Thursday, April 30, 2009

Join Amy Wachspress and Me at Lit Fest for a Workshop on Book Publishing.

This Saturday, May 2nd, Amy Wachspress and I are teaching a workshop on independent publishing, called Perspectives in Publishing, at the Mendocino Community College LitFest, a free, annual event, celebrating authors and publishers. Authors such as Jody Gerhman, Jean Hegland, Charlotte Gullick, Jordan Resonfeld, Hal Zinna Bennett, and many other writers, are reading and teaching workshops at the college from 10:00 to 4:00.

Amy and my workshop begins at 10:00, in room 740 (near the library). Amy will talk about self-publishing and I will talk about the steps you need to take to start a small press. We will also discuss that most mysterious and confusing aspect of book publishing, marketing. You'll leave the workshop with concrete information and your questions answered.

Remember this event is free, so take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about the world of books and what goes in to their creation.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

My One-on-One with Marion Gropen

Who is Marion Gropen, you ask? Marion is a publishing-business expert with a website and blog every small publisher should bookmark and read. She just posted a piece on her blog Publishing for Profit about why she thinks publishing companies should be an S-Corp. Here is a snippet so you can see how she writes:

The old “I’m just publishing my book, not starting a business” fallacy has reared its head again. So, if you already know all there is to know about founding your press, go away. You’re going to be seriously bored by this post. Or, better, stay, and tell me what I omitted in the comments!

First, any time you’re getting money for anything, it’s a business. And no matter whether profit is your primary goal or not, if you don’t at least break even, you won’t be accomplishing any goals for long. Money does matter.

Now that we have that settled: you need to decide what type of company you should have.
(read the full article on her blog).

The week before the Northern California Publisher's and Author's Conference, a post went out to the list-serve asking if anyone would like a one-on-one with Marion Gropen. I jumped at the chance. Are you kidding? Who wouldn't want 30 minutes with a publishing expert to discuss your own press, free of charge? I tried to think of my most pressing questions to make full use of my time, but realized the biggest issue my press has is with myself. I seem to have hit a brick wall when it comes to getting things done. I STILL haven't put up a page on the website for my OWN BOOK! What is that telling me?

Marion is outspoken, intelligent, and funny as hell. She tells it like it is, regardless of whether or not you want to hear it, which I respect. There's no bull, but she speaks her mind with compassion. She isn't trying to talk you out of publishing, she's trying to help you see the reality of your situation to prevent that reality from crushing your dreams. A publisher has no time for denial.

After chatting for a few minutes, during which time she asked me about my long term plans and dreams for my press, she got to the root of the problem: I am trying to do too much all by myself. What I am attempting is impossible, regardless of the fact I'm a mom and a grad student. Even a single, child-free, woman with a part-time, flexible job would find it difficult keeping up with the needs of a press, all on her own. I am marketing two books while producing another, managing the press, organizing daily operations, editing manuscripts, keeping up with a slush pile, and trying to make good, long term business decisions, all on a less-than-a-shoe-string budget and in just four hours a day.

Once again, my belief that I am Wonder Woman has kicked me in the ass!

Marion leaned forward, looked me in the eye and said, "Let go." Then she smiled and said she knows how hard that is to do because she's exactly the same kind of person I am: a control freak.

Letting go means that I need to reexamine my goals and the way I make decisions about the books I want to acquire. I need to look at the marketing strengths of the author and not just whether or not I like the book. I need to put more of the book promotion on the AUTHOR, because I simply don't have time to promote the book for them. I also need to find someone who can help me more with the business operation of the press, someone to update the records every quarter. I need to delegate as much as possible and trust that those people I delegate to will make good decisions. Of course I have the final say; I'm the publisher. But micro-managing every detail of my press and the books I publish is destroying my ability to do what I love, namely, publish books. I even micro-manage myself!

She praised me for looking at Medusa's Muse as a business early in the process, which puts me ahead of the game. So many authors don't realize they're starting a business until after the book comes out, and then they get into trouble. Maybe it's easier for me to think about Medusa as a business because I'm not usually publishing my own books. Publishing What You Need to Know to Be a Pro was difficult because I was both author and publisher, so I lost a great deal of objectivity and made mistakes. I like having that objectivity, so I want to stick with publishing other writer's works. It's time to use that objectivity, that second-sight I was born with that lets me grasp "the big picture" quickly, to make decisions about the books I CAN publish, and my own goals for Medusa's Muse.

And I'm taking another look at turning Medusa's Muse into a corporation. I was under the impression that becoming a corp would be expensive, but Marion assured me I could do it myself for little cost. I'd need a board of directors, which would be a great way to get the help I need making decisions about the press and managing the work load.

But I get to keep the title of Publisher/Editor in Chief. I'm far from ready to give up that much control. Any control freak knows that a control freak needs to feel that she's still in control.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Northern California Publisher's and Author's Conference

Every writer knows how lonely being a writer can get. You spend hours by yourself, playing with imaginary people on paper. Luckily, most of us have writing groups or writing buddies who we can "talk shop" to about how dreadful being a writer can be. And there are plenty of writer's conferences out there, even in Hawaii.

Publishers aren't so lucky. I can talk to my writing friends about my slush pile and how much shipping costs are impacting the long term growth of my business, but all they can do is nod and say, "Yeah. That must suck. Hey, how's the writing going?"

Publishers need like-minded peers as much as writers do, which is why I joined Northern California Publishers and Authors. Based in Sacramento, California, NCPA is an organization which provides support, advice, information, and opportunities for networking with other publishers. There's an informative website, a newsletter, and an active list-serve where I can chat with fellow publishers about the trials and tribulations of publishing. Once a year they throw a conference where we all get together in person, get the latest info from experts, and see what each of us has been working on. The next conference is tomorrow and I'm really looking forward to it.

I think ALL publishers, especially new publishers, should join a publishing association, especially a local group. There are many organizations throughout North America, most of them affiliated with Small Publishers Association of North America. Go to the SPAN website to find a group in your area.

And it doesn't have to be in your town. Even though Sacramento is three hours away, I still get a lot out of my membership, especially through the list-serve. And going to the conference once a year is like going to a family reunion, one where the kids the grown-ups are bragging about are books. We show off our book covers and discuss our projects, all with the same gleam in the eye as any proud parent. "Yep, my book just won an honorable mention in the IPPY."

I wonder if there's a publishing conference in Hawaii?

Monday, April 20, 2009

A You Tube Video About Book Promotion

This video made me laugh! Called "Paperback," it shows a conversation between a writer and his agent in which he explains what he's planning to do to promote his book.

It made me laugh because it is so true!

How will you promote your book?

Um... well... my neighbor's book club is going to discuss my book. Website? I um... sort of haven't gotten to that yet.

"I will work on my smile." That line kills me!

(I want to give a shout-out to my pal at Inked-In for turning me on to this video).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Why I Revised My Fulfillment System

Recently I had to take another look at my book fulfillment system because it just wasn't working for Medusa's Muse anymore. In a publishing company, fulfillment is when book orders are processed and shipped. It doesn't have anything to do with sexual fulfillment, or the sense of fulfillment you enjoy when you get what you want. Nope, book fulfillment is much duller, but seeing as selling books is the reason you started a publishing company, filling book orders can feel pretty good.

Unfortunately, rising shipping costs are killing my enjoyment for book fulfillment. Right now it costs over $5.00 to send a book to someone in the US, unless I go book rate, but that can take a month to get where it needs to go. To compete with and other on-line retailers, I haven't been charging the full amount of shipping; instead I'm covering about $2.00 an order. Once I did the math, I realized between shipping costs and the cost of printing, I'm actually losing money fulfilling book orders. I can't sustain a small business losing money on sales. No one can.

Instead of selling all our books directly from my website and blog, I will only sell signed copies of our current book and charge the full amount for shipping. Laura's book can be bought at, and of course (unless you'd like a signed copy, then you'll need to send the press an email so Laura can sign the book). I will also sell our books at workshops, readings, and other events.

It seems odd that I'm losing money selling books directly from my website, even when I take into account the huge cut in profit retailers take when they sell the book (I earn about $1.00 a book through sales). But most of the books we sell are sold via, and there's no way I can compete with their discounted price and inexpensive shipping rates.

This is why it is so important to keep an eye on your bottom line and pay attention to rising costs that affect your business. Not only am I paying for shipping, but I'm also buying mailers, boxes, packing material to protect the books during transport, paper and ink for my printer to print out the invoices, and spending a lot of time fulfilling each order, plus going to the post office. Every time I order another case of books, I have to pay shipping on those books. And, I am taxed on my unsold inventory that is just sitting in my living room.

A business is a changing, expanding, contracting, exasperating, deflating, evolving entity and it takes a lot of perseverance and know-how to keep it alive. This is just one example of the many business choices I make every month to keep Medusa's Muse Press thriving.

Now I need to go get me some of the other kind of fulfillment, like a Mocha!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon Fail

Right now, there is a storm of protests flooding Twitter and the blogosphere,called Amazon Fail. The uproar is due to's new policy that excludes "adult-subject matter" books from it's ranking and search system. The problem is that their criteria for what constitutes adult content is biased. While bodice rippers full of "heaving bosoms" and "throbbing members" are still ranked and promoted, anything related to gay and lesbian stories are now labeled "adult." That includes the book, Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military, an award winning expose on the "don't ask, don't tell" policy put into place during the Clinton administration. However, American Psycho, a novel about a serial killer which is extremely explicit in its depictions of violence and sex, is not ranked "adult content." (see the LA Times article for more information about both books.)

I can understand the need to control pornography on an Internet storefront that is frequented by children, but this goes beyond shielding kids from explicit book titles. This is censorship. If doesn't want to sell anything related to Gay and Lesbians, then they should be upfront and say it, rather than hiding behind a bogus, biased policy that considers a book with images of Playboy Centerfolds as "okay," but a memoir about a gay man to be pornographic. Stop playing games,!

And don't forget everyone, there is a viable alternative to It's called Powells Books.

Friday, April 10, 2009

So, you want to publish your book. What's the very first thing you should do?

You've just completed your 300 page masterpiece and now you're trying to decide how to go about publishing it. Do you want to go traditional and find an agent? Would you rather submit your book directly to a small press? Or do you want to take full control of your book and do it all yourself?

All of those options are viable and each has its pros and cons. But before you decide how to publish your book, you need to step back and look carefully at your writing career dreams.

What kind of writer do you want to be? How do you imagine your writing career? If you'll never be happy unless you're a celebrity author at Random House with a guest spot on Oprah, then think no further. Start writing your query letter and start hunting for an agent. Sure, some people make it to the top publishing the book themselves, but you've got the same odds of winning the California lottery.

However, if your dream of publishing doesn't include that big contract from Random House, you can go the other two routes: small press or self publishing. Either route can potentially get you published with a loyal following of readers and enough earnings to keep you in espresso while you write your next book.

How do you decide which publishing road to follow? To figure that out, you need to take a long hard look in the mirror and HONESTLY ask yourself this question: how hard do you want to work?

Self-Publishing will give you the most control over your book, but you will do ALL the work.

Being published by a Small Press will split some of the workload, but you'll lose some of that control. Sometimes, you won't even have a say in the cover design.

There is always a trade off: the more control you have, the more work you have.

If you're willing to do the work and are a control nut, then self-publish. Even in that route there are two ways to go. You can start a small press, which again gives you ALL the control, or go with an online publisher like XLibros and IUniverse. If you go with the last option you'll lose some control. They will own the ISBN, not you, so you won't be able to publish elsewhere if you change your mind. But if want to focus on only writing and marketing your book and don't want to worry about all the details of managing a business, then an online publisher is a good way to go.

To decide the best way for you to be published, start with your dream, and do some homework. Make realistic decision about your needs and your desires. No option will provide everything, but if you do some research and really think before you jump into publishing, you'll be much happier when your book launches.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Unsigned Musicians Can Create and Distribute a Demo Without Stigma, so Why Can't Writers Self-Publish and Distribute their Writing?

A few weeks ago, JL Powers wrote in the blog for Catalyst Books about the stigma around self-published authors, comparing their self promoted works to demo recordings from unsigned bands. Any fledgling musician with Garageband can make a demo and post it on MySpace. No one looks down on them for doing it, in fact, many great bands have started out underground, collecting a following before being signed to a record deal.

And it isn't just bands who are allowed to self-produce; saying you're writing and producing your own short film is considered cool. Saying you're self-publishing the novel you've given five years of your life to is considered pathetic.

Why does writing have to be legitimized by a publisher while music is allowed to be independent? Is writing so hallowed that it takes finding a golden ticket to be admitted into its league of glorious prose?

What makes writing so special?

I once thought that self-published work must be inferior, just as many people still believe. If it was any good, it would be bought by a "real" publisher. But as I've spent more time in the independent publishing world, I realized the reasons people self-publish are far more complicated than just not being picked up by a publisher. Many love the control self-publishing gives them. The author makes all of the decisions and keeps all the earnings. She decides how the book will look and how it will be marketed. For control nuts, it's the only way to go. Others might dream of being discovered by a big publishing company, but rather than sit around and wait for that day to come, they self-publish their book and start finding readers. Many self-published books are just too niche oriented or controversial for a publisher to be willing to take a risk on. And sometimes the book really is just plain awful, but the author believes in their book so much they are willing to stake their life savings on it. Gotta admire that kind of dedication.

I self published my how-to book, What You Need to Know to Be a Pro: The Start-Up Business Guide for Publishers, because it's about starting your own small press. It seemed ridiculous to ask someone else to publish it for me, like I was ashamed of the work my own press produced. So, does that make me a loser, or an entrepreneur?

What do you think. Why is it okay for a band to make a demo on their own and self promote, but it's not okay for a writer to self publish and self promote?