Saturday, March 26, 2011

Authors Fight Back

I keep a fairly close eye on publishing news and the news over the past few weeks has been disturbing, especially from writers I know and have reviewed, like Brian Keene, but to find out that Brian is broke until his new projects are launched is stunning, even shocking news. It's not his fault. He isn't one to spend his hard earned money on drinking and drugs, but to his publishing contract with Dorchester (Leisure). Color me shocked. I missed that one and I shouldn't have.

It wasn't that much of a surprise when Dorchester dropped their mass market publishing and went directly into e-books and Print on Demand (POD), but what they did to their backlist writers was unconscionable.  That news came directly from Publishers Weekly, a very reliable source; it also came directly from Brian Keene and he details the incidents in the blog on his web site. Until now, writers moving to publishing their own e-books and POD books was just the tip of the iceberg of discontent between authors and Big Publishing, but this goes beyond the pale. This is what happens when a company ties up all the rights to an author's works, mismanages the money and, when their company goes under, they grab the first support they can find to stay alive -- authors' rights and their backlist.

When Dorchester contacted their authors and told them the company was going into bankruptcy, most of the authors chose to take their rights and backlist in lieu of payment. What they didn't know what Dorchester planned next, to publish their backlists as ebooks. That's called "take the money and run" and Dorchster has been avoiding paying the writers or  returning their rights to shore up their bottom line. 

Brain Keene and at least one hundred other authors have banded together to boycott Dorchester. I have never published with Dorchester, but this could be a sign of things to come. Authors should stick together and this is one way I can support Brian Keene and his fellow writers. It's time to send a message to publishing that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated.

Sign up to boycott Dorchester, let authors considering signing with Dorchester know what's going on, show them how to tell a Dorchster (Leisure) book and spread the word. We have the words; it's time to use them.

There are things wrong with Big Publishing and they need to be fixed, but screwing over the authors is not the way to do it. Many self-published authors want to work with the publishing establishment because authors want the best possible backing for their work and the publishing establishment needs authors, not one-off celebrities whose books are ghostwritten, in order to stay in business. We need to find an equitable working relationship for all concerned so that authors and publishing can capitalize on their strengths and not just feed off each other. It's time for the mainstream publishers to take a good look at where they are and where they're going and realize that it's not a good idea to upset the people who make them necessary. Don't poke the lion in the cage; the door might not be locked.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cracks in the Vanity Publishing Mirror

I began the process of migrating the data from Word into the template provided by CreateSpace and it went well the first time around, that is until I found out that the cover artist wouldn't have a template that fit the 6 x 9 size paperback. Drat! Oh, well, I downloaded another template and began all over, discovering that all the italics were missing, as were the little masks between time and location changes, and that some of the pages had lost the formatting and were still the 6 x 9 size instead of the 8.5 x 5.5 size. Well, double drat! I spent the next two hours before work and several hours -- until 11 p.m. -- after work putting it all right, checking, double checking, saving as a PDF file and checking and redoing it until it was perfect. I also found two small errors, and I fixed those. Oh, and I fine tuned a few sentences, not much, just a skoch. My part is done, except for the back cover copy and I'm not read to go there yet. I mean, how many times can I tell the story without telling the story and make it fresh and interesting and not something I've written and rewritten a dozen or more times before? It's a difficult and time consuming job, but the effort will be worth it because my book will not be just some thrown together piece of editorial tripe that should have taken much longer to write.

That's the problem with self-publishing. Too many people refuse to take the time to do it right. I could name names, but I won't. It's not necessary, especially when Mark Deniz of Morrigan Books does such a wonderful job of tearing down vanity publishing. I agree with him, but I also believe in a barrel of mostly rotten apples there is bound to be a few that are still fresh and tasty. I will do my best to make sure my book is among the edible.

Since starting this whole self-publishing odyssey, I have spent a lot of time reading blogs and commentary about well known writers jumping the legacy publishing ships to do it for themselves. They do have the advantage of having been published and on top (most of them) for years and that definitely brings up the tone of the general rush to self-publish. What I found most interesting was Kristine Kathryn Rusch's series of articles on the often arcane workings of Big Publishing and I do agree mostly with her. A behemoth like Big Publishing is not going to be able to change overnight, or even over a decade or two from the looks of it, and embrace the digital revolution. It's like trying to take a tight corner at top speed with a stegosaurus. It can't be done.

I do think there are some things that Big Publishing can do right away and that is lower the price of the digital versions of hardback books. An e-book that costs almost as much as hard cover is ridiculous, as is limiting how many times libraries may loan a digital version before getting a new license -- 26 does seem to be ridiculously low. After all, it's not like a hardback or soft cover book that can be loaned out as long as there are covers to keep the pages in place. Digital books do not wear out. That's just pure and simple blindness and greed. That is part of the reason why so many writers are jumping ship.

There will always be wide-eyed and self-published writers tired of doing it all themselves who just want someone to do everything but the writing for them. They'll still have to market and publicize and do a lot of the heavy lifting, but at least they will have more time to write. Putting a book together and making it good enough for publication is a time-consuming process and you have to juggle a lot of balls at the same time in order to get it all done right so you can move on to the next book, which is why I'm still holding off on finishing Whitechapel Hearts. Yes, it is procrastination, but procrastination for a good reason. Luckily, I'm keen on learning new skills and expanding my horizons and, when it gets to be too much, I'll simply hire someone else to do it. I don't see that happening in the near future. I'm too poor. But a time will come and I will be able to afford it, even though I will still have the last word.

I suspect my journey along the self-publishing road will not be as difficult as it is for some because I have some work and background in the business. I've been an editor at a magazine and a web site designer. I've edited a few books, ghost written a few and dealt with publishers and agents. I am learning how to market and I have to say I'm not all that keen on it, but with the bitter . . . . I have a background in art and know what I want and yet am flexible enough to be able to bend when necessary. I've been through the publishing process a time or twelve, give or take a half dozen, and I'm not averse to hard work, and believe me self-publishing, when it's done correctly, is hard work. I will never say it isn't. But, like with anything worth doing, it is worth doing well, and I, unlike many self-publishing writers, prefer to get it right the first time, and I'm not afraid to take the time to do it right.

There are times when self-publishing is all about vanity, and I freely admit there is a bit of vanity in my decision to journey down the self-publishing road. After all, I believe in my book and my ability to put it all together. In an industry when the final decision is no longer made by editors and publishers but by the advertising and sales departments of Big Publishing, I prefer my judgment to theirs. After all, what do they know about writing a good book? Advertising and sales should be about selling a product to the best of their abilities and not to deciding which product -- or book -- would be easiest to sell. If that were the case, who would have published Dickens or Steinbeck or even Hemingway since they were definitely never the flavor of the month?

It took a visionary to take Harry Potter at face value and see that he had potential. Think of the editors who turned J. K. Rowling down. I'll bet they're kicking themselves for not being able to see the future more accurately and clearly. I'll bet Rowling wouldn't have hesitated to self-publish if she couldn't get Harry to the masses any other way.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Along the Self-Publishing Road

I know what Amanda Hocking means about dealing with cover art, page size, copy writing, etc. because I'm going through the first stages of putting my book out in print. It is a bit daunting, although there are plenty of companies and people available to make it easier -- for a price. It does tend to eat into the profits, and there are few profits just starting out. These are all the things that publishers do, or at least once did, before publishing went the way of medicine -- into specialization. Somehow that reminds me of a song done by Marilyn Monroe in a movie. Specialization, specialization.

It's easy for Joe Konrath with his sources and years in publishing and Barry Eisler, just sticking his toe into the self-publishing waters, to talk about how it's no big deal to get out there and publish your own books. They have all been in publishing for years and have made some contacts. It's different when you're just starting out with one or two books and deciding to go from self-publishing an e-book, which is somewhat less complicated, thanks to Smashwords, to publishing a book in print. There are book sizes and cover art (front, back and spine) and color of paper and type of paper and print fonts and all kinds of madness to wade through, at least for the first time. I'm in a quandary.

At least I have some help because I chose a really good cover artist, who is still finding his way as he graduates from college, and we are learning together. He's a Photoshop genius and he has no clue how to do a full book cover (back, front and spine) for a print book. Good thing I have some serious Google-foo and can find just about anything when I'm motivated, and I am very motivated right now.

Finding templates and sizes for print covers was easy, but it is less easy deciding between CreateSpace and BookLocker as publisher. I am leaning toward CreateSpace simply because it has a wide distribution channel and I am guaranteed to get into the right bookstores, although I've known about BookLocker for ages and they have the best prices -- as far as I can tell -- and they don't just take any book. It's almost as hard to pass BookLocker's vetting process as it is to find a good publisher. The only way to tell which will be the better choice is to keep exploring. At least I know I passed the BookLocker test and they'd welcome publishing my book. I guess that bodes well for reviews and positive blurbs. That's always a good thing.

In the meantime, I can continue to productively procrastinate on the next book since I do have some serious work to do with the current book shepherding it through the publication process. That makes me feel a little less uneasy. It isn't that I don't want to write, or at least finish Whitechapel, but that I need to get this first book out of the way and onto the shelves within the next couple of months, especially since I've decided to enter it into the self-publishing book awards this year -- if I get it done in time. I don't think they take e-books yet. Entering the WD Self-Publishing Book Contest is not about the money, but about the exposure and promotions that will result -- and the money would be nice. I do have a lot of expenses right now.

I have found out that not buying books (I put a moratorium on book buying for two years, of course with the occasional slip for a really necessary book) does make funding the current process that much easier, and I have plenty of review books to keep me company. Can't give up the day job that has kept food on the table for the past six or so years until I'm more of a household -- or at least of a book shelf -- name. That takes time.

I suppose this whole journey is meant to be more than just a learning experience. It is supposed to try my soul and test my patience, and I'm well down the road for that. Luckily, I do thrive on challenges and self-publishing has become quite the challenge. The up side is that I get to watch my book sales continue to climb and feel a certain sense of elation and excitement that should be enough to see me through those soul-trying and patience-wearing days ahead. I've no doubt they are up ahead and I'm ready for them.

So far.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Traditional v. Self-Publishing: The Continuing Debate

I'm new to self-publishing e-books, at least to doing it myself. I have, however, edited several books that were self-published, and I have watched that side of the industry for a very long time. Like most writers, I kept writing and polishing my work, chasing agents and publishers, and getting no love. It's that way for many writers -- for most writers, truth be told.

When I decided to take the plunge with Among Women, I had certain expectations: that my book would hit the market and begin to make ripples. There was still the idea at the back of my mind that a traditional publisher, preferably one who had rejected the book, would see the error of their way and offer me a book deal. That idea diminished over time and I began to look at self-publishing and e-books in a completely different light -- a hopeful light.

Amanda Hocking is a hot topic right now and she has done well, selling nearly a million e-books and making a tidy profit. Joe Konrath, who I have quoted and mentioned several times, has become the guru of self-published e-books and has presented his case with the backing of several other well known print authors who have jumped ship to join the independent publishing brigade, the most recent defector having given up a $500,000 book deal with St. Martin's Press: Barry Eisler. His daughter asked why he didn't publish The Lost Coast himself as an e-book. I have to say, the news isn't all good, but it is intoxicating to think that I could be one of the lucky ones, as long as luck includes passion about writing and a moderate facility with creating memorable characters and interesting books.

It seems that series books are selling the best and I can see why. Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison and Anita Blake spring immediately to mind with their paranormal characters and solid writing. After all, it's like building any relationship; when the people click (reader and character) you want to know more about the person, be a part of their lives. I had that experience with a paranormal series of three books (so far) that is set in Colorado; I got caught up with the characters and wanted to know what came next. Katherine Lampe did a great job creating memorable situations and three-dimensional characters. She isn't published, but I hope she will be so I can keep reading about them.

After doing plenty of research and taking the plunge, no one was more surprised than I was when the news came out that Amanda Hocking was pursuing a three-book deal with traditional publishers for more than $1M (one million dollars). Why would the darling of indie publishing take such a big step backward? She has already made more than a million since she began publishing e-books two years ago, so what's the draw? I had more questions than answers so I went on a bug hunt and tracked it back to the source.

It didn't take long to figure out what was going on here. Fear. It's a big burden writing, editing, finding or hiring someone to do a good book cover, line editing, copy editing, formatting and all the other things that go along with self-publication, and it seems to have taken its toll on Amanda. Can you blame her? Doing it all yourself, especially the marketing and maintaining a web presence, is exhausting and it takes away the energy necessary to write books. It won't cost her much, except most of her profits, and she will sleep better at night, be less afraid and be able to focus on writing, or at least that is what I get from her post.

To put it in perspective, I am reminded of an acquaintance who was desperate to sign a specific agent. She approached the agent with a solid book proposal, a great query and a wonderful sample of what she had in mind. The agent took no time at all rejecting it all. She didn't have time to work with an unpublished author who had one book to offer. The writer was devastated. She submitted the proposal to Adams Media and got back a question: Can you change the book to fit the format the editor had in mind? She could and she did and she got the contract for the book. She was about to be published. What did she do? She went back to the agent, contract in hand to beg for a second chance. The agent agreed. After all, the writer had done all the work and all she needed to do was take a look at the contract and collect her 15%. She did tell the writer that she would have to work hard to promote herself and continue to write more nonfiction books in the same vein. The writer agreed. Why not? She would have -- and did -- crawl naked over broken glass just to pay the agent of her choice. I see the same willingness to do anything to get a traditional publishing contract in what Amanda Hocking wrote.

I'm sure that Amanda realizes that she will get, instead of 35% or 70%, depending on the price of the e-book, 14.2% of digital publishing royalties, after she's paid her agent and whoever else she has hired to promote her work. She will also have to continue to maintain an online presence and promote herself; publishers just don't do that much promotion or publicizing any more; it's up to the writer. It's her book and her name. She will see a 12-15% royalty, minus fees to agents, publicists, etc., when her book hits the stands and its shelf life will be about the length of a Mayfly's life span. She will finally get on the NY Times bestseller's list instead of just the USA Today bestsellers list, but she can relax. She won't have to worry about copy or line editing, have control over the book cover or have any kind of control over the finished product except for what she puts into it. She will finally have an editor who will spot repetitions and plot holes and continuity errors and rest easy that it will be done right. She can finally exhale.

Everybody has to make a choice, whether to self-publish or following the traditional path with agents and legacy publishers, and do the best they can with what they get. No writer is guaranteed to be a bestseller and, whatever route the author takes, it will come with its own set of problems and hurdles. Traditional publishing does not guarantee a book will be published error-free or that continuity, typos, plot holes, etc. won't still get through onto the page. I've read and reviewed too many books that were subpar on that score to believe that. If it means that Amanda Hocking can finally exhale and continue to write the books that have thrilled so many, then so be it. I suppose in the end, a small percentage of sales is worth being able to sleep at night and no longer be afraid.