What’s a Reviewer to Do?

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I started Writing to be Read to promote my own writing and to help other authors, through writing reflections and reviews. We’re all in the same situation. Marketing and promotion are a big part of writing these days, and authors are expected to self-promote to some extent, even if they are traditionally published. The way that books are being rated now, in many places, including Amazon, by the reviews they receive. I post partial reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads for this reason, and have even taken the time to post on Smashwords and Barnes and Nobles upon request from the author.

But, what is a reviewer to do when a book she’s reviewing falls short of all expect a film, like my review of Angel Falls Texas on Friday? Every review I publish has an end note at the bottom which reads like this:

“Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.”

I don’t believe in charging for a review because I don’t believe in paying for a review. And I don’t believe in that because I don’t think you can get an honest review when it is paid for. And I do believe a review should be honest. While I amin favor of promoting other authors with my reviews, I don’t believe in hyping up a work when it is not deserved.

Too many authors get their books on the best sellers list simply by having great reviews posted by those who love the author, but don’t honestly reflect the quality of their book. It’s sad but true. (To learn more about what that best seller label really means, check out this article by Brent Underwood.)

As I shared my post for my review of Angel Falls Texas last Friday, I reacted with a sad on each one, because I hated having to publish such a negative review. It’s certainly not going to help the author sell books, which is usually my goal. In this case, to post a review to encourage sales would have made me feel dishonest to my own readers.

I do both solicited and unsolicited reviews. Those that are unsolicited are from books I purchased on my own and I use them as fill in posts when I don’t have any solicited reviews to publish. With reviews that have been solicited by the author or I have requested an ARC from the author, which don’t rate at least three quills, I usually contact the author, tell them my assessment, and offer them the chance to not have the review published. Most authors, like my author friend Chris Tucker, opt to publish the review and take their licks, but there have been a few who have requested that I hold off publication. These authors, hopefully, then go and make revisions to improve their book and then have me give it another chance. I’d rather do that than post a review that may hurt sales.

I try to be fair in my reviews. If a book is one of a genre that is not one of my favorites, I will state that in the review, being upfront about anything that may have influenced the my opinion. But honestly, as authors who are putting their work out there, we all take the chance that someone out there will not like our work, for whatever reason, and will post an unfavorable review. After all, we are only human, and we are never going to please everyone.

As a reviewer, I know I’m not going to love every book that I review. There will be times when my reviews will be less than shining, but I have to be true to myself and to you, my readers, and publish how I honestly feel. All I can do is try and be specific about what I didn’t like in the hope that the author will take it like a critique and find something useful from my feedback to help to improve their writing or the value of the product they put out.

I think the number one thing we, as writers, can do is remember what one of my Creative Writing professors, Russell Davis, said when talking about receiving critiques from our cohorts,

“Remember, it’s not about you. It’s not personal. It’s all about the writing.”

 

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“Horror 101: The Way Forward” Offers Good Advice for Authors and Screenwriters

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This is the longest book review I have ever written. This book was so packed full of useful information for rising authors and screenwriters that I felt I needed to cover it all. If you are an upcoming horror author or screenwriter, trying to figure out how to get a foot in the door or where to start in the matter of launching your career, Horror 101: The Way Forward offers “career advice by seasoned professionals”. Different writers will find different essays useful, so I’m giving you a rundown on all the informative essays included.

Compiled by Crystal Lake Publishing, this collection of essays has something for every writer. The anthology features quotes from the masters such as Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov,  J.R.R. Tolkien, Jack London, Clive Barker, H.P.Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe and many others. Advice from professional writers and editors covers all aspects of the horror writing business, and the business of writing, in general. From submitting your work, to marketing and promotion, to self-publishing and building your writing business, to crafting your work and the writing process.

The answers to many questions on the topic of submissions and all other aspects of writing as a business are found within its pages. Not getting positive response from your queries? First read Rejection Letters – How to Write and Respond to Them by award winning author Jason Bark, which offers an attempt to write a rejection letter that doesn’t sting, (at least, not so much). Then, flip to Seven Signs that Make Agents and Editors say “Yes!” to learn what agents and editors look for. Buttoning Up Before Dinner by horror author Gary Fry also offers advice to put you in the good graces of publishers and editors and create well-written stories.

Unsure how to submit your work? Submitting Your Work: Read the F*****g Guidelines by freelance writer and editor John Kenny offers tips for making a professional submission from an editor’s perspective. And What a Short Story Editor Does by horror, fantasy and science fiction editor Ellen Dallow explains the responsibilities of short story editor.

Looking for sound career advice? Be the Writer You Want to Be by television writer and novelist, Steven Savile recycles the best writing advice the author was ever given. The Five Laws of Arzen by award winning dark fiction author Michael A. Arzen offers hints to help you survive a writing career. How to Fail as an Artist in Ten Easy Steps: A Rough List Off the Top of My Head, by Confirmed Failure… by horror author John Palisano provides a reverse list of things you should do to be a successful writer.

Wondering if you need an agent to get your work in front of editors and publishers? Do You Need an Agent? by author Eric S. Brown is a discussion about the need, (or not), for an agent and relates the personal experience of how the author became successful without one. Also included are essays on building your writing business in Balancing Art and Commerce by author and screenwriter Taylor Grant , offering a look at various mediums one can write in and earn a living & advice in the business of writing. There are even essays offered on the lucrative business of ghostwriting, with a personal experience as a ghostwriter shared by dark fiction author Blaze McRob, and Ghostwriting: You Can’t Write it if You Can’t See It by award winning author Thomas Smith instructs on how to step into the author’s shoes and write like them.

If you are hoping to find some help muddling through the vast world of marketing and promotion, The Year After Publication by horror & thriller novelist Rena Mason offers an account of what to expect once you publish your first book and a walk through the exhaustive process of book marketing. How to be Your Own Agent, Whether You Have One or Not by horror writer, editor and publisher Joe Mynhardt offers tips for marketing your stories and yourself.  Reviewing by founder of Ginger Nuts of Horror, (one of the most viewed resources in horror fiction), Jim McLeod discusses getting your book in the review pile & what the writer should do while awaiting publication of the review.

If you’ve  not attended a conference or convention before, Pitch to Impress: How to Stand Out From the Convention Crowd by editor R.J. Cavender provides a guide to making a pitch that will snag agents’ and publishers’ attention. Tips for networking at conferences are offered by dark fiction author Tim Waggoner in You Better (Net)Work, and Networking at Conventions by Bram Stoker Award winning author Lucy A. Synder offers a look at the benefits conventions have to offer and a breakdown on some of the major ones for horror writers.

There is a plethora of advice offered on publishing, including a comparison of traditional publishing vs. digital publishing in Weighing Up Traditional Publishing and Ebook Publishing by award winning author Robert W. Walker; Publishing by editor and publisher Simon Marshall-Jones compares publishing in the digital arena with the way it was done in the past & how to become an independent publisher; and Glenn Rolle Toes the Line with Samhain Horror Head Hancho, Don D. Auria by Glenn Rolle with Interview that maps Auria’s rise to the top.

The arena of self-publishing is also explored in Make Your Own Dreams by horror and suspense novelist Iain Rob Wright. Besides being a plug for self-publishing’s evening of the playing table. It relates personal experience and advice for self-publishing, walking us through the self-publishing process. Self-Publishing: Thumb on the Button by author Kenneth W. Cain gives a list of things to think about before you choose to self-publish.

Also included are essays on the different mediums for horror: Poetry and Horror by Blaze McRob, and Horror for Kids: Not Child’s Play by novelist Francois Bloemhof offers guidelines for writing horror for youth. Several essays on comics and screenwriting, (one of the biggest outlets of horror today), are also included.

Horror Comics – How to Write Gory Scripts for Gruesome Artists by novelist Jasper Bark discusses the craft of writing horror comics and the relationship between writer and artist. Some Thoughts on My Meandering Within the World of Dark and Horror Art by artist Niall Parkinson offers thoughts on creating dark and horror art. So You Want to Write Comic Books… by novelist C.E.L. Welsh discusses what goes into the making of a comic book.

From Pros to Scripts by author and screenwriter Shane McKenzie talks about the many challenges of screenwriting. Writing about Films and For Film by award winning writer, editor and screenwriter Paul Kane gives the story of the author’s rise to success and tips for learning the lingo of the business. Screamplays! Writing the Horror Film by award winning author and screenwriter Lisa Morton offers the basics of screenwriting, description and dialog, and tips for getting your screenplay made into a movie. Screenplay Writing: The First Cut is the Deepest by author, director and editor Dean M. Dinkel recaps of the author’s experience at the Cannes Film Festival.

Essays on writing a digital world include Running a Webserial, or How to Lose Your Mind, One Week at a Time by Southern author Tonia Brown, providing a brief history of serials and a rundown of what goes into running one on the web; Friendship, Writing, and the Internet by Bram Stoker Award winning novelist Weston Ochse with reflections on online connections with like-minded writers, and Audiobooks: Your Words to Their Ears by horror novelist Chet Williamson discusses what it takes to create and audiobook and what to expect from the effort.

Of course, there is also plenty of advice on crafting a quality story. What is Horror? by author and novelist Graham Masterson offers general writing advice which could be applied to any genre and instructs on how to push your writing to the edge. The Journey of “Rudy Jenkins Buries His Fears” by author Richard Thomas takes us on a walk through of the writing, editing and submissions process of a story. Writing Short Fiction by horror and thriller novelist Joan De La Haye offers tips to tighten your writing and move the story forward, and discusses where to look to sell your story and how to choose where to submit. Ten Short Story Endings to Avoid by Scottish horror novelist William Meikle supplies a valuable list, if you want to avoid having readers feel cheated. From Reader to Writer: Finding Inspiration by publishing and editing consultant Emma Audsley  offers advise for attacking the blank page. Writing Exercises by horror writer Ben Eads  provides exercises in description and dialogue. Writer’s Block by short fiction writer and novelist Mark West discusses how to keep the creative juices flowing. Editing and revision are covered with Editing and Proofreading by author and editor Diane Parking presents good reasons not to send out a first draft, and How to Dismember Your Darlings – Editing Your Own Work by Jasper Bark gives a brief guide on how to self-edit.

A few essays outline the needs of a writer and suggestions on how to meet them. Filthy Habits – Writing and Routine by Jasper Bark  offers a look at the benefits of creating a daily writing routine. A Room of One’s Own – the Lonely Path of a Writer by horror and fantasy writer V. H. Leslie discusses the need for solitude and space to write in. Writing Aloud by screenwriter and author Lawrence Santoro outlines the benefits of reading aloud as a part of the writing process.

Also included are Partners in the Fantastic: The Pros and Cons of Collaborations by novelist Michael McCarty, which looks at the views of various authors on collaborations, and Writing the Series by series author Armand Rosamilia, which explains why Rosamilia writes series.

Several essays offer advice specific to writing in the horror genre. Making Contact by award winning novelist Jack Ketchum discusses how to turn what you know into a horror show. Bitten by the Horror Bug by horror author and screenwriter Edward Lee looks at what motivates us to write horror. Reader Beware by author Siobhan McKinney explores the role fear plays in horror. Bringing the Zombie to Life by author Harry Shannon maps out four components of a good zombie story. The Horror Writers’ Association – The Genres Essential Ingredient by author and President of the Horror Writers’ Association (HWA), Rocky Wood gives  a rundown on the HWA

What’s the Matter With Splatter? by horror writer and Vice-President of the AHWA, Daniel I. Russell discusses the use of blood, gore and splatter in horror fiction or screenwriting, gives tips on how to use it to gain the desired effect, and discusses why some gore doesn’t get a second thought. Avoiding What’s Been Done to Death by British horror writer Ramsay Campbell defines good horror fiction & emphasizes originality. The (Extremely) Short Guide to Writing Horror by dark fiction author Tim Waggoner offers an introduction to writing horror, including techniques and brief definitions, and a list of good resources for horror writers. Growing Ideas by horror writer Gary McMahon offers a look into the author’s writing process. Writing Horror: 12 Tips on Making a Career of It by horror novelist Steve Rasnic Tem instructs on building your own writer’s toolbox and advice for entering the profession of writing horror. The Cheesy Trunk of Horror by international best selling author Scott Nicholson provides a look at both writer and reader perspectives on horror and dark fiction. Class: Vaginas in Horror by science fiction, urban fantasy and horror novelist Theresa Derwin offers an overview of women in the horror industry. And the afterward by Crystal Lake Publishing’s editor, Joe Mynhardt, includes his own advice for writing horror.

Horror 101: The Way Forward is based on the sound advice of seasoned professionals that is useful to horror writers in any stage of their careers. I recommend it with four quills for anyone who wants to write horror in either fiction or screenwriting.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


Looking Back Over 2016

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This will be the last reflective post of the year. Next Monday’s post will find us in 2017. For my writing career it has been a slow take off, but I’ve seen progress. In July, I completed my Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. With emphasis in both genre fiction and screenwriting, and two completed novels, Delilah and Playground for the Gods Book 1: In the Beginning, two full feature film scripts and one comedy series pilot script in hand, I eagerly jumped right in to get my feet wet in either the publishing and/or screenwriting industry. I began submitting my work to agents, publishers, and competitions like crazy. I received mostly rejections, as expected, and although I still haven’t found a home for either novels or scripts, I did manage to find a home for two poems and two short stories. Not too bad. While the poems, Aspen Tree and Yucca! Yucca! Yucca!, appeared in print, (in Colorado Life (Sept.-Oct. 2016) and Manifest West Anthology #5 – Serenity and Severity, respectively), my short story,  I Had to Do It was published on Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry, and my not so short, short story, Hidden Secrets was published on Across the Margin.

2016 has been a pretty good year for Writing to be Read. The revamping of the blog site was completed in March, I’ve managed post things on a fairly regular basis, we were honored with guest posts by my friend Robin Conley, and my visits and page views have risen, with almost 2000 visitors and over 2,500 page views. Looking at this, makes me feel pretty good about the blog, as a whole. Another good change is the addition of screenwriting content, which I believe has drawn a larger audience by widening the scope of the content.

13595804_10208551605339796_604487774_nThe top post of 2016 was my book review of Simplified Writing 101, by Erin Brown Conroy, which is an excellent tutorial on academic writing, including writing advice that every writing student should know. After that, the reflective post Writing Horror is Scary Business would be second in line. Other popular posts include my four part Making of a Screenplay series,( Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4), my Tribute to My Son, and What Amazon’s New Review Policies Mean for Writing to be Read. More recently, my ten part series on publishing, Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing gave me the opportunity to interview some awesome names in the publishing industry: self-published authors, Jeff Bowels, Tim Baker and Art Rosch; traditionally published authors Stacia Deutsch and Mark Shaw; independently published author Jordan Elizabeth; and children’s author Nancy Oswald, who has published under all three models; as well as Caleb Seeling, owner of Conundrum Press and Curiosity Quills Press – with the final installment summarizing the conclusions made from those interviews. Snoopy Writing

Many of my posts were reflections of my own writing experience. These included: Why Writing is a Labor of LoveFear is a Writer’s Best FriendI’ve Come A Long Way, BabyWriting the Way That Works For YouCreating Story Equals Problem SolvingWhat’s A Nice Girl Like Me Doing Writing in a Genre Like This?; Acceptance or Rejection – Which Do You Prefer?; A Writer’s Life is No Bowel of Cherries; Write What You Know; Discouragement or Motivation?; What Ever Happened to Heather Hummingbird?; How You Can Help Build a Writer’s Platform; and Why Fiction is Better Than Fact.

2013-03-16 Ice Festival 014Sadly, I only attended two events that were reported on, on Writing to be Read in 2016 – the 2016 Ice Festival in Cripple Creek, and the 2016 Writing the Rockies Conference in Gunnison, Colorado. What can I say? I’m a starving writer. This is something I hope to improve on in 2017 by attending more events to report on. One possible addition to the 2017 list that I’m very excited to think about is the Crested Butte Film Festival. The details are not ironed out yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.Fear of Laughter

Screenwriting content included this past year seemed to be popular. In addition to my Making of a Screenplay series and Writing Horror is Scary BusinessWriting to be Read also featured Writing Comedy for Screen is a Risky Proposition, and a book review for Hollywood Game Plan, by  Carole Kirshner, which I can’t recommend highly enough for anyone desiring to break into the screenwriting trade. Robin’s Weekly Writing Memo also included several writing tips that could be applied equally to literature or screenwriting.

Another project I’m particularly proud of is my ten part series on publishing, Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing, which I just finished up last week. In this series I  interviewed nine professionals from within the industry to get the low down on the three different publishing models. My interviews included self-published authors Jeff Bowels, Tim Baker and Art Rosch, traditionally published authors Stacia Deutsch (children’s books) and Mark Shaw (nonfiction), and independently published YA author Jordan Elizabeth. To balance things out a bit, I also interviewed children’s author Nancy Oswald, who has published with all three models, Clare Dugmore of Curiosity Quills Press and Caleb Seeling, owner and publisher at Conundrum Press.

bottledOne of the great things about doing book reviews is that you get to read a lot of great books, in with the okay and not so great ones. In addition Simplified Writing 101, my five quill reviews in 2016 included Jordan Elizabeth’s Runners & Riders, Mark Shaw’s The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, Nancy Oswald’s Trouble Returns, Carol Riggs’ Bottled, Jeff Bowles’ Godling and Other Paint Stories, Janet Garber’s Dream Job, Art Rosch’s Confessions of an Honest Man, and Mark Todd and Kim Todd O’Connell’s Wild West Ghosts. I don’t give out five quills lightly and every one of these books are totally worthwhile reads.

Point Break 1Of course, not all books get a five quill rating. Other books I reviewed that I recommended with three quills or more include three short story anthologies: Chronology, Under a Brass Moon, and Cast No Shadows; two poetry collections: Suicide Hotline Hold Music by Jessy Randall and Walks Along the Ditch by Bill Trembley; Escape From Witchwood Hollow, Cogling, Treasure Darkly, The Goat Children, and Victorian by Jordan Elizabeth; Dark Places by Linda Ladd; Chosen to Die by Lisa Jackson; Wrinkles by Mian Mohsin Zia; Full Circle by Tim Baker; The 5820 Diaries by Chris Tucker; The Road Has Eyes: An RV, a Relationship, and a Wild Ride by Art Rosch; Hollywood Game Plan by Carol Kirschner; Keepers of the Forest by James McNally; 100 Ghost Soup by , and A Shot in the Dark by K.A. Stewart. I also did two movie reviews: Dead Pool and Point Break.

I feel very fortunate to have had Robin Conley join us with her Weekly Writing Memo and her guest movie reviews. The useful writing tips in her Weekly Writing Memos covered a wide range of topics including critiquing, using feedback, ways to increase tension, Relatability or Likeability?, 3 Types of Plot, story research, what to write, making your audience care, world building, handling feedback, writing relationships, establishing tone, editing, word choice, How to Start Writing, endings, queries, Parts of a Scene, making emotional connections, the influence of setting, Building a Story, Inciting Your Story, movement and dialog, Writing Truth, time, Overcoming the Blank Page, Networking, character names, theme, set up, cliches, parentheticals in screenwriting, horror inspiration, and Learning to WriteRobin’s guest post movie reviews included Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Batman vs. Superman, Miss Perigrin’s Home for Peculiar Children, and The Neon Demon13624744_10104024218870042_2001375168_n

I am thankful for Robin’s valuable content and am glad that she will still be contributing Memos on a monthly, rather than a weekly basis. Although I was sad to lose her weekly content, I am happy for her as she moves forward in her own writing career and I wish her well in her writing endeavors. For those of you who looked forward to her weekly posts, you can catch more of her content on her own blog, Author the World.

2016 was a great year for Writing to be Read, even if it was kind of rough for the author behind the blog. You readers helped to make it a good year and I thank you. Now it’s time to look ahead and see what’s in store for 2017 Writing to be Read. I mentioned some of the things I hope to achieve above: more posts pertaining to the screenwriting industry, and coverage of more events throughout the year are two of the goals I have set for my blog. I also plan to add some author, and hopefully, screenwriter profiles into the mix. I had good luck with author profiles during my Examiner days, and I think they will be well received here, as well.

I also hope to bring in some guests posts by various authors or bloggers, or maybe screenwriters, just to give you all a break from listening to me all the time. I believe Robin plans to continue with Monthly Writing Memos, which will be great, too.

I look forward to all the great books that I know are coming my way in 2017, too. The first reviews you have to look forward to are a short memoir, Banker Without Portfolio by Phillip Gbormittah, a YA paranormal romance, Don’t Wake Me Up by M.E.Rhines, a Rock Star romance, Bullet by Jade C. Jamison and a short story, How Smoke Got out of the Chimneys by DeAnna Knippling.

Happy New Year

I hope all of you will join me here in the coming year. Follow me on WordPress, or subscribe to e-mail for notifications of new posts delivered to your inbox. Have a great 2017 and HAPPY WRITING!


Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs.Self-Publishing (Part 10): Conclusions

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This series on publishing has been a lot of fun to create, and I hope maybe there are some of you who have read all of parts 1-9. I started it because I found that while those in my academic career seemed to be in favor of traditional publishing, with many instructors providing information about self-publishing as an option only reluctantly, while authors all around me were getting their work out there by self-publishing their books.

As I looked into the topic more, I found that some folks used the terms independently published and self-published as if they were interchangeable, while independent publishers are really smaller independent publishing houses that are not among the “big five” traditional publishers. As stated in Part 2, for the purposes of this series that is how I will refer to and view independent publishers.

One of the reasons I enjoyed writing this publishing series was that I am fortunate to know many authors, from all three publishing models, and I was able to gather many different viewpoints, examining it from all sides. Overall, I was able to obtain a pretty healthy balance between the three models. I interviewed self-published authors Jeff Bowles, Tim Baker and Arthur Rosch. In the traditional publishing arena, I talked with children’s author, Stacia Deutsch and historical and biographical author, Mark Shaw. I was only able to interview one independently published author, YA author Jordan Elizabeth, but to even it out, I also interviewed two independent publishers, Curiosity Quills Press and Caleb Seeling, owner of Conundrum Press. And for a nice rounded point of view, I spoke with my friend and children’s author, Nancy Oswald, who has published under all three models.

Now is the time to look at the series as a whole and see what conclusions can be drawn. While I think all authors secretly long for a traditional publishing deal, because being picked up by a major publishing house is ingrained in us as a symbol of success, I see independent publishing houses as a feasible alternative to holding out for the big boys, which can take a long time and for some of us, may never pay off. In some instances, debut authors have a better chance of being picked up by a smaller independent press. With both these options identifying markets which would be a good fit for your work, preparing submissions, writing cover letters and queries, synopsis and outlines will take up a lot of time which might be better spent on writing stories. Once accepted by either a major or a smaller publishing house, the author may be expected to do a good portion of the marketing and promotion, as well, although services such as editing  and illustration may be provided.

The upside to signing with a traditional publisher is that the major publishing houses pay out an advance on projected royalties, so major money can be seen in your near future. Independent houses may also pay out advances, but they won’t be nearly as big, and some do pay out a higher percentage of royalties. Of course, as Tim Baker pointed out in Part 2, the flip side to collecting a sizeable royalty is if your book flops. It would be a drag to have to pay it all back. Independent houses may also pay out advances, but they won’t be nearly as big, and some do pay out a higher percentage of royalties.

For self-published authors, there are no advances, but they keep a higher portion of their royalties than with traditional or independent publishing houses. Still, there is no big money now, and no guarantee that there ever will be. Authors may be waiting a long time for their writing to pay off.

As Stacia Deutsch mentioned in Part 4 of the series, traditional publishers provide professional editing and illustrators, to be sure your final product is of good quality. I believe this is true of independent publishing houses, as well, but you won’t find it available through the self-publishing process; one reason self-publishing carries with it such stigma. Gatekeepers insure the book you put out will be the absolute best it can be.

Despite the stigma surrounding self-published authors, due in part to a few self-publishers who like to take short cuts in lieu of putting out a quality product, there are some very good self-published authors out there.  As Jordan Elizabeth pointed out in Part 6, self-publishing has a lot to offer. Self-published authors have a lot more control over their work than traditionally published authors, who do not chose their own cover art, and may not even get to keep their own title.

As Jeff Bowles pointed out in Part 1, another possible advantage to self-publishing is the ease and relative inexpense for today’s authors. You can publish a book with Amazon almost for free, and collect either 35% or 70% of your royalties, depending on the price you place on your book. I can attest to this as it is what I did with my short story, Last Call, and it didn’t cost me one cent. At least that way, if my story doesn’t rise to the top of the best sellers lists, (which it hasn’t), I really haven’t lost anything. The important thing to remember when self-publishing is that you need to put out a quality product. It is worth it to find a good editor, and for all of us starving writers out there, an editor can be employed for a minimal expense. I also suggest utilizing a good critique partner when funds are low, but be sure to have some type of editing done, by someone other than yourself, before publishing your book.

Although Amazon has made publishing extremely easy and inexpensive for authors, they have also monopolized the industry and are making it more difficult for independent publishers, as Caleb Seeling explained in Part 8. Learn more about the negative effects Amazon has had on the publishing industry in the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s report, which emphasizes, from a consumer standpoint, the need to buy local and battle monopolization. If readers heed this warning and buy their books from local independent, or chain, bookstores right down the block, the publishing industry may change yet again.

Amazon’s monopolization affects authors and reviewers as well, as is discussed in What Amazon’s New Review Policies Mean for “Writing to be Read”. As much as Amazon’s review policies effect the reviewer, they also effect the authors who are depending on those reviews to get their books sold.

Author Mark Shaw gave us a heads up about vanity, or subsidy publishers, charging unsuspecting authors exorbitant fees to publish their work as Mark Shaw warns in Part 5. They prey on authors who desire to get their work published so bad that they are willing to empty their coffers to do so. These publishers can get outrageously expensive for authors, so don’t be drawn in. The kicker is that even if you publish on Amazon or Create Space in order to fit your budget, you still may need to spend quite a bit of time and/or money on marketing as Art Rosch tells us in Part 3.

Independent publishing houses, also referred to as small or medium-sized presses, work along the same lines as traditional publishers, but they don’t publish as many books each year as the big five do. In addition, they tend to be more specific in what they are looking for, with most having very specialized niches that your book must fit into to be published. Although all independent publishers may not follow this practice, publisher Caleb Seeling says he actually seeks out authors whose work fits into his niche. In any case, authors should be familiar with submission guidelines of the publishing house they are submitting to, whether large or small. In her article, How to Smartly Evaluate a Small Publisher, Jane Friedman, of The Hot Sheet, (the publishing industry’s news letter for authors), offers some great tips on what to look for.

In Part 7, Nancy Oswald points out one of the big advantages to publishing with a small press is the more personal relationship between author and publisher. Whereas a traditional publishing house may not be able to put a name with a face, independent publishers work closely with their authors because they only have a few at any one time. Independent publishers may also have a shorter wait time for publication than traditional houses, which can be quite lengthy.

And then there are the new kids on the block, like Curiosity Quills Press, which are hybrid publishers, offering various combinations of traditional percs with self-publishing author responsibilities. These small independent presses may charge authors for some services, like subsidy publishing, but they also provide a certain amount of author copies at no cost, provide author support, and the services they do charge for are optional. You can find out more about this new model of publishing in my post, Hybrid Publishers: What are they all about?

After hearing from the experts, it seems no matter which model you choose to publish under, there is still a lot of non-writing activities required of authors, including marketing and promotion, resulting in the need for Today’s Authors to Wear Many Different Hats. Of course, you can also do as author Jeff Lyons suggests in his interview with Arwen Chandler, and hire a third party to handle such tasks, so we, as authors can get down to the business of writing. The only problem I see with this is that you must make money before you can spend money, paying someone else to do the tasks that don’t come as naturally as writing does.

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Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing (Part 9): Interview with Curiosity Quills Press

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This series has looked at three models of publishing from every angle. We’ve heard from independent authors Jeff Bowels, Tim Baker and Art Rosch, and traditionally published authors Stacia Deutsch and Mark Shaw, independently published author Jordan Elizabeth, and an author who has published under all three models, Nancy Oswald. We’ve also heard from Caleb Seeling, the owner of the independent publishing house, Conundrum Press.

This week, we hear from a small independent hybrid publisher that specializes in genre fiction of the highest quality. I have been privileged to review two Curiosity Quills anthologies, Chronology and Under a Brass Moon. I have also reviewed several books by Curiosity Quills author Jordan Elizabeth, who we heard from in Part 7, and Keepers of the Forest by James McNally.

Founded in 2011 by Eugene Teplitsky and Alisa Gus, Curiosity Quills was created as a resource portal to help writers, such as themselves survive the publishing industry, and quickly morphed into a publishing press which today, has solidified it’s share in the market. They work with major retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Audible, and publish six new titles every month. Curiosity Quills Press offers the some of the advantages of a traditional publisher and offers their authors a chance to participate in the publishing process.

Kaye: How did Curiosity Quills Press come about?

CQ: Back in early 2011, Alisa and Eugene were an aspiring author couple working on a little MG project called Gatecrashers. In an effort to build up our socials and gain a following prior to release, they created a blog called Curiosity Quills (which was nearly called Curiosity Kills… dodged a bullet there!). Throughout that year, many guest authors and industry pros were hosted on the CQ blog to share their stories, wisdom, and experiences with the world. Before they knew it, a sizeable community formed around the CQ blog – and A&E had the brilliant idea of being more hands on about helping the authors hanging out on the site. It wasn’t long before Michael Shean and Rod Kierkegaard, Jr. became the first published authors of Curiosity Quills Press. Unfortunately, this was also the death knell for Gatecrashers or any other further writing project for Alisa and Eugene – turns out running a traditional publishing house is a HUGE time-suck!

Kaye: What are the publishing goals of Curiosity Quills?

CQ: We have a number of goals at CQ, and these can be broken down into the following points:

  • To bring the highest quality genre fiction to the masses, at affordable prices.
  • To spotlight genre fiction that some traditional publishers might find too unconventional; instead of following genre trends and the mainstream in what is popular, we try to stay ahead of that, anticipating gaps in the market.
  • To diversify genre fiction, by publishing stories featuring characters of all race, sexuality, gender identity, social standing etc. While we want to stay ahead of the mainstream, we also want to be inclusive and representative of the ever growing, expanding world we live in.

Kaye: What do you see as the advantages of independent publishing over traditional or self-publishing for today’s authors?

CQ: Independent publishing offers the best aspects of both traditional and self-publishing. On the one hand, we’re able to offer the highest standards of cover designers, editors, proofreaders etc. on par with any traditional press.

We also offer authors access to a wide rage of services, such as NetGalley and features on sale subscription sites like Book Bub. And, as with traditional publishers, we are always focusing our efforts to get our titles into chain bookstores, like Barnes & Noble, as well as selling the rights for our titles to audiobook publishers, and film companies.

But, unlike traditional publishers, we offer a closer, more family-like community for our authors, and try to involve them in the publishing process as much as possible, getting their input on cover design, marketing campaigns etc.

Because of our close-knit community, there are always over authors – at various stages in their careers – on hand to answer questions, help promote each other’s works, and collaborate with.

Kaye: How has the increasing trends in self-publishing affected the role of independent presses?

CQ: Authors want to be much more involved in the process, and on the whole, we’re more than happy to accommodate this. We view publishing as a partnership, where both the publisher and the author bring different things to the table.

As mentioned above, the close-knit community leads to a family of authors all striving together to make CQ the best it can be, which is something you don’t always find with self-published authors. While there is still a level of camaraderie there, all self-published authors are competing against each other, in ways authors of independent presses aren’t.

Kaye: What do you see as the future role of independent publishing houses within the changing publishing industry?

CQ: Independent publishing houses will continue to bring readers what they want, know and love, while also broadening their horizons and opening them up to a wealth of new stories that might get overlooked by the mainstream.

At the same time, independent publishing houses will strive to bring authors an experience they won’t get anywhere else in the publishing industry, with all the benefits of traditional and self-publishing, but less of the drawbacks.

I want to thank Clare Dugmore and Curiosity Quills for sharing with us here on Writing to be Read. I know they are busy people and I appreciate them taking the time to answer my interview questions. Next week I will follow up with conclusions on the series in Part 10 of Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing.

 

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Pros. and Cons. of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self Publishing (Part 8): Interview with Independent Publisher and owner of Conundrum Press, Caleb Seeling

publishing-changes

There is no question that the rise of digital publishing has changed the face of the publishing industry. How could it not? This week we hear from someone who has a good handle on the publishing industry and what those changes look like. The following is an interview with Caleb Seeling, the owner of Conundrum Press, a small independent publishing house which publishes poetry, literary fiction and creative non-fiction by authors in the Rocky Mountain region.

Kaye: What brought you to become a publisher?

Caleb: I have always been a reader and a writer, and during my grad and post-grad years, I became more involved with social engagement and cultural influence. So when the opportunity arose to enter the publishing industry as a senior acquisitions and developmental editor, I took it. As I learned how the industry worked, I hatched a vision for what my own press would look like–to run a literary publishing company as a social entrepreneur–had I the opportunity (and gumption) to start one. That opportunity came in 2009 when I joined the thousands of other editors in the unemployment lines when publishing companies laid off most of their low to mid-level staff. I decided to use the time to make my vision a reality, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Kaye: As the owner of Conundrum Press, what are your publishing goals?

Caleb: To not only publish excellent literature from the Mountain West, but also to champion voices of minorities and disenfranchised people. We’ll do this through an evolving acquisitions strategy, promotion, philanthropy, and also education via Colophon Center.

Kaye: What do you see as the advantages of independent publishing over traditional or self-publishing for todays authors?

Caleb: Well, for starters, the term “independent publishing” has been coopted by the self-publishing world. Conundrum Press is a small press, and like most small presses, we operate much the same way a so called “traditional” press does—we accept agented manuscripts, we have contractual terms and pay royalties (and advances on occasion), we have full editorial, design, production, marketing, and sales processes, we’re internationally distributed, etc. So the question is really about what are the advantages and disadvantages of choosing to publish with a small press, or a medium-sized press, over one of the big 5 and their subsidiaries, or over self-publishing. The advantages are that we are more passionate, more invested over a longer period of time, more focused, and more flexible than large companies. And while we don’t have the resources that large companies have to throw at their A-list authors, we do at least the same amount of promotion, and probably more, than they do for their lesser known authors. We also have more resources and expertise than most self-publishing authors do, and have the ability to get books into more markets and sales channels than they do.

Kaye: This series is using independent publishing to refer to small and medium presses and I have distinguished these from self-published endeavors for my readers. That said, you stated that small and medium presses operate along the same lines as the big traditional publishing houses. Do you think it is any harder or easier for an author to get picked up by on of these houses than it is with traditional publishing houses?

Caleb: I guess the answer is it depends. Small presses are kind of like literary magazines—you’ve got to know what their focus is, be familiar with what they publish before sending a query. Their lists are going to be comparatively small per season, so they have to pick and choose very carefully. I have a slush pile, but I haven’t really had a chance to go through it because I am actively looking for what and who I want to publish, and then I go after them. Other houses may have different acquisition strategies. Also, there are many more small presses than there are large houses, so the chances are in your favor for that reason. But standards vary across the board, as well as how much editorial work they’re willing to do to get a manuscript ready.

Kaye: How has the increasing trends in self-publishing affected the role of independent presses?

Caleb: It’s made small presses that much more valuable, given the fact we are filling in the enormous gap left by the mega-conglomeration of media companies and the incredible noise created by the advent of relatively inexpensive print-on-demand and design technology. But self-publishing, while really great on so many levels, has increased the level of clamor for attention in the marketplace to a pitch that makes it nearly impossible for anyone to be heard at all. And with the cost of advertising and publicity staying as high as it is, it has perpetuated our culture of celebrity, where the only ones who get heard are the ones who are already known, or who have tens of thousands of dollars to throw at promoting one book, much less a list of 10-100 per year.

Kaye: How has the rise of Amazon and digital publishing in general, affected the publishing industry?

Caleb: Amazon has not only contributed to the noise, but it has encouraged unrealistic expectations of authors regarding the ability to sell, and in their bid to control the publishing industry through their algorithms and price controls, it has been antagonistic to publishers and contributed to the downfall of American community of which local bookstores have always been a hub. They’ve made our job really difficult and they are extremely unfriendly to work with on the vendor/supply side. On the other hand…never before has there been the opportunity to have ALL of our books available anywhere to anyone who wants them. And there’s the rub. Can’t live with them, and, for now, we can’t live without them.

Kaye: What do you see as the future role of independent publishing houses within the changing publishing industry?

Caleb: The importance of small presses will only grow as the mega-media conglomerates continue to merge, which they will, and as the glut of media grows worse, which it will. As the noise and de-diversification of books and content gets worse, the need for risk-taking gate-keepers will also grow. Small presses meet this need, and more and more agents and authors are turning to them, taking the bold, long-term approach to publishing that small presses excel at. What we need now, however, is readers to become aware of the publisher’s mark on the spines of the books they read, and to deliberately choose to buy a book from an author they may not know published by a small press. The success of the buy local and small food movements are encouraging…deliberate consumer choices really do change the world. It’s happening with our food and environment…so let’s see it happen with our information and entertainment as well. Buy local. Read small. If you find a book on Amazon that you want, call your local bookstore and order it from them instead. Or buy directly from a local or regional small press. Our culture is a garden that needs to be tended—small presses, conscientious authors and agents, and partnering indie bookstores can bring the seeds to fruition, but we need readers to harvest what we’ve grown.

My thanks go out to Caleb for taking the time to offer his input here. His responses have been educational for me and I hope they have for other authors out there as well. Be sure catch next week’s interview, as well, when we will hear from another independent publishing house, Curiosity Quills Press.

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Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing (Part 7): Interview with Children’s Author, Nancy Oswald

oswald-books

In this series, we’ve taken a look at the publishing industry, which today, isn’t played by the same rules as it was 30 years ago, when traditional or independent publishing houses were about the only options an aspiring writer had. The rise in digital and self-publishing has opened up new options for aspiring authors and changed some of the rules by which the game is now played. We’ve heard from self-published authors, Jeff Bowles, Tim Baker and Arthur Rosch, and traditionally published authors, Stacia Deutsch and Mark Shaw, as well as independently published author, Jordan Elizabeth.

In this week’s interview, we’ll hear from an author who has published work via all three publishing models, award winning children’s author, Nancy Oswald. She’s published traditionally with Holt, a big New York publisher, and a small independent publisher, Filter Press, LLC. In addition, her first book was published by Scholastic Canada, but she later rewrote it and self-published a Create Space version in 2013. Nancy’s Ruby and Maude Adventure series includes Rescue in Poverty Gulch, Trouble on the Tracks and her latest book, to be released this month, Trouble Returns. (Be sure and catch my review of Trouble Returns this Friday on Writing to be Read.) Her other publishing credits include Hard Face Moon, Edward Wynkoop: Soldier and Indian Agent, Nothing Here But Stones, and Insects in the Infield. And she has a very unusual story about how she broke into the publishing industry.

Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?  

Nancy: In my early teens, I thought writing children’s books would be really cool and I enjoyed writing—some poetry—but most of it school related.  I didn’t get serious about publication until I was in my late twenties. 

Kaye: Would you share your own publishing story with us? 

Nancy: I wrote several books that I call my “cardboard cover” books for my stepson who was five when I married my husband.  They were hand written and crudely illustrated and as you’ve probably guessed, had cardboard covers that were put together with rings that clipped through the pages and the cardboard and held the whole thing together.  I did a couple of cardboard cover books for friends, too.  But my stepson outgrew his “picture” books, so I started in on a chapter book.  We lived in British Columbia at that time, so I mailed him the first chapter for Christmas and sent one chapter a month to him, finishing the book the next Christmas.  This book was typed, yes on a typewriter, but still was a FAT cardboard cover book.  After many many rewrites, this book became my first published novel for young readers.  It had 35 rejections and was finally picked up by Scholastic Canada and five years later was reprinted by them.  To this day, thanks to Scholastic’s book club program, it has outsold any of my other books. 

Kaye: What do you see as pros and cons of self-publishing?   

Nancy: In 2013, I self-published the above mentioned book.  I’ve had the rights back since about 1996, so I rewrote the book, adding about 10,000 words and it ended up as a winner in the CIPA Evvy award competition.   My likes:  I really enjoyed having full control.  I used Create Space and used their interior design service, but did the other parts myself. The Create Space team was accessible and helpful, and I had a really positive experience from beginning to end.  A word of caution:  you really need to have a clear idea of the design, font size, layout ahead of time.  You have to be clear in communicating what you want. Negatives:  Reviews were hard to get, ALL of the marketing is up to you, and if you don’t have a well-edited, professional looking copy, it will sink you

Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of independent publishing?  
Nancy: I’m not sure about this term.  I’ve heard self-publishing referred to as Independent publishing.  My current publisher refers to herself as a small (traditional) publisher, although I’ve also heard small publishers referred to as Independent Publishers.  As for the pros of working with a small publisher, I love it.  One real perk with my publisher, at least, is my books will not ever go out of print as long as this publisher is in business.  I have a very personal (face to face) relationship with my publisher and have lots of input on design, covers, and other aspects of publication.  Also, the time from acceptance to publication is shorter. Cons:  No advance, lower sales, lower visibility.
Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of traditional publishing? 
Nancy: I was fortunate to have my first historical fiction book for young readers published by Henry Holt which clearly is a traditional publisher.  Pros:  Nice advance, publicity in major library catalogs, great editing (multiple editors with eyes on the book—particularly for the final reads). 
Cons:  Long wait before publication,  (like being on the tarmac at an airport, you’re given your place in line and inch forward with all the other waiting planes before take-off)  My book went into a “temporarily our of stock” status after about 4 years.
Kaye: How much does the non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), that you must do yourself vary between the different models? 
Nancy: For my self-published book, I might have done a little more particularly researching and soliciting reviews.  But otherwise, I’d say it’s a wash.  I do about the same amount for every book and have had to advocate for each and every one of them.  With Holt, and their catalog, there was some inherent publicity with the catalog and the visibility of Holt, but other than that, I have been in the trenches with everyone else.  I’ve tried a laundry list of things and am still trying.  There is no magic bullet.
Kaye: Which publishing model would you recommend to aspiring authors, and why? 
Nancy: My answer here is, it depends.  I think you have to take a good look at your goals as a writer and your reasons for writing your book.  If, for instance, you have a non-fiction book with information people are drooling over, then self-publish and get yourself out there to groups to speak about your topic.  This is a great way to sell books.  If you want a book for family and friends, and don’t care about sales, this is also best.  And if you have lots of energy for marketing and love interacting with people and don’t mind selling, then, go for it!  Self-publishing does not have the stigma it used to, but first and foremost create a good product, so your book doesn’t fall into the negative paradigm some people still hold about self-publishing.  Other than that, research publishers and find the one you feel is the best match for your book.  If your heart is set on being published with a New York publisher, keep at it—go to conferences, get an agent, and start in.  People have done this successfully, but I believe you have to be more patient and persistent and also very savvy about book publication in 2016.  Otherwise, just start in by researching small publishers and see which ones fit your project.  You’ll know it’s the right one because they will like your work and you will like their mission and goals. 
I want to thank Nancy for joining us and sharing her thoughts and her unique publishing story here on Writing to be Read. You can learn more about Nancy and her books on her website. Be sure and join us the next two Mondays for Part 8 and Part 9, when we will hear from two independent publishing houses, Curiosity Quills Press and Conundrum Press. It promises to be interesting, so don’t miss it.
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