Don't Get Sloppy

I was in Fort Lauderdale last weekend, officiating Beach Brawl 2014 (and yes, I'll write a post explaining roller derby, given the number of times it's been requested), and I left my Flash drive in the business center of the hotel. I don't really use it anymore. Once upon a time, Dropbox wasn't as useful as it is now, and you couldn't sync across multiple desktops with simple internet access. You had to go to a web location, upload stuff, and blah blah. It was the same as a Flash drive except less convenient.

So back in the day, I kept EVERYTHING on that Flash drive. And while it doesn't include the most recent draft of my most recent novel, it has everything as of the completion of FAMILY JEWELS. Why? Because Dropbox could get hacked. Accidents happen. It's always good to have a backup of your backups (and I update my external hard drive even less frequently than I do my Flash drive).

This all sounds like sage advice, so what makes this post-worthy? Well, when I first started saving things on my Flash drive, there was no such thing as Kindle Direct Publishing. There was no black market of plagiarized novels self-published to reap what few sales they can from the ill-gotten work of others. Now, if I lose my Flash drive, EVERYTHING on that drive (which is EVERYTHING) could be posted to KDP by a nefarious neerdowell, tarnishing my reputation and stealing my work. While none of those novels have been published, some of them have strong prospects for future revision (Triad Society anyone?). Those prospects are dashed if someone steals them off a lost Flash drive and throws them up on the internet in their current form.

This is NOT to tell you to ditch the Flash drive, but it IS to suggest that you lock any folder that contains your writing. Sure it adds a step for when you want to access it, but adding password encryption means that if you leave your Flash drive in a business center, you don't have to panic and wait to see your first novel from five years ago suddenly shitting all over KDP.

Lesson learned. :)

Shoo! Get away, you!

Generally, I feel in a rush to be published and begin my professional career in earnest. Part of that is because I've been writing for so long and am a touch ashamed that I only recently started taking it so seriously. I lost a whole decade in there where I might have made something of myself. A small part of it is that there are these kids getting published now. 22, 18, 16, sixteen really? I wasn't good enough to publish at twenty-six much less sixteen. Then again, whole lost decade. I guess we can call it two lost decades!

But perhaps the biggest reason I'm in such a rush, the reason that isn't so obvious as "I'm old" is that other people keep having the same ideas I do! There's nothing more I hate than when someone reads something of mine and says "This is just like ____!"

FUCK! I don't want to be just like _____. I want to be me. Now, sometimes it just reminds them of the tone or the style and that's fine. But sometimes it's a matter of whole story concepts! You know that episode of Supernatural where it turns out a prophet has been writing books that detail the adventures of Sam and Dean? You want to know who came up with that story before the show even aired? That's right! And now if I ever publish it, someone will say "Hey, that's just like that episode of Supernatural!" No, sir, that episode of Supernatural is just like my book even though my book will have come out years later.


The longer this takes the more frequently that happens. I'll have to beat other people's stories away with a stick. A stick I say! *thwap thwap*

Okay, now I'm going to go watch Hugo, which is very similar to a story idea of mine, but it's okay because it's based on a book that came out before I had the idea, so really I'm encroaching on that guy's world.

(Yeah, I know there are only so many stories, but some of them hit closer to each other than I like. Dammit.)

You Have a Proof, Read the Damn Thing!

Here's a little tradecraft for you. Copyediting and Proofreading are not the same thing. Copyediting often includes proofreading, but it's not its primary goal. It's the icing on the cake that makes your story better. Proofreading does not include copyediting (though occasionally a proofreader will attempt to do so and it usually means a lot of work cleaning up all their bad ideas--but I may be jaded with experiences past ;).

More tradecraft, copyediting costs more than proofreading. In instances where the schedule/budget are tight, you're more likely to see proofreading skipped rather than copyediting even though it's cheaper. Why? Because copyediting is more valuable. It doesn't just fix typos and bad grammar, it fixes holes in your plot, eliminates redundancy and cliche. It makes the story better. And surprisingly, readers are willing to accept a lot of typos if the story is good.

What does that mean? PROOFREAD YOUR SHIT! I hate reading authors talking about how bad their manuscript was when they turned it in. So and So cleaned that mess up and made it readable. Well then put So and So's name on the front cover since you weren't professional enough to make the effort yourself.

Tradecraft: No matter how hard you try, no matter how hard your editor tries, no matter how hard your copyediting and proofreader try, things will get missed. The more crap you leave in your manuscript for others to find, the more crap that will get missed. You get rid of as much as you possibly can before you turn it over. That way what's missed is minor and doesn't make you look like a writing slob.

I'm reading a book right now with an interesting premise and characters, but the frequency of errors is DRIVING ME NUTS! Complete words (articles or short prepositions) are absent in every other chapter. A) it knocks me out of the story. B) how shitty was your manuscript that you turned over that this many mistakes are present? and/or C) how shitty is your publisher that they didn't hire a quality freelancer that could find ENTIRE WORDS MISSING from a sentence.

*pant, pant, pant, pant* Okay, so the lesson, kiddies, is that a book is your face to the world. You can look like a slob and a slacker, or you can suit up and shine. Don't rely on other people to make your shit shiny. Put in the hard work. They'll think better of you for making their job easier and your readers will think better of you because it looks like you know how to write.

Two Thumbs Up to Level Up

One of the perks of living/working in a major metropolitan area is that new technologies become viable in the marketplace sooner. For me, that means paying with my phone rather than cash/credit card.

You might have heard of Square. It won best new technology a year or two ago. Rather than the standard credit card reader that plugs into a phone line, Square card reader attaches to a smart phone. The company charges a lower processing fee than credit card companies and doesn't have any of the extra service or equipment fees. AND if they enable the GPS component, customers that have the Square Cardcase app can simply give their name and the smart phones communicate with each other. Nifty!

The problem is, not a lot of people in Boston are adopting Square. Starbucks just invested in the company and is converting all their locations to Square. I find Starbucks coffee disgusting so that doesn't do me a lot of good.

BUT, Square is not the only such company. Another is Level Up. Level up gives the vendor a smart phone to take pictures of QR codes that display on the customer's smart phone. The QR code is linked to a token and that token is linked to your credit card (thus, if your phone is ever stolen, you can just deactivate the token to protect your credit card). Unlike Square where the motivation is lower processing fees, Level Up creates more of a club mentality. Each vendor offers a discount for first-time users and then additional discounts when repeat customers pass certain benchmarks (so I get $3 off on my first-time purchase and then $5 after I've spent $50 at that restaurant, or what have you). Level Up doesn't charge processing fees on every purchase, but instead charges a fee based on the discount earned. That means that the merchant is getting free charges up until benchmarks are met. It can be great for vendors who might not get a large amount of repeat business (or get repeat business semi-frequently to hit that sweet spot in between) but the cost against the discount is higher than the individual charge fees, so it's not a revolutionary "how can they afford that" kind of deal.

I use Level Up a lot because merchants all around me use it. There are a dozen different places in immediate walking distance of my office and more along the subway path I take to work. I love love love paying with my phone rather than a credit card (except at MJ O'Connor's which is the only place I've ever had experience a "problem"; I think they just don't know how to use the phone).

The reason I'm talking about this today is because Level Up just introduced a new feature that I'm over the moon about. You can donate a percentage of your savings to charity. So instead of me getting $5 off at Four Burgers after I spent $50, I get a percentage of that $5 and the charity gets the rest. In this case, I buy the hamburger I was going to buy anyway, I save $2.50, and Jumpstart gets $2.50 as well. Not earth shattering, but it's more than they were getting before.

If I hadn't been a fan (which I was), I would be now. This is an awesome opportunity for people to give. If you have Level Up merchants in your area, give it a try.

The Bell Rings

So unless you live under a log (in which case you have a secret base and I want to come visit), you heard that the Department of Justice sued Apple and 5/6 of the Big Six today (Random House was not included). Of the five publishers, three settled to avoid the legal costs. Two, Macmillain and Penguin, did not.

First, anti-trust investigations happen much more often than is generally spoken of. They just don't usually make it to court because court is expensive. So, in that regard, this is a big deal.

Second, barring a kangaroo court, I think Macmillain and Penguin will win their challenge.

Third, those in the traditional publishing verse on twitter were incredibly vocal today. I have pared away a lot of the self-publishers I used to follow (mostly because they failed at the social aspect of social media), so I did not get a good view of the opposite side of that spectrum.

Fourth, Twitter is an impossible place to discuss the intricacies of ebook pricing. Both sides of the argument are so complex and contain nuggets of truth that a proper conversation cannot be had in 140 characters.

Fifth, and here's the bulk of my topic today, my opinion on ebook pricing is changing. The reasons for this will take more than 140 characters. Quick recap for new readers, I've been making ebooks for a long time, like back when your choices were PDF or .MOBI (mmm mobipocket, you've grown up!). So here are the two cruxes of the argument and both are true.

ebooks are cheaper than other formats to make and manufacture.

The cost of making the actual book is a small fraction of the cost of making a book product.

The problem is, each side of the argument has latched onto one of these two truths to argue the other side. So both sides have taken 1/2 of the truth to argue the other half. It's like watching the heads-side of a quarter argue with the tails-side that only one side is a real quarter. Those watching the argument can do little but bang their head against a table.

When ebooks first went mainstream and Amazon set the bar at 9.99, I thought they were (and perhaps they were) playing to a familiar .99 value similar to that of an mp3 file on iTunes. I was outraged. 9.99? Are they crazy? That thing cost pennies to make. PENNIES!

9.99 was ridiculous. I wasn't going to pay that. Blah blah blah, grumble grumble grumble. Of course, I did pay it. I paid it a lot. That and 7.99 and 5.99. Sometimes 3.99 on special deals. I dipped my toes in the 99 cent self-pubbed market before I ran away screaming (Hocking being the best author by far I found in that pool). But then the agency model rolled out and all of a sudden I saw 11.99, 14.99, and 16.99. What? Are they crazy? That thing cost pennies to make. PENNIES!

16.99 was ridiculous. I wasn't going to pay that. Blah blah blah, grumble grumble grumble. I would not buy a book for more than 9.99. I've broken that rule twice, and both times in extenuating circumstances. First, me and my wife split the cost of A DANCE WITH DRAGONS when it was released, so really, I did not break my 9.99 rule except that the book was priced over 9.99. Second was Galen Beckett's THE MAGICIANS AND MRS QUENT, which was 11.99, but I bought it with a gift certificate I got for Christmas, so it wasn't like I used real money. I have not broken that rule elsewise, and that's so hard! THE MAGICIANS... was the first in a trilogy and they're all priced at 11.99. And Saladin Ahmed's THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON just came out and that's 11.99 as well. DAMMIT! I want to read that sucker, but I have principles.

Principles, dammit!

Having a discussion with a new Twitter friend, Lauren Panepinto, (who did the super duper awesome covers on Joe Abercrombie's novels--serious, I drool over those covers), I began to communicate what I had come to realize about ebooks and their pricing. I had originally expected ebooks to replace mass market paperbacks. As such, I always expected them to be priced like mass market paperbacks. $7.99? I'll scoop that shit up like crazy!

My evolving perception of pricing, however, could not be communicated in 140 characters, so I abandoned the discussion of books costing more than just manufacturing cost with a weak "I know, that's how I get a paycheck."

Kind of weak, it's true after all, but still. Weak.

If ebooks have to be priced so high because books cost more than just manufacturing, how do you justify trade paperbacks? Mass market paperbacks? They're all derived from the same product, and they're priced for what their platform is expected to be priced at (or thereabouts). So saying, we can't price ebooks that low because it costs so much more to make a book than just manufacturing! is crap. It's crap because you're not making ONLY ebooks. You're making other formats as well.

Or so I said. But I was wrong, at least somewhat. I was wrong because ebooks aren't released like other formats are. A publisher doesn't release a hardback at the same time as the trade. If you got the choice to buy a $25 hardback or a $8 mass market paperback, you'd have to really love that book or really love hardback to spring the $17 difference. Most people would go for the mass market. And publishing makes its money from most people.

The numbers are already in. ebooks are gouging mass market paperback sales, which is entirely expected, which only lends credence to my mmpb pricing. But they're cutting into all the platforms, so now where does that revenue come from instead of a hardback if the ebook is priced too low.

NOW, I will say, early numbers studies say that $7.99 is an ideal price point, and that companies will offset the reduced per title revenue with increased sales. It'll take some time for the market to bear that out, though.

Regardless, I'm starting to think that 11.99 for a new release isn't unreasonable. It's not the $25 for a hard cover, but it is, in a way, the cost that you pay to get a new release. Same goes for DVDs, so why shouldn't it be true with ebooks?

The problem where this all derails is when the ebook is priced higher than the available format print book. You know how I mentioned Galen Beckett above? Those 11.99 ebooks? Yeah, I could get a mass market trade of the same title for $6. THAT'S a problem. $11.99 for Saladin Ahmed instead of $16.95? I just saved five bucks. If I don't want to pay that, I can wait a couple years and it SHOULD drop in price and I can get it for an expense that I think is more appropriate. Those are the choices that the market makes. Things change so quickly that sometimes we forget that it takes time for things to work themselves out.

Throw Your Arms In the Air Because You Just Don't Care

I write because I'm a writer. I pursue professional publication because that's been a goal of mine for the past 22 years. It wasn't always my highest priority, but it was never abandoned. And for the past two+ years, it has been my highest priority. I focus on writing not as an eventual, but as a now. I may still be wading at the shallow end compared to long-established best sellers, but I'm not just wishing. I am being.

And you know what? I'm already sick and tired of it.

Publishing is mirroring our current politics so much that I want to hit my head against a wall. Two sides have entrenched themselves in their opinions. Neither can fully represent the nuances of 100%, but both act and speak as if theirs is the only recourse. They waste time and energy deriding the other group and drowning out the measured compromise of the middle ground.

I've had my fill of it in politics. I've had my fill of it in publishing. So here is my declaration to all of you: KNOCK IT THE FUCK OFF!

Premise 1: Writing is the art. Publishing is the business.

Premise 2: In business, all parties look out for their own interests first.

Premise 3: Our interest is to make money through our writing. If that is not our interest, we should not be in publishing.

Assertion: We are entitled to pursue whatever avenues will yield us the optimal yield, this taking into account measurable factors such as promotion, distribution, etc.

This means we can self-publish if we want to. This means we can publish with an independent or small press if we want to. This means we can publish with a major publishing house if we want to.

If anyone says differently, that person is full of shit. You do what you need to do to succeed at this business. Let other people do what they need to do to succeed in this business. Plain and fucking simple. The next person that tries to beat me over the head with "[X publishing model] is the debil!" gets kicked in the junk.

This all grew out of a post I originally wrote in September. It's taken me two months to revisit the post because I was just that upset. It's really interfered with other blog posting as well (as you can tell). I wanted to finish this one, but the topic just riles me up so that I needed more space.

So how did that old post begin? Well, with usual Me wit, I was being all snarky about Amazon. I have come around to self-publishing as a valid business model (as noted above), especially when articles like this embody what I believe is the write mindset for self-publishing. But some of the more popular self-publishing proponents out there beat the Amazon drum too often. All they see is 70% royalties and nothing else can compete. I believe this is short-sighted, and I think Amazon is starting to show its hand as to why.

You think that 70% gold mine is the way publishing will be forever? That's not how monopolies work. I agree with you that 15% or 25% royalties is crap (net? Seriously?), but you're fooling yourself if you think you'll get 70% royalties forever. It's a ploy to take over the market. What happens once you take over a market? This is what happens. And/or this happens.

It has nothing to do with the efficacy of trad v. self. It's what happens when one company owns complete marketshare. The difference between 15% and 70% is so large, though, that it drowns out any reasonable conversation. So here's the short of it. NEVER LIMIT YOURSELF TO ONE OPTION.

Now this doesn't seem like a discussion that would get derailed, but in September there was "the blow up." I'm not linking to it and I'm not expounding to it. It involves a company owned by a company owned by a company that also owns the company I work for. To talk about it requires my HR department and I make it a policy never to discuss things that require an HR department, because nothing good comes out of that.

Here's the short of that: SOME PEOPLE SUCK. In any endeavor, you will meet people who are phenomenal. You will meet people who are abysmal, and you will meet the avast amount of people that fall in the middle. They don't have curly mustaches that they twist around their fingers. They don't want to tie you to train tracks. But sometimes you meet someone who does, and fuck that guy. No one likes that guy. Be wary of that guy in all your dealings because you may or may not run into him.

Because that guy exists does not mean the entire industry is corrupt any more than it means you should not self-publish because it adds to Amazon's marketshare. These are factors in the grand spreadsheet of business. You need to tally it all up and make the decisions that are best for you.

So now that I've gotten my own licks in on that dead horse, let us discuss lighter matters, like cabbages and kings.

Also? I like pie.