Publishing Shorthand

Indie, self-published, small press published, vanity published, e-published, POD, traditionally published. If you’ve always wanted to write a book, and don’t know where to start because there are so many different ways to do it, this post is for you. Vernie:)

Although many of the above terms are related, each one is a little different, and if you’d like to save time and effort, you should know everything about all of them before you decide what your path to publishing will be. I’ve published five different ways, and worked in the field as a professional reviewer for several years, so I’ve seen the behind-the-scenes stuff, too.

Indie Published

Indie published is a synonym for self-published. I like it. The hip vibe of “indie” nails it for me. You might rather say you are self-published, but they both mean you did the publishing work yourself or, when things got too technical, paid someone to do the hard parts for you. My first book, Your Words, Your Story, was self-published. I started a small press (TCAM Press) used only for my own work, wrote the book, found a reputable printer, paid someone to format the book, paid very little for a cover that used two photos from a friend. I applied for bar code and ISBN, I contacted Library of Congress to register my book, picked up and distributed the books with my husband on a magical snowy day in December of 2007. Below you can see my distribution center, otherwise known as a closet.

xmas 09 001


I teach creative writing and my first published book was written specifically for my students, but it works for any writer, and if you’re not my student, you don’t have to do the homework:) A closet is not an ideal distribution site, but lucky for me, the college bookstore sold the books to my students. More recently, I’ve put the book on Kindle for 99 cents, so when I teach creative writing these days, I bring a box of books to class and hand them out for free. Your Words, Your Story cost me approximately $3000 to print, and I made that money back through sales. But it was not the ideal situation. I still have 3 or 4 boxes of books in my closet and I could use the space.

My next venture in self-publishing was with Scribd. Just checked out Paradise Fields, my chapbook of poems there, and it’s been read by close to a thousand people! Scridb is a free sharing writing site. Meaning, I make no money for it. But I didn’t have to pay money either. I wanted to try this indie avenue, so I did. I’m happy with it, but again, not perfect. For example, no hard copy to give to friends. When one of the poems won an award, I had ten copies printed at Kinkos. For the covers, I used photos from my sons. With their permission, of course.

Publishing on a Digital Platform

I went all in with my third published book, the indie novel Sister Issues. I didn’t want to pay any costs, I wanted to try KDP (Kindle Digital Platform), and most of all, I wanted that novel in the world. There are tons of digital publishers out there, but I chose Kindle because I am on my second Kindle and love them. It wasn’t as easy as I thought to get a book up on Kindle. The cover shot was difficult. Gave it my best effort, but I’m no photographer. Still, I didn’t have big bucks for a picture. This time my daughter-in-law saved me with the perfect pic. I did pay her for the photo. Not much, but something. If a friend or family member allows you to use their photo on your book, I think it’s essential to give them something in return.

Sister Issues as an e-book only, at least right now, because I didn’t have the cash to pay for the POD (Print On Demand) fee Amazon’s Create Space charges, and I was already running into production problems. In the end, I paid someone I trusted $100 to format the book for me so it correctly uploaded to KDP. I do plan to get a print edition published soon. I chose the price point for this book. 99 cents again. Not sure I’d go so low next time. I think $2.99 is fair for a novel-length e-book.


And then, after going it alone with a few hired guns, I finally got an offer from e-publisher Wild Rose Press for my second novel The Paris Notebook. The major difference between my publisher and let’s say Harper Collins, one of the traditional New York publishing houses, is that there are no advances. No money is paid to me up front. I have to earn it through royalties. The other thing is that e-Pubbed books are sold online, not in brick & mortar stores. On the plus side, I worked with an editor who helped me greatly improve the story, WRP chose an awesome cover artist, did the formatting and uploading to online bookstores and their PR people sent copies to many review sites, a few of whom picked up my novel and gave it great reviews:) Also, if your book is 65,000 words, the publisher has a POD option. So my friends without Kindles could finally read one of my novels.

My WRP editor asked me to delete a storyline. It was a great subplot, but she felt, since the novel was a romance, it took away from the main love story. So I extracted that plotline and with a few edits Sarah’s Survival Guide is now available free on my webpage. I paid a trusted designer $100 for the cover image. And I love having that free story up. Whenever a friend asks me to “write more” about the characters in The Paris Notebook, I direct them to my website for a free read of Sarah’s story.

I loved my e-publishing experience with The Wild Rose Press. I got to do what I wanted to do, write the book, and they did everything else. I’ve got another manuscript with them now. Fingers crossed!

Vanity Presses

Vanity presses are often confused with e-publishers. There are all kinds of e-publishers, and the vanity people are in the mix, so you should make sure you use a reputable, established publisher. Check out “Predators and Editors” website for unscrupulous agents, editors, and publishers.

Here’s how you can tell a vanity publisher from a legit e-publisher: they ask for money. Lots of it. I’ve heard $10,000 is not unusual. And they do nothing for your book. No editing, no marketing, no nothing. They slap a cover on it and print it. That’s it. They prey on the uninformed and the (gotta say it) lazy would-be writers who don’t care if the book is poorly edited, who just want to have published a book. Then the books land in their basement where they stay unless the author works full time on marketing their book from the trunk of their car.

So, I paid $3000 for 1000 books. How is that not vanity publishing? First of all, I established myself as a small press. Like Virginia Woolf, Walt Whitman, and countless other intrepid writers. Also, I have two degrees in English and I edited the heck out of that book. I also had trusted beta-readers give it a close read for me. I visited the print shop, saw copies of the books they published, worked with an editor on the typeface, font and paper (you really don’t want white/white pages.) I took in a copy of a book that I admired the look of and the print shop did a similar job for me. Also, I had a distribution plan.

Traditional Publishers

Traditional publishers have been hit hard by the e-book phenomena and aren’t accepting many new writers these days. They rely on their top sellers like Stephen King and Danielle Steel to keep bringing in the bucks, and some are even developing e-pub subsidiaries. If you do find a traditional publisher, their benefits are many: your book in a real store! Up front money for your book. $5000 or more! Maybe some publicity, more reviews in traditional print venues like newspapers and magazines. Here’s the down side: Most traditionally published writers don’t earn out their advance, so that up front money is all they see. Most traditionally published authors need day jobs. And if their books don’t perform well, they may not get a contract on a second book.

So, there you have it, the big messy fun exciting world of publishing today. Hope this post helps you find your way to publication!

Confessions of a Conference Junkie

I remember reading an essay by Anne Lamott in Salon years ago saying she felt horrible being paid to attend writing conferences where agents and editors and speakers all promised what she feels cannot be delivered: a book contract.

My reaction to that, as a conference junkie from way back, was at first shock, then horror, then acceptance. I’d been to enough conferences to know that I am never going to be the golden one who signs with an agent on the spot or whose workshop leader says “I have to send your pages to my editor.” I’d heard of those things happening, and even saw it once or twice. But, mostly, I know that I will come home from the conference having learned all I could, including that conferences don’t equal contracts.

In her essay, Lamott shared some dire statistics about writers. Most published writers need another job to support themselves. Writing doesn’t make you rich or famous or even published. What she didn’t know then that we understand now is that writing CAN and DOES get you published. But not usually rich or famous. And yes, if you need to support yourself, most writers will have to find another way to do it. Writing in the dark or at dawn or during a particularly boring meeting.

My first writing conference was way back in the 80s. I’ve been to one almost every year since then. I know they’re not going to make me published. I’m already published! What I got out of conferences was exactly what I needed: writing friends, writing skills, writing saturation. Most of my friends are not writers and total immersion in real life of a whole bunch of writers is like being in heaven, with ink pens.

So now I’m planning a conference for the historic Detroit Working Writers. I’m chairing this event, setting up workshops and checking out caterers. For the past few years, since I’ve been published, I’ve been speaking or giving workshops at conferences instead of participating as an aspiring writer. But I like to sneak into a session or two just to fill myself with that feeling of thirty or forty or maybe even a hundred beating writer hearts in one room.

This is taking some time away from my WIP. It’s okay though because it is so much fun. Unlike Lamott, I feel like I can put together a conference that will help people become writers, the way conferences helped me learn the skills I needed to succeed. And that whole publishing thing? Easy as pie these days. Here’s the proof.

The Fabulous Cindy

Not me! The other Cindy, Ms. LaFerle, of Home Office fame. Since my first baby step attempts to market Your Words, Your Story, Cindy has been a jewel of a mentor, her generous advice truly priceless. Cindy first showed me by example a few things I could do to up my book’s visibility. After reading her blog, I decided to apply for membership in DWW, the classiest writer’s organization in town, and to submit my book for a Midwest Book Award. Both things turned out better than I imagined.

DWW accepted my application and opened several marketing doors all in one day. I felt a little like Cinderella being introduced to her fairy godmother. Then I got news that my book had finaled for the award. By this time, Cindy and I had begun an online correspondence. When I told her the award news, she congratulated me and said now I could add “award winning” to my book’s description. The thought had not crossed my mind, but I have to say, it feels great to think of my writing self in such positive terms.

Just today, taking more of Cindy’s advice, I used the “award winning” adjective to add cache to a letter asking a local university to consider distributing Your Words, Your Story. As other self-published authors might know, distribution is a major factor in getting your book into brick and mortar stores. And I haven’t done a thing about that before today. I am not much into marketing, but fearless Cindy gave me the idea, the contact, and the courage to go for it, with adjectives.  

So, thank you, Cindy, for your friendship and generosity toward fellow writers!