Category Archives: Publishing

How to Evaluate Small Publishers—Plus Digital-Only Presses and Hybrids – by Jane Friedman…

Thanks to Chris the Story Reading Ape for making this terrific Jane Friedman article available! I’m closing in on the decision as to whether to self-publish or go the traditional route with a small press, so this article is a godsend!

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

In my annual chart,The Key Book Publishing Paths, there is one column that is most vexing and problematic for writers to navigate: small publishers.

Into this category falls some of the most prestigious publishers you can imagine, that can boast of New York Times bestsellers, and that writers dream of working with.

But it also includes publishers that started up last year out of someone’s home office, run by people who may not know anything more about the publishing industry than you do.

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Avoid Rookie Mistakes When You Format Your POD Book!

Joel Friedlander tells us about the formatting mistakes that make your book look like you made it in your garage. You CAN Format Your POD Book: The Beginner’s Cheat Sheet for Formatting with Adobe Indesignshows you how to fix these mistakes. Check it out!

You CAN Format Your Print-on-Demand Book!

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Is It Worth Your Time to Pitch Your Book?

Book in dramatic sunset landscapeOver at Indies Unlimited not too long ago, I ran across this comment from multi-award-winning author @MJBowersock:

[A]nyone who has not already been published, who is not a name that people recognize and that will draw sales, will not win a publishing contract with a traditional publisher. It’s like winning the lottery. It could happen, but the chances are, it won’t.

That’s not quite the kiss of death to our dreams of one day breaking into the publishing big time (the big houses call themselves “legacy” publishers now, Bowersock says). But it’s close.

Books as stairs to publishing success

So my question is, what about all those conferences that bring in rafts of agents and editors who claim to be starving for new talent (like you and me)? Are they scamming us? Do they consider a day at a conference listening to pitches some sort of paid vacation?

If Bowersock is right, I guess so. And our chances of coming away from a conference with real hopes for a contract are nil. Conferences aren’t cheap. Pitching is scary. Why go through such an ordeal?

Here’s one answer: because there are benefits from pitching to actual editors and agents that you can’t get any other way.

I’m not suggesting that any writer invest thousands of dollars in conferences. But I am arguing that a judicious choice of conference at the right moment in your process can be worth at least as much as what you’re paying for that cover or that expert to format your text—

—Because pitching gives you several kinds of feedback you won’t get from any other source.

Publishing success is like a sunny day

You know what you get from query letters: “Sorry, we’re not the right agency for this book.”

What about your writing group? I consider writing groups essential. But the members of your writing group read as friends and colleagues. They don’t read as business people, charged with making money out of your book.

And therein lies all the difference. They hope to make money off of you!

I’m not plugging for any conference, but I’ve been to quite a few, and I’m sharing my experience. I’ve learned things from pitch sessions that no one else ever told me. I’ll do it again.

If you do decide to pitch, be sure to make your investment count:

  • Be ready. Don’t rush to a pitch session with an unspellchecked draft while you’re still trying to figure out whether your main character’s hair is black or red. Exhaust your writing groups and beta readers first.
  • Review the faculty to make sure you can pitch to people who work with your genre. Make sure they work for good agencies and aren’t just somebody’s Facebook friend.
  • Get one-on-one critiques as well as pitches. If at all possible, pay extra to have the right person at the conference read a query letter or a first page and meet with you so you can ask follow-up questions. Pay for “pitch practice” if you possibly can.

Your words fall into your book!

Here are the kinds of questions you can get answered even if there’s scant hope of a contract. They’re the questions you would pay an editor to answer, and Lord knows good editors aren’t cheap.

Do I know what my book is about?

You can muse all day with your writers’ group about your story question, your main character’s goals, why she can’t achieve them, how her journey ends, and so on.

In a pitch session, you have five minutes to lay it out. Five minutes with a steely eyed editor daring you to make him buy it. Get tongue-tied with that agent smiling ever-so-sweetly at you?

Then you haven’t figured it out.

Seeing that stare glaze over or that smile turn to a frown tells you that it’s time to take a good look at your structure so next time you’ll know what your book is about.

What’s derailing my book?

When was the last time you got a response from a query that said, “Sorry, here’s why we don’t want your book.” [Interject sound of strangled laughter from author]

In contrast, you’re three minutes into your pitch, and Steely Eyes says, “I don’t understand why anyone would do that.” Sweet Smile says, “That sounds like a really unpleasant character.” They both say, “I’m lost.” (Often followed by a specific hint as to where and how the road signs got turned around.)

Yeah, I know, if they’d just read the darn book, they’d get it. But the fact is, you’ve just recited part of the back cover blurb that will make readers buy the darn book, and now you know a few things that can turn readers off.

And you have specific issues beyond just-not-good-enough to consider before your next submission: motivation, characterization, style.

Is my idea the high-concept, totally original, million-dollar gem I think it is?

Agents and editors see hundreds of ideas in your genre. You may well be asked, “How is this different from all the other books I’ve seen recently about crazed werewolves in New Jersey?” That five minutes will tell you whether you know the answer to that.

How does my work stack up with someone who is not my friend?

Really, it all comes down to this one: An agent or editor at a conference does not need to make you feel good.

They don’t need you to be in the mood to give them friendly, constructive advice at the next writing group meeting. They don’t need to keep you happy so you’ll hire them again the next time you need an editor.

They’ll give you your five minutes, but after that, they’ve got twenty other people lined up, one of whom might have THE BOOK they came to the conference to acquire.

So the instant they know your pitch isn’t clicking, they won’t string you along.

Pitching at a conference isn’t the way to learn how to make your structure work or how to make your concept a stand-out. But it’s one sure method of finding out fast how close you are to those goals. The day the frown is accompanied by a business card and a willingness to take a look, you’ll know you’ve finally managed to answer the questions that will sell your book.

Book publishing success

Do you have advice for making the most of pitch sessions? Share!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under business of writing, Editing, Finding agents, indie publishing, Learning to write, looking for editors, Money!, Myths and Truths, novels, Publishing, Self-publishing, Writers' conferences, Writers' groups, Writing, Writing and Learning

Copyright: What’s the Big Deal?— By Julie Barlow

Though it’s about Canada, Barlow touches on an issue that affects us all. She writes, “When I Google my own work, I discover so many sites offering free (i.e., illegal) PDFs of my books that I can’t keep track of them anymore. And neither can my publisher.” I basically gave up trying to address this problem. Maybe it’s up to readers not to buy from these sites? As Barlow writes, we all fall prey to the idea that if it’s available online, it ought to be free. American copyright law doesn’t address this problem, either, and, as is often the case, the Canadian example can be instructive.

So how to spread the word among readers? What do you think?

QWF Writes

The Federal government is in the process of revising the Copyright Act. If you don’t think that matters to writers, think again.

I’m always surprised to see blank stares on writers’ faces when I launch into a speech about copyright. Some of them aren’t clear why copyright really matters. Others aren’t sure what copyright even is. Fair enough—it’s not the sexiest topic in the writing world. But even if you don’t notice it, it’s fundamental to our business.

Here’s why. I am a non-fiction author of six books and a magazine writer. To earn my living I sell the right to use my work, either to publishers who pay me advances and royalties or to magazines who pay me fees to publish my articles. For most of my twenty-five-year career, this revenue has constituted most of my income.

Simply put, copyright law is what makes it possible for me to…

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The Kind of Writers’ Conference I’ll Pay For!

What’s not to like about writers’ conferences? They offer terrific opportunities to learn about the craft of writing and the business of publishing from people who know what they’re talking about (as opposed to the neighbor who figures your book can’t be any good since Barnes and Noble didn’t display it on that table right inside the front door).

Of course, there’s the expense. A conference means registration, travel expenses, motels, and sometimes meals (and in my case, board for a rather large dog).

For some, the workshops and lectures and a chance to get autographs on mint copies of presenters’ books may justify those costs.

But if you’re interested in becoming traditionally published, it’s worth stretching your budget for a good conference. A well-chosen conference can give most of us developing writers what no cold query can:

  • A chance to sell ourselves and our work face-to-face, where we can slip a memorable impression into a busy agent’s or editor’s mind.
  • A block of time all our own, instead of the few seconds a hurried intern can spare for that laboriously written letter.
  • A hard-nosed reaction from a publishing professional unfettered by the need to make the writer feel good.

If, like me, those perks are the ones you want from a conference, here are the top five things I look for before I send in my registration form.

1) Location

I don’t want this to come first, but for many of us, it has to. The good news is, you probably don’t have to travel a thousand miles to find a good conference. In the past two years, I’ve attended two within a two-hour drive of my home. Search online, read writing blogs, and network with writers’ groups in your area to get on email lists. Conferences within your range and budget will turn up.

Of course, if you DO travel a thousand miles, make sure it’s someplace fun, since you can deduct the expenses from your taxes if you can show you’re really writing to sell.

2) Pitch sessions*

The right kind of conference for this stage in your writing must offer a chance to meet face-to-face with agents and editors. Most conferences charge a moderate fee for these sessions, but that ten minutes will garner a lot more attention to your work than the dozens of hours you spent honing a query letter that may never get read.

Many conferences offer “pitch practice,” usually also for a fee. Some will allow you to send in a written version of your pitch to be critiqued. Take advantage of these opportunities if possible. With luck, you’ll get voluminous and often painfully honest comments that will propel you into feverish revision the night or morning before your pitch. But that’s the point, isn’t it—to move you to a new level? You’ll get there faster with a push.

3) A chance to submit actual pages for critique

You really have one immediate goal as a writer seeking publication: to be read. Maybe once in a while your query letter elicits a request for pages, but the ultimate response, more often than not, will be “We’re not the right agency for this book.” No reasons. No chance to ask for reasons. (Okay, maybe it will be different for you.)

But at a good conference, you can submit part of your work and then meet with your critiquer to follow up on what worked and what didn’t. Good conferences will assign real agents and editors, empowered to ask for more, to this task.

Yes, you’ll pay extra. And no, your readers might not agree in their assessments, leaving you confused and frustrated, just like your critique group at home. But you’ll hear truths that no warm-hearted “supportive” writers’ group friend will ever tell you! Put on your thickest skin and sign up for as many of these critiques as you can.

4) A range of agents and editors

Conferences will publish the credentials of their faculties beforehand. Follow up on agents’ and editors’ web pages. Go to Amazon and read the first pages of books they have handled. Be sure that at least two or more of the people you can pitch or submit to like the kind of thing you write.

5) Opportunities to socialize with the conference faculty

Some of us are really good at button-holing people we hope to impress. I’m terrible at it. Still, I’d like the chance! A good conference will require its faculty to show up for receptions and banquets. Show up yourself, this time in your bravest skin. You may find that the agent who sorta-kinda-seemed-to-like your pages is also a fan of that obscure Korean horror director you adore. When you send your follow-up query letter, he’ll remember that long chat you shared over wine.

You can’t always tell ahead of time whether this criterion will be met. If it isn’t, make a note for the future, and by all means, include your disappointment on your evaluation form.

It Worked for Me!

I met the agents who sold my first books through the conference process, and since my return to writing after a hiatus, I’ve received far more requests for partials from conference pitches than from written queries. And I’m not even very good at the conference process! But conferences provide me with the best chance to see how people who actually make buying decisions react to what I’m doing.

So once you and your writers’ groups have tweaked your manuscript as much as humanly possible and once you think you’ve done what all those books you’ve read say you should, pick a good conference to see what you’ve achieved.

*A “pitch session” doesn’t call for a synopsis or an elevator pitch. It’s a five-to-ten minute talk (usually breathless on my part) whose sole purpose is to tell the agent or editor what your book is about. The conference will specify how long you have. Maybe you’ll have time to throw in the extras from your full query; maybe not. The hook is what counts. Before you plan yours, search online—advice and examples abound. And if pre-conference pitch critiques or on-site practice is offered, sign up.

What about your experience with conferences! Share!

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Follow-Up: Copyright Issues at Internet Archive—The Marrakesh Treaty

Stack of many booksIf you have read my posts about my experience eliciting a response from the Internet Archive, which scans and posts books on their free website without notifying authors or asking permission, you may have also read the comments on the latest post.

There, you’ll learn what I learned from Kevin, a reader from newauthoronline.com.

He  introduced me to the Marrakesh Treaty, implemented in 2016. This treaty, which the U.S. has joined, allows authorized non-profit sites to post—without permission—works for “blind and print-disabled” persons.

Here is an overview article Kevin linked to, which contains a link to the Marrakesh Treaty itself as well as a useful discussion of access issues for the print-disabled. From the article:

Marrakesh Treaty: A roadmap for equality

On July 18, 2016, American musician Stevie Wonder welcomed the entry into force of the Marrakesh Treaty with powerful words. “A treaty that promises to end the global book famine… A pact,” he said, “that means that the millions of people in the world who are blind or visually impaired will be able to read books in accessible formats in various regions where they did not previously have access, regardless of their financial means.”

To address this challenge, the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled, was adopted in 2013 under the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and entered into force in 2016. The treaty was conceived to foster and ease the production and transfer of accessible books, including across national boundaries. To achieve these goals, it established a set of limitations and exceptions to copyright, mandatory for ratifying countries, for the benefit of the blind, visually impaired and otherwise print disabled. So far, 91 countries have signed the treaty and 33 of them have ratified it.

Here is relevant text from the treaty;

[Article 4.]2. A Contracting Party may fulfill Article 4(1) for all rights identified therein by providing a limitation or exception in its national copyright law such that:

(a) Authorized entities shall be permitted, without the authorization of the copyright rightholder, to make an accessible format copy of a work, obtain from another authorized entity an accessible format copy, and supply those copies to beneficiary persons by any means, including by non-commercial lending or by electronic communication by wire or wireless means, and undertake any intermediate steps to achieve those objectives, when all of the following conditions are met:

(i)  the authorized entity wishing to undertake said activity has lawful access to that work or a copy of that work;

(ii) the work is converted to an accessible format copy, which may include any means needed to navigate information in the accessible format, but does not introduce changes other than those needed to make the work accessible to the beneficiary person;

(iii) such accessible format copies are supplied exclusively to be used by beneficiary persons;  and

(iv) the activity is undertaken on a non-profit basis;

An operative term here is “lawful access.” I have written WIPO to ask for a definition.

Remaining questions:

  • Is the Internet Archive an Authorized Entity?
  • How does it ensure that people using free services under this treaty are eligible beneficiaries?

Kevin’s comments also include some enlightening information about accessibility software and process for blind and print-disabled people.

I have not found this information about the Marrakesh Treaty widely shared in the writing-blog community, probably because the treaty was just implemented in 2016. I hope this will prove a useful post for my writing colleagues. The information certainly was news to me.

 

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A Response about Copyright Violation from Internet Archive!

Hello, readers,

I need your help.

On January 11, 2018, I shared a post from Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware about possible copyright infringement by the Internet Archive, which scans books and posts them for free in a “lending library” without notifying authors or receiving permission.

On the Internet Archive site, I found a pdf of the 1989 mass-market paperback of my novel, King of the Roses (originally published by St. Martin’s in 1983). I sent two email notices requesting that the book be taken down, using the free form included in Victoria’s original post.

I have received a response. The response raises several questions for me and I would appreciate feedback from readers. In particular,

1) Have I understood the response correctly?

2) What is the correct and ethical response to the fact that the Internet Archive plans to retain a copy of my book for “blind and print-disabled” readers?

Here’s what I did in order to get a response:

After sending the two notices and receiving no response, I followed a link in Victoria Strauss’s post to the Internet Archive site. There, on the blog page for the site, I discovered a comment box.

Into that box I posted; “I have sent two takedown notices about my book, which is still under my copyright and is available as a self-published Kindle edition, but you have not responded. Please post a link to the “Notice and Takedown” process you reference above on your home page. My next step will be to seek legal advice and, if necessary, take you to court.”

Within 36 hours, I received the following email, which I paste here in full:

Dear Ms. Anderson,

Thank you for your emails.

To help clarify things regarding the item you have identified (https://archive.org/details/kingofroses00virg) – blind and print-disabled patrons (verified by formal institutions including the Library of Congress) may access special electronic versions of the book that can be used with accessible software. They agree not to make copies or distribute materials. Our program to enable blind and print-disabled access has been in operation since 2010 (our original press release w/links to stories in the media can be seen here).

There is no other access available to this item (lending access for general users has been disabled). Please feel free to check the links under “Download Options”. They are all inoperable or include only to metadata (i.e., catalog information about the text, not the text itself).

And of course, the Internet Archive offers these texts on a wholly non-commercial basis. Our project, organization, and mission are entirely charitable and oriented towards broad social benefit.

Again, thank you for getting in touch with us. Hoping this information is helpful.

The Internet Archive Team

 

Here’s what I think it says:

1) My book is no longer available for free in their lending library.

2) They do post the metadata for my book.

3) A free version of my book is still available to disabled readers who have some kind of “accessible software” and who are somehow bound not to share the book with others.

Remaining concerns/questions:

1) How readers qualify for free access to this book is not well explained.

2) The copy of the book on their site is a pdf of the original 1989 paperback, and is of very poor quality. Is there “accessible software” that can actually read this text?

3) Doesn’t the decision of the Internet Archive to retain this version of my book still constitute copyright infringement, since access is being supplied to these readers without my permission?

Obviously, the appeal is to my sense of pathos. How could I possibly deny disabled readers access to my incredibly wonderful book?

On the one hand, of course I’m vulnerable to such an appeal. On the other, while I do not have an audio version of my book, is there no software that readers with disabilities can use to access a paperback or Kindle version purchased through regular channels? How can authors be sure that the readers who still have access to their books for free through the Internet Archive really need the charitable services of the Internet Archive?

I suspect that my book will not be high on the list of frequently downloaded books, whether by readers with disabilities or others. Some authors, though, may find that their books are likely to be frequently accessed.

The bottom line, in my view, is that the decision to post a book for free, whether for abled readers or readers with disabilities, should be made in conjunction with, and with the permission of, the author/copyright holder. Anything else is still a copyright violation.

What do you think?

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Filed under business of writing, Copyright, King of the Roses, novels, Publishing, Writing