E-publishing in Three Parts

This is a post supporting a presentation to the Ashland Study Group introducing e-publishing through my eyes as a scholar interested in the industry, a writer who publishes, and someone who reads an amazing amount of books — many of them published electronically.

Paradigm shift

The publishing industry has been completely transformed in the last two decades. We’ve gone from a system where 7 publishing houses controlled the majority of what books we read to a wide-open system where anyone can be a publisher.

Today, it is estimated that 25% of book revenue comes from e-publishing.  But that’s misleading.  It only includes the e-published versions of traditionally published books. It does not include the  independently published books by writers. That amount is estimated to equal the amount reported by publishing companies, if not surpass it.

Now writers are able to control their own careers, in ways they couldn’t before.  And many writers are making a living off their writing.

A traditional publisher, sometimes called a legacy publisher, bought a writers book and owned all rights to it.  In return, the writer received an advance, and after (if) the book started selling, would also receive royalties – 15% of the book sale. From that, the writer paid their agent.  So from a book selling for $25, the writer might see $2.50.

When Amazon opened up e-publishing and made it easy for writers to do in 2005 or so, it changed that. Writers did all the work, including copyediting, creating a cover, etc, and then used an automated program to upload the book to the Amazon web site. Amazon has since created a lot of support tools for writers to market their books. In return, the writer kept ownership of the book, and received 70% of the book price. So my books which sell for $3.99 pay me $2.80 per book – the same that a traditional writer gets.

Independent e-publishing exploded. Quality varied from exceptional to awful. Traditional publishers tried blocking it, then co-opting  it, and finally got into the business themselves. Now, you would rarely see a book published traditionally that doesn’t also have a digital version.

Amazon offered its own reader, the Kindle, Barnes and Noble followed suit. Other sites popped up from Ibooks which is an Apple App, to Kobo which is an independent site.

One of the most useful of the independent sites is Smashwords, which not only publishes on its own site, but offers a brokering service to other sites including Barnes and Noble, I-books, and two dozen others.

Here’s more from Geekwire.

A Writer’s Life

In the old days (2000) an aspiring writer seeking a publisher, first had to get an agent. That required a query letter, sample chapters, and lots of postage.  Writers often bragged about the number of rejection letters they received. A personalized rejection was seen as encouragement.

The second way was writing conferences and workshops. The Writers Digest co-sponsored huge conferences where writers could take sessions on writing and on marketing, and for an extra fee meet with an agent who would critique a query letter for the writer. Workshops often put you in touch with successful writers who might then pitch your story to their own agent.

Agents then would shop your work around for you on commission.  Agents became the first gatekeeper for the publishing houses who were firing editors and cutting back costs to cope with the falloff of the reading market.

Now? Even for a traditional published book, a successful e-published book may be the best way to get the attention of an agent or a publisher. So is a well developed self-promotion/marketing package.

But a lot of “mid-list” writers are going solely independent e-publishing. They’re demanding the rights back to their backlist of books and then republishing them online. New books may not even be proposed to a traditional house. Control and profits dictate which method works.

It’s also about skill sets. Even traditional publishers require writers to do much of their own marketing, but independent e-publishing makes it 100 percent the writer’s responsibility. The writer also has to contract out editing and cover design, and either learn to format a book or hire someone to do that as well.

One of the big upsides for established writers is that a book never goes out of print with e-publishing. Books published years ago are still available. As a new reader discovers the writer, they then have a whole backlist to explore.

Readers Win

When I went to Europe for ten weeks in 1994 one of my biggest challenges was finding books to read.  I’m almost never without a book, but you can only backpack so much. I reread Anne Siddons’ Hill Country five times before I found another traveler who would swap.

Now? Millions of titles at my fingertips. I am never without something to read. (As long as my cell-phone battery lasts, at least. During a recent road trip that became the issue: making sure to charge the phone before camping.)

But it can be daunting.  The gatekeepers aren’t there to tell you what’s good and what’s not. So of course a whole industry has grown up to help readers find books they’ll like.

Amazon’s review system is one of the most useful although it can be gamed – and is on controversial books and sometimes by the authors themselves. Several sites provide free books to people who are willing to read and review.

Other sites recommend books. Some are individuals who focus on a specific genre. Some are companies.  Bookbub, for instance, sends out a daily list of books in various genres. They’ve been vetted — usually costs $250-$400 — and the authors agree to discount the price. Some are even free.

Goodreads is an extensive online community for readers and writers. You can belong to a book club, post your own reviews, or talk to authors about their books.

The online experience has also allowed writers and readers to engage with each other. (Not always in a positive way, but usually it is.) I recently read a book I admired A Study in Honor by Claire O’Dell. I found her on Twitter and we talked about the difficulty in writing with Trump as president. I follow a number of my favorite authors on Twitter — some of whom have 10k followers and more.

I welcome comments! What has your experience been with e-published books?


Silence in Days of Fascism

It’s been awhile since I’ve written here.  Or done much writing at all. Not since 11/9/16. Day of Infamy II.

My dad was in Pearl Harbor when it was bombed, 12/7/1942, the original Day of Infamy. He got out of the Navy in 1954, met my mom, got married, had us kids.  It would be 30 years after Pearl Harbor before he could talk about it.  Not much of a drinker, he honored Pearl Harbor by drinking and by his silence.

For the last 20 months, I too have fallen silent watching my country burn and sink around me. Or you can find a prolific Tweet history @ljbreedlove and some Facebook posts.  But here, and in my novels? Silence.

What do you say when democracy is hanging on by a thread? When hate rules. When a GOP controlled Congress knows no shame in its level of corruption as it rapes and pillages our natural resources, our tax revenues, our campaign financing laws.

And of course there is Donald Trump. His name makes me lose my words — something no man has ever done before. I always have words. Always. But a man who is corrupt, illiterate, and mean-spirited now occupies the White House. He makes a mockery of our press, our foreign policy, our hopes and dreams as a nation.

ICE stealing children from assylm seekers and spiriting them away around the country to concentration camps where they go uncared for, separated from their families, and even lost in the system.  Where are the children? trends on Twitter daily.

What can I say that will matter? What can I do that will change things? Yes, I will vote. Every election. I donate to candidates.  I speak out to my Senators. I campaign to turn my district blue.

It seems so little.

If it wasn’t for my health, I’d be on the front lines somewhere. But I can’t go.

And a little persistent voice says you can tell stories. Tell stories that matter. That help people understand.

Or as Chuck Wendig is prone to say Write Motherfuckers. Or sometimes, Art Motherfuckers.

So I’m easing back into writing practice.  You know. Write daily. Trust the words. Trust the story.

It is hard to trust these days. Hard to trust even myself. How could we have been so wrong about our country? Even I who have been a journalist for decades, both in the newsroom and in the university, would not have guessed this many of my neighbors and friends of decades were racist and misogynistic, looking for an authoritarian leader to give them a white nationalist country.

So. There are four books out. Read them. Give me feedback. Engage with me as we figure out what this country is going to be.  Because there is no going back to what we were, or what we thought we were. We can only go through this to something.  Something good, if we band together and create a more perfect union.

Something hateful if we don’t.

But I am not helpless. I can tell stories. Stories that matter.  And so I will.

Take that, Trump.  I’ve found my words again.

Progress notes

So where am I? I’m halfway through the sequel to Trust No One.  It’s Janet’s story, although Mac, of course, plays a dominant role.  How could he not? He’s dominated every room he’s walked into since — well, since he was old enough to walk. I hate the halfway point.  I know how it ends, say the last quarter of the book. But this section drives me nuts. Turns out that it does most writers. Cold comfort.

I have a third installment for the Texas series started. And I’m well into a sequel to Everybody Lies. Stories I’m excited to tell you.  Oh! The Talkeetna series has new covers waiting to go up.


Or something like that….

I’m committing to writing 50,000 words during November as part of National Novel Writing Month.  People from all over the country, pledged to complete a novel in 30 days. 

Well — complete 50,000 words of a first rough — usually really rough — draft.  Most novels these days are in the 80000 and up range.

Since I’m about 50,000 words from the end of In God’s Name (which will end up being 110,000 words) it seemed fated to participate this year. Friday, I had coffee with four other women in Ashland who are also participating.

One of the challenges of a writer’s life can be the solitude of it.  I like situ de better than most, but even I like the companionship of those with shared passions.  So NaNoWriMo tries to create community around what is essentially a solitary craft.  Of course with 1500 words to average each day, time is hard to come by for socializing.  Still, I do better with accountability, so I may use Friday coffee to keep me on track.

One young woman is part of a group of fantasy writers who use gaming to work out plot and characters.  They have gatherings where they dress in character and do role play.  How cool is that?

So I wrote 800 words today and edited in a 500 word chunk for a total of 1355 words.  Took 1hr15. Will need to build up speed and endurance, but I’m on my way.  

For more information visit the web site at http://nanowrimo.org.

Mrs. Doubtfire today

I went to the Cabaret  yesterday to see 39 Steps.  It was great fun, but as the actors took their bows I was troubled by the gender ratio — 3 men, one woman.  The roles in the play are more equitable, but one of the men played the “women of a certain age”. ( All of the actors play multiple roles except for the hero.) these women, played by a man, were played for laughs — ridicule really.  

And it isn’t the first show this season to feature men playing female parts.  As if the inequality of opportunities for women isn’t small enough because there is a gender bias in the crafting of the script — you’d think the world was 30 percent female instead of 56 percent, now we’re giving those parts to men….

A return to Shakespeare’s times where all the parts were played by men?

It is also troubling that older women are ridiculous in this scheme of things.  I was once told that if my newsroom was a movie, I’d be played by Holly Hunt (ala Broadcast News).  As I aged I used to joke that it was more likely to be Kathy Bates.  Now I fear, it might be John Candy….

Left brain, right brain

Not all the steps of writing are creative.  Developing the plot and characters, writing the first draft — that’s creativity at its purest.  We make something from nothing.  Awe-inspiring.  In fact, humans can’t not make a story.  We shape our lives in the retelling, making sense out of the events and emotions.  

But editing?  That’s an analytical function.  And there are several layers of editing between the creativity of the first draft and the final one.  Too often my beginning writers neglected this stage.  Others focused on it too much, reluctant to move on until that first paragraph — first sentence was just right. And then they froze.

For me , and for most writers I know, there’s a sequence that works best: create, then pause, then analyze.  In any given writing session, I have never been able to edit and then go on to write.  Write first, then switch to analyzing. 

I don’t try to edit for perfection the first time through.  Like sanding a table, you need to start with a rough grit sandpaper and progressively move to a finer grade.  No use fixing commas when you may delete that whole scene.

First pass

Structure and fact checking comes first.  Does this scene belong here or there? Or maybe it should be cut? How did I spell Rodriguez’s name?  How old was Janet during Desert Storm?  Does the pacing work? Are the chapter breaks in the right place? And on and on.  Some of that I may do during the first draft stage — but only after I’ve finished a scene.  And only after I’m done creating for the day.

Second Pass

Now it’s time to focus on the writing itself.  Did I say it well?  Can it be punchier?  Clearer? Richer?

I’m itchy about this right now in In God’s Name.  I just finished three crucial chapters, two of which I found very difficult to write.  One will need to be much more dramatic.  The other one switches point of view repeatedly — not good especially in a flashback  — and the language felt really clunky.  I’m resisting going back and revising them.  Better to move ahead and fix that later.  Who knows what may come up in future chapters that will affect these chapters?  

Writing can be like making pie dough.  Over mixing may make it tough and flat.  Best to use a light hand.

Third Pass

Now it’s time for the commas!  This is the copy editing stage.  Going over each sentence, each word, and yes those pesky commas.  

Then it’s time to hand it off to someone else for a copy edit. Changes are made, and then everything is proofed. And there will still be mistakes.  I always roll my eyes when people sneer about mistakes in a piece of work.  Marks them as an amateur.  Independently published, traditional publishing house — doesn’t matter.  Things slip through.  Still,  being a professional, says you strive for the cleanest copy you can.

So back to my novel.  Back to my creative draft.  Telling a story.

End of Week 2

In God’s Name is moving along.  Hit a rough spot last week — a migraine interfered with two days of writing — but more, it is time for a difficult flashback.  And so, I’m inching through it paragraph by paragraph.  Not necessarily a bad thing.  If it is emotionally difficult to write, it will be emotional to read.

Something I’m reminded of repeatedly: it is impossible to create and be emotionally closed down.  Creativity is the expression of our inmost selves. To write compelling fiction, I must tap readers’ emotions.  And I must be willing to tap my own first.  I wonder if that is the difference between stories that move us and those that only feel manipulative?  It only seems right that I open myself up to feeling deeply if that is what I am asking of my readers.

End of week 1

Two weeks ago, I decided I would pick up the pen again.  Or in this day, the keyboard.  The first week, I slowly made my way through In God’s Name, editing — again — the first 13 chapters.  And then last Sunday, I started chapter 14.

I promised to write for 30 minutes a day.  With a blog post on the weekend. (Here’s post three.)  And I have.  Thirty minutes isn’t very long, but in the week, I’ve written chapter 14 with 16pages, and I’m into chapter 15. 

Small, slow steps at first. My goal is to finish by Christmas.  And I will, even at this pace.