CanWrite! 2014: How to get published with Halli Villegas, June 21

There was no panel discussion on Saturday and at breakfast, one of the organizers asked me if I’d host Halli’s workshop in the afternoon. I said sure, but I was a bit nervous. I even asked Halli how she wanted her name pronounced, and then promptly messed it up anyway. Sorry about that, Halli.

Halli VillegasFor your information, it’s Vee-yay-ges 🙂

Please note: This is a transcript of my hand-written notes. Halli, or anyone else who may have been present, if I’ve gotten any of the details wrong, please feel free to correct me. I will fix it post-hasty.

To the workshop (allons-y).

 


 

The title of this workshop might be misleading. I’m not going to publish you. We could have called it The Business of Writing. Now there’s a sexy title.

We’re going to talk about what happens when you get published. I can give you my perspective on that, but I’m looking more toward a sharing of expertise. I don’t have a grounded knowledge in self-publishing, or publishing with a micropress, or with a major publisher, but some of you may, so I’m looking forward to bringing out the knowledge in this room.

<We then went around the room and introduced ourselves and shared a little bit about our experience, or lack thereof, with publishing.>

Tightrope Books is a small, or indie press. We’re also called a boutique publisher, because we cater to a specific writer and reader. We tend to the literary, but we’re not publishing so much poetry as we used to. We now have an annual anthology of the year’s best poetry, with guest editors.

You don’t want to compete with yourself.

I worked for five years with Guernica and when it came time to think about starting my own press, my idea was to make it author-centric. That core idea had to evolve, though. It had to become a business.

Always read and follow the submission guidelines. What does the press publish? Does your work fit?

Be professional. Fill out your writing C.V.

Some publishers will have set reading periods. Some have particular niches. ChiZine Publications, for example, focuses on horror and dark fiction.

There’s also the Writers’ Reserve. It’s a fund that provides money to publishers to publish professional writers offered by the Ontario Arts Council (OAC). That reading period is from September to February. Tightrope will receive maybe three hundred submissions under the Writers’ Reserve. We might look more seriously at twenty manuscripts. How many of those we publish varies from year to year.

<Halli discussed the Writers’ Reserve in more detail in the Tightrope Books context. Here’s the link for the Writers’ Reserve if you’d like more information.>

Do your research. Is there a house style guide? If not, the Chicago Manual of Style is the default reference.

Poets generally aren’t agented.

Networking is a great way to make contacts. Conferences like CanWrite! and events like Word on the Street (WotS). WotS used to have a festival atmosphere. Now it’s more commercial. Small press fairs are much the same. All are great places to make connections.

Determination plus persistence equals success.

What happens once your submission is accepted?

You will go through what’s called a substantive edit with an editor. This takes at least two months and is a process of shaping that manuscript.

Next is the line edit. This phase of editing focuses on details and continuity in the manuscript. That leads to the copy edit, which delves into spelling and grammar.

Once your book is accepted, it’s usually about two years to publication.

The fall season is the big publishing season. Spring is a second big season, but you’ll see more beach reading and other, lighter fare.

Typesetting is an art. It’s not as simple as it looks. It’s really about capturing the spirit of the book in a tangible form.

Similarly, your cover design, and therefore your cover designer, is important.

Even the back cover copy is tailored to the book.

Most publishers dictate typesetting, cover, and back cover copy.

Simultaneous submissions are frowned upon.

Response times run anywhere from three months to a year. It depends on the volume of submissions. Responses often can’t be personalized. There’s no time.

The launch is your champagne moment. Make sure you have review copies and copies set aside for contests, major media, etc.

With respect to marketing, print ads aren’t worth it. Budgets have decreased across the board. Grants are disappearing. Sometimes we have to go begging for reviews. There’s no money to send the writer on a book tour. We can’t pay for flights.

Initial sales can be between six weeks and six months. It depends on the profile and popularity of the book. This is the main sales drive.

In a cooperative arrangement, the publisher pays for preferential placement of your books. Even if the publisher pays, however, you should check.

Engage in guerrilla marketing. Go into the bookstore and rearrange the books on the shelf to better display your books.

A bestseller in Canada is about 5,000 copies. A poetry bestseller is between 200 and 300 copies. In the American market, you have to sell at least 35,000 copies to even crack the lists.

I’ve given you in your package a copy of the Tightrope Books contract. It was based on the Writers’ Union of Canada (WUC) contract. Let’s have a look . . .


 

Since I’m not going to share Halli’s contract, I’m going to end here.

I will offer you the link to the Writers’ Union of Canada’s contract information page. If you’re not a member, you may have to pay a nominal fee, but their resources are well worth the cost.

Halli gave us a load of handouts that was very informative. 10 pointers to help you get published; a list of resources for writers; a list of Canadian literary magazines; The Tightrope Books house style guide; and a copy of her contract.

Next weekend: The CAA Literary Awards Gala and wrap post.

CanWrite! 2014: Publisher Panel, June 20

Christie HarkinCraig PyetteHalli VillegasPanellists: Christie Harkin, Lorimer; Craig Pyette, Random House; Halli Villegas, Tightrope Books.

Moderator: Sue Reynolds

 

 

 

 

 

SR: What would make you shout “Eureka!” if it crossed your desk today?

CP: If we’re talking fiction, I’m not likely to shout right away, but something fresh, or new, would make me pay attention.

HV: The writing has to be excellent. The writer has to be willing to work hard in the editorial process. I like unique settings, LGBT, quirky, diverse books. In our best essays anthology, there was a piece about hospitals that was fascinating.

CH: I have a spreadsheet with tic boxes. I have to check off all the boxes to consider the piece. It has to fit into one of our current series, have an urban setting, preferably in the downtown core, it must be edgy, realistic, modern, and not elitist. If I receive something that meets the criteria, I’d shout “Eureka!”

SR: How many books do you consider from your respective slush piles? How do you prefer to be approached?

CP: If you want to submit to a larger house, get an agent. Most of what we produce comes to us through agencies. With regard to your first question, it would be close to none. I can think of one book we accepted from the slush pile. It was non-fiction about the intersection of gun culture/manufacture and hip hop/urban culture.

HV: Every season, there’s at least one book I find in the slush pile. We’re a small press and periodically closed to submissions. Sometimes we put out a call for an anthology. Our most recent was for mystery stories. We also accept projects though grants, like the OAC’s Writers Reserve. If I like the work, I’ll get in touch.

CH: I’ve been with Lorimer for eight months and before that, I was with Fitzhenry & Whiteside. At Lorimer, there is no slush pile. When the list is specific, the submissions are low. We ask for specifics. Read the submission guidelines.

SR: How do you make a business case for a book? In other words, what happens after “Eureka?” How do you sell a book?

CP: The business case is part of the eureka moment. We have to see that there is a robust audience for the book. We talk a lot about comps.

HV: Comps are the first thing sales asks for. Tightrope has built its own market. Readers say, “I trust their aesthetic.” We have our annual poetry and essay anthologies, we’ve published material on plus-sized women. We’re not necessarily focused on the market in general, but on our audience. We published a book titled, How to get a Girl Pregnant, about a gay couple trying to have a baby. The author needs to be part of the process.

CH: We also want proactive authors. They have to be willing to attend conference, Word on the Street, commit to local promotion. The biggest market for kids books is in schools and libraries. Take a look at the curriculum and write book club-like content for teachers so they can teach the novel in class. There was a book about Jacques Plante, but it was too focused and a lot of the kids it was aimed at wouldn’t be able to relate. This morphed into a book about hockey safety in general and how players have contributed to innovation over the years. The revised book had a more universal appeal.

SR: Publishing is a business. You know what you’re looking for. What about international rights and contracts?

CH: If you don’t have an agent, you don’t have any negotiating power. You probably don’t have the knowledge, or the connections. Think seriously before you sign a contract.

HV: We had a South African author who wanted to publish in both countries. I have a North American and European distributor. I don’t like being limited to Canadian rights only. It’s a smaller market. The first print run is 600-1000 books. We’ve just added ebook rights as well. We don’t do commercial fiction, however.

CH: You want your publisher to contract for US rights. More books will sell in the States than in Canada. Lorimer insists on US rights, in fact. If the author wants to retain them, that would be a deal-breaker.

CP: You don’t want your rights squandered. Ask what the publisher wants to do. Random House has a great foreign rights department, but half of our authors aren’t Canadian. We’re a Canadian-oriented publisher, though. With an agent, the world is their oyster.

HV: Big publishers will have a legal department. I don’t. If things get too complicated, I send the writer to an agent or a lawyer.

CH: Yes, an intellectual property (IP) lawyer.

SR: Let’s open the floor to questions.

Q: What’s your risk tolerance?

CP: Keep in mind that the greater the risk, the higher the potential payoff. Last fall was unusual. We published books on Bobby Orr and Chris Hadfield. Colossal risks, but the payoff was huge, too. Sometimes you blow it, but if you’re passionate, you take the risk.

HV: We don’t have a big budget, so we don’t take big risks in the traditional sense. I like to build the ladder rather than climb it.

CH: At Fitzhenry & Whiteside, I had a lot of latitude. My risks paid off. I’ve been lucky. Lorimer is less of a risk-taker, but we will still weigh the pros and cons before making a decision.

Q: What is the process of getting on the bestseller lists?

CP: If we knew that, we’d all be millionaires. That’s putting the cart before the horse. In 2006 Booknet started tracking sales at the cash register for 90% of the retailers in Canada. The Globe & Mail Bestseller list is based on Booknet numbers.

Q: Does politics play a role?

CP: It’s hard sales numbers.

HV: Do you mean, “it’s who you know”?

CP: Maybe there’s the odd favour.

CH: Maybe we can get the book into a reviewer’s hands.

HV: It’s a chicken and egg thing. Some authors will automatically be on the bestsellers lists. Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaajte.

Publisher's Panel


 

And that’s all we had time for.

Next week: Writing Fantasy with Kelly Armstrong!

CanWrite! 2013: Day 3 Traditional vs. self-publishing panel

The day 3 (June 15) panel, featured Halli Villegas of Tightrope Books, Sheila Mahoney, Certified Copyeditor and Editors’ Association of Canada Director of Professional Standards, and Tom Taylor, self-published author of Brock’s Agent, Brock’s Railroad, and Brock’s Traitor.

Once again, James Dewar acted as moderator.

JD: Should an author go for a traditional deal, or self-publish?

TT: There are many ways to skin this cat.  I have a publisher in the UK, but did the Canadian editions myself.  All the big marketing budgets have gone by the wayside in any case (Penguin, ECW). You have to invest money in your own promotion regardless.

SM: Know what you’re willing to do.  If you know you can invest the time and money, then do it.  It cost one client $25000, but mistakes were made.  What’s an acceptable risk?

HV: It’s not either/or but how and when?  Speaking tours can be difficult to arrange depending on your genre.  Publishers do have a lot of resources that can help in some situations.  It’s a matter of choice.  For example for academic clients and libraries, there’s Coutts.  They’ll order a set number of copies for distribution to their clients.  Also, there’s BowkerLINK, which offers sales and marketing information.  Publishers can get the proper ISBN barcodes for the cover.  Your books can be featured in catalogues for booksellers and distributors.

TT: It’s business and you have to approach it like that.  Where will your books sell?  Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge is a rare bookstore, very entrepreneurial.  There’s a bakery in the Niagara region where I’ve sold more books (about 300) than at most bookstores.  The owner will talk the books up to customers, many of whom are tourists.  You have to know how to market wisely.

Here’s what I invested and how I recovered the costs:

  • Line edit: $1500
  • Substantive edit: $1500
  • Layout (internal and cover design): $3000
  • Printing: $4000 (2000 copies at $2 each)
  • Total: $10000

To break even, I had to sell 1000 copies of the book at $10 a piece.  Everything else was profit.

SM: Certified editors are best but they don’t come cheap.  Independent editors, some are good and some are bad.  Design is important.  You should make your book a pleasure to read.

TT: I don’t necessarily want everyone to spend $10000 only to fail.  Your comfort level must be considered.  Editing is paramount.  The package is the product (like the media is the message—Marshall McLuhan).

SM: The people who love you are not going to be honest with you.   There’s a difference between line editing and copy editing and substantive editing.  Know what you need and what you’re paying for.

JD: Agents can take over part of the substantive.

TT: Maybe self-publishing is not for you, but if you’ve done the work up front, if you have a fully edited manuscript and a beautiful layout and a lovely cover ready to go, how much more interested will a potential publisher be?  Media coverage is important as well.  Get the word out however you can.  Chapters will take books on consignment too.  Check with your local store.

Ultimately, there were no real answers in this presentation as to whether traditional or self-publishing is better.  It’s an individual decision for every author.  There was a lot of good information that could come in handy regardless of whether you go for a traditional deal or self-publish.

Tomorrow: The Gala and wrap-up post.

See you then!

CanWrite! 2013: Day 1 Publishing Panel

For the most part, for the panels and sessions, I’m just going to be transcribing my notes, as written.  I’ll attempt to offer some context, however.

After the morning writing circle and some networking time at lunch, it was onto the Publishing Panel.  On the panel were Halli Villegas, publisher of Tightrope Books, Christie Harkin, children’s book publisher and editor at Fitzhenry & Whiteside, and Anita Chong, senior editor at McClelland & Stewart.

In later panels, I noted the speakers, but for this first one, I didn’t have the presence of mind to think of it.  My apologies to the publishers.

The panel was called Changes in the Publishing Landscape.

  • Larger publishers are finding that their biggest book-buyers are going to non-traditional (not brick and mortar bookstores) sellers to get their books (Costco, Walmart). Books are now competing with groceries (!)
  • Smaller presses are going back to events, launches, readings, etc.
  • Fewer stand-alone poetry books being published.
  • LGBT is gaining in popularity.  More mindful of the community they write for and have to market to.
  • Everyone feels like they have to dance to Amazon’s tune, though that may not be accurate.
  • Chapters/Indigo has a very short return policy now.  Books are being returned before they have a chance to get any traction.
  • Inventory control is important to the big booksellers.
  • Chapters/Indigo may buy 5000 copies of a book for all their chains.  Most come back (about 2/3).
  • Some publishers have to increase a print run, or go into a second printing to meet these orders.  This puts them further behind the eight ball.  They’ve suffered a loss before they’ve even got their books in stores.
  • All the indies order books too, increasing the pressure for a large print run.  Smaller publishers are suffering.
  • There is increasing specialization in publishing.  No more generalists.
  • What authors need to know most: DO YOUR RESEARCH!  All the information you need is on the websites of the publishers.
  • Go to the bookstore. Who’s publishing books like yours?  Look at the acknowledgements of these books: agents and editors are often among those thanked.
  • Don’t follow the trends. Erotic zombies?  (LOL)  Stick to your guns.  It’s not either/or but how far are you willing to go and how much are you willing to do?
  • Children’s books are not marketed to children, but to those who buy books for their children: parents, teachers, etc.
  • Print on demand (POD) doesn’t work in most cases.  There are restrictions.  Minimum print runs may still be required to break even.  POD kiosks offer poor quality product.  POD is not viable even at larger publishers.
  • Still on POD.  Short run = 250.  Medium run = 250-1000.  Watch how POD affects your contracts.  It has an impact on what’s considered to be in print.  If your rights don’t revert to you until after the book is out of print and POD technically means that the book never truly goes out of print, you may not get your rights back (!)
  • Electronic publishing is better, regardless of the venue chosen.
  • Publishers generally give 50% of their profits to distributors, booksellers, etc.  Publishing is not as lucrative as you think.  Ebooks lose only 30% (or less).
  • Publishers are looking for new talent all the time.
  • Unsolicited submissions can result in publication, but rarely.  Same with the slush pile.  DO. YOUR. RESEARCH.
  • Writers Reserve from the Ontario Arts Council.  $$ for writers.  Publishers apply for it and use the $$ to pay their authors.
  • Ask agents and publishers what they are looking for.  Write to order (if you can).

It was great to see three fabulous and articulate women take the stage.

Tomorrow: Publicity and marketing sessions: Good, bad, and downright ugly.