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When You Self-Publish, You're Starting a Business

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Steerpike, Jan 28, 2014.

  1. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

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    I've always said that "Three is a magic number" (and even have a post on that fact). So yes, you have to get to that number before you can expect much in the way of success. But...and here is the important point. All three of those have to be at that HIGH QUALITY INDISTINGUISHABLE level. If you put out something sub-standard as book #1, no one will read book 2 or book 3. So no - I can think of no scenario where it behooves an author to put out anything that isn't the very best it can be.
     
  2. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

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    I agree 100% percent.

    It is absolutely true that you only have one chance to make a good first impression. If you miss that chance you may never have another.
     
  3. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

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    I can't speak for all publishers, I'm just relaying what Devi Pillali (editor-in-chief at Orbit) has said to me on several occasions which is, "I won't sign a book that I don't think is already good enough to release as is." Now don't take that to mean that they don't do structural or copy editing - because they indeed do both. But the point she makes is during her structural edits she brings up what she feels would be necessary to improve the book. But, and here are is the important fact...the comments she makes are suggestions not mandates. If the author does them, great...if not...well the book was already good enough or she wouldn't have signed it in the first place.
     
    STBURNS likes this.
  4. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    Wow! She won't sign a book unless it's already good enough to release as is? Or another way of saying they're getting really lazy at Orbit and don't want to do anything at all (like editing) for their money! Surely having access to professional editing is one of the advantages of going trade vs indie?

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  5. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    The moves Michael brings up make sense to me. A vital part of being a successful business is managing risk.

    Every book the publisher invests in has the potential of having negligible sales and, thus, losing all the money the publisher put into it and the author advance. Take two books:

    Book 1 - If the author agrees to make substantial changes to the content and copy, it might be pretty good.
    Book 2 - The book is already pretty good. It may be better with minor changes.

    I'd choose to publish Book 2 all day long. Much less risk as there's one less layer of uncertainty. Assuming they're getting enough submissions in the Book 2 category, and I would think that they are, why would they choose anything in the Book 1 category?

    The advantages of traditional publishing are unchanged. The author still does not pay for the editing services that are provided or the cover or the marketing costs, and the author still gets an advance.
     
  6. Greg, this isn't anything new. When I was first writing, back in the late 80s through mid 90s, it was the same thing. Publishers have ALWAYS had not just more submissions than they could possibly produce, but more GOOD submissions than they could possibly produce.

    In other words, every month, editors at every major publishing company are turning away novels that require no significant editing. They are turning down novels that are so good, they could go to print as is, with perhaps a few words tweaked here or there.

    If they are turning down novels that good, why on Earth would they accept novels that did not meet that standard?

    If you have a truly AWESOME story, an editor might overlook a few rough edges and put his or her reputation on the line for you, go to bat for the book, and try to get it bought. But it would have to be simply amazing. The fact is, the minimum bar to be bought by a major publisher is generally to submit a publication ready book. And that's been the case for decades now.
     
  7. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi Guys,

    Turn that around a little bit. My thought would be that if you were a commercial publisher who wanted to sell books you should really be after the very best / most saleable stories you could get. If the writer's work isn't edited to a standard of a published book then that would be of less importance since you can always improve a books editing relatively easily through the services of an editor, but changing the story etc is something else entirely. That really requires an author.

    And then look at it from the other POV. If a trade publisher isn't interested in providing a quality editing service to me as an author, then that's one less reason I would have for looking at going trade vs indie.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  8. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

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    I think you need to read my post again. They do structural editing, and in some case their recommendations can be extensive - I know David Dalghish's book had quite a few changes. But they are not interested in a book that "isn't ready for primetime." When signing a book they don't want to be in a position where key changes would need to be performed to get it to the level Devi wants it. She wants something that passes their seal of approval even IF nothing were changed. Now during structural editing the author is going to agree with some things, disagree with others, but whether they make them or not - she still has a book she believes in because it was at that level before she adds her contribution.
     
  9. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

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    You've got it correct.
     
  10. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

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    There are two types of editing...structural and copy/line. Structural editing isn't really done by the editor - in other words they aren't going to go in and rewrite your books. Their editing comes in the form of a "letter" that gives overall impressions of strengths and weaknesses. Then comments inline in the book such as - Need more description here. I don't get who xyz is? I don't buy this premise. Then it's the author's responsibility to take this feedback, go back and change the things that they agree with, and ignore the things that they don't.

    After those changes it goes back to the structural editing for approval & acceptance or, in the rare situation, it would be rejected and the advance would be returned and the contract cancelled. This is a bad place to be in, and why Devi wants books that are at a certain level as the chances of getting to the "reject" phase is low.

    Once D&A has passed then the copy editor comes on board and they are actually changing the words. They'll point out clumsy sentences, fix grammar errors etc. They also find errors such as a person who stands and walks across a room and then later is seen standing up from their chair again. Their changes are put in the manuscript in the form of track changes that the author can accept or reject. Sometimes they'll point out something that requires a re-write but usually only a sentence or two at that point.

    Later on there is the proofer - after the layout another set of eyes catches anything the copy/line editor misses. So every book has at least three sets of eyes on it, and sometimes more...if structural edits go back and forth for a few iterations (which is rare).

    What they are providing IS quality editing. And I learned a great deal after going through the process six times now. But if you think they are going to take a good idea with poor execution and spend months and multiple iterations to get to a minimum level that they feel comfortable - putting out there. Well, you just don't understand the environment. Publishers put out many books in short periods of times and everyone is overworked. They don't have the time to do what you are suggesting.
     
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  11. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    I didn't say poor execution, just not up to the standard where a book is ready to be published.

    But your posts are contradictory. In one the books already have to be up to that standard to be accepted, in which case you would have to ask yourself why they're editing at all - guilding the lily? And in the next if they're fixing things like typos, continuity errors, grammar and clumsy sentences then they clearly weren't up to that standard to begin with.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  12. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I don't think that there's a contradiction as much as y'all are perhaps just not understanding each other.

    I think that Michael is saying that:

    The publisher chooses books that contain a good, well told story. The editing process is then one of polishing and finishing.

    The contrast to the book above is one where the author has a kernel of a good story but did not have the skill level necessary to properly execute it. The publisher reads this one and thinks, "Okay. This could be good, but, will we have to spend too much time and effort getting the author's ability up to speed? Is there too much risk that the author just won't be able to get there at all?"

    He's saying that, if your writing ability isn't at the "polishing and finishing" level, then you're pretty much wasting your time submitting.

    I think that another thing you may be misunderstanding is the concept that the presence of "typos, continuity errors, grammar and clumsy sentences" exclude a work from being high quality. Tension and story are so, so much more important than little things like this.

    If you submit a great story to a publisher that just grabs his interest, I don't think he's going to care a lick if you have no clue where to place a comma. Little things like grammar are easy to fix. Having a fantastic idea and an interesting character but not being able to effectively tell the story and develop that character are not easy to fix.

    EDIT: Just a caution not to take the part about "not caring a lick if you have no clue where to place a comma" too literally. I think that, overall, good grammar and punctuation help you communicate clearly. If your knowledge in that area is so lacking as to impair your ability to communicate, I think it could turn off a publisher before he gets a chance to evaluate your story.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2014
  13. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I think editing of any sort done by traditional publishing editors is not nearly as common anymore as many think. I've seen many authors who claim that their books got next to no editing or even no editing at all before being published.

    Much of traditional publishing takes the attitude that some people here are decrying. Basically, grab all the rights, throw it out there and see if it sticks. If it does, awesome, rake in the cash. If it doesn't, drop the author.
     
  14. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    From a business standpoint, it makes sense for publishing houses to do this. Since they aren't the ones technically creating the product (ie the book), then they have to rely on the author to bring them outstanding material from the beginning. There is an overload of stories they get and only have X amount of funds, time and people to work on it. No one ever knows exactly how well/not well a book is going to sell so if a publisher invests in a not-so-polished manuscript, that takes time and resources away from stories that are ready for the market. I don't fault them for that.
     
  15. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I wouldn't fault them for it either except that the entire industry builds itself up by assuring authors that they will be "nurtured" and that their careers will be "grown" by the publisher. Also because the publishers are seriously into grabbing as many rights for as long as they possible can from the authors. This can result in an author's career being damaged or outright destroyed fairly easily. If you are offered a contract from a publisher you're going to have to do some hardcore negotiation to get it to the point where it actually benefits the author and doesn't give all of the advantages to the publisher. Draconian contracts are boilerplate these days. You have to negotiate from a very strong position to get a publisher to change anything. And no, almost all agents are not remotely qualified to do this for you, even if they were willing to, which most are not because it puts them in a bad position with the publisher. An IP lawyer would be qualified and would actually work for the author.

    So basically, the publishing industry in general is doing the bare minimum to help authors succeed while lying about it to the authors. And if the authors don't happen to succeed then it's highly likely that their contract with the publisher is going to damage their career permanently. I can fault the industry for that.
     
  16. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

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    I think you are misunderstanding. Saying there are typos or missing commas isn't an indication that something isn't "up to a standard to begin with." The main determination in signing a book is going to be the story and the characters. They expect that copy editing is going to be required - that is budgeted into the project. Now if there are so many errors per page that it distracts from the story and the editor just can't read it....then yeah it's not going to make it through the first pass. But the person acquiring the book is making their determination primarily on the author's ability to spin a good tale. They don't care about the "exact word" - which will be cleaned up by copy editing. When I say "up to a publishable standard" I mean that the story is a compelling one and doesn't have major plot holes, plotting issues, or character problems that would require major rewriting to get it whipped into shape.
     
  17. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

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    Exactly - that indeed explains what I was trying to get across. Thanks for helping to clarify.
     
  18. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

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    I've heard these comments as well...I think a big part of it may depend on whether they were published with a small press or a big-five. I don't think that any big-five release would go out exactly as the book came in. I could see that a low-advance mass market release might get only copy editing, but I think the bulk of the "I got no editing" are probably coming from someone at a small press that has either no advance or something south of $2,000.

    I wouldn't go that far. Again, some small presses might be taking this approach...but the big-five are still very risk adverse and the approach you speak of is filled with risk. Even if they cut corners the book still represents an incredible amount of effort and time on their part...not to mention they don't want to ruin their reputation with the big store buyers. If they have too many titles that don't move anything they'll get reduced shelf space - so the big-five are still going to be very selective about what is signed.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2014
  19. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

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    Do they? Or is this some fairy tale that authors have told themselves? There are plenty of things I'm willing to hold publisher's feet to the fire for...but this isn't one of them. I think any belief along those lines is coming from the author, not the publisher.


    There is no doubt that the contracts are heavily weighted in the publisher's favor. But as far as "a career" being ruined - I have to put that on the author. If you sign one Draconian contract to get "validation." Then so be it. But if you are into making a career that is going to be one book (or maybe 2 - 3 books) out of a large number, and no one is putting a gun to their head to sign contract #2 through #n.

    While "in theory" everything is negotiable, the reality is there are some things that aren't going to be changed no matter who is representing the author. There are some that the author should consider - complete deal breakers (such as a terrible non-compete clause) because this really could ruin a career. But things like low ebook royalty rates or low thresholds for determining whether a book is in print - well those are just things you are going to have to live with. I consider that the rights for any book I sign will probably be "gone forever" and just account for that in my career planning.

    Again, I think this an unfair assessment. What benefit would there be for a publisher to setup an environment for failure? And why would they lie? I've never had my publisher make any promises of fame and fortune. I've also not heard of other authors talking about this. I do think there is only so much time and money to go around, so that means low-signed titles and debut authors don't get much. But the publishers DO want them to succeed and do what they can with their limited resources. This is why I always say that making the book a success is the responsibility of the author...if for no other reason then they are the only one who are 100% invested in it and only it. I treat anything my publisher does (and they actually do quite a bit) as "extra" but my book is going to sink or swim because of me.

    I've actually been pretty impressed with Orbit signing, and even re-signing some authors that haven't done spectacularly. My only explanation is that they believe in the author and truly are doing what they can to further their careers. It may mean that author had to sign a much smaller advance because the fist books didn't do well...but at least they are giving them another time "at bat."
     
    T.Allen.Smith likes this.
  20. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    If you think this is only true of small presses then you need to hang out more at The Passive Voice. You hear a lot of interesting stories from legit authors there.
     
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