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Posts tagged ‘gatekeepers’

Who are the real gatekeepers?

(This post originally appeared October 2013. While some of the players have changed, the basic premise still remains. There are still those out there who believe indie authors are hacks–at best–who haven’t struggled hard enough to earn the title of “author”.)

Over the last couple of days, I’ve seen a number of posts by authors from both sides of the traditional vs. indie publishing discussion (yes, I’m being nice here. In most cases, discussion doesn’t exactly describe the content. Argument or even screaming hissy fit usually comes closer). This comes on top of a long thread in a discussion group I belong to where a couple of folks flat said they would never read anything not from a traditional publisher because anything else never rises above the level of dreck. Pile on top of that a blog post I read this morning from an agent discussing the role of agents in the current world of publishing and, well, my head has exploded again. Read more

Are Indies Really That Bad?

This is an updated version of a post I originally published in May 2015. It came about when, at a loss for something to blog about, I went to FB, looking for inspiration. Needless to say, it didn’t take long to find something. Of course, it also raised my blood pressure and had me gnashing my teeth, never good things. I’ve taken the original post and updated it.

Anyway. . . .

Here’s the set-up. An traditionally published author took FB to bemoan the fact that she had bought an e-book and had been so disappointed in it. According to this traditionally published author, the book had been touted along the lines of “If you love Jim Butcher, you will love this” or words to that effect. Seems this particular author adores Jim Butcher’s work and found this particular book sadly lacking. Okay, I can get that. Those are big shoes to fill. But she didn’t leave it at that and that is where my issue with her begins. Read more

Prejudice among Gatekeepers

I often see plaints about sexism in publishing. There aren’t enough books written by women, there aren’t enough books that feature women in starring roles, and so forth. I’m more than a little inclined to shrug and say ‘eh, so what?” because in the modern era, it comes down to one of two things: either the readers are reading traditionally published books, or they are reading Indie.

If they are reading the top sellers, the most popular, and none of those ickie ‘self-published’ novels, and they complain about the dearth of female writers, they are trying to point a finger at the readers, and missing. If there is a prejudice against female authors, as the writer of an article I came across at the Passive Voice thinks, then it is not among the readers, but the gatekeepers. Catherine Nichols used a now well-worn ploy, “[she] has found that submitting her manuscript under a male pseudonym brought her more than eight times the number of responses she had received under her own name. In an essay for Jezebel, Nichols reveals how after she sent out her novel to 50 agents, she received just two manuscript requests. But when she set up a new email address under a male name, and submitted the same covering letter and pages to 50 agents, it was requested 17 times.” If this seems familiar, it’s because a scandal broke out last year when it was discovered that a white man had been publishing his poetry under an Asian pen name. I liked what Passive Guy had to say about the Catherine Nichols article: “PG doesn’t know of any formal studies, but he would bet the majority of agents are women. And the majority of editors working at publishers and acquiring books are women. There’s only one logical conclusion – female authors should avoid the sexist hellholes of traditional publishing and self-publish. Starve the biased beast. Male authors should do the same thing in a show of solidarity.”

Man review

a Goodreads review

His conclusions certainly follow along with what I’ve seen – the majority of editors and agents are women. Can women be biased against women? Why not? There’s a sort of reverse sexism springing up out there, if you hadn’t noticed. I have been caught in it myself a couple of times, with reviews on my most popular books stinging me for having dared to write a male POV character (Pixie Noir), and for having the audacity to make my main female character (in the second book, Trickster Noir) hand over her keys, to a secondary character who doesn’t let anyone else drive, ever – sex is not an object to him.

Male POV

So sure, I’ve seen bias against sexes in the books – by women (presumably) against male characters. I’ve also seen sexism by male readers against female writers – Amanda Green was bitten by this one, writing under an open pen name for her excellent Mil SF books. A highly-ranked Amazon reviewer just didn’t think a female could carry that off.

However, sexism and racism in the industry among the gatekeepers is inevitably going to have a more chilling effect on careers than a few negative reviews – particularly when the bias in the reviews is nakedly obvious and we can rely on intelligent readers to snort, shake their heads, and buy the books anyway (or perhaps because of). However, the bias of the gatekeepers is insidious, invisible, and the readers never get to make their own decisions. Larry Correia wrote an excellent fisking of a recent article lamenting the lack of diversity in Sci-Fi, and I urge you to read it. I’m going to put what I think is the money quote here, though, because he says it better (and saltier) than I could.

This is a fantastic time to be an author. In the olden days, if a handful of gatekeepers didn’t like you, you were boned. For a long time, unless you were a superstar, there was basically one mainstream publishing house that didn’t give a damn about their author’s personal politics. Luckily, Indy and self-pub have changed the market dramatically.

For a long time entertainment tried to lump as many customers as possible into one big box to provide dumb bland mushy product to. To make a living at this stuff you needed to sell to everybody, including the easily offended. Now, you just need to appeal to one group of fans, and what appeals to them might not appeal to everybody, but screw those guys. You can make what you want. Technology has evolved so that you can get your product right in front of your target audience. It isn’t just books either. Stranger Things got rejected by something like 15 networks for being too weird, and now it is a hit on Netflix.

And the crazy thing is that those gatekeepers who were enforcing the big box of bland dumb mushy product for the masses? Turns out they didn’t know dick about what people actually want anyway. My first novel got rejected by every publishing house and agent in Manhattan as being unsellable. I self-published, did great, wound up with Baen, and I think it is now on its 14th printing.

So if you get rejected by some biased editor, but you know your product is good, and you know there is a market? Go around the assholes and find your fan base yourself. And if it is good and entertaining enough, then it will have legs and grow beyond that one little market you targeted. I started out selling self-published print on demand novels on an internet gun forum.” 

We no longer have to suffer prejudice. On the internet, no one knows or cares what color the author is. They only know ‘this is a good story… I want more!’ and that’s enough. Personally, I don’t want people judging my work based on what’s between my legs. That bit of data is irrelevant to the point of what I’m doing – I’m writing. I don’t do that with my sex organs, or the color of my skin. Pixels on the screen become black ink on cream paper…

Once you go Indie, you escape the grasp of the gatekeepers. You may not leave all the prejudice behind, but the biased reviews of those readers may not have the impact they intended. Or, perhaps, they signal to people who want to keep their biases, and thus spare you the author from more negative reviews (kind of like vaccination, I suppose). But the prejudice out in the open light of the market shrinks into what it is, a tiny sniveling hobgoblin, compared to the hulking trolls of the gatekeepers who could smash a hopeful writer’s career with a single rejection note and a snide remark to their friends, the ‘right people’.

Persevere! Write what you want, entertain us, and you will succeed against the hobgoblins and trolls of ‘Isms, O Indie Author. It’s not an easy path, but it’s a free one with no gatekeepers.

Sheer Exhaustion

I asked Sarah what I should write about today, offering a few tongue-in-cheek suggestions and ending with the title of this post. That one, she replied. She knows where I’m at in life, because both of us are staring the abyss of exhaustion in the face and daring it to come closer.

As a writer, operating under a certain level of fatigue is challenging. In order to be creative, you need to be able to think, or at any rate, organize thoughts coherently on paper (the screen, you know what I mean). And there are days where I sit here at my desk thinking “I can’t brain now. Don’t make me brain.”

Library Dragon

I just want to find a sunbeam and nap with a book nearby.

Necessarily, on days I can’t think, I can’t write. I can, usually, manage to do homework, but that’s not creativity. Art, in a visual sense, is creativity but not as challenging to the tired brain as writing is. I think because of the scope: my art isn’t terribly complicated stuff that will take weeks to complete. A novel is. Maybe that’s what it is. It’s just so overwhelming to try and contain a world in your brain when there is all this other stuff demanding space and telling you that it’s more important.

Even reading becomes a challenge. I mean, look at this. It looks like perfect gobbledygook to me right now: “Whether vertical conduct by a disruptive market entrant, aimed at securing suppliers for a new retail platform, should be condemned as per se illegal under Section 1 of the Sherman Act, rather than analyzed under the rule of reason,” the brief states, with Apple asking the court to “confirm that vertical activity, undertaken for bona fide, potentially pro-competitive purposes, is not transformed into per se illegal conduct merely because it also has been found to facilitate horizontal collusion.”

Oh, wait. That’s not just me. That is gibberish. That’s a company trying to persuade a court that it’s okay for them to fix prices, because they are a NEWB. A newb, they say! And we’re supposed to get mental fatigue from parsing that sentence and give them a pass.

Maybe it’s just my tired brain, but this one hurts to read: an editor telling people why a massively selling book-made-movie is crap. She’s talking about the Martian and assessing why editors would reject it, and… and I got nothing. The gatekeepers are tilting at the giants and calling them windmills now. I mean really, who wants that nasty science cluttering up your story when you couple have more emotional depth? Who wants to read about a cast of characters who share a mission and yet have them be similarly-minded? And above all, who wants to read an exciting story with a competent hero who keeps a stiff upper lip and never gives up? No, editors want navel gazing. The problem is… my brain hurts. Ow.

It could be worse. It could be a book starring… gasp… a bureaucrat. Which can actually work. Sabrina Chase’s Bureau of Substandards makes it work in a very funny fashion. But she breaks all the rules and has competent characters. But in an article which I can’t find, so I’m linking instead to a fisking – and a very good one, better than I have the mental power for – there’s a literary critic who seems to be agitating for a book about an auditor. And no, he doesn’t mean Miles Vorkosigan (there’s a new book out in that series! Squee! Ok, brain, back on track. Seriously, it’s so easy to derail when you’re sleep-deprived. Shiny!), nor does he mean the Gray men of Pratchett’s books. ”

“Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention to it.”

Tale. Well. Told.

Not a mirror. Not message fiction. Tale well gold.

Do we want to see more trans-women secretaries… sorry… executive assistants taking down the bad guys?

Damien, of course, twists this concept into tossing the old muscle-bound hero stereotypes in favor of less traditional heroes, such as… well… you guessed it – minorities, women, bureaucrats, homosexuals, transgendered individuals, logistics officers, and others that aren’t generally portrayed as heroic. Because muscly, violent men are out, and dull, tax auditor-types are in (and it would be great if they were women and gay too!)

Hercules is out. Here comes Pajama Boy!

Forget Superman. Let’s see more HR specialists.

Red Sonja the tax auditor.


No thanks.

Here, read it all… 

I could drivel on, but that last broke my brain, which wants a cookie and a blankie and a nice hot cuppa… something. Oh, and a book. I recommend you check out the Halloween Sale going on this weekend, a lot of good authors and cheap books. Evidently, our brain is hardwired to respond to story. So reading, it’s for science! 

Or because it helps me sleep better.

The gates have been opened and the walls are crumbling

Yesterday, Sarah sent me a link to a post by Joe Konrath. The post itself is as informative as it is entertaining (and I really need to quit reading him during the work day. As with the Passive Voice, I tend to read all the comments, follow all the links and — oops — there goes an hour or more of the day). Two things, in particular, jumped out at me as I read. The first is that self-publishing is a shadow industry and there ” are no accurate surveys or polls to show how big it is, or how fast it is being adopted.” The second is even more telling. He wonders why, if legacy publishers are so in-touch with what is going on and so sure of their place in the industry, they aren’t coming and challenging what he says about the state of the industry. It’s a great post and I recommend everyone go read it.

One thing Konrath says is that the walls the gatekeepers have built up and continue to tout as their strengths will come crumbling down if writers start talking to one another. That is the first step. The second, in my opinion, is even more important. We have to stop being afraid to rock the boat. Sarah has written before about how writers coming up in the business before self-publishing became a viable option were told that to question your editor was the kiss of death. To publicly cast doubt on your editor or publisher could crash your career. You accepted your royalty statements, even though you knew they were wrong, with a smile and took the kick in the teeth. After all, publishers can’t be bothered with doing anything as difficult as actually tracking sales in this day and age of advanced databases. They are really looking out for your best interests by using some arcane hand-wavium known as BookScan to figure out how much they owe you. Oh, and let’s not forget about the rights grab contracts, especially for new authors, include.

Are you starting to get the picture about why authors need to be more vocal in discussing what’s going on?

But the gatekeepers help us. They tell us they do. They help separate the dreck from the potential best seller. They give us editorial support and take care of all that icky bookkeeping. They promote us and get us into bookstores. They are the gods of publishing.

Except writers are scaling Mount Olympus and the reading public is following them. The myth of editing and proofreading became more transparent with the advent of e-readers. There is something about reading a book on your Kindle or other e-reader that makes errors stand out. Things your eye missed on the printed page seem to jump out at you as you read it on your tablet or dedicated e-reader. Hmmm, that e-book from one of the Big 5 you just paid $10 for has as many, or more, errors in it as the $4.99 indie book. Where’s the editing and proofreading they were supposed to do?

I could go on and on but won’t. Most everyone here at MGC have written about it at length. What I want to do is take a look at what the other side is still saying about the gatekeepers and the evils of self-publishing.

Donald Mass, agent of the old guard, posted his take on the state of the industry here.  He uses flowery language that almost makes the self-publishing push sound like a grand, yet failed revolution. Those of us who see it as a viable alternative are termed “true believers”.  To read him, e-books have been the salvation of legacy publishing and have been embraced by the industry with welcome arms. Um, has he been following the same reports and comments over the years as I have?

Far from being threatened, print publishers instead are now gratefully relieved of the money-losing burden of the mid-list. Like giant banks that have discovered that banking is boring and the real money is in gambling, big publishers are now free to focus on the high-risk/high-reward game of finding the next Twilight, Hunger Games,Game of Thrones or Fifty Shades of Grey.

That sound you hear is every mid-list writer who isn’t in complete denial screaming in anger. The mid-list was only a money loser for publishers when the publisher dropped the ball. The thing about your mid-list was that you knew there was a built-in audience for those books. You knew that if you didn’t screw it up by bringing books out too close together, by not giving them basically the same cover and by by letting purchasing agents for bookstores know that Midlister A had a new book coming out you’d have a pretty much guaranteed income of X-dollars. The problem is that publishers did drop the ball. They started bringing out mid-list series every few months and with covers that looked so much alike the bookstore purchasers thought they already had that book in stock. So orders dropped and, suddenly, your mid-listers didn’t make the money they used to.

Think about it. How many series have you started, as a reader, and anxiously awaited the next book only to find that after the second or third book the series was dropped? Was it really because interest flagged or because the publishers thought they could skew the system and get money quicker by cutting corners and changing the order paradigm they’d spent years creating?

Now look at those mega-best sellers Maas lists above. Think about how those particular publishers put everything behind that series and then, when the series is over, they have nothing to take its place. Gone are the dollars from the mommy porn despite all the wanna-be clones of it the publisher has bought and brought out. Look at the income reports for the last quarter and see how the 50 Shades publisher is moaning because its income is down now that the series is over. Twilight’s publisher is in the same situation. So yeah, the quick dollar is nice and that is what the publishers cut the mid-listers for. Grab the bucks now and we’ll find another mega hit before this current one is over.

Except that rarely happens and, because you cut the mid-list, you have even cut off that guaranteed income you would have otherwise had.

Better still, because some authors are now—voluntarily!—willing to bear the expense and undertake the effort of building an audience by themselves, print publishers have the luxury of culling the prize cattle from the herd.

In one sense, he’s right. But only in one very narrow sense. Authors are “voluntarily” building an audience ourselves because we’ve been told we have to. Even those who want to go the traditional route are told we have to build our “brand”. When you try to find an agent, you are often asked — even before you are given the opportunity to query — what your marketing plan is. Those who do have agents are told they need to blog, be active in social media. Oh, and those book tours and marketing efforts publishers tell you they’ll do? Those are on your own dime unless you’ve been tagged as the latest dahling or you are one of the special few. The fact that authors are choosing to “voluntarily” build an audience before getting a publishing contract isn’t o help publishers. It’s because most of us have decided we’d be better off spending those dollars and recovering them from our higher self-publishing or small press royalties than lining the pockets of a publisher and agent. And as for those authors the publishers “cull” out (and don’t you just love being compared to cattle? Sort of give you an idea of what agents and publishers think of us, doesn’t?), how often do you hear about them after the “culling”?

According to Maas, those of us who self-publish or small press publish are the freight class. We bear all the costs and rarely succeed. According to him, the problem with this is that:

Freight Class novels generally take few risks. Too often they rely on character stereotypes, heavy-handed plots, purple and obvious emotions, and messages and themes that are time-worn. Justice must be done. Love conquers all. Good vs. evil. Freight Class fiction can be easy to skim. Literary flourishes are few, cliffhangers are many. Genre conventions are rigidly honored. Characters are not motivated from within, for the most part, but instead are pushed into action by external plot circumstances.

Um, WHAT? Funny, as a read, I like books where justice is done. If I read a romance, I want to see that love wins out. And what the heck is wrong with good v. evil? Oooh, I see. It’s the “G” word. Genre. Genre is evil. Sigh. Can you say, “over-generalization?”

Next is his so-called “coach class”. Literary fiction and fiction that sells best in soft cover and as e-books. He even admits that marketing, if it happens from the publisher, isn’t effective. The “if it happens” is key here because — duh — it doesn’t, as a general rule. This is, whether he wants to admit it or not, where the mid-listers fell. But, since the publishers see them as expendable, the former dahlings, the literary writers, are now filling this niche. Guess what, literary fiction doesn’t sell as well. The publishers see this new mid-list as confirming their claims but all it does is confirm what we already knew. Mid-listers of five or ten years ago did sell but these new ones don’t, not to the same level.

Finally, there is his “first class”. These are the lucky ones anointed as the the next best great thing. They are the ones who get hard and soft cover runs. The ones the publishers invest big bucks into in order to make the book a success. These are also, all too often, the authors who have been chosen to write the next Twilight or Hunger Games, or whatever. The problem is, they are all too often poor copies and the reading public has already moved on to something else.

In a way, Maas is right. The so-called revolution hasn’t taken down legacy publishing. But it has led to changes. Maas has to support the old guard because that is where his money comes from. But it always bothers me when someone who is supposed to have the best interests of his clients — writers — at heart continues to support a system that actively works against those interests. Instead of seeing why we should be embracing the old ways, I want to know what he’s doing to prevent publishers from trying to grab rights to a book for the length of copyright without any out clause. I want to know that his agency doesn’t have a similar clause in their contracts as well because, let’s face it, agency contracts are looking more and more like publishing contracts. I want to know what he is doing to increase the royalty rate given to authors, especially on digital books, whether the author is just breaking in or has been around for years. I want to know what he is doing to get accurate royalty figures for his clients instead of relying on the very unreliable BookScan numbers.

You want to convince me, and those who feel like me to go the traditional route, show us that you don’t really think about us as cattle or interchangeable cogs. Oh, wait, they can’t because that is exactly how they feel. Until that changes, I’ll stick with my freight class and laugh all the way to the bank.

Oh, I’ll also hedge my bets and try the trad route too — but not with one of the Big 5 and not with an agent who would probably fight me tooth and nail on my choice of where to send my work and then happily take their 15% or more of what I might make. Nope, I’ll take my chances one day with Baen, the one publisher I know at least listens to their readers AND their authors.

What were they thinking?

This past week has been odd, to say the least. Between company visiting, some medical issues for both my mother and me and trying to do a little work for NRP as well as write one handed, life has often been an exercise in frustration. And then there’s the latest round in a couple of repeat issues in publishing that had me alternately shaking my head and wanting to scream. So, I guess you could say it’s been life as usual, at least until we see exactly what Apple and company claim in their appeals of the agency pricing judgment and how the court rules. Then the fun will all begin again.

Anyway . . .

Yesterday, I went traipsing through the internet looking for something that might inspire me for today’s post. The first item I came across was a FB post by an author linking to an article on Forbes about how Barnes & Noble is “sticking it” to Amazon. In a new article, it was claimed BN was really putting it to Amazon because it, BN, refused to stock books published by BN. You see, that really hurts Amazon because it prevents the online retailer from having what it needs most for its books: a presence in brick and mortar stores.

I have a couple of issues with this. The first is that this isn’t news. BN and others made this decision a year or more ago when Amazon first announced it was getting into the publishing business. While I can’t say why the article author felt this old news was suddenly “new” news, I can say that I’m of mixed feelings about the decision by BN. On one hand, I understand that the corporate bean counters don’t want to do anything that would put more money into Amazon’s pockets. After all, they have long claimed Amazon is the “Big Evil” and responsible for the downfall of all bookstores. Common sense would have you at least considering whether or not you are causing harm to your own company if you put a competitor’s products in your stores.

The flip side to this is that the competitor might have a product that your customers want. The first key to good business is to get customers through your doors. So you have to ask if the competitor’s product is something that would do just that and, if it is, how you can then use that product to entice the customer into buying other items that are from other suppliers/publishers/etc. However, by simply refusing to carry anything that Amazon publishes, you deny yourself potential sales.

There is another facet of the decision the article — and those supporting BN’s decision — overlooks and that is the impact the decision has on authors. Here is a bookseller that claims to have the best interest of authors and readers in mind with this ban on all things Amazon denying authors an outlet for their work and readers the chance to find said authors’ work. But, because Amazon is involved, too few authors have dared question the decision.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying BN should automatically carry everything Amazon publishes and give it prime shelf space. What I am saying is that BN might be cutting off its nose to spite its face here. They can agree to sell books published by Amazon but they can negotiate a contract to do so that is advantageous to BN. That’s what Amazon has done for years with publishers. Since BN is basically the big kid on the playground when it comes to brick and mortar stores, it has the power if Amazon wants shelf space. So serve the ball to Amazon and then see who blinks first.

The second item that caught my eye was a blog post this morning. No, I’m not going to link to it. It’s not that I disagree, at least not totally, with what the blogger had to say. My real problem comes from what some of the commenters had to say. However, a little google-foo and you’ll find the post without any real problem.

The basic gist of the blog was to reframe the role of gatekeepers in publishing. The blogger stated that agents and editors aren’t looking at submissions to see who to keep out of the legacy publishing club but to find projects they liked and felt they could sell. In fact, according to the blogger, they aren’t really gatekeepers. It was a more positive spin on what we’ve been saying here, written from the point of view of a gatekeeper instead of an author.

I’ll even agree with the blogger that most agents are looking for work they think they can sell. Whether they actually like the work is up to interpretation. But they are basing what they think they can sell on what they are hearing from other agents and from editors about what is currently selling and what editors are looking for. Quality of the work does have something to do with the decision but even that isn’t always a major consideration. If it were, how in the world did Fifty Shades ever get published?

But what had my head exploding — and I really have to quit letting that happen early mornings because it is so hard to clean up before coffee — was one of the comments. This person went on about how she and her husband had been discussing errors he’d found in books he’d been reading. She specified that a lot were in the sf/f books he’d read recently and how it was her belief that writers needed to be patient and work their way through the system to be published by a real publisher. If you can’t find an agent and publisher then you have to realize that your work just isn’t good enough and should be abandoned.

Now, we’ve discussed the problems with this stance before but it continues to amaze me how people — both those in the industry and out of it — fail to grasp the realities of legacy publishing. There are only so many slots a month a publisher can fill. Of those slots, some are for reprints. That means only a few slots a month per publisher for new titles. Since a publisher is a businessman — or so they keep telling us. I still have my doubts — the publisher will fill those as many of those slots as possible with authors who already have a track record. The publisher may hold back one or two slots for new authors. But those are few and far between.

Add into that equation that those slots are being filled with authors who have written something that fits into the mold of what the publisher things is the latest trend in publishing or that fits what the publisher thinks is the current message of the day. That leaves out a lot of titles that are well written and entertaining but that simply don’t meet the subjective criteria of the editors.

Does that mean every one else who has written a book should just stop writing or stop trying to find a way to get their book into the hands of readers? Not only no but hell no. It does mean we have an uphill battle ahead of us because there are still those folks out there who believe that anything that doesn’t come from one of the Big Five Publishers isn’t a real book. However, for every one who feels that way, I can show you someone else who is thrilled with the increased number of titles out there, especially in sf/f and all its sub-genres, because of the increased number of small presses and self-published authors.

But the commenter was right about one thing. There are more mistakes slipping through. But this is happening on all levels, from legacy publishers to self-published authors. So to condemn every level of publishing except legacy publishing is wrong. Again, authors, it is a wake-up call to us. We have to take the reins of control for all our work. It means we have to keep better notes about our characters, especially if we are writing series. It means we can’t just assume that book we were lucky enough to sell to Big Publisher Alpha Dog will actually be edited, much less copy edited and proofed. We have to do it ourselves — or hire someone to do it.

All that said, the most important thing we can do is keep writing. Well, that and keep on top of what is happening in the industry and not let our heads explode too early in the day.

nocturnal interludenewIn the meantime, I have to show off the cover Sarah just designed for Nocturnal Interlude, the third novel and fourth title in the Nocturnal Lives Series. Interlude is finished and I’m waiting to hear back from the editor. This book is a bit different from the others in the series and a little darker because some of the issues brought up in the previous titles are coming to a head. It’s going to be interesting to see where the next book takes me as I write it — but that is two titles down the road.


And now I’m off to find some more coffee, some breakfast and painkillers. Then, maybe, I can get some work done.



Who are the real gatekeepers?

Over the last couple of days, I’ve seen a number of posts by authors from both sides of the traditional vs. indie publishing discussion (yes, I’m being nice here. In most cases, discussion doesn’t exactly describe the content. Argument or even screaming hissy fit usually comes closer). This comes on top of a long thread in a discussion group I belong to where a couple of folks flat said they would never read anything not from a traditional publisher because anything else never rises above the level of dreck. Pile on top of that a blog post I read this morning from an agent discussing the role of agents in the current world of publishing and, well, my head has exploded again.

It still amazes me the number of “authors” who still foam at the mouth whenever they hear the words “indie” or “self-published”. These authors sneer at anyone who hasn’t “proven” themselves the same way they did. In other words, if you haven’t sent in your submissions and included your SASEs time and time again until you find an editor ready to accept your prose, then you aren’t a “real” writer. That’s right. SASE. I actually read a post this morning where an author castigated anyone who hasn’t done this and who might not know what SASE stands for. Let’s forget about the fact that most major publishers now allow for digital submissions and, even if they don’t, they often don’t require the SASE. But not having sent out your SASEs is a sticking point to becoming a pro according to this one author.

Then you have those who believe that those who go the indie route won’t have their work edited and proofread by “real” editors and proofreaders. According to them, indie covers are all hysterically bad and indies are all wannabes who have tried to cut to the head of the line without learning the trade and taking their lumps. To support this, they point out that the professional organizations like SFWA don’t recognize indie published books are real books and, therefore, indie authors can’t be pro authors.

Why do I have this image of an ostrich with its head buried in the sand?

Look, I’ll be the first one to admit that there are those out there who publish indie because it is the easy way. They throw together a book — and I use that term loosely — and put it up on Amazon or Smashwords or any of the other outlets that allow access to indies. But these are also the ones who, after a few times of doing it will realize that they aren’t making the millions they thought they would and who will go away to either perfect their craft or to another hobby that doesn’t take the time writing does and that might have a better payout.

But there are many wonderful authors out there who have tried going the traditional route and haven’t been able to break in. It has nothing to do with how well they construct a sentence, how good their understanding of punctuation is or how strong their story structure might be. It has everything to do with the fact that the vast majority of publishers require an author to have an agent to get through the doors to even be considered. Agents choose clients based on personal reading taste as well as on what they think publishers want. The problem is, they are looking at something written today that might not see its way into print for two years or more and that, by then, won’t be the next big thing in publishing.

But even if you have an agent, that doesn’t mean you are going to be published. It means you have a chance, better than without an agent but still small, to break into a traditional publishing house. Let’s be real here: there are more authors trying to get their work published than there are slots available for them. Publishers don’t accept every good book that comes through the door. They listen to their bean counters who tell them that the latest best seller is about dinos into bondage with aliens from Zunev. So editors go out looking for similar books. That means your incredible family saga novel is going to be passed over because it doesn’t fit the current best seller matrix. It has nothing to do with your skills as a writer, only with the fact it isn’t following the latest trend.

So, tell me again why I have to go through a traditional publishing path to be considered a “pro”?

Oh, yeah, because SFWA and other organizations don’t recognize me as one. SFWA, an organization that presents itself as the moral compass of the SF/F community and has no problems attacking members who don’t conform to whatever is the current politically correct stance du jour. SFWA, the organization that for years has said it can’t do anything to acknowledge indies and others who publish through non-traditional tracks (read no large advance) without changing its bylaws and constitution. Although, it now seems like they have formed a focus group or something similar to look into it. SFWA who is behind the times when you look at how quickly RWA adapted their rules to include digital, non-advance publishing credits.

Then there’s the allegation that indie’s don’t have their books edited. Excuse me while I go giggle in the corner. Okay, I’m giggling a bit hysterically but many of you understand why. You’ve seen the lack of quality edits that have come back to you, the author, from one of the Big 6 — now Big 5 — publishers. You’ve seen how your editors and copy editors have changed the entire meaning of a sentence or a paragraph, fatally flawing that paragraph or even entire scene, by using a modern term in your historical romance. You’ve had copy editors or editors tell you that your characters couldn’t be in X-church located at Y-location because that’s not where it is. Well, that might not be where it is today according to Google Maps but 100 years ago, it was exactly where you have it. How do you know? Because you didn’t rely on Google Maps or its alternative but you went to maps from the time or descriptions of the area written back then.

Still not convinced that editing can be as bad, or worse, in a traditionally published book than it is an indie book? There are authors who are just now starting to talk publicly about some of the politically correct changes they’ve been forced to make to their books. Characters’ nationalities and race have been changed. Their sexual orientation have been changed. Changes that have nothing to do with making the story better and everything to do with pushing the current politically correct stance of the publishing house.

Then there are the authors, some of them best sellers, who hire editors to go over their work both before and after their publishing house’s editor sees it. Why? Because the quality of editing isn’t, on a whole, of the same level it once was. When publishers started cost cutting years ago, the two areas hit hardest were publicity and editing. So tell me again how traditionally published authors have better editing than indies?

(As with most everything I have to say about legacy publishing, there are exceptions. When it comes to editing and how they treat their authors, Baen Books is the exception. Their editors actually read a book and edit it before it is published and they do treat their authors as partners and valued members of the team, not as an asset or chattel like some publishers do.)

So, how do indie authors get past this stigma others in the industry, especially their fellow writers, seem to have about them? First, indies have to quit worrying about what the so-called pros think. Many of those who were the loudest to condemn indies back when Amazon first opened the KDP program are now indie publishing. Those who still condemn indies are either parroting what their agents and editors tell them or they scared to give up that upfront advance and strike out on their own. They are like the folks in the discussion thread last week who see only the bad in indie and don’t recognize that there are a number of excellent authors out there, more and more of whom are starting to make a living from indie publishing.

But, as an indie, you do have to know the tools of the trade. You have to be able to write a sentence with proper grammar and punctuation — just as you have to know when to break the grammar rules. You have to know story structure. You have to make the commitment to have your work look as professional, or more so, than what is coming out of the traditional houses. That means getting it edited and proofread. It means having a professional looking cover. In other words, you have to be as professional as the naysayers think they are.

Does that mean you will become the next Stephen King or Amanda Hocking? No. But it means you have a chance to find readers who will enjoy your books and recommend you to their friends and family. And they, in turn, will recommend you to another group of readers. That is how you start building sales. As that is happening, you should be writing. Write the next book or short story. Set your own publishing schedule and keep to it. Make sure that when a reader finishes something and likes it, there’s something else of yours for them to buy. If there isn’t, at least have an announcement of when your next book will be out.

As an indie author, you are in the business of writing. That means you have to be your own bean counter and PR guru and editor. It means you have to find and use resources for not only research but for editing, proofing and cover creation. You have to keep up with what is being sold by the legacy publishers and how they are packaging it. Why? Because if your cover has the same basic look as traditionally published books in your genre then the reader won’t automatically go “indie!” and move on. It is a game of appearances.

Most of all, quit listening to those traditionally published authors who say the only way to break into the industry is to do it the way they did. The industry has changed since most of them sold their first book or short story. The rules they had to follow no longer apply. So choose the path you want to follow — heck, follow both if you want — but write and don’t worry about whether you qualify for “pro” status in the organizations or not. What matters is if you are writing books people want to read and are willing to pay for.

Don’t believe me, go to Sarah’s post yesterday at According to Hoyt to see an example of what I would have thought a joke last week but now know is a real sub-genre that is making money for the authors involved. There are folks out there begging for books, books that will never be published through traditional houses. The gatekeepers are no longer the agents or the editors. They are exactly who they ought to be — the readers.

Luxurious Libraries

The Royal Portuguese Reading Room

I opened a fortune cookie one morning, having forgotten it the night before, and read that “You will be surrounded by things of luxury.” I couldn’t argue with this, I was going to be spending my day at a library surrounded by books. That got me thinking on how the status of books has changed, is changing. It wasn’t all that long ago, if you take a giant step back to see all of human history at once as a timeline, when books were a luxury only the most wealthy could own. Books like the Book of Kells were lovingly painted, and embellished with gold leaf.

Enter Gutenberg, and his press. From that point forward, literature has mushroomed. And like a patch of mushrooms, you could only really see part of it. The darlings of the media, in whatever form that was, got talked about. But there were many more unseen books that were unseen, proliferating via word of mouth. It has always been that way, ever since books became accessible to the masses.There were books that were frowned on as vulgar, that you wouldn’t admit to having read, and even at times, reading was not in vogue. Growing up, I was taught that a certain establishment frowned on the peasants being taught how to read, as it would dilute their hold on the ‘truth.’ I don’t know if it’s fact, but it certainly rings true. The luxury of being able to read and form one’s own opinion is open to each one of us.

We live in an era of information, I am told over and over. This is true – there is more of it, and mere freely available, than ever before. But how do we know what to believe? It’s like being drowned in gold coins. And each one needs to be bitten to see if it is real gold, or lead.  Which brings me to the concept of gatekeepers. We have been told, stridently and often, that indie published books must be crap because there are no gatekeepers. What the detractors don’t seem to get is that we are intelligent, educated, rational humans, and we can do our own gatekeeping, thankyouverymuch.

The gatekeepers have become corrupted. Drunk on power, they push their own biases, forgetting that they were supposed to sell to the masses, not the elitists who agree with them. But now, with the rise of independence, we have the luxury of becoming our own gatekeeper. It doesn’t take long for me to look at a book blurb, maybe the reviews, flip through a few pages, and know that I am interested in buying, or not. No longer online than it would take, standing in a bookstore. We are surrounded by the vast array of offerings, looking at what we want to, when we want it. It can make you a bit giddy at times. I know I indulge in book shopping far more often when presented with this option.

There was a time in my life I lived in dire poverty. I couldn’t get more books, for various reasons. Access to a library was limited, my personal library had been pruned down to a bare branch by many moves, and I was growing desperate. Enter the internet, and ebooks. Especially the Baen Free Library, although I had other favorite sites like manybooks and Project Gutenberg. It was like unlocking the vaults and allowing a starving man to take all he could carry. Now, I have the ability to find exactly what I want to read, no matter where I am, or what time it is, or what state of dress I am sporting. Leave my finances out of it, I am a rich woman.

I may not be able to allow visitors to gaze upon my magnificent collection and impress them with having all the right titles, since most of my reading is electronic, and besides, I own a varied library at best. I love ebooks, but I will admit that they don’t get the same reaction as an 1895 copy of Kipling, which was picked up reverently when I had it out in public, raised to an inch of her face, and sniffed thoroughly with a look of bliss and a comment of “I love the smell of old books!”  I love to share my favorites, and have been known to write notes in Literature class, and push them to a classmate with a ‘psst! check this book out!’ knowing that I am contributing to the downfall of a youth into the decadence of reading. I review new favorites, especially those by Indie authors, on my blog for the public to discover. We live in the lap of luxury and it’s lined with a pile of books.

And because I know you will all enjoy this: 30 best places to be if you love books!