Bold, Beautiful Bastards

I just read Laurie Gough’s (www.twitter.com/lauriegough) Huffington Post piece, Self-Publishing: An Insult to the Written Word published on December 29, 2016 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laurie-gough/selfpublishing-an-insult-_b_13606682.html).

As most of you know, I’m the self-published author of Winthrop Risk, Detective–The Mystery of the Missing Hamster (Amazon and Kindle), so Ms. Gough’s assessment of self-publishing and “wannabe” writers pissed me off more than just a tad.

Ms. Gough opines that self-publishing is “…an insult to the written word, the craft of writing, and the tradition of literature.”  She fears that “…writing itself is becoming devalued.”  In her mind, self-publishing is something bad writers “resort to” when they can’t get a traditional publisher to back their work.  It’s acceptable, she says, for a writer to self-publish “…especially if they’re elderly.  Perhaps they want to write their life story and have no time to learn how to write well enough to be published traditionally.”  In other words, let the old folks self-publish because they might croak before they’re good enough to grab the attention of an agent.  How generous of her.

You get the impression someone put her up to this.

I will concede her point that there is a lot of crap out there. But there are also people with great potential who just haven’t quite learned how to polish a manuscript that could have used a few more trips through the sieve. It’s the ultimate school of hard knocks and the marketplace will weed out the less than serious authors.  Gough’s article hysterically labels self-publishing and self-published writers as disrespectful, wannabes, an insult, and taking short cuts.  Indeed, the only similarity she sees between published and self-published books is that “…they each have words on pages inside a cover.”

Well, golly gee! That there sounds like hubris to my wannabe ears!

Ms. Gough is clearly laboring under some false assumptions, the tip of her nose having obscured her vision.  Let’s review.

Gough feels self-published authors haven’t been at it long enough and rush their manuscripts to print. Really? It took me more than a year and multiple revisions to write Winthrop Risk, which is a simple four-chapter mystery written for early readers.  I labored over every word, every character, and every scene. It was critiqued by my writing group. Rushed to print? Not on your life. I busted my ass and it’s a damn fine book.

What about those gatekeepers Gough has such high regard for?  The gatekeepers have a nasty habit of getting it wrong.  We’ve all heard the stories about famous authors whose manuscripts were rejected over and over again before finally becoming bestsellers.  Sometimes it’s as simple as which intern happens to pick your envelope from the slush pile.  It’s something of a crap shoot. In fact, I suspect a great many manuscripts are never read, particularly if they’re submitted on line. I once got a rejection e-mail seconds after hitting “send”.  Most publishers won’t even consider a writer who lacks an agent, and far too many agents don’t want to work with an unknown.  The gatekeepers Ms. Gough is so fond of have dug themselves a nice little moat and filled it with crocodiles.  Excuse me while I go around the castle and maintain ownership and control of what I worked so hard to create.

I know a fine writer who went the traditional route.  She queried an agent and won representation.  A publisher expressed interest in her work and asked for some revisions, which were dutifully supplied.  Then the publisher decided they weren’t interested after all.  Screw that.

Is self-publishing an insult to the art of writing? Who decides? Is it the same type of educated knucklehead that decided a crucifix in a jar of urine was art? My idea of what makes a good children’s story is very different from a lot of what’s out there today. I hate political correctness and hold in the greatest contempt authors who use children’s publishing to push their particular ideology; but if you’re a social justice warrior with a love for F-bombs, you’re pretty much a shoe-in.  Books along the lines of “Timmy’s dog was run over by a bus today” or “Hey, mom! Grandma’s dead!” or “The problem with white people is…” may be popular with adults, but no normal, healthy kid wants that for a bedtime story.  The written word may not be getting the respect it deserves, but that disrespect isn’t coming from me.  Blame the gatekeepers.

Ms. Gough seems to have gotten stuck in some sort of time warp as she confuses old school vanity publishing with self-publishing.  I have great news for her.  I didn’t pay a dime to Kindle to get my book out there.  And I didn’t spend one minute “…sitting back and waiting for a stack of books to arrive…” at my door.  Publishing on Kindle is free and the books are printed on demand and shipped directly to the buyer.  Much more eco-friendly than traditional publishing, by the way.  Maybe Gough has watched too many movies.  I’m reminded of Dennis Farina’s character in “Authors Anonymous” as he sits at a folding table at the local hardware store, trying to sell copies of his awful book.

I’ve only sold a handful of books and I have no marketing apparatus to help me.  I’m flying blind, but I’m flying. I’m doing what I’ve always dreamed of doing and I’m doing it well.  I’ve done it on my terms, held true to my own vision, and I don’t have to share the little money I earn with the publishing bullies.

So to all my fellow self-published authors who write and create wonderful art without representation and without fetters, bravo.

Brazen, bold, beautiful bastards, all.

 

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Is the Ad Worth the Price?

I’ve been getting emails from Amazon offering an advertising package for my children’s book, Winthrop Risk, Detective.

Seems they’ll have my book turn up here and there when someone searches for something in my genre.  Each time someone clicks on my book, I have to pay Amazon something like 25 cents.

Have any of you self-published daredevils used Amazon’s service?

Was it worth the price?

 

Time for a little shameless promotion

I wrote this mini-mystery for kids who are outgrowing picture books but aren’t ready for a full-blown novel. Four entertaining chapters of mystery, the school bully, loyalty, and finding out who your friends are.  Available on Amazon and Kindle.  And don’t forget to write a review!

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We’re All Still Writing

I just read a wonderful book about writing, “Still Writing–The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life,” (Grove Press) by Dani Shapiro @danijshapiro, so let me start by saying I give it very high marks and strongly recommend it.  This isn’t a book about the fastest way to get an agent or the latest marketing gimmicks.  It’s about writing and being a writer.

What a relief.

I’ve read several books about writing over the years. They serve as a sort of creative boost for me when I can’t seem to get the words out. I feel, in some way, that these books give me permission to want to write.  I wish I could explain that.  I guess I sometimes feel like I’ve walked into the lobby of a private club and I don’t have an ID card to show to the guy at the desk.  I keep expecting the bouncer to show up and tell me I have no business being there.

When I read an interview with a writer, the thing I most want to hear about isn’t how they got their agent or how they got published–I want to hear about their process.  What is their day like?  Do they write at home or in a café?  In pajamas in bed, or dressed and in an office?  Are they outliners or do they write as they go along?  It’s not that I can’t figure out my own writing process (I know very well how my brain works), but I continue to be fascinated by how other writers get the job done.

Other writers.  Did I just include myself in that category?

Confession:  For those who don’t know me, I am a newly self-published children’s author (Winthrop Risk, Detective–The Mystery of the Missing Hamster available on Amazon and Kindle).  Check it out.

I remember years ago when the idea of self-publishing was considered something to be embarrassed about, as if people were sitting in their basements writing porn.  “Vanity publishing” they called it back then, because obviously anyone who thought they knew better than the publishing world had to possess a monstrous ego.  Picture a would-be author spending a small fortune to have their book printed, only to be left with boxes of unsold books stuffed in an attic someplace.  There was no Amazon back then, no Kindle.   It was risky, and I don’t know if anyone was actually successful at it.

The simple truth is that if you can’t get agents or publishers to consider your work (or you just want to bypass them altogether and maintain creative control) and you decide to self-publish, you had better be sure the publishing gatekeepers are wrong.  Very wrong.

The ease of self-publishing has, I understand, cluttered the literary landscape with a lot of badly written or badly edited books.  I guess for some people the desire to be published races past their desire to write and edit well and the result is…unfortunate.  I think I’ve avoided that particular pitfall.  I hope you will, too.

Trying to Prime the Pump

With the first book in the Winthrop Risk Mysteries out, I’ve been trying to get back to writing the second book. I love the main character, Winthrop.  I didn’t want to create a character who starts out afraid of his own shadow and grows to realize how great he really is at the end of the story.  No.  That would make him a pansy and I don’t like pansies.  I wanted a character who, though smaller than the other kids and considered a loser, had great self-confidence and knew exactly who he was from the very first sentence.

Carrying that character forward is really the easy part.  His Chandleresque dialogue is a blast to write and I actually came up with most of that before I had the plot in place for the first book.  There will be a couple of recurring characters.  The difficulty is that while writing a child’s version of a mystery, one can’t introduce any dead bodies, drug dealers, or torrid affairs.  It has to be clean and not too scary.  Some form of theft is OK, as long as the bad guys don’t carry weapons.  I’m working on making the setting creepy by focusing on Winthrop’s school and how it looks at dusk.  My young characters aren’t allowed out to roam the streets after dark on a school night.  The exact nature of the mystery and the motive continue to elude me, though I’ve jotted down several possibilities.

I’m not one to read mysteries.  I will watch the occasional “cozy” mystery on TV and I’m a rabid fan of Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock.  I spent a good part of yesterday watching a few cozy mysteries and the formula is pretty much the same in all of them.  Not a great deal of violence, but a lot of dead bodies.  They all seem to involve someone (usually a woman) who isn’t a detective but always manages to outwit the local police department and solve the mystery before they do.  I picked up another Raymond Chandler book in the Philip Marlowe series for inspiration, and a book about writing mysteries.  Letting the analytical portion of my brain work on one thing allowed the creative portion to spit out the occasional idea, and I kept my pen and notebook handy to catch them before they were forgotten.

I’ve heard it said that some people want to be writers and others want to have written.  Having written, I find myself luxuriating in the feeling of getting back to the blank page, the random notes, and thinking about what comes next.  It’s good to have written, but being a writer is where the fun really is.

Word-2-Kindle Rocks!

You’ll recall I had pulled my new book, Winthrop Risk, Detective, from Kindle because I couldn’t get the formatting right.  A little Google search turned up a service called  Word-2-Kindle.com and with a little help from the wonderful Nick Caya, my book is professionally formatted and is officially for sale on Kindle!

Amazon’s CreateSpace wanted $79 to format the book for Amazon’s Kindle.  Displeased with Amazon scratching its own back at my expense, I went in search of a more reasonably priced and responsive service.  Enter Nick of Word-2-Kindle!  For $49, he had my book reformatted within 2 days.  When I had trouble opening the file (not Nick’s fault but due to my own lack of computer savvy), my plea for help was answered in just minutes and I was able to finish the Kindle publishing process.

As self-published authors, we have to wear a lot of hats:  writer, creative director, publicist, marketing guru, etc.  One thing I can’t be is a computer whiz. I tried.  Believe me, I tried. I figured I could keep trying and failing or I could admit my shortcomings and employ someone who knew what they were doing. I think I made a good call.

 

 

 

Quite the Learning Curve

There’s a lot you don’t know when you set about to self-publish your book.  Getting the manuscript to Amazon, ordering a proof, and getting it out there was pretty easy.  I did change the font and line spacing. Keep in mind that what looks OK on typewritten pages is pretty hard on the eyes in book form. Choose something bolder than Courier and definitely spend a few bucks (mine was about $5) and order a printed proof of your book. You won’t regret it. It’s probably something you can write off as a business expense; but since I have to pay someone to do my taxes because I can’t get past the part where I fill out my name, you might want to check with your accountant.  Just sayin’.

Then there’s Kindle. Create Space and Kindle are both Amazon related, so you would think the conversion of your book from the print form of Create Space would translate easily to the e-book form of Kindle. Shockingly, this is not so.  In fact, for those of us who are not computer literate (i.e., the over 50 crowd), the process can be quite frustrating. I kept doing what they said to do (at least what I thought they said to do) and the manuscript on the Kindle preview still looked choppy and ridiculous. I don’t do choppy and ridiculous.

Create Space will generously (wink, wink) reformat your manuscript to work on Kindle for a paltry sum of $79 (US).  In my more paranoid moments, I think Create Space is just drumming up business for itself by screwing up the manuscripts it sends over to Kindle. Not one to be hornswoggled, I found another service that will do the deed for $49. If they do a good job I’ll sing their praises here.  If they screw it up, the blog post will be lengthy and vitriolic.

Anyway, I’m going to enjoy an adult beverage while I wait to hear back from the formatting dude.  Hopefully, I’ll have good news in the next day or so.

And so, the deed is done…

I did it. My first book, Winthrop Risk, Detective, is officially listed on Amazon and will also be available on Kindle in a few days.

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Now I have to get the word out. When I was submitting the story to traditional publishers, I had trouble categorizing the book, and that may have hurt my chances with them. It isn’t a picture book but it isn’t a novel, either. It’s a four chapter book that falls somewhere in between. A child of about 9 years of age should be able to handle it alone.  It runs about 36 pages and is a fun read, if I do say so myself.  Because the hero in the story uses a child’s version of 1930s detective vernacular, I included a little glossary of terms in the back of the book.  I hope you’ll check it out.  I plan for it to be a series (The Winthrop Risk Mysteries) and book two is in the very rough first draft stage.  Many thanks to the Lake Saint Clair Writers group for critiquing the manuscript for the first book and giving me the thumbs up.

I Think We Already Knew This

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/most-authors-earn-less-than-minimum-wage-from-their-writing-survey-finds-10191009.html

Why is writing so undervalued?  Is the situation due, as one commenter said, to the number of awful self-published books out there? Are stories told in books of less value than those in songs, movies, or paintings?

I doubt this is a recent development. From what I’ve read, there are very few writers from any era who have really made a killing in this business.  Are only publishers making a decent living?  Are writers being made to carry too much of the financial burden in the form of low royalties when it comes to the physical production of the finished book?

Why isn’t writing, as an art form, worth more money?

The Self-Publishing Dilemma for Picture Book Authors

I wonder sometimes how much great literature has been lost for lack of a publisher or agent.

I have a friend who writes YA novels and publishes them online. It’s a viable way to go; but if you’re a picture book author and can’t draw a convincing stick figure, you’re out of luck. Without illustrations, it ceases to be a picture book; and when you’re writing for little people who can’t read for themselves or are just learning to read, those illustrations are essential to the book’s success. Simply e-publishing the words won’t do.

My sister sent me an article about some whiz kid named Charlie Kadado who, at the age of 17 (17!!!!), wrote a picture book and landed a publisher. Unhappy with the terms of his contract (25 cents per book), he decided to self-publish. So he hired an illustrator and published his first picture book, Perry Finds His Talent. The kid has chutzpah. I like that.

Charlie started Boundless Talents, a self-publishing company in Troy, Michigan, not too far from where I sit. It looks promising, though to date the website’s information is incomplete. It looks like Boundless Talents will be a full-service publisher, including illustrations and marketing, for those who want to bypass the traditional publishing houses and maintain control of their art, or who just can’t seem to get their foot in the traditional door. I wish Charlie and all of his future clients great success.

I have no lack of confidence in my stories. I think children would enjoy them and the books would sell. But money is a huge problem in that I don’t have any. I’ve checked out a couple of self-publishers and the fees are pretty scary. Some don’t provide illustrators, so you’re on your own as far as finding and paying for one. Some just print the books and leave all the marketing and distribution to the author. It’s a risky and expensive way to go.

The folks providing the self-publishing services have no real stake in an author’s work. They don’t collect royalties (as far as I know). They’re paid up front for their services and just put the product out there (often no further than delivering a box of books to the author’s home). What I would give for some middle ground! How about a publishing package that’s priced a little lower (OK, maybe a lot lower) in exchange for a cut of the book’s profits? That would certainly provide incentive for the marketing department to be aggressive while allowing the author to retain the rights and most of the money a book earns. Obviously, if they didn’t think the book had great sales potential, the self-publishing service would be under no obligation to offer such a package and could charge the standard fees.

Self-publishing has come a long way over the last few years, growing from the disdained “vanity publishing” of the past to a viable publishing option for today’s aspiring writers. If it evolves a little further, it might be an option for all of us.