Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

At 50,349 I claimed my eighth win in a row.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this is your reference: http://www.nanowrimo.org

And those of you who do: before you give me a shout of huzzah, consider that this has been honestly one of those years where I had no idea which way was up in terms of my writing. As I learned the very hard way when I had first started out on my journey as an author, if I do not market my books on a constant basis, I cannot hope for sales. And that caliber of marketing requires either 1. money to have someone do it, or 2. time to do so on my own.

That’s exactly my problem.

As a self-published author, I don’t have a marketing team behind me. I am extremely lucky to have a great production team in my graphic artists and editors. But as far as marketing goes, I am on my own. And that’s a problem because – as you may have gathered if you are on my Facebook page – I am extremely busy. The photography business has been evolving and growing, and has been the primary object of my attention. I have two jobs, three if you count the business. In other words, I’m lucky if I remember to breathe.

But every year, no matter how busy I get, I always carve out time for NaNoWriMo, even though by now, anyone else would have trimmed that out of the annual schedule of things to get done.

But not me.

Though this year I only knew what I wanted to write, not how I wanted to write it, was entirely too scrambled with business-related and job-related commitments to actually put thought into my story. Last night, as I wrote a critical scene to the book that I knew I’d have to rearrange and stick somewhere else much later, I had to wonder how I was going to connect the dots, since until then, I wrote the bulk of the story in order, but for that one scene. And I realized that I both missed this particular outlet of creativity – having carved the setting of my books in nothing more than my own imagination from the get-go -and really, really wished I worked on my time management better, so that I wouldn’t be so scrambled in the first place.

It also reminded me that I really need to restart and rework my marketing of my stories. Right now, my photography has excellent, fantastic exposure and a measure of respect. Could I potentially parlay jazz lovers into sci-fi lovers? Maybe. They already know I write, do they not? And I’m just as sure that $3.99 for an e-book is feasible for cost.

The truth is, though, I know very well that without NaNo, the entire concept of me as an author would just be nothing more than an errant thought, something straight of Langston Hughes’s poem A Dream Deferred. In all actuality, this challenge is primarily responsible for all my creative business in the first place. I’d have never decided to go to my first jazz show if I weren’t thoroughly sick of editing Book 1 back in March 2007; that show had resulted in the one connection that had opened every single door since. I’d have never accomplished this lifelong dream of mine of writing a series if I hadn’t decided to do NaNo time and again. I’d have never formed the friendships and connections that I formed if I wasn’t able to say, “I’m an author” and speak nothing but the truth. And I would have never gotten to half of where I got if I didn’t write in this blog too.

The habit of regular writing is something that is directly responsible for everything else. A decision to participate in NaNoWriMo had ended up evolving to things far and above greater than just writing books. And it’ll get better still, of that I’m sure.

What I’m planning on doing is this: at the end of NaNoWriMo, which is November 30th, my reformatted Book 1, with editing courtesy of Cassidy Frazee, will be available for free for five days. Link forthcoming. But on top of that, I’m doing something a lot more special: I’m also working on the release of the screenplay version of the same first book. Having experimented with script writing, I feel confident that I can release the first draft to the public. It will be released similarly to the novel version: print and e-book. If you have a non-Kindle reader, either download the Kindle app, which is free for every platform of operating system and phone/tablet, or contact me directly; I’ll be glad to send you a PDF.

Happy writing to the rest of my fellow participants!

K.G.

E-book vs. Print Book

Or, better put, more on the “real book” illusion.

You may have noticed that a lot of self-pub authors are not releasing print versions of their books anymore, but instead are going right to the e-book process. As a result, they are apt to hear, “But it’s not a real book!” for various reasons. I’ve addressed the genre-based prejudice of the “real book” here. But now let’s talk presentation medium.

In 1440 or thereabout, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. Prior to this, books have been handwritten, hand-copied, and the more effort put into a copy, the more it cost. As such, they became signifiers of wealth for the longest time, until the printing press enabled mass production of print material, making books more easily accessible. The Industrial Revolution took over and made print reading material available widely.

Until the e-reader was invented, people just could not conceive of a book being presented any other way but printed.

That was in 2007.

Think about that: the e-reader has been around for only five years, and it already changed the way books are presented, and 562 years of precedent is shaken up. Just like that. With a page-sized electronic device.

However, think about this. That’s the e-reader. Not necessarily the e-book. The Internet has, inadvertently, made us all online readers since e-mail became the norm. E-reading is the same thing as what you’re doing now, except it’s on a handheld device.

Think about it. You’re reading this blog right now. I have enough entries in here to publish it as a book in and of itself. If you’ve stayed with it for some years, you’ve effectively read a book online already. If you’ve read a draft of a story online – congratulations, you read an e-book. Just not on an e-reader, but an e-book nonetheless.

No matter how solid a printed book feels – and I will be the last to deny a printed book’s effect; I have paperback versions of every book I’ve published so far – it doesn’t take a print version to call a story real. A story is real by the simple virtue of being written, as I’ve explained in the linked post above. Someone had spent weeks, months, or years of effort into making this story happen. It is completed and released. That alone, in and of itself, makes a story real. What we’re discussing here is a presentation medium, and having the presentation medium be electronic does not – contrary to whoever tells you otherwise – does not take away from the story being real.

That said, let’s discuss the print book as a medium. Apart from the solid feeling of having it in your hands, the “new book smell” – yes, it’s a beautiful flavor…come on, you know it! – it’s also not as likely to sell for an independent. Personal experience: I moved more Kindle copies per month, invariably, than my CreateSpace prints. When I run a promo on any of my books, the other books sell right alongside the free one. For a self-pub who’s new on the scene, this would mean that e-books are a more viable way to market and make revenue. And, considering that uploading is usually at no cost, it’s a guaranteed profit. To release a print book, you may pay for a proof (or not, since CreateSpace introduced an excellent digital proofing option). You would have to wait for the proof to land, read it, send it to the editor again, make the corrections, lather, rinse, repeat until it’s perfect – a standard that is extremely subjective – and then release it. And then there are the shipping costs in sending out review copies. And then the rigmarole of getting a bookstore to carry them.

But the print book has also been around for 562 years. The e-reader and the idea of having a library on a portable device is still about five years old. You know how they say that old habits die hard. The e-book and e-reader are still new, and they’re a splash in a very established and very stalwart market. We’ve seen the decisions that B&N and the Big Six had made in the wake of the growth of self-pub. Things are not going to change swiftly, but they are changing, whether the people like it or not.

Again, let’s not discount the main crux of it all: the story itself. You’re getting a book, whether or not it’s in printed form or in a file on a reader. It is real, any way you cut it. Any distinction of “more real” or “less real” based on presentation medium, genre, author’s background, publisher or lack thereof, exists only in the head of the person making the statement.

There was also an address of quality control in self-publication, with the assertion that self-pub books are poorly edited, poorly formatted, etc. I won’t deny that such books exist. However, they exist across the board. Major publishers sometimes do not format their e-books well, and proof to the fact are my copies of Philippa Gregory novels and Gone with the Wind. Great stories to read, but the formatting on the e-version, honestly, sucks. I own Philippa Gregory paperbacks. Why is there nothing wrong with the layout, but the e-version lacks paragraph breaks in several locations and is more expensive than the printed version? Let’s get real: if we’re going to do quality formatting, then let’s do quality formatting across. the. board. Don’t tar self-published books with a brush unless you are willing to put all books under scrutiny.

Self-publishers sometimes do work alone. Thusly, the editing quality may lack until they gather enough to hire a professional editor. I will be the first one to admit that someone’s first book will not be edited anywhere near as well as the subsequent books (um, guilty, and not ashamed to admit it). Understandable conditions, right? Right.

Let’s be real, people. Writing, editing, formatting, printing, publishing – being an author is a human endeavor. Human errors will happen. We are becoming a reading culture because, with our digital immersion, we’re reading a lot more (screens, but still: reading words is reading words). Human errors will happen. If that is a deal-breaker for you, that is fine, but you may want to step back and evaluate what’s more important to you in picking up a new book. Some of my favorite books (self and trad alike) are not perfect, but the story is so good that I couldn’t care less about the editing/formatting job. Conversely, some books I had were edited and formatted to perfection, but I just couldn’t finish them worth a damn. While I will never deny that editing and formatting are crucial, none of us are so perfect ourselves to have imperfection be a deal-breaker.

The bottom line is this: a book is a book. How you prefer to read it is entirely up to you, but there is no contest with which one is more “real”. They both are. Whether you like it printed or downloaded, you’re still reading a book. That is what should be the first thing to note in the e-book versus hard-copy debate.

K.G., who has both paperbacks and a Kindle.

http://www.amazon.com/author/katherinegilraine

To Jump the Gun, or Not to Jump?

That is the question, and the answer will be decided by majority opinion.

This is the thing. Revival, the fourth installment of the series, is finally done. It’s been rewritten, professionally revised, has a gorgeous cover courtesy of two amazing artists, and is good. to. go.

The print version…ain’t.

This is the thing: I was setting out to release the print book and the e-version at the same time. But while working on formatting the file for e-release, I found and fixed very tiny errors. Which means that the book has to be re-uploaded for print.

Which sucks, but what can I do? Perfectionist me is a perfectionist.

The e-book is fine. I did a sample conversion to check how it would look in Kindle format, and it passed with flying colors. I had to splice in a couple bits (Letter to the Reader, series list) and futz with the layout, but it should be fine, and it’s ready to get released, well…immediately.

You can see my quandary, can’t you?

So, ladies and gentlemen, a poll for you. Comment with an option.

Option 1:  Release the e-book now, then release the print version whenever CreateSpace approves it

Option 2: Release both at the same time, as soon as the print version is up to par.

Option 3: Release both on the scheduled release date, May 13th
Yes, I’m actually letting my fans take charge of the book release! The option with the most votes gets done. Have at it! Comment and tell me why, if you’d like.

K.G.

PS: Gayle, your vote is tallied.

On Pricing E-books

In light of the Dept. of Justice coming down on Apple, HarperCollins, and some others in regards to e-book pricing, it’s time to address the question: what’s a fair price to pay for an e-book?

Frankly? Any price that is set that is below the print copy.

Allow me to be blunt about something, and this may not score me any points, but it needs to be said: no author works for free. We have bills to pay. We have mouths to feed. And we certainly reserve the right to profit from our labor. Most people seem to forget that writing is a job, and not a hobby, or “that thing to do to pass the time”. No. It’s a job, it’s a full-time job, because no matter how long you actually, physically write, the mental process of creating a story is interminable.

However, and on this one I’m standing firm, never should an e-book cost more than a new paperback. Yes, HarperCollins, I’m looking at you, because I see what you’ve done with Philippa Gregory books. I shouldn’t have to pay $14 for an e-book if the paperback costs $12.  No. While the production costs for paperbacks in trad-pub do, in a way, warrant the percentage of the list price that is withheld by the publisher. However, what is there on the e-book end? The production of an e-book is not difficult. Moreover, it’s a one-time thing. There are no repeated payments to the printer, and there is no sending back the overstock if it’s overprinted with e-books. Formatting and uploading is a one-time affair.

Where is the money going? Amazon’s distribution fee is pretty damn small. The author whose e-book is going through a publishing house gets about 16% off the total price. So the other 84% goes to the publisher…why? What, exactly, does the publisher do in order to warrant that much of a royalty on an e-book?

Formatting? Possibly. But formatting, in and of itself, is not a difficult task. If you own a writing software like Scrivener, it does publish to .mobi or .epub format. Even with something you get off download.com, if you toy with the originating file a bit, it’s not that difficult to have a good end result with the conversion.

To shift gears a little, let’s talk e-books for self-pubs.

I notice that more and more authors are going exclusively e-pub with their self-publication. Know what, awesome. It taps into the market directly and wicked fast, it’s free (contrary to what Writers Beware may say, self-publication is possible for free, and this is one of those ways…ahem), and it’s pretty damn easy. And usually, to generate a buzz, the new authors make their books anywhere from 99c to $9.99.

I am not a fan of e-books being priced at a buck, because the author should get a decent royalty cut. $2.99 is the minimum threshold for a 70% royalty, and believe me, that is plenty fair.

And yes, I think that there is nothing wrong with charging almost ten bucks for an e-book if you’re a self-pub. Personally, I wouldn’t do that for my books, but I can see why one would. For one, it’s profitable. For two, if your book garners good reviews and gets a good sales track going, then you have every right to make a better cut off it.

Let’s not get into the “well, it better be perfect for that price!” schtick that I’ve seen. There is no published work, trad or self, that is absolutely perfect. It’s a human labor, and as such, human errors are made. People seem to either forget that altogether, or don’t even stop to consider it. Nothing is perfect, and some of the books priced for 99c should be priced much higher for their content. Conversely, some of the books priced at $4.99 are poorly written and I would be hard-pressed to look at them again. In other words: forget for a second the standards of “perfection”. For one, there’s no such thing, and for two, you’re wasting the time that you can spend reading in trying to vet someone’s work against a subjective standard.

I will be the first to admit that I’d be hard-pressed to shell out $10 for an e-book, but if it’s recommended to me, then I’ll happily fork over the money. Perhaps there’s a bit of an actor-observer bias in me, considering I’m an author plying my trade as well, and thusly know how difficult it can be to drive sales to your book, but I have nothing against shelling out for someone’s work. They too poured in their blood, sweat, and tears into making it perfect, just like my team and I have invested into The Index Series. But when it gets to be where the print book is cheaper, that’s where we have a problem. Ahem, HarperCollins, that’s on you.

K.G.

My books, should you want ’em: http://amzn.to/InrIwW

Stigmas in Self-Publishing

This is another of those posts that we all knew was coming.

I’ve already addressed the differences between the two methods of publication. They both have their drawbacks and benefits. They’re pretty similar in terms of the steps that a manuscript needs to go through before it hits the market, but vastly different insofar as who does the work.

I’ve waxed analytical on this in this post right here. In short, big difference between trad and self is that in self, the author does the work. Sometimes it costs, sometimes it doesn’t.

It’s no secret that I’ve gone self-pub. I’ve tried the traditional route. A year of querying got me nowhere fast, and the free proof copy code from CreateSpace was sitting there, beckoning me to make a book happen on my own. And I promised myself that, if by my 24th birthday I wasn’t going to land an agent, I would use that code. Being a woman of my word, that’s what ended up happening. What also ended up happening was a whole lot of learning,and one of the lessons I had to learn the hard way was that self-publication carried certain stigmas that, while they are being slowly overridden, are as pervasive as ever.

Let’s start debunking them one by one, shall we?

1. A self-published book isn’t a “real book”. 

Well, you guys know me, I had to dive right in there.

First of all, what makes a book a “real book”? Having the publisher’s logo on the jacket? Or, if you have to go for the fact that a bulk of self-pubs are e-book only, would a “real” book qualify as being on paper as opposed to an e-reader?

Let’s start with a dictionary definition of a novel, per the gods of Merriam-Webster: an invented prose narrative that is usually long and complex and deals especially with human experience through a usually connected sequence of events. If you have to get slightly technical, we’re talking about a work of fiction that is anywhere from 50,000 to 125,000 words in length, per most literary guidelines. Word count differences are, occasionally, determined by the genre of the book.

Note that nowhere in this explanation did I note method of publication, book jacket, or reading medium.

And also, let’s state the keen and obvious: most of the so-called “qualifications” for a real book are bunk. That’s right, bunk. Crap. A load of hokum. A real book only requires being written. The publication medium, especially in today’s world, had never mattered less.

Think about it in terms of logic, and logic alone. Would you consider an audiobook real? Yes? Then why not an e-book? And if you don’t consider an audiobook real, tell me please: is it any less a real text if someone reads it aloud or if it’s not presented as a stack of dead tree? Not to get environmentalist on you, but with all the going green hoopla out there, have you considered the trees that can be saved if someone would just get an e-reader?

And as far as publishing houses, let me get into…

2. Self-published books can’t possibly be good enough if they couldn’t get to a major publisher.

Let’s consider that some of the best fiction out there had been thrown out of publishing houses for not being X enough or Y enough. Harry Potter had been rejected by multiple agents, and again by multiple publishers before it finally got picked up and made into a global franchise. And right now, some of the best fantasy and science fiction is all but guaranteed to be self-published – why? Because publishers don’t take risks. They get books going less for the reasons of quality, finding an audience, etc. and much more for sales. This makes for a double whammy: writers with a great plot concept and a pitch for multiple books in a series get nowhere, while writers who stick to the same formulas that have brought success to their predecessors would get picked up, regardless of their quality.

If I really have to go there, think about Twilight. Yes, I’m going there. It is a franchise by now, a brand name, if you will. It got picked up because there was a market – teenage girls – and it was presented to the market in such a proficient way that it got snatched up like hotcakes. But the writing itself is not good. It’s 80% purple prose, the main character is a complete Mary Sue who doesn’t grow or progress with the series, and if you analyze the messages presented to teenage girls in this book, it is just downright unhealthy.

But it was marketed well, and it sold. Which is why Little, Brown and Company is very happy.

Also to note: about 85% of currently self-published authors have, at some point or another, queried agents and publishers, and had gotten rejected each and every time, for the above reason. This is part of the publishing routine in trad-pub: you keep asking until someone doesn’t slam the door in your face.

As you can imagine, this gets exhausting fast. And if you’re going to sit there and say, “Well, that’s what you have to do!”, then I’ll scoff in your face. Self-publishing is a legitimate, and even lucrative, alternative to traditional publishing.

Let me elaborate for a minute.

We all know the saying: money talks. So let me clarify the point a little by saying that royalties talk. Or, rather, royalty rates.

Royalty rates for self-published authors are, hands down, much better than the ones offered by traditional publishing houses. If a self-pub author goes through specific (mostly free-to-use channels), then the author enjoys a nice 70% on e-sales, and 45% on print sales. The traditional publishing alternative would be somewhere up to 16% on e-sales, and about half of that for print.

To make it clear, self-publishing is a more profitable alternative for the author if you crunch the numbers. And yes, that does make it very much a preferable alternative to going through the well-known gamut of trying to land an agent and spending months, if not years, waiting for a response other than a form rejection.

That’s right: people actually choose to self-publish because it’s more profitable.

Does that make their books less “real”? I personally don’t think so, if only on the account that those things on my shelf are hardly zombies, and same goes for the e-books that are populating my Kindle. They seem to be taking up space, they contain text that’s broken into chapters, and in a huge majority of the cases, I paid for them.

3. If it hadn’t sold millions, it’s not a book worth reading.

See above about Twilight.

Now, repeat after me, with feeling: a best-seller only sells well; it doesn’t make a good book.

Really. Little, Brown and Company made a killing on Twilight as a franchise, as well as a book. That doesn’t mean that the books are good. I lost a bet and had to read those books, and believe you me, I wish I had never made that bet. But it sold in the millions of copies, in multiple languages. Does that mean that it has to be great fiction if it had done so well in the market?

Absolutely not. And there are eggs like that every genre under the sun: they sell spectacularly, but the writing and storyline are very, very lousy.

Some of the best stories are mid-listed or dropped by publishers altogether because they hadn’t met sales-quota expectations. Why? Because of this very mentality, which people are very keen on buying into. If it must have sold well, then it must be great, right? Wrong. Again, Twilight. Also, half of what was written by Judith McNaught…seriously, if you want historical romance, read Philippa Gregory. I’m no romantic, but Gregory has a very rich, flowing style to her writing.

4. Self-published authors are lazy and not willing to put in the work that it takes to get published traditionally.

See #2, especially the part where I talk about money.

Now, let me give you a this-or-that scenario. Suppose you’re an author, looking to get your work published. You spent a year on rewrites, and another year of letting it sit and then rewriting it again. You have a choice. Do you:

a. send hundreds, if not thousands, on query letters and hope you hit jackpot somewhere, spending months of hopes and prayers for a five-figure advance sum but trade it off on low royalty percentages,

or

b. do a little bit of extra legwork, get your book on the market fast, not get an advance, but collect your royalties right away at a higher rate than most trad-pubs?

If you’re willing to wait and think that you would see a payoff in terms of volume sales at the lower royalty rate – okay, then you can go trad-pub. But also consider the tradeoff of publication rights. The publishing house isn’t just printing, marketing, and releasing your book: it’s also acquiring first publication rights, copyright, and distribution rights to your work, and depending on your contract, this can go into a ten-year stretch. So if your book is mid-listed, doesn’t sell well, and is otherwise not meeting the publisher’s expectations, then you will have a fun time wrestling your rights back under your purview. You will not be able to re-publish as a self if it doesn’t do as well.

With legitimate self-publishers, you do not give away your rights. Which, in turn, brings me to rehash something.

5. Self-publishing is paying to publish, and it can’t possibly be good enough if the author had to pay for printing/releasing it.

Call to your memory: first post about Book Country, second, and third. And fourth, about an Aussie vanity press.

If you’re not willing to click to read back through my last repeated ramblings on the difference between a self-publisher and a vanity press, I will reiterate: self-publishers never ask you for money up front for use of services. They may offer certain services for a fee, but none of them are required.

As a bonus, they let you keep the rights to your work. So you’re free to shop your work around after release, if you so feel like.

Vanity presses do charge you money up front, and their contracts and terms of use are sometimes so vague that you don’t notice that you’re signing away your distribution rights, copyright, and first-publication rights. Moreover, there are precious few vanity presses that actually deliver on their promises. iUniverse is probably one of the best ones, because it focuses on developing the author’s brand and business name.

If you don’t know what PublishAmerica is, then this subforum in AbsoluteWrite will give you a nice picture of what authors go through to get away from them. They pose as a legitimate publishing house, then proceed to fleece authors at every turn, even for their own book copies. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a vanity press and a scam.

Also, to clarify, a scam doesn’t necessarily have to be against the law. It’s just making money by dishonest means. And fleecing authors is dishonest.

However, back to my point. You don’t pay to self-publish. In fact, you keep more of your royalties because you’re covering only distribution and raw materials (if you choose to print). However, does CreateSpace charge a “set-up fee”? Not once in my three and a half years of use have I encountered it. It comes with default Amazon distribution, at no charge, and offers a one-time fee for expanded distribution. Is it required? No. But if $40 is all it takes for CreateSpace to list my books on the site of its parent company’s (Amazon) biggest competitor, that being Barnes & Noble, then you know what, it’s a good deal, as opposed to forking over $99 to upload and do everything myself (see Book Country posts). Is it required? No. But I like having expanded channels.

6. Self-published authors don’t work as hard as traditionally published authors.

Bull. Sorry to be blunt, but that’s just plain old-fashioned bull.

I’ve yet to meet a single self-published author who didn’t put in years – yes, years – of blood, sweat, tears, and sleepless nights into their work. Because a self-published author is, quite essentially, going through the publication process on his/her own, then the workload quadruples. There’s no in-house editing team to fillet the manuscript and make sure that the plot flows, the spelling’s proper, the grammar is cohesive. There’s no graphic design team to draw or photograph and create the perfect cover for your book. There’s no layout and printing expert to ensure that the PDF file that goes to the printers will meet their expectations precisely. There is no help. So the author is doing everything.

Daunting? Yes. But that’s what self-pubs do. They may hire outside help, or they may take a couple of months to learn all of that on their own. There has been many a self-pub author who had gone to class to learn Photoshop just for the sake of that perfect cover, and there will be plenty more, at that.

So, really, don’t give me the line about self-pubs not working as hard. Traditional publishers hold the author’s hand when it comes to the pre-release gamut. Self-publishers have no one but themselves and whoever is willing to lend a helping hand.

7. The self-published books aren’t worth their price, therefore a reader shouldn’t have to pay for them.

Now this right here, which is something I’ve encountered more and more in recent time, is utterly infuriating.

A writer is not just writing for the sake of telling a story. This is an intrinsic enough part of the process for a writer that it shouldn’t even need to be said, or spoken of. However, a written work – just like a painting, a meal in a restaurant, a cup of coffee – is a product. And last time I checked, in the world of commerce and retail, customers are required to pay for the product they are receiving.

I will repeat the prior point: self-publishers work very hard to produce their product. They work harder than most trad-pubs. The money that you’re paying for the book is what enables them to pay for the web access bills, for the electric bills, and the roof over their heads so that they can continue to produce their product. Same as where the money goes for a traditional publisher.

At risk of being blunt, I will ask you point blank: what makes you think that you are entitled to someone’s work for free?

Seriously. What, pray tell, makes you or anyone else so special that you think you don’t have to pay for your books? You don’t expect a coffee shop to give you a free cappuccino. Don’t expect an author, regardless of publishing avenue, to give you a freebie either.

I give away free copies from time to time, but there is always a tradeoff involved. It may be a review, or it may be traffic, it may be recommendation, but there is a tradeoff. But to give away a free copy just because someone thinks that being self-published means that I just have to give it away? No way in hell.

8. Self-published authors are greedy and don’t want to share their wealth with others.

At risk of, again, being blunt, why should they share? I call it fair trade. If a traditional publisher is going to help the author at every turn with turning a manuscript into a book, then the 85% of royalties that they withhold from the book price are fair for keeping the production team paid. The editor, the cover artist, the marketing specialist, the book signing coordinator – all of them need a paycheck at the end of the day. Where does that come from? The royalties.

So why, exactly, should a self-pub share any more than they share already? Every time they publish a book and price it below cost to stimulate sales, they’re paying for it by taking a financial loss. Every time they give away a copy, they take a loss. The distributor takes a small cut of the royalty too. And considering that they didn’t have the editor, the cover artist, the marketing specialist, etc., why exactly should they share?

9. People self-publish because there’s no traditional option for their brand of writing.

Now that one actually holds some truth to it. That or, again, the big publisher will not take a risk with that particular genre because it doesn’t think that the book would sell well, even if there is a genre for it enough to, at the very least, mid-list the book.

Niche genres, and niche subgenres at that, are notoriously difficult to make a success, because the audience is limited. Most people reading mainstream books do not know what steampunk is. A lot wouldn’t understand the term urban fantasy.  However, both of those subgenres have a very dedicated and surprisingly large following. Do the publishing houses consider that? Rarely. Which, again, is why an author in a genre like urban-fantasy, steampunk, or even poetry – which is notoriously difficult to publish traditionally – would consider self-publication.

Self-publishing doesn’t differentiate by genre; it’s simply there. It does, however, put the onus on the author as a businessperson and marketer, and necessitates the correct outreach and brand-building, both for the book and the author alike. Building a brand from the books and the author alike is that ends up selling the self-pub. Yes, it’s infinitely more work, but it’s more work with a solid, long-lasting fan base. Which, in turn, produces sales.

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The unfortunate truth to the above is, while I can refute and dissect the preconceptions, until the public at large will get with the program and acknowledge self-published authors as individuals who have made an informed decision about their writing future, these stigmas will continue.

I won’t lie: it takes a long time for a self-published author to generate some steam. This is why cross-marketing, as so very well put in this post here (by Candace Mountain, awesomely), is crucial. Authors supporting authors goes a long way, and it pays off in the long run by generating readership.

While at times overcoming these stigmas may seem like a Sisyphean battle, with potential readers and reviewers turning up their nose with a sneering response that your work, which you have sweated leaden ingots over, is somehow now good enough because it’s lacking a Big 6 copyright clause, it is worth it to keep going. Whether or not it seems like it when you’re surrounded by the people who believe that your self-pub book is somehow less real, you do have an audience and you do have a following to reach. It just requires a lot more elbow grease than what people may give credit for.

Special thanks to the members of the FB groups WriMore International and SelfPubEBooks for the feedback on the stigmas.

Onward and upward, my fellow self-pubs.

K.G.

Notabene: My books are still 99c for ebook. After mid-January, back up they go to $2.99 each. Yep, I have paperback too. Click here.

The Great Publishing Debate Info Post.

You knew this was going to happen, one way or the next. The essay of self versus traditional publishing.

Mind you, this is for info purposes only. I have people reading this blog who know exactly what I’m talking about, and just as many people who go, “Whaaaa? What does that mean?” This is for both, really.

In the wake of the brouhaha that had trailed the past week with the Book Country stuff, my banker, who is an all-around cool dude, handed over the Wall Street Journal to me, with this article on the front page. This is about Darcie Chan’s journey to become a self-published author – and a best-selling one at that.

And you know what, considering that WSJ’s last article was on Book Country, I like this article. It presents a great example of what happens when you 1. get off the beaten path to find your own way and 2. work hard at it.

Especially with the advance of the Kindle, there is an ongoing debate as far as which method of publishing is better: traditional, via the brick-and-mortar publishing houses, or self-publication. Bear in mind that the majority of publishing houses do e-book publication in any case, but that the e-market is still only 15% of all books sold.

Which is still millions on millions of books.

This is the thing: traditional publishing and self-publishing have very little difference, but for one major factor: instead of the publishing house vetting the work and making sure that it’s market-ready, self-publishing puts every bit of work associated with making a book work is on the author.

You may know, either by virtue of common sense, that a book has its stages in the journey from brain to paper:

1. Concept
2. Writing
3. Revision
4. Publication

The first two stages don’t depend on the method of publication. The third one is a pretty standard step, because it is VERY rare that someone will release a book in any form without going over it first. The fourth one varies.

With traditional publication, you have the following as #4:

1. Research
Look, if my past series of posts about Book Country and Gayle’s blog in general don’t teach you, then I will say it again, and will accent with a book to the head until it sinks in: do. your. research. You cannot query an agent if they don’t represent your genre. You need to know which publication will print your short story and pay you, versus one who will not pay you a dime and will print only for the sake of it. You need to know the royalty percentages, what’s normal for which publishing house, and you need to know the language used in publishing contracts  so that you know exactly where your copyright will be going. You are absolutely required to have the knowledge of the business before you go into it. Otherwise, you’re asking to become the victim of a scam. There are many “agencies” looking to profiteer off authors, just like there are vanity presses posing as legit publishing houses (Publish America being the best example). There are websites such as AbsoluteWrite, Preditors and Editors, Writers Beware, to name a few.  Read them egregiously, but also learn and research in your own right so that you know when and if an article by any of those sites is full of it.

2. Query
You don’t just walk into a publishing house and hand in your manuscript. If only it could be so easy; but then there would be a small mob scene outside of the publishing house headquarters in NYC. You query an agent to take your book. In other words, write a letter that, in one paragraph, sums up why the agent should represent your book and shop it around to publishers. If the agent requires you to send a segment of your book – send in a segment of your book. Make sure everything follows guidelines.

Of course, then you cross your fingers, and repeat the prior until someone says yes. Because you will, without a doubt, get rejected.

But, supposing you get an agent, then you also have to wait to get a contract with a publishing house. Supposing get that, then you have to:

3. Edit, Edit, Edit.
Chances are, the publishing house has an entire editing department. Someone will gut through your book for plot and structure, someone else will gut your story for grammar. You edit, and you edit egregiously. This is in addition to whatever editing that you may have done in Step #3. What you may feel is a sufficient story may not be sufficient for the editing department. Is your plot going into a direction they’re not comfortable with? That may also be the case.

I will now proceed to state an unpleasant truth: a book is chosen by an agent or a publishing house not because of how well it’s written, nor because of the genre. Though both of those play into it, the primary reason for you lucking out and being chosen in tradition publication is invariably because of potential of sales. Because the publishing house will take the bulk of your royalty to cover the production costs, and the agent will take a cut as well, the publication relies on volume to survive. The real question in the publishing house is always “how much money can this book make?” first.

Also keep in mind that there is a lot to be said about copyright. The publishers claim the rights to your work for a certain amount of time, usually numbered in the years. This is what lets them sell on your behalf, and claim a cut of royalty for printing and distribution.

4. Go along
The publishing house already has the marketing plan laid out. You have to now go along with it. This means be interviewed, often. Book tours, which are much more work than what you may think. And if they hadn’t established an online presence for you, then it’s on you to do so.

That stated, there are three main lists in the publishing house. The first one is the infamous slush pile. Manuscripts end up there, get plucked out once in a while, but mostly, they gather dust. Since there are e-submissions now, the easy way to explain it would be File 13. You guys know what I mean. It is RARE that a manuscript gets plucked out of the slush pile to land on the bookshelves.

The second one is the best-seller list. This is self-explanatory. This is a list of books that had sold exceptionally well. This is a list of books that have sold very well. EVERYONE knows who the author is. David Baldacci makes his living on that list, same for James Patterson (though I much prefer Baldacci; he keeps a nice pacing going). They have made their agents and publishing houses very wealthy. This is the list that everyone craves to be on, but few actually make it.

Then there’s the mid-list. Those are the books that you see, usually, in the shelves at Barnes & Noble. They are selling, but not as well as people have expected. They keep the bills paid, but they don’t do anywhere near as well as the best-sellers. The publisher releases them, hoping that they would do well, but when they do not, the lights are turned off. Those books will probably trudge along, but never meet expectations.

The mid-list is enormous for every publisher. If a book isn’t going to sell out quickly within its first printing, or the second and the third, then you can likely expect that they will be mid-listed. And that is normal. Not everyone can write a best-seller, and just because a story has sold well enough to hit the best-seller list doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. Just like a mid-list story or a slush pile story can be absolutely fantastic, but it was not given a long enough chance to reach its audience or, as in the case of the slush pile, not given a chance at all.

Now, this is not a quick process. You are looking at anywhere from 18 to 30 months – yes, months – from you initial acceptance by an agent to seeing your actual book in stores. However, the trade-off is that the legwork of marketing, printing, distribution, etc. is not on your hands.

Self-publication is a double-edged sword. The good side of that sword is that it takes all the wait, the bulk of the royalty going to the publisher, and the gamut of query-rejection-query cycle, and slices it out of the picture. Generally, a self-pub author also keeps all the rights to their work. The bad news is…all the legwork, and I mean all the legwork, is squarely on the author’s shoulders.

This gets hairy in a hurry.

As you may have seen from my earlier posts, there are multiple avenues for self-publication. Some paid, some unpaid. And there is a massive difference between vanity press and self-publication, contrary to whoever says otherwise.  The key words are up front. A vanity press takes money up front, and you are also likely to hand over your rights, because there may be a hidden clause in the contract about first publication rights. Legitimate self-publishing options do not take your rights, and the paid services are optional.

However, you have to keep in mind that everything needs to be done by the author. And I mean everything.

I’m sure I’ve blogged about it multiple times before, but editing has to be one of the banes of a self-published author’s existence. It’s necessary for any sort of a publishing medium, but the self-published author does not have a team of editors waiting to gut out the book. Either (s)he hires someone to do so – which is an expense out of pocket not for publication itself, to note – or does it on his/her own. This is a painstaking process as it is, made doubly more difficult by the actor-observer bias, and made even more difficult by the fact that there is no advance from the publisher that could at least ease financial matters for the author. The cover design also needs to be done in-house, and unless the author is also handy with the Adobe Creative Suite, then that’s something else to consider.

The thing is, self-publishers illustrate on a very regular basis that they are able to adapt. They edit, re-edit, and if they need to learn Photoshop in order to create the cover that they want, then they step up and get to work. But they’re doing this work, and yes, even set up to pay expenses before it goes to publication, in order to put out a quality product.

Let me pause right there and, again, refer to my prior entries on Book Country and vanity presses. Vanity presses’ up-front charge is for use of its publishing services. Editing is usually not included on that list of services, and although a vanity press may distribute – may, not for a fact – you cannot get out of ponying up the money. In the case of self-publication, expenses do come up. However, those are optional expenses. The author has the option of doing the work in-house; learn the ins and outs of publication, limit marketing only to online, and otherwise avoid paying money. However, because it’s squarely on the author, expenses do crop up – in leading the product towards the publication process.

The self-pub process itself, though, is easy. No, really, it is. It doesn’t take much effort to click Upload. That is not difficult. The formatting guides for Kindle and Nook, even the style guide for Smashwords, are very easy to follow. And all of those are avenues for major distributors; Smashwords pushes out their books to iTunes Books, Kobo, and Sony E-Reader markets. And they are free.

The costs in print self-publications vary because, again, there are vanity presses, and then there are print-on-demand presses. The difference, again, is money up front. Also, the difference is copyright. I cannot tell you how important it is for an author to read their fine print and find out whether their publication method will involve ownership of copyright for X number of years. I can’t tell you how important it is to do research. And know this: typically, a POD press will not hold your copyright. CreateSpace is a typical example of of a good print-on-demand press: all they do is print and distribute. There is only one cost associated as a byway of publication, and that is the proof. However, if you have a free code – which is given out pretty routinely through NaNoWriMo, ABNA, and other contests – then that cost is eliminated.

You may say, “AHA! There is a cost up front!!!” at this, but let me point out that you are not paying the market price for a book in buying the proof. You’re reimbursing CreateSpace for the raw materials used in producing the proof. Ink, paper – all of that costs money. After approval and publication, CreateSpace will take its cut from the sale for the exact same thing.

Oh, and honestly, $5-10 bucks for a proof as opposed to $100+ up front? Seriously, which one would you rather pay? Again, this is not a fee up front just to use the press. It’s the cost of raw materials that are used in production, at production cost.

The services offered by a print-on-demand press outside of the basic printing and distribution services are, in fact, paid. Again, they are optional. The author doesn’t have to have a gut-through by the editing service for $300. Nor does the author have to use their professional cover design service. There are very nice-looking templates in CreateSpace that allow the author to design a professional-caliber cover and use his or her own images. While the $40 – note the number here – is not required, it does list the book at Barnes & Noble, and the Amazon outlets around the world, whereas basic distribution to Amazon.com is free and included in the CreateSpace service.

The contrast as far as press goes would be iUniverse. They do all the work for you, much like a regular publishing house, however – it costs money. You are paying them for work performed on your behalf. They print your book, unload, distribute, and that is both time spent by their professionals in the one-on-one time that they give the author and raw materials in printing your books. However, their cheapest package is in the $600 range, with the best and all-inclusive going into four figures. Bonus is that you may get your books as hardcover as well as paperback.

Let’s once again go back to one simple fact: while the bulk of self-published work out there is e-sales, e-sales are still, at the most, only 20% of the market. The mass-market paperback is not going anywhere anytime soon. People like the feel of the book in their hands, they appreciate work by previously published authors,  or they may go for a particular publishing brand. If there is a good self-pub print, and it develops a following, it will do every bit as well as a trad-pub print, and at a greater benefit to the author.

Okay. I think I’ve rambled enough. Next post on this topic, whenever that would be, is on the stigmas in self-pub, and some myth-busting. Fun stuff!

K.G.

 

Small news

Long story short: It’s the holidays. I’ve seen more sales in Kindle than any other format of my books, including print for all the traditionalists. :)

So!! If you have a Kindle, read Kindle books, or just plain want to help a girl out, all three of my books are now at 99c each! I will keep this sale going through the holidays, and maybe a bit longer.

Link here: http://amzn.to/ogCVcl

Happy shopping!

K.G.