I Will Make No Apologies

You know what really erks me as a writer?  People who think they can write my stories and ideas better than I can. I’m not saying that I’m perfect or that I’m the best writer that the literary world has ever read. In all honesty, most of the time I really suck. But I have been writing for the better part of twenty-eight years. I have written several novels and tons of short stories and even a few pieces of award-winning poetry. I may not be the best writer, but I’m pretty damn good. But perhaps the most important thing is that I like the way that I write. I know my writing style is kind of all over the place, but that’s me. It’s what sets my style apart from all the other cookie-cutter writers out there. If I spend all my time getting caught up in the English rules of writing, then I not only stop writing anything worth reading, but I also get so caught up in trying to make certain the rules are being followed that I cease to be myself when I create. It kills the whole creative process. I’m not saying that you can’t write anything worth a damn if you follow the rules of proper English. What I am saying is that for me, writing proper English and following proper English writing rules just simply does not work. It squashes all my creativity. What’s more, I really like the end product. So does a shit load of my fans. I’ve actually had tons of people (including editors and agents) tell me that I write like I am telling a story orally rather than it being written down. Surprisingly, my improptu and improper way of writing has made a lot of people tell me that they feel more involved in the story because of the informality of my writing style. For whatever reason, it works for me.

Unfortunately, there are those English majors, teachers, and those who are grammar nazis or just plain assholes about my writing style. They seem to think that unless it is written in perfect, proper English that it is poorly written. I do not like for my stories to read like they were being submitted for an English composition class. However it pops into my head is how I write it. Just like I have written this. Kinda sounds like I’ve been talking to you this whole time. And that’s the way I like for my stories to feel. It’s my way of saying, “SCREW YOU!” to all my English teachers. After all, you know what they say: if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. My style works for me.  Therefore, it is not broken.  So I’m not about to fix it.

Pitfalls of Self-Publishing

As I have already written in a previous blog, self-publishing is a lot of work. Some people will opt to do all or most of the hard work themselves. Others will decide to opt for the ‘publishing’ and ‘marketing’ packages offered by POD services, self-publishing services, and vanity presses. As with anything, the most important thing that you can do before making a decision is to ‘do your homework.’ Self-publishing and picking the best POD company for yourself is no different. Below I outline a few things to take into consideration before making your final pick.

**Disclaimer** The following is just my opinion and information that I have gathered for myself over the years of researching POD services, self-publishing, and working with self-publishing companies. I currently use LuLu Press which is a self-publishing on-line company that I have used for many years. I am in NO WAY affiliated with or endorsing this company and strongly recommend that you do your own research to pick the company that is right for YOU. However, LuLu is the one that I use so I know a lot about it and have had much success from working with the company. I know that there ARE other self-publishing companies out there that are just as good as LuLu. I continue to stay with LuLu Press because I know how the website works and am quite happy with the way my work has turned out.

vanity presses – a printing company that makes its money by charging authors to bind their manuscripts into book form and then manufacture those books. They charge self-publishing authors fees to proofread/edit the work, to market the work, and often rope the author into purchasing numerous copies of their work that they then must sell in order to recoup the money spent on having the work published.

Fees, Fees, and More Fees:

Even if the economy was not in the shape that it is in, money would still play a huge role in the decision making of picking a self-publishing service. People choose self-publishing for many reasons: complete artistic freedom of their work, the satisfaction that comes from having done the whole project on their own, a work that is of a genre that mainstream publishing companies are not interested in…the list is as varied as the authors themselves. For those who do begin to consider self-publishing as an option, usually one of the very first questions they have is “How much is this going to cost me?”

1. Sure, we’ll publish that for you…for a price: Some companies will allow you create your book from beginning to end without charging you a single cent. (I personally use LuLu.com for all of my needs because there is absolutely NO cost to me if I choose to do all the work myself. Like most companies, however, LuLu does offer publishing, editing, and marketing packages that can be purchased.) Others will charge you to upload your book even if you do not purchase anything else from them. Almost all POD and publishing services will allow you to purchase marketing, publishing, and editing packages from them. These packages can run into several thousands of dollars.

2. Make changes? No problem, but it’s going to cost you: You have to keep in mind that self-publishing is a business just like anything else. One of the ways that vanity presses make money is by charging the author to change their book once it has been edited.

3. Would you like fries with that? Something that I cannot stand is when I am being force fed something that I really do not want and do not need. Unfortunately, some publishing companies are going to force you into purchasing services that you neither want nor need. These could be those companies who will not publish you until you have paid them to proofread or edit your manuscript. Having your work edited is always a good idea, but vanity presses make their money from the authors’ pocketbooks, not the actual selling of the books, so their editors and proofreaders are not usually the best in the world and are sometimes outrageously overpriced.

If you do decide on an editor, be sure to do your research and pick one that has lots of experience and comes highly recommended by other authors who have tried their services. Be careful though. Editors and proofreaders are suppose to be nothing more than spell checks with fingers. If you have one that rips your manuscript apart to the point where your writing style has disappeared, then you may want to consider finding another editor. One of the many problems with today’s editors is that many were aspiring authors who could not get published and end up “living out” their dreams through the authors that they edit by imposing their own writing styles and preferences into the manuscript. If you are concerned about your work no longer resembling the original submitted, make your concerns known up front. Ask other authors how much their manuscript changed after the editing process. If it is at all possible, ask for sample edited pages that shows the original work and the edited version so that you can compare the two. Finally, if your gut tells you that something just isn’t feeling right, move on.

4. How many copies would you like? One of the worst things you can do is invest hundreds or thousands of dollars in purchasing copies of your book. Your money is best spent trying to market yourself. This is why most authors choose POD services, or Print-on-Demand presses. Some companies (such as LuLu) do not require you to purchase advance copies of your book. They print them out as each copy is ordered by the readers. By doing this, the company takes their cut for producing the work out of each copy rather than forcing the author to pony-up money in the beginning and being saddled with a garage full of books that they can’t sell. Another good thing about printing out each copy as it is ordered rather than mass production is that if you decide to change something in the book you won’t have all that money wasted on copies of books that you will have to replace with the new edition.

5. Distribution Packages: everyone knows that marketing your new book is a huge chunk of work. Many people will not know where to begin and will put their faith, and their money, in the hands of a vanity press who will promise to market their book to the “appropriate channels.” What they fail to tell the authors is that just because they make the book available to distributors doesn’t mean those distributors will actually want to purchase and sell the book. The retailers are looking to make a buck just like the vanity presses and will only purchase titles that they see a demand for. So if the distributors aren’t purchasing your book, then the distribution package is essentially worthless.

Marketing yourself may seem like a daunting task. But with the internet, the avenues of free advertising and marketing tools are endless. Create your own free website with samples of your work. Join writing forums and showcase excerpts of your book. Create your own Twitter account and rack up on followers. Create your own blog if you had rather not create a whole website. The ideas for marketing for free or on a budget are endless. All you need is a little creativity and the time to put together your own empire.

6. Promotion, Promotion, Promotion! For a price: as with #5, vanity presses may pressure you (or even require you) into purchasing promotional packages that will not really do you any good. An example of this service would be to display your book at the annual Book Expo America. This expedition exhibits millions of books every year, so having a single copy of your work amongst them is about as likely to get your work noticed as a needle in haystack. Another promotional service that is offered is sending out press releases to national newspapers announcing the release of your book. While this may sound like a good idea, you need to look at it from a reader’s point of view.

Let’s say you opened a national newspaper to see a small 1″ X 1″ announcement that John Thornton just released a new book. Your first reaction is going to be, “Who’s John Thornton?” If you are not a big name author, then no one is going to want to purchase a book based on a small announcement in a national newspaper. However, many local newspapers would happily accept a press release from a LOCAL author who is announcing the release of their book. And if you happen to live in a smaller town, they just love supporting their local talent.

Another great marketing tool is to request that your local library or bookstore allow you time to make a public speech about your new work. And if you have insisted upon purchasing copies of your book, now would be a great time to try to sell them. Even better, what person could resist a FREE autographed copy of a book from a local author? When it comes to promoting yourself and your work, creativity is the key to success.

7. I just spent thousands of dollars to get my book into print…..um, where are all those books I just bought? As with any contract, you must READ THE FINE PRINT. Often lost in the sea of promotional materials that the vanity press offers is the little known fact that you can spend tens of thousands of dollars on their services and not have a single copy of your book to show for it. If you decide to purchase any type of package from a self-publishing company, make sure you know how many, if any, books you will actually have at the end of the process.

8. Yippee! I just spent my entire life savings on getting my novel published. I even have ten thousands books to show for it! Except that when you open up the book it falls apart….or the cover is as thin as the paper the book is printed on….or the ink on the pages smudge every time I touch them….or the cover art is so distorted that I honestly can’t tell WHAT is on the cover…..

We’ve all heard the saying that you get what you pay for. In the publishing world, that is not always the truth. The last thing you want is to offer your readers a very low-quality printed book. Whether you choose a free-to-publish company like LuLu or opt to spend money on a vanity press, the very first thing you will want to do is purchase a book that the company has printed. After all, even if you are only being charged $0.005 cents/page, those pages aren’t worth ink if they are so thin that they tear when you try to turn the page. What’s even worse is paying $0.50/page for the same shoddy work.

9. Production Price vs Cover Price vs Percentage Sales….wait, I’m confused!? I prefer to work with POD companies that take their cut of the profits out of each book that I sell. But keep in mind that just because the production price appears to be lower doesn’t mean that the difference between the production price and the cover price belongs to you. In reality, some other systems charge a hefty percentage of any increase in book price above the production cost. While some companies will charge a flat percentage rate of the amount of markup, others will have an inflating percentage rate that means the more you go above production cost, the bigger the cut for the vanity press. You will want to make sure you find out exactly how much profit you will make off of each book before deciding on which company to use. You also need to compare production prices. The last thing you want is to have a severely over-priced book that no one is willing to buy because you had to ramp up the final purchase price in order to make any type of profit.

10. LOSS OF RIGHTS: perhaps one of the most important things to remember to find out is if you are signing away your copyrights to the vanity press! So BEWARE and once again, read the fine print. The same goes for signing up with writing forums. I have come across a few who will allow you to post your work on their sites but by doing so you are giving up your rights to the work and giving them the right to repost your work on the internet or even in print. Bottom line, you do not EVER want to give up your copyrights to your work. When you give up your copyrights, you are giving up any right to reprint, repost, republish, and sell the work to others.

In summary, the technology available today will allow you to get the word out about your new novel. How much money you decide to spend is entirely up to you. There ARE ways to get your name known, for free, if you are willing to put forth the time and effort required. Remember that marketing yourself takes place BEFORE you actually get ready to sell your book. By networking on the internet and giving samples of your work to people, you will get them hooked on your style. Given enough time and energy, it is possible to build up a substantial reader base long before you ever release your book.  If you do decide to self-publish, do your homework.  Ask questions, contact other authors who have used the company, and order at least one copy of your own work as well as at least one copy of another author’s work so you will get an idea of the quality of the printing.  Above all, follow your instincts.

Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing

First off, let me make it clear that when I say “self-publishing” I do NOT mean using a “vanity” publisher. When you use a “vanity” publisher, it basically means that you pay a company that looks like a traditional publisher to edit/proofread your work and bind it into book form. The price for this service is usually several thousand dollars and can run into the tens of thousands depending on what type of ‘package’ you purchase. These companies and their ‘service’ are basically a rip off. The proofreading/editing is shoddy at best. If you do not like the end result, chances are you are going to be stuck with several hundred to several thousand copies of a book that you cannot give away. And even if you buy some type of ‘promotion’ package (where they supposedly advertise your work to the masses), chances of you selling a single copy of your book based on THEIR work is little to none. I would NEVER suggest that anyone go the route of the vanity press.

When I say “self-publish” I mean using a POD or Print-on-Demand company. (POD means that the book is not printed out until someone orders a copy of it. By doing this, it keeps the author from having to spend thousands of dollars on copies of a book that they then have to turn around and attempt to sell) It is a lot more work on the author’s part, but you won’t be out thousands of dollars on a project that you do not whole-heartedly love.

With the technology of today, getting published has become relatively easy for anyone who wishes to get their written word out to the masses. But is it really such a ‘quick fix?’ Here is just a small take on my personal trials and tribulations about the ins and outs of do-it-yourself publishing.

I chose to self-publish my last novel for several reasons (i.e. the novel Temptation which is a collection of 8 short erotic stories). First, the genre I write. There is a huge market for erotica but unfortunately the traditional publishers do not like getting their hands dirty with it. In today’s world just about everyone has a website. Before I decided to go the self-publishing route I looked up a few dozen traditional publishers to see what type of genre they would accept. Not surprisingly, none of them would touch the erotic fantasy genre. So I started looking into other options, namely self-publishing. The second reason why I chose to self-publish is because traditional publishers do not take unsolicited manuscripts. That is to say, you can’t just send in a query letter and part of your manuscript and expect them to do anything besides toss them in the trash. They all want literary agents to represent the author. This means that there is just one more person who gets a cut of the profits. And of course agents, as well as publishers, will not even look at it until it goes to a professional editor. I personally think that editors should be nothing more than a spell check with fingers. Unfortunately, they want to rip it apart and impose their own styles into the manuscript so it soon ceases to be the author’s work. I do my own editing since I have been doing freelance editing jobs for more than twenty years now. Once I’ve finished finding every error I can on my own, I send out copies to family and friends and ask them to mark any typos they come across. I guess you can say I cheat when it comes to editing.

You might be wondering what all is involved in self-publishing. What, exactly, does an author have to do in order to self-publish.

Everything. And I do mean everything. Most POD publishers (Print-on-Demand) will editor your work for you, for a fee. But it can cost several thousand dollars, and that’s money I just don’t have. My editing process is pretty much on-going. I am never really satisfied with what I come up with. The last novel I wrote I spent eight hours a day seven days a week for over two months editing it on my computer. Once I could no longer find any errors I ordered a printed copy and edited the hard copy. Once I made those changes I ordered copies for my family and friends and had them go through it. Then I had to change those mistakes, and that in itself is a job and a half.

The POD company that I use does not accept MS Word documents. When I upload the word document, the company changes it to a read-only PDF document. Unfortunately, the way the PDF document prints out is not the same as it does when it’s in Word format. So I spent countless hours adding in pages and spaces and reformatting the entire manuscript trying to get the PDF document to print out the way I want it to. Before you can even upload your completed files you have to decide what size the book will be, what type of paper you want it printed on, what type of binding, if it’s hard cover or paperback or if you want it in black and white or full color. I also design my own cover for my books. The little synopsis that appears on the back is written by me. I have my own storefront through Lulu  but again, I have to design the whole thing and keep it up and running.

Keep in mind that anyone can slap any dribble on paper and have it self-published. But that doesn’t mean that people will find it. Once you get the book designed and printed and perfect, then you have to get the word out. All advertising, book signings, getting interviews….it all falls on the author to handle all of this. Unless, of course, you are willing to pay the POD company to handle all of this for you. Most self-published authors are living paycheck t o paycheck so most of us have to resort to advertising that is little to no cost. And trust me, free advertising doesn’t exactly get your name out there. As a self-published author you will soon find yourself in a sea of self-published authors. Trying to make a name for yourself can be even harder than if you go the traditional publishing route.

So, is it a “quick-fix?”

No, I just think it’s an option. Those of us who choose to go this route have our reasons. Yes, many of us choose to self-publish because we cannot get published with a traditional company. Others want to retain complete control over their work, others do it just because they want to. If you think that self-publishing is something that you can do real quick to get your work out there, then I am afraid that you are going to be very unpleasantly surprised. Going the self-publishing route takes months and months of hard work after you’ve written the manuscript. The more work that you choose to do yourself then the longer it will take and the more work there will be for you to do. You have to not only be creative in your writing, but also have to come up with some pretty creative ways to get your name out there and promote yourself. Is it worth it? Oh yes, to hold a copy of your book in your hand is always worth the time and effort put in to it. I don’t think self-publishing is for everyone, especially if you do not have the time and energy it takes to devote to marketing yourself. But for many, it has definitely helped to get them that much closer to becoming a household name.

Criticism: To Listen or Not to Listen

As a writer, at some point in time, you are going to come across criticism.  You will have those who mean well and will give an honest opinion, and then you will have those people who are just plain idiots, who are angry at the time, or who seriously enjoy the instant gratification and anonymity of slinging shit at the walls to see what sticks.  You actually will get some good advice, some of which you may or may not want to take.  The question you have to ask yourself is if the advice given will make any difference, if it applies to your particular writing, and if you really give a damn enough to take the advice.

A personal pet peeve of mine is for someone to tell me how to write my own ideas.  But guess what?  Sometimes they are right.  So how do you know if their advice is for you?  Try taking their advice and rewrite the suggested areas.  Is it any better to YOU?  If not, then toss it.  Nobody said you had to take their advice.  If you specialize in a specific genre or idea and feel that the advice really doesn’t apply, then don’t fret about it.  I have had a lot of “advice” from people who try to impose their own thoughts and opinions on what should and should not go on in my little world of the vampire.  What they fail to comprehend is that I spent YEARS creating the world that my latest novel takes place in.  I wrote down all the rules and regulations that governed what my different types of characters could and could not do long before I created a single character to live in that world.  I may not be an expert on the vampire, but I certainly could argue the point that I am an expert when it comes to my own storyline and the world in which that storyline lives.  But I try not to just toss aside a suggestion.  Any suggestion that I can actually use at a later date is always a good thing.   Most of the time, however, the suggestions given to me really do not apply to my particular genres.  When that happens, I simply ignore it.

Sometimes I get suggestions that fall under the whole, “I don’t really give a crap” category.  But what if the criticism is so vocal, or shared by so many people, that they might be on to something?  If I know in advance what others will think when they read my work, then I can incorporate that into my storyline.  For example, I had several people make remarks about how absolutely absurd the names of my characters were in The Red Fang.  I did not just haphazardly pick names at random when I named the majority of my characters.  There actually was a whole vampire culture aspect as to how my vampires came by their names.  This idea was hinted at, but never talked about in detail, and I did not even intend to have any hint of the ideas behind their names come into the storyline until the second novel.  But since I now knew that people thought their names were so stupid and that they didn’t understand the great cultural background of how my vampires got their names, I had to decide if including this information would benefit the storyline enough to warrant including it, or if I just wanted to let people think whatever they wanted.  In the end, I included an entire chapter that involved the three main characters sitting around poking fun at the ridiculous vampire names along with the cultural history regarding those names.  In the end, when people who read the story think that the names are incredibly moronic, when they come to the chapter that explains the cultural significance of their names, the readers are the ones who end up with egg on their face rather than me.

In my particular writing style, I have a tendency to write like I am giving a verbal recount of a story.  I use incomplete sentences, run on sentences, have dangling participles and modifiers all over the place.  It is very laid back and low key.  My writing style does not resemble a polished, professionally edited book at ALL.  And that ‘s the way I want it.  I have had hundreds of readers tell me they enjoyed my writing style and that it really made them feel like they were in the story.  Bottom line, it works for me.  I don’t sound like all the cookie cutter books out there and I don’t want it to.  So when I get comments bashing my writing style as being ‘unprofessional’ or that point out all the English rules that I am breaking, I file those suggestions under the “I don’t really give a damn” category. 

The worst thing a writer can do is try to embrace a writing style that is not naturally their own.  If all writers sounded the same, how very boring the books would be to read.  I know that I am breaking English rules.  I did it on purpose.  The real question is, does pointing this out actually help me?  If the grammatical errors hinders the storyline and takes away from the action, then yes, it helps.  But if the story reads, sounds, and feels just the way I want it, then no, pointing out that I have disposable adverbs and unnecessary modifiers does not help me.  One has to keep in mind that not everyone will “get” what you are trying to say, will understand your point of view, or will even be smart enough to follow along with your storyline. 

If all else fails and the criticism/suggestions is really bothering you, then take a step back.  Count to ten.  Reread your work.  If there is something that YOU genuinely think needs to be changed or addressed, then by all means, change it.  But if you feel that your work is just fine the way it is, then take all those “suggestions” with a grain of salt.  After all, you can’t please all the people all the time.