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Monday, June 27, 2011

Publishing and Why You Need a Game Plan--Keeping the Readers in Mind

Courtesy of Daino_16

So often we writers put so much energy into planning and perfecting our novels that we forget that the final "The End" is really only the beginning.

Many writers aim to become authors--writers who are published--because we all want to be read, right? And the way to be read is to be published.

It's an exciting (and sometimes ulcer inducing) time in publishing right now. Now, more than ever, authors have more options to consider as they seek to have their works published. I'm going to discuss both commercial and self-publishing, and why it's so important to have a game plan regardless of how you decide to publish. Publishing is not a one-size-fits-all, so it's important to learn as much as you can from various sources so you can make the most informed choices.

Why do I think it's so important to have a game plan? Because I believe that authors should be focusing on finding readers, not sales. Sales are fickle things. You might do some incredible marketing, but if your focus is on getting the greatest number of sales, then you might be missing the mark a little. Sure, you might get a lot on this book, but what about the next? And the one after that? But if your focus is on finding readers--readers who will become fans--then you're likely to get the sales anyway without limiting the sales and hard work to just one book.

Commercial Publishing
If you go the commercial route, chances are you have an agent and a publisher. This means your books will likely--but not always--be stocked in bookstores like Barnes and Nobles and other indie stores. You'll have access to editors, and the publisher will have a marketing and publicity department.

What does this mean to the reader? That a number of professionals all agreed that your work meets industry standards and they worked together to help you make it even better.

So why do you need a game plan? The economy hasn't been a happy place for a long while, and bookstores and publishers are feeling the pinch. This means shrinking budgets and less shelf space. More and more, authors are required to help market their books. You can do this through blogging, Tweeting, and Facebooking. Social networking is very important, but I also think it's often misunderstood. The point of social networking is to network. Meet people. Form relationships. What it isn't for is commercials. If you find yourself only using your social network accounts to publicize things about your books, then you might want to rethink your strategy. I think you can definitely use networking to mention things like book signings, contests, etc., but that should never be the focus. Commercials tend to be ignored, unfollowed, and forgotten. And that means wasted time on the author's part.

Is social networking a must? Nope. If you don't enjoy it, I wouldn't do it. It will show, and could impact your career negatively. There are plenty of highly successful authors that don't Tweet, blog or Facebook. The important thing is to do what works for you. It's also important to remember how vital it is to be professional anytime you attach your name to something online. The Internet is not the place for rants, temper tantrums, or virtual witch hunts. If you go that route, you might initially get a lot of comments supporting your rant, but I don't think a lot of authors consider how many people silently go elsewhere for a good read when they behave badly online. There's really no way to measure this, but it's always worth keeping in the back of your mind. :) I'm not saying it's bad to be passionate about things, but I do think it's possible to be passionate without tearing anyone else down in the process.

I do think it's important to have a website that's up-to-date. You want your readers to be able to learn more about you, your books, and whatever else you've got going. It's also probably a good idea to have a way for readers to reach you. I've found that how well I connect with an author--whether through emails, blogs, Tweets, etc.--does influence my spending habits.

Other ways to connect with readers include having book launches, book signings, going to conferences, online events, book fairs and festivals, school visits, and speaking at the library and other places that tie into your book.

The final things no game plan should be without: keep your expectations real and write the next book. Find out what you should expect realistically and adjust yourself accordingly. And nothing keeps an author's books selling like having the next book come out, especially if each book is better than the last.

Even if you don't read kid lit, I'm sure most everyone is aware that JK Rowling is self-publishing the Harry Potter books as ebooks. So what does this mean? Well, long-term effects are going to take some time to figure out, but there will likely be a lot of writers turning to self-publishing now that JK Rowling has done it.

And that's a big mistake. JK Rowling is basically in a league of her own. She has the status and the money that pretty much no other author has. And she can do some things other authors can't because of it.

If you self-publish, all of the above I've outlined for commercial publishing game plan  is applicable. Times a thousand. With self-publishing, there are no professionals vetting your work, so readers have only the novel and your word to rely on. If you decide to self-publish based on what big name authors are doing or to make some easy money, you're setting yourself up for failure. Publishing well, regardless of how you go about it, takes a lot of hard work. It isn't easy, and it shouldn't be. Readers deserve the best you have to offer.

When you self-publish, you are basically becoming a small business and need to think that way. That means that you'll need to invest in your business to get it running. Investment comes in the form of time and money. Time to write the best story you can and to polish it until it gleams. Money to hire an editor to help make your work stronger and make sure it's clean. An alternative would be in forming a cooperative group where members do the editing for each other. The important thing in either scenario is to make sure that whoever you have editing your work does a good job and can help ensure that your novel meets industry standards. The same holds true with the cover and formatting. If you want to be taken seriously, it's important to take your novel--prose, cover, synopsis, formatting--seriously. To compete, you need to make sure the novel and cover meet industry standards.

And either way you slice it, you're going to need to invest time and money to make sure your book has a fighting chance. There's a lot of white noise out there. A lot of people who have just thrown things together and slapped them up online. As a self-publisher, you won't have a company behind you vetting your work, making you available in bookstores. It will be harder to get reviews, and you'll have to prove yourself in ways a person who is commercially published won't have to. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just the way it is right now.

In order to stand out enough that readers can find your books, you're going to need to be creative and think outside the box. You're going to need to be professional, and willing to take the time to get your name out there. You'll need to make sure your book is stellar--both in the prose and the formatting. Self-publishing is starting to lose the stigma, but it's still there, and not entirely without reason. As a self-published author, it will be on your shoulders to prove to the readers that you have a product worth buying--so make sure that you do.

I think it's also a good idea to have a five-year plan. List where you'd like to be in five years, how many books (and which ones) you want to have out, what you'll need to do to get there, and anything else that will help you be successful. I think a marketing plan--even a simple one--is helpful to have as well. If it's written down, it's easier to see what you need to do, ensure you have the funds to do it, and to keep focused.

As a self-publisher, I think it's vital to keep your expectations of success in check. Don't go in expecting to be an instant success or to make a ton of money. If you do, you'll likely be disappointed. (Just as you would if you had gone the commercial route.) The most important thing is to make sure your product is professional, that you're professional, and that you get to work on the next book. Having a large list of professional quality books can also help you stand out.

In Conclusion

As you can see, this is something I've been thinking a lot about. With so many different opportunities, I've decided to diversify my options, so to speak. I've written my five year plan to include commercial publishing and self-publishing. Why? There were a lot of personal reasons, and being a very prolific writer is a help. But one of my biggest reasons is that I want to reach as many readers as I can, and I believe that having a foot on both sides of the line will help me do that. (This is me, personally. Every author, every book will be different.) So long as the quality is excellent for both sets of books, I think the commercially published books and the self-published books will bolster each other. I could be wrong, and I'm going in knowing this. I'm also going in knowing that I've got a lot of hard work ahead of me. :D

So while I'm querying agents for one series, I'm releasing my novel THE FAIRY GODMOTHER DILEMMA as a subscription-based online serial. I first came across this idea at CONduit earlier this year when I heard Tracy Hickman speak about his Scribe's Forge method of publishing serial novels. I fell in love with the idea and ran with it. You can find out more about both the novel and the method at my blog and my website.

Ironically, it was after I'd made the decision to self-publish my fairy godmother series that led me to write up my five-year plan. Which, in turn, made me realize how important it is to have one for my commercially published-to-be books as well as the ones I'm putting out on my own.

There are some notable exceptions in both commercial publishing and self-publishing, but far more of us fall into the non-exception group. I firmly believe that success doesn't happen by accident. It comes from deliberate action, thoughtful consideration, and a lot of hard work. I want to be successful, which is why I think having a game plan is so important.

What about you? What are your thoughts and experiences? Do you have a game plan? If you do, what's worked well for you and what have you included?

Danyelle writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog. Her serial novel THE FAIRY GODMOTHER DILEMMA can be found here. 


Natalie Aguirre said...

Great considerations on both type of publishing. For now, I don't have the ability to do the marketing self publishing would take because I work too.
You're right about networking. It should be to make friends and help where you can, not be all about yourself.

I'm working on having yearly goals for now. And they are working to keep me on track in my writing.

Unknown said...

Great thoughts, Danyelle. I do think it's 100% about options. If you're not comfortable in the role of CEO, self-publishing is probably not the best option. Although, there is a lot more freedom in that option, there is also a ton of responsibility.

Traditional publishing takes away some of the personal liability involved, but also the freedom. Plus you have to do it on someone else' terms.

I think both ways can work well for an author if applied correctly. Just like you said! :-)


Misha Gerrick said...

Great post. I'm still thinking about this. Part of me still wants to go the traditional route. Another part is thinking (more seriously than before) about going it alone.

I'm still deciding, though.


Barbara Watson said...

Self-publishing scares me - I don't know enough to do it well, so I'll pursue traditional publishing. But even so, having a plan is important. Educating myself about the industry, talking with authors who have been through the process, writing every day (when possible), blogging, reading, tweeting. Yep. Learning sums it up.

Stephsco said...

I think self publishing might work if you want to have your book in print but aren't interested in making money off the book. My friend's mom wrote a nice kids series but her goal was just to finish a book and have it available for friends and family. She's not interested in the whole marketing and publishing side of it.

Thanks for a great post. I'm going to keep up with your blog, too!

Thank you

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your take on self-pub vs traditional pub. But what really wasn't mentioned was that in-between place - it seems to be overlooked these days when people write about the publishing choices. And what I mean is - what about those digital first or digital only publishers? What are the pros/cons of going with those? I've self-pubbed and digitally-pubbed, still aiming to go traditional. But when your book is more midlist than breakout, what do you do?