Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Publishing Books: Ever-Changing, Ever-Exciting

I’ve made enough noise on my social media that I hope my friends and followers are aware that I’m close to having another book published. As I’m going through the process, readers I know are asking me questions that made me realize how much most of the general public don’t know about today’s publishing business.

“You have a publisher. Aren’t they taking care of the promotion?”

“ Where will you go on your book tour?”

What they’re thinking about is the writer who is with one of the big five: Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster. With some exceptions, these writers are celebrities (Obama) or established bestsellers (Grisham). Some new writers do make it through the system by landing an agent and then a book deal, or even by self-publishing and catching the attention of one of the big five with high sales. 

The publishing revolution that took place a few years ago significantly changed the industry. Some companies folded or merged. Vanity, hybrid, and small presses proliferated. Self-publishing gained in popularity, and has gradually gained credibility by producing professional work. Each year approximately 2.3 million books are published by authors or small presses. Only between one and two percent of writers are published by the big five.

When I explain today’s system, most people are surprised that there are so many roads to being a published author. In the past, there was pretty much only one—land an agent, sign a contract, receive an advance, and then pray you earned out that advance, so you didn’t have to repay it.  

Today, you can do-it-yourself: write the book, hire an editor, buy an ISBN, buy a cover design, pay for or do your own formatting, set up the distribution, and advertise. (this list isn’t necessarily complete or chronological)

Vanity presses are another option, and when you use them, you pay them to publish your book. They might do a good job with the details of publishing, but that’s not guaranteed, so after you pay the $4,000 or more, the book may not be a professional product. It’s up to the author to check everything very carefully. Usually, all the royalties are the author’s, and they retain their rights.

In 2018, IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association, 2018) set out criteria to help authors find a reputable hybrid press.

Some small presses take on the responsibility of putting the manuscript through the publishing pipeline without fees. The author won’t get an advance, but they will receive a percentage of the royalties. Good companies do some promotion, but the lion’s share is the author’s responsibility. Some rights go to the press. Others go to the author.

One of the biggest factors that has driven many authors away from traditional publishing is time. It can take years to find an agent--more years to sell a manuscript. And there are times a manuscript won't find a home even when agented.  However, even after a sale and a contract have been negotiated, it can take additional years to see the book in print.  

This is an exciting, challenging business to be a part of because it changes constantly, and the competition is fierce. Then when a book launches, it’s an adrenaline rush. No wonder there are so many people caught up in writing books and publishing them. 

Monday, November 20, 2023

Rewards of Applying

Dear fellow writer,

Are you considering applying for something, but it seems like there's no way you'd be the one chosen? Maybe you want to apply for a workshop or a residency, a grant or a job, or maybe you’re just worrying about submitting a piece you’ve written.

Going through an application process can change your life, and not just if you get chosen.

When I wrote the first iteration of this message, my tiny publishing company, Thinking Ink Press, was a finalist for the Innovative Voices program of the Independent Book Publishers Association.

Turns out we did get into the program (yay!), but even if we hadn’t, the application process changed my relationship to the work we do.

Before, I didn't really know what we did, besides publish books.

Now, because we were forced to articulate our mission and values for the application, I feel confident in what we stand for and excited to find new projects that fit our vision.

For the application, we had to look at our past work and explain why it supports diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Seeing our published books in that light made me realize that we aren’t just a group of people who care about those things and also run a publishing company. Instead, our company as an entity values those things and bases its actions upon them. The application process made me prouder of the work we've done so far, and it helped me see all our books in the bigger context of what we care about as a press.

Another part of the application was stating our mission. I think we’d all been trying to define our mission for years. We started our press as a group of friends who love books, and we chose what to publish based on opportunities that presented themselves, with the thought that in the future we would see a pattern. Applying for Innovative Voices was just what we needed to see that pattern. The application process helped us reflect on our past work and create a focused mission statement that we believe in. 

A final part of the application was to talk about future projects. While we were discussing this, we got the idea for a science fiction anthology about neurodivergent humans interacting with aliens. We are very excited about this project, but I don’t think we would have committed to it, or possibly even thought of it, if we hadn’t applied for Innovative Voices.

It’s been great to meet the other publishers in the program, and to receive the help offered through it. But I feel we gained something even more important by going through the application process. We know who we are now and what matters to us in our work. 

I think back on other things I’ve applied for, and I see the same pattern: applying for a job causes me to consider what I care about in order to write a résumé. Submitting a story forces me to finish the story and commit to its details, as well as to choose a venue I’d be proud to appear in, and also to become willing to be known as the author of that particular story. Asking someone if they want to write together creates a deeper commitment to my own writing and helps me understand how I want to show up as a writer. Even when these things result in rejection, which they often do, I still gain from the process because I better understand myself and what I want to focus on in my life.

So if you're on the fence about applying for something, I say go for it.

Not just because you might get chosen (because, hey, you might), but because the process of applying can help you choose yourself.


Keiko O’Leary

Co-founder, Thinking Ink Press

P.S. Thinking Ink Press is a traditional publisher. We welcome you to submit your work. 

                            Thinking Ink Press all four of us - Keiko, Anthony, Liza, Betsy

Keiko O'Leary is a co‑founder of Thinking Ink Press, where she edits manuscripts and publishes books. She also works on innovative formats such as flash fiction postcards and mini books folded from a single sheet of paper. She is the author of Your Writing Matters: 34 Quick Essays to Get Unstuck and Stay Inspired. Connect with Keiko at

Monday, November 13, 2023

The Basic Layout of an eBook

The exact layout of an eBook is not set in stone. But if you’ve never prepared one for formatting, there is a basic layout pattern you’ll want to stick to for a professional appearance.

First, let’s cover the standard pages:

Title page – this should contain the title, the author’s name, and the publishing house. You can also include the logo and html web address.

Copyright page
– this should contain the copyright year and author’s name, ISBN, publisher’s name & address, “all rights reserved,” and disclaimer (“work of fiction, etc.). You can also credit people such as the cover artists. If you are registering it for a Library of Congress Control Number or a PNC (pre-assigned control number), that information will also go on this page. (Note that a LCCN or PNC are not assigned to eBooks only but can be included when you register a print book.) If you are getting a LCCN (for publishers with books in multiple libraries) then you will also get a Catalogue in Publication block, also called a CIP block.

Dedication – keep it short and simple.

Table of contents – either chapter titles or numbers. There will be no page numbers, but each chapter title will need to be hyperlinked to its corresponding chapter.

Manuscript – this is the body of your text. Note no headers or page numbers required. You can add graphics for chapter titles/number.

About the author
– a paragraph about yourself. Include links to your website and social sites (but not to retail sites – Barnes & Noble frowns upon eBooks linked to Amazon!) You can also include an author photo.

In between dedication and table of contents, one can also have a list of other books or acknowledgements.

An important item to include is the book’s reviews/blurbs. When readers are skimming the first few pages, reading the free sample, glowing reviews will help them make the decision to buy the book. Reviews for the book can come after the title page or after the dedication.

Other items you might want to include:
Bonus material

Those items will appear after the manuscript ends but before the author page.

And there you have it! The basic layout of an eBook. Now you are ready to get started.