The White Saviour Narrative

So you’ve got this native people, okay, and they are “more in tune with nature” and therefore have no indoor toilets or shoes, and they have Issues, man. Issues that are usually insurmountable for them (because they don’t have access to modern plumbing, of course) but less so for the Mighty Whitey who makes first contact with them and brings them the knowledge of pooping indoors and wearing boots.

An Author’s Life, or Why I will Never Do a Kickstarter

So… let’s talk about the business of writing.

It’s definitely a business, unless you’re writing and posting your stuff for free online. (Or just using it as parrot cage lining.) Being a professional writer is a tough gig. It’s hard to convince readers that your work is worth a couple of bucks, but we have to eat somehow. Writing isn’t powered by moon dust and unicorn farts.

So you’ll excuse me if I find it profoundly offensive that anyone thinks that a professional writer should work for free.

So You Just Want to Write

I’ve heard and read this a few times. It’s what every author wants, isn’t it? They just want to write. There’s so much work involved in getting a book to market, work that cuts into writing time. Handing it off to a publisher – or overpaying an outfit like AuthorHouse to do it – probably seems like a pretty good deal if it means more writing time.

To that I have to say: if all you want to do is write, why not just start a blog and write away? No covers needed, no special formatting – just you, the blank screen, and your audience.

“But Claire, you don’t understand! We want to make money by writing!”

Well now, that’s a different story.

Piracy is Not the Bogeyman

If the LendInk fiasco has taught us anything, it is this: when authors are faced with the prospect of someone getting their work for free, their initial reaction is one of panic. It’s possible that this is a learned reaction, from big media companies that make a huge deal about piracy. I think many of the authors involved were independent, and didn’t have the benefit of a publisher’s legal guidance. The end result was predictable, if nothing else; authors saw their books listed on the site, got no response from the owner, and assumed the worst immediately.

It is also the wrong reaction, and here is why.

An Update to the LendInk Author List

THIS POST WILL BE UPDATED AS AND WHEN I RECEIVE MORE INFORMATION. LEAVE NOTES IN THE COMMENTS HERE.

I’ve decided to go through the list and record who among the guilty have apologised for the LendInk fiasco, mostly because I want the world at large to see who’s doing the right thing. I’m checking this by doing a google search for the author’s name and ‘lendink’ and by trying to find their site and most recent updates. Much obliged to A.B. Dada for his work in getting screenshots – full credit at his site here.

If I mark an author down as ‘nothing’, it means they were involved but I cannot find any apology or further information for them.

UPDATE 8/20/2012 – I’ve received an email from an author who is being harassed and threatened. Although I will not remove any names from this list, I want to say this again: nothing, NOTHING, justifies that kind of behavior. For many of the authors below, to the best of my knowledge, the extent of their involvement was a single tweet or Facebook post and nothing more, unless I have noted otherwise. If you can’t express your displeasure without resorting to harassment, then you are far lower than them and you have my complete and utter contempt. 

Some things to note

All of the authors listed posted at least an attack on LendInk on Facebook or Twitter, to the best of my knowledge. Many have deleted those posts and tweets. Many also sent either Cease and Desists or DMCA takedowns to LendInk’s host, though we will never know the full extent of that.

I have seen more godawful websites in the last few hours than I’ve seen in the entire year previous to this. I can count the ones that I would consider at an acceptable minimum standard for a professional site on the fingers of one hand. Authors, please, please get a professional to do your site! There were also more than a few for which I couldn’t find a site at all!

Although all these authors are culpable in some way, please reserve your ire for the ones listed in bold. They are the ones who don’t regret their actions, to the best of my knowledge.

If you believe that the authors listed below who have apologised have done so in good faith, then I ask that you forgive them. They may not deserve a pat on the back for doing the right thing, but they certainly don’t deserve your hate.

One argument was made by John Davis that LendInk did not have permission to display the book covers, hence the takedown was justified. I believe this is false; Amazon’s T&Cs cover this kind of usage. See my comment here.

(As an aside, it looks like the personal attacks are mostly happening on Facebook right now. For shame, people. You can express your feelings about this without resulting to name-calling.)

Hachette, what are you thinking?!

I’ve just seen the truly bizarre news that Hachette, one of the big publishing houses, is demanding that any author with titles published by Tor in some territories and Hachette in others keep the DRM on their ebooks.

Tor have recently begin to offer DRM-free books, in a move that further boosts my respect for them as one of the few publishers who know what they’re doing. Hachette, apparently, are worried that the availability of DRM-free copies of ebooks in some regions, and they feel that they can dictate terms to their authors as a result.

The arrogance of this literally takes my breath away.

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The Moral Panic of Piracy

danger symbolAlright, if you haven’t heard the full story yet, LendInk.com is a small ebook lending site that has been forced offline. It was a very straightforward business model – they let users register, and users listed which ebooks they had that could be lent out to other users once. Then people traded books. It was a bit like a person-to-person lending – you know, like with paper books – that could only be done once. LendInk did not keep copies of the books themselves. It couldn’t.

LendInk was still taken offline by hundreds of lawsuit threats.

Normally I hear this kind of story and assume the worst; that some big media company has taken notice of an up and coming site, and proceeded to lay the smack down in a poor attempt to protect their copyrights. I was wrong in this case. The authors did it, and they did it because someone told someone else that LendInk was a pirate site.

All I can say about this is that I am disappointed. And angry, yes, on behalf of LendInk’s owner, who seems like a nice enough small businessman, but mostly disappointed.

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How a Traditional Publisher Can Harm an Author’s Career?

Words on paperMark Coker, the owner of Smashwords, does make a good point with his article on traditional publishers. Okay, him running the main source for independent authors is something of a bias, but I think his argument has merit: that trad publishers move too slowly and price too high for the marketplace, and this represents an obstacle for authors during their career when they’re faced with indies who can release their books on a much faster schedule at a more attractive price point.

This is a problem of the marketplace, of course. Today I’d like to look at some examples of how a traditional publisher can just harm an author’s career outright.

The Author as Customer

So, Penguin’s parent company bought Author Solutions. And now, BookCountry’s services page has been taken down for an “upgrade”. I’m going to draw the obvious conclusion and saw that BookCountry’s services are going to be Author Solutions’ services, as served through their various imprints.

Once everyone got over the shock of a company like Penguin being mentioned with Author Solutions in the same press release, the opinions started to fly thick and fast. I, unfortunately, fall into the camp of people who are less than impressed with this whole thing; it looks like a money grab to me, if anything. There’s a lot of cash in getting authors to buy overpriced services with an option to snatch a chunk of their profits if their book is a success too. David Gaughran over at IndieReader sums up my opinion on it all, with an extra side helping from Emily Suess over at her excellent blog.

I got to thinking about one aspect of it after reading Porter Anderson’s article over on Jane Friedman’s blog – that of the author as customer.

The Perception of Piracy

I got into a discussion over on Roz Morris’ blog last week on the nature of piracy. It got me thinking on a rather interesting aspect of the whole thing: how authors perceive it, versus what it actually is.

I’ve said before that combating piracy is a fool’s game, a waste of effort and energy that would be better spent elsewhere. But something that Roz said quite stuck in my mind:

We must stop sending the message that it’s okay to rip off creatives, for heaven’s sake. Our status has already been eroded enough by the entertainment business. In TV, films, books, the visual arts – and I dare say in music – the creative’s efforts are belittled as though we’re nothing more than happy noodlers. We must stress that creative work has value or none of us will have a living at all.

This seemed strange to me, in many ways. Who is sending out this message? Why is piracy such a major issue? This attitude seems common, among authors at least, but I have to wonder where it’s coming from.

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Leave Your Egos at the Door, Please

Words on paper“The consumer [says] ‘Where’s my free music on the internet? Is this a free download?’ Fuck off! It cost me a quarter of a million pounds to make it, you’re not getting it for nothing. I want my quarter of a million back, thank you very much. That’s why we’re rock stars.”

Noel Gallagher, famous British singer of the band Oasis.

An ego is a terrible thing to waste. C’mon, Noel, tell us how you really feel about your fans. It’s okay. Only some of them will be too offended by your attitude to buy your new album.

It never ceases to amaze me that artists take this kind of tack; that the mere act of them spending money on and ascribing value to their work means that everyone, everywhere, could spend money on and ascribe the same value to it. This is absolutely, obviously, not the case at all. We all make our own judgements on the value of certain objects, especially in art. There are people who would walk through fire to own a genuine Jackson Pollack, and there are just as many who would be happy to chuck it into the fire to rid the world of a little perceived ugliness.

Two days ago, David Lowery of the Tricordist blog posted a long article in the form of a letter to one individual music pirate, but that really addressed all pirates. Their main point – that there are no excuses, and one should pay for music, for many many reasons – is outside the scope of my blog, of course, but I found it interesting in how they ascribed value, and how those they addressed did the same.

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The DIY Stub

QR Code for the Author's Marketing HandbookAuthor Solutions, who I will not link to, once again, are offering a new service called Bookstubs(TM) through AuthorHouse. Gotta add that trademark – very important… They are, in essence, business cards for your book. The front is your cover, and the back is a standardized bunch of links and a QR code with a link to where you can buy your book online. For twenty (20) of these plus a press release, they ask a starting price of $1,199.

My utter contempt for them truly knows no bounds, at this point. I read the article from Writer Beware on this and became instantly, irrationally angry that a company would dare to ask such a price for so little. In my considered opinion as a graphic designer and technical expert, this is a colossal rip-off that is an insult to every good author out there.

I’m going to prove it to you by telling you how to do it for close to nothing, step by step.

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Fun with Google Alerts

Google LogoAuthors need Google Alerts. It’s another one of those Google services that are just too useful not to have. I honestly have no idea why it is that Google provides this kind of nifty thing for free, but hey – let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth. I do know that some authors are violently allergic to Alerts, but I really have to put that down to them not really knowing how to use them effectively, so here’s what you need to know about them and why they’re your best friend.

Why You Should Be a Writer

Why You Should Be a Writer

A recent article in Forbes was brought to my attention on Kindleboards, and I’m afraid it was with some horror that I read it and tried to digest its message. It is called, quite simply, Why You Should Not Be a Writer.

Needless to say, I can’t really get behind this sentiment. So let’s break it down, shall we? Here’s why you should be a writer.

1. You may not be good at it now, but…

Every author has to start somewhere. Even Shakespeare was terrible at some point. But if you’re committed to this, you’re always working to improve your craft, and you can’t do that unless you write all the time. What are you, if you write all the time? A writer.

The thing you have to remember is that writing is a skill like any other. Anyone can paint a wall; anyone can speak in their native language. But with enough practice and learning, anyone can hone their skill and produce works above and beyond the norm. A master of art creates scenes with line and color that fire the imagination. A master of words does the same with prose.

The Use of Amazon Affiliate Links

Amazon Affiliate links are useful things. There’s even a WordPress widget that let’s you add them easily to any post, which is very convenient. Many authors have taken to using them to add their books to the sidebar of their site, or when they’re doing reviews of someone else’s book.

I have to warn you – this may be a very bad idea. Please allow me to introduce you to a rather interesting little plugin called Adblock.

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The Cargo Cult of Social Media

Twitter bird logoThe recent revelation that many successful writers don’t seem to use any kind of social media has hit rather hard. Writer Unboxed’s article on this very subject was a well-written and thoughtful examination of the whole thing. But the reactions have somewhat baffled me – I hear a chorus of writers suddenly trumpeting that they don’t use social media and they’re glad not to, because it doesn’t work. I also hear a somewhat quieter chorus of writers who want to know what they’re supposed to do, then, to promote their books, and the response is usually something like ‘Just write more books!’

This is bad advice.

No, I’m not saying writers shouldn’t write. That’s ridiculous. I’m saying that, as a means of promotion, just writing isn’t going to cut it. Without properly delving into the mechanics of promotion and marketing, new authors are going to read this, write plenty of books while ignoring any other kind of marketing, and… well, be surprised and confused when they get no sales.

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Do Authors Need Websites?

keyboardSomeone actually put this to me this yesterday, and I was tempted to simply start laughing. It seems debatable on its face – do authors, purveyors of narrative not generally known for their tech savvy, need to have a website? My answer would be that you’re asking the wrong question.

Do authors need an online presence, where readers can easily access info on their books and get direct updates? A central location that each social media account leads back to? A repository for the author’s articles? A malleable selling tool?

Yes, dear authors, you need a website. But you also need to know why. It’s not enough to just go out there and set up a blog, for example, without having some pretty definite aims in mind for what you need it to do.

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Beware of Author Solutions

danger symbolFirst of all, let’s get something straight. If you publish a book, either all by yourself or by paying someone up front for the services you can’t handle (like cover design), for which you retain all rights and keep all profits, then you are an independent, self-published author. If you get an agent and a book deal that pays an advance and some healthy royalties, you’re a traditionally-published author.

If you use a service like Author Solutions, you’re a fool.

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The Problem with Twitter

Twitter bird logoTwitter’s been very well accepted by authors as a means to promote their books. Unfortunately, I see more than a few that seem to have lost the whole point of the system, and they devolve into the usual ‘Buy my Book!’ tweets that get instantly ignored.

The problem here is that you can’t treat something like Twitter as a traditional medium for advertising. It’s not a one-way method of communication, it’s a conversation, and if all you’re bringing to the table is the kind of breathless begging for money that people see every day on TV, you won’t get or deserve many followers. In a conversation, you can’t expect people to stick around and listen if you’re not saying anything worth hearing or anything really different from any other speaker.

Let’s get into how to properly use Twitter to promote your book.