Category Archives: WRITING: PUBLISHING

What do you want?

As I was preparing for today’s post, I cam across a couple of things I thought I’d share. The first is a perfect example of one of the problems facing traditional publishing today. The second is a post about why it’s a great time — sort of — to go indie. Both are, in my opinion, things we need to think about.

Last week, the Buffalo News posted an article about Gov. Andrew Cuomo. No, it wasn’t about his politics. Instead, it was about his book and how much he’s made — and how many copies the book has sold. But before we get into the finance aspect, a little background. Cuomo was elected governor of New York in 2010 and took office January 1, 2011. His book, All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life, was published by HarperCollins on October 4, 2014. Even assuming HarperCollins pushed to get the book out as quickly as it could, I doubt they had the book for less than a year before publishing it. So, at most, Cuomo had been in the governor’s mansion for two years when the book came out. And this is where things get interesting.

Now to the money. According to the Buffalo News, Cuomo has made, to date, $783,000 for writing his book. The publisher is reported to have laid down a first run printing of 200,000 copies of the book. Now, based on all that, you’d think the book sold well, possibly going into second and third printings, right?

Wrong.

The book has sold approximately 3,200 copies since publication. As of the time I’m writing this post, the hard cover price is $8.45, more than a buck less than the e-book price (which is still set by the publisher at $9.99. More on that in a moment).

It is more than fair to say the book tanked. HarperCollins basically through Cuomo under the bus for the poor performance of the book back in 2015. It seems Cuomo didn’t tour to promote the book and turned down media appearances. They were surprised, I tell you, surprised. They thought he would do at least some promotion. That, it seems, is one of the main reasons the book didn’t sell as expected.

Riiiiight. Putting on my cynic’s hat, I could say HarperCollins never really expected the book to sell. They paid all that money to Cuomo as a legal bribe. But that’s the cynic and I have no proof of it. However, I’m not the only one that thought came to. Google the book and its poor performance and you will see a number of others who have thought the same and have made no bones about it.

Taking off my cynic’s hat, this poor performance is indicative of some of the problems in traditional publishing. HarperCollins didn’t consider the fact Cuomo isn’t all that popular outside of New York. Considering the low sales numbers, I wonder if he is all that popular outside of NYC. They made the mistake of paying on inflated and unrealistic expectations just as they did with the initial print run. As for the promo claim — or should I say no promo? — pardon me while I laugh. I’m sure if you asked Cuomo, he would say HarperCollins didn’t promote the book that way he thought they would. They expected Cuomo to do the promotion. Welcome to the world of publishing. Publishers, at least some of them, promise to promote a book and their idea of promotion is not the same as the author’s.

The long and short of the story is, however, a simple one and it is a cautionary tale. Publishing cannot continue to pay huge advances and guaranteed payouts to political darlings and Hollywood-types, giving them outrageous initial print runs without doing at least a simple market review first. How much money has been lost by traditional publishing houses like this? More importantly from a writer’s point of view, how many mid-list writers, those who have pretty much guaranteed sales of a certain figure book after book, have been dropped because publishers feel they can’t afford to keep them and how often has this happened AFTER a book has bombed by someone like Cuomo?

Next up is this post about why it’s a great time to be a writer, sort of.  I’ll leave you to read the post but the short version is simple. If you want to go traditional, not much has changed. You can keep slogging for months and years, trying to get your work picked up by an agent and then on an editor’s desk where you can hope to get a contract. While there is nothing wrong with this, the length of time it takes to break in this way is a negative, as is the declining number of bookstores.

Then there’s indie publishing. That’s the great part. If you have the drive and you have a book finished, you can publish it now. There’s no waiting to shop the book around, looking for an agent and then a contract. You make it the best book you can, slap a cover on it and push the publish button.

Of course, there’s a but. There’s always a but and that’s where the “sort of” comes in. To be successful as an indie, you have to work at it. You have to take on much of what the traditional publisher does. You have to make sure your book has a great cover, is well formatted and edited. You have to market it. You have to do the accounting and pay the taxes. In other words, you have to remember that this is a business. It’s a lot of work and there is no guarantee that you’ll be a “success”. However, there is an advantage in that you aren’t at the whim of a traditional publisher, held to releasing a book only according to their schedule.

The decision as to what is best for you is, of course, up to you.

Now, since I’m an indie, here’s a bit of promo.

Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2)

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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Filed under AMANDA, PROMOTION, WRITING, WRITING: PUBLISHING

It really is a business

Maybe it’s because taxes are due today. Maybe it’s something else. But, for whatever reason, the last few days have been spent looking at my writing from a business standpoint. I try to do this on a regular basis, but I know I don’t do it nearly as often as I should. Part of the reason is because I would much rather write. After all, I am a writer, not an accountant, etc. But the business aspect is a necessary evil.

It also includes much more than simply looking at sales and making sure taxes are paid.

But it does include numbers — ick — and looking at trends, seeing what other authors are saying about their sales and making determinations about what needs to be done, if anything.

So, the short version of what I’ve done over the last few days is simple:

  • Reviewed my sales for the last year
    • by title
    • by genre
    • by price
  • Looked at pricing for similar titles, including age of title
  • Reviewed blurbs and keywords
  • Reviewed covers and compared them with what is currently selling well, indie and trad published
    • looked at the art elements
    • looked at the font
    • looked at overall cover design
  • Reviewed my publication schedule for the next year
    • made determinations about what should be released when
    • made determinations about new titles (unrelated to current series)
  • Reviewed my meager promotion operation with an eye to expanding it

Now, don’t start running to the hills. I’m not going in-depth into what I did and what my plans are. For one, a lot of those plans are still being made. For another, right now a lot of it is subject to change, at least until I work some more on it. Still, some of the things that are factoring into my decisions are, I believe, things each of us need to look into when it comes to our writing.

Because numbers (ick) are involved, I’m still looking at my sales figures and comparing them with the last several years. In some ways, this is an exercise in comparing apples to oranges. In others, it is interesting. For one thing, I can definitely see a trend. Once I hit 10 novels, my sales across the board went up. Also, once I started linking my pen names with my name, sales across the board went up. Still, numbers are involved, so this will take several more days for me to winnow out all the information I’m looking for. (sorry, I’m a writer, not an accountant and numbers make my head hurt.O

The next thing I looked at happened to be my product pages. Oh my, there is so much there we have to take into consideration and we don’t tend to. At least I don’t. Sure, I want to have the best possible cover to draw the reader’s eye. I want a snappy and interesting blurb to grab the reader and make them want to buy the book. But I don’t tend to check the product page on anything other than my laptop. I forget to look at it on my Kindle Fire or Mom’s iPad. I sure forget to look at it in my phone. Or, more accurately, I used to forget it. After the last few days, I won’t. What I learned is that the longer blurbs will work on a tablet or computer screen but, on a phone, they are a pain because you have to keep scrolling. Not good. Scrolling for a screen or two is one thing but for screen after screen after screen — nope. Not gonna happen. Fortunately, most of mine weren’t that bad and those that were happen to be on two titles I am going to withdraw because they were supposed to be short term promo titles initially.

Another thing I don’t always do, and it is now on my list of must do, is check the preview function for my books. I’m not talking about the downloadable preview (although that should be checked as well) but the “click to see inside” preview. A number of readers, myself included, use this to determine if we want to buy or borrow a book. This is where they will get their first real impression of that particular title. It’s important to make sure the preview doesn’t appear to be poorly formatted. Even more important is making sure there are no misspellings or outrageous grammatical errors present. I can’t stress this enough. This is a free promo and so many of us don’t bother checking to make sure it is accurately representing our work and that, in turn, can cost us sales.

All that showed I have some blurbs to update. As a reader, one thing that will stop me from buying a book is a badly written blurb. If I find misspellings or poor grammar or punctuation in a blurb, I’m going to assume the book is written in much the same way. Also, look at the formatting of the blurb. If there is no white space between paragraphs, you are basically screaming one of two things. Either you are in newbie who doesn’t know how to format blurbs or you are careless and don’t care. Either way, it isn’t the image you want to put out for your readers to see.

I also need to update my keywords on several books. This is important because the keywords help with the search function. Also, in case you didn’t know it, keywords can also help determine what genres and sub-genres your work is listed under. Amazon is starting to crack down on what keywords you use because they had so many complaints by readers about searching certain keywords and finding books that were not “romance” or whatever. That means I need to go back and make sure I have not run afoul of the rule by mistake.

Also, the keywords change from time to time. So to sub-genres. That makes it imperative to regularly make sure we are using the best keywords we can. It helps sales by helping readers find out books.

While doing this, I also looked at my covers. Now, I’m not going to spend any time on the making of covers because, duh, I’m not an artist. I will say this. Don’t be afraid to periodically change your cover. Now, I’m not talking every month or even every six months. But, just as sub-genres change and expand, covers for those genres change as well. As indies, we need to be aware of what the trads are doing in our genres, both with images and with fonts. While we don’t have to copy them, it never hurts to at least have the same “feel” as they do. Why? Because if you write books with the same feel as the Mercy Thompson or Jane Yellowrock books, it will only help for your covers to have the same feel. Why? Because readers of those series will see something that is familiar when they look at your work and the cover might just entice them into reading the blurb and buying the book.

But there is something else to look at as well. If, like me, you write series, your covers within the series have to relate to one another. It is another way of cuing your readers that the new book is part of the series they are already reading and enjoying.

Finally, even if your cover worked when the book came out two years — or ten — ago, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will now. So look at what is selling well in your book’s genre and sub-genre and then look at your book cover with a critical eye. If it doesn’t feel fresh, if it looks and feels dated (or worse, amateur), then change it. But do your homework. Know what works — both in images and in fonts — in your genre and sub-genre.

Now you see why I said I wasn’t going in-depth today about everything. All this was just off the product page. More than that, it was off the product page of just one one-line store. More than that, it isn’t everything off the product page that I’m looking at as an author. By the way, I am also looking at it as a reader, trying to think about what strikes me and grabs my attention when I’m looking for a book to read. If you guys want, I’ll continue with this next week. Otherwise, the next scream of frustration you hear is me when I once again return to the task of looking at my numbers and trying to see if I can make sense of their arcane magic.

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Marvelous duh-versity

It’s been a long time since I collected any of the Marvel comics. When I see panels like this (now infamous) example, I conclude that I am not missing much.

When I was introduced to my first Marvel title — X-Factor, in 1989 — it was through a friend who knew the Marvel mutants series backwards and forwards. I enjoyed the universe, eventually picking up several Marvel mutant titles over the course of about four years. Not every issue was a knockout, but the storylines were consistently well-written and the mutant concept itself was intriguing. Especially since the entirety of the Marvel universe wove in and out of the space specifically given over to the mutant lines.

If I’d been greeted with a panel like the one above, when first someone handed me a copy of a Marvel title, I’m not sure I’d have gone on to invest all the money I eventually invested in Marvel products. Because I’d have felt like I — as the audience — was being so crudely condescended to, it was either a bad joke, or an insult.

So, what the hell is going on at Marvel these days?

David Burge (aka: Iowahawk) once posted the following:

1. Identify a respected institution.
2. kill it.
3. gut it.
4. wear its carcass as a skin suit, while demanding respect.
#lefties

The first thing I can see going wrong, is that Marvel has allowed certain time-honored characters to be switcheroo’d purely for the lulz. Gender, ethnicity, sexuality, they’re all on Marvel’s chopping block. And while it may be novel to flip Thor’s sex, flipping Thor’s sex and then having Thor utter lines as if Thor is a regular at Candace and Toni’s book store . . . is a great way to let the audience know that you not only don’t take the character of Thor seriously anymore, you don’t take the audience seriously either.

If you want to “diversify” your comics, A-OK. Do it with new characters who grow to inhabit their roles over time, and — this is important — don’t always sound like they spilled directly out of a grievance studies degree program from a trendy East Coast private university.

Last I checked, almost half the country voted in a way that the other half of the country did not. It might be nice to see some of this intellectual diversity inhabit a few costumes on the Marvel stage.

I won’t hold my breath, though.

The second thing I can see going wrong, is that Marvel is trading in audience loyalty, for quick-sales stunts. More switcheroos purely for their own sake, because these may knock the numbers — for a given title in a given month — up to double or even triple what they usually are. Remember when I wrote in this space about the marketing disaster of New Coke? I sorta see Marvel going down the same path. Whether or not Marvel has the good sense to resurrect Classic Thor or Classic Iron Man, remains to be seen. The minds at the top can either respect the core audience, or they can live in fear of being Twitter-shamed by Social Justice Zealots. Most of whom sorta don’t give a damn about comics anyway. Comics are merely a very visible institution that Social Justice Zealots want to take over and own, for their own political purposes. Ergo, kill it, gut it, wear it as a skin suit, then demand respect.

Hopefully Marvel jettisons the switcheroos, but again, not holding my breath.

The third thing I think Marvel may be messing up — and this is hardly a problem unique to the comics world — is mistaking internal in-house excitement for a thing, for external marketplace demand for that very same thing. This comes from creators on the inside getting bored with the same-old same-old, and deciding to get cheeky, or daring, or inflammatory, with a given line or character. The marketplace will just happily follow along, right? And if the marketplace doesn’t follow along, we’ll call them all a bunch of names, right? After all, it worked so well for the Ghostbusters reboot. Which — by the way — nobody asked for. And which never did domestically earn out its estimated $144 million dollar budget.

I am pretty sure they still call that kind of movie, a flop.

If confessions from within Marvel proper are to be believed, Marvel is getting mighty nervous that it might have a few flops on its hands. As if nobody could have predicted that arbitrarily messing with several characters and lines simultaneously, purely for the sake of politics — changes which precious few people in the core audience desired or said they wanted — was going to go badly.

Back to Burge: kill it, gut it, wear it as a skin suit, demand respect.

A huge step in the right direction, would be to STOP taking the Magic Unicorn approach to diversity. Don’t hang a damned blinking sign on the fact that your character(s) is gay, or trans, or a woman, or non-white, or whatever combination thereof you choose. “Hey, look everybody! The character of Tomahawk is both biracial and bisexual! Like, he’s really REALLY biracial and bisexual! We will go out of our way to make sure you ABSOLUTELY KNOW that Tomahawk is biracial and bisexual! Ooooo! Ooooo! So edgy! So diverse!” That kind of crap is the kindergarten version of diversity. It’s not even Diversity 101. It’s Remedial Diversity 077, for sheltered progressives who apparently don’t spend much time around anyone who is not also a sheltered progressive.

Ordinary people — even gay, trans, female, non-white — don’t broadcast their demographics like that. If they are broadcasting their demographics like that, just as with aggressive church evangelists, they’re usually assholes.

It’s hard (but not impossible) to sell a hero who is also an asshole.

(Lobo fans are excused, okay? Jeez, pipe down already.)

The next step would be to quietly jettison any and all switcheroos performed on time-honored characters, and let those characters go back to being who and what they were, before the Social Justice Zealots decided to ruin things.

Yes, you will endure howling mobs of Twitter users trying to hashtag your company into the ground. But if you’ve got even a little bit of spine, you can take the heat. After all, the hashtaggers are not the whole universe. Hell, a lot of people would respect and admire a creative entity standing up against a concerted Two Minute Hate. The American public especially seems to have reached its threshold for that kind of crap. They’re ready to support somebody — anybody — who looks like (s)he won’t roll over and say “Uncle!” at the first threat of digital arm-twisting.

The final step would be, naturally, to stay the course. Keep the time-honored lines secure. Make sure the venerable characters stay in character.

By all means, bring on your diverse cast of non-white, non-male, on-hetero, non-cis players. Give them their own lines. Spin mighty arcs of story wonderfulness around these individuals.

And leave the old-school characters OLD-SCHOOL.

Ya know, kinda like America itself? Old-schoolers and new-schoolers all walking down the same streets together, shopping at the same stores, watching the same movies, eating at the same restaurants, etc. Old-school and new-school, kicking it to their unique grooves. Because there’s room enough in the world for everybody.

Unless you’re a Social Justice Zealot. In which case the world before the year 2000 was a frightening wilderness of total and absolute oppression, and everything older than yourself must be sandblasted into an unrecognizable lump of nothingness.

I like to think the world of commercial creative arts has had its fill, where Social Justice Zealotry is concerned. That shit just doesn’t sell. No matter how much you harangue or lecture people. There are only so many consumers who will open their wallets as a matter of political duty. Everyone else . . . is going to go where the fun is.

I think Marvel may be learning this. But is the damage already irreparable?

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Filed under BRAD R. TORGERSEN, WRITING: CRAFT, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Cover Art: Fractals

I promised a cover post, and this is one. I’m not going to re-cover old ground (much) and talk about how the cover is not a representation of some exact scene from the book. The cover is meant to convey a sense of the book, to grab the reader’s attention, to draw them in and compel them to begin reading the blurb. The blurb then hooks them into buying the book and reading the first chapter… you get the idea. The cover also ought to signal the genre, loud, clear, and proud.

As an artist, I had long lamented that my personal style was not suitable for the kinds of books I write, or the people who hire me to create covers for them. I spent a lot of time working on becoming better, using the tools at hand… and then one day I discovered Apophysis.

Apo is a fractal flame generator, and it’s capable of an impressive array of special effects, including stunning star fields and nebulas. Suddenly, I could create a lot of space art that was cover-worthy. So in this post, I’m showing you how I do some effects, and where you can find the program (It’s free!) and a ton of tutorials that will help you learn more. If you want to see some of the things you can do with it, check these out: Last Exhalation, Zygotes, Apocalypse Rose, and Hydrangeas.

Explosion

here’s the workspace for Apophysis 7x, my preferred version of the program. You can start by clicking on one of the random flames that are in the left column, as I’ve done for this.

For very simple effects, all you need to know is that those triangles control the ‘shape’ of the flame. The gradient (icon in the top toolbar) controls the colors. I’ll show that later. if you click on one of the triangles and drag it, you’ll see your flame in the tiny editor box change shapes.

explosion 2

note that there are ‘variations’ and I have the red triangle (#1) set to: flatten=1, spherical 0.79, and swirl=0.20

This doesn’t work for an explosion, which is the element I’m working on for a cover. Too much geometry! It needs to be more fluid and abstract, since it’s going to be an exploding spaceship. I’ve dragged the triangles around a bit more, in the image below, to get the look I wanted. You’ll also note I’ve changed the colors with the gradient tool, using ‘summer_fire’ to get flame colors.

explosion 3

Now this is more like it. Here you can see in the editor window a few things: the gradient, which can be used to ‘paint’ the flame by sliding the center bar around. Also, I’ve changed the scale, so I can see what the ‘splosion will look like far away, and so I make sure I’m not clipping off bits when I render this.

You’ll note that it still looks very fluid. In space, an explosion is going to release gases and they are going to glow, and to behave differently than in atmosphere. Check out images of nebulas (like this one of the Crab Nebula), and you’ll see what I mean. You might want to keep in mind that a nebula is a space explosion, just on a really large scale, and that a LOT of the nebula images on google were actually created with a fractal flame generator. Anyway…

explosion render

Rendering is the most important part.

You’ll have to render your flame to use it, once you are happy with what you have. I keep mine set to a fairly low working render (between 15-20, you’ll see the drop-down selector for this on the top tool bar) so I don’t have a huge lag when I’m working on a flame. This means that the final render will be both smoother, and brighter than the view on the screen. Keep this in mind if you like (or hate) the grainy appearance. I set my elements to a reasonable pixel size – in this case 3000x2000px. I’m not usually using them for a full 6×9″ cover, so I can scale as I want to. The bigger you go, the longer the render. The density is important, this allows you to faithfully render tiny details. I usually set mine to 5000 or 10000, and the filter radius to 0.2 (you could make this bigger if you like the graininess) with the oversample at 2. Don’t increase the oversample unless you plan to render overnight. I have my computer set to use 2 cores, you could set to one (the default) or more if you have a bigger processor. This element took about 40 minutes to render. I’ve had renders run 13-14 hours. For some reason star fields can be freaking huge. Not all of them, and I haven’t figured out why yet.

oh, you may have noticed the flame moved and got bigger. I didn’t want to render it tiny – I’ll scale it on the image later – and I wanted to rotate it (same editor window as the gradient) to fit the image size better. Finally, while I have Apophysis set to a black background, the completed render is a png with transparency, making it super easy to set on an existing image without having to delete unwanted background. It also has some drawbacks, but I’ll show you what to do about them.

roughed in explosion

This is the thumbnail sketch I sent my client. He approved the layout, knowing the weird splashes of color will be replaced with a cool explosion. By the way, the ship and the starfield in the background are both fractals.

If you want to be able to make your own cool starfields and nebulas, check out some tutorials.  Bear in mind there are several versions of Apophysis. I have two loaded on my computer, along with three of Mandelbulb, which is what I rendered the spaceship with (I’ll do another post on MB3D at a later date. it’s awesome, but holy heck the learning curve is steep).

Capture

it’s not about the size, it’s about the placement.

I’ve dropped the fractal element on the image (having made my silly splashes disappear) but as you can see, you can see right through it. Hardly what you’d expect when a very solid ship blows up.

I’m going to scale the image by dragging on the corners, tilting and maneuvering it until I’m happy with the placement, and then I’ll duplicate the layer, so I get some opacity from it.

explosion

And here we have a classic exploding spaceship, at the moment of utter destruction.

I’ve duplicated my explosion layer, rotated it, set one layer to color dodge, and chopped up the edges with a smoke brush set to eraser tool. I also toggled back on the splashes (what, you thought I deleted them? Never throw anything out, you might need it!) and they add a little something under there, so I’m keeping them.

After some discussion with my client, we chose fonts for the author name and title (he’s using Counter Strike, from dafont, for the title). I applied those to the finished art.

Sabrecat cover3

Tom’s comment on seeing the cover “that right there is full of win.”

And hey, presto! All original art, all explosions, all science fiction. I could have spent a LOT more time on the ship, but it took me a month just to get this far. And I’m happy his book will have a cover that ought to enhance his sales a touch.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments! I don’t think WordPress supports image comments, but I’d love to see your efforts if you play with Apo, so try putting them up with Flickr or facebook or deviantart, and linking here.

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, cover design, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Writers write and more

When I woke this morning, I had an idea for today’s post but wanted to make sure I had my facts straight. So I checked several sources and came away with several things to discuss today. All are things we need to think about as writers. I know, I know. Writers just want to write. Unfortunately, there is a great deal more to it now, whether you plan on going indie or traditional. Writing is a business and that means we have to make business considerations.

The biggest considerations we have to make today as writers is whether we want to go the traditional publishing route or go indie. There are pros and cons to both. We’ve discussed those factors time and again here at MGC, so I’m not going to spend a great deal of time rehashing them. However, there is one thing to take into consideration when making that decision you do need to know about.

When talking to writers about the big difference between indie and traditional publishing, the main difference you will hear is that traditional publishing can get you into bookstores. I knew very few writers, myself included, who would’t love to see their books on the shelves of the local store. As indies, that is a near impossibility, especially if there are no locally owned bookstores in the area. So that leaves us, whether we are traditionally published or indie, to hope for shelf space in Barnes & Noble, at least here in the States.

Unfortunately, the fiscal health of B&N has been in question for some time and those questions are growing louder. As of last Friday, stock in the company was down 17.04% for the year. That includes a 5.61% decrease in the last 30 days. For the past year, stock is down 24.43%. Think about that. In 12 months, the stock value of the company has declined close to 25% and this at a time when the S&P has risen more than 16%. If that news doesn’t trouble you as a writer, it should. B&N is the main bookstore in the United States. If you thought the publishing industry was rocked by the loss of Borders, think about what will happen if B&N goes under. Even if it doesn’t, do any of us doubt that it is going to have to greatly change its manner of operation? More stores are going to close as leases come up for renewal. How many of them will be opened in new locations? No nearly enough. Worse, the loss of brick and mortar stores means publishers will lose their bookstore advantage and, believe me, they aren’t ready for that to happen. Not yet and, I hate to say it, I’m not sure any of the Big 5 will be ready when — and if — that time actually comes. So it is up to the authors to take steps to protect themselves now. What those steps are is up to each individual author. But they need to know what is happening in the industry and not let events broadside them.

Next up is the latest in the Tate Publishing debacle. A year ago, Tate was hit with a class action law suit filed by its authors. It later closed its doors. Last week, Xerox won judgment against Tate for more than $2-million. This was after Tate’s lawyers withdrew from the case after they hadn’t been paid. The basic lesson to come from this is that, as a writer, you need to do your homework before submitting your work to anyone, much less before signing a contract. Tate’s reputation for having problems predated the class action law suit for quite a while and yet authors continued to submit to them. This is why using sites such as Preditors & Editors is so important. So is doing a simple Google search. You need to know who you are doing business with. Beyond that, you really should have an IP attorney look at contracts before you sign them. Publishers are in the business to make money — for themselves. Authors are merely cogs in the machine, cogs they feel are interchangeable.

Finally, I came across this article and I really, really hope it’s someone’s idea of an April Fool’s Day joke.  I want to believe that it is. After all, any of us who have submitted our work to an editor or publisher only to have it rejected know how much that hurts. But to give up after trying with two books, especially in this day and age when indie has gained a strong foothold in the market, is beyond me. So is the oh-so-precious “I’m scarred” attitude. I really want to believe the author was trying to be funny on April Fool’s but considering the site where the post is published, I can’t be sure. What do you think?

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What do you want to read?

First off, I have to give a hat tip to Jason Cordova for this topic. On his FB page today, he commented that he was tired of all the stories where “the US is a fractured dystopia. You know what I want to see? A fractured dystopian world in which the last guardians of the gate is the US.” This started a discussion where another poster commented that his daughter had complained not long ago about YA novels where the protagonist is a teen girl whose parents are either dead or abusive. According to the commenter, his daughter wanted to read stories where the parents were normal and supportive. All that got me to thinking about what I want to read — not to mention write — and what I heard from my son when he was in school about the books he’d been required to read.

Which brings it all around to the issue of whether our kids read more or less than we do and why.

Let me start by saying I agree completely with Jason about wanting to see something than the US in ruins. All you have to do is look at who the gatekeepers are in traditional publishing (mainly the Big 5) right now to understand why they love this sort of book. Hell, all you have to do is look at their social media accounts to see that they believe the US is already on an irreversible course to total destruction. They scream and yell and cry at the mere mention of Trump’s name. You can wander over to the Tor site and find a post about how they simply don’t know what to imagine now because, you guessed it, Trump.

These are the same gatekeepers who have made it almost impossible to be published by the Big 5 and the smaller publishers following their lead if you don’t have the appropriate checklist of character traits in your novel. These are the ones, especially in science fiction and fantasy, who have taken the fun out of reading. And, no, this is not a screed against message fiction. You can have a message and still make it entertaining. You can have literary fiction and have it be engaging and entertaining. It doesn’t have to preach to the point of becoming boring and abrasive.

There is a reason if you look at the best seller lists on Amazon for e-books, you see as many, if not more, indie books there as you do trad published.

So, what do I want to read? I want t read a story that engages my imagination. I want to be entertained. Sure, I read more than my fair share of non-fiction and I enjoy it. But, for fiction, I’m not reading to be depressed or lectured to. I’m reading to be entertained, to escape the pressures of every day life. I want to see characters who are challenged and who do everything they can to overcome that challenge. No, they don’t have to always prevail. Life isn’t like that. Very little will turn me off of an author quicker than every protagonist turning into a Mary Sue.

Every character doesn’t have to agree with my personal religious or political beliefs. Life doesn’t work that way and neither should fiction. I want to see boundaries pushed, but not in a way that it breaks the world or throws me out of the book.  If I’m reading alternate history, I expect the author to have a working knowledge of the historical era and location he is writing about. Alternate doesn’t mean throwing everything out and starting over. It means taking something that happened and changing it. The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick, is a prime example. The Axis won World War II and he goes from there. As you read the story, however, you know he had a feel for the real historical events behind his new world.

Getting back to the original comment that prompted this post, I believe we see so many books coming from traditional publishers where the US has fallen because that is what they want. That is especially true right now. Don’t believe me? Go check out the social media accounts of some of those sitting in the ivory towers of publishing and see what they are posting. I don’t know about your feed, but mine shows more political posts coming from them than news about books or the authors they work with. It’s sad really and, were I one of the authors they worked with, it would piss me off . Why? Because they are turning away readers, not necessarily because of their politics (although that is open for debate) but because they aren’t promoting my work.

As for the daughter’s comment that she would like to see a YA book with a female protagonist with normal, supportive parents, I remember my son saying much the same when he was in junior high and high school. Teachers wondered why students in his class didn’t finish their summer reading list when the books on it were about drug and sex abuse, mental illness, homelessness, poverty and the like. I can’t remember a single summer reading list where there was a book on it that could even remotely be termed entertaining. Instead, the books were chosen by committee to make sure the students learned about all the bad things in society.

Oh, and the books had to meet a vocabulary requirement as well. On the surface, that might look good but it wasn’t. This wasn’t so much an attempt to challenge students by giving them vocabulary that would expand their linguistic skills. Instead, they wanted to make sure the books weren’t too “challenging”. After all, they mustn’t have little Susie or Johnny running to Mom or Dad to ask what a word meant or, worse, looking it up for themselves.

Worse, the subject matter wasn’t always appropriate to the age group. Yes, rape exists and victims come in all ages. However, to assign a book to a kid going into the fifth grade that includes a graphic attempted rape scene is not acceptable. Yet they did and the teacher couldn’t understand why I had an issue with it. After all, no other parent complained. Which wasn’t exactly the truth. I just happened to have been the first because I was at the school waiting to complain the moment the teachers reported before school started for the new year.

And they wondered why kids weren’t reading.

They weren’t reading because the books didn’t speak to them. They didn’t grab their attention and entertain. It is all too easy to put a book down and walk away from it if you aren’t pulled in by the story. If the story bores you or turns you off, it is more than tempting to simply never return to the book. THAT is why our kids don’t read what so many public schools want them to. When school administrations — and, more importantly, the politicians who think they know more about education than the professionals (and yes, I know that’s an oxymoron) — realize a kid can learn more from reading Pratchett than he can from being forced to read a book that is torture to get through, they will see an increase in the number of books read, in reading levels and in vocabulary.

There is nothing wrong with reading for information or to learn. Non-fiction is necessary, at least for my reading needs. But not everyone loves, or even likes, literary fiction. Not everyone wants to read to be depressed. There are other ways of getting those lessons across. It is time we as parents, as adults, as educators and writers, understood one simple truth: if we don’t keep our readers’ attention, if we don’t make them want to continue reading, they will put the book down and walk away. So instead of asking what “lesson” we want to teach with a book and then figuring out a bare minimum plot to go around the sermon, we need to figure out how to build a rich and engaging plot where the “lesson” can be woven in subtly and in such a way we get the point across without resorting to the literary equivalent of a 2X4.

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Watch where you step

Yesterday, I went browsing through sites like Publishers Weekly and The Passive Voice, looking for inspiration for today’s post. I’m not too proud to admit my brain is still in that post-publication funk, a funk aided by the fact my work computer (a really nice Asus ROG less than 7 months old) had to be sent back to ASUS for warranty work. That’s meant making sure all files were backed up,the laptop reset to factory settings and then setting up the secondary laptop as the current work machine. So, with all that going on, I felt sure I’d read the article wrong when I saw something about Cory Doctorow setting up a “store” to sell e-books traditionally published.

Okay, that sentence was a bit awkward, so let me try again.

Cory Doctorow, long a supporter of Creative Commons, is setting up an online bookstore to see e-books that were traditionally published.

I’ll give you a moment to consider that statement.

From the start, it is clear Doctorow has fallen victim to the Amazon Derangement Syndrome.

Buying an e-book from a website and sideloading it onto your Kindle will never be as easy as buying it from the Kindle store (though if the world’s governments would take the eminently sensible step of legalizing jailbreaking, someone could develop a product that let Kindles easily access third-party stores on the obvious grounds that if you buy a Kindle, you still have the right to decide whose books you’ll read on it, otherwise you don’t really own that Kindle).

Hmm, so he has an issue with Kindles because you can’t buy directly from other stores. Guess he hasn’t tried using e-readers from other stores or had to deal with some of the problems i-Pad owners have had in the past when Apple decided you couldn’t buy from in-app or you had to sideload. Or let’s not forget about the issues Nook owners have faced either. But Amazon is the big evil. And what do you mean “you don’t really own that Kindle”? Just because a tablet might not do what you want it to, it doesn’t follow that you don’t own it. His logic fails him.

As an author, being my own e-book retailer gets me a lot. It gets me money: once I take the normal 30 percent retail share off the top, and the customary 25 percent royalty from my publisher on the back-end, my royalty is effectively doubled. It gives me a simple, fair way to cut all the other parts of the value-chain in on my success: because this is a regular retail sale, my publishers get their regular share, likewise my agents. And, it gets me up-to-the-second data about who’s buying my books and where.

He’s right here but this is also where his reasoning hits me as being “off”. Yes, if he owns his own bookstore, he gets all this. But he also gets the headaches of operating it, the costs of operating it, etc. Now, I hear you saying he’s been doing this for years already. Yes, but that’s been for his indie books. Now he is talking about selling for trad publishers. That means he is giving them money and doing for them what they should be doing for him.

Remember, writers, the money is supposed to flow to you and not the other way around.

Ah, then you read on a bit further and remember the political diatribe he went on at the beginning of the article and realize that’s what is behind it. Politics. He hates Trump. He wants to reach out to markets ignored by Amazon and others.

Whatever.

The Digital Reader has an excellent post about Doctorow’s announcement. “I want to point out Doctorow’s blind spot: the unwarranted assumption that authors need or even should be doing business with publishers. . . But like many pioneers, Doctorow advanced only so far. He never managed to shed his original assumptions and keep up with the times.”

That last statement hit home with me. One of the things I, as well as the rest of us here at MGC, strive to do on an almost daily basis is see what is going on with the industry, both trad and indie. We are constantly looking for new ways to promote our work, newer and easier ways to put our books together and make them more appealing in look and content. Some of us have been doing this long enough to remember hand-coding the html for e-books. At least one of us has had to show traditional publishers how to make text in an e-book look more like what you get in a printed book (effects, etc.). In other words, we haven’t sat back and rested on what we first learned while the indie industry passed us by.

So, what is it Doctorow wants us to do? He wants us to act as shills for traditional publishers. You know, those folks who, before they sign an author to a contract want us to do our own marketing, have a blog, be active on social media and already have a platform and built-on audience. And, before you say anything, unless you are King or Patterson or the “new big thing”, any marketing the publisher is going to do for you is basically nil beyond getting your book into the catalog sent to booksellers. So, you have to do the job of marketing your book, something they used to do.

Now Doctorow wants us to add to that by selling e-books for traditional publishers, accept and handle all payments (and that will include returns and making sure all tax laws are followed and tax reporting done) and then remit money to the publisher.

My only comment is “WTF?!?”

The Passive Voice says it best, “PG delayed posting about Doctorow’s plan because he was waiting for someone to propose a theory about why an intelligent trad-pubbed author would try to sell books directly from some strange organization for side-loading onto a Kindle. What kind of service is that for an author’s readers? Who do those readers call for tech support when the ebook file won’t load?”

Above and beyond the fact that selling e-books on your site for publishers (when they should be the ones selling your books) makes my head hurt, there’s something else Doctorow didn’t take into account. As I write this, my 85-year-old mother sits across the room from me reading on her Kindle Fire. She gets her Kindle. She gets the books downloaded directly there after I buy them either from the Amazon site or through the app on my tablet. If she had to sideload a book, she wouldn’t do it. For one, it is a hassle. For another, she isn’t anywhere near geeky enough to understand the process.

Then there are those who don’t have computers. Yes, yes, there really are folks like that. Some are older, like my mom. Others spent their working lives dealing with computers and never want to see another ever again. They might compromise with a smart phone but that’s about it. So, Mr. Docotorow, how are they supposed to sideload?

Doctorow has clearly fallen victim to Amazon Derangement Syndrome and forgot to look where he stepped.

***

Now for my bit of marketing.

Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2)

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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