For the last few years, alternative avenues to publication have become widely accessible. While traditional publishing remains the first choice of many writers, other options include self-publishing, co-publishing and e-books. The wildly successful “50 Shades of Grey” series by E.L. James, whose career path reads like a Cinderella story, motivated many writers to consider nontraditional publishing.
James took an unexpected route to become an international bestselling author. She began by posting her story on an online fan fiction site and then later as an e-book. Strong word-of-mouth recommendations and high demand ultimately led to traditional representation and publication by Random House’s Vintage Books imprint. Then came the movie deals. Although James launched her books in a nontraditional manner, Publisher’s Weekly named her the most significant person in publishing for 2012.
Several local writers agreed to give pointers from their experiences in both traditional and non-traditional publishing. In the category of traditional publishing, small independent presses may be a more realistic choice than the big-name publishers. Most importantly, do your own homework to decide which publication path is right for you. There are pros and cons to any form of publishing.
The Road Builders by Joy Chrisman Welch (Bellamy-Fleming Publishing) is the Lexington author’s first book, a young adult novel about a family that survives an apocryphal event in central Kentucky and looks to rebuild their lives. The earth’s poles have shifted, creating major earthquake damage and wiping out every bridge along the Kentucky River. Years later, the main character seeks to find her parents, hoping that they somehow had survived.
Working without a literary agent, Welch queried Bellamy-Fleming Publishing, a small independent press based in Clay City, Ky., that accepted the manuscript and handled editing, design and other aspects of production. The press publishes Appalachian authors in multiple genres including fiction, children’s books, memoir and self-help. Their website is at http://bellamyflemingpublishing.com/
After the novel debuted, Bellamy-Fleming nominated the new author to be part of the 2016 Kentucky Book Fair. And while Welch is pleased to see her book in print and out in the world, she’s exploring options for her next one. She realizes the value of traditional publishing but believes she was wrong about the stigma associated with self-publishing.
“I chose traditional publishing because I was under the misconception that the only people who self-published were those who could not do it by traditional means. I have found that it is not the case. There are some individuals who do quite well [in self-publishing], but they go into it well informed and with a quality work,” Welch said.
She and other members of her writing group have noticed a trend at the book conferences they regularly attend.
“The sessions on self-publishing are full. Our small group has decided that educating ourselves in self-publishing is critical,” she said. If she self-publishes, Welch understands that she’ll be responsible for work normally handled by the publisher in a traditional arrangement.
“I have paid a copy editor to edit my text. I’m trying to find someone to create a cover, and I will require help with transposing the text to a PDF file for Amazon. Those tasks do not begin to include marketing,” she said.
Kentucky writer Angela Correll worked with an agent on her first book, Grounded. The agent suggested Koehler Books as a good fit for her manuscript. Koehler Books calls itself a “collaborative book publisher.”
“On my first book, they offered me a co-publishing deal after their acquisitions editor recommended Grounded. The routine worked as it would with a traditional publisher being responsible for all the editing and artwork, but I did put up some money to offset the risk of being a new author. I got all my money back plus in sales,” she said, adding that the arrangement sometimes helps an emerging author get a first book into print.
With good sales on the first book, Correll was offered a traditional publishing contract for her second book, Guarded. She was not required to invest her own money to get the book printed. In fact, she received an advance from the publisher to sweeten the deal.
Both Grounded and Guarded involve the New York City-based flight attendant Annie Taylor who leaves behind her city life to regroup at the family farm in Kentucky, a place she’s avoided for years.
Zeke Stage One by Ward J. Pyle (Next Century Publishing) is the Indiana writer’s first novel, a first-person narrative about a kid who makes his way through life with unexpected personal abilities. Zeke is an underdog who overcomes his challenges.
Pyle describes self-publishing as a learning experience.
“As a self-published author, you are in charge of every issue and decision pertaining to your work. And I mean everything! You…make every decision as to every detail of your publication, down to every punctuation and spelling of all items,” he said.
He decided to self-publish after researching his options. “I found that self-publishing would give me 100 percent ownership of this thing and get a decent percentage of the profits after sales are accumulated,” he said.
He acknowledged that the editing process was difficult at times. “I felt it was painful in a way because I didn’t see a reason to change, move, or delete very much of the content from my original manuscript,” he said. The sequel Zeke Stage Two is forthcoming and he plans to self-publish it as well.
Louisville author Kenn Grimes has worked with a variety of publishing arrangements. His new book is Strangled in the Stacks: A Booker Falls Mystery (Cozy Cat Press), a novel that involves an unsolved murder of a Michigan college librarian.
“My arrangement with the publisher is not a strictly traditional one, as they retain all royalties on the print copies and I retain all royalties on the e-book sales,” he explained. He also reserved all movie and audio book rights. He is able to purchase copies from the publisher at cost and sell them himself.
Grimes self-published The Other Side of Yesterday, a time-travel novel in set Kentucky, through CreateSpace, which meant his book was immediately available for sale on Amazon.
The major drawbacks of self-publishing? “Marketing, as many bookstores and libraries are reluctant to handle self-published books. The initial outlay of self-publishing could be considerable or minimal, depending on what company one goes with,” Grimes said. He noted that many bookstores will only sell self-published books on a consignment basis, which requires significant bookkeeping.
“I no longer sell on consignment, but only straight purchase. Consequently, not all bookstores will deal with me. Either by consignment or straight sale, expect to receive only 60 to 75 percent of the list price,” he said.
He’s considering traditional publishing for his next book. “I have several unpublished manuscripts that I will approach traditional publishers about. If I am not successful, I will seriously consider self-publishing.”
Ray Peden of Frankfort has self-published two suspense/thrillers in the last couple of years. One-Tenth of the Law (Mulholland Beach Press) came out in 2015 and Prime Cut was published in October (Writeontheriver).
In Prime Cut, a drive-by shooting at a Lexington animal rights rally leaves two people dead. The central character in both novels is Patrick Grainger, whose daughter is wounded in the crossfire. The story also involves a mammoth slaughterhouse and a multinational empire that feeds millions.
“I spent five years learning the craft, attending writing conferences, reading as many books on craft as possible….I always felt I was a semi-accomplished wordsmith, but learning the importance of story structure and the psychology of leading the reader through the story was a huge revelation. It made the difference between mediocre and professional,” Peden said.
Peden offers advice for a writer considering self-publishing. “If an author is willing to put in the time to learn the processes and if they have the computer skills, self-publishing takes a lot less time to get a book to market. And they retain complete control of their work. This can be a good thing but often it is not, especially if an author is not accomplished,” he said. And above all, pay for proofreading and editing assistance.
“All authors require proofreading services. Most new authors also absolutely need a professional content editor at $1,500-1,800. Those that ignore these services do so at their peril,” he said, adding that of the two million books published every year, most never sell more than 100 copies.
Local writers, publishers at AWP
The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference and bookfair is the largest literary conference in North America. This year’s conference marks AWP’s fiftieth anniversary and is set for February 8-11 in Washington DC.
Each year the conference attracts more than 12,000 writers, teachers, students, editors and publishers for four days of presentations, networking and access to some of the big names in contemporary literature. Last year’s conference featured 2,000 presenters and 550 readings, panels, and craft lectures. Over 800 presses, journals and literary organizations attend the event. For more information or to register for the conference, see https://www.awpwriter.org/awp_conference/.
If you’re a Kentucky and Indiana writer or publisher, let me know if you’re presenting at AWP, individually or on a panel, or if you’ll be reading your work during the conference. Share your AWP news with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.