Monday, April 9, 2012

Writing, Editing, Publishing, and Patience

It has been a long time since I posted anything.  The main reason is because I've spent my time working on a new book.  Every morning from 4 to 6 or so for the past seven months and this past Friday and Saturday, two ten-hour days to really get my book in readable shape.  The other reason is because I've grown very skeptical of the ebook world.  Some authors believe this is the be-all and end-all, the inevitable future, and some still think it's a place for impatient writers to see their books "published."

Let's look at the first part, the writing part.  It's never been too challenging for me to be disciplined enough to sit down daily and write and, over time, produce a first draft that more or less holds together.  My problem has always been impatience.  Once a first draft is done, I want to move on to something else.  Finally, this time, I forced myself to go back and edit, edit, edit.  Joe Hill's blog post on revision from last August really inspired me.  He's an author I highly respect and his advice, as well as his own practice, is to write at least 5 drafts and--this part is key--completely rewrite the book for the third draft, every word, line, etc.  So, the first draft took me from Sept. to Nov.; the second draft to Jan.; and the third draft until the very end of March.  Then another quick pass through and I have something my wife and a few close friends can read.

Is this book markedly better than my other efforts?  Maybe.  I don't know.  Spending all that time editing really makes it tough to be objective.  In Betsy Lerner's ( Forest for the Trees, she discusses this problem in detail.  (The book is also very practical and inspiring; I recommend it wholeheartedly.)  The real question is:  Was the 'Joe Hill' method of editing worthwhile?

Yes.  I have never gotten so inside one of my books before.  I can quote passages of it.  I can recall what page something happens.  I think it's crucial for me to know my book that well, if I have any hope of creating something worth reading.  I've also learned I need to go slower.  Sometimes during that third-draft retype, I went on autopilot and simply copied.  That is unproductive.  When I started edits for draft #4, I was dismayed and a bit depressed at how much needed further editing.  With the next book, I will go slower and be more critical.

However, editing is a process.  I'm nowhere near an expert, so for me to get to a "publishable" stage may take innumerable drafts.  That, of course, tries my patience.  I need to get over that, if that is, I want to be taken seriously.

Which brings us to self-publishing.  We know of the success stories.  We know of the best-selling author who turned down a six-figure deal to self-publish.  We know about Amanda Hocking.  Speaking of, in an interview here, she discusses her tremendous work ethic (5,000 - 8,000 words daily) and shares her self-publishing insight.  Of the current market, she writes:

"Right now, the market's gotten really saturated, and there's so many books that it's hard to make them stand out. I was fortunate when I started publishing; the market was just starting to take off. I think that writers need to just focus more on writing and relax. I know it's really hard when you're publishing to separate yourself from it. In the beginning, I was obsessed with checking my sales every 10 seconds. I think you need to take that deep breath and take a step back and focus on writing and just relax and be present on the Internet. If you are writing and you're putting out something that's good, I think eventually you will find an audience. It's just a matter of how long it will take."

This is a great point.  If I don't spend quality "present" time on the Internet, how will anyone know my books exist?  At the same time, who the hell cares that I've written and self-published a book?  She writes:

"I think the biggest things that I see people do is becoming very spammy. Or they'll comment on blogs and all they really say is, "Yeah, I agree with you because my book is like this." They're not adding anything to that conversation. They just immediately start talking about their book. I get tweets all the time from people that say, "Buy my book." I know nothing about this person. I know nothing about their book. All they're saying is to buy their book and I'm not going to do that. They're just being obnoxious."

I am guilty of that.  And I tend to disregard when other authors post that he or she has a new book out and that I should BUY NOW.  I click "Like" and that's that.  Hocking makes a point about authors needing to be part of the conversation, that whole being "present" online aspect.  

And when will I find the time to do that when I'm busy writing and working a full-time job?  Cry me a river, right?  Even so, it's a valid point.  Just as in "traditional" publishing, the odds are stacked high against success.

Am I being too negative because I haven't hit the million-dollar status yet?  Maybe.  But here's an interesting question that no one seems to ask:  Do you buy self-published e-books?

Obviously, people do.  But who?

I will download free samples endlessly and read and read.  Of ten free samples, I might purchase one book.  And I am biased against self-published books.  Even if the sample is good, I still might not buy it because there's nothing else persuading me.  Most authors have ten to thirty 5-star reviews and, here comes the negativity again, I can't help but think they are friends of the author or other writers looking for a quid pro quo investment.

Okay then, so now what?  Dare I say, back to the traditional publishing route?  I hear you cry, The future is e-books!  Probably, but I'm betting those e-books that sell are still coming from publishing houses, big or small, because readers like me will think, Well, I at least know a few people have read and approved this and invested the time to put something out that is of quality

Why, for instance, have so many formerly self-published authors signed up with Amazon's own publishing imprint?  Why do that if the new world is a self-published world?  Because skeptics like me need to know my investment (even my measly 0.99) is worth it.  Some authors create fake publishing companies to trick readers like me.

Now, the big guy of self-publishing is J.A. Konrath.  I respect him immensely, but he is also sitting high atop his millions, laughing at the little authors like me who find viability in the traditional route.  Why is he laughing?  Because he can.  He worked his ass off, worked tirelessly, and made a fortune.  I applaud him.  But to say that the asteroid has hit ( and the Big 6 are the last dying dinosaurs seems just as impossibly arrogant as saying e-books are a fad. 

Konrath has made millions and you probably can too.  Assuming you put in all the hard work he has as well.  Now, if he's worked so hard, why didn't he make a fortune the traditional way?  Well, there is certainly a bias against "genre" books.  This is where the self-publishing e-book world will rule:  in the land of the genres.  People will pay $2.99 for a horror/romance/serial-killer thriller/etc. because it's like junk food.  Enough people buy the salty treat you're selling and you're rich.

Nothing wrong with that.  Hell, I'm trying to do that.

However, the Big 6 are not going to die off so long as they continue to publish books people want to read.  Even if the future sees only a mere dozen or so physical books published from the Top A-List authors, the Big 6 will downsize and survive through strong e-books and integrated media and smart packaging.

Why, after all, did Hocking sign with a big publisher?

"Having a team of people that can help me do all of the stuff so I don't have to is definitely an advantage. I was getting really bogged down and stressed out by all the little details that go into publishing a book on your own, and now there's a whole team of people that did what I did. It's much easier. I can just focus on writing a book, and then I can just send it to them, and if I have problems and stuff, I can tell them. I guess the disadvantage is that I have lost control over things. I have input and everything, but I don't get to decide how much things are priced for or when they come out. I don't mind it, but I know that for other people that would be a bigger issue. So, it was a trade that works for me.

I'm still involved with the publicity and the marketing but they set it up. They made a website, and they set up the campaigns, and they do the commercials. They've done really great marketing for me that I wouldn't have been able to do on my own; they had a big spread event in a "Hunger Game Special Edition" for People magazine. And they did commercials on MTV. That stuff I wouldn't have been able to do myself or know how to do."

And there is the other advantage:  the expertise.

In the end, however, it all comes down to the books, which goes back to the writing and the editing.  Produce something good, package it professionally and you have a great shot.  Look at Christopher Paolini:  he wrote a book and his parents spent a year carefully editing it and constructing a polished look for it before they went forward.

Which goes back to the book I've spent 7 months working on.  Should I just make a cover and publish it?  It's tempting.  Am I deluding myself hoping an agent will see "commercial" potential in my genre-ish book?  Maybe.  Look at Blake Crouch and his book Run.  He held out a while before Konrath finally pushed him into self-publishing.  But he, like Konrath, had already tried the traditional route.

I could publish my book and watch it sell 15 copies a month.  Of course, a traditional publisher might pick it up, spend a year or two prepping it, and it might sell just as dismally.

I noticed today one of my books is selling far better than the others and I thought, Okay, I need to write a sequel and get it out there soon.  Make that quick buck with my salty treat.

Paolini and his family showed patience.  

I'm still learning.