Friday, September 14, 2012

The Topless Kate Middleton Controversy

I have been mulling over a recent event and have decided that I would really like to write about it. So I'm going to.
Kate Middleton has married Prince William and the media has been scrutinising her closely. Last night there was a news segment which took up five minutes of our time showing her making a speech which was essentially "Thanks for having us" and seemed to me to be almost as bland as a news item can be.
This morning I woke up and turned on the news and it was all about how she had been snapped topless and the photos have been published in a French magazine.
At first I thought, oh well, I guess she did some nude modelling when she was younger, big deal.
But no, these pictures had been taken of her sunbathing topless on a balcony of a private and supposedly secure hotel (I'm assuming here that the photographer would have had to enter private grounds to take the photos.)
People (on the news) have been saying, well she was naive to go outside without a top, regardless of how secure the hotel was. And perhaps she was.
There have been two different people (I think, the photographer and the editor of the magazine he sold the pictures to) come on screen and defend the pictures, both of them expressing their confusion over the controversy, saying that Kate is young and good looking and they can't see the problem.
Here, to me, is the problem.
It's one thing to publish naked photos of someone who did nude modelling, or who stripped off in a public place (like a beach). Tasteless, maybe. But, to me, they consented to being nude in public and those are the consequences.
Kate did not consent in any shape or form. You can say she was being naive, but when does that responsibility end? Is she being naive if she leaves her curtains open a crack by accident before getting changed? Is she naive if she changes in a room that hasn't been swept for sensors and cameras? Is she naive if she ever takes her clothes off for any reason?
 Kate has married into the public eye. But she never signed a contract that stated that gives the right for people to see her naked if the opportunity arises. And the scary thing is, they are doing it anyway. Which means, since there's no contract separating her from you, that they could do the same thing to you without any justification. Why not?
And saying that "it's OK, because she's hot" just makes it worse. It reeks of the old "she was asking for it" mantra that rapists have been using for generations. I don't want to compare this to rape, because I think rape is a word that should be used with caution, to respect the people who have experienced its full horror.
But this was definitely treading a fine line toward sexual assault. Those photos will be online forever. She now knows that she can never trust, never turn her back, never let her guard down, no matter what the circumstances.
And I wouldn't wish that on anyone. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Writing Competitions

I've been neglecting you, I know. But here. I've made a couple of sites for you. I'm planning to build them up over time to hopefully become good resources.

The first is a page listing competitions for New Zealand writers (and other art opportunities).

The second is a page with international free writing competitions. At the moment it only goes to September but I will add more soon!

Entering competitions is important for a couple of reasons. First, it trains you to let your work go. Some people (myself included) have a difficult time declaring their work finished and ready to go out to the world. Knowing that you have to put it into a competition tends to sharpen your editing skills.
Having a deadline is also a really good motivator. And competitions are good practice for submitting your work to other markets.
With all that, there's also the chance that you will place. This can help you to gauge your skill level and can give you some exposure, as well as prize money!
With free competitions you've got nothing to lose, so you've got no real excuses either.

Good luck!


Monday, August 20, 2012

Self Publishing in New Zealand: To Self Pub or Not to Self Pub, Part Three

So, I said I would write next about the downside of self publishing, and I've waited a while to do it. I've waited until I have actually published my book (as you can see from my last post).
So, to be honest, I'm in the midst of the downside right now, and that is that there is no big payoff in sight. Of any kind.
With trade publishing, although I'm only speculating here, you have a series of payoffs. The moment where an agent accepts your work. The moment that agent finds you a publisher. The moment you hold the first copy of your new book in breath in that sweet, sweet book glue.
Not to mention the money and the fame. Yeah, for the most part neither is going to lift you into euphoria. But, still it's something.

Payoffs

Self publishing offers none of that, at least, not up front. Do you remember when I said in the last self publishing post that money is a terrible reason to self publish? That statement has not been disproved.
So far, a few days in, I've sold in the single digits. This is for a story that I've worked on for hours and hours over the last few months, towards the end up to twelve hours a day when I could. I've broken my heart over the cover (because my heart is obviously ridiculously fragile) I've scoured the words for formatting errors and so forth.
Yes, I did know what I was in for. But I can't help but feel slightly disappointed. The same way I feel disappointed every time I get a rejection letter from a writing market.
Now, your experience might be different, of course. I don't have a huge platform (I suspect at least one of my sales has been to my mother) and I know that people who do have a platform (a group of people interested in what they have to say, such as followers of a blog) will often see an immediate flood of sales after announcing their book is for sale. I also know, from following a lot of self publishing stories, that those sales can and often do dry up once the platform is exhausted.
Self publishing is a long, slow haul for most people. You can't guarantee at any point that you're going to make any money at all.
I've appreciated every individual sale, so far, because I know that's someone choosing to spend their valuable time and money on my work. Maybe that makes me a better person. But authors who have been given an advance a thousand times what I've made so far (and that's not saying much!) would most likely laugh at that... all the way to the bank.
Which leads right into the next thing I'm not really enjoying about self publishing.

Promotion

You have to promote. Even people who say you don't have to promote, usually have some kind of promotion technique that they just don't consider to be real promotion (perhaps their technique is to tell people not to promote?).
But, it's not enough to just promote, you also have to promote well. I can definitely understand why people are tempted to jump around the internet with pom poms out, doing a little dance over their baby, but that just won't work. If anything, it will annoy people and make them less likely to buy your work.
The best kind of promotion, from what I've seen, is simply interacting with people. Helping them. Sharing with them. Being part of a community. That makes them want to read your book for themselves. And when they do that, they are much more likely to want to review it. And reviews are worth gold on book selling websites. There is, of course, more to it than that and I will most likely go into it in another post (if only so you can know how to avoid making my mistakes). But, for now, let's continue on our anti-self publishing journey.
Why is promotion bad? Because it takes forever. A lot of it is fun, since being in a community is fun. But a lot of it is frustrating and generally, it's not what I'd prefer to do with my time. If my novel was trade published, I'd still have to do some promotion, it's true. But it would be more structured, less of a shot in the dark and there would be less of it in general.

Legitimacy

I know I might be told off for this, but there's no escaping the whole “gatekeeper” dynamic lends a legitimacy to trade published books that is lacking in self published books. Anyone can self publish. A good cover isn't a guarantee of a good book (the reverse isn't true either). So, your baby is adrift with a bunch of other books that might not be worthy of her. Likewise, perhaps it's your book that isn't worthy. Perhaps it's mine.
You can stem these doubts by hiring a really good editor, who can tell you if your book is worth publishing. You can try to stop them by telling yourself it actually doesn't matter. After all, either people will buy the book, or they won't.
But most authors go into this game, not for money (at least, not for long) but for recognition. They want to communicate and share themselves with others. Not having the backup of knowing that a publisher thinks your book is worth something makes it that much harder to put it out there and say, I think this is worth sharing. This is the best possible way I could have told this story. Please read it.
I love my book. I love the characters, I'm excited about the story arc I have planned for the series and I honestly think that it's worth something. I've had a few people tell me that they enjoyed it as well. But there is still a niggling doubt. A doubt that, to some extent, I think will be there until I either sell 10,000 copies, or get published by a big trade publisher.

Those are the big three for me. I could also mention the fact that you need to be more of a Jack of all trades (or be able to afford a designer, a formatter and an editor), the fact that formatting for the first time is incredibly frustrating, the fact that other some other people might also consider it a bit of a failure if you self publish rather than going with a trade or e-publisher, the huge amounts of research you need to do, and so forth. But I'm sure those will come up later.
For now I'll try to focus on the silly little dance I did when I received my set of ISBNs from the National Library and the thrill of making two sales in the first hour after my book went live (without any promotion... if only they were all that simple!)
And that concludes my To Self Pub, Or Not To Self Pub series. Next time I'll most likely start focusing on more practical aspects of self publishing. If there's anything you want me to talk about, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Self Publishing in New Zealand - To Self Pub or Not to Self Pub, Part Two

Why Am I Self Publishing?

I've wanted to be an author all my life. If you've been following this blog at all (which I haven't been stellar at keeping alive, I do admit) you will have seen me transition from flitting about, from career to career, and gradually grow more serious about writing.
It's very difficult to make a living through creative writing alone. Perhaps almost impossible. I'm extremely lucky that I have a very supportive family and no major obligations (like children or a mortgage) to stand in my, no doubt poverty-stricken, way.
So I have to make a confession right up front.

The Money

I am self publishing, in part, because I hope it will mean another source of income that I can take advantage of in the next year or so. If you put your work at the right price point on Amazon, you are entitled to 70% royalties. Even if you don't, the average seems to be about 35%. That can add up. Particularly when you compare it to the percentage trade publishers generally offer (off the top of my head, I think it's between 8% and 12%. E-publishers often offer royalties on a par with self publishing, so don't rule them out on royalties alone).
However, money is a terrible reason to self publish.
Most people who self publish will not see much money from their work at all. After they've tapped out the market made up of friends and family, their work will languish in the depths of Amazon forever. Promotion is not a magic wand. Quality is not a guarantee.
Of course, the same is true of someone who publishes with a trade publisher, but in that case you most likely at least got an advance and professional promotions, as well as your book sitting in actual bookstores.

So why do I think I will be different? I don't. I'm gambling here, to some extent, and I'll tell you why.

Speed and Quantity Counts

I am a very fast writer when I want to be. My output isn't huge at the moment, although it's not bad, but it's as low as it is because I'm lazy. And it's rising.
I've had years to develop the bad habits I've got and I'm slowly trying to get rid of them now. I'm learning to make myself excited to write and dedicated to learning the craft.
But, if I light a fire under my own tail, I can get things done. I mucked around for months, thinking I should put something out there before really deciding to go with it. I've had an idea for years that would fit a series of novellas beautifully, about a young man who is really good at problem solving and is travelling around some strange islands doing just that.
About a month ago, I finally decided to really get to it and I finished the second half of the first novella in the series within a single weekend. When I finally crank myself up, I'll hopefully be able to do around one novella per month.
No, they are not works of literary genius. They are, hopefully, fun to read.
And from what I've seen, being able to crank out a lot of books  in a short time works to your advantage when self publishing. I can't imagine many publishers being happy to publish one book per month for you (except whoever published the Goosebumps series perhaps!), but having a huge backlist available when self publishing online is what helps people to make a living. With such a low price point, and no problems with delivery or storage, if someone likes one of your books there's no reason not to buy all the rest right then and there.
(I think I should point out here that of course, there is always the option to self publish paper books as well as the e-books I'm going to harp on about, but they are not something I've given much thought to yet as they are a much bigger investment in time and money when it comes to self publishing).

Size Matters

You'll notice I said novella and not novel. Perhaps I could have crammed my series of novellas into a single full sized novel, but I like the way it breathes at the moment. However, if I wanted to get it published by a publishing house, even an e-publishing house, I'm fresh out of luck. There are very few places that will take works of this size and subject matter (i.e. non-romance, approx 37,000 words) and most of the ones that might take it are fairly new and untested. They still might be a good option, if I wasn't happy to do all this work myself and I do think longingly of them at times.
At any rate, if I self publish, I don't have to worry about size. People have been self publishing even short stories to some success. My novella looks positively gargantuan in comparison.

Promotion

I am fairly well versed in the internet and in social media. I know how SEO works and what spamming is and so forth.
I'm not sure if promotion is a reason to self publish (it seems like it's going to be a pain in the arse, frankly) but it's not a reason to not self publish, at any rate.

Some other reasons for self publishing that I've seen people mention are:
Wanting to have control over your cover and the rest of the process.
Wanting to have control over the rights to your book.
Wanting to undercut the big publishers.
Wanting to see results quickly.
Being unable to get your book placed with an agent or publisher.
Writing a niche topic that probably isn't commercially viable for a publisher.
Knowing you've already got a ready-made audience and wanting to cash in on that, rather than share the profits.

There are probably more that I haven't seen or thought of. If you have another reason, by all means leave it in the comments!

I've got other novels in mind, or even half started, that I will eventually send out to agents and publishers. I have the book of poems that I completed last year (which still needs work) which I intend to send out as well. I am not putting all my eggs in one basket, so to speak.
But I'm excited about this experiment. I loved writing this fun little book. And I'm hoping other people will like it too.

Next post I'm going to talk about the bits of self publishing that I could do without.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Self Publishing in New Zealand - To Self Pub or not to Self Pub? Part One

So, I started writing about research last time and it turned into a drawn out warning about scams.
So, this time I'm going to talk about how to do research on more exciting things.

Most of you are probably a crack hand at internet searches so I'll skip that and go straight to my number one resource at the moment. Internet writers' forums. In particular, the forums at Absolute Write.
There are other forums for writers, some of them catering more specifically to a particular community (like the Kindle boards for example) but the Water Cooler at Absolute Write is one of the largest and longest running, as well as just being a nice place to hang out. If they don't already have your question answered somewhere, they will bend over backwards to help you (and you should return the favour).

It offers an enormous resource to anyone who is interested in any aspect of writing. If you are just starting out, there is plenty of encouragement available for the asking. There are also several very good tutorials available, for example Learn Writing with Uncle Jim.

But you aren't just thinking about writing if you're looking at this blog entry, are you?
Because if you are, stop reading and start writing.
It's all too easy to justify researching all day, and put off the actual writing until tomorrow (I know, I'm definitely guilty of this). Being a writer means writing.
It means writing right now.

The one caveat I would add here is that if you are planning on writing a non-fiction book of some kind, my very basic understanding of that is that you generally pitch it to the publishers before you write it. So, if you aren't completely set on self publishing (and there's no reason you should be) you might want to research that process before setting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). 

If you've finished, or almost finished your novel/book of short stories/poetry manuscript/whatever and you're starting to think about what to do with it now that you're done, feel free to research your little heart out.
The first thing on your mind will likely be, how can I get this out there for people to read it?

And that is the question, isn't it. I assume you are reading this blog entry because you're interested in self publishing. You've seen all the success stories that have hit the news lately, perhaps. You've heard about the higher royalties, the greater control self pubbers have over the publishing process.
You've, perhaps, realized what a long shot it is to get something published with trade publishers. It's not a matter of sending off your baby once or twice and waiting for the millions to flood in. It can, and probably will, take years from the moment you lay down your pen after writing "The End" to the point that you hold a newly printed book in your hands. Years and possibly hundreds of painful rejections.

Self publishing can be done in a matter of minutes. No rejections necessary. You write, "The End", you upload, and that's it, you're published.
No. Bad writer. Put your itchy trigger finger away.

It's tough, I know. You're excited about your story (or poems, or whatever). You want to share it with the world and you want to do it now. But the second you upload your book to the Kindle or anywhere else, it is considered published and your first rights are gone (don't know what first rights are? Research it).
Maybe that is what you will eventually decide to do. But you owe it to the story to do your research first on what is the best option for you and your manuscript.

Now, while you are researching, bear in mind, there are a lot of people out there who are very upset over the choice to self-publish. Whether because they can't see why anyone wouldn't or they can't see why anyone would. Don't become one of these people.
There are positives and negatives for both sides. Find them. Consider them without emotion.
Don't be swayed by the lists of popular authors who have self published their way to success. Not only are those lists often bogus, they brush over the fact that most of those authors happily continue to stay with their publishing houses once they have them. There must be something to being associated with those houses. It's not an evil conspiracy (on either side).

So, that's your task. Research whether or not you should be self publishing at all. In my opinion, in most cases, there is no right or wrong answer.
In the next post, I will tell you all about why I've chosen to self publish this particular book and how I arrived at that decision.



Saturday, July 21, 2012

Self Publishing From New Zealand - Research and Scams

So, I'm about two or three weeks away from self publishing my first title. I've really enjoyed the process so far (except designing the cover, since I don't enjoy design work) and I thought I would do a few posts detailing the steps I've taken to get to where I am at the moment.
Why should you listen to me? Well, because I'm a lazy, procrastinating no-good wannabe and I've somehow managed to complete a next-to-final draft and a handful of people have said I made them laugh and they enjoyed my work. I also have a cover. That's a really nice place to be.

So here is the most important step I've taken so far in my "self publishing journey". This post is going to be about the baby steps anyone should take when they are thinking about publishing (whether it's self publishing or not).

Research. I cannot emphasize this enough. In fact most of the other steps are going to be subheadings under this ultimate commandment.
And it should be easy. In fact it can be too easy to get sucked into reading only about how to get published, rather than about how to write, or even writing in your chosen genre. 

Research is what will keep you from making the disastrous mistake of allowing yourself to be published by a vanity or scam press. I'll get you started right now by linking Writer Beware. This is a resource sponsored by a Science Fiction and Fantasy writers' organisation, but it was set up for all writers, including non-fiction and poets. The Alerts For Writers page is particularly important.
Because publishing is difficult.
Self pubbing might seem like the easy route, particularly if you've researched what it takes to get published by trade publishers (some people call them traditional publishers, but that's kind of a loaded word).
But doing it all yourself is hard work and you have to expect it to continue to be hard work. From what I can see, there isn't going to be a point where you sit back and bask in the glow of your online bank statement. At least, not for more than a few minutes. Then you'll be back to writing more, publishing more, and promoting more.

And in the midst of all this hard work, you might stumble upon a website by a publisher who seems nice enough, so you send them your stuff. Lo and behold, they give you an answer almost immediately- they love your writing! They want to take over all this pesky work and publish your book for you!
At this point they might ask for money in order to do that.
Do not give anyone money to publish your book. Real publishers will only give money to you.
They might not ask for money. They might only take your book, slap a cheap cover on it and throw it out there, telling you that if you want it to sell, you'd better buy a midden-heap load of copies in order to promote it. Then they'll lose your royalties in the mail.
More terrifying, for an author, a publisher will have the rights to your book. They can do whatever they like with it, including not edit it, or add errors to it, or not publish it at all (depending on the contract, of course.  A legitimate publisher will have given you a decent contract which would prohibit all of this).

Self publishing is a gamble, but it's a gamble where you at least get to roll your own dice. If you fall in with the wrong people they will take the dice off you and it could be years before you get them back.

With that said, there are a handful of companies out there that will do all the work of self publishing for you. They will get you a cover and editing and formatting and so forth, and with that kind of company you can decide for yourself whether they are worth using or not. Generally they are expensive and won't do anything for you that you can't do yourself.

I originally started this post thinking I would talk about research in general, and it turned into a warning about scams. Really, they can be very sophisticated and your best bet is to just check everyone. In the age of the internet it's OK to be cautious and cynical, and it's easy as well. Google that sucker and make sure you look past the first page of hits.
So, next post, I think I will talk more about researching in general.