Notes on Publishing

Today was Day 4 of the San Diego Writers Conference, but instead of detailing the sessions, I will instead relay what I learned about publishing. (Warning: if you are considering publishing your well-written but ordinary novel, you may find this depressing.)

As I understand it, there are three tiers of publishing: Traditional, Hybrid, and Self (or Indie).

Traditional means one must get an agent, who peddles your book to a major publisher, costing the agent’s commission on each sale of your book. Finding an agent is an entire industry in itself — instead of agents seeking writers, writers these days seek agents, begging them to read even a query letter much less an entire manuscript. Advisors make money helping people write good query letters to try to grab an agent’s attention. It seems backward to me. The agent’s commission (usually 15-20%) comes from the author’s work, but the author needs the agent to get the attention of a publisher. Many publishers won’t accept “unagented” submissions.

Hybrid publishing means one submits to a company that might help prepare the work a bit, but their main role is to professionally publish and distribute it. I learned about author-led (the writer controls the cover design, for example) and publisher-led (the company takes care of everything) models. I learned that these companies charge about $6500-7500 per book for their services. I have a friend who went this route. She’s happy with her decision, and I hope she’s sold at least $7500 worth of books. I can’t even conceive of doing that.

Another speaker said that really, you should be ready to spend $20,000 to publish a book, what with editing and production costs. But if I had $20,000, I would go back and get my PhD, not spend it on someone publishing my book. (I found it interesting that my automatic translation of cost was how much education it would get me.)

The third tier used to be called self-publishing, but is now called “indie” (independent) publishing because no one really does it by him/herself, I was told. It was pointed out that one still would pay for beta readers, editing services, design help for pages and cover, etc. So these are all professional services that cost money. But, of course, one doesn’t have to use them. You can just throw crap up on Amazon and see if anyone buys it.

This was all very disheartening. I did manage to obtain a pitch session with an agent (7 minutes, and I had to grab the slot right when the window opened a week ago — they filled all slots in the first 13 minutes). She was interested and asked me to send a query and two chapters, which I have. We’ll see what happens.

But I realized that the middle fell out of my plans. I had thought I’d try awhile to get an agent, if I could do so without spending money. But it was advised in many places to join sites like Publishers Marketplace ($25/month) to find an agent. I even found writing groups that cost money to join. There are also entire (paid) courses one can take, at varying prices, to learn the tricks. My thought was if no agent were interested, I could do hybrid publishing, then if that didn’t work, self-publish. But clearly hybrid publishing is beyond my reach financially.

Luckily I have two or three wonderful friends who read my work, give me feedback, and have even done editing. So it may be better to consider submitting directly to small presses as the middle option. I have done so to one press, but never heard back. (At the conference one speaker noted that not all agents or publishers write you back, or even acknowledge your submission. Or they have form letters of rejection. I’ve gotten a few of those already from agents for my first novel, so instead I’ve been shopping for an agent for the second.)

The plague was not a factor when I began writing fiction, but it is now. Everyone who isn’t baking bread (and some who are) is writing their first novel. And publishers are under pressure to sign “diverse” authors (I was at one time considered diverse, but am not now with current trends). My timing is unfortunate. And, speaking of timing, a traditional publishing timeline can be anywhere from a year to five years. Not great for those of us autumn chickens.

So I’ve learned that the path from writer to author is quite expensive. Perhaps this will be a dream deferred (and we know what happens to those), or perhaps it will work out somehow. But it’s an enormous distraction from writing. I can’t imagine how Hemingway managed it.

Well, yes, I can. But I have no idea how to roast a pigeon.



2 comments to Notes on Publishing

  • Diana Greenlee

    You should consider publishing through Amazon as an e-book. You could always move to independent, hard-copy publishing if it does well. I would also wonder if the educational publishers might look at you. Assign it for extra credit.

    • Lisa M Lane

      Yes, indeed — that is the “indie” most people use. Amazon KDP for ebook, then another self-publisher going through Ingram for paper books that could get to bookstores. I sure would like a paperback available. And thanks! I like the idea of e-book first, then paper. I would certainly work with academic/educational publishers for non-fiction (as I am with the Wells project), but not fiction.