Saturday, December 21, 2013

Those First Five Pages

Of course, I need to remember my basic grammar and word structure and proof the hell out of it whenever I send in a submission. But read the submission guidelines first. Have you ever seen “the first five pages” requested?  It’s common for an editor or agent to request a query or synopsis and a few sample pages pasted into the email box. It could be five pages (common) or ten, or in some cases, the first three chapters but that’s not often. There are a few reasons for this.

One reason is because it is very handy and quick to deal with—no attachments—no virus risks. Another reason is that an editor or agent will want to sample the writing style, look for proper sentence structure, paragraphing, pace, cohesion and basic adherence to grammar, novel text format and spelling. It doesn’t take dozens of pages to evaluate the caliber of the writing. Incoherent or sloppy writing can be gauged within a first paragraph, prompting an immediate rejection. There is another element—the hook. The hook or draw of the first pages are very important; I would say nearly crucial. Everything else can be in order, but if the reader is bored the prognosis for continuing the read will not be good.

What are some of the rejection phrases that might be doled out for a tepid start—a sluggish, uninteresting beginning? Keep in mind that a guideline request for sample pages (not chapters) are a tip-off that the editor/agent can make a very quick evaluation and spot a good opener.

“This didn’t draw me in like I expected.” (This is the all-time winner)

“I didn’t connect with the main character.” (Very common)

“Not quite unique or different enough.” (Words to that effect)

“The plot is not driving forward—too static.” (he/she is telling you to get on with it)

“Your story starts here.” (This points out useless information or a plot/incident lag)

My first pages to the reader are a promise that I intend to deliver something extraordinary--they are my best foot forward to entice, mystify, attract and deliver. My concept is right up front, either hinted at or delivered in all its glory with the character/s actively involved with a problem or confrontation that raises a question or instills some type of awe. I'm going to pose questions--I'm not going to answer them.

I'm not one for heavy scene setup, weather, internal monologue or any type of extended narrative that gently slides the reader into the storyline. I'm going to dump you there--that's where the reader belongs--immersed from the get.

The trick and magic of storytelling is to keep that inertia until the last page, but to me, it sure begins with the craftsmanship of the very first words--they set the tone and pace for all that follows.
As a writer, I'm out to get you. If I let you pause or relax, I've failed. I haven't got that much time to rev the engine because you'll be asking "when are we leaving?" I've already dropped the clutch and hit the gas.


Sorry for symbolism and esoteric delivery, but there is a certain amount of magic in the first pages that's hard to explain. You know it when you see/read it. I have a few examples that I’ve tried and they have pulled more reads than my other openings. They would both be considered action openers—the second one much more than the first example. But let me say this, it does not have to be an action opener because sometimes this can be too obvious and overdone. In literary fiction, beautiful phrases and imagery can do the trick. As can dialogue, if showing high stakes and presenting a problem.  I do think my second example is overdone since it never lets up one beat and carries that steam to the end of the chapter. The first example presents a very curious problem, beginning with the first sentences and then dumps the reader into the dilemma.

(First page—The Girl They Sold to the Moon)

            Tilly Breedlove never thought she would end up in an institution like this and hear her father utter such dreadful, embarrassing words across a counter top.

            “I’m Reginald Breedlove, and I have an appointment for the last stage of the program.  I’m here to pawn my daughter.”

            I’m here to pawn my daughter.  Tilly knew they had another word for it, because she and her girlfriends used to laugh at the K-Span commercial spots on late night Holoview.  She wasn’t laughing now.  She’d never seen so many kids gathered in one spot, except at a school assembly.  The first floor of the auditorium-sized building had at least twenty standing lines and a waiting area filled to capacity.  Sure, there were sniffles and tearful goodbyes, with an occasional knock-down-drag-out, but the worst scenes were reserved for the six to twelve-year-old kids, the next wing over.  Those kids were on the Daffodil Plan, commonly called, Daffy’s, and their screams pierced through the air conditioning vents.

(First page—The War Gate)

Through a mist of nausea, Avalon felt the bed roiling under her. Loud, harsh voices crashed in her mind, screaming out warnings. She tried to push up from the bed, but her arms refused to obey. Her legs were like lead. When she opened her eyes for a moment, she could see white beams flitting about. She heard the words, “Secure the scene.”

The hair on the back of her neck rose. Scene. What scene? What in the hell was going on? Who was that talking? She tried to speak, but her tongue seemed glued to her mouth.

“That’s her all right,” said a deep male voice.

“Avalon Labrador,” said a louder male voice. “Are you Avalon Labrador?”

She looked to the side of the bed, commanding her eyes to focus. A large shadow loomed, showing a man of massive girth.

“I’m—I’m Avalon,” she said. Her head ached with fierce intensity. More words.

“Don’t touch the knife—leave it for homicide. Somebody catch the light switch. Keep the hallway open for the crime scene people.”

 What type of opening you have in your first five pages is up to you. However, don’t stop with your best five pages; carry that intensity through. You’ll have room for breathers/breaks soon enough and you can balance these with action and narrative scenes. That’s where your inner monologue or dialogue can come in.

I don’t know whether any of you remember or have used the “flashback.” I know that it was popular twenty years ago and remnants of it might still be around. It’s simply the task of switching out a slow first chapter with a more intriguing or action-oriented scene in a latter chapter, or substituting the first with the second or third chapter. It’s kind of an emergency device where you don’t want to lose the first chapter, but it’s not doing its job up front. I remember reading Poul Anderson’s Virgin Planet and immediately recognizing a chapter switch between the first and second. This might interrupt the timeline a little or leave out some pertinent information, but it gets the job done, albeit in kind of a clunky or desperate manner. Linear writing, as in A to B to C to D and so on can be chopped up into min-flashbacks or abrupt transitions, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you really know what you’re doing.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Driving Traffic to Your Website

 A lot of authors try to reach customers via their website. This is a rather generic article that might encompass other products, but it works well for books, poetry and short stories that you might have listed on retail sites. 

A website is a wonderful tool to reach the masses whether you are selling products and services, books, or programs. It's almost a given for any serious author and many publishers ask writers if they have a current website, or even a blog that will afford promotion space. Increased website traffic translates to more readership, visitors and ultimately, income. Once you have a website designed and active and you’ve established that you have a viable product or service to sell, it is important to draw as many potential customers and readers to your home base website. Here are some ideas on how to promote your website and draw that much needed attention.

First and foremost, you need to link your website URL to any and all sources on the Internet that you frequent (search engines). If you belong to a group such as Readers Forum, any display sites, several blog sites or other relative websites pertinent to your product or service, you should list your URL in any signature line or profile page provided. When you comment or guest-write a blog or article, your link will take potential customers and readers to your website. This works well if you are an authority on your subject and your interaction piques curiosity. You might have a website that is genre specific, such as Young Adult, science fiction or fantasy. 

Offering something of value free gratis on your site is an excellent way to attract visitors. This could be free exerpts, short stories or entire novels, and you can lay out stipulations for acquiring the freebie. You may offer a free non-fiction tutorial or eBook that has valuable information. Small contests work well where you pose questions or offer free merchandise to a limited number of first responders. You can post questions that have to do with characters or plot points in one of your books and reward for the correct answers.

 Offering discount days also works for drawing attention and you can announce these discount days via FaceBook, Twitter or on a separate blog. Write a small blurb in any website group that features a thread on “latest news” or “goals and accomplishments.” Radio, newspaper and cable TV sources are always on the hunt for local human interest stories and articles—this is a terrific way to reach the masses, especially if your website is new and in need of traffic. You may also convince other websites to give away your freebies, in essence, using their traffic and membership to widen your exposure.

Using “pay for rank” search engines is an economical way to get targeted customers that share your subject matter. Visitors obtained in this matter may cost as little as 10 cents apiece, but the traffic jump may result in the thousands of visitors to your site. Ezine advertising works the same way—you pay a small upfront fee to advertize in numerous ezines that may result in hundreds of thousands of prospective clients and customers. Unlike paper magazine and newspaper advertizing, ezine ads are longer lasting and able to reach the masses instantly. You may also publish your own ezine or newsletter that offers a membership. If you have a number of titles, especially in a series, you can create your own little book club. This will bring repeat customers back to your website via embedded email notices, especially if you are adding new information or making announcements.

You may try “joint venturing” where you team up with several competitors or persons in related book and reader groups and agree to cross promote or list your URL on their sites. Joint venturing can go nearly viral if there are dozens or hundreds of similar websites that offer the same products and services you are promoting.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Some Editorial Scoldings

 I just went through a major structural edit on my most recent YA novel. I thought I had it pretty tight, seamless and moving at a fairly swift pace. Dudes, was I wrong. I seem to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. These are just a few examples that really stood out and caused some major problems. I had to cut 15 pages of text from this first, initial pass, and it's a very small book. There's more to come, I'm sure. But do any of you share these types of blunders? Pay heed and stop and think about them in your first revision. They somehow got by my in droves, much to my embarrassment.

I'm now convinced that if I don't stop blatantly foreshadowing every frickin' plot point in the novel and giving away everything before it happens, then I'll be sentenced to manuscripts full of red chicken scratch track changes for the rest of my life. I hope I've learned my lesson on this one. You can’t have a character think about, or plan what they’re going to do to solve a problem then have that character commit the act in the next scene, page or chapter. You see, you’ve already hinted or given it away. What’s the use? Use a red herring that whispers of an up-and-coming event, but leave it logically fragmented or incomplete somehow, at least enough to draw curiosity. Then, drop the bomb shell later on.

And, I better not catch myself going into an internal monologue or any other type of exposition or extended narrative smack in the middle of physical action scene. Nothing slows down an action sequence faster than interrupting it and trying to explain some nuance or reason for the conflict. This especially applies to character thoughts and motivation. Don’t underestimate your reader; they don’t need as much explanation as you think. Try to avoid blow-by-blow description—keep your fight or chase scenes open enough to reveal what else is happening nearby that is directly related to the scene. Huge battles that cover a lot of geographic territory and participants can be handled in tight 3rd or even Omni. Think of the battles and major wars in the Lord of Rings trilogy. The camera has to pull back to get everything covered—much like the writing would have to do. If you have a pitched fight between two characters, like in Rocky or Real Steel, then go ahead and try some blow by blow, but don’t overdo it.  

Redundancy. OMG. Why must my last two or three sentences in a paragraph drive the same point across? What am I trying to do—craft a paragraph summary like in an article or a tiny novel? Who the hell ever heard of an epilog in a paragraph for gawd's sake? I got recently got smacked up-side the head for that one more than once. Here’s an example:

            She studied his eyes, looking for that inner light of recognition—that certain spark.  It only took a microsecond to make the determination.  Nobody was home.  He might have been fine as first impressions went, like a trendy piece of clothing pulled off the rack.  But once donned, it itched and felt clunky.  Candidate number two did not look promising.

There is just no way that last sentence is needed. We already know from the preceding words in the paragraph that this guy doesn’t look good. Full ahead STOP, when you’ve made your point. I call this driving the point home and I’m famous for this type of repetition—fluff that adds nothing and takes up only white space. In fact, that certain spark is repetitious. Kill your darlings; knock out prose that restates or repeats anything. Use a short, stark sentence to get your meaning over and done with. Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll see that I’ve committed this blunder again in this very paragraph. Conclusion: don’t write like me, hah!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Writer's Bios and Credit History

I keep seeing this topic pop up every now and then. It seems it always come to the front when a writer is asked for a bio and credit history from an agent or publisher. It is sometimes stipulated in the guidelines and it's a very popular, normal request. I've never had a problem getting an agent--I feel that I excel in that regard. Same with publishers--I use the same bio and credit list for both. You're actually selling yourself right along with the manuscript, whether it's sample pages, a partial or full. Some writers have no previous credits at all, and this is not uncommon for the newbie. You simply can't list what is not there. Therefore, that writer has to fall back on a short bio--just a piece that highlights their vocational interests, writing habits or works in progress. Of course, any degrees (or seminar, workshop attendance) in writing are a welcome addition to a credit list or bio, and I would encourage anyone to list such accomplishments if their overall presentation is small or lacking.

I've been praised, especially for my credit list or history of  past publications. It's not huge, it's not that exceptional. However, you'll notice many categories that fill it out and add another dimension to the profile. No one told me to add the extras, I just took it upon myself to include anything that was writer related. It's just well-rounded and average. Like I say, it's not Bradbury's listed publication history for sure, but it is well-organized and reaching out for all possible (writing experience) venues of interest. I'll include it here, and the bio for your perusal. I chose a format between detailed and very simple, so an editor or agent can read the list at glance and a half and be done with it. I hope it helps. It's never failed me, and I have a suspicion that it's landed me more than one contract, given that the manuscript was on the fringe of acceptance.


Chris Stevenson, originally born and raised on the beaches of southern California, moved to Sylvania, Alabama in 2009 and settled in with his twin sister. His occupations have included newspaper reporter, front-line mechanic and federal police officer. He has been writing off and on for 36 years, having officially published books beginning in 1988. Today he writes science fiction, fantasy, paranormal romance, young adult, adult thrillers and horror. He has a total of nine titles appearing on Amazon, the last of which is The War Gate, a paranormal romance suited for the young adult crowd. His latest YA near-future tale, The Girl They Sold to the Moon, took the grand prize in a publisher's novel writing contest and garnered six offers of publication. He intends to keep writing and coordinating with his agent, Sara Camilli.

Auto Repair Shams and Scams (Forward--Ralph Nader), 1990, Price Stern & Sloan, Los Angeles--226 pages, non-fiction, consumer warning and repair book.
Garage Sale Mania, 1988, Betterway Publications, Crozet, Virginia--190 pages, non-fiction—1988.
Word Wars, a SF novel, to Rain Publishing, Canada—May, 2007.
Once Upon a Goddess, a Fantasy novel, to Rain Publishing, Canada—January, 2008
Planet Janitor—Custodian of the Stars, a SF novel sold to Engage Books, May 2009
Gate Walker, a Paranormal Fantasy, sold Lyrical Press—January, 2009.
The Wolfen Strain, a fantasy thriller sold to LBF (Lachesis) Books, February 2009
The War Gate, a Paranormal thriller, to Pen and Press, 10-12-2012
The Girl They Sold to the Moon, a YA dystopian sold to Intrigue Press, August 2013

Stellar by Starlight, to Amazing Stories, 1988.
The Lonely Astronaut, to Amazing Stories, 1988.
Temperamental Circuits, to Gordon Linzner of Space & Time, 1989.
Things that go Clump in the Night, to Richard Fawcett of Doppelganger, 1989.
Dance the Macabre and Dance it Well, to Erskine Carter of Ouroborous, 1989.
Future School, to Chris Bartholomew of Static Movement, January 2006.
The Incredible Mr. Dandy, to Not One of Us.
Planet Janitor The Moon is not Enough, to Enage Books, 2012
Planet Janitor Journey Interrupted, to Engage Books 2012
Other magazine appearances from 1988 to 1991 include, Alpha Adventures, Small Press Writers and Artists Organization and Sycophant.

The Summit, 15-minute horror play to Night Sounds, Embassy Cassette Inc, Santa Ana, California—1990
Night of the Moa, 13-minute horror play to Night Sounds, Embassy Cassette Inc, Santa Ana, California—1990.

Finalist in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest, for Temperamental Circuits, 1987.
First place, grand prize winner for The Girl They Sold to the Moon, a YA distopian novel,  to a Publisher's Novel Writing Competition. Advance and publication offered—June 2012.

350 newspaper profiles, stories, and interviews to Sunset Publishing, Anaheim, California, appearing in The West Coast Jewish News, The Senior Citizens Reporter, and The Military Review. From 1988 to 1991. Seven automotive articles to Dollar Stretcher Magazine, from 12-2-2011 to 2-28-2012.

I have written and published over 1,700 non-fiction automotive, aircraft, marine, home and garden and science articles for Demand Media Studios, under the Beta-Automotive and E-How stations. Six automotive articles to—6-2012. Published  250 automotive and general articles to TextBroker. Content writing for a total of three years.

Served as content editor of Sunset Publication (see above) for three years. Responsible for all writing assignment content, filler and artwork.
President and founder of Heartland Writers Group, Huntington Beach, California, from 1987 to 1991.

Past agent--Richard Curtis Associates, from 1988 to 1991.
Past agent—TriadaUS (Dr. Uwe Stender), from 2005 to August 2009
Present agent—Sara Camilli

Fusion, a military espionage thriller.
Valley of the Mastodons, a non-fiction book involving the Ice Age megafauna discoveries in Hemet, California, during the Diamond Valley reservoir dig. Proposal, chapter outline, and 100 pages available upon request
Dispossessed Incorporated, an urban ghost fantasy.
The Omega Wars—SF, apocalyptic alien invasion (Sequel to PJ)
Screamcatcher, a YA fantasy

I usually place the bio and credit history right after the email query or synopsis, and include it in the body of the email. It makes no sense to attach it, since it's not very attainable or convenient. If I'm asked to attach a credit list, then it follows the rear end of the synopsis--same page, not an extra one. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Small Press Pros

 Someone asked me if I had experienced any bright spots with the small press, and the answer to that is yes. So it's only fair to point out some of the advantages and perks that small press can bring to the seasoned or aspiring author. After all, the primary goal of any publishing venue is to get a quality product out there that is well received by the public, one that provides great structural and copy-editing, cover art, good distribution (even if limited) and some type of an organized marketing campaign.

I never said that I was flat against the idea of publishing with the small press. Only that I was having a more difficult time with it than most. Now here's the caveat: my SF publisher, Engage, has done absolutely everything right and beyond. The CEO and editor have degrees in publishing from a prestigious Canadian university and both served as apprentices in publishing and printing shops before they even opened their doors. They specialize in science fiction only, print classic back titles for coffer money, and remove all stops when it comes to hiring the highest quality professional art designers, who render book covers in original oil and water colors. They attend every conference and show out there, spreading their brand name and have a voluminous list of review and publicity sources. Each books gets its own website, with full descriptions, press news and author bio.

My most recent publisher, Intrigue, seems to have all their ducks in a row. Between the president and editorial director, they boast 22 years in publishing experience, having produced books for the past 10 years. They are selective and exacting in their acquisitions. The editorial director teaches writing at the community college level and is always on demand for panels and speaking engagements. There is no conference or show that goes without their attendance and they are particularly good at keeping their brand consistently in the public eye. They have a marketing director who leaves no stone unturned when it comes to exploring the newest social media applications, and is always in touch with the publisher's authors, to teach, inform and direct them in gaining maximum exposure. 

Small press editors are one up on beta readers. It's probable that an author's book, once purchased, will fall under multiple qualified eyes, to suggest small or vast improvements in structure, continuity and plot. There might be multiple edits that span weeks or months until final proofreading. Galley versions (final book layout) will usually be sent to the author for final approval. These types of editing services are very expensive in a professional or freelance setting. When you consider that a full multi-stage edit can run anywhere from two to five dollars a page, you'll begin to see how much of an investment you're in for if you decide to self-publish. Nearly all legitimate, non-vanity small presses include multi-stage editing in their contract that is free to the author. This is one of the huge investments that publishers make to create a quality product fit for commercial consumption.

Someone has to format the book for either digital e-book, print or both, and this is handled by a trained professional who has done this work before, preferably dozens or hundreds of times. This is no easy task, and if an author has no experience in this area, they will have to take a small course and learn its intricacies. This can be very complicated when you consider any type of artwork, chapter  headings and design, table of contents, footnotes and other formatting issues that require precise font and style text placement. A service like this can start at $100 and go up.

You rarely see totally incompetent book cover design by the small press today. There are definitely losers out there, but even they can be re-worked through a compromise between the artist and the author. Authors are almost always given the opportunity to share in the book cover creation and are encouraged to participate in its concept and design. Good cover design requires a solid knowledge of colors, bordering, font, style, tone and overall presentation. Good to great cover art grabs and intrigues. It's meant to hold your attention. The best graphic designers can command up to $500 and more for quality book covers. Of course, if you're lucky, your small press will have an artist on board who can render the ideal cover that fits your book perfectly.

Small press publishers are more apt to get book review requests, author interviews and guest blog spots during the all important publicity stage. They also seem to do a much better job of obtaining celebrity endorsements and blurbs. Now why is this? Well, for one thing, they've probably got a database filled with book reviewers that they've used in the past, or go after the ones they know have the most influence, like Library Journal or Kirkus. Review sources are literally clobbered by desperate authors, wishing to expand their brand-name recognition--they're a dime a dozen. Publishers carry more weight and legitimacy since they are inclined to be a bit more impartial and less desperate--it's just business to them--not the end of the world if they are denied. They can send out a dozen or more ARCs (author review copies) in digital or print, do it swiftly and hit the right targets. Experience is a key factor here.

Most small press publishers are inclined to attend conferences and shows where they can network with influential media sources--face to face contact. Physical product placement is achieved by setting up booths, with display banners, new releases, back-list titles, free samples and, ultimately, direct sales.

I've actually seen and been the recipient of small press publishers who have taken out Internet banner ads, or page ads in popular genre magazines. They often get a discount if they group their books together for multiple listings instead of taking out ads for single titles. One of my publishers hired a publicity company to get the word out--an expenditure that most authors would be hesitant to invest in.

There are many other things that go on behind the scenes of a small press publisher. Many things that writers take for granted or gloss over. When you consider the major expense or labor involved in bringing a book to fruition, the small press is certainly a better alternative (IMO) than going the self-publishing route, which could cost you an arm and a leg before you're even ready for Amazon and the retail outlets. Legitimate small press handles all of that for you, allowing you to get your ass back in your typing chair or cuddled up with your laptop. 

Now, where can or does small press go wrong most of the time? Since most of these small houses rarely have full distribution, the sales of print copies are really going to suffer. By that, I mean dive bomb unless the author and marketing director hit on some epiphany that shoves the book onto some store or library shelves. Promotion and marketing are the big problems today--not book production. Getting the book sold--it's a numbers game. 

So what's happened to effective promotion and marketing in the small press world that has brought down the sales numbers compared to 10, or even 5 years ago? Self-publishing. And I don't mean the author/writers. I mean the collective machine that has caused such a glutonous monster that there aren't enough reviewers or social media hosts in all the world to handle the daily influx of all the new titles that are swamping the market.  Compound this by years and you'll begin to see the problem here. If too many people get on the bus, it's going to break down or be immobile.

Don't get me wrong, self-publishing opened up some locked doors and many of these books deserve to see the light of day. Most of them do not. Why? Because, effectively, they don't have the bases covered like most of the commercial small press publishers (see above). Remember I wrote about the self-publishing bubble months ago and made a prediction? I might have overstated that the bubble will burst, but there is every indication that self-publishing is going to level off, stagnate or begin to lose a huge chunk of its future membership. Add to the fact that self-publishers have priced themselves into poverty levels, which has had a chain reaction that's keeping everyone down at below basement level. News flash: "free" doesn't work anymore.

So what's the biggest argument against small press vs self-publishing? Well, gee, it's that 70% cut from Amazon--that's where self-publishing shines. Okay, first tabulate any money you've put into this book and wait until it's earned out before you start counting your larger sales cuts. If you reach 1000 copies in a month or two after release, consider yourself luck and possibly on your way. More? Jump for joy. But don't be surprised if you're staring at two-digit figures after three months, or even more.

An interesting article about the state and perception of self-publishing:          

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Small Press Woes?

My views about small press and indie houses have drastically changed over the last seven years. I was trashed the first time out (2006, just returning to the Internet) with two books to the same publisher. They took 26 other authors down with me and closed their doors. The other four publishers (over the years to the present) resulted in lack-luster sales, no concerted promotion/marketing other than a few listings, editorial mishaps and what not. Granted, there are exceptional small presses out there that seem to have all their ducks in a row: Sammy, Elora's, Liquid Silver, Entangled, Night Shade (older days), Soho, Arctic Wolf, Prometheus, and many more.

My experience with the small or "micro" press has generally been about the same.  I'm talking about the very small presses with limited staff, resources, zilch distribution, who use the POD model. I've heard the number of 75 copies from James, our resident Yog, and at first, I didn't believe it until I actually experienced it firsthand. I upped the figure to 150, to be generous, and that figure comes from several friends who have admitted their numbers to me. My one exception has been my SF publisher. We've moved 275 copies, and 14 of those were hardbacks priced at $29.99. That was in the first three months. The rest were e-books.

All of my print sales rankings from all of my publishers reside in the millions. My one self-published book has sold 23 copies (e-books) and it has been out for 14 months. The contract on my last book was not picked up because of poor sales--and this book was my number 1 pick out the the 17 that I've written over the last 26 years.

I can remember the days back in the mid and late '80s when small press made me thousands of dollars. That's because many small presses in those days paid nice advances and had very good distribution--I appeared in every Waldens and B. Dalton book store in the U.S., in addition to making tons of foreign sales, with multiple copies landing in all the libraries. They are still in the libraries to this day. As small as these publishers were, I pulled four major T.V. appearances, over 40 radio shows and God knows how many newspaper and slick magazine reviews and interviews. Today, I call these types of publishers "Mediums." They are not Big Five huge, nor are they tiny, limited-staff operations.

I can truly state that for average sales on an average book, with good editing, attractive cover art and a hot genre, are anywhere from 75 to 150 copies--which has been stated before. There are notable exceptions--breakouts. These publishers, the vast majority of them, offer no advances and have no distribution to get print copies into book stores or libraries and put forth the least amount of promo and marketing. Lots of them provide royalties on net. Some of them are not even listed with Ingrams. I consider many of them to be author mills in disguise--reaping profits from hundreds of authors who might sell double digit numbers during their contract time period. I give you Mundania as a prime example of this type.

If you have to resort to a small or indie press, you start at the top just as you or your agent would with the larger publishers. It's crucial that they have full distribution and offer advances, for me at least. If they perform off-set print runs, it icing on the cake. Check your local library and book store for their presence--make sure those titles are fairly current, too. A publisher can drop a distributor, or the other way around, and you'd find out about it too late in the game.

Email their authors and check sales ranks on the retailer sites, particulary Amazon. Not a real foolproof way to determine sales numbers, but an approximate picture on how their books are moving. Make note of any legit, recognized industry awards--always a good sign. Longevity: I like to see three years or more in business. Staff bios are very important--look for prior experience with verifiable references.

I like to see at least four staff members assigned to the different publishing areas, preferably more. Single operators, mom and pop or family owned houses or author collaborative presses wave red flags at me--accountability being the main issue, related to communication speed, funds dispersal, adequate promotion and marketing efforts, publication scheduling, editorial competence, attitude and tone, book-keeping and other relevant matters.

Are you really going to turn over a book to a questionable small press house, a book that has taken you three, six, nine months or a year to write-edit-polish, to a publisher that offers only royalties (maybe net) on a book that might profit you a few hundred dollars in its lifetime? Book after book after book? Have you sold or signed for a series of books with a publisher without receiving any type of advance or escalating royalty clause? Have you given up subsidiary rights that the publisher cannot exploit?

I know of three authors who've signed huge series deals with small houses, the last one with 18 books to the same publisher, and my gut-ripping thoughts wonder if these poor authors got anything substantial out of the deal. No commitment for your hard work? Why?

If sales and readership numbers mean nothing to you and you view writing and editing as a hobby, then I ask you how you'll feel about this after half a decade or more of this blind dedication and hellish production. Do you think you'll change your mind after that stint and be receptive to getting really paid for your work? I ask you to think about that right now before you even contemplate submitting your books anywhere.

To a point, it's true that a publishable book can appeal to multiple publishers, and if you've received one or two offers, chances are there are more down the line that will snap you up. Caveat: beware that in the last couple years we've seen a glut of people claiming to be publishers that are only interested (first) in building their writing stable. You'll see them via their grandiose mission statements and calls for publication all over the Internet. Their Home page will entice writers--not readers. The quality of the story will be secondary. In all probability, their decision to offer you a contract may be based on your brand name (if you have one), your marketing plan (media reach and platform), and your past (publishing) credit list.

Don't take the first offer unless you are absolutely sure that they are the perfect fit for your book. Research all publishers until hell won't have it--P & E, Absolutewrite, Piers Anthony listings, Ralan's (for re-print, editor/CEO names) and the SFWA Writer Beware site.

Just so this isn't a complete Debbie Downer, my last YA title sold six times and I handed the contracts off to my agent. They were all small press outfits. When the dust settled, we copped a great royalty clause and a high three figure advance--pretty remarkable for one of the little guys. You can do this too, if you find the right one and negotiate the contracts sans an agent. Never be afraid to pow-wow with the purchaser--trust me, you won't chase them off. You'll just make them think harder about how much they want the book.