Friday, December 31, 2010

Decision Point #1 - Time to market

So the past few days have seen a pretty heated debate over self-publishing verses traditional publishing. I want to try and offer some perspective to this that I started in my last post.


It appears that there are two camps pretty deeply entrenched with a fair amount of mud slinging on either side. But what it comes down to is either path is a viable alternative you just have to decide which is best for you. I'm going to take a "aspect" a day and comment on things to consider. Today's topic is time to market.

Traditional publishing is slow...really slow...really really really slow. If you don't have patience and a lot of it then you'll just frustrate yourself by going this route. Some things to consider.

If you go traditional you really need an agent - trying to break into this without one makes little to no sense - finding an agent can take months or years. It took me over 6 months to get Michael's first agent and ultimately that relationship resulted in nothing. It is not unusual to have to go through literally hundreds of rejections before getting one. J. A. Konrath reports he had 500 rejections, Michael had 102. Your mileage may vary, but speaking in general terms this is going to be a long process with many many queries.

Once you find an agent, they may suggest a number of re-writes to your project to make it more marketable. Whether you do these or not is of course up to you but if you have a very reputable agent (which why would you sign with anyone but) then they know the industry better than you do. They don't get paid unless you do so if they are offering suggestions it is probably in your best interest to listen.

Now you have the book re-written, its time for submission. This can be a very long process. Again Michael's first agent "shopped it around" for 8 months and got no where. Now, on the other hand Michael's second agent got a deal in 2 weeks...but this was a MUCH different situation that most of those choosing this route won't be in. Michael had already built a following by self-publishing and his sales were going through the roof. His agent basically set the parameters as in - respond with interest in xx days or I'm moving on. This is a common practice but they can't really "play that card" with someone new with no track record so you'll probably be in the submit...wait...submit....wait process that can easily take another year.

Now you get the offer - yeah! But the book is realistically 12 - 18 months from bookstore shelves. Seriously? Yes seriously. The issue is that publishers plan out their release schedules and the day you sign they already have the next several quarters "scheduled" and there is no room for your book. "Okay you say, they'll put me in the next open spot." Well probably not. There is much that has to be considered.

a) They will want to edit - this may mean a few simple grammar fixes or restructuring of the book - Again this doesn't happen overnight - it may take months. But until they have a manuscript that is "ready" it's not going on any schedule.

b) They need to get ARC copies to reviewers. Book List, Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal all want advanced reading copies 4 - 5 months before publication date so there is a delay of at least that amount of time.

c) There are many departments that must get involved: Marketing, Cover Design, Sales. The good news is you now have a "team" working for you. The bad news is this team does not work "exclusively for you". As a new author you may not have the most "mind share" of these departments and so it may take quite some time for them to do what they have to.

So...All told it probably will take years from the time you say "yes I want to go traditional" before your book gets on the shelf.

Self-publishing on the other hand has a very short time frame. It's not zero as some might think but it is smaller. Some things you'll want to do if you self-publish.

1 - Even though you think your book is "fully edited" - think again. People are VERY unforgiving on ANY errors in a self-pub book. There are typos in traditional press books all the time but people just shrug and go - oops someone made a mistake. When one is found in a self-pub book there are those that are willing to shout at the top of their lungs "See, this is self-published trash - no editing - I'm applaud". Bottom line if you are self-publishing edit, edit, edit again and then once you think you are done edit it more. Ideally, you'll have someone other than you doing this. It can be a fellow writer friend, a freelancer you hire, even a loved one. But you need to take at least 5 - 10 passes over the work...edit it to the point where you can't stand to look at it again and then you'll be ready. I would anticipate 3 - 6 months for this.

2 - Cover design - should not be overlooked. It is probably one of the most important aspects to self published books. Your trick is to make your book "not" look self-published. A cover that stands up against the best of what NY puts out. Some that I recommend as examples:

Anything by Michael ;-) (Crown Conspiracy, Avempartha, Nyphron Rising, Emerald Storm, Wintertide, Quarter Share, Half Share, and many more.

Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish - it follows a trend similar to other books in this genre and to be honest when I first saw it I didn't think it was self-published - this is exactly what you want to strive for.

Fifth Avenue by Christopher Smith - simple but striking - notice in particular the use of color (red) and the bold font of the title. - Very well done.

Disintegration by Scott Nicholson - again, can't tell from a NY published house

Kill & Cure by Stephen Davison - really invokes the mood of the story he is trying to tell

Favortite by Karen McQuestion - striking.

Each of these books are, not surprising, selling extremely well. And in particular - please notice the use of "title font" - which to be honest sounds like a "silly thing" but to me the typography of the cover is the first thing that tells me "self published" - I don't want to out anyone but look at some of the best seller's lists and if you see some "amateur" type placement/treatment - you'll know it is a self-published novel - your goal is to ensure that you don't come off this way so you'll have to spend time on this (either yourself or by hiring someone) - again allow for about a month - but can be done in parallel with editing if you are using other resources.

I'll also include in the "cover design" writing of the back of the book blurb - you might think - "Hey Robin, this won't be on the bookstore shelf so what do I care about the back of the book" - well it is going to be seen over and over as your description so you better hone it - probably more important than anything else in your book - except the first sentence/paragraph - Again don't just "throw something together" write it -- sleep on it rewrite it try other versions, post on boards and ask for opinions. From the day you "start" your blurb until the day you are done should be about 3 weeks - All told you should easily put 10 - 30 hours into the task.

Formatting and layout - this is the fastest - I can do a kindle conversion from word in 1 - 3 hours. Michael can layout a book in about 4 hours.

Posting - Kindle posts take a few days to go live. Print books will require some proofing. About 2 days after posting you can "order your proof" it will take 2 - 5 days to reach you depending on if you pay for rush shipping. Then you may need to "tweek it" once you see the proof. So another few days there. Then once you push "go live" it can take 2 - 5 days to actually show up on Amazon.

So all told self-publishing should be about a 3 - 6 month process to get it on the shelf.

Can you do it faster - I recommend If you self-publish you have to be like Hertz and "try harder" you have to give no ammunition for people to point and say - inferior quality the standards have to be at the same high level as that produced by New York.

So, in aware that if you chose traditional you'll have to be patient, if you get "antsy" and pester people (your agent, your editor, the marketing staff) you'll accomplish nothing but piss them off and resulting in not wanting to work hard for you. If you can't live with that...then self publishing will be more full filling to you in the long run.

Next up....Control - see ya tomorrow.


author Scott Nicholson said...

Thanks for the mention, Robin--good post. The only thing I would add is to get your hands ont he actual devices and see how most of the people are viewing the products, AND if at all possible, try to buy and read a copy of your own work on those devices.
Scott Nicholson

Stavros said...

I am a self published author. Created a LLC to hide behind, tho. Because it is very polarized out there.

The hardest part for any publisher - self or traditional - is marketing the book. As a self-P, its harder than a traditional publisher because I lack all of the infrastructure and getting the word out there seems to take up the majority of my time...with little immediate result.

So, I caution every person interested in self publishing to have a marketing strategy in place before spending the money on their book.

And yes...Editing is key. I had 3 editors on my book and I edited it up until it went to print. And I know there are things that still got missed. It just happens, regardless of how many eyes you place on it. Hence, all thehding behind the LLC.

: ]

Anyhoo, loved your write up. And if you get the chance check out my blog: and check out my book - Blood Junky

It's available on Amazon and at


wannabuy said...

As a reader I can tell one thing about Indie books from 'traditional published.' They are accommodating the market by:

1. Fresh thought
2. Fresh prose/wording

In a way that helps them stick out.

I'm amused by Amanda's "foxy" versus "sexy" wording. Apparently important among young readers.

Oh, following from your last comment, JA's comments are always entertaining.

Now to figure out how to better use the Google 'follower' feature... ;) (I wasn't using it until enough names 'popped up' on my blog.) Ghad... I wasn't being an early adopter!


Robin Sullivan said...

@Stavros - there is no question that marketing is a) key and b) hard. I'm actually going to cover that in one of the posts on this subject.

But...I contend that marketing really is (for good or ill)the responsiblity of the author regardless of who publishes them.

Marketing departments as the trad publishers have many titles they are working for - the author is in the unique position of being solely focused on the book and this is a key element. In any case that is for a future post.

Anonymous said...

Greate work, miss Robin i was surffing the internet when a came a cross your blog, i would like you to visit the page and tell me what you think about this Ebook
please feel free to cantact me have a good day and God

Robin Sullivan said...

Hey @Anom...Tough to say without reading it - some of these books are really good - some are "so-so". Are you the author? If so give me a review copy and if I think it is worthwhile I'll defintely help you plug it as quality books that help authors need to have a light shone on them.

Kate said...

I like you have common sense suggestions -copious self-editing, etc.- rather than heading down the road that so many other self-pub people do: pay for it all!
I don't have the money to invest $1500 in my book with covers and formatting and editing.
I've definitely become do-it-yourself. My friends and family help me edit, I read it out loud to catch extras, my sister (who is a graphic artist) designs my covers, and I learned how to format it myself.
I do have one quick question... when you convert to .mobi what do you start with? html? word doc? The last time I formatted my book into .mobi, it took me DAYS. And I still wasn't completely happy with the result. Really the only thing that holds me back these days.