Happy Anniversary!

Three years ago this month I self-published my first four novels. The Morning Star, Festival of Death, The Moscow Affair, and Do One Thing For Me. I was excited and filled with anticipation of good things to come. Now, three years later? Well, let’s just say reality is sobering. Not that I regret the past three years. They’ve been a grand learning experience.

The Good

I’ve self-published 20 books so far. And am looking at launching a new series in the beginning of 2018 and perhaps a second series later next year. I’m doing what I always wanted to do — write books and see them in print.

Today’s digital and print-on-demand technology makes self-publishing easy. It also gives me complete control over my work. There is no corporate bottom line that must be met. The only person who affects my success or lack thereof is me.

I firmly believe in the free market. I don’t believe in any gatekeepers other than the reader. For far too long editors at the big corporate publishers made or broke the careers of writers. The annals of publishing are replete with horror stories of the damage the big corporations did to writers. Now we are free. We no longer need them. And that is a very good thing.

Writers, for the first time in history, have all the tools at their disposal to produce work that rivals or surpasses anything the publishing industry corporations can put out. And writers, for the first time in history, can make far more money than ever before by publishing on their own.

This is a great day for writers and I’m very glad to be alive to see it. For myself, I’m not making great money at self-publishing. But I am making a little bit. And my books will be available until Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble go away. Which probably won’t be for a very long time. Most likely longer than the 20 or so years the actuarial tables give me. And they will be under my or my heirs’s control.

The Bad – or What I Learned the Hard Way

Unfortunately, self-publishing is a bed of roses — complete with loads of thorny stems. That is, there are both positives and negatives to it.

If I could do it over again, I’d spend two years learning the business end of self-publishing — before publishing anything. Because self-publishing is publishing your own books. And to make money, significant money, at self-publishing — one needs to know business.

The writer needs to know his or her audience and then develop a strategy to reach that audience. If he or she doesn’t, then failure will result. That is, few or no sales.

I’m not saying the writer must write to market. Although that’s what most writers have done for the past couple of centuries if they wanted to make money. But even if you are writing a literary novel or a mixed genre novel, you still need to know who might want to read the book. Dean Koontz writes multi-genre blockbuster-type novels. Nevertheless, even though they contain a bit of romance and a bit of the thriller and a bit of sci-fi and a bit of horror, there is one genre that sticks out more than the others. In Lightning, I think it’s the science fiction. In Midnight, it’s techno-horror. As an indie author, if you write that sort of novel, knowing your primary genre will aid in your marketing.

Of course for every rule there’s someone out there who didn’t follow it and went on to make lots of money. But generally speaking, most of us need to understand business and follow good business practices.

Right now I’m playing catch-up and learning the business end of the writing business.

The Ugly – or Hazards and Pitfalls

Wherever money is to be made, the piranhas, and sharks, and bloodsuckers begin closing in. They operate on the supposed saying of P T Barnum that a sucker is born every minute.

Sometimes age is an advantage. I’m 65 and for over 50 years I’ve been reading books and magazine articles on writing and publishing. I’ve taken creative writing classes and courses. I went the traditional publishing route with my poetry. I can honestly say I’ve observed a few things in my time. And the most important is that there is nothing new under the sun.

Today, I see new and wannabe authors being taken in by the middlemen. Everything from expensive covers to expensive formatting to expensive marketing or writing courses to the latest and greatest software. The vultures are circling and trying to take your money.

Now some folk have the money to spend on all this stuff. Still, I don’t think they should. Most everything a writer needs to know or get can be gotten for free or for a very minimal fee.

There are so-called experts who want to teach you how to write a bestseller. Yet they don’t earn their living by writing fiction. If what they have to teach is so wonderful, why aren’t they writing bestsellers themselves? I’m amazed that writers who take these courses don’t ask themselves this question.

Or what about the successful fiction writer who no longer writes fiction. He, instead, makes his money selling his course on marketing fiction. Why? Because it’s easier to teach than to write. For that person writing is not his passion. Making money is.

Or what about the folks who say you have to have a professional editor go over your manuscript? Or a professional cover artist produce your cover? Hundreds of writers spend tens of thousands of dollars every month on these extravagances when they have no idea if their book will even earn them one dime.

You don’t need a professional editor. If you know how to write, know how to tell a good story, all you need is to proofread your manuscript. But you don’t know if you can write a good story? Then find someone you trust who will be honest with you and have him or her read it.

People say don’t use your family. I say use them if you have a family member who cares enough about you to tell you the book stinks if it in fact does. Kazuo Ishiguro threw away an entire book when his wife told him it stunk. I’m lucky. I have my daughter and my sister. Both can be and are brutally honest. I trust them to tell me if something isn’t working.

Don’t get sucked in by the money grubbing middleman. Edit your own book until you know you can make money. Then hire it out only because it gives you more time to write.

If you can’t design and produce your own cover, then find the least expensive pre-made you can find and use it. This is an area I fell down in. I didn’t understand cover design. Now I have a much better grasp of it. One book worth your while is Derek Murphy’s Cover Design Secrets.

The best resources are actually free. Kboards is indispensable. Loads of valuable advice in the Writers Cafe. There are many closed groups on Facebook for writers. Two good groups are The Author Helper and 20Booksto50K. But as with everything, weigh and evaluate all the advice. Not everything works for everybody.

I’m lucky. I’ve spent very little money procuring bad advice or worthless software. Part of that is due to my age. I’ve pretty much read and seen it all. Sure, the scammers give things new names. But it’s still the same old stuff. Don’t pay for it. Get it for free.

Summary

Three years ago I started self-publishing. I thought I’d done my research. In truth, I didn’t do enough. The indie world was changing just as I got on board. What I learned was old info that didn’t really help me much, because it no longer applied to the new reality. Now I’m taking a much more cautious and deliberate approach.

I am still convinced the indie way is the best way for writers. Why? Because you control your rights and you have the potential to make way more money than your corporately published counterparts.

I have no regrets going the self-publishing route. I’m learning from my mistakes on the business end. Hopefully in the next three years I’ll be making some significant (for me, that is) money from my writing. Being retired I don’t need much. Just enough to cover my expenses and maybe give me a thousand a month to supplement Social Security and my pension. If I can do that, I’ll be a happy camper. A very happy camper.

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

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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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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 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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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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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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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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