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Monthly Archives: June 2011

Why I Haven’t Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months … Yet

Why I Haven’t Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months … Yet

This morning a new twitter follower who runs a blog called Extremely Average sent me a link to his review of John Locke’s new eBook, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months. I shelled out the $4.99 for this eBook several days ago, after a recommendation from David Gaughran over at Indie Publishing for International Authors. (If you’re not subscribed to David’s blog, you need to be! And watch out for an eBook version detailing Dave’s digital experience soon to be released). I finished reading Locke’s eBook sometime afterward, at about two in the morning. (I have reclaimed the wee hours of the morning as “me” time). Both reviews said Locke’s eBook was worth the $4.99, even though there is, in fact, rather little in it that they weren’t already doing. I can only agree with them.

While the eBook won’t offer a lot of tips for the canny “Authorpreneur” who is already utilising social networking and online marketing to move books off the virtual shelves, it was worth the $4.99 and, if nothing else, is an interesting insight to Locke’s success.

Written in the somewhat circumlocutory stye common to copywriting and marketing, Locke’s book shows why he is such a success, which probably has more to do with his marketing genius than writing skills alone—a point he makes himself rather self-deprecatingly.

I won’t tell you what his mind-blowing secret to success is—suffice it to say that the build-up is rather more interesting than the “big reveal” itself—but I will tell you that he does two things very effectively that big traditional publishing houses should take note of.

The first is simple and something every writer must do: know your audience.

The second is a little more time-consuming but equally as important: connect with them personally.

In my experience, “big” publishing is notoriously bad at doing either of these things. “Genre” you see is different from “knowing your audience”, which is more about understanding the demographics of your intended readers. What do they like? What are their hobbies? Where do they shop? Where do they eat? Most importantly: what do they want? And, even more importantly, how can you give them what they like and what they want in a place where they shop.

Traditional publishers tend to focus more on whether a particular genre sells well, where it sits in the store and the look and feel of a  piece. While getting the cover right, the length right and the price right is part of knowing an audience, it is not the only part. Few publishers truly do extensive marketing research and that Locke thinks about his audience even before he puts fingers to keyboard is a telling part of his success.

Mind you, sometimes publishers get lucky. A case in point is the Stephanie Meyer Twilight Series. Is it fabulous writing? I don’t believe so. Yet it garnered many millions of fans and, quite frankly, I’d swap paypackets with Meyer anyday. It did so because Meyer knows her audience and she gives them what they want: teenage angst, a rather insipid everyday heroine, romance, a choice of two hot “boys” (who just happen to be supernatural), and a simple read that doesn’t tax their vocabulary while getting them hot under the collar without overt eroticism or even any sex scenes at all (who’d have thunk it?). Timing, with a vampire genre that hadn’t seen such success since Anne Rice, also probably had something to do with her success. Charlaine Harris‘s much better-written (imo) Southern Vampire series also tapped into that subject area.

Traditional publishers, at least from what I have seen, also tend to promote the author, but rarely promote a true one-on-one personal connection with the work or the author, outside of book signing events. Self-promotion using social networking,  on the other hand, now allows for fans to connect directly with authors and forge a personal connection, and that connection is gold … quite literally in Locke’s case. Responding personally to fans takes time. In fact, marketing takes time. Locke may have made 1 million in just five months, but he has put an awful lot of work into getting there, and much of that has been in marketing.

Late last year I went to a seminar run by IF:book Australia where Kate Eltham and Richard Nash mentioned that, where in the past “content was king” in today’s publishing word “connection is king”. People want to connect with their favourite authors without the middleman of a publisher and self-publishing and social networking are allowing them to do that.

I can see that Locke’s book is going to be useful and  inspiring for lots of authors seeking self-publishing success. My only caution would be that it is important for authors to ensure they spend as much time making a reader like their book as they do making a reader want to buy their book. What I mean by this is that, while excellent marketing and business skills (which appear to be the common denominator in the success of many best-selling series) can take a good book and make it  great, even they can’t take turn a turd into a treasure. Good, preferably great, writing AND proactive marketing skills are both necessary to make it in the new world of self-publishing.

So until I feel that my novel is the absolute best it can be and will totally flabbergast readers, it won’t be going up on Smashwords or Amazon, but perhaps, one day, it will.

Visit Karin’s website at www.editorandauthor.com for some great writing tips and to see more samples of her work. She also has a poetry anthology available on smashwords.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Why I Was Wrong About Ebooks

Several years ago, my colleagues and I at a small, independent publishing company gathered in our conference room to discuss, with some trepidation, the state of the publishing industry and the likely effect emerging eReaders and tablets would have on sales. We all recognised that a revolution was starting. We all wondered what would happen to our jobs and livelihood, and many of us, like myself, were even mildly excited about the possibilities the new technology offered. As an editor, eBooks could be seen to have presented a real threat to me and my profession, and to some degree they do, but, as an author, being able to publish directly to a large, technology-driven readership was a prospect that piqued my interest. However, at our meeting, after much deliberation, senior management concluded that, although eBooks were coming, they weren’t coming just yet and wouldn’t present a threat to our industry or to printed book sales for many years to come.

Fast forward to 2011 and the collapse of Angus and Robertson and Borders, among the largest players in the book retail industry in Australia, and it is clear for all to see how wrong they were. How wrong we were.

Several reasons they believed eBooks wouldn’t challenge traditional printed books, and certainly not to the level suggested by hot-headed media commentators at the time, were thrown around:

(1) People love to browse bookshops. Bookstores, with their paper-smelling stacks of shelves dotted with engaging “wobblers”, and watched over by turtleneck-wearing, bespectacled booklovers, are where the crème de la crème of intellectuals gather to sip lattes and fawn over the newest releases.

(2) The smell of books. Oh, that heady scent of pulped paper liberally poured over with carbon black, titanium dioxide and wax. (This is one of the biggest reasons proponents of the printed book give for sticking to tangible books over eBooks.)

(3) No-one wants to read on-screen; it’s too much like work and too hard on the eyes.

(4) Who wants to read an eBook in bed (where a lot of booklovers do their reading) or in the bath?

(5) People like collecting books. They like having bookshelves filled with books that reflect their personal tastes and make them look clever.

(6) You own a printed book and can share it with friends or give it away. You can’t do that with an eBook which is actually only licensed to you.

(7) The Australian market for iPads, Kindles, Nooks, MobiPockets and other eReaders is still far from saturated.

What I now know is that none of these reasons was ever going to halt the advance of eBooks and their steady encroachment on traditional publishing. I know this because last night, I—me, book editor and publishing professional of 14 years, avid reader, collector of books—popped my iPhone4 into a ziplock plastic bag and took it with me to the bathroom, where I spent an hour luxuriating and reading Justin Cronin’s The Passage. (Editing aside, I do much of my reading in the bath—always have.) For the past few years I have kidded myself that electronic devices and bathwater are arch-enemies. Not so. Cue the tiny ziplock bag and rubber iPhone case and reading in the bath has now “gone digital” remarkably easily.

Since I have had the iPhone4, a little over four months, I have bought several eBooks, usually paying $4.99 or less. Titles I have picked up are largely work-related (grammar guides and how-tos) but I have also purchased several novels and short story collections and downloaded a lot of free apps and eBooks. Admittedly I haven’t yet shelled out the $9.99 to buy an eBook version of a bestselling paperback novel, but I am sure that time will come.

So why the change? Why would I, a devout printed booklover, turn so easily? The answer is convenience. Other circumstances, such as having a baby, no doubt hastened my conversion to eBook reading—after all, it is much easier to read on an iPhone while holding a sleeping baby than it is to read a hardcover or paperback book, which requires two hands. Pregnancy related apps on the iPhone, which link to websites that cover a range of pregnancy questions probably helped initiate me into reading onscreen on the iPhone. So perhaps there were extenuating circumstances, but I now believe that none of the points above would ever have remained important enough to stop me going digital eventually. Let’s look at them in detail again:

1. Bookshops are fine if you’ve got time to browse the stacks. But when you’re a busy mum trying to fit in writing, house cleaning, shopping, socialising, writing and freelancing, finding the time to sip lattes at your local bookstore is just about impossible. Kindle and other apps on the iPhone allow me to see what’s new and keep in touch with latest releases without having to change out of my spit-up covered pjs (Ah yes, it’s a glamorous job, editing. Luckily most of the manuscripts I see don’t make me spit up too much 😉

2. The smell of books is one of the most commonly repeated reasons for not converting to eBooks, but really? I mean, really? How many dedicated book sniffers do you know? And anyway, most of my books smell like mould from being … dropped in the bath … or being thumbed through with wet, soapy fingers. Several smell like wine and some may even smell like cheese, these being my two favourite things to put in my mouth when reading (with the exception of the end of a red pen and sometimes a partially loaded gun when editing). Smell is clearly not a reason to swear off eBooks forever.

3. While it isn’t quite the same as reading on paper, reading on a small screen isn’t that bad. Plus, all editors will tell you that it is harder to pick up errors on-screen than it is on hardcopy, which is perhaps a blessing given the state of the grammar and punctuation in some self-published eBooks whose authors haven’t bothered hiring an editor! But I digress. What I have found is that the illuminated screen means I can now read in bed without eliciting whines of: “It’s 1 a.m., for God’s sake turn the light off, Kaz!” from my long-suffering, non-reading partner. Also the lit-up screen makes a great torch to guide my way to my wailing infant’s nursery at 4 am for her early morning feed and nappy change and if I’m feeling particularly naughty and manage to switch off the mummy guilt for a second I can even read while I nurse. (Bad mummy, bad!)

4. So, that’s reading in bed/nursing already partly covered. It’s actually far more comfortable to read lying down holding a slim smart phone or eReader than it is holding a heavy hardcover or thick paperback. Plus, if you’re nifty, you can do it one handed, leaving your other hand free for reassuringly hugging your partner and pretending you’re asleep, or whatever else you might want to do. (I can see this being a real boon for dedicated readers of erotic fiction, but let’s not go there). Surprisingly, reading in the bath is also easier on an iPhone, providing you take precautions. The touch screen and scrolling worked just fine through a “zippy” and being able to read one-handed meant I could shave my legs at the same time. (Kids: don’t try this at home. Having a child has made me a masterful multitasker, but nicks from safety razors still sting).

5. I have been one of those “never throw away a book” people my entire life, until recently. When we bought our own home a few years back and I had to move box after backbreaking box of books in, including Greek Democracy and Politics in Early Athens and other such gems that were required reading for the Ancient History strand of my degree, I had a change of heart. Out went the textbooks I acquired in university. Out went the books I never got around to reading. Out went anything that didn’t live up to my expectations. Having said that, I still have hundreds of books, so many that I have no more bookshelf room. My new role as mum and the lack of a second income has put a partial ban on book buying outside of St Vinnies or charity shops, and my partner has put a total ban on buying any more bookshelves. So I either have to be extremely selective about what I purchase and maintain a stringent door policy of “one comes in one goes out” or I turn to eBooks, where my options are limited only by my finances and the amount of memory left on my phone.

6. Yes you can lend a book to your friends, but, really, I don’t advise it. Nine times out of ten whenever I have lent out a book it has never been seen again. So you don’t own the eBook that sits on your eReader or iPhone, big deal. You also pay considerably less for it (particularly in Australia) than you do for the privilege of owning a printed edition … and you don’t have to find shelf space for it either. You can recommend it to all and sundry by writing a review, and you can still recommend it to your friends and help spread the word and support the industry.

7. It is true that eReaders haven’t lived up to their anticipated potential in Australia. I don’t have one because I have a laptop and an iPhone and I’m not sure how much the iPad or Kindle or some other eReader would make a difference to my habits. But almost everyone has a smartphone that enables them to read eBooks and with ever more affordable eReaders and more and more eBooks hitting the virtual shelves every day, surely this will fast change. Not only that, but the publishing marketplace is more global than ever before, meaning that publishers (both traditional and self-) from around the globe can cheaply and easily make books available to readers worldwide. Publishers and authors should be looking at the global market for eReaders, rather than being too parochial and taking into account only local sales.

When I look back on it, I think the reason that we were easily persuaded and placated by senior management back then in the mid-to-late 2000s was not that we didn’t believe eBooks would be big, but that we didn’t want to believe it. Even today some publishers and publishing professionals still have their noses stuck in a traditional printed book and refuse to remove their rose-coloured reading glasses to see the screens lighting up all around them.

As an author, I’m pleased to say I was wrong, because the eBook revolution is offering authors much more creative freedom than traditional publishers ever have. As an editor, I’m pleased because I’ve seen how the ease and affordability of e-publishing has allowed self-published authors to finally begin to be more professional and channel their “start-up” costs into getting expert editing and cover design, rather than putting it all into the exorbitant cost of printing. As a reader I’m even more pleased, because anything that provides me with a convenient and simple way to access written information while juggling my other daily tasks is, quite simply, a godsend.

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Mistakes New Writers Make: Confusing “Novelist” with “Playwright”

As an editor, I’m often asked what is the common mistake made by new writers. For me, several things typify a novice writer, and I’ve found these errors vary little, even regardless of the genre an author might be attempting to write in. So in a series of ongoing blog posts I thought I’d elaborate. Today’s post is probably the most common thing I see when appraising manuscripts by first-time novelists—confusing writing a novel with writing a play or a movie script.

While I call it “writing a script not a novel”, other editors and experienced authors call this “telling not showing”—a phrase often bandied around on writing message boards. It’s not uncommon for a first-time author to attempt to imagine events unravelling then depict them on paper just as if they were watching a movie. That can be a good thing, as it means that an author’s characters are alive (at least to them); however, it very often translates into writing that reads like a script and makes characters and settings seem wooden or forced.

Sometimes, the use of present tense makes this error glaringly obvious; other times extended paragraphs of setting are a giveaway. Whenever you see a sentence that starts with “There is…” that is usually an indicator that you’re writing a scene for a movie and not a scene for a novel. For example:

Joel walks into the room. He sees a long black coffee table with three patterned, coffee-filled mugs on it and a yellow sofa with a fluffy cushion. The room is only about two metres long by three metres wide and so dimly lit he can barely see the tall, blonde, long-legged girl stretched out on the sofa. She is brown-skinned with green eyes and appears to be wearing some kind of tutu and twirling a strand of her yellow hair around her slim index finger. There is a guitar propped on the floor next to the coffee table which she moves out of the way to stand.
“Hello,” she says seductively to him. “You must be the new flatmate.”

See what’s happening here? There are some other very obvious issues aside from the “script style” stage directing (misplaced modifiers, unnecessary description, adverbs in dialogue tags etc), but you get my drift. Now compare the above paragraph with:

Joel’s eyes took a moment to adjust to the dim light in the tiny living room; when they did, he could just make out the long-limbed, tanned form of a girl stretched out on the yellow sofa. She cradled a half-full coffee mug in her right hand; in the other, she twirled a strand of her long blonde hair seductively. Joel noticed with intrigue that she appeared to be wearing some kind of tutu.
“Hello,” she said, moving a guitar, which was propped against the coffee table, out of the way so she could stand. “You must be the new flatmate.” Her green eyes studied him intently.

As you can see, the basic gist of the second paragraph is the same. Most of the elements are there, with the exception of some that are unnecessary. Do we really need to know, for instance, that the mugs are patterned or that the cushion is fluffy (or even that it is there at all if it doesn’t play a significant role in the story). The difference is that some of the action is woven in around the dialogue, and the scene setting occurs within the frame of that action (Joel entering the room, the girl cradling a coffee mug, Joel noticing with intrigue, the girl moving a guitar and standing etc). Some of the “props” (such as the coffee cups) also now have actions (in the form of verbs) attached to them rather than just being static nouns in a room.

I think new authors sometimes feel the need to over-describe like this because they believe it will help create a picture in the reader’s mind and make a scene authentic, but  it is the characters, rarely the settings, that lend authenticity to a novel. To make characters believable, they generally have to be in action because, as we know, most people don’t just walk into a room and stand around checking out for the furniture for minutes. They walk in, glance around and start talking, drinking, eating or whatever it is they are doing.

People are also great multitaskers, so flesh out your settings while having the characters perform actions. When it comes to description and setting, less is usually more and the skilled novel writer finds a way to slip little nuggets of descriptive information in among the action, rather than writing long paragraphs of setting that leave the reader feeling like they’re reading stage directions.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Writer self-doubt — we all get it!

A few days ago I promised a blog post a day — a promise that, if I’m truthful, I’m already regretting. I’m one of those writers notorious for not finishing what they started. And not just as a writer, as gym-goer or dieter I face the same problem. My initial burst of enthusiasm gradually dwindles. I’ll start again tomorrow, I tell myself. It’s just a temporary hiatus. But five works in progress (or 10 weeks and 10 kilos) later, I’m still on the bandwagon. So, at the risk of lapsing back into bad habits, I am posting today.

It might not be the most informative post in the world. It may even make you think: “Oh she’s one of those people — those big idea types who never finish anything.” But the thing is, I’m not always like this. As well as trying to find the time to write, I’ve been working as an editor for more than twelve years, working for traditional publishing houses as my day job (as a Senior Editor for the most part but as an inhouse author for the past three years) and spending my weekends and spare time working as a freelance editor, simply because I love it.  As a result, editing the work of others has often taken precedence over finishing my own writing.

When editing, I am extremely deadline driven and relish the excitement of working my way through a manuscript and the thrill that comes with finishing an edit on time and to the best of my ability. I regularly lose myself in a manuscript for hours on end, and I dislike interruptions and actively seek to minimise them. So where is the disconnect? Why am I so appalling at putting in the hard yards to finish my own work? Why am I so easily distracted by every tweet or post that pops up on my iPhone? Why do I sit staring into space cursing myself while my novel limps along? The answer is: I’m too close to my own work to be able to evaluate it successfully and I’m terrified of finishing it, which would mean I have to then subject it to a process that I know, from experience, is nerve-wracking: submitting.

My editorial training has taught me how to assess and appraise the work of others, how to pedantically mark up botched grammar and punctuation, and how to detect issues with plot, pacing and characterisation. Editing is a critical process that requires a certain kind of cynicism and circumspection, but when it comes to my own work, my critical faculties go into overdrive. Great ideas and interesting premises soon start to appear trite and unoriginal. Every word I write is wrong. And not just wrong, but WRONG! My work, I convince myself, is terrible. As a result I let trivial issues prevent me from writing and I turn instead to something I know I am good at: editing. That I am paid to edit (both as a freelancer and, in the past, for several traditional publishers) validates what I do. My own non-paid fiction writing comes with no such validation. It is subject to the whims of agents and commissioning editors just like any other author’s.

The annoying thing is that, despite my “inner critic,” deep down I know I can write. When not on maternity leave, I work as a non-fiction inhouse author and I’ve been paid good money to write more than 28 books — a luxury I am very grateful for. I’ve created funny, engaging storybooks for children, creative non-fiction, travel guides, natural history books and coffee table books for adults. I’ve sold lots of books. I’ve won awards. I’ve been well reviewed. I can write. What I can’t do is give myself a break.

I am my own worst critic. My worst enemy. The attention to detail and commitment to “getting it right” that make me a good editor distract me as an author. They prevent me from simply sitting and writing and worrying about the technicalities later. They make me go off on tangents and research a minor historical event for hours to ensure I have my facts straight. They send me scurrying off to compare points of style between the Chicago Manual of Style, AP and Snooks & Co. They force me to go back and reread my entire manuscript again every time I have let it go untended for weeks, which invariably leads to more line edits and fewer words added to the manuscript that day.

I need larger blocks of time, I tell myself (and that is partly true). I need the money that freelancing brings in, I tell myself (again, partly true). But the real truth is: I need to stop procrastinating and making excuses — whether valid ones or those based on the low self-esteem that plagues many writers.  Above all else, I just need to just shut the hell up and do it, even if I have only 10 minutes, even if what I write tonight is less than perfect. I’m sure this blog even operates as a procrastination at times! And with that, I’m off to write.

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2011 in Editing, Procrastination, Writer's Block

 

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Are you ready to self-publish? DIY red flags

Debate, some quite vitriolic, has been raging for years on public writing boards over whether self-published authors can call themselves “authors” in the true sense of the word and whether or not self-publishing is a death sentence for a writer’s career or a stepping stone.

As an editor who has spent most of her working life as a lackey for traditional book publishers  — and therefore, I suppose, part of the so-called “gatekeeper” set, although I don’t think of myself as a gatekeeper but a reader’s advocate — I still feel that, in most cases, traditional publishing has a better track record of producing a quality, marketable product, largely because publishers follow stringent procedures and have a chain of trained staff available to polish, sell and distribute a book. However, the recent upswing in professional authors turning away from contracts with bigger publishers to go it alone in the self-published eBook wilderness is gradually increasing the profile of the self-published eBook, which can only be a good thing for authors wanting to e-publish themselves.

As Joe Konrath’s, Cory Doctorow’s, John Locke’s and Amanda Hocking’s success will convince you, there are now many talented self-published authors who have a commitment to quality and are producing and promoting their own work to great success. I say good on them. Some of the most dedicated self-published authors have  amassed millions of fans. They put in the hard yards, they promote tirelessly, they believe in themselves without being inflated with self-importance, and they wholeheartedly deserve their success. I admire them for being entrepreneurial. But there are many more who rush a badly written book through Lulu or Bookpal, or put out an unedited, poorly formatted or just plain rubbish eBook without any of the vetting procedures used by traditional publishing companies. These books are full of errors, often have insanely implausible plots or very dull characters who go nowhere and do little, and contain gaping plot holes. The authors of such titles, puffed up with hubris and the belief they’re going to make a million, buy into the lie that they don’t need an editor, cover designer or anyone else because their work is that good and it’s that easy. Unfortunately, they spoil things for new self-published authors still seeking an audience because they lower the standard of self-published books and, therefore, the price people are willing to pay for them. Thankfully, the cream will still float to the top and the crap to the bottom, but it’s still a long wade through the mediocre milk to find the sweet spot.

I wouldn’t discourage any author from self-publishing if that is the option they feel will best meet their needs and they are prepared to critically assess their work first, hire an editor and a cover designer, and publicize and promote their work themselves, which can be time consuming. However, here are a few red flags I believe indicate an author is not really ready to be published (traditionally or otherwise).

You are not ready to self-publish if you only want to self-publish because:

(a) Stupid evil agents, editors and publishers, what do they know? Who died and made them gatekeepers? Most of them are failed writers. They wouldn’t know a good book if they see it! They published Stephanie Meyer, HA! What a crock of sh*t. Readers are stupid too. I know more than they do, all of them, so I’m going to self-publish. RED FLAG.

(b) I don’t want anyone touching my prefect work. I’ve been ofer it an thousand times. My work is 100% cleen. I am an ecellent self-editor and my grammar is wonderfully. I donut need anyone changing a singal word. Whenever I’ve let any one look at it they’ve changed things and MADE it WORST. I had my mother read it and she loved it and said it was 100% perfekt. RED FLAG.

(c) Why should I give part of my hard-earned to greedy publishers when I can make a FORTUNE, a FORTUNE I tell you out of self-publishing!!!! [Emphasis added] I tell you there is NO other book out there in the world like this book! This book has it all— vampires, good cops, bad cops, romance, psychopaths, sex scenes, unicorns, wizards, kung fu artists, dragons and a plot based on major world themes of war, corruption, redemption and transcendence. It’s timeless. Readers who like Tolkien, Meyers, Rowling, Harris, Patterson, Connelly, Doctorow, Banks, Courtenay, Ben Elton and Dame Barbara Cartland will LOVE this book. I reckon I can sell 500,000 of this book in the first few days. Just you sit back and watch me become a billionaire, b*tches. RED FLAG. Major RED FLAG.

(d) I need money fast. Real fast. They’re going to break my kneecaps if I can’t come up with three grand by next Wednesday and my luck on the geegees is well down. Damn! But I know detective mysteries. How long do you reckon it takes to write a book about a famous racehorse that gets assassinated by a ruthless bookie and a PI on the case — a week or two while I’m laid up with broken knees? Easy. If I can just sell 30,00 of these babies for 99c each I’m back in the black. Hit “Publish”! RED FLAG.

If you genuinely feel that you have a polished manuscript and you’ve tried unsuccessfully to gain representation — and by that I mean not that you’ve waited around for years, but that you’ve sent it out to a few agents or publishers and taken on board feedback from beta readers or writing groups at least— and you know you are prepared to put in the hard yards and spend some of your own money to make your book the best it can be by hiring a cover designer and editor and self-promoting your work, then by all means go for it. I’d highly recommend self-publishing and eBook publishing for publishing poetry, short stories and some popular non-fiction (for example, books on how to care for a baby, running a successful home-based business, herbal beauty products or whatever).

Ultimately, whether traditional publishing or self-publishing is best for you depends on your publishing dreams. If you just want to see your book in print or for sale and pitch it to family and friends before you die, by all means, do it. Don’t sit around getting disgruntled and becoming one of those authors mentioned in (a). But if you know that writing is hard work but you do it because you love it and you know you’re good at it, and one day you’re hopeful you will have success (however limited, but you hope for big things), then keep on submitting to publishers and good luck to you. I wouldn’t rule out using self-publishing or traditional publishing. It all depends on your aims.

As I am already a traditionally published author, perhaps my view is a little different, but I would publish poetry, shorts and some non-fiction myself as eBooks, and plan to do so as an exercise in having “options” if nothing else. However, at this point I would still prefer to send my novels to a traditional publisher and cross my fingers.

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2011 in Editing, Future of the book

 

The Writer’s Web

Over the past decade, much has been written and postulated about the future of the book. For years publishers have been blithely ignoring the bleeding obvious and turning a blind eye to the telling and ever-increasing marketshare of digital “options”, such as iTunes in the music industry. They’ve been whispering cagily to themselves: “This won’t happen to us: books are revered, respected, the last bastions of elitist intellectual superiority”. However, since Amazon and Apple first began their sortie on “traditional publishing” several years ago, things have changed, namely public perception of what the book is and what it can be.

Such radical thinking is now forcing  traditional publishers to rethink their rather precarious position. Digital media threatens to transform the book into something that is no longer an object but a concept. For centuries the tangible has made books hot commodities (and no doubt the printed book will never “die” as some hyperbolic commentators have suggested). But now, it is the intangible: the potential, the melding of new media and the inclusion of features that transcend the traditional “noun” of the book to add a richness of features that act as the “adjectives” and “adverbs” of digitised content. These concepts will serve to amplify what the book truly is — a way to communicate with others and share a world (albeit fictional in many cases), and the internet will become an important extension of that author-to-reader communication.

Late last year I attended a fascinating seminar series produced by if:Book Australia and the Queensland Writers Centre and titled: Next Text. As always, Kate Eltham, CEO of the QWC, was a sterling representative for authors, publishers and booklovers. She was joined by Richard Nash, formerly of Soft Skull Press, who added several unique perspectives from the point of view of a former Indie Publisher now establishing a “new model” publishing venture (Cursor) that focuses on win-win solutions for authors and independent, enterprising publishers. Overwhelmingly, the message that rang true to authors and publishers in attendance was that the book industry is undergoing a revolution.

I don’t mean the “quick get the guillotine and put the agents, editors and publishers’ heads on the block” bloody uprising that I often see wild-eyed wannabe authors call for (particularly those already wounded by the rejections of established publishers). I mean a throwing open of the gates, a changing of the guard, a broadening of possibilities for all authors, publishers and publishing professionals. According to Nash, the days of publishers wielding the big stick and throwing authors a small carrot are over. And the author side of me barracks, “Vive la Revolution!” The publishing professional side of me, however, wonders if I will have a job five years into the future. Might be time to write the big one, methinks!

Digital media circumvents the laborious, political chain of command that has dogged the book industry for so long: author to publisher, publisher to distributor, distributor to retailer, retailer to reader (or, all too often, retailer back to publisher as “returns”). It alleviates the need for a sale or return supply model and it allows authors —those mercurial and often hermetical “primary producers” of the industry — the chance to access a greater percentage of profit from their work and to directly connect with their readers in real time, should they wish to.

The meteoric rise of social networking media, print-on-demand companies and all things “digital” has woven the chain of command into a complex web of opportunity for authors willing to exploit this sticky social gossamer. I call it the Writers Web and it allows numerous ways of attracting your “flies” (readers). Give away your content free online, but parcel up portions of your brain and make them available to the highest bidder in one-off editions? Sure, go for it. But don’t expect that all traditional publishers will embrace your newfound anti-capitalist writing exercises. The opportunities are there for entrepreneurial authors who have talent, and many will be snapped up by traditional publishers eventually and will no doubt relish that vindication. But there will still be plenty of mediocre authors who attract only a small online presence and earn enough to fund only their caffeine habit (which is still better than a poke in the eye or a form rejection letter).

Ah, but traditional publishing will be vanquished, vamoosed, I hear some authors, struck by the pangs of unrequited love for a big publisher, snigger. But I don’t think so. So what does it mean for publishers? Will the traditional guardians of the written word be buried under a flurry of ebooks? The answer, I believe is that some will. I believe the traditional bookstore will suffer more (vengeance for demanding 50-60% of RRP or more for so long? Possibly. They too, will have to adapt or face slow extinction and it may be that they team up with PoD and develop virtual and literal bookstores where a range of options are available to booklovers).

Back to publishers. Those who are unethical, authoritarian or inflexible will struggle to attract authors (especially those authors savvy enough to know they should individually license off their multi-facted “rights” as profitably as they can). Those who offer new methods, more appealing contracts and better royalty payments will also be able to move away from the distribution and chain-store model into web shopfronts, where they keep a greater percentage of the RRP and are also able to give authors a bigger slice of the pie. In return, authors will still get books on literal shelves, will benefit from a larger marketing budget, and will have the credibilty afforded by being “banked upon” by a traditional publisher.

Authors, I believe, will unconsciously become the gatekeepers of quality and the printed word purely out of their desire for print validation. The cost of printed books will undoubtedly rise, and boutique, rather than chain, bookstores may stock only the best, most popular titles and authors, and offer high-priced premium and limited additions as well as become “events management” sites for direct author-to-reader interaction in the flesh — super signings, if you like. What about other publishing professionals? The availability, accessibility and affordability of ebooks and even PoD has already resulted in a significant downturn in DIY offset publishing, and authors are buying into the success of net marketing doyens, such as Doctorow and Konrath.

As a freelance editor and publishing professional as well an an author, I all too often feel a decidedly chill wind when I walk into a room of disgruntled wannabe authors. Words like “shark”, “scam” and “vanity publisher” are all too often erroneously bandied around on author forums and in writers groups, making the assumption that all editors, agents and publishers aim to channel funds away from the writer. (Oh, how many times have I heard the old chestnut, “Money should flow towards the writer” and thought “if only they’d build a bridge over that fast-flowing river of potential Meyer-esque riches they’d have so much more chance of the traditional success they seek but simultaneously deride!”) This attitude, and the affordability of “publishing” with Lulu or Smashwords or CreateSpace has meant authors are increasingly unwilling to shell out for professional editorial, jacket design or publicity/distribution services, which IS affecting the quality of the books hitting the (admittedly figurative) shelves of online bookstores. It is also likely to effect the role of both editor and agent in the future, and we need to think about how to change the perception of what it is we do and why we do it, and to ensure that our colleagues work ethically.

The challenge for all publishing professionals is:

(a) how to stay relevant in an age where there is “no fence”. Don’t want to publish an author? Fine, they’ll jump the fence (if there even is one anymore), publish themselves, and sell their book on their homepage for two dollars a pop. Offer them shitty contracts demanding all digital rights lumped into one and 10% RRP of net receipts — goodbye! Publishers need to look towards models that satisfy both parties, similar to Richard Nash’s hinted-at business model for Cursor (which is fledgling but appears promising).

(b) how to reverse the damage done by traditional publishing to encourage ALL authors that services such as editing, distribution and book design are valuable, worthy and, here’s the big one — ethical. Part of this is in weeding out those who do suck, or who prey on the naivety of authors (and they are out there). I think this will occur by natural selection as the industry constricts. The rest will be more effectively communicating to authors that editors and agents are advocates for the written word, not the “policemen” of it.

An editor’s job is not to wring the author’s ego right out of the page and an agent’s job is not to “screw” the publisher (or the author) but to negotiate a satisfactory outcome for both “stakeholders”. Editors are lifesavers in the sea of words — think Pamela Anderson in Baywatch but substitute the little red floatation device for a red ballpoint and the red one-piece for, well, something less overtly sexy. They’ll drag your gasping text out of a frothy dumper more times than you can count if you let them, and they’ll do it so quietly and effortlessly no one will even know you were floundering.

(c) how to remodel the way publishing professionals attract, entice, deal with, pay and promote authors in order to keep print publishing viable and alive. This could be a variety of licensing methods or new publishing mechanisms and models that, as of yet, haven’t even been conceived. One thing is certain, all of them will mean rethinking the “cut” authors make out of the publishing process and finding ways to give the authors and the readers more credit. And that, in my mind, can only be a good thing … just don’t tell my publisher. 🙂

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2011 in Future of the book