Friday, December 18, 2009

How To Write The Best Critique Ever

If you've ever belonged to a workshopping writers' community and have made your work available for critique, you're probably all too familiar with a certain type of singularly insulting and useless feedback. And you've probably wondered why the authors of condescending and mean-spirited critiques are so...well, condescending and mean-spirited.

At last, I've found the answer in the following little-known and closely-guarded set of instructions to which only the most self-important reviewers are made privy. If you've ever been on the receiving end of one of these more-writerly-than-thou types, I'm sure you'll recognize some or all of the instructions given.

As one of the more accomplished members of any of a number of writer community sites, you are no doubt aware that there are a bunch of barely literate boobs who post their so-called “manuscripts” online in hopes that worthy experts such as yourself will see fit to magnanimously drop a few pearls of wisdom on them, thereby helping them to elevate their work from absolute tripe to mere garbage. While it may seem a terrible waste of your precious time and rare gifts to offer these bumbling idiots your wise and insightful critiques, you must do it because keeping your peerless views to yourself is virtually a crime against humanity. Think of it as charity work.

The rank amateurs who seek your advice are like little children who don’t know when they’ve done wrong, and must turn to an authority figure such as yourself for a firm hand and guidance. Don’t make the mistake of addressing them as equals to yourself, thinking perhaps that as impossible as it may be for them to actually be your equal, adopting a friendly or informal tone will put them at ease. You don’t want them at ease, you want them at full attention, respectful of your status as their superior and perhaps even a little fearful of you.

With respect to the content of the review itself, disregard whatever you’ve read in the sample reviews provided by the site to which you wish to post. As we savvy experts know, such samples are only there to deflect litigation. These sample reviews would have you mention the bright spots in each manuscript, and perish the thought, even compliment the author wherever possible. Remember, dear reader, that regardless of what the writer wants, what he really needs is to be told, in painstaking and tortuous detail, what you think is wrong with his work. And note particularly that I’ve said ‘what you think’; forget about Lajos Egri, Joseph Campbell and other supposed “experts” in the field, the only thing that matters here is your opinion. While such artsy-fartsy, lit hippie types may encourage writers to cultivate a unique "writer's voice", you know there are rules for a reason and rules must be followed.

When reading through a sample, pay no attention to such trifles as tone, plot or characterization. You're on a search-and-destroy mission to identify each instance of rule-breaking and mock it mercilessly. As you undoubtedly know, adverbs and flashbacks have no place in a professional-grade manuscript, nor do shifts in point of view (however purposeful), nonlinear time, or vampires, among countless other things. Don't hesitate to berate the author thoroughly for his inclusion or use of such hallmarks of the novice.

Choose your words carefully. Don’t gently prod the author with a tactful note indicating that something in his manuscript does not meet industry standards or for that matter, your own, better standards; limit yourself to saying that his work “screams amateur”, or accuse him of failure to do his “homework”---this is a particularly good choice of words since it reminds the author that his proper place with respect to you is like that of a child with respect to an adult. Use the most inflammatory and provocative language possible in your reviews. Don’t say that action passages are ‘unclear’, say they’re ‘inept’. Don’t say that dialog ‘doesn’t sound natural’, say it’s ‘laughable’, ‘backward’, or even better, ‘lame’. If there’s one thing these would-be novelists must learn and learn quickly, it’s that Trade Publishing is a cruel and faceless mistress; it is your solemn duty, dear reader, to acquaint your charges with feelings of rejection, self-doubt and despair. As the song goes, you must be cruel to be kind, so try to make your reviews as pointed and hurtful as possible.

There is some disagreement among those in the know where using specific references to a given work sample in a critique is concerned. There are those on the one side who favor this approach, arguing that it provides much more opportunity to insult the writer while adding a personal touch. Then there are those others who prefer vagueness, arguing that the best way to keep the writer guessing is not to give him anything at all to go on. I leave the decision on this point to you, dear reader, but strongly admonish you that if you choose to cite references from the writer’s work, you nevertheless limit your remarks about that citation. For example, consider this excerpt:

“The car chase sequence on page 52 is about as exciting as watching my kid race his Hot Wheels. If you knew anything about writing action you’d know that you need to add more tension here. If you weren’t so clueless, you might have included more innocent bystanders, or maybe had the protagonist’s driver get injured so that the protagonist has to take the wheel of the limo. Try not to be such an idiot in your rewrite.”

At first blush, this excerpt seems like a fine example of the reviewer’s art. The reviewer uses appropriately harsh language and peppers his remarks with insults, but he also makes the unfortunate mistake of giving the writer an idea of how to fix the problem in question. How can we expect them to learn if we spoon-feed them the answers? Resist the temptation to share any suggestions for improvement, even knowing as you must that you are capable of wrenching any manuscript, no matter how awful, into a masterpiece.

Finally, don’t forget to share something about yourself in the review. Informing the writer that your enviable level of expertise and wisdom comes as a direct result of having placed third in the Busted Truck, Nevada Novel Derby is not bragging, it’s merely stating a fact of which the writer should be aware. Don’t let your ignorance about the writer deter you from asserting that you are undoubtedly better informed and more experienced than he. After all, by asking for your critique he’s already said as much himself, hasn’t he?

And don’t worry that being as yet unagented and unsold somehow detracts from your position of authority. As all of us on this preternatural wavelength of talent know, the small minds of ‘the industry’ are simply not ready for our caliber of work. Their shallow wants and self-serving agendas allow no room for a true visionary, and maybe if they’d answer a query or return a call once in a while they would have a chance at breaking the first real talent they’ve seen in their miserable little lives!

But, I digress.

In conclusion, too many reviewers mistake the workshopping process as a democratic support community when it is, in fact, a theocracy intended to provide a platform for we, the truly gifted few, to cut down the endless rows of talent-free hacks like so many stalks of wheat before the scythe, thereby discouraging any further progress by these also-rans who fancy themselves writers. Do not neglect your duty, and you are sure to be among the Top Five reviewers on any sites you frequent within a month.

(In case anyone reading hasn't yet picked up on it, this is satire. If critiquers would do the exact opposite of the instructions given here, I think aspiring authors everywhere could share their work a little more freely, and breathe a little easier)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Death and Taxes

Ah yes, the only two things that are certain in life are death and taxes. While I hate to harsh anyone's holiday season mellow, this is something to which we U.S.-taxpaying authors need to pay attention, especially at this time of year.

Let me open by saying I am not a tax professional and nothing in this blog should be construed as professional tax advice. For that, you must consult a professional tax preparer.

I just want to share some information and get my readers thinking about tax issues now, before the end of the year, when there's still a possibility of making some changes to alter your tax situation and when the deadline for paying your personal income tax is still about four months off.

Is Your Royalty Income Being Reported to Tax Authorities?
By U.S. tax law, as of this writing (see Guide to Information Returns section), if you've earned $600 or more in income in a given tax year from a given source (e.g., employer, Createspace, Lulu, Amazon), the company or person who paid you that money must report it to state and federal tax authorities so the authorities can tax it as income. The minimum threshold for reporting at the state level may vary from state to state, so that's something you'll need to look up for your specific state of residence, and/or the state in which you do business as an author.

At the federal (IRS) level, if the amount of money from a given source is less than $600, neither you nor the payor MUST report it to taxation authorities, but those authorities prefer that ALL income is reported regardless of the amount. Again, we're talking "as of this writing"; since tax regulations are subject to change, this is something you'll need to verify on the IRS site or with a tax preparation professional if you're reading this post months after it was published.

Amazon, Createspace & Booksurge Reporting Policies: Here's The Scoop
Based on my experience with Amazon and Createspace in prior years, I've previously reported that neither entity will report the proceeds of your book sales on the Amazon or Createspace site(s) unless you've earned at least $600. Since Booksurge is now merged with Createspace, and Amazon has stepped up other reporting requirements and seems to be generally getting its federal reporting ducks in a row, I decided I should look into the matter once again.

I just spoke to a Createspace representative, and an Amazon representative, regarding their IRS reporting policies. If you sell your books on the Createspace site or on Amazon's U.S. site, this information is applicable to you. If you sell through other outlets, such as the Lulu store, or another bookseller, you will need to contact that outlet directly to get clarification on their tax reporting policies. Here's what I was told:

Amazon and Createspace (which now includes Booksurge) will both report ALL your earnings on book sales through their online stores to the IRS as income, regardless of whether you meet the $600 minimum reporting threshold or not. They are within their rights to do this, and the IRS prefers that payors report ALL payee income regardless of the amount, so don't go hating on them for it. They will report this income on a Form 1099, also known as 1099-misc (for miscellaneous income). 1099 income is income that has not had any tax withheld, so you must be prepared to pay tax on this income when you report it on your annual tax return (both state and federal).

What If They've Reported Less Than $600?
There's a bit of a wrinkle here though, in that if the income shown on a given 1099 is less than $600, as of this writing IRS rules don't require you to report it on your tax return. This puts anyone with a 1099 form for less than $600 in a tax quandary. Theoretically, by law, you are not required to report it. But the tax authorities will learn about it when they get their copies of the 1099. You have two options here: either report the income on your return and pay the income tax on it (the safest, most conservative route), or consult a tax preparer for further, expert guidance.

I've always reported all my 1099 income, regardless of the amount, because I'm terrified of getting into trouble with the IRS and when in doubt where such matters are concerned, I always go the most conservative route. I may very well be paying taxes I don't have to, but this is just the way I've chosen to handle things. In discussing the matter with my CPA, he's agreed with me that while I'm not strictly required to report the income on a 1099 if it's less than $600, doing so helps to validate any write-offs I wish to take for writing-related activity in a given year.

Why Report A 1099 That Shows Less Than $600?
If you've got one or more 1099s that each show something less than $600 and opt not to report any of them on your tax return, but you're attempting to write off expenses related to your authorial activities, this may well raise a red flag in the tax authorities' analyses because you're writing off expenses without reporting any income. This makes it harder for you to prove you're running a legitimate business and are entitled to expense write-offs, and generally makes you look suspicious in the eyes of tax authorities. Red flags can lead them take a closer look at your return. And at your prior returns. This is why I choose to report everything, but your tax preparer may advise you to handle your situation differently.

Improving Your 2009 Tax Picture
As to the matter of changing your tax situation before the end of the year, there are two major things to think about here: maximizing your legitimate expense claims, and minimizing your reportable income (where it's both possible and legal to do so).

Maximize Expenses
Maximizing your legitimate expense claims just means that if you're intending to invest in some goods or services that constitute legitimate tax writeoffs for you as an author (check with the IRS or a tax preparer for guidance on what constitutes a legitimate tax writeoff), doing so before the end of the year will increase your reportable expenses, thereby decreasing your net income and the tax you must pay on that income.

So if you plan to hire a professional editor, buy more promo copies of your book, book travel or pay registration fees for a writer's event you'll be attending next year (like the Author Workshop Cruise - shameless plug!), or something similar in the near future, you might want to consider paying for those things by December 31 in order to include the expenses in your 2009 tax return. It's generally a good idea to book travel and pay event registration fees as early as possible anyway, since doing so usually gets you a discounted rate.

Minimize Income
Options for legally, legitimately minimizing your reportable royalty income are not as numerous, as you don't have total control over how many people buy your books or when. However, you do have some degree of control, at least where promotion and marketing campaigns are concerned.

If you've been planning a big launch for new book, or a renewed promo push for an existing book, delaying your plans till after January 1 will put all the income you earn as a result of such activity solidly into your 2010 tax year. Of course, you must balance the desirability of minimizing your 2009 reportable income against the desirability of jumping on the holiday shopping gravy train at a time when you know lots of people are doing lots of shopping. If it looks to you like you can sell a lot more copies before December 31 than after, you may elect to just take the income tax hit.

Also, if you're in a position to receive any other author-related income (e.g., advance on a book or manuscript you've sold to a publisher, speaker fees, etc.), if you can afford it, you may want to consider asking till after January 1 to have those checks cut.

Bottom line: be prepared, plan ahead, and when in doubt, consult a tax pro.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Et Tu, Indie Author?

I am a maven of self-publishing. I believe that in today’s world, in most cases, there’s not much of great value a traditional publisher can do to help a previously unknown, debut author reach her goals that the author can’t do on her own. Advances are down, publisher-funded promotional budgets are slim to nonexistent, and brick-and-mortar bookstore distribution is no longer the crucial linchpin for driving book sales that it once was. In fact, in the few weeks since I first drafted this post Borders UK has gone into receivership.

I’ve also recently come to learn, much to my shock and dismay, that mainstream publication isn’t the surefire path to solvency and a career in authorship so many aspiring authors assume it to be—even if your book is successful enough to land on the New York Times Bestseller List. Even if many of your books land on that list, it seems your net annual earnings will likely be no better than the wages of a typical fast food restaurant manager. Now that Lynne Viehl and some other mainstream-published authors are going public about their earnings, the conspiracy of silence among authors is being slowly but surely dismantled and the truth is nothing short of mind-blowing. It’s now all too obvious that for the most part, the only authors who are earning a comfortable living off their books are those who have become cultural phenomena, those around whom entire cottage industries of movies and merchandise have sprung up (e.g., Stephanie Meyer, Stephen Covey, Stephen King, JK Rowling, et al.) and those who were already cultural phenomena before they published (e.g., Sarah Palin).

The problem is, most aspiring authors have unrealistic goals for their books and assume a mainstream publisher will be doing all sorts of things for them that aren’t really in the cards at all. They think signing a contract entitles them to a sizable advance, a significant promotional budget and effort on the publisher’s part, editorial reviews in major magazines and newspapers and on important websites, and possibly a book tour as well. Unless you’re a celebrity or otherwise notorious individual, or someone around whom buzz has built up for some reason, none of these things are likely to happen. Once you realize:

- the great majority of mainstream-published books never even earn back their advances (which means most debut authors have more trouble selling their second book than their first, if they can sell it at all)

- even if you manage to hit the NYT Bestseller List you aren’t likely to see a commensurate uptick in your standard of living

- and something on the order of just 5% of all mainstream-published authors are capable of earning a living from their book royalties alone (and nearly all of that 5% has a name like King, Rowling, Meyer or Brown),

you stop seeing stars and start getting down to brass tacks. Your goals become far more realistic and attainable. You begin to understand that the decision between self-publishing and mainstream publishing comes down to choosing the path that is the most likely to bring your newly-downsized goals to fruition. If one of your goals is to earn a profit on your book, the decision of whether or not to self-publish is a business decision, nothing more nor less. Particularly in light of recent revelations about what mainstream-published authors really earn, it should be a very easy thing to divorce this decision from considerations of status or “legitimacy”.

So why am I working with Writer’s Digest Books on the release of an updated and revised edition of my book, The IndieAuthor Guide, for publication in 2010?

Maven of self-pub I may be, but even I realize self-pub is just one option among several for getting one’s work to a readership. Though I honestly believe it’s the most practical option for most debut authors in today’s chilly trade publishing environment, self-pub is just a means to an end—and the end is the thing that matters.

When I wrote and self-published The IndieAuthor Guide, my goal was simple: for the book to reach as large an audience of would-be indie authors as possible. It wasn’t even truly about sales, it was about getting good information out there to—ideally—every would-be self-published author out there before they went down the path of misinformation and made all kinds of costly mistakes that could doom their books to failure (and themselves to incurring unnecessary expense).

Working with Writer’s Digest Books will not get me a whopping advance, book tour, nor any of those other pie-in-the-sky things aspiring authors dream of, but it will do far more to help me reach my goal of maximizing readership than I could possibly do on my own.
Writer’s Digest is a brand that’s known and trusted by writers the world over. Writer’s Digest is a source authors specifically seek out when they want trustworthy, clear, and helpful information that will help them with craft and career. Having my book released under WD’s aegis grants a tacit endorsement from WD of the book’s value to authors, and that will increase author interest in the book.

Writer’s Digest Books is an imprint that specializes in books for authors and about writing. Their title list is small and highly specialized, WD Books’ staff are experts in how best to reach their target demographic of authors and in this case, their target demo is the same as mine. Had I signed with say, Random House or Penguin, or even Workman, there wouldn’t be any Books Especially Written For And Marketed To Authors department backing my play.

WD puts out multiple periodicals, holds numerous events for writers, and has a sprawling, dynamic and forward-thinking web presence. WD cross-promotes its various product lines across all its available venues, resulting in a highly-targeted and low-cost approach to advertising. WD further promotes all of its books by making them available for sale through its own book club and at its writer events. I will still need to keep up my own promotional efforts of course, but I know WD will be every bit as invested as I am in ensuring writers everywhere know my book exists, and that they know how it can help them.

WD is no ivory-tower monolith of the “old ways” of publishing, its staff are quick to adapt to market and technological shifts in publishing, and WD was among the first to recognize the potential of self-publishing to help authors, both aspiring and established, reach their goals.
Long story short: I couldn’t possibly find a more desirable publisher for The IndieAuthor Guide than Writer’s Digest Books, and that’s including myself.

My self-published novels are another story. I can’t imagine signing either of them over for mainstream publication, but if the publisher were to guarantee me major promotional backing—in writing—, I might consider it. I’d also consider it if I’d already built up a bunch of buzz around the book, or had an offer in hand for a film adaptation, because that’s a scenario in which the book would already be at the tipping point of success and a nudge from a publisher could pump up the book’s momentum. But, given my total-nobody status in published fiction circles, none of this is likely to happen anytime soon.

Another instance where I think it would make sense for an author to sign a mainstream publishing contract for a novel is if a huge advance is on offer, and the author wants that chunk of money more than he wants longevity for his book. Mainstream publication with a huge advance means the author better hustle and invest heavily in book promotion, because if the book doesn’t earn back the advance the author’s mainstream publication career is over. Now, if the publisher is offering enough money upfront that the author can move to Bora Bora and live like royalty for the rest of her days, maybe she doesn’t care too much about the book’s ultimate performance, or whether or not she ever gets another book published by the mainstream.

Finally, it seems to me that self-pub versus mainstream pub is no longer an either-or proposition; increasing numbers of authors are successfully straddling that line to do both. Whether it’s about getting one’s back catalog back into print, publishing something one’s publisher has rejected due to market concerns, making one’s print edition works available in ebook or podcast formats when one’s publisher hasn’t elected to release them in those formats (and the author has retained the rights to do so himself), building momentum for an upcoming release, or simply reaching a readership through any means necessary, such familiar names as Stephen King, JA Konrath, Cory Doctorow and Piers Anthony have self-published, or are currently self-publishing.

I will continue to bang the self-publishing drum and provide whatever information and assistance I can to self-publishers for the sake of raising awareness and dispelling myths, but that doesn’t mean I’ve taken a hard line stance against going the mainstream route. That’s an author-by-author, book-by-book, or even format-by-format decision each of us must make. So long as the author is making an informed decision, neither option is any more or less valid than the other.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Harlequin Horizons & Thomas Nelson West Bow Press: Good For These Publishers and Author Solutions, Inc., Bad For Indie Authors

Just as Thomas Nelson did about a month ago, Harlequin has announced it is partnering with Author Solutions, Inc. (ASI) to form a self-published books imprint. This new imprint is called Harlequin Horizons (HH), and according to a Harlequin press release:

“Through this strategic alliance; all sales, marketing, publishing, distribution, and book-selling services will be fulfilled by ASI; but Harlequin Horizons will exist as a division of Harlequin Enterprises Limited. Harlequin will monitor sales of books published through the self publisher for possible pick up by its traditional imprints.”

So in other words, they’re basically just lending the Harlequin name to ASI for use in providing the same services it already provides via such vanity and subsidy outfits as AuthorHouse, AuthorHouse UK, Inkubook, iUniverse, Trafford, Wordclay and Xlibris. Some of these outfits have raised both hackles and eyebrows over at
Writer Beware!

Right in its press release announcement, Harlequin makes it clear that their involvement here is strictly limited to lending their name and monitoring sales, every other aspect of the publishing process for HH, from editing to marketing, will be handled by ASI. But wait, that’s not entirely true. There is one other area where Harlequin will be involved in the HH process: “acquisitions”.

First, Harlequin will refer authors whose manuscripts they reject to HH. Second, Harlequin will monitor sales of HH titles with an eye to re-publishing any big sellers under the Harlequin imprint.

This new HH imprint clearly has the potential to earn Harlequin a lot of money, given that they will be taking a cut of ASI’s proceeds on every HH publishing package and service bought by self-publishing authors. Given that HH standard publishing packages range in price from US$599 to $1599, and HH “VIP” publishing packages run from US$2299 to $3499, there’s most definitely gold in them thar hills.

Compare these rates (and services) to those on offer from Xlibris, iUniverse, Author House or any of the other subsidy/vanity outfits working with ASI, and you can easily see there’s nothing special or unique about HH. The services and pricing offered are on par with what you’d get going through any of ASI’s other outlets for self-publishing, and since ASI is actually handling the pre-publishing work, publishing, distribution and even marketing (assuming the author elects to pay for these services), you’re getting the same product as well. The only difference with HH is its affiliation with Harlequin and the implied promise that self-publishing through HH gives your book higher visibility among Harlequin editors—which carries the implied promise that your self-published HH book is more likely to be picked up by Harlequin for regular acquisition. While I’ve always warned indie authors away from subsidy and vanity publishing, I have an even greater concern with this new wrinkle.

For those of you who are wondering why I advise against working with a subsidy or vanity press, the reasons are numerous but primarily boil down to an economic argument. Such outfits are notorious for their high-priced “publishing packages” which bundle together all manner of services plus one to two dozen “free” author copies of the finished book, depending on the package selected. Very often, the author must sign away some or all of her publication rights to the vanity/subsidy outfit for a set period of time as well.

The bundled packages are bad news because you’re limited to working with their staff editors and designers (as opposed to hiring your own individually, to ensure their skills and working styles mesh well with your project), they typically include (and charge for) services you don’t want or need, and also typically overcharge for products and services you can obtain on your own at a fraction of the cost, or even for no cost at all. For example, as of this writing it costs $35 to register a U.S. copyright online; HH/ASI charges $204 for this same service. That’s a 583% markup, and all HH/ASI is doing is taking information you provide them for filling out the form, then filling out the form for you. Why not just provide your information to the U.S. Copyright Office directly and save yourself a fast $169?

You can bet you’re overpaying for virtually every service offered by HH/ASI, because there are two layers of middlemen with their hands out: ASI and HH. Even if you’re the type of author who would rather pay someone else to get your book ready for print, published, distributed and marketed, does it really make sense to pay both the actual service provider and a “services packager” like HH, iUniverse, Xlibris, etc.?

Here’s where my second major objection to the Harlequin deal comes about: self-publishing authors are being led to believe that they’re actually getting something of value in exchange for paying the HH layer of middlemen, and they believe that “something” is greater visibility, a greater chance of having their self-published book plucked out of the great unwashed masses of self-pubbed books for the full Harlequin treatment. But here again, they’re paying for something they can already get for free.

If your self-published book is selling in great enough numbers to garner the attention of a mainstream publisher, it doesn’t matter how, or through whom, you self-published. The mainstream will want to acquire the rights to your book. Having published via HH doesn’t make this outcome any more likely than if you’d self-published through Lulu, Createspace, Lightning Source or elsewhere.

You may be protesting that per the quoted press release, “Harlequin will monitor sales of books published through the self publisher for possible pick up by its traditional imprints,” but this is a paper tiger at best. Among the likely thousands of titles to be released under the HH imprint, perhaps the top 10% in terms of sales would merit further attention from Harlequin staff, and even then, only if the top 10% are selling more than a couple hundred copies a year.

You could publish via any author or publishing services provider, save yourself a LOT of money by being a smart shopper and not paying for services you don’t need or for which you’d be overcharged by HH/ASI, then invest some of your savings in the distribution, marketing and promotion options that make sense for you and your book, and sell as many (or more!) copies as you could sell of the same book published under the HH imprint. Self-published books that sell well attract publisher attention regardless of who published the book, or how.

If it’s really worth an extra 500% to get an HH logo on the spine of your book, knock yourself out. But I’d argue that if that’s your position, you’re not a very savvy self-publisher.

UPDATE: THIS JUST IN (to me, anyway) – yet another reason not to go with HH is this: in addition to all the upfront fees you must pay for HH to publish your book, they also intend to keep 50% of your net royalty on every copy sold (scroll down to comment #18, in which Harlequin Digital Director Malle Vallik says so)!! 50% of gross would be exorbitant since the standard bookseller cut is 40% of the retail price, but 50% of net is simply beyond the pale. And if you're handing over 50% of your net royalty AFTER paying HH hundreds or thousands of dollars for its services, that's just financial rape. Without even buying you dinner first.

Just in case that comment #18 from Harlequin Digital Director Malle Vallik on Dear Author should become unavailable at some point in the future, I'm copying and pasting it here:

1. Will rejected submissions to Harlequin indeed be “informed” that they can “opt-in” to Horizons? How do you assuage the stated concerns that this is a predatory process?

Malle: A writer receiving a standard reject letter will find a line included about self publishing. The writer, if she wants, can then contact HH. The writer will never be cold-called or contacted unless she has opted in.

2. Will Harlequin Horizons hold the ISBNs and pay out royalties from the sales, if any? How does this differ from the “vanity press” model? How does it compare to the “self-publishing” model, in which the author holds the ISBNs and keeps all money from any sales?

Malle: The content is completely owned by the author. Royalties are 50% net from both eBooks and print.

3. If an author chooses to go to Horizons for a “keepsake” or a “gift”, what does Horizons offer (except for the Harlequin name) to distinguish it from much much cheaper services such as Lulu?

Malle: It is any writer’s choice as to what self-publishing option she choses to purchase or if she wants to self-publish at all.

4. If an author chooses to go to Horizons, do they lose “first publication” rights? How will that affect any effort to gain an agent or traditional publisher with their “bound copy”?

Malle: I’m not sure I completely understand this question. The author owns her content. How would she lost first publication rights? She has published it herself. Whether she is giving it away as gifts or marketing it, is up to her. Yup, clearly I don’t get your question.

Monday, November 16, 2009

An Indie Call To Action

Most of us indie authors talk a good game about how there are plenty of quality indie books available, and how there are plenty of terrible mainstream books. We also like to complain about the lack of variety and originality in mainstream book offerings as compared to indie books. Such musings generally lead to the conclusion that if people would just give indie books the same chance they give to mainstream books, if they would just put indie books to the ‘fifteen minute’ or ‘first ten pages’ test, the frequency with which they’d find books they would want to keep reading would be on par with that for mainstream books, and indie authors and readers everywhere would rejoice. It’s time we stop all the hand-wringing and blind hope, and make this happen.

Yes, we have the power. Every indie author is also a reader, and every one of us has a circle of influence. So if you’re an indie author or small imprint owner, I issue the following challenge to you:

1) Find an indie book you LOVE, from an author to whom you have no connection. The lack of a prior connection or relationship is important, since it will eliminate any possibility of a conflict of interest. Finding the right book will require you to put a few likely candidates to the fifteen minute/ten pages test, but if you’re not willing to do it, why should any prospective reader out there do it for your book?

2) Write positive reviews of your chosen book on every site where the book can be bought (e.g., Amazon, Smashwords, Scribd, Lulu store, Authors Bookshop, etc.; most allow you to enter reviews whether you bought a given book on their site or not) and on any reader community sites to which you belong (e.g., Goodreads, Shelfari, LibraryThing).

3) If you’re on Twitter, tweet about the book and author, and include a link to a page where the book can be purchased. Use the hashtag #indieaction, to make it easy for everyone to find these indie action tweets (and some great indie books!).

4) Add the author’s site to your blogroll or links page on your own site.

5) If you were already planning to buy books as holiday gifts and your chosen book is available for sale, include it in your gift mix.

6) If you typically review books on your blog or website from time to time, review the book there as well. If you don’t typically post full reviews, just add a one- to two-liner about the book and author at the end of another blog post. Link back to this post if you feel you need to put your remarks into context.

7) Recommend the book personally to family, friends and coworkers.

8) Spread the word about this campaign to every indie author and indie supporter you know. Here’s a handy link you can share for this post –

This is not a shady scheme, and this is not a mutual back-scratching society. This is the many thousands of indie authors flexing their collective influence as readers for the benefit of the indie author movement overall.

Maybe you’ve never actively sought out indie books to read, and don’t know where to start. I’d suggest you begin by checking the top-selling, most-downloaded, and/or top-rated books at any of the sites listed below. Most of the bookseller sites listed allow authors to post a free excerpt (for your 15 minute/ten pages test); for other books, try looking up the author’s website to see if you can find an excerpt that way. Again, some time and effort will be involved here but you can gain a lot of insight into the typical book-buyer’s experience with indie books by going through this exercise.

Web Fiction Guide
LL Book Review
Small-Press Bookwatch
Podiobooks (podcast audiobooks)
Self-Publishing Review
The New Podler Review of Books
Top 100 Kindle Store Independent Authors

*These sites offer both indie and mainstream books, so you'll need to check the publisher name to see if you're dealing with an indie/small imprint book, or a mainstream release

I’m going to get the ball rolling by recommending an excellent indie book from an author who’s a complete stranger to me. The book is called The 6th Seal, and it was written by J.M. Emanuel. It’s an excellent, and truly scary, supernatural thriller set against an archetypal good vs. evil backdrop. If you enjoyed The Da Vinci Code but wished it had more depth, if you enjoy books by Straub and Stephen King, or any of the darker works of Neil Gaiman, if you like fictional explorations of Armageddon, mysteries, or stories built on biblical revelation, you really ought to give this book a try. You can read the first few pages of it using the Look Inside! Feature on, where it’s available in both print and Kindle editions.

In the coming week I’ll put my keyboard where my mouth is by tweeting and posting reviews of this book everywhere I can.

Now get out there and become part of the solution!

Friday, November 6, 2009

How Conferences And Other Writers’ Events Can Strengthen Your Author Platform

If you’re budget-minded (like me), you probably think of writers’ or publishers’ conferences as a luxury: something you know you can benefit from, and something you’d love to do more often, but something for which it can be hard to justify the expense. Well, in addition to the educational and social networking benefits, it turns out there can be major author platform dividends as well.

Author Christina Katz (a.k.a.The Writermama) had two books published and a sizable readership when she was invited by O’Reilly Media to blog at the 2009 O’Reilly Tools of Change (TOC) conference. Katz was already known to a readership of writers but she was not a big name in publishing circles. While at the conference, Katz noticed other attendees Tweeting and decided to use Twitter to share her impressions of the conference rather than blogging. She sent frequent missives from each session she attended to provide her Twitter followers with real-time reportage.

Within a couple of hours the word was out on the ‘net: everyone who wanted to know what was going on at TOC was following Katz’ tweets. Her number of followers spiked over the course of the conference from about 400 to over 1,000, about the number of people attending the conference. In only a matter of hours, other folks tweeting the conference were soon wondering, “Who is The Writermama?” (@thewritermama is Katz’ Twitter username — she’d neglected to add her real name to her Twitter profile).

Ron Hogan from MediaBistro approached Katz when he saw her tweeting in the same session and asked if she was the mysterious tweeter everyone was wondering about. Attendees and presenters alike were soon following Katz’ tweets. Attendees thanking her for her updates from sessions they’d missed. Presenters thanking her for reporting on their sessions.
Meanwhile, away from the conference, hundreds of authors, publishing staffers and others who were following Christina’s tweets could easily discover more about her by checking out her sites, blogs and books online. Thanks to her presence at the conference, Christina’s brand recognition, industry reputation, and reach grew by leaps and bounds that weekend.

Tweet It
Now that tweeting from events is commonplace, if you intend to use the same strategy you’ll need to tweet both in quality and quantity to rise to the top of the Twittering crowd. But that’s not the only way to use conference and event attendance to grow your author platform.

Blog About It
If any part of the target demographic for your books are peers, do them a solid and share the experience. Remember that you’re present at an event most of your peers cannot attend, but a great many of them wish they could be there. You’re in a position to provide some inside information on what the event was like, and a highlights reel of information from the sessions and workshops you attended. Take careful notes on every talk, and you can have blog fodder lined up for many posts to come.

If the intended audience for your books and websites is composed primarily of reader-consumers, there are still some blogging gold nuggets to be mined from event attendance. You went to the event expecting to get something out of it as an author. Blog about the impact your experiences will have on your work, or on you as an author. If you were inspired, who or what inspired you, and why? Conversely, if you were disappointed or frustrated, blog about that.

Make Connections
Take advantage of breaks between sessions to mix and mingle with your fellow attendees and session presenters. If there’s an onsite lunch option, take it. You can bet that most presenters will remain onsite for lunch, and people you’d consider to be VIPs are much more accessible and approachable in an event setting. If there are any evening mixers or tweetups in the offing, attend those as well. They provide a terrific opportunity to meet attendees and presenters in a casual setting where everyone’s more comfortable chatting and having fun.

I’m not suggesting that you pitch your book ideas to the people you meet onsite, however. If you’re only chatting with Bob Agent because you’re looking for an opening to lob him a query, that will be all too apparent—and very annoying to Bob. Just focus on planting some relationship seeds and making a positive impression. If you can do that, Bob Agent is much more likely to be receptive to your query after the event.

Have some business cards printed up ahead of time (you can even print a small quantity yourself at home using special business-card paper stock, available at office supply stores), and exchange cards with others every time the opportunity presents itself. Make some brief notes about the people you meet on the back of their cards, and when you get back home you’ll have an insta-rolodex of event-related contacts to whom you can turn in the future when you have questions or ideas that may be of interest to those you’ve met. Unless you’ve really bonded on a personal level with a given individual however, be cautious in the tenor and frequency of your communications after the event. You want to become a trusted contact, not a pest.

Be A Speaker
Most big conferences put out a call for session and workshop proposals a year or so in advance of the event. If you’re comfortable with public speaking and have some relevant experience or skills, don’t be afraid to submit proposals. While conference organizers for a self-publishing event aimed at aspiring authors might not be terribly interested in the content of your book or your approach to craft, if you’ve become a social media whiz or expert in ebook production while working your platform, they very well may be.

Many conference sessions take the form of discussion panels, with a moderator asking questions of multiple speakers. If you are ever invited to be part of such a panel at a high-profile event, DO IT. Even if you have to pay your own travel expenses, if there’s any way you can swing it, DO SO. You’ll get invaluable exposure that can raise your profile exponentially. Being able to add that speaking credit to your credentials (and list it on your website) elevates your legitimacy within the industry while simultaneously establishing or reinforcing your stature as a subject area expert. On top of all that, it will also make it easier for you to book future speaking engagements. Hopefully, at least some of those will cover your travel expenses or even pay you a speaking fee. And if you’re paying your own way, here in the U.S. expenses related to the event are tax-deductible (so long as you report your authorship-related income and expenses on your taxes; consult a tax professional for further information).

If you've been doing a good job of making connections at previous events, you may even be able to pull together your own panel of experts to propose a panel talk at which you will act as moderator.

When Smashwords founder Mark Coker invited me to participate in a speaker panel at TOC 2009, my initial reaction was to thank him for thinking of me, but decline. I’d have to pay all my own expenses, and the trip from Los Angeles to New York is not cheap. Neither are New York hotels. Or meals. Or taxi cabs. But upon further consideration I decided the exposure would be worth the expense, and I was right. Speaking at that event gave me name recognition in the publishing industry, opened the door to more speaking opportunities, allowed me to make some invaluable contacts and conferred a great
deal of legitimacy upon me and my message.

Use The Right Hashtag
When you post anything online about the event, whether it’s tweets, Facebook updates, blog posts or articles, be sure to include the appropriate hashtag for the event in the body of your content as well as in the “tags” section in the case of blog posts or articles. Doing so will make your content turn up in searches on that hashtag, as well as in searches for online content related to the event. Event organizers will often post their preferred hashtag right on the event site. If not, you can do a Google search on the event to identify the hashtag used most frequently by others, then use that same hashtag in your tweets, updates and posts.

So you see, attending TOC, PubWest, DigiBookWorld, the Author Workshop Cruise or similar events is no mere luxury. Strive to make your participation in such events a plank in your author platform whenever possible. The more active you are in the larger community of writers and publishing, the easier it will be to build, maintain and grow your platform.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tune In For #Platformchat & Get Your Questions Answered!

Christina Katz, The Writer Mama and author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, hosts a regular Twitter interview series known as #Platformchat, and I and author Seth Harwood will be guests on Friday, 10/23. From Christina's site:

On Friday, October 23rd our #platformchat guests will be Seth Harwood & April Hamilton. Time is: 11:00 - noon PT (noon - 1:00 MT, 1:00 - 2:00 CT, & 2:00 - 3:00 ET).

Topic: Common sense podcasting & self-publishing strategies
Anyone with a Twitter account can participate. I recommend using and plugging in our hashtag, #platformchat, to follow and participate in the chat. Once you have a Twitter account, you can use your Twitter ID and password to get a Tweetchat account very quickly. I hope you will bring your questions on this topic and join the discussion!

Please note: #platformchat is monthly now. Stay tuned to this blog for updates. Thanks!

Here's a little more about our guests:

Seth Harwood (@SethHarwood) graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and can be found online at, where his podcasts of Jack Wakes Up and its sequels have drawn a devoted following. Jack Wakes Up debuted May 5th from Three Rivers Press (Random House) and is currently available everywhere books are sold. He lives in Berkeley, with his wife, Joelle, and teaches at Stanford University and the City College of San Francisco.

April L. Hamilton (@indieauthor) is an author, blogger, Technorati BlogCritic, leading advocate and speaker for the indie author movement, and founder and Editor in Chief of Publetariat, the premier online news hub and community for indie authors and small imprints. She's a frequent conference speaker on subjects related to self-publishing, and judge for self-published book competitions. In her popular self-published reference book, The IndieAuthor Guide, she offers aspiring self-published authors a roadmap to success. She is also the author of novels available in both ebook and POD form.

#platformchat moderators are:
Christina Katz is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Build an Author Platform and Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (both for Writer’s Digest Books). A platform development coach and consultant, she teaches writing career development, hosts the Northwest Author Series, and is the publisher of several e-zines including Writers on the Rise. Christina blogs at The Writer Mama Riffs and Get Known Before the Book Deal, and speaks at MFA programs, literary events, and conferences around the country. Follow Christina on Twitter at @thewritermama.

Meryl K. Evans is the author of Brilliant Outlook Pocketbook, co-author of Adapting to Web Standards: CSS and Ajax for Big Sites and contributor to many others. The long-time blogger and gamer has written and edited for a bunch of places online and off. A native Texan, she lives a heartbeat north of Dallas in Plano, Texas with her husband and three kiddos. Though born in silence, she tries to show that deaf people are just like everyone else. Follow Meryl on Twitter at @merylkevans.

If you missed our recent chats, you are welcome to peruse recent transcripts:
September11th #platformchat
August 7th #platformchat
July 24th #platformchat
July 14th #platformchat
June 26th #platformchat

I think this will be a great event, and I look forward to "tweeting" you there!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Don't Hate The Wait

It’s a cliché that so-called overnight successes are many years in the making, but it’s also true. As you plug away at your day job and your manuscripts, year in and out, it’s easy to get discouraged. It’s hard not to feel nothing’s ever going to happen for you. And when you read about some hot new author du jour you’ve never heard of who got a six or seven figure offer, landed a spot on Oprah and got a full-page profile in The New York Times, it can seem impossible to be happy for her. In that moment of—let’s be honest—bitter resentment, it is impossible to imagine your dreams coming true. But if they ever do, it will be due in large part to all the time you spent waiting for it to happen, and how you spent that time.

I queried agents on a novel of mine for the first time about thirteen years ago. I was fortunate to land a great agent in that first round of queries, and I thought my writing career was well on its way. Thought is the operative word there. The novel didn’t sell. I wrote and submitted a second novel, which also didn’t sell. Most frustrating of all, the reasons for the rejections had nothing to do with the quality of my writing, which New York editors said was very strong. It came down to what those editors thought they could or could not sell up the chain. So I back-burnered my writing dreams for a while and got on with life: marriage, kids and jobs. It was just a few years ago that I became an advocate for the indie author movement, and I won’t have a book out from a trade publisher until next year. But looking back on it, I can honestly say all the time I had to wait, and how I spent it, were instrumental to my eventual success.

Marriage and becoming a parent have informed my work in authorship to an extent that can’t be overstated. This isn’t to say I think you’ll be a poor writer unless you get married and have kids, I’m just saying that the experiences I’ve had in those two areas have changed the person I am, caused me to abandon many of my formerly-cherished views, and caused me to look at people and the world differently. Others can get the same benefits from relationships with family and friends, romantic partners, travel, or any sort of life-changing experience.

My day jobs have all had their part to play as well. Working as a technical writer made ‘writing tight’ a reflex for me. Being a software engineer ingrained discipline and attention to detail, both of which are critical skills for any writer. Managing software projects taught me the value of organization, working to a plan, and prioritizing my time and effort. If I hadn’t learned those lessons, there’s no way I could’ve found the time, energy and will to pursue my goals in authorship with everything else I had going on in my life. Working as a web developer and database administrator paid huge dividends when it came to launching and growing my author platform. And continuing to work those day jobs exposed me to all manner of personalities and experiences I could draw upon later, whether in terms of creating a composite character for a story or working with peers and industry people on the business side of things.

What if that first novel had sold? I would’ve been thrilled at the time, but once the initial fanfare died down I think disappointment and failure would’ve settled in pretty quickly. The publisher wouldn’t have lavished a big offer and promotional budget on me, and I wouldn’t have had the money, skills, discipline or maturity to tackle promoting myself and my book on my own. I wouldn’t have had the first idea how to map out a project plan, assemble the necessary talents I lacked (if I even recognized that I lacked them in the first place), or network effectively. My novel most likely would’ve faded from store shelves pretty quickly, and I’d be damaged goods as far as publishers were concerned. Even if the story had been much brighter, if the book had been a surprise hit, I doubt I would’ve sustained a writing career for any length of time. How could I cope with this new, ubiquitous thing called the internet if I’d spent all my time holed up in my comfort zone with a word processor? Given my naiveté, relatively sheltered life to date and ordinary, suburban upbringing, what more could I draw from the well that would inform, entertain or inspire readers enough to keep them buying my books? How could I write about loss, the brow-beating yoke of responsibility, or the push and pull of adult relationships with any authority?

Some of you may already be protesting that there have been plenty of young, breakout writers. But ask yourself this: how many of them have had solid careers that spanned decades, and how many had a hit book or a single hit series, then never struck gold again? There are probably so few exceptions to this that you could count them on one hand, and in every one of those cases the author in question was most likely a true prodigy. For the rest of us, being made to wait till we’ve lived a little longer and experienced a little more of what life has to offer isn’t a bad thing.

Having to work a day job while you’re doing all this living and experiencing isn’t a bad thing, either. If you’re a cashier, bar tender, waitress, salesman or customer service rep, you’re learning how to comfortably interact with strangers and that will serve you well when you’ve got a book to promote. If you’re a worker bee in a tech field, author platform is going to be a walk in the park for you. If your job is the type that isn’t terribly interesting or intellectually demanding, such as assembly line work, driving a bus or working a fast food grill, be glad you have all that mental freedom to ruminate over your ideas and characters for hours a day; just keep a notebook and pen close at hand so you’ll be ready when inspiration strikes. If you’re a teacher or a caregiver of some sort, your daily interactions with the people you serve will enrich your characters and strengthen your dialog in a way no amount of creative writing seminars ever could. No matter what your day job is, it’s keeping you solvent and improving your writing. It, and the wait, are helping to ensure you’ll be ready when opportunity comes knocking.

So don’t hate the wait, and don’t resent your day job. Embrace them, and welcome all they have to offer.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Don’t Be Part of the 5%: Master The 5 Crucial Author Platform Skills

For the past several months, I’ve been working on the Publetariat Vault. Among the hundreds of authors who’ve registered for Vault membership, about 5% are completely overwhelmed by the listing form. They refuse to read or follow the instructions on the form, or think 17 required fields are too much to ask, or don’t know how to create a synopsis or excerpt in pdf, rtf or txt format, or don’t know how to upload files to the site using the typical “Browse” + “Upload” button combo. And they’re kind of pissed off that we’re asking them to do all of this in the first place, they’re walking away from up to 5 months’ free listing time on account of tech frustration. A couple of years ago I would’ve said the 5% are absolutely right, such a form is too demanding and no author should be expected to have that level of tech savvy. But the bar has been raised, and nowadays any author with a strong platform has all the skills necessary to easily complete the Vault form. The rest can no longer afford to be part of the 5%. It's not fair, and it has nothing to do with quality writing, but it is the reality.

Any author who’s not yet heard the term “author platform” could only have been lost at sea or living in Amish country, but even among those who know it, I’m finding the term is often not fully understood. Many authors, both aspiring and published, indie and mainstream, think succeeding with author platform means having a blog or author website. And maybe they Twitter a little, or have a Facebook or MySpace page. They also often think author platform is something that’s very difficult and/or expensive, and only applicable to published authors.

They are wrong, on all counts.

Author platform encompasses everything you do both to promote your work and to establish yourself as a “brand” in the marketplace, and ideally, it begins long before you have a book to sell. Even if you intend to go the totally mainstream route of writing the best damned manuscript you can and then querying agents and publishers, you can no longer expect to get a pass on author platform. I’m currently working with Writers Digest on the publication of a revised and updated edition of my book, The IndieAuthor Guide, and when our talks began the very first questions they had for me were all about my author platform. What websites do I have, and how much traffic do they get? How many pageviews, how many unique visitors? How frequently do I blog? How frequently do I have public speaking engagements, and where and for whom have I done such engagements? Do I maintain an email newsletter or membership list, and if so, how large is it?

If you’re lucky enough to get a request for the full manuscript from an agent or publisher, are you prepared to answer all these questions? Because if you’re not, you’re not ready to have your full ms requested. And if you’re intending to self-publish, you should be asking these questions of yourself already.

Lucky for all of us, the minimum skills needed to do a pretty decent job with online author platform are few, and easy to master. The way it works is, with each new skill you acquire, new online promotion and publication options are opened to you. And when it comes to author platform, you want every available option at your disposal.

You must know how to use webforms to comment on articles or blog posts online, create and maintain your own blog, create and maintain a fill-in-the-blanks sort of author website, or have a Facebook or MySpace page.

If you also want to provide an online cover image of your book, or an author photo, you must either know how to create digital images (pictures a computer can read because they’re stored as a computer file; if you use a digital camera and know how to get the pictures off your camera and onto your computer, you already know how to create digital images) or have the images supplied by someone who does know how to create them, you must know how to use a graphics editor program to resize the images as needed to meet the file size and dimension requirements of the various sites on which you intend to share them, and you must know how upload files to a web server using a “Browse” + “Upload” button combo.

All the skills mentioned thus far are also needed to self-publish your work in hard copy formats via an online print service provider such as Createspace or Lulu, and to self-publish in various ebook formats via online ebook conversion services such as Smashwords or Scribd.

If you want to make excerpts of your work available for free viewing on your blog or website (which is one of the cheapest and most effective ways of growing readership), on top of everything else you must also know how to create an excerpt of the full work and output that excerpt to pdf format.

Let’s stop and take inventory. If you know how to use webforms, how to create and resize digital images, how to upload files to a web server and how to output your work in pdf format, you’ve got most of your self-publishing and online author platform options covered with just five basic tech skills. You can have a blog and a fill-in-the-blanks type of author website. You can comment on blogs and articles all over the ‘net. You can publish your work in multiple formats and make it available for sale online through various outlets. You can make excerpts of your work available online. You can Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn to your heart’s content---and you can do all of these things for the cost of nothing more than your time and the price of a single author copy (in cases where you're self-pubbing in hard copy)! You'd be a fool to turn your back on such an embarrassment of author platform riches, but that's what the 5% do every day.

Now, if you also want to Twitter, you’ll want to bone up on web abbreviations, emoticons and hashtags. If you want to be able to add cool little widgets (e.g., hit counters, ‘my Goodreads bookshelf’, BookBuzzr, etc.) to your blog, author website, Facebook, MySpace or other online pages, you’ll need to be comfortable copying and pasting snippets of HTML or script code from the widget provider into the desired location, but even then, someone else is providing the code and all you’re doing is copying and pasting it the same as you’d do with any ordinary text. The best part is, most such widgets are available for free! If you don't know how to use them, you're missing a huge opportunity to jazz up your platform at no cost.

When you’re ready to graduate to the master class, you can learn about RSS syndication and how to set up a simple web form on your site or blog to allow your readers to subscribe to your email newsletter, but this is nothing you need to think about right away.

For now, just focus on mastering the 5 crucial author platform skills and get yourself out of that doomed 5%.

Addendum: Regarding the Vault form, I'm the first to admit it's a lengthy form. Authors will need to spend half an hour or so pulling together all the information they need to create a listing, and an additional 5-10 minutes to complete the form. However, the form includes very detailed instructions for every section and field, required fields are limited to those items publishers have said are most important in making acquisitions decisions, and authors participating in the Vault's current promotions are getting several months' free listing time. I'm sure those who go on to strike deals with publishers or producers will feel it was well worth filling out the form.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Why Responsible Aggregation Is Not Only NOT Evil, But A GOOD Thing

There’s a lot of hue and cry against online aggregation circulating around the interwebs these days, and I really don’t get it.

Aggregator sites reprint excerpts from other sites’ articles and blog posts, along with a ‘keep reading’ or ‘read the rest’ link to the source article/blog post. The more responsible aggregators also include the name of the author, and the most considerate ones also include links to the author’s website or blog and a link to the home page of the site where the article or post originally appeared.

If an aggregator site prints an entire article or blog post, or 50% or greater of the article/post without the author’s permission, well that’s just theft. If the ‘read the rest’ link opens the source web page in a window controlled by the aggregator, that’s tantamount to theft since it appears to the viewer as if he or she hasn’t left the aggregator site; worse yet, most such windowing systems don’t make it easy for the viewer to escape from the aggregator’s window. They may click links on the source site, but the linked pages still open up in the aggregator’s window. As a web consumer, I find those aggregator windows incredibly annoying and have come to avoid following links provided by such aggregators.

If an aggregator fails to credit the author when printing an excerpt and ‘read the rest’ link, it’s depriving the author of his or her due and that’s wrong, too. If an aggregator surrounds aggregated material with lots of paid advertising, particularly advertising with which the authors of aggregated material might take issue, that’s also an abuse of the authors’ material. But if the excerpt is brief, the author is credited, a ‘read the rest’ link is provided back to the source article without wrapping it in the aggregator’s window, links are provided to the author’s website (where available) and the home page of the site where the aggregated material originally appeared, and advertising surrounding aggregated material is minimal and non-offensive, with very few exceptions (e.g., aggregation of material the author is offering for sale) I really don’t understand why authors or anyone else should have a problem with it.

Publetariat, a site I founded and for which I’m Editor in Chief, has a mix of both original and aggregated material. The site focuses on content for indie authors and small imprints, and operates on a ‘we scour the web for relevant articles so you don’t have to’ sort of paradigm while also providing a discussion board area and member profiles with blogging capability. Every weekday at about 11am PST, I tweet a link to the site with the titles of articles posted to the site for that day. My tweet is often retweeted by my Twitter followers, but I’ve noticed another phenomenon going on: some people retweet, but only after changing the link to point directly to the source article. They seem to be making a pointed, if somewhat passive, statement against Publetariat’s aggregation, but I don’t know why they feel the need to do so since Publetariat is providing a service to both the author and readers.

Publetariat is a heavily-trafficked and well-respected site in the publishing world, and it gets several thousand unique visitors every week. It also gets thousands of RSS feed hits every month. The site has a traffic rank in the top 2% of all sites worldwide, and a Technorati blog rank in the top .2%. In other words, getting your material on the front page of the Publetariat site gets you a LOT of exposure to a highly targeted audience of authors and publishers. Let’s look at a specific example.

My blog post entitled “Self-Publishing: Future Prerequisite” was published on my blog on 9/22/09 and cross-posted to the Publetariat site the same day. To date, the post on my blog has received 221 hits. Not too shabby. But the same post on Publetariat has received 709 hits: over three times as many reads. In the current climate, in which authors are supposed to be doing everything they can to attract readership and attention, why wouldn’t they want three times as many readers for their content? And if you’re an author services provider, such as an editor, book doctor or promotional consultant, why wouldn’t you want three times as many authors to know about you and your site?

To date, there have only been two authors/webmasters who’ve asked to have their aggregated material removed from the Publetariat site, and both times, Publetariat has complied with the request. But I will never understand why those authors/webmasters are turning down an opportunity for such highly-targeted, free exposure from a responsible aggregator.

When Publetariat aggregates, we credit the author, provide a ‘read the rest’ link that isn’t wrapped in a Publetariat window, provide a link to the author’s own website where available, provide a link to the home page of the site on which the aggregated material originally appeared, and sometimes even provide links to buy the author’s books or other merchandise---and these are not affiliate links, Publetariat isn’t making any money on those click-throughs. We do everything we can to ensure both the author and the site where the article originally appeared will benefit from being aggregated on Publetariat.

What about advertising? Isn’t Publetariat profiting from aggregation through its site advertising, and not sharing that profit with the bloggers and authors who’ve made it possible? While Publetariat does carry paid advertising, from the day the site launched to today, despite our impressive traffic stats we’ve received a grand total of about US$65 in ad revenue. All the rest of the advertising on the site consists of public service announcements and traded links. Advertising revenue isn’t even enough to cover our hosting expense.

So, it’s clear that Publetariat is a responsible aggregator. You can also see what Publetariat has to offer an author of aggregated material, and that Publetariat isn’t profiting financially from aggregation. But there’s one more facet to explore here: why it’s better for a reader to discover a given blog post or article aggregated on Publetariat instead of on the source site or blog.

When a reader visits my blog, they’re getting my content only. That’s great for me, but somewhat limiting for them. If they come across my blog posts on Publetariat, they’re also getting exposure to lots of articles and blog posts from my fellow authors, author service providers, publishers and more. Sometimes, they’re seeing material relevant to writers that originated from a site they weren’t at all likely to discover on their own because it’s not a site geared specifically to writers. It’s like going to a great party that’s filled with fascinating people and discussions, any of which you’d love to know more about, and having introductions to those people and discussions made on your behalf by the host of the party.

People who retweet links to Publetariat’s aggregated material only after editing the link to point directly to the source site are leading their Twitter followers away from the party, and depriving them of everything else Publetariat has to offer.

A last objection that’s sometimes raised is the matter of click-throughs. Some will argue that the click-through rate on ‘read the rest’ links is low, that many visitors to the aggregator site will only read the posted excerpt. This is true, but every reader who does click through is a reader you didn’t have before your piece was aggregated.

So if Publetariat or any other site wants to aggregate your material, so long as the aggregator site is higher-profile than your own site/blog and they intend to aggregate responsibly (with proper credit and links, no wrapper window, no offensive advertising), it’s not evil. It’s the easiest free promotion you can get.

And if you’d like your site or blog to be on Publetariat’s list of available sources for aggregated or reprinted material, post your name and a link in the comments section, below, along with your preference for having your material merely excerpted with a ‘read the rest’ link, or reprinted in full on the site.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Publetariat Presents: The First Indie Author Stem-to-Stern Workshop Cruise!

*UPDATED* (see revision in blue, below)

Have you been wishing you had some time to speak with me in person about your self-publishing quandaries and questions, preferably while on a cruise to the Mexican Riviera? Or perhaps you've wanted to ask NYT bestselling author Scott Sigler how he crossed over from indie to mainstream success on the basis of his author platform, ideally while sipping a colorful cocktail out of a hollowed-out pineapple? Maybe you've wished you could quiz author platform and book marketing maven Joanna Penn about your specific book promotion situation as both of you lounge poolside? UPDATE: Kirk Biglione and Kassia Krozser will be presenting on Author Platform and Social Media For Authors. Or maybe you've wanted to publish your work for the Kindle and make it available for sale in Amazon's Kindle book store, but have assumed there's no way you could possibly take on that task without the help of ebook publishing expert Joshua Tallent and a neverending seafood lunch buffet?

Then this is the trip for you! From Publetariat:

In this exclusive, weeklong, all-workshop cruise aboard the Carnival "Fun Ship" Splendor (the one with the big waterslide you've seen on Carnival's TV commercials!), just 24 UPDATED: 30 attendees will have the opportunity to learn everything they need to succeed with self-publishing, ebook publishing, podcasting, author platform and book promotion from Publetariat founder and Editor in Chief / self-publishing expert April L. Hamilton, ebook publishing expert Joshua Tallent, authors and podcasting experts Seth Harwood and Scott Sigler, and author platform / social media experts Kirk Biglione and Kassia Krozser---all while enjoying a wonderful cruise vacation on the Mexican Riviera from March 7-14, 2010 UPDATED: October 10-17, 2010!

In addition to attending four, 3-hour workshop sessions on POD Publishing, Ebook Publishing, Author Platform/Social Media and Podcasting/Author Platform, each attendee will also receive a private, one-on-one, 45-minute coaching/consulting session with the speaker of his or her choice. This private consulting session alone is a $300 value. Add to this the opening night Meet and Greet, mid-week mixer and farewell mixer, and you've got a whole lot of face time with workshop speakers to get your questions answered and issues addressed as part of a very small group.

Also, we've scheduled all our workshops for "at sea" days, so attendees will be free for sightseeing and shore excursions on the three in-port days at Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas. If you're already thinking about taking a vacation and attending a writers' retreat or conference next year, why not do both in this one trip?

For full details on pricing, the workshops, cruise itinerary, presenter bios, travel agent contact and more, check out the Indie Author Stem to Stern Workshop Cruise page, and if you're interested, register and get your US$25 deposit for the cruise in right away; there are only 24 UPDATED: 30 slots available, and once they're gone, they're gone!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Self-Publishing: Future Prerequisite

Until recently, if you were self-published virtually any agent or book editor worth her salt didn’t want to hear about it. Many of them would want nothing to do with you at all, as if your self-published status might rub their own cachet off or something. But given the tenor and content of the sessions at this year’s Writers Digest Business of Getting Published Conference, I predict it won’t be long before agents and editors will routinely respond to queries by asking what you’ve self-published, and how it’s doing. That’s right, and you heard it here first:
I predict that within 5 years, self-publishing will no longer be an option, but a prerequisite for unknown, aspiring authors hoping to land a mainstream publishing deal. It’s the logical, inevitable next step in author platform.

At the conference, the prevailing message was that authors, both aspiring and already published, need to be getting themselves and their work out there in front of the reading public at every opportunity. And guess what? If you’re blogging or making your writing available for download in ebook or podcast formats you're already self-publishing. As for those who aren’t doing these things for fear of intellectual property theft, in numerous sessions attendees were reminded of Tim O’Reilly’s now legendary quote: that for anyone trying to build an audience, “Obscurity is a greater threat than piracy.”

Seth Harwood and Scott Sigler, both of whom broke through to mainstream success after building an audience for their podcasts, advised conference attendees that the best way to get publishers to sit up and take notice is to demonstrate your ability to build an audience and move your material on your own. Social media guru Chris Brogan said the easiest way to get a book deal is not to need one---because you’ve already established your own platform and have your own audience---, and proposed that rather than follow established roads, aspiring authors should go where there are no roads and create their own. Writers Digest Publisher and Editorial Director Jane Friedman reminded us that here in the 21st century there are no longer any rules in publishing, and reiterated the notion that for aspiring authors, platform comes before the book deal. Be The Media author David Mathison hammered away at the importance of connecting with your readership directly. Booksquare’s Kassia Krozser urged authors to push out into every available channel to enable readers to find them, and as for The Writer Mama Christina Katz, the title of her most recent book is Get Known Before The Book Deal ('nuff said!).

So, how do you intend to enable readers to find you, or build an audience, or connect with readers directly, or get known before the book deal if you’re not publishing or podcasting any of your work? You can’t just tell your site or blog visitors your writing is great, they should trust you on that, and then expect to hold their interest with what amounts to a lengthy series of hang-in-there-I-swear-when-the-book-comes-out-you’ll-love-it messages.

As we all already know, a manuscript’s content is only one piece---an increasingly small piece, unfortunately---of the decision-making puzzle when it comes to convincing a publisher to make an offer. When the editors, marketing wonks and other decision makers get together to consider which manuscripts to acquire, Risk is the name of the elephant in the room and mitigating risk is the key to a sale. When you approach an agent or editor with a quality manuscript, you may convince them you can write but you’re doing nothing to reduce their fears about the eventual book’s performance in the marketplace. If you can approach those same people with a book that’s already in the marketplace and already has a fan base, you’ve already answered the question of how the book will perform post-publication. You’ve reduced their antacid intake by half and given them some very good reasons to invest in you and your book.

Don’t let anyone tell you self-publishing is a desperation move. It’s a power move.