What to do? What to do?
As Dave alluded to yesterday, Sarah threw down the challenge gauntlet over the weekend. She tagged Dave, Kate and myself and “asked” which of us would be the first to fisk the article Dave linked to about publishers hiring “sensitivity readers”. Fortunately, Dave beat me to it. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a few things to say about it — hey, you knew I couldn’t let him have all the fun — as well as a couple of other things happening in the industry. So grab your morning coffee, sit back and hold on because it’s been a somewhat bumpy ride in the industry news of late.
First up, the ongoing tug-of-war indie authors face when it comes to publishing. No, not where to list their books. There are any number of outlets where we can post our books for sale. For those of us in the US, we have four major outlets: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo. If you have the right equipment — thanks, Apple — you can upload your books to these outlets yourself or you can go through a third-party like Draft2Digital. No, the real issue facing indies comes to what format(s) you are going to release. Despite what so many articles and “polls” would have us believe, the e-book market is still going strong. There are many indie authors who make more than their traditionally published counterparts.
The question we face is actually two-fold. First, do we release print versions of our books? Second, what about audio books?
The first question should probably be rephrased to “why should we re. lease print books?”. The truth is the vast majority of indie authors who release print books see no real sales from those books. We offer print copies not because we expect to make money from them but because it makes our product pages look more “professional”. Having print books also means we have copies to take with us to conventions or when we do speaking engagements. It’s an ego thing as well. So many of us still have that niggling voice of doubt in the back of our minds that tells us we aren’t real authors unless our books are in print.
But, can we really justify the time and, yes, money involved in putting out a book in print? The time isn’t that much, not once you have a good template in place and know how to use it. Then you only lose a couple of hours in transitioning from the final version of your manuscript to your interior file. Add another couple of hours to pull together your cover flat, assuming you do that yourself. After all, you need a different sized cover image from what you used for your e-book cover. You need to design the spine and back cover as well. Then you have to fit it to the template and submit it. Then you wait to see if it passes inspection wherever you are creating your print books.
But that isn’t all. To have a print book, you need an ISBN. Sure, you can go with the free ISBN from Amazon/Createspace if you want but there are downsides to that. Your imprint will not be listed as the distributor. You have just slit your metaphorical throat when it comes the very slim chance of seeing your book in a brick and mortar bookstore. So, if you think you might be able to convince a bookstore to stock your title, you have to pay for an ISBN and then hope that happens and, to be honest, it will be a cold day in Hell for most of us. Why? Because the large brick and mortar stores are told from their home offices what books to stock and there is little leeway left for them. As for the locally owned indie stores, you have to be able to show them that there will be a demand for your book. It’s one of those situations where they have to see a demand but if the book isn’t in the stores, how can there be a demand?
There is another form of “book” more and more indies are turning to and making good money from — the audio book. But it, too, has pitfalls. You have to have a file that Amazon and the other outlets will accept. You have to find a narrator who can and will do justice to your prose. That narrator has to be paid. Do you pay them a set fee up front, praying you make that money back? Or do you ask them to take a percentage of whatever you make on audio sales? Then there is, again, the time involved for the author to review the audio file, making sure the narrator didn’t go off the deep end somewhere along the way and start reading another book in the middle of yours or that the audio quality didn’t suddenly go down the metaphorical drain. I’ll be honest. I’m hoping to do audio books — I’m looking at you, D. — but won’t know for sure for a few months.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that authors need to look at their sales, their plans and what sort of impression they want their product page to make before determining what formats they release and why.
Okay, next up is a warning from Writer Beware. There was a time when you had to have an agent if you wanted to be published. Even now, if you want to be traditionally published, most major publishers require you to submit your work through an agent. However, that is often not the case if you are looking at mid-sized or small press publishers. When indie publishing really took off, a number of literary agencies opened publishing arms to “assist” their authors in their indie endeavors. Several of us here at MGC raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest then.
Writers Beware, in this latest warning, reminds authors looking for agents that there are certain things we should do before submitting to an agent, much less signing with them.
- Check sales from the agency. In other words, look at who they say their clients are and what titles they have sold for those clients. See who the publishers are. If the agency seems to have sold more titles to mid and small-sized publishers, check the publisher pages to see if they require submissions to come through an agent. Heck, check the major houses as well because some do have imprints that allow for direct submission. In other words, if the agency is mainly selling to publishers that do NOT require agented submissions, thing twice before going with that agency. Ask yourself if you would be happy selling to these same publishers and, if so, ask why you would want to pay someone to do something you can do yourself. (that someone being the agent)
- If an agent offers to represent you but says your manuscript needs editing and says they know a freelance editor you can hire, check to see what sort of relationship might exist between the agent and editor. In the situation presented by Writer Beware, the agent in question and the recommended editor apparently have some sort of personal relationship. This relationship wasn’t revealed to the potential client. That is a huge red flag for me. Always remember that the agent is supposed to work for the author and put the author’s interests ahead of everyone else.
- Look at how long the agency has been in business and how many books they have sold to publishers — and look at who those publishers are. You want an agent with a track record that shows not only sales but sales to reputable publishers.
- Probably most important in the long run, if the agency contract includes the “interminable agency clause”, run away. Run far and run fast. This is the clause that grants the agent representation of the book for the life of the copyright. In other words, basically they hold the book — and get to collect on royalties, etc — for as long as the book is in copyright. You do NOT want this.
Finally, on sensitivity readers, let’s be honest. Most writers aren’t out there trying to appropriate anyone else’s culture. Nor are they out there trying to insult their readers. What has happened is publishers are now so worried they might put out a book that will upset a single reader that they are bending over backwards to make sure no one gets their feelings hurt. The result is that they are instead putting out books that are turning away readers. Why? Because these publishers are trying to be so “diverse” that they are sacrificing plot to make sure no one is upset.
As writers, we are told we can’t write what we don’t know. For example, if you weren’t raised in a certain certain economic condition, you can’t write about it. If you aren’t the same race or sex or gender of your main character, you shouldn’t write about it. Yet, on the other hand, we are told we need to diversify our characters and plots. It is a catch-22, one that is currently bringing many writers to a screeching halt because they don’t know what to do.
My advice is to quit worrying about what these folks are saying. Write your book. Write it the best way you can, using the characters and settings you feel best suit the plot. Do your research. Talk to people. But put your butt in your chair and write. Then send your book out to your beta readers. Workshop it in your local writers group. Listen to what they have to say. Then decide if the book is good enough to send to traditional publishers, if that is the route you want to go, or to release as an indie.
What publishers forget is that there is a market for everything, good and bad, offensive and inoffensive. That is the great thing about the reading world. The only difference is the size of the audience. So write the book you want to write and then , once you have released it into the wild, sit down and write the next book. That is what writers do. Write the story you feel needs to be written. No one else will, at least not in the same way you will.
Now available for pre-order.
Plots form, betrayals are planned and war nears.
Cait Hawkener has come to accept she might never remember her life before that terrible morning almost two years ago when she woke in the slavers’ camp. That life is now behind her, thanks to Fallon Mevarel and the Order of Arelion. Now a member of the Order, Cait has pledged her life to making sure no one else falls victim as she did.
But danger once more grows, not only for Cait but to those she calls friends. Evil no longer hides in the shadows and conspirators grow bold as they move against the Order and those who look to it for protection. When Cait accepts the call to go to the aid of one of the Order’s allies, she does not know she is walking into the middle of conspiracy and betrayal, the roots of which might help answer some of the questions about her own past.