Monday, December 12, 2011

One Author's Experience With a New Publishing Model: Q & A With Gale Martin

Today, I welcome as my guest the fabulously talented and charming Gale Martin (@Gale_Martin): cat lover and homemade beef stew doyenne. Gale's novel, "Don Juan in Hankey, PA," has recently been released by Booktrope, a publisher with an unconventional publishing model. She graciously agreed to share her publishing experience with my readers and address some of the most common questions new authors ask about working with new, niche, or small publishers. 

Thanks for having me on MuseInks. In 2011, Booktrope, a Seattle-based publishing firm, published my novel with an opera backdrop called DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA.  They have a publishing model unlike any I’d ever encountered. For all the authors out there who are shopping or will be shopping books, I’ve put together this little Q&A to help you along in your journey towards publication.

Q. Should wanna-be authors continue to seek traditional publishing outlets for the book? 

A: Actually, I do believe in the model embraced by the publishing industry. Find an agent. Have the agent shop the book to us. That’s where I began. I queried about 140 agents, and had a lot of requests, about 15-20 partials and full manuscripts. More than one agent read the whole thing, and then told me they couldn’t represent it. One in particular gushed over it and said, “I just can’t take on any new clients.” That’s when I knew the landscape for fiction writers like me had dramatically changed. It used to be if an agent a) finished your book and b) liked it, you would get an offer of representation. 

I would have preferred not to go directly to a publisher. I wanted to have the book agented going into the whole process. However, I believed in the book and didn’t want another finished book sitting on my shelf.  I had barely put my toe in the water when I learned about Booktrope Publishing from the Twitter bio of another writer they published. Just like in the Longfellow poem, “I shot an arrow into the air,” I shot a query off to Booktrope in March of 2011, with no expectations for success. Booktrope offered to publish my book in July with an email that said, “If this book is still available, we’d very much like to publish your book. We really like it.”  After doing more research, I was favorably disposed to consider their offer.

Key takeaway: Keep your eyes open to new publishers and new models of doing things. Look where other debut authors are being published. People are dying to talk about their publishing experiences on Twitter. Make sure you plug in once-in-a-while.

Q.  Might a publisher like Booktrope be the right one for me?

A:  One of the things that attracted me most was that Booktrope had expertise in digital publishing. Though I had only read one or two e-books in my lifetime when I contracted with them, I’d been reading so much about how e-books are becoming more and more of the book buying market, that they are the way of the future. 

By July of 2011, I had almost 1,000 followers on Twitter and had more than 50,000 visits to my Operatoonity blog. Operagoers and opera lovers would comprise a target audience for the book, yet the opera-loving community is international. It may be a small group compared to even the audience of musical theater lovers, but it certainly is an international group. 

And operagoers were online in droves--if Roberto Alagna sang in Berlin last week but is performing in New York this week, operagoers across the globe are dying to compare notes—and now they can, thanks to social media. At the same time I was hoping to dip my toe into the arena of digital publishing.  Because Booktrope also published print copies and I hadn’t yet figured out how to sign an e-book at a book signing, that made them a better fit for me, than just a e-publisher.

Key takeaway:  While small presses continue to publish quality offerings, investigate whether they will publish your book digitally, in versions for the popular e-readers. It may not be your preferred avenue of publication, but it absolutely is essential for capturing a larger readership—a global readership. 

Q: How involved do I need to be to market my own book? Won’t the publisher do most of it?

A:  Even if you are published by a Big Six press, there are expectations that  after  their marketing effort is completed, that you must pick up the mantle of promoting your book. Their marketing team must move on to the next client, after all.

Booktrope ‘s model is unlike any I’ve ever seen. After they accept your book for publication, you become part of a creative management team that includes an editor, a designer, a book marketing manager, and in my case, the publisher, though I understand Booktrope just added a position to help the publisher so he can take on more books.  Your marketing manager and, in fact, the publisher help you plan and then roll out online and in-person marketing events  from a marketing plan they devise.

We have had editorial, publishing, and marketing meetings via Skype. In my case, the book marketing manager prepares and sends out news releases and make contacts for author events. The publisher sends out review copies (print and electronic) and places ads in online venues such as Kindle Nation and Facebook. 

The publisher, Ken Shear, is like a coach, encouraging you to send e-invites to build attendance at your on-ground events or to get more Amazon reviews.  He doesn’t believe authors should have to wait two years until they see their books in print. The book marketing manager works with me for the life of the contract—five years—so she’s incented to help you sell your book long after it is launched.

Key takeaway:  Whether you go with a small press or a conventional publisher, you must be prepared to market your work. However, if your work with a small press, you are in a better position if you find someone like Booktrope, who provides a level of marketing support over the life of your contract. 

Q.  What advice do you have for writers who want to get their book out to the public?

The big six publishers have a time-honored published model that has worked for centuries and that has yielded the world’s greatest literature. However, many in the conventional publishing world and everyone along the supply chain of the publishing industry hasn’t kept pace with technology to the extent they probably should have. There are still plenty of agents who only accept snail mailed queries and don’t have a decent website. Publishers have been the "gatekeepers" to ensure a certain level of quality. But they aren’t the only ones who do that anymore.

Companies like Booktrope also believe in the benefits of gatekeeping. But instead of having an editor, a proofreader, and a designer in house, they use freelancers who elect to work on an author’s book if they believe in the work. I just read a statistic that the sales of e-books have outpaced printed books for the first time this year at Amazon.  This kind of data must have people in the conventional industry scratching their heads and squirming in their seats. And I love books—books that you can hold in your hands. But not to appreciate or anticipate the impact of e-books is just plain short-sighted.  

Small presses need to consider how to reach digital audiences more than they are. And self-publishing is just a big morass where authors and their titles get lost and largely where authors and their money get taken. Oh sure, every once in a while, one lucky self-published soul hits it big. But self-publishing, even in you call it indie publishing, is still a crapshoot.  And often crappy writing.

Key takeaway: As conventional publishing gets harder and harder to crack for debut novelists destined for the midlist, look for outfits like Booktrope. Except right now, there might be only one Booktrope.

I encourage you to visit Gale's website and connect with her on Twitter. She's a valued addition to my online writing friends -- and I suspect she'll be the same for you.


Gale Martin said...

Thanks, Ami, for letting me share my experience en route to publication.

Elise Stephens said...

You've said it very eloguently! So glad you found a home with Booktrope.

This is a great presentation on the publishing process that Booktrope takes you through.

Good luck with the sales of Don Juan in Hankey, PA! :)