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Legal Censorship of Books – where do you stand?

In Thoughts on Publishing on March 6, 2012 at 3:30 pm

In case you haven’t heard, online payment servicing giant PayPal recently sent ultimatums to many ebooksellers. I’ll summarize with my words, not theirs: ”Remove all books containing rape, incest, underage sex and bestiality from your store. We will not service your payments if you do not comply. Resistance is futile.”

If you feel like some light reading on the topic: Go here.

Heavier reading: Go here.

Indie distributors like Bookstrand and Smashwords have been scrambling to comply and this has led to some fireworks in (mostly) the indie ebook world. Some people (bloggers, authors, internet blowhards) are criticizing sites like Smashwords for moving so fast to comply with PayPal’s demands. I think that’s misguided, and here’s why.

While the word “censorship” is being flung around over this matter (umm… don’t look at my blog title), I think the reasons behind the PayPal mandate are money-related rather than morality-based. I’m just not convinced the decision came from some moral crusade within PayPal. You see, it looks like a business decision to me. Credit card returns/challenges are vastly higher in the porn/erotica and gambling industry, and that costs the industry money. Since PayPal is a middleman for the credit card companies, they shoulder much of that risk to allow smaller web companies to use their service instead of working directly with the credit card industry (at much higher buy-in and service charges).

Since PayPal only allowed 30 days for compliance, distributors had a choice to make: go out of business or comply and see what could be done on the back-end (though stay away from that cow’s back-end — no bestiality, mister!). It’s not as easy as flipping a switch for someone like a Smashwords. Truth is: it takes longer to change to another provider and PayPal offers a unique service.

I believe it’s wholly unreasonable for anyone to expect a small, online ebook retailer to raise arms in rebellion against the credit card industry. Do you know what would happen? I do. They would lose. Tragically. And that would be a decisive blow against writers, publishers and readers everywhere. I fully support efforts bySmashwords and others to remove the non-compliant material while they continue to engage PayPal to get some definition around the mandate. Nobody needs to be a martyr in this and perhaps an agreeable solution can be met down the road.

Matt, you’re a pig-fucker. Wait. Sorry CC Industry: I’m just a “plain” fucker. (I’d likely never fuck a pig… though everything from that glorious animal is so tasty… if there ever were an animal… *slap* Right, bestiality.)

So what do I say to the writers who had their content unceremoniously removed? Or to the other writers (like me) out there wondering if big business will someday attack our stories of murder, ghosts, wizards, unicorns, corrupt politicians, secret agents, angels and demons? Well, to the erotica writers, the unfortunate truth is many cultures view your work as “borderline” or “offensive” in some cases. Just like I’d have a more difficult time opening a 1-room casino in my hometown than if I wanted to open a store selling spatulas — you too will have a harder road ahead of you if you want to make money off your bestiality, incest or rape fiction. Until the views of the cultures you service change, this is just a truth.

To a lesser extent, some of the fiction removed as a result of this enforcement of PayPal’s policy was freely distributed anyway. There’s always sites like Wattpad which don’t sell the fiction — so, no “control” from the CC industry. I know it’s not a perfect solution for some erotica writers, but it may allow the free, creative expression you are looking for.

Free expression. Putting my “douchebag” hat on again, let’s remember that nobody is being told they cannot write and distribute what they want. But if they want to distribute it through certain channels, in partnership with a private corporation, then that private corporation has every right to act within the laws which mutually govern them, us and the distributor. While there’s nothing “illegal” about rape, incest and bestiality fiction – that’s a moot point. We’re not discussing criminal or constitutional law. The censorship isn’t at that level.

So, in the final analysis, where does Matt stand? I do understand the business case on PayPal’s side. They have rights too – rights to keep their own business viable. The reality exists that money is lost when credit card users challenge a charge or makes a return – and these two activities happen more for porn/erotica and casino-related activities (hence why you can’t “charge” a scratch ticket – same deal there, folks). Yes, I’m saddened by this because it means less books available. But I’m not going to expect a small business to go to war over this. We also can’t expect an industry (credit card, CC) to make bad business decisions just because some of us feel strongly about a certain topic. Their vision of this morality may be different than ours, and at the end of the day – it’s their business.

I will end by saying there is hope. From my rudimentary understanding, PayPal has been refining the language. For example, they clarified bestiality as involving “naturally occurring” animals. Yes, your stories about a human woman falling in love with a were-octupus are totally still viable. They also clarified some of the requirements around incest.  Some of the links above contain links to petitions and such – feel free to check them out if you are so inclined. However, I’m not sure your time won’t be wasted. The CC industry has successfully limited how consumers and partners can use their service in the past, and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. If you want to benefit from the services they offer, you gotta play by their rules. If you don’t like those rules, you can crusade to change them or look for other outlets to provide the services you require.

(as a closing note, I’m curious to see all the new traffic to this site with all the instances of bestiality, rape and incest in this post. gotta love the internets!)

Matthew C. Plourde is not only an official member of LitU, but an author, blogger, and an absolute writing machine! You can find his personal blog HERE.

Self Publishing Update

In Personal Stories, Thoughts on Publishing on February 14, 2012 at 6:17 pm

When I was a young lad of 15 or 16 I had a friend who was in a rock band. He asked me if I wanted to be a roadie for the band and help them out with stuff. It sounded cool so I went to my friend’s house after school and sat in on their band practice in the basement. When it was all over the band turned to me and asked what I thought. I was eager to be “cool” so I told them that it rocked and they rocked and everything was wicked awesome!

I was hit with a wall of blank stares.

Finally, my friend broke the silence and with a laugh said, “He’s afraid to tell us what we did wrong.”

Sure, I wanted them think I was cool so I told them what I thought they wanted to hear. My first time there I didn’t want to tell them that this or that sucked.

I learned that day that the best thing that you can do for a friend is to tell them the truth. Do it nicely, but be truthful. Tell them what was great, what was good, and what sucked.

It’s what friends do.

***Flash forward to present day***

I’m an old lad of 30 or 35 (or 43) and I have plenty of friends in the world of self publishing. I am a firm believer in self publishing so on a daily basis I hang out at web sites that distribute self published books. I download short stories and novels from these authors. Having lived in this self pub world and sampled a lot of what it has to offer I feel that we’re friends and I can be honest with you.

We are friends, right?

Good!

As friends I believe that you need to hear this. I believe that it’s time for an honest sit down and a serious reality check. I think that it’s time that we discussed the good and the bad.

The Good

  1. There is always something new to read.
  1. There are some AMAZING undiscovered authors out there! When I was a young rocker there was nothing quite like finding that little known band that just rocked it like no one else. The feeling was even better when they got big. It was like you had bragging rights to being one of their first fans.
  1. The great authors that you discover are very approachable. Do you like the new Stephen King novel? Just try emailing him to let him know your feelings. Think that you’ll get an answer? Maybe, but probably not.
  1. The self pub industry is one of the most helpful collections of people I’ve ever met. Lit U is a perfect example of that exact statement. Lit U is built on the idea of helping when and where you can…and Lit U is not the only one! I’ve run into it with many self pub groups out there.
  1. The self pub industry is growing and becoming a more positive notion. The industry leaders are realizing this and more doors are opening every day.

Are you sitting down? Good, because it’s time for…

The Bad

Please keep in mind that this is passion that is speaking. I love you and I just want to see you do your best, but let’s be honest here:

  1. There is no excuse for not finding someone to edit your spelling and grammar. Most word processing programs employ a built-in spell checker. Feel free to use it. I suck at spelling and grammar and the English language in general. Some of my best friends are editors. I make them bacon and  they make me look  like I am not so stupid.
  1. Trends and fads are nice…nice if you are into the subject. For the rest of us it is a painful existence. Oddly enough my point here is that you should write what you like to write and not whatever the  latest  craze might be.
  1. As a self pub author you will wear many, many hats and job titles. Do your best to perform each duty to a professional level, but for the love of God , if you have to pay someone to make a decent cover for you then please do it! No one will even read the blurb if they are turned off by your sad graphics. For me, this is the one place where you want to hire a professional…or at least someone who doesn’t still use Paint as their graphics program. Nothing angers me more than seeing the multitude of shitactular covers that I see on a daily basis. For the love of all that it awesome, please scrap the cheesy fonts. Yes, that means you Mr. Blood Dripping Font. There are a million sins here. The point is DRESS YOUR PIG before bringing it to market!
  1. People can smell bullshit from a mile away…two miles if they are Jersey natives. There is a fine line between self promotion and being a complete dick. Know the difference. Please.
  1. Author photos – This is one of my pet peeves because this should be the easiest of all of the tasks that you have command over. Writing is hard, editing is hard, graphics are hard, but picking your bio picture is easy. When I see an author picture that is obviously cropped from a group photo I want to throw a lit paper bag of doggy doo at your house. I want to poop under the front seat of your car on a hot day, roll up the windows, lock the doors, and throw away your keys so that by the time a lock smith has opened your door the smell has eaten its way into your carpet and is a daily reminder not to use stupid blurry cropped pictures. Author photos should be CLEAR. They should be of YOU and only YOU (unless your wife is super hot and works at Hooters…then I’ll make an exception…or if your husband is an MMA fighter, then I have no choice). Take a look at your favorite professional author. What picture did he or she use? COPY THAT STYLE dimwit.
  1. Be PROUD of what you do. I will personally slap the next self published author who tells me that self publishing is a four letter word or any other negative connotation. If you believe the media’s hype then you are in the wrong business. It’s like a chef who says that he is an “artist”. No, you cook food. You are a chef. Be proud. You’re doing something that not everyone can do. It’s like a bartender saying that he is a mixologist. I call bullshit. You pour liquid from one too many sources into various containers. You tend to the needs of the thirsty at the bar. Be proud and pour your ass off with the best of them! I can’t tell you how many self pub authors hide from the “self pub” title. “Oh, I’m an award winning wordsmith .” Sweet Sassy MaLassy! I say that’s malarkey!  I wear the title of Self Published Author with honor and I dare you…double dog dare you…to try and tell me it’s wrong or bad. I’ll put you in a rear naked chokehold  and dry hump you until the referee pulls me from your embarrassed backside.

I could have more easily said that the world of self publishing is getting better and to stop doing stupid things, but what fun would that have been? And when do I really get so many opportunities to work in poop references.

Cheers!

Your friend,

~Ryan

Ryan O’Neil is not only an official member of LitU, but a voracious eater of all things once alive. His official blog can be found here

The Story Behind The Briton and the Dane Trilogy

In Book of The Month, Featured Author, Thoughts on Publishing on January 3, 2012 at 8:00 pm

I fell in love with medieval England after reading Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe” in my sophomore year of high school, but my interests soon turned towards the Dark Ages when the formidable Vikings harassed the civilized world once Hollywood released such blockbusters as “The Vikings,” “The Longships,” and “Erik the Viking.” Add to the mix “Alfred the Great,” “Prince Valiant,” and “King Arthur,” and an incurable romantic anglophile was born.

As time went on Hollywood changed its venue of period movies, but I found solace with the many British programs being aired on our local PBS station. With the advent of BBC America and History International, I was able to find great documentaries such as “The Dark Ages,” “Life in Anglo-Saxon Times,” “Dark Age England,” and “Viking Exploration,” to name but a few.

During this time, Erik the Viking was hovering in the cobwebs of my creative mind, waiting to escape oblivion, waiting to tell his story, waiting and waiting and waiting, but it was not until 2008 that I was able to find the time to devote to fulfilling my lifelong dream of writing my Erik the Viking novel.

Why did I focus on Alfred the Great and King Guthrum? I chose these two formidable characters because they are fascinating. This was a time of conflict and change, when Christianity was replacing the pagan religion, and the feared Vikings no longer plundered the fertile country of Britannia but remained and settled the land.

When King Alfred defeated King Guthrum in 878, one of the terms for peace was the Christian baptism of the Danish King. I wondered how this heathen King might have felt about denying the gods of his ancestors as he willingly accepted the Roman Christ God, and also wondered how willing his subjects had been to submit to the rules of the new religion.

In addition to the religious conflict, there were also petty Kings who coveted the throne, not only King Alfred’s crown, but King Guthrum’s as well. Throw into the mix, illegitimate offspring and you have all the makings for a great story.

While Erik started out as my main character, the supporting characters quickly sought to usurp the protagonist role. I had often heard the phrase, “but then my characters took over,” and suddenly discovered that the statement is very true. Erik had to share the limelight with the many prominent figures, and these characters refused to play a minor role in an ongoing saga.

The same holds true for our antagonist; there are many opponents as the story unravels, each with their own agenda, but each seeking power and wealth.

I delve into the minds of the characters as they deal with conflicts that are quite common today: father/son relationships and acknowledgement of paternity, religious confrontation, and warfare. The people who lived in the 9th century were flesh and blood as we are flesh and blood. They faced the same problems, made similar choices, and perhaps regretted their decisions.

I also wanted to reach out to the families of our modern day warriors, and to remind everyone that the only thing that has changed in warfare over time has been its weaponry. What has not changed is the anxiety as one awaits the fate of their loved one; waiting is difficult no matter which century you live in.

Since “The Briton and the Dane: Legacy” is the third and final installment of the trilogy, I should be willing to say goodbye…the key word here is should…but there are many stories still to tell, and many characters to meet, and enough passion, intrigue, treachery and betrayal to enthrall an audience…so fear not my faithful fans, the series will continue.

“The Briton and the Dane” trilogy has been a joy to write, and I trust a joy to read. Enjoy the adventure, it only gets better.

Mary Ann Bernal is not only an official member of LitU, but an author, a blogger, and one of the absolute nicest human beings walking the face of the Earth. You can find her personal website HERE.

Borders Closing – For Real This Time

In Thoughts on Publishing on July 22, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Everyone’s writing about this. But I can almost guarantee nobody else’s article will be full of monkey-math and unbased hypotheses!

So, what happened? According to the news stories I’ve read, Borders declared bankruptcy earlier this year. They closed a bunch of stores but kept some open in hopes an investor would come along to save them. All the while, they didn’t pay all their contracts for their inventory sold (they couldn’t) and this caused some publishers to stop sending them shit. That was the final spiral that spelled their doom.

At the 13th hour, nobody came to save them. They were forced to announce total liquidation and the loss of ~10,000 jobs and ~400 storefronts (I just saw a tweet about Books-A-Million maybe buying up a few dozen stores, so maybe it won’t be complete destruction).

Why the total failure by such a longstanding idol of book-buying and browsing?

Well, I can’t say for certain, but my gut tells me they held on to the brick-and-mortar life-raft for far too long. Also, others have researched and written about it far better than I could. Like it or hate it, the market has changed with the evolution of mobile devices, social media, the interwebs and publishing industry revolution. I blogged about Borders’ bankruptcy earlier this year, and many of those feelings still ring true in my heart. If you want to read about my feelings on the social change aspect of this whole mess, that post is better.

The loss of in-person browsing will certainly have an impact upon all book sales, not just paperback. I’ve read posts and responses from people who would enter a Borders to find a book, and then go buy it online. Without a physical location to camp, these people may purchase less books. Of course, that act of browsing at the store and buying online speaks to the retail reality around us – there are better deals online. Heck, when you don’t need to maintain hundreds of physical locations along with rent, utilities, insurance, maintenance, sales force, theft, etc., etc. — of course you can offer something a brick-and-mortar cannot.

Following the liquidation announcement, the Alliance for Main Street Fairness (AMSF) fired a shot into the media slipstream:

“Special treatment for Amazon.com is decimating job providers like Borders and countless small businesses across the country. It is simply not fair that one business is able to operate with a government-sanctioned advantage that allows it to undercut its competitors forcing lost jobs and business closures. Lawmakers need to level the playing field and end the special deal that gives Amazon a competitive advantage over Main Street,” said Danny Diaz, spokesperson for the Alliance for Main Street Fairness (AMSF).

They claim the ability of Amazon to sidestep sales tax gives them an unfair advantage in the book-selling game. I wasn’t so sure, so I conducted a Matt-Monkey-Math survey yesterday! I asked my peeps what would most make them NOT purchase a book that catches their eye. Here’s the results:

Iffy on the “blurb”: 6

High Price: 5

The format they prefer is not available: 4

The quality is “suspect”: 1

Yeah, I know 16 responses isn’t actually a viable sample size, but I’m not exactly being paid for my research skillz. :) So backdafuckup.

Maybe AMSF has the kernel of an argument here (many of my responders cited “price” as a deciding factor). I’d go as far as supporting them in the sales-tax thing if I knew more about it. I have no freakin’ clue how it works (Amazon must pay some sort of tax, right?), but I would argue the addition of sales tax to Amazon sales wouldn’t change my purchasing methods. Amazon can still set a better price because of all the things mentioned before – they have leveraged technology and business acumen (“people who bought this also bought this” is killer) to achieve superior results. *Shrug* They beat Borders (maybe), good for them. Isn’t that what our free market is about? (minus the sales tax thing – even it out if it’s not fair, makes no diff to me) I just don’t believe the sales tax issue is majorly responsible for Amazon’s success and Borders fall, that’s all.

One interesting fact from my lame survey was nobody picked this option: “Publisher you don’t know.” I’ve actually heard some opponents to self-publishing froth about readers “trusting” publishers and caring about that NYC print on the title page.

Yeah… riiiiight. I’m still not buying that argument; try again, fuckers.

We’re moving into a book-buying age where some books can succeed based upon social support and peer review. Imagine that! Your book can sell on its own merits, rather than wallow in obscurity because it didn’t fit some publishing house’s plans for the year. I don’t know about other self-published authors, but this fact excites me. I’m nobody and I’ve sold (with the help of my underpaid, awesome team) just under 2,000 copies of my books to complete strangers in less than a year. So far, I’ve yet to get a negative review – yeah, I count the “sacrilegious” Eden review as a positive. While those numbers are quite laughable to successful writers, I’m proud of them. The online age has allowed me to reach readers who enjoy my fiction. Sharing my work with even just 1 other person is all I ever wanted in my storyteller’s heart. 2,000 (and growing) is just a bonus.

I am quite transparent in all my research & self-pubbing numbers. If you have a question, please contact me. I love helping others and sharing useful data!

All the “data” aside, I still feel the online marketplace has much more to offer (including price) than a traditional bookstore, and that’s why Amazon rules the school. When you are about to make a purchase, isn’t more information better than less info? Online, you can see what other readers have said about the book, author info/links and (in Amazon’s case) similar purchases which may be in-line (or not) with your likes/dislikes. Heck, who wants to waste their money these days? While I think it’s noble to support “Main Street USA,” I like to have all the info I can before spending my entertainment dollars. Amazon just delivers on that front better than a bookshelf at a physical store can.

I dunno. At its most basic parts (less bookstores), I don’t like it. But, I’m also not one to fear social change. I actually despise those chain emails that talk about how the next generation is fucked/different/deprived, and our days of youth were full of nostalgic perfection. Times change. The world changes. Bookstore closings are just another symptom of this social flow.

You can express your gratitude and support for the Borders employees on Twitter:#ThankUBorders

Matthew C. Plourde is not only an official member of LitU, but a heck of a guy to boot. His blog can be found here.

More on Writing…

In Personal Stories, Thoughts on Publishing on July 8, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Many of my fans (estimated to be in the mid-single digit range) have asked many questions of me, but the one question that I receive the most I am unable to divulge here. The second most asked question is, “How do I become an author?”

Not sure why they ask this of me, but as I sit here eating cold corn on the cob in my basement office I shall purge a few of my best writing secrets in hopes of cultivating a new bacon loving rock-n-roll junkie bubble bath taking writer in the making.

“Write what you know” – CLICHÉ and lame, but also semi helpful. However, write what you know does not mean that EVERY tale you craft has to be about an author who comes from the same type of city that you were raised in or dream of living in. While this clearly worked for Stephen King, it gets old…quick. My interpretation is simply to write what you have an interest in…something that you have half a clue about or you will face the dreaded “research” which, at least in my case, kills the free spirited word spewage.

“Read, read, and then when you are done read some more” Really? For rizzle? Much like research forcing yourself to read in hopes that your skillz getz betta is a possible recipe for burning out. Read when you want. Isn’t it more important to…write?

“Rejection is part of the game” 100% true. You need to let rejection roll off of your back. I have a nice binder that I keep my rejection letters in. Some of them are better than others, but in the end they are still rejection letters. Unless they say that you are ugly who really cares what the contents of a rejection letter are? Not me. Sure I’ve been disappointed, but it was nothing that an extra slice of bacon couldn’t resolve.

Find at least one person (two or three if possible) who can be completely honest with you. 98% of your family and friends will blow smoke up your ass because, well, for some reason they like you and fear hurting your feelings. A strange 1% will tell you that you work sucks simply out of jealousy. It is that golden 1% that will tell you the truth. These are the people you want in your corner when you’re looking for someone to proof read you treasures.

Be social. Oddly enough so many of us writers are so creative, but not social enough. Who cares if your widow finds your hidden gems after you are gone and reads them weeping over your urn that she has decorated sweetly and bedazzled the hell out of. If she is the only person to have read you creations then it’s all for nothing. Get out there and be annoying…I mean social. This is by FAR the toughest part of the journey for me.

Lastly, get Steven Novak to design your cover. If your work sucks it will still sell with an awesome cover. Steven knows how to dress a pig better than anyone I know…I should know…it worked for me! People LOVE the cover of Plain Old Kirby Carson (which is available at Amazon.com – please contact me directly at MrRyanO@gmail.com for information about signed copies) and it has opened several doors that an otherwise lame-o cover would have been able to do.

Well, I hope that has helped any of you young aspiring meat eaters and/or authors.

Pleased To Meat You,

~Ryan

Ryan O’Neil is not only an official member of LitU, but a voracious eater of all things once alive. His official blog can be found here

Consolidated Self-Publishing Tips, Stats & Wild Accusations

In Thoughts on Publishing on June 20, 2011 at 3:04 pm

2011 version
By Matthew C. Plourde

I’ve crafted some various blog posts throughout the last year to assist my fellow self-publishing writers (and to also document what I’ve learnt so I can recreate the process when needed). Well, it’s been some time since I’ve gone through these, and I certainly have more commentary and such to divulge to my peeps here. Also, it’s always helpful to consolidate information/links. So, let’s start a dialog!

iBooks

Little known fact: Eden was published to iBooks before anywhere else. When I’m a household name, remember that! It will no doubt be a Trivial Pursuit question in the 2010 edition. No doubt.

All fancy aside, I foolishly thought the arrival of the iPad spelled doom for the Kindle & Nook. What a silly man-animal I am. While sales were still better than I could have hoped for (~30 Eden sales on the iBookstore during its first month), I rarely sell a book on the iBookstore these days. I’m not convinced Apple has done even a serviceable job on their marketplace. The whole “people who bought this also bought this” section on Amazon is killer. Hey, other online bookstores – you should have that. Far as I can tell, iBooks takes money to “spotlight/feature” certain major releases and that’s what sells. Of course, that data is based on completely zero research… so, take that as you will.

I created the ePub for Eden “manually” using these tips: Working With iworkspages To Create an epub

While that post is full of invaluable info for ePubbers, I’m not sure all of that work is even necessary. Instead of using Lulu to publish to iBooks, I recommend using Smashwords to get on the iBookstore. They will take your “generic” M$ Word file (formatted for e-readers) and convert it to an iBookstore ePub for you. No muss, no fuss. Also, Lulu doesn’t remove your title from the iBookstore when you ask them to. Lazy wankers. All I use Lulu for these days is the hardcover versions of my books. My experience with them has been absolutely terrible. They offer no support and rarely respond to your inquiries. Once Amazon’s Createspace allows me to make a hardcover, I’ll likely say farewell to Lulu.

Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes

Here’s the “big one”: Self-Publishing Tips & Tricks (print/ebook)

This is my master guide for self-publishing. I wrote it after Eden and used it for The Antaran Legacy. My advice in there will save the noob publisher many hours of frustration. Believe it!

Much of what I outline in there holds true. I can now say with confidence that Amazon is the ruler of all. (duh, I know) Publish there first, and publish there hard. Hard? Target reviewers who also review on Amazon. Fill out your author page. Get your sample going early. Maybe engage on the forums. Hit Amazon like you hit your wife (whoops – that last comment is only applicable in the South).

Here’s a little thing I recently learned about Amazon: Don’t lower and then try to raise your price. Amazon claims they only change yer price if they discover yer book being offered for less $ elsewhere. Well, I ASSumed this would take longer, but it was immediate. As soon as I re-raised the price on the Antaran Legacy (I’m messing with the price as part of several experiments), Amazon kept it at the lower price. I plan to message them once my new price filters everywhere and tell them what’s what. Good to know, though!

XinXii

I have some tips on XinXii here: Self-publishing On Xinxii

Someone mentioned I should check it out, so I did. The site claims to be “Europe’s leading online marketplace for all kinds of written works.” (their words, not mine) While I cannot refute that claim, my books have been on there for ~3 months and I have yet to net a single sale. Of course, I haven’t done any advertising in Europe, so who am I to complain? I can say that I average 3-10 monthly Eden sales on Amazon UK, so my previous assertion holds true: treat Amazon as your #1 market.

XinXii now also accepts the MOBI format (same as Kindle), but that’s really up to you if you want to provide it. Again, yer gonna do MOBI for Kindle and that’s really where your focus should be. If you get around to formatting another MOBI for XinXii, then more power to ya.

The Next Frontier?

I truly believe Amazon is the best vehicle to get your work noticed. You’re prolly sick of hearing it by now, but I’ll beat you over the head with it one more time: focus on Amazon, all the rest can come afterwards.

If anyone knows of any other self-publishing distro sites who offer something tangible, please post in the comments section! I will likely try it out, screenshot the hell out of it and then post my thoughts as I go through their process.

However, I am quite pleased with the holy trinity: Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes/Noble. If you publish to these 3 places, you have some amazing coverage which actually nets sales. Well, you will sell if you put in the effort to get the word out there.

Happy hunting! 🙂

Matthew C. Plourde is not only an official member of LitU, but a heck of a guy to boot. His blog can be found here.

The Ugly Secrets of the E-Book Revolution

In Thoughts on Publishing on May 11, 2011 at 6:03 pm

“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” ~Mao Tse-Tung.

Every revolution is ugly. Political and martial revolutions employ death camps, hostages, and methods of torture, and in almost every case, it’s hard to find the evidence of these crimes, because ad victor spoilarum (to the victor go the spoils), and, apparently, ad victor veritas (to the victor goes the truth). The successful revolutionaries get to write whatever they want in the history books.

It isn’t just political revolution that covers up ugly secrets. Ideological debate often employs the deep pockets of lobbyists to sway popular opinion through manipulation of the media. Even revolution in the way entertainment and media is distributed and consumed has closet-bound skeletons.

But surely the e-book revolution is a victimless crime, right?

Well, no. Every crime has a victim.

During the digital music revolution, it’s not a secret that the big music labels messed it all up for themselves. There was certainly a right way and a wrong way to handle Napster and the way kids were sharing music files, and the way it was handled — sending the cops out after 12 year olds who were probably not very aware that what their friends were doing was a crime — was not at all the right way. It caused a lot of bad press. In the end, it was resolved with the smooth advent of iTunes and the iPod and the introduction of Digital Rights Management (DRM), but in the meantime, the kids suffered, the artists suffered, and the labels lost their mojo.

What’s the difference between that situation and this one? Well, on the surface, the e-book revolution appears to be about empowering the masses, in much the same way that Napster tried to brand itself; however, the people who have the power now are the artists themselves. The writers can now write their books, and instead of being trapped in an endless cycle of submission to agent and, if they’re lucky, to editors at big publishing houses, they can take their work directly to the reader and let them decide. Readers can get books on the cheap, and writers can get royalties at higher margins.

But wait! you may be saying. That sounds like a victimless crime!

That it does, until you realize that independent/self-published authors take a lot of shortcuts in bringing their work to market. They do not benefit from a big publisher’s resources. They do not have a talented, experienced editorial staff to go over their manuscripts with a fine-toothed comb, or an art department to design a winning cover, or a promotional team to make sure the title gets noticed by media outlets. They do not have an agent present to hold their hand, encourage them, and take care of the business aspect of things while the author gets to live his/her life and, most importantly, write. The better self-published authors find themselves compromising everything in order to get all of these things considered, let alone addressed, and often burn themselves out trying to primp and pimp their manuscripts. Even so, manuscripts often hit the e-reader with obvious spelling or grammar errors.

So who are the victims?

First: Agents and publishers, but I think some of that they brought upon themselves. We all know the stories of the millionaire self-pub Kindle superstars by now, and those of us who are taking this seriously use those stories as messages of hope. How did those authors escape the industry that is supposed to be the authority on what is fit for consumption? The agents and publishers have a new model to pursue, and they have to find the sweet spot in this new paradigm — or there will be deeper repercussions. Frankly, I do not really want to see this industry crumble. I just want to see it adapt, experiment, and try to reach out to this new digital publishing age.

Second: Readers. I was raised at a time that print books were king, and every one of those print books was produced by a large publisher and meticulously edited. I grew up surrounded by properly dressed sentences and exhaustively groomed words, all of them lovely and cared for. My patterns of speech and writing are driven by these words. I shudder to think that there’s a generation of kids being raised around words that have not been so fussed over, ugly, abandoned things who can tell a story, but don’t do it with any respect for convention or tradition.

These are our victims, folks. These are the prisoners of war, who wait for us to decide their fates and don’t want to be abandoned. Their mistakes were made with blindfolds on. Do we give them a second chance?

Maybe. At least I wanted to let you know they were out there. I’ve answered the question for myself with full understanding of the consequences. Have you?

MJ Heiser

Thoughts on Self Publishing

In Personal Stories, Thoughts on Publishing on March 7, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Many, many years ago I had a somewhat popular blog in which I rambled on and on about the assorted adventures I’d had as a younger man. It was the kind of stuff you talk about with friends while drinking a few too many beers and listening to music from a not so distant decade of excess and indulgence, the only difference being that retelling these tales on the blog was not done to boast or inflate the ego, but 100% to entertain.

After roughly a year of spewing my stories and entertaining a few people at my expense (and following in the footsteps of another young blogger who shall remain nameless at this time), I had the idea to compile the best of the bunch into a book. I knew that no agent or publisher in their right mind would touch this drivel, so I thought it best that I take it the route of self publishing.

At the time the thought of self publishing conjured up images of an old creepy man selling tattered books from the trunk of his tattered car. I saw two crumbling cardboard boxes barely holding back the stacks of unsold books. A handwritten sign proclaimed to all that you could purchase his book today for the low price of $14.99 $10 $5. The wind kicked up, creating small cyclones of trash and other street debris that would eventually pick up his old hat and toss it clumsily down the street…

Basically, as a good friend once put it, I thought of self publishing as a place where good books went to die.

And I did self publish that book, and I did learn a lot about the business. I did everything from beginning to end and eventually put my book on the market, where it promptly died. Truth be told, there is a good chance that attempting to sell a book to the same people who have already read the blog for free wasn’t my best business decision. It was a great learning process.

Many years have gone by and the self publishing landscape sure has changed. The options and possibilities are almost endless, but there still seems to be some fear (or so I thought) about going down the road of self publishing.
I conducted several informal questionnaires and talked with several of my author friends and I was shocked at what I learned. I honestly thought that the main reason why people go the standard route of publishing would be simply because it is the more socially accepted method, the process that has more credibility. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Not one of them cited credibility as a reason.

I should have guessed that the number one reason why “struggling artists” choose not to self publish would be MONEY. More people than not mentioned that having the expenses paid for by someone else was most important.
I do believe that the face of self publishing is slowly changing. Every day more and more quality work is published by everyday people who choose to go the non-standard route. Being able to get your work into a large distribution channel and seeing your book available for sale by major book stores is a far cry from the days of peddling your books from the back of creepy looking cars. You still have to wear many hats when self publishing and work your tail off to get your product noticed, but that’s the life of an up and coming author!

Self publishing can work for you, but you have to work for it.

Ryan O’Neil

The Evolving Face of E-books

In Thoughts on Publishing on March 1, 2011 at 6:49 pm

One of the most rigorous objections I hear from my friends when it comes to switching from print books to e-books (apart from the sensual departures of smell, sound, touch, and long familiarity) is the concept of ownership. A digital book is not a material book. You never truly own it. You cannot trade it or sell it. You cannot burn it in a fire. You cannot display it on a bookshelf. You can only own the reading device, but not the aggregation of words, or the binding, or the art inside.

That is all true. A digital book is not physical material. So how does that affect some of the current perspectives in electronic publishing? Let’s consider a couple of the arguments.

E-books should not cost the same as a print book, since the amount of physical labor involved in production is not the same.

Really?

Consider this: The price to have a book converted from a Microsoft Word document (which is still the de-facto standard for writers when putting together their manuscripts) to a version that will be accepted by a print on demand (or POD) printer is negligible, and can be done by the author him- or herself. From there, physical proof copies can be ordered electronically for review, and printed by large machinery with next to no human involvement. Once the final version is approved, the copies are printed when needed.

Certainly the machinery requires upkeep and maintenance. Certainly the materials used in printing must be considered. But the cost of human labor has been nearly eliminated from the process.

On the other hand, consider the labor involved before the decision between e-book and print is ever made. From a beta review (during which a specially qualified editor reads through the manuscript for plot weaknesses, character hiccups, and inconsistencies that the writer misses) to a line edit (an intense read that brings the manuscript up to proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation code) to illustration and cover design—all of these duties must be performed, whether the book is digital or print. The same people have to be considered for compensation or appreciation, no matter the form.

The cost difference, then, seems to be in the upkeep of machinery and the cost of paper, binding, and color covers for print books. Once that’s factored down to a per-copy basis, the difference in cost becomes negligible. The bulk of cost in producing a book is nearly the same, whether the book is print or digital.

An e-book has no pages, and therefore cannot be signed by the author or loaned out by a library or friend.

Really?

According to a recent blog written by Michelle Halket at ireadiwrite publishing, authors now have the option and ability to sign copies of e-books. I do not mean they will affix their Sharpie signature to an e-book reader. I mean that they can request a personalized copy of an e-book for a reader, be they contest winner, personal acquaintance, or colleague. I think that, once this process is streamlined, it’s not inconceivable to meet an author in person during a virtual signing event and receive your personalized e-book within hours of the event.

As for not being able to loan out the book, that argument is losing steam, and fast. In fact, it appears that Harper Collins, one of the largest publishers in the world, is about to be slapped with a boycott of its titles for putting a limit on the number of times a book can be loaned out. Further, we already know that the Barnes and Noble nook has the capability for e-book lending between friends with the same device, and the Kindle is working on the same functionality.

E-books are still a niche market; a writer can’t expect to make any serious money on them. Also, a writer should be careful, because e-books lead to piracy, which cuts even deeper into the money the artist deserves.

Really?

I recently expressed my unhappiness with JK Rowling, the insanely successful author of the Harry Potter books. She decided that she would not make her books available via digital methods, not by e-book distribution nor by Audible download. Her reason? She was concerned with piracy of her titles.

Now, Ms. Rowling does not need my money. She has every right to determine the methods by which her work will reach her readers. I only complained that her decision represented a disadvantage for me, who has converted to virtually exclusive digital reading. However, I wonder if she truly understands the risk of piracy in the current environment. E-books have the ability to bear digital rights management (or DRM) restrictions, which makes the book all but impossible to read if someone attempts to hijack it or transmit it. This is at the discretion of the publisher, of course. Further, a print book can be loaned out, resold, or given away any number of times, but the author only sees one royalty on that book, and that was from the original sale.

As for e-book profitability, I humbly submit the following for your review: 27 Year Old Making Millions Self-Publishing on the Kindle. Furthermore, consider that thousands of writers who, through traditional methods, may never have gotten a book deal now can find an audience through this new technology, and you’ve got an incredibly liberating new paradigm.

Yes, it is true that not every e-book author will see results like Amanda Hocking has seen. It’s true that hundreds, if not thousands, of self-published e-books are not ready for mass consumption due to underdevelopment or total lack of competent editing. But the public will find the winners, as they always do. This time, they will do it without, or even in spite of, the recommendations of the big publishers.

MJ Heiser