Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Fantastic Fiction and Connecting with Readers with Karpov Kinrade

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Today we chat with the "better half" of the USA Today bestselling author team, Karpov Kinrade. Karpov Kinrade is the pen name for the husband and wife entertainment duo Lux and Dmytry Karpov-Kinrade, aka The KK Duo.

Highlights from our chat:

Do your research. Know what's selling and understand why it sells.

Look for the story hooks that get people excited.

Understand and utilize the themes and tropes readers want, some of which the readers might not even know they are reading for.

Don't limit yourself to the tropes and themes of your genre. Draw inspiration from other genres and look for ways to incorporate them.

The importance of wish fulfillment and escapism.

It's not enough to write well; your work needs to meet a need within the reader.

Considerations when choosing the next project:
-What do we know we can market?
-What is selling well right now?
- What are we going to enjoy writing?

Advice to indies:
-Do your research. Know what makes a bestseller.
-Constantly work to improve your craft.
-Study marketing.
-Be flexible. What works for one author might not work for another. What works today might not work tomorrow.
-Experiment. Learn from your mistakes.

Connect with Karpov Kinrade!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Thrilling Fiction with Toby Neal

Toby Neal is the USA Today bestselling author of The Wired Series, the Lei Crime series, and more.
Today she chats with us about getting started in the indie world, writing thrillers, co-authoring, branching out into new genres, and succeeding as an indie.

A few highlights from our chat

"Readers fuel my creative fire.  Readers wanting my work, encouraging me, and saying, 'Where's the next one?' That's what keeps me going."

"When you're an indie who's doing well, you're doing both [writing and marketing.] You're a business person who's writing."

"We're focusing on building our email list because these are readers who belong to us... If you begin [when publishing your first book] with the plan that you're going to build your email list, you're off to a good start."

"I think of my series as trains. Each book is a car on the train the the leading book is the engine... I add fuel to them with new releases, a Bookbubs, trying out a new ad campaign or something that gives them exposure.."

"Pick something you care about a lot because passion will drive your writing."

Check Out these Links!

Free books by Toby Neal

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Are Contests Worthwhile?

Listen to the companion podcast.

Contests are on my mind this week for a couple of reasons:

-I just entered Primordial in the International Thriller Writers annual awards.
-I received an email from an organization inviting me to pay $75 to enter a book in their indie book contest.

Are these contests worthwhile? Let's take a look at some different types of awards:

Organizational Awards/Awards with a Solid Reputation
-Many writers organizations offer awards: ITW, SFWA, HWA off the top of my head. These awards typically don't cost anything to enter and should you win, they carry some name recognition.

Contests that don't cost anything to enter
-These come in different shapes and sizes. Some have a bit of a name attached to them, others don't. While the odds are that winning won't do anything of consequence for your career, they cost nothing but your time to enter, so there's no harm in entering if it's of interest to you. What's more, you might win or be selected as a finalist. That's a nice boost to the ego. It's a good feeling!

Contests that charge an entry fee
Here's where we need to engage in some critical thinking. There are a few reputable contests that charge an entry fee, but most are contest mills for whom the contests are a source of revenue. Things to consider:

Warning Signs
-How did you hear about the contest? Does it have enough of a reputation that you learned about it by word of mouth or did they spam you?
-Who is sponsoring the contest? Is it a reputable publisher/organization or is it attached to a vanity publisher or contest mill?
-Who is entering the contest? Any successful authors or just hopeful indies?
-How many categories do the awards offer? Most reputable contests are tightly focused. If a contest is offering a lot of categories and is charging to enter, that can be a warning sign.
-How often are the awards held? More than once a year?
-What's the prize? Is it basically a lottery ticket structure?
-Are there more costs later? Some contests charge to enter, and then charge the winners an additional fee to display their "winner medallion/badge."

Business Considerations
Let's suppose we've done our due diligence and concluded a contest is not a scam. Now we need to decide if  it's worth our time and money to enter. Things to think about.

-Consider your own consumer behavior as a buyer of books. When you're looking for an new book to read, how many times in the last year did you google "indie publishing contests," found the title of a winning book in a contest of which you've never heard, and then bought that book? Probably never. If you don't do it, the average book buyer probably doesn't do it either.
-Check the sales ranking of the most recent winner. When I received the invite to enter the $75 contest, I looked up last year's winner. The book's ranking was in the millions, meaning it hasn't sold a copy for months.
-Have you even heard of any of their recent winners? Did winning this contest bring the books/authors to your attention. This is especially true if they're in your genre.
-Readers don't care that you're an "award-winning author" unless it's an award of which they've heard, and probably not even then unless you have an enticing book cover, engaging product description, etc...
-Do you really have the money to spend? If so, would it be better spent on advertising? Should you save it toward publishing expenses for the next book?

-Google might not be your friend. Many of these contest mills publish articles that, on the surface, look like valid defenses of for-pay contests. Be careful. Use your own critical thinking skills and look to sites like Writer Beware, or forums where authors gather, for guidance.
-If you enter your book into an open contest, for the love of all that is holy, don't jump on social media and announce, "My book has been nominated for the XX Award!" At best, it makes you look like an insecure, attention-seeking idiot; at worst it makes you look deceptive and fundamentally dishonest. (If you enter your book in a contest and it's later selected as a finalist, that's different. Feel free to talk that up!"

Winning one of the many run-of-the-mill contests is a good feeling, and there's nothing wrong with that, but it's probably not going to help your career at all. If the contest is free, or it's a for-pay contest that isn't a scam and you have the money, go for it. Just don't expect results beyond the good feeling you get from winning.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Finish What You Start

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Today's post/episode was inspired by a meme I created and posted this morning. This particular stock image has been the subject of many different memes recently, so I thought I'd create one to reflect something I see often in the writing world.

Does this remind you of anyone you know? We've all had those times when we're in the "mushy middle" of our work in progress when an amazing idea hits us. No matter what we do, we can't get that new idea out of our head. We might even abandon our WIP, telling ourselves we'll "get back to it" and jump into this new idea. More often than not, our excitement over the new idea only lasts until we get another new idea. And on and on...

Imagine taking your car in for new tires. The technician brings your car back to you with only one new tire. "Sorry. I got the first tire on, but I'm really excited about that new jaguar over there."

You hire a house painter. He finishes one wall. "Sorry, but I'm bored with this color, and frankly, your house is taking longer than I thought to finish. I'm going to stop here and hope the next house I paint is more exciting."

You wake up in the recovery room after surgery. The nurse says, "The doctor did remove your kidneys, but she didn't do the transplant. She just wasn't feeling it today."

You get the picture.

Too many aspiring writers treat their careers the same way.

This is a problem, because:

  • If your goal is to sell your fiction, you might want to, you know, finish something.
  •  It's a bad habit. The more you quit, the easier it gets. What's more, you're training yourself to associate writing with that feeling of excitement we all get when we dive into a new novel. Inevitably, that feeling wears off and we incorrectly assume there's a problem with the WIP when that real problem is inside ourselves.

  • If you're abandoning your novel for the sake of an exciting new idea, there's some underlying problem you need to identify and address. Maybe it's the excitement factor we discussed above. Maybe the story is broken and you need to fix it. Maybe its fear or insecurity. Maybe it's a lack of planning. Maybe it's simply a maturity issue. Whatever the reason, we'll never be successful if we don't learn to identify our problems and meet them head on.
  •  Finishing a novel is a process. It's hard work. It means working even on the days we don't "feel like it."
  •   Reality check: that new idea is almost never any better than the idea that inspired the book you're already working on. Wait six months and return to that idea that excited you so much. I'll bet it now seems no better or worse than all of your other ideas.
  •  Ideas are of little value. It's about the execution, and that's what we learn to do when we finish our novel. 
  • People might be relying on you. Collaborations, work for hire, contract writing all require that an author deliver a quality product on time. If you develop a reputation for not finishing, you're finished.
On the positive side:

  • Completing a novel, even a flawed one or one about which we're not all that excited, feels amazing. Best of all? You can fix that novel through subsequent drafts.
  •  Just like quitting tends to feed on itself, so does finishing. With each finished novel, our confidence level and our skill set grows and we find it easier to finish subsequent books.

  • We can actually start selling fiction!

What can I do?

Stop believing in the "muse."
Stop using the word "can't" when it comes to writing. (Unless your arms have been cut off and you don't own a dictation program.) Stop telling yourself that you have to "feel" a certain way in order to write. You're the same writer with the same tools at your disposal no matter how you feel that day or what your attitude is about your WIP.

Treat it like a relationship.
Writing a novel can be like entering into a relationship. It starts out new and exciting. There's an exploration process. At some point, familiarity sets in and the excitement wanes. Now comes a decision point- Do I stick with it, ride out the difficult parts, delve deeper, and make it work? Or do I walk away?

Stop walking away.
If you're someone who keeps abandoning your manuscripts, stop walking away. Ride it out. Finish it. You'll learn and grow from the experience. Occasionally there will be a valid reason to abandon a manuscript, but if you're a serial quitter, you don't yet have the requisite experience to make that call.

Get real about what's holding you back.
If you're a pantser who is always abandoning manuscripts, maybe you need to become an outliner until you've developed the instincts to write without one. If you're an emotional writer who only works on ideas while they're exciting, try making yourself work a little bit every day. Or, start with short stories, move up to novelettes, then novellas. Get the experience of finishing something as you work your way up to longer works.

But what about my great idea? I don't want to lose it.
I sometimes get an amazing new idea that sets my heart racing. Here's what I do:
  • Open a Google doc.
  • Write down every single thing I can think of relating to that new idea: the concept,  characters, plot, theme, setting, flashes of scenes that have already come to mind. Everything.
  • Then I close the doc and get back to my work in progress.

That way I don't lose the idea. I might lose that overwhelming feeling of excitement that comes with a new idea, but that's actually a good thing, because that feeling never lasts. It won't get you all the way through a novel. It's critical that we detach our work habits from that feeling of euphoria.

I recommend everyone do the same thing. Don't be sucked in by the new idea. Write it down, save it for later, and see if you're still excited about it once you've finished your WIP.

Finish what you start!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Publishing News and Notes

Listen to the podcast episode

I'm out of town so I thought I'd do a quick podcast covering a few topics:

Listener question in response to last week's episode: 

"I have a lot of friends who are signing with small presses. One of the terms though is, while they don't charge an upfront cost, they take all royalties until production cost has been repaid, then after it has been repaid, the split the royalties 50/50... What are your thoughts on this type of publishing?"

Big surprise- I don't like this idea. The author writes the book, the publisher handles the publishing side. The two parties share royalties. That's how the partnership should work. What's described above sounds like "pay to publish on the layaway plan."

Nook Press is reportedly closing accounts of authors who  have published erotica:

I've seen a couple different letters authors have received. In some cases it's a vague notification with a request to contact Nook. The other is a termination letter. 

Nook still accounts for a solid percentage of my sales, but it's getting smaller and their customer service has been bad for a long time. I think they're determined to shoot themselves in the foot.

International Thriller Writers is presenting George RR Martin with "ThrillerMaster Award" for lifetime achievement in writing thrillers.

Problem is, he doesn't write thrillers. Yes, his books can be thrilling. Yes, there can be overlap between his work and elements of popular thrillers, but that doesn't mean they fit into the Thriller genre. Some characters in Stephen King's books fall in love and get married, but his books aren't Romance. The boys in his novel IT all took turns having sex with the female protagonist as a way of "bonding" before fighting the monster, but everyone knows that book isn't erotica. "Thriller" is one of those genres that is pretty well identifiable: books in which the plot relies heavily on the fantastic, on "too advanced" technology, or where romance or erotica provided the primary plot line might be "thrilling" but are not "Thrillers." 

GRRM is one of my favorite writers, and good for him for getting the award, but I can't help but wonder what is the point of having genre awards and a genre-specific organization if you're going to honor the achievements of authors who don't write in the genre?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Hybrid Authors and Publishers

Listen to the companion podcast episode.

"Hybrid" is a term that's been bandied about a great deal of late. I can be used to describe a type of author strategy or a type of publisher, but it's also being used by vanity publishers to mislead authors.
Let's take a look.

Hybrid Author

An author who is published by a "Big 5" or otherwise large publishing house, but also self-publishes.

  • In this arrangement, the author sacrifices royalties per-book, hoping to gain a presence in bookstores and capitalizeson the visibility and established audience provided by the large publishing house to drive indie sales.
  • Often, the the reality is that the traditional publisher offers very little and the indie author is living off of indie publishing, and the indie career actually boosts trad-pub sales.
  • Contract terms, especially with Big 5 companies, can be problematic. If you're a successful indie, think long and hard before accepting a publishing contract that includes a restrictive non-compete clause.

Some consider any author who both self-publishes and is published by someone else to be a hybrid author.
  • The strategy is the same as above: sacrifice a share of royalties in hopes of reaching that publisher's audience, perhaps reaching bookstores, and gaining some visibility.

Hybrid Publisher

A "hybrid publisher" charges the author money up-front in exchange for providing the services that a publishing house provides. (Editing, formatting, cover design, distribution.)Typically, the "hybrid publisher" will also take a cut of the author's sales for the life of the contract, but will argue that the author's percentage is much higher than a standard royalty. The company will often refer to this arrangement as "partnership publishing."

  • Curated hybrid publishing. Some companies (if they can be believed) won't make an offer just any book, but will select titles they find worthy. Of course, they still charge the author for publishing services and there's no way of knowing if the company truly believes in the book or if that's simply a tactic to persuade the author to go with their company.

  • Crowd-funded publishing. Some publishers require that the author crowdfund enough money to cover publication costs before the company will publish the author's book.

  • Assisted self-publishing. Some companies will publish any book as long as the author pays them to do so. They might have a flat fee or they might offer a-la-carte services, so that the author can do some of the work a publisher would normally do and pay the publisher to complete other publishing tasks.
  •  Literary agencies with self-publishing arms. Some agencies, including some reputable ones, offer their clients the option of assisted publishing through the agency for manuscripts they've been unable to place. Also, some publishing companies, usually indie presses, offer pay-to-publish services in addition to a typical publishing arrangement.

What is not a hybrid publisher?

  • Services that get your book into distribution channels are not hybrid publishers. (Kindle, Kobo, Draft2Digital, Createspace, Ingram Spark, Nook, Smashwords...)
  • While most of these services do not require any upfront fees, companies like Lightning Source and Ingram Spark do charge setup fees to get your book into your system. 
  • In some instances, a publisher (usually a small press) might allow you to provide your own cover art if what you want exceeds their budget. It's a judgment call as to whether or not this is acceptable to the author, but I would not consider it "hybrid" as the publisher does have some budget for cover art and does not mandate that the author provide/pay for it.

Warning signs of a "bad' hybrid publisher
In general, I discourage hybrid publishing for reasons I will discuss later. The reality is, many "hybrid publishers" are the same old pay-to-publish vanity presses who have been out there for years. Some things to watch out for:

  • The company defends the amount it charges by citing the "high price of self-publishing." Just today I read a post in which the company defends its prices by quoting someone in the industry who claims self-publishing "should" cost between £1500 to £5000 (roughly $2,000 to $6,500). This is garbage. According to the $100,000 author survey, the majority of authors earning $100,000 or more a year are paying $50-$250 for a book cover and $250-$500 for editing, plus, in some cases, a modest amount for formatting.  If a company cites the high cost of self-publishing, proceed with caution.
  • The company doesn't advertise, or considers Facebook posts and blog/website posts to be "advertising." I run Gryphonwood/Adrenaline Press. We're very small and don't have a large budget for advertising, but my authors get paid advertising: AMS ads, Facebook ads, discount ads promoted on sites like Book Barbarian, Freebooksy, etc... 

  • The company uses paid advertising to recruit new authors, but not to sell books. This is evidence that the company is making its money by selling services, not books.

  • Bad publishing practices. Take a look at the company's books on a site like Amazon. What's the quality of the cover art? Use the 'Search Inside' feature. How does the interior formatting look? Is it well edited? How about the book's pricing, especially the ebook? Is it priced to sell in accordance with current indie pricing trends, or did the company set a high price in hopes to make a few bucks off of friends and family before the book sinks into oblivion?
  •  Their books don't sell well. Check the sales rankings on Amazon. Is the company offering the added value that a publisher should? If sales rankings are poor, it's another sign that the company makes its money by selling services, not selling books.
  • The company sells hope. A company might offer pie-in-the-sky projections of your sales figures as a way of demonstrating that it's worthwhile to pay them to publish you. The problem here is obvious. If they truly believed your book would sell that many copies, they wouldn't charge you upfront.

  • The company takes a defensive or condescending tone when discussing its business practices.I've seen this many times, sometimes on the company's own site or blog, other times when the company seeks out critical articles and responds.

  • The company hides its prices or makes them difficult to find. Last year, I became aware of a pay-to-publish company charging prices that made even my jaw drop, and I'm a cynic who's seen lots of ripoff vanity presses. I (and probably others) reported this company to Writer Beware, who proceeded to share information about the company in question. An author with a huge internet presence also discussed it, setting off a firestorm. By the next day, the company had removed their prices from their site, and replaced it with a contact form.

  • Exorbitant Prices. Take a look at the prices the company is charging for publishing. Do they align with what indie authors are paying? Check the services forum at Kboards. Do your research. Find out what it would really cost to do the things you can't or don't want to do.
  • Watch out for "Hybrid publishers" giving advice on hybrid publishing. While researching this post, I discovered that a lot of the top search results come from these very same companies.

My Take

In general, I love the Hybrid Author model but don't care for the Hybrid Publisher model. A few thoughts:

  • If you're going to pay to be published, learn the ropes, find professionals to do the work you can or don't want to do, and keep all your royalties.
  • If a publisher truly believes your book has sales potential, that publisher will cover the costs of publishing. I'm skeptical when a publisher says, "We believe in you, but give us some money just in case."
  • I don't care for crowd-funded publishing. If you can crowd fund your book, publish it yourself.
  • Literary agents operating as publishers can be great or it can be problematic. I've seen some terrible books published by agencies. Also, it's a potential conflict of interest. 
  • Ultimately, if you don't have the requisite indie spirit needed for self-publishing, I recommend seeking out a publishing company. If not the Big 5, a reputable small press.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Is it Censorship?

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The subject of censorship has been on my mind today, particularly as it relates to publishing and creative endeavors. The items that prompted this are:

1.  Outcry demanding that a publisher pull a book that examines racial and societal inequalities through a fantasy setting.
  • The book in question is a fantasy novel centering on a character who grew up in a stratified society, which includes many fantasy races
  • Outcry against the book began before it had been published, and was picked up by many who admitted they had never read the book.
  • Criticism generally centered around two issues:
    • Out-of-context quotes of horrible characters saying horrible things.
    • The question of whether or not a writer from a certain demographic has the right to write about certain topics.

2. Retailers pulling down a "taboo" book (I won't link to it for various reasons.)
  • This book was a "taboo erotica" title filled with incest, including parent with underage child, and rape.
  • When Amazon pulled the book the author actually used that as part of her marketing.
  • Various retailers eventually pulled the book until, as far as I know, no one sells it.
  • Ultimately, the book violated TOS, which is why it was pulled.
  •  Many supported the author's right to write "taboo" subject matter while others attacked the writer personally.
3. Criticism of a forthcoming alternate history show that hasn't even been written yet.
  • The show is set in an alternate timeline in which the Civil War ended in a stalemate, slavery was preserved and has evolved into a modern institution. The show will cover events leading to another Civil War.
  • Some criticism revolved around the subject matter, opining that modern slavery should not be represented at all, given the race-related problems that pervade our society.
  • Anger over white writers writing about slavery (despite the fact that half the creative team are black.)
  • Critics seem to either be unaware of or don't have a problem with the myriad works of alternate history in fiction, especially those covering the same or similar subject matter.

Questions that Arise

What qualifies as censorship?
Inevitably, the question of censorship arises. Some argue that none of what is described above is censorship because it does not constitute a legal ban on the creation of the various works describe above.

What is censorship? It depends on your definition. One such I found:

Censorship- The suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.

A ban on certain creative works would fall under "prohibition," but what about "suppression"? When vendors refuse to sell a product, is that a form of suppression? When a publisher pulls a book without returning the publishing rights, is that suppression? When people make a concerted effort to have a book or show pulled, are they actively supporting suppression? If so, then that qualifies as a form of censorship.

Do we truly believe in free speech?
Growing up, the oft-heard mantra was, "I disagree with what you say but I'll defend your right to say it." There's no question that's changed, especially with the advent of social media.

We now hear, "Your right to free speech doesn't mean you're free of the consequences that come from expressing your ideas."

In my youth, the big battles were over censorship of books, music, and movies, usually because they were deemed "obscene" or offensive to religious beliefs. In my mind, the "good guys" where those who defended the artists and said, "Let them put the work out there and let the consumer decide what (s)he wants to read, view, or listen to."

Now, with a controversy like the book Black Witch, we're seeing active attempts to prevent the publication of a book because portions are either offensive, or because the author is part of the wrong demographic.

Do all writers have the right to explore challenging subject matter?
Can/should a writer from a very different background explore issues relating to race, culture, economics?

Is it all right as long as the writer doesn't profit from the writing?

Would a writer who hails from that same socioeconomic group necessarily do a better job than the writer who is trying to write "the other"?

Is there a line between saying, "I'm not going to read that book because I don't think there's any way a [insert race] can really understand or do justice to the subject matter" and actively trying to halt publication of that book?

What do we, as writers and readers, do in response to the above?
I don't have the answers, but my instinct says:

As a writer, explore any subject matter you want, but do the very best job you can, do it respectfully, and know that some people might have a problem with what you've written, depending on the subject matter.

As a reader, it will vary from person to person, but I lean toward free expression on both sides. The publisher is free to publish, the writer is free to write, the seller is free to list, and I'm free to not purchase and to let the world know why I've made that choice.