Saturday, April 29, 2006

Do people hate self-published authors? Um...

... it depends on how you define "."

Technically, if you self-publish, you ARE the publisher. You hire your own printing service, you buy the ISBN number, you file for , and you deal with all business part of publishing, including marketing and distribution.

is a bit different. Vanity publishers will tell you that you're self-publishing through them, but if the vanity owns the ISBN number (and they do), then in the eyes of the industry, the vanity is the publisher, not you. A small distinction, but it can make a big difference if you try to get a distributor to pick up your books so that you can get them into a real bricks-and-mortar bookstore, where something like 90% of books are sold.

That said, the folks over at SlushPile.Net have a well-written rant about Why People Hate Self-Published Authors. There are some good points here to think about regardless of whether you publish via a traditional publisher, a vanity press, or your own small company. It's not so much about how you are published as how you present yourself to the world.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Pete Doherty's Novel Plans

So... baby-faced says he wants to write a novel, according to the folks at Aversion.

That thin, heart-rending sound you hear is made up of the screams of thousands of talented, hard-working, dedicated novelists who have yet to make a living at what they love best.

Says the young music sensation, best known currently for injecting drugs into an unconscious female companion (a testimony to talent if I ever heard one, snark, snark), said in an interview to a London newspaper, "Every day I think about it; writing and music thrive off each other, they goad each other along, they make something complete."

Oh, that's deep. Gives me goosebumps, that does.

Well, who doesn't think about writing a novel when they're young? Petey, however, has the advantage of being a celebrity. Even now, some publisher may be on the phone, calling young Petey, saying, "Were you serious about that? Do you have an idea? We could help you with that... we know some excellent ghostwriters..."

It's enough to make a writer want to do drugs and kick reporters, or become a White House intern and diddle the president. Whatever it takes to get published, right?

Monday, April 24, 2006

And Another Constitutional Attack

Parents rip school over gay storybook - The Boston Globe

The Patriots, the Family Values people, and other so-called moralists all seem to be violently anti-Constitutional these days, calling for bans on That Which We Do Not Want To Hear.

Now it's a fairy tale which involves a handsome prince marrying -- no, not a beautiful princess, but another handsome prince.

Lordy, Lordy, and spare my tender sensibilities.

The tale was read aloud in a primary classroom, and the parents went on a rampage. Said one:

My son is only 7 years old. By presenting this kind of issue at such a young age, they're trying to indoctrinate our children. They're intentionally presenting this as a norm, and it's not a value that our family supports.
Well, you know what, hon? My family values tolerance and doesn't support bigotry. Can I demand that you shut up and keep your "values" at home? Would that be okay?

Or can we please understand that this is a wide world with all sorts of people living in it who have all sorts of opinions, religions, and challenges in life, and so long as they aren't breaking the law or getting in your face -- ahem, ahem, Ms. My-Family-Values-Are-Better-Than-Your-Family-Values -- and just all try to get along?

Did Someone Repeal the First Amendment and Not Tell Me?

Read Roger: Threats, we get threats

I can't decide if our society has become too thin-skinned, or too in-your-face. Or both at once. It's a strange world when we feel we should be able to say whatever we want about anything we want and use any foul language we want, but we expect to be sheltered from the opinions and language of others.

What brought on that rant? Roger Sutton, Horn Book editor, is getting threats from a publisher -- a publisher, mind you -- about his negative review of one of their books.

Well, for pity's sake, that's the chance you take when you publish a book. Someone will like it, and someone else will not.

The publisher claims that Sutton should have asked permission before writing the review. So now free speech is limited to that which is pre-approved? When was that alteration made to the Constitution?

Granted, there's a lot out there I don't want to hear or see. I don't care for porn, so I don't go into "adult" shops or wander into some parts of the Internet.

There's also such a thing as appropriateness. It would be totally inappropriate to post erotic material on a discussion board frequented by children, for example.

Sutton's review may have offended the tender sensibilities of the publisher, but as it was printed in a magazine dedicated to reviewing children's books, and that publishes both positive and negative reviews it was entirely appropriate.

Of course... (gulp)... I rather hope it wasn't one of my books.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Another Predator Stalks the Unpublished

One of readers pointed out this web advert that may be responsible for nearly carbon-copy queries turning up on editors' and agents' desks these days, much to their annoyance. This bit of software (for some unnamed operating system, the advert does not specify) will write your query letters for you. No more worrying about writing a clear, coherent query letter. No, no. Why actually write anything when there is software to do it for you?

Let's have some fun with some of the text from this ad:
At Last! Now There Is A Fast, Easy and Fool-Proof Way To Create a PROFESSIONAL Query Letter That Will Convince Even The Most Critical Editor Or Agent To Request YOUR Complete Manuscript Immediately!
Ummm... is there a reason we Need To Capitalize Every Word? I HOPE Your SOFTWARE Doesn't Write QUERIES Like THIS.
Why spend valuable time crafting the perfect Query Letter?
Maybe because that's what writers who want to get published do?
...out pops a fully customized, highly professional Query Letter that has the ability to put your article in front of MILLIONS of readers!
Yes, but I want it in front of a few, carefully selected editors and agents. The MILLIONS of readers will have to wait until the book is published.
He not only created the program exactly the way I dreamed about, he also TAUGHT me how to duplicate the program and others like it - by myself!
I think that's called "Save to Disk."
Editors despise incomplete, shoddy queries.
They also despise carbon-copy queries and anything that gives them a hint that you've sent this same query to MILLIONS of other readers.
"Instant Query Letters" has a simple Q & A format that never allows you to forget a single important piece of information -- plus adds just a "hint" of hypnotic writing to firmly imprint your Letters into the editor's mind.
I'm sorry, but I can't think of anything funnier to top that.
Editors will LOVE the outstanding professionalism that your Query Letters provides!
Nor that. "Outstanding professionalism," yet with creative capitalization and a grammatical error. I am going to slash that price and give you the most amazing, innovative software product to ever be released in the Writer's Market, for only $137.00? ...I'll go ahead and give you the software right now, for only $37.00.
Bless you, my child, but I know a way I can save even more than that.
Don't ever forget that magazine and book publishers are SWAMPED with queries every single day.
So you're promoting software that will add to the problem. Clever child.

There are a few glowing "testimonies" to the product's efficacy, but there is one thing distinctly missing: how many books or articles did the writers of those "testimonies" and the promoter of this software sell to legitimate publishers (not vanities) using queries written with this product? I want titles, publishers, and dates.

Otherwise, I'm keeping my wallet firmly closed, and I'll stick with the method that has already worked for me many times over: writing my own queries, because writing is what writers do.

Editing by Committee, Redux

A short while back, I wrote about the hazards of editing by committee. I thought I'd seen the end of that manuscript, but just a couple of days ago, when the book is about to go into galleys, I get a few last questions. The book is a nonfiction children's book on -- let's tread as anonymously as possible here -- a type of transportation. Within the book was an exciting story about a fire aboard one of these forms of transportation, and a quick-thinking young man who first used a fire extinguisher to no effect, then a bucket of water that was handy, and put out the fire.

On the first round of editing, the editors asked me not to mention the fire extinguisher. They said librarians would get upset. Okay, I don't understand that remark either, but out came the reference, and in went a vaguer phrase about firefighting equipment. Ever since then, the editors have been obsessing one at a time about that bucket of water. Was it really there? (Yes.) Why was it there? (I don't know.) Is it standard equipment? (I couldn't tell you. I only know it was there.) On this last set of comments, just before the book goes to press, someone still wants to know about it, and asks, "Didn't they have any other firefighting equipment?"

Yes, dears, they did, but you asked me to edit it out.

Please, oh, please let this be the last bit of editing. Please, let me see this book with covers on really soon. This tight, polite, civil, professional smile is starting to hurt.

Now I must get on with the last book in a series of human body topics. This one is on -- gulp -- reproduction. Joyous. Now, I say to myself, stop blogging and get back to your writing. (Um... but the cat box needs cleaning... yeah, that's it...)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Plagiarism

posted the story of fanfic gone awry. It seems that one Lori Jareo, editor of a vanity publisher, wrote a not-so-wonderful fanfic of the Star Wars saga, titled Another Hope.

Nothing unusual in that. Fanfic is all over the web, and while use of other people's characters is a violation of copyright laws, most authors (with the notable exception of Anne Rice) are not only tollerant of fanfic, but encourage it. What better way to spread the word of your characters and your world than to have fans so enthused about it that they want to go play in your world? And then bring their friends along?

Unfortunately, Ms. Jareo stepped over the line of tollerance and into the realm of blatant copyright violation when she published the book via her own vanity press and put it up for sale on

Ms Jareo, interestingly, has her own twisted idea of what copyright is. In an author interview, when asked if she had any concerns about copyright, she replied,

No, because I wrote this book for myself. This is a self-published story and is not a commercial book. Yes, it is for sale on Amazon, but only my family, friends and acquaintances know it’s there.
Let's see -- how many contradictions can we count here? It's self-published -- that is, published -- but not commercial? For sale at Amazon, but not commercial? Available on Amazon, the world's largest online bookseller, but she only expects family, friends, and acquaintances to know it's there?

Perhaps Ms. Lareo has a lot of family, friends, and acquaintances. Perhaps she considers all Amazon customers to be her acquaintances.

Astonishing that Ms. Lareo, as a purported publisher, is unfamiliar with the information at this site: .

Earth Day, Every Day: Free Ebook

To writers falls the responsibility of recording and transmitting their culture's values in tangible form that can be passed on to future generations. One may not think so looking at the offerings in the magazine racks at the average grocery store checkout counter. Yet so long as people buy them, companies will print them. Hence they're valued by someone, and thus are part of our culture's values. Alas.

Today, being Earth Day, I'd like to help transmit something with a bit more value than the latest news on Brad or Jen or whatever blonde young thing is on the covers of the gossip rags these days. Not that I can ever tell any of them apart any more. No, let's have something with a deeper impact. To wit, from the website, I found a link to this free ebook: .

While you're on the site, take the time to try the . I discovered that as frugal as I thought I was, if everyone on earth lived as I do, it would take 4 1/2 Earths to support us all. High time I re-implemented the frugal practices I learned from my grandmother. In our culture of entitlement, we seldom think of frugality, but in my grandmother's day, frugality was a necessity -- yet also a source of pride.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The 20 Worst Literary Agents

The blog is spreading the word about a list compiled by Victoria Strauss of (on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website). These are the about whom Writer Beware has received complaints. Before signing on with any agency, check out this list, or look up your potential agent on the website (yes, it's spelled that way, for alliterative purposes). "Preditors" is also a terrific resource for checking out publishers, contests, and any other venue where the scammers attempt to mingle with the legitimate businesses.

Be aware, be informed, and don't be too hasty to respond to those five wonderful words that the scammers use to lure the unsuspecting: "We want to publish you!"

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Voiceless Speak through Writing

Article Link: Writing for - a change

In Pakistan, where women's literacy rates in rural areas run between 3 and 8%, a group of women is busy with something that some among their people would consider radical: they're writing.

In a free journalism course, a subject formerly reserved only for men, women write of their fears, their hopes, of "honor" killings that have taken the lives of friends and family members, of poverty, powerlesness, and childhood marriages that entrap young women before they have the chance for a life of their own.

In developing nations, education is often the path out of poverty, but education is limited for poor men and almost non-existent for women. In this patriarchal society, women write of the fear and anger that men display when confronted by the possibility that "their" women might become educated, might have a mind, a voice, a will, an opinion. It's a direct threat to the way of life. But so long as any group is marginalized to the point of silence and near non-human status, how can there be true freedom?

How NOT to be a famous writer

Article Link: United Press International - NewsTrack - Student convicted in letter-writing hoax

There are two ways to become famous for your writing. First is to write something great that gets published and starts such a buzz that everyone talks about your work. Second is to write something really dumb that gets you in trouble.

A former student at Chicago's Trinity college did the latter. Because she was unhappy at the school and wanted her parents to let her leave, she wrote a series of threatening letters -- against herself. The letters caused a huge stir on campus and prompted the evacuation of Hispanic and African-American students.

The student must attend counseling, pay a large fine, and perform many hours of public service. Perhaps some assertiveness training and character building should have been part of the sentence.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Free Expression Preserved: Dan Brown is Off the Hook

(link to the New York Times -- free registration required)

In a ruling today on the lawsuit raised against Dan Brown, Justice Peter Smith declared that Dan Brown did not steal the "central theme" of from authors Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh when he wrote . According to the New York Times article:

In issuing his opinion, Justice Peter Smith said Mr. Brown had indeed relied on the earlier work, "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail," in writing a section of "The Da Vinci Code." But he said two of the authors of "Holy Blood," Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, had failed in their effort to prove that Mr. Brown had stolen their "central theme" because they could not accurately state what that theme was.
Justice Smith also added:

"It would be quite wrong if fictional writers were to have their writings pored over in the way 'The Da Vinci Code' has been pored over in this case by authors of pretend historical books to make an allegation of infringement of copyright."

Excellent news for fiction writers, indeed. Can you imagine what the publishing world would be like if every writer of historical fiction were sued by the authors of their sources? Who could write a novelization of Abraham Lincoln's childhood for children's libraries if they risked being sued by Lincoln's biographers? Could Michael Crichton be sued by scientists because he "stole" their ideas about genetics when he wrote ? Will lawyers go after John Grisham because he used the "architecture" of their profession in his novels?

Baigent and Leigh have a case only if they wish to declare their book as fiction -- and given their slightly dubious sources, some have wondered if that might not be the case, at least in part. Brown did use their claim that Mary Magdalene was the true "Holy Grail" as the central element of the mystery that runs through . But a concept does not make a plot, nor does it define the central theme of a work of nonfiction. It was one interesting almost-fact that Brown decided to make factual in his fictional world.

Perhaps the members of Monty Python should raise a lawsuit against Baigent and Leigh for writing a book about the Holy Grail. After all, the Monty Python team did film their farce, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, long before Baigent and Leigh wrote their book.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Vanity, thy name is AuthorHouse (and Dorrance and PublishAmerica and...)

I've not yet tried self-publishing. I thought about it at one time and did a thorough investigation. I have several books on self-publishing and book promotion on my reference shelves. I've interviewed people who have self-published. Out of all of this research came the decision that self-publishing wasn't right for me, not with the book I was considering and the time I had to dedicate to such a project.

But if I do ever self-publish, which might be my choice in the future with the right project, I already know what I'm not going to do. I'm not going to answer one of the advertisements in the backs of writing magazines for the vanity presses. You know the ones, those full-page color ads with glowing testimonials, and promises that you can be a published author for "only" several hundred dollars.

This article explains just a few reasons why: Publishing Basics… for the self publisher » Why can’t I make money with a POD Publisher? The only quibble I have with this author is that I'd like to preserve the distinction between POD (a technology) and vanity presses (a venue). I know the vanities are calling themselves "POD publishers," but those who know better need to help preserve the distinction.

If you really want to self-publish (and there are good reasons to do so with the right project), become your own publisher, because that's what "self-publishing" is. Find yourself a good printing service, find out how to get an ISBN number, hire an editor if you need one, and take total charge of your book. Learn how to run a small business, because publishing is a business. It may be just you and a few books, but to the IRS, it's a business. One place to begin your research is with , which has a highly educational website.

If you're not interested in marketing plans and the book business and just want to get copies of your books to family, friends, and a few fans, try a straightforward POD service such as or . (See why I want to preserve the distinction between PODs and vanities? Though I'm still not entirely clear which Lulu is.)

I wouldn't have an argument with the vanities if they were honest about what they do. But all too often, they're not. They tell you what a success you could be, not what you'll probably be, considering the quality of most vanity-published books (and I don't mean just the writing), the book market as it is today, and your chances of getting distributors and bookstores to carry your books. They make glowing promises and deliver little. In the bad old days before POD (print on demand) technology, they'd deliver a several cases of books with no marketing support. I've met many authors who still have boxes of books moldering away in their basements, books they can't even give away, books they keep threatening to burn for fuel in the winter. Now with POD technology, you don't even get that much.

Though I try to bite my tongue, I can't help but get irritated with people who send their books off to vanities, they run around counseling others to do the same, gushing about "how easy it is to get published!" It's a little like running into someone who won a handful of cash from a slot machine and is now running around telling everyone that "playing the slots is a great investment! It's so easy to make money!" A few -- very few, exceptionally few -- have managed to make some money with the vanities. But those rare exceptions have a responsibility to inform others that they are, indeed, exceptions, and that most people won't have success anywhere near what they experienced.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Better Brains Through Sleep

Not getting enough sleep? Strategies to keep from getting dumb and fat - The Boston Globe

A while back I reviewed the book Sleep Thieves (Feb 13: Sleep Deprivation). Now the Boston Globe adds another reason for writers to get their sleep instead of burning the midnight oil to get just a few more pages done on that novel: sleep deprivation makes you dumb and fat!

So all you people who like to sleep in, just tell your parents, boss, or significant other, "Hey, I'm not lazy, I'm getting svelte and intelligent!"

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Stephen King's Little Pink Secret

The secret is out. Though he's denied it for almost three decades, horror author at last admitted that he began his writing career as a closet romance writer, writing under the pen name of Regina Stephens for the now-defunct Sweptwinds books, a former subsidiary of Reilly & Lee.

"I don't know why this should shock anyone," Mr. King said, in an interview given only to local reporters. "Lots of science fiction and horror writers supported themselves early on in their careers by writing porn stories for the men's magazines. I found that market was already too crowded, so I went for what you might call soft porn, women's porn, which is really what the romance line is all about, even the stuff with no on-stage sex in it."

When asked how he chose his pen name, Mr. King responded, "Come on... Stephen King... Regina Stephens... think about it. It was such an obvious choice."

Mr. King also commented on how a writer with a penchant for dark horror managed to write for a line of sweet romance books. "At the time it wasn't hard to get ideas," he said. "I'd just watch the soaps for a few days -- which was as much as I could take of them -- and then start putting ideas together. Romance readers are a lot more savvy these days, but back then, you could still get away with formulaic romance. Once you had the general formula down, it wasn't hard to churn out book after book. I'll admit it wasn't my best writing. It wasn't very inspiring. But it paid the light bill and kept food in the fridge until my horror writing took off."

Mr. King kept his secret well. Even his autobiographical book On Writing (Scribner, 2000) makes no mention of his romance writing, in spite of many other confessions about his personal life.

Romance writer Doris Richards, author of over 60 category romances for various companies, was the first to blow the lid off of Stephen King's "Little Pink Secret," as she calls it. Richards read Carrie when it was first published in 1974. "I wondered at the time," Richards said. "I was a high school senior then, and everyone told me I was crazy. Carrie? Carrie was a horror novel, not a romance. But I was also an avid romance reader, and I could see traces of the familiar pattern of a gothic romance. There was the dejected daughter, the stern mother, the handsome boy... true, the dejected daughter was an unintelligent lump, but give her beauty instead, and you'd have the perfect setting for a gothic or a teen romance. Minus the pig's blood, of course!" Richards added with a laugh.

"I am actually a little surprised that no one else spotted that," Mr. King responded, with a wry smile, when reporters showed him the Richards interview. "I thought it would be a bit too obvious."

So was Carrie really a romance novel in disguise? Mr. King laughed. "Almost. It did start out as a teen romance. Sweptwinds was suffering from competition from the big names like Harlequin that were taking over the racks at the drug stores. That was where most of Sweptwinds' sales came from. And Harlequin had the subscription program while Sweptwinds didn't, so that really did them in. To boost sales they were going to try this new teen romance line. They asked me to write one of the lead books, but they had some definite ideas about what the books should be like. Instead of just letting me go, they handed me this plot outline and wanted me to fill it in.

"That was the beginning of the end of my career with Sweptwinds. I couldn't finish the damned thing! I hated Carrie. Hated her with a passion. Well, she wasn't "Carrie" then, she was "Carina," but I still couldn't stand her. She was a little princess. Another writer took over the story, and I quit the romance business. I wrote Carrie because I really wanted to kill that wretched Carina off. Then I thought, hey, why just kill her off? Why not turn her into an evil character and have her take down half the town with her? So that's how Carrie started. Imagine my surprise when it took off like a rocket."

And we're imagining your surprise when you check the date and realize this entire article is pure tripe. April fools!