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.

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Publishing Stories: My Flirtation with Traditional Publishing

Maureen C. Berry, author of the cookbook Salmon from Market to Plate, is the feature of this month’s Publishing Stories installment. In this post she tells her experience with a traditional publisher and the ultimate successes she found for her book. 

My Flirtation with Traditional Publishing

by Maureen C. Berry

You write and polish the best manuscript you can. You hire an editor. You research and then query an agent (or 10). Then wait. While you wait, you wring your hands, fret over that last phrase, that one word. Should I have written more? Less? Did I seem needy? Will they like my work? OMG, did I include my phone number? I suck! What if I never hear from any of the agents? Should I self-publish? Traditional publishing is overrated. I will not self-publish, I’ll wait until I hear back. Checks email every two minutes. A rejection letter is better than nothing, right? A badge of honor. Surely someone will love my book.

***

As I aspired to publish my first book, these thoughts raced through my mind daily. Okay, who am I kidding, by the minute. My goal? Traditional publication. While I always considered self-publishing a viable option, I was convinced that traditional publication was the best route for me.

But as I researched agents and prepared my query letters, I was a hot mess.

Then something short of a miracle happened.

The first agent I queried for my book, tentatively titled Eating Salmon, replied within five minutes. My pulse raced, my breath caught in my throat. I wondered if I might be hyperventilating. I looked around my one-woman office needing someone, anyone to see the reply.

Dear Maureen,

Thank you for your MS. This is really do-able. [I almost fell off the chair]

But not for me. [Heart dropped to gut]

However, [Heart fluttered back to life], this is a perfect project for XYZ.

And BTW, there’s a similar title, ABC, that was bought earlier this spring by John. P.Q. Literary. Use this in your market research. And please use my name in your query to XYZ.

Warmly,

Literary Agent

Okay, so now I am dancing with the dog. Is it too early for champagne? I call my husband. Validation sets in. I pinch myself. Then I sit down to write the second query.

You know where this is going right? Insert all the above first paragraph internal dialogue.

Within two weeks, the second agent bit. And within two more weeks I had my first contract from an imprint of a midlevel publishing house in New York.

But first I had to write the book proposal (I had written the entire manuscript) and have the manuscript edited. I hired Katherine Pickett through an online referral.

I found a publishing attorney on Twitter (yes, it’s true!) who agreed to negotiate my first contract pro bono. Three months later, I signed off on the contract and submitted the manuscript.

Was the advance good? Nope — think small four figures. Was my royalty rate fair? I could have done better — was advised to not accept this contract.

But a contract is a contract, right? I was a first-time author with a small but growing platform. This contract could only help me build my brand, not hinder it.

The publisher suggested a book style — softcover, 6″ × 9″, black-and-white illustrated interior with color cover graphics. 200 pages. I flip-flopped, wanting a hardcover, full-color interior (mine was a cookbook after all, and we eat with our eyes), but I relented, assuming they knew best. And really, I didn’t have much say or any options, other than breaching the contract (code for return the advance and forfeit my rights to the manuscript to the publisher).

Much time went by without any word from the agent. When I did hear, she suggested I write the outline of the second book in the series, Eating Shrimp.

Then late that summer, I was working with the publicist. Salmon from Market to Plate was scheduled for a spring release date. My book had been upgraded to full color, they’d use my photographs, and the book would be larger, thus a higher royalty rate to me. Win-win! I shouted into the woods from my office.

But a month later, my agent messaged that she was retiring and I’d be working with someone else. Not daunted, but a little disappointed, I shook it off. Agents move around and there is always fresh blood willing to learn the ropes.

A few days later, on a Friday afternoon that fall, I received a message from one of the editors at the publishing house: my project was put on hold. Indefinitely. They had a competing title scheduled for a spring release, a lifestyle seafood cookbook by an author with a larger platform.

Over the weekend, I considered my options. I would attempt to negotiate my rights back without penalty or returning the advance.

Mid-October, nearly a year to the day after receiving the contract, the publisher agreed to my terms and within two weeks, my rights were reverted. I told myself (and the husband and dog) that I’d give myself six months to find another agent/publisher.

Then the new year rolled around. And, well, my attitude changed, as often is the case during the new year. I decided to self-publish under my company, Berry Consulting. It never occurred to me to use a self-publishing services company. My thinking was if I’m going to self-publish, then I’m going to learn how to do it with all the unknowns, bumps, and not-so-pretty side of doing something totally foreign. A friend’s cousin, a graphic artist, wanted to expand her portfolio. Her style leaned toward commercial but fun. And with that recommendation, mid-January 2016, I hired Megan Johns to design my book. I wanted an April release date to coincide with the opening Alaska salmon season and my project fit her schedule.

Megan delivered Salmon from Market to Plate a week ahead of the April 13, 2016, release date. Any delay was editing and style issues on my part. Megan is a terrific book designer.

Is Salmon from Market to Plate a success? 

  • Salmon was #1 New Release in Fish & Seafood Cooking on Amazon for its first week out.
  • It won a Gold Star for cover design from The Book Designer for the month of April.
  • I was invited to the 35th annual Kentucky Book Fair this November hosted by the Kentucky Humanities Council.
  • I was accepted to the Southern Kentucky Book Fest in Bowling Green at Western Kentucky University next fall.
  • In October 2016, Salmon received an Honorable Mention from the 24th annual Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Competition.
  • Salmon is stocked at two locations in my small (20,000-person) western Kentucky community — Bobbi’s Hallmark and Bookstore at the mall and 45-70, a men’s bespoke store in downtown Madisonville.
  • Salmon was accepted for review by BookLife/Publishers Weekly.
  • The larger bookstores in my region, Joseph-Beth in Louisville and Cincinnati, Parnassus in Nashville, and Barnes & Noble in Bowling Green rejected my book. But I am not disappointed. Encouraged is the word that comes to mind.

And what marketing do I do?

  • I try to do a book signing/salmon tasting event every month in my community. Average book sales are 15 books per event. I sell signed copies from my home, shipping via media mail and taking payment via PayPal, including the shipping and handling plus tax in the price. For each of these signed books, I offer a free bourbon-and-butter cookie, made by a local baker, that looks like the cover of my book.
  • I send free copies to industry and sustainable seafood organizations.
  • I sell books to chefs and restaurants.
  • I submit books to writing contests and for review.
  • I work hard to not be that author who shouts, Buy My Book! on social media.

There is much to tackle yet. For instance, how do I sell foreign rights? And should I? Should I print an Asian counterpart? Should I hire a publicist?

There are many questions I can answer. Am I glad that I self-published? Yes. Did I make mistakes? Yes. One biggie was that I didn’t give myself enough time to submit galleys for review. Is self-publishing hard work? Yes. The marketing responsibilities are overwhelming some days. Do I still want to be traditionally published? Yes. But would I self-publish again? Hell yes.

One thing that kept me sane when I otherwise thought I’d lose it was that I believed in myself and my project. Because if you can’t be your own cheerleader, then nobody else will either.

***

Salmon from Market to Plate is available as a 200-page, softcover, full-color, 6″ × 9″ book. Available on Amazon ($12.95) and Kindle ($6.99). Also available wholesale from IngramSpark.

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.