Lessons Learned from Indie Publishing

Whipsaw PressI started writing over a dozen years ago, when indie publishing wasn’t really a viable option. The flood of services, tools, and channels available now is astonishing and exciting.

At first I didn’t care.

Like many new writers, I was convinced my first book was ‘The Next Big Thing’, and only a huge deal with a big traditional publisher would do.

Yeah, good luck with that.

My writing has improved since then, as has my understanding of what it means to publish, and what this journey really means. After logging my dozens and dozens of rejections, slogging through a really painful experience with an agent that wasted three years I could have been releasing books, and with the markets changing so much, I finally realized what I had to do.

Time to indie publish.

I love the fact that there are so many options today: traditional deals with big publishers, deals with small presses, pure indie publishing, and hybrid options. The market is changing, and we need to be open minded and flexible to keep up.

For me, it made sense to indie publish. I had several novels complete, and honestly that turned out to be a good thing. My writing improved a lot through those novels, and I’ve since gotten very good at rewrites and edits. They are your friend.

Set in StoneI released Set in Stone, book one of my fun YA fantasy series, The Petralist, in May of 2015. The past two years have been hectic and busy and fun. It’s quite a journey, and indie-publishing is not for the faint of heart, but it is very accessible for those willing to learn to wear a lot of hats. Here are a few of the top things I’ve learned indie-publishing:

  1. Quality first. Many people beat the drums of Publish Fast, and there is some truth to what they say. To build an audience, new writers can’t set a publishing schedule like George R.R. Martin. But most new authors are in a rush to get their book out, and that rush can lead to cutting corners. Don’t be one of those authors who spent so much energy to get a book to 90%, only to skip the effort to really finish it and make it amazing.
  2. A good editor is worth every penny. We may not have big budgets, but we all have blind spots. Don’t self-edit. Better to burn your manuscript over a fire. At least that way, you might get a S’More out of it. And don’t ask your cousin who once took a college English class to check it over, or ask your grandmother what she thinks. I write big books, so they’re expensive to edit, but it simply has to be done. You wouldn’t build a house, but skip all the finish work inside. Don’t do it to your book.
  3. Memory HunterInvest in a Good Cover. Everyone judges a book by its cover. Clip art or badly photoshopped images are a disservice to your book. There are many great places to get covers, and this is another item that is absolutely worth the investment.
  4. Indie publishing is a business. We all love sitting in a coffee shop or hiding in our closet with our laptops, typing away and bringing our stories to life. That’s the writing. We also have to edit, revise, manage social media connections, monitor finances, hire editors, cover designers, figure out marketing, schedule events, and much more. All those other aspects of publishing are business aspects. Learn the business and learn to treat your intellectual property as an item you are trying to sell, not as a piece of your soul.
  5. Learn Marketing. Those of us who aren’t marketing people usually hate or fear this word. Marketing is tough, but it’s important. Yes, the most important marketing we do, especially at first, is to write our next book. But that doesn’t mean we can’t begin learning other aspects of marketing. We do want to support ourselves at this one day, so we have to learn to sell.
  6. Write what you Love. If you don’t enjoy your story, readers won’t either. And by the time you finish rewriting and editing however many times, if you don’t love your story, you’ll end up hating it.
  7. Become part of the community. Many writers are introverts and we’re content to hide away with our laptops and work everything alone. Don’t. There is a thriving community of people involved in writing and publishing great stories, and I’ve found writers to be some of the nicest, most encouraging, and quick to share advice and experiences than just about any other group. Become part of this community. Learning together is a lot faster than trying to figure it out all alone, and it’s a lot more fun.
  8. Enjoy the journey. I set a very aggressive publishing schedule for myself when I plunged into indie publishing. It helped motivate me to stay focused, to press ahead through the steep learning curve, and get things done, but it also added a lot of stress on top of existing family, church, and day job responsibilities. I’ve had to remind myself to take a deep breath and look for ways to enjoy every day. This journey is long, sometimes arduous, but it can always be fun.

 

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank Morin
Rune Warrior coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers Urban Fantasy/Historical thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

A Small Press With Big Accomplishments

When I prepared to submit my debut novel Sleeper Protocol for publication, I decided that I would look into small presses as well as larger more traditional ones. As I prepared my list of potential “candidates” a good friend and co-author of mine mentioned a publisher I’d never heard of before: Red Adept Publishing. I added them to the list of potential publishers that I would research. As soon as I looked closer, I realized that Red Adept would move to the top of the list.

At that time, in 2014, I discovered that Red Adept Publishing had already published a New York Times Bestselling novel. That was a huge plus for them on my scoresheet. I also discovered they were located in North Carolina and being from Tennessee, this was another plus. Not too shabby. When I checked the normal sources (Preditors and Editors, Author Beware), I found nothing negative to speak of and so when the time came, I sent them Sleeper Protocol and kept my fingers crossed.

One October afternoon, I had some scheduled writing time before I was to pick up our youngest child from daycare. I walked out of Starbucks, got into the car, and my phone rang with a North Carolina area code. I picked it up and so began my first conversation with Red Adept Publishing. Lynn McNamee and her amazing team go much farther above and beyond than most small presses I know. Not only was I told that Sleeper Protocol would get a copy edit and a line edit, a spectacular cover, and marketing assistance, I found myself folded into a group of authors across many genres (fantasy, romance, thriller, paranormal, science fiction) who support each other and really are one big, happy family. I could not have been happier to have signed a contract with them.

It’s fair to say now, though, that Red Adept was not the first small press I submitted to, nor was my contract on Sleeper Protocol the first small press contract I received. The first publisher has since gone out of business and their contract, which they touted as “negotiable,” was a learning experience in and of itself. When I look back and compare that publisher and Red Adept Publishing? Yeah, there’s no comparison at all. Why? Red Adept’s contract is very friendly to authors and the quality of work they’ve produced over the last several years stands for itself.

Since I signed with Red Adept, the publisher has seen another author hit the New York Times list and two authors hit the USA Today Bestsellers List. Those are tremendous accomplishments for any press, not just a small press. What sets them apart is very simple: they are the most professional, enthusiastic, and supportive team of authors and editors that I know and I’m thrilled to be a part of them going forward.

Just the other day, I received an email from my line editor that it was time for Vendetta Protocol to start its final march to publication. We already have an amazing cover and I was fortunate enough to have the same editing team from Sleeper Protocol sign on for the sequel. I’m looking forward to publishing more with Red Adept Publishing in the future. They certainly have changed my life. I’m very glad that I decided to go with a small publisher, but it matters most that I went with one of the right ones. They’re out there.

Wouldn’t you like to get away? The intimacy of small publishing

This month’s theme of small publishing is a bit tricky for me, as I have not yet published. That doesn’t make me not-a-writer, of course. At first brush, an aspiring writer like myself might not take a second look at a small press. After all, what can they do for you? The big money is with the big boys, after all.

Okay, let’s talk about big for a moment.

For many of us, much of our lives are in big situations. We work at big companies, are students at big classes, drive to work in big traffic and shop at big stores. When everything is so big, it is easy to feel small. To feel like a cog in a machine, barely aware of the other cogs and springs that work alongside you, none of you really even knowing what the machine does. While you have the safety and security of that large organization, that comes with a loss of personal relevance. At times we long for something a little smaller, perhaps without even understanding why.

In those smaller situations, I think one of the major advantages is intimacy. I was fortunate enough to intern for a small press for a few years and I was struck by how close I got to be to everything. Not just the one person I was working for, but the various projects and people who were associated with the press were very close and reachable to me. This allowed me to learn more, to impact more and (most importantly) to connect more. I felt connected to the success of this small press because I knew them and they knew me. I felt something I think I’m less likely to feel were I to be published by one of the big houses.

I felt ownership. Not just in my little corner of the press, but in the whole press. Its success was my success, because I had such a personal connection to all the other people doing work there.

This is very similar to the feeling I had when I joined a small start up several years back, after a long career at large companies. There is a relevance to your work that is just not present in the bigger situations, where your contribution is just not able to move the needle the way it does when you are smaller.

Thus were I to consider a traditional publishing option I would recommend giving small publishers a strong consideration. While the blockbuster revenue potential may not be there, there is a working experience win that I am sure would be. By its very nature a smaller press is going to be closer to your work than a major house, and your success is much more likely to be relevant to their own.

I think in the end the choice comes to what is important to you as a writer. If those mega sales and multi-million dollar advances are your goal then I can’t imagine a small press is likely to be able to deliver that in the short term. If however you are looking to be a relevant member of a small, intimate team where there’s a strong familiarity level between you and the press and your own work matters farther outside your personal margins I can see that being a very attractive option.

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.

Guy’s Top Five Favorite Publishers

I’ve been writing since the mid-1970’s. During that time, I’ve assembled a huge assortment of trunk stories. I could just let them rot away, but I don’t like to waste my time and energy. I poke at them every so often until I find a suitable market and — this part is important — I’m comfortable with the quality of the story.

Over the years I’ve found plenty of different types of markets, ranging from “for the love” to pro-level. If one of my trunk stories will work for a non-paying market, I don’t mind sending it in to the editor. I feel that it’s a better location than a hard drive that will eventually fail. Because I’m a prolific writer, it doesn’t take me long to produce stories. Now that I’m switching to dictation software because of worsening carpal tunnel issues, I expect my output will expand even further.

Here are some of my current favorites:

WordFire Press

This is a small-to-middling sized pro-level Colorado press owned by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. I’ve done some minor work for them in the past, and they’re publishing a novel I co-wrote with a couple of friends. Everyone there is wonderful to work with, and I know many of them personally.

Getting published by WordFire means your work will appear next to books by Kevin and Rebecca, who are both award-winning and NY Times/USA Today bestsellers, plus the likes of Brian and Frank Herbert, Alan Dean Foster, Alan Drury (Pulitzer Prize winner), and a host of name-brand, top-tier authors. An added benefit is the ability to attend some of the best conventions as a WordFire author.

Wolfsinger Press

This is another Colorado publisher, albeit a micro press. Wolfsinger puts out several unique anthologies every year, and sometimes I write a story for them just because the anthology concept excites my muse. They respond to questions quickly and actually do thorough edits.

My story, “Grubstake”, appears in Supernatural Colorado, and a story I’ve sent in to their Love ‘Em, Shoot ‘Em anthology was accepted. They sometimes have guest editors, so it’s nice to work with new folks in a familiar environment. Although this press has a token payment and royalty setup, I can report that I actually do receive royalty statements as promised, which can be a rarity with the token-payment or royalty-only presses. They do offer discounted copies for contributors.

Another benefit of Wolfsinger is they also have a couple of fascinating eZines (The Lorelei Signal and Sorcerous Signals). I’ve been published in The Lorelei Signal, and they also put out a compilation in ebook format. Both can add to your bibliography.

James Ward Kirk Publishing

This micro press run by (no surprise) author and editor James Ward Kirk puts out several unique anthologies per year, plus a couple of annuals. This is a for-the-love or a token payment press (two $25 awards for the top two submissions). I love many of their anthology concepts and come up with complete story ideas by the time I’m done reading the submission requirements on their open call page.

I’ve had stories accepted for several of their anthologies, including “We Are Dust and Shadow” for the anthology of the same name; “A Gift of Light” in Bones II; and “The Box”, which appears in Ugly Babies 2. I also have a story in their horror sampler and the Barnyard Horror publications. The anthology editors are great to work with, and they offer good discounts for contributors.

Garden Gnome Publications

Another oddball small press that publishes an interesting series of anthologies called Biblical Legends, amongst others. I co-wrote a couple of stories with Tonya L. De Marco about two robots who go about doing horrible things to humans — enough so that they help to create some of the legends and mythologies we have to this day. “One Bit Off” appears in their Garden of Eden anthology, and “Garbage” appears in Sulphurings.

Garden Gnome has branched out from ebook-only to some limited print versions. I am always pleased when I have more print books that I can pile on a table at a convention. This is a token-payment publisher, but they’re fun to work with.

Daily Science Fiction

If you’re not signed up for their weekday free stories that appear in your inbox, you’re missing out. This is a small SFWA-approved venue that pays better than pro rates. When they picked up my short story, “A Case of Curiosities”, I was qualified to join SFWA. This is a tough market to crack, but certainly is worth your efforts.

The owners are the editors, and they enjoy a wide range of micro-to-short speculative fiction. They do enjoy mild horror (with a speculative bent) and fantasy. DSF should be one of the first group of publishers you send your best work to. They also on occasion publish a gigantic print anthology of the best works that appeared that year.

♦ ♦ ♦

The bad thing about letting you know about my favorite publishers is that I can now expect more competition for slots. I would suggest you buy several works from each publisher you’re interested in working with to see the types of stories they pick up. Besides, it’s important to support the publishers we all want to succeed.

Best of luck with your submissions!

 


 

About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.