Cozy Mystery Publishing, Writing

Going Indie | Cozy Mystery Publishing Process

Cozy Mystery Indie Graphic
Image via The Graphics Fairy

This post is part of my series on “Publishing a Cozy Mystery.” This series isn’t meant to tell you how you have to go about it and dictate what’s right or wrong. Instead, I’m sharing my personal journey from writing my initial draft to seeing my first book, Murder at the Marina, be released. I’ll talk about the good, bad, and the ugly. And trust me, there was plenty of ugly along the way.

Previously, I’ve talked to you about cover design, how long it took to get from Draft #1 to a final manuscript, and beta reading.

Today, it’s all about deciding whether to go down the traditional publishing route or try your hand at self-publishing (aka indie publishing). Let’s talk about what the differences between the two approaches are, the pros/cons of each, and why I chose to go indie.

What’s the Difference?

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING

This is the process most people think of when they pick up a book in a store or purchase an ebook online. Once you have a completed, polished manuscript, you query agents, hoping to get representation. This is often a long, painful, and arduous process, littered with many rejections and can take ages before someone says, “Hey, let’s work together.”

Assuming you land an agent, you’ll probably end up doing more edits to your manuscript. Then your agent shops your manuscript around and hopefully you sign a contract. This step can also take ages. Then you do more edits and finally (maybe 2-3 years after you sent our your first query), you see your book in print.

SELF-PUBLISHING

This term makes many people think of vanity presses, and they’re definitely still out there. But nowadays, this is a legitimate and viable approach. Basically you’re responsible for developing your product (your book) and project managing its production (e.g., you have to hire and manage your support team such as book cover designer, editor, formatter), as well as doing some tasks a publisher would do yourself.

OTHER APPROACHES

Although we’re talking about traditional vs. self-publishing, it’s not actually as simple as that. It’s more of a continuum, with many publishing paths available in between. For example, some authors choose to pay an up-front fee to a company who will take care of the nitty-gritty of publishing their book, others may manage the process themselves, but use a service to distribute their book to online and bricks and mortar sales channels. There are also smaller publishers who accept submissions directly from authors, rather than via an agent.

Pros & Cons of Each Approach

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING

The Pros

For me, one of the biggest pros of going down the traditional publishing route is validation. Like many writers, I have my moments of insecurity (usually cured by a generous helping of chocolate) worrying that my cozy mystery is absolute rubbish. Everyone is going to hate it, I’m going to get horrible reviews, no one will buy it etc. These are the types of things that go through my head.

But if you land an agent and a publishing deal, then other people are saying, “Hey, this is awesome! Let’s give you some money for it!” That kind of validation has got to be a great feeling. And readers are probably more likely to take a chance on your books.

Another huge pro is not having to manage the publishing process. Your publisher will provide a team of experts who will take care of formatting, cover design, editing, pricing, distribution etc. A publisher can also help get your books into brick and mortar stores, something which isn’t quite as easy as an indie.

The final pro comes down to money. The publisher typically pays you an advance and covers all of the publishing expenses. It’s not cheap to publish a book, so this is a definite plus for folks who don’t want to or can’t invest their own money.

The Cons

Many of the cons of traditional publishing center on things you give up. You lose creative control of your work. You may have to make changes to the manuscript that don’t fit with your vision and you may not have input on cover design, book title, marketing approach, pricing, distribution etc.). You also give away some of your rights. You’re basically “selling” your product to a publisher. They own it and can do with it what they want. Want to make an audiobook version? Want to publish it in another language? Want to distribute to overseas markets? Those may be things you don’t have the rights to do.

There’s also the loss of potential income. Royalty rates are significantly higher if you self-publish. But, on the flip side, you may not sell as many books if you go indie, so it may just be theoretical earnings.

And one of the things that some people don’t realize is that although a publisher will take care of many things for you, marketing support is often very limited for new authors these days. That means, if you want to sell books, you’re going to have to get out there yourself and promote your books and your brand all on your lonesome.

SELF-PUBLISHING

The Pros

The pros of self-publishing are pretty much the inverse of the cons of traditional publishing. There’s a faster time to market, you retain creative control, the royalty rates are higher, and you retain your rights.

The Cons

If you’re going to self-publish, you have to wear two hats—you’re a writer and a business person. With traditional publishing, someone else manages the business side of things (for the most part), but with self-publishing you have to make all of the decisions, you have to invest your own money, and you have to project manage the entire publication process, assembling a team of experts and overseeing their work. Depending upon your own comfort level, you may even do certain tasks yourself, rather than outsource them.

No one is telling you that your manuscript is good. There’s no agent or publisher providing support and encouragement. It’s up to you so to say, “This is good enough to put out there for the world to see,” and then make that happen. It’s not for the faint-hearted.

My Choice: Going Indie

There are three major reasons why I decided to go indie:

1 – It would take way too long to get a book published traditionally.

I’m not a very patient person. I always assume a diet will work instantaneously and am surprised when I don’t drop five pounds in a week, hate waiting for the next book in a beloved series to be published, and struggle waiting for the timer to go off before I take a batch of cookies out of the oven.

Waiting a few years to (hopefully) land an agent and see my book finally published really wasn’t on the cards for me.

2 – It’s not easy to land a cozy mystery publishing deal if you’re a newbie.

When I first started looking into which publishing route was right for me, many established authors were losing their contracts with well-known publishers in the cozy mystery genre (like Kensington). If established authors were struggling, what chance did I have of landing an agent, let alone get a publishing deal?

Since then, many of these authors have found new homes (such as Crooked Lane Books). {For some interesting insights into what’s going on in the cozy market, check out this Trend Report.}

3 – I don’t mind DIY and project management.

I’m one of those weird people who likes spreadsheets, project plans, and to-do lists. I also love learning about new things and trying my hand at some of the creative aspects of publishing (like cover design and marketing materials). That’s not to say that there hasn’t been a huge learning curve, things haven’t always gone to plan, and stuff has taken far longer than I thought. But, for the most part, I’ve been enjoying it and things should be simpler the second time around.

Want to know more?

There are tons of resources on traditional vs. self-publishing out there, but here are a few links to get you started:

Reedsy’s article, Self-publishing vs Traditional Publishing: Which One is Right for You?, looks at the pros and cons of each approach and has a quiz to help you decide.

Janice Hardy has tons of blog posts on a wide range of self-publishing topics.

Jane Friedman has an excellent infographic which lays out five book publishing paths—traditional, partnership, fully assisted, DIY + distributor, and DIY direct.

Ros Barber has a thought provoking article in The Guardian about why she would never consider self-publishing.

Patty Jansen, an Australian scifi/fantasy indie author, blogs about self-publishing, including posts about her income.

Elizabeth Spann Craig is a cozy mystery author who has been on both sides of the fence. She has some great insights into the pros and cons of traditional vs. self-publishing.

If you like vlogs, Jenna Moreci talks about the costs of self-publishing (warning—she uses strong language at times) and Kim Chance discusses the costs of traditional publishing.

Many members of the 20Booksto50K Facebook group share their self-publishing success stories and offer tips and tricks. (Note: you have to be a member in order to see the discussion.)

The Alliance of Independent Authors has a self-publishing advice center.

Other posts in my “Publishing a Cozy Mystery” series:

Cover Design | Draft #743 | Beta Readers | Traditional vs. Self-Publishing | Editing | Going Wide or Amazon Exclusive | Ebooks, Print, or Both | Book Formatting| Distribution Channels

What do you think of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing?

Murder at the Marina Banner - Available Now

A dilapidated sailboat for your anniversary—not very romantic. A dead body on board—even worse.

If you’d like to pick up your own copy (ebook and paperback), you can do so at your favorite online retailer:

Amazon (US) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple iBooks | Google Play | Book Depository | Books-A-Million

You can also add Murder at the Marina to your to-read list on Goodreads and subscribe to my newsletter here.

Cozy Mystery Publishing, Writing

Beta Readers | Cozy Mystery Publishing Process

Cozy Mystery Beta

This post is part of my series on “Publishing a Cozy Mystery.” This series isn’t meant to tell you how you have to go about it and dictate what’s right or wrong. Instead, I’m sharing my personal journey from writing my initial draft to seeing my first book, Murder at the Marina, be released. I’ll talk about the good, bad, and the ugly. And trust me, there was plenty of ugly along the way.

Previously, I’ve talked to you about getting from a blank sheet of paper to a draft that I could share with beta readers. Today, I’m going to tell you more about my beta reader process from finding willing “test subjects” to read my manuscript, getting feedback from them, what kind of feedback I asked for, and what I did with the feedback I got back.

What are Beta Readers?

Writing can be a strange thing. Part of me wants to share the stories I’ve written, the other part of me would rather die than have anyone read my scribblings and {gasp} tell me what they think.

Eventually, I summoned up the courage to type <<The End>> on my manuscript and went in search of beta readers. While my husband had acted as my alpha reader and looked at endless early drafts, I got to the point where I needed feedback from a wider range of potential readers.

It was time for beta readers—people who would look at a polished draft and give me honest feedback about what they loved and what wasn’t working, identify plot holes, tell me if they connected with the characters or not, make suggestions about “little darlings” that might need to go, and point out things I couldn’t see because I was too close to the manuscript.

Finding Beta Readers

Once I realized that I would have a polished manuscript soon, I put out a call on my other blog—The Cynical Sailor—asking if anyone would be interested in beta reading for me. I was overwhelmed (in the best possible way) by the support and encouragement I received and offers to help.

Ten people originally signed up as beta readers. One didn’t respond to follow-up emails, two people ended up not being able to help due to other commitments, which left me with seven beta readers. Then, one lady’s husband asked if he could beta read as well, which I was really pleased about as I thought it would be good to get a bloke’s perspective (my other betas were women). That brought me up to eight “test subjects.”

What I was particularly excited about was the diversity of my betas. Some were sailors (which was really important as I was writing a cozy mystery with a boating theme), some were writers (which was great as they were able to give feedback from that perspective and many of them were experienced betas), and one was a cozy mystery writer herself.

Asking for Feedback

Once I wrangled myself some beta readers, I sent them a document outlining what kind of feedback I was seeking in the following areas:

  • Plot, pacing, and conflict
  • Characters and dialogue
  • Setting and worldbuilding

I also asked for general feedback in terms of what worked well, what didn’t work as well, and whether the story would have benefited from the inclusion of iguanas. Obviously, the iguana thing was a bit of a joke, but it gave them a feel for the light-hearted, humorous nature of Murder at the Marina.

I know some writers send out a few chapters at a time, get feedback on those chapters, then send out a new batch of chapters. Other writers send out the entire manuscript in one go, which is the approach I took.

After taking a deep breath, I hit the send button and emailed my manuscript to my betas toward the end of November (in Word, PDF, or ebook, depending on their preference), asking everyone to get their feedback to me at the beginning of January. And they all did, which was fantastic given how busy people were over the holiday season.

I gave everyone the option to provide feedback whatever way worked best for them. Some people used track comments in a Word document, others summarized their feedback in a separate document. The feedback I received was terrific. It was detailed and specific, as well as full of helpful suggestions.

Processing the Feedback

I don’t know about you, but the first thing I do when someone gives me feedback on my writing is curl up in the fetus position and down a bag of M&M’S (plain, not peanut). Sure, I say that I have tough skin, but let’s be honest, it’s never easy to hear that your “baby” can use some improvements.

Even though you already know intellectually going into the process that it’s all about getting feedback to make your story better, part of you deep down hopes everyone will say, “It’s great! No changes needed! Publish immediately!”

Not that you’d believe them though. Cause that’s the thing with feedback—if anyone says anything positive about your writing, you assume they’re lying because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. But when it comes to constructive criticism, you believe every single word.

Eventually, you run out of M&M’S and you have to process the feedback in a rational and constructive fashion. I compiled all of their notes into one document, categorized by theme, and identified whether it was something only one person flagged up or something that the majority thought needed to be addressed.

Then it was time to figure out what to do with all the feedback. I used these general rules:

  • If everyone thought something was an issue, I changed it. This was the easiest kind of feedback to deal with.
  • If one person thought something was an issue, but other people really liked it or were neutral and it was something I really liked as well, I generally didn’t make that change.
  • If someone had a great idea for the story, I made that change. Why pass up a great idea?
  • If a few people felt really strongly about something, even if it wasn’t the majority view, then I changed it. I figured other readers might hate it as well, so why not make the change.
  • If there was mixed feedback, I ate some more M&M’S while thinking about what to do. I effectively became the “tie-breaker,” either changing it or not. This was tricky. Who was right? Who was wrong? Is there really a right or wrong? You can see why I overdosed on chocolate.

Eventually, I worked my way through the feedback, made all of the changes, and sent the new and improved manuscript off to my editor.

Thanking Your Betas

I don’t know if I can ever thank my betas enough. I’m still in awe of the fact that people wanted to help and were willing to take time out of their own busy lives to read my manuscript and provide detailed feedback. Sure, I thank them in the acknowledgments section of my book, but it doesn’t come close to expressing how truly grateful I am for their encouragement and support. I wouldn’t be at the point of releasing Murder at the Marina next month if it wasn’t for them. Hip hip hooray for betas!

Want to know more?

Jane Friedman has some great tips on How to Find & Work with Beta Readers. I really like her idea of identifying your ideal reader as a starting point. Reedsy has a post about What to Expect from Beta Readers & Where to Find Them in which they discuss hiring beta readers through services such as Fiverr.

Writer’s Edit’s Ultimate Guide on How to Work with Beta Readers includes bonus tips on how to be a beta reader for other writers.

Jami Gold has excellent resources on beta reading, including a Beta Reading Worksheet. I drew on this heavily when pulling together my own beta reader guidelines. (You can see a copy of the beta readers guidelines that I sent out for Murder at the Marina here.)

You’ll find lots of great ideas for creating your own checklist at The Best Beta Reader Checklist Ever.

Once beta readers send you feedback, then you have to process it. Anna has useful pointers on Merging Feedback on Elements of Emaginette. The Kill Zone talks about How to Handle Critique, something that’s often easier said than done.

If you like vlogs, Jenna Moreci has several hilarious videos about beta readers. Be warned—she uses strong language at times.

Other posts in my “Publishing a Cozy Mystery” series:

Cover Design | Draft #743 | Beta Readers | Traditional vs. Self-Publishing | Editing | Going Wide or Amazon Exclusive | Ebooks, Print, or Both | Book Formatting| Distribution Channels

Have you ever been a beta reader? Have you ever worked with beta readers? What was your experience like?

Murder at the Marina Banner - Available Now

A dilapidated sailboat for your anniversary—not very romantic. A dead body on board—even worse.

If you’d like to pick up your own copy (ebook and paperback), you can do so at your favorite online retailer:

Amazon (US) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple iBooks | Google Play | Book Depository | Books-A-Million

You can also add Murder at the Marina to your to-read list on Goodreads and subscribe to my newsletter here.