A Guide to Digital Publishing

If you’re a writer who is just starting to seek out publishing opportunities, you may be feeling overwhelmed. Should you self-publish? Go traditional? What about digital publishing? It’s a lot to take in. The publishing world isn’t easy to navigate and it can be difficult to understand exactly what you’re getting into.

Thus far, my career has been entirely in digital publishing. I more experience in this field that most people could not lay claim to. That said, I still find digital publishing to be one of the most confusing parts of the publishing landscape. I worked with dozens of authors who had varying levels of experience with a bunch of different digital publishers, as well as people with no experience outside of free publishing sites like Wattpad and Archive of Our Own (AO3). Some people came to me with lots of great questions as they tried to learn more about the industry and their options. Others seemed to scared to ask anything at all.

In this day and age, a guide for digital publishing is a necessity for any writer, even if you’re planning to query traditional publishers. Read on to learn more about how to navigate the digital publishing world.

So, what is digital publishing?

When I say “digital publishing,” I don’t mean self-publishing sites/tools like Kindle or iBooks, at least for the purposes of this post. Though works published through these services are published digitally, I consider digital publishing to be something else entirely. In the same way that there are traditional publishers like Hachette and Penguin Random House, and self-publishing tools like Kindle, there are also digital publishers like Radish, Tapas, and Inkitt. Digital publishers are similar to traditional publishers in that you are usually working closely with an editorial team that works for the publisher and not simply doing all the work yourself.

You have to sign a contract with a digital publisher the same way you would with a traditional publisher. Digital publishers also provide varying levels of help. Some will provide line editing services, help you get a cover made, and most of them will help promote your story on their site, app, and social media. Because of the services they provide, digital publishers wind up being a kind of middle ground between self-publishing and traditional publishing. This makes them very appealing to more inexperienced authors who feel that they are not quite ready to start querying agents or publishers. They can also be great places to build a paying audience (something difficult to do on free sites like Wattpad).

How does digital publishing work?

I can only speak to my experience working with one digital publisher. Usually, we sought out authors whose work we wanted to publish. We would send authors a contract and talk it through with them to make sure they understood it. (Always read your contracts thoroughly and ask lots of questions! Don’t be afraid of being annoying. I loved answering authors’ questions. It let me know that they were really reading the contract and fully understanding everything.) After that, we would begin the editing process and start working with an artist on a cover. Once the editing and cover were done, the book would be published on our site where readers could purchase the story chapter by chapter. Authors would receive 50% of the revenue on each purchase.

From what I know of other digital publishers, many of them work similarly in that authors make money off of the number of reads they get, either through ad revenue or making money off of direct purchases by readers. Each publisher is different and has their own specialties. Radish, for example, sees more success with erotica, so they promote that more heavily. Tapas tends to focus on romance. Inkitt has a little bit more variety, but they also don’t have the best reputation. There are also other small presses that are now digital-only that will get your book out into digital markets like the Kindle store. I have less experience and knowledge when it comes to that breed of digital publisher. Fortunately, this article gives an extremely detailed and helpful overview of what you should keep in mind when looking into digital publishers, whether they are small presses or a more app-focused publisher like Radish.

Why should I work with a digital publisher? Is it something I should even consider?

It really depends! What are your goals as a writer? If you’re just looking to share your work but aren’t all that interested in making money off of it, then posting on Wattpad or Royal Road might make the most sense for you. But if you’re looking to make money, you either need to self-publish (which is a whole other post), go the traditional publishing route, or go to a digital publisher.

There are pros and cons to each option, which I will detail below:

Self-publishing: Self-publishing gives you the most freedom when it comes to your work. You don’t have to worry about who has the copyright or publishing rights because you never sign them away to anybody. You don’t have to worry about your publisher asking you to make changes. On the flip side, though, you don’t get free editing services, help with covers, or any help with marketing. Paying for these kinds of services out of pocket is expensive, and for a writer just starting out, it can be difficult to produce a book that would rival what they could produce with a publisher behind them. This isn’t because the writer’s work isn’t any good, but because polishing a first draft is difficult without outside input. Still, it is possible, and if you’re willing to put in the extra work in order to have more freedom and keep a larger chunk of the profits for yourself, it’s totally worth it.

Traditional publishing: This is the holy grail for writers. Every author’s dream is to eventually be published by a publishing house (be it big or small) and become the next George R.R. Martin or J.K. Rowling. Traditional publishers have more resources to market your book, a whole team of people who can help you polish your book until it shines, cover artists, people to format the ebook, people to format the print copy, the money to offer you huge advances… basically all the resources we hope to have when we publish a book.

Still, now that self-publishing is so simple and the services used to sell self-published books are often the same as the ones the traditional publishers are using, a traditional publishing deal may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Traditional publishing is by no means dead or bad, but writers should see it as one of several paths rather than the One True Path. Why? Traditional publishers often ask for significant rights to your book. (Writer’s Digest gives a great rundown on what kinds of things publishers might request in a contract here.) You lose the kind of freedom you might have if you self-published or digitally published, but you also get a ton of resources to help you produce your book.

However, even that is often hyped up more than it probably should be. Many writers who aren’t big names don’t get big advances. You’ll get the standard editorial services and help with covers and formatting, but that huge marketing machine might not do a whole lot for you. Most big publishers expect their authors to do a lot of the legwork. You’ll also earn a smaller percentage of the profits in the form of royalties, especially when compared to self-publishing. This can make it difficult to earn back advances or make much money at all. Still, the fact that traditionally published works continue to dominate the literary market, and the fact that self-publishing your work seems to decrease its value in the eyes of both readers and the wider literary community, means that there are still a lot of benefits to a traditional publishing deal.

Digital publishing: This is similar to traditional publishing in that there is some expectation that you’re going to be doing some of the work besides writing the book. Digital publishers are usually not large enough to provide the kind of financial backing that traditional publishers can offer. You’ll be giving up some of your rights in exchange for having your work marketed to their audience, but you’ll likely have to handle the marketing outside their site. You’ll have to split your earnings with the publisher, too. The ways those earnings are split will vary depending on the digital publisher you work with.

While digital publishers often have a smaller audience than a traditional publisher, they likely have a broader readership than you have on your own. They can send people toward your work and give it their stamp of approval, which helps convert their readers into your readers. Getting organic, targeted traffic to your book is incredibly difficult, and digital publishers have it in spades. You do lose some freedom (the amount you give up and for how long depends on your contract), but you also gain a broader audience.

Some digital publishers can also handle the editing process for you, pay to have cover art made, and possibly even give you an advance. And, because their overhead is usually lower than that of traditional publishers, digital publishers can offer more competitive revenue sharing. (The standard split for the company I worked for was 50/50, which would be unheard of in the traditional publishing world.) They can also help you with adaptations of your work into other mediums, like comics or movies, and potentially help you land a deal with a traditional publisher. However, they often only ask for the digital publishing rights at first, and some will even settle for non-exclusive digital rights.

In short, digital publishing is a middle ground that can help you take that next step toward living off of your writing. It’s a good space for new writers, and though it may not suit everybody, it’s an option worth considering, particularly if you can get a non-exclusive publishing contract and continue to pursue other sources of income from the same work.

 

How can I be sure this digital publisher isn’t a scam?

There are a lot of ways! The first thing you should do is look into their track record. If you can, try talking to authors who work with that publisher. Ask them if there are things they wish they’d known before they signed. If the publisher is promising things, like that they’ll get your book physically published or help you broker a movie deal, do some research to see if they’ve actually put any deals like that together.

You should also get to know the platform before selling anything to them. This helps you understand the kind of content the publisher is interested in, what’s popular on the platform, and how your work fits in. If you sign with them, it will also help you figure out how to market to that specific audience in the future.

Once you’ve done this detective work, you should have a solid idea of whether this is a publisher you want to work with. If you’re still interested, you can start asking one of their representatives questions. Ask to see a sample contract as early as you can and have someone you trust look it over.

You should carefully read any deal you’re about to sign, no matter who it comes from, and always do your best to negotiate the best deal for you. If there are parts of a contract you’re uncomfortable with, either voice your concerns or walk away from the deal. Even though the playing field might not feel even, you have to realize that you have something that they want, and in the end, you’re the one who has the power. A publisher may not be willing or able to give you what you want, and that’s okay. You can choose to either shift your expectations to suit a particular deal or hold out for something that feels right. If their contract asks for anything beyond digital publishing rights without giving you anything in return, pay attention and make sure you’re comfortable with giving them those rights. You’ll also want to keep an eye on how long the deal will last. Are they going to own these rights in perpetuity, or just for a few years? What rights do you have to end the deal? Are they open to negotiation?

If the contract looks good but they haven’t given you information about how you might be paid, given you a way to check how much revenue you’re owed, or otherwise indicated that they are going to compensate you in return for signing your rights away, that’s a huge red flag. If they tell you that you need to pay them in order to publish on their site, you should run as far and fast as you can.

Basically, if you get a terrible contract and zero room to negotiate it, you have no idea when or how you’ll be paid, and the publisher who is offering you a deal has a well-known track record for screwing over writers or lying to them about the kinds of opportunities they can provide? It’s a scam, and you should look for another opportunity.

How do traditional publishers feel about stories that were published digitally first?

This varies depending on what you’re writing and who your audience is. A lot of traditional publishers really like it when authors come to them and already have an audience behind them. However, while they might like your audience, they may want to publish a fresh, new title that the public hasn’t read yet. Still, this varies depending on your individual situation.

If you’d like to read more about this, definitely check out Phoebe Morgan’s write-up about whether to publish digitally or in print first, and the benefits and drawbacks of both. Jane Friedman also has a ton of great insight on the subject. (The long and short of both of these articles is that publishing digitally first is unlikely to hurt your chances unless you’re working in a niche market, like literary fiction.)

How do I submit my work for a digital publisher?

Look into their submission guidelines! It’s different for every publisher (as with traditional publishing), but they will probably have an email you can contact them at, as well as some basic guidelines for submitting. Follow their guidelines as closely as you can. Keep your email professional and focus on selling your story–they want a strong synopsis that lets them know whether your story will be the right fit for them. Talking about the book’s following (and your own) can also be helpful. If your story is posted online, provide links. You should also attach a PDF of the first few chapters and the synopsis.

Have more questions about digital publishing? Have some experience you’d like to share? Let’s chat in the comments!

 

A Guide to Digital Publishing

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It has been a very long time since I’ve been able to look at the day ahead and know that it is entirely empty. I can’t really remember the last time I was able to wake up whenever I wanted and know that I didn’t have anything pressing to take care of. Each day is my own to do with as I please… for better or worse.

I’m doing my best to enjoy this time and relax a bit. I’ve been playing a lot of Frostpunk (which is genuinely one of the most entertaining, brutal strategy games I’ve ever played) and digging back in to my Baldur’s Gate playthrough. I went out with a friend this past weekend and enjoyed the sunshine. Once I’ve gotten my fill of gaming, I’m going to start going after my TBR pile and fall into all the stories I’ve been missing for so long. I might even do some of my reading (gasp!) outside! I’m also hoping for some time to reconnect with my partner and give back all the attention and affection he’s given me all these years.

I have a whole host of things I want to take care of. A house deep-cleaning needs to happen soon, along with some decluttering. Blog posts need to be planned and written and graphics need to be made. There are stories I’ve been meaning to write that I have had to bury for years that can finally see daylight now. But the break from the pressure to be as productive as possible is incredibly pleasant.

There is a small part of me that is going absolutely insane without extrinsic motivators. Who am I without a seminar to prepare for or a work project to complete? What is my value if I am not actively contributing to society in some way? My answers to these range from the positive and positively anticapitalist (“I am not my productivity.”) to the terribly dreary (“I am nothing.”).  But rather than allowing myself to turn into a puddle of anxiety and existential dread, I’m forging ahead and reminding myself that I am whoever I choose to be. If I want to cozy up to my desk and play games all day with the aim of relaxing as much as possible, I can. If I make it my goal to whirlwind through the house and dust and scrub and spritz until everything is as clean as I want it, then I have achieved everything I set out to.

I am not entirely sure that I am suited to being unmoored like this. But I figure it’s a new challenge and will give me a new opportunity to grow. Let’s hope I can rise to the occasion.

6 Tips to Help You Save Money When You’re Moving Out for College

Moving out is a complicated experience. You’re all excited because you’re going to be living on your own for the first time, and also terrified because… well, you’re going to be living on your own for the first time. You’re probably looking at every “what you need before you start college” and “what you need for your first apartment/dorm” list you can find. It’s all kind of overwhelming, and so much of the advice is conflicting, not to mention super expensive.  How are you supposed to stay frugal and stick to your budget when you have a list with a million things on it that are supposedly the bare minimum of what you need?

Fortunately, it’s a lot less complicated than most people make it sound. Living on your own for the first time definitely isn’t easy, but you also don’t need to spend thousands to be able to do it. These are the things that helped me out most when I was first moving out, and will hopefully help you stick to your budget and build a healthier relationship with money and the stuff you have around you.

First, make a list of what you need.

While using other lists as guidelines can help, you should really be focusing on what you personally need. If you plan to cook while you’re going to school and are going to have a access to a kitchen, you’ll probably need more kitchen supplies than if you’re going to be living in the dorms and using a campus meal plan. If you’re a light sleeper and you’re going to be living with roommates, you want to make sure you’re bringing earplugs and an eye mask. If you have food allergies, bring a stash of your favorite foods.

There are some things you won’t know you need until you get to school and settle into your new life. There will also be some things that you thought you would need that you never end up using. It takes a while to figure out exactly what you need, and your needs will probably change over time. Don’t go hog wild and buy a ton of stuff right when you move out. Get the necessities and pick up things here and there as you need them. This will give you the time to find the best price and make solid purchasing decisions. Money is always tight in college, and you want to get the most bang for your buck. The best way to save your money is not to buy stuff you don’t need.

Second, bring stuff from home or borrow stuff from family and friends.

The cheapest way to furnish your new living space is to make sure you’re not spending anything on the really big-ticket items if you can hack it. If you’re going to school relatively close to home, this is a little easier. If you’re going to be in a stable living situation where you won’t have to move in and out every few months, this is even more ideal. You can bring some of your furniture from home and set it up in your new place–things like your mattress, bookcases, and other big stuff that’s way too expensive to repurchase on a regular basis. When I moved out, my roommate’s aunt was kind enough to loan us her couch. That was a few hundred dollars saved right there.

And it doesn’t just have to be big stuff. If you’re going to have kitchen access and aren’t going to be relying on a campus meal plan, having your own pots, pans, baking dishes, and cooking utensils is vital. You can get super cheap kitchenware at the thrift store (more on that resource later!), but if your budget is super tight, family and friends will often have extra stuff they can give you. I ended up buying a lot of my kitchen stuff new for super cheap at places like Walmart and the Dollar Tree, but I honestly wish I would’ve asked around more and gotten higher-quality stuff for free rather than cheap stuff I’ve ended up having to replace over the years.

Next, check out Freecycle, Craigslist, and Nextdoor.

If you don’t have family who can spare extra furniture or kitchenware, or you’re going to be living too far from home for it to be practical for you to bring any of that with you, start looking at Freecycle and the free section of Craigslist in the area you’re going to be moving to. If you’re moving to a more rural area, the pickings will be pretty slim, but the more urban and populated an area you’re moving to, the more likely it will be that you’ll find tons of great stuff. With both of these, you have to keep an eye on them and check them regularly for the stuff you want. There’s a lot of luck involved, and you have to move fast to get the good stuff, but it’s totally worth it to take a few minutes every day to check and see if someone is giving away something you need.

Nextdoor is a little different in that it’s more community-focused, but people post about free stuff they’re giving away all the time. Join Nextdoor in the area you’re planning on moving to and start poking around to see what your neighbors are getting rid of.

One important thing to keep in mind with all of these: stay safe! Have a friend with you whenever you meet someone to get new stuff, and always make sure someone knows where you’re going. Getting free stuff is only worth it when you’re safe!

Once you’ve exhausted the free resources, it’s time to start thrifting.

Thrift stores are going to be your best friend during this time. Places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army tend to have household goods as well as clothes. There are also likely lots of other small thrift stores and charity shops near you. You can find tons of household basics for super cheap, from dishes and frying pans to sheets and home decor. Everything is usually in decent condition.

I’ve actually had way better luck finding interesting, high-quality items at small-town thrift stores rather than here San Francisco, but your mileage may vary. This is a good tool for finding charity-driven thrift stores, so you can feel good about your money going to a good cause.

Timing is also key. Ask about each store’s sales cycles. Half-price items are often marked with colored tags or stickers that are only valid on certain days. Visiting on certain days of the week can make a difference, too. The weekends tend to be a lot busier, and if you go late on a Sunday, you’ll probably find that the whole store has been picked over. Go in the middle of the day on Wednesday, though, and you’ll probably have a whole lot more luck.

Finally, get good at finding good deals.

I wrote more about how to save money in general here, but when it comes to moving out, the most important thing is to get amazing at finding deals. Start learning where the clearance section is in every store. Whether you’re buying furniture, clothes, food–whatever it is, there is probably a clearance section, and it is usually worth picking through.

Use store apps, but don’t get sucked into the marketing! Stuff like Target’s app, grocery store apps, and Ibotta can make it a little cheaper to buy things, but don’t get blinded by all the flashy sales and deals. Companies put things on sale because they know it will make them money. Don’t buy more than what you need just because it seemed like a deal. Always comparison shop, and never assume that just because something is on sale that that’s the best price. Prices on furniture and clothes always drop eventually, and it’s worth waiting.

Lastly, take a deep breath.

It can be scary trying to get everything together as you prepare to move out, but I promise you that you’ll get the hang of it. In many ways, this is a practice round for your post-graduation life. If you make some mistakes along the way, it’s not the end of the world. The most important thing is making sure that you always have the tools to get back on track.

Make the best use of the resources you have available to you, and always be sure to check in and make sure you’re only purchasing things you actually want or need, not what someone else said you should want or need. The more you listen to that voice inside you that always asks things like, “Do I really need this? Would I really use/wear/enjoy this? Do I already have something like it?” the happier your bank account is going to be.

Have questions about moving out or how to be successful in college? Do you have tips to share about living on your own? Let me know in the comments!

 

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Moving Out on the Cheap