Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Amazon Reviews

It occurs to me, reading the Amazon reviews of books that I might buy - anything in the 4-5 star strata is automatically ignored. Those people have ignored the faults in the book.

The 3 star raters are apologising for not drinking the Koolaide and loving it.

But the 1-2 star reviewers. Those are the people who read critically.

The ones who hated you since Kindergarten - well they stand out and can be ignored. But this is the reviews you should be reading. They are the ones that note the faults, the flaws and the stupid editing you did.

I often click Yes this was helpful in the reviews - because it is from our critics that we learn. It's a kind of tough-love for a lot of writers.

The recent ROFL of the internet community over Big Al's review of The Greek Seaman is a classic example. The author should have read the review, and gone back and used it to critically edit her own work. Instead she got into a flame war that destroyed her credibility as a writer and invoked an enthusiastic popcorn-munching crowd of specators revelling in someone publically humiliating themselves, over and over again.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

To Publish or to Be Published

That is the question.

I'm facing an intriguing dilemma. I've been reading a lot of differing points of view and considering the opinions of many.

Self-Publishing evangelists like Joe Konrath do the hard sell on how to self-publish and be successful at it. But he also doesn't mention the fact that he did very well through traditional publishing before switching to the self-publishing model that he now espouses.

Joe's interview with Barry Eisler - who turned down a $500,000 contract with his publisher to self-publish is held up as a wonderful example of the truth of self-publishing. What this doesn't mention is that Barry made enough money writing books through traditional publishers for them to offer him $500,000 for his next book. Nice that he could afford to spurn that.

Consider that the publishing house spent a lot of money creating the Eisler brand - his jumping ship and going self-publishing is not as gloriously rebellious as he makes out.

So if I work hard and fluke getting an agent, who flukes getting a publishing contract and they all take their big slice of whatever retail price they set for Tankbread and i get about 14% of that at the end but they pay for everything.

Or I can self-publish.
ISBN numbers are around $250 Australian (closest to NZ$)
Formatting and producing an ebook or a POD through a service like Lulu is either free or next to nothing.
Cover art is coming courtesy of Billy Tackett and I'm paying for that.
The rest is begged and bartered. Editing, proof-reading, marketing etc.

Writing the book is easy - like getting accidentally pregnant - but once the book is "born" you have to raise it - just like a child and that takes a lot of time, patience and energy.

Problem #3: Traditional Publishing Is Not Dead

They call it "Brick and Mortar Publishing" for a reason.

Publishing is a global industry. It's nestled between porn and legal drugs for the amount of money it generates every year.

Porn = $14 billion a year.
Book Publishing = $23-28 billion a year
Pharmaceuticals = $235 billion a year

Which is a lot of money. For the last few hundred years all this money has been tied up in standard print inventory for the main publishing houses. They are the ones who select mostly really good saleable stories, edit them rigorously and then market the hell out of them.

This is an expensive process for a story. Investing a lot of money on a book project means that publishers are very picky about what they consider. Which is where agents came from. Agents are now also very picky about what they consider - which is why the self-publishing industry and it's evil twin vanity publishing - have evolved. That and technology for both production and sale of books.

A lot has been said about how traditional publishing houses are dying out - book stores are closing, publishing houses are also closing. But a lot of them are not. A lot of books are still being bought and read and new best selling authors are being discovered every day.

Best selling authors are discovered much like Columbus discovered America - they've always been there - doing their thing - and it wasn't until someone with a lot of money to invest realised that they could make huge profits out of them that they got any attention at all.

So traditional publishing isn't going to die out. Ebooks will change the way we expect to buy books, but the Big NYC Publishing Houses will continue to produce product and maybe they will eventually embrace the idea of ebooks to the point where they will stop pretending that a revolution on the way books are produced and consumed isn't actually happening.

Problem #2: Your editor is a worse writer than you are.

Someone edited Twilight
I am a fan of Reasoning With Vampires – the blog that analyses the publishing equivalent of Godzilla – that is the Twilight saga.

The posts pointing out just how awful Bella and her sparkly pals are secondary in importance to the analysis of why the writing (and editing) of these novels is just so bad.

Twilight is a great example of filling a market with shit – because people will buy it because they don’t care that it is shit.

As a writer I study Dana's blog because it tells me why I should structure my sentences in a certain way. Why I should use punctuation in a certain way and why good editing is essential.

I do a lot of editing. I edit my own work (over and over again), I critique other people’s work (and have been asked to leave some critique groups because I give objective feedback not constant praise and gushy circle-jerking hugs over complete crap).

I've had some positive feedback, people who recognise that as an editor I don't know you, I don't care about you and I'm not telling you what is wrong with your story or chapter because I am an asshole. It's because I don't care about anything but the words in front of me and the story those words are trying to tell. 

A self-published author told me recently that my edit of the first chapter of his current novel project picked up things that a $1200 professional edit did not.

I start asking myself if maybe I should be offering my editorial services for a fee. 

But back to Twilight, someone was actually paid to edit those novels. They ignored the atrocious writing, punctuation abuse and other obvious faults and rubber stamped the manuscript for publication. 

Actual editing had nothing to do with the publishing process of Twilight. Marketing was the only department that had any input on that job.

Editors are essential. Finding one who is worth the fees they charge is a challenge - but no book should be published by anyone without a decent edit by an objective third party.

Problem #1 with Self-Publishing.

Your story is shit.

Some people can't actually write. 

Of course this isn't you. Your mum loves your novel. Your writing group think it's great (as long as you say the same about their sample chapter). Vanity publishers are falling over themselves to make special offers that will make publishing your opus a breeze! They even want to give you FREE copies of your book with every publishing package you buy! 

All his praise and attention leaves amateur writers completely blind to the fact they can't write for shit.

 We all know a lot of people who call themselves "writers" or "authors" and yay for them. But think of all the things you do on a daily basis - do you refer to yourself by something you do, but don't get paid for? 

Every time a "writer" declares themselves as such - inquire as to their publishing history. If they haven't got a publishing history they shouldn't be calling themselves writers any more than a teenage boy should be calling himself a "masturbator". 

Not actually being able to write is however no barrier to a writing career earning real money. The important step that is so easily skipped over - is learning how to write. It's up to the individual how they learn to write. Take a class, get a degree, read hundreds of books, and write every day. All standard advice from famous authors for hundreds of years.

The key thing is that no one just writes – you learn it like any other skill and keep learning it until you stop doing it.

I have a lot to say.

I resurrected this blog (last posted December 13, 2006!) to post on the process of creating what I hope will be my debut novel, Tankbread.

I wrote an initial post about the current self-publishing vs traditional publishing debate - but 3000 words later I figured I should probably break it up into specific posts. This is the introduction. More posts to follow...
The internet has been abuzz with chatter about traditional publishing models compared to self-publishing. No one has yet identified the true issue - which has nothing to do with how you are published - but what you are publishing.
 The traditional publishing system has the weight of millions of dollars behind your novel. This makes it highly likely that more potential customers will see your book on store shelves.

The problems start when you start noticing the number of those stores that are closing down. Going out of business. No longer being available as a place for your publisher to put your product.

Ebooks and Print On Demand (POD) are the solution - but therein lies the problems with all publishing.

Next post Problem #1 with self-publishing.