I’m very interested in the way regional writers form communities of practice, and how they navigate sharing their work in areas where there may be no visible publishing industry. So, on Tuesday 8 November 2016, I worked with Townsville Writers and Publishers Centre to organise an event where five Townsville writers spoke about their publishing journeys, and highlighted the many approaches and attitudes to sharing writing with an audience.
Image: Book by Lorenzo Scheda
Steve Coleman described how he published three illustrated children’s books, The Ant’s Pants, The Bee’s Knees and Naree the Fire Lady through XLibris, a self-publishing and print-on-demand company. Steve found this company good to work with because they were up-front, he could speak with a company representative, and they suited his lifestyle. XLibris conducted a proofread for typesetting/formatting (the illustrator prepared the book to print-ready stage). However, he only published 100 copies, which was just enough to cover the costs outlayed initially.
Steve went on to publish Jodi and the Turtle, which was a collaboration with graphic designer and artist Sabine Carter. Sabine was able to typeset the book, and because of this, no publisher was needed; Steve used a printer in Freemantle (Fonteine Publishing Group) to print 1000 copies of the book, which was launched at the aquarium in Townsville. Steve has since approached a distributor to have Jodi and the Turtle in bookshops. As a result of getting a distributor, Steve is now half-way to breaking even on the book.
Steve promoted his books at local markets and writers’ festivals. He went on a tour around the Tablelands, and organised signings at the local bookshops, libraries and Kuranda markets.
Steve also created his own publishing company, Green Tale Publishing, to increase his visibility and trust with retailers.
His latest work, published by Global Publishing, Melbourne, is an adult, self-help book: Decisions, Decisions! How to Make the Right One Every Time around which he has built a self-education business.
Michael Huddlestone shared his experiences self-publishing a short story anthology with the speculative fiction writers’ group and short stories as ebooks online on Smashwords. For Michael, the benefit of Smashwords is that it’s free. It also has a big distribution network including Barnes and Noble and Kobo, although it does not include Amazon. Michael published all his short stories for no cost to readers, and the anthology, The Typhon Expanse with the Townsville Speculative Fiction Writers Group, which retails at US$1.99.
A big learning experience for Michael was the need to promote the ebook in the first week that it’s loaded on Smashwords, so that people are engaged with it when it is on top of the list. Michael learnt the importance of having his own website and social media presence, and slamming them hard to promote his writing. ‘Your work is like a grain of sand,’ he said. ‘You need to make it stand out in some way.’
For Michael, the hardest part was getting the stories ready to load. You have to follow the Smashword style guide to the letter, and the work would not go to distributors like Kobo if it did not meet Smashword’s minimum requirements—to follow their style guide.
Michael talked about using your author’s platform, particularly your website, to promote yourself. He mentioned that heatmap.me (https://heatmap.me/ ) is used to track where on your site the visitors mostly go. It can’t track where the visitors are located. This can be done through your website’s domain analytics (depending on who you go through and whether it is a paid domain or not) and Google Analytics, SEMRush, AWStats can also help but may require a bit more technical know how then just a basic user.
After the meeting, Michael also said that when it comes to social media (Facebook, Twitter etc), a trap that many people find is that they push out work without engaging with their followers. A good rule to have is the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time you should be engaging your followers by positing articles that you as a person find interesting, or things you are up to, for example, participating in NaNoWriMo, heading to Spec Fic meeting, etc. This 80% of your posts engage your audience so they know more about you as a person/author without the hard sell of reading your work. The 20% of posts should be your ‘advertising’ of your published work. Please note that posts like “Only 3 more days to the launch of The Darkness Within. I’m excited” is classed as a personal post and in the 80% category because you are not pushing your followers to read it.
Lori Hurst described how from childhood, she’d nurtured a dream of writing, hoping one day readers would open her book and lose themselves in the world she had created. Life in the form of family, business commitments and so on meant putting her dreams on the backburner. After doing a Creative writing course & then a BA, Lori became involved with historical research which formed the basis for her two books A Hint of Darkness and The Journey of Emmaline. The difficulty of first finding an agent and then a publisher decided her on the self-publishing path.
As an independent author she recognised how easy it is to be placed in the “vanity publisher” category. Thousands of authors are actively removing themselves from that disparaging label by proving that as independent authors they are entrepreneurs, determined to get their books out to the reading world in style.
Lori described herself as a professional who placed high standards on her work, adding that publishing in any form requires team work. She emphasised the benefits of belonging to a writer’s group, had her manuscripts professionally edited and worked with a local Illustration and Graphic Design artist to create the covers for her books.
One reason Lori chose to go with CreateSpace to self-publish was the autonomy this form of publishing allowed with regard to titles, covers, price setting etc. CreateSpace also provides world-wide distribution. Lori is selling her books for $14.99 each. Unfortunately keeping the price this low means she cannot sell them through bookshops. However, her books are available online as paper copy or ebooks. Lori will be running a workshop next year on Publishing through CreateSpace at Thruingowa Library (date to be advised).
‘I have no illusions that I will make heaps of money,’ she laughed, ‘but the satisfaction of knowing that for a while people are joining me on my creative journey makes all the hours of research, writing and editing worthwhile.’
The downside of independent publishing is understanding the process of formatting your manuscript as prescribed by the publisher. You own any mistakes. This is an area I will be concentrating on at the workshop. Once you know what you are doing the rest is easy.
Lori’s book launch is at The Drill Hall Studio, Townsville, 18 November 2016.
Ariella will be doing the opening.
Sue Johnston, with her encyclopaedic knowledge of writing and publishing, shared some staggering statistics about how many books are out on Amazon:
- There is currently about 244 million active users on Amazon.com
- Currently there are 30 million users logging in each month to the Amazon mobile phone app
- In January 2016 there was 1,064,000 paid downloads per day from just the Amazon.com site. However, the number of free books downloaded but this number changes so quickly it’s difficult to keep track.
- The number of books on Amazon.com (so not including Kindle, the mobile phone app or any other service affiliated with Amazon) at approximately 1:00am on 8 November (same day as the presentation) was 30,195,688. This included every type of book available including the ones that are apparently written by a robot who writes approximately 10,000 books a month. The robot is fed information and then writes the book from this information and, luckily, it only writes fact-based work such as textbooks, mathematical essays or business presentations.
- 12 hours later, at 1:00pm on 8 November, the number of books available had increased to 31,576,452 which was an increase of 1,380,764 books uploaded to site within 12 hours.
- Due to the number of categories Amazon.com currently has 195,000 books on their best sellers lists
These stats also show how big the publishing industry is, and how difficult it is to garner attention within it. But, these figures don’t stop publishing trends from happening, as 11 out of 38 of Amazon’s top best sellers were adult colouring books which shows that no-one can predict the market.
Sue told us that because of a mystery illness, she found writing for National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWrMo to be incredibly fulfilling and as a result became the municipal liaison for North Queensland.
Sue told us that the most famous books traditionally published and written during NaNoWrMo were Like Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, which was made into a film with Robert Patterson and Reese Witherspoon, and Wool by Hugh Howey, part of the ‘Silo’ series. Sue’s own trilogy written during NaNoWrMo is currently being negotiated for a contract with HarperCollins.
Ariella Van Luyn spoke about how her novel, Treading Air, was picked up by a small publisher based in Melbourne, Affirm Press, after she met her editor during a publication of her story in Overland, an Australian literary magazine. For Ariella, the collaborative work with her editor was invaluable. Ariella also noted how generous and caring the local writing community was, and how important such networks were. However, Ariella’s earlier work was rejected many times, and she abandoned one novel entirely.
As a traditional publisher, Affirm Press paid Ariella a fee for her novel, and provide the editing, typesetting, cover, distribution and marketing for free. Ariella’s novel is available in most good book shops, including Mary Who?, Angus and Robertson Castletown, and book shops in capital cities. Ariella earns 10% commission on print copies of the novel and 5% on ebooks, with about 500 copies expected to be sold. It took her three years to write. Unlike self-published authors, she had no control over the distribution or appearance of her book, and had few copies to share.
Frequently Asked Questions about publishing
What is the difference between self-publishing, traditional publishing and independent publishing?
The Australian book marketplace is dominated by the ‘big five’, commercial publishers: Pan Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Allen and Unwin, Hachette, and HarperCollins. In Australia, there are also smaller, independent publishers like Bloomsbury, Black Inc, Affirm Press, Text and UQP, among others. These group are the traditional publishers. They are competitive and receive many submissions. Often authors need agents before they come to the attention of these publishers, but some publishers do have open submissions at certain times. Traditionally published authors are paid a fee by their publishers and receive some royalties for the sale of their books, usually around 5-10% of the retail price of each copy sold. Publishers provide editing and other services. Copyright ownership may vary depending on the contract.
Self-publishing companies offer writers a variety of packages to print and sell books. Generally, self-published authors pay fees to have their book published and distributed. Printing costs vary. Distribution costs may be between 20-50% of costs. Self-published authors are responsible for their own marketing and distribution. Often they are responsible for editing and any mistakes in the work as well. They usually retain copyright of their work, however some sites like Smashwords do mention copyright, so it is important to read the fine print about copyright before using these services.
What things do I need to take into account when publishing?
- Why do you want to be published? You are going to need drive and resilience to overcome rejections, feedback, reviews, and other setbacks. Traditional and self-published authors experience many ups and downs in the journey.
- Is your work ready to be published? Do you have a group of critical friends who can give you feedback? An editor? Perhaps you could pay for a manuscript assessment? Have you considered developing your skills through study and short courses?
- What can you realistically afford? This is particularly important with self-publishing. Beware ‘predatory presses’ and aggressive marketing.
- What time and commitment are you willing to give? Self- and traditional publishing takes a lot of effort. Be prepared for this.
- What kind of publishing?
- Traditional? Manuscript assessment? Agents? Open submissions?
- Print on demand?
- Print yourself and distributors?
- Who else can help you? You may need to collaborate with designers, illustrators, editors, marketing and media.
This session showed that there was a generosity of spirit in the local community, so please connect and ask questions!