My Take on Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store

 

Forword: please note this is an opinion piece.

A recent blog post entitled “Scammers Break the Kindle Store” has now been shared on FB more than 5 thousand times in just three days. If you haven’t read the article, I highly recommend it. You can CLICK HERE to read it in its entirety. It’s very interesting, to say the least. I suppose what bothers me the most about this article is it accuses this author of using black hat tactics to gain a #1 spot on Amazon’s paid list with no other proof than the author not having any type of social media presence and had not used any of the “traditional” marketing ploys most indies use – lack of self-promotion via social media platforms and no Bookbub ads, in conjunction with the fact this author is “unknown” to the writer of this article. (As a side note, I’m pretty sure Amanda Hocking did not have a social media platform nor did she use Bookbub before she became one of the first authors to successfully sell a million copies of her own self-published books prior to being offered a 7-figure publishing deal. Oh, and Anne Rice hit the big leagues long before social media was even a thing.)

As I was saying, I would like to point out the Amazon ranking system routinely catapults “unknown” authors into bestseller status. I can’t even begin to describe how many times I’ve seen the words “NYT Bestselling Author” or “USA TODAY Bestselling Author” on the front of book covers on Amazon and have absolutely no clue who these authors are. I would also like to point out an incredibly wild notion – there are other ways to promote books outside of the internet. I know, crazy concept. I’m sure the author of the article actually has very good reasons for thinking this book hit this status with less than ethical practices, just as I know why he chose not to lay out the proof so other people can’t use the tactics to scam the system further. Unfortunately, by not giving a play-by-play and no other proof other than his gut, the entire article has become nothing more than an opinion piece, just like mine. As a matter of fact, I’m going to go so far as to call total bullshit on his entire article and way of thinking. Judging by his reactions to some of the comments, he’s just another author who seems to be frustrated with the entire craptacular we indies are forced to deal with every day.

With that said, I’m about to voice a very unpopular opinion about this, but I’m hoping you will bear with me and read through to the end. At the very least, I hope this will get you thinking, because I honestly do not believe the thousands of indie authors who have been sharing this article fully understands how the publishing world works – and by “publishing world” I mean not just the indie scene, but the trade publishers as well. As I’ve stated many times, I’ve spent the last twenty-six some years in the publishing business, either trying to break into the trade pub scene, learning from it, interacting with both NYT and indie best-selling authors, being an active publisher and indie author, as well as having friends in both the modeling and music industries. To say I’ve learned a lot is a vast understatement. But I digress.

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why indie authors are so upset over this. Well, I actually do get why, but it goes back to the reason they are so upset is they fail to see the broader scope of publishing from a business aspect. It’s like the authors who never once think about how their own business practices affect the industry as a whole, so long as they are making money right now.

Let’s look at this from a business standpoint. This type of “black hat” operations happens all the time with traditional publishers. The only difference is they are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to “underground” marketing and PR firms to do the very same thing and are pretty much keeping how they operate their business a closely guarded secret shared only among other big-boy publishers. While this is going on every single day with bestseller books in the trade world, with millions of dollars being invested and earned off of Amazon, we have indies who want to crucify the indie authors who are following in the big boy’s footsteps using the resources at their disposal – which would be Fiverr and the like. It’s not pretty, and we have fewer “underground” resources at our disposal simply because we are not rubbing elbows with the big boy publishers enough to be “in the know” when it comes to which “secret” firms we should be hiring. We have to ask around, and doing so means our business becomes everyone else’s business. Remember, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and to be honest, as indies, even if we did have access to the same resources as the big boy publishing houses, most of us simply do not have the money required to hire these people.

So let’s look at a few case studies. Hugh Howey admitted he used his own money, one of these underground market PR firms, and a whole lot of Fiverr people to buy his way onto the NYT bestsellers list and pad his serialized book with fake reviews. He openly admitted this on his own website and did an in-depth interview outlining how he went about achieving his letters. And yet no one went raging to Amazon demanding his account be revoked, nor did Amazon demand his royalty payments be paid back. So pray tell how this is any different?

Purchasing dozens of “fake” reviews through businesses like Fiverr is no different than the author who band together all their family, friends, and fellow readers/authors to create huge review/reader teams and then not only enlist these huge review teams to leave reviews but oftentimes pay them as well to leave dozens upon dozens of reviews of a book which was just released. You ever see a book that literally has only been live for two hours with two hundred plus glowing 5-star reviews on it and wonder how they managed it? That’s how they did it. Is doing that any more ethical than paying a bunch of random strangers to do the same thing? Does knowing the reviewers somehow make it okay as opposed to finding a complete stranger to do it for you? The only difference is Amazon’s ToS says you can’t “pay” for reviews, but they do not specify what “payment” is specifically. We all just assume they mean we can’t spend money but giving someone a book in exchange for a review is okay. In my eyes, it’s still payment. Just because Amazon lets us get away with it in their world does not make it an ethical business practice.

I’ve seen authors gather together these large teams and then pay them to pre-order their book so when it hits, it shoots up the Amazon ranking with the potential to earn bestseller letters. Yet authors are okay with this because so many of them do it. How is enlisting these large review teams any different than someone buying the same exact services through places like Fiverr? Just because it is not technically against Amazon’s ToS does not necessarily make it ethical business practices.  Yes, large trade publishers hire people to leave reviews yet indie authors seem okay with that, but are quick to crucify an indie who pads their reviews through Fiverr. Either way, the ToS are being broken no matter how much you want to justify it, the only difference is one of them everyone is doing, and the other one is being done just as often, authors just don’t talk about it.

Everyone keeps saying what this author did was not “ethical” and it displaces “legitimate, hardworking authors” right out of the ranking. “Hardworking”? You mean “hardworking” like erotica authors who have used a few friends with blogs to amass a huge army of rabid fans who not only cause his books to shoot up the Amazon charts, but an author who then turns a blind eye to said fans attacking other authors and leaving bad reviews on their books? You mean “hardworking” like those authors who gather up the large review teams, pay them to preorder their books, and have them leave glowing reviews on their work as soon as it goes live? You mean “hardworking” like those authors who spent thousands upon thousands of dollars using private PR firms to buy their way onto these bestseller lists? Or “hardworking” like the authors who join boxed sets and then spend thousands of dollars gifting the anthology right onto the USA Today’s bestsellers list? Or “hardworking” like the ring leaders of these anthologies who not only learned how to game the system, but who then instruct their 30+ authors to do less than ethical marketing and break a huge chunk of Amazon’s TOS just so they can say they earned their letters? No matter how much indies or trade publishers try to justify it, black hat tactics are black hat tactics, even when they do not go against Amazon’s ToS. So I will once again ask, how is any of that different from what this author is accused of?

I’ve had Anne Rice herself tell me on more than one occasion that I should use all the tools at my disposal, which means calling in every “favor” I’m owed by family and friends and have them leave me a nice review on my books. It flies in the face of Amazon’s TOS yet trade publishers do the exact same thing. They pay other big-name authors to write some small, glowing review to pop on the front cover or include in the blurb of a new release. And you know how movie trailers are quick to boast how the NY Times, USA Today, and other critics are calling this new movie “The must-see movie of the year”? Yeah, you bet your sweet ass they were paid to write those reviews. It’s extremely commonplace with the big trade publishers, yet no one is demanding Stephen King or EL James’ heads on a platter because their publisher engaged in questionable business practices to try to launch a new book into bestseller status. It’s being done en mass, yet indies either seem oblivious to it or just choose to ignore it. Just because they are large publishers does not make it any more ethical than an indie doing the same thing. So if trade publishers get to do it, then why not indies?

It concerns me greatly that indie authors are quick to bring out the pitchforks against this one author, yet they are more than willing to turn a blind eye to the authors who are gathering up huge review teams to leave stunning reviews on their new releases, or the authors who allow their fans to openly attack any other author they deem a ‘threat’ to their own success. They are quick to join the author who can launch their own books into bestseller status knowing they are doing things against Amazon’s TOS and then only get upset when they lose all the money they invested into the scheme without hitting those coveted lists. Again, just because Amazon is allowing it doesn’t make it ethical.

I do not quite understand why indies seem to think it is okay for publishers to hire these firms who then hire third parties to purchase these books en mass, thus skyrocketing the books into bestseller status, or think it is perfectly fine for them to use marketing and promotion techniques to create a grassroots movement thus tricking the general population into believing a certain book is just the most wonderful book on the planet. We all know which book I’m referring to, yet no one is demanding she be stripped of her bestseller title or give back the millions of dollars she earned when her publisher used the bit of momentum she had already started on her own to catapult a poorly written piece of literature into the history books.

So why are authors okay with turning a blind eye to the indies who have huge review teams pre-order these books and leave dozens of shiny 5-star reviews on these books within a few hours of release? Why are they okay with joining boxed sets where authors are gifting copies of the set to people, knowing these gifted copies count toward their sales numbers. Regardless of whether you are gifting 3% or 99% of your total sales numbers, regardless of whether you are giving away copies to get a few hundred reviews, regardless of whether you are hiring people off of Fiverr to buy your book, pad your reviews, or “paying” your review team by gifting them swag, paperbacks, or other “rewards” for being a part of your team, ultimately all these tactics still do the one thing which goes against Amazon’s ToS- these practices ultimately manipulate the sales ranking.

People seem to forget while Amazon may allow you to gift copies of books, it doesn’t mean you should do it to the point where it is actively affecting your sales numbers. While Amazon may allow you to give a book away in exchange for a review, it does not mean authors should be doing it to the point where they have so many reviews in such a short amount of time it is actively affecting their visibility, ranking, and preferential treatment by Amazon to give those books with more reviews more exposure. Yet this is happening on a regular basis with both trade and indie books. So why are indies so quick to lynch one of their own over something like what this article talks about but are perfectly happy to turn a blind eye to everything else that is going on? Saying it is unfair to other, legitimate and “hardworking” authors is a total crock of bullshit to be honest. Trade publishers enlist underhanded practices to skew the rankings and both the NYT and USA Today bestsellers lists are highly vetted. The only difference between indies and trade publishers is Amazon is willing to turn a blind eye to anyone who is making them money.

While it certainly sucks this guy probably made a good $100K or more through this practice, how much did he pay out of his own pocket to get that ranking? I’ve seen my own books go from the 2 MILLION ranking mark to breaking the top 50K overall paid with only 3 sales. I’ve had authors tell me they had a book go from total obscurity to cracking the top 50 overall paid on less than a hundred total sales. And yet I myself have sold nearly one thousand copies of a single book in just under twelve hours and not have my overall ranking move more than a few places. The bottom line is, we don’t know how many sales or page reads it took for this guy to hit that bestselling status. It could have been tens of thousands of sales or it could have only been a few dozen. He could have easily spent a quarter of a million dollars to make a few thousand bucks or he could have spent $50 to make a few hundred thousand. Because of the way Amazon’s ranking system works, we simply have no idea what was actually gained off of this other than a bestselling ranking. It’s all purely speculation.

While it would be nice if everyone were playing on a level field, that simply is not the case nor will it ever be. So long as trade publishers are left to apply the same black hat techniques then indies are always going to be at a disadvantage. Even if Amazon began banning, removing, and revoking accounts and books of indies who engage in such behavior, there are still the trade publishers who are using questionable means to launch books into bestseller status, a practice which is always going to put indie authors at the bottom of the totem pole as far as both Amazon and readers are concerned.

It’s just another example of anyone who has the resources and money will always come out on top of this game, just like with any other business. It’s why I can’t exactly whine about not “making” it as an author when I know full well it takes a lot of money to hire professionals who know how to get me to where I need to be in order to make a name for myself. I simply do not have the money, and while I’d love to see those who do have the money be punished for doing what I cannot even though I may be a better writer, until Amazon starts enforcing that throughout their publishing platform and holding trade publishers to the same standards, I hardly see anything changing other than to make it even more difficult for indie authors to get a decent chunk of the publishing pie. And in all honesty, whining about such authors who do somehow manage to play with the “big boys” isn’t going to help any of us out. If anything, it just makes it that much more difficult for us to be seen.

First it’s this guy, but then what? They are already taking down reviews if the writer of the review is thought to somehow “know” the author. What happens when we are no longer able to have any type of social media platform with our readers because Amazon is removing all of our reviews? What happens when unverified reviews are no longer allowed because authors start complaining that giving away ARCs in exchange for a review is “unfair” to those who can’t find a huge review team? It certainly is unfair, but what if authors start complaining about it to such an extent that Amazon bans those types of reviews? What happens when boxed sets are banned because of all the shady tactics that are used to launch those into bestseller status?

The point, dear authors, is –  be careful what you wish for. Nothing about the publishing game is fair, least of all to indies. We have to be smarter, more cunning, and somehow manage to dance toe-to-toe with the big boys with a whole hell of a lot less money and nowhere near the connections. The more you complain about authors using the resources at their disposal, the harder it becomes for all of us to make it in the industry. I’d hate to know gifting copies no longer counted toward sales, that Amazon no longer allowed unverified purchase reviews, that giving out ARCs for reviews was no longer an option, and that the small readership I have thanks to social media was all for nothing because Amazon would no longer let anyone who was following me on social media review my books, even if they purchased them through Amazon on their own. It’s a slippery slope, and once one person starts screaming “unfair”, it’s just a matter of time before people start pointing out the tactics which are at the very core of being indie as being “unfair” practices as well.

 

 

 

 

Advice from Random House – The Hard Truth from Editors that Every Author Needs to Hear

I am no stranger to the indie scene, nor the trade publishing scene. In recent months, however, I have noticed a growing trend among authors who are constantly losing their cool and ranting all over FaceBook, blogs, Twitter, and writing groups about the bad reviews they are getting from reviewers. It’s something that I can no longer sit idly by and watch as countless authors step up onto a soapbox that they have no business being on in the first place.

For now, I’m going to play devil’s advocate. As I said, I am no stranger to the publishing game, neither indie nor trade. I began my decent into this dog-eat-dog world some twenty-three odd years ago, when I was but sixteen, when I first started sending out query letters to every publishing house in the country. I was met by nothing but rejection letters and a lot of well-meaning editors who were more than willing to give me advice on what all I was doing wrong, and what I needed to work on to become a better writer.

A lot of what I heard from editors was cut-to-the-bone insulting. It hurt, a LOT. I cried an ocean of tears the first few years I spent trying to get published.  I, like so many other aspiring authors, thought I had written an absolute masterpiece beyond compare.  I could not understand why they were not jumping all over themselves to publish me. Their advice couldn’t possibly hold any type of truth to it. After all, all of my family and friends all raved about how well I had done. These editors had to be doing this out of spite because their own writing careers had failed.  They just wanted to take out their own inadequacies on good writers, ruining their chances of ever becoming published. Because, let’s face it, if there was a single shred of truth to anything they were saying, it would mean I was no where near as good a writer as I thought. Worse, it would mean that maybe I just wasn’t cut out to be the one thing on this planet I really wanted to be good at, and that was weaving a tantalizing tale.

I will admit that it took me YEARS of writing and editing other people’s work before I realized that 99% of what those editors told me over the years had been 100% truth. It took me even longer to admit that I actually NEEDED to hear the earth-shattering truth as to just how gawd-awful my first attempts at writing truly were. They were not secretly out to destroy me or my career; they were trying to get it through my thick skull that NO ONE writes well the first time around, and that EVERYONE needs to practice, practice, practice in order to hone their writing skills. It took me a while, but I finally stopped whining about how they were all plotting against me and actually looked at my writing through their eyes. Only then, once I stopped being so full of myself and to actually look at the work without any emotional attachment, that I realized they were all RIGHT. Most of my first few attempts at writing novels truly sucked eggs.

The self-publishing industry has done authors a great injustice because there is no longer editors standing in the way telling authors exactly what improvements they need to make to their manuscript before it can be published. Today’s fly-by-night, work-at-home editors are out to make a few quick bucks, and the scene has been flooded with phony basement-built publishing houses filled with ‘editors’ who will take anyone’s manuscript, tell them how greatly written it is, and be more than happy to publish it on Amazon for a cut of the royalties.

It’s a business built out of scores of poor, unsuspecting writers who are so eager to become published that they will do, and believe, anything, so long as they get to see that book in print. These people never stop to think that, out of hundreds of thousands of submissions sent in to the several hundred publishing houses in the country each year, only about 1/3 of them ever get any type of contract. So why on earth would some no-name publishing house suddenly take their first attempts at writing and be willing to publish them? It never occurs to these writers that these companies are not about quality literature and making your manuscripts the best it can be; they are only out to piggy-back off of the little bit of royalties you might can make them if you have a strong enough social media presence. These writers have never had a professional editor tell them the honest truth about their manuscripts. And since none of them have ever had any type of rejection letters or had anyone to tell them the cold, hard truth of just how badly written their work really is, it has left them unable to adequately deal with reviewers who not only know what makes up a good book, but also may be editors and authors themselves.

I can honestly say that, as a freelance editor with nearly two decades’ experience, a good 95% of what I have seen come across my FaceBook feed would NEVER be allowed to see the light of day by any self-respecting, professional editor. At least, not as-is.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received in a rejection letter came to me when I was about twenty years old , and it came from an editor from Random House. The rejection letter I received (and ripped to shreds in a fit of rage) called my work ‘amateurish’ and my writing style ‘bland.’ The editor went on to say that it was ‘painfully obvious’ (one of my favorite things to say now) that this was my first attempt at writing a novel (it was) and as such he had this advice to give to all aspiring writers: Never try to publish your first book, your second book, or even your third book, because it takes a writer approximately four novels before they settle into their ‘writing voice’ and really get a feel for what they are doing.

I cannot possibly stress how right this editor was. I have seen it happen time and time again, not just in the indie community, but in the trade publishing industry as well. Those who like to read series have no doubt noticed the change in an author’s style as the series progressed, the storyline becoming richer, the characters more tangible, and the overall flow of the writing much more palatable. Whether you like to admit it or not, the first thing that you write is going to be utter crap, pure and simple. The second thing is not going to be much better.

Now that I have adequately pissed off all the authors reading this, let me say that there is hope for every single writer out there, and it comes in the form of criticism and practice. A lot of authors are cutting their noses off to spite their face by NOT listening to all those negative reviews. Sure, it’s easy to chalk it all up to haters, jealousy, people just trying to pull you down. And while there ARE legitimate cases of weird people out there who make it their sole mission in life to ruin an author, most reviewers’ only intent is to warn people away from a book they deemed truly heinous.

We have all seen the mountains of astro-turfed reviews sitting on independently published “Amazon Best Sellers,” reviews  that are all the work of family, friends, fellow authors, ass-kissing bloggers and hundreds of street team members all singing the praises of an author. So you buy the book, get a chapter or two into it and wonder how on earth anyone could think it was actually a good book. So you start looking at the one-star reviews and realize that it’s not just you, there actually ARE people out there who thought the book stunk as much as you did.

But now here’s the question: how many of those authors blew a gasket on FaceBook and proclaimed to the social media world that they were being ‘picked-on,’ ‘bullied,’ or otherwise had jealous people ‘hating’ on them because of a few bad reviews? If you see any of them doing this, what is your first reaction? Chances are you feel like telling them to grow up, and take some notes, because you actually thought the book was terribly written as well.

You’ve heard the old saying, “The proof is in the pudding.” Well, in the publishing business, editors like to say, “The proof is in the one-star reviews.” It doesn’t matter how many perfect reviews you have if people are also complaining that your manuscript sounds childish and is an editing disaster. It’s one thing when someone just doesn’t like a story for no reason other than they just couldn’t get into the storyline. There’s not a whole lot you can do when they hate romantic comedies but read it anyway and still hated it. However, when you have people complaining about actual, tangible problems within your manuscript that an editor would have warned you about, such as typographical errors, bland writing style, formatting issues, etc., then it’s time to stand up and take notice.

I have often told writers, “If you want someone to stroke your ego and tell you how great your writing is, go talk to your mother. If you want to actually learn how to become a better writer, come talk to me.” What separates a mediocre writer with great potential from a mediocre writer without any potential is ability. Not the ability to get better, but the ability to WANT to get better. A mediocre writer who thinks they don’t need to practice or listen to criticism or to improve on their craft will never be anything BUT a mediocre writer. They will turn their noses up at the fountain of help that reviewers are offering, think none of it applies to them, and will continue to float around in their self-absorbed bubble until one day their rose-tinted glasses come off and they see their writing for not only what it IS, but what it COULD HAVE BEEN this whole time, if they had only listened and taken heed to what others had been trying to tell them.

This is not meant to discourage. Writers who are willing to listen to the criticism and try to get better WILL get better. It is those writers who want to throw pity-parties about how everyone is against them that will not improve their craft. Writers need to be encouraged, yes, but they need the RIGHT kind of encouragement. So if you want to get better, to really, truly become a better writer and have a snowball’s chance in hell of making it in the writing world, you are going to have to put on your big-girl panties, listen when others are trying to help you better your writing, and DEAL with the criticism. Otherwise, you are just another lonely, bitter author raving on FaceBook about how the whole world is out to ruin you. No, they’re not. But they may be trying to tell you to take that manuscript to a decent editor who isn’t afraid to tell you that you suck.

Bret Michaels, I Hope You Wanted to be a Doctor When You Grew Up……

The hallway was always quiet at this time of the night, the hum of the florescent lighting the only sound breaking the endless silence. In the distance came a sudden, loud explosion, shattering the stillness of the night. Screams could be heard coming closer as muffled gunfire echoed through the halls. The overhead intercom system crackled to life, the static-filled voice tiny in the increasingly loud sounds of fighting. “Paging Dr. Sychak, Dr. Bret Sychak. You are needed in the lab. Bring security backup.”

Writing is fun, no doubt about it. When someone ticks you off, you can always make them into the bad guy in some twisted storyline, kicking their ass six ways from Sunday. And depending on just how messed up your imagination is (in my case, it would be a long stretch with serial killer Ashton Jones BEFORE he grew fangs and a conscience), those who have wronged you can either have a quick demise or a long, drawn-out and very painful time in the story. You get to make up worlds, rules, control everything and everyone in that world (usually, but all us writers know how our characters like to grow minds and opinions of their own and refuse to do what we tell them to do). You get to take readers on the most wondrous adventures, limited only by your own imagination. And for some of us, me included, those imaginations seem absolutely limitless.

There really is nothing like being a writer. For me, the majority of my characters are based in part from someone important in my life. The antagonist Sergeant First Class Steven Hall is a real person who really is a Sergeant First Class in the air force. He was a very dear friend of mine who I forever immortalized in the ongoing BTSR series. Ethereal is the name of a character I made up and used back when I was heavily into online RP games. The LeeLee character that will be introduced in an upcoming book in the series was another one of my RP characters. Her love interest, Akito, is based off of another online friend who also played in the games and is near and dear to my heart. The Vampire Stealth was coined in part after the wonderful Don Henrie. Because my characters are molded after real life people, they seem as real and are as dear to me as the people who inspired them. For me, these characters ARE real, as real as anyone else that I know in my day to day life.

Now I have decided to forever immortalize my mentor, Bret Michaels, into the upcoming novel IMMORTAL SINS, the next book in the BEFORE THE SUN RISES series. I plan to write two different characters into the series, the first one using his birth name and made into a doctor, Dr. Bret Sychak. The second appearance made by Bret Michaels will be in a yet –to-be announced novel. I may even bring him into another novel in the BTSR series before it is all said and done. Bret is an incredible person and has inspired me in so many ways throughout the years that the very least I can do for him is to write him into a book, or maybe even two or three.  And if I’m very VERY lucky, he might one day read all about those characters and all those characters that so many other people in my life have inspired.

Creating characters after those who have inspired me and then writing them into my storylines is my way of paying homage to them. It’s my way of saying “thanks” for all they have done for me directly and indirectly, for all their inspiration. It is a fun thing to do, and I do so hope that no one will ever become angry because of it. For writers, creating characters after real people not only help the characters feel more real, but it allows them to pay a great respect and a big “thank you” to these people in their own way.

So if you find yourself suddenly immortalized in an author’s novel, take a moment to realize that you have been greatly honored by the author, for they are paying you homage in the most sacred and special way that an author can. You touched their lives so greatly that they saw fit to coin a character after you – even if it is one getting his ass kicked six ways from Sunday.

Keep It Simple, Stupid!

For anyone who has ever set foot inside an English composition class, you are probably pretty familiar with the K.I.S.S. acronym.  Today I’d like to discuss the two extremes of this very misleading, and often misunderstood, writing tool.

On the far end of the extreme are those writers who take this acronym literally and think that simple everything is better:  simple plotline, simple sentences, simple characters, simply dialogue.  This is all well and fine…if you are writing childrens books.  If you are aiming for anyone with more than a 5th grade education, you are going to have to get out of the “See Jane run” mentality.  A manuscript written for someone above the age of thirteen should not sound like it was written by an 11 year old unless:

1.  it actually was written by an 11 year old

2.  you are Stephanie Meyer

3.  you intended for it to sound this way because it is based around the view-point of an 11 year old

Most English instructors make the very grave mistake of telling their students to write everything on a 5th grade level.  Okay, unless you are writing for an audience who is 12 years or younger, then anyone else is going to have more than a 5th grade education.  I have always said that I have more than a 5th grade education, I think on a level higher than a 5th grader, therefore I write subject matter and in a style that is meant for those with more than a 5th grade education.  Most adults who read something as simply written as the Twilight saga are often bored to tears.  (I know I sure was.) They want something that will challenge their minds, intrigue their imagination, and totally engross them in the storyline.  “Here comes Edward” just isn’t going to cut it for the majority of the adult population.  Don’t be afraid to use a large vocabulary if you have one.  You are not the only adult in the world to know big words.  Just be careful to not use too many at one time, try to use more common words that a lot of people would know instead of just a few doctors or lawyers or those with a much higher education, and always look for new, if somewhat simpler words, to use in place of always saying the same thing.

For instance, writing “He exited the building” sounds much better than “He left the building.”  While ‘exited’ isn’t exactly a big word, it gives the illusion of a much more sophisticated sound.  Remember that having a large vocabulary doesn’t just mean knowing a lot of different words;  knowing a lot of different words that mean the same thing is not only included in that vocabulary count, but as a writer, it will help you tremendously.  Other ways to write that same sentence include:

**He departed from the building.

**He headed off into the unknown, leaving the building behind.

**He disappeared out the door, leaving the building behind.  

**He vanished out the door and down the steps.

As you can see, there are many ways to write “He left the building.”  All of the above examples are fairly simply stated, but the way they are written spices things up, uses different words to keep the reader interested, and is not so simple that it would make the reader want to bang their head on their desk in frustration.  That is not to say that using something as simple as “He left the building” should never be used.  But if you are having to write the same scenario over and over, learning new ways to state the same thing keeps the reader interested and keeps the writer from falling into a rut.

On the other end of the spectrum are those writers who write so far above the regular Joe’s head that no one without a Ph. D. would be able to understand what was going on.  This, of course, is fine if the work in question was being written specifically for doctors.  However, if the work is supposed to be for regular, everyday people, it is only going to infuriate the reader and make them feel like an idiot.  Most people, myself included, have the mentality that people use big words to make themselves sound smarter than they actually are.  This means that you, by default, are not as smart as they.  And trust me, no one likes to feel like an idiot.  Not to mention that no one is going to continue to read something that requires them to look up the definition of every other word in a sentence.   

When it comes to writing, a very important first step is deciding who your target audience is.  If you are aiming for children, then you are naturally going to have to write in very simple terms.  If you are writing for adults, however, you are going to have to find a happy medium.  Write things too simply and your audience will die from boredom before they hit the second chapter.  Write too far above their heads and they will quickly tire of trying to figure out what all the fancy words mean.  No one really needs to know that you secretly have a vocabulary that rivals Merriam-Webster.  What does matter is that you can choose the correct words from your vast vocabulary that will appeal to the most people.

Bret Michaels: A Little Girl’s Hero

The following article originally appeared on Hub Pages as a sit-down interview with yours truly. 

The following is an article based on an interview with the little known underground erotic writer Nicola Matthews. Nicola talks about her life, her work, and her personal hero, singer/songwriter Bret Michaels.

In the Beginning:

“I first heard the song Every Rose has its Thorn way back in 1989 when I was only twelve years old. Back then I had never heard of Bret Michaels or Poison. But there was something in Bret’s voice that spoke to me, a hidden sorrow that suggested that even though he may have lived a charmed life compared to most, that he still knew what it meant to suffer emotionally. It didn’t take me long to dig up everything I could about the band. I came to think of them as “my guys,” like they were part of the family or something. Stupid, I know, but that’s the way I felt about them. I felt a kinship with Bret more than any of the other band members. It’s hard to explain, but there was just something about him, about his voice….he could speak volumes by singing just a few lines. I think it’s that way with a lot of his fans. A lot of people will come across that certain singer or musician that they feel some sort of ethereal connection to. For me, it has always been Bret Michaels.”

“Bret saved my life.”

“I grew up in a broken home.  These days having divorced parents or parents that have never even been married is nothing unusual.  In fact, it seems that me and my husband are in the minority, having been married for fifteen years now.  But back then, people just didn’t get divorced.  My parents didn’t just divorce.  My mom up and left when I was eleven years old.  My father had just had a triple bypass done on his heart and hadn’t been home but like maybe two months when she left.  I remember my dad telling me, ‘If you go with your mom then I’ll blow my brains out!  I will, I swear I will!  Don’t you go with her!”  At the age of eleven all I could think about was who was supposed to take care of my dad if I left?  So I stayed.

Things were okay for a while.  But soon it became apparent why my mom had split.  Without her there, there was no one to protect me from tirade of verbal abuse that came from my father.  I know I’m not the only one to have ever been emotionally and physically abused as a child, but unless you have been there, you honestly don’t know what kind of mental and emotional scars it can leave on a person, especially a young child.  I was told so many times that I was ‘useless’ and ‘worthless’ that I began to shut people out.  I was very lonely growing up.  Every time I made a close friend my father would find some reason to forbid me to see that person outside of school.  It got to the point that I was too embarrassed to have anyone over any way.  The beatings and verbal abuse didn’t stop just because I had a friend over.  It was just easier to be by myself and pretend everything was fine.  But it takes a toll, you know?  By the time I was twelve I had already attempted suicide twice.

And then I heard Bret’s voice.  As corny as it sounds, I decided at the age of twelve that I was not going to leave this earth until I had met Bret Michaels.  In his own way, Bret saved my life.”

A Funny Story…

“When I was in eighth grade I had a very close friend named April.  She, like me, had a horrible home life.  Her mom was a nurse who worked four days a week at a hospital in New Orleans.  Now the story of how I got a backstage pass and ticket to a Poison concert was told to me like this:

While the band was playing in New Orleans one of the techies fell off a catwalk and broke his leg or his hip or something like that.  April’s mom was one of the nurses assigned to take care of this guy.  When she found out that he worked for Poison she told him about her daughter and her friend who were these huge fans of the band.  So this guy, who was nicknamed Studs, got her two tickets and two backstage passes for us for an upcoming show scheduled to be held on the Gulf Coast.  April, being the wonderful friend that she was, gave me the other ticket and backstage pass.  I was fourteen years old and might as well just have won a $100 million lottery.

Well, my life being what it was and my dad being the kind of person that he was, refused to let me go to the concert.  I had to give the ticket and backstage pass to April’s boyfriend at the time, Brian.  However, Brian was nice enough to get C.C. DeVille to autograph a shirt for me.  I had wanted a pair of Bret’s undies, but beggars can’t be choosers.”

Music Spawns Creativity

“I started writing when I was about six years old.  I can remember as a child that I loved to make up stories.  As soon as I learned how to write, I began to write down stories to amuse myself.  I was an only child, so I learned to read at a very early age.  Once my parents split up, I escaped my world of sorrow for adventures across the globe in books of all kinds.  I tried my own hand at writing and attempted my very first novel when I was eight years old.  By the age of ten I had tried to write two additional novels, without much success.  At thirteen, I began writing on a romance/mystery that I entitled Big Dreams and Nightmares.  It took me my entire seventh grade year to complete.  I would sit in front of my stereo with headphones on and listen to Poison’s Open Up and Say…Ahh album over and over again while I wrote.  The guys inspired me to do more than merely jot down my random ideas and thoughts.  It was then that I realized that deep down, no matter how smart I was or how good my grades were, I would always be a writer.  It was the one God-given talent that I had been granted, and I wanted to share it with the world.

You asked me why Bret was my hero.  It’s because no matter what life has thrown at him, no matter how dismal things may have seemed,  no matter how much people told him that he “couldn’t” he looked life straight in the face and said, ‘Oh yes I can!’  I guess Bret reminds me of myself.  I have been to the depths of hell and back over the years, and no matter what, I have always crawled back out of the hole that life had dug for me.   Bret Michaels is my hero, and I still refuse to leave this earth until I have met him.”

Personal Message for Bret:

 We caught up with Nicola on April 23, 2010 in regards to the brain hemorrhage suffered by Bret Michaels on April 21.

“My husband and I had went out to eat Friday night.  When we got home he got on the internet and saw the news banner on Yahoo!  He was the one who told me about it.  After reading the article I went into the bathroom and cried like a baby.  I was terrified for him, for his family, for his two girls.  I didn’t even want to fathom a world without Bret in it.”

MS:  Do you have any personal words for Bret?

“Bret, we are all standing behind you and praying for your recovery.  You hang in there, and fight.  And always remember that little girls, even when they are all grown up, will always need their hero.”

Original article appeared here:  http://hubpages.com/hub/Bret-Michaels-A-Little-Girls-Hero

Why People Don’t Know that I am an Author

Another blogger brought up a very interesting point.  She pondered the question of why writers have a tendency to freeze up, lie, stutter, or, in essence, deny that they are writers. 

When someone asks me what I do, I don’t immediately shout “AUTHOR!” because of two very important reasons.  First, I have an evil day job.  Writing isn’t a “hobby,” it’s my life’s calling.  But since I have bills to pay, a roof to keep over my family’s head, and children to feed, I cannot rely on my one true passion in life to keep my family from starving.  So I just don’t bring it up.  And the 2nd reason why I don’t shout it to the stars, and perhaps the most important reason, is that all my published works have been written under a pen name.  Most people don’t even know what a pen name is.  I’d have to start off the conversation explaining what a pen name is and why authors use them.   And if I said, “Oh, yeah, I’m an author!” instead of saying, “I’m the manager for XYZ Company” then I have people wanting to know what I write.  So the explanation begins all about how I write erotic fantasy.  Cue the funny stares.  Questions continue about if I have anything in publication, what did I get published, what is it about, etc.  And finally I have to explain why they have never heard of my pen name, etc. 

Then there is the fact that I live square in the middle of the bible belt.  Somehow I don’t think telling people that I write erotic fantasy fiction is going to go over too well with the neighbors.  It brings up the problems of parents not wanting their children near my house because they, the parents,  cannot seem to separate fact (what actually does go on in my home) from the fantasies that I write about.  Let’s not leave out the problems it would bring up for me at work since I actually do have an evil day job.  And I’m not even going to get into the whole thing about how men seem to think that a woman writing erotic fantasy fiction is an open invitation to hit on them.

I see being an author as a lot like being a spy.  I wouldn’t announce to the whole world that I am a spy.  And as a writer who publishes under a pen name, I am not going to try to explain to perfect strangers what my pen name is, what I write about, and give them a detailed list of what is published where.  The only people who matter, my friends, family, and most importantly, my fans, already know who I am and what I do.  Trying to convince someone outside that loop that I am just as good as I say I am (and not in any way morally damaged) is pretty redundant.  It’s just easier to leave it out of the conversation.  And if I think that I absolutely have to explain myself to them, it’s much more rewarding to pull out my latest novel, autograph it for them, and hand it over with a smile.

You are not a Special Snowflake – When it Comes to Writing, that is

I’ve heard writers say this all the time.  You are not special, you are not going to make it ‘big,’ you are not so great and so wonderful at what you do that publishers will want to snatch you up lickety split.  Well you sure as hell better be.  Because if you are not setting yourself apart as a writer then you sure better have one hell of an ego then. 

As a writer, you are going to have to have something that will set you apart from all the other writers out there.  Whether that be a fan-fucking-tastic storyline that no one has ever come across before,  a really unique style of writing, or even an ability to be the best weaver of a literary plotline in publication, you better make yourself into an individual snowflake somehow or else your work is going to get lost in a sea of all the other mediocre material floating around in publication land.

People are going to tell you that you are not the next Anne Rice, or Stephen King, or Stephanie Meyer, etc.  Believe it or not, that is actually a good thing.  Seriously, because who in their right mind wants to be like them?  If I want to read someone who writes like Anne Rice, I’ll go read Anne Rice, because anybody else is just going to be a very poor imitation.  Same thing with Stephen King, Charlene Harris, Laurell K. Hamilton, Stephanie Meyer, etc.  The most important thing you can do as a writer is write like you and stop trying to be like other famous writers.  Stop trying to be “the next -insert famous writer’s name here-” and just be you. 

That’s not to say that you will not have to abide by some basic English rules.  Incomplete sentences are fine, in moderation.  But don’t expect an entire 400 page novel with nothing but fragmented sentences to suddenly make you famous.  It might make you infamous…and very embarrassed if critics are talking about how poorly you write as opposed to what a fantastic story you have weaved.  Misspelled words?  Only if you are trying to imitate a Cajun accent during dialogue.  Actually, about the only time misspelled words could possibly be excusable is within a character’s dialogue with himself or another character.  Feel free, however, to make up a word…if it gets used a lot in the story (remember Laurell K. Hamilton using the term “wereanimals” when she referred to any type of lycanthrope in her stories) .  And all those too/to/two and there/their and but/butts being used incorrectly are not going to get you anything but a big, fat, red “rejection” stamp on the front cover of your manuscript.

Now about your ego.  Yes, it pays to have an ego.  Otherwise you are going to get stomped on by every writer, publisher, agent, critic, reader, editor, etc. that comes across your work.  That is not to say that you do not have any room for improvement.  Even Anne Rice is always pushing herself to the limits.  After all, you are only as good as your latest novel.  So yes, take criticism for what it is:  constructive, deconstructive, or at-a-glance (see articles on Criticism:  the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) and adjust your work accordingly.  But never take, “you are not good enough to make it in the publishing world” as a final answer.  Seriously.  There are tons of really bad writers who get book deals all the time.  Just ask anyone who has ever read a lousy book.  We’ve all been there.  Ever remember picking up a book, start reading it only to think to yourself, ‘How the hell did this jackass ever get a book deal?’  This is where that whole “a good story is in the mind’s eye of the reader” thing comes into play.  Trust me, when you are a writer then there are two things that will happen, regardless of how good or bad of a writer you are.  One, you will have someone out there who will absolutely love your work.  And two, you will have someone out there who will absolutely hate your work.  Your goal, as a writer, is to get as many people who like your work together, interested, and purchasing your work as possible.

Everyone thinks that they are a really great writer.  And if, at the end of the day, your grammatical mistakes and misspelled words have went the way of the dodo and you honestly do not think that anything could possibly make the story better, then sure, think that.  Just don’t expect others to think it.  Because if you are going to boast about how great of a writer you are, then you had better be able to back it up.  Now stop and think about this.  If you are going to start selling books/ebooks, then you are basically saying to the world, “Here, I wrote this.  I think it’s pretty good.  Read it and tell me what you think.”  Yes, when you put your work out there for others to read, you are inviting them to give you feedback whether you want it or not.  And if you think that is not how the publishing world works, then you are sadly mistaken and maybe even a bit naive.  It’s time to put on your big boy pants and smell the coffee.  Even books that are sitting in the top spot on the New York Times Bestseller list have critics bashing them all the time.  It’s their job.  Your job is to decide if what they say has any actual merit to it and adjust your work accordingly.  Better yet, set out to prove the nay-sayers wrong by writing something even better than your last work.  Nothing says, “F – U!” like a few thousand fans telling critics that they are idiots.

Now, all you snowflakes go out there and make something of yourselves.  After all, being special means nothing if no one else knows it.

A Good Story is in the Mind’s Eye of the Reader

It has always been my opinion that a good story is in the mind’s eye of the reader. Just as beauty is subject to the person who is doing the viewing, a good story, or movie, or art, or piece of music is subject to the person who is partaking of the piece of art. I have always believed in ‘live and let write.’

Needless to say that for every book written, piece of music composed, piece of art produced, or movie directed, there is going to be at least one person, and in some instances quite a few people, out there who hates the work. What’s more, these people insist upon sharing their criticism of said work with anybody and everybody who will listen to them. I use to wonder what made these people such experts on the created art form. Had they ever written a book, composed a piece of music, produced a piece of art, or directed a film? Chances are, no, they haven’t. So why criticize? For the most part, critics get paid to share their opinion. For those who go against the general public’s feelings on said work, the critic can get quite famous, or infamous, for having their apparent distaste published on some type of public medium. This, of course, translates in to more papers/magazines/air time sold. So for some, it literally pays to publicly bash a work of art.

Other ‘critics’ are those who do not get paid to share their personal thoughts regarding a piece of art. Some people do it because a piece of work hits them so strongly that they just have to share their feelings, whether they be positive or negative. Others will publicly bash a piece of art because they like the attention that it brings them, even if that attention is negative, much like their paid counterparts who bash a movie that the general public loves. And still others will attempt to openly humiliate the creator of the work of art simply because he/she is jealous of the creativity that the creator possesses.

I’ve made it clear that I have always thought that I was a pretty good writer.  Not great, mind you, but fairly decent.  I spend an absurd amount of time researching, making notes, creating characters, outlining events and deciding on what plot twists I want to integrate into a story. And then there were the endless months, and sometimes years, spent writing the story, proofreading it, editing it, re-reading and re-doing and sometimes throwing out whole chapters and story endings only to replace them with something I thought would be even more bizarre or fun or just plain silly. All in all, I pour my heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears into the work that I produce. I was praised by English instructors, won writing contests, received awards, been told by family and friends that I was a very talented author.

Loving the written word, I joined many role playing forums and games over the years as an outlet for my very active imagination. I enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of being around so many talented writers. What was more, those talented writers thought that I was a very talented writer as well.

With encouragement from a growing fan base, I decided to go more ‘mainstream’ and began posting a few of my stories out on the web. Now I know you can’t please all the people all the time, but I was completely unprepared for the outright rudeness of some people. It was quite the eye-opener. I was amazed at the number of people who had never written anything in their life who seemed to think that they were experts on what made a story good or bad. But, as I’ve said, a good story is in the mind’s eye of the reader. So to each his own.

Another thing that I was unprepared for, and something that still boggles my mind, is the whole popularity thing that goes on with some sites. Readers apparently don’t know that a good idea and good writing do not go hand in hand. I have seen readers fall all over themselves to praise a writer who sounds like they barely made it out of the first grade.  

I’ve always said that I do not think on an elementary level, therefore I do not write on an elementary level. Since I have a tendency to write above a lot of people’s heads, I assumed that I would get a lot of backlash on my use of compound and complex sentences. I also like to write without any regards to formal English composition rules, so my work often sounds more like someone is giving an oral recount of the story rather than it reading like a story that was written down for public consumption. It’s just my style, and I have gotten many, many compliments on how this style makes the reader feel like they are right in the thick of the story. Of course, with the good comes the bad, as in plenty of bad reviews on my lack of attention to the proper English writing rules. Well, rules be damned. I’m not turning this in for an assignment.

On the flipside of the elementary coin were the writers who would write with the same complexity that I so enjoy using in my own work. I have gotten complaint after complaint regarding my work being too hard to comprehend because of my complex writing style. It made me wonder if these other writers, who so many readers were fawning all over, had the same problem. The more complaints and insults that I received, the more I began to doubt my ability as a writer. Could I possibly be as bad as some people wanted me to believe? Writing was not, and is not, a hobby of mine. I have been cranking out literary works for over twenty-eight years, a fine feat for someone who has not yet hit her thirty-sixth birthday. Surely someone with that kind of experience could not be all that bad. So what did all those other writers possibly possess that brought in tens of thousands of readers to their work? What was I lacking?

In a word, confidence. I was doing what everyone else was not doing. I was letting assholes bring me down and second-guess myself and my talent. I found that I was always having to defend my work. But so were the other writers. The only difference was that I was apologizing for my work.

Well, I refuse to apologize any more for producing the fruits of my imagination. They may not be the best in the world, and I certainly never claimed to be the best writer. But I am a good writer. A damn good writer. I have the tens of thousands of readers to back up this statement. What’s more important, perhaps the most important thing, is that I like the way I write. I like my ideas and my writing style and my overall pieces of literary work. At the end of the day, I feel that I have produced something worth reading. I don’t care if other people think I use too many adjectives or adverbs or complex sentences. I wrote it a certain way for a reason.

So the bottom line is, if you can’t appreciate the fruits of my labor, then I wholeheartedly say ‘Fuck you, and the horse you rode in on!’

As a writer, you have to be prepared to get all kinds of criticism:  the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Some of it you might can use, but most of it you will probably be able to toss out with the trash.  Whatever you do, don’t let the occasional asshole persuade you to think that you can’t write.  That’s not to say that there will never be room for improvement.  But knowing the difference between criticism that can help make your work better and words slung by someone who was obviously out to ruffle your feathers can go a long way in soothing your hurt feelings…and possibly even give you a good laugh.

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.