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!