Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Letting Lori Pollard-Johnson do the Talking

Publishing has changed.

Twenty years ago, when I first began writing professionally (i.e. making money from my words), publishing was a long, tortuous, but straight route. You honed your craft, networked at conferences, critiqued your manuscripts (and others), and then set about finding a publisher. It was not necessary to find an agent first; most editors looked at manuscripts (or rather their assistant read with an eye toward what the editor wanted). And when I say “looked,” I mean they wanted hard copies. Submitting was expensive, but so long as you provided an SASE, you usually got a response, sometimes with feedback. The feedback let you know you were getting closer to having a publishable manuscript. Self-publishing was usually done under a pseudonym, had little to no editing, artwork or copyediting done, and lacked any real way to earn sales; the print houses who published these folks were anointed “vanity presses,” to indicate that anyone doing this must be a closet narcissist. I steered clear from the title and the costs involved.

That evolved into an industry that required agents for all but children’s books about ten years ago. Agents, and the few editors who still looked at manuscripts (and the field for children’s was narrowing), still required hard copies with SASEs, and often complained about the enormous slush piles accumulating in their offices and mailrooms. Many could be heard at conferences saying, “I’ll never take email submissions.” (Wow, has that ever changed.) Those of us who were solicited were given codes to write on the envelopes and told that would get our manuscripts past the mail clerk. I sold my first book during this era. Self-publishing had picked up speed, and several presses were advertising in The Writer and Writer’s Digest; it was up to savvy writers to decide which one was worthwhile. I advised all of my creative writing students to avoid self-publishing. I told them they wouldn’t make any money, it doesn’t count as a publishing “credit,” and if by chance they ever got an interested agent or editor, they’d ruined their opportunity to sale by pre-publishing it.

In the past five years, ereaders have been on the rise, and writers with lots of experience (and sales), writers with midlist credits, and writers with no publishing history have begun to self-publish. We call this Indie Publishing, a nod to movie-making lingo. Some indie authors have had remarkable success: Amanda Hocking and John Locke were previously unpublished authors; JA Konrath and Barry Eisler were wildly successful previously. Other writers, as well as their publishing houses, began to take note. Now, a well-known author with a $9.99 paperback would be earning in the range of $ .60 per book sold (unless they had negotiated a truly amazing contract) and waiting for it to be passed through the hands of the retailer, publisher, agent; those of us with Kindle titles were earning $2.05 for a book we priced at $2.99, and getting the money within two months. I sold my second book at this time and made (and make, as both of my traditionally published books are available) $ .36 each.

See the problem?

It’s called the free market economy, and it applies to book sales, too. Ereaders like Kindle and Nook have accomplished the age-old axiom: Give the customer a better product in a faster method and for fewer dollars. Define “better” any way you want, but one look at a Wal-mart will tell you that too many people, an array of items priced cheaper and received quicker, is better.

As a result of these ebook successes, more and more people are self-publishing, and well-known authors are demanding higher percentages for their electronic works; some have even declined publishing contracts for the greener pastures of easy, fast sales via the internet. There is the good, the bad and the downright fugly; but there have always been those books out there. The difference is, we, the readers, can download a sample, delete it if we don’t like it, and purchase it for the price of a latte (I know, tired reference point, but valid). Most importantly, we can do it from anywhere in the world--the beaches of Bimini or under a bevy of blankets in bed. These factors, along with the economy have, sadly, closed down Borders, et al, changed the publishing industry forever, and for some of us who chose to indie publish, boosted our income substantially.

See the future?

Regardless of how any one reader feels about the feel of a paperback in their hands or their favorite bookstore, ereaders are most likely here to stay. It makes good economic sense, especially when electronic bestsellers are also discounted. And it makes “green” sense, too. Libraries have begun to loan books electronically and even remove them three weeks later so their patrons never have to start their car. It’s a confusing and exciting time for publishing. There will be good that comes of all this, as well as some disappointment. But that exists with all societal twists and turns.

And that’s why I chose to upload my third, and soon my fourth, books. Call it what you will, but indie publishing for many (not all) of us has expanded our readership, spurred our creativity with new methods of actually selling what we write, and made some money to finance our kids’ educations, our lack of work, or our dream vacations.

I'm a writer and teacher from South Prairie, Washington. I have three published novels, The Truth Test (kids), Recipe for a Rebel (kids), and Toxic Torte (adults)availible on Amazon and on Smashwords,and a slew of fiction and nonfiction publishing credits in national, regional and local publications. Check me out on facebook!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Letting Dana Marton do the Talking

From Traditional Publishing to ePub. (a.k.a. The Road the Rivendell and Back)

I think one of the misconceptions of digital self-publishing is that it’s something first time authors do who can’t get published with the major traditional publishing houses. But what I see more and more is that first time authors often completely forgo submissions and pick digital self-publishing as their first choice. There are many advantages, as well as disadvantages to this choice, which I won’t detail since there are literally hundreds of discussions going on online about this topic. There is a whole other segment of digital self-publishing adventurers, as well: multi-published authors who have achieved a degree of success with a major publisher. They are tempted to digital self-publishing by all the freedom it offers. I’m one of them.

I’m a fairly prolific author. In the average year, I publish 4 romantic suspense novels with Harlequin Intrigue. I’ve published over two dozen books with them now, and those books are sold in over a dozen languages all over the world. One of those books earned me a RITA Award nomination. Another won me the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence. I love my publisher, love the support and marketing they provide, love the editorial input. But as a creative person, I have all sorts of book ideas flying around in my head all the time. They don’t all fit my publisher’s requirements.

Writers know this: the stories we don’t write don’t simply go away. The characters and scenes circle around in our heads, bugging us, wanting to be born. However, once you’ve become successful writing certain types of books, everybody expects more of the same from you.

There are many gatekeepers between your story and the reader: the agent, the editor, the senior editor, the marketing department at the publisher, the booksellers, etc. You come up with a perfectly good story, and any one of those people can decide that it’s not marketable, or timely, or trendy enough, doesn’t have enough hooks, or is too different from what your readers expect from you. And there your book stops, without ever reaching the reader.

One of the beauties of self-publishing is the direct line of communication between author and reader. The current economy does not make publishers want to experiment, throw money at books that might or might not sell. Publishers like to go for the sure bet. But as authors, we want to push the limits, want to try new things. Self-publishing makes that possible. I can write something and within a month see whether there’s a market for a story like that, whether readers will accept a story like that from me.

So I recently dipped a very eager and hopeful toe in. I’m writing a romantic suspense novella trilogy (GUARDIAN AGENT, AVENGING AGENT, WARRIOR AGENT) that’s a little darker and edgier than my usual books. So far, the response has been tremendous. The first two novellas that are out so far are climbing the Kindle charts and are #20 and #27 on the Kindle bestselling Romantic Suspense list.

Once I have all three up, I might ask my agent to shop around the print rights. So here we are, having come full circle. I’m also thinking about bringing out my little darlings: an epic fantasy, a dark historical fantasy, and other stories that are different than traditional publishing expects from me. I might just give readers a chance to decide for themselves.

There are many uncertainties in the marketplace right now, but I still think that this is possibly the best time to be a writer. New doors are opening. Ebook sales are growing each month. Readers are open to new things. I think if we write with them in mind, we’ll be okay.

The truth is that my path to publication was nothing but unglamorous. I wrote for 13 years and completed 4 books (as well as having others in various stages of completion) before I finally received a call from a Harlequin editor. I was beginning to wonder if I was being tenacious or just too dense to know when to quit. But it all worked out at the end! I love, love, love writing and would spend all day in front of the computer if I could just break my family of the habit of wanting to eat and wear clean clothes. What’s up with that? But I must get up from the desk now and then, if only because my Internet connection goes down or my ancient PC overheats. Then I do enjoy cooking, knitting, hunting for treasures at the flea market, our Beagle--Peanut the Destroyer--and gardening.

I’d love it if you picked up one of my books and emailed me to tell me what you thought of it. I’ve been known to name characters after readers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Letting Marc Vun Kannon do the Talking

Ebooks and Authors

When I first started as an author, I was very reluctant to have anything to do with ebooks. The reason was simple: I was equally reluctant to do what is known in the trade as ‘marketing’, sending out press releases, advertising, doing all sorts of things to get your name and the name of your product in front of people who might buy it, without any real connection between what you do and whatever results might come.

At least that’s what it was then. It may sound strange to hear, from a philosophy major, computer programmer, and fantasy novelist, but I don’t do well with abstractions. Activity without a direct connection to outcome was just too abstract for me to even know how to begin to do it. So ebook versions of my stories were allowed by me to languish, in favor of physical books, which I could sell to people who were standing right in front of me. I created a bookstore business to do it, and I’m pretty good at it.

Along came blogging and tweeting, and my publisher (Echelon Press) began nudging me to become more active in those arenas. Still I was reluctant. To whom am I talking? Would I just be writing down random sentences to throw into the air? I had the accounts but rarely used them.

Then something strange happened. I have studied foreign languages (German and Chinese, if you must know) and the phenomenon of thinking in another language was familiar to me. I found myself suddenly thinking in Blog, so to speak. I just wrote a post one day, rather quickly. Then the next day I wrote another. And then another. I posted every day for weeks. That was actually rather silly, since it pushed those early posts out of the way before they had a fair chance to be read by anyone, but what did I know then? Drafts were abstractions. I wrote and I published. Then I tweeted about my posts and found people tweeting back.

As a result I’m becoming more comfortable with ebooks. It helps that I have a number of short stories that are only available in ebook form, so I have to learn how to promote them. One has done especially well, which I credit to the title, STEAMPUNK SANTA. I have another Christmas story, BITE DEEP, which is about vampires at Christmas and hasn’t sold nearly as well. Take away from this: titles matter, if only to draw attention to covers. Like titles, taglines and loglines--single sentences that capture aspects of the story--are very important, also with links prominently positioned. Links are very important, they are the closest I can come to putting my book into your hands.

There’s the rub. In a bookstore, the reader can just stand there and see all sorts of covers, which draw attention to titles he hasn’t seen before. The bookstore guy (that’s me) can point him in the right direction if he’s looking for a particular type of book. Ebooks need to be much more actively searched out by readers, although the use of coupons and coupon codes gives us booksellers something tangible to present. The place that makes it easiest for readers to find ebooks is the place that will sell the most. The title that is easiest to find, or which the reader has the greatest desire to find, is the title that will sell.

Like many writers, I started when a story came along and decided that I should write it. Don't ask me why. Others followed, until now I'm afraid to go out of the house without a recorder or notebook in my hand. But I show them, I refuse to write the same story twice!

He blogs as authorguy.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Can you find me in Grit City today?

Today, I'm blogging at The Gritty Blog, Grit City Serial's blog, about why I decided to publish an ebook.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Letting Ron Gavalik do the Talking

Grit City Emotobooks Revolutionize Fictional Storytelling

As a writer it’s always been a goal of mine to bridge the gap between the cerebral gratifications of well-plotted writing and the visual stimulation of illustrative art or film. Like a mad scientist with crazy hair and a battered lab coat, I experimented with various styles, structures, and word painting exercises. Nothing seemed to achieve my goal.

Then it came to me. I had a mini-epiphany. Insert abstract, emotionally representative illustrations during peak moments of tension. By delivering a visual of what the character feels and experiences, the reader becomes more intensely immersed in the story.

The term emotobook is simply a portmanteau word I conjured, as a fun and memorable label for this new medium of fiction.

Unlike comic books that use direct illustrations as the primary storytelling device, Grit City emotobooks are written mystery noirs, with an urban fantasy twist. The four of five illustrations in each thirty-page installment merely lend a visual experience to the internal emotional processes of the characters.

It’s lots of fun.

Grit City is continuing story, published each month to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other eBook retailers. In each installment the reader is exposed to a dark and calamitous world, where the nefarious rule.

Our main character is Dillon Galway, an idealistic freelance journalist in his mid-twenties, who barely scrapes out a living reporting on corruption for the metro newspaper and his own blog.

Dillon embodies a double meaning of the term grit. He is a gritty individual, who drinks and lives meagerly. But he also possesses grit. Courage and strength of character are his dominant personality traits.

I’ve constructed a world where Dillon shares a symbiotic relationship with the city. Its failures have lowered him, yet he remains hopeful for the restoration of peace and opportunity. Occasionally, he relies on the sexy and sultry Alyssa Stephano (gun for hire) to help when situations require her nickel-plated Colt .45 revolvers.

Grit City was an ideal place to live at one time. We all know of towns that have fallen over the years. The murder of Dillon’s Father and the rise of the Syndicate started Dillon’s downward spiral. All meaningful power in business, politics, and law enforcement were funneled into the hands of this wealthy organization.

But in the shadows of the back alleys, whispers stir in the underground of an unnamed force. Something or someone that’s determined to upset the status quo. When Dillon is tipped about horrifying activities he’s propelled into a perilous investigation that may lead to dire consequences.

As the series progresses he’s faced with unfathomed challenges, but also gains abilities most consider impossible.

The creation of Grit City is a collaborative process. Leah Keilman is our partnered illustrator. It’s her keen insight into expressionism and years of experience that breathes life into the emotobook illustrations. Nikki Hopeman is our proofing editor. Her eye for detail ensures the story installments I write are held to the highest possible level of storytelling. Kunta is our web and electronic media guru, who likes to eat…a lot. We just feed him pizza and let him work his magic. Without this team my vision of emotobooks never would have existed.

With that said, we’ve all dedicated our lives to this pursuit. We’re thankful such a broad audience is heralding the story. It seems our tagline on the website is true.

Read one installment and you’ll be hooked until the gritty end.

Ron Gavalik has dedicated his life to the written word. He’s practiced a long and successful career in fiction writing, journalism, and technical documentation. His short fiction has appeared in several magazines and online venues. His news articles have informed thousands of readers throughout the United States.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, he spends much of his free time in the outdoors of Southwestern Pennsylvania fishing, hiking, and riding his trail bike.

Ron conceived the new medium of emotobooks in 2010 while earning his M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. Grit City is the maiden serialized emotobook, and is receiving accolades among a diverse base of readers throughout the US, UK, and Germany.

Ron can be reached through his website at RonGavalik.com.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Letting Jason Jack Miller do the Talking

5 Rules for Indie Publishing (Updated)

In a month I'll reach the one year anniversary of making my decision to ePublish. This is a momentous milestone for many reasons, the largest is that it commemorates a resolution to step away from publishing as I knew it. Twelve years writing, three novels, a Masters degree, a hundred writing conventions, conferences and workshops, five hundred queries.

I was not an amateur. A hack. A wannabe.

I'm an Authors Guild member who received a four figure advance from a major travel publisher. I'd written for newspapers, magazines, travel journals, literary journals. I'd won writing contests and had received awards for my writing.

I'd spent a thousand hours writing and rewriting queries, synopses and drafts on my three novels, one of which was scrutinized extensively by mentors and peers in Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction Program. I'd travelled hundreds of miles and paid hundreds of dollars to pitch to a single agent at a writing conference.

The decision to ePublish did not come easy. My wife and I thought long and hard about why we wanted to go this route, and even took the OCD course of creating five rules we had to agree to before we'd even consider it.

Here's the list, the reason we felt the rule was important and what has changed since last September:

1. Know why you're publishing independently

Why the rule?

We knew that ePublishing couldn't be pursued as a last resort. We believed that before we could take the plunge, ePublishing had to be our FIRST choice. We knew if we weren't going to treat our book the way a publisher--who'd spend thousands of dollars to print, market and distribute--was going to treat it, then independent publishing probably wasn't going to work for us. We had to believe we knew what was best for our book.

What has changed?

Nothing. The process has been amazing. Since releasing my book in March I have worked with the amazing folks at Hatch Show Print in Nashville, Tennessee to create a fantastic cover, and I loved every second of it. I have interacted with readers, people I did not know until they mentioned they'd read my book. I loved every second of it. Is ePublishing still my first choice? 100% yes.

2. Know risk to gain ratio

Why the rule?

Before taking the plunge we had the fortunate experience of knowing exactly what a publisher was going to do for us, and what we'd be doing ourselves. The publisher-supplied publicist did little more than send .jpegs to a few newspapers.We knew that even small presses made promises they couldn't keep about marketing and distribution.

You also have to know how finances are going to break down for you. Many writers are tight-lipped about sales, and for good reason. So finding reliable information about what a new small press or mid-list writer earns will be difficult, if not impossible. Most are lucky to sell-out their advances, and fewer still ever see a royalty check.

What has changed?

Nothing. The reward has outweighed the risk a thousand times already. That may sound trite, but in a few short months I've had experiences that are beyond description or monetization.

3. Know what you're compromising

Why the rule?

When we devised these rules legitimacy was a huge deal for us. We worried about what other writers--specifically our peers from Seton Hill--would say about our choice to jump ship. I had a huge list of Big Six-published books in my arsenal, books from people like Snooki, Nicole Richie, Lauren Conrad, that I could whip out whenever Big Six publication as a path to true legitimacy was mentioned.

But we knew all this before we ePublished.

What has changed?

Everything. Readers legitimize you, not editors, agents, publishers or your peers.

4. Know that you are the company

Why the rule?

This rule let us make a list of all of the things we'd be doing ourselves, almost a checklist to let us know if we had the stomach for it. Editing, publicity, formatting, art, author photos and on and on.

What has changed?

I think we're going to need a bigger boat.

I've never worked so hard for anything, and I have never in thirty-seven years been so proud of an accomplishment.

5. Know if you have the time and energy

Why the rule?

We have jobs, lives, and friends. Stuff we didn't want writing to interfere with.

What has changed?

Writing is my life. Which was always what I wanted, why else would I drop $40,000 on a degree? For a hobby? This pursuit has moved writing from the backburner to the hotplate.

And I learned to love coffee.

These rules were written pre-Borders collapse, and I think they've stood up pretty well. Something else that's stood the test of eleven months' time--the conclusion to my original post, presented here unaltered:

I don't know if independent publishing is for the faint of heart. But seeing that I'd have the freedom to write what I want, instead of writing what I hope an agent would want, is a very liberating experience. And if it bombs it bombs. I change my name and write something else. Or not. I can do whatever I want.

As the writer I should've always had that power--not marketing department or CFOs. Sometime I get the impression that a lot of editors and agents and publishers put writers at the bottom of a very tall ladder. I think independent publishing puts writers at the top.

And look, I wrote this whole post barely mentioning the way the publishing industry has eaten itself into a very awkward and ugly corner. Let the agents have Snooki. I think the readers are smart enough to follow the writing.

Jason Jack Miller is a writer, photographer and musician who has been hassled by cops in Canada, Mexico and the Czech Republic. An outdoor travel guide he co-authored with his wife in 2006 jumpstarted his freelancing career; his work has since appeared in newspapers, magazines, literary journals, online, and as part of a travel guide app for mobile phones. He received a Master’s in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill where he is adjunct creative writing faculty and he is an Authors Guild member. He's been a whitewater raft guide, played guitar in a garage band and served as a concierge at a five star resort hotel in Florida. When he isn't writing he's on his mountain bike or looking for his next favorite guitar. He is currently writing and recording the soundtrack to his novel, The Devil and Preston Black. Find him posting regularly on his own blog.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Letting Someone Else do the Talking

I’ve been doing some thinking (run and hide!) about our blog content. WE’VE been doing a lot of blogging about ebooks over the last year. This past year has seen many changes in the realm of epublishing. Many people have jumped on board and met with success, or faced big challenges to achieve their dreams. I thought it might be about time we let some of them do the talking, or typing as the case may be. So, I reached out to the writing community and got a great responses.

Starting next week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, some new writers will be making an appearance on the GPS blog. They'll be sharing their unique experiences and perspectives on publishing their ebooks.

See you tomorrow!