On established authors singing the praises of self-publishing

Let me start this piece with the following: I have no problem with any method of publishing. Whatever works for you and gets you the results you want is great. I’m a hybrid author – I’ve self-published in the past, I still self-publish a small amount and nowadays I’m mostly traditionally published in both big and small press. This is not about criticising any particular path to publication.

Okay?

Good. Glad we’ve got that covered. What I do want to talk about is a thing I’ve seen a lot of lately, most recently in this article by Harry Bingham. There have been several of these things, (Konrath is the feral posterboy for the movement – search him up yourself if you’re interested) but in a nutshell, the case they’re stating is this:

The great machine of publishing is constantly morphing and moving on, but we’re now in the era of self-publishing and that’s the way forward for everyone. They cite their own recent successes as evidence.

Now, self-publishing is in a huge renaissance and it is a great way forward for many people. But these authors going on about how they’re leaving the behemoth of traditional publishing for the clear, honest waters of self-publishing success are being disingenuous at best and wilfully ignorant at worst.

In the article linked above, Bingham extols the virtues of his decision to do away with big traditional publishers and strike out on his own with the latest book in his series. He talks about how it’s doing very well thank you, and we’re in a brave new fourth era of publishing (or the end of the third or something) where it’s better for authors to take control. This really annoys me, because the only reason Bingham is doing so well is because he’s spent fifteen years as a traditionally published author, building a huge fan base through those first two eras, using the marketing power and bookstore penetration that only traditional publishing can buy.

At the start of the article he talks about how he was lucky enough with his first book to be in an era when publishers had money and he enjoyed a £50,000 marketing budget for that first book. Stop and think about that. Fifty. Thousand. Pounds. I wonder if that, and the subsequent fifteen years of audience building, career refinement and learning, has anything to do with his current self-publishing success? I think it might.

Konrath is the same. He rips into traditional publishing all the time, while making a mint with his self-published works, selling them to all the fans he developed while being a traditionally published author and enjoying the rewards that brought.

Sure, traditional publishing has many flaws. It’s not perfect. But the simple fact is that traditional, especially big five, publishing affords you a level of perceived integrity, presence and opportunity that is simply not available to the self-published. I know from direct experience. When I was an indie I made some good connections and got involved with lots of stuff through my own hard work, but nothing major. Now that I’ve been published by Harper Collins, I’ve been on the Supanova tour, on ABC Radio, reviewed in major broadsheet newspapers and so on. My latest book is available in every bookstore in the country, enjoying shelf space and exposure. (And you know what? It could still be selling way better than it is, but that’s another story.)

Some people see huge success with self-publishing, but very few. For most it’s a hard slog, often with no reward. For authors who have enjoyed all the benefits that come with a big trad deal to then start venting against the trad publishers and singing the praises of self-publishing is not only disingenuous, it’s unfair. It makes those who are new and know less about the industry blind to the truths involved.

Someone might think, “Well, if Big Name Author is ditching trad publishers for indie success, I’ll just go indie”, when the only reason Big Name Author can see success is because he’s already Big Name Author, and that’s because of the big traditional publishing deals he’s enjoyed.

There’s no one way or right way to be published. There’s whatever works for you. But don’t declare that life in the rain is fantastic when you’re wearing a coat and carrying an umbrella supplied by someone else.

.

Alex Caine is coming to America!

RagnarokSo this is very exciting news to report: Last night I signed a contract with Ragnarok Publications for the North American rights to the Alex Caine trilogy. Bound, Obsidian and Abduction will be published in the NA territories some time in the next 12 months. As far as I know, the plan is to release all three books simultaneously.

Ragnarok are a relatively new outfit, but they’re doing amazing work and putting out superb books, so I’m thrilled to be a part of their team. More details will follow as they come to hand, but the deal has been brokered and now it’s all official. I must once again thank the stellar work of my SuperAgent, Alex Adsett.

I can’t wait to see what Ragnarok do with the books – I’ll look forward to revealing their covers and all that stuff as it happens. Watch the blog and my other social media for more news. In the meantime, I’ll be over here drinking celebratory scotch and Snoopy dancing.

.

So you’re going to pitch your book – a guide.

It seems that lately there have been more opportunities than ever before for writers to pitch their as-yet-unpublished manuscript to industry professionals. At writers conventions, festivals and so on, more agents, editors and publishers are making themselves available to hear about your magnum opus. It really is a superb opportunity and these things usually get booked out. But man, I’ve heard some horror stories! It’s a hell of a thing, trying to sell yourself and your work with nerves making your guts into an ice storm. So I thought I’d ask a few key people in the industry for some tips to help you formulate your pitch should you get the chance.

Firstly, I’ll throw a tip or two of my own at you, then we’re going to hear from a small press publisher, a literary agent and a big press editor.

My tips are simple: Know what your book is about so you can formulate a killer elevator pitch. This is so named because it’s based on the premise that you meet a publisher in an elevator and have a few seconds before they reach their floor to sell them on the idea of your book. Here’s the elevator pitch for BOUND, as an example:

Underground cage fighter, Alex Caine, is drawn into a world he didn’t know existed – a world he wishes he’d never found. The harder he tries to get out, the deeper he’s dragged in. It’s magic, monsters, mayhem and martial arts in a fast-paced dark urban fantasy thriller.

After that, my suggestions are to have good ideas for explaining further what your book is about, what it’s like and who might enjoy it. Know your target market. Then have confidence in your work and yourself without acting like a dick. Remember, these folks taking pitches are just regular human people like yourself and they want to find good books. They’re not looking for an excuse to shut you down.

So, let’s hear from some of them directly.

Tehani Wesley is owner/editor at small press outfit Fablecroft Publishing. But don’t let small press fool you, I’m sure this publisher is going places. She’s going to be taking pitches for the first time at Conflux in Canberra in October. Here’s what she had to say:

What do you look for in a pitch?
A confident presentation with a tight synopsis that doesn’t tease me with the story – if I’m going to publish the book, I need to know where it goes, spoilers aren’t an issue! And don’t underestimate the value of a polished manuscript. I also need to see that the author has an understanding that the manuscript is not the end product – and neither is publication. There is a lot more to a successful book than great writing (much as we might wish it otherwise), and I need to work with someone who is willing and able to help drive the book beyond publication.

What advice do you have for pitchers?
I want to see authors passionate about their work – both the manuscript they are discussing, and their passion for writing in general. It’s really hard to work with writers who are negative about their own skill, their work, the life of being a writer, or publishing in general.

*****

Alex Adsett of Alex Adsett Publishing Services is an agent of exemplary power and skill (and I don’t only say that because she’s my agent!) Alex really knows this business, so listen hard.

What do you look for in a pitch?
I’m looking for full length genre fiction only for YA and adults, so SF/F, horror, crime & mystery and romance. Within that though, I’m pretty open to all comers. I’m also looking for a polished manuscript – so it is good to hear that an author has gone through multiple drafts and not only just typed “the end”. I also want to hear that the author has more manuscripts on the go and that they see this as an ongoing career for them and do not just have the one manuscript.

What advice do you have for pitchers?
Don’t panic! The person you are pitching to is there to hear your story and, maybe, see if you have a spark of connection. We do not mind if you read your pitch or just chat to us, it really all comes down to your story, and we don’t read that until later anyway.

Saying that, be prepared. Have an idea of what your book is about and how to articulate that within 3 minutes. To be safe, you should try to have three versions of a synopsis – one sentence, one paragraph and one page, so no matter how much or little time you have with your pitch person, you have something ready to go.

Do your research on the person you are pitching to. For example, there’s no point pitching me your memoir when I’m only after genre fiction. One of the best pitches was when the author rocked up with a coffee for me. I was a big fan of that author. At the same time, the most important thing is that I love the manuscript.

What’s the most common mistake pitchers make?
Panicking! So many authors are incredibly nervous about pitching their manuscripts. This isn’t a mistake, but is unnecessary.

Be careful pitching a manuscript that isn’t ready yet. On the one hand, we probably won’t mind and you might like the practice and building your contacts, but some publishers might feel you’re wasting their time to pitch if it isn’t finished and polished.

Was there ever one particular pitch that just blew your mind? (Not personal details, just generalities.)
Pitches that have a really tight premise that ticks my boxes and make me sit up and take notice. One of the best pitches I ever had was from author J.T Clay. She pitched her zom-rom-com – zombie comedy romance, and it was smart, funny and I just loved the premise. The manuscript absolutely matched the quality of her pitch, and I was desperate to sign her up as one of my authors. That novel is now published with Momentum as The Single Girl’s Guide To the Zombie Apocalypse, and it’s like an Australian Shaun of the Dead with lots of zombie in jokes.

*****

Rochelle Fernandez is the Associate Publisher of Voyager, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of HarperCollins, and Impulse, the digital imprint. She has been an editor for ten years, across fiction and non-fiction and tweets at @roch_town. You can often find her in a bookstore or at a Rabbitohs game. Here’s what she says about pitching:

What do you look for?
In a submission, I look for good writing first and foremost. An original concept is great, and so is an unoriginal concept told in an original way or written in a compelling way. I look for strong, interesting characters – characters people can empathise with, characters that are not caricatures — a too-good hero is just as boring as an all-bad hero.

In a pitcher, I look for someone who knows the benefits of their story. I look for someone who is confident that they have written the best story possible and can articulate what is so great about it. I look for someone who knows who their book is for, who has thought about the type of person who would like to read their story (often writers write for themselves, and that’s fine, but if you want to be published, then someone else must want to read it too!)

I look for whether it fits with what Voyager publishes. I look for whether this sort of story is popular.

What advice do you have for pitchers?
Don’t be nervous! Or if you are nervous, try to hide it. You believe in your story, now make me believe in it too!

Don’t get bogged down by trying to tell the whole plot to me – a few lines about the general gist will suffice.

Think carefully about comparisons – tell me who your work resembles but tell me why it resembles that. Pick accurate comparisons, not just ones you knew sold well or were made into a movie.

Hone your elevator pitch! A snappy line that will stick in my head is a great way to get me hooked into your story.

Don’t expect an immediate answer – it usually takes me about 2 months (sometimes longer!) to get to read a submission.

Tell me if you’ve self-published or submitted to another publisher or been published before.

Tell me what spurred you on to write the book.

Tell me a little bit about yourself too – where you work, what your writing influences are etc.

Describe to me the person who you imagine will buy your story – your target market. Tell me where they shop, what they eat for breakfast, what else they read. The more detail the better!

What’s the most common mistake pitchers make?
Use up all their time telling me the intricacies of the plot instead of condensing it into a few sentences to get me hooked.

Being too nervous and shy and self deprecating. If you don’t believe in your book, why should anyone else?

Was there ever one particular pitch that just blew your mind? (Not personal details, just generalities.)
One was a completely original concept that was such a great storyline I was just blown away. However … I am still waiting for the manuscript! Perhaps that should be a tip – make sure you are ready to supply the manuscript if I like your pitch.

One was really solid – a good concept, well thought out and nicely delivered. There was nothing really stand out about it, but I knew the book was going to be good by the amount of thought the pitcher had put into it.

*****

So there you have it. That’s some seriously good advice from some stellar industry professionals. I hope you find it useful and it helps you to hone your pitch should you get that sweet opportunity. Good luck!

.

What a wonderful launch for Bound

I’m on the train heading home from Sydney, tapping away on my iPad, still a little stunned by the awesome night I had last night. Bound was launched at Kinokuniya Bookshop and I have to admit, I was a little nervous.

The bookshop were being wonderfully supportive, the truly excellent Margo Lanagan had agreed to be my official launcher, my publishing team (Rochelle Fernandez, Amanda Diaz, Shona Martyn, my agent, Alex Adsett, and many others) were all in my corner and assuring me it would be great. But what if no one showed up? What if it was a complete flop? At 6pm I started hoping we’d get enough people to have at least one or two folk in each row of seats. By 6.30, all the seats were full and there was an arc of people two or three deep across the back. I couldn’t believe it!

My editor, Rochelle, did a great job introducing us and said things about the book I didn’t know. Things like how it was the third biggest seller at Sydney Supanova. Wow!

Then Margo did a fantastic job of launching, saying truly humbling things about the book and asking me searching questions. There is now such a thing as a “kettle scene”. Here’s a great photo by Jodi Cleghorn of Margo and I enjoying ourselves immensely:

Alan and Margo

I really did enjoy the whole experience and it seems that everyone else there did as well. They laughed in all the right places and I signed a load of books afterwards and got to chat with an array of excellent people. If I didn’t get to chat with you for long or at all, I’m sorry. The whole evening is a bit of a happy, hazy blur for me and not only because of the wine.

I’m utterly humbled by the event. I am genuinely living the dream here and I plan to soak up every bit of it I can. And it’s all due to the best people out there: my publishers and their belief in me, my friends for their support, and all the people who have taken a chance on buying Bound. I really hope you enjoy it and come back for the next books in the series. I can’t thank all of you enough. All I did was write the best book I could – you all made it real. I couldn’t be happier.

The always generous Cat Sparks took photos throughout the evening and you can see them at her Flickr page here. Thanks Cat!

.

A timely repost of the article about authors dying (on the shelves)

I originally posted this back in September 2010, but it seems very relevant to post it again now. After all, the first book in my new (so far) trilogy has just come out. (Yes, it’s all about me. I don’t have a new book come out very often, so give me this. Come on – hug?) I wrote the original post based on my observations as a reader, and now it’s something that applies directly to me as an author. While Bound is a standalone novel, it’s also the first in a series. There’s a big story that arches over the first three books (Bound, Obsidian and Abduction) with threads left for more books in the series, even though each one is a standalone novel too. So please, don’t wait for the others to come out before you buy Bound if you think the ideas interest you. I’ll explain why by reposting my 2010 article below. It was originally, and very sensationalistically (yeah, that’s a word!), called “While you wait for book three, authors die!” So even though Bound is a standalone novel as well as the start of a new series, the principle still applies. So here it is again:

The title of this post is slightly sensationalist, but in a literary sense it’s actually very true. I mentioned recently that I’ve finally started reading A Game Of Thrones, which is the first book in George R R Martin’s A Song Of Ice & Fire series. This comment lead to a few discussions in various places that has subsequently lead to this post.

When I mentioned that I was finally getting around to reading A Game Of Thrones a lot of people assumed that also meant that I’d only just bought it. Especially when, in answer to the question, “Why has it taken you this long?” I replied, “I was waiting for the complete story before I started.”

A lot of people do this, and fair enough. When you notice a big old fantasy series that you think catches your interest, it’s reasonable to assume there’s going to be a whole story told. Often these days a writer will sell a trilogy (or bigger series) to a publisher and that publisher will set a publication schedule to release those books over a relatively short period of time, maybe even inside a year.

However, if no one buys the first book, it’s very possible that books two and three will never see the light of day. An author survives on their sales figures. If they perform poorly at the checkout, the publisher will discard them like a greasy burger wrapper and think nothing of it. That’s business. It’s fucked, but it’s business.

Going back to Martin’s series, when people started telling me how awesome it was, I started buying the books. They’ve sat on my shelf for ages. I wasn’t going to read them until there was a whole finished set, but I bought them to ensure that Martin showed solid sales figures and stayed in favour with his publisher. (I ended up starting to read recently because of the forthcoming TV series, and I wanted to have read the books first).

Obviously someone like George R R Martin doesn’t need my help, but the same thing applies across the board. For example, I was on a panel recently with Paul Cornell and he talked about one of his comic series being cancelled. There was conjecture that the series was cancelled because so many people these days wait for the trade, rather than collect the individual comic books. If no one buys the comic books, the story is considered a failure and there’ll be no trade.

The same applies to big series of novels. If no one buys the first book, the author/story will be considered a failure and there’ll be no release of the rest of the books. The people who read the first one are denied closure, the people who were waiting for a whole series have missed the opportunity and, most importantly, the author is dropped and never has the chance to expand their career. This is a very sad result of market forces and it’s actually a false result.

So if you see the first book of a series that you think you might like, buy it! You don’t have to read it right away – consider it an investment in your reading future. Buy the subsequent volumes as they come out and you’ll end up with a solid reading experience once the whole series is finished. And you’ve done your bit to ensure the success of an author and their literary vision. Hopefully you’ve had a good read too.

EDIT: And you know what’s even more powerful? Early sales figures. The more books an author sells in the first few weeks after publication, the better for that author’s career. So if you think you like the idea of Bound, please buy it sooner rather than later, even if you’re not likely to read it for ages. I’ll be forever in your debt – and I promise you  great read! Learn all about Bound and sample the first three chapters for free here.

.