Self Publishing: Still No Room for Crap

Many years ago, self-publishing got it’s bad rap because the quality wasn’t there.  Self-published books were usually inferior in design and inferior in materials.  Picking up a book, you could easily tell it had been self-published.  If the xerox’d pages didn’t give it away, it was the terrible bindings (or three-ring binder encasing it).  In quite a few of the cases, it was also the inferior quality of the contents too.  But, even then, there were many that did it right.  They paid the extra money for a quality design.  They paid the extra money for the quality materials.  And, they put in the time and effort to publish quality content.

Now, with the greater availability (and reduced costs) of self-publishing, more and more books are being self published.  More and more big names are self pubbing their stuff.  Self publishers have access to the same design and materials that many of the big name publishers have access to.  Amazon has started it’s own imprints using the same services that many self publishing authors will use.  But, even with all that increased access, there still seems to be a stigma to self publishing.  In many ways, it’s an earned stigma.  Many people still expect something that’s been self published to be crap.

Chuck Wendig wrote a terribly good post on his site terribleminds (see what I did there? terribly good … terribleminds… ) about self publishing not being the minor leagues.  It starts off a little bit like a defense of self publishing, but it turns into something much better.  It’s a call to authors to be the artists that they can be.  It’s a call to not settle for the crap, but to refine it, polish it, and publish the diamond that was hidden in the refuse.

If we’re going to admit that self-publishing is an equal choice, then it’s time to step up and act like it. It’s time to stop acting like the little brother trailing behind big sister. Time to be practical. And professional.

Defeat naysayers with quality and effort and awesomeness so blinding they cannot see past you.

There’s a whole lot more to the post, but that’s what really stuck out to me.  Self publishing isn’t that much different from traditional publishing.  You still need to put out your best work.  You can’t settle for good enough, or “mom liked it” and expect to have any better results.  Say what you want about readers, but they aren’t stupid.  They aren’t going to suddenly buy your self published crap just because self publishing is more widely accepted.  But, they will buy your self published masterpieces.  But, they have to be masterpieces.  They will buy your art if you present them art “with quality and effort and awesomeness so blinding they cannot see past you.”

What are you polishing today?

Let’s Get Digital

Lets Get DigitalLet’s Get Digital: How to Self-Publish, and Why You Should

By: David Gaughran

I think it’s important, regardless of what stage you are in on you publishing journey, to try and understand as much about the options available to you as you can before making any major decisions.  There is quite obviously a rather large discussion going on about publishing right now.  There are those who say that you should self-publish, and there are those who say that you should publish traditionally through the publishing houses.  I’ve discussed a bit about both sides here before.  I still am not entirely sure where I sit, but think that, at the moment, I am leaning more towards the self-publishing side.  Why?  Partially, because I read this book.

Gaughran makes a very strong argument for the self-publishing route.  None of which are anecdotal.  He backs up his thoughts with some very solid logic and even stronger facts, and really makes a good case for doing it yourself.  He doesn’t just tell you to wade in and get your feet wet, either, but makes the argument for still having your manuscript edited at least once by someone other than your mother or yourself.  He makes an argument for professional cover designers as well.  This isn’t just a book that says that self-publishing is great, now jump in.  The steps are outlined and ready for you to discover the path you will take with your creation.

If there’s any one thing that the book is thin on, it’s extreme detail.  For instance, Gaughran writes about using professional cover artists and editors, but doesn’t go into a whole lot of detail about who, where, when.  He also writes about the process of getting your work loaded into the various publishing services, but again doesn’t go into the exact detail on how to do that.  Which, I think, is good.  He actually expects you to learn how to do those things.  The information is freely available in several locations, and is really just a search away, so why waste the readers time hand-holding them down the path.

The book is an excellent primer on self-publishing, and is by far the best book on digital self-publishing that I’ve read to date.  This will sound a bit strange, but with some non-fiction books, you come away with the desire to read other books on the exact same subject so that you can learn more on the subject.  I didn’t with this book.  In part, I think that is because there is plenty of information there, and what detail is missing, Gaughran points the reader in the right direction to find that detail.

The book is currently available digitally only.  You can pick up a copy of Let’s Get Digital for the Kindle at Amazon (and support this site while you’re doing it).  Also, I’ve added Gaughran’s blog to the blogroll in the sidebar if you’re interested.  He posts regularly, and continues the conversation on self-publishing. He’s also listed the other ways you can get pick up a copy of the book (including a free pdf version) on his blog: Let’s get Digital.

Who Decides?

Who decides which manuscripts should be published?  From a purely technical standpoint, the current state of publishing is that a manuscript must first be picked up by an agent, then that agent must find a publisher to pick it up.  It’s a double gated system.  The manuscript must be decided upon at each gate in order to advance on to being published.  But, that’s all changing, isn’t it.

It used to be so much harder to go the self published route.  Anybody could write a book, and take it to a printer.  But, getting any sort of distribution was extremely difficult.  The author would have to take up the car salesman mantra and knock on every door of every bookstore they could reach in hopes that one or two of them might agree to find a bit of shelf space in the store for the authors book.  Now, it can be as simple as a bit of formatting and a few button clicks, and you’ve managed to upload your book onto the shelves of one of the largest bookstores in the world.  Shelf space is cheaper now.  Without the limits of a physical shelf, a bookstore can hold an unlimited number of digital books.  As a result, the barrier to entry has lowered.  Self publishing is, suddenly, very easy to do.

I, personally, am still on the fence.  I’m attracted to the lack of barrier that the self-publishing route has.  But, I’m also attracted to the gates of the agent/publishing house route.  Gates mean exclusivity.  If you can get through those gates, you join a limited group of people.  But, if you sell enough books, does it matter which route you went?  Not really.

I noticed a post by someone over at Bookends, LLC‘s blog.  It went like this:

Just because friends, family, and coworkers tell you to write a book doesn’t mean it’s a book that should be published.

As I read it, a part of me reached for my pitchfork.  My hackles went up.  And I clicked through to see how badly they’d been skewered in the comments.  And, it turns out, they weren’t.  A majority of the comments are positive.  There’s a few that took up the other side though.  And it’s those I agree with most.  Who are they to decide whether “it’s a book that should be published” or not?  Did I miss the memo that announced them as supreme deciders of publish-ability?

Yes, agents and publishers know a great deal more about the market that you or I do.  Yes, some of them are very, very good at their jobs.  But, I also think back to how many stories we’ve all heard about the manuscript that got rejected 30 or 40 times before someone took it and then it hit the bestseller list.  The real truth is that not everyone likes what everyone else does.  Thank goodness, or there wouldn’t be any market for certain authors.  I’ve personally read (or tried to read) two books this year alone that I thought were absolutely terrible.  These weren’t random books I picked out of the bargain bin on the Kindle store.  These were bestsellers.  Classics by some peoples standards.  I didn’t even finish one of them.  I thought they were that bad.  If I had been the agent that either had come to, or the publisher, I would have rejected them.

If agents and publishers can miss good books, and put bad books through, what right do they have determining which manuscripts go forward?

If your friends, family, and coworkers tell you to write a book, write it.  That’s first.  Just write it.  Then, take it and get an editor to look it over.  Get some beta readers to read it through.  Edit it.  Send it to an editor again.  Once you’re darn well sure it’s ready to go, decide whether you want to go through the traditional publishing route or not.  Send it to an agent, or not.  But, send it somewhere.

I said I was on the fence earlier in this post.  But, I’m leaning towards the self publishing side more and more each day.  Who decides whether a book is any good or not?  In the end, it’s the readers.  And, if the readers are the ones who decide, why are we wasting our time trying to get through gates instead of putting out the best book we can and letting the readers decide.

 

Good Guide for Publishing Electronic Books and Stories

I’m always on the lookout for good guides on doing all things writerly, so I made sure and bookmarked this guide by “The Savvy Book Marketer” on How to Publish an Ebook for Multiple Platforms.  It’s very thorough and should prove to be a good primer guide for publishing just about anything in electronic format.  Of course, there are some details that are going to be product specific that you’re going to have to work out on your own as you go, but overall, a great guide on the basics.

Heinlein’s Business Rules

I’ve never heard of Heinlein’s Business Rules before.  Thankfully, I read The Passive Voice, who pointed to this post by Dean Wesley Smith, wherein he mentions aforementioned rules in a post that really should be read in full by anyone who fancies themselves a writer. I mean that.  Click on Dean’s name and go read that post. What are Heinlein’s Business Rules, you might ask?

Here they are (with small additions from Smith):

His rules go simply:

1) You must write.
2) You must finish what you write.
3) You must not rewrite unless to editorial demand.
4) You must mail your work to someone who can buy it.
5) You must keep the work in the mail until someone buys it.

Those rules do seem so simple, and yet are so hard to follow at times. They set out a simple practice schedule and a clear process of what to do with your practice sessions when finished. But for this chapter, note rule #3. Harlan Ellison added to rule #3. “You must not rewrite unless to editorial demand.” Harlan addition: And then only if you agree.

And, of course, if you indie publish, substitute “publish” in #4  for “mail” and let reader’s buy it. And then for #5 just keep it for sale.

An interesting take on things.  And it goes against every fiber of your being, if you’re a aspiring writer.  Mostly because every fiber of your being has had the edit, edit, edit, rewrite, rewrite, proof, proof, edit, rewrite, submit, repeat mantra beat into your head at every turn by everyone.  Will Heinlein’s rules work for everyone?  Certainly not.  But, I’d be willing to bet that a large majority of you would find they work just fine. Maybe you should give it a try.

 

 

 

Time to Look at Self Publishing Again?

The cycle seems to perpetually go around on this.  Every few months or years, we all start talking about self publishing and all the pros and cons that come with it.  The major difference this time around is that there’s been a pretty significant paradigm change in the publishing industry.  The rise in popularity of ebooks and ebook readers (like the Kindle and Nook) have made it easier than ever to get a book.  Even more important, it’s made it even easier to publish a book.

A writer can now choose to go exclusively electronic and publish a novel as an ebook.  It’s easy to get them listed in marketplaces like Amazon or Barnes and Noble as well.  Of course, the same questions come around about quality.  Is the author really doing himself/herself any good by skipping the editing process that happens when going through a traditional publisher?

One person who has been an advocate for self publishing recently is J.A. Konrath.  At the end of December, he even came right out and said that you should self publish.  And, I have to admit, he makes a pretty good argument for it as well.  He’s published quite a few posts recently by himself and others who self publish that make an even stronger argument for self publishing.  Here’s one by Aaron Patterson on his experiences.

I still have somewhat mixed feelings about the whole thing.  I’ve argued before that there is a certain sense of acknowledgment that comes with getting the acceptance from an agent and then again when you sell a book.  However, I find myself wondering if that same sense couldn’t be achieved by having a book sell thousands of copies a month in ebook form?

There is no question that the quality issue will continue to come up.  But, I think that if you are planning on self publishing your novel, it’s your responsibility as the author to publish the best work you can.  Which should include at least one pass by a professional editor.  Sure, it’s going to cost you some money, but so will putting out sub-standard work.

I think this whole argument needs  a bit more thought before I can honestly say which way I would go, but recent changes and evidence seems to point to the self publishing ebook as the way of the future.  I’d still be curious to hear how these authors handle foreign rights (Konrath confirms having an agent for that), translating those same, and many of the other rights issues that come up that an agent would traditionally handle.  Or, perhaps if the book is popular enough to have those problems, the author then goes looking to hire an agent to do that part?

Update: Here’s a very good post by Jim C. Hines, whose opinion I deeply respect, on this whole thing.  I think he takes a much more level-headed approach to the whole thing.

P.U.C.K.

Some time ago, I mentioned a contest that John Scalzi was running and that I had entered it.  Well, the results are back, and I did not win.  Obviously, having not read any of the winning entries, I’m unable to tell you whether they were better stories or not.  But, since I didn’t win, I’m going to post the story here.

So, I leave you with P.U.C.K.

Wil pulled back on the reins of Tiger, his P.U.C.K. Squadron mount.  The genetics behind a Pegasus Unicorn Centaur Kitten caused them to be a little over zealous in battle, and a P.U.C.K. rider learned early to keep them restrained or quickly end up rolling in the rocks.  The ScalzOrc saw him coming, just barely in time to avoid the spear that Wil had thrust at him.  Damn ScalzOrc, Wil thought.  The ScalzOrc’s were a special breed of genetically engineered Orc warriors designed for one thing only; battle.  A perversion of natural laws, perhaps, but damned efficient.  Hell of a lot easier than breeding replacement armies.  Besides, Wil chuckled at the thought, who’d want to breed with an Orc anyways.  Not that they didn’t breed.  Someone had told him a story he’d heard about the breeding rituals of the Orc clans.  His disclaimer from then on has been strictly no explicit sex.  Unless it’s with his wife; in which case, he was all for it.  The ScalzOrc brought his shield around and blocked the spear.  The force brought to bear on the spear with a P.U.C.K. behind it knocked the ScalzOrc to the ground.  It rolled, then sprang up, already bringing it’s battle axe around in a high arc aimed at Tiger.
The P.U.C.K. darted to the side to avoid it, almost unseating Wil in the process.  Wil hadn’t had time to tighten his restraints to his saddle before taking off to answer the alarm.  He was still wearing the clown sweater and blue shorts that he’d gone to bed in.  Hadn’t had time to change either.  Normally, the alarms would have been sounded much earlier, but the unseasonal volcanic activity was disrupting the sensors.  If he had to guess, Wil would say the ScalzOrcs had something to do with that.  The momentum from the missed swing carried the ScalzOrc low and under the wing of Tiger.  It swung it’s shield up and the sharpened edge of it cut several of the feathers from Tigers wing.  Wil winced.  The P.U.C.K. had no feeling in the feathers, so there would be no pain, but it took months to grow the feathers back.  And P.U.C.K.s were notoriously vain.  Tiger screamed at the ScalzOrc and lunged after it.  The effort ripped the reins out of Wil’s hands.  An unrestrained P.U.C.K. was a bad situation.  It was as much of a threat to its rider and itself as it was to the enemy in most cases. Luckily, the clipped feathers gave Tiger a focus for all that power.  Tiger advanced quickly on the ScalzOrc, batting at it as it retreated.  It was forced to stop and stand its ground when it’s retreat was blocked by a lava flow.  It knelt to the ground and placed it’s axe at Tigers paws.
Tiger tossed his head, and the reins slid back down it’s neck where Wil could reach them.  With Tiger back under control, Wil gave him the command to hold.  Wil stepped down off of Tiger and moved up to stand beside the P.U.C.K.s enormous kitten head.  “Do you surrender, ScalzOrc?”  It was an insult to the ScalzOrc to even suggest surrender, which is why Wil asked.  The ScalzOrc glared at Wil, but didn’t answer.  Wil continued.  “Very well, then.  I don’t suppose you’d like to gamble for your life?  Doesn’t matter.  We’re going to do it anyways.”  Wil pulled a small black velvet pouch from his saddle bag.  It was a matter of pride that each of the P.U.C.K. riders carried their own dice.  His were an heirloom that was handed down from his grandfather to his father and then on to him.  He loosened the tie and dumped the dice into his palm.  They had twenty sides, and were crafted from crystal clear, and thus very rare, Dilithium crystals.  “There are 20 sides to each die, ScalzOrc.  If I roll two twenties, I’ll let you live.  Anything less, and I’m letting tiger finish what he started.”  Wil closed his palm loosely over the dice and began to shake it back and forth.  The dice lightly chimed against each other.  “Wait!” the ScalzOrc took a step forward and was about to take another when Tiger reminded him that he was there.  Wil stopped shaking the dice.  “Just wait.” The ScalzOrc stepped back to where he had been standing. “If I am to die, I want to die honorably;  Not at the hand of fate.  And certainly not by whatever means that genetic mess you call Tiger has in mind.”  Wil put a hand on Tigers shoulder to help stay him.  Calling a vain animal a genetic mess was nearly as bad as clipping a few of it’s feathers.  “You shouldn’t be calling anything a genetic mess, ScalzOrc.  You aren’t exactly a pure genome yourself.”  The ScalzOrcs were known to be a bit sensitive about the means in which they are created, and Wil didn’t mind putting a thumb in that wound.  “Allright, I’ll give you your honorable death.”  The ScalzOrc looked surprised that Wil had agreed to change his plans.  “Thank you.  My people, for what we lack in a personal history, have come to associate with the Volcanos that come and go on this planet.  I would like to be dropped into the volcano.”

The air above the volcano cone was hot.  Wil was already sweating heavily under the clown sweater that he hadn’t had a chance to take off, and they’d only been above the volcano for a few minutes.  He wanted to get as close to the center of the cone before he dropped the ScalzOrc in.  Less chance of any tricky business on the way down.  He’d tied the ScalzOrcs arms and legs before mounting Tiger and having the P.U.C.K. pick him up in his claws.  As they reached the center of the cone, Wil nudged Tiger, giving him the sign to drop his cargo into the volcano.  The ScalzOrc fell, twisting in the air as he went.  Wil had to admit that it was admirable that the ScalzOrc didn’t even scream as he dropped to his death.  The ScalzOrc dropped into the Lava at the center of the volcano.  A brief flame burst up and quickly died out.  Wil pulled Tiger into a turn and pointed him towards home.  The lights of the compound glimmered in the distance.  A second flame burst caught Wils eye.  He looked down just as lava flowed away from something rising from its depths.  A door opened on the device, and the ScalzOrc rose up from the lava and entered it.  Before he ducked into the door, he turned and gave a short wave to Wil.  The door closed behind him and the device sunk back into the volcano’s depths.

Wil recorded to memory everything he’d seen.  He’d have to give a full report to his commander when he returned.  It seemed the ScalzOrcs had figured out how to modify their genetic structure to be highly heat resistant.  And the theory that they may have something to do with the volcano eruptions might have more truth to it than many had thought.  Wil gave Tiger a bit of a nudge and the P.U.C.K.s wings beat a little bit faster.  It was already a long night, and it was about to get much longer.

I hope you like it.

Thoughts on Self Publishing

I’ve seen quite a bit of debate recently over whether an author should use a self-publishing route to publish a book.  Of course, as an unpublished author, the debate interests me because I would like to become a published author.

From my reading, and a bit of self deliberation, I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t think that self-publishing is for me.  Probably the biggest issue I have with it is the procedure.  In the normal flow of publishing, the novel goes to an agent, then to a publisher and is then published.  If either the agent or the publisher don’t think it’s worthy of publication, it doesn’t get published.  Despite what I think about my own writing, agents and publishers have far more experience than I do with what sells and what doesn’t.  So, if my novel gets rejected, it’s off to the next agent or publisher.

More importantly, if the novel gets an agent and/or a publisher, it validates (to me) my writing.  I know that it’s good enough.  Any question of that is erased from my mind.  Until I start on the next book anyways.  😉

By self-publishing, you don’t get that validation.  For all you know, you’re publishing a flaming bag of dog poo.  But, that’s me.  I need that validation.  I could never be sure of my writing without it.  Maybe that doesn’t make me a very good writer?  I don’t know.  Or, maybe that’s more normal than I know.  Whatever it is, it’s the reason that I don’t think I could self-publish.

Of course, that opinion is subject to change after my “greatest” novel gets rejected by 30 or 50 agents.  We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.  I’ve got to have the “greatest” novel first.

Novel Selling Survey Results

Jim Hines, author of The Stepsister Scheme (along with other wonders that reside on my “to read” list), has been conducting a survey of published authors over the last several months.  The final day for it was March 15, so he’s begun compiling the data and giving us some interesting numbers.

Did you know, for instance, that the average author sells only one short story before becoming a published novelist?  Interesting.  Take a look at the results so far and keep an eye out for the rest of the results.

The MacMillan – Amazon Dustup

Sometime Friday, people started noticing that all of the books published through the MacMillan family of publishers (which includes SF/F giant TOR) were no longer available for purchase directly from Amazon.  Of course, speculation grew wild and eventually, today, John Sargent of MacMillan sent out a release detailing the problem.

This past Thursday I met with Amazon in Seattle. I gave them our proposal for new terms of sale for e books under the agency model which will become effective in early March. In addition, I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles. By the time I arrived back in New York late yesterday afternoon they informed me that they were taking all our books off the Kindle site, and off Amazon. The books will continue to be available on Amazon.com through third parties.

Essentially, MacMillan would like to price their ebook offerings at prices of about $12-$15 and Amazon is demanding that they stay at $10.

I think that it’s sad that it came this far, but publishing is a business just like any other.  Eventually, there will be disagreements.  Since I don’t have any books published, it’s hard for me to see things from the publisher/author point of view.  I can see where it would, obviously, be better to be able to sell the books for more money.  And it’s still a deal as most hardcovers are nearing the $30 mark these days.  But.  Looking at it from a readers perspective, I can’t help but wonder if the $15 is sustainable in the current methods.

Here’s the issue.  DRM.  Digital Rights.  Authors and publishers want to protect their rights to the works (rightfully so) and so they try to lock down the digital files so that the end user is unable to give copies away for free.  All well and good, right?  Wrong.  What happens when a book that you legitimately bought on Amazon or wherever is locked down and you are unable to transfer it?  What if I get an iPad to replace my Kindle (I don’t have a kindle, but we’re talking hypothetical here.)  and I can’t transfer my library of ebooks from my Kindle to my new iPad?  I become one ticked off reader.  Granted, that isn’t always the way it works.  Another key point here is the money saved by the publisher by being able to publish the book electronically rather than physically.  All the paper, and printing costs that are saved.  Is that 50% of costs?  I don’t know.

Overall, I think the whole mess is just Amazon flexing it’s muscle a little bit.  They have a pretty large market share for selling books online.  When it comes down to it, however, I don’t think they compare to the brick and mortar market share.  Not yet anyways. And there’s still walmart and B&N.  Not ideal, but in a pinch.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a resolution to this sometime this coming week and MacMillan books back on the “shelves” as well.