Thursday, March 14, 2013

Going Indie: Clark Lohr Guest Post

Today I welcome back mystery author Clark Lohr.

Clark Lohr comes from a Montana farm and ranch background. He is a Vietnam vet and a member of Veterans for Peace. He's trained as a photographer and holds degrees in Writing and in English from the University of Arizona. Clark Lohr has drifted considerably in his life, thus informing his crime fiction. Devil's Kitchen is his first novel. Clark's Facebook Fan Page


I bought my rights back from my publisher a short time ago and started the process of self-publishing—going indie. Two other (successful and smart) authors urged me to do it. One of them had been telling me to do it for several years. Another author I know, who has multiple mystery titles out with a respected traditional publisher, had counseled me against self-publishing—but that was back in 2010. If things hadn’t shifted by then, they have by now. My first crime novel, Devil’s Kitchen, just came out on Kindle. The paperback edition will follow. My book shows the publisher as “BarZF Press,” located in “Tucson, Arizona.” As another self-published author I know put it: “That’s me. Little old me.”

The message that’s been running through commercial fiction culture for years now is: Publish it yoursef, and you’ll get to keep lots—lots— more money for yourself, and your book will look as good as anybody’s. You can partner with powerful companies that put your work on a virtual bookshelf for the whole world to see. You then work hard and smart and long at promoting your work—and you get yourself a real paycheck, a real reputation, and, maybe, true fame and fortune. The good news: this message is generally true.

Established authors—some of them great literary fiction authors— are buying back their publishing rights from traditional publishers and putting their books up under their own brands, or labels, which are “presses” or “publishers” only in name. Authors don’t have printing presses in their basements. We type stuff on keyboards, and it goes into cyberspace and becomes bound books and e-books—and we operate in a publishing industry (this is the kicker) that’s changing almost daily—daily.

Traditional publishing houses have dwindled down from The Big Six to something like “The Big Four.” Penguin and Random House recently merged. These corporations can be foreign owned, and they don’t function like artists; these corporations look at the bottom line and focus on publishing the famous, the infamous, and those who know them. New authors don’t have a chance of getting a contract from traditional publishing houses. These houses are refusing new works by established authors they’ve previously published. If there’s a best way into a big money contract with a traditional house it’s by self-publishing and building a buzz for your book. Allegedly, big time book and movie reps troll the internet for talent and talent gets noticed.

In late 2009, Amazon merged two smaller companies and called the result “CreateSpace.” They began manufacturing books, DVD’s and music formats for artists and businesses. You can love or hate Amazon and there are reasons to do both, but they get things done. In that same year, CreateSpace out produced, a famous, previously established self-publishing service.

I signed a contract with a respected small publishing company in October 2010. Devil’s Kitchen appeared as a 6x9 paperback, a trade paperback, in June 2011. My experience? Pretty good. I was a first-time author. I’d passed the bar; my writing was good enough for a critical, smart, and seasoned acquisitions editor—a mystery author herself—to offer me a contract. That was a plus.

As for a minus, I learned that having a POD publisher—a publish on demand publisher—is not a plus in the minds of the chain bookstores—and that included the University of Arizona, my alma mater. Their book buyer stonewalled me and a clerk inadvertently explained the reason by looking at their master list of book descriptions and saying that Devil’s Kitchen was a POD book—apparently, I might as well have published it myself and been turned down for having a POD book.

On the plus side, according to my contract, my publisher listed my title with Ingram and other book wholesalers. I know they put me up on online retail stores as well. I was on Amazon, Powell’s Books, and so on. Again, on the plus side, my publisher educated me in self-promotion and encouraged me to self-promote. They maintained a website and did press releases and made contacts with bookstores—indie bookstores, mostly, because the big chains don’t want the small publisher or the self-publisher.

My publisher bore the expense of creating my book cover, even though, as a photographer, I felt I had a better design in mind than their artist, and I still think so—and, in the end, my publisher went with my design. My current Kindle/CreateSpace/“BarZF Press” cover design is even better. Although I paid for it myself, the price was reasonable. We’re not talking thousands of dollars for any of this book production. Nor did I pay thousands to get my rights back. I paid under a thousand.

My publisher paid me a twenty percent royalty for every paperback copy sold and fifty percent for e-book sales. The CreateSpace royalty calculator tells me I’ll make around thirty percent royalties on paperback sales going out on Amazon. On e-book sales, just under fifty percent. When I order paperbacks shipped to me for sale by me, I’ll pay less to Amazon than I did to my publisher. I own the publishing rights now. If Devil’s Kitchen ever goes book to movie, I won’t be contractually obligated to give fifty percent of the money to my publisher.

I stand to make more money from books sold on this new path I’m on. It’s now almost entirely up to me to promote my work. I received encouragement and help with formatting for the web from other indie authors. I’m grateful for the author culture I’ve experienced, an open culture of sharing information and ideas for everyone’s benefit. How is it going to work out? I don’t know. I’m at the point where Stuart Little gets in his little car and drives off down the highway. He had a great attitude. I’m going with that attitude.


Anonymous said...

That's great Clark...welcome back to the self employed..."you get out what you put in". You had nothing to lose either. All of it has been an enlightening wonderful experience and I wish you more of the same.....and now I think I know what the word Indie means finally..a GDI !
Tu amiga,

Bill Schweigart said...

I'm damn excited for you, Clark. And if readers out there haven't yet read Devil's Kitchen and want to be excited, then I recommend picking it up.

Mar Preston said...

Devil's Kitchen is far too good to languish with a small press. Lohr has shown intelligence and spunk in taking it back into his own hands. Now all he needs is stamina.

This is one book that stands apart. I still remember the characters and read it months ago.

Good luck to you...

Teresa Burrell, Author, Attorney, Advocate said...

Great article, Clark. I agree this industry changes daily. The only way to keep up is to have some control. You have written a great book and that's the best first step. Now, you've taken the second step. I look forward to seeing you at the top.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful summary of the process of going from Indie press to self-publishing/Indie, Clark. Congrats on making the leap.