Last year I set up an Indiegogo campaign to help launch The Purple Door District. Thanks to all of the amazing donations, I was able to print 100 books for publication and use the rest of the money to take care of some marketing elements.Read More
"You're a writer? When are you going to get a real job?"
Far too many writers have heard these scathing questions. Sometimes you can laugh it off and go back to working on your novel or script. Sometimes it comes during a moment of hardship when debt is surmounting, and you're wondering to yourself if you can actually pull off publishing another book. And while, yes, for some folks writing is a hobby that they do in their free time for fun, it's also a job for all those other people trying to get paid for their craft.
I don't think most people understand the amount of work that goes into creating a book and marketing it to the public, but we'll talk about that in a little bit. First, I'd like to bring up an article on Writer's Digest called Is It a Hobby or a Job? by author Brian Klems. In it he discusses how writing is definitely work, but it's not classified as a job until you make money off of it. He also goes on to say that the amount of work that goes into it writing can't just be classified as a hobby either. I'm sure a lot of you are nodding about the latter point.
In this day and age, it's hard to make a living as a writer because of the low pay, but that doesn't make it any less of a job. It just means I have to work that much harder to keep my literary career alive, oh, and also work the other 40-hour job I do during the week at the same time to cover the rest of the cost. Most writers have to still work a 40-hour job, or part time, to make ends meet. Some take the plunge and quit their daytime work to write full time, and I applaud them for taking the initiative.
Unfortunately, that usually elicits the image of someone writing for a couple hours, binge watching Netflix the rest of the day, then complaining they have no money.
Let me kind of give you a view of what it's like to live as a published indie author, and then tell me if you think that writing is still just a hobby. Keep in mind, I've only been doing this for a year, so imagine what an author juggling several books goes through everyday.
I work from 8:30-5pm Monday-Friday (and some weekends for overtime).
I volunteer in the evening for literary organizations.
Starting around 8 or 9 pm until I go to bed, on weekends, or on my "day off," I do at least one of these things:
Research information for my book.
World build or develop elements for my book
Write or edit my novel.
Discuss with my editors and proofreaders what needs to be changed and apply those edits.
Talk with my sensitivity readers about changes that need to be made.
Design banners, contests, graphics to post in all these locations about my book.
Reach out to bloggers to review my book or do a blog train.
Update my website with new author information and author interviews.
Build connections with fellow writers, editors, marketers, etc.
Set up signing events.
Attend signing events in different cities and states.
Post chapters on Patreon to help pay for my website.
Commission art of characters for stickers/swag.
Commission cover art.
Create other swag (bookmarks, necklaces, etc)
Run an Indiegogo campaign to help cover costs.
Participate in online "takeover" events.
Query my books.
Participate in online book contests to either 1. get an award for my book. 2. find an agent/publisher for my other books.
Format my book through Scrivener and Adobe Acrobat.
Set up and publish my book through Ingramspark then order copies.
Contact libraries and bookstores to carry my book.
Set up ISBNs, sales tax permit, BIN.
Check inventory and order more supplies on books and all marketing materials.
Prepare a book launch with local venues.
Attend writing conventions to make connections and learn the latest marketing techniques.
Participate in author summits both as a listener as an author.
...and the list goes on.
Being an author is a multi-faceted job, and most of the time you have to do everything yourself. Even if you're a traditionally published author, publishing houses are doing less to market the book and encouraging authors to do more of the work. Many of my author friends spend days at conventions and marketing to sell their books and pay for the table, gas, hotel, meals, and other bills.
But you may ask, "Erin, you charge $15 for your paper book. How do you not make money off of it?"
Because by the time you factor in the editing, proofreading, printing, marketing, and sales tax permit, I don't see much profit. Every dollar helps and puts me closer to making a better income off of writing. But I have to market to make that happen. I've heard it takes until book 2 or 3 to actually see a return in money, which is why initially it may look like authors are so broke, even if they receive advances from publishing companies.
That doesn't mean writing isn't a job.
Honestly, for me, it would be my dream job to write full time and survive off of my books. While that might be a long time in coming, I'll do what I can to keep working towards it. In the meantime, I hope this gives people a better understanding of how much work goes into being an author and that it's more of a job than most realize.
Since self-publishing The Purple Door District, I've received a lot of questions about why I decided to go that route. Well, I want it to be clear that I actually hope to become a hybrid author. My goal is to self-publish some books and traditional publish others. I want to experience both worlds and see which one works the best for me. For all I know, indie publishing will win out.
The first answer to this question is easy. The Purple Door District is a component of a larger series called Fates and Furies that I write with my co-author, AE Kellar. We decided early on that when we published the books, we wanted to go the indie path. We'd have more freedom that way and we could keep all the important elements in the book without the fear of having a publisher take them out. We wanted control of the cover and the publishing schedule. We both have tight schedules and sometimes we just can't write together. We didn't want the pressure of a publishing house coming down on us, insisting we had to have work done at a certain time when it just wasn't feasible.
Now, that being said, we still want to put work out consistently, but indie publishing is more flexible and more forgiving when it comes to time frames. If we have to push publication dates back to make the book better and stronger, then so be it. So, The Purple Door District was guaranteed to be self-published.
But what about my other books like Dragon Steal or Traitors of the Crown? Why not self-publish those?
Well, again, I want the experience, and I feel like those books might do better with publishing houses that focus on the same type of topic.
Indie publishing is an adventure, to be blunt. You have control of everything. Writing. Editing. Choosing editors/proofreaders. Finding the cover. Marketing. Formatting. Publishing. Distribution. You wear all of the hats, and while that can be daunting, it can also be extremely enjoyable and rewarding. I went from having this book I was just posting on patreon with a rough cover to a published copy in my hand and in bookstores. I spent six months doing my marketing and printing campaign, and I honestly couldn't be happier.
I was relieved that I could choose my own cover. Often in traditional publishing, you don't get a say in it. In my case, I found an artist, and she and I worked together to perfect the cover. She willingly listened to my suggestions and adjusted the art so it turned into the lovely piece it is today. Likewise, I found artists who could make character images for me, and I was the only one who could say if it matched my vision. I had the final approval. You don't always get that in the traditional world.
I also was able to choose my own editors and proofreaders. I went with people I trusted, who had worked with me either for a long time or had demonstrated a passion for the craft and my book. Our relationships became harmonious, and we were able to message each other without having to worry about a publisher watching over us.
Indie publishing is no longer as taboo as it used to be. Authors are spending money to acquire editing services, and more freelance editors are appearing everyday. One of the biggest things I love about indie publishing is working with the community. I'm not the only one benefiting from publishing the book. Editors, proofreaders, artists, PA specialists all have a hand in the book and receive payment for their work. I'm proud to have met so many incredibly talented people and it brings me great joy to promote them on my website.
Indie publishing is a lot of work and a ton of money (depending on how you want to do it). You can indie publish and not spend a dime except for purchasing books. Or, you can put more of your cash into it to create a bigger marketing strategy. Again, the choice is yours. You have control over your own process. And you don't have to worry about a publishing company folding and dropping the series you've been working on (it's happened before).
I'm not waiting for anyone to promote my materials or set up book signings for me. I do it all myself and go where I think I'll have the most success. Walking this path has turned me into a stronger and more knowledgeable writer that I'm not sure I would have received from traditional publishing alone. Yes, in traditional publishing you still have to help market, but not to the same extent as indie.
I give a lot of credit to those who have self-published before me, and those who will after me. I feel like may of us have become a close-nit community because we all know the struggle of creating and promoting our books. The writing community is incredible, and no matter if you choose to self publish or traditional publish, I hope you're proud to be part of the community.
I can't believe that 2018 is finally over. It felt like the year that just would not die! I made resolutions last year, but most of them I don't even remember, except for wanting to start querying Dragon Steal, which I did manage to accomplish. For this post, I'd like to go over some of the awesome (and not-so-awesome) things that happened this year and cover my goals for 2019.
2018 in Review
Finished editing Dragon Steal and submitted it for publication.
I've received several rejection letters but recently got a full manuscript request. While the rejections have hurt, at least the book is out there!
Even better, I've met a ton of amazing authors and creators through these sites who I can't wait to work with next year!
Wrote, edited, and published The Purple Door District. I can't believe I developed my own marketing and indiegogo campaigns, formatted the book, published it, and held a launch party all in the space of six months. The question is, can I do it for PDD2?
Submitted more short stories and poetry than I ever have before. While I received a lot of rejections, I at least received a few publications.
Helped develop the concierge anthology through The Writers' Rooms.
Returned to my college and taught a few classes about publishing and NaNoWriMo.
Wrote 50k words for The Purple Door District: Wolf Pit.
Lost about 45 lbs through exercise and healthy eating.
Attended my first book signing event with other authors and signed up for even more in 2019.
Hosted giveaways for my book and swag that was developed by local creators.
Started my patreon account to help raise money for my writing career.
Received honorable mention in Writers of the Future.
Truly started my profession as an author.
It's been a really big year for me writing wise. I still can't believe that six months ago I decided to publish The Purple Door District. It seems like ages since I made that decision. I've managed to publish a few pieces of work this year, including on wattpad and patreon.
Next year, I hope to do even more, but also find a way to take care of myself at the same time.
Focus on my mental health and take better care of myself mentally and physically.
Find an agent and publisher for Dragon Steal.
Finish writing and publish The Purple Door District: Wolf Pit.
Work on Fates and Furies with my co-author, AE Kellar, and hopefully publish the first book, if not in 2019, then in early 2020.
Submit more short stories and poetry for publication.
Start working on The Purple Door District #3 and Dragon Steal #2
Return to working on Traitors of the Crown.
Lose more weight for health reasons and get healthier.
Attend multiple writing conventions to both sell my books and to meet other authors.
Start my path to becoming a full-time author.
These are pretty ambitious goals, but I think most of them are possible. I really do need to focus on my mental and physical health, though, because I managed to break myself a few times while working on PDD. If I can't hold myself together, I won't be able to accomplish any/all of this.
I'm really proud of what I did this year. It's my biggest year as an author, and I can't wait to see what 2019 holds. I'm also a little scared. What if next year doesn't unfold as well? I guess that's all part of growing up and making plans as a writer, though. Some years you're going to make it big, and some years are going to be a lot slower. I hope 2019 is still a fantastic one.
What are your goals for 2019? Feel free to share them below! Also, let me know what topics you'd like me to cover this year!
Ever since finishing two of my books, I've had to ask the tough question of whether I want to go indie or traditional with publishing. Well, I don't like making decisions, so I decided to be a hybrid. While I'm indie publishing The Purple Door District in December, I'm also trying to go the traditional route with my other book Dragon Steal.
But what does it take to publish a book traditionally? I had a friend ask me this question recently, so I thought I'd toss up my own thoughts on the whole process. Keep in mind, this is just based on what I've learned through my own journey and studies. If you have advice about publishing, feel free to post it down below.
Warning! This is going to be a longer topic. I originally wrote this for The Writers’ Rooms, and I’ve expanded upon it for my readers here.
Pros and Cons of Traditional Publishing
They know their stuff. Traditional publishers are in the business, so they know how to get the job done. They have a team of people who can do all the little fiddly bits (covers, back matter, editing, marketing, legalese, rights, taxes…) so you don’t have to do it on your own. It saves you a huge headache.
Legitimacy. Because of the gatekeepers, people know that if a book is good enough to be published traditionally there’s a certain expectation of quality--or at least of whatever quality the publishing house is known for. (Note: this does not mean that indie publishing is not legitimate. There's still a stigma against self-publishing, but it's dissipating day by day).
Marketing. You don't have to do your marketing alone! A team will help you, though you will still be expected to market your story somewhat.
But… They take whatever they think is marketable. This can mean a distinct lack of freedom for your writing, since they’re less likely to take “risky” work.
But… Publishers are ultimately in it for the money, and will drop writers for the slightest reasons. Even well-established, upper-mid-range authors will find themselves struggling sometimes. Or, a publishing house could drop an author partway through their series and battle over the legal rights of the original books.
But...It takes FOREVER to publish your book. For YA, sometimes a book that’s acquired doesn’t come out for two years. By then, the hot market could have moved on and you'll have missed your "hot topic" window.
First Step: Query Letter, Pitch, and Synopsis
Query Letter: This is essentially a sales pitch to an agent to get them interested in your book. It’s a brief piece that describes the story, provides word count, relates the book to other familiar genres/books, and gives a little background about the author. This is often one of the hardest things to write asides from your story. Make sure you find a good guideline example to follow and adhere to anything an agent requests in the query letter. You can check out my blog post all about writing query letters here.
Pitch: The pitch is your elevator speech. You want to wow the agent, editor, publisher with a 5-second pitch, 30-second pitch, or 1-minute pitch. Think of it as 1 sentence, 2 sentences, and a paragraph about your story. Throw in something unique that is going to catch the listener’s attention. A great way to get practice is by participating in pitmad on twitter, which happens quarterly. You put your pitch on twitter at the same time agents and publishers are looking for the "next best thing." If they like your tweet (or contact you directly), it means they're interested in your piece! The next one is on December 6th, so get those pitches ready!
Synopsis: Your synopsis is basically a long summary of your story. In about two pages, double spaced, you have to introduce the agent to your protagonists, antagonists, your world, your plot, and everything that's unique about the story. This includes (gasp) the ending! They want to hear it in your voice, not just a simple retelling. This piece is vital, because it may make your break your chance at getting to talk to an agent. If you're interested, I can write a blog post about constructing a synopsis. Let me know below!
The 10 Dos and Don’ts of Writing a Query Letter, Writer’s Digest
7 Tips for Pitching to an Agent or Editor at a Conference, Writer’s Digest
Step Two: Finding an Agent/Publisher/Editor
Research: Look for Agents who are requesting your genre. One easy way to do this is to find out the agents of some of your favorite books that are similar to yours. Books like “Guide to Literary Agents 2018” can help you not only find agents, but develop your query letter too. Don’t just query to a random agent. They need to be looking for the thing you’re selling. You can also check out Query Tracker to see what agents are looking for. Once you do find an agent, model your sample chapters, query, and pitch to their standards. Also, by no means should an agent ask for money up front (but we'll get into that in the red flags section).
Response: Response time can take a very long time, even 6-months to a year. You can query to multiple agents, but if an agent accepts you, you’re responsible for letting other inquiring agents know that you’ve accepted an offer. Typically, if an agent is interested, they’ll request a few chapters or the full copy of your book. Query Tracker is great with indicating response time for agents as well.
Rejection: Everyone is going to get rejected at least once. J.K. Rowling was rejected by multiple agents before she found one. If a rejection says something more than, “I’m not interested,” consider that a success, because it means the agent thought enough about the story to write you a longer response. If you want a better idea what it means to receive rejections, take a look at my blog post here. It might help you out a bit.
Acceptance: When an agent accepts your piece, it’s up to the agent to take the book to an editor and a publisher. She will try to sell the book to a publisher through an act called acquiring. Once a publishing house accepts it, the agent, publishing house, and editors will work with you to perfect your book. Keep in mind, an editor may require heavy changes to your book, so be open minded.
Guide to Literary Agents, Writer’s Digest
Step Three: Contracts
Contracts: A book contract is a legal-binding agreement between the author and the book publisher that outlines rights, obligations, and money earned. In a traditional agreement, the author retains the copyright and the publisher purchases the right to distribute the book in many forms (paper/ebook/audio, etc). The contract is usually dictated by the the literary agent on behalf of the author. Make sure you get everything on paper and you retain the rights to your book.
Things to Consider About Contracts
Rights: How long do they keep rights to publish your book? Is it for a year or several? Will they relinquish the rights to your book if their company goes down?
Series: Is your contract for a single book? Is it for a series? Will they reprint your previous books when the new series comes out? Do they have the right to cancel the contract halfway through the series?
Non-Compete Clause: This clause says that the author can’t write another book with the same subject or name during the life of the contract. While this may not matter to you, it’s something to keep in mind.
What is a Book Contract?, The Balance
Five Publishing Contracts Red Flags, Alina Popescu Writer
Red Flags in Traditional Publishing
Contract Publisher Retains Rights: Sometimes when a publishing company likes the idea of your book, and has had a similar one already suggested, they may ask you to write the piece, but all rights remain with the publishing company. If you’re more interested in royalties than having your name credited to you, this is fine, but if you want to retain rights to the book, this is something to watch out for during the contract phase.
Publisher Requires Money to Publish Book: Back away. You should not have to pay the publisher to publish your book. You should receive royalties, and you will work with a literary agent to figure that out.
Literary Agent Who Charges Upfront: Literary agents do not receive payment until the book is published. They will receive a portion of the book sales.
Promised Publication: Some websites will promise to publish poetry, books, essays, etc. if they’re submitted to the site. These are generally not places you want to submit your work to. While they might, indeed, publish it, they will ask you to pay for a physical copy of the piece and will publish it to other locations.
Agent/Artist/Editor Problems: Sometimes the relationship between the author and the agent, artist, or editor does not work. Authors have pulled back from agents before because either the agent failed to uphold their end, or the relationship just was not positive. Some artists who design covers may not have the author’s best interest in mind and may produce work that does not jive with the book. On the flip side, an author may express distaste in a book cover that the artist created (I'm looking at you Terry Goodkind), but the publisher will print the book anyway. And sometimes authors and editors bump heads. Do what’s best for you and your book.
After that, you will work with the marketing team to get your book out in bookstores and in libraries. You'll set up tour dates to do readings and signings. Interviews both online and on television will become your new best friends. But keep in mind, the marketing team won't do all of the marketing. You'll have to do some of it yourself. For more tips on marketing, check out my post here.
Like I said, this was going to be a long one. Hopefully it'll help get you started on your path to publishing your book. And if you're going to try out for pitmad, let me know! I'd love to cheer you on.