The Plague and Power of Perfectionism

First off, thank you RMFW for inviting me to be a regular contributor to this blog. RMFW has played an important role in my writing career over the years—I’m grateful that I now get to participate with the organization in a more regular way.

Before making the switch to full time writer, I worked as a psychologist. I feel it is a career that has benefited me a thousand times over when it comes to not only my writing, but my understanding of writers in general.

Because we are an interesting bunch—on that, I’m sure we can all agree.

There are many personality types drawn to the profession of writing. A weekend spent at any writers’ conference will convince you that we run the gamut from stodgy to bizarre—and even at times evidence the ability to be bizarrely-stodgy.

I both love and find myself fascinated by writers.

In all my years writing, and talking with writers, and thinking about writers, I feel that there is one particular personality trait that has the potential to either serve you or slay you and your creative endeavors.

Perfectionism.

Now I know plenty of people, non-writers too, who tout their perfectionistic ways and natures. They love their highly controlled world of “just so” and “the right way” because it lines up, is correct, and runs from A-Z with an exacting precision that smacks of I’m in control.

Because who doesn’t like to be in control?

Perfectionists strive for the flawless.

Perfectionists hold themselves and others to incredibly high, sometimes impossible standards.

Perfectionists are often thought of as extremely conscientious and “ideal” by society at large.

The problem with this character trait, frequently praised and even admired by those of us less perfectionistic by nature, is that it can also hold you prisoner. When it comes to going after your dreams, perfectionism can jail you for a very long time with no hope for parole.

Because the simple truth is that no one, not even you, is perfect.

No.

Not even if you catch all the typos.

Not even if you see the every flaw.

Not even if you clutch with white knuckled fists to all the rules.

Perfect is not realistic, sustainable, or even happy. It is a world where there is no room for mistakes even though mistakes are a vital component of the learning and growth process.

Perfectionists sometimes measure themselves and others, a person’s worth as an individual, by their accomplishments. Perfect is usually a horrible judgmental harpy—most often looking in the mirror, probably harder on themselves than anyone else.

Perfect is also, and probably most importantly, the killer of creativity. It will always talk you out of trying something outside the box. Taking that risk. Daring to try. You may even feel like a slave to your own exacting judgment. Never free to take a creative risk. Terrified of “others” who you fear will condemn you and your creative choices just as harshly as you judge others.

As harshly as you judge yourself.

Many writers who struggle with this can often point a laser at what is wrong with other people’s work, but are incapable of committing their own story to the page because they may never allow themselves to be vulnerable enough with that horrible first draft.

Now if you happen to be a perfectionist, the news isn’t all bad. In fact, you have some amazing strengths and rightly deserve all our admiration and acclaim, once you can wield that X-Acto knife instead of being kept hostage by it.

Mistakes are not bad; they are how we learn.

Allowing your flawed work a place to exist in your world is how every writer starts any book, short story, narrative poem—you name it. Struggling past flawed to better is how we grow as writers. Not a one of us is fully formed.

Perfectionism is a powerful tool, so use it to serve your purposes.

Writers in particular can benefit greatly from their exacting attention to details when counterbalanced with allowing themselves creative freedoms first. It can be a gift, but only if you’re in charge of it. You need to use it instead of allowing it to keep you from trying.

At best, the perfectionist can unleash beautiful and mighty work into the world.

And at the very least, you’re already most editor’s dream.

Rocky Mountain Writer #41

Angie H
Angie Hodapp

This week on the podcast, a two-part preview of Genre Con, a day-long educational event taking place in Golden on Saturday, May 14.

First up is Terri Benson, who serves in a dual capacity as RMFW’s Western Slope liaison and education chair. Terri provides some insights into how Genre Con will run and what attendees can expect from both the morning group session and the afternoon breakout sessions.

Following Terri, Angie Hodapp (Nelson Literary Agency) provides a sneak peak of the morning session, "The Right Stuff – Opening Pages that Lead to Yes."

 

 

 

Terri Benson
Terri Benson

RMFW Genre Con Information

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

The New(ish) Medium for Sharing Ideas … is Medium

“Welcome to Medium, a place where great ideas come from anywhere, and quality is what matters.”

If you haven't heard of Medium (that's http://medium.com) , you might want to check it out just because it's there. The site is more than just a collection of diverse blog posts and essays, but I won't go into a lot of detail here because it's very easy to cruise through the "About" section of this site and get all the information you need to build a reading list and to post  your own essays on almost any topic you can imagine...if you decide it's worth your time and effort.

First you sign up.

Then you identify your interests.

Pick a few familiar names to follow.

And wait while Medium builds your reading list.

This can take a long time if you click on as many interests as I did, so you might want to start with a tiny sampling. You can follow more authors as you  read recommended posts. You can also unfollow authors and topic tags as you become more familiar with the site. Most of the people whose posts I read were unknown to me, but that didn't make them any less interesting.

Once you figure out how it all works, including the responses, cross-linking with followers, and highlighting (to recommend), you might decide to write your own story. Click on the "Write a Story" link at the top of the Medium page you're on, and go. But remember, this is not a closed venue where you're just chatting with a few folks. When you post here, you're posting to the whole wide world.

“Medium is a free and open platform where anyone can come to express themselves. We’ve built a world-class editor up to the task: simple, clean and beautiful. Writing has never been this fun.

Medium is the easiest, fastest way to create a beautiful story with seamless integration of photos, audio, and video. You can share from anywhere.”

I will caution you to be selective in who you follow and the topics you choose. Like any other social network, there are participants who have more fun trolling for victims to insult and shame than engaging in intelligent discussions. But as with other venues, there are rules. I'll hang around Medium for a while just to read articles and responses. I'm not sure I'll ever use the venue for publishing essays or articles. We'll see how it goes.

Please note: This is not a recommendation for you to sign up and jump into the Medium pool. I haven't been exploring the site long enough to do that. Exploring the site, however, has been fun so far, and I did post my photo and a short bio. As I wandered through the recommended articles, I found  Ted Talks, the Washington Post, and PBS NewsHour. There were some good humor articles, including a tongue-in-cheek post on the snarky article one must write upon leaving Medium. I got the impression leaving Medium is relatively common. And I discovered a lot of folks had signed up on Medium but rarely or never posted articles. I even found a couple of folks who are RMFW members, so I hope they'll leave a comment with their own impression of the site and whether it serves any useful purpose to us writers.

We can't jump willy-nilly onto every new social or info-sharing site that pops up on the Web, but it's good for us to know what's there, what's working, and what has been a dismal failure for those who tried the site out. I don't know which of these applies to Medium yet, but if anyone else knows, please share in the comments below.

What Do You Do When It All Falls Apart?

Photo from Morguefile.com
Photo from Morguefile.com

What Do You Do When It All Falls Apart?

Cry.

That’s the whole post.

Okay, not really.

If you stick with this writing gig long enough, sooner or later everything’s going to fall apart around your ears. That’s not pessimism talking—it’s just the way publishing goes. Although, if you’re really, really lucky, maybe it won’t happen. Honestly, I hope it doesn’t. I hope somebody out there gets to have a happy, untroubled writing career.

I do know that person is not me.

I contracted my first novel in 1999, and since then I’ve had more publishers disappear under me than I care to count. Right now, I’m waiting to hear if Samhain Publishing is actually going to disappear or if there’s going to be another solution. I have seven books there. Weirdly, when the initial announcement was made that they were going out of business, I didn’t panic. Instead, I started thinking about options. I had a book out on submissions at the time, and within the next few days, it came back with yet another rejection. Which surprised me, because I really thought this was going to be a book with a wider appeal. Apparently not. But that’s life.

So what do you do when publishers disappear? When nobody wants to buy the manuscript you were sure was going to be your big break into mainstream publishing? When the manuscripts you do sell are selling in single figures on a reliable basis?

Well, you can quit. Or you can not quit.

Thing is, writers are the most stubborn creatures God ever invented. And if writing is your thing above all things, you’re not going to stop. You’re going to keep going. And going, and going, like that stupid bunny with the drum.

But should you keep going on the same path? Maybe, or maybe not. It’s my thought that if you start to feel like you’re slamming your head into a wall, then it might be time to reevaluate.

No, not quit. Reevaluate. There are so many paths to publication nowadays that it’s dizzying. If your quest to crack into traditional publishing is making you want to play in traffic, maybe it’s time to try something else. I’ve been focused on small press publishers, and I’m thinking it might be time to dive really hard off the board into the deep side of the pool of self-publishing. (Was that a good metaphor? It felt a little forced…)

So I’m reevaluating right now. I’m planning something new with the manuscript that was rejected (it’s been rejected several times). And I’ve got a few new projects that I’m thinking about tailoring to a focused self-pub effort. I’m also revamping my websites and trying to build some social media infrastructure to support those efforts when I get the stories finished. I’m also trying really, really hard to rewire my thought processes so I can set my goals according to what publishing is like now instead of what it was ten years ago. It’s a never-ending process.

So what should you do when it all falls apart? Cry if you want—sometimes it helps. Eat chocolate. Take a long, hot bath. And then get back to work.

Do I have to be sad? … by Nicole Disney

2016_Nicole Disney_Author PhotoI used to think that the best writing sprouted from suffering. Whether being depressed makes you a good writer or being a writer eventually makes you depressed, I did not know, but I knew there seemed to be a link. We've all been told that if we don't have to be writers, don't, right?

The words I heard alongside “writer” were words like struggling, complicated, haunted, damaged, and poor. I didn't think that was all bad, necessarily. I thought it suggested a more authentic connection to life, required more soul searching, and that it yielded deeper truths, friendships, and experiences.

For a long time, my writing seemed to be proving this idea true. All my best work was the stuff of heartache. It was stronger, more vivid, insightful, and emotional, while the things I wrote during smoother parts of life felt flat and routine. Creating stories that shared pain, betrayal, and rage with the reader felt more intimate. Everyone is willing to share a happy moment with the world. It's much more meaningful to share the failures.

I thought I had it all figured out. The theory was put to the test when my life started to change. I came out, rather uneventfully, as a lesbian to my family. I married the love of my life. I got a job that paid more than enough. The only thing that wasn't going right was that I was having a hard time producing writing I liked. Again, I thought the theory of the tortured writer was proving true. I was too happy, surely that was it! I simply didn't have so much to say anymore. When I tried, it sounded watered down.

I attempted to pull myself out of it. I tried to read all the great authors, journaled, outlined, started new stories, abandoned them, read my older work, listened to music, discussed religion and philosophy, roamed the streets of downtown, anything and everything I thought might inspire me. It still felt flat. But surely you don't have to be the alcoholic writer stereotype to have something meaningful to say, right?

I tried to pinpoint a time that I was both happy and writing well. It brought me instantly to falling in love. Sure, during that time I mostly produced mushy poems, lyrics, and love letters, not novels, but they did have that quality I felt I had lost. They had strength.

Misery and falling in love. What about the two put me in a better state to produce quality writing? They do have something in common. They are consuming. When you feel them, you feel them with everything. The sensations are so powerful that the details are etched into our bones and a writer need only whisper of them to share the experience.

Maybe good writing has nothing to do with being happy or sad, but is more about being fully engaged in the moment, being engulfed by the beauty of whatever is happening now. It's about noticing the things that slip by when we forget the value of every second. It's about the intensity life can hold when the mind isn't shuffling through the past or organizing the future.

Often when I am reading and have to pause to admire the craftsmanship of a particularly beautiful passage, it is about something ordinary or even mundane. Many times it is that fact alone that stops me. I find it magical when a writer captures something so perfectly that he or she reveals to me something about it I would never have thought to note, but instantly recognize.

This is what happens when a writer is present. Engaged. Mindful. It is more than considering each of the five senses and jotting something down just because that is a habit we've developed. It's about breaking the illusion that anything is routine, normal, or dull. It is about not going into autopilot. Everything about experience, positive or negative, is a wonder.

Sometimes struggle and depression keep you in the moment. Sometimes love and joy do. But so can everything in between with a little, or maybe a lot of effort. A writer's life doesn't have to be great or terrible, it just has to be lived.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Nicole Disney is a literary and contemporary fiction writer with a love for exploring the dark and controversial corners of life. Her debut novel, Dissonance in A Minor, was published in 2013. Nicole lives in Denver, Colorado and is also a 911 call taker and police dispatcher, a career which provides her with many quirky characters and situations.

The Craft Corner with Guest Jason Evans

If you’re reading this, congratulations. You’ve overcome that raspy, small voice in your head telling you not to write your story. Telling you that your dream of writing and publishing is a fool’s quest. You have also overcome those well-meaning people who tried to talk you out of it.

You: “I’m going to write a book!”

Friend with blank stare on their face: “um . . . Really?”

You: “Yup! I’ve had this idea in my head for a long time and I am going to turn it into a book!”

Friend rolls eyes: “Oh please. Do you know what the statistical chances of actually making money are?”

That person may be sincere in their desire to save you from pain and suffering. Or, they could be a jerk. Either way, you’ve ignored them and decided to press on. Good for you!

But writing a book is hard work. You have all these scene’s floating in your head. You’ve got side characters to flesh out and fight scenes or love scenes to describe. It’s an exciting time!

I want to encourage you. Keep writing your story. But right now you need to stop and listen to me.

Your memorable characters, the unique plot twist, the heart pounding car chase through the Vatican. None of it matters if your prose get in the way.

I am talking about simple sentence construction. Subject, verb & prepositional phrase.

Look, if you go to your favorite search engine and ask “How many words are in the English language?” You will find a website called languagemonitor.com, which states there are 1,025,109 words in English.

Holy crap. That is a lot of words!

A large part of your writer’s journey will be figuring out what words to use and what order to put them in. That is sentence craft.

Here’s some basic tips I have learned as I have improved as a writer.

1.) Less is more.

When writing, be as impactful as you can with the least amount of words. An example:

John was running through the field, trying to avoid the police who were running after him.

Now compare that sentence to this:

John ran through the field with the police close behind.

I don’t know about you, but the 2nd sentence is clearer, more concise. It conveys the same information as the first one, but is easier to read.

2.) Avoid conjunctions when you can.

I grew up believing conjunctions were awesome. Big, cumbersome compound sentences sounded awesome to my teen-aged mind. Now they sound convoluted. Take a gander at this.

Mary got back into her car and drove to work at the job she hated and dealt with her cranky boss who would be angry with her because she was late.

I know it’s a run-on. But look at this this one.

Mary got back into her car. She drove to the job she hated knowing her cranky boss would be angry with her. She was late.

Three perfectly good sentences out of that compound sentence mess.

3.) Avoid the word was whenever possible.

Now I’m not saying was should be banned from the language. There are times when it is appropriate to use. However, it can be a crutch.

She was going to go out with Robert, but she cancelled due to illness.

This isn’t a bad sentence, but I think the next sentence is better.

She wanted to go out with Robert, but she cancelled due to illness.

By changing the tense and replacing was with wanted, I gave you a little clue into the woman’s thinking. She did want to go! Before, you had no idea on her thoughts about Robert. However, in the second sentence, you at least get a little clue.

4.) Make your special words special . . . by not using them.

When I was an undergraduate, I used however, in all of my English and History essays. After about four or five papers, Dr. Mueller sat me down and told me to stop. It was getting annoying. I took a perfectly good word and over used it. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. The word however, was now my crutch. For the rest of that year I allowed myself only one use of however per paper.

You should do the same with your favorite words, too.

I love the word verdant. While working on my manuscript, which is set in Tudor Ireland, I only used the word verdant twice. This was hard because if verdant ever fit a place, it was Ireland. But limiting myself to two uses did two things. Chiefly, it forced me to use other words to describe Ireland’s green hills and valleys. More importantly, when I did use verdant it had the emotional impact that I wanted.

Sentence craft is important to fiction. It can take an interesting story and elevate it to something memorable. I encourage you to find out as much as you can about writing better sentences every day. Start out by buying a little book on grammar. If you have the time, take a class at your local community college on writing. Whatever you do, don’t give up.

Remember, writing is a craft. You can and will get better at it.

 

Jason Evans PhotoJason Henry Evans

Like my author page on Facebook at Jason Henry Evans.

Or, follow me on Twitter @evans_writer.

Read my blog at www.jason-evans.net

 

 

Less Than a Month Until Conference Registration Opens

RMFWConference_Chalkboard_getreadyforregCan you believe it? There’s less than a month before registration opens for the 2016 Colorado Gold Conference.

In this month’s conference post we want to let you know about a few new events along with a reminder about our usual programming. Some events are free and others are paid add-ons with limited space.

Make sure you register early to take full advantage of everything the Colorado Gold Conference has to offer.

New! Blue Pencil Café with Keynote Speaker Robert J. Sawyer
Meet with keynote speaker and best-selling author Robert J. Sawyer for a 15-minute Blue Pencil Cafe. Bring up to four pages from your manuscript for a cold read, if you wish. Or use your one-on-one session with Robert to ask questions and receive advice about your work or publishing in general. Space is limited.

One-on-One Critique with Keynote Speaker Ann Hood
Schedule a critique session with keynote speaker and best-selling author Ann Hood. During your one-on-one session, Ann will provide a personalized critique of your work-in-progress. Space is limited. Submit 10 pages by July 1, 2016.

One-on-One Critique with Freelance Editors
Freelance editors Jessica Morrell and Jeff Seymour are available for a limited number of one-on-one critique sessions. This is a excellent opportunity to find out what it’s like to work with a professional editor. Or, if you’re having issues with your work in progress, they can help you get over the hump. Submit 10 pages by July 1, 2016.

One-on-One Pitch Sessions
Every attendee may register for one free 10-minute pitch appointment with an attending agent or editor. At the time you register, you may choose three acquiring agents/editors. We then do our best to schedule your pitch session with your first choice of agent/editor. You will receive your pitch appointment in your registration materials when you arrive at conference. If you are missing your appointment or unhappy with your assigned agent/editor, see the pitch scheduling volunteers to resolve any conflicts. Additional pitch appointments are also available on a first-come, first-served basis. Make sure you check in 5 to 10 minutes before your pitch.

One-on-One Pitch Coaching Sessions
Many authors have written great work, but they don’t know how to convey their concepts in a short, intriguing pitch. Or maybe the idea of attending a pitch session scares you to death. If this sounds familiar, add pitch coaching to your registration. Susan Spann and Heather Webb are back by popular demand and are joined this year by Angie Hodapp. Schedule a Friday afternoon session with one of these ladies to practice your pitch. A fifteen-minute session will help tighten and pump up your pitch before your appointment with an agent/editor. These sessions are only $40 and well worth the increased chances you’ll be asked to submit pages.

Agent/Editor Critique Round Tables
These round table critique sessions are monitored by an attending agent or editor. Sessions are offered Friday morning and afternoon, and tables are open to 8 critique participants and 2 auditors. If you register as a critique participant, you will submit the first ten pages of your manuscript, plus a one-page synopsis of your story, to be critiqued by the agent/editor of your choice as well as by the other participants at your table. If you register as an auditor you will only observe; you will neither submit pages nor offer critiques to participants. Participants will receive further instructions once their registration is confirmed. These sessions are a $40 add on. Deadline to register and submit pages is July 15, 2016.

Master Classes
Master classes are back this year and expanded for more offerings. These classes are four hours in length and provide more specialized instruction on writing and the business of being an author. This year’s classes are scheduled for Friday morning and, based on attendee feedback surveys, we're adding a Saturday morning and afternoon class as well. The fee to attend a master class is $60. Space is limited.

NEW! Hook Your Book Sessions
We all spend countless hours perfecting our book summary for the cover copy, online bookstores, and query letter because first impressions count. Without a hook, a reader will pass your book by. That’s why we’ve added a new event to this year’s conference. Hook Your Book is a free thirty-minute opportunity to run your book summary by two experts in your genre. In fact, it’s a little like speed-dating for your book. During conference registration, you’ll request a Hook Your Book session and will be asked for a genre preference. When you check in at conference, your envelope will contain a Hook Your Book appointment. Check with the scheduling volunteers if you have a scheduling conflict and need to reschedule. Additional Hook Your Book appointments may also available on a first-come, first-served basis. Make sure you check in 5 to 10 minutes prior to your appointment.

NEW! Mentor Room
This year we've added a room for one-on-one mentor sessions with an industry expert. Book 20 minutes of coaching on things like your cover copy, query letter, a specific scene in your work in progress, publicity, and marketing. The Mentor Room is also open to ask legal questions or make other publishing inquiries. We will have more information about this event in next month’s conference blog post along with a list of scheduled experts. As this is a new program, we're making appointments available for $25 each. Book early, appointments will be limited.

Birds of a Feather Genre Chat
Back by popular demand! Birds of a Feather sessions are an opportunity for authors to gather and discuss trends, challenges, and other opportunities specific to the genre in which they write. This year we have a room devoted to Birds of a Feather sessions all day Saturday and Sunday morning. At the time of this blog, this year’s confirmed Birds of a Feather genre chats include mystery/suspense, romance, western, horror, science fiction/fantasy, young adult, and historical fiction. Sessions are open to all attendees, so get there early to make sure you get a seat to take part in the discussion.

NEW! Post-Panel Book Signing
There will be signing table outside the bookstore this year. Authors who are also presenters will be available to answer questions and sign their books for a short time after the completion of their session. Authors will also be at the table in the morning, during the lunch break, and before evening meals.

Professional Headshots
Schedule a 10-minute photo shoot with photographer Mark Stevens, RMFW volunteer and owner of a Denver-based communications firm. Mark takes thousands of pictures every year for a variety of clients. We are lucky to have him conduct photo shoots for us again this year. Schedule a casual session during the conference or pre-banquet (in your fancy duds). The price for a photo shoot is $40 and includes photo editing and large-size files for all your publicity needs. Expect delivery within two weeks following conference. Appointments will be limited, so sign up early.

Workshops & Panels
As usual, we have an amazing lineup of workshops and panels. Improve your writing skills, learn about publishing options, better your marketing plan, and more. You’re sure to leave this year’s Colorado Gold Conference with a brightened outlook on your career.

Lastly, we want to mention that the Conference Brochure and At-A-Glance will be available soon on the Conference Page. The Conference Page is the hub for all information about pricing, keynote speakers, agents, editors, special guests, and other important information about conference. It is updated regularly.

If you have any questions about conference, email us at conference@rmfw.org.

Rocky Mountain Writer #40

Betsy 2Besty Dornbusch &
"The Silver Scar"

Betsy Dornbusch writes epic fantasy. She has also dabbled in science fiction and she has written and published short stories that have appeared in over a dozen magazines and anthologies. Her first fantasy novel came out in 2012 and her latest trilogy is wrapping up, after Exile and Emissary, with Enemy, coming soon. She just announced the sale of a new standalone, The Silver Scar, to Night Shade Books.

On the podcast, she talks about the draw of world building and writing fantasy, she reveals the moment on a trip to England that sparked her writing career, and she talks about the benefits of writing short stories as a way to hone your craft.

Betsy Dornbusch

Night Shade Books

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

Fraud Spotting

Various conversations around the internet lately have made me think that numerous misconceptions exist about self-publishing. One of the odd confusions seems to center on what’s known as Yog’s Law—a rule originally laid out by SF writer James D. Macdonald stipulating that “money flows toward the writer.” Specifically, some people find it confusing because the self-published author pays for publishing services instead of getting an advance. Many feel that it this violates Yog’s Law.

I think the breakdown comes by not understanding that a self-published author needs two hats. He or she wears the Writing Hat while creating the manuscript. The author must still pay out for writing implements and such, but the expenses aren’t terribly onerous even when buying a new computer every few years. When the manuscript is finished – that is, when it’s had a couple of drafts, perhaps been seen by a few beta readers, and had a spell check or two run on it – then the writer takes off the Writing Hat and puts on the Publisher Hat.

Publishers have to invest in order to produce a book. They hire editors. They hire artists. They hire layout people and book designers. Some even publish catalogs and hold up release for months while they wait for the stars to align and their promotional efforts to take root.

It doesn’t matter if you’re self-published or being served by Orbit. The process remains the same. Some self-publishers invest in skills, knowledge, and tools that help keep their direct costs low, but they follow the same path.

More than a few people have suggested that this investment on the part of the publisher means that money does not flow to the writer if the writer self-publishes his or her opus. Certainly the hats occupy one head, but not at the same time. Writers and publishers play different roles with different expectations in the creation of a book. Writers invest time and effort. Publishers invest time, effort, and money.

Writers recognize this when they pursue contracts with publishers. They don’t want to incur the direct costs of publication. They choose to reach the market indirectly, trading direct production costs for a percentage of future earnings. They want the publishers to invest and a portion of the the revenue money flows toward the author.

The fraud comes in when unscrupulous operators inject themselves into the process.

Some of these bad actors literally hang out a sign telling the potential customer that they’re going to cheat. They put themselves forward as “self-publishing companies” – the moral equivalent of Dante’s admonition “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.”

The diagnostic definition of a “self-publishing company” is “a publisher that publishes only one author’s titles.” Typically, the same person who wrote the story runs the publishing operation which the phrase “self-published” implies.

Most of the bad actors follow the same patterns. They charge an exorbitant upfront fee for services like editing, cover design, and marketing – which is where the “money flows to the author” caveat actually applies – but then they fail to support those promises. They run a spell checker and make a pass with a grammar tool for editing. They use a default cover design which attracts more derision than attention. They’ll put an advert on a web page that nobody ever sees as a marketing plan, then place the books in various online bookstores at prices that all but guarantee no sales. They fulfill the letter of their contracts while charging the author for the privilege. They do this because they know the book will never earn them any money in sales so they have to get it up front.

By comparison, some companies provide self-publishing services. These companies may broker an editor and cover artist for a small finder’s fee. They may offer layout services. They’ll charge a one-time fee for their services and return the completed files for the owner to publish. Any company that keeps the file and publishes it is a publisher. Period. Beware of those organizations that claim otherwise.

Vanity presses can be a little tougher to spot, because too many people don’t understand how much it costs to publish a book. Historically, vanity presses left the author with cases of books that cluttered up the garage or basement with no hope of selling. Today, these houses don’t make it easy by claiming to be a “self publishing company.” They offer al a carte services at the same high levels as the straight-up scammers. They ask the author to pay the upfront investment for producing the book and add a hefty commission for undertaking the work. They frequently offer additional services like promotion and web pages. They then publish the books—again with stupidly high prices—and often claim the lion’s share of revenues leaving the writer with an empty wallet and no book.

Straight scoop. You can self-publish a high quality book in both ebook and paperback for less than $2000 in direct costs. Very good freelance editors charge around $1500 for a novel length manuscript. You’ll pay a bit more if you need development as well as copy editing. Excellent cover art costs much less than $500. With a little ingenuity and elbow grease, you can do the ebook layout yourself. Creating a well laid out PDF for print-on-demand publishing takes a bit more effort but it’s not rocket science and free tools exist to handle the conversion.

It’s not like these resources are hiding. The best way to find an editor is ask around. I have a couple I regularly recommend — same with cover artists. Some of the same editors and artists that work for the Bigs — or used to — are available for indies to hire.

While you’re considering publishing your next work, remember that the money flowing toward the author comes from the publisher even when you publish it yourself. If your publisher cheaps out on production costs, you’ll ultimately pay the price out of your writer’s wallet, regardless of whose head wears the Publisher Hat.

Image credit: Pictures of Money
Licensed under Creative Commons-BY 2.0

The Changing Face of Entertainment

Netflix just premiered a new sitcom (sort of, more of a situation dramedy) from the makers of Two and A Half Men called The Ranch, and the reviews of it set me thinking. I watched the show before I read the reviews and I found it funny, fresh, thought-provoking, and original. The reviewers I read (about seven) didn't like it. I'm not going to get into why (I'll start to rant about political correctness and the new Thought Gestapo and all that, and that's not what this post is about.) The important thing is that the critics, to a one, missed the entire point of the show and why it's good.

Having lived in Colorado, where the show is set, I know a lot of rural people like this. The critics clearly don't. Like most who live on either coast they have no clue who people in the middle states are. There is a segment of the country to be served by a show like this, who have minimal interest in shows by Hollywood scions who assume everyone lives, speaks, and thinks like them.

The Evolution of ManI submit that a show like this is perfect for a new, wet-behind-the-ears, upstart entertainment source like Netflix (new in the sense that they have only been offering original programming for the last few years.) Netflix is more interested, at the moment, in building a viewer base than they are in bowing to convention. So shows that the networks and cable cabals who think they rule the industry would never green-light are getting made and broadcast anyway.

Likewise the recent boom in electronic publishing has allowed for the publication of books that the big New York/Los Angeles publishing houses would never consider. They are getting distributed, read, and enjoyed by thousands. Add POD (print-on-demand) services like Amazon's CreateSpace.com, and suddenly the market is being flooded with books that would otherwise never see the light of day. And I'm surprised to say that as far as I can tell, for the most part the quality remains relatively high, considering how abysmal many predicted it would be.

It's the great democratization of the entertainment industry. No longer are a few gatekeepers with a whitewashed point of view about their industry the final say in what the public gets to choose from for their entertainment dollar. And many of these electronically published books have gone on to great commercial success as well (most notably 50 Shades of Grey and The Last Ship.)

So while the sudden opening of the floodgates has many feeling overwhelmed and afraid that their book will never be seen or read amid the cacophony of other books suddenly flooding the world, I submit this is a good thing. The industry is changing (perforce) and change is scary. But another equilibrium will be found eventually, and in the meantime we are witnessing evolution first hand.