The suckosity of book spammers

April 11, 2012

You no spamma me...got it?

You’ve had it happen to you a million times, and you’d love to know whom to kill. Right? You open up your email, check your inbox, and there it is. Yet another SPAM about some person’s new book, resplendent with big colorful catch phrases like “Brilliant!” “Fabulous!” blah, blah, blah. And more often, it’s by an author who self-pubbed or went with a vanity press. Oh, and it usually includes an invitation to the author’s book signing.

Sure, I’d love to go…and bring some eggs and overripe tomatoes. I’d sit at the back of the room, and the minute the author steps up, I’d unleash my culinary bounty while screeching, “That’s for being an idiot.”

Seems harsh, right? Calling someone an idiot? But in this case, I feel justified in my irritation. I know, I can simply delete the email and move on…and I do. But what gets my Vickie Secrets in a wad is the abject cluelessness of authors who engage in this type of “publicity.” Book spamming is like hitting your book with a healthy spurtz of bug spray – guaranteed to repel all readers.

This is not effective publicity – it’s vanity publishing’s second cousin. Don’t buy into this or engage in it. If you do, bring a raincoat and umbrella to your book signing because you just might be wearing someone’s farm goods.


Gaining perspective – it’s not Us vs. You…really

September 6, 2011

I received a comment recently on my post that discussed authors who insist on keeping their e-book rights. My premise was that mainstream publishers want the physical book and e-book rights. If authors insist on keeping their e-book rights, it could result in a deal killer. The commenter wrote:

LOL! Self published author John Locke just sold his PRINT ONLY rights to Simon & Shulster (if he even gave them ‘those’ rights) to distribute his books to bookstores but he kept his digital rights! So, we self published authors have moved on from these worries already. But it was an interesting article and certainly something traditionally published authors might have to worry about. Hee hee.

For starters, good for him! I’m thrilled for the John Lockes of the world – and why wouldn’t I? He’s done something fantastic, and I celebrate his success. That he got a book deal from S&S is way cool.

What gives me pause is the commenter’s reaction – which is far from uncommon, sadly.  I don’t understand the anger. I think this comment to my post is a bit snide – not unlike a child sticking his tongue out and wagging it at me while screaming, “Nyah, nyah, looooser!”

Ok, let me backtrack. I do understand the anger, but only in a cerebral sense. Truly, this isn’t an Us vs. You business, as replies like the one above may indicate. We don’t sit in our batcaves, twisting our chinhairs while squealing about destroying the hopes and dreams of yet anther writer. Without writers, we’d all be doing something else – and really, we LOVE writers.

So I’d like to talk about perspective in hopes that we can change the dialog about those who self pub and how that fits into the publishing business.

Percentages

It’s no secret that more authors are rejected than accepted for publication. It’s always been that way. However, at no time have there been as many writers as there are today. With the advent of computers and laptops, the act of writing is a whole lot easier to do. So now anyone with a story can write on the train, lunch breaks, Starbucks, etc.

Digital printing also opened up a whole new world for do-it-yourself’ers, and for a few bucks anyone can produce a book.

With the plethora of armchair writers coming out of the woodwork, this increases publishers’ influx of queries – but it doesn’t necessarily mean an increase of marketable stories because our society has adopted the “I want it now!” mentality. With a larger population writing (and not learning how to write), the natural result is a higher percentage of rejections.

The higher percentages create a community of those who feel displaced and are angry about it – regardless of whether it’s justified.

Anger/Entitlement

Sadly, this has generated a higher number of people who misplace their anger.

Ok, I know I’ll probably catch some heat for saying that, but the majority of queries that editors see are from those whose literary grapes are very green. And what’s more distressing is the increased number of writers who don’t realize how the publishing industry works. This lack of understanding has fueled a healthy populace who bite back in some unprofessional ways.

It’s times like this that I distress over this feeling of entitlement, so I’m going to just be blunt:  Just because you wrote something, do you believe you deserve a book deal?

The comment I have at the beginning of this post suggests that we publishers have been put on notice – that no one needs us anymore, we’re irrelevant, and we better start worrying.

For starters, publishers always worry, so no one needs to make the suggestion. Secondly, why are you angry at us? Yes, many of you have received rejections, and yes, sometimes it hasn’t always been fair. But whoever said life is fair? What good does it do me to lament some book getting a Library Journal review over ours? There are many “injustices” that we encounter, but rather than making me bitter and angry, I put my head down and take steps to overcome the problem.

It used to be that rejection was an indication that perhaps you didn’t have a marketable book and this would be a good time to hone your skills. Nowadays, rejection has become fuel for anger – not betterment – and authors are biting back with a “I’ll show you” mentality. The result is a lot of really bad books flooding the market.

I applaud anyone who decides to control their writing careers, and I truly hope they become successful. But the reality is that John Locke is a Cinderella story, and for every John Locke, there are thousands of nobodies who will never sell more than twenty-five books because they are either really bad, or they aren’t properly promoted and distributed.

Comments like the one above don’t authenticate our impending demise, but rather, it validates that there will always be success stories, no matter the uphill battle they face. And that’s the beauty of humanity – there will always be achievers for those who take the time to work very hard, learn their craft, and the business.

Quality

I’ve come to interpret this anger as jealousy. People are jealous because someone else got the book deal another’s expense. Publishing doesn’t work that way. A more accurate description is, “whoever writes the best manuscript and happens to query the right editor at the right time, wins.” Given that reality, it would be much more beneficial if angry authors considered why they continually receive rejections. Manuscripts are rejected for all kinds of reasons, but the main one is a lack of quality.

Just like any business, we have to have a quality product to sell in order to stay in business. If I continually put out crappy books, no one will buy them. This means I have to have a hand on the pulse of the marketplace and consider what types of subjects are selling, and then work very hard to publish those books.

Because the marketplace is such a fickle mistress, I’m constantly on my toes, and I’m always on the hunt for a great story. That means I wade through a lot that isn’t so great, which means I reject a lot.

How is this my fault? Yet, this is the attitude I’m shown – that publishers have some grand conspiracy that will prevent most authors “the chance that they deserve.”

Here’s some tough love:  No one deserves anything. They have to earn it, and this means knowing how to write, and writing a story that publishers believe will sell well in the marketplace.

Is the system perfect? Of course not. What in life is perfect? Yet those who vent their spleens don’t afford us that very consideration.

For example, I specialize in memoir and biography. This means that many people experience something in their lives and decide to write about it. Many of these stories are too personal and won’t appeal to a wide audience, or it’s a subject that’s been written about many times – like divorce, midlife crisis, addiction, bipolar, Alzheimer’s.

When I reject these manuscripts, it’s because they are poorly written, or they aren’t unique, or the author lacks a platform, which will help with promotion. It’s about this time when I get the nastygrams about how I’m an elitist gasbag who won’t “take a chance.”

Eh…I take chances every day, as does every agent and publisher. What’s more telling is I receive rude comments from those who are very new to writing – not the experienced ones. This indicates that these new writers want what I have to offer without the benefit of working toward excellence. Quite frankly, I resent this, and I have the vanity presses to thank for this shift in attitude.

Vanity presses have long squealed about “giving authors the chance they deserve,” and “the mainstream publishers only publish established authors,” blah, blah, blah. All they’ve done is appeal to the lowest common denominator and offer a sense of entitlement – for a price, mind you.

You deserve this!

Well, no you don’t. And because of this unfortunate preemptive declaration, many writers have learned the hard way that quality really does usurp mediocrity Every. Single. Time.

Options – Room For All

There’s no secret that, given the advances with technology, publishing is in a state of change. Rather than lament what was, or try to predict what will be, what’s wrong with dealing with what is.

At no other time in publishing have there been so many options open to authors. I think it’s wonderful because there’s room for all and more chances for success. But just because these options exist doesn’t mean that one is better than the other, or that one will be successful at the expense of another. Or that one will be successful at all.

And that’s what the comment above hints at. That just because John Locke got a book deal, that we publishers have been put on notice about wanting the e-book rights. Everything is open for negotiation, so I think this comment is premature at predicting what will befall mainstream publishing.

Not every author is a John Locke…and this is an important point to drive home. All anyone sees is John’s end result – the book deal. But how many have delved into his process, his journey? Writers rarely just pop out from under a rock and become overnight successes. They’ve worked long hours to advance their skills and learn the tools that will enhance their chances of triumph.

Too often, I hear writers see a John Locke story and say, “Well, if he can do it, so can I. So long, mainstream publishing, you dirtballs.” Thing is, the John Locke stories are few and far between, so it’s dicey to discount the viability of mainstream publishers. Until everyone is achieving wild success as a self pubbed e-book author, then it’s is going remain exactly what it is:  a hit or miss proposition.

It might be more helpful to alter your perspective and do what’s appropriate for you rather than putting publishing on notice. There’s room for all, and it shouldn’t be about Us vs. You. Really.


They’ve screwed up all our words.

March 30, 2011

I’m in a mood. I just came back from reading someone’s blog where the word “Indie Publishing” was mentioned. Oh, thinks me, do we have a new small trade press on sidewalk? No. She was talking about self publishing – as in DIY.

Blink. Blink.

How and when did “indie publishing” become the definition for doing it yourself, and why did I not get the memo? Indie publishing used to mean a small trade press who was independent – that they weren’t part of a conglomerate. They acted just like their big brothers in New York, assuming all costs of production, marketing, promotion, and distribution – but their balance sheets lacked the same number of zeros.

But there are no clear-cut definitions anymore, and it’s all up for grabs as to what means what. And that puts me in a mood.

Much has changed and gotten more confusing since the time I wrote my Definitions post a year and a half ago, and it makes for some puzzling conversations.

Vanity/POD/Self/Indie Publishing

Take the lunch conversation I had with a very lovely author. Over a tasteless lunch (but wonderful company), my friend told me how she’d pubbed her first book with a POD company.

Um, no you didn’t, sez I.

Yah, I did, sez she.

No, you pubbed through a vanity press…AuthorHouse. They’re a vanity press. You paid them money to publish your book.

It was her turn to blink. But they called themselves a Print On Demand sez she.

Heh, sure they did. It sounds a lot better than calling themselves what they are: vanity. Perhaps a more polite term is “subsidy press.” But the term was originally coined because the author pays for all the production costs, which is far from free – thus the company is appealing to the author’s “vanity.”

They are not Print on Demand, which is a whole other business model, and you’ll find the definition here.

But wait, it gets even better. While at a writer’s conference, an author told me she was published by an indie press. Ooo, I know lots of them…which one? Poisoned Pen? Tyrus Books? No, she said, iUniverse.

Blink. Blink.

Um, didn’t you have to pay to get your book published? Sure, she replied.

This is when I pinch the bridge of my nose and count to ten.

It wasn’t until I got back to my room and glugged back a glass of wine that I wondered, if iUniverse is an indie press, then what the hell am I? The idea of being classified with the likes of iUniverse or AuthorHouse is as attractive as having my eyebrows singed with a flamethrower loaded on crack.

But hold on – the Gods of Insanity weren’t done with me. At that same conference, an author told me she’d self published her book. Wow, sez I, gutsy move. What’s the name of your publishing company? AuthorHouse.

Blink. Blink.

Cue pinching of nose and counting to ten.

All I can say is that the vanity/subsidy presses have been hard at work retooling their PR strategy. And why not, they certainly have the money for it. So now the word is that they are one of the following: POD, Self-Publishing, or Indie Publishing.

There…doesn’t that sound nicer? Cleaner? More attractive?

It’s like the old saying, “I don’t care what you call me, just don’t call me late for dinner.” Except in this case, the axiom is, “We do care what you call us and we want to show you that we’re really nice guys as we stick our hands into your wallet.”

I have no problem with vanity/subsidy presses, per se. But I do have a problem with purposefully fooling the public in order to look gentler, kinder, benevolent. It’s like politicians calling for “revenue enhancements.” Puhleeze. Does anyone not realize it’s simply gentler word for TAX? Why do you think those blockheads changed the terminology? To make it more palatable, to fool us.

And this is exactly what the vanity presses do. “Let’s call ourselves something else so we sound better.” And it makes for very confusing conversations because there are so many authors who are genuinely flummoxed about the manner in which they published their book.

Eh, so what’s in a definition, Pricey? Well, glad you asked. If you make writers believe you are an “indie press,” then the writers have expectations about what you’ll do for them. They see their books as being on equal footing as, say, our books. And this is where disillusionment and anger sets in.

I know because I see it all the time at writer’s conferences. Doe-eyed authors come up after my seminars and ask if their iUniverse books will be nationally distributed because they said they are an “indie press” and, gee, you said in your seminar that you’re an indie press, too.

Cue the nose pinching and counting to ten again.

No. iUniverse isn’t on the same footing as we are. Not by a long shot.

But it doesn’t stop with vanity/subsidy. Print On Demand companies have done a lovely job of calling themselves “indie presses” as well. They aren’t. Not by a long shot. If you haven’t already, go check out my post on Definitions, where you’ll see what a POD company is.

I give a seminar that breaks down all the different types of publishers, what they can and can’t do for you (based on my chapter from The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box). I also include the proper terminology so we can establish who is what. When I got to the Print On Demand section of my seminar, a woman in the audience got very red-faced and stormed out of the room. Yikes. I was fearful I’d hit a nerve.

Later that night, she bought me a glass of wine and apologized for bursting out of the room. She was recently published by a well-known POD press – except they don’t call themselves POD, but rather, “independent publisher.” Because of that, she thought she was going to be nationally distributed in bookstores, along with marketing and promotion. Yes, yes, she’d been told they use the Print On Demand for their books, but big deal…so does every other publisher. And as far as distribution is concerned? Bah, no worries, sez they. We have the same distribution as Random House – Ingram and Baker & Taylor.

Based on that, she’d signed her contract.

Only until she heard my seminar did she realize she’d been duped. And this makes me so cranky. POD publishers – the skanky ones – stay in business by fooling people. They water down the definitions and play loosey goosey with the truth in order to make themselves palatable. Why? To make money, of course.

Print On Demand printing isn’t the right term. It’s called Digital Printing, and yes, everyone uses it. It’s a cost effective way of doing a short run, say, for Advance Reader Copies (ARCS), or backlist titles. But less-than-honest POD publishers are very savvy at the art of dilution, and they water down the facts to make themselves appear to be our equal.

The long and short of it is this:  if authors never bought any of their books, the POD publisher would fold up their tent and go home because their primary marketplace is selling to their authors, not the bookstores.They are hindered by the fact that they don’t have distribution (Ingram and B&T are warehouse distributors – a different animal) , so they can’t sell enough books to keep themselves afloat.

I have written many posts on POD publishers because of the confusion they’ve created:

Print on Demand Series
POD and Readership
Series #1
Series #2
Series #3
Series #4

Series #5

Series #6

Series #7

Print on a Dime

I hope you take the time to read them because there is a lot of good information in there.

At any rate, all of this editing of definitions of vanity, indie press, POD, self publishing has made for some strange conversations because I first have to figure out what they mean by “self-pubbed.” Vanity is not self-pubbed. Check the copyright page. Does it have your name there? Nope. Did you set the retail price? Nope. Your publisher did.

You. Are. Not. Self. Pubbed.

Self publishing is when you are the publisher and you assume all aspects of production, marketing, promotion, distribution, and order fulfillment. You set the retail price, and it’s your name on the copyright page. It’s hideously expensive and time consuming, and not for anyone with weak intestinal fortitude.

What this screwing with our definitions has achieved is general confusion. And this is great for the wanna-bes. But I have to admit that it drives me buggy. A couple years ago I had a writer ask me what I charge to publish books.

Blink. Blink.

Where did you get the idea I charge? Oh, sez she, I read your bio the conference website, and it said you are an indie press.

Gah. Since then, I’ve changed our bio to say that we are a mainstream publisher. I don’t think the vanity and POD guys can stake that claim for themselves, so I’m safe.

For now.

I think.


door ringers and interruptions

March 29, 2011

I’m not sure what it is about our neighborhood that attracts so many door ringers. You know what I’m talking about – those annoying-as-hell people who make their living by ringing your doorbell to take donations to save bulimic whales, or buy magazine subscriptions to send some kid to self-esteem camp in Rangoon. There is nothing worse than being pulled away from my favorite pastimes of dish washing or cleaning up the beagle’s dinner that she hurked up on the living room carpet.

What is it about my neighborhood? Do we look more depraved than other neighborhoods? I would think these folks would want more bang for their buck and go hit up the neighborhood above us. They have about 3,000 homes and we challenge the growth charts at 36. And that’s including the greenbelt.

I try to be nice, and I could lie like a cheap rug and say that I smile politely and say, “No thank you. Oh, and have a lovely day.” But my kids would narc me out and say that I snarl like the beagle when she’s in full designer doggie chewie mode. Especially if I’m writing…like I was last weekend. The doorbell rang. I was alone, happily tippy tapping aways. I considered ignoring it, but I can’t do that any more than I can ignore a ringing phone.

On top of that, my hip is killing me, so it really hurts to hobble up from my desk (hurry up surgery!). So up I get, ow, ow, thinking this better be good.

“HI!” says the perky man in a suit. A suit? Who wears a suit on a Saturday? “I’d love to talk to you about your soul.” Ah ha, it’s then that I spy the bible he has tucked under his arm.

Blink. Blink. “My soul?”

It was the perfect opening for him to launch into something that involved Luke and Matthew. A few more blinks and I muttered something and closed the door.

My soul? Holy savior, Batman, I’m an editor. I have no soul.

What kinds of interruptions drive you to the brink of madness when you’re writing?


Ah, sweet revenge

March 25, 2011

So my post on spam-mail hadn’t been up more than 24 hours when I got another one. Unbelievable. I’ve never received so many in one week. Is there something in the water that entices authors to make ill-conceived decisions?

The spam-mail was all very lad-di-da…”Read my fabulous book!” The author was kind enough to provide Every. Link. In. The. World. If I didn’t want to order it from Amazon, I could order it from no less than 500 other sites. Lucky me.

But I had my revenge.

I wrote back to Mr. Spam-a-lot (Sorry, Monty Python):

Tell you what. I’ll consider checking out your book if you read this blog post

It was written with people like you in mind. Really.

I never expected to hear another word, which wasn’t the point. But the author wrote back and apologized, which I thought was very classy. He admitted that he was a self pubbed author trying to wade his way through the maze of self-promotion.

He made my point for me. So many times when you DIY, you have a fool for a client because you have tunnel vision. You’re so focused on your book, then getting it published, getting rejected, deciding to do it yourself, that you forgot the most important question of all…how do I do this the right way?

See, publishers have committees. You should see the list of people who give me feedback on cover art, titles, is this book a good choice to buy? And I cherish that feedback because I can’t rely on just my own instincts. I can be wrong, and I have to be willing to listen to those who are helping me sell the snot out of our books.

The DIY author doesn’t have this kind of support, so they make a ton of blunders. The sad part is that most DIYers run out of money and energy before they figure out how to do it right. They buy books that blather on about 1 gabajillion ways to market your book. I’ve seen those books and decided that the authors excel at one thing – selling their book to a gullible audience. It’s staggering the amount of information that is plain wrong, yet these books sell like hotcakes.

And this is where my poor Mr. SpammyPants is. He’s alone and struggling the best he can. His apology was heartfelt, and I could feel how overwhelmed he is.

Thing is, I’m only one spam-mail out of however many he blasted out. So while the apology was nice, and it gave me an opportunity to exact some revenge, the practice of  “Buy my book!” spam-mail will prevail.

Beagle, fire up the blender, it’s gonna be a long season…


How to make an editor want to drink Draino…# 547

March 25, 2011

Title your book with the word “Audacity” in it. Nothing sez, “Beagle, get me my bug spray!” faster than this word.

It. Has. Been. Done.

I freaking hate this word because I see in all over the place.

Let me backtrack a bit. The word, in itself, is fabulous. It’s strong and commands attention. But now I’m seeing it in the most mundane uses. The Audacity of Bananas. The Audacity of Sleep. The Audacity of Being a Couch Potato.

Depending on your usage, audacity can mean intrepid boldness, or bold or arrogant disregard of normal restraint. It’s a manly man word, and one that invites serious contemplation. When you overuse something, you cheapen it.

I’d hate for this lovely word to race up to the top of my Ick O’ Meter to the point where my eyelids invert and the beagle has to fetch me my Pepto Bismol. So while the rest of you are saving Japan, the whales, the manatees, polar bears, and Haitians, I’m saving the word Audacity. And my first official act is to implore everyone TO QUIT USING IT.

Otherwise, I must drink Draino.

That is all.


Irritant #1 – Special Requests

February 24, 2011

It usually starts innocuously enough:

…”I read about your company and it fits exactly what I write. (Aw, sweet) I made sure to read your submission guidelines, blippitity, blah, blah…”

Then derails itself unmercifully:

“but I was wondering if I could also include a synopsis (which would be very useful since the plot has a number of unexpected twists ), as well as a few short chapters, or a number of pages to illustrate style and writing ability?”

Beagle, fire up the blender.

He is basically asking permission to break the rules. Ohhh, by all means, my friend. No way should you have to follow those pesky guidelines. After all, YOU are special! In fact, let’s just forgo all those silly steps that streamline my job because, hey, it’s all about you!

Send me your full.

No!

Forget that, how about I just send out a contract right spanking now?

<beagle slaps Pricey across the kisser a few times, enjoying the moment way too much>

Wha’? Huh? Oh. Sorry, I lost myself again.

I can be accused of several things, but vague isn’t one of them. Ask anyone who knows me. I have taken the idea of clarity to a higher art form in the attempt to save time and confusion. I’d like to think that my submission guidelines reflect my philosophy of “this means YOU,” and that nothing other than a simple query letter will be allowed.

I’m not sure how my little friend could have read those guidelines, and all the crankiness that goes with it, and still ask for special treatment. But I’ll wager that he has some serious chestnuts. For that, I should give him some credit. And I have; he has the distinction of being the first email that I’ve deleted unanswered today.

I’m guessing my invitation to the Great Benevolent Society will be rescinded…


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