Tag Archives: on line publishing options

Forget selling. Focus on #writing.

A while back, I read this post, on Chuck Wendig’s blog and it got me thinking.

The basic gist is that there are gatekeepers for every writer. While, with indie publishing, it’s fairly easy to get your book out there, it gets much harder after publication than it is for trad published authors because most of the gates indies must go through turn up after the book is published.  So you get things like review sites that won’t touch anything self published; different gate, different place in the process but it’s still there. He explains how completely saturated the market is and links to an article from a fellow who has 150 books each day sent to his review magazine from trad publishers alone – which is why it only accepts trad pubbed books.

The message of Chuck’s article is, basically: there are gatekeepers in any part of the process, self published or trad. Know they are there. Accept they are there. Cease your raging against the machine. Deal with it. Write more books.

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Here, let me help.

As messages go, it’s spot on.

Except…

As a writer I’d like to think I can accept that nobody owes me jack.

As a human, I find complete stonewalling, or a terse ‘no’ rude. But then I haven’t 150 other people expecting more than a terse ‘no’ to try and deal with every day. If I did, doubtless I would soon be sending out photocopied ‘no’ messages with the best of them.

So, while I do not condone or recommend it, I understand why wannabe writers; self published or aiming at trad, get pissed off and throw a hissy fit. Because while, as a writer, I accept the stonewall as a sanity saving necessity for publishers and agents; as a human it still feels a bit off. And, of course, there’s the frustration. Whatever path you choose in writing and whichever set of gatekeepers you aim to deal with, you need to learn what unlocks them. You need to learn why they are closed to your book and then you have to learn how you can write a book that they will be open to. It may even be as simple as needing to know that the key is on that shelf up there on the left. Point is you need to know. And in the old days, when you sent your book in, chances were, someone’d point you in the right direction. These days the poor buggers don’t have time.

Where to find out these things then? There are courses, there is further education, there is the internet, if you have lots of time at your disposal. But for many of us there is also real life. Or where courses are concerned, things like child care, and no matter how much time you make, those things put stop to much of that before you start.

So, many of us have to learn how to write work that is commercially acceptable – in all respects, not just a good book – with only one word of guidance. An that word is…

“No.”

That’s OK, I know it’s the deal. As Chuck says in his post. Writing is hard. And it’s the only option they have because I’m one of millions.

But it is disheartening. Especially if, like me, you’re a bit dense and slow to learn from a whole plethora of words let alone one. Yes, it’ll take me a while to learn the things I need to know from the word ‘no’. Indeed, I have to be realistic and accept that it may never happen. So yeh, if you’re a wannabe writer, reading this, thinking, ‘AAARGH!’ I do understand how you might feel frustrated and cynical, or even angry, about that. But try not to. Because you’re a writer and sucking this up is your job.

These people have work to do, the relentless pressure of submissions to read and deadlines to meet and many operate under a constant barrage of interruption in the form of calls from writers. It must be like having their brains stirred with a huge wooden spoon. It’s worth remembering that the terse, ‘no’ or stonewall is probably quite impressive given the provocation some of these people must be under.

It’s not their fault.

It’s not yours.

It just is.

All the sales advice I was ever given talked about establishing dialogue – that’s why the cold callers always ask you how you are today. Then again, there’s little point in doing that if your attempts are going to piss people off.

So what to do? Well, perhaps the way to go is to avoid trying too hard. That surfeit of effort can be misinterpreted as a sense of desperation and that can make people wary or even get their backs up.

So to any writers reading this who are desperate to be heard, here are some pieces of advice that have stood me in good stead dealing with the frustration of learning from ‘no’.

  • Be patient.
  • Write a good book.
  • Avoid the hard sell.
  • Write more good books.
  • Forget about learning to flog books, instead concentrate on learning to write better and harder and with more soul.
  • Self publish and be damned!

You see, the way I look at it, if you get that second bit right, and your books are good enough, then eventually, if you self publish then, when enough people have read them, you won’t need to sell them. That’s right my young Paduan. Your readers will do that for you. This, I believe; passionately, wholeheartedly. Sure I wobble every now and again but I still cling to my deluded belief that cream rises to the surface. I’m going to ignore the words of whichever one of my characters it was who pointed out that scum also rises to the top and often ends up on top of the cream.

So if you’re feeling down, like you’re not getting anywhere, ask yourself, are you spending too much time learning to sell and not enough learning to write? Are you being unrealistic expecting to replicate x, y or z author’s strategy and hit the big time straight away? Because that way madness lies. This isn’t a straight away profession – and maybe that’s where some publishers are going wrong, too. The whole reason there are publishers in the first place is because most authors are a long term investment. They have to write a lot of books before they start to earn.

To my amateur (and probably very gauche) eye, the problem throughout the entire publishing industry seems to be the fact that because a few people have been overnight successes, there is now this daft idea that everyone has to be and that anything else is failure. Surely, historically, it has taken time and work(s) for authors to make money. They’ve needed someone who is prepared to believe in them, and pay enough money up front to prevent them dying of starvation while they art their arse off. Someone who’ll foot the bills (while the author writes enough books to get enough momentum) in return for a share in the profits, when they start to earn it back. A venture capitalist, in other words.

To be honest, I haven’t run across many venture capitalists, but the few I have are strikingly pragmatic. They take risks and spread their resources knowing that many of the businesses they invest in – however great the idea – will fail. Perhaps I’m wrong but I have this notion that there was once a time when, instead of giving a huge advance to one or two authors, or spending 90% on the marketing budget on a handful of big names, publishing houses spent a little less on several authors and hedged their bets. It’s like the football clubs who train up young players. It’s win-win for everyone when you sell them to Real Madrid.

Yes, success comes straight away for some of us, but for the rest of us, it takes as long as it takes. And that may be a very long time. Overnight stardom is the exception, not the rule. In a world of screaming noise, sometimes silence stands out.

Write those books, youngling. Create them with love, craft them with care and set them gently on the waters. They may float away to a far off place but if they are good and honest they will not sink.

As Mr Wendig says, ‘art harder motherfucker!’

Oh and did I mention patience?

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What am I doing here?

Do you ever have the feeling you’ve slipped into a different version of the universe by mistake? Sometime I feel as if I’m living another MTM’s life where the basic essentials are the same but some of the bits around the edges are… not what I thought. I can’t quite explain this but it’s usually at times when I look at the zeitgeist around me and then at what I do and think… ‘ah.’

This cropped up in two respects this week. First, because as a fairly avid reader of Chuck Wendig’s blog (you really should check it out) I read his post about 10 books that had stayed with him and took up his invitation, at the end, to list the ten books that stayed with me. You can check out the post and read everyone’s comments (including  mine) here. What interested me was that the books that had stayed with people were all pretty heavyweight, barring one person, who, like I did, listed Green Eggs and Ham. But basically, the mood is academic. And serious. And then I turn up.

Here are ten of the books that have had the biggest effect on me:

THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW, CS Lewis. My parents read all the Narnia books to me and my brother as kids. I thought all books were like that. I didn’t realise there was a special pariah genre for them all.

FAIR STOOD THE WIND FOR FRANCE H E Bates. H E Bates can describe a summers day and just put you right there. This is just a wonderfully uplifting story and I loved it.

THE CHILDREN OF THE NEW FOREST Frederick Mayerat. Another fantastic book which my parents read to me as a kid. It has people with big hats and swords in it. What more could you want?

A GENTLEMAN OF FRANCE, Stanley Weyman. More hats and swords, in France this time.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS Alexander Dumas. Cracking historical novel. More Swords and big hats, with the odd heaving bosom thrown in for good measure.

THE ASTERIX BOOKS by Goschinny and Uderzo. Yes. All of them. I first read them when I was about five. After that, each year I grew I got more of the jokes. Multi-layered masterful humour. And silly names.

THE HITCH HIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY Douglas Adams. Because that’s how you do brainy comedy.

GREEN EGGS AND HAM Dr Seuss. The world of Dr Seuss – particularly Tweetle beetles from Fox in Sox has me completely hooked. That’s where my own fantasy world building started. With the weirder offerings of Dr Deuss. But I like green eggs and ham best.

WYRD SISTERS and THE NIGHT WATCH by Terry Pratchett. Because Terry writes the most fantastic stuff and I love it.

ABOUT A BOY Nick Hornby. Poignant, intelligent and laugh out loud funny.

A SPOT OF BOTHER, Mark Haddon. Ditto.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, Bill Bryson. Bryson makes a history funny. It’s densely written. You can’t read too much at a time because it’s the literary equivalent of an enormous cream cake. Little and often is the way to read this. But it is absolutely fab. Actually, anything Bryson writes is a scream.

Looking at it now, I missed out, PRACTICALLY EVERYTHING BY GRAHAM GREENE (whose name I can’t remember how to spell) and PRACTICALLY EVERYTHING BY OSCAR WILDE. If I could write one piece of work like The Importance of Being Earnest I would consider my work as an author done.

Looking at my list compared to the books on the others it struck me how very out of step with the popular zeitgeist I am. Lots very serious books by people like Melville, Poe, Atwood, Hosseni… A fair bit of GRRM, CS Lewis, Herbert and King. Nobody mentioned Pratchett as far as I recall although I think someone mentioned Douglas Adams.

Find a forum about books and the authors everyone bangs on about seem to be the likes of Steinback, Hemingway, Poe, King, Herbert, Melville, Hemingway, GRRM….  American authors. Always American. No-one mentions HE Bates, no-one mentions Greene. Perhaps, most Americans – and we have to face it, the English speaking internet has a very strong US bias even though there are more of us, from other nations, than them – haven’t heard of Bates or Greene, or other greats like George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde or Sir John Betjamin, just as I haven’t read Steinback or Melville (yet). But going back to the blog post, the onus of that set of comments does seem to be on cutting edge, horror or high brow.

It made me realise how inept I am at trying to be edgy.

It also highlighted the career decision that lies ahead of me now; heart or head. Let me explain. I started out with a budget that would cover six books. But due to the requirement to edit K’Barthan 1 again and again and the need for a proof edit after the copy edit I’ve blown that budget on four books. I thought six was a good buffer but to be honest I expected to earn enough to produce a low budget book once I’d published two or three. I’ve published four and that may yet happen. It may but it’s not looking too hopeful.

So what now?

The K’Barthan Series was completely self indulgent. I wrote exactly what I wanted to write, and I wrote it with a passion. In an ideal world that’s what I’ll do. But I’m beginning to realise that K’Barth is quite… out there. But… in the wrong way. It’s up front but not edgy enough, it’s weird but not scary enough. It’s not normal. It’s a book syndrome. It’s a bit socially lumpy.

Mwahahahahargh! I’ve produced the literary equivalent of myself!

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Then I swing back the other way and convince myself it’s fine. Comfort myself with stories of people like Anne Magill, who studied fine art at Liverpool and then went to London (St Martin’s) where she met solid resistance from her tutors to her style. She stayed true to it, though, and is now a hugely successful painter selling works to people like Russell Crowe.

Nice.

She says (Anne Magill, I mean):

“I ended up going into commercial design because figurative traditional work was frowned upon,” but, she added, “If I’m damned I’m damned. I can only do what’s in my head.”

She followed her heart and now she’s doing OK.

Then there’s Kate Bush. Look at the pop scene in the late 1970s and early 80s. You’ve got punk, two tone, mods doing the usual do and then the odd M.O.R. hangover from the disco era. Where in the name of all that’s holy to you put our Kate Bush among all that? Her output is completely crazy, it’s quirky, her voice is weird, her choices of subject for her songs is esoteric, at best, and at worst barking loola. But people liked it anyway because it’s so honest and genuine, oh and it’s also good.

That’s what I want. For my stuff to be honest and genuine and good. And for me to be right in believing.

But am I? Or am I just being a self-indulgent, jumped-up twat? Someone called me a hack in a review the other day. It was oblique, as in ‘hack habits’ but it smarted. A lot. And the worst thing. It’s probably true.

When I wrote the K’Barthan Series, I wanted to show myself and all the naysayers that I can write like this and succeed. I reasoned that, if I liked it, other people would. And some do. And I am beyond grateful to each and every one of you who has bought it, read it, reviewed it. But it is a hard sell. And I’m realising that all the publishing people who said the names were stupid, the plot too involved, the level of intellect I assumed for my readers too high… I’m realising that unfortunately, if I want to make enough money to pay for another book, they might be right.

That’s probably why the big self publishing sites like Big Al’s Books and Pals and Bookbub won’t touch Few Are Chosen. Because when it comes down to it, even in self published author land, the big fish want the same commercial criteria that publishers want. And it’s all very well trying to prove something actually does work, but for that to happen, readers have to know it’s there. And it’s almost impossible to get it in front of them. Except off line, in the real world, where you need stock that costs money I don’t have. It’s a bit chicken and egg to be honest.

So the nub of it all is that I’m suffering a bit of a conundrum as to what I should write next.

Because I want to write stuff that is honest and true, that is me on paper, which means more stuff like the K’Barthan Series. But if I’m going to write more K’Barthan style madness, I need to do something alongside that sells, to fund it. Or something that will, at least, be mainstream enough for the big indie sites, with thousands of followers, to risk actually putting it in front of them. That’s tricky, because I wouldn’t know what commercial was if it stood up and smacked me in the face with a haddock. Universal appeal, yeh, I can do that, but nobody wants that, it makes selling the books too difficult. They want the next big thing. Before it happens. They want stuff that sells. And I don’t know what that is.

Oh dear.

So it’s back to the brick wall. That’s right, the one I was hoping I could sidestep by self publishing my books and proving to the world… yada, yada, yada.

Because my stuff didn’t fit with publishers, but it doesn’t fit in with the indie gatekeepers either – except for Awesome Indies, who I, therefore, think are awesome.

So here’s my three step plan:

STEP 1: Find out what, exactly, is ‘wrong’ with the K’Barthan Series, somehow. I.E. find out why a publisher would say ‘no’ so I can avoid making the same mistakes in the next book.

STEP 2: Applying what I’ve learned, I need to write the most commercial novel of which I am capable and use it to fund any subsequent pieces of unmarketable whimsy.

STEP 3: Stick £10 a month away in my building society account. For all my hand-to-mouthness (yes I know, I spent everything I had on a car. It’s definitely my fault) I won’t notice it’s gone. I have discalculia, for heaven’s sake! And in a year’s time, when I’ve written my next book, there might be enough cash to publish it at the usual loss and eventually there might be so many books that the sales income they generate can fund another one, anyway.

STEP 4: Write some shorts and experiment with putting 20,000 novellas into things like KDP Select on a rolling basis, which, hopefully, will introduce my work to a whole new bunch of readers who have no access to it now, and who will buy all my other books (and then music will play and there’ll be smeary shots of me dancing, crying with joy, through falling rose petals-) Sorry. Got a bit carried away there.

Held in reserve, steps 5 and 6.

STEP 5: Find a publisher who will make me rewrite and rewrite and rewrite my next piece of unmarketable whimsy until, together, we turn it into something marketable. This is a hugely unappealing prospect because I can’t imagine a publisher thinking any differently about my books from the agents and the big hitter review sites. Which means thousands of pounds on postage and years and years of being told, politely, to fuck off and trying to put a positive spin on it. But I might manage it, and if I do, it will open many closed doors, and I’ll learn a huge amount.

STEP 6: Crowd fund the next book? Eeesh. I guess there’s Unbound, but do I have the time or charisma to undertake the social media activity required to drum up… well any votes? Let alone enough for them to publish a book.

Which brings me back round in a circle to the question ‘how do I make my work commercially viable?’ The biggest problem I face lies my answer to that question: ‘I like it the way it is.’

So that’s the nub of it. Do I attempt to be the Kate Bush of writing and try to make it on my own? Only with rather less talent and no help in the offing from any literary equivalent of David Gilmour. Do I keep on struggling and hope that somehow, one day, my work stands up? That I can find a way to walk the line between being true to myself and bang on the money. Or do I try to sing something more mainstream, in a slightly less squeaky voice, about a bog standard subject to see if the Polydors of the writing world will accept it?

Very tricky question. And one to which, right now, I have no answer.

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Amazon is not your friend – reblogged from Chuck Wendig

Except he doesn’t have a reblog button but readers, writers, anyone, read this because what he says is true. Amazon has been involved in a giant price cutting war to annihilate the competition. Once that’s done. Once it’s the only option, it’ll do what it likes. That means if it decides to give self published authors a 1% royalty and keep the rest, it will. Or if it decides to move to a standard model and set it’s royalty rate at 10%, it will.

The competition needs us but more importantly, we need them because we need a free market and we’re close to a monopoly. If you have an iPad, use iBooks, if you have a kindle, buy your .mobi files from Smashwords and send them to your kindle, yourself. Mr Wendig is bang on the nail with this one free trade has to survive or we’re stuffed. So if anyone out there has any ideas as to how we can attract the customers using these other retailers answers on a post card please!

Here’s the post, warning, if you are upset by that kind of thing, he’s quite a sweary bloke. Think that man I can never remember the name of, Cardinal Richleau, Dr Who… oh yes, Peter Capaldi, doing In The Thick of It. Yeh… like that only less angry and not nasty. You can read the post here.

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Publishing is dead: Long live… publishing?

What does a publisher do? Is there a point to having one? As a species are publishers dead?

I was just looking at this and even though I’m self published, I agree with pretty much all of it.

So… reading that kind of bears out what I’ve always thought. Ergo that a publisher is something akin to a venture capitalist. They see an idea and they invest. After a number of funding rounds etc, the ‘inventor’ of a product usually ends up with around 10% although I know people who have ended up with about 2%. When a company you started sells for several hundred millions and you get a ‘mere’ two it could be galling, if you looked at it the wrong way. But, in many cases, without the expertise of the Venture Capitalists – sorry I think they call themselves Business Angels these days – that hundreds of millions sale may not happen. Inventors invent something but as I understand it, where they make the money is sharing their know how with, and investing in, like minded individuals afterwards.

So what I’m saying, inarticulately as usual, is, writers have an idea, the publisher is the venture capitalist in that they pour thousands into the venture to get it to the stage where it will start making a return. The writer who has a publisher gets 10% rather than 70% but they will probably get to a break even point quicker than they might otherwise. Well… unless they live on benefits and spend all day every day marketing their work online and elsewhere. The other 60% absorbed by the publisher has probably been spent on design of the book and cover, some marketing, paid reviews in the right places and the kind of contacts and clout that no self published author will have. In short, if you’ve written, something, anything marketable, a publisher is the best bet (or acting the EXACT same way as a publisher – apart from saying no to yourself, obviously).

Unfortunately publishers are not like VCs or BAs, they’re much more cautious about who or what they invest in and there seems to be a lack of creative flair among the big ones. That means a lot of good stuff gets left on the cutting room floor… or the author may have some home life reason that precludes them from writing two books a year – which is what any self respecting publisher will expect (and need).

Those are the people who are going to have to do their own thing and those are the people whose books WILL get written, whatever the article says, and will get published. None of my stuff would ever see the light of day if I had to sell it to a publisher first. That’s partly because I’m bollocks at sales but a big bit is also because I have too much on in my real life to write a book in under 18 months. Even with an advance I couldn’t do that because the sticking points are people who need me, my time and my… well it sounds corny but… love.

So, if publishers could accept China Mieville’s view: “If we try to second guess readers, it’s a fool’s game. Our job is not to give readers what they want, but to make readers want what we give.” it would be great.

Unfortunately a lot of the big ones are trying to second guess what readers want and give it to them. The result is a huge restriction on choice and creativity.

Hang on though! Lots of small publishing houses have appeared in the last few years who are bang in line with Mr Mieville and have stepped into the breach. At this rate the publishing industry will re-invent itself… as it’s old 1960s forward looking, inquisitive, quality driven self.

Let’s hope so.

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Taking the plunge

Having discovered the lovely Smashwords is going to charge witholding tax I have been feeling, for some time, that my plan to e-publish my book has been a bit well… to put not too fine a point on it, pissed on. Now though, I have a plan.

So, here’s the deal.  I’m going to serialise my e-book for free, starting the last week in July. Anyone who gets bored reading the instalments can buy a copy of the e-book in advance for £2.50 or, if they really want to push the boat out, they can buy a paperback. Incidentally, the free, serialised, e-book will always be available. My aim is to get it printed for a price that will allow me to sell it for £7.99 and send it anywhere in the world for a tenner!

Terrestrially (is that the right word) I’ll try to sell the paperback locally, my local book shops, a signing, publicity in the local papers, radio and if I could swing it, TV, e-mails to friends, family, clubs etc. The angle being stay at home parent with two year old writes and self-publishes book – might add NCT or the like to the list for press releases then.

I’ve thought about Amazon but because they demand you sell it half price I’d have to list it at £15.99 in order to sell it for a reasonable amount and leave room for costs an their cut, let alone actually earn anything from it.  It all seems to be a bit artificial to me.

So there we go, that’s the plan… I took a big breath and sent off for the ISBNs today… one for each format of the serialised e-book, one for each format of the sold e-book and one for the paperback.

And yes, it’s a lot of money all this printing and isbns and gubbins and I could end up looking a real idiot. It’s sort of daunting and yet quite exciting too.

On a lighter note, scion pointed at my Dr Who mug today and, unprompted, shouted “Darlick”.

I did tell him what a Dalek was – when he was about 5 months old at any rate – but I don’t remember mentioning it since. Even so, clearly it went in.

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Blimey!

I’ve had a bit of a pip tonight.

My first freebie short story, Is This Heaven? has had 108 downloads on Smashwords and is linked in two other writer’s profiles. It’s had about 350 hits on Freado/bookbuzr and Scribd but I’m not so sure of the accuracy of their stats… but I digress…

My point is, I put the second short story – Bog Man – onto Smashwords at about 6.00pm last night.  I hoped to get a few hits, I thought that if I did it would mean that the people who’d downloaded Is This Heaven liked it and had been waiting for the second one.  Well, by the end of the evening 75 people had downloaded it, by 6.00pm today, 86 people had downloaded it, even better, two of them were new readers who liked it so much they downloaded Is This Heaven, too… 7 Smashwords authors have linked to Bog Man in the first 24 hours, too.

Mmm (says a very smug M T). Isn’t that a pip?

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Audio publishing…

Hmm… so what I really need to find is a Smashwords for audiobooks…

I was thinking I could read it, myself, Scott Sigler style.

He is the guy who gave his books away as podcasts and ended up getting picked up by Orion after he had 50,000 downloads.  Something like 60% of the people who downloaded his book for free went on to buy a paper copy.  He did put in a long day around the internet taking part in forums, writers’ groups and the like ‘soft’ selling his books.

For the moment, I think I will stick to the e-shorts for this.  I’m starting on another one so I would be reading the first… so long as the police cars who drag race up my street, my son and my husband could keep quiet for long enough to allow me to do so… yeh… it’s going to take a long time.

I do have a good programme for doing the recordings… It’s made by a company called CFB Software and you can find them here.

LP Recorder – really a specialist thing for recording records onto your computer so you can make them into MP3s.  HOwever, it works very well when you change the input channel to mic as opposed to line in.  If  you combine it with LP Ripper which helps you split the recordings up into tracks, you get something pretty powerful.  It’s a reasonable price, too.  They quote $70 for the two programmes together or $40 for LP Recorder on its own.

So, same deal as my current e-publishing venture, give away my short stories for free and try to build up a following.

About 250 people have downloaded my first short story from Freado, Scribd and Smashwords although it’s probably all my mates and acquaintances… not sure…  Clearly the next step is to read this and put the recording on a new podcast page, here, with a link from the entries on scribd, freado and smashwords.

I’m crap at short stories so it isn’t easy and it isn’t necessarily going to help sell my book, which is rather better, I hope.  Even so… it will be interesting to see what happens.

As always, I’ll keep you posted.

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