Book Review: A Quiet Life in the Country

Superb indie writers abound. Many readers complain about the indie revolution and all the crappy books out there. Granted, there are a lot of crappy books being published. But they aren’t all indie. A very sizable portion of them come from the corporate giants on their never-ending quest for the next blockbuster.

Some of the best books I’ve read this year and last year were written by indie authors. And some of the worst books I’ve read last year and this year were published by the big corporations. In this day and age, who publishes a book is no guarantee of the book’s quality.

Last week, I reviewed indie author Agatha Frost, who writes contemporary cozy mysteries. This week, I want to take a look at cozy author T. E. Kinsey, who started out going indie and then accepted a publishing deal from Thomas & Mercer, an Amazon imprint.

When I picked up a copy of A Quiet Life in the Country it was #1 on Amazon’s list of Bestselling Cozy Mysteries. That was on 2 July 17. As of yesterday (7 August), the book was #15. A long ride being in the top 20.

So what makes Kinsey’s 1908 aristocratic sleuth, Lady Hardcastle, so popular? To me the answer is simple: appealing characters, humor, and good storytelling.

The same combo that works for Agatha Frost, works for Mr Kinsey. In fact, it’s the same combo that pretty much works for every author or book I like.

The only downside to A Quiet Life In The Country is that the pacing tips towards the glacial. What saved the book for me was the humor. The jokes and puns and banter made the slow spots bearable.

The storyline is the same as in all mysteries. Lady Hardcastle and her servant, who is also her friend, have moved to the country after a life of adventure. And then they stumble across the body and then another.

Through a ruse they are allowed to work with the police detective. Eventually Lady Hardcastle and the detective solve the murders.

All pretty standard. Which is why character and humor are so important, as well as good storytelling — which turns the already familiar plot into something interesting.

Highly recommended! Get yourself a copy of A Quiet Life In The Country. You won’t be sorry.

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

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The Parasitic Middleman

During a Gold Rush, Sell Shovels.

In 1848, Samuel Brannan ran through the streets of San Francisco with a glass bottle filled with gold dust, yelling gold had been discovered out at Sutter’s Mill.

He is generally credited with starting the California Gold Rush. And became California’s first millionaire. Yet he never panned or mined for gold.

A few days prior to his hype with the bottle of gold, having learned gold had indeed been discovered by the American River, he’d bought every pickax, pan, and shovel he could find. In nine weeks, by selling his goods at exorbitant prices, he made $36,000. That’s equivalent to the economic status 18.5 million dollars would bring someone today.

Many icons of American business got rich in the Gold Rush and never touched any gold, except to take it from the miners.

Levi Strauss had a dry goods business by which he did quite well for himself. He also sold miners the forerunners of what became Levi jeans. He eventually left California, went home, and became exceedingly wealthy selling jeans.

Phillip Armour opened a meat market in Placerville, then took his profits back to Chicago and founded Armour Meats. And increased his wealth many times over.

John Studebaker sold wagons, made money, and returned home to make wagons for pioneers and later on Studebaker automobiles. I remember those cars and I still love them.

Henry Wells and William Fargo started a bank for miners, at least the ones who made some money. Today, Wells Fargo is a leading American bank.

During the California Gold Rush, the middleman, the merchant, the one who offered services, that’s the person who really made the money. Not the prospectors.

Fast forward to today and a different kind of Gold Rush. The indie author/publisher revolution. There are thousands of writers and hopefuls and wannabes all clamoring for the dream of writing and publishing the Great American Novel. That one book that will let them quit the day job and retire to the Bahamas.

Sounds a little bit like the Gold Rush, doesn’t it?

Today’s indie authors are the prospectors and an army of service providers are making money hand over fist off of these poor and sometimes naïve dreamers.

So who are these service providers who’ve convinced so many, many writers they can’t live without their services? Let’s name a few of them.

Sellers of Writing Software Programs. Seriously? I need software to write my book? Whatever happened to pencil and paper? Or the keyboard and the word processing program on my computer?

Now I’m not going to say Dragon, Story Mill, Easy Writer, or Story Weaver can’t help you write. But before you spend money, maybe money you don’t really have, ask yourself if you really need a software programmer and his toy to help you write your book. Just think of the thousands of writers before you who didn’t use such programs and got along just fine. Some using an ink pot and a steel dip pen or a quill even. Maybe you can too.

Grammar, Spelling, and Editing Software. I see some value to this. But honestly, can’t people do a better job? Give me one serious beta reader with an ear for cadence and a knowledge of grammar and who can spell. I’ll pit that person against an army of programmers and software running simply on rules.

Formatting Services. When I started in the indie writing business. I’ll admit I was loathe to spend money. First off, I’m not rich. Secondly, I already had the California Gold Rush scenario in the back of my mind. So I spent $25 for Legend Maker to make my ebooks. It’s a simple program and requires only simple formatting of my typescript. In less than an hour I can format my text and in less then 10 seconds get an epub and mobi file. Now if I had to pay a formatter for my 20 books… Hm, probably a lot more than $25.

Cover Artists. Yes, we all need covers. But seriously, have you taken a look at indie book covers lately? They are so genre similar, they all look just the same. Like the ticky-tacky houses and people in Malvina Reynolds’s song “Little Boxes”. It is no wonder Mark Dawson’s readers said the incentive to buy his books didn’t come from the covers — but from the blurb! By a 5 to 1 margin! The lesson here is simple: don’t spend big bucks on a cover. Spend time crafting your blurb.

Professional Editors. Recently I’ve heard all manner of arguments as to why I need a professional editor to edit my book. It’s as though the editor is going to teach me how to be a better writer. But editors aren’t writers. They’re essentially critics. They served a need for traditional publishing to make sure a manuscript, if accepted, was salable. In other words, that it met the publishing house’s criteria for salability.

Which means, an editor is not primarily a teacher of writing — but a fixer for the publisher.

Now I’m not saying an editor can’t be helpful. But if you need a content editor to massage your manuscript into something that is genre and reader acceptable, maybe what you really need is time spent learning the craft of writing.

Stephen King shows us the path to becoming a writer: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” I don’t see the word editor anywhere in there.

The indie movement is direct from writer to reader. The reader will tell you what he or she likes. So recruit them to be your “editors”. Not some academic or someone the Big 5 laid off. Trust your readers. If they don’t like your book, no amount of work from an editor is going to help it.

And I can’t see spending money on a line editor. Find a beta who will do that for you. Preferably someone older who knows how to spell.

We indies broke free from the tyranny of the corporate publisher. Why do we want to saddle ourselves with all the crap the corporations imposed on us? Makes no sense to me.

Review Services. Kirkus is making money off indies to the tune of $500 per review. Wow. That’s incredible. So are outfits like Reader’s Favorites. Pay them money and get a review. They won’t guarantee a 5 star review. But honestly, you think they want to give less than 5 stars and have disgruntled writers bad mouthing them?

I’m not saying these services can’t help sell books. But are they truly any different than the now discredited practice of buying 5 star reviews? Organic and honest reviews by readers are what really sink or float a book. And to get them takes time.

Discount Book Marketers. These outfits are more prolific than mushrooms after a rain. For a fee, they will tweet your book and post about it on Facebook and send it out to their mailing list (along with scores of other books). The problem I see with these outfits is that they encourage indies to constantly offer their books for free or 99¢. And in the long run that trains readers to expect from indies nothing but free or 99¢ books. Very bad for business that mindset.

I’ve come back to the position that if I don’t value my work, who will? If I offer everything I write on the cheap, what does that tell readers? If I barrage my mailing list with free offer after free offer, how can I expect them to buy my books? I’m competing with myself by offering them free books! Not a good business practice at all. Save your money and stay away from these folks. This writing business is really about building a reader base. Not selling books.

Writing Courses. Writing courses have been offered since ever. Everyone who thinks he or she can write has at one time offered one. There are good courses and bad courses. Just like everything else.

However, I do think you are better off taking a good writing course than resorting to an editor for every book you write. Learn the craft of writing. If you don’t know the basics of storytelling, a writing course can help you with that. And that’s about all it can do. The rest of it is back to Stephen King. Read lots. Pay attention to what you like and don’t like about what you read. And write lots. Putting into practice what you’ve learned from reading.

Writing is hard work. Fun work, but hard work. Writing is not a get rich quick scheme. It takes time to develop the craft. A potter doesn’t throw a perfect pot the first time on the wheel. Take the time to learn the craft.

Marketing Courses. These are legion now. Many, many successful indies are putting together courses to teach their fellows the path to success. And charging big bucks to do so. And, as with anything else, some are good and some are bad.

One so called expert got her claim to fame by being a New York Times bestseller. The problem is, the book that did it for her was in a multi-author box set and her name wasn’t even in the advertising! Cheating if you ask me. Yet, she is a respected expert on marketing. Go figure.

Another novelist wrote a few books that apparently sold well or made number one on some list. Now he no longer writes fiction, just sells his course on fiction writing success. Ugh.

So be careful. Vet the person you are going to take a course from or buy books from or get advice from.

The best advice for the money I’ve gotten to date was free. A blogpost by Australian indie novelist Patty Jansen. Wish I’d had that information 3 years ago. You can read it here.

Not everything that shines is gold. Not everything of value costs big bucks, although sometimes you do get what you pay for. We indies are the prospectors. So remember this: the worst time to buy a shovel is on your way to the gold field. Get it before you leave home and take it with you.

As always, comments are welcome! 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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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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The Male Reader

A few weeks ago I wrote a post entitled “Do Men Read Fiction?”. The answer is, yes, they do. However, they may not do so to the degree women do — or, they may simply not admit they do. Because in America, reading is for girls and sports is for boys.

I’d like to revisit the data Kate Summers presented in her article for the Spring 2013 issue of Reference & User Services Quarterly. And I’d like to do so in the context of fiction writers and the male audience.

So what in general do men like to read? The three top genres according to a survey of 11th grade males were:

Adventure  81%

Humor         64%

Horror & Science Fiction  57%

One might question extrapolating from 11th grade males to adult males. From my own experience, I can say I don’t read fiction as an adult that I didn’t read as a boy. The genres, nor the subject matter hasn’t changed all that much — if at all.

What I’ve seen of late, especially amongst male indie writers, is the use of female protagonists in great numbers. In fact, I’m finding it difficult to find male protagonists anywhere in some of my favorite genres amongst new writers and new books.

I have nothing against a female protagonist. Certainly in the period from the twenties to the fifties, they were welcome — because there were so few. Today, the situation seems reversed. It’s difficult to find a strong male lead. I think that is why Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is so popular. He’s a strong male lead who allows men to fulfill some of their fantasies.

Perhaps the new wave of men writers have been seduced by the myth that men don’t read fiction. So they write what they think their female readers want to read. Or perhaps this new wave of men writers are of the opinion men want to read books with strong female leads. Perhaps.

However, the data would suggest otherwise.

Above I cited the top genres men like to read. Those genres do not occur anywhere near the top for female readers. Women prefer these genres:

Romance (no surprise here) 68%

Realistic Fiction Dealing with Relationships 65%

Mystery 59%

Realistic Fiction Dealing with Problems 57%

Humor 51%

So right off the bat, men writing science fiction with strong female leads, for example, have immediately narrowed their market. They aren’t tapping into their potential male audience, nor their potential female audience. Women tend not to read science fiction and, as we’ll see in a bit, men tend not to prefer female protagonists.

This is not to say men shouldn’t write science fiction with strong female leads. I’m just noting that in the quest for market share, one should be at least aware of what each gender reads and prefers. Why pick a narrow segment of readers, when a broader one exists? Especially for those crucial first few novels.

So what gender of protagonist do men and women prefer? Summers found in her survey of books cited as favorites by men that the gender of the protagonist was

Male — 64 books

Female — 8 books

Male & Female — 8 books

Men, it seems, tend to prefer books with male protagonists. Contrast this with the female readers surveyed

Male — 32 books

Female — 24 books

Male & Female — 6 books

The women surveyed were more evenly divided, although male protagonists also had the edge with them.

Another piece of interesting information Summers uncovered was that of the 60 authors the men in her survey chose as their favorite, 57 were men and 3 were women. On the other hand, the women’s favorite authors were 44 male and 19 female. Quite clearly, men have an almost total preference for male authors. While women are more fluid, but still prefer male authors over female.

I found this data quite surprising and the more I ponder it the more I’m convinced that this is a good day and age for men writers and protagonists who are men.

Which isn’t to say women authors don’t have a voice, nor is it to say women shouldn’t be protagonists.

What I think this data shows, is if we want to attract men to fiction we need to write what men want to read.

Men prefer adventure and humor by large margins. They also prefer male authors and male protagonists by very large margins. This is important data to keep in mind.

Lee Child became a best selling author with his Jack Reacher novels. Indie author Mark Dawson, who modeled his character John Milton after Jack Reacher, in the short span of three years went from nothing to gross receipts in the 7 figure range. That is something to think about.

Of course we can contrast that with, say, Janet Evanovich and her Stephanie Plum novels, which are immensely popular best sellers. However, note the genres: Jack Reacher and John Milton are adventure/thrillers and Stephanie is mystery. The first ranks high with men and the second with women. Although Mark Dawson’s research into who comprises his audience has found the numbers of men and women who read his John Milton novels to be evenly divided.

When I took a look at the protagonists in my own stories and novels, I found a preponderance of male protagonists. That written, The Rocheport Saga is populated with many female movers and shakers. The Justinia Wright mysteries feature a female private eye and her brother as “Watson”. A combo protagonist. And, of course, the Lady Dru novels have a female protagonist, with a female and male as secondary protagonists.

As a writer, I found the Lady Dru novels to be the more difficult to write. I wanted to write a convincing female protagonist and joked about having to get in touch with my inner woman. Whether or not I was successful, I’ll leave you to decide.

So what can we take away from this data? First, we must keep in mind that Ms Summers’s survey was small. As was the survey she cited by Constance Schultheis. Small surveys mean there is a possibility of a high margin of error. More surveys are needed to verify or reverse her results.

However, when I look at myself and my reading habits — I tend to follow the same preferences that were found in the surveyed males.

Secondly, I think we can take away the rather obvious observation that men and women have different preferences when it comes to reading fiction. As writers, paying attention to those differences and identifying who our primary audience is will be critical to our book marketing success.

Thirdly, men do read fiction. We men who are writers should not shy away from writing for men. To do so will limit our potential audience and who wants to do that?

I don’t know if there is a one size fits all solution. If there is, my guess is that it would be a combination of adventure and romance, with a touch of mystery and a dollop of humor. One could possibly substitute for romance realistic fiction dealing with relationships, as half the male readers surveyed by Schultheis cited a preference for that category (as well as a high percentage of female readers).

Otherwise, we writers might want to simply focus on two approaches: one oriented towards a male audience and one towards a female audience. Indie authors will be able to pull this off much more effectively than traditionally published authors, as publishing companies tend to put their writers into straightjackets when it comes to genre.

I hope you found this article of interest and help. As always, comments are welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Where Has All the Money Gone?

One advantage of being older is that we oldsters have a perspective not available to youngsters. Now I’m not ancient. I’m “only” 63. However, my interest in writing and being a published author goes back as long as I can remember. It’s an interest and a desire that’s always been with me. I’ve actively followed the publishing scene for fifty years or more. I’ve ingested so many how-to books and articles I will never hunger for several lifetimes.

And I’m here to say, for all the change in the publishing world, nothing much has changed.

My friends Sarah and Alice commented on my last post and I couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of loss as to how to proceed in what is perceived as a publishing maelstrom.

I want to repeat: nothing much has changed in 50 years.

Sure we have the internet. And I’m glad. But let’s take a little techno history ride. A ride that shows why I’m so enthusiastic about the present and the future. A ride that hopefully will give some perspective.

When I was in school during the ‘50s and ‘60s there were mimeograph machines. You typed a stencil, put it on the drum of the machine, filled the machine with fluid (always blue), and produced your printed document. Freshly printed paper was best because you got to smell the mimeo ink. Yes, we sniffed our test questions!

Then photocopiers appeared on the scene. Yippee! No stencils! No mimeo fluid! And you could even get color on some machines. Photocopiers were faster and cleaner and spawned a fanzine revolution. The editor only had to get the cover printed at the print shop. A new age was dawning!

I remember many fanzines from back in the last few decades of the 20th century and even slim books produced on the photocopier. It was certainly the best of times.

Then along came desktop publishing. Oh my! That took indie publishing to a whole new level. The things we could now do on a computer that had been impossible on a typewriter. Desktop publishing was almost as revolutionary as the printing press itself.

Then print on demand technology became practical in the first few years of the 21st century. Writers had now reached the gates of paradise. No longer did we only have the dreaded vanity presses. We could actually produce our own paperback books. We indie authors were able to go to a whole new level. But we hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.

On November 19, 2007, Amazon introduced the Kindle. It sold for $399 and the initial lot sold out in 5 1/2 hours. Restocks weren’t available for five months. Author/publishers had achieved Nirvana.

What the future has in store, who knows? But over the past 50 years, I’ve seen nothing but better opportunity upon better opportunity. I’ll take my stories on epub and mobi any day over those old, faded mimeograph pages.

From my perspective, as a writer/publisher, I’ll take the plethora of options available to me in 2016 over the dearth of options that were available in 1965. For in 1965, I could only run the gauntlet of traditional publishing if I wanted the chance to have an audience greater than a few hundred people – at best – self-publishing. And have a quality product. Of course, there was always the dreaded vanity press. Back then. Today the vanity press is passé.

Another thing to consider. Back then, because the fiction magazine market had virtually dried up to nothing, novels were the only way to go if one hoped to make money. Novels are still the fiction writers best chance at the big bucks. But, due to epublishing, novellas and short stories are making a big come back. And I, for one, am very pleased. I love the short story.

However, with ease, comes the tsunami of fortune seekers. The get rich quick mentality. Not unlike the California Gold Rush. The first ones in, got the easy stuff. Those after, only made the middleman rich.

Not unlike the Kindle revolution. Those in first got the easy money. By 2014, the easy money was gone. Now, like those old Smith Barney commercials from the ‘60s, if we want money — we have to earn it.

Today, in 2016, the middleman is alive and well just waiting to part the wannabe author from his or her money. And the desperate are easily parted from their cash.

But there is no need to be among the desperate. The Golden Age may have passed, but we are surely in the glorious Silver Age — and silver spends as well as gold.

What can we author/publishers do in 2016 to make a living from our writing? I’ve been asking myself that question for the past 20 months. I’ve read the blogs and books, I’ve observed what others are doing who have been in longer than I and who are making a living. I think there are lots of things we can do and the first is to have patience. The easy money maybe gone, but the money is still there if we’re willing to do a little spadework. Here are some further thoughts.

  1. Write well. This always has and always will be number one. The ebook revolution hasn’t changed the fact that while sloppy books will get published, the well-written ones will have a better chance at survival. Learn grammar. Learn how to spell (spell checker is fallible). Learn how to tell a story. Good grammar, good spelling, good storytelling are always in demand.
  2. Write every day. Treat your writing as though it were a job. If you aren’t writing every day, you aren’t serious about your writing. It’s just a hobby. Hobbies are okay, but not if you want to make a living.
  3. The indie formula is still alive and well. Namely, write lots, publish frequently, publish series, and write in a genre. Unfortunately, literary fiction, the stand alone novel, and fuzzy genre books don’t do that well in the indie market. If that is what you want to write, go ahead. Just realize you are setting yourself a higher hurdle to jump.
  4. Learn marketing. Whether you go indie or traditional, knowing how to sell your books is what will make you money in the end. Unless your name is Patterson, Michener, Dan Brown, Sandra Brown, or Sue Grafton, the publishing house isn’t going to spend advertising dollars on you. You are unknown. The money is spent where the publisher knows they’ll get many dollars in return for each ad buck spent. What’s more publishers never did spend advertising on new authors. For some reason there is a myth that is very popular about the supportive publishing house. They are in it for the money. If the writer can’t make them money, he or she will be kicked to the curb — because there is always the next one in line to take their place. So learn marketing.
  5. Be willing to spend some money to make some money. You don’t have to spend a lot, but you will probably have to spend some. Advertising isn’t free for the most part, although some is.
  6. Build your mailing list. This is the one thing I’ve learned recently that makes me wish I’d started two or three years ago laying the foundation for my writing career. Better late, though, than never. A mailing list is indispensable for indies. And also traditionally published folk. Don’t be dependent on anyone but you. Not Random House, MacMillan, Amazon, FaceBook, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords — not anyone. When you have your own mailing list of fans, then you can direct market to them, mobilize them, get them to work for you. It takes time and money, but no one seems to regret building a strong mailing list.
  7. Social media doesn’t sell books. Not directly anyway. Tweeting “Buy My Book” 20 times a day is going to get you ignored or muted. I’ve never bought a book from one of those tweets or from one of those companies that will do it for you. However, I have purchased books from people I’ve gotten to know on Twitter.
  8. Spending time on social media is largely a waste of time. It’s time you could be using to write your book or your next book. I’m not saying one shouldn’t be social or connect with people. One should. But spending hours tweeting drivel or playing games or what all, is time stolen from writing your book. Books will make you money. Twitter games won’t. Mainly because people buy books. They don’t buy Twitter game tweets.
  9. For indies, don’t bother about advertising your book until you have at least 4 of them. Indie readers like series, tend to be high volume genre readers, and don’t want to wait for the next book.
  10. For traditionally published folk, it’s the reverse. Advertise that book as if it will save your soul, because if you don’t earn back your advance — the publisher will kick you to the curb and take the next writer in line.
  11. Publish widely. And use Amazon. Yeah, I hate Amazon too. A giant monopolistic behemoth. But before you get on your high horse, remember 80% of ebooks are sold through Amazon. If you aren’t on Amazon, 80 buyers out of a 100 won’t see you. Can you really afford to give up that large of an audience? In addition, Amazon controls 2/3 of the print market. If you aren’t on Amazon, you basically don’t exist. And, yeah, I hate Amazon. They are like any other big company — they exist to make money. Period. But reality is reality. Publish widely and play with the 800 pound gorilla on the block.
  12. Draw up a business plan. Plan your work and work your plan. You are an author/publisher. You are your own publisher. If you don’t want the hassle of publishing, then try to run the traditional gauntlet. You’ll only get 10% and still have to do all the work as if you were an indie. This is reality. Magic doesn’t work in the real world. You need to plan for success.
  13. Don’t give up and don’t despair. Be thankful you don’t have to choose between Random House, the vanity press, or the mimeograph machine. There are over 4 million books on Amazon’s Kindle store. And yours are unique. Your readers are out there and want to be found. Learn marketing so you can find them. Be proactive. Don’t rely on magic. It doesn’t work.

This is the best of times and this is the best of times. Life is always easier for the other guy. You and me? We have to work. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. No silver spoon was in my mouth when I was born and none appeared when I started self-publishing. And the real kick in the butt? Oprah had retired.

So I’m learning how to market what I write. There are a lot of resources out there. I found one I think makes sense and am going to give it a try.

Believe in yourself. Treat the days of no sales as a challenge to build your fan base — because they are out there looking for you. Don’t let them down.

Circling back around to the title of this post, where has all the money gone? Nowhere. It’s right there. Ready to be traded for quality entertainment.

Comments are always welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

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Being Indie

In 2014 I made the decision to become an independent writer/publisher, or indie for short. Two factors weighed heavily in my decision. One was the difficulty of going the traditional route. The other being freedom.

I don’t write much on the writing life, because I don’t have much, if anything, to add to the veritable mountain of information that’s out already. Nor is my personal journey all that unique. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and I am slowly correcting them. I’ve also done a few things right.

Today, I’d like to put out into the aether a few thoughts about being an author/publisher. These are my own reflections. For the writers in my audience, I hope you find something of use or encouragement. For the non-writers, hopefully you’ll find applications to your own lives.

Traditional Publishing

Sometime in the middle 1960s I got my first copies of The Writer and Writer’s Digest. Let me be frank here, nothing much has changed in the traditional publishing world during these past 50 years. The most noticeable differences between then and now are these:

  • There are fewer publishers
  • An agent is virtually mandatory
  • The wannabe author has to secure his/her own editorial services
  • There is the internet

Everything else is the same. The same advice on how to write. The same adulation of critics, pundits, and publishers. The same narrow gate whereby only the few may enter. And once within the hallowed walls of authordom, the same lousy contracts and all the same self-marketing if you want to sell books.

My late friend and author, John J. Koblas, used to have his van filled with boxes of his books to sell at every speaking engagement and signing event. And to whoever might happen by. He made an okay living—but had to hustle to do it.

In truth, very little has changed in 50 years. For all of the perceived change, so much has stayed the same.

Freedom

I value freedom. Robert E. Howard, in a letter to H. P. Lovecraft, confessed the reason he wanted to be a writer was because of the freedom it gave a person. I couldn’t agree more.

A writer is a self-employed artist. A creator and a business person all rolled into one. Unfortunately, the business piece of the partnership usually gets forgotten. The writer leaves that to the agent; or, if self published, too often to magic. When Weird Tales had trouble paying Howard for his stories, Howard followed the money and moved on to the western and fight magazines. He was a businessman as well as an artist.

Any writer can tell you, if he or she is actually writing stories and books, the act of writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. It’s work. It might be fun work, but it’s work nonetheless.

So why do so many writers—myself included—simply toss their books onto Amazon and then conduct tweet barrages to try to sell them? Or think blogging will get them noticed? Or hope that those 10,000 downloads of their free book will automatically turn into book buying fans? Because we want to believe in magic.

After being in indie author for over a year and a half, I’m here to tell you magic doesn’t work.

The freedom of being an independent author/publisher comes with a boatload of responsibility. The responsibility of being your own business person. Of being the one who directs your career, not some money-grubbing middleman (aka publisher) directing it for you.

The Black Hole

I read somewhere 3,000 books a day are published. I don’t know if that is true or not. But I’d hazard a guess it’s at least close to the truth.

Recently I went through a free course on book marketing with Nick Stephenson. Several times he mentioned writing into the black hole. In other words if you’re unknown, just writing books won’t bring you fame. They’re going into the black hole. Because no one knows you exist.

Marketing on social media is kind of doing the same thing. So is offering your book for free. There are lots of people out there who will grab anything for free and that includes books. They may never read those free books. Which means downloads of free books don’t necessarily mean readers, much less fans.

Dumping into the black hole isn’t going to do much to get you noticed. Remember, 3,000 books a day are being published.

Becoming a name, a recognizable name, is the struggle every author has had since authors first stepped onto the career playing field. And we are talking millennia here, folks. Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides weren’t always famous. How many more classical Greek playwrights never became famous? We don’t know. Their names are dust. Anthony Trollope got the attention of a few critics with his fourth novel. He made some money and got a name with his fifth. It was Hugh Howey’s eighth book, Wool, that gave readers cause to sit up and take notice. Very few authors ever hit the big time coming out of the gate.

When I look at Twitter or Facebook or Google Plus or Goodreads, I see writers grouping together primarily with other writers. And that is not all bad. But it won’t necessarily get you out of the black hole. Why? Because we writers want readers to buy our books. There are more readers out there than writers. Somewhere along the line I think we forget that. Although, I do keep hoping Marcia Muller or S J Rozan will discover and plug my Justinia Wright mystery series and I will rake in the dough on the Oprah Effect. I do keep hoping. Magic is alive and well.

The sad fact of the matter is most of us will be swallowed up by the black hole. Why? Because name recognition is much more difficult to obtain then writing a book—and writing a book is difficult enough.

Marketing

To climb out of the black hole, we need to be business people. We need to plan our work and work our plan. We need to become proficient at marketing and self-promotion. And because many of us are introverts and shy, we see self-promotion as something akin to torture. And who wants to willingly lie on the rack or step into the Iron Maiden?

Nevertheless, we need to learn how to sell our books and ourselves—if we want to make a career of writing.

For myself, I’m 63 and retired. I don’t need to replace the dreaded day job. But I would like to supplement my income and get that Rolls Royce I’ve always wanted.

So how does one learn marketing? There are lots of ways:

  • Business courses at college
  • Observation of successful indies
  • Getting personal advice from successful indies
  • Reading marketing blogs
  • Reading books on marketing
  • Taking courses offered by indie writers who are successful or marketers who cater to indie authors
  • Trial and error
  • Paying a marketing firm (making sure you observe what they do so you don’t have to hire them ongoing)

I’ve observed successful indies, read a few of the marketing blogs, read a few books on marketing, have tried and erred, and am now taking a course.

What I’ve Learned

What have I learned over the past 20 months of being an indie author that I can pass on to you? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Write. For indie authors, less is not more. More is more. Readers of indie authors expect a lot of product. All of the experienced indie authors agree on this.
  2. Write in series. Readers of indie works expect a series or at the very least related books in a universe or series characters. All of the experienced indie authors agree on this.
  3. Have at least 3 books written before you start seriously thinking of marketing.
  4. Write in an identifiable genre. This makes it easy for indie readers to identify you. The genre doesn’t have to be large. It could be, for example, romantic space opera. While small, that subgenre is identifiable. Once again, all of the experienced indie authors agree on this.
  5. Write well/Edit well. This should go without saying. Unfortunately it can’t. Pay someone to help you if you have to. Investing in yourself is always worth the money.
  6. Use social media to make connections with your peers. Don’t use it to sell. It’s a poor sales channel—unless you are paying for ads on the channel.
  7. Learn marketing. If you’re going to be an author/publisher, then you’re going to have to know marketing if you want to sell books. I wish someone had told me this 2 or 3 years before I started. This is critical. Marketing sells books. Wishful thinking and magic do not.
  8. Live by Heinlein’s Five Rules. If you are a writer, then you write. You don’t do anything else. Unless you’re an author/publisher and then you are going to have to also do the business end of things, like marketing, as well. But first and foremost, you write. Robert J Sawyer sums up the Five Rules very well. Do read them. Do follow them.

I hope this has been of value. Comments are welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

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Just the Facts, Ma’am

“Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.”

Those of us old enough to remember the original Dragnet TV police procedural show from the ‘50s will remember Sgt Joe Friday’s “All we know are the facts, ma’am.”

Facts, of course, are important to the plot of any good mystery. Factual integrity is also essential to any good story. As a reader, nothing yanks me out of a story faster than the author not knowing his or her facts. And in this day and age of easy research on the internet, there is no excuse on the part of the author for him or her to be guilty of gross factual errors.

Recently, a friend was telling me of a book she read that had 13 5-star reviews on Amazon. Aside from the fact the author broke most of the rules of good writing, the author (who shall remain nameless, as also the title of the book, to protect, in this case, the guilty) failed to do adequate research.

Now one would think 13 5-star reviews would indicate the book was going to be a fabulous read. Unfortunately, not so. Which goes to show how flawed the review system is on Amazon (and probably other vendors, as well). In spite of Amazon’s efforts, writers can still scam the system. Unless, of course, those 13 reviewers have such a low quality threshold they wouldn’t know what a well-written story was even if it jumped up and kissed them.

So what did the writer do, aside from the mediocre writing, that got my friend up in arms? Lousy research on Tylenol poisoning and hospital procedures regarding a person who’s attempted suicide. My friend, by the way, happens to be a therapist and knows something of procedures regarding attempted suicide.

A mere half-hour research, the old 5-click Google, gave me more information than I could possibly use, including case studies, on severe Tylenol poisoning. The result? Given the amount of Tylenol our ignominious author had the main character take, that character most likely would have died in a few days and not left the hospital the next day, all fine and dandy, as the author wrote.

But that’s where the second error comes in. A person suspected of attempted suicide, once in the hospital, would not be released the next day, but would be put on a 72-hour hold for observation and talks with mental health staff to prevent a repeat attempt. The main character in the book would not have been released the next day, even if okay, because the hospital wouldn’t want to be sued should the person make another attempt and succeed.

As a reader, such egregious errors on the part of an author make me stop reading and toss the book in the trash can. And I would not read another book by the author. There are, after all, a plethora of good books available to read and time is short.

In this day and age, conducting research has never been easier. The internet provides everyone with a surfeit of information on a wide variety of topics. Back in the late ‘80s when I wrote the initial version of Festival of Death, the first book in my Justinia Wright mystery series, any research I needed to do I had to go to my local library. If they didn’t have what I needed, the material had to be gotten through interlibrary loan. A very time consuming process and some of the information, such as that on the caves under Minneapolis, wasn’t even available.

When I rewrote the book two years ago, I never left the house. More information than I could possibly use on the Aztecs was found on the internet. Pictures, dozens of them, of the caves under Minneapolis and St Paul have been posted on the internet. The cave scenes, which previously had to largely be imagined, I was able to base on reality and thus minimize the use of creative license.

There is no reason for a writer not to get the facts straight. No reason other than laziness, that is.

My impression is today’s writer, this is especially true of indie writers, is in such a hurry to get his or her book published, and thereby get rich quick, he or she isn’t taking the time to edit, proof, and properly research the book. Such a practice is inexcusable. We readers deserve better treatment.

For myself, as a reader, because I’ve been burned once too often by shoddy editing and proofing and even worse by the often poor writing, I no longer buy indie books sight unseen. I at least read the “look inside” sample on Amazon or download a free sample. If the book passes muster on the sample read, then I will plunk down my hard earned cash. (As an aside, I no longer buy new traditionally published books because the cost is prohibitive. I only buy them used. And they too have too many errors for the cost. Gone are the days of the line editor, it seems.)

As a reader, I plead with writers to be quality conscience. Know how to tell a good story. If you need help, get it. If you can’t afford an editor, find a few good friends or relatives who know English grammar to read through your text. Read aloud a sample of one of your favorite authors and then read your text aloud. Does your text flow as smoothly as your favorite author’s does? Reading aloud is the quickest way to find clunky sentences and those which make no sense.

Writers, be proud of your work. Take the time to write well and accurately. Impress your readers and you’ll have a loyal following for life and maybe, just maybe, for the lives of your children and grandchildren. A legacy that lives long after you do.

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One Year

A year ago I self-published four novels. That act was the fulfillment of a dream I’d had ever since I can remember. Now, on my one year anniversary as a published writer, I have seven novels, five novellas (three collected into one book), and a short story in digital print. Two more short stories will be out this month and next month I will publish my third book in the Justinia Wright, PI series.

How Did I Get Here?

Even though I wanted to be a writer, I never actually did a lot of writing when young. Those early years saw a few poems, stories, and plays. A couple things were published and my high school drama class performed one of my plays. The early and middle decades of my life, however, are littered with far more abandoned then completed projects.

Lack of encouragement is a dreadful thing and harsh words are destructive. I had yet to read Rainer Maria Rilke’s first letter to the young poet. I looked without and not within. Encouragement and support are important, and I seek to be so to others, but looking within and knowing one must write in spite of what others say is vital. When I did so, I knew I had to write.

In 1989 I wrote a novel in the span of one year. The novel, however, was not good and after a couple rejected queries I put it away and turned to poetry. Poetry, I found, was something I could much better sandwich in and amongst my other responsibilities and day job on a regular basis. And I’m proud to say I achieved something of a name in certain poetry circles.

Ultimately, I found I wanted a bigger canvas. Painting miniatures was fun and fulfilling to a point. I wanted bigger worlds. I wanted to create worlds.

Consequently, I returned to my first love: fiction. I wrote and wrote and wrote one abortion after another. I always got hung up on plot. I’d never plotted a poem. I just wrote them. For some reason, I thought I had to plot fiction. Once I disabused myself of that idea, the stories and books have flowed out of my pen and pencil. I had found what worked for me — just write the story. I found I was in good company, as well. Ray Bradbury didn’t believe in intentional plotting. Create your characters, let them do their thing, and that’s the plot. Works for me.

Why Self-Publish?

Why self publish indeed? Doesn’t that smack of the old vanity press? Didn’t I need an editor’s approval? Someone to put that imprimatur on my work that signified it was “good”?

I thought long and hard about going the traditional route or to self publish. I’m old enough to be permanently scarred with the fear of the vanity press.

Yet the publishing industry as we know it is no more then two hundred years old. Thoreau’s book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers was self-published after he couldn’t find a publisher in 1849. Anthony Trollope commented in his Autobiography that a publisher of one of his early books was willing to publish the book at his own expense. That Trollope notes this is significant. It means even in the middle 1800s publishers weren’t overly generous or willing to take risks on novice authors and that the author might have to defray the costs of publishing in part or in whole.

The world of publishing I grew up with was gone. Dozens and dozens of publishers no longer exist. One is left with the small press or the Big 5. The slush pile and its editor has been replaced by the agent taking on a new role — that of the editor.

Dean Wesley Smith challenges the myths that surround the publishing industry and agents. Every writer needs to read to his article on agents.

My personal experience with the writers I have known is that the publisher does not hold your hand, the publisher does not provide you advertising dollars, and if you do not sell and make them money — you are kicked to the curb. Publishing is a business. And too often a cruel business. Today a new author, even to be looked at by an agent, needs to have a platform (social media presence and blog or website, hopefully with lots of traffic) in place so that the agent can tell the publisher this person might be able to sell a book.

However, not only does an author have to have a platform in place — but the author’s novel must conform to arbitrary publisher and bookseller norms. A friend tried to interest an agent in her 100,000 word YA fantasy novel. The prospective agent she had queried flat out told her no one will buy a YA book of that length from an unknown author. The agent then suggested various ways to mutilate the novel to fit the norms.

Then there is the money. A lousy 10% at best from the publishing house versus a minimum of 35% and a maximum of 70% when self-publishing. I asked myself, Why if I have to do all the work myself do I want 10% instead of 35% or 70% and then give an agent 15% of that measly 10%? Why indeed?

And then there is Rilke’s advice to the young poet:

You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.

And if out of this turning within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.

My decision seemed easy. Why ask some agent or editor if my work is good? If I have to build my own audience, do my own editing, buy my own advertising, and hold my own hand — then why not self-publish and at least have a shot at making a pile of money?

So I did. I kicked the rules to the curb and took advantage of modern technology. Gutenberg is dead. Brick and mortar stores are dying. The Kindle and iPad are everywhere. I haven’t made piles of money. At least not yet. Then again I haven’t paid a dime for advertising either. Nevertheless, I am making some money. My marketing plan is this: when I have at least four titles in a series, then I’ll start looking at marketing on a big scale.

To pay for advertising on one or two books is the big mistake, in my opinion. With 3000 new books a day being published, one is easily lost in a sea of virtual ink. To market one book, with no follow up for the reader to buy, it is to my mind paying to be forgotten. At least in the indie publishing world.

But what about the traditional world? It takes a publisher two years to get your book in print. Perhaps less for a small press, but then they have little clout. If you don’t have something to follow-up right away, you’ll be lost in the traditional world too. Because it will take years for your next book to see print. And if your book isn’t a good seller, it will get remainder. A sure fire way to be forgotten. In addition, publishers don’t want to publish a follow-up novel in less than a year. They are afraid of you competing with yourself. All these rules. And who do they benefit?

As a self published author, I can publish as many books as I want in a year. They are never remaindered. After all, I’m the publisher as well as the writer. Robert E Howard once wrote to H. P. Lovecraft the reason he wanted to be a writer was for the freedom it gave him. I think Howard would have loved today’s self-publishing world — it is the ultimate freedom.

What’s Next?

I’m having a blast. I write every day. I write the best story I can. I put many hours into editing and proofing so I can put out a quality product. I am learning every day new aspects of writing and publishing. All I can say is I’m having the time of my life. And I’m my own boss.

During this next year I’m building inventory. More novels. More stories. Then I will get serious about marketing and develop a comprehensive strategy. I continue to read and learn what works for writers and what doesn’t.

I confess I have a golden parachute. I’m retired. Sure, I’d like to make piles of money from my writing. But if I don’t, I’m still a full-time writer. I write because I have to. I’ve gone deep into myself and found out I must write. I must create. My books have been born out of necessity. “A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity.” It’s the only way Rilke could judge a work and it’s the only way I can judge. No editor or agent say otherwise.

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Tell Your Story (or Stories)

There is one advantage age gives a person: it is perspective. The journey through time and experiencing what one experiences gives one a world view, a weltanschauung, which if understood can be an invaluable guide to the present.

Not all old people are wise. But they all have experiences that a wiser and younger person can learn from. To write such in today’s youth culture is tantamount to spitting in the wind. But the older I get I know it is true. I don’t claim to be wise, because I’m not. I do, though, have a bit of history under my belt which gives me some perspective.

Crispian Thurlborn’s sharing of a link on ebook pricing got me started on thinking about writing and publishing. The link set me off in search of Dean Wesley Smith’s website. Smith has perspective. He also has some wisdom. His series, Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing, has valuable advice to consider. Thanks Crispian for the adventure in rumination!

O, To Be A Writer!

I’ve wanted to be a writer for over fifty years. That is probably longer than some of you have been alive. I looked forward every month, back in the ‘60s, to receiving my copies of The Writer and Writer’s Digest and dreamed of the day when a few scribbles on a sheet of paper would earn me hundreds of dollars (yeah, a hundred was big back then).

From then until now, I’ve observed what others have to say about writing and publishing. I’ve noticed two things: publishing has changed and writing has not. What was good writing in the ‘60s remains good writing in the teens of the 21st century. However, what was true about the publishing world of the ‘60s wasn’t even true 30 years later and is even less true today. The publishing world has changed big time.

A Mini Timeline of Publishing

Here is a very brief timeline of publishing:

1534 – Cambridge University Press founded. The world’s oldest publishing company.

1663 – The world’s first magazine appears in Germany.

1709 – British Copyright Act is passed. This lays the foundation for modern publishing.

1700s – Commercial lending libraries

1731 – The Gentleman’s Magazine. Considered to be the first modern magazine is published in England.

1793 – first daily newspaper appears in America.

1800s – Public libraries appear.

1845 – Paperbacks are introduced as newspaper supplements in US.

1850s – The techniques of mass production are adopted by the book trade. The publishing industry as we know it today begins in the Victorian era. That wonderful Machine Age!

The Writer and the Book!

The biggest change to publishing since Gutenberg’s printing press is the ebook. Inconceivable as a viable reading medium even ten years ago. The Kindle made it’s appearance on November 19, 2007. That event was as big a change in the world of books as was Gutenberg. Science fiction had become reality.

What the ebook did is return publishing once more to the writer. Self-publishing goes back to ancient times. Someone would write a book (by hand with a pen) and either make copies him/herself, or hire copyists, and share the love. When the printing press came along, the writer could now give his/her manuscript to the printer and hire him to produce books for him or her. As can be seen self-publishing was the only publishing for a very long time.

Then in the Victorian era, publishing houses took off. Publishing as we know it today, where writers submit their manuscripts to publishers and either get a rejection slip or a check, started in the 1800s. Modern publishing is 200 years old. A mere babe.

What the Kindle did is make the concept of the ebook a viable commercial product and because of the ready availability of the software to make ebooks, the writer now had at his or her disposal desktop publishing on steroids.

Have No Fear!

Today, anyone can publish a book. This scares some people. In fact, it scares a lot of people. My goodness, the hoi polloi can now produce a book. Goodness, who even taught them to read?! Let alone write?!

My fifty plus years of observation has taught me that fear is a powerful weapon to squash innovation and to establish a pecking order.

When I was actively writing poetry, I frequented forums early on. I saw this fear in operation. The fear established by the “old timers” to keep the newbies in line. Harsh criticism and ridicule. “What? You call that a sonnet? Why you have a trochee where one shouldn’t be!” That kind of rubbish. Or, “Well, there is nothing very wrong with your sonnet, but shouldn’t you have something to say before you write one?”

The worst was when a writer ended up rewriting his or her good poem into mediocrity by listening to everyone’s “advice”.

Needless to say, I left those forums. I didn’t need that crap. As a writer, I already had enough self-doubts. I didn’t need more. What got rid of the self-doubt was the fact that I submitted work and got it accepted. Writing and submitting and getting it published proved to me I could write. A friend, who was a well-known regional writer, also gave me huge amounts of encouragement. I wouldn’t have gone anywhere waiting for approval from the forum folks. Encouragement and support, not fear, is what we need.

My advice is to have no fear. Everyone of us has a story or two or three to tell. So tell it. Write it down, stare down your demons, and send it off. Or better yet, publish it yourself and let the reader decide.

Writers Write

Writers write and editors edit and publishers publish and agents take your money.

Notice, only writers write. The others do something else. But that doesn’t mean a writer can’t also do those things. After all, they did so for millennia before editors, publishers, and agents showed up on the scene. A writer should be able to edit and proof his or her own work. Another pair of eyes, someone who knows what a good story is like, is also helpful. That other pair of eyes will catch things our own eyes think is there but isn’t.

Mark Twain started his own publishing company. So did Edgar Rice Burroughs. They did so to have control over their work.

That is the key: control. I write a work. Why give away control of that work to someone else? Would you give control of your car or your significant other or your children to someone else? I don’t think so. So why do so with your literary baby?

Writers write, but they can also publish and in today’s world it is easier than ever. In fact, self-publishing is often the key to getting noticed by a big publisher.

You and Your Voice are Important

If you want to write, then write. It is the best feeling in the world. Just write. Don’t give a flying fig about what anyone says. Just write.

The more you write, the more you learn about the craft of writing. Rewriting does little or nothing for you. We’re called writers, not rewriters. Any prolific author simply sits down and writes. They have to, it’s how they make their money. By writing.

Don’t let fear kill your creativity. Don’t let other people’s expectations kill your creativity. If you have to write, write. Sure the first story or book may not be very good. So send it off and start another. My early poems, when I look at them today, ugh! So many are just plain awful — and yet editors took some of them and published them. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Freedom!

What ebooks and print on demand offer writers today is freedom. Freedom from the tyranny of the Man who has a bottom line to consider. Freedom from the Man who will take whatever he can from you because you are disposable, a paper cup. Why? Because writers are a dime a dozen. There are plenty waiting in line behind you.

Robert E Howard wrote to H P Lovecraft that the main reason he wanted to be a writer was for the freedom it gave him. Freedom from the 8 to 5 Man. Today’s writer can even have freedom from the Publisher Man. I think Howard would have loved that.

Today, we writers can get rid of the middleman. Nothing need stand between us and the reader. We can proof and edit our own books. Secure our own art for our books. Not have someone tell us the book is too long or too short or we need to cut this part because readers won’t like it or the CEO won’t like it.

We have freedom. And I think that is a good thing.

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