Raison d’ Etre

I’ve always loved books and I’ve always loved writing. That’s why I became an English Literature major at Boston University and why I spent the next 40+ years in the publishing industry, why I started writing novels and why I started one of the first hybrid publishing operations.

I’ve worked in senior positions for some of the largest publishers in the U.S. and England, publishing professional references, college texts, academic journals, scientific books and trade titles. In the process, I’ve come across writers good, bad and ugly. It’s the hopefuls, the wannabes, that I’ve been attracted to. Once anyone discovers you know something about publishing, the flood of questions begins. I won’t give examples here because we’ve all been inundated with them.The queries always start with “I’ve always wanted to write a book,” or “I’ve got this book I’ve been working on, and . . . ,” or “My friend/sister/neighbor/ has this book . . .”  And then the questions begin, seeking the secret to becoming that coveted honor: A Published Author.

I’ve broken the hearts of the bad and uglies by rejecting their work. But I’ve always tried to let them down gently, giving some glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel with suggestions for finding editorial help, books on writing and sometimes the stiff slap of reality that they need.

It’s the good, not great, but good writers that I am drawn to. Those people who have the basic abilities to write well, tell a compelling story, a witty story or an inspirational story that can move a reader. The writer who, though far from perfect (is there such a creature?), has some writing that deserves to be shared, to be read, to be enjoyed. It’s these writers that I want to be the champion for. Give them a chance in an industry that is too often too quick to dismiss or ignore their nascent talent. The ones who need some nurturing, a helpful hand, an encouraging word. And who, with that help, begin to blossom into not just a scribbler, but a bona fide author.

In writing my own books, I’ve experienced the soul-crushing rejection of my work by agents and publishers, as well as the insulting lack of any response at all to the scores of queries I’ve submitted. And I get it. I know personally the editor’s need to give cursory glances to submissions, eager to find the quickest reason to reject a manuscript and move on to the next one in the towering sysyphusian stack of writings on their desks or in their email.

But somewhere in that pile there is a seed that with some sunlight and watering can evolve into a beautiful plant if just given some time and healthy soil in which to grow. Okay, that analogy is a little flowery, but you get my point. And that’s where I like to step in.

Having basic writing skills is not enough to become published. One needs to learn the craft of writing, and that only comes with years of practice, learning and studying. We as publishers can facilitate that education, and it is our responsibility as the gatekeepers of literature to encourage and show the way to those who truly have the goods. The goods not necessarily to produce the next best-seller, but the goods to hone their craft to produce work that moves, educates and entertains others in a unique and/or meaningful way.

The big New York houses have to meet untenable sales goals, and for that reason, they must reject all but a minute fraction of the work sent to them. And that’s as it should be, I suppose. But in the process, many worthy manuscripts are overlooked, and the humble writer who has put his or her heart and soul into their story has their dreams and talent quashed. I, for one, am honored to ferret those hopefuls out and give them the chance they deserve.

I have a quote from Richard Bach posted above my desk that reads: “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

Why Authors Are Turning to the Hybrid Publishing Alternative

Following is a reprinted article by David Thalberg from Bookstr.com about hybrid publishing

Why Authors Are Turning to the Hybrid Publishing Alternative

Why Authors Are Turning to the Hybrid Publishing AlternativeHybrid: /hīˌbrid/ Defined by Google as: “a thing made by combining two different elements; a mixture.” That’s the second definition. The first is: “the offspring of two plants or animals of different species or varieties, such as a mule (a hybrid of a donkey and a horse).” For the purpose of this article, we will stick with the first definition!

There has always been “self-publishing.” As an 8 year-old child, sitting at my kitchen table with a Smith-Corona typewriter (some of you remember – the one with black and red ink), I wrote great stories. Imaginative. Science Fiction. This was “YA” before “YA” was a thing. I gathered them together, and voila, I was published – for my entire family to read. Forty-plus years later, my children can write similar stories, and with the press of a couple of buttons on a keyboard, their stories can be read by an international audience. Voila. Self-publishing.

The likelihood of my or my kids’ stories being picked up by a “traditional” or “Big 5” publisher is highly unlikely. Within the last few years, though, a new type of publisher has established a foothold in the publishing community: the “Hybrid Publisher” opening new doors for true and honest book publication and distribution.

Hybrid publishers “combine aspects of traditional publishing and self-publishing,” states Karen Strauss, Executive Vice-President of Union Square Publishing – a hybrid press. The comparisons start early: “Traditional publishers pay advances, but they own the rights to your book and pay (authors) a much smaller royalty than Hybrid publishers do,” she continued. Hybrids may pay smaller royalties, but you get “to keep the rights to your own book,” which may become quite valuable down the road.

As might be expected, there are many different business models for Hybrid publishers. When choosing a hybrid publisher, authors need “to look under the hood and see what are the things they bring to the table,” offers Brooke Warner, publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress. “Some Hybrid models make a lot of sense, but many just look like ‘assisted self-publishing.’”

Union Square’s Strauss suggests asking key questions of a potential publishing partner: Do I own all the rights to my book? What is the royalty rate? (Can vary from 20-70%), Will you receive free author copies? What is the author price? What is the term of the contract and can you get out of it easily? What marketing services are offered?

And what about traditional bookstore placement? Today, many self-published books are only available online as print-on-demand. “That’s a problem for self-published authors,” opines Warner. “When bookstores go to order their book, if it’s strictly POD it shows ‘Zero Inventory’ and (they) will be hesitant to order.” Warner states that She Writes Press and SparkPress “never” have “Zero Inventory” due to their relationship with Ingram Publisher Services, a the leading book distributor. Only a small number of hybrid publishers have distribution deals with Ingram Publisher Services, including the above-mentioned Union Square Publishing.

As a self-published author, you have total control over your publishing process. But as Jeremy Soldevilla, publisher of Christopher Matthews Publishing offers, “ Almost anyone can build their own house, but without the skills, experience, tools and knowledge of building codes of a professional contractor, they are not going to be happy with the results.”

In other words, you want to surround yourself with the best people – the ones that will fully support your content so that you will receive maximum awareness… and sales. A new Hybrid publisher with the quirky name, We Heard You Like Books understood this concept. When WHYLB’s publisher, Jarett Kobek was releasing the book he authored, I Hate The Internet: A Useful Novel Against Men, Money and the Filth of Instagram, the first title from the imprint, he hired an outside publishing consultant, Leah Paulos: “We knew that, first-off, we had to make sure this wasn’t considered a self-published book. For better or worse, most (media) won’t consider anything without an established imprint behind it. We had to find a way to get people to pay attention.” Digging deep into all of their joint contacts, they were able to secure a blurb from noted author Jonathan Lethem “which we used at the opening of every pitch.” With that as a lede and some intense pitching, press attention came with pieces in Salon, the Literary Hub and others, leading to a coveted review on the front page of the New York Times Art section.

Sometimes all the pieces just fall into the right places – especially when you have a strong team behind you.

Final advantage of a Hybrid versus a Traditional publisher: Soldevilla says that “generally, hybrids give an author deeper and more personal attention than traditional houses. If a book is lucky enough to (gain national in-store distribution) but doesn’t initially perform well… (a) traditional publisher… will likely put it out of print within a year. Hybrids will stick by a book indefinitely.”

To sum up: If you are considering taking the Hybrid publishing route, note that you as an author still need to be an active participant in the process. YOU still need to promote. YOU still need a website. YOU still need social media. YOU still need to reach out to your community of “evangelists”. You need to be a strong partner with your publisher.

David Thalberg is founder of BrandStand, an affiliate of Stryker-Munley Group. A book publicist with more than 25 years experience, he is a frequent instructor at publishing and writers retreats and has a regular publishing column, Writing from the BrandStand on Bookstr.com. He can be reached at dthalberg@brandstandpr.com or http://brandstandpr.com.

What Do I Do After Tate Publishing’s Closing? A Self-Publishing Caveat

If you are one of the authors who was affected by the shutdown of Tate Publishing in January or are one of the many authors disappointed by having published their book with a self-publishing company, I feel your pain. Over the past several years, writers have been led to believe that self-publishing was the answer to their prayers of seeing their book in print. If you give your manuscript to a self-publisher, they will indeed provide you with a printed copy of your book and a fat bill for doing so, but you may learn that you’ve shortchanged yourself and your book.

What self-publishing companies neglect to tell you is that bookstores and libraries do not purchase self-published books, and also that they will price your books much more than the market will bear because their revenues come from the books they sell back to you. They don’t sell to bookstores, so they don’t care. Generally, they do little or no editing of your manuscript, unless they offer an expensive editing package, and the covers they provide are often templates or covers that you create yourself, which invariably telegraph to potential readers that your book is self-published and likely not well-produced.

If you made the decision to go with Tate or any of the other giant self-publishing companies you likely did so because you had been rejected by traditional publishing houses, but you had faith in and a love for the manuscript you had toiled so hard on and you had the writer’s dream.

It has always been difficult to land a contract with a traditional publisher. It does not mean that your manuscript is not good. Traditional publishers are very risk-averse. They need to be convinced that they can sell several thousand copies of a book before they take it on. As a result, thousands of very good manuscripts are turned down by them.

Disappointed writers turned to the panacea of self-publishing. Some of those writers were perfectly happy with the results of that decision. And that’s certainly an option.

However, within the past 5 years, a professional alternative to self-publishing has emerged in the form of hybrid publishers. Hybrids function much like a traditional publisher in that they provide professional editing; interior formatting; market friendly, attractive cover designs; worldwide distribution to bookstores and libraries and supportive personal attention that the big self-publishers don’t.

Unlike self-publishers, they don’t accept every manuscript sent to them regardless of quality. Just like a traditional publisher, a hybrid vets every manuscript submitted to them, and some will get accepted while others don’t make the cut. But a hybrid, unlike a traditional publisher, is more likely to take a chance on a new, untested writer’s work if they see that spark of talent and creativity that merits being given a chance.

One advantage hybrid publishers have over traditional publishers is that because they have smaller lists, they usually offer more personal attention to new authors than a traditional publisher can.

If you have been rejected by traditional publishers, before you turn to self-publishing, consider submitting your work to a hybrid publisher. Educate yourself about the differences and do due diligence on companies you might be considering.

If you are currently being published by a self-publisher or are a former Tate author and are disappointed with your present arrangement, you may want to consider contacting a hybrid publisher to discuss your options.

For more on hybrid publishing, read David Thalberg’s Bookstr.com article on Why Authors Are Turning to the Hybrid Publishing Alternative.

What is the difference between a hybrid publisher and a self publisher or traditional publisher?

Hybrid publishers are an emerging breed of experienced publishers who are an alternative to traditional publishing or self-publishing.

Traditional publishing generally requires having an agent; and both agents and traditional publishing houses are extremely hard to break into because they select very few of the manuscripts submitted to them, especially if they are written by first-time authors. Self-publishing requires learning a whole new set of skills including formatting, editing, cover design, promotion and distribution and fulfillment. You may be able to do some of these things yourself, but the quality is not likely to be there unless you hire people for the different aspects. Plus, you will find that retailers and libraries will not purchase self-published books.

A hybrid publisher works with writers to create a professionally edited, produced and attractive book that will be promoted and distributed to the worldwide book trade. The relationship between a hybrid publisher and an author is much closer and personal than in either traditional publishing or self-publishing. Like a traditional publisher, a hybrid publisher carefully vets the manuscripts it accepts for publication (unlike a self-publishing operation which publishes anything submitted regardless of content or quality). The likelihood of a first book being highly successful is extremely slim, so the author and the hybrid publisher share the risk; the publisher provides the same quality services of a traditional publisher and the author pays a fee for those services. In the end, the author has a book that he/she can be very proud of and that will be promoted globally. In many cases, a book produced in this way can be a stepping stone to increased recognition from the larger traditional publishing houses.

Even JK Rowling needs a good publicist

The following is a guest post by book publicist, Alison O’Leary.

AlisonOLeary.headshotIf you’re not JK Rowling, there’s work to be done

If your book received “withering reviews’ that included an assessment like, “so willfully banal, so depressingly clichéd” you’d never sell any copies, right?

Unfortunately, writers with gold-plated names like JK Rowling can overcome such a New York Times review (it was of one of her post-Harry Potter novels, “The Casual Vacancy”). According to this article it still sold more than 1.3 million copies and was the No. 1 best-selling hardcover fiction book of 2012.

So, unless your name is JR Rowling and your readers aren’t looking too closely at the cover, there’s a lot of work to be done to get book sales rolling.

The behind-the-scenes work to create a platform prior to publishing your book is almost as much work as the writing itself.

This is a great, step-by-step guide to  publicity and marketing, including working with related blogs two months before publication and planning a “cover reveal.” Interestingly, it says little about sending out advance copies for reviews.

And if you’re querying agents, your online presence is important, according to this survey. So think about showcasing your expertise in your subject matter or providing evidence of an audience (yes, prior to publishing). It’s all about your platform, which is well-described in this blog post.

Later, Rowling published “The Cuckoo’s Calling” under a male pen name (Robert Galbraith) and the book sold only modestly until she was unveiled as the true author. It had done about $50,000 in sales, prompting the NY Times writer to comment:

‘What’s clear is that without the aura of celebrity, “The Cuckoos’ Calling” would have been just another work of debut crime fiction. Its author might have gotten a modest TV deal, and maybe another book contract, while working another job to make ends meet.’ 

Published with permission. Alison O’Leary is a book publicist who can be reached on LinkedIn.


If you thought writing your book was tough, wait until you try to get published!

The truth is publishers and agents are very risk averse. They get hundreds of submissions, and their first priority is to look for reasons to reject a manuscript .  They have plenty to choose from, so as soon as they can find anything to bounce your ms. off their desk and into the hopper they will reject it.  You may get a form rejection letter from them , or, more likely, you will never hear from them at all.  And, more it may very well have had nothing to do with your writing ability.

It could be as simple as you didn’t use the standard 12 pt. font (either Times New Roman or Courier),  or you didn’t follow their submission guidelines, or they read a couple of pages and you had made first-time author boo-boos.

I can’t guarantee you’ll get published, but having been a publisher, editor and writer myself for over 40 years, I do know some things you absolutely must do if you want to get published, even if you are going to self-publish. Following are 7 steps I feel are critical to get your manuscript’s foot in the door.

1. READ, READ , READ  This is common and good advice for any writer.  The more you read, especially in your own genre, the more you as a writer will start analyzing and realizing what makes a book work or not. Also, read books on writing. There are a lot of excellent ones available.  The bible for fiction writers is Stephen King’s On Writing. You must read that, but there are many other great books, or even blog articles online that will help you develop the craft of writing.

2. POV  One of the biggest red flags in a manuscript is point of view handling.  90% of new writers’ work that I see doesn’t properly handle point of view.  You should stick to one character’s point of view per section.  If your main character is John and he is “seeing Jane through his eyes, feeling his heart pounding and a squishy feeling in his stomach”, you can’t say, “And Jane was feeling the same sensations, only with a sense of trepidation…” Read more