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Debut Author Alison Henderson on Electronic Publishing

Today, my friend, Midwest Fiction Writers chapter mate, and debut author (yay!) Alison Henderson is here to talk about her experience with electronic publishing. Take it away, Alison!

— Tamara

Hi, Rubies and friends! A big thank-you to my friend, Tamara Hogan, for inviting me to talk about a subject that’s on everyone’s mind these days. E-publishing is THE hot topic among writers today. Blogs and articles abound with opinions and prognostications. The print book is dead. E-publishing is the way of the future. Print publishers serve as the guardians of quality. A writer can’t make enough from e-publishing to feed her pet flea. Each of these statements has some merit, but I’m not here to weigh in on either side of the debate. I’m just here to share my personal experience over the past year with e-publishing. You can take what you will from it and add it to all the other voices out there.

My circuitous journey to e-publishing began more years ago than I care to admit when I wrote my first manuscript in a sub-genre that was very popular at the time—the Western historical. I loved the period and the process and over the course of three years produced three manuscripts, finaled in several contests, and acquired an agent. Sounds promising, right? Well, not exactly. As with many other writers, life intervened and relegated writing to the back burner for a few years.

However, I was never able to give up on those stories—I loved the characters too much. I continued to polish the manuscripts and enter contests with increasing success. Despite the waning interest in the Western sub-genre, I won more contests and had a full requested by an editor with a major print house. When that resulted in a rejection after twenty-two months, I decided to try something more marketable and started a romantic suspense, but I still couldn’t bring myself to abandon those earlier books completely.

I entered a contest last year that had a separate category for Western historical romance, and finaled again. The judges’ comments convinced me there was still an audience (albeit smaller) for these books, so I decided to give it one more try. When I got home from the national conference, I sent a query to Wild Rose Press for their Cactus Rose (Western historical) line, and received a request for a partial almost immediately.

From that moment, my experience with Wild Rose has been nothing but positive. Maybe it’s because they’re a small press, maybe it’s because all transactions are electronic, maybe it’s because the company is run by women, but after dealing with a New York print press, Wild Rose is stunningly efficient. When my editor received the full, she advised she would get back to me within two months, and she did. With each round of edits, she gave me an estimated response time and stuck with it.

I received a packet of paperwork (all electronic, of course) with my contract that included forms to provide a blurb for the website, an excerpt, and a detailed questionnaire for input into the cover design. They have several cover artists with postings of their previous covers, and the author gets to request the artist whose work best fits her own vision. I have to confess, this was my favorite part of the process. I adore my cover. (Even my mother will be able to read my book in public without being embarrassed.) Each of us dreams of the day we can hold our first book in our hands, and seeing the cover makes that dream so much more concrete. Wild Rose publishes everything from short stories, to novellas, to full length novels, and each one receives a professionally designed cover—although only the full length novels are available in print-on-demand as well as e-book.

The editing process was very interesting since I was a complete newbie and had no idea what to expect. I have heard criticisms that e-books are poorly edited (or not edited at all), and in my capacity as a reviewer for a review website, I’ve seen that the quality of editing can vary dramatically. However, my editor guided me through three rounds of edits until we were both satisfied with the end product.

I say “guided” because the process was very gentle. The first time through, she asked me to focus on two or three aspects such as subtle POV shifts and too many adverbs. Next, she formatted the text as it would appear on the printed page and things like echo phrases jumped out. We both tweaked the wording a bit with each step until she sent a final version for me to sign off on. The entire process was electronic, with the file passing back and forth with the “Track Changes” function allowing us to accept or reject the other’s changes. We wrote notes to each other in balloons in the margin and responded the same way. Very slick. I can’t imagine mailing a 400-page manuscript back and forth with changes.

Now for the tough part—distribution and marketing. In e-publishing, the publisher will usually put the book on their own website as well as several other sites such as Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com, Fictionwise, etc., and they’ll send it out to a number of online review sites. Occasionally, they might arrange group ads (paid for by the authors) in Romantic Times or RWR. Beyond that, you’re on your own. In today’s publishing world, print authors are in much the same boat, BUT their books appear on the shelves of bookstores where browsing readers might pick them up. The big question with e-books is where and how to reach readers who might be interested in your book. Marketing is mainly done online and is inexpensive or free, but the jury is still out on what works.

My first book, Harvest of Dreams, just came out last Friday, so I don’t have any marketing conclusions yet, but I do have some ideas about e-publishing in general. First, it’s great for books that don’t fit print publishers’ length formats. Shorter works do quite well in electronic format, especially erotic romance. In my case, it was a good home for a sub-genre that doesn’t sell in large enough numbers to be attractive to many print publishers. Second, it helps if you are a fast or prolific writer. Because these books don’t go “out of print”, backlist sells. Third, you are responsible for the quality of the end product. At this point, there may not be enough profit in an individual title for the publisher to devote extensive resources to editing. Don’t expect your editor to address broad issues such as pacing or character arcs. Since word count is much less of an issue in e-publishing, she may not even tell you to cut those extra seventy pages that are bogging your story down. For best results, nourish your inner editor.

It’s a brave new world, and no one can predict with certainty what the publishing landscape will look like five years from now, but e-publishing is certain to play a large role. My experience thus far has been a professional delight; it just remains to be seen if it can be profitable.

Alison Henderson

“Harvest of Dreams” is available NOW at The Wild Rose Press. Visit Alison online at www.alisonhenderson.com.

Thanks so much for giving us a glimpse into your journey! Who’s got questions for Alison? Fire away!

37 responses to “Debut Author Alison Henderson on Electronic Publishing”

  1. Congratulations on your book release, Alison.

    With it getting more and more difficult to break into print, I’ve known a number of authors who e-pubbed. One, who write a fringe genre and, like you, won contests and did all the right things EXCEPT write to the market, made the jump to NY as a result and is doing very well.

    The only e-books I have are those by our Rubies and one I won in a contest. Not having an e-reader, the remain untouched on my computer–I find reading for pleasure and computer pages mutually exclusive.

    That said, it’s a route more and more writers I know are taking. It may prove the testing ground of the future among the NY houses.

    Best of luck with your book!

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    • Alison says:

      Thanks, Gwyn. I’m a bit old school and don’t have an e-reader either. I’ve read a few ebooks on my computer, but I can’t wait to actually hold my book in my hand.

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  2. Vivi Andrews says:

    Congrats on the release, Alison!

    I personally didn’t trip into epub because NY didn’t like my genre (my GH book is much more suited to the mainstream NY market than the e-public), but rather as a sort of experiment to see what would happen. So far so good. 🙂 It really is fascinating to watch it all develop.

    Would you tell us a bit more about Harvest of Dreams?

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  3. Alison says:

    Hi Vivi. Thanks for the good wishes. I know e-publishing is working well for you, and I hope to be able to say the say in a few months.

    Here’s the blurb for Harvest of Dreams:
    Alone on her farm in the middle of a blizzard, young widow Lisa McAllister labors to give birth to her first child. Help arrives in the strong hands of a stranger wearing a six-gun. Lisa has no reason to trust this man who makes a living by violence, even if he is on the right side of the law. Men and their guns have already claimed the lives of her father, brother, and husband, and she’s determined to protect her son at any cost.

    Jared Tanner, a security agent for the stagecoach, has been on his own since he was twelve. Against his better judgment, his feelings of protectiveness toward Lisa and her baby turn to something deeper, and he is tempted by the possibility of a family of his own. Can their tender new love survive when an act of ultimate violence threatens to tear them apart?

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    • Laurie Kellogg says:

      Your story sounds heartwarming and wonderful, Alison. Exactly the kind of book I enjoy reading most. Good luck with your release.

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    • Kelly Fitzpatrick says:

      I love a western.

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    • Tina Joyce says:

      Love the blurb, Alison. Sounds like a great story. I’m a sucker for a good Western, as well!

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Oh, I love the sound of that story–very primal.

      I miss Westerns, too….they had a tough core that you don’t quite get in Regencies (which I do love, but not as an exclusive diet).

      Best of luck with Harvest of Dreams!!

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    • Elise Hayes says:

      Sounds like a wonderful story, Alison!

      I loved reading Westerns in the 80s and 90s. I’ve never understood why they died away as a sub-genre. America continues to revere the mythology of the West–so why the heck did the genre fade so much?

      I’ve been hearing hints of a revival, however–hopefully your book will get to ride the cusp of that wave, Alison!!

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  4. Kelly Fitzpatrick says:

    The print-on-demand ability is mighty seductive. To hold your book, smell it, taste it (if you are so inclined) is tempting. My (e) publisher just released a list of 2008/2009 books to be released in print. Mine came out in 2010, so I have a while to wait to see mine in print – if ever – no guarantees. I do have an e-reader and am enjoying it quite a bit.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      —> To hold your book, smell it, taste it

      I’m sure that once I see my book, heavy petting will be involved. 😉

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      • Kelly Fitzpatrick says:

        I know you will. Wash your hands before and after. I don’t recommend tasting a paper book. I don’t even recommend tasting your e-reader.

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      • Liz Selvig says:

        LOL, Tamara — I fantasize about that very thing all the time. Totally understandable in my eyes! And it’s soon for you — will we be missing you at MFW meetings when that happens?

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        • Tamara Hogan says:

          You won’t get rid of me that easily, Liz! I’ve had conflicts with second Saturdays all summer long, but Im looking forward to November’s MFW meeting – and of course Alison’s “Journey of a Novel” presentation!

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    • Alison says:

      Since TWRP offers POD books simultaneously, I should get to hold mine in my hot little hands any day now. One of the nice things about that is I was able to schedule promo events like booksignings that require print books.

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      • Kelly Fitzpatrick says:

        Book signings I could live without. Terrifying!

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        • Alison says:

          A normal booksigning would send me quaking into a corener, but my college roommate invited me to speak to her book club. She told me to expect to sell 40 books. For 40 sales, I’m going to suck it up and do my best.

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  5. Diana Layne says:

    Hi, Alison, your story sounds quite parallel to mine and I still love the western romances and haven’t quite let mine go either. And then I went to writing RS when the historical market tanked. 🙂

    Almost twenty years ago, in an all day DARA workshop that was a forerunner to their yearly conference now, a new agent, Evan Fogelman, mentioned in his workshop that he thought that one day ebooks would take over. He was quite visionary b/c at the time, the first ereader hadn’t even been invented yet. And there were a few “digital” books on floppy disk, but you had to read them on your computer.

    So it took almost twenty years but it seems that ereaders are at last making an impact.

    Thanks for visiting us and good luck!

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    • Alison says:

      Wow, Evan was really “out there”. When I started writing almost twenty years ago, I had no idea this was where we were headed. I’m still not sure what it means for the future, and I’m right in the thick of it.

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  6. Cat Schield says:

    Hi Alison,

    Congrats on your book release. What a gorgeous cover and I love the blurb. Can’t wait to read it. Thank you for sharing your epub journey with us. I know a lot of writers who are very happy at Wild Rose Press. I’m glad you’re one of them.

    Cat

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  7. Rita says:

    Congrats on the book. I love westerns and your blurb is great. Westerns aren’t as glamorous as the British historicals with their tons, castles, silks and satins, but westerns are way more exciting. I mean reading about the women and men who built this county, what could be better?
    It certainly is a brave new world in publishing. Thank you for sharing what you have learned. We all need to be aware of what is going on in this industry, at every level.
    Many sales to you.

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  8. Alison says:

    Rita, I agree. As historicals go, Westerns are definitely grittier. I love to read Regencies but always felt my voice was too American to write them convincingly.

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  9. liz talley says:

    Congrats, Alison! I love the cover and the blurb sounds fantastic.

    I have to admit that I’m a huge fan of the Western. I like all early American books. Of course, I’m good on Regency, but here lately I’ve been craving some good Westerns. In fact, ever since I read Diane Layne’s excerpt in the New Voices contest, I’ve been itching to read the rest of her book. 🙂 So I’m thinking Western romances are going to come back pretty soon as a sort of backlash from the Regency.

    So aren’t you in a good place for that comeback?

    I have a nice digital pile of books on my Kindle. Guess I’ll be adding to it 🙂

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  10. Alison says:

    Thank you so much, Liz! So many people have told me they like Westerns, I hope you’re right.

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  11. Liz Selvig says:

    Alison,
    You know I can’t wait to read your book — it’s sounds so wonderful. I’m thrilled for your experience at TWRP — I’ve heard so many great things about them as a company. If their standards and biz model is the wave of the future–it’s a very exciting future!
    Congrats again!

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  12. Congratulations on finding a home for your novel. What a beautiful cover! It really catches my eye, and looks completely, utterly print-ready.

    That reminds me: when designing for an e-book, a graphic designer doesn’t necessarily have to worry about spine and back-cover design. But since TWRP had POD capability, is the complete jacket designed at the outset?

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    • Alison says:

      Thanks, Jamie. I love the cover, too, and they really do a professional job. The printed book looks exactly like any other print book – title on the spine, back cover copy, the whole works.

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  13. Congratulations, Alison on finding a home for the books you love.

    I look forward to reading it.

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  14. Thanks for being here and sharing your experience, Alison. I’m sure curious where things will end up, but e-publishing is simply not what it used to be. It is developing steam fast and I know so many authors who’ve found a home in the market.

    I love your cover too! Just beautiful.
    Super congrats!
    ~D~

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  15. Alison says:

    I’ve had a great day visiting the Rubies! Thanks for all your support.

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  16. Alison, Welcome fellow rose. Congrats on your new release. I noticed your cover on the WRP site last night and clicked on it. Your book sounds awesome.

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  17. Liz Flaherty says:

    Your book sounds great, Alison, and your experience with TWRP mirrors mine and a lot of other authors. I’m old school enough to still prefer paper and ink, but my Kindle’s giving me a change in ‘tude!

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  18. […] 10/25/10: Tammy interviews Midwest Fiction Writers chaptermate and debut author Alison Henderson! […]

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