The Crossroads: Indie or Trad Publishing?

 

Emerging writers.  Perhaps you’re on the brink of showing your work to the world.  If so, you might have been asking yourself the following questions recently:

How do I want to be published?  Do I want to pursue the traditional route?  Do I want to submit my work to literary agents and publishers in the hope of landing an elusive publishing deal – for so long the holy grail for aspiring writers?  OR – do I want to try that new indie thing that people are talking about?  In which case I won’t just be writing stories and passing them on – I’ll be a businessman/woman and I’ll have to oversee all the other aspects of making a book – the editorial requirements, the cover design, the marketing – and then there’s the making a career out of it, maintaining an author platform, website upkeep, social media and so on?

Let there be no doubt – the decision you’re about to make is an important one.  The brief paragraph above only hints at how different the indie and traditional paths are.

So I’ve written a post with you in mind – the new writer who’s standing at the twenty-first century author’s equivalent of the crossroads.  It might help, it might not.  Who am I to talk anyway?  I’m not a bestselling author or anything like that.  In fact, I’m barely out of the starting blocks with my own writing career and you have no reason to listen to me whatsoever (bye then!)  But what I do have is some genuine experience in wrestling with this particular question – whether to go indie or trad.  And I did wrestle with this question for quite some time.

To be offered a traditional publishing deal!  Wow.  Well that’s the dream right there, isn’t it?  Writers submit to publishers and agents because – well – that’s just what they do.  For so many years, a yes from the gatekeepers was our equivalent of the official stamp of approval from the gods.  When you tell people that you’re a writer, the first question on everybody’s lips is – have you been published?  Has somebody said YES?

Yes, being traditionally published was a goal of mine.  But as I was learning the craft, I was well aware too, of the growth of indie publishing and the evolution of DIY author style.  There was a tremendous amount of innovation taking place and notably, it was coming from outside the publishing industry.  It was the retailers who were moving the goalposts and doing extraordinary things that would have tremendous implications.  Amazon KDP came along in 2007 and kicked the doors open.  I read the subsequent success stories – the Hugh Howeys and Angela Hockings.  It was hard not to get excited by such things.  The possibilities at last seemed to be within the writer’s own grasp.  Imagine that.  But even more important than the Howeys and the Hockings were the people who weren’t making millions from their writing.  The real story was the people who were simply making a good living from writing and publishing their work independently.  Writers who were supplying readers directly and getting paid for it.  No agents.  No publishers.

I’m going to tell you what happened to me in September 2015.  I’ll keep this as brief as possible and new writers – I hope it helps you somehow.  It’s my own opinion and it’s biased – I’ll say that now.  Take it on board if you like or throw it away with the rest of the Internet garbage.

September 2015.

I had just moved to Australia from Scotland.  On the second or third day after arriving in the land down under, I joined Writers Victoria, a very reputable organisation located in the heart of Melbourne.  Being a new writer in town, I was keen to attend some of the WV workshops, of which I’d heard good things about.  So I looked online to see what was coming up in August/September 2015.  Nothing particularly grabbed me until I saw this baby listed in the brochure: Behind The Scenes –  Intensive Two Day Publishing Workshop.  This event would feature four speakers, each one delivering a three-hour workshop.  The course was to be spread out over two days and the speakers themselves represented different facets of the publishing world.  We had:

1- A traditional publisher.

2 – A literary agent,

3 – An indie publishing expert.

4 – A media/publicity advisor.

Basically, like Robert Johnson at his crossroads, my soul was up for grabs.  I just needed to be convinced.  One thing I was already sure of however – by the time these ‘intense’ workshops were over, I would have chosen either the indie or traditional route.

Day One.

Traditional Publisher.  This first workshop was taken by a very nice lady who ran her own publishing company in Australia and who’d also worked with some of the big boys of trade publishing.  For three hours, we gathered around and talked about the ways and means in which a new writer should and would approach a traditional publisher.  To be honest, it was pretty standard stuff that went along the lines of how to promote your work – how to promote yourself, that kind of thing.  It wasn’t useless – definitely not – but it was certainly nothing new.  Truth be told, you could get most of it on the Internet probably.  But anyway, this is what I took from that particular workshop.

  • Writers beg the gatekeepers.
  • They beg a lot.
  • Your story  – it’s good, but that doesn’t matter.  It’s all about business and how to sell things.

 

Day One – Part 2.

Literary Agent.  Now I’m not going to name the literary agent who pissed me off.  And yes, she really pissed me off that day.  Don’t get me wrong, she was actually a nice lady.  There was nothing wrong with her as a human being as far as I could tell.  But it was her approach to us writers that pissed me off – it was what she was saying without actually saying it to the group (hidden truths galore!)  How to explain?  Well, this was the overall message that I took away from the literary agent’s workshop: you know, well really, you should submit to us and well really…hope for the best, but it’s well really…really unlikely that we’ll take you on…

Really?

Literary Agent proceeded to show us a collection of books from the authors she’d worked with.  Yawn.  In the end, this workshop felt like one big advert for her authors and her literary agency.  It was most certainly not about us – the writers who had paid (a fair chunk of change by the way) to come and learn about the industry.  About our way into the industry and hey, maybe even a little encouragement to boot.  What’d ya say?  And boy did she struggle to fill in the allotted three hour time slot that day.  I mean, how many ways can one person say: you know, well really, you should submit to us and well really…hope for the best, but it’s well really…really unlikely that we’ll take you on…

Taxi!

She also said something else that pissed me off.  It pissed me off because it wasn’t true and even then I knew it.  This is what she said: ‘You need to go traditional in order to make it‘.  Eh?  Need to?  What was that?  Now that was a BIG FAT lie.  Maybe it was a lie she needed to tell herself over and over in order to believe it.  But it was a desperate move and man it really, really turned me off.

END OF PART ONE!

Day Two.

Indie Publishing expert. (NOTE: The Media session was also held that day – I won’t go into this; it was okay – but mostly geared towards selling yourself to agents and publishers).

The indie publishing workshop was given by Euan Mitchell, a local writer and speaker.   And what a contrast it was from the events of the day before.  This workshop was crammed with information; literally jam-packed full of tips, hints and sources about the possibilities of independent publishing.

Euan’s message was simple.  Here’s what YOU can do to put your work in front of readers.  And to hell with the middlemen – yes really, to hell with them or at least to hell with the writers always having to beg part.  Indie publishing looked exciting, but it also looked like hard fucking work.  But at least it wasn’t the traditional line – submit – hope for the best – maybe you’ll get lucky – you probably won’t get lucky – don’t give up the day job (All this sounds a lot like the lottery)

The technology is here.  The options are available.  Here’s what you can do.  It was the positivity, not to mention Euan’s energy, that stood out in contrast to the sheer hopelessness offered by the representatives of traditional publishing – the literary agent in particular.  It was the realisation that the writer’s life didn’t have to be so negative and passive.  Things are changing and new doors have opened up to us.  We don’t have to go cap in hand for the rest of our lives, just to get our work tossed onto a sky-high slushpile and then face probable rejection and if not, get shafted on the percentages.  At last, it’s all about the readers and writers and if that sounds like it’s too good to be true, then it just goes to show you how fucked up things have been for so long.

So what did I learn that day?

  • The times are changing.
  • Not to mention that the entertainment industry is changing – that is, the way people consume books, music, and TV (I strongly urge you to read Kristine Kathyrn Rusch’s outstanding blog on this – click here)
  • Innovation and experimentation are wonderful things

Oh yeah, and….

  • I was going to be an indie author.

 

FIVE MONTHS LATER:

Mark is now residing in an institution for the mentally insane…

NO.  I’m not.

I’ve embraced my business side.  I didn’t even know I had a business side.  I’ve had to engage with graphic designers, formatters, and editors.  And then there’s marketing…sweet Mary mother of God.

You’ll have to do it too – if you choose indie!

Indie publishing is a hard, hard road, but it’s a road in which you – the writer – have control of the wheel.  That’s a big draw and if creative control is important to you, you may want to go indie.

Traditional publishing.  It’s up to you and if that’s the way you want to go then all the very best.  I mean it.  And for some, the traditional route remains the truly credible choice.

Personally, I think it’s a relic.  Publishers and agents, I hope they keep their jobs by all means, but they have to adapt to the changes in the industry.  Let them come to the writers for a change.  Accept the fact that writers simply don’t need you like they once did.

You need to go traditional in order to make it‘.

Bullshit.

The Society of Authors recently sent an open letter to publishers asking them to address the issue of falling author earnings.  The SoA point at a drop in the percentage of writers in the UK making a living solely from writing from 40 per cent in 2005 to 11.5 per cent today.  They’re also asking publishing companies to increase writer royalties on ebooks – to raise them from the standard 25 per cent to 50 per cent, and for writers to be freed from contracts once their books are no longer being marketed.

Remember, traditional publishers have a business to run.  They have expenses to cover and the author’s income is not their priority.  It never has been.

Elsewhere, September Publishing founder Hannah MacDonald has called for publishers to offer constructive criticism along with the scores of rejection letters they send out to aspiring authors.  MacDonald did this because she understood that publishers can’t just treat writers like the shit they find on their shoes anymore.  Think that’s extreme?  I’m not so sure.  Anyway, writers looking to get published have other options thanks to the likes of KDP, CreateSpace, iBooks, Kobo and so on.  MacDonald – and fair play to her for trying – recognises the need for agents and editors to “communicate with the authors of the future”.  They need to catch up.  Otherwise as she puts it, these authors will “abandon the industry and become self-publishing authors.”

Yes, I’m biased.  You’ve probably guessed that.  But I’ve done my research too.  And to me, the old ways have become increasingly obsolete.  Think about those adverts you see in writing magazines and websites about how to submit the perfect query letter to agents and so on…I mean, why waste the time and energy on something like that?  You have the tools to publish directly to readers.  Instead of spending so long learning how to communicate with the gatekeepers, take that time and energy and spend it on building your author platform and finding your readers one at a time.  It’ll take a long time and you’ll face bad breaks and setbacks, but do you want to be a writer or not?

And exhale!

This is just my tuppence worth by the way.  Feel free to agree or disagree.

Now it’s back to you new writer – you standing there on the crossroads.  It’s your move.

 

 

The Outsider Tales – Cover Reveal

Very happy to reveal the latest cover art.  This is for a batch of five stories – ‘The Outsider Tales’ – about society’s black sheep – that is, the weirdos, the losers, and the indescribables who don’t fit in. Out February in the usual places, but FREE to the lovelies who join my mailing list – sign-up to the right!) More details to come, but even if you join the list now I’ll get it out to you when it’s released early February.  With a big Thank You!

Mark X

outsider

Congratulations. You’ve Written a Book. What Next?

Congratulations.  You’ve written a bookBlog2.  You actually did it like you always said you would.  You spent all that time (months, maybe years) crafting your baby from nothing into something beautiful.  It began with an initial idea – that spark of eureka – and the journey went on until the moment your baby packed its bags, left home and became available for all the world to enjoy.

Thank God that’s all over, huh?  Time for a beer or something even stronger.  Sit, back, and reap the rewards of a job well done.  Watch your books fly off the e-shelf.  One by one by one.  This indie author malarkey – it’s not a bad life, no?

No.  It’s not a bad life.  But…put that beer away (or at least drink it fast!)  And when you’re done get back to work because as those who’ve written more than one book know, there’s still a ton of work to do.  That’s if you want your work to get noticed.  You see, the great and shitty thing about being an indie is that no one else is going to sell your book for you.  It’s shitty because it would be nice to kick back and let someone else do all the work.  But it’s also great because you have all the control.  You are the man or woman in charge.  But one thing’s for sure – don’t do nothing.  Because if you let your work drift away it’s going to drown.

Now I’m relatively new to this indie author thing.  But I’m learning fast and finding things out as I go along.  Here’s where I’m at just now.  Maybe other writers in the same boat can relate.

On December 8th, I released my first book ‘FAB’.  It’s an eBook (but the paperback will be coming out soon paperback fans)  Like many others before me, I distributed the book to the usual digital publishing outlets – Amazon, Smashwords, and this time I used Draft 2 Digital to distribute to the likes of iTunes, Kobo etc (In my opinion, D2D are more user-friendly than Smashwords)

As I was writing the book, I thought about little else other than getting it finished.  And getting it finished on time.  That’s because ‘FAB’ had a serious deadline attached.  It was written and released to coincide with the 35th anniversary of John Lennon’s death.  I only started working on the idea in late October when my wife suggested getting it out on time for the anniversary.  It was a good idea, but shit it was scary too.  It was certainly going to take some doing on my part because I’ve always thought of myself as a slow writer (in actual fact, I’m a slow editor!)  I’ve never written anything at such breakneck speed.  I was kind of going along with NaNoWriMo, but only in the sense that I was writing fast.  I  also had to be aware of not sacrificing quality for speed.  It was a hard slog.  I was working every day from morning until night but it was happening and hey it was exciting too.  The finish line was always in sight.  Brain cells were lost in the process, but so what?  I was on my way to completing my longest piece of fiction yet.  My longest piece of writing!  Over time, the novelette became a novella and thanks to my helpers – my wife, brother, editor, cover designer, and formatter, we got there.

The writing part was finished.

But now, like all writers with a new release, I have to make people aware of it.  That’s where things get tough.  Have you seen how many books there are on Amazon?  And all the other digital publishing platforms?  It’s incredible.  Inspirational and a little bit absurd, not to mention off-putting.  How will my book ever get noticed amidst all those gazillions of other titles? How am I supposed to compete with the likes of ‘Now That I’m a Ghost, I’m Gay’?  The joy of indie publishing of course is that anyone can publish a book.  Literally anyone.  However, just because everyone can do something doesn’t mean everyone should.  But lots do.  And truth be told, some of the indie books out there look bloody awful going by the covers.  But it doesn’t matter because even shit looking books are legit.  They’ll stand side by side with your work on the digital bookshelves, as will Stephen King and James Patterson and all those guys and girls.  The competition is fierce.  New books are at risk of death by obscurity.

But what the hell, right?  Give it a bloody good go.  Because it can happen.  You’ve just got to get your work noticed.

Take me for example.  I’m an emerging/mostly unknown indie author with zero marketing expertise.  I’m not too proud to admit that I need help and I’ll gladly lean on whatever wisdom people are willing to share with me.  Indie authors don’t have the clout of big publishing companies and their marketing departments.  But regardless of who’s doing your marketing, these days it’s up to the author to promote themselves.  Even traditionally published authors are expected to do a lot of their own legwork.  At the moment, I’m trying a bit of everything to see what works.  More experienced indies might laugh, but they’d be wrong to do so.  I’m trying.  And I’m asking for help too ‘cos I need it.  Fortunately I have a brother who’s an expert in digital marketing and he’s very kindly offered to show me the intricacies of setting up Facebook and Twitter ads.  That is, maximising your ad’s potential and making sure the specific settings will target the right people.

Even the more experienced indie marketers can do better.  If they think otherwise, they’re kidding themselves.

There are so many options out there when it comes to marketing and it’s easy to become overwhelmed.  But try things.  Try a Blog Tour (a reputable one though)  Try publicising your work on social media, which includes opting for those paid ads I mentioned.  You can feature samples of your work on sites like Wattpad and Bublish.  By all means, try it.  Look for eBook marketing sites.  Some of it will work, but some of it won’t.  Some of it you’ll have to pay for, but a lot of the best things – mingling on Goodreads or Library Thing for example – are free. Experiment, fail and try again.  The game is young and it’s always changing.

You also have to find the time to do it all.  See how hard it is?

It all comes down to how much you want it.

Be brave and enjoy the grind.  We’re trying to get people interested in the stories we tell and that’s a noble task.   Most of all, remember that being a writer is not a sprint – it’s a gruelling marathon on a twisted hot summer’s day.  Personally, I believe that the most effective piece of marketing is simply to keep writing.  Produce more books.  It’s that simple and that hard.  The more work you have out there, the better.  That gives you the ability to set up free promotions and create effective product funnels, and all that kind of stuff that’s easier to pull of with volume.  More books = more options.  But remember!  Produce a quality product.  This is so important.  Never sacrifice anything for speed.  Never.  One day, when your readers find you, they’ll thank you for it.

Combining Beatle fandom and a love of Alternate History

Hi folks. Thanks for stopping by and welcome to my brand new website. I’ve been meaning to get an author site up and running for some time now, but social media has been my platform of choice for so long that I didn’t think a website was necessary.

Yes. I was being lazy.

But as you can see, I changed my mind about the website. (And this is a good time to say thanks to my brother Robert, who did most of the hard work setting things up here)

If you’re wondering who the hell I am by the way, go to the ‘About Me’ page. I’ll even wait for you.

Having said all that, let’s get on with the first post.

This website has been launched to coincide with the release of ‘FAB’, my Alternate History novella, which asks the question – ‘What If John Lennon Had Lived?’ The book itself has been released to coincide with the 35th anniversary of the killing of John Lennon on December 8th. Yep, 35 years have passed since the world was robbed of one of its finest musical talents, not to mention one of its most interesting personalities.

So why have I written the book?

First off, I’m a huge fan of The Beatles. Such a huge fan that even in my late twenties and early thirties, if a family member had to buy me a birthday or Christmas present and didn’t know what to get, they’d usually just pick up a Beatle book. Mark will like that! In fact, before I moved to Australia in July 2015, I had so many Beatle books back home in Glasgow that I could have started my own shop. Unfortunately, luggage restrictions meant that I had to give them away. I hope they’ve gone to good homes. Who knows? Maybe somebody reading them might even be inspired to write their own Beatle Alternate History book (What If Thomas the Tank Engine Hadn’t Been Narrated By Ringo? – something good like that)

John Lennon was always my favourite Beatle. Why? Well, as the main character in ‘FAB’, Jagger (not Mick) comments at one point, Lennon was the craziest of the four. And I’ve always admired a little crazy in a person. I also had an Epiphone guitar as a teenager, which I made sure was the same colour as Lennon’s. Even now, I have an Ovation acoustic because that’s what Lennon had. I just liked him.

And what Beatles fan doesn’t want to envision a world in which Lennon wasn’t shot by a total dick/wretch of a human being? It was such a waste of a life. And another thing that makes Lennon’s death particularly sad is that in late 1980, at the time of his death, he was the happiest he had been in a long time. I did a lot of research for the book and there are plenty of archive interviews available on YouTube (film and audio). If you compare the earlier interviews with the 1980 equivalents, you’ll notice that Lennon is in a much better state of mind in the later ones. It’s true; he seemed genuinely happy, which makes what happened to him all the more gut-wrenching.

Which leads me onto the other thing.

I’m also a big fan of Alternate History. Be it films or books or whatever. I guess Fatherland by Robert Harris was the first AH book I remember hearing about. If you don’t know, Harris’s book is based in an alternate reality in which the Nazis won the Second World War. A lot of other authors have been inspired by the Second World War too, and it features frequently in Alternate Histories (Check out The Lucky Strike by Kim Stanley Robinson) The American Civil War is used by AH writers too. As you can probably guess, the possibilities are endless and it’s a great exercise for the imagination to run riot. For me, it combines my own love of both History and English. For those who are new to the Alternate History genre and are interested in exploring some of the titles out there – Uchronia – is a useful site, which lists over 3200 AH novels, stories, essays.

I’m particularly interested in the history of popular culture – music, films, sport etc. One thing I find strange is our historical obsession with iconic pop culture figures who died young: Jim Morrison, James Dean, Kurt Cobain, and Che Guevara, to name just a few. More recently, there’s the actor Paul Walker, who like Dean, tragically died in a car accident. Expect poster sales of Walker to skyrocket by the way.

It’s hard to pinpoint why we revere the young/dead/famous celebrity so much. But from an AH perspective, it’s fascinating to ponder what might have happened had these people lived longer. Going with James Dean for example, what would have happened if he hadn’t died in that car crash in September 1955? Personally I’ve always thought James Dean was a bit overrated and little more than a Marlon Brando imitator. It was tragic that he died at such a young age, but it was his death that made him a ‘legend’.   Had he aged, would we remember him as fondly as we do? What if Marlon Brando had died at a young age? What if Brando had been the one to die in a car crash not long after making On the Waterfront? We would never have seen the old and obese Brando, wasting his talent in many dross movies. Might James Dean have gone a similar way?

It’s the same with John Lennon. While not quite as young as James Dean when he died, Lennon had only just turned 40. For Beatles fans, it’s fascinating to speculate on what he might have achieved in the 1980s and beyond had he not been gunned down. Would the Beatles have gotten back together? Would he still be with Yoko today at age 75? That’s what ‘FAB’ is all about. Do I think the events depicted in ‘FAB’ are how things would have turned out? Probably not, but who knows? Given our obsession with celebrity and with the reality that was the Terminator Governor of recent years, anything is possible. Especially in America. It’s the speculating that’s fun.

So why did I write ‘FAB’?

Maybe I wrote it because it’s the closest I’ll ever come to saving John Lennon. Which is something every Beatle fan wishes they could do. If only time travel was really possible. I could hop into a flying DeLorean, set the Time Circuits to December 8th, 1980, 10pm, and find myself standing on West 72nd Street, New York City. Then all I’d have to do is find Lennon’s killer loitering outside the Dakota. That’s when I’d unleash the meanest Glasgow Kiss that’s ever been bestowed upon anyone. Drag the unconscious would-be-assassin away and John Lennon comes safely home that night.

Imagine that.

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