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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Why I Write

I went to the library that I used to go to when I was a kid the other day. I’m not one to be married to the past, by any means, but it had certainly changed. It’s not a city library anymore, but county, so the dusty, smelly old books that used to crowd the shelves are replaced with sleek latest editions, and only enough of those to fill half the shelves. You can request any book you want on the computer. I expected as much, just from the rise of the ebook, but still. Gone are the days of staggering out with every book that interested me (which was all of them), precariously balancing a stack, while trying to read one of them, all the while being grateful for automatic doors, which likely saved many concussions for my 10-year-old self.

I lived at that library growing up. The librarians were amazing, and always had wonderful suggestions for me. The more I read, the more I wanted to write. I wanted to tell stories that gave people the kind of enjoyment I get from reading them.

That, right there, is the best piece of writing advice I ever received. Know why you write.

It’s not the same for everyone. Maybe you have an agenda, or a message. Maybe you want fame and glory and awards (more on that in a second). Maybe it’s a hobby. The list is long and varied.

A funny thing happens, as many of you know, when you go from one day I will have a book out to I am a published author, or somewhere in the middle, anyway. In fact, it happens earlier and earlier, thanks to the internet and social media. Things crowd out why you write. Twitter activism- if you follow a bunch of writers on Twitter, you are basically walking into a high school of very vocal, very opinionated people. Suddenly, you care about awards. Not just awards, but the process, the categories, and goddammit I want one.

Why do you write?

With the recent Hugo… cluster, and every goddamn controversy in genre before that (do crime authors deal with this shit?), for as much as I am interested in those things, and do care about them- guess what? It’s not why I write. I don’t need any hardware to validate my writing, me as a person, and certainly not any of my views (*cough puppies cough*). It doesn’t do me or my writing any good to dwell on them.

What’s my point in all this? Twofold, really. I never looked for any stamp on any of those books I read- Hugo Award Winner, Nebula Award Winner– and if they had some award or not, it wouldn’t have increased or decreased my enjoyment of them. So, as a writer, I have reached a point where I genuinely don’t care. Perhaps easy to say, since no one has, ya know, offered me a Hugo, but I can say I don’t particularly want someone to. What I want, as a writer, is people to read my stuff, hopefully enjoy it, and then hopefully tell someone to do the same. If things go really well, I will get to make a living off that.

As a reader, I care even less. If that’s the validation some people need, fine, whatever, that’s their business. But if your writing is a platform for your idiotic, selfish and bigoted worldviews, and awards and the process around them serves as means to draw attention to same, you can bet your sweet ass I will not be reading your book.

Why I Get Paid to Write (and you should too)

This is a thing, it seems, which crops up from time to time. Some form of writer’s not being paid, maybe they shouldn’t, exposure is reward enough, etc. Now, for the most part, the people saying this are probably quite well-intentioned. But it’s untrue and a trap for writers.

I have about 950 followers on Twitter, a couple hundred subscribers to this blog, and like ten on Facebook, because I hate Facebook and forget it exists. So it’s not like I am swimming in fame or my Kickstarter is the literary version of the Veronica Mars campaign. Obviously a little exposure would do me good (also, I’m kind of a miserable self-promoter). But here’s the thing: Giving my work away doesn’t help.

I’ve done it- the 444 project was a free thing- and, as I said, well intentioned, but it didn’t do me any good. Perhaps a few followers, but no books sold and no backers to Kickstarter as a direct result of it. Because what happens, when you give your product away, as a writer, is you remove value from it. SFWA pro rate says that a word of fiction is worth $0.06, and various markets are higher or lower, but that’s the baseline. So why should I tell people each word is worth zero cents?

If you think that’s not the case, and are saying, no, Dean, they read the free bit and then love it and then go buy the book, think of your last trip to the grocery store where they had samples out. You took one, even if you weren’t hungry, right? And how many times did you buy the product that is sitting right there? Pretty rare, right? Most of the time- in most cases, always- you munch on whatever it is, and then go get what you were going to get anyway. It works the same with writing. Maybe one person or two loves the free stuff, and shells out a few bucks for my books, but the odds on that are slim- let’s say one person in 1,000, which is probably optimistic. That means if I make $5 off every book sold, I need 60,000 people to read the free bit to equal what I would make off one 5,000 word sale at pro rate (that number is 120,000 if it’s a Fireside sale).

Stitch Loves Getting Paid for his Work

Stitch Loves Getting Paid for his Work

It also devalues the market as a whole. It’s a buyers market, to be sure, fiction is. Just search the hashtag ‘writer‘, ‘amwriting‘, etc on Twitter and see how many results you get (also, fellow scribes: can some of you be a little less up-your-own-ass about writing? It’s just pretentious sometimes, ya know? If you’re nodding, going yup, ignore this. If you’re incredulous, I’m talking to you). There are other markets that pay a whole bunch more than fiction does, because no one writes press releases for a hobby. It’s a big sea of fiction out there (which, incidentally, decreases your odds considerably in the above paragraph), and sending the message hey I am just giving it away doesn’t help the market overall (it bears pointing out that publishing it- even for free- likely means you can never sell it, either).

There are, however, ways of sampling your work or gaining exposure that are beneficial. A guest post or interview will often do wonders. This gains you exposure while accomplishing the opposite of giving a story away- it emphasizes the value of your work, shows you have pride in it. Readers respond to this. Likewise, I write my column at Nerds Feather for free (You can pay me if you want, G), and guess what? This blog, the Kickstarter and my book have all had hits and sales because of it.

Excerpts are a different story, and the more effective sample. Leaving the reader hanging will make them want to know what happens next- think of the grocery store again. Which is more likely to get someone to buy bacon- giving them a strip of bacon, or them smelling bacon cooking? Let them smell your work, and make them hungry for it. Don’t give them a bite size piece they can munch on and walk away.

DESR

PS: gentle reminder that I have a Kickstarter campaign running right now to support a print run of 3024AD that will be distributed through indie brick-and-mortars. Please support it!

Big News (the Actual News Part)

So, as you may know, I’ve been pondering for a while now how to marry indie publishing to indie bookselling for a while now. It eluded me, for most of that period, exactly how to bring it about. But, as is said, good things come to those who wait.

A match made in Fairhaven

So I’m very excited to announce that I’ve paired up with Village Books to release the second edition of 3024AD: Short Stories Series One. As I have mentioned before, there will be a Kickstarter, and the main goal will be a large, quality print run and distribution. After it is printed, it will be sold not through Amazon, but through Village Books and their website (and Kobo for the ebook). For the first 30 days after release, it will be available exclusively through Village Books- and they, in turn, will have an excerpt on their site, promote it, etc (Kickstarter backers will, of course, get theirs early). I’ll also have a release event there when the time comes.

Hopefully, this will lend credibility as I approach other bookstores, and open the door for other (quality) author-publishers to do the same.

The finishing touches went on the Kickstarter tonight, so look for it either later this week or early next!

DESR