Thursday, January 20, 2011

Have it the way you want…

I was doing some writing and banging out all these terrible, filthy, sexy words on screen. And the things the characters were doing to each other? Most interesting. As I wrote I thought back to when I started this writing gig. Then, I was subbing only to one publisher. Why? I was dumb and new. I’m still dumb but older. Anyway that publisher had strict rules about what words could be used to describe sex and other stuff. ‘Dick’ was never to be used to describe a penis. And ‘baby’? That wasn’t a term of endearment to them. They considered it somehow pedophilia to have the characters say something like -“Baby, I love you.”

That publisher was very limited in their views. I believe it was because they were the big fish in a small pond and they had power over the e-book erotica market. A lot of writers feared their wrath and were too scared to do anything but follow rules. Of course now the e-book pond has grown and multiple new publishers have arisen changing the market even more and for the better. How so? Competition. It’s a great thing. There are new genres, more open minds about the everyday reality of language and the use of words and bodies. It also means writers don’t have to agree to blindly follow the management of one mob. They can pick and choose who they send their work to and – more importantly – 99% of the time they can write the way they want without their ‘voice’ being changed to fit some publisher diva’s personal belief. Creativity should never be packaged in a box because someone says so.

Amarinda Jones
Penn Halligan
Be an Amarinda book

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Reinventing the Publishing House

It’s the 17th. Oh wait, that was a couple of days ago. I will hit my scheduled slot one day!

My first collection of short stories is still ticking up the odd kindle sale here and there. I’ll get the full breakdown when I get my quarterly statement next month. I anticipate I won’t suddenly be catapulted into the echelon of writers making a killing from ebooks. These things take time, patience and a hefty dollop of luck.

And backlists. I’m certainly not sitting still there. I have a second collection of stories coming out next month and I signed a contract for a third collection last weekend. That’ll arrive to shock and arouse at the appropriate time of Halloween. Hopefully they’ll all bump each other.

Contract? Publishing date some way off in the future? That doesn’t sound like the typical self-pubbed story.

That would be because I’m with eXcessica. Selena Kitt started it out as a co-operative venture for her and other writers to get their ebooks up on fictionwise. Since then it’s morphed into something resembling an indie publishing house. Recently, Joe Konrath talked to Ridan Publishing, who’ve done something similar in the fantasy genre. In future, I think we’re going to see a lot more ventures like this.

A frequent gripe levelled at big publishing is that the relationship between house and writer has become purely parasitical. The talent-scouting has shifted to the agents and the marketing and promotion has been shunted onto the writer. Now that the ebook explosion has blown all the gates down, the big beasts have effectively outsourced themselves to eventual extinction. Whether they adapt or collapse to a whinging death is up to them.

That’s not to say publishers are completely superfluous. Yes, a writer can do everything themself, should they so desire, but it’s a damn sight easier to borrow someone else’s expertise for some of the tasks, especially when taking the first baby steps.

I didn’t do the cover for my first book. I didn’t do any of the fiddling to get the ISBN or bash it into any one of the multiple file formats ebooks sell in. I didn’t put it up on all the other bookselling websites that exist alongside Amazon (many of which I hadn’t even heard of before). I didn’t send the book off to a list of cultivated review sites (hopefully, some will recover enough from the trauma to write nice things about it). I have Selena and the good folks at eXcessica to thank for that.

I think we’ll be seeing a few more ventures starting out this way. Someone will know someone who’s good at creating book covers. Someone else will have researched the markets. Someone will know the techy stuff. Then, bang, they’ll all be pumping out books like crazy and laughing all the way to bank.

Some of them may eventually become the new behemoths of the future...

M.E. Hydra

Thursday, January 13, 2011

#5 Self-Editing: Do It and Do It Again...

This really isn’t a topic that needs a bunch of explanation. Short and sweet covers it.

Edit yourself.

Read your work. Set it aside. Read and edit again. When you are done that, if you want to go balls to the wall (and you should) read your work out loud. Why, you ask? Because your ear will hear the wrong word used when your eye supplies what it knows you meant. Your brain and your eyes are in cahoots and one will stick up for the other to a fault. Your ears are all rebellious and whatnot.

Your brain will show you, quite often, what you meant to type as opposed to what you wrote.

Case in point:

The other morning I typed an email to the man. I had had about three sips of coffee, there were two children arguing over the size of their bacon and who had more juice and a dog who kept standing between my feet because he thought he might also get some bacon.

This is a typical writing situation for me whether it’s an email or a chapter or a whole damn book. And I bet I’m not the only one! So here is what I meant to type:

We had a power issue last night after you went to bed…

I scanned my email and hit send, happy in my knowledge that I had done a good job explaining.

Two minutes later I got an email that said:

Pour issue?

I reread my message and (sadly) I had actually written:

We had a pour issue last night after you went to bed…

Believe it or not, this happens more often than you think. You mean coffin and you sip your coffee and write coffee. You mean your and type you’re or vice versa. Your brain will often show you what you know you meant. So if you read your work aloud you catch those coffees, yours, and pours. Your eyes might tell you it’s fine but your ears are all: “Say what?”

After you do all that reading, what now? Have someone you trust read it if at all possible. And then when they’re done, you read it again.

That’s really not a hard step in the self publishing effort, but it’s one that’s often skimped on. Trust me, I’ve gotten to this point from being told about typos, mistakes and errors that have been missed. On books I was certain were clean!

And no, you probably will not catch them all. Hell, I have found doozies in books put out by huge publishing houses for huge authors. Books you just know had to filter through a dozen or more people. So doo-doo still happens, folks. But if you are vigilant and careful and thoughtful, there will be less doo-doo to deal with.

Which is always a good thing.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Amazon Book Banning Irony

Have you heard the latest?

Mark Twain, who once wrote that "the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter” will now have the “N” word replaced with “slave” and the word “injun” replaced with “Indian” in his book, Huckleberry Finn. Oh, the irony.

Amazon, who came out and said, Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable. Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions” removed not only the infamous ped0phile book that the statement was made in reference to, but then went on to begin removing books they deemed in violation of their “content guidelines.” Books involving incest disappeared. On December 13, 2010 a search result for Kindle books tagged with “incest” returned 650. As of January 5, 2011, that number had dropped to 511. Books involving bestiality were the next to go. Then they removed two gay male books that simply had “rape” in the title.

Oh the irony.

The L.A. Times did an interview recently with Russ Grandinetti, the “head of content for’s Kindle business,” wherein he reiterated Amazon’s mission statement: Our vision is [to make] every book ever written, in any language, in print or out of print, all available within 60 seconds.”

Oh, Russ. Do you really expect us to believe that? Oh the irony.

I finally had a non-conversation with an Amazon Executive Customer Service representative in regards to the removal of my three books - Back to the Garden, Under Mr. Nolan’s Bed and Naughty Bits. I call it a non-conversation because we had to talk around their definition of what would or wouldn’t violate their “content guidelines” – she told me that Amazon refused tell me why my books were removed, now or ever.

Okay then. At least I was on the phone with a person, right? I decided to get as much information as I could, hence the talking in circles.

What I did gather is that Amazon has no intention now or in the future of making those horrible vague “content guidelines” any clearer. They will also continue removing material as they see fit, notifying authors and publishers after the fact, and not telling them how or why they violated the aforementioned guidelines. While the Amazon CS rep wouldn't confirm or deny the reason that my titles had been removed, when I asked if "all titles that violated the content guidelines in a similar way" were going to be removed, she confirmed that yes, that was their intention.

When I asked if Amazon had any intention of removing books that violated their content guidelines in other ways, she said that while they would exercise their right to revisit their policy, she thought it was now pretty well set. Of course, that was before the two m/m “rape” titles were removed.

Oh the irony.

I did also point out that in their letter to authors and publishers, they state:

“Please note that if you continue to submit content that violates our content guidelines, we may conduct a general review of your account. Actions resulting from such a review could result in a termination of your account.”

Um, really? How can an author or publisher know if they are submitting content that violates any guidelines if Amazon refuses to specifically state what those guidelines are? Thankfully, the CS rep saw reason when it came to that and she agreed that she would be looking into getting that statement removed from the letters.

Small consolation. It doesn’t really solve the problem.

I have said before and I’ll say it again – I have no problem with a company deciding what they will and will not sell, but I do have a problem with the way Amazon has handled this.

They could have come to the publishers and told them about their new guidelines, given them time to prepare their authors and make other arrangements. Anthologies that contained offending material, for example, could have been reworked and re-uploaded instead of being removed, without any penalty in loss in ranking.

Instead, they’ve clandestinely removed titles, informed authors and publishers days or weeks later, and most importantly, refused to tell anyone what they’re doing or why.

They should, in my opinion, be clear about what is and isn’t acceptable. This “ban as we go” way of doing things is just going to move from one hot button topic to the next. If you’re a business, and you’re going to make a policy, then make one.

Readers and authors have a right to know where Amazon stands. That’s just good business.

Most publishers (and Amazon is a publisher now, whether they like it or not) are clear about what they do and don’t accept. This is even more true for erotic publishers in the ebook world. At Excessica, we’re very clear about what we do and don’t accept:

No sexual situations featuring characters under the age of eighteen
No bestiality (fantastic creatures exempt)
No necrophilia (fantastic creatures exempt)
No incest

Yes, we added that last guideline recently, thanks to Amazon’s ham-handed censorship tactics. We have caved and self-censored in anticipation of Amazon’s rejection of future work. It’s unfortunate – and I’m sure it’s exactly what they intended.

I’ve also personally self-censored my books, releasing a new version of Under Mr. Nolan’s Bed without the father/daughter incest titled, “Plaid Skirt Confessions,” and a different version of Naughty Bits without the sibling incest titled, “Foreign Exchange.” I’ve clearly stated in the descriptions that they are reworked versions of the originals, so readers will know.

Oh the irony.

So now we’re in the business of censoring ourselves. Big Brother has won. But at least we are clear about what we do accept and what we don’t!

See, Amazon, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

There is another ironic twist in this story. Since Amazon banned my books, my sales of one of my banned titles (Under Mr. Nolan’s Bed) is now in Barnes & Noble’s Top 10 Pubit Titles. Should I say, “Thank you, Amazon? May I have another?”

Or perhaps the next twist will be that B&N and other vendors will start banning books from their sites, too. I’m afraid we’ll have to wait and see what the next ironic twist in this censorship story will be.

Selena Kitt

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Thoughts on Self-Publishing

First of all - Happy New Year! 

Lately, I've been reading Joe Konrath's blog on self-publishing as well as all the entries here to get a handle on marketing strategies and I've started to peruse the places where readers are, like the Amazon boards and Goodreads. 

In my excursions, I happened to stumble upon some interesting looking blurbs for free self-published
e-books and decided to read some of them.  Unfortunately, a couple of the stories I chose weren't up to par, they needed a good editor, one to tell the author that it was NOT ready for publication.

I found a few that were good, but more often than not, the freebies that I pulled up were a mess -loaded with back story, cliches, detailed descriptions in places that slowed down the action and most of all - passive voice.  I found myself skimming through these not ready for prime time items and as a writer, that is so not the point.

So the advice that I am laying on the table for those looking to self publish - if you can't find or afford an editor, get a good critique partner or become a member of a writing group - and float your wares there before you slap them out for public consumption. 

You want someone that will beat you up for the holes in the story AND tell you where you're doing things right - not someone that will praise your writing without fail and definitely not family or friends, because let's face it, they don't want to hurt your feelings. 

It is hard to find a good, honest critique partner - just like it is hard to find a good editor, but it will pay off in the end.

On that note - I'll bid you all farewell till next month. 

Until next time,

Monday, January 3, 2011

Author Productivity

My latest obsession is productivity for authors, specifically speed. I know I’ve mentioned this one way or another on my own blog as well as the Indie Reader blog, but right now it’s pretty much the main thing on my mind.

I’m doing another one of those sabbatical/radio silence things because all or nothing works best with me when it comes to staying off the Internet and getting work done. When I’m going all over the Internet making super long posts on people’s blogs, it tends to drain the crap out of me. Then I get cranky and stop getting writing done. If I don’t totally disengage I go to emo-crazy level and it *might* be mildly entertaining to watch, but it’s not fun to experience.

But I won’t slack on the commitments I already made, so... here I am. And now I get to share my obsession some more. Yay.

So this speed thing... it really fascinates me. And I guess it’s because I’ve had many experiences where I had one view and then suddenly I realized my view was completely wrong. And it was like reality just sort of shifted. It’s a surreal moment. So when I figured out I was conflating writing speed with consistency, it really threw me for a second.

I think most writers have a speed of writing that they are comfortable with, and a certain word count they can do in a day and then after that it starts getting a lot more difficult. For me that writing speed is about 1,000 words in a day, though I’ve done more in a day, it’s usually uncomfortable. On a really good day, where everything is just flowing and I know exactly what I want to write that day, I’m done in 30 minutes, and that’s awesome. Most of the time it takes closer to an hour, but it very rarely takes me longer than that.

The problem was that I wasn’t writing every day. Nothing close to it. I would go months at a time where I wasn’t writing anything new at all because I was editing or focusing on some other part of writing/publishing that didn’t involve putting new words on the page. Then this idea sort of crawled into my brain and wouldn’t go away... what if I could be consistent? What if I could write 1k words a day? In a year that would be 365,000 words. For most people that’s 3 or 4 books, depending on what length they write at. For those who write novellas or really short novels, it’s more.

In writer-world, laziness is rewarded in some sense. Writers who are very prolific and turn out a lot of work in a short amount of time are looked on with suspicion. That work must suck. We’re trained to believe that at MOST a writer should be doing one book a year. There was a time when I thought producing one book a year was a “treadmill.” And I think it was less about how long it takes to actually write a book, and more about the fact that most people seemed to think 2 books a year was “cranking it out” and unreasonable.

And for some, it is. I have an indie author friend who has three jobs. I don’t know how the hell she writes anything at all. I don’t think I’d have the energy for it. But I think when you get to the point where writing is your job, and that’s all you’re doing, you should be able to consistently write SOMETHING every day. Or at the very least 5 days a week.

The more you write, the stronger your writing gets. The stronger your writing gets, the less editing you have to do. If you hate editing, that’s a real motivator to write every day. Because the better you get, the less of that you’ll have to do.

When you’re still in the early learning stages of your craft, yes, a book a year seems insane. And it’s because of just how much work it tends to take to get an early book into publishable quality (and sometimes it’s just impossible... it’s like polishing a turd.) You just have to keep practicing and writing and get those million words under your belt.

Once you get those million words written, the concept of writing faster shouldn’t be as scary. If I'm not to a million, I'm pretty close. I'm not saying I don't have a lot of growing to do as a writer. I think we should always be looking to improve. What I'm saying is... I've written enough that I'm no longer a total noob. And I've written many novels I will never publish because they were just too rough.

I don’t think we should look on authors who “crank out” too many books as just churning out crap simply because they’ve got a strong work ethic. This isn’t to say that writers who write slower or less consistently are “lazy” in the larger sense. Many writers work very hard on editing and promo and etc. I think for some reason, though, a lot of writers seem to want to do anything they can to avoid actually writing. But those who have sat down and done the math and know how long various word counts take (though it does vary from person to person, I’ll admit), know that putting out a book a year or two books a year, just isn’t that taxing at all. Exceptions of course for those who have full-time careers in some other area taking up all their energy. Then it's naturally significantly more difficult.

If I can produce 4 books in a year (in rough draft form, not saying they’d be “ready” then), by writing just 1 hour a day consistently... you gotta wonder... what are writers doing with the other 23 hours?

Also, you can write, AND edit something else or plan something else at the same time. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

I realize some writers will completely balk at that. They either HAVE to be writing OR editing. They can’t do both. I understand, we all have different methods. Each writer’s comfortable working method will vary. Some people can’t bring themselves to work on more than one project simultaneously. Though I think that attitude ends, at least for traditionally published writers, once they get published. Because they have deadlines and have to produce the next book while dealing with edits from their publisher for the currently submitted book, as well as proofreading the galleys.

In traditional publishing, you just can’t wait until one book is totally finished and out the door to start working on the next one. I think for indie authors who would like to eventually have a career doing this, where they’re making a living... it would be a good idea to figure out how to raise productivity and work around these various “I can’t” obstacles. When backlist is king, anything that slows the process down unnecessarily should be eliminated.