Saturday, 31 July 2010

Timescales - 31st July 2010

Just a short post today on patience.

About 6 weeks ago we had an author throw up her hands and decide to walk away because three months after the contract we still hadn’t sent her any edits. Now, I can understand the frustration and even the resultant anger, but surely the appropriate response would be to send a (relatively) polite e-mail asking where your book was in the queue.

This lady didn’t and pulled her contract.

I made a new Facebook friend today (I use it as a networking rather than a social tool) and as always checked the bio. This particular author signed a contract two months ago with one of our larger eBook publishing rivals and is happy her book is slated for release in February 2011. That’s another 6 or 7 months away depending on whether it’s at the beginning or the end of the month.

We operate a policy of not giving a fixed schedule to enable us to remain flexible and we publish a book as soon as it’s ready. We’d rather do that that give an author a definite date, let them get all excited about it, even planning launch publicity etc. etc. and then two weeks before throw a month’s delay at them because “I’m sorry, the book before yours is taking longer to edit than anticipated”.

Either that or rush everything and end up with a sub-standard product that reflects badly on everyone and leaves the author with the taste of ashes after all that hard work.

It’s a difficult one, and with the pair of us having suffered both of the above scenarios, you can probably see why we chose the route we did.

I suppose we could always give a date so far out in the future no-one would complain. So, from now on your books will be published in September 2012............ LOL

Talk to you all again, next week.

Friday, 30 July 2010

The Power of The Blog – Revisited 30th July 2010.

Maybe a blog is a very powerful tool indeed, or maybe it’s simply coincidence.

Conspiracy theorists beware, coincidence is a very powerful force in nature; just ask the originators of chaos theory! But I digress.

When I first started this blog I complained about the lack of sales information feeding through from some of the retailers and the length of time it takes them to report sales, information arriving months later.

Within a couple of days one of the retailers appeared to have taken notice and reported for the period up until the end of March. I thought that was progress and hence the tongue in cheek post to this blog the next day.

Now I wake up this morning to find a nice surprise. Our aggregator now shows the same retailer has reported sales for the following months, and two other previously reticent retailers have reported sales too.

I now have a very long and very detailed spreadsheet to go through and reconcile each individual sale against those already reported and since we’ve already finalised Quarter 2, post the newly received sales information into the current quarter.

That may sound unfair, but we have to report sales to our authors at fixed points in time and we have to cross check all those figures. We’ve already done that for Quarter 2 and if we abandoned that process and started all over again every time this happened – we’d never actually report. None of these retailers have actually reported up to the end of Quarter 2 as yet anyway. We don’t see another option.

Still it’s always good to see more sales figures and certainly two of the retailers have exceeded expectations. Mind you, it does seem to be short stories that are moving in volume. I wonder if that’s the commuter influence? You know, have a quick read on the train or bus into work. A 3,000 to 5,000 word story on an e-reader works a treat. Oops sorry about the pun there, it wasn’t intended.

Maybe that’s a marketing angle.

Buy four commuter length stories and get Friday’s free.
Wonder how easy that would be to set up on our web site?


Thursday, 29 July 2010

Editing - 29th July 2010

The last post raised the question of editing again, in a rather round about way.

I can remember, not long after receiving my first contract as an author, by God did that feel good, the publisher had told me the edits were a couple of weeks away. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I’d never been professionally edited before. So, on my next visit to my writing group, who were quite useful in many ways and I strongly recommend new authors get as much exposure to such groups as possible, I tentatively asked the question.

There were two published novelists among the group, and one self-published one. The self-published author hung his head and looked a bit sheepish; it was a few months later that I began to understand why. Of the other two, one went on to expound, at length, on just how important the working relationship between him and his editor was paramount. It had to be good, there needed to be two way communication and an understanding that both jobs, yours and your editor’s were vital before a book could be published.

The second author took an entirely different tone. In fact, if I stop to listen I can hear her quite plainly in the deepest echoes inside my skull.

“The editor is the Devil incarnate!”
“All they want to do is destroy your crafted prose with some fiddling for no reason!”
“Best thing to do is ignore them and tell them to b***er off!”

She was so vehement I was really taken aback, in fact the entire group, about fifteen if I remember correctly, were stunned into silence. A rare thing for that particular group.

I have never had cause to agree with her, and I have never yet knowingly met an author who thinks along the same lines and treats the editor as their enemy.

I’m not saying you need to show the editor zealous affection but a thank you doesn’t go amiss.

If you don’t really get this, then I suggest you try doing a story edit on someone else’s book for yourself. Not a critique, a proper story edit. List all the things that are wrong with the story, the logical fallacies, the times someone accidentally changes sides because they’ve used the wrong family, group, unit or even species, the way it only takes 2 hours to go from breakfast to supper on page 123. The list of possible issues is endless and has to be done at a more concentrated level than a writing group or WDC can. Now try adding in the copy edit at the same time – getting the commas in the right place, correcting the odd spelling or word use etc. etc.

Now try to do both of those things without attempting to rewrite the story in your own style.
It’s hard. In fact I find it so hard (my own grammatical limitations not withstanding) that I make a very poor editor. So would most authors, and probably so would my vociferous friend above.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

When is a Publishing Credit not a Publishing Credit? 28th July 2010

Sorry, to dwell on the subject of submissions, again but we’ve had another query in and this raises another point.

This author sent a very well written mini synopsis of his alternative history novel (very interesting as it’s my own main chosen field) and asked us if we would interested in the book. If so he would send us a couple of chapters. Yeah, right, you are right, he clearly hadn’t read the guidelines properly –whole manuscript does not mean a manuscript with holes!

He did, however provide a brief bio which if true would be a good marketing tool, let’s face it if the author has lived an interesting life then his book has more chance of being interesting. Not saying it has to be, but it’s more likely. At the bottom of the bio he states he’s a full time writer and has won many journalistic awards and has had four novels published previously.

Now, the journalism one is potential warning flag. The advantage authors with a journalistic background have is they know all about working with editors and working to deadlines. The disadvantage is they know all about working with editors and working to deadlines. Yes, that’s a deliberate repeat. They understand how to write factual pieces, and depending on the rag even faction pieces (i.e. fiction masquerading as fact – and I know I might well have insulted all journalists there – but it’s not meant, well not entirely).

I have worked with journalists turned fiction writer in the past and had great experiences, but I’ve also had massively bad experiences that way too. So it’s a warning flag but not a big one.

The second point is the main one here. He has had four novels previously published. Hmmm... Time to do some digging. Hello Amazon, how are you today? Good? So am I. How are you Google?

Two minutes later and his publishing track record is fully exposed. Amazon lists all four of his novels, and several collections of his articles. So far so good. It was time to dig a little deeper – and this exposes a very nice titbit of information. All of the above works were published by one company – one of the slightly less well known self publishing companies.

Now, I am in no way snobbish – we’re not big enough to be that way, and I have absolutely no quarrel with anyone who wants to go down the self-publishing route. But if you self-publish – can you really call yourself a published author in the accepted sense of the word within the publishing industry? Hell, I know some of the large publishers don’t regard someone who has been published by an indie publisher as being a published author – very snobby attitude.

If he had said he had previously self published his books, I would most certainly have given him brownie points for his honesty, and some more for his industry. Now, unfortunately for him, I will probably be reading his manuscript – if he submits it, with a slightly jaundiced eye.

The moral of the story is don’t try to pull the wool over a potential publisher’s eye by claiming to be more than you are. It doesn’t take long to stick a pin in the balloon of self-deceit – the web is all pervasive, and starting from behind in a race that is already very hard to win, is a handicap you don’t want.

So when exactly is an author published? When is it correct to claim a publishing credit? Over to you.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Some authors never learn - 27th July 2010

I have had an interesting experience on submissions over the last few days, and although it revisits an earlier theme, that can’t be helped. It does illustrate the point again though.

We very clearly state our submission requirements on the web site, file type, font and spacing, but we also go that one step further by providing two other things. A Link for New Authors which attempts to protect the wide eyed and innocents from their own preconceptions. We also provide a sample contract which sets out the major terms of the publishing arrangements, very specifically in respect of copyright (a vital issue), the length of the contract, the requirements on the author (and, equally importantly on us) and the royalty payment rates and schedules. The Notes page also has a lot to say about payment schedules and royalty expectations too.

In the past I’ve come across authors who having received a contract for the first time, for a single short story seem to have a basic thought pattern along the lines of – there are over 8 billion people in the world, if only 1% of them buy my e-book at a price of $1.99 - I’ll be a dollar millionaire by next Christmas. Then they put their feet up, rub their hands in glee and sit back and wait for the money to come rolling through the door.

Oh dear ... Oh dear. The world doesn’t work like that.

Okay, maybe I’ve been a bit extreme there, but that mindset is very common among the writing group members who have decided to go down the eBook route, and almost universal among non group members. Don’t they ever listen when an established author comes along and gives a talk? Don’t they hear the author say, however successful they are, they find they are spending 50% or more of their time dong promotional work – which is taking them away from writing. Think about it, why is the author actually there – promotion!

The other major fallacy with the approach and mindset outlined above is of course that prediction of sales – the next eBook that sells 80,000,000 copies will almost certainly be the first, and it will not be written by a brand new unknown author.

Going back to the e-mails that prompted this discussion point – I received a submission query over the weekend, asking how much we would charge to convert this author’s book into an eBook. Again, didn’t read the submissions guidelines which rather clearly state we don’t charge the author. The author gave some details of the book and the fact it already had 182 online followers.

Hmm . . . Intriguing – if it already has “followers” – how? Clearly this works two ways, one if the author is serialising it on the web, will it be taken down and has the author already tapped their eBook market on a free distribution basis? So I wrote back, patiently, saying the submissions page lays out the process, as does the sample contract, we pay royalties etc, etc, and by the way you would be required to remove the current distribution on signing a contract which would of course be dependent on the quality of the manuscript. If you want to go ahead please....

Nice, polite, frank but not overly familiar...

So, what e-mail did I get back today?

What royalties do you pay? I can’t find them on the web site.

Before I responded I did allow myself 30 seconds to check – the details are there – exactly as I had said they were. My response is perhaps, slightly more curt than the previous one. There’s a reason for that. An author who cannot actually bother to read the details before submission and then asks a question we’ve deliberately pre-answered is wasting my time.

What don’t you want to do with your publisher or prospective publisher?

Exactly, not rocket-science is it? – DON’T WASTE THEIR TIME.

I’m just waiting for the next question – How much scope is there for negotiating these rates?

I’ve probably got 24 hours to politely phrase the response – I’ll revise them downward as far as you like! How low do you want to go? Zero?

Monday, 26 July 2010

The week in review - 26th July 2010

Reading back through the blog for last week, I deliberately took Sunday off, it looks like I’m the big I am man, and I do everything for the company. Apart from the fact that would not be a good impression to give to people it would most definitely not be the truth.

Previous experience means I understand most facets of the business of getting a book from manuscript through to a production eBook or paperback. (We don’t at the moment do hardback print but we can and will once there is a definite demand demonstrated).

I have had experience of most parts of the publishing business so feel I can talk about them, but that does not mean it’s just me doing it all here. It doesn’t take long to expose my weaknesses as a copy editor, about five seconds if I’m having a good day. My main problem is being, as my editor describes me, comma averse. It’s difficult to correct someone else’s comma usage if you can’t get your own right.

Cover art is more usually a way to relax than a frustration, as is the web site development. That’s not to say handling an e-commerce suite doesn’t have its own frustrations – believe me it does. Still, at least I’m doing something I want to do, and that is definitely worthwhile, something far too many people can’t claim.

If anyone has a topic they’d like me to cover here, please do leave a comment, I’ll be happy to give my point of view – as long as it’s not on where to insert that pesky comma!

Saturday, 24 July 2010

The Power of the Blog! 24th July 2010

Guess what? ... Nope, wrong, this blog pretty much wrote itself!

A mere five days ago, on my opening entry to this blog I complained about not getting sales figures, let alone revenue, through from the major e-book retailers.
They must have been reading my blog over in Lyndhurst, NJ and been stung into action by the force and obvious rightness of my criticism! Lo and behold, this morning I arose and opened my e-mail to find the sales figures from that particular bookstore had miraculously been updated all the way forward from 24th January through to 28th March! They’re now only a quarter behind.
Yee-hah! And all that jazz.

Were they good? Drum roll.....

The answer is it depends on who you are. From our point of view they were 40% up on the previous two months, and that can’t be bad. From the point of view of one of our authors, one of the two most prolific we have, it was very good news – you see, with the exception of one book, all of those extra sales were hers! For our other authors, not such good news. As a publisher you know that some books will outsell others by huge margins, and you may or may not judge them to be the best books, but there is no accounting for the public and their fickle reading desires. You can try to predict them, and we, of course, do that, every time we decide a particular submission is worth contracting.

Still, it’s a good thing none of our authors are the jealous type.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Submissions - 23rd July 2010

I just realised there’s so many things a publisher can rant about, endlessly. I’ll try not to, after all this is supposed to be informative rather than merely a place to vent my frustrations.
Every time I’ve been to a writing group or club, and the question of submitting work to a publisher or a short story to a magazine or newspaper comes up, there is always one person who makes the same comment – a very pertinent one. Read the submissions guidelines and follow them. It’s not exactly rocket science is it?

Actually, for some would be authors, it is. Please note the use of the would be there. Let me quote you some examples.

Our submission guidelines are actually fairly simple; send us the complete manuscript attached as a word document or rich text file, in a readable font, with some simple methods of formatting together with a short synopsis and author bio in the body of the e-mail, telling us the word count and genre. We also very clearly state we accept electronic submissions only.
Now, sometimes people will already have the bio and synopsis as part of the attachment so don’t want to repeat them. That’s reasonable, not preferred but liveable. We say a readable font, simply because many people don’t change their default font in their word processor so it could be Arial, Times New Roman, Garamond or Calibri. Again not a big fuss and we won’t nit-pick over it.

SOME PUBLISHERS DO – and in which case it’s a rejection, assuming they even bother to answer you in the first place.

Let me give you some recent examples of queries or even submissions we’ve had and the responses:

• A PDF attachment – please resubmit.
• “I’m thinking about writing a book, where do I start? – We are not a tuition group.
• A short story manuscript containing 11 different fonts – please resubmit.
• Please find attached the first chapter of my book, I wonder if you would critique it for me – NO
• Please find attached my ... (no attachment) – I think you forgot to attach it.
• I have attached the first three chapters of my future best-seller which I’m writing – Hello, can you please read the submissions guidelines.
• If I submit my book to you how many thousands of copies per month would you guarantee I would sell over the next two years? – Had to think very carefully about the answer – ZERO. Think about it - how do we know how good the book is?

I think you get the picture.

We were closed for submissions during May and June while we brought our work in progress numbers down. During that time we had a number of submission queries – well that’s okay. We also had five submissions from complete strangers. Oh dear.

Perhaps a lot of would be authors should go to literacy classes – and learn to read!

An acquaintance of mine one summed up the job of submissions editor very well, and he’s been doing the job much longer than I have.

Reading can be compared to drinking water.
As a normal reader, you go to the tap, turn it on, and fill a glass and drink.
As a submissions reader, I go to a broken underground pipe, place my mouth over the end and suck lustily. If I'm lucky I get something sweet and tasty. If not...

His actual words were rather pithier than this.

Not a pleasant image, but seriously ... its true!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Bad Hair Day - 22nd July 2010

Slightly sooner than intended it’s time to return to the theme of cover art once more, or to be precise a bad hair day.

If you remember, in an earlier post, I talked about the girl with the blonde bob standing in front of the Sydney Opera House at sunset. Let’s change change this hypothetical situation slightly, give her waist length hair, maybe slightly curly, but free, not contained in a pony tail, or otherwise pinned up. Instead of the Opera House, how about the photo being from the top of the Harbour Bridge, looking down over the bay on a windy day.

You’ve probably foreseen where the bad hair day reference comes from. Can you imagine standing on top of that colossal steel bridge on a windy day with long hair? Can you imagine keeping it under control? So you take the perfect photo, or rather pick that perfect photo up from the stock photo library and the author then decides she’s perfect, but the Opera House was still the right background. Now, in order to cut the image of the woman from the background you have to select every single strand of wayward hair from the overall picture. Every single strand of light blonde hair, blown in all directions from a sky filled with whites and greys and light blues (it was a cloudy day). Do you think any author, especially those without experience of the cover art process, will understand exactly how bloody long that would take?

I’ll tell you how long, days of work, not mere hours, bloody days. If as a cover artist you try and short circuit it, and not crop every hair, do you suppose this author won’t notice? Believe me he, or she, most definitely will, and will complain endlessly about the fact the hair just isn’t as good as on the original image.

Then when you’ve literally bled from under your fingernails getting every bit transferred onto the correct background, spent another couple of hours adjusting the lighting to match, one of two things will happen. The author will say, I’d like the hair a little darker, it’s too obviously bottle blonde (it isn’t!), or she’s not facing far enough into the camera. Scream in agony but don’t answer the e-mail for at least an hour. Then scream on paper.

There are tricks of course, ways of faking it, disguising the fake hair you add, but the selection and digital cutting of hair from a background remains one of the toughest photo manipulation techniques around.

The worst one though is the author then turns round and says – I don’t like it - it looks artificial. Can we try something else? Small wonder the answer to that isn’t just no, it’s HELL NO!


Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Editing - 21st July 2010

I did think about going on and on about the cover art process, especially that flyaway hair, but I decided to duck and weave and come back to that topic in a few days.

We’ve had an e-mail complaint from an author about the length of time it has taken for us to get his book edited. He wants to know if he should finish arranging his own funeral first. I must admit I did find that amusing, but luckily the e-mail was addressed to my business partner, who controls the editing, and not to me.

The problem is, he’s been waiting an awful long time for his book to come out, and there are several reasons for this. Firstly we don’t tend to multi-task on a book, it took us a while to sort out the contract, non-fiction is a nightmare compared to fiction, and then it took us even longer to sort out the cover design. Actually it wasn’t the cover design that was the problem, it was one element of it, the background – you try finding royalty free images of detailed seventy year old maps! In the end he drew his own.

Once the cover was sorted it was over to me to do a thorough story edit, which, given the theme of the book required painstaking checking of and changing of names to protect the innocent. That took a while, but of course for the author, only a few changes which he did, I might say, perfectly and very quickly. Now we’re into the longest part of the operation – the copy edit.

I find his story very interesting, but it must be like pulling hens teeth for an editor who isn’t “into” the subject. Not only that it’s just about our longest book to date. It’s over 400 pages long in draft form. Please note – I am not a copy editor, nor am I qualified to copy edit, in fact I’m pure c**p at it and take my hat off to the ladies that perform this function for us.
The author will of course be able to whiz through those edits when he gets them but then it has to go into the proofing process which will take even more time.

Patience is a virtue. I wish all authors were blessed with rather more of it.

Don’t even get me started on those authors who think their manuscript is perfect and therefore doesn’t need editing – and no we don’t have any of those, but I’ve come across them in the past. I’m not talking about those who argue with the publisher about the quality of the editing, merely those who won’t accept any edits, even when they are right.

I’m currently reading a six book series by one of my favourite authors. By book five I’m beginning to lose heart – the errors jumping off the page are quite serious and it’s clear either it wasn’t edited, the editor was c**p or the author didn’t allow the edits. Big pity, because he is a wonderful storyteller, it’s a pity the quality assurance side lets him down. By the way this is a major publishing house, and he is a big best seller.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Cover Design - 20th July 2010

One of my Facebook friends, thank you Ann, suggested a topic to write about today – cover artwork. Boy, has she picked a topic and a half. I could probably start a new blog just on that subject. NO not happening! I will return to this theme from time to time.

As many of you will know from working with me in the past, I have been developing cover artwork for a long time, producing dozens of covers for my previous, and unlamented, publisher before moving on to producing a large number of the covers for our own company.
Producing cover art is very therapeutic, and fulfils a basic creative need, but it does have its frustrations. Most of those frustrations centre on authors who don’t understand the process and more importantly the limitations of the process.

Let me try to expand on that as a theme, but it might need several posts, see what I mean! When we are writing we usually have a very clear idea of what our characters actually look like. Sometimes we describe them in detail, sometimes not. The level of detail, dependant more on the author’s style and aims than on genre and length of the piece. Some authors deliberately only give a vague glimpse of the character, in order to allow the reader to imagine themselves in the situation themselves. Such transference works very well, especially in a certain genre! LOL Even so, we may carry that detailed image in our mind, even if it doesn’t actually reach the paper.

Not only do these authors fixate on the look of their main characters but also have a strong idea of how their cover should be laid out. This is where the frustrations start to emerge. We have a vested interest in making sure the cover will help sell the book. The author’s first concept may not produce a saleable cover. The other side to the equation is the budget.

We are a small press publisher, we can’t go call all the top model agencies to find the right model, have a full casting call, with the author present, to select the right person, and then shop for the right outfit before flying halfway across the world to shoot them against a sunset at the Sydney Opera House. How I wish I had that kind of expense allowance! Nor can we afford to commission original artwork, digital or otherwise, for fantasy pieces.

As a result, we have to work from a photo stock library, and if the author is lucky we might find the pretty blonde with a bob, slightly overweight, with a crescent shaped birthmark on her right cheek, wearing a nice pink taffeta dress, looking apprehensive but not scared. We might also be able to find that sunset picture over the Opera House too, and by the wizardry that is Photoshop be able to overlay and merge the two pictures together. Let’s not even start to talk about lighting, lighting vectors, and all the inherent problems with such a process, which the author takes for granted. That is, provided they can see it might happen in the first place. That suspension of disbelief becomes second nature by the time you’re onto your third cover, but not on your first.

As I say, a source of frustrations, on both sides, not just on mine. Since this also happens early in the process, it has endless possibilities for issues to arise.

I might add, the bigger the publisher, the less input the author is likely to have on the cover design, until you reach the real stratospheric heights.

I’ll return to this theme in another post.

Monday, 19 July 2010

ISBN's et al. 19/07/10

Acquired two followers already. Thanks ladies – now I’d better think of something interesting to say.
Hmmm..... Interesting?..... Nope, can’t think of anything.
I have a seriously ripping new design for my web site but I can’t put it up yet until the registration and hosting transfer is complete – it uses technology the old hosting company doesn’t support.
I just thought of something. I have decided I hate Apple. Actually, having four crowns in my upper jaw I’ve been told in no uncertain terms not to eat them anyway. LOL. That sounded weak and lame even to me.
Apple, Sony, and I gather Borders, are now insisting that all e-books carried on their sites must have ISBN numbers. We’ve always followed the more traditional approach of only giving an e-book an ISBN if it’s over a certain length, our cut-off being 20,000 words. Other publishers use other lengths. Now, in order to get all of our ebooks carried on these sites we have to go back and retro-fit an ISBN number to all the older short stories. This involves a lot of fiddling around, recreating files and filling in forms. Unfortunately this means we need more ISBN numbers than we actually have allocated to us at this moment. The National Library of New Zealand will happily issue us another tranche of numbers, which remain free, but we need to have used the bulk of the existing allocation first – and by that they mean not merely allocate them but register them as well. Since the registration takes several days between us filling in the form and the registration being on their database I now have to do the operation in two batches, which disturbs the work flow.
All of this has to be done without disrupting existing work, can’t slow up the processing of new releases under any circumstances. That would give authors the feeling they should beat me to a pulp!
On a brighter note our next print release is fast approaching the final proof stage, I would hope the printer will be sending me the proof copy within the twenty-four/forty-eight hours. Their QA procedures are so tight we’ve never had a problem at this stage, so hopefully that will be out by the end of the week. Then we can move on to the next one, of course.
The treadmill never stops.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Wow. I'm actually going to try this. Not so sure it's a good idea but let's give it a go. The first question that pops into my mind, is what should the very first entry be on your blog?

After all this isn't about me, it's about my work as a small press publisher, and by the same token, the daily frustrations of working with retailers and authors alike. Actually before they all gang up and beat me into a metaphorical pulp (it's metaphorical because only a few of our authors live near enough to accomplish that) there won't be much moaning about authors here. Some but not a lot.

My pet rant, and I suppose I'll return to this again and again, ad infinitum, is the lack of sales information provided by so many retailers. Some retailers, like our good friends at provide instant sales updates and we can look them up at any time. Some like even send an e-mail every time they sell a book. Kudos to them.

Others though, especially in the world of the sales aggregators (and unfortunately, here, Smashwords also figure), don't get their information from the retailers who won't deal direct with small publishers, until it's old. I won't name and shame them , but one major US chain of bookstores sell e-books over the web and haven't published sales figures since 24th January, let alone paid the aggregator which means we haven't been paid yet either, and that in turn means nor have our authors.