Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Judge A Publisher By Its Size, Do You?

Recently I've been trying to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions, on the theory that if one new author asked, a dozen more want to know the same thing. This one, or some variation, comes to every author’s mind at one time or another.

I wrote a book and I have an offer from a very, very, very small publisher. They asked me what kind of an advance I would want, are paying 15% royalties (40% on ebooks) and what-not.

But it's a small house. The chances of getting the brick and mortar treatment are slim. What's funny is that I had no dream of getting this published and now I'm wondering if I'm selling myself short, or if self-published would be better until I attract someone bigger.

I do know a little about the pros and cons of self publishing. After all, I started my own publishing company because I didn’t have the patience to wait for the mainstream to let me in and I wanted to know for sure if anyone wanted to read my work. Luckily, I have found an audience.

I also placed one of my novels, Blood and Bone, with a small publisher (Echelon Press.) With 60 other writers to support, they have not been able to give me the support I can give myself. HOWEVER, they did make it easier for me to break into Borders and Barnes and Noble. Once I started selling in those places they happily accepted my other titles.

The primary advantage to NOT being self-published is distribution, and that difference exists more in the minds of booksellers than in reality. My books, manufactured by Lightning Source, actually get to stores faster and more reliably than the Echelon title, yet there are still managers who back away from “print-on-demand” books (if they find out.) A few I’ve become friends with were quite stunned to learn that my books were printed as needed because they had been told two falsehoods: they are not returnable and they take much longer to order.

So, my advice is to question the publisher closely about distribution. They need to have a distributor in addition to Ingram and Baker & Taylor. Lightning Source distributes thru both of them but there’s no sales force. If they have all three then you have as good a chance at “the brick and mortar treatment” as anyone else. If, like Echelon Press, they also work with a distributor that specializes in library sales you have a good chance there too. But understand that even with distribution, few stores will stock your title unless you do a signing there.

As for the advance, I think I have some unusual advice. Try negotiating for a smaller advance with a dedicated marketing and publicity budget. If they spend money on promoting your book, you'll get more royalties in the long run.

Also, for what it’s worth, my experience has been that you are more likely to go from small publisher to big publisher than you are to go from self published to big publisher. And who knows? If your book is a hit you might turn a small publisher INTO a big publisher.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Stories - Classics and my own

"A Christmas Carol" and "It’s a Wonderful Life" have become the traditional films that are symbolic of the season, but for me the key movie is the original 1947 version of "Miracle on 34th Street." In it, a nice old man who claims to be Kris Kringle is institutionalized as insane. A young lawyer decides to defend him by arguing in court that he is the real thing. So unlike the other two classic films, this story isn’t about an individual’s redemption but rather addresses the much bigger question at the heart of Christmas: Is There a Santa Claus?

In my mind, Santa isn’t about elves at the North Pole, or even believing in magic. He’s about the principle he represents. Santa Claus gives to everyone, not because of what they do for you, or what they mean to you, but just because they’re nice. No quid pro quo. No worship necessary. Kids don’t even have to believe in Santa Claus. They just have to be nice and they’re on the gift list.

I love the movie so much that it inspired the title of my holiday short story, “Mystery on Capitol Street” which was posted on the Echelon Shorts web site. In it my private eye Hannibal Jones gets lost on Christmas Eve and has to crash at an unknown motel. There’s no room at the inn but the manager lets him sleep in a small, unrentable space. Of course he stumbles on a murder that needs solving and, although it isn’t really his job, he decides to help the obvious suspect – just because she's nice.

The Miracle in the movie concerns the two giant department stores that dominated New York’s 34th Street at the time, Macy’s and Gimbel’s. Santa convinces the rival owners to shake hands and to direct shoppers who don’t find what they want in their own stores to their rival’s. The heroes of the film also get a NY court to rule that there IS a Santa Claus, which I suppose is a miracle in itself.

There’s a miracle in my story too, but you’ll have to read Mystery on Capitol Street to find out about it. But first, seek out this classic film and see that it really IS the most moving of the holiday fare. And if you disagree... well, what's YOUR favorite holiday movie??