Writing Prompt: 05/31/10

"Your phone rings. When you answer it, you make a startling discovery: the person on the other end is dead. What does he/she say and why are they calling you?"

Write for 15-30 minutes. My response will be posted 6/02/10.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Castigation of the Publishing Industry Part Four

Over the last three weeks I've bitched about the traditional publication methods and the way ignorant and sometimes damnfool editors and publishers crap on writers. I've complained about how badly they pay you for something that takes a large portion of your life to produce, and I've also shown where some of that money they don't pay you is used to make your book better through proofreading, graphics design, and other mechanical work, which is a worthwhile use of your money and time and something you should do yourself.

Last week I talked about self-publishing, and got you through the galley proof process. I left out a few things intentionally, because each self-publishing company has its own ways of doing things like cover art. When my friend Niki Morock published her book The Perfect Circle through Lulu.com she took her own cover art photo with her cell phone because she wanted a particular effect. When I submitted my non-fiction to Authorhouse, I had perfectly fine cover photos in place, but they substituted similar ones that I ended up liking more than the originals.

Go through all of this with the company before you commit to publish with them. A reputable publisher, even a "vanity press," will have someone available to speak to you at any time you have questions, and they should be able to tell you step-by-step what they are going to do to make the book come out right. In some cases-- Authorhouse, where I am published is one-- you can even ask for example books to be sent to you so you can check out bindings and print styles.

One thing I recommend right now: go grab a random book off your shelf and open it to any page with text. What font is that?

I'll tell you: it's Times New Roman or Garamond or another "oldstyle" font. Stay away from fonts like Comic Sans and Arial. While these look cute, they don't present a professional appearance in your work, and you're already combating the derision of the traditional publishing industry that thinks your writing sucks because you chose to self-publish. Plus, a lot of these fonts are harder to read and take up more page space, which means it can actually cost you money to use a different font because it kicks you from 230 pages for $450 to 260 pages for $475. That's not much, but it's one more thing to pay for that you don't have to.

Also, stick to no smaller than 11-point for trade paperback or 10-point for mass-market paperback. Honestly, I'd go 10.5 as the smallest size for paperback.

Note one more thing about that book: the text is fully justified on the page. Never let your publisher or book manufacturer print a book that is only left justified unless there's a specific reason for it. It looks like ass and it's unprofessional. I've seen traditionally published books that look worse than "vanity press" ones because someone thought it would be neat to single justify the print. While we're on the subject, double spacing is for term papers, not publication, unless, as I said, there's a specific reason for it.

But by now all the scutwork should be done. Your book is exhaustively proofed, the galleys are approved, and the only thing left is the go-live date, right?

Wrong. Now is where the real work begins. Now is where you need to start marketing.

The first thing you need is a website. This can either be a blog page, like this one, or it can be a traditional website, but it absolutely must feature examples of your work, and it must be updated regularly! (Says the guy what just took a two month hiatus!)

Search engines on the web are designed to look for relevant-- and current-- information. If you search for "science fiction author blogs" you will not see see blogs that haven't been updated in eight months. You may see some that were updated in the last week. Ideally, you need to update daily. You're going to want an archive of at least fifteen updates before anything you publish for profit goes live, so start writing now.

I've used both Livejournal and Blogger, and I have to say that I like Blogger the best. I particularly like how I can draft a post or set it to automatically publish at a date far down the road. I've also used a web site called Homepagenow. The problem with a lot of these free sites is that they tack advertisement banners all over your page that you don't necessarily want.

For example, I used a teaching blog specifically aimed at educators in order to link with parents. I posted assignments and class schedules and the like. I stopped using it because a parent called me and told me that advertisements to adult dating sites were popping up in the banners on the site-- banners I didn't see because I run Firefox with the Adblocker extension.

I dropped that blog site like a prom dress, I can tell you!

Some publishing companies, again, Authorhouse is one, will actually set up and maintain a web space for you. Since I already had my own I never bothered, but it may be worth the price, particularly since some of them also pay you click-through advertisement payments if you put one of their banners on the site. See what the publisher can do, and don't be afraid to negotiate for a better deal. Unlike traditional publication, "vanity" press is a business that needs the authors and sees them as customers. They work for you, not the other way around, so in a lot of cases you get to drive and sit in the big boy chair.

Even though I do not have published fiction for sale... and may never do so, since I'm toying with the idea of making Crossed Swords a completely free eBook series and I'm not sure what to do with Counterattack yet, one of the purposes of this blog is to get my fiction out there and read. In the event that I ever do decide to publish for profit, I want a readerbase that has successfully enjoyed a bunch of "try-before-you-buy" examples of my writing.

This is also why I post on Twitter. Not only have I built a number of followers and friends, like Julie Duck and Kimberly Vanderhoorst and JM Strother, but I've also used the site to market my blog posts and interest other writers and readers in my work, some of whom are professionally published and/or may even be publishers, agents, or editors. In fact, you probably came here because of twitter or a recommendation from another writer or you were running a search for "ravens" and screwed up the spelling. Why you're still here is a bit of a mystery, but I'm told I'm very good looking, so that's most likely it.

Although I rail against traditional publishing a lot, I also recognize it as an industry with a great deal of potential if they manage to overcome their current inertia. If an agent or editor were to contact me with an offer, or even a suggestion, I'd listen to whatever they have to say, but they're going to need to come to me... I'm not interested in going to them.

You need to build the brand. Think of your writing as a product and consider how you're going to get that product out there for the consumer to sample. Have faith in your talent and your skill, and take confidence in the fact that what you have to offer rocks balls!

As I mentioned before, it might be a good idea to make a short trailer for your book. Make it exciting and make it moving. Post this to your web site, your blog, and on every video site you can find.

Get the word out. Your paycheck depends on it! Link directly from your site to the purchase page at your publisher's site.

Another benefit of self-publication is that "vanity" presses don't try to tell you what to do with your book. Traditional publishers will decide for you if you're going to be e-published or not, based on what they think will work best. Screw that! This is your book. If you want to try e-publication, then try it! As I mentioned before, an author named Paul Coelho "pirated" his own work when his publisher wouldn't let him e-publish. His pirated work then outsold his traditionally marketed work by a 2:1 margin!

If you offer eBooks that you created yourself you can offer them for download directly from your site. By using Paypal you can set up an online marketplace. You might have to hire a webmaster for some of the coding to make sure everything is in the right place, but you're looking at about $250 to set up a checkout basket and download form-- and a really good webmaster can even help you set up a digital imprinting method to mark each download, so if you find later that 10,000 copies of your book popped up on a file sharing site, you know which buyer is giving away his copy.

This is all web marketing, which, truthfully, is the future of commerce. Books are a commodity that doesn't need to be tried on and doesn't need to be stored in a refrigerator, so unlike clothes, shoes, or celery, you don't need to go to the store to get one. This is especially true for eBooks that can be paid for and downloaded instantaneously.

But don't overlook the local bookseller market, either. You may or may not be able to break into Barnes and Noble or Waldenbooks or Wal-Mart. Those places have merchandisers whose sole job it is to purchase items to be sold in the stores. Talking to a store manager does you no good. You need to talk directly with the product buyer, and most of those cats don't talk to anyone other than a direct manufacturer or publishing house. However, that doesn't mean it's impossible. Stores like Wal-Mart, in particular, make a big deal out of supporting local townships-- they give away millions every year to local schools and have special funds set aside for sponsoring little league teams. Go to your local Wal-Mart and tell them, "Listen, I'm a local author. I'd like you to sell my books in your stores. Help me out and make money at the same time." The worst that can happen is that they reject you-- and weren't we willing to deal with that from a publisher already?

A better choice is the used bookstore or the mom-and-pop bookseller rather than a chain store. Most vanity press publishers will produce promotional materials for you, like signboards and those flatfront shelves that hold your books cover out instead of spine out. You have to buy them, but it's worth it. Take them into the mom-and-pop store and tell them, "Hey, I'm a local author. These are my books. Please let me put this signboard shelf in your store. I'll put ten books on it and come back in two weeks to restock it. The cover price is $5.99. If you sell any, you keep $4 and give me $1.99. I'll do everything except for ring up the customer. Also, here's an eleventh book for you to read and keep, free. If you think it's worth it, please recommend it to your customers."

Make sure that the sign board has your website address on it, or even a pocket for your business cards so people can take them home and look for your books online if the store runs out or if they just happen to also think you rock balls.

One bookstore isn't going to sell a lot, so find as many in your area as you can. Another idea is to take the multi-level-marketing approach. Find someone you can trust to also hit bookstores. Tell them that they get to keep $1 out of that $1.99. True, you only get 99 cents, but if you can get three people hitting twenty bookstores apiece selling ten copies of your book a week (that won't happen, but it makes the math easier) that's 3x20x10=$600 every week coming in while you sit at home and work on writing the sequel!

Get six people, quit your job, and work on marketing your book half time while you write half time.

On a small scale, this is exactly what traditional publishers do. They send out marketers and connect with retail buyers who buy books by the lot. They may have fifty marketers talking to book stores about buying lots of 100 books, but it boils down to the same thing. Plus, the nice part about this is that you don't get assraped by the buybacks if your book doesn't sell. you simply go pick up the extras, thank the store for their time and their expensive retail space, perhaps browse their fiction section while you're there, and then try a new location.

There are a lot of ways to market good fiction. One of my problems with traditional publication is that the editors and the agents want to "weed out" bad writing. What they are really doing is eliminating consumer choice. There are some books out there that I'll hate, but you will absolutely love. (Kevin J. Anderson has a following, after all. Admittedly, most of the people following him have horrified expressions on their faces because of what he's done to their beloved science fiction series...) Do I have the right to prevent you from ever reading that book that would change your life for the better simply because I "think" it's not marketable fiction?

I've heard the argument that the cumbersome and mercenary process of submission and rejection weeds out the books that aren't strong enough for publication. They are either returned and rewritten to become stronger, or they die out before they hit press.

Guess what? Basic economics does the same thing. Ever hear of HD DVD or New Coke? Neither of these products were strong enough to compete with their opponents, and so they failed.

Books are like any other product. Good ones will sell. Bad ones will vanish. If you put your time in the right places and make sure the mechanics of your book are strong-- there are no glaring errors of punctuation, spelling, or grammar in the text; it's in a readable font; it's professionally bound and printed ("manufactured" in a quality manner)-- then the only thing left is the quality of the writing and the strength of your creativity when it comes to marketing the book.

You seriously mean to tell me that you are creative enough to write a frickin' novel, disciplined enough to carry it through 280 pages and 65,000 words, but you're not disciplined enough to make sure it's proofread and copyedited properly or creative enough to come up with a marketing plan for it?

I doubt that. I doubt that very much. After all, as I said before; you rock balls!

Thanks for sticking with me through four weeks of this madness. We now return to our regularly scheduled erratic randomness punctuated by brief flashes of insight and emotional beauty. Plus, there may be a wet nightie contest by the pool at lunchtime!

Write on!

Christopher Rivan

Virgins Slain, Dragons Rescued.
Reasonable rates for all budgets!




  1. I did it - I finished all four!!! Do I get a prize? No, that's alright, I missed your humor. And boy do I understand the need for a hiatus. I got burned out on blogs and had to take a huge one myself.

  2. Only if you win the wet nighty contest, Ban!

  3. Hmmmm, lets stack the deck a bit and whip out the toenail polish