A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing

Joe Konrath is a full-time novelist who publishes the following excellent blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. He’s definitely not a “newbie.” He and his blog are a storehouse of insider information about the writing biz. It’s well worth any aspiring writer’s time to read through all of his blog archives, and check out his 761-page free ebook of blog posts organized by subject matter, The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.

He’s a talented, entertaining writer. I enjoyed reading his technothriller, The List.

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21 Responses to “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing”

  1. You’re welcome!

    I’m amazed at how extremely generous he is in telling so many nitty-gritty details about how much he’s earning from Kindle sales of various books, and the self-promotion strategies that he uses.

    What I also found interesting about him (while reading through his blog archives) was his willingness to join the conversation about the issue of “Jim Crow publishing.” http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2006/02/jim-crow-publishing.html

    This was an example of a WM blogger naturally taking up a conversation about racism and racism in the publishing industry. He had gotten into a conversation and disagreement with a Black author at her blog in response to her post. http://bestsellingauthor.blogspot.com/2006/02/can-there-be-justification-for-racism.html And then he took up the issue on his own blog.

    Now, I definitely don’t agree with much of what he said in response to the Black author during that particular exchange, but he did make several telling points when he called her out on her choice to hide in anonymity while complaining and also while staying with a publisher that she felt was unfairly steering her books into the “Black books ghetto.”

    In a comment during their exchange, he said, “Change publishers. Find one that promotes you the way you want to be promoted. Chnage agents. Find one that will champion your cause. Go public and change the system. Rosa Parks wasn’t anonymous.”

    I say: This type of thing is why AA writers need to build our own publishing companies and distribution outlets.

    And (for those bloggers who are interested in this sort of thing) he also freely offers to trade blogroll links with other bloggers!

    Peace, blessings and solidarity.

  2. Tasha212 says:

    Khadija,

    Thanks for the link.

    I read a little of the discussion about “Jim Crow Publishing” and I’d like to offer some of my opinions. I listen to popular blogtalkradio show called “3 Chicks on Lit” and the hostesses are authors and publishing professionls. They have discussed thi issues a couple of times. Most of the time the conensus is tht it is not a deliberate thing that happens. Rather, publishers place books whare they feel the book wil sell best. If a reader is interested in African American fiction, it is easier to find titles than if the books were placed in the general fiction section. Also, publishers may not always be willing to pay for certain placement in the bookstore. For example, it may cost $2,000 to be placed in the mainstream section and only $500 to bplaced in the AfAm lit section. If the publisher is not confident that the financial investment will pay off, he/she may not be willing to make such an investment. I also think that in general, white people do not read African American fiction in large numbers, just like they don’t in large numers watch “black” movies. So, I don’t necessarily think that placing books by AA authors in the general fiction section will guarantee a larger, more diverse audience. If the person on the cover of the novel is black and the author photo on the back is black, then people will think of it as a “black” book, regardless of the subject or genre of the book. The only exception to this that I have seen is when Oprah decides to give her endorsement of books and movies by AA authors and producers. Or when other mainstream outlets give their endorsements of the AA autho or producer.

    Another issue that I’ve heard is that sometimes bookstores may be more willing to purchase more books from a publisher if the book is placed in the AA section than if the book is placed in the general fiction section. I don’tknow how true this is, but this is what I have heard from publishing professionals.

    The only thing that I could see doing is to request a cover that is racially neutral. A black person on the cover of a book usually typifies the book as a “black” book, especially if the book is by a black author. I think this could pose a problem for an author who wants his or her book to have mas appeal. Like a self help book that is gared towards a hneral audience needs to racially neutral, I wuld think.

    For example, I am in the beginning stages of writing a self-help/how-to book for beginning speech-language pathologists (SLPs). Most SLPs are white and female. Since I know this, it would be stupid in my opinion to market this book as a “black” self-help book. I want to make it clear that this book is for any beginning SLP who needs guidance, regardless of race. So, I will probably design the cover using type and color or if I put an image on the book, it will feature people of different races and ethnicities. I also may rite under a psuedonym and probably will not include an author photo in the book. One day, if I decide to write a book that I want to appeal to an AA audience, then my strategie will be different.

    As an avid reader who spends a lot of time in bookstores, one of the first sections that I go to is the AA section because I love reading good books by and about AAs. On of the reasons that I like Borders better than B&N is because Borders still has an AA lit section and is so much easier for me to find books by AA authors whose names I may not know.

    I am not a publishing professional so these are just my opinions. I am an aspiring author so I try to read books and blogs about the publishing industry and self-publishing in particular.

    Peace a solidarity,

    Tasha212

  3. Tasha,

    You’re welcome! And thanks for mentioning the “3 Chicks on Lit” Blogtalk Radio show. I hadn’t heard of them, and I’ll check them out.

    You said, “They have discussed thi issues a couple of times. Most of the time the conensus is tht it is not a deliberate thing that happens.”

    To me, it almost doesn’t matter what the intention is, if the action is taking away potential customers.

    You said, “Rather, publishers place books whare they feel the book wil sell best. If a reader is interested in African American fiction, it is easier to find titles than if the books were placed in the general fiction section.”

    Well, this is a business issue that AA writers really need to think about. I haven’t done the research, but my gut instinct is that any Black writer who is writing something other than the so-called “street lit” and “ghetto fiction” will increasingly LOSE sales if their books are placed in the AA section.

    Here’s why: As you noted, non-Black readers generally are NOT going to browse through the AA section of anything in a bookstore. So, the writer is losing potential sales to non-Black customers just by being in the AA section. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of AA readers are being acclimated to reading nothing but “street lit” trash. It seems to me that this street lit trash is crowding out normal fiction on the AA lit shelves in bookstores.

    Not to mention the disgrace of having one’s work on a shelf next to book products with titles like “Ghetto Baller” and “Street Hustler.” {shudder}

    A Black author talked about the various issues involved in this in the following op-ed piece (“Their Eyes Were Reading Smut”) a few years back. http://tinyurl.com/yc4jwuy

    I believe that it would be wise of you to market your self-help/how-to book as “race neutral.” For all the reasons that you mentioned, as well as the reasons I discussed at the previous blog about why Black-owned businesses will have to be “color-neutral” in order to succeed.

    I think anyone who’s looking to make money from writing fiction needs to consider where their paying customers are going to come from. This is something that I’ve been pondering as I consider forming a publishing company in the future. Folks need to consider:

    Why not reach for a larger customer base if at all possible?

    If current trends with AA readers continue (of AAs increasingly consuming “street lit” as opposed to normal books), will there really be a sizable AA audience for normal AA novels? And by “sizable,” I mean a large enough pool to write books that are specifically (and in real-world effect, exclusively) directed toward AA readers, as opposed to books that are written with one eye on getting sales among the larger non-Black potential customer base?

    If so, is it sizable enough to justify NOT reaching for a larger customer base by having a race-neutral cover and staying OUT of the AA Lit “ghetto” bookshelves?

    Whatever decision the AA writer makes (a conscious choice to have a race-neutral presentation of their books or not), how do you reach this audience of normal AA readers (who are turned off by seeing the spectacle of street lit book covers)?

    I could be wrong, but I have the feeling that a normal AA reader is willing to take the few extra steps to browse the main genre sections (thriller/mystery; science fiction; fantasy; romance; and so on) to find an AA writer’s book in those sections.

    I’ll say this for myself: My inclination is to write and market my future novels in a way that’s geared toward making sales among the larger non-Black audience. Yes, there will be a AA woman protagonist, but there will be other types of characters also. And the covers will be race-neutral. And I’m inclined to make every effort to keep my novels OUT of the AA Lit section; and IN the science fiction and technothriller sections.

    Peace, blessings and solidarity.

    • Karen says:

      I concur with Khadija’s inclination. I feel I have at least 2 to 3 novels in me (where to find the time though, LOL), however when that day comes, my covers and marketing will be race-neutral. My goal will be the widest audience possible and away from negative factors that are currently infiltrating AA Lit.

      Also another general point, any endeavor involves risk. You cannot get to home base by keeping your feet at first. If the current system does not support your efforts, then you need to “create” new systems, channels, ways around the status quo.

      What I find disheartening in many discussions complaining about what this or that dominant group/business does is too much energy is spent complaining instead of taking action. As Khadija indicated about forming her own publishing company, at some point, people have to start taking the “bull by the horns” and create opportunities instead of hoping and pleading that someone else gives them those opportunities.

  4. Karen,

    You said, “If the current system does not support your efforts, then you need to “create” new systems, channels, ways around the status quo.

    What I find disheartening in many discussions complaining about what this or that dominant group/business does is too much energy is spent complaining instead of taking action . . . . at some point, people have to start taking the “bull by the horns” and create opportunities instead of hoping and pleading that someone else gives them those opportunities.”

    Hear, hear! {standing ovation}

    This is exactly what I’ve found so irritatingly “retro” about many of the discussions at a number of AA writers’ blogs. This is the SAME complaint that folks have had since at least the days of the Harlem Renaissance. So, that’s what? Approximately 80 years of complaining about what the White publishing industry won’t do for AA writers and our literature?

    I say, “Enough, already” with all of that. And “God bless the child that’s got their own.” As many mistakes as they made (including their rampant sexism), at least the Black Arts folks from the 1960s understood that if they wanted something to happen, they had to make it happen themselves.

    Peace, blessings and solidarity.

  5. Oshun/Aphrodite says:

    Thank you for posting this! I browsed around and this guy has a lot of information. If he is earning this much per month then I can’t afford to sleep on his methods.

  6. Oshun/Aphrodite,

    You’re welcome! Folks need to keep in mind that he’s a TRADITIONALLY published writer (meaning that he found an agent and a book deal with a traditional publishing company). Further translation = a WM writer who found a presumably White agent, and has a book deal with a White-owned and controlled publishing company.

    Nevertheless, what he has to say about the writing craft and his self-promotional efforts is also relevant to self-published writers.

    Peace, blessings, and solidarity.

  7. Truth p. says:

    Hey Khadija.I normally never comment when you do your small drafts on writing or publishing books.Mostly because I thought that writing is not for me.I like reading.But today my cousin told me about this crazy hilarious incident that happened at her job and it really made me want to write a script for the show “The Office”.I might write the script just for me to have and share it with others.Also when you would encourage us to write I thought to myself “what for?”It never dawned on me to write something just cause I can.I like comedy,I like to laugh. I think i’ll try to do comedy.Maybe if I ever come up with something good i’ll post it here for you to see it, just for fun.I’m all of a sudden thinking about taking some writing classes too just to help me tell a really good funny story.If I can do one funny story or script i’ll be happy.

  8. TruthP.,

    Well, my focus is on writing as an additional income stream (for those readers who already have an interest in writing). But it can also be fun! *smile*

    Peace, blessings and solidarity.

  9. lisa99 says:

    Although I don’t comment as much on the writing threads, I’m definitely paying attention. I am trying to make some future moves to work for myself as a writer and I’m gathering tips!

  10. Lisa99,

    I’m glad to hear it!

    Peace, blessings and solidarity.

  11. **Reader Alert**

    From the “I Told You So” Department–Pay Attention to the Trends, Read the Foreign Media & Make Your Own Plans Division:

    It’s all connected. I’m talking about writing from the angle of building additional income streams (while having fun). I would urge those readers who missed them the first time around to check out the Geostrategy Nerd blog posts AND discussions at the previous blog.

    I ran across a news story tonight confirming that something I mentioned in a blog post from last August might actually be in the works. Here’s the blog post from last August.
    http://muslimbushido.blogspot.com/2009/08/geostrategy-nerd-federal-government-is.html

    And here’s the news story I just saw tonight online. http://tinyurl.com/yf7ts2h

    As I said during that earlier conversation,

    “I’ll put it this way: The odds of something like this working in a way that’s favorable to those Black folks who are left behind are slim to none.

    Not to mention that AA politicians and AAs in general have ALREADY demonstrated to the powers that be that they can get away with anything…at…all (when it comes to us). We demonstrate this each day, month, and year that we continue to ignore the ongoing plight of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

    We demonstrate this each moment that we allow AA politicians to ignore this topic. We demonstrate this each moment that we allow the media (including Black media) to ignore this topic.

    All of this reminds me of a saying I read somewhere: ‘People who don’t have plans become the subject of other people’s plans.’ That’s a perfect description of the AA collective.”

    IIRC, I first read about this proposal in a UK paper online, and it spoke of around 50 US cities undergoing planned shrinkage. This touches on the issue of where most AAs get their information from—how many different sources do most of us read? The US media is not going to go out of its way to tell anybody this stuff until whatever plan/scheme is underway. So, I strongly urge that folks start reading the foreign media (if they haven’t already done so).

    Now, I’m all for green space, and so on. But the message of these sorts of schemes is that the federal government does NOT see the cities on that list bouncing back; and is in the process of pulling the plug on those cities. Which just happen to have large concentrations of AAs.

    Everybody needs to figure out how they’re going to create additional income streams. AND build mutual support networks (I’ll get back to this point in a post that I’m working on).

    Peace, blessings and solidarity.

  12. JaliliMaster says:

    I have some things to say regarding your “Reader Alert” in the preceding comment, but as you’ve said that you’re working on a another post so I think it might be more appropriate for me to wait till then.

    I have been to the sites where the discussion was had (concerning racism in the publishing industry). I think he made some very valid points, and I am keeping in mind that he is coming from a different position to the Black writers. Frankly, I am tired of hearing the complaints, seeing as few have decided to take action. It is similar to the approach that a lot of Blacks in Hollywood, in particular, the actresses, as they have it much harder that the Black male actors, have taking in trying t advance their careers. We all know that there is still racism in all forms of media. Going in with the attitude that you’ll just have to do things the as your White colleagues did it, especially in such a subjective industry, is not a god idea.

    Black writers will have to take advantage of other means available to them. I came across a blog by a Black writer who seemed to have a very snobbish attitude towards writers who were too scared to do things the traditional way. This is despite the fact that he (1) Had a blog, and (2) was moaning about how it was because the publishing house was racist that he couldn’t get his stuff published ‘the way he wanted to’.

    There may be a Black owned publishing house, but I do not know of any. And the whole idea of a ‘Black-owned’ publishing company, with all that the term implies, might not be too good an idea today. The greater the revenue that the publisher makes, the more risk they would be willing to take on other writers. Having a wide range of clients on the books, as opposed to just Black clients, would be much more sensible. The time that folks could have really set up such a company to serve Black writers, either primarily or exclusively, has passed. Writers in general, and minority writers in particular, should get with the program. There are so many different ways to get to the same point in this day and age. It would be a shame to let the fact that doing things the traditional way might not be as easy for you become a hindrance to you achieving what it is you actually want!

  13. JaliliMaster,

    Oh, it’s okay to talk about the Readers’ Alert here and now. The post I’m working on is another meditation on the problems inherent in AAW being programmed to be Sister Soldiers—meanwhile, they’re neglecting their OWN needs. Since I won’t be doing political or geostrategy posts, whenever I mention something like that in a comments section, then it’s okay to talk about it right there and then.

    You said, “I have been to the sites where the discussion was had (concerning racism in the publishing industry). I think he made some very valid points, and I am keeping in mind that he is coming from a different position to the Black writers.”

    Oh yes, he made some valid points, many of which I happen to agree with. What I didn’t care for were the clueless, privileged assumptions underlying most of his points. Much of what he said happened to be true—however, I felt the underlying reasoning involved in how he got to those particular (correct) positions was off-base. To be more precise, I agreed with most of his comments; but disagreed with the subtext to those comments. I understand the reality that privilege is usually invisible to those who hold it.

    You said, “Frankly, I am tired of hearing the complaints, seeing as few have decided to take action. It is similar to the approach that a lot of Blacks in Hollywood, in particular, the actresses, as they have it much harder that the Black male actors, have taking in trying t advance their careers. We all know that there is still racism in all forms of media.”

    I’m also tired of hearing the complaints.

    You said, “There may be a Black owned publishing house, but I do not know of any.”

    I can think of a couple, both of which were formed decades ago by AAM writers. Haki Madhubuti’s Third World Press (formed in 1967). And Jawanza Kunjufu’s African American Images (formed in the late 80s, early 1990s, IIRC).

    You said, “And the whole idea of a ‘Black-owned’ publishing company, with all that the term implies, might not be too good an idea today. The greater the revenue that the publisher makes, the more risk they would be willing to take on other writers. Having a wide range of clients on the books, as opposed to just Black clients, would be much more sensible. The time that folks could have really set up such a company to serve Black writers, either primarily or exclusively, has passed.”

    I agree in not gearing or hyping the company as a “Black-owned” company. However, the reality is that non-Black creatives don’t have a track record of functioning in a way that is of any benefit whatsoever to Black-owned/controlled entities.

    In other words, I’m NOT interested in being like the Wayans brothers idiots (and other AA idiots) who made it possible for non-Black creatives like Jim Carrey, Jennifer Lopez, and Rosie Perez to pimp the persons who created their first platform and go on to greater stardom—while leaving the Wayans fools behind in the dust. I’m not interested in nurturing and supporting writers who will dump my publishing company as soon as they get an offer, any offer, from a White-owned publishing company.

    Now, I’m not saying that Black creatives won’t do the same thing—it’s just that the offers from White entities that come the way of a Black artist aren’t as frequent or lucrative. So, the opportunities for Black artists to pimp whoever provided them with their first platforms generally aren’t as great. Yes, I know all of that is cynical of me, but this is about m-o-n-e-y. And I don’t get misty-eyed when it comes to money. {chuckling}

    Peace, blessings and solidarity.

    • Foxycleopatra says:

      Khadija said:

      “In other words, I’m NOT interested in being like the Wayans brothers idiots (and other AA idiots) who made it possible for non-Black creatives like Jim Carrey, Jennifer Lopez, and Rosie Perez to pimp the persons who created their first platform and go on to greater stardom—while leaving the Wayans fools behind in the dust. I’m not interested in nurturing and supporting writers who will dump my publishing company as soon as they get an offer, any offer, from a White-owned publishing company.”

      Foxy said:

      This kind of idiocy and naivete among so many black floks irritates the crap out of me. I’m sure that the Wayans bros were probably expecting some sort of reciprocity back, but look at them now! This is why when dealing with and providing support to people, you should know what you are getting in return FIRST AND FOREMOST before you proceed.

      The funny thing is if you ask any of these non-black folks now, they will say that those black pple had nothing to do with their success (for e.g. Jenniffer lopez having the gall to reject a MOBO award saying that they should find a black person to give it to!)

  14. Foxycleopatra says:

    Khadija, I more or less agree with your above point.

    My understanding though of jalili’s point is that being touted as a black-owned publishing company would most probably backfire irrespective of whether or not the clients/authors were mostly black or not. This is because, knowing black folks in general, they might want to take advantage and expect more from you than they would from a non-black owned company. Ofcourse, this can be avoided by ‘screening’ away authors but on the flipside, could lead to loss of business. For non-black clients, they could then (as you said above) move on to a larger company when they get more success.

    At first, I am inclined to think that if some AAs came together to form a publishing company, it could help but after giving it more thought, I’m less incliined to think so for the ffg reasons:

    1. Difference of opinion: You might be against accepting to publish ‘ghetto novels’ but your partner might not. Also if you have no issue with the type of book (i.e. is it some ghetto nonsense or not?), and accept based solely on potential sales, it is almost a given that you will be viewed as a ‘black business’ (if you do publish those types).

    2. If the main/initial reason (apart from money) for starting the business was to provide more platfroms for AA authors, how would you eventually ‘cross-over’ into a race-neutral business? If on the other hand, you start out as a race-neutral business, how will you tackle the issue you raised in your above comment as regards clients who will then choose to go on to a bigger nonblack-owned company when they achieve some success?

    In all honesty, I think starting a publishing company would be a good idea (you seem to have so many of them!lol!) but I think at least IMPO, starting out as a self publisher and then branching out to publishsing other authors’ works might be a good (possibley better option). Ofcourse, this is in reference to those who are writers themselves.

    • Foxycleopatra says:

      I forgot to add that for those of you who do decide to start a publishing company, making it a faceless one would be a good idea. I’m not sure wether it was at this blog or the previous one where Khadija raised the issue of sacrificing being the ‘face of your business’ because of potential racism. Also, choosing an ‘ethnic’ name (e.g. an obviously ‘black-sounding name or something with AA/black in it) just to prove a point might also not be the best idea.

      Pls, I do not want to come across as being some sort of person that will try to diminish their ‘blackness’ just to make a quick buck. I’ve just watched other people and have come to these honest conclusions. People not knowing that your business is black-owned could be the difference between your company succeeding or not.

  15. Foxycleopatra,

    To answer your questions:

    1-I detest ghetto lit mess, and would never have anything to do with it. So, that’s a non-issue.

    2-In terms of my business, I’m into control and having the final word about how things operate within my business. I do NOT want “partners.” Only employees and independent contractors working under contractual terms. Period.

    3-If I formed a publishing company, I would primarily be interested in publishing works by AA authors that fit the same race-neutral “profile” that I anticipate having for my novels.

    Peace, blessings and solidarity.

  16. Truthp, if you’re interested in submitting a “spec script” for a television show you might want to check out Lee Goldberg’s blog. He’s written for television shows including Monk and Diagnosis Murder. He’s extremely generous with information about breaking into tv writing. He also has a great book that was an excellent resource for me when I was researching a book I did with a character who was a producer.

    http://leegoldberg.typepad.com

    As for Jim Crow publishing, this is a topic that continues to fester. I’ve talked about it and whitewashing on my blog. This is yet another reason why I like working with e-publishers. There is no ghetto, my books are released on the same day at the same time as any other author. Self-publishing is also a very attractive route. I like Konrath. I like him a lot, and I do think self-publishing is a very viable option, with one caveat. Konrath was an already established mid-list author. From my research self-publishing is more viable for non-fiction, and for fiction writers that already have an established audience.

    JailiMaster, there is at one black-owned publishing house. I don’t recommend them.

  17. Roslyn,

    THANK YOU for sharing the link to Lee Goldberg’s blog—I didn’t know about that. I’m excited about checking it out!

    You said, “From my research self-publishing is more viable for non-fiction, and for fiction writers that already have an established audience.”

    Yes, that’s how it looks to me also. While there are books and other materials (teleconferences, and so on) about how to effectively market a self-published nonfiction book, I have NOT run across a similar resource for fiction writers.

    What I’ve noticed is that some fiction authors built their audience by basically giving away their first few novels in the form of free audio podcasts. I’m thinking of writers like Scott Sigler and Seth Harwood http://editorunleashed.com/2009/06/18/qa-author-seth-harwood/

    Of course, I’m only hearing about the fiction writers who were successful with this particular method! I’m sure there are plenty of other novelists who tried this, and it hasn’t worked out.

    Peace, blessings and solidarity.