Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pros and Cons of Publishing with a Traditional Publisher

Some authors are soured with traditional publishers for many reasons, including the following:

  • It’s hard to break in to traditional publishers. Getting your proposal noticed when it’s sitting in a huge stack of other proposals (known as the “slush pile”) is pretty challenging.
  • Some traditional publishers only accept book proposals from agents. (Sometimes there are ways around this rule, such as meeting an editor at a writer’s conference.)
  • The authors make little in royalties. At a recent writer’s conference, I heard one multi-published author say that his book sells about 5,000 copies per year (that’s a lot) and it’s the bestselling title for his small press publisher. He has a traditional book deal with a straight 10% of the net royalties. So how big is his annual royalty check? $500. Do the math. That $ .10 per book sold. (That’s pretty pathetic.) Could you live on $500 a year?
  • Traditional publishers often do little to promote the book—it’s pretty much all up to the author to sell every last copy.
  • Traditional publishers today often expect the author to spend the advance given on promoting the book. (After doing so, what is the author supposed to live on?)


  • The publisher pays all expenses to publish the book.
  • Professional book publishing people (people who know what works well and what doesn’t):
    - edit your book. Includes editing for content as well as for grammar;
    - design your cover;
    - make your book pretty on the inside—fonts, headers, page numbers, etc.;
    - help with the “back cover copy.” (The information printed on the back cover of the book.);
    - help with the title—by the marketing people who know what sells.
  • Sometimes you’ll get marketing help to help you sell the book after it’s published. This might include setting up interviews on radio, maybe even TV, blog tours, possibly book signings at book stores…that sort of thing. Unless you’re really famous and are going to sell a lot of books, chances are those bookstore signings will be local to you and if you travel anywhere, you’ll pay your own expenses.
  • A traditional publisher will be able to get your book into the distributors, which makes it available to bookstores nationwide. This can be tricky to accomplish on your own.
  • Sometimes traditional publishers will also foot the bill for advertisements in print publications or on radio. Perhaps you’ve seen or heard some books advertised this way. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one day it was your book?
  • Traditional publishers will get your book to book reviewers, and that’s a good thing.
  • Your traditional publishing company should attend at least some of the trade show where they interact with bookstore owners and try to talk them into carrying your book. This, too, is a good thing.

More Cons:

  • Some authors see having professionals design their book cover as a con because the author usually has no input or right of refusal for the book cover. This can be frustrating if you really don’t like what the publisher comes up with.
  • Some authors like the title they have for their book and don’t like it when the publisher changes the title. Again, authors usually don’t have any say in this.
  • Once you turn in your manuscript and complete all the requested edits, you have little say over what happens with your book. Some authors don’t like that. Self-publishing gives you complete control over everything—but you pay for it all and if you have professionals helping you, you’re paying them.
  • Traditional publishers will take 12 to 24 months from contract to get your book published (unless it’s rare and they fast-track it).

There may be more pros and cons—these are just what I thought of today. If I think of more, I might come back and edit this post or post on this topic again.

I hope this begins to get your brain spinning with things you need to consider before choosing whether to attempt to find a traditional publisher or to self-publish.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 2

Write the “Overview.” And, write a description of your book in 1 to 3 sentences.

In your overview, tell what your book is about, what you’re going to include, and what the flavor of it is like. If you’re going to include statistics or resources or cartoons or illustrations or footnotes or appendices, do tell. In other words, give a good solid overview of what you’re going to do with your book.

(If you’re writing fiction, this would probably be a brief synopsis of your storyline.)

Make the Overview no more than one page, single spaced.

At the same time, state what your book is about in one to three sentences. We’re not going to use this until the very end, but you might as well do it now. If you have trouble with this, just imagine you’re sitting on a bus, someone asks you what your book is about, and they’re getting off at the next stop less than a block away. Boil it down. Get it said. Fast. This is your 30-second elevator pitch.

If you’re still having trouble, it could be your book isn’t focused enough yet. Maybe you need to work with it more. Maybe you need to think it through more or organize it more.

If your book is focused, if you really know what it’s about, you should be able to state it in one sentence.

So if you really can’t write the Overview or the description in 1 to 3 sentences, what should you do? Don’t despair! Instead, move on to another part of the proposal. I would suggest you write an outline of the book and/or write a synopsis of each chapter (which will be a part towards the end of this procedure called “Chapter Summaries”). Doing this should help you better nail down your book.

Or, write a rough draft of your Overview now, writing what you know about your book at this point. Then move on and come back to it later to revise and polish it.

By the way, as you write all of these parts of your book proposal, put them all in one document in your computer. Put a heading at each part. You’re building a proposal one brick at a time. Don’t worry at this point about what order the parts are in. Just do it for now. We can rearrange it later if we need to.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Side Trip: How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal – Part 1

If you’re new to the world of publishing, you need to know not only what a book proposal is but what it is for. Most books are sold to publishers via a book proposal. Also, you usually submit a book proposal to an agent when you’re seeking representation, and then your agent submits it to a publisher. Therefore, the proposal needs to have all the information an acquisitions editor and/or an agent needs to make a good decision about whether to publish your book.

In case you didn’t notice, take note that books are almost always sold by a proposal. Books most often are not sold by submitting the entire manuscript.

With fiction, a first-time author will probably have to submit the entire manuscript before a contract is offered, but the thing that opens that door is the book proposal.

In other words, don’t write the book first! Especially if it’s a non-fiction book.

(One exception: Children’s books, where the manuscript is only a couple thousand words max, is often submitted as a completed manuscript.)

Many authors new to publishing set out and write their book and, once they have the manuscript completed, ask, “Okay, how do I get it published?” Stop!

Professional authors normally write the book proposal first…for more than one reason:
  • Allowing a publisher to have input into your book may increase your chances of landing a publishing contract.
  • If a publisher is interested, but would like your book to be a little different (different focus or organization or whatever), then you can make those adjustments (if you choose) and you haven’t wasted valuable time and work in writing the whole manuscript.
  • If you never find a publisher interested in offering you a contract, you haven’t wasted a lot of time writing the manuscript.

So just what needs to go into a book proposal? We’re going to talk about the different parts of a proposal one part at a time. I believe if you walk through each part I describe and write that part for your book (in any order), then by the time you’re finished you will have a fine book proposal ready to be submitted.

How do I know that? Well, one book proposal I wrote landed me an agent. When I sent her a second book proposal I asked her how I did with it and her response was, “The proposal is excellent.” So, I feel I figured this out pretty well.

Now, let me say that there are probably a lot of different ways to write a book proposal—and there is probably not one right way. But the information I am going to give you here will get you where you want to go. Feel free, of course, to tweak this information to fit your book.

There are some differences for fiction proposals and we’ll cover those after we cover all the elements in a non-fiction proposal (with fiction-related notes along the way).

Here we go. See you next time.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What is a “Traditional Publisher”? What is “Self-Publishing”?

In the publishing business, it used to be that there were basically two kinds of publishers: “regular” publishers and “vanity” publishers. Today, there are many different kinds of publishers that still basically fall under those two categories, but the problem is that the lines between them are increasingly blurred. So to keep things simple, we’ll still divide things into two groups and we’ll define them this way:

Traditional Publisher: Pays you an advance and royalties. A traditional publisher takes your manuscript and publishes it for you. The company pays all the expenses of publishing your book, including creating a cover, editing, designing the interior, etc., and in return pays you a percentage of the sales (royalties).

The advance you receive is an advance on those royalties. In other words, the traditional publishing company calculates how many books they think your book will sell in the first year after it hits the shelves and pays you that in advance. When your book actually hits the bookstore shelves, it must “earn back” that amount. You won’t receive a royalty check until your book earns back that advance. Then you’ll receive royalties on the additional sales.
It is my understanding that few books actually earn out their advance, so don’t be spending those future royalty checks before you receive them.

Self-publishing: Is sometimes called independent publishing, subsidy publishing, or POD (print-on-demand) publishing. Some people still sometimes call it vanity publishing.

In self-publishing or independent-publishing, YOU pay all the expenses of publishing your book (which can be a hefty amount, so please, please, please know what you’re doing before you go there).

In subsidy publishing, YOU pay part of the expenses of publishing your book and the company pays part. How much each party pays varies with each company.

For my purposes in this blog, I’m grouping all the publishers into only two groups:

Traditional Publishers: pay you advance and/or royalties and all the expenses of publishing your book and do not ask for one penny towards publishing your book.

Self- or Independent-Publishers: if you pay ANY of the expenses to publish your book—that means if you have any out-of-pocket expenses—then this is not a traditional publisher and has moved into the category of a self-publishing company.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

When it’s Time to Start Searching for a Publisher

When I had collected several excellent, heart-tugging stories that were just what I had envisioned for my book, it was time to begin thinking about putting together a book proposal.

In the publishing industry, the way most books are sold are through “book proposals.” Writing a book proposal is quite involved, takes a lot of work (as it should, because there’s a lot riding on a book proposal), and frankly, by the time you’ve written the book proposal you’re more than halfway done with writing the book.

Because I want this blog to be instructional, helping writers reach their writing goals, I’m planning to take several "Side Trips" along the way of telling the story of this book. The first "Side Trip" we’ll take will be several posts on “how to write a book proposal.” I will post this information in parts, taking it one step at a time. My plan is to intersperse these how-to-write-a-book-proposal parts in between the pieces of the story of the book.

That way, if you’re reading because you’re enjoying the story of how this book came to be, you can skip the how-to teaching so you won’t be bored with this technical stuff.

On the other hand, if you’re reading this blog to learn how to write a book proposal, you can follow that label and get the information you want.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Wait a minute. I thought this was a self-publishing adventure. If you are self-publishing this book, then why are you writing a book proposal to present to an editor, publisher, or agent?

Good question.

Answer: I didn’t always plan to self-publish this book. My first, best choice was to find a traditional publisher for it. I had in the back of my mind that I might end up self-publishing it, but I promised myself that I would try everything possible to find a traditional publisher first. Only after I had exhausted every possibility for finding a traditional publisher would I begin to look into self-publishing this book.

At the time I’m writing this, that’s about where I am—though not entirely. When I started this blog I had made the monumental decision to self-publish this book. Now I’ve been set back even on that decision. How? By there being a possibility—albeit remote—that I may find a traditional publisher after all. Even that seems to be a long story. (We’ll get to it. Eventually…) But while I’m waiting for these recent developments to play out, I’ll continue telling this story.

I know what you’re thinking: Why look for a traditional publisher first? Why not just self-publish?

Answer: There are a lot of pros and cons to going with a traditional publisher. There are a lot of pros and cons to self-publishing. There are just different pros and different cons for each. We’ll discuss those next.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Getting Started

After I made the monumental (at least to me) decision to resurrect this book, I evaluated what I needed to get started. First need: stories.

I wrote up writer’s guidelines describing what I was doing and letting writers know that I wanted stories.

I was a member of a writer’s e-mail loop and the loop often posted writing opportunities. However they only posted opportunities that paid writers for their work. I feel strongly that a writer should be paid. I wanted to pay my writers. So in the guidelines I promised to pay $20.00 per story plus one copy of the book per contributor. I didn’t know how many stories I would get or where I’d get the money to pay for them, but I felt strongly about paying my writers. Twenty dollars may not sound like much, but I didn’t know how I’d pay that much let alone more. (And that’s more than I sometimes get paid.) So I promised to pay that fee per story and trusted God to provide the funds. It was an act of faith.

I posted my guidelines on my web site along with a Permissions Form for people to sign whose stories were being told stating we had their permission to tell their story.

I made stacks of copies of my guidelines and took them to writer’s conferences I attended and mailed them to several other writers conferences. Somehow a few folks who wrote marketing columns for writer’s magazines heard about my project and published the information in their columns. Word was getting out.

And the stories started coming in.

Meanwhile, friends introduced me to people they knew who worked in pregnancy centers. They had stories. And they were willing to share them. I interviewed several people and recorded and transcribed their stories. They were great stories—just what I was hoping for.

I received many encouraging notes, comments, and e-mails encouraging me to continue with this book. “It is needed,” many of them said. People seemed to love the idea. Too bad editors at publishing houses and literary agents I talked to didn’t seem to be of the same mind.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


One day in early 2004 as I drove through Denver on my way to Salt Lake City, I pressed “seek” on my radio, searching for something interesting to listen to. My radio stopped on a station airing the Focus on the Family program. That would do. I listened.

I had heard of their Project Ultrasound initiative, and that’s what they were talking about that day. As a matter of fact, that day they were officially launching that project. They wanted to put ultrasounds in pregnancy centers across the nation. That would involve more than just raising money to buy the machines; pregnancy centers would also need trained medical staff to operate them. It was a big project. There was a lot of work to do. But when women see that shadow of their child, and hear his or her beating heart, many of them opt to carry the child to term.

It renewed all my desires to write this book, Where Grace Abounds.

I talked to the LORD about it. Did He want me to pursue this book after all? How could I know?

In the end I decided the only way to discern His will was for me to move forward with the book.

“I’m going to do this book, LORD ,” I told Him. “If you want it to become a reality, You’re going to have to open the doors for it. But I will make this promise: this time, I won’t quit.”

Where Grace Abounds was resurrected that day.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Christmas Surprise

It was almost Christmas, December 23, 2003, when I got one of those a surprise e-mails in my inbox. In one of those delightful twists, it was from my friend who had directed the pregnancy center in the town where I used to live and where I had served on the Board of Directors.

We had lost touch. Now she had found me and was getting back in touch.

She’d been living in Colorado Springs. She filled me in on her life. And oh by the way, you know how she found my e-mail address? She explained that she was perusing the shelves of the Family Christian Bookstore in Colorado Springs when she came across my Dear America book!

She was thrilled to see my book on the store shelves. She’d found my e-mail address in the back of the book, and that’s how she got in touch with me.

I still wanted her story. I still wanted to write this book. I had set the book aside, but it was never far from my mind or heart.

And hearing from her stirred my desire to see this book in print all over again.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Marketing my book, Dear America

I had heard over and over at writers conferences that an author must sell her own book. The promotion is all up to her. Don’t expect the publisher to do anything. If they do, that’s all gravy. The author must work hard to sell her own book.

I had listened. I had believed. I never doubted.

So when I had my book in my hands, I started in doing everything I could think of to sell it. I let everyone I knew know I had a book out. And I sold a few copies.

I set up book signings. The Christian bookstore in the town where I had served on the pregnancy center’s Board had closed, so I set up a book signing in a popular gift store on main street.

I had since moved to an even smaller town which also had no bookstore. I talked to the owner of a gift shop there and set up another signing.

One day while in Colorado Springs, I stopped in and talked to the manager of a Family Christian Bookstore and he also said yes to a book signing! Me? At a national chain signing books?! Whoo-hoo! I’d hit the big time.

I set up several more book signings.

I had heard and read from other authors that you can’t just set up a table and sit behind it and expect people to come over and buy a book. That might work for Frank Peretti. Or Bill Clinton. But not for a no-name like Dianne E. Butts. So I did my best to crawl out of my shell and approach people. I smiled. I talked with them about my book and about writing and publishing and whatever interested them.

Many friends showed up to support me. Some even bought a copy. Mostly though, they created a crowd. That’s a good thing, because then other people in the store would come over to see why the crowd had gathered.

I had a big poster made of my book cover at Office Max and put a dish of chocolates on my book table. I mean, I did everything to sell my book. Right?

Seven must indeed be a lucky number because it seemed no matter where I held a book signing, I sold seven copies. Exactly.

I’ve heard that’s doing pretty well, actually. I’ve heard many authors say they’ve held book signings and didn’t sell a single copy.

I wasn’t getting rich but I guessed I was doing okay. I was earning back some of the money I had invested in getting the book published. It was trickling in…six dollars and ninety-five cents at a time.

Some of the stores even asked me to sign additional copies to leave at the store. Imagine! My little book on the shelves of Family Christian Bookstore in Colorado Springs!


I handed out fliers. I sent out a newsletter. I bought an ad. A friend was traveling to Ground Zero with her daughter on spring break and she took a dozen copies with to give away.

Later that year I told people about my newly published book in my Christmas letter. I mean, I did everything I knew how to do to sell my book.

This book marketing thing was harder than I thought it would be. I spent a lot of time. Put in a lot of effort. Even spent some on stamps and ads and fliers and that big poster of my book cover.

And I ended up selling a couple hundred copies of Dear America. A couple years later, when I’d sold three hundred (of the five hundred) copies I’d had printed, I hit the break-even point.

No profit. Just break even. (On expenses, that is. Not on getting paid anything for my time either for writing or for marketing the book.)

I’d learn later that this is not an usual tale for a self-published book. As a matter of fact, by some standards, I’d done pretty well.