Category Archives: Publication

The Perils of Publishing

It’s been a while and I’ve been through a lot in the writing and publishing world lately. I’ve been thinking about new strategies, doing a lot of editing, and working on the Memoirs. This has led to a long silence on the blog.

But I was moved  to write today by yet another story about a writer who wanted to be published, had parted with a lot of money thinking it was to a “real” publisher, only to discover that although her book – an illustrated children’s book – was lovely, no bookstores would stock it.

Ever since I launched myself into this world I have become aware of the many people who want to be writers and are determined to do it. Social media has made it so much easier to get in touch with these people and get to know them online. So many are looking for support and advice, but almost everything they can learn about the process leads them to part with their money. Advice to self-publishers is everywhere but so much of it is motivated by someone offering a service. It is obvious that a huge market exists and a lot of writers have discovered that there’s more money to be made by “helping” others publish their books than by publishing their own.

IF YOU ALREADY KNOW ALL ABOUT THIS STUFF, DON’T BOTHER READING ON. But if you are pretty confused about what is involved in getting your book out into the world, you might find a bit of clarity here. It is based in part on my own experience, as well as looking into the minefield of services on offer to would-be authors which are getting more difficult to understand by the day.

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You can get your book published entirely by yourself, if you have the skills. You start with a manuscript you have written. It will have to be written on a computer in a recognised program such as Word which is the standard. If you are still writing by hand on a yellow note-pad, you’ll have to pay to have it typed up.

What you need at the end of the day is a set of files in multiple formats. In theory you can do all of this yourself and it will cost you nothing, or almost nothing (some distributors such as Ingram Spark require a payment for each book being uploaded to your account). The files have to be laid out in particular ways and conform to certain requirements. If you only want ebooks they can be loaded one by one to different distributors or you can use an aggregator service. Your ebook can become a print book using Amazon’s Create Space or another print on demand service. Once the files are ready and in an acceptable form, you have a book all ready to go, it has cost you nothing to produce, you load your files onto the sales site and sit back and wait for someone to order it online through Amazon, Kobo, I-books or some other site.

You may have ordered some print copies for your friends and family and be happy to hold your real, printed book in your hands. Does it look as good as the book you paid $30 for at the bookshop? Probably not. The paper will be thinner, the interior layout may be boring or clunky, and looking at the cover it doesn’t look quite how you expected. But still, it does look like a book and you know it’s great. But it won’t get into the bookshop, it won’t be reviewed in the paper, and nobody will get to hear about it unless you yourself undertake a crash course in Internet marketing because that is the only way it will actually exist for your readers.

Some people think that bookshops won’t take books printed by POD technologies. Print on Demand (POD) means a copy is made only when it is ordered. This is a huge advantage since there is no need to print multiple copies in advance, to store and ship them. Traditional publishers may use POD technologies for books which do go into bookshops, and it is not use of that technology is the problem or that makes it unacceptable to bookshops.

Caxton self publishing

It is the fact that the book has not entered the circulatory system of traditional publishing which was designed a hundred years ago and has hardly changed since.  This requires a manuscript to pass through multiple selection channels. Most publishers won’t take a book unless it has been referred to them by an agent. Even where they will accept a submission, it will be read by someone very low down the totem pole. Some say that 90% of manuscripts are rejected by the end of the first page, and 98% by the end of the first chapter. There is a network of connections which create mutually agreed standards or expectations for what kind of book is worth publishing, when and by whom.

Self-publishing has been seen as a way to get around the archaic and outdated structures which still prevail. But it’s damned hard to do on your own. Not surprisingly many authors seek help to get their manuscript into an acceptable form. There are all kind of services offering to help you. They may offer to edit, to create your book cover, get all the files into the correct formats and then they may actually upload the files for you. You can engage and pay a different professional to help with any of these tasks, or you can find a single company who outsources the work or does it in-house. Most of them offer several options, or packages, which get more expensive as they include more items. It’s easy to see why many choose to go with the company which offers a comprehensive service even if it costs them up to several thousands of dollars.

But when you do it this way, you are still a self-publisher.

Hang on! That’s not what you had in mind. You want a publisher! Here is where the real danger lies. There are an increasing number of organisations which call themselves publishers and will accept your manuscript for publication. They have a name, Suchansuch Publishers or Ifonly Books. They will produce print and often ebook versions as well. They advertise on the web, you will find them whenever you Google “Publishers”. Wow, you think, I have a publisher. The catch is, they will ask you for money. A lot of money. They may produce a near-perfect book, far better than the book you can produce on Create Space or through Ingram Spark. They may even offer to market your book for extra money. But still your book will not appear in the bookshops.

Because you paid for it. The entire structure of book publishing prevents these kinds of books from entering into commercial circulation. The publisher has to pay you – usually what’s known as an advance, which used to commonly be between $5000 and $10000 (if you are lucky). You don’t get any royalties back until that full cost has been recovered by the publisher. If a publisher offers to publish you for money they are by definition not a “real” publisher and you won’t ever get your money back. Most people who publish this way finish up with a garage full of printed books which they cannot sell.

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The rise of self-publishing has meant that anybody who wants to publish a book can do so. But that does not mean that anybody can be a recognised author whose books will be found in a bookshop. The many inexperienced writers who don’t realise this are easy prey for those who can convince them otherwise. Almost all the books by self-published authors are sold on Amazon, mostly for $2.99 or less. Some cover their costs and make some profit but many don’t. Becoming a best-selling author on Amazon has become ever more difficult. There are two or more million titles now and each year thousands more are added.

A recent phenomenon is the way traditional publishers issue ebook versions of their conventionally published books through Amazon Kindle and others. At one time, the Kindle versions only turned up a year or more after the print books came out. Now the are issued more or less at the same time, but the publishers set a very high price, way above anything normally found on Kindle. This happened after a bitter court case brought by international giant Hachette against Amazon. The authors of the books don’t make any more out of it than they do from the print book – say, 10% in royalty payments – and the publishers keep the rest. The purchaser buys a book which has been publicised through the conventional means. So a two-tier structure is emerging in the e-book market where self-published books are super cheap, or even free, and buyers are purchasing conventionally published books at prices well above anything they would normally pay for an ebook. This may be reinforcing the power of traditional publishers and making self-published books very much second (or third? or fourth?) class citizens.

Without extensive marketing using all the bells and whistles of the Internet (Facebook groups, Good Reads, BookBub, paid review sites, email groups, increasingly Twitter and Instagram) very few self-published authors make it. There are spectacular exceptions which I will write about in another post. But the thousands of would-be authors who don’t know better, especially older people who don’t have much idea of how the new digital landscape works, are easy marks for those who offer the hope of authorship, especially the dream of “real” publishing.

So no matter how much you want to be an author, don’t part with any money until you fully understand what is being offered. Just because someone says they are a Publisher does not mean they can help you become an Author.

 

 

 

 

Would you want to be published by these people? Farewell to faux-Knausgaard …and what about his wife?

I suppose it is ethically dangerous, or at least raises certain issues, to introduce characters in a TV series who are so obviously based on “real people”. The super-famous Swedish writer who appeared on Younger, clearly based on Karl Ove Knausgaard, didn’t look like him and didn’t behave like him, or at least the version of him one can deduce from reading his books and watching his Youtube videos here or here. He is an altogether smoother, yet somehow more smarmy character. Did Kelsey just go for him because he was so famous?

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Kelsey and the Swedish writer

Introducing his wife to the narrative was an interesting move, as a way of getting rid of him from the plot. They made her out to be old-looking, skinny and hysterical.  The real Mrs Knausgaard, Linda, is something else altogether.

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Linda Bostrom Knausgaard
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Linda and Karl Ove

She has written her own book, Welcome to America (but it is only in Swedish, no translation so far) and the only interview with her I could find was also in Swedish, without subtitles, here.  Wow! I really want to read this book. I love books written by authors’ (and artists’) wives. One of the weirdest is the book written by French ultrabad-boy Michel Houllebecq’s mother – another post on that shortly.

In “Younger” the Swedish writer’s fling  with Kelsey, one of the main girl-publisher characters in the series, is brought to a decisive end by the major tanty Mrs. False-Knausgaard  put on in a restaurant, even though she got it wrong and thought it was our heroine Liza who was doing the dirty deed- and exit stage left for both of them. Poor Kelsey was left with that hideously boring and repulsive Thad. It was a bit amusing when she decided to buy him a super-expensive (and ugly) watch as a kind of “I’m sorry” present, and even more amusing when she decided not to give it to him but he gave her a super-expensive bracelet which she oohed and aahed over until she grasped what it mean … that he’d been having a bit on the side too, although in his case it was with a lap-dancer. Much tackier than a tasteful Swedish author.

Still, it was a shame to see these character go. At least he seemingly wrote real and engaging literature, something the readers could really get into. And it would have been such a great sub-plot if the girls had discovered his wife wrote books too, and decided to publish hers instead of his.  Dream on … that is a step way too far for a popular US TV series.

The books the girls have been trying to deal with since have been less and less worthwhile. One, the plot of which covered intergenerational trauma, turned out to be completely plagiarised by a lady writer desperate to be published, no matter how, and after that the books have got worse and worse, the highpoint of tacky being the “list” of 69 things women supposedly think about when performing a certain deeply subordinate sexual act on men. Yuck! Why would Kelsey have championed that book?

For any frustrated and confused writer who can’t understand why they can’t find a traditional publisher for their work, this series is a godsend. How could anybody want to be published by people like these? If this is the publishing industry, no wonder actual writers can’t get published.

An extract from Last Patrol

While on the subject of Maralinga and the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Testing, I decided to put up a short extract from my novelette “Last Patrol”, which will be published in the story collection, Radiant Sands. You’ll find the extract by clicking on the “Fiction” tab on the front page of this website.cover-for-last-patrol

I hope the book will be ready for publication in 4-6 weeks. It will be published as an e-book on Amazon Kindle, available both through the Australian and US site.

Australian readers will be able to buy a print copy direct from this website using Paypal, or by ordering on-line. Print copies may be available on the shelves from good bookshops.

Once the release date is known, there will be some  pre-release copies available free from this site. If you’d like one, contact the publisher at PO Box 3, Katoomba NSW 2780. Although there is of course no obligation, a pre-release review on the Amazon site would be super-welcome.

Read more about Radiant Sands, Last Patrol and the extract, here.

 

Indie publishing and the Amazon Maelstrom of Doom

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I was a very early adopter of Amazon e-books. I opened an account straight away and I still have a collection of ancient Kindles with their grey screens and clunky keyboards. Once I realised the possibilities of self-publishing through Amazon I thought that might be for me. I knew a lot about conventional publishing especially in the academic field. But I had also looked into commercial publishing and knew some well-known published writers. Drusilla Modjeska is a kind of relation (my second husband’s first wife) and we had talked about the literary scene since the 1970’s. Still talking in the naughties, I tried to persuade her that Indie publishing was the way of the future but she, like most Australian literary figures, considered it completely unacceptable and infra-dig. I couldn’t persuade her of its virtues no matter what I said. Of course she already had a publisher and a secure literary reputation, so I can see why it wouldn’t have appealed.

By the time I was getting ready to publish my fiction and memoirs, it was another scene altogether. Traditional publishing had become almost impossible. The old literary circles were dying off and the Big Five international publishers had swallowed up one after another of the smaller presses. Agents at least in Australia just wouldn’t look at debut authors unless they seemed like literary prize material or were writing self-improvement texts or cookbooks and even then they had to have a profile on TV.

Self-publishing, or publishing through small presses, had indeed picked up the baton and become not merely successful but a huge industry with an entire infrastructure of its own.The demands on the independent writer now included the ability to manage all the things the old trad publishers had done, and as standards increased so did the expenses. And as the number of services for self-published authors bloomed, so did the number of titles, all neatly divided into nifty genres and subgenres which often bore little relevance to the actual book the author had written. There seemed increasing pressure to write to distinctive niches: alpha billionaire S and M, historical vampire fiction, sweet Amish romance, a whole submarket in stories about Mormon polygamy. Marketing became the watchword, but how to achieve it without paying for a marketer, with no guarantee of ever getting your investment back. The old days when the writer handed over a bundle of typed pages and received a cash advance began to look halcyon.

The Amazon publishing ecology is fantastic and offers every support to the writer, except the crucial one, namely, how to persuade readers to buy your book. The rise of Amazon’s own imprints is having another kind of impact, more on that later.

The glories of self-publishing are looking increasingly tarnished right now. In late 2016 the graphs of sales and income for Amazon self-publishers began to drift downwards for the first time in five years. Millions of e-books are washing around on Amazon and a few other platforms. Some estimates suggest that there are 5,000 new books published on Amazon each day. It’s almost impossible for readers to find good quality writing, the kind of book which is not repetitive trash genre fiction. Not to mention the ghastly low standard editing and typos in so much of it.

There is a huge market of people who love to read and appreciate the e-book format and like the low prices knowing most of it is going to the author but they want to read real stories with a certain kind of “truth”.  The enormous success of Sydney writer Liane Moriarty is an example. Liane is a really good Australian writer who tells well-crafted stories about real lives which readers can recognize. I found it at first unbelievable that her stories, set in Australia, were being snapped up by legions of American fans. She is almost completely unknown in Australian literary circles and certainly will never turn up on a literary prize listing. Her readers are not necessarily  part of the cultural elite, but they are still serious readers, who  get lost fast in the wilds of Amazon and will be generally turned off by the oceans of junk and rubbish now swirling about in the maelstrom. It was good luck as well as a good product which brought Liane to her readers at a time when Amazon/Kindle hadn’t reached the stage of terminal bloat and ultimate Doom.

We urgently need some method of curation which doesn’t go through the conventional route and can open a space for e-book publishing for serious readers and writers who want to engage with the new world of online publishing. That’s the number one challenge now, it seems to me.

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Writing and Memoirs

One of my Pages is called “Memoirs”. There I talk about the continuing Memoirs project and its inspiration (or  otherwise) by  the writings of  recent authors. I’m repeating some of that here in this post.

While I still haven’t managed to read the whole of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s opus My Struggle (Volume Six still isn’t published in English anyway and some of them I just haven’t been able to get through) the way he wrote and published has been an inspiration.

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Karl Ove Knausgard – publicity still

I really appreciate the way he didn’t feel obliged to follow the temporal sequence of his existence, but came out with things in what seemed to be almost episodically random order. The first published in English was A Death in the Family and he was writing it round about the same time as I was writing my own maternal mortality story. His revelations about his father, which caused a violent storm in his native Norway, were pretty gruesome. I had nothing of that kind to contribute. My mother had done some pretty awful things like most of us do, but she was nothing like the kind of horror he described his father to be. If anyone was a horror, it was me. Sixty-three at the time, I still thought I had to excel in my career. I still thought I was much more important than anybody else. This was not the frame of mind to be in when trying to help a 93 year old woman through the last year of her life.

Like most English readers I was gripped by Knausgaard’s second volume, A Man in Love, about his relation with his second wife and their family. The texture of everyday existence and his internal monologues as he did his best to live in ideologically correct Sweden and please his feminist wife, the only man taking his little child to pre-school singalongs where he spent the time lusting after the kindie teacher – what happens when you want to be a writer but aren’t allowed to – a woman’s story, now by a man.Well, apart from the lusting after the teacher bit, although I suppose even that can happen in these denormative times.

His other books had less to  say to me, and I haven’t finished them all. Still, they are there on my Kindle and I dip in and out of them every once in a while. For all the sense of alienation and irritation Knausgaard is able to stir in me, I like the way he is trying to grapple with himself and come to terms with what a shit he was most of the time.

The second memoirist I must mention is the insanely popular Elena Ferrante (not. All the hoo-haa about who she “really” is has been quite absurd, unless you subscribe to the Author as Sacred Object school of literary activity). On the other hand, though, there might be something to it because everything she has written seems to me completely fake.  I really and truly cannot read it. I have tried, started one book, then another, tried going into the middle of the first one, then the end of the third and honestly I have to say I just don’t get it.

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One of these days I will try again. If Knausgaard is the masculine consciousness of the twenty-first century,  Ferrante is a feminine counterpart. Women seem to read books in order to identify themselves with the narrator, and in line with a lot of feminist theoretical work from the 1970s and 1980s, now largely ignored, it would seem that Ferrante works from the classic masochistic feminine position which a great many women still seem to find compelling and truthful for them.

Knausgaard on the other hand seems to me to occupy that new masochistic hysterical masculinism which our times have produced. This is not the place to conduct a forensic analysis of these writings, looming  large over the two thousand teens “serious” reading scene. But it has been the experience of tangling with them both which has sharpened up so powerfully my sense of what Memoirs can, or maybe cannot, do.

First past the post

In October 6th 2016  my first Kindle publication, The Priceless Princess, appeared. Not long after, the paperback printed through Create Space became available. My first fiction publication!  Actually that’s not quite true, I contributed a story to a very early literary magazine with a number of feminist writers now household names including Drusilla Modjeska. I won second prize in the Hawkesbury Literary competition with one of my river stories and another one was published recently in a Blue Mountains literary journal. I’ll put them both up on my “Fiction” page.

I didn’t want to make a fuss about the Priceless Princess coming out. A few people congratulated me. I gave out paperback copies to various friends and relatives including my granddaughter who inspired it. Can’t say it’s sold many copies although there’s been some reading on Kindle Unlimited. I feel very attached to that story and love Keith’s illustrations, so I’d like to find a way to “market” it more widely, especially in Australia, because although it’s not an Australian story as such it features a lot of Australian animals. I still haven’t finished the work for the additional natural history material I want to put up.

There are so many suggestions about how to manage a writer’s online presence. I have a Page on Facebook  here and The Priceless Princess has her own website here.  My Amazon Author’s page has just gone live here . Different audiences want different things, and different kinds of contact with books and writers. I expect to use the posts on this site for comments on the life of books and writing.

I am fascinated by the alternative writing world which has been opened up by Amazon and on-line publication. The freedom to write and publish whatever you like, and potentially to reach a world-wide audience, is an extraordinary achievement. But it is evident now, after almost a decade of self-publishing, that the quantity is limitless but the quality can be appalling. I have been reflecting more on this in a recent post – Indie publishing and the Amazon Maelstrom of Doom

A small step on a long path, they say.  Still, I’m up for it.