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Thursday 26 March 2015

Here Be Monsters!

Old maps fascinate me, the elaborately decorated charts and drawings from the sixteenth and seventeenth century when the world, to European explorers, still possessed vast tracts of Terra Incognito and the empty spaces were embellished with fanciful designs and interpretations of fantastic creatures and the monsters of the deep.

Starting out as a published author, launching Iceline on Smashwords back in 2012  felt like heading out with such a chart. There were more gaps on my knowledge than anything as travelled a learning curve so steep it felt like the ascent of a rock face.

Little has changed, the curve is still steep and the landscape like the old maps appears to be changing as the blanks are filled in: and the monsters?

They are there, the slick marketeers and professional twisters eager to sell their version of your dream - where you do all the work and are relieved of hundreds or thousands of pounds/dollars for the privilege of seeing your book published.

Indies Unlimited's, March Madness continues and a couple of days ago RJ Crayton ponders why, despite the bad publicity writers still fall for the Vanities and authors cheerfully sing their praises, and comes up with an interesting answer; Stockholm Syndrome. Authors believe publishing a book is an expensive process, so the exorbitant fees are expected, what she finds puzzling is the enthusiasm.

How, why, do we fall for the same old story? The smooth patter, the glossy brochure and the baggage that goes with it? In the traditional publishing world, the publisher speaks with unquestioned authority.

The Traditional publishers never describe themselves as traditional, and the vanities never use the V word in describing their publishing activities. Both are simply identified as publishers, so they apparently 'speak' with the same authority.

Authority requires obedience, often unquestioning; do they actually get it?

Signing up with a publisher puts you on their side, and the subtle threads of authority and obedience tie the two parties together with a requirement to toe the line. The higher the cost the more compliant or enthusiastic the author may become; up to a point!

The point is not fixed, the tipping point varies from person to person and the circumstances of the arrangement, a relationship explored in the 1963 at Yale University by Stanley Milgram. The result of his experiments helped develop his Agency Theory regarding behaviour in a social situation. With the modifications on the original parameters (636 partiicipants in 18 variation studies) he identified different reactions and conditions of compliance.

The degree of obedience is supported by the moral or legal legitimacy of the authority figure, and many aspects of  our upbringing support this compliance; perhaps this suggests an explanation why authors taken by the Vanity Press enthuse about their situation when the overwhelming data suggests it's not a good place to be.

This may be a form of dissonance reduction, where the product continues to be sold after the purchase is made and the customer, (a favourite reference among the Vanities) sees the other brands which may be as good or even better. The sales patter continues to reinforce the original action and affirm the buyers choice, confirming the wisdom of their decision. Their enthusiastic support for the Vanity Press helps to support this belief and turning against this level of pressure calls for real courage, to admit that a costly mistake has been made does not come easy.

Writing involves everything, the head and the heart working as allies. The process comes out of the head, but the passion and the drive is from the heart and there lies the strength and the weakness.

No one wants to see the thing they have nurtured, cherished and loved bashed around and knocked up in the harsh world outside our imagination and we know that the route to publication can be a difficult one, almost impossible - I said almost - without the backing of the publishing house in not too distant past.

The changing landscape means that the ancient stranglehold is slowly being weakened and more routes to publication are available than have ever been possible. The landscape is changing rapidly but how the author is seen changes more slowly.

The stigma of the self-published author as lesser being is fading, not as quickly as it should, and a trawl of the Internet reveals literary greats who originally self-published, but the image has been tarnished beyond measure by the Vanity Press, a business model designed to produce a book at the author's expense and the company's benefit.

The reasons they succeed are complex, as involved as the personality and character of the people they target, and that is exactly what we are, targets. Everything about the market is designed to catch you out, sneak under your radar and suddenly they have you, caught on the hook and like an expert fisherman they know how to play you, and play you they will, for ever penny/cent they can, so what is the best protection?

Imagination, the power of the mind you used to write your story, use it to work out the angles of the deal you are being offered, if it sounds too good to be true, tell yourself that it is, and look at it closely. You may be a single click away from a shedload of trouble!

The available resources are the greatest limitation to any course of action. Working with the traditional/trade publishers doesn't cost the writer, your obvious talent has been recognised, snapped up and acknowledged and the cost to you is minimal. the publisher puts their money into the project.

Without the backing of a traditional or the burden of a vanity publisher; how close to that figure can we get?

Friday 20 March 2015

Boot and Other Foot?

The madness continues at Indies Unlimited, the #PublishingFoul features reached the halfway point in the month with an update on the story so far.

A quick way to catch up with the information gleaned from the four corners of the Indies world is to click on the referee image on the right hand sidebar. The link takes you to the #PublishingFoul index page and posts directly related to the March Madness.

It doesn't make for easier reading, but highlights the frequently asked question, why do we, (writer's) fall for the scams? The simple truth maybe that they are better at the dark practises of scamming and fleecing than we are at spotting the same. Knowledge is the answer, and the greatest defence, and one of the strongest elements I've discovered among Independent authors is a willingness to share information. This month's features on Indies Unlimited supports this. 

We all want to sell our books, of course, but that doesn't mean we have to compete with each other when it comes to steering away from trouble. Any one of us may have narrowly avoided the pitfalls by  way of another author sharing their experience.

The update offers a review and links to a couple of useful pages; How to avoid a scam and  Resources for Authors, for legal advice and tips on where and how to research the useful details for avoiding the scammers.

The stakes are high! David Gaughran's posts at Let"s Get Digital, and his research on AuthorSolutions, reveals some of the figures involved. A new piece in the story appeared today with an appeal from David to spread the word to writers everywhere:  AuthorSolutions are sponsoring the Bay Area Book Festival; a very profitable ground for their activities, to the cost of many authors!.

Victoria Strauss offers more information at Writer Beware and one particular link discussing Vanity/Subsidy Publishers caught my attention. A lengthy piece worth taking the time to study, especially the case histories and the custodial  jail sentences given to publishers. The owner of Northwest Publishing, a Vanity Press based in Utah, received thirty years for cheating authors out of millions of dollars. (Some of the details may seem dated, but the page has been checked recently - Dec 2014.)

Labyrinthine, yes it may be, chasing the links between the sites offering information, but and it's a big but; taking the time to work your way through the links may save you a lot of money and of heartache.

Following the links proffered by the Vanities may drag you along at the same pace; however the end result may be very different to the one you wanted or expected to find.

Tread carefully, there are plenty of people out there who will trample your dreams without finding that we've been doing the same, to our own dreams!

Saturday 14 March 2015

Still treading on dreams!

Earlier this week ago I posted about Indies Unlimited March Madness, the feature of the month being experiences - usually bad - of independent authors at the hands of predatory publishers, Predominantly the vanity presses and new material has been posted on the site since my piece was published here.

The big player in the field is Author Solutions, but they are not alone and the predators aren't always the size of the proverbial Great White. Some are smaller, akin to the Piranha but the methods and principles are the same.

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Site Update - contact notification glitch

I had to apologise to a reader Down Under this afternoon. They had popped off an email and the message was held up in my in-tray. The notifications settings on my smartphone needed adjustment. Problem now rectified.

So, Dear Reader, Down under, thanks for the email and I hope the next time you drop me a line the response will be a lot quicker.

The email was asking about The Obedience of Fools, and what happened?

The story hit the buffers so to speak, and needed a good dose of looking at, and other stuff had to be dealt with.

I Should have it back on track before long.

Best wishes

Monday 9 March 2015

Don't tread on my dreams!

"He wishes for the cloths of heaven" by W.B. Yeats describes how the plaintiff desiring to gift the glories and splendour of the skies has nothing to offer but dreams, and laying them out asks for care lest they be trampled under foot.

Yeats' writes of love, but how does it feels as a writer; clutching the completed manuscript, edited and proofed, and searching for the agent or publisher who will lift it and send it soaring into the wider world?

Dreams indeed and for some the trampled shards remain. This month, Indies Unlimited are featuring those who who have a story to share about the pitfalls of publishing. The first post by Lynn Cantwell "Fouled Part1: Taking on Scammy Publishers" reveals how the focus came about, an email from a writer revealed a hole in the coverage and offered the invitation to anyone with a story to tell. Guest posts by David Gaughran, well known for his work in revealing the predatory world of vanity publishing and his ongoing exploration of Author Solutions in particular - a Hydra of classical proportions if ever there was one- and its nefarious alliances. He offers a useful list in "How To Avoid Publishing Predators" joining the traditional with the vanities; comprehensive and illuminating in the connections he highlights.

Offerings by TD McKinnon recall "Surviving The Scammer Minefield"  among the smaller "independent" presses and the consequences of partnership publishing and Sophie Jonas Hill reveals ten ways to prevent being scammed, and speaks from her own experience.

One of the valuable assets of the self-publishing community is the willingness,  the enthusiasm to share the knowledge we have gained on our own journeys. Why, why retread old ground. it's old ground to us, but those who follow are stepping into unknown territory and our insights and knowledge are their map.

If you have a story to tell, check back on Indies Unlimited and see how the month unfolds or share your own story via their contact form.

I've often found the posts on Indies Unlimited useful, entertaining and friendly. Click the links, use them as signposts on your journey, and good luck.

Friday 6 March 2015

Cautionary tale from Becca Mills

It popped up in a tweet by David Gaughran and had me clicking the link to a jaw dropping story.

The-active-voice is the website of the author Becca Mills, a writer of speculative fiction, and from the subject matter of a recent blog I don't think her speculative musings could have prepared her for what happened. She recalls the trials of her novel Nolander being withdrawn from Amazon and Smashwords by a malicious DMCA notice citing a breach of copyright, and her endeavours with some degree of success to track down her accuser and make the book available again.

Over quite a lengthy post she unfolds the story of what happened and how she rectified the situation, so that happily now Nolander is back up on Smashwords and Amazon.

Take the time to read through and ponder what she has to say, I believe it will be worth the time and effort. 

Sunday 1 March 2015

What are you reading this month?


March is Read an eBook Month, and once again kicks off with Read an eBook Week. For the Seventh year in succession smashwords are promoting read an eBook week with a site wide promotion and the Grange novels are part of the action this year, skip across to smashwords.com and bag yourself a good read; What You Ask For and Control: Escape have a 50% discount, enter RAE50 at the checkout to claim yours, then explore the other talent on offer this year.