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Friday, May 5, 2017
Many of my readers are themselves aspiring authors, and I am often asked for advice or insight pertaining to how they can “make it” as a writer in the indie world. I try to be helpful. But more often than not, what I have to say is nothing new. Good cover, professional editing, catchy blurb, networking through social media, etc. As much as this is all true, it’s nothing they can’t find out from other sources. In fact, there are far better sources for this type of information than me; people who use the various avenues of promotion to its uttermost. My methods are rather simplistic. They are certainly no secret.
If you do intend to give it a go as an indie novelist, there are some things to watch out for. The indie world is riddled with scammers and snake oil peddlers ready to exchange bogus and frequently harmful methods and products for your hard-earned money. It’s easy to fall prey to these charlatans and, if they’re good, hard to ferret them out.
Here are a few things to look out for, along with some things you can do to avoid being taken in:
1. Guarantees. There are none. If someone tells you that they can guarantee you even a single sale, they’re lying. In any business where you offer promotional services, you can only go by past performance. They can provide data such as the size of their mailing list or estimated readers they can reach. But they cannot tell you how many will buy your book or that you will hit the top 100 lists. All ads and promotions are risks. Anyone who claims otherwise is full of crap.
2. Testimonials. These can be easily faked. Check them out thoroughly. Not only can the authors be either misquoted or the blurb simply made up entirely; it could also be a sock puppet and the person not even exist. Not all testimonials are fake. In fact most are not. But it’s easy to do, and few people bother to check out their validity.
3. Money up front. Recently, I’ve been hearing about people becoming part of box set anthologies. There is nothing unusual about this. I’ve been in a couple of them myself. But I was never asked to pay up front to cover any costs. And I licensed the rights to my work for a limited time only. If you are asked for money up front you are not dealing with a reputable individual. It’s normal for someone to recover their costs via royalties earned. But it is never acceptable to ask a writer to pay for these beforehand.
4. Beware of cultism. It’s perfectly normal to look up to another author, or aspire to achieve what they have achieved. And there is nothing wrong with singing the praises of a promotional tool with which you have had success, or someone who has helped you along. But remember that you are not dependent upon anyone for your success. Nor do you owe anyone anything other than kindness and consideration. Do not get sucked in to a situation where you are asked to behave in ways that go against your morals and ethics because you think there is no other way to attain your goals, or you feel indebted. Remember that you are the reason for your success or failure. No one else.
5. The exposure con. Many an aspiring novelist gets talked into giving away their work for exposure. I’m not talking about perma-free. I mean periodicals who ask for content in exchange for exposure. It’s usually crap, and almost never has the desired effect. If someone wants your content, they can pay for it.
6. Undercharging. There are some great promotional and editorial services with solid reputations and good track records. They provide services without wild promises, and let you know up front what you can expect and what you are getting. The thing is…they cost money. Quite a bit of money. Discounts appear good on the surface, but in this business, you get what you pay for. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
7. Vanity Press traps. If you are paying to have your book formatted, edited, proof read, and a cover made, you are an indie. You have no need for a vanity press. They try to come across like they are offering products and services that you cannot access on your own. Some even make claims of getting your book seen at expos or stocked in bookstores. This is not the case. There is nothing a vanity press can do for you that you cannot do yourself.
Moreover, they overcharge the hell out of you for what is generally substandard work. I know I mentioned undercharging, but overcharging is just as common when dealing with these people. Take the time to learn the business and the trade skills. Go online and find tutorials on formatting and interior book design. Or simply find a reputable company who does it for a reasonable fee. You should never receive less than 100% of your royalties if you are the one paying for publishing costs.
8. Toxic forums. These can be just as dangerous as scammers. Disappointed and bitter people often invade what starts as a positive and valuable source of information and turn it into as cesspool of bad advice and negativity. They prefer commiseration to information. They do not truly want to hear of your achievements. They would much rather wallow in shared failures. It validates their point of view that they did everything right, and it was the stupid, blind, and otherwise unworthy world that didn’t recognize their genius. Stay away from these places. Becoming a writer is hard enough without this in your life.
I hope this helps you navigate the wild and wonderful world of being a novelist.
Monday, March 20, 2017
When I first began my journey to becoming an author, like all those before me, I had visions of fame and riches running through my head. It didn’t matter that the odds were heavily stacked against me. I was what you might call, a ’true believer’. I would succeed where others have failed. I would be the exception rather than the rule. Well, in my case, it actually worked out.
But there was a period of time when my faith was shaken; when I thought that maybe things wouldn’t go according to plan. People weren’t lined up around the block to buy my book. And I began to considered that maybe it wasn’t as good as I thought it was. Nine months had gone by, and I was no closer to achieving my goals than the day I wrote the first line – or at least that was what I thought. What I know now, that I didn’t know then, was that I was laying the foundation for what would later become a fantastic career. But that’s another story.
Thinking I was just spinning my wheels and not knowing what to do next, I was about as vulnerable to scams as I have ever been in my life. Fortunately, my career took off before I fell victim to the scum who prey on the dreams of the hopeful. But, as I am sure you are aware, many aren’t so lucky.
Recently, I saw someone post on an online forum an offer that, to me, sounded too good to be true. Claiming best seller status with millions of copies sold, this person listed what on the surface appeared like the greatest offer an aspiring writer could hope to run across. It included everything from multiple email blasts to tens of thousands of this authors loyal fans, to professional covers and editing. Hell, you even got to talk to this person once a week, and go over strategies and receive help with your story – from a NYT BEST SELLING AUTHOR. I mean, wow! Who wouldn’t want that? Isn’t that worth a scant $1300?
The answer is no. It’s worth a lot more. And that’s what made me suspicious. Editing alone from a reputable editor can cost more – for just one book. And even premade covers using stock art run over $100. And this person was saying that they would produce three manuscripts, edited, formatted and ready to upload.
And then there’s the mentoring. I remember the thrill I felt the first time I had a one-on-one phone conversation with Michael J. Sullivan, then later Hugh Howey. I had been on a radio show panel about the different stages of publishing. It was me Hugh and Michael. The only reason I was there was because I knew the guy running the show. Afterward, I contacted Michael and Hugh and asked them for a bit of advice. Both were very cool, and graciously gave me some of their time. Afterward, I was over the moon with excitement. So, the idea of a weekly conversation with the top tier author would be extremely enticing.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this person can back up the claims. The post was anonymous, so it’s not like anyone could dispute their story. But it smacked of a scam. It is pricy enough so that a writer with a day job, trying their best to break through, might think it’s legitimate, yet cheap enough that it’s not out of the range of affordability.
To put this into perspective, I spend between $3000-$5000 on a typical release. This includes editing, covers, formatting, and proof reading. This does not include marketing and promotion. That’s ONE book. Not three.
Were I to offer a comparable service (which I would never do), I would have to charge roughly $10,000 just to cover my own costs. This is taking into account that as my name and reputation would be on the line, the work would be professionally done by the same people who do my books. And that’s where I think part of the scam is. For $1300, I could easily do a quick edit, a premade cover, and format a manuscript. I could even farm out the work for about $500. But it sure as hell wouldn’t be professional quality. The rest – the weekly conversations and mentoring…window dressing.
What I’m trying to say is that there is no easy way. The better something sounds the more likely it will turn out to be a scam. I know it can be hard to resist the urge to believe. But before you make the leap, take a minute to think. When people offer their services, they do so with the expectation of a profit. If what they are offering simply doesn’t add up, there is a good chance you’re going to end up the victim of a scam.
Friday, February 17, 2017
Thursday, February 16, 2017
As I am weary of turning on the television and being frightened out of my wits by one news alert after another, I have decided to focus on getting healthy – both mentally and physically. The mental part is a challenge when you sit at a desk all day basically talking to yourself. But I am finding time to step away and enjoy the quaint little town I call home.
Fairhope is…well…imagine if San Francisco and Mayberry had a love child. Nestled along the banks of Mobile Bay, it’s one of those places that you see in postcards, but know that it couldn’t possibly exist in real life. The people are friendly, the streets and buildings immaculate, and being in the Deep South, the weather allows you to enjoy the amenities almost year-round. The downtown boasts dozens of boutiques, eateries, a mom and pop book store, and even a small museum where you can learn the local history.
Down by the bay is a pier where one can fish, go out to dinner, or just take a stroll. When I was a kid, we would walk to the end and watch the heat lightning illuminate the thunderheads far off in the Gulf of Mexico. It was our own personal fireworks display. And it seemed to always be there to show off for us when we came. I remember once, when I was about nine, my uncle took me there fishing. No sooner had we baited our hooks when he dropped an extremely nice pocket knife which he had just bought that very day into the water. I’ll never forget the look on his face as he stared down for more than a minute. Bob has a calm manor about him. But I think he wanted to scream bloody murder at that moment. Occasionally, I’ll walk to the spot where he dropped it, wondering if it’s still there. But the water is too deep and the bottom too soft for me to ever try solving that particular mystery. From downtown to the bay, Fairhope is a town stuck in time. Some of the buildings are different and there are some new shops. But it’s more or less as it was when I was a child. And yet there are changes which I find unsettling.
Where once Fairhope was a well-kept secret populated by a small number of long-time residents, who although a bit set in their ways, maintained the town’s charm and beauty, it is now bursting at the seams with newcomers. Just finding parking can remind me of the years I spent living in New York. In the outlying areas, new subdivisions have sprung up to accommodate this influx of people. New schools have been built (my old high school is now the elementary school). And the small festivals have turned into major public events. Still, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, you can stroll down main street and window shop until your heart is content. And if the heat is too much, sooner or later a cool breeze from the bay bearing just a hint of salt and honeysuckle will be along to make it all better.
As for the physical…not nearly as quaint. I’ve been going to the gym and “sweating to the oldies”. Once upon a time, I was in very good condition. No more. I’ve become a doughy, middle-aged man who looks at a flight of stairs with dread. I have a long road ahead of me. But I didn’t get this way overnight. So, it will take time. What I am looking forward to, is when you start actually feeling good after a workout. Not feeling as if I just finished working at a Roman quarry under the relentless crack of a whip; every muscle aching and head throbbing to the beat of my heart. Two months, I’m told. I can hold out that long….I think.
In any event, it’s better than watching the news.
Saturday, February 11, 2017
This post will be short. And though it may sound political, I assure you it is not.
As a writer, I am a staunch supporter and advocate of free speech. For me, it is the well-spring from which all other freedoms are drawn. Without it, I would not be able to create. Rather, I would have to conform to a prescribed format that fit the narrative of those who have decided for you and for me what may or may not be said and heard. Great stories would have never been told. Entire genres of literature would not exist. Music and art would be lifeless and uniform. But it goes deeper than the aesthetic.
Without free speech, there is no innovation. Science and technology are based on ideas and flights of fancy. And when minds are stifled and ideas controlled, the imagination required to turn mere concepts into world changing advances evaporates. There is no moon landing, cell phones, personal computers, internet, GPS, quantum mechanics, cosmology, medical breakthroughs, or any of the thousands of things we have come to depend upon and that make our lives both richer and longer.
It is a challenge to listen to speech you find repulsive and offensive. But if my right to free speech meant I had to listen attentively for an hour every day to someone who makes my blood boil and my skin crawl…I would suffer it gladly.