Finding a home for the next book: Traditional or self-publishing is the question

Film StripI received an email yesterday from my editor at the University of Toronto Press with the news that we’re now embarking on the cover design for my new book.  Although this is good news (I had been wondering where we were in the process after I sent him the final edits back in January before I went on vacation, it got me thinking yet again about the traditional book publishing process .

This marks the ninth time (ten if you count a second edition) that I’ve been through this traditional publishing process where control is largely given over to the publisher.  The truth is that I’ve been more or less happy with the outcomes as I look at them winking at me from the top shelf above me; the process, however, has not been without considerable frustration.  I’ve also gone the self-publishing route three times now, and I’m kind of at a crossroads.  I have a new book ready to make the rounds – and have queried a couple of agents already – but I’m still wondering if I should do it myself.

This reflection on my publishing adventures resulted this time from my editor’s simple statement in his email: “…Time and budgetary restraints being what they are, we’re unable to ask our designers to come up with a cover completely from scratch. Rather, it falls to you (and to me)…” and then we’re to send this to the so-called designers.  It seems to me that a designer should be doing the designing, and if he or she isn’t doing the designing, what in the world is he or she being paid to do?

This might seem to you to be the moment in time when I make that decision to move to self-publishing for that next book, but I’m also reeling from yet another telephone call from iUniverse – an attempt to sell me yet more services thinly disguised as a wonderful opportunity for me.

Here’s what happened earlier this week.

At dinner time one evening (they are always at dinner time when I’m feeling just ready to punch the next telemarketer who calls despite being on the do-not-call list) the phone rang.  The caller was a “marketing specialist” or consultant or manager or some such thing; iUniverse seems to either have an enormous staff or massive turnover since this is the third or fourth such person to whom I have evidently been assigned.  Several incarnations ago I asked them not to call me with marketing ideas ever again.

Grace Note Cover PaperbackIf you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that my avocation is writing historical fiction – I do love that research and the need to shed everyday life to get into the head of characters from long-ago times and places.  Grace Note: In Hildegard’s Shadow was published by iUniverse a couple of years ago now.  It was selected as an Editor’s Choice book (meaning that since I’d paid to have it professionally edited and I didn’t sound like a moron it would get this stamp), and thereafter chosen as a “Rising Star” (not sure how high up the scale of non-moronic a book has to be to receive this elevation).   All of the editing etc. that was done made the book more polished and professional to be sure, but it did not come cheap.  And make no mistake, every time anyone called after that to extol the virtues of my book, they were indeed trying to sell me services.  This time it was that it is so good that it should be a movie.  Would you be interested in having it shown to Thruline Entertainment?

I told him to send me an email and hung up (I was more polite than that, but that’s the edited version of the story).

The email arrived in due course (read; immediately).  Here’s what he said in part:

I called in earlier today to inform you that your book, “Grace Note” can be adapted into a motion picture.

Hollywood Coverage: Your book has all the elements Hollywood wants — an exciting plot, well-developed characters and fresh content — yet there’s still a crucial piece you need in order to be taken seriously by established entertainment executives.

We would like to know if you’d be interested to have your books presented to our newly acquired partner, THRULINE Entertainment. THRULINE is a Hollywood production company and they are basically looking for good books to adapt into a movie.

The contract has just been sealed last August and basically we want to impress our new partner. We don’t want to provide them with a “just-an-ordinary” material. We are putting our best foot forward because we want to prolong this contract.

If you’re interested, your book just needs a Script coverage in order for us to present this to production companies and producers. That is the basic tool that they would look for instead of reading the whole book.

He then went on to tell me that the two-part script coverage would be done by a professional who has done this before etc.  What he did not tell me was the price or any reference to the fact that he wants to sell me a service, but I knew that this was precisely what was happening.  And indeed research on Thruline uncovers a company with self-described ties to the Hollywood machine that works with self-publishing companies to part authors from their money.  Well, they didn’t’ say it that way but I can read between the lines!

Of course, if your book is really adaptable as a movie, you can send it to an agent who does this kind of thing.  Options on books can and are taken from the book itself.  And doesn’t it make sense that someone who is actually interested in adapting your book might actually have to read the book?  Yes, script “coverages” are done, but really?  I actually had an earlier book optioned and learned that the vast majority of optioned books never even make it to treatment phase.

The iUniverse price for this script coverage is $859.00.

This is what I said in my response to the email:

Thanks for this.  Don‘t bother telephoning me.  I’m not paying upwards of $900 for any more service from iUniverse.  If you think the book is good enough to be sold to “Hollywood” then I think you should be willing to put up the money for a percentage on the back end.  Otherwise, we have nothing to talk about.  I’m an accomplished writer – I can do this myself.

I think it’s time iUniverse took a different tack when it comes to ‘services’ for writers.

But call he did.  This time I didn’t answer. So where does this story lead me?  Well, this morning as I checked my Twitter feed I came across a link to a blog post titled “Publishing 101 – Money” on The Passive Voice blog whose author considers whether or not the price of self-publishing is worth it.  She and I agree that it is, but it does seem to me that there is a limit to what one should reasonably spend.

Self-publishing requires an author to be a writer, editor, interior book designer, cover designer, marketer and promoter.  So is this so different from traditional publishing these days?

When an editor at a traditional publishing house tells me that he is “unable to ask [their] designers to come up with a cover completely from scratch…” it seems that the two publish models are getting closer together.

So, am I any closer to a decision about my next book’s home?  Not really.

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8 thoughts on “Finding a home for the next book: Traditional or self-publishing is the question

  1. doctor d

    I’ve had some of the same experiences with scholarly publishers. I’ve paid for my own design cover, and promotion has been largely left up to me (us in the case of my co-authored book). Any additional editing was my responsibility.

    So, I don’t have any words of advice. But, I do want to make a point: I have to agree with iUniverse on one point: Grace Note would make a great movie!

    1. Thanks for that vote of confidence! I’m considering pursuing it through the more conventional channels — an agent! That’s, of course, when I get clear of this teaching gig!

  2. David Healey

    Thank you for sharing your “adventures” in publishing. I think it’s great when writers talk about the “business side” of things and trade notes about our experiences with various approaches and services. Sadly, if your publisher isn’t making enough money to edit the text and design a cover, then one wonders what’s left except some credibility lent by the “university press” imprint.

    1. Oh they edit! Do they edit! But university presses have a different perspective on things. I wrote a blog post some time ago specifically about covers — including a previous experience with this publisher. Thanks for reading and commenting. I do think it’s important for bona fide writers and aspiring writers to be well aware that there is more to writing than writing — unless you’re just doing it for yourself. Cheers!

  3. Pingback: The book cover debate: Here we go again | Backstory...

  4. Patricia: Thank you for putting your time, energy and considerable talent into this blog. You are certainly correct about the two publishing models (in truth, they may be more than two) getting closer together. There’s a whole book to be done about that.
    Inspired by your efforts I am thinking of redoing our website to include a blog. The time such a blog might consume scares me a bit; however, I may invite my assistant, our interns, our authors and our authors’ readers to contribute.
    Look forward to reading more of your “adventures in publishing” narratives.
    John Patrick Grace

    1. Hello John…Thanks for stopping by the Backstory Blog. You’re quite right about there being more than two models! I’ve also written about that on this blog and in my forthcoming book: Who will Read Your Book? The Unknown Writer’s Guide to the Realities of Writing & Publishing. Stay tuned!

      Cheers, Patty

  5. Pingback: The dumbest publishing decision I ever made | Backstory...

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