Tag Archives: Publishing

A few thoughts on self-publishing

My stance on the value of self-publishing goes like this:

In today’s technology age it’s best for an author to be open to trying as many different avenues for publishing as possible. Submit a story to a magazine, put it up on your blog, enter a contest, try to get a literary agent, self-publish your book on your own terms, use CreateSpace, etc.

An extension of this is, the project dictates the method of publishing. Now genre fiction can be traditionally published or self-published. It tends to find a particular niche on eReaders so if you have the platform to make it happen that’s not a bad option, but neither is going through an agent.

Some projects, like very very niche projects, are well suited to self-publishing, especially if you think it would be an uphill battle to get a publisher to fund an expensive book only a few people would read.

Self-publishing does not limit your options. The authors making the most money today seem to be the “hybrids”, traditionally and self-published authors.

That being said, some elements of being a self-published author are unfortunate.

If you don’t want to sell exclusively on Amazon you are:

  • Getting a 35% royalty instead of 70%.
  • Unable to run a price promotion unless you actually change the price  (no scheduling).
  • You will not be selected for a Kindle Daily Deal (though apparently some Kindle Worlds projects can be).

If you want to publish on Smashwords you are:

  • Confined to 5MB of content.
  • Relying on a third party to convert your book into multiple formats.
  • Working with a company with a sketchy better business bureau rating (C-).

If you want to publish for the Nook you are:

  • Getting a better royalty but still need to meet the $10 threshold to get paid.
  • Which may be a lot harder given that Nook Sales are a much smaller piece of the eBook publishing pie.
  • And Nooks are perceived as being on the way out, even if they might be better hardware.
  • And their on-line formatting software still needs a lot of work.

Even Bundle Dragon, who I love, has a couple of caveats:

  • Less mainstream name recognition so much higher self-promotion required.
  • Reluctance of readers to buy something they can’t manage in their Amazon library.
  • It’s still in its first year of being a fully released platform. And its own audience is more games and music oriented.
  • Still totally worth it since the profit margin is 80%, you have full control over everything, and you get paid monthly (without the 60 day wait).

It’s important to have all the facts, and weigh all the options when considering what to do with your next story. But the best solution to fixing something you’re not happy with, is to write something else and try it somewhere else. Success, it seems, is earned by those who put out quality work in great quantity.

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Filed under Trube On Tech, Writing

Why Books Are Losing

I am no big fan of DRM*

When I buy an MP3 from Amazon, I can transfer it to another computer, my Kindle, an MP3 player or Burn a CD all by just copying the file from one place to another. I don’t have to re-download it, or even be connected to the internet.

Not so for most eBooks. A book I own from Amazon may be able to be read on applications like Kindle for PC, Kindle Cloud Reader, my Kindle Touch, Fire, or even my Android tablet. But the book downloaded to each device is different, and only works on that device. I can’t download a book to my PC and then copy it to my Touch.

That’s DRM for you.

Peter Brantley, blogging for Publisher’s Weekly, goes one further. In a nutshell he compares the existing movie and TV distribution networks, that started with a narrow win for VHS as a legal format, and ends with services like Netflix or Amazon Video to the current eBook distribution model. Furthermore, he makes the case that time spent watching TV or movies is time spent NOT reading books and that if publishers want to increase their revenue streams the same way the film industry has, they need to think about the next “Netflix for Books” or something.

For me anyway books lose to TV sometimes not because of the inconveniences and restrictions of getting them, but because they fail the most American of goals, multi-tasking.

I don’t JUST watch TV. I’m not a part of the generation who tweets about a show while I’m watching, but I am the kind who has a netbook out, or even just a drawer to organize, something to do besides watching TV. This is a value I think I got from my Mom, who certainly likes some shows, but generally is looking for something to do while watching them.

Reading is like watching Anime for me. I used to watch a lot more Anime in college, when (I felt) I had time for simply watching something, because watching sub-titled anime involves a lot of reading, and a lot less time for multi-tasking. Audiobooks, or having my Touch read to me, allows for some multi-tasking, but generally I miss things unless the task I’m doing is pretty mundane. I can’t listen to non-fiction books, for instance, unless all I’m doing is either driving, or drawing images for work. Fiction’s a little easier to multi-task to, but I still feel like I’m missing something.

I think it’s this more than access that’s doing publishers a disservice and I’m not as sure how to fix it. From a technical view, video may be more available but it is not easier from a DRM perspective. Video DRM is very restrictive, often to the point of being tied to a certain device (which for anyone who’s owned a laptop longer than a few years can be a dicey prospect). And I have great access to free eBooks services from my library, tons of mysteries and non-fiction books to keep me entertained and enlightened without spending a penny.

It’s not access, but time that needs to change. One of the joys of being sick (one of the few anyway), was to have some unfettered time to read. But the truth is, I can make that time if I really want to. Not that I don’t think publishers should innovate, and be a little less paranoid with the DRM. I just don’t think it’s the reason we’re watching more TV.

TV is easier, and it doesn’t demand much from us, most of the time anyway. That’s why we like it.

*Digital Rights Management or how publishers attempt to prevent eBooks or other materials from being pirated, and keep them tethered to a single device or vendor

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Filed under Books + Publishing

Boy! He sure has a lot to say, doesn’t he?

One of the recent pieces of news in the publishing industry this week is the bidding over ‘City on Fire‘, the 900 page debut novel from author Garth Risk Hallberg. The winner: Knopf for $2 million.

Hallberg (who has a great middle name by the way) is described as a “little known” author who has published a couple of short stories and a short novella, before unleashing this tome which took him six years to write.

I’d love to know a word count but I’m guessing it’s at least in the 400K range, or put another way, five Surreality’s.

Suffice it say, I doubt the lesson self-published or aspiring authors should take away from this is that more is better. For arbitrary reasons (somewhat informed by advice) I think an author’s first couple of books should fall in the 70K-125K range. Surreality’s current draft is 76K (down from a first draft of 98K) and I’m expecting this final draft to stay around that number but possibly go as high as 80K.

DM* on the other hand has a rough draft of 200K+. My first completed novel draft, Atlantia, clocks in at about the same length 193K. Around the time I was finishing Atlantia I read Dune which is about 185K words long. It’s certainly not the longest sci-fi book, not even the longest book I’ve personally read, but for some reason Dune has become my unit of measure for book length. I think it’s not a bad measure because it’s not so big that everything would be measured in decimal fractions of Dune but not so small that a book will have a higher number than can be comprehended.

Here now is a list of books converted into Dunes (185,723 words):

War and Peace = 560,000 words = 3.0152 Dunes

Infinite Jest = 575,000 words = 3.0960 Dunes

Ender’s Game = 100,609 words = 0.5417 Dunes

Atlas Shrugged = 645,000 words = 3.4729

John Galt’s speech toward the end of the Atlas Shrugged = 33,000 words = 0.1777 Dunes = 0.7174 Fahrenheit 451’s

(Sources: AbsoluteWrite.com and Brainz.org)

So I’m guessing Hallberg’s book is a least two Dunes.

Here’s a few reasons I think self-published or aspiring authors should probably ignore this outlier:

1) It’s not the first thing he’s ever published. Literary magazines can be tough to sell to, and a novella’s not a bad way of indicating you can write a novel.

2) Self-publishing especially means self-editing, or at least editing by non-professionals. The more words, the more work and the more you have to keep straight. This is why I suspect a lot of self-published authors write trilogies. It’s one book in their head, but it’ll sell better as three, and be easier to manage.

3) Long novels can ramble or have dry spells. Hallberg’s book is notable in that it does not apparently suffer from this problem, but probably not for all readers.

4) Six years is a long time to work on a single project, and you’ve gotta figure there’s at least another year or two until this book actually is published. It might be better to do a number of smaller projects to get feedback rather than to throw your eggs all in one basket.

5) For a new author, or even an experienced one, they get better as a writer from the first word to the 500,000th, meaning the earlier passages will have to be brought up to the level of the later ones. This is somewhat true for all books, but is magnified in longer works.

This by the way is not a comment on reading. I love reading a long book, or a long series of books set in the same world. If you can write 500,000 words and keep me interested, more power to you. But I suspect most of us need a few books under our belts before this is a good idea.

What do you guys think?

*This is an abbreviation of the working title of this book by the way, it will likely change by the time it becomes more publicized here.

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Filed under Books + Publishing, Writing

When to start

I need to start revising.

I think the month I was thinking of taking off after the fractal book is catching up with me.

But more than that I just haven’t taken the crucial first step of working on Chapter 1.

Sure I’ve been taking notes, I’ve been researching, I re-read the entire draft, and I’ve outlined the first few chapters worth of changes.

But I haven’t sat alone with my book and worked.

I am tired, but for mostly the same reasons I was tired before. I’m a night owl who has to get up very early. I’m disciplined once I’ve started, but starting sometimes gets the better of me.

I’m very excited to be revising. Reading the book sparked a lot of ideas, as did my tour of Columbus on foot.

Now they just need to get from my brain to the page. It’s such a short distance. Though not if you consider the brain’s fractal nature and the miles of neurons…

Delaying tactics with me are many and varied.

How about this? The wife and I have a date tonight with Radiolab at the Palace Theater so tonight’s not a good night. But how about come hell or high water I start Chapter 1 in the next 48 hours? Probably that’s Friday morning, or possibly lunch time if I can’t get my butt up in the morning. Maybe it’s even as late as Saturday morning, though that’s cutting it a bit thin.

Point is by Monday I will have either worked on my first chapter, or I will write another Princess Pony story. Trust me. None of us wants that.

We’ll just have to see what happens.

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Filed under Writing, Writing Goals

Get a job at Amazon!

No really, they’re hiring.

In fact, Amazon is part of President Obama’s new tour, “A Better Bargain for the Middle Class.” Obama will be speaking later today at an Amazon fulfillment center in Tennessee about “boosting  US manufacturing and high wage jobs” (according to Publisher’s Weekly).

A fulfilling (get it?) career in Amazon fulfillment basically involves running around a large warehouse “picking” product off the shelf and putting it in a bin for shipment. A full job description can be found here. Please note the 10-12 hour shifts, heavy lifting, and willingness to work overtime, anytime, or all the time.

This seems like a bit of a downgrade from the jobs in green energy we were promised.

And Obama’s visit to Amazon is sparking some ire from Independent booksellers, especially in light of the recent justice department ruling against Apple (though in fairness they really kind of deserved it for a couple of reasons).

Depending on how you want to look at it, it would seem that the Obama administration is playing favorites, attacking price fixing on the Apple side, but ignoring Amazon’s “loss-leading” pricing on the other. One site this week, Overstock.com, decided to take matters into their own hands. In an ongoing battle with Amazon’s deep discounts, Overstock.com has been cutting the prices of bestsellers to 10% below Amazon’s price, which in turn caused Amazon to price match. For the moment, other booksellers are staying above the fray, though Indie’s have always had a bone to pick with Amazon.

So let’s play a round of “How Should We Feel?”

Well, for starters it may not be in Amazon’s best interest to completely eliminate physical bookstores. And fulfillment jobs are grueling, hot, repetitive jobs, but they do seem to come with decent benefits and pay (even if none of those jobs are in Ohio).

Maybe Amazon will eliminate the competition in the years to come, and will thus feel free to raise prices, or force publishers to take a smaller cut. But it’s a hard to ask customers to pay more now so they won’t have to pay more later.

I try to pump as much money into the used market (Half Price Books mainly) as I do on Amazon, but that secondary market depends on the primary market ultimately to survive. In fact Half Price Books is working on becoming  a primary market of its own, offering bestsellers at a 20% discount (including J. K. Galbraith’s Cuckoo’s Calling).

What’s your relationship with Amazon (Evil Empire, Supplier of my Desire, or both)?

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Why I Write eBooks

Admit it, you still want a copy of your writing you can hold in your hand.

The eBook revolution has arrived, and most of the reading and writing I’ve been doing for the past year has been geared toward eBooks. I think for many writers the eBook is a fallback or a trial run. Our vision of true success in the publishing world takes time to change. Even for myself, I think it would be great if the fractal book got a print run, one on expensive glossy pages with rich color and fixed formatting. The fractal book is the first book I’ve written where there has been no physical artifact. At every stage from drafting through multiple revisions there has never been a full printing of the book.

Every project prior to the fractal book has been printed as I wrote it. It was the reward for a good night’s work, and a way of seeing my progress beyond word counts. I could feel the weight of it and know that I had created something. This is a hard feeling to give up.

But the fractal book was different from the beginning. Most of the great books on fractals were written twenty years ago, and the few that are available as eBooks are prohibitively expensive ($40-$70). Very few of those books include program code and those that do are using programming languages twenty years out of date. Fewer still seem interested in generating image files you can take with you, as opposed to just drawing on the screen. As someone who loves this topic, there is a whole generation of people who might never learn about this work beyond buying a cool app for their phone.

Convincing a publisher to publish a book about fractals from an enthusiast programmer seems an almost impossible task, and may not be the best approach in the first place. Right now, fractals are kind of a niche topic, and niche topics are well suited to eBooks. Since I wrote my “Fractals You Can Draw” posts over a year ago, there has been a steady trickle of traffic to those posts every single day. This is a market spread around the country, around the world even, but one that might be hard to target with a physical book.

And print books are expensive. A good printing of this book would cost at least $30 to the final consumer, possibly more given the extensive color gallery. As someone who grew up on Half-Price Books and libraries, this price will never sit right with me. Doubly so for novels. How John Grisham (or Grisham’s publisher rather) can charge $25 for his latest book I think I’ll never understand. So in a way I’ve been primed for eBooks even before they really existed, and I think they should be cheap.

Sing it with me: five … five dollar … five dollar fractals.

I think we should embrace eBooks as a medium and try to create specifically for it, rather than using it as a publishing choice of last resort. Creating an eBook for the Kindle with hundreds of pictures and equations may not have been the wisest place to start, but it has shown me the medium has a lot of potential and room for growth. We can make eBooks into something we can be just as proud to have created as a physical book. And the more we do, the more we can shape eReading to be all the things we loved about reading physical books and more.

Have you made the jump wholeheartedly to eBooks, or are you still on the fence?

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Filed under Books + Publishing, Internal Debate 42, Writing

Come Play In My World

I haven’t written “fan-fiction” in years.

Probably the last time was in middle school, at the height of my early Star Trek obsession. (There’s a later Star Trek obsession too, and a current one 😉 ). Even then I didn’t like playing with the existing casts so much as creating my own characters and stories in that universe. Star Trek after all offers a vast galaxy and any number of stories can be told with the crew of just another ship. Even so, I abandoned those stories in favor of my own worlds, my own galaxies and characters.

Because writing for Star Trek doesn’t pay unless you’re a professional.

That’s still true for the moment, but Amazon’s Kindle Worlds does open up the possibility of getting paid for playing in someone else’s sandbox.

The royalty’s not particularly good (35%, 20% if the story is shorter than 10,000 words) and the price is set by Amazon unlike other Kindle Direct Publishing works. Moreover, if the copyright holder likes any of your work and wants to incorporate it into the main storyline, they don’t have to pay you extra. And the current selection of “worlds” is three shows I couldn’t give a hill of beans about.

But you can get paid for fan-fiction (as long as you’re not writing crossovers, or porn (probably most “slash” stories), you’re not overly violent or vulgar, and as long as you don’t mind handing over your creativity). More on the “nitty-gritty” here.

This is not a particularly good deal, especially when you compare it to the relative freedom you can get by writing your own original content. The power is definitely shifted in favor of Amazon (who can pull your book if it provides a “poor customer experience” – i.e. is crappily formatted or badly written) and the original copyright holder (who can use you and others like you as an idea factory for very low compensation).

This last probably sounds like the worst part, but let’s be realistic; I doubt the copyright holder will want to sift through thousands of these stories for ideas. At best they’ll look at some of the best sellers, but even then the process of taking that story and using it in a show could take months or even years, during which time shows can be cancelled or retooled to make the story unusable. A fan-author might write a story set in Season 1 when you’re already on Season 4, and modifying that story to work in a later season, when the characters have grown and changed may be more trouble than it is worth.

I think the idea is intriguing, if not best implemented in this phase. Maybe Barnes and Noble or Smashwords will come up with a better arrangement. But admit it, you’ve had a story tucked away for a long time that you might write if given the chance for people to actually see it, and you to get paid.

For me it’s a rewrite of Star Wars 3 (yes I watch those too). Ever since seeing that movie I have been trying to “fix” it in my head. I’ve got a storyline involving a better death for Padme (as a fighter), a more believable turn to the dark side for Anakin (removing the creepy old man\young boy aspect), and a tortured Obi-Wan who may be partly to blame for Anakin’s slide. And leave out most of the “Clone Wars” stuff. I don’t know how the cartoon is now, but a lot of us thought it was stupid that we had to watch badly animated 5 minute episodes to “understand” the movie. And also, two lightsabers is cool, four lightsabers is a pinwheel.

*sigh*

As for anything currently airing on TV? Nothing’s coming to mind. But we’ll just have to see what worlds become available (even if Star Wars is pretty unlikely). Maybe some Star Trek in the new timeline would be cool … we’ll see.

What about you? Would you consider this if the right property came along?

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