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Guest Blogger-Valerie's Two Cents on Moving from Hybrid to Self-Publishing

Hello there my lovelies! This week we're hosting guest blogger Valerie Taylor! Her guide to publishing alternatives is so informative, so if you’re thinking about self-publishing and or trying to decide if traditional, self or hybrid is right for you, this is your post!


About Valerie:

Born in Stamford, CT, Valerie Taylor is the author of the award-winning romantic comedy trilogy: What’s Not Said, What’s Not True, and What’s Not Lost. Today, she lives in Shelton, CT. Besides writing, she’s a published book reviewer for BookTrib.com. She enjoys practicing tai chi and being an expert sports spectator.


You can find her on social media:

Twitter: @ValerieEMTaylor

Instagram: ValerieETaylor


And her books are available on Amazon:

What's Not Said:   https://amzn.to/354izun

What's Not True:   https://amzn.to/3sDrGNj

Thanks for reading my lovelies! I hope you enjoy Valerie’s story and I'll be back next week!


XOXO

-Rose Rayne Rivers

 

Author: Valerie Taylor

Title: Valerie’s Two Cents about Moving from Hybrid to Self-publishing


In the late summer of 2018, I began the arduous and humbling process of submitting the manuscript of my first novel to prospective agents. Like many aspiring authors, I naively imagined agents and, subsequently publishers, would bicker among themselves for the rights to my work. 


Luckily, having worked in corporate America for decades, I knew the value of having a Plan B. So, of course, I had one. 


I’d set a deadline of December 31st  for securing an agent. Granted, I admit four or five months of querying was a pretty aggressive goal for a debut author. But I deemed it a necessary one. I’d learned from others that even after you get an agent, it could take years for that agent to sell the book to a publisher. And even that was optimistic. A sale might never happen. 


Having just turned 69 that Fall, I was impatient to wait years given there was a fifty-fifty chance of landing a traditional publisher. Though the chance looked even (i.e., either I would or I wouldn’t), the odds really weren’t in my favor.


So, to my Plan B, which was simple. If I didn’t have an agent by the end of 2018, or a solid prospect of signing with one, I’d self-publish. I’d gone as far as researching the self-publishing process and mapping out with pen and paper a timeline for doing just that.


Meanwhile, reactions and feedback from the agents I queried ran the usual gamut, the full spectrum. Not interested, partial requests, and a couple of full requests. I did receive one offer, but after an in-depth review of the proposed contract, I turned it down. Not a good fit.


I wasn’t unhappy with the querying process, though it was time-consuming and felt very much like a shot in the dark. Almost five years later, dozens of agents have yet to respond.

 

While all that querying and Plan B planning was underway, in September I met an author at a writer’s workshop. She’d written a fantasy novel. Her book was exquisitely formatted and her cover was to die for. The icing on the cake was that I was able to buy her book at the local Barnes & Noble. How’d she do it?


Hybrid publishing. Excuse me? What was hybrid publishing? I quickly learned that it was the third leg of the publishing stool, alongside traditional and self. My research revealed there was a catch, of course. Many hybrid publishers charge a fee for their service, and they don’t accept every manuscript that comes their way. No matter. I was game; excited about having a Plan C. On a lark, I filled out the online forms and submitted the required synopsis and first thirty or so pages, figuring I’d just wasted another thirty-five dollars.


Nevertheless, I was still tracking toward my December 31 go/no-go-to-self-publishing decision.


Wouldn’t you know, on December 8 (three weeks before D-day), sitting in a parking lot waiting to pick up my granddaughter from school, I spied an email from the hybrid publisher. They accepted my manuscript! I signed a contract in January 2019, and consequently, I squirreled away all my self-publishing notes in a drawer or computer file. Perhaps for another day.


While the publisher offered a release date for the Spring of 2020, I opted to give myself a bit more time, asking for a Fall 2020 pub date instead. Good thing I did. Remember what happened in the Spring of 2020? The COVID-19 lockdown. Of course, publishing a book by any means that Fall would have its drawbacks. I felt lucky to have a few extra months to figure out how to navigate the pandemic restrictions. And as it turned out, I signed another contract with the same publisher for the sequel to be released in early Fall 2021.


Knowing what I know now, I should have started the third book in the trilogy while the sequel was in production, but I didn’t. Looking back, I think the pandemic and trying to focus on selling the first two books occupied way too much of my time. Finally, Thanksgiving weekend 2021, I made a commitment to write the next book. My goal was aggressive: type THE END on February 13, 2022. In less than three months! I marked it on the calendar and did a happy dance when it happened for real.


Not surprisingly, I had alerted the hybrid publisher to my plan for a third book in the series and had verbally agreed to sign with them once again. Why wouldn’t I pursue a path I knew and was comfortable with?


Here’s why not. Money. It’s one thing to pay a fee to publish one book. It’s quite another when it comes to two or more. (At least for me anyway.) Unless, of course, your book is a New York Times best seller. Unfortunately, the odds of that happening are really low. I recently checked, and only 0.5 percent of hardcover books become NYT best sellers each year. Probably even lower for other formats and non-traditionally published books.


Additionally, self-published and many hybrid authors customarily foot the bill for printing their books. And, in today’s world, no matter which publishing path an author chooses, the costs of  publicizing, marketing, and promoting books rests heavily with the author.


I’m not here to bash hybrid publishing. That decision was the best one for me at the time. I have no regrets. I learned so much in the process. Oftentimes I say I got a master’s degree in publishing having gone the hybrid route for the first two books. I now know the lingo, have amassed a long list of professional resources, and have an extensive community of writers and readers to support me in my journey going forward.


I didn’t have any of that when I started in 2018, and a lot has changed in the publishing industry since then. And so, about a year ago, when the deadline approached for me to sign a third contract, I had a heart-to-heart with myself and decided to self-publish the last book in the trilogy. Thankfully, the hybrid publisher understood my decision, and in some ways, I think they were grateful. Not surprisingly, they had a long list of new, as well as, repeat authors that could easily take my spot.


As before, I gave myself a long publishing lead time. I marked a date on the calendar. February 7, 2023, the week before Valentine’s Day, would be the pub date for WHAT’S NOT LOST. And then the fun began.


Remember the master class I mentioned? The first thing I did was to dust off the editorial and production calendar I’d had for the first two books. Then I discovered Jane Friedman had a self-publishing checklist. With those resources at my fingertips, I created my own calendar with pencil and paper, and posted it to the refrigerator. 


Of course, nothing is ever easy. To complicate matters, I was still marketing and promoting WHAT’S NOT SAID and WHAT’S NOT TRUE, the first two books in the series. So, I had to overlay onto the calendar activities surrounding them, as well. 


But having a calendar was one thing. I needed to bring each of the activities to life.


So, I resurrected my notes from 2018 about self-publishing. I buried myself in Mark Dawson’s self-publishing course, not just picking up where I’d left off four years prior, but also taking a step back to review some basics I needed to recall. 


Clearly, I had some decisions to make. Without the professional expertise of the hybrid publisher at my disposal, I had to sort out what I could do myself and what I’d need help with. For example, who would design the cover? Where would I get a proofreader? Do I have the time and am I capable of formatting the book myself with one of the more popular digital resources?


And there was the manuscript itself. Was it really ready for beta readers or to be proofread? Obviously, I needed to whip the draft manuscript into shape. After printing it out at Staples, I began a heavy revision and editing process, utilizing Save the Cat! Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody as my guide. Good thing I did. I made some major changes in the flow of the story and tightened it up more than just a bit.


Concurrent with that work, I negotiated a deal with the publisher of the first two books in the series to create the cover for WHAT’S NOT LOST. Check.


Next, I posted my proofreading project on Reedsy. Any of the five experts that responded would have been great. I chose not the least expensive, but the woman who I sensed I had a connection with through our communications. My intuition was accurate. She was great. We set up a schedule, and we both met our deadlines. Check.


Then, I asked around for recommendations on how to layout the manuscript. Luckily, a woman who I’d worked with to market the first two books recommended someone to me. I’d struck gold for the third time. Not only did she handle the complete layout of the novel, but she also patiently answered a slew of questions that I had about the formats of the book that I would need. Check.


With those three key foundational elements secured, I shifted my attention to actually publishing the book. Through much research—reading, watching webinars, asking for advice from those who’d previously self-published—I bit the bullet and made more decisions.


I’d work with IngramSpark to print the paperback, and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to publish the eBook. Further, I decided to enroll exclusively in KDP Select for just the first 90 days so that I could promote through Kindle Unlimited and take advantage of their other offerings. Thus far, I am pleased. That said, my intent is to go wide with the eBook in May.


All of that effort then leads to publicity, marketing, and promotion. To be honest, from the start of my publishing journey, I held a contrarian view on the value of spending tens of thousands of dollars on publicity for me, a debut novelist. So, back in 2020 when WHAT’S NOT SAID launched, I created my own marketing plan, combining publicity and promotion resources I’d uncovered either through my own research or referrals. I followed the same route for the sequel, WHAT’S NOT TRUE, as well as the last book in the trilogy, WHAT’S NOT LOST. I don’t regret the path I forged in this regard.


Now, I’m not recommending everyone follow my lead on how to handle publicity and promotion. Each author must decide themselves based on their own goals, network, and funds. 


What have I learned since I self-published WHAT’S NOT LOST on February 7, 2023? Would I self-publish my next books or do something else?


Most of all, I learned publishing is a numbers game. It took me five years to have that light-bulb moment. I should have known better from the start. 


Gorgeous, captivating covers are beneficial. A well-written, error-free manuscript is essential. But what good are these things if no one finds and reads your book?


Okay. It can be argued that publicity during the first 90 days would be a big help. True, if you have the money to do it, and you have a unique and culturally popular story to tell.


But my dramatic comedy trilogy is not something that would be quickly picked up by national media who are looking for unique and culturally popular themes. 


Rather, my series is geared toward a large swath of readers who enjoy a light-hearted, entertaining, and fast-read—where they can relate to the characters; love the scenes in Venice, Paris, and Greece; and get a kick out of the cat with an attitude. Sure, there are themes of emotional abuse, family dysfunction, infidelity, pregnancy, and later in life love affairs. But I’ve taken these serious life issues and written them in a dramatic romcom style people are familiar with. Think about movies such as Something’s Gotta Give or It’s Complicated. Or the best-sellers of authors, such as Emily Giffin, Liane Moriarty, or Colleen Hoover.


My two-cents is that self-publishing gave me more control of the publishing process and my personal pocket-book. I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with those who proofread and formatted WHAT’S NOT LOST.


However, one of the biggest differences between the hybrid and self-publishing processes is that I’m having to create and establish a different mindset about promoting WHAT’S NOT LOST now that it’s out into the world. Since IngramSpark prints the book on demand, I’m not compelled to print a large amount of books only to have them sit idle in a warehouse somewhere. And I’m not having to worry about large returns from booksellers, or being charged for excess inventory by the publisher. I’m also able to take advantage of the Kindle Select program to promote the eBook for as long as I choose to do so. Hence, the benefits of being in control.


As far as my personal pocket book is concerned, I spent half as much on the production side of WHAT’S NOT LOST than I did the first two books. (I could’ve spent even less, but I chose proven experience over lower cost on areas such as proofreading and formatting.) I probably spent about the same promoting and marketing it thus far. Remember, authors incur those costs no matter which path taken.


Numbers? They don’t lie. In the first six weeks, twice as many readers accessed WHAT’S NOT LOST than in the first six months of the first two books combined. And interest in reading WHAT’S NOT SAID and WHAT’S NOT TRUE has increased as well. So, there’s some proof that the third book pulls the backlist along, which is a great thing to behold.


Would I self-publish next time? I’m leaning that way. But that’s putting the cart before the horse. The first book in my new cozy mystery series is underway. I think it’s high time I put a date on the calendar to finish that draft, don’t you?





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