Is book publishing like a modern day gold rush? Ask me anything about it.

Mike Sims
Aug 9, 2018

In the gold rush, people gamble their life savings to try to strike it rich.  Most end up with nothing and go home, some make a moderate living, very few actually make it big.  Even if they do strike gold, the feeling is there is another gold find right around the corner.  One thing that is a consistent moneymaker is the vendors.  Those that sell the tools to dig for the gold made out better than the gold seekers because there is always a new one dreaming big and needs tools.

In book publishing, you have vanity publishers, publishing services and publishing houses.  Vanity publishers charge a fee to publish your book and keep a fire built under you.  They will schedule book signings and events all to keep your ego hyped up.  After a while, some authors realize that they were the biggest customer, not the readers.  Just like the vendors in the gold rush, you become a customer to the publishers.  With many hopeful authors, they prey upon that hope.

Publishing services are exactly what they are, they provide services for a fee.  They do the same service a vanity publisher does but they are more open about what they are and what you must do.

Publishing houses are often the goal of each author.  They pay for all costs and take all the risks on your book plus will pay you up front for the rights to publish your work.  However, most require literary agents and often certain agents.  Agents are very difficult to get.  I was turned down by over 500 when I started.  Now that I have books being vetted by TV/Movie producers, I have agents wanting to talk to me.  So it is very difficult to get into the publishing house but not impossible.  It is equated to striking it rich in the gold rush.  You may not get rich off your books with a publishing house, but you have the best chance at it. 

I personally self-publish because I control my own marketing, rights and how I want my books to be made.  So I bring my own tools and dig in my own areas for the gold.  How will you dig?

Mike Sims Author's Website


What is the Vibe of this AMA? What is AMA Vibe?

This AMA has finished, no more comments and questions can be posted and votes submitted to those. Check other similar AMAs here or host your own AMA!

Conversation (58)

In three easy steps and under a minute you could be hosting your own AMA. Join our passionate community of AMA hosts and schedule your own AMA today.

Let's get started!

Do you sometimes worry about your books being plagiarised? What measures have you taken to protect your work?
Aug 11, 12:35PM EDT0

It is always a possibility and copied books in other countries does happen.  It is unavoidable particularly for self-published.  Big publishing houses have resources to combat it.  Copyrights are only good in the country they are filed and even then you have to do a legal battle against the offending entitity.  You just have to accept that the risks are there.  If you do find a counterfiet copy of your book or work, report it to publishing services and retailers.

Aug 13, 1:42PM EDT0
What has been the biggest surprise when making the transition to go self-publishing?
Aug 11, 1:59AM EDT0

How much work was involved or money to be spend on what you do not know what to do.  To put out a quality made book that looks as good or better than mainstream books, it takes a lot of patience and work.

Aug 13, 1:44PM EDT0
What are some of the recommendations you would give a new writer as far as publishing is concerned?
Aug 11, 12:32AM EDT0

Beware of vanity publishers.  If they charge you to publish they are a service or a vanity publisher.  A real publishing house does not charge.  Big ones require agents but there are smaller ones that pay for all the publishing costs.  

If you learn or willing to pay for what you cant do, you can use a service like Amazon, draft2digital, kobo, or Ingram.  

Amazon has easy wizards to do most of the publishing work on your own.  That is what most indie writers use.  

I would recommend joining writers guilds and go to wirkshoos.    

Aug 11, 12:49AM EDT0
Would you say many literary agents want to be part of the success but do not want to take part in the process if the success is a gamble?
Aug 10, 11:24PM EDT0

They use statements like; “I need to feel the story.”   What it means is they need to know they can sell that book to a publisher.  Then that book will sell copies so the publisher will accept future books that agent recommends.   An agent is only as good to a publisher as the last book they bought from them.  

Yes every book is a gamble but good agents know the probabilities of a book and its author.  Big publishers have analytics and metrics that meter what a book is likely to do based on its genre, author rating, current market, timing and so on.  While anything can happen, they can have a good idea.  

I think if you are an unproven author with a new book, your best bet is to find a new agent that is young and hungry.  That can be a powerful dynamic.  Belief and perseverance are very powerful tools.  

Aug 11, 12:42AM EDT0
Having been turned down by so many agents, what kept you going to agent after agent inspite of the many rejections?
Aug 10, 7:46PM EDT0

I kept trying because there were still agents left to try.  If it were easy, everyone would have an agent.  

Aug 10, 9:07PM EDT0
How can an author get out of the arrangement with a publishing company if it’s not working for them?
Aug 10, 1:38AM EDT0

That depends on your contract.  Mine with my old publisher stated I owned everything including the copyright and could leave anytime with all my materials.  Now no matter what, the only thing you wont take with you is your book's serial numbers (ISBN).  That is tied to the original publisher unless they purchased them in your name or your purchased them and let them use them.  The problem that is created when you leave is the world will know your old publisher books even though they are out of print with them.  It creates confusion with readers on where to get your books.  Some authors have been successful in getting Amazon and other online retailers to clean up the old books but they typically wont do that.  Reason is because your books are already out there and they need the old ISBN numbers and history in case used books are sold.

That being said, you need to look at your contract.  If you are with a publishing service, there is no issue.  They are just a printing service.  An actual publishing house will have a contract.

Aug 10, 11:00AM EDT0

For first time authors is there really a set word count that is best to start off with? Does it depend on the genre that it falls in? 

Aug 10, 1:25AM EDT0

I know the sort of rule of thumb is under 30k words is a novella.  My books tend to hit around 55k words.  My personal feeling is when you get higher than that you are going over 300 pages on a 8X5 size book and making the book costly to produce.  You might think about sequeling it or series.  I know Stephen King has some really long books and that has obviously worked out great for him.  Fifty Shades of Grey is around 110k words.  

I think more than the word count is your book structured to keep the reader engaged.  There are set manuscript styles that graph peaks and valleys of storyline that often work best for readers.  One example my old publisher used was the Chicago Manuscript Style.

Aug 10, 10:56AM EDT0
Can you tell why you thought your books wouldn’t be right for a commercial publisher?
Aug 9, 7:21PM EDT0

Because they are in the middle of being vetted by producers.  The first thing they asked me was if I owned the rights to my books.  Are there any options/rights/liens you know entaglements to anyone else.  If there is, they are not likely going to go any further.  Now if I had published them with a commerical publisher and that publisher had pushed my books to a producer, that would be different.  I have been told by a long time Hollywood producer that studios/producers really don't have time to sort out your rights issues.  Simply not worth it to them.

Aug 10, 10:50AM EDT0

I think self-publishing is an amazing thing, but how can someone themselves get their books out there and increase sales?

Aug 9, 8:46AM EDT1

It is a tough thing for sure.  The major publishers have the bookstores in their pocket.  Even James Patterson has sections just for his books in certain bookstores and even retail store chains.  In self-publishing you are up against the publishing houses and numerous other indie publishers and authors.  700k books a year are published in English competing for a 5% book readership.  While there are plenty of readers, it is a tough biz.  Not being a celebrity or lots of cash to promote things, you have to be inventive.  Get people talking about your book as much as you can.  You can share royalties and have people translate them in other languages on babelcube.  You can also share royalties and have audiobooks made on acx.  

E L James wrote her Fifty Shades of Grey and posted it on a fan fiction site.  Vintage saw it and bought the rights and the rest is history.  That is a lotto winner.  The key for any writer is to keep writing.

Aug 9, 1:58PM EDT0
How do you control the cost of publications when self-publishing?
Aug 9, 6:30AM EDT1

I publish paperbacks/ebooks on Amazon and hardcovers on Ingram.  The cost is very minimal.  My books are not set to returnable so I do not have to worry about bookstores buying and returning books at my cost.  My biggest expense is paying editors.  Everything else I do myself.

Aug 9, 1:52PM EDT0
What does an author website need to be effective? What role does it play in marketing and promoting sales?
Aug 9, 3:36AM EDT0

Needs to have your books, what they are about.  Maybe a preview chapter.  Links to where they are for sale.  Reviews.  Mail list sign up form.  Links to all social media pages.  Blog.  A good bio of yourself.  

The key to websites is like a rodeo.  You have 8 seconds of a visitor's attention before they leave. Have what they need to know or linked on the front page.  You have to sell yourself in that 8 seconds.

More than standard websites these days, more people visit social media sites.

Aug 9, 1:51PM EDT0
As a published author, what is success to you? How do you define it?
Aug 9, 3:34AM EDT0

Success for me is when one person reads my story and likes it.  My daughter now writing and publishing books is a great success for me.  Making money is good to support yourself to write more.  Ultimately it being something I love to do.  If it were to become boring work, where is the success?

Aug 9, 1:48PM EDT0
What creative activities can authors organise to market their work?
Aug 8, 10:32PM EDT0

Book signings are a fun way to meet people.  You don't sell a lot of books but it gets you known a bit and is good for the ego.  

Make sure you are on every social media outlet and regularly post things.  People forget very quickly, you have to keep them reminded of you.  

Get on mailchimp and start a mailing list.  

Get on writer's groups and talk frequently.

Write, write, write!  The more things you write the more likely you will be noticed by people.

Aug 9, 1:46PM EDT0

How do you know you're a good author if you get turned down so many times? Does that mean there is a niche for everyone? (A hopeful wanna-be author with an unplublished fantasy book). 

Aug 8, 5:45PM EDT0

Being turned down means nothing.  Getting a bad review on a book means nothing.  Every classic book has narrative errors, grammar errors and had bad reviews when they came out.  The reality is that if you put your heart into writing a story, there are people that will like it.  You just have to find your audience.

Aug 9, 1:43PM EDT1
If a publishing company came and offered you a publishing deal, meaning money and fame, are you saying that you wouldn’t take it because you would lose control of your books? What would it take for you to say yes?
Aug 8, 5:25PM EDT0

Not with the current series I would not likely take the deal because they are already in process with three producers being evaluated to be a TV series.  Moving this book series to a publishing house would complicate things and probably cancel out producers looking at them.  Besides three are already out and established, so a publishing house would not want them anyway.  I was approached by a literary agent about my latest standalone book and I turned them down because that book borrowed characters and was loosely tied to the other series.  Now if a big publisher came with a large deal that included at TV series deal, that would be hard to pass up.    

That being said, I have a number of books that are going to come out and will pass them by lit agents.  I would love to at least have one book with a major publisher.  I would actually find that to be an honor to be carried by one of the big 5.  Not actually afraid of losing control if the right people are managing it.  Certainly if your book is made for the screen, it is not going to be like the book exactly anyway.  

Aug 8, 5:37PM EDT1
What are the publishing tools that you have found to have worked for you in successfully connecting with right audience?
Aug 8, 4:12PM EDT0

I make video book trailers for myself and other authors.  I find trailers and still graphics to be a powerful tool.  Try to make new ones at least once a week to describe a character or book and post it on all social media outlets.  It keeps people engaged and remembering my work.  

Ultimately word of mouth and reviews help in getting readers.  General advertising yields little results unless you do it constantly.  However, you should have some reviews on your books that are favorable if you advertise.  It is one thing to convince someone to click on your ad, another for them to be convinced to read your book.  Reviews help encourage that.

Aug 8, 4:25PM EDT0

If an author is planning to self-publish their first book, what would their best strategy be for distribution?

Aug 8, 2:27PM EDT0

Amazon would be the easiest as they have wizards to for cover design in createspace to make a paperback and ebook version.  You can buy your own isbn number and use it in Amazon, however Amazone can assign you one of theirs.  They will alllow you to distribute globally and it will become available on many other online book sites.  The one advantage Amazon has if you publish through them is your books will always show "in stock" on Amazon.  If you publish elsewhere on Amazon, they will show out of stock.  There are other printing/distribution services like IngramSpark but you have to be very technically proficient to work with it or hire someone to do it for you.  There is draft2digital which will distribute your ebook on a variety of platforms like kobo, itunes, Amazon etc.  So you may consider doing a paperback on Amazon and ebook on draft2digital.

Aug 8, 2:50PM EDT0

How should a writer go about aligning their book’s topic with discussions on social media and reader’s forums?

Aug 8, 1:19PM EDT0

One thing that has been useful to me is engaging people to discuss things about storyline or characters.  You get good feedback but it advertises your book and also educates the potential readers about your book too.  Get enough people discussing it to where they need to read the book for themself.  This is a powerful tool to use and there are many reader/writer groups out there.  

Be persistant and be constant.  It is very easy and quick for people to forget about your work.

Aug 8, 1:42PM EDT0
Book distribution is a very difficult thing for authors to do on their own. Can you share your favorite tips regarding book distribution?
Aug 8, 11:52AM EDT0

Amazon, Ingram, kobo, draft2digitial etc. and other printing services can make print/ebooks widely available.  It is not an issue to get make your book available worldwide and visible, it is hard to get it noticed.  If you are talking about having it in bookstores that is a different story.  Bookstores want to purchase on credit through a returnable system.  Amazon does not support returnable books yet but Ingram does.  However, if you do set your books to returnable and convince book buyers to bookstores to buy your book, you could face a large payment owed if they do not sell after 90 days.  I have heard of authors getting $20k+ bills because they did a great job marketing their books to be carried in stores but they did not sell.  The safe method is to purchase your own books and consign them if the bookstore allows that.  You can then guage if your book sells and is a good risk to set them as returnable.

Aug 8, 12:18PM EDT0
Why do you think that book publishing is like a modern-day gold rush? How is it a gold rush for a new writer?
Aug 8, 11:50AM EDT0

I use the analogy because for many that get into writing a book, the circumstances are similar.  Now those that write for enjoyment or to put their thoughts into history it does not fit a gold rush.  If you are writing a book hoping that it will be commercially successful, then realizing what a gold rush is like fits very well.

Aug 8, 12:13PM EDT0
Top Contributor
Marisa Donnelly