Monday, December 13, 2010

Making Decisions About Publishing and Promoting

Many writers don't know where to turn on the issue of publishing. I have friends who've had a different publisher for every book, and friends who've published the entire series online or paid to have them published, and friends who were lucky enough to strike gold with a large publishing company.

Several frustrated author friends have asked my opinion about whether to just go ahead and pay to have them published, stick with a traditional publisher who isn't doing a darn thing to help them distribute or promote, or to try an array of different publishing options.

That's tough to answer. When I finally "completed" Genesis Beach, editing it over forty times and hiring a professional editor to make certain it was in great shape, I searched long and hard for an agent, and finally after a multitude of rejections with no explanation, paid to have it published. I believed in myself and my story. What I didn't realize (and nobody told me, not even the editor) was that I had used far too much passive voice in the book. You'd think as a former English teacher I'd have realized that, but I was so caught up in the story and my characters that somehow it never occurred to me. Living in a rural area with no other writers around and few folks I trusted willing to be readers, I did it alone for the most part. The nearest critique group (other than poets) was over an hour's ride away. 

The company I chose for Genesis Beach did a fine job and were great to work with. They listened to my concept for the cover but I eventually went with their idea as long as the cobalt blue remained and there was a navel orange on the cover somewhere. Genesis Beach, available in hardcover and paperback and eventually in digital, sold well and had I been able to get some respect at book stores, life would have been great. Unfortunately as soon as stores learned that I'd paid to have it published, they wrote me off as not worth their time, even the one and only bookstore in my home county! Frustration mounted because I was already deep into book two, Just North of Luck. 

After going through the same painful search and rejections, I decided to pay a different publisher who promised better distribution of my book. I pretty much told them exactly what I wanted the cover to look like. I was blown away with it and it got rave reviews and won awards. The book's construction was not quite as good as Genesis Beach but still a good quality paperback. Sales of Genesis Beach actually improved once Just North of Luck was released. Then came questions about why I had two different pubs. I'm still not sure how to answer that one except that I wanted to see if I could find something better. I didn't.

By the time Hell Swamp was ready to be queried, I had fans and allies who offered to tell their traditional publishers that I was a good writer. Wow! That's when I realized just how much networking and paying it forward works. I have to thank Sylvia Dickey Smith for reading Just North of Luck, doing a blurb, and recommending me to her publisher, L&L Dreamspell, who offered me a contract for Hell Swamp in fifteen days! That was awesome! Since that time, Dreamspell has also picked up Just North of Luck and made the cover even more eye-catching.

Sales again improved for Genesis Beach and Hell Swamp was doing great. Just North of Luck enjoyed a short spurt of success after the new release but soon floundered again. Some readers said it was "just too intense" for their liking. I have to admit it has a more than generous amount of graphic violence, something I never thought I'd write. But still, with a serial killer on the loose, it's difficult to gloss over what happens. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I was fortunate enough to have Dreamspell offer to publish my first cookbook, Killer Recipes, something I never expected to do, but Life has a way of taking us where we need to go, doesn't it? A multitude of you guys submitted wonderful recipes for a little free promotion, and we are donating the money to The American Cancer Society through our local Relay For Life events in hopes of killing cancer in our lifetimes. We have the largest Relay in North Carolina here in Wayne County. I'm so proud of that.

Sin Creek is now in Dreamspell hands but not yet released. I hoped to have copies for Christmas giving, but I'm sure the publishers are overwhelmed with their tremendous growth this year. If I lived in Houston, I'd gladly volunteer to help them just to learn the publisher's perspective. I'm sure it wouldy truly be eye-opening.

So, I've paid to have books published and I've been fortunate enough to sign a contract with a small but impressive publishing company that's going through growing pains.

 I have to emphasize that you as a writer hire a professional editor before your querying process begins. Yes, it will cost you, but it'll cost you more in the long run if you don't, because if readers don't like one of your books, they won't buy the rest. That still doesn't mean you'll sell a mountain of books. I have to admit here that I'm in the process of rewriting Genesis Beach because I feel that if it were better with more active voice perhaps more readers would buy the entire series. I've learned much since that book was released in 2007. It's time to make it right.  I hope that my present publisher will take an interest in it as well, and the entire Logan Hunter Mystery series would be under the same logo. There are differing opinions about whether that's a good thing. From my view, I like the convenience and de-cluttering of moving every book to the same publisher. How do you feel about that?

YOU must promote, promote, promote every way you can. The publisher will tell you upfront that it's primarily your responsibility. A small pub simply doesn't have the resources. Set up a blog if you haven't already. Invite people who can make a contribution to guest on your blog. Join Facebook. Some folks also like Twitter and other online social networks. is also a good site for writers and there are many more worthy sites out there. Set up a schedule so that you don't spend all writing time at online sites. Maybe check in a few times a week. I can't tell you how many wonderful friends I have met through those sites. I've had hundreds of guests on my blog and have been invited to guest on many in return. It's all free. Only takes a few minutes to set up or answer questions. Be sure to send your book cover images and your picture so people can identify you. Don't turn down any free opportunity to promote yourself, but be wary of folks who want to "help" you for a large fee. I'd be interested to know if you've found a great promoter who is reasonable in price with great results.

No, I don't have the answers. I think each of us has to look at our situation and make the best decisions we can about publishing. How do you make decisions about publishing and promoting?  All commenters will be entered into a drawing for a free copy of one of my books (your choice).


Diana Driver said...

I self-published Ninth Lord of the Night with Booksurge just as Amazon bought them out. I had a great deal of success with that book before I turned it over to another publisher to re-release. (Ninth Lord of the Night was chosen by Houston area B&Ns as one of the best books of 2005). After it was re-released it began to flounder and sales were never the same. I'm very much into the idea of independent publishing because I've SEEN how successful it can be - especially with the new programs Amazon has available for independent writers. As far as I can tell, indie writers can make it to New York, but small press writers never seem to get that golden opportunity.

And, yes, while editing is important, it's more important to tell a good story.

Susan Whitfield said...

Diana, this is good to know. Thanks for contributing, and you're right,the story is of utmost importance, but I've read so many books that even though the story hooked me, I was appalled by the errors.

The Belle in Blue said...

Wonderful insight into the different aspects of publishing, Susan. I'm happy with my progression to L&L Dreamspell, and being associated with authors like you is only one of many reasons!

Susan Whitfield said...

I agree, Belle. Thanks for visiting.

Joe Prentis said...

While I have had stories and articles published in magazines with national circulation (Reader's Digest, Northwoods Journal, The Tennessee Conservationist, Argosy) my books were all self-published. Most books that have a large number of sales are well written, but this is not always true. A lot of poorly written books climb up the charts, and it can leave the writer puzzled and a little envious. The only solution to the promotion problem is pushing those sales. I sell many books locally through advertising in my area, but it is hard to reach out to the larger markets. Your article is thought provoking. Wouldn't it be wonderful if there was some process where a book could rise on its own merits rather than the author having to sacrifice so much of his/her time in promotional efforts?

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I've never self-published, but I can understand other people doing it. You need a good agent to reach the "big" publishers that have distribution. And it's often just as difficult to get a connected agent as it is to get a publisher--maybe even more difficult. Some people just get frustrated. They want to get their work out there.
Publishing is a tough business. There are a lot more people writing than reading.

Jacqueline Seewald
STACY'S SONG--Young Adult novel from L&L Dreamspell

david said...

excellent article, susan. i self-published 'edging past reality' and am very proud of it. like you, i hired a professional editor. just this morning, i read a review of another self-published book. the reviewer said the the story was good, but the book needed major editing. unfortunately, i'm afraid that will keep the self-publishing stigma from ever going away.

Susan Whitfield said...

So true, Jacquie, and most folks have no idea how really tough it is.

Marta Stephens said...

Oh Susan, you've hit a home run, my dear! I feel very fortunate to have been able to secure a small press to publish my first two novels. Like you, sales for my first novel, "Silenced Cry," shot up after the release of the second in the series, "The Devil Can Wait." I sense it was due to new readers wanting to read both books in sequence. In fact, according to the latest sales report I received from Amazon this past week, “Silenced Cry” (2007) ia still holding its own.

The hiccup in my publishing journey happened a couple of years ago when major changes took place at the small press. I decided it would be wise to take on the "wait and see" approach before submitting anything else to them. In the meantime, I began to write the next novel, “Shroud of Lies” with the intent of getting an agent to represent and sell it to a larger publishing house.

Fellow writers encouraged me by saying that since I had been previously published, had a strong readership, and both of my novels had won awards, it would be easy to find an agent. Boy, were they wrong! After a while, the multitude of rejections shook my confidence. For the first time in eight years I had to walk away from everything that had anything to do with writing. Worse, it didn’t even bother me to do so.

Ironically, several weeks ago, one agent did request to read additional chapters, but no news yet.

The thing is, an agent might be able to get me into a large NY publisher, but the deal would only be good as long as the book does well. If it doesn’t, it’s back to square one for yours truly. The question is, do I really want to endure this on again, off again thing each time I finish a book? The two more realistic options for me would be to submit my novel to another small press or to self-publish. Regardless of the choice, however, no option is perfect and each comes with its own set of consequences.

This experience has nearly stripped me of my self-confidence and worth. On the upside, it’s also given me time to re-evaluate my purpose as a writer. Nothing brings it closer to home than reading some of the reviews my novels have received and my readers’ comments. So aside from the sales and awards, in the end the bottom line is, and always will be, purpose. So why do I write? The answer is easy. A passion for the craft, and a desire to reach the reader. Nothing more, nothing less.

Susan Whitfield said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan Whitfield said...

Marta, you are so right that passion is behind all of us. David, I read Edging Past Reality and you certainly should be proud of it.

Anonymous said...

I'm recommending your blog on some listservs I belong to. Your road to publication has so many good points and reflects today's publishing scene perfectly. Thanks for all you do!
Pat Browning

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hi, Susan! To answer your question about getting all your books with one publisher - I too, like that idea. I'm getting the rights back to my first two books (Double Forte' and Upstaged) next year, and my current pub wants to put them out again. I will definitely rewrite them, because I've matured skill wise and want to incorporate all the new techniques in these books.

Then again, there is Janet Evanovitch, who happily publishes with multiple pubs. Or at least that was the case a few years ago. I say, more power to her! However you get the books out there...

Also, I find that most readers don't give a hoot or even NOTICE who the pub is. Right? I never noticed before I started writing. ;o)

Thanks for a great article!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours!


Susan Whitfield said...

And a Merry Christmas to all of you!