Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Alnary Publishing, Part 2--veinglory

What are the challenges of co-operative publishing and how can an author best overcome them?

Maria: To be a part of a co-op you have to be on board with the idea that it’s there for everyone’s benefit. It does require a shift in attitude. My own personal challenge with Alinar was the cost involved in setting it up and the time involved in running the business side of the site. That obviously takes away from my writing time and any royalties I might make, so I had to be sure I was okay with that. To start a set-up like Alinar, decide exactly how you want it to work and how you want the business to develop. The best analogy I can give is that Alinar is like a car share. I paid for the parts, Felicity built it, and all the Alinar authors got to ride in it free for a set period. Now we’re up and motoring, it’s time to start sharing costs.

A co-op author needs to think in terms of shared ownership and be prepared to accept the responsibility and the costs that come with that.

Eve Asbury/Gayle Eden: Time. Time and balance. Between writing the stories your muse craves to bring to life, running websites, groups, working with the editors, and overseeing the business side for each book, you can find yourself adjusting and prioritizing. I've worked since I was 13, am a workaholic in some ways, and still time is precious. I have written scores of books over many years; some thankfully will never see daylight, lol. But I could do that and be completely happy. However, writing as a career requires dedication. The biggest challenge is not to get distracted, to stay focused. Everything comes down to the readers’ satisfaction with the stories, but many hours and details go into producing a story and presenting it through a co-op. I'm thinking the first year, this past year, was a lot of those start-up, learning by doing business things that happen with any new venture. We're all learning to balance everything out, because we love writing first.

Jude: Be open-minded and ready to learn. There are format criteria for different vendor sites and you will have to learn how to present your work in each. It’s not really difficult, just time-consuming and different, so you need to be willing to make a lot of mistakes. Suck up your pride and ask questions—I’ve learned that feeling like an idiot isn’t nearly as bad as actually acting like one!

Do you have other works that are published using other models and, if so, why did you take a different approach with that work?

Eve Asbury/Gayle Eden: I have books with other e-publishers. But I also put out paperbacks of my books via Lulu. And I've some in Kindle format. Though e-books are my focus, having any and all available formats is just a way to give readers more choices. I see the main focus on e-books. I've self-published a couple of e-books that couldn't be squeezed in our release schedule on time. My thought is always simply to have them available, reissues or new works. We all offer free books, too. Back when I first started I used to offer CDs and other formats in contests. I would box and mail them out. I don't think that works in a publishing market because it requires storage, and people would rather have the file, either on a cyber bookshelf or on their hand-helds. Some of my first publishers offered print formats to authors via vanity-type ventures. I declined. I am still on the fence about audio-book ventures and the like. I think, in the romance market, it's just not in demand yet. I'm not opposed to e-publishing or e-publishers; I know there are good ones out there. Most, however, didn't exist, or publish my type of romance, when I started contracting works.

Jude: Two of my historical novels—Dragon & Hawk and Celtic Fire, Desert Rain—are independently-published in trade paperback by my own press, Scorched Hawk Press. I actually did that first, then decided to try e-publishing with Alinar. I decided to branch into another genre, to be available solely as e-books under a pen-name through Alinar, to work on my craft, see if I could write something totally different from my press novels. I like books in hand, but I realize that the technology has already evolved into electronic formats like Kindle and cell-phone books; in order to get my work out there as a writer and publisher, I can evolve too. But I still intend to write for print as well.

Is there anything else you would like to say to authors about co-operative publishing?

Maria: It helps a lot if one of the members has experience of running a small business, even better if they have experience of running an e-publisher. Don’t skimp on the legals. Any publishing venture needs an industry-standard, negotiable contract. At Alinar our authors retain the copyright to their work. Keep the number of authors in the group manageable. Buy ISBN numbers in bulk from somewhere like the ISBN agency. I bought 100 for Alinar, and the authors get them at the price I paid for them (two pounds, or four dollars) when they need one. Free reads are the best promo tool.

Be a group, but don’t forget to set individual goals too. If you manage to achieve some level of success with self-publishing, then use the confidence that will give you to move onwards and upwards.

And don’t forget to make your readers and customers feel a part of the co-op idea. We do that with friendly customer service, and we also run a competition on our forums once a month that focuses on the readers rather than the authors. For example one month to enter into the prize draw readers posted to tell us where they lived in the world. April is post a recipe month. It’s a good way to get readers talking to each other as well as keeping the forums alive.

I’ll leave you with a few stats to show what a small self-publishing co-op can achieve if you get the right group of authors on board. If anyone wants advice on any aspect of self-publishing/co-operative publishing, I’m always happy to chat.

We opened our doors in October 2006, and we now have seven authors writing under 12 pen-names.

Our Alinar Yahoo forum has 3,779 members and our Alinaradult Yahoo forum has 4,085 members.

We’ve achieved number one slots at Fictionwise, including two number one slots on the overall bestseller list, two on the erotica list, and various on the books-under-a-dollar list. Alinar Publishing took the number one bestseller slot on Fictionwise this Christmas, and at the time of writing, an Alinar book is also number one in multiformat romance.

Sales - Dec. 07 we sold 377 books from the Alinar Publishing Website and 1,826 on Fictionwise. Feb. 08 saw sales of 351 from Alinar and 791 at Fictionwise.

Eve Asbury/Gayle Eden: It can work; a co-op can be ideal so long as you're willing to put in the hours, be flexible, and see your fellow-authors as equals. I think you have to love writing first, then be willing to educate yourself about the industry. You must want the best for your fellow-authors because there is no room for negative attitudes in a joint venture. Personalities can be diverse, but the common goal must be understood from the get-go. Everything is give-and-take, and everything should be out on the table beforehand, your expectations verbalized. You have to pick up the slack sometimes and be willing to discuss issues and present ideas with an open mind and awareness of what is best for the overall group. You can have control while still deferring to those who may be more experienced and knowledgeable on what works. You can do everything for your own work, be a maverick in a sense, and still participate in things that will benefit the name you represent, and the authors you work with. Groups and promo and changes in structure or adjustments made when something doesn't work as planned—that's all a part of a co-op. It takes a certain maturity and overall respect for readers, peers, and belief in what you're doing and why.

Jude: It’s not for everyone. I am extremely fortunate to have become involved with such people of integrity as the folks who run Alinar, and the other authors are incredible writers. I would warn new authors in a co-op to be wary, check the reputations of the people involved, check the contract, and trust your gut. If it feels right and you’re willing to work, go for it. Otherwise, go the traditional route with an agent and be prepared to wait a few years to see your work published.

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