Thursday, November 29, 2012

Writers: Beware! (and Readers: Be Aware!)

If you haven't heard about Simon & Schuster joining forces with Author Solutions, well, it has.

And Author Solutions was recently bought by Pearson—the same corporate entity that owns Penguin.

That latter detail is…worrisome in itself, but when you pair it with Simon & Schuster jumping in…

First, for any readers who don't know, Author Solutions is the parent of many, many vanity presses, the type that are known in the writing world for charging would-be authors thousands of dollars to get their book in print—and screwing them over in further hidden fees, in the quality of editing, the layout, the printing, the…

I think you get the idea.

All you would-be authors out there: You can get your 80,000-word book edited, proofread, and formatted to self-publish in print and e-book form for $1,000. Or less. It's even possible to get another proofread and the cover design tossed in, at that price, depending on what kind of editing your book needs.

Thanks to POD (Print on Demand) technology, writers no longer have to buy thousands of copies of your book to self-publish it, which makes self-publishing a viable career option for more situations than it used to be. (That thousands-of-copies method is viable—and still ideal—in some situations, mainly business-type ones. But for most of us, POD is the better option.)

Readers: Thanks to the outlier success stories, self-publishing is currently a popular get-rich-quick scheme. I suspect it'll get worse before it gets better, but self-publishing is like Mary Kay makeup: Folks who dabble won't last long. Folks who make a business out of it can do well. Folks who jump in with unrealistic expectations will crash and burn, getting loudmouthed and bitter about it being a "scam" (though it isn't).

I dabbled in selling Tupperware, a decade back. I know how it goes. *wink*

The companies from Author Solutions are often termed "vanity presses", because most authors spend thousands of dollars and get nothing to show for it but a garage full of books and the ability to say "I had a book published."

That's why anybody who takes great pains to stress "We are not a vanity press!" is probably lying. A "vanity press" targets folks who are unlikely to benefit from its publication model and plays sales hardball to get them to dish out their hard-earned cash.

Sales hardball gets my hackles up. Softball, fine. Hardball, ulgh.

But I'm also an experienced copywriter. I recognize sales tactics pretty quickly. Not everyone does.

What does that have to do with the Author Solutions thing?

Author Solutions targets folks who don't know that they don't have to spend thousands of dollars—and give up half their income from vendors—to get their book(s) published. (To be fair, Harlequin has also been in this pond, but I'm not sure if they still are—though that company has some, ah, issues of its own that may not be unique to them—but it's hard to say, since these things often seem to get hushed up.)

Penguin and Simon & Schuster are now partnered with or connected to Author Solutiosn. Writers therefore need to beware of both vanity presses themselves—and to be aware of their connections. Do you want to seek or sign a contract with a publisher that has ties to such a vanity press?

Even as a reader, I personally am considering boycotting publishers tied to vanity presses like that, even though at least two authors' series on my auto-buy list are from those publishers, and a quick Google search says more such series are from subsidiaries of those publishers.

As an author, if I had a contract with one of those publishers, I would be very interested in my contracts' termination clauses, and I would be unlikely to sign with

Thus why I say "Be Aware!" to readers: Not infrequently, series are orphaned, end up unfinished, even when the author's willing to continue signing with a publisher. I suspect the number of unfinished or delayed series will increase, a few years from now.

Why "a few years"? Because that's when contracts signed today often end up being effective, in the publishing world.

Not that I think many authors are going to drop their publishers. Writers as a group put up with a lot of junk. Laura Resnick's essay collection Romance, Rejection, and Royalties comes to mind, and I could name more examples, but that would gett off-topic.

So writers: Beware of sales gimmicks—and be aware that you might be losing some readers for no fault of your own.

And readers: Be aware that some of your favorite authors might be having dry spells, soon.

What are your thoughts on vanity presses? Have any predictions about how things'll shake out?


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's the first time my out-of-state family has visited for Thanksgiving, so I'll be out with them when this posts. It'll be the first time my cousin and her husband have been here, so that'll be interesting.

Have a great rest of the week, even if this isn't a holiday where you live!


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Some Ideas on Series Cover Branding

(Thank Camille LaGuire for making me think of this as a blog-worthy topic.) Some say the cover makes or breaks an e-book, since it's the first impression. Some say that it doesn't matter—the content does.

And then there's the detail that what's appealing to one person is downright revolting to someone else. Either way, you can't win. (I could give examples of some recently released covers that I don't like at all, though others do—but that would be rude.)

But one thing I'm coming to appreciate more is the concept of series branding.

I read a lot. In fact, I'll sometimes skip lunch to be able to afford a book. (Can't always do that, due to to hyperthyroidism, but when I can…)

As a reader, I get frustrated when I like a book, go looking for the related ones, and can't easily figure out from the vendor page which ones to buy.

As an author, I know that there's only so much an author can do to enable a reader to easily peruse the book list and know, "Okay, there's book 2, 3, and 4. *purchase*"

Seems to me that cover branding—making the series recognizable at a glance—could go a long way towards doing that.

Author branding? Eh. I have specific aesthetics that I prefer on a cover (title on top, byline on bottom—which will be apparent in a moment), and I can let that work as branding.

But how to brand a story world?

And then how to distinguish the short stories from the novels?

And what about distinguishing story narrators?

I've been struggling with this for quite some time. The Aleyi novels, I decided how to brand a while ago, but my other works? I've been floundering.

Knowing myself, it's likely that the failure to have this figured out has also been contributing to my difficulty with writing. (Subconscious avoidance, because I don't have covers finished. I'm learning that my subconscious loves doing things like that.)

Everything I came up with kept looking so busy. Ulgh.

I had an epiphany for what I could do—something that would let readers distinguish short story, story world, and story narrator at a glance. (Although the story narrator issue admittedly isn't a big deal at the moment with what I have released, it's an oddly big deal to me.)

And then there were the sales vendor updates that changed the cover requirements, enough that I had to go back to the drawing board.

Or so I'd thought. When I updated Gimp recently, I—finally!—got the plug-in I've been searching for, a plug-in that lets me not have to go back to the drawing board. ^_^

I've created updated e-book covers for the Darkworld stories, and I'll be doing it for the Aleyi ones, too. (I've not put the covers on the stories yet—I have to update the cover credits in the files.)

So… What was my epiphany?

Use specific cover traits for author, length, series, and narrator.

Author: Byline across bottom, title across top.

Novels will be text worked into the image. Short stories will not (and have colored bars behind the byline, etc.). Novellas and novelettes will have traits of both, the length determining which one it skews towards.

Series: Specific font choices, and specific traits to the color bars.

Main Character: Color of those colored bars.

What on earth am I talking about?


I might adjust some details, but that's the crux of my design idea. (Comment on them if you like, but that's not why I posted them. ^_^)

Wait, you're wondering what "Kill Jill" is?

*grin* I suspect you'll be able to read that short story in a few months.

In the meantime, it's amazing how refreshing it can feel to have a ready-to-go cover.

Do you like when an author's covers easily brand for length? What traits do you like in covers?


Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Unintended Hero

I have a confession: Lyn Burgess, the MC for the "PRIMpriety" stories and other, as-yet unreleased stories, has bewildered me for a while.

She's foul-mouthed, bitter, angry…and mysteriously easy to write and fun to read. I've been mulling on it for some time, trying to figure it out.

But then I read the guest post from Tiffany Reisz over on Janice Hardy's blog, which talks about the Han Solo–type hero… and I realized that the post was describing Lyn.

She's a scoundrel. She won't think twice about killing you if you give her reason, and she'll even eat you if she can get away with it. (Er, she's a vampire.) But she's willing to help you out if you bother to ask her, and she's not above volunteering for a situation that she's particularly gifted to handle, if nobody else would be as well-suited for it.

She isn't EvonalĂ©, who wants to be selfish as long as nobody else will suffer for it. She isn't Destiny, who hates being selfish but has reason to believe that more folks will suffer if she isn't. But…

It's like that motif of a harlot or a rake that's just waiting for the right person to pull him or her into a committed, monogamous relationship: A scoundrel Lyn might be, but she has a heart of gold.

Lyn isn't pleasant, and she isn't nice—but, like other characters that I've found appealing in other folks' works, she isn't some sadistic monster, either.

Between her enemies and her being trapped in a body that's lethally allergic to sunlight and that's taking centuries to age from child to adult, she's even downright pitiable.

Maybe that's what appeals to me. She makes no apologies for what she is or what she does, but she's not scrambling to crush everyone else beneath her. No, she's just carving out her own little bit of life, to survive in peace, and she's willing to do whatever she must, to pull that off, and to help others in her position who lack her particular abilities.

And maybe that makes her a hero.

What do you think? Does the scoundrel hero appeal to you, or are you more of a Luke Skywalker fan? Have any hero examples to share?


Thursday, November 1, 2012

News: A Fistful of Earth + CreateSpace Editions Are Here!

At long last (and as some have already discovered), A Fistful of Earth is here—and so is the print edition for A Fistful of Fire (with the print version of A Fistful of Earth in the final stage before release)! (Er, a print version is also available for "PRIMpriety", if you're interested in that one.)

And as a bonus for my blog readers, use the coupon code G55ELYAK to get a discount on any of the CreateSpace titles. (Note that this code will not last forever, so get the discount while you can!)

The e-book versions of A Fistful of Fire and A Fistful of Earth cost $4.99—a price that won't last forever. In a few weeks, I'll be raising the price to $6.99 per e-book, which is still a deal compared to the costs of what publishers like Ace charge for the genre ($7.99+), and compared to the cost of the print version.

Enough said on that front, methinks. Wouldn't want to start sounding whiny or apologetic. ^_^

So, if you want the books (and remember to use the coupon code G55ELYAK if getting the print version):

Print Versions:

A Fistful of Earth E-Versions:

*The Barnes & Noble website seems to be having some trouble, due to Hurricane Sandy. So if you want to buy the book from the B&N store, I would recommend waiting at least a few more days, first. The cover's gone AWOL and the EPUB file seems corrupted, and the system won't accept my re-upload.

So. Here we are: All caught up (finally!) from that Kickstarter thing. (Well, except for two donors who won't give me the info I need to give them their particular bonuses, but that's not my fault. You two know whom you are. *poke*)

If I hit my writing goals for NaNoWriMo*, we'll see about either audio versions (or a Kickstart for audio) being next… Assuming anyone's interested in audio? I've already been chatting with some narrators and running the numbers for it, and audio is a whole lot cheaper than translation (which is…expensive).

*For anyone who doesn't know: NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month, wherein a bunch of masochists get together and seek to write 50k words in the month of November and often discover how doable it is.

Not that I always write 50k words per month—yeah, I suck at those goals—but I'm going to try setting it as a time goal, this coming month. I suspect that might work better.

What do you most want to see from me next (on the blog, as a released story, etc.)? Would you be interested in audio versions for my fiction?

What will you be writing or reading, this month?


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