Publishing platforms interview #10, featuring Stephen John Moran

Stephen John Moran

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve decided to self-publish The Dark Queen of Darkness, but this is a long, difficult, confounding, and expensive endeavor. One of the key reasons I’d decided to go self-publishing was to avoid the time and effort involved with securing an agent and then hoping a large press would pick up the work. It is not, however, the only alternative to traditional publishing. A really excellent option, which I did consider, was submitting to smaller independent presses. Indie publishers offer advantages over both large presses and self-publishing. Below is my interview with Stephen John Moran of Moran Press on the topic.

D: Before I launch into my questions, could you tell me a bit about Moran Press, and yourself as an author?

SJM: I created Moran Press to be a hybrid between self-publishing and small press. The target indie author is one that intended to self publish and wishes to retain control over most aspects of the process. I seek authors whose books work with each other for maximum impact. 

D: What does an indie publisher do for an author? What does an indie publisher not do?

SJM: I think the biggest thing an indie press can do for an author is help them produce a quality of book not likely to be produced through self-publishing. Having a team is important. That said, small presses are very limited in marketing budget. 

D: As an author, if you’ve accepted my work, what does the process look like? What can I expect?

SJM: I treat authors as partners and work closely with them on all aspects of the process to produce a book all can be proud of. Authors retain full control over their books and help make the decisions that shape the final product. 

D: You’re not just a publisher, you’re also a writer. From the perspective of an author publishing in an indie publishing house, what would you describe as your biggest challenge?

SJM: Getting the work out into the world is the most difficult part of the business. The price of ads and level of competition has risen and it’s tougher than ever to get your book to succeed in this super over saturated entertainment era. 

D: A lot of authors approaching publishing for the first time imagine that getting published is going to mean fame and fortune. I think anyone who has seriously looked into this industry understands that’s not reality. What sort of sales numbers might a brand-new unknown author expect with an indie publishing house, like Moran Press? How much would an author expect to make, per book sold?

SJM: I hope writers don’t have that impression because they will be sorely disappointed with the publishing experience if that’s their expectation. The average release sells less than 500 copies lifetime – the average author at Moran Press getting approximately $2 per unit (roughly) so it would take sales of a level far beyond the ordinary to gain ‘fame and fortune’. 

D: What would you describe as the biggest advantage for an author to submit to an indie publisher as opposed to trying to publish with a large traditional press?

SJM: Your book has a much better chance to be published with a small press. At big trad you’ll be competing with far more authors so getting published is much more difficult. 

D: What would you describe as the biggest advantage for an author to submit to an indie publisher as opposed to trying to self-publish?

SJM: The biggest thing a small press can give an author is editorial help. Self-publishing’s greatest weakness is one person (the author) in control of all aspects of a process that said author might not be qualified to complete. That’s the biggest weakness I see in self-published works. One or more of the basic aspects of publishing has received less than optimal expertise and the overall product suffers. 

D: How do you decide which books are going to be the best fit for your publishing house?

SJM: I try to have the books work together – so that if you read the books as a group there’s something extra a reader will get – books will similar themes. 

D: Except for writing the book, what is the most important thing an author needs to do after being published by an indie publisher, like Moran Press?

SJM: Know that you’re responsible for marketing your book. Don’t sit back – it needs to be important to you if books are to be sold. Even with a trad press authors must market so this is the single biggest piece to take away – be ready to work to sell.

D: Would you ever tell an author not to consider an indie publisher, such as Moran Press?

SJM: Yes – if an author is primarily focused on getting marketing help – first step is to get an agent and submit to big trad. 

D: Do you have anything else to add that I didn’t cover –any further sage wisdom or cautionary tales?

SJM: To all the authors – temper your expectations and be prepared to work. There’s not going to be a viral tale in your future – that’s the math 99% certainty – so get yourself mentally ready to make it happen instead of waiting for others. Be an entrepreneur. If you want to sit back and collect royalty checks, you missed 1985 and for that I’m sorry. 

Thank you, Stephen John Moran, for taking time for this interview. Stephen is the author of Ella, The terrorist of Providence Street, and Server, among others, which you can get over at Amazon. He is also the owner of Moran Press (https://www.moranpress.com/).

To conclude, I want to make a quick point about the publishing business from this author’s perspective. While I believe that becoming published with an indie press is a really, really great idea and you should totally look into it, know that not every publishing house is going to be interested in your work. Smaller groups like Moran Press are not in a position to accept and market everything that comes across their doorstep. However, the decision not to pick up a book is not a personal decision, it is a business decision, and so I want to reiterate how critical it is to make sure that when you submit to a publishing house, that you are carefully assessing their call for work. While it’s true I’m a bit confounded by the self-publishing route at the moment, and Moran Press is a really great publishing option, my work does not fit Moran Press’ platform and so it’s not a viable avenue for my work. But, the only way to determine whether or not any publishing house is a viable option for you is to look at their call for work. You can find the current call for work for Moran Press at https://www.moranpress.com/submissions.html.

Publishing platforms interview #9, featuring Brian Converse

Brian S. Converse

For this installment of Publishing Platforms, where I’m endeavoring to talk to almost as many authors as I can find leading up to self-publishing my own work, Dark Queen of Darkness this fall, I’ve reached out to Brian S. Converse to discuss his experiences in publishing. I met Brian on Twitter, as one does, and have been following his progress in publishing and marketing his series Rajani Chronicles. Below are the questions I asked, in an interview format.

D: Hi Brian, thanks for joining me. Before I launch into my questions, could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your work?

BSC: Sure, Dave, thanks for inviting me. I’ve been writing for about 25 years now in various formats, both traditionally published and self-published. I’ve had poems, comics, and short stories published in various zines, both print and electronic. As you mentioned, I am self-publishing my first novel series, Rajani Chronicles.

D: I apologize, this one is solidly multi-part  –In looking at where you’ve made your work available, one that stands out to me is Smashwords. I’ve only heard about this one peripherally and I don’t know anything about it. Was it difficult to put your book into the variety of formats available there? In terms of sales and things, how does it stack up to other platforms, such as Amazon? Would you recommend this platform to other authors?

BSC: Smashwords is probably the most difficult to get your manuscript ready for print. You have to have some patience with their Word format converter, which they call Meat Grinder, because it can be picky, but as long as you follow their style guide it should go smoothly. Smashwords then publishes it along [with] a few different platforms such as their own, KOBO, Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc. You just need to pick those options when you upload the book. My Smashwords sales are inconsistent, and not as strong as my Amazon sales, but as you said, that may just be due to people being unfamiliar with the site. One thing I have found, though, is that they are easier to deal with than Amazon when it comes to changing the price of your book for sales and promotions. I would recommend Smashwords, but only if you don’t want to go exclusive with Amazon.

D: Another platform you’re available on is KOBO. Until I started seriously looking into publishing, I’d thought this was a fully deceased avenue. However, the more of the interviews I do and the more I learn about other authors, I’m noticing this is a pretty common publishing platform. Could you describe a bit of your experience there? Does it seem like people are finding your work and buying through Kobo?

BSC: I’ve only sold a few books through KOBO. Again, that may be due to people being unfamiliar with the site. I think readers naturally go to what is familiar to them, and Amazon seems to be it, unless they own a specific e-reader like NOOK.

D: Your books are available in paperback (and hardback!!!!) format through Amazon. Do you exclusively print through Amazon or did you use any other service, like Lulu, Blurb, IngramSpark, bookbaby etc… to print?

BSC: All of my paperbacks and hardcovers are printed through IngramSpark. It’s a fairly easy process to upload the book and cover artwork. They offer options for sizes, paper color, cover format (glossy vs matte) and hardcover and/or softcover. Once the novel goes live, then it’s automatically picked up by Amazon as long as you have an ISBN. Remember, you need an individual ISBN for each book format, hardcover, softcover, ebook, nook, audio, etc. And the only place to get them is through Bowker.

D: In sort of a follow-up to the question [If applicable, depending on how you respond] – did you consider using any of those services when you looked into publishing? Why/Why not?

BSC: I looked into a few of the book publishing services when I first began exploring self-publishing, but I wanted to know how to do it on my own, and the best way to learn is by doing. There was a definite learning curve when I first started, but the second book was much easier than the first.

D: Your novels are self-published, as is your work of poetry. Did you consider going traditional or reaching out to a small press before you launched? Why/Why not?

BSC: I did participate in a few of the Twitter pitches that are available (pitmad, sffpit) on the first book, and was not happy with the offers I got, or was not picked up by some of the publishers that “liked” my pitch tweet. By that time, though, I had already made up my mind to self-publish, so it was more of a novelty to see how it all worked on Twitter. The poetry book I decided to release exclusively on Amazon as an ebook knowing that there isn’t a great demand for poetry out there, but wanting it to be available to people that do read it. I also wanted it to be as low-budget as I could make it, which is why I used Canva to create a cover and don’t have it offered as a print book.

D: The illustrations on your covers are excellent. Who did the artwork and how did you find that person?

BSC: His name is Lawrence Mann, and he is a digital artist based in England. We follow each other on Twitter (I don’t remember who followed who first) and when I started the process of self-publishing, I looked at his web site (https://lawrencemann.co.uk/) and really liked his work, so I contacted him and we went from there.

D: One of the things I decided to do with The Dark Queen of Darkness was to hire an editor. This was a pretty expensive undertaking, but one I felt necessary for my own work. What approach did you take to editing for the Rajani Chronicles? Why?

BSC: Always get a professional editor to go over your manuscript. This shouldn’t even be a choice. As a writer with many years of experience, I’ve found that no matter how polished you think your work is, it’s not a good idea to rely on just yourself. Sometimes you’re too close to the work; you’ve read through it so many times that you overlook something. Again, my editor was someone that I found on Twitter. One thing I will tell people, though, is shop around for the editor that best fits your work and your budget. They don’t all provide the same service (proofreading vs copy editing vs line editing – know the difference!) and they don’t charge the same (usually its done per word, but some charge a flat fee that may be cheaper or more expensive, depending on the size of your manuscript.)

D: I’m going to diverge from publishing topics a bit and ask about advertising, as it plays an important role in publication choices. I once asked an author about the best way to advertise. Her response was: Publish a second book. You’re now preparing to release your 3rd book in the Rajani Chronicles series. Thinking about the release of book 2, would you say that this other author’s advice was your experience?

BSC: It is true that the more books you have out, the better the sales are for earlier books. Just having books out there shows that the first book was not a one-time thing and helps the reader to trust that you’re serious about your work. But there is also the fact that many people won’t buy the second book until the third book in the trilogy is published, which I’ve discovered after book two came out. They want to make sure you finish the series. My sales on the second book are not nearly as strong as the first, unfortunately. We’ll see if they pick up once the third book is available.

D: One of the things you’ve done for advertising was host a Facebook release party, where other authors popped in an held a conversation. Would you describe that as a success for marketing or a bit more trouble than it was worth?

BSC: I believe it was successful. I think everyone enjoyed the book release party, both authors and readers, because it was more than just some writer speaking endlessly about his book. It was a bit of work contacting other authors and juggling their schedules to make sure that everyone had a time slot that worked for them while still keeping the release party on time.

D: Do you do any direct-marketing, that is, do you or have you approached book stores in your area for book signings, events, or shelf-space?

BSC: I talked to some local stores in person about the book, but most of my direct marketing came through contacting independent bookstores by email. I created an information sheet that showed the book cover, the ISBNs for hardcover and softcover, a brief description of the book, the fact that it is returnable, which is very important to bookstores, and my marketing plan for the book laid out so they could see that I am serious about selling the book using my social media presence and select promotions. Any information to the book buyer is helpful so they see where the book fits into what they sell, is easy to order, and doesn’t take up much space on the shelf. I purposely keep my novels around 80,000 words so they are not too thick. As an indie author, every trick helps. Many authors also don’t realize that libraries buy books and that if you contact their books buyers as well, you can have a respectable income from that. You just need to get your book registered on WorldCat.org. The easiest way I’ve found to do that is by donating the book to my local library for their use, in exchange for them listing it on the site, which is where most libraries go to get books. Most book stores offer signings for local authors. Many provide a space for you to set up in exchange for a flat fee and/or percentage of sales of your book resulting from the signing. Again, do your homework to make sure the patrons for that bookstore are the same that buy the genre of book you’re selling. The closest bookstore to where I live hardly sells any science fiction, so they were not a good choice for me to have a book signing.

D: I could keep asking questions all day long, but think I’ve quite taken enough of your time. Are there any words of wisdom you’d like to share to authors looking to self-publish for the first time?

BSC: As I said above, do your homework before you jump into the self-publishing business. It’s not for everyone, due to the up-front cost (cover art, editing services, ISBNs, marketing plan, etc.) and time commitment – it takes a long time to contact indie bookstores in every state. Know that success doesn’t come easily in most cases. It takes dedication to build an audience and get your work noticed. But also, don’t give up hope. It’s a tall hill to climb, but persistence will get you to the top.

Thank you Brian S. Converse for taking the time here. Brian S. Converse is the Author of the Rajani Chronicles, which you can find on all manner of platforms, including Amazon https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B06XXQVGMF, and Barnes and Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/rajani-chronicles-i-brian-s-converse/1125998486?ean=2940157391652

You can also find Brian on his website www.BrianSConverse.com, or follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/BrianSConverse

Publishing platforms interview #8, featuring L.M. Bryski

LM Bryski

One option for publishing that I’ve looked into in the past is small presses. To be honest, I didn’t consider this route for The Dark Queen of Darkness, primarily because of the size and format of the book, but also because I just couldn’t find a small press that was calling for that sort of thing. That said, I think it’s a really compelling option. To that end, I’ve asked L.M. Bryski to join me for a few questions on the subject.

D: Before I get to my main questions, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?

LMB: Hey Dave! Thanks for this opportunity to chat with you. And hello Dave readers. I’m a Canadian Emergency physician turned author. Since 2016, I’ve published 3 books with Moran Press: a coming of age story Book of Birds, a children’s book The Harmonica Tree, and my latest, a medical thriller called Blood Chill.

I was mainly an academic clinician, working in a trauma center teaching hospital, but I became more and more interested in writing stories. I had no formal training other than a single university English course but had practice documenting patient stories, and telling their stories when seeking consults on their behalf.

I wanted to write my own stories, though, as patient stories are sacred and private. And thus I began writing about fictional characters from stories that popped into my head.

D: Did you submit your book to other presses or agents before going with a small press?

LMB: My first foray into submissions was in late 2014 with the first draft of Blood Chill to a mystery contest run by one of the larger publishers. I was really cocky with my 70,000-word manuscript. I hadn’t even reviewed it for flow. I was sure I would win.

I didn’t.

I also wrote up a few kids stories during that winter which I used as an easy way to learn how to submit manuscripts. I think I got about 8 rejections from that batch… my favourite of those stories I ended up illustrating and publishing in 2017 with Moran Press.

I worked on Blood Chill for about another two draft rounds before an idea for a new book popped in my head almost fully fleshed out. The character voice for this second book was so strong, I set Blood Chill aside and put all my effort into writing Book of Birds. It felt more complete, more well rounded, so I decided to lead with that manuscript and buff it up before shopping it around, which led me to my editor, Jette Harris.

D: All of your books are published through Moran Press, how did you find that imprint and decide to submit?

LMB: For Book of Birds, my second manuscript, I only submitted to one small press, Moran Press, a micropublisher in the United States which represents a handful of authors. My first step wasn’t even submission. It was editing. The editor I hired to help me with my manuscript, Jette Harris, read through it and asked if she could show it to Stephen Moran (I said yes please!). Moran Press reviewed it and got back to me that same day. I was lucky. I was already impressed with how Moran Press was with its current authors. I said yes!

D: What did the submission process to a small press look like?

LMB: It felt easy. I had quick responses from Stephen Moran, that were thoughtful, congenial, and professional. It was a true pleasure bringing Book of Birds out under his care. He had a great managerial style, knowing when to let the editing process continue and when to step in with direction. This has been [the] same for each of my books published with Moran Press.

D: Once your book was accepted, what happened next? As an author what did you need to do leading up to publication?

LMB: The editing process took about 6 months. You really need patience to go through a manuscript over and over again. I have an amazing editor in Jette Harris: smart, precise, and good humoured. I learned a lot about balance of words such as how changing even one word in one place means a review of the paragraphs around to make sure everything remains both balanced for flow, and unbalanced for differing sentence lengths and nonrepetitive descriptors.

Once the manuscript is set, then work on the layout and font occurs. I’m really particular about spacing, preferring a solid indent and ample margin space around the words. This is reflected in the updated version of my first book.

Then the cover art. So many ways to do it, but Moran Press prefers to work with a cover artist. Book of Birds is currently in second edition with the fabulous artwork of Kelley York.

D: For folks like me choosing to go 100% self-published, it’s up to me to find people to help with cover design, illustrators, editor, someone to do layout, 100% of advertising and getting the book to different venues for purchase. What did this process look like for you working with Moran Press?

LMB: My editor was one I chose and I still prefer to work directly with my own editor. I’m lucky Moran Press allows this. As for the rest of the package, that was more under Moran Press. I did handle some of the expenses as part of the negotiated book contract. Advertising is a mix between me and my publisher. I handle local events, but my publisher has done more for things like sales, bloggers, other social platforms.

D: Your books are available on Kindle Unlimited. Was this your decision as the author or a decision made by the publisher or was it more of a discussion?

LMB: This is a publisher decision. I haven’t found it to be either a positive or a negative, to be quite frank.

D: Kindle Unlimited is somewhat controversial amongst authors as the terms have led to authors being removed from Amazon altogether by the actions of others. Overall, how would you describe your experience with Kindle Unlimited?

LMB: So far, it’s been a nonissue, but this controversy is something to keep an eye on.

D: In your experience working with a small press, what does a small press do for an author and what does a small press not do?

LMB: In my experience, a small press is able to make decisions quicker, and bring stories to publication quicker. It has an easy open avenue for communication, and more author say in their publications. On the downside, being small means smaller reach, and more (but not all) responsibility put on the author for helping keep the book advertised.

D: Your cover-art changed for Book of Birds from the initial release, the one I have on my shelf, and the second edition. Why did you decide to change that cover?

LMB: I fell in love with the bird painting on the back and wanted it for the front cover. The whole cover started as a painting I commissioned for the book. I liked it a lot, but was more drawn to that blue-black drongo bird. Moran Press also got a new cover artist who had impressive work. We put together a new cover that had the blues of that bird picked out and a slicker font. I still like the old edition and have a few on hand that I occasional give out if I want to give a special gift.

D: Do you have your book in any bookstores?

LMB: I do. I’m available at the local Chapters Indigo stores in Winnipeg and on their website. I’m also in McNally Robinson locally and on their website. Else my books are available through moranpress.com and on Amazon as kindle or paperback.

D: I know you’ve done at least one author event. How did you organize that and what sort of challenges did you experience?

LMB: Locally I’ve had two book launches I arranged with McNally Robinson. They have an event coordinator that puts together a poster and ads in both their newsletter and the local newspapers. The event also has an MC and catering that you pay for and hope that you sell enough books to cover. Both events were very much worth it. I ended up on the store’s bestseller list for general paperback fiction those months. I also arrange book signing myself at the local Chapters bookstores. They sometimes reach out to me, too, inviting me out to their stores for a weekend afternoon. I’m lucky that the local managers are really supportive of local prairie writers.

D: As much as I’d love to continue bombarding you with questions, I think I should just stop here, but before I let you go, do you have any sage wisdom for others on publishing or marketing?

LMB: Edit your work, but don’t edit it so much that the joy of your first written draft is diluted out.

Talk about your books when you meet people. Most people are interested or even have heard of you and what you’ve written.

And be prepared to talk about your writing even when you might be busy doing something else. I’ve had people come up out of the blue to chat with me about reading both my books and other books, and it has led to some great conversations and connections.

Thank you again, L.M. Bryski for taking the time to answer these questions. You can find L.M. Bryski’s work at Amazon:

Blood Chill: http://mybook.to/BloodChill

Book of Birds: http://mybook.to/LMBryskiBoB

The Harmonica Tree: http://mybook.tp/LMBryskiTHT

or directly through Moran Press at www.moranpress.com and you can follow her on Twitter at @LMBryski.