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Writing Excuses 5.28: ePublishing

Writing Excuses 5.28: ePublishing


Key Points: What we're seeing is a disruption of the marketplace. The biggest question is not how you can be published -- there are lots of ways to be published. The biggest question is how to be read. Personal contact and intimate experience, one-to-one. Get in touch with your readers. Be professional, about covers, editing, and your image.

[Dan] This is Writing Excuses, episode N, epublishing.
[Howard] 15 minutes long because you're in a hurry.
[Dan] And we're not that smart. I'm Dan.
[Howard] I'm Howard. And joining us we have...
[Dave] Dave Wolverton.
[Tracy] And Tracy Hickman.
[Dan] Excellent.
[Howard] And a big crowd of people from Life, the Universe, and Everything here at Brigham [splutter] Brigham Young University. Recorded in front of a live studio audience. Everyone scream again. [Screams]
[Dan] I think that guy in the corner is dead.

[Howard] Awesome. So we're going to talk about epublishing. Is that what you said?
[Dan] Yes. Epublishing. This is a question that we get all the time. When we were talking to Dave and Tracy, they said that they also get it all the time. So I'm just going to start asking Dave the big question everyone asks. Is New York publishing dead? Is it time to just do something else?
[Dave] Well, it's not dead, it's just dying. The truth is I have been on the fence about this for quite some time, where I've said, "You know, New York publishing is broke, but it's the only game we've got." It's changing from day to day. We're coming from a time where two years ago, I'd have said, "Stick with New York publishing." Now I'm not so sure.
[Tracy] I was talking with Kevin Anderson the other day, when we were at the writing seminars. One of the things that he said to me then was, "Gee, I long for the good old days when we could just write a book and be paid." Yeah, we do, we long for the good old days when that was the case because, let's face it, epublishing is a lot of work. It's all our work that we have to do to make it happen. But at the same time, New York publishing is dead in the water. The band's playing, but that's about the only happy thing that's going on right now.
[Howard] For what it is worth, that same conversation takes place with a lot of syndicated cartoonists, who long for the days when they could just draw a comic strip, and the syndicate would send the money, and the comic would air in the newspaper. Quick show of hands. How many of you regularly read a paper newspaper? All right. How many of you don't? Show of hands? Okay. A forest of hands just went up, for those of you not benefiting from the video feed. In the comic world, we're seeing that as a serious challenge. 20 years ago, everybody read the comics. As early as five years ago, everybody who read books, read paper books. So what we're seeing is a disruption of the marketplace.

[Tracy] Yeah, absolutely. I think that that's been coming for a while, but the advent of the Kindle and the rise of the Kindle... we heard this the other day from Amazon, that they are now selling more books on Kindles than they are paperbacks through That being the case has got to tell you that the market has definitely moved. Publishing... general publishing doesn't really know how to handle that. The biggest problem I think that's facing us in all of this however is not a question of how we are published. Because we can... we now have all kinds of different avenues by which we can be published. Obviously anybody that's got a word processor at this point can be published on and it can go up on Kindles immediately. The real question, I think, that is going to be facing us is going to be a question of noise because we have so many people who are out there who are writing, but nobody's being read. It's not a question of whether you're published or not. I tell this in my writing seminars all the time to the people that are there, and that is, it's not about being published, it's about whether you are being read. It's whether your words are being interpreted by somebody into meaning. That's the real trick. If everyone is talking, nobody's listening. If everyone is writing, who is reading? We get to the point where... a traditional function of publishers has always been to filter the dross quite frankly. If you had a book that was in publication, there was some assurance in that fact in New York publishing that what was in the book had merit. Not necessarily the ideas, but that it was written in English, and that somebody somewhere with some authority had said that this book is good enough to see print.
[Howard] Yeah. It's the principle of the gatekeeper. We see the same thing in cartooning. In fact, if you look around today at Web comics, there's 10,000 web comics out there, and maybe 200 of them that are really worth reading, and maybe another 50 or 60 of those that are actually supporting their creators in a full-time career. What's interesting is that if you take those numbers, 10,000 web comics and maybe 50 people making a living, and compare that to the syndication submission numbers. It used to be that the syndicate would process about 10,000 submissions a year, and syndicate maybe six per year. Those six people would be drawing comics for several years before they were making a full-time living at it. So there was a much smaller stable of full-time professionals than there was people who want to be cartoonists that can't be. So what we see with the so-called leveling of the playing field, the removal of the gatekeeper, is that the numbers as to who has the money, who has the... who's getting read and who isn't haven't changed all that much. It's just the opportunity curve has shifted little.
[Dave] Yeah, absolutely.
[Tracy] The problem though, becomes, of course, I go online and I type in Internet comic.
[Howard] Don't do that.
[Tracy] What am I going to get?
[Howard] Well you're not going to get Schlock Mercenary if you Google Internet comic. If you want to read Schlock Mercenary, you're going to talk to a friend who loves science fiction and is reading Schlock already. They're going to say, "Oh, you should totally be reading Schlock." I know out of context in this discussion, that sounds a little odd. But that's how a lot of books that we're seeing, especially the self published e-books, that's how a lot of them are selling. "Oh, you should totally be reading this. I just read this and it was awesome." "Well, how come I've never heard of this author?" "You just heard of her now. Here, go read her book."

[Tracy] See, that's what it comes back down to. It comes back down to personal contact. It comes down to meeting people, talking to people, and telling them what you do. Ultimately, when we're talking about reading, or when we're talking about comics for that matter, we're really talking about an intimate experience. I mean, we don't get together with a group of people and read a book, generally. It's something that we do ourselves, and it's an intimate experience. The experience of the book becomes an intimate experience between the writer and the reader. It's a one-on-one thing. So how appropriate is it then that the actual sale of the book... the connection, is made one-to-one. It's not made through some anonymous advertising. It's not made through some viral thing, which everybody likes to talk about, something going viral. The real sale is made between me and you. When I come and you see me and I see you and you hear about the book that I'm writing and you want to read it. Or your friend tells you that he's read a book by me, and that you want to read it. It's that intimate experience.

[Dave] We're running into a situation where the big worry among new writers is that, okay, I want to start publishing my e-books, but everybody else in the world is going to be publishing their's too. Now we're getting ready for this big storm of crud that's going to go through. Who's going to be the gatekeeper? The gatekeeper is going to be word of mouth. I mean, that's the only gatekeeper that matters. The problem that we have as authors very often is that sometimes the gatekeepers lie. We have situations where if you go onto and you start looking at the reviews, you'll find people who are secretly other authors, or are working for other authors, who go through and demean your work and say you should be reading so-and-so instead. This kind of stuff goes on...
[Howard] You've been reading my reviews of Dan's books, haven't you?
[Dave] So we're in an interesting situation because the playing field is sort of being leveled, but at the same time they're throwing a lot of crud on the playing field. They're fertilizing it at the same time. We're going to see an interesting situation [garbled]
[Tracy] Well, there's that situation the other day on Wikipedia when Justin Beaver didn't get the award at the Grammys, and then all of the Beaver fans went onto Wikipedia and trashed the entry for the woman who won.
[Howard] That is so classy. I love the Internet.
[Dave] The classiest people hang out there.
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[Howard] And we're back.
[Tracy] That was a fascinating episode.
[Dan] I know. I definitely want to read that book. I want to ask a question here, okay? We always try to give specific advice, so here we go. If someone wants to get into epublishing and someone decides they want to put up a book on or whatever, what should they do to make sure people actually read it?
[Dan] And that's our episode! What can we do to be successful in the realm of epublishing?
[Tracy] I would... the first thing that I would say is to forget about the idea of mass audience. Get rid of the idea of mass audience and deal with individuals. You need to contact people individually. That's why things like virtual blog tours are so important. You need to get in touch with the readership. You need to find the audience. You find that through the gateway of people's blogs and personal connections with them. I think that the old time of the old school book tour, where you go and fly to some bookstore in San Francisco and sit there with 10 people is done. I think people don't do that anymore. Bookstores in brick-and-mortar stores are having trouble as it is. What is the case, though, is that you have to concentrate on reaching your audience one-on-one. That means going on virtual book tours. That means having a website that is open to people communicating with you. And engaging your audience in a conversation. If you engage your audience, not in a sales conversation, but in an intimate personal conversation, then they will read your words. Your words will come to life. Your words do not live or breathe until someone reads them and puts life into them. So you need to have intimate personal connection with them. So it's not about mass audience. If there's one piece of advice which I would give to anybody, it's about you making a connection with any individual, every individual who's going to read your book at some level on line.

[Dave] I think that there's a number of things that you can do. One thing that I've noticed is there's an awful lot of really terrible covers coming out because people are... my 12-year-old son made this cover kind of thing. So, be professional. Put up a cover that... you have to understand that when people see that, it's going to be a postage size cover. It can't be very complex. It's got to be an iconic thing that attracts your attention and gets the people looking at it and saying, "Oh, what is this about?" There's the traditional hooks that we have to put into the title and into the cover design so that you can get people to at least punch that button and say, "Oh, what's this book about?" That's one of the important things that I would want to look at.
[Tracy] One other step from that also is, in general, as we were talking about yesterday, present a professional image in terms of your website and you, personally. You need to present a professional image. The more professional you present yourself, the more seriously you'll be taken, and better readership.
[Howard] When it comes down to brass tacks, and specific advice for writers who want to do this, talk to professional writers about the writing and publication schedule for books that they've worked on recently. Okay? Because there is the schedule during which they wrote the book and then there is the revision, and then there is the design, and then there is the marketing plan. Those are not things that the publisher decided to do because the publisher is a bunch of dumb fat cats who want to take money away from hungry authors. Those are proven necessities for selling a book into the marketplace. Find out what those things are, and then find out how to do those things correctly. Notice I said correctly and not on the cheap. If you can do them correctly and on the cheap, fantastic. But the odds are good that in order to get a cover that does the things that Dave describes, you're going to have to find somebody who understands graphic design. Which probably means a college education in graphic design and 4 to 5 years working for an ad agency somewhere. They might be your mom's best friend, but they're probably also going to expect to be compensated.
[Dave] Yeah. If you're going to act like a professional, act like a professional and pay the professionals professional rates for what they are doing. I know that every single artist that I know who works doing book covers has every publisher in the country it seems trying to pay them as little as humanly possible. I have always made sure that if I'm going to pay somebody, I'm going to pay them to do the job and do it well. My artists have always been surprised, like, "Wow, you gave me that much money?" Rather than, "Whoa, you didn't..." The norm for the industry is pay them as little as possible and then wait as long as possible until they're threatening a lawsuit before you actually pay them at all. Don't do that. God, have some respect for people.
[Howard] I pay Travis Walton to color Schlock Mercenary. I'm pretty sure the page rate I'm paying him is probably about on the lines of the big publishers like Marvel and DC, the I'm also offering him a full 5% royalty on the books. Now understand, a 5% royalty on books is better than some first-time authors make on the book that they've created. I'm offering him that just for coloring it. Why? Because I know that if I treat him like a professional, if I treat him like I value his work, if I treat him like I want him to have skin in the game, he will keep doing good work for me. We will be a team that will go out and conquer the world. Which is been my goal since 1998.
[Dan] This principle applies to everything, not just graphic design.
[Howard] We didn't even talk about editing [garbled]
[Dave] Pay your editors, please.
[Dan] If I were to go and put something up, do an ebook, I would absolutely hire one of the many growing number of freelance editors to look at it first. Because I'm not an editor, I'm a writer. I still don't know how to spell [there, their, they're] correctly in any of its forms.
[Howard] I just start with t-e-h and the iPhone autocorrects it.

[Dan] All right. Well, I think our time is up. So we're going to have a writing prompt from Tracy.
[Tracy] Indeed?
[Dan] Yes.
[Tracy] I wonder what that is?
[Dan] It's where the listeners are now going to go out and write something that you are about to tell them to write.
[Tracy] Ah. I think that you should write... something.
[Dan] And there you have it. Thanks for listening in.
[Howard] This has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses, now go write.
[Dan] That's my favorite writing prompt we've ever done.
[Howard] Tracy, I'm so sorry to have done that at your expense, but that joke was...
Tags: disruption of the marketplace, ebooks, epublishing, intimate experience, one-to-one, personal contact, professional

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