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Making Sense of Publishing Options—What’s Your Measure of Success?

Author and publisher Cheri Cowell presented the first webinar sponsored by Write2Ignite on Wednesday, September 21. Cowell, owner of EABooks Publishing, shared her own journey as a writer who started out and, after several years of submitting numerous manuscripts or queries to traditional publishers, eventually succeeded in publishing a book, followed by two others. After the third, her husband finally pinpointed a question she had never asked herself and answered: “Can you finally admit that you have succeeded [in your goal as a writer]”?

This question provided a light-bulb moment for Cowell, who realized that she’d never established for herself what success would look like. Thus, she kept pursuing writing projects and publishing but had no clear goal for what she really wanted to accomplish. She asked webinar participants to determine, on the way to publishing, what their measure of success will be. For many writers, this is “seeing [their] book on a bookstore shelf.” Cowell pointed out that this measure most likely requires traditional publishing because the bookstore market is based on supply and demand from print publishing houses.

For others, “making money” is part of the goal. In that case, Cowell pointed out, traditional publishing will not be likely to yield substantial income, especially for a first book, since the process of traditional publishing requires the publisher to take all the financial risk—averaging $45,000 and up to launch a new author with the marketing campaign that follows all the other upfront costs—editing, cover design, and printing. For this reason, the typical advance for the writer, based on the publisher’s estimate of first-year earning potential, may be only $1,500. If the book does not sell, bookstores will return copies to the publisher, a process called “remaindering,” which results in a deduction from royalties for any future copies sold, to recoup the publisher’s losses. Royalties, Cowell noted, are usually not more than 10–12% of the profit (not the sale price) of a book, so the royalty earned on a $15 book may be as low as 75 cents, after deductions for the advance until those have been “earned out.”

Self publishing, on the other hand, requires the writer to take the financial risk of publishing, with costs as low as $950 up to $10,000, depending on the services a writer hires out (such as editing, cover design, and coding, if e-book format is chosen). Though these start-up costs are significant, the writer controls all aspects of the publishing process—title selection, cover design (which are the traditional publisher’s decision, not the author’s), and marketing descriptions, to name a few. The profits also remain with the author—perhaps $10 per copy, compared to the advance and per-copy royalty for traditional publishing, described above.

A third measure of success Cowell described is “blessing and changing the lives of readers”—the strong urge to share a message with readers, who may become fans. If “getting [a] project out to the public” is the goal, Cowell suggests recent self publishing methods as a more sure path to accomplishing this goal. One example she gave is Paul Young’s best seller, The Shack. Young sent the manuscript to 99 traditional publishers, all of whom rejected it; but because he believed strongly in his project, he ultimately decided to self publish.

The success of Young’s book in 2008, Cowell notes, launched a sea change in negative attitudes toward self publishing, with the result that some well known traditionally published authors began self publishing some of their own books. While she acknowledges that traditional publishing usually brings prestige and that some negative associations still remain for self publishing, she encourages authors to decide for themselves which method best serves their goals. This may be traditional publishing for some projects but self publishing for others. Cowell refers to authors who work in both realms as “hybrid authors.”

In a nutshell, then, the prestige, professional services, and financial underwriting of traditional publishers, balanced against lower financial return and average shelf life of three to six months for a book on store shelves, is one publishing paradigm still pursued by many authors. Cowell suggests that self publishing options (also sometimes referred to as co-publishing or partner publishing, depending on the number of services contracted) may be a better fit for some writers’ projects. She adds that e-books, a market she entered reluctantly and only with the help of a very tech-savvy friend, involve a learning curve for do-it-yourself programs (paying a service to convert text to e-book format costs more) but yield a payoff for those who can invest the time and either have or can find help with the tech skills needed.

Her closing tip for writers, regardless of their publishing choice, addressed marketing such as blogging or other social media. “Your website and social media should not be about you or your book,” claims Cowell. Instead, she counsels, media posts should be reader-focused—“make your posts about your readers.”

If you missed Cheri Cowell’s webinar this time, stay tuned for future Write2Ignite webinar offerings. Make your plans now to attend the full conference on March 24–25, where Cowell and other presenters will offer a wide range of workshops and keynotes. Finally, stay tuned for announcement of our fall writing contest!

Deborah DeCiantis, acting Team director for Write2Ignite!

 

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The Tale of Three Authors

Cheri Cowell I am an author/publisher. I began writing in 2000 with magazine articles and seven years later published my first book. Recently, I had my fourth traditionally published book release with Zondervan, but I find the most satisfaction in helping my fellow authors extend their reach through my company, EABooks Publishing. So here’s my opus, the Tale of Three Authors.

Amy* was considered a successful author with two books published by traditional publishing houses. However, there was one book she’d pitched and pitched and had been unable to sell. The book represented her heart’s cry and passion, and she wouldn’t rest until it was published.

Chip* was a leader in his local critique group, winning several writing awards and the admiration of many. Yet when he sat before editors at writers’ conferences, he performed poorly and never knew how to answer the platform question. He wasn’t good at selling himself or his work, but he was a good writer with a lot to say.

Bonnie* was a retired high school English teacher who’d married her high school sweetheart. Together they’d served as missionaries around the world. Now that her husband was gone and her years waning, she began to look at the legacy she was leaving. Her grandchildren loved the story she always told about a young girl in Bangladesh—a true story about a girl and her life of faith in a foreign land. Bonnie knew she didn’t have the funds most self-publishers were charging, and yet she didn’t fit the profile of the up-and-coming author the traditional publishers wanted to sink their money into. Was there a place for her in the publishing world?

These three writers found a place with EABooks Publishing

The same year Amy released two traditionally published books, she released the book of her passion as an e-book. She timed it perfectly to piggyback on the publicity from her traditionally published books. Now she knows that the message of her “passion book” is reaching people and making a difference.

Chip has published five books with EABooks Publishing, some as e-books and others as print-on-demand. He’s found a new outlet for his creativity, and with marketing help from EABooks, he’s developed a fan base. He’s even making a little money. His fans can’t wait for the release of his latest project—an audiobook.

It took Bonnie a long time to make her decision, but when she finally decided to go with EABooks Publishing, she found the whole process empowering. When her book began selling on Amazon, she sent a link to a friend, who decided to purchase hundreds of copies for the children’s home he supported. Bonnie would have been happy to sell only to her family and friends, but sharing the gospel with hundreds of needy children makes her heart sing.

This tale is still being written and has room for the stories of more authors! Come share yours with me—Cheri Cowell, owner and president of EABooks Publishing. I’d love to hear about your book!

*Names and genders have been changed, but these stories are true.

 

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Reflecting with Publisher and Author, Cheri Cowell

Cheri Cowell

This wintery week, we’re catching some rays of joy with Cheri Cowell, owner and publisher of EABooks Publishing. Also a published author and speaker, Cheri will present two workshops at the 2015 Write2Ignite Conference: “How to Evaluate Your Options: Traditional Publishing, Independent Publishing, or a Combination” and “Why You Need an E-book/Audiobook: Taking Advantage of this New Trend.”

The conference is only a few weeks away. Remember to take advantage of that early bird rate before February 28. Until then, let’s get better acquainted with Cheri.

Cheri, we’ve been asking our workshop presenters for three of their favorite 2014 moments. What were yours?

  • My husband I spent two weeks in Hawaii with family and friends.
  • We added a door from our bedroom out to the hot tub–no more traipsing through the kitchen dripping wet.
  • I completed my family ancestry scrapbook–a history of God’s faithfulness through the generations.

I’d love to see how you did the family ancestry scrapbook! How far back did you go in your family? 

I started with me as a baby, then went to my parents, who then have two “trees,” which I traced back through my two sets of grandparents as far as I could go. One I’m able to trace back to the 1700s.  

That’s wonderful. All writers should take time to do that. We’re often so busy with “outside” writing that we forget to write important things like this for our families.

What was your first paying job?

My first job out of high school was a barista—before there was such a word. I had to pass a coffee and tea test every quarter to keep that job.

At what point in your life did you know you wanted to pursue writing?

I have a degree in children’s theatre and then became a youth pastor for 15 years, and when that career ended in 2000, I had no idea what I was qualified to do. Thankfully, God did, and He opened doors I didn’t even lean against.

Looking back over your writing journey, what is one thing you wish you had known earlier?

It’s about the relationships, and relationships take time.

What do you hope to learn this year?

I’m currently studying Nehemiah, and what I’m learning is preparation takes time.

You’ve mentioned learning several things “take time.” Sounds like you’re practicing patience!

The take time message is very strong this year as I have several things that are almost ready to “give birth,” but if I get impatient, they will not be in God’s timing, and I could mess things up. So patience is key.           

Do you remember one of your favorite books from your childhood? What made it special?

I nearly cried when I found a dog-eared copy of Mister God, This Is Anna in a used bookstore because that story about a little girl with a special relationship with God told me that my special relationship with Him could impact lives.

What was one of your favorite books when you were a teen?

I love history, so The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom had a huge impact on me.

If awarded one day to talk with three authors (from any time period), whom would you choose?

Any of the gospel writers, C. S. Lewis, and Os Guinness.

The theme for Write2Ignite 2015 is “Shine.” What three helpful hints would you recommend to writers to make their work shine?

  • One of my favorite tips is to read your work, beginning at the end of the piece, read sentence by sentence, back to the beginning. It is the best way to hear mistakes in grammar and spot mistakes in punctuation.
  • Work on something else, and then come back to your piece with fresh eyes.
  • Find a good critique group/partner who will be honest with you about your work and help you shine as you help them/him or her shine.

Thank you for taking time to share with us, Cheri. We look forward to learning more from you at the Write2Ignite Conference.

Readers, you can connect with Cheri at www.info@eabooksonline.com, EABooksOnline.com and CheriCowell.com.