09 Jun Crowd-Funded Publishing Guest Post with Julie Bettinger
I’m very excited to have Julie Bettinger on my blog today. I met Julie at the 2015 Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference in Pittsburgh and was intrigued by the way she published her book. Julie was kind enough to do this guest blog and answer questions about industry trends and a whole new way of publishing called Crowd-Funded Publishing that she uses at Inkshares.
Julie, could you introduce yourself and give a quick overview of your writing life?
Sure. I like to think of myself as a reformed journalist. I discovered the relatively new genre of creative nonfiction in the late 1990s through Lee Gutkind. I was already writing what I started calling “dramatic nonfiction” – my specialties were crime and business, so had plenty of material – and I was grateful to finally have a name for it. Over the years, I co-authored a few books, but I make my living as a writer and those markets weren’t paying the bills. After taking a detour as magazine editor, I ached to get back to just being a writer. To jump start the process, I pursued my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction at Goucher College in Baltimore and since my graduation in 2013, I have been concentrating on long form narrative and literary nonfiction. It’s an exciting time for publishing and it feels good to be back to doing what I love: writing.
What publishing trends are you seeing? What is happening in the industry as a whole?
I try to attend at least two conferences a year, which act as a compass for my writing career. At the 2014 Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference in Pittsburgh, agent/editor/consultant Emily Loose said we need to look at giant mergers of publishing houses, the e-book explosion and Amazon flavor-of-the-month services as opportunities. She used the term “artisanal” vs. self publishing. “Shoot for legacy publishing, but do some self and digital publishing, too. It will add to your platform.” When I came back to my writer’s “cave” (what my husband calls my office), I was reading the Author’s Guild newsletter. President Roxana Robinson said, “Authors need to be able to make a living, however they choose to publish their work.” She suggested that we use the publishing industry struggles to our advantage. “The more competition there is among publishers, the better things will be for writers. We need more choices, other ways to publish.” At the time, one of my books was under contract with a literary agent in New York. But I was beginning to see that successful authors weren’t relying solely on traditional publishing and that you really needed to look at your book project, its readership and your goals before deciding the best publishing option for it.
How did you come to find out about Inkshares and how does crowd-funded publishing work?
At that same CNF conference, Inkshares’ publisher Larry Levitsky introduced what I like to think of as a hybrid between self-publishing and the legacy publisher. Inkshares is a crowd-funded publisher and their motto is: “Authors share. Readers decide. We publish.” Basically, you use a template they provide to craft a book proposal and launch it on their site. Then you share that link through your social networks and pre-sell the book. When you’ve reached your pre-sale goal (determined through a formula on Inkshares), your project status changes to “funded,” and a production schedule follows.
What impressed me most in Larry’s presentation was his emphasis on marketing, something that has always frustrated me about traditional publishing. Inkshares is a master at social media, using it to identify and engage readers. They also hit all the major media markets with unique messaging, so the books and their authors are spotlighted. Inkshares’ team came from traditional publishing, so they’ve just taken the weaknesses of the old model and updated it. Perhaps even more important, this new approach pays authors higher royalties than traditional publishing houses. We receive 50% of gross revenue on physical books and 70% on e-books. Traditional publishers can’t even come close to that compensation model.
Could you explain how Inkshares sells their books? Do they have good connections within the publishing industry? Do book distributors like working with them?
From the beginning, Inkshares was fortunate to partner with Ingram Publishing Services, the largest distributor in the world. So that means our books are sold through all major booksellers, like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and through hundreds of independent bookstores. If the author has chosen to do paperback or hardcover as well as an e-book, they’ll print a minimum of 1,500 copies. Inkshares offers a quantity purchase discount, so authors can also buy and re-sell their books if they choose, which is a great option.
Does Inkshares design your book jacket?
Yes. They have an excellent design team. Initially, when you’re posting your proposal, you come up with a temporary design. Just add a .jpg. Once the project is funded, a “real” book cover is included.
When you talk about pre-sales, are these people who actually buy the book ahead of time or do they just commit to buying?
The Inkshares website has a great FAQ section explaining everything, but I understand that readers support the project by pre-ordering copies and they are only charged when the book hits their goal.
Tell us a little about your first Inkshares book, Blasted by Adversity. When did it come out? Are you happy with the promotional work that Inkshares has done?
When I met Larry at the CNF conference, I told him I would look for a project that I thought would be a good fit. Soon after, I talked to Luke Murphy, a wounded warrior I knew through a commercial writing venture, and he agreed to let me write his story. It was an ideal topic for crowd-funded publishing and we committed to a schedule and worked at a record-breaking pace.
“Blasted by Adversity: the Making of a Wounded Warrior” was released this past Memorial Day weekend. The Inkshares marketing department came up with the idea of Luke writing an opinion piece with a Memorial Day theme. They pitched it to CNN, and their editors asked for an exclusive. The story, “What veterans really think about on Memorial Day,” just happened to coincide with our pub date. It was a homerun for the book. That’s just one example, but I’ve found Inkshares to be very creative and very effective.
What are you finding the pros and cons are to this new type of publishing?
I’m on my second book with Inkshares and so far, I haven’t found anything to complain about. Even when there’s a glitch – after all, it involves technology – there’s a fix almost immediately. They listen to their authors and are responsive.
Something that other writers might see as a negative with this type of publishing is the importance of having a platform. I know, I’m kind of weary of the term, too. But having a “platform” is a reality if you want to reach today’s readers with your words. You need to have some kind of social networking and media presence so your readers (and publishers/agents/editors) can find you.
Something that Inkshares’ Vice President of Marketing Matt Kaye said to me recently hit home: “The way I’ve seen books sell is through saturation and repetition. It’s rarely just one thing that gets someone to go and buy your book. It takes radio, TV, friends sharing on Facebook and Twitter feeds. That typically gets someone to notice and then when it gets great customer reviews (Amazon, Goodreads), they’re motivated to buy. So get as much coverage as possible in as many places as possible.” Matt also told me not to underestimate my local and personal connections. As writers, we need to build a foundation in our backyard, which improves our chances of getting on the radar of search engines and social sites (all dictated by complicated algorithms). It improves our stock value, if you will. Matt came from Amazon and has an impressive bookselling track record. He gets it.
Do you see this type of publishing as a trend that will continue?
Absolutely, in fact it’s really just getting started. Other crowd-funding sites have tried to get in on the game (Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Patreon), but they don’t offer the publishing support and distribution like you get with Inkshares. I’d rather focus on my writing and let someone else handle the logistics.
Tell us a little about your upcoming Inkshares book, Encounters with Rikki: From Hurricane Katrina rescue to exceptional Therapy Dog. What inspired you to choose this topic?
Encounters was my thesis for the Goucher MFA program. Before starting the MFA, I was looking for a story idea that I felt I could live with for a few years and that would lend itself to the depth of research and probing of lives required by the genre of creative nonfiction. I ran into a gentleman I’d interviewed previously for business magazines. Chuck Mitchell had retired early and was taking his therapy dog, a Hurricane Katrina rescue named Rikki, into the courts to help children when they had to testify. Because of my law enforcement background, love of animals and heart for abused children, the topic immediately appealed to me. And what I knew about Chuck convinced me he could endure the trials related to being my subject. Thankfully, he said yes. Encounters is in the production phase with Inkshares right now and will be published in early January of 2016.
Do you have current ongoing projects?
I have some personal essays that I’m revising. They were part of a collection from my Masters thesis with Florida State University in 2009. I’ve decided to follow the advice of all these pros and self publish them to get experience and see where that takes me. I’m also working on two historical books for commercial clients. So, yes, my plate is full.
Anything else that you would like to add?
Just a word of encouragement. One thing I’ve noticed after 30+ years as a working writer is that the majority of us are notoriously insecure. Most of the time, we are filled with all kinds of doubts and feel like a fraud. I thought I was unique in these fears, but then I heard one of my favorite authors, a Pulitzer Prize winner, admit that he is constantly plagued with doubts related to writing. My editor, Diana Hume George, who is also on the Goucher faculty, gave an excellent presentation titled, “Feeling like a Fraud: the Imposter Syndrome in Writers.” That’s when I realized I was in very good company. The best antidote I found to this condition of ours is to get around our like kind. Find a writer’s conference, connect with a working writer friend for a homemade workshop/weekend getaway or join an online community for writers. Stay connected, stay engaged. It will help you get through the tough times and may just provide the solution you need on your next writing project.
For more information please visit Julie at her website: www.JulieBettinger.com
If I hadn’t attended the CNF Conference in Pittsburgh, I wouldn’t have met Julie Bettinger. I wouldn’t have learned about this new way of publishing. I would have one less writing friend/mentor/colleague in my life. I am so very grateful to be a part of a writing community that shares, supports, and encourages one another.
Embracing the writing life is so much more than just writing. When you open yourself up to the community, there is enrichment and joy. I have learned humility. I have learned to cheer other people on in their successes. I have learned to embrace the fear, the uncertainty, the criticism, and the critiques. I have learned to rewrite, rethink, and restructure. My writing is all the better for it. And so am I.
Thank you, Julie, for your insights and professional knowledge. Thank you for being a friend. Best of luck. Who knows. Maybe someday we’ll both have books at Inkshares! Want to do a reading together?