Books, Publishing, and the Creative Life

Archive for the ‘Around the Office’ Category

The Publishing Process

Publishing is a big step

Publishing is a big step


Last night we met with a local group of writers and spent an hour answering their questions. We love meeting authors and hearing their concerns.  To our surprise, much of what they wanted to know concerned the basic publishing process and how things work. By what magic do publishers turn manuscripts into books? There must be other aspiring authors who have the same questions, so here’s the publishing process in a nutshell:

  • First, the publisher receives either a manuscript or a book proposal.  What is a book proposal, you ask?  In many cases, you don’t have to actually write the book up front—you send publishers a proposal for the book.  This is a win/win situation.  While writing the proposal you focus on creating an overview of the book, how you’ll sell it, who will buy it, and how your
    Our favorite how-to on book proposals by Michael Larsen

    Our favorite how-to on book proposals by Michael Larsen

    book will measure up against the competition.

  • If the publisher likes your work, a publishing contract is signed. The publisher may sign a contract with you based on a proposal or a finished manuscript. This contract will contain a due date for your work.
  • Once a publisher receives your manuscript, their work begins. Editing is the first step. For large publishers this process can take months because your work will be in line with many others.  For smaller publishers like NorLightsPress, editing takes from three to six weeks.  You and the editor will go back and forth over the text, but the publisher has the final word on how things will be.
  •  Meanwhile, you and the publisher will be working on cover design. You will have input, but not every publisher has time to work with your ideas. Some do; some don’t.
  • If your book contains photographs the publisher will need high resolution images for the printer. You’ll be expected to provide these. You may use stock photos.
  • After editing, the book is  formatted into a PDF file. This is the pre-printing stage and you’ll have a chance to read through the manuscript again. Now you’ll see the pages as they will appear in the book.
  • When last minute changes are completed, the publisher submits a PDF file to the printer to generate proof copies. You and the publisher review the proof copy for errors.
  • At last! The proof copy is approved and the publisher can order books. Soon your book goes “live” on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other sellers.
  • Your book file is formatted for eBooks and submitted to those sites for sale.
  • Are you marketing?  Hopefully you stayed busy creating a marketing platform and sending out feelers.

    This is just the beginning!

    This is just the beginning!

NOW, you can start book signings, interviews, blogs, and conference speeches. Never leave home without books! This is when your work truly begins. Holding your first book is an amazing thing.  Sharing it with the world can be daunting. Have a plan, and work your plan!

A great investment for writers

A great investment for writers


About Sammie Justesen

Sammie Justesen is a publisher and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014.

She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.

A recent review of Dialogue for Writers

What I left with after reading Sammie’s book is a brain swimming with ideas she has generously shared based on her years of experience in all aspects of the industry. She shows us, not just tells us, with style, humor and an easy, comfortable voice. Her examples bring the points to life. Sammie indeed practices what she preaches, and shares with us as reader and writer a fun to read and handy compilation based on experience and insight.   –Gin Getz, author of The Color of the Wild andThe Last of the Living Blue


Small Publishers versus The Big Five

A recent article in Writers Digest ( discussed the pros and cons of working with a  small publisher.  As an editor, then a literary agent, and now a publisher, I have unique experience with this topic.

The Writers Digest article hit the high points, but I want to add more.  About one third of the books I sold to large publishing firms ended up languishing in limbo-land.  The authors complained about no support, poor MadCatcommunication, and no feedback on how to improve sales.  In many cases, the original editor left the firm and the book became an orphan—a fate worse than death.  Here’s an overview of the topic:

The Downside of a Small Publisher

 When we sign new authors at NorLightsPress, I always start by telling them what we cannot do when compared to one of the big publishing firms.

  • We don’t have a huge marketing reach. We do not employ a sales force, pay for front tables at Barnes and Noble, or purchase ads in magazines and newspapers.  We depend on our authors for most of the marketing. However, talk to any new author who published with a large firm and you’re likely to hear a sob story about no marketing support.  The large firms spend 90% of their marketing budget on 10% of their authors.
  • We can’t book you on national television.  Say goodbye to your dreams of Oprah.  Sob.
  • Our sales goals are modest compared to the Big Guys.
  • Bookstore sales are harder for a small firm to achieve, although most of us do work with booksellers.
  • Most small publishers can’t afford to pay advances. However, that means you start earning royalties much sooner.
  • Well, that’s about it!  Marketing is the biggest issue, as you can see.

Our experiences with large publishers helped us forge NorLightsPress with author satisfaction in mind.    

happy-catThe Upside of a Small Publisher   

 I’m speaking for NorLightsPress here, but most indie publishers offer these same advantages:

  • We accept un-agented submissions.
  • Your book won’t be self -published.  You have a publisher who believes in your work and is willing to invest time, energy, and money.
  • We charge no fees.
  • We will keep your book in print for years, not drop it into oblivion after 90 days. Our backlist keeps selling year after year, and we continue supporting our authors.
  • We offer better royalties than larger publishers because we believe authors deserve a fair share for their efforts.  Since our authors help more with marketing, they earn larger royalties.
  • Our royalty statements are detailed and state-of-the art. The large publishers send statements that give no real information.
  • We offer a substantial discount on books you purchase. You can buy books for resale and make money that way.
  • Yes, your book will be available in all eBook formats and online with the major booksellers. We especially work hard on the Amazon pages.
  • Your book will be available to bookstores if they choose to order from our distributors. Barnes and Noble will order books for selected stores.
  • Professional editing, a professionally designed book cover and a well formatted interior. You get plenty of input during this process, although we have the final say.
  • We can have your book on the market within 60 to 90 days, as opposed to a year or longer for large publishers.
  • We provide review copies and a professionally designed media kit. You find the reviewers for us, and we’ll send out the books at no charge to you.
  • We do not withhold part of your royalties to pay for returned books. This can be a huge issue with some publishers, who will keep several thousand dollars of your royalties.
  • We provide an online splash page for your book with a look-inside feature.
  • We’re available for phone calls and you’ll work with the same people for years. Your book won’t be orphaned because an editor moves on.
  • If you’re able to hire a publicist, which we encourage, we’ll work with that person to maximize book sales.
  • We do not have a restrictive option clause in our contract.

ladder-of-successMany unhappy writers have discovered that the Big Five in New York City are not the holy grail of publishing.  Having your book disappear into a black hole and then finding you aren’t allowed to sell your next book to a different publisher (read the option clause!) is a painful wake-up call. On the other hand, if you’re fortunate enough to find a Big Five editor who will champion your book, then enjoy the roller coaster ride!  If you’re like the  other 99% of authors, publishing with a small press is a great option for those who are willing to work their way up the ladder of success.

See our submission guidelines at:

Sammie Justesen is a publisher with NorLightsPress and author of the new book Dialogue for Writers: Create Powerful Dialogue in Fiction and Nonfiction

FRONT cover final

Bar Bands, Books, and Art

rock n rollMy brother Bill is a part-time musician who began playing bass guitar when we were in high school back in the late 60s.  Music has been his hobby for years, and right now he’s on a quest to join a new band. It seems finding the perfect band is akin to seeking the Holy Grail. His stories about huge egos and eccentric behavior fueled by alcohol could easily fill a book. Yes, musicians are crazy.   

 An email from him this morning struck a chord: “A lot of these band people are such idiots.  They are so particular. I even saw an ad where they wanted guys in their band to have certain tattoos! Unbelievably unrealistic about finding the perfect people. There’s a guy on the south side who’s been running an ad for a bass player for about five months. I applied but didn’t quite fit his specifications.  His project is one that’ll never get out of the basement. But, you can’t tell them that. They can’t see it.”

Aha! I thought. He could be talking about writers.  So many writers come up with ideas that will never appeal to the public. When we, the publisher, try to tactfully say this, the authors are shocked. Some of them respond with insults, which is why we stopped writing detailed rejection notes.  I know we’re stepping on their dreams, and I know that hurts. Like musicians and artists, writers are dreamers.

Hey, it’s good to dream, but if we want to actually SELL those dreams, we must be practical as well.  I run into exactly the same issues with my painting. An artist friend of mine creates rustic painted saws that sell like crazy at a local state park.  She was lucky to find a niche that works for her. I’m still trying to balance what I like to paint versus what art lovers want to hang on their walls.  And sometimes art just needs to match the  #$#% furniture.

Getting back to music: Bill says, “It doesn’t matter to bar owners whether the music is any good. If a band can bring 50 customers into a bar, they’ll always be able to get gigs.”  That’s true for artists and writers as well.  Bring lots of people with checkbooks into an art gallery and they’ll let you have your own show.  Develop a loyal following of readers, and publishers will come looking for you.

It’s all about business, you see.

The Publishing Life: A Three-Mouse Night

Last night after a violent rainstorm, our office cat Captain Nemo awakened from a nap and went outside for a bit. Within half an hour he brought us:

one field mouse

another field mouse

and a third field mouse.

(No, this was not the same mouse three times). These little fellows probably washed out of their holes in the torrential rain and were looking for dry ground, which they found inside our office – with Nemo’s help. The Captain is a gentle cat and doesn’t kill mice, but he does bring them inside so he can receive full credit for being a great hunter.

The first mouse stayed quiet as I scooped it up, cradled it in my hands, and made a quick trip to the hay field across the road for a live release.   The second mouse was a fighter; he sank his front teeth into my hand and held on for dear life. I had to rip him off my hand and leave him in the sink while I washed, treated, and bandaged my finger.  I wrapped him in a towel and made a second trip to the hay field.

Fifteen minutes later, Nemo delivered the third mouse.  Emboldened by my earlier success, I tried to grab this one with the mouse-towel, but he zipped under a bookcase.  I sprawled on my stomach with a broom, trying to dislodge him from the corner and shoo him into a paper bag.  Captain Nemo watched with mild amusement. Evidently he felt he’d already caught the mouse once, so now it was my turn.  This mouse eluded capture and is still at large, although we set a live trap in the office baited with peanut butter and bird seed.

Office Mouse So now we have an office cat and an office mouse (a real mouse).  A literary mouse. Captain Nemo

This reminds me of a classic series of newspaper columns from years ago: Archy and Mehitabel.  In 1916 (no, I wasn’t alive then), Don Marquis introduced a fictional cockroach named Archy into his daily newspaper column in The New York Evening Sun.  Archy the cockroach was an incarnated free verse poet who began writing stories and poems on an old typewriter after hours.  Mehitabel the alley cat became Archy’s best friend.  Freddy the rat was another character.

Does this sound like a bad acid trip?  I’m not making it up. I was introduced to Archy by my friend Eugene Povirk, now co-owner of Whately Antiquarian Book Center in Whately Massachusetts (   Don Marquis’ delightful columns are available in book and ebook format, with a reprint from Anchor Books in 2012.  Here’s a sample:

We came into our room earlier than usual in the morning, and discovered a gigantic cockroach jumping about on the keys. He did not see us, and we watched him. He would climb painfully upon the framework of the machine and cast himself with all his force upon a key, head downward, and his weight and the impact of the blow were just sufficient to operate the machine, one slow letter after another. He could not work the capital letters, and he had a great deal of difficulty operating the mechanism that shifts the paper so that a fresh line may be started. We never saw a cockroach work so hard or perspire so freely in all our lives before. After about an hour of this frightfully difficult literary labor he fell to the floor exhausted, and we saw him creep feebly into a nest of the poems which are always there in profusion.

Congratulating ourself that we had left a sheet of paper in the machine the night before so that all this work had not been in vain, we made an examination, and this is what we found:

expression is the need of my soul
i was once a vers libre bard
but i died and my soul went into the body of a cockroach
it has given me a new outlook upon life
i see things from the under side now
thank you for the apple peelings in the wastepaper basket
but your paste is getting so stale i cant eat it
there is a cat here called mehitabel i wish you would have
removed she nearly ate me the other night why dont she
catch rats that is what she is supposed to be fore
there is a rat here she should get without delay

most of these rats here are just rats
but this rat is like me he has a human soul in him
he used to be a poet himself
night after night i have written poetry for you
on your typewriter
and this big brute of a rat who used to be a poet
comes out of his hole when it is done
and reads it and sniffs at it
he is jealous of my poetry
he used to make fun of it when we were both human
he was a punk poet himself
and after he has read it he sneers
and then he eats it

i wish you would have mehitabel kill that rat
or get a cat that is onto her job
and i will write you a series of poems showing how things look
to a cockroach
that rats name is freddy
the next time freddy dies i hope he wont be a rat
but something smaller i hope i will be a rat
in the next transmigration and freddy a cockroach
i will teach him to sneer at my poetry then

dont you ever eat any sandwiches in your office
i haven’t had a crumb of bread for i dont know how long
or a piece of ham or anything but apple parings
and paste and leave a piece of paper in your machine
every night you can call me archy

   By Don Marquis, in “archy and mehitabel,” 1927       Archy and Mehitabel

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