Thursday, January 24, 2013

Starting/Running A Small Press

I promised a post about starting/running a small press, but I couldn’t figure out how I wanted to format it, as bulleted tips, as a story, in essay format, epic poem, and so on. I have finally decided to throw it out there as jumbled mess, question-and-answer-stream-of-consciousness pile and let you sort it out, but I did add a bunch of pictures so that it looks pretty.
Who to use as printer? There are really only two choices. Create Space and Lightning Source. We went with lighting source, the books are higher quality and they have more distribution channels. You do need adobe illustrator or another graphic design program for the covers. Note: Things might have changed. It was a few years ago when we weighed the pros and cons of the two. You might want to do the same.
Adobe Illustrator? Whew, that’s expensive: Yes, a new version is. And it takes a while to learn. Fortunately, I had taken some graphic design classes in school and we found a copy of illustrator 9 on ebay for $60. Then we used the profits from the first books to buy CS5 including illustrator, photoshop and adobe indesign. Indesign makes formatting books soooooo much easier once you get the hang of the program. Heck, it’s what most of the big publishing houses use.
Illustrator eventually paid for itself. I did a lot of work for other small presses: formatting covers for lightning source, creating ads, making bookmarks, etc. $10-$50 a project really added up after awhile.

Where did you get cover art? Lurk here until you find an artist you like, that is in your price range. Also you could always try big stock photo or dreamstime. We used stock art on our first few books since we didn’t know where to find an artist. You can get some nice covers with stock art, check out the mock up I did for the first issue of Dark Things: Horror Magazine, that sadly never got published. I think it came out pretty well. And no those articles and author names are not real, I was just seeing how the text would look.

Personal rejection letters? Just say no to them. We tried it and got some very angry people. Some people can’t take criticism.
Website? We used weebly, it’s a pretty easy way to create a website and then you can purchase your own domain name.
Advertising? This is a hard one. We tried a lot of things, and it seemed like what worked for one book did not work for another. What makes a book sell over 1000 copies when another book (that I personally liked better) sold less than 50. It’s weird.
For anthologies it is totally based on the authors. If you get 16-30 people all telling their friends what great a book it is, going to cons, talking it up on the internet then you will have pretty good sales. If you fill the book with authors who are like “that’s awesome” and throw the book on their stack of contributors’ copies and never think of the book again, then sales are not good. On the other hand having a book filled with first timers would probably be bad too. I think the best formula for an anthology (when you can’t spend tons of money getting famous authors) is to get one or two recognizable names, one or two newbies and then the rest somewhere in between. Of course we never tried following any formulas, we just picked the stories we liked best, but I think that this formula would work.
 Book reviews are nice, but they don’t create a buzz. People have to start the buzz, and then the reviews will make the chatter louder.
Novels were a bit different. Reviews did help, sometimes. Authors promoting their own work helped, sometimes. Advertising in magazines did not work. We contacted local television, radio, and newspapers near all of the novelist’s homes and only received a positive response once, from a public television show. The author balked at the idea and wouldn’t do it, despite the fact that we checked with the author  first, so I am not sure if they work. Some Podcasts helped, sometimes. We did notice a difference when some authors went to cons, sometimes. Postcards worked…sometimes. Hmmm…I guess the same thing never worked twice. Don’t know what to tell you here.

To Kindle or Not To Kindle? We had a few months when kindle sales beat out print sales, but for the most part print sales were better. But kindle and nook sales can certainly give you a boost. It did seem like sci-fi sold better on kindle than in print. Fantasy sold better in print. Horror was split down the middle. Anyway, ebooks are definitely worth doing.
Help? Our business was a family run operation. But we did talk to our local college and could have gotten an intern at some point. We would have had to pay $3/hour, not bad for a little help.
Forum? I loved the forum. I wish I could have been a little better about keeping up with it. It was nice to have a community of writers to throw ideas off of, or discuss writing topics. Other writing forums I have tried come with an overabundance of snark, which we tried to keep to a minimum. We got a lot of emails thanking us for the forum. Getting members wasn't too hard, we just gave away some free stuff and bam, instant community.
How to deal with detractors? No matter what you do, someone won’t like it. If you start a small press you will eventually get some hate mail. On the internet people say whatever they want, things they really wouldn't say in person. We have gotten hate mail about pay rates, rejection letters, our covers, our website, our logo, and even the wording in our calls for submission. For the most part we ignored it. Occasionally, if somebody was waaay out of line we would send out an email to other small presses telling them that the person was hard to work with.
But usually, it was best just to look at the submission cue and see all the familiar names. Then it was easy to see that we also had a lot of supporters. In the end it was really easy to see, with the dozens of emails thanking us and wishing us well. Thanks to everyone for that.
That’s everything I can think of. If you have any questions feel free to use the contact form or post in the comments.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Pill Hill Press Closes

I just had to do something pretty hard. Last night, my wife came to a tear soaked decision to close her small press, Pill Hill Press. Being the person she is, she tried to immediately post on her website and ended up deleting it (which has happened before, it has always been easy enough to recreate with weebly, she just didn’t see the point this time) and then she tried to find out how to delete her forum and ended up deleting her account.

So as the last administrator of the forum it fell to me to send out the mass email telling everyone the PHP was closing. Jessy just did not feel she could give the PHP the time it deserved.  
Here is what I wrote:

I’m afraid I have some unpleasant news. Jessy was going to write this, but she has accidentally deleted her account. We have decided to close PHP. Jessy has been trying to go back to work for the past few weeks and, with the babies she cannot give Pill Hill or the authors’ creations the time, attention, and love they deserve. All short stories currently in submissions are returned to the authors. All rights on unpublished books revert back to the author. Authors who are currently getting royalty statements will be getting a snail mail letter about rights, etc.
The website is down, and we are contacting lefora about closing the forum.
This decision did not come without a few tears. We have truly enjoyed working with all of you, and have met some wonderful people, some of whom I consider to be friends. Thank you for sharing your creations with us, the glimpses into your imaginations have been entertaining, thought provoking, wondrous, and at times a little scary. It has been a privilege to work with all of you.

All our best,
Alva J Roberts
Pill Hill Press

I feel a little sad about it, but I understand. She could not work and take care of the kids, she has been trying and it is driving her crazy.
Pill Hill was making money, but it wasn't MAKING MONEY. To continue with PHP Jessy would have had to hire a babysitter or day care. She would be working to pay for childcare and a little spending money (some months).  It just didn't make sense.  But still I am feeling kind of sad about the whole thing. Who knows, maybe when the kids start school Jessy will reopen. We still have quite a few ISBNs and all the knowledge and equipment to do it.
Over the next week or so I will probably post a few blogs about starting and running a small press before I start forgetting a lot of details.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Writing Tips: Let's Talk About Sex

Happy belated new year everyone!
Sorry to take so long between posts, I had a ton of posts I was going to write, one about preparing for Christmas, one about new years, one about my current writing project, one about fantasy football (I won two of my leagues!), I had other ones about football, about the Huskers, the Minnesota Vikings, but it all ended up being put to the side because of the holidays and familial obligations. I will say my current novel is going really well when I find time to write. But let’s get onto the main topic: SEX
In particular I am talking about sex scenes. Scenes where your characters get intimate can be really hard to write, but sometimes they need to be written. I decided to do some research to figure out the best way to write them, and I am pretty happy with my results. Here are six rules I have garnered in my research into the subject.
1.       Know your audience/know your genre. Treat it like you do other aspects of writing for your audience. This goes back to being well read in your genre. What are other bestselling authors doing? For example I have yet to read an epic fantasy that talks about “throbbing members”. When you finally get published your editor will probably weigh in on the matter. Remember they are the expert in what sells in your genre, and give their suggestions a try.
2.       Write what you are comfortable with. If writing this kind of stuff makes you totally uncomfortable then it will show in your writing, and do your best to avoid it.
3.       Avoid crude terms whenever possible. Try to use metaphors, flowery terms, etc. to describe what is going on. Consider these two lines “he stuck his dong in her va-jay-jay” or “he entered her womanhood”. Neither is a great example but which is going to be less distracting?
4.       Use the same rules you would for a fight scene. This one may sound weird but I have a few rules that I use when I am writing a fight scene that transition to love scenes pretty well. First do not give a play by play. This will get boring and tedious to read after awhile, plus with a love scene it will start to sound a little silly. “He felt his passion building…” can replace an entire paragraph of the love scene play by play. The second fight scene rule I have is that the fight should be more than just a fight. It should develop the characters and/or advance the plot and/or resolve a conflict and/or add a whole new conflict to the story. This is important for love scenes too. Don’t just have sex in the book to have it in the book. Make sure it advances the story. Your readers are pretty smart people and they will be able to tell if you just add a love scene in to spice things up.
5.       Make sure the scene reflects your character. The Joker from Batman is not going to have the same love scene as Romeo from Romeo and Juliet.  
6.        Heterosexual  characters who have anal sex are villains. This one kind of surprised me but apparently it is pretty standard. Like the good guys wearing white hats in westerns. I have heard this from a number of romance novel readers. Which makes me thinks those romance novels might be more interesting than I ever gave them credit for.
The way this works out, at least for me (and remember I am writing epic fantasy intended for an adult audience) is that I write the begining of the scene, a little kissing, touching, etc. and then break away. I do this for a few reasons: Fantasy, at least what I read, tends to avoid explicit love scenes, in fact most of the books I read break away a little earlier than I do. I stick with it a little longer than other authors because I want to make sure the readers get a feel for what is happening, is it angry, is it loving, is it exciting, is it funny, sex can be all of those things in real life and I feel that a reader should know the mood of the scene, but getting really explicit will not advance the story in better than what I am writing. If you have any tips for love scenes leave them in the comments below. Please try to keep it PG-13 or cleaner.