The Road (Not Taken) to Publication

As a follower of our blog here at Spellbound Scribes, I’m sure you’ve noticed a lot of new Scribes grace our posts. And with new writers, comes new followers! So with that in mind, I thought I would focus today’s post on one the very basics of publishing.

Now, I’m sure many of you who follow our blog are familiar with a lot of these terms/concepts, but there are still folks (including many writers) who don’t know the difference.

Lately, I’ve noticed some confusion about the various types of book publishing, even amongst writers. Or rather, there’s a lot of misinformation about the different publishing platforms, which leads to a lot of confused writers out there. So I thought I’d take a moment to clarify a few of the finer points. Think of it as a crash course in Publishing 101. Keep in mind, this is just a general overview. There are always exceptions to the rules!

First, I’m going to break it down into two types: Traditional Publishing and Indie Publishing.

Traditional Publishing:

 Big Six

These are your major publishing houses. These publishers will only consider books solicited by agents (not the author, but there are exceptions). Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Group, Random House, and Simon & Schuster make up the Big Six, as well as all their various imprints (e.g. Knof Doubleday, Ace Books, Tor Books, etc.)

Authors who sign with any of the Big Six will receive some sort of advance and will earn royalties from sales (after they’ve earned out their advance). These publishers will manage all aspects of the book from editing, marketing, and distribution.

Small Press

These are considered smaller publishing houses, often considered independent publishers or independent press. Many publish and market books towards a niche market (sci-fi, romance, etc). Some small presses can be/are also considered small regional presses.

Just like the Big Six, small press publishers handle editing, marketing, and distribution. Agents aren’t always required for book submissions, but many may require agented requests. Some small press publishers will offer advances, but some do not.

 Indie Publishing:

Self-publishing presses (aka Vanity Press)

These are companies that masquerade as a publishing company. In short, they will ask for money in exchange for publishing services: editing, marketing, cover art, distribution, etc. Many of these sites will charge fees ranging in the hundreds and thousands to “see your book in print.” If you stumble upon a publishing site that has a section entitled “services,” “fees,” or “pricing,” click away from the website.

They will not call themselves vanity presses, but that’s what they are in a nutshell.

Much like legitimate publishers, vanity presses will request authors to sign a contract. Authors receive royalties based on book sales. Unfortunately, many authors do not make enough in royalties to recoup what they paid in services.

Self-Publishing (aka Indie Publishing/Indie Author):

These are your “do-it-yourself” authors. Indie authors are in complete control over the books they write and publish. Many hire independent contractors (cover artists, formatters, editors), but these are one time services/fees. There are other indie authors that choose to do the work themselves (formatting, cover art, etc).

Most indie authors will use a print on demand (see below) to produce print books. Ebooks are uploaded directly by the author, allowing full control, including pricing and royalties. Royalties are given to the author directly from the retail site (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, etc).

Print On Demand (not so much a publishing type, but a service used by indie authors)

These are companies that produce print-on-demand print copies. Not to be confused with vanity presses, these companies do not charge fees for their services, rather, they take a commission from each printed book “demanded” (it costs money for ink and paper!). Some companies may offer services (editing/cover art) for a fee, but it is optional. These companies are also distributors to many of the online retailers and for a minimal fee ($25 for one company) they can also make your print book available to a wider distribution network (i.e. brick and mortar bookstores or libraries).

There are no contracts with print-on-demand companies and authors can remove a book from availability at any point without penalty.

Creatspace, Lightening Source, and Lulu are some of the more popular print-on-demand companies.

Next are the Pros and Cons of each type of publishing:

 Big Six

 Pros:

Bragging rights…You got signed with one of the Big Six

If they like you, they will market the crap out of your book

They handle editing, cover art, marketing, distribution, etc.

Decent advance

Cons:

They own the rights to your book

You can be dropped for future projects if your first book doesn’t sell

You get a small portion of royalties (unless your Patterson or King)

You have no control over editing, cover art, marketing, etc. (unless your Patterson or King)

Small Press

 Pros:

You signed with a publisher

They handle editing, cover art, marketing, distribution, etc.

Cons:

They own the rights to your book (easier to get your rights back than with the Big Six)

You get a small portion of royalties

Little or no control over editing, cover art, marketing, etc.

Small or no advance

Vanity Press

Pros:

You get to see your book in print

Cons:

You may never recoup your initial ($500-$10,000) investment

You get a small portion of royalties

Indie Publishing

Pros:

You get to publish your book

You have 100% control over editing, cover art, marketing, distribution, etc.

You get higher royalties

No limits to how many books you publish within a certain timeframe

Cons:

The stigma attached to self-publishing

You are in charge of editing, cover art, marketing, distribution, etc. (you’re running a small business!)

I’m sure there is a lot of I didn’t cover or neglected to add, but I hope I’ve cleared up some of the confusion. Not all writers will follow the same path, and no path is better than another (well, except maybe using a vanity press), as long as we’re on the same page.

Revisiting Childhood Friends

Have you ever encountered a friend from your childhood, someone you haven’t met in ages, sat down with them for a few hours, and, when you parted ways again, thought… What on earth was I thinking?

I’m talking about books and not people, of course. *grin*

For the most part, I have very fond memories of the books I read as a kid. I reread Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series almost every year, I remember Marguerite Henry’s horse books fondly, and some series, like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander behemoths, I’m still reading. Some books get under your skin and stay there.

But works like the Outlander series, which I’ve been reading since I was 11 or 12, and the Little House books, which I never quit reading, are not quite the same as books you remember all your life as being remarkable but haven’t committed to in the same way as your very favorites. 

It’s always an interesting experience to pick one of those not-quite-favorites up as an adult. Sometimes it pans out and other times, you wonder if time changed you so much, or the book itself.

I didn’t go to my ten-year high school reunion this year. I’m not much of one for looking back, and I certainly don’t spend much time reminiscing about high school. I have fonder memories of many book-friends than people-friends. But I’ve gotten to see the progress of many of my high school friends through social media… and it’s just not pretty. For every three friends who have blossomed, there’s the odd acquaintance who just slid downhill from the moment they left school.

At least, I think that’s the case. Perhaps some of those people seemed cooler when I was an impressionable 16—maybe that quarterback only looked cute under the glow of stadium lights on a Friday night. Just like the books we read, much of our understanding of those people (and characters) is shaped by the context in which we knew them. In a Celtic-goddessy-prepubescent phase, The Mists of Avalon was a marvel, but to an adult who is comfortable with her—well, we’ll say comfortable with herself and leave it at that—the book seems preachy and more than a little angry, just like that quarterback who lost his glory back with the state championship in ’01. Bitterness isn’t a good look for anyone.

Still, revisiting the books that shaped us has value. Occasionally we might ‘ruin’ a book for ourselves, finding that the haze of memory suited it much better than the harsh focus of rereading. But even in doing that, we see where we’ve been and how far we’ve come.

For the most part, my books—like my friends—have stood the test of time. If I remember them, they’re still pretty cool. The Witch of Blackbird Pond stood the test of time, as did James Herriot’s animal books. But I’ve had a few shocks, too, the book equivalents of the friends who dyed their bright-blonde hair black and changed their names. The Mists of Avalon has been one to let me down, much like The Sword of Shannara and that weird teen romance that I read in probably fifth grade, the one about arranged marriages in the 19th century. (Never reread the books whose names you can’t remember. Best not to go there at all. The jury’s still out on whether or not the same is true for people!)

But in spite of the shocking changes that time wrought on my understanding of those books, I still like to look fondly back on the shy preteen who dressed up like Morgaine for Halloween and the ten-year-old who obsessively read the Shannara books one summer. As for the girl who liked that teen romance… well, I’m sure she’s in here somewhere, too, now.

And my real book friends, those I’ve known and loved, that have loved me all this time, too, well, I know they will be a comfort to me even as I move into the coming decades. Like those friends I meet again and sit down to chat with as if no time has passed, those books will grown and change with me, even as they remind me of who I once was.

What books from your childhood have you encountered as an adult? How did they measure up?

About Cliches….

Hiya, Scribes and Scribe-friends! Good to see you all again. I hope you enjoyed our Story in the Round – I know I did!

As I pondered what to write in this, our first post-story-post, I tried to come up with something that might be interesting to readers and writers both. I tossed around ideas like Cool Books I’ve Read Lately, or Cool Things I’ve Written Lately.

And then? Well, and then I received the NICEST EVER rejection letter for a short story I submitted to a magazine months ago, and all other thoughts went out the window.

I know you’ve probably heard before that a writer’s life is full of rejection and it can suck. It can beat you down and make you want to not only quit writing, but also…just…quit. Everything. The idea of crawling into some hole in the ground with just a pillow and a blanket and chocolate and wine (DON’T FORGET THE WINE) can suddenly be so appealing, nothing but, well, a pillow and a blanket and chocolate and wine (above ground) can snap you out of it.

But rejection can sometimes, occasionally, also be incredibly helpful. This particular letter was for a story that came quite close to being accepted. In the end, they turned it down, but because they were kind they and wanted to help, the editor included actual notes from their editorial staff about where it fell flat.

A letter like this is a gem. A diamond (albeit in the rough, since it can still sting a little). Insight into what editors think as they read your stuff is exactly what you need so you can learn to write better.

In this case, I learned: I write in cliches. Seriously. Three of the five comments included that nasty little word, letting me know that for all my self-assumed originality, I am still relying on that old writer’s crutch – the cliche. The overused phrase. The hands shaking, the adrenaline coursing, the heart pounding.

The cliche.

Ugh.

This is bad. Cliches are…they’re…well, they’re cliche, right? Readers want writing that’s new and exciting and fresh, not old and tired. And the problem is, most of us write in cliches without even realizing we do it. Phrases that come from our typing fingers sound good to us because they’re familiar…because we write what we know.

After reading the comments, I pulled out another older story, one written around the same time, and holy cow, it is chock full of generic writing. Deep sighs and watery eyes, sweat dripping and lips trembling…I’m not going to say it’s terrible (I love this particular story, I really do!), but there they are, clear as day. Cliches. And as painful as it is, I’m going to have to fix them ALL if I want to find the story a home.

This may all sound obvious. It certainly does to me now that I’ve had it pointed out. But it’s hard to recognize cliches in our own writing, because they usually sound so right. And when you have friends reading your stuff, and they’re giving you friendly feedback, they might not notice them either.

Sometimes it takes a super-disinterested third party to point out the obvious.

Lesson learned.

The good news here, for me anyway, is that I’m about to dive headfirst into a huge novel manuscript, and I feel refreshed. There’s a ton of work ahead of me, but now I’m on the lookout for this, my writer’s crutch.

And sometimes knowing is the hardest part, right? (Go, Joe!!)

Oh! And since this is about writing, I have to share the BEST essay EVER about avoiding “thought” verbs in your own stuff. Penned by Chuck Palahniuk (of Fight Club fame and fortune), it provides the best examples I’ve seen of “showing” instead of “telling.” Because everyone knows we should “show” and not “tell,” but it’s hard to understand without examples. Palahniuk provides them in spades in this piece, and even gives you a great writing exercise to try.

It’s another thing to keep in the very tippy-forefront mind as I edit my beast.

So. Cliches = bad, even though they often feel good. And show, don’t tell. It’s age-old writerly advice, but it’s true and it’s solid and it’s right. Good luck moving forward!!

Story in the Round — Part 9

Hello! I’m excited to be joining the Scribes, and a little nervous that I’ve got the ending of the Story in the Round. See you soon and enjoy the end!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The King of Neráida stepped from his dais, sweeping Danny to the side as if he meant nothing. I leaned forward, prepared to grab my cousin and put him out of harm’s way. Yuko’s grip around my arm stopped me, I glanced over my shoulder and saw a silent promise that we’d get out of there alive and with Danny spoken through his eyes. I didn’t want to trust him, but I didn’t have many choices.

“I have a proposition for you, young one.” Kian, the king, stood before me. I swallowed the lump in my throat and looked at him with what I hoped was a face void of emotion. If we were going to get out unscathed he couldn’t know just how scared I was. With Yuko at my back or not, I wasn’t convinced we could go.

“A proposition?” I asked.

“You for your little human here. He is of no use to me. You are the one I want. The reason I sent Alek and Aria to you.”

“And if I refuse?”

“Then you all die.” The king shrugged then returned to his throne.

I would not exchange Danny, nor would I accept death. From behind me, Yuko whispered, “Their magic is blocked, the king is unaware. Agree to trade Danny. When he is out of reach, take Kian.” A solid weapon pressed against my back as Yuko slid it beneath the waist of my pants. “I will dispose of the others. You can do this, Aideen. Use the gifts you have denied. It is time.”

He was right, I knew it in my soul. I’d denied my true self for far too long.

“If I agree to the exchange, you will give me Danny first. When he is safe I will come to you. Alek and Aria will not touch any of us.”

Kian studied Yuko and I for what felt like forever. The dampness of Neráida seeped into my skin. As the forest lightened my worry grew. If we didn’t leave before the sun rose, we’d never get out. Silently I begged the king to get a move on. Finally he nodded once.

“Agreed. Release the boy.”

None too gently, Alek shoved Danny across the open space. I rushed forward and pulled him into a hug. “Go to Yuko. Do what he says, don’t argue,” I spoke into Danny’s ear. He didn’t acknowledge my orders, but did as I’d commanded.

Kian stood to come for me, but I held up my hand and shook my head. “No. I will come to you.”

This was it. Time to see what I could do. I sucked into a deep breath and began the spell to shield myself from anything Alek or Aria might try. With my arms locked behind my back, one hand wrapped around the hilt of the dagger from Yuko, I took a step forward. Then another. King Kian stayed on his throne looking bored. Cocky. That was fine with me.

The moment I reached the dais I knew I’d have one shot. If I didn’t kill him the first time our mission to save Danny and avenge my mother would be done. A failure.

I closed my eyes and made the last step. Kian wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me to him. No time to hesitate, I whipped my arm from behind my hand and slammed the dagger into his chest.

Seconds later the world of Neráida collapsed around us. Danny, Yuko, and I were pushed back through the portal. The bonfire simmered beside us. We’d made it out. Alive. I breathed a sigh of relief and pulled Danny into a tight embrace.

No longer would I deny who I was or what I could do.

Story in the Round–Part 8

Hello readers! I’m so excited to be joining the ranks of the Spellbound Scribes, so I hope you enjoy my very first post and check back for more later!

——-

The ancient song poured from the well of magic deep within me, my voice thrumming through the hot, sluggish air. A faint oblong shape shimmered on the surface of the pond, growing larger and more solid the longer I chanted: the mirror portal that would transport Yuko and me to Neráida. My steps carried me closer to the gate and a thrill of anticipation shot through me.

The last words of the chant burst from my throat and the portal snapped into focus, a still shining disk atop the surface of the pond, like a mirror reflecting nothing. I reacted instantly, flinging myself into the water and surrendering myself to the magical gateway I had conjured.

I fell. Sideways, backwards, inwards; directions were meaningless. I clenched my eyes shut and focused on the dire purpose burning in my heart: kill the faerie King, and rescue Danny if I could. Nothing else mattered.

Stillness. I forced my eyes open and dropped into a defensive crouch, my hands sliding towards my weapons. Yuko’s presence loomed behind me, still and reassuring. We stood at the end of a long courtyard, open to a night sky that was both moonless and starless. Once magnificent architecture crumbled around us, wreathed by withered vines and dead flowers. In every direction stretched a barren wasteland, pock-marked by shriveled-up streambeds and petrified stumps of trees.

I swallowed hard against a wave of disgust. So this was Neráida, where the Fae had once lived in beauty and plenty until they’d depleted all the magic from the land for selfish gain. Now they sought to do the same thing to my world by sucking all the magic out of people like me. Well, I wasn’t going to let that happen.

I snapped my gaze to the end of the courtyard, where Danny’s broad-shouldered frame slumped between the monstrous shapes of two faeries. Aria and Alek. Beyond them, on a throne as pale as bleached bone, sat the faerie King with his eyes shuttered against the world. Hate filled my chest as I stared at the silent, cold King, posed like an ice sculpture upon his throne of destruction. Now, after so long, I was close enough to avenge my mother’s death. I could hardly believe it.

“Yuko!” I hissed, my eyes never straying from the target of my vengeance. “Get ready. The only way I’ll be able to kill the faeries and their King is if you stop their spells.”

“I am always ready.” Yuko whispered, his voice deadly calm.

My weapons slithered out of their sheaths as I flung myself down the length of the courtyard toward the faeries. Aria and Alek turned, hissing dark spells, but Yuko’s power wrapped around me like a cocoon, dampening their magic. I blocked Alek’s desperate blows at my head and caught him in a chokehold. My knife kissed his throat as his cold carrion breath rasped loud in my ears.

“Yield!” Aria’s voice, strident. She held Danny in front of her like a shield; his blank eyes and slack jaw betrayed the fact that he had no clue what was happening. “You’re outmatched. If you kill Alek, you’ll die too.”

“Outmatched?” I choked on a laugh. “You have no weapons and can’t use your magic. Get out of my way before I kill you too.”

A cold smile twisted Aria’s features, and a finger of dread slid down my spine. “We’d never leave our starving King undefended. Look behind you.”

I obeyed almost against my will, turning to see a horde of wraiths materialize out of nowhere, an army of vacant undead soldiers marching steadily toward me. Fear wrapped a cold fist around my heart. I was going to die here after all, without avenging Mom or saving Danny.

“Oh, stop.” The voice rang from above, ancient and cold as death. Slowly–so slowly–the faerie King opened his eyes.

Story In The Round – Part 7

Hi everyone, I’m so thrilled to be part of Spellbound Scribes. Hope you like my inaugural post!

—-

That was an understatement.

With a jerk of my head, I motioned for Yuko to follow me into the woods, far enough so we didn’t attract attention, but near enough to draw on the power of the ritual and the white stones at its heart.

Ten years. I’d done nothing but practice for this day since my mother died. When my magic went with her, I turned to physical training, but the point was still the same. My destiny was to seek revenge for her untimely death – and all the others like her – and put an end to the madness that had caused it. But to do that, I would have to cross over into Neráida to kill the faerie King. I swallowed hard. No one had ever attempted that, not even in the shadowy times before recorded history.

But when they took Danny, I knew. Alek and Aria were here for our magic, just as my mother always feared. “Watch out for faeries and wraiths,” she’d say anytime we ventured out after dark, especially on the high holy days. We always thought it was a joke or her way of being overprotective. But obviously, the threat was very real. Sure, faeries appeared beautiful in this world, but I’d glimpsed their true, dark nature in Aria’s eyes. Once she was in her own plane, she’d drop the glamour and reveal herself as a monster.

All this because of something in our DNA, some strand of magic that had become entwined with our bloodline. The faerie King thought it would break the spell that held them in a barren land, giving them free reign into our world just has they had before our ancestors built the stone circles to keep them at bay.

But the joke was on him. By some fluke, they’d picked the wrong cousin to enchant. Danny didn’t have any magic in his blood. That’s why he’d spent his whole life with cauldrons, wands and spell books, trying to develop any latent talent he might have, while I could flood the whole house on a whim. He would do them no good. Strike one against the fairies.

I sighed. That was the least of my problems. Now that Danny was under their spell, he would blindly follow them to the other side, becoming a wrath – an undead faerie solider – without even realizing what had happened. That’s what happened to all spellbound humans who passed through the veil.

Beside me, Yuko hummed a tune that twined with the rhythm of the drums. I glanced over at my new ally. I hated to admit it, but I needed him. He was the only hunter in this part of the States. If I was going to get to the King, I’d probably have to go through the two faeries and their new zombie lapdog, Danny. My heart squeezed painfully at the thought. There was one way to bring Danny back unharmed, and my newly-restored powers made it possible, but I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. Better to have backup in case I needed it. Strike two.

“There. Stop.” I led Yuko to a small pond that cast back a glimmering reflection of the bonfire. The stones were obscured from sight by the ring of smoke and flames, but I felt them pulsing as surely as the blood in my own veins. “The faeries are probably still guarding their gateway, but I can create a mirror portal just long enough for us to get through. Chances are good Alek and Aria will sense my magic and chase us back to other side. I’ll need you to stop their spells while I kill them. Leave Danny for last – we’ll save him if we can.”

Yuko, a man of few words, simply nodded.

I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and began to chant.

Story In The Round – Part 6

I’m going to take just a minute to say thank you to all the Scribes who have gone before me. I’m so happy to be here!!

And now for part 6 of the Story In The Round…
           

Right.

Mom faded back into whatever dancing heaven she’d come from, leaving me alone on the porch with the fireflies and the dark. What the hell was she thinking? I’d done everything I could for a single glimpse  – spells, incantations, begging on my knees in the dirt – and hadn’t felt the barest breath of her presence. Now, the first time I touch magic in years, I witness the arrival of two mysterious beings, I lose my housemate and best friend, and then Mom wanders by to tell me things are hopeless.

One too many creepy coincidences for me.

Anger poked its head up like a fractious gopher, rattling my mantle of calm. I popped the lock and flung open the front door, teeth clamped to hold back the crescendo of fear and frustration screaming up from around my heart.

I slung my backpack on the couch. Our tiny living room looked fine, normal. Danny’s magical detritus sat neatly around his desk, and my yarns and fabrics made a disordered pile in the corner.

My real toys were in the spare bedroom. See, magic isn’t the only source of power in this world.

I had to snicker when I glanced at a candle and it burst into flame. Apparently my tricks were back. Adding magic to my new, hard-won skills would be a very good thing.

Lifting the candle by its pottery base, I headed for the spare room. Eight katanas hung from the wall opposite the door, each sheathed in onyx, their ornate hilts gleaming in the candlelight. Utility shelves held French tomahawks, knives of various sizes, and throwing stars. All of them were cleaned and sharpened and ready to rock.

So was I.

The center of the room was empty, the wood floor polished by bare feet and sweat. That’s where I practiced. I kept a locked jewelry box on one of the shelves, mainly to hold my cell phone and debit card when I didn’t want to carry them. I’d left the cell phone home, figuring the magic of the dance might eff up it’s inner workings. Bringing it out of the jewelry box, I scanned my address book, looking for a name.

Found it.

My heart gave an extra-heavy thump.

Dialed.

My breath came in shallow pants. Sweat dribbled between my breasts.

Yuko answered, his voice dark satin, otherworldly.

I had to clear my throat before I could respond. “I need help.”

“It’ll cost you.”

 “I know.”

By the time I hung up, I’d twisted my long ginger hair into a knot at the nape of my neck. Yuko traveled fast. Dressed in black, with my hair pulled out of the way, I felt less like the pigtailed moppet who’d first contacted him six years ago. Still, when he came through the door, I almost backed out. His dark, glossy hair was cut on a knife’s edge at his shoulders, and his exotic eyes held secrets I didn’t want to learn. Beyond that, his core of preternatural stillness was way more dangerous than any of the blades I’d strapped on.

He closed the door, and I breathed deep, pulling in the faint scent of nag champa incense that followed him. I can do this.

“Well Deeny, it’s time to put your training into practice.”