s an author who has self-published as well as worked with both a traditional publisher (who also offers e-books) and two different e-publishers, I can tell you that the experiences have been phenomenal. And even with all of my initial reservations about e-books, no one was more surprised than I was when Kindle sales for my book, Not Just Spirited: A Mom’s Sensational Journey With Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), kicked the printed version’s butt! But what exactly is e-publishing? What’s the process? What do editors from these publishing houses expect? Will they take care of my story? What are the differences between e-publishing and traditional publishing? Are the royalty payments different?
I’m sure many of you are asking these very same questions. So I thought, why not go right to the source and pick the brains of some top-notch e-publishers and shed some light on the world of e-publishing?
Today we’re chatting with five fantastic publishers I’ve had the pleasure of working with: Victor R. Volkman (Loving, Healing Press), Cheryl Kaye Tardif (Imajin Press), Stephanie Taylor (Astraea Press), Barbara Rollins (Eagle Wings Press), and Nancy Shumacher (Melange Press). Each of these amazing people knows what works and what doesn’t and has awesome advice for all authors and authors-in-waiting wondering about the world of e-publishing. So grab your favorite beverage, get comfy, and learn from the pros!
WOW: Welcome to WOW!, everyone! We’re thrilled to have you all here and looking forward to picking your brains about the ins and outs of e-books. Why don’t we start with each of you telling us a bit about yourself and your background?
Victor: Loving Healing Press specializes in books about self-help, personal growth, and disabilities in addition to professional books for social workers. Our Modern History Press (MHP) imprint embraces history, biography, and poetry as well. MHP’s focus is on telling empowering stories of conflict and the struggle for identity in contemporary times. Last but not least, Marvelous Spirit Press specializes in books on New Age and spiritual themes that revolve around personal growth and empowerment. Other, more specialized imprints, such as the Rocky Mountain Region Disaster Mental Health Institute Press, cater to specific professional communities, such as disaster management response and strategic planning teams.
All together, our imprints have more than one hundred titles in print. Although we started out as paperback-only, we now have embraced what I call the “triple-edition”: simultaneous release in paperback, hardcover, and e-book formats. Different market segments have different needs, and we strive to deliver content in the way that people want to have it—whether it is a solid, library-ready binding or an electronic book you read on your Smartphone.
Cheryl: I am a national best-selling author from Alberta, Canada; and I’ve been helping other authors market their books for a number of years. In February, after careful consideration, I decided to open Imajin Books to other authors. My goal was to create a company that was somewhat like a traditional or “legacy” publisher, but that had some unique benefits for authors. I like to say, “We’re anything but traditional.”
Stephanie: I’m Stephanie Taylor, author, editor, and owner of Astraea Press. I published my first books in 2010 and have since had four more available. I started Astraea Press last year when I saw a gap in the market (as an editor and reader) for clean reads. So many books today are focused on the sex, which in my opinion, starts to all sound the same. The story is compromised when you have to focus on adding all the between-the-sheets stuff. So I decided to dare writers. Take it out. Write a story that focuses on the story, instead of naked people.
And you know what? It worked. Astraea is growing, selling books like crazy, and we haven’t had any reviews below four star. I think that’s pretty good. And most of all? No one feels guilty for reading them.
Barbara: Inspired by a speaker (Dusty Richards), Ginny Greene and I decided we could put together a group to edit an anthology. We chose people like us—aging baby boomers—and came up with two names: Silver Boomers and Freckles to Wrinkles. Not being able to decide, we recruited two partners and put out two calls for submission. Since that conversation in October 2006, we published our eighteenth book in July. Those books published from Silver Boomer Books bring vignettes of life, history, and culture, including six anthologies and a single-author book. Our Laughing Cactus Press imprint has poetry and fiction, while the Eagle Wings Press name represents spiritual and recovery writing.
My current partners are Becky Haigler and Ginny.
I’m a former teacher, Christian educator, lawyer, and judge, having raised two sons who doubled the family in 2005 by marrying my delightful daughters-in-love. This summer, the older son and his wife have blessed us with twin grandsons. I started writing seriously in 1995 and have a juvenile novel, Syncopated Summer, and four books in the Forensic Crime Solvers series for Capstone Press’s Edge Books. I’ve written two more books bearing my name as author and the anthologies as editor, but all the Silver Boomer Books are my babies, having come to life on my computer. I do typesetting, layout, graphic design, website programming, and make the coffee—for our dedicated office, which came to life January first when I retired as judge. We’re proud to live and work in Abilene, Texas.
Nancy: Melange Books, LLC, is a small e-book and print-on-demand publisher. We publish books in many genres, hence the name “Melange,” which means a conglomeration of many things.
WOW: Wow! What an amazing group of experienced authors and editors we have with us today. And how impressive that you’ve all absorbed what you’ve learned as authors to become the incredible publishers you’ve each come to be! Now for the most important question: what made you decide to become an e-publisher?
Victor: We were an early adopter of e-publishing, actually too early. Our first titles went out on e-pub formats in late 2007, which was about eighteen months too early and so not much happened. We kept experimenting slowly and had a huge success in latter half of 2009 with Confessions of a Trauma Junkie: My Life as a Nurse Paramedic. Really that one book was the final impetus for us to commit to converting our entire lineup to e-book as fast as we could with the highest possible quality standards. Confessions is still our number one e-book title, consistently topping the charts on up to three categories at a time on Amazon Kindle. We know now that medical professionals are extremely busy people and were some early adopters of e-books, simply because they travel so well.
Cheryl: I saw years ago that this would be a huge trend in the book business. I would have been involved with publishing e-books earlier, but the US companies wouldn’t accept international authors at the time. As soon as I saw it was open to me, I jumped on board. When Imajin Books opened to accept other authors, I knew that our priority would be e-books, not print, though we do publish trade paperbacks as well.
Stephanie: As an editor, I’ve edited everything from inspirational to BDSM. I didn’t like feeling like I should be reading something in a closet, away from my children. I never want to hide what I do from anyone; and with Astraea, I don’t have to.
Barbara: We started with e-books rather early, beginning with Slender Steps to Sanity: Twelve-Step Notes of Hope, first offering the Kindle version May 1, 2009. Shortly after that, we offered not so GRIMM: gentle fables and cautionary tales. As the technical person turning the books into e-books, I was stymied by the illustrations in Song of County Roads and worked off and on for months to convince them to appear on the Kindle. Finally, I have software capable of doing it without the errors and terror, and I’m quickly putting all eighteen books in e-book form—not only for Kindle but for Nook and other venues
At this point in our life as a publishing company, we need to get our work before the public every way we can. We’re not only working on e-books, but on audio books as well. My problem there is I really am from Texas, and my Texas drawl is pronounced, to say the least—“pronounced”—a lot better than internal ts in words or gs at the end of words. I’m working with an elocution coach to make the audio books audible.
Nancy: I am a published romance and erotica author of several novels and short stories. I was the chief editor of a house that closed nine months ago. Over the few years I’d worked at that house, I’d grown interested in the business end of writing and publishing. When the house closed, this left me with an opportunity to start up my own house—which I’d been planning on doing in about two years anyway—so I started my house a bit earlier than I’d planned. I extended a contract to the authors of the house that had closed, and many of them accepted, which was lucky for me.
WOW: What I love is that you’re all published authors, too, so you know the publishing business from every angle. So awesome! Now, in your experience, how is working in e-publishing similar to/different from traditional publishing?
Victor: The reviewer mechanisms are not as well-defined at this point as I would like. If we were to go solely with e-publishing for a given title, I would be at a loss to tell you where to start promoting. For certain market segments, such as romance, this is less of a problem because the consumers are much more organized. So at this point, I would not launch an e-pub only publication, except for certain niche markets, such as we have done with our Metapsychology Monographs, which are targeted to a small base of professionals.
One thing, which you are unburdened of, is the expensive business of pre-publication “galleys” for reviewers. In an e-book world, it would not make sense to print and mail paper galleys. Also, the three to four month pre-publication publicity period is not necessary in e-books. In fact, success favors the “instant book” over the long, slow build-up in e-publishing.
I would advise anyone NOT to let up on standards of production and quality merely because the title is an e-book. People are probably even less willing to put up with grammatical and syntactical errors in an e-book format than a print book. They will vote against you by demanding refunds, which are quite easily managed by the bookstores, if your quality is not up to snuff.
“People are probably even less willing to put up with grammatical and syntactical errors in an e-book format than a print book.”
(Photo: Victor R. Volkman of Loving, Healing Press)
Cheryl: Much of it is similar. There’s the need to have a great story that is well-edited and professionally edited. Book covers need to be designed—ones that will stand up to any of the big pubs. Marketing needs to be done to get the word out.
The key differences: Imajin Books carries no overhead and little stock. Our print books are printed using on-demand technology, meaning they’re printed one at a time, as ordered. Regarding e-books, it costs much less to produce an e-book than it does to produce a print book, which is reflected in our lower prices for our e-books. We sell far more e-books than print books.
Stephanie: E-publishing is on the rise because of the ease in which it’s available for people. Read on your computer, smart phone, or e-reader. I don’t have to get out of my PJs to go shopping. (winks)
Barbara: E-books reach a different market. I would, at one point, have phrased that “a younger market,” but I no longer believe that. I’ve watched too many seniors enthralled with the iPad, and I know people of all ages have developed a habit of looking for information first via the device in pocket or purse. We want to be modern, and at each opportunity, we venture a step further in that direction.
Remember, though, we took our name from the fact we’re eligible for age-related discounts, not including children’s fares.
Another market we’re targeting is the retirement communities. In that light, we’re moving toward a line of large-print books as well. Fortunately, the software, making creation of e-books easier, should also translate well into making larger typeset formats. The two types of publishing complement, meaning complete, each other.
Nancy: The major difference is no advance is offered to authors, but we do offer our books for sale for as long as an author has a signed contract with our house. Our royalty rates are excellent, for e-book sales in particular. We offer between 35 and 40 percent on net sales. By net, I mean the author receives that percentage per every book sold, after we have taken out our direct fees and costs to manage Melange. Our author-publisher contract is very author-friendly, with an option for the author to leave our house if they are dissatisfied in any way with short notice.
“Your publisher should offer you a higher level of reimbursement, percentage-wise, for e-book publication than print.”
WOW: Fantastic! Some valuable information there. Let’s talk about contracts now. And Nancy, you answered my next question. Are royalties, author’s rights, and other contract areas the same or comparable in e-publishing as in traditional publishing? What, if anything, is different from the more traditional route?
Victor: We literally use the same contracts when extending to e-book publishing. Primarily, the difference is in the royalty rates. Your publisher should offer you a higher level of reimbursement, percentage-wise, for e-book publication than print. Be aware, however, that the price of e-books has plummeted due to pressure from Amazon to never break the $9.99 ceiling. Amazon also reserves the right to discount further to be competitive or provide incentives, so then the price may fall to $7.99. In our system, we guarantee the author the same compensation no matter what format the book is sold in AND no matter how little the final price the consumer pays.
I would recommend that authors ask for this type of guarantee from their publisher and NOT to choose a publisher based on bogus formulas such as “percentage of profit.” There’s a reason why directors and actors don’t take their salaries as “percentage of profit,” but as “percentage of box office receipts.” It’s too easy and tempting for studios to tip the scales by redefining profit.
Cheryl: You’ll usually find some major contract differences between an e-publisher and a traditional publisher. Imajin Books gives a smaller advance than most traditional publishers. Keep in mind that most of the big advances never earn out, so the advance may be all an author sees. We want our authors to start seeing sales income as soon as possible. However, we pay quarterly royalties that are much higher than most traditional publishers, and our authors have much more input into the creation of their books/e-books.
E-publishers vary in length of terms. Ours is five years. For five years, we’ll market an author’s book and do what we can to sell it. After that, the author has the choice of continuing with us for another five years or moving on. Many traditional publishers tie up an author for many years, and often, the author can’t do anything with their books afterwards. We don’t do that.
We also aren’t pushing for a “rights grab.” We don’t go after every right available. Too many publishers do that and then never pursue subsidiary rights—and the author loses out on opportunities. Our authors keep most of their rights. We only ask for English language e-book and print rights—and we won’t always offer a print contract to every author we publish.
“We pay quarterly royalties that are much higher than most traditional publishers, and our authors have much more input into the creation of their books/e-books.”
(Photo: Cheryl Kaye Tardif of Imajin Press)
Stephanie: Definitely more royalties! My authors earn 50 percent of site sales and 40 percent off third-party sites.
Barbara: That would vary with the publishers and with the deals made with the writers. For us, the answer is yes. However, we didn’t set that out clearly in our earliest contracts and find ourselves going back to the authors to ratify that right.
WOW: Thank you all for your candidness. These are issues many authors worry about, and I’m sure you’ve eased many of their worries. Give us some of the top benefits of opting for small publishers and e-publishing over traditional big-house publishing.
Victor: Top benefits are: time-to-market (24 to 72 hours), impulse buying (Like those magazines at the grocery store checkout line, you just grab ‘em and read ‘em.), higher profit margins, lower returns (about 5 percent returns as opposed to 20 percent in the print market), and easy word-of-mouth. (A good e-book can go viral a whole lot easier.) Lending is still in its early stages, so it’s hard to tell if this is a plus or minus, although library sales for e-books can be very lucrative. Libraries are required to buy additional e-book copies for every “X” number of books that are lent, depending on the contract.
- You’ll sell more copies of your e-book.
- If you publish with Imajin Books, you’ll see higher royalties than most other publishers, and you’ll have us to help with marketing.
- You could opt to self-publish and publish your e-books on your own, and you’ll have total control on everything from cover to price to editing.
- You’ll sell more copies of your e-book.
Stephanie: I can only speak about Astraea Press, but I can tell you why we’re the best e-publisher out there:
- More royalties
- Direct communication with me, the editor and the cover artist—no middle man with us
- We have individual marketing plans for all of our authors based on the area they live in.
- A Google support group, where we chit chat, market together, brainstorm, and just have fun
Did I mention awesome cover art?
- It’s easier to get accepted by a small press. However, that can be a curse or a blessing. If the author doesn’t screen the publisher before committing to the publication, the quality of the presentation can kill potential for the book.
- A small press will work more closely with the author. For us, this has involved rather substantially editing a manuscript which, though poorly written, told a story our target readers needed to hear. It has also played out with an author who took a very active part in the proofreading decisions, arguing for minute nuances of words and insisting on her own idea for the cover. This wouldn’t happen with a large press; for us, it proved to be a good experience—an opportunity for both the author and the publisher to grow in understanding of the dynamics.
- Mike Kearby used a small press as part of a grand plan. After teaching Texas history several years, he wrote a Western novel fitting a curriculum need and had it published by a small press. The publicist he hired for the purpose of getting the book reviewed, where school librarians would see it, did her job; and the second printing rights were picked up by a large house, along with the second and third of the series. Mike is the kind of author publishing houses large and small love—he actively markets his books, speaking to many schools each year.
Nancy: As I’ve mentioned, the longevity of a book being offered for sale-versus a traditional house’s print run. Print-on-demand means a book can be for sale for years. Another reason is that for an author just starting out, a smaller house tends to be more “hands on” and responds quickly to an author’s needs and questions.
“...a smaller house tends to be more ‘hands on’ and responds quickly to an author’s needs and questions.”
(Photo: Nancy Shumacher of Melange Press)
WOW: All fantastic benefits to bring up. I’m curious as to what each of you wants authors to know about publishing with you before they submit their manuscripts for consideration. What should authors do and NOT do?
Victor: Get your work professionally edited by more than ONE editor. There is no bigger turn off than to find misused words (such as loose/lose), paragraphs that go on forever, and repetitive content. Every book must have a strong page one. If you can’t muster an exciting page one, how do you expect me to get to page two?
If you do self-publishing, do NOT use bargain e-book translation services. Find a reputable service bureau, and ask them for references. A good e-book should have a working table of contents, indexes, and paragraph layouts that are comfortable to the eye at all different font sizes. If you have pictures or graphics, your e-book translation service should do that for you.
Cheryl: Writers should NOT submit a manuscript to us without reading and following our guidelines. There are things we look for, and one of them is how well an author can follow instructions. If you can’t be bothered to view the guidelines or look at what we’ve already published to see if your story fits, then don’t expect us to say yes.
Don’t send us sloppy, unedited work. That’s a huge turn-off.
Stephanie: Do clean up your manuscript. Don’t rush and turn it in just because you’re excited it’s finished. If you send in something with a ton of mistakes, it looks like you don’t care. If you don’t care, why should I trust that you can do what it takes when it gets to editing?
Be able to define your GMC (goal, motivation, and conflict). Without this, there is NO story. If you can’t identify these for each of your characters and the story as a whole, don’t send it in until you can.
Research the company you’re with. E-mail other authors. Are they happy there? If you have any questions, e-mail the owner or CEO.
“Be able to define your GMC (goal, motivation, and conflict). Without this, there is NO story.”
(Photo: Stephanie Taylor of Astraea Press)
Barbara: Work hard on your query letter. Spell correctly, and check the grammar. Don’t tell us we’re missing out if we don’t publish your work. Convince us by writing a great letter and especially by following directions! If we ask that it be included in the body of an e-mail, don’t send an attachment. If ten pages are requested, send only ten, not the whole first chapter that’s “only” twenty-seven pages. It is the author who is the main agent for marketing the book, no matter how large the publisher is—but this is especially true for small houses. Let us know you’re actively blogging, that you speak in public and make your books available, that you have a plan to sell the book. Be creative and specific. Join our team; don’t expect us to be the team.
Nancy: Many authors have no idea what differences there are between a mass-market house and a print-on-demand, small press house, such as Melange. They would benefit by joining some formal organization, such as Romance Writers of America, to learn about the differences from house to house and what each have to offer. Or subscribe to the Publisher’s Marketplace for writers’ books that are available to learn the difference.
An author SHOULD NOT send Melange a first draft of any type. We see this time and time again. New authors are anxious to get their words in print, but sending a first draft is a sure-fire way of getting a rejection. An author needs to take the time to read and edit a submission before hitting the send button.
WOW: Thanks to all of you for your insight. So many of our authors and authors-in-waiting really want to know what not to do so they can avoid an immediate rejection. I encourage our readers to take some notes here. Are any of you currently accepting submissions? If so, how can we get in touch with you?
Victor: We have decided to focus on supporting our existing authors and continue to mine them for new content. At this time, we have no defined date for open submissions to begin again, although we have publicly announced it to be no earlier than July 2012. However, for people interested in self-publishing an e-book, we do broker services for professional e-book layout to produce ePub (Nook) and Mobipocket (Amazon Kindle) ready e-books. With these files in hand, you can open a relationship with Amazon and B&N to begin selling your books in forty-eight hours. Interested parties can contact me via Victor[at]LHPress[dot]com.
Cheryl: Imajin Books is currently closed for submissions, but will be open again in a couple of months. Check out our submission guidelines for full instructions, and then e-mail us.
Stephanie: We are always accepting submissions! You can check our website at www.astraeapress.com.
Barbara: Yes, we’ve recently accepted books that will take us most of the way through 2012, but we’re certainly eager to look at quality work. Our websites have a page for authors. For anthologies and memoirs/nostalgia/history, see Silver Boomer Books Submissions. This shortly will reflect a call for submissions for an anthology on widowhood and probably another on holidays. For poetry and fiction, Laughing Cactus Press Guidelines, and for 12-Step recovery and spiritual, Eagle Wings Press Guidelines. Our e-mail address is SilverBoomerBooks[at]gmail[dot]com.
Nancy: Yes, we are currently accepting submissions of any type, but we are particularly interested in young adult works and historical romance at this time—also paranormal works. Check out our “Call for Submissions” at www.melange-books.com.
WOW: Awesome! I’d like to thank you all for taking time out from your very busy schedules to join us here. Before I let you all go, would you mind sharing any final pearls of wisdom you’d like authors to know and understand about e-publishing?
Victor: There are no shortcuts to success; a recent report showed that fewer than fifty authors are earning more than $50,000 per year through e-book sales (see http://www.anvilpub.net/southern_review_of_books.htm). Your e-book can be a platform to a new career, generating more business for your existing organization, or a great way to supplement print book sales. However, most of us should not be quitting our day jobs to make a fortune on e-book sales.
Cheryl: Publishing, whether self, subsidy, e-publishing, or traditional publishing, is a business. Like any business, you need to learn the rules before you “join.” So along with mastering the craft of writing and editing, learn about the business, about what it takes to really sell books and succeed. If you’re going to publish a book by any method, learn how to promote using today’s technology and tools. Sales don’t just happen. You must position yourself in the best possible way to see them. Good sales don’t happen overnight; it’s a never-ending rollercoaster. Enjoy the ride!
Stephanie: We’re people, too. I often conduct business in my PJs at 10:00 p.m. I’m not any better than anyone else, and I try to let my authors know that. Oh, and just because I’m an editor, doesn’t mean I’m perfect. I do actually make “typoes occasionallie.”
Barbara: E-publishing is cheaper and can be done on your own, as is true of traditional books in this POD age. Don’t assume that cheaper means quality can be left behind. Make sure you proofread your work carefully, whether you or the publishing company is actually doing the publishing. One big benefit of e-books is they can be corrected on the fly more easily. You’re probably not going to get rich publishing any kind of books today, though you might. But people are waiting to experience your work. Have the courage to let them.
“People are waiting to experience your work. Have the courage to let them.”
(Photo: Barbara Rollins of Eagle Wings Press)
Nancy: New authors, in particular, tend to believe they will make a fortune in publishing, when this is simply not the case. Very few authors make an actual living after publishing. I’m not saying this can’t happen—it can—but only if an author is willing to put in the time and become a highly prolific writer. Our best-selling authors sell series—several books around the same theme or same family, etc. They do well in sales. Also, the more books you publish, the more readers get to know you—hence more sales and more of a fan-reader base. It takes time to build a profitable writing career. Successful authors don’t happen overnight—a few do—but not many.
Thank you so very much to Victor, Cheryl, Stephanie, Barbara, and Nancy for sharing their perspectives, insight, and wisdom with WOW! readers.
These amazing people have taught me a thing or two about publishing, author’s expectations, marketing, and many other areas that some authors either overlook or don’t think about. I hope we have given some information here that gives you the confidence you need to get your work out there.
CHYNNA LAIRD is a psychology student, freelance writer, and multi- award-winning author living in Edmonton, Alberta with her partner, Steve, and their three daughters [Jaimie (eight), Jordhan (six), and baby Sophie (three)] and baby boy, Xander (four). Her passion is helping children and families living with Sensory Processing Disorder and other special needs. You’ll find her work in many online and print parenting, inspirational, Christian, and writing publications in Canada, United States, Australia, and Britain. In addition, she’s authored an award-winning children’s book (I’m Not Weird,
I Have SPD), two memoirs (the multi-award-winning Not Just Spirited: A Mom’s Sensational Journey With SPD and White Elephants), a young adult novel (Blackbird Flies) and an adult suspense/thriller (The Gift to be released late 2011).
Please visit Chynna’s website at www.lilywolfwords.ca, as well as her blogs at www.the-gift-blog.com and www.seethewhiteelephants.com, to get a feel for her work and what inspires her.