Culture

How to Be A Special Snowflake (Who No One Reads)

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Ladies, gentlemen and writers, this is Sarah speaking, and today I’m really, really, really myself.  I have, in fact, allowed myself to fall under my own influence. You may blame it on Pat Richardson who, under the amiable illusion that my blood pressure was too low, sent me the following article: Why I Will Never Self-Publish.

Now, first of all, I have to confess I looked at the title in wonder and puzzlement because I’ve been a professional in this field for going on sixteen years, and all along I’ve stuck to the principle I first heard from Kevin J. Anderson at a Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference around 1998 or so, which was “Sure, I can do that.”  In the ever-changing publishing landscape, I’ve seen arguably more prolific, harder working and far more talented people become lost along the way all for lack of “Sure, I can do that.”

I had a friend who refused her first contract for a YA series in England, because her lawyer said not to take the perfectly normal clause in the contract.  (Yes, I know, but back then the contracts weren’t even that bad.)  She didn’t get a second opinion.  She waited for the better contract that never came.  I’ve had friends who stopped writing because their advances weren’t increasing, friends who refused to write original mass market paperbacks, and friends who refused to write different series/short stories/other characters/different genres.

Sometimes you get lucky when you do that, but most of the time you just get abruptly retired.

But I thought, well, maybe this person is just under-informed.  After all, five years ago I’d have said the same thing, because my image of self publishing was Publish America or worse.  Yes, yes, in the days of Hugh Howey and after Amanda Hocking there is no excuse for that, but who knows?  Maybe he hasn’t heard that indie is viable and a perfectly respectable avenue for writers these days.  There’s no shame in indie, there’s shame in not selling.

And I’ll also confess I wouldn’t bother eviscerating this blog post, except that lately I’ve run into a number of people with the exact same ideas who will look down on those of us who write for a living.

So I started reading.

I sold my first novel to Unbridled Books without an agent and then, at my book release party at Watermark Books, during the Q&A section, someone asked me why I had self-published. I was crushed. I’d spent two years writing and rewriting the book, another six years trying to find an agent before giving up and submitting it to a few small presses.

Oh. Oh! You sold your book to Unbridled Books, did you?  Which is, exactly what? And you’re surprised people thought you self published?  And you had a … release party?

At this point it became obvious to me that I was in the presence of that ubiquitous creature in writing circles: the precious flower.

The precious flower is convinced his efforts at putting wordage on paper are going to make the world bow to him and explain their lives were empty – empty – until he came along.

The precious flower will clutch at a publisher like Unchained Unknown Unbridled Books rather than face the big, cold world alone, because, well, they’re a real publisher and they’ll do wonderful things for him.

The truth is, if he took two years to write his first novel, and six years to shop it around without (I presume) writing a second novel, the bigger publishers couldn’t have done anything with him, other than perhaps put him in the literary and little niche which doesn’t sell.  Rightly, wrongly or confusedly, to maintain a career as a traditionally published writer, you needed to have a book every year.  (Indie likes them rather more frequently.)

….Invariably there are the same old comments about keeping all my rights and getting to keep more of the money from sales. There have even been a few who have taken the semi-business based, utilitarian approach – just put your “product” out there and see if people will buy it. Most of the time, I let it slide because, frankly, I don’t have the energy to explain the publishing world to them, nor the difference between a utilitarian object – something used to accomplish other tasks and that has an objective, determinate value – and an object of art – something that is experienced for its own sake and has a subjective, indeterminate value.

Oh, my. You can’t explain the publishing world to them?  Dear ducky, you wouldn’t know the publishing world if it bit you really hard in the fleshy part of the buttocks.

The publishing world does make interesting noises like those you are making about Objects d’Art and “literachure” but in fact it runs on two things: prestige and cold hard cash. For prestige you need to be something special: a celebrity in another field; someone with an interesting life story or a particularly fascinating job. I see no evidence that you are any of these. And if you’re not going to be a prized status author, then you are there to make money. And if your book Object d’Art doesn’t make the house a sh*tton of money, they’re simply going to drop you after one book.  The value is neither subjective nor indeterminate.  Your book is worth what someone is willing to pay for it, and that’s not only true for the person paying the cost of a good carton of beer for it, but even more so to the publishers.

But I’m going to give it a shot now because, honestly, some people just won’t shut up about it. So, here it goes. First with the obvious: When a writer decides to self-publish, that writer then stops being a writer and becomes a publisher, which requires an entirely different skill set . . . and money.

largest publisher in the world, a small independent like my publisher, Unbridled Books, or Bob, from next door:

1) Editing and Proofreading
2) Book Design (yes, it’s even needed for ebooks)
3) Printing (optional if only doing ebooks)
4) Marketing and Publicity

And now I can’t read anymore.  You have just proven, dear ducky, that you know absolutely nothing about how the publishing world works.

1)      Editing and proofreading – at most publishing houses (I worked for a lot of them, and Baen is the only exception so far) the only person who ever reads your book start to finish is the copyeditor.  And most copyeditors, at least those I used to get at those other publishing houses, were recent high school graduates who knew less grammar, composition and style than I did.  For the love of … duckies… hire one of those.  Ten bucks and all the pizza she can eat ought to do it.  Or pay a real copyeditor. I recommend Jason Dycks though I’ll be danged if I can find his address right now, who does a better job than any of the “professionals” at the big houses. I think – and he can correct me in comments if I’m wrong, he will do your average sized novel for $500. Or you could, if you need more substantial editing, hire Pat Richardson who will even undertake some structural edits and will probably not cost you more than $1000.

2)      Book design – yes, we DO know it’s needed even for ebooks.  You could do worse than hiring Cedar Sanderson to do your cover design and she will hook you up with decent art, too, at a modest cost, the cost for the total package, purchased art + design being around $500 unless you really drive her insane. In traditional publishing houses, this usually defaults to a junior assistant, who gets some guidance from the art director.  I doubt that Unobtrusive Unbridled Books is hiring a top-of-the-field cover designer for you.  Most of the freelancers working for small press imbue their books with “literary and little” kind of clues that will ensure you never sell.  Oh, and most of them work for between $250 and $500.

3)      Printing.  Um… indeed.  But you do know that printing is only part of the package, right?  The real service of the big publishers is distribution.  And frankly they only really exert themselves for the darlings.  Mostly midlisters (which, trust me, is what you’d be) get hit or miss placement on store shelves.  Yes, that’s better than nothing.  And that’s better than Unfound Unbridled Books can do for you. If you go with a small or medium publisher, mostly you’re going to be stocked in a few small independent bookstores where, if you’re lucky, the publisher has contacts, or you’ll sell through Amazon.  For this, you can have your book on print on demand on Create Space for the grand total of zero.  And even technically illiterate me has learned to typeset books in three hours or so.

4)      Marketing and publicity.  Oh, doctor, really, it only hurts when I laugh.  Marketing and publicity!

I get some – not tons – from Baen (Not complaining.  It’s more than I got elsewhere.)  But for most publishers?  Ah!  Unless you’re the movie star du jour who just “co-wrote” a book, these days your marketing and publicity run something like “Will be listed in your catalogue.”  If you’re really lucky you’ll be part of a mass ad in some trade publication.

Most publishers and agents expect you to do your own marketing, anything from a blog/FB page, to your own self-paid tour.

Any substantive marketing from a publishing house other-than-Baen is pretty much an illusion designed to keep the writer happy.

And those are your reasons for not being self-published?  My dear Petunia, it’s time to wake up and smell the roses.  Come down off that unsteady pedestal you built out of your own ignorance and some really convincing cardboard boxes, and look around.

No, the world isn’t going to stop for your masterpiece, even if it really is a masterpiece – I don’t know.  It might be – and it’s not because most people are jealous of your genius.  Most people don’t know you exist. And that’s ultimately your problem.

If you write a book a year for a traditional publisher and make it good and it sells enough for them to keep buying you, your audience will grow.  Or if you write a book every six months for indie, and invest a very little, you could make a living in a couple of years.

Or you can continue being certain of your superiority and make nothing.

The choice is entirely yours.  Just remember if Shakespeare had written Object’s d’Art of indeterminate value, right now we’d consider Kit Marlowe the most important Elizabethan Playwright. Instead, old Will gave them what they wanted and plenty of it, with the funny bit with the man and the dog thrown in.  And centuries later we can ascertain that he did touch enough of eternal humanity for us to consider his books object’s d’art.

The rest, all the rest – your pride, your moral superiority, your ignorance about how publishing works or what the value is… is so much sound and fury.  Signifying nothing.

[Charlie now.]

Dear Precious,

You’re clearly an example of why MFA graduates aren’t hired for accounting jobs. Sarah, I think, has already soundly skewered your pretentious academic notions, so let’s just look at your arithmetic.  We’ll take as given your numbers — though I know some top New York copy-editors and they don’t get $40 an hour, you must put me in touch with that company.  But observe:

In this model, using the Scribe Freelance’s in-house editor, you can save some money, but it looks like you won’t get to choose your editor. I prefer to have a personal relationship with my editor, so I’d go with a separate freelance editor whose references and work I could look up and I’d end up spending the following:
$1,640 +$375 + $250 = $2,265

Now, I’m involved with some self-publishing, and I can tell you there are lots of people writing lots of things they self-publish for one helluva lot less than $2300, but as I say, take that as given, and let’s assume you were to publish it as an ebook at Amazon’s upper limit for the good royalties, $9.95.  You’d then make about $7 a book, which means you need to sell about 315 books to break even.

If you have a conventional publishing contract, you get a 25 percent royalty on ebook sales, and perhaps 10 percent on hardcover.  Let’s keep looking just at ebooks.  Whatever your publisher’s costs, we know they’re less than that $2300 — plus any promotion you get, but I haven’t noticed your name on any book tours recently — because the prices you quoted are all for contract labor. Those people have to charge more for each job to account for the risk they won’t have a job this week. For those services, you’re paying $4.48 per book.

Sell 314, and you are paying $1406 for that and netting $781. Sell 628, and you’re paying $2812. Sell 942, and you’re paying $4418.

Sell 2000 and you’re paying damn near ten grand.

What you’re really telling us is that you’re not a professional writer; you either have no actual pretensions of ever making a living from your writing, or you haven’t done the arithmetic. Writing is a hobby, and by refusing to self-publish, you’re paying even more than a “vanity press” would charge you for the privilege.


cover

The Alecto Initiative
By Jordan Leah Hunter and Owen R. O’Neill 

Life was never easy out in the Methuselah Cluster, but when her alcoholic father found her a ‘job’ while he went off-planet to look for ‘work’, 11-year-old Loralynn Kennakris began to learn just how ugly it could get. Within a year, her employers sold her to a brutal slaver captain, who took from her the last thing she owned: her name.

Most girls in Kris’s position last a year or two. The strong ones might last four. Kris survived eight before she was set free, thanks to the League Navy.

Unfortunately, eight years growing up in hell prepared Kris for nearly everything but freedom, and her new life isn’t at all what she imagined. Not only must she find her way in a bewildering society full of bizarre rules, but the very people who rescued her think she’s a terrorist plant, a beautiful interstellar celebrity is complicating matters in more ways than one . . . and now someone is trying to kill her.

But Kris hasn’t stayed alive by obeying rules, and her adopted society is about to find out what it’s like to collide with someone with no concept of a no-win scenario.


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Climbing Olympus
By Daniel Golliher 

Until now, humanity’s potential has been limited by its physical capability: of its body and its brain. In the middle of the twenty-first century, the mind itself is upgraded.

Three individuals hold humanity’s next stage in their hands:

Nikolas Rodrick, CEO of Rodrick Industries, oversees the largest corporate empire in the world. Grace Taylor holds the Earth casually on her shoulders as the aide-de-camp to Rodrick Industries. Both change when they meet Leo Apollus. Leo loves humanity, and sees its proper end above the clouds. Along with Grace and Rodrick, he takes it there.


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Sarya’s Song
By Kyra Halland 

Sarya dyr-Rusac has risen from her destitute childhood to become a respected arranger of musical magic rituals – until a wedding ritual she wrote results in tragedy. In exile for her failure, she hears powerful new music in the wind, heralding natural disasters like none ever before known. In hopes of learning what this strange new power is and finding a way to end the disasters, she returns to the musical service she left in disgrace.

There, she confronts the mistakes she made in the past and resumes her complicated relationship with the gloriously talented singer Adan Muari. Sarya believes that she and the wealthy, privileged Adan can have no place in each other’s lives. But, facing official resistance to her research and threatened by someone who is desperate to protect the secret of the mysterious music, she finds herself relying on Adan’s unwavering support – and increasingly unable to fight her attraction to him.

As the disasters worsen, a beautiful, nameless man in chains appears in Sarya’s dreams, begging her to sing the music she heard in the wind: the music that will free him. He could be a god with the power to save the world from destruction, or a threat to everything she knows and loves. With time running out, Sarya risks all, including her growing bond with Adan, to discover the chained man’s identity and the meaning of his song before the world itself is torn apart.


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LOVE in the DARK
By Isabel Pietri 

NYPD surveillance expert, Detective Millie Angeles has made a name for herself working in the elite TARU unit of the New York Police Department as the go-to girl for surveillance and tracking. However, when tragedy occurs, she finds herself casting about for a new chapter. That all falls into place when she lands a job at a private company, which dispatches her to the West Coast to work for Adrian Zaragosa, a blind, and strikingly handsome owner of a winery estate in the Napa Valley. As the plot thickens and their passion sparks, Millie finds herself in the throes of both extreme danger and overpowering desire. Millie’s talents seem to be just what Adrian needs. Or is he simply manipulating a situation to have her near?

A romantic thriller for mature adults only, please.