Writing Contest: First Sentence Prompt

We wanted to do something fun and get those creative juices flowing since nice summer weather can be such a distraction to writing!

Introducing: a prompt contest

How does it work? Below you’ll find a first sentence. We want you to develop that sentence into a scene, a story, or maybe even a book. Minimum is 2,000 words.

What is the deadline? You will have until September 1st (2014) to submit your entry to carolyn@devlovepress.com (subject line: contest entry)

What will you win? A $25 giftcard to Amazon.com! (Your choice whether a digital code or a physical giftcard)

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There’s no entry fee, we just want to see what you come up with.

UPDATE: I originally thought we’d do a random draw for the winner from the entries, but the feedback I’m getting is that that method isn’t very inspiring. So Carolyn will judge the entries and declare a winner sometime after September 1st and before September 15th. We will randomize the entries to ensure a lack of bias.

(In the future we’d like to run a more formal contest with a publishing contract as the prize, so stay tuned for news on that!)

If you agree, we’d like to post selections from the entries here at the blog (with attribution to you, of course!) All entries must use this sentence as the first sentence of the piece (though you can replace “she” with a character name if you would like):

  She turned the corner of the ramp and eyed the doorway in front of her, unsure that her wheelchair was going to fit through.

Your entry only needs to be 2,000 words, but if you continue to develop the story after the contest we’d love to see the finished result. Follow our submission guidelines here: http://www.devlovepress.com/submission-guidelines/

Starting a Small Press Publisher: What Is It You Do?

It can be hard for people outside the book industry to understand what publishers are there for.

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When I told my family that I was starting a publishing company, they thought what I meant was that I’d be charging writers to format their books for them and put them up for sale. That’s what’s called an Author Services Company (or Vanity Press) and the vast majority are super scamy.

If you’ve been a writer for any amount of time I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that publishers don’t charge authors, they pay authors. You as an author should never be asked to pay fees or to pay for publisher’s services. That’s because authors are not a publisher’s clients.

The authors are not my clients.

The authors are, to make an analogy, my manufacturers. They create the product that I then sell. (By the way, going back for a moment to the legal side of things, my accountant has told me that the authors are 1099 contractors for me and as such I need to have them fill out a  W-9 form providing either their social security number or the EIN of their own business identity in order to report on taxes how much I’ve paid them. Check with your own accountant about this).

So who is my client? Readers. Anyone who buys books.

What’s the problem with Author Services Companies?

As with most things, you have to look at what the incentives are. If I’m making money from charging an author to edit her book or format his book, then what motivation do I have to hussle and sell that book? I’m already making money! Why would I care if it sold? I would be incentivized by the wrong thing.

The way publishing companies are set up is that we get paid when the book sells. We are incentized and motivated to sell that book as much as possible because the more money it brings in, the more money we all make.

I could have created a company around charging a small fee to format someone’s book or upload it to Kindle for them, and there’s be nothing wrong with that (as long as I was upfront with the authors about what service I’m providing), but that’s not being a publisher. That’s not the business I’m interested in being in.

So what do I do?

Get the book ready to sell and then sell it! Basically all the things on this list I either do or coordinate the hiring of someone to do and then I do all the publicity and talking to bookstore reps too. I hope that this series is illuminating the many things that a publisher does do for their authors’ books…there’s plenty of work left between finished manuscript and finished book!

Publishers Are Not God

I’m an author as well as a publisher so I know how it is. You send out your work and once there’s finally interest in it you’re so thrilled that you accept any offer you get. Getting your book any contract is not the best thing for your beloved story. You want to get it the right contract. Sometimes even a great publishing house isn’t the right fit for you and your book, so be cautious when accepting an offer.

I saw a really sad example recently. I met someone online who had written a disability memoir and I wanted to learn more about her book so I could feature it in our monthly newsletter. I asked and she sent me the link to the book’s Amazon page.

I don’t want to call anyone out, but the page was awful.

The cover of the book was one of the most unprofessional I’ve ever seen. It was a home photo of the author slapped on a white background with text that looked like the whole thing was created in Word. The description was blah and not formatted. There were no editorial reviews or blurbs.

And there was no ebook version.

That can be fine, but it depends on the kind of book you have. Disability memoirs from unknown people don’t really sell in bookstores. Ebooks are where the sales are for that market. To not have one was just begging to have zero sales.

I asked the author to check her contract and the publisher never asked for e-rights, so she is free to put it up herself on Kindle and Nook, etc. But of course she went with a publisher partly because she didn’t want to learn to do all those things herself and said that she didn’t have any money to put into it (to which I said if she has the edited files than she doesn’t need any upfront money).

The author of this book gets to know that she’s an author and tell people she published a book. That’s a great thing! But I doubt she’ll get many people engaging with her story and actually buying her work.

When you’re considering an offer from a publisher, please look at their track record. Look at the covers of the books they’ve already done, look at the blurbs they’ve gotten, make sure that they can produce a quality product and actually sell it. Don’t be afraid to say no and get a better offer. Your rights to your work can get tied up for years with a publisher and you want to make sure that you’ve placed your book with people who will care about it and nurture it the way you have.

Optimizing Your Amazon Sales Page (Starting a Small Press Publisher)

Getting your book found on the Internet is different from getting your book found in a bookstore. In a store, publishers can pay extra for special displays like the ends of the shelves or the tables at the front and that’s great for visibility. Online you have to do some other things to gain visibility.

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SEO

This to some is a scary word (or acronym, I should say). It stands for Search Engine Optimization and means setting up your page to be as friendly to search engines as possible. Sometimes people try to use tricks to scam the system and that’s why Google and others are often coming out with updates that change how SEO works. But the basics remain the same: keywords, tags, high-quality links. From what I can tell, it really isn’t complicated at all!

The high-quality links is something to work on for your publishing company’s individual website rather than for the Amazon or Barnes and Noble sales page. It means that search engines see it favorably if other people link to your page, it shows that they find something valuable there. The software will crack down on you, though, if the links back to your page are from link farms and scammy pages. Build links slowly and organically for your personal webpage!

For your book’s sales page at Amazon and other e-retailers, keywords are something you’ll want to pay attention to.

Keywords

You’ll want to come up with about 13 keywords that someone looking for a book just like yours would type into a search engine to find it.

Brainstorm lots of words. Words that relate to the subject of the book, the genre of the book, some of the key elements of the book. Then take your list of words and plug them into a tool like Google Keyword Search. This tool will give you an idea of how popular that search term is and will give you some ideas about related keywords that might be searched more often.

Also look at the categories on Amazon’s Kindle store. Figure out which category or “theme” (this is a new thing!) your book would best fit in and then use those words as some of the tags (Amazon will ask you for 13 tags when you are uploading the book).

Book Description

You may already have your back cover copy, which is the snappy and intriguing few paragraphs that will entice people to pick up your book. That same copy will be the description you use on the e-retailer’s page. See if you can work in a few of your keywords to the description in a natural way. Then you’ll want to repeat those same keywords as tags too.

Page Presentation

The most important thing, though, is that the description of the book makes people want to learn more. It should match the tone of the book too so that it gives people a sense of what to expect.

You can use some html coding in the description area (it used to be Amazon’s own language there but now html works). Here is a good overview of the html you can use: http://www.jesusp.com/how-to-format-your-amazon-kindle-book-descriptions-html-images/ Some people will suggest updating the book description from the “author central” page, but if you’re the publisher and you have lots of authors you aren’t going to be the one updating those pages. You’d need a different Amazon account for each one, I think. I haven’t actually tried it on any of the authors other than myself. I would suggest telling the authors to claim their author page and fill it out with headshot and bio.

You want to make full use of this ability without going overboard with fonts and changes. This page is your store front and it needs to look beautiful and inviting. You don’t want a bunch of text crammed together but you also don’t want wild changes of formatting and text size every couple of words either!

How I’m Doing It

Right now I’m happy with our keywords and tags, but the look of the descriptions could use some polishing I think. I recently experimenting on the page for (W)hole and I’m going to be working on updating the others now that I see that the html actually works! I will probably still tweak (W)hole’s also. I like to add in the endorsement quotes on the description page too.

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From Manuscript to Book (Starting a Small Press Publisher)

Sometimes authors wonder why it takes a publishing company so long to go from manuscript to book. There’s good reasons for it!

There’s a lot that goes into getting a book into shape and ready to sell.

For each of these things, you’ll need to decide if you are the best person to do the task (thereby saving on costs) or if the book would be better served by hiring someone else to do the task.

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Someday perhaps we’ll have a staff of people but for now it’s just me and a bunch of people that I contract for individual jobs.

Editing

The first step when you get a new manuscript that you want to publish is to do a content edit. If it’s your own book of course you’ll want to hire someone else to do this. I usually do for all the books we have. I might do one pass of editing first and then once the author has worked on those changes, send it out to another professional content editor.

The author doesn’t have to take all the suggestions that come up. The purpose here is to make the story itself better: tighten it up, make sure the conflict is strong and serves the story, make sure everything makes sense and flows from one plot point to the next in a believable way. This will do a lot to make the book better.

Next you’ll want a copy edit to check on facts, style issues, and consistency.

After that you need a line editor or proofreader to scour the manuscript for typos and mis-spellings.

After each of these edits the author will go over it and make sure of all the changes. You and the author need to come to an agreement on changes at this stage before you can move on to getting it out for sale.

Formatting

The book will need to be formatted for print and ebook. There are lots of people you can hire to do this, but it’s one task I prefer doing myself. This will involve things like putting together the look of the front matter (the copyright page, notice of other books available, etc.) This will look different in a print book v.s. a digital book (examples of mine at the end of the post). You’ll need to choose how a new chapter looks (Do you call it Chapter One or Chapter 1 or One? Do you have it in a different font from the rest of the text?)

Ebook formatting isn’t too intimidating. The key factors are that you should not have page numbers and you should not have hard tabs (tabs should be created in the formatting, not by hitting the “tab” button. You can find these in “find and replace” with ^t).

For most ebook vendors you won’t need to have it in their formats, they will take a Word document and turn it into their own format. But you may still want to get a program like Calibre to convert between formats (This is particularly good for ebook giveaways and free review copies that you can give people in whatever format they would prefer).

Cover Design

Cover design is crucial. You may have heard not to judge a book by its cover, but nearly everyone does! You can put together a cover yourself with GIMP (ironic name for my business to use, don’t you think?) or Microsoft Paint, but it’s usually painfully obvious that you did it yourself and it makes the whole thing look unprofessional.

There’s lots of great book cover designers out there and having a high quality cover will do a lot for your book sales and credibility.

For example, I’m super proud of the cover for The Boy Next Door, which I did myself. I paid for high quality stock images, I modified them into the characters, I picked the fonts, I picked the color, I blended it all, I got feedback.

The Boy Next Door

 

 

 

 

 

 

But look at it next to the pro designs for (W)hole and The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend and it’s still a little bit…lacking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’ll want to have your cover designer put together both an e-book version and a print version (and for that you’ll need to know the dimensions of the paperback including the spine width, which depends on the number of pages, and you’ll need to have your back cover copy ready or an ability to add it later with your designer).

Blurbs

There are different names for this, but I’m talking about the quotes of endorsement from other authors in the genre or from reviewers. Look for well known authors with books similar to yours and reach  out for quotes. It’s beneficial to both of you. That author will get their name on a book and you’ll get an endorsement. You’ll also be sending out pre-pub review copies, so when you get reviews in from that you can pick a flattering line and put that on your book. Figure out where to place this on your cover and include it in the book description.

Back Cover Copy

After the cover, this is the next most important element of selling a book (in my opinion!). It’s difficult to get back cover copy just right. It’s got to be interesting, to the point, snappy, and draw people in. It has to intrigue while not giving away too much. Writing this kind of copy is a real art form unto itself.

You can hire someone to work on it, but most of the services I’ve seen for this the person doesn’t read the book, so it’s not ideal. For Dev Love Press the authors and I work together on these descriptions, trading drafts and suggestions. Though actually, Annabelle has such a talent for it that I often just end up putting her copy on it directly.

Setting up Publicity

You’ll want to put together a plan for how you are going to market the title. I’ll go into more detail about how I do that in a future post!

Buy An ISBN

If you’re only going to be doing ebooks, you don’t strictly need an ISBN. If you’re doing print books, you’ll want to be the owner of the ISBN. If the company you’re working with offers you free ones, it means that their name will be listed as the official publisher. For self-publishing that doesn’t matter a whole lot, but to build your company you’re going to want to be the owner of your own ISBNs.

I buy them through https://www.myidentifiers.com/ and buying in bulk will save quite a bit of money.

An ISBN identifies both the book and its edition so if you have a hardcover and a paperback you’ll need two for that book. If you decide to put an ISBN on your ebooks (I don’t) you’ll need a separate one for that, etc.

Apply for Copyright

A literary work is automatically the property of the author, but it is good to officially register it with the copyright office. Typically you would put the copyright in the name of the author but in some cases you might use your name as the publisher. Make sure this is part of the contract between you and the author.

It will involve a small fee and sending a copy of the work to the copyright office. More info here: http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl109.html

Sending for Pre-Pub Reviews

Four or five months before your publication date, you’ll be sending out what’s called ARCs to reviewers. ARC stands for either Advanced Reader Copy or Advanced Review Copy. These can go out before the proofreading is done and before the cover is done. Traditionally they were sent out with plain cardboard covers, but these days a rough draft cover is okay as long as it clearly says ARC on it. You’ll want to send a cover letter with it too telling the reviewer about your new company and what the book is about. (Make some business letterhead to send it on too).

We’ve had wonderful luck sending to The Romantic Times. I was intimidated at first to try them, but I decided I had nothing to lose and they’ve actually been wonderful to work with. We’ve gotten two print reviews, one web review, and done a print ad with them. Being able to show that our books got good reviews from a respected magazine in the genre makes me really proud.

Here are some places to send (but definitely look into magazines in your company’s genre!) Also consider looking into book review sections of your local newspaper. They may also be interested in a story about a local entrepreneur starting a publishing company.

(More info here: http://www.sellingbooks.com/get-pre-publication-book-reviews/)

You can also send review copies to book review blogs but it’s less critical usually to do that ahead of the launch date. Blogs depend less on these books being brand new than print reviewers do. (A later post will go into how to get reviewed at book blogs).

Choose Distribution

You need to decide who you’ll be working with to get the book out.

Print:

For the print book, the most important thing is that you work with a service that will get you in the Ingram database. If your book is there, bookstores will be able to order it.

The big choice is between Createspace (owned by Amazon), Lightning Source (LSI), or a local printer. I would cross off the local printer right away because most print shops are not equipped to handle something as specialized as professional book printing. Lightning Source is well respected and is what indie publishers have been using since before “indie” became a euphemism for “self-published.”

Personally I find LSI a little intimidating to get started with and I’ve been very happy using Create Space. Now that I’m starting to grow a little bit and working on expanding into more print sales I will be researching and reconsidering LSI.

LSI does give you more choices and has hardcover as well as paperback options. For just getting started, Create Space is simple and easy. (The only paid service on Create Space I ever use is the expanded distribution for $25).

(Post later on how to get into bookstores)

e-Version:

The big choice you have here is whether to enroll your books in the “Kindle Select” program. It requires that your book be exclusive to Amazon for ebook format for 90 days at a time. In return Amazon gives you the ability to run promotions like free days (that can help you gain visibility) and countdown deals. Typically I start a book out exclusive to Amazon, take advantage of those deals and then don’t renew after the first 90 days. So three months after launch I add the ebook to the other channels. I am strongly considering changing that for the future. I have not been finding the Kindle deals to be doing as much as they once did for sales.

The other big channels are Smashwords, Barnes and Noble Nook, Kobo, and a handful of others. You can get distribution to Nook and Kobo through Smashwords, but it’s often a better deal to upload directly with each one. Smashwords’s big advantage is that they make your book available in every ebook format from HTML to PDF to Epub and .mobi (Nook and Kindle formats).

Uploading

Getting your book uploaded is a pretty straightforward process. Just follow the instructions. One question that you’ll get asked is about whether you want to add DRM to your books.

DRM decision: I never put DRM on any of my books. It is supposed to discourage pirating, but in practice it usually doesn’t at all. Being a player of video games, I’m used to DRM being something that punishes the honest people buying something and does nothing to deter pirates. Put a Google Alert on the name of your books and authors and send take down notices to any pirate sites where you find them. That’s about all you can do to combat piracy. Here’s an article about DRM when it comes to book selling.

In a future post I’ll go into details on optimizing the look of your books’ pages as well as SEO and keywords/tags.

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Oh man, I have promised you SO MANY future posts! Don’t worry, I’ve already got drafts started on at least half of these!

Sample front matter for paperback and ebook (for the ebook versions, keep the front matter as brief as possible. You want to make sure people can see a sample of the story itself and also that they don’t feel cheated by a huge file that is mostly filler:

print front matter

 

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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)

 ***

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.

blogpostone

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

Inspirational Doesn’t Always Mean Christian

We thought using the word “inspirational” made a lot of sense when describing Annabelle Costa’s ebook, Harvard Hottie.

It’s an inspiring story of love overcoming disability, which is pretty much our favorite subject here at DLP!

But, as you may know, the word “inspirational” has other connotations. It is often used as a euphemism for a Christian romance.  We didn’t think that Amazon was using it that way, since it allows you to select the category “inspirational” for your book as well as “Christian romance” as a different category.

Still, to avoid confusion, we did not classify the book as “inspirational.” Instead we used that as one of the words to describe the book. As it turns out, that’s enough for Amazon to decide it must be a Christian book.

Annabelle has been getting some very unfortunate reviews from people who have searched for Christian books and been recommended this one. As unprofessional as it may look, we’ve had to put a disclaimer into the description there.

It is very frustrating that the word “Inspirational” is only allowed to mean Christian. There are other kinds of inspiration in the world.

This book is not a Christian romance and those who download it thinking that it is are getting upset. How can we find a way to tell people that this is an inspiring story without being labeled as Christian?