Wednesday, February 27, 2019

How to Write and Publish--11--Royalty Publishing: My Story and A Few How-To's

My one self-published book was doing well, considering, so I wanted to offer it to publishers.

But where to begin?

I did what you should do: looked carefully at books. Which ones were kind of like mine in content and tone? And who published them?

One day I read Dorcas Hoover’s book House Calls and Hitching Posts. “That’s it!” Folksy, human interest, connected to the Amish. I looked inside for information about the publisher: Good Books, in Intercourse, Pennsylvania.

I copied the address. I knew very well this wasn’t the “right” way to approach a publisher, but I wanted to act before I lost my nerve. I put a copy of Ordinary Days in an envelope and added a letter saying who I was and the story behind the book. Would they be interested in re-publishing it?

Yes, said the Goods. They would. 

They also let me know that they very seldom did reprints of this nature. I duly considered myself lucky.

They sent a contract, and I signed it in spite of the fact that it contained “options” which meant that Goods would get dibs on my next book, something my writing group adamantly advised me against.

Goods had said they see this as a long-term investment in me and my work, with other books down the road. I thought it made sense to do a series of similar books. Also, they promised to keep them in print even if the sales weren’t amazing, which is different from most publishers. So I signed. I still feel like it was fair.

Good Books eventually published three books.  The covers were done by Wendell Minor, a top-notch cover artist. The editor who made corrections was careful and respectful. If I planned to travel anywhere, Goods set up a book signing, if I asked.

With time, though, their tone changed. My books of family stories were fine, but what they really wanted was for me to write fiction, specifically and only for them. Amish fiction was popular and, I assume, they wanted to ride that wave as far as it would go, and I was obligated to them, you know?

Well, why not? I didn’t have a clue how to write fiction, but I was willing to try. For practice and fun I wrote a short story and posted it on my blog.

Very soon, I heard from Goods. We need to talk, they said, like your dad says We need to talk, after Stephanie’s mom tells your mom how you were driving last Monday, taking the girls to Aunt Rosie’s. Mr. Good let me know in no uncertain terms that if I wrote any fiction at all, it belonged to them. I was not ever to post any more fiction on my blog.*

I tried to explain, feebly, that this was my blog. Mine! What I put there was none of their business. And the silly story I wrote wasn’t meant to ever appear in a book.

My reasoning was firmly squelched, and so was my eagerness to write fiction. Whatever creative door had begun to swing open in my mind immediately closed with a loud clang and stayed shut. 

Some time after this, I sent the manuscript for a fourth book of essays, and Good Books decided not to produce it. That freed me from all “options” obligations, and I happily proceeded with self-publishing.

A few years ago, Aunt Susie called me. “You need to go online and look up Lancaster Online.” So I did, and there was the news that Good Books had just gone bankrupt.

What is it with my publishers going down in flames?

The next year was full of frustration, as I couldn’t order any more inventory and I needed books for sales and retreats, and also letters from lawyers and scrounging for news from other authors about what was actually going on.

Finally, Skyhorse Publishing bought out what was left of Good Books, paid our back royalties, and let us order books again. They have been wonderful ever since and recently put my three books together into a new book called Sunlight Through Dusty Windows, but first they let me buy the remaining stock of my three books for a low price.

I’m glad I’ve experienced both having a publisher and self-publishing. It’s taught me the advantages and disadvantages of both. Neither is risk-free, entirely pleasant, or necessarily lucrative.

How to submit your work to a royalty publisher.

The following is borrowed from Carrie Stuart Parks, the main speaker at the Oregon Christian Writers conference I attended recently. This is the standard process for working with Christian and secular publishers.

Steps to publishing nonfiction:
A. Query
B. Proposal
C. Contract
D. Write the book

Steps to publishing fiction:

A. Write the book.
B. Query
C. Synopsis and partial
D. Full manuscript
E. Find an agent
F. Contract

The truth is, I am as inexperienced at this process as you are. So I was sitting here Googling “Query” and “Synopsis,” when it occurred to me that you also know how to Google.

Here’s my own how-to list. 
1. Study what’s out there. Notice who published the books you enjoy. Go to the library or bookstore and look for books in your genre (category or type). Read book catalogs. Think about what sort of publisher you want—secular, Christian, Mennonite. Large, small. Local or anywhere. General or specific.

2. Learn about the process. Read how-to-write magazines. Take the plunge and go to conferences, where you will learn more in a day than you would in a month of self-study.

Writers tend to be introverts, and we think we can learn it all on our own from books and then seclude ourselves in our attics and type out manuscripts of flaming excellence. Trust me, you will be mingling with hundreds of other introverts, and you will learn so much, plus you’ll meet people who can put in a good word for you.

3. Learn from mentors and your writing group. Two women in my writing group landed 3-book deals, one in the last month and another in the last couple of years. I know that when I’m ready, they’ll be happy to walk me through the process. 

Tomorrow: the scary monsters: agents, platforms, and contracts

*Publishers like to commandeer your blog for themselves. It's unethical. More on that tomorrow.

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