My friend Melissa Placzek is today’s guest artist. Melissa is an author and illustrator and I asked her to share some of her knowledge of the publishing industry and how to get your work out there.
I have been asked countless times, and most recently by a fan of mine who called me on the phone, to write about my adventures in publishing. How did I get noticed by a major publishing house, or noticed by any house at all? Do I have any tips to help writers get started? And the most commonly asked questions are about self publishing. What are the pros and cons? Well, I’ve avoided the subject up until now, tip-toed around it like some landmine about to go off. The main reason for this is that I have such a strong opinion about the sensitive subject of self publishing, and I’m afraid those who are looking for the ‘easy way out’ when it comes to publishing aren’t going to appreciate this post very much. Please hear me out, this comes from the heart and is in no way an attempt to hurt feelings or create enemies. Yikes, here goes…
I’d like to start out by saying that I am very aware that there are some amazing books out there that have been self-published. Some by close friends of mine…an example “The Pause” by Keith Gaddy Davis. Excellent book! Self publishing this beautiful little book happened to be the perfect route for him. I’m sorry to say that books like this are the exception and not the rule.
Many self published authors (who have yet to see a royalty check or an Amazon review in two years…ahem) talk about the ’self publishing revolution’ that is taking place. They talk about it as if it has to do with a magical influx of talented authors and nothing to do with the fact that there is now an internet full of a bazillion vanity presses that would like nothing more than to take desperate authors to the cleaners…with Amazon and similar sites that are happy to take the lion’s share of any royalties you may be lucky enough to get. I think I hear you composing a nasty email to me….wait, hear me out.
If you are someone who wants to make a cute little heirloom cookbook, or a sentimental copy or two of your grandmother’s memoirs, or a little book to share with church friends, this blog is not directed at you. Self publishing is the perfect method to pursue. If you are someone who has written a book and still hasn’t gotten any bites even after trying to get published through traditional routes (like sending out a couple thousand queries/proposals) and all you really care about is seeing your hard work in print, then by all means, self publish. Otherwise there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.
It is much harder to capture the attention of readers as a vanity publisher- Book reviewers worth their salt look at books that have been published by bonafide publishing houses with a record of publishing successful books, and for good reason. Vanity publications are almost always at the bottom of the pile. A reason for this is the self publishing world is glutted with drive
l and flimsy, poor quality books with flimsy covers that don’t have a chance of standing out among the millions of books that are backed by houses that boast professional editing, graphic, and PR departments. You may think it’s unfair that your beautiful, amazing book is getting such unfair treatment just because it’s self published, and you may be absolutely right, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. You’re going to have to grow some thick skin, this publishing business isn’t for sissies.
You ARE the sales department- Reviews and media boosts (such as radio and television spots) go to traditionally published books with marketing teams and publicists working around the clock just to make the books look good. If you are thinking about self publishing you should know in advance that these jobs will be yours, and most of the books you sell will be bought by someone who knows you because most vanity publications move by word of mouth only. If that’s okay with you, fantastic!
The Barnes & Noble booksigning dream- You will have a problem getting your books on the shelves of big name bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders. Most of your sales, other than word of mouth sales, will probably happen through the internet on sites like Amazon that charge astronomical fees.
Being the author of a vanity publication will damage your chances at getting your work published by traditional means- Don’t dive into self publishing out of desperation. Most traditional publishing houses want nothing to do with authors who have self published in the past.
Whew…that being said, I do have some good news. If you’ve put the necessary time, blood, sweat, and tears into your book that it deserves and you can get the attention of a traditional publishing house long enough to prove that you have a product worthy of the book market, you just may realize your dream and get that phone call like I did for my first book back in 1999 when I was told that my first book was going to be published. There is nothing in the world like that feeling. As a writer it absolutely validates all of your hard work when a real live publisher takes a chance on you and your little book. That’s the genuine stamp of approval…along with the Barnes & Noble book signings with lines of people waiting for you to sign their copy of your beautiful book. I would be lying if I said this experience was anything less than pure bliss. It ranked just below my wedding day and the days I had my children.
So, there you have it. Don’t shoot the messenger. If you’re serious go out and get the phonebook sized copy of the current “Writers Market” and query, query, query…
Just for the record, Melissa and I are going to have a glass of wine someday and hash this one out. I think, in light of new advances in printing technology and social media, the future of books is as part of an information delivery strategy and not strictly as a “book” anymore. With a publisher or not, my experience is that you have to sell a lot of your own books anyway. Thanks Melissa for the great insight!