Archive | The Decision RSS feed for this section

Controversy Corner: Am I Wrong About The Gatekeepers?

16 May

Yes, I have used the dreaded g-word here on Catherine, Caffeinated. Do not adjust your screens. (And prepare yourself for what is quite possibly the longest post in the history of this blog. I do apologize.)

Now before we go any further, I demand you hop over to JA Konrath’s fantastic blog and read this guest post by UK author Stephen Leather immediately. Go on. I’ll wait.

[Waits]

Two things stopped me in my tracks in this post. The first was Leather’s observation that all self-publishers seem to talk about – or want to talk about – is how to sell more books, and not how to write those books better.

I get emails all the time from “Indie” writers asking me what the secret is to selling a lot of eBooks. I don’t get any asking how they can become better writers.”

The second was this line about UK (and, let’s say for sake of this argument, Irish) agents versus US agents:

Literary agents in the UK are actually quite nice people, but they are a totally different animal in the US … I’ve only met one decent human being working as a literary agent in the States – the rest have been horrible, self-centered, arrogant s—s … They seem to take pleasure in denying writers access to publishers.”

Tip: literary agents do not look like this.

Let’s talk about the first one first: why is it that on all self-publishing blogs, generally-speaking – my own included – all the talk, discussion and advice is about selling books, and not about writing better books or even writing well in the first place?

I think I’m a good writer and people whose job it is to know have told me that I at least demonstrate some talent in this regard. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that there may have been chocolate-based bribes involved.) But I believe that my ability to write came from two things: (i) reading constantly since I learned how and (ii) something innate, a natural talent written in my DNA. I don’t believe you can be taught how to write. You can learn to write better, certainly, and practice and experience helps. But there needs to be something there to work with, and not everyone has it. You can’t go from being a terrible writer to a Booker Prize-winning one, in the same way that if you have a decent singing voice you can be trained to use it better, but you can’t take someone whose attempts at tune-carrying sounds like a bag of strangled cats on helium and turn them into Charlotte Church. So that’s Reason #1 why I don’t give writing advice: because I think if you have the ability to write well, chances are you’re already doing it.

And who am I to offer advice? I publish my own books. Other than sales (which, personally, I don’t see as a sufficient qualification – and in the world-wide scheme of things, mine aren’t anything amazing anyway), if I got up on a soapbox and started telling you how to write, I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. You’d think, what does she know? Who is she to tell me how to do this? Who does she think she is? And if our roles were reversed, I’d be the first thinking that too. A published author can stand tall at writing workshops and confidently write articles about character and dialogue because someone we trust has said, This person writes well. They have said, This person is good enough. But as a self-published author, I have no such backing. And the only writing advice that is worthwhile is that which helps you channel your energies away from writing whatever might take your fancy (unless that’s all you want to do, of course) and into writing with an eye on getting published – like Nicola Morgan’s new book, Write to Be Published, for example. But I can’t tell you how to write to get published because I haven’t been. So that’s Reason #2 why I don’t give writing advice: because I don’t feel qualified to.

Why do I give advice on how to sell books? Is it because I’m obsessed with or only focused on selling them? No, although what good is a book if no one reads it and, as I’ve said before, I treat self-publishing like a business. I have to because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to do it full-time. So unromantic as it may sound, I do need to make money. But that’s not why I blog about how to sell books. First of all, I enjoy sharing my trials and tribulations and I think you enjoy reading about them. It fascinates me; I find the whole subject endlessly interesting. Why does one book sell and another doesn’t? What did I do this month that made my sales dip? How did that guy manage to sell millions? How come this guy has an amazing book that isn’t selling at all? And because I only try to sell my books in ways that could apply to all books, both traditional and self-published (I don’t go on e-book forums or exchange tags with other e-book authors or any of that, for example) this information, theoretically, is useful to everyone, i.e. all writers. For me and my blog, that’s a win-win.

And so it’s not that I don’t value writing, or think that the only thing that matters is learning how to sell, sell, sell. I love books more than anything else in the world and I would rather suffer some horrible fate (a bad perm, for example) than put a book out into the world that adds to the ever-growing pile of stinky poo the vast majority of self-publishing authors are churning out every minute of every day. But I don’t think there’s any point in me talking about writing because I think you either know how to or you don’t, and because I don’t feel qualified to anyway.

Now onto the g-word. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that my least favorite word in the publishing/books/writing sphere is – ugh – gatekeepers, because it makes agents and editors, human beings like you and me, sound like evil, horned demons, and that I think that the easiest way to make sure you are not self-publishing poo is to try and get traditionally published first, and then only self-publish if you are getting full manuscript requests, at least. (And if you’re not a regular reader, you know that now.) But do I think this because I live in Ireland and thus have only dealt with Irish and UK agents and publishers, who seem to be really nice people who love good books and always respond?

I have met some bitter bunnies in my time as a self-publisher, let me tell you. I’ve even written about some of them in Self-Printed (PLUG ALERT: out today!) and on this blog. These are the unpublished writers who are so angry about the treatment they perceive themselves to have received at the hands of agents, editors and other publishing professionals that they are gleefully sticking pins into voodoo dolls which look not entirely unlike them in the dead of night, constantly saying, “But they didn’t even give my novel a chance!” with a crazed look in their eyes and exclusively reading self-published e-books as a one-man stand against Big, Bad Publishing.

I never understood these people because I believed that if your book was good, it would get published eventually. And if it didn’t get published, was that really reason enough to feverishly hate someone whose job it was to weed out the great from the sucky? Hardly. But maybe I just thought this because on this side of pond, people are nicer.

Let’s take my novel for example, which has been around, completed, since February 2010. It’s been shopped to both UK/IRL editors and US agents.

Let’s compare the experience, shall we?

US Experience

I write a query letter for the novel following all the “rules.” The novel is set in the US so I figure I should test the waters of the wonderful United States first. I draw up an initial list of favored US agents: three who accept e-mail queries and two who require the synopsis and first 50 pages to be sent by mail. The responses:

  1. Agent #1 at New York office of major US-UK agency responds by e-mail (to e-mail) within 24 hours, saying she appreciates my sense of humor and clever concept, but doesn’t think she’s the right fit for me or my work. (She’s absolutely lovely to me but her first name is Catherine so I wonder if that’s why!!!)
  2. Agent #2 at NY agency responds by e-mail (to e-mail) within 24 hours saying thanks but no thanks.
  3. No response to e-mail sent to Agent #3.
  4. No response to synopsis/chapters mailed to Agent #4.
  5. No response to synopsis/chapters mailed to Agent #5.

UK/IRL Experience

Same novel gets sent to:

  1. Irish office of major publishing house. Editor #1 reads entire novel, gives extensive feedback by phone and e-mail. Response time: a fortnight. Says lots of lovely things about me as a writer, but feels book isn’t suitable for market here. Wants to see something else. Arranges meeting where she and I talk about what this something else might be. Says she’d like to see this something else when it’s done. We keep in touch.
  2. Irish office of another major publishing house. Editor #2 reads entire novel, gives feedback by e-mail. Response time: less than 3 weeks. Loves my writing, voice, etc. but doesn’t love the book “enough.” Unsure about its subject matter but says she’d be happy to see something else from me that isn’t about same thing as she feels that is the only real problem.
  3. Irish office of another major publishing house. Editor #3 reads entire novel, give feedback by e-mail. Response time: less than a month. Loves my voice and humor, unsure whether novel is suitable for Irish/UK market but would like to see something “more mainstream.”
  4. As above for major UK publishing house and editor #4.
  5. Same for medium-large UK publishing house and editor #5.

And then there was my experience with trying to get Mousetrapped traditionally published, a year before that again and before I decided to do it myself. I started this when I had just a proposal and 2/3 sample chapters, which would be the norm for a non-fiction book.

  1. Send out queries to 9 UK/Irish agents. About 4-5, if I remember correctly (this was 2007!), respond with a “thanks but no thanks.” One says, “This sounds interesting. Send me what you have.”
  2. So begins a year of back and forth with this agent, who works at a well-respected London literary agency. When she finally reads the finished book a year later, she has to say no, but she sends me a lovely e-mail saying how much she liked the book and my writing, and says she’d like to see something else in the future, especially fiction if I’d ever consider writing it. (I’m still in contact with this agent, as a friend, through e-mail and Twitter today.)
  3. I decide to try Irish publishing houses instead. Editor #1 requests the full manuscript after reading the proposal & sample chapters and then e-mails me to say he liked the book and my writing, but that there is no market for a book like it. So: no.
  4. Same happens with Editor #2.
  5. Same happens with Editor #3, except she calls me on the phone and offers some additional feedback on how I could improve the book (which I listened to before I self-published it).
  6. Editor #4 says “this isn’t for us” based on proposal and sample chapters.
  7. Same with Editor #5.

(And they were all right about Mousetrapped. It took self-publishing it – publishing it without any financial risk and selling it to a global readership as opposed to just Irish/UK readers – to sell copies. And the fact that I have a novel, polished and ready-to-go, sitting on my computer for over a year now should tell you how slow I am to self-publish work, how I don’t take the decision to release it lightly.)

So for reasons that should now be clear, I have nothing but a case of the warm and fuzzies for every publishing professional I’ve encountered in my part of the world. Excluding the initial queries I sent to agents about Mousetrapped, every single agent or editor I’ve sent material to has responded to me. Every single Ireland or UK-based editor who has received a sample of my novel has taken the time to read the entire thing, and then more time to give me feedback about it. But the same can’t be said for my (very limited, admittedly) adventures in querying US agents, who I don’t think I’ll be sending Christmas cards to this year.

But in defense of US agents, can you imagine how many queries, manuscripts, etc. they get? A few months back I got a sneak peek inside the offices of an Irish publishing house, and it seemed to me that the piles of manuscripts were taking up more space than the furniture. The population of Irish is 4.5 million. The population of the United States is 309 million. No wonder they use the query system (as in, sending just a brief letter about your book instead of our standard practice of synopsis plus three chapters) – if they didn’t, they might be buried under there. So I can totally understand why they don’t have the time for the personalized rejections or even encouraging feedback we might get from our agents and editors over here. (But that still isn’t a good enough reason for voodoo dolls, people.)

And there are some wonderful US agents. One of them has written my favorite book on being a writer ever in the history of the world, Betsy Lerner (the book is The Forest for the Trees) and one of them writes one of my favorite writing blogs, Nathan Bransford. (Although in recent months he left the agenting world.) There’s the likes of US Agent No.1 above. And then there’s the US agent a writer friend of mine has, who would go to the ends of the earth for her, and has. So it’s not these individuals who are the problem – they are just operating within a system which seems to be the only feasible way to deal with the never-ending influx of unsolicited work. Aren’t they?

Konrath says that nowadays, readers are the gatekeepers. They vote for the good stuff by spending their dollars on it and weed out the bad by not. But while this is fine for Konrath – who writes great books – I don’t think it’s a creed all self-publishers should live by. When you put a book out there with a price-tag on it, you are selling a product, and that product has to deliver on its promise (i.e. be good) in exchange for the money customers hand over for it. Even if it’s just 99c, that’s still money. You can’t use readers as a test audience unless you are giving your book away for free, and you explain to them that that’s what you’re doing.

Anyways this blog post has gone on for way way WAY too long – I really should’ve broken it down in two parts but I’m off on holidays at the end of this week and so don’t have the time – so let me stop myself here and ask you what you think.

How would you feel about a self-published author telling you how to write? Do Irish and UK authors have an easier time with agents and editors? If so, what alternate method can US-based self-publishers use to gauge whether or not their book is good other than putting it out there and seeing if it sells? And where are people getting these voodoo dolls? Are they making them themselves, do you think? Feel free to weigh in below.

(And apologies again for the length of this post!)

My whopper of a book that was originally supposed to be a little pamphlet, Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing, is out today. (Fancy that!) Its e-book costs about the same as a tall latte at Starbucks (i.e. it costs $2.99) and by buying a copy you help keep me in coffee which, trust me, is a selfless and necessary act indeed.

Find out more about it and where you can buy it from here.

Find out more about Mousetrapped here.

Self-Printed Preview #1: The Stigma of Self-Publishing

9 May

(First, some housekeeping: if you are using Google Reader to read this blog, kindly hit Refresh. Unbeknownst to me I had all external feeds set to “summary only” so you weren’t seeing the whole post. Now you can read this entire blog on Google Reader or other blog feeders without ever having to stop by here, on my actual blog.)

As you may know, I’m releasing my next book –  Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing - next Monday. Chances are you do know this, as I’ve, ahem, mentioned it just a couple of times on here. The good news for you, dear blog reader, is that I won’t be blogging too much about it, now or in the future, but of course I do want to let the world know that it exists.

So this week is going to be the Self-Printed Preview Week. Each day’s blog post is going to be an excerpt from the book, which hopefully will give you a really good idea of what it’s like and maybe even convince you to buy a copy. After that, you won’t hear too much more about it. At least that’s the plan, anyway!

If you don’t need or want it, remember that you can still help by telling someone else who might need or want it. And if you do buy a copy, pretty please leave a review on Amazon – even if it’s only short. (Even if it’s only one sentence!) I will then love you forever. Swears.

So today’s excerpt is from Part I: Why Self-Printing? and it’s called The Stigma of Self-Publishing. It asks what is it about publishing books that makes anyone think they can do it, and aspires to serve as a “Stop” sign to those who can’t…

While recent highly-publicised self-publishing success has reduced the stigma of self-publishing somewhat, especially in the e-book world, it is still viewed by most as the last resort of the Great Deluded. And although that may not apply to you or me (we hope!), we have to acknowledge that it applies to the vast majority of self-publishers.

If you disagree with me, I can only assume it’s because you haven’t encountered very many self-publishers or their work, or you belong to one of those mutual back-slapping review sites that gives every “independent” book five stars, be they the next Great American Novel or a grammar-free allegory for nuclear war as told by a toy box of My Little Ponies that have magically come to life and published in 16 point Mistral over 27 pages, because writing a whole book – be it crap or really crap – is no mean feat and hey, let’s all take this opportunity to stick it to the Man while we’re at it.

Due to the ease with which people can produce and start to sell their books, the quality goes down as the quantity goes up. With next to no checks on copyediting, design or layout – or even whether or not the book is good enough to have a career in anything other than toilet paper – POD sites are becoming a one-stop-shop for things that should never have seen a computer screen, let alone a piece of paper, priced at just $9.99. I resent the people who decide, on a Friday afternoon, to finally self-publish their novella, Diary of a Teenage Luke Skywalker, spend a half hour summarising the plot into a paragraph that fits on the back cover (including the big twist at the end), make the jacket a yellow background spotted with daisies, put an index at the front and make all interior text 18 point Lucinda Handwriting. I resent them because until someone sees or holds my book in their hands – the book I had copyedited, with a cover I had designed, consisting of pages that are correctly and cohesively laid out – they assume that it’s going to be like that too, and I can’t blame them.

What I’d like to know is what is it about writing, producing and selling books that makes everyone think they can do it? I’m guessing it’s because it’s easy, cheap and you don’t even have to leave the house if you don’t want to.

Compare that to the music industry. If I decided I wanted to make an album, I wouldn’t even know where to begin, but I figure it would involve learning to play instruments or hiring people that know how, renting a recording studio, figuring out how to use it, writing songs, being able to sing, getting my CD into shops or online retailers, etc. etc. It’s very time-consuming. I could, of course, put on that automatic keyboard music and sing into my Mac’s built-in microphone, record the whole thing on Garageband and use CreateSpace – which, save us all, also does CDs – but the lack of professional input would be glaringly obvious. A well thought-out POD book may be able to play with the Big Boys, but a “POD” CD doesn’t stand a chance.

What about a movie? I’ve cranked out a script, but now I need to find a director, producers, camera and lighting crews, actors, extras, locations and money to pay them all or for them all with. Then I need to actually make the movie and get someone to edit it. Then I need a distributor to take it on so that it’ll be shown in cinemas and later released on DVD. I can, again, skip that and make DVDs myself, but that’s only after I figure out where I’m going to get the thousands of dollars required to make the movie in the first place. Even if I get some desperate actors for free and camera operators from a local film school who need a credit on their CV, I’m still going to have to hire the equipment. And I’m definitely going to have to leave the house.

Do you have any idea how many people are self-publishing books right now? There was probably a couple born in the time it took you to read that sentence and chances are neither of them are very good. Yes, there are a number of very successful self-publishers self-publishing very good books that lots of people like, but they are the exceptions to the rule.  I’m going to assume that since you had the good taste to purchase this book, you and your book will be exceptions to the rule too, but understand that despite the sensationalist headlines, the reality is that, right now, most books sold are:

  • Print books*
  • Purchased from bookstores
  • Published by mainstream, traditional publishing houses.

And that is why in this book – and in my life and hopefully in yours too – there will be no “Down with Big Publishing!” chants, literary agent-shaped voodoo dolls or rants about nobody even giving my novel about My Little Ponies come to life a proper chance. Yes, sometimes the traditional publishing industry prints a few million copies of a book that isn’t as entertaining as the instructions for our microwave oven, but clinging on to that as evidence of the beginning of their end is like being a lunar-landing conspiracy theorist who goes on about the shadows in the photos taken on the moon, and ignores the 400,000-plus people employed by the Apollo program who would have had to keep the world’s largest secret for going on sixty years.

Another popular anti-traditional publishing argument is that they’re only interested in making money. What? A business is only interested in making the money it needs to keep paying its rent, its employees and the factories that print its products? Surely you’re not serious! Of course they’re interested in making money. So am I. And if you’re not, then what is this all about? Because self-publishing is a business too, and if you just want to go chuck money down a toilet, go chuck money down a toilet.

And so, clearly, I’m not a self-publishing evangelist, or even a self-publishing advocate. I think it can be a great Plan B, and that’s about it. It’s worked for me and it may well work for you. I hope it does. But I’m not going to pat you on the back just because you wrote 100,000 words – and neither should you. We need to demand more of ourselves than that.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, it’s not to bum you out. (Or not just to bum you out, anyway.) It’s because I want you to understand three things:

  • Just because you wrote an amount of words does not mean it deserves to be a published book
  • Self-publishing deserves its bad reputation because a lot of people think the amount of words they wrote deserved to be a published book – and they didn’t
  • You are going to have to work extra hard to rise your book above all the self-published crap out there that those people have created.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that it’s easy to rise above that crap, if your book is good. And I’m going to help you do it.

Side note: I also find that around 80% of the time, this traditional publishing bashing/Self-Publishing is Sticking it to The Man talk falls into the Lady Doth Protest Too Much category. That is to say, the people who do it the most – and I say this excluding everyone whose job it is to talk about stuff like that, like publishing consultants, industry analysts, etc; I’m talking about individual authors here – are flogging exactly the type of books I’m trying to steer you clear of producing: horribly stinky bad ones. Just saying.

*This isn’t in the book, but I just KNOW someone is going to leave a comment saying, “But haven’t Amazon said e-books outsold hardcovers last year?” Yes, they did. Or said something like that anyway. But what actually happened is that a greater number of e-books were sold than a print equivalent. This means nothing, because for $20 I can buy one hardcover or 20 e-books. So spare me. All that matters is the overall percentage of e-books versus print books bought which, while certainly growing, is still only very small overall.

Tune in tomorrow for the next excerpt, Self-Publishing Goals: What’s Realistic?

Holiday Replay | How to Avoid Self-Publishing A Crappy Book

5 Oct

(I am currently on holidays and so am replaying some old – and not so old – posts. This one was originally posted in August.)

When you tell people that you’re self-publishing with a DIY Print On Demand service like Lulu or Createspace, you get much the same reaction as you would if you’d told them that since Weightwatchers hadn’t worked, you’re going to attempt a DIY stomach stapling operation in your kitchen. They smile, nod and think to themselves, This is going to be terrible.

Self-published books and particularly POD self-published books have a bad reputation, and I think they deserve it. Due to the ease with which people can produce and start to sell their books, the quality goes down as the quantity goes up. With next to no checks on copyediting, design or layout – or even whether or not the book is good enough to have a career in anything other than toilet paper – POD sites are becoming a one stop shop for things that should never have seen a computer screen, let alone a piece of paper, priced at just $9.99. I resent the people who decide, on a Friday afternoon, to finally self-publish their novella, The Darth Vader Diaries, spend a half hour summarizing the plot into a paragraph that fits on the back cover (including the big twist at the end), make the cover a yellow background spotted with daisies, put an index at the front and make all interior text 18 point Wingdings. I resent them because until someone sees or holds my book in their hands – the book I had copyedited, with a cover I had designed, consisting of pages that are correctly and cohesively laid out – they assume that it’s going to be like that too, and I don’t blame them.

What I don’t understand is why POD self-publishers continue to push crappy books into existence. It is so easily avoided. Simply abide by Catherine’s Two Golden Rules for Not Adding to the Ever Growing Pile of Crappy Self-Published Books

1. First, Try To Sell Your Book

Self-published books need to be good. I don’t think they need to be brilliant or even very good, because plenty of traditionally published books are far from that. But you do need to ensure that your book isn’t crap. This is not only to prevent even more rubbish from entering the self-published world but to save you and your feelings from bad reviews and harsh feedback. If you dream of writing becoming your career then you should take that into consideration as well: once you release the book, you can’t take it back. A future agent or publisher might be on the verge of offering you a deal, only to Google your name and find out about The Darth Vader Diaries. I don’t believe friends, family or even writers’ groups should be trusted (only because I came upon a book POD’d after the author’s writing group gushed over it, and it was a pile of poo); as far as I’m concerned, there’s only one surefire way to find out if your book is good enough: try to sell it.

I’d assume most self-pubbers do this anyway but even if you don’t want to be traditionally published, it won’t hurt to see what the experts – and yes, you self-pub evangelists/crazy people, they are the experts – have to say about it first. Write a query letter, send it out. Approach agents and publishers. Your aim is to get a full manuscript request and then see what the editor or agent has to say.

I wouldn’t self-publish unless I was at least getting full manuscript requests. Mousetrapped went to one agent and I think five Irish publishing houses, and all but two of them requested and read the full manuscript. (The ones who didn’t said they were small publishing houses who had to be certain of sales before releasing a title, and that based on my synopsis my book’s subject matter didn’t inspire confidence that it would bring those sales.) The agent and two editors sent me detailed e-mail replies, and one called me on the phone to discuss it. They all said the same thing: they enjoyed reading it but felt there was no market for it. One editor also said that she felt the humor was uneven and there was a bit too much moaning. (A huge chunk of moaning hit the cutting room floor before publication.) I felt – and I still do – that this was sufficient positive feedback to warrant self-publishing my book. If all I was getting was photocopied form rejections, I wouldn’t have even considered doing it. Personally, I don’t think anyone else should either.

What happens if someone says yes? Um, are you kidding me? YOU say yes to them! Then you can avoid this whole self-publishing headache altogether. Yippee!

(The High Council of Print on Demand won’t be voting me in as president just yet, will they? Shame about that…)

Obviously, there are some exceptions to this as there are to every rule. You must ensure that you are sending your book to the right agents and publishers, i.e. people who already publish your chosen genre. Otherwise you’d be getting form rejections no matter how good your book is. The other is that some books prove very successful after being self-published, but would never had made it past an editor. This is because their success could not possibly be anticipated and there was no track record. A good example of this is the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. The problem is that there are too many people out there who believe their book will be an exception to the rule too, but you have to act like it’s not. Believe in your book – it’s the only way you’ll sell it – but don’t delude yourself. Test the waters before you jump in, and pay attention to what you learn there. Then act on it.

2. Look at Other Books – You Know, The Real Ones!

POD self-publishing is a strange world. Hundreds of thousands of writers who’ve been reading books all their lives suddenly forget every single thing they know about them. It amazes me on a near daily basis when self-published authors create books that look absolutely nothing like the books they’ve been buying, borrowing, reading, stacking and gazing adoringly at all their lives and, even more amazingly, don’t see that they’ve done anything wrong. Madness!

When you’re self-publishing with a POD, the first thing you need to do is commit to designing your own cover, or getting someone else to do it. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES USE THE POD SERVICE’S COVER CREATION SOFTWARE. I can’t tell you what these programs make your book look like because I don’t like to swear on my blog, but it isn’t good. There are all simple templates with images stuck rigidly on backgrounds, and they all scream self-published. (Along with some other things but again, I don’t like to swear.) It isn’t difficult to have a cover designed, or purchase cover design software. I took the easiest route: I mocked-up a cover in MS Word and then had a fab designer translate it (and improve it) into a Createspace-ready PDF. I got exactly what I wanted and it didn’t cost a fortune – far from it. You can read about my cover adventures in detail here.

Designing your cover is as easy as 1-2-3:

  1. Go to your bookshelves and pick four or five ‘properly’ published books similar in type to yours, i.e. novels if you’re self-publishing a novel, travel if you’re self-publishing travel, etc.
  2. Study them.
  3. Make your book look like they do.

Ask yourself, does my book look like my store-bought traditionally published books? Imagine you’re in a bookstore and your book is on the shelf beside a book that’s been published by a major publishing house – one with an entire department devoted to cover design. (As mine is right now.) Does yours look out of place? Or does your look as good or even better? This is such a simple – and, I think, common sensical – idea, but you’d be amazed at what people do. I recently came across a POD’d novel that was 6 x9 inches in size but only 150 pages or so long (so it was thin and floppy), was in what must have been point 14 text (so it looked like a large print edition), had 500 words on the back explaining the entire story including the end (so at least twice as long as a regular blurb and the end? Really?!), had ‘Edited By’ and the editor’s name printed on the front cover (even though it was a novel) and its cover ‘design’ was text on a plain color, with no images. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t have to check through my bookshelves to know I don’t have a ‘properly’ published book that looks like that.

This ‘Study Real Books’ rule applies to your book’s interior as well. Pull a few off your shelf now and flip through them. What do you see? The first page is usually ‘Praise for…’ or a note about the author, then comes the copyright page (on the left hand side), then a title page, then another title page or a table of contents… etc. etc. They don’t open up on page 1 with ‘Chapter One’ like many self-published books I’ve seen. Nor do they have a page number on their first page, while we’re at it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

UPDATE:

After this post went live, someone pointed out that Golden Rule Number 1 should in fact be ‘Get an editor.’ If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know that I think this step is not optional: under no circumstances should you put any of your work out into the world for sale without hiring a professional copyeditor (again, no one you know) to go through it first with a fine tooth comb. What I was trying to achieve with this post was a kind of Stop sign for potential self-pubbers, something that would make them stop and think before they click the infamous ‘Approve Proof’ button on their chosen POD site.

Also one of the comment-leavers, Bridget Whelan, added an excellent third rule on her blog, and I wholeheartedly agree with it. She said:

“Writing matters. There is a craft to learn and there are two ways of learning it: by writing and by reading (gifted creative writing tutors can help, of course). Rushing into print is not part of the learning process – make your mistakes where readers can’t find you. Only your very best work, polished and carefully edited, should have the solidity of print. You are still learning even after you get published of course, but your shouldn’t treat paying readers as though they are members of a writing support group. They have bought a product and they have every right to expect it to be as good as you can possibly make it.”

This comes back to another comment I got on Twitter yesterday that went along the lines of, ‘Everyone has a right to achieve their dreams,’ which is true, yes. But not if to realize that dream they have to charge me $14.99 for a badly-written, unedited pile of poo wrapped in a cover that makes your eyes bleed. Despite what some may say, when you put a price tag on something you wrote your writing becomes a business. You’re now selling a product. And just like any commercial endeavor, you have to deliver the goods.

If you doubt the amount of rubbish that’s released into the world and/or you want to avoid adding to it, I recommend that you add Jane Smith’s fantastic Self-Publishing Review to your blog list. I studied it for common mistakes before self-publishing Mousetrapped, and reading its reviews scared me into getting a proofreader.

I realize they are certain self-publishing types out there who will vehemently disagree with what I’ve said. I couldn’t give a monkeys, but I will remind you that this is MY blog and all comments are moderated. Disagreement is fine but argument, rudeness or disrespect is not. Now: does anyone else want a latte? I need one after typing all this!

Get new posts by e-mail by subscribing to this blog. Use the box below or in the sidebar.

How To Avoid Self-Publishing A Crappy Book: My Two Golden Rules

18 Aug

When you tell people that you’re self-publishing with a DIY Print On Demand service like Lulu or Createspace, you get much the same reaction as you would if you’d told them that since Weightwatchers hadn’t worked, you’re going to attempt a DIY stomach stapling operation in your kitchen. They smile, nod and think to themselves, This is going to be terrible.

Self-published books and particularly POD self-published books have a bad reputation, and I think they deserve it. Due to the ease with which people can produce and start to sell their books, the quality goes down as the quantity goes up. With next to no checks on copyediting, design or layout – or even whether or not the book is good enough to have a career in anything other than toilet paper – POD sites are becoming a one stop shop for things that should never have seen a computer screen, let alone a piece of paper, priced at just $9.99. I resent the people who decide, on a Friday afternoon, to finally self-publish their novella, The Darth Vader Diaries, spend a half hour summarizing the plot into a paragraph that fits on the back cover (including the big twist at the end), make the cover a yellow background spotted with daisies, put an index at the front and make all interior text 18 point Wingdings. I resent them because until someone sees or holds my book in their hands – the book I had copyedited, with a cover I had designed, consisting of pages that are correctly and cohesively laid out – they assume that it’s going to be like that too, and I don’t blame them.

What I don’t understand is why POD self-publishers continue to push crappy books into existence. It is so easily avoided. Simply abide by Catherine’s Two Golden Rules for Not Adding to the Ever Growing Pile of Crappy Self-Published Books

1. First, Try To Sell Your Book

Continue reading

Self-Printing: Going Public

14 Mar

The decision was made: I was self-publishing.

Mousetrapped would finally see the light of a printed day and with any luck, I’d sell enough copies to keep me in ink cartridges while I worked on the real focus of my published writer dreams, i.e. The Novel. It was all very exciting.

Approximately three and half minutes later, reality struck. If I was going to have any hope of shifting the 20 copies that every self-publishing-related blog post, article or cautionary tale assured me would be best case scenario in terms of sales, then I had to actually tell people that I was doing it. I had to tell people about the book.

I wasn’t so excited about that, for the following reasons:

(NB: List not exhaustive.)

1. Stigma

As I’ve described in previous self-printing posts, I wasn’t all that enamored with the idea of self-publishing. To me, it wasn’t entirely unlike an actor writing, directing and starring in his or her own movie after failing to secure a part in anyone else’s, and although I’m a (little) bit ashamed to say this now, whenever I heard of someone self-publishing I rolled my eyes and shook my head (one after the other, not at the same time), bemused at the author’s deluded fantasies involving just-inside-the-door displays and national bestseller lists. I was sure the news that I was about to join these ranks would be met with a raised eyebrow, a dropped chin and a, ‘So you couldn’t get anyone to publish it then?’ Continue reading

Talking Purple Unicorns: Why I’m Calling It Self-Printing

9 Feb

Previously on Self-Printing: One Writer’s Journey Type-Thingy Through Self-Publication, I wrote a book about the eighteen months I spent living in Florida, working in Disney World and trying desperately to straighten my hair but despite great feedback from professional literary-types, Mousetrapped couldn’t find a home. I didn’t want to self-publish because it was always something I’d looked down on with such disdain that I feared the world would come off its axis with the shock should I ever change my mind.

But what was the alternative?

My options, as I saw it, were these:

(a) Never mention Mousetrapped again despite having told every single person I ever met that I was writing it

(b) Recycle the 400 sheets of paper it was printed on (double-spaced 12pt Courier, of course) and forget about it

(c) Have it bound in leather, leave it on the coffee table and tell guests – whether they asked about it or not – that it was my travel memoir, saying it in a French accent so it sounded all posh, i.e. mem-wah.

(d) Use a Print on Demand (POD) service to – yes, you’ve guessed it – print a few copies on demand so that I could sell it to the small group of people I knew for sure to be at least mildly interested in buying it, i.e. my parents, my relatives, my friends who were in it, my friends who’d wonder why they weren’t in it, a handful of Disney fans, a handful of NASA fans and the 30 or so people I’d squeeze into the Acknowledgements. Continue reading

SPS: Self Publishing Snobbery

30 Nov

LAST WEEK ON Self-Printing: One Writer’s Journey Thingy Through Self Publication Or Rather Self-Printing, As She’s Calling It, Because She’s Being Realistic: Catherine moves to Orlando for 18 months to work in Disney World. She writes a book about it. While submission feedback was good, common theme was too niche market/weird/etc. to publish so she decides to go it alone.

Up until recently I was a certifiable self-publishing snob, or SPS.

Incidentally, SPS was also NASA shorthand for the Apollo spacecraft’s Service Propulsion Engine. But I digress.

Here in the shadows of Ireland there is an organization that preys on the young, mildly talented and extremely gullible who I will call, for the purposes of this blog post of cynicism, Irish Artistry Incorporated. They claim to be a talent agency specializing in Irish models and actors, who can offer golden tickets for trips to the States to meet with ‘top’ agents, casting directors, pimps, etc. and at first glance, this is exactly what they look like.

But delve a little deeper. Their website has only one page – the main one – and lists news items about real Irish stars like Colin Farrell and Saoirse Ronan, the implication being that their success is somehow related to Irish Artistry. (It isn’t.) The advertise in local newspapers, holding ‘open auditions’ in shopping centers and hotel ballrooms, looking for the Next Big Thing. The prize is a trip to Hollywood, meetings with top agents, etc.

It isn’t until after you’ve made it through several rounds and ‘won’ that they tell you the so-called prize is merely the opportunity – you have to pay your own way on flights and accommodation, as well as their hefty fees – and they’ll never tell you that these so-called ‘top agents’ they associate with Stateside are total fraudsters.

Now if you work as a professional actor – as my brother does – you would immediately recognize Irish Artristy as being a big pile of Irish shite. Since their modus operandi is so far removed from the standard practice (i.e. train, act for free, build up CV, make showreel, send out to agents, eventually get called on for auditions), you could sniff their lies out from miles away. But if you don’t, well, you might be very easily taken in, especially if someone is telling you that you’re extremely talented and could go far.

And that’s pretty much how I saw self-publishing, the book world equivalent of Irish Artistry. Companies encouraged you to ‘submit your manuscript’ in the same way agents and publishers did, as if it wasn’t already a certainty that the only barrier between you and acceptance was the having of a credit card. Just like Irish Artistry’s unrelated news bulletins about bona fide Hollywood stars, these services claim that many of the world’s best-selling author printed their first works themselves.

They love to point out that by bypassing agents and publishing houses you’ll get to keep more of the sale price, but not that there’ll be a hell of a lot less sales and in fact, to sell more than a handful of copies to people you’re not friends with or related to will count as an achievement.

They offer distribution packages, marketing help, novelty bookmarks (the best one I’ve come across is press release help that merely polishes up a draft you’ve written yourself and nothing else, for ‘just’ €75) and imply that your book will be just like all the other ones – real, of bookstore quality and on the bookstore’s shelves.

They tell you that the big, bad publishing houses and the agents they’re supposedly in bed with don’t want you to know about services like this, because they threaten their livelihood.

Best of all, their service – which usually costs hundreds if not thousands of euros/pounds/dollars – includes an amazing 100 FREE COPIES OF YOUR BOOK!

Now I’ve been pursuing this published writer thing for almost ten years but for about seven of them I didn’t write much at all. Hardly anything, actually. Instead, my time was spent reading about writing, listening to other people talk about writing and sidling up to authors at book signings and readings (in a non-stalkerish, restraining order kind of way) hoping to absorb by some form of transference as yet undiscovered by the scientific community the motivation to start my novel, the talent to make it good, the perseverance to finish it and the luck to get it published.

This is how, nowadays, I am only too familiar with all do’s, don’ts, how’s, when’s and why’s of pursuing publication.

Uncomfortably familiar, even.

Okay, I’ll admit it: sometimes I lie awake at night wondering what font to submit in.

(Courier? Courier new? Times New Roman? Doesn’t matter because the writing should be good enough to transcend the typeface? Is the most important decision I’ll ever make because maybe my targeted agent has a thing against italics?)

But Ms. Suddenly Aspiring Author, the one who decides to write a book the way other people decide to read one,  having never even heard of double-spacing and happening upon one of these self-publishing services after clicking on a sponsored ad with the headline ‘Want to get published?’ (like it’s as simple as ‘Want fries with that?’), doesn’t know any better. All she knows is that she has a collection of short stories squirreled away in some drawer and that publishing them would add some much needed Alka-Selzer to her life. (There might even be a launch party…) What she doesn’t know is that (a) she’s about to had and (b) no one – not even her relatives – want to pay €15 for seven short stories involving underestimated housewives who, despite living in the Irish countryside, have oddly American-sounding names, wear Manolo Blahniks and never miss an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

Ironically, Ms. Aspiring Author’s ignorance will, in a small way, work in her favor. Whereas I would be mortified to walk into a bookshop and enquire if the manager would mind terribly, possibly, if he/she could, stocking one or two of my sub-standard, printed on demand, cover-looks-like-a-pile-of-poop excuses for a book, Ms. Aspiring Author will think nothing of it. She will call up the newspaper to tell them when’s good for her; I’d send them an anonymous e-mail and hope for the best. She will invite all her friends to a glitzy launch party; I’d publish under a pen name to hide it from mine. She will proudly announce that she’s a Published Author; I’d blush, look down and mutter, ‘Oh, it’s nothing, really,’ because I’d know it didn’t really count.

I’m still not sure it does count, even though now I’m doing it myself.

All I can do is try to make the book look, read and feel as little like a self-published book as possible.

Read all my self-printing posts or read about the book I self-printed.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

%d bloggers like this: