Tag Archives: publishing

I did it!

In case you somehow missed hearing the news elsewhere — in which case, I’m not being nearly obnoxious enough — my ebook is now available on Amazon. Go buy it! In fact, buy several copies and give them as gifts! And write a review!! And tell all your friends!!!

Sorry. Got a bit carried away.

It really is exciting, seeing my book over there looking all official. I sort of feel like Pinocchio, becoming a “real boy” after years of wistful dreaming. And telling lies making stuff up.

Here’s the link at Amazon:

How Did This Happen? Lunch with Imaginary Friends and other (mostly) True Stories

I hope it will also be available over at Barnes & Noble . . . someday. Maybe even one day soon. I’m currently in limbo there, waiting for approval. I can’t decide whether this means they have higher standards than Amazon or simply a more convoluted process. Or maybe they’ve already closed up shop for the holiday break and my book won’t get processed until after the New Year.

For those of you curious about the process, Amazon had it online in about two hours. Not that I’m impatient or anything.

UPDATE: My book is now also available for Nook at B&N: go HERE to buy it!

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Spinning straw into… more straw

For those of you following along at home, here is an update on my progress with the self-pub ebook. First of all, thanks to a little help from my friends, I have a title:

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
Lunch with Imaginary Friends and Other (mostly) True Stories

I love it. The cover designer I hired is hard at work on a cover and I should have something to show you all in about a week. But I can tell you right now, this guy “gets” my sense of humour and I’m very excited about the concept we discussed and can’t wait to see the final product.

Which brings us to that dreaded necessity:  The Blurb.

A blurb (or product description) is not an easy thing. I’ve written a couple for friends and I tell you, it is damn near impossible to be persuasively concise about a 100,000-word story. But to summarize a book like this that doesn’t even have a plot, let alone a protagonist and antagonist? What is there to say? How do you convince people to even consider buying it?

I looked at descriptions of similar books for ideas. But I just can’t see how it would be helpful (or, you know, legal) for me to describe my book as:  “A delightful collection of essays from NYT Bestselling author Lisa Scottoline…”

And it’s not like I’m going to have reviews from Publishers Weekly or Library Journal to help me out. Or cover quotes from famous authors saying how much they loved it. Or… anything… else.

I figure all I’ve got going for me is my writing. And if that’s not enough, I’m doomed no matter what. So I sucked it up and wrote a blurb and coerced asked my daughter and five imaginary reader friends to give me feedback. And you know what? Every Single One of them said something different. All very helpful, mind you, but no overlap in opinion AT ALL.

This was daunting as hell.

So after much thought and even more brutal bloody cutting of words, this is what I’ve got:

This is the space where I’m supposed to tell you why you should buy this book. Honestly? I have no idea.

This book is a compilation of the best of several short essays I wrote over the course of the past five years. Mostly, they’re funny. A few are a bit more introspective. But ninety percent of this content is available over on my blog. Of course, it’s scattered among more than 200 other posts and you’d spend an awful lot of time sorting the wheat from the chaff over there.

So there’s one reason — I’ve already saved you at least five hours and a massive headache by gathering the best of them into a collection. Plus, there’s that ten percent no one has ever seen before. Which might be for the best, but still.

What’s that? You want another reason? Um… well… oh, I know! Pictures! This book has pictures. Or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Some of them hand-drawn by Yours Truly.

Oh, you want a compelling reason? Of course you do. Hmmm. Well, you get to meet the characters who populate my real life:  my son (DS) and my daughter (DD) and Quincy the Wonder Dog (QtWD) and the cat (the cat). Also, The Dog’s Favourite Person (to whom I am no longer married) (it’s okay, we’re friends now) and all of my awesome Imaginary Internet Friends (who are not as imaginary as my kids seem to think).

If that’s not compelling enough, maybe you’ll be convinced by early reaction from others, which has been… emphatic, if mixed:

“Woohoo! Hooray! About damn time you published something. We get free copies, right?” -My Imaginary Friends

“That’s lovely, dear. Is this going to be a real book? I’ve never read an ebook.” -My Mom

“Yay, mom! That is awesome. Wait. You are going to mention me in the acknowledgements, aren’t you?” – My Daughter

“Mom. I thought we agreed that you’re not allowed to talk about your blog in public.” -My Son

I should mention that there is mild profanity in this book, just as there is in my life. If that kind of thing offends you, please consider buying something else to read. Really.

Then again, you might decide a wee bit of profanity is to be expected when you’re telling (mostly) true stories. Like the one about the time my air conditioner died in the middle of an epic heat wave. And the time I woke up to find blood all over the kitchen floor. And there was the time I called the police when one of my Imaginary Friends went missing. Plus, OMG, BEARS!

But I guess you’ll have to read it and decide for yourself. Go click on that “sample” button over there and I’ll just sit here with my fingers crossed that you might end up wanting to read the entire thing. And maybe even want to share it with your imaginary friends. Or, you know, your mom.

So… tell me, would that make you want to buy this book? Or am I doomed.

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Book Country: apparently, a whole other world

I signed up to be a beta user over at Book Country way back before it was open to the public. Mostly because I was curious, but also because I was suspicious. I wanted to know what Penguin was up to. So once I logged in, I read all the details and scrutinized the fine print. And concluded it was basically a legitimate site where writers could upload their work and give and receive constructive criticism among peers. How nice. (For what it’s worth, I still think that part of it IS nice.)

It’s not something I was interested in doing, but I could see its value to writers who didn’t have a support group of other writers. And I’m the last one who would ever question the value of an online community. So I pretty much shrugged, wished them all the best, and went on my way.

But I admit, I was still suspicious. Because Penguin had invested what seemed to me to be an inordinate amount of time and effort (i.e., money) in the venture. For what? Were they really that dedicated to helping writers become better at their craft? I mean, sure, that would be a generous and benevolent goal, but it didn’t seem like a viable business objective.

So I wasn’t truly surprised when Penguin/Book Country announced last week that they were now offering to “help” writers who want to “self-publish.”

I’m not going to go into all the details when others have already done so, and done it very well, but I will say that if you’re a writer and you haven’t read the related posts by JA Konrath and David Gaughran and Kristine Rusch you should go read them. Really. There is no excuse for ignorance when information is a click away.

So now people are all agitated about Penguin taking advantage of writers who are presumably new to the business and don’t have a support group of other writers (well, other than Book Country) who are willing to tie them up and sit on them until they come to their senses.

And they’re upset about Penguin charging exorbitant fees for doing nothing more than basically clicking a button to upload work onto Amazon. No editing. No copyediting. No proofreading. No custom cover art. No marketing or promotion, other than some vague advice about how to do it yourself.

There are other disadvantages, such as the three-week delay before ebooks are available, not being able to make ANY changes to an ebook once it’s published, pricing changes only allowed every 60 days, inability to include pictures or images in the text and, if you choose the less expensive option of distribution only on the BC site, it will be available only in ePub format, which can’t be read on a Kindle.

Penguin is also, in addition to the upfront fees, staking a claim to 30% royalties, in perpetuity. If you choose the “wide” distribution option (not limited to the BC site), that percentage is calculated on the amount left after other distributors take their 30%. So the 70% Penguin pays a writer is substantially less than the 70% Amazon or B&N would pay a writer.

Why would any writer in their right mind add a restrictive middleman to the self-pub process, especially one demanding royalties for what should be one-time flat-fee services, when it is so ridiculously easy to contract it out or do this stuff yourself? They wouldn’t, unless they didn’t know any better.

So yes, all of that is upsetting to me too. Of course it is. I hate the prospect of writers getting screwed due to lack of experience or dearth of information, and there is vast potential for that to happen here. Then again, if you’re a writer and you want to do business with the big boys (and that includes Amazon and B&N), you’d damn well better learn how to educate and protect yourself.

[And this is precisely why I wasn’t offended by that whole “Be The Monkey” nonsense on Konrath’s blog a while back. Getting “screwed” is a familiar concept in business. Crude? Yes. But it’s standard terminology. In some businesses, being able to screw the competition is cause for celebration. Bonuses. Promotions. It happens when one party to a transaction is more knowledgeable, more powerful, or has greater leverage than another. It results in people saying things like, “Did you hear about the contract Susie Q just signed with that vanity publisher? Boy, did she ever get screwed.” And that’s only if they’re being polite about it.]

As troubling and opportunistic and disingenuous as all of this is, what struck me as ironic — and by ironic, I mean mind-bogglingly unbelievable — is that Penguin is now apparently prepared to pay self-pubbed writers 70% of net for ebook sales. While they’re reportedly paying their traditionally pubbed writers, those with “real” publishing contracts, 25% of net for ebook sales. Less, of course, the 15% cut that goes to an agent.

If I had a standard publishing contract with Penguin right now, my head would be exploding with furious disbelief.

How did this happen? I have no idea, and I’m totally making this up (hey, it’s what I do), but I can imagine the conversation between a bunch of corporate bean counters sitting around a conference table and saying things like:

“We need to cut costs and increase income. If only we could figure out a way to get writers to pay US an advance.”

“HAHAHA! Right. It wouldn’t even have to be a big advance, if we could get enough of them to do it.”

“Yeah, and if only we could do away with those pesky editing and cover art expenses.”

“Have you seen the crap that’s selling in the self-pub ebook market? Those ignorant click-happy Kindle owners will buy anything.”

“I don’t think they even read half those ebooks, they just see a low price and buy buy buy.”

“Y’know, we could publish crap too. Readers don’t look at the name of the publisher — they’d blame the writer if they hated the book.”

“And god knows, we’ve got an endless supply of desperate gullible writers in the slush pile.”

And I can just imagine the stunned silence in the room as they process all of this. And come up with a plan. A profitable plan. A plan that looks an awful lot like . . . Book Country.

I hate it when the suspicious side of my nature is validated. It just makes me more cynical.

I’m not saying the writers over at BC are bad writers. I’m sure they’re a mix of good, bad and mediocre, just like any other group. But probably the majority of them have not yet spent enough time writing to become excellent. Yet. I put myself in the same category. And I have nothing against self-publishing. But at a minimum, you need a good editor. That’s not optional. It’s also not offered at Book Country, where they’re ready, willing and able to publish unedited fiction.

I feel sorry for the true professionals at Penguin — and I know they exist — who really do love books and are passionate about good writing and captivating storytelling and who care about taking the time and making the effort to publish the best of the best. Because, with this latest venture, the bean counters at Penguin have grabbed that reputation for excellence by the throat with both hands and strangled it to within an inch of its life and then thrown it under the bus.

Penguin can put whatever spin they want on this venture, but actions speak louder than words. Corporations spend money on (and pay higher royalties for) the things that are important to them. In this case, that appears to be mass quantities of ebooks with low production costs. Period. It’s like they’ve become the puppy mill of publishing.

To hell with experienced writers who consistently produce quality work. To hell with agents who seek out and nurture those writers. To hell with editors who help refine and hone that work. To hell with cover artists and formatters who make it all look good. And, most damning of all, to hell with readers who expect quality and value for their hard-earned dollars.

That last one is the transgression I can’t forgive. All the rest is just business. Bad business, to be sure, but business just the same. It’s rare that a manufacturer is willing to screw its entire supply chain, but if supply is plentiful and quality control is no longer a consideration, it can be done. Profitably, even. Just maybe not indefinitely.

But as a writer, my contract is with readers. It might be unwritten, but it’s binding and it’s non-negotiable. That’s a trust I’m not willing to betray. And I wouldn’t hesitate for even a New York minute to turn my back on anyone who is willing to screw readers.

There was a time, not so long ago, when I would have been thrilled to be published by Penguin, to have that name on the spine of my books. It seems that time has passed.

What a damn shame.

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Whaddaya mean, these things don’t write themselves?

Hmm, it seems my blog’s auto-pilot feature isn’t working as advertised. Or at all.

I’ve been imagining people coming over here, seeing that my blog is still celebrating Halloween several days after Thanksgiving, shaking their heads sadly and turning away, telling their friends how pitiful it all is.

Oh, the shame! The utter humiliation!

Um, okay, not really. I’ve been busy. Mostly writing, but other things too. And I’ve been having a tough time concentrating on other, easier pieces of writing. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Besides, all the blog topics I’ve considered recently are either ill-advised rants about insignificant things or epic treatises padded with complaints and whining. Yeah, I know, standard fare over here. But still.

So let’s indulge in something different. It’s the holiday season, a time for enjoying ourselves. At least, you all should be enjoying yourselves while I finish getting this so-called final draft ready for the stage in the writing process called Soliciting Feedback, where we break out the tar and feathers and set up the pillory in the town square.

I’m looking forward to it. Really. Mostly because I’m not yet looking back on it.

This video by writer David Kazzie has been circulating on Twitter and it’s very funny. It made me snort. Then it made me laugh. Yes, out loud. Good thing it wasn’t around five or six years ago — I suspect I wouldn’t have grasped the humour at that point in my learning curve. The non-writers who visit over here are pretty savvy about the process, I hope you all find it amusing as well.

Script: © 2010 David Kazzie. All rights reserved.

If this is your first exposure to an Xtranormal video, you should go visit their site. Hilarity ensues over there on a regular basis. If all else fails, I think it might be a great way to publish. Yes?

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In Which Agents and Publishers Get It Anyway (my opinion, that is)

As a result of my post a few days ago, I have been privately raked over the coals and thoroughly excoriated by several writers. Perhaps rightly so. I have been told that if I’m not willing to pull my head out of, um, the sand and use my voice to defend writers and their rights, then I should STFU. I have been accused of being cavalier about writers’ income and giving tacit permission to agents and publishers to do whatever the hell they want to do in regard to commissions and advances. And those were the nice comments.

Ahem. And here I thought I was just being cynical. I did not say it doesn’t matter to me what agents and publishers do in regard to these issues. In fact, I took great care not to say that. I said that practical decision-making doesn’t anger me. And I said it does not matter what I think about any of this. Honestly, I am not convinced there is one single agent or publishing professional who gives a flying rat’s ass what I think. I could be wrong. It happens.

Note to self: Next time you decide not to express an opinion, don’t write a post saying you’re not going to express an opinion. Really, what was I thinking?

So in response to criticism from fellow writers, the post below is chock full of opinion. Something I stopped myself from doing several days ago because I think it’s pointless. I do not speak for anyone other than myself — other writers can step up and use their own damn voices. The previous post was my evaluation of an issue. This post contains my opinions. See whether you can tell the difference.

I would like to preface this by saying I do not feel antagonism toward agents or publishers. I have a great deal of respect for their intelligence and competence and believe we all are working incredibly hard toward a common goal. I will also point out that there is a subtle but important distinction between anger and vehemence. I am not angry.

Let’s start with the proposed so-called five percent increase in agent commission. Perhaps in contradiction to what I just said about intelligence, can we please stop being disingenuous about this? This is not a difference of a mere five percent. An increase from 15% to 20% commission is a 33% pay raise. In this economy, with all the financial sacrifices being made in this country, a pay raise of this magnitude is obscene. It is so stunningly inappropriate, I have no other word for it. Any agent who can even think to defend this degree of increase is welcome to try, but I am going to assume that person is spending way too much time hanging out at Goldman Sachs. I am not categorically opposed to some kind of moderate increase in commission (though I will argue about where that money should come from). I don’t know how much would be appropriate but, just so we’re clear, a five percent pay raise translates to a commission of 15.75%.

Can you see yet how this is opinion and the other post was not? Really, this is the first time I’ve ever had anyone not recognize when I’m stating an opinion.

Reading fees: I consider reading queries to be part of the job for which commission is paid. Sort of like answering the phone and fielding the same ridiculous customer questions over and over and over again is at other jobs. If it’s demoralizing and overwhelming, and I’m sure it is, then close to submissions for a period of time each month to get caught up or to take a break and run through the sprinkler. The average writer (I know, no such thing as average, humour me here) receives something like 50 – 100 or more rejections before finding an agent. It won’t take long for writers to resent the hell out of having to, in effect, pay for rejections that consist of a form letter/email or no response at all. This will not serve to weed out the chaff, but to penalize and disillusion non-affluent writers. Which describes most of us. For the sake of peace in the writing community, please do not do this. Really. Either an agent is open to submissions or not.

Advances. You know, I’ve never received one. So, grain of salt here. I read somewhere in the vast mine field of discussion that an “average” advance is $10,000. Of that, after an agent deducts their 15%, a writer receives $8,500.  At least a third of that goes to pay taxes, leaving $5950. Most writers who manage to produce a manuscript worthy of publication have been working seriously toward publication and honing their craft for, on average, six to ten years. Yes, really. I’ve been at it six years now and figure I’m almost ready to go out in public. As an example, let’s use eight years. So by the time a writer gets published, over the course of their entire writing career to date they have earned just under $750 each year. This does not even begin to cover writing-related expenses — workshops, research, classes, resource books, conferences — let alone approximate a living wage.

Oh, but there are royalties. Someone said a dollar a book. I’ve heard it’s more like eighty cents, but let’s go with a dollar. So every 1,000 copies sold equals $1000 in royalties. Eventually. After a great mysterious and incomprehensible delay, a check for a portion of this will arrive . . . once every six months.

Tangentially, agents and publishers should be aware that many of us are paying very close attention to what people like Joe Konrath are saying. With Amazon offering a 70% royalty and paying it every month, those same 1,000 ebooks priced at a modest $2.99 each would net a writer $2,093. And when publishers are increasingly sending the message that writers are solely responsible for marketing and any books sold will be due to the writer’s efforts and not anything the publisher contributes, well, it gives us pause. Add in the purported inefficiency and general uselessness of publishers as outlined in Jason Ashlock’s recent post [excuse me, sir, but WTF?], and/or the prospect of doing away with advances completely, and where is the incentive to do business with a traditional publisher? Just saying.

Now let me take off my writer hat for a minute and talk to you all as a professional person who works in the world of finance.

Most companies faced with dwindling profits will initially react by trying to increase sales, or income. They recognize the need for more money. The last thing they generally consider is cutting expenses. Now I realize full well that cutting advances is cutting expenses. But it’s the kind of cut that has a minimal negative effect on the publisher.

I don’t really expect answers, but I do have some questions:

How many of you have gone over your expenses with a fine-tooth comb and a spine of steel? (If you haven’t, you should fire your CFO immediately.) Have you cut your clerical staff by 10 to 20%? Have you told management, from the president on down, they have to take a cut in pay to keep the company in business? Have you told your sales staff they will no longer receive sales commissions? Have you set the thermostat a degree or two or three higher and turned off half the lights in your office to reduce the electric bill? Have you fired your cleaning crew and told your employees they’ll have to take turns cleaning the toilets?

Have you approached your landlord, hat in hand, and asked for a rent reduction, making the case that reduced revenue would be a better option than a vacant space with no tenant? Have you contacted your advertisers and told them that if they can’t negotiate lower rates, you’ll be forced to pull all your ads? How many of your employees still have expense accounts? How many business lunches or drinks and dinner do you pay for each month? Do you throw away paper with print on only one side or do you turn it over and use it for notes and phone messages? Do you still send flowers and gifts to your clients rather than a heartfelt note of appreciation?

On a more personal level, do you pack your own lunch and brew your own coffee or tea and carry it to work every day? Have you had to sit down with a newly laid-off employee who is more like a family member and choke back tears of impotent rage and remorse as you help fill out the forms necessary to receive unemployment and food stamps so he can feed his four kids?

How many of you are shaking your heads and thinking these measures are too harsh or that’s not the way business is conducted in the world of publishing? How many of you have cut all these expenses? Have you cut any of them?

My company has done every single one of those things. Every. Single. One. I don’t think we’re unusual. This is the kind of thing the majority of people in this country are doing to survive until the economy starts to rebound. This is the stark ugly face of economic hardship and tough times.

Those are just daily expenses. What about your presence at national conferences? How much do you spend on travel or drinks and meals for clients and other colleagues? How much is spent on the lavish parties I’ve heard so much about? How many writers are going to witness the generous extravagance of free food and drink over the next few months, gaze fixed on that magnificent chocolate fountain, knowing they won’t be getting an advance on their next book and wondering how anyone’s priorities could possibly be so screwed up?

BTW, any writer who feels entitled to that kind of special treatment is welcome to volunteer their advance as a means to enable it. I’d rather have a cellophane-wrapped sandwich and a bottle of water. Then again, I don’t think there’s ever an excuse for a chocolate fountain.

With all due respect, and I believe a considerable amount is indeed due, take a good hard look. What have you done to cut expenses? Honest to god, I hope you’ve done all this and more, but I’m dubious. I hope some of you comment and let me know. I hope you prove me wrong when I say my opinion doesn’t matter. Feel free to be politely anonymous. I’ll even turn off moderation.

Because if you haven’t considered and acted on these things, if you haven’t sacrificed at least as much as the rest of us have lately, I’m going to be extremely skeptical and say you have no effing idea what you can and can not afford. I’m going to scoff when you tell me you can’t afford to pay for marketing or advances, or that you’re entitled to a 33% pay raise that will come straight out of my pocket.

That’s all I have to say. I’m done. If you need me, I’ll be over here in the corner trying to resuscitate my creative energy so I can write fiction.

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