Tag Archives: independent-publishing

The Service Savvy Authors Would Pay For (If It Existed)

Part I – Nobody wants to read the great novel you wrote:

Without going into a whole history of digital self-publishing, let’s just admit the current situation sucks. Sure there are now self-published e-books regularly featured in The New York Times Sunday Book Review combined e-book and paperback top 25 bestsellers. Yes, there was a write-up in Slate last week on the phenomenal success of Wool, but aside from a very few winners, most authors are losers, and readers aren’t too happy either.
Continue reading The Service Savvy Authors Would Pay For (If It Existed)

More Fun and Games at the Kindle Store: Indie vs Self-Published – What’s in a name?

Somewhere in cyberspace, Perplexed Reader writes:

“A question on terminology: Is an “Indie” author a self-published author, or an author published through an indie (that is, non-legacy/”Big Six”) publisher?”

Answer: Some people resent the idea that self-published writers have taken the term “indie” which until recently was understood to designate authors published by “independent” (of the Big Six) publishing houses — an historically very well-known (though sometimes notorious) group of folks that included literary lions like DH Lawrence, William Burroughs and the Marquis de Sade.

As the publishing industry became more corporatized and controlled by fewer and fewer people, some independent smaller publishers like Farrar, Strauss and Giroux were sold to bigger publishers, but never completely lost their independent identity. Yet, authors publishing through them, however innovative, would not be considered “independents.”

The term “legacy publisher” used in Perplexed Reader’s query, is a poorly understood neo-logism which according to “indie” author Joe Konrath (whose name must be mentioned by law in any blog related to  indies) was coined by author Barry Eisler. It  means any publisher which uses “outdated” methods and technologies. We should probably take this term out of the equation altogether because its meaning highly debatable, and many established small presses would reject it as being offensive.

I challenge anyone to find the exact origin of using “indie” to describe individuals who publish themselves independently of any publisher.  (And I don’t mean “challenge’ in a bad way. I’d genuinely like to know.)

But it is used, and it’s accepted throughout the digiverse at least, to mean self-published. More importantly, it’s accepted by Amazon. (See Amazon’s Indie Bookstore, etc.). One  could argue that Amazon’s use of the term is pandering to the multitudes who publish on its Kindle Digital Platform and through its print-on-demand company, Create Space.  In any case, “the facts on the ground” for better or worse have been established.

I’m not sure where this leaves people who’ve been published by established small press houses. Today, in addition to big and small publishers being lumped together as “traditional publishing,” the waters are muddied even more by micro-presses set up to publish a very limited number of authors (beginning with the number one), e-book publishers who may use POD for print (and bear few of the risks or expenses of traditional small publishers), and other start up concerns that aren’t traditional “vanity” houses, in that they don’t ask for money up front from authors, but offer neither the services of traditional publishing or the respectability that comes with it. So there’s also the question of who is a publisher? Does it have to do with the size of the list? The services offered? Whether or not there are full time editors? Whether or not they can actually do print runs and/or get copies of books onto store shelves?

Often the only thing these tiny newcomers and retooled vanities offer writers is a chance to say “I’ve been published,” even though they might have done better self-publishing, and are unlikely to impress anyone, especially literary agents.

Vantage Publishers, probably the most infamous old-time vanity house, known for their tombstone newspaper ads offering titles ripe for parody, has more recently retooled itself as a “self-publishing” concern, although it still charges tons for its publishing packages. Historically, the vanities never called themselves vanities, at least not in public.  They used the euphemism “subsidy.”

Meantime, because of the taint of self-publishing, firms like PublishAmerica have been able to con the vulnerable and desperate by insisting that they are a “traditional publisher” because they don’t charge writers upfront fees, and allegedly don’t charge to publish. They accept anything, don’t edit or proofread (unless you pay them), do incompetent formatting (and then charge for corrections), and they don’t actually get their books into stores or reviewed. They do print books and publish e-books for which they charge higher than standard prices. They get writers to contract to buy their overpriced books at a “discount”prior to print runs with the understanding that the writers will act as their own marketers and sell them to stores.  Of course stores don’t overpriced, badly formatted, unedited books written by unknowns.   PublishAmerica also holds on to the book rights,  so authors are stuck even after they realize they’ve been conned.

Nowadays, most of the respectable and established independent publishers are swamped by manuscripts, and extremely unlikely to look at unsolicited work. If I was an author who through hard work and development of craft had had work accepted by one of those august houses, I’d probably be outraged that the good name of “indie” has been taken by anyone who can load a “book” onto the KDP.  On the other hand, some of these houses have become risk-averse in these tough and uncertain times and are both dropping their mid-listers and rarely taking on newcomers, making self-publishing an attractive option for many.

On the Kindle forums, the folks who are most vehemently against what they term “vanity-writers,” “self-uploaders” or “scribblers” lump everyone in one boat. Those discerning readers aren’t buying into the “indie” designation even if Amazon and a zillion blogs are. They don’t really believe that anyone is self-publishing by choice, or that anything good can come from allowing anyone to publish. “Indie” is certainly a much nicer term than “driveler.”

Meantime, the writers themselves are often the first to shout, “I’m different! It’s a reprint of a previously published work!” or “I was this close to getting a deal.” or  “Look at my sales numbers.” or they just babble something about Amanda Hocking. But whether you are an octogenarian self-publishing your memoirs of WWII, or a romance fan loading up years of secret attempts onto the Kindle Digital Platform, or a previously published legit author, or anything in-between,  calling yourself an “indie” beats the alternatives.

So, my dear Perplexed Reader, the short answer to your question would be, independent authors published by established small presses may need to clarify their status. to the understandably perplexed,  but they are still independent. However, the term “indie author” will be understood by many to be a synonym of “self-published.”

Jeffrey’s Game — Funny Business in the Kindle Store

Self-publishing was once a punch line. Now all the cool kids are doing it. Much ink virtual and real has spilled on the topic with even The New York Times declaring it almost respectable.

For the small minority of people reading this who haven’t actually written a book and put it on Kindle themselves, it’s so easy a chimp could do it. And yes I actually expect to see an ad someday where one of our well-mannered primate-cousins will be shown finishing a manuscript and following the prompts to upload it onto Amazon’s Digital Platform. Or maybe that will be a competitor’s ad, Steve Jobs taking a swipe at the deluge of titles on Amazon, priced between 99 cents and $2.99, written by everyone from formerly mid-list authors to high school students to retirees with too much time on their hands.

Meantime in the present, Jeff Bezos’ plan for world domination and beating the Big Five Publishers who are fighting his desire to cap e-book prices moves forward. He’s using the self-uploaders or “indies” as they prefer to be known for his own purposes.

I should know. I’m one of his two-bit whores, hawking my wares on the Amazon “community” forums, like some worn-out chippy.

“Mr. I was published once, legit. I got me one of them degrees. I was a Sarah Lawrence, girl. And my prose is clean, Mr. C’mon take a chance. Give a girl a break. It’s only 99 cents!”

As Bogey said in Casablanca, patter like this is usually accompanied by the sound of tinny piano playing in the parlor.

And now it’s time for the screen to go fuzzy while we go to flashback.

What led me to make the plunge? The usual frustration over not selling my novel, plus meeting up with enough other frustrated writers to become convinced that we weren’t all hacks, and maybe there was a real problem. In fact, some of the best novels I’ve read in the past couple of years have been self-published or as-yet-unpublished, books agents balked at for reasons of perceived marketability. One involving heroin addiction in 1960’s London was deemed too difficult for Americans. Another had a plot revolving around a woman who physically abuses her husband. It didn’t end in love conquers all, as it wouldn’t, but editors wanted a happy ending which the writer couldn’t provide.

My own unpublished opus is hardly worth discussing here. Let’s just say it’s not beach reading or chic-lit. Nobody buys expensive shoes, though there is one scene where a teenage stripper steals a pair of Doc Martens from a dead girl whose chopped-up body is being rendered into soup.

But as usual I’ve meandered far from the tale I’m trying to tell.

In the beginning there was Createspace and Createspace begot The Kindle Store and Jeff Bezos said it was good.

For those people living in a cave who still remember the old tombstone ads for Vantage Press — “ye olde timey vanity press” — you’ve got some catching up to do. Through the use of print-on-demand technology, people can now publish themselves “independently” without giving thousands to some gonif who promises to make them famous. The costs of using Amazon’s Createspace to produce and publish a book are negligible, unless you buy extras like help with formatting or cover design or editing or proofreading services. What you don’t pay for is warehouse fees or printing costs. People can order the books online at Amazon or Createspace and they print to order. The reality is, however, most of these books are bought by the people who wrote them or their friends. The books cost more to produce then offset books, and are often priced higher than books by known writers. There is little chance of these books ever being sold in “real stores.” After Amazon’s cut, the writers may make very little in royalties.

Kindle, which doesn’t charge for uploading books, is an even less pricey way for writers to get their work out. Amazon offers a hefty 35% in royalties for books priced under $2.99 and a fat 70% for those at or above $2.99. You can actually make money having your book on the Kindle, though most people who do, spend a lot of time “promoting” their work, and would probably do better working part-time at Wal-Mart. Promotion consists of cajoling people on the Amazon forums to buy your e-book. I’ve got two books up. One is a novella, going for 99 cents, which took me very little time to write. The other is the novel described earlier that took years and is priced at $2.39 (reduced by Amazon). Guess which one sells more? The novella, I’ll admit is probably more accessible, but my guess is it’s the price that draws them in.

Now, here’s where things get really strange. At the beginning of October, for some never fully explained reason, Amazon went and reduced the price of several of its 99-cent “indies” to FREE. There was no special notice given to the writers. No permission sought. They apparently have the right to do this. What I didn’t realize immediately is that they were still paying the royalties as if the price hadn’t changed. This is something that they are apparently obliged to do if the royalty is set at 35%. The book took off and almost made the top 100 in “free” books. If you click to see the “bestseller” list for Kindle, you’ll see two lists side by side. One is “paid” and the other is “free.” There are also various genre and subgenre list. For a while, my little novella was the number one “medical technical thriller” in “free.”

Within a few days, just as mysteriously, the book was back at 99 cents. Suddenly, it was listed in the “paid” content, but the way the numbers were cooking it was still benefitting from all those “sales” back when it was free. Plus because it was now showing up on so many “people who bought this, also bought that” lists, it kept selling and is still doing well.

Did it make me rich? Hardly. Because here’s another dirty little secret of The Kindle Store — it’s one store, a sub-section of a very large retail outlet, but still just one store, selling e-books primarily for one device. The title could have a sales rank of 200,000, but one sale could bring it up to under 50,000, and several over a few hours might put it into the top 1,000.

While I don’t have the October final figures yet, and can’t tell you the greatest sales day, I can tell you that it had around 2,300 “sales” in the four days or so when it was free. This is about 10 times the amount it had gotten on Kindle at 99 cents in the previous ten months. Given the one-click buying and the “free” part, it’s no wonder so many people downloaded it. How many will actually read it is another matter, and the number is not impressive when compared to the sales of “real” bestsellers. Nor at 35 cents a pop is it very lucrative. It also does not appear that the sales on the novella had much impact on the sales of the novel.

I did very little to influence any of this. Amazon didn’t publicize it beyond having the free titles show up on automated lists. There are boards and blogs started and ready by Kindle users and someone had posted a listing of the “newly” free books on one of the more popular ones which brought a lot of readers in quickly.

The question: What is Amazon’s strategy in reducing the price to nothing especially when they still pay author royalties? Amazon might protest that there’s less here than meets the eye. The prices may simply be reduced automatically when it’s found that the book or e-book is available somewhere else for less. The novella had been listed in other e-book formats through a different distributor for free. It’s possible this showed up, and Amazon reduced the price with no human intervention. It was even suggested on a link somewhere that they might not in the end pay the resulting royalties because having it up for less could be a violation of the contract, though so far, the money is still listed in my reports.

But it makes more sense to believe that Jeff Bezos knows what he’s doing. Amazon is developing it’s own cheap content for Kindle. Unlike expensive to produce Createspace titles, cheap Kindle “indies” sell. Tons of books recognized in “customer” reviews and a few blogs that look at “indies” are creating a unique bestseller list in the Kindle store and even bleeding onto Amazon itself. Take a look and you’ll see titles you’ll never see in a bookstore — straight to Kindle specials that may or may not even exist in print-on-demand.

This is not to suggest that Bezos doesn’t want to sell “real” books. Amazon probably earns more in a day on sales of the Millennium Trilogy than it will in a year on any of it’s 99 cent titles, yet they are able to use the “indies” to offer frustrated Kindle buyers loads of cheap content that’s oh so easy to buy with the one-click button. Unlike a publisher, they spend nothing on vetting, editing, proofreading, or even promotion. Amazon makes money whether a consumer buys one authentic bestseller or loads up on 5 bogus Kindle ones. By having all those titles show up in their store, they dilute the sales of the “real” books, weakening the hand of the publishers.

Next Time: Funny Business in the Kindle Store: Part II: The “making” of a Kindle Mega-Seller or How One Author Stole from Jackie Susann’s Playbook.

(Pssst, if you liked this post, think you could maybe check out my books here?)

Proud Independents — Five Books You Won’t Find in Chains

A trip to any indistinguishable chain bookstore will tell you what you need to know about the current crisis in publishing — glossy-covered bestsellers by the usual suspects, characters from classics transformed into “vampyres” and zombie-killers, second-rate celebrities eager to tell all. But where are the fresh new writers? Where are the strong stories and original voices?

Sadly, the big publishing houses are taking fewer chances and more emerging authors are self-publishing. It’s easy to create your own micro-imprint, and on-line nobody knows you’re a POD (print-on-demand). While getting onto store shelves is difficult, the web has made it simple for authors to market themselves, and e-books offer a great way to break in. For a writer, uploading a book on Kindle is as easy as sending an e-mail, and companies like Smashwords offer free e-publishing in ALL digital formats.

While this creates opportunities for writers, it creates confusion for readers. With so many books, what’s to read? Without the traditional gatekeepers — agents and publishers — how do you find books that are high quality, original and well-written?

Fortunately, e-books can usually be “sampled” before purchase, and most online booksellers allow you to “browse” print versions electronically. If you are an e-book aficionado or ready to take the plunge into print-on-demand, here are five great picks.

1) Dorkismo — The Macho of the Dork , by Maria Bustillos (2009) — available in paperback and on Kindle.

In a series of brilliant, accessible and funny essays, LA-based cultural critique, Maria Bustillos posits that the dorks are saving civilization. Her revolutionary manifesto celebrates true self-expression. In a world where hipness has become a commodity signified by the proper attire and technology, a world of branding, where children refuse to go to school without designer clothing, Dorkismo is the antidote. All the important creative thinkers and innovators are dorks, she tells us. They/we/us are the true iconoclasts. This is more than simple cultural critique. It’s self-help that’s nothing short of inspirational.

Bustillos, by offering her examples of authentic coolness, urges readers to be proud of who they are and their intellectual pursuits and obsessions — even if they involve fluency in one or more fictional languages. Her motto, “to thine own self be cool,” redefines hip making it clear that creativity, art and even happiness come from following your own path, enjoying yourself, and learning to embrace your dork-nature.

2) Babylon, Daisy Anne Gree (2009) — available in paperback and as a FREE e-book in all digital formats.

Gree published this novel in association with Year Zero a writers’ collective dedicated to “restoring the direct conversation between reader and writer.” Babylon, barely more than novella length, is a stunning debut.

Fired from a restaurant job in San Francisco, schizophrenic Daniel attempts suicide and winds up back in his parent’s old house in his small Texas hometown of Babylon. Voice is everything in fiction and Gree has it. Daniel’s head is not a comfortable or pleasant place to be, but Gree brings us there in a way that’s true and sharp. She teaches us more about the mind of a schizophrenic than anyone is likely to get from a medical or psychiatric textbook. Gree goes beyond the writing workshop adage, “Show don’t tell.” Her descriptions are simple yet visceral, and they hit like a shot of mescaline straight to the heart.

Chapter one begins in the restaurant where Daniel is working:

“I counted my breath in and out, rough and ragged. A fractious rhythm among the others, the slamming oven doors and the clanking plates, that surrounded me. The air inside was so thick and heavy that breathing felt like drowning. As the seconds wore on, one noise began to swell and smother the rest: the slow and steady buzzing of the fluorescent bulb above my head. It was feverish and nauseating, as jarring as a jackhammer on asphalt.”

By the time Daniel comes home and slashes his wrist, we’ve seen the shadows jumping from the walls and heard the voices calling his name. We understand the desperation that drives his actions.

While this all sounds bleak, and it is, there’s also a deadpan humor that shows itself in snatches of dialogue and imagery that is achingly beautiful throughout.

3) Harbour, by Paul House (2009) — available in hardcover, paperback and coming to Kindle.

Harbour, a historical novel set against the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong, was initially published by the author through Lulu as a POD. It was recently picked up by Dragon International Arts, a small publisher in the UK.

At over 400 pages and with several story-lines, Harbour, is better suited to print than digital. Its characters include an elderly drug-lord, his beautiful young wife, a mixed-race girl, a British doctor, a Japanese barber with a secret, an embittered invalid and assorted others. None are especially heroic which is both the novel’s strength and probably the reason it wasn’t picked up by a major publisher. If you’re a fan of formulaic historical fiction — the Michener model, this isn’t for you. It’s character-driven even as history unfolds. Which is not to say, that there isn’t plenty of attention to historical detail.

As we read, patterns begin to emerge within the tapestry before us. We understand more of the connections between characters and the focus shifts to two couples — Tung Nien, the drug-lord’s wife and her lover Dr. Laughton — a married, British ex-pat, and Molly a mixed-race girl taken in by Tung Nien and Molly’s friend, Wu.

Laughton and Tung Nien are in an impossible situation. They’ve gone from having an affair to being truly, deeply, passionately in love with each other. Their story of longing and compromise becomes one with which any reader can identify. Molly, our young heroine, has ideals and innocence. She’s probably the most heroic of the bunch — the least cynical and sullied, while her beau, Wu on the precipice of manhood, may make the wrong choice. When the chaos of the invasion finally arrives, these are the four we hope will emerge not only alive but somehow, against the odds, with each other.

Without giving anything away, one can report that the ending was deeply satisfying.

4) Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, by Dan Holloway — available in paperwork and FREE in all e-book formats.

This is a book truly made for the digital age — hip, sensuous, smart and very up to date. Holloway is the founder of the Year 0 collective and believes that making books available for free digitally is one way to grow readership. Songs has become the number one most downloaded literary novel on the e-book publishing site, Smashwords.

Szandrine was born in Hungary shortly after the Berlin Wall fell. Abandoned by her British mother, she was raised by her father on a family-owned vineyard. Szandrine is part of the Budapest art scene and lives with her girlfriend, Yang — a sculptor.

Set in 2006-2007, besides it’s exotic setting, what sets this novel apart is the invention of a truly contemporary character. Szandrine, at seventeen, is post-Wall Europe, at ease with the non-issue of her sexuality, and more at home in certain corners of the Internet than anywhere else.

New Year’s Eve 2006, Szandi witnesses a tragedy during riots in Budapest. What she sees impels her to explore her past and brings her to an understanding of her future. The story unfolds in real time, flashbacks, letters and in chat-rooms.

It’s a complicated tale involving the recall of an online friendship with a dead man, a mysterious letter, and an unsatisfactory reunion between Szandrine and her mother. Holloway, never loses control and the strands are woven together with the connections becoming clear. As Szandrine explores her recent and more distant history, she comes into her own with knowledge and wisdom.

With flashbacks, and switches in time and location, this may not be the easiest narrative to follow, but it captures the rhythms and nuisance of how we live now in a way that has rarely been done better.

5) Glimpses of a Floating World, by Larry Harrison, (2009) — available in paperbook and FREE in all e-book formats.

Larry Harrison’s dark and dazzling first novel, Glimpses-of-a-Floating-World takes its title from the phrase used to describe the red-light district of 18th century Edo, now known as Tokyo. Edo’s floating world was a haven of pleasure and illusion, filled with kabuki actors, geishas and courtesans. Harrison’s work is set in London’s Soho, 1963, its denizens — anarchists, mods, rockers, beats, and others, among them our protagonist, seventeen year-old, heroin addict, Ronnie “Fizz” Jarvis who loves feeling that he is part of “the scene.”

Harrison skillfully allows the reader to identify with Ronnie despite the character’s being vain, selfish and occasionally cowardly. He is, after all, an adolescent trying to understand the world and his place in it. Ronnie reminds us of other young, unreliable characters reaching adulthood in an imperfect world. The reader is immediately aware that no matter what else happens, Ronnie will either grow and change, or he will not. We root for Ronnie’s potential, hoping he will live to tell the tale.

Glimpses is well-plotted, taut and suspenseful. Ronnie becomes a reluctant police informant and tensions rise as we head towards a likely bloody conclusion.

Harrison who has written nonfiction books on alcohol and drug issues, seamlessly weaves in the growing panic over narcotics. Britain — influenced by the US — was changing its policies, moving from treating addiction as a public health issue to criminalizing addicts. Ronnie is as much a victim of these changes as he is of his abusive father and his own romanticized self-destruction.

Glimpses of a Floating World is described on its back cover as “a lyrical and triumphant elegy to a seedy, vice-ridden London of the 1960’s. ” It is that, but also a tale of familial tragedy, a history lesson, a novel that offers much more than simple glimpses. It reads like a lost classic.

(This posting originally appeared as a guest blog at can also be found as a guest blog at LA Books Examiner.)

Adventures in Independent Publishing

I hope you didn’t find your way here via a search and are expecting something useful.

There are so many blogs and people I should link you to, but if I had to prepare all that, I wouldn’t have time to do the important things like take out the dog and change the cat’s litter box.

It’s probably a generational thing, but term self-publishing still sounds like the old vanity presses to me so I’m opting for calling whatever it is I think I’m doing, “independent publishing.”

The truth is the big houses are dying not having prepared for the digital age or followed what was happening in other industries affected by it. In a few years it’ll all be “independent and self” publishing and people will start referring to what is now “traditional” publishing with some retronym like “corporate publishing.”

In any case, I guess I joined the digital publishing age back in February when I put an excerpt of my novel Loisaida up on Authonomy. I’ve just taken another step and put my novella, The Death Trip on Smashwords (http://www.smashwords.com). It’s free and you can download through this link: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/6095. Take a look!

I’ll clean up this blog later and add some links, and in the coming weeks I’ll keep you posted on my experiences with kindle, starting my own micro-imprint, and the world of POD.

Feel free to leave a relevant comment.