Little White Lies: Are They Good or Bad in Publishing?

24 October 2014

From author Judy Mollen Walters via The Huffington Post:

Little White Lies. We all use them in daily life. A friend asks us if she looks like she’s gained weight and we say no when it does look like she’s put on a few pounds.

. . . .

But what about little white lies in publishing? Those happen all the time, too, yet many of us argue, they’re good, for both the liar and the recipient.

. . . .

My experience with little white lies started as a naive but hopeful author, sending out query letters trying to find an agent. Some agents sent a generic rejection letter but others wrote a little personalized note. I got excited about “nice” rejections — hopeful that they “meant” something. But in the end, they probably didn’t mean a thing more than no. No means no, no matter how nicely it is said.

Then I got an agent and we moved to trying to find a publishing house and editor for my work. Editors generally wrote lengthier rejection letters and again I read into them. The editor said the characterization was good! The editor said the subject matter grabbed her! Whatever it was, I clung to it, believing it meant something. But my agent would remind me that no meant no, and no matter how an editor “sugar coated” it, a rejection was a rejection. She went so far as to say that it was common in the publishing world to “cushion” the rejection with niceties and that I shouldn’t believe them. She was right. Rejections are rejections. How the person chooses to say it should not mean anything to you.

I left my agent when I decided to self publish. This time, I experienced the little white lies from other authors. Over the years, I had befriended a few authors online whose work I especially admired. They wrote contemporary, family centered fiction; so did I. The only difference was that most of them were traditionally published. I reached out to quite a few to try to get blurbs for my book cover. They all said no. Most said no with the “I’m too busy,” line. I sensed they were lying, especially when I would see their names on blurbs for lots of other books over the coming months and years.

. . . .

When I brought this up with other writers recently, a traditionally published author told me that frankly, traditionally published authors didn’t really want to associate with self pubbers. They didn’t want their names anywhere near our work. And that’s why they told us they were too busy. They didn’t want to tell us they thought our work would suck (even though they hadn’t even read it yet).

. . . .

I’ve talked with other writers about this. They agree that it’s difficult to tell someone their work is not ready to see the light of day, how treacherous it is to walk the fine line of constructive criticism and “this really stinks but I can’t tell you that.” We’ve talked about how “nice” everyone is in publishing. It’s almost taboo to be anything but super sweet to someone you don’t know, or even to people you do.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

Here’s a link to Judy Mollen Walters’ books


Fan Fiction Writer Gets Six-Figure Book Deal

23 October 2014

From Rolling Stone:

British boy-band singer Harry Styles can check “inspiring a work of literature” off his bucket list: the One Directioner star has allowed a 25-year-old writer to go from fan fiction scribe to six-figure published author.

Styles stars as a barely-disguised version of himself in 25-year-old novelist Anna Todd’s debut erotic novel, After, which hit stores this week. Todd began writing the sexy fan fiction – which involves a college freshman who falls for and has kinky times with a guy named Harry Styles – on free writing site Wattpad last year. But what started as a few chapters has grown into a 2,500-page epic novel that earned the Ohio native a six-figure publishing deal from Simon and Shuster imprint Gallery Books.

. . . .

Todd decided to ignore her detractors, having quit her job with the full (albeit somewhat surprising) support of her husband in order to write a new chapter daily to keep up with her site’s demands. Her hard work has obviously paid off: Paramount Pictures acquired the stories’ screen rights

Link to the rest at Rolling Stone and thanks to Scott for the tip.

Nice Dragons Deserve Numbers

23 October 2014

From author Rachel Aaron:

My favorite thing about the indie publishing community is its transparency. I could not have made my decision to self-publish without the sales numbers and analysis posted by the authors who came before me. As all of you who read my blog regularly know, we are big big fans of paying it forward here at Casa de Aaron/Bach, and so it was a foregone conclusion that I would do the same once my own numbers started coming in.

Below, you will find the complete sales numbers/Kindle Universe borrows for Nice Dragons Finish Last followed by a few conclusions and observations I’ve drawn from my self pub results so far. Please know that I am not doing this to brag. While I did admittedly have a fantastic, amazing, beyond my wildest expectations two months, I’m still nowhere near the top of the publishing heap for either the traditional or self-pub side of the fence.

. . . .

Make no mistake, having an established fan base was a huge help, especially at the beginning. Many of my reviews for NDFL reflect that these were readers who’d followed me over from Paradox or The Legend of Eli Monpress (to these people, I LOVE YOU ALL). But an equal number of the reviews that mentioned how the reader found my book claimed they’d never heard of me before this and only clicked because the cover/blurb/title looked interesting. And while review counting isn’t a precise measure of whether the above sales are from new fans or old, going by my royalty statements, I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say that I don’t have that many die-hard fans who run out and buy my book in the first two months. Many of these sales (and I’d wager the majority of my KU readers) seem to be new fans who found and decided to buy NDFL purely on its own merit, and (as you see from the numbers above) primarily on Amazon.

. . . .

I did practically zero promo for this book. I mean, I did the basics–tweeted the release to my followers, sent an email to my (then very tiny) mailing list, passed out a few eARCs to reviewers I’d worked with in the past–but compared to the relentless promo I did for my Orbit titles, I phoned this release in. Why? Well, frankly I was busy and I didn’t actually expect the book to start selling until there were sequels.

That’s one of the great things about self-publishing, though. There’s no release week. You don’t live or die by getting people into bookstores to buy your book during the 2-3 months it’s actually on the shelves. You have time to let a title sit and gain readership organically.

. . . .

At this point in the release, I was so caught up in writing and other work that I was barely tweeting, yet my book was doing fantastic, and I had no idea why. But I could see the stair steps already. I knew something was going on, and so I started trying to predict when the jumps would come. Sure enough, I was able to predict the jump on July 30th, not through any promo or efforts on my part, but simply by looking at the patterns that had come before. And then, just before the infamous 30 Day Cliff, the stair steps suddenly ended, and I returned to a normal, up and down sales graph.

An inexplicable climb is almost as frustrating as an inexplicable fall. If my books were doing this well, then dammit, I wanted to know why. So my programmer husband and I looked at all the data, and while we can’t presume to put forward any real answers based off such limited information, we did come up with a pretty cool theory, which is that this stair step progression pattern is actually an unwitting picture of the Amazon algorithms at work.

My book came into the Amazon system under pretty much the best possible circumstances. I was an already established author with other, proven titles for sale. I had several positive reviews, including one from a Top 1000 reviewer right off the bat (thank you, Mihir!), I was already selling thanks to the support of my fanbase, and I was competitively priced.

To an Amazon bot, all of that combined makes me look pretty good. On paper, at least, I looked like a winner, and it’s my theory that because of this, I was given extra visibility by Amazon in the form of a fixed ranking. And I don’t mean fixed as in illegally fixed, I mean they stuck my rank on me with digital glue. That’s why my rank didn’t move, because it wasn’t actually my rank. It was a bonus Amazon automatically attached to a book they predicted would do well, but that hadn’t actually been out long enough to get the also-boughts and link ups that actually drive the Amazon sales engine.

. . . .

Because a book’s Amazon rank is a very reliable way of determining how many people see said title while browsing, artificially fixing a new book’s rank within a set spread (say, between Amazon rank 1000 and 900) is a built in way to test how well a title performs against other books who’ve achieved the same rank naturally. It’s sort of like putting an untested horse in a race with a bunch of champions to see how the newcomer’s time compares to the veterans, who are already known quantities. If the new horse keeps up, you move it up to the next race and the next race until it starts to fall behind. At that point, you can make a pretty good guess as to how well that horse will run, or that book will sell.

If you artificially fix a book’s rank at 1000 with all the visibility that entails, and it manages to sell the same or better as the older books around it who’ve achieved the 1000 rank on their own, you know that title can run the race. If a book can’t gain sales commiserate with its artificial rank, then Amazon knows that particular book isn’t ready to be there and drops it back down. I’m pretty sure this is what happened to me at the end, because while I was outselling my daily rank all the way up according to the various rank/sales converters around the internet (ie, the kindle rank to sales calculator would say that a 1200 ranks gets 55-100 sales per day and I was seeing 130), I was not outselling my rank once I reached the 500s, which is when the stair step climb stopped for me. My horse, it seemed, had finally run out.

Link to the rest at Pretentious Title and thanks to Adrienne for the tip.

Here’s a link to Rachel Aaron’s books

How Soon Will the Majority of Books Be Self-Published?

21 October 2014

From Publishing Perspectives:

Among the many ideas that rose to the forefront of discussions at this year’s Women’s Writing Festival was the idea of collaboration among writers, an idea that has come of age with the digital revolution. The best example of collaboration is the creation in 2013 of EWWA, the European Writing Women Association by Italian authors Elisabetta Flumeri and Gabriella Giacometti – primarily an Italian organization but open to all Europeans and engaged in a series of networking activities, with now some 165 members. Collaboration was a leitmotiv at the Festival this year too and often came into the discussion which centered on the “digital disruption” in the book market.

As might be expected in any discussion about the digital revolution and self-publishing, points of views diverged and the discussions between panel members were often heated. High points were reached when Maria Paola Romeo moderating a panel playfully suggested that the figure of the editor/publisher was on her way out.

But it was [agent] Andrew Lownie [who] made the boldest predictions, stating that in five to ten years from now, 75% of the books would be self-published, 20% would be publishing assisted by agents, and only 5% traditionally published.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to Dana for the tip.

Are There Too Many Books?

20 October 2014

From Publishing Perspectives:

At the 66th Frankfurt Book Fair last week, self-publishing and the self-published authors were in the eye of the storm, at the crest of the tsunami wave of the published books worldwide.

The total number of books in print hit 28 million worldwide in 2013 , as calculated by all the titles that acquired ISBNs. In the United States, some 390,000 ISBNs were taken by the self-published authors, while approximately 300,000 were solicited by the traditional trade publishers.

. . . .

A panel featured as part of the International Self-publishing Program, asked the question “Are there too many books?” And the answer, may surprise you.

“No, there are not too many books,” said Jonas Lennermo, CCO of Sweden’s Publit, but with reservations. He noted  that the very idea of the long-tail economy never intended to imply that those books that sell in small quantities — those towards the end of the tail — would be simply sell because of their very existence, of their own accord. The sheer number of books means that the long tail gets too fat, is all but impossible to move. “We need a new idea about how to market the long-tail,” he said.

Joanna Penn, a successful author and entrepreneur, founder of The Creative Penn, was much more direct: “You don’t say to a child to stop painting a picture just because there are too many paintings already in the world.” She finds the explosion of creativity wonderful and rewarding, to both authors and readers. “The publishing is no longer dominated by old white men. We can see new, exciting developments happening, and the diversity we never have had. Today, authors can reach readers beyond any of the traditional industry’s paths. There are niches and micro-niches emerging everywhere: either on the creative or on the receptive side of publishing.”

. . . .

Although the book market is changing with light speed, passion for writing and reading in the publishing industry remains the same. Should Gabriel Zaid have sat among the debaters he would surely have supported the new developments and the varied choice we are enjoying thanks also to brave entrepreneurial authors like Joanna Penn. Shall we have the time to read all 28 million books in our lifetime? Maybe this is not really so important. Or, in Zaid’s words: “The truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Group Hug

15 October 2014

From Hugh Howey:

You want to see progress? Take note that the regular attackers of self-publishing as a career choice have altered their aim and are now just going after those who dare to voice their support of self-publishing. Amazon is their number one target, of course, as the top supporter of the self-publishing path. And anyone who defends Amazon—or who argues that self-publishing is just as viable as (if not superior to) traditional publishing—is also a target.

What you don’t see anymore is anyone daring to argue against the substance of pro self-publishing points. Remember the old attacks and stigmas? They used to be:

1) No one sells books by self-publishing. (Often stated as: The average self-published authoronly sells X books in their lifetime.)

This is rarely trotted out now that dozens of authors have sold millions of titles, hundreds have sold hundreds of thousands of titles, and thousands of authors have sold many thousands of titles. Do all self-published authors have wild success? Of course not. But only 1% of those who submit to agents get published at all. This is finally sinking in, and enough self-published authors have had enough success to put an end to this canard.

. . . .

3) It will end your writing career if you self-publish.

Actually, it’s just as likely to start your writing career. A friend of mine just sold his self-published book to a Big 5 publisher for several hundred thousand dollars. It may have been true at one time that publishers only looked at material if it had never been published anywhere else before, but that was laid to rest a long time ago. The stigma is gone within publishing houses. 50 Shades of Grey selling a bazillion copies changed all that. Everyone is looking for the next hit, whether from YouTube stars, Twitter feeds, blogs, or Redditors.

. . . .

5) Traditional publishers offer much more to the author.

This one is hard to say with a straight face anymore. Publishers take 82.5% and offer less editing, fewer promotion dollars, fewer book tours, less shelf space, and they take your rights for your lifetime plus another 70 years. Or you can pay freelancers, own your work forever, and keep 70% of the list price.

. . . .

But what people like Joe Konrath have been saying for ages is that the economic advantages of self-publishing were too great and that the truth of this would eventually make itself obvious. Now that it has become obvious, the attacks have shifted to the ad hominem variety. People denigrate Jeff Bezos’s character instead of pointing out the options Amazon opens up to the hopeful artist. writes a hit piece accusing me of destroying book culture (and does so with misattributed quotes) instead of pointing out anything wrong with what I’ve said about the positives of self-publishing.

I see all of this as progress. Enormous progress. The substance of our points are now unassailable. All that’s left is for those who want to keep the gatekeepers in place to tear us down and attack us personally.

. . . .

It’s over. We can coexist now. People can publish however they want, with opportunities for moving back and forth from one path to the other. And publishers are going to have to continue to sweeten their offerings to lure authors over to their side, while self-published authors will have to continue to up their game to sway readers to their works.

Link to the rest at Hugh Howey and thanks to Ashe for the tip.

No, You Can’t Track the Growth of Self-Pub by Counting ISBNs

10 October 2014

From Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader

The most accurate statement I can make about the growth rate of the indie/author segment of the publishing industry is that it is nebulous at best. This part of the industry is so fuzzy that it can’t be counted, but that hasn’t stopped anyone from trying.

Digital Book World, for example, summarized a press release yesterday which assumed that ISBNs were an accurate measure of growth. The pr was from Bowker, and under the title “Self-Publishing Maturing, Up 17% Last Year in the U.S. “, DBW wrote:

The self-publishing market is entering a new stage of maturity after an initial boom several years ago, according to Bowker’s latest analysis of ISBN registrations in the U.S. from 2008 through 2013.

. . .

Bowker researchers conclude that the self-publishing market is “stabilizing as the trend of self-publisher as business-owner, rather than writer only, continues.”

I will freely admit that I don’t have a clue how to measure the growth of the indie author, but one thing I can tell you is that ISBNs aren’t a valid measure.  ISBNs have about as much relation to measuring the growth of the publishing industry as standardized test scores have to measuring academic progress – in other words, very little.

. . .

To put it simply, no one knows the complete state of the publishing industry, and anyone who claims to do so is selling you something. (In the case of Bowker, they’re giving it away;the report is free.)

Read the full article at The Digital Reader


Bowker’s free report seems to this PG minion as being worth slightly less that what you’ll pay for it.

Piling-up-the-pixels-for-PG vacation guest post by Bridget McKenna

Aspiring authors take e-route to success

9 October 2014

From Ashwin Ahmad at India Today

Books have been man’s best friends forever, and the advent of improved technology, more services and greater awareness has only led to a spurt in self-publishing in India. From online majors such as Amazon to traditional players like Penguin, they are all offering services for aspiring authors and giving them an opportunity to design their own book jackets and set prices. Publishing in India has taken a completely new turn. People in the trade point out that the change has been happening for some time now.


With a large number of aspirant authors taking the new route to publishing, some reputed traditional publishers have ventured into the self-trade as well to give competition to the advantages of self-publishing. Penguin Random House have rolled out what they call esingles, which are short digital-only reads meant for “people who are short on time, fond of reading and want to catch up on some reading during their routine commute or lunch hour”.


Penguin Books India is not alone. Harper Collins Publishing also launched their e-singles service called Harper XXI with genres ranging from crime and romance to sports and business. With prices starting at Rs.20 per story, esingles remain the traditional publisher’s answer to what can only be called the online “blitz”.

Valsakumar points out, “While big players have already made the transformation, it is up to small players to embrace this change quickly as it offers them a better chance in the marketplace.” Having recognised that today’s author, much like the customer, is the ‘king’, traditional publishers have unrolled a bevy of packages which the aspiring author can pick and choose from. Penguin’s new self publishing imprint Partridge, launched in partnership with Author Solutions, offers services ranging from design, illustration, print formatting and distribution to online retailers, international marketing and distribution. The fees can range from Rs.10,000 to over Rs.1.5 lakh, depending on what you choose.

So, president and CEO of Author Solutions Kevin Weiss rightly says, “It is truly the best time in history to be an author.”

Read the rest here.

From Guest blogger Randall

Randall says there’s nothing in this post that would be considered new information to regular visitors to The Passive Voice. The article is from India Today, where the self-publishing revolution is a few years behind the US, UK and other places. Randall was happy to see the warning regarding vanity presses but disappointed to see Authors Solutions mentioned as a viable option. Hopefully self-publishing authors in India will find their way to blogs like this one and learn lessons already hard won by their American brothers and sisters.

Popular on Amazon: Wildly misleading self-published books about Ebola, by random people without medical degrees

6 October 2014

From The Washington Post:

In the past 90 days, some 84 people have self-published Ebola e-books on Amazon, almost half of them in the past month alone. Many of them are popular, crawling their way up the bestseller’ list to sit atop categories, such as health and medicine. Many of them are well-reviewed by their readers, who vow to buy Hazmat suits or start vitamins based on what they’ve read. And many of the books — almost all of them, in fact — contain information that’s either wildly misleading or flat-out wrong.

Welcome to the unscrupulous, conspiracy-filled Wild West of Ebola self-publishing, where an epidemic is less a grave social problem — and more an opportunity to cash in on people’s fears.

“Warning: Ebola could kill 4.1 billion people over the next 24 months!” exclaims the blurb for “Ebola Survival Guide 2015,” currently one of Amazon’s top books on infectious disease. “What you read may in fact save your life or the lives of your friends and families [...] This book may save your life!”

Like clockwork, the entrepreneurial masses churn out new “guides” every time a tragedy or epidemic strikes. (Try searching “ISIS” or “Boston bombing” in the Amazon Kindle store.) But the phenomenon never been quite so pronounced as it is now, perhaps because Ebola’s the first epidemic of the social media age, or perhaps because enough rumor and misinformation are out there that people are willing to turn to anything for aid. Including, apparently, books about infectious disease written by authors who openly admit that they aren’t doctors and aren’t technically qualified to give medical advice.

One book, currently one of Amazon’s best-selling books across the entire medical category — e-books and print — suggests that Ebola will almost definitely become an American epidemic and that only people who stockpile supplies will survive.

Amazon’s self-publishing arm doesn’t tend to take an activist stance on these things; while the site has guidelines for authors, they only prohibit content that’s pornographic or illegal. And while the site does reserve the right to pull self-published books from the store at its discretion, it appears they’ve let a lot of other questionable material stand, including guides to selling illegal drugs and building improvised explosives. (Amazon did not respond to requests for comment.)

And why shouldn’t they, honestly? Fear-mongering seems to be profitable.

Read the rest here. Anyone who was worried that Bezos’ purchase of the Post was to make it some sort of pro-Amazon mouthpeice can relax, I guess.

If I, 1/6th of The Substitute Voice, were making a list of things to blame for this, it might go a little like this:

1) The author

2) The buyer

3) Capitalism

4) Cats

42) Amazon

Also, is Amazon evil because they want to control what gets published, or because they’ll publish anything? This is getting complicated.

~ Dan

Building a Better Industry

4 October 2014

From David Gaughran:

Mike Shatzkin is confused. He can’t seem to understand why self-publishers spend so much time documenting the ills of the publishing industry.

Or, as Shatzkin puts it in one of his typically snappy headlines, “The motivation of the publisher-bashing commentariat is what I cannot figure out.”

. . .

So, why do we care? Is Jamie Ford correct when he claims that we are motivated by bitterness? Was he right when he said that we’re all “people who’ve been told that their baby is ugly”?

. . .

Here are my motivations, in no particular order:

1. I have several friends who are either hybrid authors or traditionally published. I want publishers to reform so that my friends are treated better.

2. Like many, I have a sense of fellow feeling with my colleagues – possibly because writers have been historically treated so poorly (or maybe because I’m a human being who can occasionally rise above considerations of narrow self-interest) – and I want conditions to improve for all authors, however they decide to publish their work.

. . .

5. Some of the things that publishers get up to are simply unconscionable, from using corporate sleight-of-hand to screw authors out of royalties, to profiting from predatory vanity imprints. It’s certainly not in my self-interest to speak up about this crap, but I hate to see writers suffer and cheats prosper, and I can’t abide the hypocrisy/stupidity of FREAKING OUT about what Amazon might do in the future when publishers are doing this stuff today.

. . .

And if the negative criticism from the “publisher-bashing commentariat” outweighs the positive suggestions, I respectfully suggest that’s because it’s much harder to get people to consider an alternative approach if they don’t accept there is a problem in the first place.

DRM doesn’t “prevent piracy,” it causes it. Higher pricing doesn’t “protect the literary way of life,” it is killing it. Writers aren’t being “treated as true partners in the publishing process,” they are being exploited.

Full article and relevant links here.

Link to David Gaughran’s books

Doin’-my-bit-for-PG guest post by Bridget McKenna

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