Authors Notice Good Editors: What to Look For

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Let’s talk editing. I’ve been trained as a copy editor, have edited newsletters for content and grammar, and have had four separate editing experiences as a writer. I also began my publishing career as a proofreader, learnt a bit about graphic design, and was a desktop publisher. I’ve worked on text the traditional way and the newer computerized way. So I’ve pretty much covered the gamut. In my editing life, I received kudos in the Preface to the Handbook of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology as a result of my editing of that tome. And in my writing life, Lifeliner received Reader Views Best Biography award and She was a finalist in the Word Guild Awards. Good editing makes or breaks a book, and authors notice. In fact, a bad editor can make the original manuscript worse. A good editor is hard to find and worth a lot.

Preface Pg to Speech Language Pathology and Audiology Lift Out Shireen Jeejeebhoy

Word Guild Award Finalist Sticker  awards2008logogold

So what to look for in an editor?

I shall begin with my first editor, whom I worked with on a short story – which you can find in Eleven Shorts +1. I met her through my Creative Writing Prof at the University of Toronto. She worked for a small literary magazine in Toronto and was very much interested in my story Our Father. Back in those days, there was no email, but I had been typing my essays and stories on a computer since the 1970s. I handed her a printout of my story. Later, we met at a café, just like you see in the movies and read about in books, to go over the flow of my story, the characterization, the plot – content-type stuff. It was a bit hard for a young writer, as I was then, to hear her criticisms, but I took heart from her enthusiasm and went back home to rewrite it. We met again in the same café, and although the story was better, it still needed work. Again, her comments were all on the content side. We had not yet reached the point of editing the story for grammar and punctuation. The third time was the charm. After that, I copyedited it myself (I don’t recall if she gave me any notations on that or not).

It was a fulfilling process. It was the only time I ever felt like I was collaborating with someone over my written work, who was invested in me and wanted me to succeed, who wasn’t afraid to point out the flaws and was wise enough to tell me what worked. In short, was rooting for my story. If you find an editor like that, keep them!

My other three editing experiences were with my books.

One editor was faceless and nameless, which I suppose was rather like I was to the authors back in my editing days. Back then, only the Acquisitions Editor met with the authors and spoke to them directly about their book (the Acquisitions Editor was in charge of finding authors and developing their books; once written, the manuscripts went to my boss, then after her review, to me). I remember one time I really could not fathom what the author was trying to say and needed to speak with him so that I could edit it. My boss and the Acquisitions Editor were loathe to let me call him up. We had long discussions about how everyone, including me, at the publishing company had to keep the authors happy, and how they were afraid that my criticism would upset him. Since I was so young, they were afraid my youth and direct way would cost them an author. I assured them I knew how to speak diplomatically. I think we even went over what I would say as they began to be persuaded by my argument that I really needed to understand what he wanted to write so that I could edit it well and thus make him look good. The quality of my work was how I’d keep him happy. I got my way. After the end of our 15-minute conversation, he thanked me for calling him. And I felt pleased with myself for being able to keep him happy while improving the text.

But back to the faceless editor. The editor edited for content and then for grammar and punctuation. By this time, editing was no longer being done on the manuscript page with pencil or red pen, but in Word using Track Changes. And oy, were there a lot. Luckily, there are guidelines online on how to use track changes because if you haven’t used them before (or the inexecrable Word), it can be confusing. Some were very hard for me to follow because of wholesale moves of paragraphs and pages. There were demands to fill in scenes, clarify things, and so on. I don’t remember what all I was required to do, but it was disheartening to see so much marking up of my work. Yet I knew it would make it a better book. I recognized that the editor had spent a lot of time and attention on my work, both for content and for copyediting. That was the key: the obvious effort behind the markups.

Sometimes you may find you have an editor that whips through your manuscript. Maybe you’ll think having not many comments is a good thing. Unless you’ve written many books, all of which have been edited, and each of which in succession has needed less and less editing, a lack of comments and track changes or inconsistent changes (some sections show many comments, other pages are completely bare) are a sign of an indifferent editor. Dump em or ask for a new one if you’re with a publisher or using an editing company.

The intensive experience was painful, but I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that it made for a better book.

Another editing experience was with a freelancer. You can find freelancers through editor associations, on the Internet, or through Twitter. I thought the freelancer would copy edit as well as content edit. But not really, as I learnt. Since then I’ve re-learnt that copyediting comes right at the end, only after the manuscript has gone through content editing and is done done. When looking for a freelancer, ensure you know what they will do. If you want and they say they will do content editing, don’t expect copyediting. They may point out some obvious punctuation or grammatical errors, but it won’t be a complete job in that way nor should it be at that point.

The freelancer wrote a memo pointing out the big picture issues, with specific comments chapter by chapter where warranted. The editor also wrote comments on the manuscript itself (in Word) regarding specific paragraphs or sentences or characters, which were referred to in the big picture memo as well to ensure I knew what the editor was seeing and what I needed to respond to.

There were some cultural issues that I had not thought of because we all think that since we speak English, we’re very similar us citizens of Canada, the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand. But we’re not. There are differences in vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, word usage, and ways of seeing things. It may be best to find a content editor who lives in the same country or continent as you do if you don’t want to change your cultural references and deal with grammatical changes that don’t apply in the country you live. Yet the opposite could be good too. UK and US authors seem to think everyone knows everything about their cultures and way of living and don’t need to explain them in their books. As a reader immersed in British culture and highly exposed to American and living in Canada, I can understand most of the inside stuff. But many probably don’t. Thus in our new global-reading world if you want your cultural references exposed so that you can explain them in some natural way in your story, find a content editor across the ocean.

I was able to have some back-and-forth discussion with the freelancer, and that was quite helpful to me. But it still didn’t reach the level of collaboration I had with my first editor and that I still miss.

That brings me to how very important communication is to the editing process. You want an editor who

  • can write an opening memo about what they see as the big picture. You want them to invite comment, which tells you they want to understand what the author is striving to achieve. In that way, they can do the best possible job on a (difficult) manuscript;
  • is willing to read your explanation notes when you first submit a manuscript;
  • understands the need to read past email correspondence with previous editors in order to catch up to where the work is at, if your manuscript has gone through a few editors;
  • is willing to ask you questions if they don’t understand something while they’re mid-edit (like I did with that author back in my editing days). Some may prefer to wait till the end, but a savvy editor will realise that sometimes they have to do it earlier in order to finish editing the manuscript well and not perpetuate errors;
  • is willing to discuss points of disagreement rather than bullying their edits onto you;
  • shows an interest in your work (or at least can fake it) so that they spur you on through this hard process;
  • is willing to answer your questions, knowing that it will make your book better. And that’s the ultimate goal of every editor: turn a manuscript into a great book.

When the editor has poor communication skills or won’t take the time to comment properly and completely, then going through the editing process will be a depressing and frustrating experience. It feels like standing on shifting sand. It may even make you second-guess your manuscript because you will have no idea what works and what doesn’t work.

If your editor shows poor communication skills, dump em or demand a new one if you’re working with a company or publisher.

A copy editor does not necessarily need to be your collaborator, but if you intend to write more than one book, you need to find a content editor who will become one, an editor you feel confident sticking with over the long term from book to book. However, once you find a good copy editor, stick with them. Too many are sloppy and don’t seem to have figured out the amazing tool of find-and-replace.

In the old days, a copy editor needed eagle eyes. Reading the printed word on the static page meant that if you found an inconsistent spelling of, for example, “recognize,” then you had to spot every single iteration of that word in order to fix the spelling. What you didn’t want to end up with was a book that had both “recognize” and “recognise” in it. Today, it’s so easy to fix. No eagle eyes needed! The first time you spot an inconsistent spelling or misspelling, you press Ctrl-F, type in the wrongly spelled word in the Find box, type in the correct spelling in the Replace box, click Find to find it, click Replace, do it word by word instead of Replace All because you never know what the computer will end up replacing, and repeat from the beginning of the manuscript just in case you missed a misspelling earlier and for every verb tense of the word. Then resume editing where you left off. Or if you need to stay focussed on the editing, open up a document where you list all the inconsistent spellings and misspellings to find and replace when finished. In the old days, you also had to spot double periods, missing spaces, double spaces manually – some of which required visual recognition skills. Today, after you’re all done editing, after the author has gone through the track changes, then the copy editor or proofreader can run a final find-and-replace of all those pesky details. It’s fast and easy.

You may want to ask your prospective editor if they know how to use that function and if they do. I made the mistake one time of assuming they did.

A good copy editor will also have a good command of the language. Their vocabulary should ideally be better than yours – or at the very least, they should show an ability to Google or use a dictionary. If you see questions in your manuscript about what a word means or a phrase and you double-check with your dictionary and know you used the right word or the phrase is a common one, a red flag should go boing in your head. You may not want to use that editor again. If, on the other hand, they suggest alternative words or phrases that when you check with your dictionary and thesaurus are better choices, stick with that editor. Your vocabulary will improve, and you know you can rely on their knowledge. It’d be like standing on a rock.

The same is true for punctuation. You both need to agree on which standard to follow. I use the Chicago Manual of Style, and I use the Oxford or serial comma. Errors galore can crop up if your copy editor doesn’t follow the Oxford comma rule when you do, doesn’t tell you, and you don’t notice. Also I was taught editors develop a House Style for peculiar spellings, book-specific usages, or exceptions to the Chicago Style rule. That can be a style particular to a publishing house or a freelance editor. The editor should let you know if they do. Or ask.

I’m afraid I have no tips on how to find a good content or copy editor, only what to look for. I am going to try Bibliocrunch to find a copy editor for my next book Time and Space. I don’t believe I need content editing for that novel, although I definitely will for the novel after that. Sometimes the book will tell you what you need.

My edited books include Lifeliner, She, Concussion Is Brain Injury, and Eleven Shorts +1.


From Paper to Pixels

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This is from a talk I gave to my fraternity on their Career Day.

We are in an age of transition. Like those who went from calligraphy to the Gutenberg press, so we are going from pen and print books to tablet computers and ebooks.

Up until early last century, manuscripts were written by hand. Then typewriters came along, and writers mastered the two-finger peck. Soon word processors appeared and at about the same time personal computers.

Writers now had a choice of handwriting or typing their drafts on a typewriter or on a computer. But final drafts, the ones sent out as submissions or completed manuscripts to publishers, always had to be typed or printed from a computer.

That changed after the anthrax scare, particularly in the US. Agents and publishers began to demand queries via email only and manuscripts in MS Word DOC format, also via email. But in Canada, some agents and publishers prefer the old ways; perhaps they feel it’s more literary for writing to be on paper than in pixel form. They refuse emails; they want snail mail submissions only. That slow, expensive, tree-wasting method is on the way out though, especially as more and more of us writers refuse to participate and submit only to agents or publishers who accept queries and manuscripts by email.

The revising and editing process has undergone a change too. No longer do editors mark up printed copies with pencil or red pen. Instead they use tracking changes in MS Word and communicate with authors via email. Again, in Canada, some editors still work in the dark ages of print-outs. A few even think it’s not necessary to be on the Internet or have email. Seriously. And so a Canadian author has to pay attention to what specific publishers or agents want: paper or pixels.

But despite a few Canadian anachronisms, writers today must use a computer to write the final draft, however they write their first drafts.

Then last year Apple released the iPad, and things changed radically for writers again.

Up until the iPad, even with computers, writers jotted down ideas in notebooks, sketched out floor plans on paper with coloured pencils. Writers only had one copy of these things, and we panicked if they were lost. No more. The iPad allows us writers to outline, jot down ideas, sketch settings, as well as write our manuscript, all on one electronic medium.

The entire process can now be done on some form of computer. And everything can be saved and backed up to the cloud and shared with others or between our own computers.

Writers are no longer limited to physical media like the typewritten page or thumb drive.

The ability to save one’s work in the cloud means that a writer can work on a manuscript on any computer, tablet computer, or smartphone wherever we are, whenever the mood strikes or a free moment appears.

For those who like to revise on a printed copy, printing itself has undergone a change. With the advent of networked printers, one can print from anywhere on the planet to the printer at home.

In addition to all that, the traditional process of writing, revising, and editing has had a new step inserted: Beta Readers.

Beta readers love to read. They may be strangers or people in one’s writing club. They read our manuscripts and comment on anything from writing style to plot to characters to endings or mood, depending on what their strengths are as readers.

Beta Readers can often be found on social media. When we writers engage with people on Twitter and they begin to read our blogs as well and get to know our long-form writing style, they may well offer to read our manuscripts.

That is just one of the many benefits of social media. Twitter also has a thriving writer community, which holds regular writer chats. So in addition to the traditional associations like the Canadian Authors Association, which provides opportunities to meet fellow writers face-to-face in our own regions, Canadian writers can now talk with writers from all over the world in cyberspace.

After we receive feedback from our Beta Readers, we revise once more and then send out the manuscript to agents or small publishers. Or not. Publishing too has changed.

Traditionally, a book writer would seek out a publisher directly, for the publisher would handle all the chores except the writing. (The publisher choosing the title and front cover still bugs me. I cannot imagine why writers in times past gave up that control.) It was very difficult for a writer to self-publish as printing and distribution were expensive and not easy to arrange.

But that has changed. First, traditional large publishers — the big six — began accepting submissions from agents only. Only small or indie publishers accept submissions from authors directly today. An author still has to wait a week or 6 months to hear back though. Although most agents and small publishers have long since allowed simultaneous submissions, realising writers can’t waste half their lives watching the mailbox, the waiting time can still be excessive. I have already spent over a year trying to find an agent with a few nibbles but no bites.

Then the rise of print-on-demand shifted this balance of power towards the author. It has become more feasible financially for authors to self-publish and nix the long, long process of traditional publishing, although it is controversial to turn one’s back on the traditional way.

As a result, in the last decade, companies that support self-publishing authors sprang up. AuthorHouse is the big one today (I won’t use them — see my adventures with iUniverse). But there are others like Lulu and CreateSpace. They provide whatever service an author needs, from editing to printing, for a fee.

But it is the ebook that has truly exploded author emancipation.

The publishing world has been turned upside down in the last year. Ebooks cost virtually nothing (aside from the essential professional editing step) for the multi-competent writer to create.

Readers like their eReaders. Some tell me no one can pry them out of their hands. They also prefer ebooks under $6.99, maybe up to $9.99. Traditional publishers prefer to price their ebooks high — $12.99 is their low end — and release them after hard cover editions. Both readers and authors are unhappy with that.

This traditional-minded approach gives indie authors an edge. They can price their ebooks at a level readers are willing to pay and release them at the same time as the print books, thus allowing readers to buy their preferred format when the book first comes out. After all, books are written for readers. It’s not for us to tell them which format they should read first. It’s the content that’s paramount, not whether the words are printed on paper or shown in pixels.

Ebooks themselves are in transition as different companies support different formats. PubIt! by Barnes & Noble supports ePub, as does Smashwords, kobo, and Sony Reader. Amazon’s Kindle uses the mobi format. Luckily, it’s become easier to publish in all of them, thus covering eReaders from Kindle to Kobo.

Since traditional publishers support only best-selling authors fully, mid-list and small authors now have an alternative to being ignored: self-publish ebooks.

Regardless of which path an author takes, all authors, except best sellers, have to market their own work. And that’s the hardest job in writing.

But here again, the online revolution has made it easier than ever for an author. Social media is a must. Virtual book tours, book trailers on YouTube, pages on Amazon and Chapters are now possible.

A Facebook Page, Twitter, and an author website are the foundation upon which to build a marketing plan. The writer begins building this foundation while still outlining the book, and does not talk just shop online, but shows the whole of who they are. Readers like to know their authors (well, maybe not all, but followers become readers when they get to know the author as a person first, then become intrigued enough to find out about the author’s works).

The author’s Facebook Page — not Profile — shows their professional side, things like writing-related blog posts, book events, links to reviews, and so on.

Twitter is where the author converses on many different topics, showing off their various interests and connecting with other writers. It is also an excellent place to publicize one’s blog posts, books, poetry, etc. via links.

The author website will not be just for blogging but a place where people can find out about the author’s background and how to contact them (really important, contact info is), their writing, and where to buy their books or articles. It needs to be kept up to date, else people will think you, the author, have died and stopped writing.

One caveat to authors: Do not post your drafts or any part of your book online. Some writers do. But your work has value. Your blog posts and status updates are free. Your work writing, your books, are not free because they’re your income and they’re worth the money for the time and effort you’ve put into them. Treat them that way.

Goodreads is a site for readers, but it also has Author Pages, which authors can use to connect with their readers as readers themselves. The most important part of writing is reading. Here the author can foster that side long before publishing that first book.

There are many other social media sites. It’s tempting to join all of them, but over time too tiring. It’s better to focus on a few and be active on them than spread oneself out too thinly.

The move from paper to pixels lets us authors take control and speeds the publishing process; it gives readers their choice of format; and the trees flutter their leaves in joy.


The DRM and Price of eBooks

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There has been much discussion between publishers and between pundits about DRM: digital rights management.

DRM allows “copyright holders to prevent unauthorized duplication of their work, either to maintain artistic integrity or to ensure continued revenue streams.” (Wikipedia)

A book with DRM on it controls where an eBook can be read, how many copies — if any — can be made of it, if it can be printed, and if it can be shared. The idea is that the digital nature of eBooks allow books to be widely pirated in a way that old-fashioned print books cannot be (never mind that the inside page of a mass paperback usually had some sort of statement that if the cover was missing, the reader was reading a pirated book), and only DRM prevents that. Only DRM ensures authors — and publishers because this is really about the publishers — earn an income from eBooks.

However, after my experience with the trade paperback and hard cover versions of my book Lifeliner: The Judy Taylor Story, I think DRM is pointless. And I dispute the idea it ensures a continued revenue stream.

The first reason I think it’s pointless is because I have way more readers than purchased print books. After Lifeliner was originally published, what often happened was one person would buy and read one trade paperback version of Lifeliner. That paperback then moved from hand  to hand over and over again. I think one book was passed around to 16 people. If every person who read my book had bought it — something that DRM tries to enforce on the theory that it happens with print books — I may actually have an income. At first, when I discovered this mass sharing, I was shocked, then pissed, now I’m at the Gallic shrug stage. It would be nice if all those readers posted reviews or talked Lifeliner up on social media, but I’ve given up on that idea too. A few have sent me wonderful comments; fewer have helped me spread the word; one reader gave it 4 of 5 stars on Chapters Indigo. And those have made my day.

The second reason: DRM irritates the reader, like one person I follow on Twitter who bought the kobo only to discover her previously purchased eBooks can’t be read on it because of DRM. She owns the books; why can’t she read them on any eReader she wants to? It’s like saying I can read a paperback I purchased as long as I keep it in my bedroom, but if I store it on my kitchen bookshelf, then nope, no reading allowed.

The last reason I think it’s pointless is because I’m quite familiar with computers and know that someone somewhere is going to be able to break it. That person is the real pirate. Or someone rising to a challenge, as things like DRM are red flags to a bull. Or more likely those people who think there should be no copyright, who think that artists live to serve their reading and music needs and those artists ought not to earn a dime from their work but live in noble penury because they’re owed. Or maybe they just think we’re all U2s and Madonnas, Stephen Kings and JK Rowlings, and are so rolling in dough we shouldn’t be demanding people pay for our music or books. I wish. Anyway, the pirates and entitled will always find a way to get a book for free. Meanwhile most readers who have no trouble paying for artistic work will just be annoyed with me, with the DRM, and not purchase my book. And my main goal is to have as many eyeballs on my book as possible, so it’s a bit counter-productive to put DRM on Lifeliner. I also think it’s a lot easier to share a paperback than an eBook. With a print book, you just pick it up and hand it over, with no thoughts of piracy. With an eBook, you got to find the file, attach it to an e-mail or a wireless message of some sort, send it over, etc. etc. Sounds like too much work to me as a reader. It’s way easier to download it from the library or eBookstore and there’s no latent guilt involved. Copyright notices are much more visible on an eBook than on a print book.

Which brings me to the second big discussion about eBooks: price.

Recently, most big publishers went to war with Amazon to enforce what they call the Agency model of pricing. They have always made their money on hard covers because although those are few in sales numbers, the profit margins are high, and by releasing just the hard cover a few months ahead of the trade or mass paperback and the eBook, they force those who can’t wait to read their favourite author’s books to buy a hard cover. Some people prefer hard covers over any other kind of book, true, but most don’t want to pay the high price and heft the heavy book when reading and so wait. But publishers want to keep this tradition going. As a reader, and as an author who wants to maximize sales, I say bah to that.

Let readers decide which version they want to read: hard cover, paperback, eBook. Let readers decide on which platform they want to read their eBooks on: kobo, computer, Sony Reader, iPod or iPhone, iPad, Kindle. Let the massive marketing push done at the launch of any book benefit sales of every version of a book, not just the hard covers. Once the paperbacks and eBooks come out, months after the hard cover and after the big launch, they can no longer benefit from all the initial publicity. The author is left to ensure the word gets out, and readers are left to remember they were going to buy that book once it came out in paperback and eBook. I find that intensely annoying as a reader, waiting months for a book to come out in paperback so that I can read it.

iUniverse published Lifeliner in hard cover, trade paperback, and eBook (with limited distribution) all at once. Surprise, surprise, several people bought the hard covers even though it was $18 more than the eBook, and more bought the hard cover than the eBook. Meanwhile, I’ve just released a multi-format eBook, which is available much more widely than the iUniverse one, and already people who were happy for me when I published Lifeliner originally yet had not bought it then are buying it now. Why? The only difference between then and now: price and availability.

I’m issuing a limited-time coupon to celebrate this eBook launch, and this eBook is available in any format you can think of with no DRM attached. And even though the coupon — code TX53X at check out, good for 4 more days only, until May 31st — drops the price of the eBook from $4.99 to $1.99, I’m still receiving in royalties almost as much as I would if someone purchased my $16.95 (all prices US) trade paperback on That’s how little authors receive from print books — and I receive higher royalties than if I’d gone the traditional route. That means, to put it crassly, I will earn more from low-priced multi-format, DRM-free eBooks than print books, assuming my marketing campaign works. And, in the end, so what if people share the non-DRM eBooks with their friends and family, co-workers and neighbours? They already do that with the paperbacks.

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Internet and Computers

Prepping Manuscript for Smashwords: Tedium Personified

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In an attempt to get the eBook version of Lifeliner out to more markets without paying iUniverse a fortune, especially since they are non-responsive to author concerns other than filling up the inbox with marketing e-mail, I’ve decided to use Smashwords.

Smashwords will take your MS Word document and convert it to many eBook formats, such as HTML, Java, PDF, ePub, Mobi, etc. They will make your eBook available on their own website as well as distributing it to Amazon, Kobo, Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, and eReading apps for all mobile devices from iPhone to Blackberry to Android. The cost to do this is zilch. Author royalties range from 85% of net sales on Smashwords; 70.5% elsewhere. The catch: you have to go through the extremely tedious process of ensuring your manuscript conforms to Smashwords style guide. I am just about comatose from the process. Chocolate helped revive me, sort of, by this afternoon.

Although my brain injury necessitated reading and rereading the style guide over a period of weeks in order to absorb it, reviewing the steps and writing down which ones apply to me, setting SMART goals to get it done, being methodical in making each change, the process is a good one for anyone to follow because the task is tedious, and tediousness can lead to errors. I used to do this back in my consulting days when programming databases and debugging them. I’d look for one type of error or do one formatting thing at a time. For Lifeliner, I went through and fixed the double paragraphs and spacing (that is, look for double spaces, spaces at end of paragraphs) all at one time, then changed all the paragraphs as per the style guide, then worked on the exceptions, then changed the headings, and lastly changed the style of each chapters’ first paragraph. Because I used the NUCLEAR OPTION — I had only a PDF as the final version with all the proofing changes done, which I had to convert to basic text — I had to put back in all the italics and bold and centring. I did italics first, bold second. That way you don’t lose track of what you’re doing if you try to do italics and bold all in one go. The last thing I did was follow the steps for creating a linkable Table of Contents. My head hurt doing that, but the links worked when I tested them!

I have absolutely no idea if my methodical way has produced an acceptable DOC, I have yet to acquire a new eBook ISBN for it and submit it to Smashwords Meatgrinder, but at least I know the errors should be small (I hope!), I understand the process a little bit now, and I am one step closer to being able to create my own ePub. I will no longer be at the mercy of publishers when it comes to eBook versions of my work. Also, I used to do desktop publishing pre-injury; this is a natural extension of that work. I am not as interested in it as I was (in fact, not), but being able to do it is a good skill for an author to have.

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Ditching iUniverse, Going in a New Publishing Direction for “She”

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I wrote my second book — my first novel She — during National Novel Writing Month last November, revised it and got reader feedback and revised it again during Christmas and January, and then I had to decide: head down the traditional road this time and seek an agent or go back to iUniverse? It was a no-brainer, well, almost a no-brainer, because the traditional route is fraught with will-they or won’t-they as well as requiring patience and giving up (some) control over one’s work.

If you read my brief blog posts during the self-publishing phase of Lifeliner, you’d surmise I had a mostly good experience with iUniverse. There were a couple of odd things, like I wasn’t allowed to know the names of the editors who edited my book, but overall I found my Publishing Services Associate friendly, helpful, and professional. I liked how the editors helped me craft a better book. I liked that I had a chance to have Lifeliner‘s cover professionally designed. And I liked having the opportunity to have my book stocked in an Indigo bookstore in Toronto. After that though, things went downhill.

It all began when Author Solutions bought out iUniverse. My PSA couldn’t move with iUniverse to their new headquarters due to the burst housing bubble. My newly assigned marketing associate also left the company shortly after I contracted with iUniverse to use one of their publicists, and I wasn’t allowed to have her as my publicist (due to conflict of interest, they said). And in the midst of releasing and marketing Lifeliner, my lawsuit against the drivers who mucked me up emerged from one of its many long lulls into the final throes of resolution, which of course took months and months and months. Because I had little energy left over to market Lifeliner and to stay on top of the publicist’s and iUniverse’s efforts on my behalf, I relied on them to fulfill their contractual obligations, to do everything they said that they would.

iUniverse stated in their paperwork that they would do the following in their three-month publicity campaign:

The publicist…will contact the author the first day of the campaign to determine specific media target audiences and develop a plan.

A plan will be developed based on the following schedule:

Month 1

  • Pitch magazines.
  • Set up book events in author’s hometown and surrounding markets.
  • Pitch to Amazon reviewers.
  • Pitch to Top 100 Newspapers.

Month 2

  • Continue to follow-up on all interested media pitched to date.
  • Pitch to radio and television in local and regional area (talk, drive time, interview).
  • Pitch to newspapers in local and regional area

Month 3

  • Continue to follow-up with all interested media to date
  • Pitch national wire services
  • Pitch wire services
  • Pitch all freelance writers

That’s pretty much the gist of the agreement. My publicist and I talked specifics about what kinds of magazines and because she was from the NE USA, I had to fill her in a bit about the media market here in southern Ontario, despite the fact that I wasn’t fully cognizant of all that is published round here. (Months later, when I’d recovered from the end of lawsuit, a quick Google search netted me a long list of newspapers, radio stations, and television stations in Ontario, a few in upper New York state, just across the border from Toronto.) My publicist didn’t set up book events because of my energy limitations but we did discuss one event that I set up myself, and she sent out an announcement to a couple of publicity places. It didn’t help that there was a problem with the timing of when to start the campaign because Indigo, to put it politely, bounced around the start date of when to stock Lifeliner in the World’s Biggest Bookstore (WBBS). I was also informed that Indigo would not tolerate me approaching them about having a book signing for Lifeliner, yet I suppose my publicist could’ve spoken to them, I don’t know. It didn’t happen anyway.

Aside from that item, the Month 1 obligations were fulfilled, well, except that 100 newspapers were not pitched to.

My publicist followed up on all her pitches over the three months of the campaign, and I received several Amazon reviews. I had had no idea book reviewers don’t just work for newspapers and magazines solely, but also post their reviews on Amazon and several other websites. Over Months 2 and 3, she also pitched to a few of the national newspapers and magazines (in addition to specialty ones in Month 1, including The Women’s Post, which was just not interested, sheesh), and to radio stations and Citytv in Toronto. The manager at WBBS told me that getting mentioned on CBC would help me sell books because their biggest customers listen to the CBC. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to pitch — though I tried on my own several months later — and my publicist was not familiar with how CBC worked, though she followed the website instructions. So that pretty much went nowhere. She pitched to community papers in Toronto but not regional newspapers in southern Ontario or upper New York state. I tried to do it myself months later but with my energy limitations and lack of knowledge, it was an impossible task. She did send out all the review copies I’d bought for the campaign to various magazines and reviewers. Of those, about 13% resulted in reviews of Lifeliner. I don’t know if that’s a good response rate or not.

The wire services pitched were of the web-based kind, not what I would consider national (like AP or CP). And if freelance writers were pitched, they were few in number.

With iUniverse in upheaval during this time, it was difficult to find out who my new marketing associate was and when I did find out, impossible to get a proper answer from her after our first e-mail exchange that I initiated in the brief moments of respite in the insurance company showdown. Of course, iUniverse had no problems billing me for postage for the publicity campaign. Even when I earned iUniverse’s Reader’s Choice award, no one e-mailed or called me to tell me this good news. I stumbled upon this fact when I was checking out my book page on iUniverse’s website. They again ignored my e-mails, even though all I wanted was the image of the RC logo to put on my website. You’d think they could at least respond to that.

Recently, I received a promotional e-mail from iUniverse. I was back in their good graces, I guess. And so that got me thinking again about the botched publicity campaign. I contacted the person who e-mailed me; she gave me the name of the guy who covers marketing for me; he, also a nice person, said he wasn’t familiar with my publicity contract, would look into it, and get back to me. Yup. You all know what that meant. Before we hung up, never to speak again, we also discussed getting Lifeliner into the Sony Reader Store (for eBooks) and onto Amazon Kindle. However, he said that would cost me. Apparently, iUniverse has a new deal where they’ll do the work for you, and you pay. Since I was already feeling like I’d overpaid for my less-than-promised publicity campaign, I wasn’t too interested in paying more. He never considered that he had a pissed-off customer who, being a writer, may one day grump about it online, and the best way to head that off was to make me happy by offering that deal for free as a make-up for my lousy experience. That kind of offer may also have upped the odds of me being a repeat customer. But clearly he was not too interested in resolving my issue and more interested in sending me regular promotional e-mails. Yup, great way to placate an unhappy customer.

Because of my previous posts on iUniverse, I heard from some unhappy iUniverse customers. One, distressingly, confirmed my 2008 experience of not being paid for books sold — basically, iUniverse under-reported sales. Because I happened to know just how many books sold through all
sources, I knew the numbers were off. iUniverse blamed a software
glitch. The same furious customer also informed me that iUniverse inaccurately reported how much they were discounting his book, meaning less royalty in his pocket, more in the retailers’. This was pretty much my beef about how they capitulated to Amazon without so much as polling their authors.

And so what began as a good experience, ended up with me feeling cheated, both on publicity and royalties. I have no intention of hiring iUniverse again, or, for that matter, any AuthorSolutions company. Jane Friedman in her recent blog post on AuthorSolutions says they are very focused on what their authors want. I beg to differ. Although when they do deliver, it’s worth it, I would advise any writer thinking of going this route to do it only if you’re a persistent little bugger who will not have any trouble sitting on them when they don’t deliver on what they promise. Meanwhile, I am going the trad route. For now.


The Sheriff of Nottingham Works for iUniverse and Amazon These Days

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You may remember I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the lack of sales information from iUniverse. Well, today the sales reporting software worked, and I just about choked on my hot chocolate. I called up iUniverse to see if I’d misread the figures, but nope, they were right.

To backtrack a bit, so you’ll have some context: awhile ago Amazon decided to improve its own business performance and that of BookSurge, a print-on-demand printer it owns, by demanding that companies like iUniverse use BookSurge only to print all books sold through Amazon and, as well, that they reduce the wholesale price for Amazon. The story is long, the authors massively pissed, some companies outraged, refusing to be bullied. But not so for iUniverse. Actually, I didn’t know what precisely iUniverse’s response was to being bullied. AuthorHouse, which bought or merged with iUniverse, issued a statement back in April, and that was the sum total of iUniverse’s communications with their authors. At the time, it sounded like so much nothing wrapped up in words, and I got caught up in other, more immediate problems and forgot about it. I would have expected AuthorHouse /iUniverse to muscle up with other POD publishers, but apparently not only is communication with authors tough for them, but also working with their rivals in order to defeat a bigger enemy is as well. Reading their words now, after at last seeing my monthly sales history, I realise they essentially said, “We negotiated alone, and we caved to Amazon’s demands.”

“We do not believe that it is ever in your interest to limit choice.”

In other words, “we did what we thought we had to in order to continue selling your book on Amazon.”

Whatever. When I saw how little I’d earned on a six-book Amazon sale, my
eyebrows rose. I compared the September sales history to old royalty
statements. I frowned. I calculated the per book income from Amazon
versus from Ingrams or iUniverse itself. I gasped. And then I picked up
the phone. The unfortunate who answered never hung up or ended the
call, never pushed back, well, maybe once, politely. When I vented to the suffering associate that perhaps iUniverse’s software snafu conveniently hid the full extent of their capitulation until things had calmed down, he replied that I was being a bit extreme. Maybe. I noted that they neglected to inform authors of the downward change in Amazon sales income, neatly avoiding a massive backflash from authors. Still, why would they keep silent on a 27 percent decrease in income from Amazon? Surely they’d expect the pig waste to hit the fan when authors started reading their royalty statements? Or perhaps they were counting on the notoriously bad business sense and lack of math skills of the stererotypical author?

Ultimately the associate could do nothing about it. And as I told him, I’d learnt that one needed exceptional persistence to reach and to get anywhere with management, so I wasn’t going to bother. I’d just blog about it.

OK, he said. (Like that would make any diff.)

So here I am blogging, the equivalent of yelling into a moving tornado, telling you how iUniverse now sells my book to Amazon at 47% of the cover price, while they continue to sell it to distributors and other retailers at 64% of the cover price, wondering if that will make any difference to where you shop for books. Amazon’s sweet deal means that although my royalty percentage remains constant, I receive less in absolute dollars from Amazon sales.

This tactic is how Amazon has increased its annual revenues by $4 billion from 2006 to 2007 and continues to increase it this year: on the backs of authors like me. While this booming company now saves itself $2.85 each time it buys a copy of my book — giving itself wiggle room if they want to sell it for less than the competition, but in reality having increased its profit margin by that amount as you, its customer, does not see that discount —  it has robbed me of 57 cents per book. And I got zippo say in this drop.

The guy on the phone tried to mollify me by saying that the figures on the monthly sales reports are not the final say and are subject to change on the quarterly royalty statement, whatever that means. Because let’s face it, iUniverse isn’t about to renegotiate its contract with Amazon back to the fairer deal or pay me what I had contracted with them to receive. This is the final straw for me. Ever since the buyout/merge with AuthorHouse, iUniverse has become noncommunicative and its specialty associates here today, gone tomorrow. And now this! I really cannot recommend iUniverse to any author musing about self-publishing nor will I use them for my next book. I will, in fact, actively recommend against AuthorHouse and iUniverse to anyone who is thinking about self-publishing. I am extremely disappointed in both iUniverse and Amazon. But as Kassia Krozser on Booksquare wrote, “Businesses are not nice, fuzzy creatures that cuddle with you in the dark of the night and believe in fairy tales.” Not even when they’re supposed to be your partner in publishing.


Amazon BookSurge Ultimatum

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Just when you think selling books couldn’t get any harder, along comes the wonderful news that Amazon is using its hefty muscle to force POD publishers to use BookSurge (which it owns) to print their print-on-demand (POD) books else risk having the Buy button for their authors’ books turned off. Sure, you can still purchase said books through Amazon Marketplace, but not new through Amazon itself, along with all the benefits that includes like free shipping and one-click shopping. As one person put it, that’s like saying “if I want Wal-Mart to sell my toys, I have to use Wal-Mart’s toy-making company.” WritersWeekly wrote up a comprehensive article on this issue, which I recommend reading in order to understand why this situation is terrible for authors like me and the future of book publishing.

Most POD publishers use Lightning Source, which is owned by Ingram — the large book distributor, through which my book is distributed to bookstores all over. Without access to Ingram, you, my readers, could not purchase Lifeliner through your local bookstore. So you could see that switching to BookSurge would mean double-printing: one printing for Amazon, one for Ingram for bookstores. That’s daft. How on earth can publishers and authors make any money doing that?

This story seems to have hit the fan today, although apparently it’s been brewing for awhile. I checked and so far the Buy button is still active for Lifeliner on Amazon, but as others have pointed out, there are plenty of other online retailers — in Canada, and in the US — in case iUniverse joins PublishAmerica on Amazon’s hit list.


Stop the Presses!

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Contrary to what I’ve been telling everybody, Lifeliner is not being stocked at Indigo at Bay and Bloor, but at the World’s Biggest Bookstore on Edward Street near Yonge and Dundas. You will find it either on the Hot and New Nonfiction display at the front of the store or upstairs in the Biography section. The manager was very pleasant and helpful in me going in to sign copies at such short notice. I hope you will stop in and pick up a signed copy in the next 8 weeks. And if you can’t find it, please don’t hesitate to ask one of the helpful staff members.