Posts Tagged ‘self-publishing’

Well, that was different. Every author waits for that email response to his submission that says an editor or publisher is interested, and even more exciting is the idea of a telephone call. I mean, if someone is willing to take the time to talk to you, that has to be a sign of real commitment, right?

As with so much in life, it depends.

The call this time was from an outfit called Readers Magnet. (I’m not linking to them on purpose.) We weren’t home; they left a message. The woman on the other end said her company had seen my book, The Choking Rain, on line and was so impressed with its four-star rating that they wanted to “work with me.” The fleeting excitement that accompanies someone calling about your book quickly evaporated when I heard this: With all of the hundreds of thousands of titles out there, thousands of which sport five-star ratings, why call about this one? (I mean, The Invisible City has a five-star rating, and more reviews. Why didn’t you call about that?)

There are a few things about the 21st century I appreciate, and one of them is the ability to Google companies like this in about half a second. And I did. I was not surprised at what I found.

Readers Magnet is a book packager. It claims to help you publish and distribute your novel, and for this it is pleased to charge you far more than 90% of the self-published books out there will make in the author’s lifetime. They list several books on their web site; only one had any reviews, one I couldn’t even find on Amazon, and none of them had sales that would–well, let’s just say I wasn’t impressed. They do include testimonials, and for all I know those authors are very pleased with what they got–but I wouldn’t want it.

Self-publishing is tough to do by yourself, no question. But the problem with self-publishing is not publishing–heck, I’ve published eight books. It’s not rocket science any more. The problem isn’t even distribution: You’re on Amazon! You’re distributed to the entire known universe! The problem is discoverability. If you want to hire someone to help you with that, don’t look at how many books they’ve published, look at how the books they’re publishing are doing in the marketplace.

Better yet, go to the Kindle Boards, or track down some well-known self-published authors and ask them. They’re not hard to find, and I’ve yet to meet one who isn’t pleased to talk about how it all works and how he/she made it. Believe me, this is something you only do if you love it.

And above all, think about screening your calls.




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In amongst all of the trials and tribulations of writing a novel (or even a story), every once in a while a miracle occurs. Your story needs something to be True, something you can use as an anchor. This is particularly telling in historical fiction, when you’d like to tie your narrative to a known fact, or place, or person. Trouble is, you may not have any particular fact, place, or person in mind. You just need something to be where you already are, like jumping off a cliff and hoping there’s a deep pool of water at the bottom.

And there it is. I’ve been having difficulties lately with my latest, Marauders from the Moon (no. 4 in the Nemesis series). I’ve always known (not a spoiler) that it would take place on a movie set, but early on I decided it would be better (all right, easier for me) if the action was being filmed on location, in a ghost town, where I could create an air of claustrophobic paranoia due to Mysterious Happenings. Ever wonder why so many 1950s monster movies were set in small, isolated desert towns or on remote islands? (Or if you’re a bit younger, Tremors?) It’s so your victims, er, heroes, will be cut off from help and forced to fend for themselves with limited resources.

That was my plan, except that I put my people so far away that it felt unrealistic. I was going to have to return to the movie lot idea, which would mean scrapping hundreds (if not thousands) of words, and re-writing. But what could I do? Where was I going to find a ghost town that was not prohibitively far from Los Angeles–and which featured mining and was subject to flash floods (for reasons I won’t go into)?

To the World Wide Web-mobile!

It took me about five seconds to find my deep pool at the bottom of the cliff. With pictures. It turns out that for a place only about 300 years old, LA has lots of hidden/lost history. Abandoned gold mines. Hitler’s secret bunker. An underground river. All things an enterprising author can take and build upon.*

Miracles. Sometimes they’re right where you need them to be.

*And did I mention the lost Confederate gold cache?


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It’s time to admit it. I’m 8000 words into my new novel, Marauders from the Moon, the fourth book in the Nemesis series, and the damned thing is going to be written regardless of my personal feelings on the matter. I am still gamely attempting to write my short story at the same time, but I have a sinking feeling that it is going to take second place, and a distant second, at that.

Now, this may not be such a bad thing. After all, I am writing, which is the number one priority. And maybe the short story just isn’t ready; “Rights and Wrongs,” which was published in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, took me three years and several versions to get done, and then they sent it back with an R&R request (revise-and -resubmit) that took me another two yearsand I ended up re-writing the entire second half from scratch. I believe when a story is ready, it will write itself.

But I don’t want to take five years to write this story; I have one already that’s been half-done since 2015. Hey, it’s my process. I don’t have to like it, but there it is.*

So at least Marauders is progressing. After a quick start, it bogged down, but tonight I wrote 1100 words, and significantly, I did not stop at the end of a chapter; I wrote the first paragraph of the next chapter. If you’re a writer, you will understand what that means. (And if you’re a writer who has not tried that trick, I recommend it.)

Now, I re-read these words as I struggle to find a closing, and I am reminded that the hardest advice to take is that which you give yourself. Example: Three paragraphs ago I said, “…when a story is ready, it will write itself.”

Marauders from the Moon was busy tonight, writing itself. I guess it’s ready. I guess I’d better be ready, too, or who knows where these characters are going to go if I’m not there to ride herd on them?



*Yes, I understand the irony that I can write a novel in two months but I can’t finish a short story in three years. It is what it is.


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Hello, my name is Brian, and I’m a writeaholic.

Some time ago, I sadly announced that, due to extrinsic factors beyond my apparent control, I was discontinuing my planned series of neo-pulp adventure novels starring my mysterious hero, Nemesis. Some time later, I announced that I had been having some difficulty commencing a new project, but that I was feeling optimistic. I was going to overcome my own self-doubt and write as good a story as I could. Self-publishing was out, magazine stories were in.

I am not only a writeaholic, I am quite naive.

Contrary to writing novels to the exclusion of short stories for magazines, or short stories to the exclusion of novels, I am now doing both simultaneously. You have to understand, that’s not how I work. I don’t do simultaneous projects. I am not one of those writers who has six different ideas in play at once. I work on one thing, then another.

And yet here I am. I am writing a short story for the money and fame. (Ha! That’s a good one, son!) And I am writing another Nemesis novel, Marauders from the Moon, simply because that is what I want to do. And I am writing both at the same time.

Setting myself a short schedule taught me that I could write a novel very quickly. How I learned to do this thing I’m doing now is an open question. Whether I have learned to do this thing I’m doing now is likewise a question.

I feel like a newly-minted superhero exploring his own powers. I’ll try not to destroy the world.


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This episode of our (apparently) ongoing series of Don’t Pay, Don’t Play? posts is entitled: “Don’t Pay, Don’t be Played.”

I recently received an email from a podcast called Speak Up Talk Radio, offering me an opportunity to be interviewed for a book program. This being the kind of thing that authors live for, I eagerly read through the email to see what sort of gig they had in mind. It wasn’t until I reached the fourth paragraph that I discovered they meant a paying gig.

The problem was, they wanted me to pay them.

They would put me on the radio for “small hosting donation” which would go to the charity they support. In fact, if I made a slightly larger (or rather larger) donation, I would receive more coverage and their charity would receive more money. What a win-win!

Uh, no. First and foremost, if you want to sell me advertising (which is what this amounts to, the chance to make my own commercial), you need to tell me up front. Lots of people offer me advertising deals all the time. Some I have actually taken them up on. But I knew from the start that they were selling me something. None of them waited until half-way down the page to mention there was a cost.

Second, there are lots of podcasts which will interview authors for free. And they’re more focused than this one apparently is (since by their own admission they will talk about any kind of book). If you’re writing genre fiction, you want a show that talks about genre fiction, like Krypton Radio. Otherwise you’re wasting your breath with 90% of the audience.

The more I thought about this pitch, the less I thought of it. I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve seen the schemes and scams come and go. But like the Writers of the Future contest, newer writers don’t know what they’re getting into. They may not know that things like reading fees, or upfront payments to agents, or radio interview “donations” are not things you should be paying. Markets pay you, agents take commissions, and radio hosts interview people who will increase their market share. It would be like a convention offering to make you a “special guest” for a fee.*

If you self-publish a book, you’re going to pay for a cover, editing, and advertising. It’s part of running a business. But this, this is someone trying to give you the business. And that don’t play.

*I really hope that nobody else has ever thought of that.


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I was discussing modern art with someone the other day, and she mentioned that she felt the problem with modern art was that, “There are no standards.” In previous times, when there were recognized art academies, they “regulated” art by their favor or disapproval. While this equated to a definite conservative approach, it also maintained a level of quality (insofar as the members could agree on what that meant). They acted as gatekeepers. (Eventually, the academies fell out of favor, and the laissez-faire “whatever moves you” concept took over. Hence, we have “art installations” which stretch the concept of Art. There are far too many to number, but we all know of examples.*)

I, of course, immediately said: “Like self-publishing.” Because the same argument exists there: While traditional publishers had a chokehold on the industry (and you can argue about their taste, political leanings, economic policies, etc.), they did act as gatekeepers to ensure (in most cases) that a certain minimum level of quality was maintained. Now that gate has been torn open.

No one knows how this is going to play out; self-publishing as a popular phenomenon is only about 10 years old. But some trends are already evident, primarily the flood of new works, many of which would never have appeared anywhere under the old, gatekeeper-controlled system.

Like modern art, many embrace these new works. Others still distrust this open system, and with some support. It is more difficult to judge whether a new author is worth your time because no one has done the grunt work of weeding out the incompetent and unreadable. There are new gatekeepers in place, the rating and review systems available on Amazon and Goodreads, for example, but these depend on volunteer labor and are vulnerable to tampering. (Ask 20 of your friends to review your book favorably and suddenly you look like a star.)

So again we are left without standards. Anyone can now publish a book. And while if fiction is bad, you can toss a novel away and no one is harmed, if you get bad advice from a self-published non-fiction “expert,” you could be hurt.

There are arguments on both sides: free expression versus limited outlets. The ability to seek one’s entertainment widely rather than from a limited set of corporate-approved (but likely more professional) options. I like the self-publishing revolution; I’ve taken advantage of it. But that doesn’t mean that all self-published novels are good; it doesn’t even mean that my self-published novels are as good as they could be. What it does mean is that there are no longer any standards…and whether we ever again agree on what constitutes Art remains to be seen.

*Discussing the relative artistic merits of these efforts, or whether such merits even exist, would occupy far more time than I have to spend.



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One of the bad things about being a writer is that you are your own workforce. If you take time off, no one picks up the slack. You also have to live with your decisions, good or bad.

One of the good things about being a writer is that you are your own boss. You set your own goals, your own hours. You want to take a week off, you don’t have to ask anybody. And if you want to change your business model, you don’t have to run your new plan by a committee.

So I’m changing my business model. And while I don’t have to run it by a committee, since it’s sudden and runs smack into the plan I was publicizing as late as a week ago, I felt like I should say something.

I am taking an indefinite hiatus from self-publishing. It’s for the obvious reason: economics. I have proven to myself that, given the proper motivation, I can write a lot faster than I had been, which is essential to self-publishing. You have to push a lot of product to the market. Unfortunately, this is only half of the equation, in that once you have put product on the market, someone has to want to consume it. And therein lies the rub.

The most formidable obstacle to successful self-publishing is discoverability. This is not a writing problem, this is a business problem. According to the numbers, I do not have the business acumen to make a go of self-publishing. It takes about twice the time I was putting in before, and it provides about the same money. I may not be a business genius, but even I can see this makes no sense.

So I’m going back to writing short stories, and with any luck I’ll be able to apply some of the lessons that I gleaned while learning to write a novel in two months. My backlist will remain in print, of course, so theoretically I will soon have two income streams.

Being the boss means sometimes you have let go of an employee. Or a business. I’ll miss being a self-published writer; I just won’t miss being a self-publisher.

Okay, I’ve got to go. My boss is yelling at me to write something. Short stories or novels, some things never change.


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