Monday, August 13, 2018

Traversing the Publishing Landscape In a New Era

Maybe you want an audience to read your memoir, your short stories or poetry—or maybe you don’t. In the Women’s Writing Circle, we honor writers who write for others, and those who write for their eyes only.

If an audience is what you seek, how do you go about traversing the complex byways of today’s ever-changing and dynamic publishing landscape?

A democratization of publishing has opened the world of book publishing to anyone who wants to call himself or herself an author. This has an upside and downside. Competition is keen and you want your work to stand out.

In order to master the publishing terrain, it's necessary to understand the diverse options available in a new era and chose the one aligned with your goals as a writer and author.

Author Helen Hieble
The crux of our Women's Writing Circle workshop, Traditional or Independent Publishing? this past weekend served as an introduction to publishing options. The many permutations of each option were not the focus. I did try to present a comprehensive overview using printed handouts, as well as the internet, projected on a large television screen in our Women's Writing Circle conference room, to map out “the lay of the land.” 

Here are takeaways from our workshop, attended by fourteen writers, some published authors, some not. The publishing landscape is a rocky road, a diverse frontier populated by myriad groups, companies, websites and blogs selling their wares. Sorting through it can be exhausting.

Evaluate your skill set before deciding what and how to publish. How much help do you need? How much can you do on your own?

What does the Big Five consider marketable? Romance, erotica, nonfiction (Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff). Although the dream is an advance and a big company behind you, most authors, especially those writing memoir and literary fiction, will not be fortunate enough to take that route.

What drives you to publish now and in the future? 

What works for you and aligns with your goals might not work for another writer. The point is to stay engaged, be enthusiastic about your work and consider investing in it as you would season tickets to the theater, or whatever your passion.


Authors Marilyn Michalski and Flo Shore
Who knew ALL that goes into self-publishing? For some, it wasn’t just an eye-opener, but, well, yes, an eye-opener. Hiring your own editors, (developmental editors and proof readers and, yes, you need both) designing a cover, hiring a company which offers formatting and marketing “packages” (for example, BookBaby or Mill City Press)…it's all under your control. Going the self-publishing or assisted self-publishing route requires research and comparison shopping. 

DIY (Do It Yourself)—learning to use the free tools on Amazon's CreateSpace to upload and publish your manuscript and cover is another option.  Do you even need a paperback? Digital books often comprise the majority of sales for an author. The time, talent and patience DIY requires works if you have a timeline to quickly get a book online and want or need to save a decent chunk of money.

For those who don’t want the headaches that go with being an independent author and publisher, small presses, a form of traditional publishing,  also produce POD (print on demand) books. Most don’t require a literary agent or query letter and few, if any, offer advances. What they offer is some discernment of who they will publish and who they reject.

Does a small press staff cultivate a long-term relationship? What can they do for you that you can't do alone? Anyone can call themselves a small press or publisher. Do they operate out of their garage and go out of business, leaving your book in limbo? Research who they published, track records in longevity and sales, copyright issues and contracts. If they require money upfront from you (buying a set number of books), they're best to avoid, according to experts in the book business.

The term hybrid or partnership publishing came as a revelation. “I didn’t know that was even a possibility. Makes me feel less alone, like there are people out there to help me with all of this,” one woman said. “I like it!”  However, there can be significant costs associated in hopes of getting into a bookstore or receiving a marketing leg up.

Is a contract necessary to hire an editor?  I admit I don’t have firsthand experience. (For me, the "contract" with my editors was a handshake, an agreed upon sum. I selected editors I knew personally and respected.) If companies offer editorial services, before signing on the dotted line, ask them who is doing the editing, what are their credentials and backgrounds. Writers need business acumen to protect themselves and their investment.

Audiobooks are great while driving to work, stuck in traffic jams, working out at the gym and long-distance driving. They're also a growing market. However, the pleasure in listening boils down to who is reading your book, their interpretation of its story, their voice and overall presentation. Who is going to read your book in a way that captures the essence of your voice and story? We looked at the ACX website for more information on how to create an audiobook.

The bottom line: We can publish the way we want and how we want with or without gatekeepers.

Summertime is often a difficult season to get writing accomplished, so a publishing workshop in August works well, or so I was told. But, as always, it gets back to the writing. This is our first priority—and yet—our writers wanted to know more about launching a book, marketing and networking skills, all fodder for another workshop.

What resources help guide you through the process of publishing? The internet is a wide open terrain of information and commercial enterprise. Beware of scams and scam artists. Some claim they'll help you and then disappear or charge exorbitant fees without delivering the services, or don’t have the experience or credentials to stay at the top of the game in this competitive world of publishing. I cited SFWA's Writer Beware and  Jane Friedman as resources to keep alert to this.

How about you? Which publishing routes are you considering, or have chosen, and how has that worked out?

A former staff writer with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Susan G. Weidener has written two bestselling memoirs, Again in a Heartbeat: a memoir of love, loss and dating again, which has been translated into Spanish, and its sequel Morning at Wellington Square. Her novel, A Portrait of Love and Honor, is based on a true story. As an independent author, she has taught memoir and fiction to adults from Philadelphia, PA to Tucson, AZ and been instrumental in collaborating on publishing two short story and poetry collections, Slants of Light: Stories and Poems from the Women's Writing Circle and The Life Unexpected: An Anthology. Susan facilitates the Women’s Writing Circle, a support and critique group for writers in suburban Philadelphia and blogs weekly. Her website is:

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