Thursday, February 27, 2014

The tedious round of 'my one is better than your one'...

Hugh Howey got a bit of a s&!t storm going with his new blog and the subsequent online discussions ongoing. Winding up the indie vs. traditional publishing argument a notch or two or three. Yikes.  Sure, traditional publishing is not the only way to publish, distribute, market and successfully sell a book. Nor is traditional publishing a perfect model, unassailable, beyond criticism. Indie publishing is an exciting alternative offering greater personal control over your product and potentially a bigger share of any rewards. It offers opportunity when traditional publishing has increasingly become a closed shop. There are real advantages. But is not the answer to everything (that is, of course, 42). Indie publishing requires that authors know what all the steps in the publishing process are. This information is widely available online. There are forums discussing the ins and outs, and providing decent advice. But everything you need to know is not necessarily in one place. And people seem easily tempted to skip one or more steps. And we don’t always know the questions we should be asking or what it is we don't know.

If you are going the indie route into print publishing, the book distribution and selling channels are still very much run on the old traditional model. They are aware that times are changing and mostly appreciate that change is now unavoidable, but the changes taking place are creakingly slow. Many a small print publisher has come a cropper trying to distribute and sell through the old model. Indie publishers are still struggling to make the income and outgoings balance. Again you will need to find information on which operators are more advanced in the process of changing and which operators are indie friendly. You can’t just be the author if you go indie. You have to be business savy, understand some accountancy principles, some contract law, keep records, know tax requirements, and how these tax requirements are affected if you sell books overseas, negotiate arrangements with a raft of different organisations and oh, write the books. And if writing is your jam than this needs to be your biggest investment of time, compared with all the other aspects of producing a book. Those books might take you months or more to write but it doesn’t take a reader that long to consume them and if they like you, don’t you want to make them even happier with more titles? This is definitely Howey advice I agree with. But as you can see this can all be rather exhausting if you are captaining your own ship.

Meanwhile trying to get a toe in the door in traditional publishing can be a heart squeezing, confidence sucking, soul destroying journey. There is a reason whole blog posts, in fact whole blogs, are devoted to rejections. They are the curse and the badge of honour of writers and book illustrators everywhere. For all the time an independent party has been involved in selecting material to publish, there have been rejections. And there will always be many more manuscripts thrown at traditional publishers, then available publication slots to fit them into. And shoot me now but I don’t believe all manuscripts written should be reproduced for others to read. And some books published, no matter who was responsible – indie or traditional, are not a good experience. Although traditional publishers do like to put it out there that they are experienced practitioners in the art of selection, there are times when you wonder, what were they thinking?? Anyone can make mistakes I guess.

So what am I trying to say here? Anyone who thinks they have all the answers is deluded. No one system or method is ‘the’ system or method that everyone should use. Good books, even great books get rejected by traditional publishers. And poorly written books can be plucked from indie obscurity and sell by the truckload and be beloved. And everything in between. Please do not try telling me traditional publishing is dead. Please do not try telling me indie publishing is for suckers or any denigratory category of humanity. Please do not say I should publish my books ‘this’ way or ‘that’ way and be damned. And Stop Fighting.

If you choose indie publishing, for ‘whatever’ reason, be professional about it (and polite). You are taking on a business proposition publishing a book – whether it is your own or someone else’s. If you have not published a book before, it is smart to assume you will need help to do it. Unless you are a professional editor, artist, or designer, hire folk who are to work on your book (and maybe even if you are any or all of those – being too close to a project can mess with your objectivity). Get recommendations or look at the acknowledgements of a book you admire the look and readability of to find good editors, artists and book designers. It is possible to be your own publicist and marketer but expect to devote a significant amount of time to this to make a difference. And be prepared for your efforts to make no difference at all. Hugh Howey advises to just get on with the writing rather than focus on your own PR. He appreciates his experience of success through word of mouth is not a common one. I don’t think he could give you any tips that could guarantee to replicate his success.

And if you are happily traditionally published (and not everyone who is traditionally published is happy about it) learn from your experience and share what you know. And don’t assume this naturally makes you better than any other writer. If you want to be traditionally published then keep trying. New people continue to get traditionally published all the time.  But if you fancy the indie route, do that. And could either side stop telling the other side they’re better or worse or broken or stupid or ….insert insult here. And could everyone stop acting like these are life or death matters? I’ve had publishing droughts, slow sales, and meagre advances via both indie and traditional routes, but blow me down if I’m not still going. And sometimes good things happen. It’s the long game. I don’t expect miracles or shiploads of money (although I intend to enjoy them if they happen). If you see everyone as the enemy you will end up spending all your time fighting battles. If you agonise over every deal wondering if you could wring more out of it you might never discover the benefits of enjoying the moment and moving forward to the next and valuing what you DO have.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Notes from the South, Part 1....

So I have moved cities and life has changed comprehensively. So far I am still in the 'this is surreal' phase. Or 'weird'. I am cheating using words like these and not giving you a wider description of how it feels and what it means. The brain is still whirring and clicking and cogitating. I am still in the midst of conclusifying. It is mind bendery.

But I intend to talk about it. Again it is a little like having children or having a first book published. As much as you ask questions about it beforehand and think you have it sussed about what the change will mean in your life, what the reality of it all is, you cannot really know until you are immersed in it. And even then it takes a while to settle into all the ramifications. And I think this whole ramification thing might have a very long tail.

It is novel to be in an environment where there is no expectation of you other than that you will write, and perhaps sometimes talk books with other folk, and you will be paid to do so. And the money is not rewarding the end product, (which is how a writer's financial life is usually arranged and strangely after bleeding yourself onto the page the recompense still most often seems tied to things other than your personal effort), but rather the act of just writing itself. I think, perhaps, this is a big part of the adjustment I am experiencing. I am, for the next six months, actually employed to do one of the jobs I love best. It is a novel kind of freedom.  I'll let you know how it goes

I cannot thank the University of Otago's College of Education enough for the existence of this brilliant opportunity, or the fact that they gave it to me. Or how wonderful their welcome has been. Enormous thanks too to Creative New Zealand for co-funding this amazing initiative. And to my family who said 'go' and who understand what this means to me. Man, I love you guys so much!  How lucky am I????

Saturday, February 15, 2014

She'll be right mate...

Hey there peeps. Been absent a while as I have scurried around packing my valise for my imminent departure. And doing those little necessaries like getting the dog (and myself) groomed, and arranging flights hither and thither, and celebrating wedding anniversaries, and arranging payments of this and enrolments into that. I am distracted and feeling somewhat apprehensive and sleep and I are not on the best of terms at the moment. My mind is seething I tell you. I have to buy some extra school uniform items for manchild, and pay university fees for the girls and check that a book has reached a destination and post another and fit in some last minute physio so I can wrestle valises and book laden boxes and should I wear my Doc Martens on the plane and what will it be like while I am away. I am embracing my impending sense of dislocation and separation from my family as the perfect preparation for the story I intend to write. And I find it all so weird that so much of my year is already organised. How do people who are booked up for events three years in advance get their heads around it? I am excited by it all but I just hope I've printed off the right info and have the right gear packed now for the things I will be up to in August.

In the meantime, as I am unable to focus on anything that isn't to do with my preparation, here is a rather juicy link for those of you writing longer fiction. I confess to organising my chapters on a rather organic basis (a.k.a making it up as I go along) but this advice on what a chapter should be achieving from Lynn Price, editor at Behler Publications is worth a read.

And if you, like me, loved the Flambards series as a teen reader, you might be pleased to see that author KM Peyton has been awarded an MBE. I enjoyed the insight into the uneasy transition from horses to cars, the birth of aviation and it's role in the Great War, and the changes to the British rural idyll, and as a teen I adored the passion of all the characters for each other and for their respective ways of life. The books would have been nothing without them. And the original trilogy, along with series like the Little House on the Prairie books have had a big influence on the way I write my own historical novels now.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Public Service Announcement (or My digital adventure part four) ....

A while back I did a short series of posts on my experience of self-publishing an e-book. I referred to these posts more recently here. In part three I talked about sending your book out for review. Reviews expose your book (whether digital and/or print) to potential buyers, which is highly desirable. Not all reviewers will review self published (or e-book only) books. It is totally up to them whether they do or not, and if they ARE willing, it is up to us not to make the job harder. So when I read this recently

I've been reviewing a few self-published books lately for KidsBooksNZ. Here's a heartfelt request to self-publishers - when sending your books off for review, please supply an information sheet including background details about the book and the author - and particularly important is the price of the book and where it can be bought. I get a bit crabby when I have to surf all over the net looking for the important details to put into the review. You need to make it easy for us reviewers!

on facebook I realised there was some information missing in my post and here was an opportunity to fill in these gaps.

When sending your book (whether print or digital) out to reviewers, please include an information sheet with a small quote from the book, a brief blurb on what it is about, and a paragraph about yourself. Also include the cover image and details about retail price and where it is available, the ISBN number, the age range it is intended for and the number of pages or word count. Last but not least include your contact information. My info sheet for Sally Bangle: Unexpected Detective looked like this (although better laid out cos I am a blunt instrument when it comes to rearranging images on blogspot).

New Title Information/ Review Copy

"She used the end of the pen to push her wispy hair behind her ears. Then she wrote My mother is Felicity Bangle (strict), My Father is Captain William Bangle (lost), she couldn’t bring herself to say ‘dead’ and anyway no one was one hundred percent sure that was true. My brother is a pain in the butt she wrote. She crossed out the last bit after is and put Malcolm Bangle instead. Then she couldn’t help adding, (annoying). She started a new section. Favourite foods: ham and pineapple pizza, salt and vinegar chips, chocolate. Hate: Mum’s Tuna Surprise and asparagus. Best friend - Abigail Fray. Worst enemy - Vanessa Blunt (I wish we’d never met). Greatest wish: to have my Dad back and go to a different school and never ever be bullied again."

Sally Bangle's sea faring dad was lost at sea seven years before. But is he really dead? When Sally is given a school project to research the very strange Professor Angstrom she turns up some interesting information about that fateful sea voyage. What really happened? Is that really the Professor wrapped up in bandages in St Olaf's? Sally won't rest until she has figured out the mystery, dragging her best friend, her best friend's chauffer, her brother and the school bully along on a dangerous mission to discover the truth.

Melinda Szymanik is the author of picture books, short stories and novels for young people. She lives in Auckland with her family, runs a business with her husband, and won the 2009 NZ Post Children’s Choice Award for her picture book The Were-Nana.

Sally Bangle:
Unexpected Detective
Melinda Szymanik

for 8 to 12 year olds
December, 2012
35,699 words
digital formats only

ISBN 978-0-473-23336-5 (epub)
ISBN 978-0-473-23337-2 (mobi)


E-book available at Smashwords, Amazon, and other e-book retailers

For further information or interview requests contact Melinda Szymanik
09 000 0000, 021 000 000,
Tale-Spin Media, 00 V----- R---, -- ----, Auckland, New Zealand

Other examples can be seen on the Scholastic NZ website here. Make one for each book you publish and send out. Make it easy for the reviewer. They will think fondly of you if you do.

A subsequent commenter on that facebook post had this to add  

While you're at it then can we also ask for professional standard of information in the copyright page. I've had books with no contact info at all, lack of clarity of the name of the publisher, even the year missing. it shouldn't be hard to look at good quality published books and see what they do.

If you want your book to look professionally produced then it pays to provide the same information. These details are not put there to pad the book out, they are important information!

For Sally Bangle: Unexpected Detective my copyright page looks like this:




Published by Tale-Spin Media, 2012

ISBN 978-0-473-23336-5

Copyright 2012 Melinda Szymanik

This book is copyright. All rights reserved. Except for the purposes of fair reviewing, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner and the publisher of the book.

Front Cover Design by Cheryl Rowe, Auckland, New Zealand

Now you will spot that the publisher's contact information is missing. As this is my own publishing house I don't want to include my personal address and I don't have a PO Box number. In this case I hope any interested parties would look to contact me as the author and my website and blog addresses are in the back of the book. But this is something I will look to improve on in the future. It is all a learning curve...

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The occasional stroke...

There have been mutterings on the ether. People are already talking. Winners of the Joy Cowley and Tom Fitzgibbon Awards are announced end of March (although I am not a contender this year), Notable Book lists are made public the same day (please let it be me this year) and short-listings are bound to be publicised sometime over the next few months for the NZ Post Children's Book Awards for which I am always terribly, desperately hopeful. And then a little later in the year come the LIANZAs. It is a difficult time for New Zealand children's writers and illustrators. It is when all our secret longings and our sensitive souls are exposed like raw nerves. Does the world/universe/the community we have chosen to be a part of, really love us? New Zealand children's writers and illustrators have produced so many fine books in 2013. Competition is fierce. This is a good sign, I think, for our children's literature.  But I am human with my hopes and dreams and an ego that likes, at least, the occasional stroke (and never says no to more frequent ones). Everything is crossed. As my dog always reminds me, it is good to be hopeful (and always check under the couch for crumbs).

In amongst it all I am thankfully distracted by my move to Dunedin. It is soon. It is hard to think of leaving my family behind but the adventure also beckons, and which of us writers can resist an adventure...It promises to be a busy year with some writery engagements and plenty of head down, bottom up, furious typing. If nothing else I will have, I hope, some new friends I meet on my travels, good memories and freshly completed stories.

And Ms Rowling you can regret pairing Hermione with Ron instead of Harry but love triangles can never be solved. Either way you would be wrong.