Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fruits of the First Harvest.

In this week's news wrapup:
  • The Seized trailer was featured this weekend at Indies Unlimited. I hope you've had a chance to stop by and see it -- and to see the new blog setup.  The Evil Mastermind put the blog through an upgrade this week; we're still working out the kinks, but it's coming along.
  • If you haven't yet picked up your free e-book copies of Seized and SwanSong at Smashwords, time's a-wastin'!  The sitewide Summer/Winter promotion ends Tuesday.  Hie thee to Smashwords and pick up some good reads (not just mine!) to see you through the end of the season.  
  • In case you need an extra impetus to get those free downloads now, prices for the e-book editions of both Seized and SwanSong will be going up next week, once the Smashwords promotion is over.

Speaking of the end of the season, it may not seem like it yet, here in the US, but summer's on the wane.  This coming Wednesday is Lughnasa, the cross-quarter day named for the Celtic god Lugh.

Lugh of the Long Hand is often mistakenly called a sun god.  He's not; he's the Celtic god of light.  (The Celts' sun god was Belenos, for whom Beltane is named.)  Lugh is also associated with lightning, and is sometimes called their storm god.

But don't think Lugh's a slacker just because he's not a god of the sun.  Far from it!  It's clear from the tale told of his arrival at Tara, the court of the Tuatha de Danann.  Lugh approached the gate guard while the Tuatha were inside, feasting, and asked to be let in.  He might have thought he would have no trouble being admitted, seeing as he was the son of Cian, one of the Tuatha, and Ethlinn, the daughter of the king of the Fomorians.  But the gate guard told him he could come in only if he had a skill with which to serve the king, who was Nuada at that time.  Lugh said he was a carpenter; the guard said they had one already.  Well, said Lugh, he was a smith; no, they had a smith already, too.  Lugh then said he was a champion, but they had one of those as well.  He then asked after a string of other jobs:  harper (no), poet (nope), magician (uh-uh), physician (sorry, no), cup-bearer (we have nine!), and a worker in brass (negative).  Finally, Lugh told the guard to go and ask the king whether he had one man who could do all those things.  When Nuada heard the guard's report, he told him to try the kid at chess -- and Lugh won every game.  Then Nuada let him in.  Later, when Nuada was wounded, the Tuatha made Lugh their king.

As pleasant (and competent!) a god as Lugh was, you didn't want to cross him.  The three sons of Tuireann learned this to their sorrow when, on impulse, they killed Lugh's father Cian.  When Lugh heard of it, he called the three men before him and bade them pay for their misdeed by bringing him nine precious things from all around the world -- things which they would have to steal, because their owners would likely not part from them otherwise.  Lugh assumed the brothers would be killed on their quest.

So the brothers embarked on their journey, and with a mixture of pleading, chicanery, and magical help, they managed to procure eight of the nine precious things.  For the final item, the brothers were to give three shouts on the Hill of Miochaoin in Lochlann (probably either Norway or northern Scotland).  The hill's owner sent his three sons to fight them, for no one was allowed to shout upon the hill.  The sons of Tuireann killed the other three, but were mortally wounded themselves.  They sailed back to Ireland on the brink of death, and bade their father to ask Lugh for healing.  But Lugh refused.  So the sons died of their wounds, and their father died of grief.

(The tale of the sons of Tuireann is one of the three great Irish tragedies.  The story upon which SwanSong is based is another, and the third is the tale of Deirdre of the Sorrows.)

After Lugh's foster mother Tailtiu died (she had taken it upon herself to clear the land for crops, and died of exhaustion), he set August 1 as the day of her funeral feast and a series of games and sporting events -- a celebration that became an annual tradition.  Today, Neopagans also mark the season with games, and with mourning the passing of summer as the first crops are harvested.  Bread made from new grain is often served, and Lugh's blessing may be asked that the rest of the harvest not be ruined.

May Lugh bless you and grant you a fine First Harvest this year.  Happy Lughnasa!
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Monday, July 23, 2012

Penguin bought WHAT?!?

It was just a couple of weeks ago when I did a post about Author Solutions (also known as ASI) and what a sleazy operation it is.  To recap (in case you're too time-pressed to click the link), Author Solutions is the umbrella company for a host of vanity presses, including AuthorHouse, Xlibris and iUniverse.  Essentially, all of these companies are in business to separate would-be authors from their money.  They charge huge fees upfront to "edit" your work, then pester you mercilessly to pay for additional services.  Then they do the bare minimum to "market" your work.  And then they pay you pennies on the dollar in royalties.

I also mentioned that Author Solutions was owned by Bertram Capital, which looked to me like a venture capital firm -- the sort of outfit that takes an under-performing company (i.e., one that isn't making enough money to satisfy its shareholders), tweaks it, and then sells it for more than its investment.

Well, sooprise, sooprise, sooprise, as Gomer Pyle used to say.  The news this week is that Bertram has sold Author Solutions to -- brace yourself -- Pearson plc, which owns the Penguin Group.  Yup, that's right.  The company whose well-respected and award-winning author stable includes Toni Morrison, Patricia Cornwell, Garrison Keillor and the Dalai Lama now owns a pile of, uh, bad-smelling stuff.

David Gaughran has written a great piece about this at IndieReader.com. But I think one of his best observations is in the comments below the article.  Author Solutions boasts that it publishes 150,000 authors and 190,000 books.  Compare that, David says, to Smashwords, which has been in business for a much shorter period of time, and yet has published 140,000 books by just 40,000 authors.  If you had to guess, who do you suppose has the better customer satisfaction rating?

Speaking of Smashwords, Mark Coker was the first commenter on the PublishersWeekly.com article about the sale:
While Pearson is smart to develop a long tail strategy that includes self-published authors, the challenge with ASI is that its business model is entirely dependent upon blinding the eyes and stealing the dreams of unsuspecting authors. It earns 2/3+ of its revenue selling services and packages to authors, not selling books to consumers. That's a recipe for parasitism and exploitation, and in the long run as indies wise up, it's not a sustainable model.
Hear hear, Mark.  And thanks for the Indies Unlimited plug in your reply, too.

Going back to David's post for a moment, he mused about why Penguin would want to own something as unsavory as Author Solutions.  The answer, I think, is that traditional publishers simply can't tell the difference between vanity publishing and indie publishing.  I read a blog post not long ago (and wish I could find it again so I could post the link -- sorry) by a literary agent who was complaining about the terminology used by the indie author movement.  She chided us for calling ourselves "indie" and suggested instead that we use the term "self-published", because it's better understood in New York publishing circles.

The comments generated by that post made entertaining reading, and I believe the agent got an education.  But if her attitude is any indication, the Big Six consider "self-publishing" to be synonymous with vanity publishing.  Apparently many in the trad publishing business lump Smashwords, Kindle Direct Publishing, PubIt, CreateSpace and Lulu (and others) in with Author Solutions and others of their ilk.  If it didn't come out of trad publishing, in other words, it's just one big slush pile of steaming crap.  Viewed in that light, Penguin's purchase of Author Solutions makes perfect sense: if this "indie publishing" thing is going to undermine their core business, they need some skin in the game to stay viable, and purchasing an existing company in, you know, that end of the industry is just good business sense.

Are you gonna tell 'em?  I'm not gonna tell 'em.
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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Big news! and: pity the poor introverted writer.

First, as always, the news.  I am excited to announce that I'm now a contributing author at Indies Unlimited.  I've been following this website over the past few months and have been quite impressed by the depth of knowledge about writing and indie publishing, as well as the world-class snark, the contributors there display.  So I was very grateful when the Evil Overlord himself extended me an invitation to join them.  I understand I will be receiving payment in spoonfuls of gruel, which is more than one typically receives for online contributions, so I'm pretty pumped!  But seriously, I've agreed to contribute a blog post each month.  I don't know yet when my debut staff post will hit teh intarwebz, so watch this space.

In addition, I'm continuing as a monthly contributor to the Indie Exchange through December.  It shouldn't be a problem, as it appears I'm hardly ever at a loss to come up with 500 or so words on something-or-other on the spur of the moment (to which those of you who have been following this blog can attest, for good or ill).

All this stuff about guest blogging actually segues nicely into this week's post, which is about promotion.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who has been traditionally published for years and is now going indie for her backlist books, wrote a provocative post on her own blog recently about the difference between indies and trad publishing.  Within it was this piece of advice:
Publicity doesn’t work for books. It really doesn’t. All it does is get your name in front of a reader who might then glance at your book....So indie writers who promote their book instead of writing the next book are wasting their time. The more books you’ve written, the more books you’ll sell.
As you might expect, a lot of indie authors beg to differ -- including me.  While Rusch's strategy has worked for her, I think new indie authors have to spend some time promoting themselves.  Rusch is coming into indie publishing with a successful traditional career behind her; her name is already known, and her readers will likely be ecstatic to discover that a whole lot of her out-of-print titles are available again.

But before your readers can find you, they have to know what they're looking for.  That means that concurrently with the publication of a first novel (and the next one, and probably the next several after that), an indie author is going to have to drum up interest by getting his or her name out there.  The marketing phrase for this is "building your brand."  It means writing blog posts and doing giveaways and maybe even doing personal appearances.  At the very least, it means talking to people.

This is tough for many writers.  I'm speculating here, but I think it would be fair to say that those of us who gravitate to a career that locks us in a lonely writer's garret for hours at a time are probably introverts.  Interacting with other people tends to exhaust us.  We recharge our batteries by spending time alone.  So this whole idea of having to interact with people, to meet them and smile and flog our books without seeming to, is daunting, to say the least.  Rusch's advice sounds like just the ticket!

Not so fast.  I wouldn't trust the notion that an author -- any author -- can simply sit back and wait, and do no promotion at all.  Keep in mind that Rusch herself has a blog.  She's making sure you know her name, isn't she?

Rusch is right about one thing -- the more books you've written, the more you'll sell.  JA Konrath has talked about this numerous times on his blog: someone who reads and enjoys one of your books is likely to buy more of them.  Some readers (I'm raising my hand) will even search out every book ever written by an author they particularly like.  So the longer your backlist is, the better the chances that you'll sell more and more books as time goes on, and as more and more readers discover your work.

So I'm sorry to tell you that there's no magic formula and there's no promotion-free pass.  Keep writing, for sure, and keep turning out professional-level work.  But you can't quit building your brand.

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Caveat scriptor.

First, our weekly news roundup.

SwanSong love:  The picture to the right might look familiar to you, but take a better look -- that's the word "FINALIST" at the top.  Yup!  SwanSong is one of three finalists for the 2012 Global Ebook Award for Classic Fantasy Fiction.  I'm pretty darned excited about it, and am (somewhat anxiously) awaiting the announcement of the winners next month. Stay tuned....

Seized love:  The Paranormal Romance Guild gave Seized a lovely 4-star review.  Check it out! 

Spread the love:  Don't forget that both Seized and SwanSong are free at Smashwords all this month with coupon code SSWIN. 

*****
Capitalism is a wonderful economic system -- don't get me wrong.  But it has its drawbacks,  one of the worst being the fact that any shyster can make money from naive, unsuspecting people with a dream, and largely get away with it.

In the old days, that meant someone who dreamed of being a "published author" could send his or her manuscript to a vanity publisher.  For a hefty fee, the publisher would format the manuscript into book form, print several hundred copies, and send them to the newly-minted author -- who then, typically, gave away a few as Christmas gifts and then stored the rest of them on a shelf in the garage.

As you might expect, when print-on-demand (or POD) publishing was invented, the charlatans moved in.  One of these companies, PublishAmerica, has been operating a vanity POD press for a number of years.  They've gained a rating of F from the Better Business Bureau due to their shoddy business practices.  But yet, people with a dream of being published are still sending them money.

All that may soon come to a halt.  Three PublishAmerica authors filed a class-action lawsuit against the company last month, alleging the company misrepresents itself as a legitimate publisher and fraudulently charges its authors for services that legit publishers provide for free.  One of the law firms representing the plaintiffs is Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, which was also involved in the price-fixing litigation against Apple and the traditional Big Six publishers, so they know what they're doing.

If you, or someone you know, has been burned by PublishAmerica, I would urge you to go the Hagens Berman website here and join the lawsuit.  And if you haven't ever done business with this company, for gods' sake, don't start now.

So okay, authors should steer clear of PublishAmerica.  What about places like iUniverse or AuthorHouse?  Are they okay?

It's interesting that you should ask, because I stumbled on the news about the PublishAmerica lawsuit while doing a little checking on these two companies.  Guess what?  AuthorHouse and iUniverse are owned by the same company, Author Solutions, which also owns Xlibris, Trafford Publishing, Wordclay, AuthorHouse UK, AuthorHive, Palibrio, and Hollywood Pitch.  Many of Author Solutions' subsidiaries have also been sued over the years for the way they do business.  Authors complain about the publishers "editing" their work by introducing numerous errors that the author then has to pay to have fixed.  And that's even before they charge you for the boxes of your own books that they will never help you sell.

Author Solutions is owned, in turn, by a company called Bertram Capital.  And who or what is Bertram Capital?  It's "a private equity firm that partners with management teams to fuel the expansion of lower middle market companies."  If that sounds similar to the mission statement of Mitt Romney's former company, Bain Capital, you're not far off the mark.  Bertram's other holdings include Extrusion Dies Industries (a "leading designer and manufacturer of extrusion dies, coating heads and related products for producers of cast film, sheet, coatings and laminates"), Sanare (a "leading provider of care management solutions that improve the health and reduce the medical costs of people with diabetes"), and Spireon (a "leading provider of location based services and risk mitigation products, most notably GPS tracking solutions and payment protection systems for the subprime automotive finance industry").  Doesn't sound like the folks at Bertram know much about writing and publishing, does it?  Do you suppose Author Solutions is in business primarily to help authors, or to take their money and run?


Seriously, folks, if you're desperate to be published, don't waste your time and money with these shysters.  Hire an editor, get somebody to make you an eye-catching cover, and upload your book to Amazon, Smashwords and/or PubIt.  None of them will charge you a dime for publishing and selling your work.  In fact, they will pay you.

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Hope Nike doesn't sue me, Part Two.

First, as always, a little news.
Free books!!!:  Smashwords is running a promotion this month, in honor of summer in our hemisphere and winter in the southern hemisphere.  A whole bunch of books are available for free, or for cheap, with the coupon code SSWIN.  Both Seized and SwanSong are in the  free category.  Tell your friends -- and stop by yourself to pick up some new books.

The guest blog roundup:  I was very excited about my three -- count 'em, three! -- guest posts this week.
  1. At Indies Unlimited, I posted part two of my series on writing news copy into your fiction -- and this time it was about broadcast style.  
  2. An opportunity dropped into my lap late in the week to do a Fourth Wall feature at Cabin Goddess's blog.  "Fourth wall" is a theater term that refers to the virtual wall between the audience and the actors onstage; when actors talk directly to the audience, it's called "breaking the fourth wall."  In the feature at the Cabin Goddess's blog, the author of a particular book gets to meet his or her characters.  So I arranged a little visit for Naomi, Joseph and me.  It was a lot of fun to write.  I hope you get a chance to stop by.
  3. And just today, I kicked off the first monthly column at the newly revamped Indie Exchange.  Donna has merged the original blog with the Book Bloggers Collaborative.  I'll be providing a post for them on the 1st day of the month from now through December.  (I picked the 1st so I wouldn't forget....)
Two blogs also ran special features this week on Seized:  the Summer of Indie and Bunny's Review.

Industry news:  One of the reasons people sometimes give for not wanting to go indie is that it's difficult to get libraries to buy copies of any book that doesn't come through traditional channels. Libraries are just beginning to adopt e-book lending in a big way, partly because the big publishers have typically put all kinds of restrictions on the practice -- to the point where you can borrow an e-book from your local library and end up a week later, when the borrowing period expires, with a file you can't open that's stuck on your e-reader.  (Not that that's ever happened to me or anything.)  Yet library purchases can represent a big chunk of a book's revenues.  Smashwords is coming to the rescue.  The company announced this week a deal with Califa, a consortium of 220 public libraries in California, to deliver books published by Smashwords to those libraries, as well as libraries in other states.  If this works the way Mark Coker usually does business, I think readers can expect lots fewer restrictions on e-book lending from their local libraries soon.

Califa will be taking delivery of the top 10,000 sellers at Smashwords to start with (alas, none of my books has reached that lofty height yet!), but it's expected that the program will grow.  Overall, this appears to me to be great news for both indie authors and library patrons.

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Last week, I offered a pep talk for those of you who have been, y'know, kinda sorta thinking about doing something with that book you've got sitting in a drawer.  Today, I'd like to offer you an out.

If you haven't gotten around to publishing your book -- or staging an exhibition of your art, or setting up an Etsy site for your crafts, or getting the band back together -- by now, you probably have a good reason for it.  Maybe you found that you were better at something else than you were at (shelved project). Maybe life intervened -- family obligations, work obligations, whatever. Or maybe you're stymied -- you don't know where to take the work from here, and are letting it sit while your subconscious works it out for you.

Those are all valid reasons for stepping away, and it's pointless and kind of ridiculous to beat yourself up for doing it. We all have different talents; we all have obligations. I set aside my fiction writing for most of the 20 years I worked as a journalist and raised my kids -- parenting sucks up a lot of free time.  And I admit that I used to own a couple of ambitious needlepoint projects that I carted around with me through various moves over the years.  I finally got rid of them because I knew I would never finish them. I felt bad about doing it, but I realized that I've moved on from needlepoint (as I had moved on previously from other crafts). And that's okay.

As far as letting the work sit for awhile? I do this all the time. I call it "letting it ripen."  Not only is it a valid editing technique, but it's even recommended.

My point is that there's absolutely no reason to castigate yourself. People start stuff all the time and then bail. There's no reason to believe you're any different from the rest of humanity. If you tried (creative outlet) and decided ultimately that it wasn't for you, or if you've set it aside for purely practical reasons -- and you're satisfied that that's all it is, and that none of the psychological barriers we talked about last week are to blame -- then you have my permission (if it helps!) to just move on.


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I'm , and I approve this blog post.