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.

  1. 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)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2)

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.

21 thoughts on “What to do? What to do?

  1. I think the most interesting thing about this entire business is that you can do everything the “right” way and still get hammered by the people who wanted you to use “sensitivity readers” in the first place. See here for an earlier article on the same topic. Relevant quote:

    More generally, though, responsibility for the process should ultimately lie with the author—it isn’t reasonable for a reader to be liable for problems with a text that they didn’t write, as Mandanna’s comments attest. One way for an author to absorb this responsibility is to obtain permission from sensitivity readers before acknowledging them by name.

    Essentially, all the gibberish about “power dynamics” at the link comes down to is that even if you pay the money and you can still get thrown to the wolves. At least if you pay off the Mafia you know your place of business won’t get torched until the next time they come around. No such guarantee with sensitivity readers.

    1. Totally agree.

      I find it interesting that the publishers hiring these folks also don’t seem to be telling us what sort of qualifications these readers have, what sort of sensitivities they are looking for, etc. Besides, what one person is sensitive about doesn’t necessarily correspond to another person’s. What is going to be interesting is to see how the bottom line is impacted after these readers have a final say in what gets published.

      1. I’d go further and say that being sincerely hypersensitive to different things has wildly different results.

  2. I think all three points boil down to: Do Your Homework. Look at you genre and how it sells in print and audio, look into the pros and cons of audio books. Investigate agents closely (heck, any one you hire. I got burned by a free-lance editor). Do what you can not to be grossly insulting or wrong when you are writing about unfamiliar cultures or social roles i.e. do not have a scene where a Hindu priest is sacrificing a cow, unless it is waaay back fantasy about the Vedic times (1700 BC/BCE or so), or you tell readers that this is seriously wrong for the culture and Something Big Bad is going on. And remember that people are people, and all the sensitivity advisors in the world won’t stop someone from being insulted if they really want to be insulted.

    1. Funny how “do your homework” tends to answer a lot of questions and deal with a lot of concerns, isn’t it? I’ve never understood why folks don’t research people they are considering turning their future over to — and that is what you do when you sign with an agent. You are giving them the authority to take your work and sell it. Me? I want to know their history and their philosophy on publishing and publishers. Shrug.

  3. Format for epublishing?
    Contemplate Smashwords.com (I do not work for them, but I have some books with them)
    Submit in .doc format.
    They generate
    files and sell them for you. They charge nothing but get a cut of the income.

    1. Draft 2 Digital (mentioned above) does similarly and seems to have a more reliable formatting on their generator than Smashwords.

      In this case the formats she’s talking about seem to be ‘digital’, ‘Print’, and ‘Audio’ and the like. Note: She said ‘formats to release your book’ not format for epublishing.

      1. You are absolutely right about D2D. Also, as I noted above, D2D seems to be quicker in responding to an author removing a book from sale or to an author uploading an updated file. I am about to release some of my work on other platforms and will be returning to D2D to do so.

    2. Respectfully but not only no, but hell no. Smashwords’ meatgrinder is probably the very worst conversion tool out there. I’ve used them and have had a book published months earlier suddenly have the last half showing up italicized. I hadn’t changed anything or uploaded a new file. They did it on their own. Worse, their accounting system is much more convoluted and confusing than other third-party sites like Draft2Digital. They also tend, at least from my experience as well as that of others I’ve talked with, to take longer to take titles down from other sites than D2D does. Finally, their on-going attacks on Amazon should worry any indie publisher.

      Besides, as pointed out below, I wasn’t referring to different e-book formats. (And, btw, the only formats you really need to worry about as an indie author are epub and mobi. The others just add to the time the author has to spend checking to make sure the conversion was done properly) I was referring to e-book, print and audio.

  4. Stephanie and I decided to go with Ingram Spark for the first book in her new series. Full package, both print and electronic, for a processing fee of $45 which gets refunded once you order over 50 print books. We provided a print formatted interior and full wrap around cover for the paper books and front cover and epub interior for e-book. I did the epub conversion from the source MS Word document.
    One word of caution should you choose to go with Ingram, unlike Amazon they do not automatically embed the cover art in the file metadata of the e-book. You have to know to do that yourself. Not all that difficult, you just need to know that it’s a required step when using their service.
    Ingram Spark does place e-books with all the on line vendors and offers POD ordering to any brick and mortar bookstore.
    I’ll also note that their finished print product does not seem to have any of the quality issues that have been reported by folks using createspace.

    1. I want to clarify something here. If you publish through Createspace, your book will also be available for order through brick and mortar stores. As for quality issues, I’ve not had any with Createspace.

      1. Speaking purely from personal experience, so only reporting what I’ve heard or seen written. From what I understand Creatspace is a good way to get print books at a reasonable cost per unit. One author did tell me that she always seems to get at least one damaged copy in every order, but also that they were very accommodating about replacing the defective copies.
        From our one test case Ingram Spark does a very nice trade paperback, but their interface bites. Took us days of back and forth to get all the minor nits and details ironed out. Still and all, mostly pleased at the final product.

  5. Every time I see another social justice darling cannibalized by their own audience for something stupid, I am reminded that you may as well not care about offending people. Certain people will be offended no matter what you do.

    1. Yep. As long as there’s not a law against it *casts wary eyes on Canada, Great Britain, and the EU* you can have any kind of character doing any kind of thing. Heck, someone will probably get offended when your hero rescues kittens from a tree because he scuffed the tree’s bark in the process.

      1. Soon enough there’s going to be a law against Islamophobia in Canada. It is coming up for debate Real Soon they say.

        Now, as to how “Islamophobia” gets defined, that could be interesting. A picture of Mo might get you arrested. No problem with Curly and Larry yet, but we shall see.

        Also soon come, it may be illegal to “mis-gender” somebody.

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