A Rant and a History Lesson in Publishing

Being in the publishing industry, you come across a lot of stigma and negativity about self-publishing. Right off the bat, I have to be 100% honest here and agree that not everyone who self-publishes should do so. But, I also have to point out the snobbery that usually underlies the argument that “self-published authors are just people who weren’t good enough to get a publishing deal.” Yeah, I’ve heard that song and dance before. Lots of times. It’s practically a chorus on constant loop in the background. You don’t always hear it said to your face, but you can tell by what the person is saying and not saying that they’re definitely thinking it.

Earlier this week, I came across something that got my hackles up:

Witers

Can you feel the condescension? I spent an hour mopping up that dripping sarcasm and my floors will never be the same, I tell you. Obviously, whoever wrote this doesn’t know anything about the history of publishing, nor do they care to. Therefore, this post is not for them.

This post is for every self-published and aspiring author out there who might come across bullshit like this and get discouraged before they’d even had a chance to excel. So let’s break this cesspool of a superiority complex down to its elements and translate.

WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE, WE RELIED ON EXPERTS AND EDUCATORS…

Translation: I am jealous and resentful of the resources you now have at your disposal.

Safe to assume, I think, that this is referring to an age before the Internet. Because these days, we still rely on experts and educators. We just don’t have to drive out of state to find them and talk to them. You can literally Google anything and get a flood of results. If you’re any good at distinguishing pop culture crap from academic works supported by a bibliography of legitimate sources, you can learn anything about anything.

WE ALSO NEEDED CONTACTS TO OPEN DOORS WE NEVER KNEW EXISTED

Translation: I am jealous and resentful of the resources you now have at your disposal.

Yes, this one is sadly true, networking back in the day was difficult and a lot of talented authors never managed to get their foot in the right door. But you actually still need agents, industry contacts, and networking to get published by one of the Big 5 today. The difference is there are now smaller publishing houses, too and most of them accept direct submissions by authors. The difficulty now is not “how to get a publisher” but “how do I make sure my publisher is legit?” Also, “what happens if/when my publisher goes under?” Because that happens. Which is why you should always read your contract very carefully before you sign.

AND THE NOTION OF SELF-PUBLISHING…

Translation: I am jealous and resentful of the resources you now have at your disposal.

Welcome to the modern age, where every tool you need in order to put out a quality product is actually accessible to anyone. There are freelance professionals with those same decades of experience who can format and cover your book without the need for a publisher. There are print-on-demand companies that can produce your book to market standards and ship them to stores, or directly to your readers. And get this, these same companies… also work for publishing houses. :O What is the world coming to?!

BUT TODAY’S WRITERS ARE APPARENTLY EXPERTS IN ALL THESE FIELDS.

Translation: I am jealous and resentful of the fact that I didn’t have the tools to do what you do, and that had to struggle to get someone else to do for me what has now become so easy for you to do for yourself, so I will belittle everything you do so you never forget your place: beneath me. Because I had people to do it for me, and you have to do it all yourself.

Yes. Some self-published authors actually are experts. Because they spent the money on the right tools, took the time to learn, and went through years of trial and error to get their books on par with traditionally published books. These unicorns who are not only gifted enough to have written a book, but multi-talented enough to master the business aspects of publishing exist–and they’re not as rare as you might think. The fact that these options were not accessible to older writers, or that those older writers didn’t want to take advantage of the options they did have does not in any way diminish the accomplishments of today’s self-published writers. In fact, their accomplishments are bigger and go much deeper precisely because they did it all (or mostly) on their own. An added benefit or two: We now get to control how our books look and feel, and we can do it in our own time. No more deadlines or delays while we wait for our turn on the waiting list.

HOW THINGS HAVE CHANGED…

Translation: I am resentful of the fact that I can no longer use my publishing deal as a status symbol and jealous of your many skills, which I never had to learn.

Yes, things have changed. Quite a bit, actually. And believe it or not, it’s only a bad thing if it threatens your own delusion of superiority. Do bad books and badly put-together books get published? Absolutely. But that goes for self-published and traditionally published titles. The backing of a publisher’s reputation might help ease the marketing burden of selling books, but it is no longer a mark of higher quality books. The playing field is more level now, and that’s what this ugly, sarcastic rant was about all along: fear of competition. It’s easy to become a best selling household name when there are 1,000 books published every year. But when it’s 1,000 every day, the equation changes. Today’s  new authors have a good sense of what they’re getting into and they’re prepared to fight the battle to the top. It’s the older ones, who started out when times were cushier, who struggle to come to terms with the here and now. And it’s usually the ones who cannot or will not change with the times who lash out the hardest at those of us who do.

THERE, NOW THAT’S FIXED. MOVING ON!

Speaking of experts and years of study, I don’t think whoever originally posted that rant actually consulted either. Because, you see, a simple Goolge search showed me there is a very thorough breakdown on The Legacy of the Vanity Press and Digital Transitions in the Journal of Electronic Publishing. It’s long, so give yourself time, but you should definitely read it. Because you know what? It turns out author-subsidized publishing goes back to the 1800s. Back then, as today,  there were legitimate reasons and honest business models for author-subsidized publishing (what became referred to as vanity publishing). The stigma around it emerged early on, but grew over time and became exponentially worse with the advent of eBook publishing and self-publishing.

We (the self-published author population) have transformed the entire industry so quickly even some of us still have whiplash. The gates have been opened to all and, at the moment, it really is a bit chaotic. Fortunes have been won on the backs of Indies (*cough*Amazon*cough*) and we continue to adapt, improve, and in general move forward toward a new future. Traditional publishing hasn’t been the only game in town for a long time. My prediction is, now that the floodgates have opened, there will be no closing them. No one has any intention of going back to how things used to be, so you might as well get used to how things are.

AND NOW SOME TIPS

  1. If you are passionate about writing, write.
  2. If you are passionate about getting your work out there, find a way to do it.
  3. Put in the effort to learn and do it the right way. Make your book as professional as possible to meet market standards.
  4. Whenever possible, go one step beyond and do just a little bit better than you did last time.
  5. Save your pennies and keep that day job, because this path ain’t easy, or cheap.
  6. Support your fellow writers instead of tearing them down.
  7. Never give up on doing what you love.

And now I think I’ll get off my soap box and go do some writing.

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Novel Writing: The Go Broke Quick Scheme

Every once in a while, I still come across writers who operate within the fantasy that all they have to do is put a book out there and the money will start pouring in on its own. It’s a fantasy perpetuated by a long, long tradition of putting best selling authors on a mile high pedestal and poking fun at the average Joes and Janes by painting them as talentless losers. Authors make it all look so easy by design, because we all want to celebrate our successes. Admitting our struggles and failures is something we keep for our closest circle of friends and colleagues who understand exactly what we mean when we say, “My sales are going nowhere. I think my career is over.” They understand because they have been there, or are right there with us.

But there are still those who are either unaware, or intentionally dismissive of how the world works. A while back, I saw someone post a complaint about how they published a book on Smashwords a year ago and it never sold anything. The writer was very bitter over this, and blamed Smashwords for hyping up Indie authors and not delivering on those grand promises. In response to that, here is where I completely shatter the delusion that getting a book out into the world is a get rich quick scheme.

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Adventures in Amazon Advertising

Intro:

I’ve been playing around with AMS advertisements for a while. Mostly the wrong way. Why? Because I’m a really slow learner who just has to do everything the hard way. It’s a flaw I am well aware of, but it’s not the point of this post. The point is, I wanted to try an ad the “right” way and see how far it would get me. What follows is my full disclosure, total transparency about my results. I’ll leave you to be the judge of my efforts.

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Let’s Talk About Piracy

This morning, I woke up with a fun, catchy song in my head. I was in a good mood, ready to tackle the day, and then I logged onto Facebook. I write this for both authors and readers, because I’d be remiss if I didn’t address it on this website. It may end up a bit ranty (there may be profanity, too), but I hope you’ll forgive that. Every time this particular topic comes up, it feels like death by a million paper cuts with a bonus lemon juice bath. I hope you’ll read it, anyway.

For the sake of not making this go viral, I won’t post the image that completely ruined my good mood, but I do want to address the subject of book piracy. Everyone loves a freebie, right? There’s no harm in downloading just one book, right? It’s just a drop in the bucket for authors who make money hand over fist, anyway, and after all, it’s just one book.

The way I see it, piracy happens for one of two reasons: ignorance, or entitlement and apathy. The former is fairly easy to dismantle with just a bit of accurate (if painful) information. The latter, not so much. So let’s talk…


“But it’s just one book. I give away my paperbacks all the time. I paid for it, it’s mine. Who the hell are you to tell me what to do with something I paid for?”

You’d think the vehemence was exaggerated. It’s not. But here’s what many people don’t know, or consciously realize:

Print books and eBooks are not the same. A printed book is one copy of the product. Very cumbersome to replicate by copying or scanning, and why bother when you can just buy another one fairly cheap? eBooks are digital files–tiny ones at that, just a few kilobytes, all told. It takes two seconds to upload an eBook to a server and make it public. That eBook will live there forever and can be downloaded countless times by countless people, all of whom will have the ability to send a copy on to countless other people without losing access to the original. Printed books have a shelf life. eBooks don’t. That means there is literally no limit to how many people can get illegal copies them.

Here’s what that means for the author: Hundreds and thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars of lost royalties. In many cases, that’s a full-time income the author has just lost. Literally, a livelihood stolen right out from under them. And no, I am not exaggerating. In recent years, I have lost count of the number of authors I have seen hang up their writing hats because they just can’t afford it anymore. Many of them had to go back to seeking full time jobs, which is never easy, especially after you’ve been out of the workforce for a while.

To a reader just looking to pass the time, that one eBook is a few hours of entertainment. To its author, it’s hundreds of hours of work, not just writing it, but promoting it as well. It’s an on-going, full time job. Yes, we do it for the love of writing–for ourselves. But when we share it with the world, it becomes a product. It costs money to put it out there, and it needs to generate revenue, or it’s not worth continuing.


“How is it entitlement if I just want to read and can’t afford the books?? You should be grateful someone reads your books at all.”

I’m going to pause here for a moment to take a deep breath and master my emotions. Okay. First of all, that is the definition of entitlement. You can’t afford it? But authors should be able to afford to give away their livelihoods for free? You can’t afford it, so it’s okay to steal? No. It’s not okay. I’m sorry for your personal circumstances that prevent you from being able to buy a book you really, really want to read, but that does not make it okay for you to steal a copy. There are these things called libraries where they actually make books available for free. They buy them on your behalf, so the author doesn’t have to skip a meal, and then loan them to you for a time so you can enjoy the stories without having to shell out a dime. There are these things called book sales where authors make their books available at a much lower cost, or even free, where you can grab a copy totally guilt-free.

It just so happens, I currently have two of these floating around:

Catch Me is FREE at Smashwords until 7.31.2018, so feel free to check it out. Click the title, or the image to go directly to the Smashwords product page. If you feel adventurous, book 2 of this series is also discounted until the end of July.

Function:L1VE is FREE permanently at every eBook store except for Amazon. You’re welcome to download that one as well, as many times as you like.

See how this works? I, the author, make this book available to the reader and invite them to download from a legitimate bookseller. I’m far from the only one. All you have to do is go to Smashwords, set your filter to FREE and you’ll find hundreds, thousands of free titles right there for your enjoyment.

“How’s that any different?” you ask. Here’s how:

When a library purchases a book, it’s a sale for the author. They get paid for that. When they discount their own book, it’s their choice as a marketing strategy. Even free downloads (if they’re legitimate) can help an author’s career. Those downloads are tracked; they affect the book’s ratings and visibility. The higher it is on the ranking list, the higher the chance others will want to buy a copy, and authors get paid for that, too. Pirate sites, on the other hand, do none of that. They’re basically a black hole of nothing for the author.

As for being grateful, please excuse the profanity, but in this case, there is really no other way I know to reply, except to say, “Fuck you.” That is all the answer you deserve for even thinking something like that about an author who puts their heart and soul into a book, much less saying it aloud, to their face. So, at the risk of being redundant, I say again: Fuck. You.


“I just want to check out the author first to see if I like them. I don’t want to shell out money on a no-name and end up hating the book. I’ll buy a legit copy if I like it!”

It may surprise you to hear this, but this is not actually a valid reason for pirating a book. Authors and stores go to great lengths to give you every opportunity to check out a book before you buy. If you don’t look at the sample, that’s on you. That’s you deliberately choosing to turn a blind eye to the legitimate option in favor of piracy. It may also surprise you to hear that those “no-name” authors you are so eager to sample are the ones who are hurt by piracy the most, because they depend on their royalty income the most. They don’t have a solid readership to keep them afloat, or side income from book merch, or movie or TV series rights. They literally depend on every single penny they get from royalties.

It may seem innocent, but this is just another form of entitlement. “I should be able to read it first and then decide if it’s worth paying for.” Well, no. The very fact that you do want to read it first means it’s worth paying for. You don’t go to a restaurant and say, “Serve me first, and if I like it, I’ll pay for my meal.” You don’t go to a store and say, “Let me wear this T-shirt for a few weeks, and then I’ll decide whether it’s worth paying for.” For that matter, no movie theater in the world will let you in to watch a movie without buying a ticket first. eBooks are no different. If you pirate one, no matter how you justify your decision to do so, you are stealing. You are supporting a system that robs authors blind. There is nothing you can say that will ever make that acceptable.


“Holy crap, this is really awful! I hate that my favorite authors have to go through this. How can I help?”

Now that is the right response. 🙂 Thank you. I mean that sincerely. You’d be surprised how good it is to hear that someone out there actually cares, and even wants to help. If you really want to help your favorite authors, buy their books. That’s all. Don’t look for them on pirate sites. If you happen across one, or someone sharing a link to one, report the person and tell the author. It’s not easy, but there are steps authors can take to curb piracy–if they know about it. Tell people about your favorite books and when you do, tell them where they can be bought. Share with your friends when you see an author has a sale or promotion going on. It helps both the author, and the readers who might otherwise balk at paying full price.

Authors are not unsympathetic, believe me. Many of them will go to great lengths to get books into the hands of their struggling readers. But please realize we’re human, too. We have families, and mortgages, and medical bills, and this is not a hobby. It’s our job. We work at it non-stop, without breaks, vacations, and often times without support or encouragement. We do our jobs well, and we shouldn’t have to justify our need to get paid for it.

Thank you for your time.

Opinion: Addressing the Chaos

There’s been a lot of stuff happening in the book world recently that’s kind of sort of turning things inside out and upside down. It’s big enough that it warrants a post (warning: it’ll be long), so I’m going to address two things I’ve seen floating around: #Cockygate and the recent blunder by Amazon. But first, a disclaimer: Everything in this post is my observation and opinion. I will not be linking external sources because I trust that those who want to know more will find ample sources all on their own, and I don’t want to add to the viral nature of this mess. Basically, I’m chiming in, but urging everyone to do their own homework and not take my word for it.

So here we go…

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Smashwords Partners With Findaway Voices

On March 21st, Smashwords announced it was partnering with Findaway Voices to help their Indie authors with the beginning stages of audiobook production. In the blog post, Mark Coker shared the basics of the partnership and his observations on how audiobooks are a growing market and a new opportunity for a wider audience for Indie authors.

It was all great news. What the blog post didn’t share, however, were some additional details I later found in this Forbes article where Mark Coker contributed an interview.

Here’s the deets:

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Opinion: Pricing eBooks Free

This is something that popped up in my Facebook memories. I was going to reshare, but then realized it might be a good discussion topic for this blog, so here we are.

The Background

Two years ago today, Kristen Lamb posted this article on her blog: A Culture Addicted to FREE—How FREE is Poisoning the Internet & Killing the Creatives. It’s worth a read if you have a few minutes. When it went live, I shared it on Facebook with a long comment which I don’t want to repeat, but which you can read here. The free book I was talking about was The Beast, my very own twist on the classic fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast.

The Here and Now

Well, two years have now passed since Ms. Lamb’s blog post, and not much has changed, except that fewer people are willing to talk about it anymore. Smashwords CEO Mark Coker recently released the 2018 updated edition of his Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, in which his advice to authors still includes a strategy of pricing at least one book as free, and if you have a series, price the first book as free, despite his gloomy 2018 Publishing Predictions blog post, in which he predicted an increased glut of high-quality, low cost eBooks, and the demise of independent publishing by a rising, Amazon-dependent model.

It would seem like the two ideas are counter-intuitive. Why tell authors to play into their own downfall, rather than rally the troops to make a unified stand against it and demand fair treatment and recompense? But really it’s only a progression of cause-to-effect, and Mr. Coker is only doing what he feels will benefit authors most in this new climate.

How did we even get here?

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IngramSpark Part 3: The Little Things

For my last trick, I have a few little details and opinions to share about IngramSpark. They are all things I either contacted IS about, or researched online because I had lingering questions after I read their guidebooks and FAQs.

A note to start: IngramSpark’s online chat is great if you have questions. They’ll ask your account number and ISBN for the book you have issues with, and they’ll be able to help you then and there. It’s the most efficient way to get assistance. Email takes a few days for a response, which isn’t ideal, and I haven’t tried the phone support yet.

Since this turned out somewhat longer than I originally intended, I sorted it all into sections again.

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IngramSpark Part 2: Interior Layout

Because of the printing and formatting details discussed in the first part of this series, I made several judgment calls for my own books’ setup:

1. I changed the trim sizes from the original 6″ x 9″ to 5.25″ x 8″. I think the smaller size is more fitting for a paperback book. It’s also more practical and easier to hold/carry around.

2. I changed all the covers. This was both for aesthetic reasons, and more practical ones, since my old covers didn’t always print very well, and I couldn’t afford to do seven iterations of each (the way I had done with CreateSpace) to get it right.

3. I updated the interior formatting (a necessity because of the smaller trim size), spruced up the chapter headings, and made the fonts smaller to cut down on page count, and thus printing costs and unit price.

4. I set my prices low enough to be attractive but not net me negative royalties. Going along with this, I also set my books as non-returnable, because that would definitely have bankrupted me. More on this later, if there’s time.

This post deals with the technical aspects of formatting a book interior. It’s a lot of information to share, so prepare yourself. I won’t have one for the covers, because there is only one hard and fast rule to stick to there: If you want to stock your book in stores, the book price MUST be printed on the cover as part of the bar code.

Ready? Here we go!

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IngramSpark Part 1: Homework

You may have noticed I haven’t been very active here recently. Part of the reason is that I made the decision to switch my print book distribution from CreateSpace to IngramSpark. I did this because…

1. CreateSpace closed its online store, now only allowing authors to sell through Amazon and its Expanded Distribution. This not only affects how authors will earn royalties, but also distribution strategies, like the one I had planned, which now got flushed.

2. IngramSpark is the go-to distributor for Indies and small publishing houses because, unlike CreateSpace, it is not in direct competition with the bookstores and libraries that order through them, which increases the likelihood of getting a physical book onto store shelves.

3. My print sales through CreateSpace were almost nonexistent, so I figured a change was in order. Whether it pans out or not is yet to be seen, but doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is not in the stars for me.

I figured, since I have this website, and it’s meant to help other authors, I would document this journey for posterity. Frankly, I didn’t realize until I started how much work it would actually be just to shift 8 existing print titles, so this is going to be a series of posts, rather than one big one.

This being the first, it’s naturally about homework. Because I actually did months of it before I took a single step toward my ultimate goal. When the idea took shape in my head, I was hesitant to do it, largely because of the cost involved (Spoiler Alert: the cost is steep). So I didn’t do anything for months, thinking I was fine where I was, and there was no reason to change. But, me being me, I couldn’t leave well enough alone, so I started reading up on IngramSpark. What follows is what I learned…

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