Write Your Best Book – Episode 5
I’m your host, Christina Kaye, and on today’s episode of Write Your Best Book Episode 5, we’re going to be talking about the different ways you can choose to publish your book. And with us today to discuss this topic is none other than THE Jane Friedman. She’s the founder of the JaneFriedman.com, an online encyclopedia of information for authors. On her site, you can find her oh-so-helpful blog posts, online courses, and a list of invaluable resources for authors. In fact, you can find my recent guest blog post on her blog, called “How to Write a Killer Villian.” It was posted on January 22nd. So, check it out.
I’ve had a huge author crush on Jane since I first discovered her site years ago. And her blog posts helped me at a time when I was struggling to figure out this whole writing business. I can’t wait for you guys to meet this amazingly talented author and writing coach.
Now, let’s dive into this week’s topic.
One thing I was surprised to learn when I started working directly with authors was that an alarming percentage of them aren’t aware that there are several different ways to publish books. I’d say a vast majority assume there’s only one path to success as an author – land an agent, secure a million-dollar book deal, and land on the NY Times Bestseller List. But that’s only one way – and I’d argue the most difficult way – to find success in the book industry.
In fact, there are at least five ways I can think of that an author can get their book out there for readers to enjoy. You’ve got:
- The Big Five Houses – they provide services, expanded distribution, pay advances, get you in brick & mortar. This is like Simon & Shuester, Penguin/Random House, Harper Collins, Hatchette, and McMillan.
- Other Traditional – (medium-sized) they provide services, limited distribution, pay advances (in some cases), and can sometimes get you into brick & mortar. These are presses like 7th Street Press, Kensington, Crooked Lane, St. Martins.
- Small Presses – they provide services, but limited distribution, etc. These are companies like Limitless Publishing, Fiery Seas
- Vanity Presses – (sometimes referred to as hybrids) where you pay the publisher to publish your book. I’ll be honest, I’m not even going to explain these because you need to stay as far away from these as possible.
- Social Publishing – like Wattpad, Scribophile, of course there’s no sales and your work is only available on this forum
But the most important one we’re going to focus on today is
- Self-Publishing – where the author secures own services, marketing, mostly on Amazon, Ingram Spark, places like that
There is no right or wrong way to publish your novel, though most experienced authors will gently guide you away from vanity presses, as I mentioned. Although, I’ll more than gently guide you away. You should never pay anyone to publish your book. It should be the other way around. If anyone ever asks you for a fee to publish your book, you run screaming in the opposite direction. But the two most popular forms are traditional publishing and self-publishing. Most authors choose one of these two paths. Which path is right for you depends on your goals and how you want to approach the process.
Before we go any further, let’s do this week’s Book Plug.
Today’s book plug is for Hey Sunshine, book one in the Hey Sunshine trilogy by Tia Giacalone. Here’s the blurb:
Avery Kent knows that life can change in an instant:
One second you’re on your way out of a small-town life, the next you’re left heartbroken and stunned when your thrill-seeking high school boyfriend runs off in pursuit of a potentially dangerous dream.
Four years later, everything is different. When Chase returns, admitting he made a simple mistake and asking for a second chance, Avery wants to think she can trust him again.
But when the arrival of a handsome, quiet stranger named Fox shifts Avery’s focus, she realizes that things are about to get a lot more complicated.
When is a lot of history enough reason for a future? And how do you ignore the way someone makes you feel, especially when they were the last thing you ever expected?
Now, let’s get back to today’s topic.
Like any industry, there are multiple ways to approach publishing, as we’ve mentioned. Those who go one way feel their chosen path is the only true path. However, those who go the other feel the same way. Sometimes a rift forms when the discussion of whether to traditionally publish or self-publish is brought up. Things sometimes even get heated, you know how social media gets, and people get all in their feelings and defensive of offensive.
I’m here today to tell you there is no right or wrong answer. Each author must choose the path that is right for them and for their novels. But before you can choose which path is right for you, you must first know the facts about each avenue before picking which one to take.
Let’s dig a little deeper with our guest host, Jane Friedman.
A little bit about Jane since we’ve brought her on here today. She has twenty years of experience in the publishing industry with an expertise in business strategy for authors and publishers. She is the former publisher of Writer’s Digest and her blog for writers, which I mentioned, earlier, reaches—get this—a hundred thousand readers each month! Now you can imagine why I was so stoked to get an invitation to post a guest blog on her blog post.
So anyway, without any further ado let’s welcome Jane Friedman.
CK: Welcome, Jane. Thank you for joining us.
JF: Thanks so much Christy. Great to be here.
CK: First, tell us just a little bit about yourself, your writing journey, and how JaneFriedman.com came about.
JF: I started working in publishing right out of college. I was a creative writing major and I began working at a place F and W Media in Cincinnati. Most people know this company because it’s where—or it was—the publisher of Writer’s Digest.
JF: So I worked for them from the late 90s through 2010. And it was while I worked for Writer’s Digest that I established JaneFriedman.com. It was mainly because I knew I was going to have a future outside of that company and I needed to start thinking about what that future would look like.
JF: So that’s the very beginnings of my career and where I started off.
CK: Tell us how you currently help authors better their craft and make the most of the publishing experience because your website is very helpful to many many authors. I can say that for sure. I can say that from first-hand experience.
JF: Thank you. There’s several different facets to it. So, what most people know me for is the JaneFriedman.com free content that’s available that I’ve been working on for ten years. So, it has all the nuts and bolts of how to write better and get published. It’s more geared toward the business side, so I have these Evergreen posts on how you find an agent and how you get a book published. That sort of thing. But I also do other things that are for more advanced authors. So, I have a paid newsletter called “The Hot Sheet” that reports on the book publishing industry. And then I also have a book that’s used in creative writing classrooms called The Business of Being a Writer that helps creative writing students understand if they want writing to be the thing that offers them a full-time living, they have to be thinking strategically about how that’s going to happen.
CK: Before you joined us, I spoke briefly about the many different ways authors can put their books out into the universe, and we discussed how the two most common ways are through traditional and self-publishing. Can you briefly explain the core difference between the two to anyone who’s trying to consider which way to go?
JF: Traditional publishing is what most people are familiar with. I sometimes call it the dream because it’s the dream of being selected by editors probably sitting in a New York office somewhere who finally end up with your manuscript and they pay you a really big advance and then your book gets released. Maybe, if you’re really, really, really lucky, it hits the New York Times bestseller list. So that’s traditional publishing.
With self-publishing, you have to basically start up a publishing company yourself. That’s, in effect, what you’re doing and then you’re paying all the expenses related to the publication of that book. There usually is some sort of financial investment, if that’s only editing and design for instance. There’s also marketing and promotion and all of the things that go into running a strong business. So, I think that it tends to favor more entrepreneurial minded authors. People who are probably better with digital marketing because self-publishers tend to focus on reaching readers directly online. Whereas, if you’re traditionally published, that’s more marketing that’s driven through bookstores and libraries and some of those gatekeeping channels. There is also very different ways these books make their way to the marketplace that you have to be aware of before you decide which one is going to suit you better.
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Now, let’s get back to Jane Friedman.
So, what factors should an author consider when trying to decide which publishing route to take?
JF: It might be easiest to describe some of the authors who’ve been very successful self-publishing. There’s like a particular model that you see being repeated again and again. So in the self-publishing market, you typically see novelists, people who are working on series—and they can be very long series. We’re talking like not just three books. There could be ten books or fifteen books and then there are spinoff series from those series. In other words, you’re trying to build on the readership you’ve developed in the early books and carry them through to the end. It really helps if you’re not starting over with each book. You especially wouldn’t want to be switching genres because that just makes it much harder on you as a self-publishing author. It’s like having a whole new brand or product if you’re switching from mystery to romance ot science fiction. That would not be good. So what you typically see are people who are able to write pretty fast. Many self-publishing authors, who are able to make a six-figure living on it, are putting out at least two books a year, if not four or five or six books a year. They’re working in these genre fiction categories where there’s really high demand, lots of voracious readers and the authors tend to be very good at working sales through Amazon. So, a lot of these are eBook sales. They’re generally ignoring, as I discussed earlier, the bookstore market and the library market. It’s not that you can’t sell your books through those channels, but you tend to get the most bang for your buck or the most return on your investment by focusing on online marketing.
CK: Gotcha. Ok, so one question I wanted to ask you is is there any truth to the belief held by a large percentage of authors that they can only find success as a writer if they go the traditional route?
JF: Not at all. At this point, the year 2020, I think it’s fair to say that you can succeed regardless of the path you choose. It’s really just based on the quality of the project, the goals that you have. Not all goals are economic. There are some authors who are really interested in being published by a particular sort of press or working with particular types of editors. If you’re self-publishing, sometimes it’s hard to break into certain communities, like if you’re writing short stories or you’re crafting literary fiction or you’re doing something that’s a series of personal essays. Some of these things, it’s much easier to get attention or critical reception if you’re being published by the right places. It could be harder to get credibility if you’re just doing it by yourself. But, that said, on the genre side, for like romance would be the classic example. A lot of traditional publishers are stepping away from some of these genres where indie authors are being very successful and entering the market and they’re more competitive on the market than traditional publishers.
CK: Which actually Segway’s great into this next question. In our chat with Derek Murphy recently, we discussed this crazy statistic which states that in 2018, there were 1.68 million self-published books as opposed to about 86,000 in 2013, according to Wikipedia. Is self-publishing the future of the industry?
JF: I don’t think it’s the future, but it’s not going away. Certainly, traditional publishing will continue to consolidate. We’re already down to what’s called the Big 5 in New York publishing. The Big 5 conglomerates that each have hundreds of imprints. I think the industry, traditionally speaking, will continue to shrink because they have trouble selling the same number of copies they used to when there are many more competing titles in the space. But they’re not going away. Like, I can’t imagine some of the international blockbuster authors—I’m thinking of the James Pattersons of the world—you know, their probably always going to want to prefer to work with a publisher. That’s just how it is right now and I don’t see that changing, at least within my career.
CK: Right. Right. Ok, well this has been great. What parting advice would you give to our listeners who may be straddling the fence, trying to decide which kind of publishing they want to pursue?
JF: If it’s your very first time, like you’ve never been published before, you don’t have any experience with the writing and publishing process outside of either school or maybe talking to other authors, then you might consider traditional publishing just so you can get a sense of what, presumedly, a quality process looks like. Let’s hope that you’re working with a publisher that has, you know, some experience, has a nice catalog of authors and books. At least going through that experience once, if you’re able to get your book accepted, gives you a sense of kind of the baseline of operation for doing it yourself. I think it’s harder to self-publish when it’s all totally uncharted territory and you don’t know what that publishing process looks like. But, I’ve seen many people self-publish first without having any traditional exposure and they do fine. You just have to accept that there are likely going to be some mistakes along the way. It’s going to take a lot of time in order to ramp up your readership. We’re talking at least three books before you start to see the movement that would be encouraging. I think that anyone who’s doing genre fiction should probably, certainly consider self-publishing, especially in the romance area. I think people who are more literary should probably look at traditional first because it is such a challenge to be an acceptance in that community unless you have the right sort of publisher.
CK: Thank you Jane so much for joining us today. It’s been a pleasure and all the information you’ve given us has been very helpful to me and I know my listeners as well.
JF: Thank you Christy.
CK: Thanks a lot.
And that’s all the time we have for this week, folks. Join us next week when we get back into the craft of writing with Angela Ackerman of OneStopForWriters, and we discuss how to create well-developed characters. You do not want to miss this episode. Trust me.
So please, please, if you haven’t already, subscribe to this podcast so you can be automatically notified when each episode drops. And if you like what we’re doing so far, be a sweetie and rate this episode. You subscribing and rating this show can make all the difference in how well we do.
Don’t forget to visit our website at www.topshelfedits.com and email me directly at email@example.com for information on how to work with me directly and get on my very limited schedule. Also, we have a link in the show notes to my calendar where you can schedule a 30-minute consultation for free to discuss your book struggles or anything you want to discuss about your writing process.
Talk soon, and in the meantime, go write your best book!