Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Feb 22-28, 2015

Roz Morris asks the question, can writing be taught?

In a related article . . . things Ryan Boudinot can say about MFA programs now that he no longer teaches in one. The Stranger.

Now, this started up a bit of a kerfuffle. Though the following two posts by Chuck Wendig belong to the current week, I’m offering them as a counterpoint to Boudinot’s. Some people agreed with Boudinot and some with Wendig. Some took exception to the whole conversation. You may judge for yourselves.

K.M. Weiland explores the six elements of an effective story premise in her weekly post and podcast.

And her Wednesday vlog: how to drive your readers wild with hints and hooks without frustrating them. It’s a delicate balance.

Dan Blank posts on becoming a student of your own writing process on Writer Unboxed. I love process-y stuff. This was “in my wheelhouse.”

Heather Webb explores the science of character creation (lots of resources). Writer Unboxed.

The Kobo Writing Life podcast: Mark Leslie interviews Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

This one goes along with my post on Gatekeepers, rejection, and resilience: Ten of the reasons your manuscript might be rejected. Ruth Harris on Anne R. Allen’s blog.

And . . . 12 famous authors on literary rejection. Aerogramme Writers’ Studio.

Tor.com’s Ilana C. Myer deconstructs the strong, female character in SFF.

Okay, I’m gonna link dump here, but each one of these posts on Jim C. Hines’s web site on the topic of representation is well worth the read. Expand your brains.

How to know if you’re really a writer. Authors Publish.

The ALLi watchdog examines the merits of Amazon versus Apple.

May 2, 2015 will be the first ever Canadian Authors for Indies Day. Publisher’s Weekly.

30 books that were challenged by censors. Infographic on CBC Books.

Why How to get away with murder is TV’s most progressive show. The Daily Beast. It’s great storytelling. Also, I watch TV and movies for craft. This belongs in the writing tips post. So sez me.

And that’s all the Writerly Goodness I gots for this week.

See you Thoughty Thursday!

Tipsday

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WWC 2014, day 2: An hour with Mark Leslie

Mark is a writer, editor and bookseller who was born and grew up in the Greater Sudbury Region, spent many years in Ottawa and currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario.

Find him online at markleslie.com.

mark-leslie


 

I ended up in publishing because I’ve always loved writing. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. When I was a kid, I told stories with my Fischer Price people.

I got a job in a university books store and I noticed that the new edition of a textbook was being developed before the current one was even on the shelves. Students were getting outdated information. Sometimes the changes were subtle and I realized it was a big money grab. I decided to do something about this abuse of students.

I talked the bookstore into investing in an Espresso Book Machine and we entered into an agreement with McGraw-Hill Ryerson and Nelson publishers. A professor would choose the chapters he felt were pertinent to the class he was teaching and the publisher would provide a .pdf of the chapters. These were printed and sold in store.

The custom edition of the material would be 50-60% cheaper for students. The publisher made more. The store made more. Free digital copies were made available if sales of the print edition were reasonable and everyone still profited.

I tried it out for fiction. Amazon ships in 24 hours, but with the Espresso, I could print on site in 15 minutes.

I learned that if you put authors first, you can both make money.

A textbook that cost $86 could be printed for $25 on the Espresso and we could ship it wherever the client wanted. Later, we uploaded it to Kobo and the ebook is still selling everywhere for $10.

I became a consultant for On-Demand Books and then joined Kobo. When Kobo wanted to put out a writer-centric platform, I wanted a part of that action. Kobo Writing Life came into being. It was less money, but I was passionate about books and authors.

Kobo Writing Life was built for writers. We’re in the top five in every territory. We sell more units than Random House in Canada.

As the platform grew, I gained staff. My team nurtures authors.

Q: How does Kobo Writing Life make self-publishing easier?

Authors used to have to go through the same process as a publisher to get their books on Kobo. Now you can do it overnight.

This raises an important question: you can put your book up overnight, but should you? Many authors rush into self-publishing before they’re really ready. Make sure you’re putting your absolute best work out there.

Q: I was in Adrienne Kerr’s session and she mentioned Booknet. Can you speak to that?

The average author can’t access Booknet. Until we can more of the key players on board, it won’t happen.

Q: If I’m an indie publisher or author, why should I bother with Kobo?

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. The more ways your readers can get hold of your books, the better. It’s not Kobo only, but Kobo and.


 

As ever, my notes cannot reflect the full experience. I can’t write that fast (!) And, Mark, if I’ve gotten anything wrong, please let me know and I’ll fix ‘er up post-hasty.

Up next: a Caturday quickie on the developments (construction and dog-wise) of the week.

Next weekend: Jacqueline Guest: Have Pen, Will Travel.

In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian readers, and we’ll see you on Tipsday with the Writerly Goodness of the week.

WWC 2014, Day 1: Evening keynotes

Here we are at the end of day 1 (for me–I know others partied into the wee hours). At other conferences and conventions, guest of honour keynotes are generally spread throughout the event, often at or after a meal.

The When Words Collide organizers chose to do something different.

Prior to the literary festival, there were several master classes offered by the keynote speakers, and the night before, they all delivered their presentations at a branch of the public library.

Between the extra days of leave I would have had to sacrifice, the cost of the master classes, and the expense of a longer stay, I had to opt out of the pre-conference program.

On the first night (formally speaking) of WWC, then, all of the keynote speakers were well into conference mode and had an opportunity to work out the bugs.

The keynotes were presented as a panel, with all of the speakers up on the stage, seated at tables.

Randy McCharles offered a few opening words, and then introduced the first of the speakers.

  1. Jacqueline Guest, author of 18 published novels, spoke about her adventures as aJacqueline Guest touring author. She has been all over the world, in the arctic, and had some very interesting tales to share. The old advice to writers is to write what you know. Travelling and experiencing all the world has to offer is a valuable way of gathering experience that can translate into your writing.
  2. Mark Leslie, of Kobo Writing Life, chose the subject of the mark-lesliehistory of story. From our earliest gatherings to share news around a fire, through the oral traditions of Greece and Rome, the invention of the printing press, and the advent of the novel, to today’s proliferation of traditionally published and independently published novels, novellas, short stories, anthologies, and all other manner of written storytelling, Mark spoke eloquently of the purpose and value of story in our lives. He ended his keynote with this: when words collide, magic happens.
  3. Dorothy (DJ) MacIntosh, author of the (in progress) Mesopotamian trilogy, spoke
    DJ McIntosh

    photo by Robert Rafton

    about passion and how to keep that precious flame burning. She related the experiences, hers and those of other renowned authors, with rejection, and various reactions to rejection letters. How can we keep our passion alive amidst the darkness that can assail us?

  4. Brandon Sanderson, author of—oh, I’ll just say it—a shit load of bestselling fantasy novels including the
    Photo by Nazrilof

    Photo by Nazrilof

    posthumous conclusion of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, addressed the problem of telling a compelling lie. He started with a grade school experience in which he realized that the story of Columbus and his discovery of the new world was all propaganda. In short, it was a lie, but it’s a lie that has been perpetuated over the years by quality storytelling. You could say that’s when the seed of his desire to become a professional liar was planted. He spoke of Sturgeon’s Law: that ninety percent of everything is crap. He wanted to test that hypothesis and started with Roger Ebert’s movie review site, which revealed between sixty and seventy percent good movies (two thumbs up). He then went to Rotten Tomatoes, a review site contributed to by the movie-going public. He found roughly the same results. There were exceptions, of course. He found one reviewer who didn’t like Return of the King, for example. Reviews are one of the most power tools in any author’s service. Word of mouth is what really translates into sales and a groundswell of support. The bad reviews can be damaging in all kinds of ways. We have to be able to distinguish between someone expressing a personal opinion, e.g. I didn’t like this book, and someone who’s going for the hurt, e.g. this is crap. They are two completely different judgements.

  5. Jack Whyte. I’d seen him last year at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference jack-whyteand knew the power of his presence, but, when Jack took the stage, I put my pen down and sat back. I knew I was about to be entertained. Jack basically extemporized (or, he made is sound like he was), drawing in elements of each of the previous speakers, adding colour with a touch of personal humour, and wrapping up the evening in style.

Next week: We enter day 2 with the Blending Science Fiction and Fantasy Panel.

Mark Leslie workshop with the Sudbury Writers’ Guild

This past Thursday, November 28, Mark Lefebvre of Kobo, who writes under the pen name Mark Leslie, conducted a workshop on self-publishing for the Sudbury Writers’ guild.

Mark spoke a bit about his experience with self-publishing first.

Mark Leslie

Mark Leslie with members of the SWG and Barnaby

His horror short story collection, One Hand Screaming, was published using Lightning Source (now Spark) from Ingram.

For his anthology Campus Chills, Mark and his friend Steve formed Stark Publishing (Steve + Mark). They used the Espresso Book Machine, which got its name because in the time it takes to make an espresso, the machine could produce a book.

At the time, Mark was working for a university book store and convinced the store to invest in the machine. He made the venture a paying one, producing all kinds of books for various groups in the university and surrounding community.

Mark is also an editor, editing North of Sixty, and Tesseracts Sixteen.

More recently, he compiled stories with background research for Haunted Hamilton and Spooky Sudbury, which he co-authored with Sudbury journalist Jenny Jelen. Both books were published with Dundurn Press in Hamilton.

One of the things to keep in mind is that traditional publishing can get you into places that you could never get into alone, for example, Costco.

Now Mark works for Kobo (which is just an anagram of book, by the way).

Why authors choose to self-publish

  • For the new author, it’s a way to break in to traditional publishing, make a mark, get noticed.
  • For mid-list writers, it’s most often used to resurrect their backlist. As copyright returns to authors, they format for self-publication and keep their work in circulation longer than their traditional publisher were willing to.
  • For the NYTBS author, self-publishing offers control.

In general, self publishing offers higher royalties and faster payouts than traditional publishing.

Epub format is the industry standard.

Mobi is the Amazon standard.

Self-publishing is good for long-form journalism. (Mel’s note: we had a fair discussion of this. For those who don’t know what long-form journalism is, it is the full version of the article with bonus research materials. The print article may be a thousand or so words. The long-form version may be five or ten thousand. Think academic essay, but more accessible.)

It’s also good for publishing collections of short stories. If the stories have already been published elsewhere, then it can be seen as a kind of validation or pre-screening, and the collection may have a ready audience.

Services:

  • Kobo
  • Kindle
  • Nook
  • iBooks
  • Smashwords

Kobo started out with Reading Life for their ereaders, and then developed Writing Life for their authors. The Kobo dashboard allows the author to see stats, earnings, and sales figures globally at a glance. (Mel’s note: Hugh Howey used, liked, and promoted Kobo Writing Life.)

You can format your work in Word or OfficeLibre (formerly Open Office). Use Sigil, or Calibre to tweak formatting, and Kobo even has a native WYSIWYG editor which will be familiar to WordPress users.

Follow the formatting instructions of your chosen platform carefully.

A word on DRM: it only hurts paying customers.

Branding

It’s not just about your name.

Mark takes his skeleton, Barnaby, on the road with him wherever he goes. He puts a t-shirt on Barnaby and sets him up outside the bookstore. People wandering by sit down and have their pictures taken, post them on social media. It’s free publicity.

Vistaprint is a great source for promotional materials. Pens, mugs, and t-shirts are just some of the swag you can buy to give away and promote your work.

KDP and KDP select

KDP select is Kindle’s exclusivity line. You can only publish with KDP select, no one else. You can only price books for free on KDP select, but only for five days out of every ninety.

You can work around it. Just publish using KDP and also on other services. Price the book for free on Smashwords or elsewhere, and Amazon will price match if one of your fans reports the competitor pricing.

Diversifying is better. Get your work out there and into the hands, or ereaders, of your fans. Let them choose the service.

Price is a verb

$2.99 seems to be the sweet spot (right now). The lower you set your price point, the more your royalties will be reduced.

You have to know who your audience is.

$1.99 seems to be the price point of doom. Currently, no one knows why.

$.99 is good, as are $3.99 and $4.99.

Authors can experiment. One author change the price of her ebooks from $4.99 to $5.99 and saw sales across all platforms except Kindle increase slightly. Kindle sale went down initially, but within two weeks, they levelled out again and all was well.

The two biggest complaints from marketing about ebooks are:

The cover sucks; and

It’s priced too low.

Free can work as a gateway to a backlist.