Reader Debt

Every so often, I see a plot post/meme/tweet/pagan incantation about what readers owe authors- reviews! Word of mouth! – or something along the lines of this:

Which.. no, no that is not. The only way you keep writing is if you keep writing (Note: Tez is quoting from a newsletter there). You may or may not make some/much/any money from it, but that’s the definition, folks.

But let’s be abundantly clear about what a reader owes you: the price of the book. That’s it. If, for example, you wish to read *my* book (which you should- it has been favorably compared to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Firefly and Twilight Zone!), you may purchase it for two dollars and ninety-nine cents, which you should most certainly do. Once you have done that, our transaction is concluded! I hope you enjoy it!

nothing

What readers owe authors

And, in the event that a reader does like it, I hope they do leave a pleasant review and tell all their friends that they should purchase said book as well. But they don’t have to. And so many authors see this as a must. But, friends, it is not. Do they help? You bet! I only have 16 reviews on my silly little collection, mostly favorable, and that helps. Is it the end-all, be-all of book selling? It is not. Does it have any bearing on my continuing to write? Certainly not. If everyone in the universe went and bought it and my next royalty check was for some absurd amount of money, or simply had more number to the left of the decimal place rather than the right, it would probably make writing more easier. But it doesn’t determine if I do.

 

Likewise, if you do not enjoy my book, I hope you keep your pretty little reader mouth shut and not tell everyone what a steaming heap of prequel-level garbage my book is, and leaving a scathing review that makes me want to never even think about words again. But you can do those things if you want! You don’t owe me jack beyond the two dollars and ninety-nine cents you spent on my book. In fact, if you want everyone who reads your book to write a review, you might regret that. I’m sure people didn’t enjoy mine and refrained from saying so. That is probably a good thing.

So authors, please, enough badgering. Market to people in a way that makes them want to buy your book, and write books that people will want to leave (favorable) reviews of. Stop worrying about how each review and each sale affects your career/sales ranking/ego/whatever.

DESR

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

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)

Come Out Swinging

Because, why not? Let’s just put everyone who hates self-publishing in one corner, and everyone who hates traditional publishing in the other, and have them beat the everloving crap out of each other so they will all finally shut up and we can have some actual progress. In the middle will be Hugh Howey, so he gets double beat up.

We’ll sell tickets. It’ll be grand.

I get it, though. Everyone always wants their way to work, to be the best. And, hey, that’s great. Share what works (and more importantly, what doesn’t). But I think we’re losing focus on what this whole thing is about: getting books into reader’s hands. There is a lot more too it, but those are details. When we- ‘we’ as authors, ‘we’ as publishers, editors, et cetera, start pushing agendas instead of focusing on that goal, well, this crap happens. The machine stalls, and no real progress is made.

The Platonic ideal lies somewhere in the middle, I’m sure, but no one wants to talk about that, or give any ground. If someone comes to me and says “Hey, Dean, I’ll print, distribute, edit and market your book(s) for you and here’s fifty thousand dollars (or, hell, five. I’m easy) up front and then we’ll give you fifty percent”, guess what? I’m taking it. Because damn if that crap isn’t a lot of work I don’t really want to do.

And the alternative is paying someone, and that adds up fast (this is to say nothing of choosing who to hire). And if you do hire someone(s), guess what? You run a publishing company.

If you’re ‘traditionally’ published, read your damn contract. I have heard, first-hand, not some rumor, of publishing companies not holding up their end of the bargain. If you, the author, are having to do everything yourself, then do it yourself. But if not… why the hell would you?

If something works for you, by all means, share it and talk about it. But don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s the only way.

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.

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

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

Traditional v Self Publishing, fin

It’s hardly the last word on the subject, or the last word I will write here, even, but I have been wanting to put a bow on my two posts from last week, namely:

Why You Shouldn’t Self-Publish

and

Why You Should Self-Publish.

Each received about the treatment I expected- albeit they got more attention than I expected, but hey, I’ll take that all day long. What it boils down to, essentially, is do your homework and pick the path that works best for you. I didn’t really have a way of saying that in form long enough to justify an entire blog post on it, but I wanted to put a bow on this whole thing, but what is there to say, really?

Then I saw this- Penguin’s (Random House?) policy on electronic galleys for authors and, uh, damn. I tweeted that link, and received a reply I hadn’t expected, from friend o’ 43, Insatiable Booksluts:

treeWha wha whaaaaat? But, hey, they are kinda right. But who cares? I write books. When I sit down to weigh my publishing options- or at the bargaining table with a publisher, or my agent does- let me tell you how much right matters. What matters to me is what matters to them: The bottom line. And guess what, Mister Publisher, it’s your job to make sure my book gets into the hands of every single person possible, and if you’re not going to do that, much less facilitate it and then charge me for the trouble? Yeah. Exactly. Maybe you’re right, but I do. not. care. Ten years ago, you had a leg to stand on, but now if I have to do it myself, why shouldn’t I just do it myself?

This was illustrated to me the other day by an author I won’t name here. Suffice it to say, it is an author whose work I positively adore, and in recent months, we have become friends (which is completely surreal to me, talking shop with someone whose work I have devoured and has inspired me). In any case, they have a recent release via a hybrid publisher. Now, I bought this book day one, and it is- predictably- one of the best books I’ve read in a while. It had, by all appearances, a pretty good release, certainly better than, say, mine. Awesome, right? But now it’s been a bit and… no reviews. Not much chatter about it.

And then she asked me about how I got reviews. Me. Because ‘apparently, that’s something I’m going to have to track down myself’ (or words to that effect). This isn’t, actually, to take anything away from the publisher, or her, or anyone, really. But it is the reality of where we are in the publishing-stream of things. Publishers are doing less; royalties are rising. For every give, there is a take. They provide editors; you find reviewers. They provide cover art; you provide marketing. So on, and so forth. Is it good, or ill? This is a choose your own adventure book, kids. You get to decide.

DESR

Why You Should Self-Publish

In case you missed it yesterday (which my stats tell me you didn’t), I listed several reasons not to self-publish. The received the predicable response- I’m full of it, the ‘I sell a bunch of books’ (I never said you couldn’t, and to be fair, the person who said that knows what she’s about) and of course the ‘you-might-learn-something’ one.

Let your hate flow through you. Give in to the dark side.

In any case, here are the reasons I decided to self-publish. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments.

Money. I mean, really? This is what it boils down to, when you’re selling a book and not writing one. 70% is a better cut than it is ever possible to get through any traditional publisher. Even if you sell less books, you can still make more money. Pretty good motivation.

Control. It is a chore, as I said yesterday. You have to decide on editors, artists, etc. But, on the flip side, you get to- you don’t get handed a cover, or an editor that you just have to live with.

Time. If you go the traditional route, you’re submitting to agents for a minimum of six months, who in turn submit to publishing houses for at least that long, who in turn go through the whole editing process, cover art, etc, which is (at least) months. Oh, and if your book is not the next 50 Shade of Grey, in that it’s actually an intelligent piece of literature, or doesn’t feature cookie cutter heroes & villains, good luck even getting it published (how’s that, people who said I sounded bitter about self-publishing?). If you self-publish, your book will be out months- if not years- sooner.

Accountability. It’s no secret that there is a lot of crap out there, and I’ve said before that it’s unfair to ask readers to read through slush. But with self-publishing, you are directly accountable to readers- and readers only. They like your book, or they don’t. It’s not governed by what’s hot, if it has White People Kissing on the cover, or whatever safe standard trainload publishers hold writers too. The reader gets to decide if it is good or not.

And there is this… (via Bo’s Cafe Life)

You Define Success. You want to be a best seller? Work your ass off, and you can get there. You want to have a book out and don’t care how many copies you sell or how much you make? Bam, done. You just want to share your work with the world? There you go. Traditional publishing isn’t going to do anything for you unless it can make money off you. That’s not wrong, it’s just the way business works. But if you self-publish, you get to decide what your goals are, and work towards them- no matter what they are.

DESR

Why You Shouldn’t Self-Publish

It’s been noted that I can be somewhat negative. I’m not a negative person, but I play one on the internet. I write a lot about publishing in general, and self-publishing specifically, so I thought I’d be really negative about it for this post. So are you thinking about self-publishing? Here’s why you shouldn’t (edit: and here’s why you should, lest you think I am one sided):

You’re not writing, you’re publishing. All that skill you have as a writer? It means exactly jack when it comes to publishing. Publishing is a business, and business is about money. Artists are notoriously bad at business. You want to get your art, your story, out there? Good for you. But if that’s your object, you probably shouldn’t self-publish because it probably won’t get out there.

You have to do everything. Find an editor, cover artist, proofreaders, everyone. You have to market it, and sift through the litany of snake oil that is out there about how you should market your book (mostly in the form of “BUY THIS BOOK AND YOU WILL SELL A MILLION BOOKS”). Like point No. 1 up there, you have way less time to write because you have to do all that crap and/or pay someone else to do it for you. All the stuff you hear (and say) about having full editorial and artistic control becomes a giant chore.

Hugh Howey lucked into success and it will piss you off: Seriously. Him and every other story you hear about how someone makes like six figures a month because of their book that really isn’t that good and they did dick for marketing. You will pull your hair out and scream “that guy is a HACK how is he selling at all, my book is way better why isn’t it selling” over and over.

You’re doing it wrong. Even if you’re doing it right. “Tweet about your book over and over! Don’t forget hashtags!” “Don’t spam your followers, they will get annoyed and leave!” “You have to be always on!” “SEO!” “Social Media!” “Word of mouth!” “Keep writing!” “Offer it for free!”

Everyone else on the planet has a book out. A third grader self-published a book. This is your competition. Not the third grader per se, but every other jackass who has written a string of words in the last ten years. Somehow (this assumes you are a serious writer and don’t just have some half-assed MS*) readers have to find your book(s) among that pile, read it, love it and tell someone else to read it. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack**.

You are now a self-published author. This is conversational shorthand for ‘not a real author’. Even if you are making six figures a month at it.

(if this sounds super bitter, I will follow up with why you should self-publish)

DESR

*If you had to look up what MS stood for, I have some bad news for you.

**Good for the little girl and all, but seriously?