Something Clickbaity About the Secret of Publishing Success

Publishing is a weird, weird game. You can’t swing a dead cat on the internet without hitting no less that 4,572,901 articles on How To Get Published, How To Get An Agent, How To Get a Book Deal and How To Attract Perverts By Swinging Dead Cats. The thing is, those articles are universally bullshit (except for the attracting perverts one. Those are pretty accurate). Because the only secret is there is no secret. There is skill, and there is luck, and there is timing, and all are involved in some measure that isn’t the same from one book to the next.

weirdBut, man, do people rail about how their way is the best way- and with good reason, if not good information. If you are an author, likely you want your book out there. And just as likely, you have a fair amount of skill and at least a working knowledge of language, but you probably aren’t an expert of publishing. So you start googling, which leads you down the rabbit hole mentioned in the previous paragraph.

It used to be fairly straightforward- You found and queried an agent, in turn to the big publishing houses, and then you got a book deal or you didn’t. The waters, to say the least, are muddied now. There are sill the big houses and their myriad imprints, there is self-publishing, and seemingly endless small presses in the middle.

And it’s that middle group that needs to be addressed. Before I go on, a small disclaimer- I am not stating anything dogmatically in this post. I self-published. That doesn’t mean I think you shouldn’t go the traditional route, or even that I won’t at some point. Self-publishing is not for everyone- hell, a lot of days, it isn’t for me. Nor am I condemning anyone- anyone who doesn’t deserve it, anyway. But more on that in a second. My point is, none of this is meant as an attack on what you do. It is to bring attention to a problem- a big one- in publishing, which doesn’t get talked about very much.

That problem is ‘small presses’ which are either a) Vanity Presses or B) Completely useless. Thanks to Amazon and the like, publishing is easier than ever. Literally a few clicks, and your book is available to the world. This means anyone can do it, an that carries with it the painfully obvious fact that anyone can do it.

This also means that anyone can be a publishing company. Email me a word document, and I can ‘publish’ it for you. I’ll give you 50%. If the book sells for $3.99 on Amazon, I make a tidy 20% (Eighty cents, baby!) for doing very nearly nothing.

Because of that accessibility- either through design or ignorance- people start ‘publishing companies’, and boy do they make promises. Peruse a few small press websites, and you’ll find so many buzzwords, you’ll think you showed up at an SEO conference. But really read what they have to say, and you’ll find there are a lot of words that don’t actually say anything.

Not a great look for a book publisher.

Even worse, they do, you know, buy books. Which, on the surface, should be good. But when authors regularly receive little-to-no support in the areas of editing, design, distribution or reviews- you know, the things you give up a percentage to GET- what’s the point? If an author has to do everything themselves, why shouldn’t they just do it themselves?

What these individuals thought process is, I have no idea. But when this is a story I have heard from multiple people- people who are very good authors- that they signed a contract, signed over rights, and received nothing in return? Just… why?

Maybe it’s well-intentioned ignorance on the part of publishers. How hard can it be to sell ebooks? Frank can design covers, Susie can edit, and we’ll tweet about it and it will sell. This is also the mentality of 75% of self-publishers. So they make grand promises, and have no clue what is actually involved. And so the author loses rights, sales and time.

Maybe it’s malicious, in which case it’s worse and less understandable. I don’t know why one would spend several thousand dollars to purchase rights and do worse than nothing with them, but the internet is full of examples of hate which I don’t understand, so, whatever.

In any case, if you’re an author, with a book to sell, seeking a book deal, let me tell you a secret word to use:

minion no

Say it with me

NO.

It’s a very powerful word. Because, plain and simple, you have the product. Without books to sell, a publishing company is Starbucks without coffee. There’s a lot of fancy marketing and pretty colors, but the product is what they need. And they need it.

So you can tell them no. Even if you really, really want to say yes, because no one else offered you a contract. Because this is your dream. Well- and I hate to sound like a motivational poster- your dream deserves better than sitting on someone else’s shelf.

And if you are inclined to say yes, get everything- everything– in writing. Because all that crap they promised you over the phone or over email? Doesn’t matter if it’s not in the contract. Make them put it in, and if they won’t, walk away. It might not feel this way, but they need you more than you need them.

DESR

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Public Service Announcement

(edit: updated)

Welcome to 2014, where you can directly engage people who express their opinions about your work. I’m here to provide a PSA to all you authors who may be thinking about about engaging those reviewers:

DON’T

Seriously, stop

Seriously, stop

Did you catch that? Good. Because there is literally no way it ends well. “But Dean,” you say, “They gave me two stars because the battery on their Kindle died*!”

DON’T

Is that person an idiot? Yup, absolutely. Let them suffer in idiocy. “But it will hurt my sales!” you say. Not as much as you calling a reader an idiot in full view of the internet will. “But Dean,” you say, “I just want to thank that person who wrote the glowing five-star review for me!”

DON’T

Looking buddy-buddy with reviewers is not a good look for an author.. “Oh look Author X replies with a syrupy thank you to anyone who leaves five stars” looks like you’re trying to bribe people to leave you high marks.

Seriously, leave it alone. Let it sort itself out. Let other people call idiots idiots. Let other people compliment good reviews. Your time is better spent on more constructive things.

 

*Actually happened (not to me)

Six of One…

The internet does not lack for head-shaking pieces opinion pieces- half the time, I am pretty sure that is the very definition of the internet. And certainly it doesn’t lack for pieces on the present state of the publishing, to which I have contributed my fair share. But sometimes (weekly), one comes along that is BOTH, and sets itself above all the other dumbass pieces on publishing.

Here is the most recent example.

He looks smug because he is taking your money and stamping out local businesses, dumbass.

I am an author-publisher. But that doesn’t define me, as either of those things. And the fact that I can publish my own work doesn’t mean that publishing is going to die, nor does it mean that publishing is evil.

The basic premise of the article- the title in fact: “Amazon is doing the world a favor by crushing book publishers”- is 100% weapons-grade bullcrap. The author instantly asserts that books are published by huge conglomerates. OK, awesome. How is Amazon better? Well, at least with Amazon we know we’ll get honest information and ethical behavior. Except, not. Amazon- unlike a later assertion- doesn’t presently have much in the way of competition, and does anyone actually believe Amazon won’t drop the 70% cut it gives authors the second they have the opportunity to do so? Maybe Hugh Howey, but relying on his opinion of Amazon is kind of like asking the North Korean Director of Propaganda if Kim Jon Il was a good dude.

All this is to say nothing of “the traditional publishing paradigm”, which the author treats as though no one buys a physical book anymore. Except physical books are ~70% of book sales. Scroll down a bit in that link- Amazon isn’t crushing publishing houses; they’re crushing bookstores. Huge conglomerates know how to make money, even if it takes them time to adapt.

Capitalism is capitalism, and nothing is going to change that. Publishing will shift, ebooks will certainly gain marketshare over the next few years, and are sure cheaper to produce than paper ones, but pretending Amazon is in any way better than the publishing companies that are out there is irresponsible and idiotic.

The Anti-Amazon Experiment

As I announced in my Nerds Feather post this month, I pulled 3024AD: Short Stories Series One from Amazon. It’s a move I’ve been contemplating for a while now, for a variety of reasons. It all started when Lindsey pointed me to this article, pointing out that there are exactly zero reasons to link to Amazon. I read it and went, basically, ‘Yeah!’, but still found myself linking to Amazon in promo stuff.

Because Wyrd

Well, no more. I pulled it because, in short, I don’t like the way Amazon does things. I want to support bookstores and e-publishers that don’t screw over literally everyone else in the process. Can it be done? It’s something of a long shot, since Amazon dominates the market, and the casual, everyday reader certainly doesn’t care what isn’t available on Kindle.

So why do it? Because I have to see if it can be done. Maybe it’s a moon shot, but that’s usually about my aim, so why not? If it doesn’t work, I can always go back, hopefully with some new demand for my work. And maybe it will work, and send the message that Amazon is just as susceptible to changes in publishing as the large publishing houses- putting more power in the hands of authors.

So how do I do it? Emphasis on those being left out in the cold by Amazon’s world conquest- independent booksellers. Many are thriving, and Kobo is, at least to some extent, supporting them. So I’ll invest more resources in print copies and seek out partnerships with various brick-and-mortar stores (know of one? Let me know! deanfortythree at gmail). I’ve mentioned it before, but in the coming months, I want to get myself out there, in person, in those stores much more, in the form of readings. We’ll see how it works.

Here goes nothing.

DESR

A Note on Amazon, Evil Empires and Real Books

Let me tell you a story (it’s kinda what I do). Once upon a time, there was a Big Bad Empire that would buy wares from someone, reproduce it and sell it throughout the land, giving the originator a share of the profits. For a long time, this was the way it was- the Originators couldn’t sell to many people, and the Big Bad Empire couldn’t create things on their own, so they needed each other and that was the way it was. So the Big Bad Empire bought from a select group of Originators because that was the way it was, and people in turn bought those because that was the way it was.

3024AD is out now in paperback!

3024AD is out now in paperback!

But then, another, Bigger, Badder Empire came along and told the Originators that, no, they didn’t really actually need the Big Bad Empire in order to distribute their wares, they could do it themselves, using the Bigger, Badder Empire’s new machine. And it wouldn’t be the same select group of people selling the same old wares, it could be anyone. And the Originators could make much more money using the Bigger, Badder Empire’s machine.

So everyone rushed out to use the new machine, and the Bigger, Badder Empire got even Bigger and Badder. The small stores that sold the Big Bad Empire’s wares were hurt, and the Big Bad Empire was slow to respond to the change.

Twist Ending (because I’m getting bored with this analogy, so you probably are too): Neither are all that bad. Neither are good. They just are. Traditional publishing isn’t bad, even if it is cumbersome and risk adverse. Neither is Amazon, even if they do crush indies and are less than ethical. Guess what? Both of them are there to make money. Both of them are big, bigger than you and I, and are going to make decisions based on their bottom line, and if that’s another Nicholas Sparks book with straight white people kissing on the cover, they’re going to do it because people are going to buy it.

This is my largest consternation with the State of the Industry- Self-publishing is now a viable means of publishing, but Amazon is a integral part of that. Does being an indie author mean excluding indie bookstores? There are ways to help, certainly, but a lot of them depend on traditional publishing.

All of this is really to say, I have a book out and you can now buy it in paperback. From Amazon. If you buy it from there, awesome, obviously I won’t object. If you have a local indie store you love, and want to buy it from them, send me their info, preferably their consignment program or similar and I’ll try to make it happen. If you’re in Bellingham(ish), it’ll soon be in Village Books, so please, buy it there.

Stay tuned next week for a bunch of chances to win a copy as well!

-DESR

A Quick Note on the Amazon/GoodReads Thing

I wasn’t even going to write about this, but it’s still making the rounds, so I’ll throw in a couple things:

It is very unlikely that there is anything to get worked up over. Obviously, it’s big news from a who-owns-what standpoint. But I don’t think it’s an issue for a couple reasons:

  • GoodReads already draws from Amazon. A book doesn’t appear there until it’s on Amazon. So Amazon certainly isn’t going to mess with that.
  • In fact, they probably won’t mess with much. Maybe the ads system, which isn’t a bad thing, either. Or for gods sake, the interface. Give that some love.
  • It will be integrated with Kindle. More on this later, but my lips aren’t as firmly on Amazon’s rear as Howley’s are, but come on. This benefits authors all over the place. More reader access to reviews will only help- as I’ve mentioned before, this is just the direction it’s going.
  • Judging from the job postings, it looks like a lot will be improved- mobile, ads, analytics and marketing all have positions that will be added. Sometimes the big guys deep pockets are a good thing.

So… Everybody take a deep breath, get out of the lifeboats and let’s see where this goes.