The Ins and Outs of Non-traditional Publishing
Today one of my clients, Staci Stallings, owner of Spirit Light Books, joins us to talk about her publishing company, why she launched it, and the unique challenges and benefits of non-traditional publishing methods.
You own your own publishing company, right?
Yes. My publishing company is Spirit Light Publishing. I’ve had it since 2003.
Why did you decide to start your own business?
I published my first book through a quasi-traditional publisher that was using print-on-demand when it first became available. They gave me an editor and a publicist. I thought I was set! Numerous rewrites later, my book finally came out, and I realized quite quickly that my voice had been edited right out of the thing. I had readers who had been with me through five books by that time (I printed 5 copies at Kinkos and they disappeared to the far ends of the earth in short-order!). The #1 comment I kept getting back after that first in print published book was: “Well, it was a good story, but it didn’t sound anything like you.”
That’s when I realized something was radically wrong. See, I had been so eager to have my book in print that I made at least 75% of the changes he asked me to make, and in the process, my voice and my style got stripped from the work altogether. About that time, I tried to get several agents interested in a second story. They kept coming back with, “It’s too long. You need to change this. You’ll have to change that.” I realized quite quickly they were trying to put my style and voice in the same box the first editor did.
Mixed in with this, my new publicist (not me! LOL. In fact, if you were to ask her, she’d tell you she’s ecstatic with my services.) thought it was her job to run my life. At the time I had two small children, which she did not understand at all. She had me scheduled for all these crazy publicity hours. Television, radio, book signings. I know, it sounds so glamorous. It was not. I was running around trying to make her happy, and I was getting more and more miserable.
Then I put out my second book, which she loved, and I sent her my third book all excited that if I could just get it out, maybe life would even out. She came back and said, “Do not put this book out. It is not up to the ‘Staci Stallings’ standard, and we will have to revamp any future book as well.”
That did it. I was making myself nuts trying to please people who wanted me to be somebody else. I finally had to face the fact that doing it their way just wasn’t working.
So I started my own publishing company, put out my first book, and the new feedback was: “Wow! You’ve really grown as a writer! This is so much better!” What I didn’t tell them, what they would never have understood is that the first book I put out through Spirit Light (Cowboy) was written before the one I put out through the first company. The only difference was, this one hadn’t been edited to death.
I’ve never once since then regretted my decision to become an independently published author.
What are the stages involved in writing a book and seeing it come to print?
The idea has to come first. You can have all the skills in the world, but without an idea, you’ve got nothing.
After you’ve got an idea, then for me is the writing of the book. I don’t plot unless God gives me the plot, which He usually chooses not to do, knowing I would then try to make it work on my own. So for the most part, I sit down, push play on the “movie” in my head and transcribe what I see. In the first draft I do not edit. I just get it down the way I see it. You have to write it before you can read it. So I write first, read second.
The second step is read/edit. It’s only in this step that I actually do much editing, and I only edit for clarity, grammar, and to make sure everything fits. This one to me is fun because I get to see how the story all works together. A lot of times with my books things will happen at the beginning that I do not understand because God is putting pieces in place that make no sense to me at the time. When I get to the end and then go back, suddenly I go, “Oh! I get it now! That’s why He had me write that. Cool!”
I may read/edit a story four or five times–not because it needs it, but because I enjoy reading the story. This part of the process can literally take years. During it, I always find little things to change when I read, so you can count this as an editing stage as well.
Then there’s the decision to publish and the decision of where and how to publish–in print, e-book, or on my blog. Based on that decision, the next step is formatting. Depending on the type of book–Bible Study, God Help, or Novel–I have to fit the formatting to it. Also, in print is different than e-book which is different than on a blog. In this phase, we’re also gathering some reviews for the back cover and information pockets on the e-book sites.
As I’m formatting, my team is working on the cover design. My daughters are beginning to help me with this, and I have an external cover designer as well (because art is NOT my forte!)
When all the pieces are assembled, it’s time to upload the book, preview it, and put it up for sale!
That’s when the marketing of the book kicks in. Website, blog changes and updates to include the new title, Twitter announcements, etc. Also, it’s time to get more reviews and blurbs.
I’ve never done a book from idea all the way through in one-fell swoop, so I don’t know how long it would take to go all the way through the process. Mostly, I write and publish and market what God tells me to next. He’s very good at making sure it all fits the way it’s supposed to. If it was up to me, I would have quit a long time ago!
Do you publish both ebooks and hard copies?
Yes. Right now I’m focused mostly on e-books although I do have about seven in-print books available. What I’ve found is the in-print books take a lot longer as far as formatting and cover design as well as marketing. E-books are far easier and cost-effective for me right now, so that’s where my focus is.
Has it been difficult getting your books into book stores?
It wasn’t hard to get them in the bookstores. It was hard dealing with the bookstores. Not that they weren’t nice people, but when you put independently published books in a bookstore, you are the sales rep, you are the collection agency, and you are the ad agency. You have to push your books separately at each bookstore, which is nearly impossible. If you get your books in say 5 bookstores, you are responsible for going to each store to see if they have sold, letting people know they are in each store, and making sure the store has enough copies. It’s exhausting and I found, not worth the trouble.
However, if you go with a good print-on-demand shop, they will list your book through their distribution channels for free. That means even if your book is not on the shelf, a reader can special order it from any bookstore. I’ve sold far more that way than having my books on the actual shelves.
What has been your greatest challenge in regard to marketing?
Time. It takes so much time to write articles and find places to put them. It takes time to write a twice-a-week blog and try to get new subscribers. It takes time to manage a Twitter feed and to put out something interesting and grabbing so people want to follow you. It takes time to seek out reviewers and do follow ups. It takes time to do interviews.
Don’t get me wrong. I love doing all of those things. But the greatest challenge is just the time involved in doing them and trying to do them all well. Especially when you couple that with the insane life schedule I already have with three kids, a husband, two businesses, a house, two schools, teaching Sunday School, writing new material…
I agree, Staci, those can be challenges, especially for authors short on time, which is why you and I have such a great partnership. To our readers, since Staci hired me, I’ve been doing many of those things for her, allowing her to focus on producing great content while multiplying her sales and greatly expanding her online presence.
For those who might be considering following in your footsteps, what are the benefits of launching your own company? What about self-publishing?
If you are going to publish independently (formerly called self-publishing), I really recommend starting your own company. Since mine is a sole proprietorship, the tax complexity is minimal, but it gives a face to your books that simply publishing with a known name like Lulu or CreateSpace cannot. You can control the books that bear your company’s name, so you are not so easily lumped in with others who happen to choose the print-on-demand path.
For me, I love independent publishing. It allows me to write the stories God gives me to write the way He has me write them. I can “sound like me,” and no editor has the power to strip my voice and style out of my books. The reality for me is that by putting my own books out I’m not torn between being me and being who they want me to be. I can stay true to my heart and to what God is whispering for me to do. I don’t set out and get the project going only to be told they won’t accept it that way or I have to change a character to match what they’re looking for, etc. And for my readers, they get to read my style and my voice not some stripped down version of me trying to sound like everyone else.
What are the drawbacks?
It is very difficult to make volumes of sales. At least it has been so far with the in print books. However, I am more hopeful with e-books because with an e-book, you can set the price at say 99 cents. The traditional publishers who have to pay layers and layers of people are stuck setting their prices at around $10. Now, if you were going to try a new author, would you try one for 99 cents or $10?
Before now, this ratio was almost completely flipped. A big publisher, because they could afford to print in bulk and warehouse thousands of books, could sell a paperback for say $5. An independent publisher using print-on-demand was stuck selling the same book for $15. Now, if you were going to try a new author, would you try one for $5 or $15? That was the biggest drawback until now.
Now? Well, I guess we’ll see, won’t we?
Thanks, Staci, for stopping by! And to my readers, I’ll share my thoughts on self-publishing in the near future. For those with a strong platform, marketing know-how, and dogged-determination, it can be a positive experience. But it’s not for everyone.
Make sure to check out Staci’s books:
The Price of Silence (on sale now for $0.99!)
Where do you turn when the watching eyes are everywhere? Where do you go when no place is safe? Who do you turn to when saying anything could get someone killed? Who can you trust when “they” could be anyone?
Robyn Lockhart liked her simple but predictable life in the small Iowa town she grew up in. But when her mother moves them to the big city, Robyn has no choice but to brave the tumultuous high school she’s thrust into. Then, with barely a blink and as an outsider looking in, Robyn begins asking questions that no one seems willing to face. Is it possible to stay silent while simultaneously shouting from the rooftops that something is deadly wrong? And if you shout, beyond those watching every move you make, who will even hear?
Cowboy (also on sale for $0.99)
Life has done its best to knock Beth McCasland to the ground, and the truth is: it’s done a pretty good job of keeping her there. Stuck in a minimum-wage job with a young daughter counting on her, Beth does her best to stay standing under the weight of it all because she knows God is on her side. Then one night she gets the chance to be an angel to another of life’s weary travelers. For once hope has never looked so real.
is a grace-filled story about the power of giving everything to God and how a simple act of compassion can change lives forever. Emotional, soothing, and heart-wrenching, Cowboy is infused with the message that no matter who we are and no matter what life has thrown at us, we never have to walk alone.
Coming Undone (also on sale for a low $3.99–which means you can get all three books for $6!)
Ben Warren has life all figured out. At 35, he’s successful in his work and free as a bird everywhere else. He has no desire to be tied down like some of his friends, and he sees no reason to change that. Then the unthinkable happens and causes him to rethink everything about everything.
Kathryn Walker can’t figure out what she’s doing wrong in the dating department. The rest of her life makes sense. She’s compassionate, strong, honest, hard-working and still alone. She wonders if she is doomed to spend forever single. Little does she know that fate is taking a major turn in her life. In fact, she doesn’t even see it happening until it has. Can she ever get past the fact that Mr. Right didn’t show up in the way she thought he would?
A stay-at-home mom with a husband, three kids and a writing addiction on the side, Staci Stallings has numerous titles for readers to choose from. Not content to stay in one genre and write it to death, Staci’s stories run the gamut from young adult to adult, from motivational and inspirational to full-out Christian and back again. Every title is a new adventure! That’s what keeps Staci writing and you reading. Although she lives in Amarillo, Texas and her main career right now is her family, Staci touches the lives of people across the globe every week with her various Internet endeavors including:
Books In Print, Kindle, & FREE on Spirit Light Works:
Follow Staci on Twitter @StaciStallings