Ebook and other books

Forget the Advance–Here’s What You Should Expect From a Publisher

The last decade has seen an explosion of new talent on the writing scene. While the internet has been an incubator for new talent since its beginning, the advent of print-on-demand publishing and the sharp upturn in the popularity of ebooks have created a marketplace where the industry is no longer dependent on a handful of large legacy firms and their satellites of “independent” publishers who were mostly university presses with endowments and who still largely depended on those legacy firms for distribution. Now, publishers can work with printers on the other side of the country to manufacture product that is entirely submitted online, and publishers can easily stock product digitally, testing out electronic text popularity before committing to the costs of an ebook. This means more people are able to create publishing firms with less effort than ever before, and for the writer looking for representation, it can be difficult to decide who to go to.

The fact of the matter is that the large advances advertised in the industry are only available to a handful of authors each year who manage to land contracts with large legacy publishers. Otherwise, you are looking at seeking some form of independent publication. It might seem obvious that larger publishers in the independent sphere will give you more, and to some extent this is true. The writers who get the most promotion at larger independent firms do get more than the authors who get the most promotion at smaller independent firms. That doesn’t actually indicate how they will treat new writers, though, or even those they perceive as midlist.

It’s also worth remembering that if you do go with a smaller company, they will likely be in the midst of designing and implementing their marketing plan. That’s why it’s important that you discuss these details early, along with details about your financial compensation.

What to Expect From Publishers’ Marketing

Regardless of the size of the firm, there are a few steps that most self-publishers manage to cover on their own an overwhelming majority of the time. If you don’t get coherent answers about these services, then you should backpedal quickly, because you are going to get less support than you could give yourself from your home office. Those basic features are:

  • Goodreads and blog give-aways to foster awareness of the book title
  • Promotions to generate reviews on Amazon and other major retailer sites
  • Digital advertising support
  • Keyword optimization in all book descriptions and catalog content
  • Placement in the distribution catalog of one of the five major publishing distributors in the U.S.
  • Ad placement in the new product catalogs and email newsletters for the distributor
  • Social media support and promotion for your title
  • Integration of your title into their brand-wide advertising initiatives

If you can go for more, go for more, but these items are the very least you should expect from anyone handling your manuscript. Of course, they aren’t the only important items you want to make sure you ask for. Let’s talk financials next.

What to Expect Instead of an Advance

Most of the independent publishers you will find operating commercially instead of operating at a university or another public institution will be relatively small businesses with employee numbers somewhere in the vicinity of two to twelve people. Much of the time, they have invested personal money, and that limits what they can promise up-front. It’s also worth mentioning that advances on royalties deplete the publisher’s liquid funds, which can cause problems with the marketing budget for smaller firms. Instead of looking for an advance when you go to a small publisher, look for the opportunity to ask for better royalties, guarantees of reinvestment, and support for your own marketing efforts. That’s right… your publisher might be able to support you, but you will still need your own platform to communicate with fans and spread the word about your books yourself. Your deal with your publisher is a partnership, and it takes two of you to do promotion. That gets easier when you get advantages like these:

  • Higher than average royalties: Digital distribution has streamlined the costs of getting a book into print, so the days of three to five percent royalties should be a thing of the past if your publisher knows what they are doing. Look for up to 15 percent of the list price, but remember that royalties that are too high indicate the publisher isn’t putting as much money into marketing as they could be.
  • Sales Support: You’re going to want to sell your own titles when you go to speak or at events. Your publisher should want you to be putting copies out there too. Look for discounts beyond their normal wholesale pricing, and make sure the copies you purchase are going to earn you royalties too. Some publishers try to exclude them from author sales.
  • Author Copies: How many copies of the title can you get before you have to start paying? Look for at least a dozen, and remember that these are your copies for soliciting reviews. Use them wisely.
  • Reinvestment Guarantees: Not all books perform well, but when they do, you should have a guarantee that some of that money will be used to enrich the book’s marketing and keep its success mounting. Most publishers will do this as a matter of course for the first 90 days. After that, new book marketing falls off sharply at most firms. Ask for guarantees that if your book remains profitable, its marketing will continue to be developed. Especially if you are a first-time author.

Choosing Your Publisher

When it comes to small publishing firms, there are a few different schools of thought about which ones make for your best investment. Some authors try to find publishers who “just publish,” ignoring presses that were started by authors and for them. The reasoning is that those presses will be less likely to spend on new authors and more likely to use them as income streams to promote their partner-authors. On the other side of the coin, though, there are small presses being built by former self-published authors that make it their goal to treat every writer like a partner. These firms are often founded by authors who have been through the available choices for publishers before deciding they can offer other writers more.

F*ck You, Pay Me: Why Publishers Need to Pay Their Writers

“We can’t afford to pay, but it’ll be great exposure!”

This statement, from so many publishing outlets that aren’t offering payment in exchange for writing (but who want good writing anyway), is so cliché it’s become a joke among writers. Yet it’s not funny. Paying outlets for writers shouldn’t be rare or magical; they should be the norm. Here’s why.

  1. Writing is work.

Every writer, whether published or not, knows that writing takes effort. Writing is a skill that can be learned and taught, but like any skill, it takes practice and patience to master. The act of writing is mentally and often physically laborious. Add research, interviews, or reviewing materials for context? That’s more work.

Fiction and poetry are fun to read, but that doesn’t make them not hard work to write. Regardless of the genre, labor goes into its creation—and that labor deserves compensation.

  1. Publishers get value from publishing written work.

Why would publishers ask for written work to publish if that work was worthless?

Trick question—they wouldn’t. Whether the goal is to gain ad revenue through online page clicks or to release an on-paper literary anthology, publishers seek writers and their work because they want to make money. Writing has value, and publication outlets know it. Failing to share that value with the writer—say, by being a paying outlet for writers—isn’t just selfish, it’s disingenuous.

  1. “Exposure” is (a bit of) a sham.

“We can’t afford to pay.”

“We offer great exposure.”

Do these two statements seem to contradict one another? That’s because they do.

A website, journal, or press that truly cannot afford to pay its writers (or to offer a fair royalty agreement to them) might be a startup. It might be run on a shoestring. It might be an editor’s hobby or labor of love. All of those are noble, but none of them are likely to be big enough to offer the exposure your hard work deserves.

Is the outlet big enough to offer substantial exposure? Look up its financials in your favorite search engine. Chances are good it’s got the cash to be able to pay its writers—and that its profit margins are as large as they are because it’s making that money off its unpaid contributors’ backs.

Publishers’ goals and focuses are as vast and divergent as publishing houses themselves. That’s a good thing—it means there’s a place for every writer. When deciding where to publish, don’t sell yourself short: the best outlet for your work is (like AutPress) a paying outlet for writers.

5 Books to Read If You’re Already Writing a Novel

Type “books to read if you want to write a novel” into any search engine, and you’ll get thousands of recommendations for first time writers. But what should you read if you’re already working on your first novel?

Here are five of our favorites:

  1. Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

Poet Natalie Goldberg’s first book on writing was published in 1986, and like good Scotch, it’s improved with time. Goldberg’s method of combining Zen reflection with practical writing advice can help you get “unstuck” at exactly the right moment by seeing writing as a process and a joy—not a slog.

  1. Michael S. Monje Jr., The US Book

You already know what writing every day does for you, even as a first time writer. But what do you want those words to do for your reader? The US Book is a profound object lesson in words as music, as architecture, and as tools that change the world.

  1. Blake Snyder, Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need

Don’t intend to write for the screen? Blake Snyder has your back anyway. His 15-count “beat” structure, outlined in Save the Cat!, forms the backbone of any strong feature-length plot—like, say, that of a novel. If you know where you’re going but you’re not sure how to get there, this book can help you locate the signposts.

  1. Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

If you want something to read that won’t mess up your flow or bleed over into your plot (probably), Pirsig’s classic meditation on the meaning and purpose of Quality can help you appreciate the process of writing—and your product—in an entirely new way.

  1. The Spoon Knife Anthology Series

Released yearly, the Spoon Knife Anthology series features some of the best writing from established and first time writers in the science fiction, spec fic, and weird fiction fields. Choose the Spoon Knife whose theme is closest to your own work, or browse them all to find inspiration and see the craft in action.

 

And Flash Gordon Was There… Putting the “Flash” In Sci-Fi Flash Fiction

Do you love science fiction? Do you love writing and/or reading weird things? Does your attention move at warp speed?

If you answered, “yes, yes, and yes!”, flash fiction might be the niche for you.

A typical flash fiction story clocks in around 1000 words (for comparison, this post is about 400 words). With such a short space to work, plot becomes compressed and detail becomes more focused. Reading and writing flash fiction is a great way to learn how to pack more impact into writing, producing more vivid results.

Here’s what to keep in mind when exploring sci-fi flash fiction:

Keep It Focused

Traditional science fiction relies heavily on worldbuilding. The chance to explore invented worlds is one of the primary reasons fans of the genre love reading it and its authors love writing it.

A thousand words or fewer, however, doesn’t give you much time to produce the kind of texture and detail of epic worldbuilding. Instead, you’ll need to focus on a few key details, and allow readers to fill in the rest with their imaginations.

Keep It Close to the Flash Point

All good stories start close enough to the crisis point to allow the reader (or viewer) to understand very quickly what’s at stake and how the crisis point resulted from those stakes. In flash fiction, however, the distance between the start and the crisis, or “flash point,” is even shorter.

The best ultra-short science fiction stories tend to be subtle. Epic space battles are impossible to do in a thousand words—but a child’s singed boot lying in a middle of a corridor is an entire story in itself.

Keep It Real

Starting a piece of flash fiction with a self-imposed word limit is often a recipe for failure. Instead, simply write. You can trim later, and if the story ends up being longer than you anticipated, it might make an excellent piece of longer fiction—or even a novella.

As in any genre, reading flash fiction can help you learn to write it—or simply give you the chance to explore weird new worlds in a short time frame. Anthologies featuring traditional short fiction, flash fiction, and poetry on your chosen themes can help you see the craft of “out there” writing in action.

Getting Started on Goodreads: Indulging Your Love of Books (and Making Your Writer Friends Happy)

If you’re a book lover who hasn’t fired up a Goodreads account yet, you’re missing out. Half social media, half catalogue, Goodreads lets you wander the stacks of a nearly endless library or bookstore—where the staff recommend new reads based on your personal preferences, steering you toward great literature from both traditional and independent publishers instead of simply plugging whatever’s new, bland, or overstocked.

Sound like a dream come true? Here’s how to start living the dream:

Sign Up

Goodreads asks for a name, email, and password when you sign up. If you like your social media accounts linked together, you can use a Facebook, Twitter, or Amazon account to sign in as well.

Add Some Books

Under the “Home” or “My Books” tab, you can search for books you have read, are currently reading, or want to read, and add them to your personal Goodreads bookshelves. Goodreads’s library contains millions of titles—from the “Big Six” to small independent publishers—and you can also add titles if the search function doesn’t find what you’re looking for.

Rate and Review Your Books

When you add books to your “read” list, don’t forget to give them a rating from one to five stars. Ratings help Goodreads recommend books you’re likely to enjoy. Writing a review also helps the books you enjoyed most float to the top of other readers’ recommendations and build your network on Goodreads. Reviews are a great way to help writers you know get paid.

Get Social (If the Mood Strikes)

Like any public library, Goodreads can be as personal or social as you make it. If you want to stick to browsing book options and building your own shelves, you can—or you can join discussion groups, start a book club, and share your shelves and reviews so that you can talk about books with other avid readers. It’s up to you!

Brick-and-mortar publishing is anything but a meritocracy. It’s easy to find books from the biggest publishers, and tough to find books from smaller independent publishers, even when some of the best literature you’ll ever read comes from a small press. Goodreads helps level the playing field for your favorite writers, and it helps you ensure you’re finding the books you love—not just the books with the biggest marketing budget.

Add These AutPress Science Fiction Titles to Your Fall Reading

Take one look at the folks running Autonomous Press and you’ll understand why we’re passionate about science fiction. On any given day when we’re not discussing press operations, we’re chatting about our exploits playing Fallout or Mass Effect, talking about the characters and episodes from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or Doctor Who, or critiquing books like Ender’s Game from a social justice standpoint. Naturally, our love of sci-fi extends to the AutPress catalog and we’ve already got some great suggestions to add to your bookshelf or e-reader this fall.

Get Hooked on Mirror Project

 Whereas authors like Philip K. Dick presented questions about the personhood and rights of artificial intelligence and androids, Mirror Project speeds far past these basic premises in science fiction in its riveting story of an AI fighting against abuse and incarceration. Created by a combination of human memories, brain scans, and an artificial reality simulator, Lynn Vargas contends with repeated attempts to violate her bodily autonomy and sexual overtures from her creator. As she fights back, she not only faces questions of who she can trust but also what makes a life worth living.

Coming Fall 2017: Nantais

Imagine: you’re the first officer of a starship that’s stranded thanks to a rogue computer virus. Meanwhile, your captain’s son is missing, and one of your only leads to solving these mysteries is an alien whose species may be facing extinction. What would you do? Nantais, a science fiction novel by Verity Reynolds, explores this question in the form of spectacularly weird fiction that easily immerses the reader while breaking away from literary conventions in the genre. We’re very excited about this upcoming new book release, so watch for its appearance in the AutPress store this fall.

Stayed Tuned for More Releases

In addition to Mirror Project and Nantais, we’ve got a lot more speculative literature in store! Keep your eye out for future releases by Nick Walker and Andrew Reichart in their Insurgent Otherworld series. Also, stay tuned for Hoshi and the Red City Circuit, a science fiction novel by Dora Raymaker, and Time Travel in a Closet, a book of time-traveling poetry by N.I. Nicholson.

Queer Your Fall Reading List With AutPress Books

As the leaves outside change color and the temperatures begin to dip, these chillier autumn days demand some quality time indoors with a hot drink and some great books. While you’re stocking up on your top choices, be sure to queer your fall reading with LGBT literature from Autonomous Press. Our “Weird Books for Weird People” includes titles recognized by the Lambda Literary Awards along with innovative collections of poetry, short fiction and memoir from queer and neurodivergent writers.

Defiant: A Complex, Engaging Read

As part of the Shaping Clay series, Defiant is a book that turns typical narratives about autism on their heads. Many of these, penned by authors who are not autistic, barely scratch the surface when it comes autistic people, sexual orientation, and gender. True to its title, Defiant challenges this status quo with a protagonist, Clay Dillion, who transforms in so many ways throughout its story arc. Nominated for a 2016 Lambda Literary Award in the Transgender Fiction category, it’s LGBT literature documenting a transgender autistic experience. As Clay moves through a world that is messy, chaotic, horrifically dark, and morbid, watching him begin to embody the qualities in the book’s title makes for an intrinsically gratifying read.

Queer Narratives in Barking Sycamores

Barking Sycamores is a journal entirely edited by transgender people of color, publishing work by neurodivergent creatives. The journal joined the AutPress family in March 2016 with the release of its Barking Sycamores: Year One print and digital anthology. Year One, and the soon-to-be-released Barking Sycamores: Year Two anthology, both include LGBT poetry and short fiction. They’re both collections where neurodiversity and LBGT literature meet, featuring stunning work by several dozen authors from all over the world.

Neurodivergent LGBT Lit in Multiple Genres

We’ve spotlighted just a few queer lit books here, but don’t forget to check out our other titles from LGBT writers and contributors! That includes both the first Spoon Knife Anthology and Spoon Knife 2: Test Chamber, as well as The US Book. All of these and more are available directly from the AutPress store. So…what are you waiting for?

Real, Authentic Autistic Representation in Fiction

Autism has been a hot topic for at least two decades, but mainstream media and literature is replete with material written about autistic people rather than by autistic people. At Autonomous Press, we’re one of the independent publishers set on radically change that. That’s why AutPress’ catalog heavily features fiction with autistic characters created by autistic writers. If you’re looking for new books to keep you company this fall, you’ll want to add “Shaping Clay: The Elemental Trilogy” to your list.

Autistic Storytelling From the Inside Out

Autistic readers may feel an eerie sense of recognition when they immerse themselves in the saga of Clay Dillion. Currently at three books and counting, “Shaping Clay: The Elemental Trilogy” includes:

  • Nothing Is Right
  • Defiant
  • Imaginary Friends

Nothing Is Right introduces us to Clay Dillon, a young autistic child starting first grade. As you read, you peer over his shoulder while he experiences frustration, sensory overload, self-injury and the sheer panic of suddenly being unable to speak. The author’s storytelling method focuses on autistic characters’ experiences and in this case, depicts Clay’s struggle between desiring to be known for who he truly is and retreating from the pain that comes from how others treat him.

Clay’s story arc continues in both Defiant and Imaginary Friends. Defiant shows us Clay at age 30, finally discovering that he is, indeed, autistic. With this new knowledge comes more challenges as he questions what his desires are, and even who he is, while his world shifts around him.  Published in 2016, Imaginary Friends takes a journey to earlier in Clay’s timeline, showing readers the hellish world around him that the adults in his life construct.

Engaging Books That Keep You Reading

This is not literature that gazes at autistic characters from the outside. Author and AutPress partner Athena Lynn Michaels-Dillon opens a portal to give readers a view from the inside. Going beyond the issue of autistic representation, the works in “Shaping Clay: The Elemental Trilogy” are intensely gripping with a ferocity that both affects deeply and rewards you for journeying through the hells Clay Dillon encounters. As one reviewer put it, “I started reading Imaginary Friends in the evening, big mistake. Dawn was just breaking when I finally finished, tears in my eyes, wanting more.”

AutPress: Stepping Up the Representation Game

Representation of marginalized groups in media and literature is critical. The Oscar-winning film Moonlight and the innovative television series Sense8 both speak to the importance of seeing oneself in film, television, literature, and other modes of artistic expression. Now more than ever, neurodivergent people seek to find representations of themselves, their voices, and their experiences in literary form. Mainstream publishers have mostly ignored this community, or have relied on neurotypical authors producing hackneyed, inaccurate portrayals rooted in the same repeated stereotypes. You’ve seen them before: the Sheldon Coopers, the Christian Wolffs, the Simon Lynches. At Autonomous Press, we’re an independent publisher of diverse books aiming to change this trend.

Weird Books for Weird People

Founded in 2015, AutPress focuses solidly on bringing transformative works to print and digital formats. Its catalog consists of both single-author books and multi-contributor anthologies featuring voices that are usually marginalized in mainstream publishing: queer, transgender, neurodivergent, mad, disabled, racialized, presently or formerly homeless, and incarcerated. That translates to our single-author titles such as The US Book, a mic-dropping work that brings together science fiction, hip-hop, art history, music history and other influences to craft its own spectacular, full-color multiverse between the pages.

Among our yearly anthologies, you’ll find the Spoon Knife series, which already has two volumes under its belt with the release of Spoon Knife 2: Test Chamber this past spring. Debuting in 2016 with the first Spoon Knife Anthology, the annual collections bring together work that pushes boundaries and centers on themes salient to neurodivergent, queer, and mad people. The series continues in 2018 with the release of Spoon Knife 3: Incursions, which will include works of one reality or theme breaking through into another.

New NeuroQueer Books for Fall

We’ve given you a couple of suggestions for fall reading picks, but you’ll want to stay tuned for our next set of releases. Read the story of exolinguist Richard Hayek’s quest to solve the mystery of a rogue computer virus, a missing child and a major threat capable of wiping out an entire alien species in Nantais, a new sci-fi novel by Verity Reynolds. Coming this autumn, we also have Barking Sycamores: Year Two. It’s the second installment in the annual anthologies from one of the only literary journals explicitly publishing literature and art by neurodivergent contributors. Between groundbreaking books like The US Book and Spoon Knife 2: Test Chamber and upcoming titles like Nantais and Barking Sycamores: Year Two, you’ll have plenty of books to stock up on for your fall reading.

We Are Back on Kindle! (And More International Distribution is coming!)

Hi there AutPress fans! Athena Lynn here, and I want to let you know that all of our titles are once again avaialble on Kindle. We had a couple weeks of service outage there because we were changing distributors as part of our larger plan to connect our authors to larger audiences, and there were just a couple of hiccups while we made the change. There are a few new things you might notice now that we are with our new distributor:

  • None of our ebooks are over $10 anymore. That’s because our new distributor helps us make more money at the lower price point, and we want to make sure our books are as economically accessible as possible. You can find those new prices at our store if you want .epub books, or you can get them at Amazon for your Kindle.
  • Our Amazon distribution has increased to offer more ebooks on more Amazon sites internationally, making it possible for people in countries where we previously had no coverage to access our books. This includes Japan, Brazil, and many countries in Africa.
  • Our new marketing partners are helping us to find readers in communities that are dedicated to spreading the word about books, including communities that encourage their readers to review books, like Goodreads.

Changes Coming Soon

On top of our new Kindle distribution, we are picking up a second print distributor to help us make our books available in more places. As that happens, we will be able to offer international shipping to more countries. We’re still in the process of setting that up, but once we do we will be able to get paperbacks out through Amazon in all territories, even places where we have not been carried yet or where our distribution was disrupted, like Australia.

As we make those changes, expect to see international options showing up in our store, too. I can’t promise we will be available in every country, but we are looking at solutions for the UK, Canada, and Australia to start. After that, we’ll see where we can go. Some of it depends on you, our readers, because some of it requires an extra push for demand for our books before it will be profitable to provide them in that market or that format.

One big example of this is audiobooks, which are both expensive to produce and time consuming. While the whole partnership realizes that they are an accessibility issue, if the press is simply not capable of funding them, then going bankrupt to provide accessibility is not going to work. That’s why we put our books out through Bookshare, and we let them work on ways to make them accessible to those who need non-print editions.

We would like to change that, and we realize that being in commercial audiobook markets aids with accessibility because not everyone has Bookshare. We still need to get to a place where that project is feasible, and the more our distribution improves, the easier that is.

How You Can Help

There are a few ways that you can help us out as we prepare to release a book each and every month from now until we run out of manuscripts–and currently, that looks like next year. Whether you have a lot of extra cash or not, there’s something on this list that every fan can do:

  1. Review any Autonomous Press books you have. Go to Amazon.com, search for a title like Spoon Knife 2 that you have read, and write just a 3 or 4 sentence summary of your thoughts. Give us a rating 1-5 stars to go with it, and post. We’re not even asking for a review at a particular level, just an honest assessment from as many people as possible. It helps even more if you bought the book on Amazon, but that’s not entirely necessary.
  2. Go to Goodreads and do the same thing. Also, while you’re there, search for all of our books and add them to your to-read list. It doesn’t cost you anything and it helps more people see our titles.
  3. If you’re a blog person or you work for a place that takes book reviews, consider doing a longer review that you can put out there where it will be seen by people googling our titles.
  4. Sign up for the Autonomous Press mailing list and get coupons every month when we send our newsletter with more announcements and book teasers.
  5. Buy copies of our books so you can review them later.
  6. Post about us on social media. Put us on Amazon.com lists of things you like. Do the same thing at Goodreads.
  7. Check out our anthologies, too, because we have only put out about 10 books so far, but we have published over 100 authors because of our aggressive anthology development process.
  8. If you are in our anthologies, promote them on your own platforms. That’s the only way that future books will be there as income opportunities for you.
  9. Ask your friends to review our books after you recommend them.
  10. Contact bookstores and libraries in your local area and ask them to carry our books. We are available in the Ingram catalog, or you can refer them straight to us.

If you can help us spread the word over the next six months, then we will be able to grow enough to offer true worldwide distribution, audiobooks, and a bunch of other cool stuff like book tours. It takes a fandom to build a publisher, though, so if you have been enjoying our books, please think about what you can do to help spread the word. – Athena