Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘self-publishing’

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

Reality Check

Track sales, look for trends, they said.

Shudder.

But I did it anyway, and the take away is pretty straight forward. Being a visual type, I graphed it. This is the total sales in the first two months after it was published, in the order the books were published.

Read more

Reader Expectations: What’s Inside

This popped up at the Passive Voice the other day: https://booklife.com/create/art-design/06/28/2015/top-five-diy-book-layout-mistakes.html

Do your books look like books? No, not as in they have cover, pages, copyright info, table of contents, but if you borrowed someone else’s e-reader and compared your book to a Big 5 or small press book, does yours scream “Hi, I’m a bad Word to HTML conversion?” Read more

Trendy Trendsetters, All

There are trends, and then there are trends.

Look at it this way: you could be trendy and buy jeans with fake dirt on them, for $425. Frankly, I raised an eyebrow when I first saw this go viral, because it’s an interesting psychological study. We are, culturally, fetishizing the working man. Think about it. It’s like guys buying used women’s underwear. It makes them feel like they’re sexy. Dirty pants? Sexy also, I guess. I mean, look at this book cover, and tell me that guy isn’t wearing dirty pants. For that matter, it you scroll through the romance listings, you’ll quickly note that there are some strong trends, and two of them are rich guys (who presumably could afford the fake-dirty jeans) and tough guys (who presumably don’t need no fake-dirty jeans). There are a LOT of writers putting out stories for the trends. But what happens when the trends end?

I suspect there’s a growing market segment that would like to see more sweet romance. I know I hear that from people I talk to – and the one romance I’ve indulged in, I kept sweet. Not just because my Mom and grandma were going to read it (Hi, Mom!) but because it worked better for the characters. I didn’t see a need to write to a trend. I’m not knocking it – there are writers making a ton of money because they are playing to the market and surfing the wave. I just can’t do it myself.

But then there are other trends. The ones that slowly build, and build, and then suddenly take off like a rocket. Susannah Martin interviewed Brad Torgerson and I about the self-publishing trend, and I highly recommend you click on over to her article.

But don’t forget to come back here after!

It’s not that I have anything else exciting to say… Oh, who am I kidding. I have a book.

Persistence has paid off, and two long years after the publication of my last novel, my seventh novel is now available for sale. It’s not out in print yet – that will be about two weeks from now. I could probably just not bother, but it is rather nice to hold this hefty chunk of paper in one’s hand and say ‘I wrote this.’ Right now, I’m looking at all of you out there, readers, because I know most of you are also writers. Two things: one, don’t give up on the story even if you feel like you can’t do this, or you can’t do this fast, or life is in the way of it happening. Keep working on it when you can. I got to a few points with this book where I was doggone good and ready to give up on it. Even my First Reader couldn’t help much, he was too close to it. In the dedication I thank my Mom, and one of my best friends, who both read it as alpha readers (before it was done) and egged me on to finish it. Mom actually was reading it as I wrote the end, because I was working on it in a shared Google Doc file. It was funny to see her colored cursor following mine as the words came out on paper, er, screen, and to have the comments in the side bar when I goofed up, or she wanted clarification on a thing. I wouldn’t recommend that for most situations, but it really did help me finish. I had to, so Mom could read it all!

Second, whack your inner perfectionist on the head and gag her. This book isn’t what I started out to write. Which is not to say that I don’t think I’ve produced a good book – it’s not the book I’d intended. It grew organically in ways I didn’t expect. But Cedar, I can hear you say, you’re a pantser, don’t they all go that way? Sort of. Only they don’t all take two years to finish. I think the longest I’ve taken before this is the Eternity Symbiote, and it’s got issues, being my first novel written and with a half-assed ending. I changed, as a person, my life was radically different, by the ending of the tale. That affects my writing. And that’s why I needed the reassurance from early readers that yes, I was on the right track, and no, I didn’t need to scrap it all.

My main concern was that the pacing was too slow, and that the characters would develop erratically. In the end, I think that although there’s not a lot of action – and by that I mean exciting combat scenes – the pacing does work. And I think that the growth arc is consistent. But I couldn’t see that while I was in the middle of it. I encourage you to not rely on your own perceptions if you are working on a similar problem with your writing.

Oh! Check out the awesome blurb Dorothy Grant created for the book!

When the starship’s captain died midway through a run with a cargo of exotic animals, the owner gave first mate Jem one chance, and one choice. The chance: if he successfully runs the trade route solo, he’ll become the new captain. If he fails, he’ll lose the only home he’s ever known.

And the choice? He’s now raising an old earth animal called a basset hound. Between station officials, housebreaking, pirates, and drool, Jem’s got his hands full!

Indie does not mean Alone

I was talking with my mother the other day about writing and publishing. Mom is a good writer, and has nonfiction articles published, but not yet her fiction. I’m looking forward to her fiction being complete, and it’s not just that I’m biased toward my mom. But the conversation, and another comment I’d seen on social media, got me thinking. I’ve chosen an independent career, but that does not mean I operate alone.

As I am preparing a book for publication, it has already been read, commented on, edited, and not just by one or two other people. For this book I had an unusually high number of alpha readers. It had three, my First Reader, and two others I could trust not to blow smoke in my *ahem* but to tell me if they saw real problems. Most books don’t need that many – may not need any at all – but for this one where I was struggling with my confidence and inability to distance myself from the story, they are the only reason I finished it.

Once the book was finished in rough draft, I sent it off the beta readers. The comment I’d seen another author make, about only ever using two to three readers, always the same ones, and ones who wouldn’t steal the manuscript, rather boggled me. One, that height of paranoia bordering on arrogance… The manuscript is worth stealing, really?! And further, stealing when there is an easy record of who sent it to whom and when? But besides that pathology, there is a pitfall to using that few beta readers, and never changing them up. If life happens, and it will, you the author are left with even less feedback. And two to three readers is insufficient. Sarah Hoyt taught me years ago that you don’t make significant changes to a manuscript unless three people independently tell you of an issue. And you aren’t going to get that with a tiny reader pool. Also, solicit opinions outside your usual readers. If you can get someone who has never read your stuff before, that’s great! They are less likely to suffer from confirmation bias towards your work and can objectively assess it. I’m not saying send your book to all and sundry. But I am forever grateful to my beta reading pool, who have helped my writing more than they can ever know.

But it doesn’t stop there. From a cover artist, to editors, the Indie Author team is often made up of hired professionals, networked and bartered services, or some combination of those. But rarely does the author work completely alone, and when they do, it handicaps their work. If none but them see the book, they are going to be blindsided by bad reviews.

James Young, a great mil SF author and occasional guest post here, put out a terrific post on cover art, but the process he outlines for working with an artist, from price settings to contracts, is good stuff for working with any professional. I’ve been on both sides of that equation, as author and artist. Let me tell you, it’s not fun to shell out money you can’t really spare for work that never gets done. What he says about the PayPal friends payment, and no recourse? Ever wonder why I wound up becoming a cover artist? I didn’t have a choice – that money was gone, and I needed a cover, but couldn’t afford it at the time. It was a great lesson and led to good stuff for me, but it hurt. I’d rather you learn from my mistakes than repeat them. On the flip side, as an artist, I’ve done work, not collected a deposit, and been out money for supplies and a bunch of time when the author suddenly backed out. Lesson learned: don’t work with certain people and always collect a non-refundable deposit before starting work.

It’s a collaborative effort all the way, what we do. From writing groups to, well, the Mad Genius Club, the great thing about Indie Publishing is that you’re never alone. That’s why I don’t say I’m self-published. I may be pressing the button, but I have a team at my back. Sometimes I am part of that team behind an author. I get silly proud when I see my covers on great books hoping them sell well. I will always be there when someone who is struggling with their confidence about being a writer wants an ear to listen. I have friends who put up with me moaning about how this book is horrible, terrible, no good and will never be finished. In the past I’ve had writing groups and critique groups where I was anonymous (great for developing thick skin towards criticism) and prompt groups… All those people are a part of my path to publication. I’m not alone, and neither are you.

 

Parasite load

“So nat’ralists observe, a flea

Has smaller fleas that on him prey;

And these have smaller fleas to bite ’em.”

Jonathan Swift, On Poetry: A Rhapsody

We’re all a cheerful heaving mass of parasites.  Parasites on parasites at times. A delightful thought, one of the joys of having a biologist write about writing…

Some of these parasites do no real harm – we can survive them, although we might do better without them. Some of course, do harm. They can maim, hobble, weaken and indeed kill. There are tales of cows being killed by mosquitos, by sheer blood-loss (not, thank heavens where I live). Other parasites stray a little… or even quite a lot into the area of commensualism, and right through to outright symbiosis.

It might, for example be said that the male anglerfish particularly in the deep-sea ceratiidae (the sea devils) is perfect example of parasitism that is essential to the survival… not of the host but the host’s products – well, offspring. Genes.

You see out in the deep blue desert – well, ocean, but it is de facto rather like a desert in that food is sparse and scattered (although there is plenty of water) – but it’s nutrient poor, deep and cold. The possibility of finding prey is small, and find sex when you need to breed, well, let’s put it this way, you’d have more luck finding a nudist colony in Riyadh. So the sea devil females have a way around this. They keep one… well I was going to handy, but it more like hanging around their butts.

Now, as I said food is scarce, and taking someone for dinner down there is well, usually digestive, for at least one. If you have ever seen an anglerfish you’d know they are like banks – a little dangly ‘bait’ on the end of the illicium – held just above a vast mouth full of evil teeth to make sure dinner doesn’t leave undigested. The males are more like politicians, they can somehow – despite having lousy noses or eyes or anything else except testes, find females in watery waste. Perhaps there is a sea-devil pub.

Once they find a female… they bite her. This may be just as well as she’s all too well equipped to bite them, and they’re small and feeble compared to her. Females need to be big to accommodate a lot of relatively large eggs – males do not.

And at this point things get really, really weird… as he bites and then releases an enzyme that digests the skin on his mouth, and her body, where he has bitten… and the ‘wound’ heals up with the male and female joined in sense humans can never experience. The male and female join at the tissue level, and share blood-vessels.

He gets what he needs to live directly from her bloodstream. The bits he no longer need atrophy. He’s there to be sperm when she needs it. Sometimes as many as eight males can be found like ticks that have actually grown into the host (and you see why biologists look at arts graduate sf writers blathering about ‘non-binary sex’ with amusement.).

I suppose too many would kill her, but it is a system that works, despite the fact that the parasitic males draw all their nourishment, and indeed oxygen from the host. Without them, the species would die. With them, individuals may.

It has parallels in our lives (and no I don’t just mean the waste of space who does little more than father children) and of course in the writing world.

Most of life involves ‘carrying’ a ‘freeloading parasite’ load which may do you (or at least humans in general) some good – or not. There’s a fine line between the benefits (if they exist) and the sheer cost of carrying this load. Governments (national and local) and bureaucrats with their slew of petty rules and associated costs and taxes are good example. Yes, they might protect you from being eaten, but they’ll make up for it by devouring much of your subsistence without doing much positive, most of the time. Still, rather like the male anglerfish, they’re supposed to be there when you need them.

In writing there is some difference of opinion as to who the degenerate freeloaders are. From the point of view of agents, traditional publishers, and at least some of retail, we are. We’re interchangeable widgets, sucking their blood and giving precious little in exchange. Without them, we are nothing, and while they need us as a group, as individuals we’re worthless, instantly exchangeable if we want too much of their precious lifeblood for doing the trivia we do. After all, any fool can write books. Look at Freer for example… It’s one point of view.

As with so much of writing, the point of view makes quite a difference, as I for one am reluctant to see myself as an exchangeable widget. However, while I may want and benefit some – or all – of the services that agents, Trad publishers, and retail provide (almost as an afterthought it seems at times) – I can do without them. Some writers can do very well without them, selling directly. You can certainly cut some of them, and benefit a lot from carrying less of a parasite load, and simply do what they do yourself, or contract it out for less. The agents, traditional publishers and retailers can do without me, but they cannot do without writers.

It then becomes – for the writer, anyway, an equation of can he survive and have his work thrive alone in the deep blue sea of making a living from writing, or does he need all, or some of the ‘parasites’ so they’re there at the right time, so his work does not fail to find readers. That equation varies from writer to writer. Honestly, I believe if you can, you’re wise to outsource proofing. Unless you’re a wiz at covers or the cost cannot be met, well, they’re your display. If you can afford – and if you can find a good structural editor, take this opportunity with both hands. They can turn a mediocre or even bad book into something great, just by finding where and how to tweak it. This is difficult, because most Trad publishing houses don’t have them either. Copy editors have value, but seriously, most of them are widgets. If you find one that isn’t, hang onto them. Marketing… well IF you can do it well, great, if you will probably do it better than any publisher’s employee, even though they have the contacts etc. You will work only for you. He or she will work for the publisher – who has lots of irons in the fire. Even outsourcing here is tricky – so much marketing these days is social media.

When it comes to retail – unless you have a social media platform par excellence and/or a mailing list, retail still are ‘have to have’. That’ll cost you. But some parasite load has to be carried.

It’s always good to know what you’re carrying, and to work out if it has value relative to the cost.

Otherwise ditch the sucker.

As the anglerfish didn’t say, ‘there are plenty more fish in the sea.’

And biology is very useful for designing implausible aliens.

Indie or Traditional?

Wow, there is so much I could blog about this week. After a month or more of trying to figure out what to blog about, there has been a flood of topics. There is the news that the Supreme Court has refused to hear Apple’s appeal of the price fixing judgment. (Has Apple ever failed to reach this level before?)  Then there is the news about Samhain shutting its doors. Let’s not forget Randy Penguin’s announcement that it is laying off a “number” of people at Berkley/NAL, including four editors. Those are just a few of the possible topics that came across my desk this week.

All are great topics but a video I saw over at The Passive Voice caught my eye the most. Well, to be honest, it was the comments that really caught my eye. I’ve not seen so many “bless his heart” comments in a long while. That was enough to have me sit through the almost six minutes to find out why this unnamed fellow deserved so many Southern “blessings”.

Before we get into the heart of the video, let’s start with what we know — or don’t know — about the man making it. He is, apparently, an agent. He is from Great Britain. His accent and reference to pounds instead of dollars sort of gives that away. But that’s it.

Now to the video, “Seven reasons why you shouldn’t self publish” (His reasons are italicized)

1.It’s expensive because you have to pay for jacket design, “all the photos”, copy editing and proofreading. He goes on to say he doesn’t feel comfortable with any system that forces authors to pay money to enter the marketplace.

Oh, my. Where to begin?

First of all, you don’t have to hire someone to design your cover. There are templates out there you can download for free. There are detailed instructions to walk you through building your cover. There are free photo manipulation programs as well. As for “all the photos”, I don’t think I have ever paid more than $10 for cover elements. I will admit that I don’t build my own covers, not the final versions. I find what I want and then talk to Sarah or Cedar or a couple of others I know and then trade services. I will copy edit/proofread if they will make what I have drafted as a cover look good. (I’ll admit right here that lettering is my downfall.)

As for the copy editing and proofreading, I admit to shaking my head when this so-called agent didn’t mention content editing. Again, copy editing and proofreading are services you can trade off with other authors for. Effective use of beta readers will also handle a lot of those issues. So, again, no money out of pocket. Nor did this agent mention the fact that there are writers who are traditionally published and who pay to have their work edited before they send it to their publishers because they have learned the hard way that is the only way quality editing will happen.

But what really had me scratching my head was his comment about not being comfortable with any system that “forces authors to pay money to enter the marketplace.” At first, I wondered if he was conflating self-publishing with publishing through a vanity press. After all, those presses, and I use that term loosely, are notorious for making authors pay large sums of money for the production of the books and then forcing the authors to buy a certain number of books that they then have to hand sell.

Then he went on to say that the expense of producing a book should be the responsibility of “big corporations”. Okay, that’s to be expected from someone who makes his living by selling his clients’ work to these traditional publishers. But does he really think authors don’t get that, by going with a traditional publisher, you are paying them in a way? Not only is the author signing over rights to their book for a period of time, they are also giving up the majority of any moneys that might come in from sales of the book. Giving up that money is, if you are honest about it, paying the publisher to publish you. That is especially true regarding e-books when there is no shipping cost, no storage cost, no printing cost and, if you are really honest about it, no editing cost because the book has already been edited. Yet, the authors still receive less than 50% of the royalty in many contracts for digital sales.

2. Self-publishing is complicated.

I’ll admit it. This is the sort of statement that has me digging my heels in and deciding I will do something just because someone says it’s too complicated for my little brain to comprehend. In this case, the agent says that it is complicated because you have to do typesetting, jacket designs, blurbs, etc. First, this seems to be at odds with the above when he said it cost so much to have all that done. Second, I repeat what I said. There are templates, etc., out there and they are easy to follow. Third, you have to have a blurb ready when you send the book to an agent — and your elevator pitch, etc. — and some publishers actually want an author’s input on such things. So, again, where is the problem?

3. “Rule of Life”. 

He used the example of a doctor shouldn’t diagnose himself to show that an author shouldn’t be his own publicist. I’ll admit that he was right when he said that a lot of writers are introverts and suck at promotion. I know I do. But there is something else he didn’t mention. Most publishers want their authors to have a “platform”. They want you to blog and be active on social media, etc., In other words, they want you to be your own publicist. Agents look for that sort of thing as well. The last time I went shopping for an agent, most of them wanted to know what my platform was and what sort of promotion I was already doing and what I would do in the future. So, why should an author worry about having to do something as an indie if he would have to do it anyway with a traditional publishing contract?

4. “Why should I wait weeks and months for someone to get back to me and then I won’t even get any feedback?” (Paraphrased)

See my comments under 5 since it relates back to this.

5. Indie publishing puts off agents and publishers.

He says this is because the author has missed the “debut bloom”. He goes on to say that you need to sell in the high five figure to hundreds of thousands of copies of your indie book to impress a publisher.

That’s when I fell out of my chair, laughing hysterically. Yes, it scared the dog and the cats looked at me like I’d lost my mind. Of course a traditional publisher would like someone with that sort of history to come knocking on their door. Unfortunately for the indie author, the track record of traditional publishers maintaining that level of sales for the author after signing a contract is poor. Part of it is that they don’t promote the author like the author promoted herself. Part is the difference in pricing. More folks will buy an e-book at $4.99 (or lower) than they will at $12.99. Not that traditional publishing gets that. They simply see a higher profit margin instead of more of a lower margin. There comes a point in profit where you will make more by selling more at a lower cost.

What he didn’t say, and what may have been at the back of his mind, is that agents and publishers are scared of indie authors. Sure, they might sign one to a contract but they know the indie author knows what sort of money she made on her own. She knows how to read royalty statements and, more importantly from the author’s point of view, she knows that she has an alternative to traditional publishing. She knows she doesn’t have to be tied to traditional publishing to make money or get her books into the hands of her fans.

6. It’s a short cut.

Duh. Of course, he isn’t talking about the time from completion to submission to acceptance to publication if you go the traditional route. He’s talking that you aren’t going through the gatekeeper and, therefore, you may be putting out sub-standard work. He talks about how a writer’s first — and maybe even his second, third and fourth — novel should be consigned to the bottom drawer.

I will admit that he is probably right here. I know that my first novel was best suited for bonfire fodder. I also suspect that there are some first novels making it into the self-published venues. The reality is, someone may buy that book and be burned. That may turn them off of indie books, or at least make them more leery about buying one. That is why the preview function for e-books is so important. It lets readers have a sample of what they are considering buying.

That said, the real issue from the traditional publishing standpoint is that indie is a short cut and bypasses the gatekeepers. It is a boon for readers because they can find just about anything they want.

7. It stops writers from writing.

Yes and no. Yes, as an indie author I have to make sure my work is edited and there is a good cover for it, etc. However, if I were traditionally published, I’d still have to go over editorial notes (or I should). I should also have page proofs to check. As mentioned above, I would still have to be doing my own promotion and maintain my own platform. The only thing I might not have any input on is the cover.

None of this is a condemnation of traditional publishing. It is the route best for a number of authors. I wouldn’t walk away from an offer if it came from Baen because I know the sort of books put out by the house and I trust Toni and company to remember that their authors aren’t interchangeable widgets (something other publishers fail to keep in mind). But it isn’t the only game in town any longer and authors need to remember that. After all, a publisher has only so many slots per month. Of those slots, there are even fewer slots for a “new” author. As indie has shown us, there are many more good to excellent books being written than there are slots available. That is a good thing for the reader and, as writers, aren’t they the ones we have to ultimately win over?

And, since I am bad at self-promo, I’d better take advantage of this opportunity to push some of my work.

Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3)

War isn’t civilized and never will be, not when there are those willing to do whatever is necessary to win. That is a lesson Col. Ashlyn Shaw learned the hard way. Now she and those under her command fight an enemy determined to destroy their home world. Worse, an enemy lurks in the shadows, manipulating friend and foe alike.

Can Ashlyn hold true to herself and the values of her beloved Corps in the face of betrayal and loss? Will honor rise from the ashes of false promises and broken faith? Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs are determined to see that it does, no matter what the cost.

Slay Bells Ring

Fifteen years ago, Juliana Grissom left Mossy Creek in her rear view mirror. She swore then she would never return for more than a day or two at a time. But even the best laid plans can go awry, something she knew all too well, especially when her family was involved.

Now she’s back and her family expects her to find some way to clear her mother of murder charges. Complicating her life even further is Sam Caldwell, the man she never got over. Now it seems everyone in town is determined to find a way to keep her there, whether she wants to stay or not.

Bodies are dropping. Gossip is flying and Juliana knows time is running out. After all, holidays can be murder in Mossy Creek.

Nocturnal Challenge (Nocturnal Lives Book 4)

The one thing Lt. Mackenzie Santos had always been able to count on was the law. But that was before she started turning furry. Now she finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy to keep the truth from the public-at-large. She knows they aren’t ready to learn that monsters are real and they might be living next door.

If that isn’t enough, trouble is brewing among the shapeshifters. The power struggle has already resulted in the kidnapping and near fatal injury of several of Mac’s closest friends. She is now in the middle of what could quickly turn into a civil war, one that would be disastrous for all of them.

What she wouldn’t give to have a simple murder case to investigate and a life that didn’t include people who wanted nothing more than to add her death to the many they were already responsible for.

Volume

(Hokay. Post going up early because sucker no.1 has offered to go and load a few tons of hay for a friend who has hurt his leg. Normally, it’s two of us, and I’m half dead after, but this will be just be me, so I’ll be LATE home and very tired. And to show what a clever little monkey I am I agreed to go and load cows and catch squid (duh, of course they go together – cows on ferry) at 4.30 AM tomorrow – so if I take some time to reply, just say rhubarb a lot, and make bad puns and multiple entendres for me)

“Everything louder than everything else…”
Meatloaf, Bat out of hell II

Which ends up with now deaf people not buying much music…

Of course, volume might just possibly mean ‘amount’

Or “Pass me the second volume that vaunted tome: ‘Zen and the art of going to the lavatory’.”

Vaunted is like haunted but with more V, or possibly like the new cry being heard a lot in Germany, “You are not vaunted here. Go away.”

Yes, I am being ridiculous, it is what I do best, and I like to keep in practice. Of course I am also of the school of writer that believes that if the shotgun on the mantelpiece is mentioned in the first scene of my story… it will actually be used to blow someone’s head off, by the last scene.

What do I mean? Ah, dearie me. Always the hard questions for the monkey. I should be hard at work typing with the 9999 to produce a hitherto unseen volume of Shakespeare, but for you I will elucidate (which I believe means climb out of a window to elude your date with Lucy. Wonderful things portmanteaux words, with such logical meanings.).

What I mean is that, for me anyway, story universes (and possibly this real one) are too complicated to add too much in the way of meaningless verbiage or description. This is particularly true for me because my plots are quite Byzantine anyway, and I have a very small brain, which makes keeping it all arranged, all logical and interconnecting without too many loose ends free floating quite hard for me. It’s why I find writing voluminous books like the Heirs series very exhausting. I have a theory that for fast readers (who are your high volume readers) these big books — IF a lot happens in them (in other words, if every shotgun you see is used) are exhausting for that type of reader (not relaxing and pleasant). It is perhaps why there are so few Frank Herbert’s out there. That take more skill than most of us have.

There are certainly a lot which are big and fat books, but really the story in them is pretty slim. That’s driven by two things: 1) Sheer verbosity. 2) A demand for bigger books from publishers, who used paying the author the same money for fat book, but charging the reader more as a way of justifying putting book prices up, without putting the costs up by the same percentage. Some people wanted bigger, fatter books. They feel it is more value for their money. It’s a fair point and KOLL works rather like that. At least the author gets paid for the pages.

There is – just like the futility of everything louder than everything else – a need for balance in all of this – both for readers and writers. Padding (adding volume with verbosity) is a losing equation beyond a certain point for most readers, and writers. It’s hard to keep it interesting, when you have 50 pages of story and 500 pages of waffle, angst and dress descriptions. Yes, there are talented writers who can write anything entertainingly, even a shopping list. I do advise against assuming you’re one of them, unless you have the evidence to back it up.

Where volume really comes into its own is when it comes to providing readers with the second and third and fourth and fifth volume and so on in short order… so long as it is what they wanted (possibly not Zen and…) does seem to be the real route to success.

Volume… after volume. And yes, I am afraid that requires some vaunting – in the Merriam-Webster sense: ‘to call attention to pridefully and often’ – otherwise your volumes will lost in the surrounding volume.

The one downside of this is that you are likely to be haunted by any failure to keep up the quality – at which point, seriously, anonymity (a la V) and a new pseudonym are called for. It’s something at least one can do in the brave new world of Kindle. At least there we authors have a choice in the chaos to have careers of own, or return to the chains of traditional publishing (where pseudonyms had to be transparent to your publisher).

The biggest danger for our new revolution in Indy publishing is the sheer volume of new – and often really not very well-written or entertaining books (yes, Tradpub MADE the opening for Indy with really not very well-written or entertaining and expensive books, but there wasn’t much volume, and therefore not much choice.) But we Indy authors face a real challenge – fit in to what the public want, and make it well-written and entertaining… and not drowned in such a volume of drekk that no one finds it, or face ‘You are not vaunted, go away.’

Fortunately, there is a selection mechanism: there are no free benefits. You’re welcome to the successful and profitable country of independent publishing… no one is trying to keep you out – but leave TradPub culture behind you. Indy culture is different. It’s about work, not about connections, and political correctness in this environment. You are unlikely to get a ‘job’ –as so many of my TradPub colleagues have done (because they can’t sell enough to keep going) teaching creative writing at College as a failed Indy author. Nor will readers care about your skin color or sexual orientation or anything else, when choosing your book above another. It’s a harsh new country, as well as a rich one. I don’t believe the freeloaders will survive, and that’s one reason they hate it.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s back to typing my current WIP, a Love’s Labour’s Won…

Oh oh… I think I hear afar the sound of footsteps. It could be Lucy, looking for me, want for an explanation of where I vanished to on our date at the Olduvai club. She probably wants to give me a high volume jawing.

(Yes, I had fun. I hope you did.)

The Fading Stigmata of Self-Publishing

Gerry Martin pointed this article by Liz Long out to me, thanks, Gerry.

The publishing system isn’t broken by any means, but the stigma behind “traditional” and “indie” publishing has really gotten my goat lately.

I’m independently published, or self-published. What does that mean? It means I do not have an agent or traditional publisher backing me. It means that I’m in control of my stories, my edits, my covers, my marketing, and everything else that goes along with it. It means that I bust my ass working towards a dream.

Does it make me better than traditional authors? Nope. We all work hard to earn our keep; they just have a little extra help.

Does it make me worse than traditional authors? Still no. I’m not just chucking up the first draft and waiting for rave reviews to come in.

Things are changing and it’s time for folks to get on board before they’re left behind. I work in magazines, but it’s no secret that the indie waves are crashing down and changing the book publishing landscape. You know the stories – how Amanda Hocking self-published and rocked the publishing world to its knees when she became a bestseller without the help of the Big Six. How hundreds of authors are hitting NY Times and USA Today bestseller lists thanks to their fans and friends, to the straight up hustle it takes to earn such a title.

Self-published authors are not desperate losers (nor were they ever, but I like to think we’re more marketable now). Those of us in it to win it are not hoping to publish one book and get rich quick. I’m not quitting my job in the hopes of writing the “Next Great Novel” (because that plan doesn’t work for me).

I don’t need to be a traditionally published author to understand what goes into my books. I put on my pants like everyone else, going through the correct steps just like traditional authors do with their work: I have an editor to check my spelling and grammar, brilliant cover designers to catch readers’ attention, and a marketing team behind me so that I’m not in it alone and completely overwhelmed.

Read the whole thing here.

I think it is a slowly receding stigma – healing stigmata, if you want. When asked, I tell people I’m independently published. I own my publishing imprint, and because I have the background, I run it like a business. I do my level best to deliver a professional product to the consumer, just as if I weren’t the artist creating it in the first place. To that end, I’ve gathered a crew of people who help me with the bits I can’t manage on my own, like editing. And it’s not easy, it’s a ton of work. But I don’t expect to wind up on bestselling lists (other than on Amazon, where they count, being generated by real sales rather than projections).

As for the slowly fading, a movie comes out in a couple of months, created from a book that was originally self-published. I read The Martian back then, before it was bought by a ‘real publisher’ and optioned to be a movie. It was good. It’s still good. The only difference is who is handling it, and the level of publicity… and that’s making a wave through readers. If a self-published book can be good, then maybe others will be, too?

It’s not going to be overnight. But already, I’m seeing the readers care less about who handles the book and more about the story inside the book.

Brad Torgersen, commenting on the article, talked about his path into publishing,

It may be another generation before the unconscious “wall” totally collapses. Too many of us were born in the age when “self” and “vanity” were synonymous.

Kevin J. Anderson said it best: publishing has now been made *easy* but SUCCESS is still as hard as it’s ever been.

Speaking from my military experience, I think it’s inevitable human nature that people begin to check each other out according to what kinds of rites of passage each of us has endured. For the vast bulk of publishing history, “making it” with an editor was a celebrated rite of passage. You knew you were “for real” when you’d cut muster with an established magazine or novel house.

Certainly the three most joyous events in my entire publishing career to date have been (in order):

1 – winning Writers of the Future.

2 – getting my first sale to Analog magazine.

3 – getting a first novel sale with Baen Books.

I am a middle aged duffer. I come from the “old” world. I think the new world is exciting (and a relief) because now there is an amazing additional option that is available to everybody, and people are making money at it. But I also think it’s not perfect either. Especially when Amazon dominates so much of the marketing and delivery mechanism. If Amazon were to fold, or get draconian with its practices, indie publishing would be in a bad place.

 

Cedar brings up a GREAT point: indie publishing forces the writer to actually *be* “in the business” as it were. A lot of us from the “old world” of publishing (I guess I am technically a “cusper” because I broke in right when indie was exploding?) are absolutely shit businesspeople. You can’t be a shit businessperson and manage your indie career. You just can’t. You might luck into a phenomenon, such as 50 Shades. But that’s a one-in-a-million lightning strike. The working indie writer MUST be his/her own accountant, tax specialist, marketer, art department, etc.

I respect the HELL out of the successful indie writers I know, for this reason above all others. They are doing so much more than just writing books!

I ran into this perception with the first business I ran – and I was pitched into that one headfirst with no option but to learn how, or drown – and that is that artists can’t be businesspeople. Which is BS, and lazy. It’s a matter of learning, and even if you aren’t an Indie Publisher, you still have to learn how to be businesslike, or you will be taken advantage of. How many of us know writers who blithely signed over rights to a publisher than then ripped them off for that book, and possibly others? Brad’s been fortunate – or wise, and I know where I incline with that – in that he’s working with honorable publishers.

As for the fading stigmata, it’s going to take time. It’s going to take a raft full of authors willing to put in the time and effort to prove over and over that we can deliver professional products the public will enjoy reading, and that we can do this consistently. Right now, we’re getting our toes in the door by being able to deliver those products for less than the Big Five do. That won’t last forever – someone over there is going to get a clue and realize they have to choose between obscene profits on ebooks and keeping any bit of market share. Readers choosing between the $9.99 ebook and the $3.99 ebook will buy two or three of the latter before the former. If they really really want the expensive one, they will wait for a sale, or go to their library.

And like any scar, there may be lingering marks for a long time to come. Something makes me suspect that they may come to be a badge of honor, on the other hand. We’re working hard to make a go of it, and when you work hard, you get banged up. As much of a cliche as it is, something you have to work for is worth more than something that’s handed to you. I’ve seen that over and over.

In the meantime, the advice I offer everyone who asks about Indie?

  • Write. Write more. You will survive on quantity, not quality alone. Perfection is the enemy of good enough.
  • Go into it with your eyes open. It’s a sh*t-ton of work, and still, you’re going to trip over things you weren’t prepared to do when you started out.
  • Be patient. This is going to take time, and writing, and more writing – not all of it fiction.
  • If you opt out, read the contract. Have an IP Lawyer look at the contract. Even then, know that small publishers have the unfortunate problem that they will go belly-up on a surfeit of dreams and lack of capital.
  • Study the success stories. Larry Correia, who self-published his first book. Kevin Anderson, who writes like a machine AND runs a good-sized publishing house. Hugh Howey, the self-published man of mystery (just kidding. But he’s pretty nifty to watch work). There are others, but that’s a start.

 

 

Blast from the Past – Slap your brand on that maverick.

(Dr. Monkey, aka our own Dave Freer, is having internet problems. He offered to send us a post via coconuts but none of the rest of us felt up to fielding that many coconuts flung by Monkey, especially since his temper over the loss of internet was great. Yes, we fear the coconuts. Be honest, so do you. 😉 Anyway, here is a post Dave original published September 7, 2014. Enjoy!)

Alas, I am my own proof that the improbable does happen sometimes. My tribal name, out here beyond the black stump is ‘Worrier-with-too-many-bread-machines’ (which I believe you pig-ig’nrant foreigners all mispronounce as ‘Monkey’. You just keep it up. It does my vast self-importance a lot of good to have a good sneer at y’all.) You see, selling bread on the island is a de facto monopoly. A loaf costs more than double what it does on the mainland. People shrug and buy it, because you need bread. They’re quite used to it, as it has been like that for always and always (well, a good few years.) We only have one bakery, and they can charge what they like.

Well, unless you’re like me, mean as cats wee, and perpetually with something higher up the list to spend my money on (yes, of course I’m a rich author. I got 64 cents out of that last paperback you bought.) And with flour – which you can buy in bulk from the farmer’s co-op, yeast and a little oil, I can get away with spending a lot less. It isn’t bakery bread, but it is wholesome and good. I don’t care about the brand.

A while back I found that bread machines – which do all the tedious kneading for you, are cheap to throw-away second-hand items here in Oz. Mostly people scratch the Teflon on the bread pan, and that’s that. Or they get bored with the gadget. They’re well off enough that bought bread has no fear, and even less work. Now, I have a huge, small commercial oven (yes of course that makes sense. It’s huge if compared to a non-commercial oven. I can fit a 10kg roast pig into it, but not a full size pig). I like to cook, and I bought many years ago in a fit of temporary affluence. Being as I said, mean as cats wee, I fill it when I spend money on lighting it. I’ve got four bread machines –all repaired/tossed/ recycled bar one, two of which could still make bread, the others fit for dough, and I bake a big batch about every ten days. Rolls, buns, bread, pizza, everything, (and more) than I can buy, and done to suit my needs and tastes at a fraction of the price.

I get given these unloved machines –and bits of them, and, in my ample spare time, I coax more life out of them. I’ve just been given a fifth… the bread pan looks like someone used a garden fork to take out the last loaf. And lo, the improbable happened. The last bitsa I was given was bread pan in perfect nick… where the machine had been tossed years ago. And the bread pan… fits the new hand-me-down, like it was made for it, which, tah-dah, it was! You see, here brand does matter, does have value. The odds are beaten because both were from a common, popular, good make. If I was ever to buy a bread machine, it would be one of that brand, that type, especially if the design hadn’t changed much, because I have a lot perforce-learned skill at using one machine for parts.

So: what am I waffling on about? Obviously not bread machines. I’m talking about the value of brands. An author’s greatest single enemy is obscurity, not a lack of ability – we’ve all read drivel that makes you wonder just who the author slept with to get published, and some occasions, just how perverted that had to have been. Humans do explore, try new things… but especially if money is a factor, we tend to very wary about big spends on things we don’t know. Ergo: the value of brands and an author’s need for them.

As a writer, in theory, you have three possible brands.

1) Your traditional publisher could be your brand. In practice of course, they weren’t unless you were in Romance, or published by Baen. This part of the reason –as I see it anyway, for the endless attempts to denigrate Baen, often covertly but sometimes – as by Scalzi and recently, the individual kindly* renamed ‘the Dickless Weasel’ posting over in the Guardian last week. They hate that it works, but not for them and their little friendies.
2) You could win an Award – the award is a brand of sorts too.
3) And of course first and foremost YOUR NAME (which I mention third here, because, duh, it’s not really what a skill in writing makes you good at. It’s hard, and we have no tools, or budget for it, most of us. One is forced to do it, by necessity. We make a virtue of it, but really is it what authors should be doing?)

The thing, of course with a brand is that has value in itself. And that value needs to be nurtured, looked after and guarded if it’s going to keep being worth having, let alone grow. Authors need to be aware that they stand or fall by that brand reputation. You’re as good as your last book, or maybe two or three, if you’re an old brand (like the Hugo Awards are, or Larry Niven)

Potentially, that goes a lot further with Publishers, and indeed awards. Nurture should be their first name. Start to disappoint people and there goes many years of hard work -it’s easier to break than make. And it is largely self-inflicted injury: Attempting to diss a brand name may put off those who don’t know it, but it is a balancing act. If the brand was obscure, all you’re doing is making people notice it, and if it is a good product – or at least one that has faithful partisans, this is a stupid technique, because it tends to make those partisans vocal. Trying saying something derogatory about Apple Macs to see this in action.

Of course when it comes to awards we have a delusion with the partisans It is this ‘The Hugo/Nebula/Clark/Lambda is a great Award it will do wonders for your prestige and sales. You should be trying to win at all costs.’

Well, actually, no. Firstly there is a plainly inverse relationship here. For example Tim Neverheardofhim will benefit from winning any award. Jill Bestseller won’t much, if at all. She may actually lose sales if the award labels her book say literary and she does not sell to a highbrow audience. If it is a niche award appealing to an audience that already knows the author, it also definitely works against her. So a well-known lesbian author writing lesbian centered books getting a Lambda, basically won’t sell extra, and acts to constrain her sales to people who want to explore gay literature. It’s good news for the Lambda, not so good for the author. Of course to an obscure author it’s still a lift in that reading group.

Secondly: the value of an award is directly proportional to the popularity of works which have won the award in previous years. So: for example LotR wins a Hugo, the Hugo gains huge exposure to people in parts of society that wouldn’t know what it was, and the next year ‘Hugo winning’ has a great value. Only the next year it goes to Joe Unknown’s Piece of Drekk, because a bunch of Joe’s friends and rellies get together and push it. Or Joe is an outspoken albino lesbian transvestite, great at raising awareness, just not a great novelist…or Joe is a Neo-Nazi with a loyal blog following, and mediocre books. Joe will sell very well on the year before’s reputation. The year that follows, will sell largely off Joe’s popularity with some effect from the prior years. It’s a complicated calculation, as an award has a certain historical value, which is degraded by poor quality winners, or by winners which exclude a large section of the buying public.

Thirdly, there is a retroactive effect. Let’s say, you, Fred FairlyGood, at the height of your game, won a Hugo just between Jill Bestseller and Mary Alsobestseller. Fred will continue to benefit from the Hugo for many years… as long as the reputation of the award remains for great, broad appeal books. If the award is hijacked by a partisan group that have very limited appeal (regardless of who that group is). Fred’s award value declines, as well as the future value to any winner.

So: it is to everyone’s – except Joe Unknown’s shortsighted self-interest, each year (and even Joe should want it to go to someone reputable and with broad appeal next year and as many years as possible.) to have the award go to as broadly popular authors as possible, and that the competition appears credible, fair and unbiased. Its value its reputation. And, unless it is a niche award -That value is only enhanced by works that have very broad appeal – in other words, by authors with a large following, and are putting up their best work. Otherwise they’re at best coasting on someone else’s tail, and at worst, rapidly degrading the value of the award.

It’s why Baen did so many co-authored books – with rather good co-authors but less well-known ones Flint with Drake for example – not as is typical out there to get a cheap BIGNAME book (with in small print the actual author’s name, below), by using a cheap minor author, which de facto cheats the minor author, cheats readers, and makes a short term profit for the publisher (who places no value on their brand) and the BIGNAME who is either vain enough to think he/she is famous enough to ignore preserving their brand, or just stupid.

Hugos, with a long history have been slowly coasting towards obscurity, with the value and interest dropping, because the nominations and awards overwhelmingly went to a narrow sector of the political spectrum, a sector which sells quite little. While this was disguised and a pretense was made that it just wasn’t so… some credibility was retained, but it seeped away, year after year. Eventually the Hugo award would become a trivial thing, already it is a long way from Dune/Lord of Light. Then first John Ringo IIRC made some public noise about it. Gradually more authors and readers became aware. Larry Correia- who cares more for the genre and the history than it deserves – broke it into the open. And the reaction of the left partisan bloc was predicted, and they did precisely what they were predicted to do, to the enduring shame of all those who participated in the process. You managed to bring the Hugos and the left wing into disrepute. The tactics used in attacking Larry’s character and reputation will stain the award for years.

If it was my brand, I’d be in tears. If I had won in the past or hoped in the future, I’d be devastated.
If it was my brand it wouldn’t have happened. I’d have protected it.

Looking at next year… Those invested in genre and the award, particularly those who have been nominated/won before (or are fans of those who have), and, as this very ideologically biased, have most to lose if the award does not recapture its credibility. It needs establish that it is not ideologically driven. The only way anyone who isn’t hard left and blinkered is going to believe that… is if the noms and awards take a sharp turn away from the left, and have some very popular authors with a large following who are center and right wing — and they’ll have to do it for a good few years. The problem, of course, is twofold. If anyone who is not an outspoken left-winger is going to be attacked by the same creeps as this time, you’ll have repeat of this year, and more damage, and secondly… who are you going to get? There are dozens of outspoken left wing authors in traditional publishing, some with a fair size following – probably most of what there is to have in their niche (which is a small part of whayt is out there). Traditional publishing skews hard left, that’s just about all they’ve done for years. It’s very available, expensive, and made to suit the sellers, not the market. Rather like bakery bread here. Not selling that well, now that people are feeling the pinch. But you can find fifty virtually indistinguishable clones of the current Hugo winners very easily.

The other side is hard to find. They make their own bread, mostly. It’s generally cheaper, more varied. While there are actally quite a lot of center/right authors doing very well as indies, the list in ordinary traditional publishing of people selling 100k + copies is tiny anyway, and those who aren’t outspoken left wing is miniscule. Larry Correia was literally the Hugos best bet.

So to those who wish to retain some value for the award. I suggest you start looking for suitable bestselling nominations… that have no trace of left wing about them. Good luck trying. Most of those mavericks are more likely to kick you than go along quietly to wear your brand and add value to it.

If it happened tome (yes, I know, more chance of falling pregnant. I’m a hack, and contented with that label), well my brand is too valuable to me to let that on be put on it. I’ll settle for home baked, at least I know I can trust it.
And there is a fair amount of home-baked bread to suit all tastes available here.

*I would have called him God’s gift to Coprophagia.

***

Here are a few of my favorite books by Dave. If you haven’t already, check them out!

Stardogs

Revolution rises!

The Interstellar Empire of Man was built on the enslavement of the gentle Stardogs, companions and Theta-space transporters of the vanished Denaari Dominion. But the Stardogs that humans found can’t go home to breed, and are slowly dying out.

As the ruthless Empire collapses from its rotten core outward, an Imperial barge is trapped on top of a dying Stardog when an attempted hijacking and assassination go horribly wrong. Trying to save its human cargo, the Stardog flees to the last place anyone expected – the long-lost Denaari motherworld.

Crawling from the crash are the Leaguesmen who control the Stardogs’ pilots by fear and force, and plan to assassinate Princess Shari, the criminal Yak gang, who want to kill everyone and take control of a rare Stardog for their own, and an entourage riddled with plots, poisons, and treason. But Shari and her assassin-bodyguard have plans of their own…

Stranded on the Denaari Motherworld, the castaway survivors will have to cooperate to survive. Some will have to die.

And some, if they make it to the Stardogs breeding ground, will have to learn what it means to love.

Joy Cometh With The Mourning: A Reverend Joy Mystery
Reverend Joy Norton is a timid city girl, and she’s never been the primary priest in any parish. When her bishop sends her out to a remote back-country church, she doubts both her ability and her suitability. Those doubts grow when she hears of the mysterious death of her predecessor. But from the first encounter with her congregation — having her little car rescued from a muddy ditch, she finds herself deeply involved with her parishioners and touched by their qualities and eccentricities. Which makes it worse for her to think that one of the people she’s coming to care for murdered the previous priest…

 

Slow Train to Arcturus

Make Tracks to the Stars!

0 Ye civilized of Earth: send forth your outcasts, your primitive throwbacks, your religious fundamentalists, your sexual separatists—and heck, you can even toss in your totalitarian crackpots in the bargain. Pack them all in sealed habitats, rocket them into space, and pronounce good riddance to those lunatics, oddballs and losers!

But if you happen to be an alien explorer stranded on that ship and looking to find a way home Well then, your one chance lies in seeking out the true iconoclasts in a sea of nutcase societies—for verily, it is only the absolutely original and terminally weird who shall inherit the stars!