Being “underrated” might be the good luck the writer is hoping for

“The realisation usually comes slowly. First, there is the conspicuous absence of reviews, publicity spots and invitations to literary festivals. Then there is the all-too-swift removal of your title from the glamorous New Release section of the bookstore, and its relegation to the densely packed Australian fiction shelves in the bowels of the shop. Lastly and most humiliatingly, you see that the single copy of your book has been turned perpendicular to the wall, now only visible by its spine. At this point, you know your novel has lived its short, inglorious life and there will be only a few more spluttering sales before it passes into the annals of the entirely ignored.” – Ilka Tampke in Writing is tough. My book went so unnoticed I won an award for it

Tampke says she was embarrassed about the award. Her family thought it was a joke. She didn’t even want to tweet about it because that would imply her publisher hadn’t done a good job when she thought they had.

I have mixed feelings about this award and also about lists that come out about this time every year about the most underrated books of the year. Excuse my cynicism, but most small-press books never become well known enough to be considered underrated. An entire segment of the bookselling industry is so far off the RADAR of the all-knowing and all-powerful movers and shakers that we’re totally ignored when sighs and whispers for underrated books are handed out.

At least, when a book is called “underrated,” much less getting an award for it, it is getting some publicity. Finally, somebody has noticed it. I understand the author’s embarrassment because I feel it with every book I write. It’s not my fault, nor my publisher’s fault because it’s an industry-wide problem: completely apathy from mainstream reviewers and publications about small-press (sometimes called boutique-press) books. The result is a real or imagined collusion between those who write about books and the big presses that control the industry.

If your book is labelled as “underrated,” you might have a chance because calling it underrated causes people to hear about it. Not that anyone really wants their long-time writing effort to end up in that category.

While Tampke is quick to point out that a writer’s primary motivation is not recognition, she adds that “The gift of the Most Underrated Book Award is that it gives my idea a second life. It says that the conversation begun by my book is worth continuing. It is a quietly handsome, yet sensitive man, walking over and finally asking my bespectacled girl to dance.”

I also don’t think writers write because we’re seeking gushing reviews and hefty monetary prizes. However, writing is a business and so a certain amount of recognition is required for that business to be profitable. That doesn’t happen when reviewers and off-book-page article writers ignore small-press books. There’s just no level playing field here.

I am happy to be with a wonderful small press, Thomas-Jacob Publishing, a Florida based publisher that releases books on the premise that “Readers want quality books that stimulate thoughtful discussion and debate.” My colleagues and I write books about issues that matter, so we’re always pleased when they find an audience. All we need now is for a major publication like The Guardian to come along and say, “Wow, look at these underrated books.”

Malcolm

 

 

If I Buy One Wrench, Should the Rest of the Set Be Free?

Look at this fine set of Craftsman Wrenches available at Ace Hardware. Now, using many online book buyers’ expectations, I should be able to walk into the hardware store, buy the ¾” wrench and get the rest of the set for free. This is the online mindset publishers and writers face these days.

This mindset is probably behind the fact that Audible wants to add closed captions to audiobooks without compensating the authors and publishers. Our agreements with Audible call for them to make available an audio copy of our books, a copy we must pay a professional narrator to produce.

Now, major publishers are suing Audible for copyright infringement, and well the should, for none of us–large and small publishers–have granted Audible the rights to a print version of the text. Many of us think that publishers should have an opt-in/opt-out choice. If we opt-in, Audible pays for essentially distributing a print and an audio version of the book.

Audible claims the captions will help the deaf and the hard of hearing. I don’t doubt it because I rely on closed-captioning to watch TV shows. But Audible cannot expect to offer the service without paying those who created the material.

Many readers will probably side with Audible because they think when you buy one edition, all the other editions of the book should be available at no charge. Well, for one thing, paperback and hardcover books don’t cost the same to produce, so I can’t imagine a publisher throwing in a free hardcover edition for everyone who bought the e-book or the paperback. All of these editions (e-book, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook) are not produced by a giant computer on demand. Each one has been created separately by the publisher or self-published author.

  • The formatting and cover requirements for e-books and physical books are different.
  • If you add a paperback edition, you need a high-res image for the printing, back-cover art, and you must consider how thick the book will be, based on the number of pages, in order to properly format the front cover/spine/back cover.
  • If you add a hardback edition, usually printed by a separate company for small presses, you also have to consider the dimensions of the dustjacket and what will be printed on the front and back flaps.
  • If you add an audiobook, you have to find a producer/narrator whom you can afford–or contract for a royalty/share provision–and then work with them to make sure they have pronunciations and ambience right. My Florida Folk Magic Series wasn’t easy for narrators because it had phrases in African American dialect and North Florida’s dialect. So, pronunciation lists must be compiled and every file must be listened to before it’s approved for publication.

Publisher expenses, actual or work hours, are incurred to produce every edition of every book. So, I side with the authors, printers, narrators, and editors who feel discounted when buyers say they are entitled to a free copy of every edition after buying one copy of one edition.

Right. Just try that nonsense with the people at Craftsman or Ace Hardware and see how it works out. Or, walk into an expensive restaurant and ask if buying an appetizer entitles you to an entire meal (Including cocktails and wine) at no extra charge.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of a whole bunch of stuff.

 

Thinking book covers

This is one of the cover pictures I use on my Facebook author’s page. It’s a handy way of showing all the covers in my Florida Folk Magic Series together.

While the book cover is often the last thing an author thinks about, it’s the first thing a prospective reader sees. Some say a reader decides in 15 seconds whether to look inside the book at a physical book store or via the look inside features on book pages at Amazon and B&N. However, as I write I can usually see my characters and their environment quite clearly; it’s almost as though I’m looking at them in a photograph.

So, I’m lucky that my publisher Thomas-Jacob works with authors to come up with the cover art. In this case, we used two artists. The first did Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman; then, when he wasn’t available to do the cover for Lena, we found another great artist who was willing to work in the style we needed to make all three books look like they belonged together.

Thoughts behind the cover: The book is set in another era, the 1950s. So, we have an unpaved road through the piney woods. Eulalie, the conjure woman, wore a dress and a hat (unlike the jeans and tee shirts people wear today) when she rode her bike into town to sell stuff out of her garden at the mercantile. Her kitty, Lena, would either side in basket or trot alongside. The railroad tracks figure into the story.

The style of the art tells you these stories are magical in that there’s something ethereal the scenes: the radiance in the first book, the spooky nighttime in the second, and the sudden appearance of an alligator in the road in the third one. The mood here would be quite different if we had tried to do this cover with a photograph of a similar scene or with stock drawings.

I like spending time on the look and feel of the covers because they set the stage for the story. When I look at the covers of some self-published books on Amazon, I wish the authors had worked a little harder to come up with unique covers instead of using stock photography and a boxy layout. Spending the money for original art or custom photography is money well spent.

Malcolm

 

I expect book editors to catch the over-use of a pet word or phrase

I just finished reading a novel by a “global bestselling author.” It was published by an imprint of a major publisher. Since it was a mystery/crime novel rather than a satire, I wonder why the publisher’s editors didn’t catch the fact that the author kept using the word “curtly” over and over again, as in, “It’s not my fault,” she said, curtly.

The first time I saw the adverb, it worked even though writing teachers generally don’t like adverbs because they tell the reader something rather than show the reader something. However, in a fast-paced dialogue sequence made up of short sentences, the adverb seemed justified. The second time I saw “curtly,” it was used appropriately, but I wondered why the author didn’t use something else rather than re-using “curtly.”

I didn’t count how many times he used this word. However, its use was excessive, noticeable, distracting, and lazy. His editor should have caught it.

Sometimes when I use a word, I think it’s the first time I’ve used it in a story. But then I notice it a few more times. In Word, I can see how often I’ve written it and where with the “find” function. It tells me how many times I chosen the word and highlights its occurrences. This makes it easy to change some instances of the word with synonyms or to rewrite the passages.

Now, perhaps the author in question is powerful enough to overrule his editor. Okay, the editor’s off the hook. But in this case, the author appeared to take the lazy way out.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Florida Folk Magic Series of crime and conjure novels.

 

Book Bits: Sherman Alexie, Smoky Zeidel, ‘Freshwater,’ book covers, Amy Tan

According to the social media, people are impatient for Spring. Booker Talk (Item 2), one of my favorite blogs, wishes all of us Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus i chi! (Happy St. David’s Day to You All) with a fine list of Welsh books to consider during inclement weather. It’s raining hard here in Northwest Georgia, so in between furtive trips into the yard to see what the bulbs are doing, I’m doing a lot of reading. If you’ve got stormy weather and don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky, here are a few links to help you wait for Spring.

  1. Wikipedia Photo

    News: Sherman Alexie’s Response to Harassment Accusations – “After a month of online charges that he has been abusive to many women, particularly Native American women, author Sherman Alexie issued a statement yesterday. It’s a mix of admission and denial and, as with to much of the matter, it’s somewhat vague.” Shelf Awareness

  2. Lists: Books to mark Wales’ special day – March 1 is St David’s Day in Wales — “St David being our patron saint — so usually a day for celebration of all things Welsh. The celebrations will be very muted this year however with schools closed and concerts cancelled because of Storm Emma, so I thought I would mark the occasion by highlighting some new books from authors and publishers based in Wales.” BookerTalk
  3. New Title: Garden Metamorphosis: New and Collected Poems of Change and Growth, by Smoky Zeidel (Thomas-Jacob, March 1) – “In the midst of a confusing and frightening world, Smoky Zeidel remains true to form with her poetry, gently reminding us to close out the superfluous and remember that which is sacred. Garden Metamorphosis is both a love song to Mother Earth, and a celebration of the cycle of life Read the complete poems, plus Zeidel’s short story, ‘Transformed.'” Thomas-Jacob Publishing
  4. Ursu

    Feature: Sexual Harassment in the Children’s Book Industry, by Anne Ursu – “These are the sort of events we’re told to brush off — they’re jokes, they’re flattering, no big deal. But when you believe you are a professional and someone informs you they see you as a sex object, it can shatter your sense of self and your sense of safety.” Medium

  5. Quotation: “The future of publishing lies with the small and medium-sized presses, because the big publishers in New York are all part of huge conglomerates.” Lawrence Ferlinghetti
  6. Review: Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi, reviewed by Tariro Mzezewa – “In her remarkable and daring debut novel, “Freshwater,” Akwaeke Emezi draws in part from her own life to tell the story of Ada, a young Igbo and Tamil woman haunted by the ogbanje — the ‘godly parasite with many heads, roaring inside the marble room of her mind.’” New York Times
  7. Feature: Meet the Designers behind Your Favorite Book Covers, by Alexxa Gotthardt – “We talk with five designers whose book jackets are routinely hailed as crowd favorites. Their designs blanket young adult bestsellers like John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down (2017), literary classics like Vladimir Nabokov’s The Eye (1930), and tomes that rethink the form of a book (one comes with a remote control, and drives like a toy car).” Artsy
  8. Interview Amy Tan on Writing and the Secrets of Her Past, with Nicole Chung – “In ‘Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir,’ Amy Tan recalls the time a relative told her mother that she shouldn’t fill her daughter’s head with ‘all these useless stories.’ Why should Amy know so much, visit her mother’s painful memories, when it was beyond her power to change the past? Her mother replied: ‘I tell her so she can tell everyone, tell the whole world . . . That’s how it can be changed.’ As she writes in her memoir, ‘My mother gave me permission to tell the truth.’” Shondaland

Book Bits is compiled randomly by author Malcolm R. Campbell.

Excellent Source for Self-Publishing Help

“I was recently tasked with putting together a publishing workshop for my local library. As I researched and gathered information, I realized everything they needed to know was available right here, on IndiesUnlimited.com.”

via Everything You Need to Self-Publish – Indies Unlimited

As author Melinda Clayton says, there’s a wealth of information stashed under the Knowledge Base and Resource Pages menu selections on the Indies Unlimited main screen. Sometimes I think we become so accustomed to the menu selections on blog-oriented sites, we forget they’re there and miss out on the links and other information they lead to. We read the posts of the day and move on.

Self-publishing can seem like a daunting process when an aspiring writer first decides to take the plunge. In addition to Indies Unlimited, you can find helpful resources on sites such as Poets & Writers, Association of Writers and Writing Programs, Jane Friedman, and Writers Digest.

The information is “out there.” Half the battle is knowing where to look.

–Malcolm

You might just win a Kindle Fire Tablet if you sign up for my publisher’s newsletter

tjlogoThomas-Jacob Publishing is starting a newsletter to help its adoring readers keep up with upcoming books and events. Since this is my publisher, I hope the readers are adoring. I’m proud of our catalogue, featuring books by:

  • Malcolm Campbell
  • Melinda Clayton
  • Tracy Franklin
  • Michael Franklin
  • Robert Hays
  • Smoky Zeidel.

Okay, moving onto the Kindle Fire Tablet. Click on the graphic below to go to the newsletter signup page. Just a few fields to fill out and then you’re done.

The first place winner of the tablet and the two second place winners of a free paperback from Thomas-Jacob’s list will be selected in a random drawing August 17th.

TJnewsletterpromo

Good luck in the drawing!

–Malcolm

 

Do Million Dollar Debuts Give Writers Hope?

Nope.

Sure, if we were the ones getting a million dollar advance from a major publisher, we would feel hopeful about our future.

Otherwise, the feeling is one of despair.

bestsellerSure (sorry to use the word again), there may be some sour grapes behind our feelings when we read articles like Betting Big on Literary Newcomers.

After all, with the promotion, glitz, buzz and hoopla behind a book with a million bucks behind it, we could skip all the years of being anonymous, of writing novels many people like but that still don’t have the clout to get editorial reviews, of being asked what we’ve written and then getting a blank stare when we list a few of our novels.

As Jennifer Maloney writes in the Wall Street Journal article about betting big, “Social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads have contributed to a culture in which everyone reads—and tells their friends about—the same handful of books a year. It’s increasingly a winner-take-all economy, publishing executives say. ”

That’s the why behind our despair when we read about such huge advances. If your book is not one of these books, or if you’re not already a big name author, you book basically doesn’t exist in spite of all the blog tours, Amazon sales days, and GoodRead giveaways.

Our argument–as the writers down in the steerage section of the publishing ocean liner–has always been that literature would be better served if that million bucks were dedicated to the promotion of, say, ten books for one hundred grand each, or maybe twenty books at fifty grand each rather than being lavished in an advance to one person. That million doesn’t include the advertising budget.

Sometimes BIG BOOKS turn out to be really good, even wonderful. But they’re bad for literature because–like black holes–they suck all of publishing’s efforts into a small minority of what’s out there. We understand, of course, that publishers claim that the profits from big books help fund little books. Maybe, but I never see any evidence of it.

The authors who write the books that jump into the stratosphere like this worked just as hard as the authors who didn’t. But their work is being turned into a fabricated event. Big advance = lots of buzz = justified large promotional and advertising budget = high sales and many articles and book reviews. The publisher has paid to put the book on top from the starting gate.

Yes, I read these books when the critics have good things to say about them. I’m tempted like everyone else to the books I hear about. Unfortunately, like everyone else, I miss the books I don’t hear about because no advertising or promotional budget brought them to my attention.

What a shame.

–Malcolm

 

Thanks for the editors

At this very moment, an editor is going over the manuscript for Thomas-Jacobs Publishing’s re-release of my contemporary fantasy Sarabande. I’m glad she is. She sees what I cannot see along with inconsistencies and goofs I wouldn’t recognize if I did see them.

Note: none of my editors look like this.
Note: none of my editors look like this.

I could blame my cataract surgery for making my right eye see so much better than I need new glasses to read the words on the screen. (My old glasses are now too strong.)

However, if my editor sees this post, she can remind me (and all of you) that I was overlooking a lot of typos before the surgery.

Sometimes my wife reads over things I’ve written that I think are error free. Nope. She was a newspaper editor so she catches a lot of stuff.

So does my publisher, but she likes to check and double-check, so an editor reads my stuff after she reads my stuff. It must be a fact of life that a writer can go over his or her work a hundred times and guess what? It’s still waiting for the editor’s red pen.

Unfortunately, the red pen is gone. My wife and I are old school: we grew up editing copy (news copy) on a double spaced printout. I find more errors this way than I do when looking for typos and missing punctuation on the screen. I have to admit that Word’s Revision/Markup makes it easy for publishers and editors and writers to communicate over time about manuscript corrections.

But I still prefer edits on paper. My eyes are attuned to the page rather than the screen. Even so, I miss a lot. You probably do, too, whether you edit on the screen or print out a hard copy and look for your favorite pencil.

That’s why I firmly believe everything should go through an editor even though it’s not always easy to arrange this in today’s Kindle Direct Publishing world. If your spouse didn’t work for a newspaper, at least get your pets to review everything before you hit the “Save and Publish” button.

Thanks Lesa (wife), Smoky (editor) and Melinda (publisher).

–Malcolm

TSScoverjourneysMalcolm R. Campbell is the author of “The Sun Singer,” a contemporary fantasy that is currently on sale on Kindle.

 

 

Don’t let a bad publisher derail your writing dream

The trouble with dreams is that the defy logic. Last night, I dreamt I was at a Shriners convention. When I woke up, I knew it wasn’t true.

When a fast-talking, dirt bag of a publisher says they’ll give you the moon, the sun and the stars, waking up often takes longer.  Sure, there can be misunderstandings about contract standards and terms as well as what a new author can reasonably expect. But fraud and almost-fraud are something else.

writerbewareIf you have a book and think it’s ready to publish, do some Google searches (if you think you’ve found a publisher) and see if anything negative turns up. In fact, do a search on “publishing scams” as well. I did a search on that phrase and got 850,000 hits. That alone suggests there’s enough badness out there to curl your hair even if you don’t want it curled.

If you’re unsure about publishing practices and terminology, check Writers Write. They’re a good resource.

If you think you’ve found a publisher, check Writer Beware. In addition to positive resources, the site features a solid list of publishers and indiesproblems. Or, as they put it: Writer Beware’s mission is to track, expose, and raise awareness of the prevalence of fraud and other questionable activities in and around the publishing industry. They do a good job keeping their data updated. Looking here might save you a lot of time, money and heartache, while keeping your dream of track.

Another site with good writing resources is Indies Unlimited. They have a staff of seasoned experts who have been there, done that, and survived to tell the tale–and offer some advice as a bonus.

Click on the graphic for the March 25 post about an author's experience with an editing company.
Click on the graphic for the March 25 post about an author’s experience with an editing company.

But there’s more. IU is currently running a series of blog posts called FOULED! written by people have been scammed. Dream-wise, these are sob stories. In many cases, fraud was involved. Unfortunately, fraud is hard to prove and most beginning writers don’t have the money to hire a lawyer, much less travel to the state where the publisher is headquartered and initiate a court action.

Nightmare on Editing Street

Today’s post by Brenda Perlin tells a nightmare story about the author’s experience with an online editing company. The company promised a beautiful manuscript and delivered, well, pond scum (my term for it).

Such companies can take advantage of a problem most writers face: if the publisher doesn’t hire in-house editors to clean up a manuscript, then the writer has to do it. Unfortunately, the cost for editing, say, a 70,000-word book might well be more than most of us can afford; and, statistically, it also may be more than most debut, small-press or self-published novels are likely to earn. This is a sensitive area for writers because they get dinged by reviewers for typos.

Most of us are the last people to copy edit or proofread out own work.

Previously, on Fouled

If you want to read these in the order that they appeared, start at the bottom of the list and work up.

This is how dreams are

Writing is hard work. Finding the right publisher and then promoting the book is almost harder work.  In Blue Highways, one of my favorite books, the author William Least Heat-Moon talks to many people along the road, asking one of them: “Dreams take up a lot of space?”

“All you can give them,” was the reply.

This is how dreams are. How dreams are makes them dangerous because logic and good intentions don’t always mesh well with our journey to make dreams come true. So, as the site says, Writer Beware.

Otherwise, how dreams are is also their magic and wonderment.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Conjure Woman’s Cat.