by Connie J. Jasperson
The world is full of good, responsible publishers, both indie and small presses, as well as larger companies. They want to see you succeed as an author and will help you develop the tools and skills to do so. However, there are horrific presses that not only take your money, time, and sometimes even copyright of your work. You must be aware of these potential pitfalls. I’m going to share with you some of my painful learnings with the predatory presses as well as other tidbits I’ve learned through experience.
The first piece of advice I have to offer is this: while most small presses are run by honest publishers, be wary. Sharks and publishing-world charlatans lurk in the depths, preying on the naïve.
In 2010, a small-press in Indianapolis who published thirty authors approached me, offering a contract. I took the plunge and signed with them. I learned many things from that bad experience.
If someone who claims to be a publisher has NOT read your work, but they offer you a contract, RUN far away.
Certain red flags should have warned me off, but I ignored them. In April of 2012, twenty-five authors and I severed ties with that publisher and formed an indie publishing group. Thanks to the help of a lawyer in our ranks, we regained the rights to our books. Going indie has been a good choice for me as an author.
If you have any doubts regarding going with a publisher, don’t do it. Your work is precious, and the relationship you have with your publisher must be one of mutual trust.
The second piece of advice is this: you must create your own brand to sell your work. While that publisher and I parted in a messy way, I learned one crucial thing besides not trusting charming salesmen: All authors, traditionally published or indie, are responsible for creating their own public presence.
This means you must get a website and regularly update the content of your author blog and make use of free social media.
At my former publisher’s behest, I created a free WordPress blog as my personal website. I got a twitter account and made a Facebook author page. I did this reluctantly, wondering why I was bothering as I had no followers.
What I know now is this: When it comes to both Twitter and blogging, you will gain followers, just not real rapidly, if you post regularly and follow other people in your chosen field.
For Facebook, people will look you up and like your page as they become familiar with you through Facebook book-reading groups and other forums.
Your author blog will gain followers if you blog frequently. Embed links to your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages to your author blog so people can follow your social media from there.
Do you think you have nothing to tweet or blog about? Look at what other authors post. Post snippets, tell silly stories about your dog or kids, post embarrassing pictures of your cat, or talk about your favorite books. Once in a while, slip in some stuff about your books but don’t spam people.
All it takes is 10 minutes, once a day, just long enough to post a tweet or add some odd thought to your Facebook author page. If you have a sense of humor, followers will come.
I regularly publish new content on my blog. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I talk about the craft of writing and my life experiences, good and bad. On Thursdays, I often host other authors and talk about their approaches to the craft.
Fridays are my favorite day of the blogging week. I am free to talk about my secret passion: Renaissance Art on #FineArtFriday.
A feature I like about WordPress is the option to automatically send links for each new post to both Twitter and my Facebook author page. The content in both those places updates with no effort on my part, and this is how I manage my social media with minimal stress.
Be diverse in what you discuss, and you will gain many new followers.
Another thing I wish I had known (but didn’t) was how important it is to find a competent editor to work with. My first novel has been sitting unpublished since parting ways with my former publisher because it was such a mess. I have completely rewritten it, had it professionally edited, and will be republishing it this next year with a new title.
We rarely start out on this journey with friends who are qualified to edit our work, and my first editor didn’t know his behind from a hole in the ground.
In 2012, after reading the first chapter of my second novel, my first real editor asked me for a style sheet. I didn’t know what she meant.
Bad habits developed in writing my first novel had filtered into my second book, Huw the Bard. My work was uneven, and my made-up names were written inconsistently. This happens because fundamental things sometimes change as we are going along in our first draft:
- Character names evolve.
- Place names evolve.
- Distances evolve
We make these adjustments because we realize something isn’t logical, make the changes, and move on.
Once my new editor pointed this out to me, I put together a comprehensive list of how I wanted to spell the names of every person, place, and creature in my novel. Even though I spent several days doing this, the editing process for Huw the Bard was slow and agonizing because I didn’t catch half of what I should have.
What the style sheet should cover:
- All names, created or not: Aeos, Aeolyn, Beryl, Carl, Edwin, etc.
- Real and created animal names: alligator, stinkbear, thunder-cow, waterdemon
- Created words that are hyphenated: fire-mage, thunder-cow
- All place names, real or created: Seattle, Chicago, Ragat, Wister, Sevya, Arlen, Neveyah
For me, it’s a simple thing to copy and paste my words into a spreadsheet or document. I label it with the book or series title and the words “style sheet,” like this: JulianLackland-style-sheet.xls. I keep a link to that document on my desktop, so it’s easy to locate and open when I need to add to it.
Something else I didn’t know then is this—indie or not, you must pay for some services. If you can, you must plan ahead and set aside money for editing services.
Other aspects of indie publishing are expensive, so keep setting money aside for them. Indies must either do it themselves or pay for book cover design and formatting services. They must also pay for professional review services like Kirkus and advertisements on Bookbub, neither of which is cheap.
The authors I know who are successfully selling their work through Amazon and other online vendors spend the money to get their work professionally reviewed before they publish it even though there is a chance the review won’t be positive.
Reviews by professional review services mean something to the reader because they are honest. If a review is bad, you don’t have to use it, and you have some idea of what you might have done wrong. If you sent them an ARC (advance reader’s copy), you still have time to make positive changes to your work.
The last thing I wish I’d known in 2011 is this—Join a local writer’s group. Even better, take the leap and join one of your region’s professional writers’ associations. Writers need to be a part of the larger writing community because it is through conversations with other authors that we will find the opportunities to get our books in front of readers.
My choice of going indie has been a good move for me. I love what I do, and have made many wonderful friends through attending conventions, workshops, and seminars. If you are a writer, I hope you find your path a little easier than mine was in the beginning.
I regret nothing. I hope others will gain knowledge from my struggle, and their path will be easier. Regardless of the rough beginning, I’m happy in my career. Every day is a joy, offering new ideas and opportunities.
My wish is for you to be as happy in your work as I am in mine. Happy writing!
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Connie J. Jasperson is a published poet and the author of nine fantasy novels. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies. A founding member of Myrddin Publishing Group and member of SFWA, she can be found blogging regularly on both the craft of writing and art history at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.
You can find her books on her Amazon author page: http://bit.ly/CJJASPauthor
Follow Connie J. Jasperson on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cjjasp