The Word: An in-depth look behind independent publishers w/Edd Sowder from Burning Willow Press
I had the honor to get a hold of some of Mr. Sowder’s time and ask him a few questions. I wanted to do a more in-depth follow-up to the post I did called The Word: Mythbusting – Stereotypes and Misconceptions of Self-pubbing and independent pubbing and that’s what this is meant to be. I wanted the perspective of a publisher and not just my perspective as a working author, graphic artist, and formatter in the business.
Edd Sowder is the type of man to not hold back his thoughts or feelings when it comes to business and thus he was the perfect person for me to ask. He’s been publishing for many years and brings to this Q&A his experience and expertise.
I hope in some way that those that read this gain a perspective and insight they may not have had before on things behind-the-scenes of publishing. So many of us go into submissions unaware of what may be going through the mind of the person we’re sending a manuscript to. This is inside one such mind.
In your opinion, what should someone know before submitting to a publisher?
My opinion varies from day to day. Recently, well…when our submissions were still open, I noticed that a lot of authors were submitting first drafts, if not second. I feel that if you are an author, and have written the next great novel in history, you should have someone beta (prior to submitting your books a “beta reader”) your novel from one end to the other and help you with suggestions on fixing plot holes. Additionally, if you could allow time from when the novel was submitted, many publishers have what’s called a “slush pile” of books to read and yours is just as important as the others, so if they say it will take at least three months, don’t email them a week later and say, “did you like my book?”
I feel that if you are an author, and have written the next great novel in history, you should have someone beta your novel from one end to the other and help you with suggestions on fixing plot holes.
Many believe the publisher should take on full responsibility for the marketing of a project where others believe in splitting the responsibility, what should people know on this? I have read where some will do all the marketing for the author and others will do zero.
Ours is somewhat in the middle of that. In today’s world, an author should be just as proud of their book as the publisher is. Now if the idea of marketing your books is just completely devastating to you, guess what? If you self-publish it, you will still have to do that as well but you will not have the same amount of reach, you will have to come out of pocket for the edits, cover, interior, and deal with the business side of being published. It is not as glorious as some think. Here is a piece of real information, NO book is accepted by a big five publisher anymore without a marketing plan submitted for approval by the author. I have heard this and read it in several areas. Will my company do it for you? No, not exactly. We will do some light promotional posting, some follow up after the book is out, a few posts on social media a few times a year for you but that is about all the time I have. I actually expect my authors to do the bulk of it themselves. It does show when they, and/or I, do find a few minutes to post something about the back catalog. There is no reason why it would not show something if the author did it as well. Each author is different though. And to ask if an author will or will not, well… most will at the beginning of the life of the book, but soon after it has come out, they discontinue to do so. I have seen it a lot. It is unfortunate but we all get pretty busy.
Here is a piece of real information, NO book is accepted by a big five publisher anymore without a marketing plan submitted for approval by the author.
From an active publisher, what is your take on what you see authors doing wrong?
I think I just answered that in the last question but I can elaborate one that I have seen all too often that burns me, and many other publishers up. You have a book with a publisher, and one with another, and you have self-published a few. Great! Good for you! We could not be happier for you and if you ask, I am certain that we may even help you spread the word on your newest book that was self-published as we have the time… just don’t forget that this industry does not revolve around the last book you let out into the world. It is hinged upon all of your catalogs. You have a book here, there, and now a new one but when did you stop loving that first one you have with the initial publisher who took a huge risk on your name, book, concept and put their funds into it to make your dreams come true? Is that now the step-child you never liked? It happens all the time and it hurts not just the publisher but you as well as nobody remembers the first books you put out because you are spending so much time promoting the newest one. Bundle it, ask for a sale to help promote it, make sure that you are not bastardizing the prior catalog you have just because the newest book is ready. They all deserve equal attention.
…just don’t forget that this industry does not revolve around the last book you let out into the world. It is hinged upon all of your catalogs.
The situation is a newcomer/green writer to the business doesn’t know what to do, they’ve got a bunch of things done, ideas, and no networking. Advice for those people coming in and unsure what to do and what not to do?
Ask questions. Each publisher, author, editor, graphic artist, will have ideas of what you should and should not do to get things rolling. Join a couple of groups online that are primarily other authors and be certain you join a few that are readers too. You will need beta readers. Those that will read your book before it goes to print and help you mold the idea. These people are just as important as the ones who publish it for you. I cannot express to you how important in today’s world social media is for sales. Everyone behind a computer screen is anonymous and nobody knows more about your story than you do. So, share it with friends, family, and loved ones online in excerpts. Don’t give them a whole chapter but give them a part of the book, a passage, that you are particularly fond of writing. Do some interviews. Get on some podcasts as a guest, start an online blog, guest write on a few. It will keep your name in the spotlight and when your book comes out, people will be looking for it.
I cannot express to you how important in today’s world social media is for sales. Everyone behind a computer screen is anonymous and nobody knows more about your story than you do.
You’ve gone to many conventions, met a bunch of celebrities. What can you share for an author starting off in conventions? What should they remember about dealing with celebrities?
Be yourself, be gracious, and be thankful. If you are an introvert, as most authors are, take someone along with you who can help liven up the table a bit for the passersby to talk to. If you are an extrovert, like me, go out a few times a day and walk the area to see who all is there. Meet other authors, artists, and for Pete’s sake, get bookmarks, business cards, or something else that will tell others who you are in case they do not buy today. New authors going to cons are hard sells. But sometimes, if you can get in good with a neighbor, they will point people in your direction for you. We have done it for others and likewise, others have done it for us. As far as dealing with celebrities, if there is an after party to go to where they will be there, do it. No excuses. Just go. They will be more relaxed, likely having a drink, chatting with others, and less in the mindset of having to make money. We have met some incredible people on our journeys and many of them are still friends with us to this day. Some have even brought us into cons with them as we get along with them so well. Remember, at the end of the day, we are all just people. Being in the place of a celebrated actor/actress, remember to respect their privacy, ask for permissions, and be cool. All of them like to get something cool from fans (many are readers too), and if you can get a photo op at the end of the con with them, all the better.
Be yourself, be gracious, and be thankful. If you are an introvert, as most authors are, take someone along with you who can help liven up the table a bit for the passersby to talk to. If you are an extrovert, like me, go out a few times a day and walk the area to see who all is there.
What’s your take on the saying ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’? Some don’t submit to more than one publisher whereas some prefer doing this?
While I would like to have exclusivity on all published works, that is unreasonable. We suggest—since we know we are not the only publisher out there—to shop around. If you tell us that your book is being submitted to other publishers, as well as ours, we will understand. It will not speed us up in getting to your potential work but we do want to know ahead of time. Submitting to a publisher and then not submitting to others while you wait seems like you are willing to just wait and see. I suggest, weighing the options and looking for who seems to be the best fit for you. Much like we are implementing new tactics for new submissions, we expect that you, the author, are willing to look to not just reputation of the publisher but also ask questions to authors that are with that publisher. If the overall atmosphere seems good for you, and you are willing to wait on them, then by all means submit and be inquisitive but if you get an overall bad feeling from them, or their authors are highly dismissive of how they work with them, walk away. Keep in mind that not all authors will feel that they are getting a fair shake from the publisher, and not all publishers will feel that the authors are doing their fair share of working with the publisher. So, take all info with a grain of salt, so to speak, and weigh the pros and cons of each decision.
If the overall atmosphere seems good for you, and you are willing to wait on them, then by all means submit and be inquisitive but if you get an overall bad feeling from them, or their authors are highly dismissive of how they work with them, walk away.
Pet peeves that authors should know about publishers?
Well, that is a good question. That list can grow substantially daily and shrink just as fast depending on the schedule, the stressors of the day, and the attitudes of those involved, myself included. One thing that publishers hate is for someone to refer to themselves as the “next Stephen King, Anne Rice, James Patterson, Lovecraft, Wells, Harris, etc.” Let us make that determination for you. No, on second thought, let your readers and reviewers do it. If your style is much like Koontz, or Rushdie, your readers will notice. Don’t make the assumption that you are the next anyone. Be you. Be honest. If you are influenced by those prolific authors, then, by all means, state it in interviews that you enjoy their works but if you are trying to be the replacement for Gaiman, you need to have the clout to back that up. Another pet peeve that publishers, well I personally hate, is an unedited manuscript sent in with credits installed in the file that says who edited it. Now, all editors will see a sentence differently than the next but if you have several hundred mistakes per chapter in your submission but it was supposedly edited prior to submitting, and you named that person, as the editor, we already expect a very clean version of the MS. When we get in there and start reading only to find these mistakes, missing words, sentence structure that is horrific and not in any way ready to be considered… it slows us down. If we really want to know if the sub is worth it, we will read on trying to ignore the issues but sometimes, the issues will outweigh the story. This is where beta readers come in handy. Additionally, never submit a first draft. I think I said something about this earlier… or a second. Revisions are your friend. A submission is a piece of your soul. You are baring it for the other world to see and it is also a career path. Treat it as such. Never get too upset if you get a rejection. It comes with the territory and developing a thick skin as it takes to handle it will go further for you than wallowing in self-pity. Hopefully, the rejection that comes back will have some creative ideas to help you grow. I know when I send one back, it has ideas in it to help the author but many other publishers will send a form letter. Those are too impersonal and it’s like they never read through your submission. Why waste your time like that? Keep in mind that most publishers work on a release schedule and many times it has to fit with their preconceived budget to operate for the year. If they tell you the book is accepted and will not release until such and such date, ask them what you can do in the meantime to help them and yourself in potential sales. They should have some good ideas to get your name out there. Remember, your name is now a brand, the book is a product. You need to sell it as much as the publisher will, if not more. You are competing with over one million other books a year to get a piece of the proverbial pie in sales, although other authors are not your competition by any means.
One thing that publishers hate is for someone to refer to themselves as the “next Stephen King, Anne Rice, James Patterson, Lovecraft, Wells, Harris, etc.” Let us make that determination for you. No, on second thought, let your readers and reviewers do it. If your style is much like Koontz, or Rushdie, your readers will notice. Don’t make the assumption that you are the next anyone. Be you. Be honest.
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