Category Archives: Self-publishing

A two-speed economy: How traditional publishers are benefiting from Amazon Kindle and the impact on Indies.

I’ve mentioned before the way Amazon publication has entered new territory since the Big Five managed to get their own way about e-book pricing. It’s become increasingly apparent that conventional publishers have worked out how the maximise their gains from e-books and distributors, and while still bemoaning their existence have seized on the new opportunities now available.

There is no doubt that a traditional publishing deal remains the aim of most writers. Other than genre fiction of a certain kind (explicit erotica, shape-shifters, Space Opera romance and so on) every serious writer still wants a deal with a “real” publisher. But a lot of readers don’t want to buy physical books, and want to buy e-books online.

Now the traditional publishers have worked out that they can offer e-books at the same time as they publish print books, and preserve the powerful traditional ecosystem. By ensuring the price of the e-book version is not far from the print version (which may indeed be available in bookshops and will receive traditional marketing, recognition and publicity) they can make profits from e-books which are virtually cost-free since they only need to prepare the files once, there are no publication costs, distribution costs, warehousing costs or any other costs to speak of. The writers meanwhile have presumably signed contracts for the standard royalties, like 10% or whatever, and the publishers are pocketing the difference. And keeping the e-book costs high for the readers.

So a newly published book, like Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers (2018) is selling on Kindle for $14.99 and in paperback on Amazon.au for $16.00.  And Sydney-based author Shirley Barrett’s The Bus on Thursday (2018) – a most unusual read about a woman who has breast cancer by an author who learns that she does in fact have breast cancer after she has finished writing the book – is published by well-known Australian publisher Allen and Unwin on Kindle for $14.99 and in paperback at $22.99. I have no idea whether these authors have made special royalty deals with their publishers regarding the e-book version, maybe they have and good luck to them.

But the point is, this process is pushing the distinction between self-published books and books from traditional publishers further and further apart, so most indie books on Kindle are $2.99 or even less and the trad pub books are now well above $10.00.  Do readers know, or care? Well, they probably don’t care about that, as such, but they DO get to hear about the books because the publishers have established methods of publicity which benefit the e-book sales in a way that the randomised chaos of Amazon Kindle at present cannot equal. So the traditional publisher sells lots and lots of e-books but makes the reader pay almost as much as they would for a paperback even though they don’t get to actually “own” the book, can’t lend it to anyone or do anything else with it. But somehow still think they are getting a good deal because it costs less than the paperback they saw in the store.

What a mess it has become. I wish some clever statistical analysis was going on right now to clarify what the effects of all this are. You can glean a bit from services like Alex Newton’s K-Lytics and Data Guy at the Author Earnings Report, but I haven’t found anyone who is tackling the divergent effects of the way traditional publishers are now using the e-book market to enhance their reach while re-consolidating their influence over publishing and pushing independent authors back down to where they think they belong. Is genuine independent publishing doomed? Does anyone know of any updates on this?

Opportunism and opportunity: on building a writing career

Only a bit over three months left of 2018 and the silly season is almost upon us. Everyone in Australia knows that the country shuts down in early November with the Melbourne Cup and doesn’t start up again until the end of January.

Melbourne_Cup_Finish,_Melbourne,_Vic._-_1905_(31511457514)

As I don’t go to the races, have no travel plans for the summer and don’t drink alcohol this annual idiocy-fest should not affect me. But I am filled with fear and trepidation because I have so many writing projects which were going to be released “by the end of the year”. Score so far: NIL.

It’s not as if I haven’t written them. Almost all have been through several edits, I have a production method in hand, cover artists lined up … one final edit each, I say to myself, and they will be ready to go. I so much want to do this, because there are new writing projects I want to start. Sure, there are lots of things that get in the way of finishing books, ordinary life stuff. That’s bad enough. But now I am suffering a crisis of confidence. Maybe I should just embrace the silly season and forget about writing altogether, apart from dumb “Season’s Greeting” cards. Or I should take a leaf out of my own (unpublished) cook book and get going on the cakes and puddings. At least I could sell them at a cake stall!

christmascakes

A few short years ago  independent publishing seemed so clearly the way to go. But it seems more and more difficult to get any purchase at all with the reading (buying) public without a huge effort in marketing strategy and general non-writing activity. Writing itself takes second place. I need to get serious, not about writing, but about the “writing career”.

Everyone says you have to do it, and lots of people tell you how. Using the Internet strategically is obviously top of the list these days. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Internet and have done ever since it debuted back in prehistory, well, the early 90s or whenever it was. I love my blogs, both the writing and art sites, it feels truly creative putting them together, but I do that because I love it, not to build a following or expand an email list. I am a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors and they put out some great stuff. but tweeting is troppo mucho and Facebook gives me a kind of hysterical indigestion, yes, I know, I shouldn’t have subscribed to those I-Love-Cats sites but there was a reason for that, believe it or not, although I won’t go into it here.

writing books is like military strategy

No, the real problem is I can’t wholly see myself as someone “building a writing career”. I am a writer, I love to write, writing is what I do. If I have any time at all, like those precious two or so hours before the world wakes up in the morning, I want to spend it writing or editing or thinking about better turns of phrases for titles or thinking about how to improve a story or how to introduce some new themes. I don’t want to spend it building my email list or tweeting or whatever. It’s bad enough that I have had to go through so much time just working out how to produce a workable manuscript which will go through the publication process smoothly, and identifying useful information sites to follow. But now I see I have to see I have to Put Myself Out There as well.

This morning I came across an article by Wendy Jones called How Being an Opportunist Helps Build Your Writing Career (republished 5 September 2018) here.

This article really made me realise that I just didn’t have the right frame of mind to be a successful Independent Author. Just not opportunistic enough. Read it and weep!

On the other hand maybe I should go to the Melbourne Cup and hand out leaflets urging punters to buy my books! Now that’s an opportunity.

Melbourne_cup_1881

 

Amazon creates NoSpace for Australian authors: Ingram Spark to the rescue?

In my previous post I mentioned the problems Australian authors are having under the new KDP publication model. I wanted to offer a couple of observations based on personal experience.

I have used KDP, CreateSpace and Ingram Spark in my experiments with publishing to date. I found Ingram Spark quite problematic – this was a couple of years ago – it didn’t seem at all friendly and had difficult protocols which had to be followed exactly for it to work successfully. IS charged a set-up fee (unlike CreateSpace/KDP) and you had to re-pay every time you changed anything eg because of errors you discovered only after the first files had been set up. I had problems with a colour shift in one of my covers and when I asked IS why this was so they were completely unhelpful, and didn’t want to engage in any discussion about it. They said the problem was in my files, but they came out perfectly on Create Space. If you have published ANYTHING on Kindle in the previous year, IS cannot distribute to Kindle, ditto Apple. There were heaps of others to whom they distributed though, and this became important when I realized that Australian readers could order my books through sellers like Book Depository and Angus and Robertson online. Booksellers could, if they wished, order them too. Amazon didn’t offer anything like it and seemed to have no Australian outlets. If someone in Australia wanted to buy a print copy through Amazon they had to pay a huge postage fee.

Now Australian readers can’t even buy from the US site. If they want a print copy of a book by an Australian author who has published with Amazon they have to order from the Australian site and pay the A$ price and the postage from the US as well. What’s worse for authors, they can’t access their own books for review copies or place bulk orders as they used to be able to do from CreateSpace. So the need for an alternative becomes compelling.

Ingram Spark has printing facilities in Australia, in Melbourne to be precise. So they can print one copy, or multiples, and ship them to the author directly. Their printing costs are higher in some cases than CreateSpace used to be, but having local access more than compensates. Ingram Spark seems to be making a much more active effort to engage with the self-publishing community. If you belong to the Alliance of Independent Authors IS was offering free set-up, for instance. Not sure if that is still the case, but will find out in a few weeks when I set up two of my new publications and will report back.

Now to the option of local printing. I have checked out two Sydney-based printers and am about to see what a service in my local regional area can do. This is not old-time offset printing, but Print on Demand suitable for short runs. One printer offered quick service and lovely-quality print (including good quality covers based on the CreateSpace files I provided) but the cost was so far in excess of what IS or CreateSpace offered and you had to arrange your own pick-up and obviously storage. Another couldn’t work with the type of files I had at all and said they weren’t going to be compatible with their machines.

Once you go to the commercial printing universe you are in a world of pain. Here’s why: https://graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/58921/which-file-format-is-best-for-printing

Printers have their own expectations and facilities. I had a professional designer do both interior layout and covers for my previous books but local printers still had problems. Now I’m looking at using either Pressbooks or Vellum for the interiors and getting a professional designer for the covers. Whether this would work with the local printer, we shall see. Anyway, if you do go the local printer route, you have to be able to pick up and store your books, and forward/deliver them to the customer. And charge a much higher price. I am thinking of doing some locally printed good quality paperbacks for my own sales (through the website and maybe some local bookshops) as well as using Ingram Spark AND KDP. Steep learning curves all around.

Is there really a future for independent publishing in Australia?

Ever get the feeling that independent publishing, which promised so much, is heading down the vortex, especially for Australian authors? When it all started rolling it seemed like writers would be able to reach readers without all the intermediaries deciding who and what would be allowed through the hallowed gates of author-dom.

selfpub diagram wikiIt looked as if new technology would link writers and readers all over the world and open up the artificial geographic zones which for half a century had been creating unnecessary boundaries around the best new writing. Readers were forced to pay absurdly high prices in some areas, including Australia, to accommodate the outdated business model. You might have thought the response would have been to change the business model, but no, that didn’t happen, and now things seem to be in some kind of weird spiral.

In the US E-books are still selling, and selling well. In number they far outweigh trad pub titles, and just recently they have superseded print books in dollar value. Of course many of these sales are for traditionally published books from established publishers, who bring out an e-book edition along with their print editions. It is very hard to get accurate figures separating the different market components out.

US eBook_Sales_to_Surpass_Printed_Book_Sales_in_2017_n

When Indie publishing took hold, a network of new support mechanisms evolved to help authors bring their work to an eager public. Traditional publishers went on doing exactly as they had been doing (but added in e-book versions) and everyone else was free to try things out in all kinds of ways while Amazon  provided the all-important technological platform.

For a while Amazon set the prices of the e-books from the traditional publishers. But after a legal case spear-headed by global giant Hachette Amazon was forced to raise the prices of the e-book versions  so they did not  compete with print books: take a look at the price box next to the Big Five published book you want to buy on your Amazon site and you will see “The price was set by the publishers”. This has pushed e-book prices higher for “good” books from all the global players who have eaten up the smaller niche publishers at least in the English-language market.

BigFivePublishers

Meanwhile millions of other books are left wallowing about at the lowest possible end of the price scale in the hope that someone, anyone, will buy a copy. The unregulated indie market has turned out to be a ghastly place full of bad writing, creepy fantasies, idiotic space-nonsense, buff six-packs and bizarre arrays of erotica. There are many notable exceptions, of course, but anyone who takes a close look at what is going on in the Amazon indie market better not be a serious reader who thinks books have something to do with improving society and culture.

In Australia, the e-book revolution hardy took hold although Australians are known as early adopters of new technologies. Try asking around among friends and workmates and see how many actually have and use a Kindle. The answer, if you are an indie author, is super-depressing. It seems everyone longs for the olden days.

old Angus and Robertson

But there’s more to it than persistent nostalgia. It’s not just that people like going to physical bookshops, or buying physical books (often as presents for others), it’s that the guardians of Australian culture mounted an incredibly successful campaign against Amazon among booklovers. They were readily convinced that anything coming out of a corporate US giant like Amazon was automatically going to be a Bad Thing. This impression was shored up among the writers’ groups, in publishing circles, among academics and general literati, the local press, the network of book clubs and whatever other areas of public communication had anything at all to say about books and writing. Indie authors did not appear at Writer’s Festivals. Nobody mentioned them on the TV book shows (all now defunct); everybody interested in books and writing in Australia knew that good writing only appeared through a reputable publisher. The books by Australian authors hailed by the literati sold in modest to low numbers. Books written by Australian indie authors had to succeed in the US market, or not at all. There has never been an identifiable market for Australian independent authors in Australia.

Now things are even worse. Amazon won’t let Australians buy e-books – or any books for that matter – from it’s American site. This is supposedly because the Australian government didn’t like it that e-books were being bought by Australians who weren’t paying GST on them. Now the reader is forced back to the .au site, no option. Add the GST to the cost of the e-book and it looks a lot more expensive than when it was $2.99 on the US site. Previously, readers who wanted to order a print version could do so from the US site and pay horrendous postage. It seems that hardcover versions of Big Five published books are available through the Australian site, but still have to be sent at a high postage rate from the US. So guess what? You might as well buy a print copy of the book from your local bookshop, or by ordering online. Who needs Kindles and e-books after all? Somehow all this seems to have shored up the ultra-conservative elements in the Australian book world.

E-book author earnings are still very substantial, and when you consider that many authors identify themselves with a self-managed publishing imprint, the result is even more impressive. But of course this is happening in the US, not in Australia.

ebook-author-earnings-1m-201605

Australian authors often made print versions through CreateSpace and ordered fifty or a hundred or whatever copies to distribute themselves in Australia, sell through their own website or send out as freebies. Now CreateSpace has closed down and everyone is supposed to use KDP for their print books. But nobody, not even the author, can order print books from their US-based Amazon account, and Amazon is not going to be printing books in Australia anytime soon. You can’t even order a proof copy of your new e-book from KDP, apparently, because that would involve sending it at the US price. I believe this issue is currently being looked at by Amazon, but the bulk print copies will never be available again. So it’s back to the Australian traditional publishers.tradpub cartoon

Several correspondents have asked why authors don’t just have their own books printed locally, instead of worrying about the whole Amazon/e-book experience? Well, there are three good reasons. Firstly, local printers quote for a paperback version around two-three times the cost CreateSpace used to be able to supply them at, even with shipping from the US. They can look a lot better with much nicer paper but the price needs to be set very high if the bookseller gets the 40-50% discount they expect. The author may finish up getting even less than the miserable payout from a book priced at $2.99 on Amazon. Second, local bookshops are very reluctant to stock books from independent authors unless there is some local reason to do so – like a book about riding bicycles along back paths here in the Blue Mountains, which sells well from just two or three bookshops. The author supplies the copies personally when the bookshops run out. But if you are trying to sell more widely it means you have to keep stocks of your printed books somewhere – in your garage, or in your bedroom, or in a warehouse-type space, then you have to post or send or courier copies to whoever wants them, then pick them up again if they aren’t sold.

There is no simple answer, obviously.

BTW I  want to thank Anna Castleton for her recent comment (August 31st) which prompted me to write this post sooner rather than later. I also should mention that my e-books, such as they are to date, have been illustrated and cover-designed and the interiors formatted by a well-regarded professional (in Mexico, as it happens) and the colour shift problems  I had with my children’s book The Priceless Princess when print copies were made on Ingram Spark were the result of the Ingram Spark presses not “reading” the PDF files correctly.  Ingram Spark seems much more responsive these days and  is making a significant push into the space being vacated by Amazon. And it prints in Melbourne.  More on this in a later post.

 

 

 

 

 

The Perils of Publishing

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

But I was moved  to write today by yet another story about a writer who wanted to be published and 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.

engraving publishing

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 buy 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 which 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 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.

360_hoarders_0423

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 expensive 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. So a two-tier structure is emerging in the e-book market where self-published ebooks are super cheap, or even free, while Kindle versions of recognised publishers’ print books are available at grossly inflated prices, often around the same price as a paperback. Meanwhile buyers who go to bookshops or order through companies like Booktopia are purchasing conventionally published print books since the ebook version won’t be much of a saving. This reinforces the power of traditional publishers and makes self-published writers 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 and can send you good quality printed copies of your masterwork does not mean you are on an even footing with those who have benefited from the system of preferment and patronage so common in the publishing world today. You still won’t get into the bookshops, or be distributed to libraries, or reviewed in the newspaper, or invited to speak at a Writer’s Festival. If you want to get your work into circulation somehow, anyhow, you’ll do best to DIY or find someone you can absolutely trust to do the technical stuff for you.

 

 

 

 

Writing’s not for sissies: what happens when you just can’t finish a story?

Leonid_Pasternak_-_The_Passion_of_creation
Leonid Pasternak 1862-1945 The Passion of Creation

Advice for writers always includes something about how to deal with writer’s block, as if it’s something like the common cold or a pernicious case of athlete’s foot. I have never really understood this, as most of my life I have been unable to stop writing even when I should know better.

However I think I have just developed a case of something like it and I don’t know how it has happened or what to do about it. I am as usual writing and writing – for instance, I am writing this very piece – and I am doing research for various projects I am in the middle of and I have started revising a lot of stuff on my blogs but I am definitely avoiding the one thing I really need to write, the thing I need to finish so I can actually get on with the next thing and then start something absolutely fresh. It must mean something … but what?

I have been working on a book of short stories, some of which were written years ago while others are brand new or radically revised. Some are quite long, almost novella length, others are super-short. I’m planning both e-book and paperback releases through Amazon and Ingram Spark. Maybe I’ll get a local printer to do a quality small run for the Australian market. Everything is ready for a final assembly and edit BUT there’s this one story I just can’t finish. It’s been through several versions, the main character has had several names and a variety of backstories, the key issues have changed several times, the narrative has shifted, her late husband has oscillated between being a stuffy idiot, a self-important moron and an OK kind of guy … and now I have her in the middle of the story and something really dramatic has to start happening to her and I just can’t get it moving.

So I wake up first thing in the morning determined to finish the story but instead I start looking at note I was writing about something else and then I’m looking at emails or trying to upload a pdf or whatever and two hours pass and then I have to start doing something else and my quality writing time is over so I say I’ll get back to it later in the day but it doesn’t happen, and then it’s night time and tomorrow is another day and I am sure I will finish it then but guess what? No luck …

Yes, it’s procrastination but something more as well. Is it some deep-seated psychological resistance to actually finishing this book and actually publishing it? Do I doubt the value of this story in particular, or the collection as a whole?

Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1802, the year his daughter, Sara, was born.

English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge first described his “indefinite indescribable terror” at not being able to produce work he thought worthy of his talent. I certainly don’t feel anything like indescribable terror. I’m just cross with myself for having constructed what feels like a wall between myself as a writer and the end of this story. Meanwhile Louisa, my character, is stranded in her luxurious hotel room in Bangkok waiting for her cosmetic surgical scars to heal. Poor thing.

 

Check out some good suggestions at Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prime-your-gray-cells/201510/five-reasons-youre-experiencing-writer-s-block

 

 

 

Nightmare on the Red Spectrum

Red Priceless Princess small
THE PRICELESS PRINCESS IS RED-FACED

The Priceless Princess has been available for sale through Amazon for several months now. It was my first venture into self-publishing and I knew it would be a learning experience. And how! As I lamented earlier, I enrolled it in KDP Select, which means the e-book can’t be distributed outside the Amazon Kindle environment. Because it was in Select it meant that people with a subscription could download it as part of their service. All good, except that now authors are paid by the page read and the book is only 106 pages long – it is after all a children’s book. Quite a few readers have chosen it but being paid by the page it’s made almost nothing in dollar terms. Books stay in KDP Select for 90 days and I missed the deadline to get it off there so now I’m stuck with it until June and can’t use any other e-book distributor.

What about a print book? Would anybody buy that? I had a Create Space version printed and it came out beautifully. No sales, because it was free in KDP Select I guess, or maybe it was too expensive. Nobody in Australia would pay the postage. I ordered 50 copies for my own distribution purposes but that cost a small fortune in freight from the US which is the only way to get the books to Australia.

Amazon’s Create Space has no presence in Australia: you can’t get books printed here. If Australian readers want a print copy they have to pay the exorbitant cost of postage from the US. Amazon’s Australian Site: Authors Beware

Why didn’t I know this? It is obvious that most people in Australia, especially when buying children’s books, only want printed copies. Nobody here buys their kids a Kindle for Christmas (they do in the US apparently). I wanted to be able to distribute the print version through my website, put copies into schools as donations and do various other things so people in Australia could buy it.

So I followed everyone’s advice and went with Ingram Spark since they print in Australia and I could get print copies from them in bulk for a lower freight cost. And they distributed everywhere. But they wouldn’t use the same Create Space PDF files, the files had to be saved in a different PDF form, the very early x-1A or whatever it is. Finally got Keith to redo/resave the files, they were accepted by IS, then I had to pay $15 to get one copy to examine (by courier – what is wrong with using Australia Post?) and then I discover that the front cover in printing has shifted to the red spectrum and the Priceless Princess’s gorgeous face is now extremely flushed.

So I ask IS why this is since the art work is identical with what went to CS and I receive a prompt reply saying all printing machinery is different and they cannot guarantee any particular colour outcome or that it will match that printed elsewhere and I have to get the files redone to compensate for their machines.

But how? Nobody can see what the problem is on the artwork files, which look identical on both PDFs.

So now I have a very red-faced Priceless Princess circulating around the world, a very frustrated illustrator who doesn’t know how to help, and a particularly irritated author who is now trying to find a local printer who can use the original Create Space files and hopefully provide a better quality paper at the same time for a reasonable price so I can do my own local distribution.

Online technology obviously doesn’t combine well with legacy printing. The online world doesn’t mesh with traditional reader behaviour. A lot more work needs to be done to find some better alternatives. Meanwhile everyone under 30 is reading free books on their mobile phones. Is this a losers’ game or what?

Authors, Editors and the Ethics of Publishing

Came across a book yesterday which brought into focus something that has been bugging me for ages. Blake Atwood’s Don’t Fear the Reaper: Why every author needs an editor is squarely aimed at the new writer, especially the new Indie writer – although any writer who has an editor will be enlightened by it.

ReaperIt is a seriously good book, with lots of recommendations about how authors and editors can get on better together. But it made me feel very weird.

There are hundreds of books on Kindle right now and maybe thousands of blog posts directed at the emerging author who plans to self-publish. All this advice should help the publishing process and make the written work as good as it can be and therefore produce sales and success. Two recommendations stand out: get a professional cover designer! get a professional editor!

Cover designer, for sure. Unless you are great with Photoshop or comfortable with digital design software such as Canva, it’s not easy to get a great-looking cover. Of course there are now many automated genre cover services, where you buy a standard design and put your title and name on the front. Fair enough, as long as everyone else hasn’t chosen the same design. As time goes by and the competition on Kindle gets more intense, authors are feeling pressured to hire more and more services.  Is it really making a difference to the quality of self-published books?

services hired
Source: Digital Book World- Team Publishing 1

Editing? It’s obvious that many new indie writers haven’t followed that piece of advice. I download and read book after book by new or unknown (to me) indie authors. It’s pretty clear that the book hasn’t been edited properly or at all. My first reaction is always irritation, even exasperation. A good premise self-destructs in an incoherent plot. Not just one or a few but scores of grammatical errors make the book unreadable. A few typos? OK. But one or two on every page? No thanks. This book joins the others in my library with the dreaded “30%” score (or less). Just couldn’t be bothered finishing it. Why does this happen?

only one left

There are three kinds of editing: developmental, which picks up on structural flaws and can result in a total rewrite; copyediting, attending closely to grammar, expression and sentence structure to make the work “correct”; and proofreading to pick up those last typos or whatever. Great! But soon the penniless hopeful discovers that an editor expects to be paid separately for each of these and some only specialize in one. Atwood is mainly a copyeditor. Editing costs seem incredible. Over a thousand dollars for just one of these edits is common.

But hang on a minute. Why aren’t the authors writing their books properly in the first place? Why can’t they edit themselves? Is it that many writers can’t in fact write? And if editors do as much on a manuscript as they claim to do, who is really the author?

I was amazed when I realized the extent to which fiction was edited. Having published around one hundred academic papers, I was used to a certain level of editorial intervention, usually to provide clarity or reduce jargon or introduce some additional analytic viewpoint in a footnote. But the idea that someone would virtually re-write your whole paper, changing your intention, re-organizing the flow of argument, removing whole sections, deleting punctuation marks and in effect taking over the construction of your work was unthinkable. You were the writer. Anyone who hired someone else to do all that made the work fraudulent. It just wasn’t your work any more.  If your journal editor, having accepted your paper, chose to use an editor to make significant changes, that was an acceptable cost of being published in prestigious journals. But paying for it yourself?

The world of commercial publishing seems to take a high level of editorial intervention for granted. One of the first things in traditional publishing was to assign an editor to an author. Sometimes authors mention their editor by name, more often than not the existence of that person is completely hidden. Why? If an editor has had so much input into your work, then why isn’t that person acknowledged as a kind of author – if not a co-author, perhaps a writing associate? While it is obvious that proof-reading and minor corrections will always be required, how can the interventions of a copyeditor, let alone a developmental editor, entirely unacknowledged, be justified?

There are a set of conventions about writing which increasingly determine what will be accepted as “good” in its field. Genre fiction is one thing, literary fiction another. The hidden truth is that literary fiction is largely for people with a better education. Hundreds of Amazon reviews moan and whinge about “big words” or books being “too hard to read”. I just last night read a review which gave one star to a book because of the long words in it. The writer complained that it claimed to be a thriller but really it was a book for the “literary elite”.

literary cocktail party
A literary cocktail party at George Plimpton’s Upper East Side apartment, 1939.

Traditional publishing kept control over writing and reading by maintaining a reasonable level of quality control over what was published. And editing was key to this process. Even popular thrillers and romances were edited to maintain something like an acceptable standard of literacy. Indie publishing has thrown that out the window. Anyone can write and publish anything. This seems powerfully democratic. But is there a necessary standard for writing? Shouldn’t books be literate, even if they are not literary?

What if authors don’t agree with their editors? Blogs and forums are full of horror stories about new writers paying editors thousands of dollars only to find their recommendations unacceptable. If you have a contract with a publisher then the editors is likely to be the winner in a catfight. If the author is paying the editor directly, what then?

catfight2
Source: Gramlee – see https://www.gramlee.com/blog/when-authors-and-copy-editors-disagree/

If you look closely at the advice to new writers, the people who write about how badly you need an editor are almost always editors themselves. It seems that they are right. Like Atwood, many have also published books on how to publish books. That is a good marketing strategy, especially with the bottomless pit of would-be authors filling up by the day. But new writers don’t want to spend money. They just want to write their books and publish them. Hmm. A problem: nobody wants to buy them. Read the forums where countless authors complain that nobody has bought their books. So they are encouraged to give their books away free, or almost so. What kind of product is this?

You can get ultra-cheap editing, of course. Thanks to the internet someone on the other side of the world can be your editor. So what if their English isn’t too great! They can do your “updation”, your Head-Noting and even write your blog!

sodhanis

It’s a minefied. I don’t want to read books which have been radically altered by an editor. I want to read what that particular author says, and to see exactly how she or he says it. It’s part of the fun of reading. If the writing is bad, so bad that I can’t enjoy the book, then I won’t buy anything from that author again. On the other hand, so many new authors write such bad books. They have awful holes in the plot or drag on too long or have blatant unexplained contradictions, and I know how much better the book could have been if someone had “edited” – in effect re-written – it.

I feel sorry for these authors. I don’t want to discourage them, so I don’t leave negative reviews. Neither does anyone else. Without an editor, or some form of independent feedback, how are authors to know their books are just not good enough? Then again, I feel sorry for their editors, if they are eventually hired. Working on badly written manuscripts, toiling over silly or boring or pompous or pointless stories and trying to make them better must be one of the most soul-destroying forms of employment imaginable – a marriage made in purgatory. [Hey, there’s a concept: a writer and an editor locked up in some horrific warehouse, in a remote derelict landscape (think Tarkovsky), going to suffer a  gruesome fate if they can’t agree on final edits. If you want to develop it, let’s collaborate!]

House-of-Purgatory_03

Proofreading is another thing. Everyone needs a proof-reader. Errors creep in, typos happen and the malign influence of the spell-checker has to be remedied. I don’t know how necessary it is to hire a professional proof-reader. Maybe any two or three people who are good readers would do.

What do you think? Should editors be acknowledged, perhaps by name, when they have been hired to work on a book? Or should writers just learn to write better in the first place?

 

 

 

 

Snobs, the Canape Set and the Dummy Spit

Cindy Fazzi’s recent post “Six Signs of a Literary Snob” here reminded me of the vehement debate around the effects of cliques formed around creative writing courses and literary journals in Australia which erupted in 2016 and resulted in a wild outburst from a young Australian author in that revered Melbourne literary journal Meanjin. Luke Carman has runs on the board. He has published short fiction in local journals (HEAT, Westside, Cultural Studies Review) and has been on the shortlist for a few recent prizes. He has published a book of short stories (An Elegant Young Man) and tutors in creative writing at the University of Western Sydney… but there are two strikes straight away. Short stories are considered somehow mildly deplorable and definitely not a mark of “real” literature, and Western Sydney – which means anywhere between Ashfield and Wentworth Falls – is by definition not a site from which worthwhile literary forms could possibly emerge.

australian-houses-aug-12

Luke spat the dummy in a big way. He said that Australian literary endeavour had been infiltrated by “wannabes” who were “dictating terms for an artform to which they contribute nothing but their lordly presence”. Luke was taking on the prevalent literary snobbery in Australia which seems to be flourishing more vigorously than ever, especially regarding the books that agents and publishers are permitting past the starting gate, and in the award of literary prizes and other marks of distinction.

Cindy’s go-to list for the literary snob:

  1. Reads only literary fiction; absolutely no commercial genres for this reader.
  2. Refuses to read self-published books.
  3. Refuses to read any best seller, even if it’s literary.
  4. Doesn’t like to read feel-good books or happy endings. The more depressing a book, the better for this reader.
  5. Doesn’t like to read “easy” books. The more incomprehensible, the better.
  6. Won’t read a novel published after a certain decade or period (e.g., nothing after the 1960s or after 19th century, etc.)

This fits the Australian scene perfectly, except for #6. The literary world here is mainly devoted to recently published works from authors who have already made their mark on the Ozlit scene. Debut authors need to have come through a Creative Writing program in one of the main universities and consequently enjoyed Fellowships and residencies in prestigious programs. They are usually championed by an important figure, preferably a famous writer, who refers them on to agents and publishers. Agents and publishers want books whose themes resonate with the current cultural obsessions – indigenous dispossession, gender-based suffering, migrant disaffection, the struggles of the repentant drug addict – and have no interest in books which engage the general popular audience, those which sell well because of their exciting plots and “easy” writing. As for the happy ending, who could take that seriously?

Sept_Liane_Moriarty_QA_700x400

A great example is the spectacular but largely culturally invisible writing career of Sydney author Liane Moriarty, recently dubbed “the most successful Australian author you’ve never heard of”. I came across her work entirely by accident, wandering about on Kindle as I do most nights, exploring new things to read. I couldn’t believe it. Here was a woman writer, offering great fiction about a Sydney I knew, so recognisable, real places and real (often horrible) Sydney people! I loved the first of her books and then bought and read all of them in quick succession. Now she can’t write fast enough to meet her reader’s demands. This is a writer who has sold six million books around the world. Her books are hardly light-weight. They address the dark side of Sydney suburban life in a way never written about before. Her endings aren’t “happy” although they aren’t necessarily tragic either. They are well-written, lovingly crafted and you can’t put them down. Now Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon are starring in the movie adaptation of her smash-hit “Big Little Lies”. Oh, OK, there’s the problem right there! She is successful! People want to read her books! She’s sold the film rights! And she’s writing about Sydney suburbia. Not good among the Melbourne establishment which pretty much dominates the literary scene these days, or so everyone seems to agree.

 

luke carman 2
Meek and mild Luke Carman

So what about Luke Carman? He’s writing about Sydney too, but it’s a Sydney even Liane Moriarty’s fans won’t know much about. Set largely in his home-suburb of Liverpool, the characters in his stories reflect the turbulent and sometimes bizarre reality of contemporary life for the young in Western Sydney. They are addicts, poets, people who see ghosts, Lebbos, Grubby Boys, scumbag Aussies. His alter-ego writer loves Whitman and Kerouac and Leonard Cohen. The book is full of energy, edgy street-scenes and local voices, really INTENSE as the younger generation say. I loved his book, published by Giramondo, which  is a pretty respectable local publisher, and wondered what had led to his “spray” in Meanjin here. It’s a wonderful but complicated essay, full of rage and bile. Many would join me in saying, “Luke, I feel you”.

Luke2-4
Luke Carman in full flight

Without doubt the Australian literary scene is self-referential and highly conservative. Obsessed with its own preservation, denying the validity of the e-book, loathing self-publishing, there seems to be in a kind of retro-neo-colonial suspension going on here. New forms of expression and new kinds of stories are ignored or, more accurately, not even recognised.

The overlap and interplay between visual and written culture is at an exciting place. As long-form television is replacing the standard movie, new strategies of writing (the long-form literary equivalent, as practiced by Knausgaard for example) opens up a new trajectory reminiscent of Proust. Screen-writers write fiction and turn their fictions back into television series – thinking here of that fabulous 2016 series Good Behaviour – and “books” can be as long or as short as writers like and readers enjoy.

good behaviour 1

It’s become a terrible struggle for the conventional author trying to get “the book” published in print. The e-alternative is terrible as well, especially trying to find a market with the five million books now available online. But writers can’t help themselves, they like to write, and readers like to read, it’s a question of finding new ways for them to get together. The canapés and champagne Harbourside set may still be seeking their Bourdieuan distinction, but there is a lot more to the writing scene now, thank goodness!

 

 

Should writers pay their readers?

chicken_house_wikicommons_wide
Indie writers at work

Writers are born, or so they say.  Problem is, publishers don’t have room for them all.  They have weird criteria about what they are willing to publish. They hate the slush pile. Then along comes self-publishing. The freedom to write what you want at the length you want to write it, to publish it to a potentially world-wide audience and to control every aspect of the process! Perfect. And when the writing is finished – voila! A few fiddles on the computer, a cover of some kind and that should be it, right?

Well, we know now how wrong that is. The labyrinth of self-publishing discloses itself  with consummate cruelty. Soon the writer’s brain is entirely occupied with technical issues, spending sleepless nights scouring the internet as the poor sap slowly learns that the actual writing is both the most and least important element in this process. Moreover there are hundreds of thousands of others all doing the same.

As self-publishing has exploded the author has to become an author-preneur and master a thousand arcane skills. The easiest method is to hire someone else to do it all and pay them. That way your book will definitely be published, in e-version and print version, and you have become a “real” author. There are hundreds of agencies now offering these services, with all kinds of bells and whistles: editing, covers, conversions to different formats, uploading. But it costs! So there is your book but now nobody is buying it. What to do? Marketing…. Oh, that costs more again! And here are more agencies willing to take your money to do it for you. Or you can do it yourself at minimal cost but it still costs. Professional reviews at $500? (Biggest ripoff of all – that’s Kirkus).

Very few authors ever reveal what the whole process actually costs them and what income it produces. One recent exception is US indie author Joynell Schulz who has generously shared through her blog everything she has been going through to get her first book out there. Find her at http://www.joynellschultz.wordpress.com

In her most recent post she sadly recounts what it has cost her so far, and what her sales have been. Short answer: nothing like enough to recover costs. So now she is investing more in various marketing approaches. Good luck with that Joy!

One author who has shared his writing costs and income is Jim Chimes. He has put up his figures for several years now. It is worth noting that he is a hybrid author, with an agent and a traditional publisher. He also publishes short works and some other stuff as an indie. His income has increased steadily over the years and he is now making a good-enough living from his writing to give up other employment. What a reassuring message!

http://www.jimchines.com/2016/01/2015-writing-income/

His most recent posts analyse the results of a survey he carried out among a variety of writers – indie, trad and hybrid. They all wrote novels: non-fiction and short fiction was not included, although of course if a novelist had also published shorter writing that income would have been presumably included. This makes very interesting reading. It shows a huge variation in the annual income from his respondents. The most surprising finding is that indie authors even after deducting their costs have the highest median income – higher than authors publishing through both large and small presses. Eight novelists made more than a million dollars last year and some of them were indie authors. The average income across all the respondents was around $17,000. Overall authors publishing with large publishing houses and indie authors made around the same average income.

A key to being a successful indie author, though, is to be able to manage the thousand tasks which a traditional publisher would otherwise manage. Here is where much of the expense comes in, and the strategies required to be a successful author require a lot more than writing. But what happens when all the strategies are followed but the writing itself just isn’t all that great? Every author who is self-publishing has to ask hard questions, ultimately about their books. And their audience, genre, style, look – and how fast they can work. Jim Chimes’ figures clearly show that full-time authors – those who do nothing professionally other than manage their writing career – make many times more than those writing part time. But the books have to be good enough, and there have to be a lot of them. It’s a bit like a production line. But if your books aren’t selling, then there’s no alternative to writing part-time. Chickens and eggs!

Maybe it’s better to think of writing books as a kind of personal entertainment, an expensive pastime like owning a race-horse. You might never get your investment back, but if you enjoy the thrill of the track, go for it! Or, if you disapprove of racing, maybe yachting or flying would be an appropriate analogy. Either way, you can spend all your time doing something that engages you even if it costs. So many writers on their blogs and in comments say that they don’t want to make money from their writing, but they don’t say they are happy to lose it. But maybe that’s what it takes to be a successful writer these days. Next thing the writers will be paying the readers to read their books. Hmmm. That definitely has potential!

 

 

 

 

 

https://joynellschultz.wordpress.com/2017/02/16/lessons-learned-60-days-of-selfpublishing/

 

http://www.jimchines.com/2016/01/2015-writing-income/