I Had To Do It. I Hope You'll Understand. (And Stay Tuned.)

Dear She Writers...

As you know, at the end of July (on July 24th to be exact), I finished a pretty-polished draft, or so I hoped, of my first novel. On August 16th, I shared my anxiety as I waited to hear back from those first, trusted beta readers, fearing the worst but hoping for the best.  Two weeks ago, having finally heard back from several of them, I bared my soul (and my eight-hundred pound gorilla of an inner critic) about how hard it was for me not to privilege, obsess over, and take to heart the critical feedback I received, even in the midst of some very positive responses.  I got so much wonderful support and heard so many great stories from all of you about both of these things--thank you.

Two weeks have gone by since then. And guess what? The last piece of feedback I got was the best. It was from my agent, who loved the book so much she said, "This could be big. I think it's ready to take to publishers."

So yesterday, with my okay, she started making calls. Talk about freaking out a little bit.

I don't know what's going to happen yet.  But I wanted to blog today and share this with you because there is something larger at issue here -- as those of you who have followed Brooke's and my founding of She Writes Press a little over a year ago may recall. My plan was always to publish this novel with the press, something I have said very publicly from the start. At the time I made this pledge my novel was still very much a work in progress, and as a first-time novelist I felt fairly certain that I'd be a lot better off investing in it myself, controlling important decisions like my cover, my title (yes, even that a traditional publisher can ask you to change), and reaping the rewards of my investment not just in the form of larger royalties, but in what I hoped could be a boost to the press as I focused my energies on promoting both it and my book. And I still couldn't believe more strongly in the advantages of working with a partnership publisher like She Writes, particularly now that we are signed with Ingram and can provide that last, most important piece of the puzzle that is successful publishing--traditional distribution--to our authors.

But.

In talking with friends, family, and a few other trusted advisors, one thing became clear: it is really dumb to make a decision about the single most important thing in your career without thoroughly exploring ALL the options. I have no idea what's going to happen now. It's very likely I will have an experience a lot like the one I had with my first book.  First round of submissions: nothing.  Second round: zip.  Third round: no, no, no, no, no...and then, finally, yes. One yes. (I got that yes when my older son was exactly four days old.) But one editor's yes was all I needed, and I am still so grateful to her for it because it truly changed my life.  

Once I delivered the book, however, I quickly discovered the disadvantages to being one of hundreds of small bets publishers make every year in the hopes that one or two will hit big.  Because mine wasn't that "one"--the one out of ten that earns out its advance and keeps the business afloat.  It was one of the other ones.  And reality soon hit: I was going to be an entrepreneur whether I wanted to be or not.  There was no huge team of people helping me. Instead there was one well-meaning but overworked publicist with a list half a mile long. I ended up doing most of the legwork and plenty of investing--in my website, my "tour," which consisted of begging friends to come to events I booked and using miles to get there, and in a freelance publicist--myself.  Most of my advance went to these costs, and to the unstated but substantial cost of not writing anything else while I practiced the painful art of promotion.

Again, I am still grateful.  Publishing a book gave me the legitimacy to teach, and the courage to start She Writes with Deborah Siegel four years ago. Doing that book with a traditional publisher taught me worlds of things it pays to know now, particularly in starting SWP.  But if I had to do it over again with that deal...I don't think I would.  Partly because in the six years since it came out, the world of publishing has changed more than any of us could have imagined. (Some context: it was 2006, the year Facebook opened its doors to the world beyond universities.) Partly because if I'm going to do all the work anyway, with pretty minimal money up front and pretty minimal support when I publish, I'd rather own it than feel owned.  

So what would I say yes to? What would cause me to go with a traditional publisher rather than doing it with She Writes Press?  Brooke asked me that just this morning. And the truth is I don't know yet, because I don't know what my options are. But money will be part of it. The editor will be part of it. Control will be part of it. And the opportunity to promote She Writes and our press on a stage bigger than any--I must humbly admit--that I can build for myself will be part of it too.

Either way, I hope you'll continue on this journey with me wherever it leads. Because whatever happens, I will always bring what I learn, what I know, and all that I can give, back here.  That I know for sure.

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Comment by camille cole on November 5, 2013 at 6:03pm

Dear Kamy:  Publishing with a small press, or any press for that matter, for the first, second, or even third time, gives you more than anything else, a chance to learn, and often learn through painful experience. I loved your post and your honesty. So many of us are on this journey and thanks to social media, we can do it together and share our 'lessons.' Thanks for sharing your insights. Here's a more lighthearted take of my own as a recent guest blogger on Mindbuck Media: http://mindbuckmedia.com/blog/2013/10/22/tuck-and-roll/

Comment by Carol Graham on October 12, 2013 at 11:19am

Informative and appreciated comments!  Thank you

Comment by Deborah Siegel on September 21, 2013 at 4:47pm

I am with you (always!), sister. I feel in the same boat and am watching, as you know, with excitement to watch your next book publishing path unfold (and mine as well!). Whatever it will be, it will be for the good. And you being you, whichever way it goes, it will end up being for the good of all.

Comment by Kamy Wicoff on September 20, 2013 at 7:37am

Wow, what a great discussion.  I am so lucky to be part of this community!  And thanks for sharing your stories.  I also read the article Brooke links to below and it is really excellent -- I encourage all of you to check it out.

Comment by Mary L. Holden on September 19, 2013 at 3:02pm

In publishing now, the success of one book&author is the success of all books&authors. This is not facetious. I mean that every book is as individual as its author. Every book takes its own path--whether it is published on an Espresso (brilliant--books and coffee in one breath), given away for free in installments on a blog or by an agent through an editor and a publisher. YOU WROTE A BOOK. OR TWO! Congratulations and keep discovering your individuality and the book's creative way of allowing you to get it into the hands and eyes of appreciative readers!

Comment by Brooke Warner on September 19, 2013 at 11:43am

This is a long but worthwhile post for anyone interested in the "why" questions surrounding traditional vs. indie: http://kriswrites.com/2013/09/18/the-business-rusch-aint-nothing-pe...

Comment by Brooke Warner on September 19, 2013 at 8:31am

@Gwyn, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention here that SWP does have traditional distribution now, and a sales force. You're going to be undercut by Amazon no matter what path you choose here, so that's a frustration. I think there are things about this hybrid version of publishing that are in fact much better than the traditional houses, but Amazon is doing all authors a disservice by devaluing intellectual property. All the more reason I suppose to try to sell through alternate channels, and yet they make it so enticing it's hard! I also love Michael Hyatt's book!

Comment by Wendi Nitschmann on September 19, 2013 at 5:02am
It's never easy, is it? Best of luck!
Comment by Karen Szklany Gault on September 18, 2013 at 8:25am

Best of luck with your decision, and your book, Kamy!

Comment by Karen Szklany Gault on September 18, 2013 at 8:24am

This blog and the discussion that follows is very informative. Thank you for posting about your decision-making process and for opening the platform for responses. It is very important to weigh one's options so as to earn the best returns from one's hard work.

Right now I am in between promoting my first how-to book that was published by a small publisher in Florida (2010) and developing/polishing a work-in-progress MS for a children's picture book...and have notes about a novel I want to write. I can relate to the feeling of loss when working on a new piece is put on hold in order to promote an already-published book because its my own work, as the author who does the selling, to piece together an income from all of the hours of blood, sweat, and tears poured into that baby.

Though Borders Books and Music had its issues, one manager at a local branch did order 3 copies of my published book directly from the publisher, via a distributor's discount, to keep on its shelves. Because of the corporation's demise, I'll never know if all of the books sold, and the publisher would not give me a royalty for my role in getting my book the book store's shelves, since they feared that the book would be returned to them if it didn't sell. Borders may have returned it, or sold them all at a steep discount, but I'll never know. I suppose i could ask. I may do that. At the same time, I earned some fees for recruiting people to write reviews of my book on Amazon, and a whopping $4.99 commission for selling the book as a publisher's associate before the publisher ended their associate program. Now the only way to earn money on it is linking to an Amazon associate's product link of my book from my web site's home page. I am happy about that, but I wonder if that will generate an income for me. Perhaps it will for a while.  I'll do all that I can for as long as I can, then turn to my next project so that I can carry that to fruition with a traditional publisher.  When the book was first published, I ordered 30 copies at 55% off ~ sold 22 and gave away 8. This time I ordered 25 at the same 55% discount, and hope to sell a higher percentage of them than the last time....usually at craft fairs and to supportive friends and family. I have a Facebook fan page, a Goodreads Author page, and an Amazon Author page (but won't earn anything from that link because I set up the Author's page before the Associate program and cannot change the link on that page to include my associate's code).

So....the best I can hope for is to learn all the ways I can treat my next book better. The first book was commissioned by the publisher through Craigslist. The next one comes from me, idea and all....and I plan to find the support of an editor (and possibly agent?) so that it will shine as brightly as it can when it is finally released to the world. ~:0)

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