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.