Monday, January 30, 2012

In an Age of Self-Publishing, Do Publishers Still Have a Place?

Democratic ideals pervade our society; we believe that everyone should have a right to decide things for themselves.  That's how our politics work -- well sort of.  And increasingly that's how publishing is working.  In fact that's one of the appeals of self-publishing because it does an end run around the publisher, who has traditionally been the gatekeeper.

Some writers today don't want someone else to decide whether their story is good enough, particularly since the decision is subjective.  Instead, these people want to publish their work and let readers decide.  In this way, each story should be able to find the audience most likely to receive it well.  But the internet is huge with billions of pages and terabytes (or more) of content.  It is very hard for me as a writer to be found by just putting up a web page and advertising.

That's why sites like Smashwords exist.  Readers go there to find content to read.  Goodreads in another place readers congregate and where a write might find an audience.  Scribd and Wattpad also come to mind for find readers, but my experience suggests that none of these sites get enough traffic to help me enough to sell my work.  What I need is either a large following or a spot on the Amazon home page.

And so despite the trend toward self-publishing, the only way I can see of reaching enough people to really sell my book is by using a publisher.  And the minute I say that I must be ready to give up some of the royalties I would receive otherwise.  But that's not a big deal; Smashwords wants a cut too.  And the one advantage a publisher has that Smashwords does not is the publisher will promote my book and help me promote my book.  Smashwords gives my pointers and tips for promotion but it's not the same.

A publisher will also be able to give me feedback on a draft of something which for me is great.  I need that feedback to stay on course.  One reason my first book took so long to make it really good is I kept going off the road without realizing it.  It is was only the constant rejections that made me realize something wasn't right.

But using a publisher isn't all roses and sunshine either.  They tend to be slow.  It's been three weeks since my publisher first contacted my about a contract and I am still waiting for the final version so I can review it and see what they are offering.  In that same time, I could have written and published several chapters in my next novel.

Still I'm thinking I'm better off with a publisher than without one.  Many other writers think otherwise.  And I understand their reasoning.  Frankly I'm struggling to come to terms with this point.  I guess it will depend on the deal I am offered.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Apologies to All

Apparently my Twitter account was breached Wednesday or Thursday morning and spammed all my followers.  I've reset my password to prevent that from happening again but to everything affected let me apologize and say please ignore and twitter message from me you may have received this week.

Apparently it is fairly easy to fake direct messages to others on Twitter so I'll be more careful in the future.  Fortunately, the folks who wrote back to me to warn me, know what I sound like and ignored the message.

To the people who breached the account all I can say is, Don't you have something better to do with your time?  Aren't there real issues you could focus your attention on?  Or are you so juvenile that this sort of cyber prank is how you get laughs for yourself?

Personally, I don't see the point of hacking a twitter account.  You can't get any information about me that's really important and you can't even pose as me.  The worst you can do is spam people and one more piece of spam is hardly noticed.  I was spammed back too but I ignored it once I realized it was spam and that all the messages from my followers were identical.

So nice try assholes but all you did was annoy me.  Not a smart move because now that I know you are there I'll be on guard against you.

Monday, January 23, 2012

How Did I Become a Writer?

The ability to writing fiction is a rare gift.  Very often it springs out nowhere like some like of immaculate conception.  

In my case, I attribute it to my overdeveloped imagination -- the result of hours of being alone as a young boy and having to entertain myself.  Even then I was using my toys to tell stories.  The transition from tales made up on the spot to pass the time and writing them down is a long arduous one because writing requires a certain amount of discipline and as a boy I had little.

Still, it may have been inevitable because I remember thinking that several of my tales were pretty good and that led to early attempts to capture the stories.  Of course, what a 10-year-old thinks is good and what an adult, some twenty years later thinks is good is a gulf that can be hard to span.  Suffice to say, that my early stories do not appeal to me anymore.

But imagination alone is not enough; if it were, my journey would have had a lot fewer bumps.  No, you need discipline, as I said.  And you need to persevere in the fact of rejection.  You need to practice every day, even went the words do not want to come.  And you need nurture your ability but reading and experiencing other forms of art: plays, movies, music, and so on.

This all requires a strength of will that many do not have.  And when you've been rejected ten or twenty or fifty or more times, you tend to think that maybe it is time to stop and go on to sometime else.  That's happened to me too.  But I found roads but to continue. 

Part of the problem here is that writing is art, the appreciation of which is subjective.  You might like a story I do not because it is a romance or has vampires crawling all over it.  But that doesn't mean the story is a bad one.  Conversely, I may write a story that few appreciate but that too does mean it is a bad one.  And this has been one of the hardest things to sort out.  Once I write anything, my first question is always, is it any good?

Unfortunately, I'm not always the best person to answer that question.  I can usually find things to change in the early stages of developing a story but whether or not the story works is a matter for the reader, not the writer.  If it does, great.  I've done my job; I'm happy and I can move onto the next one.  If it doesn't, then it's back to revising the tale.

One of the greatest lessons I ever lessoned in writing is that no one writes a perfect story the first time out.  No one.  There are always revisions and changes.  This was brought home to me in a writing class when the instructor showed us the revisions made to a tale by Hemingway or Faulkner, I forget which.

And knowing this eased my struggling to craft stories.  These days, after having written thousands -- or perhaps even millions or billions -- of words, stringing words together isn't the issue.  It's the story I am trying tell and all the elements of the story that I struggle with.  The characters, the plot, the descriptions. Am I showing enough?  Am I telling too much?  Is there a scene missing?  Is the dialogue right?

So how did I become a writer?  I can't even imagine.  Clearly, the odds were against me.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Portrait of a Writer as a Publishing Company

Once upon a time, people writing fiction had to rely on themselves for everything.  Well, almost everything -- feedback on a story remains firmly in the hands of the reader.  They had to know how to write, and edit, and revise.  Later with the advent of desktop publishing they had to know how to format too.

These days, the writer needs a host of other skills too.  He needs a sense of design and artistic ability for the cover of the story.  And he needs to know how to publish and market his work too.  For those lacking in some of all of these skills, services are available.  You can hire people to design your book cover, edit your text, and how publish and promote your work.  And in many cases, if you are self-publishing your own work, you may have to.  This pretty much makes you a publishing company in your own right.

Which leads me to ask, why are so many people jumping on the self-publishing bandwagon?  I know some reasons:

  • The writer has gone the traditional route and has been dissatisfied; as a result, he or she decides to self-publish, figuring it can't be worse.  
  • The writer has tried to go the traditional route but can't find a publisher, so he or she decides to strike out on his or her own.
  • The writer does not trust publishers or does not want to give up any rights to his or her work.  So self-publishing is the only avenue open.

All of these are perfect legitimate scenarios and have happened to people I know.  But I still don't get it.  My experience will self-publishing is that you don't get the exposure that is possible with a publisher.  Granted, for more of the writers reading this blog, I'm talking about a small press who is willing to take on new talent.  Such publishers have limited resources and will promote your work as well as they can but even they can't get on Amazon's home page.  But the way I see it is better to have two people advertising for you than only one (yourself).  Since you will promote yourself whether you have self-publish or not, why not seek the additional help.

Is it hard to find a publisher?  Yes.  More often than not, you are met with rejection than acceptance.  Will you have to give up some of the rights to your work?  Yes, but what you give up is up to you.  So if the audio book version isn't being discussed be sure to keep it for yourself.  If that's not an option, make sure they spell out your compensation for those rights in the contract they will have you sign.

Will it all be smooth sailing?  No.  There will be bumps in the road.  But isn't that true of everything?  Haven't you had problems with your house, computer, and car at one point or another?  Haven't you argued with your spouse or your parents or your children?  That's life.  You just need to before what you agree to that's all.  That too can be difficult, but if you need help there are services for that too.  Go to the web site of the local bar association in your state and see if they have a lawyer referral service.  See if you can find a someone to help you through the contract negotiation process.  That can be difficult too but worth it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Have a Dream Too

Today is a holiday in the United States to honor a man who had a vision and dream of a better world for all.

It would be hubris to compare myself to such a one but I too have a dream-- a writer's dream. I dream of being published. While that time may be close at hand it does not feel that way.

But I am also concerned about the walls that still exist along the road to publication. I think they are still quite high. I may have scaled them at last but many have not. Of course many do not want to. They take the path of least resistance: self-publishing. But I think that's because there is tyranny surrounding the publication process. I dream of a world without this tyranny, one in which all voices can be heard.

Then there are personal dreams of finishing the fantasy series I started. Seven books is a lot to write and I only have partial drafts of Books 4 to 7. So I wonder of I will finish it. I don't have any intention to abandon it but accidents happen. I would hate to leave my readers hanging.

But today is a day to envision the world as it should be and not as it is. To dream our dreams and find ways to make them happen. To strive to make the world a better place.

So what's your dream?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Lightning, Sparks, and a Little Fire

I'm beginning to see why many writers I've spoken with about their first book have decided to self-publish subsequent books: getting a good contract is hard.  While my publisher seems to be willing to consider the cover I want to use and will give me final say on many aspects of the publication process, they seem to also want to me to give them rights that they won't be using now and for which the compensation is not clear.

That's not acceptable and I may have to walk away but since I've not seen the final contract I'm reserving judgement until then.  Still, I see how hard it is for writers to get a good contract and this is probably why a writer friend is urging me to do it all myself.

He has pointed me to several articles on the web that make the case for writers to go directly to bookstores and bypass publishers altogether.  This argument is compelling since it requires me to give up no rights and I receive a greater share of the money that is received by the bookstore when a sale is made.

But it is based on the assumption that sales keep trickling in.  That's not my experience with self-publishing.  My experience is few or no sales.  Readers are either unwilling to spend the money for my work or they grab the free sample, putting it on their to-be-read list.  While it is nice to be included in the lists, they doesn't help me because they may never belly up the bar and place an order.

Additionally, the likelihood that someone will find you in a bookstore, say Amazon, is slim because the store isn't advertising your book on their home page in most cases and most of us don't have name recognition.  Likewise, searching in the genre, say fantasy, will bring back thousands of results and most people won't sift through them.

The end result is we are a direct channel to the market but we are buried under a lot of other stuff.  That's where the publisher comes in.  The publisher can help you break through all that (at least that's my hope) but that begs the question: at what cost?  Is it worth giving up rights to the audiobook version or the screenplay adaption?  And that's what I'm wrestling with.

I don't have the answer but I'd love to hear from anyone who does.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Show and Tell

Ironic that the craft of storytelling has nothing to do with telling you anything anymore.  These days, as I'm sure you know, fiction writing is all about showing you what happens not telling you.  I was reminded of this the other day when I got a look at an old draft of the novel I'm writing.  The draft goes out of its way to describe the town that the main characters are visiting.  None of this adds to the story; it is all background information and reads like a travel log which tells you which parts of town to visit to enjoy your stay.

Ick.  All of that is useless text and will not be in the new draft.  But it got me thinking how far my writing has come since I wrote that old draft.  I now write small scenes, as if the story was a play or a movie and then string them together.  That seems to work.  The benefit of that approach is I can focus on small bits at a time and when they are ready put them together and polish them into something larger.  Often I need to read the scenes together and do some editing to make them all fit as a unified whole but that's okay because by the time I get to that stage, my focus is bigger and broader.

The other benefit of writing scenes is it is harder to lapse into telling the reader anything.  Oh, sure, I can tell you how a character feels, or what he looks like -- how else are you going to know if I don't -- but I only resort to describing feelings when a character is alone.  If there is another character around, then this information is perfect for some dialogue and a scene all by itself.  That way, I tell you less and show you more.

Is it dull and melodramatic? I don't know.  Usually my characters aren't revealing deep personal feelings, but rather feelings about things connected to the plot.  (Oh sorry, I forgot, some of you think plot is a four-letter curse word, so let's say that characters are revealing feelings about events that have transpired since the story began).  Example:  the main characters meet a woman on the road, Nancy.  She is being attacked by some bandits.  They rush to help her (they are heroes, after all) and the bandits flee.

Nancy does not trust them because this attack is the second one she's suffered through in the last few days.  In the first days, she lost her traveling companions.  But the main characters convince Nancy to come with them since they are all traveling in the same direction.

Later, the main characters begin to learn are few things about Nancy that are odd and makes them not trust her.  They discuss these feelings privately.  I do this to build tension about Nancy.  Eventually the truth comes out but not until much later.

All this being said, it is still easy to fall into the trap of telling.  I've done this where suddenly a memory is triggered and you are telling the reader about this.  A better technique is to show the memory.  That, of course, takes longer and is harder and is generally why I don't do it.  In fact in just about all cases, when I lapse into telling, it is because I've gotten lazy.  So if you find a section where you are telling, rip it out and rewrite it by showing the same thing.  Your readers will thank you for it later.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Didn't I Do this Last Year?

Sigh.  I've got this strange feeling more and more that I've travelled back in time and am doing many of the same tasks I did last year.  In January, for example, I collect the forms I need to pay my taxes and purchase the tax software I need to complete them.  At the same time, all my deductibles for my medical insurance kick in now and last unless I satisfy them.

Next month I will file my taxes and begin paying my car insurance.  The car insurance payments last until about April or May when I need to pay my house insurance.  Somewhere in there is my wife's birthday, our anniversary, the renewal date for my web site, and a host of other things that I'd swear I just took care of.

I guess this is why I feel time is rushing past me like wind in a tunnel.  I know that's my imagination and a function of some law of other, whose name I don't even know.  The law goes something like this:  the rate at which time seems to pass is based on the age of the person and their level of stress.  Mathematically this can be expressed as:

T = A * SL

where T is the speed at which time is perceived to pass, A is the age of the person perceiving time passing, and SL is the person's stress level, rated from 1 to 10.  From this we see that for young children time passes more slowly than for a 30-year old with a stress level of 5 or 10.

This is in no way scientific, of course, but it does help to explain how I feel and why I have the sense of repeating the same tasks I just completed not that long ago.

I'm begin to think that the year should have 24 months in it so that we can use the second set of 12 months to rest from the first set of 12.

Or it could be I need a vacation.  Yes, that could very well be it.

Monday, January 2, 2012

More Lightning and one Spark

After waiting three weeks to hear back from my publisher, I decided to write to them asking if they were still interested in my novel.  I noted that I was expecting to hear back in two weeks per their email to me.

They replied saying yes, they are still interested and then they send me a sample contract.  This has got me going on what kind of deal I might get and has my generating all kinds of questions.

For the moment, I'm not going to share these here.  Later, when the deal is done or not done I will share the details so others can learn from this experience. Suffice to say, I've been searching the Internet for information and talking to other writers.  One writer friend gave me lots of good advice, and I've traded email with the other writers who are published with this company.  I have also marked up the contract with lots of questions I need to ask.  The answer to these questions will determine if I go forward with this publisher or not.

Ironic, isn't it?  Now that I found someone who wants to buy my work, I might very well say, "No, thank you."

Keep in mind also that this is publisher #2.  Publisher #1 got my revised draft back in May and will not be reading it until sometime this month.  At which point, they may also want it.  We'll see.  But I'm not counting on Publisher #1 at all.  I am evaluating the contract I received on its merits and trying to determine what is fair so that when the publisher comes knocking and is ready to talk to me I can negotiate a deal or walk away.  And I have to be prepared to walk away.  That will really hurt since I've worked long and hard to find someone who is interested.  But I can't let my work go to a publisher who doesn't care about compensating me in the manner I believe is fair.  I've worked too hard.  My novel, Aure, the Topaz, represents many years of writing, revision, research, and editing.  I can't let it go unless the deal is right.

So I'll be sitting on my hands waiting while I burn some oil to got Book 3 completed.

What a way to start the year!