When bad publishers attack… again…

It’s not a big secret that every now and then a publisher pops up that seems to be good at the outset and then flounders like a fish out of water, gasping for air before flopping to a ‘orrible death. We’ve seen a lot of these on the Absolute Write forum, mostly because of the plethora of one-person outfits that start up with the best of intentions (to publish their own works) and end up in water way over their head.

The most recent implosion seems to be Ridan Publishing and Robin Sullivan. In a nutshell she created Ridan to publish her husband’s work (which later got picked up by Orbit and is doing quite well) and later took on other authors. She came to the attention of the AW crew mostly because of her claims that seems to be, well… outlandish. That she could pay high royalties and maintain a high sell rate despite never updating her website or doing much promotion other than cranking out ebooks with fabulous covers (courtesy of her husband) and give the author a contract that had an opt-out clause that could be invoked within 30 days – hardly standard for the industry.

Unfortunately these dreams came to a smashing halt with the discovery last week that she wasn’t paying royalties to A.C. Crispin for her Starbridge series, out of print and which Ms Crispin wanted to see back in print to provide funds for her medical costs. Now if you don’t know who Ms Crispin is… well, let’s just say she’s a Big Name in the author world and you really don’t want to mess with her.

Ms Crispin hadn’t seen royalties for a year on these books and no communicaton with Ridan/Robin Sullivan. She invoked her clause to opt out of the relationship but the registered letter sat at the post office.

Nada.

Nothing.

Then Jim C. Hines got into the picture. Again, if you don’t know who he is – let’s just say that he’s quite Da Man. It seems that his threat to “drop the internet” on Robin’s head prompted a phone call from Sullivan to Ms Crispin and the news came out that they were negotiating an amicable split.

Then this, just today.  On the Kindleboards where RS and Ridan basically made their reputation for supporting self-published authors and where she plucked a few for her personal stable. To say it’s insulting and disgusting is to understate the obvious. She not only throws down the amount of money she owes Ms Crispin, violating the trust between author and publisher, she blows off the entire situation and twists it around to make herself look like the good guy for doing what she’s doing to “help out”.

Gobsmacked, I iz.

This illustrates, unfortunately, a trend we’re seeing more and more of online – small one-person outfits who just can’t handle the work of running a company single-handedly and get in way over their head. There’s been numerous examples over the years tracked in AW of these people dragging down not only the authors they pull into their whirlpool but also editors, artists and others who get trapped when the sole person gets sick or has a personal crisis or something else. Whatever the reason the authors are left high and dry because there’s no one else to do the work or send out the checks or get the books released.

If nothing else the Ridan story should be a warning sign for all authors looking for a publisher – if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. And a small outfit, especially with only one person on the payroll can easily lock up your rights for a long, long time.

As regards this situation – I can safely say I wouldn’t recommend Ridan to my worst enemy right now.

As with all things – imo, jmmv.

Why you shouldn’t listen to me…

Every once in a while I get asked for writing advice, either in RL or in Second Life where I run around as a tiny clockwork dragon and hang out in steampunk sims. And I have the same answer for both lives – don’t ask me for writing advice!

Why?

Because I’m not one to ask. I’m a tough old broad who lucked out after a decade of writing fanfiction into finding editors and publishers willing to take a chance on my original fiction and actually PAY me to write my dreams down. I might be a decent writer and I sure like to think I can spin a yarn that’ll have you plunking down coin to purchase but I’m in no position to deliver golden words o’wisdom on writing.

However, being a writing craft book junkie, I *can* point you to people who know what they’re talking about and who have much, much more credibility than I do in this writing business.

Here they are – just a handful off my fat shelf of writing books and in no particular order – but I think that during this crazy month of NaNoWriMo everyone deserves to discover these gems.

Chuck Wendig

His books on writing are cheap, profane and will kick you in the nuts to get writing. Not for the weak of heart but it’s just what a writer needs at times.

James Scott Bell

The Art of War for Writers is an excellent book plus all of his nonfiction works. Buy, read, digest…

Writers Digest Books – Write Great Fiction series

Written by different authors including Mr. Bell above, this is a must-have for authors looking to kick their writing to a new level. Available in ebook form as well for those of us looking to save shelf space.

I could go on and I might in another post but these are a few of the books on my writing craft shelf that really helped me become a better writing – and keep on becoming, since I reread them at regular intervals.

As with all things literary – your mileage might vary. But I think these are some of the best books out there helping new writers (and old ones) improve and if you haven’t checked them out – you should.

Keep on writing and keep on having fun!

Now… tea!

 

Beware of False Profits, or, Ramblings of an Old Dragon Broad

Today I feel the urge to discuss, or at least toss out my views on, the Imminent Death Of Print Publishing.

Yeah, again.

*stifles yawn*

I remember, a thousand years ago when computers first crept onto the scene. The VIC20, with 20K of memory. Really. 20K. No one knew how to use that much memory!

Really.

*snerks*

Move on upwards and forwards, through the Commodore 64 and the PC and the Mac and now I’m sitting here working on an “old” laptop that has more memory in it than the mainframes I used in highschool to program Basic onto punchcards. Yes, I’m *that* old.

And back then we had the prophets going forth, the ones announcing that paper was dead and that we’d be saving the Amazonian rain forests because we were weeks, maybe months away from having Star Trek-type of pads that would do everything for us and we’d never use paper again.

*looks around house*

Nope. Paper still here. Lots of it. Plenty of books, too.

In fact I’m not really sure that a single tree has been saved in the long run because everyone likes to have their records on paper, somewhere, somehow. The receipt from the bookstore. The check for that stereo system. That textbook that isn’t out in ebook form and that you’ve marked up with highlighters to the point that an unmarked page is a rarity.

Which is not to say that the ebook isn’t springing into the forefront of the literary world. Indeed, sales increase every time you turn around and people are picking up ebook readers or downloading programs onto their iPhones or laptops or whatever to read from.

But is it the End of Print Publishing, as some self-proclaimed prophets would have you believe?

I don’t know. I don’t think so. And unlike these people who would have you believe that we’re one short hop, skip and jump away from demolishing the NYC publishing industry, I can’t make a prediction.

And neither can they.

Now, I can make a guess, based on the fact that I *did* work for Penguin Books Canada back in the day and now am on the other side of the fence, having books published in ebook form AND in print form. But whatever I say it’ll still be a guess. I think that ebooks will continue to grow and take up a good hunk of the market but print will never go out of style.

Why?

Because people like the touch of books. I know, that’s the usual mantra given. But let me point out other factors.

Many, MANY books will never go into ebook format for a variety of reasons, from the authors not wanting to give permission to the publishers to the cost of putting them up for sale as an ebook to there just not being that much demand. If I’m looking for an obscure nonfiction author I’ll have better luck finding a print copy than hoping it comes up on Amazon eventually as an ebook. And, again, a lot of authors aren’t racing to put their backlist up because of the threat of piracy along with concerns about royalties, etc.

So print books will still be around. But publishers?

Sure.

Despite what some of the prophets want you to believe, not everyone in publishing is a drooling idiot who can’t understand what an ebook is or how to program their VCR or whatever passes for a dumb person these days. These men and women are trained professionals who spend years learning their art – be it editing, creating cover art for the books or sales. They didn’t just drop off the turnip truck and fall into their positions. And they like to make money. Lots of money. Which goes back to being professionals who want to sell their product.

They know what ebooks are. They’re not ignoring the trend or sticking their collective heads in the sand or whatever rumors are put out there, they’re having meetings and discussing options and doing what they do – figuring out how to sell lots of books. Both ebook and print. And just because they’re not calling up Joe Author and telling them what their plans are doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Remember, these people are in the business of making money.

Rumor: “All the brick and mortar stores are closing!”
My thought: No, they’re not. The economy sucks for them, but it’s a DEPRESSION, folks. Books are still a luxury for many and I’d be surprised if library use hasn’t gone up as people cut back. And it’s an illogical jump to go from “they’re not buying print books!” to “they’re buying ebooks instead!” Think it over.

Rumor: “Screw the trad publishers! Go indie and get rich!”
My thought: I’d rather be writing. I don’t want to negotiate distribution with different warehouses, design cover art, write blurbs, edit and handsell my book. I’d rather be writing and leave it to those professionals who know how and what they’re doing. I think it’s worth “paying” my publisher with a cut of my royalties for excellent cover art, a sales force that will sell more books through their connections than I can EVER do by begging on the Amazon boards or spamming people on Facebook and get reviews from people who I’m not begging to trade reviews with.
And for all the money these prophets are making – how much of that goes right back into their sales effort? And how successful do you think the majority of them are, selling a full-length novel at $0.99? In the middle of thousands of other “indie” authors who are putting up their unedited tomes on Amazon and hoping to strike it rich?
It’s like the California Gold Rush – many will try, few will succeed. And many will follow the rantings of some who just don’t like the idea of having to answer to anyone for their writing – an editor, a cover artist who may know what appeals to the public, a salesperson who may have more connections than you do.

Do I think that ebooks are the future? Sure – to a degree. But I’d still want to have my books come out in print, from a recognized publisher with good cover art, decent distribution and a good reputation in the field. But that’s me, an old broad who just wants to write and not spend hours doing stuff that I know I’m not good at and won’t get good at because I don’t have years of training to do it.

The death of print? Don’t believe it. Don’t believe the self-proclaimed prophets leading scads of anxious, desperate authors to their doom by encouraging them to ignore publishers and toss their work up on Amazon. If you go that route do your homework and decide on your own.

But, hey… what do I know?

Nothing.

Which makes me as qualified as the next person to rant, eh?

😉

Another day…

While I’m waiting for another round of edits on “Wild Cards and Iron Horses”, let me rant a bit about television writing. Spoilers below, so run away!

Fringe: Oh, NO, you did NOT go there. Really? If FauxOlivia doesn’t get found out within the first two eps, I’m done with you. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy writing! And after da Kiss…

Bones: No. No. No. Cam does not want to have an empty lab for a year, thank you very much. She should fire all your butts and retire. I’m looking at YOU, Jack and Angela. And don’t even get me started on why Booth and Bones don’t even HUG before she’s off to Poo-Poo Island and he’s off to Afghanistan.

Castle: The Ex? Really? Who we haven’t seen ALL season and who shows up conveniently just as Kate’s about to reveal her innermost thoughts?

 *facepalm*

Now, the writer in me understands that this is a logical thing. Castle hasn’t been working 10-12 hour days with Beckett and rushing home to write. I can totally see him isolating himself to finish “Naked Heat”. Really, I can. And it’s a good way out for the writers to push the REAL book in the fall.

But we better not be setting up a love triangle. Let Castle find out in the first two days WHY she’s the frakking ex-wife.

Grr. To all of the above.

Meanwhile, Publishers Weekly put out an article on J.A. Konrath’s signing with Amazon for his new book. And, right on time, the angry rebuttal on Konrath’s blog.

My thoughts: Suck it up, dude. You can’t set yourself up as the Guru of Self-Publishing and not expect to get some body shots. And please, don’t send your loyal followers over to PW to rant about how it’s a Big Conspiracy to Keep the Self-Pubs down. I wonder if he hunts down anyone who gives him a bad review on Amazon and does the same thing. If they’ve got their stats wrong, write a rebuttal article and send it in. Emotional diatribes don’t look good and remind me of Anne Rice’s rants on Amazon.

Dragon out.

Where I ranteth…

It’s a lovely day outside, I’m working on BoG 2, and all’s right with the world.

Until, of course, my Twitter/Facebook feed picks up the latest posting from an avowed self-publishing advocate.

“Screw the publishers! Put your work up on Amazon and make money! I have! You can! Why give those nasty New York people a dime when you can sell directly to the readers! Do it! It’s the future! Only idiots go with traditional publishers!”

Grr.

Double-plus Grr.

First, let me explain that I’m not against self-publishing for certain projects. Poetry, for example, is hard to get into print. Certain non-fiction topics are best served by self-publishing, especially when it’s about a specific area. Your audience isn’t going to be the country at large; it’s likely most if not all of your sales will be from the locals wanting a piece of history for their bookshelves. Grandma’s cookbook is another good self-pub project if you want copies for everyone in your family, a wonderful family heritage to be passed on.

However, that’s about where I draw the line. For a variety of reasons.

Let’s start with the authors being victimized by vanity/POD/”self-pub” houses leaping on their dreams like a hyena on a wounded wilderbeest.

Self-publishing is*not* putting it up on Amazon. Self-publishing is BUYING your own ISBN, paying a cover artist to design your artwork and paying for a hard run with a local printer. Self-publishing is getting a professional editor to go through your work (and no, best friends and old English teachers don’t count) and making it better than it was. And yes, that means that you may have to cut that 120,000 opus down a bit. Self-publishing means you hump those books out of the back of your trunk from store to store, trying to find one that’ll let you stock on consignment, or registering with the big houses as a small press so that you can use Ingrams to distribute your work.

That’s a lot of money. And time. But at least you’re being honest about it.

Self-publishing is *not* giving your book to AuthorHouse/Smashwords/Xlibris/Createspace and letting them do all the work. Amazon takes a huge hunk of money every time an ebook sells – that’s how they make money! Just the same, btw, as real publishing houses. And better yet, they get YOU to do all the advertising for the book in question! Wow! Isn’t that great? All they do is toss up your electronic words on the net and scrape a goodly amount off the top into their coffers. And this is supposed to be BETTER than “traditional” publishing? Really?

“But wait!” You say, “I want full editorial control over my baby! I want to choose the cover art! I want…”

Spoiled brat.

Seriously.

There are few people in the world, in the entire span of the earth’s existence, that have burped words onto a page and not had them edited in some shape or form. English teachers have shuddered and screamed through generations of essays where the grammar and content have been mangled beyond belief.

And yet, YOU think that YOUR manuscript is perfect? Really? Without anyone editing it?

And no, I don’t count your mother. Or a good friend. Or even that “professional editor” you paid $2000 to for a rousing romp. Here’s a hint: YOU paid HIM/HER. Do you really think you’re getting the same quality of editing that a publisher would provide, for free? Really?

“But I want my mother to do the cover art! She’s fantastic!”

I’m sure she is. But maybe, just maybe, a publisher may be able to, I dunno, produce a better work of art to grace your cover. Because, you know, they have people there with actual experience and training in producing covers that sell AND have an idea of what to put ON the cover that’ll appeal to the public. Maybe your mother, sweet woman that she is, may not be the best artist to sell your book. Or your best friend who just picked up the entire series of “How to Draw Manga”.

“The editors will mangle my voice! They’ll destroy my vision!”

*facepalm*

Look, despite what some indie supporters want you to believe, editors are YOUR FRIEND. They get paid to produce GOOD work for the publisher. They do NOT get paid for taking a good story and tearing it to bits because they’re having a bad day. And maybe, jut maybe, they may be able to make your story BETTER by finding the little inconsistencies and mistakes that you raced over, despite going through twenty drafts of your epic tome. They’re not going to suggest anything that would pull AWAY from your story, unless it’s a huge honking plot point that would bump the reader out of the story faster than a speed bump on a NASCAR track. Editors are not evil.

“But what can a publisher do for me that I can’t do for myself?”

Oh, I don’t know… maybe get it up on the major websites like Amazon et al without you busting a gut doing so, contacting various sites for hours trying to get it set up. And paying for it.

Arranging for it to go to print. Getting it into the bookstores. Advertising it. You know, all the stuff that you’d love to do for yourself because you don’t want to actually WRITE now, do you?

“But it’s the way of the future! It’s the death of print books! It’s the death of traditional publishing!”

Really? Says who? The handful of writers making money off of their ebooks. And notice, BTW, that most of them don’t give figures. And those that do, don’t say how much went to Amazon.

The current rate for epublishing is about 40% royalties on net, depending on who you run with. For print, 10-12%. And all you have to do is write the book, go through the process with the editor and let the company do the work.

“But that sucks! I’d make more at Amazon! I’d…”

Oh. Right. You don’t make money until you SELL it. And with all the white noise of everyone racing to put their unedited fanfiction-based works up on Amazon, who’s going to find YOUR great story? 80, 90% of nothing is still…nothing.

Folks, part of writing is rejection. And it sucks. Horribly, painfully and without fail. There’s nothing glorious about getting a rejection on a book you slaved over and put hard work, sweat and tears into.

But don’t tell me that with all the epub houses opening up that you can’t find SOMEONE to publish your book. If it’s good, it’ll find a home.

And if it’s not, well… maybe it’s time to put it in the drawer and start something new.

But, please – for the love of God – don’t fall prey to these snake-oil salesmen hawking Amazon and Createspace as the greatest way to make money and sidestep the process. Publishers aren’t going to go away, despite these advocates screaming that the world is about to change.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I may have not gotten into writing to get rich, but I sure as heck didn’t start writing to get poor. And if you go and self-pub, unless you do it the way I mentioned above, you’re going to get poor.

And, really, wouldn’t you rather be writing?

Rant off.

We could be heroes…

One of my earliest memories is of running down the narrow hall in our apartment, my blanket tied around my neck and flying out behind me as I leapt into the air, prepared to take flight.

I broke two toes. And didn’t quite get the altitude I planned. At least, that’s what my mother tells me. I think that secretly I did fly and she just wanted to keep me under control.

But I wander…

I think that we’ve all secretly wanted to be superheroes at some point, be it Wonder Woman or Batman or Superman or Black Canary (who, I understand, dresses like a tramp according to Tim Gunn). Why, well… I suspect it all comes down to just wanting to help people who we can’t usually help because we *don’t* have the ability to fly or to lift cars or scream at and break their eardrums.

Oh, sure, there’s the temptation of being a bad guy – thus the attraction to the Joker and to Lex Luthor and who doesn’t want to date the bad guy, like Harley Quinn, right? But eventually we all turn around and head for the good guys, because that’s one of the ways we keep civilization going and all that. And, frankly, after a certain age you know the bad boys are going to STAY bad boys no matter what you do.

Trust me on this.

What inspired me to write “Blaze of Glory” was a bit of love for the entire superhero genre, mixed in with my incredulous watching of professional wrestling and how the fans swear up and down that it’s for REAL, darn it, and nothing is faked. My fertile ‘lil mind took the idea of staged fights and ran with it.

What if you acquired superpowers through an accident and found out that you no longer controlled your life?
What if you were forced to fight other supers in staged battles, the outcome already pre-arranged?
What if you didn’t have a choice – stop fighting and be killed?

and the classic What If…

What If some alien race, watching the transmissions sent out from our Mother Earth, thought this was all for real?

Jo Tanis is a bookstore clerk with nothing more super about her than her ability to make change. But one late-night mugging gives her the power to control the electromagnetic waves around her, turning her into a super. And just like that, she’s thrust into the arms of the Agency that controls the superheroes and villains. Trained and set up with a Guardian who could kill her at any moment, she fights in the Roman Circus on the public stage, battling other villains in arranged battles. It’s not a bad life, not really. Except for the entire lack of freedom of choice and the ever-present threat of termination if she dares step outside of the ring…

Then, one night, she’s watching yet another super fight on the television screen; one of the best doing what he does best – beating up on a bad guy. But it’s not on the schedule…

Well, that’s where things get interesting.

“Blaze of Glory” is now available from Samhain Publishing as well as at Amazon.com and other fine ebookstores everywhere. I hope you’ll consider picking up the ebook or make plans to grab the trade paperback when it comes out in early 2011.

Me, I’m getting my old blanket out of the closet and heading for the roof.

What could possibly go wrong?

Good Grief!

Just got a publishing nibble on my steampunk western novel, “Spring Cleaning”. You know, the one I’m working through another draft of, since I tend to blitz through writing the book and then go back and put more flesh on dem dere bones. You know, the one I was working on before I go for the sequel to WGACK and probably BoG?

A friendly email, a sample, and a response.

Well, more than a nibble.

As in, how fast can I get it finished and in for final consideration. Like, early 2010?

*thud*

2010 is going to be one busy year.

Harlequin Horizons… yep, that.

If you haven’t been keeping up with the latest scandal in the literary world, here’s it in a nutshell.

Harlequin entered into an agreement with Author Solutions to stick a vanity press branch off of their publishing tree. If you get rejected by Harlequin, you’ll get a nice referral to Harlequin Horizons in your rejection letter.

*waits for that to sink in*

Yes. It sucks. Greatly.

The referral isn’t to a free service to help you improve your writing, oh no – it’s to a vanity press that will take THOUSANDS of your dollars to PRINT a copy for you. Something, btw, that you can get done for FREE at lulu.com or pay much less for at other places. But, this is HARLEQUIN, thus it has a much more glamourous shine to it than those other places.

But crap is still… well, crap.

Needless to say, all hell has broken loose. The RWA, MWA and SFWA have all dropped or censured Harlequin, pulling them off their lists of eligible presses for membership. And there’s still serious movement afoot as to how this is going to turn out.

Now, I hear you say… what’s wrong with a vanity press?

Absolutely nothing.

*puts up hand*

Selfpublishing and vanity publishing are perfectly valid ways of printing your work. If you’re a poet, if you’ve got a cool family history, if you’ve got that local area cookbook you’ve been dying to get into print – these are great things to go that route with.

Quick definition: Self-publishing – YOU go and buy a block of ISBN, YOU arrange for the printing, YOU get to do the distribution, YOU own the company. Vanity press – YOU do NOT own the ISBN, the company does. THEY will print copies up, but YOU still don’t own the company. Depending on how much work you want to put into it, both are valid ways of getting your work into print.

But. This. Is. Not.

Not if you want to sell fiction. Not if you want to be a romance author. Not if you even want a bound copy to give to an agent. (HH says this in their promo. NO agent will look at a bound copy of your manuscript. It goes directly into the trash and you’ve used up your first publishing rights. Harlequin should and DOES know better.)

Be aware of what’s out there. Don’t make a bad decision based on a name.

Victoria Strauss has some excellent posts up on Writer Beware here about this topic.

Just be careful out there.