Intro To Self-Publishing

So you have a story and you want to publish it yourself. Let’s talk about how to get started, how to get noticed, and when you should pay a professional.

The panelists for the titular panel at Virtual Balticon 54 were: Kim Hargan (as moderator), Jean Cooper, Keith Hughes, Lee Moyer, and Cerece Rennie Murphy.

Where Did Self-Publishing Come From?

Back in the olden-days, self-publishing wasn’t the do-it-yourself thing it is today. The only options used to be traditional publishing or vanity presses, where you gave them money to print your book.

Buyer-beware: vanity presses are still a thing. If you’re looking at a small-publisher, make sure they’re not asking for money upfront.

Now, especially with the advent of publish-on-demand and ebooks, self-publication has taken off.

And while the unregulated self-publish market has plenty of probably-wasn’t-ready-to-publish offerings, it’s also been a great place for quality authors as well.

Why Writers Self-Publish

Every writer’s journey is different, and when you look into it, their reasons are personal and multitude. But, some of the most common reasons writers go with self-publication are:

  1. They couldn’t find an agent or publisher — for whatever reason
  2. They write for a niche market
  3. They wanted more control over the finished product
  4. The book was already published and they’re switching formats

The 2 Most Important Tips For Self-Publishing

  1. You. Need. An. Editor.

    When you read your own work, you know so well what it’s supposed to say, that it can be easy to overlook small errors. Word, Grammerly, and The Hemmingway App can only do so much.

    If you want a professional product, pay up.

    Plus, they can do some googling and make sure that you’re not naming your character after some obscure sex act in a foreign country.
  2. You need a good cover artist

    I know, I know, you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But? We all do.

    A cover can let you know what genre and which subgenre you’re reading. If you misrepresent that? You’re gonna end up with 1-star reviews because you’ve attracted the wrong audience. Plus? A poorly-done photoshopped cover makes people think of the un-edited, published-too-soon works that they’ve regretted reading.

    Sure, you could save the money, but you’ll very likely need to invest just as much or more into marketing, to make up for the sales your cover has lost you.

    While you’ll have a lot of artistic control when you hire your own artist, remember this, publishing houses usually keep the writers far away from the artists because, like it or not, the writer is usually WRONG about what the art should look like.

    Sometimes it’s best to tell the artist about the book and see what they come up with.

Ways To Market Your Self-Publishing Book

You can’t get in stores as easy as a publisher, how do you get them out there? It is a LOT of work to sell books.

  1. Online
    1. Facebook
      1. Ads
      1. live readings (1 week out, diff section on launch day)
    2. twitter
    3. instagram
    4. book bub (esp, book 2&3)
    5. Email friends/colleagues/mailing list
  2. For live events
    1. Tables at conventions
    2. Readings/Autograph sessions – if paired with other people or in busy areas
    3. bookmarks/business cards
      • Different cards for different audiences/sales approaches
      • Different cards for agents/publishers vs readers
      • Nothing on the back for wealthy customers, shiny card with the cover on the back for fans
  3. Everywhere
    1. Networking.

      Be happy to make connections.

      If someone is looking for a book and yours isn’t a great fit? Suggest other people’s work if it’s a better fit for what people are looking for. Those people — both the ones you recommend to and those whose work you recommended are a lot more likely to suggest your works to friends/family who might be the right audience for you.

      If you’re an introvert at a convention? Get there early and introduce yourself to the tables around you. Let them know if you’re new — to tabling in general or that con in specific. Be open to advice. So many people in this industry are welcoming and will be happy to welcome you.

Self-publishing is a brave choice and a tough road to walk. Best of luck finding your audience to all my writer friends — no matter who publishes you and when.


Obviously, I’m not self-published. Please! Share your experiences and tips and references if you have any! I’d love to share them.


Thanks for reading. If you found this post helpful, share it with your friends, feel free to subscribe to my newsletter if you’d like to get these posts in your inbox, and I’ll be back again next week, with more writing tips and writerly musings.

What Cons Are Looking For In Panelists

So, you’ve published a book and now you’ve got to market yourself. You’ve done the Facebook ads and giveaways.

Now? You’re supposed to do book fairs and conventions and stuff.

However, before you just go blast-emailing every convention and book fair within driving distance, you should know that there’s a wrong way, and a right way to do this. While some shows just want your money and are happy to give you a table, many conventions are a little pickier.

Know Who You’re Talking To

If you’re reaching out to a convention, make sure you’ve done your research.

If it’s a larger convention, you should be asking about being there about the time they’re wrapping up the previous year’s show. The smaller the show is, the closer to the convention you should be reaching out, but 6 months out isn’t uncommon.

Make sure you know which year the convention is. Don’t ask about being on CoolCon 12 when the convention is celebrating their 20th year.

Make sure the convention is on-brand for you — the right genre, the right age group.

Once you’ve emailed the convention and someone’s replied… Use Their Name. That’s your contact!

Respect The Convention’s Process

Everyone does things their own way. The convention you’re applying to has likely done this before, and has a way that they know works for them.

Every con does things differently. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

Be sure to follow this year’s directions, for this convention:

  • Give them what they ask for
  • When they ask for it
  • In the format they ask for

The easier you are for the convention to work with, the more eager they’ll be next time you ask to come back — or maybe, next time, they’ll do the asking.

Have Something Unique To Offer

There are tons of debut novelists out there. And sure, you can give a reading, but if you’re not big enough to be a draw, that’s not really adding value to the convention.

The best way to get them to accept your offer to panel is to offer something they don’t already have.

Do you have…

  • A large following?
  • A unique specialty — history, knowledge about cutting edge technology, or a career as a detective?
  • Experience with a niche subject that is popular this year
  • A great storyteller?
  • An experienced moderator is often a huge draw
  • Basically: can you speak confidently on a panel for something that is going to bring in a large crowd?

Be A Good Speaker

Now, you don’t have to be an amazing and dynamic speaker to get on a panel, (although it helps). Conventions know that the only way to become a great panelist is to be on panels.

But, there are some speaking skills that are gonna go far toward getting you asked to come back.

  • Have clear and concise answers — you don’t want to confuse the audience or waste panel time
  • Be courteous to the other panelists — don’t talk over them, don’t insult them
  • Don’t relate everything back to your book — we know you’re there to get name recognition and to sell your book. But it’s heavy-handed and makes you sound like a one-trick-pony. You’re more than just your book. If you’re interesting, the audience will be interested in what you write.
  • Be passionate about the subject — excitement can be contagious, as can boredom (with rote, polite answers).

Now, these are just tips to be a good panelist. Being a great panelist? That’s the subject for another post.


And sometimes? Even if you do everything right? The con still won’t be able to offer you a place on a panel. Maybe they’re full. Maybe you don’t fit with their branding. Maybe, you need to expand your skills so you can fill a niche they’d like a fresh take on.

It’s hard to put yourself out there.

Writing is typically a solo activity, usually attracting people who like being alone. Marketing one’s work is often the opposite of what we like to do — our face is our brand, and our books are our children.

And now? We’re supposed to put a monetary value on something we’ve poured our hearts and souls into and convince people to read it and judge it online.

If anyone finds an easier way, let me know!


Good luck marketing yourself and getting on conventions. Hopefully, they’re still around and kicking when group activities are back on the table.

Any other tips I’ve missed?

Blog Round-Up

This month, I’ve been all over the place! Not just on my blog and Youtube channel.

pale hands pointing at a spot on a map, near a coast.

Photo by Studio 7042 on Pexels.com

Where Else Can You Find Me?

And here are some links I’ve been reading and saving (some, for MONTHS!)

Other People’s Stuff!

What Good Is An Agent? Answers From Writers.

https://youtu.be/8bsDxJ7awgM%5BPrevious related topics: Why? How? What? ]

If you’ve been paying attention to the literary agency world in the last month or so, you probably heard about the embezzlement conviction of Darin Webb, the accountant for the 49-year-old UK literary agency: Donadio & Olson. Webb’s total theft? $3.4 MILLION DOLLARS.

Then, this opinion piece came out on kriswrites.com and was passed around, warning of the dangers and lack of oversight for all agents. It may have left you wondering… with all the risks, why would I want a literary agent?

Well, at Balticon 52, I got to hear a variety of perspectives from published authors who’ve had every sort of agent possible. Here are the stories of Leah Cypess, Keith RA DeCandido, CS Friedman, Tee Morris, and their hunt for a quality agent.

How These Writers Got Their Current Agent

CS Friedman started off with just a publisher. They handled all her negotiations and used their standard, boilerplate contract. After book 2 was published, two agents contacted her.

THAT’S when she found out that the standard contract with agents has her share at 80% of foreign sales or tv deals and the standard one, when it’s just publishers, had her share at 50%. Not a scam, just the standard rates.

Keith DeCandido got his start as an editor and broke into writing with media tie-in work, where there’s not much room for negotiation. So? Once he started original pieces, he already had contacts and knew who he wanted to ask and had the track record to appeal.

Leah Cypess spent years sending her works to publishers… 20 years ago when the market was different. And eventually, began to get rejections saying, “Not this, but do you have anything else?” Once they accepted her book, they suggested she get an agent.

Not knowing any better, she asked for their suggestions. This wasn’t a great idea for several reasons:

  • The agent felt compelled to say yes to maintain a good relationship with the publisher
  • She felt compelled to accept their suggestion
  • The agent wasn’t actually very familiar with her genre and market, and they were a mediocre match.

What Do Agents Do For You?

Other than the money, which a good contract lawyer might help with, what other reasons are there to get an agent?

  • They are your biggest fan
  • Many are editors and can make your story better
    • Or hire someone to do it for them
  • They take off the negotiation pressure
    • It’s a lot harder and trickier to run a bidding war for yourself!
  • They can yell at Editors FOR you so you can keep a good relationship with the editor
  • They have relationships with the Editors already
    • They know what books the publishers are looking for
  • They can vouch that you will fix [whatever] and that your ego won’t get in the way
    • It’s more convincing when someone else believes it
  • They manage your IP [Intellectual Property]
  • A good agent is neither a pushover nor belligerent
    • They’ll do right by you without making the editor’s life hell

Two people shaking hands, clipped to see just the arms.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Once You Have An Offer In Hand

Once you have an offer from an agent, it’s considered professional to send a notice to the other agents sitting on your query, giving them 1-2 weeks to decide.

Do NOT lie to get agents to make them respond faster. Agents talk.

Two weeks is about the limit, maybe three if it’s summer or a holiday. Longer than that will make an agent feel like you’re using their offer to find a better deal. Don’t do it.

When Should You LEAVE An Agent?

You worked so hard to GET an agent, you thought this meant you’d made it.

But sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. Now, this is something you don’t usually hear writers talk about, but 3/4ths of professional writers have left an agent.

Warning Signs

  • No news is NOT good news.
    • They should check in regularly and let you know what they’re doing for you (2-3 months is fine).
  • They’re not submitting your work or following up with the publishers.
    • 6-9 months is a reasonable wait with publishers, but your agent shouldn’t just be sitting on their thumbs.
  • They’ve gone from no-contact to immediate deadlines with little warning.
  • Your career has changed direction and they don’t know your new market.
  • Your agent stopped fighting FOR you!
    • Maybe you didn’t sell like they’d hoped
    • Maybe they signed some fresher or bigger names
    • Maybe life came up and they’re distracted

It doesn’t matter the reason, once they’ve stopped being your supporter, it’s time to move on.

Orange scissors cutting an orange rose and a piece of paper that starts with the words "Marriage Certificate: This is to certi-fy that the .."

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Dealing With Leaving An Agent

No matter your personal relationship, an agent-writer partnership is a professional one. And once they’ve accepted you on as their client? Your agent is actually your employee.

You should write a VERY professional (and not personal) break-up letter.

Remember, they STILL get their percentage on all contracts they’d negotiated for you. Like a divorce, you’re sharing custody of the “kids”. And typically? Your money goes to their agency and they pay out your portion.

WHAT? It should be the other way around! — Well, maybe. But this way, you don’t have to pay taxes on THEIR portion of the money.

When Don’t You Need An Agent?

  • Short story submissions. The money isn’t there and they typically don’t come into play.
    • Note: A cover letter from an agent CAN help with the top markets, though
  • If the publisher does ANYTHING to ask for stuff
    • That turns your manuscript into ‘SOLICITED’!
    • Note: Usually, waiting to hear back this way is even LONGER than with agents.
  • If they’re shmoozing about how they can ‘see it as a movie’. Movies are a hard field to break into, and literary agents have about nill influence there.

A Few Notes About Publishers

  • Publishers are ALWAYS looking for the “Next Big Thing”
  • Small publishers are hungry
    • But before you opt to go with them, pay attention to:
      • their audience
      • their resources
      • their current market
      • the quality of their products
  • Traditional publishers have known names lined up and will bump new authors back if they’re worried about the market impact
    • Their lead books get all the marketing money and the rest are ignored
    • BUT! They get you into every bookstore in the nation, so their lack of marketing is still exponentially greater than most small publishers can hope to achieve.
      • You typically get a smaller advance — for a wider distribution

***

Getting an agent is hard, but getting the RIGHT agent is harder. Here’s to hoping it’s a good match when you both swipe right.

5 Tips For Reading Your Own Work

As you might know, I do some voice acting for the Folk Tale Audio Drama Anansi Storytime where I’ve been everything from a narrator, to (many) Goddesses, to a turtle. Plus, as a writer, looking for an agent, I’m dreaming of that day when people show up to listen to me read my own work (as terrifying as that is).

So, when I see panels on ‘reading your own work’ at conventions, I like to show up and see what else I can pick up. (See here)

Usually, they’re workshops. This year, at Balticon, the session was more of a panel, with a round or so of audience participation at the end. But I learned a LOT of things specific to reading your own work that I didn’t already know.

Here are my top 5 tips for reading from your own manuscript at an author reading.

Girl, hugging her knees, sitting at the edge of a cliff with mountains in the background.

Photo by Pete Johnson on Pexels.com

1. Pick a scene with action, dialogue, and stop on a cliff-hanger

I’d always imagined that you needed to start your reading at the beginning of the book, otherwise you’d surely confuse the readers!

In truth – no matter how your novel actually starts though, when you’re reading for an audience, you want something active that isn’t too full of introspective!

Although, you still want the scene to focus on the main (or one of the main) protagonists.

Girl smiling at herself in the mirror. Orange blouse, brown hair.

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

2. Rehearse

So often, writers (and audiences) believe that since you wrote it, you should know your novel forwards and backward.

But, even if you aren’t a writer, can you remember a joke you made 3 months ago? With the exact wording? Probably not.

I promise it isn’t the marker of a ‘fake’ writer or someone who’s ‘not meant to do this’. Most authors practice.

After several read-throughs, you’ll get to know how many pages will typically take you to the 1-minute mark, the 5-minute mark, or the 20-minute mark, whichever length of reading you’re preparing for.

Make sure to give yourself a little extra script if you need to be sure to fill the time. Nerves and a live audience make most people speed up, no matter how much they’ve practiced.

Feel free to give an intro and talk about the book and yourself and the story — not telling the backstory — but selling yourself and the novel! You don’t have to just read your story during a reading.

Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

3. Print it out and mark it up

A lot of authors print that scene out in the big font, so they don’t lose their place and mark it all up.

Put in pauses, when you raise your pitch, and when you lower your volume.

Highlight the different characters’ dialogue in different colors!

Whatever you need to make the reading more exciting to listen to.

4. Be EXPRESSIVE!

Use multiple voices! (Those ones you just highlighted in different colors)

Use over-exaggerated faces! (If you commit, so will your audience.)

E-nun-ci-ate! Make sure that you don’t turn your story into a mumble.

5 Bic pens fanned out. Green, black, pink, blue, and red.

All of my Bic editing pens. I meant to color code but haven’t really been doing that. Just using different colors for different things.

5. Don’t be afraid to EDIT THE SCENE

Wait. What?

I was stunned and yet it seemed so obvious when they mentioned this tip. I’d always imagined half the audience having the scenes memorized and ready to ding you if you misspoke a single sentence. But that’s not who you’re reading to!

This audience wants you to succeed. They showed up ready to be entertained and to have the experience of the words being spoken by the writer. To have something fresh and new!

If you’ve ever been to a concert, which is more exciting? A set playlist where everything is by the books and they wait exactly 90 seconds of applause before coming out for the ‘surprise encore’.  Or a band with a huge song list, picking and choosing which song they feel like tonight, with a more organic feel?

The audience is there for your take on it: the sound of foreshadowing in your voice, the excitement of the scene, the wrinkled nose in a character’s disgust at kiwi (what can I say, some characters have no taste!).

So make it easy for them to love your reading.

Cut the dialogue tags — especially if you’re using voices.

Do you have asides and mentions of side plots that aren’t relevant for this scene? CUT THEM!

Do you head-jump a lot and don’t have a full reading’s worth from one character’s point-of-view? Clip them together!

Make the scene as stand-alone as you can — except for that cliffhanger ending and leave ’em with your number buy links.


balticon52Banner

These notes were taken from the #Balticon52 panel “Reading Your Own Work”. The panelists were Dave Robison, Starla Huchton, Valerie J. Mikles, Steven Howell Wilson, and moderated by Erin Kazmark.

 

If there’s a topic you’d love for me to talk about, feel free to comment below or email me at morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com