Monday, September 10, 2012

Caution: Self Destructive Self Publishing

I just spent the weekend at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold conference. Very interesting for an independent publisher like myself. One of the editors who attended, a man I hold in the highest respect had a couple of very interesting comments about self publishing.

We had a room of about 50 writers listening when our speaker asked, "Who here is self publishing ebooks?" I was one of two or three to raise my hand. He went on to say that it was a possibly self-destructive move and urged caution lest the wannabe author ruin/lessen their chances of being traditionally published.

When he received a manuscript that had promise, he would look up the author on Amazon. If there was a book there (self published or otherwise) that was not selling, that would be a big mark against picking up that author. In effect, by publishing a non-selling book the author had already harmed their writer's platform.

He further went on to say that the whole self-publishing phenomenon didn't concern him as a potential challenger to trad. publishing. His reasoning?

"Readers will quickly discover what publishers do for them and why the slush pile exists."

Basically, he felt that enough poorly written and edited content was being released, that the majority of readers would quickly decide to stay away from self pub. work. It was a self limiting-trend. He was not religious about it or vindictive, just matter of fact. His company has picked up some self published writers and would do so again, but that was a tiny fraction of their writer's stable.

I believe he was spot on. I've encountered a lot of poorly written and edited material on Amazon. It annoys me when it happens. Here is someone who is demonstrating a lack of concern or respect for my time as a reader--and I have every reason to give these authors the benefit of the doubt. What is your average 5 books a year reader going to think?

This is where bodies like the Alliance for Independent Authors, other writers groups, or reviewing bodies can save the day. How? With a seal of approval. That seal cannot be just handed out to anyone who can cough up the money to join. Endorsement needs to be earned. There must be standards of editing and writing in place. Without this, independent authors are at the mercy of the lowest common denominator. As usual, a few bad apples can ruin the whole barrel.

The trick is to be in another barrel.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Everyone's got one. Reviewing the Reviewers

I started this blog entry weeks ago, but let it languish while I was thinking it through and doing other things. Then my attention was pointed to this article: Reviewers for hire... and I decided the world was ready for it.

Every person who uses the internet has a valuable commodity: their opinion. Opinions in one form or another undoubtedly account for an easy majority of all web content. People who voice their opinions inform all the rest of us. When someone throws their opinion out into the great opinion heap of the web, they add to its collective wisdom (and folly).

Everyone knows that opinions are like, well, you know what, and most of them stink. That's why people who have informed, well-thought-out opinions are like gold. When we find people who form their opinions carefully and with reason, we tend to pay attention. At their best, the opinionators give a careful analysis of the facts that informs and illuminates their audience. By listening to them, we can inform our own opinion—whether we agree with the opinionators conclusion or not. Once we find an opinionator who routinely agree with our sensibilities, we often forgo reading their reasons and just adopt their opinion. We have to.

There is way too much information out there for us form our own independent opinions on all of it, but when we are at a party, we don't want to appear to be ignorant about a subject, or say something stupid about it. It's the opinionators that save us. They do the work and we reap the rewards of impressing other people with our savvy. For example, I KNOW “Fifty Shades of Gray” is poorly written erotica that is not even a good example of it's genre, because people I trust have told me so. Have I read it? No. Do I have an opinion? YES! How cool is that?

Well informed opinions are valuable. Good ones take time to formulate and state. Well known opinionators (a.k.a Pundits, Columnists, Bloggers, and Reviewers) routinely get paid to give their opinions—and they should. Valuable services deserve compensation.

Then we come to advertisement. Advertiser's seek to influence and inform opinion in a shamelessly biased, easily digested, and tasty way. We know it, we expect it, and we defend against it. In newspapers, they clearly flag opinions and thoughtfully label their advertising so we know to take it with a grain or two of salt.

On the web? Not so much. It's terribly easy to disguise ads as true opinions. It's sneaky, underhanded, and just good business. It works, it makes money and as long as that is true, it is unstoppable. What's a poor opinion-eater to do? How do we protect ourselves?

We use science! We keep databases of our opinions on the opinionators. We track the opinionators and log their opinions, and then serve them up in tasty info-graphics or ridiculously simplified scoring systems. We track the opinionator's street-cred, or web-cred as the case may be.

Ideally, the thought-police will track every publicly stated opinion and action ever made by anyone and let us all know about it. Unfortunately, that is a bit unwieldy, unreasonable, and creepy to boot. Fortunately, even an extremely simplified version of this information in a limited domain would still be useful. Of course, as an author, I'm primarily interested in the opinions of readers and book reviewers, so I'll explore that market.

Reviewing the Reviewers
Amazon has made a start at ranking reviewers. You can go to Amazon reviewers and see their ranking of ten thousand reviewers. They form their ranking system simply based on how many people find their reviews helpful. As I said, its a start, but it is not all that useful. First, it only tracks Amazon reviewers (reasonably enough) and second, their ranking system is opaque and limited.

It's hard to believe, but there are highly ranked Amazon book reviewers out there who dislike fantasy. Who knew? What happens when one of them is temped/tricked/coerced into reading a fantasy book? They will read it, and then write a careful and considered review trashing the poor writing and ridiculous concepts they find therein. The book gets panned, and the author slinks off in disgrace, vowing revenge against the world. A new potential, highly imaginative super-villain is born. Tragic. Not a result anyone wants.

So, what we need to see is a standardized scoring system for each reviewer. In addition to a helpfulness rank, we want to know the total number of review's they have foisted upon the world. We want to know the average score they give. We want that broken down by genre. Then, when we see this person's review, we will know if it should carry any weight with us. We could form a grid like the one below.

Reviews of My Fantastic Fantasy
Genre: Fantasy
Sub Genre: Alligators (optional field)

What does this tell us? Everything! Guess which 2 reviewers review for money. Guess which of those give honest reviews for money. Guess which one is the writer's mother or father. Guess which one is our embittered embryonic super-villain striking back at the world. Guess which one is an orthodontist. OK, so not EVERYTHING, but who cares if a reader has straight teeth?

We can take it even further if we want. We can give more weight to a person whose opinions have been rated the most helpful, collect standard deviations and come up with a single number which allows us to rank reviewers like Amazon does, though we will expose our formulas to all. We could use number theory to detect collusion like the on-line poker sites. How cool is that?

I don't know about you, but this is what I want to see as a reader and a writer. So, get out there and do it, I'm busy writing.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Read to write good

After I finished "Ghost Story" by Jim Butcher, I put down the book and wanted to read the next one. Well, old Jim's taking his good old time on that so I decided to write a series of my own so I'd never run out of something good to read. (Yeah, Yeah) When I started writing, I thought "I've read for 40 years. I know what it takes to make a good novel." Turns out judging a story is a bit different than actually creating one. Who'd of guessed? Just like it's easy to criticize The Mona Lisa (I mean, can you say 'Dark and boring?') It's hard to actually create something even remotely close. So, after I pumped out three novels in as many months (I've been a frustrated writer for a long time now) and started shoving them into the faces of everyone slower than me that I could tackle. I got lots of feedback and discovered that most of my friends can't read. Damnedest thing. I had no idea we had so many functional illiterates in this country! Anyway, from the feedback I started to get an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of my manuscripts and of how novel writing is really done. The most interesting thing is that the weaknesses that were pointed out were not a surprise. I knew it, even if I didn't let myself know it. The problem was, I didn't understand how to fix them. Since Jim Butcher is the reason I got off my butt and started writing, I decided to look him up on the web and see what he had to say about it. I found a blog of his that goes back to 2004. Even though it was probably out of date (I mean it was 8 years old!) I decided to read it. It made a terrible amount of sense. I even made this little flowchart out of what he said to show how a story should be put together. Being a programmer for decades, I like stuff like this.
So, just follow this diagram and you will make an exciting and fun book. If you feel like you'd like a little more detail, go read his blog. I also found out that Jim also took CLASSES in writing. That was certainly a novel thought for me. Get it? Novel.... never mind. As a point of interest, this info-dump really helped me understand the strengths and weaknesses in my stories. I went back, rewrote them and liked them better. My interest was peaked and my natural arrogance was spanked and sent to the corner, so I started backtracking some of the books and people Jim mentioned. I've found some really good ones. I'll be sharing them over the next few posts.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Step 1: Learn to write good!

One of the reasons I've chosen the self publishing route is the shear masochism involved with traditional publishing.  You have to have no pride and you've really got to like pain to do it.

Let's see, let's send a manuscript I've been working on for months or years to some agents, wait up to three months to hear from them as they judge your baby, then when you get the response, its NO. That's it, not even, "you suck, your manuscript is terrible, don't quit your day job", or "haven't you ever heard of a period?"  There is no way to glean any useful information out of it.  This is a system designed to cause nervous breakdowns and thumb sucking.

On top of that, the agents tell you how important it is that you spend lots of time preparing the submission. Make sure that it is EXACTLY the unique manner they request and PERSONALIZE it. Suck up to them: "Dear Editor, I love your work. I saw you on Oprah. I love the book blah blah blah..."  The implication is clear, if you don't jump through these hoops, you will get a simple response: NO.

There are entire websites devoted to reading the minds of agents on the off chance you will get a maybe.  Heaven forbid you should try to increase your chances by sending the result of your blood, sweat and tears to every agent in the world.

This is enough to put anyone with any pride on their high hobby horse of righteous anger.

Of course, after the string of soul destroying rejections, if you don't just give up,  you start trying to understand WHY they rejected your manuscript, even without any clues.  For me, I started consulting the sages, reading books on writing, sending my work off to friends and, as I mentioned before, even paying strangers to read it and give me their thumbs up or down.

Now, to be fair, I probably should have done this BEFORE,  Not AFTER being rejected.  This became painfully clear to me just yesterday as I was reading The First Five Chapters by Noah Lukeman.  Mr. Lukeman is an editor and he is trying to reveal what editors look for at first glance to relegate a manuscript to the rejection pile.  It's a really good book and it's pointers are not at all surprising after considering that a typical agent can get 20 manuscripts a day.

I plan on discussing the books and other oracles of writing quality later, but I wanted to share a quote from old Noah.  It perfectly summed up what I have been coming to realize in the last year.

"In order to even begin to learn how to play his instrument, it takes the guitarist weeks to build calluses on his fingertips; it takes the saxophonist months to strengthen his lip so that he might play his instrument for only a five minutes stretch; it can take the pianist years to develop dual hand and multiple finger coordination.  Why do writers assume they can just "write" with no training whatsoever-- and then expect, on their first attempt, to be published internationally? What makes them think they're so much inherently greater, need so much less training than any other artist"

Yep, that loud thunk you heard was me falling off aforementioned hobby horse.  I've learned a lot about the craft in the last year through books, editors and general feedback. I can't really hold a grudge against the agents and editors for rejecting my books.  But, it still would have been nice to hear why.

So, am I going to go back to traditional publishing?  Hell no, I'm not a masochist.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Paying for reviews

The basis for this blog is the assumption that 'Reviews are Important'.  If you don't believe that, then none of the rest of this is worth reading.

For me, I believe that premise. As an avid reader with limited time for reading, I use reviews to inform my choices of the next book to read.  I look at both positive and negative reviews and if they are well written, I can usually suss out what my experience will be with a book.

Amazon recently started removing reviews from its website that were paid for.  Apparently Amazon believes that authors who pay for reviews are paying for GOOD reviews. I can understand that kind of destroys the values of reviews and as a reader and writer both, I despise the practice.  But what's a new, unknown author to do if they want to get their name out there?

Traditional web wisdom these days says that you should network,network,network. Write blogs, write reviews, make friends on Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, Library Thing. That seems to be good advice as far as it goes, but if you are doing all this, how do you find time to write? What if you're not good at it?

There are hundreds of good blogs and websites devoted to reviewing books.  A lot of them have good followings and decent reviews. So why not use them?

Why not indeed.  There are a lot of lists of good review sites out there.  Several months back, I went through one of these lists and sent out about a dozen emails asking if they would review my book. Out of these, the majority didn't respond, the next largest number said it wasn't the book for them and several had posted that they already had a backlog of tens to hundreds of books.

Wow. This feels an awful lot like trying to find an agent or a publisher.  It is a degrading, dehumanizing, and depressing process. You can probably add a few more 'de' words there as well. The nastiness of this process is the whole reason tens of thousands of authors are choosing to self publish in the first place.

There may be hundreds of these sites out there, providing this extremely valuable and free service out of the goodness of their hearts and their love of books, but there are tens or hundreds of thousands of authors out there. Smashwords alone has published over 138,000 books in the few years its been around! I don't have numbers for Amazon Kindle Direct, but I'm willing to bet they have published a lot more than that.

So lets say there are 1000 reviewers with blogs out there. That means to cover the need, that they each have to review several hundred books annually - just to get 1 review per book, not to mention the books that are reviewed by several reviewers.

That is not possible nor sustainable for someone reviewing books out of love. But what if you are a book lover and suddenly someone offers you a free book and say $10 to give an honest review of their book? Suddenly you can make money providing a valuable service.  This is called capitalism.

You might even be able to make a living off of it, or, if you are an aspiring full time author like me, it's an income stream that can take some of the pressure off the need to sell immediately and help defray the thousand dollars needed hire a decent editor for your book.

I've actually been on both sides of this system.  I have been paid to post reviews and I have paid for reviews.  On both sides, its been really a great deal. Here's my dark, painful, secret: if you go look at The Dryad's Kiss on Amazon you will see about a dozen reviews.  Nine of those were paid for reviews.  Can you tell which were paid for? To me, each review captures part of the truth of my story. I think someone reading through them will get a pretty good notion what the book is about and whether they would like it or not.  In my mind, that's the purpose of reviews.

There is lots more to say on the subject which I will cover in future blogs.  Meanwhile, I'd like to hear if anyone else has other opinions on the matter.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Self Publishing Websites

On this blog, I've laid out an idea for a website that would be a central place to facility publishing high quality books - or at least books people like to read. I call it Crowdsourced Publishing.

Honestly, I haven't gotten a lot of love on the idea, but there are a lot of sites out there which seem to be groping towards parts of the idea and look useful to aspiring authors and self-publishers.  I'm just creating a list here, sometime in the future, I hope to do a more in depth analysis of these sites. These are in no particular order, I just needed to get them down somewhere.  If you have a favorite site, let me know and I'll add it here.  Or, if you know of a better resource for listing this stuff, let me know and I'll post it too.

Book enthusiast sites with access to authors
  1. - this is THE place for book fans to congregate, segregate and evaluate books they like.
  2. - competition for GoodReads with some interesting changes in emphasis.
Author support

  1. - professional organization for independent author's. I belong to this.
  2. - site where authors can critique one and others writing. Small, limited, but full of potential if they improve the interface.
  3. - site for people who just want to write.  Huge, a little hard to get your arms around.
  4. - (Harper Collins) Site to promote authors works and rank their work. They are a community writing site where everyone is enthusiastic and very responsive.
  5.  - the closest thing to a complete crowdsourced solution, but seems to be done part time bye the owners and waiting for funding.  I haven't checked in a while so this might have changed.
Publishing Sites 
  1. Kindle Direct Publishing - the first site for self publishers.
  2. - great site for easy ebook publishing - distributes your books everywhere
  3. - new kid on the block for self publishers. Feeds
Money Raising Sites
  1. - funding for just about everything. The king of crowdsourced
  2. - kickstarter for books. from their site: Pubslush is a global publishing platform for authors raise funds and gauge market viability for new book ideas.
  3.  - Seems like pubslush.  Kickstarter for books. from their site: Unbound puts the power of publishing in the hands of authors and readers. Authors pitch their book ideas directly to you
Review Sites
  1. - site for paid reviews. I've used them and gotten my money's worth. Not biased.
  2. - paid for reviews, much cheaper than selfpublishingreview, I got 10 reviews for the price of one from SPR.  They were reasonable and not biased.
  3. - Magazine for and about independant authors and their works
Promotion Sites - there are a large number of these, all clamoring to get some of the money desperate authors have to spend on their babies.  (very incomplete at this time)
  1. - online magazine for authors of fiction
Traditional Publishing Support
  1. - awesome site for people looking for support in writing queries to agents and publishers.  Very responsive and active membership

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Crowdsourced Publishing Take II

A while back I put out my idea of Crowdsourced Publishing out for public examination.  The blog got picked up by  Jane Friedman and sparked some interesting conversation but didn't start a fire.  The comments were mixed but are pretty typical of the responses I have gotten. 
It seems that the benefits of crowdsourced publishing are pretty self evident to me, but not so much with most people who encounter the idea for the first time.
The most interesting thing to come out of this for me was finding out about a website going by the name of Libboo.  These guys had already put together a site that was amazingly similar to what I had described. Even though the site lacks some of the tools I believe are needed for it to be truly useful, it was very cool. I immediately got on and tried to make some friends, but I got almost no responses on the people I pinged. Either people weren't interested or they had given up on the site. That started me thinking about why this would be.
Here is what I think stands in the way of this idea:
  1. Public awareness is the big one.  You need a large number of people to make this work well.
  2. In general I'm finding a lot of authors seem to be loners by nature and are not interested in collaboration. 
  3. The authors that are interested in collaboration have a tough time finding people who are compatible with their ideas of how a book should read.
  4. The authors who cannot even find an agent who will give them feedback jump directly to self publishing.  Why not?  When your book only costs a dollar, you can get five star reviews on Amazon, regardless of the quality of your editing.  After all, what do you expect for a buck?
  5. Serious editors already make a solid living charging one to four pennies per word to edit peoples books. That ends up being somewhere between $1000 and $5000 to get a professional editor. per book up front.  They believe that editing on spec is equivalent to working for free - which it is likely true if you rely on traditional publishing.  They don't need a solution to the problem of writers getting published because they have a word for the hundreds of thousands of wannabe authors out there:  Customers.
  6. In general, any currently published authors are not going to want to rock the boat. After all, their genius was already recognized.  Successful agents fall into this same bucket.
  7. People with existing websites have put a lot of time and effort into them so they are not inclined to change them.
Do I think this means that crowdsourced publishing is never going to fly?  Absolutely not.  It provides solutions to so many problems with the current system that someone will eventually pull it off.  It will just take a lot of serious work, luck and eyeballs.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Of Whales and Publishers

Big Publishing houses are like whales. They are massive, slow, dominate their ecological niche, and turn very slowly. For most of their history, both have had very little competition, few predators, and not much reason to change.  This was true for whales, until a fast, nimble, clever predator, from a completely different ecological niche (us) came in and decimated them.  Now, whales are in danger of going extinct.  The Big Publishing Houses are in danger of facing the same fate. For traditional publishers, the fast and nimble predator coming out of nowhere from a different ecological niche is the self-published e-book.  Many of you will be scoffing at the idea.  For decades, ‘self published’ meant ‘wanna-be’; it was the last refuge of the failed author. Others of you are saying nodding your heads saying, ‘No shit Sherlock.’  Let’s see why.

Publishing books for a living has it’s happy points and it’s sad bits.

The major happy bits for publishers? Huge demand for books, established sales channels, an aura of infallibility and, best of all, a limitless ocean of writers.  The publishers are so vastly outnumbered by the writers, that they don’t even want to talk to writers. An entire industry of well connected agents has evolved to feed the publishers, the juiciest and most nourishing, writers. Even the agents are overwhelmed by the number of wannabes. This means that authors are cheap – even with agent overhead. It doesn’t get much happier than that.

Unfortunately for publishers, the major sad bits are really sad. 

Book production is expensive – and getting more so.  It costs lots of money to get a book into eager little readers hands. These costs are growing, pushing book prices ever higher. Of course, then you have to factor in the cost of a bricks-and-mortar books store.  For them to make a pittance, they add 30-50% to the price.

 Even sadder,  by some estimates, as much as 55% of a publisher’s book runs are destroyed.  In case you didn’t know, book stores will tear the covers off of all the books that don’t sell.  They send the covers back to the publishers to get their money back and they send the books to the dump.  Really.  It is also expensive to beat awareness of new books into the public consciousness, and, until you reach a critical mass, you, sadly, have to keep beating.

It turns out that the sad points come close to outweighing the happy points. Apparently, most books lose money. That loss has to be covered by the profits from the odd best seller. That is a tough business model. 

That toughness accounts for why it is so very, very hard to make a living as a fiction book writer – why it is so hard to break into the field.  In self defense, the industry has had to put up defenses against the vast number of writers. The needed walls that only high quality or very motivated writers  could climb. They need to maximize the possibility of best sellers. If there are great books that don’t get over the wall, well it’s the price you have to pay to feed the beast. At least that was true until e-books showed up.

Happily, e-books remove the materials and the distribution costs. Even more happily, no trees are sacrificed just to be tossed in the dumpster. If that isn’t happy enough, you can get great marketing for free. So, when e-books took off,  publishers were the happiest people in the world.  Their problems were all solved and they were dancing in the street, no?  No. They were apparently confused. They adopted the ignore it and it will go away defense.  When that didn’t pan out, the more nimble ones decided that e-books were exactly like books, and the ‘e’ stood for extra profits.  Sweet no? No.  It still scares them.

Unfortunately for publishers, now anyone can get in the publishing game – for free.  With that kind of overhead, aspiring authors can charge 10% of the price for their books and make the same profit for each sale. The writer, John Locke, has shown everyone how it is possible. Check out his blog on  He recently exploded (no not literally) onto the publishing scene. He only started his writing career a couple years back.  He used social media to get his name out there and, on a shoestring budget, he sold over 1 million books. If he did it once, it is possible for others to do it too.  With no overhead, a writer can probably afford the small cost of an editor, a webpage, a blog and a twitter account.  On top of that, very happily for the writer, they don’t need to beat themselves against the publishers defenses for years, trying to get over the wall.  

The upshot is that I, and thousands of fellow wanna-be writers, are jumping in to compete with the big boys.  The publishing whales are going to be seeing fierce competition. Their very size requires them to huge numbers of books.  For us peewees, that number is much smaller and easier to obtain. Are our books good enough to compete? Can we attract readers? For the first time ever, the readers will get to decide.

Publishing steps

So, you've written a book: Hurray! (I've written 6) The hard part is done. Now you just need to get it published and watch the money and awards to roll in. You have a decision: to publish, or to self-publish.

If you want to self-publish you need to pay someone to make a great cover and then you format your document into an ebook ( or pay someone to do it ). After that, send it off to Amazon and Barnes and Nobel or Smashwords et al. If you want paper books, then you need to pay an on-demand publisher to get you copies. Now you just have to figure out how to let people know your books is available and worth reading. Twitter, Facebook and Blogger are your friends.

If you want to go the more traditional route, using a publishing company, its more complicated.

Don't bother to send your manuscript to a publisher - they won't read it. Search for an agent - but not one who guarantees you will be published or charges you for publishing! They are mostly crooks. ( or so I've been told )

To find an agent, you have to do the following:
  • Quadruple check your manuscript so there are no flaws in grammar or plot.
  • Write a bunch more stuff:
    • A one sentence summary that will make an agent see enough dollar signs to read your query letter.
    • A one page query letter of 250 words concisely and beautifully summarizing your novel to get said agent salivating. (there are websites dedicated to helping with this)
    • One or more of the following: (probably all of them- each agent has their own preferences)
      • A three page synopsis of your book which conveys just how cool your book is. It has to be concise, but thrilling, funny and moving - and told in the present tense.
      • A five page synopsis of your book which does the same thing with more words.
      • A ten plus page synopsis ( see above )
      • A 2 page, 30 page or a 4 chapter sample of your writing. (as per agents submission guidelines)
  • Send all that out to hundreds of agents - Personalized with their name and why you think their amazing agency should publish your book- unless they don't. ( read their blog carefully to find out ). You can send it:
    • By email - either always use attachments or never use attachments. Noncompliance is grounds for tossing
    • By snail mail package, including a SASE ( read each agents submission guidelines )), if you want to hear back from them.
  • Wait 2 to 60 days without bothering them with pesky inquires. NEVER CALL THEM OR THEY WILL BLACKLIST YOU!
After your wait of up to two months, you will most likely get the following letter:
Dear Author, I'm sure you are a nice guy/gal and all, and I am sure there is someone out there who would love to represent your book, and I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but it ain't us. Please do not send hate mail or letter bombs because we are nice - but overworked - people and we have children and love dogs too!"
If you you are lucky, one in ten will ask to see the actual manuscript ( or portion thereof ). So send it out, wait 2 to 60 days without bothering them with pesky inquires. NEVER CALL THEM OR THEY WILL BLACKLIST YOU!

Most likely you will get the same letter above. If you hit the jackpot, they will say, OK, you're our dude – sign this 100 page contract ( or maybe that is the publisher. I haven't gotten to this point yet )

For me, the rest of this is hearsay, but this is what I've heard said.

You have a contract! Now you are rocking! Your agent just has to find a publisher that says okay ( another 2 months ) When they find the publisher, then you are only 6-12 months away from becoming a real author!  On the bright side – they pay you somewhere between $1000 and $500,000. Guess which end of that spread you are going to land on?

Whew! Now you can get back to writing right? Wrong. While you are waiting, you need to develop your 'platform'. You have to make your name universally recognized and respected. You might get a few grand of help from the publisher, but they only heavily market the big winners. You have to figure out how to market your book and yourself.

Twitter, Facebook and Blogger are your friends.

Rinse, repeat.

Crowdsourced publishing

I have a follow on post to this one titled Crowdsourced Publishing Take II take a look at that when you are finished with this one.

As much as we (aspiring authors) tend to get joy and satisfaction vilifying The System (see my earlier post ) the problem is not really the publishing houses nor the agents that feed them, nor their unhelpful rejection letters. The problem is the sheer number of us. Just about everyone has something to say, a story to tell. Even if you only count the good ones (like mine :), there are simply not enough publishing houses, or agents, to handle them.  Traditional publishing is the dam between the great lake of writers and the vast ocean of readers. 

With the advent of real opportunities in the self publishing world, (see John Locke or Amanda Hawking or Joe Konrath for details) that dam is starting to crack.  When it finally goes completely, there will be a deluge of books flooding the reader ocean. Pushing the metaphor to its breaking point, we are going get the standard bass, salmon and trout - even the ones stuck behind the dam before - but we will also get the catfish (some people like them) the crayfish (same) the bottom slugs (ick),  insect larvae, bits of branches (huh?), and rocks.  Don't forget the mud: this dam break is going to muddy the waters something fierce.   That's going to hamper our fishing for quite a while. If you can't tell if a book is a bass or a rock, you risk going hungry.  So the question is, how do you clear away the mud and bring the good fish to the top where they are easy pickings?

The answer is 'Crowdsourced Publishing'.  OK, so back to our tortured metaphor...  no? OK, we will drop the metaphor. Reality is metaphoric enough all by itself.  Wikipedia is the original, and the most stunningly successful, crowdsourced application to date.  Its store of knowledge is staggering.  It's even got a great definition of crowdsourcing.

So how would this crowdsourced publishing work?  First, you would want it to be open and transparent, second, you would design it to be self supporting, third, you would make it as inclusive as possible.  There should be tools available that will allow any of the hundreds of existing reading/writing/publishing sites to become affiliates with the ability to participate in the crowd.

The goal of this site would be 3-fold, publish and sell high-quality books, create a reviewing and classifying system, let people who help make a little bit of money.

This site would offer membership to anyone who wants one. Any member of this site has an opportunity to participate in the publishing pipeline in one or more roles.  The goal of all these roles is to get a story published. Each person that is involved with a book project will receive some of the revenues from the sale of these books.  The roles and their percentage of the revenues from a sale would look something like this:

Role                                                    Revenue %
Writer                                      base     70%
Critiquer/Collaborator            up to     20% (writer writer can grant from their 50% (agreed beforehand)
Editor  (copy or story)            up to    20% same as above.
Pr-release Reviewers  up to    05%
Post-release Reviewers           up to    10% (anyone who buys and review’s a book gets a discount on                                                                             their next purchase)   
Website                                   straight 15% (money to run site, promote books, publish paper books.
Reader                                     gets great books.

Each member of the website would register for the roles they are willing to perform.  Authors would  put together a team to perform all the necessary roles in the publishing process. All members of the team gain reputation points based upon book sales and upon grades awarded by other members of the team.  Reviewers are graded by book buyers based on the strength of their review and by the number of people who find their review helpful.

As people perform their roles, their reputation will increase or decrease accordingly.  This means that someone can have a high reputation as a critiquer but a low reputation as an editor.  The higher the reputation, the more in demand a person will become.  As time goes on, people will get better and better feels for a book based upon the publishing team who worked on it.

 To make it work I would expect that there would be ratings given to several aspects of a book.
These might include (-5 to 5):  plot, characters, editing, voice, accuracy of reviews.

A vital function for the site would be to make it easy to find books.  People can browse by author, editor, reviews, reviewers, ratings, genre, overall sales and by keywords.  This would allow people to browse through the book lists and find ones that they might like.  This alone would help the good books get publicity.  Then the website would use its 15% to pay for the upkeep, web-guys and publicity for the site and individual books.  It would also serve as a distributor to other sites and channels for the work.

There are details to be ironed out, but something along these lines would likely be a good way to increase the quality of self-published books and allow everyone to (maybe) make a little cash on the side.  It also scales nicely, the more members, the more people who will be willing to fulfill each role, the more books that could be published.   Bottleneck gone.

What do you think?  Is it worth trying?  Any glaring holes?  Let me know.