Learning from My Clients: Lessons in Publishing Success

In the blog series Publishing Stories, I asked several past clients to share their experiences with publishing.

There are more to come, but I would like to pause here and think about what we as authors, editors, and publishers can learn from their stories.

The four profiled authors — Gary Bargatze, W.K. Dwyer, Maureen C. Berry, and Peter C. Diamond — come from a variety of backgrounds, wrote on wide-ranging topics in both fiction and nonfiction, and were in varying stages of their careers as authors.

  • Gary Bargatze, the author of the eight-book historical fiction series titled Your Winding Daybreak Ways, chose to hire his own editor and rely on a publishing services company to produce his book. Starting in 2015, five of the books have been released with more publishing over the course of 2017.
  • W.K. Dwyer, whose social sci-fi novel The Killing Flower was just released in fall 2016, arranged all of the vendors — developmental editor, copyeditor, interior designer, cover artist, proofreader, printer, and e-book company — himself.
  • Maureen C. Berry left a contract with a publishing house to self-publish her cookbook, Salmon from Market to Plate, on her own terms and schedule. The book debuted in 2016.
  • Peter Diamond’s self-help book Amplify Your Career and Life published in 2014. He hired a developmental editor, then contracted with a hybrid publisher for production, distribution, and marketing.

The goals of each author and their expectations for marketing and sales greatly colored their stories. It was educational for me to see where I saw success and where they did or did not.

Have a Vision and Stick to It

Gary Bargatze had a vision for his series before he wrote it, and he followed it through to the end of the project. He was aware of his abilities, crunched the numbers, and found the path that was economical for his time and pocketbook.

His use of an editor outside of the publishing services company is one of the key decisions he made. It saved him money compared to what the publishing services company offered, and he received what I know to be a more in-depth edit than most get with a company.

Gary also wasn’t shy. He stood up when the production wasn’t right, and he had his book reviewed in the Baltimore Sun online (twice, actually). He is strategic and pointed with each decision and the success he has had reflects that.

The satisfaction he takes in the journey of publishing is also apparent — and deeply important to the final judgment of whether this adventure was a success.

Make a Great Product and Ask for Help When Needed

W.K. Dwyer shared how much he learned over the course of publishing his first novel, and one lesson is that self-publishing is a whole lot of work!

There are a lot of moving parts, and it takes a lot of mind space to keep it all going. He wanted full control over production, especially in regards to the cover, and that is what he got. His book is beautiful and well crafted.

Marketing, as he says, does not happen on its own, and while there is satisfaction in making a great product, it’s more fun when people buy the book. Delegating work can help to alleviate the stress.

Indeed, W.K. has since enlisted the help of a marketing expert to get word out about his book. With that assistance, W.K. is set to meet his goals.

Be Flexible and Be Determined

Maureen C. Berry knew what she wanted: a traditional publisher who was going to support her book idea and her marketing efforts. When she discovered that wasn’t going to happen, she changed course. She produced the book on her own to her own standards, and she immersed herself into the marketing the book.

More than any of the other authors profiled, Maureen has embraced the work of marketing her book. She has clear determination to give the book its best shot at selling, and it is selling!

Maureen’s enthusiasm and drive are palpable, and it’s clear that she enjoys the challenges of marketing. Those two factors go a long way in whether marketing efforts will pay off. Her traditional publisher would have done well to keep her.

Revise Expectations and Focus on the Positive

Peter C. Diamond told us that he enjoyed the writing and publishing aspects of making a book.

But like many authors, he underestimated the amount of work involved in marketing the book. Although he had some help with the marketing, he did not meet his sales goal.

What I see with Peter, however, is a much bigger success than he may see.

His book is both a self-help book that really does help the people who read it — note the 25 reviews on Amazon — and a marketing piece for his company. In this situation, there rarely is a one-to-one return on investment.

But for many businesspeople, that’s not the point. Rather, the book offers intangible benefits in the form of new clients, prestige for the author, speaking engagements, and other business-related opportunities.

Self-publishing is also very much about the long tail. That is jargon for the amount of time it takes to make back the investment.

A traditional publisher will market a book for six months and reap as much profit from that endeavor as possible. That’s the short tail. Self-publishers have to take a longer view.

More to Come

In the coming months, more authors will share their stories, highlighting other aspects of the publishing life. Some do not see themselves as bearing a lesson, but I assure, there is much more to learn!

Like this blog? Find more advice and insights in the award-winning book Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Novel Books, and other fine retailers.

Publishing Stories: Successful Self-Publishing Takes a Team

In the new blog series Publishing Stories, I have asked former clients to share their experiences with book publishing. This first contribution is by Gary Bargatze, author of the eight-book series Your Winding Daybreak Ways. His self-published books have earned praise from many corners, including the Baltimore Sun. Here he tells us how he found success as a self-publisher.

Successful Self-Publishing Takes a Team

by Gary Bargatze

When our first child was born some 30 years ago, a wise old friend foretold our future as parents. He flashed a knowing smile and accurately predicted,

“Children give you the greatest joy and the greatest sorrow. … The challenges will never go away; they’ll just get different.”

And as writers who’ve “given birth” to a number of works over the years, my wife and I have often compared the ongoing challenges of parenting to the long, winding road of crafting an idea and managing it to print.

After overcoming the myriad challenges associated with a successful “delivery” (e.g., daily decisions about plot, character, syntax, grammar, word choice, and consistency), we stare at the newborn manuscripts in our hands, sigh with relief, and smile with a rightful sense of accomplishment.

But as the thrill of our newborns’ births begins to fade, we slowly realize that we now face a whole new set of daunting questions and responsibilities to ensure that our “children” reach adulthood and succeed in their lives.

And when these new questions arise, “they come not as single spies, but as battalions”:

  • Which route to publication should we choose?
  • Should we attempt to publish traditionally via an agent and a major publishing house?
  • Should we publish independently through our own start-up publishing companies? Or should we hire an existing press to perform most of the publishing and marketing tasks for us?
  • If we go either the independent route or hire a company, do we engage professional editors?
  • Whom will we hire to design the covers and format the interiors? How many editions of our works should we produce—a print version, an e-book, and/or an audio edition?
  • How will we distribute our new books to retailers (e.g., Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple)?
  • Whom will we hire to develop our author websites?
  • And last but not least, should we tackle social media marketing on our own or engage a professional to develop our social media persona, visibility, and branding?

In my own case, after spending seven-plus years writing the Your Winding Daybreak Ways series consisting of seven novels and a novella (e.g., Warfield, Happy Hollow, and McGill), I ventured out into the vast reaches of the Internet seeking answers to these challenging questions. When I discovered that I could deduct most of the expenses associated with developing and operating a new company from my income taxes, I chose to create my own publishing house, Rigor Hill Press, and to publish my works independently. And then the question arose, how many of the publishing and marketing processes do I really have the desire and expertise to tackle on my own?

After further research, I identified several presses specializing in independent and self-publishing. And over the next several weeks, I conducted a number of staff and customer interviews and ultimately decided to engage Mill City Press headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Our contract included a number of milestones — for example: cover design, interior formatting, printing, e-book formatting, publishing, distribution, and marketing programs via Facebook, Goodreads, and Amazon. While Mill City Press offers editorial services and the use of one of its imprints, I chose to use my own Rigor Hill Press imprint and to engage a copyeditor whom I had thoroughly vetted for qualifications, editorial style, and personal compatibility.

The good news is that I chose wisely. Mill City Press has delivered on time as advertised, and the few times that there have been hiccups in our multibook, multifaceted project, they have quickly and effectively remedied the situation, which is the sign of a first-class operation.

During my search in 2014 for the perfect copyeditor, I discovered Katherine Pickett’s recently published book, Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro. I ordered a copy, read it thoroughly, and contacted her company, POP Editorial Services, in Silver Spring, Maryland. After several conversations with Ms. Pickett via email, the telephone, and a personal meeting at a local bookstore signing, I concluded that she was the right person for the job.

Ms. Pickett had the experience and qualifications, her editorial style was what I had envisioned for the series, and our personalities were quite compatible. Not only is she a pleasant person, but she has the ability to offer constructive criticism that motivates, provides potential solutions, and fosters vitally important trust between the author and herself.

And I cannot overemphasize the trust factor in the author/copyeditor relationship. Since great copyeditors as Ms. Pickett will openly express their opinions with no holds barred, the author must be prepared to suffer a few bruises to the ego along the way. I must admit that as we edited the eight books in the series, I always dreaded receiving another of Ms. Pickett’s lengthy, single-spaced editorial letters detailing everything that I needed to enhance to publish a first-rate novel — for example:

“(1) include more description and feeling around dialogue so that it doesn’t feel like an interview; (2) balance dialogue against straight narration; (3) remove unneeded or excessive adverbs; and (4) insert line spaces to indicate large time lapses. … In addition, the narrator and his three closest friends would benefit from some additional character development.”

But the good news again is that I chose my copyeditor wisely. Ms. Pickett is a true professional who delivers as advertised. And the positive reviews for the series posted by readers in the US and Europe speak volumes to her ability to raise an author’s level of play — for example: “A literary landmark!” “A saga for the big screen!” “Profound, meaningful characters!” “Riveting and imaginative.” “Impossible to put down!”

So when I’m asked at book signings to explain the keys to self-publishing success, I respond, “Choose your partners wisely, and prepare rigorously for every step along the way to publication.” I then usually close my remarks with a quote from the legendary heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali, who believed that rigorous preparation was the key to long-term success. He said, “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses — behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights. … I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”

Gary Bargatze is the author of the novels Warfield, Happy Hollow, Hurricane Creek, Hollow Rock, and McGill, the first five works in the critically acclaimed 10-part fictional series, Your Winding Daybreak Ways, comprised of a prologue, an epilogue, seven novels, and a novella. Mr. Bargatze divides his time between Williamsburg, Virginia, and the Berkshires of Massachusetts.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available from POP Editorial Services LLC, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other fine retailers.