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What About Wattpad? 21 September 2015

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Happiness, Publishing Industry.
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Have you heard about Wattpad? For those who grew up with traditional publishing, it’s a bit of a different cup of tea.

When I first heard about it, I was… hmm… not happy? It was launched a year before Every Day Fiction was born, but it didn’t cross my personal radar until after we’d started running with the concept of novel serialization, and where we hoped to attract paying subscribers for our novelists, here was a site where anyone could just give serial installments away for free.

Smut, I thought. Fan fiction. People who couldn’t find publishers. (Bear in mind this was before indie publishing had gained status as a respectable choice for those willing to hire professionals and put in the hard work.) When I heard Margaret Atwood had embraced Wattpad, I felt betrayed. Support small presses and money for authors, not this… thing. But she, and Wattpad, were just ahead of the curve.

Since we’ve learned that readers don’t generally want to pay for serials, it appears the choice isn’t between Wattpad and paid subscription — it’s between Wattpad and serializing free on your own blog, or not doing it at all. And Wattpad offers a community of over 40 million people plus an established platform to handle new-chapter-up notifications, comments, votes, and reading lists.

The business of writing and publishing is in mad flux and probably will be for some time, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the primary burden of promotion and brand-building is falling on the author, regardless of whether one is following the traditional route, the indie route, or a hybrid of the two. Building a toolkit of ways to reach out to new and existing readers is essential.

These days, I’ve completely reversed my original opinion of Wattpad.

As a platform, a brand-building and networking tool, it has a lot to offer: here’s a blog post by indie author Katie Cross sharing her experience, complete with stats and graphs. And this article/podcast on The Creative Penn has an answer to the question of how Wattpad helps to sell books: “It’s about building a fan-base for your writing, as opposed to your tweets or blog posts.”

No cat pictures, no memes, no linkbait — just stories. Yes, there’s plenty of smut, and fan fiction, and doubtless some people who couldn’t find publishers. There are also established traditional-path authors, rising-star indies, a globe-spanning community, and every kind of writing you can imagine (not just fiction, either; I’ve found poetry and self-improvement advice). It’s hotter for some genres than others, and apparently has a demographic tilt toward readers who are female and under 35, but it’s been great for me so far.

I’m currently serializing a novelette on Wattpad under my pen name, and I’m absolutely thrilled with the experience. Words like empowering and addictive and fun come to mind. I specifically chose to do this with a project that I wanted to give away, to start developing a world I’ll write further in (and building a fanbase for that world).

I expect that more experienced authors will be divided on the merits of Wattpad, just as there tends to be a divide at a certain level over whether to continue submitting to token-paying markets once one can command a semi-pro rate. As always, my feeling is that it’s an individual author decision: you have to weigh the costs (lost income opportunity, sacrifice of prestige, time) against the benefits (brand extension, networking, enjoyment) and do what’s right for your own journey.

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Adventures in Crowdfunding 24 January 2013

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in News & Announcements, Publishing Industry.
1 comment so far

It’s like watching a kettle, waiting for it to come to a boil.

If you haven’t yet heard of crowdfunding, it’s essentially a means of raising funds for a creative or inventive project from consumers prior to creation. There are a number of websites making this not only possible but relatively easy, at least in terms of functionality (popular crowdfunding sites include Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, among others) — you set up a page for your project, create donation levels with rewards for your backers, and launch your campaign.

And then you wait. Promote it — but don’t be a spammer — make sure the word is out — without annoying anyone — what’s the balance?

This is Every Day Publishing’s first venture into crowdfunding: Raygun Chronicles, an ambitious anthology of space opera stories. Editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt is operating the Kickstarter campaign, and he’s managed to secure participation from some amazing pro-level authors. But crowdfunding is the only way for us to organize the kind of capital needed to acquire the work of authors at that level — a massive step up from the shoestring-it-and-hope-for-royalties model where most small publishers start out.

Raygun Chronicles cover image

I’ll lay it on the table here: I really want to make this book. I want this chance to work with cover artist Paul Pedersen (the greyscale image above is his concept sketch for the cover). I want to be the publisher of record for new stories by recognizable names. I want to take the step up from shoestring micro-publisher and truly go pro. And without crowdfunding, it would take years and years to inch our way upward, always scraping the next book’s advance out of the last book’s royalties. So this process is exciting, and nerve-wracking, and frustrating. I keep checking the campaign page, watching the number of backers and dollars raised creep up… and like a kettle coming to the boil, it feels like every minute goes on forever.

Of course, I’ve heard the argument that “real” publishers shouldn’t attempt crowdfunding: “If you don’t have the money, you shouldn’t do the project.” And given the fact that just about anyone with access to an internet connection and a basic smidgen of computer sense can set up a smart-looking website and claim to be a publisher, I understand why readers might want to see some capital investment before putting their faith in such a claim, so it’s easy to see why crowdfunding might look like an end-around to bypass personal investment. Consider this, though: if a publisher is already out-of-pocket as far as reasonably possible, is it so wrong to want to pursue a bigger project? If no one frowns on a business getting a loan in order to grow, why should crowdfunding be criticized?

Big publishing has for years been telling small publishers and self-publishers to stay out of their playground, so I’m not sure that “real” and “shouldn’t” are words worth listening to in this industry, and having money isn’t the only measure of competence. For those who want assurance that a publisher is “real”, may I respectfully suggest looking at the number and quality of books currently in print? There’s also transparency to consider — who’s behind the imprint or house — and what sort of track record the players may have in the industry. If anything, being able to raise funds via Kickstarter or IndieGoGo demonstrates a certain amount of market reach and connection, which in my opinion ought to instill more confidence than independently deep pockets.

The other advantage to crowdfunding in publishing is that it tests the market, particularly for an experimental or niche project. If there’s genuine interest from the reading community, enough to push the crowdfunding campaign through, that’s hard evidence that readers want the book to exist. Case in point: Raygun Chronicles is a space opera anthology. (Had you even heard of space opera before today? Even if you enjoy sci-fi? Pulpy, adventure sci-fi? Star Wars? That’s space opera.) Even if we could, somehow, come up with the capital to do this project in some other way, a misjudgement of the market could sink not just the book but our whole enterprise; we’re too small to afford that kind of loss. I believe, of course, that readers will/do want this book, and fortunately the early signs are suggesting that we’re right, but a business-drowning risk is not a reasonable move even when gut and heart are saying yes. Fortunately, crowdfunding allows us to propose the project to potential readers, and if enough of them (you?) are willing to essentially pre-purchase the book, we know we can deliver.

The challenge, of course, is providing satisfactory rewards at prices that permit fulfillment. Apparently, many projects are either crippled into failure by weak rewards at too-high pledge levels, or damaged after a successful campaign because the rewards cost more to deliver than the pledge levels counted on. Our strategy balances hopefully attractive premium rewards at the higher levels with economically-priced good value at the lower end of the scale, to try to appeal to as wide an array of potential backers as possible without risking a shortfall after the fact. Honestly, my favourite of our reward packages is the Corvus level (they’re all named after constellations!) because it’s economically the best deal — US $5 for the e-book, which will almost certainly have a higher sale price after release, and your name in the list of supporters, and a web badge to show our appreciation — but I also like the Scorpius level because it includes four hours of my publishing services (e-book formatting, pre-press formatting for print, proofreading, cover design, whatever the backer needs…). And then, different people have different preferences; if I were allowed to back it myself (which is against the rules, for obvious reasons), I’d go with the Cassiopeia level because I like nice hardcovers and I want the t-shirt!

All things considered, crowdfunding seems to be a good fit for small publishers, not as a business model or an ongoing source of funds, but to stretch out from the regular order of business into ambitious or unusual projects. I don’t want to become dependent on crowdfunding; I just see it — this time — as a way to do something special and get a leg up to the next tier of my ambitions. Will you help me?

Publishers Must Care to Survive 25 February 2012

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Publishing Industry.
2 comments

Commitment

I believe that a publishing house should be committed to every author and title that it takes on. There’s no excuse for second-tier treatment.

There are plenty of choices for authors in the publishing game today, and no reason for an author to choose a publisher who isn’t committed to making him/her a star, so publishers need to treat every signed author as the potential bestseller s/he could be.

Why this is good for the publisher too: Being overstretched can lead to poor quality production — when you juggle too many books, they don’t all get the editing and proofreading and design attention they need to be the best they can be — plus it makes no sense to either take on a book that you don’t think could be a winner or else pick what you think could be a winner and then not give it every possible push to go big.

Advantage

I believe that a publishing house must offer at least some sort of advantage that wouldn’t be accessible to the same author if s/he chose to self-publish. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Whether it’s a lock on a niche market — bizarro fiction and sword & sorcery are two areas where excellent work has been done in niche/subgenre publishing — or access to services and skills that wouldn’t be available to the self-publishing public, or the connections and financial resources to deliver a superior marketing push, a good publisher must have an answer to the question, “What can you do for me that I can’t do for myself?”

Why this is good for the publisher too: It’s good business to know your competitive advantage. Actually, you should not only know what you can do for authors that they can’t do for themselves, you should also know what makes you stand out compared to other publishers.

Respect

I believe that a publishing house and everyone associated with it should respect the author’s position as the creator of the work being published.

Assuming that the author respects the publisher’s expertise and is open to taking advice and suggestions, and that both parties know the manuscript-to-finished-book process is going to take a fair bit of discussion and probably some compromises on both sides, the author should within reason have final approval on the text and title to be published. It is, after all, the author’s name in big letters on the cover.

For that matter, respecting the author’s feelings about cover art is a good plan too — that doesn’t mean turning over total authority to the author (who most likely isn’t also a visual artist and graphic designer and typographer and marketing expert), but a little bit of consultation is worthwhile to make sure everyone is happy with the finished package.

Why this is good for the publisher too: An author who isn’t proud of the finished product isn’t going to feel happy about promoting it, and isn’t going to be eager to work with you again. Why push your author to look for a better deal elsewhere or self-publish the next book? Why risk having your author preface any mention of the book with an apology for the title or cover art or revised ending you forced on it?

Ethics

I believe that a publishing house should hold itself to the highest ethical and moral standards in all dealings with authors and the public.

Publishers of today and tomorrow need to take every possible step to repudiate the industry’s unfortunate past reputation for weaselly contracts and royalty monkey-business. There’s absolutely no reason why a contract shouldn’t be clear and fair and in plain enough language that the author can understand it without an agent and lawyer standing by. Nor is there any reason for royalty obfuscation. And in a time where we’re competing as an industry with self-publishing-service juggernauts that create and modify terms and conditions as they please and don’t negotiate with anyone, a reasonably negotiated and honourably upheld contract might become more crucial in attracting and retaining authors than anyone can know today.

Why this is good for publishers too: You need a reason? If you must, apart from karma and decency and do-unto-others, it’s this — no one wants to do business with a slimeball or be associated with a slimeball, and in this day of instant information and Anonymous and blogs and Twitter and Google, slime doesn’t stay hidden like it used to do.

Having Your Cake and Eating It Too 11 October 2011

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Publishing Industry.
3 comments

As I was doing a little bit of industry blog-hopping this morning, I came across an interesting post on the writing blog Nail Your Novel. Although there’s nothing overwhelmingly new in the post itself, the two points Roz Morris makes are good ones that can never bear too much repeating. While I’ve never agreed with the writing cops out there who think that every writing rule needs to be followed 100% of the time (you know the ones: “Aha! I spotted one instance of the passive voice and two said-bookisms in that story, context is irrelevant, shame on you!”), you’ve got to know the rules before you bend them. Ignoring basic cooking techniques altogether doesn’t create a gourmet masterpiece, does it? And while you’d think it would be common sense to revise any writing before sending it out, sadly that point needs almost more repeating than anything else.

But what really struck me was a theme that came up in the comments on the post.

The discussion turned, as it so often does, to self-publishing. Now, I have nothing against self-publishing — in fact, for the right kind of person, it can be the best choice (Robert Swartwood is a great example of a good fit for self-publishing; he’s confident, a strong self-promoter, willing to invest the necessary time and money for a quality finished product, and with a degree of notability from his work with hint fiction that makes him stand out). But self-publishing is a choice, and frankly, if you choose to go that route, you don’t get to moan about the downside of it, just as you don’t get to moan about not keeping all of the profits when you go with a traditional publisher.

On the subject of editorial and proofreading assistance, one commenter noted, “Many of us don’t have the money to hire someone to help us, so what should we do?” and suggested critique partners as a solution. Another commenter responded in agreement, adding that “many of us can’t afford big time editors”.

Ah, but if you want to keep all of the profits, you have to make all of the investment up front, and that includes any editorial services you might need, not to mention good quality original cover art, exterior and interior layout, proofreading, marketing expenses, review copies… all the things publishers take care of at no cost or risk to you, because it’s a publisher’s job to take on that risk and expense. It’s very nice if you can persuade people to do these things for free or at cost when you choose to self-publish, but it’s a bit rich coming from proponents of Yog’s Law — if money should flow toward the writer, why should the graphic designer, illustrator, editor, proofreader and promoter work for free?

Writing groups and critique partners are a great idea during the creative process. But be extremely wary of assuming that all good writers make good editors and proofreaders. Many fine writers do not have the objectivity to edit another writer’s style or separate themselves (and how they would tell the story) from what’s on the page, and then proofreading is a separate skill altogether.

Put it this way: we recently embarked on a semi-major home renovation project — we had a choice between a jack-of-all-trades handyman (who would do all the plumbing and electrical himself) and a professional contractor (with an experienced carpenter and labourer, and professional subcontractors brought in to wire and plumb and paint and tile). We chose the contractor, and everything has been on time, on budget, and left neat and tidy at the end of each work day, plus we have the confidence of knowing that the electrical and plumbing have been done properly and to code.

If you don’t want to (or can’t) put good money behind your writing to give it the best possible start in life, maybe self-publishing isn’t such a good fit for you. Maybe that’s what publishers are for. And now, I’m off to look at some portfolios and hire an illustrator for the cover of K.C. Ball’s novel. ‘Cause I’m a publisher.

Boycott? Seriously? 20 July 2011

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Publishing Industry.
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I’m always interested in what other fiction magazines are doing. After all, I wouldn’t be operating and editing a fiction magazine if I didn’t value the concept in general. No one does this for the money… EDF is special to me because it’s (partly) mine, but naturally I’m interested in other magazines too — the work they’re publishing, their guidelines and policies, how they handle the various challenges.

So even when I’m drowning in my own submissions pile and have a hundred administrative tasks waiting for me, I try to make a little time each week to look around at magazines that are not part of the Every Day Publishing family. It’s my little way of staying connected with the wider literary world.

Different magazines have different ways of doing things. Some send impersonal form rejections (we don’t) — and I fully understand why, given some of the insane reactions some writers have when they’re actually given reasons why their stories were rejected. Some close submissions from time to time or only have designated windows where submissions are taken (we don’t) — and again, I completely understand why, since the mountains of slush pile up quickly and it would be nice to have a chance to catch up without more coming in. Some don’t pay their authors at all, and some pay professional rates (we do the best we can in the middle with a token payment and wish it could be more). Some charge reading fees from authors, or subscriber fees from readers (we don’t, but the money would be nice…).

The fact is, I know that the realities of editing and publishing are slightly different from magazine to magazine, depending on manpower, financial resources, publishing schedule, target readership, and so on, so I don’t assume that there’s only one best way to do things. It has to be what works for each magazine and its readers and authors and editors. And frankly, I trust and respect my team and my readers and my authors enough that I don’t feel I need to tell anyone how to make decisions. Nor do I need to attack the policies of other magazines. I look around at what others are doing; I learn from it if I can; I assume that what they’re doing is what works for them at the time.

I was saddened, therefore, to come across the following from the qarrtsiluni submission guidelines:

People sometimes ask us how we feel about simultaneous submissions. We feel that however you choose to submit your work is your own damn business, and we urge you to boycott any publications whose editors feel otherwise.

Boycott? Seriously?

Because… that’s talking about… me and my magazine-baby! No, I’m not arrogant enough to think that whoever wrote that bit of copy was specifically thinking about me personally and EDF, but I’m an editor who doesn’t take sim-subs.

The fact is, Every Day Fiction doesn’t accept simultaneous submissions for two very specific reasons:

  • The first reason is that we ask authors to accept our standard contract on submission, and doing so grants us rights that may not be available if the piece is under consideration elsewhere. Obviously the rights revert unused if we do not accept the story for publication, but in the meantime we have a contract problem if someone else accepts the piece and another contract is entered into while ours is still valid.
  • The second reason (related because it’s the reason we do the contract on submission) is that we sometimes have a very fast turnaround between acceptance and scheduling for publication (it can be less than 24 hours if we’re looking for something specific) which doesn’t leave us much of a margin for worrying about contracts at that end, and certainly no margin at all for problem-solving if someone is a trifle behind on notifying us when a piece has been accepted elsewhere.

I can’t imagine the nightmares of having to chase down thirty authors a month to organize contracts after acceptance. What if one is away on vacation? What if another has changed his/her email address or upgraded to a more aggressive spam filter? I’m already swimming in administrivia that gets in the way of actual editing work, and Steven Smethurst’s excellent submission system automates the whole contract process so neatly when the story arrives in the system that I don’t even need to think about it. Also, it makes sense to put the contract right up front; if you don’t like the terms, decline the contract, then the system refuses the story and that’s the end, no time wasted on anyone’s part. My job would also be immeasurably more difficult if I couldn’t accept a story at the eleventh hour and throw it right into the table of contents to be posted that same night. There are months when I’m trolling through the slush piles, literally at eleven o’clock at night on the second-to-last day of the month, looking for one more humour piece for an empty Monday slot or needing something speculative or suspenseful to balance out a particular week heavy on literary introspection.

So it’s not as though we’ve said no to simultaneous submissions just because we can, or to be jerks to the poor authors, or for kicks because it’s funny. We’ve talked about it a lot over the four years since Jordan and Steven and I first sat down together and wrote out our original guidelines page in 2007, and refusing simultaneous submissions is still the best way for us to keep things running smoothly.

Personally, I think that most writers are smart enough to decide for themselves whether a chance of being published at EDF is worth giving us an exclusive look at their work for the 60 to 90 days it takes us to reach a decision. We probably do miss out on some excellent stories because of it, just as we probably miss out on some excellent stories from writers who’ve decided they won’t submit to magazines that pay less than semi-pro rates, but it is what it is.

And I’m glad Every Day Fiction’s submission guidelines don’t have anything mean and antisocial in them.

Kindling That New Relationship Energy 20 March 2011

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Publishing Industry.
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Thanks to a Google alert on Every Day Fiction, I came across a forum thread today entitled “a new kindle user“. It was, shall we say, enlightening to see a discussion about e-books that wasn’t coming from a writing or publishing source or even a forum devoted to literary discussion — there’s plenty of noise out there from industry-involved people, but not so much from regular readers who don’t have a vested interest in the outcome of it all one way or the other.

Some of my favourite tidbits are:

  • “I haven’t bought a full-price book yet.”
  • “I made sure to tell her to look at the free list first, then she spotted some dollar books too.”
  • “I have only had my Kindle a week and i have read four books.”

Interesting stuff, in light of all the fuss about how e-book sales have shot up after Christmas due to all the e-readers received as gifts while print book sales have fallen.

So, clearly readers are snapping up the free and ultra-cheap reading material that e-readers have made accessible. Especially the classic stuff; who wouldn’t want a nice free e-version of Pride & Prejudice, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, or some handy Yeats or Shakespeare?

All the stats I’ve seen simply indicate that sales of e-books have skyrocketed since Christmas, but I haven’t seen any breakdowns between freebies, ultra-cheap “dollar books”, the still-pretty-cheap ones in the $3 to $5 range, the close-to-mass-market-price ones in the $6 to $9 range, and the “full-price” ones that pop over $10. Are any of these new e-reader owners buying e-books for higher prices? The ones where you can pay $30 for the just-released hardcover or get it in e-book form for $17?

More to the point, though, are these e-book sales still going to be through the roof in July? October? Next year? And will print book sales still be down once the economy recovers?

When I first got my Kindle (a couple of years ago now), I too went through an excited spell of purchasing books for it… Whee! Shop in bed, shop on the bus… wow, I can shop for books anywhere! But eventually the novelty wore off, until I got my iPhone… Oooh, look, a Kindle app! Oooh, I can buy a new book on my phone, what fun! And then the novelty of that wore off too.

That euphoric, impulsive feeling also happens when people are in the early stages of dating; it’s called New Relationship Energy. Sadly, it doesn’t last, much as we wish it would. With relationships, no one expects it to last — you enjoy it and make the most of it, and when it ends, you’ve either got a solid foundation for a lasting partnership or, well, you move on.

Isn’t it much the same with electronic toys? Don’t we dive headlong into the giddy fun of playing with a new phone or computer or music player, getting all of our preferences set up just the way we like them, justifying purchases of apps and software and cases or covers and other lovely add-ons because it’s all part of the rush? But those purchases aren’t indicative of long-term usage and purchasing patterns, any more than someone’s behaviour on a third date is going to be indicative of his or her behaviour as a partner three years ahead.

I don’t think we have enough data yet to define exactly how people are going to use e-readers and e-books through the coming years. They’re definitely a permanent part of the literary landscape and they aren’t going to go away (just as mobile communication devices aren’t going to go away, just as computers aren’t going to go away) but it’s a bit early to be pinpointing their permanent effect on readers everywhere based on that New Relationship Energy – I seriously doubt that the new Kindle owner who squeed about reading four books in his or her first week is going to continue to buy and read four e-books a week indefinitely.

My Kindle, on the other hand, is an old friend at this point. I still take it when I travel. I still buy the occasional e-book, usually something that I would previously have bought as a cheaply made bound-to-fall-apart mass-market paperback to read once. Its ability to subscribe to newspapers and blogs is nice. But I continue to add to my full-to-bursting real-world bookshelves as well, because once the fuzzy glow of newness wore off my e-reader, I remembered how much I enjoy print books too. I love the smell and feel of print books, and the fact that they can be signed and inscribed and treasured as objects of beauty as well as conveyors of words. I don’t mind curling up in bed with my Kindle, I’m well used to it by now and it doesn’t feel strange or unpleasant to me at all, but it doesn’t replace the familiar comfort of an old many-times-read book-friend or the crisp fresh-pages feel of a brand new print volume.

The good news is that, unlike with people, we’re not expected to choose only one forever. We’re not disrespected and called “alternative” (or worse) for enjoying the written word in multiple formats. I can have my Kindle and my print library too, and I suspect that I always will.

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