Tag Archives: publishing

Self-pubbing : Is it a Catch 22?

Though there’s no guaranteed way to self-published success, a lot of writers will agree on some “best practice” ideas that will improve your chances. The Holy Trilogy are these:

  • Pay for a professional Editor to make sure your story and copy are spot on.
  • Pay for someone to get the formatting right for whatever method of publication you’re using
  • Pay for a professional to design your cover artwork.

They may not be in order – the cover art is what is likely to snare your passing trade, after all. A decent front cover makes your book look professional and worth buying. Once you’re over the threshold, it’ll really help the reader get into your book if the inside is as well laid-out as the outside, with no irritating typos, bizarre paragraph breaks or plot holes you could lose a badger in.

We can all see the worth of these three choices. But what if they’re beyond your reach?

Certainly, a lot of people are finally able to tell the story they’ve been thinking about for years, and publish it through the magic of the internet. No more submission letters to agents and publishers, hoping to catch a break. Just write it, upload it and wait for the money. Except, without the money to start with, you don’t get your Editor, Formatter and Cover Artist, so the odds of your book selling in decent numbers are small. Maybe you could hire them once your book has sold a few hundred copies, but…Oh. It won’t sell without the hiring and I can’t hire without the….Right.

I posted this question on some writer communities on G+ and received some great responses. Many of the writers there had used contacts they had made through social media – getting friends to Beta Read, rather than using editorial services, or they had traded their own artistic or graphic design skills to get editing in exchange for cover art. Some simply shopped around, getting good deals on editing work from new editors looking to make their names.

My favourite response was from Buzz Malone of the writing group “Literary Agents Hate Kittens”. He said:

“The good news about self publishing is that you can learn from your mistakes and fix them. I would encourage every writer to dive in and start making the mistakes as soon as possible. It really is the best way to learn.

HOWEVER, I would also encourage every writer to think and long and hard before ever spending a penny on almost anything. Why not try it yourself first? You may discover that you needn’t ever hire a cover artist because you like the pictures your fiance takes. Or, it may be a good venue toward showing an artist friend’s work.

As far as making the whole chicken and egg thing of hiring people to do stuff using the money you’re going to make from your writing, etc., forget about it. We all have golden dreams of becoming overnight sensations and making it rich somewhere deep inside. But the fact is that 99.99999% of us will never get rich writing. 99.99% of us will never make a living at it. 90% of us will never sell enough to recover our time. If you’re writing books or novels as a way of getting rich… let me save you a lot of time and money and heartache. Stop….now. Buy a lottery ticket. Your odds of winning are way better.

If not, you write and starve and go in debt, and then, you make the mistakes. And then, finally, you get a job and hire an editor to fix the mistakes that you cannot fix for yourself. But even then you do it with the realization that the investment is into making your art the best it can be, and not with the idea that somehow, someday, your “investment” is going to pay off in cash. That’s not why we write. “

This is the real truth, I think. Always strive to make your work the best it can be. If that means you re-read it a dozen times yourself, and hand-draw the cover art, then so be it. As long as you are committed to producing the best work you are capable of, then be proud of it. If that means you hire people to work on it because you have the available cash, that’s fine. If you do it all yourself, then that’s fine too.

The work and words of Buzz Malone can be found here: http://buzzmalone.blogspot.ca/

 

Publishing House – growing new authors

The standard cover - minus author details...

The standard cover – minus author details…

Kids have always written stories in school. Whether it’s part of your English class, or to help you learn a language, or even just as a way to get to grips with forming words, kids write stories.

In the school my weasels attend, they’ve taken the story-writing a step further. As part of the Publishing House program, parent volunteers help the kids develop new stories, getting them to think about character, location, description and plot. The kids write up the stories, fill out a basic “Meet the Author” page and choose an outline for the illustration frames.

Then the stories, along with the author information and frame choice, are passed along to other volunteers (one of whom is me) and they put the whole thing through a desktop publishing program, printing out the story under the picture frames booklet style, with a front cover bearing the title and author name, and the “Meet The Author” details at the back. Every book shares the same simple cover – title, author name. The writers then receive their published booklet and put in their own hand-drawn illustrations. Then the cover of the book is laminated and the whole thing assembled permanently.

The next part is the best – all the published books go into the school library. When the kids go to choose books from the library, they can choose to read books written by their friends or they can choose their own books. They can see the books they wrote on the shelves, just like Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, Nancy Drew, The Hungry Caterpillar…

I think it’s a brilliant program, especially now that publishing ebooks has become so easy. Children are learning that it doesn’t take much to put your words into print, and seeing those printed words gives you a very good idea of what it means to write a book. You see your story and say “Yes, it’s fun, but it’s not very long… Maybe I need more description here? Did I start telling the story in the right place? I know what this bit means, because I wrote it, but someone else might find it confusing…”

I hope the kids who try Publishing House find a useful mix of pride and disappointment – pride that these are their words on the bookshelves, and a little disappointment because it doesn’t quite look like they wanted it to. That little disappointment is what will push them on to write more, to work at their craft until they are writing the kinds of stories that reach out from the page and steal hours from your day.

Amazon’s e-publishing program is doing much the same for adult writers, but I think too few of them get to see their work from the outside – they don’t go into the library and pick their own book off the shelf. I make it a practice to download a copy of each book I publish, and I see what they look like from the outside. Often I see little things that I should do differently next time. Formatting issues, typos, cover design… These little touches matter as much as good story. And while I work on my own tales for the next publication, I’ll continue publishing the words of the next generation of authors.

Did you ever publish your own book as a child? My brother once wrote a great story called “Mark and Markos” about a boy and his robot, which he wrote and illustrated. Dad liked it so much he made copies on the old Roneo duplicator (a thing that did what photocopiers do now, but it took longer and was much, much messier. Plus you got to turn a handle round and round until it had printed enough copies….)

Gatekeepers of Publishing: Where are you now?

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The world of publishing is changing. This change has been foretold for years, but the seismic shifts have really taken place in the first few months of this year, 2012. The key seems to have been the simplification of the self-publishing process, making publishing an e-book something that almost anyone can do.

There have been strident complaints and dire warnings, of course, and not all of them have come from those institutions and individuals that stand to lose out in the new world. Many writers are warning that the flood of new published books contains a higher percentage of dross, of ill-considered, badly-written, unedited drivel than was previously unleashed.

Well, yes. Obviously.

In the pre-digital publishing age, to get your book into print you really had to do some work. Aside from the initial legwork of putting together the right 100,000 words, you had to impress an agent, likely as not. That agent had to approve of your manuscript enough to take you one, then work with an editor to get your manuscript into the best possible shape. Then the three of you put that manuscript out to tender for publication. Then the whole bunch of you, writer, editor, agent, publisher, would have to start trumpeting the arrival of your baby, and touring the known world to drum up trade.

And the likelihood is, you’d have a to wait quite a while before the money you earn from your book outgrew the advance you’d been paid.

So all this meant being a published author was a tough job, tough to get, tough to keep and really tough to make a living from. It also meant that readers could expect a  certain standard when they picked a book off the shelves. You may not like the story, but the spelling would be right, the grammar would be good, the plot should be without holes, the flow would be right – page eighteen would not skip to page twenty five. The mystic “They” would ensure these things.

But now…. Well, if you download an ebook you have no guarantees. None. Because anyone can upload anything. I know this to be true, because I did it. I took some old stories I had written more than a decade ago, I formatted them with a few clicks of the mouse, made a book cover in less time than the formatting took and uploaded the whole package to Amazon. The whole process (barring the writing, which was already done) took less than a day. I didn’t need anyone’s permission, didn’t have to have my grammar and spelling checked (other than to get rid of Word’s little red lines, of course) and didn’t need to meet anyone’s standards to get published.

And this IS a bad thing. In the process of selling my own ebook, I have bought other people’s. Very few are as good a printed books. Most are worse. A lot worse. Even the one I bought from a company purporting to be an online publishing company, pushing a brand and touting years of experience in publishing had basic errors in typography, spelling, grammar and craft. The story, to be blunt, was rubbish.

So the question is, where are the gatekeepers? If no one is preventing the publishing of bad content, what will stop the flood of sub-standard material? Initially, nothing. It’s new, it’s exciting, and it’s easy. All those people who were envious of J.K. Rowling’s rise from single Mom to multi-millionaire now have the chance to put their talent where their motuhs are. No one is stopping them from writing and publishing their own novels, no one is going to stop publication because they “don’t get how brilliant my novel is”. No, you write that puppy and put it out there. Amazon have even devised the KDP Select scheme to help you promote your book by offering it for FREE for a limited period!

And this is where the gatekeepers will arise. Not in corporate form, but in the person of the public. Because bad content can only sell for so long. People will take all kinds of things for free, but if you’re pushing a bad product, word will get around. Before long, the good reviews are going to be the first things prospective readers look for. We will learn to protect ourselves from bad content, and those who haven’t got the ability to work at their writing will fall by the wayside.

All writers say at some point in their career, that they aren’t doing it for the money. Well, rejoice! For now, if all you want is to have your work published and available, you can do that. You have the freedom to publish and not make a penny. But if you’re looking to become a famous and wealthy author, it’s still going to take work, it’s still going to require knowledge of the craft, study, perseverance and co-operation with other professionals to produce the best possible content.

And once you’re done with the preparation, you either engage ANOTHER professional, or you become your own salesman and work your tail off a second time.

I planned this post in my head yesterday, then forgot all about it until I read the article linked below.

http://www.graspingforthewind.com/2012/03/16/are-gatekeepers-disappearing

E-publishing – playing the Amazon Self-Publishing game

My latest publication. Which sounds much grander than it is. Get it while it's FREE, folks!

In my last post, I looked at the books I had on my kindle and mentioned whether or not the free offer had given any extra incentive to make further purchases. Following that post, it was only logical that I should jump into the publishing pool myself.

Though I’ve been a playwright for over a decade, I did put in a lot of time writing short fiction (and long fiction. Long, long, tedious, boring fiction, as it turns out) and I sold a couple of my short stories. A couple more won competitions and some ended up in anthologies. None of them made me rich, obviously. But those successes still left a huge…what, heap? Pile? Herd? Of stories, lying around on my hard drive. One that stuck out was a Sci-Fi short I had written in four episodes. It was a for a competition run by a coffee company, who wanted four-part fiction to print on their coffee tins, so people would buy new tins for the continued story. Maybe the coffee wasn’t that good?

Whatever the reason, I didn’t get the job, but my four-part story was written. It was a “Flash Gordon” style, Golden Age of Sci-Fi piece of fluff, but I liked it. I liked it so much that I went back to the story years later and wrote a play about a group of people who were working on the film version of the story. It’s called “Waiting for Twist Stiffly” and people have bought and performed it. If you’re one of them, let me know and send some pictures!

The cover for "Twist Stiffly". Yeah, yeah, I know. It's awful.

So I dug out the story “Twist Stiffly and the Hounds of Zenit Emoga”. I followed the KDP guidelines on formatting (ridiculously easy, fortunately) and I cobbled together a cover (harder than formatting, and a much less satisfactory result.) And then I published it. The entire process took about the same length of time as it takes to write a blog post, except at the end, I had a product on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.Fr….It’s crazy.

That week seems to have been a watershed week for authors, or maybe I just have a lot of writers in my G+ streams. There were dozens of books being put out on free trial offers, and I didn’t want to dump something as low-rent as Twist Stiffly in with these genuine novels. So I put it out for $2 and warned people it was really bad. Naturally, a couple of friends bought it out of curiosity, and some of my G+ acquaintances bought it. I’m grateful, but also apologetic. To make up for it, I collected together some of the short stories I wrote for Ladies’ magazines years ago and worked a little harder on the cover (It still looks terrible, but shows I worked hard. I simply don’t have the gift.) Now Coffee Time Tales is on sale for $0.99, but I am running the free offer for the weekend of 17th Feb to Monday the 20th.

Am I expecting to get rich? Not from these books. I have a vague idea of spinning off maybe two other volumes of Coffee Time Tales, and a Science Fiction Shorts special, all at $0.99, but they’re not going to be money spinners. I’m publishing these stories because they still make me smile, and it seems a shame to leave them mouldering on my computer when they might make SOMEONE ELSE smile.

In the meantime, I’ll stay a playwright, and work on my screenplay. And buy more lottery tickets.

Have you tried the self-pub route? Are you rich yet? Are you too nervous to try? Do you want a step by step guide to getting your text into e-print? Seriously, folks, the publishing is the EASY part. The difficult bit is getting anyone but your parents to buy it.