My Protagonist And I Both Need Friends

So I’m finally working on revising my novel, Peony Warrior. I wrote the first draft last year for NaNoWriMo, did a couple things with it through the rest of winter and spring, and then used it for this summer’s Camp NaNo project. Unfortunately I hit a roadblock. I couldn’t decide what gender to make my character. This wouldn’t have been such a big deal if not for the fact that the plot hinges on the main character producing a child. The story of a father in that situation is very different from a mother’s, and I liked both ideas.

Now, my older brother actually suggested I try both, an interwoven story, and I have noticed I tend to use dual protagonists for my stories, but it just wasn’t working out. Their stories were too similar to work together, but too different to condense into one. Plus I really didn’t know what to do with them outside of the original basic concept. I didn’t know how to get them from “confused and isolated single parent” to “hero.”

I have a lot of siblings, but the other one relevant to this story is my roommate. She’s three years younger than I am, and we like a lot of the same things. In particular we’ve begun watching Kamen Rider together in the afternoon. Generally, though, we just kind of exist around each other, not a lot of interaction.

Friday or Saturday night, we got to talking about stories. She writes, but she’s afraid to show it to anyone, probably because of how my siblings and I handled reacting to each other’s fiction a few years back. Point is, she does like to talk about it, and to hear what I’m up to. We started talking, and went on for about two hours. In explaining my situation to her, I figured out what I really wanted–and what would work better. I had a full arc planned for the father version, and as she pointed out, it seemed like I had more planned for him. The mother version really didn’t need to be about a mother, just end up in a position where she had to unlearn her training as a mindless member of a military horde. Maybe I’ll find a way to tell her story later.

Now that I was settled on the main story, the ideas started to come in. I had a lot of scenes or sequences planned, but as I got into revising the synopsis, I realized another problem that had been nagging at me. Most of the plot events could be placed in any order, because none of the secondary characters changed anything. If they were at all interesting or relevant, it only lasted for their “episode” in the plot. That meant my lead had to develop as a character basically by himself, which is not an easy thing to write. However, now that I’ve gotten the energy back for this story, I’m starting to come up with some engaging secondary characters. Now I just need to decide who or what the border invaders are…

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What NaNoWriMo Taught Me

Now that my big project has ended, I’ve been unsure what to post on this blog. Something writing-related seemed the most logical–and the biggest writing project I’ve been working on was, well, National Novel Writing Month. So there you go.

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. Participants can plan as far in advance as they want, but must not set pen to paper before midnight strikes on November 1st. From there it’s a mad rush to the finish line on the 30th. Throughout the rest of the year are revisions, camps and other challenges to keep people interested. The site can be found here.

As you can probably imagine, this doesn’t work for every writer. Some people need to draft as they go, some prefer to write smaller chunks a day, some don’t like the pressure, the list goes on. Everyone has their own writing method and churning out 1667 words a day every day for a month doesn’t gel with all of them. And of course the novel may not turn out to be any good, even with revisions. However, without trying it, I wouldn’t have learned some of my own writing methods.

The first year I participated in NaNoWriMo was 2011. I had a couple of vague ideas for a novel, but no real characters or plans. I dove in headfirst, and got into trouble really quickly. I actually stopped on the second week or so and went into revisions–which by the way is a terrible idea. Not only is it super-stressful to keep up the word count while going back, you’re liable to rush and make really obvious mistakes–skip scenes, move them around so they don’t make sense anymore, etc. Besides, that’s not the point of the challenge, as I came to realize. It’s to make words so you can shape them later, because no matter how bad that raw material is, it’s better than nothing. 2011 was probably the clearest demonstration I’ve ever given myself of my overactive inner editor. When I don’t have any external pressure, I tend to start writing, run out of steam, then revise so drastically that I get worn out and eventually abandon the project. It’s a problem I’m still trying to get past.

2012 rolled by, and by this time I had gotten well into the world of fanfiction. It’s not something I like to talk about a lot, but that’s a topic that could fill a whole other blog post. The point is, by now I’d taken on a number of projects, and so this time NaNo could serve an actual purpose: give me a running start on one of my big fics. So in I went, this time with the familiar framework of a series of Power Rangers to hang my new ideas on, and some characters to follow. Whenever I got stuck I’d skip around to whatever scenes were tickling the imagination, already planning for the rewrites I stopped myself from making. By the end of the month, I had a chaotic jumble of snippets. I’d brainstormed, come up with a couple cool ideas, but hadn’t really planned how my story would even begin, and now I didn’t know how to stitch the pieces together. I couldn’t write out of chronological order and have the story move smoothly.

NaNo 2013 was another fanfic-focused month. This time I was ready. I had plans from detailed to sketchy, knew where I was going, and (as it later turned out) most importantly, knew my characters. It went a lot more smoothly than the last two years. I wrote pretty steadily, but still skipped a few times on days I felt less motivated. I got sloppier later on, but unlike the last two years, I had another external motivation to not only write, but improve. I got about halfway into the series before the month ended, and began publishing it on January 1st, 2014. A new chapter came out each week. In retrospect that extra pressure was probably too much–I didn’t feel like I could write anything else during that time–but the basic point was sound.

Finally, last year, I’d decided it was time to turn back to original fiction. Granted I hadn’t worked on any lengthy original fiction for a while by this point, but that was part of the reason I wanted to give it another shot. I wanted to finally be able to talk about my project without admitting it was fanfiction or having to explain the setting to an uninitiated audience. I came up with my novel idea in October, planned for a little while with different profiles and the like, and got going. This was probably my most organized year, and one of my most steady. The words rarely came easy, though, and in retrospect this was the time I started noticing signs of what was later diagnosed as depression. Writing, something I’ve always enjoyed, started to get harder and harder. However, I stuck to the novel plan pretty well, and even came up with a reasonably acceptable ending. The real problem with this novel was the revisions, actually. I’ve discovered that the more I plan, the better the overall result is, but once I start looking to change something, everything is up in the air. And I do mean everything. The setting, the length, the characters, the plot, the themes…

Am I going to participate again this year? Maybe. I don’t know. Don’t know where my head’s going to be when the time rolls around, what ideas I’ll be working with. Guess we’ll just have to see.

Entrepreneur to Collaborator: Appendices

Appendices

Appendix A: Motives for Self-Publishing

Motive Agree (Multiple answers acceptable)
Creative Freedom 40%
Efficiency 40%
Expense 20%
Hot-Button Topic 0%
Bad Experience with Traditional Publishers 0%
Limited Audience Appeal 0%
Bringing Out-of-Print Books Back into the Market 20%

*Note: Due to being fairly recent, these surveys encompass a very small number of authors.

Appendix B: What Authors Have Heard About Publishing

Statement Disagree Strongly Disagree Neither Agree nor Disagree Agree Agree Strongly
“Self-published books are low-quality.” 0% 50% 16.67% 33.33% 0%
“Professional publishing houses won’t give new authors the support they need.” 0% 16.67% 33.33% 50% 0%
“The industry is in a state of transition away from publishing monopolies.” 0% 0% 33.33% 50% 16.67%
“Self-published writers are desperate and more likely to get swindled.” 16.67% 0% 66/67% 16.67% 0%
“Self-publishing gives its authors complete creative freedom.” 0% 33.33% 0% 66.67% 0%
“Even with the percentage of profits taken by publishers, traditional authors make more money.” 0% 16.67% 33.33% 50% 0%
“Self-publishing means being an entrepreneur.” 0% 0% 16.67% 66.67% 16.67%

Entrepreneur to Collaborator: Chapter 5

Chapter 5: Summary and Discussion

Introduction

Faced with the prospect of publishing a book, each author must choose whether to query and solicit from traditional presses, or to prepare, publish and market the book alone. Traditional publishing, where a prospective author sends a manuscript to a publisher in the hopes of acceptance and publication, has been the accepted method of producing quality books. However, in recent years, self-publishing has exploded onto the scene, fueled by platforms like Smashwords or Amazon and aided by the internet and social media. ISBN Agency Bowker tracked its growth, reporting that “ the number of self-published titles in 2012 jumped to more than 391,000, up 59 percent over 2011 and 422 percent over 2007” (Bowker). Both of these options are now viable paths to success, be it personal or financial.

Statement of Problem

The market is evolving, and with that change comes confusion, especially for the inexperienced. Both styles of publishing bring their own benefits and flaws; what are they, and how can authors either compensate for, or take advantage of, each? Traditional publishing forces books to be drafted and polished, which can bring out the best in them, but the process typically takes six months or longer. Self-publishing can be much more rapid, but it is also riskier, especially for a novice who thinks that all they need is a well-written story and maybe a nice cover. In either situation, how much work will an author actually have to put into his or her book? Also, in a market with so much variety, frauds can creep in and deceive the inexperienced. Vanity presses may trick authors into paying for the privilege of doing all the work themselves, and of course one might run into a stubborn editor whose vision is drastically different from that of the original author. How is a brand-new author to tell when they are being taken advantage of?

This study will compare these two major options to each other so that authors can make an informed decision. It will seek to answer four basic questions: 1) what are the benefits and flaws of traditional publishing, 2) what are the benefits and flaws of self-publishing, 3) what can an author do to help his or her own book, and 4) how can an author avoid being exploited? Since this is a broad field, with many different opinions, perspectives and options, this study will be limited to the market of fiction. Success, a hard thing to measure, will be defined as “a process that results in a quality book the author is proud of.” A number of authors, self-published, traditional and hybrid, have been interviewed, and others have been surveyed as well to discover both common experiences and common perceptions.

Review of Methodology

The internet has been a powerful tool in recent years, allowing authors to connect directly with their readers through blogs, websites and social media. It also allows individuals to publish their ideas with whatever level of outside control they want, allowing for a wider variety of perspectives. Thus initial research for this project took place through the internet, seeking out knowledgeable individuals and commonly cited studies. Once general opinions from both camps were obtained, interviews with various authors were conducted. Most were relatively obscure, but had as many as twelve years of experience and a number of books in various genres on the market. They were questioned about their experiences and recommendations to new authors hoping to enter one field or the other. In addition, a survey was created to obtain more general experiences and perceptions. Authors were questioned about whatever type of publication they chose, as well as their perceptions of the options they did not. Overall, since literary success is as subjective as literary quality, actual experience was the main focus of research.

Summary of Results

1. What are the benefits and flaws of traditional publishing?

Most of the authors interviewed agreed that one of the greater benefits of traditional publishing is the focus on quality. These publishers use professional editors, marketers and artists to polish the book. Since they are also established companies, they have network connections to others within the industry, such as bookstores and competitions. The primary flow of money is towards the author, in advances and later royalties. The process is collaborative, allowing the writer to focus on writing and connecting with readers, trusting that the rest of the team will do their jobs.

The primary flaw cited by authors is the length of time it takes–before and after publication. Soliciting and querying can take a very long time, and even after a manuscript has been accepted, it takes months, if not years, for it to hit the shelves. With this trial and error process comes the risk of being rejected, not because a book is bad, but just because it has been sent to the wrong people, which can be highly frustrating. That same collaborative element can limit creative freedom. Publishers are businesses, and thus have to weigh profitability in each choice they make.

2. What are the benefits and flaws of self-publishing?

The reason most of the surveyed authors cited for their choice was “creative freedom.” Self-publishing is independent, managed entirely by the author. Author CSE Cooney, traditionally published in the past and just entering the self-publishing field, suggests that self-publishing might be the right choice if “your product is perhaps TOO unusual, too beautiful, too strange or interstitial or liminal, or you know it’s good, but you also know there are a billion others like it, and the magazines and small presses can only choose the absolute best” (Cooney). Any editors, marketers, printers or other collaborators are selected and paid by the author, and answer to him or her. Probably for this reason, the process is also rapid. It takes less than a week to publish on CreateSpace, even less for Smashwords. This amount of control is very appealing to those who prefer to work alone, or don’t feel their book fits into an existing market niche.

The flip side of this responsibility is that, as the interviewed authors agreed, self-publishing is entrepreneurship. A novice author who takes the wrong shortcuts could end up hurting his or her book’s chances. The work does not end when the book is published; the author is responsible for ongoing marketing and building his or her own platform. For someone primarily interested in writing, self-publishing might not be the best choice.

3. What can writers do to help their own books?

When asked, authors across the board agreed that the industry is evolving. Readers are making decisions based on user reviews and responses, not the seal of quality a publishing house used to represent. Personal connections with one’s readers are invaluable, and word of mouth is one of the best marketing tools any writer can use. A strong web presence, through a blog, website or social media page, will enable readers to get to know the author, as will appearances at places like book signings or conventions. These tools are valuable across the board, regardless of publishing method.

4. How can a writer recognize and avoid exploitation?

In this market, it is easy for a scammer to pose as a small press or a self-publishing foundation. However, there are also a number of resources available to suspicious authors to help identify potential exploiters. Sites like Writers Beware or Predators and Editors list known issues with various publishers, and of course there are other writing forums where past victims describe their experiences. Comparing those lists to each other, and including other writing advice, a number of common threads become clear. A scam will demand that the author pay for everything, but shirk on actually providing services. They combine the costs of self-publishing with the rights loss of traditional publishing, and hike the prices to boot. An informed awareness of market standards in pricing and services would help many authors avoid exploitation.

Relationship of Research to the Field

Although writing and publishing advice are prolific, they tend to be one-sided, either self-publishing or traditional. Often this is dependent on the medium of publication; traditionally published books naturally recommend traditional publishing, and independent authors sing the praises of self-publishing. As self-publishing has grown more and more commonplace, news sites and other experts predicted dramatic changes in the market, such as Forbes’s Nick Morgan declaring that “In an era where the consumer is becoming king, Amazon gets it, and traditional publishers don’t.  That spells their doom” (Morgan). While Amazon has had a great deal of success, the traditional publishing industry appears to be going on strong, adapting to the change in some areas. Its services are not wholly outdated. Only a few individuals, like authors Alethea Black, Céline Keating and Michelle Toth, have actually compared the benefits and flaws of their choices (Black, Keating & Toth). This study hopes to show the factors involved so that authors can make that decision with open eyes, and then take advantage of the plethora of experience and wisdom about the chosen method.

Discussion of Results

This research project began with a relatively clear dichotomy between the two types of writing, and the reasons authors chose one or the other. Self-publishing has been famously abused by authors of low caliber and marketing integrity, like Gloria Tesch or Robert Stanek (Edelman). However, research uncovered the reality of crossover and hybrid authorship; a well-timed self-published short story can keep readers eager for the next installment of a long series, and an author with clear success in self-publishing will appear a profitable investment for a publisher. Many of the same legitimate techniques for bonding with one’s readership are used across the board. Because of these similarities, the authors have more positive ideas of other types of publishing than was originally assumed in this paper. It was more a case of the benefits outweighing the flaws that led their decisions, not bad experiences or mindless convenience.

Conclusions

Based on the experiences of authors, agents and others within the publishing industry, both self-publishing and traditional are perfectly valid. Traditional publishing is generally better for those who want to collaborate on their books, who are willing to wait for it to be polished, and who want to see them in bookstores. For those who seek creative independence and efficiency, who are willing and able to handle the business of publishing, self-publishing would be the better option. However, hybridization is common, so unsure writers can experiment to see which fits their situation and talents better. Both choices share many techniques when it comes to connecting with a potential audience, an invaluable aspect of publishing in the modern world. Likewise, both can be paths for exploitation and abuse, unless the author is knowledgeable about the market. Ultimately, whatever an author chooses, there are no shortcuts, if he or she wants a book to be proud of.

Works Cited

Black, Alethea, Keating, Céline and Toth, Michelle. “Decisions, Decisions: Three Different Paths to Publication.” Poets & Writers. pag. 1. 3 May 2012. Web. 27 May 2014.

Cooney, CSE. Email Interview. 22 July 2014.

Edelman, David Louis. “A Guide to Ethical Self-Promotion.” DavidLouisEdelman.com. n. pag. 17 August 2007. Web. 10 July 2014.

Morgan, Nick. “What Is the Future of Publishing?” Forbes.com. n. pag. 12 July 2012. Web. 29 May 2014.

“Self-Publishing Movement Continues Strong Growth in U.S., Says Bowker.” Bowker. ProQuest. n. pag. 9 October 2013. Web. 30 May 2014.

Entrepreneur to Collaborator: Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Results of the Study

Introduction

This study sets out to compare and contrast the factors of different methods of publishing, in order to allow authors to evaluate the risks and benefits, and find the best option for themselves. In order to do this, it will ask what are 1) the benefits and flaws of traditional publishing, 2) the benefits and flaws of self-publishing, 3) how can writers improve their own books and their chances, and 4) how can they recognize and avoid exploitation in a market with so many possibilities. A number of authors, primarily self-published, have been interviewed, and others have been surveyed as well to discover both common experiences and common perceptions.

1. What are the benefits and flaws of traditional publishing?

The main benefits of a traditional press are, ideally, the expertise of its people in crafting and marketing a book. Their contacts within the industry help put books into major bookstores, which even profitable and famous self-publishing presses like lulu.com and Smashwords cannot typically do. In some cases, as with author and illustrator Bonnie Watson, an arrangement with a traditional press can lead to unexpected opportunities: “It threw business my way since I became sole graphic designer for the publisher who did my books” (Watson). Even small presses can connect with various professionals to create a quality manuscript.

However, the process can be time-consuming. Traditionally published author Geri Krotow recalls from her own experience, “The worst part is the wait—it took me 6 years of submissions (and rejections!) to sell. But this is good because it forced me to keep learning and improving my writing” (Krotow). The average time between acceptance of a manuscript and publication is two years (Laube) (Doyen) (WritersServices). For those who choose a small press, the uncertainty both in production and sales echoes the troubles of a self-published writer. Thus, in this evolving market, many tools and tricks of self-publishing and self-marketing have become more useful to even traditional authors. Essentially, traditional publishing is best for authors who 1) want to focus on writing, 2) finds the process of submission, rejection and revision useful instead of frustrating, and 3) can wait for publication.

2. What are the benefits and flaws of self-publishing?

Self-publishing has been a polarizing issue in the past. Either acclaimed for undercutting publisher monopolies and granting creative freedom, or decried as a way for writers to sidestep benchmarks of quality, it is becoming less controversial as its users grow in skill. In fact, for some it can be a step towards a traditional contract. After all, an author who has an established fanbase and track record of quality writing is much less of a financial gamble than a completely new writer. As Bonnie Watson recalls:

I really have no regrets. It was a nice learning curb [sic] that slowly transitioned the more I studied between the different companies. I knew where I wanted to go. It was only a matter of time before I could get there. So what’s there to miss about self-publishing? I suppose it would be the fact that I could control my prices, change up books on the whelm [sic]. Not so much now, at least with print. Now eBooks… that’s a different story.

As demonstrated in the survey (see Appendices A and B), self-published authors typically choose this path for its speed and creative freedom, and agree that it is an entrepreneurial endeavor. Author Kimberly Herbert, who first entered the self-publishing arena twelve years ago, “In order to be a successful self-published author, one must have that drive to get their work out into a very crowded market” (Herbert). Some authors might not be well-suited to self-publishing, either because they have little time or experience in marketing, or because in their haste to finish their book they turn out a shoddy product. Self-publishing would be best for authors who 1) value creative freedom and efficiency, 2) can afford the time and money to handle all aspects of publishing, and 3) make their own standards of quality.

3. What can writers do to help their own books?

Speaking from experience in both fields, Bonnie Watson says, “Marketing is still a big factor and is very expensive” (Watson). In her interview she mentioned that she was offering free PDF’s of her books in exchange for Amazon reviews as a promotional tactic. Word-of-mouth marketing, through reviews, social media or even conversation, is a versatile and useful tool. According to Kimberly Grabas of The Writer’s Platform, it is “the most powerful way to market your book” (Grabas). Other techniques include an author’s website, virtual tours by guest-writing on other writers’ blogs, and various social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. All of these connect directly with potential readers, as well as other writers who can help and cross-promote. In an evolving market, an author must be willing to work for his or her own book’s success, no matter how it was published.

4. How can a writer recognize and avoid exploitation?

With the world of publishing opening up in new ways, room has been made for scammers and con men to take advantage of the unsuspecting. They can take the guise of small independent presses, self-publishers or even platforms managed by famous traditional publishers, meaning that old chestnuts like “follow the money” are tricky to apply. However, an author who fully understands what he or she has signed up for should still be able to recognize a company that is taking more than it has worked for. In an article detailing how to identify a vanity publisher, Chris Holifield points out that self-publishing “is very much cheaper than vanity publishing, as it generally uses print on demand and books are only produced when they are required. Equally importantly, the author is in charge and keeps all their rights. This means that they continue to control their own destiny and are not at the mercy of a possibly crooked publisher” (Holifield, emphasis original). That freedom is one of its primary appeals, after all. Whatever choice an author makes, he or she should research and understand it, not blindly ship his or her book off for “publication.”

Works Cited

Doyen, Barbara. “How long does it take to publish my book?” BarbaraDoyen.com. n. pag. n. date. Web. 28 June 2014.

Holifield, Chris. “Vanity Publishing.” WritersServices.com. n. pag. 2006-13. Web. 30 May 2014.

“How long does it take to publish a book?” WritersServices.com. n. pag. n. date. Web. 28 June 2014. A breakdown of the time it takes to publish a book, comparing traditional and self-publishing.

Krotow, Geri. Email interview. 27 June 2014.

Laube, Steve. “How Long Does it Take to Get Published?” SteveLaube.com. n. pag. 8 March 2011. Web. 28 June 2014.

Watson, Bonnie. Email interview. 27 June 2014.

Entrepreneur to Collaborator: Chapter 3

Chapter 3: Methodology

Introduction

This study intends to explore the benefits and flaws of traditional publishing and self-publishing, comparing them to each other. It will seek to answer four basic questions: 1) what are the benefits and flaws of traditional publishing, 2) what are the benefits and flaws of self-publishing, 3) what can an author do to help his or her own book, and 4) how can an author avoid being exploited? Since this is a broad field, with many different opinions, perspectives and options, this study will be limited to the market of fiction. Though financial elements are important, success will be defined as “any process of publishing which results in a book the author can call an accomplishment, rather than an embarrassment.” This study seeks to determine some of the most important factors of either publishing option and present them so that individual authors can evaluate them against their own skills and circumstances, and make the choice that will be most effective for their unique situations.

Plan of Action

  1. Consult a variety of secondhand sources from individuals in different parts of the industry.
  2. Interview knowledgeable individuals within the publishing industry to determine the flaws, virtues and requirements of various types of publishing.
  3. Collect first-hand data by surveying writers and others in the publishing industry on their choices, experiences and opinions.

Research Methodology

Descriptive Research

This study will be primarily qualitative, using a descriptive approach to determine both general opinions and insider knowledge of the publishing industry. A general questionnaire will be used to gather data on what most writers have heard, experienced, chosen or would recommend to other writers. This will be through an online survey in order to make data collection and analysis simpler. The people approached will primarily be members of online writing groups with varying levels of skill and experience. In addition to this survey, knowledgeable individuals within the industry will be interviewed on their experiences in more detail.

1. What are the benefits and flaws of traditional publishing?

Descriptive Research/Interview

To understand the process of traditional publishing, experienced and successful authors will be interviewed. These interviews will be conducted through email exchanges, with the timing dependent on the author’s schedule. The interview questions would focus on points like 1) What are the greatest benefits of having your book published traditionally? 2) What are some flaws of this method? 3) What is your experience with self-publishing, and your opinion of it? 4) To whom would you recommend either choice? and 5) Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known when you were first starting? The average interview will contain 10-12 questions, in order to balance the intake of relevant information with timeliness.

2. What are the benefits and flaws of self-publishing?

Descriptive Research/Interview

In order to gain insider information on self-publishing, successful self-published authors will be interviewed about the experience of creating, preparing and marketing a book. As above, the interviews will be conducted in whatever remote method is most effective for the interviewees. The questions would also be similar, but would include further questions of 1) how much should most authors try to do themselves, rather than hiring others? 2) What subtypes of self-publishing exist and what are their merits and problems? 3) Is self-publishing more like being an entrepreneur than a writer for most? The length of the interviews and number of questions will be approximately the same.

3. What can writers do to help their own books?

Descriptive Research/Interview

In order to explore what an author needs to do for his or her own book, a book designer or book shepherd will be interviewed, asking 1) What are some common mistakes inexperienced writers make? 2) What are a few basic ways an author can help his or her own book, aside from writing? 3) What do authors need to know in order to sell their books? 4) What would you typically recommend, traditional publishing, self-publishing, or another option? If such an individual is unavailable, the self-published authors will be queried on these subjects to see what has worked for them or those they know, and even the traditionally-published authors may be able to provide useful information.

4. How can writers recognize and avoid exploitation?

Descriptive Research/Interview

The final interview will be with a writer with experience identifying and labeling exploitative agents and presses. This interview would cover questions like 1) What are some common “red flags” that new writers should be aware of? 2) With the new blurring of the lines in the industry in recent years, what do you think of self-publishing? 3) How do you see this affecting the publishing industry in the near future?

Conclusion

Organization and Analysis of Data

Each section of this paper will focus on one of the four main questions, with the interviews supplying relevant information in quotations. They will be accompanied by references to other sources gathered in existing research, in order to balance their perspectives. The data collected from the general survey will be arranged into charts, simplifying them into sliding scales of positive and negative experience with the two primary publishing options, and referenced in each of the four main sections as they become relevant. The charts themselves will be contained in the appendices for the curious.

Entrepreneur to Collaborator: Chapter 2

One bout of backyard Shakespeare and the beginning of a new job later, I finally return–and this time I’m going to prepare the rest of the paper now and just stagger the releases of the rest, so I won’t have a chance to forget again.


Chapter 2: Literature Review

Introduction

Faced with the prospect of publishing a book, an author must choose whether to seek out a traditional press, or to self-publish. Self-publishing started small, with a reputation of low quality, but now as author and entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki said in a Forbes interview:

The self-publishing world has eradicated the filters and barriers that the traditional publishing world represented (where editors – typically male — made the judgments about content and worthiness). In the old days, the imprint of the publisher was a proxy for quality – if you were accepted by the publisher, you passed the test. Now the proxy for quality is how your book fares in terms of reviews and ratings on Amazon, and sales. Customers vote on the book’s quality or on their need to expose themselves to your material by clicking to purchase, or not clicking.

An author entering this user-oriented market should do so with an understanding of the options presented, and be willing to research and market as well as write. The focus is now on the product, and thus it must be quality work no matter how it was published. This work would also protect them from scams, which have inevitably crept into this often-confusing situation. Ultimately, whatever decision an author makes, it should be an informed one, so that he or she can write a book to be proud of.

The History of Self-Publishing

The self-publishing industry became worthy of notice in the writing world only recently, and its rise was rapid, in no small part thanks to the development of eBooks. In 2012, Bowker reported that “the number of self-published books produced annually in the U.S. has nearly tripled, growing 287 percent since 2006, and now tallies more than 235,000 print and ‘e’ titles” (Bowker 2012). In the next year, there was another increase of 59% (Bowker 2013). Self-published books were not only sold, but became bestsellers, even though the increase in books meant an increase in competition. Publishing houses began to see the potential of this new market. It was far safer to offer a contract (and advance) to an author with an established fanbase and marketing ability, than to risk their assets on brand-new writers. However the self-publishing industry retained some issues. Amazon’s increase in power has recently led it to use leverage on other publishers like Macmillan (Stone), Hachette Book Group and Bonner Media Group (Yu) to win disputes, and a number of bookstores like Barnes & Nobles will not sell the books of their competitor. Overall the profitability, quality and respectability of self-published works has risen, affecting the entire market.

Process and Factors of Self-Publishing

There are any number of guides on the internet for the eager self-publisher-to-be. The first step is, just like in traditional publishing, to write a quality book and have it professionally edited. However, because the author is also the publisher and marketer, those jobs come into play much more quickly. As Kimberly Grabas of Your Writing Platform says,

The best time to design and implement your marketing plan of action is before you even start writing your book. It takes time to build relationships, learn your readers’ wants and needs and develop a base of rabid fans that clamor for more.

Grow your readership as you write your book, and when it’s time to launch your baby, you’ll already have an invested and eager audience waiting. (Grabas)

Once the book has been formatted and prepared, it can be published and sold right away. Even the length of time it takes to publish a book can vary, purely depending on the wishes of the author or the frequently brief requirements of the publishing platform.

Self-publishing is not a way to escape benchmarks for good writing, though it can be abused in this way. It is not easy. As author Dave Bricker points out, “this path offers con­trol over both cre­ative aspects of the work and busi­ness strat­egy. Authors who wish to pro­duce lit­er­ary art that’s unfet­tered by the demands of pop­u­lar gen­res, and authors who have ready access to niche audi­ences may find oppor­tu­ni­ties in smaller-scale pub­lish­ing that large pub­lish­ers won’t” (Bricker). Overall, self-publishing’s primary advantages are speed and flexibility, putting the production of the book in the hands of the author, for better or for worse.

Process and Factors of Traditional Publishing

Traditional publishing’s methods are not entirely dissimilar. An author must still build a platform, the sooner the better, along with writing a quality book. However, instead of paying a company to publish a book, the author sends a manuscript to a publishing house, sometimes with an agent to smooth the way. If the publisher thinks it is worth the cost, the author receives a cash advance, and agrees to a contract, giving up part of the royalties and rights. At this point, the publisher’s team of designers, artists, blurb writers, distributors and marketers take on the project. They are ideally experts in their fields, as the writer is expected to be one in his or her own, and use this knowledge to create the best book they can. As traditionally published author Nathan Bransford explains on his blog, “The book really truly benefits from the input of your publisher. You trust that they know what they’re doing. [. . .] those rules about publishers having ultimate say exist for the reason. They’re fronting the investment to produce the book, and it prevents books from being held up by arguments and disagreements. But you do give up some control with traditional publishing” (Bransford). The process of assembling a book and selling it takes anywhere between nine months to two years. Ultimately, the goal is to produce a book that shines in every way, and sells well because of it.

A traditional publisher will pay the author, rather than the author paying a company, to publish a book. The advance must eventually be paid off, ideally from the percentage of royalties the author receives from the book’s sales. According to a 2013 study conducted by Prof. Dana Beth Weinberg, “These aggregated category [of authors making $100,000 or more] represents 1.8% of self-published authors, 8.8% of traditionally published authors, and 13.2% of hybrid authors” (Weinberg), so in terms of profit, traditional publishing still seems to be a better route than undiluted self-publishing. Of course, simply getting a publisher to accept a book can be an arduous process. Plentiful are stories of future bestsellers and classics that were rejected dozens of times—Harry Potter is a recent example. The process of querying, rejection, revision and querying again can help a book improve, but it can also be very discouraging, and a desperate author is more likely to fall prey to a publishing scam.

A subcategory of traditional publishing is the small press. It retains the team aspect and form larger presses use, but is typically more personal and sometimes uneven, as most new, small businesses are. As author and poet CSE Cooney describes:

Small presses [. . .] are great fun, but usually only run by one or two people, who have pretty full lives of their own. Publishing books in a small press is not their only, or even their major, source of income. Communication can get hairy, especially in this age of social platforms, when one expects immediate responses. Deadlines aren’t always met on time, or ever. Promises get broken. On the other hand, other small presses perform quickly, are enthusiastic and helpful, and one’s relationship with them grows into a kind of long-distance friendship, which is really cool (Cooney).

Subsidy and Vanity Presses

Vanity publishers are the most infamous exploiters of would-be authors. In the past, self-publishing was conflated with this route, since both have to be paid for by the author, rather than vice versa. As self-publishing has become a more common option, exploitative prices and deceptive practices are easier to spot. With the lines blurring between the two main options, these presses pose as something in-between, perhaps an independent publisher or a subsidy service, charging exorbitant prices for books they have no interest in selling. As author and investigative journalist Patricia Nell Warren warns a young author, “If you follow the money, you can always identify a vanity press. How? It contracts with you to own your book rights, yet it requires you the author to pay all the costs of publication. Yet it does as little as possible for your book, so you will seldom, if ever, see a return on your investment” (Warren). Unfortunately, this is not the only shape abusive presses can take. Some of the more famous publishers, upon entering the POD industry, have chosen to exploit the market rather than provide the services they promise. Author Solutions, purchased by Penguin, is facing a lawsuit for its abusive practices (Strauss), and it is the umbrella company for other “Big Five” connections, like Xlibris, WestBow Press or Balboa Press. The publishing world can be a dangerous place for the ignorant.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to choosing a method of publishing, so long as it is not a scam. One method may result in more money, or more recognition, but as science fiction novelist Glenda Larke said, “Success is not measured in money or awards or other people’s admiration or envy. It is measured by how happy you are. The most successful people are those who love what they do” (Larke). A book to be proud of is a great thing, and each author must decide for him- or herself what will shape that book. But in order to make that decision, authors must be active, aware and diligent in understanding how the industry operates, and may change in coming years.

Works Cited

Bransford, Nathan. “Traditional Publishing, Self-Publishing, and Control.” NathanBrandsford.com. n. pag. 16 May 2011. Web. 30 May 2014.

Bricker, Dave. “Self-Publishing & Vanity Publishing: Confuse Them and Pay the Price.” TheWorld’sGreatestBook.com. Essential Absurdities Press. n. pag. 4 February 2013. Web. 31 May 2014.

Caprino, Kathy. “Considering Self-Publishing? Don’t Bother, Unless You Follow Guy Kawasaki’s Advice.” Forbes.com. n. pag. 21 January 2013. Web. 27 May 2014.

Cooney, CSE. Email Interview. 22 July 2014.

Grabas, Kimberley. “71 Ways to Promote and Market Your Book.” YourWriterPlatform.com. n. pag. 1 Aug. 2013. Web. 29 May 2014.

Larke, Glenda. “What makes a successful writer?” S F Novelists. n. pag. 31 August 2009. Web. 29 May 2014.

“Self-Publishing Movement Continues Strong Growth in U.S., Says Bowker.” Bowker. ProQuest. n. pag. 9 October 2013. Web. 30 May 2014.

“Self-Publishing Sees Triple-Digit Growth in Just Five Years, Says Bowker®.” Bowker. ProQuest. n. pag. 24 October, 2012. Web. 30 May 2014.

Strauss, Victoria. “Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Author Solutions Inc.” Writers Beware. Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. n. pag. 2 May 2013. Web. 30 May 2014.

Warren, Patricia Nell. “Secrets of Vanity Presses.” Wildcat International. n. pag. August 2007. Web. 30 May 2014.

Weinberg, Dana Beth. “Self-Publishing Debate: A Social Scientist Separates Fact from Fiction.” DigitalBookWorld.com. n. pag. 4 December 2013. Web. 30 May 2014.