Jennie Nash is an author who decided to self-publish after publishing six books with traditional publishers. She has written a guest post for Rachelle Gardner’s blog where she discusses the surprises she experienced when she self-published. You can follow the link to the original post. I am going to talk here about her first surprise. She writes: I underestimated the weight of having the legitimacy of a traditional publisher. When I could say, “My third novel is being published by Penguin,” I was not just a wanna-be hopeful novelist. I was legit! I was chosen! Pitching book reviewers was a breeze. Attending high school reunions was a delight. When I ran into more famous writers, we met as colleagues, exchanging e-mails, making dates for lunch. Now that I am self publishing, I am no different than the crazy cat lady down the block who has been working on her memoir for 17 years or the guy at the street fair hawking Xeroxed pamphlets of his poetry about fruit. People smile indulgently when I tell them what I’m doing. Book reviewers politely decline. My doubts about writing, which I’ve spent a lifetime overcoming, have blossomed like a drug-resistant virus. Jennie’s case is interesting because she already had the “legitimacy” of traditional publishers. She was one of the “chosen.” It stands to reason that an author like her would not all of sudden publish crap just because she was now self-publishing. But as you can see from reading the passage above, all of her traditionally-published prestige vanished when the dreaded S-P word became linked to one of her books. Often one of the plusses associated with traditional publishing is the legitimacy mentioned above: the “I am traditionally published ergo I am a good writer” argument. The idea behind this argument is that if you are traditionally published then you have been vetted, you have been certified to be good, and what you publish does not belong in the slush pile. Jennie’s experience exposes the absurdity behind this argument. What gives you the legitimacy is not how good you really are, it’s the label, and once you lose it you are back to square one, again regardless of how good you are. The sad thing is that many self-published authors, even if they don’t say it out loud, crave for this label. There are valid reasons to traditionally publish, but legitimacy is not one of them. If you are willing to pay the price in terms of minuscule advances, dismal royalties, long publishing times, loss of artistic control, loss of your rights to your work, and lack of attention for the promotion of your book if it doesn't hit the big time soon, then I think you ought to have a good reason to traditionally publish other than the label of legitimacy. What do you think? Photo credit: Sudhamshu / Foter.com / CC BY ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
I have heard this argument repeated so many times that I feel I need to say something about it. The argument in question comes from two sides. The reader's version states something like "I have bought a self-published book and it was awful. Self-published books have low quality and are badly written. I will never buy a self-published book again!" The writer's version is something like "We self-published writers need to make our work as good as possible because otherwise readers will end up buying sloppily written or edited books that will give self-published writers a bad name. We owe it to ourselves, and to our readers."
I disagree with both.
Let me deal first with the reader. As far as I am concerned, readers are responsible for their purchases. If you purchase a bad product you have no one to blame but yourself. I often think of the analogy of a supermarket. It has products of high and low quality. You walk around with your cart and make shopping decisions based on the quality of the products and your budget. You pick up the items, read the labels, compare one with the other and then make your decision. Why should book buying be any different? So you bought a book and it was bad. Did you read the sample pages? Did you read the reviews? Did you click on the names of the reviewers and check out their other reviews? Did you visit the author's website and read their blog and some free samples? Or did you buy the book because the cover looked good or because it has a high rating on a handful of reviews? The way I see it, the reader HAS the responsibility to find out about the quality of the book they are considering buying. And if a reader buys a bad book I don't appreciate them not owning up to their mistake and chiding all self-published writers in the process.
The argument from the writer's side, although it is a well-meaning call to excellence, falls short of understanding the reality of self-publishing. In self-publishing we are our own boss. We call the shots. The whole point of self-publishing is freedom: freedom from gatekeepers, and freedom to take our work directly to the reader. When you declare that there is freedom, there is someone out there who will use that freedom in ways you won't like. There are authors who put out sloppy books. In fact some do so as a formal strategy where they concentrate on quantity over quality. My approach is to make my book as good as possible within the confines of my personal situation. However, I don't feel I need to embrace a crusading banner and go around trying to encourage others to improve their books for the greater good for the simple reason that I am not a gatekeeper. It is my opinion that any pressure to try to make self-published authors conform to a mold sets a bar, and bars are the warp and woof of gatekeeping. The reason we are self-publishing is to avoid this. Of course there are some commonsense guidelines, and writers ignore them at their own risk. But what you do with your book is your own business. You don't HAVE to do anything and much less OWN IT to anyone. This is the way of the self-publishing frontier.
What do you think? (Photo credit: Vectorportal /CC BY-NC-ND)
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Well, it finally happened. Remember all the furor that was stirred when some authors created sock puppet accounts to write glowing reviews of their own work, and another author paid for fake reviews? The issue hit the Indie blogosphere like a ton of bricks. Everyone was outraged! How could this have happened? Petitions were circulated. Pundits pontificated. Nasty comments were left on the Amazon pages of the books of the offending authors. And then the worst of all things happened: the brouhaha reached the upper echelons of Amazon’s management. Now reviews are disappearing right and left seemingly without reason. Many authors are reporting that several of the reviews that they have received from or have given to fellow authors are gone. And when they write to Amazon requesting an explanation all they get is an e-mail with this quote: We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product. In other words, as a published author you cannot review the book of a fellow author because your book is competing with his/her book. If Amazon had asked me or any other Indie author, we would have told them that our fellow authors are NOT our competitors. We are all in this self-publishing adventure together and we support each other. But company policies designed to quell public uproars are not known for the intelligence behind them. They are quick fixes put in place so people in the company can claim they did something and then move on to deal with more important matters. There is a reality: books need good reviews and they need them fast. The problem is that reviews by what I call people familiar with your work (first tier reviewers), but which other people call “friends,” more often than not include fellow authors. These people are the most readily available and fastest source of good reviews a beginning author can have. Dedicated (second tier) reviewers may take many months to review your book, and third tier reviewers (unsolicited reviewers) can be few and far between and a total wild card. Thus Amazon’s policy of review removal strikes by and large at the most important source of reviews for a beginning author: other authors. So, should authors stop reviewing the books of other authors? I think not. This policy is not only unfair, but it also ignores the true bonds that bring us Indies together. I have already explained my position on the so-called reviews by “friends.” I don’t think they are unethical as some people claim. A review of a friend’s work can be as honest as reviewing the book of a stranger. But what can we do about it? By all accounts Amazon is policing reviews using a bot (a program), which makes sense because there are tens of millions of reviews. So the easiest thing to do is to keep your reviewing account and your author account at Author Central separate. Use your reviewing account to purchase books and review, and your publishing account to publish. Also when you leave reviews do not show familiarity. Refer to the author either as “the author” or by their first and last names (i.e. John/Jane Doe), and if you did not buy the book include a statement to the effect that you received the book in exchange for an honest review. Finally, when the next moral or ethical outrage comes around, think twice before becoming involved in the screaming. Remember: Amazon may listen. What do you think? ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
Employing the motto that “mamas always write,” several California moms got together and started a literary group called the Write On, Mamas! In the time they have been together they have done amazing things, and the group now has over 25 members who regularly attend the group’s monthly meetings. The Write On, Mamas! were recently honored to participate in Lit Crawl, which is a fantastic and hilarious literary pub crawl in the Mission in San Francisco, as the culmination of Lit Quake (which is the largest literary festival on the West coast). The Write On, Mamas! have now decided to publish a book. It is going to be an Anthology of how they all started writing and why they continue to write. There are really interesting stories, from one mom who writes about the abuses to women in Congo, to another who writes about when your kids have left home. They already have an agent who is interested in their project and a high profile editor who will help them with their book. But in order to publish this book, they need more help. The Write On, Mamas! have started an Indiegogo Campaign to raise funds for this project. They have already raised more than 30% of their goal of $15,000, but they need more help, and for as little as $25 you can get the first level of the different Perks they offer. The campaign ends on November 14, but even if you are not able to give any money, you can really help them by just going to their Indigogo campaign page and sharing their link on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media. The more traffic they drive to their Indiegogo page, the more prominently their campaign will be featured on Indiegogo’s pages. So please consider making a donation or at least liking, tweeting, or sharing on Google Plus the Write On, Mamas! Indiegogo page. Thank you for helping this great group of writing moms! ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
Recently I became embroiled in arguments on a couple of blogs regarding how much authors should pay to publish their books (I’m always getting in trouble). I mentioned that the cost of professional editing, formatting, and cover design, can be in excess of a thousand dollars, and then I went on to argue that not all self-published authors could justify paying for this, and that it is acceptable to publish without meeting these requirements. I got several replies to my argument. I was told that if I did not have my book handled by professional editors, formatters, and cover designers, I was asking readers to take a risk on poor writing just because I, the author, decided to penny pinch. I was told that my mindset is what hurts the reputation of Indie authors. I was told that polishing my work can only help retain my audience. I was told that if I am putting out a product that I am asking people to buy, it is my duty to make it perfect. Let me be clear about something. If you feel your book SHOULD be perfect then yes, by all means go out and spend whatever is needed to make it so. If you feel making your book as good as possible will give you an edge when your lucky break comes along a few years down the line, then likewise go ahead. I respect this; no problem. Everyone has their strategy. Let me tell you about mine. I reason that when you are considering making an investment you always have to gauge your chances of success. Why would you spend money if you are not likely to make a profit or even recover your investment? Books can be viewed as an investment, and they are a very high risk-investment. The majority of books will not sell well, this is a fact. I wanted to publish my short stories. But as new author I had never written a book, published it, or promoted it. I felt it would be unrealistic of me to assume that my book would be a success even a modest one. Thus it was clear to me that sinking 1,000 plus dollars into a book with five stories that I would sell for $0.99 or $1.99 was a very risky proposition. I decided that I would publish my first book The Sun Zebra for free. With the help of friends I got the editing, formatting, and the cover design done. I made mistakes along the way and corrected them. My book is not “perfect,” but readers have liked it. I am proud of this. I did it without spending a single dollar on publishing the book, and I even made a modest amount of money. Now that I know more about writing, publishing, and promotion, I reason that the risk associated with publishing my next book is less. Because of this I plan to invest the money that I gained from the Sun Zebra on my next book. I plan to keep on doing this (using the gains of one book to finance the next), and if my earnings keep increasing I will be able to pay more for editing, formatting, and cover design in the future. As I wrote above, this is just my strategy. I accept that there are many other equally valid ones, and I respect them. However, I cannot agree with the notion that every new author HAS to spend a large sum of money on professional editing, formatting and cover design services for their book, with the alternative presumably being not to publish at all. This in effect sets the bar so high that we are back again to a gatekeeper model, which is what we are trying to avoid by being independent authors to begin with. What do you think about this, and what is your strategy? ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
Most authors about to self-publish their first book will probably acknowledge that it will not be a best seller. But even though many beginning authors have read countless blogs about the trials and tribulations of selling books, ask them whether they think THEIR book sales will be reasonable or acceptable as opposed to bad, and most of them will agree. The majority of these authors find out the hard way that in self-publishing bad is the norm. Why are we so optimistic about the sales of OUR book in the face of all the information out there that screams the opposite at us? This is an example of what scientist call the good news/bad news effect; which is a bias in belief formation. When people are exposed to new facts they tend to alter their beliefs less in response to negative information than to positive information. This is why beginning writers give preeminence in their minds to the examples of successful self-published writers like Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, John Locke, or Hugh Howey, and discount the stories of tens of thousands of other writers that are struggling out there to get their books noticed. This effect, of course, goes beyond writing. It is related to things as massive and complex as economic bubbles. But there is a fascinating development in this field. Scientists have identified a brain structure that is involved in the good news/bad news effect. It is called the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and we have two of them located in our brains (right and left). The left IFG has been linked to the capacity for adjusting beliefs in response to good news whereas the right IFG has been linked to the capacity for adjusting belief in response to bad news. In the majority of people the left IFG either has a greater activity and/or tends to inhibit the function of the right IFG. This makes it less likely that individuals will change their beliefs in response to bad news. In a recent experiment scientists asked a group of subjects to list what their odds were of experiencing 40 adverse life effects (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease, robbery, etc.). The individuals were then presented with the real probabilities of experiencing these events (good or bad news), and they were asked to list their odds of these events again. This way the scientists gauged whether these persons changed their beliefs in response to this new information (positive or negative). The researchers found that the individuals exhibited the usual good news/bad news effect (i.e. they changed their belief less in response to bad news). Then the scientists combined this experimental protocol with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). TMS has the effect of temporarily disrupting the functioning of the brain area that it targets. When they disrupted the functioning of the left IFG the researchers found that this allowed the right IFG to become more dominant. Individuals so treated tended to change their beliefs more in response to bad news. By this selective disruption the scientists modified the bias in belief formation in the human brain. They eliminated the good news/bad news effect! This study cements the notion that the “set point” in our brains seems to be hard wired to dismiss negative information rather than modify our beliefs (i.e. we learn less from bad news). But this study also raises the intriguing possibility that this behavior can be changed. So, should beginning authors endeavor to develop a realistic pessimistic outlook of their publishing success? Should they perhaps even consider getting their left IFG zapped by TMS to be better able to do this? I think that “keeping your feet on the ground” is a good thing. But fully grasping how high the odds of failure are can have a stifling effect on individual initiative. Maybe the only way for a few to reach the highest heights is for countless thousands to fall short trying. That may the price society has to pay to generate dreams that motivate people to action. Perhaps new authors are better served by following the age old maxim: hope for the best but prepare for the worst. What do you think?
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Author Kristen Lamb wrote a great post on her website entitled: How Self-Publishing has Helped All Writers–Welcome to the Revolution. You can click on the link to read it, but what caught my attention was a particular section where she discusses how many writers linger forever making their book more and more perfect, and how the self-publishing revolution is teaching writers that they should “let go.” She writes: “One of the largest barriers to becoming a successful writer is trying to be a perfect writer.” This is something that rang a bell with me because it is a thought I have been trying to convey in many of my posts. The plain and simple truth of self-publishing is that the vast majority of books will not be a success: at best they will have modest sales. Therefore, if your goal is to actually sell books, spending years and years writing one will just not cut it. The only business paradigm that makes sense in self-publishing for the average author is to build the “long tail.” What is that? The long tail is the concept that you can derive a substantial amount of profit from selling items that don’t sell much as long as you sell enough of them. Imagine that you write two books a year (and nowadays many people will tell you that anything less than that is “slacking”). In five years you will have accumulated 10 books. If each book sells say 40 copies a year, then your ten books are selling a combined 400 copies per year. On the other hand if you write one book every 5 years and it also sells 40 copies a year… get my drift? Another thing to remember is that the success of a book does not depend only on how good it is. Rewriting a book over and over to make it better will not necessarily make it sell more. The success of a book is part art and part voodoo. Nobody has a formula that works reliably. The reality, again, is that most books will not “catch on” and sell like hotcakes no matter how well written they are. Of course we hope that every now and then we will write a book that sells exceptionally well, and having this hope is fine. But the chances that this will happen will be increased if you write a large number of books. Finally there are two more considerations. The first one is that each book that you write counts as advertisement that will make you better known among potential readers. The second is that if the tenth book you write hits the big time, your readers will want to read more. Having nine more books on your shelf for them to buy is a great advantage. On the other hand if you only have that one book you will have, as the surfers say, “missed the wave.” So put all of the above together and what do we have? Self-publishing favors the prolific writer. And this goes back to what Kristen wrote. You are doing yourself a disservice by trying to be perfect. Yes you read that correctly. The important thing is for you is to put out those books. Do not, of course, interpret this as a license to be sloppy. Clearly your writing needs to have a certain level of competence, but the take home message is: don’t let perfection slow you down. This is even more justifiable if you publish e-books, which can easily be modified (in case a reader points out a mistake) and republished in no time at all. For many the above is not easy. I myself tend to be one of those “perfectionists.” I get really annoyed when someone finds a mistake I missed. Couple this with the fact that I don’t write very fast and that I don’t have a lot of time for writing, and you see how this is a problem for me. But I am trying my best to be more imperfect because it’s the road to success! Are you imperfect or trying your darnest to be imperfect? Please leave a comment and let us know. ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
As many of you probably know the Department of Justice (DOJ) has sued Apple and 5 of the big six publishers for collusion to keep prices of e-books artificially high. Now that the case is getting close to a settlement, the Author’s Guild has jumped into the fray with a letter directed to the DOJ where they blast Amazon for its business practices and criticize the proposed settlement. Who is this group? According to their website “The Authors Guild has been the published writer's advocate for effective copyright, fair contracts, and free expression since 1912.” This claim confused me. Does this mean they have been criticizing traditional publishers for the lopsided contracts and meager royalties they impose on writers? The answer is no. Now that Amazon has demonstrated to the world how e-books can be published faster and cheaper earning authors greater royalties and giving readers lower priced books, this “Author’s Guild” has come out from under its rock to defend the inefficiency and unfairness of traditional publishing, and the way in which these publishers colluded with Apple and each other to keep the prices of e-books artificially high when e-books should cost less. I share their concern about Amazon taking over the market but I cannot sanction stupidity and unwillingness to evolve. Those businesses that don’t adapt to new realities, compete hard, and reward their clients should not be protected from those that do. Consider the following example that I have written about here before. Traditional publishers did not want to make their e-books available for lending at public libraries because, get this: it was too easy for readers to borrow books! I’m not kidding you. They were concerned that readers who were not “inconvenienced” enough would turn into borrowers and not buy enough books thus cutting into the publisher’s profits. Well Amazon kept making their e-books available for lending at public libraries and guess what? A new study by the Pew Internet and American Life project has revealed that e-book borrowers are also avid e-book buyers with 41% of them saying they bought the last book they read. While this rate is lower than the larger population of e-book readers (55%), it is not the profit busting nightmare that traditional publishers were concerned about. Those companies that have the vision to see the future should be rewarded with it, not their slower dimwitted competitors. Personally, I cannot complain about Amazon. They have provided me with the platform to become a self-published author, they pay me 35% on e-books under $2.99 and 70% on those above, and with the KDP Select program they have given me a powerful tool to promote my books. They have also made e-books available to me and other readers at the lower cost these books should have compared to print books. But, being an author, I was curious as to what the Author’s Guild had to offer me. However, before learning about all the wonderful things they could do for me, I checked the eligibility criteria to join the guild and I found out that: “Self-published works and works published by subsidy presses do not qualify an author for membership.” Well…just substitute “guild” for “job” in the video below. ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
The master has died. He changed the world with his fiction giving us visions of alternate realities that exposed the folly of our own, while at the same time making us dream of futures full of adventure, discovery, and wonder.
In this video he reads his poem “If Only We Had Taller Been.”
The fence we walked between the years did balance us serene.
It was a place half in the sky wearing the green of leaf and promising of peach.
We’d reach our hand and touch and almost touch the sky.
If we could reach and touch we said, it would teach us not to, never to, be dead.
We ached and almost touched that stuff; our reach was never quite enough.
If only we had taller been and touched god’s cuff, his, his hem.
We would not have to go with them who’ve gone before,
who short as us stood tall as they could stand,
and hoped by stretching, tall, that they might keep their land,
their home, their hearth, their flesh and soul,
but they like us were standing in a hole.
Oh Thomas, will a race one day stand really tall?
Across the void, across the universe and all,
and measured out with rocket fire,
at last put Adam’s finger forth; as on the Sistine ceiling,
and God’s hand come down the other way, to measure man,
and find him good, and gift him with forever’s day?
I work for that, short man, large dream.
I send my rockets forth between my ears,
hoping an inch of good is worth a pound of years.
Aching to hear a voice cry back along the universal mall,
“We’ve reached Alpha Centauri.. We’re tall... Oh God, we’re tall!”
Rest in peace Ray. We will miss you.
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.