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Posts tagged ‘traditional publishing’

Are you really sure?

One of the most frequent comments you’ll hear when you ask someone why they want to sign a traditional publishing contract has to do with the “services” they get from a publisher. Next to distribution to bookstores, probably the most often quoted reason authors want a publisher is so they have an editor. They trust the publisher to make sure their book goes through not only content editing but also copy editing and proofreading. Because of that, they don’t worry as much about turning in a publication ready manuscript as they would if they were going the indie route.

It doesn’t matter if they are talking about a small press, mid-sized press or one of the Big 5. Too many authors believe the hype publishers try to sell – that they will get the kind of attention you see the Castles or other fictional authors receiving. Unfortunately, just as they won’t get the sort of promotion and push they see in fictional settings, they also aren’t guaranteed the level of editing they believe they’re going to get. Read more

Why should we look at the entire industry?

This question came up recently in comments – why should we, on MGC, report on what The Big 5 (4?) are doing, or on B&N?

1. There’s scope and scale. What business are we in? We’re in the entertainment business. We’re competing with every other entertainer out there for Joe Sixpack’s beer money – and for Jane Doe’s attention span when she wants something to take her mind off the fact that she’s in a waiting room. Read more

On formatting for print and digital

I want to thank everyone who took the time to tell us what topics you’d like to see us cover over the next six months or so. It really does help us to have that sort of input. While we don’t guarantee that we’ll get to ever topic, or in the exact way it was suggested, we will do our best to cover as many of them as possible. I’m still pulling the list together and I’ll be sending it out to the other bloggers later today. In the meantime, Dave kicked us off with his post about prologues yesterday.

One topic several of you requested was formatting. There were variations on the topic and a request for exercises. I’ll figure out the best way to do exercises over the next few days. I might go back to a workshop I did on formatting several years ago and update it for the purpose. But, while I figure out the best way to do that, here are links to some recent posts I’ve done on formatting for both print and digital editions.

Formatting Revisited

Formatting for Print Revisited

Formatting for Print Revisited , Pt. 2

These posts are targeted for those who are planning on going indie with their work. For those of you who are wanting to go traditional, formatting is a bit easier. The first thing you need to do is check the agent’s website or the publisher’s website you are submitting your work to. If they have special formatting requirements, they’ll be listed.

For example, Baen lists the following as its requirements:

  • Attach the manuscript as a Rich Text Format (.rtf) file.
  • Send the manuscript as a single file (do not break it into separate chapter files).
  • Synopsis and contact info needs to be in the file with your manuscript.
  • Minimal formatting, please. Do not format text boxes or sidebars into the manuscript; use block quotes. Indent paragraphs; center chapter headers and scene break indicators (###, ***, etc.); use page breaks only at the end of chapters. For emphasis, choose either underline or italics and use it consistently throughout.
  • Do not use “smart quotes”/curly quotes or single character elipses, mdashes, etc. Use straight quotes and apostrophes, . . ., –, etc.
  • Avoid non-standard fonts, and unnecessary changes in font face, size, etc. Publisher likes CG Omega and Lucida Bright.

For hard copy submission, here are some of the requirements for Baen:

  • Standard manuscript format only: double-spaced, one side of the page only, 1 1/2″ margins on all four sides of the page. We will consider photocopies if they are dark and clear.
  • Font must be readable, or we won’t read it. This means seriphed or at least semi-seriphed, 12-point or greater. Publisher likes CG Omega and Lucida Bright. Typesetter likes any standard bookface, Times Roman or Courier.

You can find the submission guidelines for Tor/Forge here. Actual formatting requirements are as follows:

  • Standard manuscript format means margins of at least 1 inch all the way around;
  • indented paragraphs;
  • double-spaced text;
  • Times New Roman in 12 pitch.
  • Please use one side of the page only. Do not justify the text.
  • Do not bind the manuscript in any way.
  • Make sure the header of the ms. includes your name and/or the title of the book as well as the page number (on every page).

So you can see the two publishers have similar, if not identical, requirements. But that’s not always the same, which is why I say to check the sites for wherever you are submitting if you are going the traditional route and trying to find an agent or publisher. That is especially true if you are submitting to a small or mid-sized press because some of them want the author to submit their work in a format that will be easily converted into digital formats (in other words, they want the author to do that part of the work for them).

So, I guess here is where I give you the first “assignment”. Look at your current work-in-progress (or the work you just finished and are trying to figure out what to do with). Decide whether you want to go indie or trad with it. If going trad, decide if you are going to try for publishers where you need an agent or if you are going to a publisher that has open submissions. If the former, start looking at agent requirements. (For example, some agents have you send the first few pages as part of the body of your email while others don’t want to see anything but your query.) If the latter, find their submission guidelines and figure out, based on those, what you have to do to get your submission packet ready.

We’ll get more into the nitty gritty of it next week. Until then, if you have any questions or if you want input on your formatting decisions, post them in the comments below.

Edited to Add: Let me know in the comments which OS you use to write in and what programs you use for writing and for conversion (if any on the latter). That will help me as I put together the next couple of posts. 

 

Later!

The Blinders are Still in Place

Ten years.

That is approximately how long it’s been since Amazon first allowed the infidels to dip their toes into the sacred waters of publishing.  From the beginning, traditional publishing has taken a two-pronged attack against not only indies but readers. They have told us that e-books were a passing fad, something that wouldn’t last. They also warned that allowing just anyone to publish without having to prove themselves by finding a way past the gatekeepers would allow nothing but dreck into the holy waters of publishing.

Well, almost 10 years into this so-called experiment in mediocrity, e-books are still here and more and more indie authors are earning more than pocket change for their work — and the blinders are still, at least as far as most of those in traditional publishing are concerned, firmly in place.

We’ve seen the Big 5 (which used to be the Big 6) and Apple run afoul of the Justice Department for price fixing in an attempt to undermine Amazon. All that accomplished was costing everyone involved in the conspiracy money in the form of fines and payouts to customers who got caught up in their antics. Oh, and let’s not forget about how it started readers asking why traditionally published e-books cost so much.

We’ve seen a few traditionally published authors condemning their counterparts, not only those who have never been traditionally published but also those who have chosen to go the hybrid route of both indie and trad publishing. Friendships have been strained and, in some cases, lost and over what? The fact someone didn’t take the same route as another? (yes, I’m rolling my eyes.)

In this time, we’ve seen not a gradual acceptance of e-books by traditional publishing and its proponents but a continued attack on them. All you have to do is look at the prices charged for the digital release of new titles to see what I mean. Here’s a perfect example. Echoes in Death by J. D. Robb is available for pre-order right now. The price? $14.99.

Yes, you read that right. By the time you add tax, you will pay more than $15 for an e-book.

Nor is this an anomaly. Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs sells for $13.99. Fast & Loose by Stuart Woods sells for $14.99. There’s more, much more. All you have to do is look. When you do, you’ll discover a couple of more things. Amazon, not being a fool when it comes to marketing, makes it clear that these high prices aren’t set by anyone except the publisher. Also, if you, as a reader, check the terms of service when you buy your e-books, you’ll discover a couple of things. First, I bet you dollars to doughnuts that almost every e-book you’ve purchased from a trad publisher is filled with DRM (there are a few exceptions, like Baen). Second, you will discover that you haven’t actually bought the book. You purchased a license to read the book. Now, in some ways, that’s nothing new. It’s what you do when you “buy” software from most software publishers. Still, it rankles but the DRM rankles more because that smacks of the publishers telling us they don’t trust their readers not to do something evil like — gasp — loan the book to a friend, exactly what we do with our hard copy books.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have a line in the proverbial sand when it comes to how much I will pay for an e-book. It’s a line that I will very rarely cross. I’ll admit I will rarely even get close to the line. That price, for me, is $9.99. It used to be lower but I had to change that when Baen finally got into Amazon. I groused, like a lot of others, because that move meant Baen now charged more. However, there are several Baen authors I will pay that much for instead of waiting for the price to come down. But paying $15 for an e-book when the publisher won’t even admit I own the book? Nope, not gonna happen. I will wait for the price to come down or, if it doesn’t, I will borrow it from the library.

The problem is that doesn’t really hurt the publisher but it does hurt the author. I hate that part but there isn’t much more I can do to voice my displeasure — not that the Big 5 listen.

A perfect example of how they don’t listen and don’t pay attention to market trends is this article from Publishers Weekly. Sure, the article is about how e-tailers are continuing to survive but the premise is what had me shaking my head. According to this post, e-book sales are down. Yes, it did say e-books by traditional publishers but then it basically acted as if those are the only e-books out there. That is the same sort of premise the Big 5 works under. They seem to think that the fact their sales are down for e-books, they are for everyone. No, what they need to do is look at their pricing, something indies and readers have been telling them for years.

Unfortunately, the idea that “the more I charge, the more I make” isn’t limited to trad publishers. Indies suffer from it as well. Pricing is a bitch to figure out and to make sure you are hitting the sweet spot. Part of the equation is also figuring out that the higher the price the fewer buyers you will have. So, while you may be getting more money per sale, you are actually losing money in the long run because you are losing readers. But that’s a post for another day.

But, to me, even more of a slap in the face when it comes to the Big 5 and their ilk is the insistence on trying to lock their e-books with DRM. That is especially egregious when you look at how much they charge. Sorry, but if you want me to pay more than $10 — heck, who am I kidding? If you want me to pay more than, well, anything — for an e-book, I’d better own it just as much as if I bought the hard copy version.

And then they wonder why people figure out ways to break DRM or why they go to pirate sites to find the book they want. It’s a lesson publishing should have learned from the music industry and didn’t.

Finally, for one more piece of “Huh? How is that going to work?” we get this announcement. Bill Clinton and James Patterson are teaming up to write a book. The premise is that the President goes missing. Okay, that alone isn’t all that strange. Where I did a double-take was seeing that the book is being published by both Knopf Doubleday and Hachette. Oh, and it is supposedly going to be edited by the chairman of Knopf Doubleday and the CEO of Hachette. Am I the only one going “riiiiight?”

Let’s look at this for a moment. By doing it this way, the publishers split the costs of production and distribution (one would assume). They both get the benefits from the promotion of the book and I guarantee you this book will be promoted. Hell, the publishers won’t even have to pay for it because the media will be all over it. They also get to split the advances. Of course, that might not be such a big saving for them because I have a feeling both “authors” are getting close to their usual advances.

However, it also means they will split the monies coming in from the sales of the books.

It is going to be interesting to see how this impacts their bottom lines over the next few years. Not that I expect them to admit if the book fails to perform as expected. Remember those blinders I mentioned earlier?

10 years and publishing has changed and yet, in all too many ways, the same mindset continues to permeate the ivory halls of NYC publishers. Sigh.

Next Tuesday, Battle Wounds, the third short story set in the Honor and Duty series universe, will be published. So, a little promo for two of the titles in the series.

Vengeance from Ashes

(Book 1 in the series)

First, they took away her command. Then they took away her freedom. But they couldn’t take away her duty and honor. Now they want her back.

Captain Ashlyn Shaw has survived two years in a brutal military prison. Now those who betrayed her are offering the chance for freedom. All she has to do is trust them not to betray her and her people again. If she can do that, and if she can survive the war that looms on the horizon, she can reclaim her life and get the vengeance she’s dreamed of for so long.

But only if she can forget the betrayal and do her duty.

Taking Flight

(1st short story)

Duty, honor, sacrifice. That motto meant everything to newly commissioned Second Lieutenant Ashlyn Shaw. She thought she understood the meaning of those simple words. Little did she know.

Challenged by those who believed she made it through the Academy on her family’s coattails, a roommate who just wants to see “some action” and a gunnery sergeant determined to make a real Marine out of her, Ash soon realizes what it means to be a Marine. As the signs point to war on the horizon, she is determined to do everything she can to serve Fuercon and do the Corps proud.

It’s not new.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Topic Round-up

Wow, the New Year has gotten off with a bang — or, perhaps more accurately, the sound of air slowly leaking out of a balloon. Traditional publishing basically shuts down during the holidays. So there isn’t much coming out of the ivory towers to discuss. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on. Just the opposite, in fact.

The first to come up over the holidays and, in many ways, the most concerning was the announced closure of All Romance eBooks and its related sites. I’m sure most of you have heard about it by now. So I’m not going to spend much time on it. The basics are ARe, one of the distribution platforms for romance and erotica ebooks, announced it could not continue operating after posting losses during the year. So, giving its authors, small presses and readers less than a week’s notice, it said it would be shutting down the site. Oh, and those folks to whom it owed royalties? Well, if they agreed to something ridiculous like 10 cents to the dollar and promised not to sue, they’d get paid. Otherwise, good luck trying to get anything out of them.

For more information about this situation, I recommend several posts. Start with this post from The Passive Voice. Be sure to read the comments and then click through to the original post from BlogCritics. On New Year’s Day, PG posted two more times about the ARe situation. The first, also from Blog Critics, discusses some court documents that are very revealing about what had been going on behind the scenes at ARe. These documents show just how little authors and publishers know about the distribution platforms some of us rely upon to get our books into the hands of our readers. The second is a link to a post from Kris Rusch. I cannot say how important it is to read both the PG comments but to click through to Kris’ original post. Please, even if you don’t read the first two, read this last one.

The ARe situation is bad for everyone involved. Authors are being stolen from. There is no other word for it. The owners of ARe did not give their clients — authors and readers alike — warning there was a problem. That meant authors, who relied upon ARe to do as they contracted, could not make an informed decision about whether to continue the relationship or not. For readers, it pointed out the danger of trusting online distribution sites to remain up and running and to continue giving you access to the books you bought. This is why so many of us have long preached that you need to download and save to multiple back-up sources/media any e-book you buy. It is another reason why so many of us hate DRM that tries to prevent you from doing just that. So, the lesson for the moment is to download, back up and make your own decision about whether you will try to break DRM or not. I won’t say whether you should or should not because it is against the law in some countries and it does violate the terms of service for a number of sites.

And I would never, ever tell you to do anything to violate the TOS or the law. [required disclaimer]

The next topic I had considered for today came up New Year’s Eve. I’ll admit, when I saw the site where the piece was published, I knew it probably cried for some serious snarkage. After all, HuffPo isn’t known for being a staunch supporter of indie and small presses. I was right. After all, when the headline of the piece is Self Publishing: An Insult to the Written Word, you know exactly how the article is going to slant.

Fortunately for all of us, the king of snark, Larry Corriea, tackled the task before I could. Since there is no way I could out-snark Larry, I wills imply direct you to his post. Read it, enjoy it and know that he is completely on the mark with everything he has to say.

Next up, we have yet another call to have a year of publishing nothing but women. Yep, you read that right. Kamila Shamshie has called for 2018 to be the year of publishing only women. Now, I know what you’re going to say. Look at the source of the article. It’s the Guardian. I know. I know. Another bastion of, well, drivel. However, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen such calls, or something similar. Have you forgotten the calls for readers to give up on reading books by men — or non-people of color or other so-called marginalized groups — for a year?

One of the best responses I’ve seen to the Shamshie article comes from Dacry Conroy. These three paragraphs completely dismantle Shamshie’s argument:

Yes! I thought. We do need to take example from the suffragettes, we do need to stop being so polite and seize our own power, raise our voices and… That’s when she lost me. Because what Shamsie suggested we raise our voices to say to the publishing industry was, essentially, “Please let us in. You’re being unfair. Just for one year without any boys in the way and see if the readers like us. It doesn’t have to be right away, 2018 is fine, but give us a go? Please?”

I don’t see the spirit of the independent presses of the 70s and 80s in that. What I see is a spirit of dependence on an industry that infantilizes writers, making them grateful for any morsel of approval and attention, convincing them that a publishing house is the only way to ‘real’ publication. This seems to be particularly so of literary writers (a group to which I do not pretend to belong) who appear to have been convinced that even though they are the keepers of the “artistic flame,” they would not have an audience at all without the festivals, the reviewers and the awards the publishing houses so carefully close to all but their own.

Surely the lesson from the independent presses of the 70s isn’t to plead for someone else to start a press and offer better opportunities, it’s to stand up, use the technology available and become our own publishers. Many of us are already doing that.

Be sure to check out the rest of Conroy’s response at the link above.

Finally, someone stirred the waters and more and more posts have been appearing on social media about the evils of self-publishing. We need gatekeepers. We need editors. We need to serve our time as journeymen learning our craft the old way. Traditional publishing is the only way to do that. We’re flooding the market and writing books that shouldn’t be written.

You get the drift.

I’ve been hearing this sort of thing since I first stuck a toe into the indie waters more than six years ago. I’ll freely admit there is some dreck out there. Hell, there’s a lot of dreck out there. But it isn’t all coming from indie authors. Remember, there is the traditionally published science fiction (erotica) where the male lead’s genitals are so dangerous they have to be chained. (Kate, quit laughing so hard. You’ll hurt something.) Then there is the traditionally published paranormal romance where the vampire groom marries his human bride in a church, drinks faux blood champagne and then, like a scene out of the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie, flies off into the sunset with her in his arms. Sorry, vampires don’t sparkle, they don’t do sunlight unless they are really, really old and usually evil or insane. They certainly don’t go flying off into the sunset ala Superman and Lois Lane.

Every argument against indie books can be answered easily. We need gatekeepers. Guess what? The gatekeepers are the readers. They tell us if we are doing something right or wrong. They tell us if they want to buy what we’ve written or not.

We need editors. There are a ton of editors out there we can hire or barter services with.

We need professional looking covers. Easy peasy. We can hire or barter for services. And, btw, have you seen some of the traditional covers recently, especially for romance books? Can you say “stock photos”?

We need someone to format and convert our books. Pardon me while I laugh hysterically. Formatting is simply setting up a template and writing in it. Conversion is nothing when you look at what we used to have to do. I remember having to hand code a novel into html. Now? You can upload your Word file or a mobi or epub file. No problem. And print? That’s a bit more tricky but I can prep a print file in a matter of an hour or two now — the trouble is finding the time to sit down and do it because I would rather be writing.

And that, you see, is the real issue indie authors face. We would rather be writing. So some of us — myself included — tend to slack off when it comes to getting print and audio books out there. It is a matter of disciplining ourselves to do it — and that is my one resolution for the New Year. The other real impediment we have as indies is getting our books into bookstores. However, is that something we really need to worry about? Despite what the “studies” show, how many young people (age 30 and under) really go to a bookstore and buy a print book for themselves? How many bookstores do we have? In my town, none. The closest bookstore is about 8 miles away and is located in a very busy shopping area with lousy parking and even worse access. In fact, if you don’t know it’s there, you would never get off the highway or the main city street to pull into the shopping area to find it — and it is a Barnes & Noble.

As for the complaint that we are saturating the market, possibly. However, indie publishing has proven traditional publishing was not meeting reader demand — either in the number of new books being offered each month or in subject matter. How long have we listened to the old saw that science fiction is dead? Yet more and more indie sf writers are starting to make enough from their writing to consider quitting their day jobs.

What do you think? Are indies an anathema to good writing and reading?

Time is running out

No, no, not in that way. It’s just that my schedule for the week just got turned completely on its head. Everything I had planned for the next five days — writing, errands, appointments, sleep — now must be condensed into 24 hours. The reason is one I wouldn’t trade. My son is coming home on leave and he will be here longer than we first thought. But, as almost any parent with a parent in the military will tell you, when they can come home, you push everything else aside.

But time is also running out for publishers who keep clinging to the old business practices that no longer work in today’s world of e-books, Amazon and indie publishing. There are some in the industry who have at least an inkling of this and others who are grasping at straws in order to find a way to help their business models survive. At the moment, a new ripple of concern, possibly even discontent, had appeared in the publishing pool and I can hardly wait to read the book that is the source of the concern.

The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers first came to my attention through The Passive Voice. The short version is the authors believe they have found a way to identify what books will be best sellers. They have done this through analyzing a number of previous best sellers, scanning texts and compiling data until they were able to come up with an algorithm that will do the trick. According to the Wall Street Journal article linked to on TPV, this has caused concern amongst some publishing industry employees that the algorithm might put them out of a job.

Now, we all know the ultimate aim of publishing has been, from its inception, to create that best seller that will bring the publisher the most money possible. It is the aim of many writers. That is especially true if the writer is taking the traditional publishing route. Why? Because traditional publishing loves their best sellers. The problem is they have yet to figure out how to consistently identify best sellers when a manuscript comes over the transom.

Need an example? How about Harry Potter? I don’t remember right now how many publishers turned it down before Rowling finally found someone willing to take a chance on that first book.

Another problem traditional publishing faces is that once it does have a best seller, it tends to try to push a trend. How many Da Vinci Code-lites did we see following the release of that book? Or 50 Shades of Grey? Let’s not forget the publisher who pulled an entire line of books so they could rebrand the covers to make them look similar to 50 Shades. The problem is that made a number of different books by different authors all look the same and that is confusing to readers and, much more important when you’re talking about publishers, the bookstore buyers. They see a cover that looks too much like another book they have already purchased for their stores and they are likely to think there is nothing new and pass that new title by.

So, does The Bestseller Code really give publishers and authors a way to accurately predict whether a book will be a best seller or not? I don’t know. It will be interesting to see what their process was in determining this algorithm. What factors did they look at? Was there more considered than just a book’s text?

That last question will tell the tale for me. No matter how well-written a book is, no matter how entertaining it might be, there is so much more that goes into making a best seller. Of course, the first thing you have to do is define what you mean by “best seller”. Does it mean making one of the so-called best seller lists? Or does it mean selling a certain number of books?

Other questions I’m wondering if they considered in creating their algorithm are:

  • How much push did the book get?
  • What sort of push or promotion did the book get?
  • What sort of pre-orders did it receive?
  • How many printings?
  • What are the differences between a best seller by a first time author and multi-published author?

I also wonder how the authors chose which books to analyze. I’m sure their process is described in the book but it is a question that must be answered. As we all know, data can be easily manipulated simply by cherry picking your data pool. I am hoping the authors didn’t do this but I will remain skeptical until I have the book in hand and can see what their data pool was and how it was selected.

Going to the last question I posed in the above list, it is much more difficult for an acquisitions editor to predict that an author’s first book will be a best seller than it is to predict that Stephen King’s next book will be. That has to be taken into consideration in this algorithm. If not, there is a flaw in the methodology.

My biggest concern about the book comes from the description itself. “Fine-tuned on over 20,000 contemporary novels, the system analyzes themes, plot, character, setting, and also the frequencies of tiny but amazingly significant markers of style. The “bestseller-ometer” then makes predictions, with fascinating detail, about which specific combinations of these features will resonate with readers. Somehow, in all genres, it is right over eighty percent of the time.”

See, as noted above, there are other factors besides the words on the page that go into making a best seller. If the publisher isn’t going to put money behind pushing the book, it most likely won’t make the best seller lists no matter how closely it follows the algorithm. If that is addressed in the book, fine. Or if this is merely meant to be a guidepost for acquisition editors, telling them what they need to look for, fine as well. However, color me skeptical about the whole thing. That is especially true after looking at the sample chapter. But we will see.

Will I buy the book to see what it has to say?

My initial response was “we’ll see”. Then I went back to the product and the decision is a big NO. Why? Because the publisher is being an idiot, and that is putting it kindly. I wasn’t surprised by the print price for the book. It seemed right in line. But the kindle price surprised me. It was listed as $0.00. Of course, when you follow that to the kindle page, you see that isn’t the pre-order price. There isn’t one. In fact, there isn’t a price for the e-book once published listed at all. The $0.00 is for a sample of Chapter 2 of the book. That smacks of nothing but disdain for digital readers, especially since the book is due to be released in a week.

So, no, I won’t be picking this book up, at least not in such a way that the publisher will see a penny of my money. If you want me to take you seriously as a publisher, you have to take me seriously as a reader. The fact this is a Big 5 publisher doesn’t surprise me. It is that lack of respect, and lack of understanding, that has helped put them in the situation they are now in. Keep grasping for those straws, Big 5. Maybe you will one day have enough to light the fire that will finally burn down your house.