Interview with Ann Griffin

finished image croppedIn my three million part series on writing, I’ve interviewed Ann Griffin, a writer of historical fiction. Her recent novel is a fictional version of real life events, inspired by her mother. The more author interviews I do, the more comforted I am by the idea that we’re all different. None of our paths are exactly the same and we have varied ways of existing because there is no one way to be a writer.

When did you decide you wanted to be published?

I wanted to be published very early while I was writing my novel, although I had at that time no idea what the process was. Once the book was finished, edited professionally by a developmental editor, I began querying. I signed up for Query Tracker, which provides information and a relatively easy way to query agents and keep track of who, when, and where. I participated in workshops on writing query letters and synopses and continued to modify them as I sent my queries and received feedback.

But despite a positive response (twelve requests for full manuscipts out of about 50 queries) it dawned on me how slow the process is. Not only that, I’m not a young person. Waiting two years after getting a contract to have a book for sale was just too long for me, so I refocused on self-publishing.

That turned out to be a steep learning curve, but thanks to a number of helpful websites (janefriedman.com, joelfriedlander.com) I boosted my knowledge and my confidence, and dove in. I hired a cover designer. I hired a copyeditor. Within four months of making the decision, my book was launched. Looking back, I should have taken more time before launching to send out ARCs and get some reviews, but in spite of that, my sales have gone quite well.

Bowker_high_res_image_cover

My most recent (my only) book is Another Ocean to Cross, which is WWII historical fiction. It took about seven years to write, partly because I had no idea how to write a novel when I started. It all began when my last living uncle died in 2002. In his safety deposit box was a letter from a daughter no-one in the family knew existed. My curiosity demanded I look into this “family skeleton in the closet,” so eventually I met this cousin, who told me the story of her parents’ romance, marriage, and subsequent divorce. It was such a compelling, outrageous story, that I decided it needed to be written. Seeing no other suitable candidates, I volunteered myself for the job.

My first draft was fairly close to the true story, but my developmental editor (Kathryn Craft) helped me realize that sometimes, truth is too strange for readers of fiction, so I had to modify the story considerably to meet the demands of fiction. For example, in real life, the main character did not change much and did not seem to learn from her experience. In my book, she does learn and grow.

The story is of a gutsy young German Jewish girl, who tackles all kinds of dangers and hardships to save her parents, her child, and her battle-injured husband. The book follows Renata from Germany through Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, to Egypt. From there, later, she must go to London, and finally, she heads to Canada where, eventually, she reunites with her husband. Hence the title, “Another Ocean to Cross.”

 

What inspires you?

I am inspired by stories of people in my family history, or someone else’s, who must deal with difficulty, danger, isolation, fear, in a world that is different from what we know in the twenty-first century. Strong women particularly inspire me.

 

What do you do if you get stuck?

I’ll switch to writing prompts sometimes. Or take up a totally different project. Sometimes I’m stuck because I need to do more research, and in that case, off I go to the library or wherever I need to get the information.

 

What is the biggest challenge of being published?

The marketing. It consumes my life and makes it hard to continue working on my next book. I don’t have money to spend on a publicist or other pricey methods of marketing, so I have focused on speaking to book clubs, libraries, and other groups where I have a connection. I have participated in two book festivals and am registered for a third in April. Next I’ll be contacting service clubs which often want guest speakers and permit the speaker to sell their products. I have entered several book contests but am still awaiting results. I hope to be named a finalist and would be thrilled to win, because that phrase, “award-winning author,” and a pretty gold sticker to put on the book does help sales.

 

What’s the best part?

As a published author, I encounter immediate respect from other writers and even more so from the general public as I meet them. The sense of achievement, a book in my hand that I created, is as good as the thrill of new motherhood.

 

What is your next project?

I am working on two new books, and am still not sure which one I will complete first. One is a sequel to Another Ocean to Cross that begins in 1960. The other begins in 1880, and follows a boy, Walter, and his sister, Emily, who are taken from their parents and sent to Canada to be labourers, but in separate cities. Their determination to find each other forms the main part of the plot.

You can find out more about Ann on her website.

 

Interview with Margaret Ann Spence

Author photo- Margaret Ann Spence

Lately, I’ve been getting to know some of my fellow members of the Women Fiction Writers’ Association. Margaret Ann Spence is a romance writer who recently published her first novel. She answered my questions about writing, editing and publishing.

Tell me about your recent novel. Who is your audience?
My novel, Lipstick on the Strawberry, was published by The Wild Rose Press in 2017. It is women’s fiction. And, by the way, I love that term. Raised in a family of boys, and with three sons of my own, I just relish being in the company of women, real or fictional. My target audience is women aged 25-60. Particularly women who enjoy the domestic arts. The print and ebook book are available from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and many other book sellers.

Do you have a critique group or support network? Do you let people read early drafts?
I belong to a bi-weekly critique group. We meet in person, over dinner. Two people (usually) email their manuscripts or portions of manuscripts to the other members the week before. We then discuss the submissions at the meeting and at the end, hand our written critiques to the presenters. We have a dozen members, all writing in different genres. Each person gets to present about four times a year. The discussions are always lively. I also belong to the Women Fiction Writers’ Association, an online group, and a couple of other writing groups who meet once a month for discussion of craft, marketing, etc.

Are you a ‘plotter’ or ‘pantser’? Do you outline a story before writing or make it up as you go?
Combo. I start off with an idea, or rather a couple of ideas that will meld into a story. Have a vague idea of a plot and some main characters. Put that on paper. Then start writing. At first it’s like hammering away at the rock face until a shape emerges. Sometimes I have no idea how it will end until I write it. Other times I know the ending and have to shape the story to get to it.

lipCan you describe your path to publication? Did you query agents? How long did it take?
Lipstick on the Strawberry is my first published novel. But it’s the second novel I pitched and sent to agents. In fact, I started writing Lipstick when waiting to hear back from an agent who had requested the full from the first novel. I had a first draft of Lipstick in a few months, then many revisions, and a contract two years after I started writing it. I met Rhonda Penders, CEO of The Wild Rose Press, at an RWA conference and pitched the story to her, resulting in the publication of the book.

What are you working on next?
My next novel is completely different in setting and characters. It has three point of view characters, three generations of women. I’m deep into it at the moment, powering through to the end. Then comes the fun part, reorganizing and rewriting. I love revision.

For more information, check out her blog.

Interview with Debbie Burke

piano editDebbie Burke is one of the authors I’ve met since joining the community at Kindle Press. Her thriller, Instrument of the Devil, was selected by Kindle Scout’s crowd-sourcing program in October. I’ve asked her to tell us about her book and her writing process.

 

When did you start writing? When did you decide to pursue publication?

I wrote stories starting in third grade through college. Then career turned my focus to business writing. About thirty years ago, my husband and I moved to Montana where I found a wonderful writing community and I restarted with fiction. Sold my first short story for $5…and…the check bounced, a great lesson in the vagaries of publication. I also wrote magazine articles while working on numerous novels. The novels won contests and earned rave rejections from agents and editors but no publishing contracts. Finally, last year, my tenth book, Instrument of the Devil, won the Kindle Scout contest and was published. A thirty-year long haul but worth it.

Are you a ‘plotter’ or ‘pantser’? Do you outline a story before writing or make it up as you go?

Basically I’m a pantser. I have a starting point and an ending point but not many clues about the middle. The first draft is the skeleton to figure out the plot. Succeeding drafts, I add the flesh, muscle, sinew, layering on more with each rewrite. Sometimes characters appear and force their way into the story, changing the direction. Because I trust the power of the subconscious, I go with the flow. Usually it works out. Also my critique group helps when I get stuck, offering fresh ideas.

Do you read a lot of the mystery/thriller genre? Who are your favorite authors?

Because I do a lot of editing and beta-reading, I don’t have time to read as many books as I’d like. Probably my all-time favorite author is Raymond Chandler. I also admire Sue Grafton because she maintained high quality for decades until, sadly, the alphabet ended in “Y” when she recently passed.

InstrumentoftheDevil_KPress_Cover_FinalTalk about Instrument of the Devil.
Instrument of the Devil is about a terrorist who targets Tawny Lindholm, a technophobic widow, setting her up as a scapegoat in his plot to bring down the electrical grid. It takes place in Montana at the Hungry Horse Dam, a major power generating station for the Northwest US. The inspiration came from two sources: five years ago, I bought my first smartphone when they really took off in popularity. It confounded me with its antics–strange tones, inexplicable messages, a screen that spontaneously went black, etc. I assumed the problems were operator error, but it also made me wonder, what if a bad guy used a rigged smartphone to manipulate an innocent person to take the fall for a crime? At the same time, I was researching the vulnerability of the power grid and learned that a smartphone has the capability to access computers that control the grid’s inner workings. Those two components came together and the story was born. Then in 2016, the FBI thwarted a cyberattack by smartphone on a dam in New York, so I knew I was onto something that could really happen. A rigged smartphone is the Instrument of the Devil. Ironic postscript: after numerous trips to the phone store, it turned out my phone was defective so not all its antics were operator error.

What are you working on next?

Stalking Midas is a proposed title for the second book in the series. Tawny is working for the lawyer who helped her in Instrument of the Devil. He suspects his estranged father is a victim of elder fraud and sends Tawny to investigate. The plot involves a lucrative annuity scam that takes cruel advantage of senior citizens’ devotion to their pets. The third book in the series (proposed title The Suicide Gene) deals with teenage suicide.

Check out Debbie’s website at debbieburkewriter.com

Debbie is giving away three FREE signed copies of her book! Three winners will be chosen at random from all entries received by April 30. Enter by answering this question in the comments section:

Who are your favorite authors?

 

Interview with Louise Cole

LouiseColeLouise Cole is a fantasy writer whose book, The Devil’s Poetry, was published by Kindle Press in 2017. The sequel will be out this year. I got her to give her thoughts about publishing and writing and to talk about her books.

What do you do when you get stuck in the writing process?

I don’t really believe in writer’s block. I think it’s a bit of an indulgence – teachers and nurses and firefighters don’t get to say: ‘Oh I can’t work today. I’m blocked.’ They have to push through. And to some extent it is, therefore, about discipline. That said, not all writing is done at a keyboard. I usually find that when I’m not writing well, it’s because I don’t know where the story is going or what the point of the scene is. So I need to stop and do something else. Often manual labour which leaves your mind free – digging, washing up, walking the dog – is a great opportunity to let your subconscious solve problems. But I’m still writing. It is purposeful. I’m not just knocking off for the day.  Some people have to work stuff out by typing. Others – like me –  work it out by thinking, dreaming, living the scenes before we type. What you don’t get to do is say: “Shucks. I can’t do this now but it will magically come right tomorrow.” It only comes right when you put your mind to it.

Can you describe your path to publication? Did you query agents? How long did it take?

The Devil’s Poetry had a long and twisty path to publication. I have an agent, who loved the book but, as she sent it out, the UK publishing industry decided, more or less collectively, that it needed to turn its attention to middle grade novels and not YA. Editors felt that the YA  dystopian market must be running dry but they didn’t know what the next big thing would be. As a result we got a lot of lovely rejections, saying things like: “This isn’t where we’re putting our focus this year,” or even, from one editor; “I’d love to buy this but I’d never get it through acquisitions at the moment.” We were offered one deal which I declined on commercial grounds, and I decided to put the book out through Scout. I’ve always believed in The Devil’s Poetry as a book that could excite and move people and, really, I just wanted it to have an audience.

Would you recommend Kindle Scout to other authors?

This is a difficult question. Everyone’s path to publication is different, often from project to project. My first advice would be to write a book good enough to attract an agent. You don’t need to sign or take a trad deal – I’m talking about the quality of the book. There is a marked difference in quality between most traditionally published books and most self published books. When you look at the really successful self-pubbed authors like Hugh Howey and Michael J Sullivan, they wrote astoundingly good novels. They know their craft inside out and there is no sense that these books  are rushed or derivative or ‘good enough’. They stand their ground against anyone in their field. I know some self publishers take a different view and that’s a valid choice – but for my part, I wanted to write a really good book. Whether I’ve succeeded is up to you guys but that was my aspiration. Not to make a tonne of money or give up my day job. Just to write something other people would love.

Sorry, back to your question: If it’s your first novel and you have no following, then Scout may well give you more publicity and, if picked up, a stronger launch than otherwise. That was my reckoning and I think I was right, for me. If I already had lots of books out there, I’d run a campaign with a standalone because I think that has marketing benefits for your other work as well.

However,  if you are an established writer, I might think twice about putting a first in series into Scout. Keeping the rights to the first book may pay dividends in driving traffic and sell-through to your other novels.

For myself, overall it’s been a good experience. I’ve had more confidence than I would have had I put TDP out on my own; I’ve got more reviews and had more sales. It’s not a perfect experience  but frankly nor is working with most traditional publishing houses. But working with Kindle Press gives you a  great deal of liberty when doing your own marketing and building your platform and I really enjoy that.

Who are some of your favorite writers?

Oh golly. My heart has always belonged to the epic fantasy writers, which is strange given that my own fantasy is rooted in the real world. I think Tolkien, Robin Hobb, Leigh Bardugo, Brandon Sanderson. People who combine glorious characters, and vast but detailed worlds with an unerring instinct for style.

the-devils-poetry-cover-final1123Tell us about your books.

The Devil’s Poetry is about a girl who has the chance to stop world war three by reading from an ancient manuscript. In a way it’s an exploration of the whole magical solution question: if you could go back in time to shoot Hitler, would you? If you could wave a wand to solve world hunger, what would happen? So part of the novel looks at that question, the apparent no-brainer which actually, when it’s in your hands, turns out to be far more terrifying and complex than you had imagined. My 17 year old heroine, Callie, is torn between wanting to perform this one seemingly simple act and having a growing realisation that the consequences are unknowable. The Cadaveri – chaos inducing demons – seem determined to stop her from reading, as are other more human forces – but why? TDP  takes a fantasy element and drops it into the real world, a world that is so very nearly ours – filled with terrorism, rumbling wars and desperate peace talks. And it asks how you make the right decision when you never really know the truth.

But it’s also an action-packed thriller with a dash of love story and a glorious friendship.

The sequel to The Devil’s Poetry is on Kindle Scout now – it’s called On Holy Ground. It continues Callie’s story as faithfully as I can. It’s not an easy journey for her. Her dreams of breaking free from all of the allies and enemies she made during The Devil’s Poetry are scotch mist and she finds herself hunted and alone but this time in the United States. She desperately needs help – but whose agenda can she trust? Callie has to find the book and escape – or die trying.

You can follow Louise Cole on Facebook or Twitter.

 

Interview with author Sam Boush

Sam Boush PhotoSam Boush has just had his first novel published – a sci-fi, techno-thriller called All Systems Down about an imagined catastrophe in the not so distant future. We first connected on Twitter when I asked him to explain the genre. He explains it again below and answers several more of my nosy questions.

Your book came out last week. What has been the most fun part about getting published? What has been the most challenging?

Well, last week my fifth grade teacher reconnected with me and ordered a copy of my book. I just thought about how eleven-year-old me would have reacted if he’d known a special teacher would, twenty-five years later, be reading his book. I got a little teary, which doesn’t happen often.

The most challenging part has been reining in my expectations. I keep telling myself this is a great start, but building up a fan base takes time and years more work. So even though we had strong sales and stellar reviews last week at launch, I know the road to real success is still a long way off.

When did you start calling yourself a writer?

I only started calling myself a writer (and changing my LinkedIn profile) a few months ago, in conjunction with the cover reveal for my book. Most people didn’t know I’d gotten anything published before that.

I don’t really think writers do themselves any favors by announcing themselves too early. It can add pressure and expectations that aren’t easy to meet. The process of publishing a book for debut novelists can take a year or more, even after it’s written. Why invite questions and stress too early?

Talk a bit about your journey toward publication. How did you find your publisher?

Like most of us, I didn’t enjoy the querying process. A lot of rejection. A lot of unanswered emails. But after a few months of working diligently, I had two publishers interested in my manuscript. It was a good place to be since it allowed me to select the one that fit me best. But it was also difficult because the other publisher I didn’t select, Owl Hollow Press, has a talented staff. (I recommend your readers query directly if it’s a fit. I have only good things to say about how they handled the process.)

Ultimately, I chose Lakewater Press, and have been thrilled with the team. They publish more than just sci-fi thrillers like ALL SYSTEMS DOWN, so your readers might find they’re a fit depending on genre. Pretty much all my success should be attributed to Kate, Jodi, Rebecca, Emma, Samantha, and the rest of the team over there. They’re all ladies, and they’re incredible.

asdWhat is your book about? Who is your audience?

ALL SYSTEMS DOWN is a thriller set in present day. Brendan Chogan is an out-of-work parking attendant, unsuccessfully interviewing for jobs when a series of computer viruses from North Korea begin to wreak havoc on the country. Banks close. Bridges are raised. The electric grid falters. Satellites fall from the sky.

From there it only gets worse. I won’t spoil too much.

The audience is broad. I’d say if you liked Jurassic Park, it’s similar in style and pacing. A fun read, I hope.

How does All Systems Down fit into the sci-fi genre as well as thriller? Do you plan to write other books in this genre?

I suppose it’s more of a thriller or technothriller. Broadly I believe it fits under science fiction, so “sci-fi thriller” is as good a descriptor as any.

All Systems Down is the first in a planned series. I’m working on the second book now, with potentially a third. So, yes, I’ll definitely keep writing sci-fi thrillers!

If you’d like to find out more about Sam Boush, check out his website.

Book Launch Report

Blood and Water CoverLast month, I wrote about my book launch strategy and promised to return to let you know how it went. I feel like I learned a lot and I’m happy to share, but it’s important to remember that it’s impossible to copy someone else’s launch strategy and get the same result. There are simply too many variables: the quality of your book cover, blurb, and Amazon page. Your book’s genre. The day of the week. How books are selling this month.

Etc.

Blood  & Water is my fourth book, so I’ve already done some of the work to establish myself. And I have two other traditionally published books that contribute to my overall sales strategy. For this book, I had a 99 cent pre-order phase followed by a 99 cent launch week. I launched November 21st, hoping to benefit from the Cyber Monday sales. I may have, but the four-day lull in sales right after Thanksgiving broke up the momentum of my rising sales rank. My highest rank was 10,000. I think you need three good sales days in a row to get into the top 100 in a category. With previous books, I’ve seen that getting into that list really drives sales.

Some of the promos I picked performed better than others. The $150 dollars I spent on inclusion in Publisher’s Weekly was a huge portion of my budget and, unless its impact is delayed, was the biggest mistake I made during this launch. I can recommend ENT, Bargain Booksy and Booksends, all of which gave a modest spike in sales and rank.  I saw no results from the Facebook boost, Bookbub ads or Genrecrave’s cover contest. I didn’t notice any sales caused by tweets or Facebook posts. Minus my sales, I spent another $127 on this week.

What’s next? I’m gong to sit back and wait for reviews to start rolling in. I bought a spot in Netgalley and I’m not planning to do more promotion until I have a substantial number of reviews. I’ll also be working on getting and keeping fans engaged on my newsletter. It really came in handy after the Pronoun debacle and I think it’s a must for indie authors. If you’d like to join mine, please click here!

 

Interview with author April Wood

I’ve “known” April Wood for several years in that internet 5photos6way where you get to feel like you know people you haven’t actually met in real life. I came across her awesome reader’s blog, A Well Read Woman, while I was promoting my first book.

Well, I noticed a change in her Facebook posts recently and was surprised to discover she had a book out! Then, two books! Needless to say, I was intrigued and wanted to add her to the interview ranks.

Ok, so I’ve always known you as a book blogger and I’m curious about the transition. Have you always written? When did you start calling yourself a writer?

Yes, I’ve been writing since I could form complete sentences on paper. I had all these “books” that I penned with crayon and sealed with contact paper — haha! But I didn’t consider myself a writer per se until I was published. I didn’t feel like I “earned” the title before this.

What has been the hardest thing about publishing? What has been the most fun?

I honestly can’t stand the publishing process but to have a bound book in my hand, that I wrote, has been unbelievably rewarding. It makes all the stress of publishing worth it.

When did you decide you wanted to be published?

As a blogger, I read all these great stories from authors, like yourself, who later became friends of mine. I wanted a piece of that — to share my stories with the world too. I’ve always written, but blogging and becoming part of the book community brought out a passion to fully immerse myself and become a published author myself.

What inspires you? What do you do if you get stuck?

Fantasy novels are fun to write because I can find inspiration from nature, painting a pretty picture with my words and developing settings that I could only dream of.

Writer’s block just plain sucks, but I find if I force myself to just sit down and start typing anyway, that something, even if it’s just a paragraph or an idea to come back to later, will mesh.

Talk a bit about your books. Who do you write for?

I write the kind of books that I would like to read. I write for people who enjoy witchcraft in fiction as much as I do. My stories are about young teen witches who have magical abilities related to their elements (earth, air, fire, water), fall under the spell of romance, and solve mysteries that hit close to home.

Check out April’s author site here.

My RE-launch

Blood and Water CoverLast month, I wrote an extensive post about my big plans for the launch of my new book, Blood & Water. Well, a month and a half into the two month pre-order phase, the online distributor I’d chosen announced it would be shutting down in January.

This left me two choices: I could yank my books now, losing the rank and all my sales I’d been building since October 1st or I could go through with the launch continuing to build my rank only to lose it in January.

I chose to cut my losses and go with the first option, but I understand why authors in a similar situation have done the opposite. It’s kind of a lose-lose proposition. I’ve spent the last week redoing most of what I’d spent over a month doing: reformatting the book for multiple platforms and contacting all the promo sites I’d set up with the new link. They’ve been really nice about it.

I’ve been grateful for the super nerdy, long to-do list I was keeping that has become the re-do list. I’m back on track for a November 21st release (tomorrow!), but you can pick it up now during the 99 cent pre-launch sale. Next month, I’ll return with some stats on whether my marketing strategy worked.

My book launch

Blood and Water CoverI’m a hybrid author with a traditionally published book, one I re-released on my own after  it was traditionally published, and a Kindle Scout winner. I’ve seen publishing from a few different angles and I’m planning to take what I’ve learned and apply it to the indie launch of my fourth novel, Blood & Water.

Planning a book launch on your own is a lot of work. The other day, I started writing it all down so it wouldn’t feel so jumbled in my head. When I was done, I looked at the list and said: “Oh, this is what a publisher is for.”

It’s daunting, but also exciting. I have complete control and I get to experiment as I like. I’ve read other how to guides, some with conflicting information, and I’m mapping my own course. Feel free to borrow.

It took about two years to write Blood & Water and I don’t believe a writer can edit themselves. That said, I also don’t believe in spending thousands of dollars on an editor. By the time Blood & Water comes out, it will have had over a dozen beta reads, mostly from other writers with varied editing specialties. I created the cover with help from Debbie at thecovercollection.com. She also did my covers for Finding Charlie and A Long Thaw, which I love.

My last book was in Kindle Unlimited, but this time I’ve decided to “go wide”, which means it’ll be available on Kobo, GooglePlay, Nook, Appleibook, and Amazon. I used pronoun.com to create an ebook and mobi from a Microsoft Word file. It’ll start out at 99 cents. I’m running a two-month pre-order phase.

These days, there are a lot of sites that support indie authors. It’s great, but can make it tricky when deciding which ones to spend time (and money) on. I signed up on booklife.com and applied for a free review and paid promotion via Publisher’s Weekly. I  made a page at booklaunch.com. I used my free bookcave.com account to send review copies and collect subscribers to my newsletter on  mailchimp.com.  I  use twitter and facebook. I have a writer friend who wrote me an amazing blurb to use on the book page and in promos. I plan to run ads with bargainbooksy.com, bookrebel.com, thebookbots and a Facebook boost.

As you can see, there’s a mix of free and paid promotions available for indie authors. I’m planning to spend just under $500 to launch this book. I’ll do Goodreads giveaway and keep my blog updated. On October 28th, I’ll be the author representing Authoberfest over at Bookies. There’s a different author every day this month.

I’ll write another post after the launch to let you know if any of this worked.

Publishing Paths

Recently I attended the Mendocino Coast Writer’s Conference.  It was a learning experience and inspiring three days.  I had my doubts that this was something I’d benefit from, but in the end it proved to be worth the effort for this introvert.

This conference had master classes, seminars, workshops, evening readings, speakers and was focused on the art and craft of writing.  There were also activities for those interested in the publishing end of writing.  Each day had a pitch panel so writers could pitch their works to agents, a query letter writing workshop, and if you wanted you could get a one-on-one conference with a conference staff member to discuss your project.

Since I was there mostly to improve my poetry skills, I focused my attention on the poetry workshop I was in.  Still I managed to attend a couple of publishing sessions.  The one I like the best was, “Paths to Publishing.” 

In this panel discussion, four writers talked about how their books were published and the challenges they faced.  First there was a little discussion of self-publishing or how to promote through social media.  There were a few reasons for this – often came down to an admission that they weren’t really good at promoting themselves.

This isn’t to say it can’t be done, but understand who your are and what skills you have in that area before trying to be a self-publisher.  If you just want to publish for family and friends, the process is easy and you can get a few hundred copies out without too much trouble.  If your goal is to publish thousands of copies and make a profit, consider your business knowledge and marketing skills first.

If you’re not self-publishing, you need to attract the attention of a publisher and convince one to take on your book.  The big statistic that caught my attention was that there are nearly a million books published each year in this country with only a third of those being published by traditional publishers and that number is falling. The rest of the books are a combination of small press publishers and self-publishing. 

Getting published by a traditional press is a bit like winning the lottery.  You’ll need an agent to sell your work to the big publishers and getting an agent is no easy task.  One writer reported contacting 60 agents and not getting any to represent her book.  This was a typical report I heard.  The big publishers are in it to make a profit and they look at your book with the question of, “Will this sell enough to be profitable?”  Sadly, most first time writers don’t write books that will hit the best seller list.

The most common path to a published book was through the small press.  Often run by universities, non-profit groups, or dedicated individuals, these publishers are willing to take risks on books that the big publishers won’t.  Their reasons are many,  including – providing an outlet for literary writers, advancing a cause, or because they just believe that certain kinds of books and writing should be made available.  One example I know of is the Torrey House Press.  This publisher recently converted from a for-profit to a non-profit business model.  Their mission is to promote stories and books about the American West and the conservation movement.  They publish works on natural history, environment, or natural landscape themes.  If you’re writing a story about the American West, well, here is a possible market for you.

Oh, and you don’t need an agent to submit to them.

Most of the published writers I spoke with had their books published through small presses like this, or ones associated with education institutions or foundations.  Several had submitted works to various contests which included publication as one of the prizes.  It should be noted that many contests ask for a submission fee to cover costs.  Some are free, and some ask that you subscribe to their publication to be able to submit.

There are many good things to say about the small press and if you’ve got a book, story, or poem you want to get out there, here are a few positives:

There are thousands of small presses.

  • You don’t need an agent to submit (even for novels).
  • They believe in your work.
  • Most will get your book on Amazon.
  • They cover the costs of publication (be wary of those who ask you for money).
  • They generally don’t buy as many rights to your work – often only asking for first publishing rights or have a clause where rights revert to you after a specified period of time.  With the big publishing houses you often lose rights to your book.

But there are a few negatives:

  • They don’t pay much, if at all – sometimes contest winners get a small cash prize.
  • Most are run on shoe string budgets.
  • They don’t have promotion budgets, so don’t pack for the publicity tour.
  • They are often staffed by volunteers so don’t expect rapid replies.
  • Likely you’ll end up promoting the book yourself.

Some of the panelists did report that their press did arrange for some book store signings, or other book readings, but for the most part their promotion is adding the book to their catalog, putting out a press release, maybe an invitation to an awards dinner, and a few free copies.

So why go through the work?

Well a number of reasons:

  • It builds your writing resume (gets the line on an agent query letter, “I am the winner of …”)
  • It builds your contact list in the publishing world – networking is good.
  • Validation – many writers feel the need to be published because having a story published validates the writer’s work as being worthy.  Many of us writers suffer from low self-esteem and often question if we’re good enough.  Publication is a stamp of approval.
  • We feel the story is important and needs to be in the world.
  • Publishers can be a great source of editing input and can help hone your writing.

It’s really up to you and what you want to accomplish.  All of my current writing goes into my blog and I’ve sent very little of it out.  Part of me has always wanted to have a book published.  If I am brutally honest, mostly because I want that stamp that says, “You’re a published writer.”

And my ego would like a bigger audience.

If you have work that you’d like to get into the hands of a small press here are three resources where you can find these publishers:

Poets & Writers magazine: (http://pw.org)
Great magazine and website for poets and writers.

The Review Review: http://www.thereviewreview.net/
A website that reviews literary magazines and has a database of them.  Great place to find a magazine that speaks to you and your writing style.  Mainly for poetry, essays and short stories although some publish a book once in a while.

Winning Writers: https://winningwriters.com
Website that has a list of writing contests and lists free contests plus has a list of contests and services to avoid (be careful, lots of scammers out there). 

A couple of months ago I decided to cut back on the amount of writing I do for my blog so I can build up a better body of work that can be submitted.  It’s a major change in my writing discipline and I am still feeling my way through the change in writing rhythm.  I am hopeful that the changes I am making will lead to an improvement in my writing.

I certainly found attending the conference to be a wise choice and it’s helping me to push to that next goal.

Keep writing!