Category Archives: For Authors
As a writer I’m always looking for inspiration. I want my readers to “see” the scenes they are reading about and so I want to experience and even do my writing in places that help me describe beautiful locales. Furthermore, beautiful natural settings seem to inspire my imagination.
One place that helps me in this way is our cottage on the Rideau Canal System in Eastern Ontario. I have found that my kayaking adventure off British Columbia’s Maurelle Island is another place that has inspired my imagination.
I had opportunity with family to spend five glorious days with Go With The Flow near the Surge Narrows islands.
We were a family group of four and were joined by another couple who began as strangers but rapidly became good friends. We had an absolutely wonderful, breath-taking time! The temperature on the ocean was perfect for summer. The kayaking instruction was helpful. The scenery was spectacular. We were able to see abundant marine life and our guides were very knowledgeable and provided interesting details about the plants and animals we were observing.
Although I have kayaked on lakes a few times, the kayaking instruction I received significantly improved my stroke and my endurance and confidence improved markedly.
The food was superb. It was well-presented and delicious. I so appreciated the early morning coffee enjoyed on the Cabana overlooking our bay, the Surge Narrows islands and Quadra Island.
With respect to my writing, I now have pictures embedded in my memory of tidal flats, rain forests, fern-filled glades, and brooks bubbling over moss-covered rocks or meandering through flower-filled meadows.
What a contrast to the lake country I love—the tang of ocean spray, seals, sea urchins, crabs, and cool air even in the midst of summer. And almost no mosquitoes!
If, as a writer, you’re thinking of checking this out, you need to be aware of two things:
1. The days focus on kayaking. Your writing time (if you choose) will be in the late afternoon and evening.
2. The base camp, on a picturesque, secluded bay, is off-grid. For my part, I took six chapters of my latest manuscript for reading out loud and editing. You can charge your laptop, but there is no internet.
For my part, I have pictures in my mind’s eye and photographs that I think will enhance my writing for years to come.
If you’re interested in what Peter is writing, follow this link for his author page.
The Halcyon Dislocation is no exception. One of the prominent “What If” questions I asked as an author: “What if time were quantized and parallel worlds could exist side by side in these overlapping time intervals?” Here is how it was described in the book when one of the physics graduate students tries to explain how the island university of Halcyon was moved to a new world.
Tired and hungry, Dave and Glenn returned to their room and turned on the TV to see if broadcasting had resumed. To their surprise Jennifer McCowan, the blonde talk show host of Halcyon Music, was on the air.
“Even without social media,” said McCowan in her gentle, lilting voice, “I know that everyone is asking ‘where are we?’ and ‘what’s happened to us?’ To answer those questions I’ve asked a friend of mine to the studio. Please welcome Vlad Sowetsky.”
Canned applause welcomed Vlad.
“So, Vlad,” said McCowan, “please tell our viewers what you do.”
Vlad, a tall, big boned youth in his mid-twenties, had a long, narrow face and close-set eyes, so that the overall impression vaguely reminded one of a horse. He had shoulder length hair and stubble on his face.
“To cut to the chase, I’m a graduate student with Professor Hoffstetter, and I was in the control room when the dislocation occurred.”
“So what actually happened during the accident yesterday?”
“Well,” said Vlad, “we were running the largest test on the force field to date. The plan was to—”
“Whoa,” said McCowan, “I think you are going much too fast. Tell the audience how the Hoffstetter force field works, but no jargon, please!”
Vlad screwed up his face as if he were being asked the impossible. “The force field appears as a bubble about the size of a soccer ball when we first generate it. The time inside the bubble is slightly behind our time. When we first make the bubble, the time delay—or offset—is very, very small so that the field is thin. That is to say, anything can cross it. We expand the bubble to the desired size and then thicken it. By ‘thicken’ I mean that we increase the time offset so the field begins to have an effect. First it stops large objects. If we increase the time offset even more, we could theoretically stop air molecules or light from crossing the force field boundary.”
“Field boundary,” said McCowan. “Now you’re lapsing into jargon again and losing me.”
“By field boundary I mean the edge of the force field bubble. Shooting a missile through this barrier is, as Hoffstetter would say, ‘like trying to shoot into last week.’” Vlad was beginning to get exasperated.
“Okay,” said McCowan, “please go on. Even if I don’t understand all of the physics, I’m sure there are many listeners who will.”
“Well, we had intended to expand the force field so that it enclosed the central building in the experimental area. However, while we were expanding the bubble, the first lightning strike overloaded the equipment and the expansion continued unabated.”
This was followed by a momentary pause and a baffled look on McCowan’s face. “How big did the bubble get?” she finally asked.
“I think it expanded to a sphere about four miles in diameter,” said Vlad.
“Then a second series of lightning strikes overloaded the offset controls, and the time offset increased enormously,” said Vlad. Beads of perspiration had appeared on his forehead.
McCowan uncrossed her legs and leaned forward. “Tell the audience what you think happened next,” she prompted.
Vlad took a deep breath. “I only have a half-baked theory. Do you know about quantization of energy?”
“Vaguely,” said McCowan, a blank look on her face.
“Let me see if I can make it as simple as possible. Macroscopically, that is, in the world of meter lengths and kilogram masses, energy seems to be continuous. It flows like a stream or a river. So if I ask how much energy it takes to lift this book,” he lifted a book from the table, “you can calculate the energy in joules to as many decimal places as you like. I can lift the book to any height and calculate the lift energy for each height. But when you go down in size, ten orders of magnitude to angstroms, the world changes. When lifting electrons away from the atomic nucleus, all the rules change, and one can only ‘lift’ the electron to discrete ‘heights,’ or energy levels. It’s like being able to lift this book in little jumps.” He demonstrated by rapidly lifting and stopping the book at various heights.
“Yeah, I know what you’re talking about. You’re bringing back unpleasant memories of first year chemistry. But what has that got to do with the Hoffstetter field generators and the accident?”
“Everything!” said Vlad. “I think time is also quantized.”
“You’ve lost me again. How can time be quantized?” asked McCowan. “And if it is, what difference does it make?”
“Well, think about it in relation to the quantization of energy that you learned about in first year chemistry. We think of time flowing past us like a stream moving at a constant rate. That may appear true in our macroscopic world, but what happens if, at very short time intervals, one reaches a minimum time (I call it a mintival for minimum time interval)? What if our existence at the time interval of a mintival consists of little jumps, like a jump second hand rather than a sweep second hand? Or putting it another way, what if instead of a flowing stream, time consisted of a series of pools,” and here he paused to let his words sink in, “and our existence is a discontinuous series of jumps from one pool to the next?”
“Your theory is fascinating, Vlad, but what has that got to do with the Hoffstetter field generators?”
“I just told you that the Hoffstetter field generators cause the matter inside the field to lag normal time by a very small amount, say ten to the minus thirty-second of a second—that’s a decimal point with thirty-one zeros after and then a one. Now let’s suppose…” Sowetsky turned and kneeled on the sofa and drew three contiguous rectangles on a white board behind his seat “…that these three rectangles represent three sequential mintivals in our world, or universe, if you like. Another world can coexist with ours, as long as the mintivals of that world are offset from those of our time.” He drew three more rectangles adjacent but offset to the first three, like bricks on the side of a building. “It would be like a single reel of film containing two movies, with the odd numbered frames representing our world and the even numbered frames representing another world. If two protectors played this interlaced film with one displaying the odd numbered frames and the other the even numbered frames, one film could give rise to two motion pictures. Similarly, although two solid objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time, they can occupy that space at different times, so to speak.”
“Keep going,” ventured McCowan doubtfully. “I hope our viewers are following you through all this.”
“Well, normally, when the Hoffstetter field generators shut down, they collapse back to the nearest quantized mintival. When the field generators overloaded, I believe we kicked over into the trailing mintival—hence the new world!”
“Well, I’ll be!” said McCowan, genuinely shocked. “Can we get back?”
“I don’t know,” said Sowetsky, frowning. “We only know how to make the Hoffstetter field lag time, not precede time. If we tried it again, we might jump into yet another world that lags this one!”
“You can’t be serious!” said McCowan.
“I’m deadly serious,” said Sowetsky evenly.
“We’re never going to get back, are we?” asked McCowan, her voice fading to a whisper as tears began to fill her eyes. She turned away from the camera for a moment. “I have one final question, Vlad,” she said, regaining her composure with obvious effort. “Did you tell Professor Hoffstetter about this possibility?”
“Of course! I told him not once but several times!” said Sowetsky. “That’s what burns me up so much.”
“What did he say when you told him?”
“At first he told me ‘science requires us to take risks,’ and finally he told me to stop raising the matter.”
Back in the dorm room there was brooding silence as the interview on the television drew to a close. Glenn suddenly got up and threw a magazine as hard as he could against the wall, cursed, and stomped out of the room. Within minutes, Dave heard the sound of an ominous rumble, like the growl of a giant beast being roused from a troubled slumber. He went out into the hall to investigate. Students were everywhere. Approaching the common room, he felt the air electric with tension. The fear and anger that had been building over the last two days was growing, and students were gathered in groups. Most had seen the television show, and they were loudly blaming Hoffstetter for their predicament.
I recently received a question from an interested customer who wanted to buy The Halcyon Dislocation as a Christmas gift, a question guaranteed to warm the heart of any author. When she checked on my Amazon author site, she saw the Kindle edition of The Halcyon Dislocation for $3.99, but at that time the only printed copy she saw was listed for $92.48 USD (I think the vendor promised shipping for only $3.99). Her question to me was “What gives here? Why is a $3.99 Kindle book listing for $92.48?” Great question. My books lists for $24.99 CAD (since I’m a Canadian author and the book is printed in Canada). I didn’t take a screen capture at the time, but here’s one from today:
The Paperback price is somewhat lower today than before Christmas, but still almost four times the list price. What’s going on and how does one get at least the list price (vendors like Amazon sometimes have sales prices which are much better than the list).
If one clicks on the Kindle edition then …
Only now do you see the much more reasonable list price of $24.99. So where did these $80-$90 prices come from? I contacted my publisher, Word Alive Press and their representative did not know. The simple answer appears to be that there are vendors who can list at any price they choose and somehow their offerings can appear very high up in the on-line listing. When I discussed this on my author site on Goodreads, I was contacted by another author who speculated that for relatively rare books (I didn’t think of The Halcyon Dislocation as a rare book), there are vendors who attempt to sell books at inflated prices and if they get a hit they simply buy a copy at the list price and take home a tidy profit with no inventory. In the case of my author colleague, his textbook which lists for $79.95 was offered for $450. His theory may be correct. if one clicks on the expensive version and then on the box “see all buying options” :
Then one can pull up a list of vendors that offer to sell The Halcyon Dislocation listed in order of decreasing price:
As an author who is trying to make a name for himself, I wish I could offer a 326 page trade paperback like The Halcyon Dislocation for much less than $24.99 (as I do with the Kindle edition at $3.99) however with Print-On-Demand costs that is not really feasible. However, to me, charging $80 or $90 dollars for a book that with one click would let the reader buy it for $25 is predatory, and takes advantage of a customer’s inexperience with internet sales.
My novel The Halcyon Dislocation was featured on December 19th on Kay MacLeod’s Indie Advent Calendar. Why not check it out?
It starts today. Why not check it out?
I’m grateful to Speculative Faith Library for recently adding The Halcyon Dislocation and The Battle for Halcyon to their listings. This library also has a number of other books and book series that I have read, enjoyed, and recommend to my Science Fiction and Fantasy readers. If you’re looking for some Science Fiction or Fantasy that has a faith component why not check out Kathy Tyers’ Firebird Trilogy or Jill Williamson’s Blood of Kings series.
I would love to hear from you. Why not use the contact form below?
Why Look at Independent Authors?
The world of books (and e-books) is changing. Traditional publishers with their teams of editors, their distribution networks, and advertising power are consolidating. Many smaller book stores are closing as readers shift to mega-stores and the internet. From my perspective, traditional publishers are focusing more and more on blockbusters to shore up their bottom line. This means that well-known authors and people with a platform (e.g. sports stars, celebrities, and pastors of mega-churches) have an edge. Increasingly, it is difficult for established publishing businesses to take a chance on a new author with an unproven track record.
Along side this trend, advances in on-demand publishing, easy internet and social media access, and the ready availability of contract editing expertise has led to the explosive rise of the independent publishing movement. More and more in my own reading, I find myself ignoring the best-sellers list and looking for the works of outstanding independent authors. There are many advantages to this:
- There are increasing numbers of high quality books available as professional editing becomes accepted as a key to producing a high quality book among indie authors.
- The numbers of indie books is enormous. You will find a huge selection in your favourite genre.
- Independent authors have true freedom to write what is on their hearts, unencumbered by the constraints of political correctness, or the biases of the mainstream media. I often wonder to what degree the philosophy, brand, and convictions of the owners of traditional publishing houses impact their product. Once they buy the rights to a book, they can (if they choose) influence it to a remarkable degree. To get away from that possibility, you have to look at the independents for whom the freedom to write what they like is paramount.
- It’s usually easy to get to know and chat with indie authors. They are generally delighted to talk to someone who has enjoyed their book and their following is often small enough that they have the time to engage in dialogue.
- Although the cost of hard copy books (hard cover, trade paperback, or paperback) are generally more expensive for independent works than for mass produced paperbacks by the traditional publishing houses (because of the higher cost of short print runs), e-books are not. Often e-books are available for much less from indie authors who are eager to get a foot in the door and expose as many readers as possible to their creation.
Although independent authors have many things going for them, they also have many challenges:
- It’s hard to become known. Most newspapers and best sellers lists focus on authors publicized by traditional publishers.
- Most awards are restricted to traditional publishers. It’s very hard for an independent author to get a prestigious award.
- There is a view that has been promulgated that self-published works are of poor quality because had it been good, it would have been picked up by a traditional publisher. In my experience this is false. Undoubtedly there are some poor books in the independent realm, but there is also a lot of poor and (to my mind) distasteful products in the traditional arena—works that make me question what I was thinking when I bought the books (check my one and two star ratings on Goodreads if you want details on my evaluation).
- It’s very hard for an independent author to get a review in a major newspaper. Again they tend to focus on their long-established links with traditional publishers.
So How Can I Help an Independent Author?
- Make reading independent authors a regular part of your reading diet. Use the internet to find books that interest you. Follow reading sites such as Goodreads.com and identify books from their huge database that are interesting to you.
- When you find a good book by an independent author, write them a review. As an author, I think I have to write a well-thought out, detailed review, and so I write very few of them. As I write this, I think I’m changing my mind. Certainly the long review is best, but perhaps a quick one or two line review is also good—better than saying nothing. Authors often don’t like to ask for reviews (even though they wished they received from people who laud their books) because asking defeats the purpose of an independent review.
- Help independent authors with social media: “like” their Facebook pages, retweet their book announcements, let your friends know when you like a book.
- Give an indie book that you like as a gift to someone else.
- Take the time to add an indie book that you like to a genre lists such as those found on Goodreads. Even two or three votes identifying a work as a valued book in a genre can make a big difference.
I belong to a couple of indie authors groups on Goodreads. In reading their comments, I think many feel like the green heron sitting alone in the marsh in the cover photograph. One often receives excellent feedback from readers on one’s writing, but one misses the little things such as reviews, posted ratings, and genre listings that can go a long way to helping a good creation become recognized. Let me know what you think. If you’d like to see what Peter is writing …
Why not fill out the poll below?
The traditional publishing industry continues to be under pressure. In November HarperCollins Canada indicated they were closing their warehouse in Toronto and 120 positions would be lost. Simon & Schuster Canada also indicated that two of their top people were being let go. Given the erosion of people and resources in traditional publishing how is a neophyte author to respond?
M. C. A. Hogarth in a recent blog pointed out one of the difficulties confronting new authors trying to break into the publishing field using traditional publishers is the disparity between the number of excellent manuscripts and the number of publishing slots available to a publisher.
Hogarth’s post was summarized neatly by Z. Rider on Goodreads:
Let’s be harsh and say that of those 10,000 [manuscripts], only 10% are worth publishing. That’s 1000 books, and you [the publisher] only have 45 slots. How on earth do you choose? Out of self-preservation, you decide only to receive manuscripts from agents, figuring they’ll comb through the top 10%. They do, and they present you with 100. You still only have 45 slots. Now how do you choose?… At the end of the day, there were 1000 books worth publishing, and 45 got through the door.
As the traditional publishing industry continues to be pressured into cost-cutting, editors have less and less incentive to take a chance on new authors. Furthermore, increasingly the available information dictates that many excellent manuscripts will be missed simply because of the sheer numbers of manuscripts that need to be read to find the gems.
I love the science in Science Fiction, but I feel much more at home in the moral landscape of Fantasy, so I write Science Fiction that has the feel of Fantasy. I wanted to check out a well-known SF/Fantasy publishing house to see how many titles they brought out in 2014. A search on Amazon indicated they published 122 new novels in 2014 (the latest offering was mid December). This number is quite consistent with Hogarth’s estimate of 100. Given the bias towards established authors, Hogarth’s estimate of 45 available slots for new authors is quite reasonable. It means a new author has almost no chance no matter how good his material might be.
I think Hogarth’s point is an excellent one and leads to a number of conclusions:
- Writing an excellent Fantasy or Science Fiction book is no guarantee that an SF/Fantasy publisher will even consider, much less read your manuscript.
- As the pressure on traditional publishers mounts, the situation will only get worse.
- The neophyte author can write query letters and never even have the manuscript evaluated because of the numbers in play.
- If you’re committed to being published by a traditional publisher, all of the time taken away from writing the next novel will only pay off if you eventually land a contract.
Thanks for reading. Have you had an experience with either Micro-Publishing, Self-Publishing, or Traditional Publishing that you’d like to share?
Peter Kazmaier is author of The Halcyon Dislocation, a colonization epic about a university transported to a parallel world.
In part I of this series on Micro-Publishing, I listed the arguments against self-publishing that I have heard from writers, editors, and publishers. These can be summarized as follows:
- In Self-Publishing editors, publishing companies, and marketing vendors take advantage of neophyte authors by lauding a bad book idea and then encourage the author pay them thousands of dollars for services that produce a book that will never sell.
- If the manuscript were really any good, a conventional royalty publisher would pay to have it published.
- An individual does not have the infrastructure or the marketing clout to compete with the major publishing houses. Thus the self-publishing author cannot really compete.
- Most self-publishers only sell 100-200 copies of their book.
- Self-publishing is synonymous with low quality work.
- If you self-publish a book, your brand (name) will be tainted and conventional publishers will not consider your future submissions.
Are these criticisms valid? Let me take each of these in turn and look at the validity of these assertions.
In Self-Publishing editors, publishing companies, and marketing vendors take advantage of neophyte authors by lauding a bad book idea and then encourage the author pay them thousands of dollars for services that produce a book that will never sell.
This can be true. If you mention writing in a Google note, a great many advertisements appear offering to publish your book, sight unseen. I am not saying any of these are disreputable, but as with any large investment the buyer must exercise due diligence to separate the “wheat from the chaff.” By all means speak to other authors that have used them. Check into the financial stability of the operation so that you do not pay money upfront and then find that the vendor has entered bankruptcy proceedings before they deliver your books. Ask hard questions about the services they provide.
- Will you receive the files of the final edits and the print ready files or do these cost extra?
- Does the vendor place your books into bookstores? Which ones?
- Will the publication agreement allow you to publish elsewhere? Since you are paying, it should.
- Will the vendor provide a listing on amazon.com? Who will fulfill the amazon requests? Amazon, the vendor or you.
- Who owns the cover art?
- What will it cost to reprint?
You will likely think of other questions. The key point for me: I treat this like any other large investment and exercise due diligence. Understand how the vendor makes their money. Do they have any interest in seeing your manuscript succeed?
If the manuscript were really any good, a conventional royalty publisher would pay to have it published.
I do not at all think this is at all the case. The inverse however is likely true. If your manuscript is poor, that is to say, if the plot is defective, the editing is inaccurate, and the language is clumsy, then it is unlikely that a royalty publisher will pick it up. However I am convinced that many good manuscripts are missed. And the number missed is increasing as the cost pressures on traditional publishers escalate. The primary motivation for most publishers is sales. For that reason, as the pressure for sure fire winners mount, the publishers (from my observation) focus more and more on established authors or authors who naturally have a platform. If you are the pastor of a large church, president of the United States. or a star athlete, publishers will be interested in your manuscript.
An individual does not have the infrastructure or the marketing clout to compete with the major publishing houses.
Again in one sense this is true. As an individual you likely do not have the advertising budget, the connections to receive reviews from major daily newspapers, nor will you likely be considered for major awards. However there are three factors strongly in favor of the Micro-Publisher.
- As a Self-Publisher you do not have the overhead of a major publishing house. You do not have a building to maintain. You do not have an army of professionals to pay. As a consequence that along with a higher retention of the book’s revenue’s as income, your break even point should be much lower than a publishing house (I aim for break even at the sale of 300 books). I work hard and learn to do as much as possible myself to keep this number low.
- As a Self-Publisher, you are able to sell with a personal touch. With a low break even point, a Self-Publisher can afford to sell books one at a time without being driven to the risky expense of mass marketing.
- The internet is the great leveler. As a Self-Publisher you access the same audience as the major publishing houses. The internet also provides an easy way for authors and Self-Publishers to band together and help each other.
Considering how readers make their book buying decision is another approach to this question. Some buy books off the national best sellers list. Others buy books that have received a major award. Still others browse the shelves of their favorite book store and read the cover description.
For me, I choose books either by recommendation or because I need them for a project. When I select a fantasy read, I will likely choose a series that people I trust recommend. I do not ask (or care) about the publisher. The recommendation is enough. Similarly in nonfiction, if some one discusses an idea in a book, article or blog, then I am likely to search a copy of the book out. For people like me, the traditional publisher really has no advantage to achieve a sale. It all depends on the quality of the book and the recommendation the book can garner from people I trust..
Most self-publishers only sell 100-200 copies of their book.
When you are starting out, I think this is a reasonable expectation. However if you have a low break even point, you are not that far away from making money. The key question: Is your book any good? When your readers finish are they glad they spent their money? Will they recommend the book to others? If the answer is ‘no,’ then you need to develop your writing craft further and your expenses have really been tuition in the school of writing and you have obtained some valuable feedback.. You can’t expect to make money if your readers don’t like what you’ve written.
A Self-Publisher controls when his book goes out of print. If by your third book, you have developed a substantial following, all those readers will go back to books one and two if they really like your work. I expect to start slowly and I expect to have a long learning curve.
Self-publishing is synonymous with low quality work.
The term Self-Publishing spans a great many different scenarios. I have defined a few categories to bring out the breadth of the Self-Publishing field.
- Vanity publishing. A person may simply want a book that he published to put on his coffee table to show to friends and family. The payback is the existence of the book and not the quality nor anticipated sales. Even a low quality, unedited book will achieve this goal.
- Family Memoirs. Every family has important history. Most of that history is significant to the family alone and not to outsiders. These books may be well written and well edited, but the subject matter may only be of interest to the family members.
- The Author as Artist. The author loves to write. but hates to get involved in the business side of things. This may produce many fine books, but likely the sales and marketing will be lacking.
- Micro-Publishing. The author works to develop his craft and business at the same time. While working to improve the quality of his work, he also works to develop a business, based on a low overhead model to find a marketing niche for his books.
Micro-Publishing requires more detailed discussion and I plan to devote a blog entirely to that concept.
I also want to point out that in my view many books published by royalty publishers are low quality work. I don’t mean they were full of spelling mistakes (that rarely happens) but often books that reviewers have raved about, I put down after the first couple of chapters and I regretted spending the money and would not recommend them to others. In my view a royalty publisher is no guarantee of a good book.
If you self-publish a book, your brand (name) will be tainted and conventional publishers will not consider your future submissions.
I do not know if this is the case or not. But I do know that a book ought to be judged individually by its quality and content and not by the quality of the author’s previous attempts. If a Self-Published book excludes an author from future consideration, then it seems to me this is rank prejudice.
In summary, taking control of the publication process can be expensive and is not for everyone. When I have undertaken this Self-Publishing step, I treated it as a major investment and performed due diligence gaining as much information as possible and then weighing the pros and cons.
Thanks for reading. What factors went into your Self-Publishing decision?
Peter Kazmaier is author The Halcyon Dislocation, a colonization epic about a university transported into a parallele world.
In the Writer’s Group that I attend we talked about self-publishing at our last meeting before we began to read our most recent creations. There were many thoughts presented for and against self-publishing versus the traditional route of searching for a royalty publisher for your manuscript. This question has been brought into sharp relief as traditional publishers and booksellers continue to suffer. For example Borders’ process toward Chapter 11 protection was recently documented (see the article by Tiffany Cary Borders Liquidation Riles Toronto’s Kobo, National Post, page FP1, July 19, 2011). So what is a neophyte writer to do with this question about whether or not to self-publish?
Let me begin by quoting Robert Sawyer, arguably the most successful Science Fiction writer in Canada.
Sawyer, in his Letter to Beginning Writers, says in his 10th bullet “Do not self-publish. Seriously. Don’t.”
Beginning with that rather strong censure of Self-Publishing, let me summarize the arguments against self-publishing that I have heard from writers, editors, and publishers:
- In Self-Publishing editors, publishing companies, and marketing vendors take advantage of neophyte authors by lauding a bad book idea and then encouraging the author pay them thousands of dollars for services that produce a book that will never sell.
- If the manuscript were really any good, a conventional royalty publisher would pay to have it published.
- An individual does not have the infrastructure or the marketing clout to compete with the major publishing houses.
- Most self-publishers only sell 100-200 copies of their book.
- Self-publishing is synonymous with low quality work.
- If you self-publish a book, your brand (name) will be tainted and conventional publishers will not consider your future submissions.
I think some (perhaps all) of these statements contain an element of truth in them and I will talk about them in more detail later, but is there another side to this story?
The Traditional Flight Plan
When I observe other novelists trying to break into the traditional publishing market, I see the following sequence:
- Many beginning novelists spend years getting their first manuscript together. They buy books on writing, pay for critiques, attend workshops and writer’s conferences (all cost tens to hundreds of dollars) and they wonder if their manuscript and writing is any good. Some never leave this stage, endlessly revising their work. Others, in their hearts wonder if they can take the criticism that comes with having their “baby” critically appraised. If they can screw up their courage, they go to stage two and submit their manuscript to royalty publishers. It is important to realize (and frequently overlooked) that in stage 1 you are already spending copious amounts of time and money. Every book on writing, every conference you visit and every workshop you attend is money out of your pocket. It is not as if you only start to spend money when you decide to self-publish. So what about stage 2?
- In stage 2 writers will send query letters along with their manuscript to publishing houses, perhaps hundreds of them, proposing their manuscript for publication. Many will come back with a boiler plate “no,” others will say “we like the idea but it doesn’t fit with our publishing objectives” and a lucky few will actually receive a favorable response. An initial favorable response however does not guarantee publication. Generally each publishing house has a committee that oversees cash expenditures and even though an acquisition editor may pitch your idea to that committee they many still not fund it. The key point to remember at stage 2 is that the query letter time is competing with your writing competency development time. You have less time to write and all of the rejections you receive serve only to undermine your self-confidence (that may have some long run benefit since all writers need to develop a thick skin). Finally (and to me this is the most important shortcoming) you have not yet been able to get your book into the hands of your true audience, the book buyer. Let’s suppose that you are one of the lucky few who is offered a book contract. Now you have made it right? Check out stage 3.
- So you have your book contract and advance. The publisher now owns your idea and wants to maximize revenue from it. That may mean major changes in the content to direct it toward the market “sweet spot.” Furthermore with tight marketing budgets and most marketing directed toward the surefire money makers (authors with a large following, name recognition, and a good track record) the publisher will rely heavily on you to help with the marketing through book signings, blogging, publicity events, and public speaking. You are likely not on salary, but it is expected that you shoulder a significant burden of the marketing responsibility. One ought to ask oneself: “If I am spending all this time to make money for a royalty publisher, would I not be better off doing the same things for my own publication where the margins are much higher?” The answer is not straightforward. The publisher may have experts for every stage of the publication process and that may make for a better book (some publishers as a way of reducing costs, are laying off staff editors and using free lance editors instead). Those potential benefits are being traded off against the freedom of managing your own affairs. When you manage your own publishing you can change printers, decide when to launch e-books and try whatever marketing strategy makes the most sense to you. But you are not finished yet. There is also a stage 4.
- So your book is published and you have begun to bring in sales for your publishing house. Is your book a success? Generally a publisher’s minimum expectations are to cover the writer’s advance with royalty payments. If you do not cover that spread then your book has been a financial failure from the point of view of the publisher’s expectations. However some 96% of initial contracts are not covered by the paid royalty from sales. So after all this time if you are not one of the lucky 4%, you have a marketing failure next to your name. Is this really better than self-publishing?
My Own Approach
I am not at all against working with a royalty publisher, but my priorities are to grow in competence in the craft of writing, to learn how to market my books, and to connect with my readership. I cannot accomplish that if I leave the publication process solely in hands of someone else. I want to be wise about paying for printing, and I want to proceed with realistic expectations, but if I don’t have a book to give to my readers, I will not be listening to the people that really count.
So what do you think? Am I on the right track? Have you had any personal experiences with either royalty or pay-for-print publishers? Stay tuned for the next installment where I talk about some of the confusions, obfuscations, and misunderstanding related to self-publishing.
Thanks for reading,
Peter Kazmaier is author The Halcyon Dislocation, a colonization epic about a university transported into a parallel world.