The Truth about Big Publishing

A couple of weeks ago, I asked several of my writing groups this question:

If you could ask a Big 5 editor a question about the industry, what would it be?

I had the amazing opportunity to sit down with editors from some of the biggest publishing houses in the world this past week, as well as a few different agents. To be honest, I was a little terrified going into it. I feared I would be viewed as the outsider who self-published, ICK! That couldn’t have been further from the truth. Here’s what they all had to say…

Self-publishing has lost the stigma it has carried for so long. All of the editors were very open to submissions from self-publishers. With that being said, there was still quite a bit of eye-rolling about self-publishing, but that’s fair; there’s a ton of crap out there, and you know it. However, self-publishers who have worked hard to be professional, have invested their own time and money into the process, and have been successful with sales and reviews have a much higher probability of getting picked up by a publisher. Why? Because they already come with fans, and they’ve proven they are dedicated to making writing a long-term career.

Now, that doesn’t mean they are going to jump at the opportunity to REPUBLISH your self-published work. I wouldn’t count on that at all unless you have hit the sweet spot of sales numbers. By sweet spot I mean your book has sold enough to prove it’s marketable but still hasn’t exhausted its market.

But for new work going forward, it is a good idea to let them know how your self-publishing endeavors have fared. Unless, you know, your sales numbers have been abysmal. You should probably keep that to yourself.

You asked. They answered.

Here are some answers to specific questions:

Where do you see big publishing houses in 5 years especially in light of print on demand and eBook options?

This was incredibly interesting to me. We all know the tides of publishing have changed. Barnes and Noble is really the only bookstore left standing, and the big publishers are all working together to help keep them standing. It’s only a matter of time before major print runs become obsolete, and big publishing is bracing for it. For the time being, in an effort to keep Barnes and Noble afloat, one publisher told me they won’t buy your book if they know Barnes and Noble won’t buy it. She even went so far as to say she has incredible, future best sellers from proven authors stuck in a drawer because it’s not what is marketable at the moment.

The lesson from this for you? Remember this when you get those rejections. It doesn’t necessarily mean your book isn’t publishable.

Why do literary agents think they are worth such high prices?

There were some amazing literary agents at this event. And the biggest realization I had is: ALL AGENTS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL. Some, like the ones I met with, don’t stop at simply selling your work to publishers. They help with branding, marketing, planning, editing, brainstorming…the list goes on and on. They would certainly, in my opinion, be worth their commission.

On an almost-unrelated note, Janet Reid wrote a great article over the weekend explaining this. You should read it. Why don’t big name authors just self-pub and make more money?

Does self-publishing a good product that gets good reviews (though not stellar sales due to limited marketing reach) negatively or positively impact how they view potential authors?

The literary agents I talked to said they pay most attention to the reviews. Publishers and agents realize new authors don’t have a platform to market to right away. An existing platform is certainly a bonus, but they are realistic about newcomers to the business.

Would you change your mind, if you knew I was a ghost writer for three of your best-selling authors?

I didn’t ask this one specifically because it doesn’t apply to me, but it was clear whatever experience and credentials you can present will help your query stand out among the masses.

Are you willing to work with authors who publish with multiple companies and also self-publish?

This was an overwhelming YES which completely took me by surprise. I think everyone I talked to actually encouraged hybrid authors because traditional publishing still takes (at the very minimum) a year to get a book into print.  Hybrid authors can self-publish in the interim to keep their platform “hot” and active. I hope it goes without saying that the self-published stuff needs to be up to par with the quality of the traditionally published work or this just won’t work.

What type of story or voice gets you excited? What tense/person do you prefer for fiction/fantasy?

This definitely varies from person to person, genre to genre, and is heavily dependent on the target audience.

Do they simply look at the story itself or do they take a close look at the author themselves?

They look at both, but as I said before, they are very realistic when it comes to new authors. They focus heavily on the MARKETABILITY of the story, not just if it’s good or not.

What I Learned

  • The best thing I took away from all this was the big, scary, intimidating mask I’ve always seen on the big publishing world was stripped away. These editors are amazing. They’re fun, down to earth, and incredibly kind and gracious.
  • Attending conferences is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL if you want to publish well. Even if you’re self-published–no, especially if you’re self-published. Why? Because you’re your own publisher, and you need to keep up with the big boys. Learn all you can from them if you want to compete.
  • Barbara Vey is amazing. You should look her up. She’s the queen of selling yourself as an author, in my opinion.
  • Always carry business cards. (Thanks, Barbara!)
  • Liz Pelletier (CEO & Publisher) of Entangled Publishing is brilliant. If you ever get the chance to sit in on one of her lectures, DO IT. You’ll thank me later. (Side note: I’m convinced Entangled is an excellent publisher who is on the cutting edge with hybrid authors. They accept unsolicited submissions.**)
  • Choose your literary agent wisely. A big name can be far less valuable than someone who is willing to get in the trenches with you and be a huge advocate for your work. Check out The Seymour Agency.
  • Join writers’ associations like RWA, Thriller Writers of America, etc. If I heard this once, I heard it a million times from everyone at the conference. Publishers and agents want to know you are invested in this business.
  • Sourcebooks is a great publisher particularly for Wattpad writers. They accept unsolicited submissions and don’t require the author to remove the story from Wattpad**. (Funny story. My friend Juliet Lyons just signed a 3 book deal with Sourcebooks, and her editor was one of the editors I met with! Small world!)

I’m forever grateful to The Seymour Agency for providing me with such an amazing opportunity. I can’t wait until next year!

**Note: I have not worked with these publishers. I’m only giving my overall impression. ALWAYS DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

Beyond the Dark Clouds – My Night with Stephen King and John Grisham

Yesterday, I told you the story behind why I chose to self-publish. My reason for sharing wasn’t to brag or to get sympathy and praise. I simply wanted you to be able to FEEL this story…

One week before I received the bad news about my cancer diagnosis, I flew to Nashville for my best friend’s birthday. I was still recovering from the biopsy surgery with a big ugly incision across my neck where they removed a tumor the size of a foosball. I wasn’t doing so great mentally because cancer’s bark is even worse than its bite, in my opinion. Not knowing was the worst part, and that day I had 2 hours of solitude to obsess over it.

And the flight was terrible, figuratively and literally. The sky was black and ominous with the deep rumble of thunder and bright flashes of lightning. It was like a scene from a Stephen King novel. (Ha!) At one point during all the turbulence, I thought for sure the plane was going to break in half and cancer would no longer be an issue. But then something amazing happened. We broke through those dark clouds, and on the other side was blue sky. Bright, blue, sunny sky.

I don’t get philosophical or overly spiritual very often, so believe me when I say I know God spoke to me. “You’re in the middle of the dark clouds, Elicia, but blue skies are on the other side. I promise.”

I have tears as I write this.

That was February. A couple of months later, in the middle of chemo, I bellyflopped into self-publishing with The Bed She Made. And in November, I published my beloved book, The Soul Summoner and it went to #1, right up there with Stephen King.

This moment meant so much more than just ranking against a superstar author.  Stephen King wrote a book called On Writing that I read religiously once a year like I belong to some weird one-woman cult. In that book he talks a lot about writing honestly. Specifically, he says to write “without regard to what the Legion of Decency or the Christian Ladies’ Reading Circle may approve of.” I never intended to publish The Bed She Made because of its content. I worried about offending people. I worried about hurting feelings. I really worried about making my mother cry.

But Stephen King told me every single year: WRITE HONESTLY. So I tossed The Bed She Made out into the giant sea of readers…and she floated. 

Needless to say, Stephen King is a big deal over here in the Hyder house.

Now for the story you’ve been waiting for.

Two weeks ago, my husband, Chris, came home from work and said, “Did you know Stephen King and John Grisham are going to be at some writers’ conference near Tampa in a couple of weeks?”

I shook my head. “That can’t be true. If it was, I would’ve heard about it.”

“Seriously, my buddy’s wife is working it. He said she might be able to get you in.”

I immediately began scouring Google. I was right and very wrong. They were coming to Florida, but it wasn’t a writers’ conference; it was a benefit for a library foundation. A small event. A sold out event that I couldn’t afford to go to even if I could get tickets. My brain started spinning. Could it be possible that I might get in?

But reality quickly began to settle. The event was on a Tuesday night, two hours away from home. The kids had mid-term exams. My husband would be working in Washington. Heartbroken, I told Chris to thank his friend profusely, but I didn’t want them to go to any trouble since there was no way I could make it.

He didn’t listen to me.

A week later, he was working in D.C. when he called me on Skype. The conversation went something like this:

“I need you to not make plans on Tuesday. You’re going to Bradenton to meet Stephen King and John Grisham. I’ve arranged for the kids to be taken care of, and your best friend is taking off work to go with you.”

And I cried like someone had just died.

Stephen King is my husband’s most favorite author. We own all of his books, most of which I’m too scared to read. And even though my husband couldn’t go, he moved mountains so I could. Did I hit the marital jackpot or what? Eat your heart out ladies, he’s all mine. I love you, babe.

There is no doubt in my mind that everything happens for a reason, which is why I told my self-publishing story before I told this one. Had I not been diagnosed with cancer, I wouldn’t have self-published my book. Had that tumor not been malignant, my husband would still be a cop and we would never have met the awesome people who made this night happen. Had I not gone through chemo, I never would have made this amazing new sister-friend who went with me. She was my oncology nurse–she literally saved my life.

Elicia Hyder

How beautiful is the view of hindsight? You never know what brilliant light may be waiting on the other side of your darkest, most ominous and terrifying moments. You could be on the verge of all your dreams coming true and you just don’t know it yet. Never give up hope. Blue skies await.


On January 19th 2016, a boggling mix of Chris Hyder, Wendy and Eric, fate, a library, and Jesus made one of my biggest dreams a reality.

I got to tell Stephen King this same story and thank him–in person–for helping me get to that #1 spot just above his book. He hugged me and said “Congratulations.”

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He was totally gracious and laughed when I showed him the screenshot of our books on the Amazon best seller list.
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Then the photographer said, “I want to get a photo of the three best selling authors,” and I was sandwiched between Stephen King and John Grisham, cheesing like my preteen daughter at a One Direction concert. They are the Elvis and John Lennon of the literary world, after all.

Stephen King, John Grisham, and Elicia Hyder

THANK YOU to everyone who made this night possible: Chris, Wendy (the awesome photographer), Eric, Rena, Luis, Becky, Natalie, Stephen King, John Grisham, my kiddos, and the Manatee Library Foundation. And THANK YOU to everyone who has read and supported my books over the past six months. Who knows? I might not be here without YOU!


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Photos by Wendy Dewhurst at www.blahblahblahonline.com/

 

One Year Ago Today – Why I Chose Self-Publishing

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… 2015 sucked. And it was awesome.

On this day one year ago, I was an unknown and unpublished author (im)patiently waiting to hear back from the three literary agents I had queried for The Soul Summoner. If you’re unfamiliar with the publishing process here’s a super-condensed 101:

  1. You write a book.
  2. You send letters to agents trying to interest them in your book.
  3. You get rejection after rejection after rejection.
  4. If an agent is interested, they might read your book.
  5. If they read your book and like it, they might offer to represent you to publishers.
  6. Then agents try to interest publishers in your book.
  7. And occasionally a publisher is interested enough to publish it.

Last January, I was at step two in the above process. I never heard anything back from two of those agents. But on February 5th I got a message from the third one. They loved my book.

Whoa.

Two hours after that conversation, I got a phone call from my doctor (at dinnertime, which is never good) that went something like this, “We think that lump on your neck is cancer. I’m sending you for more tests first thing in the morning.”

I made a LOT of very emotional phone calls that day. And, unfortunately, I received my cancer diagnosis a couple of weeks later: Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Stage 2.

So much for publishing. Ugh. I had to try and not die and stuff.

In the middle of chemo, I decided to bypass the above process altogether and self-publish another book of mine. Maybe you read it. It’s called The Bed She Made. I self-published for two reasons:

1. I needed to start finding some fans who might eventually buy The Soul Summoner when it was published.
2. Honestly, I was afraid I might die and never see my books in print.

Well…something quite unexpected happened. The Bed She Made hit #1 in New Adult Women’s Fiction on Amazon and held the #1 slot in ChickLit on Wattpad for months. Wattpad gave it an award in November, and this month it will break a million reads. Oh, and between free and paid sales on all the major online retailers, it’s been downloaded around 50,000 times. I still can’t believe that nonsense.

I finished chemo in June, then went through three weeks of daily radiation treatments. In September, I started receiving offers from publishers who were interested in FINALLY publishing The Soul Summoner. BUT…I turned them all down and self-published it as well.

WHY? Am I now suddenly opposed to traditional publishing? Absolutely not. At the time, however, none of the offers were better than what I could do on my own.

And I was right. Two weeks after The Soul Summoner’s release in November, this happened:

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The Soul Summoner hit #1 in Psychic Suspense and Paranormal Suspense. And check out who was in the #2 slot!

Now, I had to tell you that story to tell you the next story…you know, the one where Stephen King took a picture  with me holding that screenshot up there:

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The whole story is coming this week with pictures and video from my night with Stephen King and John Grisham. Stay tuned because you might even win your own autographed copy of Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham!

And as for my health, I KICKED CANCER’S ASS.

2016 has certainly started off with a bang! I can’t wait to see where this journey goes.