Saturday, June 22, 2013

Encouraging Words from William Ogden Haynes #TBSU

I'm thrilled to present my friend and brilliant poet, William Ogden Haynes, as our guest blogger today!

Two of Bill's books are available on Amazon, in both print and Kindle versions. Here are the Kindle links.

Amazon US Kindle link

Amazon US Kindle link
Bill writes from experience, and offers advice and encouragement to those who may have struggled trying to be published by traditional presses. His article is mainly about poetry books, but I think everyone will find that his analysis of traditional and new venue publishing makes fascinating reading. Take it away, Bill!

More Than One Way to Publish a Book

First, let’s be clear. If you have a hot novel or nonfiction book that will have mass appeal, the way to go may be to get an agent, contact major publishing companies, and receive the best editorial support, layout assistance, and marketing campaign possible.

On the other hand, certain genres such as books of poetry, flash fiction and short stories have a limited readership. Therefore, they will have limited sales and produce only limited revenue for an author and publisher. In general, only the small, independent publisher will invest the money and time in such niche markets.

Most small publishers print books of poetry as a labor of love, to support the arts and heighten their profile in the literary community. Poetry books are considered highly successful if they sell 500 copies. The average number of poetry books sold per author is less than 50.

Traditional Publishing: Poetry Book Contests

Publishers of poetry books typically have hundreds of manuscripts to choose from to make their quota of publishing only a handful of poetry books per year. Many small publishers are run by a single person who makes all the decisions about what to publish and when.

Most publishers conduct “contests” to determine which books make their publishing list.  In order to enter the contest, authors must pay an entry fee, typically $25-$50.  These fees are accrued from all entrants and may be used to award a monetary “prize” to the winner of the contest (usually a few hundred dollars), who also will have their book published on a timeline determined by the publisher. Entrance fees can also be used to offset the printing costs of the winning book.

Winning these contests is extremely difficult because of the number of entrants, limited number of books to be published, and subjective biases of the editor(s) who make the selection. Many of these contests take six months or more to announce the winners. In many cases, even if you win, there are other projects in the queue ahead of yours and it may be a year or two before the book actually sees the light of day.

Traditional Publishing: Book Production

Most poetry books are small and typically sell for less than $20.00. From this, the publisher must recoup the costs of printing, layout and editorial work, and make some profit from the sale of the book. In many cases, the royalties granted to the author are less than ten percent.

Traditional Publishing: Marketing

Small publishers have limited resources to invest in marketing a new poetry book. They post the new book on their website and may send an announcement to people on their mailing list. Rarely will they attempt to market the work nationally and internationally. In most cases, they do not offer an electronic version of the book.

The main marketing tool has been, and will always be, the author. The publisher will ask the author to engage in readings, book signings and other appearances at the author's expense. In some cases the publisher will help arrange these events, but in other instances it is up to the author to book events.

Sound impossible? Hang tight. There's hope!

On-Demand Publishing: A Growing Trend 

A relatively new publishing model known as on-demand publishing is growing in popularity. While there are many on-demand publishing companies (Lulu, Blurb, Wordclay, CreateSpace), I will use CreateSpace as an example in this article, because I have had experience publishing with them.

Companies like CreateSpace, a subsidiary of Amazon, work within a “publish on demand” model. Unlike traditional publishers they do not print hundreds of books and warehouse them until they are sold. CreateSpace simply publishes as many copies of the book as are requested by the author or demanded by customers. Using this model, the book will never go out of print and will always be in stock when demanded by the author or other consumers.

Most poetry books cost between $10-$20. Authors using CreateSpace set their own retail price for their book after being given a range of prices that are competitive on for the number of pages produced in the book. At CreateSpace, a book of poetry that has between 80-150 pages costs about $2.50 to produce.

As an author, you can order as many books as you like for that production cost and sell the books for the retail price. For instance, a poetry book that lists for $10 costs the author $2.50 and if he or she orders twenty copies it would cost the author $50.00. If the book sells for $10, the author makes $7.50 on each copy. If all twenty copies are sold, the author will net $150 (minus the original $50 paid for the books).

CreateSpace provides software for setting up the book layout and for designing a cover free of charge. If the author is comfortable with computers and technology, the free package is all that is necessary to produce a professional and visually attractive book. However, for those that are not technologically savvy, they also offer, for a substantial fee, several packages that include professional assistance in editing, layout and cover design. If you have to go that route, with a little online research, you can find a more affordable, still high quality alternative.

CreateSpace offers a marketing plan in which they make the title available on their parent web site They also provide the software free of charge to convert the manuscript to a format compatible with Kindle. For a one time fee of $25 CreateSpace will market your book world wide on Amazon. The book will also be advertised on every major book seller (e.g., Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, etc.) and made available to public and university libraries. Regarding royalties for any books that sell from the Amazon website, the author will receive $3.85 for a book that sells for $10.

Is Self-Publishing Legitimate?

Is self-publishing on a platform such as CreateSpace a “vanity” press? It is in the sense that one could publish anything he or she wants with essentially no review by other writers.

But let's look at the "traditional" alternative. In a publishing company, an author’s work may be judged by a single individual or several reviewers who work with the publisher. They may be highly qualified critics of poetry or not, but still, the publishing house usually offers a limited scope of reviews. And yet, even though the publisher may even be the only one to review the work, no one calls the book a product of a vanity press.

On the other hand, you can use CreateSpace to present mainly pieces that have already been published in literary journals. The competition to get a piece published in these journals is intense because hundreds of poems per week are reviewed by the editorial staffs of these magazines. Many have acceptance rates of less than ten or even one percent.

In my first poetry book, Points of Interest, 28 of the 50 poems were previously published in literary journals.  In my latest book, Uncommon Pursuits, 40 of the 55 poems and short stories had been previously published in literary reviews. A book gains credibility when the work has been screened and selected by journal editors. In a way, journal publication gives more credibility than a limited review by one publishing company.

Who Might Prefer the On-Demand Model? 

  • Authors who write books that appeal to small or limited markets (e.g. poetry, short stories, novellas, flash fiction.) 
  • Authors who want to take work that has been published in diverse literary journals and present it in a single collection without having to send it again through a review process conducted by a publishing company. 
  • Authors who do not have time to invest years in submitting and resubmitting manuscripts to small publishers with a limited chance of actually securing a contract.  
  • Authors who do not want to face minimal odds of getting a manuscript accepted. The chances of a particular manuscript being selected depends reviewer preference, the strength of the competition, the type of book the publisher is looking for and many other subjective factors.  The process grinds slowly and at the end you could once again come up dry. 
  • Authors who would like to keep the majority of the limited profits from selling their work and not split the proceeds to profit the publishing company.  
  • Authors who want to maintain control over when their work is published and not be at the mercy of a publisher in setting the timeline for when the book will appear. 
  • Authors who would like to avoid the pressure from a publisher to market their book in a short period of time to recoup publishing costs. With publishing on demand the author is free to invest as much or as little time in marketing as he/she might feel comfortable with. 

Thank you so much, Bill, for sharing your insights with us today. While there are many advantages to the traditional publishing model, it certainly is not the answer for all authors. The same is true for non-traditional routes.

What choices have you made in regard to publishing? Have you run into difficulties with traditional publishers? Has your experience been similar to Bill's? Can you contribute your experiences with books other than poetry collections?

As always, I look forward to a lively conversation in the comments, and Bill will be here to respond to your questions and observations as well.


  1. Great analysis, Bill (& Carole)! I favor the three-legged stool approach for my genre fiction: one series is with a traditional NY-based publisher, one is with a smaller publisher, and I'm working on a couple of pieces to put out myself. Diversification seems wise in today's rapidly changing publishing climate, regardless of what one is writing!

    1. Hi Suzanne,

      Thanks for stopping by. Diversification is a great plan. I imagine each has different strengths, and you are a huge success with both large and small publishers! What do you find appealing in the different routes?

      Have a fantastic Sunday,


    2. Thanks Suzanne! I really like the idea of diversification because you can have the best of all approaches. We are so lucky that we live in a time where there are so many workable options. Best, Bill

  2. Thank you for this awesome intro to CreateSpace! I had no idea such a thing existed, and this is something I'll definitely be looking into when my next book is ready to go. I like the idea of going both ways... having a Kindle edition, but also having the hard copy. One question though -- I noticed when I was looking at the requirements for Kindle publishing that they will assign you an ISBN number, so you don't need to get one yourself. But do you know if this is also the case for CreateSpace?

    1. Hi Nathalie and thanks for the positive comment. Just to answer your question, yes, CreateSpace does give you an ISBN number as you start your project. They make it so easy! I'm going to check out your blog and see what vibeshifting is all about. All the best, Bill