More On Revising And Editing

This piece, by David B. Coe, originally appeared on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Novelists site on 4/23/09. 

 I’m in the midst of rewrites.  I received a revision letter from my editor the other day and have been wading through his comments, trying to bring fresh thinking to a novel that I finished six months ago, the last book in a series that I was glad to finish. 

Don’t get me wrong; I like the series very much, and I think that the three books taken together represent my best work to date.  But this trilogy followed a five book series set in the same world, and I.  Am.  Ready.  To.  Move.  On.  

And in fact I have moved on.  I’ve completed the first book in a new project that I love.  My mind is there, in that new world.  My head is filled with the stories of a whole new cast of characters.  Wrenching myself out of that world and back into this one is no small feat.

I find myself wishing that just this once my editor had said in his revision letter, “David, this is perfect.  Don’t change a word.”

Okay, I’m back now.  For a while there I was laughing too hard to type….  

I’ve described the revision process in a more methodical way elsewhere and I won’t bother going over it again here.  But I will say that, for me, it may be the most emotionally draining part of writing a novel and preparing it for publication.  I don’t mean this as a complaint.  Truly I don’t.  But going through my own 140,000 word manuscript reading comment after comment about all the things I did wrong isn’t easy.  

This manuscript is actually pretty clean; few problems over all.  Still, there must be 300 comments in there, ranging from subtle changes in wording, to corrections of silly mistakes, to more substantial comments relating to character and plotting.  And though I love my editor, and though I’ve been through this many times before and have developed a fairly thick skin, I have to admit that some of my editor’s remarks raise my hackles.

Read the rest of the article on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Novelists site.

Rightly Reconsidering (Book) Reviews

This piece, by Marty Halpern, originally appeared on his More Red Ink blog on 4/24/09.

Are book reviews (and by default, book reviewers) so sacrosanct as to be above reproach?

Authors — and yes, editors and publishers as well — are taught at a very young age in their professional careers to ignore reviews, to not take them personally, to turn the other cheek, so to speak. And why is that? Why can’t we respond to reviews?

Because we will give the impression that we are unprofessional, that we are whiners. At least that’s what our peers — and possibly readers of the review — may think. But from our own perspective, we also have to worry that we’ll piss off the reviewer by our response, and then that reviewer will take it out on us a hundredfold in the next review, if in fact there even is a next review. And then others may not want to review our work for fear of receiving such a response as well. And as Cheryl Morgan (a book reviewer and critic) just pointed out to me: "…if an author challenges a review, his fans will go after the reviewer, whether he wants them to or not."

Reviews/reviewers and authors are sort of like the separation between Church and State. Yet the incoming president takes the oath of office with his hand upon a Bible; and the coin of the realm all proclaim "In God We Trust."

So where does that leave us?

Some authors I know truly don’t care about reviews, reviewers, or what others think of their stories. Once they’ve completed a work of fiction and it’s been accepted by the editor, they then move on to the next project and never look back. While other authors are deeply concerned — and affected — by reviews and what others think of their fiction.

I worked with an author on her short fiction collection, and after the book was published we stayed in contact with one another for a bit. The following year her next novel was published, and it was reviewed in Locus magazine — a mediocre review at best, but at least it wasn’t blatantly negative. (Locus, though, doesn’t typically publish blatantly negative reviews; I assume if the book is that bad, they simply choose not to review it, so a mediocre review in Locus, when all is said and done, is definitely not a good review.)

What upset the author the most, however, was that the reviewer missed a key element of the story — and that key element would have explained the reviewer’s primary issue with the novel (and maybe then the review wouldn’t have been mediocre). Locus, at the time, was considered a highly influential publication (though not so much anymore, now that we are solidly in the digital age, and readers, book buyers, and book collectors get the majority of their information and reviews online), so even a mediocre review could have a strong, negative sales effect on a book. But we’ll never know, will we: missed opportunities — aka sales — cannot be measured.

But the question(s) remains: Did the reviewer blow it big time by missing that key element of the story? Or, did the author — and, let’s be honest, the book’s editor shares responsibility in this as well — blow it big time by not communicating that key element more effectively to the reader/reviewer? If every review of the novel contained this same "omission," then yes, we could agree that the fault lies with the author, and the author’s editor.

But if only one review were guilty of this oversight, then the finger would indeed point to the reviewer. If the review was on Joe’s Friendly Neighborhood blog, then I don’t think the author (and editor and publisher) would be particularly concerned; but when that mediocre review shows up in the Washington Post Book World or Publishers Weekly (before Reed Business Information tried to sell the publication, and, to reduce costs, began paying freelance reviewers $25.00 per review; read more about PW’s freelance fees), then we know sales will most likely be affected.

Unfortunately, given the Church and State dichotomy, the author has no recourse but to grin and bear it — or to hit his [the generic use of "his," implying both male and female authors] head against the wall and scream, if he tends to not be the silent type.

And yet, I’m encountering more and more reviews of late where the reviewer just doesn’t seem to get it! Why is that? [Notice I keep asking this same question a lot.] Is it the reviewer’s lack of experience and knowledge in the genre? It’s difficult to say, unless one knows the reviewer personally, or the reviewer provides a professional bio alongside the review. And all of this places even more pressure on the author who cares about what others say of his work.

Here’s my take on the three main issues with genre reviews; they are like the plague, and they are spreading…

Read the rest of the article on Marty Halpern’s More Red Ink blog.

Radio Interview

I had a nice interview today on Cowgirl Life radio. It was fun.

Blog talk radio is a great networking too.

The Future of Book Publishing: Risk Shifts To Author

This is a cross-posting of an article that originally appeared on the Smashwords Blog on 4/21/09.

In my last post, I wrote an allegory on why book publishing is like venture capital. Publishers, in exchange for investing their cash, talent and connections, become part owners of the author’s book project. Authors agree to share ownership in exchange for the privilege of publication and the opportunity for commercial success.

In part two of my post, I’ll explore how the risk of publishing is now shifting to the author, with dramatic consequences for the future of publishing. Just as Silicon Valley tech startups no longer need venture capitalists to launch their companies, authors no longer need publishers to publish.

First, I’ll start by stating the obvious. Publishing is a tough business. It’s difficult to predict the fickle whims of the marketplace. You never know which book will be the next breakout hit, and which will be the next bomb.

Publishing is expensive, what with the rent on those New York skyscraper headquarters of the top publishers, and all the expensive tree killing, tree pulping and carbon-based fuel it takes to move around the glossy bits of paper. And then you’ve got the bookstores which somehow hoodwinked publishers into allowing bookselling to become a consignment business. Retailers order more books than they know they can sell, only to ship the unsold inventory back to the publisher for a full refund.

The challenges faced by publishers often obscure the contributions of many super-wonderful smart people in publishing who are truly committed to helping authors and their books succeed (more on the future for these folks later in the post).

In recent years, publishing, like all media business, has struggled to compete against an explosion of alternate (and often free) media product vying for their customer’s ever-shrinking mind share and wallet. If you examine the sales figures from the AAP (click here to view the PDF) from the last six years, book publishing has actually shrunk here in the U.S. if you adjust for inflation.

The Big Squeeze
With the tough business conditions, made worse by those freeloading big box consignment bookstores (who themselves are now getting their lunches eaten by Amazon), publishers have been forced to cut back on some investments. This means fewer signings of new and unproven authors; fewer signings of authors whose books are perceived to have limited “commercial” potential (even if the author is otherwise brilliant); and fewer post-publication promotional dollars to lavish on anyone but the most commercially promising authors.

Sure, a commercial publisher has an obligation to their shareholders, employees and customers to run their business for profitability. The flip side of this, however, is that authors can find themselves holding the short end of the stick.

Many commercially published authors must now assume personal responsibility for post-publication book promotion efforts that were once the sole domain of the publisher. There’s nothing wrong with this in principle, except that most authors are already poorly compensated to begin with.

I’ve read that most commercially published authors maintain day jobs to support their writing. If true, it would mean the bulk of book authorship is done on a volunteer basis.

While few of us authors would turn down a six figure advance for our book, author Walter Kern, profiled in this interesting New York Times Sunday Book Review feature, determined that even with a six figure advance on his book, it meant he had worked for less than minimum wage given the time it took to produce and publish his book.

The Tools of Liberation
As I alluded in my venture capital post, at one time it was virtually impossible to publish without a publisher. Today, the game has changed. New tools for publishing, marketing, distribution and selling are available to indie authors and indie publishers, and many of these tools are available at little to no cost.

With free do-it-yourself publishing tools like Smashwords for ebooks and Wordclay for print on demand books, anyone can become a published author in minutes (at Smashwords) or days (at Wordclay).

Of course, just because you’re a published author doesn’t mean you’ve written a quality book. With the decision to publish shifting to the author, it’s now the author’s responsibility to invest the money and effort necessary to produce a quality work that satisfies readers.

The Future of Publishing: Risk, Reward and Power Shift to Authors
Increasingly, authors who aspire toward commercial publication will need to prove a market exists for their product before a traditional publisher will consider them. As authors assume more of the risk of publishing, they may also reap a greater share of the rewards upon commercial success.

Some authors, by choice or necessity, will publish without the benefit of professional editing, cover design, marketing, distribution and sales support. Others will opt to invest the funds necessary to purchase these important services, often supplied by experienced professionals who previously worked for the commercial book publishers.

Self-publishing will become a vast farm league for commercial publishers. Commercial publishers, including many new indie publishers, will compete against one another to identify, recruit and publish the most promising authors. Some authors who achieve commercial success on their own may choose to remain indie.

Under this new model, the power center shifts from publisher to author, and the traditional lines between the two blur. Authors become their own publishers. Commercial publishers remain publishers, but also become service providers.

It’s only a matter of time before large media companies and book publishers start partnering more closely with the self-publishing companies, because they aggregate the farm league authors. Not only do the farm league authors provide publishers a rich pool of talent, they also provide the opportunity for publishers to supply paid services to those authors willing to invest to improve the quality of their books.

Some of the more successful self publishing services are already operating under this model. They may go on to become the next big publishers if they remain independent. Author Solutions or Lulu IPO anyone?

Mark Coker is an author, the founder of Dovetail Public Relations and the founder of Smashwords.

Why Indie Bookstores?

I received this from my favorite indie bookstore here in Tucson, Mostly Books. The shop is a bibliophile’s dream: floor to nearly ceiling shelves of books covering all genres, used and new, hardcover and mass paperback and everything in between. Run by two sisters, Mostly Books is one of the final few indies left standing in a city of about a million people. This town used to support a ton of fabulous bookshops with names like Footsteps of A Giant Hound, The Bookmark,  and  Readers’ Oasis. Then B&N (the Walmart of booksellers) arrived and many little treasure troves of local atmosphere were crushed. Now online book shopping is causing more problems than the loss of bookstores.

Here is Mostly Books’ "Soapbox":

Hello,

I have been talking about shopping locally for some time now.  Let me tell you what happened yesterday at the store.  A woman came in looking for a book for her son for school.  She said his teacher said they could order it on Amazon but she came here instead.  Which we really appreciated.

My issue is with the teacher. 
Teaching jobs are being cut.  Why? 
Because there is not enough money in the state budget. 
And why isn’t there enough money?
Because there is not enough sales tax being collected. 

Well, guess what, Amazon does not pay sales tax to Arizona or most other states.

The other problem is jobs.  Every time you buy online, local people lose jobs.  If you choose to shop local, it helps create, or save, jobs in the local economy.  This in turn helps the city and the state with taxes, etc. and those people then spend money locally, and on it goes.

We ALL need to support each other and SHOP LOCAL.

Teachers, please, call a local store and tell them what books your students need and they will order them for you.  Tell your colleagues to do the same.

Parents, tell your children’s teachers the same thing.

         
***
 
Let me reiterate: We ALL need to support each other and SHOP LOCAL.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in Tucson or Timbuktu – if you can order a book through a local bookstore, by all means do it. Yeah, it’ll cost you a little more but you get what you pay for: communication with a real human being in an atmosphere of book utopia, and the knowledge that you’re not feeding some corporate CEO’s gold toilet fund.
 
As indie authors, these indie bookstores are our first connection with the community. Have your events there, tell people this is where they should go to purchase your book, and support them every way you can.
 
If people want to buy your book online, let them purchase the ebook, podcast, or Kindle version. If they want a real book, encourage them to go to a REAL bookstore.
 
Yes, I know we independent authors sell online, and often it’s our only sales outlet. But whenever you can, help your local economy by selling paper books through indie bookstores.
 
We are all in this together.
 
Check out Mostly Books here:

http://www.indiebound.org/stores/mostly-books-0

 
 
 
 

 

Why Do You Need an Editor?

Nabokov said, "My pencils outlast my erasers."  

Writing well means trial and error and learning to master the craft. And that’s an on-going journey. I keep learning new things every year. You’re never “there.” You’re never perfect. And sometimes I think the more I learn, the less I know. 

I once read of a famous writer of the past who would simply scribble out his manuscripts on whatever paper surface he might have at hand, give the pile to his editor at the publishing house, and that person made everything come together for lasting, classic fiction works. 

That doesn’t happen anymore. Or if it does, it’s rare. As you probably know, publishing houses are now big conglomerates, with the “bean counters” more in charge than the “pencil pushers.” And the editors at these houses are usually underpaid and overworked. I had a young college-age friend who interned at a New York publisher one summer in recent years. She and other interns were in charge of wading through the slush piles. The job was daunting. She (and the interns—mostly volunteer) sent out the rejection form letters. She said there was even a room filled with agented manuscripts, some that had been there as long as a year. 

It’s a discouraging picture. And I’m not telling you this to discourage you, but rather to EN-courage you. What this means is that these interns/editors—or whoever might read your manuscript—are looking for any reason to reject it, just to get through that pile faster. You have to be able to overcome those reasons. 

So if they aren’t totally engrossed by your first line, first paragraph, or first page, chances are they won’t read any further. If they see typos, spelling errors, bad grammar—chuck it. Strange-looking fonts or lavender-colored paper—it’s out (they read so many, please spare their failing eyesight!) Formatting errors (single instead of double-spaced), no headers, chapters that begin at the top of the page instead of 1/3 down. Seemingly minor things, but… 

This is where hiring an independent editor can help. I don’t know about you, but after I’ve worked on a manuscript for weeks, months, even years, I become so close to the work that I cannot look at it objectively anymore. You probably know too, that your eye will see a misspelled word or a typo and your brain registers the word that it’s supposed to be.

From the Associated Press, a reminder to always check this word if editing "public" documents:

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. – Ottawa County will pay about $40,000 to correct an embarrassing typo on its Nov. 7 election ballot: The "L" was left out of "public."

A total of 170,000 ballots will have to be reprinted. The mistake appeared in the text of a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would ban some types of affirmative action.

The word "public" was misspelled one of the six times it appears, county Clerk Daniel C. Krueger said Tuesday. Five or six people in his office had proofread the ballot, but it was an election clerk who found the mistake early last week.

"It’s just one of those words," Krueger said. "Even after we told people it was in there, they still read over it."

In the Seattle Times, a story about a new ramp at the ferry terminal
explained that it was operated by a "system of wenches."
 

And a headline on Google news: “Don Imus says he’s battling stage two prostrate cancer.”

So another pair of eyes can be most helpful. if you want to learn and grow and hopefully be published, you really want someone who is going to tell you the things you need to work on, to make your work stronger, to stand out.

The independent editor will be your friend as a writer – in the way that we all have one friend who tells us things we don’t want to hear and calls us on it when we’re not making sense. You know, the annoying friend. Your editor.

 

Sandy Nathan's book, Numenon, wins the 2009 Nautilus Silver Award––now it competes for the Gold!


Numenon, by Sandy Nathan, is a Nautilus Book Awards Silver Winner!

By winning a Nautilus Silver Award with her book, Numenon, author Sandy Nathan joins the ranks of Deepak Chopra, M.D., Barbara Kingsolver, Thich Nnat Hanh, Jean Houston, PhD., Eckhart Tolle, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. All are Nautilus Award winners. “Joining the company of these amazing people moves me to tears,” says Sandy.

As a Silver Award Winner, Numenon will pass to the highest level of judging for the Nautilus Awards, the Gold Award level. If Numenon wins at this level, it will be featured at the Book Expo America and win many other honors.

“As wonderful as it would be to win the Gold Award, what thrills me is what the Nautilus Awards are about,” says Sandy. “My writing and life are directed toward making this planet a better place. I feel like I’ve found a spiritual home with the Nautilus contest and the people behind it.”

The Nautilus Award was established to find and reward distinguished literary contributions to spiritual growth, conscious living, high-level wellness, green values, responsible leadership and positive social change as well as to the worlds of art, creativity and inspirational reading for children, teens and young adults.

The Nautilus Awards are dedicated to “changing the world one book at a time.” Books are judged in a three-tier system using a carefully prepared list of notable characteristics. The judging process is laborious and long, carried out by three teams of highly qualified reviewers. They have successful careers in the book industry as well as the vision to pick out books that offer new options for a better world. Each book is evaluated by at least two judges. Silver winners are selected from each category by the readers in Team #2, and these winning titles are then passed along to the third team where the Gold winners are chosen. Two judges must agree on each Silver winner – and consensus is required for the Gold Winners.


Sandy Nathan, "one happy author!"

“This blog is one way that I connect with my fellow writers and authors, as well as my readers,” says Sandy Nathan. “I have a request. I would appreciate your prayers, blessings, good wishes, positive thoughts, or whatever fits your personal beliefs for Numenon as it winds its way through the Nautilus judging process and the judging of the other contests in which it’s entered. It’s entered in four or five more. I believe in the power of prayer, and I always pray reciprocate. Actually, I just pray for everyone all the time. If you could cast a positive vibe in Numenon’s direction, I’d be very grateful.”

The Point of Pedantry

This post, by John Dougherty, originally appeared on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure on 4/1/09.

We had a science teacher at our secondary school who, on this date every year, would send some hapless first year to one of his colleagues with a request for a long stand. Or, occasionally, a big weight.

Even then, I always thought the ‘long stand’ was the better gag (not much better, but that was about as sophisticated as humour got at our school). After all, you wouldn’t normally talk about ‘a big wait’; it would be a long wait, wouldn’t it? But of course if he’d requested a long wait, a child who’d been warned about the ‘long stand’ prank might make the connection.

I’ve been thinking lately about how it’s on this sort of care with words, and this sort of awareness of the meanings of words, that good writing often rests. Probably it’s particularly on my mind at the moment because I’ve been going through the proofs for my next book, Jack Slater and the Whisper of Doom, and one of the things to be aware of – at this stage at least as much as any other – is that sometimes a phrase which carries your meaning perfectly adequately can also carry another meaning.

It’s not enough to think, "Does this say what I want it to?" – there should also be a small part of the writer’s brain asking, "Does this say anything I don’t want it to?"

My son was recently reading a book in which a character – in a environment very familiar to him – is looking for somewhere to hide. There are a lot of short, sharp sentences to emphasise the urgency of the situation – "His enemy was getting closer. He looked round," that sort of thing – and then comes the sentence, "A great oak tree grew in the corner of the field."

Reading on, it’s fairly clear that the writer means that there was a great oak tree in the corner of the field that had been growing there for some years and which was still alive and therefore growing; but when I read the sentence, it caused me to stumble internally, because for a moment I wondered if the writer might mean that as the character watched, a tree began to grow and in a matter of seconds was very large.

Some of you may think I’m just being pedantic – and you wouldn’t be the first – but to my mind, pedantry’s a much underrated pastime; and in my defence, there were a number of factors that made this a not entirely unreasonable supposition:
 

  • the story was a fantasy, set in a fantasy land, and magical things were already happening in the scene
     
  • the short, sharp sentences were setting me up to expect events – x happened, then y happened, then w happened (surprising everyone who was expecting z next) – rather than description
     
  • since the character was in a familiar environment, looking for somewhere to hide, I’d have expected him to know that the tree was there; being told ‘he looked round’ and then ‘a tree grew’, rather than ‘he saw the tree’ threw me a bit

Read the rest of the post on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure.

The Future of Book Coverage

This piece, by C. Max Magee, originally appeared on The Millions on 4/22/09.

This week at The Millions, we’re attempting to gather some of our thoughts about the ongoing transformation of literary journalism. Today, Garth looks at the death of the newspaper book section. Tomorrow, Max considers revenue options for literary websites, including affiliation with online booksellers. And on Friday, Max will hazard some early guesses about the next possible upheaval in the economy of literary journalism: the e-book.

I.
The spring of 2007 now seems like a lifetime ago. A promising U.S. senator named Clinton was a prohibitive favorite in the Democratic presidential primaries. The Dow-Jones Industrial Average stood just over 13,000 points. And, in light of this last number, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s decision to stop publishing its weekly book review supplement seemed like some kind of weird aberration. In the best little-"d" democratic tradition, the National Book Critics Circle decided to protest the AJC’s move via a "Campaign to Save Book Reviewing." The weapons it selected for this campaign – a petition and a series of panel discussions – may have appeared quixotic, but during a weeklong symposium in the fall, its basic premises became clear:

  • 1) The stand-alone newspaper book review is vital to the health of literacy, and thus democracy.
  • 2) The corporate overlords of the newspaper industry undervalue all three.
  • 3) Newspaper book coverage is in imminent danger.
  • 4) Therefore, so are literacy and democracy.

It should be added that, by the time of the symposium, obsequies over the loss of column-inches for book coverage had shaded into alarm about proliferating book coverage on the Internet. We at The Millions, who attended several of these panels, bit our tongues. Despite our lowly station as bloggers, we looked upon the participants as colleagues. And we didn’t want to prove media pundits right by rushing to judgment; after all, our material interest in the print vs. online debate may have colored our thinking. Now, though, we can say with some confidence (and some disappointment) that, by its own lights, the "Campaign to Save Book Reviewing" was a failure.

In the last two years, stand-alone book review supplements including several of the country’s most prominent (The Washington Post Book World, The Los Angeles Times Book Review) have ceased publication. The parent newspapers insist that the lost review space has been offset by increases in coverage in other sections, but frankly, we don’t believe them. If the health of book reviewing is to be judged by what happens in the print editions of newspapers, the patient is doomed.

One need not detail at this late date the basic economic mechanisms that have led us to this pass. We may merely condense them to an easily graspable equation: growing number of books + dwindling time to read – advertising revenue + market meltdown = flawed business model. And yet, the Death of Book Reviewing narrative – a boom-era tale in which the high priests of print defend literature against both corporate bad guys and the vulgarians of the Internet – elides several contentious, and important, questions. To wit:

  • How good were the newspaper book review sections, anyway?
  • How inevitable was their demise?
  • How did those in power respond to the digital revolution – surely the biggest upheaval in the distribution of the written word since Gutenberg?
  • Does the Internet really spell doom for literary discourse?

By way of investigating these questions, we might consider the evolution – and fate – of book coverage at the nation’s most widely read print reviewing organ: The New York Times. For book reviewers, as for the larger (and equally endangered) world of newspaper journalism, the Paper of Record already serves as a sort of metonym. To paraphrase E.B. White, If The New York Times were to go, all would go. And so an analysis of the Times’ assets and liabilities, and of its response to upheavals in technology and the economy, will likely have something to tell us about the future of book coverage – and perhaps media – as a whole.

Read the rest of this article, and parts two and three, on The Millions.

Starting Your Own Indie Publishing Company

This piece, the first in a three-part series by Amy Rogers, originally appeared on the Publishing Renaissance site—an excellent resource for indie authors and small imprints—on 4/21/09.

or How I Learned to Stop Grousing and Make Something Happen in My Own Backyard – Part 1 of 3

If you’re a writer, you probably spend a fair amount of time complaining how hard it is to get published. (It’s in our job description, right?)

So over the years, conversations in my lunch-bunch of writer friends eventually progressed from whining to full-on fantasizing. “Someone should start a really cool indie publishing house,” somebody said.

“Yeah, we’d publish all the good stuff that New York ignores because we live in the South and we’re not hip or famous,” someone else added.

“Yeah!” everyone agreed.

“But we’re writers. We don’t have any, you know, money.”

This conversation repeated itself many times, starting back in 1999, when I was part of a small-but-feisty band of writers who set out to empower and raise the profile of our literary community in Charlotte, N.C., despite our lack of resources, benefactors or any expertise whatsoever.

Three of us researched small presses around the country, networked like crazy (difficult for us introverted writers, so we told ourselves it was investigative journalism), and scribbled on yellow legal pads in an attempt to come up with something that might one day resemble a business plan. It was hard to get our minds around such a large, complex and changing industry. But we worked at it for a year while doing our freelance jobs.

One day everything fell into place when we realized that most traditional trade publishing entities (non-self-publishing) can fit into one of just a few categories.

1. Mainstream Commercial Publishing: Think Random House, HarperCollins, all the giant power players with global influence and products. Through acquisitions and mergers, many of the former household names have been consolidated in recent years. Big ambitions, big sellers, big dollars at stake.

2. University Presses: These books are often ambitious and expensive but must be viable commercially; they also fulfill the institution’s educational mission. Example: the University of Chicago publishes books about art and architecture.

3. Specialty Presses: Targeted products for specific audiences (can be religious, how-to, business-related, journals, etc.).

4. Indie Presses: Visionaries or devoted lovers of literature who often put their own money into the company and rarely garner fame or fortune. Widely seen as doing “God’s work” since they publish the books large companies won’t touch: poetry, untested writers, regional and non-mainstream works.

Suddenly, publishing started to make sense. Almost everything from international bestsellers to local, grassroots books could be pegged somewhere in this model. We could really see the proverbial forest – and the trees. It was exhilarating. And it allowed us to focus.

We knew right away we could never attempt to become a large, mainstream publisher. We weren’t academics, so that was out. And we couldn’t open a specialty press because we didn’t have a specialty.

Cha-ching! We were indies! Yes! We’d be like Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his beat-poet friends who founded City Lights Publishers and their legendary bookstore in San Francisco, back in the ’50s.

We’d discover and nurture new literary talent in our own region, we’d launch emerging writers, and we’d put our city on the national literary map.

But there was still one problem, and it was a big one. We had absolutely no resources and we had no idea how to find them – if they even existed.

Read the part two, and follow the link to part three, on the Publishing Renaissance site, where you can find many more articles and resources of interest to indie authors and small imprints.

Amy Rogers is the author of Hungry for Home: Stories of Food from Across the Carolinas. She is a founder and the Publisher of the award-winning Novello Festival Press. NFP is the nation’s only library-sponsored literary publisher, part of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, N.C.

Setting Stories Free…For Free

The following piece is Lynn Viehl’s introduction to a recent reissue of her short story collection, Sink or Swim, which is now available for free on Scribd—a site on which any author can make his or her work available for online reading, whether in full or excerpted form.

In the introduction, Ms. Viehl explains how making her short stories available for free online has opened an invaluable line of communication between herself and her readership and helped to build her readership, yet still meets with the disapproval of her peers in mainstream publishing. 

Nine Years Ago

When my first novel was published in 2000, I decided to try something a little radical to help promote my work. At the time what I did was considered unprofessional and, in some quarters, really stupid: I gave away more original fiction for free to my readers by posting stories on my web site. At the time there were published authors who gave away one or two stories for free during their career, or who made their stories available only to people voting for certain annual industry awards, but that was about it.

Me? I gave away a new story almost every month.

Respect for new ideas was, as always, in short supply. Contempt, on the other hand, came at me from all directions: You can’t put work on the internet and let people read it for nothing. Professional writers have to be paid for their work. It’s the same thing as tossing the rights away. You’ll never be able to sell it to anyone afterward. You’ll ruin your career. You’re an idiot.

They were probably right, but I didn’t care. I had plenty of stories on hand; twenty-six years’ worth, and I wanted people to read them. Aside from the promotional aspects, I was interested in finding out which ideas my readers liked best and wanted to see me develop. I wanted people in other countries to be able to read my work. I also had this crazy theory: if you let people read a story or a novella or even a novel for free, and they like it, they’ll go out and buy the books you have in print. When I proposed this theory, other authors simply patted me on the head. It’ll never work, they told me. No one in publishing is ever going to give away books for free.

I continued giving away free stories for the next nine years. I have been trashed for it, most notably by Romantic Times magazine, whose editor erroneously quoted and attributed to me a SF author’s temper tantrum about other authors who released print work as free e-reads, and how that was undermining all the other authors’ advances (I have never released a print novel as a free e-book. All of my stories published for free on the web are original and exclusive. My publisher does not underwrite the costs and I make no profit from them at all. The editors at Romantic Times should really do a little research before they tar and feather an author.)

In addition to destroying Publishing as we know it, or not, I’ve also published forty-two print novels, and I’ve had seven straight USA Today bestsellers since 2005. Last year I became a New York Times bestselling author with two books on the mass market list, and one in the top twenty rankings.

So much for ruining my career.

I’m not quitting, either. To celebrate the ninth year I’ll be giving away free ebooks on the internet, I’m kicking things off by releasing a revised edition of the very first free e-book I gave away. Sink or Swim, a collection of the stories I published on my old web site, will be only one of the hundreds of free e-books that will be given away by authors and publishing this year. Because as it turns out, what I’ve been doing all these years is not really stupid, and I’m not such an idiot after all. Imagine that.

In this revised edition of my 2001 collection, I’m also going to add a little more information and career perspective on the stories you’ll be reading. Many of them became novels and novels series, thanks to the helpful feedback I received from my 7 readers, and a few are still evolving. To date I’ve never been paid a dime for these stories, but I consider them priceless.

If you’d like to know why, keep reading.

S.L. Viehl
 

Ms. Viehl is a successful, mainstream author who nevertheless has a lot of unconventional ideas about the "rules" of writing, publishing and being a professional author. Publetariat recently ran another piece by Ms. Viehl, in which she deconstructed her first royalty statement on Twilight Fall, her 2008 book which debuted in the top twenty of the New York Times Bestseller List but nevertheless has yet to net her any proceeds.

You can read 

Sink or Swim on Scribd, and learn more about Lynn Viehl and her work on the GenReality site.

Rejection, the burden of all writers

This article was originally posted at Alan’s blog – The Word.

 

Rejection is an inevitable part of the writing life. If you’re not good with rejection, you should never even entertain the idea of being a writer. It never ceases to amaze me just how belligerent some people get about rejections. And often, the most vocal are usually the worst writers, refusing to learn from critiques and improve their craft.

No matter how good you think you might be as a writer, you can always improve. My many years learning and teaching martial arts has taught me that there’s never an end to learning any kind of art. Writing, painting, dancing, Kung Fu – no matter how good you are, you can always get better.

And no matter how good you are, you will always get rejections. I’m sure that even Errol Flynn didn’t bed every woman he pursued.

So rejection is a part of the writing life and you need to get used to that. I remember an old Peanuts cartoon, where Snoopy is cold and depressed so Woodstock cheers him up by making a blanket out of Snoopy’s rejection slips. You can’t do that any more, as rejections are usually via email (even if submissions aren’t), but the underlying principle still applies. When you get served lemons, make lemonade. When you get rejections, learn.

Often a rejection will simply say, "Thanks but no thanks." But you will occasionally get a few words giving some kind of reason for the rejection. On rare occasions you’ll get a more detailed critique. I’ve found that the more my writing improves, the better class of rejection I receive. That’s moving in a good direction, right? I’ll often get a rejection saying something along the lines of, "This was so close to being accepted, but we decided against it because…" Frustrating as it is, rejections like that are worth their weight in gold. (Well, they’re worth more than that – the weight of an email in gold does not a rich man make, but you get the idea.)

Never, ever just write rejections like that off. Don’t be a princess and harrumph and say, "Well, they just don’t get it. They don’t recognise my genius." Most likely they recognise a lot more about you than you recognise about yourself. Pay attention to the points they raise, think really hard about any advice they give, try to apply that advice to a new draft of the story. It will make it better, every time.

In my experience, the most painful rejections are the rejections from shortlists. You’ve submitted your work, you’re really pleased with the story, and you sit back to wait. After a few weeks or months, depending on the publication, you get a letter back. It says something like, "We really like this piece and would like to hold onto it for another (x) weeks to see if we can fit it into our publication/anthology/whatever."

This is great news – if it goes no further than this, remember to be pleased that you got shortlisted. But it really does burn when you get another letter several weeks later saying, "Sorry, we’ve decided against it." It burns because you know it was good enough to be bought and published, you know they seriously considered it, but in the end something else they received was better. So short of getting a balaclava and a weapon and hunting down all the authors that are better than you, you have to suck it up and move on. Something about that shortlisted story worked, so your writing is going in the right direction. Fan the flames of that near success and keep plugging on and on.

You will get far more rejections than you ever get acceptances, unless you become as famous as Neil Gaiman. He can write anything and it gets bought. In the meantime, you just have to keep playing the game.

I’ve just yesterday had one of those shortlist rejections, which is what prompted me to write this post. It was for an anthology and I thought I was in, but got rejected in the last round. And yeah, it burns. But at least I know that story is a good one. A little more polish and it’ll go out again to other places and we’ll see if someone else will buy it. I have another story that is currently sitting on a shortlist. Fingers crossed that I might be luckier with that one. I also have two or three other short stories out there with other publications that I’m waiting to hear back on.

Four or five stories in circulation and the odds are that I’ll get four or five rejections. But you have to stay in it. I’ve sold work before and I’ll sell work again. Hopefully I’ll eventually improve my skills to the point where I can sell more and get rejected less. Either way, it’s something I’m compelled to do and I love writing. You have to. No one in their right mind would put themselves through this grinder on a regular basis unless they loved what they did.

"Be not afriad of moving slowly. Fear only standing still." – Old Chinese proverb.

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Alan is an indie author and publisher with two dark fantasy novels in print – RealmShift and MageSign. You can learn all about him at his website.

Vonnegut's Rules of Writing

This piece, by P. Bradley Robb, originally appeared on the Fiction Matters site on 3/23/09.

“Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.”
– Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut’s first rule of writing addresses what I like to call the Golden Assumption – “If you write it, they will read.”

Yes, writing a book is an incredibly time consuming task. Days often skip weeks and fly straight into months, piling up with abandon before the first draft is even done. After spending so long writing a novel, as a writer it can be very easy to feel entitled. After all, you worked so hard, it’s easy to feel that at least some people should repay you that time by reading your work.

However, reading is itself an investment. When a reader picks up a book, they are asking to be entertained for the better part of ten hours. In the age when laws are being passed to stop people from multitasking while driving, ten hours of undivided attention is no small sum.

Thus, according to Mr. Vonnegut, we owe it to our readers to not make light of that investment. How? Write a book that offers the reader a reward for reading. Not a monetary reward, mind you, but rather a story that is and of itself rewarding.

For some, this means not pulling out a punch out ending ala St. Elsewhere. For others it means nixing a favorite scene because it just doesn’t work, or cutting out a favorite character, or even changing the narrative point of view. For me? It means I am going through a rather extensive pre-writing process before I get too involved in my book.

How about you, how do you ensure that you’re making the most of your reader’s time?

Go to this post on Fiction Matters and scroll down to related posts to read  analyses of Vonnegut’s Rules #2, #3 and #4. .

Dan Gross Finds the Win-Win Publishing Solution

This article, by Marion Maneker, originally appeared on The Big Picture website on 4/16/09. In it, Ms. Maneker describes how author Dan Gross exploited ebook technology to get his very time-sensitive book about current economic conditions out to the public far ahead of competing books scheduled for traditional, hard-copy publication.

Here’s an odd turn of events. In the midst of two simultaneous collapses–the finanicial system and the mediascape–Newsweek’s lead financial writer, Daniel Gross has found a way to turn both into a benefit.

It’s no secret that last September’s market swoon started a mad rush in publishing to “tell the story.” Even before the late Summer seize up, books had been commissioned that might explain the unprecedented failure of leadership, markets and regulation.

To date, only William Cohan’s book about Bear Stearns has been published. Charlie Gasparino, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Joe Nocera and Roger Lowenstein–accomplished writers and reporters all–are hard at work trying to wrestle the hydra-headed story onto the page. Will they succeed? And when their books are written will they get the publicity that is so essential to starting the sales cycle?

Dan Gross isn’t waiting to find out. He’s already published Dumb Money: How Our Greatest Financial Minds Bankrupted the Nation as an e-book. Now his publisher, The Free Press, has released the 106-page book as a $9.99 paperback. The Washington Post recently covered the innovative publishing strategy:

E-book exclusives — as opposed to e-books published as spinoffs of a printed version — remain rare, because the market is still too small to sustain them. But Gross’s book offers a revealing window on how such exclusives could reshape “p-book” publishing. The decision to bring “Dumb Money” out in paperback, for example, was made only after the e-book’s appeal had been established.

Gross told the Post:

“If I could do something quickly, get out before all the people who are doing doorstoppers,” he thought, “then I will have had my say, got a book out, everyone will have to account for me or ignore me — and I’ll move on.”

Read the rest of the story at The Big Picture.

From Sandy Nathan & YourShelfLife.com: Award Winning Book Covers: Your Book WILL Be Judged by its Cover. Make It Sing!

Most of the Indie book contests, like the Benjamin Franklin Awards, IPPYs, Indie Excellence, and all the rest, are closed for the year. The books have been submitted and they’re being judged. Will your book win? Two factors have a very large weight in determining whether you walk away a winner––or get passed up: Your COVER and your TITLE. Today we’re going to talk about book cover design. While it may be late if you’ve got books in competitions this year, you can use what follows for future years.

"It May Be Forever" Cover by Lewis Agrell

[The original of this article is illustrated with beautiful book covers by Lewis Agrell. They don’t up on this site. Please go to  Your Shelf Life.com to see the covers. "It May Be Forever" Cover by Lewis Agrell appears here. I love this cover!]

I’m very pleased to introduce my second guest blogger, Lewis Agrell of The Agrell Group. Lewis and I go back years. He designed promotional materials for my first book, Stepping Off the Edge. I loved what he did and called on him to do the same for Numenon. Lewis designed a one-sheet for Numenon, book marks, and a gorgeous over-sized post card. He also designed the e-book that I’ve been giving out to those who sign up for my email newsletter. And his wife, Kathryn, edited it. What a team!

I think this blog is going to be known as the “get deep into the psychological underpinnings of writing & publication” blog. Irene Watson of Reader Views introduced us to Jungian personality type. I added a bit, and now Lewis is going to introduce concepts that I learned originally in graduate school in counseling.

Knowing these concepts is very important: They’re operating in your buyers’ minds and souls (and yours) whether you know it or not. Better to know it. But don’t worry! Lewis Agrell makes them user friendly!

Lewis has been kind enough to let me illustrate the blog post with some of his covers. And now, here’s Lewis Agrell on book cover design:

WHAT MAKES A GOOD BOOK COVER DESIGN?

In my estimation, the best covers are the ones that are the most beautiful. Billions of dollars are spent every year in advertising, fashion and manufacturing to infuse more and more beauty. Why? Because beauty attracts the eye. That’s why the most beautiful models, actresses, cars, houses and boats cost the most  money. Beauty is a precious, treasured commodity. Beauty has specific qualities. These qualities are harmony, balance, unity, synthesis, and refinement. Designers struggle to make the colors and design elements (fonts, photos, illustrations, and other graphic elements) work in such a way that the greatest beauty is attained.

 

KILLROD The Cross of Lorraine Murders. Cover by Lewis Agrell. Simple, elegant design employing archetypes––the cross and circle, which also looks like a moon.

[Cover shown on YourShelfLife.com: KILLROD The Cross of Lorraine Murders. Cover by Lewis Agrell. Simple, elegant, & beautiful design employing archetypes––the cross and circle, which also looks like a moon. Love this, too.] 

Attributes of the Designer

Why are some designers better than others? This is not a simple question to answer. Designers must be trained in the basics of graphic design, particularly color theory. The other qualities that are necessary are:

  1. Experience (it helps to have tried many different approaches to design work, and learned what does, and does not, work)
  2. Intelligence—reading as much as possible about the industry is very helpful, because it is important to stay current, not only with the latest design movements and techniques, but also the tools of the trade (computers and software).
  3. Worldly awareness: it helps to know what is going on in the world, because world events are often reflected in design work. Witness particularly the dynamics of the sixties and the seventies, when many social shifts occurred. Designers and illustrators exploded with new ways of working, as a reflection of the dynamism of the period.
  4. Sensitivity. A designer must be sensitive to the material with which he/she is working, as well as to the needs, desires, and expectations of the client.

“As he thinketh…so is he”

An individual’s consciousness can vary tremendously. Wherever a person places the bulk of his attention will indicate the level of awareness. People are generally focused either physically, emotionally, or mentally. It is best for a designer to have as high an awareness level as possible.

Why is this critical?  Because a designer, or any creative person, cannot create beyond his or her level of awareness. When a high level of awareness is attained, that individual also has a connection to the lower levels, having passed through them, at some point in his or her maturation.

For example, a designer who is entirely focused on the physical realm, would not do well with a project focused on matters of the heart. A designer who is swept up in the world of emotions, would not do well with a project that has deep philosophical leanings.

In the mental realm, there are three areas of focus:

  • The lowest is the subconscious. Designers focused on this level create work that is very dark and mysterious—perhaps even very ugly and horrifying—and certainly distorted and misshapen. The primary color in their palette is black.
  • The next mental level is that of the concrete mind. This is the realm of logic and reasoning. This is the area of scientists and mathematicians. The design solution from an artist focused on this level will be very balanced and harmonious. The Golden Ratio, or Divine Proportion (approximately 1.618) might be very important for a designer on this level of consciousness. Someone who has a mental focus labors very carefully to determine a proper approach, utilizing logic, reasoning and analysis.
  • The highest level is known as the superconscious. In this level, symbolism is very important to the designer. Also, the designer will use a palette of very bright, cheerful, and uplifting colors. The keys to identifying designers who work on this level are a) their work reflects a wide variety of creativity or understanding; and b) they generally “know” immediately what the best solution will be for various projects. The “Eureka!” moment is very common for these designers. They will usually have a vivid mental image in mind before a person finishes explaining a concept to them. They think very quickly.

Many designers specialize in one particular area. This is because they have a strong physical, emotional, or mental strength, and design in that area.

 

 clean, catchy, powerful. Does the job!

[Cover shown on YourShelfLife.com: "The Money Belt" This is not a "grunge" cover. Great for mass market book. I love this cover: clean, catchy, powerful. Does the job!]

The “grunge” look

If beauty is so important, why is there a “grunge” movement? The reason for this may be a temporary backlash to the “perfection” that can be created by computers. A world saturated with the unwavering perfection that computers are capable of creating can become a bit maddening to designers who like to put a more human touch to their work, so designers are fighting against the coldness of computers with “grungy” designs—those that appear as though they are not created from the computer, even thought the computer remains an indispensable tool for production.

This will become overused and will be rejected in time, in the same way that the psychedelic look passed away at some point in the early seventies. Great beauty will always be the sine qua non for designers. Deviations from beauty are only a temporary stylistic meandering. For example, ugliness will never gain a foothold in auto manufacturing because of the importance of high volume sales. When one particular car was created that people thought was not beautiful (the Edsel, 1958), the car sales were dismal. Car manufacturers don’t want a repeat of that noted failure.

What catches the eye besides beauty? Newness and uniqueness. An example of this is reflected in the story of the designer who needed to create a new cereal box to be displayed in grocery stores. He saw that all of the boxes had bright, vibrant colors. So, what did he chose to do? He created a cereal box that was mostly white. This “non-color” stood out from the rest of the boxes on the shelves, gaining that valuable eye-catching quality.

 

"Mediterranean Madness"  Cover by Lewis Agrell. In a genre cover, the designer must give readers what they expect. Wow, and good design.

[Cover shown on YourShelfLife.com: "Mediterranean Madness" Cover by Lewis Agrell. In a genre cover, the designer must give readers what they expect. Wow, and good design.] 

Genre design

There are genres of books that have a “standard look,” that the buyer expects to see, for example, romance novels. All purchasers of romance novels want to see an image of a very strong, handsome, romantic yet masculine man embracing a beautiful woman on the cover of the book. To deviate from this “formula” is to risk loss of sales.

The same is true with fantasy novels. The buyers want to see a careful rendering of a dragon, or some such fanciful creature. Wouldn’t it be odd to see a biography without a painting or photo of the person about whom the book was written? The challenge for the designer, when dealing with these genres, is not a simple one. He/she must create something similar, yet unique and powerful.

How to pick a designer for your book

The easiest way is to examine the designer’s website and see if there is a style that is similar to what you imagine for your book. If you like what the designer has done, but don’t see something that you are looking for, simply send an email to the designer and ask if he/she has done anything similar to what you have in mind. Very often, the designer will have work that is not on the website.

If you still have doubts about the artist’s ability to create what you want, you can always hire the artist to do a concept sketch. If you are less than happy with the concept sketch, you can then either ask for another sketch, listing your desires, or you can thank the designer for his work (be sure to send a check for the hard work!) and then move on to another designer.

Designing your own cover

Don’t do it. That’s my answer to all writers who want to design their own cover. You have put a lot of energy into your book. You want the cover to reflect as much energy and power as your carefully groomed text. The person who can provide that energy and power is someone who is trained in graphic design.

Graphic designers have spent years, or decades, perfecting their art.Keep in mind that they spend eight hours a day, five days (or more) a week, twelve months a year, year in and year out, working to perfect their craft. They have tried and failed, so they know what doesn’t work. They have succeeded, and their work has been tested in the marketplace.

Simply put, they know what they are doing.

You wouldn’t rewire own your house yourself; you’d hire a professional electrician. The same goes for book cover design: Hire a professional. Sure, it can be expensive, but the extra “oomph” that you get in the professional design may translate into an increase in the number of books sold, simply because people are attracted to and impressed with the cover design! To sell the most books, save your pennies and hire the best graphic designer that you can afford. You’ll be grateful that you did when you see the results.

Please, don’t take my word for it. Talk to authors who have used professional designers to create their covers. You might be surprised by what they say.

 

"No Sisters Sisters Club", an engaging cover for a Young Adult book.

[Cover shown on YourShelfLife.com:  "No Sisters Sisters Club", an engaging cover for a Young Adult book.]

Lewis Agrell has been an award-winning professional designer and illustrator for thirty years. He worked as the Chief Artist for the New York Times Company at its largest regional newspaper for ten years. He and his wife, Kathryn (a writer/editor) are the principal owners of The Agrell Group, a graphic design/creative writing firm, located in Prescott, Arizona. To contact them: Lagrell@commspeed.net or Kagrell@commspeed.net   Phone: 928.445.7038.

From Sandy Nathan: It’s been a privilege to share Lewis’s thoughts and words with you. Here’s a surprise. You may think that book covers of this quality must be very expensive. Not so. Lewis’s covers––front, back, spine––usually run between $500 and $1,200. You may want to consider him for your next book.

[This article comes from  is from YourShelfLife.com. Your Shelf LIfe is about increasing the shelf life of your book––and you. It’s dedicated to sanity and success for authors. This article on book covers is illustrated with gorgeous covers by Lewis Agrell. They aren’t showing up on this site. Please go to  Your Shelf Life.com to see the covers.]