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.

What is “Real”?

by Janis Patterson

Writing is a time consuming occupation. Not only do we have to spend time plotting, thinking, and constructing our stories, we spend time putting them into a concrete form and then making them as polished a form as we possibly can. Then – if we want respectable sales – we must spend egregious amounts of time doing publicity and interacting with our readers.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, it ain’t.

It wouldn’t be easy even if life didn’t intrude. Writers have families and jobs and lives, to say nothing of accidents and incidents and attacks of the unexpected. There are writing gurus who say you must write every day for a certain amount of time. That’s great, if your life allows and that works for you. I’m certain that somewhere there is someone who does this, but I don’t know any.

So what do we do? My answer is, the best we can. It’s not only a matter of time management, it’s a matter of priorities. When your granddaughter is in a life-threatening accident your focus should not be on writing. When the laundry reaches Matterhorn proportions or your living room needs dusting, that is no excuse not to write. (Of course, The Husband says I take that last dictum much too much to heart, and lately he has started muttering about finding a sharecropper for the parlor.)

The question devolves down to : Are you a writer or a hobbyist? Assuming that there is nothing life-altering going on (dust does not count) you have to decide just how important writing is to you.

In my case, it’s very important. I am a professional novelist, and a few days ago finished my fifth book this year. Because of this job, I miss shopping expeditions and luncheons with girlfriends, theatre trips and even some family gatherings – as tempting as such frivols sound – and have to plan my books around the trips The Husband and I make. (And I have never journeyed anywhere in the last decade that a laptop or tablet did not go with me!)

I also have a life. While I am blessed not to have to have a regular-in-an-office job, there are still lots of things that must be done. Groceries must be bought and eventually cooked. Pets must go to the vet. The car must be attended to. Extended family needs attention. The minutiae of living must go on, whether you work outside the home or not. My family is very important to me, as is my activism for animal welfare and conservative causes. The Husband’s happiness is always paramount in my priorities, and there is no way either he or I will ever give up our interest in and studies of Ancient Egypt and the Civil War. Health issues also raise their ugly heads from time to time.

But I am a writer, and after the really important things – family, beliefs, home – writing comes first, before nearly all social events, before frivols, before self-indulgences. Most self-indulgences. Some of my friends become insulted when I cannot go to lunch or take the afternoon off to go shopping, though they would never have such a reaction if I worked a 9-to-5 in an office. It’s disheartening to think that after all this time so many people still think that if you work from home you don’t have a ‘real’ job… Or that if you’re a self-employed writer, you still don’t have a ‘real’ job… Or that if you’re self-publishing and don’t have a big contract with a major publisher you really don’t have a ‘real’ job. After all, aren’t all self-published writers just wanna-bes or hobbyists who couldn’t get a ‘real’ publisher?

Yes, I have heard almost those exact words from people who are otherwise intelligent and sophisticated. Some of them I have given up trying to convince that I do have a ‘real’ job. Some truly do equate writing with lounging around, tossing off X number of words in a string, having them published immediately and then sitting back while unbelievable riches roll in.

Don’t we all wish!

The Mystery of Romance – or is it the Romance of Mystery?

by Janis Patterson

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to be included on the panel at the public library sponsored Romance in Bonham, a nice county seat town a little over an hour away. The ladies of the library hold this event every other February, and it’s great fun. After the panel discussion and the book signing and everything is all over they provide the panelists and the family members they bring along a down-home potluck lunch. Always some of the best ‘lady food’ I’ve ever had! (Wish they’d do a cookbook…)

Although this is a romance-centric event, I brought several of my mysteries and was slightly astonished at the interest they generated. Apparently there is a growing interest for more mystery in romances – or more romance in mysteries. Both of which, I think, are a very good thing. For far too long readers and writers both have been pigeonholed into fairly rigid and unforgiving categories. Mystery was mystery. Romance was romance. Romantic suspense was a step in the right direction, but unfortunately it was soon codified into so much a percentage romance, so much a percentage mystery/adventure by most traditional publishers.

Now, almost in the manner of a superhero, self-publishing has started to break down the artificial barriers between genres, allowing them to become just stories with all kinds of elements. Want a mystery with lots of blood and danger and nary a kiss between characters? It’s out there. Want an exciting mystery where a couple falls in love while evading the bad guys/saving the world/whatever? It’s out there. Want a tender romance where a couple falls in love happily ever after while solving a usually gentle mystery? It’s out there. Want any combination of the above? Or just about anything else, including vampires, shapeshifters talking cats or kung-fu knitters? Even all at once? It’s out there.

I don’t know if the traditional publishers – the kind one finds on the shelves of your local bookstore, if there are many of those left – have twigged to how complete this revolution of thought is, but the virtual aisles of electronic/print on demand publishing are full of proof. You can find almost any permutation of any storyline now. Self and small publishing have opened up the world of stories, and readers/writers are no longer bound to restrict their desires to the small and rigid genres the trad publishers have decreed will make them the most money. True, in the days when traditional publishing reigned supreme and controlled not only content but distribution, print runs were enormous and had to be done ahead of release, then stored in gigantic warehouses. The publishers had to look to what would give the best return on their not-inconsiderable investment. Now, though, in the burgeoning world of electronic and print on demand self-publishing, such considerations are no longer the end-all and be-all of what’s available. Niche markets that were too small to interest the trad publishers are now flourishing and expanding.

And that’s all to the good. Choice is a good thing, and genre-blending is a good way to expand reader interest. If there is a downside, it’s that the freedom of self-publishing has opened the floodgates to an unbelievable amount of pure dreck. There are people who believe that not only putting down X number of words is writing a book, but that doing so will guarantee them fame and fortune. We can only hope that their number dies off quickly, because this wave of badly written, badly conceived and badly formatted messes is reflecting badly on self-published books as a whole. There are self-pubbed books (usually written by veterans – or perhaps we should say survivors – of the trad publishing industry) whose quality is unquestionably equal to or better than anything from the Big 5, but they are shadowed with the prevailing belief that all self-published books are rubbish. That’s a misconception that only time and persistence can alter. But it will, it surely will, and writers and readers the world over will benefit from it.