3/27/09

Dumped at the Prom

Does everyone feel weird writing to a pseudonym? Hahaha. [You'd be surprised at how many advice columns are written under pseudonyms.] I have a difficult situation and a colleague at LDStorymakers suggested I contact you.

I'm writing a historical fiction series. Books one and two are out but [my publisher] pulled the plug on the series. I took it to [other publishers who] passed. [They don't want] to own four books while [my original publisher] owns books one and two.

The series illustrates the generation being prepared to receive the Restoration, so while the LDS influence is not overt, it is woven through the books which makes it challenging to take it outside the LDS literary market. It was set to be a six book series, timed so the last book's release coincided with the bicentennial of [a historical event]. So I'm pressed for time and need to make some hard decisions.

I am tentatively planning to self-publish through Booksurge, an Amazon company. I've made arrangements to contract the editor of books one and two to do the edit and maintain a consistent quality between the books.

Are there any other options I've missed besides the self-publishing option? Do you know anyone who has published through Booksurge? If so, I'd love to know what their experience was.

Thank you for offering a listening ear. Any advice would be very appreciated.

It is so disappointing to be dumped mid-series. It's kind of like being dumped at the prom and having to find another ride home. Don't take it personally. It's happening to others right now too, not just you. One of the effects of our wonderful economy.

If you can't get another publisher to finish your series, or get your original publisher to release the rights to the first two volumes, then your only other option is self-publishing.

I do know people who have used BookSurge successfully. The Reckoning by Tanya Parker Mills is published through BookSurge. Another company you might look at is Lightning Source. Be sure to have it edited and typeset professionally. Try to capture the feel of the first cover designs and you should be fine.

The biggest drawback is going to be distribution—getting the books into the bookstores. You may want to talk to a distributor and get that lined up before you put much money into the project.

Another issue is making sure the profit margin is there so that you can offer the standard industry discounts to stores without having to overprice the books.

Readers—if any of you have used BookSurge or Lightning Press or another of these types of programs, let us know in the comments about your experiences and which company you'd recommend.

13 comments:

Kent Larsen said...

LDS Publisher, your correspondent doesn't mention who the original publisher is, what the status of the first two titles (in print? still available?) or whether this author has approached the publisher about getting the rights back.

I think you will agree that marketing a series almost requires that ALL the titles in the series be marketed together.

As for self-publishing, this author should be congratulated for choosing one of the better printing options, as opposed to Publish America, Lulu and many others.

I've used both Booksurge and LightningSource, and I'm closing in on 50 titles between the two.

In addition to its pricing, Booksurge has the advantage of distribution through Amazon.com. BUT, LightningSource has even better distribution -- books put on LightningSource also appear on BarnesandNoble.com and a host of other online bookstores. LightningSource also has an international option that actually works--putting books in their UK operation means they appear in online booksellers around the world that carry English-language books.

BUT, neither of these options means that books will show up in brick and mortar bookstores. You are right that using a distributor is most likely to get the books into bookstores--and the fact that two of these books are already familiar in the market could certainly help persuade a distributor to handle the books.

Marny said...

BookSurge and Lightning Source are different things: BookSurge is a subsidy publisher, while Lightning Source is a printer. If you want to use LS, you need to set up your own publishing company and buy your own ISBN, becoming the publisher of record to the industry. You would also control and be responsible for the editing, layout, and cover design. You could then use any printer you wanted, although LS has the advantage (like Kent mentioned) of being a sister company to Ingram, the largest book wholesaler in the country. There are other printers that you can use, both digital and offset, some of which may be cheaper than LS but which may have a minimum order of 25 or so copies.

Subsidy publishers like BookSurge, Lulu, Infinity, and others (so-called "self-publishing companies," except they are the publisher of record, not you) are author mills where you pay for the editing (if any), layout (if they do more than just use your Word file), and cover template (that may look like everyone else's cover template). You also pay for them to arrange "distribution," which usually means they print through LS and choose LS's distribution through Ingram. These author mills are fine for some types of projects, usually those that have a limited audience, like books of poetry or family histories, but are usually not the best choice for fiction that you want to get into bookstores.

If you want to become a self-publisher, make sure you are ready to start a business. There are many good books that can help you with the decisions that the business requires. Some are The Self-Publishing Manual by Dan Poynter, The Complete Guide to Self Publishing by Tom and Marilyn Ross, Aiming at Amazon by Aaron Shepard, and an number of others. If you decide to use a subsidy publisher, read The Fine Print by Mark Levine. It compares forty-five different companies, especially comparing the contract terms of each of them, and rates them. Definitely a must read.

Disclosure: I do book design and layout. See my portfolio at http://typography.parkinfamily.org/

Kent Larsen said...

Marny:

I'm not sure what your definition of "subsidy publisher" is, but in my experience using Booksurge, it does NOT fit any definition of a "subsidy publisher" that I've seen. FWIW, I pay Booksurge LESS to set up a title, and LESS per copy than I pay LightningSource.

I do know that BookSurge has pricing for authors and other non-publishers that are more like those of PublishAmerica and others that charge the author unreasonable upfront charges.

But, for those who set up formal publishing companies like you need to do for LightningSource, BookSurge has competitive pricing.

MoJo said...

Booksurge is Amazon's answer to Lightning Source, which will explain the distribution difference.

However, Marny's right about setting up as your own publisher and buying your own ISBNs. You can get your book on Amazon with LSI, but you can't get your book on Ingram's list through Booksurge--and Ingram's list is how you end up automatically showing up on Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powell's.

Also, I've heard lots of complaints about Booksurge's merchandise quality (covers peeling and glue loosening).

I would also advise the author to look into e-book distribution. And, in the same vein as Marny, I'll disclose that we do e-book formatting (and typesetting) as a contracted service.

So YMMV.

Tanya Parker Mills said...

Kent, Marny, and MoJo all have more experience and insight than I when it comes to self-publishing. I chose BookSurge based on the experiences of my father who had gone through iUniverse and Author House, before giving this relatively new Amazon affiliate a try.

I settled on BookSurge precisely because of its affiliation with Amazon and wasn't disappointed. They were very professional and courteous in all their dealings with me. While I relied on them for cover copy, I came up with my cover art myself, having happened on the work of an Iraqi artist online that seemed to fit the mood of my book THE RECKONING.

My only disappointment has been the inability, thus far, to get my book into bookstores, ranging from LDS bookstores to Barnes and Noble. So, yes, you should try and work out a distribution deal in advance unless your first two books have already built up a strong audience. In that case, you might just want to follow the book marketing advice I received from my book publishing consultant at BookSurge. I plan to share it during the Self Publishing panel discussion on April 25th at the LDStorymakers Conference. If you won't be at the conference, just email me at tanyaparkermills@mac.com and I can send it to you.

Marny said...

Kent, I had thought BookSurge is Amazon's "self-publishing" arm and CreateSpace is their digital printer. I believe one program will let you use your own ISBN, while the other assigns your book an ISBN. I haven't worked with either company before, so I'm working on hearsay.

Tanya, I really like your cover. Covers are one of the most important factors that many self-published authors ignore.

Anonymous said...

Hey Tanya:

What do you think of the current US government's thrift and economic restraint and how the policies will effect the survival of self publishers? And publishing in general?

Here's some devalued hope the current administration can count on:

http://video.google.com/videosearch?sourceid=navclient&rlz=1T4GGLJ_en___US302&q=european%20union%20daniel%20hannan&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&hl=en&tab=wv#

Kent Larsen said...

"Kent, Marny, and MoJo all have more experience and insight than I when it comes to self-publishing."

Well, I hope my 25 years of working in book publishing here in New York City, along with my nearly 50 titles in print using LightningSource, Booksurge and traditional printers over the past 7 years, stacks up favorably in this discussion.

That said, I have every respect for Marny and Mojo, and I think almost everything they've said is spot on.

"Kent, I had thought BookSurge is Amazon's "self-publishing" arm and CreateSpace is their digital printer."

From what I've seen, its not quite that simple. Both companies are really digital printers -- as is any company that uses computer-driven printers with a laser-printer-like toner system (as I understand the technology - excuse me if I'm off technologically).

Create Space is oriented toward the individual author, and so is most like Lulu and a few other companies, but I think the pricing of Create Space is better.

BookSurge has two pricing levels -- one oriented toward competing with LightningSource, the other meant to be competitive with the author-oriented "subsidy" printers.

The bottom line is that if you set up and act like a formal publisher instead of a self-publishing author, you can arrange to get the better pricing. I don't know BookSurge's requirements for getting that pricing, but if you want it, you do need to tell them you want pricing competitive with LightningSource. That pricing isn't on their website.

"I believe one program will let you use your own ISBN, while the other assigns your book an ISBN. I haven't worked with either company before, so I'm working on hearsay."

I haven't worked with Create Space yet, but I believe both BookSurge and Create Space will allow you to use your own ISBNs as well as get ISBNs from them. BUT, in the case of BookSurge, if they supply the ISBN, they are probably going to charge you the author pricing.

Anonymous said...

I am the subject of this LDSP post. Thank you for all the information that's been presented here. It's been incredibly enlightening, and for someone venturing into relatively unknown territory, your adivce is greatly appreciated.

Of course, I want to push this series on because I believe the subject matter is relevant and timely, but I primarily feel an obligation to complete the story for the readers who have invested in it. I'm making some compromises out of ignorance and fear, and taking what seems to me to be the most secure route in order to accomplish my primary goals of maintaining my professional integrity and keeping promises made to readers when this project began.

I have had several discussions with an editor at Booksurge, (I liked the idea of a real person bothering to contact me several times) and the services they provide seemed far and beyond the reasonable fee required. I will have my previous editor on board, but they will handle the typeset, interior art and layout, insert up to five maps or graphics and handle the cover design. This was especially important to me, and he assured me I would have final say on each step of the process as well as the opportunity to preview a finished hardcopy before release.

Pricing was good and they have no limits on how or to whom I market.

Distribution is my biggest concern, but I have been in discussion with a rep from a smaller chain of stores and I think I can get my books into these brick and mortar stores as well as Amazon, Alibris and a few others. Booksurge distributes through Baker & Taylor book distributor as well to serve retail outlets.

If you see any major gaffes here, I'd appreciate a heads-up!

Thank you for all your considerable insight!

Tanya Parker Mills said...

Thanks Marny, I take that as a real compliment coming from you with your professional expertise.

As for the current political impact on self-publishing, I haven't given it a lot of thought...but I am aware that our current economy has had a real tightening effect on publishers everywhere and self-publishing is becoming more and more of an option, given all the online avenues for self-promotion.

My best wishes to the original poster. Like I said, BookSurge was a positive experience for me.

MoJo said...

Speaking of that, I'm involved in the independent publishing community, most notably Publishing Renaissance and marginally, Publetariat (and I say only marginally because I haven't had time to really dig into it). Both of these communities really emphasize quality in editing, cover art, design. All "types" (for lack of a better word) of self-publishers are welcome and there are a lot of super resources.

As Tanya said, self-publishing IS becoming more and more of an option, especially as quality goes up (and really, the indie communities are generally focused on consistent quality to rise above the stigma, and exist to help the quality rise). However, the "stigma" kind of self-destructed in December when publishing went pbtthhhh. I noticed several comments on agent Nathan Bransford's blog to the effect of, "Well, self-publishing doesn't look so bad now." Where a week before, anyone promoting self-publishing would have gotten jumped on by 16 people, no one had much argument with it the week after.

Anyway, quality is the key. Editing and design are the two places you'll want to spend your money and it sounds like you've got an ideal situation with your previous editor along for your ride. Also, I'm impressed with what you've described of Booksurge.

Good luck and if you need any help, holler at me. I've had some very kind publishers willing to help us as we started out on our publishing journey (and we're no longer just publishing me). I'm more than willing to help another indie with a commitment to both independence and quality.

Marny said...

It sounds like you are going into the business with your eyes open. Mojo is right, quality is the key. Good luck!

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