“Raise your hand if you want a contract with one of the big five publishing houses?”
This question, was the icebreaker to my two-evening workshop at the annual Miami Writers Institute. Every single hand in the classroom, including mine, shot up. In the first hour, The Book Doctors quickly dashed every aspiring writer’s not-so-secret dream of landing a big book deal, touring the country, and being on the Ellen Show.
The Miami Writer’s institute is an annual week-long event made-up of workshops, social gatherings, collaborations, and keynote speakers for both aspiring and published writers. The compact schedule offers everything from networking mixers to four-day world building seminars. The institute was created by Miami Dade College and built upon the success of the Miami Book Fair International. Since its inception, it remains the strong and principal support for literary arts in South Florida.
Originally, I wanted to take a workshop that focused on sentence construction at its most minute detail, but couldn’t because of foresight and my museum job. Instead, I signed up for a two-evening seminar on the inner workings of the publishing world. Needless to say, it was eye-opening and a worthy investment.
A friend of mine, Lis Mesa, signed up for a more extensive four-day long workshop about character development. She wrote about her experience and graciously agreed to share it on this tiny space of the interwebs. Hopefully some of the publishing highlights from my experience and/or her recount, as a participant, will be helpful to those who are interested in writing or the publishing industry, or just like-minded curious souls.
Disclaimer: I actually found out about the Miami’s Writers Institute two weeks before its start date. If I had known about the program a few months earlier, I would have planned to attend more workshops. That said, for those who are considering participating in the Miami Writers Institute, there is much to gain and the experience is well worth your time. Just meeting fellow writers and listening to their story lines, passions, struggles, and questions was a dynamic learning experience. The organizers also put together some nice perks for the participants… Registration included a nice bagu, moleskine style notebook, pens, and discount vouchers. If you were in-between sessions, you could hang out in the “lounge,” a room with comfortable seating, solid wi-fi, snacks galore, but more importantly coffee <3.
The workshop I signed up for was led by the Book Doctors, an agent/writer duo who are both married to each other and the world of publishing. In their book, they manage to cram all the basic knowledge you need to know about the publishing industry and how to navigate it depending on your goals.
The Big Five
The bottom line is, if your goal is to be with one of the big 5 publishing houses, you are in it for the long haul or you need to have about 1 million followers on social media. The timeline for a big publishing house like Penguin, is on the scale of several years. It really could take that long after your book is written before you would ever see it at a bookstore. As part of a big firm, you are a small fish in a big pond with little to no say in anything from grammar preferences to the book’s cover. Many times, the big publishing houses even expect you to book your own author events, an anecdote that particularly shocked me. Like many, I thought if you made it into a big publishing house it was smooth sailing. It never occurred to me that you would still have to market yourself (the part of being a self-published author I dislike the most). If you have a large following already, this lengthy publishing process becomes more streamlined as they calculate that your chances of success are much higher.
Personally, I chose not to pursue this line of publishing for two reasons: the wait and the decisions. I didn’t want to wait two plus years to put something I was so passionate about into the world. Second, the idea of someone not consulting me about what the cover of my book should look like was repulsive at best.
Indie or Micro
Independent publishing houses are exactly what they sound like. They are publishing houses individually owned and not a corporation. Micro or niche publishing agency’s specialize in fan-fiction or in highly specific genres. Although many of these publishing companies publish mid-list books there are also some that boast blockbuster books such as Fifty Shades of Grey. The advantages of publishers like these are that they are in tune with their readers. They know what their readers want, and more importantly, they know how to connect them to the writers that can cater to their tastes. These smaller publishing companies also do not require writers to have an agent in order to submit a query.
I might consider either of these options in the future. Based on the discussion, it did seem a much more pleasant and tailored experience that took both the writer and reader relationship into account.
This part of the discussion was lacking. Although the Book Doctors discuss the topic in their book, all they really said was that it’s pretty easy and everyone can do it. This was also the bad news. In addition, they said that you need to be entrepreneur to be even modestly successful. They shared some success stories about self-published authors but that was the end of the discussion. Granted, most of the workshop participants didn’t really seem interested in this last option but I think a more thorough discussion in this rapidly changing industry would have been beneficial to everyone. One participant even used the words self-publishing and vanity-publishing interchangeably. Yikes!
Honestly, self-publishing my book was the hardest professional and personal challenge I have ever taken on. From writing each word, funding all the costs, finding an editor/designer, and worst of all, marketing what felt like my own sweat, blood, and tears. I don’t think it’s easy. It’s a very hard thing to make yourself so vulnerable and to constantly question why you are doing all this. I can’t help but cringe when people say self-publishing is “easy” or “easier.” The truth is, all the roads to publishing a book are paved with late-nights, self-doubt, obstacles, and patience. Depending on what your goals are and what you are willing to compromise as a writer, you make your decision accordingly.
I have more notes on the workshop, that I’ll be happy to share in another blog post. If you have any questions, feel free to send me a note or comment below!
During the course of 4 days in early May, I was lucky enough to participate in ‘Conflict through Character: The Bottom Up Approach’ – a workshop taught by Jacinda Townsend, author of Saint Monkey (2014), for the Miami Writers Institute. My class consisted of nine other students from very different backgrounds, though I must admit there was a disproportionate amount of lawyers – a third of our small group – all of whom stated they were just looking for a creative outlet from the drudgery of their daily routines- who isn’t these days?
This same feeling was what had led me to follow a series of Facebook posts inviting writers from all walks of life to gather for the 11th annual Miami Writers Institute and participate in the many events and workshops available over the course of that week- fan favorites like First Draft’s literary social (free wine!) and the Craft Talks led by participating authors and workshop instructors buzzed with creative energy from their eager audience and left us all craving more. What a wonderful time to venture out of our hermit caves, dragging half-finished manuscripts upon our backs, and join a vibrant, emerging community of writers around us. Who knew we’d been here all along? Not tucked away in New York or Los Angeles- but in little ol’ Miami; a city accused of seriously lacking culture, like seriously.
It became evident during the course of the week that Miami Dade College has been able to build something remarkable through their annual Miami Book Fair – its year round agenda giving local writers the opportunity to meet and work alongside published authors traveling in from those parts of the country we often think all ‘ real writers ‘ should live in if they’re going to write anything worth 359 reviews amounting to a total 4-and-a-half star rating on Amazon.
Walking down the halls of the college’s Downtown campus, I could almost sense the classroom doors vibrating on their hinges-the energy coming from our instructors as they read their own words from a published page. The chance to share not just in their talent and experiences, but in the ability and creativity of the group around us was a once in a lifetime opportunity at a very unique space located in a very special city. The acquaintances who quickly become editors for your work and the rough drafts that take shape into personal essays or the first chapters of a sci-fi novel may have never emerged if it wasn’t for this event and the chance we each took in making that first step into this amazing program, which I hope continue to thrive with the community’s support for years to come.