Saturday, May 03, 2008

Small Press Publishing - what it's really like...

Okay, I'd just like to start this post with the preface that firstly I have, thus far, only published one book (next one out in Sept - wheeee!) and that what I'm saying here is from my own limited experience with Samhain Publishing. I ain't no marketing guru nor am I an expert on other publishers.

So, I've probably banged on enough about my first sale story, but briefly, I was having a really tough time struggling with a 10month old toddler and a grim pregnancy (grim because I just couldn't stop being sick). I was shattered and spiraling into post-natal depression (and yes you can get it before the baby arrives!). Hubby suggested I come up with a project, something just for me, that would take my focus away from life with the small screamies (okay screamy at that stage) and make me sit down and stop stressing about everything. Thus Running Scared came into being. I began it around June 2004 and it was sold to Samhain Publishing in January 2005 just after Miss Bugalugs was born.

This flung me in at the deep end of small press publishing. I didn't have a clue. At first it was all a nightmare of editing and breastfeeding (although the breastfeeding part was not part of the publishing - just in case you were wondering). Running Scared almost had to be rewritten from scratch, but I cannot describe how much I learned.

And this is where the value in small press publishing lies for the newbie. In Running Scared I had made every beginner mistake known to publishing and invented a few new ones! But I had the opportunity to go through the book line by line with a professional editor, who not only told me what needed to be changed by why.

At times it was gruelling and overwhelming, at times I just didn't think I could come up with another scene, but I did. I think the very worst moment was two weeks before it was e-published, and we had signed off Running Scared, all done, ready to go. Then I get an email from my Editor (on the 26 December - yes Boxing day) including a copy of the text with 500+ changes that a line editor had picked up. These weren't just typo changes either, these were "too much headhopping in this sex scene..." type changes, so the scene had to be totally rewritten from one point of view. I was at the point where I wanted to screech LEAVE IT, I don't care. But instead I gave up my holiday and sat down and rewrote again.

My point is, that a big publisher would not have looked twice at this book. But at Samhain they saw I had the bones of a good story and that I could string a sentence together and decided to work with me. Otherwise that novel would've ended up buried on some hard disc somewhere and I maybe wouldn't have written again.

This is why, when I see Crissy and Angela at the conference I shall be sobbing all over them and explaining to them exactly how they changed my life for the better.

Sorry, gushing.

But, little did I realise that the editing and publishing of Running Scared was only the first rung in the vertical learning curve that I found myself upon. Next came the marketing.

My first and instinctive response to marketing was pretty much along the lines of, "Shit NO WAY. I'm not going to SELL my own novel. Get real."

Samhain, however, had come across my sort before!

So they, and I believe that other small press/e publishers do this as well, had put in place a support network for writers swooning at the thought of flogging their wares.

First place you start your marketing is the e-loops.
At Samhain there are three loops for authors only where you can discuss advertising, marketing, birthday parties, grocery lists whatever! Some of the authors are very experienced in marketing and a couple come from a marketing background, and they give, give, give... Ask a question and people all over the world respond with their advice/experience. You find yourself thinking 'okay maybe I can do this.'

At Samhain we also have the Samhain Cafe, an e-loop where readers and authors chat 24/7, this is a fab place to start marketing. I so remember sending a timid email, along the lines of "Hi, I'm a newbie, my book has just come out, please don't hurt me..." and was overwhelmed with support an interest. I could barely keep up.

But you don't have to limit yourself to your publisher, websites like Coffee Time Romance, Romance Junkies, The Romance Studio have vast yahoogroups, chat rooms, competitions and so on, soley for authors to make contact with readers and sell their books.

Did you think publishing was just about writing and maybe a bit of marketing?? Nope. Prepare yourself to become aufait with the mysteries of HTML, web design, jpg's, working with printers, designing your own fridge magnets... The sky is the limit. But again at Samhain they are behind you, they run online classes, how to design a brochure, how to write an HTML newsletter, with experts to help. In these classes the clueless mix with the clueful and suddenly there you are sending out emails with a picture of your book cover in the signature line.

So as you can see, whilst the world of marketing your own novel may, at first glance, seem daunting, you are not alone.

Samhain sends out your novel for reviews, and has a list of approved reviewers that you can send to yourself. Reviews are marketing gold. You can pick the best line or two from the review and sprinkle it about... on your website, in your brochure, in your signature line. You can let the world know that someone out there thinks your books are great. I've only had one average review (and to be honest I think the reviewer had a valid point in her criticism) and even then she still said some good stuff about the novel. Curious? She kindly put the review up on so have a look if you wish.

The Print Version
So six months after my e-version came out I got my own print version to hold in my hand, I felt that life was now complete, but still the marketing began again.

It was much the same as before with e-loops and chats, posting excerpts of the novel and getting involved in give-aways and competitions. However, by this time it'd become clear that first it was going to be a long time between books for me (I just couldn't have a high output and give the kids what they needed) and second that Running Scared was not going to sell itself. The novel is a good story, but I'm the first to admit isn't a masterpiece (and I know it is a cardinal sin to talk down your own book, but its also important to understand the reality of your situation).

Books do sell themselves. Great reviews, people raving about it on chat lists, 4.5 stars from Romantic Times, a cover that is being lauded from one end of cyberspace to the other. Sometimes the book just clicks. But the reality is that many books fall into the average grade. Nothing awful about them but they don't earn their writer a mint either. I am NOT ashamed to admit that Running Scared was such a book - its value to me is far beyond monetary.

So, I decided to use the launch of the print version to learn everything I could about publishing and marketing. First thing I did was pay the piper. Asked around and booked advertising space on a couple of big websites such as Coffee Time Romance, got involved in some of the packages those sites offer such as Latte Limelight and took advantage of the e-cards, chats and blogging opportunities. So from September through to November of last year I was flat out with this stuff. And I really enjoyed it. Teamed up with a few other authors and did an Aussie chat day - Samhain Cafe has yet to recover from that! It was intensely hard work, I got hardly any of my own writing done and the house descended into chaos, but it was fun.

The hits on the website doubled, then tripled, and it was fascinating to see the instant effect of some types of advertising. Other types of advertising, however, barely made a ripple in the pond. This has been solid gold for me now as I'm sorting out advertising for Secret Intentions. Cover on the front of Coffee Time Romance, worked and I had a sales spike. Interview with Romance Junkies, not a flicker of interest. And its experience like this that makes Running Scared such a valuable book.

I had my own book launch - yes a whole new experience in fear, but I did it and I'm glad I did. Sent out press releases to local papers - to the eternal amusement of my workplace when they were published with smarmy photo. I tried it all.

These days all writers need to do this kind of marketing. Maybe its not so full on with a big publisher, or maybe its full on in a different way (I expect a book tour would pretty much reduce you to a jelly). But from Ken Follet to Jane Porter to me, we are all out there marketing ourselves and our work (appearances on Oprah, having your book turned into a movie and... um... Tim Tam giveaways!)

With small presses you do have to open your wallet, and with Running Scared I spent around $500 which I doubt is going to be earned back. But I see it as my hobby, and hell, people spend thousands on quilting and scrapbooking, and that is just for their own pleasure.

Don't let the marketing aspect of small presses put you off investigating or submitting to them. It is a bona fide way to get your foot in the door and the rewards for yourself and your writing career can be far and beyond what you may imagine.

So, questions? I hope I've addressed what everyone wanted to know in the chat room last night - and sorry I was only there for ten minutes or so! If any other authors have anything to add I'd love to hear it. Like I said, this is my limited experience in a nutshell.

Oh and we did catch the possums and they are now safely living in the possum boxes!

6 people love me:

Suzanne Brandyn said...

Hi Cait,
So informative. I want to thank you for sharing this valuable informtion. Yes, I had a little idea of what is involved in marketing. But with the sites you mentioned, Coffee Time Romance etc. I was unaware of... Hmmm I'm facing the long road, less travelled.
I'm learning, gleaning as much information as I possibly can.
And you are certainly an inspiration doing all that marketing and editing especially before christmas, and being pregnant.
Good Luck for your next one. I'm sure it will do even better.
All the best,

Sandie Hudson said...

Hi Cait
Your post is fantastic. Although it doesn't apply to me just yet, I lave reading about all the aspects of the business. All those e-loop sites you mentioned are great. I don’t chat on them much but I do find the posts very informative.

Thanks for sharing your promotion and marketing journey with us.


Sussan Marz said...

Caitlyn, thanks for the informative post. I appreciate the time it took you to write it.

I do have a question. Is having a blog part of the recommended marketing strategy? I noticed that you don't advertise your book on your blog, but do advertise on your webpage. I know the assumption is that every visitor you have comes through your website. But what happens when they visit or find your blog first? Someone like me, for instance. Do you see the blog as more personal, and therefore not a place to advertise your book?

Rachael Blair said...

Evening Cait

Wow - loved this post sooooooo much! As someone who's been targetting M&B in her writing for a while but is wondering whether her 'style' really fits, I've been umming and ahhing about submitting to small press. And you've answered a lot of my questions. So thanks!!


Caitlyn Nicholas said...

No worries everyone, I enjoyed writing it (and it was a legitimate reason to not write the kissing scene which is presently killing me).

The thing to remember with marketing is that you don't HAVE to do anything. Its up to you. I chose to give a lot of stuff a try to get the experience, and its been well worth it.

Kirsty C said...

Hi Caitlyn,

I have been lurking awhile (found you via Rach's blog), but just wanted to pop in and thank you for such a great blog entry.

Like Rach, I'm umming and ahhing about an e-press, and Samhain is the one I would chose to submit to. It was great to hear tips from your experiences. Particularly the info on what sent your website visitors spiking - that's stuff I've never really thought about. There's so much more to it than just writing the story, hey!

And the response times sound great - I've heard of Harlequin having manuscripts for over a year. Imagine having it tied up that long, and then they still dont want to take it! Painful.

Thanks again for the info,