Cold typesetting, warm and cozy sci-fi: self-publishing treasures

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type-settingCarrie Bailey is a science fiction writer who’s gotten her first book published. The nature of that publishing is a concern for some in our writing business. Carrie’s novels are self-published. She maps out the options for a writer of today: a traditional deal, a hybrid one, the small presses, or your own publishing. She calls down an image of her grandfather typesetting his book, letter by letter. It’s captivating, and the world would not have the writing of Virginia Woolfe if not for self-publishing.

Ipso facto, self-publishing is good for writers, right? Not so fast. There’s a column on Writer Unboxed by Dave King, editor for hire, warning the WU readers that self-publishing has its risks: a writer will believe their work is ready to publish when it is not. I assume that working with an editor for hire will help them better prepare their work. I sure hope so, because I am one of those editors. But I don’t blow smoke at my clients by telling them their only goal is to win that agent and that contract with a press. That confuses the creativity with the commerce of writing.

Bailey makes a better point. When considering the prospect of becoming an agented writer, seeking publishing deals, she becomes less motivated to write. Me too. The allegory I use these days is the film business. Lots of indie movies out there, crafted with love on a low budget. Many do not get more than a weekend at a local theatre, if any showings at all. Straight to Netflix. These are still movies, and some are worthy of your two hours. If everybody who made a film had to take a film degree (get and MFA!) or get picked up at Sundance (win an agent!) we wouldn’t have some movies to watch that we truly love.

Bailey says the dream she’s living is to write warm, comfortable, escapist sci-fi novels. That’s why we take our risks in writing — and then like in the movie biz, find collaborators (editors!) — to polish our books. Comfy escapism: what a treasure.

The 12 Steps to Creating a Self-Published Book

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First of a Series

Creative Coaching Series

Creative Coaching Series

Everyone dreams of being a published author. However, the definition of published has become broader. It’s within your grasp. Being published is a key goal in a writer’s life, a goal you can take control of — if you follow all of the steps in this series. Being published is a process that involves other artists, readers, professionals, and writers.Your greatest asset to complete that process is to take control of your desire. You’ve must harness desire to deliver the goods for your dream. In this series, I’ll break down each step, so you know how it works. Self-publishing your book follows a pattern classic to publishing.

  1. You create a story, and improve it through revising.
  2. You create one brief, one longer, and one comprehensive summary of the book. It’s your pitch, query, and calling card.
  3. You workshop with other writers to gather responses to your story, using those responses to create your final draft.
  4. You create your platform, before the book is complete, to build an audience
  5. You hire an editor to assess your book, and to guide your revisions to the story.
  6. You revise one last time, before submitting your book to copy-editing and proofreading tasks.
  7. You design your printed book, both the inside pages as well as the covers.
  8. You design and build files for ebooks: Amazon, as well as other outlets such as indie bookstore ebook shelves.
  9. You schedule and specify for production and organize delivery of printed copies, as well as your ebooks.
  10. You register your book with an ISBN number and a UPC code.
  11. You distribute the books in stores of several kinds: book chains, independent stores, and online stores.
  12. You tell the world about your book, encouraging reviews of all varieties. This final and essential step launches you as storyteller into the world, using your platform to introduce your written story, as well as attract an audience.

Steps 1-4 are the same for publishing as for self-publishing. On Step 5, things start to change. The editor in that step is one which you hire — in the same way that a publisher has hired its editor to help an author revise a book.

Like a good Tarentino movie, this series going to look at these out of order, starting with Step 5. We’ll double back to do Steps 1-4. That’s because your first four steps will be the same if you’re going to SelfPub, or Traditional Publish (TradPub). Then we’ll go on to Step 6.

You hire for steps 5-11, but you can do of those some parts yourself, depending on your skills. Step 12 is the same for either kind of publishing. Publicizing is the writer’s work to do for almost the entire life of the book. A publisher helps arrange initial interest, and might be able to schedule reviews. But tools like Amazon, GoodReads, even LibraryThing — these are yours to manage. More

Could be a good time to be not yet in print

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Google and the Authors Guild announced today that they’re revising an agreement to pay authors for printed books that get read online. Along with the American Association of Publishers, the parties wanted to give Google the clear path to scanning millions of printed works, then offering them to read over the Web.

There might be no better time to stay out of print than now, while your as-yet-unpublished book isn’t covered by the agreement. Published writers, you and your publisher have until June, 2010 to file an objection to the agreement if Google has already scanned your book. Nobody has seen the latest version of the agreement promised today. But DC Comics and Microsoft have filed objections to the existing settlement.

The Authors Guild threw up a roadblock to Google’s scan-and-display policy when it was announced last year. A fairness hearing in US, scheduled for today, has been delayed until next month.

The Guild is the domain of the published writer, and the organization takes its eligibility to an exclusive level. Even if you have a book contract, it must “include a royalty clause and a significant advance, and must allow the author to retain copyright.” Independent book publishers, who are accepting new books from new authors at a faster rate than major presses, are skipping advances these days. The Guild accepts members whose books are “published by an established American publisher… excepting small literary presses of national reputation.”

So whatever agreement the Guild, major publishers and Google arrive at, it won’t keep you from disputing when Google scans your small-press book and charges to read it. With exclusive eligibility requirements like these, Google is just ensuring that those left out of the agreement will probably welcome the online readership as a way to promote the books — which will likely have links to online stores. That’s where Google makes its money anyway, not in the per-reader charges.

Just off the press: Austin’s own lit journal

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Just tonight I heard beautiful writing, a first chapter of Donna Johnson’s in-progress memoir about growing up under the largest revival tent in the world. The Utter Reading was at our biggest independent bookstore, Bookpeople. So I was really not that surprised that the creators and editors of Austin’s own literary journal, Farfelu, were in the appreciative, rapt audience.

I met Elisabeth McKetta and Kim Pyle afterward, and they have just put out Farfelu Issue 9, their latest in a quarterly publication of poems, short fiction and art. It’s all done in a cozy undersized format, to make it stand out. Best of all, it’s got color or monochrome art in each issue, so it’s not one of the literary journals that “look like a socialist manifesto,” to quote the creators of the lit mag Tin House.

Elisabeth and Kim have this to say about their latest:

Issue 9 features eight black and white photographs by Clayton Cusak. In his own words, Cusak photographs “the rich visual subject matter of dilapidated, obsolete, and otherwise transformed structures and the relics they contain from previous inhabitants.” This issue is heavy in poetry, featuring work from five poets: Marcelle Kasprowicz, John Grey, Brian Brown, Misti Rainwater-Lites, and Erin Feldman. The two short stories in this issue, written by Ann Hillesman and Liliana Blum, depict two conflicting archetypes of Father: father as hero, father as villain.

As they point out in a friendly e-mail — coincidentally, sent today — books and magazine subscriptions make great holiday gifts. Their Web site makes it easy to order, and yes writers, there are submission guidelines there, too.

If you write in the Austin area, or even if you write much father afield, you ought to send Farfelu an offering, either of your writing or of a subscription. And a tip of the hat to the small journal, birthplace of many a burgeoning career. Harrison Cheung, who wrote in a Workshop series with us, had a funny short story published in Farfelu. These are the places you can stretch the wings of your writing.

Reflections on a dark Sun

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The literary magazine The Sun is just beyond 30 years old, but it hasn’t swerved a bit from its singular course through the dark side of human nature. Sy Safransky has been the editor throughout the mag’s lifespan, nurturing an editorial outlook that shines its spotlight on our deepest, darkest moments.

I spent an hour in bed after I woke up this morning reading the July issue. This is the work of the writer, too, I rationalized. We need to read where we hope to be published. Yes, even this celebration of life’s train wrecks stands on my list of hopes, because The Sun is uniformly well-written.

The centerpiece of the magazine, which constantly clocks in at 48 pages, is Readers Write. This deep well of human experience, related in first-person prose, recounts things that really have happened. Non-fiction only, explain the submission guidelines. The magazine’s staff reports these peeled off skins of truth are “edited, often quite heavily, but contributors often have the opportunity to approve or disapprove of editorial changes prior to publication.” Readers Write follows themes, simple as “Nothing to Lose.”

As I lay in bed reading this month’s 8-page collection of stories on “Waking Up,” I began to wonder if the staff was editing the pieces to darken them. After all, this 15 percent of the magazine included reports from a 10-by-10 prison cell; nightmares in the days leading to breast cancer surgery; a family pet tortured by young boys; an abusive alcoholic husband blaming his wife for their divorce; a suicide attempt survived without explanation; a shotgun-wielding parent who frightens his teenager into a fatal crash; Bosnian children returning to an occupied home where soldiers had left a live bomb; a sex offender failing to hold a job…

There are moments of joy and hope in The Sun — one reader wrote of wishing good things for his kids if he woke at 2:22 or 3:33 in the morning, and another recounted the joyous morning she woke up to JFK’s election. But for a magazine so named, The Sun howls in a dark tone much of the time. Its subjects, however, are the thing we are drawn to in stories: trouble, tragedy, conflict and complications. But like the short fiction of Annie Proulx, (stagger through her Heart Songs collection, if you dare) The Sun doesn’t feel compelled to lift its troubled people out of their woes. Maybe its prose, poetry and black and white photos aim to make the rest of us feel lucky.