Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Five in a Prize

Now that I've broken my own curse and gained momentum on Cinderella Ending, I want to offer the opportuntiy for five people to win copies of both Cinderella Club and Cinderella Thyme. Just comment on my blog post - I will need your email address. That's it. Last time I offered a free PDF copy of a book, only two people responded so they both won. While I want to give the books away, I am doubting my blog will have that much activity. Maybe you can prove me wrong?

I am never happier than when I'm revisiting the characters in these novels. Today I thought - I don't really care what others think of the stories because this trilogy is my masterpiece and no one can disuade me from believing that. They are my Shallow Hal.

Cinderella Club has been moving up a list on - top books of Dark Erotica. It is 21st out of 79 with forty-four votes. Okay, one of them is mine. So, yeah. And yay! Because of course this would be less vain if people actually read and loved my work.

I'm up a few more thousand words and have mapped out the chapters on my trilogy final. It will be done on time. Now I just need to stay focused and all that. Who's with me?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ch-Ch-Ch Changes!


I met another writer today. It's funny how many people reveal that they are would-be authors, once I tell them that I write for a living!

This particular writer is a financial planner by day (which was the service we were seeking from her) but a young-adult fiction writer by night. When she heard my tale of publishing success and I talked to her more about self-publishing as opposed to the query-go-round of legacy publishing, she began to really understand the advantages. And of course, the idea that she might be able to publish her already-finished first book in her trilogy RIGHT NOW was thrilling. I sent her over to the Newbie's Guide (which I always do with aspiring writers who are thinking about self-publishing - why try to reinvent the wheel?) and we moved on from talking ebooks to discussing finances. Apparently, my husband and I have official labels in the finance world. We're called "young accumulators." I was thrilled we got to be "young." My husband was much happier with the "accumulator" part of the equation!
After we left her office, I got to thinking about my initial experiences with ebooks and ebook publishing and ereaders. When my first ebook was published in 2006, I wasn't thinking of epublishing. I didn't consider ebooks "real books." And small ebook publishers were barely a step up from vanity presses, as far as I was concerned. I just saw that a small epublisher was having a contest for entries. Winners would recieve $100 and a publishing contract. Three runners-up would receive a publishing contract, but no cash. Me, I was looking to win the cash. I didn't. But I did win a contract. 
I was reluctant. But finally, I decided - why not? What could it hurt? These were the days before online ebook self-publishing was really viable. There was no Kindle Publishing Direct. There was no Barnes and Noble PubIt. So I signed a contract with the now-defunct StarDust Press to publish my story, Christmas Stalking. They gave me 35% profit and kept 75%. And that was pretty good, considering a legacy publishing deal would only give you about 17%, and they wouldn't publish anything as short as 17,000 words anyway, except in an anthology. 
 I learned a lot at that little publisher. I dealt with editors (she was great, and I was insufferable) and cover artists (not so great - vector drawing covers, ugh!) I learned about marketing on blogs and in chat rooms and on Yahoo groups. I learned that there was already a large network of romance and erotic romance readers who had been reading on ereaders for years. Really, years! They liked to read their fiction anonymously and electronically. Especially the erotic romance, because no one could see the covers or ask what they were reading! It was like a whole little underground network that I'd never known existed. 
Maybe I'd misjudged this ebook thing? Maybe ereaders really were going to be the wave of the future?
Little did I know! It's funny to me to look back now at my judgments and attitudes. I accepted the publishing contract, but I didn't tell anyone. I mean, I wasn't really published. Ebooks weren't real books! Then Kindle came along, and even though my books were now all over the place, including on Amazon through their Mobi site (back then, Amazon only offered publishers 35% profit, not the 70% they give to authors now, believe it or not) I still didn't consider ebooks as real books. 
 It cracks me up that Fictionwise (before Amazon opened their self-publishing department) actually cancelled our account and deleted all of Excessica's books because they'd found out that, as an author co-op, we had done all our own editing and cover art! *gasp* They were simply horrified by this fact. Horrified enough to actually just delete us! I had to go to bat and convince them that we were a business, an LLC, just like they were, and that I didn't publish "just anything" and that we did have editors and cover artists on staff (never mind that they happened to be co-op volunteers... shhhh!) They finally reinstated our account. 
 I can laugh about that now. But back then, it was a big deal. Fictionwise was the largest ebook retailer at the time, and here they were saying "NO!" to self-publishing. Of course, that was before Amazon got into the game and blew them out of the water. 
It was all so new, so strange, such uncharted territory. The rules in ebook publishing seemed to change every few months. I just continued to plug along, writing and (self) publishing under the umbrella of our little co-op at Excessica. But I still didn't own an ereader. That's right. I was making $10,000 a month via ebooks, but I'd never actually read one! 
Then my husband decided we had to have a Kindle. I was reluctant. I liked paper books. I liked my hardcover collectibles. Here I was, an ebook author making my primary living as an ebook author--and I was still hesitant to actually own an ereader! How crazy is that? 
But once I got my hands on my Kindle, I never looked back. I've now officially been assimilated. I write ebooks, and use print-on-demand services to provide them as paperbacks. I consider ebooks as "real" books now. I even primarily read ebooks as opposed to dead-tree books. In fact, I haven't purchased a paper book in over a year, unless it was something out-of-print I couldn't get on my Kindle. (And I get really, really cranky when that happens!) 
And as my own attitudes changed, I watched the culture shift. Writers like JA Konrath, who had once denounced epublishing, were jumping on that wagon with both feet and huge backlists, speeding toward a six-or-seven figure income. 
I started seeing people reading Kindles in coffee shops and at the gym. When I got my first ereader, I got asked about it all the time when I was reading in public. "Is that one of those new Kindle things?" People were interested, curious. Now, people glance at my ereader and then go on with their business. It's commonplace. They know what it is. They probably own one or know someone who does. 
And all of this has happened in a very short span of time. When I published my first ebook five years ago, they were less than 1% of the market. (Although the market did exist!) Now, the ebook market is about 25% of total book sales. Granted, the idea of self-publishing and ebooks hasn't fully entered the collective consciousness... not quite yet. As my conversation with my financial-planner/would-be author can attest. 
But it's coming. Ch-ch-changes! Back in 2006, I couldn't have predicted where the epublishing market would be today. I never thought I would e-publish. I didn't really believe that ebooks would become popular. And there was no way I was going to switch to an ereader over paperbacks! Yet here I am, making a (very, very comfortable) living writing ebooks. Self-publishing them. And I read almost exclusively on an ereader myself. 
 The prejudice against self-publishing is going to fade. Trust me - my own prejudices were quite strong, and they have all but disappeared. The world of publishing is going to look very different five, ten years from now. I feel as if I got into the game at a strange time, like being caught between the years of Betamax and VHS. Or MySpace and FaceBook. There are bigger things coming, I think. Bigger, even, than Amazon. I don't know what they'll be. But hang on - it's going to be one hell of a ride, folks! 

 Selena Kitt  
Erotic Fiction You Won't Forget

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Try-Fail Cycles and the Self-Published Writer

This tweet from Damien Walter (@damiengwalter) is interesting:

“The problem with e-book self publishing is it lets you avoid the try-fail cycle that makes a good writer.”

Walter is a columnist at The Guardian, specialising in the weirder fringes of literature. He’s also in the middle of a #weirdthings hunt, so if your writing veers towards the odd and unusual, he’d love to hear from you (possibly, there is a chance he might have already been driven insane by an excess of eighth-rate self-published MiĆ©ville clones).

The comment is true, but it’s often twisted to mean: “Self-published writers are crap because they never went through the wallpaper-the-walls-of-your-bedroom-with-rejection-letters phase all writers have to endure.”

This, like just about every other daft stereotype human beings like to label each other with, is complete horseshit. There are many writers turning to self-publishing at the moment, and not all of them are barely literate morons foisting unedited, unreadable excrement onto the public, no matter how many times mainstream publishing tries to insinuate this.

I’ve experienced the classic try-fail cycle. I wrote horror stories and submitted them to magazines because that’s how Stephen King and a lot of other great writers started out. Unsurprisingly, I filled a couple of ring binders with rejection letters because my first stories weren’t very good. But I kept at it, got better, and then started to pick up acceptances in small press magazines. The stories were published (in the magazines that didn’t fold before publication) and I even picked up some nice reviews in places like the British Fantasy Society’s magazine. Then…

That was the problem. There was no then. The bigger magazines and anthologies needed to sell copies, and for that they needed recognised names. The mid-list writers were already starting to vanish from the horror shelves. I could see where the classic path was leading and that was nowhere.

For a try-fail cycle to work it actually has to be a cycle. In that the writer is able to go through enough iterations of the cycle in order to get good before they collapse into a pile of dusty bones. Sending a manuscript off to an agent or publisher, waiting twelve to eighteen months or however goddamn long it is for them to get back to you and tell you they can’t accept it because this year’s colour is Twilight, is not a cycle. That is what we call—in software development parlance—a waterfall, and—as any good software developer will tell you—waterfalls are what projects clunk down until they smash themselves to pieces at the bottom.

Ebook self-publishing can allow the writer to bypass the try-fail cycle, the tricky part is knowing when. Remember those barely literate morons foisting unedited, unreadable excrement onto the public I mentioned earlier. If your first act as a writer is to complete your word document and then upload it straight onto Amazon’s kindle platform, there’s a very good chance you’re one of them. On the other hand, if you’ve written some well-received short stories, have a novel your agent loves, and no bastard publishing house will give you a second glance, then maybe you should stop being so loyal to a failed system and use the alternate path advances in technology has opened up. The gatekeepers can, and do, get it wrong.

I don’t think the classic paths are useful anymore. They’re slow, inefficient, and—as with most activities where objective measures of quality are difficult—I suspect ‘Who you know’ is more of an indicator as to whether you’ll get published than ‘What you write’. Even though anyone can now be published with a click of a button, I think any writer serious about their craft should still look for some kind of path to hone their craft.

Although primarily focused on erotica, I think websites like are fantastic proving grounds for writers. Crucially, they put a writer’s work in the hands of the most important judges of all: readers. These are the people you will one day be asking to pull out their credit cards and buy your work. If you can’t get them to read it when it’s free, they’re certainly not going to pay for it.

These are the new try-fail cycles—the amateur story sites, the fan fiction sites, the online communities… Writers can’t fail to get published, but they can fail to get noticed, and that’s the biggest challenge to overcome in the new publishing landscape. (It’s always been the biggest challenge. For some reason we started to attach too much significance to ‘Being Published’)

I don’t sell ebooks because I’m clever at marketing (I’m not—relying on word of mouth when you write things people would rather not admit to reading…not a stellar plan). I sell ebooks because people read my stories online and want more. Selena Kitt, who sells considerably more books than me, had already built a massive following on Literotica before she founded eXcessica. More recently in the news, EL James is currently in negotiations valued in the millions of dollars for her Shades of Grey series—a series that originally started out as Twilight fan fiction posted online.

These people didn’t avoid try-fail cycles, they picked alternate ones that also happened to involve the most important people of all: (saying it again because it can’t be repeated often enough) readers. More routes exist now. Take advantage of them rather than bypassing them altogether.

M.E. Hydra