A Peek into MisCon 26, Part 16

by syaffolee

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9. Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15

The first Monday (5/28) session I went to was a panel called “Publishing Options Today.” It was attended by S.A. Bolich, Margaret Bonham, Darryl Branning, and Deby Fredericks. (AQ is an audience question.) Note: While it seems to me that the big publishers aren’t particularly swimming in roses and rainbows right now, I felt that this panel was more biased towards small publishers and self-publishing–seeing that there was no one from the big houses on the panel to offer a counter viewpoint.

DF: I’ve done podcasting. It’s do-it-yourself.

SAB: Or self-publishing.

DB: It’s harder to break into big publishing.

MB: Big publishers are still looking for things, but it’s getting tighter and tighter. They’re run by marketing, not the editors. So it will come down to the marketing. They’re looking for the next bestseller.

AQ: What’s midlist?

MB: Midlist is when you sell between 5,000 and 80,000 copies. For non-fiction, it’s lower. If you’re not hitting the bestseller lists, they don’t want you. For smaller publishers, they may keep you but you will have to change your name. If your second book doesn’t do well, they will drop you. In a month, maybe one in a thousand people might get published by a big publisher. Even less than that actually break even. And less than that become best sellers.

SAB: But don’t get discouraged. I started in slush and got turned down at the last minute at three publishers. It may be because of the competition or the subject isn’t hot or your story is unclassifiable. That’s why you should go to a small press if it’s unclassifiable. Because the big publishers don’t know how to sell it.

AQ: What are the submission requirements?

MB: I do get some odd queries, but I give them a benefit of a doubt. The guidelines say I want established writers, but that’s used as a gatekeeper. You could say that we met at this con and I’d be more likely to look at it. Cons can also help you meet agents and editors.

SAB: It’s not guaranteed but it’s possible to get through the door that way.

DF: If they see you talking, they will notice. They want an author with a great presence to speak for their publishing house.

MB: Are you willing to market your books? Most houses don’t pay for that in their budget. So you need to bust your ass to promote your book whether it’s published by a New York house or self-published. A bestseller is usually over 80,000 copies sold to customers.

AQ: What if your initial run is 10,000 books. What’s the time span for you to sell out?

MB: It varies from house to house. For romance it’s about one to two months. Three months if you’re selling greater than 80,000 copies. And some by six months.

SAB: Hardback has a longer arc since it’s one year until the paperback. For the paperback, you’re only saving shelf space.

AQ: In a bookstore, they only keep books on the shelves for 90 days.

MB: If you’re really good, a hardback will sell 35,000 copies or more.

AQ: So basically you have to sell 10,000 copies per month or you’re out.

MB: Yes.

AQ: How do you interest the publisher with the next book?

SAB: By earning out your advance.

MB: They will profit from you before you earn out your advance. But a good sign is if you do earn out the advance. You have to push your books for three months or you’re gone. If you have good sales, then you could maybe stretch it out longer. Most books sell only 500 copies.

AQ: But what if you sell 10,000 to 20,000 copies over a lifetime?

MB: But that’s for non-fiction. Some non-fiction sit six months or more on the shelf before they’re sold. But they’re usually on “evergreen” topics (like books about dogs). Fiction is not evergreen. It’s entertainment. It’s like movies. Movies are in theaters for two weeks and then they’re gone.

SAB: E-publishing is a whole other industry. You never go out of print with e-books. And it gives you a chance to build an audience over years rather than weeks.

DF: The expense is more for a print book, but even for e-books, you still have to pay for staff salaries and office rent. There’s lots of back and forth on what the price of an e-book should be.

SAB: For e-books, you still need an editor and a cover designer. You need to send it to reviewers and there are other people who are supporting the book.

AQ: The publishers used to use other distributors, but now they let Amazon do it.

DF: Well, Amazon puts restrictions on what you can charge. And there’s also Google scanning all the books and putting them out for free.

AQ: So can you sell directly from the author?

DF: You may still need to pay for staff.

SAB: You can set up your own server.

MB: E-books are a different paradigm. You can use contract people and offer a bigger percentage. For a big house, it’s 9-11% For a paperback, it’s 7-8%.

AQ: How do you avoid a small percentage? Don’t they have bad marketers since they basically don’t do anything?

MB: The marketers get into mass distribution.

DF: The big publishers have an editorial staff through which books go through the process of being vetted. For e-publishing, the editor is often not there, thus all the typos. Authors are now aware of this, but there’s still a bad perception about e-publishing. So big publishers are still seen as purveyors of quality.

MB: How many people actually look at the publisher? Most don’t.

DF: As a reader, you trust that you’re getting your money’s worth from a big publisher.

MB: Small and medium publishers do have staff.

DB: You might need to pay for an editor if the first paragraph is filled with typos. For that, readers will give you a one star review and won’t look past the first page. If you don’t have a support system, try social media sites. But if you advertise, you will annoy people. Although there are some people who say that if you’re not annoying people, you’re not doing enough.

AQ: If I get spam all the time from a person, I won’t forward it.

DF: For social networking, you can do as little or as much as you want. You can alternate talking about your kids getting braces and your publication dates. You can chain your Facebook, Twitter, and blog together so if you publish a post in one, it will publish it in the rest at the same time.

AQ: I like authors who listen and meet people rather than just blasting everyone with marketing.

SAB: Sometimes I forget to respond to someone on Twitter.

DF: Twitter on my cell phone can be bothersome. But I will check it once per day.

SAB: You have to be careful about social networking. You should enjoy it first. I like Facebook but not Twitter. If you do five hundred different things, you’ll have no time and it won’t be fun. Pick and choose where to build your following.

AQ: You can do short story marketing by writing more stories. Or put your work up on the internet for comments–but you need to develop a thick skin. How do people calculate net with big and small publishers? Can you lose money even if you’re doing well?

MB: There’s a certain percentage of net royalty. For my company, we offer 50% net. So when a book is sold, 50% goes to the author and 50% goes to the publisher to pay for the cover and editing. It can be paid out quarterly or biannually. The publisher can also do hold backs, when the bookstore sends back unsold books with their covers torn off. If you calculate per title, it will be different. You might get a higher net profit from Amazon than a bookstore where the author and publisher might have to split $1.50. If it gets sold directly at a con, it might be $4 or $5.

AQ: What if it’s from a big publisher?

MB: 10 to 30 cents.

SAB: For a hardback, the author gets very little.

AQ: Does a slush author get less than an established author?

MB: It’s sometimes true. It depends on the agent who actually works for the publisher.

AQ: Does Amazon put restrictions?

MB: Yes and no. There are no restrictions. However, if you join Kindle Select, for 90 days you can’t sell any other place, but you’re allowed to borrow and there are free days. But there are ways to get around that.

DF: How much do you charge for self-published work? Since I had a young adult book, I considered the fact that kids don’t have money of their own so I decided to give it away. And hopefully later they may buy my other books.

SAB: A marketing strategy is to give away a free sample. And hopefully that will lead them to buy more expensive stuff. It’s a hook.

DF: But there are expenses. So the cost of self-publishing is not for free. When I did podcasting myself, it cost $35 for the copyright. You have to assess your own budget.

SAB: One downside of this is that people start to expect free stuff. Some people think that all content should be free. But an author needs to make a living. So “free” is not necessarily a great way to market for everyone.

AQ: Editors usually make books readable. I’ve heard horror stories of books getting rushed out with no copy editing. Why are people rushing? Is it because they’ve cut the staff?

SAB: Some just don’t pay attention to grammar.

DB: There are some blogs that do book reviews and they will say what errors are in the book. I heard about an author who started arguing with a reviewer and used profanity.

SAB: That’s the worst thing for an author to do.

MB: It looks very bad.

DF: The editorial staff has been cut significantly. For instance, in children’s fiction publishing, the very best editor was let go. The publishers think that anyone can do editing so they hire a 22-year-old intern. The editors who are left have less experience and have no chops to debate with marketing.

AQ: What about side income?

DF: I have three books from a small press, but I get a little side income from school visits. It pays for the fee to do the podcast. Be personable so you can be invited to speak to teachers and at cons. Decide where to spend the money. Income may not necessarily come from book sales.

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Stay tuned for Part 17 which is a panel on urban fantasy.