Writers and Books and the Chain of Happiness

HAPPY! HAPPY!

For those following the evolution of publishing and assorted matters, blogger JW Manus has an excellent post, What Does A Self-Publishing Service REALLY Do?, riffing off the previous post by author David Gaughran, “The Author Exploitation Business,” which I shared last week:

In Traditional Publishing, the Chain of Happiness works like this:

  • WRITER has to make the EDITOR happy
  • EDITOR has to make higher-up editors, the marketing department and the accountants happy
  • Higher-up editors have to make MARKETING happy
  • The marketing department has to make REVIEWERS and the NEW YORK TIMES book editor happy
  • The sales department has to make BOOK STORES happy
  • Everybody has to make the PUBLISHER happy
  • The PUBLISHER has to make the STOCKHOLDERS and BOARD OF DIRECTORS happy

Contrast that with the indie’s Chain of Happiness:

  • WRITER has to make the READERS happy

Notice what’s missing in the first chain of happiness? If you said “readers,” give yourself a gold star. If that list gives you some hints about why traditional publishing is in such disarray and why some self-publishers are succeeding beyond almost everybody’s expectations, give yourself another star.

And yes, I know there are many traditionally published books that make readers very happy. The point I’m making is about focus and priorities. With most publishers, and especially the Big Publishing Houses, reader happiness is a side effect, not a priority.

A compelling idea, and an accurate one.

The rest of her piece is likewise very compelling,and not just about self-publishing services. Read it here.

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Caveat Author: The Author Exploitation Business

Greedy Penguin

I’ve mentioned Penguin’s self-publishing scam before. In this blog post, novelist David Gaughran takes the publisher to task in much more detail. I’d say this is essential and important reading for any writer working in, or wanting to break into, the business these days.

And it’s not just Penguin, either. Many of the beloved traditional publishers, those stalwart protectors of lit’rature, nurturers of authors, are engaging in these practices. Go. Read. Remember.

And spread the word.

The Author Exploitation Business

Tim Vs. Traditional Publishing

don quixote

Clarification time.

A friend and writer who I like and respect posted a status on Facebook this morning which referenced the indisputable fact that “there are a lot of dreadful books being produced” by self-publishers. I commented, “There are a lot of dreadful books being published by major publishers, and they sell them for a hell of a lot more money.”

He replied, starting by saying, “I actually expected this comment from you so much that I was going to write it for you right beneath my post.”

Which made me think. Am I that predictable? Am I that partisan, in the “battle” between traditional publishers (and traditionally published writers) and self published writers?

I’ve written quite a bit here and elsewhere about my experiences being traditionally published, and my decision to go indie. I’ve posted at length about the flaws in the traditional model and the strengths of the new one. I am absolutely pro-self publishing. But am I anti-traditional publishing?

No. I would say, rather, that I am pro-writer. And a writer’s first responsibility should be to himself and his work. He should choose the path, or paths, that best serve that responsibility, and whatever path he chooses, godspeed.

In the current ecosystem, I do think self publishing is a much more beneficial path for authors to take. Though it is a lot of hard work and there are no guarantees, if you build your audience (which all authors have to do), the potential gains  are much greater than those to be enjoyed via traditional venues. Unless you are one of those very rare writers who gets big advances and actual promotion and support from a traditional publisher, you aren’t even a respected cog in the great machine. Your opinions are of little value, you have little say in the presentation or promotion of your own books (not that they will be promoted), the pay is terrible, and they will drop you in a hummingbird’s heartbeat if you  miss sales goals by even a hair. And they won’t even miss you.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Publishers can (and should) change their SOP, finding ways to actually nurture the talent on whose backs these companies ride. As I’ve pointed out before, everybody who works on your book gets a good salary and full benefits except you. The writer is Cinderella, scraping the floor clean for her step-sisters in publishing to walk on. But, again, it doesn’t have to be this way.

That may sound anti-traditional, but it’s actually loving critique. I love the book business. My experience with Putnam wasn’t a nightmare, it just wasn’t very satisfying or lucrative. I want the book business, at all levels, to thrive. I just want publishers to start treating writers the way they ought to be treated. Writers are the dream makers, they should at least get a bigger cut of the dream.

The Imminent Return of Doc Wilde

DOC WILDE AND THE FROGS OF DOOM

Whew. Finally.

Months later than originally announced, artist Gary Chaloner and I are almost ready to release the new improved edition of Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom under the banner of Outlaw Moon Books. The book layout and design are done, most of the art is ready, and the remaining art is done and inked with just a bit of toning to finish it up. And it all looks beautiful. Gary has really knocked it out of the park, and I can’t wait to see what he does on the next book. (I’ve shared some of the art, in various stages of completion, in this album on Facebook, but there’s still a lot that no one has seen yet).

For those new to our saga, this novel is the first in an all-ages series of high adventure novels which I initially published with Penguin/Putnam. They contracted me for the first three, with more to follow, and published Frogs of Doom back in 2009. For various reasons I’ve covered at length on this blog, I then opted to negotiate my way out of my contracts, pulling Frogs from print and regaining full rights to all the books, in order to take advantage of the new self-publishing ecosystem to release the books in a nicer format, fully illustrated by Gary, with full creative control.

This new edition of Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom is not only gorgeously illustrated by an incredible artist, it contains my “Author’s Cut,” preferred (and expanded) version of the text. It is in every way superior to the first edition, and I’m excited to be able to share the book in the form I originally intended.

I have been helped along the way by a sizable group of angels who supported my Kickstarter nearly a year ago, providing funds to aid us in producing books of a quality not just matching the job Putnam did with the Wildes, but radically improving on it. They have cheerfully and stalwartly remained positive through months of delay and setback, and I’m humbled and grateful and thrilled to finally be able to give them something back.

So, when is the book due? ETA: any time now. And this time, it’s for reals.

HURRAY!

Regarding Harper Voyager’s Submission Portal

Harper Voyager has put out a short-term call for unagented submissions:

Yes, it’s true! We are delighted to announce an exciting joint venture that will offer talented aspiring writers the chance to join our global science fiction and fantasy imprint.

The submission portal, http://www.harpervoyagersubmissions.com, will be open from the 1st to the 14th of October 2012. The manuscripts will then be read and those most suited to the global Harper Voyager list will be selected jointly by editors in the USA, UK and Australia.  Accepted submissions will benefit from the full publishing process: accepted manuscripts will be edited; and the finished titles will receive online marketing and sales support in World English markets.

Voyager will be seeking an array of adult and young adult speculative fiction for digital publication, but particularly novels written in the epic fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, dystopia and supernatural genres.

See? The impact of ebooks and Amazon is having yet another positive effect on the publishing ecosystem for writers: a big publisher is actually open to unagented submissions (imagine that) if only for a limited time (two weeks, feh), with the successful submissions going on to be released digitally.

It’s an obvious attempt to adapt, which is to be respected (and hopefully emulated by other publishers), though I would look VERY closely at any contract they offer, particularly as regards the royalties paid (this is a royalty only deal, no advance), lifespan of the agreement (since it’s all-digital, it’d be all too easy for Harper to keep books “in print” forever and lock in a paltry royalty), and attendant rights (this is digital only, but do they restrict the authors from taking full advantage of print and other rights?). I’d also look for guarantees of some real level of promotion and marketing; if they’re just going to throw the books out there like they usually do, with little or no actual support, the author is gaining very little beyond short term gain (mainly editorially, and perhaps in cover design) for long term commitment that will no doubt pay most of its profits back to Harper.

I suspect new authors are better off doing it themselves, but for those who can only believe in their abilities if they’re officially allowed to join the club, it’s good that more opportunities are starting to appear. Thank Amazon: publishers know they have to stay viable, and that they have to start recruiting more raw talent (a lot of established writers will be leaving their houses over time to do things themselves) and taking full advantage of digital platforms. But if the authors are getting anything less than at least 50% of the profits, they’re not doing themselves much of a favor by going this route.

Fear of a Writing Planet: On John Green, Self-Publishing, and Amazon

A thoughtful post by novelist John Green is making the rounds today regarding self-publishing and Amazon:

I wanted to criticize Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, because I felt that in his introduction of the new kindles, Bezos repeatedly peddled the lie that a book is created by one person, and that therefore a book’s author should be the sole entity to profit from the sale of the book. (Aside, of course, from Amazon itself.)

Bezos and Amazon are consistent in their promotion of this lie, because it encourages the idea that the publishing landscape today is bloated and inefficient and that there is a better, cheaper way to do it—a way where all books can cost $1.99 with most of that $1.99 going to the author. Readers and writers both win then, right?

Well, no. Because the truth is, most good books are NOT created solely by one person: Editors and publishers play a tremendously important role not just in the distribution of books, but in the creation of them…Without copyeditors and proofreaders, my books would be riddled with factual and grammatical errors that would pull you out of the story and give you a less immersive reading experience. Publishers add value, and lots of it, and without them the overall quality and diversity of books will suffer.

Unfortunately, as fair-minded as Green obviously tries to be, at least toward self-publishing in general if not toward Amazon, he falls into the same trap a lot of defenders of traditional publishing fall into. He assumes that the current publishing infrastructure isn’t replicable within a self-publishing paradigm. This is flatly untrue. Continue reading

Are Self-Published Books Crap?

I really do wish this self-publishing ebook market would implode. It’s loaded to the gills with idiots, fools, and just by-Jove lousy writing. The purveyors of this monstrosity are, quite frankly, a bunch of jerks. I hope they all get ass-cancer and die horrible, painful deaths.

Thus spake writer James Robert Smith on his blog a while back. There are quite a few folks out there who share his view, and Smith often posts this sort of thoughtful musing about self published books and the presumably malignant souls who write them. Because what could be more malignant than putting out a book that inspires some good man to wish you get ass cancer and die an agonizing death?

To be fair, there is a great deal of utter crap being self-published, and unless you act as a rational consumer you can drown in it. But if you exercise roughly the same amount of care it takes in a bookstore to find something worth reading among the stacks of largely mediocre books, you can largely avoid buying shitty books.

Look at the cover; if it looks crappy, the author didn’t bother with doing better, and odds are the same holds for the writing. Read the reviews; yes, there are some slimy writers out there gaming the review system, but overall it’s still useful. Finally, before committing to buy, make sure you download the free reading sample offered by online vendors; if the writer can’t write, you’re gonna know that very quickly. Then, please, whatever your opinion of the book, review it on the site, even if you only write a few lines. A good review will help a writer who entertained you; a bad review will help warn others away.

It’s a time of great change in publishing, and self-publishing is the wild west. But it’s actually great for writers, and for readers, as I’ve written about on this blog (check the “Publishing” category in the sidebar), most notably here.

Here’s a thought experiment for you: Continue reading