Writers’ Chat: Self-publishing in the Digital Age

Author Kelly McClymer
Pitfalls and Advantages of Indie Publishing

Authors are rushing to self-publish as the digital revolution has removed the stigma attached to self-publishing. These days the once flourishing vanity presses are notably by-passed. The routes to self-publishing are several: from direct access to Amazon’s KDP and other digital platforms to using the services of Smashwords, BookBaby or others to upload ebooks. The blogosphere is abuzz with news of once traditionally published authors like J.A.Konrath who have struck it rich and the fabulous successes of new authors like Amanda Hocking and John Locke who’ve sold millions of copies. 

I recently met with author Kelly McClymer, a traditionally published author who has decided to try self-publishing. Since 2010 she has been uploading her books on Amazon’s Kindle store and other major digital platforms and you can find her Amazon author page here. So far she has uploaded six books, four short stories, and her next novel The Impetuous Bride is due December 24th.
Kelly maintains a very attractive blog, Kelly McClymer’s blog, check it here

Kelly is a fascinating author for yet another reason: she specializes in genre-hopping and has published science fiction/fantasy short stories, YA fantasy, historical romance, and chicklit. Her first book was published by Kensington in 2000. In short, she has accumulated over ten years of solid professional publishing experience. And as the readers of this blog already know, I have also started self-publishing after traditionally publishing books in Italian here in Italy, the latest being Un Amore Dimenticato in 2007, a precursor of my Fear of the Past Trilogy. A coming of age story, it is also cross genre and contains elements of romance, historical fiction, paranormal and techno-thriller. You can find my Amazon author page here.

Claude: Why did you decide to self-publish? I did it after the rejections I got convinced me my book, being cross-genre, would prove a hard sell! I had achieved a fair degree of success in Italy with an earlier version traditionally published by a small press and I thought I’d try my luck with self-publishing. But you, as an already established author in the US, were you dissatisfied in some way? Did you self-publish to move forward? To expand your readership?

Kelly: Two words: Joe Konrath. I read his A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing blog and realized I had out-of-print books that (I felt) had never been given a fair shot at finding readers. I’m a scientist at heart (though math challenged, I’m afraid). Joe made it seem that it was all a matter of sweat equity and getting a good cover artist. I had the skills to prepare documents from a lifetime spent doing that for others. What did I have to lose? Other than a lot of time, which would still be a learning experience (scientist would be my dream job, if I could remedy my math-disability; student for life is my avocation). The books certainly weren’t earning me any money sitting in my basement...although the used copies were making money for used book sellers. I did worry I would be wrong about the desire for my books. Did you?

Claude: The desire for my books? Yes, of course I was worried! Because Fear of the Past had found success in its Italian version didn’t mean that it would be successful once I had an American version (the protagonist is an American computer whiz kid in search of his family roots in Sicily). However I figured that the Italo-American community would enjoy it, particularly the family saga aspects as my protagonist meets his forebears going back 900 years! But once I had decided to self-publish, that’s when my real problems started! First I had to find someone to do the file conversion for me so the book could be uploaded on the various digital platforms. I’m a hopeless technology dunce! I bought guidebooks that promised me it would all be very easy to do and I tried. And tried again. And got nowhere! In the end, I gave up and used BookBaby’s services. How did it work out for you? Did you use Smashwords?

Kelly: Again. Joe Konrath. He helped me skip a lot of the fumbling. I found the Smashwords guide and found it made complete sense. I still do my own formatting now using Jutoh. I like doing it...except when it goes wrong. How easy was it to use a third party? Just send them the file and get back the correctly formatted files in return? What kind of turnaround? The good/bad of doing your own is the timeline is totally up to you. Turnaround can be quick, or very, very slow -- it all depends on the family drama and other work stacked up on the desk. Sometimes I wonder if I should outsource.

Claude:  I think you are that rare bird who can do her file conversion herself and no sweat! Sure you don’t depend on anyone else and that’s a big advantage. But for common mortals like myself, one needs to be very careful about who does the file conversion. There a lot of experts out there offering their services, but it’s advisable to use someone trustworthy – for example someone suggested by your very source of reference: Joe Konrath. Or go to a service with a known reputation, like Smashwords or BookBaby. The difference betweent the two is however noteworthy and requires some thinking: Smashwords takes a % cut for their services while BookBaby charges a flat rate. Considering an ebook is on that virtual shelf forever, as Konrath would say, it would seem advisable to pick BookBaby and be done with it. Smashwords however offers additional services, like hosting and selling your book on their site. So, it’s a very personal decision in the end. But I'd like to add a word of caution: one has to be very careful in using all the freelance services available on Internet. Before hiring someone, look at a sample of their work.  Because there is a problem here: people who work free-lance don’t have to answer to anyone for their mistakes, quite unlike staff working for a publisher…So mistakes are answerable only to you! Once the book is up on that virtual shelf and readers start complaining, that's when you realize the services you got were not quite as good as you thought. I think this is equally true for any proof-reader or editor you find online. What is your experience in this respect, Kelly? Any trouble with the quality of proof-reading or editing you’ve bought online?

Kelly: I agree. When you indie publish, the buck stops at your desk, even if you outsource. I find myself quite nervous every time I outsource editing, or proofing, or covers. But I’ve always been very pleased with the result. So far. And I’ve had plenty of nightmare editing/proofing in traditional publishing, so I know the grass is not greener on the other side (copy editors who like to change your researched facts are extremely annoying).

Claude: That’s interesting! My experience in publishing here in Italy has been very positive: editors and copy editors were very helpful and in my view improved my manuscript. So I guess it takes all kinds to make the world! But not so regarding book covers. On this, I’d have to agree with you. On my children’s book an illustrator was imposed on me by the publisher and I positively disliked her art. I was lucky with my second publisher who allowed me to use my own paintings. But book covers are unquestionably  a big hurdle for self-pubbed authors. While I knew I could provide the art for the cover, I was totally unable to handle the typography for the title and general layout of the cover. For a professional looking cover, I used BookBaby’s services and I think they did a pretty good design. How did you go about it?

Kelly: I love your covers. They’re beautiful. No wonder, if you’re  a painter! My first set of covers were created by a local young artist I knew. They were beautiful, but a little too modern for my books, so I then (again, per Konrath) had them redone by someone with experience creating romance covers. I’m probably going to get them completely redone again sometime in the next few months, as I’m releasing the last two books in the series, and my former cover artist is not taking more work. Do you think you’ll always use your own paintings? Maybe even create paintings to go with your books as you write them? That seems like it would be powerfully creative (if you are talented at art, which I am not, sadly).

Claude: Goodness, yes! I really enjoy doing my own book covers. Painting is so relaxing compared to writing! I love to move back and forth between the two. For my Fear of the Past Trilogy I was inspired by the lions decorating the façade of the Circolo di Conversazione of Ragusa – the place that inspired the setting of my novel and indeed gave me the whole idea! I’ll never forget when I walked in that Circolo some ten years ago: it was filled with people that looked just like ghosts! For my next book, Rich, Fat and Bored, you can easily imagine how the title suggests the painting to go with it! But let me turn to the biggest problem for indie authors: book promotion! There are really two major tools available for book promotion: pricing and advertising on one’s website or blog and other social media. Let’s start with pricing, because that’s the single most important marketing tool in the hands of a self-pubbed author! Freedom to set your own price, to decide on “loss leaders” – like I’ve set the first book of my trilogy at 99 cents but the others cost more! And I won’t leave that price for much longer either. Are you a believer in the 99 cents price as the prime mover of “impulse buying”? Have you ever set books for free (at least for short periods) to boost sales?

Kelly: As it happens, I have experience with both the 99 cents loss leader and the free giveaway. I did a 99 cents promotion beginning on Mother’s Day 2011, and going through much of the summer. It was centered around the fact that my daughter was newly engaged and I wanted to give her a nice family-centric wedding. The promotion sales built slowly, but then went through the roof. Sales of my other books did very well. In fact, the boost from that promotion continued into the fall, even after I raised the price back to $2.99. However, sales began to drop in October, so in early November, I tried a free promotion. I gave away more than 40,000 copies of The Fairy Tale Bride. Sales of the other books bumped back up nicely, too. Timing is everything, though. I may have tried the free promotion a little early to capture the big Christmas e-readership. Only time will tell. The scientist in me is gleeful at having so much interesting data to chew on. The mother in me is pleased that I should be able to afford my daughter’s modest (for our big family) wedding in late summer. By the way, speaking of expanding sales -- how do you feel about Amazon opening sites in Spain and Italy? You’re already ahead of the game, because you can translate your own work. Do you see that as a potential sales bonanza for you?

Claude:  Yes and no. I can’t speak for Spain but in Italy we’re still eons away from the Digital Revolution. Few people own e-readers, you never see anyone walking around with a Kindle – an iPad, yes, but as everyone knows iPads don’t tend to be used as much for reading. One thing that might boost sales is the fact that the $2.00 surcharge Amazon slapped on its Italian customers will be taken off (apparently that’s their policy: remove the surcharge once a Kindle store has opened in the country). But perhaps it won’t make that much difference anyway because Europeans are used to paying much more for their books on average: prices of $20 to $30 don’t scare anyone off – so lowering the price on books set at $3.44 – which is what one pays for purchasing a book priced at 99 cents in the American market – probably won’t change the game…Turning now to the other big aspect of book promotion: building your presence on Internet. Turning yourself into a “brand” – and that means using actively Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. These seem to be the major ones an author would need to be on. Do you use others like StumbleUpon and Tumblr or do you do videos and use YouTube? I haven’t done a video yet so I confess I’ve done nothing in that direction. How about you?

Kelly: I’ve been tempted to do webcasts or podcasts, using my teaching experience to create inspirational writing tips and tricks for everyone else who’s struggling with getting the words just right, or even trying to decide where the art stops and the business side begins. Time is a factor. At the moment I think Twitter and my blog are my two favorite “platforms.” Facebook is third. I don’t understand StumbleUpon or Tumblr yet, but I’m trying. To get off topic a little, I am “starring” in a Kickstarter video for the startup game app company my son and I started. It is rather horrifying, if I must be honest. But for a good cause -- our games are meant to boost core reading skills for people with dyslexia. Having done that video, I know what not to do next time. It does help that my younger son is a videographer who is a whiz at FinalCut. Now all I need is someone to manage my makeup and wardrobe.

Claude: Your wardrobe? I love your hat and I hope you’re using it in that video! I agree with you: because of a lack of time I also rely mostly on my blog (as most of my readers know). I don’t even have a writer website (though I have a website as a painter). As a writer, it is however essential to maintain a blog to connect with your readers, to share not just your books but your interests with them! I’ve heard that in the US even if you’re traditionally published you need a blog. Because unless you’re a Big Game Author, traditional publishers don’t really do the book marketing for you. Have you found that to be true in your experience?

Kelly: Yes. Even my traditionally published books need a little push from my end, although Simon & Schuster has been good about making sure libraries and bookstores know about the books I publish with them. I do find that having my blog helps my readers find me, whether they are reading my traditionally published books, or my indie republished backlist books. I was never good at keeping my diary up to date, but I find that inviting guests to blog helps keep things hopping. I really enjoyed it when you guested a few months ago to talk about the inspiration for your books, and so did my readers. Do you have any tricks to keeping your blog duties manageable?

Claude: And I really enjoyed being on your blog! Tricks to keep blog duties manageable? Not really. In my case, current events can get me really worked up, like the Euro crisis for example. If the Euro crashes, so will Europe, and mind you, so will America and the rest of the world. We risk a big recession that’s going to make the Big Depression look like a Sunday ride! And all this because a bunch of people – the Germans in particular – are making serious mistakes, imposing austerity instead of focusing on measures to revive growth. That’s the sort of issue I feel compelled to write about now and then, even though it has nothing to do with books and publishing. Mind you, a Big Depression would hurt the book market too! I’m not sure that blogging about such issues helps my blog traffic. For maximum traffic, you’re supposed to operate within a “niche” and address yourself to “your” audience – what is my audience given my far-flung interests? Oh well… sigh! The only lesson here for new bloggers is: pick a niche where you’re an expert and stick to it! Lately I’ve turned to other social media. Like Twitter where I’m active since March. How about you?

Kelly: I’m a magpie, too -- interested in many things and unable to keep to a niche. I love Twitter (more for what I glean from so many useful links to articles and blog posts of interesting to me than for what I can communicate to others). Facebook has always been more about keeping up with family for me. My page is beginning to grow a nice “Like”-ership, so I’m trying to take it more seriously. It helps that I’m doing a lot and have a chance to share quite a bit. I also like Goodreads as a place to share information about books and reading. Is there any other social media you’ve been interested in trying?

Claude:  Quite a few, really, including Goodreads that I enjoy very much. I’m also trying to maintain a presence on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google + but I’m finding it difficult to find the time to follow and post everywhere! Recently I’ve just had an article “What is the Real Use of Twitter?” accepted and published on EzineArticles.com It looks like a very interesting and lively site, full of authors and journalists. We’ll see how it goes… Given all the work from book production to book promotion, are you happy with your choice of self-publishing? Has it worked for you and would you recommend it to a midlist author? To a newbie?

Kelly:I have been re-energized in my own writing career by being able to see how many people have been interested in my books. In fact, I’ve used my daughter’s upcoming wedding as an inspiration to promote my out of print historical romance (the series is Once Upon a Wedding, so it seemed like a natural fit). Because of that inspiration, I’ve had a great deal of success with my historical romance books. Books I’d expected never to make any money for anyone but used book sellers again. Plus, I had fun writing a short story to complement my YA novel Must Love Black, as requested by a reader. Interestingly, I now have more understanding of what a good publisher can do for you (emphasis on good). Sadly, more and more publishers are expecting the authors to do all the promotion work, even as they pay smaller advances. I don’t rule out another traditional publishing deal (in fact, I just had an idea that I think would appeal to a traditional publisher). However, my future books will not spend years languishing in an agent/editor’s To Be Read pile. If I think they will be better served at a traditional publisher, I’ll submit and see if an editor agrees with me. If they don’t in six months or so, then to Amazon and Barnes & Noble I go. After editing and professional cover, of course. The freedom of that choice makes me giddy. I do advocate this as a path for any writer, newbie or old hand. However, newbies do need to make sure to get the stars out of their eyes and see their manuscript for what it is. If it isn’t ready, you’ll do yourself no good getting it out there.

Claude: Thanks Kelly for the interesting discussion and I’d like to end on the optimistic note you’ve just sounded! And I support your word of caution to newbies: make sure the quality is there! And be prepared to work much harder at your book promotion because, unlike authors who have been traditionally published, you don’t have readers out there yet…

You can find Kelly McClymer’s books available at many ebook retail sites. For a complete listing, visit her at Backlist Ebooks.

Claude Nougats books are available on:
Barnes and Noble
iBookstore and 
Sony store.

N.B. the last book, Remember the Future should be out this week!

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Self-Published Books: the Digital Age Slush Pile?

Amazon Kindle Fire
Amazon Kindle has probably passed the one million mark in e-book titles as of now, considering that it stood at 750,000 a year ago, and adds as much as 1,000 titles a day!  

Much of it self-published (how much is not given to know) - thus giving self-published authors what they see as a "level playing field" with traditional publishers, both big and small. The digital revolution has wiped away the stigma of self-publishing, giving indies a unique opportunity to distribute their books and connect with readers without having to go through a traditional publisher.

Most certainly a unique opportunity but as I have already pointed out once before, full of pitfalls for the newbies (see here for my post on the subject). Not so for the already published author with a fan base: he/she has a much better chance "to make it", particularly on the marketing side, than an aspiring author whom no one has heard of.

This much is obvious. But there are other reasons, and I'm not the only one ringing the alarm bells. Here's a fascinating article published on The Millions, an online magazine offering coverage on books, arts, and culture since 2003. The Millions has been featured on NPR and noted by The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Village Voice, among others.

One of its staff writers,  Edan Lepucki,  recently made a list of reasons not to self-publish: 
1. Traditional Publishing is not Dead: 
This is an important point Edan makes right from the beginning, and something one should keep in mind when considering self-publishing:  
People love to talk about how traditional publishing is dying, but is that actually true? According to The New York Times, the industry has seen a 5.8% increase in net revenue since 2008. E-books are “another bright spot” in the industry, and the revenue of adult fiction grew by 8.8% in three years. (Take that, Twilight!) 
Of course, the industry has troubles. The slim profit margins of books; the problems of bookstore returns; the quandary of Borders closing and Amazon forever selling books as a loss-leader; how to make people actually pay for content, and so on. Furthermore, the gamble of the large advance strikes me as ridiculous — and reckless, considering that editors and marketing teams have no real clue which books will be hits and which ones...
And yet. And yet. I read good books by large publishing houses all the time, books that take my breath away...I trust publishers. They don’t always get it right, but more often than not, they do...As I said...“I want a reputable publishing house standing behind my book; I want them to tell you it’s good so that I don’t have to.”
One of Edan's readers commented that this showed she lacked self-confidence as a writer - that she should need "validation" from a publishing house in order to find the courage to publish. 

Validation? Maybe. But it is still true that the publishing industry has a "slush pile" system to filter incoming submissions from aspiring writers and sift out the "outstanding" ms, the one that "will sell". Of course, what a publisher or a literary agent who is the front line in this slush pile filtering process thinks is "outstanding" is clearly an entirely subjective matter...

2.    Literary Fiction is Not a Big Seller in Self-Publishing on Digital Platforms:

Another point Edan makes, but perhaps misleading:
Many of the writers who have found success in self-publishing are writers of straightforward genre fiction. Amanda Hocking writes young adult fantasy, dwarfs and all. Valerie Forster, who published traditionally before setting out on her own, writes legal thrillers. Romance, too, often does just fine without a publisher. Aside from Anthropology of An American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann, I can’t think of another literary novel that enjoyed critical praise and healthy sales when self-published. That’s not to say that it can’t — and shouldn’t — happen, it’s only to point out that it’s a tougher road for writers of certain sorts of stories.
Several people commented (including myself) that what sells is a "good story" rather than any specific genre. But it is equally true that "straightforward genre" - particularly Romance - trumps literary everytime, in both the digital and real world of printed books. Literary books make a lot less money on average, but it is in the literary category that "black swans" tend to arise more often - you know what I mean, the unusual book that sets a new trend in literature, like, for example, Tolkien's books that started a whole new genre, the medieval fantasy...

On a secondary note, Edan added:
Readers like me aren’t seeking out self-published books. Why not? That’s for another essay. (Please, can someone else write that one?) Until the likes of Jeffrey Eugenides and Alice Munro begin publishing their work via CreateSpace, I don’t see the landscape for literary fiction changing anytime soon.
She also later in the article confesses that she hasn't got an e-reader - undoubtedly it partly explains the pro-traditional publisher bias in her list. But still, I believe that this list is not something self-published authors who have gone digital should dismiss or underestimate. Most people still read printed books!

3.  A Small Press is Often an Aspiring Writer's Best Friend: 

Probably based on her own experience with small presses, Edan has yet another point:
The conversation about self-publishing too often ignores the role of independent publishing houses in this shifting reading landscape. Whether it be larger independents like Algonquin and Graywolf, or small gems like Featherproof and Two Dollar Radio, or university presses like Lookout Books, the imprint at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, which recently published Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision (nominated for this year’s National Book Award), independent presses offer diversity to readers, and provide yet another professional option for authors. These presses are run and curated by well-read, talented people, and they provide readers with the same services that a large press provides: namely, a vote of confidence in a writer the public might have never heard of. Smaller presses, too, enjoy a specificity of brand and identity that too often eludes a larger house...

True enough but small presses can easily go bankrupt. I know mine did here in Italy, in 1991 when I published a children's book that was an instant success with critics and won three prestigious Italian  national awards  (that was the first time I made money off my writing!). I thought I had it made, I was euphoric until the press defaulted and never distributed my book anywhere in Italy. Just folded and that was that! I was working full time in the United Nations and didn't have the courage - or time - to pick up the pieces and try to sell it elsewhere...

4. Self-Publishing is Better for the Already-Published
Perhaps the smarter, and far more seductive, path is the one where the writer begins his career with a traditional publisher, and then, once he’s built a base of loyal readers, sets off on his own. The man who loves to talk smack about the publishing industry, J.A. Konrath, already had an audience from his traditionally-published books by the time he decided to take matters into his own hands. It’s much harder to create a readership out of nothing...
How true! And I would add that when you re-publish on a digital platform a book that has once been published traditionally, most of your book presentation and promotion problems are already solved. 

When you self-publish you are on your own: you have to decide the genre of your book, the sales pitch, the cover style etc etc. I know how hard that can be: my Fear of the Past Trilogy is really cross genre: historical (many characters are historical but the protagonist isn't - he's a computer whiz kid );  paranormal (in the limited sense that the protagonist meets his ancestors in a Place Out of Time in Book 1 and is trapped in the mind of his great-great grandfather in Book 2, in time to witness the collapse of his family) but there are no scary ghosts or gore. In book 3, the protagonist takes his own life in his hands and fights the Sicilian and Russian Mafia, trying to save both the woman he loves and his creation, a social network that is an innovative cross between Facebook and Second Life. Thus, you could argue Book 3 is both a romance and a techno-thriller and all three books are focused on the protagonist's self quest and his attempt to rid himself of the burden of his family's past.

So what genre is it? Does that make it Young Adult (age group, 14 to 18)? Strictly speaking no, because the protagonist who's 17 at the start of the trilogy is 22 when it ends! So I guess it's general fiction for general reading, hum...

Perhaps a better title for the Trilogy would have been Fear of Failure, because that is the fear that haunts and paralyzes this brilliant young man who doesn't really know who he is and what he can achieve...a fear, I believe, that besets not just the young but all of us. Imagine! Here I go and self-publish a book and once it's up there on the virtual shelf, I have second thoughts and doubts about its very title!

Sure I could pay an editor to go over it (I have actually) and give me advice. But can I really trust the advice since I'm the one paying? Isn't that person going to be tempted to tell me what I want to hear? Or perhaps not give it much attention since being freelance, there are plenty other jobs beckoning out there?
5. Publishers Add Value to Your Books

Here, to make the point since Edan is not yet published herself, she got one famous author's opinion:
I decided to ask the most famous writer I know, Peter Straub, if he’s ever considered leaving the world of big publishing and putting out a book all by his lonesome. After all, he’s a bestselling author and editor of more than 25 books (18 novels alone!), and he’s a horror writer beloved by genre geeks and snobby literary types alike... He told me:
True self-publication means writers upload content themselves, and plenty already do it. I’m not quite sure how you then publicize the work in question, or get it reviewed, but that I am unsure about these elements is part of the reason I seek always, at least for the present, to have my work published in book form by an old-style trade publisher...
Most of the editors I have worked with over the past thirty-five years have made crucial contributions to the books entrusted to them, and the copy-editors have always, in every case, done exactly the same. They have enriched the books that came into their hands. Can you have good, thoughtful, creative editing and precise, accurate, immaculate copy-editing if you self-publish?
Exactly right. You can't, can you? 

As I just said above, if you're the one paying, the temptation is great for the editor and copy-editor to just get the job done as fast as possible and move on to the next client. 

Now, on the other hand, if the editor is part of the publishing house's structure he/she has to think of his/her career. The job has to be well done because the editor is part of an institutional structure that demands quality books.

That's a very big plus provided by traditional publishers to their authors.

Ditto for book covers of course.  Some authors have problems with their publisher's book covers or illustrations (I know I did - for my children's book the illustrator the publisher selected was awful and I was lucky with my second book in 2007: the publisher agreed to use one of my paintings for the cover). But overall, publishers aim for a certain style/brand and that can only be helpful in the long run.

6. The E-Reading Conundrum; or, I don’t want to be Amazon’s Bitch

Edan here used a strong word: "Amazon's bitch" (I didn't - the subtitle is entirely hers) and she goes on:
Many self-published authors have gone totally electronic, eschewing print versions of their work altogether. I can’t see myself taking that route, however, because I don’t own an e-reader, and I don’t have plans to buy one (not yet, anyway… I read a lot in the bath, etc., etc.). It seems odd that I wouldn’t be able to buy my own book — I mean, shouldn’t I be my own ideal reader? I also prefer to shop at independent bookstores, and in fact, I pay full price for my books all the time. The thought of Amazon being the only place to purchase my novel shivers my timbers. I don’t mind if someone else chooses to read my work electronically, just as I don’t mind if Amazon is one of the places to purchase my work; I’m simply wary of Amazon monopolizing the reading landscape. Self-publishing has certainly offered an alternative path for writers, but it’s naive to believe that a self-published author is “fighting the system” if that self-published book is produced and made available by a single monolithic corporation. In effect, they’ve rejected “The Big 6″ for “The Big 1.”
As you my readers know, I've gone "digital" and so far no printed version of my Fear of the Past trilogy exists but I'm working to upload one on CreateSpace (will let you know when the printed version becomes available). But honestly, I don't believe there any reason to fear becoming “Amazon’s bitch”. Why fear Amazon? Why use the degrading term "bitch"? If there is this (bizarre) possibility, you could argue that there is equal danger in becoming anyone of the Big Six Publishers’ bitch! In any case, one can always go (as I have) to another digital platform: Barnes & Noble (the Nook), iBookstores (for the Ipad) or Sony Stores or even sell the books directly on one's website like Rowland is doing on Pottermore. Indeed, it is highly advisable and makes total economic sense to publish on as many platforms as you can. Amazon is not the only digital player, and worldwide it may never become The One (but that's the subject of another post!)

7.  What Happens When the Digital Revolution Swells the Number of Books to the Point of Making it Look like a Slush Pile? Is it Best for Readers?

 Edan is very clear on that:  
As a member of the reading public, I am not prepared, or willing, to wade through all that unfiltered literature. As a writer, I must put my head back to the grindstone and write a book that more than a handful of readers can fall in love with. 
One can only agree with her: I'm also busy "putting my head back to the grindstone" and writing my next novel. That's why we're writers, right? But to argue that an avalanche of self-published books is a bad thing per se...Well, I don't agree. 

First, the cream will rise to the top. It always does: word of mouth is still the best and time-honored way to spread knowledge about good reads. It may take time, but trust me, good books will always be discovered, sooner or later.

Second, in the Digital Age, clever electronic ways can be devised to speed up book discovery. Amazon already does a remarkable job of it and indeed that is why it is fast becoming a major publisher, perhaps even (as I once posted - click here) the Next Big Publisher. 

But, as Seth Godin says (see article below), book discovery on e-readers is still in its infancy. He acknowledges readily that the success of his Domino publishing project was based on a core group of 50,000 subscribers. He reportedly has just shut the project down not because it failed, but because it seems he wants to get involved in other things, saying this was merely a "project" and as such should "come to an end". And there is little doubt that Konrath's success in selling his thrillers has a lot to do with the success of his blog (500,000 visits a year, so he says).

Publishing Perspectives recently reported on one small bookstore's fascinating quiz to help readers find their next read in function of their tastes  (yes, bookstores still exist and are very innovative and dynamic - indeed, if they weren't, they wouldn't survive in the Digital Age...) I took the quiz just to see how it works - it was fun to take by the way - and I was amazed at how well it worked! It immediately suggested a book of the kind that I really like to read...  But I didn't buy it because this book was not available...on the Kindle! Still, I'm convinced that quiz would work wonders on Amazon or any of the other digital platforms: fun to take and effective in identifying attractive titles!

I would love to hear your reactions to these points! Do you believe the days of traditional publishers as "gatekeepers" of literary taste are over? Will ways be found to avoid turning the mountain of e-books on Amazon (and elsewhere) into a "slush pile" discouraging readers?

, on The Millions's staff, is a fiction writer and instructor living in Los Angeles. Her stories have been published in major magazines (McSweeney's, Narrative Magazine, Meridian, and the Los Angeles Times Magazine, among others). Learn more about her writing classes at writingworkshopsla.com.
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Angela Merkel and the Euro Crisis: Is She an Angel or a Demon?

Merkel - Sarkozy- Monti Press Conference in Strasburg, 24 November 2011

On Thanksgiving Day, while Americans ate their beloved turkey and pumpkin pie, the world started falling apart.

It happened in the course of  a press conference in Strasburg where Angela Merkel, Germany's Chancellor and French president Sarkozy magnanimously received the visit from the new Italian premier Mario Monti.

Our dear Angela (an angel?) got once again busy stoking the fire that will consume the Euro.

While Monti looked increasingly uncomfortable and Sarkozy smiled benevolently, she was very clear in her school-marmish way: forget about Eurobonds and using the European Central Bank to bailout governments in financial trouble. The European Central Bank's "independence should be preserved"! Of course, she failed to add that she is the first one attacking the Bank's independence and dictating what the Bank should do and should not do.

If her objective was to kill Europe, she came close to achieving it.

She is always saying "Nein!" to all measures that could save the Euro. There has been a lot of talk that Europe has been driven by the German-French Duo, and the arrival of Monti on the scene heralded the start of a European Triumvirate - not something Monti likes, being someone wedded to the cooperative approach to build Europe, without leaving anyone out. A generous position if ever there was one.

But the truth of the matter is, Europe is not driven by a Duo or a Triumvirate.

Europe is driven by Germany - a Germany that refuses to help fellow Europeans. A Germany that always demands more austerity and promotes an economic model that is sure to suffocate economic growth, create untold pain and provoke social tensions across the continent.

Are you surprised that Germany is so negative?

I can't say I am. The spirit of perpetual negation is a profoundly German trait. Goethe knew this well when he wrote his famous line describing Mephistopheles:

Ich bin der Geist der stets verneint!
I am the Spirit that always denies!
(line 1338, in Faust)

Johannes Faust with Homunculus, Mephistopheles

So Ms. Merkel is no Angel: she is the Spirit that always says Nein!

She dashed hopes that she would listen to Monti who, being a good economist, had come to her with a sensible Eurobond proposal - sometimes called "stability bonds" but the idea is always the same: they would be collectively backed by Euro-zone governments and the interest rates would settle somewhere between the highest (Greece and Italy) and the lowest (Germany), probably around 5%.

Obviously an idea that is thoroughly disliked by Germans as it would make it more costly for Germany to raise money. But Germany had better think twice: it's latest bond sale crashed as one third went unsold, a clear signal that the Euro crisis has reached Germany at last, the core of the Euro zone.  Reminding everyone that Euro zone members are in this all together. They will stand together or fall together.

Go and tell Ms. Merkel, the Spirit that says always Nein!

Instead she vaguely talked about changing the European Treaties first - a process that would take years and that the markets will not wait for. Because markets demand instant responses. And, yesterday, as soon as Merkel had finished talking, they dove down. Wall Street was closed but one may expect the markets to plunge further today.

Because the markets know something Ms. Merkel apparently doesn't. That if the Euro collapses, so will Europe and the rest of the world as we know it. Why? Because world trade will also collapse since Europe is the world's biggest trader and the largest market for both China and the United States. Once world trade goes, the ensuing economic tornado will make the aftermath of the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers look like summer rain.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this Euro crisis is the unquenchable optimism of German businessmen. Yesterday, a German survey reported that they felt more optimistic than ever. In what kind of world do Germans live?

How can they get it so wrong? I'll tell you, it's easy to understand. With the establishment of the Euro, things could not have gone better for Germany. First the Euro, launched at parity with the US dollar, plunged immediately below, making it cheap and stoking exports. A boon for the German economy that was in trouble at the time, with relative high wages and social tension. The export-led boom solved many of Germany's economic and social problems in the early 2000s, although it left a large segment of the population outside of the boom - additional reasons why Germans are in no mood to help bail out Euro zone countries that they see as profligate. Even with a high Euro, the Germans kept exporting. No doubt thanks to the quality of their products, but a major reason is also that German business has been able to obtain loans at the lowest rates in Europe. Lately there are signs that German exports are slowing down. Are German exporters worried by the Euro crisis? Not really. In the short term, they see it as something very, very good for Germany: as the Euro finally weakens, exports will become attractive again.

What German businessmen forget, is that currency movements can be very fast and unexpected. If a Central Bank is not allowed to defend its currency's stability when speculators attack it - the case now with the Euro -  then the currency will crash, banks will fail, trade will stop, jobs will disappear, income will evaporate, savings will go down the drain, pensions will go unpaid...

It will usher in a new Financial Ice Age that will affect the whole world - yet another unpleasant aspect of globalization. It is likely to last much longer than the Big Depression of the 1930s, with much larger and longer lasting impact on society worldwide. The poor will get poorer - and hungrier - but the super-rich, that famous one percent, will also have lost everything.

And we shall all have Ms. Merkel to thank for.

Because there will be nowhere to go. Savvy investors for the moment are eyeing Dubai's sovereign debt figuring that with the Gulf Oil States, their money should be safe. Let the Euro collapse, one can always run to petro-dollars. But they're forgetting something: in a tradeless world, petrol cannot command the same prices... 

Can anything or anyone at this point save the Euro (and the world)?

Yes, there is something.

Ms. Merkel, instead of saying that what the Euro and Europe need is "more Europe" (sounds intelligent but it is singularly bereft of any meaning in your mouth), why don't you start saying "Let the European Central Bank be independent and act as a Central Bank"?

You ackowledge yourself that currency stability is in the ECB's mandate. If it is, then let it work on it. Freely - let it act as a Central Bank should. And if it means issuing Eurobonds collectively backed by Eurozone members, making the bonds like US Treasury Bills, let it be. It will surely cost Germany less in the long run, just a few additional percentage points, compared to losing everything...

Ms. Merkel, which do you prefer? 

Or is your aim to go down in History as as the usherer of the New Financial Ice Age?

STRASBOURG, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 24:  French Pres...A Triumviate or Lady Merkel's Boys? Image by Getty Images via @daylife

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Twittermania: Why do you tweet? Does it help marketing?

twitterImage by xotoko via FlickrTwitter is a game, Twitter is a political tool, Twitter is a celebrity hunt, Twitter is a waste of time! 

A waste of time? Yes, that's the conclusion that one writer came to after reaching 25,000 followers. Larry Carlat (that's his name) humorously described in a New York Times article (November 15, 2011) how Twitter had become a mania that destroyed his normal social relationships and even affected his job. To tweet, he found he was repairing to the toilet in restaurants so as not to be seen by family and friends. That's when he decided to stop. He deleted his Twitter account and you can't even find him on Facebook!

What is Twitter for you? The 140 characters you are allowed for a message: is it a challenge to express all you want to say? An advantage to zero in on the very essence of the message? A way to sell and promote your stuff? A neat tool for sharing links to interesting articles, books, products and what-have-you? A game to see how many followers you can get? A way to increase your Internet presence?

In a recent article in Time Techland, Graeme McMillan (on Twitter: @graemem) asked his followers that very question: why do it and is it better than other social media? The implication for most people being: is Twitter better than Facebook (or Google+ for that matter, should it ever compete successfully against Facebook).  

He got some very interesting answers which can be condensed as follows:
1. the "tight" form enables "sampling strangers efficiently" and keeps friends "from rambling too much", while Facebook does neither;
2. Twitter is a cocktail party or a meeting at the watercooler or waterhole, take your pick; it "supplements your social life, while Facebook seeks to replace it";
3. Twitter "ignores the barriers of class, age and locale" and enables you to follow what celebrities and politicians say.

A recently released Pew research study, based on a survey of over 2,000 adults conducted in April-May 2011, shows that 66% of Americans are on social media (such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn) and most - roughly two thirds - are there to connect with family and friends and half say they've used the new technology to connect with old friends they'd lost sight of. 

That leaves only one third of Americans who're on social media for "cocktail party" reasons

In other words, Americans who use social media to find interesting strangers or follow celebrities. More precisely: 14% say they connect around a hobby or shared interest, like say the writers' community - an area where I certainly try to connect on Twitter and tweet about; my other interests of course being politics and art, as anyone who's read this blog knows. Mind you, the writers' community - considering also literary agents, editors, publishers etc - is actually huge. How big I don't know, but consider that there's an estimate of two million writers published and unpublished in America alone!

Then there are only 5 percent who read comments by political figures (take that, politicians! You are not followed as much as you think you are!) and 3 percent who seek romance. Obviously Twitter is not the place for romance ( I would say that among my 1,000 followers I have about a dozen "ladies" who've sent me very sexy pictures of themselves, probably taking me for a man because of my first name - btw, these are people who don't tweet...) .

But let me get to the key statistic: 

Only 9 percent - that little! - say that making new friends is important to them. 

Why Twitter is not necessarily the Best Place to promote your business.

If only 9% of the Americans in the Twitterverse are out there to find new friends and new things, it doesn't bode well for marketing. As Graeme McMillan says, this goes a long way to explain why business and media outlets who send out links to their products aren't getting very far. 

Unless the tweet with your link is a great conversation starter, it will be ignored.

I've experienced that again and again. I send out tweets with links to articles that I find interesting but that is not enough. I have to think of something fun/arresting/special to say about the said link, or else it falls flat on its face. 

This is especially true for writers who send out tweets that promote their books. Nothing could be more boring than a message that says "buy my book", and even adding that it's a steamy romance or an awesome thriller won't get you anywhere. 

Have you ever bought a book on the basis of a tweet?

I know I haven't. Unless the book is a new one from an author I know and like. 

Which brings up my next point: whatever link you send out to your followers, make sure it goes to an interesting product - whether article, book or gadget. Bottom line, content is king. Your followers will stop following if the links you send out are not to their liking. 

For example, on the days I tweet about politics I can tell quite a few of my followers unfollow me. My growth on Twitter has been extraordinarily zig-zaggy.  At first, that puzzled me. Then I realized that there is a stong undercurrent in the American writers' community that dislikes politics. Writers, on average, are not politicized (or if they are, they keep it to themselves) because they are afraid of losing readers

This fear is understandable and makes sense in America, given the strong polarization of American politics. Republicans won't read a writer who's blatantly a Democrat, and Democrats won't enjoy a Tea Party writer.

As a European, I find this is not quite so true here. Though for decades in Italy (at least until the fall of the Berlin Wall), you didn't have a hope to get published if you didn't belong to or were supported by the Communist and/or Socialist parties. That was also true in France. Now that has changed, and there's a lot more tolerance towards a writer's political inclinations. Quite frankly, I don't think they matter in Europe anymore, you won't lose or gain readers on that basis.

If your experience on this is different, please let me know!

Is Twitter a Political Tool for change?

Under this heading there are two main considerations:

1. Having a lot of followers makes sense if you're a political site issuing orders/policy slogans/strategy moves.
But it doesn't make sense if you're a political operative/agent working within a political movement. 

I'm thinking of the way people used Twitter in the Arab Spring, Indignados or Occupy Wall Street movements. Here you want to connect with other fellow agents and coordinate the street theater that your movement has organized. You want to know to what street, square, building you're supposed to go and at what time and for how long. Twitter is an entirely tactical tool - much like a telephone or radio call. 

Facebook can also help organize an event, but it's much more static. Last minute changes can't be announced or acted upon. On that score, Twitter is more agile and operates in real time.

2. Twitter is a form of "micro-blogging" in that it can support and spread a political campaign's main slogans. It can't replace a blog or a newspaper article because it can't dig in depth into an issue. But it can echo and amplify it, enriching it with related ideas/slogans as it spreads.

Lessons to be learned for marketing: 

The successful use of Twitter as a politcal tool combined with what the Pew research tells us about how Americans use Twitter suggest some general lessons for marketing: 

1. The product you sell needs to enjoy near-instant recognition and general support - for books, it's "loyalty transfer", as pointed out by John Locke, the successful seller on one million e-books on Kindle  in just a few months. In short, your readers have to empathize with your books's subject matter - or with you, the writer.

2. The number of followers you have is less important than the way you interact with them. For effectiveness, it has to be a two-way conversation. That has happened to me several times on Twitter and I can honestly say I've made new friends thanks to Twitter.

How do you stay atop of your Twitter stream when you are followed by thousands and follow an equally enormous number? Even at 140 characters a message, there's too much to read! 

There are several ways to do that. 

For example, you can use Tweetdeck to create columns of tweets categorized by subject matter. You can create your own "Daily" with Paper.li which enables you to keep track of all the news/tidbits from favorite Twitterer you're interested in and that show up on your Twitter stream while you're busy elsewhere (you can't be on Twitter 24 hours every day!). 

3. Marketing has to be orchestrated as a political campaign, with objectives and an implementation plan. 

You can't just tweet at random buy my book, read my blog. You can't shower your followers with messages or you'll be considered a spammer. Constant tweets are irking. 

On the other hand, you can't go silent and wake up six months later: people expect a steady stream of (hopefully) valuable information. And since a tweet's "shelf life" is relatively short (4 to 5 hours) and people live in different time zones, you have to tweet accordingly (the same message sent out at broadly different times of day to "catch" your audience).

4. Be aware of what your audience likes. Check your followers' profile: are these the people most likely to buy your product? Follow people whose profile you deem "right" for your product. Some will follow you back. 

Use hashtags with a subject matter related to your product: it will capture the conversation around that topic. It enables anyone on Twitter who's searched that hashtag to find your tweet. Retweet messages related to your product.

Okay, these are just a few of the more obvious elements for a winning marketing strategy on Twitter.

I'm sure there are others and that you can point to them. 

I'd love to hear about  your experience on Twitter! Have you found it useful to your goals - like sell your product or bring readers to your blog?

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