Showing posts with label self-publishing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label self-publishing. Show all posts

24 June 2019

The Times, They Are A-changing


by Steve Liskow

Some time ago, I pointed out that writers have to change with the industry, especially if they're self-pubbed.

About ten years ago, I attended a conference where an agent warned the audience that he and his colleagues wouldn't even look at submissions from writers who had self-published. At that time, prevailing wisdom said writers were self-pubbed because their work couldn't meet industry standards.

Mystery writer Joe Konrath and others disputed that claim, saying they were treated badly by the traditional monopoly and could make more money on their own. That argument gained weight when NYT bestseller Barry Eisler turned down a half-million-dollar advance from his traditional house and began publishing his books himself. It's worth noting that because of his successful track record, Eisler had thousands of followers, an advantage the average writer can't claim.

Everything influences everything else, and sometimes that's not a good thing. Self-publishing continues to grow, and it takes a substantial bite out of traditional sales. Last year, nearly a million self-published books appeared. Even if they each only sold one copy, that's a million books that the Big Five didn't sell, and it affects their bottom line.

Traditional markets have consolidated or disappeared. Since there are fewer paying markets, the remaining ones are swamped, for short stories as well as novels. Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine receives over 1000 submissions a week. Even if you read only the first page, 1000 minutes is over 16 hours, which means the slush pile grows more quickly than the rejection letters can go out.

The numbers hamper novelists, too. There are five independent book stores within thirty miles of my condo, and while they all say they support local writers, they do it by charging fees for shelf space and offering consignment splits that range from generous to usurious. They have two reasons for this.



First, self-pubbed authors won't offer the same 60% discount and free shipping and returns for a full refund that traditional publishers do. Bookstores need that break...unless they can stage an event that guarantees lots of sales. If it rains, snows, is too hot, or another event nearby falls on the same day, audience may not show up. a large audience doesn't mean large sales anyway.

Second, traditional publishers take manuscripts that have already been vetted by an agent and will edit them professionally, maybe more than once. It's no longer true that all self-pubbed books are terrible (see Eisler, above), but the only way to find the good ones is to read them. How long would you need to read one million pages to make your choice?

Most libraries follow the same reasoning. I offer a discount and free delivery for libraries that order several of my books, but few accept my offer because their guidelines in the face of annual budget cuts insist they focus on Lee Child and Stephen King because they know the demand is there. It makes sense, but it deprives the patrons of finding new authors to enjoy.

I suggest to those libraries that they buy digital copies of my work because the price is lower and people can borrow several copies simultaneously. That's not making headway either, but I'm trying to offer more options so my work gets read. Besides, if more people read my stuff, I might get more workshop gigs. Those have tapered off because of those same budget cuts.  I'm finding new venues and splitting fees, but nobody is making out like Charlie Sheen here.

If your book is on a shelf somewhere, it needs an eye-catching cover. My cover designer does brilliant work. He's also my largest set expense, and I'm not selling enough books at events to break even.

More change...More adjustments...

My next novel, due out at the end of this year, will probably be my last paper book.

I have four stories at various markets and four more in progress. By the end of the year, I may be releasing the unsold stories in digital format. I'm studying GIMP so I can design my own covers.

When you're a writer, you always live in interesting times.

What are you doing differently now?

12 December 2016

Living the Dream: Self-Publishing II


by Steve Liskow

Last time, I discussed the potential slings and arrows of publishing yourself. If you're not used to the publishing jungle, it may have sounded pretty bleak, so now let's look at the positive side. This is what keeps me going.

Whatever you're giving up monetarily (which is impossible to gauge with any accuracy), you gain two things that outweigh almost everything else: Control and Flexibility.

If you self-publish, it really is your book, the one you envisioned and struggled for. If you worked hard and took workshops and got good advice, you have something you can display and sell proudly. You don't have to split with your agent or anyone else, and you can keep track of your own royalties and expenses. I work with Create Space, and their reporting is timely and clear. They also offer a much higher royalty and lower price for author copies than traditional publishers do.

Control and flexibility matter. I've abandoned three novels. I was only about 60 pages into one and was blocking up, which is always a red flag for me. I stepped back and realized that the two major premises contradicted each other and that without both of them the book didn't work. I put it aside. Later, I recycled several of the characters with minor changes and they appeared in The Kids Are All Right, my fourth Zach Barnes novel. That book was a finalist for the Shamus Award for Best Indie Novel and appeared about two and a half years after the earlier version got shelved.

If I'd abandoned a book for a traditional publisher, the seas would run red. The worst case is that the publisher would cancel my contract because I failed to deliver a MS on time. The best case is that the cover artist, editors, marketing, and everyone else would have been thrown into limbo and the production would have lost anywhere from one to three years. But with no contract and no deadline, I simply turned to my next project and came back to re-think this one later.

I was nearly 200 pages into a book late in 2014 when I decided the subplots didn't have enough at stake to justify their existence. Two year later, I reworked the premise and have completed a third draft that works much better. But that two years would have ended my career with a traditional publisher. Fortunately, I had other rejected works I could re-visit.

When you're your own boss, you determine the deadlines without several other people depending on you. If you have material ready to go, you don't have to wait for months until that traditional publisher decides to release something else so it "doesn't conflict" with your current release.

You also have control over your covers. My cover artist and I worked together in theater for years, so we know how to talk to each other. He does terrific work, and I like my covers better than many that I see at Barnes and Noble. They're different and they stand out. They also give a hint of what the story is about, unlike the generic urban skyline or girl in distress tropes.

When I finally decided to self-publish, I had six novels with a total of nearly 350 rejections in one form or another. Two of them will never see the light of day because subsequent revision changed them so much--and for the better. But I could tinker with the others, send them to beta readers, incorporate their suggestions, and send them out when everyone agreed they were ready. Once I decided to make the leap, I released four novels in about eleven months, two only slightly revised from the most recent agent rejection. Another was a re-edited version of my one traditional book, and another was heavily revised from an earlier series that didn't sell. Maybe I'll tell you about that some day.

Just to be fair, we should talk about traditional publishing, too. I have many negative perceptions and biases here, based on several years of being ignored, insulted, and generally screwed. I can't imagine any reason I would try to place a novel with a traditional publisher now, and I don't think anyone over the age of forty--maybe younger than that--should bother to fight the gatekeepers.

Publishers seldom give an advance now, and even if they do, it may not be more than four figures. It's apt to be for three books, all of which have to be delivered to them in a form they deem satisfactory. You have no vote. If they don't like a rewrite, or you're a few days late, they can cancel your contract. You may not get a cent, and now your name is out there as someone who doesn't deliver.

Those publishers do little or no promoting now, and may tell you that's your job. You'll get no money or reimbursement for anything you do--business cards, travel, whatever--and you'd be doing the same things if you self-published. They also send out fewer advance reading copies for critics (what few real critics still exist), and buy fewer ads in influential newspapers. If your first book doesn't sell in spite of this lack of publicity, they'll do even less for the next one, and may even cancel your contract.

(Since you do your own promotion, scour the Internet to find the best sites for bookmarks, business cards, and anything else you want to use. I like Vistaprint for my business cards and Gotprint for my bookmarks, but there are many others that may fit your needs better.)

Traditional publishers may tell you to hire an editor at your own expense. Traditional editors have evolved (or devolved) from the Maxwell Perkins template of decades ago into marketing liaisons. They help  the firm decide how to package you and write the cover blurbs. You may or may not have any say in this. You are far less likely to have a vote on your cover, and most traditional covers now fall into one of three or four basic templates.

If you sell enough books to earn through the advance, you may receive royalty payments every three, six, or even twelve months. In the meantime, you have to be writing that second and third book, which will be published an average of eighteen months after you turn them in. Your royalty rate will be somewhere around ten percent of the cover price, and you may or may not be able to order books for your events at a discount. If you can, those books may or may not be credited as "sales" for more royalties. Bookstores get those same books at a sixty percent discount and can return any unsold copies to the publisher (who pays the shipping both ways!) for a full refund. Those returns count against your sales and your value to the company.

The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are 1 in 292,000,000. Your chances of making it big as a writer are better, but only slightly.

I love writing short stories, but because I now spend so much time editing, formatting, and promoting the novels, I've written far fewer of them since I began self-publishing. John Floyd wrote a great discussion of short stories and where to sell them on this blog a few weeks ago and it's worth checking out if you missed it the first time around.

My short stories have won a fairly prestigious award (twice), been short-listed for three others, and been named a finalist for the Edgar Award. Agents and editors no longer pay attention to such things, so I'm still self-pubbing. In fact, I'll publish a collection of those stories in spring of 2017. It may not sell many copies, but through Create Space, I have no initial outlay. I can buy the books for roughly a third of my cover price and it costs nothing to convert the book to an eBook, which can earn a royalty of from 35 to 70 percent. I don't even have to order any copies if I don't need them for an event.

Granted, it's not financing the beachfront property in Bermuda, but it beats a poke in the eye with a rusty nail.

Over the last few months, I've discovered that many local libraries only have a few of my novels, so I approach them individually and point out that if they buy the books through Amazon (Create Space is allied with Amazon), they'll have to pay shipping, usually $3.99 per book. I offer to order the books myself and deliver them. If they want several titles, I negotiate a discount. Again, it's not high finance, but it gets my books into libraries where readers can find them and it puts a few more dollars in my pocket.

When libraries like me, they're more apt to hire me to conduct my writing workshops, too, which gives me another chance to sell even more books.

When it's really your book, you can be flexible so everyone wins. That makes all the effort worthwhile.

21 November 2016

Dreaming the Life: Self-Publishing Part I


by Steve Liskow

Before I say anything else, if you don't already know this, no legitimate publisher will charge you money up front to publish your work. If someone offers you a deal that involves you paying first, walk away. Once your book is available, you should be able to order as many or as few copies as you want at a discounted price, too. If that's not the case, look somewhere else. These are called vanity presses, and a few in particular have given self-publishing authors a bad name.

Several years ago, Laura Lippman commented that many people ask the wrong question. Instead of asking "How can I get my book published?" she suggested that the better question is "Is my book ready to be published?" While self-publishing doesn't carry the stigma it did ten years ago when those vanity presses ran rampant, you need to work a lot harder if you decide to publish yourself. Find a good editor and conscientious beta readers. Take their advice. Yes, it costs money, and you won't break even financially, but you may produce a book you can show proudly. If you're really lucky, a handful of readers will tell you so, too.

Five years ago, someone asked me if I'd considered self-publishing and I laughed. But things change. As I write this, I have eleven self-published novels available and plan to release two more in the next year or so (I publish short stories through traditional markets).

A small publisher produced my first novel in spring of 2010, but I knew my WIP set in the world of roller derby was too long and too dark for that publisher's catalog. By the time Who Wrote the Book of Death? appeared in print, I was already looking elsewhere.

I pitched The Whammer Jammers to an agent at Crime Bake in November of 2010. She asked for a full MS and rejected it about a month later. Between January and April 2011, I submitted that MS to fifty other agents in groups of ten every four weeks. The book became a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest and earned a positive review from Publisher's Weekly, but I couldn't sell it. Six years later, I still have seventeen unanswered queries.

That spring, I joined a panel of local authors for a presentation and everyone else self-published. Two of them had been with prestigious firms and left for various reasons. They all urged me to go it alone and one mentioned Create Space. When I checked it out, I was leery, but as more rejections came in, I investigated more fully.

Then I met an actor and designer who created posters for a dozen plays I had directed in a past life and we talked about book covers. He looked at my existing cover and explained how he would change it and why--very specifically. I told him about The Whammer Jammers and three weeks later he showed me a mock-up. I published the book in September of that year, ended my association with my previous publisher a month later, and re-edited and published the first book only weeks after that. By then I was revising two other novels that had collected fifty rejections between them (but positive feedback). I even found established writers to blurb them.

None of that should mean anything to you. That is my journey and my decision, but yours may be different. Self-publishing has advantages and disadvantages, and you need to consider them carefully.

First, you are in charge of everything. You write, you edit,
you draft the cover copy, you oversee the cover design, you develop the promotion, you arrange for the blurbs, you format, you publish, you register the copyright, and you arrange your own events. Maybe you even run your own website. If you're very organized and like keeping control--and actually have expertise in all these areas--it's OK. But the multi-tasking means less time for your primary job, which is to write books.

Whether you know spelling and grammar or not, you need beta readers. I belong to the Guppy (acronym for the Great UnPublished) chapter of Sisters in Crime because they feature manuscript swaps for critiques. You need editing, too. I do most of that myself, but my beta readers are writers and editors. I do my own formatting for Create Space because I figured out an easy visual style that eliminates hassles with different headers and footers, but I have little visual or graphic sense.

Fortunately, my cover designer and I worked together in theater long enough to figure out how to communicate with each other. We live about ten miles apart so we can discuss a synopsis or images in person. That's very helpful. My designer also has a good eye and ear for language and we work together on cover copy--along with my webmistress, my daughter with a double Masters in Communications and Marketing. My wife used to write advertising copy for radio, so she's a huge asset, too.

Ignore what you see on the Internet. Nobody has yet found a one-size-fits-all method of promoting, whether it's Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, blogs, or anything else. Your friends can come to events and buy books, but asking them to review is risky because most of them don't know enough about reading or writing to craft a review that doesn't look bogus. In the October 28, 2016 issue of Publishers Weekly, longtime agent Peter Riva tells why he thinks Amazon reviews are worthless anyway. I have business cards and bookmarks because I also conduct fiction writing workshops and edit fiction. I know thirty librarians on a first-name basis, but that doesn't mean they can get me into their building. Funding for libraries is diminishing like common sense during election campaigns.

If you conduct workshops, the preparation and promotion also take you away from your "real" writing.

If you're self-published, many established authors will not blurb you. For some, it's a philosophical issue, and for others it's a contractual one. I was lucky to get a few blurbs for early novels because I met many members of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America (I appear on panels for both groups) at events, but I ran out of connections. Six of my last seven novels bear no blurb.

Remember that if you've self-published, most agents and traditional publishing houses may treat you like toxic waste if you query them later. I don't agree or disagree, but that's how it is. I've heard of self-pubbed authors (generally very young) getting picked up by major houses, but what have they produced since then? Amanda Hocking comes to mind.

Self-published authors have trouble getting publicity. My local newspaper, the Hartford Courant, has gutted its staff and is owned by the Tribune. That means it's edited in Chicago and local news is low priority. The reviewer who used to support local authors now sees her work trimmed or deleted. She used to promote my events, but last year I couldn't even get mentioned when the Private Eye Writers of America named me as a finalist for the Shamus Award.
The largest independent bookstore in Connecticut demands a payment of $125 from self-published authors for an appearance there, and they will only do a fifty-fifty consignment split. I would have to bring the books with me, sell seventeen just to pay that fee, and take the unsold copies with me again.

Most bookstores won't carry your books because they can't get the same distributor's discount and free returns they have with traditional publishers. Your book will cost them more to buy, and if you bring your own, they get a smaller percentage from the sale price (see above). That hurts their margin so they probably can't afford you. Maybe you can make a special deal with your local store, but maybe not.

Those are the shortcomings I've discovered so far. Sound bleak? Well, maybe, but next time, we'll look at the advantages. I think those outweigh the problems.


09 September 2012

Locke and Leather


by Leigh Lundin

Consider this paragraph by Edward Tenner in The Atlantic:
If you were trying to discredit [the] self-publishing model aimed at eliminating conventional publishers as obsolete “gatekeepers,” relying instead on crowd-sourced reviews, what would you do? Here’s a thought: Why not work from within?
The sentiment hints at the deep resentment, distrust, and paranoia 'self-pubbers' harbor against the establishment, traditional publishing, 'gatekeepers' being a pejorative term for editors and publishers who, in the eyes of vanity press proponents, refuse to recognize truly great works of literature. But more than that, the article documents a few authors manipulating the publishing industry.

City of Lies
Some time back, Stephen Kelner and I among others took part in a LinkedIn discussion about self-publishing 'democratization', another code word aimed at wrenching righteous control from the publishing barons. Respected reputable authors thought it scandalous that fly-by-night entrepreneurs offered 'positive reviews' for sale, but self-pubbers, many who put in days, even weeks of labor (oops, my sarcasm is dripping), saw nothing wrong and everything right with buying positive reviews, part of their weaponry in their battle to bring down the giant publishing industry conspiracy. Why risk a tough but possibly honest reviewer like Liz Bourke?

Some paid reviewers advertise blatantly, but other don't. It's not unusual to see 'full service' self-publishing consultants and some of these include positive reviews as part of their services packages.

But wait… there's more. Once mainline publishers understood what the vanity press knew all along– that some people will pay actual money for the privilege of being seen in print– publishers began to cash in. Harlequin was among the first, selling their rejected authors on the pay-to-publish idea. The RWA and MWA forced them to alter their business model– they now outsource that end of their business– but the profit motive is still there. Kirkus and Amazon followed– they sell reviews although they don't guarantee a happy result like Darcie Chan's.

It turns out many of the so-called indie self-pubbers were shocked, shocked I tell you, that vanity presses don't provide the publicity and marketing like the big houses that they worked so hard to bring to their knees. Publishing houses were worse than ever suspected– surely there had to be collusion and conspiracy if some authors were not only published for free, but were actually paid. But eBooks… eBooks could set you free. As Christopher Moore said,
[T]he eBook business was never about books. It hides in the book world; wants to be accepted as a book world that readers and authors can trust.

In Review

Not so long ago, romance author and Highland Press owner Deborah MacGillivray built up a Yahoo group called Ladies in Waiting whose purpose was to promote MacGillivray's novels and trash naysayers. The group used 'clickies' to deride any negative or even tepid Amazon reviews, triggering Amazon's computers to nullify the mildest of critical reviewers and disable their accounts.

Griffin
Romance author Emily Giffin (the one who whines about being only #2 on the New York Times Bestseller List) and her clan reportedly attacked a couple of reviewers– one professional, one not– for daring to besmirch one of her books with 1-star reviews, then demanded the reviewers remove them for their own safety. Legions of fans began harassing reviewers to the point of death threats, yet the hubris of Griffin's response implied the fault lay with the victim– the reviewer.

I was struck by one thing that seems to have escaped the notice of most. Apparently Amazon quietly de-linked those reviews. Was it to protect the reviewers or protect sales of a top-selling author?

More recently, we learn John Locke, the first self-pubber to sell more than a million books on Amazon, wasn't so Indy after all. Similar to those exposed by New York Times' David Streitfeld and spotlighted by our friends Lee Goldberg and Leighton Gage, Steve Mosby, Dan Waddell, Stuart Neville, Jeri Westerson, and spy master Jeremy Duns among others, Locke paid for more than 4500 scintillating fake reviews to pave his way onto the bestsellers list. A former door-to-door salesman, Locke said,
Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful, but it’s a lot easier to buy them than cultivating an audience.
Like Kevin Wignall, my greater concern isn't about Locke buying votes who merely manipulated the system, it's the playground bullying of MacGillivray and Griffin, authors who've come to represent the darkest side of this new world of ePublishing.

Bestseller Switch back to the UK where literary bury-your-critics has become a rampant low art form, symbolized by historian Orlando Figes. Yet another scandal is brewing. Top best-selling author Stephen Leather not only admits to fabricating positive reviews for his own novel, some allege he set up shell reviewers ('socks') to trash competitors while others accuse him of relentlessly bullying those who got in his way. The modus operandi isn't unlike suspicions leveled against Roger J. Ellory and Matt Lynn, the latter a business journalist who should know better.

I don't know the men and I hope the accusations are wrong, but I smell a cesspool when a stench reaches my nostrils. As much as I detest vanity presses that exploit desperate wannabees, at least CreateSpace, AuthorHouse, and PublishAmerica offer a seamless if hollow illusion of being published. Clients who consider themselves ground-breaking 'indies' must comprehend they're preyed upon even as they dream they're striking blows for that illusive 'democratization', in what author David Hewson calls the 'phony revolution'. The successful don't buy one review, they buy thousands, then, if they don't like tepid reviews, they kick the crap out of critics.

Some in the self-pub trenches will be disappointed, but others will say, "Damn! So that's how it's done!" While bad reviews can be disturbing, they don't have to be a death sentence. Jason Boog surveyed bestsellers, some with up to hundreds of 1-star reviews, with surprising results.

Stephen Leather
Stephen Leather
Peculiarly to many of us, Leather and his ilk not only seem unfazed by the revelations, but they appear proud of their accomplishments. To bring out the buying fools, they seed the mines with fool's gold and kneecap challengers. They aren't so much sock-puppets as puppet-masters. As they pointed out, their efforts might be unethical, but they aren't illegal– they're calculated business decisions. All they did was ruthlessly manipulate a willing market to 'create a buzz' and become tax-paying millionaires.

This rough, raw, rapacious law of the land isn't about the books. It's about connivers who, in the words of Christopher Moore, have become 'superior tribe accumulators'. They bought a larger tribe, and the rest of us fail to understand:
[Once] books were read and admired across class, religious and political divides… writers didn’t write down to their audience. And that audience was book orientated, cohesive, and quality minded. In their day, books were an important part of the intellectual domain that educated people were expected to read and expected those in their circle to read. When the content of books were the subject of conversation.

That time has gone.
Perhaps true, but still, I lament…

Fool us once, shame on them. Fool a million, shame on us. Shame.

Note: As with all articles in SleuthSayers, the above are opinions of the author based upon the latest available research and alleged actions of persons involved. Parties are considered innocent until proven otherwise.