OK, so we have all heard about the horrors of traditional publishing and the reasons you are better off self-publishing. If you want to read yet another post about it, see this recent one by Robert Bidinotto. Here let me state that I agree with this author, and not only have I self-published, but I have also written in this blog several post in favor of self-publishing. However, I have likewise written a few posts about the harsh realities of self-publishing. Yes, there are many success stories. We all know about John Locke, Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler and so forth. I have even mentioned in my blog less known authors like Hugh Howey whose self-published book “Wool” will be turned into a movie. But one of my concerns is that there is too much cheerleading going on. Are we, with all our enthusiasm, encouraging would-be authors to walk away with the notion that self-publishing is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?The truth is that the majority of new authors who self-publish find that after all their friends have bought their book something happens: nothing. Their book starts plummeting in the ranks. The authors work their social media, send e-mails, and get reviews. People retweet their tweets, and like their Facebook posts, and leave nice comments on their blogs; but few buy. The majority of new authors come to the realization that they are one among tens of thousands of other authors and their book is one among millions of other books. Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos revealed this April that more than one thousand authors sell 1000 copies of their book each month on Amazon. But the flipside, of course, is that fewer than 2,000 authors sell 1,000 or more copies of their book per month. In a recent survey of a group of self-published authors it was found that half made less than $500 a year. A sizeable number probably make much less.I don’t want to be a sourpuss. I am enthusiastic about self-publishing However, I feel that there is a lot of enthusiasm and very little in depth analysis of the realities of self-publishing. When you self-publish you are in charge of doing everything yourself, and even if you do it well and put out a great book with a great cover (and many authors don’t), the truth is your work has just begun. Now comes the part about promotion, and let me tell you something: book promotion is a female dog. The most common complaint I read from authors is that they can’t get their books to sell well. Amazon’s KDP Select program which allows authors to do free giveaways has increased the promotion power of self-published authors and their ability to sell, but Amazon has recently changed the algorithms that control the program. Now free titles and lower priced books are not rewarded with as much exposure as before. This means the odds have been stacked against self-published authors.Finally let me address the dream that the vast majority of authors have. This is the dream that they will do so well that they will be able to quit their day jobs and live off their writing. The truth is that for most authors this isn’t going to happen (repeat after me: this isn’t going to happen). Sure there will be exceptions, but everyone thinks THEY will be the exception, and that is simply not true.So please join us in the self-publishing revolution, write great books, and let’s all help and promote each other. But be realistic in your future financial plans and the role that your publishing will have in said plans. Dreams are important and they do come true; for some. Go ahead and soar with your dreams but keep your feet on the ground. ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
This is the great Vincent Price reciting Poe’s immortal poem “The Raven” in his own unique way. This poem plays a central role in “Raven-Lenore,” one of the stories in my book The Sun Zebra.
The Graveyard Shift, which is a blog published by Lee Lofland, posted an article from the folks at “accreditedonlinecolleges.com” entitled “9 Signs Self-Publishing Is Out of Control: Opinion, or Fact?” I won’t bother you with a point by point analysis. You can click on the link to read it. I want to focus today on Mr. Lofland’s experience with posting the article. He basically encountered a lot of hostility and that surprised him. In one of his comments he writes: “…there’s certainly no need for hostility. The title of the piece asks a question…is it opinion or fact that self-publishing is out of control? I just don’t understand the anger that’s been generated by this article. Not at all.” He had to clarify several times that he was not the author of the article (even thought that was stated at the end), and that he did not necessarily agree with the opinion. He writes: “These folks sent me an article that I thought was an interesting viewpoint. I may not agree with everything in it, but nonetheless found it to be controversial, to say the least. And that makes for good conversation and debate…normally.” He ends the comment by stating: “My plan was to debunk this article by following up with success stories from those who’ve enjoyed self-publishing. However, I think I’ll pass. It’s much safer dealing with robbers and serial killers than it is to deal with angry authors.” I want to say that I understand Mr. Lofland’s experience. I once published a post here entitled: “Indie authors are rude, pushy, completely self-absorbed, and their books suck.” I stated this was something I did not write but rather something I read in a post by somebody else. However, some readers thought I had written it myself. A few commenters started using insults, and I had to remind people to keep the debate civil. Although the title of my post was much more inflammatory than the one in Mr. Lofland’s website, you see this phenomenon quite often. Publish a post critical of self-publishing, or of Indies, or a post defending traditional publishing, and you will have a horde of angry people overrunning your comments section. Why is this? I think part of the explanation is that there is a lot of resentment “out there.” I have been frequenting the world of blogs for about a year and I have already read dozens of horror stories of bad experiences writers have had with agents and publishers. When many of these authors read anything resembling a defense of the old order they seethe. However, even among writers who have not had outright bad experiences with traditional publishing there is a growing awareness of the rotten deal that they really got when they signed their contracts. If you are (or were) traditionally published and you still don’t feel this way, check out Joe Konrath’s posts on this matter (Exploited writers in an unfair industry, Pricing books and e-books, and Unconscionability). He is a bit intense, but he puts forth some very good arguments. Another part of the explanation is that the POD and e-book revolution has meant emancipation for writers. We are no longer stuck with having to bow our heads before the publishing establishment. We don’t have to work for them anymore accepting meager royalties, lopsided contracts, or their assessment of whether we are “good enough” to be published. We have tasted the freedom of independence, and we like it. So when someone comes along suggesting that there was something good about the old system and there are some things wrong with the new system, the reaction is predictable. If self-publishing is “out of control” then who is supposed to control it? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, hint, hint… Any suggestion that remotely resembles giving any measure of power back to the old masters will be met with derision. That is why many self-published authors are often perceived, in the words of a recent post by Nathan Bransford, to have a “chip on their shoulders.” Although I am all for being nice, I think it is perfectly understandable. ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
Author Hugh C. Howey self-published his science fiction short story “Wool” on July 30 2011. The reader response was so enthusiastic that during the next few months he wrote more follow up stories of this saga that takes place in a dystopian future. According to the author:
“This is the story of mankind clawing for survival, of mankind on the edge. The world outside has grown unkind, the view of it limited, talk of it forbidden. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they profess to want: They are allowed outside.”
But there is more. “Wool” will be turned into a movie! Recently Twentieth Century Fox, director Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down, and Prometheus), and producer Steve Zaillian (Schindler’s List) teamed up to successfully buy the rights after a bidding war that involved several other major players. And finally the rights to produce print books of “Wool” in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand have been secured by Random House. Howey will be able to remain an Indie here at home (the U.S.) while publishing print books elsewhere.
This is yet another example of what can be achieved with self-publishing. Of course, the majority of writers will not be as successful as Howey, but his success and that of others serves as an inspiration for all of us.
A group of scientists wanted to investigate whether they could find linguistic markers for dementia by evaluating the work of writers afflicted by this condition. To do this they studied the novels of three writers: Iris Murdoch, Agatha Christie, and P.D. James. Iris Murdoch, who was a notable British writer, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease after writing her last novel “Jackson’s Dilemma.” This novel disappointed many people who found it very different from her earlier work. It was only later that it was realized she wrote it at a time that the disease was disrupting her cognitive abilities. Agatha Christie, the best-selling novelist of all time, was suspected of senility and possibly Alzheimer’s disease towards the end of her life but she was never diagnosed. The English crime writer, P. D. James, was included in the analysis as a healthy control who aged normally. The scientists analyzed the complete text of 15-20 novels by each author evaluating lexical and syntactic markers with computer programs. Their analysis of the results is highly technical and involves a lot of nuances related to the methods they employed and the variability they encountered. I will just report here their major findings. They found trends in the works of Murdoch and Christie that indicated a major loss of vocabulary with a concomitant rise in repetition of fixed phrases and of content words within close distance. When they looked at the proportion of each word class over the entire length of the texts analyzed, they found a decrease in noun tokens that was compensated by an increase in the use of verb tokens. They also found a pronounced increase in the proportion of words identified in part-of-speech tagging as interjections and fillers. The work of the writer P.D. James in contrast displayed no significant changes in these parameters. Thus the authors of the research were able to differentiate the disease-related linguistic decline (Murdoch and Christie) from the effects of healthy aging (James). Some of the changes in the case of Murdoch were more abrupt in the last years of her life when she entered the early phase of Alzheimer’s disease, whereas the changes observed in the work of Agatha Christie were more gradual. The image people have of dementia is that which is mostly associated with individuals experiencing the advanced forms of these conditions. However this disease takes many years to develop and during the very early phases the symptoms that afflicted individuals experience are either non-existent or subtle. The interesting thing about this research is that the authors identified changes that were taking place when the impairment was not so great as to eliminate the ability to write, but were pervasive enough to affect it significantly. These findings also open the possibility to use the literary output of regular people (for example a blog or a diary) to perform linguistic analysis and identify long-term changes that could point to a developing cognitive impairment. ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
Carlos Gardel was the King of the Tango and his untimely death in a plane crash at the height of his career turned him into a legend in Latin America and his home country Argentina. The recording below is of him singing the tango "Silence" in the 1932 movie "Melodía de Arrabal" (Suburban Melody). When the movie premiered in Argentina, audiences interrupted the film with their clapping and demanded that the parts where you can hear and see Gardel singing be repeated. Such was the emotion elicited by this gendre of music as sung by the unforgettable Gardel. You can follow the English translation of the song below the video.
Silence in the night, all is calm,
bodies are asleep, ambitions at rest.
Rocking a cradle, a mother sings
a beloved song that touches the soul,
because in that cradle lies her hope.
There were five brothers, a saint for a mother.
Each morning five kisses
would tenderly graze the silver strands
of this little old mother’s white hair.
Five sons who went to work in the factory.
Silence in the night, for now all is calm,
bodies are asleep, but ambitions are at work.
A bugle sounds … the country is in danger.
To the shout of “War!”, men slaughter each other,
covering the fields of France with blood.
Now all that is past. Plants bloom,
plowed fields sing a hymn to life.
And the little old mother, with very white hair,
remains all alone … with five medals
for five heroes, awarded to her by the country.
Silence in the night, all is calm,
bodies are asleep, ambitions at rest.
A distant choir of mothers, singing as
they rock in their cradles new hopes.
Silence in the night … silence in souls.
I have written before that in literary circles it is widely accepted that a good story can be told so badly (lousy writing) that the effect on the reader will be poor. But what is less discussed is that a story can be so good that it can overcome non-optimal writing. The truth is that if readers are enthralled by the story they are less likely to notice flaws in the writing. I even hear this from professional editors who sometimes have to force themselves to “disengage” from the story in order to perform their job. And there is a reason for this that is grounded in the very way our brains recognize words, which is based more on patterns and context than in the individual sequence of letters in the words. To see what I am talking about read the following paragraph of garbled words. The Sun Zbera is a coclletion of stroies aobut the advtneures in liivng of an uunsual litlte gril naemd Nlel, her moethr, Ronhda, and Nlel's ftaher who is the narrtaor of the stroies. The storeis dael wtih how the wrlod of audlts and its hrad reialites intsreects wtih the magacil caererfe wolrd of chdilren. To quickly recognize a word the brain requires only that the first or last letters (or couple of letters) be the same along with, a resemblance of the garbled world to the original one. This is why the average reader often doesn’t notice a few typos or spelling mistakes while reading a page turner of a story. But this natural wiring of the brain can be overridden. Editors and others with many years of training in spotting errors in the grammar and other aspects of stories can often train their brain to automatically detect these imperfections. If you are a writer, having your brain “trained” this way can be a blessing but it can also be a curse. Before I explain this let me state that I applaud the labor of editors and I am all for improving our writing. In fact I feel mortified when a reader points out a mistake that I overlooked. In this aspect I am a perfectionist. But even while I learn more about writing English, I willfully try to avoid developing this “analytical” mind for the writing craft. Why? Many self-published books on Amazon that have numerous five star reviews also have, as one would expect, a few one star reviews. When I check these one star reviews I invariably find some people that complain about the bad quality of the writing and bemoan the English illiteracy of those that give the books glowing reviews. I once read a one star review by someone who complained about finding five typos on a 500 page novel! This is the danger. When you override the natural wiring of your brain and turn it into an error spotting machine you may find yourself in a situation where the majority of the books written by your fellow human beings will not satisfy you. The smallest imperfection will cheat you out of the enjoyment of the story. The life-changing narratives that razzle and dazzle everyone else will turn into your slush pile, and you will spend the rest of your days grumbling about the "trash" people like to read. Very bad writing can spoil a story; we all agree on that. But the point of writing is not achieving perfect grammar, writing structure, and so forth. The epicenter of writing is the story, the adventure and beauty it represents and the effects it has on us. Our brains are wired to “extract” these items from the narrative for our pleasure and personal enrichment. Do not tamper with this process by setting the bar so high that you effectively kill your chance to enjoy the story. ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
I published my book The Sun Zebra in November of 2011. From that date to the time I did my first successful free promotion on April 11 (about 20 weeks) I promoted, e-mailed, tweeted, blogged, and whatnot but only managed to sell 27 copies of my book. That is 1.35 copies per week. This is an experience that many first authors go through. In fact, the rule of thumb used to be that self-published authors would sell on the average only 100 copies of their books. The best ranking my book ever achieved was 17,580 and from there it started sinking reaching a ranking of 500,000 on a couple of occasions. Every now and then a buy would send it “soaring” close to 100,000 after which it would start sinking again. Then along came Amazon’s KDP Select program, which allows authors to give away their book for free. Here let me state that I did an early promotion that did not go well but then I introduced some changes to my book and marketing strategy, and I tried the promotion again. I gave my book away for free during 3 days. People downloaded 19,000 plus copies sending it as high as #9 in the free Kindle store. When the promotion ended it ranked #1,999 and in the 3 weeks since the promotion I have sold 170 copies with 46 units being borrowed, which (at a book price of $1.99) may count for 80 units or more. Even though I expected better results because my book and its cover are really good, it is a collection of short stories, and short stories are not a very popular category. This is why I think it did not gain further traction in the Kindle store. Other authors have had better experiences. However, with the promotion I achieved in 3 weeks results that I had not achieved in the 4 plus previous months. Although even with these improved sales figures I will obviously not be quitting my day job anytime soon, the point is that with the KDP Select program Amazon has given no name self-published writers like me a powerful promotional tool; if we use it well. My question is: for how long? There are 140,000 books in the KDP Select program and more are being added all the time. Multiplying that by 5 gives you the number of free days these books represent. There is now an endless supply of free books on Amazon. Unless a reader cares about reading a series or about an author’s other works, it is possible for said reader to upload hundreds of books into his/her Kindle without spending a single cent. So far “free” seems to still work. People are downloading free books but they are still buying. In fact the sales of some well-known authors have actually been increased by the program. But can we expect this to go on forever? ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
Writing erotica has a stigma in our societies, so much so that most writers use a pen name. If you are a writer of erotica and your true identity is revealed you can get in trouble. This recently happened to a teacher named Judy Buranich. Judy taught English at Midd West High School in Middleburg, Pennsylvania, for almost 25 years. However, all those years of devotion and love towards her students suddenly went out the window when a group of parents discovered that she writes erotica under the pen name Judy Mays. These parents seem to think that teaching high school students and writing erotic romance novels on the side are incompatible. To be sure Judy has received a lot of support from people worldwide and from many of her current and former students and their families. But the damage has been done. At this moment it is not known whether she will be able to keep her job. I have written that freedom of expression is a two-way street. You have a right to write what you want but people have a right to not buy it, or publish it for you, or even to organize boycotts against what you write. But do people have a right to request that you be fired from a job because of what you write on the side? The problem with some jobs such as teaching underage students is that they often require a certain “presence,” a certain level of perceived compatibility with community standards. In the case of Judy I don’t think she should be fired, but isn’t this a matter of where we draw the line? Even if you agree with me with regards to Judy, suppose you found out that your kid’s teacher writes material where women or girls are gratuitously tortured, raped, and killed (and yes, there are these things out there). How would you feel about that? You may argue this is an extreme, but there are parents that feel this way about erotica. But going back to erotica, I don’t understand how the reasoning to fire a teacher who writes it works. Apart from the fictional elements, the nuts and bolts of the erotica Judy writes is no different from what many teachers do in the privacy of their bedrooms behind closed doors. So it’s OK to do it, but it’s not OK to write about it under a pen name? And what happens if somebody places a webcam in the bedroom of a teacher and then splashes what was filmed all over the internet. Do we then fire that teacher? Is the issue then not what teachers do or write but whether everyone knows about it? Also the central tenet behind this reasoning is that if you write erotica you are somehow a perverted person who is unfit to teach children, and this is just not true. Judy demonstrated that for 25 years before she was outed. You cannot unerringly judge the character of artists from their art. If you don’t believe me take my “spot the murderers” test. In the end I think that whether Judy stays or goes will be decided by how strongly the different factions within her community are able to influence the school board. Societies change and lines are redrawn all the time; you just have to be mindful about which side of that line you are on at any given moment.