On writing and publishing

I’ve been a little slack with writing over the last few months. I’m part of a writing group and we meet online every two weeks to catch up and discuss each other’s writing. When I say ‘discuss’ I really mean ‘pull it apart and give each other ideas on how to make it better’. I sometimes nod sagely and say ‘it’s good writing, but it’s not for me’. They laugh and talk briefly about me not loving romance. Somehow they know this about me, I’m sure I haven’t mentioned it too often.

But it’s very exciting. I get to join in the fun when they publish. This link is to the author page for Kaydence Snow. She self-published her first book two weeks ago. Watching the excitement ramp up to a feverish pitch and then further still as her selling numbers went beyond expectations was very thrilling. And then there’s Carleton Chinner. He’s published three books but sales have had a difference trajectory. I want to examine the different approaches to marketing one day, with their permission, with a view to seeing which one is more likely to be best.

And the question there is ‘what is best’?

  • Best for the author
  • Best for sales
  • Best for getting into the market long term.
  • Lots of different questions I have for them.

Last fortnight one of the things we did was to examine a piece of writing I wrote for uni. I was going to write it with a view towards publishing and decided to reduce my workload by writing it for uni first. Now that the subject is over and done with I can publish it outside. Which meant getting it up to snuff. Which meant getting the group to look at it. Most of them don’t know me apart from the group and there’s a lot they don’t know about me so showing them my piece was totally the thing I needed to do. During discussion one lady gently asked me a question and that’s when I realised what was totally missing from the entire 3,000+ words. I’m not going to spoil the article by telling you what it was but making sure I put this little bit of information in will go a very long way to making the entire piece of writing much more emotional than it is.

The last question is where do I send it with a view to publishing? And that’s where I’m at a loss. I feel it’s a piece that needs a wide readership. I have two magazines on my desk, both from The Age, each published on the weekend but different days. I think this writing will pass muster for either of them but will they even look at a piece from a virtually unpublished author? Will they want a piece from a virtually unpublished author who may not be able to deliver another one? To get the answers I need to either ring or email and I haven’t taken the plunge on those yet. I do have some friends I can ask to see what they think but I kind of want to do some of my own research first.

It’s very exciting and very nerve wracking at the same time. I’m beginning to see why there are so many authors who only write one book. It’s really easy to get bogged down in the ‘what ifs’ or other type of nervous questions. And that’s where writer groups come in handy. They will ask questions and push you to make sure you actually get something done. Some authors can live in their own little bubble but many of us need help and that’s where writer groups can be absolutely magic.

Gaming the system

You understand I’m not totally up-to-date with the news. What I’m going to cover actually took place earlier this year. Gaming the system is not new, it’s happened in many different industries. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Years ago I heard The Bee Gees did this same thing to get a very early record into the charts. The difference between The Bee Gees and the author I’m talking about today is that the musicians had actual talent behind them. From what I’ve read about the book the author needs to do a lot of work in order to produce a sellable book.

What rubbish am I spouting?

An actor wrote a book, in an attempt to get a movie deal she gamed the system to get this book into the New York Times Bestseller Lists. As it turns out making this list is fairly easy to achieve so long as you’re prepared to put a lot of work into making many, many small purchases of your own book over a period of time. You only need 5,000 sales, but they can’t be too big or they’ll attract notice. What this author and her team did is to make the purchases far too large and over a week. Noticed by a guy on Twitter who tweeted about it, picked up by Pajiba and after a while the book was removed from the NYT Besteller number one position (replaced by The Hate U Give). In other words, they were sprung. The article by Pajiba is well worth reading. There’s no way I could repeat all that research.

The book

Handbook for Mortals by Lani Sarem. I do hope she sits down and actually learns more about writing. I’d like to see her succeed having actually written a good book.

If you want to know more about the writing without actually reading it you can head to Jenny Trout, she’s always entertaining. This time Trout shows excerpts from the book and talks about why the writing is so bad. It seems the author does many things that don’t make a good book. She tells us what’s happening, we don’t appear to see much by showing. There seems to be a lot of information in the book that doesn’t make any difference to the story or the characterisation. I’ll ignore the description of the narrator and the author, they seem to be very, very close.

Don’t look at the foreword. It’s by a lady who is supposedly an international bestseller. It’s ‘interesting’ to say the least. From someone who is meant to be a successful author in her own right I found the excerpts in Jenny Trout’s blog to be rather poor writing.

And all of that is without mentioning how the cover is a total rip off of someone’s fabulous artwork. The original artist didn’t even get a credit, let alone any royalties possibly owed to them.

Other bits

Amazon reviews. If you look up the book on Amazon you can see it’s had 104 reviews with 1.9 out of five stars. Some of the reviews are so poorly worded as to have been written by someone who hasn’t actually read the book and for whom English is not their first language. Others have so little detail they could have been written about many books. One review I read talked about the grammar problems not being picked up by the editor so not the author’s fault. Someone takes them to task on that. The author is the final arbiter of any suggestions the editor makes, if they ignore suggestions then it’s on their heads.

The book made the bestseller lists without being in stock anywhere. Amazon and Barnes & Noble had the book out of stock at the time it made it into the lists. I’m guessing the book hadn’t actually been printed at that time and made it into the lists just on orders alone.

Now I know how to do I’m guessing I won’t be gaming the system. It’s too easy to become notorious and then things become hard. This is the internet and things don’t go away too easily on the internet.

Industry Insiders: Self-Publishing by Emerging Writers’ Festival

Last week I bit the bullet, pulled up my socks and using many other cliches I booked a ticket to this seminar on Self-Publishing as part of the Emerging Writers’ Festival. I’ve turned my ideas on self-publishing totally on their head since my early days of this blog eight years ago and it’s now something I’m putting into my thinking. It’s good to have several ideas on the go at once.

There were three people on the panel: Karen Andrews, Gemma Flack, Aaron Lamb. All three had a different and interesting story. Let’s look at them and I’ll give you some pearls of wisdom from the seminar as well. I hope I’ve ascribed the thoughts to the right people, my notes include what was said but not by whom.

Karen Andrews is the person behind Miscellaneous Mum, Miscellaneous Press and has also authored several print books. She started off as a mummy blogger, I first met her shortly after starting my blog and it’s been lovely watching her progress. Self-publishing means you get to work to your own deadline and you don’t have to answer to an editor. But you do need people to ping ideas off.

Bloggers tend to be more accepting of self-publishing than authors. They’re amenable to taking on new ideas and experimenting with them. Bloggers have made self-publishing far more accessible for authors.

If you’ve got a physical book you want to sell in a bricks and mortar bookshop you need to take them into the shop and talk to the manager. You’ll need to be able to talk marketing with them and may need to sell on commission. You don’t get paid unless they sell the book.

The writing process can be lonely and risky. Andrews was very happy with the Small Press Network Mentorship she received. She felt it was good to be able to sit down with a mentor and help get rid of anxieties and ideas. It also helped to have someone to overlook the business model to see if it would work.

Gemma Flack is part of the Sticky Institute. I scribbled a few words about them back in 2015 having made a successful foray inside; I still have the zine on my desk. Flack sells art on Etsy as well as doing tattoos and zines.

The Sticky Institute is a fabulous institution. It sells and provides publishing equipment for people wanting to create their own zines. The poet, Frank O’Hara, could have used the Sticky Institute as he often sent his own poems out to family and friends. This would have been an easier way for him to do that and also to have sold more of poems within his lifetime. They have very few rules: zines must be less the $10; have no ISBN and; no barcode. In other words, it’s ideal for the small writer who wants to write a poem or a short story and sell it in a supported atmosphere. The equipment they provide includes typewriters and photocopiers.

Aaron Lamb is the author of two ebooks, Pollen and Stem. Self-publishing means you have several things you need to do yourself and not be able to rely on other people. These are things such as budgeting. Lamb did suggest it’s wise to outsource some parts of your project such as editing, cover designer and proofreader.

Lamb mentioned the positives of having the ability to change the digital file and reupload to Amazon (yes, he’s a Kindle author). What he’s done is listen to feedback from his readers and amend his writing, changing the digital file. The next buyer then gets a better book. He likes negative reviews as they help inform the writing process.

Some discussion was held on digital marketing. This is what Lamb does for a day job and he’s found it’s become much easier since the advent of social media. Yes, Google still sell advertising units but if they do this they have to deliver the number of ads they’ve sold. Lamb discussed some of the testing he’s done with both intrinsic language and extrinsic language. He advised he’s had better results with intrinsic language talking about relating the characters to things people already know about. The ads can become an extension of the book, it gives you a chance to explain more about the characters and get people hooked.

Kindle free books are a two edged sword. On the one hand they are the race to the bottom of the price pack and they devalue books and writing. On the other hand a few thousand downloads can put you into Amazon’s emails which can lead to sales.

General thoughts.

Don’t end your ebook on a cliff hanger unless you have the next book ready to go, it is likely to receive negative reviews. People have lost patience and don’t want to wait for the next book, they want to be able to go and buy the next book immediately. It might be good for sales to write the whole series then publish all at once.

If you have a series it might work to have the first ebook for free as a taster but then to have prices on the other ebooks.

You don’t have to have a distributor for your print books but it might help depending on your ultimate goal.

When approaching agents if you have a print book then it’s good to include a copy with your letter as they don’t have to figure out what you’re saying but can look at the completed book.

When looking for a publishing platform look at if they can sell books. Feedback is an excellent indicator of this.

Amazon is great for selling science fiction as they have many different categories and you can work within your niche.

Another ebooktailer out of business

I wouldn’t normally write today but by the time I get to it on Friday the website will be gone and if you have books there/are an author there/are a publisher there and you haven’t heard then you’ll be very annoyed. Actually, you’ll be annoyed anyway but I’m putting this here anyway.

All Romance eBooks are going out of business due to overwhelming debts, they expect to be posting a loss and can’t see a viable future for 2017. They have a notice on the All Romance eBooks website and on their OmniLit website but not on their roofbody website of AReBooks where they’re still advertising their Publishing in Partnership programme. As of a few days ago they were still soliciting ads and taking up to $US1,000 from people. Two days ago the emails started going out to publishers, authors and readers telling them what going to happen. The publishers were told they could take their books down, the readers were told to download their books and the authors were told they would not receive the last quarter’s money, instead they’d only receive 10c in the dollar as opposed to the 60% they’d normally receive.

Those in the romance industry have hit the proverbial roof. Blogcritics is where I first read about it and one of the commenters is looking for feedback. If you’re an author then I suggest you fill out this form quickly. There’s also a closed Facebook group where people are discussing potential legal action.

If you’re a reader and you’ve left all your books up there then I suggest you’ve lost a lot of them. With many publishers removing their books there’s a lot of empty shelves. One commenter on one of the articles I’ve read said she had bought 2,200 books but was only able to download 220 as all the rest had already disappeared.

Some smaller publishers and authors are offering to send out books to those who bought books on pre-orders. If you’ve done that then just send them a receipt of the order and see what happens, the worst they can say is ‘no’. Some publishers are taking it on the chin and insisting their authors will still be paid even though it’ll put them out of pocket.

For some authors this is their livelihood, the only thing keeping food on the table, for others it’s just a top up. True, I’m not interested in romance books but I know many other people are for them this is a travesty, a real problem and for that I support them.

I found some new stuff!

It’s one of those really exciting days when I’m wondering what I’m going to talk about so I click on a link and it opens up a whole new world to me!

Here’s the link Pride and Prejudice and Zombies author sued by publisher. I spent a bit of time thinking about this and then clicked on the next link which happens to be the complaint as posted on the Publisher’s Marketplace and my jaw dropped.

Going back to the beginning, let’s have a look at the author sued by publisher. He’s the author of a book I still have yet to read but many of my friends rave about, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. He was given a contract for a vast sum of money for two new books. The first was delivered but he seems to have had issues with the second and the due date was pushed back by three years. When it was finally delivered Hachette decided it wasn’t original enough and so they’re suing Seth Grahame-Smith. I’m presuming they opened negotiations first and told him it wasn’t good enough, and that Grahame-Smith argued it was. I’m hoping their first discussions was not through the courts.

There’s the summary and I have nothing more to add. What really made me excited was when I looked at the url of the complaint

http://media.publishersmarketplace.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/SethGrahameSmithlawsuit.pdf

I’ve never heard of the Publisher’s Marketplace before so I copied the main bit of the url into another tab of my browser and my heart sang. Some of it free and open to the public and upon payment of a mere $25 (probably US) a month you can view so much more. I’m only looking at the free and open to the public bits. If I were still selling pre-loved books this would be one of those sites I’d be looking at on a weekly basis to find out the gossip and see which authors I’d need to be pushing to the front page to make a little more money and which I have issues with and I want to drop them entirely.

If you’re interested in the book industry and not just reading books have a look for yourself, I’ll be bookmarking this site.