Literary Labor and Delivery

Writing a book is hard work. I’ve heard some authors compare it to giving birth — you labor long and hard, sweating and straining and praying for the pain to end. And then suddenly, gloriously, you are holding a little bundle that takes on a life of its own.

And that’s when the real work begins. Yes, that applies to books as much at it applies to babies. Books that do not have the full attention of the author in the early, crucial phases of the launch too often do not live up to their full potential in the marketplace. Which is a sad thing for author and publisher alike, since that initial investment (be it financial or creative in nature) is never fully realized.

I’ve talked with lots of potential authors who think that writing a book is their golden ticket to fame. They dream of cross-country book tours, television appearances, and elegant soirees with champagne and petit fours. And while this might still happen if you are a BIG FISH in a BIG POND, the vast majority of authors have to work their proverbial butts off just to sell through the first print run (less than 5000 copies).

So, if you care enough about a topic to write a book about it, you’d better care enough to do the leg work necessary to launch your little darling, too. Work on that elevator pitch until it slips across your lips like French silk pie. Build bridges with your readers using every possible (and a few seemingly impossible) venue: radio and television interviews, well publicized book readings/signings, speaking first at a local level and building your way up to national conferences and events, make social media connections (and get those Amazon and B&N reviews up there), create bookmarks and tee shirts, and call in every favor that anyone has ever owed you to build word of mouth in the first four months before and after publication. That’s what it takes.

Oh, and be nice to your publicist. Keep her informed of your comings and goings. The more you do, the happier it will make them. Once you turn in your book to your editor, your new best friend is your publisher’s marketing team. Get to know them, and express your appreciation for all the ways they work hard to make you look good.

If this is your first book, don’t even think about writing a second book for at least six months to a year until your first one has been on the market. I know it’s a rush, and you have a million ideas … but give your first child a chance to find his way in the world before you give him a sibling, okay? You’ll be glad you did.writers-block

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How Can I Get My Book Published?

Today at “My Favorite Catholic Things” Dr. Carrie Gress interviewed me on this topic … be sure to stop by to check it out!

I’d also like to give a shout-out to some of the authors I mention in this interview … Kelly Wahlquist, Marge Fenelon, Sonja Corbitt, Michele Faehnle, and Emily Jaminet. You ladies rock!

Why Not Self-Publish?

booksAs a Catholic non-fiction acquisitions editor, I hear it all the time:  “If I have to do the lion’s share of the marketing and selling of my own book, why do I need a traditional publisher? Why not just publish with _______ (CreateSpace, Leonine, Xulon, etc.) and have them produce it for me at $2 or so a copy?”

Let’s set aside the financial assumptions aside for the moment (though you can rest assured that at the end of the day those books are going to cost a lot more than $2/copy). Any publishing venture, to succeed, must be a partnership, with each party fully invested in the process from start to finish.

Please bear in mind that I am not experienced in fiction… Some fiction authors have had good experiences with Indie presses, and pointedly let me know that there is more to the story. But THIS article is based on my experience in Catholic non-fiction.

Step 1: The Proposal. At the front end of the process, a professional editor will work with an author to modify or even create a proposal that thoroughly and accurately maps out the purpose and promise of the project. Market study of competing books. Trends that suggest a need for that particular title. Sales history of similar titles (and yes, there are nearly always competing titles). Author platform and marketing contacts. A thorough review of outline and sample chapters, sometimes with multiple rounds of feedback.

With self-publishing, you hand in your manuscript and hope it will sell. Most times… it doesn’t.

Step 2: The Contract. If the proposal makes it to the acquisitions meeting, the author will receive additional rounds of feedback with the contract. All of this to ensure the book concept is as strong and competitive as possible. With that contract, you also receive (one would hope) an advance against royalties, and a commitment to put at your disposal  years of industry experience in the form of editors, designers, marketing and sales staff, and other publishing professionals who will help you develop, position, package, and market not just one book, but your brand as well. Instead of investing your own money in the editing, designing, printing, and marketing of your book …  you work with your team to prepare your book to be launched further and faster than you ever could have hoped to do on your own.

With self-publishing, you hand them a check (or credit card). You assume the financial risk of the development costs. And, generally speaking, you get what you pay for. At the end of the day, the publisher gets the fees … and you get the right to buy books. Period.

Part of what the publisher contributes to this partnership is its reputation — particularly in the Catholic market. The right imprint will open doors. (I’ve seen it over and over in trade shows: “Oh, I never buy from ___. They aren’t really Catholic.” Or, “I know I can trust ____. I’ve bought from them for years.”) Some of that reputation comes from the theological training of the editorial staff — and some of it comes from “guilt by association” — other authors published by that imprint. If you want just one example, think of the kerfuffle at Simon & Schuster over their contract with  Milo Yiannopoulos.  On a more positive note, I think of the camaraderie and help I’ve seen more experienced authors give other, newer authors. This kind of networking is invaluable — and simply doesn’t happen in self-publishing.

Step 3: Product Development. A good traditional publisher guides the willing author through every step of the production process to help that author put his (or her) best foot forward:

A professional editor who will commiserate as they “killing their darlings” and overriding their personal quirks, and providing the voice of reason when their nearest and dearest are cheering them on … and not telling them the cold, hard truth about what works, what doesn’t, and why. She will also guide the author through the minutiae of fair use and permissions, hacking away to improve flow, clarity, tone, and rid your precious book of a hundred other bugaboos. Best of all, when we finally tell you that you’ve done a good job, you’ve become a better writer in the process.

A good designer will work with the team, the author, and a whole slate of other graphic artists to capture — as uniquely and memorably as possible — the content of the book in a way that appeals to its intended audience.

A self-publishing company will give you a range of choices and prices … and you pay for custom designs without any real sense of how well the cover you’ve slaved over so long will actually attract your customer. Same goes for interior design. (Admittedly some authors need more help than others!)

Step 4: The Launch. In the months leading up to a book’s release and for at least a year afterwards, authors work as hard at promoting their books as they did at writing them. If you are with a traditional publisher, you will have the benefit of a professional marketing staff that knows their audience — who will be interested, and who won’t — and has established contacts throughout the industry: media, bookstores, distributors, conferences, trade shows, and every imaginable forum. They create catalogs, brochures, flyers, signage, metadata, ads, and make all kinds of tangible and intangible connections on your behalf. They know they have only a short time for the book to “catch,” and limited resources. And so they tend to look for “hungry” authors, and figure out how to complement and support those efforts.

A good publicist is an author’s best friend. S/he secures interviews and reviews, puts authors up for awards, pitches them as presenters at conferences and trade shows, and gives out long-as-your-arm laundry list of things authors need to do  to strengthen their brand. If you’re smart, you’ll get to work and check each of those items off your list well in advance of the release of your book! Someone handles foreign rights, subsidiary rights, audio rights, electronic/digital rights. So many ways to get your message on the market.

So … can you make more money with a self-publishing deal? Perhaps. Just like you save more money by moving yourself across the country, rather than paying professional movers to do it for you. But is it worth it?

Some authors think so, especially those who have had negative experiences with traditional publishing (and there are those horror stories out there, often because expectations aren’t managed properly at the front end of the deal, or because the players change mid-stream). The same is true for those who can’t find a traditional publisher to take their work. Self-publishing may be the best option for these authors.

On the other hand, there can be real benefits to going with a traditional publisher. A traditional publisher shoulders the financial risk and up-front costs associated with development, printing, and marketing. An author can still purchase copies of their book at a significant discount (up to 65% for large quantities) … knowing that they have professionals handling things behind the scenes, freeing them to build up other aspects of ministry/brand.

And you ‘re worth it!

Blessings of Networking

#Tips4Writers. The other day I was reminded once again of just how long-lasting the connections and impressions we make can be. I was thinking particularly within the publishing industry, but I suppose the same could be said for all kinds of personal connections that we make each day, often without realizing the significance.

blessed-are-youLast week I received a gracious note from Melanie Rigney, reminding me of just how far our connections went! Melanie is a veteran writer and author of several wonderful books including Blessed Are You: Finding Inspiration from Our Sisters in Faith (Franciscan Media).

She asked if she could write about me in her e-newsletter. If you would like to be on Melanie’s mailing list, contact her at Melanie(at)melanierigney(dot)com. Melanie wrote:

Heidi Hess Saxton and I first crossed virtual paths nearly twenty years ago when I was the editor of Writer’s Digest magazine and she was a freelance writer. She was the kind of freelancer I enjoyed working with—always on time, her articles hitting the mark in terms of content and length. Flash forward a few years and this time I was the one pitching an article to her, an article that never quite worked. We met in person for the first time in the summer of 2015, and it as if we’d known each other forever. Recently, Heidi was downsized, as happens to way too many good people in publishing these days. I was struck by the grace she showed in sharing the news. As she said on her Ask a Catholic Editor blog, “I’m sure God will give me another opportunity where I can (help authors), and do it well. And if he doesn’t… well, I’ll just wait on him until he shows me what he DOES want me to do.” Heidi shows me that God’s detours don’t have to result in spiritual upheaval.

Thanks, Melanie, for the encouraging reminder!

Advent WINE: On Generous Gestures and #BookLaunchAdventures

wine_hiOne of the unexpected gifts of unemployment has been being on the receiving end of so many generous gestures from people I’ve worked with over the years, all of whom have encouraged me beyond words (that’s a LOT of encouragement) with their gestures of love and solidarity.

Two in particular I wanted to mention here, for those who would like a little Advent inspiration!

First, WINE is offering Advent with St. Teresa of Calcutta with special daily meditations to enhance your reading experience. You can sign up for these free reflections here. You can also purchase a copy of “Advent with St. Teresa of Calcutta” directly through WINE, which is a great way to support this ground-breaking apostolate founded by my good friend Kelly Wahlquist.

Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet are also hosting a Facebook Book Club for Advent featuring my book, starting next week – right now it’s called the “4 Keys Online Book Club.” Please be sure to check it out!

Thanks!

What’s Happening in the Industry? #IndustryNews

bookstore shelves

It’s been two days since I lost my job at Franciscan as the editorial director of Servant Books. While the news came as a shock, I understood that the reduction in force was not a criticism of my work or a slam against me personally. All across the industry, good people are faced with tough choices. Publishing models that worked ten years ago — or even five years ago — no longer do. And as I said, sometimes when God closes a door . . . you can get bumped on the nose. Then you start looking for open windows.

Times are tough in the Catholic publishing industry — not just at Franciscan Media but all over. I’ve watched as industry professionals I’ve admired for years forcibly retire, or move on to far more modest positions. I’ve seen organizations regroup, creating partnerships with other media organizations in order to enhance sales. As the industry changes, people are bound to get caught in transition. And yet . . . nothing catches God by surprise, and he always has a plan for those who throw themselves on his abundant mercy.

Perhaps at this time more than any other in recent history, people are grappling with questions of ultimate importance. They need the resources we can provide — but ultimately no author can rest on his (or her) proverbial laurels. Publishing is, first and foremost, about human relationships, and so it is not the publisher but the author  who must carry that Gospel message into the marketplace — into parishes, conferences, social media platforms, and traditional media outlets. We must continue to strive to make new connections not just within the industry, but personally meaningful connections with those whose hearts are hungry for that faithful, loving witness.

At the end of the day, I have always regarded publishing as part of my personal mission from God. I’ve worked hard to help authors become the best they can be, both on the page and in the marketplace. It’s what any good editor does. And at the end of the day, I’m sure God will give me another opportunity where I can do that, and do it well. And if he doesn’t . . . well, I’ll just wait on him until he shows me what he DOES want me to do.

I often tell my kids that God sends every person into the world with a gift to share, a burden to carry, and a job to do. The gift is a source of blessing, the burden keeps us trusting on God rather than ourselves, and the job is something only we can do, and only God know when it is done. Personally, I don’t believe my job is done yet. So . . . please join me in thanking God for whatever he is going to do next. And praying for my friends who remain at Franciscan Media, who are doing their level best to do the job God has entrusted to them.

Blessings,

Heidi