a blog for christian writers

Publishing Alternatives


An Interview with Lisa Norman:

Let me introduce myself. I am a writer. I have a pesky degree in creative writing and I’ve been around the industry for more years than I’m comfortable claiming. I have friends published through all flavors of the publishing industry and have walked through the changes in the industry with them. I remember when I thought going indie was the worst thing anyone could ever do. I remember thinking my indie friends were destroying their careers. Yes, they changed my mind on that!

1) Lisa can you describe the general differences between a small independent publisher, one of the big six houses, and the self publishing option.

The difference comes down to who does what and how much control you have.When you sell to the big six, they do most of the production work and make most of the decisions. There are advantages and disadvantages with this. If you go this route, definitely have an agent working with you to ensure your interests are protected. It used to be that they did a bunch of marketing for you as well. This has dropped off over recent years with even solid mid-listers needing to do their own marketing. If the traditional industry sees you as an A-list author, they can get advertising in places you might not be able to access as an indie. You get less money from each individual sale, but you don’t have to pay for the production costs of the book and in some cases you get a small advance. (Note: that advance is intended to be spent on marketing expenses.)
Small independent publishers vary greatly. Please, use a lot of caution here. Just as you would have an agent in the traditional market to protect your interests, you want someone to review your contracts here as well. I’m very proud of my contract, because I worked with an attorney to make sure my authors were as heavily protected as I am. But that is not always the case. I’ve seen some real nightmare contracts. There are some fantastic indie publishers out there, but there are also sharks. Stories of authors losing rights and royalties are rampant. Research any publisher you go with.
The traditional “vanity” presses are still out there as well. You’d think the industry changes would’ve killed them, but it seems there are still authors willing to pay thousands of dollars for a garage full of print books and no distribution. Don’t do that!!! Do your research. Be clear on what the publisher is offering to do and what they expect you to do. Be clear on what rights they want and for how long. Review how much of a cut they’ll take for each book. Depending on your skill levels, this can be a good way to go.

Self-publishing is when you retain ALL of the control of the book. You make the decisions, you do the work — or hire it done. You get 100% of the royalties and you are responsible for 100% of the marketing. This can be daunting, but it can also be empowering. Depending on your professionalism and commitment to quality, this can be a very powerful way to go. Indie doesn’t mean alone. It means you choose which professionals help you and in what areas.

2) Are their advantages associated with each publishing alternative?

Definitely. The problem is that those advantage and disadvantages depend on each individual author and their needs and skills. An author who doesn’t want to think about what “distribution” means had better go traditional, because they won’t make it anywhere else. Any form of indie — small publisher, self-published — is going to require a lot of work, but then so does traditional publishing. The differences are in who sets your schedule and who makes the choices. Will you make wrong choices? Yes. That’s part of the industry.
The brief answer:
traditional — can open some doors to discoverability, but only if you are an A-list author
small press — you have someone helping you through the process
indie — control and the most income per sale.

3) There is a huge industry of social marketing specialists, writing coaches, as well as countless others trying to make a living from aspiring authors. It’s easy for a writer to lose focus and get lost in the weeds. How do you as an author maintain the proper balance?

Make a plan — work your plan.Take a deep breath. Step away from all of the hype and put on your business-owner cap. Sit down and write out step-by-step what your writing process is. Then outline your steps to publication. Write out what success looks like to you. Last, outline what you are going to do for marketing. In all likelihood, you’ll find some areas where you need help. If you find that your process is stalling at a certain step, that’s the area to get help in.

If you find that as you are writing those steps, you’re getting confused and lost — without a direct plan for what comes next — then look into some of the coaches and experts. MANY of them are giving away basic information for free. (This is a great marketing technique!) Read what is available for free. Watch their videos. If you find there is an area where you are really struggling, and you find you resonate with an expert, do some research on their credentials. Make sure they are not just hype. Then, get the information you need to get your process streamlined.

Once you develop your process, follow it. Don’t let any hype or new-thing (shiny object syndrome!) distract you. Set a time frame — every 3-6 months sit down and review how things are going. Change your process at that time, and then give your new process time to work. You may even want to stick with a process for a year before reviewing whether it has worked or not.

Let me give you an example. I find that I get distracted by business and emotional issues. I worry. I self-analyze. I’m a type A. I do not want to make a mistake. This can stall my progress. I know how to write. I have an editor. I know the publication and distribution process cold. But that perfectionism and self-analysis was killing me. I watched a local coach not only smashing through these barriers for people, but doing some pretty amazing things with books. What stunned me was how well she did when I could see she was making “mistakes” — and still succeeding. I watched her for a long time. I was impressed. When I need help, I turn to Laurie Wheeler for guidance. She gets me back on track FAST, because she “gets” me and she knows how to conquer MY problems.
Of course, this only works if you follow the advice your guru gives you.
I have watched a number of authors stall in this process. They get a guru, they learn, and then they see another guru that promises success, so they chase that one…and the next … and they never actually DO the work. This is a specific brand of work-avoidance that I think writers are very prone to.

4) The old career model was: write your book, hire an editor, acquire an agent, and if your book is desirable to a publisher the agent negotiates a contract. With eBook’s, self-publishing, and so many independent publishers in the marketplace today should an author attempt to follow the traditional path, or is there a better first option?

The answer here is as unique as each author.
Some people still need the validation of the traditional publishing industry. If that is important to you, then you need to respect that. Don’t go indie if you’re going to feel like you “sold out” or “threw away your career.” Those are obsolete notions, but that doesn’t mean people don’t still feel that way. We have to respect how we feel.

If you’re a strong self-starter and you’re highly motivated to be independent, a control-freak, then by all means — go indie!

If you fall somewhere in between, then the best answer is to do your research. There are so many variations in the middle ground — more popping up each day — that it is hard to say what is the best option for each person. Be true to who you are. Do your research. Act from a base of knowledge. Reach for what you want, for what is important to you. This is why I suggest writing out what success looks like. You want to have a clear goal that you are aiming toward, and that goal needs to be something more than “publish a book.”

Publishing (any type) is still a slow process. Yes, you could write something this weekend and have it up on Amazon on Monday. You probably shouldn’t do that. Take some time. Make a plan. Research the options. There isn’t a “best path” for any book or author. And many authors are finding that the “best path” for each of their books is different.

Don’t forget: this industry is changing daily. What is great today may not even work tomorrow. Be flexible. Don’t burn your bridges!

5) What would you say to a frustrated author who decided to circumvent the whole business and market and publish his/her own work?

Well, I’d first say — why are you frustrated?
Is it because he/she feels like they sold out?

Self-publishing is a viable and very powerful option. I recommend reading up on some of the success stories out there. One of my favorites is Joseph Lallo. Look at the successes of the “little guys.”

Next: understand — success in publishing takes a lot of time! You’ll be at this for years! When things will turn around differs for each author. I’ve watched traditional authors expect to get instant success — and fall flat. I’ve seen indies do the same thing. Actually? I think most indies do that. Maybe most authors do that.

The book hits. It is wonderful! You’re a published author! And then you discover that your local library won’t carry your books and no one in your community throws a parade. I recently talked to a very well known traditionally published author (who I won’t name) who was moving because after many years as a NYT bestseller, she’s finally given up on her home town and is moving to another area where she’s famous and loved. I was stunned to hear this well-known person making the same comments that I’ve heard from struggling indies!


So, you pick yourself up. You dust yourself off. You accept that this is the real “published author” world.  And then you make a plan. You set goals. You study distribution and marketing. You work hard. AND — you write the next book!

Don’t ever forget why you went into this. If you went into it for the love of writing, then don’t let the ups and downs of publishing take that joy way. If you went into this to get rich quick, well… I’ve got nothing. Statistically, get-rich-quick has a better chance of success with a lottery ticket. Probably a lower initial investment, too.

My favorite quote comes from a lecture I heard Thomas Kincaid give on art many years ago. “If you can do anything else other than create art — do that.” His point was that art is hard. It will drain you. There will be highs and lows. It is a long term process. If you can do anything else, then do it. But if you can’t, then you’re a writer. Don’t forget that. Write. And learn to navigate the shifting maze of the publishing industry. Keep trying. Don’t give up. Understand that even the big name authors are dealing with the same challenges these days.

Another bit of advice: if you find you’ve made mistakes — join the crowd. Every author has been there. There isn’t a clear path these days. We’re all doing the best we can with the information available, and this industry could (and probably will) turn on its head tomorrow.

Be flexible. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t beat yourself up over it. I’ve seen authors who can laugh at their mistakes go on to do amazing things, often BECAUSE of their mistakes.


6) As you know this is a very competitive business. Besides lack of talent, what is the number one reason writers fail to see their work published?

Lack of sitting down and writing. Lack of planning. Lack of follow through. Oh — you wanted one answer?

Actually, lack of talent is no impediment these days (sadly).

Define published.If it is holding your book in your hand, then there is no reason why anyone can’t do it. You can get a book in your hand for the price of printing through CreateSpace. It may not be a great book, but you’ll have it. You just have to write it first.

If “published” means through a traditional publisher, I’d have to say an unwillingness to listen and follow guidelines. If you want a traditional publisher, then you need to write what sells. They’ll tell you what they want. You have to put aside what you want to write and write what they want. Give them what they want — in the format they want it, with quality — and they’ll love you.

Most writers DO NOT follow guidelines. As someone who reads queries, I have to wonder: can writers even READ? It is sad, but this is a serious fact. If you want an agent, connect up with them at a conference. Listen to them. Read their blog. They’ll tell you what they’re looking for. They’ll tell you what people are giving them that makes them crazy. Give them what they want.

This is a key decision point for a lot of authors. If you want to write “your” story, “your” way — then go indie. Don’t expect the publishing industry to suddenly see your brilliance. They know what they want and they are not going to make an exception for your brilliance — even if what you have IS brilliant. One of the best blog posts I’ve ever read on this was written by a friend of mine, Julie Weathers, a few years back. Still fantastic: http://julieweathers.com/i-am-not-a-special-little-snowflake/

If “published” means successfully self-published (define successfully!), then I’d say the challenge is in stamina. Getting the book done. Getting it prepared for publication: edited, formatted, making it beautiful. Getting distribution in place. Doing research. Pricing. Marketing. Connecting with readers. There are so many places in that process where individual writers fail.The most common pit fall I’ve seen is depression.

It is very easy to say that everyone else is doing well, but I’m failing. That depression is a killer. I only know a handful of writers (on any path) who haven’t dealt with it at some point in their career, and I suspect they did deal with it, they just kept quiet.

When I started my business, I didn’t warn writers about the depression that follows the book being “done” and “published.” Now I do. It is a real thing. Best to expect it. Rather like post-partum after giving birth, different folks have it to a different extent, but it is there. And it can sap the life and momentum out of your success.

A bonus mistake I see authors making: marketing to authors instead of readers! I had a strong blog (under my pen name) when my first book came out. Sold almost nothing. I looked at my statistics, reviewed my posts, and realized that I had a whole bunch of writers who were my fans, but I’d missed my readership completely. I’m still recovering from that.

7) What advise would you give an unpublished writer who is serious about selling books?

Right now, while you are still writing, connect up with your readers. Remember that you aren’t selling to writers, you are selling to readers. I’m pushing folks in the direction of Tim Grahl as a guru these days. He has a book, “Your First 1000 Copies” that is very good. He also has blog posts and resources — many of them free — that will get you pointed in the right direction.

Marketing comes BEFORE publication. Set up a website (PLEASE do not rely on social media platforms). If you are going to use Facebook, set up a Facebook author page — don’t use your personal page. Tie all social media back to your website. Everything funnels to your website. And on your website, you create a mailing list that people can sign up for.

Side note about social media: pick a few channels that work for you and your readers. Don’t try to do them all. If a writer is writing for men, they probably shouldn’t be on Pinterest, for example, because most Pinterest users are traditionally female. Don’t wast time where your audience isn’t.

Starting with marketing feels “wrong” to an unpublished author. But think about it — no one is going to know who you are. Traditional or indie, no one knows who you are. They aren’t ignoring you — they don’t know you exist! That’s the biggest battle you will face. So, start with the people who do know you — your friends and family. Get them on your list. Then think about who will love your books.

Go where they are and meet them. Become friends. Get them on your list. When you do have a book to sell, you will start with that list. Since they are your friends, some of them will promote the book for you. (Side note: please: don’t think those who don’t AREN’T your friends. Friendship first: success second.)

I’ve heard agents and publishers say that they now look at the size of an author’s list when they are picking new talent these days, so this starting-with-marketing mindset works for traditionally published authors, too. And PLEASE — don’t think agents are stupid. Buying 10,000 Twitter followers who are just robots won’t sell books and it won’t impress an agent. You can look at the quality of a person’s connections, and they will. You want to connect with people who will LOVE your book. Preferably, you want people who will love your book so much, they can’t wait to tell their friends about it.

Statistics show that most authors don’t find a “tipping point” toward success until after their 3rd – 5th book comes out. Finish the book. Market to your list. Write the next one.

Repeat. You’ll see the list grow if you are succeeding.

Once you’ve done your needed research and come up with a plan, stop researching. Work your plan.


More about Lisa and Heart Ally Books:

A few years ago, a friend was very ill. It became obvious that she would not be able to self-publish her book. I’d thought of opening up a small indie publishing house designed for helping authors and had been researching the process. With her illness, I decided to take the plunge and help her out. I remember the first advice I got from experts: a) you can’t possibly do this, b) it’ll never work.
That was 3 years ago. The jury is still out on point b, but we have definitely built the business and it is one I delight in. My husband says that I should just have opened it as a non-profit and called it what it was: a ministry. I enjoy helping and encouraging authors. I’m picky about who I work with. My rule is: no stress. My clients have to be as happy with me as I am with them. We have a good time working through the process.

Heart Ally Books has helped a number of authors, both those who have published with us and quite a few that we’ve helped “silently.”

The best way to contact me is through the website: http://heartallybooks.com/contact/


  1. Elise Skidmore Elise Skidmore
    December 19, 2014    

    Very interesting and informative post. Much enjoyed.

  2. December 20, 2014    

    Thanks for doing this interview, Richard. You ask good questions!

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