Career Implosion in 5, 4, 3, 2 …

Writers need Readers. Period. End of story. They’re our bread and butter. As long as they One Click, flip the pages, and Rate and Review, we can write. They make what we do possible. And the interest — hopefully the continued interest — they show in our work affords us the LUXURY of doing what we do.

They should be treated with gratitude, respect, and, yes, patience.

If you’re lucky, if you’re VERY lucky, your readers will forge a relationship with you. Will feel they’re welcome to reach out with questions and praise. Will feel, on some level, that you CARE about them, sincerely, and that you APPRECIATE their interest and support. And if you’re very, very lucky, readers will enjoy your work so much that they want to see you succeed. Perhaps even have some kind of vested interest in seeing you do well. Will CELEBRATE with you as you do better and better. Will tell their friends about you. Urge their friends to buy your work and read it and review it.

And, my god, guys, that right there is the Holy Grail for writers. Really. Readers being so engaged that they, via the oh so powerful Word of Mouth, get out there, sing your praises, and, essentially, do your marketing for you.

But that’s a double-edged sword. 

When Readers become that engaged, they’re working with a narrative of Who You Are. Or, more accurately, Who They Believe You Are. A narrative you help create, by the way, with social media, quick emails, blog tours and interviews.

Now, if the narrative is good — Oh my god, Jonathan is so freakin’ cool. I love his work! — you’re golden. But if the narrative is bad — Wow, Jonathan is such a douchebag. I can’t stand that guy and wouldn’t read Proseuche if it was the last book on earth — it’s really, really, really bad.

Of course the narrative can change. If you’re going from Douchebag to Golden, congrats. Takes a lot of work, a lot of humility and apology, the repairing of an image and the forging of a lot of trust, but it can be done.

But what happens if you pull a Chelsea Cain (I refuse to link her because, as she herself said, you can Google it yourself), go on a social media rant about all the “inane” questions you get from readers and how you are, in essence, not the readers’ bitch, dig the hole deeper by being utterly unapologetic about how ungrateful you sound, and, in the space of an afternoon, completely change the narrative of Who You Are?

Well, you’re fucked.

Because, and this is something her Publisher gets that she still doesn’t, there are now a whole bunch of readers who have as an introduction to her this Angry Facebook Rant reeking of a sense of entitlement and a lack of gratitude. And who knows how many people who were familiar with her, who’d read her books, and were perhaps looking forward to the new one, have now decided NOT to One Click because, really, if she’s not going to appreciate their support, why should they?

Besides, there are so many OTHER authors to support. Authors who are nice. Who appreciate them. Who WANT their support. Who still NEED them.

Of course some will say Hey, people are talking about her and that’s a good thing.

But is it? Having people know you as someone who didn’t appreciate their readers — now, I’m not sure that’s how Miss Cain actually feels, but that’s the NARRATIVE that’s being discussed and lodging itself in the minds of readers — and who was generally unpleasant about the whole thing is somehow going to help her in the long run?

Let’s ask Faye Dunaway how well that works. (hint: not very well)

Point is, a history as a bestseller doesn’t exempt you from being gracious and polite. From APPRECIATING those who choose to One Click and show their support. And if their questions are REALLY that inane and troublesome, then get off your ass, set up an automated email response that addresses those most frequently asked — Hugh Howey has one that’s humorously apologetic for being “from a robot”, witty, engaging, sincere and, best of all, informative — and maybe update your website, showing the number of the book in the series instead of assuming readers will figure it out by reading the synopsis.

But, for god’s sake, if you’re feeling THAT stressed and THAT angry, turn Facebook off, close the computer, and WALK AWAY!!! 

Because bitching about your readers is one surefire way to completely screw up Who They Think You Are and implode a career in 5, 4, 3, 2 … 

 

Gaughran on Amazon v. Hachette

Still confused about the continuing kerfuffle ‘tween Amazon and Hachette? Even after I put in my own two cents? REALLY?

Okay, then this briefest of excerpts from an interview by author JJ Marsh with the always interesting David Gaughran might help:

Hachette can’t come right out and say they want higher book prices (which is the result if they prevail in negotiations and take back control of pricing and/or Amazon’s ability to to discount) so instead we get a narrative of a rapacious corporation versus a plucky guardian of our literary heritage. Authors should adopt a little more skepticism towards what is a concerted PR campaign from a series of vested interest.

 

It really is worth it to click on over to read the rest of his intelligent, well-informed take on what’s really happening and what’s truly at stake for writers like you and me.

 

Facebook Bestsellers and the Death of Writing

Writing is dying a very slow, painful death at the hands of self-publishing.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.

Self-publishing alone isn’t killing Great Writing, though it has set the bar increasingly low.  Facebook Bestsellers are what’s killing Great Writing.

Let me explain:

A Facebook Bestseller is a book that ends up on the Amazon Top 20 list, or something, due entirely to the Clicks of thousands of FB “Friends”.  Usually they’re derivative, repetitive, absolutely painful, damn near unbearable, poorly written pieces of crap.  If you can make it through the Free Sample without screaming out loud or falling into fits of laughter, I applaud  your strong constitution.  I can’t.  I’ve tried.

And you can spot a Facebook Bestseller pretty easily.  Take a look at a handful of those couple hundred five star reviews.  Do they read something like “OMG, this was SOOOO good!”, “Loved this SOOOO much”, or “YES! Another winner”?  If so, then it was probably written by someone who A) hasn’t read the book, but B) wants to show their support for their FB “Friend”.

Now, go ahead and take a look at those few, very brave One Star reviews.  You know, the ones written by “Friends” who are probably “Friends” no more?  That’s where you’ll find the real story.

Yet, still, there it sits at the top of the Amazon Bestseller List.

Because of the best of intentions of “Friends”, we now find ourselves faced with the stomach-churning reality of truly Great Writing by Writers with long, celebrated careers they’ve earned through hard work and talent, writers who actually know what they’re doing, sandwiched between Wannabes whose painful, amateurish prose wouldn’t make it out of an 8th Grade Creative Writing course.

This is the danger with Facebook and all those click-happy “Friends”.  Those who write Facebook Bestsellers, wrapped in the breathless, unquestioning support of FB, believe they’re really good.  They ignore the One Star reviews because, you know, they’re not nice, and continue on, having no clue how bad they really are and how deeply damaging their celebrated mediocrity is.

Readers who may be Writers someday are growing up believing Bad is somehow Good.  These Readers, surrounded by nothing but bad, will soon have no memory of what Truly Great Writing is, having to search before the Time of these Facebook Bestsellers for Good Writing.

You see, a Writer is more than someone who puts words on a page.  A Writer  listens to the words, hearing and honoring their rhythm.  A Writer knows that if there’s one word too many, or one word not enough, the structure will fall.  And that structure is everything.  That’s what cushions the Reader in this fictional world.  A Writer can recognize the balance in a sentence and know when it’s off, feeling, in his or her bones, that it’s not right and what to do to fix it.

A Writer would never be satisfied with what ends up in these Facebook Bestsellers.  He’d immediately see how amateurish and clumsy it is.  He’d FEEL it was wrong as he’s writing it.  He would not rest until it was edited and put right.  It would haunt him.  In fact, it wouldn’t even make it past his fingers TO the keyboard.

I believe a Writer, a True Writer, could never bring themselves to leave their worst masquerading as their best on the page and click Publish.

Yet these Wannabes do it all the time, without apology, without regret, and often to great applause.

I’ve often railed against Traditional Publishing and how, because of their penchant for guarding the Gates a bit too vigorously, a revolution like self-publishing was needed.  But at least, for the most part, we were spared moronic drivel ending up on the bookshelf, let alone the Bestseller List.

But now even that’s changing with Traditional Publishing abandoning all pretense of being an arbiter of taste and strong writing, and following the money to sign Facebook Bestsellers to contracts.  And, once again, the delusion that they’re “good writers” is perpetuated, their oafish efforts being celebrated and rewarded.

But a Publisher following the money is not supporting the writer.  A Publisher biting their tongue, smiling, and eagerly hoping to cash in on the last breath of the author’s FB Bestseller status — these “Friends” tend to tire within a year or two and move on to newer, equally abysmal voices, so it’s best to move quick if you’re a Publisher –doesn’t give a shit about the writer.  They’re read the words, they’ve winced and groaned and shook their heads.  They know this writer doesn’t have the chops to reach beyond their Facebook circle.  And they know, once the writer’s new books hit a wider audience, that’s when the chickens come to roost.  That’s when the One Stars outweigh the Five Stars and those “Friends” start second guessing that all important Click.

A Publisher signing a FB Bestseller is hoping to eke out a book or two before the jig is up, the lie is unmasked, the numbers drop, and people move on.

So, what can we do about this?  STOP FOLLOWING THE HERD!  If you’re one of those “Friends” who buys a book as a show of support to the Author, even when you know it’s not good work, STOP!  If you’re not sure about the quality, read the Sample.  If it feels off, read the lowest rated reviews to see if the issues you’re finding are issues they mention.  And, if they are, DON’T BUY THE BOOK!

It’s as simple as that.

Buying abysmal writing as a way of being “nice” doesn’t help anyone.  It doesn’t help the writer.  It doesn’t help the reader.  And it doesn’t help the industry produce and celebrate better, stronger work.

My hope is once we rid the publishing world of these Facebook Bestsellers, it’ll be easier to go back to once again celebrating the truly great writing of real Writers, not Wannabes who would be nothing without their Facebook Friends.

 

Nope. Non. Nein. No way.

You can never make a bad deal good.

Once you sign the contract, you’re stuck. Maybe you can jump through some legal hoops to change X, Y and Z if the terms are illegally egregious. But I doubt it and it’s damn expensive.

But more importantly, why SHOULD you? And why WOULD you enter a contractual relationship with someone who would even OFFER you a bad deal?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot these days. Over the past few weeks I’ve found myself saying No to a few different agents. Nice people, I’m sure, but if I find them hesitating when faced with (what I believe to be) simple questions about publishing and publishers and contracts, I know right away they’re not the one for me.

And if they even begin to suggest that I should accept a publishing contract that offers no advance, shifts the costs of publishing to the author (including “set-up costs” and “printing and binding”), takes away my Subsidiary Rights without Reversion, and then offers me 50% of “net profits” — aka due to clever accounting on the publisher’s side, I won’t see a dime for a year or so –, then they’re definitely not the agent for me … or ANYONE.

I consider myself somewhat smart. Have taken the time to learn about the business side of the various businesses I’m in. I find it interesting and incredibly useful coming to the table not as a neophyte, but as someone who can ask good, strong, wise, pertinent questions that lead negotiations to the next step or, more importantly, can recognize a clusterfcuk waiting to happen.

You know, like this. (courtesy of David Gaughran)

I’m also proud that I respect myself enough to say Thanks, but No Thanks, stand up, and walk away empty-handed. Nothing wrong with that. Like I said, you can never make a bad deal good. And my work is strong enough to wait for, at the very least, a good deal.

These days there are unfortunately a lot of agents preying on self-published authors, their interest more in the money currently being made than in the totality of one’s career.

When I sign with someone — and these shockingly were deal breakers with one of the agents I said Thanks, but No Thanks to –, I want to know at least three things:

1) there’s the potential for a long-lasting relationship
2) their interest in the health and longevity of my career outweighs their desire to make a deal, especially a bad one at my expense
and
3) they’re willing to stand up and leave the table with me if a deal is obviously bad

You see, I don’t want someone who’s going to ride the gravy train when the money’s coming in and then suggest I find another agent when the money stops.

Yeah, I know, I know. I’m asking for the moon here.

But a career isn’t just one success after another. There are successes and disappointments.

Any agent worth his or her salt is going to know that and be prepared for it. An agent who loses interest during the lows and is happy only when the money is coming in is an agent I don’t want. Because those lows are inevitable. No matter how many books you’re selling or how many Best Seller Lists you’re on, the sales stop. They just do. Period.

I’ve seen friends picked up by agents and publishers when times were good only to find themselves basically orphaned and thrown into the bargain bin when the sales stop. And, still, they’re locked into a contract. Possibly even a contract with a publisher. A bad, bad, bad contract.

That’s the kind of relationship I’m avoiding. To be trapped in a legal relationship with someone who’s lost interest in you, lost interest in your work, no longer believes in you or what you can accomplish, and has discounted what you can bring to the table because the numbers on your last book were disappointing is a completely avoidable headache.

It may take me awhile to find the right fit. But this is my business we’re talking about. My career. I cherish it and anything that becomes a part of it, is destined to strengthen its foundation and support its growth, is worth taking time with.

I’m a writer. Agents need me. Publishers need me. Without me and others like me, their industry doesn’t exist. You work with me, I’m definitely going to work with you. My success is OUR success. You work against me, I’m leaving the table. Life is too short and I have too much to do.

At the end of the day, though, it’s important my fellow writers remember that agents and publishers need us. Ironically, with the growing strength of self-publishing, I’m not sure we necessarily need them.

Perhaps it’s time they started realizing that.

Wipe Out the Upstarts

Today’s NYTimes has an annoying, infuriating, ridiculous, idiotic article on Amazon’s (insert previous adjectives here) recent decision to eradicate book reviews they deem — apparently via a crystal ball or a blind throwing of darts — not fit to print.

In other words, if they suspect (again, darts or a crystal ball) that a review for your work was submitted by a family member or a good friend or someone whose objectivity can be questioned, they will delete it.

So, for writers like me who DON’T have hundreds of reviews, one or two being wiped off the face of the earth is a big deal, not that my family or good friends read my work or review it. (They don’t)

For someone like Star Author A who has hundreds if not thousands, it may not matter as much.

Then again, I doubt Star Author A is the focus of Amazon’s Wipe Out the Upstarts Inquisition. They’re going after the self-published writers who slip under the Big Six radar and dare to find success — and make a boatload of cash — without them. They’re going after the self-published writers who are, more and more, turning their noses up at the offers Traditional Publishing is making for their now successful books because the royalty structure is better if they remain on their own.

They’re going after the self-published successes because, well, they can!

And they’re doing it via the ONE marketing tool left to us: reviews.

If you’re Timothy Ferriss and published by Amazon, it’s apparently okey-dokey to begin Day One with 60+ Four- and Five-Star reviews about a book many of them have yet to read just because, you know, they know they’re going to like it. And, for Amazon, their belief — with work put out by their own Imprints, evidently — that one doesn’t have “to use a product to review it” feels to me like a blanket excuse to absolve Mr. Ferriss and other favorites from the purge.

If you are a self-published author who has spent months rounding up beta readers and working your tail off to get a healthy handful of reviews to accompany the book’s release, knowing that strong word of mouth is a key component to success, the chances of most of those being erased because you’re not lounging under the umbrella of the Big Six or draped in Amazon’s cloak of invisibility is pretty darn high.

And that’s just depressing.

Why would Amazon create a self-publishing platform and give thousands if not millions the chance to live their dreams as writers only to knee-cap ‘em at every turn and make it increasingly difficult to, you know, make a living and pay some bills?

I don’t know.

But what I do know is I’m going to head over right now and read the fourteen (yes, fourteen!) glowing reviews for Martuk and the six or seven for The Wounded King and The Elder before Amazon decides they were written by Grandpa Joe and Cousin Clyde (they weren’t) and steal them away from me in their obsession to Wipe Out the Upstarts.

:(

Killing us softly

Although the dust is still settling and no one — not even Barnes & Noble, evidently — is sure just how indie authors might be affected, this latest decision to not carry or make available ANY books published by Amazon or Amazon’s KDP (and perhaps even CreateSpace) in their stores, both online and retail, is just one more sign of Traditional Publishing’s push-back against the growing success of indie authors.

How’s that?

Books published by the Big 6 aren’t limited to one pipeline when it comes to sales. They can choose B&N, brick and mortar, Amazon, and anything else out there that makes their work available to the widest readership.

Independent or self-published authors? Well, hell, B&N obviously doesn’t give two shits about us. To choke off potential sales and Nook readers for those of us not repped by Traditional Publishing in order to fight back against a company that’s playing the game a lot better than they are is the height of both arrogance and stupidity.

So, in the short term, this may hurt sales as we self-pubs recalibrate to NOT include B&N into our marketing plans. And, perhaps in the long term as self-pubs continue to climb the ladder of public success, Nook readers will openly question why they can’t get the latest hot release from Author X.

But nothing will kill my desire to write, to publish, and to forge something of a career out of it.

You want to compete with Amazon, B&N? Convince me to publish with you, make the process easy and quick, and give me a strong royalty rate. To throw me — and hundreds of thousands of writers just like me — overboard to make a point to a behemoth who will just laugh at you like the petulant ingrate you are then go on to sell even MORE of my books (while you won’t) does nothing but turn the self-publishing community against you.

And I find it somewhat laughable that you think any self-published author is going to choose you over the powerhouse that is Amazon. And, again, this cutting off my nose to maybe hopefully perhaps maybe spite Amazon’s face isn’t endearing me to you.

At the end of the day, this latest move by B&N won’t kill my career or even the careers of other self-published authors. In fact, as mentioned earlier, I trust as self-pubbed books go on to gain notable success, the Nook will become synonymous with NOT getting the latest bestseller everyone is talking about. This could end up hurting them in the long run more than it will me and my self-pubbing compadres.

They’ll going to have to try a little harder to do that.

Lasher King Koontz

One of the downsides of being a writer is you oftentimes find yourself so busy writing that you barely have time to read.

I recently decided to rectify that and, in the process, made an interesting discovery.

See, I picked up three books, one I was familiar with, one where the author was somewhat known to me, and the third written by someone in my genre I’d never read. So I ended up with Lasher by Anne Rice, The Stand by Stephen King, and Brother Odd by Dean Koontz.

Here’s where the interesting part comes in.

I’ve read Lasher a few times. The sequel to The Witching Hour (one of my favorite books, if memory serves … it’s been quite a few years since I’ve read it), it’s a fairly strong piece of work. Not a fave, but not bad. I can pick it up, open to a page, and know exactly what preceded it and what’s around the corner.

What I discovered this time, though, is the writing.

Anne Rice writes lyrically. Her sentences are sometimes long, her dialogue tags are either solid and basic or creative and overwrought, and the woman loves her commas, relying on those to give her Writer’s Voice its rhythm instead of full stops.

Compare that to Stephen King. He’s what I call an economical gasbag. His words are carefully chosen and each does its share of the work in the sentence, but he also can have paragraphical prose. It’s written very well, of course, but the words don’t carry the same sense of lush lyricism that Anne Rice’s do. Again, economical. And a gasbag (sometimes).

I say that lovingly. King is king, no matter how you slice and dice it.

Now, on to Koontz.

He’s new to me. Very short sentences, more or less. Full stop, full stop, full stop. There’s an almost truncated rhythm to what he does. And then he’ll throw in a descriptive phrase or sentence … okay, A LOT of descriptive phrases and sentences, albeit brief ones, that kinda throw you. Several times I’ve had to stop and Scooby Doo. Then I’d unravel the mystery, pat myself on the back for being a clever fellow, and get back to reading.

Is Koontz an author I’m enjoying? The jury’s still out. I can appreciate the syncopated, often interrupted way his Writer’s Voice speaks, but it’s taking me a moment to dive deep and lose myself, like I do with Rice and King.

Regardless, I am learning two other things:

1) I still enjoy a great book and need to carve out time in my weekly schedule to read for pleasure and not just for research, and

2) It’s time to get busy on the two books I need to write. Not that I would compare myself with Rice or Koontz or King, but I do find myself rewriting them (sometimes) in my head and then feeling hungry to get back to telling my own stories.

Now that I think about it, besides a great story, that’s one of the gifts great authors give us: inspiration.