Writer v. Author: Minding Your Business with Eddie Gamarra and Kat Shepherd

Last fall’s AWG/SCBWI conference closed with a final talk featuring Eddie Gamarra and Kat Shepherd. Eddie Gamarra is a literary manager and producer with the Gotham Group, with a focus on children’s and family entertainment. Kat Shepherd is the author of the Babysitting Nightmares and Gemini Mysteries middle grade series. They are both bold, empowering, and a delight to listen to.

Working in the publishing world can be daunting. So much of it feels completely out of your control—and a lot of it is. You can’t control who’s going to buy your stories or what they’ll think of it. You can’t control the internet. You can’t control market trends. So what can you control?

In their talk, Shepherd and Gamarra took us step by step through the parts of the writing world that a person can grapple with to make the industry work for them. And as I mentioned with Laurie Halse Anderson’s talk, this information is way better straight from the Oracle. If you ever get a chance to attend a conference where Gamarra and/or Shepherd are presenting, take it. That said, let’s get to it!

The first thing to consider when stepping into the publishing world is audience. Who is your audience, and which house will get you to that audience? Shepherd and Gamarra listed four houses to consider: big house, small house, no house, and your house.

Big house These are the Big Five publishers. They’ll be publishing a thousand books at any given time, making it easy to get lost in the shuffle. But the resources at their disposal are unparalleled, meaning you can expect a larger advance and maaaaaybe (if you’re lucky) more marketing heft. (Don’t count on it, though. Usually, it’s only a couple books getting all the hype and the rest are left to their own devices.)

Small house These are all the smaller publishing houses: university presses, boutique, specialty houses, etc. Since these houses are smaller, they have fewer resources for marketing, producing, and distributing your books. However, since their lists are so much smaller, you can expect more focus on your work and more support from the house. (Although again, plan on doing most of your own marketing.)

No house Self-publishing has exploded over the last few decades. And if you’re going to have to do all the marketing legwork yourself anyway, why not? However, if you go this route, it’s all on you: editing, cover design, interior layout, advertising, courting bookshops, and all the things. This path isn’t for the faint of heart. Just because you don’t have gatekeepers telling you no doesn’t mean it’s an easy highway to success.

Your house Your house is more of an attitude than a publishing house. Your house is spinning the typical power dynamics on their head. Looking for an agent willing to take you on? No, you’re hiring an agent; they work for you. Trying to find a bookstore willing to take your books? No, you’re letting someone make money on your literary genius in exchange for distributing books for you. By flipping the script, you don’t come begging for favors. You’re the one giving them out.

In your house, you are the CEO of your company, an active boss instead of a passive peon, and you’ve got bills to pay. While we all love our art, you are not a bad person for expecting to be paid for your work. Treat your writing as your livelihood and put in the work to see it thrive.

Part of that work is positive and consistent communication. Know what you expect from your agent and your editor, and make sure that they know that too. Listen to what they need from you and honor that. Know the name of your publicist and thank them by name. Whenever possible, teleconference with your publicist, editor, and agent, and ask them what you can do to support them. Remember, you are the boss. Good bosses help their team do their job well.

Know what you’re willing to invest for your writing career, because there will be sacrifices, whether that’s time, money, energy, or more. There are a million things you could be doing to push your books, but you do not have to do them all. Consider the return on investment and only do what’s worth the investment. And if you’re not sure what the ROI is on a given tactic, ask others who have tried it out before.

Whatever route you decide to take, a big ego will do you no favors. Know what puts your books in the hands of readers and do whatever that is, whether that means working with a prestigious big press or a small press most people have never heard of. Do your research and do your networking. Ask for help when you need it. Develop a media plan—whether you have big house heft or are going it alone—and put in the hustle to build the hype.

Gamarra and Shepherd’s talk was a rallying cry (which is why you need to attend their talks in person). So often, we writers come to the negotiating table as supplicants. Shepherd and Gamarra encourage writers to stand a little taller, to accept and exercise more agency in the fate of our own stories. They encourage us to be the protagonists.

So don’t give in to the whims of fate! Authors aren’t as helpless as they often feel. When we educate ourselves on what can be done, and have the stamina to do it, we can step into an industry where so much feels beyond our grasp and take the reins with confidence.

Until next week, happy writing!

Self Publishing 101: CliffNotes

TwainNow maybe I’m just old, but I still hear the phrase “self-published author” and cringe a little. Once, a fellow student in my high school creative writing class told me he had published a book already and I was totally floored- until it came out that he had self-published it. Self-published!  And then I was all internal sneers.

Self publishing has a stigma attached to it that all indie authors are talentless hacks who can’t get their stuff published and are too arrogant and/or stupid to drop it. And that just isn’t true. As it turns out, it was probably never true. Virginia Woolf. Thomas Paine. Mark Twain. Edgar Allen Poe. You ever heard of any of these folks? Yeah, I thought you might have. But did you know that all of these authors were also self-published? Woah!

Having kicked around the idea of self publishing a few times, I was pretty interested when Writer’s Digest advertised a free webinar titled Self Publishing 101. I signed up and listened in, and very much enjoyed the whole affair. And so, figuring you might enjoy it too, here it is, Self Publishing 101: CliffNotes.

There are three basic methods of self publishing: DIY, Partnership, and Supported.

When you Do It Yourself, you: get the cover created; hire your own editor (or edit it yourself, too); format the files; promote the book; and so on and so forth. You do all the work- and then give finished files to a distributor or retailer.

In a Partnership, you partner with a third party (agent, publisher, etc.) to share the work, the risk, and the profits. You receive no advance, but pay no fees either.

For Supported, you shell out for fee based services anybody can pay for: provide the document to the provider and they take care of the work. The least amount of effort on your part, but also the most expensive.

In the infancy of self-publishing (you know, ten, fifteen years ago), it was hard to find copyeditors, cover designers, and others. But as self publishing as grown, freelancers in these fields have proliferated, making them more widely available, and often less expensive.

E-Book only has become the favored child of self-publishing, which kind of surprised me. Again, it’s probably a byproduct of my being an old shrew who can’t let go of the past, but I don’t like e-books. It just doesn’t feel like a book to me unless there’s a copy in my hands. But e-books can achieve a much broader distribution than a print book, and the author gets to keep a larger percentage of the sale price. Also, most physical book sales in stores are impulse buys, especially when a reader is trying a new author; when selling physical books online, that impulse is gone, making the sale that much harder. (It’s okay, physical books. I still love you. *pat, pat*)

People are also turning more and more to crowdfunding to self- publishing. This works best for people with a good platform (previously published authors, famous people, etc.), but others can sometimes pull it off with a lot of hard work and dedication (and a hearty dose of good luck). Good platforms for this include Kickstarter, Pubslush, and Inkshare.

There are no set models for self publishing, and the industry changes fast. Build an audience for yourself and find your niche. Create your own model and see if it works.

Publishing is highly competitive, no matter how you go about it. It’s very easy to self publish- that’s why so many people are doing it. Easy as it is to get started, it’s a lot harder to be successful. Since there are so many titles out there, consumers have endless choices- and your book is only a tiny fraction of the options. If it’s not fantastic in some way, or better yet every way, it’s not going to sail.

The indie books most likely to succeed are identical in quality and appearance to any New York published book. Furthermore, success is more likely for those books with an educated, dedicated entrepreneur author who is willing to make investments of time, effort, and money. Authors have to be willing to learn about cover design, metadata, sales copy, discoverability, SEO, marketing, sales opportunities, and every other facet of the industry they can manage. The more you know, the more likely you are to succeed.

But of course, focusing all your efforts on building your newsletter subscriptions or working up a bigger twitter following or researching more effective metadata- all of that takes focus away from the writing itself. And without a product to sell, all of that is wasted effort. (Unless, you know, you just enjoy that stuff and it is its own reward. But for purposes of this article- WASTED.) Having a high quality product to sell is the only way to be successful.

Part of creating a high quality product is understanding your own limitations and paying a professional to cover those gaps. Hire an editor. Unless you’re a fantastic artist, hire a cover artist. Hire a book designer if that’s not your thing. Pay for a publicist. Whatever you think you are not equipped to do a good job of yourself, pay someone else to.

That frees you up to do what you do best: writing. Don’t get hung up on one book your entire life. Get it good and let it go. Publish it and move on to the next one. You’ll learn a little more with each book and build an audience along the way. Don’t just throw things out there as fast as you can, but don’t waste time and effort on an endless editing cycle.

Get it as good as you can and get it out there. Good luck!

Information from Writer’s Digest’s webinar Publishing 101, broadcast 02 February 2015. Guests included Cheryl Holt, bestselling indie author, and Steven Spatz, president of Book Baby. Moderated by the Writer’s Digest publisher Phil Sexton.  These instructors also answered a lot of listener questions throughout the presentation. If you’re interested in the questions, or want more details than those written above, it’s probably worth your time to listen to the full webinar, available here.