Starting a Small Press Publisher: Finding Manuscripts

Now you’ve got your business all set up, you need some books to publish!

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I started out with some ideas of where to get the books I’d be publishing.

I did a new edition of my own book (W)hole and its sequel Breath(e) updated with new material. There were also two collections of short stories by authors in my field that had been gathered and edited by Lee Nilsen, a contact who became a friend on message boards. He wanted to showcase work with disabled characters but would prefer not to have to deal with the formatting for publication or the promotion after the fact. So we arranged for me to take the books over but then I had an issue. Where would the profits for the books go?

It didn’t seem right for me to keep them. The authors had donated stories without expecting any pay and it seemed like it would be tricky to set up a payment plan for them all. So we all agreed that the profits should be donated to a charity that supports quality of life for people with physical disabilities. The profits from these two collections go to LifeRollsOn.org
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With that taken care of, I needed to find a new author to publish.

I still felt weird about promoting my own work and I wanted to be able to whole heartedly promote someone’s work that I really believed in. So I went to a message board and blog where people were putting up stories for free in this niche genre. Not surprisingly the stories are hit or miss. There’s some messy amateur writing but also some real gems!

There was one story in particular that I remembered. It had been serialized but all together it amounted to over 50,000 words. Reading it on a webpage broken into pieces was messy and I knew this book had real potential.

I reached out to the author and asked if she would be interested in working with me. We had mutual friends, so it wasn’t a creepy situation for Annabelle! She liked the idea of her story getting a wider audience and so we pulled it from the blog and started editing, proofreading, and formatting (more on that next week).

That book became The Boy Next Door.
The Boy Next Door

 

 

 

 

 

 

As it turned out, Annabelle is quite prolific and she had some other manuscripts she’d been working on but hadn’t posted. I was glad to get some work of hers that hadn’t been previously seen and from that we got The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend. There are some other Annabelle manuscripts that I’m considering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After that, another contact from the same message board told us that she had been working on some books as well. Lucy brought us Love In Touch. She’s got another manuscript in the editing stages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So now I had two other authors besides myself, though they were people that I knew on a friendship level before I published their work.

However, it wasn’t all smooth going.

Through the same source I had some other manuscripts to consider. One of them I did put under contact, but problems came up. First with the author breaking the terms of the contract, then with disagreements about editing, then with my enthusiasm for the project waning. In the end I let that one go and gave all publishing rights back to the author.

There have been others that I’ve put offers on but didn’t pan out. I don’t mind rejection on that side, I want the authors to find the very best possible home for their books and that might be me and it might not.

It’s very difficult to be on the other side of it, though, having to reject manuscripts. That’s an inevitable part of doing this job. I’ve found it’s important to remember that my taste is not everyone’s taste. Just because I’m not enthusiastic about a story doesn’t mean that it’s a bad story or badly written. It just needs to find another home. A publisher has got to really believe in your work!

It is tempting to try to take every manuscript that crosses your desk. Knowing that you want to grow and have lots of books to offer, you start making compromises about what you want to accept. It’s important to stay true to your vision at least until you’re big enough to expand that vision. I had someone bring me a manuscript that wasn’t really a love story at all. I kept trying to stretch it towards being a love story because that’s what we do here! I should have just let it go sooner and maintained my focus on bringing people the kind of story that my brand has promised.

Expanding

This post may not have been as relevant to you. Perhaps you don’t have access to authors through a message board of mutual interests. Perhaps you are only interested in publishing your own work.

But when and if you are ready, you can get the word out that you are open to submissions!

Now that I’ve got a rhythm going with Annabelle, Lucy, and myself, I’m thinking about putting an ad out in Writer’s Market. Before I do that, though, I want to make sure that I’ve really got the resources and knowledge to do the very best by these books as I can. Annabelle and Lucy have patience as I try out new things, but a new author that I don’t have a personal connection to will have higher expectations.

Another step to take is to contact agents of romance novels and let them know what we’re looking for so they can scout manuscripts for us.

I also hope to finish another of my own books soon(ish). People told me it would be challenging to write my own books and also publish and promote other authors and they were right. Challenging but not impossible.

I do have four novels in varying stages of completion, two of them quite close to a finished draft. But every time I try to make a prediction about when they will be ready, I’m wrong and then I disappoint people. So no guessing! But I hope some of those will be ready before too long.

Submission Guidelines

You will want to set up some guidelines for submissions. It really helps to set up rules to make the process uniform. That way you only ever have to look in one place and at one format to judge all incoming manuscripts.

People said I’d be inundated with submissions as soon as I opened my doors, but that hasn’t happened yet. Partly because it’s an unusual and obscure niche and partly because I haven’t heavily advertised that we’re open to submissions.

It’s important to me that I can fully handle all the books that I promise to publish and since I’m just one person, I have to be careful not to take on too many at once.

Here are our guidelines: Submissions to Dev Love Press

You’ll notice that I put where to send the query, what to include, what subject line to use in the email, and also what time frame to expect to hear back from me. (Anyone reading this who is working on a book: I really want one with a female character with the disability!)

 

Last Week: The Legal Bits                Next Week: From Manuscript to Book

Starting a Small Press Publisher: Setting the Terms

It’s possible to just make up a name for a fake company and slap it on your books when you’re self-publishing. But once you decide to publish other people, you’d better gets some legal things in order first.

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Choose a Name

I did a poor job of this one. I didn’t take my time and just picked a name quickly. I didn’t think about how important a name is and how I needed to be able to say it with pride, tell friends and family about it, put it on everything. I think our name is okay but it’s not great.

So don’t do what I did!

If you’re starting your own company, take some time to think about the best name for it. Particularly think about the connotations of the name and what people (like your target audience) will think when they hear it.

The book The Brand Called You recommends always using your own name but I’m not sure how well that advice works for forming a publishing house. Perhaps your last name will sound good and elegant as a publisher name. I agree with a lot of the premise of the book, which is that the brand you are creating is centered on you and who you are as a person. I don’t think that means you have to name it after yourself, though.

Form an LLC

Okay, so it turns out some of my background actually has come in handy! For the previous five years I’ve worked as an office manager handling a lot of accounting for a small company. Before that I took a number of night classes in the paralegal field.

Both those things helped me understand how to go about setting up a legal entity and running it!

The LLC stands for “limited liability company” and this means, to my understanding (and please know this is NOT legal advice) that if something goes catastrophically wrong or you get sued, you personally are not responsible for the money. Just your company is. Keeping yourself a little separated from the entity of your company is a wise move.

It’s been two years, but if I remember right, I think a DBA, or “doing business as” is another option. You can find out what you need by doing some Internet searching. How to get an LLC or a DBA depends on where you live. I found the process to be very simple and easy. So easy I wasn’t sure I’d done it right! (One thing I did need to have was a mission statement/explanation of what my company is. See more about that below).

Apply for an EIN

An EIN is an Employer Identification Number and it is your business’s equivalent of a social security number. You’ll use that number rather than your personal ssn when doing anything connected to money and taxes with your business.

Apply for a Bank Account

Use that EIN to set up a business bank account separate from your personal one.

This is easier for taxes and it gives you a clear idea of what money is for use within your company and to pay your authors and which money is for you to take home. You’ll pay yourself either a salary or a royalty from the profits of your company and you’ll transfer it over to your personal account with the same level or paperwork you would for any of your authors.

I can’t stress this enough: keep your business’s money separate from your personal money!

How much money will you need as seed money? Not that much.

Some businesses require a lot of money in start up costs: renting a space, furnishing it, getting the things to sell. This is not like that. You’ll need money to pay for things like editing, cover design, ISBN numbers. The way I have started is by using print-on-demand for physical paperbacks and that means not having to pay to print thousands of books or warehouse store them. I’d say probably $1,000 to $2,000 will get you started.

Write a Mission Statement and Business Plan

A business plan doesn’t have to be the size of a PhD thesis. The word can be intimidating, but in reality it doesn’t have to be more than a single page laying out your intentions. Answer questions like why you want to go into business, what your company offers that’s different from what’s already available, your practical steps to get books visibility. It’s like writing a query letter for your business instead of your book!

As part of this you’ll want to create a profile of your target audience. Who do you think is going to want to buy the books you publish? Get as specific as you possibly can because you can use that profile to figure out where to go to reach those people.

Having a niche is a great thing. It gives you focus and allows you to remember what you’re doing that’s different from the big guys. On the other hand, you have to be careful in selecting your niche that it’s not so narrow that you have no audience.

Being small, we don’t have a lot of overhead so we can afford to take on these quirky books that wouldn’t find a home in a bigger publishing house. Also, because it’s our sole focus, we know where to market them to.

Having a Niche: It’s a double edged sword, as they say. You want a narrow focus so you know exactly who to market to but you also want an audience large enough to sustain your company. The balance that I try to find with Dev Love Press is to take on books that my core audience, people like me who enjoy “wounded hero” romances for whatever reason, will love but also promote the books to general romance novel readers who have never considered giving a disabled hero a chance. I love when we see reviews where someone says that they would never expect to find one of these guys sexy but they totally do. A mainstream person comes to realize that a guy with a disability is still a guy and still a viable romantic partner. Now that’s what I call success!

Make a Contract

Again my paralegal classes prepared me pretty well for this. I had taken one class specifically in business law and contracts because at that point I knew that I was heading towards creating a company.

I got a lot of inspiration and ideas from the book Business and Legal Forms for Authors and Self Publishers.

You’ll need to decide on a fee structure. How much royalty will you be giving your authors? Will that be gross or net? How much will you take as your own salary (in any) and what percentage will go towards advertising, towards getting new business, towards maintaining your office systems?

I regret the current way we’re set up. I think for future books I’ll do things a little differently. One thing that is a priority for me is getting the author’s a good royalty rate.  You’ll need to figure out what percentage of profits you’ll want to:

  1. pay authors
  2. pay yourself
  3. put into advertising and other promotional activities
  4. put towards physical copies for reviewers, giveaways, conferences
  5. save for taxes (I’ve been setting aside 14% for that)
  6. put into office supplies
  7. put towards future editing, cover design, ISBN numbers, etc.
  8. put towards future advances
  9. put towards professional development like conferences or organization fees

Since it’s a start up, you may want to not pay yourself for a while and put all your profits back into the business. That’s up to you. Luckily with Print on Demand and ebooks there is not much initial cost. I’ve focused on those while I build up enough money to branch into more traditional physical books.

In a later post I’ll talk to you about my favorite budget software and how to keep all these categories separate!

And make sure that you are clear on what rights you are getting! If you’re going to focus on e-books (as I do) then you’ll have to make sure that you have both digital and print rights!

Get an Accountant

Your taxes are about to get more complicated.

So get a professional to help you with them. No more TurboTax or Dad doing your taxes for you!

It’s going to be worth it because someone who understands taxes for small businesses will know what deductions you can get and will often save you money. So far for the last two years, my accountant’s fee has been completely covered by the refund he’s gotten me (and there was leftover too).

So you’re prepared for tax time, use having a business bank account (or budgeting software that I’ll talk in more detail about in the future) to keep totals of certain categories like: money spent on advertising, money spent on business travel, money paid to authors, money paid for office supplies and equipment (and keep receipts too)

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Does this sound horribly unsexy? Perhaps surprisingly, I found it fun. I enjoyed the process of getting all my ducks in a row.

 

Recommended Reading:

business and legal formsbrand called you(This last one recommended by Jane Friedman)

Last Week: Taking the Leap             Next Week: Finding Your Manuscripts

There But For the Grace of Low Overhead Go I

Yesterday I heard some very sad and disturbing news: two publishing imprints shutting their doors.

Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A were closed by its parent company because they have  “been unable to carve out their own niches with as much success.” [as parent company Angry Robot]

These imprints were at a level that I’m still only dreaming of: releasing a book a month, having multiple employees, being able to release a paperback to bookstores in both the US and the UK at the same time, having journalists waiting with bated breath on their releases! I’m told also that Strange Chemistry has the most unique and interesting YA books on the market today.

To have all that and still say that you can’t compete in the marketplace is pretty terrifying to hear.

It’s a strange business, book publishing. You may have heard how most books never earn back the money that was put into them. Big publishing houses depend heavily on there being a few run away best seller successes to carry the cost of all the loses.

Defining loss is a matter of perspective, of course. Even though I don’t sell as many books as I’m sure Exhibit A and Strange Chemistry did, I also have low overhead costs and can afford to wait for books to make a profit over a much longer time period than traditional publishers can. We only have one full time employee (me) and I don’t make a living from this yet. But we’re continuing to grow bigger and stronger with every passing year. For me I see no reason for that to change even given that our niche is extremely small and unusual.

For a lot of publishers, success of a book is defined by earning back their advances. I have not yet been able to offer advances at all. And even though that is changing, the advances I am able to offer in the near future are going to be very low. Someday I hope to give good advances, but in the meantime I make sure that authors get a high percentage in royalties.

For me publishing books is a lot more about a passion for stories than it is about making money. Of course I want my business to be profitable and to be able to keep devoting my time to the books I care about, but the top priority of Devoted Love Press is making great and unusual books available.

Writer Beware is where I first heard this news. They linked to this author’s blog and reading her story makes me very sad. I would do everything in my power to avoid leaving an author in the lurch like that.

[Side note: I live in fear of Writer Beware. It’s one of my very worst fears that I ever end up on their blog! I read them religiously. ]

My heart goes out to the authors and the staff of these imprints.

Books From Strange Chemistry

Books From Strange Chemistry

Starting a Small Press Publisher: Taking the Leap

It was suggested to me recently that people might enjoy seeing a behind the scenes look at Devoted Love Press and what it’s like to own a small indie publishing company. So I decided to share my story with you and keep you updated as we learn and grow and try new things.

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First of all let me take you back to the beginning of this journey…

My name is Ruth and in 1999 I started writing a novel. I’d been interested in being a writer since I was a child and at 18 years old I began to develop the plot that would become a novel that’s pretty unique in the marketplace: (W)hole. It took me seven years to craft this story that had me diving deep into my own psyche and laying bare my soul with as much honesty as possible. (To this day there is only one other book dealing with the same issue and it takes it in a very different direction).  Once I had it finished, I sent it out to agents and publishers. By that time I had a MA degree in Creative Writing and I knew the drill well. I sent it out over and over for three years. I got some positive comments and it won some awards but no one wanted to publish it.

Not enough of a market, they all said.

I had written my book with its paraplegic hero because there were not enough books in my childhood library with disabled characters. I wanted better representation for those with disabilities and characters that showed nuance instead of cliche. The publishing companies couldn’t care less.

In 2009, I self-published.

This was just before the huge boom in self-publishing. It was only in paperback at first because the Kindle revolution had not quite happened yet.

After a year or so on the market a friend suggested trying the new Kindle thing. So I put it up there too and began to see sales. Not huge numbers, but enough. People were hearing what I had to say. Eventually I found others like me who were looking for books like mine.

I was getting reasonably successful with (W)hole and then its sequel Breath(e) and a couple collections of short stories with the same theme of physically disabled heroes. But I’m just one author. My goal from the beginning was to get a good presence for these kinds of books and I couldn’t do that all by myself.

So then I started thinking about taking the techniques I was using to sell my book as an ebook and getting other people’s books up as well.

In the summer of 2012 I filed for an LLC and started my company: Dev Love Press.

The filing part was easy, but the sense of responsibility was scary. Could I really do justice to the books that people entrusted to my care? Could I build a successful company when my background was entirely in writing and not in business or marketing?

Those are questions I’m still working on two years later.

We’ve launched seven books (WOW!) from three different authors (including myself)  in those two years and we’ve gotten some good press for them. But now I want to expand beyond the techniques of a self-publishing and start utilizing traditional methods to get book sales.

In future posts I’m going to share with you what I’ve been doing so far and set plans and goals whose results I will share with you also. I hope you’ll continue to follow along, whether it’s because you’re curious about what a small indie publisher looks like on the inside or because you’re thinking about branching out into creating a company of your own!

low res breathe coverThe Boy Next Doorhow to book cover kindle

 

 

 

 

 

Next Week: The Legal Bits