Tag Archives: print on demand

Writing: The Trouble With SFWA

Creative Commons: gnuckx, Flickr

SFWA stands for Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. They’ve been around for almost 50 years and protect the rights of speculative writers, which  includes legal and emergency medical aid, ironing out contract disputes, putting pressure on publishers (there is a bad boys list) and otherwise helping writers. They also maintain a list of professional markets, and to be a full Active member you must have sold three pieces, of at least $50 each, at the rate of .05/word or more. Or have sold a novel/novelette for at least $2000.

Further professional qualifications include that the publisher/magazine must have been in existence and publishing regularly for at least a year, pay the above professional rates or more, and have a distribution of at least 1000 copies. It used to be that this was 10,000 copies, if memory serves correctly, but I imagine it’s a sign of the times that not even mass market publishing houses print 10,000 copies of most books anymore. When the Canadian dollar was .50 to the US dollar there was never any consideration for the difference in rates, although it’s called SFWA and not SFWUSA. Five cents a word might have counted but when you can put the population of Canada into the state of California, it was pretty hard to hit those early distribution rates of 10,000 copies in Canada.

While SFWA does a lot of good, it’s also the old boys’ club and resistant to some change. The advent of small presses and POD (print on demand) has upset the apple cart in many areas. Costs of printing have gone up, readership of paper books is going down, and the economy is floundering. The dinosaurs need to evolve or they’ll be nothing but sludge. SFWA still cannot accept that flash fiction exists, or tweet markets. Instead of finding some in-between ground, they decided that a sale must be .05/word to be professional but if your story is 900 words or less, it won’t count. They could fix this and say at least four (or some number) sales of flash fiction or a combo of short and flash, etc. would be equivalent.

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Mary Beth Griffo Rigby, Flickr

Some change has happened, but last year, after nearly 20 years as an Associate member (having one professional sale based on the above criteria) I ended my membership and joined HWA (Horror Writers of America) instead. There are several reasons I did this. When I first joined SFWA they invited me, on the basis of selling a poem to Amazing Stories. At $36 that wasn’t bad money for a poem, even now, and I think that was around 1986. When I sent a copy of a contract for a story sale that met the requirements (and that after a year of my letters being completely ignored) I was told that my poem didn’t count and that I now had a 1/3 Associate membership, again. One step forward, one step back.

So not only did SFWA decide that poetry was no longer a valid art form nor worthy of notice, but they’d ungrandfathered me. I wonder if they would have booted me out if I didn’t have that second “pro” sale, except they probably wanted my money. Then I sold an erotic fairy tale to a Harlequin anthology. There was my third sale. (You can vote when you’re a full member.)  But guess what? Harlequin decided to do a vanity press line and SFWA disapproved (and rightly so), but instead of banning or disqualifying that particular imprint, SFWA disqualified Harlequin and all its imprints. Now Harlequin is one of the biggest publishers in the world. They’re rolling in the dough and not hurting, so why they thought they had to lure in hapless newbies with a vanity line, I’m not sure, and they should have their wrists slapped for that. But SFWA’s ban really only affected writers. Harlequin doesn’t care. I’d actually sold the story before the ban but was paid after.

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Will SFWA embrace the digital age? Creative Commons: Tony Hutchings/Getty Images

SFWA has helped me in the past with an iffy contract and they do at least have some standards but they need to evolve a bit more. I also joined HWA this year because I wanted to see what they’re like. While I haven’t even had time to look at the benefits yet I can tell you that I’m full-fledged voting member, and I did this on my credentials as a poet alone. I could have probably done it with fiction credits but the contracts I could find were for the poems. In HWA’s case their pro rate is the same for fiction but for poetry you must have had at least 10 poems published for at least $5/poem or .25/line. In fact, their definitions are more detailed but also more extensive than SFWA’s.

Arguments can be made that if I was a better writer I’d have been a full member long ago, and that of course holds water, but I’ve sold mostly to Canadian markets and even good writers sometimes can’t get their feet in the door of a tight market when a known name will sell more magazines. It will be interesting to see if HWA serves me better of if SFWA did. I could go back to SFWA at any time if I wish.

I’m a very strong advocate for poetry and anyone that’s worked on a poem can tell you it takes as long to write a poem as to write a story in many cases. Some poems take me years to perfect. I truly detest when someone pooh poohs a form of writing because it isn’t as long as a novel or a story. It’s a snobbery that not even the literary world aspires to. They have their own as many literary writers turn up their noses at “genre” writing. Half the time Margaret Atwood swears she does not write science fiction.

But any organization that recognizes poetry will probably get my vote over ones that ban it.

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Writing: Vanity Press, Vanity Review

In the world of writing there are presses we call vanity presses. A Google search of my name is a vanity search, and a vanity press lets you publish your work. Vanity is all about you but is it the best for you? Publishing with a vanity press means that there is no editorial review, and therefore no standards for quality, consistency or proper grammar. Anyone who writes a book, regardless of plot, description, comprehension, setting or character development can publish a book…if you have the money. In most cases a vanity press is a press that will take your money to print copies. Some have varying packages dependent on whether they lay out the copy, do the graphics, add extra details or just print and bind the book. Some such presses also offer editorial services for a fee.

Another form of vanity press is that which offers a contest of some sort. This is most common in the world of poetry. Inevitably, no matter what drek you send in, you’ll receive a note that you have won or placed in the competition. The catch comes in that you get no prize except for a bound edition of all the winning entries, being pretty much every poem entered by anyone. But to receive your prize edition it will just cost you $49.95 plus $10 shipping (or something similar), which means that the company probably makes $40 on each book and in the long run you’ve paid to have your work published.

Vanity published works are never considered for any awards or even reviews. Vanity publishing satisfies the writer’s need to be published, but the books are looked at askance. (I should mention that in the world of Print on Demand {POD} and the internet some very good books have come out of self-publishing and even been picked up by a publishing house but it is rare. This doesn’t mean POD is bad at all as many publishers use it.) Some of the works I’ve copyedited would never be picked up by a publisher. New writers are often unwilling to take criticism, or rewrite to a standard that would even be considered by most publishers. So they self-publish.

Small presses should not be mixed up with vanity publishing. A small press may use POD because they do not have a big budget and can do smaller print runs, and very little marketing. But quality work can come from them and marketing will consist of sending out some review copies, word of mouth and selling at every fair or convention. To that end, a review is a great thing to get.

So now we have vanity reviews. A few “reviewers” have decided that if you want a review, well you can pay for it and then we’ll give you your review. One such company is ForeWord Reviews Foreword Reviews Guidelines. It seems that they are partially legit with their print magazine but now offer a digital review for a small fee of $99. Then they have their full fee for review service called Clarion, for only $305. For half that price I’ll do a review.

What’s the problem with a paid for review? This: you cannot trust that the review is giving an honest and informed opinion but just that the company is a mill for making money and that the review will be in favor since you paid and they want you to pay again for your next book. Sad. Don’t go there. In fact, this vanity review service from ForeWord Reviews has been their response not only to self-published authors but also to small presses. For more information, you can go to the following links.

http://www.mobylives.com/ForeWords_vanity.html

http://www.midwestbookreview.com/jimcox/jul_01.htm (check out #2)

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The Demise of the Printed Word

When I say printed word, I mean that literally. Not the electronic word nor the spoken word but everything from books to newspapers are in jeopardy of a discontinued existence. Nearly everyone these days has a computer and is connected to the internet, even the poorest people. In essence the computer has supplanted the TV and in fact could take over that role, completely being one system for everything: music, TV and internet resource/communications tool.

Many of us don’t enjoy sitting at our desks, reading or even watching a computer screen for hours. But then we have laptops so you can move to a more comfortable setting. Imagine a large, wide-screen TV and your console (read keyboard) at your couch, remote and wireless. Weird future? No, we have this ability right now and it will only be a matter of years until we see this as a common evolution.

On top of making computer usage more comfortable, there are a myriad of PDAs (personal digital assistants) or whatever fancy name they’re branded under. These are the small, light, handheld devices to which you can download images or text. Some people are already reading stories on devices as small as Palm Pilots or the slightly bigger ebook styles that would be the equivalent size of a thin paperback. So it won’t matter what you want. There will be some form of electronic medium on which to view images, listen to music and read written works.

What still stands in the way of full electronic immersion for the common person is that the cost is somewhat prohibitive, not every book you want is available, the tactile feel is very different between paper and plastic/metal and we don’t always like reading onscreen. One trend that has become prevalent with computers and the internet is our short attention spans. People like short paragraphs to read and stories of a certain length. Fill the screen with a huge block of text and our attention deficit minds wander off to another webpage or site. We’re not willing to sit as long to read onscreen. How that will translate to palm readers overall remains to be seen.

You could say the internet is perpetuating a lack of concentration and patience. So how long a paragraph can someone put on any of these reading ebooks and still keep someone from wandering away? I doubt Victor Hugo will read well on an ebook format, but I could be wrong. So what we’ll have is shorter and shorter sentences and paragraphs and perhaps even books, which could lead to a new fad in literature, that of simplified writing. There are already twitter websites. That’s worrisome in itself for the intricacies and depths of plot.

Even more problematic is the future for writers. There will be more internet publishers, not willing to actually hire a copy editor and pay them a decent wage to correct a manuscript. Instead, they’ll offer the editor a portion of the net sales, so the copy editor or proofreader will work for free or even peanuts unless the book sells through. Authors will not even get an advance against royalties but again a share of the books that have actually sold. They’ll write first and maybe never get paid later or be paid a couple of bucks.

Now most writers have written first, and sold later so that, you could say, is the same as it’s always been. But copy editors don’t work for free and writers now can “sell” their books to a publisher and still get less than they should if they sold to a traditional publisher. With low cost output to the epublisher, an author should get a much larger percentage. If the epublisher also does print on demand paper publishing than there should be a separate rate for that as the overhead would be slightly higher for shipping and printing. But how well does an epublisher advertise or do they leave it up to internet searches rather than promoting an author? This too can make the difference between putting your book on a dusty eshelf or having it actually sell.

What does the publisher put out? Very little in costs. They acquire the book and the editing for free and run a website that lists these items, where people can stop in to buy them. Perhaps the publisher must run the manuscript through their program to format it properly but once you have it set up, it’s not that much work.  If a novel is bought, the publisher gets the lion’s share and some of the rest of the money is divvied up to the author, editor and perhaps artist. This is a way to have authors work for free.

This may sound like a prediction but it is already happening with many epublishers. As well, with news readily available on the internet, actual newspaper sales are dropping. Some newspapers have stopped paying freelance journalists. Why bother when everyone and his robodog is sending in articles? Writing has only been a rich profession for a few but it may well become one of the poorest paid professions, if pay still enters into it.

My advice to all writers: don’t give up writing but don’t quit your day job either. Be very careful what epublishers offer. Ask them about advertising, marketing and where your books will be shown. Do they actually copy edit (everyone’s books can use a copy edit)? Do they also offer paper copies and what percentage can you expect? Also is that percentage of books produced or sold and of net or reatil price? Very important, that.  The electronic future does not seem to offer riches to authors.

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Writing: Mass Marketing & Book Stores

Yesterday I wrote about the demise of bookstores and received this reply from Carolyn Gordon http://creativewellness-carolyn.blogspot.com

I found this an interesting look at the book shop industry. My position on this is as a writer and avid reader. I have to admit I don’t have terribly books published as yet, and I get most of my books from the library, but I have a few ideas.

I’m wondering about the rise in self-publishing. I feel partnerships of self-publishers and independent booksellers could really make a go of it if they got organised.
Self-publishers would have a place to distribute their books, booksellers would have a large range of quirky books to sell.

Maybe I’m a dreamer who had fantasies of running a bookshop and reading books all day, but it’s an idea. Ideas are good things, aren’t they?

Of course all publishers have distribution warehouses, whether their own or a contracted one, with reliable shipping and distribution. If the publisher is a small press, they may mail out/ship their own books. Distribution is the hardest part of the game. You might have the greatest book since the Bible but if people don’t see it, they can’t buy it. The other part of this is, of course, advertising.
Now we get to Carolyn’s point about self-publishers and independent book sellers. The problems I just mentioned can affect the self-published author. How do you advertise and distribute your book? Should you be successful in advertising, how do you get the book to a hundred different bookstores across the country and in a timely manner? I have edited a fair number of manuscripts, some of them then self-published to different success levels. The most successful was the one called Where to Walk Your Dog in Vancouver. Ross had me edit for grammar, consistency and style, as well as checking the page proofs. He did his own layout and then took the book to a printers. The cost breaks are usually at 2000 books. He also found someone to distribute his book and it was region specific. He sold out his first run.
With mass market publishing, publishers may print 50,000-100,000 books or more…or less. Hardcovers would start at 2000 and go up depending on the popularity of the author. This model may have changed in recent years, which I found out when I asked a published friend when her book (in hard cover and trade paper) was going to go into mass market. She said her books didn’t sell enough to warrant mass. In the days of old new authors would be published in the paperback format first and only if their names and stories caught on would they go to hard cover or trade. Nowadays the publisher would rather only make 2000 books than have 45,000 returned.
So a self-publisher may have to deal with what to do with books that don’t sell. It may be bite the bullet and leave them there until they’re put in the super cheap discount bin, or going around to local bookstores dropping off and picking up copies. At the bookstore I was at we sometimes had local people come by with books and comic/graphic novels. They were often sold on consignment, which can be 60-40, 50-50, 40-60 or any other amount in between. Often the books didn’t sell and the author never came back for them.
Self-published books can also range from really good to abysmal. There is no editor or publishing house saying, this doesn’t meet a set of standards. At the same time when publishing houses have a set limit on what they can and will publish it allows an author another way for their work to be seen. A smart author will get some professional copy editing. It will make the book look more professional but there is no guarantee that it will sell. Understanding or paying someone for graphic design and layout will also help.
So yes, a bookseller might take self-published books but it would take some severe dedication on the part of the the self-published author. There is the in-between world of print on demand (POD), which is being used moreso by authors and publishers, especially those that run small presses. I don’t know enough about this area to talk knowledgably on it yet.

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Writing: Advice on Getting Published

A little while ago someone asked me:

 I am here desirous to find a faithful publisher for my book…. What useful counsel can you give to me.

I’m not sure what is meant by faithful publisher but finding a publisher is a mixture of you wanting them and them wanting you. There are literally thousands of publishers. There are some that publish all types and genres and others that specialize. So the first thing to do is figure out if your book is a how-to, a biography, history, fantasy, romance, literary, sports, spiritual, etc.

Once you know who your reading audience is, you can then research publishers. Writer’s Digestputs out a series of books on markets. They’re specific, such as, literary markets, short story markets, romance markets, etc. These books give good information on how to write a query letter, which is the first step to what to include in your submission package. Some publishers only want a query letter. Others want a letter, a synopsis and the first three chapters. Some only want agented submissions, which means you must go through the process of querying agents first. It’s best to read up on what the publisher wants first. They received hundreds of manuscripts and someone who hasn’t bothered to research the market and sends something in the wrong format or way is likely to piss off an editor and have their manuscript tossed.

Writer’s Digest also lists publishers and markets, giving short descriptions, addresses and editor names. It’s good to read up on the advice and then to start submitting. It’s important to make sure you submit your manuscripts in the proper format, which in most cases is double spaced text, no extra space between paragraphs, regular font and size, no right justification, word count, page numbering and name. There is enough information out there that tells you what to send and what not to.

Outlines by chapter, or synopses also are often required so make sure they’re laid out well and contain what is the main action/point of each chapter. Taking courses or workshopping manuscripts as well as outlines is not a bad idea. And of course, making sure your manuscript is polished and free of as many grammatical and spelling errors as possible does improve your chances.

Besides researching the right publisher for your manuscript, it’s not a bad idea to check the legitimacy and publishing record of a publisher. Find out what they’ve published and do internet searches both on the publisher name and the book titles they’ve put out. There are vanity presses that charge you to put everything together. Your chances of making a profit are small. There are print on demand publishers that will work out a deal for self-publishing but depending on how they’re set up, you will need to figure out how to advertise and distribute your book. Unless you know what you’re doing, you could have some very expensive doorstops and going with established well known publishers with marketing departments and established distribution is worth it’s weight in gold.

I once edited a book for a friend who was writing a guide on places to walk your dog. He did his own layout and found a printer. Then he found a local book rep who would market it to the bookstores and see to distribution through a local book distributor. That worked well but the book was locally focused. In most cases you’re going to want national distribution if you hope to make any money or sell your book.

Then all you have to do is keep submitting your book to publishers until they bite. Sometimes they’ll ask to see a few chapters, and then they may ask to see a full manuscript. This process can take months. Expect the average of three months before seeing a reply to even a query. It’s best to send out query letters to many publishers at once. Persevere. Like writing it takes work to get published and some is just the persistence of sending out your manuscript until you hit the right publisher at the right time.

http://www.writersdigest.com/GeneralMenu/

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