Rebel Without a Cause

Why are there so many rules for submitting and publishing a book? It seems I can’t even keep track of all of them. So I’ve decided to rebel. I’m going to write the best book I can and submit it however I want. What do you think about that??

If your book is really, really, really, really, really, good (to the nth power), then eventually, someone will probably publish it.

But it probably won’t be me. And it probably won’t be your first choice(s) in publisher.

Here’s the thing–we get so many submissions that DO follow the rules that when we get one that doesn’t, it usually doesn’t even get a serious look. What a submission that doesn’t follow the rules tells us is that either 1) you don’t know the rules and you can’t be bothered to do the basic research to discover what they are–in which case, publishing your manuscript will take a LOT of instruction and hand-holding on our part; or 2) you do know the rules and you think you’re too good for them–in which case you’re going to be a pain in the neck to work with and it’s going to be a fight on every point. Either way, an editor will probably decide that your book will just take too much time, energy and frustration to publish.

If you’re going to keep this attitude, I’d suggest submitting to a publisher who also doesn’t follow the rules. Maybe you can win them over with the force of your personality, or kindredness of spirit. Either that or self-publishing. But you’d better look for a distributor who doesn’t follow the rules too.

Writer’s Notebook

(I’m out of questions. Please send more.)

One of the best ways to improve your writing is to keep a writer’s notebook and to WRITE IN IT EVERY DAY! (Yes, I’m yelling.)

Write anything. Write stream-of-consciousness. Write descriptions of what you’re looking at. Go to the mall and eavesdrop and write down the conversations. Or watch the people as they walk past and describe the scene as they interact non-verbally. Or go to the park and make up stories about the people you see there. (My daughter and I do this all the time. You’d be surprise at the number of master criminals roaming through our city.) Write letters. Write e-mails. Write anything, but do it creatively. And do it every single day. Religiously.

I didn’t always believe this. I thought if I wasn’t writing on a story, it didn’t count. And I thought I could write two or three days a week and that would be just as good. But many moons ago I wrote user manuals for software companies. My boss made all of us technical writers keep a writer’s notebook. We were required to write creatively for 15 minutes a day, on company time. Within just a few weeks, I noticed a marked increase in the speed of my writing AND much less need for rewriting. I was training my brain to think faster, to pull descriptions and words more quickly, to translate what I was feeling with my physical senses more accurately into word images. Never again will I poo-poo the value of daily writing and a writer’s notebook.

Have you tried this? What was your experience? If you haven’t tried it, experiment for a week and then come back here and tell us about your results.

Selling vs Retaining Rights

Can I ask another question about contracts? Why do publishers want all the rights to my book, worldwide and in every possible format, even when they say they probably won’t use them? For example, my publisher wanted the audio rights even though they said they probably will never put my book on CD. What if I really want it on CD? Do I have any say in this?

One reason publishers ask for rights they probably won’t use is for quality control–to prevent you from selling those rights or exploiting them yourself in a way that would be detrimental to the sale of your printed book.

Since you mentioned audio rights, I’ll use them as an example. Some publishers automatically create an audio version of books they expect will sell reasonably well. Other publishers wait to see how the book is selling before they commit to an audio version. If sales don’t reach a certain level within a certain amount of time, no audio book. But they don’t want you to go out and create your own audio book because if you don’t know what you’re doing and you don’t do a professional quality job then that will act as a detriment to the sales of the printed book.

In addition to quality control, publishers want to control the public’s access to your book in a way that will boost sales, rather than replace them. They want to make back their investment and make money for you. Having your book out there as an uncontrolled e-book or in rampant serialization is not in your best interest.

Bottom line, unless you’re really familiar with the industry and a whiz at contract negotiation, you’re not going to be able to sell these other rights yourself anyway. So in most cases, it’s in your best interest to go ahead and give these rights to your publisher–who may be able to sell them for you. Most contracts have a clause addressing this, splitting the revenue from the sell of rights 50/50, after expenses.

Now, it’s a little different on the national market when you have an agent to represent you. In that case, the agent negotiates for you and separates the various rights, selling them to different entities.

Improving Your Writing

I have a question. LDS Publisher, I would like to see you post a blog about what, in your opinion, LDS authors can do to increase their quality of writing. I’m whacking my head against the wall to drag the very best of myself onto the page, and yet I still seem to be falling short. What does a publisher look for that they’re not finding?

1. What can LDS authors do to increase their quality of writing? This is a hard question to answer because everyone is at a different skill level and what I’d suggest to a beginning writer is different than what I’d suggest to a more experienced writer, but I’ll try to cover some very general areas.

First, increase your basic writing skills. This means grammar, spelling, and the other technical parts of writing. Many people believe their skills in this area are higher than they really are. They get feedback from family and friends who have similar skill levels and so they do not catch the mistakes. I’ve had writers go into shock when I point out the grammatical errors in their manuscript. (I’ve had published authors go into shock when I point out the errors in their published books.) Take some brush-up classes, review some basic grammar texts or find someone with editing experience who is willing to go through your stuff and help you learn. If you use Word, it will underline your grammar errors in green. Word is not always correct, but if you don’t know why that green line is there, you need to find out why.

To increase the quality of crafting your story, there is nothing like practice. Write every day. There are so many books out there with writing prompts and other exercises to help you improve. Read some of them and do the exercises. Get in a good writers group, either face-to-face or online, where you can get feedback on your work. Then listen to that feedback.

Read a lot of books, particularly ones that are selling well or those by your favorite authors, but don’t just read for fun. As you read, ask yourself why this book works. What are they doing? What is the structure behind the writing? What techniques do they do well? Where did the story slow down for you and why? How could they have done it differently? If you don’t know why a particular books works or doesn’t work, take a class or read some books on analyzing literature. Study plot building, characterization, dialogue, scene development, descriptive language, foreshadowing, etc.

Learn about genres. Try writing in several of them and decide what you like best. Then learn the rules for that genre. What elements must be included in a good mystery? What in a good romance? They’re different.

Learn the basics of manuscript formatting and the usual guidelines for submitting. Again, there are lots of books and magazines on this topic. Read, read, read. Take notes. Learn.

2. What does a publisher look for that they’re not finding? Another hard question. It’s much easier to tell you what I’m getting that I don’t want. I want stories that speak to deep, universal themes–things we can all relate to–but told with a bit of a twist, so it’s not just another book about whatever.

As an LDS publisher, I want stories, characters and topics that speak to our unique culture. I want historical fiction, modern fiction, women’s stories, mystery, romance. I personally want to see YA and stories for boys, ages 12-18, but the PTBs here at my company aren’t very enthusiastic about them because they don’t sell as well as adult fiction.

Okay, I just noticed how very long-winded I’m being today, but I don’t have time to go back and be more succinct. Have to get back to work. Sorry.

It’s a Small World

One of the comments on my post suggesting you seek legal advice on publishing contracts lamented the lack of experienced attorneys in Utah. That may be the case, but we live in a world connected via the Internet and your options are not limited to the state where you reside.

I did a quick Google on “publishing contract attorneys” and found a long list of sites to peruse, including this site. I’m not promoting or endorsing the site or the firm, but if you’ll note, the site was listed in Writer’s Digest as a good resource for authors. They have a long list of legal articles that contain some good information. Again, I’m not endorsing this, nor giving it a blanket stamp of approval, but from a brief skim of a few of the articles, it seems to be legit and on target.

I also found this site. I entered “publishing contracts” and selected Utah and came up with a list of 42 attorneys/firms; 26 sublisted under Entertainment Law, and 28 under Intellectual Property. If I personally felt I needed legal help, I would start by calling each of these firms and asking if they have someone experienced in publishing contracts. Ask how many they’ve negotiated, how many they’ve broken, and for a list of happy clients that you can call to talk to. All it costs is your time.

Then I went to Publishers Marketplace and did a search for contract attorneys. This produced a list of attorneys who say they specialize in publishing contracts. While they may not be familiar with Utah law, they will understand publishing contracts in general. You could fax them your contract and they can advise you on potential problems. They may also be able to work as counsel in an advisory relationship to a Utah attorney.

I found all this–and much more–in a quick 15 minute perusal of the Internet.

Note: I have a concern that all this talk about contracts and suing is going to have authors rushing to review their contracts and looking for problems, causing fear and anxiety without cause. Let me say that in my experience, most LDS authors are pleased with their publishers and even if they wish they earned higher royalties (who doesn’t?) they are satisfied with their contracts. Most authors that I know who have had concerns have been able to re-negotiate with their publishers or have been released from their contracts.

If You’re Unhappy…

Geez, I go away for the weekend and you all go crazy on me! I love it. And I thought I’d hit a hot button when I got 6 comments on a post. But we’ve set an all-time record here. And my hit stats are through the roof. Thank you.

A lot of the comments were tangential to my post, and that is just fine. But they did bring up a good question:

What do you do if you’re really unhappy with your publisher but you’re locked into a contract?

I wish the LDS publishing industry was big enough to support agents. An agent’s job is to negotiate with the publisher in YOUR behalf. They are the Doberman whose job it is to protect YOU. Good agents “get” the legal talk found in contracts and can predict how that language will effect you, given various scenarios. They also work with attorneys who specialize in publishing contracts. A competent agent won’t let you sign something that is patently unfair or detrimental to your long-term career.

But we don’t have agents because the industry is too small and so authors are left to fend for themselves. Many LDS authors think that since they’re dealing with LDS publishers they will automatically be treated fairly and honorably, as our religious tenets demand. Many times (I would hope, most times) they are. Sometimes they are not. To be safe, smart authors will have an attorney who is familiar with the publishing industry review their contract before they sign them.

If it’s too late for that and you’re really unhappy with your publisher and your current contract, the first thing you do is try to re-negotiate your contract in a professional manner. Most publishers are reasonable people. If you’ve sold well for them, they’re more likely to work with you to come to some mutually acceptable agreement.

If they’re resistant to your attempts, perhaps you can find another author within the same company who has successfully negotiated their contract and have him/her mentor you. Or find another author who has successfully broken or nullified their contract with your publisher, and discover how they did it.

If you’ve really exhausted all your options for peaceful negotiation, and you’re sure you’re being reasonable* and the publisher is a tyrant and just won’t budge, contact an attorney. Many in the LDS culture are hesitant to sue but if that’s your only recourse then seriously consider it–especially if you’ve been a productive, well-received author and this contract is effectively ending your career. Find a good attorney who specializes in contract law and who has some experience in the publishing industry.

Since ROFR was specifically mentioned, let me say that most ROFR clauses, like most non-compete clauses in the rest of the business world, are unenforceable. Legal ROFR clauses must be reasonably limited by time and/or number of books and/or genre. If yours is not, seek legal help. You may be able to force them to delete the ROFR or the judge may nullify the entire contract. If you know other authors who have that same clause in their contract and are equally upset over it, you might have grounds for a class action suit.

However, a word of caution. If you are not the reasonable one, even if you succeed in breaking your contract with your publisher, other publishers might be leery about signing you. You might want to speak with a couple of other publishers to see if: a) their contract is different; b) they are outraged at the terms of your contract or at least think you have a legitimate complaint; and c) they’d be willing to take you on when you get out of your current contract.

*You have a reasonable complaint if their ROFR commits you to more than two years and more than the next two books. You are unreasonable if you think you should get 20% royalties, or a 50 city book tour paid for by the publisher, or that they will accept your next manuscript without edits, or…

In Search of the LDS Masterpiece

In my experience, LDS publishers and critics repeatedly ask “when will a mormon author produce an LDS masterpiece” meanwhile, back at the office they’re nickel and diming those “run of the mill” mormon authors to death. Is if fair to ask when will LDS publishers begin treating LDS authors like professionals?

The flippant answer is: when LDS authors start submitting professional quality manuscripts and when LDS readers start demanding it.

As rude as that sounds, however, it is also the true answer.

There is a customer base that is demanding LDS literature. There are not enough quality LDS manuscripts being submitted to meet that demand. Publishers fill the gap with “run of the mill” books, which the customers accept. Publishers will increase the quality of their output when they have a greater selection of high quality manuscripts to choose from. No publisher ever says, “I think I’ll publish this mediocre manuscript even though I have several really high quality ones here on my desk.” They always pick the best from what they have.

It takes a lot more money and effort to take one of these “run of the mill” manuscripts and really polish it until it shines. Unfortunately, an increased investment of money and effort rarely pays off in significantly increased sales.

Let’s say that if you spend $200 for editing, you can sell 2,000 books. Or you can spend $1,000 in editing, and sell 3,000 books. The investment just doesn’t pay out. Publishers will start putting their money into editing when it becomes cost effective–for example, when that $1,000 corresponds to sales of 10,000 copies.

As long as the customers continue to buy mediocre books at acceptable levels, publishers will continue to accept mediocre manuscripts. And unfortunately, some publishers don’t care as much about quality as they should. They crank out really bad books, slap a pretty cover on it so it will sell, and they don’t care that it’s embarrassingly sub par. Other publishers think they’re putting out high quality product, and they’re really not.

On the other hand, there are some publishers who are really committed to raising the bar for LDS fiction and fortunately, the industry as a whole is moving in that direction. It’s just moving slower than some of us would like.

Notes from the Scary Publisher

Oooh, we’ve found a hot topic in yesterday’s post, haven’t we? That’s good. I like it when there is discussion. It helps us look at things from all angles. There are really two issues here–the effect posting pre-published works on the Internet has on marketing (which has its pros and cons) and the possibility of copyright infringement.

I’ll be excerpting a few of of the comments from yesterday here. You can read them in their entirety here.

If something is really, really good and a portion of it has been posted on the internet, a good publisher like yourself would be goofy not to pick it up, publish it and then ask what else they have. If Harry Potter’s first three chapters were posted on you certainly wouldn’t tel the author to find something less apealing to the reading public.

First, the marketing aspect. There is a difference between posting the first couple of chapters of a book on the Internet (smart marketing) and posting the entire book on the Internet simultaneously with the publication and release of a traditional printed book (fewer sales). If you plan to publish what you’re posting, keep this in mind.

Second, the copyright. A lot of people post their writing on blogs before they publish. They want feedback and use that to shape the final manuscript. They get minimal traffic at their blogsite, so the chances of someone stealing their stuff is reduced but not eliminated. If you’re going to post pre-published work anywhere on the Internet, be smart about it. Mark it with the correct form of a copyright on every post. Keep good records that will support you should you face the worst-case scenario. When you’re ready to start submitting, take down all but the first few chapters. After it’s published, replace those first few chapters with the newly edited and published version, and provide a link to where the book can be published.

Anyone who steals your stuff does so at the peril of their own demise.

If you have the resources to sue them for damages. Let’s say someone stole your book and a big NYC company published it. As a small publisher, I don’t have the money to pursue this or the years it takes to resolve an issue like this. Do you? I will have to wait for them to earn their eternal reward–which does nothing for getting your book published under your name. Even if you get damages, do you think a publisher will re-publish the book under your name? Not likely. And if there’s lots of big publicity and the suit is not resolved in your favor, there will always be the question of who was telling the truth. Some publishers will shy away from publishing anything you write because of that. Perhaps I’m overly cautious and conservative, maybe I’m even a little paranoid, but my job here is to help you–which includes giving you a peek into a publisher’s thought processes and warning you about the possible negative impact of your decisions and actions.

Publishers are consumed by the bottom line of the story-telling business…

Of course we are. That is our JOB.

Publishers forget why we write…somewhere in the long grind of putting out books year after year amnesia set in. Take away all the glitter of marketing, jetison the sales department projections, toss out the promotionals, be rid of the retail shelf space battles, the access to distribution lines, and the corporate boardrooms. And what do you have left? An author writing for a reader. You middlemen publishers are scary people. You’re once removed form the real business of story-telling.

Writers write for a variety of reasons. If your goal is simply to share a good story, then by all means, post it on the Internet, tell it at parties, print copies and give them away or sell them at cost. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

If your goal is to become a traditionally published author and to earn an income from your stories, then you need someone willing to take on the “grind” and run the machinery of publishing–which (because no one has yet invented the replicator which will do away with economically based decisions) includes that cursed marketing, sales projections, promotion, distribution AND coming up with the money to do it.

I hate all that stuff too. That’s not why I became a publisher. I became a publisher because I love good stories, I love books, and I loved particular books so much that I wanted to make it my life’s work to share those books with as many people as I could. I wish I could accept every good story that comes across my desk and turn it into a book, which would magically appear in every store and people would intuitively know it was a good read and happily plunk down their hard-earned cash for it. But in the world we live in, all that other stuff is a necessary evil. It’s not that publishers are so removed from the business of story-telling, it’s that we’re very much in the business of sharing your stories in a permanent format (printed books) with as many people as possible. Since we’re not independently wealthy, that means we have to figure out how to recoup our investment and turn a profit so that we can share even more stories.

Bottom line, we live in a free market economy. Publishers offer a service to both the writer and the reading community. That service carries with it certain conditions and restrictions. If the service we offer has value for you, then seek out a publisher and adhere to their conditions, which may or may not include pulling your work off the Internet. If you feel the service we offer does not carry enough value to outweigh the cost of the conditions, then by all means, publish in your own way, according to your own criteria. No one forces you to “hire” us to produce your book. You can do all of that work yourself in whatever way seems most profitable and emotionally rewarding to you. And I honestly, genuinely wish you success in sharing your story in whatever way you desire.

Posting Your Book on the Internet

This is a long one, so I’m going to insert my comments within the letter itself. You’ll know it’s me because it’s in red and it’s not italicized.

LDS Publisher,

First, thanks for your great blog. Great information that can't be found anywhere else.

You're welcome.

Here is my question: have you seen [a site that allows authors to post their stories on the Internet and receive feedback]?

Yes, I have seen the site, but I haven't read any of the posts.

I'd really like your opinion on the site and the concept. The intent is to provide a convenient place for aspiring, and published, LDS authors to post their work for others to review and provide feedback. The site is completely free and includes auto-notification to let those who are members know when new content or comments are posted.

My assumption is that the typical "publisher" response will be negative. Maybe something along the lines of, "Free content on web? We're doomed!" But I'm hopeful that more progressive publishers will see it for the boon that it can be.

Yes, many publishers will see it that way.

Here's how I think it can help publishers:

1) Market Development - Publishers want to sell more books. You posted a great example recently of an author building some viral buzz for her book.[website] can get the buzz started. Would publishers rather publish the work of an author with no email list or with a long list of avid readers? [website] provides a way for authors to start building their list.

Yes, in this way the site is a positive thing--IF the authors are able to capture the e-mail addresses of everyone who visits or registers on the site. If there is no way to contact those avid readers when the book is released, then it really doesn't help.

2) Market Understanding - I know publishers are really good at what they do, but they could always use more market intelligence. Reviews and comments on [website] could provide one more--actually several more-- data points to judge the potential market acceptance of the work.

Yes, if there was a way for the publisher to determine the demographics of the people who post comments--who liked it, who didn't--and use that info to target their audience, then it would be helpful. However, I am guessing (and this is just a guess) that most of the people who come to the site and post positive comments already have a vested interest in the author--friends and family, fellow writers, etc. Unless your site was getting lots and lots of hits a day from a large cross-section of readers and most of those readers were posting comments, then the comments may not be helpful.

3) Author Development - There is a no doubt a lot of junk out there. [website] provides a free platform for authors to get their work out for the world to see and comment. The reviews may not be professional quality, but practice is practice. Why not a sentence at the bottom of the standard rejection letter: "You might consider posting a portion of your work on [website]..."

This is the best reason for having a site like [website]--to help inexperienced writers hone their craft and to practice getting it out to readers they might not normally have contact with. For that reason alone, I am glad to see that this site exists.

One of my concerns is that the writers may not be getting helpful or correct feedback. A comment that says, "I loved this" or "This stinks" is not productive. Comments that say why they liked/disliked it are more valuable. However, you can't know the expertise of the commenter. When someone suggests doing something differently, do they know what they're talking about? I see suggestions on other sites (and hear them at writers conferences), sometimes by experienced published writers, that are so off track I hope no one follows them.

So to those who have posted on this site, great. Just take the comments with a grain of salt.

And this concept is too new for me to even consider recommending it as part of my standard rejection letter. (See also my last comment.)

4) It is Never Going to Replace Print! - It is a rare individual that is willing to sit in front of a screen and read an entire novel. With the cost of ink and paper, it is much cheaper to go down to your local Deseret Book and buy the book than try to print it out yourself. [website] will never replace traditional book publishing. On the contrary, it will create a number of vocal advocates that will help drive sales as the book goes into print.

You are right, this is not going to replace the printed book. However, I know from experience that it does have an impact on sales. I had an author post his entire manuscript on the Internet--after I had already published his book. His business cards referred readers to the Internet site. Sales dropped almost immediately--enough that I seriously considered suing him for breach of contract. I decided against it for other reasons, but I was really ticked and I absolutely, positively will never publish anything else that this man writes. And if I hear that other publishers (my friends and colleagues) are considering publishing a book by him, I will definitely share my experience with them.

Well those are my opinions, but what I would really like is yours.

I reserve the right to change my mind at some future time, but as it stands right now, I personally, would not have a problem with an author posting short stories or works they didn't intend to publish. This gets them some experience and name recognition. But if they are posting works they intend to publish, my biggest concern is the protection of the author's copyright. Someone could steal the work and publish under their own name before the true author was able to publish or be publishing simultaneously with the real author. I would never be able to determine if that was happening. If that were to happen, it would really cause a sticky and very expensive mess. For that reason, I would have to think long and hard about publishing a book that had been published in its entirety on the Internet.

How to Promote Your Book

I am not promoting the book mentioned in these links. I have no personal stake in whether you buy it or not. I am using this as an example of a GREAT grass roots marketing idea.

Here is an e-mail I got from Sariah S. Wilson last week:


My first book, “Secrets in Zarahemla,” will be on bookstore shelves this week. In honor of my debut novel, I am offering several contests on my website,

I’m contacting you in hopes of spreading the word about my book and to give you the chance to participate in one of the giveaways, the “Secrets in Zarahemla Tell A Friend Contest.” I am hoping that you will tell your blog readers about this giveaway. The direct link to this contest is:

One reader can enter to win a free copy of “Secrets in Zarahemla” and a $50 gift card of their choosing. They will need to enter the name of your blog in the “who referred” them box.

The blogger/blog site that drives the most entrants to the contest will win their own $50 gift certificate and a free copy of my book.

The contest lasts until February 28, 2007.

Thanks so much!
Sariah S. Wilson

P.S. – If your blog has multiple posters, I will leave it to your discretion to determine how the prize should be awarded – whether you prefer to have it split up or to give the certificate away on your own site or have me donate to a charity in your name, etc.

Apparently this is working because I have seen her announcement on no less than 4 forums/message boards and 3 blogs that I regularly visit. This is a smart way to get the word out.

Here’s why it is good:

1. For me, Anonymous LDS Publisher, to have gotten this e-mail means that Sariah is sending announcements of her book to everyone she can think of. That’s good. I’ll bet everyone she knows from grade school on got a variation of this e-mail. (Just be aware that some people might consider this spam and delete without reading. Usually I do, but I recognized Sariah’s name from a blog that she does.)

2. She is targeting bloggers. Bloggers who write about her book and post links help spread the word and increase sales. When someone Googles her name or the title of the book, a whole slew of sites will show up. If they’re all saying good stuff it increases the buyer’s willingness to purchase the book. If you don’t think this is effective, I ask you, ever heard of “viral videos”? Also, getting on blogs is free advertising for Sariah’s book. (Some bloggers might ask for payment or a copy of the book and it might be worth it to oblige them, depending on their hit count.)

3. Speaking of blogs, before Sariah sent out this e-mail, she had been blogging regularly. People who like what they read on her blog are a lot more likely to purchase her book.

4. She has her website in the e-mail in two places, including a link that the reader can click on to go there. She has made it very, very easy for people to go find out more.

5. She’s sponsoring a contest–several in fact. Contests are always a good thing. The one that is really good is the “Tell a Friend” contest. You win by spreading the word about how others can win a contest.

6. When you actually go to Sariah’s website, it looks really cool. Very professional. A good web impression can be subliminal encouragement to buy the book. Even though our logical minds know that creating a website and writing a good book are two completely different skill sets, our emotional mind (which drives our book buying) does not. Like judging a book by its cover, we often judge an author by their website.

When your book is accepted for publication, talk to your publisher and start planning how you will get some grass roots publicity for your book. Sometimes the publisher will be willing to provide the cash, gift cards and books for your winners. Sometimes it will come out of your budget. But either way, this is a great way to use e-mail and the Internet to promote your book.

NOTE TO ALL AUTHORS: Please do NOT bombard me with e-mails about your books and expect them to be posted on this site. I have only posted this one because it is the first I’ve received here and because it is a great example of what to do and how to do it. I will not be posting any other e-mails of this type unless they show an exceptional grasp of marketing and/or provide a teaching moment.

Slush & Art

I love to read (as opposed to everyone else who reads your blog), and want to know what a slush pile reader is. Sounds like an interesting job.

Also, my [friend] is an artist currently illustrating for a column for the [XYZ] newspaper (just so you know someone else would call him an artist too.) and is interested in doing the art on the book covers. Are the book cover designs submitted by the author, or does the publisher supply it? Who would he contact, or how would he get involved in this branch of the business?

Slush Pile Reader — A slush pile is a stack of unsolicited manuscripts. A slush pile reader is someone who reads through those manuscripts and pulls out any that look interesting. Generally, these readers are employees or assistants. Some companies may hire out the reading. Slush readers are often paid in book copies, rather than with real money. To be considered as a reader, you need to know someone in the company who will recommend you as a judicious and discriminating reader.

Book Covers — The author gets little to no say in the book cover design. Some publishing companies (big ones) have an in-house designer, but most of them outsource that work. I have two or three artists that I work with on cover designs, but I’m always keeping my eye open for new ones. Designing book covers requires more than the ability to draw well. This is the book’s #1 marketing tool, so some knowledge of marketing and industry trends is needed. You also have to be able to create and manipulate everything in a digital format. Any experience as a graphic designer will help.

Put together a portfolio and a resume. Experience counts for a lot. If he’s never done book covers before, have him create a few as samples. Then contact the publishing company and ask how to submit your portfolio for consideration. Some companies might want to see hard copies, others will want you to e-mail it to them.

If You’re Already Published…

If you’re already published or you have a book scheduled for release, you might want to read this article.

It has some great tips for promoting your book.

Self-Publishing: Black Mark or Gold Star?

Hello, LDSPublisher!

Hope your holiday was great! [It was, thank you.] I have another question for you.

I’ve heard conflicting opinions of self-publishing. When I first began seriously considering publishing a novel, I was advised that self publishing was tatamount to professional suicide. And yet, I’ve also heard of several authors who have made a real go of the do-it-yourself route.

What do you think? As a publisher, is a self-published work on a resume a black mark? Or a gold star? Or something in between? Would you be more apt to publish someone who had a self published book, supposing it sold moderately well, or would you be more inclined to avoid them? What about publishers outside the LDS market – is there a difference of opinion there?

I guess the real gist of the question is: Is this a road that I might look into, or would I be better off staying on the main publishing highway, so to speak?


Here’s the thing with self-publishing. If you know what you’re doing, or you have good advisors, you can be successful at it. If not, it can be a financial disaster. The majority of self-publishers fall into the disaster category. That is why self-publishing has such a bad reputation.

There is also the bias that if it was any good, a “real” publisher would have picked it up. That’s not necessarily the case, but people still believe it.

Self-publishing does not have to be professional suicide or a black mark on your career, but it’s not an automatic gold star either. It depends on the quality of the finished product, how many and how fast you sold them, and the method you used to sell them (ex: bookstores, personal appearances, online marketing, etc.).

For self-publishing to count with me, it would need to be professionally created so that I could not tell by looking that it was s.p. — and I am picky. I’d expect to be able to find something about the book by googling the title. I would need verified sales of over 2,000 in the first year. Outside the LDS market, sales would need to be higher.

This is definitely a road you might want to look into, but you need to be very, very careful. The first step is to find a distributor. Do this before you print anything. If they like your manuscript/idea, they should be willing to help you find professional editors, typesetters, printers, etc. Not all distributors will help you like this, but many of the smaller ones will.

I also recommend a couple of books by Tom and Marilyn Ross, The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing and Jump Start Your Book Sales. Those two are my favorites. Dan Poynter also has some books on self-publishing, but he’s sometimes a little unrealistic about how easy it is to do it yourself and how much money you can make from it.

If you’re writing for the masses, avoid POD because that usually prices you out of the market. If you have highly specialized info, you can sometimes get away with the PODs. Also, be prepared to do a LOT of marketing. Another book I like is Guerilla Marketing for Writers by Levinson, Larsen and Frishman. They have some good ideas and they try to keep it within a budget.

I know that these are superficial answers. This is a huge subject that can be debated from lots of different angles. There are pros and cons to both traditional and self-publishing. It all depends on what you goals are and the size of financial risk you’re able to take. If you have more specific questions, I’m happy to answer them.

Small Press Treated Like Ugly Step-Sister

I consider myself a small press, even though most of the books I publish are my own. Several of my titles sell well; in fact, one of them sells really well. My books have been in Deseret Book and Seagull stores, as well as in a lot of independents. I’ve had an LDS distributor for years, but I recently decided to self-distribute. Now Deseret Book won’t even talk to me. They tell me I’m not big enough for them to bother with–even though they were ordering almost weekly from my distributor. I don’t understand that. I’m starting to feel like the ugly step-sister.

This happens to a lot of smaller presses and self-publishers. As with so many other issues, a lot of it boils down to economics and the “economy of scale.” There are certain overhead costs that are the same regardless of how many books are ordered–for example, the man-hours it takes to fax an order. Let’s say you’re ordering 100 titles. If a bookstore had to order all 100 titles straight from the author or publisher, that means 100 purchase orders, 100 faxes, 100 incoming invoices, 100 checks, etc. If they can order all 100 titles from the same distributor, that means 1 purchase order, 1 fax, 1 bill, 1 check.

Shipping costs are another example. The more you ship at one time, the less you pay per pound. So if a small bookstore orders 2 books from you, the cost to ship is about $1.25 per book. If they throw those 2 books on an order of 100 books, the cost per book to ship can be as low as 10-20¢ per book. Big difference in profit margin.

Many bookstores have a set of conditions that an author/publisher/distributor must meet, otherwise no matter how good the book might be, it isn’t cost effective to deal directly with them. These conditions vary between stores, but a MINIMUM is usually 5-8 titles that “sell well.” What “selling well” means varies from store to store too. Some bookstores will work with smaller companies, but will ask for special terms, such as a 50% discount or free shipping or both.

It’s an uphill climb for the small publisher. I wish I had some better news or suggestions for you, but I don’t. You could try expanding your product line, but that’s going to increase the time you need to spend in your business which will take you away from future writing projects. And even if you have 40-50 books, you’ll still have bookstores calling and asking “Why don’t you go with a real distributor?”

Or you could do some concentrated marketing to boost the sales levels of your current books. If the public is going into the bookstores demanding the product, then the bookstores are usually going to work with you on some level. But advertising can be expensive and the most widespread is through the DB catalog (catch-22). Books ‘n Things covers advertising through the independent stores. (I don’t have contact info handy for them. Go into your local LDS independent bookstore and see if they have a Books ‘n Things catalog you can look at.)

Last option, reconsider your decision to self-distribute.

Writers Groups

I just finished my first manuscript. I have a friend who wants me to join her writers group. She thinks this would be a good way to get some feedback and determine if I’m ready to submit. But I’m not sure if that’s a good idea. I’ve heard horror stories about critique groups. What do you think? Is this a good idea or not?


Dear Groupie,

The good news: A good writers group can be an invaluable resource. It can be a great incentive to write according to schedule. Sharing information, successes, rejections is a great support to the often lonely world of writing. The bad news: Good groups are hard to find.

A good group often has a mix of beginners and published authors. It may also help if the group is specific to your genre. You don’t want to be in a group that is too nice to give you honest feedback, but you also don’t want a group where flaming and destructive criticism are allowed or encouraged. Good feedback should point out what you did right, as well as places that need work. All feedback should be given with respect. You also want to avoid groups with overbearing personalities that dominate the group. Interaction should be a give and take among equals, not bossy know-it-alls condescending to share their advice and experience with the ignorant. (I’m not a bossy know-it-all. Well, not always.)

Go to the group. Read a few pages. Listen to the comments. Think about the feedback. It only takes one or two visits to determine if the group is a good fit for you or not.

And don’t be offended if a group invites you to attend on a trial basis. There are a lot of new writers who start out with a bang, but then become hit-and-miss non-producers. This is a burden to the group. A screening process allows a healthy group to protect the integrity of the resources they offer. If you are rejected because you’re not a good fit for them, you probably wouldn’t have had a good experience with them anyway.