My panel proposal for this topic has been accepted at the country's largest gathering of creative writers, the AWP Convention, which will be held in Denver in April. The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) includes individual writers and most graduate and undergraduate creative writing programs in this country and Canada. Alternate forms of publishing have never been a topic of conversation officially at the convention before, best I can tell, so I'm excited to bring to writers possible paths to publication. I'm interested in the pros and cons of the old and the new. Red Room CEO Ivory Madison, with two other specialists, will be on the panel with me.
A new part of the market has come to my attention recently: readers who use the Kindle, a lightweight electronic reading device from Amazon.com. I wrote about Kindle last week, as well as author Boyd Morrison who published his book The Arc only on the Kindle and then received a two-book deal with Simon and Schuster. Since then, and since uploading to Kindle my two short story collections, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea and Months and Seasons, I've seen what a vibrant community Kindle users are. My books are selling.
I'm also witnessing what may be a re-creation of Morrison's success. On Kindleboards.com, a reader gave a rave review for a new book, Crack-Up by Eric Christopherson, saying, "Reading this book will have you on the edge of your seat, unable to put it down. I was actually sad to see it end... Ever imagine what it's like to be a paranoid schizophrenic? This book will show you. You will cringe from the emotions invoked by this thriller. You might even become a little paranoid yourself."
It sounded so good, I went to see how much a print version cost on Amazon cost and learned the book is only available for the Kindle. I sent a message to Mr. Christopherson to ask why he'd only publish something for the Kindle, and he wrote back. He said, "This book was repped by Joe Veltre, who was an editor at a couple of major houses before turning to agenting, and I incorporated his feedback prior to submitting the novel to publishers. The book came close to a sale at a couple of major houses but came up short in the end.
"I've always believed in the book," he continued, "and wanted to see it out there. I never considered traditional print self-publication because I know little about marketing. I know that if I were to put the book in print myself and it didn't sell well (perhaps due to my marketing ineptitude) that the ISBN number I'd need to put the book in print could be tracked by Bookscan, and the poor sales record might come back to bite me should I try to sell the book again down the road.
"Kindle avoids the ISBN number issue while giving me plenty of feedback from the reading public I couldn't get any other way. One of two things will now happen: I'll sell lots more units and end up with a Boyd Morrison-type deal, or I'll use the feedback I get to revise the book and try to sell it again to major publishers, perhaps next year, given it would then be five years since the book was on the market."
This brings up another point about being a new author. At a panel last year at USC on "The Changing Face of Publication," book agent Barbara Lowenstein, whose agency in New York is well-known, said that despite economic turmoil, publishers still look for new authors. In particular, they love authors who "have a platform," meaning that if you're a fiction writer, your work has been in literary journals and bloggers write about your work favorably. Kindle may be another way to get a platform.
As I've written about this topic on Kindleboards.com, an interesting distinction has developed, the difference between "self-publishing" and "independent publishing." Self-publishing brings to mind the vanity presses that were once popular, where an author would pay, say, $5,000 and get five hundred copies of the book to sit in the garage. With the advent of print-on-demand (POD) digital printing, one doesn't need to make that kind of investment. It's as simple as uploading a Microsoft Word file to, for instance, Lulu.com, and following a set of screens. Your book is formatted and designed and ready for sale.
Independent publishers, as I see it, are those people who do what traditional publishers do: hire editors, designers, even publicists and marketing people. Digital printing is still used, however.
One writer on the Kindleboards made this distinction: "The difference between an ‘independent author' and a ‘self-publisher' is in perspective, not technology. There are some brilliant independent authors who, regardless of whether or not they use the Kindle or POD, will produce exceptional work. And there are those that have no business killing a tree. The Kindle is NO DIFFERENT from a POD service, except there isn't a print book. But the actual process from concept to publication is the same.
"An independent author will take the time to get constructive feedback on his or her work. They will put in the effort to make sure their books look professional. They will invest and get help with those things they can't do themselves. In short, they will act like business people. Whereas the self-publisher uploads a document that may or may not have gone through a spell checker and considered himself a published author."
For the "how-to" part, here is one good way to get your book to market. Specifically:
1) Write your book, and get a lot of feedback on it. If it means taking a class at UCLA Extension's Writer's Program or elsewhere, do so. There are a lot of online choices these days.
2) Once you think it's as good as you can get, hire a professional editor and take it to the next level. An editor is not a proofreader per se. An editor considers the book's structure as well as ways of delivering imagery and information.
3) When your rewriting is done, get several trusted English-major friends or a professional proofreader and make sure every sentence is tight. After all, your editor may not have paid as much attention to proofreading if larger issues were at hand.
4) Write an extraordinarily good query letter, and send it to agents with sample pages from your book. If you get an agent, that's all you have to do for now. See if your agent can get a book deal. It may take a year or more for a new author.
5) If that doesn't work, consider the self-publishing or independent publishing route. A new first step, though, is before you go to print, hire a graphic designer and create a cover image for the book that grabs, even when it's not much larger than a thumbnail.
6) Upload the book and cover to Kindle, which is at https://dtp.amazon.com/mn/signin.
7) Introduce your book on Kindleboards. Become active in the community by responding to other people's threads and mention your book when appropriate.
8) If you do well on Kindle, perhaps you can interest an agent or publishing company to take on your book. If not, publish it yourself through your own new imprint and Lightning Source or through such companies that guide you such as iUniverse and Lulu.
I'll write more on this topic over the next months as I learn more.
Causes Christopher Meeks Supports
Associated Writing Programs