Posts Tagged ‘bookpublishing’

Pirates Aren’t Always in the Form of Johnny Depp

Monday, May 16th, 2011

pirate (public domain image)Contrary to popular opinion, writers aren’t writers because they have nothing better to do and are merely killing time until they end up at the cemetery. The majority of us who toil with the pen (and keyboard) need to earn off our labours, just like everyone else on the planet. If you ask a bricklayer if he/she would work for free rather than be paid, what do you think the answer would be? How about accountants, librarians, school teachers, electricians, farmers, architects, graphic designers, nurses, shopkeepers, janitors, clerical workers, street cleaners, and so on and so on?

Unless they’re offering their services for charity, I suspect the answer would be a resounding NO. We all have to make a living. We all have bills to pay. And we all have to survive.

So why is it that some individuals out there seem to be under the impression that the product of our labours should be given away for free and without any form of compensation? If you wonder what I’m on about, I’m talking about pirates – and by pirates I don’t mean Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. I mean pirates who steal copyrighted content and upload it to websites so others can read it FOR FREE. We all know this has been going on with music, but how many of you are aware that authors are likewise having our work stolen and, consequently, the food taken out of our mouths?

Despite the existence of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, many authors such as myself have had the displeasure of discovering that our work has been pirated in the form of our copyrighted material being illegally copied and made available for free for download on the internet. It’s all well and good that hugely successful (and wealthy) authors such as Neil Gaiman think it’s just fine and dandy to have our work ripped off and not be paid for it, but hey, Neil can afford to be ripped off. The majority of us cannot. “You’re not losing sales by having stuff out there,” he says. Get real, Neil. Don’t compare your international sales levels to that of the overwhelming majority of writers whose wallets really feel the pain when their work is pirated.

Contrary to what many people might believe, this form of theft isn’t always a matter of scanning print books. These pirates have managed to bypass the digital security measures put in place by electronic publishers such as Amazon Kindle and do their copying that way. (Clearly a lot more work needs to be done on the part of Amazon and others to prevent this from happening.) I’m assuming that these pirates were interested enough in these books to buy them in the first place. So what’s the motivation behind copying them and uploading them to be read for free? Isn’t that what public libraries are for?

Frankly, I just don’t understand what these book thieves are getting out of it. Have they nothing better to do? Do they not have a job or a family or a dog that needs to be taken for a walk? What’s the point of this exercise? Are they serving a greater good? Not if the greater good is a crime, they’re not. Is what they’re doing any different to that of a shoplifter stealing a book from a bookshop? If a shoplifter is caught, he/she would be prosecuted for theft.

Theft is theft.

Unfortunately, it isn’t only copyrighted works that are being pirated. A growing number of authors (many self-published) have been discovering that content they’ve written and posted on websites for free have been stolen and offered for sale on Amazon Kindle as electronic books. Talk about ballsy! But yes, there are opportunists out there stealing work that’s already being offered for free, putting a different author’s name on it, and then selling it for money. It’s bad enough to be cheated out of money, but to be cheated out of getting credit for your own work as well? Talk about adding insult to injury!

Some of the file sharing sites that have uploads of copyrighted material work in conjunction with an organisation called the DMCA (apparently nothing to do with the governmental statute), therefore pirated material can be reported (and hopefully removed) by them. However, for those sites that don’t have a relationship with this group, you’re sort of shit out of luck, especially if you can’t find anyone at the site to report the stolen content to (which is often the case, especially if they’re outside the USA). Having said that, if the site collects a subscription fee from its users, you can report them to the financial services they employ, be it PayPal, MasterCard, etc, which may or may not result in the financial relationship being terminated (and therefore causing inconvenience to the site offering the pirated material). The point is, writers need to be vigilant and chase after these bastards themselves – and be prepared to make it a part of their regular work routine. Further to this, book publishers need to become pro-active about this issue, because they too, are losing money. The responsibility should not be borne entirely by the author.

For those of you out there who have no sympathy for writers and can’t understand why we’re bitching when our work is at least being read, let me pose the question again: Would YOU work for free?


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Amazon Book Reviews: Pure as the Driven Snow?

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

If you’re an author, you have a certain expectation that your work will, at some point, be noticed and reviewed. And with online booksellers such as Amazon allowing for the bibliophile equivalent of Joe the Plumber to post their reviews at the click of a mouse, there’s more chance than ever that something you’ve had published will actually be reviewed by someone. Sounds good, huh? – all nice and egalitarian! Well, in theory, yes. In practice, however, it has its pitfalls…

Unbiased "customer" reviewer

Unbiased "customer" reviewer

…The main one being that an unbiased review by Joe the Plumber-turned-Reviewer may not, in fact, be so unbiased. One of the most recent and highly publicised examples of this involves historian Orlando Figes, who wrote negative reviews of his competitors’ books on Amazon. This sounds like something straight out of an episode of Inspector Morse, minus the murder and Oxford setting. Now imagine, if you will, the number of times this happens that we don’t get to hear about. I suspect it is not at all uncommon and has probably happened to most authors at some point in their careers, whether they’re aware of it or not.

I’ve had a handful of suspect reader/customer reviews myself, and the instant I read them a red flag went up, because they didn’t sound as if they were written by a layperson at all. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that they might actually have been penned by someone who either had a “competing” book out or who submitted work to me that I rejected. I’ve edited a number of anthologies and dealt with a number of egos, so believe me, this is not as paranoid as it sounds. There are just certain things that ring false, and after awhile you get good at spotting them.

So is it a personal attack or a way of trying to swing the vote away from a competitor by lambasting his/her book? Like, duh! Anyone who thinks it’s a touchy-feely love fest in the book business is living in another hemisphere, especially in this era of dwindling imprints and dwindling disposable incomes to pay for such luxuries as books. The expression “dog eat dog” didn’t come out of nowhere. Heck, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if whoever coined the phrase was a writer!

The point is, these reader/customer reviews are intended to be unbiased and absent of any agendas (or vendettas). Joe buys book, Joe reads book, Joe loves or hates book, then gives us his verdict by writing a review – at least this is how it is in theory. The key to having this process work is very simple and straightforward – unbiased book reviewing from the general book reading/buying public that is not subject to any outside influences. However, it seems that the purity of the process is becoming even more corrupted in ways beyond those mentioned previously. For example, what about authors/editors who give away free copies of their books to any Tom, Dick, Harry (or Joe) who will agree to post a review? Is it likely that someone who is handed a free book direct from the hot little hands of an author is going to write a review proclaiming that said book is total shite? The odds are they won’t, even if the book IS total shite. So much for that unbiased reader/customer review from Joe, eh? Now I’m all for self promotion (as we all know!), but this is crossing the line into the inappropriate – and I’m not sure how happy the average book buyer will be to discover that all those rave reviews posted by other “customers” were actually solicited in this manner.

When I look at reviews posted on Amazon or other sites, I tend to give more credence to those from legitimate and established publications and websites (ie Publishers Weekly, The List, Midwest Book Review, The Library Journal), professional book reviewers, and websites/bloggers/authors who have some sort of track record as book reviewers (and are accountable for their words by using their real names). Mind you, even so-called “legitimate” reviews can be laced with a bit of subjective arsenic. Professional reviewers have agendas too, and it isn’t unknown for them to trash a book for personal reasons.

Of course it isn’t only books that fell prey to this kind of thing. There are product reviews as well on these sites. Some time back I heard about negative reviews on various websites that were discovered to have originated from competing brands, which wanted to get one over on their competition. I’m sure it continues to go on, but again, the average consumer is likely unaware of it.

I am certainly not advocating the annihilation of reader/customer reviews. But when no one is guarding the hen house, how can you ever be entirely sure of their legitimacy? You can’t. The point is, take these reader/customer reviews with a grain of salt. Although the majority are probably kosher, rest assured there are some that are otherwise. So buyer beware!

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Self Publishing: Good or Evil?

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010


I guess that depends upon whom you ask…

An interesting debate is going on about the issue of self-publishing. Now I’m not referring to vanity press publishing, I’m referring to bypassing the traditional route to publishing – and therefore avoiding such obstacles to success as literary agents and submissions editors (or their assorted lackeys), who appear to operate as the sole arbiters of taste for the entire world’s book-reading public.

So what exactly is self-publishing? It is taking control of your product and seeing that it actually gets published. This generally happens via electronic books (e-books) and print-on-demand (POD) publishing platforms, both of which are available at little to no cost to authors. These very same platforms are now being utilised by traditional print publishers such as Random House, who have discovered that they can continue to sell their back-list and dead-wood titles without spending any money, not to mention flog additional copies of their more viable books – again, without spending any money. Sounds like a good deal, eh?

Then why is there such a negative connotation placed on authors who also choose to follow this same road? I guess in this case, what’s good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander.

The consensus seems to be that traditional publishers dislike authors who employ these forms of self-publishing. It kinda makes you wonder if maybe they’re seeing the writing on the wall. I mean, if more and more authors go this route, there will be less books on offer to publishers – and less books means less revenue. Just think: what if authors decided to avoid the endless hassle and rejection of dealing with agents and publishers and opted instead to do it themselves? Can you imagine if Stephen King told his publishers to go take a flying leap and went into full-on DIY? Imagine how much money his publishers would stand to lose (and how much more he would make!). Oh man, doesn’t it just get your mouth watering?

Granted, Stephen King has a name; he doesn’t need to worry about his books sitting all lonely and unloved in a corner of a bookshop near the toilets. Not a lot of authors are as fortunate as he is. They need to rely on their publishers to push their material into the public arena, to actually SELL it. Err… hang on a minute, did I say “sell”? Aye, there’s the rub. How many publishers put forth any real effort on actually selling a book? Sure, each book gets a marketing budget, but more often than not, it’s barely enough to buy a pack of chewing gum. And don’t think just because you have a big publisher they’re going to break the bank to promote your little book – not when they have to earn back all those ridiculous advances they’ve paid out to their so-called “star” authors.

Now most people who know me know that I work my backside off promoting myself and my various projects. Heck, if I don’t do it, who will? So when my efforts start to get attention from the right people, I expect those who handle “marketing and publicity” to at least follow through when I place leads into their laps. After all, I’ve pretty much done their work for them, right? What I do not expect is to see these leads ignored because said marketing person’s either continually out of the office and not replying to phone and email queries, or just can’t be bothered to do his/her job. For example, awhile back I found out that a television producer had been trying to find me and not having any luck. He later informed me that he’d pretty much given up hope after three attempts to contact one of these aforementioned marketing persons for information on where to reach me (his phone calls were never returned). He finally had his assistant Google me, which resulted in my email address.

So much for the advantages of traditional publishers and their marketing and publicity departments.

One of the main arguments used against self-publishing (which tend to be put forth by traditional publishers) is that self publishing will diminish the quality of books on offer. Really? Have you been down to your friendly neighbourhood bookseller lately and seen some of the crap on offer? I mean, did someone actually wake up one day and decide to publish say, Katie Price‘s scintillating series of memoirs or autobiographies whatever in hell they are? Whether they sell or not is besides the point, especially when the argument these publishers are brandishing about is that the “quality” of books and literature on offer will be severely diminished by these nasty evil self-publishing authors.

I talk to a lot of writers, and I mean published writers, who’ve been there and done that in the traditional way – only to see all their hard work go nowhere (that’s if they even get a book deal). Many of these writers are now realising that they can enjoy a very high royalty rate in this self-publishing game – and they don’t have to share the pot with any literary agent either. Not only do they get to control their product, but they can avoid a lot of ulcers arguing with book editors over editorial changes that may (or may NOT) improve the work. Sure, they may have to work harder to get the word out, but is that any worse than seeing your “baby” being neglected and shunted aside? – only to later be told that it didn’t sell very well, if at all? Well, of course it didn’t sell. No one made any effort to sell it!

The point is, the days of self-publishing have changed. No longer is it your senile old granddad publishing his war memoirs to give the grandkids at Christmas. You’ll be seeing more and more talented and name-known authors going this route, as traditional publishing continues to push more and more talent away from their doorsteps in lieu of publishing more and more tripe they can’t sell in their endless game of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Well, perhaps Peter has finally had enough!

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The Writer’s Life (A Case for the Humble Bin Man)

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

There’s a lot to be said for being a bin man. Now I’m not trying to use sexist terminology here, but I’ve yet to see a lady bin man. Anyway, “bin man” has a better ring to it. So, for aesthetic purposes, let’s continue with the masculine title.

I’m often approached by people who tell me that they want to become a writer and ask me for advice on what to do. (I generally tell them to go buy a gun and shoot themselves.) They get this child-like glazed-over look in their eyes, no doubt envisioning all those wining and dining New York City lunches with high profile agents and book editors at Tavern on the Green. Oh yeah, Tavern on the Green went bust, didn’t they? Ah well, considering the fickle and transient nature of the publishing business, you’ll be lucky if your agent or editor springs for a Big Mac and fries!

Which leads me to the point of this blog missive: if you had to choose between a career as a writer and a career as a bin man, which would it be?

I can hear your answer already, you poor deluded naive soul. Though who am I to burst your bubble? But may I, for a moment, plead the case for the humble and unappreciated bin man?

There are many advantages to being a bin man. First of all, there’s the obvious: a steady paycheque. Depending on which country you live in, there are some good benefits too, such as health insurance for you and your family and a nice pension plan. Of course, if you’re living in America, the government will probably take these things away from you in order to bail out fat-cat bankers. But I digress…

Another advantage to being a bin man is that no one’s likely to rip off your ideas because they lack the talent, creativity and ability to come up with their own. (Forget that “intellectual property” bullshit; it won’t hold up in court.) Having said that, if you in your capacity as bin man suddenly develop some innovative new method to carry or empty bins, it could happen – and all the other bin men will be jumping on the bandwagon (or rubbish truck) doing the exact same thing. But let’s leave that for now, since bin men don’t need to live off their royalties!

Oh, yeah. And that’s another good reason to choose the litter-strewn path of a bin man – no royalty payments. Bin men are paid a set amount per week or month, and there’s no fluctuation in that number unless a pay rise (or cut) has been implemented. As for writers, when (or IF) your royalty payments turn up, they might look a tad peculiar, as in never actually accruing any earnings above the advance which was paid out (usually barely enough to pay the gas bill). I’ve had discussions with other writers on this very subject and they all say the same thing: they rarely see a penny in earnings after they’ve deposited their very tiny advance cheque (and some writers don’t even get an advance!). Yet go on Amazon or phone your local Barnes & Noble, and they’re always out of stock and having to reorder your books. It kinda makes you wonder if some of these publishers have Mr Bean doing their accounting.

Obviously, the issue of royalties means that you’ve actually been published – and to be published, your work needs to be seen by the right people (and by right people, I mean a real editor or agent, not some ditsy college intern who thinks she’s Carrie Bradshaw). Bin men don’t need to worry about their work being seen by the right people. They empty the rubbish and that’s it, they’re done. Writers waste time and energy and money submitting their material to agents and publishers, only to have it not even properly considered (let alone read) or completely ignored. (And yes, Dorothy, that includes solicited submissions.) Bin men also don’t have to swallow down that great big gorge of vomit every time they see some hack who can’t write his or her way out of a paper bag being rewarded with book deal after book deal as effortlessly as a rat drops turds.

Am I suggesting that the majority of writers are treated like shit by those who seek to profit from our labours? I’ll let you decide. But let’s face it, there are far too many of us around, and our sheer numbers alone do little to inspire respect from those who have control over our livelihoods. We’re like the cast of a spaghetti western – you can shoot down as many of us as you want, yet still more keep popping up. Come to think of it, maybe we’re like those zombies from Night of the Living Dead.

To aspiring writers, I recommend the Martin Amis novel The Information. Flawed or not, it deals with the grim realities of the publishing business and “life” as an author. More importantly, however, it deals with the celebration of mediocrity which, I’m sorry to say, permeates every aspect of our culture, not just the literary spectrum. Also read my blog posts Aren’t We Just Precious: Writers Who Live in Ivory Towers about author ego and book promotion, and Fairy Tales Can Come True (Well, Maybe if They’re in a Book), which touches on the odds of even getting published at all.

So why do we writers do it? Because we’re sick and twisted, that’s why. And maybe because we don’t want to (or can’t) live like the rest of society. Perhaps it’s our inability to conform that keeps us banging our heads against brick wall after brick wall. Indeed, we’re true renegades.

…Or true masochists.

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Fairy Tales Can Come True (Well, Maybe if They’re in a Book)

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Mitzi Szereto's "In Sleeping Beauty's Bed: Erotic Fairy Tales"

You know that expression “it ain’t over till the fat lady sings”? Well, I don’t even give her a chance to open her mouth! I apply this methodology to my professional life and to my personal life. Alas, the latter hasn’t proved as successful as the former, but we aren’t here to talk about that, are we?

Indeed, I’m not the kind of woman who takes “no” for an answer. When I started out in this literary gig, I knew the odds were hugely stacked against me. Hell, they still are. You think it’s easy to sell a book? – especially when you refuse to churn out the same shite everyone else does? I’m definitely my own drummer, and when I think what I’m doing is right, there’s no convincing me otherwise.

Case in point: my book of solo short stories Erotic Fairy Tales: A Romp Through the Classics. How I laugh when I hear some precious writer grumbling that their precious novel went to seven publishers before it finally found a home. Seven? What is seven? Try fifty, baby, then you can start grumbling! Yes, my little masterpiece went to about fifty publishers worldwide. I even had a literary agent working on it for a year (and believe me, I’ve lost track of the number of agents I’d submitted the thing to before I went with this one). Not that he did sweet FA, other than collect money off me for every conceivable cost, save for loo roll. (Wait, I think he did bill me for a jumbo pack of Charmin!) Half the publishers the manuscript was submitted to were ones I suggested to Mr. Literary Agent, the other half he came up with – and they were totally off the wall, including some tiny press in Georgia that only publishes poetry. WTF?

Fine, I’m used to always having to do everything my own damned self, since no one ever does anything right – and that’s if you can count on anyone to do it in the first place. But come on. I even had to track down an editor because my manuscript was returned unread, along with a letter stating that said editor no longer worked at said publishing house. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this a clue to find out who took his place in order to then resubmit the material¬† – and indeed, to submit to the original editor at the new publishing house as well? Apparently that took a bit of common sense and initiative, neither of which my so-called literary agent possessed. No wonder every time I phoned the guy he always sounded as if he’d been asleep… which he probably had been. Ah, well, I suppose it beat the New York agent who had a dog barking incessantly in the background while she tried to convince me over the phone to shell out 500 bucks to her to read my manuscript. Had I done so, I’m sure it would have ended up as one of those “my dog ate my homework” deals.

Undaunted by the blatant hopelessness of my situation, I resumed control of my product and re-embarked upon the quest to find a publisher. I submitted far and wide, to publishers in every corner of the globe. Had there been publishers on Mars, I would have submitted to them too. In fact, I was running out of publishers. Oh, the despair! Finally I put together my last batch of mailings and headed to the post office (which by this time was thriving thanks to my generous patronage). This was it. If it didn’t happen, it wasn’t going to happen – there was no one left.

The next morning my phone rang. It was a publisher, and she wished to speak to me about my fairy tales manuscript. I was asked to come to their San Francisco office for a meeting. Since I lived in Sonoma County at the time, this was fairly easy. Besides which, I always welcomed any chance to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge – I still do, in fact!

And that’s the tale of how Erotic Fairy Tales: A Romp Through the Classics finally saw the light of day. The book has sold so nicely and has been reprinted so many times that Cleis Press decided to publish a second edition – the now renamed In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed: Erotic Fairy Tales. I invited author Tobsha Learner to write a special forward, along with some words of praise on the back cover provided courtesy of author Nancy Madore. The book will be out in autumn 2009 and is already available (HINT HINT!!) for pre-order at the lovely

So you tell me who was wrong: all those publishers who passed on my book, or me?

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