Tag Archives: independent publishing

How to destroy a brand in one easy (lazy) step

So most of us DIYers out here are trying to brand ourselves. We spend our time on Twitter and Facebook and message boards and whatnot trying to build an audience and a fanbase.

Then the midlist authors come along and digitize their backlists, and everybody’s happy because they already have a brand and they’re simply supplying a product that people want. Yay.

And then there are the midlist and higher-up authors who self-publish new stuff. That’s kind of an interesting experiment. I like watching it all play out even though, well, their brand trumps my brand and I have to work harder at establishing my brand.

Thus, it should make me happy when a very well-established author self-publishes something new and it’s crap. But it doesn’t make me happy. It makes me sad.

See, one big slip, and the reader suddenly suspects that you’re not a very good writer and that your editors made you who you are, and…you’re going to throw away years of investment in your brand and your work product  just because you want to cash in on a 99c romance novella heatwave or make money off your under-the-bed manuscripts?

You insult your readers. You insult your former editors. You make a mockery of your previous publishers. And you embarrass the hell out of yourself. Do you really not know how bad you look, or do you not care?

If your intent is to destroy the brand you worked for all these years because you just have to put up that novella right now because can’t wait because you’ll miss the self-publishing train if you don’t, then you are succeeding.

And you deserve it.

P.S. If you insist on going without an editor, learn how to fucking write. If you can’t do it after all these years and titles, you’re a fraud.

First rule of self-publishing:

Get a professional editor.

Period.

No excuse.

I don’t care how good your beta readers and critique partners are.

I don’t care if you’re a traditionally published midlist author going out on your own.

Get a professional editor.

You want to self-publish? Put in the time and the effort and the money, just like a big publisher would. This is a business and you are creating a product to sell to people. Give them a good product.

That product begins with a professional editor.

WD Do-It-Yourself Publishing

“Self-publishing is the kiss of death. (And you’ll go to hell, too. God HATES self-publishers.)”

So come see me at the Writer’s Digest conference, on the Do-It-Yourself Publishing panel, which is chock-full of super-awesome self-publishing types who are also going to hell.

When: January 22, 2011, 10:30 – 11:45 a.m.
Where: Sheraton Hotel & Towers, NYC

(Conference runs January 21 through 23.)

And who cares if I go to hell? I hear it has snowed…

Free agency

Mormon publishing is a small world, but since I only hover on the outskirts of the community as a fiction writer who is Mormon and not as a writer of Mormon fiction (albeit I have Mormon characters), I don’t have much invested in the state of the Mormon art.

Currently I’m involved in a discussion on the Association for Mormon Letters blog that led to these comments:

Author Annette Lyon said:

Angela also hit it right on the head when she said that it’s a bit tricky naming names and titles when you’re one of the LDS writers yourself. It was a different story before I was part of that group. It’s easy to praise, but this is a tiny sandbox. An offhanded remark can make an enemy, so imagine if I were to give an honest review of that other book. Yeah. Let’s just say I don’t dare.

Author Lisa Torcasso Downing said:

Like Angela, I’m hesitant to criticize other writers–and their publishers–because a) who am I to talk? and b) I need those publishers.

There was a level of pathos there that I don’t feel that deeply with unpublished writers of work aimed for the national market, and not a niche one, and such a niche one. Actually, it was the “I need those publishers” that made me hurt.

I can understand Annette’s position, as she’s established and seems to do very well within the niche. But this is what I want to say to Lisa et al: You do not need those publishers.

Look around. eBooks, podcasts, print-on-demand, serial fiction blogs. The landscape is changing drastically and at breathtaking speed.

My question is: Could you do worse on your own? Really?

Just think about it. Please.

New Year’s resolutions

1. Make a concerted effort to contact the authors of books I enjoy and tell them that, and why.

I only know how wonderful it makes me feel when someone took the time to email me and tell me that they enjoyed one or both of my books and why.  I can’t imagine any other author wouldn’t like it as much as I do.

2. Seek out and read more independently published work.

I think I have a skewed view of self-publishing, since I came to this via really good writers who decided to self-publish.  Thus, I’ve never encountered this mythical slush pile of dreck I keep hearing about. Maybe I’ll find some, and maybe I’ll let you know if I do. Or not.

An idea for RWA!

Publishing is changing, the latest clue being Torstar’s vanity publishing line, DellArte (clever me, I said Torstar instead of Harlequin)*.

But we all agree on this one point, right? I mean, publishing can be DOOMED, or it can be METAMORPHOSING, or it can be LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!! but something’s going on.

And we all know MWA, RWA, and all those types delisted Harlequin, which won’t make a damn bit of difference to Harlequin (or Torstar, hee!).

Mrs. Giggles and Karen Scott both get it about the DellArte thing: Say somebody wants to pay to play.

So what?

But then on Karen’s blog the thread turned to what RWA should do about it and she said (I’m sure mostly tongue-in-cheek):

Since the RWA took the step of delisting HQN, they may as well go the whole hog and have a fulsome ‘Vanity Press Is Evil’ programme that informs authors about the pitfalls of going the vanity/self-pubbing route, rather than leaving it to the likes of Writer Beware. Merely delisting HQN is far too much of a passive-aggressive way of tackling this potentially world-altering, humanity-defying problem.

You know what I think RWA should do instead of having a Vanity Press Is Evil program? I think the RWA should have a program to inform, instruct, and help those members who are interested in self-publishing, provide a publishing punchlist, which publishing services cost what (and what’s reasonable), how to do it right, with the understanding that no matter which self-publishing route you go, you are going to pay to play. The opportunities for information mining (read: conference workshops read: ka-ching) are endless.

DellArte would be cast as the devil by default, just on their prices.

But then, that would be a proactive thing to do.

The RWA is reactive. This is an organization that grits its teeth when forced to acknowledge the fact of successful e-publishers like Ellora’s Cave/Cerridwen Press, Samhain Publishing, Loose Id, et al.

Oh well. It was an idea.

UPDATE: Well, this is what I get for not waiting a day on new Publishing Doom news to post this. Some more clues might be:

Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Harper Collins have decided to withhold ebook release for some months to give the hardcovers a chance to earn some money. That might not sound like such a bad thing until you realize that a lot of money (read: people) would not have bought the hardcover and so by the time the ebook comes out, the money (read: people) will have forgotten about the book.

Some money (read: person read: me) had this problem last night when Smart Bitches feature “Bookmatch,” which is a type of internet handselling from a pro at Powell’s recommended a book. I wanted it. RIGHT THEN!!! And, uh, well, it’s not in E. I’ll forget about the book in another couple of days.

And then Kirkus Reviews (the chichi book review rag) closes.

Oh yeah. I think we can all agree publishing is changing, can’t we?

There is no such thing as royalties

…in self-publishing.

Self-publishers do not “earn royalties.”

Stop thinking in terms of royalties.

It’s called “profit.” There is overhead. There are COGS. There is revenue.

Why? Self-publishers manufacture a product*; they have not licensed a product.

Sales – COGS = gross profit.

Gross profit – overhead = net profit (aka ka-ching)

There are no royalties.

Royalties do not exist.

Say it with me now: Self-publishers do not earn royalties; they have profit. Now put all that “royalties” BS out of your head.

And Amazon? I know you know this, but you use the term deliberately to blur the lines between your retail business and your POD service. You know very good and well you don’t pay royalties. You give us a rebate on our rental fee for your stalls, you know, like at a flea market.

*A lot of authors don’t like having their babies compared to widgets. A lot of authors don’t like having books compared to babies. My books are my babies. They are also my widgets.

Harlequin: Ur doin it rong

Harlequin, I see you’ve set up a, um, POD?/vanity?/subsidy?/self-pub? (no definitely not self-pub) arm of your company.

Congratulations. I think that’s brilliant.

However, you have negated that brilliance by the simple fact that you have obviously not gone about researching the industry any more than anybody you hope to make a customer.

What I do not think is brilliant is the following:

1. Partnering with AuthorSolutions, Inc.

Consider:

  • Do you know that they use Lightning Source to print their books? Do you know you could get your own account with Lightning Source and do the same thing, only cheaper for you?
  • Do you know you could’ve set up your own in-house programs and packages? You should’ve; you have the resources right at your fingertips.
  • Do you know that the rates you’re quoting are outrageous if one went piecemeal to freelancers for those services? And if you do (which I don’t think you do), you would’ve gotten a bigger cut of it had you not partnered with AuthorSolutions Inc. You already have editors and artists and such. Use them. Hire a couple more if you don’t have enough.
  • Do you know that AuthorSolutions Inc. doesn’t have the best reputation on the planet even amongst subsidy publishers?
  • Do you realize that the 50% “royalty” you take from your customers could have been at a much higher dollar amount if you had set up your own shop?

Bad, bad business decision, just from a P&L standpoint. Geez, you’re cutting off your margins to spite your bottom line.

2. Attaching your brand.

I shouldn’t even have to explain this.

UPDATE: As of 11/19/2009 4:12 PM, Harlequin has decided to rename its vanity press division something other than Harlequin whatever. Pub Rants got the scoop.

3. Thinking/branding it as self-publishing.

Self-publishing involves setting up shop as a business and outsourcing the tasks you can’t do yourself. What you’re doing is a service company promoting way overpriced service packages.

4. Your website really does kinda suck.

Oh, sure. You’ll get a lot of customers, and that’s okay. I see nothing wrong with it. I just think you coulda gone about it a different way.

And this is what surprises me. Harlequin, you’re brilliant. You’ve made nothing but all the right steps in all these decades of publishing. You flourish where others founder. You took a great (welcome) leap with Carina, but this? This displays the business sense of a kindergartner.

It makes me think your parent company is setting all this up and making you (and by extension, Malle Vallik) take the fall.

The unmentionable alternative

I am constantly struck by the idea that writers “give up.” What does that mean, exactly? They stop writing? They stop submitting? Or they stop writing because they’re so disheartened by the submitting? My bet’s on that.

Keep on submitting and you will get published.

By “writer,” I mean good, unpublished novelists who don’t, for whatever reason, catch an agent and/or editor’s eye. I’m not talking about the people who don’t hang out on agent and editor blogs, learning every query trick in the book (some of which are flat wrong to some agents and golden to others). These are the writers who assume that the problem is with them, not with the odds.

Write a better book next time.

Oh, fuck that. It’s odds, folks, whether you want to believe it or not—and the odds get worse every week. And that write a better book bullshit? How do you know the one you just wrote is bad?

You don’t.

And then some of you will crack under the discouragement and say, “I write crap.” And you’ll stop submitting. You may even stop writing.

I did that.

I didn’t write crap, per se. I wrote slightly off-tick that didn’t hit the romance formula bullseye exactly right. Yeah, I said it. There’s a formula. I couldn’t hit it, and the misses were near enough that it was sickening.

willworkforfood243x301This is not an anti-traditional-publishing rant. This is about writers, about you and your work and how much faith you have in it.

Why are you basing your goals on decisions someone else has to make? And, by extension, why are you waiting for validation based on odds that aren’t in your favor? And why are you acting like a job applicant?

You’re not powerless.

But somehow the idea of taking control of your work and presenting it to the public/the readers/the (gasp) curators is “giving up.”

Because “money always flows to the author.” Fuck that, too.

Yeah, you’ll have to assume some risk. Deal with it.

It pains me to see good writers on agent blogs talking about “when I’m published someday,” because “it will happen if I submit enough and don’t give up” and “I just have to write a better book next time.”

Stop thinking that way and start believing in your product.

Stop thinking you have no power.

Stop thinking like an employee and start thinking like an entrepreneur.

Go make your own damned job.

Update: To clarify, I’m using the term “curators” to describe the self-appointed task of the people who consume the work, like it, and recommend it to others, i.e., the readers/fans, the people who make being The Lone Artist all worth it. I’m not using the term as it has been tossed around the internet for the last year.

Everything is still biased against the lone artist.

I didn’t say it. Someone who shall remain nameless said that to me, and it started me thinking about The Lone Artist.

I’ve been to New Orleans, Paris, Venice Beach, New York, London, Amsterdam, and other places where The Lone Artist sets about attempting to earn a living or at least approbation from a crowd of strangers walking by.

In Paris, it was the Ecole des Beaux-Arts students drawing Mona Lisa in pastels on the sidewalk, their hats out for coins.

In New Orleans, it was a pair of pre-teen boys tap dancing on a street corner, under the watchful eye of their mother, a trumpet player on a corner down the street, and an artist setting up shop in the middle of the St. Louis Cathedral courtyard, right under Jackson’s shadow.

In Amsterdam, it was the scantily-clad prostitutes in the plate-glass windows along the canal. (Okay, as “artist” and “lone,” that one’s questionable, but it’s vivid, ain’t it?)

In London, it was the—what is this guy? Is this classified as pantomime? Definitely performance art. (Shut up. I like mimes.)

In New York, it was the oddball music played by street musicians.

In Venice Beach, it was a dude who charged $5 to create origami magic with one strand from one palm frond. I knew it was a living sculpture that would die in an hour, but I bought it anyway because it was so different and . . . unexpected.  I admired that he could do it in seconds right in front of my eyes, I admired the work itself, and I kept it for the hour it lasted, then threw it away. That $5 was very well spent.

In a lot of ways, I like being a lone artist. When I go to authors’ websites and read about the difficulties they have working with a publisher, I’m glad. When I go to readers’ websites and read about how sad they are when a favorite author gets cut off mid-series, I’m glad. When I sit down to write and realize that I can do anything I want without having to account to a sales staff, I’m glad. When I know that the readership I’m gathering one by one, to whom I am ever so grateful, now has enough faith in me to go where I take them, I’m glad.

There is one respect I really don’t like it. I don’t like the near absence of distribution. But . . . that’s about the only way I can think of that I don’t like it.  After all, a street performer can only play to the audience that walks by.

It’s not easy. Some days it’s damned depressing. I count on the readers to talk to me and remind me that there is something of worth in what I do, and believe me, I remember it. I count up those emails and screen shots and snippets of conversation here and there, and I keep them, put them in my hard drive bank like coins in my hat.

So when bedtime comes (if it comes) and I fall in bed exhausted from everything I have to do to be a lone artist, it’s the good kind of exhaustion.

Howard Roark laughed.

It’s work time.

I have nothing to say and too much to do. I meant to get my edits on Stay finished this weekend, but the widespread WordPress attack hit The Proviso‘s site and I spent my weekend, instead, cleaning up after that mess. And I still have a bunch to do before I’m satisfied with my sites.

The blog I just linked made the assertion that we should’ve upgraded. I made a deliberate decision not to because the last time I auto-upgraded, it broke my shopping cart and photo gallery plugins. I had to rebuild Peculiar Page‘s shopping cart twice (which still doesn’t work and redirects to B10 Mediaworx), and B10 Mediaworx’s once, which, thankfully, works. To me, it was a no-win situation and in hindsight, I see that I would’ve had to waste all that time anyway.

There was one thing that kept me from being hit on all my other sites, and that was the fact that I didn’t have “Anyone can register” checked. Only on The Proviso‘s site did I have that, and sure enough, that was the one that went down.

I made a Zazzle store for products with quotable quotes from or inspired by The Proviso and Stay. Culled them from fans, and I’m nowhere close to finished, but I’m trying to be more like the musicians who can merchandise the hell out of their music. Now, if I could figure out a way to go on tour…

In other news, Mrs. Giggles says she’s bored with romance bloggerland. So’m I, for all the reasons she listed. And you know, as much as I hate feeling like every time I post somewhere or tweet, it’s self-promotion (because it is, except most of my Twitterstream is me being completely silly stoopid or whining about something), at least I don’t have 90 days or fewer to make certain my sales numbers are enough to sell another book. That’s not a brag. It’s a statement of gratitude. I’m bored of most of all the rest of my regular blogs, too.

I also won’t be reading much of anything for pleasure.

Anyhoo, I’m making my blog vacation official since, you know, I haven’t actually said anything in a week or so because I tend to not speak when I have nothing new to say. Check my archives. Whatever it is, I’ve said it already. Twice.

I have much to do before Thanksgiving and I intend to get it all done.

My editor likes me!

He really likes me!

Scroll down to #64.

064) Stay by Moriah Jovan (MS POLICY), finished July 15.

My faith that I put in Moriah after reading The Proviso was justified. This book is good. Parts of it are excellent. And it’s still only a draft. It still has explicit sex (though not as much) but you should have no other qualms about checking this one out when it’s released in a few months.

Congratulations, Moriah, on a great book. Keep ‘em coming.

MS POLICY

I am positively giddy.

Also, independent publishers Zoe Murdock and Riley Noehren and I had a roundtable chat about independent publishing. What we have in common: We’re female, LDS, and publishing ourselves. That transcript (and awesome discussion) are up at A Motley Vision.

Writers: Accept it and keep going. Or not.

Keep your day job.

Accept that you will not be able to quit your day job.

Regardless how much weeping and wailing and gnashing of the teeth goes on around the web about monetizing art, if you’re a writer not already pulling income that allows writing to be your day job, just deal with the fact that you probably aren’t going to.

In my mind, making peace with the fact that you have to keep your day job is a lot easier than spending all your creative energy to resent it. Ask me how I know.

Today, right now, as I look over the fiction writer landscape on the web, I see lots of writers I can slot into roughly five categories:

  1. The unpublished authors seeking publication via the normal route (query/reject/revise/repeat). They’re hustling to get an agent’s attention, and possibly spending money on ink/toner, paper, envelopes, and postage to do so. They aren’t earning any money.
  2. The midlist authors having to prove their numbers in order to get their next book contract, which means they have to hustle and market and fight to make sure people know their books exist (especially if they aren’t in Wal-Mart or Target). They probably aren’t earning enough to write full time.
  3. The self-published authors having to fight just to let people know they and their work exists. They probably aren’t earning enough to pay the cost of producing their book(s), much less earn a living.
  4. The career category authors (Harlequin/Silhouette) and e-published romance authors (Samhain, LooseId, Ellora’s Cave), a good portion of whom can earn a fairly decent living cranking out the books, but there’s a catch: Putting out enough books to make that kind of living has to be grueling. At least, it would be for me. YMMV. The advantage to e-publishing over career category publishing, though, is that your titles never go out of print and you have A) time to build a backlist and B) your backlist is forever available to any late-night shoppers with a credit card.
  5. The A- and B-list authors who have pressures of their own, I’m sure, to which I am not privy. This includes anyone who may (if they choose to) write only one book per year or fewer and earn a comfortable living doing so.

Now, I’m obviously #3, except that I’m doing okay: Not enough to quit doing my day job, but enough to bear out the investment of time and money. (See my Six-Year Plan.) However, my goal is the same as the e-published authors: Build the backlist and invest in the future.

I hate my day job. I really do. Yeah, it’s my own business but I hate the work, mostly because I’ve been doing it or something similar for years. It’s easier now that I have a couple of decent clients, but the work remains. I fight an uphill battle every day to Just Do It, but do it I must. Some days I’m more successful than others.

But the explosion of free versus paid writing that has kind of ballooned lately with Chris Anderson’s book Free, and Malcolm Gladwell’s review of that book in the New Yorker only reinforces the necessity of resigning myself to the fact that I must have a day job.

For now.

The fact of the matter is that I have better odds of doing so than unpublished authors who hold out hope that they’ll hit the lottery.

I also believe that I have better odds than those authors who have to prove every book via sales, even if all the stars are aligned against them (bad cover art, little marketing support, not being in Wal-Mart or Target); perhaps that myopic of me, but I’m hustling for 100% profit, while they’re hustling for 10% royalties and they’re locked into questionable digital contracts (amongst other things).

As for career category writing, I couldn’t do it (as stated above), especially within the restrictions of category. I know, because I tried, and missed the bullseye by half a hair every single time.

I also couldn’t do e-publishing because there isn’t one that would contract what I write, and I know that; I’d rather not waste their time or mine. Also, see above for the grind in order to make money.

Basically, what I have on my side is control and time. I’m going to write no matter what, and I’m going to write what the stories I have to tell. I’d rather put it out there for the opportunity to earn a little money than let it languish in the inboxes of agents who are also feeling the pinch.

Yeah, I think I’m in a really good position. I just can’t quit my day job.

Yet.

I’m slowly coming to terms with that.

Retreads: I rode this train for so long…why?

June 23, 2009

My blog’s been around long enough now, with enough posts, that nobody wants to go digging through what I had to say a buncha long time ago (centuries in blog time). I’m coming up short on content lately (heh, didja notice?), so I’m going to recycle some of this stuff because now people have been asking me questions I’ve answered in my earliest posts.

This [original article with comments are here] is from June 13, 2008:

I have a buncha novels on my hard drive that have been sitting around collecting dust since, oh, 1990 some time, I guess. In ’93 I wrote one that got me an agent, and another that year that got me a contract—before the publishing company was shut down (because, according to the rumor at the time [get this] it was making too much money and it had been created to take a loss for tax purposes) (remember Kismet? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?); one in ’95 that got me an early-Saturday-morning phone call from Harlequin to pleasepleaseplease overnight the manuscript; and a fourth novel in ’98 that got me a different agent.

In ’95 I wrote my senior thesis; since my major was creative writing and journalism, I wasn’t required to write a paper deconstructing anything. Instead, my assigned professor (a Latin professor, no less!) asked me to write 25 pages of a novel. When I came back a week later with 100 pages, polished, perfect, she switched gears and asked for me to write a paper describing my creative process. She was fascinated with how I’d done what I’d done.

However, that 100 pages was the basis for The Proviso and I knew I had something different, something that would probably never sell. I set out to continue the flow of the short story I had written the semester before. I had become fascinated with a throwaway character (Knox Hilliard) I’d created simply as a tool for the protagonist of the story (Leah Wincott) to complete the allegory. Knox is a bastard. He would never sell in genre romance and I knew that.

On the other hand, my four attempts at writing romance to spec failed to impress since the three that didn’t get picked up missed something somewhere. So between those four instances of “oh so close but yet so far away” and the impossibility of selling an anti-hero when anti-heroes were de trop, the whole thing got to me. I threw up my hands and said, “No more.” Then I woke up one morning last summer [2007] re-energized.

So today. Just now I’ve read two articles that have left me pursing my lips and thinking maybe it’s just as well I never grabbed the brass ring. As I’ve said before, technology caught up to me and got cheap enough to not break the bank, the atmosphere changed (and is still doing so as more authors get publishing savvy), and I’m older with enough DIY skills and a little money to do it right.

The first takes my breath away with regard to artistic integrity:

The Hamster Wheel

In an age when reading for pleasure is declining, book publishers increasingly are counting on their biggest moneymaking writers to crank out books at a rate of at least one a year, right on schedule, and sometimes faster than that.

It takes my breath away because I could probably do that . . . but why would I want to? And all that for…

Less than minimum wage.

I have no words.

As the one person (other than I) who reads this blog already knows, I come down firmly on the side of taking the risks and reaping the rewards. And at this stage of publishing’s evolution, why shouldn’t I?

I drank the Kool-Aid of being A Published Author when there were no other viable options, so I don’t feel my time was wasted at all. At the same time, I watched my author friends churn out three, four, five category romances a year to make a decent living and that I can’t do. I don’t have the discipline or talent to write within those specs and on that timetable.