Thursday, May 22, 2008

Discrimination - Part Three

There is a Web site, hosted by a genre fiction magazine, where writers can check out publishers, agents and others prior to doing business with them. This informal clearing house warns writers away from fraudulent situations and scams.

I applaud these efforts. Scams and frauds should be exposed.

My concern is that this group paints with a very broad brush. Their home page states the site is for serious writers – with an exclamation point. On another page titled Warnings, they provide rules for spotting scam publishers. Using their rules, all subsidy publishers are scam perpetrators. I don’t think that is accurate or fair. To say all subsidy publishing is a scam is like saying all doctors are quacks.

First, I am very serious about my writing and about my writing business. Second, if I contract with a company for a service and receive that service in full, I have not been cheated.

I hear many grievances about subsidy publishing. Primarily, those doing the complaining did not read the contracts they signed, expected something for nothing and dreamed of fame and wealth without doing any of the hard work necessary to achieve either one. In their effort to attain unrealistic goals, they sometimes get taken. There is an adage that covers this – if it sounds too good to be true, it is.

For my first three books, I used a subsidy publisher. I decided on this company by reading the contract, comparing their services to competitors’ options, and interviewing other writers who had also used this and other subsidy publishers. I even checked the Web site referred to in the opening paragraph. I got exactly what I expected and what I paid for. That is not a scam.

I have no doubt that the original intent of this site was to protect writers. Now their reasoning seems more self-serving. By convincing writers that publication by any company other than those on an “approved” list is a scam, they preserve the status quo. By discriminating, they hope to stave off change just a bit longer.

I suggest writing organizations go back to providing real service to their members and all writers. Instead of denouncing alternative publication methods, help writers understand the changing business. And expose the real scam artists – there are plenty of them out there.

Think I’m the only one addressing these issues? Please visit
These eloquent essays are well worth your time.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Discrimination - Part Two

When Greased Wheels debuted in 2002, the local mystery writing community welcomed me. I was considered an odd duck for using a subsidy publisher but there were other writers in the area who self-published and whose work was respected. My publishing choice was a matter of some interest and I spoke on convention panels about it.

By the time Horse Power was published in 2006, things had changed substantially. My writing improved; my standing among my fellow mystery writers did not. Even though I moderated panels at two of the largest conferences in the world, conference organizers congratulated themselves on preventing my participation in the future. Professional writing organizations to which I belonged blocked my participation in certain events.

Instead of judging me based on the quality of my work or the success of my business, they proclaimed that I am not a legitimate writer because I did not receive an advance, I did not have a print run of at least 1,000 books, and my books are not returnable.

I was once told that I didn’t need to earn as much as a man because I would never have to support myself. I was assaulted in an elevator by an officer of the company that employed me. I am a woman. I have experienced discrimination repeatedly.

The discrimination currently promoted and practiced by the established writing community is particularly unfortunate because it comes from people who claim to be open-minded and progressive. By closing ranks and blocking my participation in traditional marketing venues, they hope to maintain the status quo.

I have one word to say to these groups – HarperCollins.

HarperCollins is a large New York-based, “traditional” publisher. It publishes some of the big names including Sidney Poitier, Mario Batali and Faye Kellerman. If I was published by HarperCollins, I would be “legitimate” in the eyes of these groups. I would have received an advance against royalties, had a press run of over 1,000 books and my books would be returnable.

However, on April 4, 2008, HarperCollins made a startling announcement. It is embracing a modern business model. For its new imprint (division), it will not pay advances against royalties and it will use print-on-demand technology – books printed to order. No more large print runs. And the final slap at tradition – these books will not be returnable.

The HarperCollins announcement did not receive much attention because it came at the same time Amazon was making waves. It is, however, solid proof that change is flowing into the publishing business like water through a broken levy and nothing the old guard does will stop it.

Part Three coming soon.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Discrimination - Part One

Discrimination is an integral part of our lives. To be labeled discriminating when selecting a car or a coat is a good thing.

There is, however, a dark side to the act of discrimination. We go there when we make choices or decisions that have nothing whatever to do with individual merit. We go there when we are afraid.

At a mystery conference a few years ago, I listened to a best-selling thriller writer deliver the opening speech. In it, she bemoaned the loss of readers in general and then condemned independent and subsidy-published writers for flooding the market with books that readers chose over hers.

Several rebuttals come to mind immediately.

First, librarians tell me that reading is up. It is the manner of reading that is changing. People are reading with their ears rather than with their eyes. Audio books, in all formats, are flying off the shelves, so to speak.

Second, books are expensive and they take up a lot of space. I stopped buying books some time ago. I patronize my library. Now, with the focus on environmental responsibility, libraries make even more sense. This writer should be careful not to confuse readers with buyers. Sales may be down but her readership may be up.

Finally, that thriller writer may have declining sales because readers no longer want to read what she writes. People’s tastes change. She should examine her product and decide if it needs to be altered or replaced with a new one. She would not be the first writer to do that. We all love Spenser but we like Jesse Stone, too.

Writing is a craft; publishing is a business and that business is rapidly morphing into something entirely different. If this thriller writer owns an iPod, she is part of the change that happened in the music business. Similar changes can be seen in book publishing. She probably feels the revolution in the music business was good. She benefits from it. Obviously she, and others like her, feel those same changes in the publishing industry are not good. They are afraid.

In their fear, they lash out. They announce that the writers who have embraced the change are lower class and unworthy. They close doors to marketing opportunities. They prevent us from participating in conferences and professional organizations.

In other words, they discriminate.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Subsidy Publishing - It's Your Business

Before my first book came out, I paid particular attention to what writers said about their relationships with their publishers. They often spoke about the time and effort required to meet their publishers’ demands for sales. Since publishing is a business and publishers expect to make money off their authors, this was not a surprise to me. However, I was taken aback by how quickly authors were expected to produce new titles. In one case, the author was under contract to deliver a new manuscript every nine months. In addition, she was traveling to promote herself and her work. She was deeply concerned about honoring her commitment. She could not afford to leave her part-time job because it provided the funds for her promotional efforts. Plus she had children who needed her.

I shared similar problems so when I heard virtually identical stories from other writers, I decided to seek an alternative. Self-publishing was the obvious answer; however, I didn’t have the time or funds for that. Then Derek Hart ( suggested subsidy publishing through an Internet publisher. Technology to the rescue. Print-on-demand removes press runs from the equation, allowing writers to self-publish without having to fund an inventory. Some of the subsidy publishers also handled distribution. Another problem solved.

I read every subsidy publisher’s Web site, printed out and compared contracts and made a choice. All three of my mysteries have been published through a subsidy publishing company. This option met my needs perfectly.

Greased Wheels was released in 2002. Since that time, thousands of writers have published more than 300,000 titles annually, many through subsidy publishers that did not exist when I began. Some don’t even charge a fee to produce a title. A writer can be in print for zero investment.

And that leads us to the problem with subsidy publishing. Anyone and everyone can publish a book. They do not ask themselves whether or not they should.

I do not include the people who create books to preserve the family recipe collection or grandfather’s World War II memories. These books are not intended for general consumption and subsidy publishing is a wonderful way to save our history.

I address those writers who feel that, merely by publishing, they will become rich and famous. They make no investment in their work – no editing, no proofreading and, in some cases, no payment for the actual printing.

A librarian recently shared that a local writer brought her a subsidy-published book expecting the library to stock it and host a signing event. Inside the book, the librarian found multiple typographical and grammatical errors and an amateurish writing style with badly constructed paragraphs and confusing sentences. The book was poorly bound and printed on low quality paper. The author was oblivious to these flaws.

I applaud the changes in technology that allow writers to be in print. However, like all good technologies, it has bad points. The biggest is the ease and accessibility of print-on-demand printing allows writers to bypass many of the steps that are part of producing a good book.

If you are considering this form of publishing, ask yourself if you would pay the cover price for your work if someone else wrote it. Remember that self-publishing puts the burden on you. It is up to you to hire an editor and get a proofreader.

If you self-publish, you are in business. And, as any business person will tell you, doing it yourself is hard work. It may not require a lot of money but it does demand a major investment of effort and time.

Writing is a great art and a rewarding endeavor. Publishing is a business. Make sure your book is the best product you can make it.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Amazon and Me

I’ve started and abandoned several ideas for postings, primarily because by the time I decided what I wanted to say, the landscape had changed. The publishing industry is morphing into a new beast and as a member of that industry, I am watching with fascination and admittedly, some unease. First, however, I need to address the Amazon situation.

During the last week of March, 2008, Amazon announced that unless certain publishing companies (mine included) use Amazon’s printing company, Amazon will not sell the book. An article in Business Week pointed out that Amazon’s real goal is to print ALL the books it sells on a print-to-order basis. Why? Because warehousing is costly. If Amazon switches to a print-on-demand business model, it will save millions of dollars in warehouse and labor costs. It’s a smart business move on their part and they have the marketplace muscle to pull it off.

There’s one big problem. Amazon’s print company, Booksurge, is not a good printer. iUniverse (my publisher) and others switched to Booksurge’s competitor because of quality issues. The Internet is full of complaints about Booksurge’s poor quality. (Some copies of my first book, Greased Wheels, had green pages that matched the cover.) In addition, Booksurge cannot meet the current demand for the titles it prints. How will it handle the additional production load?

Amazon is playing rough. Unknown to me at the time, during a period in January, the “Add to Cart” buttons on my book pages were removed. In the first week of April, the “Add to Cart” buttons went dark on all the books from a publisher called PublishAmerica as Amazon proved its power.

The marketplace told Amazon what it thinks of Booksurge. It’s unfortunate that Amazon chose to use threats and manipulation to get print business instead of competing honestly for it by providing quality, service and value.

As I said in my first post, as a writer, I deal with communication. For this story, there’s been precious little. I haven’t seen this reported outside the publishing world, with the exception of the Business Week article. Why not? This affects every publisher, every writer and every reader. Consumers will pay the same price for a book of potentially inferior quality.

My bottom line is this: I want to assure my fans that my books are available at many other book selling Web sites. My titles are listed at Baker & Taylor and Ingram Group so they can be ordered through any bookstore. Please remind your friends and fellow readers that Amazon is not the only place to buy books. As things stand now, if they order from Amazon, I cannot guarantee the books will ever ship. By the way, Barnes and Noble has a $25 free shipping program, too.

As always, thank you for your support. Happy reading!