I am deeply skeptical of many folks who call themselves “experts.” It’s based primarily on having many people who have purported to be one, then quickly demonstrated that their dog and pony show (“Now with smoke and mirrors!”) was mainly poodle with a dose of equine excrement. This goes double for the publishing industry, as one only has to touch a hot stove once or twice to start being suspicious when The Great and Powerful Azbazzam tells you “Don’t worry, child, my magical spells make THIS burner different.”
Then there are the times that, holy cow, you realize you’re dealing with a real Pro from Dover. No, not in the Hawkeye from M.A.S.H. sense (see Azbazzam above). No, I mean in the “Sailor Malan is flying lead, Douglas Bader is running the second section, and they’ve got Johnnie Johnson and Stanford Tuck on their wings”-sense. For those disinclined to click on the links (yet are probably going “Context!”), this is a World War II aces Dream Team for the Royal Air Force (hence Dover).
The latter sort of event happened last night when Topeka Shawnee County Public Library (TSCPL) had Ms. Julie Trelstad come and speak about publishing and marketing. Her interview she did with the Topeka Capital Journal is here. While I will admit there were many things that she talked about that I already knew, I think she gave probably one of the best Q&A about the publishing industry, self-publishing, and marketing that I’ve seen in a long time. Indeed, the only way it could have been better would have been A. a longer time to talk and B. Chris Kennedy in the room.
Some things that came up that I think should definitely be expounded upon (I won’t bludgeon you with my full notes):
Author Rights: I’ve mentioned having one’s head on a swivel elsewhere based on a near painful experience with a certain press. I cannot put this in stronger terms: Get a lawyer before you sign anything, and I do mean ANYTHING, having to deal with your rights. Indeed, contracting without a legal ward of protection is basically the equivalent of jumping into a Taliban compound with 500 pounds of pork and a “Ready to Die 4 Jesus” T-shirt on: Not only highly imprudent, but likely to be extremely painful. Don’t believe me? Check out the fun at All Romance Ebooks at the macro and the “I think I’m going to need a lawyer and therapist”-level. Intellectual Rights / Property Lawyers are a separate breed for a reason.
Pay to Play: Someone in the audience mentioned that they’d been approached by “agents” regarding their work. These individuals wanted $$$ up front in exchange for services. This is a scam that’s almost as old as publishing, an it preys on people’s hopes and dreams. Like all such heresy, it should be scourged and purged. When confronted with such monsters, repeat the following mantra:
MONEY FLOWS TO THE AUTHOR, NEVER FROM!
MONEY FLOWS TO THE AUTHOR, NEVER FROM!
Bonus points if you’re saying that Gandalf vs. Balrog Style. An agent’s job is to sell your manuscript. The assumption of risk on their part is that they’ll be able to do it, which is why they take their 15%. The job of a publisher is to format your book, edit, and then print it in a manner that is appealing. That’s why they take their 30-40%. Otherwise, you’re better off paying someone ala carte and raking in the full % of your royalties, as either of those entities taking your money then using said Danegeld to find the next rube. Oh, don’t worry, they’ll be in touch the next time they need tribute, I mean, payment…but take it to the bank they’re putting as much effort in shopping your book as I am in trying to join the NFL. To drive the point home, your odds of getting a meaningful investment are about the same as hearing, “Now starting at defensive tackle for your Kansas City Chiefs, Jaaaaaaammmmeeesss Yyyyyyyooouuunnng.” (Both will also likely involve the same amount of human sacrifice and witchcraft. Or at least, that’s what the shaman keeps telling me.)
Seriously–do not EVER pay someone to do agenting or publishing. The former is unethical, and actually runs against several agent guild standards. If you’re looking for an agent, I know of an agency. (Full disclosure: I know one of its members after being her neighbor at a con for a weekend. Asking around, I have heard nothing but good things about them.) If you’re looking for a publisher, Chris’ link is up above. Both entities aren’t shy about directing you to other folks they trust if they’re out of spots. Also see if your state has a writer’s guild or author’s club, then ask them. But for pete’s sake, don’t shell out money that you will likely never see back.
Marketing is another thing that came up several times. I’m planning on doing another discussion of promo here soon, but as a quick hitter–there are cheap options out there. I’m not necessarily a fan of FB ads, but Ms. Trelstad did mention it as a way to get your name and photos out there in front of people of a similar genre. I can see that, but I can’t really recommend more than $50 or so.
In any case, if your writer group or library is looking for someone to have come, highly recommend Ms. Trelstad. TSCPL happened to get her through a personal relationship (read: a member recommended her to our awesome librarians), but she’s available on Twitter (@julietrelstad).