Barb Hendee, New Book, New Writing Lifestyle

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Céline and Amelie Fawe can see into anyone’s past and future simply by touching them. They have used their powers to secure sanctuary—and a fine apothecary’s shop—in the village around Castle Sèone. But their continued safety has a price…

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Far to the north, the men of an isolated silver mining community are turning into vicious “beasts” that slaughter anyone in sight. The mines belong to the noble family of Prince Anton—ruler of Castle Sèone and Céline and Amelie’s patron—and Anton’s tyrannical father has ordered his son to solve the mystery as a test of his leadership. He has no choice but to send the witches into the perilous north, to use their abilities to discover the cause of the transformations. Given how much they owe the prince, the sisters have no choice but to accept.
 
Together with the over-protective Lieutenant Jaromir, Céline and Amelie enter the dark world of a far off mining camp tainted by fear, mistrust, and enslavement—and haunted by men turning into massive, mad wolves without warning. Now, the two must draw upon strength and cunning they never thought they possessed not only to solve the mystery, but to survive…

Writing as a Hybrid

I love buzzwords. I always have. Well, I probably could have done without “twerking.” But a new buzzword in the writing industry has emerged (which has nothing to do with a Toyota Prius): the “hybrid.”

A number of us are making part of our living writing for New York publishers and self-publishing whatever we can without violating anything in our contracts. For some writers, this involves putting up their backlist, meaning books that have gone out of print and the rights have reverted. J.C. and I don’t have a backlist, so we’ve been self-publishing original novellas. We started doing this about two years ago.

Honestly, at the time, our main goal was simply to learn how to do this. We tend to look ahead, and in this rapidly changing industry, it seemed wise to get ourselves prepared. We decide to write novellas set in the fantasy world that we created for our series, and we called this project “TNDS: Tales from the world of the Noble Dead Saga,” a.k.a. “Tales.”

We now have fourteen novellas available for e-purchase and a hard copy anthology (that comprises six of the novellas). It’s been a journey of trial and error, and a lot of hard work. Today, I wanted to chat a little bit about the stark differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing—in print or ebooks—from the writer’s perspective. 

Traditional Publishing

Editing/Proofreading: This is one of the great benefits of going with a traditional publisher. J.C. and I have been with Roc (the Penguin Group) since 2001, and in that time, we’ve had three different editors. Although extremely different from each other, all three have been wonderful. These women have read our novels, and then given us suggestions for how to make the content better. 

Once we get the content as flawless as we can manage from that advice, the final manuscript goes to a copy-editor (who we never meet and to whom we never speak). This person goes through the manuscript and fixes typos, looks for inconsistencies, makes suggestions at the sentence level, and gets the book ready to be typeset. Once she’s done, we have a chance to go through the manuscript again and approve or disapprove her changes. Finally, the book is typeset and professionally proofread.

Historically, for us, this entire process has produced a pretty clean novel by the end, and we did not pay a dime for any of these services. This all just comes with the package of writing for a traditional publisher.

Covers: After reading the book, our editor has a meeting with the art department and together, they come up with a concept for the cover.  They hire an artist (which for some reason almost always seems to be a man), and he creates the artwork for our cover. One of my own cover artists told me that he is paid about $4,000 for a cover (he’s very talented), and he retains all rights to the work. Again, we don’t pay any of his salary; our publisher does. The drawback here is that we get little to no say in what goes on the cover. J.C. and I have been very lucky over the years, and with one exception, I’ve loved all our book covers.

Again, though, I think the two main points here are 1) the writer gets a professional cover artist whose salary is paid by the publisher, but 2) the writer has almost no say in what that cover looks like.

Publication Schedules: This is one of the hardest elements of working with a traditional publisher. The writer has no say and no power whatsoever in when a book will be released, and traditional publishing moves at a glacial pace. For a new book, there is normally two years between signing a contract and seeing the novel in Barnes & Noble. For some writers, this can be painful. For others, it is untenable.

J.C. and I are used to it, so we’re okay. At this point, I’m working on two separate series: the Noble Dead Saga and the Mist-Torn Witches.  A new Noble Dead book comes out every January, and a new Mist-Torn book comes out every May. Our publisher wants us to submit the manuscript for the next book a year in advance. So, right as we have a novel hitting the stands, we are also turning in a manuscript for the next one—knowing full well that it will not see the light of day for another year.

Again, the main point: writers have no say and no control.

Payment: In all honesty, J.C. and I make a lot more money from our traditionally published novels than from our self-published novellas, but things can occasionally get dicey while we’re waiting for a check.

For our purposes here, I think discussing the payment process is important. Most publishers have gone to a “three-stage” advance system.  Let’s say you’ve accepted an advance of $15,000 for your novel. You’d receive $5,000 on signing, $5,000 upon your editor accepting the revised and finalized version of your manuscript, and $5,000 on the book’s publication.

If the book is released in mass-market format, you’ll commonly make 8% of the cover price in royalties.  If the book is released in hard cover format, you’ll make somewhere between 10% and 12%. In either case, you still have to “earn out” $15,000 before you are paid any royalties for that book. Our publisher sends out the first royalty statement about nine months after a book’s initial release and then every sixth months thereafter. If you have “earned out,” you will also receive a check with that statement. Unfortunately, you have no idea how much that check will be (or if there will be a check at all) until the statement arrives. You are living in the dark.

Also, your agent takes 15% of everything you earn, but I would not work under contract to a major publisher without an agent. I have a master’s degree in English, and I have a tough time following the language in our contracts

Self-Publishing

Editing/Proofreading: Now we enter a completely different world where everything is the responsibility of the writer—everything. You can hire an editor or go to someone you trust for such services. J.C. and I do not collaborate on stories for the “Tales” project. I write some, and he writes others. Fortunately, we both have editorial experience, and so I read his novellas and give him feedback, and he reads mine. This has worked well for us.

However, and I cannot stress this enough, once our stories have been revised, we hire an outside proofreader. She is worth every penny. By the time the project is ready for publication, JC and I have both read it so many times that we’re not always seeing what is actually on the page. People who pay money for a book or a story expect it to be free of typos, and they can be merciless in this regard in an online review.

If you take one bit of advice, it should be this: hire an outside proofreader.

Covers: With a self-published project, the writer has absolute and complete control of the cover. But the writer also has to pay for it. Again, I am fortunate that J.C. has a (self-taught) background in graphic arts going back to the birth of “grunge” music in the Puget Sound area, so he does all our covers. He’s made some lovely ones for me, such as the cover for Homeward here, though this time the artwork is by Suzi “Kachinadoll” Amberson. (You can look her up over at DeviantArt.com).

Initially, he goes online, finds stock imagery that we both consider, and then he buys the appropriate rights for what we’re going to need. Yes, the rights vary by price, and you have to buy the correct rights for a commercial product. He uses Photoshop and Illustrator CC to work with the piece(s), and this work can include what he calls “artification” processes to take the edge off the typical photo collage look of most covers. He also does all the lettering and non-art design.

JC and I handle almost everything ourselves.  Most people can’t do what we do for covers, but a number of places online sell such for one-time or exclusive use at a reasonable price.  This usually includes customization, such as setting up titles, series/subtitles, taglines, cover quotes, bylines and sub-bylines.  Mind you, you will get what you pay for, but I’ve seen good ones priced at under $200.

HomewardThe main thing here is that self-published writers have complete freedom with their covers, but they also have complete financial responsibility. I’d love to hire Gene Mollica (who did my Vampire Memories covers), but most of us cannot afford $4,000 to pay someone as talented as him.

Publication Schedules: The writer decides when the project is ready for publication. This really is awesome. If J.C. and I work hard and get a novella ready to go in a month (which we have done), then we can put it up for sale as soon as the ebook edition is ready to go. Print-on-demand publishing takes a little longer. The cover can take J.C. about three days to a week; then of course he also does the coding and compiling of our ebooks himself.

I need to point out that we don’t use any kind of aggregator. We tried some brief experiments early on (and again later) and found them unacceptable. Over a year, one title did not sell at all through a major aggregator that distributed the ebook to every little corner of the Internet; meanwhile, it sold adequately to very well through all of our selected direct-to-vendor portal accounts.

J.C. handles all distribution directly, and we only work with direct e-publishing portals (such as Amazon, B&N, etc). And again, that is not the same as an aggregator portal. We are our own publisher, but he is the head of distribution. Also, our agent is not involved in any way with this side our writing career. No one needs an agent in order to self-publish.

Payment: In many ways, I much prefer the system here, but there are some tricky elements to learn. For one, if you price a project below $2.99, vendors like Amazon keep 70% and pay you 30%. If you price it at $2.99 or higher, then you earn 70% and Amazon keeps only 30%. This left us highly motivated to price our novellas at $2.99.

So . . . we did. At a $2.99 price point, we earn $2.00 per sale, per unit. So, if we sell 300 novellas in a month, that’s $600.

JC went through all the work of getting us set up for direct deposit through places like Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc. These vendors usually pay 60 days after the end of a calendar month, so if we put up a novella for sale on the 1st of May, we are paid for May sales at the end of July. Both Amazon and B&N offer “report” pages where the writer can see not only how much money has been earned in any given month but also monitor sales by title. We know exactly when that money will be directly deposited into our bank account. 

As we’d been working in traditional publishing for years before we tried our hands at self-publishing, I very much appreciated the monthly paychecks that be can counted on.

However, one of the weirdest attitudes I’ve encountered on this topic is the notion that if self-published writers are doing things properly, they should be absolutely rolling in money.

I recently had another writer friend say to me, “Barb! I just read an online article about two women who are self-publishing hardcore-teeny-bopper-vampire-porn, and they’re making $30,000 a month. $30,000 a month! Why don’t you do that?”

Um, first off, I don’t know how to write hardcore-teeny-bopper-vampire-porn. Second, I probably wouldn’t admit it if I did. There seems to be a strange expectation that self-publishing will lead to wild wealth and that traditional publishers have been holding us all back from gaining this great prosperity.

For 99.9% of us, this simply isn’t the case, and I caution you to go into this with realistic expectations. J.C. and I are paying a few monthly bills via our self-publishing efforts, but traditional publishing makes the house payments, pays for the groceries, covers health insurance, etc.

So, in closing, traditional publishing offers a lot of assistance but less creative freedom. Self-publishing offers complete freedom, but going it alone is a lot of work—and takes some expense.

 50-6    Barb Hendee is the nationally best-selling co-author of the Noble Dead Saga (along with her husband J.C.).  She is also the author of the Vampire Memories series and the recently launched Mist-Torn Witches series.  She has a master’s degree in English and taught college for twelve years.  She was born in the northwest, later migrated to Idaho and then Colorado, but she missed the rain and the moss too much and now lives just south of Portland, Oregon in the Willamette Valley with J.C. and their two young kitties, Ashes and Cinders.  Visit her website at: http://www.nobledead.org

 

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12 comments to Barb Hendee, New Book, New Writing Lifestyle

  • Barb, I’ve done a *lot* of the hybrid thing, mostly with my pen name Gwen Hunter, but also with a crossover novella with CE (Catie) Murphy. I make a good chunk of change on all the selfies and manage to pay some monthly bills with the accumulation of what I’ll call *micro-funds* from them. But it isn’t big money. People don’t understand that they are reading about the *very rare* person who makes wads of dough. It seldom penetrates when I tell them that.

    I even did a project with Kickstarter. Unlike a few writers’ projects, the Kickstarter didn’t make wads of money, and while I wasn’t in the red, it wasn’t lucrative for me at all and it took a LOT of time that I would have preferred to spend writing. It’s all a crap shoot. But I think it’s the way writers will go in the future.

  • Hi Faith,

    Two areas I didn’t cover in my post are 1) marketing and 2) distribution. In general, I don’t think major publishers do a lot to help market books anymore, but our publisher does get our books into Barnes & Noble, and they get our mass market paperbacks into grocery stores and places like Fred Meyer’s. I think the latter here is one reason a lot of writers do stay with New York publishers for now. Maybe I should have covered that?

  • sagablessed

    I love posts like this!! Would say more, but puppy demanding walkies.

  • My kitties are begging to go outside as well (they can’t go out unsupervised), and I have work to do! 🙂

  • Post script: If anyone has questions about covers, I’ve sent JC the link here. He’ll be glad to jump in an answer.

  • I don’t expect to become rich with either path, but paying a bill or two, going out to dinner more, and seeing a doctor or two and maybe a massage therapist would be nice. And hey, if I do happen to strike Stephen King or JA Konrath fame then all the better. 😉 I don’t expect it, but I do, as I think a lot of writers do, hope for it. But if it can get me a night out, a payment or two, and a vacation every once in a while, I’m good with that.

  • Thanks for this detailed look at the business side of publishing. I’m marking this as one to come back to once I finish writing the WIP.

  • Razziecat

    I can see why self-publishing seems attractive to a lot of people, but I have to admit I have serious doubts about ever going that way myself. Just for starters, coding and compiling is WAY beyond my skill set. On the other hand, I think I could handle the cover art with a decent graphics program. Mostly I think that the editors and proofreaders you get with traditional publishing are just too valuable to give up.

  • Razziecat, I don’t know you (or who your publisher might be), but I find your post refreshing. As far as writers go, most people tend to post angry rants about “gatekeepers” and how self-publishing is the only choice. I’ve never been one to believe in any single “only” choice. We all have many choices that we can incorporate at the same time.

  • Tom G

    Excellent post. I have self-published for 3 years now, and I now earn more in one month than the previous 20-odd years of writing combined. Granted, I was only selling to small press magazines and MZB’s Sword and Sorceress anthology. But you are right, those monthly paychecks from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, D2D, and Kobo are pure gold. This 2nd income saved my house from repossession.

    I found good editors are expensive, but I don’t have someone close with editorial experience and/or skills. Many of the available editors also freelance for the big publishers. So editing is my biggest cost by far. Covers are relatively cheap. You can get an excellent cover, with all the titling and such for $100 to $250. It just takes some intense searching to find the an artist, but they are out there. Young, up and coming comic book artists are on DeviantArt at reasonable prices for non-royalty artwork and covers.

    Formating is a snap. I run my Word doc through Calibre, and presto. It’s done. I’ve never had a problem uploading any of them and no one’s ever complained about formating.

  • Thank you for the very informative post! This is something I have been rolling around in my already crowded skull.

  • This is a really informative post, Barb. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences!