self-publishing

Taylor Swift Is Alright With Me

I like Taylor Swift and I’m not ashamed to say it.

I don’t, in fact, think she writes bad music. I like her tunes, I rock out to them all the time, and her Bad Blood video was everything, dahling, just everything.

Does she sometimes come across as the branded version of every good American girl a good American guy ever lusted after in a John Hughes movie? Sure. But it’s not her fault she happens to be blonde, talented and beautiful. And good for her, she also comes across as someone who has a sense of humour about herself and doesn’t really let what others think of her change what she likes about herself. As a feminist, I enjoy seeing a young woman move through the world confidently, living life as exactly the kind of woman she wants to be, and although the music industry famously warps everyone, Taylor still seems to be the same kind of likable girl we met when she was in her teens, despite the best efforts of most tabloids. In that, at least, she has beat out Miley, Lindsey, Hilary and a bunch of others.

However, what really made me like her recently is her stand against not being paid for what she does. Few artists have used their likability and success to actually stand up for principles that benefit the little guy. Most just use it to bankroll themselves. But twice now, Taylor has taken a stand against systems in the music industry that don’t pay performers properly for music. Withholding her massively popular album has served to spotlight practices at Spotify. And now, she has done the same thing with Apple, who intended to withhold royalties from artists whose tracks were downloaded during a user’s free three month trial period. Her latest stand against Apple was brilliantly explained. Apple does not give away its services for free, so they should not ask performers to do so. Only someone possessing no heart could fault it.

I never thought Apple had a heart (or rather, if it had one, it was a monstrous, misshapen entity, made up of the madly beating nerd hearts that gave out while standing in line for the newest variation of iPhones and iPads). But heart or not, they actually responded to her elegantly stated position by changing theirs.

This is big. Really big. Because for too long now, the internet has encouraged an entire generation to believe that entertainment should be free. Piracy is rampant in the music, publishing and film industry and in order to combat it, some industry leaders have tried and failed to plug leaks, while others have simply made as much content as possible free, at least for a time.

Giving away work for free is not a solution. What it does is enrich corporations, who can wait for profits, while seriously hurting artists, who are often on the bread line before they see a penny back from those long hours in a garage putting together demos and tracks. In the case of writers, it takes years to get novels done, and we already get paid a fraction of the sticker price of our own work unless we jump on board the Smashwords and Apple train, or sell our soul to sites like Amazon.

Problem is, Amazon is also a big company who can wait for profits. So it does things like arbitrarily reduce royalties on audio books after buying up Audible. Or change the rates on a programme because writers, you know, joined it. It can change the way it decides to price or market your book in KDP select without any consultation.

This basic disrespect of content creators comes in part from the false ideas that everyone can be a writer, and readers will pay for any book because they don’t care where they came from, they just care about the book. That’s not true anymore, if it ever was. Frankly, not everyone can be a GOOD writer, and most readers would like to pay for something that’s good.

There is some evidence that ebook sales are leveling off. More importantly, self-publishing and making money from it are not, and have never been, the same thing. Still, every writer should choose the path to publication they are most comfortable with because every path has drawbacks and positives. For me, not getting paid has never been something I’m comfortable with. I love writing. I want to do this full time. But I have a family who depends on me. If writing doesn’t pay my bills, I will have to try something else and let writing remain a beloved hobby. I’d rather not do that.

The creation of content, written, audible or visual, demands real money, time and work. Just because you can get something without paying, doesn’t mean it cost nothing to make. Artists deserve to be paid for it the same way everyone else gets paid for their work. Deciding that because it’s on the internet it should be free is simply a way of saying you don’t care what it takes to create content and you don’t want any more of it. If you like something, the only way for an artist to produce more is if they can feed themselves and their family doing it. If they can’t do that, why should you expect them too keep feeding your hobby? To keep entertaining you for free?

So I’m with Taylor. If you want to give people a free trail, do so by all means. But bear the cost yourself. Don’t ask artists to do it. If you want to enjoy an ebook, or music, or a film, consider buying it first. Respect the creator enough to acknowledge their right to earn a living from their own work.

But if you really can’t do that (writers and musicians are just a subset of broke people, after all), then at least advocate for what you love. Help boost the signal. Leave reviews for books on Amazon and Goodreads. Tell friends about your favourites. Someone with the money to buy the product might see your review and give a new artist a chance.

Support your habit. Support artists. Pay it forward. Because I suspect Taylor Swift is totally down with that too.

Taylor Swift Zendaya animated GIF

Stay thirsty my friends!

Kameron Hurley Gets Real With Writers

I read this piece today at Chuck Wendig’s blog. It said what I believe about the writing business, but in a much more elegant way. There is, for example, a reason I called it a business. But when award-winning writer Kameron Hurley says it, it sounds so much better.

Must be that whole ‘award-winning writer’ thing.

Seriously, I wish every author would read this article and take note.

After reading that, I meandered on to this article, also a guest post by Hurley. This one really hit home, particularly since I’ve just published a book myself, quickly realising the things she spoke so eloquently of here.

I think every writer should read this article too. Because it’s inspirational.

I’ve been psyching myself out over a bad review here and there, and fretting over my lack of success, as I saw it. But recently, my sister helped me put some things in perspective. She reminded me that even when things were darkest in my life, I kept writing. Now, at the beginning of the writing career I’ve always wanted, I’m talking myself out of doing what I’ve always loved because of my doubts.

Talk about acting senselessly.

This is the one thing I’ve always come back to. The one thing I feel I can do better than most people. Something I love to do. And I’m actually talking myself out of it because of some misguided sense that I haven’t achieved anything.

Kameron is raw and real here and she shares some really personal things.  Thank god she talked about how important persistence is. And how it’s really not about getting to the top, because there is no top. There is simply the journey.

That made me remember that I decide what success is. I am the one who can stop me from achieving. No one else. If I want to continue writing, I can. I just have to remember that it’s all about action. I can’t write if I don’t write. And if I want to do this for a living, I can’t not write.

So I’m going to write.

In Her Own Words – Meet Lex From My Novel LEX TALIONIS

I posted this a while back on Angela Highland’s website, but I’ve had a few more followers drop by since then, so I thought it might be a good time to repost it. 

Without further ado, here’s Lex. And no, she’s not your average girl…

I would introduce myself, but I don’t know my name.

My life began a couple of weeks ago, when I died in the Emergency Room of the Mathis Clinic on the planet Serron. My doctor, Colin Mayfeld, was about to write his final report when a little humanoid alien broke into the room, sat on my chest and brought me back with one touch.

I don’t remember any of it.

I don’t remember being in an alley near Bradley spaceport,  even though that’s where I was found, barely alive but still breathing. An unconscious girl in a bloody spacesuit, with no ID chit.

I don’t remember talking to the alien when  it brought me back, but Dr. Mayfeld says I did. The funny thing is, he says I didn’t speak Universal–I spoke Latin. And I asked the alien for help.

I’ll have to take his word for it. About what I said, that is, not about speaking Latin. I know I can speak Latin because I have had the same phrase going round and round in my head since I was able to make a coherent thought.

Lex Talionis. The law of retaliation–of revenge.

That’s the other thing I know.

I want revenge.

Someone killed me. Someone beat me, tortured me, raped me and left me for dead in an alley. Someone is walking around out there thinking I’m gone and never coming back. Some bastard thinks my story is over.

Well, it’s not over.

I’m not an ordinary girl. I’m healing faster than Dr. Mayfeld expected. I’m getting better every day.  It’s because I’m an N-gene. I was genetically engineered in vitro to be smarter, stronger, faster. Whoever did this to me might have over-powered me once, but they’re never going to get that chance again.

I’ve given myself a name–Lex. And I have help. The alien that saved me can’t speak, but it’s still with me. I think it knows something. I think it can help me remember.

Dr. Mayfeld is doing what he can too. He has friends who might be able to assist the Troopers as they investigate the attack on me. There are ways to work on getting my memory back. He’s going to do whatever it takes to help. I don’t know why he cares. But he does.

I only care about a few things right now. I care about remembering my past. I care about being fully healed. And I care about finding who did this to me.

Because when I do find them, I’m going to make them wish to all the Gods in all the galaxies that they had killed me right the first time.

Cover - Final

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, Amazon

Really, Amazon, really? This is what we’ve come to?

I won’t even bother to talk about the absurdity of trying to rope indie and self-publishers into your argument with a publisher they have NOTHING TO DO WITH. Smarter people than I have already done that.

And this is a reader’s perspective on this. If you have problems with the profane, you may want to avert your eyes, but she makes some really salient points.

I will say one thing. One last thing about this silly, never-ending story of two big companies throwing tantrums all over the book world.

Amazon, if you really believe that books will sell best at $9.99 and Hachette doesn’t want to give you the prices you need to do that, you should pick one of the two choices you have and run with it.

Let them swing by their own petard–after all, they’ll sell less if they price the book higher, according to the figures you won’t provide the metadata for. This will work out great for you as you will get all the sales they so foolishly left behind.

Or stop selling Hachette’s books. Since they won’t play ball with you, exercise the Walmart option and just take your business to the cheapest bidder.

Aside from these two options, I really don’t see what else you hope to achieve. Dragging indie authors into this mess is stupid. And I would add, I would LOVE for Hachette to keep selling at a premium. Readers will pay more for JK Rowling anyway. But my book might get their attention on the day they only have seven bucks to play with, and I’d like that to continue.

One thing I know for certain. As an indie author, I’m not interested in letting ANYONE set my prices for me. Nope, not even you and not even if you gave me the metadata to prove their figures. As the content provider, I will set my prices and let the customers decide what they want to pay, and they speak very clearly without any help just by walking on by when they don’t approve, thank you very much.

So put your money where your mouth is, Amazon. After all, if you’re sure you make more money at $9.99, then let Hachette eat cake. What do you care? You make 30% either way. And we’ll see the truth of it in the lowered profit reports next year, right?

Yeah, I probably won’t hold my breath on that one.

Popcorn dis gon b gud reaction gifs

Opening Lines

Chuck Wendig frequently posts some of the funniest, most helpful writing blogs on the internet, and he has no problem encouraging writers to come together on his site to trash out common issues either.

Recently, he had a fun challenge about loglines and I posted my own and had loads of fun reading others. After that, he asked everyone to post the opening line of their Work In Progress (WIPs), and help each other critique them, so I jumped in again with both feet.

It got me thinking about how one size does not fit all. The short grabby first line is great, but not all stories need that or should begin that way. There’s a lot to be said for opening lines that gradually draw the reader in. After, nobody picks up a book to read one line, so why act as though that opening line is make or break? It’s the knob on a door, and you have to get people to turn it. Nothing more, nothing less.

So without further ado, and just for fun, I’m posting the opening lines from three of my novels, and you can judge for yourself if I live by my philosophy.

Do  me a favour and post your opening lines in the comments too. I’d love to read them. It’s just for fun–no critiquing by anyone unless you ask!

“Death came for Michael while he slept.

He woke, gasping and trembling, from a dream of being pushed out the airlock. His fingers were cold and numb; the weight of his head on his arm had cut off his circulation. Michael sat up, wiping sweaty strands of hair off his forehead. Shifting his feet out from under him, he cursed as pain lanced up his leg.

Shit. I fell asleep. I can’t sleep. How long was I out?”

Excerpt from ‘Lex Talionis’ – Space Opera Mystery 

“Princess Viyella of the Court of Hamber, Divine Spirit of the Six Queendoms and future ruler of the High Court of Dun, stuck out her tongue at her exasperated personal bodyguard.

“And if I do not choose to go?” she asked taking another backward step up the crumbling spiral stairs to the tallest, oldest tower of the High Court.

Dagen Kemp only just managed to keep his hands by his sides instead of snatching the precocious six year old over his knee and spanking her.

“Queen Elise has requested that the Princess be taken to the baths in plenty of time for the festivities this eventide.  The Dowager House Mother has indicated her readiness to assist you in your preparations, so the Princess must come with me immediately.”

Excerpt from “The Hand of Gaia” – Science Fantasy

The technician screamed, the smoking stump of his hand smearing his lab coat as he held it to his chest.  Through watering eyes, he looked up at the two soldiers standing over him, their faces hidden behind the wavering diamond reflection of distortion masks.  The ship’s flashing emergency lights limned their black armour, turning the figure-hugging contours scarlet, then black, then scarlet again.

He could smell his own flesh cooking, and vomit scratched at the back of his throat even as pain tore his nerves to shreds.  If he turned around, he knew he would see what was left of his hand lying on the floor of the corridor behind him.  But there was no point in turning around.  His hand was gone for good.  And he was a dead man.

The one on his left lowered the massive lasrifle to his waist, still keeping it at the ready.  The soldier on the right held his weapon with the business end pointed at the floor.  The soldier was silent for a moment longer, apparently studying the tech, though it was hard to tell through the distortion masks.

“Are you ready to speak to me now?” he intoned, his voice flat and expressionless through the mask.”

Excerpt from “Warrior” – Science Fiction 

Stay thirsty, my friends!

 

To Read a Lot…Or Not

My sister and I were talking about series today because our beloved cousin who happens to be a librarian called for advice about what to buy at the bookstore. Her only caveat? No series. She had been devouring a lot of YA for some time, and was all tapped out on multiple book stories.

This got me thinking. I sort of knew where she was coming from. Growing up, I couldn’t really afford to buy books. The library was my almost sole source of reading material. But it was hopelessly outdated. That meant, if  a book was part of a series, I was highly unlikely to ever find any of the others, or more than a couple or so of the sequels / prequels. In fact, they were so behind, it took a recent Google search for me to realise that one of my favourite series I thought I’d read the entirety of as a teen actually had another book I hadn’t read because the library made no mention of it.

So I have a great appreciation for writers who tended to do stand-alones, like William Goldman or Stephen King, or writers like Ed McBain, whose 87th Precinct novels could be read out of order without feeling like you missed important stuff.

Still, I read a lot of series growing up, and I remember enjoying them all and actively wishing there were more books. I cannot tell you how depressing it was to get to the end of every Sherlock Holmes story ever written. It seems a lot of people agree with those sentiments because a recent poll I read said that most people (more than 50%) like reading series. And my debut novel is actually the first book in a series (I hope!), so I’m certainly not averse to them.

And yet…

I think writing a series now is a big risk. Readers probably are getting fatigued. Every YA novel is part of a series now, it seems, and even romances are getting in on the act. Slyvia Day or E.L. James anyone? I can see how someone would get fed up of having to wait years to get to the end. Am I right, Song of Fire and Ice fans?

So to try and address the things that concerned me about recent popular series, I decided to try and write one that, much like Ed McBain’s work, could be read as stand-alones. Each book would resolve the central plot question and action so that the reader can move on having read the beginning, middle and end of a story. Sure, I end it in such a way that you know more is coming and hopefully, you’ll want to check out what comes next, but it was important to me make sure you got the answers you tuned in for in this book.

Another big risk in writing a series is the whole ending thing. I mean, I may be wrong, but it seemed to me that when I was growing up, a series ended very satisfactorily for the most part. Now, I think most series hit their best book around the second novel, and sort of take a dip by the end. See Hunger Games or Divergent, or even the very beloved Harry Potter. They were all very popular, but I think a lot of fans could talk your ear off on how to improve the endings.

The reason the end of a series might not quite live up to the books that came before could be because when a book is popular now, millions can obsess about it 24/7 on multiple social media sites, and find millions more people to exchange theories with. With all that written down, creating hype and a huge excited din, can any writer really live up to the shared thoughts and expectations of millions of minds?

Or is this recent perceived failure due more to the fact that writers have less support in creating their books now. Gone are the editors who were willing to mold and shape a career and an author. Now, there are publishing houses just looking to turn as quick a profit as possible, or writers who started out on their own, and because they found success, are left to their own devices as an independent money-making machine and expected to be the arbiters of their own work entirely, whether they switch to traditional publishing or not.

I think a lot of writers could really benefit from some editorial guidance when they are starting out, and most publishing houses simply don’t do that any more. Independent authors sometimes shun that guidance, or they try to pay for it, in which case, they get the luck of the draw depending on what they can afford.

It’s a conundrum I wonder a lot about because I’m both a reader and a writer and the thing I would love to see most is quality books out there that end as spectacularly as they begin, no matter if they’re being published traditionally or not. Nothing would make me happier than to have people read my books, get to the end of the series, and say, ‘Wow, I never saw that coming. That was SO much better than I imagined it would be. I don’t want this story to end.’

I think most writers want to do this. But how do we get there in a world where criticism can go viral in a matter of hours, and everyone seems to be trying to take the same path to success, sometimes to the detriment of originality and freshness? I mean, how many love triangles in post-apocalyptic YA do we really need? Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with such a set-up, but in the last year I read Hunger Games and Fifth Wave and a bunch of books that feel like varying degrees of quality in a very similar storyline.

What do you think? Do you think there are too many common trends in multiple book stories? What are you tired off? What can’t you get enough of? As a reader, do you think it’s still worth it for writers to do multiple book series? Or are you ready to set a dragon on the whole bloody pile of them?

Wut confused reaction gifs

The A word – Amazon and Publishing

So I just read this amazing, thorough report in the New Yorker about Amazon, it’s history, and the issues surrounding its ascent in the publishing world.

I followed that up with this insightful addendum by the author, George Packer, a short companion piece that is refreshing in its thoughtfulness. 

I think these articles are really important reading to get an understanding of why the publishing industry and Amazon are at such loggerheads. I am not one of those persons who thinks of either traditional publishers or Amazon as the devil, and I’ve certainly given self-publishing some thought, but in the end, I went with a small press for my debut novel. This article helped articulate some of the reasons why I hesitated to jump on board the Amazon boat.

I just think that as a distributor, Amazon does a bang up job.It has certainly helped writers get to readers and get paid way better for it. It has bought a lot of positives to the industry. But we can’t just gloss over the negatives. And none of that, good or bad, means it knows a thing about what makes a good book. I don’t think Amazon should be in publishing until it actually gives a crap about the books as content.

Writers using Amazon to earn a living wage–I’m good with that. But inserting yourself into every area of the creative process so that you become the only money-making game in town–not so cool with that. Just because you sell plants doesn’t mean you’re going to be a great gardener.

Thoughts?