Posts Tagged Kindle

Where will self-publishing get quality control?

Last week I posted on Terri Giuliano Long’s site The Art and Craft of Writing Creatively and in the comments got into discussions about where indie publishing is heading. One of the commenters was Daniel Marvello, who afterwards sent me this email …

You said, ‘2012 will be the year we organise ourselves with quality control’. I love that! And I’d love to know what was in the back of your mind when you wrote it. What do you see changing in 2012?

(As you see from Daniel’s picture, he’s fond of the crystal ball.)

What was in the back of my mind? No big plan, unfortunately. I can see this is what we need, but I haven’t a grand solution. But there’s no better place to talk about it than on my blog with you guys.

For those of you who’ve sat down late, 2011 was the year when many high-profile fiction writers with respected followings went indie, and gave good reasons for doing so. Before then, if you self-published fiction you risked nuking your credibility. But it’s also led to a rash of people uploading to Kindle or CreateSpace or Smashwords but not taking care about quality. Result? It’s raining slush and nonsense. Readers who’ve bought unreadable books are muttering ‘vanity press’ all over again.

Not good.

Where does quality control come from in traditional publishing? From skilled professionals. Authors don’t do it on their own. Here’s Daniel again:

Most authors ignore advice to get an editor now. What might change that? What will prompt authors to let another set of eyes look at their manuscripts before they click “save and publish”? Can something be done to make such resources more appealing or easy to acquire and use?

The way I see it, there are two issues to address with quality control:

  • production – putting out a book with no grammar howlers, formatting glitches, funny typesetting or misprunts
  • whether the content is good enough.

One problem is very much easier to solve than the other, but let’s eat this elephant one bite at a time.

Production quality

Why do indie books fall down on production quality? Several reasons.

1 – Indie authors may not know what’s done to a book in traditional publishing.  They might have heard about the artistic side of editing – the developmental work to strengthen the story and literary quality. But they frequently don’t know about all the other trades who wade in once the words are right – copy editing, proof reading, text design, cover design, ebook formatting. Take any debut author who blogs and at some stage they’ll pen a gobsmacked post about how much checking and polishing goes on.
What might change this? We tell people, as often as possible, how much work goes into a published book. You don’t always need separate experts, but these jobs all need to be done. They’re not an optional extra.

2 These services cost money. Personally if I was new to publishing and someone told me I needed to pay for all that my reaction would be ‘pull the other one’ – especially as publishing on Kindle and Smashwords is free. But even when you do decide you’re going to invest, how do you find a reputable pro? Authors have always been easy targets for scammers. Not only that, there are hordes of people setting themselves up as editors when they haven’t the experience.
What might change this? Writers need to find out where the professionals go. A good start might be author groups – for instance, at Authors Electric we’re setting up a list of people we’ve used and would happily use again.

3 Some people simply refuse to be told. If I go into the reasons we’ll be here all day, but there are a lot of those. (You, my friends, are not, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog.)
What might change this? Confiscating their laptops, probably

Now that last remark may seem facetious and unnecessary, but it underlines a point. As indie authors we have to do everything we can to rise above the trigger-happy Kindlers, because they make it hard for the rest of us to be taken seriously.

Not just presentation

So we can lick production quality. That, as I said above, is the easy part. What about the content, the artistic merit? In traditional publishing, the lame books are rejected and the good ones go through a developmental stage. (Yes terrific books are rejected too, but the author is usually made well aware that they were good.) This brings me to another interesting question that Daniel raised.

If people won’t use editors, can we realistically replace them with critique groups and beta readers?

ie, is it possible to get all this input free?

Sorry, guys, I don’t think it is. In the real world that doesn’t come free. Agents and publishers do it as part of their job. Critical feedback of that type takes experience and judgement.

Critique groups and beta readers will give very valuable input, and should definitely be used as well. But they aren’t a substitute for professional critical help – they cannot give your book close, considered attention. I’m not advertising myself here, but when I critique a manuscript the work takes two concentrated weeks at least, with plenty of time taken to consider what the writer wants to do and how I’ll teach them what they need. (In fact, if you imagine your normal rate of pay for two weeks’ work, an editor’s fees start to look cheap. And it’s also why you can’t expect anyone to do it ‘on the side’.)

And another thing

There’s another issue we need to address with quality control. It’s letting good work rise on merit.

If you can have buyers’ markets and sellers’ markets, indie publishing is a marketers’ market. If you’re good at marketing, your book rises higher. But a lot of cool, exciting and original books aren’t getting the exposure they deserve.

Indies are starting to tackle this in author collectives – groups to curate the good authors. And proper, critical review sites where indie books are expected to be as good as anything traditionally published. Authors are already taking this into their own hands – Tahlia Newland with Awesome Indies, Authors Electric with Indie ebook Review, Multi-Story, Underground Book Reviews, The Kindle Book Review.

But each group or review site is only as good as its critical scruples.

Does this look familiar? It’s a system of gatekeepers. But hopefully, ones motivated by editorial integrity.

Here’s what we really need to do. Ultimately we need to reach readers way beyond our own little blogosphere of indie publishing. We need to win the respect of the major book reviewers, because right now we’re preaching to the choir, and this is not sustainable.

Thanks, Daniel, for kicking off a great discussion. Pic credits to Zeptonn & Troy J Morris (no relation). Guys, what do you reckon? Share in the comments!

It seems a natural moment to mention that my novel is up for the Summer Reads awards at Underground Book Reviews. The winner is decided on a vote, so if you’d like to tip the balance in my direction I’d be very grateful.

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It’s World Book Night – and The Red Season is free

Today and tomorrow – 23rd and 24th April – depending on your time zone, hundreds of thousands of bookworms are celebrating their love of reading with gifts in World Book Night (which you can find out more about here). At the Authors Electric blog we’re marking the occasion with a giveaway event of our own. One of the free titles is Episode 1 of My Memories of a Future Life – The Red Season, which you can find here (UK or US) – and while you’re at it you’ll also find nearly a dozen other fine books at the Authors Electric blog.

Edits forbid a proper writing post right now, as you probably guessed from all the moaning about sore arms. Anyway, I reckon with all those free goodies you’ll be knee deep in reading for a few days (and some titles are free for a few days afterwards so if you’re getting here late it’s still worth checking them out). There will be an Undercover Soundtrack as usual on Wednesday and I hope I’ll be back with a writing nugget next weekend. In fact, if you want to suggest a topic, now’s your chance. In the meantime, happy World Book Night.

Thanks for the pic, Sebastian Antony

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Stand up for good self-publishers – post at Authors Electric

I’m sick of seeing knee-jerk reactions to self-publishers, dismissing us as slushpile rejects, literary no-hopers, copycat dross, self-indulgent narcissists, vanity by another name. If that gets you riled too, you might like my latest post at Authors Electric, where we are having an awfully good rant…

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Should you publish your novel to build your platform?

Here’s a phrase I’m hearing alarmingly often: ‘I’m going to self-publish my novel and use it to build my platform’.

Sorry, but that’s the wrong way round.

Except in a very few cases, it doesn’t work.

Non-fiction

You can build a platform with a non-fiction book. If you’re offering expertise, it’s easy to find the people who need it. If you write about a life experience, you can connect with readers who seek similar support. And there are far fewer of you – and more room to be heard.

But novels?

Before you use your novel to launch your platform, go and look at Facebook. Goodreads. Twitter. Everyone is waving a novel.

The number of people you will reach by starting this way is negligible.

Successful self-publishers

There are many examples, of course, of successful self-published fiction authors. Everyone has their favourites to brandish. I’m going to talk about Joanna Penn. She didn’t start with a novel. She started with a blog – The Creative Penn  – and built a loyal following while she taught herself about the writing and publishing world. By the time she launched her first novel, Pentecost, she had a great relationship with a lot of people.

Relationships rock

Relationships are what sell books, both fiction and non-fiction. That’s what a platform is.

So to build your platform, get out there and blog, tweet, Facebook or whatever. Be natural, be yourself and build relationships. It’s also much less of a strain if you’re not trying to sell something.

And since you’re not using your novel to build your platform, what are you going to do with it?

You might as well, um, query with it.

Yes, query

Stop grinding your teeth at the back there. We’re agreed that relationships sell books? Agents have relationships with publishers. Publishers have relationships with distributors, the press, the places you cannot get reviewed if you do it all yourself. Yes, agents and publishers take their cut, but that’s because they have a much bigger reach than one little writer on their own.

If you don’t like the way a deal adds up, you can always refuse it. Or negotiate. But if you never try, you don’t know what might have happened. If you want to have a publishing career (and why otherwise would you build a platform) it make sense to explore all the options.

‘But every agent has different taste…’

Good writing is good writing. All agents are able to spot it. If you target enough agents who are a good fit for you, you will find out whether you are ready to go into print (or pixels) – or whether you should develop more. It is worth knowing that, isn’t it?

‘But it takes time…’

You’re going to have to spend that time building your network anyway. And what’s the hurry? You can’t – or didn’t – learn to write overnight.

‘But everyone’s publishing…’

I understand you’re impatient to get out into the big publishing party. Really I do. When I first held a book that was filled with my words I felt the earth quiver.

But I’m now seeing a lot of people who have whizzed onto Kindle, are finding their novel doesn’t sell, and are getting dispirited. That’s a shame. That’s the sound of dreams shattering.

Please don’t mutter the name of Amanda, the lady my friend Porter Anderson dubbed Amanda Hocking [example of everything]. That’s exactly what she is – an example of anything you like, including holy amounts of luck (and I wish her plenty more luck, BTW). But will the law of probabilities allow that to happen to you?

Build the relationship first

Relationships sell books. Build the relationship first, in whatever way you like, partnering with whoever seems right. That may be conventional industry routes; it may be creative collectives. Then you will have a platform, and you will have readers.

Thanks for the pic, Scottnj

While we’re on the subject of being grown-up about platforms, I’m planning a newsletter! Add your name to the mailing list here.

So, agree? Disagree? Sending the lynch mob…? I’m sure you’ll have plenty to say in the comments

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How long should a book be? Just right – guest post at Do Authors Dream of Electric Books

I don’t do waffle. We magazine sub-editors are Jedis of the delete key. We fillet flabby stories until they’re sharp and focussed. We know readers are busy and we don’t tolerate anyone who takes five paragraphs to explain something when one will do. I’ve always felt that books should be as long – or short – as the material deserves, but economic considerations have often forced authors to pad or to curtail artificially.

So today I’m at Authors Electric, happy to celebrate the emancipation of length… and books that are, like Goldilocks’s third porridge, just right.

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The accidental blogger – post at Do Authors Dream of Electric Books?

A couple of years ago I hadn’t heard of blogging, in fact my main thoughts about it was how ugly it was as a word. Then I started writing on a WordPress thingy and rather liked it. Now I blog like a woman with three arms, I’ve launched books because of blogs – and all in all I couldn’t do without them. It looks like a grand plan, especially in these days of platform-building and online presence, but really it’s all been haphazard happenstance … more at Do Authors Dream of Electric Books.

If you blog, how did you start? Why did you start? Do you find it easy, hard? How does it fit into your writing life?

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How serialising made me revise more tightly – guest post at Tuesday Serial

I’m at Tuesday Serial today, a weekly round-up of serial fiction being published throughout the web. They were curious to know about my experiences releasing My Memories of a Future Life as four parts on the Kindle, which is how I originally launched. Thinking back, it made me revise more sharply – and I’m glad I did because it surely strengthened the novel. Come over and see, on Tuesday Serial -or any day you like…

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Put through my paces by Guys Can Read: literary writing, storytelling and the brave new world of indie books

Today I’m back at Guys Can Read, the weekly podcast books discussion hosted by Luke Navarro and Kevin McGill. Luke and Kevin adore fiction, period. They review everything from Jonathan Franzen to Star Wars novels, with equal expectations of great storytelling, strong characterisation and robust themes. They’re not afraid to pick apart what doesn’t work, regardless of how hallowed it might be, to venture into genres outside their usual tastes (which are pretty wide anyway) and to celebrate a darn good book even if it’s in a genre that’s normally sneered at. Kevin’s also just released his own rip-roaring fantasy adventure, Nikolas and Company: A Creature Most Foul, now available on Amazon.

I’ve been on their show a few times and was thrilled they wanted me along now that I’ve released My Memories of a Future Life. We started by talking about the novel but soon ventured into wider discussion. We nattered about aspects of literary writing that can get in the way of the story and characters. We talked about indie publishing – as a choice to connect more closely with readers, whether it’s risky for writers with an established career, and how readers and writers will in future be setting the publishing agenda just as much as commercial publishers.  Oh, and whether I get away with opening my novel with a whinge scene. Come on over.

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I made you up. Honest. Red-faced guest post at Do Authors Dream of Electric Books

That dingy, dowdy town in My Memories of a Future Life? Nowhere that really existed was horrid enough so I made it up. I gave it a name that loosely rhymed with ‘Hell-on-earth’. And do you know what? A friend has emailed me to say Vellonoweth, give or take an o, really exists.

So today I’m red-faced at Do Authors Dream of Electric Books, grovelling. Do come along and save me from the residents’ pitchforks.

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Should you serialise your novel on Kindle… like I did? The results of my launch experiment

About a month ago, I launched My Memories of a Future Life on Kindle in 4 parts. A Dickensian adventure in serialisation, rekindled for the ebook generation.

I had great fun and plenty of hair-tearing. For instance, it was never clear exactly how long the Kindle store would take to make the episodes live, so I had to publish days in advance and keep them quiet until the witching hour. (Some of you still seemed to find them…) My computer was starting to look like a duplication hallucination with multiple covers, textfiles and whatnot.

But was it a good idea? If you’re releasing an ebook, should you serialise too? Today Jane Friedman has invited me to her blog to tell all.

Not that Jane?

Jane is a former publisher at Writer’s Digest and a prolific and respected speaker on writing, publishing, and the future of media, including South by Southwest, BookExpo America, and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Her expertise has been featured by sources such as NPR’s Morning Edition, Publishers Weekly, GalleyCat, PBS, The Huffington Post, and Mr. Media. She has consulted with a range of nonprofits, businesses, and creative professionals, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Creative Work Fund, and the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati. It says it all that one of her nicknames is ‘Not-that Jane’.

Before I started, I wondered in a blog post if serialising my novel would be genius or plain dumb. Come to Jane’s blog, where I confess all…

3 ways to try My Memories of a Future Life: Read a sample on Kindle, or on Bookbuzzr – or I can read it to you

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