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Posts tagged ‘social media’

It is a business. . .

So treat it as one. Yesterday, as I was looking at FB, I came across a post from someone I respect a great deal. He also has one of the most unverifiable jobs there is in publishing. No, not reading the slush pile, although that is part of his job. He has taken it upon himself to do what so many publishers don’t do. He responds to those who send something in, letting them know whether or not their work has met the minimum threshold to be passed up the line for further consideration. Believe me, that is definitely more than a number of publishers do. Too many simply never get back to you unless they are interested.

What caught my eye with his post was how unprofessional someone had been in response to his email letting them know their story had not been passed up the line. Now, I know how it stings when you get a rejection. It’s like someone telling you your baby is ugly. But it happens and we have to accept it with grace and move on. Yes, we can kick and scream and curse in public but you do not send a note back telling the editor how wrong they were. Nor do you tell them that the title has been published during the time the editor was considering it, especially if the editor has gotten back to you in less than half the time they say it normally takes.

And that is where this particular author screwed up. Not only did they send back an unprofessional note to the editor, insuring he will remember the author and not in a good way, but he went ahead and self-published the book without removing it first from consideration by the publishing house. That is two very big strikes and, in this case, the author doesn’t get a third strike before he’s out.

There there is this post from over at The Passive Voice. Yet another author powering up his computer when he should have been walking away from it. In this case, he submitted his work for consideration to an agent, said agent rejected it and then made the mistake of not remembering the work when she and the author met for a face-to-face pitch session. Never mind that the agent probably receives thousands of submissions each year. Never mind the agent had been seeing other authors with other pitches that particular day. She obviously hadn’t read his earlier submission or she would have remembered it. How dare she!

So, instead of asking himself why he had just received rejection #319, this author decided it was a good idea to go onto his blog, name the agent and then proceed to try to shame her for her actions — or should I say inaction?

As I read his post, all I could think of was a situation five or so years ago where an author went on a tirade on his blog against his editor who had sent back edits he didn’t agree with. By the time his agent saw, or heard about, the post, it had gone viral. Yes, he finally took it down, but the damage had been done. I have a feeling that author is still trying to climb out of the hole he dug for himself.

In this instance, the author was so tied up with his own ego, he didn’t realize that he was shooting himself in the foot when it came to doing what he wanted — getting an agent. This time, the agent he was attacking took screen caps of his blog and then did her own post about what happened. That post has been picked up and is making the rounds of social media. The author now has the reputation of being, at worst, an online bully and, at best, someone who can’t control himself.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. If you are a writer, you have to treat your writing as your business. That means you have to be businesslike in your dealings with others in the industry, especially if you are trying to get them to buy your work or act as your agent. Ask yourself before writing that scathing blog or tweet or FB post if you would be doing this if the person in question was someone you had interviewed with for a mundane job (something not related to writing). Is it something you would want a perspective employer reading before your interview with them?

Remember, the internet is forever. Just because you take a post down, it doesn’t follow that the post hasn’t been memorialized elsewhere. So pull your head out of your ass and think before hitting the send button. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when you find you have just killed your chances for a traditional publishing career.

To pirate or not to pirate, that is NOT the question

Over the last few days, social media has been alive — again — with author outrage over e-book piracy. Apparently someone on Facebook started a thread on her wall asking for recommendations for pirate sites where she could download e-books for free. It’s no surprise that the authors were up in arms. After all, no one likes seeing work they have up for sale in one place being offered for free — without permission — somewhere else. But, when the woman who started the thread started blocking those who didn’t agree with her, and when others started attacking those who pointed out what they were advocating was stealing, the internet exploded.

I’m on the record as being against piracy. I’m also realistic enough to know there is little we can do about most pirate sites. Those who are often the worst offenders aren’t located in the U.S. They have little concern for the law or for takedown notices. The time and money that it often takes to get that site in the Ukraine or elsewhere can be better spent writing my next book.

What does get me, however, is the attitude of people like the OP and her supporters who have this sense of entitlement to our work. Like so many in society today, they feel they have the right to take our work without compensation, because they want it. In this case, the OP claimed, from what I’ve read, that she was “poor”. Yet she either had internet or the means to get somewhere there was internet. She had access to a computer, tablet or smartphone to post her request. That request also meant she had access to something that allowed her to read e-books. Oh, and from what those who have purportedly seen her post and Facebook page have said, she is a photographer. Hmmm, I wonder if she gives her work away for free.

One of the commenters said that he had no problem pirating e-books because writers make enough money as it is. Yes, I laughed. He suffers from the Castle Syndrome — thank you very much, ABC. For every Stephen King or Nora Roberts, there are thousands of authors working one or two jobs to make ends meet.

From personal history, one of the sites that did — and possibly once again does — have my books listed, they also listed the number of times a title had been downloaded. I lost several thousand dollars from just that site alone. I was lucky, however, because they did take down my books when I contacted them. But I have to spend time every few months going back and seeing if my work has once again found its way onto their menu. That money could have been put to good use doing things like, oh, paying bills.

Much as I hate pirate sites, I know they also serve a purpose, limited yes, but a purpose. The problem is that they also cause issues with retail sites like Amazon and B&N, etc. If those sites learn that our work is being “sold” for less somewhere else, they will send notice, telling us we need to either price match or risk having our work removed from the legitimate site. Fortunately, the few times that has happened with me, either the pirate sites have taken my work down when I’ve sent them a DMCA notice or Amazon, etc., have accepted my explanation that the offending site is a pirate site and has failed to respond to the DMCA notice.

But, when someone tells me they have the right to pirate my work because they like to read and can’t afford my work, well, that does get my dander up. First is the sheer audacity of it all. What is it about our society, both here in the U.S. and elsewhere, that has bred this mentality in some people? I have been known to ask people like that if they are willing to give away their own hard work to someone just because that person wants it.

The argument spotted in the Facebook thread from one person saying they like to read, so they should be able to pirate any book they want, almost had me beating my head against the desk. There are libraries, and most libraries now allow you to borrow e-books, if you want to read something for free. There’s Project Guttenberg. Amazon and other e-tailers offer hundreds to thousands of free titles. That’s more than enough for someone who wants free books to read.

Jim Baen proved the validity of the “give the first taste for free” with the Baen Free Library. Unfortunately for writers, there are some out there who believe every taste should be free. Fortunately, they are in the vast minority.

Here’s the thing. Writing is a business. It is our profession. The reason the vast majority of writers hold down a “real” job — or two — is because writing doesn’t pay a lot. Not when you consider the number of hours an author spends writing and preparing a book for publication. If that author then publishes that book traditionally, his income is cut even further per unit sold. Most of us don’t live in fancy apartments in New York, play poker with famous Hollyweird folks and go out solving crimes with NYC detectives. Most of us are lucky if we can replace our laptops before they wear out.

Here is something else to consider. Most of us are also very thankful to our fans and are more than willing to send a free e-book to a fan in need. I would much rather do that — and have done that.

Now, I know there are going to be some of you out there who will note the high prices of e-books coming from certain publishers. Those books, if I have to read them, I borrow from the library. Sure, it means I won’t get to read it as soon as I might like but I am still sending money to the author that way. The only time I will even consider pirating a book is when it is something so obscure that it hasn’t been published here and isn’t available through any legitimate means — and I have to have a pressing need for it. Funny, I haven’t found anything like that, yet. I have always managed to find an alternative. However, I know there are some reference materials that aren’t available through anything here in the U. S. except pirate sites. Fortunately for my conscience, I haven’t had to use those materials yet.

So here’s the thing, folks. Just because there are pirate sites out there, that doesn’t mean you need to use them. If the download links go anywhere but to Amazon or another legitimate e-tailer, you are taking money out of the hands of the author. If you legitimately can’t afford an e-book, contact the author. I have a feeling if you do, and if you explain your circumstances, they won’t hesitate to send you a copy. That’s especially true if you offer to leave a review for the book when you finish reading it.

Most of all, don’t be a butthead about it. If you are going to pirate, that’s between you and your conscience. Don’t go to Facebook or Twitter, etc., and ask in a post authors can see that you want recommendations for pirate sites. It tends to get our backs up, especially if you then start blocking those who point out that what you are doing is wrong. And, authors, take a page out of Jim Baen’s book. Offer your work for free from time to time to hook new readers. Your bottom dollar will come to appreciate it.

Most of us are amateurs and thieves if you listen to some folks

Last week, I wondered if we were in a perpetual full moon phase because of all the craziness that seemed to be going on. Little did I know that the craziness was just beginning. In the time since that post went live, we’ve seen an author on Amazon taking the fight to reviewers because they didn’t like his book, another author going on a rant because of another writer’s politics and espousing the fact that you aren’t a “professional writer” if you self-publish on Amazon and then the latest from HarperCollins, once again proving that legacy publishers look at their customers as thieves. Foolishness, just foolishness with a sense of entitlement thrown in.

Starting from the top. . . .

For years, Sarah and I have inflicted on our friends and people we’ve done workshops with a certain book we found at an RWA conference. This book has been an example of not one what you shouldn’t do as a writer but also the fact that publishers will buy bad books and put money behind them, making them successful enough to become a series. While the book isn’t Eye of Argon bad, it comes close. So close, in fact, that I never thought to find one worse. Until we were introduced to a book in the Diner on Facebook. From a cover the author worked on for years but which screams amateur to poorly written prose, it is a prime example of why you always check the preview samples before buying a book.

That, in and of itself, wouldn’t be enough to cause comment here. What does is the behavior of the author himself. Ten reviews have been posted since the book was first published. The average rating for the book is two stars. Now, that’s not all that unusual. You can find bad books on Amazon and other retailers without much difficulty. Where this one differs is what happens with the reviews. This is the first time I have seen so many comments regarding the posted reviews. The author continues to try to refute the bad reviews — heck, he even tries to refute anything negative that might be in the good reviews — to the point that it goes beyond just being invested in what is obviously a story he believes in. His straw arguments are that you can’t review a book unless you buy it and read all of it. This comes after he has invited folks to read the first five chapters — or the preview on Amazon — and post what they think.

When that argument doesn’t work, he either completely ignores the specific critiques or he chooses one obscure point a reviewer has made and latches onto that with a death grip in an attempt to prove the critic has an agenda he is working and that is why he didn’t like the book. The accusations from the author have ranged from envy because he is such a good writer and the critic will never be able to write a book to the critic not being smart enough to understand what he was striving for in the book (mind you, this is a book the author says is for children) to religious bias and, quite possibly some sort of global conspiracy. He comes across as condescending and more than a bit “off”. That is never good when it comes to engaging with your readers.

As tempting as it is to respond to negative reviews and to try to explain why you wrote something the way you did, don’t. Just don’t. It isn’t going to help you any and it will drive you crazy trying to keep up with reviews and, worse, trying to make everyone happy. Write your own book, pull up your big boy — or girl — pants and take your lumps. There is going to be someone who leaves a review that has you scratching your head and wondering if they read the same book you wrote. Move on to your next project after you finish the first one instead of trying to guard the gate and defend it against the naysayers. If you just have to defend it, don’t, absolutely do not, claim that some unnamed person who holds some super important job that is so important you can’t name the job or the employer or the person himself read you book and loved it. The moment you do, you will be called on it.

As I said, pull up your big boy pants, kiss your darling book goodbye and send it off into the world to sink or swim.

In the next example of what not to do, don’t go onto Facebook or other social media to rant and rave — and, in the process, show your own fear of the changing face of publishing. In this particular example, an author ranted that they would have loved to join a professional writers group but for the organizer’s politics. The tone left no doubt that the organizer — who at least wasn’t named in the rant — was a wrong thinker and didn’t follow the current cause du jour of traditional publishing. My first thought as I read the rant was to wonder if the author put the same sort of requirement on authors they read as they obviously did on authors they might network with. For myself, as a reader, I don’t give a flying rat’s hairy butt what an author’s politics are as long as they don’t hit me over the head with them in their books.

But that wasn’t what really bothered me about this author’s comments. What did was the comment that you can’t be a professional author if you self-publish on Amazon.

That brought the whole potential for understanding that they were having a bad day and maybe had a history with the group leader that hadn’t been detailed in the rant. Nope, the comment about indies was a slap in the face not only to me but to every author who has taken advantage of the new opportunities provided by Amazon and other e-tailers. It also indicates that this particular author is still buying in to the arguments of traditional publishers that the reading public still needs gatekeepers. It also forgets that these same publishers have abdicated much of the gatekeeping responsibilities to agents who are now, in all too many cases, acting as competitors to publishers because they have their own publishing imprints.

Since the first of the year, I have made more from indie publishing than I would have received as an advance from a traditional publisher — assuming they didn’t see me as the next Stephen King or Nora Roberts. I know others who have made much more than I have. Indie authors have been able to quit their day jobs and work as writers full time. But, according to the ranting author, we aren’t professionals because we haven’t made our bones in the traditional way.

Sorry, but I’ll take indie publishing over almost every traditional publisher. I’ve seen how much work authors who are still traditionally published have to do to make sure their books are of the quality they want. Some hire outside editors and proofreaders because they know they can’t trust the editing and proofing that comes out of the publishing house. Almost all authors do their own promotion and spend their own money to do so, despite assurances from their publishers that they will take care of promotion. It is a lie, in almost every time.

I’ll settle for doing all that and keeping most of the money made from my sales. I’ll proudly wear the label of indie and call myself a professional writer. I don’t care that SFWA has yet to figure out what to do about indies who are making more money and accruing more sales than many of their so-called professional author members. As a reader, I’ll remember the words of those same so-called professionals who trash other writers simply because they chose a different path to get their work out to their readers.

If all that isn’t enough to convince you that the inmates are still trying to run the asylum, this last bit might. HarperCollins has decided that it isn’t enough to add DRM to its ebooks because, you know, all readers are potential thieves. Now the publisher is going to add a digital watermark to its ebooks so there will be an “additional layer of security”. The explanation offered is that HC wants to make sure the etailers it uses to sell its ebooks overseas are using the highest security possible. However, this new technology will allow HC to know if someone has illegally downloaded a book. Any bets on how long it will be before HC sends its first cease and desist letter to a reader? If you don’t want to place a bet on that, how about on how long it will take for the geeks to figure out a way to break that level of encryption as well as the standard DRM?

I don’t know about you, but I hate DRM. I hate being treated like a crook by people I’m paying money to. Of course, the whole thing boils down to the simple fact that publishers, on the whole, don’t believe ebooks are “real” books. That why they sell “licenses” for their ebooks and why they fight against the mere suggestion of the customer being able to sell an ebook after reading it.

And they wonder why people look for plug-ins and programs to break DRM and why we read as many indie books as we do.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m ready for the grown ups — or at least someone with some common sense and an understanding of basic economics and the theory of supply and demand — to take over the industry. I’m tired of the tantrums and the digging in of heels and the denial that things need to change. This is a situation where the industry is broken and it does need to change and adapt if it is to survive.

Full moon craziness?

Yes, yes, I know. Craziness is the common state of affairs for most writers and especially for the publishing industry. But lately it seems that the craziness has expanded to epic proportions — and that’s without going into all the contretemps with SFWA, SJWs et al. Add in the craziness in my life right now — we are on crisis #3 for the morning, none of which are easy fixes — and I am ready for sanity to return, overrated as it might be.

First bit or recent craziness falls under the category of “Things a writer should never, ever do”. It’s not a new story nor is it the worst in the category. But it does point out the permanent nature of the internet and it proves that we should always think about what we just typed before hitting “enter”.

In this case, author Chelsea Cain, a NYT best seller, went on a mini-tirade on Facebook and Twitter. The long and the short of it comes down to this: she’s mad she didn’t make the best sellers list with her latest book. She’s tired of fans asking her to list the order of her books and asking other dumb questions. The FB post was quickly taken down, “at the request” of her publishers in a non-apology apology which, iirc, is also missing from her FB page now. Full admission: I could be wrong on this last part.

You can see screen captures of some of her comments here.

The issue I have with this sort of thing is that it was unnecessary. I can understand why Cain might be upset for not making the best sellers list. But don’t go whining about it in a public forum. Her Facebook and Twitter pages aren’t locked. Anyone can and will see them. Having a public meltdown, even of a minor nature, doesn’t draw new fans to you.

As for being upset when fans ask for the order of books, you just don’t tell them they are wasting your time and that’s what Google is for. You especially don’t tell them that when you have just admitted you spend hours on social media each day. You most especially don’t say that after saying you spend hours on social media each day and that answering a simple question like that would take away from writing time. Wait! Writing time? How about letting it take away from the hours of social media time. Or better yet, why not list your books IN ORDER on your website like most other authors who write series do?

Ms. Cain shot herself in the PR foot and hasn’t done much since then to treat the wound. I hope that, from now on, she remembers that what goes into the interwebs is there forever.

The next bit of insanity comes in a rant by a book buyer against the big evil that is Amazon. Mind you, it is published in that shining beacon — coff coff — The Guardian, so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about bias. I mean, how can anyone think there is anything but bias in a post that starts out with: owes me at least $212.82.

Amazon’s strategy to torture Hachette into reducing prices for its books has been to make the publisher suffer by imposing delivery delays on many of its most in-demand titles.

You see, according to the author of the article, Amazon owes a refund for their Prime membership — because, duh, that membership apparently is a guarantee that you can get any book you want anytime. Wish I knew that when I first signed up for Prime. There are a lot of books out there no longer in print or that haven’t been published yet I could demand as a Prime member. — and for the cost of books they chose to buy at a brick and mortar store.

The sense of entitlement that sort of statement makes has me shaking my head. There is nothing in the ToS for Prime membership that guarantees the “right” to pre-purchase a book. Nor is there anything guaranteeing that books bought while a Prime member will be discounted. Heck, what you get with Prime is free second day delivery, the ability to borrow some books and lots of music and video benefits. It has nothing to do with Hatchette or the article writer’s sense of entitlement.

But let’s look further.

“. . . and for customers, Amazon has reversed its promise of instant gratification.”

What? WHAT?!?!?!

Are we so entitled now that we have to have instant gratification and new hardcover books in our mailbox on the day of publication AND at a huge discounted price?

Yep, the author of the article complains because Amazon isn’t offering new Hatchette titles at the usual discount. Let’s not think about the fact they are in the middle of contract negotiations and Amazon very likely doesn’t have the contractual authorization to continue the discounts.

The author goes on to admit he could buy the Kindle version of the books in question, but since at least two of the ones he listed were for book club discussions, that just wouldn’t work. According to him, you simply can’t flip to a particular page of a book if you have the ebook version. So that just won’t work. Funny, I have any number of Kindle books on both my e-ink Kindle and the Fire that allow me to go to a particular page as well as a particular location. Maybe only Hatchette doesn’t allow that function — but that’s Amazon’s fault because it is allllllllll Amazon’s fault, don’cha know.

This time, the financial damage totals $212.82, the bag is stuffed with books – including several I was eager to read but wasn’t even been aware had been published. I also emerged with a Barnes & Noble membership card, for which I had paid a further $25 – and that pretty much guarantees I’ll be spending more time and money there in future, in exchange for more discounts and – given the recent evidence – greater availability of the books I want and need to lay my hands on.

This time being his first visit to a B&N, at least when he actually bought more than one book, in at least six months. So now he wants Amazon to pay him for his membership card to B&N as well AND he thinks he will have a great availability of books. Well, I don’t know about the B&N he went into but my local B&N is woefully short on books, especially books in certain genres and certain non-fiction areas. If I ask for them to be ordered, maybe they will and maybe they won’t. Even if they do, there is no guarantee I will get notice if the book comes in and there is still the delay in getting the book.

But Amazon is evil.

It gets better. In one paragraph, the author whines because in two trips to the bookstore to pick up two paperback books, he’s spent $400. The not-to-subtle implication is that it is Amazon’s fault because he couldn’t get the book instantly from them. In the next paragraph, he says he doesn’t really blame Amazon for his lack of self-control but, you see, he was irked and, well, Amazon’s fault implied once again.

The whole gist of the article is that, because of Amazon’s footprint, it shouldn’t worry about things like contract negotiations and making money. It has a duty to provide whatever we want when we want. Oh, the author tries to not quite say it that bluntly and even makes a pass at trying to appear unbiased by noting that neither Hatchette or Amazon are completely in the right in what’s going on. But that doesn’t happen until four paragraphs from the end of a story that is 30 or so paragraphs long. And, in case anyone doubts the sense of entitlement and twisting of facts to suit a point of view, consider this statement:

You need to give customers the best possible array of products, available instantly.

Especially when 20 million or so Amazon Prime members are paying $99 apiece each year for guaranteed two-day delivery — that’s how much they value that instant gratification.

The complete lack of understanding of economics, product supply and the Prime membership agreement is staggering. There is a failure to take into account that there are two parties involved in making products available — supplier and seller. Amazon is the seller. It has to buy the products or reach some sort of agreement with the supplier so it also makes money. It also has to rely upon the supplier to, duh, supply the product. As for the guaranteed two-day delivery, that is for items IN STOCK.

To the article’s author, get over yourself and realize you aren’t entitled to what you think you are. Amazon is a business and is in it to make money. Hatchette is the one who has turned done several proposals by Amazon to help the authors impacted by the prolonged negotiations. Amazon isn’t an angel but is certainly isn’t the root of all evil as as vocal minority wants us to believe.

Building a Blog

Eternity Symbiote

On sale for only 2.99 in the month of June.

In the last 48 hours I have written about 15K words of fiction, which is a lot, for me. I have about 20% of the projected length of the novel remaining, and I want to finish it as soon as possible so I can get on to other projects, this summer being very very busy. I’m having fun with the writing, the other things are both more and less fun. LibertyCon at the end of this month, an accuracy-checking gig for a professor who is writing a textbooks, the second half of my General Chemistry, and a week camping out with my kids.

So what does all this have to do with blogging? Well, about a year and change ago, I commited to a daily blog. I’d been trying to blog regularly, and for some reason I lost my mind and decided daily was a terrific idea. Right now I’m looking back at past me and wondering if she was a little soft in the head. I think she didn’t have enough to do, poor thing…

But why? Well, blogging is one way to do what is sometimes called content marketing. In other words, people come to you not to see ‘buy my book!’ but information that interests them, and keeps them coming back, while you subliminally have messages about your books for sale, just not (usually) hitting them over the head with it. Dorothy Grant addressed this nicely in yesterday’s post, how repeating it a few times when you launch is good, but not too often.

Which, since I only launch something every 2-3 months, leaves me with a lot of space to fill up. I decided right away I would make one day a week a book review day. This not only gave me an excuse to read (I was never catholic, but boy, do I get the guilt thing) so I wouldn’t feel guilty about taking time to read when there was work to be done. I wanted to do at least one day a week to writing tips, techniques, and the industry, but I didn’t want the whole blog to be that.

So many blogs from writers are targeted to writers. Think about that… talk about niche marketing. Just how many of your fellow writers are going to buy your books? Now, yes, helping newbies learn is a worthy cause, and it’s part of the reason I do write about writing, or more often, publishing. On the other hand, I wanted posts and articles that would be of interest to the general public.

Take for instance Peter Grant, whose blog Bayou Renaissance Man is very simple in design and layout, but with sheer prolific output and an audience which was interested in the articles he writes on history, guns, and much more, he had a great platform for the launch of his first book. I had a good chat with him on our first meeting about his blog, and it was part of what inspired me to build mine.

Our own Sarah Hoyt is a blogging machine, even though she has been trying to cut back recently. And According to Hoyt is rarely about writing, and only occasionally about publishing. Yet she has a wonderful platform full of fans who refer to themselves as Hoyt’s Huns. This is a power tool in her toolbox of things to help her succeed as a writer, and seller of books.

So here’s the thing, being regular is almost more important than content, but if you don’t have interesting content they won’t come back. I write on food, art, writing, snippets of my work (and rarely, whole stories), social issues, and whatever catches my fancy. I’m not sure, never having compared numbers, how my blog is doing relative to other blogs. However, in the past few weeks, I have seen fans who tracked me down and left me comments praising my work. I have seen, in this year, my ‘followers’ grow, and the daily read-count according to wordpress (I will tell you I know this is highly inaccurate, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to get analytics to work with this blog) slowly get higher. And there have been a few days where the hitcount was astronomical, when I hit a nerve with an article.

Is it worth it? Well, there are always days when I can’t come up with a flippin’ thing to write about. I may, in time and given undue pressure by outside commitments, drop back to 3 days a week. It’s a whole lot of work, it is. I may take the art day off completely, as I watch my hits drop like a rock when I do them. However, the art is something I do for me, so maybe I won’t, either.

I do think that it is helping my sales. My books are hanging in there, and I have fans contacting me to tell me they found my book through my blog. I have people telling me how they appreciate my book reviews and it helps them find other authors (doesn’t help me monetarily, but it gives me a kick). It’s satisfying to do, for now. I do think that a network, like we have been building with Mad Genius club and the people who write for it, is a great way to cross-promote books to fans who might not have heard about them. I’m equally uncertain that ‘blog tours’ do anything at all, having participated in one or two and seen no blip in my sales.

Keep content marketing in mind. Social media blasts to announce a book are all well and good, but if you don’t already have a platform of people waiting to hear you speak, who will hear that blast? Besides, this internet thing is the perfect way for an introverted performer to thrive. I love the conversations a blog post can spark, and how they get me thinking, in return.

Don’t feel like you can manage a blog on your own? Try getting together with a couple other friends, setting an iron-clad schedule, and doing a combined blog. If you can stick to it, that would be a great way to keep regular content, and pool a fan base. Like this blog…

Indie concerns

Sarah is still feeling under the weather thanks to a virus that has made the rounds of her family. She pushed her luck by quipping that she thought she’d managed to escape it. Of course, that meant she was next to fall ill. So she asked me to fill in for her today and to offer her apologies. She will be back Wednesday with her regular post and then next Sunday with a new chapter.

After telling Sarah I’d fill in for her, I started thinking about what to blog about. I asked Kate and Cedar for suggestions and they were oh-so-helpful. Among the suggestions offered were doing a post explaining how I am not Sarah or actually writing an over-the-top chapter for her and seeing how long it would take before someone figured out Sarah really hadn’t gone insane. There was also a suggestion to do a post about the literati who, in an interview with the New York Times, said he never read fantasy because there was no death in it. What? No death in fantasy! Someone certainly hasn’t told George R. R. Martin that – or just about any other modern fantasy (of any ilk) author I can think of.

I’ll admit, going after the literati kind of appealed to me but I wasn’t sold on it. So I went searching for something else. That’s when I came across this post, “An Open Letter to Indie Authors”, by J. M. Gregoire. I highly recommend every author – indie or not – read and think about what is in the letter because it contains some pretty darned good advice.

I also understand what made Gregoire write the letter. The frustration expressed in it is something many of us share. How often have we shaken our heads after seeing an author attack a reviewer – either on their review site or on Facebook or Amazon – because the review wasn’t absolutely glowing? How often have we at least previewed an e-book that looked promising from the description or because we’ve already read something by that author only to find that it needed a really good editor? And yes, in my mind, this also applies to traditionally published books all too often these days.

So, what advice did Gregoire give to indie authors and publishers? (Note that I am paraphrasing some of the points and then giving my own thoughts afterwards.)

1. Don’t publish your book if it isn’t ready for primetime.

In other words, quantity does not trump quality. Yes, the more titles you have out there, the better your sales will be. However, if you are continually putting out what basically amounts to first drafts without proper editing, copy editing and proofing, you will drive away readers. They may forgive one or two stinkers, but not a continuing line of them.

2. Do your research before hiring an editor.

To start, understand what an editor is and make sure the person you are hiring knows as well. An editor isn’t a beta reader or a proofreader. An editor is someone who knows story structure and genre conventions as well as the technical aspects of grammar, punctuation and spelling.

From Gregoire’s “letter:

Beta Readers – These are the folks that read the pre-editing rough draft, and tell you what they do/do not like, what they feel does/doesn’t flow well.  They are there to analyze the story itself, not edit anything.

Editor – An editor does just that.  Edits.  Looks for mistakes – grammar, spelling, punctuation, made up words that don’t exist in any language never mind English, etc.

Proofreader – The proofer reads the final product through to catch any mistakes or typos that may have been missed somewhere along the way.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve talked with other authors who have paid big bucks for an “editor” only to discover they got nothing more than a glorified proofreader or beta reader. So please, do your homework, ask for references and samples of their work and make sure you both understand what an editor does before you sign any contract with them.

3. Social media is our friend – up to a point. There are a lot of folks out there who will “friend” every author they can find on Facebook and then volunteer to beta read. Please read and take very careful note of what Gregoire says here. Too often these folks can be more headache, and heartache, than they are worth.

Note here, choose your beta readers carefully. While I almost always have one who doesn’t read the genre of the book just written, my main betas are familiar with the genre and its conventions. The reason I have the one non-genre reader is to make sure I haven’t fallen back into tropes that signal those familiar with the genre but that will leave those not as familiar out in the cold wondering why my characters are acting as they are. I’ve heard horror stories of authors getting notes back from their betas with suggestions that make you wonder 1) if they read the same book you wrote and 2) what they were on when they read it. These are often the same beta readers who want to continually “help” you as you are writing, offering advice and plot ideas that not only don’t work but would never work in anything you write.

4. Books are judged by their covers.

Yes, I know there are those who say e-books aren’t judged by their covers. Bull. I agree with Gregoire here. We still look at the cover image on the description page and judge how “professional” the book is by how the cover looks. So put some time and effort into your covers. If you aren’t an artist, find one who can help. However, don’t spend a great deal of money on your covers unless you are already getting a nice income stream from your writing or have a job to supplement your writing. Spending a grand or two for a cover is insane. Heck, even spending a couple of hundred can be. Find yourself a graphic artist who is good and who is willing to work a deal with you for cover art. Ask other writers for recommendations. Most of all, look at their portfolios and see what sort of art they do. Finally, have a set date for delivery. Any change to that date has to be agreed upon in writing. Otherwise, you may find yourself waiting weeks or months, your e-book done but without a cover.

5. Don’t be an a-hole.

In other words, think before speaking – or hitting the “enter” button. If you don’t like a review, pull up your big boy pants and move on. Not everyone is going to love your book. Ranting and raving at the reviewer isn’t going to do you any good. It will lose you readers because that rant will make reviewers hesitant to review your next work and readers will simply move on to the next author. The drama might be entertaining for a few minutes but it isn’t something that will bring them back to your books later.

6. Don’t overextend yourself.

That’s pretty self-explanatory. Don’t overextend when it comes to time. Most of us can’t write book after book after book without a break. There comes a time when we not only hit the wall but it falls on us. We need time for a real life. The cat needs petting, the dog needs walking and the family would really like to have a conversation with you that doesn’t revolve around how long it is taking Character A to accomplish something.

It also applies to finances. How many of us know authors who financially strap themselves to go to every con, attend every writers’ workshop, etc., all in an attempt to “promote” their work? Cons help with networking but, on the whole, don’t have the same impact (in my opinion) they used to when it comes to winning over new readers. All you have to do is look at cons to see that they have the same basic concom every year and the same authors/publishers get the choice panels. If you aren’t one of the chosen ones, you are paying to rent a table and hoping someone buys enough of your books to pay for the table. Forget about recovering the other hundreds or thousands of dollars it costs to go to the con.

Am I saying not to do cons? No. But I am saying to be smart about which ones you go to and how much money you spend.

That same caveat about being aware of how much money you are spending applies to publishing your e-books/print books as well. Yes, you will have loss leaders. We all do. But if you are paying hundreds or thousands of dollars just to get your e-book into the market, consider how long it will take you to recover that cost and how many copies you will have to sell.

In other words, all the above advice, as well as everything Gregoire had to say, comes down to this: writing is our business and we have to treat it that way. Just because we can do it anytime and pretty much anywhere doesn’t make it any less so. Yes, we can do it in our PJs and we are our own bosses. But we still have to take pride in what we do and we have to put out the best product we can. So don’t rush it. Don’t skip steps – especially editing. Do invest the time into getting a good cover. Finally, follow Jim Baen’s rule and “don’t be a butthead”.

(Cross-posted to Nocturnal Lives.)

To Kickstart or not to Kickstart. That is the question.

Publishing has changed. We all know this. Or we should unless we’ve been living in a very deep and dark cave or listening to the every more trite reassurances from legacy publishing. Not only have the number of legacy publishers shrunk (the Big 6 is now the Big 5), but they have discontinued lines and orphaned any number of books and authors. The number of legitimate small presses has increased, many of them filling niche markets. Then there is the explosion of self-published books. Some of them are excellent, better than much of what is coming out of legacy publishing, while others aren’t worth the bandwidth it takes to download them. But that’s true of a number of books, no matter who the publisher is.

But with the influx of small press and self-publishing titles comes the question of how to fund your projects. There are a number of platforms online now where you can promote a project, ask for backers and funding. One of the best known is Kickstarter. And, before someone gets their back up, this isn’t a rant against Kickstarter. It’s not even a rant against those who use it. It is, however, a cautionary tale for both authors, editors and those who might consider backing them.

A little background. I’m not a huge gambler, especially when it comes to my hard-earned money. Unless I know someone really well and am very familiar with their proposed project — and everyone involved in it — I’m not likely to invest money in it. I’ve had family members and friends invest in every get-rich-quick scheme to come through the mail or over the internet and have watched them lose their proverbial shirts. So, I tend to err on the side of caution.

I’ve also seen the problems that arise when authors or editors pitch a product over Kickstarter or other platforms and never deliver. Not that long ago came the story of an award-nominated (possibly award-winning) author and editor with a small press who hadn’t paid royalties to her authors for years. She’d even run a kickstarter campaign, iirc, to raise money to help pay the authors. The campaign hit its goal but the authors saw nothing. It wasn’t until friends of one of the authors involved took to social media — and then others took it up — that the author/editor started reverting rights. There were tons of mea culpas, but the harm had been done.

To counter this, you have folks like Larry Correia. Larry has run and recommended some very successful Kickstarter campaigns for games, etc., that I’ve heard nothing but good about. He and Howard Taylor are two of the very few I would back. But I digress. This isn’t about the good ones, except to tell you to be very clear about what you are supposed to get and when before you hit the pledge button.

I’ll be honest, I have avoided discussing raising money for a writing project in this manner for a couple of reasons. The first is that I haven’t done it so I’m not intimately familiar with how the process works. The second is because I feel that this is a decision that each writer or editor has to make for himself. But events over the last six months, and especially the last few days, changed my mind.

Let’s start with having a Kickstarter for a book you want to write. I went to the Kickstarter site and did a search for “publishing” and then narrowed it to “fiction”. Of the first hundred or so titles I looked at, maybe eight of them will make their funding. Of those, most are asking for less than $1,000. In fact, many are asking for less than $500. Yet, for each one nearing completion of their funding requests, many, many more are not. One that stuck out to me was for a YA paranormal where the author admits she doesn’t see herself as a YA author even though she’s already written one YA paranormal series and who then attaches a snippet of the proposed work that isn’t safe for anyone under 16 to read. Maybe I’m strange — okay, I KNOW I’m strange — but telling your potential investors that you really don’t consider yourself to be a writer of the type of book you want them to buy into isn’t exactly the best way to convince them to hand over their money.

Then there is the one for the “small press” that is looking for something in the realm of $40k — and they may actually make it. Good for them. Of course, as an author and reader, I have a few questions that I don’t see answered in their description. The first one — and the most glaring — is the fact that they state their works are fanfic or based on fanfic. Yet I see nothing saying they have permission from the networks or original creators of the characters and settings to publish their work. Hmmmm….that is sort of a red flag. At least for me.

Then, when you start going through their levels of support to see what they offer, I have another red flag go up. When you read a certain level, you can get “free” editing from their editor-in-chief. Now, this may be the best editor in the world but first, if you are “investing” in this company at this level, the editing isn’t free. You have paid for it. Just as you have paid to receive copies of the e-books involved, often at more than you’d pay for them if you waited for the books to be published. But I have another concern. How many new or wannabe writers are investing in this or similar Kickstarters for the editing — often spending money they don’t have — only to find out they aren’t getting quality editing? Or even anything above proofreading or copy editing? (Now, I’m not saying that is what would happen here, but it is something I have to ask myself and something I hope everyone else is asking as well.)

But that’s not the only thing I have concerns about. It takes time to set up your Kickstarter page. Time I’d rather spend writing. It takes time to promote your project and then, if you do make your goal, it takes time to complete everything you have pledged to do as well as to keep your backers informed. Then there’s the ego hit if you don’t make your goal. Does that mean no one will buy your book and you should just move on, possibly even to another profession? No, it just means that the project didn’t hit with those who were looking for something to invest in on that particular day/week/month.

And all that brings me to what set me off on this topic. Friends of mine invested in a Kickstarter campaign because an author we know and trust was to have a story included in the pitched anthology. They invested to get a copy of the e-book and advertising space. Months have gone by and they found their in-box filled with many, many e-mails from the editor of the anthology. It included, iirc, one where he promised to sing. None of the e-mails said anything about how to get their advertising space, etc., and the project page said the book would be released in November. Well, here it is the beginning of December and no e-book. Things came to a head for them yesterday when they received notice that the hard copy of the book was now for sale and would they — as well as all the other backers — book-bomb the project. Oh, and still no copy of the e-book and no news on advertising space.

One of my friends took to Facebook and in a very tame manner expressed her disappointment because she felt she had not been given what she’d been promised and stated that she would probably never do another Kickstarter again. The editor’s response? Well, he came in all puffed-up and in-your-face and defensive. Instead of contacting her personally on a private IM or e-mail, he publicly took her to task for not loving all he had done to keep everyone informed, etc. In fact, iirc, he said she was the only one to be disappointed and that everyone had loved all the e-mails keeping them informed (or at least words to that effect).

Now, I happen to know other backers of this particular project, as well as several authors involved. So I know that there are others who felt the 50-plus e-mails were excessive since they said nothing new. It got to the fact that there were some who simply hit the delete button without reading them. The lesson here is the same one restaurants need to remember when they give less than acceptable service to customers. They probably aren’t going to say anything. They just won’t come back. That is the situation that editor now faces, not only with potential backers but with writers as well.

So the lesson here is that if you do a Kickstarter, be careful with how you contact your backers. Lay out in clear and concise terms when you will be completing the project they are investing in and how and when they will receive their awards. Don’t go onto social media and get into a fight with someone who has expressed concerns about the project. Take it into the next room and try to work it out. And, for the love of Bog, don’t blame someone else for what happened. Throwing a co-worker under the bus isn’t the way to do business.

Most of all, if all you are doing a Kickstarter, be realistic about what you are asking for and what you are willing to give in return. If the amount you are looking for is actually going to cost you more in time and effort, then maybe you need to rethink your plans. As a reader and potential investor, if you are getting an e-book in return, are you paying two or three times more for it as an investor than you would if you wait for it to be published? If you are, you’d sure better either know the author and want to help them out or you’d better be getting an early release for it. As a writer looking to invest for the “editing” services, make sure you know exactly what you are getting for your money. Also, be sure the person who is going to be doing the “editing” is qualified, especially for the work you want them to look at.

In other words, do your homework.

For those doing the Kickstarters, be clear in what you want and what you are offering. Think long and hard if it is going to be worth your time and money and effort to set up the project page, do the promotion and then do the administrative end should the project actually make its goal. And — and I can’t repeat this enough — be darned sure you are ready to take the ego hit if the project doesn’t make its goal. If you aren’t, then stay far away from projects such as this.

Most of all, if you are running a Kickstarter campaign, always follow the most important rule Jim Baen instituted on Baen’s Bar: Don’t be a butthead. (in other words, don’t spam your backers. Don’t expect them to do your promo for you and don’t — I repeat DO NOT — get mad at them when they express disappointment because you haven’t followed through on what you’ve promised.)