Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Money, money, money...

I've got books on the brain. I've decided that it isn't particularly helpful to write about the latest book in a series--I'm too uptight about giving spoilers to those who haven't read the earlier books so I'll end up posting the same thing that annoys me in other places. "If you like the first two books, you'll like this one, too." Really? You felt I would never guess that on my own?

While I've been working out which series and just how to go about this, I ran across L. Viehl's post on what a writer really makes. There's actually a lot of information there that should be looked at with more care* (such as her lack of promotion--great for her, but since I want to read your new urban fantasy or paranormal book, don't follow her lead), but in keeping with the title of the entry, what I'm interested in is how her $40,484 earned in royalties dwindled down to just over $27,000 in net earnings and $0 in actual earnings.

David Hewson wrote a great post explaining the money involved in quoting song lyrics. Some of my best work has been done in just-for-fun gaming forums where I've built chapters around songs that perfectly fit the scenes. I haven't done this with projects I meant to publish because I wasn't sure just what was involved in getting permission. Thank goodness for bowing to ignorance!

One line from the Rolling Stones' Street Fighting Man? If I recall correctly they wanted a couple of thousand pounds. Dylan didn't come much cheaper. Some artists simply refuse to allow their work to be quoted in any way at all. Others settle for a few hundred pounds. In all the permissions cost me some £3,500 or so for that book - and they excluded North America. So if the work had been published in the US I would have had to pay all over again.

I'll keep my soundtracks for personal inspiration, thanks kindly.

*Real quick, why put off talking about Viehl's lack of promotion until later? When it can be nutshelled.

I’ve never had a 100K first print run. I don’t do book signings and I don’t order massive amounts of my own books from certain bookstores (I don’t even know which bookstores are the magic ones from whom the Times gets their sales data.) I do very little in the way of promotions for my books; for this one I gave away some ARCs, sent some author copies to readers and reviewers, and that was about it. I haven’t attended any conference since 2003. To my knowledge there was no marketing campaign for this book; I was never informed of what the publisher was going to do for it (as a high midlist author I probably don’t rate a marketing campaign yet.) I know they did some blog ads for the previous book in the series, but I never saw anything online about this particular book. No one offered to get me on the Times list, either, but then I was never told who to bribe, beg or otherwise convince to fix the list (I don’t think there is anyone who really does that, but you never know.)

Despite my lack of secret handshakes and massive first print runs, in July 2008 my novel Twilight Fall debuted on the Times mm list at #19

Nutshell: having never read a Lynn Viehl book, I immediately recognized the name as someone [whose work] I have to buy. Putting out a new book is almost all she has to do for advertisement; her fans will handle the rest. We noobs--those who need the info as opposed to the reader who's merely curious or the published author who either knows or is getting a crash course-can't afford to be so passive about sales. (Yeah, but don't go bribing anyone, either.)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Unblocking: to self-publish or not to self-publish?

For me, the answer is simple for now: self-publishing isn't my dream.

My parents took me to see Star Wars before I could read and I knew right then that I wanted to tell stories like that. Then there was the first grade and the letters started to mean something in the books whose pictures I'd stared at. Sometime around puberty, I knew that my destiny was to be published by Tor. As an adult, I can't even begin to recall which favorite author made my adolescent imagination got for Tor rather than ..::shrugs::..Ace or whomever. I no longer hang my hopes on a particular imprint, but I am too new to taking the process seriously to drop my dream of being traditionally published for a goal of being published by any means necessary. I'll finish revising, revise again, submit my query packages and receive my rejections as expected.

But why get rejected? Why send the words you sweated over to people who will hold your hopes in their hands for months and might reject it because you had a passive sentence in the query, which they won't mention if they can be bothered to send you a quick, "It's not for me"?

Hopefully, you're writing because you love to. If you don't get real enjoyment from seeing your characters come to life on the page and turning an idea into a story, why are you torturing yourself with all the hard work along the way? Love is the first part, but it's not the only part or you wouldn't be worrying about publishing one way or the other.

1. It's nice to be paid. Advances are good; this does not mean that we should ignore small presses that may not be able to afford them, but don't sell your work short, either.

2. It's good to be recognized for your work. If you've set fingers to keyboard and finished--hell, even started--a work of fiction, I hereby declare you a writer. Tell your friends if you like. I'm afraid that the publishing industry isn't going to accept you as an author if you pay someone to print your book. That seems completely unfair you've written a good book that you know is being rejected for being "not commercial enough". Why should your art have to be commercial?

It's also completely realistic considering that anyone with the cash can self-publish. Have I complained enough about the issues with my manuscript? I can pay for a publishing package and have my book in print right now, complete with the red text reading "this is unclear; revise" and "then this happens."

3. Because of the sweat and tears we to put into our words, we tend to think of them as golden. Sometimes we're wrong. It's good to have an editor to point out that the three page description of the room that is only in the book for the one scene kills the pacing. It's nice to have a copyeditor to catch that we wrote 'diety' ten times when we meant 'deity'. (::wink::)

That goes along with #2. Publishing companies offer a standard of quality, from bookbinding to editing that readers have come to expect. If we even manage to get our hands on your book, people like me will report all across the internet about the pages coming loose and the awkward phrasing. We don't hate you, it's just what we do.

4. And how are you going to get that book into our hands? Bookstores won't order your self-published work until a paying customer requests it, so it won't be on the shelves for browsers to pick up. Newspapers and magazines won't list it with the new releases, nor will they review it. With all that free publicity lost, there's a good chance that even if your book is as good as you think it is, the rest of us will never know.

If you want to self-publish because you’ve sent your manuscript to a few (or half a dozen) agents and have nothing to show but form rejections, take a step back. Have you followed all the submission guidelines for each submission package? (Know the agent’s name if it’s going to a specific agent, did not send the same query/synopsis/10 pages for the Irene Goodman Agency to the Rappaport Agency that wants query/synopsis/5 pages or the Bradford Agency that wants a synopsis/3 chapters?) There are no typos and you’ve included everything else you should?

What about the story itself? OK, your mom thinks that Nora Roberts and Stephen King have nothing on you, but have you shown it to someone who (a) knows what they’re doing and (b) is more interested in seeing the work be all it can be than in stroking your ego or sparing your feelings?

If all your ducks are in a row yet every door seems closed to you, maybe it is time to open your own by self-publishing. Christopher Paolini’s mom thought his writing was all that so they self-published and took it on the road. Long hours, not a lot of pay off…until there was. Maybe they would have saved themselves a lot of gas money if they had gone the traditional route first. Or maybe a few dozen agents/editors would have said, “Robert Jordan meets David Eddings with just a touch of Weis and Hickman, just like the last hundred and fifty fantasy novels to cross my desk. Don’t call us and we won’t call you.”

There are lots of reasons other than a book’s quality for publishing houses to pass. Religious fiction might be a large niche, but it’s certainly a niche market. And when the novel in question is New Age with a just a hint of a plot to get the author’s spiritual ideas across? No wonder publishers originally passed on The Celestine Prophecy.

I’d never considered the market for middle-class, African-American, bi-sexual coming-of-age stories; apparently, neither did the publishers who rejected E. Lynn Harris’s Invisible Life.

As I wrote in Writers, Unblock!, the list of self-published books that made it can go on for quite some time. We still need to be realistic, though. For every rich best-selling author who has gone the traditional route, there are hundreds in the mid-list who are lucky just to pay the rent or mortgage. And there are thousands more who never get to quit their day jobs. The chances of making it are much lower for the self-published. If that’s the way you want to go, take your time researching just what you’re getting into.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sick of Fail

I'm supposed to be writing a more in depth post about self-publishing before diving back into fiction (I stopped putting up with blockage and pushed through that bit of dialogue). What I'm actually doing is feeling guilty that I have not taken down my beloved Amazon carousel widget. Can I condemn Amazon's "de-ranking" of adult (i.e. gay/lesbian/transgender) titles while keeping that on my blog? I mean, it's to promote the authors and it's cute. It's not really supporting Amazon, is it? Surely, it doesn't make me a hypocrite?

You're right. I'll take it down.

But what do I do instead? I'm all for retuning to indie booksellers, but there's a catch. Pandemonium --the fantastic indie sci-f/fantasy/horror store--introduced me to Roger Zelazny and otherwise made my youth a better time than it would have been without them. As my life is now, however, they are well out of my way and the cost of this special trip is more than standard shipping. Now double that since, even on the days in which I want to run away and join the circus, I will eventually return home.

Plus, that won't help me convince you lovely people to support my favorite (and not so favorite) authors. I'm not saying that you're lazy, but it is easier to click a link and buy the book you want than to go out of your way or keep a list on you just in case you happen by the bookstore.

Borders and Barnes & Noble are online, but aren't they part of the mega-store culture as Amazon that put indies at risk even before the economy tanked? Yeah, after my long and previously happy relationship with Amazon, it's a little late to worry about that.

Or maybe there is no too late. Maybe there are only actions and consequences. In February, Amazon started blocking a title or two for being "adult" products or material. (Note, those of you who aren't going to click the link, that the title in question is a memoir, not erotica or even romance.) The creators complained, but most of us never heard of the problem, so Amazon felt free to "de-rank" hundreds of books, mostly with gay/lesbian/transgender themes. Mark Probst's book, for instance, is a young adult title. People noticed. The Internet practically hummed with all the entries on Amazonfail.

"It was a glitch!" announced Amazon. What? Nothing to do with adult content? Or not a glitch, as reps told some, and about sales rather than censorship. Apparently the idea was to make it so that if you searched for something like "Harry Potter", you wouldn't end up with something like "Harry Does Patty", get offended and end up not buying anything. That, of course, still doesn't explain why LGBT titles (even the children's book with the two daddy penguins) were de-ranked but most (and I admit that some were) flat out heterosexual porn wasn't.

They did it because they thought they could get away with it, and I'm afraid any mega-seller I turn to will do the same. So what now?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Writers, unblock!

I've been a living, semi-breathing Mucinex commercial recently. That isn't a very good excuse for not updating, unfortunately, since I wasn't sick when the entry was due. At the time, I suffered from a lesser recognized form of block where the writer has too many ideas. My head overflowed to the point where I could not settle on one thing and go with it. And, of course, all that excess pushed out the simple thought to write it all down for the days when I come up with zip.

Stupid block.

Unblocking in that case would have been stepping up and having the sense to (a) pick something and (b) take notes on the rest for later.

I'm having the same problem in reverse with fiction. In the middle of revisions, I came upon a bit of dialogue that has me stuck. But like many people who lack the wisdom to give up on the dream of being among the handful out of tens of thousands who "make it", I don't write because I want to; I write because I have to. While two characters from my Work in Progress are stuck between words, new characters are being born, old characters are pointing out what was missing from their original stories, and entire chapters are being written on the pages in my mind.

Thank goodness for MicroSoft OneNote. All these would-be rabbit holes are mapped and waiting for a more appropriate time to be addressed.

There's another form of block that's been on my mind recently. The creator of Queryfail has moved from defending that educational snark fest to plugging anything against Agentfail, which if you somehow managed to miss it, was the official writer reaction. It was angsty, true. But among the silly ("You agents should be responding to my brilliant prose instead of blogging and tweeting!") were some valid points ("If you don't want us e-mailing a dozen times to find out if you've gotten the query, let us know you got the friggin' query!"). Why acknowledge the valid when you don't have to?

The tweet that got me babbling at you read: The Guardian UK on Agentfail Day: Venomous, sad & desperate: Link (Hey, I didn't say it - THEY did.) Though the words venomous, sad, and desperate were indeed in the text, that's not quite how the writer was describing the whole thing. More interesting than the twisting of words was the link at the end of the article for "beating the system". What? We shouldn't anonymously air angry at agents laundry in public; we should self-publish!

It's an idea for some. Those of us who have puttered around the outer fringes of publishing know that self-publishing is the kiss of death. People in the industry won't take you seriously; maybe you've written a great piece of work that just wasn't commercial enough for a traditional house, but more likely, in their minds at least, your work wasn't good enough to get an agent. Readers will hesitate for the same reason, plus the fear that the binding won't even hold up with use.

And yet...Is it possible to own a television in the U.S. and to have not heard about the new ABC show "In The Motherhood"? The publishers Melinda Roberts took her book to told her it wouldn't appeal to mainstream audiences. Somehow, it still got her a show of her own and a spot on Oprah. I recall hearing that Chicken Soup For The Soul had been rejected hundreds of times before the author self-published it, and how much of a mega-seller is that? The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans was rejected, but word of mouth from the mere 20 copies he self-published was so great that Simon & Schuster bought the rights for a reported $4.2 million! (Imagine the faces of the rejecting agents upon learning they missed out on 15% of that.)

The list goes on. Sadly, no matter how long a list I make, the fact remains that an even smaller percentage of self-published authors than those who go the traditional route will make a living off their work, let alone millions. Yet there are reasons for why it's worth thinking about. More babble on the subject to come!