Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Partnership Publishing ~~ Is it Right For You?

To help you determine if partnership publishing would be a good choice I asked Lynne M. Hinkey, author and marine scientist, to share her experiences.
MY PATH TO PUBLISHING, or, Why Partnership Publishing was the way to go (for me), by Lynne M. Hinkey
My first published novel, Marina Melee, was released by independent publisher Casperian Books in 2011. Recently, I signed a contract with Casperian for my second novel, Ye Gods!, and have just begun the lengthy process of preparing for its publication.

One of the questions I’m most frequently asked by fellow writers and aspiring novelists is, “Why go through a small publisher when it’s so easy to self-publish these days?” Yes, it is easy, faster, and I could make more money per sale if I self-published. So indeed, why?

Believe me: I’ve asked myself that same question. There is no one single reason or answer. There are, however, many, many small reasons that, for me, added up to a compelling argument for publishing with a small publisher, and specifically with Casperian Books.
I had to answer a number of other questions first, so I could come up with a satisfactory (to me) answer to that question.
While I hope to someday land an agent, my long road from aspiring to published author, has taken me down a different path for now. There are a number of paths available these days and Jane Friedman recently posted a helpful “infographic” and discussion on her blog summarizing five main publication strategies. (Click HERE to see that post.) I’ll use her categories as I describe how I chose my path.

So, to answer the question of why I chose to go with a small publisher as opposed to self-publishing required me to first answer some other questions:
1.      What do I want to achieve with my writing?
2.      Why a small publishing?
3.      What services or benefits do I expect from a publisher?
4.      What am I absolutely unwilling to accept?

What do I want to achieve with my writing? For me, I’m taking the long view: I want a career as an author. I have a list of ideas for future novels, mostly stand-alone stories, but, should sales for Ye Gods! indicate interest, I also have two sequels following the adventures of those characters outlined.
Most authors will tell you they’ve been writing stories since they were children and I’m no different. My first published novel, Marina Melee, is my fourth completed novel, seventh completed book (a novella and children’s book round out my completed works.)

I also have notebooks and file folders filled with false-starts, outlines, and possible stories either waiting to be told or ready for the shredder. Looking at a career as a novelist means I needed some critical developmental time to improve my craft before my work was ready to roll out into the world. It means I have to have patience, persistence, and be willing to continuously improve my craft.

Not everyone who writes a book has that same goal. Some people write a story for a very specific audience—family and friends, a community with a shared hobby or skill set, a community. They may only want to write one or a few books on that one topic. For them, fully-assisted of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) publishing could be the way to go.
Those self-publishing options may, however, make it more difficult for someone aspiring to a traditional, agented career as an author to actually find an agent. This is not because self-published authors can’t be as or more talented than traditionally published authors, but because too many don’t give themselves the time to be and so have tainted the image of even those self-published writers who are very talented. Because of my concern about that, I ruled out self-publishing as an option for me.
Why a small publisher? One possible answer, typical of many first-time authors, is “I’ll sign with whoever offers me a contract.” That includes agents, big publishers, small ones, vanity publishing houses, or anyone else who says, “Sure. I’ll publish your book.”

Without knowing the difference between partnership and fully-assisted publishing, that response can lead to a lot of surprises for unsuspecting authors.

I was both naïve and fortunate when I first started querying. Naïve in that I didn’t know the difference and fortunate that two previous contracts I had with other publishers failed, allowing me to learn more about the industry, modes of publishing, and specific publishers prior to identifying Casperian Books as one of my top picks to query as a small publisher/partner. 

I’ll briefly share my experience to hopefully help others avoid similar mistakes. My first failed contract was for a children’s book with a publisher who closed shop within weeks of me signing the contract. Turns out, the majority of the publishers’ books came from its erotica division. Publishing a children’s book with a publisher known for their erotica is probably not a good career move!
After that experience, I did some soul-searching and realized a) I didn’t really want to be a children’s author, it just happened to be the manuscript I’d most recently completed, and b) I think my writing is good enough that I can be selective about who publishes my work. I then settled down to complete Marina Melee.

During this time, I also spent a lot of time learning about publishing—the business side of it—by reading books, blogs, writing magazines, and attending writing conferences. What I heard again and again was the Catch-22 of writing: big publishers won’t look at your work without an agent, and agents will rarely look at you without an established track record.

I took time off from the novel to establish a publishing track record. I published short stories, essays, a travel article, and book reviews, but still had nothing to show I could write a novel.
Some agents and editors at the writers’ conferences I attended recommended going through a small publisher first, to demonstrate I had the writing chops to actually finish a saleable novel. That’s what led me to small publishers again. This time, however, I did more diligent researched than “who publishes this genre.”
I made a tiered list of publishers I’d love, like, and be comfortable with.
I was offered a contract by a publisher I met at a writing conference. Their website looked legitimate, book covers were eye-catching, had no negative indications on Predators and Editors, and I’d spoken with a few of their authors at that same conference. We all hit it off, so I was very excited, to say the least. Lucky for me, I’d also bought a couple of their books at that conference.
Despite very vehement assurance that they provided rigorous editing prior to publication, those books showed little evidence of it. Very little. None, actually (one had author’s notes to “fix this” in parentheses in the text!) I turned down the contract.
A few weeks later, when Casperian asked for my manuscript, I was excited, but also much more discerning than I had been when I started the process of finding a publisher.

Again, prior to signing a contract, I spoke with some of their authors, read some of their published titles, and searched high and low for information on them. I found an agent who praised Casperian Books for their open, honest, and upfront information on everything from the contract they offered to the print-on-demand process they employ and what that signifies for authors. A traditionally published author and mentor remarked he’d heard good things about them as well.
Prior to signing the contract for Ye Gods!, I found a book review of one of their titles by the Chicago Center for Lit and Photography:

"... the one great small press that I think most gets overlooked is the fantastic Casperian Books."
By the time I signed my first contract with Casperian, all my questions had been answered and I was not only comfortable, but confident in my decision and in our partnership.
What services or benefits do I expect from a publisher? What did Casperian Books offer that I couldn’t have done with a DIY platform? Their staff artist talked to me about ideas for the cover, said she couldn’t promise she’d use my ideas, then came up with a cover that blew me away. The title and heading fonts, typesetting and layout reflected the book’s tropical marina setting.

The editor and I went back and forth a number of times to find and correct all errors and make necessary improvements that both met their standards and mine (although I’ve learned that no matter how many sets of eyes look at it, a typo or cut/paste error might still slip in.)

Casperian developed and sent out professional press releases, review copies, and promoted the release on their web and social media sites. They provide information and assistance with marketing, artwork and information for me to use for business cards and other promotional material I might wish to invest in. Those are all things that, while I could have done them myself, they wouldn’t have been nearly as good. Their expertise and experience allowed my novel to be better than I could have ever made it alone.

What am I absolutely unwilling to accept? The answer to this question, for me, ties in closely to the previous question, and together the responses clearly pointed me toward partnership publishing, rather than fully-assisted or Do-It-Yourself.
Every agent I’ve ever heard speak at conferences about earnings and expenses has said the same thing: Money flows to the author.
An author should not be expected or required to pay for a publisher’s or agent’s services. There are a few exceptions—some agents will bill the author for copying services, shipping and handling, and other expenses related to selling the manuscript. However, editing services, layout, printing costs, etc are not a “pay-as-you-go” proposition.
I made the decision early on that I would not pay for any of those services. Unlike fully-assisted (vanity publishing) where the author pays for each service provided, I have never paid one penny to Casperian Books, nor was I required to purchase a certain number of books from the publisher to ensure their costs were met.  
Intimately linked to the idea of not paying for services is the validation of having a publisher think my work is good enough to risk investing their time and effort in.

They are willing to prepare my book and get it out into the world not because I sent them a check to do that, and not because I bought a sufficient number of copies to guarantee they’d make a profit, but because they believed it would sell and their investment would see a return.

Sure, I could keep a far greater chunk of money had I self-published, but the value added by my publisher, and the validation of knowing I’m not the only one who thinks my work is good enough to sell, made the potential decrease in profit per book worth it.
That said, Casperian only publishes trade paperbacks, no e-books. I kept all non-print rights and so I did eventually release Marina Melee following the Do-It-Yourself + publication with a distributor (Smashwords and Amazon) path. I will most likely do the same with Ye Gods!
For me, with my ultimate goal of someday obtaining an agent, partnership publishing made the most sense.

For others, fully-assisted, Do-It-Yourself + distributor (as I did for the electronic version of Marina Melee), or DIY Direct might be a better fit.

It all depends on your goals as a writer, what you want or need from a publisher, and your strengths, and capabilities as a writer-publisher-marketer. Whichever path you choose, I wish all of you the best on your road to publication!
Lynne M. Hinkey

Casperian Books
Marina Melee on Amazon



Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the article. There's a lot of good, carefully considered information for writers here. Thanks for sharing.

Peter Bernhardt said...

Good article, Lynne. While I opted for publishing myself, I can certainly understand your reasons for following a different path. Best, Peter.

Lynne Hinkey said...

Thanks, Sue and Peter. I appreciate your taking the time to read! Peter, I think you have also answered those questions, but with different answers than mine, and because you have many of the publishing and marketing skills that I'm lacking!

Bob Sanchez said...

Hi Lynne,
You put a lot of thought into the process and into this blog post. The path you've decided on is perfectly logical, and Casperian sounds like a good choice for you. I would caution you, though, not to look at obtaining an agent as an ultimate goal. Over a period of a decade I had three reputable agents--none ever charged me a dime--yet none ever sold my novels to publishers. Your experience could well be different, but don't take for granted that having an agent equals success.