Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Actual Self-Publishing Experience

I see a lot of rubbish about self-publishing on the Internet, most of which comes down to some sort of get-rich-quick schemes. There are hundreds of supposedly successful self-published authors offering to sell you their (self-published) secret to their success—which won't actually apply to anyone else because they were either (1) an early adopter who used this or that social media technique (trick), which won't now work for you, the too-late adopter, because consumers are wise to that one now; or (2) they were already well known authors or bloggers or Youtubers or etc with an established readership who simply carried that reputation/readership with them as they cut out the middlemen (i.e., dropped the publisher(s) who invested to made that author's reputations in the first place). Most new writers won't be able to duplicate their success, but nevertheless fork over $$ for books or courses from these self-appointed gurus, and then end up selling maybe 100 copies of their novel, no matter how slaveishly they adhered to the suggested formula.

It is therefore extremely refreshing to come across actual facts about the actual experience of an actual author....for free.

Arthur Slade is a successful Canadian YA author: he has won major awards (e.g., the prestigious TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award and the Governor General's Award for Children's Literature) and sold a lot of books (i.e., makes a living at it). My oldest read a number of his books (e.g., The Hunchback Assignments series and ,Jolted) during the crucial period when she was deciding whether reading was really worth the effort and I credit Arthur for being one of several authors who pushed her over the edge to 'yes'. And I've used his novel about high school cliques ,Tribes, as an assigned reading in my course for student teachers.

Now Arthur is experimenting with self-publishing, and what's of potential interest to readers here, is that he is documenting what he has done, step by step, what it cost, and how the whole process has gone (so far):

  • Why I am Self-Publishing in which Arthur talks about his reasons for self publishing his vampire novel(s); arranging for editing and book design and so on.
  • Part 2 where Arthur discusses how it all went a month after the book's launch (complete with charts!)

It's all pretty useful information, and gives one a real feel for costs and income—though one month is still pretty early and we can assume the book will continue to earn for some time to come.

[Arthur has also previously talked about self-publishing his backlist as ebooks if that could apply to you.]

You will note that even though Arthur is a critically acclaimed writer (see awards above) such that we can assume the quality of the manuscript is high (reader reviews would seem to confirm this); and even though he has an established readership ready and willing to buy his books, and he is pretty savvey about social media and so on, he didn't exactly sell a billion-zillion copies. I'm guessing that he did about as well in terms of sales the first month as if he had gone to a small press (which would have covered the expenses, but then taken half the net income) so those figures look pretty reasonable to me.

The question then becomes, what are the implications for a new writer?

Well, the most obvious moral is: don't quit your day job. If someone tells you can write a book and make your fortune, and you buy their book or take their course or etc, expecting that to happen, then I'd like to introduce you to my cousin from Nigeria who has this really interesting proposition for you.

The second, perhaps less obvious moral, is that if you're going to do self-publishing right, then you have to be the publisher, and hire the editor, cover artist, and book designer etc for which the publisher normally pays.

I note that Arthur says he paid an absurdly small amount for editing, but that just means that Arthur's manuscript didn't require much actual editing. (I mentioned that he is an award-winning author, right?) New author's can expect to pay more for editing because their manuscripts are likely to require more work, and perhaps several iterations, to get to publishable standards, which therefore requires more hours of editing.

[Professional editors charge between $40- $60/hour, but one can often find colleagues with whom to swap edits, or qualified friends to do some of the initial editing for free, so that the professional editors are not starting from scratch, as it were. Going to a small press is another way to avoid paying out for expensive editing, since editing and cover art and book design and distribution are what the publisher brings to the table—and distribution of ebooks is probably about as easy for you as for them, so...it's just really about the editing/art/design. (Oh, and publishers may add a layer of branding, assuming they are a credible publisher (like, say, CZP).]

Realistically—which is to say—statistically, most self-published books only sell 5-200 copies, depending how big one's family and circle of friends is, and how aggressively one is prepared to push the book on neighbours and one's church congregation. I'm considering self-publishing my collected short stories, once I have enough published stories to fill a book. I have a bit of a reputation among fans, and people seem to like my stories, so I can allow my ego to daydream about such a collection eventually making sales into the 50 copy range, but I'm no Arthur Slade, so I do not expect to ever match his self-published sales figures. So...we're talking chapbook, we're talking souvenir, we're talking self-fulfillment, but we're not talking about making a living, let alone making one's fortune. You've seen Arthur's figures... feel free to extrapolate that experience to your own situation.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Staying Out of Bookstores

[This was written in response to Paul Cipywnyk's "Where the Ink Meets the Road: Insights from Working in a Bookstore" posted in The Editor's Weekly the official blog of Editors Canada, Canada's national association of editors, Nov 15, 2016. http://blog.editors.ca/?p=3956]


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I used to love going into bookstores; now I mostly find them depressing.

As an acquisition editor, I am depressed knowing that the fabulous books I have acquired and edited are not even in the store, because the Indigo/Chapters/Smith/Coles monopoly chain made the decision not to carry independent publishers anymore, when it switched 50% of shelf space from books to cute stuff, because books weren't selling enough. Thankfully, the micro publisher (60 titles and growing!) I work for saw that coming and therefore survived that change when many other Canadian small presses folded overnight when they suddenly found themselves—not just effectively shut out of brick and mortar stores—but faced with six figure bills as their entire inventory was returned to them in one ruthless weekend.

As a critic and reviewer, I'm depressed when I see rows and rows of books in the SF/Fantasy section devoted to TV and movie series; to series written to a single formula; to the exact same book written by dozens of different authors all trying to catch the current fad by writing the predictable processed cheese designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator among consumers. It often feels like the big five publishers are so focused on predictable sell through that they have given up on taking risks, on caring about quality and innovation and promoting new authors. I know that perception isn't accurate, because I've met some of the editors at those big houses and they are fine upstanding individuals who love books as much as I do, and who are doing their best in a tough business. But I miss the days when presses were small and when the acquisition editor and the developmental editor were the same person and made the final decision based on their own tastes and gut feelings without having to worry about shareholders and the marketing department. When publishers were brands that readers could seek out to know that the editor shared their tastes and the reader could buy an unknown author or a new concept because they could trust the editor. Now the consumer can mostly trust that they won't be challenged by what they choose, won't have to think as they read, and will only feel what they've always felt reading the previus 80 Star Trek (or whatever) novels. As a writing coach, I am depressed because 95% of those who approach me for instruction want to know how they can become best sellers, how they can lose their voice and sound like every other author in the store. They want to know which of the current fads they can write to; or, better yet, can I tell them the secret of what the next fad will be. Or, how can they write like a 'gay person' (sic, I quoting here) or 'write black' or First Nations because so many writers guidelines these days say the publisher is open to/especially looking for LGBTQ/diverse authors, and these clients get upset with me when I raise about cultural appropriation. Or, I have to tell them to stop trying to be Margret Atwood (if they have graduated from university creative writing programs) or Robert Sawyer (if they are trying to write commercial genre fiction) because we already have Marget Atwood and Robert Sawyer and what we really need instead is their unique voice and their unique perspective and insight. And then we both get depressed when they ask me, 'Will I be able to make a living writing as myself' and I have to answer, 'Probably not, no'.

As an author, bookstores depress me because as I look around at the thousands of titles on the shelves—even ignoring all the processed cheese clogging the space and only looking at the authors I respect because they are pushing boundaries or allowing their uniquely Canadian voice to guide their writing—even if I just look at the books I love, there are so many more here (just today, not even talking about the turn over month to month—all those pallets of new books arriving each morning that Paul unpacks) l can never hope to read them all. If I cannot possibly buy and read all of their wonderful books, how I can I possibly expect anybody, anywhere, EVER to read my poor effort?

Not that my book is likely to ever end up in an actual brick and mortar store.

Most depressing of all, I can't remember the last time I actually went into a brick and mortar store. (To buy a book, I mean. I remember when I bought my daughter a leather bound notebook, and when I got the wife a coffee mug, and—well, you get the idea.) But I mostly read on my Kindle app or my Kobo, and when I finish a book, up pops a link to the next book by that author; or I take five minutes to search online for another title from CZP (the last great independent publisher in our genre) or from one of the small presses I follow because I know the editors, know the innovative fabulous work they are doing and know I won't find any of their books in the bookstore.

Don't get me wrong: "Where the Ink Hits the Road" is a great piece, and authors and editors should indeed occasionally visit bookstores to check out the real world of publishing. That there are still bookstores and readers at all is a positive thing! Not trying to argue that bookstores are out of date or that big publishers are evil or anything of that ilk. That would be nonsense. (I may be envious, but I'm not delusional, as some commentators on these issues appear to be.) Rather, just saying that we need to be careful when examining where the ink hits the pavement that we don't twist ourselves out of shape trying to figure out how to sell out to get a piece of that action. One should always start from one's own voice (or the client's voice, if you're the editor) and look for the market where that book belongs, and not start from the market and try to fit one's voice to it. The number of writers I've known over the years who've tried to write that Romance or SciFi novel to earn the big bucks, and failed miserably because they didn't even read romance themselves or know SF isn't not called scifi by anyone in the field, far exceeds the number (zero) who made that work for them. The authors I know who became successful all kept to their own voice and only became "overnight successes" after twenty years of nonstop effort to become the best writers they could become, ignoring fads and get quick rich schemes.

And who managed not to get so depressed about bookstores, and the economic realities of modern publishing/distribution, to give up writing completely.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Strangers Among Us Book Launch

The Strangers Among Us: Tales of Underdogs and Outcasts anthology book launch at When Words Collide was the most moving I have ever attended. Instead of doing readings, each author was asked to speak to where the idea for their story had come from. The authors all related personal stories of encounters with mental wellness issues: PTSD; lifelong anxiety; chronic depression; the suicide of a son; the death of friend.... It wasn’t just the authors who struggled to get through this portion of the program without crying.


Vanessa Cardui sings commissioned composition, "Strangers Among Us". (Photo: Bev Geddes)

A specially commissioned song, written and performed by Vanessa Cardui, was included as an intermission between author statements. Achingly beautiful, the song was about coping with ongoing thoughts of suicide. Putting poetry to music does not lessen the impact of saying these things out loud; on the contrary, the song cut right through the brain directly to the emotions. (Vanessa and her friend performed a second painfully wonderful song later in the program depicting the downward spiral of alcoholism.) Then more author stories.


Authors listening intently (Photo: Bev Geddes)

I presume they placed me last to speak because they knew my story in the anthology is about toasters not trauma, and had decided that having me go last might provide a bit of buffer between the emotionality of the event and returning to the convention outside. That might have worked better if I were not myself having a bit of difficulty holding it together, though in my role as listener rather than as speaker.


It wasn't all doom and gloom. (Photo: Bev Geddes)

Door prizes were distributed, announcements made, thanks said, and everybody went home.

Of course, the major takeaway is that in any group of 10 people, 9 of them will have some deep connection with mental health issues. (10 out of 10 if you count ‘denial’ as an issue. See “The Missing Elephant” in Playground of Lost Toys for my shortcomings...) I should say that the anthology itself is actually surprisingly optimistic. I don’t want to leave the impression that this is a cover-to-cover tear-jerker. Far from it. Just as the immediacy of the launch event was something else entirely. So honoured to be included in the anthology, and so glad to have been able to make this very memorable and touching launch.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

My Schedule at When Words Collide Festival, Calgary, August 11-14, 2016

As mentioned previously, I am one of the Guests of Honour at When Words Collide Festival this year. In contrast to my limited participation at Limestone Genre Convention in Kingston (see previous post) I'm pretty booked at WWC, so thought I'd post my schedule in case any of the topics are of interest, and also to show typical workday of a GoH at writers' conventions.

Note that the Friday AM Masterclass is a 3 hour workshop that requires prior registration and a small fee in addition to membership in the WWC convention; the Five Rivers pitch sessions are free to convention members but require signup for a time slot on first come, first served basis; Festival Guest readings, Book Launches, the autograph session (8-10 Saturday), and the merchant's room are open to the public; all other events are restricted to registered WWC attendees.

  1. Thursday Aug 11 Guest Dinner [Private Function for Convention Committee]
  2. Thursday 7-9 PM Fish Creek Public Library GoH Readings - Open to Public (2 hours)
  3. Friday 9-Noon  How to Work with an Editor (3 hours) [Master Class workshop - requires prior registration & small fee]
  4. Friday 1-3 PM Festival Guest Readings (2 Hours) Open to the Public
  5. Friday 4 PM   Five Rivers Pitch Session (requires signup)
  6. Friday 5 PM    Common Manuscript Problems (panel)
  7. Friday 7-9 PM Festival  Guest of Honour Keynotes (2 hours)
  8. Saturday 10 AM How to Write a Good Pitch & Query (panel)
  9. Saturday 11 AM Five Rivers Pitch Session (requires signup)
  10. Saturday 12 PM Live Action Slush - Science Fiction (panel) 
  11. Saturday 2 PM  Five Rivers Publishing Presents (Double Book Launch; open to the public)
  12. Saturday 3 PM  An Hour with Robert Runté (presentation)
  13. Saturday 5 -6:30 PM  Steampunk Banquet (90 minutes)
  14. Saturday 6:30-7:30 evening Aurora Awards Ceremony (
  15. Saturday 8-10 PM  Private meeting with Essential Edits client (2 hours) [not part of WWC, just part of personal schedule!]
  16. Sunday 11 AM   What Makes for Good Non-Fiction (panel)
  17. Sunday 12 PM   Five Rivers Pitch Session (requires signup)
  18. Sunday 1 PM   Publisher's Panel: Novels (panel)
  19. Sunday 2 PM   Live Action Slush - High Fantasy (panel) 
  20. Sunday 3 PM   Five Rivers Pitch Session(requires signup)
  21. Sunday 4-5 PM  Laksa Media Book Launch (open to the public)
  22.  

So I make that out to be 21 scheduled events for 28 hours over three and a half days. So toss in putting in an appearance at the after hours parties and the usual convention socializing, and that's pretty much full on for the whole convention. Which is as it should be, and pretty much what I would be doing anyway if I were not a GoH, because I love all this stuff.

Limestone Genre Convention (Kingston)

Because I'm based in Ontario for the next six months or so, I was able to attend Limestone Genre Convention in Kingston this year. A newer, smaller convention, it was quite the change for me because I was only on a single program item (a pitch session for Five Rivers) and I only knew half a dozen people there. Which turned out to be great because it forced me to meet new people and to listen to people I hadn't heard before on panels, rather than me being the one who was pontificating. (Well, okay, I couldn't totally resist pontificating anyway, so 'contributed' from the audience whenever they asked for questions from the floor, but mostly the structure and moderators were able to restrain me.) So as a consequence, I learned a lot! Listening will do that!

As is often the case, smaller convention translated out to 'more intimate' and I was able to actually meet and talk at length with a number of people I had never encountered before or only corresponded with through email. This was great, because I discovered a number of self-published Canadian authors I hadn't know existed, and who turned out to be fabulous. For example, I was totally impressed by Jen Frankel who in turn insisted I go hear Kit Daven's reading, whose books I had bought on Kindle before she even finished her reading. I've met Suzanne Church before, but always a pleasure to see her in action, and Marie Bilodeau did a great performance, and Derek Kunsken was fabulous moderator on his panel and Derek Newman-Stille was as insightful as ever, and on and on with so many great people. Brandon Crilly and Ira Nayman were people I knew but never met. So many great conversations, and new authors for me to read.

The pitch session for Five Rivers went well, introducing me to many local authors who were not normally in my catchment area. A couple of promising things there.

I really enjoyed the panels and learned a lot, again because I was hearing opinions from people I don't usually hear at conventions out West and a lot of what they were saying was new to me. After going to some of the same conventions for 40 years, I've heard a lot of the same people over and over and pretty much know what they are going to say before they say it, but that was definitely not the case for me here. And sitting in the audience instead of on the panels, I interacted a lot more with my fellow attendees and particularly with younger writers. I got to ask these youngens a lot of questions about their writing and publishing and --that whole listening instead of pontificating thing--learned a lot. I like to think I'm on top of trends, but um, instead of following what is happening, I think I got a glimpse into what is coming down the road for the future as I heard very different attitudes from a lot of these kids than I'm used to with the people I usually work with. Brave new world / exciting times if half of what I was hearing reflects widespread attitudes among the next generation of writers.

Of particular revelation was the panel on fanfiction. Look, I have my copy of Mirror Mirror (probably the first piece of modern fan fiction) and my daughter is big into Victor Hugo fan fiction, and I've been working on a paper on Lynda Williams and her encouragement of fan fiction in her universe, so I thought I knew a little about the topic, but oh my god was I out of touch with current trends. So exciting! So hopeful about the future of writing. (Hey listen, my day job teaching in the Education Faculty to students who no longer read has been incredibly depressing--I mean, if your kid's English teacher doesn't read for pleasure, let alone write or publish, what the hell hope do we have? So re-discovering the world of fanfic on the scale it now exists, hell yes, I'm excited!)

So hat off to Liz Stranger and her crew for organizing a great convention. Well worth attending for anyone within range next year.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Dos and Donts of Writing

Karl Johanson, editor of NeoOpsis Magainze, talks about the Do's and Don'ts of writing science fiction at KeyCon. Karl's approach is a refreshing change from the usual 'there is only one way to write' nonsense . . . .

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Selecting An Editor (An extra criterion)

I recently asked a photographer acquaintance how business was, and he allowed that it was good, in spite of the recession; but that he was frustrated by the increasing number of incompetents who were opening up shop in town (presumably as they got laid off from the oil patch). It was not that he was afraid of the competition, because his corporate client base was not about to go to anyone else, but that these amateurs gave professional photography a bad name: they'd charge families large sums for bad portraits. "The problem is, anyone with a camera and a month's rent can open a studio. They think because they have an actual camera instead of a phone, that makes them a professional photographer. So they look at what other studios charge and charge just enough less to make them seem competitive. But they have no idea what they are doing, and people pay hundreds for badly composed and badly lit portraits. Their clients could have done better themselves with a selfie on their cells."

Somewhat naively, I suggested that as word got around that this or that photographer was useless, they would go out of business.

"No, you don't get it. Good photographers are often booked months or years in advance, whereas these clowns are always available. There are always people who decide they have to get married immediately, or who forgot to book in advance, and have to take whatever photographer is available. And it's these guys! They're always available on short notice because they're everybody's last choice. But that happens often enough to keep them in business forever! And since they're still there a year, two years later, people think they must be legit."

"Well," I say, "what's the problem? You have more than enough business, so what do you care?"

"Because people look at what these clowns do and think that's professional photography, because they paid professional rates for those photos. So when they hate the pictures, they think photography is a scam and decide not to bother again. There's a whole generation of consumers growing up thinking they can do as well with their phone cameras. My art, what I contribute, is discredited along with the bozos."

Oh.

And then it occurred to me the same pretty much applies to editing. I constantly see postings seeking editors like this from June 7: "If you are interested and would like to start working today please contact me." My staff (Hey, did I mention I have staff now? I should do a post on that!) are booked through to September at least, and I personally have project commitments to keep me going well into the new year, so I cannot even think about responding to that request. So I can't help wondering, what's the hurry? Whom did that guy expect would have an immediate, out-of-the-blue opening in their work schedule to take on an 83,000 word book project today? (And how fast did they think one could properly edit 83,000 words?)


Photo credit   [Not actually my desk: I almost never handle paper manuscripts anymore, but a screenshot of an overflowing file folder on my computer desktop doesn't have the same visceral response....]

I understand that after working months or years on a manuscript, it's natural for an author to want to celebrate by getting it out the door and to the editor. But um. I haven't had an immediate opening on my editing schedule for the past three years, and I only started the business six years ago. So unless someone is brand new, or just had an unexpected cancellation (authors do occasionally drop dead or go bankrupt or give up writing or announce they are going to be two months behind schedule getting their manuscript back to you), I can't help but wondering if we aren't dealing with another case of 'wedding photographer'.

Maybe if one has invested months or years in a manuscript, one should be prepared to invest a little patience in getting their first choice for editor. Or, you know, scheduled editing ahead of time.