Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Small Publishers: 3 Steps to Finding the Perfect One For You

Last week WiDo Publishing's managing editor, Karen Gowen, busted some myths for us about small publishers. Check out the helpful interview here.

For many authors, small publishers are the perfect option. Perhaps an author doesn't want to work with a literary agent (not always necessary with a small pub), or pursue one of the Big 5. Maybe they don't want to go indie, or they want to be a hybrid author. If writers are looking for a publishing partner with a personal touch, small publishers can be a great way to pursue a traditional path.

But many authors haven't considered this option, or don't even know where to start. I haven't personally published with a small press, but my friends who've gone with small publishers have enjoyed their experiences. I've considered it and done a lot of research.

So how do you know which small publishers to pursue, and how do you know they'll be with you for the long haul? Hopefully this guide will help you.

1) Find out who they are.

  • If you write for children or teens, I highly recommend subscribing to Children's Writer Newsletter. It's $15 per year but worth every penny. Each issue has excellent articles about the writing craft. It lists publisher's names--the biggies and the small--along with editor names. There are SO many reputable publishers out there that many authors haven't heard of. Plus, they list publishers that might cater to niche markets. Niche markets might be a perfect place for your book.
  • Visit Agent Query for their long list of small presses.
  • Find the publisher's name of the books you're reading. It's possible it's a small publisher. 
  • Since you're reading this blog, it's likely you're a blogger. Many of our author friends, like Anne R. Allen and Alex J. Cavanaugh, have worked well with small presses. Start keeping a list of publishers you've heard about in the blogging community, especially those that match the genre you write in.
  • Google it. Run a search such as small presses for YA books, etc. See what pops up. Add more names to your list.
2) Research, research, research.
  • Visit their web site. Are they still in business? If so, how long have they been in business? Does the site look professional? Does it seem as if your manuscript would fit well with their list? Are their covers eye-catching?
  • Check them out on Preditors and Editors. Most presses are listed there, along with comments such as vanity press, recommended, not recommended, etc.
  • Search for the publisher's name in the Absolute Write forums. What are other authors saying about them? If there's negative chatter, make sure it's legit and not just bitterness being splashed on the web.
  • Contact the small publisher's authors. Most sites will list the books they've published. Google the author's name and send them a message via their contact page. Ask about their overall experience with the publisher. Was the publisher fair? Was the author allowed any creative input? Did the small press pay royalties when promised?
3) Submit.
  • Check each publisher's web site for their submission guidelines.
  • Follow those guidelines exactly.
  • Keep a log of your submissions. My submissions tracking sheets listed the date of submission, the publishing company, the editor's name, what I sent them (according to their guidelines), and a spot for results.
Once you've found the perfect small press, researched the heck out of them, and submitted your work, the best advice is guessed it, write the next book!

Friends, have you submitted to small presses? Published with one? Any advice you'd like to add? Please share!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Small Publishers: Myths Busted Here

Have you ever considered submitting to a small publisher? Were you confused about their place in the industry, or what they bring to the table? Today Karen Gowen, Managing Editor at WiDo Publishing, is here to shed some light on small publishers and bust some myths for us. Here's a Q and A session with Managing Editor Karen Gowen:

Julie Musil: What are some common misconceptions about small publishers? Can you do a little “myth busting" for us?

Karen Gowen:
  1. “A small press can’t do anything for me I can’t do as well or better for myself.” A common misconception, that doesn’t take into consideration the cost of time and money it requires to do it all yourself rather than sharing the load with professionals who are willing to invest in your work.
  2. “Small publishers can’t get my book in a bookstore.” If a small publisher has the right distribution channels then your book can certainly be in a bookstore. However, remember that ultimately the bookstore chooses what it puts on its shelves and with millions of books to choose from, they need to have a reason to stock yours. This is why we encourage our authors to promote themselves and their books the first 90 days of their launch, in partnership with their local bookstores.
  3. “They might go out of business.” Any company, large or small, can fail for any number of reasons. It’s important to do your research and feel confident about the publisher you choose. And be sure there’s a clause in your contract where the rights will revert to you should they go out of business.
  4. “If my book doesn’t do well it will hurt my chances of getting an agent and a big contract later.” This really doesn’t apply in today’s publishing market. Many authors are going hybrid, trying all kinds of ways to publish and market their work, and a savvy publisher will understand this. One of our top-selling books, Waxing Moon by H.S. Kim, was previously self-published with poor rankings and sales. It frustrated the author who decided to submit it to WiDo. Our submissions editor saw how with a better title and cover and professional editing, her book could get another chance, and that’s exactly what happened.
  5. “All publishers are out to cheat the author and make money on their hard work.” Any publisher who cheats their authors will not stay in business long. It’s a partnership, where if the book sells, both parties benefit. If a book does not do well, the publisher has lost money on their investment while the author has lost their investment of time and hope. It is disappointing but there are no guarantees. Ultimately it’s the marketplace that determines how a book will sell. Some think it’s the publisher’s fault if the book doesn’t do well. This is a short-sighted view which won’t help one’s career. Better to just move on and write another book. A legitimate publisher has strong motivation to see a book make money, and both author and publisher will share in the success.
Julie Musil: What are some of the benefits of working with a small press vs. pursuing a Big 5 publisher or going indie?

Karen Gowen: A major benefit over going indie is you’ve got someone else financing the editing, typesetting, cover design, etc. rather than having to pay for these costs yourself. Plus you’re dealing with professionals who have done it all before. This takes a lot of pressure off the author, allowing you to focus on your own marketing efforts as well as on the next book you want to write. And a small press can have the same distribution channels as a large one—distribution that is not available to the self-published. WiDo distributes worldwide through Ingram and Baker & Taylor, the two largest distributors to bookstores, both brick and mortar and online. 

The benefits over using a Big 5 publisher are personal contact, quick turnaround time, and your book getting a longer chance to find its niche rather than mid-listed after 30 days if it doesn’t sell right out the door. Books submitted to WiDo are often published within a year to 18 months of signing the contract. Our editors don’t have a huge backlog of work and can give personal attention to each author they work with. Each book and author is treated equal to every other one. Some books may do well right after launching, others might take longer, and unfortunately, there are books that never really find an audience. But we never give up on any of them because we know how good they are.

Julie Musil: What should authors look for when researching small presses and ultimately submitting? 

Karen Gowen: The first thing to look for is how the money flows. If the company charges for any services, or deducts production costs from author royalties, then the money flows toward the publisher. If the company takes care of all book production and pays a fair royalty on sales, then it flows toward the author. This is what you are looking for: the money is to flow to you, not to the publisher.

Then there’s the contract. If you don’t feel good about it, don’t sign it. Have a lawyer look it over if you’re not sure. 
Check what kind of books the publisher has released and how well do they fare in the marketplace. Also, how happy are the authors with the publisher? There will always be books that sell better than others and disgruntled writers upset that theirs haven’t done as well as they expected, but the overall picture should be a positive relationship between author and publisher, with both working together to give the book every chance at success.
Julie Musil: What is WiDo on the lookout for? What would you like to see in your inbox?

Karen Gowen: If you’ve checked our submissions guidelines and submitted accordingly, then after that we want to see something fresh and original, either in concept or writing style and preferably both. Some recent examples of work we’ve published which fits into this category are the following:
The Opposite of Everything by David Kalish—dark humor about a man diagnosed with thyroid cancer and fumbling in his relationships. 
Drinking from a Bitter Cup by Angela Jackson-Brown—a young girl with everything going against her finds the inner strength to rise above her challenges.
The Convict, the Rookie Card and the Redemption of Gertie Thump by Becky Lyn Rickman—a hilarious look at a small town busybody who gets caught up in other people’s lives despite her resistance to helping anyone but herself.
The Magic Wakes by Charity Bradford—a well-woven blend of sci fi, magic and romance in the New Adult genre.
Red-tailed Rescue by John Irby—a heart-warming prairie tale about the friendship between a troubled girl and a red-tailed hawk, told from both points of view.

These are just a few of the amazing books we’ve published recently. As you can see, they have one thing in common—fresh and original storylines—with the added bonus of being extremely well-written and having strong, identifiable characters.
Karen, thanks so much for shedding light on WiDo and other small publishers!

Friends, as you can see, there are many great reasons to consider submitting to small publishers. One of Karen's best pieces of advice, in my opinion, is to do a lot of research. In a future post I'll outline resources for researching small publishers.
Have you published with a small publisher? Submitted to some? Any advice you'd like to add?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Perfect Publishing Path #IWSG

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My oldest son recently began applying for early decisions at his top university picks. Amazing that we're at this point in our lives already, but here we are. *sigh*

In high school there's been a lot of chatter about which high schools are superior, which are inferior, blah, blah, blah. Same with college choices. Public, private, JC, small, large, etc. It's a lot of noise for teens to muddle through. Our son has a solid idea of what he wants to do, but we all know how solid those solid ideas can be, right? *ahem*

Anyway, my hubby gave our son great advice. He reminded him that he'll hear a lot about which schools are the best, what he should do, etc. But there's only one perfect school--the school that's right for him.

Hubby's sage advice reminded me of the publishing business. How there's been debate about which path is the perfect publishing path. But the same holds true--the only perfect publishing path is the one that's right for you.

Big publisher, small publisher, indie publishing, hybrid publishing. We're all taking our own twisted paths in this crazy business, and my journey will not--and should not--look like yours.

I don't know about you, but I'm sooooo grateful to be a writer in this day and age. A time when anyone who has the courage to put words to paper can see their work in the marketplace. We are not held back by anyone except ourselves, and wow, what a liberating feeling that is.

Whatever path you take, I hope you'll enjoy the ride. Because you'll be on your own perfect path--the one that's right for you.

Friends, do you get flustered when trying to decide which path to take? Have you set out on one path and changed courses? Please share!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Amuse Your Future Self #NaNoWriMo

Like many of you, I'm deep into my NaNoWriMo manuscript. I've passed the 33,000 word point. Yay! If you want to find me on NaNo, click here.

When I say 33k words, you know that I mean absolutely horrible words, right? Like, toss 'em over the bridge kind of bad.

I used to worry about those horrible first drafts. I no longer worry. I plan my books with a loose outline and use index cards to keep me on track. If I'm inspired to change directions, I do.

Here's the thing. I don't worry about the crappy first drafts because I know they can be fixed. What I'm writing now will be like 50,000 words of detailed plot notes. It's when I work the story out in my head and bring the outline to fruition. Barely any dialogue, world description, etc.

But there's one fun thing that I do that I wanted to share with you. I amuse my future self.

You see, when I read through this for the first time (which will be weeks, maybe even months from now) I'll need a chuckle. I'll be convinced that I'm the worst writer ever, and how did I ever think I could shape that fuzzy idea into a full-length novel? (Note: the manuscript is never as bad as I think it will be)

So what do I do? I write notes to myself. Sometimes it'll be as simple as (dumb). Or sometimes I'll question myself (didn't I write this a few pages ago?). But sometimes my notes will make my future self smile. I might type (lame) or (is that the best you can do?) or (crappity crap crap). I might even type (this is where I felt like throwing my laptop at the wall. but i didn't. i kept going. now fix this mess)

This way I don't take myself too seriously. I'll remember that what I accomplished during the month of November was capture a story on the page. Nothing more. When revision time comes, I'll flesh out the characters, add dialogue, and ground the reader with sensory details.

First drafts are the toughest part for me, so right now I must focus on getting the story from my brain to the laptop. No looking back. And if I can make my future self smile in the process, I'm all good.

How about you, writers? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Do you have any tips you can share with the rest of us?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Writing lessons learned from THE LONGEST RIDE

I'm a huge Nicholas Sparks fan, so I was excited to read The Longest Ride. Of course I learned some helpful writing lessons!

First, a little about The Longest Ride:

Ira Levinson is in trouble. Ninety-one years old and stranded and injured after a car crash, he struggles to retain consciousness until a blurry image materializes beside him: his beloved wife Ruth, who passed away nine years ago. Urging him to hang on, she forces him to remain alert by recounting the stories of their lifetime together--how they met, the precious paintings they collected together, the dark days of WWII and its effect on them and their families. Ira knows that Ruth can't possibly be in the car with him, but he clings to her words and his memories, reliving the sorrows and everyday joys that defined their marriage.

A few miles away, at a local bull-riding event, a Wake Forest College senior's life is about to change. Recovering from a recent break-up, Sophia Danko meets a young cowboy named Luke, who bears little resemblance to the privileged frat boys she has encountered at school. Through Luke, Sophia is introduced to a world in which the stakes of survival and success, ruin and reward--even life and death--loom large in everyday life. As she and Luke fall in love, Sophia finds herself imagining a future far removed from her plans--a future that Luke has the power to rewrite...if the secret he's keeping doesn't destroy it first.

Ira and Ruth. Sophia and Luke. Two couples who have little in common, and who are separated by years and experience. Yet their lives will converge with unexpected poignancy, reminding us all that even the most difficult decisions can yield extraordinary journeys.

Ok, and now for some writing lessons learned. Warning! If you haven't yet read The Longest Ride, and don't want to know any plot points, read no further:

  • Open with detailed character information--the book opens with Ira's pov like this: I sometimes think to myself that I'm the last of my kind. He's an old man who's been in a car crash. He reflects on early lessons his dad had taught him, such as never count money in public, hold doors open for women and children, and always give a customer more than expected. These life lessons tell us a lot about the type of man who's been in a car crash. I immediately liked him.
  • Remind the reader of the character's predicament--Ira is injured, cold and thirsty. He reminisces with his long-dead wife, recalling their love story. Every few paragraphs the author brings us back to the present, by injecting lines about Ira's pain, the falling snow, and the oncoming night.
  • Reference a life-saving anecdote early--Ira likes to watch TheWeather Channel. He recalls a story where a man survived a crash for over 60 days by eating snow. This memory comes into play later in the book, but it makes sense because it was established early.
  • Embed threads between two alternating stories--we have two parallel stories happening. Ira and Ruth. Sophia and Luke. I wondered how these two stories would connect, and paid attention to details that would finally bring them together. The author did a great job of keeping me curious, while also planting clues along the way.
  • Stupid makes sense--if the character has to do something stupid, like ride an angry bull even though he doesn't want to, give him a moral reason to do it. Luke shouldn't ride bulls anymore (I won't spoil the story here) but he does it anyway. Why? Not for fame or accolades, but to help his mom.
  • Eliminate short, choppy scenes--I actually got this tip from one of my beta readers for my own book. I had tied up the book with a few short scenes at the end. She suggested I pull what I needed from those scenes and write one significant scene. So I did. I was surprised by the amount of short, choppy scenes at the end of this book. It's still amazing, but that ending could've included one significant scene with the details from the short scenes.
What do you think of these writing lessons? Have you used any of them in your own fiction? Are you a Nicholas Sparks fan? Do you like stories with old/young points of view or parallel stories that merge at the end?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Not a Failure--A Learner #IWSG

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Side note: my ebook "The Boy Who Loved Fire" is free today! Clicky here to download a copy :)

Recently I was listening to a very successful person talking about failure and making mistakes. He suggested that people take this attitude: "I'm not a failure, I'm a learner." 

This person had tried new things and failed. He'd tried some things and succeeded. His perspective was this: keep trying new things, even if you're scared. You will NOT fail, because even if things don't go your way, you've still learned something new. There's immeasurable value in that.

His statement really resonated with me. As a matter of fact, I'm about to do a whole lot of learning. I'm participating in NaNoWriMo again this year (my sixth!), but I'm trying something completely new. I'm using my beloved characters from my novel The Boy Who Loved Fire. Not a sequel, but more like a companion book. Plus I'm writing in dueling points of view. I've never done that before. Oh, and this will be more like a thriller. So yes, there will be plenty of on.

I'm also studying ideas about releasing books as serials, podiobooks, and all kinds of fun stuff. One thing I've learned about this publishing business, especially indie publishing, is there are so many cool things to try.

What if something doesn't work out? I'll learn from it and move on to the next thing. And I won't consider it a failure...I'll consider it a learning experience.

Friends, what's your take on failure? Do you consider it a bad thing, or do you find value when things don't go the way you'd imagined? Are you afraid to try new things because of the fear of failure? Please share!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Writing lessons learned from GONE GIRL

Quick...before the regular post, are you participating in NaNoWriMo? I am! You can find me here.

As you probably learned in my post Unredeemable Characters and Unhappy Endings, I absolutely loved Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Like, I'm obsessed. As a reader, I was entertained. As a writer, I was blown away by the author's skill.

It was tough to whittle down the lessons learned to a manageable list, without giving too much away. Fair warning...if you haven't read the book yet, and don't want to know anything about the story, stop!

First, about Gone Girl:

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick Dunne isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but hearing from Amy through flashbacks in her diary reveal the perky perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister Margo at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was left in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

What writing lessons did I learn from this book? Too many to list in this post, but here are my favorites:
  • Get to know the missing person. How? In Gone Girl, we get to know Amy, the missing wife, through a series of journal entries. Early entries describe a wonderful romance, but soon the entries become dark and fearful. In my guest post on Traci Kenworth's blog, I listed ways for readers to care about an absent character.
  • Unreliable narrator. Nick, the husband/suspect, confuses the reader. Is he concerned about his missing wife? Sometimes. And sometimes it seems his concern is just for show. When he's interrogated by the police he tells us, "It was my fifth lie to the police. I was just starting." After that, I kept wondering if he was lying or telling the truth. I tell ya, this book is filled with liars, cheaters, and psychos. I mean that as a compliment.
  • Add personality to the prose. In Amy's diary, she tells how she used to write quizzes for women's magazines. When at a crossroad in her life, she'd write a quiz about it in her diary with multiple choice answers. It was a cute way to get to know the character better.
  • If there's a gun on the wall, use it. Remember that saying? If there's a gun on the wall, the writer had better use it? I can't remember who said it. Anyway, there was a couple of clues I picked up on that didn't go further. Nick and his sister Margo are twins. They'd even experienced telepathy. I expected the author to explore that in the story. If it was explored, it was done in a way that I didn't catch. It seemed like a missed opportunity.
  • List of suspects. Nick soon becomes the main suspect in Amy's disappearance. He does show signs of innocence, though, like occasional shock and worry. But there are also other characters who could be involved. There's a roving band of homeless men in the town, and there are old flames and stalkers who might have motive to harm Amy.
  • Unexpected character backstory. Most protagonists come from messed up families. After all, how interesting are characters who have wonderful lives and come from wonderful families? Amy's parents seem to have the perfect marriage and a charmed life. This made Amy uncomfortable about being single at 31. This perfect marriage also played into the story in unexpected ways. It went against type and also caused problems.
  • Treasure hunt for clues. In this story, there was literally a treasure hunt. Amy's anniversary tradition was to send Nick on a treasure hunt, with gifts planted along the trail. She goes missing on her anniversary, and yep, a treasure hunt had already been planned. Cops find clue #1 and gift #1 before Nick does. The gift has been carefully opened. This was a clever way to weave mystery and suspense into the story.

Have you read Gone Girl? Seen the movie? What's your opinion? What do you think of these writing lessons? Are you participating in NaNo? If so, good luck!