Beware Of Publishers Bearing Gifts
OK…this is an exceedingly rare problem, but I learned this Rule the hard way.
A few of you reading this may be old enough to remember the payola scandals of the 1950’s. Many more may be familiar with the events through research or just general interest. In short, the term “payola” refers to the practice of paying someone for a favorable placement of some product.
In the 1950’s, a number of radio stations and on-air personalities were accused of—and in some cases prosecuted for—accepting money and other “gifts” for playing certain songs more often than others in order to make the song more popular. You can read more about the payola scandal on Wikipedia here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Payola
At some of the less-than-reputable publishers—particularly in the e-publishing arena—the practice is still alive and well…
There are publishers who will pay for reviews. In some cases, the payment amount is tied to the number of stars (or whatever) that the reviewer gives the book. In most cases, the writer never even knows this is happening…the publisher sends the book out to a number of reviewers, and it all just sort of happens.
A new author with their first few books will always think that their book is the best ever written by anyone. After you have a number of books under your belt, you will know when you write a really good story and when you write crap. Also, you will sometimes see a bunch of reviews with two or three stars, and then out of the blue comes a five-star review. None of the issues addressed in the two-star reviews are mentioned by the five-star reviewer, and it seems they think your story is the best thing since War and Peace. And there will be patterns where all of the reviews done by a particular person or review group will be good, no matter what the story.
All of these are red flags…it’s not hard to see why you should be suspicious of this, but the real question is, “So what?”
In a nutshell, should someone in the Department of Justice (or similar agency in another country) decide to get pushy and look into this, you—the author—could be in deep shit.
Think about this…
Can you PROVE—in a court of law—that you had no idea this was going on and that you did not have a hand in the deal? That whole idea of being innocent until proven guilty is a crock…in most countries there is no such legal protection, and in many that do have it, it is a farce. You must PROVE that you are innocent against government charges.
If convicted, the penalties range wildly from one country to another. In most cases, we’re talking about a fine at the worst. In others, you might do jail time.
The best defense is to stay alert.
Stick with reputable, well known publishers. Odds are that they don’t do this in the first place, and they would never risk their reputation.
Look for the red flags. Don’t get hung up on reviews, but pay attention to the big picture and look for patterns. If you see things, ask the publisher point blank about this, and do it in writing (email is OK) so you have a record of it. Just in case. Also keep in mind that many reviewers of e-books are just readers. They have no standards in place for objectively reviewing books, so it is all 100% personal opinion and nothing more. It is possible that a particular reader will love your book while pretty much everyone else thinks it sucks.
If you have an agent, you can mention your suspicions to them. They won’t do anything, but you can ask.
If you have a real representative, definitely ask them. Odds are they have vetted the publisher and won’t touch the bad ones with a ten-foot pole, but things change. They will look into the matter.
And then we have the other side of the coin…
The number of publishers who do this kind of thing is exceedingly small. Just as a rough estimate, I would say that 0.01% of all publishers is too big a number. The odds of you hooking up with one of this tiny fraction are pretty slim.
And the odds are very much against someone actually deciding to look into the practice and taking legal action over it. Frankly, governments have better things to do than get in the middle of a few reviewers and publishers…like fixing their failing economies.
If you only self-publish, this shouldn’t be an issue at all. Well, unless you actually ARE paying for a good review.
More common in the self-published world is the so-called “review trade”. It often goes by other similar names, but the idea is that two writers review each other’s books. The (usually) unspoken rule is “I’ll give you five stars if you give me five stars”. I would avoid this practice. While not illegal, the ethics are very questionable. Any decent prosecutor will hang your butt out to dry.
Finally, don’t get all wrapped up around the axle on this. There is an old saying where I come from in the Ozarks…
Don’t sweat the petty things…and don’t pet the sweaty things.
The Two Hundred Word Tuesday question for today is:
What do you recall about your first date?
Listen To Your Readers, Not The “Experts”
Of all the rules, this could very well be the hardest one to learn and—more to the point—follow.
We all want the approval of someone we consider to be an expert of some sort or another. That expert might be a teacher, a respected or admired peer, a critic, or even a particular publisher. It might even be someone else in an entirely unrelated field, but it will always be someone that we see as important to us.
Most people see successful writers as arrogant. I don’t get that confusion. We ARE arrogant. I really don’t care if I hurt someone’s feelings, though I will never deliberately hurt someone. If the truth hurts their feelings, that is not my concern. The fact is that the truth can hurt. I’m about as politically incorrect as you can get. I think that 99% of the people in the world take life far too seriously and are looking for ways to assert their right to have everything sugar coated for them. As Sergeant Hulka said, “Lighten up, Francis.” In short, the only person I need to impress is me.
And yet even I sometimes catch myself wondering how someone will react to one of my actions.
The simple fact is that we all, as authors, must do what the little voices in our heads tell us to do and shut out those who would force us to compromise our individuality.
This in no way contradicts Rule Number Twenty-Two…I am not talking so much about what we write as opposed to how we write. In a word, voice.
One very common definition is:
“The author’s voice is the style in which a story is presented, including, among other things, the syntax, diction, person, and dialogue.”
Each writer has their own voice. Mine is different from yours. Yours is different from, say, Stephen King’s. Stephen’s is different from Niven’s. You get the idea. No two writers will have the same voice.
Generally speaking, your voice is made up of a staggeringly large number of things…your past, your present, your education, your experiences, your dreams, your nightmares, people you know, people you admire, the time and place in which you live, books you have read, books you have written, and a myriad of other things all go in to the forming of your voice. Looking at this, it’s clear why no two writers will have the same voice…after all, no two people have all of these things in common.
We are all individuals.
And it is your voice that all of the experts—no matter why they are in that category—will want you to change.
And it is this change that you must resist.
In a nutshell, an expert will want you to change so your voice is more like theirs. Think about it…we all believe our voice is the best one out there, and the experts are no exception to this rule. So, since they have the best voice, you would be better off to make your voice more like theirs.
Your voice is the best for you. Your voice is the only thing that sets you apart from all of the other writers out there. It is your voice that the readers like and plop down their hard-earned cash for.
People, ignore the experts…there are but a few of them and they aren’t buying your books anyway.
Listen to your readers…there are literally billions of them and they ARE buying your books.
Read the letters (paper and email) from your readers. Take to heart the things they say, especially if you get more than two letters saying essentially the same thing.
Watch the many mailing lists on the Internet for what your readers are saying there.
Watch blogs where readers post and pay attention to how they react to things, especially about your books.
When you do a signing or other personal appearance, talk to the readers. Besides, taking the extra time to talk to the readers will piss off your agent/representative…you know: Time is Money.
In other words, stay in touch with your readers. Be active…or more correctly, be proactive.
I wish I could give you some concrete examples, but I can’t because the number of variables and variations are far too great. I’ll just say that you will know when the readers like something and when they don’t like something.
Trust me…you’ll know.
And never forget to ignore the experts. Never read reviews…all that will do is piss you off. Never ask another writer how to word something…that will blend your voice with theirs. Never ask an English major how to word something…you’ll end up sounding like a text book. Automatically reject any re-writes by an editor…they have no clue how to write and even less idea of what your voice is.
(Let me clarify that last bit…if a good editor finds a problem, they will never offer a rewrite. They will simply say that the section needs to be rewritten and leave that up to you. If the editor does offer a rewrite, trash it and rewrite the section yourself, in your voice.)
Always remember that it is the readers who are paying you, and listen to your boss.
The Two Hundred Word Tuesday question for today is:
As a general rule, which is harder for you to write: (1) A typical passage of about 200 words in a current work in progress or, (2) A typical 200 word cover blurb for a book about to be released? Why?
Write What Will Sell
I know, I know…
Everyone who writes for a living should know this, but it seems everyday there are examples proving that’s not the case.
At this point, we do need to draw a distinction between the types of writers as the industry sees things. Generally speaking, there are two kinds:
(1) First we have the professionals. These are people who are trying to make a living writing, though they may not be able to quit that day job yet. They are published by a real publisher—usually more than one—and they work at the craft to get better and widen their markets. Some are also self-published. In the industry, we call these people “Authors”.
(2) Second are the people who play with writing. The vast majority are not published, though many will self-publish through one outlet or another. They have a “real job” and do not count on their works for income. Most of these people don’t worry too much about the market or improving their skills or their works. In the industry, these are “Writers”.
Personally, I never cared a lot for the industry’s separation of Authors and Writers. But it doesn’t matter what I like. That’s the way it is.
Also, if you actually do write for the fun of it, then none of this applies to you. But don’t try to distract the people who want to write for a living with comments about how everyone should be like you. In other words, not everyone is able or happy making four or five figures a year and having a few hundred fans.
To be blunt, the Writers can stop reading now. The rest of this doesn’t matter to you.
You Authors, keep reading…we’re gonna make some money today.
I can assure you that there is at least one person reading this who has no idea why it is important to write what will sell. For the rest of you, skip the next paragraph…
You can write the best book on the planet, but if no one buys it, you’re going broke. Everyone points at the success of JK Rowling, but imagine for a moment that no one wanted to hear about a bunch of wizard-trainees…Jo would still be broke.
OK, everyone back with me?
Watch the market…what books are selling? What genres are hot? What are other authors writing? What are the publishers buying? What are the bookstores pushing?
These are the areas where you need to work, too. Ride the wave, so to speak, and reap the rewards.
If you were like the Writers, you could say, “I write what I want to write, and the readers can go to hell if they don’t like it.” Just don’t quit that day job, because you’ll starve to death.
But you are an Author, not a Writer. The difference is having a four or five digit income instead of a seven or eight figure income.
And don’t think for a moment that you—or anyone else—has any clue how much other authors make. Authors are privately held corporations and do not report incomes to anyone. A few will give out vague—often fictitious—numbers when asked. The bottom line is that how much I make is none of your damn business.
Anyway, you look at what is selling and put your own unique twist to the story, your voice comes through, and your books will stand out.
In other words, you do not have to write stories that are far outside of the current hot spots in order to get noticed. You just have to make the hot spot fit your way of doing things.
Readers fall into a few very well defined groups…
(1) You have readers who like you and your stories and will buy a dog turd if it has your name on the front and picture on the back. Maybe 0.0001% of all readers are here.
(2) You have readers who hate you and wouldn’t buy your books if God ordered them to. Again, this group might be 0.0001% of all readers.
(3) But most readers have never heard of you or your books. This group is—for most authors—better than 99.9998% of all readers.
Just to make it clear, 99.9998% or more of the readers have no clue who you are and they buy books based on what is hot in the market right now.
So, you write a new book, and it’s something that isn’t on the hot sheet now. The readers in group 1 above will buy it, but that’s about it.
Now, you write a book that is something that is hot at the moment. The group 1 readers will still buy it, but so will at least a few people in group 3.
No, the readers in group 2 will never buy your books. Fuck ’em.
But with the hot-topic book, you pick up some sales. Also, some people from group 3 will fall in love with you and move over to group 1.
This is a win-win scenario.
Figuring out the market can be a lot of work, and it always takes a lot of time. This is where having a good partner can be invaluable.
An agent might—maybe—provide you some feedback and advice. Most won’t.
A representative will always tell you what’s happening in the market. As soon as you turn in a manuscript, they will let you know what’s cooking right now and for the next few months so you can adjust your next book accordingly.
Just a note here…a REALLY good personal assistant will be able to do a lot of this, too. But the good ones don’t come cheap. You’re looking at probably $100,000 a year if not more.
The agent will leave you to fend for yourself, but the representative will help you so you can do what you do best…