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View Full Version : If your agent suggested self-publishing, would you do it?



KCathy
08-15-2009, 11:29 PM
You may be thinking I just have a not-so-great agent, an idea I could easily lay to rest by mentioning her name, but would you just assume for purposes of this post that she's fantastic? There are posts about her awesomeness here at AW and she represents bestsellers in my field.

When she began sending out queries, she received several requests for a full proposal and three different editors took it to their pub boards. All sounded enthusiastic about the idea but felt today's market for childbirth books is too weak to support mine.

After our last best chance failed, she said:

"You MIGHT consider self-publishing the book if I can't get anywhere. The response from editors shows how good it is."

And then, when I asked her some follow-up questions:

"The fact that editors were so receptive to the proposal is meaningful--they're pretty tough customers. Please do take heart in that."

Because I enjoy marketing and had already planned to do plenty of promotion myself, I had mainly wanted a traditional publisher because I wouldn't have had to continually battle to prove my legitimacy. I'm still not at all sure I want to invest the time and energy involved in self-publishing when there's a higher degree of risk. I have a lot of thinking and research to do.

But.

What do you think? Would you do it? Why or why not?

scarletpeaches
08-15-2009, 11:31 PM
I'd get another agent.

escritora
08-15-2009, 11:35 PM
After our last best chance failed, she said:


What does that mean? The Houses on the A list? Or has she gone through her A, B, C...list?

ETA: I'm assuming your ms is nonfic because of the proposal reference. If that is correct, did editors turn down your book due to lack of platform?

KCathy
08-15-2009, 11:41 PM
Scarlet, wouldn't another agent be sending it to the same publishers in that case? And she did get a lot of good responses from them. I guess my real question is, what would another agent do for me that she couldn't?

Escritora, she started with the enormous houses in New York, and queried her way down a list of about 30 until we were looking at the bottom of the B list. I didn't get the impression that she went all the way to C.

KCathy
08-15-2009, 11:43 PM
P.S. She also communicated well, let me read what editors sent her, and always gave me the impression of utmost professionalism. I never got the feeling, for whatever my "feeling" is worth, that she could be doing more or wasn't enthusiastically and professionally repping me.

valeriec80
08-16-2009, 12:09 AM
If you self-publish, you're going to have a really hard time getting it into bookstores, which means you'll probably want to do most of your selling on the web. Are you already involved in forums, blogs, and other networking websites about childbirth? If so, you might have an audience ready made for your book, who already know and like you.

It might be a good idea, but it will be a lot of work, and as you pointed out, legitimacy will be something you'll have to prove over and over.

On the other hand, having complete creative control over your manuscript can be a lot of fun. One of my favorite things about self-publishing is creating my own covers. :)

scope
08-16-2009, 12:10 AM
For me, this is a first.

I don't care how "fantastic, "awesome," or whatever this agent is, the fact that she suggested to you what she did is ridiculous. Obviously she no longer wishes to rep your book, for whatever the reasons. And then to suggest self-publishing? Unbelievable. You seem saavy. How many writers make it thru self-publishing? I mean sell a significant number of books and make at least a decent living - would you say 1/10th of one percent? But assuming you want to try, you know that you become the publisher, for all intents and purposes. Do you have the money and time needed to devote to this? Do you have the contacts? Do you know how to publicize, market, and distribute a book. What about storage and shipping. Returns. Billing ---- and the list goes on and on.

Bottom line, if your book is as good as this agent is telling you - and I have no reason to think otherwise - I don't see why you wouldn't terminate this agent and get another.

ChaosTitan
08-16-2009, 12:13 AM
I would personally make sure she had exhausted every possible publisher, from top to bottom. There are a lot of small, non-fic presses, although your subject matter does fit a very particular niche. I imagine the list of publishers is smaller than most.

Did any of the rejections give you hope of resubmitting? Anyone mention that while they don't have a slot for it now, they might in the future? Because if so, and if she's exhausted everything, I'd get her reaction on setting it aside for a while. Maybe going back in six month and trying again.

Self-publishing is a last resort option, because going the route of self-pub takes you out of the author role and makes you a business owner. You are responsible for the costs of printing, editing, shipping, advertising, and all promotion done for the book. You won't have the resources at your disposal to properly distribute the book to bookstores. It's a hard path to take.

jfreedan
08-16-2009, 01:36 AM
Agents are seeming more insensitive to the relationship they have with authors every day.

MickRooney
08-16-2009, 02:58 AM
Agents are seeming more insensitive to the relationship they have with authors every day.

I would personally make sure she had exhausted every possible publisher, from top to bottom. There are a lot of small, non-fic presses, although your subject matter does fit a very particular niche. I imagine the list of publishers is smaller than most.
Isn't that already the agent's job!

KCathy,

My first thoughts on this was, 'No, you have an agent, don't consider self-publishing.'

By the way, this is coming from someone who has self-published seven books and writes extensively about self-publishing. So, just in case you think I have some self-publishing/vanity axe to grind here, I offer my thoughts entirely objectively.

I'm taking it this agent is trying to sell an MS for you for the first time. Meaning, she has not sold any previous manuscripts for you before. Agents pride themselves on their relationship and connections they have in the publishing world.

Pertinent question Alert!

So why did she take you and your work on in the first place? If she cannot now market the work then it shows she seriously misjudged her own abilities to sell your manuscript. This is a time for a little less of the 'she's a wonderful New York agent with great successes'. PERIOD

She didn't deliver. You did. Now she is trying to turn the tables and make you feel like there is something wrong with your work in the first place. If you were good enough to get a 'good' agent, then your work is good enough to be traditionally published and deserves more then the platform self-publishing will give it.

Better still, turn the tables on her. Say to her, 'yeh, sure I'll self-publish just this time, but you're paying the bill for it as well as the PR marketing. We can share the profits 50/50!' See how quick she turns on her heels.

As above, this agent doesn't seem to have whole-hearted faith in you or your books. Blow her out like a candle, before she does the same to you.

Cathy C
08-16-2009, 03:12 AM
KCathy, Let me ask a few questions here:

1. Is the topic a "timely" one that makes it important it be published NOW, versus five years from now?

2. Is it your only book, or just the one you're trying to market at this time?

3. Is the take on the topic already well-represented on the shelves right now, or is it a totally unique take?

I ask these questions because sometimes a whole flurry of books on a particular topic hit the NF market all at once and the editors simply haven't told your agent what's ABOUT TO come out in the next 12-24 months. If you have several other books in process, then my suggestion is to shelve this one for the moment and let things settle a bit. If, however, it's your ONLY book and you aren't really intending any others, then maybe what might work for you is to study those other books and come up with some new aspect for your book that NONE of the other books touch on. If the agent can contact those same interested editors again with a, "But wait! We have something new to bring to the proposal." it might be enough to get a yes, when it was a no the first time.

But it would require some work on your part. Frankly, I think that study time is worth it to see if there's a way to turn a sad and heartfelt, "not for us" into a "Wow! Absolutely, yes!"

Self-pubbing can work for NF, but the distribution is tricky. If you have a topic that nobody else has worked yet, it could be a shoe-in for the talk shows. In fact, if you're a good marketer already, see if you can FIND a celebrity or other notable person to champion the book or offer a cover quote. Sometimes a hesitant no will turn to a yes at a publisher with the right quote.

Just my .02, and Good luck!

Peachnuts
08-16-2009, 07:20 AM
Yes I'd do it. If it's your only other option, I'd do it. Perhaps she will do better finding a home with your next book. I wouldn't be able to move on though until the first 'baby' was laid to rest. there's no shame in self-publishing.

veinglory
08-16-2009, 07:22 AM
No.

Because an agent is part of a completely different publishing model and has no expertise, role or any business whatsoever commenting on self-publishing.

Nandi
08-16-2009, 10:37 PM
Do you believe that your agent really has shopped it around to as many publishers (A, B, and C list) as possible? If so, and if you are scratching your head about what to do next, you may want to consider contacting smaller publishing houses that accept author queries. Of course, that would be AFTER you and your agent reach a mutual agreement to part ways.

mlhernandez
08-17-2009, 12:38 AM
For what it's worth, I spent the last few months buying and reading childbirth books. The bulk of them were absolute crap. A few were winners you'd have to pry from my cold, dead hands. Overall the market seems rather full. A self-published book would probably have a huge uphill battle to get noticed--unless you're a super fabulous midwife with ties to people like Ina May Gaskin, for instance.

Does your childbirth book advocate a new kind of birthing? Or a different take on the standbys? (Lamaze, Bradley, hypno, water, etc.) Do you teach childbirth courses? Do you have a built-in platform for moving books?

Since self-publishing well is so expensive, I'd take a long hard look at your situation before jumping into it.

MickRooney
08-17-2009, 01:36 PM
Interestingly, POD People have a posting today about a self-publishing success sparked by a literary agent suggesting this option to one of their listed authors.

http://podpeep.blogspot.com/2009/08/his-agent-suggested-it.html

Perhaps this is actually more widespread than we think in commercial publishing circles. If so, it is one more sign that slowly but surely self-publishing is loosing its stigma and becoming, though at times limited, a viable option for authors who have only considered the traditional channels to publication.

StephenJSweeney
08-17-2009, 06:51 PM
Self-publishing is a last resort option, because going the route of self-pub takes you out of the author role and makes you a business owner. You are responsible for the costs of printing, editing, shipping, advertising, and all promotion done for the book. You won't have the resources at your disposal to properly distribute the book to bookstores. It's a hard path to take.

As someone who is currently walking that path, I have to second this.

I did sign 6 more copies of my novel this morning, though :)

DeleyanLee
08-17-2009, 07:01 PM
Have you/she consider submitting to the various professional groups with publishing houses? I know that several of medical groups have their own and it seems like yours would be a fit into that niche market.

My other thought is that I used to work for a guy who self-published his non-fiction self-help book. Started with spiral-bound copies sold out of his garage and when he taught classes. Within 8 years, he had to hire help because his book because a standard in that field all across the world.

It was 10 years before his book was picked up by Ingrams for distribution. I remember the celebration in the office when that deal got signed. Sadly, I was about the only one in the office who truly appreciated the coup that was.

That said--he pretty much dedicated his entire life for those 8 years to promoting, traveling, teaching classes, etc. before achieving any sort of success. Self-publishing is a hard row to hoe and it demands a LOT of your time and energy.

It can be successful, especially in the non-fiction world, but I would suggest that you exhaust all other options (such as medical publications) before you do.

Best of luck to you.

KCathy
08-18-2009, 11:06 PM
Well, my agent followed up with a couple of editors who hadn't responded to earlier emails, and one of them (on the high end of the B list, if you're curious) is bringing it to her pub board this Friday. So the roller coaster hasn't quite ground to a halt yet.

To answer some questions:


ETA: I'm assuming your ms is nonfic because of the proposal reference. If that is correct, did editors turn down your book due to lack of platform?

In a word, yes, although this last publishing board mentioned that even Ricki Lake's latest childbirth book hasn't performed well. Because my book describes a broad spectrum of childbirth methods (most focus on one method or on one school of thought like the natural methods only), each based on interviews with the experts who founded or now lead the method's groupies, followed by several first-person birth stories by non-birth-professionals, I think I was able to get around that, to a very, VERY small extent. It's MEANT to be a non-professional, lay-mom's book that shows how methods play out in real life for lay-moms. But I've always known that I'm the one-legged guy at the marathon and trained accordingly.


Do you have the money and time needed to devote to this? Do you have the contacts? Do you know how to publicize, market, and distribute a book.

I do not have the money (I'm a stay-at-home-mom married to a car salesman who will probably go back to not-so-rich when Cash for Clunkers runs out here soon) and I do not have the time (I'm due with baby number four in six weeks and those newborn things don't travel well).

I don't have a lot of contacts, but do understand my market and its ringleaders extremely well. In other words, I probably couldn't market a fiction book effectively, but I know how to approach childbirth experts, obstetricians' offices, midwives' practices, and birth fanatics. I'm very practical in that way, which is how I've already gotten five nationally recognized birth experts to participate in the proposal and sample chapters.

I'm also willing and able to learn about the publicizing-marketing-distribution aspects, as evidenced by my writing a non-fic proposal with zero prior experience or expert assistance that has slowly made its way to a reputable agent and handful of publishing boards.

My primary reasons for wanting to avoid self-publishing at this point are a lack of time and pride (the whole constantly having to prove I'm not self-pubbing because I stink--not that self-pubbers all stink, just that many do).


Did any of the rejections give you hope of resubmitting? Anyone mention that while they don't have a slot for it now, they might in the future?

No. It was mostly that my platform is too weak and/or the market for childbirth books in today's recession and availability of Internet childbirth info is too soft.


I don't see why you wouldn't terminate this agent and get another.

Mainly because it took me 18 months and 45 queries to get this one. :-)


Self-publishing is a last resort option, because going the route of self-pub takes you out of the author role and makes you a business owner....It's a hard path to take.

Self-publishing is a hard row to hoe and it demands a LOT of your time and energy.

'Zactly.


Agents are seeming more insensitive to the relationship they have with authors every day.

To all who just think my agent sucks, I don't have a way to prove she isn't insensitive or incompetent other than showing you guys all of our correspondence over the last year. It might not convince you anyway, and I'll understand if you just want to chalk what I believe to be my evidence-based belief in her abilities to my publishing naivete.


So why did she take you and your work on in the first place? If she cannot now market the work then it shows she seriously misjudged her own abilities to sell your manuscript.

Well, in a poor market for my genre and with a platform-handicapped author to boot, she got about 10 different editors to ask for proposals based on her query, and five of those have now brought them to their boards for discussion. Isn't that pretty good? I may be showing my ignorance here.


Now she is trying to turn the tables and make you feel like there is something wrong with your work in the first place.

On the contrary, she has always said my work is wonderful and is now trying to encourage me with the fact that so many editors have tried to get their boards to publish it. I think she's concerned that I'll see these rejections as a judgment on my writing or my idea, and has so much faith in my work and marketing ability that she feels it even has the potential to succeed as a self-pub.


1. Is the topic a "timely" one that makes it important it be published NOW, versus five years from now?

No.


2. Is it your only book, or just the one you're trying to market at this time?

I'm about a third of the way through a novel, too, but this is my only NF effort.


3. Is the take on the topic already well-represented on the shelves right now, or is it a totally unique take?

Yes and yes, lol. While there are many childbirth books, mine would be the only one focusing entirely on birth (as opposed to the entire pregnancy) to cover the full spectrum of childbirth methods and the only one to use multiple first-person stories by non-birth-professionals to flesh out those methods.


Because an agent is part of a completely different publishing model and has no expertise, role or any business whatsoever commenting on self-publishing.

That's true, but I don't think she meant to present herself as an expert on self-publishing. I think she meant that, as an expert on writing and publishable ideas, she thought the book would be good enough to do well even in less-than-ideal publishing conditions.


Overall the market seems rather full. A self-published book would probably have a huge uphill battle to get noticed--unless you're a super fabulous midwife with ties to people like Ina May Gaskin, for instance.

It is, which was something the publishing boards brought up when saying "we'd like to publish this, but don't think it will sell." And I'm super, but neither fabulous nor a midwife. Does having read Gaskin's books count? I'm going to go with no on that one...


Does your childbirth book advocate a new kind of birthing? Or a different take on the standbys? (Lamaze, Bradley, hypno, water, etc.) Do you teach childbirth courses? Do you have a built-in platform for moving books?

No to all of those. The strengths of my idea are 1) the comprehensive approach (because most books either focus on medical pain management and give a few short paragraphs to the wonky natural stuff that you shouldn't really expect to help you OR focus on natural birth and how an epidural will fry your baby's brain while the doctor pummels you with a set of forceps) and 2) that actual moms who have tried the methods, for better or worse, will tell you about their own experiences (kind of like asking your girlfriends how they liked this or that method, except that few of us have friends who have tried everything).


If so, it is one more sign that slowly but surely self-publishing is loosing its stigma and becoming, though at times limited, a viable option for authors who have only considered the traditional channels to publication.

I truly believe that with the right amounts of money, time, and energy, this idea could work as a POD. I just don't know that I am willing, assuming I'm even ABLE, to invest them.


I know that several of medical groups have their own and it seems like yours would be a fit into that niche market.

That's a fantastic idea that I should look into. I have to say, though, that it would be tricky to find a group interested in such a broad spectrum of methods. Most medical groups have liability concerns about espousing such ideas as home births and most natural birth groups believe that medical and hospital methods are fundamentally incompatible with safe, evidence-based care.

Whew! Thanks for all the incredibly helpful and thought-out advice! I deeply appreciate your interest in my decision and your shared wisdom.

DeleyanLee
08-18-2009, 11:26 PM
Well, my agent followed up with a couple of editors who hadn't responded to earlier emails, and one of them (on the high end of the B list, if you're curious) is bringing it to her pub board this Friday. So the roller coaster hasn't quite ground to a halt yet.

Great news! Best of luck!


That's a fantastic idea that I should look into. I have to say, though, that it would be tricky to find a group interested in such a broad spectrum of methods. Most medical groups have liability concerns about espousing such ideas as home births and most natural birth groups believe that medical and hospital methods are fundamentally incompatible with safe, evidence-based care.

Midwives are CRNPs and PAs in most states. See if they have a national group or even a large regional group. Even if you have to self-pub, they would be a marketing resource.

Good luck!

KCathy
08-18-2009, 11:45 PM
Midwives are CRNPs and PAs in most states. See if they have a national group or even a large regional group. Even if you have to self-pub, they would be a marketing resource.

Excellent point. They're also CNMs and LDEMs in states in which midwifery is legal, and they do have national associations and publications that I would definitely approach!

MickRooney
08-19-2009, 02:28 AM
Excellent point. They're also CNMs and LDEMs in states in which midwifery is legal, and they do have national associations and publications that I would definitely approach!


[deep intake of breath]...midwifery is illegal in some US states?

KCathy
08-19-2009, 06:02 AM
I'm pretty sure I don't smoke crack, but that sentence didn't make much sense, did it?

Unless I am again being senseless, I believe Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) are legal in all states. They are trained as nurses and then add a two-year specialization similar to what a Physician Assistant or Practical Nurse adds to their nursing training. Licensed Direct-entry Midwives (which I should have abbreviated LDMs, by the way) are not trained as nurses first, but go through a series of training and birth assistance requirements that vary greatly in different states. LDMs are not legal in all states.

Clear as mud?

Art Edwards
08-19-2009, 08:39 AM
Self-publishing is now a marginal part of the traditional publishing world. Your agent is validating that. She's not suggesting it to doom your career. She's giving you an option. At this point, it might be as likely to work as anything else.

Cory Emberson
08-23-2009, 05:11 AM
KCathy, Let me ask a few questions here:

1. Is the topic a "timely" one that makes it important it be published NOW, versus five years from now?



Hi Cathy,

Excellent post - I have a specific question about the timely-should-be-published-NOW book. For a NF book that is not only a unique take on a timely subject, and has great market potential - *but the time is ripe for it within the next few months (and before someone else does it first), would you recommend self-publishing as a way to beat the agent/publisher lag? (Especially if the author - yes, me - is already pretty well-positioned to do the legwork for publicity and marketing?)

Thanks - it's getting to be decision time.

best...

scope
08-23-2009, 08:17 AM
Hi Cathy,

For a NF book that is not only a unique take on a timely subject, and has great market potential - *but the time is ripe for it within the next few months (and before someone else does it first), would you recommend self-publishing as a way to beat the agent/publisher lag? (Especially if the author - yes, me - is already pretty well-positioned to do the legwork for publicity and marketing?)


Cory,

If your book is all you say, and I have no reason to doubt you, agents and editors will be just as aware as you as to its merits, timeliness, market potential, and time sensitivity. If the stars are aligned just right, and you land an agent very quickly (which given what you say is entirely possible), the agent should be able to find a publisher within weeks. Publishers, when push comes to shove, can produce and market a book within months -- lets say 6 months. The fact that you can help with publicity and marketing is a huge help. Years ago I was in a similar place with a book whose subject was truly time sensitive. The editor of a giant major (and editorial board) agreed, signed me to a contract within 2 days, produced and distributed the book 5 months later, including 30 translations for foreign rights they sold. During the 5 months they did all the publicity, marketing, and distribution required -- so, it can be done!

Of course the key to all of this is the time sensitive issue which you mention. So, if you decide to pursue an agent it's your job to make it crystal clear why this is so, and how and why "immediate" publication will greatly increase sales.

Before deciding to go the self-publishing route I think you should ask yourself a number of questions, for example:

> Do you want to be a "publisher," which in effect is what you become when you self-publish a book?

> While self-publishing requires one to spend an enormous amount of time before and after production, the fact that your work is so time sensitive implies that you'll have to devote even more time to your book than usual. Do you have that amount of free time and are you willing to do all that's involved? Remember, you become the publisher, forget about anything promised by a self-publishing company.

>Do you have many thousands of dollars to invest in the project? Not just printing and binding, but publicity, marketing, distribution, travel (if and when necessary), bookkeeping and other costs involved in running your own business, and more?

>You say that you can handle the publicity and marketing -- compared to a traditional publisher who can, lets say, do 100%, what percentage would you give what you can do?

>A great book accompanied by a needy market, time sensitive material, excellent publicity and marketing, is fabulous, but without the ability to distribute they are relatively meaningless.

>Ask yourself how many copies, within a year, you believe a traditional publisher would sell and how many copies do you think you as a self-publisher can sell?

While in general I believe that from a business standpoint very, very few books should be self-published, I do think that if the subject is right and the person self-publishing is fluent in all aspects of same that a degree of success is possible. We have to look no further than several member of AW to prove this point. Some really know their stuff and have made money doing same. Nevertheless, only you know you, and what may be possible.

Best of luck whatever you decide.

Cory Emberson
08-23-2009, 09:34 AM
Hi Scope,

Thank you very much for such a detailed and valuable answer - that's what I love about AW ... it's real stuff.

I have been aware of a few top-lister NF authors getting a time-sensitive book out very quickly. In this case, it's my job as a new (book) author to make the professionals aware of these things, in an especially compelling way.

I do have several pretty visible endorsements lined up (without giving too much away, most of them are in a position to help bootstrap the book's visibility on a larger stage). In this case, the main idea of the book is easily expressed in about 15 seconds, and my straw votes among people who swim in those waters have been very positive (not just family and friends ;-) ).

I'm very impressed - and inspired and motivated - by your quickly-to-press story. I'd imagine that the "six weeks/two months/etc." turnaround times quoted by agents and editors are the norm, but if they see the opportunity to present such a book that has strong sales potential, there's always room.

Self-publishing is definitely a Plan B, but not a candidate for Plan A. I've been a business owner for 23 years, and am pretty used to continual promotion, as well as editorial quality control. That's not an issue, and if that's to be my business in promoting and marketing this book, I've got the chops to do that. But I'd *much rather have the publisher pay *me. If I were to self-publish, I'd go through LS rather than the middleman companies that would take my money to do what I am perfectly capable of doing.

Regarding marketing, I've been prepared to be involved in that ... I've read so much that indicates many publishers (especially when handling a new author) expect the author to be personally involved in creating the marketing plan. So, I'm already turning that part of my brain on. ;-)

Scope, thanks a million for the best post I've received all year!

best,
Cory

scope
08-23-2009, 09:22 PM
Cory,

Oh how you flatter me!

Seriously, thanks for the very kind words. I hope everything works out just as you wish. You certainly seem to be approaching your issue with a sober mind -- I think we all understand the panic involved.

Please keep us posted.

Good luck.

Cory Emberson
08-23-2009, 09:30 PM
Cory,

Oh how you flatter me!

Seriously, thanks for the very kind words. I hope everything works out just as you wish. You certainly seem to be approaching your issue with a sober mind -- I think we all understand the panic involved.

Please keep us posted.

Good luck.

Scope,

Awww. :-) Thanks so much - I think everyone here knows the feeling of having pretty good ideas, and then when the idea that hits the tuning fork just right comes to mind, there *is a sense of exhilaration and fright.

But I've gotten old enough where I realize I've survived truly bad situations, and this is just nervous-making. What fodder for a thread (if there isn't one) - shoving stage-fright to the side and doing it anyway. That's where I am now. The tuning fork doesn't sing that often!

I will certainly keep you posted, and thanks again.

best...

Twizzle
08-28-2009, 07:13 PM
I think I'd quickly part ways with my agent if it was something akin to that whole Obj Ent agency (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=73790&page=9) thing where they've been referring rejectees to self-pub (the assumption being they have some financial incentive or interest in doing so).

As this most likely is not the case here as you say she's a very reputable agent, I think I'd hear her out and try to understand her why's and figure out where we would go from there-hopefully with subbing your next book. But I'd never self-publish it--man, I got tired just reading your post and how full your hands already are. :)

If they're all saying the problem is today's market, I'd put it away until tomorrow's market. But that's just me. Good luck with the board!