get enough work that I could quit being a chemist at exactly the same time as I found out I was pregnant with my son, Matthew, born in 1994."
Writing is now Bradley's full-time job. Since 1988 publishers of her 15 books have included Harper Collins, Random House, Simon and Schuster and Dial (a division of Penguin).
While she has a few books that are for young children, most are for grades five through eight. She prefers writing historical fiction and her latest, Jefferson's Sons, explores how it must have felt to be the son of Thomas Jefferson and a slave.
Writing historical fiction requires an immense amount of research. Bradley's extensive bibliography for her research on Thomas Jefferson is posted on her website (kimberlybrubakerbradley.com).
"All my work is done upfront," Bradley says. "Publishers won't buy a book unless it meets their standards and needs. I had to revise my latest book six times in order to please the publisher, but I don't mind because it's a better book."
Bradley says it's a matter of giving up some control with traditional publishing, but she thinks it's worth it. For instance, she says the illustrations in her books may not always match the vision she had when she wrote it, but it's valuable to have a nationally known illustrator involved.
Tennis also gave up some control with his first publisher, The Overmountain Press, but he sees it as a collaboration and gets ideas from his publisher.
His first book, Southwest Virginia Crossroads, took five years to come to fruition. Its format, a history and a guide, was the result of a compromise. Tennis wanted a small guide book. Beth Wright, his publisher, wanted a hardcover collectible book. They met in the middle with a large format paperback. That book is now in its fifth printing.
His second book, Beach to Bluegrass, was his idea. "It remains, of all the books I've done, my single most favorite, as there is a little bit of every book I've done in this one – from the history and guidebook angle to the ghost tales and photography." This book is in its second printing and has been featured on NPR and public television stations.
Tennis' third book, The Marble and Other Ghost Tales of Tennessee and Virginia was the publisher's idea (Daniel Lewis with Backyard Books, a division of Overmountain Press).
His fourth book and first foray into fiction, Finding Franklin, was a collaboration. "It's a crazy caper, and the format of that book, again, came from the publisher., who had the crazy idea to make it a pick-your-own plot adventure, so that book actually has six endings." But it was Tennis' idea to make Finding Franklin something of a history book.
He has also published two pictorial histories with Arcadia Publishing in Charleston, S.C.
"The first was Sullivan County, Tennessee: Images of America, which features about 13 of my photos but more than 200 vintage images, plus essays on the lakes and towns of Sullivan County. That book was kind of like producing a kit. You actually follow a guide and set up the layout yourself."
The second pictorial history was Then and Now: Washington County Virginia, which Tennis says was the hardest of all to complete.
The History Press approached Tennis after Beach to Bluegrass, his second book, was released. They were looking for authors. But he didn't hear from them for two years, until he had enough material for a publisher. That book, Haunts of Virginia's Blue Ridge Highlands, is in its fourth printing.
"What I have loved as much as producing books is going out and talking about them. I was terrified doing my first speech in 2004 but have since talked to thousands of people, and while I still get nervous, I've put to use something in storytelling that used to just annoy my mom – imitating people. I have dozens of voices in me, and these all come out as I tell stories from the books."
Jessee's stories are told through her artwork, so she went a different route with her new book, Out of the Hat. She chose to self-publish through an online site.
Anyone who knows Jessee knows that she loves to wear hats. One of her favorites was a simple straw hat she bought in the men's department.
"I was attracted to its striking combination of shape and lovely woven patterns of natural and black straw. Oddly, the pleasing shape was like my grandfather's hat I wore in the winter. So I named this new acquisition, Stuart, after my grandfather."
When Stuart wore out, after a long day at the Rhythm and Roots Reunion, she says she heard a voice say "take pictures of me." She started taking the photos at 1 a.m., starting working with them on her computer and did not stop until 6 a.m. She says she was "pretty much addicted" to the abstract images she was creating.
"After I got about 20 images, I thought this is going to be a pretty nice collection. If I'm going to keep doing this I need to do something with them," she says. Jessee had thought about doing a book before, but had never managed to find the time.
She says this one came about because myriad factors came together at the same time.
"That same month, I saw an ad on Facebook for Blurb.com," she says. "I looked into it, marked it as a favorite, and then forgot about it. About two weeks later I got a message that said they were having a contest and the prize was $10,000. There were only 10 days left to enter, so it was certainly a catalyst."
However, the fees to enter the contest and the cost to put the book together began to seem a little out of reach. Then another part of the picture came into play. A friend told her about another friend who needed a cat sitter while they went on vacation. They paid her part of the fee in advance. "Now I had the money, so I asked my friend to help me write and edit the book. It was the first time in years we'd spent two hours a day, seven days a week together. We did not win the contest, but it was worth it just to have that time together."
Jessee says using Blurb.com to publish her book was relatively easy. Even though she is not "high-end computer literate," the website is very user-friendly. It provides templates, paper choices, and choices for bindings. Jessee hopes that her book inspires other people, especially young people, to learn to look at everyday objects in a different way.
"I'm very proud of this book. I think I could take it to museums and convince them to do a show more easily than I could with a CD. I was so obsessed with the hat images, I believe I could have starved," she says.
Jessee's book is available on Blurb.com and at blowfish emporium in Bristol, Va.
McDonald also uses an online service for his latest books. His first were with a small publisher, and he obtained that contract without an agent.
"I tried on numerous occasions to get an agent but discovered it's as difficult to get an agent to read a manuscript as it used to be to get a publisher to read it. There are just a lot of writers out there. And agents have to consider market forces, too. The competition is quite great."
McDonald has used a traditional small publishing house, but he has switched to a new format: on-demand publishing.
For Among His Personal Effects, his first novel, he traveled the publishing route, inquiring after an agent and publisher and submitting portions to a forum for publishers to review. It was picked up by Oak Tara, a relatively new company that was looking for new authors.
Oak Tara also published his second novel, An Early Fall, but McDonald discovered that the burden of publicizing and marketing the book still depended greatly on him.
"It's hard work and often disappointing. For an introvert like me, it's even painful. The writer as salesperson has to have a pretty tough hide. I also sense that the books, even with an author's discount, were expensive. If I were primarily responsible for selling them anyway, why not find a cheaper means to do so?"
He found that in CreateSpace, an on-demand publishing company owned by Amazon (www.createspace.com). It offered a reasonable alternative for "someone in my position," he says. "CreateSpace, as well as Kindle Direct Publishing, allows the author to publish books much less expensively because it prints them on demand. Quality is high, service is prompt, you don't have to maintain an inventory, and the sales channels are reasonably broad."
While CreateSpace does offer editing services for a cost, just like with e-books, the writer is responsible for proofreading, editing, formatting, cover design and marketing.
McDonald uses his website, word of mouth and a few speaking engagements to market his books.
"At this stage of my life, this has been a satisfactory course to follow. It would be nice, of course, to have the prestige associated with being published through a major publishing house. Still, I believe that I have written, and am writing, what I have been called to write. I hope that those who read my books will find in them something of interest, joy and value. In that I am content. Maybe stubborn, too? The reader, not an agent or publisher, gets a chance to render the verdict on my books directly."
No matter the type of publishing, one thing is certain. Writers will find a way to reach their audience.
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