Professional Editing — Is It Necessary?

From the New Yorker on Charles Dickens’s 200th Birthday

Is professional editing necessary? The short answer is no. The long answer is maybe.

But before we get into this subject, we need to define what is meant by “professional editing” and what is meant by “necessary”.

What is Professional Editing?

A professional is one who does something for a living. An editor, in our context, is a person who “corrects” a typescript for a novel or story.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of editors: content editors and line editors, or proofreaders.

Content editors edit a book’s content. They look for continuity issues, plot holes, structure issues, character defects, and the like. This is high level editing.

Line editors, or proofreaders, look for typos, misspellings, grammar issues, punctuation problems, and the like.

The purpose of an editor is to alert the author to problems with the book so the author can fix them and supposedly improve the book. However, a professional editor isn’t the only person who can do this. As we’ll see.

Necessary

Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition, defines necessary, in our context, as something “that must be done; mandatory; not voluntary; required.”

Is an indie author required to use the services of a professional editor? Obviously not, since they are voluntarily hired in the first place. Therefore a professional editor is not necessary. Is one recommended? Maybe.

The Problem with Editors

The problem with editors is the same problem with any professional: they’re human. They’re people like you and me and that’s the problem with them.

Professionals charge money for their services — but in the end can really guarantee nothing. When I hire an editor, I’m simply hiring one person’s opinion. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

This goes for any professional. Whether your doctor or your mechanic. We all know there are doctors who make bad decisions (I was the victim of one) and mechanics who are unscrupulous. We who are the non-professional need to be as informed as possible, so we aren’t taken for a ride.

Every editor I know, puts his or her pants on the same way I do. Sure he or she may have gone to school to learn the craft of writing. But I know of few editors who make a successful living from writing fiction. If they can’t make a living from writing fiction, then how valuable is their advice?

“But so-and-so — an award winning author — has John Doe for an editor. So John Doe must be good.” That’s assuming the writer’s success can be directly attributed to the editor. And if it can, then I question the writer’s ability to write. If a writer can’t succeed without an editor, then in effect the editor has become a co-author.

At the end of the day a professional editor has biases, prejudices, agendas (just like everyone else) that have nothing to do with my writing or me as an author. Yet those biases, prejudices, and agendas can adversely affect me as author.

The Problem with Writers

We writers, as many in the creative arts, are plagued with a host of self-defeating problems. They seem to go with the territory. I know I’ve had my share. Here are a few:

  • Insecurity issues
  • Inferiority complex
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Procrastination
  • Perfectionism
  • The need of approval by others and from those in authority

These problems open writers up to be easy marks for the unscrupulous.

Writers fall victim to people who provide them with approval. Writers who seek approval from authority figures lose their sense of self.

I think that’s one reason why we still have traditional publishing today. Because the insecure writers need to get “approval” from the “authorities” in order to shore up their self-esteem. Getting a publishing contract makes them feel worthy. And let’s them look down their noses at the indie author “who just couldn’t make it”.

Traditional publishing is an ego trip. My agent. My editor. My publisher. And many writers want that ego drug.

And many indie authors seek the same high. “I couldn’t have done it without my editor.” Or my cover artist. Or my formatter. Or what have you. These people sound just like their traditionally published counterparts.

The point of being an indie is independence. Freedom from all that crap. The indie movement is about the producer marketing directly to consumer. Cutting out the middleman. Kind of like the farmer’s market versus the grocery store.

Solution

Are indie authors therefore free from the task of editing? Heavens no! Not if they’re concerned about putting out a quality product. The question is, do they need to hire a professional editor? And the answer is, no they don’t.

If a writer knows how to tell a good story, there is little need for a high-level edit. The content editor has little to offer. If a writer is concerned about the craft of storytelling and is in the lifelong process of honing his or her craft, then a content editor will have little to offer.

Now that same writer might benefit from a proofreader. But one doesn’t need to hire a line editor to get those services.

If a writer is not very good at telling a story, then a high-level edit may be of great help. But what may be of even greater help is simply more writing. If you’re going to an auto mechanic, do you want the one who is fresh out of school with little to no experience? Or do you want the guy who’s been doing it for 20 years?

It’s the same with writing. Practice makes perfect. It’s why Edgar Rice Burroughs advised writers to write lots. One story has little chance of getting published (in a magazine). But write a hundred and one or more will probably be accepted.

Robert Heinlein’s Five Rules of Writing operate on the same principle: lots of writing and the constant submission to market of that writing.

Writers can only improve their writing by writing. No amount of academic learning or professional editing can improve a writer’s work. Bad writing can’t be edited into good writing. It’s just well edited bad writing.

The first novel I wrote, Festival of Death, way back in 1989, was not ready for publication when I finished writing it. I was honest with myself. I read the manuscript and it just did not compare with the novels I was reading. I put it away, also realizing I didn’t have the stuff to rewrite it and make it better. Twenty-five years later, I had that stuff, rewrote it, and was pleased with the finished product. I didn’t need an editor to tell me all that. In the interim I did lots of writing. I gained confidence. I became a better writer.

We writers don’t need to spend any money to edit our own work. There are many tools available to help us and even without all those tools, there are people who won’t charge anything to proof our work and offer constructive suggestions for improvement. And I heartily recommend the people approach.

Here are a few suggestions based on my own practice:

  • Read your story with a critical eye. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes.
  • If your characters don’t make you laugh or cry, they won’t make the reader laugh or cry.
  • Read your story aloud for flow. It’s a great way to catch clunky sentences and sections that are confusing.
  • Have the computer read to you while you follow along. The computer reads exactly what’s there. A great way to catch typos and misspellings.
  • Have someone read the text to you. This combines reading the story aloud and having the computer read to you — with the added advantage of the reader being a human other than you.
  • Use the spell checker and grammar checker in your word processing program or something like Hemingway or Grammarly.
  • Use good beta readers to catch issues you didn’t catch. A good beta reader is worth his or her weight in gold. What is a good beta? One who likes your genre and ideally your writing, who has a good understanding of what makes a story work, is someone you can trust will be honest with you, understands grammar, and knows how to spell. These people exist. Go find them.

That’s all you need, and none of it costs money. Unless you choose to buy some editing software — which isn’t at all necessary. But a nice little luxury.

One other caveat: don’t be in a rush to publish. We’re indie authors. We set our own schedules. There’s no one to tell us what to do except ourselves.

We indie authors are independent authors. Don’t become a victim of the Should Mentality or the You Have To Mentality.

We write for readers, not editors.

Enjoy your freedom from the man. I do.

Comments are always welcome. Tell me what you think. And until next time, happy reading!

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The Free Book Glut

Announcing all the free books in the latest author newsletter.

Free books are everywhere on the internet. The independent author-publishers are glutting the market with freebies. Why? Because writers are glutting the market with themselves and in the heat of competition to be seen, they’re giving away the store.

Now don’t get me wrong. I welcome the new technology that enables anyone who has a book inside him or her to publish that book once it’s been written. After all, this is the age of social media and books are a form of social media. They convey thoughts, feelings, imaginings, dreams, and hopes. And today’s technology makes it all that much easier for a writer and his or her audience to interact with each other. And I think that is a good thing.

What I am beginning to have a problem with, however, is the current mania of giving away books to try to secure an audience. I can’t help but think the practice is going to have long term detrimental effects on the indie movement. Here are some concerns:

  • The devaluing of books and thereby the writer’s craft. After all, if a book is free it can’t have much value — can it? And if a writer gives away his or her work, he or she can’t think much of it — can they?
  • The creation of the expectation that indie books should be free. Because, after all, the big corporate publishers don’t give anything away for free.
  • Glutting the market with more books than readers can possibly read. Too much of a good thing is, well, too much!
  • The self-delusion of writers, who are not very good, into thinking if they give enough away somebody will read their work. When in truth, they should find a different hobby or occupation. One they are much better suited at.
  • Writers deluding themselves into thinking if they give enough books away, people will love their work and buy their other books so the writer can live his or her dream and quit the 9 to 5.

The latter two points above not much can be done with. Those fall under the umbrella of self-realization. Unfortunately, even bad writers can become popular — which only fuels the problem.

Nevertheless, the first three points we writers, as a collective, can do something about.

I ran across an interesting article with comments on the subject of book giveaways the other day. Here’s the link so you can read for yourselves: http://selfpublishingadvice.org/opinion-why-indie-authors-shouldnt-give-away-free-books/

When I first started self-publishing, the debate among indies was permafree or 99¢ for the series starter. Back before 2014 I think permafree made sense as there were not so many indie authors and free actually got traction. Even so, I said there was no way I was going to give my book away for free. The Big 5 don’t do it — why should I?

Then the tsunami hit. Starting in 2014, indie authors began coming out of the walls, the woodwork, the light socket, you name it. Indie authors were everywhere. To get traction, book services began springing up overnight offering to promote their books — if it was free or 99¢ — on Twitter, Facebook, and to their mailing lists. Of course, the services weren’t free. An author had to pay for those. Pay to give away books. Hm.

Yet, I could see a certain logic in the giveaway mania that was developing. The free first book in a series was a sample of good things to come. Give away the first book and build your mailing list and reap the harvest of good things. And that has worked for some.

However, seeing the glut of indie authors and the many, many hundreds, if not thousands, of books being given away for free — I’ve started re-thinking the free strategy.

For myself, I have to admit I’ve read few of the free books I’ve downloaded. That doesn’t mean I won’t read them at some point in time because I might. But I’m not reading them now. And of course that’s what all of those authors want me to do. Read their books now and buy all of their other books. Sorry folks. It ain’t happening.

Why? Several reasons:

  • Some simply can’t write.
  • For others, the style puts me off.
  • Some are okay, good even, but the price of the other books is too high. The writing isn’t good enough for me to spend that much money.
  • Some don’t have any books to follow up with from their freebie. So why offer the first book free?
  • I have over a thousand books on my iPad. And more on my computer. Most are free. Most are classics. That’s a lot of very good stuff to read. The freebie offerers are competing with thousands of good books no longer in copyright and available for free.
  • My time is limited. I write and I read. I read what my contemporaries write to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s going on. But my contemporaries have a lot of competition.

So if I, as an author and a reader, am not reading in any great number the free books I download — why should I expect people to read mine? That is a very good question. And my conclusion is that of the 1000+ copies of my books that I’ve given away, probably few have been read. I’ve garnered a few reviews, so I know at least 5 of those freebies were read. For which I’m very grateful and thankful.

As a strategy, giving away a free book in the traditional private detective mystery genre to drum up sales of my series and build an active and supportive mailing list doesn’t seem to be working all that well. I think I have a few fans developing and I’m very pleased. But nowhere near a thousand.

Granted, there may be things I need to be doing that I’m not to turn those folks on my mailing list into rabid fans. And in fact I know there are because I’m learning more and more on the business end each day. Hopefully in time I will turn my mailing list into that group of rabid fans.

My goal, though, is not to become a bestselling author. My goal is to build a sustainable and dependable income from my writing. I don’t need fame and glory. If it comes, wonderful. But I don’t need it. I’m not sure I even want it.

So I’ve been rethinking the free book strategy. And I’ve decided that I’m going to move away from it. In the long run, I think giving away books cheapens them. Makes them less important. It develops an expectation on the part of readers that indie authors should give away their books for free. And I don’t want to be part of that — because it’s self-destructive. Writers lose and readers lose.

Writers lose because if an author can’t make money to at least cover his or her costs, that writer will stop writing.

Readers lose because the vast choice currently before them will go away. And once again readers will be at the mercy of corporate giants deciding what they should read. And who wants that?

Readers will lose again because the cheap books will go away and the mega-priced big corporate offerings will remain. I mean $15 for an ebook? Seriously?

The glut of free books may satiate readers and may even turn them off from reading. And who wants that?

My new strategy is a modification of the free book approach. It’s the sampler.

On Saturday morning, when I go into the grocery store, there are all manner of nice ladies wanting to give me samples. Cheese, meat, dips, spreads, crackers, you name it. They don’t give me the whole product. Just a sample. If I like the sample, I’ll probably buy whatever it is to give it a further test drive at home.

When I buy a car, I get a test drive. A sample of the driving experience in that car. No car dealer gives away a free car. If I like the drive, I have to buy. So why not apply that to my books, which I worked very hard at producing?

That’s my new approach. Give a sample of my writing and hopefully whet their appetite for more. Give them the invite to buy. Because we almost always value what we buy more than what we get for free.

In the process, I also hope to weed out the freebie grabbers. Those readers who’ve grown fat on freebies and expect indies to give them more and more and more.

If a freebie grabber does snap up my sampler, at least they won’t have the entire book. Just a few chapters, that they probably won’t read anyway. If they do, they’ll have to pay to read the rest of the story.

So that’s the circle I’ve traveled. No free books to free books to no free books. Just a delicious tidbit. That test drive to hopefully get folks to buy.

After all, I’m a business and no business stays in business by giving away the store.

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The New Pulp Era

 

Are indie authors the pulp fiction writers of the 21st century?

That question came to me in response to a comment JazzFeathers made on my May 2nd post about indie author TS Paul. She wrote that it seemed to her the indie movement is “a new incarnation of the pulp magazines”. I think she’s on the money.

Before I start, let me emphasize that as a reader I find that most authors, the vast majority of authors, are average. They tell a decent story and that’s about it. It doesn’t matter if the author is published by the Big 5, small press, or is self-published.

We readers, I think, operate under the delusion that the big corporate publishers publish only good books. However, that’s not so. Why? Because most authors in their catalogs are mid-listers. Which means the publisher is taking a gamble on them that they might, possibly, maybe make a buck for the publisher. Most don’t and the publisher is not shy about giving those authors the boot.

The big corporate publishers are ruthless. The bottom line is king. Money, money, money.

The pulp era was a golden age for readers and writers. The pulp magazines were cheap entertainment and they proliferated like mushrooms after a rain. And every wannabe writer rose to the challenge to provide the magazines with stories.

We remember the giants. The Lovecrafts, the Howards, the Blochs. We’ve forgotten such as Seabury Quinn, Donald Wandrei, Frank Gruber, Carl Jacobi, Manley Wade Wellman, and Mary Elizabeth Counselman. And the list of the forgotten would go on for far too many pages.

But we don’t even have to go back as far as the pulp era to find forgotten authors. Who today reads E.M. Delafield, or Shirley Jackson, Pearl S Buck, Patricia Highsmith, Margaret Millar, Jay Flynn, or Cornell Woolrich? None of them are bad. They’re just mostly forgotten.

Most writers are average; and, dare I say, mediocre? But that doesn’t mean they can’t deliver a decent and entertaining story. I still remember Stanton A. Coblentz’s Hidden World 45 years after reading it. I still remember Men, Martians, and Machines by Eric Frank Russell — a book I read in elementary school 50+ years ago. They still have a hold on my memory.

Today’s indie authors are the reincarnation of the pulp era writer. They write fast, publish often, and don’t care about perfection. Why not perfection? First, it doesn’t exist; second, it gets in the way of producing lots of decent work; and third, it gets in the way of making a buck. Indie authors are writing to make money. Just like Shakespeare. Although few authors anywhere reach the lofty heights of The Bard.

From a reader’s perspective, a writer’s being average isn’t bad. Those average writers produce the bulk of the fiction we read. If the book is decent, then we feel satisfied. I mean, how many movies or TV shows are stellar? Most are ho-hum to average. And a great many, let’s face it, suck.

As a reader, I love the indie revolution. I’ve discovered great writers out there. And I dare say not a single corporate publisher would have gambled on any of them. I’ve also discovered writers who didn’t inspire me and who I won’t buy anymore books from. The market does tend to weed out the chaff.

Conversely, I’ve gotten sick of being taken for a ride by the corporate giants. I won’t read anymore Lee Child. Uninspired and boring. The same for the Quiller novels. The first couple were okay. After that they’re all the same. I’m finished with Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller, Cara Black, and Sue Grafton. They started out great and quickly went downhill. The books are simply too expensive for the little they deliver.

This is a great time to be a reader. I love it. There are so many good books out there. Many of them quite cheap, making for satisfyingly inexpensive entertainment.

Instead of TV or the movies, read a book with your family, spouse, partner, kids, or a friend. Books truly are the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Comments are always welcome, and, until next time, happy reading!

Oh, here is the link to Cinder — it is a #mustread!!

 

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Why Read Indie?

Why read indie, indeed? Aren’t self-published authors losers who couldn’t get a big publisher contract? Won’t I get a better book from a mainstream big corporate publisher?

As a reader, I can say one thing for sure: you’ll pay more money for the book you’re buying from the big corporations. And that is about it.

A few days ago, Jack Tyler posted on the Facebook public group, The Steampunk Dominion, his thoughts on the subject. Before we go any further, let me give you Jack’s post in its entirety:

WHY INDIES?

A simple question. Why should you, an experienced reader, carry a selection of independent authors on your reading list? For a very good reason. Originality.

What was the last original movie you saw? Can’t think of one? That’s because no one is making them anymore. That’s why we’re inundated with remakes of old movies, re-envisionings of old TV shows, old, popular books “brought to life” by the “magic of Hollywood,” episode CCXLVII of the big Space Saga. No one will take a chance anymore that something, God forbid, might not rake in a billion dollars a day.

Books have gone down the same path. Publishers, unwilling to take a risk, compete with one another to shovel out copies of copies of copies of The Last Big Thing. Where is the grand fantasy tale that doesn’t follow Lord of the Rings to the letter? How many versions of Twilight can you read before you can recite the plot points before you come to them? You may be surprised to hear that those cutting-edge stories and novels are out there waiting to be read, and I’m going to tell you where to find them.

In the files of independent authors. While traditional publishers cling to the center of Writingtown, searching the carefully tended lawns for the next retelling of a tired old tale, independent authors, just as independent filmmakers and musicians, are out on the fringe, past the edge of the map, chronicling the tales that no one has yet heard, that have yet to be told. These are the stories you want to read, the stories that are worth finding, the jewels that you’ll remember long after the last elf/dwarf/human/orc slashfest is in the landfill and long forgotten. These are the heirs to the tradition of storytelling.

Authors decide to self-publish for any number of reasons. Some because we have been rejected by traditional publishers, often for being too original to suit their no-risk publishing model. Some have gone indie because we didn’t want to get involved with the “you do the work, and we’ll keep the money” policy of the big publishers. Some of us are well-known traditionally published authors who have been screwed out of our due one time too many, but we all have one thing in common: We answer to our creative muse, and no one else.

We have all had an experience, maybe more than one, with an independent author who had no business writing a grocery list, let alone a book, and some of us may have said, “Enough of this! I’m sticking to the Big Five from now on.” That’s your choice, but you do yourself a grave disservice by that reasoning.

We all try new products every day. Whether it’s a new makeup, pain reliever, pipe wrench, or ball-point pen, we have all gotten our hands on one that doesn’t do what the advertisement said it would. But do we then say, “I’m never wearing makeup again!” Of course we don’t. We learn to be more careful consumers. There are many ways to carefully consume books, one of them being to never stray from the big names. Again, that’s your choice, but there are ways to find the quality indies as well, and if you want to read the books that are telling the new stories, you must include indies on your reading list. How do you find quality indies? Amazon.com is a huge help. Most of us publish there because they make it so easy, and they provide useful tools. Look for an indie who has high ratings, even if there aren’t too many of them. A low rating isn’t a deal-breaker either, unless that’s all there are, but ratings can help. Then once you find a book that looks interesting, use the “Look Inside” feature. Yes, it only shows you a few pages, but if the author can’t write, you won’t need more than a paragraph to determine that. Then, of course, there’s the tried and true method, word of mouth. If someone you know and trust is recommending an indie, by all means, take a look. You may discover worlds beyond imagining that lie at the tips of your fingers. So, come on out to the fringe; we’re waiting to welcome you.

As a reader of my fellow indie authors, I have to largely agree with Jack. Self-published authors, or Author-Publishers as I like to call them, can write and publish works no major or even small press would touch. Not because of quality, but because the publishers aren’t risk takers, or they have no idea how to market the book.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t indies who ride the current waves, for there are and their name is Legion. They are also the ones, who tend not to be very good.

Several of my current favorite authors are indies and I look forward to their new releases, because I know I’ll get a good read. One that will be entertaining, fresh, thought-provoking, and stimulating.

As a reader, I’ve been disappointed by too many big corporate-published authors. A writer who perhaps starts out promising and then fizzles by book three. Or a writer who never really starts out at all and I close the book only partly read and ask, “Why the heck did they publish this?”

By way of example: I love the TV series Midsomer Murders (well, until John Nettles retired). So I bought the first three books of the series on which the TV show was based. Carolyn Graham’s first book was great. The second book was so boring I put it down with only a quarter of it read. I loved the TV episode, though, which was based on the book.

Another example is Murder in the Marais by Cara Black. I stopped reading when Aimee Leduc (the detective) just so happens to have a neo-nazi outfit in her closet to wear when she tries to infiltrate a neo-nazi group in Paris and the group readily accepts her! Obviously Ms Black has no concept of how closed extremist groups are, and we all have neo-nazi outfits in our closet just in case we might need them. Right? Sheesh.

Yet, the Big 5 accepted Death of a Hollow Man (as boring as it is) and Murder in the Marais (as preposterous as it is) and published them. Why? Because they are easy to market. The fit conveniently on the bookstore shelf.

One more example. I love SJ Rozan’s private detective Lydia Chin. I’m less enthralled with her PI Bill Smith. The Chin books are fresh and interesting. The Smith books are typical and I’d even have to say average PI fare. Yet which books garnered the awards? Why the Bill Smith books, of course. Go figure. Not even the award givers want to go out on a limb!

I know readers frequently bash indies for typos. But seriously? Have they read current Big 5 books? Typos abound! And we get to pay big bucks for the privilege to read them!

Good indie books are out there in abundance. And they are very often at least half the price of the books put out by the Big Boys.

Take Jack’s suggestions and go hunting. A few of my favorite authors are J. Evan Stuart, Steve Bargdill, Chad Muller/CM Muller, Janice Croom, Ben Willoughby, Crispian Thurlborn, Erik Ga Bean (he’s not on Amazon), Renee Pawlish, and Sophia Martin (her Raud Grima series). And there are more!

Jack Tyler makes a great case for readers to venture outside of our little boxes and to read books written by indie authors. Independent author-publishers. The writers who are responsible only to themselves and their readers. Instead of the corporate bottom line.

You can find Jack’s series Beyond the Rails on Amazon. Here are links:

Beyond the Rails

Beyond the Rails II

Beyond the Rails III

Comments are always welcome and, until next time, Happy Reading!

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Writer TS Paul – Does He Really Break The Rules?

This past Friday, I listened to Mark Dawson’s podcast which was an interview with indie sci-fi and paranormal writer TS Paul. You can catch the podcast on the SPF website and I’d encourage you to listen to it.

The initial hype was that Paul is a short story writer who’s crushing it with sales. Sorry, folks, that’s false advertising. Paul primarily writes sci-fi novellas and shorter paranormal novels. The visions of waltzing to the bank on my short stories quickly vanished.

The interview then went on to show all the things Paul did that were “wrong” and yet he still managed to reach a point where he’s seeing a half-million a year in sales.

Obviously, TS Paul is doing something right. So what is it?

Last week I wrote about The Writer’s Magic Marketing Machine and presented indie sci-fi and fantasy author Patty Jansen’s road map to success. Very simply, it is:

  • Write well
  • Write lots
  • Write in series
  • Publish often
  • Build a mailing list

As I noted last week, this is standard indie advice. Virtually all the successful indie authors do the 5 points above.

Dawson and his cohort, James Blatch, were dumbfounded by Paul’s success. They couldn’t explain it. On reflection, I think Paul’s success is very easy to understand — and, in fact, I’d say he’s doing most everything right.

First of all, TS Paul writes lots. A short story a week and 31 books in a couple years. Writing lots is crucial for every indie author who even hopes of being successful. It’s the key to not being forgotten.

Secondly, he writes in series. This is also critical for indie authors. Because indie readers are series readers.

Third, he publishes frequently. Publishing often keeps your name in front of readers and helps to pump up the Amazon algorithms.

Fourthly, he knows his audience. He targets the YA crowd. There is no sex or bad language in his books and the covers appeal to the eye of a young audience. I’d also hazard a guess that the shorter lengths of his books appeals to the YA folk, who primarily read on their phones.

So what does he do that is actually controversial? In the big picture, not much. He doesn’t believe in freebies. So he doesn’t give away his books. But he’s not the only writer in that camp.

He doesn’t do a lot of advertising, although he does more now than when he first began. About a $1000/month on Facebook.

He doesn’t have a mailing list. However, he’s not alone here either. What he does have is an active blog and Facebook page. Effectively, they are taking the place of a mailing list. Through his blog and Facebook page he keeps in touch with his readers and lets them know of new books.

The most controversial thing, in my opinion, about Mr Paul is his cavalier attitude towards the quality of his writing and the physical product.

He doesn’t give a fig about typos or bad grammar or lousy formatting. He says so in the interview. And the critical reviews testify to his devil may care attitude. It also appears his writing style is not all that stellar, according to the reviews.

I noticed in looking at his offerings, quite a few book blurbs note the book is newly re-edited and formatted. So maybe Mr Paul cares more about what readers think than he’s willing to admit.

The mystery for me is how a brand new nobody writer can go from $150/month in sales to over a $1000/month in the span of a few months — with no advertising. Paul didn’t say. Blatch didn’t ask. Too bad.

Based on what Mr Paul did say, my thought is that his friend, the popular author Michael Anderle, who encouraged Mr Paul to start writing in the first place, gave him a boost. Just a guess, but if correct it shows that who you know is still a very powerful means to success.

The bottom line is, TS Paul is doing everything he should be doing — except writing well and producing a quality product. But in spite of all the criticism he’s received, and there is a lot on Amazon, he’s laughing his way to the bank.

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Spice In The Writer’s Life

Today, the Big 5 Publishers want writers to write one thing. If I write private detective murder mysteries, that’s all the Big 5 want me to write. Why? Because they want a known commodity in their stable. Especially if my mysteries sell.

For a very long time now, writers have gotten around that particular publisher restriction by using pen names. Or by going to a different publisher. Although as publishing houses merge, that option is vanishing.

Of course, the independent author/publisher has no such constraints and can publish whatever he or she wants. Although “conventional” wisdom argues that it’s easier to create a “brand” if one publishes only in one genre. I think branding is hogwash, but that’s a subject for another post.

The question is are there multi-genre authors? And the answer is a resounding — YES! In fact, there have pretty much always been multi-genre authors.

Who are some of these writers? Let’s name a few:

H.G. Wells, Georgette Heyer, Iain [M] Banks, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ken Follett, Stephen King, Roald Dahl, Arthur Ransome, Isaac Asimov, Dan Simmons, Anthony Trollope, Doris Lessing, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Nora Roberts/JD Robb, John Updike, Walter Tevis, Jerome Charyn, Ardath Mayhar, Lucius Annaeus Seneca

And the list goes on.

So why do writers write in more than one genre? I can only answer for myself. The reason I write in more than one genre is so that I don’t get bored.

Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. It shakes things up, it broadens our horizons, gives us a larger perspective on life.

I have a wide range of interests. My reading reflects that range and I talked about that last week. And so does my writing. Because I basically write what I like to read.

Currently, I write private detective mysteries, post-apocalyptic fiction, dieselpunk alternative history action/adventure, and horror (both psychological and supernatural). In the future, I have plans for writing space opera, historical science fiction novels, cozy mysteries, fantasy, and non-fiction, as well as more of the above.

Of course the rub comes when we talk about marketing, because not all readers are the same. Some just devour romances, or mysteries, or mainstream novels. Others do read more than one genre. So with readers having their expectations and writers wanting to do their thing, what’s the answer?

For myself, I have to write what I’m interested in and what I like to read. I also have to take into consideration that I rapidly lose interest if I have to do the same thing over and over again. I love Tina and Harry in the Justinia Wright mystery series, but if I only wrote about them I’d soon get bored.

And then there is the idea machine. It never stops and is constantly stimulated by everything going on around me. Just the other day, while preparing lunch, I got an idea for a post-apocalyptic novel and a forbidden love novel. That happens all the time. Do I throw those ideas away? No. I save them and often sketch out the idea so I don’t forget it. Because even though at present I have four projects I’m working on, I won’t always have those four projects and I’ll want to start a new one.

Hopefully my readers will like all that I write because they like my style and relate to my worldview. Hopefully. However, I realize a good many will not. And that’s okay.

Another reason writers might write in more than one genre is to capture a larger share of readers. If I write mysteries and horror and science fiction, I have three large reader audiences, as well as those who might cross over. More readers, potentially means more money. And most writers write because they want to tell stories for a living.

Please take a look at my novels page and see the range of what I write. Hopefully, if you haven’t already, you’ll find something to pique your interest. And hopefully in the next year or two some of the other ideas that are in the cooker will be ready to serve up for readers’s enjoyment.

Lawrence Block writes mysteries and thrillers. But over the years he’s begun and ended many series. He says all he can through a character and moves on to a new one. Frustrating as it is for me the reader, it’s what Block has to do to stay fresh in his chosen genre. Which really isn’t any different than a writer who writes in two or more genres or simply switches genres.

Let me know if you read more than one genre and know of authors who write in more than one. Your comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Goldrush

We’re familiar with the California Gold Rush of 1848, or the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896, or the Victorian Gold Rush of 1851 in Australia, or the Witwatersrand Gold Rush of 1886 in South Africa.

Today we are in the middle of another gold rush. It’s called self-publishing.

Every gold rush has a life-cycle that moves from low investment, high return to high investment, low return. The key to success is to get in big at the beginning of the cycle. When panning and placer mining are effective. Simple tools and big returns.

Amazon introduced the first Kindle on November 19, 2007. It sold for $399 US and sold out in 5 1/2 hours. On April 2, 2010 Apple released the iPad and sold 300,000 on the first day. These two devices were the game changer that spawned the self-publishing gold rush.

Authors such as Amanda Hocking, John Locke, JA Konrath proved self-publishing was a viable money making enterprise. Now the ability to become a millionaire was for the first time in the hands of the self-published author. No need for agents and no need to battle publishers over draconian contracts. The gold rush had begun.

All one needed in those early and heady days of self-publishing was to offer your book permafree or for 99¢. And write your series as fast as possible.

By the time I got involved with self-publishing, in late 2014, the easy money was gone. Now, like the old Smith-Barney commercials, if you want to make money writing books, you have to earn it.

As with any gold rush, once the easy money is gone, the people who begin to profit are the ones who do so at the miner’s expense. These are the people who sell things to the miners. The infamous middleman.

We see it in the self-publishing world. Writers, hungry for virtual shelf space and recognition, are making loads of money for the middlemen. Everywhere I read about this, I read figures such as $500 or $600 (or more) for editing, $500 for a cover, a couple hundred for formatting. And the list can go on.

That’s a lot of pressure to put one’s self under coming out of the gate. To date (2 years of receiving royalties), I’ve made $533 with virtually no advertising. I made back my investment in initial website cost and copyright fees. If I had editing and cover fees for 20 books to add to my expenses, I’d have to seriously consider becoming a middleman to “help” writers instead of being a writer.

The people who are getting the “easy” money today are:

  • Editors (often self-proclaimed)
  • Cover Artists (many using nothing more than stock photos and Photoshop or Gimp)
  • Review Services (like Kirkus and Reader’s Favorite)
  • Other authors “selling” the secret of their success so you can be successful (usually by means of high-priced courses)

And success hungry writers, dying to leave their day jobs, are shelling out big bucks for all of the above.

So let’s be honest, shall we? The easy money is gone. We now have to earn it.

How We Earn The Money

The path to self-publishing’s success in 2017 is not unlike trying to drop the ring into Mount Doom. It’s simple, but not easy.

I am obviously not making big bucks writing. But I’m retired. I’ve already dumped the day job. My monetary goal is a bit more humble. Nevertheless, the path is the same for all of us.

Mindset. The first thing we author-publishers must remember is that we are writers and publishers. We must think business. And the first thing we must realize is that self-employment ventures generally take 3 to 5 years to get established — if they even survive.

The second thing is we are direct mail marketers. The mailing list has now replaced permafree and 99¢ books as the building block of our business.

Mail order businesses can’t survive without their mailing lists. And we author-publishers are at base mail order businesses.

Once we have that mindset, we can start to go places. There is no quick money anymore. But there is money to be made. Mark Dawson makes around half a million from Amazon. A nice bit of pocket change that.

My Plan For Success

Plan your work and work your plan. Based on my observation of what universally works for authors, coupled with sage advice from the greats, this is my plan to work:

  1. Write well. This should go without saying and yet needs to be said. Write a good story. Many writers forget to do so.
  2. Write lots. Prolificity is key. No backlist = no sales over the long haul. All successful writers, traditionally published and self-published, say this.
  3. Publish frequently. The reading public that buys indie books tends to be voracious readers. Feed their habit. Frequent publishing also helps to keep you in the forefront of the reader’s mind.
  4. Follow Heinlein’s Writing Advice. The master said it best. In a nutshell — persevere.
  5. Build your mailing list. We are essentially mail order marketers. I wish someone had told me this 3 to 5 years ago. It makes sense, but the reality was obscured by the early success of writers in the Gold Rush. Now that the easy money is gone, the mailing list is the direct marketer’s — and indie author’s — best friend.
  6. Don’t resort to gimmicks. Today there so many authors I never heard of who claim to be New York Times, USA Today, or Amazon bestsellers that the claim is virtually meaningless. There are so many authors winning so many awards, the words “award winning” are equally meaningless. I’ve read plenty of crappy best-selling and award-winning books. And some that are really good that made nobody’s list and have received no award.

That’s my roadmap to success. Which for me is pretty modest. I don’t need beaucoup bucks. Anything from $25K to $50K a year will be just jim dandy. Those of you who need more than that to quit your day job — well, it’s just going to take a bit more work. But you’ll get there.

As always, comments are welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Two Year Anniversary

This month I celebrate two years being an independent author/publisher. Since November 2014, I’ve published 11 novels, 2 novellas, 2 collections of shorter works, and 6 short stories. Plus one flash fic was published by One for a Thousand ezine. I’ve had over 220 downloads of my books and stories and have made a wee bit over $500. Certainly not bestseller status nor am I making a king’s ransom.

However, I am published and I am selling books. If I’d gone the traditional route, I very well could still be looking for an agent. And most likely would be, as traditional publishers accept less than 300 new fiction authors each year. If one thinks the competition is stiff being an indie author/publisher, at least we’re competing for sales — not the “privilege” of being allowed entrance to the “club”.

So I’d have to say that my numbers are pretty decent. Especially considering I’ve done little advertising. And another thing to consider is that a mere 15 years ago, viable self-publishing on a large scale didn’t even exist. Thank you to Amazon and their Kindle and Apple and their iPad for making all this possible. Today we truly have desktop publishing.

However, as one can also see, if anyone is thinking self-publishing is the path to riches, think again. I know of indie authors who sell one or two copies a month. A lot of work for very small returns. As with any self-employment venture, it takes time, hard work, money, and patience before you begin to see a return. One writer recently told me it takes 5 to 7 years before a self-employment venture takes off — if it’s going to take off. Given that, I have 3 to 5 years of work ahead of me.

Aside from publishing books, I’ve spent the past year boning up on marketing. I had a bit of marketing in an economics class in high school some 50 years ago. Needless to say, I don’t remember much. I sunk over $600 into Mark Dawson’s Facebook Advertising for Authors course and I learned a lot. I think the course was worth the money. I’ve also taken numerous free courses and read a few books.

What I’ve realized is an indie author/publisher is a business. A self-employed business. A self-employed direct marketing business. Therefore I must think like a self-employed direct marketing businessman. Not as an artist. Otherwise, I don’t stand much of a chance of succeeding. And I certainly don’t want to not succeed. At the very least, I hope to recoup my initial costs and be able to break even on the ongoing costs. Sure I’d like more, but I’ll be satisfied to at least break even.

What does the next year hold? I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. Certainly more writing and publishing.

Early in the new year, I’ll bring out the seventh volume in The Rocheport Saga. I’m also hard at work on the next Justinia Wright novel. In addition I have two adventures for Lady Dru I’m champing at the bit to get written. Plus I have a partially written time travel adventure I’d like to finish. That’s on the fiction side.

Over the past year I’ve been thinking about non-fiction. My sister racks up at least 10 sales a month on her art therapy book without fail. And she does absolutely no advertising. Statistically (data from AuthorEarnings.com) non-fiction is the second largest category after romance for book sales. Very old advice from back in the day before the internet said non-fiction was the way to go if one wanted steady income to put food on the table, pay the rent, and buy clothes. Apparently that advice is still valid.

So I’ve been thinking about writing some non-fiction. What would I write about? That is a good question. For many years now I’ve been fascinated by the concept of simple living and how groups and individuals have gone about simplifying their lives. I’m also very much interested in silence and solitude, both as a spiritual exercise and one to simply bring tranquility to one’s daily life. And ever since high school I’ve admired Stoic philosophy. Stoicism not only touches on simple living and inner tranquility, but I believe holds the key for how we in the 21st century can best realize our potential. I think Stoicism is a far better practice for we Westerners than the eastern philosophies and faiths.

If I decide to go the non-fiction route, I’ll probably write on what I’ve noted above. Self-help books related to silence and solitude, simple living, and Stoicism for the 21st century. Stay tuned!

The past two years have been fun, a bit frustrating, an educational experience, and very rewarding. There is nothing that can beat being your own person, in control of your own destiny.

Mark Dawson started publishing a year before I did. He now pulls in seven figures. That’s a lot of cash. He’s worked hard and invested a LOT of money in his self-publishing enterprise. So the rewards are out there, if one is willing to work at it.

I’m also going to work on the business end. Because that’s what Dawson did. He wrote books and advertised the heck out of them. But first he built up his mailing list. So that is my next step. Grow my mailing list from the 21 it’s currently at to… Well, as high as I can. Two, three, four, ten, twenty, thirty thousand. However high it gets.

Write and publish books — keep the product coming, build the mailing list, and market. That’s what’s in store for me for next year.

And I’m very excited about it!

As always, I look forward to your comments! Until next time, happy reading!

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Why I Read Indie Books

Why do I read indie books? Well, why not? A good novel is a good novel. Doesn’t matter who wrote it now, does it? To not read indie books is akin to saying I’m not going to listen to the college or civic orchestra. Or not take my car to an independent mechanic. Or not eat homemade ice cream. I mean, get real—who doesn’t like homemade ice cream?

There are thousands of great writers out there. A few are traditionally published. Most are self-published. To not read books written by independent author/publishers is depriving oneself of life’s little pleasures. Like not eating homemade ice cream.

Steve Bargdill recently reblogged Stephen Hunt’s very valid post on this subject. Read it on Steve’s blog. In reading Hunt’s list, I started thinking why I read indie books. So, in no particular order, here are my reasons for reading books from independent author/publishers.

Good Writing

I’m impressed with the quality of indie writing. There are good writers out there who’s work may never have seen the light of day under the hegemony of the traditional publishing empire. Thank goodness the walls of that citadel have been breached and like the Bastille and Jericho, the walls have tumbled down!

A good writer is a good writer. It doesn’t matter how the book is published. Some writers who’ve impressed me are Lindsey Buroker, J Evan Stuart, Steve Bargdill, Crispian Thurlborn, Ben Willoughby, Erik Ga Bean, CM Muller, Janice Croom, and Jack Tyler. The list goes on and on and on. In coming days I’ll be reviewing some of the gems these writers have given to us.

I’ve already reviewed a few and you can find links to those earlier reviews on my review page.

Just because a person chooses the route of author/publisher doesn’t mean he or she can’t “cut it”. That he or she isn’t good enough to be published by the traditional publishers. That is, though, what the mega-corporations, academia, and book snobs everywhere would have you believe. However, simple economics (70% royalty vs 10%, minus agent commission) dictates self-publishing is the better publishing option. There’s also control of one’s work. Why should I give my hard-earned stories to some greedy corporate entity? In addition we have many formerly traditionally published authors who’ve abandoned the Big Boys for self-publishing. The reasons given are usually control of one’s work and money. Authors such as JA Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, Linda Gillard, Rebecca Cantrell, Harry Bingham, and Claire Cook. Or Brenna Aubrey who turned down a super deal in order to self-publish.

Good writing is good writing. Simple as that. And there are thousands of good writers out there. More than I can read in this lifetime.

Cost

Quite literally, I get more bang for my buck with indie authors. I can easily buy two or three indie ebooks for the price of one from the Big Boys. And since there’s no money tree in my backyard, the price of the book is important.

I no longer buy new books from the Big 5 Publishers. I buy them used. My wallet is more important than the big corporation’s bottom line or the author’s income. Sorry traditionally published authors, but that’s a fact of economic life.

Recently, I read Janice Croom’s self-published Death of an Idiot Boss. It’s only $2.99 in the Kindle store and it was a great read. Cara Black’s Penguin/Random House published Murder in the Marais is $7.99 in the Kindle store and the writing is not as good as Ms Croom’s. In fact, I stopped reading Murder in the Marais because I found the book boring.

Out of 241 reviews, Ms Black’s book only has a 3.6 star reviewer rating on Amazon. Yet Ms Black has garnered New York Times and USA Today bestseller status. What is wrong with that picture? My money is going to Ms Croom. Sorry Ms Black. But bestseller status can’t make boring writing good.

Diversification

Politically and economically, I am in the libertarian camp. On the issue of rights, I am a Lockean and not a Hobbesian. That is, I am all for the individual and opposed to the state and mega-corporations that function like states.

Therefore, when it comes to the issue of publishing, I’m philosophically opposed to mega-corporations with their latent totalitarian market approach dictating what I can or cannot read.

I don’t like Amazon. There’s a lot not to like about Bezos’s monster. Yet it was Amazon with the Kindle that made the indie revolution possible. Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords have all followed in Amazon’s wake. Indie authors routinely report 80% of their income comes from Amazon. Bezos’s monster is a force to be reckoned with. Something traditional publishers simply hate.

Only Apple has the ability to seriously challenge Amazon and the fact they haven’t says something. Germany’s Tolino e-reader was originally going to challenge the Kindle worldwide. So far the device stays Eurocentric.

I’d love to see the indie marketplace diversify. So far it hasn’t. It is pretty much an Amazon lake. However, that is not all bad. What Amazon did do is crush the iron grip traditional publishers had on the world of publishing. Amazon’s direct marketing made self-publishing viable and has increased the viability of the small press, as well. And those are all good things. One day, someone will come along and bring the mighty Zon to its knees — and that will be a good thing too. There can never be too much competition.

Redefining Categories

Repeatedly I’ve run across indie authors who decided to go the self-publishing route because their books didn’t fit the cookie cutter molds set up by the traditional publishing mega-corporations. One size does not fit all.

Even Amazon has not fully caught up here, although the writer can ask Amazon to list his or her book in one of their secret micro-categories. What Amazon needs to do is to give writers the choice up front to list their book in a micro-category.

Indie authors are pushing the envelope on length restrictions and rigid categories. I’ve watched the BISAC codes slowly incorporate some of these new or redefined categories. I’m waiting for Dieselpunk to get its own code one of these days.

One cannot put creativity into a box. Traditional publishing isn’t about creative freedom. It’s about money. It’s about Hobbesian control, structure, and order at the expense of creative liberty.

Recap

I read indie books because the stories and writing are good. Are there clunkers out there? Sure. Just like in the traditional publishing world. Weed them out using free samples and Amazon’s Look Inside feature.

Cost is another reason I read indie. I get more reading for less money.

I also find the reading is more interesting. More creative.

And finally, diversification. Every indie book I buy helps to bring the publishing mega-corporations to their knees and brings freedom to writers. And I like freedom.

As always, comments are welcome. And until next time, happy indie reading!

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It’s A Great Time To Be A Reader!

books

Now is a great time to be a reader. With the advent of the Kindle, followed by the iPad and a host of ebook readers, we who love the written word, who love stories, are happier than a duck on a rainy day in California.

The choices available to us are, well, they might as well be infinite. We are in a bookstore or a library that never ends. We have all the free books we could ever want. We have bargain books beyond count. And the books just keep coming.

Somewhere I read 3,000 books a day are being published. Certainly I won’t want to read more than a fraction, but in the course of a year—that is 1,095,000 books published. Even if I were to attempt to read only 1%, that would mean I’d need to read 10,950 books or 30 books a day. Not possible, unless I was a speed reader in overdrive with the afterburners kicked in and I had nothing else to do in the day.

The choices are amazing. The indie revolution is a readers dream. The publishing world’s Big 5 hegemony has been broken by the DIYers. Anyone can now write and publish a novel or short story or a work of nonfiction. No longer is an editor sitting behind closed doors determining what we can read. The marketplace is like a ginormous bazaar and we the reader make the decision who we want to read, who we are going to support with our hard-earned dollars.

There’s no censorship either by some unknown editor, following some megacorporation’s rules. The megacorps have been defeated by the lowly indie revolutionary putting out his or her own ebook for sale on Amazon, iBooks, Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, Drive Thru Fiction, and a host of other sales sites — including one’s own blog, website, or social media platform.

The marketplace rules and corporations drool!

I’m a libertarian. That simply means the power and the rights belong to the people. Not the government with Comstock-type censorship or internet censorship, nor megacorps with their own agendas. We the reader, have the right to buy and read whatever we want as long as no one is hurt in the process. I repeat, it’s a great time to be a reader.

Recently, I read Death of an Idiot Boss by Janice Croom, an indie author. Ms Croom’s novel provided everything I wanted in a mystery story. It was a satisfying read. By contrast, I started reading Cara Black’s Murder in the Marais. A Random House megacorp book. I so wanted to like Ms Black’s book, because I love private detective mysteries. Sorry Ms Black, even though you are supposed to be a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author, your book was boring and I set it aside, only partly read, for a rousing steampunk adventure by indie author Jack Tyler: Beyond the Rails. A great read. Like Firefly gone steampunk.

Who’s going to get my reading dollars in the future? I can guarantee you, it won’t be Ms Black. Now I might try another Aimee Leduc mystery in the future, but I will buy a used copy. My dollars going to the independent used bookstore and not to Ms Black or Random House megacorp. Or I might save my money altogether and go to the library.

Traditional publishing no longer has a stranglehold on what we can read. I read somewhere that less than 200 writers each year are accepted into the Big 5’s hallowed halls of officially sanctioned authordom. And notice most are passed over for the advertising money and their books are soon found on the remainder table.

In the wake of the Big 5’s collapsing market share, the small press is gaining ground. And that is a good thing. Competition is always a good thing. However, writer’s be warned: the small press is small for a reason. That reason is lack of money, financial clout. Be careful going with a small press. Make sure you can get your book back if they go belly up.

However, in spite of Barnes and Noble’s woes and the Big 5’s woes, they aren’t going away anytime soon. Which only means good things for us readers. And that is there are LOTS of books available for us to buy and read.

The Big 5, the small press, indie author/publishers are producing new books at a phenomenal rate and that is good for us. Power to the reader! It’s a great time to be a reader.

As always, comments are welcome and until next time — happy reading!

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