Category Archives: AMANDA

Amanda.

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.

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Beginnings, endings and everything in-between

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it here — I know I have over on my blog — but I got jumped about 9 days ago with a new novel. Well, new in the sense that it hasn’t already been written. Not new because I knew I had to write it and had planned to get to it this summer. Oh, yeah, new in that this novel doesn’t remotely resemble the book I had planned in my head. Yeah, yeah, my muse is evil but we all know that.

Now, I don’t have time to sit down and write an entire novel out of my publication order. I keep telling myself that. More importantly, I keep telling Myrtle the Muse that. So, I bargained with her — what, don’t all writers bargain with their muses? And no, it’s not like bargaining with the Devil. Myrtle makes the devil look like a rank amateur. — and we agreed that she would get one week, give or take a day or two, to get the basics of the book down. Then I had to get back to the final editorial check and formatting for Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2). Hopefully, Myrtle is going to stick with our agreement. Otherwise, I may have to murder my muse and I learned long ago that’s easier said than done.

And that, in a way, gets to the topic of today’s post. When I first screwed up the courage to show Sarah something I’d written — and, believe me, it took her pointy boots and threatening not to let me beta read anything else she wrote before I agreed — she looked at me, shook her head and told me I had the dreaded “start in the wrong place’ disease. What I’d written was serviceable but I had started about five pages too soon. Then, on rewrite, I started two pages too late. She finally got me to start it where it needed to begin. Then she nursed — and begged and bullied — me through the next few books with the same issues.

Beginnings are hard. You can spend pages giving your reader beautiful descriptions of the setting and what your characters look like. You can start with the day your character arrives in town. There are so many ways to start but, all too often, those ways fail in the biggest challenge we face as writers — they fail to hook the reader. You have to give enough about your character — and it doesn’t have to be your main character. It can be the antagonist or the victim who won’t appear except as a reference after those first few pages. But you have to give your reader a reason to keep turning the page to see what happens next.

I picked up a book a month or so ago that had gotten great reviews. The writing was supposed to be “alive” and “beautiful”. The characters well-developed. The plot engaging. And I should have known better. The opening pages read like a travelogue. There was nothing in them to give me any hint what sort of book I was reading, what the potential conflicts might be, etc. In other words, it gave me no reason to keep reading.

Another book, one I checked the sample for ten days ago or so had the opposite feel. I knew exactly what I was going to be getting by the end of the third paragraph. How? Because those three paragraphs read like the author and/or editor had a checklist of issues and characters that had to appear in the book and they were all listed right up front. It was a grocery list of social issues. Now, there is nothing wrong with having social issues in your work — as long as you make them interesting for your readers. And that has to be done from page one. Otherwise, you give your readers no cause to go forward with your book. You have to get them interested, have them want to see what is going to happen next. In other words, you have to tease them with the reward that will come as they continue reading.

That becomes more difficult when you write series. You need to offer your reader enough to catch them up on what’s been happening, especially if that reader is new to the series, without your first few pages becoming nothing but a synopsis of earlier books or stories. You need to also give the plot arc a push in such a way you readers, old and new, know something important or exciting or whatever is about to happen.

Even now, after more than 10 novels, I hate openings. I have to stop myself from writing and rewriting them so many times they lose any emotional resonance they might have had. There was a time when Sarah threatened to not let me edit my work at all if I didn’t stop editing the life out of my first chapter or two. I try to keep that in mind but it’s hard at times.

So, fast-forward to this book that demanded it be written NOW! It is the fifth book in the Nocturnal Lives series. I’ve known from the last few books that this book would be where several of the major plot lines would come together and life for the main characters would be thrown up in the air and some of them might not come through it. As I said earlier, I’d planned on writing the book this summer for release in the fall. I even had the basic plot figured out, notes taken and some research done.

I’ve worked on the book a little more than a week now. Today is the last day I’m letting Myrtle drive that particular plot line. So far, I’ve written approximately 25k words. So, I have a good feel for where the book is going — well, not really. Myrtle is making this a true pantsing novel. But at least I’m not screaming in fear — or hate — with it.

I even got up the nerve to send the opening sequence to Sarah to look at. Yes, I caught her at a weak moment. In other words, I caught her when she made the mistake of looking up from her computer screen and then I begged. Okay, I begged that she delete the file without reading it (for some reason, I am still terrified of letting Sarah read my work. I think part of that is I’m afraid she will realize she has spent all this time mentoring me for naught). Instead of deleting it, she read it.

Dum-dum-dum.

And said that, for once, my very rough draft didn’t read like I started it too soon or too late.

I even made her repeat it, just to be sure I heard right. Then I did a happy dance. And then I beat Myrtle and told her that, no, Sarah’s compliment didn’t mean she got to stay out and make me write the rest of the book.

Anyway, for those of you who haven’t seen the scene yet, here it is. As with everything, copyright applies. Also, this is a very rough draft. No editing, spell checking, etc., has been done. All of which means, things may change before Nocturnal Rebellion is released.

***

The bullpen fell silent as Chief of Detectives, Luis Santiago, moved to the front of the room. The look on his face mirrored how they each felt. Disbelief, sorrow and anger – but mostly anger – burned in his dark eyes. Every cop, not to mention every cop’s family, faced this possibility each time they stepped out the door. But that didn’t make it any easier, especially not when it hit this close to home.

Santiago looked around the squad room, making eye contact with every person there. It didn’t surprise him to find more than just the day shift present. He had no doubt were he to check the other squads under his command, he would find the same thing. When a cop went down in the line of duty, no one worried about vacation or sick leave. Every cop in the department would be doing all they could to find the perps responsible. That knowledge made him glad to be part of the family. Even so, it did nothing to make this part of his job any easier. Fortunately, it was not something he had to do very often but even once was one time to many.

Standing there, seeing how each of those assigned to Homicide waited, hoping he had good news to tell them but knowing he did not, he drew a deep breath. He could have let someone else handle this but that would have been the easy way out and he had never been one to shirk the uncomfortable parts of the job off on someone else. Besides, he owed it to them, and to their lieutenant, to make sure they knew that even though he no longer worked cases on the board, he was still one of them. He hurt with them and he thirsted for the same vengeance they did.

“I’m not going to tell you this gets easier. It doesn’t and each of you knows it. Let’s be honest. This squad has faced more than its fair share of challenges the last two years.” He paused and reached up to rub his eyes, burning with unshed tears, with thumb and forefinger. As he did, he felt every one of the last twenty-six hours he had been awake. Twenty-six hours of sitting vigil at the hospital room and then talking with family members, of briefing the chief of police, Darnell Culver, and of doing all he could to head off any interference by the feds. One of his own had gone down and he was damned if he was going to let the feds or any other agency take over the case. Then he cleared his throat and continued. “Each and every time, you have risen to the challenge and done what was necessary to carry out your duties as detectives for DPD. I know I’m asking a lot now, but I need you to do so once again.

“The next few days are going to be difficult for the entire force, but especially for you. You lost one of your own yesterday. I’ve spend a great deal of time with the family and they asked me to let you know that arrangements have been made. They thank each of you for all the time you have spent with them since the ambush. They have asked that, until the funeral, members of this squad be with them. They know you were all family and they will feel better having someone who knew their loved one with them. Sergeant Collins, I’ll leave it to you to arrange schedules to accommodate this request.” He glanced at the squad’s acting commander and she nodded, her expression grim.

‘In three days, we will lay your fellow detective to rest. I expect each of you to be there in dress uniform, representing not only this squad but the best of the force. Show the city that we bleed blue. Then show them that DPD does its job, no matter what. Find the bastards responsible for the ambush and bring them in to face justice.

“It would be easy to seek vengeance. I understand that feeling because I share it. No one, no matter who they are, is allowed to kill one of our own. But we will not lower ourselves, or the rest of DPD, down to those bastards’ level. Find them and bring them in. We will let the courts deal with them and, when the time comes, we will be sitting on the front row of the viewing chamber when they are brought in for their execution.” He glanced around as detectives, uniformed officers and clerical workers nodded grimly. “Do your lieutenant proud and find those bastards before they manage to kill anyone else.”

As one, everyone present turned to look at the darkened office with its closed door and silence so profound it felt almost alive filled the squad room. Then a tall blonde with short cropped hair, her expression stone-cold but pain reflected in her eyes, stepped forward. The others waited, watching as she approached Santiago.

“Sergeant Collins, the squad is yours,” the chief of detectives said. “Close this case before the feds try to take over. We will not step aside for anyone, not this time.”

The blonde nodded. As she did, she blinked back the tears burning in her eyes. “Yes, sir.”

He nodded once and then shook her hand. Then he turned, leaving the squad room. As the door closed behind him, Pat drew a deep breath. Whether she liked it or not, the squad was hers and she had a duty to do, a duty to the DPD, her former partner and her squad.

“The chief’s right,” she said softly. She did not try to hide her grief. Each person in the room, shared it. “We have to work this like any other case but let’s be honest. This isn’t just any other case and it never will be. We will have the press looking at everything we do, questioning each move and every word spoken. Worse, IAB is going to be nosing around.” She held up a hand before anyone could protest.

“Hear me on this. No one likes the idea of the rat squad poking around. This squad has first-hand knowledge how they can twist things to meet their own needs. So, I want every i dotted and ever t crossed in the investigation. Work this case like your own life depends on it because it very well may. We have cop killers running loose on our streets and none of us are safe until they are behind bars. So, when IAB comes calling, you will answer their questions. The quicker we do, the quicker we get them out of the squad and out of the investigation. Don’t play games with them. If they ask or allude to anything that sets off your warning bells, let me know.

“From now until this case is solved, it is all hands on deck. All vacation time is canceled until further notice. If you call in sick, you’d better damn have a doctor telling me you are on your death bed. Work your contacts and get your CI’s on the street and asking questions. Finding these bastards is our priority now. That said, make sure your other cases are worked as well. Don’t miss any court dates but this is our priority. We will find the bastards behind the ambush and we will be the ones to bring them in.”

With that, she strode across the bullpen. Pausing before the door to the office that had been her partner’s she reached down to turn the knob. As she did, her hand shook. A sob rose in her throat. She choked it down. She had to maintain control until she was behind closed doors. The squad was hers, at least until Chief Culver found someone to replace Lt. Mackenzie Santos, not that anyone could ever fill her shoes as a cop or as a partner and friend.

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Q&A

Thanks to those of you who left blog post ideas. Some of you left ideas here and some on Facebook. There were a number of great suggestions and questions. I’ve decided to try to discuss some of then in a modified Q&A format. I probably won’t get to all the suggestions today, but I promise to file the rest away and deal with them in another post.

Q: How to handle multitasking and switching from writing to other types of writing or to editing or layout without getting tunnel vision on any one task?

A: I’ll admit, I rarely edit and write at the same time, at least not my own work. One thing Sarah told me long ago was not to edit my work until I finished the rough draft. The reason she told me this was because I was getting caught in an endless editing loop, something that happens to a number of new writers. Since then, I’ve learned that the only time editing my own work works before I finish the draft is if I have somehow written myself into a corner and can’t find a way out. Otherwise, I wait to edit until the story is done.

That isn’t the case when I am trying to edit someone else. The only caveat I have for that is I don’t edit the same genre I am writing in at the moment. The reasons are simple. I don’t want my “voice” to bleed over into my edits. As an editor, it isn’t my job to give a voice to the client’s work. Nor am I to try to change the voice. It is their story and not mine. In fact, if you have an editor — be it a content editor, copy editor or proofreader — trying to change the voice of your work, you need to look long and hard at what they are doing and why. Yes, there are times it might be appropriate to say a scene would be better from another person’s POV, but changing the voice of a character is completely different.

As for formatting, I tend to write in the format that will be converted to e-books. I’ve built a template that I will periodically tweak for genre and appearance but basically the format I write my rough draft in is exactly the same format you see in an e-book. Also, because I try to make sure my e-books look as close to the print versions as possible, it doesn’t take long to change page sizes and substitute section breaks for page breaks. Then it is just a matter of tweaking it to make sure everything is as it should be for print.

My biggest downtime any more is between projects, especially if I am changing genres. I’ve learned I have to take at least a week after I press the publish button to just recharge the batteries. Otherwise, I almost always have to go back and rewrite — majorly rewrite — what I tried to do before I made the mental switch from one book/genre to another.

Q: What is the importance of print versions of your work?

This is kind of a loaded question where there is no right answer. The truth of the matter is, most indie authors will never sell enough print books to really justify the time, effort and money needed to put them together. Before, when you could get an ISBN through Createspace for $10, it was worth it. But now, it is hard to justify it, to be honest. Yes, having a print book makes you look more “professional” when readers go to a book’s product page on Amazon, etc. However, with more and more readers going strictly digital, I’m not sure how important that is.

Then there is the belief that having your book printed and distributed through Ingram Spark will get you into the bookstores. No, it really won’t. Yes, you are listed in the catalog store buyers (think purchasing agents) see. But it is also, or at least it was, listed at the back in the section for indie authors. And, let’s be honest, most bookstore operators — ie, B&N — hate indies almost as much as they hate Amazon. As for the owners of locally owned bookstores, you have two things you have to do before you can worry about the stocking your book. The first is making sure you have a valid ISBN so you will be listed in Books in Print. The second, and more important, is you have to establish a close relationship with the person in that store who chooses what books they stock. That means spending time in the store — and spending money — as well as getting to know those who work there. Again, it is up to each indie author to determine if that is worth time.

There is one other thing to consider when it comes to print books. If you, the indie author, make the con circuit, having print books on hand to sell or even to just hand out may be a good thing. However, for every author who manages to actually make money selling books at a con, there are dozens more who don’t make the cost of the table rental back. Then you have to consider what the tax laws are in the city/state where the con is. You most definitely do NOT want to run afoul of those.

Frankly, right now, while I do still put out print books, it is more to make the product page look like a pro page. I work through Createspace and use the Amazon ISBN (free or relatively cheap. Haven’t done it in several months, so I’m not sure what it is right now). It will list Amazon as the distributor and will not be assigned to my imprint, Hunter’s Moon Press. But, it is listed in Books in Print and it is listed in such a way the local libraries can pick the book up and stock it if they want.

I am hearing rumblings that audio is really where we need to start focusing our attention. So I am in the process of trying that out.

Q: What is the difference between using beta readers and having your work edited?

This question came from Facebook and I’ve paraphrased it. But it is a good one and one that I see a lot of writers not understanding. A beta reader, for those not familiar with the term, is a lot like beta testers for software or computer games. It is someone who reads your work before the final edits. They tell you if the book works. They should let you know if something felt wrong to them. Some will focus on proofreading and you’ll get a manuscript back that looks like someone bled all over it — hint, I’ve discovered that most of the time when that happens, the person either isn’t as great at grammar and punctuation as they think or they don’t get that, in fiction, your characters don’t have to speak proper King’s English.

Anyway, your beta readers are there to see if there is anything broken in your book. Many times, they will catch consistency errors or science/engineering/weaponry/whatever errors. This is invaluable to a writer.

Where do you find beta readers? Here is where I may upset some folks. I recommend you not use family for beta readers, at least not unless you have several other non-relatives reading the same piece. Why? Because family will often try to cushion the criticism and that doesn’t help. You want someone who will be brutally honest with you. Someone who will tell you what didn’t work for them and why. If they are really good, they might even offer a way to fix the problem.

You can find beta readers from your critique group. You can ask on social media for volunteers. The caveat here is those who volunteer this way often will not get back to you. It really is sort of a trial and error until you find a few folks you can trust to give you solid feedback.

Another way I differ from some writers is I want one beta reader who isn’t a big reader in the genre of the current project. Why? Because I want to make sure I don’t rely so much on tropes that someone picking up the book because they liked something I wrote in another series or other genre will be able to be pulled into the story. If you rely too heavily on genre-specific tropes, you risk not being able to do that.

So what is the difference between a beta reader and an editor? A beta reader will usually only be looking at if the story grabbed them and kept their attention throughout the story. They will come back with suggestions or critiques but it is still based on their enjoyment or lack thereof. An editor has a different job based on what sort of editing they are doing.

As noted above, some beta readers will give you back a manuscript marked up for spelling, punctuation and grammar errors. In other words, they will have acted as a proofreader. IF, and this is a big if, they are good at it, keep them. But take them out of the beta reading circle and give them the manuscript after it has been through the beta readers and editing cycle. They are the last eyes save yours you want to see your manuscript before publication. Believe me, you want to do this because, no matter how carefully you check your work, you will miss something and you will eventually get the review criticizing all the spelling errors or bad grammar etc.

Copy editing and content editing are two very different things. Copy edit is the step before proofreading. One of the most concise explanations of what a copy editor does comes from Wikipedia (which I normally hate but it fits here). A copy editor’s job is  “improving the formatting, style, and accuracy of the text. The goal of copy editing is to ensure that content is accurate, easy to follow, fit for its purpose, and free of error, omission, inconsistency, and repetition.” They are your fact-checkers, your person who makes sure you don’t repeat things unless such repetition is necessary, and who removes all those words that really don’t add to the story.

Unfortunately, too many writers and so-called editors think copy editing is content editing and it isn’t. A good content editor will take your book, read it, be able to increase the impact of a scene by rearranging the order of sentences in a paragraph, etc. They are the doctor instead of the technician. Not every author needs a content editor because they have a solid grasp of story structure, pacing, foreshadowing, etc. If you don’t, then you need to consider finding a solid content editor to work with.

Each of these, from beta readers to content editors play an important role in letting us put the most professional product out possible. The more you network, the more resources you will find for all of these. The key is, especially if you are going to pay for services like proofreading or editing, is to get recommendations, to ask to see finished work by the person you are considering hiring and to check to see what you can find out about them online.

Finally, I’d like to add one more note. If you decide you want to go with a “real” publisher — and I’m not talking one of the established traditional publishers but a small press — check them out. Don’t just look at the usual resources like Preditors and Editors. Do a google search to see what you can find out about them. Do they have a website and does it look professional? What is their payment history? Ask yourself what they can do for you that you aren’t doing for yourself already. Look at their covers. Does the artwork look professional? How about the lettering? Do all the covers look the same, even if the books are different series or genres? Finally, don’t sign anything without letting an IP attorney look over the contract. That is a given for any publishing contract you are considering.

More later. Keep posting your questions in the comments to the previous post. I’ll do my best to answer them later.

 

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Filed under AMANDA, MARKETING, WRITING: CRAFT, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Why not let a little reality into the room?

Let me start by saying I have not successfully carried out a coup here at MGC and taken over. Nor did I draw the short straw and get stuck with filling in for everyone. Brad did me a favor last week by switching days with me. That left me posting Sunday, his usual day, and yesterday, mine. This morning, knowing Sarah is on the homestretch of her novel, I offered to fill in for her. I blame the fact that I am in the last third of my final edits and that gives me brain mush. But, in a way, I’m glad because it lets me continue talking about about the DBW conference and some of the information coming out of it.

Once again, I want to thank The Passive Voice for pointing me in the direction of the post that is today’s inspiration. For those of you who are not currently following TPV, why not? All kidding aside, I highly recommend the site.

Ron Vitale attended the DBW conference and has blogged about the experience. I will admit up front that I don’t agree with everything Vitale has to say. That doesn’t mean he is wrong, just that my experience as an indie shows me different aspects or approaches to the subject. His comments are italicized.

The biggest take home message from Digital Book World Indie is so simple that I almost missed it while preparing for the next talk. When we as indie authors unite, we have strength. We are the sum of our individual skills.

I totally agree with this. There are very few of us who have all the skills necessary to put out a quality project. Sure, we are writers. Some better than others. Some of us are excellent self-editors and others, to be honest, suck at it. Some of us are also awesome artist or can do a beautiful job lettering a cover. However, those who can do it all are few and far between. So what are the rest of us to do? If you are like me and most of us here at MGC, you find other authors or artists who will trade services. Or you hire someone to do it for you. This is not a new idea. There are any number of loose, informal co-ops for indies out there. We do not have to work in a vacuum.

The second most important lesson I learned at DBW Indie is that traditional publishers, to quote Jane Friedman, “are kicking ass in marketing.”

Now, this is where the OP began to lose me. What? How are trad publishers “kicking ass” in marketing? The only real advantage I see with going the traditional route is that it can get you into bookstores — for a limited period of time. But, as we’ve discussed before, how much of an advantage is that really when more and more readers are going to online sites to buy their print books?

But, I’ll give the OP the benefit of the doubt and see why he believes this to be the case.

Not only are publishers creating apps such as Crave, but they are performing A/B tests with their advertising, targeting the appropriate readers with the ads as well as sending out thousands of ARCs in advance to build reviews online.

Wait, what? Publishers are creating apps and testing their marketing targeting and sending out ARCs?

First of all, as PG noted in his comments about the piece, just about anyone who wants to can create an app. So what is Crave and can it really help you, the reader?

I remembered vaguely reading something about Crave, but I didn’t remember the details. So I followed the link and, omg, all I could do was shake my head. In case you haven’t looked it up, Crave came out in 2015, iirc, and was built to keep the Twitter and Snapchat generation interested in a book. Here is a description of what Crave was meant to do:

As you scroll through an ebook on Crave, the app periodically breaks into the narrative to show you a text message conversation between two characters, a video of an actor portraying one of the characters doing an interview about the book’s events, a filmed moment (like the hero first looking up at the heroine) or even a reaction GIF.

But after around 1,000 words, you’re cut off. Crave slices each book into mini-chapters intended to take only three or four minutes to read, including multimedia. You can tune back in the next day for another bite-sized installment, generously salted with supplementary videos and text exchanges.

Now, I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want is for some idiotic text message to pop up in the middle of a scene I am reading — or a video or pretty much anything else. I sure as hell don’t want to be forced to stop after 1,000 words. Can you imagine how long it would take you to read a book that way? A 100k word book would take almost 1/3 of a year. Would you remember the beginning? Would you even care about finishing it? And yet this is supposedly one of the ways traditional publishing is winning the marketing war against indies.

The mind boggles.

As for the testing of advertising to see if it hits the right target market, hell’s bells, that is what advertising agencies have been doing since their inception. It is not new.

The sending of ARCs? Again, not new. Also not limited to traditional publishers. Indies do this as well. Indies also utilize social media, email, mailing lists, etc., to get the word out.

I’m not convinced traditional publishing wins the marketing war in any way except for getting books into bookstores and that is no longer nearly as important as it used to. Do you agree?

There is more and I’ll let you read it. The one thing the OP brings up that I will admit I have been thinking about again is diversifying my catalog beyond Amazon. For a long time, I had my books in every major online outlet. I followed the adage of not putting all my “eggs” in one basket. It made sense to make my work available on all platforms.

Then came the day when I realized I was actually losing money doing so. I wasn’t bringing in enough from the other sites to justify the time needed to put together different upload files, the time necessary to upload the files and build the product page on the different sites, the time necessary to check to make sure the other sites had the correct information on their sites, to check the sales pages, make sure I got paid on time, etc. Then Amazon started Kindle Unlimited and the monies for “borrows” went up dramatically.

There was also a change in technology. More and more people were reading their e-books on tablets and smartphones. That meant they were not tied to a single store like they were with dedicated e-book readers. Folks who had been buying solely from BN could not buy their books through Amazon and read them using the Kindle app. That was another thing that saw my sales on Amazon increasing. No longer was I getting folks asking when my books were going to come out on BN?

Now, however, more and more indies are taking part in the KU program. That is great in some ways but when you look at the bottom line, there is an impact. Just as there was after about a year of the old Kindle Lending Library. The monies being brought in are decreasing. I know this isn’t what is happening for some indies but a number of others I have spoken with are experiencing the same thing. So it is time to sit down and determine whether to remain solely with Amazon or to give up the monies coming in from Kindle Unlimited and expand my marketplace once again.

Any way, read the OP and let me know what you think. The one thing I agree with completely is the best way for indies to not only survive but to flourish is to share ideas and information. That is what we try to do here at MGC and each of you are a big part of that.

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Filed under AMANDA, MARKETING, PROMOTION, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Tuesday morning links and thoughts

I am up to my eyes in finishing up a major rewrite so I can finally send Dagger of Elanna to press. Because of that, I forgot today was my day for MGC. So, when I did finally remember, I went looking for any news that might be of interest. I’m going to link to some of what I found and am interested in seeing what you think.

First off is an article from Publishers Weekly. It details the “bad news about e-books“. It seems part of the Digital Book World conference, Jonathan Stolper from Neilsen Books noted that e-book sales from “reporting publishers” was down 16%. He noted that one cause of the decline was the rise in e-book prices. According to him, on average, e-books increased $3 to an average of $8 per title. He also claimed another factor for the decline was the increase in use of tablets by readers instead of dedicate e-book readers. Stolper said that readers who use a dedicated e-book reader buy more books than those who use tablets.

Now, I’ll admit I was surprised to see he admitted part of the problem — a major part, in my mind — is the increased price of e-books by traditional publishers. I’m not sure where he got the average $8 price. It certainly isn’t the average price of new titles coming from the Big 5 publishers. I checked yesterday and the latest e-book coming next month from J D Robb is $14.99. James Patterson’s upcoming book, the 16th in the Women’s Murder Club series, is also selling for $14.99. Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs is selling for $13.99. Those are a long way from the $8 per title Stolper mentioned.

Perhaps he is averaging out the prices of new and old books. If so, he is not only comparing apples and oranges but he is trying to fool us with the old shell game con. Yes, e-book readers look for older books to read and buy them. But most readers, be they those who only read print books or those who read only digital or those who do both look for new books to buy from their favorite authors. Readers understand that there is no reason for an e-book to cost more than they have to pay for the print version. So, instead of buying the e-book, or even the print book, they wait for it to go on sale through Amazon or another online retailer or they go to the second hand bookstore or borrow it from the library.

There is something else that, when considered, shows a major flaw in Stolper’s argument. He discusses only sales form “reporting publishers”. In other words, indie authors, small presses and probably a number of medium sized publishers aren’t included in his data. When you take that into consideration, what you have is a window into what is happening with traditional publishing and not with publishing as a whole. Not that it surprises me. As for the “people who read on tablets buy fewer books than those with dedicated e-book readers” argument, all I can say is he needs to talk to my bank account. I buy as many books, if not more, now that I use a tablet for the majority of my reading than I did before I owned a tablet.

I recommend comparing what Stolper has to say with what Author Earnings said. You can find the Authors Earnings report here.

In other news about e-book pricing, for those who live in Canada, Apple and several major publishers have reached an agreement with the government to end what has been termed anti-competitive pricing. That sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it? It will be interesting to see how this plays out and how it impacts pricing. Will Canadian outlets take the approach Amazon did when agency pricing ended here? With publishers setting the price for e-books, will the online outlets start discounting print books more, even if — as with Amazon — it is only for a limited time? If so, how will the publishers react to that and what sort of spin will they put on it to explain their financial losses/gains?

There is a new “publisher” out there for indies. Looking at it, it looks more like a distribution platform ala Draft2Digital and others. Called Pronoun, it bills itself as a “free publishing platform where authors can create, sell, and promote their books”. It might be legit and a great platform. My problem is it says it is free but then talks about distribution fees. Unfortunately, on a quick look at the site, I did not find any real information about what these distribution fees might be. In fact, when I went to the support page and clicked on the link for how much it would cost, I got a 404 page error. In other words, no information. That always bothers me. I want to know before signing up for an account, even a free account, how deeply someone is going to try to reach into my pocket. So, if any of you guys have had experience with Pronoun, I’d love to hear what you think.

Finally, Amazon UK has launched its second literary competition in just a few months. This one has a pretty substantial prize and the promise of a marketing campaign for the winner. For more information about the Kindle Storyteller Award, check here. Full details can be found on the official page for the contest.

Have I missed any recent news you think we need to know about? If so, list it in the comments.

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Filed under AMANDA, PROMOTION, reading, WRITING

It’s not new.

Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve done a Sunday MGC post. I want to start off by thanking Brad for switching with me. Real life has been tossing me not just curve balls but has been beaning me on the head consistently. But that’s not what this post is about. Life happens and I’m moving on. The publishing industry, not so much.

One of the first stories to catch my eye this week was one from Publishers Weekly. First off, I do recognize the source and know that it is one which is firmly in the pocket of traditional publishing. Even so, the story had me shaking my head. It seems that there was a Digital Book World panel titled “Will Bars Save Bookstores?”. Now, take a moment to consider the implication of that. According to PW, American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher basically said this is a euphemism for all the new and innovative things bookstores are doing to get customers in the door. Among the “new” things mentioned during the panel were bookstores running summer camps, offering dance classes, hosting travel events and more. These so-called disruption events were meant to interrupt the flow of money and attention to e-books and bring bodies into the stores.

The problem I foresee with all this is multi-fold. To start with, locally owned bookstores, and even chain bookstores until a few years ago when corporate took away much of the power local managers had to plan events, held summer reading camps. They brought in other local businesses to help support one another. They had signings and travel-related events. None of this is new. To act as if it is is to do what the traditional publishing industry and the big box booksellers have done for years, ignore the facts. These events do get people in — in you publicize them, if you have employees who are trained and knowledgeable in the topic of the event, if you properly prepare your store for them and if you make those attending feel welcome. Sticking the special event in the back of the store in a poorly lit area where they are interfering with the flow of traffic is not welcoming to the person conducting the event, the people attending it or to those customers who simply stopped in to buy a book. And, unfortunately, the last several events I attended at a big name bookstore did just that. It was as though the staff could not be bothered with the event so they put is as far from not only the front of the store but where the author’s books were stocked as possible.

Now, selling beer and wine in a bookstore. Sure, a lot of bookstores now have coffee shops. But let’s be realistic here. How many of those people stopping in for a cup of coffee actually stay to buy a book? I would wager that most do not. Okay, the bookstore gains income from the sales made in the coffee shop but does that really pay for the loss of shelf space?

Let’s take that one step further to adding wine and beer into the mix. Now, I’m like a lot of folks. I enjoy a drink now and then. However, I’m not exactly thrilled with the idea of my local bookstore becoming the local pub. No, it isn’t for the reasons you might be thinking. The legalities of what the bookstore owner and employees face are daunting. There is the process of being granted a liquor license and the expense of it. There is the responsibility of making sure only those old enough to drink are served alcohol. They will have to make sure those buying alcohol don’t take it out into the store — or off premises. They will have to make sure no one is over-served. There is the potential legal responsibility the owners and employees will face if someone has a beer or glass of wine there and then leaves the store and causes harm to another.

The list of potential legal issues is much longer than I have said.

Then there is the impact such a cafe/bar will have on the patrons. How many parents are going to feel comfortable letting their children roam a bookstore where alcohol is served? Bookstores used to be one of the few places a parent could let their children have some freed while Mom and Dad looked for books they wanted to read. If you take that away, you risk losing an important section of your customer base.

What it all really comes down to is this: what is more important — is it more important to get people into the store or is it more important to sell books? Getting bodies inside the store is great but not if it doesn’t translate into sales. A bookstore that relies on selling alcohol — or coffee or anything else — instead of books needs to look at what is happening and why. Is the store too large? In many cases, the answer to that is yes. It is my belief that the day of the large big box bookstores is over. Companies can’t afford the overhead of these stores that are often in the 100,000 sq ft size range or higher. That is why they keep looking for these new money-maker schemes to help them.

Is it time to look at your inventory and make some hard decisions? Absolutely. Bookstores need to be responsive to their clientele. That means the local managers need to be given more control over inventory. What sells in Brownsville, TX is not going to be the same thing that sells in Lancaster, CA or New York City. Sure, the best sellers will be popular but local tastes do vary as do local interests. Let the local managers have more shelf space to promote local authors, even indie and small press authors. Right now, the big box stores don’t seem to be doing that.

Before Borders went out of business, I had a long talk with one of the local managers. Her complaint, and it was one I have heard echoed by B&N managers, was that she could no longer order large quantities of books she knew the local schools had on required reading lists. Oh, she could order them but they had to be paid for in advance by the teacher, etc. Before, a teacher could call her and say she needed approximately X-number of a book and the manager could order it. Now, all she could do was special order the book as students or their parents came in. Then it would be a week, at least, before the book would be there for the student to pick up. Parents and teachers gave up and went to Amazon. Why? Because there was no waiting for the book to be in stock and, if they had Prime membership, they got it in two days.

I’ve run into this with other big box bookstores around the country. Some bean counter in the corporate office decided doing away with the goodwill of their customers was more important than maybe having a book sit on the shelf for a couple of weeks before it was bought.

Yep, that’s the way to win over customers.

So, instead of mending fences with the local reading community, they’re going to try all these “new” and “innovative” ideas. Riiiiiight.

But, lest you think it’s only booksellers turning a blind eye to what needs to be done, Author Earnings has posted its Print vs Digital, Traditional vs Non-Traditional, Bookstore vs Online: 2016 Trade Publishing by the Numbers presentation. There is some very interesting information in the presentation. What struck me, and what made sense, is how print sales increased in 2016 approximately 3%. Why did those sales increase? Because the agency pricing was no longer in effect for e-books. That meant e-book prices went up (even though publishers kept telling us the end of agency pricing meant they would decrease). To counter that, some retailers — Amazon — discounted the price of print books more. That meant a number of readers bought print who had been buying digital.

However, if you continue scrolling through the presentation, you will see that the trend to by print over digital is on the decline once again. Why? Because retailers are no longer discounting print books as deeply as they had. That once again makes e-books a better buy in a number of readers’ eyes.

Did we hear any of this from the traditional publishing sector? Nope. We heard them crowing about how their print numbers increased and digital sales decreased and e-books were no longer the hot item. Ergo, e-books were dying. Riiiight.

When an industry based on people reading ignores the fact that the current generation and a large part of the generation before it is a digital generation and is glued to their tech devices, that industry is circling the drain toward doom.

I don’t think this is the end of traditional publishing or of bookstores. What I do think is we are seeing a shift toward something different. Indie bookstores are once more starting the thrive in a number of areas and I welcome it. Those stores have learned they need to cater to local customers and their tastes. They know they can’t afford the huge real estate footprint the big box stores still insist upon. They know they can’t have a huge inventory. They also know they have to excel at customer service and know their stock. Most of all, they have to make their customers feel important. Those are lessons the bigger stores would do well to take to heart.

As for traditional publishing, it will continue to totter on. Some publishers will manage to find a way to survive. Others will go out of business and still others will find themselves merging. A few years ago, we had the Big Six. Now it is the Big Five. I have no doubt we will one day see the Big Four and then Three. Unless and until corporate understands that they have to adapt their business model and listen to their customers, I don’t see any way this is going to change.

 

 

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Sad Puppies 5 and recommendation lists

Sigh. There are mornings when it really doesn’t pay to get out of bed. Or perhaps I should learn not to look at my phone as soon as I get up. What usually happens when I do is that I see something on social media that sends my blood pressure rising and has me racing for the keyboard to fire off a response. Yeah, yeah, I know. It sounds sort of like what the president-elect must act. At least I don’t do Twitter.

Anyway, this morning, the BP rising bit came in the form of a private message from a friend of mine. We are in a number of groups together on Faceplant. In one of those groups, someone had posted a notice with the header of “Sad Puppies 5 Suggestions.” Now, that got my eyes open real quick because the person posting it wasn’t Sarah and, the last I heard – which was last night – Sarah was the one coordinating SP5. So, with coffee starting to brew, I figured I’d go see what I had missed overnight.

That was my second mistake. I should have realized what a mistake it would be. After all, the friend who left me the PM is one of the most even-tempered and nice people I know. The fact he was upset should have warned me that this was not going to end well. See, this is what happens when I try to function pre-coffee.

So, if you woke around 0630 CST to the sound of loud thumping, I apologize. That was me pounding my head against the wall. After reading the post my friend warned me about, I saw why. And I saw red. And I made the mistake of taking to Faceplant to write a response – still before coffee. I should have waited. Then I could have made a more detailed response, complete with link. As it was, it took a couple of posts and I’m still not sure I got my point across.

No, let’s be accurate. I know I didn’t get my message across. Or, to be more accurate, I may have but certain folks didn’t want to hear it. And that, my friends, is a problem and one we don’t need to be dealing with.

So, let’s be very clear. The New Year is here and with it comes the time when we need to start thinking about the books we read and whether we feel they are worthy of being nominated for any of the various awards being offered this year. Be it the Hugo, the Dragon, the Rita or whatever, it is something we need to keep in mind and, if we are so moved, we need to nominate them for the appropriate award(s).

It also means we are going to start seeing folks saying they are “making a little list”. Some will follow through with their lists and keep a running tally. Others will simply have a single post where you can add your comments. What they do is up to them – up to a point. However, when they start implying they are involved with something they aren’t, or when they seem to be stepping up and taking control of something they have not been involved in, then they have crossed the line.

So I will start by saying to be careful about where you leave your recommendations. Read very carefully what the OP is saying he or she will do and judge what their motivations might be. If their post comes across as implying they are with a certain group or cause, verify. That is especially true when someone – Sarah, in this case – has said she is in charge of SP5 and now, suddenly, someone who has been on the fringes at best is suddenly implying they are preparing the SP5 recommendation list.

One of my fears is that folks will post their recommendations on a site they think is associated with a group or cause and then get upset when they find their way to the official site and realize their recommendation isn’t there. That is especially true when someone takes to Facebook and says it is time to start getting those Sad Puppy recommendations in and then says he is starting a list for folks to contribute to. The implication is there for folks to make that he is part of the leadership of SP5 and his list is “official”. It isn’t.

With that said, Sad Puppies 5 will be getting off the ground very soon with a new website, a blog and more. Sarah A. Hoyt – yes, our Sarah – is running it this year. (The only reason the site isn’t up already is because she has been ill and has had a deadline to meet.) The official SP5 site will be the only place where recommendations for the various lists SP5 compiles will be accepted. If you go to anywhere else and they claim to be speaking for SP5, they aren’t. Not unless Sarah has specifically announced it here, on her blog or on the SP5 site.

Does that mean others can’t support the Puppies and still have their own lists? Absolutely not. But I am asking them to think before posting. After all, we ran into the problem of people becoming confused when Vox came out with Rabid Puppies. The names were too close. There was an overlapping of recommended titles. The result was that Sad Puppies got painted with the same brush as Rabid Puppies and not because of the titles recommended but because of how some folks felt about Vox.

Our biggest hurdle this year isn’t going to be name recognition. It is going to be avoiding clouding the water. We have already had one blogger talk about how he had been involved in the Sad Puppy movement, leaving the impression he had been on the inside when he had not. Now we have someone else leaving the impression that they are collecting recommendations for the SP5 list. That sort of thing is counter-productive. It will only wind up confusing people and, in some cases, upsetting them when they find out they weren’t giving their recommendations to the official Sad Puppy list.

One of the biggest lessons anyone following the Sad Puppy movement over the years should have learned is that perception is everything. So what I’m asking, as someone who is helping Sarah this year and who will be taking over for SP6, is that we do everything we can to make sure there is no confusion over what the Sad Puppy movement is, what it stands for, who is officially in charge of it this year and where the official list is being collected.

So, to be clear, Sad Puppies 5 is under the guidance of Sarah A. Hoyt. Until the new site is up to date, any recommendations for the SP5 lists can be posted at last year’s site (give me a couple of hours to set up a recommendation page). I promise the information will be migrated over to the new site as soon as it goes live. Anyone else claiming to be collecting information for SP5 or speaking for it is misspeaking at best.

And, yes, this post has been run past Sarah before I took it live. She has approved everything said.

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Filed under AMANDA, reading, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY