The dumbest publishing decision I ever made

dumbI’ve made some great decisions about my writing and publishing through the years, but I have also made some less-than-impressive ones.  I’m going to share with you the dumbest thing I’ve ever done.

Once upon a time…there was a young woman who had wanted to be a writer ever since she read Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca way back in junior high school.  That young woman – me – worked hard at her writing over the years until many years later she actually had enough expertise to write a non-fiction book that she was actually able to sell to a trade publisher.  That was a good decision and allowed me to take off the training wheels.

I happily continued to write (but never left my day job as a communication professor), hone my skills and sell a few more books (six) to a variety of other publishers.  But, like many bona fide non-fiction writers out there (at least that’s what I was told by a tetchy literary agent one time), I wanted to write fiction.  More than that, I wanted to see it published.

Caught by the historical fiction bug, I meticulously researched and wrote a novel about a 12th century Catholic nun in Germany (Hildegard of Bingen if you’ve ever heard of her).  I finished the manuscript and set about finding an agent.  I ran head-long into a wall of rejection, including one from the aforementioned agent who prefaced her rejection by saying, “If I had a dollar for every bona fide non-fiction writer who wants to be a novelist, I’d be rich.”  She wouldn’t even read my fiction.  I suppose I ought to have been flattered that she considered me to be the real deal in non-fiction, but that didn’t support my passion to publish my novel.  So I decided to take a different route.

I researched what was then the budding self-publishing industry.  An entire industry of so-called self-publishing companies was springing up before my very eyes.  One of them – quite new at the time – was one whose name you will know if you’ve dabbled in this area yourself.  It was iUniverse.  I was about to make the worst publishing decision of my life.

The cover I dislike.
The cover I dislike.

I scoured their web site for information about editing, file set-ups, cover design, distribution and marketing.  I knew from experience in traditional publishing that editing was crucial, and that I’d need professional help.  So I selected what I’d now refer to as a supported self-publishing package and knew that Grace Note would be a reality before long.  This much was true.  The process, however, has haunted me for years.

I was assigned a “publishing consultant” who would take me through the editing and production process.  The book was edited, but then I received an email telling me that the book was good enough to be a part of their “editor’s choice” program.  All it needed was a second edit – which would cost more. Then it was chosen for the “rising star” program.  More services required.

Wanting the book to be the best it could be, and perceiving that there might be marketing advantages to the “rising star” program, I agreed.  At the end of the editing process, I had a good product; that much I knew.  Then we were on to production.

The book cover had to be one that their designers produced – they didn’t like my ideas.  In order to remain in this marketing program, I had to agree to that cover.  I always felt uncomfortable about the cover, but I knew that even with traditional publishers, the cover issues could be fraught.  (Read my post What’s in a book cover? (Part 2): The Whole Damn Thing!)  So, I was stuck with this cover.

The book was published, and then the real sales pitches began.  Hardly a week went by when I didn’t receive a call or an email from my “marketing consultant.”  They wanted to sell me book trailer development services, book review services, and then there was the offer of the movie treatment services. (Read about this debacle at Finding a home for the next book.) This went on for months regardless of how many times I told them to stop calling and emailing.

By this point I had come to the conclusion that their business model was based on selling services rather than on selling books (although that would be nice, too, since they do take quite a chunk of the royalties).

The worst thing about this dumb decision on my part is that it’s so difficult to retake control of the book.  I’d dearly like to change the cover.  I’m told that this will cost me $140.00 even if I do it myself or hire a talented cover designer to do it.  My contract with them (yes, you have to sign a contract that gives them very specific rights to the book), indicates that I can get out of it with notice, but it’s difficult to find anyone to discuss this with who won’t try to sell me another service that I don’t want.

In 2013 US-based law firm Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart LLP began “investigating the practices of Author Solutions and all of its brands (AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford, Xlibris, Inkubook, and Wordclay). Authors using Author Solutions have complained of deceptive practices, including enticing authors to purchase promotional services that are not provided or are worthless, failing to pay royalties, and spamming authors and publishing blogs/sites with promotional material.”[1]  Although there doesn’t seem to have been much progress on the development of a class action law suit, it does speak to the widespread discontent of authors who have purchased these services.  Upselling isn’t actually illegal, just annoying and a bit disingenuous.

I am going to try to retrieve my rights (and dignity) when I have the time.  Until then, iUniverse gets a big chunk of any sales and the cover is still hideous.  It’s a good book though!

So, this was my dumb mistake.  I offer it only as a cautionary tale.  We all have to make our own mistakes!

dumb happens

[1] http://www.theindependentpublishingmagazine.com/2013/03/us-law-firm-investigates-author-solutions-for-class-action-suit-updated.html

The hunt for a new publisher begins…again

And so it has started again: I’m on the hunt for yet another publisher. Why, oh why, can I not be like other writers?  Why can’t I just publish in one genre, find myself a good old publisher who actually publishes these books, and happily continue that relationship until death do us part?  Or why can I not simply throw up my hands as so many writers have done and turn my back, once and for all, on the legacy publishers in favor of going the self-publishing route from here on in?

There is no simple answer, but I’m committed to figuring it out – even if it doesn’t solve my current problem.

There are really quite a few reasons why I can’t commit to one publisher, or even one route to publication. As I wade through the mire of my own writing/publishing mess, perhaps sorting myself out might help others who have the same issues.

Why can’t I simply commit to traditional publishing? I’ve already journeyed down this route to the very end ten times.  Ten books submitted, re-submitted, re-worked, accepted, published.  TEN TIEMES!  Surely I have the issue of approaching and procuring a publisher licked.  But here’s the thing: If you’re not a best-selling author delivering books in the same genre time after time, it can be very difficult to maintain a relationship with a single publisher since they all have their own specialities, and they rarely publish outside their guidelines.  The lesson here, of course is, don’t even try to approach a publisher with a query about a book unless it falls clearly within their publishing mandate.

This is plainly illustrated by my own experience: although I’ve been through the traditional publishing route ten times, I’ve worked with eight different publishers. Yup, that’s right.  Eight new routes to navigate and even more than eight editors to develop relationships with since at one of the publishing houses, I went through three editors enroute to publishing ne book (editors do leave mid-project for greener pastures). The bottom line truth this time around is that this new book isn’t at all like any of my previous books.  I’m a hybrid author in more ways than one!

These days the term hybrid author seems to refer to those of us who publish both via the traditional route and the indie route depending on the project. It can also refer to people like me who write in a number of genres – fiction & non-fiction and different types with those broad categories.  So that makes the traditional route difficult and time-consuming.  So, why don’t I just self-publish?  Again.

I’ve gone down the self-publishing route three times at this point, but only for fiction, and this book is non-fiction – a combination of narrative and prescriptive. The conventional wisdom holds that it is easier to have non-fiction acquired by a traditional publisher than it is fiction.  My own experience would seem to bear that out, but my personal anecdotal evidence isn’t really enough to use as a basis for such a conclusion.  I suspect that I’m a more talented non-fiction writer than a fiction writer, although I’m working to change that!

If you knew how much work I’ve already done on the marketing for this as-yet-unpublished book you’d think that I was planning to publish independently. I’ve written marketing copy; I’ve had a cover designed; I’ve created an unpublished web site for it; I’ve even begun to develop a series of podcasts.  I’m also story-boarding a book trailer.  The truth is that you almost need to do this in advance of being taken on by a traditional publisher these days anyway.

I’m still a traditionalist at heart, believing in the value of the third-party advocacy provided by legacy publishers. I’m not willing, however, to spend another year searching for that publisher. I’m aghast at the notion of submission-rejection-submission etc. once again on the route to acceptance.  So, maybe my loyal blog readers could help me decide.

What should I do with the following book! (Let me know what you think – and ask your fellow writers what they think if you like.)

 

Who Will Read Your Book?

The Unknown Writer’s Guide to the Realities of Writing & Publishing

WWRYB CoverThere are lots of books about how to write a book. This isn’t one of them.  This book is about how to navigate the increasingly confusing world of twenty-first century book publishing.  Whether you are an academic with a dissertation you’d like to turn into a book, a mom with a memoir or a newbie with a novel, if you want to get it published there is probably a lot you don’t know about what you don’t know. Who Will Read Your Book? The Unknown Writer’s Guide to the Realities of Writing & Publishing starts with this seminal question then moves in to fill in the gaps.

Patricia Parsons knows a thing or two about the wild world of publishing. A communication professor with numerous professional books placed with traditional publishers, she is a closet fiction writer, has vanity published, self-published, sold a self-published book to a traditional publisher, and has scads of finished and half-finished manuscripts on her computer. 

A few of my past publisher adventures…

The ‘Dreaded Rejection’: Scourge of the writing-publishing cycle

[The following piece is an excerpt from my upcoming book Who Will Read Your Book?: The Unknown Writer’s Guide to the Realities of Writing & Publishing]

rejectionWe’ve all been there: we’ve all been rejected for something.  Perhaps you didn’t get into your first-choice college or university.  Perhaps you tried out for a play and didn’t get the part.  Maybe you applied for a job and didn’t get it – even after a fantastic interview.   But that’s life, isn’t it?  Why then do writers seem to feel especially slighted when agents or editors pass on their work?

My own work has been rejected numerous times by agents, publishers, and I suppose by readers who decided not to buy the books for whatever reason.  But I’ve also had successes – that first publisher said ‘yes’, I received the odd royalty cheque so some readers have said ‘yes’.  What do these rejections look like?  And how do you cope?

In my view, rejections come in three packages: the total-lack-of-response rejection, the form-letter rejection, and the almost-form-letter rejection. Let’s look at each one in turn.

 

The total-lack-of-response rejection

I think this is the most frustrating kind of rejection – because you’re never sure when it has kicked in.  In my experience, this happens most often with literary agents.  Publishers will usually at least send you a form letter.  When a publisher’s or agent’s web site says, “If you haven’t heard from us within three months, you can consider that we’ve passed on your project,” I see red.  Although it is true that publishers are swamped with queries and manuscripts from wannabe writers, it seems to me that the writers who took the time to contact them at least deserve a form-letter rejection.  After all, if you’re a publisher or a literary agent, you signed up for this.

Providing even a form rejection would allow the writer to move on.  This kind of rejection is especially galling when they have also asked that you not submit to more than one publisher at the same time: the multiple submission.  The time it then takes to move on is unacceptable.  This is just disrespectful.

 

The form-letter rejection

The form-letter rejection is so ubiquitous that some writers paper their walls with them. In the old days (and still today for some dinosaurs of publishers and agents), the submission requirements would indicate that you were to provide a SASE (self-addressed-stamped envelope) with your submission so that they could send you a photo-copied form rejection.  Not for a single moment did I believe that if they really intended to accept my manuscript they would object to footing the bill for a stamp, or even better, a telephone call.

These days, the form-letter rejection is really in the form of a form-email.  It goes something like this:

“Thank-you for your query.  While we feel that it might be a worthwhile project, we don’t think it is right for us.  Good luck.”

What’s interesting about this, is how when tweaked a bit, it can make you believe you have received a personal note of rejection, when it’s really a form. But don’t kid yourself.

 

 The almost-form-letter rejection

Just a tweak here and there, and you have the and the almost-form-letter rejection, which sounds like a personal note, but is what the agent or publisher always says to soften the blow.  In fact, that is the purpose of this kind of a rejection: to make you feel less bad about being rejected.  Here are several I received from agents about a current book project:

“Dear Patricia Parsons: I appreciate the intention of this work but regret I simply don’t think I would be the best match. Best of luck. Sincerely, RR

Or how about…

This isn’t right for me, but thanks and good luck. Best regards, MH

Or…

Dear Patricia, Thank you for the opportunity to review your project. While I appreciate that you thought of me for your work of nonfiction, I’m not sure that this project is the best fit for me. Thank you again, and best of luck in finding the right literary agent for your work. Best, Maria

So, the work just wasn’t a good fit.  I feel better now.  Not really.  There is nothing in any of these to suggest that the work is good, bad or indifferent.  And I wouldn’t expect it to say that.  What you need to understand about these rejections is that they do not reflect any kind of assessment of the value or quality of your work whatsoever.  They simply mean the agent doesn’t want to represent you.

Occasionally, you do receive a much longer letter from an acquiring editor whose interest was, at least, momentarily piqued.  These are much longer letters that often even suggest other publishers or agents that might be a better match or who might actually be looking for your kind of work.  If you don’t receive a note that is longer than three or four lines, understand that it is what they always say – even if the work is a piece of crap and they think so.

So, you might wonder why editors and agents do this.  Sometime editor Jenn Glatzer put it this way: “…when…we…would like to be honest with the writer, some of us bite our tongues anyway. The reason? Not all writers know what it means to be a professional. And not all of them can take criticism.  Whenever I sent constructive criticism with a rejection, I knew there was about a 75% chance I’d hear nothing back (which was fine), a 5% chance I’d get a quick “thanks for your consideration anyway” (which was nice), and a 20% chance I’d get an argument (which was not fine).[i]

It would never occur to me to respond to an editor in any way – especially not in an argumentative one.  In the future, I might want to submit a different project for one. The second reason I wouldn’t is that it would be a waste of my precious writing time.  Just don’t do it.  (Go to the endnote and read her entire blog post – it’s worth it.)

If you want some more information and another perspective on interpreting what publishers and agents really mean in their rejection letters, you’ll enjoy reading the Writer’s Relief online post titled How to interpret rejection letters from literary agents and editors.[ii]

If editors or agents are truly besotted by your work, they’ll say so, and they’ll ask for more.  Continued rejections, however, should make you re-examine your work before running screaming into self-publishing.  Once you’ve determined that it’s truly your best work,  then go for it — take control and self-publish.

 

[i] Jenna Glatzer. Why you get form rejection letters.  http://www.writing-world.com/life/form.shtml

[ii] Writers’ Relief. How to interpret rejection letters from literary agents and editors. http://writersrelief.com/blog/2011/01/how-to-interpret-rejection-letters-from-literary-agents-and-editors/