You’re writing a book. You’ve written a book. You’re looking to publish your book.
Your options are not just the Big 5 or self-publish or bust. The publishing world is so much more diverse than that.
What’s cool but confusing is that as a business artist, writer, executive, or professional, you now have more viable options than ever to publish.
But options can create anxiety.
Beyond my screen sits a table stacked with books. Yes, I still prefer print. So do most Americans. And so do most children and college students, by the way.
Here are some perspectives about publishing that came up last year when I sat on a panel at the Woodstock Writers Festival. We use these same perspectives at Tracking Wonder when consulting with our clients.
1. Don’t trash traditional publishing.
It’s easy to target “traditional publishing” as a leviathan corporate dragon.
Usually when people rail against “traditional publishing,” they mean the New York Big 5 corporate conglomerate publishers. Heck, even editors who work for them privately rail against the machine, but they do great work within them.
Sara Carder, Editorial Director of Jeremy P. Tarcher, was on the panel. Sara has worked with Julia Cameron and other authors for over 17 years at Penguin. She admits a lot of fear pervades the industry, but so does love.
Carder like everyone I speak to offers the same advice: Pay attention less to the market, and write the book you really must write. And learn to write it exceptionally well. If you own a coffee shop, make the best coffee you can. If you write a book, learn to write the best one you can. People like Carder are in the industry because they want to fall in love with another book.
Remember this: “Traditional publishing” includes a host of independent, university, small, and mid-sized publishers as well. And not all publishers are the same.
Jenny Milchman had written seven novels, none of them published. Seven! She was on the verge of publishing them herself and traveling with her family on a mortgaged house. Then the right friendship and a worthy series of thrillers landed her a series of good deals with Random House.
She also has the hutzpah to take a seven-month reading tour while she and her husband “car school” her 9 and 11 year olds. “Car school”? No there’s a book.
My point is, Jenny works her arse off to learn Story and her craft as well as to engage and elevate her audiences. She’s a lovely, smart person, and you would want to buy her books once you met her.
2. Be cautious and advocate for yourself.
Gail Godwin – three-time National Book Award finalist – is author of twelve critically acclaimed novels. She has publishing stories to tell, and many of them are not happy. She observed that within the Big 5, many people are making decisions about books out of fear – of losing their jobs.
She tells all-too-common stories of having to fight for content and covers and titles and contract negotiations.
But what applies here applies to any relationship: Learn your stuff, pay attention, and advocate for yourself without making an arse of yourself.
The author has to stand up for herself and do her best to negotiate at every step.
Which is one reason why agents, frankly, are necessary with the Big 5 and some indies.
3. Platform matters. (So does having someone who’s tech savvy on your team.)
Although everyone on the panel squirmed or tried to roll their eyes when it came to “social media” numbers and all that jazz, Sara Carder admitted that after she falls in love with a book she checks out the author’s online presence.
Your presence and your present engagement with an audience online and live matters, but it’s not a deal breaker – at least not always.
It depends upon the book, the project, the author.
4. Stop trashing digital, data, and self-publishing.
There are lots of silly anti-self-publishing scoffs, too.
If screenwriter and playwright David Mamet can decide when it’s right for him to self-publish his latest collection of essays and poems, why can’t you?
If you’re back-listed book is out of print, why shouldn’t you have a viable way to get it back into print and sell well?
Mary Cummings of Diversion Books has brought in hundreds of titles at the start-up. Diversion brings back-listed books back into print and uses constant prototyping with digital media to find out how best to actively sell their clients’ books. Did you get that? They are actively trying to figure out every week how best to get your book discovered.
Cummings mentioned that Search Engine Optimization analysis can influence more than a book’s title or sub-title for discoverability.
The nuances of your book’s SEO discoverability is something we take into account at TW when our SEO wizard Dom works up a clients SEO report.
Sara Carder from Tarcher was so interested in what Cummings said that she in effect wanted Cummings to come to Penguin Tarcher’s office and educate the staff. Carder has witnessed book titles being changed simply for better SEO. (Grimace at the people in traditional publishing’s blind sides.)
You don’t write a book to be published. You write a book to be read.
5. Keep your Metrics of Integrity.
When talking about numbers, no one mentioned the “I” word on the panel. My take is this: If you know your core values and you live in your own integrity, then you can make decisions along the various paths to publish and to expanding your presence.
The one person on the panel who most seemed to “get” what I mean by the Metrics of Integrity was Jenny Milchman, the novelist. On the subject of social media, she said it was absurd that her publicist at Random House advised her to Tweet 12 times a day.
Milchman said instead she focuses on engaging people. That’s what she loves to do, and that’s why she has found the right channels to do that.
And that, my fellow business artists, is what it is about, right? Engage, captivate, and elevate your patch of the planet, your heroes. The most compact way to have intimate impact remains a book.
This may have opened a whole can of worms for you about publishing, and that’s great.