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Self-publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

As promised, a post taken from an email I wrote. This is an overview of my thoughts on self-publishing and traditional publishing, based on my and other people’s experiences. Though having experienced both, I’ll admit I’m pretty biased towards self-publishing. But whichever route you take, you should know what you’re in for.

Unless you’re a mega bestseller, it’s really hard to make a living through writing in traditional publishing. Self-publishing makes it much easier for the average author (or “midlister”) to earn a real income. Self-publishing also pays monthly (with an initial two-month delay after publication), and you can see all of your sales numbers. In traditional publishing, on the other hand, you have no idea when you’ll get paid. When a publisher buys your book, they give you an advance on royalties (and these numbers range wildly–could be $5,000, could be $500,000, theoretically depending on how many copies they think they can sell in the first year, but honestly it feels pretty random, and different publishers will make completely different offers on the same books).

Anyway, usually you’ll get half the advance on signing your contract, and half when revisions are done, but sometimes the advance will be paid in thirds instead, so one third on signing, one third on turning in the revised book, and one third on actual publication. There is literally no way to know when any of these steps will be done. Contracts can take only a few months to put together, but I’ve known people who had to wait a year for them. Even getting your revision notes depends on how busy your editor is and when they can get around to it, and then once you’ve actually done them and turned them in, the editor has to find time to read them, which could be weeks or months. Sometimes this process goes fairly quickly (as in, only a few months), but sometimes authors get stuck in revision hell where the editor just keeps requesting revisions over and over again for years. It’s rare for it to take that long, but it happens. Publication dates also get pushed forward sometimes, though at a certain point it’s locked in place. Then once your book comes out, you start getting royalty statements, which list your sales numbers, and if you’ve earned back your advance, they’ll also come with a royalty check. But these statements only come twice a year, and they’re six months after the fact. So whatever sales numbers they list are completely outdated, so for the most part, you’re always in the dark about how your book is doing. Publishers can also “hold against returns,” which means even if you’ve earned out your advance, they might not pay you anything because they’re trying to keep a buffer in case copies of your book get returned.

 

With self-publishing, on the other hand, you always know your sales numbers and how much money you’re making and when it will be paid.

 

You also have very little control over what a publisher does with your book. You can say no to edits–which a lot of authors don’t realize and end up making changes they don’t like–but the publisher has complete control over the cover and the blurb on the back of the book. (And if the cover offends people, readers always blame the author.) The publisher also controls the pricing and the Amazon categories the book is listed in. Amazon categories are super important for selling books, and putting it in the right combination of categories can have a huge effect on sales. As a self-publisher, you can choose categories and keywords and can change them at any point, but a publisher will set them once and never touch them again.

 

Traditional publishing is also super slow. It can take years for a book to come out, and that’s after you’ve found a publisher, which can also take years. For my first book, The Rise of Renegade X, it took me a year and a half to find a publisher, and then it took another year and a half for it to come out, but it can take more like two or three, depending on how full their publication schedule is. The book only took me a month to write, but it took another three years for it to hit the shelves. The publisher also did no marketing for it, and the buyer at Barnes and Noble (because yes, there’s one person per bookstore chain who decides if any of the stores can sell your book) had a “personal reaction” to the book (whatever that means) and decided no Barnes and Nobles were going to sell it. That may have contributed to my publisher not marketing the book–it’s hard to say. But basically, most of a book’s fate has been decided before readers even have a chance to buy it. Three years after the book came out, it was out of print, and I was able to get the rights back (because of a certain clause in my contract that said if sales fell below a certain threshold within a certain amount of time that I could ask for my rights back–this clause varies, depending on the contract, and sometimes they’re so convoluted that you won’t get your rights back unless the publisher actually goes out of business). I republished the book myself, along with a sequel–which the publisher wasn’t interested in, because my sales numbers weren’t high enough–and sold more copies of book one in three months than my old publisher had in three years. I had the same cover (different title font, but same art. which I licensed from the artist), and all I did was lower the price on the ebook and change the categories.

 

Traditional publishers can also get in the way of you publishing other books. Book contracts will have option clauses, meaning the publisher gets to look at the next book you write. This clause can be more specific, limiting it to a similar genre or even a book that only has the exact same elements, so that you don’t get screwed by it. But a lot of them are pretty open (my first one was–it was just any book in the YA or MG genres, which is everything I write). This means that when you write another book–or even just a proposal (sample chapters and a synopsis), the publisher gets an exclusive look at it. The contract will specify how many days they get an exclusive for (45, usually, or maybe 60), and then they’ll either make an offer or not, and you can either take the offer or try elsewhere. The real problem–and the one that nobody ever tells you ahead of time–is that publishers won’t actually look at anything else you’ve written until they’re finished with your first book. This might mean after edits are done, or it might mean after the book is actually published. This means that if you want to sell another book (or, you know, need to, because you have bills and stuff), you’ll probably have to write something in another genre (assuming your option clause allows for that). The publisher will also get first look at any sequels, which makes sense, but this can also tie things up for a long time. I’ve had publishers take months or in one case a year just to tell me that they weren’t going to publish a sequel. In both cases, I was then free to self-publish sequels myself, but sometimes authors end up with contracts that give the publisher complete control over their world and characters, meaning there’s nothing they can do. Which is a really crap situation to be in.

 

With self-publishing, you can publish on your own schedule. Meaning, if you write fast, you can publish fast, and the more releases you have, the more money you can make. Getting books out can take months instead of years (or for some people, weeks). You can write in whatever genres you want. You can write to any length–a thousand pages, a hundred pages, whatever. And the royalty rate for self-publishing ebooks is currently 70% (if your book is priced between $2.99 and $9.99, which is why a lot of short books still cost $2.99, because anything outside that range jumps down to 35%). With traditional publishing, ebook royalty rates are going to be way lower–ballpark range, maybe 20% – 35%, depending on your contract. Royalty rates for paper books are usually more like 10%. Whether you self-publish or not, most of your sales will be ebooks, and most of them will be through Amazon.

 

The only catch with self-publishing is that you need to provide cover art. Some people can make their own and do a good job (some people make their own and do not do a good job), but most people will need to pay an artist. You don’t want to skimp on cover art, because your cover is one of your most important sales tools (along with pricing, book description, and categories), but depending on what you need, you can usually get a good custom cover for a few hundred dollars. Sometimes less. (And by custom cover, I mean photo-manipulation covers, since custom illustration covers can get crazy expensive.) There are tons of pre-made covers out there in the $50 – $200 range. They vary in quality, but some are really good. (And you can always change the cover later.) And technically, you can publish a book with, like, just a flat color with some text on it. (I’m not recommending that, but my point is you don’t have to let anything stop you.)

 

There are other costs you can spend money on, like hiring an editor or a formatter, but those are things you can do yourself. Formatting an ebook takes two seconds. Formatting a print book takes a bit longer, and there’s more learning involved, but it’s still very doable. And also not nearly as important as having an ebook version up for sale.

 

As for categories, Amazon lets you pick three, but you can also assign keywords to your book, and those will also influence what categories it ends up in. I believe you can also just email them and say, “Hey, can you put my book in X category?” and they will, but I haven’t tried that. You want to research categories that would fit your book, looking specifically at what the ranking is for the top books in that category. How high does the ranking have to be to get on the first page of that category’s bestseller list? How high to get to the top? Ideally, you want to stagger your categories so that at least one needs a much lower ranking to get to the top listing, and at least one where it’s more difficult to reach the top (possibly way more difficult–some of them are tough!). The reason is because Amazon’s algorithms will promote a book that’s at the top of a category, no matter what category it is. This will in turn boost sales, which will boost its ranking, which will bring it higher in the more competitive categories, which will boost sales, etc. (A traditional publisher is never going to do this for you, especially since it takes some upkeep and the ability/willingness to make changes).

How many reviews you have–especially positive reviews, meaning four and five stars–also influences how the algorithms promote your book. One thing that The Rise of Renegade X had going for it when I republished it is it counted as a new release, since it had a new publisher, but it kept the reviews it had accumulated from its original publication. Meaning that the algorithms saw it as a “new book” that had a bunch of positive reviews from day one. That’s just my speculation, though, so take it with a grain of salt. Book 2 also did pretty well, and it didn’t start with any advantages, other than being the next book in the series. It also helped that I ended up releasing them at almost the same time, meaning they both ended up in Amazon’s Hot New Releases, and readers who enjoyed book 1 could just pick up book 2 and keep reading.

The Still Behind on Everything Post

I was looking at some earlier posts, and apparently back in September I thought I was going to write ALL THE BOOKS this winter. I mean, I knew that was unrealistic, so I said I’d probably not have the next Renegade X book done until the end of this year. But what actually happened was I felt super burnt out on writing novels, after working crazy hard to get Phobia and Torment done, so I just didn’t.

Actually, I wrote a radio play. I knew audiobooks were a thing, but I only discovered audio dramas about a year and a half ago (thank you, Home Front), and it turns out I freaking love audio dramas.

I’m also working on a visual novel (it’s like Choose Your Own Adventure, but with pictures, if you’ve never played one). It’s pretty hilarious, if I do say so myself. (Which I do. Obviously.)

And another Dragonbound book and the next Renegade X book are in the works, plus something new I’ve been playing with.

I always thought I’d be the kind of author who could just do whatever was needed at any given time, but it turns out I’m not. Not being able to wrangle myself makes me feel like a bad writer, so I try not to think about it, because it’s not how I pictured myself when I dreamed of doing this as a career. But creativity is often hard to wrangle! (And adding health issues and energy problems into the mix just complicates things.) And the more I think about it, the more I think it probably doesn’t mean anything bad about my abilities as a writer. But it does mean that I don’t always work on the intended projects at the intended times, despite the fact that it feels like every other writer in the world is getting everything done when they say they will no matter what. (Even though I know they’re not. Well, maybe some of them are, but not all of them. Probably.)

So, yes, delays all around. Including a delay on the next audiobook, which I thought would also be out by now, though that one is for a completely different reason. Everyone involved is ready to go, but I have to wait for contracts (read: payment) from another project (one that will make Renegade X fans very happy, though I can’t reveal it yet), and I really thought they’d be done months ago, but they’re taking forever. But once all that gets sorted out, production will begin on the audiobook for book three. And once production begins, it really shouldn’t take very long for everything to get done and for it to come out.

I’ve also got some writing- and publishing-related posts coming up soon, too. People sometimes email me vague writing or publishing questions, and then I write them back with overwhelming emails containing everything I know on the subject. So I thought I’d comb through my emails and actually make some posts.

 

Dragonbound 2 Has a Title and Other Announcements

First off, paperback and hardcover copies of The Phobia of Renegade X are now available!

And if you missed it, The Torment of Renegade X is also available in paperback.

Now, onto upcoming book announcements:

Book 2 in the Dragonbound series is called Honorbound. (You can add it on Goodreads here.) It’s not done yet, but I’m aiming for a late 2017/early 2018 release. Watch here for pre-order info or sign up for the newsletter (top of the left column on my website) to be notified when it goes up.

Virginia St. George thinks she’s finally found where she belongs. She’s been living with Amelrik and the other dragons of Hawthorne clan for the last few months, learning their language and traditions, and has become a useful part of the community. Or so she thinks.

 

But when Amelrik’s father announces that he’s arranged a marriage for him, and it turns out the general populace sees her as nothing more than a human leech taking advantage of their prince, Virginia realizes she wasn’t fitting in as much as she thought, and her place at Hawthorne clan is more tenuous than ever.

 

If she wants to keep the love of her life and the only place that’s ever really felt like home, Virginia will have to thwart an arranged marriage, stop a war, and prove that she’s just as worthy as the next dragon. Er, human. And she’ll have to do it fast, before time runs out and she’s forced to leave the dragon world forever.

There will also be a book 5 in the Renegade X series. It’s called The Rivalry of Renegade X. (You can add it on Goodreads, too.) While I don’t have a blurb for it yet, I can tell you that Damien’s “good twin” from another dimension shows up and makes Damien’s life more difficult. >:) I’m hoping to have this out sometime next year (probably late next year), but it’s way too early to say.

 

 

The Phobia of Renegade X is Now Available!

It’s out! The Phobia of Renegade X is finally here! It’s currently available in ebook format, with paperback and hardcover coming soon (like, hopefully within the next week), and audiobook coming… eventually (but realistically probably sometime next year–I’ll keep you posted). This book has been a long time coming, and I’m so excited to finally get to share it with you guys.

And if you missed the news, I had to change cover artists for this one, but I LOVE how it turned out!

 

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Damien’s always been afraid of heights, but he’s never been afraid of fieldwork or of being in the spotlight. At least, he wasn’t before the gala—the one where his grandpa nearly caused a massacre and heroes from the League almost killed his best friend. Now he finds himself dreading the very things he used to love, and all he wants is to skate by in school, avoid fieldwork, and keep a low profile.

But avoiding his fears isn’t as easy as he hopes, especially when the school decides to send him and his best friend to hunt down a dangerous criminal. And as if that isn’t bad enough, it turns out he also has to pass a flying test if he wants to make it through the school year, even though his debilitating fear of heights means it’s pretty much impossible.

In order to pass the test and catch a criminal, Damien accepts help from unlikely allies. But when his mission goes south and he accidentally lets a terrible weapon fall into the wrong hands, he’ll have to overcome his doubts and save his friends from a psychotic killer bent on using his worst fears against him.

Torment Paperback and Some Cover/Release Date News

For those of you who have been waiting, The Torment of Renegade X is now out in paperback! (It’s been up for a few days, but they haven’t merged the listing yet with the ebook, so I didn’t notice. Oops.)

And I have some good news and some bad news about the cover for book 4.  The bad news is, Raul Allen is no longer going to be able to do the covers for the series, which is unfortunate, since I know many of us loved his covers and were looking forward to the new one. But the good news is that I have an amazing new cover artist lined up, and since I’m switching to photomanipulation covers (instead of the current covers, which are illustrated), this means it will also be done much sooner, and everyone can look forward to reading Phobia in mid August. Maybe even more like early August. (I so can’t wait for everyone to read this book. I love it so much, and it meant so much to me while I was working on it, and now you guys are finally going to be able to read it, too.)

I will eventually have all the covers redone to match the new style (eventually as in sometime this fall), and the new cover style will mean less delays and faster publication timelines in the future.

 

The Torment of Renegade X is Out!

The next installment in the Renegade X saga is here!!! The Torment of Renegade X is a 94-page novella that takes place between books 3 and 4, and the ebook is available now with the print version coming very soon (should be within the next week).

Torment - small photo The Torment of Renegade X - small_zps8ladga6e.jpg

The annual first-year camping trip is supposed to be the bonding experience of a lifetime. At least, it is as long as you’re not the only half villain going to an all-hero school. Damien knows he’s more likely to make new enemies than new friends on this trip, and he’s dreading spending a week in the woods with people who hate him. But he also knows that the school and his classmates would love nothing more than for him to stay home, and he’s not going to give them the satisfaction.

 

At camp, his cabin mates turn out to be douchebags—big surprise—but what Damien wasn’t counting on is that they not only hate him, but they have powers they can use on him without getting caught. Which they do. A lot. And Damien can’t fight back without risking getting kicked out of camp, if not out of school completely. As the week drags on and Damien’s life becomes a living hell, he starts to question whether it’s worth putting up with all this just to prove a point or if he should call it quits and go home. But going home means giving in, and if Damien wants to show his cabin mates that they can’t win, he’ll need to pull himself together and figure out a way to get revenge without using his powers.

Upcoming Releases

First things first, The Phobia of Renegade X, book 4 in the Renegade X series, is complete! It finished at 116k, which is just shy of book 3′s 118k. I’m hoping to have it out by the end of August, but that will depend on when the cover art is finished, so it might be more like early September.

In the meantime, I’m writing another novella, this one set between books 3 and 4. So you won’t have to read it to read book 4, but it is technically what comes next. It’s called The Torment of Renegade X and is about Damien and Riley (and Amelia) spending a mandatory week at superhero camp, much to Damien’s dismay. My goal is to have it out by the end of this month, so expect that soon!

And I set up the newsletter so that new subscribers now get a copy of Damien Locke’s Guide to Golden City, a fun travel guide I originally wrote as part of the Kickstarter for book 3.  It’s 18 pages of all-new anecdotes with snarky commentary between Damien and Riley, along with a few drawings. If you’d like to get a copy, there’s a subscription form in the  upper left of the sidebar (though if you’re reading this from a different site, go to www.chelseamcampbell.com first), and you can unsubscribe at any time. (I am totally that person who subscribes for the free gift and then immediately cancels, so who am I to judge?) If you’re already a subscriber, I’ve sent out a newsletter with a link to the file, so it should show up in your inbox very soon!

And if you’re a Dragonbound fan, yes, there will be more Dragonbound! It’s too early for me to promise any dates (I mean, I’d like to, but I’m always wrong, so maybe it’s better if I don’t), but for now just know that I’m working on it and you will have more Virginia and Amelrik. :)

Oh, and since I’m covering all the bases here, yes, there will be more audiobooks. I’m hoping to get at least one Renegade X audiobook out next February, but this is super tentative right now because it depends on some factors I don’t really have control of. BUT if you are one of the people waiting for them, take heart, because the audiobooks are very important to me, too, and more will be coming.

Dragonbound Comes out August 9th!

That’s right, I have a new book coming out! In, like, three weeks-ish. I’m pretty damn proud of this one, and I think if you’re a Renegade X fan, you’ll love Dragonbound, too. It’s not about superheroes (obviously) but it does have a similar tone and humor.

Virginia St. George has never been good at following the rules. After all, she’s supposed to be a paladin. She’s supposed to have inherited magic, like her older sister, that can bind a dragon’s powers. She’s supposed to be able to wield a sword, like her best friend, and chop a dragon’s head off in one blow. And she’s supposed to be able to leave the safety of the barracks, like everybody else, but watching a dragon rip her mother apart years ago ruined that option, leaving her with an intense fear of the outside world.

 

And, above all things, she’s most certainly not supposed to talk to Amelrik, the shapeshifting dragon boy her family’s keeping locked up in the dungeon. Even if he saved her life. But if there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that he’s a dangerous criminal who can’t be trusted, and that she should stay as far away from him as possible.

 

But when dragons kidnap her sister during a routine hunting mission, Amelrik offers up insider information that just might save her. That is, if anyone would listen. Now Virginia must make a choice: heed her family’s warnings and play it safe, or confront her worst fears and put her trust in a dangerous enemy. 

Though all you really need to know about it is the first line:

I want to punch everyone at this party in the face.

And I got my author copies of the audiobook, and HOLY CRAP, it’s amazing. Like, I don’t think I’m ever going to bother reading it myself now, because the narrator, Fiona Hardingham, does such an amazing job acting it all out and doing the voices and accents and stuff. So I highly recommend snagging a copy of the audiobook, which should be part of Whispersync, since it’s a Skyscape book, which believe means you can get the audiobook for only $1.99 when you buy the ebook, which is $3.99, which is pretty good for an audiobook. I think by itself it’s around $7 or something.

I am pretty picky about narrators, and I had absolutely nothing to do with this audiobook and had no idea who was doing it or how it would turn out (completely unlike with Renegade X, where I am in charge), and I admit I was kind of… worried. But to no avail! Because it turns out it’s awesome!

I’ve had a lot of hangups the past couple years (during the worst of the chronic illness that is thankfully no longer quite so chronic) with being able to tell if what I’m writing is good at all. I mean, I know it is, but sometimes I just feel so cruddy from illness that I can’t tell, because all I feel is cruddiness, and that’s not how it’s supposed to feel when I write something awesome. But hearing my books in audio format makes me forget about all the stupid crap I was worried about that doesn’t actually matter (read: problems made up in my head) and makes me experience it how it really is. So I’m doubly glad to have such amazing narrators for my work!

And I know this post is about Dragonbound, but since I post so sporadically (I couldn’t remember the opposite word for “often,” and then I thought of that scene in Clueless), I’ll include some Renegade X update info.

So, what is happening with book 4, you ask? Lots of cool stuff! But while I’m a lot better health-wise than I was last year or even six months ago, I’m still slow. I hate admitting that, both to you and to myself, but it’s true. (I used to be a fast writer. Sometimes I still am. But probably not today.) So… I’m still working on it. I’m really hoping to have it out sometime this fall, but I can’t really say (and I’m usually wrong, so take that prediction with a grain of salt).

But speaking of amazing audiobooks, when is the audiobook for book 3 coming out?! I know, I know, it’s been, like, a year since the last audiobook came out. But it’s all dependent on when I get the next book out (because audiobooks are expensive and I have to, like, pay for it), and when my narrator is available to work on it. So take whenever I get book 4 out and add a few months to it. But it will exist! Eventually!

Is Book 4 the last one? Please say no, please say no. Nope, not the last one! I’m taking this one book at a time, I don’t have, like, some grand plan or anything, but I do know that this isn’t the end. So, yay for not having grand plans, I guess. I’ll admit I’m not very good at planning ahead, but I am good at making the current book awesome and the series continuable, so there you go.

P.S. I forgot to mention that there’s a Goodreads giveaway going on for Dragonbound right now. Skyscape is giving away 100 ebook copies, and you can go here and enter.

The Haunting of Renegade X is out!

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 This novella takes place between books 2 and 3.

Damien doesn’t believe in ghosts, even when he hears the voice of his ex-best friend Pete calling to him from the Banking and Finances building, the scene of his death. His new friend Riley doesn’t believe in ghosts, either, but when Damien confides in him about what he thinks he heard, the two of them decide to investigate. On Halloween night.

A decision they come to regret as soon as Pete’s ghost traps them inside the building. It turns out Pete’s got unfinished business with Damien concerning the collapse of their friendship. Damien’s always blamed Pete for how it ended, but now Pete forces him to acknowledge the part he played in it. In order to survive the night, Damien will not only have to figure out how to fight a ghost, but he’ll have to tell the truth about his past–even when that truth threatens to destroy his new friendship with Riley.

The ebook is available now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  iTunes, and Kobo. And I’m working on getting the paperback version up ASAP.

The Betrayal of Renegade X is Out Today!!!

The day is finally here! At least, if you’ve been waiting for the ebook. If you’re waiting for the paperback or hardcover, those will take a little longer. (My current estimate is about one week for the paperback and two or three for the hardback.)

This book has been so long in the making, and I’m so excited to finally get to share it with everyone!

Available now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, or iTunes.

 

Damien thinks he has the whole hero thing figured out—he’s getting good grades at Heroesworth and acing all his missions—at least until he zaps an unarmed bad guy he believes tortured and murdered children. It turns out the “bad guy” was actually a superhero working with the school. The mission was staged, and Damien blew it. 

Now his best friend refuses to work with him, his dad is considering getting him professional help, and everyone’s questioning whether or not he has a future as a hero—including his grandpa, who will do anything to ensure Damien’s future lies in villainy. His grandpa creates a villain organization called the Truth, intent on exposing the way heroes really treat villains. But when the Truth launches its plan and the whole city erupts in chaos, Damien is caught between the opposing sides, and his future is anything but certain. 

With heroes and villains bent on destroying each other, it’s up to him to do whatever it takes to stop the fighting, even if it means betraying the people closest to him.