Some Thoughts on Writing and Publishing

by Janis Patterson

It is the best of times to be a self-published author.

We can put our own books out without having to deal with the ‘writing by committee’ mentality that infects the world of traditional publishing. We can reach directly to the reader without having to bow to the whims, prejudices and rules of the traditional publishing gatekeepers. And, as an added benefit, the reader can choose from a vast array of books instead of being held down to the narrow pigeonholes of traditional publishing. Plus, as a self-published author, you get the largest slice of the monetary pie, as opposed to  the minuscule percentages offered by traditional publishing.

It is the worst of times to be a self-published author.

We not only have to handle the necessary quality controls of creating good books – great writing, good editing, great covers, proofing and printing standards – but we also have to deal with publicity, marketing techniques and legal issues. Some writers make enough money to hire all these things done – most don’t, and every minute spent on publishing/publicizing/whatever is a minute not spent on writing.

Moving beyond the personal, there is also the wider world of self-publishing that seems to become more surreal every day. There are always pirates who take books and them put them up for free on the internet without the author’s consent. Their rallying cries are “If it’s on the internet it should be free!” (Wrong!) and “Writers should just be happy that their words are being read!” (Even wronger! Try that twisted logic with your doctor or plumber or just about any professional…) Other pirates take your book and sell it, but without the author’s consent – and without ever sending the author any of the proceeds.

Then there are what I call the literary pirates – the singularly untalented ones who want to be thought of as an author so badly that they take someone else’s book, change the title, the main characters’ names, probably the name of the town and maybe even the occupations, and then publish it as an original book under their own name. Sadly, this criminality is hard to detect, as most of the retailers simply accept books and don’t run any sort of comparison software to make sure it is an original work. Most examples of it are never caught, and the few that have been were brought to the author’s attention by dedicated fans who saw the similarity to one of the author’s books.

Even worse, there is a growing corruption in the self-publishing world. Book stuffing is a big problem at the moment in Amazon’s KU. Some Book Stuffers have used book stuffing to game the system for fantastic amounts of money and driving legitimate authors off bestseller lists, all the while delivering little more than a badly written short story and lots of garbage. Lots of them also use clickfarms to up their pages read count into the realm of KU bonuses, which is what gets them most of the page reads – and the money. What’s sad is that Amazon doesn’t seem to care. They’re getting the money customers pay for these bloated nothings. Although – I have heard that they are meeting with some concerned authors and writers’ organizations – and I hope that is true – so maybe something positive and good for real writers is being done.

Another thing is that even if a book meets the criteria for a real book (actually written by the person claiming it, page count not inflated by rubbish and repeated short stories) it’s really just a bad book. The internet is simply swamped with ‘books’ that are terribly written, worse plotted and which have never seen either an editor or even spellcheck. Some people are so stupid – or who want to be ‘an author’ so badly – that that they think merely stringing X number of words together with a rough semblance of a storyline equates a book. They buy a cheap cover (I don’t care how much it costs, most of them are definitely cheap), stick up the resultant product and wait impatiently for fame and fortune to come flooding in.

Add to that that the market is waaaay down now. Sales are bad. My sales are so low at the moment that if they get any worse I’ll have to start paying people to not read my books!

So perhaps the pertinent question should be, under these conditions, why would anyone become a writer?

The answer is simple – because we can’t do anything else. If we never sell another book, we will still write. If the publishing world turns upside down, we will still write. No matter what happens, we will still write. We’re writers.

Fairy Tales, The Easter Bunny and a New Touchstone

by Janis Patterson

Every year I look forward to the holiday season. I love Christmas – the decorations, the carols, the promise and reassurance of my faith, the bonhomie, the electric excitement in the air. New Year’s is the symbol of new beginnings and though I have never been able to keep a New Year’s resolution for more than a few weeks there is always a clean, untried ‘blank-slate’ feeling to a new year.

Every year I look forward to the end of the holiday season and the return of real life. While wonderful, the holidays are exhausting and pretty much take over your life. Parties to give and attend. Presents to buy. Calls to make. Lunches with friends. Wrapping presents. Visiting family for extended gatherings with out-of-town members. Taking down and putting away decorations. Getting the house back to the familiar chaos we call ‘normal.’ Thank-you notes to write. Yes, it’s tiring, to say the least.

Now we’re eleven days into the New Year, which makes it not so new any more. And, usually after all the holiday hubbub dies down, it’s not so different from the year before. I still have deadlines and stories crying to be written. The laundry pile stays pretty much the same no matter how many loads I do. Since the holiday leftovers are long gone I must contrive something for dinner every night and fix a lunch for The Husband to take to work. Not so different from last year and many years before that.

Still, there is something about the turn of the year – as artificial a delineation of time as it might be – that makes us think. Personally I want to make it a touchstone for upping my career game. A touchstone, not a resolution. Resolutions are usually regarded as hard things, immobile things, things you must do every single day for the rest of the year. I don’t respond well to hard, immobile and must do. Never have, and probably never will.

So what did I do? In between huge meals with family and much-needed naps I spent New Year’s Day thinking about what I wanted to accomplish career-wise in the new year and what it would take to get it done. Of course I thought about a few things that are definitely ‘wish list’ and probably never going to happen, but I did try to keep things ‘real.’

First of all, I know that no matter how much I hate it, I’m going to have to do a lot more publicity. I have an extensive backlist in several genres and yet my sales would have to work for a week to get up to pathetic. It’s all about discoverability, and that means getting your name and your work out there.

For a long time I followed the fairy tale that if your book is good, it will sell. (I refuse to tell you how long I believed in the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny…) As nice and tidy as that would be, it doesn’t work. People don’t buy what they can’t see, and well-promoted garbage will pretty much always outsell a good book buried in the ever-increasing tsunami of available books. While a writer can live in the ivory tower and do nothing but write (my personal dream) it’s time for me to realize that if I want to be a selling writer, I need to get out there and sell. The Tooth Fairy has retired.

Neither can you live on your backlist alone. New releases feed the machine. It’s the genre writer’s version of publish or perish. Readers – especially genre readers – are exceptionally voracious, with some reading more than one book a day. Writers can no longer afford the luxury of doing just one book a year if they want to keep their name in front of the reading public.

Last year I wrote five books. This year I have to get them all out. (Last year was an ivory tower year for me for several reasons.) This year I hope to do – and release – four. Remember what I said about a touchstone? I didn’t promise myself or make a resolution to write and release four; that’s too solid, too demanding. During the year when I hit a wall, when my career seems more trap than joy, I’ll think back to that food-stuffed, family-surfeited New Year’s Day and remember what I thought about the forthcoming year. Then I can decide if it is still what I want, still feasible, still relevant to my current reality.

I hope it will be. But it doesn’t have to be. But whatever I decide, though, I have to do what needs to be done to make it come true.

 

 

Why Do We Write?

by Janis Patterson

It’s just about the greatest mystery of all – why do we write? Oh, let’s be honest – we all have great dreams of becoming rich and famous, hitting every list made, having screaming fans lined up around the block just to buy a book with our autograph in it… all lovely dreams, but I think that most of us are savvy enough to realize that such things happen to only a very few. (I mean, it could be me, but most likely not…)

These days the vast majority of professional writers are not getting rich. Some make a decent living, some make money on the hobby level. Only a few are truly prospering. Almost all – save for the fortunate few – could make much more money in some other field of endeavor. A great number do have to work at another job to survive.

Of course, there is the indefinable cachet of being ‘an author,’ of having written a book.

Perhaps that accounts for some of the people writing today. They aren’t that interested in writing a book, but they positively salivate at the thought of being known as having written one.

And therein lies one of the main problems of self-publishing. Don’t get me wrong – self-publishing is one of the greatest things to happen to both readers and writers. It expands the market, gives power (and money!) to the authors and gives the readers a much wider choice of reading materials. On the downside, it also allows people who should never be allowed near a word processor to publish a ‘book’ and become a ‘published author.’

Stringing a requisite number of words together does make a book – sort of – just not necessarily a good one. There is no magic pill to turn an idea into a good book. Writing a good book is not easy, but just about anyone can do it, if they put enough work into it. Talent can make it easier, but mainly it’s learning what makes a good book and how to create one… and I repeat, that is a lot of work.

Usually the ‘I am now a published writer’ crowd stops with one or two books. Even good writers sometimes stop with one or two books after they learn how much work it takes to get their ideas decently on to paper – or how little remuneration most of them can expect. If the writer is holding out for traditional publishing, the wait can go on for years before the bland negativity of a rejection letter appears. Even if one is lucky enough to be picked up by a trad house, the money usually isn’t all that good and there’s even more waiting until release.

So why do we write? It’s pleasant to create a world and a population out of nothing but imagination and caffeine (and on occasion chocolate). It’s pleasant to talk about ‘my publisher’ and ‘my new release.’ It’s pleasant to see one’s name on a book, and – should you have a book signing – enjoyable to talk to people who like to read and then to write your name into the copy of your book they just bought. And to receive the checks, however small, is nice too.

Still such minor triumphs can’t justify why people continue to write and submit and self-publish for years with minimal returns. It is made even harder when their books are of decent to very good quality – but the lightning of good luck strikes a badly written story, dousing its author with fame and fortune.

So why do we do it? The answer is simple. There’s no choice to it. Anyone can write, given enough time and study and dedication. Writers cannot help but write.