dancing unicorns of hope

A friend of mine, seeing how “easy” it was for me to publish a few books, has decided that THEY now want to jump in the game and, I don’t know, write something. (their words, not mine)

Now, I’m a supportive, encouraging friend even if I’m not at all confident this will actually happen. And I’d love to be something of a guide to this person. Steer them away from the mistakes I made and maybe make the transition from fantasy to reality a little easier. Perhaps prepare them in some way for what waits after they click Publish and their baby goes Live.

But they are SO not open to hearing any of that. They’re convinced they’re unleashing the next 50 Shades of Grey and will most definitely get 10,000 sales a day and soon be supping with Spielberg, so …

I’ll just go ahead and tell YOU.

As a self-published Author without a strong platform (read: blog that’s a few years old and has massive traffic i.e., a built-in fan base), your first month will probably be your best.

Why?

That’s when friends and family and friends of friends and friends of family and coworkers and friends of coworkers and so on and so forth and whatnot will buy your book.

And that’s it.

You see, the second month, when everyone you know already has you locked and loaded on their Kindle (which they may or may not read), that’s when the reality of what you face hits you. And unless you’ve already laid the groundwork via your blog (see above) or other blogs (a process that, if done with sincerity, can take many months), no one will know you exist. And if you don’t exist, how do you sell books?

Reviews.

Reviews from your built-in fans (family and friends) come almost right away. They rave, they weep, they insist this is the best thing since sliced bread and you HAVE to buy it. And savvy ebook buyers tend to discount them just as quickly. The reviews that matter are from well-known reviewers on well-known blogs who, like it or not, are going to be honest. If your book sucks, you’ll hear about it and it can hurt not only your bottom line, but your career as well. If they love it, you’ll see sales pick up.

Now, to get those reviews.

It can take months. Even upwards of a year. Or more.

Bitter pill to swallow? Yep. But don’t you think knowing stuff like this would be helpful if you’re just starting out? That the minimal sales you see as a new author are the same for practically every other new author? And that most books don’t find their rhythm or readership for at least the first six months? And that’s if it’s strong work that’s smartly promoted?

Don’t you believe it SHOULD be common knowledge that the work in getting your book noticed is an ongoing, laborious, lengthy process holding no guarantee of success? And, let’s face it, it’d be a HUGE help knowing that the interest of those closest to you peaks in the beginning and then, after that, becomes polite support. That’s a good thing to understand, don’t you think?

Of course. Or at least I think it would. And I haven’t even touched on promotion via excerpts and guest blogging and Twitter and Facebook and blah blah blah blah blah.

So, for you writers out there gearing up to begin your self-publishing journey, I hope you find the above useful.

It’s not offered to prick your balloons or throw cold water on your dreams or suffocate your prancing, dancing unicorns of hope. It’s simply out there so can be prepared and understand what’s happening instead of believing it’s because you suck and your book sucks and no one cares.

It’s a business, this publishing thing, and the more you know going in, the better off you’ll be.

So consider this your friendly reality check.

(^~^)

I don’t hate you

If you’ve visited in the past few days, you probably think I have some irrational, uncontrollable hatred or animosity or something for Legacy Publishing aka the Big 6 or Traditional Publishing.

Granted, this rant and that bit of angry hoo-how would certainly give you that idea.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

I don’t HATE Traditional Publishing.

Really! I don’t!

Without them, I would have grown up without books. Without them, my imagination would have floundered. Without them, my creativity would have withered and died. Without them, I would not be who I am and where I am.

And, without them, there’d be no vanity press, no online publishing, no self-publishing via Amazon.

In fact, in many ways, Traditional Publishing is the parent of Self-Publishing.

A distant, unloving, hyper-critical, potentially abusive parent. But a parent nonetheless.

The anger I feel toward the Big 6 has more to do with their apparent attitude toward self-published authors than it does with who they are or how they operate, even, ostensibly, through surrogates. (cough) NY Times (cough)

Listen, it’s one thing to be rejected by a Publisher. Happens all the time. No big whoop.

It’s another thing to have those at the Big 6 not want you to publish PERIOD.

It seems like it’s no longer enough to ignore you outright or have an intern toss a rejection letter/email your way. Now they have to bludgeon, bloody, and belittle what’s becoming a strong cornerstone of an increasingly viable industry.

From questioning the quality of the work and the work ethic of the authors to throwing doubt on the veracity of the reviews, it looks as if Legacy Publishers are hell bent on destroying self-pubbed authors.

Why?

Is the royalty check I’m getting this week — my own version of “One small step for my bank account, one … giant leap for my bruised Writer’s ego” — really that much of a threat to their bottom line? Is the fact that ANYONE can publish and, therefore, the Big 6 no longer decides who does and doesn’t end up in Readers’ hands killing them that much? Do they so desperately need to be The Gatekeepers that they’ll stoop to staining the collective reputations of authors who, collectively, are hardly a threat to their more established Superstars?

Why? (I ask again)

Listen, I understood early on that what I write — my story about a haunted immortal desperate for redemption lacking vampires and werewolves and wizards and a clean, easy fit in the YA genre — wasn’t what New York was looking for. That’s why I didn’t submit it.

As I said in the Comments to this great Post over on Carl Purdon’s blog, I could spend years perfecting a query letter to land an agent and then try to get published — which could be several more years — OR I could self-publish and spend that time building an audience and writing more books.

That Legacy Publishers would seem to have a problem with that is, frankly, confusing.

That they’d apparently take fairly overt steps to diminish us is what angers me.

So, I don’t really have a problem with Traditional Publishers per se. As long as they let me do what I want to do, why would I?

All I ask is they give us self-publishers the same respect and allow us the chance to find our Readers.

At the end of the day, the Publishing World is a vast, endless ocean. I’m sure there’s room enough for everyone.

Isn’t there?

Big 6 babies

Self-published authors are making gains. Ebooks are now a solid 20% of book sales on Amazon. Money is being made hand over fist and, let’s face it, it’s no longer flying by default into the pockets of Legacy Publishing.

And the Big 6 are now officially running scared.

How do I know?

Check out this article in today’s NY Times.

It’s about a company, now defunct, that sold glowing reviews to self-published authors including John Locke. And about how these glowing reviews drove sales even though the reviews were bought and paid for and written by people who admitted to having never read the book. And it’s sorta about how this is a common practice with self-published authors.

But it’s actually more than that. A lot more.

It’s really about the veracity of online reviews in general. And, more specifically, online reviews for self-published books.

So, that 5-star review your new release just got? The one from someone you don’t know and have never heard of? The one that, like, totally, completely made your week and lifted you out of your funk and drove you to write five more chapters for your next book?

The NY Times — which refuses to review self-published work, by the way — claims it was bought and paid for and not to be trusted. And so now potential readers will doubt it. And they should (says the Times).

How devastating could this be for self-pubbed authors like me? For people who DON’T use services like that — ’cause they do exist — because, frankly, self-pubbed authors like me don’t sell enough books to afford it?

Very.

It could be cataclysmic.

Needless to say there was no mention of the cozy relationship between Big Publishing and the NY Times. No doubting the veracity of the Times reviews for Big Name Author’s latest work. No questioning at all the quiet need for a publication like the Times to kneecap self-publishing by throwing doubt over one of the industry’s — not just self-publishing, but the INDUSTRY’S — most powerful marketing tools.

Nope, we self-pubbers evidently can’t get an honest review. They need to be purchased with cold, hard cash.

Well, fuck ’em.

My Martuk has 14 reviews on Amazon, many of them 5-stars, that I treasure. A couple are from friends, a couple more are from beta readers, and a few more are from fellow authors. The rest are strangers. And ALL of them have read the book. If it’s someone I know, I refuse to let them offer anything unless they’ve read it cover-to-virtual-cover. Why? Because it’s a damn good book. I’m confident about that.

Wounded King has three reviews. One fellow author, one beta reader, one reviewer I don’t know. All read the book.

The Elder. No reviews. Not yet. It’s new.

That the NY Times now wants potential readers to look at that feedback and those thoughts with suspicion just sickens and infuriates me.

But it also tells me the Big 6 are scared. Really scared. And if all they’ve got are cheap tactics like this, they should be.

Now I’m off to work on the sequel to Martuk. Seems like the best way to piss ’em off is to keep writing and self-publishing.

And to keep getting honest reviews from grateful Readers who will never be bought and paid for.

Does the cream really rise?

This fascinating article by Carl Purdon is worth a read. The Crib Notes version is his assertion that, although the market is awash in a sea of poorly written books by well-intentioned, ambitious self-pubbed authors (he used different words, but that’s the gist), the cream will rise to the top.

But is that true?

I’m not sure.

I think it could be, perhaps. Carl has several links to truly outstanding books that are fantastic reads and absolutely worthy of their success and subsequently high Amazon rankings. But there are other authors with equal success and equally high rankings that, in my opinion, aren’t very good.

In fact, in some cases, they’re embarrassingly bad.

So was their success because of their talent for writing? Were these books the cream that rose? Or was it more a matter of marketing prowess and the proclivity of people to follow the herd and buy what their friends are buying.

Well, in a world of Present Tense, dialogue tags, and one-dimensional characters, I’d say yeah, I think so.

If that is the case, where does that leave those with very, very good books, but little to no publicity, the absence of a platform, and very little blog support?

Dog paddling in a sea of drivel, I suppose.

But Carl makes another point in this article which I think could be the Unknown Author’s Saving Grace.

You see, the Big 6 are driven by marketing data. They know what’s selling, they track what’s selling, they’re obsessed with what’s selling and, being all about the Bottom Line, they focus exclusively on that. So, if you’re a huge fan of paranormal romance novels where a teenage girl is probably caught in some sort of love triangle with, I don’t know, a hottie Vampire and maybe a hunky Werewolf or something, well, you’ll find mountains of joy waiting for you at the New Release shelf in your local brick-and-mortar.

Or, as I call it, the Land of Interchangeable Voices Retelling Familiar Tales Already Told.

If you’re searching for writing with a strong unique voice and, oh, let’s say a story centered around a tortured Immortal seeking redemption and release, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Maybe here? (forgive the plug, but it is my blog)

In any case, it’s a good point to make. Self-pubbed authors — and I can only speak for myself, really — don’t follow the Flavor of the Month because oftentimes we’re so busy writing we don’t have time to track what the Flavor of the Month IS. We just write. We tell our stories, we create our worlds, and we put it out there trusting someone will share our passion and hear our voice.

And our voices ARE unique. They’re not tamed by marketing concerns, reined in by Projected Sales Goals, or shaped by Editors insisting we follow Rules. Our voices aren’t afraid of offending or gun-shy at the prospect of disappointing sales and a lifetime spent bundled in the bargain bin or paranoid by the loss of readers.

More often than not, there aren’t any readers to lose!

So we just write what drives us, allowing the characters to speak and live and stumble and sometimes die. We edit it, we shape it, we polish and package and format it. And then we publish it.

Circling back to the beginning, does the cream rise to the top? If you’re farmland milk fresh out of an udder, yeah. Given time.

If you’re a great story well told, I’m gonna roll the dice and say yes, too.

Given time.

Crimson tears

from my book, The Wounded King:

He took a breath, the words coming, swollen and thick and carried on the stench of impending death.

“Beyond the Veil, they suffer, brother. The King, my mother, the Darkness around them, trapping them. It waits for me. It’s here –”

“No,” I interrupted. “I’m here with you.”

“No, no,” he insisted. “Here in the Temple, in the palace, outside in the city, in the night, in the sky, in the air, the wind, the sun. In the dark.”

“You’re safe,” I assured him, my hand once more on his, the square cloth still on his eyes blinding him. “I’m here and you’re safe.”

He released me, pushing me away. His hands reached to remove the cloth.

He opened his eyes.

They were unseeing globes of wounded white.

He spoke, crimson tears staining his scarred and bloody cheeks as he blinked.

“The Darkness, it’s here with us.”

Behind me, the Old Man bowed, the rustle of his garments distracting me.

“It’s here,” my brother, the King, repeated, the wounded globes now closed.

I turned.

Eyes rimmed red, sallow skin the color of sun-bleached sand, holes where healthy teeth had been only hours ago, each heavy step a great effort, she approached.

Mother.

I’m a wannabe who doesn’t work hard

… or so says Author (notice the capital A?) Sue Grafton.

In a recent interview this is what Miss Grafton had to say about those who decide to self-publish:

Don’t self-publish. That’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work.

When just barely pressed, Miss Grafton continued her thoughts on the efforts of these unwashed masses not good enough for Big, Fat Publishing Contracts (or, as she calls them, “wannabe”s):

Obviously, I’m not talking about the rare few writers who manage to break out. The indie success stories aren’t the rule. They’re the exception. The self-published books I’ve read are often amateurish. I’ve got one sitting on my desk right now and I’ve received hundreds of them over the years. Sorry about that, but it’s the truth. The hard work is taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time. I see way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they’re sure they’re entitled to. To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research. Learning to construct a narrative and create character, learning to balance pace, description, exposition, and dialogue takes a long time. This is not an quick do-it-yourself home project. Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall.

In some ways she has a point. Not all self-pubbed work is good. But not all traditionally published work is good either. Apples and oranges, you know.

Her comments still hock me off.

Now, if you’re already aware of the firestorm of indignation rolling through the indie and self-pubbing world regarding Traditional Publishing’s latest Foot in Mouth when it comes to us self-pubbers, what I’m about to say will seem familiar at best and redundant at worst.

Regardless, I’m saying it anyway.

How dare she. Seriously. How. Dare. She.

You know, I just published my third book today. Yeah, BFD, right? Well, to me it is. Maybe not to Queen Sue, but to me it is. And it should be.

I worked my ass off. I wrote all day and then late into the night. I even wrote as the sun came up knowing full well that another full day of writing lay ahead. I edited, I shaped, I cut and rewrote. I trimmed and hemmed and polished that baby ’till she f’ing shined. And I did this knowing that not one single person would probably buy this book the first week. Or the second week. Or ever.

But I did it anyway because I love it and I had a great story to tell.

And listen, Sue, I’ve done the research on ancient Uruk. I can tell you — as best one can based on what little has been discovered of their civilization — what money they used, what writing they had, how their houses were constructed, how twisted their religious beliefs were, and how their days were structured. I could even draw you a fucking map of the city, so don’t you dare tell me I don’t do my research. Is any of this info in my books? No, not really. Is it important I know it?

Hell. Yes.

But you know what, Miss Grafton? I do all of this without complaint and without prompting. Without an Editor looking over my shoulder or a Publishing House guiding me with a schedule. I do all of this — and still plan to, by the way — without a big advance propping up my bank account and a legion of fans ready to snap up whatever drivel and tripe I sling on the shelf.

And you can’t say that, now, can you, Sue.

At the end of the day, though, I, a simple wannabe who doesn’t work hard and can’t take rejection, have something you’ll never have:

I can publish any fucking thing I want.

I can be brave and creative, ballsy and controversial, amazing and incredible and unforgettable and breathtaking in ways your Publisher will never allow you to be. I can kill Judas with a kiss and walk with a Jesus modern-day Christians wouldn’t recognize. I can drive my narrative forward with a gruesome sacrifice of a child or an anonymous soldier, an ancient Elder or a deliciously evil Old Crone. I can create Seers and Magis, Spirits and Immortals in ways your focus grouped bestsellers simply can’t.

Unlike you, I’m not driven by fear.

I’m driven by freedom.

And that, Miss Grafton, is why this talentless hack who doesn’t work hard self-publishes.