Sunday, February 22, 2015

Putting Together A Team (Craft Brewing Part 3)

In the previous two posts I talked about the differences between being a writer and a publisher. I used craft brewing as a metaphor for the creative process and the business process. And I talked about what you can learn from traditional publishing that will help to shape your business planning for indie publishing.

In this final installment I'm pulling it all together by discussing the need for a team working toward your success, and how to put together that team.

Put Together a Team

Traditional publishers have a team of people who put out a book: editors, interior designers, cover designers, marketing people, managers, accountants, computer people.  You need this team too! Depending on your personal skill set and your willingness to learn, you may be able to take on some of these things yourself. I have not yet found someone who can do it all themselves and be successful.

Yes, it is hard to work with a team of people. It means you have to be diplomatic. You have to be open to suggestion and critique. You have to treat your book like a product, not like a baby, and think in terms of what is the best way to present this book to the buying public and have the greatest possible return on your investment.

There are many ways to put together a team. One is to hire the expertise you need. I hire accountants, attorneys, cover designer/graphic artists because all of those are things I know a little about but not enough to be really good at it.  On the other hand, I have background in technology and business management so I do my own website(s), format my own books, do all the uploading to distributors, and do all the analytics to evaluate what works and what doesn't. Yes, it does costs money to hire people, but it is necessary!

In the beginning, spending that money was VERY hard, especially when I was no longer working another job full time. But I know, from my experience in business, that it is rare for any business to make a profit the first 3-5 years. That means you have to capitalize the business with enough funds to make it through those first years.

Another way to put together a team is to join with other indie publishers who have different expertise from yourself. This may be a formal group, like an author cooperative, or an informal group with five or six other authors you know and trust. In this environment, you are bartering services in some fashion. This may happen through a formal agreement or an informal agreement.

In a cooperative, there is a formal agreement as to how this bartering takes place. At Windtree Press, each member agrees to take on a task that benefits all members. For example, one person handles all the Facebook postings, another handles all the Twitter postings, another puts out a monthly newsletter, another does all the website development and maintenance. In other cooperatives, these services may include a group of people who agree to do editing for all the titles and another group who does cover design. In yet other arrangements, everyone contributes so much a month to a pot of money that is used to hire a virtual assistant or other professionals for the entire group.

Informal arrangements are also made between people who know and trust each other. For example, I believe all books are better with an editor. I know several editors and sometimes I've paid for that service, at other times I've bartered with them. With one person I maintain his website and he does line-editing for me. With another person, who is both a writer and a professional developmental editor, we exchange manuscripts. For me, I want input on the story and character arc and she is very good at identifying those structures and offering feedback. For her, she wants feedback on emotional connection and how the story does/or does not meet genre reader expectations.

The way any one person decides to put together a team has a lot to do with network, funds, and perception of value in the long term. I am a pretty independent person--always have been. But I admit I definitely need a team. Yes, I can do a lot but without a team I can't survive in the long run. I'm currently working on my 20th book and my 56th short story submission. I can't track it all anymore. I can no longer keep all the balls in the air, do the writing, and make sure that the business is humming along. Without a team I would have to make a choice to give up writing as much as I want, or give up on continuing to promote backlist titles, or give up my personal relationships.

Resources for Finding Your Team

The best resource is to ask fellow authors who they recommend. Need an accountant an attorney? Not just any accountant will do. You need someone who understands how book publishing works, how a product is out there for your lifetime and beyond and how to leverage and account for that product over the long haul. As for an attorney, you need someone who understands intellectual property, copyright, and all that entails. That is a specialized field that most general attorneys don't have the expertise to tackle effectively.

Editors? Cover Designers? Formatters? Marketers? PR people? Virtual Assistants? Again, ask other authors you know. There are also lists on the web, lists from writer organizations, and lists from a variety of independent author discussion loops. Look into them and vette, vette, vette. Put together your questions in advance and be sure to ask them. Don't just take the guy with the slickest website, or the team with the highest profile clients. Make sure YOUR team fits your needs and where you are in your career now.

Finally, take classes and learn how to do these things yourself. Even if you don't have the time to do them regularly you need to understand what the job entails so that you can supervise your team member. It really is ALL up to you in the end. Your career is based on YOUR decisions. So hire well and carefully. Remember it's all business now.

Find your team and include the time and costs in your business planning.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Learning From Traditional Publishers (Craft Brewing Part 2)

Yesterday, I compared indie publishing to craft beer brewing. Today, I'm continuing the conversation regarding how the "rebel" indies can learn from traditional publishers. This is what I've learned about myself over the past four years of indie publishing following a career in traditional publishing that spanned more than two decades.

Even in traditional publishing, a good book didn't always sell. A good book didn't always get acquired. A good book didn't connect with the consumer. Even in traditional publishing, a minority of books make it to the bestseller lists. A minority of authors make millions of dollars. What I am saying is that we can learn a lot from them and reset expectations, and plan to be better, to compete better.

Treat Bestsellerdom as a Dream, not a Goal

No one really knows what makes a book a bestseller. No one in big publishing and no indie guru has the definitive answer. If someone did, they would command millions of dollars and only turn out bestselling books. Some people believe doing lots of freebies or giveaways make a bestseller. That did work for some people in 2010 and 2011. It rarely works now. Some people believe that if you spend enough money you can make a bestseller. I've seen traditional publishing do this, briefly. If they paid a million dollars for a celebrity memoir. You can bet they will spend a million dollars to publicize it and hope to make the money back. It doesn't always work. Most of us don't have a million dollars to spend on our indie books, so it is not a good model in the long term.

Do I hope to have a bestseller? Sure I do. It is a dream of mine. Do I count on it for my income? Absolutely not. I'm not chasing something I can't define or control, and neither can traditional publishing. Many indie authors make a living without ever having a bestseller. Resetting expectations to build a career one book at a time, instead of expecting a particular book to make a career, is the sane way to proceed.  Thinking about indie publishing as a career with many books, instead of putting all my energy and resources into one book, makes it less daunting and gives me more opportunities to one day see my dream come true.

Those desperate authors who check their numbers every day, who throw hundreds or thousands of dollars at advertising, or give away tens of thousands of free downloads when they have only one or two books, are chasing bestsellerdom on one book. IMO, they are throwing away money and will be very disappointed in the end. Yes, there are outliers--those who make it big on their first book. Those who didn't even bother to get it edited yet make millions. But that is nowhere near the norm, and to set expectations for that to happen to my book would be insanity. If it happens, hooray. I'll dance on the ceiling. But if it doesn't happen, I won't be devastated and quit writing and blame the system.

Go Ahead and Be Unique, but Keep the Foundation

Another thing I can learn from traditional publishers is that there is a reason they don't buy books that are so unique and different--no matter how well written. It's not that editors don't appreciate the uniqueness or the style or the craft. It's that they know the liklihood of finding an audience, that will purchase enough copies to make them a profit, is very small.

Like craft brewers you can choose to create in a way that NY doesn't usually buy--cross-genre, mixing narrative style, having a character who is unredeemable, having a half-dog half-cat narrator that is really the dead mother of the main character.  As a writer you can do whatever you want. That is a part of the joy of creation. However, each time you go outside the box it reduces the liklihood the story will hold together enough to sell to consumers. Keep it the same but make it different is what "unique" means in story telling. Give it a twist.

When I read about authors leaving NY publishing, I never hear them say: "I wanted to write a book with a character everyone will hate and have no one in the story you can root for." OR "I wanted to write a quiet book, one where no one is ever hurt and the whole world is filled with sunshine and love." OR "I decided that editing was not for me. I don't need an editor."  Instead, the authors I talk to leave NY because they want to write faster, or they want to write in a different genre, or they simply want control over pricing, distribution, covers, etc. In other words, they don't leave because they want to abandon the foundational elements of their stories or their genre.

Publishing is Very Different from Writing

Publishing is a business--not an art. Publishing is about packaging a products that can be sold for maximum profit. The indie writer who is self-publishing may gain freedom in her art, but she still has the same problem that all publishers have. That is making enough money to really be free to pursue the writing.


If you do want to be a successful indie publisher then you need to separate from your baby. If it helps, think of your book as something you nurtured throughout the creative process, but now is an adult and completely responsible for its own success or failure. Your responsibility, as the parent, is to apply tough love about the real world of publishing. A world that judges you at every corner. A world that may not even acknowledge that you exist. A world filled with both those who will give you a leg up and those who will stomp on your head as they climb the ladder to get ahead of you. In other words, your book is now part of a worldwide business enterprise and you need to be ready to face that fact and have the tools to survive.

The Publishing Process is Hard, and Frustrating, and Scary, and Rewarding

The whole process is hard.  Yes, the writing is hard. It is hard to create a book that thousands of readers will like enough to tell others about it. It is hard to learn the foundational process of writing a good story. The publishing process is equally hard, and often the entire business side of indie publishing is anathema to the creative mind. The publishing process involves technology, and economics, and salesmanship, and planning, and evaluation, and ... the list goes on.

If you like the status quo, or find change very difficult, then you need to hire people for the publishing part of your business. The entire indie publishing business is changing month-to-month and year-to-year. What worked in 2011 does not work in 2014. The technology available to publishers in 2015 is different from what was available in 2012. The marketing landscape and opportunities in publishing is changing at least quarterly if not faster.

I monitor approximately 70 publishing blogs and newsletters. At least once a week I come across a start-up company that is making a big splash in helping indie authors. At least once a week I come across a scam company that is hurting indie authors. At least once a week I research something new and know that I should find a way to participate. However, I also know that I don't have the time or resources to check it out.  Though I pride myself on being on top of the publishing landscape more than the average writer, EVERY week I wonder what I've missed. What I have not chosen to make time for that would/could make a difference in my income.

That is the scary and frustrating part of being a publisher. In spite of not knowing everything. In spite of not taking advantage of every possibility, I am selling books. I am making money. I do have a career.  You have to be comfortable with not knowing everything. You have to be comfortable with making a plan, making decisions about your investment of time and money, and sticking with it until you've given your plan a chance to prove itself, or not.

In spite of not knowing everything, and all the fear of change, most authors who have left traditional publishing to become indie report making significantly more money than they did before. They love being freed from restrictions on output, pricing, and genre. They are happy to be away from the very long process of 12-18 months from conception to release of a book, and they are happy not to be a part of the churn of editors and managers in traditional publishing that can easily stop the forward trajectory of a career. One of the things each of these authors report is that they couldn't have done it alone. They needed a team.

Tomorrow, in the final post of this series, I'll talk about how to put together a team that works for you and helps you to become successful.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How is Indie Publishing like Craft Beer Brewing?

My husband has been a home brewer for nearly 40  years. He brews with the same passion that he has when playing music on his guitar. He is much better now at creating new craft recipes than he was when he started, or even better than just 10 or 15 years ago. Some of it is better technology, better ingredients. But the majority of it is experience. He's practiced and tested and experimented and failed and practiced and ... it is never ending. He now has recipes he's refined for over 14 varieties of beer. Also, every year he tries something new--something that intrigues him to change the flavor. Perhaps a little more hops in a stout? Or bringing out the banana flavor and aroma in a wheat. These are subtle but important differences, because it is where his voice--his art--intersects with the tried and true brewery recipes of the past.

When I met him, I was not at all a beer lover. In fact, I thought it was pretty disgusting stuff and always chose wine when at a party or going to dinner. He changed that because he introduced me to craft beer--beer that it is recognizable for its style (e.g., porter, stout, IPA, pale ale, wheat, etc.) but changes flavor profiles depending on the brewer and his or her voice in creating that style of beer.

How does this relate to Indie Publishing?  One thing all good brewers know is that you create your "rebel" brew based on a foundation in the past--based on a knowledge of the ingredients, the proportions, the role of each part of the process.  Without that knowledge you are likely to spend a lot of money making beer that very few want to try more than once.  Craft brewers also know that you try new things--use a different hop variety or mix and see how that changes things, use a different malt mixture, try different grains to change the flavor and the color.

When a brewer decides to try something new she doesn't decide that instead of water she'll use a cola base. She doesn't decide that instead of grains she'll use fruit, or that instead of hops she'll use a variety of cooking spices. In other words, she knows that the foundation of beer consists of water, grain hops and yeast. Each of these ingredients can have tremendous affect on the flavor, aroma, and alcohol content. There is a lot of variety and nuanced changes that can be made by manipulating only those elements. It is after understanding those elements and their nuances that something outside of those elements is added.

One of the things I consistently see with some indie authors is the passionate rebel without a foundation in the past. The self-talk goes something like: "Those @#$%*&! publishers didn't have the guts to publish my novel. It was too edgy for them." OR"I don't need editing. Look at (name a bestseller from three years ago who made it big with no editing). She had tons of mistakes but she made millions anyway." OR "A good book will find it's audience no matter what."

Even in traditional publishing, a good book didn't always sell. A good book didn't always get acquired. A good book didn't connect with the consumer. Even in traditional publishing, a minority of books make it to the bestseller lists. A minority of authors make millions of dollars. What I am saying is that we can learn a lot from them and reset expectations, and plan to be better.
  1. No one really knows what makes a book a bestseller. No one in big publishing and no indie guru has the definitive answer. If someone did, they would command millions of dollars and only turn out bestselling books. Do I hope to have a bestseller? Sure I do. Do I count on it for my income? Absolutely not. I'm not chasing something I can't define or control. Many authors make a living without ever having a bestseller.
  2. Like craft brewers you can choose to create in a way that NY doesn't usually buy--cross-genre, mixing narrative style, adding sex or foregoing sex, having a character who is unredeemable, etc. As a writer you can do whatever you want. That is a part of the joy of creation. However, each time you go outside the box it reduces the liklihood the story will hold together enough to sell to consumers. Yes, everyone tells you to make it unique. However, what they are really saying is "give readers what they want and add a small twist." In other words, you still need the foundational ingredients of good narrative structure, good characterization, a plot that pulls the reader forward, dialog that seems true to the characters and time, and enough genre tropes to meet reader expectations.

    When I read about authors leaving NY publishing, I never hear them say: "I wanted to write a book with a character everyone will hate and have no one in the story you can root for." OR "I wanted to write a quiet book, one where no one is ever hurt and the whole world is filled with sunshine and love." OR "I decided that editing was not for me. I don't need an editor."  Instead, the authors I talk to leave NY because they want to write faster, or they want to write in a different genre, or they simply want control over pricing, distribution, covers, etc. In other words, they don't leave because they want to abandon the foundational elements of their stories or their genre.
  3. Publishing is very different from writing. Writing, for most people, is a creative undertaking that is about telling the story that the writer wants to tell. Publishing is a business. Publishing is about packaging the product (the story) into something that a consumer (reader) will buy. The successful indie publisher must separate these two parts of the process. If you can't treat your story (some call it their baby) as a product, then hire someone who can. If you can't separate your creative process (the brewing) from the business (selling a product), then you will have lots of wonderful stories that your family and close friends may enjoy; but you won't have a career and you won't make enough money to live on. 

    It's okay if you don't care about making money from your stories. My husband has no intention of ever selling his beer. For him, the joy is in the creation and in sharing it with people he knows. If that is why you write, that's wonderful. You are not a publisher, you are an artist who only cares about the story and you are rewarded by the few who "get you,"  the few you most care about.  There are a lot of people who self-publish with the expectation of selling 10 or less books. Nothing wrong with that.  For the rest of you, read on.
  4. The whole process is hard.  Yes, the writing is hard. It is hard to create a book that thousands of readers will like enough to tell others about it. It is hard to learn the foundational process of writing a good story. The publishing process is equally hard, and often the entire business side of indie publishing is anathema to the creative mind. The publishing process involves technology, and economics, and salesmanship, and planning, and evaluation, and ... the list goes on. This is why writing and publishing are two separate pursuits and must be recognized as two parts of a career as an indie pubisher.
  5. You need a team. Traditional publishers have a team of people who put out a book: editors, interior designers, cover designers, marketing people, managers, accountants, computer people.  You need this team too! Depending on your personal skill set and your willingness to learn, you may be able to take on some of these things yourself. I have not yet found someone who can do it all themselves AND be successful. 
In my next post I'll talk about some personal takeaways from crafting and publishing.