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Category Archives: Future of the book

How will the book change with new media

Busy bees and other stuff

Those of you who regularly stop by may have noticed that I haven’t been seen around these parts for a while. “Is she pregnant again?” some of you may be asking. “Has she gone missing in action?” “Is she a recent casualty in the war of words between indies and legacy published authors?” The answer to all of these questions is “No.” Although I have to admit to a certain amount of “hmmmpffff” about the first one, as my daughter is starting to settle into the comfortable notion that she might be an only child. We shall see about that!

The real reason for my absence has been the establishment of the Indie Review Tracker website and my involvement in the excellent Indie Chicks Cafe site (blogging once a month or so), as well as a huge pile of editorial tasks I’m working through so I can get back to writing my own WiPs.

I’ve mentioned the idea of Indie Review Tracker on her before, but haven’t, as yet had a chance to formally announce that the site is up and running over at www.indiereviewtracker.com

With more than 200 reviewers, book bloggers, advertisers (both free and paid) and indie service providers (editors, graphic artists, designers and formatters) listed, and more being added by the day, I hope it will be a useful resource for self-published authors and help them easily find reviewers or bloggers, by genre, to help them promote.

It sure was a lot of work getting it up and running, and it is a lot of work to maintain (sourcing content, liaison with my awesome guest bloggers, finding and adding sites). but I *think* it will be worth it in the end. I also invite indie authors, reviewers and bloggers (and practically anyone associated with the indie writing community) to submit their blog, website or author page for free using the Submit Your Site form. So if you would like to be part of it, please do. You can also showcase five-star reviews of fellow indies for free on the IRT Showcase page. You can also submit an idea for a guest post, should you wish. So far, in one month, we’ve had more than 4000 visitors. So please do join in and use the free opportunities to promote your work. The more the merrier.

As loyal followers of this blog (which I will continue to post on sporadically, depending on my content demands for the IRT blog), I’d like to offer you $10 off an annual membership, which means you’ll pay just $4.95 for one year’s membership. You can quickly and easily search for promotional opportunities, create a to-do list of promotional tasks, and be active in the forums. To receive the special offer, just type in the coupon code IRTeasy when you register.

And if nothing else, be sure to pop on over and check out the great content from yours truly and some excellent guest bloggers and indie success stories. www.indiereviewtracker.com

Cheers

Karin

 

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Indie publishing: perspectives on abundance

Last night I was all prepared to write today’s blog post about how to use commas effectively. The comma topic was prompted by a discussion on another blog, and I know that these pesky punctuation marks can cause headaches for even professional authors at times, so I figured I would add my two eggs to the mix. However, late last night, or, rather, at 1.24 in the morning to be precise (yes, like the majority of writers, I am an incurable night owl), as I checked for new posts on Indie Writers Unite Facebook page, I had a change of heart and decided to take an entirely different tack today.

Before I begin, let me tell you that I am not a big fan of inspirational, NLP, feel-good or “how to” manuals that deal with the subjects of eternal happiness, staying positive, time-management, success, or acquiring wealth or inner peace a la The Secret.

To me, most smack of slightly self-righteous high-fivin’ marketers turned authors profiteering from stating the bleeding obvious (You are responsible for your own happiness—well, duh!) or snake oil sellers peddling hocus pocus. It’s safe to say that the only “how to” guides on my shelf are about writing, editing and publishing, along with a brick-sized tome on DIY home renovation. That is, I’m a pragmatic, rather sceptical sort who doesn’t really spend too much time dwelling on what “the universe” owes me or might promise me. I am a “go out there and pinch the universe on the bum and see how it reacts” type of gal.

However, many years ago I remember being forced to read something, as part of a publishing/marketing position I held at the time, that dealt with the concept of “abundance”. To be truthful, I can’t even remember the name of the book, but subliminally it must have impressed something upon me because last night it popped into my head.

What struck me—and, let’s face it, it shouldn’t have come as a big surprise given the verb in the name of that facebook page—was the difference in attitude and in altruism between self-published or “indie” authors and traditionally published authors, and how approaching publishing with an attitude of abundance, rather than of paucity, makes a massive difference in author happiness. What I have discovered is that, because anyone can now publish and become an independent author, the mindset and the buzz around self-publishing is largely positive, in contrast with the negativity that has traditionally dogged the trade publishing industry.

Now, I am a trade-published author too (if you “count” non-fiction, children’s/YA books and creative non-fiction, and let me tell you I’ve met some who turn up their literary little noses at these genres) and I’ve met hundreds of delightful, clever and generous published authors in my time in the industry. I’ve edited for many, and I’ve hobnobbed, latte-sipped, champagne-fluted, workshopped and industry-evented with others for more than a decade. Many of these authors repeatedly go out of their way to assist new writers, to act as mentors and to help promote others work, bless them. So let me make it clear that I am in no way casting aspersions on traditionally published authors. However, the problem with traditional publishing, to my mind, is that it has always operated on a platform of exclusivity and elitism. In some ways that can provide a remarkable sense of achievement, which is wonderful for published authors. A feeling of “I’ve arrived” (usually followed by a long and frightening pause then a panic of “where to now, and please point me to the bathroom”).

In the traditionally published world (let’s call it the “scarcity model”) for every manuscript accepted by a big publisher or represented by an agent, hundreds more receive a big fat rejection letter. For every wriggling, squawking, naked newborn author success story hauled screaming from the slushpile, thousands more sank below the sludgy surface without a trace. Every author who was picked up represented one more of the coveted publishing “spots” denied to another author. Every book published was just another demand on a publishing house’s marketing staff. Every single new release became a competitor for shelf space in bookstores, another shark circling in the sea of words. In some circles, anything less than publishing award-winning literary fiction was small fry or didn’t count. “Oh so you publish non-fiction?” Cue eyebrow raise. “You won a short story contest?” Brow wrinkle. “You write for children.” Careful snigger partially concealed by a sip of Chardonnay.

Now perhaps I’m playing up the comparison for the sake of being Devil’s advocate, and, as I said, many trade-published authors, recognising how damn hard it is to get a publishing contract, are lovely, caring, talented and supportive folk. But the thing I’ve noticed about indie publishing is just how perkily encouraging everyone seems to be. “Yeah. Way to go. You can do it!” They chant. I can tell they aren’t just saying it; they really mean it. And what is more, now it is true. You can do it. I can do it. Anyone can do it. Does that lessen the “special” effect—the experience of arrival? That depends on how you look at it.

Let me also qualify this by saying that I am hardly a seasoned indie publisher. Many years ago, when I was a  green willowy sapling of an editor (at least that’s how I like to remember my slimmer 24-year-old self) first trying my hand at freelancing, I helped several authors “self-publish”—a task that involved negotiating printer quotes and contracts, recommending and briefing cover designers, providing editorial services and generally project managing and dodging landmines on behalf of authors wanting to self-publish. I’ve been watching the self-publishing “market” grow for a decade since then, taking the occasional sneak peek at self-published products, noting the emergence of Lulu, Bookpal, Createspace and PoD and then the explosion of independent e-books. And, just this week I uploaded my first self-published book, Growth (a poetry anthology), on smashwords.

Since then, the indie writers I have connected with on twitter, facebook and other sites have been overwhelmingly welcoming and encouraging. Few hold themselves up to be paragons of teeth-grinding hardwork or publishing martyrdom (although there are few bitter and twisted individuals who castigate agents, editors and publishers alike) and they don’t necessarily clothe themselves in the thick skin of those suffering years of patience and rejection. They freely and openly champion the simple courage of putting your work out there—out where its merits alone will determine whether it sells or fails and whether it fullfils publishing dreams or leaves its creator feeling deflated.

It’s a marketplace of sheer abundance. “Come one, come all and the more they merrier,” they chorus, and I for one, find that a very merry proposition indeed. An abundance of words. An abundance of authors making money, however small, out of writing. An abundance of productivity. An abundance of encouragement. I ask you, what’s not to like?

 

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