Marchbooks' Blog

July 26, 2009

Integrity in the Publishing Industry

It is difficult to become recognized as a new small publisher. With so many books being published every day, it is a challenge to stand out from the masses. Getting your titles reviewed is one way to spread the word about new releases. But, how does one separate the legitimate reviewers from the not-so-legitimate reviewers?

Darned if I know.I bet you thought I was going to drop some great pearl of wisdom on you. Unfortunately, I am fresh out. As a novice publisher, I anticipated a pretty straight-forward process when it came to getting book reviews: find a list of reviewers, send out the ARCs and wait impatiently by the mailbox for the flood of reviews.

Okay, so there is no comprehensive list of reviewers. New plan – painstakingly compile a list of likely reviewers. We did, and it was painstaking.

Even with our list in hand, it did not seem advisable to send copies out willy nilly without the recipient knowing of their pending arrival. So, we sent out a shot of emails announcing our books availability for review.

Because we are new, I did not anticipate that people would be falling over themselves to respond, especially being that the list included major  reviewers like Kirkus, The Harrow and NY Times. What I did not expect was to have 50% of the emails returned to us undeliverable. Apparently there are others out there who are even more remiss than I about updating their websites.

We forged ahead, sending out 30 ARCs of each title to a select group of reviewers. That was two months ago. We had included Midwest Book Review on our list after hearing that they were particularly kind to those who were new to the publishing business.

Approximately one month after that mailing, I received an email from MBR saying that they were declining to review our books because we had sent advance review copies rather than finished books. My faux pas. We had not noticed that they only reviewed post publication copies. I replied with an email that apologized for the oversight and asked them to reconsider their decision. I plead my case. ‘We are a new small publication with a limited budget for review copies. And, after all, the ARCs that were sent were very close to finished (a sentiment that one of their reviewers, Hank Luttrell, readily acknowledged in an email AFTER WE DISCOVERED THAT HE WAS TRYING TO SELL OUR REVIEW COPIES ON THE INTERNET!).

Now, I get that reviewers have to be selective and cannot review every book that comes across their desk.  I would not ask or condone just throwing rejected books away. I think that donating them would be a highly acceptable option…but, trying to make a profit off of them…

This left little doubt in my mind that their request for final copies was not in good faith. After all, they show no compunction for selling an item which is clearly marked ‘Not For Resale’. What other possible motivation would they have for this insistence on finished copies only?

Starting a new business is an arduous task, made even more difficult by people like this who try to profit off of another’s efforts. These books; The Little Insanity and Nightsweats in Bigelow Hollow  are the fruits of someone else’s labor. The publisher went to the expense of printing, packaging and shipping these books to the reviewer. The reviewer responded with a despicable and unscrupulous (in my opinion) act. Is this a cottage industry for MBR – soliciting review copies and then reselling them? Without question, this is not an isolated incident. We sent two titles for review and both copies became available for sale by Hank Lutrell.

Is there no integrity left in the world? It seems that this has become quite an accepted practice. Biblio.com has over 9000 titles listed which bear the ARC descriptor.

It comes down to this – Hank Luttrell, through Midwest Book Reviews, presented himself as a book reviewer. His name was not picked out of a phone book. On the basis of that representation, publishers send review copies (and if MBR has its way, finished copies) to them for review. Certainly, if the reviewer had deigned to read and review these books, I would not take exception to his selling the less-than-pristine copies. He would have earned them. But, sans the review, he has shown himself to be just what he is – an opportunist trying to make a buck off of another person’s sweat and effort. Shame on you.

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July 20, 2009

POD – The Greener Side of Publishing

In the constant pursuit of information on all things publishing, I recently finished Peter Bowerman’s, ‘The Well-Fed Self – Publisher’. It is a handy tool that does a good job of taking the reader through the process of self-publishing, in an easy, step-by-step progression. I have no mind to remake the wheel here. Suffice it to say that, if you are thinking of self-publishing, this would be a useful addition to your library.

This blog is devoted to the one area in the book that I took exception to – the consummate disparagement of POD as an option for the self-publisher. Bowerman devotes a full chapter to this issue ‘Print-On-Demand (POD): Dream or Disappointment’. Throughout, he paints POD with a pretty dark brush.

I’ll begin by acknowledging the fact that one reason for this jaundiced viewpoint may be the fact that the information is dated, the book being copyrighted in 2007. I will piggyback on this statement by pointing to this as clear evidence of how fast this technology is moving along. Perhaps, in 2007, the author’s comments rang true, but in only two years, the picture has changed dramatically.

First of all, Bowerman seems to contradict his own text when he, time after time, refers to POD as only a technology (which it is). But, in castigating it, he points to turn-key publishers like iUniverse and Author House (apparently Lulu was just coming on the scene at that time).

This blog is not meant to criticize Bowerman for being short-sighted and failing to see into the future, but to clarify a misconception that a novice might draw from this text.

First of all, POD is a technology. It is a technology which, as time goes by, is becoming more widely available and, if we are smart, will someday be credited with changing the face of publishing.

The traditional publishing model, which has changed little in several hundred years, is founded on speculation – write a book, print it in huge quantities (to reduce the per unit cost) and buckshot it to as many outlets as possible to see if it will sell. To accomodate this business model, we must use vast amounts of energy and natural resources to print the books. Then we waste more energy to ship these books to their temporary destination, where we will expend many more man-hours unloading, unpacking and displaying these books for the customer (let me repeat – ALL ON SPECULATION). We hope, but don’t know, that people will buy these books. The hope of the publisher is that, if they put a book in every window and on every display table, the customer will eventually relent and buy a copy.

Inevitably, after three or four months (sometimes much less), these books will get subplanted with the new flavor of the day. So, we expend more man-hours and energy to ship these books back to the publisher where they will be discounted, remaindered or turned into pulp. This arrangement benefits no one. The bookstore owner may see this as a positive, no-risk solution and certainly, there is little incentive for them to seek change. They are filling their stores with inventory that is often returned for credit before their checks have even cleared, effectively turning them into so many consignment shops.

Perhaps, if these store owners had more of a vested interest in whether or not their inventory sold, there would be more regard for purchasing saleable titles in realistic quantities and applying effective marketing techniques.

I realize that instant gratification is an integral aspect of our lives today. However, would it be such a crime to be in a position where you had to  order a book and return two days later to pick it up? And, that is only the worst case scenerio. For a small increase in the end cost, POD removes the necessity for huge print runs. Certainly, the Kings and Grishams of our time will still merit offset printing, but now there is a better option for the other 95% of titles on the market. Now, with the arrival of Lightningsource’s Espresso machine, a customer can have their book printed right on site, while they wait. Ain’t technology grand? I am sure the quality will not be that of offset printing, or current POD standards for that matter, but that is what is wonderful about human ingenuity. There is no doubt in my mind that the quality of these books will improve at lightning speed, now that we have the technology in hand.

The publishing industry is struggling and it is not because the community-at-large has lost its interest in a good book. It is the industry’s refusal to change that will be its downfall. POD is the cure for this flawed business model. The quality of POD is now almost on a par with traditional offset printing. The speed and efficiency of the model allows for a title to be printed and delivered in days. Self-publishers can take advantage of the turn-key operations like iUniverse, Outskirts Press or Lulu  to fulfill their needs for book design, or they can do it themselves with printers like Createspace or Lightningsource (if they have a strong heart and nerves of steel – believe me, it is not a task for the faint of heart).

True, if you use one of the turn-key operations, you will pay for the service – in two ways 1. an upfront charge for the design of your book and 2. a percentage of each sale. This is somewhat unfair, in my mind. These companies should not be entitled to a portion of sales unless they generate from that company’s site. But, hey, it’s their company, so they call the shots. In the end, your % return on each sale will still be better than the meager royalty you would receive through a traditional publisher.

POD is not an option to be disparaged. It should be embraced and seen as what it is – the key to a better future for the publishing industry. But, I key does not work unless you use it. Change is not comfortable for anyone, but the time has come. Let’s embrace a new era for the written word.

www.marchbooks.com

July 14, 2009

Thoughts on Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ by Janus Kane

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 8:38 pm
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I recently finished reading Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ for the second time. What a wonderful addition to any writer’s library. The first time I read it, I was on vacation. Understandably, it did not get my undivided attention, but I didn’t fret. I knew that it was a book I would be returning to.

Stephen King is a very generous author – he does not seem to hold much back. The first half of the book is a delicious buffet of reminiscences; the history that brought him to the typewriter and kept him there. For someone who admits to only spotty childhood memories, he manages to give us the full flavor of the experience.

Although it is autobiographical (not my first choice in reading matter), it is peppered with so many lively anecdotes and injected with so much humor, that I found myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion. It is such a departure from his traditional horror/fiction, but he handles the transition with ease.

King then moves on to the nuts and bolts of his writing process. There is not much by way of revelation in this material but his analogies are interesting and thought-provoking. He begins by summing up his thoughts on what writing is. To King, (if I can paraphrase) writing is a form of telepathy between author and reader. It is an interesting concept that rings true to my ear. King takes you through an exercise where he ‘telepathically’ plants the image of a table covered with a red cloth. A cage, containing a rabbit with the number eight on its back, sits on the table.

That image, like so many that he has drawn before, easily takes shape in my mind. I cannot dispute the fact that writing is, in fact, a type of telepathy, sending stories, emotions and images across the miles. However, that is not the first thing that came to mind when I read the word ‘telepathy’.

I do not try to over-think it, but the question of where my own stories come from is one that trots through my head from time to time. After all, my own genesis as a writer came much later in life than did Mr. King’s. It is a strange and humbling experience, the first time you see a story take shape beneath your pen. Even stranger still is when you see that story take a U-turn, following a direction that you never anticipated.

My recently completed novel, ‘Fate Laughs’, was originally meant to follow a 15-year old Southern girl through the fallout resulting from an unexpected interracial relationship. Suffice it to say, the story took many twists and turns before it touched on that particular social aspect. Was it planned, plotted or contrived? Not in the least. I just put my pen to the paper and followed where it led.

That is what I think of when I hear the word ‘telepathy’ in relationship to writing. Call it your muse, the universe or divine inspiration, these stories seem to be coming from somewhere. At least for me, it does not seem to be an act of pure creation.

When I am truly in writing mode, I have come to see myself as a receiver (much like a radio receiver). Because I generally work on more than one story at a time, I sit with my brightly colored composition notebooks piled before me. Then, I tune into the story by reading the previous chapter. Once I get a clear reception, I write until the reception gets muddy, at which time I pick up another notebook and tune into that story. It is the greatest of entertainment. I hope you enjoy the results half as much as I do.

http://www.januskane.com

 

To Be Released in August 2009

To Be Released in August 2009

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