New Directions in Self-Publishing: A Discussion by Writers and Editors

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I was recently invited by Editors Toronto and the Toronto chapter of PWAC to participate in a panel (co-sponsored and hosted by UofT’s Creative Writing Program) exploring the current state of self-publishing and the publishing industry in general. I was one of four professionals whose work has involved all facets of the industry from POD, hybrid models, and ebooks to crowdfunding and writing communities.

The four speakers included:

MeghanBehse_closeMeghan Behse, the president of PubLaunch Inc., a new online marketplace and crowdfunding platform where writers, readers, and publishing professionals join forces to get books published. In her role as publisher, she steered Iguana through a new world of digital and print-on-demand publishing while experimenting with unique royalty arrangements and funding models, including crowdfunding. Behse talked about how PubLaunch is using emerging technologies to help overcome the obstacles writers continue to face in the self-publishing industry.

nina-munteanuNina Munteanu, an experienced editor of traditionally published and self-published books, and an award-winning author of eight novels, including Darwin’s Paradox and The Splintered Universe Trilogy. A frequent contributor to Amazing Stories and the current editor of Europa SF, Munteanu teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto and has also published short stories, essays, and non-fiction books. Her latest book is Water Is…The Meaning of Water, a scientific study and personal journey as limnologist, mother, teacher, and environmentalist. Munteanu provided an overview of the industry—including use and misuse of terms—then spoke about evolving professional standards in self-publishing, and what these changes mean for writers and editors.

sfyshStephanie Fysh, a Toronto-based freelance editor of independent authors in a variety of genres, including fantasy, science fiction, YA, romance, and erotica, and the former chair of Ryerson University’s Publishing program. She works with hybrid publishers on projects that range from harrowing memoirs to comedy, and still enjoys a textbook project that she can learn something from. Using her own experience as example, she talked about what self-publishing authors look for in an editor, and how that differs from the roles built into traditional or hybrid publishing.

MarkLeslieLefebvre_LaurenLangMark Leslie Lefebvre, the author of more than a dozen traditionally published and self-published books, a professional speaker, a digital publishing advocate, and a bookseller with more than a quarter century of experience.  Lefebvre explained what prompted him to self-publish “ten years before any self-respecting writer would admit to such a foul thing.” And he’ll tackle the big-picture questions: “What is currently wrong with self-publishing, and how can we work together to fix that?”

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I started the panel discussion with an overview of the publishing industry from traditional to indie to self-publishing. I overviewed five main publishing models and discussed advantages and disadvantages depending on needs and perspectives of the writer. A few advantages of self-publishing include: 1) getting a book to market more quickly than through the traditional publishing path; and 2) having more control over the end product.

PublishingModels

The downsides in self-publishing arise from the same: 1) getting a book to market more quickly may seduce writers to compromise the lengthy process of perfecting their work (provided by editors, layout and cover artists) to put something out before it is ready; and 2) having more control also means more responsibility borne by the writer (the need to understand more in book production and marketing than a writer in the traditional process needs to). Another important disadvantage to self-publishing lies in more restricted distributing, marketing and exposure.

In my talk, I emphasized that while the current industry is providing great opportunities, with these come great responsibilities.

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Authors and editors are currently facing a sea of possibilities. New directions, models, collaborations and structures face us as the publishing industry morphs into something new. Self-publishing and hybrid-players are at the forefront of that evolving tide of new publishing. And it’s very exciting!

Suzanne Bowness of PWAC Toronto provided a good summary of the panel discussion on PWAC’s blog Networds, and shared by the Editors Toronto blog Boldface. Editor and publishing consultant Michelle MacAleese who attended the event made these observations:

  • Many in the biz draw a distinction between self-published authors and hybrid-published authors; both are “independent,” but the self-published authors are a special breed, who *are starting to understand art and business and (usually) gladly develop proficiency in all the technical and administrative details of the process.
  • Not surprisingly, options for authors continue to change rapidly. What worked best in 2011 is irrelevant today. Many quality companies offer publishing services and hybrid publishing deals. (Many companies will pretty much just steal your money. One must read up before signing up. *Research is paramount)
  • The best publishing option for e-only genre fiction won’t be the same as for a debut hardcover business book. It’s a wide world of independent publishing.
  • Authors: If you don’t love technical things (formatting ebooks, working Amazon’s categories, tweaking descriptive copy), you probably won’t enjoy starting a publishing house of one.
  • Editors: Working with self-published authors is a specialty and those editors who are good at taking on that relationship and guiding the process are worth their weight in gold. (Isn’t it about time we begin to mentor each other in why this kind of author-editor relationship is unique, and how it borders on the agent role at times? *This is a great opportunity for editors willing to evolve and grow.)
  • Editors who already specialize in working with self-published authors: Let’s talk about how to partner with reputable publishing services companies as well as with other independent designers and book marketing professionals to launch great self-published books that sell! This point was just touched upon in the panel and is still evolving; again, editors are uniquely positioned as author-consultants to play key roles in new networks of independent professionals in the publishing industry. *italics throughout are mine

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A few years ago, I gave a talk at Editors Toronto on the industry from the self-publishing author and freelance editor’s perspective. It remains highly relevant today, given that it spoke to the changing face of publishing and what it means for editors and writers. Editors learned about self-publishing and indie publishing, publishing myths, and imaginative ways to find new editing opportunities:

Self-publishing used to be a scar; now it’s a tattoo.”–Greg Cope White

Other relevant articles include:

Nina Munteanu on the Author-Editor Relationship

Beating Today’s “S” Curve (or Why an Editor is Every Writer’s Best Friend)

Walking the Tightrope Between Innocent and Cynical

The Moving Target of Indie Publishing: What Every Editor (and Writer) Needs to Know

The Writer-Editor Relationship, Part 1: Editors Preparing Writers

The Writer-Editor Relationship, Part 2: Five Things Writers Wish Editors Knew—and Followed

The Hidden Costs of Self-Publishing, Part 1: The Solution to “Author Solutions”

What Indie Authors Should Know for 2015

Surfing the Hybrid Wave of Publishing

The Indie Book Tidal Wave…What Does it Mean for Bookstores, Publishers & Writers?

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nina-munteanuNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of

The Moving Target of Indie Publishing: What Every Editor & Writer Needs to Know

tree bark4I’m a writer and an editor. I’ve written and published novels, short stories, and non-fiction books with traditional publishing houses and indie publishers. I’ve also self-published. As editor, I serve as the in-house copy editor for a publishing house in the United States and have acted as acquisition editor for several anthologies put out by a local indie publisher. I also coach novice writers to publication and edit in that capacity.  You could say I know the industry from many angles and perspectives. That’s been good for me, because this industry is a moving target, and it’s good to triangulate on a moving object. The entire publishing industry is evolving, and it’s a slippery evolution.

Even the words we use are slippery. Indie. Hybrid. Publisher.

Many people, like award-winning author Kristine Kathryn Rusch, when they use the terms indie writer and indie publishing, include what some call self-publishing in their definitions of indie, “because so many [professional] writers who are not with traditional publishers have started their own presses. It’s not accurate to lump all writers who are not following the traditional route into the self-publishing basket any longer.” According to Rusch, an indie publisher is anyone who is not a traditional publisher. For this article, I’ve adopted Rusch’s definition to provide the full range of expectations for editors working with writers in the indie field. I define a traditional publisher as an established and often larger publishing house or press that (1) follows traditional submission criteria; (2) does not charge writers; (3) pays out royalties; and (4) employs in-house editors.

Indie writing and publishing can then be described in several ways depending on where the writer submits and by what mechanism and what model they use. All of these will affect a writer’s needs and perceptions for an editor and, in turn, an editor’s expectations as well.

Table 1 (below) outlines the five major models of indie writing and publishing.

Table 1: Types of indie writing / publishing models
1. Small independent press

 

(not writer’s)

 

Author submits to a small press that does not require author to pay for publishing costs. House may pay small royalties. Acceptance criteria limit submissions. There may or may not be formal distribution.
2. Small independent press

 

(not writer’s)

 

Author submits to a small press that may require author to pay for part of the publishing costs. House typically does not pay royalties but may provide complimentary copies and/or author’s rate for copies. Acceptance criteria may still apply to submissions. Distributor is typically the Ingram/Amazon model.
3. Small independent press

 

(writer as sole proprietor or part of a consortium; also called self-publishing by some)

Author can write and publish as they please. Costs of publication are born solely by the writer(s), and royalties come straight from profit. No acceptance criteria apply. Distribution is typically the Ingram/Amazon model.
4. Service publisher

 

(e.g., iUniverse, Friessen; this is self-publishing, even though the publisher’s name appears on the work)

 

Author can write and publish as they please. All publication costs born by writer. Service will include copy editing, layout, cover design, printing, some distribution, and some promotion—all at cost (based on service package). Distribution is typically the Ingram/Amazon model.
5. Self-publishing

 

(e.g., the publication is in the author’s name)

Author can write and publish as they please. Author uses à la carte style of self-publishing in which they do (or hire others to do) the production of the work (e.g., editing, layout, cover, printing, distribution, and promotion).

Depending on which model an author uses for their work, their perceived need and actual need for an editor prior to submission and publication will be affected. I distinguish between perceived and actual because, unfortunately, in many cases, these diverge: an author may not think they need a certain kind of editing for their work when they do. The opposite is more rare: the author thinking they need an editor when they don’t. (More on this in a future article.)

The availability of these models and their hybrid cousins has provided writers with a cornucopia of often confusing choices. In many cases, I find that writers are not even aware of which choice is best for them. Part of the reason is that writers carry forward ideas from the old model. Unfortunately, this often translates into misconceived ideas about and expectations of editors. (That’s another article too.)

For editors, it’s important to recognize these different models and what they, in turn, provide and expect from authors. A savvy editor translates into a savvy author. Your advice, when driven from a place of publishing industry knowledge, will be invaluable to authors seeking your services. And they will come to rely on this as much as, if not more than, your actual editing.

By its very nature, indie publishing has given the freelance editor an opportunity to take on a new role—a service that agents used to and still do provide to many traditionally published authors: that of industry consultant. In the traditional model, an author would seek an agent who would then not only sell their work to a publisher but also provide advice on what to expect in the market as well as help with career-longevity choices (which include branding)—questions many novice authors haven’t even considered, never mind answered sufficiently. Most indie authors will not engage an agent, but most will (should) hire an editor. So, instead of an agent, the freelance editor becomes the first stop in the publishing industry for an indie author. This has become one of my primary roles as editor and writing coach. And this is again because most writers, when they start out, do not know what direction they want to go—mainly because they aren’t familiar enough with what is available to them and the ramifications to their careers.

Here’s an example: one client, working on her first novel, wanted my advice on whether she should try a traditional publisher or just forgo and self-publish. An editor possessing savvy knowledge of the industry and now knowing something of the author’s work and ambitions can bring informed and constructive advice to the author.

The ramifications on how I handle and edit a story directly follows which route the author has decided to follow. This is every bit as relevant to an author publishing with a traditional publishing house, an indie press, or self-publishing. Style—whether it’s that of a publishing house or the author’s brand—relies on consistent application of voice and tone. Just as publishing houses embrace different and unique styles, so do authors. In fact, if they are self-publishing, this is even more important.

The editor plays a crucial role in helping an author establish their voice, style, and, ultimately, their brand. And, perhaps, this becomes one of the principle differences between traditional and indie publishing. While voice and style is predetermined to some extent by traditional publishing houses (hence, they employ their own editors to impose a style in some cases), it’s left to the author—and their freelance editor—to determine this in the indie scene. The structure of traditional publishing is both more orderly and more confining. Indie publishing—particularly self-publishing—is an infinite melting pot of creativity. Some view it as one big mess. In fact, it’s a chaos of astonishing opportunity. It’s a chance for intimate collaboration that demands mutual respect. Freelance editors are poised as both gatekeepers and enabling wizards of the indie world.

Table 2 (below) describes a freelance editor’s focus in the five indie models.

Table 2: Editing for different indie models
1. Small independent press

 

(with submission criteria similar to a traditional model)

 

Authors often think they don’t need a freelance editor if they’re submitting to a press with in-house editors; this is incorrect. Those who have had their work edited prior to submission to a press—even a small press—will have a much higher chance of being accepted. The freelance editor’s job, then, will include attending to the style of the publishing house.
2. Small independent press

 

(without submission criteria)

 

While authors may not recognize the need for an editor when submitting to an indie publisher without submission criteria, the need for editing remains—particularly because many of these presses don’t employ or have sufficiently qualified editors. Excellence in presentation and nurturing a strong author voice are the freelance editor’s responsibility.
3. Small independent press

 

(writer’s own press)

Given that the author has carte blanche on what to write and publish, a freelance editor’s role in recognizing, harmonizing with, and helping to establish a genuine and strong author’s voice becomes most important.
4. Service publisher

 

 

Authors have misconceptions about service publishers and particularly their editors. I’ve had several clients come to me after recognizing that their works were not well represented by the provider’s in-house editor. Service publisher in-house editors do not represent a particular style, voice, or brand (given that most are underpaid students and there is no style identity); the freelance editor role is as with #3.
5. Self-publishing

 

 

The same criteria exist here as for model #3.

The take home: Freelance editors can flourish in the indie writing and publishing field by tree bark4(1) establishing their expertise in the industry and what it requires (taking on the role of consultant, which agents normally provide in the traditional model); (2) recognizing a need for strong authorial voices and helping to foster them; and (3) promoting point #2 with consistency in style, tone, etc.

 

Nina MunteanuNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.