Elen sila lumenn omentielvo!

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Answers, the seventh!

Continuing the answers!

Andy asked: Have you ever thought about self publishing your novel and bypassing all the rejections the clowns at the publishing companies give ya??????

Oh, yes, I have indeed. And yes, I will self-publish...but only when I am satisfied that it's just not going to happen the traditional route.

Self-publishing has been around forever, but technology is really driving it into acceptability nowadays, which is a very fascinating development. The growth of new paths around the traditional gatekeepers may become one of the most important developments in the literary history of this century. So, what are my thoughts about it?

Well, first off, I want to go the traditional route, if I can. The reason is that the infrastructure already exists, and there are people – agents, editors – who help you navigate that infrastructure. Marketing, book design, all those kinds of things are already in place, so all the writer has to do is write. (I know, this is an oversimplification, but we're just riffing in a blog post here.) I'm not sure how good I'd be at the whole marketing area, for example, but if the time comes, I'll get myself up to speed pretty quickly.

However, the plain likelihood is that Princesses In SPACE!!! isn't going to sell, for various reasons. The odds are just against it. I'm an unpublished author, so the bar gets set even higher; the book is on the long side, at roughly 160,000 words. (In ballpark terms, that's a roughly 400 to 450 page mass-market paperback novel.) Now, I'm biased, but I think that I wrote a book that moves those pages along pretty quickly, but still – newbie authors don't often get to break in with long books. It does happen, though – witness Patrick Rothfuss and his doorstop debut, The Name of the Wind. (Not that I'm comparing myself to Patrick Rothfuss.)

Used to be that a new writer would write a book, shop it around, and if it didn't sell, well, that was just one of every author's "practice novels", their training camp, so to speak. The idea is that every writer has to produce a few clunkers just to learn what it is they're doing, so that when they do break through, it's with a book that's as good as they can make it. With the rise of Indie publishing, that's not so much the case anymore.

Is this a good thing? Don't we need the gatekeepers to keep the marketplace from filling up with crap?

Well, maybe...but then, I'm not entirely sure. It seems to me that gatekeeping may take a different form, and the literary community may become something like, oh, Trip Advisor or Urban Spoon or some of those sites. My mother has become quite a traveler in recent years, and she relies heavily on Trip Advisor to find out things like where to stay and eat, what to do and how to do it, how to get around, and that sort of thing. A restaurant in a town that gets terrible reviews on Trip Advisor is at a substantial disadvantage, and the same may apply in the future to writers who put poor books into the marketplace. And besides, let's be honest: it's not as if the gatekeepers aren't an impenetrable bulwark against the tides of crap. Lots of crap gets through, for various reasons: one person doesn't think it's crap, or their crap detector malfunctions at a key point, or that crap is what's selling so they'd better get some of their own similarly-scented crap out there on the shelves, too. Who knows. I return to William Goldman's statement, which I think should be known as Goldman's Law: "Nobody knows anything".

So, yes, I will self-publish Princesses In SPACE!!! when the time comes. I suspect that won't be for at least another year, if not longer, which kind of frustrates me, because I really want this story to be out there as soon as possible. I want people reading it and hopefully liking it and telling other people that they like it and so on...but the wheels of publishing turn slowly, and I don't want to jump the gun. Maybe I just haven't put the book in front of the right agent yet; you never know, and there are a LOT of fish in that particular sea.

There is one benefit to waiting that long, though. My current plan is to edit the first draft of Princesses II in December and get it to beta readers no later than the Super Bowl, which means that I'd be able to generate a third draft sometime next spring or early summer; by next fall, I hope to be writing Princesses III: The World Crime League (not the actual title). The upshot here is that, if I end up self-publishing, I should be able to – at least as the series starts – issue one novel per year in the Princesses In SPACE!!! Saga. If and when I have fans, I don't want to subject them to any George RR Martin-style waits between books!

Ultimately, I'll self-publish when the time comes because while I'm a newbie unknown in the eyes of the publishing world, I'm not a newbie unknown to me. I'm not content to let this be one of my "practice books". I believe in this story, I know it's good, and one way or another, as long as I'm drawing breath, it will get out there.

(Not that anyone asked, but I'm hoping to complete the first draft of GhostCop by December – using its back half as my NaNoWriMo project for this year – and then move back into Lighthouse Boy, a project which is starting to recrystalize a bit in my head.)

OK! Next up, an anonymous reader asked: How did you put together/find the people who review and edit your book?

I had six people beta-read Princesses, and I'll likely go with a similar number for Princesses II. I didn't want a large number of beta readers, so I went for diversity, which really paid off. There was my friend Matt Jones, whom I've known since fifth grade and who has been reading my drivel for exactly that long. (Interestingly, he liked the book least, but that's what I expected, since his literary tastes have developed along lines of terse and economical prose, Hemingway-esque, if you will, while my own tastes run toward long and poetic sentences that have their own rhythm and frequently go on way too long but I don't care because that's how I like it and I enjoy reading sentences like that, sentences you can lose yourself in. Hmmmm.) Only one other is someone I know in real life, a friend from work who reads quite a bit but who doesn't know SF very well. That was important to me, because I'm trying to write a book (or sequence of books) that don't assume a good deal of familiarity with a genre that can be offputting to people entering it. Ditto an online friend who is one of the writers I respect most; she's an experienced writer and spinner-of-tales, but SF ain't her thing, either. The other three are all online friends who are familiar with SF, but whom I know to have different tastes within SF.

Everyone had interesting commentary to offer, from a genre standpoint or from a "Hmmm, the story seems to slow down a bit through this" standpoint, or a "I'm not sure it makes sense for this character to do that right then" standpoint, or from the extremely helpful standpoint of "Hey dummy, you've spelled the same made-up word five different ways. Make up thy mind!"

These folks all have standing invitations to beta-read my stuff in the future, and I may add one or two, but in general I intend to keep that group fairly small. (There were a couple folks I asked who had to decline on the basis that they had too much to read already. Gotta respect the "To read' pile.)

Finally, Roger asks: Your feeling about ebooks v physical books, both from a reading experience and all that complexity of who owns the items when one wants to pass on the book.

There's always been a tough divide to find between physical property and intellectual property. I once knew an artist who sold an original work to someone, who later decided that they didn't want it anymore and put it on eBay. Was that person out of line? I'm not sure, but I can see how it could be viewed as such. Owning books is a pleasure, and I'm less thrilled with the idea of not "owning" anything when I buy something; we're moving toward a model where our money buys us a license to enjoy something, rather than owning it. I'm not wild about that, but I can only shout at the rain for so long, too.

As for the actual reading of e-books versus physical books, I do definitely prefer the physical book. But as a matter of convenience, the e-book is just undeniable. Carrying around a little tablet that is loaded with dozens of books and comics is just too cool for words, and it's a fabulous way to get hold of great literature...with certain concerns. Reading an e-book is, in terms of experiencing the content, pretty much exactly the same as reading a physical book.

There are differences, though. The screens have come far enough that reading on a screen doesn't bother me at all, which is cool. The apps I use all have different ways of navigating, though; my favorite, Perfect Viewer, I use for reading comics, and it advances the page by tapping on the left side of the screen. This seems slightly counterintuitive, but I hold the tablet in my left hand, which means that tapping the left side of the screen requires a simple flick of my left thumb. The Kindle and other e-book apps I use all use a tap on the right side, however. (I find that Kindle's "sweet spot" is easy to miss, too, so I usually just swipe the page to turn.)

Some e-books use too large a font or have too much spacing, so I end up having to swipe quite frequently. Also, there's no physical sense to progressing through the book, which takes some getting used to. You don't get the physical shift in the weight of the book over time, as the weight of flipped pages moves from right to left; you don't get the feel of the book's right-hand side dwindling. All you get is a little page counter at the bottom, or a progress bar, or a number indicating what percentage of the book you've read. That's a bummer – part of the tactile feel of reading a book isn't there. But I don't miss that enough to consider e-book reading a 'lesser' reading experience.

Somewhat more problematic for me is that I like to dip into books I've read, or refer back to passages as I progress through a book. This is much easier in a physical book, where I can roughly recall how far back a given thing I'm looking for is, and I can land on a certain page, jog my memory a bit ("OK, that happened before the bit I'm looking for"), and then act accordingly. With e-books, all you have is that sliding bar at the bottom to move back and forth in the book, so tracking down memorable bits is difficult.

Also, I've noticed that the formatting still hasn't become standardized enough. For the most part, books you buy on the Kindle store are pretty solid, but not always. You can get Kindle editions of classic literature pretty cheaply; many are even free. But you lose something in formatting, which can often be messy or buggy. This applies to books provided by other sites, too, in Kindle format. Here's a screengrab from a page of the Project Gutenberg Complete Works of William Shakespeare:

See, that doesn't work at all. The entire play isn't like that, but still, that's a bummer. I do have another edition that was just a couple bucks on the Kindle store; that one has excellent formatting, but it has a totally different flaw: none of the plays includes the Dramatis personae. That's a headscratcher of an omission, and for me, it keeps me searching for a better edition. The Gutenberg one has the character lists, but you can see the formatting issues there. PDF files tend to work well, but the problem there is that you can't change the color of the background, so every PDF is black text on bright white. I prefer not-quite-black text on a not-quite-white background. Not an option on a PDF.

So, in terms of content, I find e-reading a different experience, with its own problems that I expect will get better over time. My biggest problem with e-reading on my tablet? It's not even reading. It's the fact that I can do all these other things on the tablet. Like checking e-mail. Flipping through Instagram. Websurfing. Reading blogs via RSS on Feedly (which I highly recommend as a successor to Google Reader, by the way). I can even watch Netflix on the thing.

But I can also read comics! That's pretty awesome.

More answers to come!


M. D. Jackson said...

When the time comes I can help you out with formatting, cover design, etc. It's what I do.

As for selling copies, as a veteran of the e-publishing game (seriously!) I can tell you that more is better. I currently have only one novel available and a handful of fantasy novellas, but I'm working on more. The authors that are most successful tend to have a lot available online and on different platforms (Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.) Less is not more when it comes to e-books.

And it is very unlikely that you will become rich at it, but it does happen now and then (Joe Konrath, for instance), so you never know.

Kelly Sedinger said...

M.D.: Believe me, if and when the time comes, I'll be contacting you!