How to give readers their tree-book fix as an indie author?

Publishing today is a confusing mess of issues. Am I doomed to slave wages as a mid-list author?  Worse, will I end up losing money? Does the ‘vanity press’ stigma still exist? If so, does it exist for the reader, or just the publishers? If you’re publishing indie, are you stuck with e-books? If not, what kind of solutions out there? Which ones are ripoffs? How can you get listed with libraries?  How can I get my stories out to people who have a book fetish?

It’s an issue that requires a lot of research, and the answers usually lead to more questions (What are my price points? Whose service is really the best deal? What you do you mean ‘it depends’?)

April Hamilton has a great piece up on her blog Indie Author that answers at least some of these questions while comparing venerable to Amazon’s CreateSpace Lulu vs. CreateSpace: Which Is More Economical For The DIY Author?

A quick excerpt:

One advantage of listing your books through Bowkers and Nielsen, whether you do it yourself or let Lulu do it for you, is that doing so makes your books available for order through any retailer, bookstore or library. Personally, I don’t feel indie books receive enough bookstore or library orders to make this worthwhile, but if your motivation is to make your book available to be listed on, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble online and even Borders online, it’s probably worth the expense.

As you can see, it’s not all about the price comparisons of the two services, but also a good explanation of what needs to be done to make your POD product function as a proper book in the main venues.   April has some great free ebooks on her site that explain the whole process involved in creating your own book, starting with writing the damn thing and taking through through the whole indie publication process, so this doesn’t surprise me.

Penguin demonstrates it can be taught

Penguin Reaches out to Literary Bloggers.

Last week, literary bloggers around the country debated the SXSW Festival’s “New Think for Old Publishers” panel that included Penguin marketing director, John Fagan.

The result was a wake-up call to the publishers on the panel – a debate that was described by my lovely wife as “brutal”. Since then Penguin Group USA has invited bloggers to participate in an online forum to “establish clearer ground rules for how we can best work with the blogging community.”

Simon & Schuster reducing e-book royalties

Simon & Schuster reducing e-book royalties | TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home.

Doesn’t make any sense.

The main thing publishers do for writers today is handle the complexities of publishing.

The complexities of publishing are vanishing.

The complexities of e-publishing were never there to begin with. What the blue hell do publishers —

How can they justify something like that, based on services provided?

Edit to add: Further info in the comments.

Publetariat Interview: New mediums, Twitter, and storytelling

Last week, I was interviewed by April over at Publetariat about the story I’m telling via Twitter. As one of the central touchstones for the indie publishing movement, she thought the whole idea of creating a story via Twitter — something that would really never transfer to paper in its original format — was interesting, and that’s where our conversation kind of started.

The interview went on for a bit, so it had to be broken into a couple parts, but part one is over here: Twitter As A New Medium In Authorship.

Because it went on a while (and because I’m unforgivably verbose when I get going) some bits had to be left on the cutting room floor, but I’m really happy with the thing as a whole, even if the transitions from one question to the next are a little herky-jerky, due to the necessities of editing.

One piece that makes me sound nearly intelligent:

I think it’s long past time that writers look at new mediums for their work. Paper is just a medium, and as our world (and the smaller publishing world within it) changes, it makes sense for writers to take a look at the tools around us and see if there aren’t some that we overlooked. Artists and sculptors do this sort of thing all the time; “Maybe I can paint on this building, maybe I can make something out of this old car… wait, even better: maybe I can paint on this building with this old car! Genius!” Tom Waits likes to go into hardware stores with a mallet and see what kind of sounds he can find.

What do storytellers use? Spoken words… and paper. That’s it. Very recently, people have considered the still hotly-contested idea of taking the-thing-that’s-on-the-paper and reproducing that exact same thing electronically, and that’s fine, but that isn’t storytelling intrinsically designed for the electronic medium – I mean so intrinsically designed for that medium that it doesn’t actually translate well back to paper or spoken words.

Maybe this story about Finnras is that kind of non-transferable thing – if so, I’m comfortable with that. It’s fun for me and for the people reading it.

The following sentence, which was cut for good reasons, but which I like: “People are trying to take things that were built in/for an electronic medium and force it ‘back’ into a paper format. I’m starting to think ‘maybe you can’t always do that, and maybe that’s okay.'”
Anyway, it was a lot of fun, and got me thinking about things which, frankly, I usually don’t. Parts 2 and 3 go up next week.

Publishing is changing. Publishers? Well…

Piracy and changing distribution schema will not kill the publishing industry. Shortsighted infrastructure-protection on the part of publishing houses will.

So speaks Susan Piver in an article in which she implores publishers not to make all the same mistakes as the music biz.

What offed the music business—and what the publishing industry is facing—is a corporate structure built to churn out hits […]. Rather than developing artists, exploiting regional marketplaces, and building financial models that can support a mid-range list, both industries sold […] out to entertainment at the expense of art and expression. Both are in the business of selling many copies of a few items, not a few copies of many items—the kind of product that can be shot out of a cannon, dominate the retail market, and then basically disappear—because anything else is simply too complicated for a similarly bulked up corporate retail environment to track. The appearance of downloads and file sharing could almost be seen as a desperate measure on the part of consumers to listen and read in an un-mandated manner.

Figuring out how to change the way bookselling works — to adapt it to the way that consumers clearly want it to work — that is the thing that publishers need to work on. Not the best way to embed DRM in ebooks and audiobooks (hint: there is no best way – the very best DRM is stuff you’re borrowing from the music industry – stuff that was already hacked two days before it was ever released). Not teacup-sized storms over Kindle2 text-to-speech capability. Those are the sorts of things that the recording industry has gotten their privates in a twist over for the last decade, and look where it’s gotten them. More to the point; look where it hasn’t.

My guess is that in 2-5 years we’ll see a publishing industry that looks like the music business does today: Super-downsized major companies selling a product line aimed at an older demographic and a jillion new companies creating the next generation of publishers, retailers, and readers. Just like in the music business, some in publishing will be mourning the death of the business while others will be wildly excited because all they see is opportunity.

Personally, I don’t think it’s going to take that long; I think it’s happening right now. There are lots of ’boutique’ (read: “small, specialized”) literary agencies out there — the technology exists today that will allow the proliferation of boutique publishers (I emphasize ‘proliferation’, because they already exist in small numbers).

You know what has recently excited me as a reader and a creator?

  • I’m excited by The Brink, a website where JC Hutchins invites his readers to ‘get commited’ the Brinkvale Psychiatric Hospital — to “inject yourself into the Personal Effects universe and become a patient”, to contribute artwork, video, and to appear on the official website for the book. JC gets it.
  • I’m excited by the Nerdfighters Ning, where John and Hank Green have assembled a group of like-minded people that publishers only understand via the label ‘fans’, who are so much more; who do and contribute so much more.
  • I’m excited when an author friend of mine says “I want to change my website into something where the readers can communicate with me and with each other more easily… where they can create. The website right now, and Facebook… everything we’re using right now, it’s getting in the way of that.”
  • I get excited when I can interface directly with the authors I read — both as a writer (which I am) and a reader (which I am) and a fanboy (which I totally am) and a person (which helps me remember that we both are). I send RPG recommendations to Wil, and a cool t-shirt recommendation to Mur, and condolences to Neil, and software suggestions to Alethea, and I steal and eat Maureen’s bacon sandwich, and exchange random bits of geeky nerdtrivia to Rob or Fred.
  • I get excited when I realize that I can’t always tell the creators from the fans, because they switch places.

And if one stops by to thank me for a link, and another sends me a private message with a link to Susan Piver’s article so that I can rant about the publishing industry when maybe it’s not very easy for them to do so, and a third wants to interview me about the flash-fiction I’m writing on Twitter, and a fourth sends me a “You can do eeet!” when I bitch about another round of revisions on Hidden Things

That’s a community; the place where writing started, and where it’s coming back to  – despite the ‘industry’s’ best/worst efforts.

I’m not prognosticating, guys. Look around; you can watch it happening.

I Should Be Writing #112: Mur Lafferty rants about #queryfail

Okay, to be fair, the podcast is mostly Mary Jo Pehl and Tobias Buckell Interviews, but the first 10 minutes is Mur talking about the #queryfail Literary Agent meme that swept through Twitter last week.  The short version?  Suck it up authors; act professional, this is a business.  Good stuff.

Also, listen to the ad right after her rant — it’s some kind of crazy podcast/interactive/website deal coming out in promotion for a new book and it sounds pretty damned awesome.  More authors should be doing this – more authors will be.

(Anticlimatic) attack of the POD people

Here’s a little story for you.

A few years ago, I found out a friend of mine had written a book. A real-life book!

I was going to meet this person face to face, so I bought their book off Amazon, squirreled it away in my bookshelf, and when we met, I asked them to sign it.

The thing that was odd to me at the time was that this person seemed — almost embarrassed by my grinning enthusiasm. When I asked, they finally said “I just did it through a vanity press – it’s not from a real publisher.”, or words to that effect.

Now, to be fair, they work in publishing, so that sort of thing mattered significantly to them. (I shouldn’t use the past tense — I’m sure it still matters.) But me? I’m basically a consumer; I don’t know the publishing industry – I only know reading.

I’m closer to the publishing world than I used to be — married into it, you might say — but even so, I hardly ever hear the term ‘vanity press’ anymore, at least not in reference to reputable businesses like That’s partly because of the indie gaming industry and how it works, but also because I think people are starting to feel a shift coming in the traditional publishing world. Either way, I tend to look at the whole thing from the point of view of an outsider, and this is what I see with my outsider eyes:

Only people in publishing care how a book is published. The “POD” label is invisible to the consumer; they’re just looking for a good book.

This is a true statement. I know it, because I’ve been the consumer who bought a book and didn’t know (or care) that it was from a POD press until someone told me. It just doesn’t matter.

Is it a good or a bad book? That matters. Publishers, editors, and agents provide a filtration system that helps improve the quality of the products they (eventually) produce; it’s fair to say that the traditional publishing method filters out a lot of crap.

But it’s not the only way such things can happen.