In the begining…
My Adventure in Publishing
Learn From My Mistakes
In the spring of 2006 I moved to Florida with half a manuscript in a box. I’d been picking away at it for over a year and the goal was to first get myself settled into my new job and then set about finishing it. The story was for fun, as was everything else I had written up until then, so it wasn’t near the top of my to-do list. Somehow I finished the book by 2007.
Everyone who read it claimed to like it, but most were friends or family, so I accepted the praise with a healthy grain of salt. Then a strange thing started to happen. I was getting e-mails from people I didn’t know who also liked the book. At this point it wasn’t even a real book, just a few reams of paper held together with rubber bands. People were passing it around to their friends after they had finished it. The reviews from strangers helped convince me that I might actually have something worth putting out there. So I decided to self-publish it and see what would happen.
I then made every mistake a self-publisher could possibly make.
I knew nothing about publishing and made only a token effort to educate myself. I browsed a writer’s magazine at the bookstore and looked at a few of the self-publishers ads. I found a convenient package at a self-publishing company and threw some money at it. I had a friend of a friend who was a painter/tattoo artist draw me up a cover. I picked out a font in less than two minutes, slapped them together and submitted it. I even sent them the first draft instead of the (self) edited copy without noticing. I never asked about royalties or mark-up or distribution or formatting or copyright. That’s what I was paying them to do, right? I provide the manuscript and they make the book. How hard could it be?
The book hit the market in 2008.
When the proof showed up I’ll admit that it was a thrill to open the box and see my book laying there. Then I picked it up and thumbed it open. The layout was good, but that was about it. To my horror I realized that they had published the unedited copy. A phone call gave me the bad news and the added cost of fixing my mistake. When I saw the mark-up price on Amazon I knew the book would never sell. I kicked myself and stewed and read the contract over and over before making another bad decision. Instead of canceling the contract (which I could do at anytime) I elected to just let the book sit. I figured a bad book was better than no book.
At this point in time the writing bug had really taken hold and I was already started on the next book. I vowed to learn from my mistakes and not repeat them the second time around. So I did a lot of reading. I learned about Query letters and the Big Six. Agents and their 15%. Submission guidelines and how to write a Synopsis. I cleaned my first book up and started submitting it. The usual tidal wave of rejections soon followed and I wallpapered the refrigerator with them. I read Ditch the Agent by Jack King and sifted through the lists on his website. I found Jim Kramer. I tweaked and reformatted and rewrote to meet every submission guideline for every agent and editor out there.
Six months went by.
Then one day I received an E-mail from a woman named Melissa Singer at Tor publishing. For those who may not be familiar, Tor is a sub of MacMillan publishing, a German-owned company and one of the Big Six. They have a great submission policy as they don’t accept query letters; they want three chapters and a synopsis instead. Wow, a publishing company that actually wants to see your writing? It’s unheard of! So I picked out three chapters that I thought represented my best work and mailed them off. Six months had gone by with hundreds of submissions going out, so when I saw the e-mail my first question was; Who’s Melissa Singer?
She’s the VP and senior editor at Tor, that’s who, and she was requesting my full manuscript! My submission had most likely made it through several people to even land on her desk. It was a little shocking. After picking my jaw up off the floor I sent it off to her with a hardy thank-you. She said she was quit busy and it may take some time to get back to me. No problem Ms. Senior vice-president/editor/co-founder, take all the time you need!
Months went by.
I happened to be online when the next email came, which rendered me stupid for a moment. It was long. Three pages long. Is that good or bad? I kept reading. She informed me that she had finished the entire book the night before. She praised my dialogue. She liked the plot. She even called it “a solid piece of work” and then offered a two-page critique with suggested changes. I was getting quite happy.
Then she said she had to pass on it. To date it was the most polite, personal and helpful rejection letter I had ever received and I told her so. I also asked if she would be interested in seeing it again if I made the suggested changes. She said she would be happy to. We exchanged a few more emails over the next few weeks to better define what she was looking for. She informed me that the writing talent “was there”; it just needed a little polish. She was open and helpful and wrote as if she had time for me.
I devoted all my spare time to rewriting the book and incorporating her suggestions. I polished it as best I could and had it back to her in less than a month. She received it graciously and complimented the quick turnaround. She said she’d be back to me in four months.
I waited four months.
I sent off a friendly reminder to which she replied that her desk was piled high, but my manuscript was still there and “near the top of the pile”. She was again friendly and open.
I waited two months.
I sent off another friendly reminder.
I waited another two months and sent off another.
During this period there was some drama happening between Macmillan and Amazon. I thought that she may be busy with that. So I waited some more.
It was now over a year since I had first mailed off the submission. I set a deadline for a reply, and when that deadline passed I wrote her off. I stopped all submissions to other agents and publishers as well.
Well, there was the obvious, but it was mostly this; while doing all that waiting, I had been quietly educating myself about the publishing industry.
I had wasted over a year trying the traditional route and I vowed to never do that again. I made the easy decision to self-publish. From now on it was going to be up to me and me alone, and from what I was reading by other writers who had gone before me, there was no reason not to. But I wasn’t going to make the mistakes I had previously made. I did my research. I read blogs, I read books, and I spent countless hours on the internet. I found JA Konraths blog and read every word with a highlighter in my hand. I found Aaron Shepard. I learned about the importance of editing and book covers. I added Lightning Source to my favorites file. I surfed TheBookDesigner and Kindle Boards daily. I visited The Passive Voice and read Dean Wesley Smith’s blog. I went to writers clubs and book signings. The majority of the time I refrained from taking part, preferring instead to just sit in the back and listen. I filled several legal pads with notes.
While doing this I managed to finish the second novel in less than six months.
I started on another.
But pursuing the topic of self-publishing can be like drinking from a fire hose, it’s a flood of information and you could spend years picking out the good advice from the bad. Eventually I realized I needed to stop researching and get on with the work of actually doing it.
I’ve formed a plan that I feel is sound and I’m ready to execute it. As I write this I have three novels finished with the third being edited. The plan, in a nutshell, is to form my own publishing company, use Lightning Source for the print versions, and handle the e-books and marketing myself. I have a budget and a publishing date. The goal is to have everything up and running by the fall of 2012, just before the Christmas silly-season.
This is the first blog entry of my website and I plan to write about every step of the process as it happens. I’ll try to keep everything up to date and provide real numbers as I go along. I know that there will be some out there that will disagree with what I’m doing while others may think I’m spot-on. It could be like watching a slow-motion train wreak, but I’m inviting everyone to come along anyway. If I can pull this off successfully and not make the same mistake twice, maybe someone will benefit as I have benefited from others before me.
Besides, who wants to miss a good train wreak?