Editing, proofing, appealing cover art, is it really necessary? #MondayBlogs #AmWriting #AmReading

Editing, proofing, appealing cover art, is it really necessary? #MondayBlogs #AmWriting #AmReading

Proofing, editing and cover art turn great storytelling into a great product

It’s March 2017, and we are still having this discussion. Yes, I’ve written about editing before. I’ve mentioned proofing before. I’ve talked about covers before. Now I’m not in a position to impose my views, but I am able to appreciate the work of proof readers, editors, cover artists etc. I know that if I were to ever publish a book that had not been edited, hadn’t been proofed, I’d be shredded by critics and readers alike.

The cover for my new novel Last Winter’s Snow. The book releases April 6. We’re in the final stages of proofing the text.

Yet I hear these stories time and time again. I hear them from friends, I hear them from readers, I hear them from editors:

  • Can you help me for free? I cannot afford your services!
  • I’m a professor/expert/etc. I don’t need help!

If you can’t afford a vacation, do you still buy one? People seem to take the first amendment to ever new heights. Yes, you are allowed to express your views, and the government may not censor you. But it doesn’t entitle you to get published. However, since Amazon and others offer free publishing tools, I guess you can go ahead and press the “publish” button. But with that also come responsibilities, consequences.

However, what about the rights of the reader? Don’t they deserve a story that has been polished? Editing isn’t just about grammar. I sometimes encounter the argument that “I’m an English major. I don’t need editing or proof readers.” Let me tell you this: this isn’t about your expertise. This is about perspective. An editor or proof reader approaches a text with a fresh set of eyes. They see things you no longer see, because you are so familiar with a text that you just don’t see the trees in the forest. Trust me, after fourteen books, I have missed almost everything!

No major in English will keep you from making mistakes, from getting things wrong. Not necessarily language-wise, but in the story. Allow me to exemplify. My publisher and I are currently working on my latest book Last Winter’s Snow. We worked on the edits all of last week and well into the weekend. I had worked on this book for almost a year. There were no plot holes to be found. However, things my editor commented on were, e.g.:

  • Some aspects of the story were long-winded and needed tightening. Since I wrote it, even my own major in literature didn’t save me from seeing this differently. Editing isn’t always about finding errors. It’s also about getting perspective, a different opinion. In the end, the author decides, but if you never get that perspective?
  • There was a question about catheter bags in Swedish hospitals. Are they emptied or replaced? Yeah. To just see this and highlight it. It took me another two hours of research into clinical equipment and finally, a phone call to a retired nurse to get the answer. In this instance, my text didn’t need changing.

I recall other stories when my editors would ask me to change the names of a character, because it was too similar to another, or they would point out expressions that might lead to misunderstandings or even accusations of being insensitive to someone, or a group. Not intentionally of course, but still. Great editing finds all those things you, as author, wouldn’t be able to see. They provide much needed perspective.

In the end, I’ve never had an editor tell me to change the plot of a story, or finding major plot holes. I think my biggest errors revolved about people’s aging, of how old children should be at a given point in a story. Not always easy to keep ages straight.

Point is, my books are so much better because of the editing, because of proof readers who spot those letters or words that disappear in the editing process. Those awkward “there”, “their” or “they’re” that autocorrect often change automatically these days, without us really noticing them.

A good cover not only stands out among others, it also gives you an indication of the genre the story is in. This is still one of my all time favorites, from my novel Willem of the Tafel. A Sci-Fi novel, my only one.

A word on covers. yes, covers are important. And if you’re not a pro, don’t expect your book to sell if you use a home made cover. I know there are gazillions of ways to create cover art. Rule 1: Don’t steal from Google or Bing. Pay for the art you use or create your own from scratch. If you’re as bad at drawing or sketching as I am, invest in a good picture. But even better: let a pro help you. Because no matter what: you’ll see that a professional cover stands out, attracts readers and gets them interested in learning more about your story. If you have a crap cover, they’ll never even press that first click, to read your blurb.

But I still can’t afford those services! Well, tough luck! I can’t afford a new car, or that sweater I saw the other day. Suck it up. But you can still publish that book. If you think the story is good enough, find a publisher, find a niche publisher specializing in your kind of story. And if you absolutely insist on self-publishing (why I don’t really understand), find help that might be willing to do a profit share.

I’ve heard of authors who asked friends for help and then were disappointed (and angry) at said friends when negative reviews start coming in. Did you pay them? If you had a professional editor, they’d re-edit the book for you. They’d proof it again for you, as part of their professional service. Just as you would expect a restaurant to replace a bad meal. Or a mechanic to fix a faulty repair job. But I am getting tired of hearing of all those people who complain about the cost of things, the sense of entitlement to get something published, because they’ve written it. No, there is no such entitlement. The first amendment (or your democratic country’s equivalent) allows you to publish it, but it doesn’t save you from being trashed if the product is crap. That is part of your readers’ first amendment rights.

It’s 2017, and I thought we’d moved past uploading word documents straight from the author to Amazon. Alas, I was wrong, and I’m ashamed for my industry. Because every crap product hurts the rest of us, from the largest publisher to the professional self-publishers.

What’s your take? Am I missing something here?

Have a great week!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

Editing, proofing, appealing cover art, is it really necessary? #MondayBlogs #AmWriting #AmReading

Incorporating a foreign language into your writing isn’t without challenges #asmsg #amwriting #book

Every foreign language poses challenges of its own, but some are more challenging than others

Early this morning, or should I say late last night, my editor sent me the edits for my new novel, Last Winter’s Snow. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into them and see what Debbie found, how we can improve the work. So far, she’s been very gracious with praise, which means a lot, given that she’s not usually one to praise much. She’s very British, prone to understatement and that famous stiff upper lip. When she sent me an e-mail after having worked through 25% of the novel, I was stunned and happy. While Debbie was editing the novel, I worked on my end to secure the translations of some of the Sami words I want to use in the story. However, as with any foreign language, there are challenges to using Sami words in a novel, and with the Sami languages, the challenges are bigger than if I had used say French or Italian.

My main character is Sami, he was born in a tiny town about fifty miles from the Norwegian border in Southern Sápmi. The language spoken in Ammarnäs by the local Sami is called Ume Sami. Ume Sami is the smallest of the seven Sami languages spoken today with less than 100 fluent speakers. The reason is to be found in the brutal and merciless assimilation by the Swedish immigrants who claimed Sápmi for themselves as early as the fourteenth century. Large immigration however didn’t take place until the late 18th and early 19th century. Until the 1970s, Sami were forbidden to speak their languages in public, kids weren’t taught the language in school etc. A very effective method to eradicate a culture. But the Sami resisted.

From a pure linguistic point of view, the biggest threat besides the absence of speakers is the absence of a written tradition. I know how that feels, since my own paternal language, Raeto-Romansh also lacks written roots. Of the five dialects spoken in Grisons, each had their own grammar, their own way of writing, and we could barely read each others writing. When I went to high school, a unified written codex was introduced, called “Rumantsch Grischun“. After having written the language one way, we were suddenly, from one day to the next, expected to write quite differently. It was a nightmare, and seeing my graduation from High School threatened I officially changed my first language to German, having two side effects: I didn’t have to take Romansh in school any more or take exams to graduate and the language lost one native speaker in the statistics. There are now less than fifty thousand native speakers left in all of Switzerland, and to this day the debate about Rumantsch Grischun lingers…

The cover for my new novel Last Winter’s Snow. The book releases April 6 from Beaten Track Publishing.

For the Sami, the situation is worse. They never wrote anything in their languages. Never used an alphabet. Since Sápmi is spread across four nation states (Russia, Finland, Sweden & Norway) with three vastly different languages and two totally different alphabets, to unite the seven Sami languages into one written code is difficult. Even within the seven languages, the strength of each language is vastly different. South and Ume Sami are much weaker than their northern brethren.

In Sweden, Sami is written used the latin alphabet, and using Scandinavian letters like å, but also letters like the ü, which Sweden and Norway don’t use. I’ve seen the same word spelled differently from two men speaking the same language. “Hello” for instance has been spelt both “bures” and “bürest”. The latter spelling is the official one. However, since we Swedes pronounce the “u” similarly to the German “ü”, I can see how someone would phonetically spell it that way.

However, Sami lacks an “academy”, lacks the power an official language board provides, and to include words written in a foreign language that still has little official recognition is always challenging. And even if the version I use is the most official one, there is obviously the risk that others see things differently. It’s a risk I’m aware of given my own upbringing, a risk I’m willing to take.

Nilas, my main character in Last Winter’s Snow, speaks a little Ume Sami. Not fluent. His generation was one of the last to suffer the full oppression at the hands of the Swedish colonists and a cruel government. But I’ve learned from my Sami friends that even when they primarily speak Swedish, a foreign language for them, they still include Sami words, lace the language with their own, like decorations, the icing on the cake. It was their way of preserving a language threatened by extinction. Today, Ume Sami is fighting back. Young Sami learn their own language again, re-claim it, and the consultant who helped me  with my book, Henrik Barruk, is a champion of Ume Sami, the author of the first dictionary and the one who almost single-handedly rescued the language from early extinction. To include Ume Sami in my book, even if it’s only as icing on the cake, feels important to me. Not just because it makes the story more realistic, but also because I can help contribute, in the smallest way, to preserve a rich cultural heritage.

I’m so grateful to have met Nilas, and having gotten to know his culture and the beauty of Sápmi, beyond the mere physical attributes. Sápmi and its inhabitants are rich in spirituality, and they’ve taught me many important life lessons.

Have a wonderful weekend!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

Editing, proofing, appealing cover art, is it really necessary? #MondayBlogs #AmWriting #AmReading

#MondayBlogs: An honest account of an author economy #amwriting #asmsg

Author economy: Some of these numbers aren’t pretty reading

This past weekend was kind of crazy. Hundreds of people gathered in front of their laptops, logged on to GayRomLit.com to get ready to register for my industry’s largest author-reader event: GRL. And, as always, the event sold out in minutes, at least for attending authors. Cost so far, for this author: $350, just for my registration. Given my post last week, about money and how much I make a book, that’s the equivalent of 200 sold copies of Last Winter’s Snow, just to pay for that… But that’s not it, of course. I need a hotel room, a flight, food etc. Those are just the bare necessities. On top of that, I also sponsor the event, not that I have to, but yeah, my heart beats strongly for GRL. More money. Plus advertising in their program, plus, plus, plus. Money, more money, and then some money.

I’ve registered to attend GRL in Denver this fall. Will you be there? If so, drop me a line…

I talked to a reader friend of mine the other day. She registered for GRL, too, as a reader, and she’s looking forward to her first trip to meet with all those authors she’s read for so many years. Naturally, she complained about the cost of it all, particularly given the current US$ exchange rates. I hear you girl… I hear you. To afford GRL, I would need to sell 1,360 books, that’s without the sponsoring bit… Last year, at the conference itself, I sold more books than ever before: 39. Yet this post isn’t about complaining or whining, far from it. I’m not. I choose to do all this. I don’t have to. Allow me to explain why:

GRL is not the only convention I attend. This year, there will be three, in total: Berlin, EuroPrideCon and also the New York Rainbow Book Fair, which is the largest LGBT book fair in the U.S., my main market. I spent some time this morning to add up all the expenses with regards to my writing I expect this year. Here’s a “short” list. It’s not complete:

  • GRL: ~$3,000 (excluding travel, hotel, food)
  • Rainbow Book Fair: $350 (excluding travel, hotel, food)
  • Berlin: $175 (part of this will be vacation, as I’m bringing my family. Their cost is not included)
  • My newsletter, which is sent monthly: $27/month (thanks to a successful free giveaway to readers last fall, I now have to pay for that)
  • My blogging: $35/month for my Triberr membership to help spread my blog posts to get people to come to my website and read them…
  • My website: $300/year for the hosting of my website plus Cloudflare (to speed up serving pages to you) $20/month.
  • My first audiobook Family Ties: $2,200, including the cover design
  • Cost I cover for Last Winter’s Snow, including my research trip: $2.5K
  • Advertising banners etc: ~$300

This has ben a great way for me to be seen by readers, meet new ones, and just talk. Goes far beyond just selling books.

I’m not going to compute this all into books I would have to sell, just to recover the cost. If you feel like doing that, please go ahead. Sometimes, it’s best NOT to do all that (or I might have to give up writing). Now, all of the above are just my professional expenses. There is nothing in here to cover my personal invoices, and the list is not final. Just this weekend, I had to buy new clothes and shoes for my son who just won’t stop growing… LOL

Being an author isn’t “cheap”. Yes, I’m sure you could argue that much of the cost above could be reduced. Why pay for Triberr? Who cares about readers on a blog? Well, it’s one of the ways I use to create a following and talk about my writing, my authorship. Why pay for Cloudflare? Well, again, if your website isn’t responsive, isn’t fast, you lose readers, visitors, and particularly for someone like me, who’s based in Europe, but has his following in the Americas.

I’ve been looking at ways to “cut” cost, I do that every year. I’ve cut one conference completely and the investment in another, because of the lack of ROI. To compute the return as an author isn’t easy. Because you can’t easily translate your exposure into sold books. But sadly, my investment in some conferences just doesn’t yield results, whereas others are much more successful for me. But even there, I have to cut cost. GRL cost me over five thousand dollars last year, before I had even paid for my flight and hotel. I can’t do that again. I won’t. Yes, it was amazing, but I just cannot justify this again.

Readings: my favorite thing to do at a convention. You always discover new readers who have either not heard of you or are afraid to invest in a book from an unknown author like myself. Readings are the best tool there is, at least in my humble opinion.

So why do it in the first place? I think the reasoning is two-fold. Conferences, as expensive as they are, also provide me with a much needed breathing hole, an opportunity to meet other writers, exchange experiences, share stories, all above and beyond meeting readers, new an old. It’s very inspirational and provides energy and motivation to keep going. Having a long past in corporate America, I often compare these conventions to company events, where you meet colleagues from all over the world. It makes co-operation throughout the year much easier. Plus you always meet readers, new readers, and trust me, meeting someone face to face is better than any ad on Amazon, Facebook or elsewhere…

I’ve already written about how authors try to make an extra buck, since it’s getting more and more difficult to make money writing. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at Patreon, and creating an account. I think I might be able to both try to finance e.g. my newsletter or Triberr or future projects like audiobooks. However, I decided not to. For two reasons: a) the extra attention needed to satisfy patrons would be a big burden on my day, and b) I’d open myself up to people having “views” on how I spend my money, e.g. sponsorships. I’ve always been a very strong-willed person, and someone with what some might call stringent ethics or morals. I don’t like to cut corners.

I don’t like piracy or stealing other people’s stuff to make my own art cheaper (like some) and knowing how much organizers of events spend preparing, I want to pitch in and help. It’s who I am. So no Patreon for me. The other reason is about how much time it would take. I don’t think I would’ve been able to give away my writing. I do to a very, very small group of people, but to strangers? No, I’m too picky about quality to do that. Leaves spending time with them. And that is just another aspect where time equals money.

To advertise in a program, or do a reading are things that help you be seen, noticed, as many keep these programs as mementos.

Say I spend thirty minutes a day talking to readers. Here in Sweden, I’d make about $12/hr working an entry-level job. That’s a cost of $6 per day just talking to readers. Do that seven days a week, 365 days per year, that’s $2,190. If a reader buys ALL of my books, I make twelve times the $1.75, i.e. $21. So after talking to a single reader for more than two hours in total, I’m already “losing” money, provided they bought them all… Now I don’t really compute my life like that, maybe I should. Maybe that is how you start to earn more money. I don’t know. The thing is though, your existing readers, even though you only made twenty bucks from them, are your best advocates to find new readers. Not an easy thing to wrap your head around…

So while I’ve decided against a Patreon account, I did add a PayPal donation button to my website (right pane). In all honesty, I don’t expect anyone to click and donate money there, but since it doesn’t cost me anything to have it there, I figured I’d try. If you or anyone else feel that my ramblings here or on my YouTube channel are funny, thought worthy etc. and you feel you want to pitch it, you can. If not, I won’t know the difference. At the end of the day, everything takes time, and while I don’t necessarily compute my life that way, always calculating alternative cost of what I do, it is a fact that every blog post takes at least an hour to write, every video at least two, if not more. Call it marketing, PR, or just a way for this particular author not to disappear completely in the ever-growing plethora of voices out there. I know one thing for sure: if you’re not seen, you don’t exist. And as far as I’m concerned, not all publicity is good publicity. I’d rather be seen for my positive contributions than fuck ups or scandals. Sadly, there are both. I am, after all, only human.

Some might ask: why keep doing this? It is a question I ask myself regularly. In the end, I always return to the same conclusion: I have no choice

Author friends, how do you budget? How do you make your life go around? How frugal are you in stretching your dollars to the max? Any tips to share with someone who barely knows how to spell frugal? 😉 Readers, what is your take? As always, I’d love to hear from you, so pitch in with your own experiences, views, to add value to this post.

Have a wonderful week!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

Editing, proofing, appealing cover art, is it really necessary? #MondayBlogs #AmWriting #AmReading

Why I spent the week debating toilets with narrow-minded folk! #LGBT #amwriting #SAGA

Of toilets, bigots and writing inclusive characters

It’s been a busy week. I’ve had some very interesting discussions online, mainly about the American regime’s move against trans people and their access to toilets. The ones to pay the biggest price are – for lack of a better word – the weakest, children and youths. I know that most of you who will read this are Americans, and your bathrooms are – how to put this politely – interesting? Privacy? No sir. Ten inches at the bottom aren’t closed, and between the door to the stalls (if doors are present in the first place), there’s a spring wide enough to get a great view of the inside. I’ve always wondered if that visual access was because Americans are particularly voyeuristic or if this is a result of the Anglo-Saxon double-morale around sex, because after all, people have been known to do it there. I don’t know.

The rainbow flag heralds love and inclusion. It’s the main reason I love it so much. Yet as humans representing the rainbow, we’re not always as loving… We are, in effect, merely human.

I’m an extremely private person, at least when it comes to going to the bathroom. I can’t pee standing, not when I risk onlookers. But in America, even inside the stall I feel exposed, vulnerable. I don’t know why Americans opted for such stalls, but what I do know is that school kids here, in Sweden, often try to avoid going to the school bathrooms. Usually, research shows, because those toilets are dirty. Instead, they avoid drinking, try to hold it, and go to the bathroom when they come home. The result: constipation, urinary infections etc.

Now imagine if you are trans, on top of all that. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, before most can even dream of hormonal treatment or corrective surgery. We are vulnerable enough as it is at that age, without having to deal with the added stress of having to go to a bathroom that isn’t ours. Imagine a boy forced to “intrude” on the girl’s lavatory or locker room, to face the ridicule and potential fear from other girls being there, or picture the girl, being forced to go to the boys room, even though she may wear make-up and a dress. The bullying will be guaranteed. Why? This isn’t about cis boys or girls being “evil” or “mean”. It’s because they don’t understand (yet). It’s because their parents are people like white supremacist Jeff Sessions, the driving force between this week’s transphobic action. Not to mention that children that age are the most confused, caught in the storm of raging hormones, their bodies changing, navigating sexuality and romantic attraction to others (or the lack thereof). And most people that age are curious, they will experiment, but they’re also highly aware of their surroundings, the judgements, expectations, and what is exciting and titillating one minute can be lashed out against the next.

I’m still amazed, from those discussions, just how many people do not understand what it means to be trans. What it means to be intersex. What it means to be gender queer/fluid. Not that it is easy. I read a great post yesterday about the importance of labels. Yes, labels are restricting. We don’t want to be labeled. We don’t want others to tell us “what” we are. However, when we are young and try to understand ourselves, get to know ourselves, labels can help. They help us identify with others, people who are like us, whether it’s “red head”, “visually impaired” or “jock”. Whatever the label, it creates a sense of “us”, of group, and as humans we are, after all, a highly social animal.

The cover for my new novel Last Winter’s Snow. The book releases April 6.

There is a huge difference between knowing who we are, and understanding what we are. Yes, at the core, we are humans, of course. But since we are a social animal, we fear nothing more than loneliness, to be “the only gay in the village” as the saying goes. No, we want to have a friend, let there be at least two of us! That’s where labels come in handy. They can serve a purpose.

It’s been an interesting week online. It’s also been an intensive writing week. My publisher recently asked for submissions for a SAGA (Sexuality And Gender Acceptance, a term more inclusive and simpler than LGBTQIA+) anthology. I’ve written two short stories that I worked on this week. One is about an older gender queer/fluid, asexual person, the other about a middle aged aromantic, asexual woman. I’ve met a number of people in the past couple of years who identify as asexual, and it’s been a topic I wanted to delve into. A very rewarding experience, and I thank both characters for allowing me a glimpse into their reality. We’ll see if any of the stories will fit the anthology’s requirements…

I’ve also, oddly, begun writing on a new novel. Or story anyway. There has been something on my mind for some time, and it sort of burst out of me the other day. I can tell how desperately I want to write about it. However, I’m also weeks away from launching my new novel and I’ve yet to receive the edits from my publisher. I expect them any day really. I’m also waiting for some Sami words that still need to be worked into the text. I don’t speak Sami myself, and particularly the Ume Sami language, with less than one hundred native speakers is an elusive one. I need to make sure to get things right. I expect those this weekend.

In order to prepare for the launch, I’ve worked on a trailer for the book. I’ve done a short trailer for every book since the launch of Jonathan’s Hope. That was an amateurish work, but it did the trick. I hope that the trailer for Last Winter’s Snow feels a tad more professional. I just upgraded my tools to a more professional version, giving me a lot more flexibility to do things “my” way. But that also means a lot more complexity. Have a look, leave a comment:

 

Anyway, I’m rambling. You all have a great weekend, and remember, no matter who you are, what you are (labeled or not), you are a wonderful and complex, valuable human being, worthy to be loved and cherished.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

PS: Have you noticed the “Donate” button on my website? I’ve been contemplating creating a Patreon account, to help finance my every day life. But I’ve decided against it. I may write about that on Monday, why I feel it’s not the right tool for me. However, since I do not accept commercials on my website or my YouTube account, I don’t make any money on my blogging or vlogging. If someone likes my work, this is a way to show appreciation. No strings attached on either side. Thank you.

Editing, proofing, appealing cover art, is it really necessary? #MondayBlogs #AmWriting #AmReading

#MondayBlogs: Being an #author today, is it really that much different from say one hundred years ago? #amwriting #asmsg #amreading

Being an author today is vastly different, in many ways, yet in most, it isn’t

Last week, as I revealed (not released, duh! I must’ve been really exhausted that day) the cover to my latest novel Last Winter’s Snow, I had already reached an agreement with my publisher to increase the price of the book by one dollar, compared to what we’d charged until  today. We’re going to increase the price on all our books in the coming weeks. I believe we’ve reached the point where prices need to be adjusted to fairly compensate authors for the work we and everybody else put into our books. To be an author today is a lot about the economy. Maybe that is one of the major changes to times long gone, although, for some, that is still valid, but for most of us, those times “long gone” never really existed. I’ll explain in a minute.

But first a bit of math. We’ll charge $4.99 for Last Winter’s Snow, the e-book. Of that, we get 70% from Amazon. That is $3.49 which we split 50/50, i.e. $1.75 for me. I am very open about this. Other authors keep their agreements closely to their chest, but my publisher is also very honest and up front, so no secrets here. I’ve always paid for my covers. All in all, the covers (e-book & paperback) is costing me somewhere along the lines of $140-175, depending on how much work Natasha has to put into it. I may also pick up some line-editing cost, while we are lucky that we have proof readers who work for free, because they love to get their hands on stories early. My publisher picks up the editing, type-setting and all the work associated with putting files online and selling them, plus all the bookkeeping etc.

Now, to pay my end of the cost of roughly $300, (which excludes any and all marketing and/or PR), I need to sell at least 172 copies. Before the price increase, just to give you an idea, that number was over 215, just to break even. In the indie industry, not every book even sells that many copies in a year or ever. That’s way before we’ve paid for conventions, marketing, PR, your website and what not. Mind you, the lifespan of a book is more than a year, and over time, the financials may look different, but still. A great many of us need to supplement their income somehow. Because to make an average US income ($55,775 for 2015 according to census numbers) I’d have to sell 31,935 books in a year. I came halfway in 2015 with ALL my books. However, a great many of those books were sold at a much lower price point, several thousand were even part of a Bookbub giveaway. I made considerably less. To pay those bills, most authors work part- or even full-time, some use other means of adding money, be it through donations on PayPal, a Patreon account and/or being supported by a loving spouse, parent or friend/benefactor. Some even use less than kosher methods and some even go all the way to being criminal (see below), which is – of course – sad.

But what was it like a hundred years ago? Not much different, at least not for the authors who did get published. Because unlike today, most wanna-be authors remained wanna be. Yes, there were vanity publishers who would put out anything for a price, but those books usually disappeared in the closet, basement or attic of the author never to be read by anyone, except a few selected friends or family members. But even those who were published often held other positions, as journalists, critics, teachers, etc. Some had family money (no matter what, it always helps you get ahead), some had benefactors or patrons. Without that, few ever got to the point that they were able to make a living off of their writing. Even Shakespeare didn’t make a living as a writer, but as the owner of a play house. The amazing literature he wrote was merely a means to an end, to set up plays. He earned his money from the people who paid to see the plays.

To be an author today isn’t therefore that big a difference from a pure financial point of view. The difference financially comes primarily from the fact that there are so many more of us, compared to a hundred years ago. Self-publishing, indie publishing and the changes the Internet and players like Amazon et al have brought to the industry have increased competition exponentially. Amazon’s entry into the book market is almost like a publishing big bang, and as with all major disruptions to an industry, it’s for the better and the worse. Yes, as authors and publishers, we often deplore the way Amazon abuses its power, changing review rules or how they impose pricing levels. On the other hand, we mustn’t forget that without Amazon, most of us would still be writing books the way my dear bonus mom did. For the shelf. For no one to ever be read. A shame.

Dying is one thing… But lying about your own death? Impersonate an non-existing gay husband? Commit identity theft (!) to write your own obituary? Fake identity papers?Really, is this what being an author today has come to?

Because contrary to popular belief when self-publishing was young and new, books that are self- or indie published are not “bad” books. Quite the contrary. Some of those books are the best I’ve ever read. However, there are of course, as in all things human, those who take short cuts, who do not pay ample attention to editing, proofing, type-setting, great cover art etc.

I’ve just recently seen an author who took pictures off Google to put on her covers. Without paying for them of course, which is highly illegal and then an amateurish execution. It takes more than Photoshop to create appealing cover art. Being “poor” is no excuse for not paying for an editor, proof readers or a cover artist. Publishing isn’t a human right. Surviving is, yet you can’t go to the supermarket and walk out without paying for your food, can you? Yet some writers feel that putting out an unedited, un-proofed book, as great as the story may be, is a basic human right. It’s not. Freedom of speech means that the government may not hinder you from publishing it, but it doesn’t mean a publisher has to pick it up. However, since the tools Amazon et al put at your disposal, making self-publishing basically “free”, some authors decide to publish unedited, un-proofed word documents with a home made cover anyway. Sadly, that crap (pardon my French) is quite harmful to all of us, serious self-publishers, indie authors, trad publishers, as well as those who cut corners. Why? It clutters search engines, makes it difficult to find the good stuff, it annoys readers, and – last not least – it seriously eroded the price point of books for many years now. A book that cost $0 in the making is likely to be offered more cheaply than a book that costs $1,000+ in the making (which is not an expensive price point, just saying!). That’s why there are so many $0.99 books out there. Over time, others have reacted, and even serious, long-time authors felt compelled to jump into the fray and offer some of their work for less than a dollar. At 35% royalty, that author would have to sell a whooping 161K books to make the above mentioned income. Impossible, particularly given the quality of the product.

Readers aren’t appreciating it. Because for every crap book they read, they get more frustrated and in the end, they may give up on reading altogether. And that would be a shame. Not to mention that an author who’s cutting corners will end up black-listed, not just by industry peers, but by readers alike. Don’t believe me? Ask Kathryn Perez, aka Cait Perez aka Byron Rider… She’ll find her miraculous recovery from death (!) is going to be short-lived if Facebook reader comments are any indication. Worse still, an entire industry ends up in disarray, and the more shit storms a genre endures (and my own, the LGBT one’s had a few too many of those recently) the fewer new readers we attract. We even lose readers, by the droves, if the 2015 crash is any indication. In the long run, no one is served by this all.

In a way, being an author today is no different from being an author one hundred or one thousand years ago. Money is tight for the vast majority of us, and always will be, just like it is for the average artist or worker out there. On the other hand, the “job” of being an author today has changed. Shiny objects like KDP, KU, CreateSpace, Audible and what not have changed the way we are authors, forever, putting new tools in our hands, tools that enable us to reach more people than ever before, in ever new ways. However, for every new “free” tool put at our disposal, we also need to assume responsibility for our work, make sure we provide our customers, our readers and fans, a high quality product. Not just for the sake of our own reputation, but to secure the future of an entire industry. I feel that being an author today is exciting, not the least because we reach new readers with tools like e- & audio books, and I can’t wait to get my first audiobook out there, reaching whole new audiences, e.g. the viewing impaired.

What’s your take? Author, publisher, reader? Where do you see the greatest changes to the publishing industry over the past century? Are you hopeful for the future? What’s it like to be an author today? I can’t wait to read your input.

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Have a wonderful week!

Hans