Ready or Not – Print Edition: Still delayed

Ready or Not (concept only)For those who prefer a nice physical, bound book to hold in their hands … I’m sorry but I’m still working on that for Ready or Not.

Theoretically this should be ridiculously easy and all, but Createspace is what I go through for the print because it’s the highest quality Print On Demand publishing service after Lightning Source, which I’d prefer to use but lack the Photoshop skills necessary to get the cover and page layout right in a single go and thus would get obscenely expensive.  Problem is, though, that Createspace apparently hates me.  It’ll lay the pages out pretty neatly while I’m experimenting along the way still writing the book and such; then I upload the final document file which, in theory, ought to be perfect since I’ve been testing along the way … … … random badness happens.  In this case it keeps setting the pages several inches too high up and to the right.

So far I’ve found all the things not causing that.  I pray it’ll only be another few days to a week before it’s up, but it could be as many as two or three more weeks.

I’d go with a publisher and save myself these headaches, but I’d be simply trading them in for different headaches.  At least this way I keep full control and don’t have to worry about some artist getting strange ideas about what my covers should look like (for those who think an author has control of her cover art through most publishers, all I can say is, “that is adorably naïve, honey.”), higher royalties, an editor I know well and trust not to decide to rewrite the book for me (yes, it happens), and control over release date (sort of).

So much for agents?

George Takei on the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Pr...

George Takei on the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Pride 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is thursday of the final week of waiting for agent responses. Sadly, as I recall, all the remaining agents are the sort not to guarantee a response one way or the other — only promise a reply if they’ll take the novel. Tomorrow I suppose I begin sorting everything out to self-publish Now & Forever.

My earlier post was a none-too-sublte attempt to garner some feedback to decide if I should keep searching for agents — I did recently find about an hundred more. So I’m asking outright for advice and opinions.

For those of you reading who aren’t authors and, therefore, (potentially) unaware of the grand dilemma here, please allow me a moment to elaborate. Those who already know exactly why this is a rough decision, feel free to skip down to the comments and throw in your voice on the matter.

For the uninitiated here are the pros and cons of publishing presented in juxtaposition between self and traditional publishing.

  • Self published I can have the book out tomorrow (though it won’t actually be until June, because I’m a perfectionist and want to tidy up a few things first, and will spend a lot of time agonising over the position of the pages in the print version). Traditionally published, it’s liable to be, at least, another year before the first book comes out — and regardless when I finish the other 3, assume at least a year between them
  • Self published I get 60-70% royalties, as opposed in the traditional model of approximately 2-5%, minus the agent’s 15% from that 2-5%. BUT There’re these lovely things called an advance where the publisher (with a little prodding from an agent) decides that the royalties for the first printing of the book ought to equal X and so cuts a cheque (though, these days more like 3, one on contract signing, one later on, and another even later than that) for that amount. Agent gets 15% of it, and I walk to the bank with something that’ll buy some groceries.
  • Self published has no true advertisement but word of mouth. I would, very literally, be relying on those who read or stumble on this blog, those who stumble upon and (praying to God) read the book to tell their friends and family about it. Yes, yes, Project Wonderful, Google AdSense, etc. Tell me, honestly, how often do you click those? Hmm? Not often, do you? Or you do, but how often do you buy? You’re not unique you know. Traditionally published books, don’t exactly get TV spots in the halftime show for the Super Bowl, but they are advertised and marketed to book buyers. Unless you get your paycheque from Barnes & Noble, or own a mom & pop bookshop you are not a book buyer — book buyers are the folks who decide what’s going to be on the physical store shelves, and then buys them. Tell me — how many books have you bought from an author you’ve never heard of from the bookstore versus an online retailer? Getting a picture?
  • Cover art. This one gets fun. As a self-pub author I control the art. I can say “this is amazing, this sucks, etc.” For those who don’t know, an author with a publisher has no say in the cover art (normally, some publishers might ask the author’s opinion, notice I didn’t say value or listen to it). Now, in all honesty this is both a thrilling and horrifying thing. The publisher would find a professional artist (not of my choosing, but hopefully someone with a modicum of talent) to make up a pretty cover for me that’s formulated and market researched to make people buy the book. Sadly, sometimes this means a cover that has no basis in the story whatsoever. Sometimes this doesn’t detract, and helps (Twilight is apparently a fine example of this — though, personally, I always walked right past those covers without a glance). The upshot, however, is that with a traditional publisher I get a, theoretically, unique cover design from a professional. By myself, I get whatever I can put together with a mix of photoshop bungling, some creative commons searching/begging for donated art from artistic friends/scrounging up hundreds or thousands of dollars to purchase some art.
  • Distribution. In this day of the internet, who needs think of distribution?! Just put it up as an eBook and it’s worldwide in 24hrs. Again, I ask, when was the last time you bought a book from an unknown author when you weren’t browsing the shelves of a bookstore? Distribution is important. And face it, it’s the biggest weapon in the arsenal of a traditional publisher, and one that most self-published authors have no means to enjoy. CreateSpace‘s book sizes will often be a mark against many stores carrying them — 6×9 is a trade paperback, yes, but many stores won’t carry the hardback and trades of an unknown. Good ol’ pocket paperback 4×6 or 3×5 is more likely to carry and isn’t offered. Lightning Source, Inc does, but that’s out of budget for many authors — and LSi, offers far better distribution options than CreateSpace ever comes close to.
  • Other promotion: as a self-published author I’m unlikely to be able to have ads for my books show up in any media. Some magazines do carry ads for books — notice how none are from self-published writers? Ever wondered how much that little ad cost? Books might be mentioned on some TV shows and radio programs. For example, in a hypothetical universe, I am picked up by McMillan publishing, their PR guy takes one look at my book, looks up at the TV and thinks, I got it! And calls up the folks in charge of Ellen’s show and gets the book mentioned there, interview with the author (way too shy to talk to a camera, but this is a hypothetical universe where maybe I wouldn’t be) and … you get the picture. Self published? I might be able to get George Takei to mention it on his Facebook page — curiously enough, in both of these cases it’s all back to word of mouth. In this case the mouths of a pair of celebrities whose opinions on such matters folks are wont to listen to. And, y’know, the Takei thing might not be such a bad idea now I’ve said it. Other promotion might also include reviews. Many professional reviewers won’t touch self-published, that’s right, they refuse it outright. So I’d be down to relying on GoodReads and Amazon Reviews. Hmm … there we go again with word of mouth.

And therein lies the problem. If you didn’t notice, the pros and cons are, actually, fairly balanced. I can reach my readership faster and with greater control of cover art, timing, pricing, etc. But I can reach more readers with a traditional publisher. The promotion and advertising — well, the biggest Truth in marketing is that word of mouth is the only guaranteed to work, everything else is guess work; educated guess work but still guess work.

If I knew that the release of my book on Amazon’s Kindle wouldn’t be swallowed by, and I wish I were exaggerating, 13 (I counted) pages of pre-orders going out nearly 15months! For those not in the know, self-published writers and many small press/indie press publishing houses don’t get this option with any online retailer except Apple’s iBooks — not even Smashwords is so respectful to its users. So I would be buried under the Jo Rowlings, the latest adventures of Drizzt, or Junie B Jones.

Round and round, it’s like watching my dog chase the flea that just bit his tail, poor thing, but I watched him just now and realise that it’s a perfect analogy to my problem. Shrug off the rejections by the agents and do it myself, or keep trying? Which has the greatest gain? True, I write for the love of writing, but I also live in a world that relies on money — I’m not going to spend a year or more carefully grooming 140000 words into an enjoyable tale and hand it out with a cheery wave. I’d like to, and if employers in this country felt obligated to pay enough to live on, I actually would — it’s save the headache — but they don’t so I don’t. In a sense, yes, this is about money, but it’s in a “I’d really rather be writing than answering phones all day” kind of way.

So, please, do comment — feedback helps. I have authors following, I know. If you’ve any anecdotes to share, please do. Readers? What’s your answers? Do you prefer to browse the samples of iBooks, Kindle, and Nook to decide who and what to buy? Do you browse past a dozen pages of pre-orders to see what you can get right now? How many of you talk to your friends and family about what you read — how many of you are excited enough by the prospect of reading Love or Lust to recommend it to them or even gift it to them?

Taking a working break

So I’ve laid aside Ready or Not for a spell while I recover from a pretty nasty flu that I’ve been fighting for the entire past week.

I’m using the time, when I’m lucid enough, to edit Love or Lust. I kind of hope to see it out before Christmas or New Year, but I’m not so sure now. There’ve been some layout issues that are bring annoying. I try to work on that even during editing because the edits themselves don’t affect things like graphics, margins, the gutter, etc.

Tedious process but one I’m no stranger to, and so is far faster than the first time I did it. Initially I will be distributing through various online retailers and CreateSpace. I hope, one day to include iBookstore and switch from CS to LSi, but as of right now CreateSpace is simply a more pragmatic choice than Lightning Source.

Pricing is still in consideration, but is likely to be at least us$5.99 for eBook and us$9.99 for print.

If you want something done right …

Two posts in one night. My, but I’m in a mood tonight, neh?

If you missed any earlier mentions I’m self publishing my work. Some will applaud this, some will bemoan and decry it. C’est la vie.

I will not presume to tell any their business. If you prefer the traditional publishing route and have the patience for it, and the luck to succeed at it, by all means go for it.

For me, it’s simply not a desirable option.

Simply put I don’t want to put up with the crap for less than 5% royalties. It’s insulting.

The trick is to know what to do yourself and when to ask for help.

Plenty of books put through a major publisher see no real promotion, and no serious editing. Simple fact. Think to any major published work you’ve read lately that came out recently. Typos, grammar goofs, etc. And how did you know about it? NY Times best seller lists don’t count. I mean The Other Stuff.

So. Some things I’m learning.

Editor, have two, kind of. Sweet talk, or marry, a grammar nazi. Or pay, but we’re going to operate on the assumption that authors don’t have money. It’s statistically more likely. Have them proofread your work, but first do it yourself. Have some friend read it too. Someone to give feedback. The friend is kind of like a line editor and a sense checker. Their purpose is not to say, “in the second paragraph here you used the inverse third person conjunctivitis on your pluperfect nominative glass widget in duck sauce” (grammatician I most assuredly am NOT, most of my grasp of English grammar comes from my Latin II class); instead his job is to say “Jaye, great story so far, but just why is it, exactly, that when they went to the mall in Chapter 2 they summoned a daemon to ransack the Starbucks during that zombie uprising?” so that you can scratch your head and go “they were SUPPOSED to just buy shoes and grab some pizza. I’ll take a look at it.”

The important thing, though, is that it’s your story. Generally, take the grammar advice, but if it interferes with the narrative voice and is a subtle thing that doesn’t detract from the clarity, only the technical accuracy, ask yourself if you really want to change it. You can say no. Same goes for the mall scene. Maybe your friend is an idiot, or maybe it CAN be interpreted as a daemonic zombie invasion if you read if certain ways, but you’re fair sure the average reader will see shoes and pizza, then leave it.

Even if you speak perfect lit geek, and grammar is not an esoteric occult thing to you, still have an editor. She doesn’t know what’s supposed to be there. She’ll see what you did not.

Cover art: have it, but don’t go mad. Trends don’t mean much. Pay for a pro to make your cover if you can, by all means. But if you know a friend handy with a pencil, then ask him. Maybe you and a friend are handy with Photoshop. Search Creative Commons’ engine for an image that is befitting and doctor it up. A cover needs to catch the eye. As long as it does that and conveys something meaningful about the story, like genre, then you’re probably okay.

Look at a pro book and try to decide what you do or don’t need, and make sure to have that. Copyright notice pages, dedications, other works by this author list, etc.

Finally, get it out there. I don’t put much stock in single stop services like Smashwords. I just don’t think they provide a sufficient service to warrant the percentage they keep; not considering the nuisance their conversion software is. Others are hardly better. Use them, or not, is always your choice. Personally, though, make your own ePub in Pages or InDesign or similar, and upload them to places like Kobo and Barnes & Noble yourself. Make your own mobi for Amazon. Then a PDF and some patience with a good print on demand service. Lightning Source, if you have some money, or CreateSpace if you’re broke.

You may not get an advance, and you may have to learn to arrange your own book signings, but you get more per sale, so fewer sales to make the same money. No one arranging for you to sign books if you don’t like interacting with people or arranging them somewhere you don’t want to be. Pros and cons, it’s all the same in the end; even the praise vs the loathing. Some will like you better for being self pub others will deride you, the opposite is certainly true.

In the end don’t let anyone tell you what to do. It is and always will be your story. If you don’t agree with the advice an editor or agent is giving you, find another one or put the book out yourself. If you are in no hurry and want the peace of mind of a contract and an agent to do all the heavy lifting for you, then go for it. Just always approach with caution, and always remember they’re asking you for the rights to your work. No matter what they may try to make it sound like they’re not the ones doing you a favour, you’re doing them one – if they don’t have books to sell they don’t make a dime. I’m sure you can extrapolate from there.

Good night all.