Writing as Art

In this week’s guest blog post, author Tom Barczak discusses whether writers are artists too.

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Every time I speak to a room full of authors, I ask the same two questions, seemingly unrelated, but they do have a point.

I ask: “Who considers themselves an author?” Most people in the room raise their hands, depending on their definition of that particular claim.Then I ask: “Who considers themselves an artist?” Only a few of those hands formerly raised are raised a second time.

Then I ask: “Who considers themselves an artist?” Only a few of those hands formerly raised are raised a second time.

And that I think is a mistake.

When someone goes to a gallery, they don’t go to buy a painting, they go to buy an artist. When most people go to a bookstore, most people don’t go to buy a book. They go to buy an author.

They do that because, well I believe, writing is very much an art. It’s as much an art as painting, dance, or music. And how would you, or could you, expect great work from a painter, or dancer, or musician who didn’t consider what they did as art, or themselves for that matter as artists.

It is that very thing, that acknowledgement, that taking of responsibility, that I believe makes their work great, that makes what they do, art. Because they’ve taken that responsibility for it. There is now a piece of them in it. And they can never get it back.

So why do we sell ourselves short in that regard? I think it’s because most of us don’t want, or afraid of the responsibility. Of the risk.

As for myself, I am a visual artist as well, a painter and illustrator. Perhaps that’s why I feel so strongly about this.

I’ve always loved the old coffee table books I remember from when I was a kid, with the illustrated plates before every chapter.

With my first published written work, Awakening Evarun, a 6 part Kindle serial like the old dime store serial novels, I wanted to illustrate it. For me, my drawings and words are somewhat intertwined. I often sketch my way through writer’s block. With my first novel, Veil of the Dragon, I did the same, illustrating every third chapter.

I love the way they both worked together as a whole, through the words and the drawings.

My latest novel, Mouth of the Dragon: Prophecy of the Evarun, published by Perseid Press, is not illustrated, although the Dragon on the cover is mine. It’s been a good reminder for me that one art form need not necessarily be dependent on the other. But still for me they will always be inseparable. I will always sketch my way through writers block. I will always write what I see as the story in front of me.

I write like I paint. I put down the story as I see it before me. For me, it’s a story that’s’ already written. It’s already real, just someplace else. My job as a writer, and as an artist, is to translate it in such a way that the reader will understand what they see. That whatever purpose there is to my seeing it will be passed on to them. You see, in the end, it’s not even my story. I just get to carry the message.

One of the things I just mentioned was risk.

When I write, when I create art, I do give away a piece of myself. I can’t not. But it’s always for a reason.

I believe the words you write on a page, even the book you publish that sits on a shelf, physical or digital, waiting to be purchased, is only half done. The other half of the great work is done by someone else, the reader. I think perhaps that theirs may be the greater half.

Imagine it’s the difference between talking to yourself and telling a story to kids around a campfire. It’s the difference between leaving a painting in a drawer or putting it on the wall of a gallery. It’s the difference between leaving your manuscript in a drawer where no one can ever see, and getting it published.

Art, and therefore writing, is about having a conversation. A dialogue has to happen. It is the difference between craft and art. It is a gift that must be received. And once it is then I believe both, giver and receiver, are forever joined and changed.

The amazing thing about all of this, about art, is that what you have to say may not even be up to you. You may never even know. But I promise you, you do have something to say. It’s what makes you an artist. It’s why you were given a voice unlike anybody else, for someone out there who is waiting to listen to you.

Check out Tom’s work at the following links:

https://www.amazon.com/Tom-Barczak/e/B006SOKHMI/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_book_1

www.theperseidpress.com

www.tombarczak.com

https://www.facebook.com/thomas.barczak

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Editing Myths – by Walter Rhein

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be long-running series of guest blogs. To kick things off Walter Rhein looks at editing myths.

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There are some pretty absurd misconceptions floating around about editing a manuscript. Facebook and the internet in general, have conspired to proliferate a lot of insanity, but Stephen King’s 2000 release ‘On Writing’ is particularly to blame. Sure, there is a lot of valuable information in ‘On Writing,’ but the literary landscape has changed considerably since the book was first published and much of the information isn’t applicable to small press writers.

The part of ‘On Writing’ that is the most problematic is the godlike reverence that King holds for editors. Although this is the kind of thing a new writer needs to hear, you shouldn’t let the editors know. When you have a good employee you don’t actually tell the employee s/he is doing a good job because now you’re stuck negotiating a higher salary. Sometimes things that are true need to be handled with pragmatic subtlety.

In a perfect world, there is a balance of power between the writer and the editor. A writer is foolish not to listen to an editor’s suggestions, but at the end of the day, it is the writer’s name on the cover.

A thing to consider too is that many writers are working with small publishers who simply don’t have the same quality editors that Stephen King is used to working with. Just because somebody has a Master’s Degree in English doesn’t mean they’re going to offer you competent editing advice. There are plenty of completely incompetent editors with Master’s Degrees out there. After all, if you can continue to pay the university, they’re going to give you a degree eventually. Degrees are somewhat the scholarly equivalent of self-publishing.

Most recently I’ve been fortunate to work with Janet Morris as an editor. Morris is the author of the bestselling Thieves’ World books published by Baen Books. She is a big name in the industry and is as gifted as an editor as she is a storyteller. Prior to working with Morris’s Perseid Press, some of my earlier manuscripts were handled by smaller publishers. Some of these had good editors, and some were tougher to work with.

For the most part, the editor for my cross-country skiing novel ‘Beyond Birkie Fever,’ did a good job, but at one point during the process, she became convinced that I should use the word “dissipate” instead of “disintegrate” to describe how a lead pack of cyclists fragments during a race. If you’ve never seen a bicycle race, you could think of it like a comet. Pieces break off the head and leave a trail of riders behind.

The head disintegrates. The tail dissipates into space. I was speaking about the head.

I still contend this is the correct word, but I ended up receiving a series of emails both from the editor and the publisher explaining why my word choice was wrong.  The editor went so far as to type out definitions of both the words, which wasn’t helpful to her cause when I pointed out the definition of “disintegrate” was the situation I was trying to convey.

After a face to face meeting with the editor, the publisher even called to urge me to change my position. Once you’re accused of being obstinate, it’s difficult to crawl out from under that shadow. The editor clearly had it in her mind that I was trying to convey some other image and didn’t seem interested in communicating with me.

In the end, it started to seem like the conflict was more about establishing authority than doing what was right for the passage. The publisher let me keep ‘disintegrate’ but the editor elected not to put her name on the book. To me, this seemed like a rather large response to a minor disagreement over a choice of words.

That editor was eventually replaced by the publisher and even though we’d disagreed on this small point, I was sorry to see her go. The replacement editor was absolutely terrible. Not only did she offer questionable suggestions, she did so with snide and sarcastic comments that were unprofessional and unhelpful. About a year after the new editor was hired, the publisher went out of business.

I’d been through about ten editors by the time I started working with Janet Morris. I’d lost publishing contracts because I’d been stubborn about not making certain changes here and there and that had left me somewhat cautious. I brought this up to Janet and she assured me that she expected me to engage in dialogue about her suggestions—which was a great load off my mind. It was also good to know that this was the way the writer/editor relationship was expected to be handled by larger publishers.

None of this is meant to suggest that the editing process is ever easy. Stephen King was right to underscore that the writer has to get over his/her own ego and accept that passages need to be improved. Editing can be painful, and there are still times I have to walk away from an edited passage and come back later with an analytical rather than emotional mindset. It’s a lot easier working with Janet Morris because I respect and admire her abilities as a writer and editor. It’s pointless and counter-productive to create tension over power struggles. The objective is to make the best novel possible. That objective casts its own shadow of authority over the process which should provide enough motivation for anybody.

About the Author:

Walter Rhein is the author of The Bone Sword with Harren Press. He maintains a blog about Peru at StreetsOfLima.com, and contributes regularly to Silent Sports Magazine. His novels The Reader of Acheron and Reckless Traveler were published with Perseid Press. His novel, Beyond Birkie Fever, was originally published by Rhemalda Press. He can be reached for questions or comments at: WalterRhein@gmail.com.

 

 

 

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Beware those who promise the Earth

I’d just like to deliver a warning to my fellow wannabe authors. As I was doing my regular scan through the writing groups on Facebook I came across the below:

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As you can see, this random person is offering writers the chance to get their work in front of 15000 people. Now, we see these types of scams all the time on social media as these nefarious people seek to take advantage of people desperate for instant success. The worrying thing about this post (at least to me) is the number of people who replied saying they were interested. I’m sorry, but are you people stupid? You have no idea who this guy is, you have no idea how he will magically get you 15000 downloads. To me the whole thing stinks of a scam and yet these desperate people are willing to contact this guy?

I’ve spent the last year working in the cyber security industry so I know a scam when I see one. This to me stinks of phishing scam.  No doubt this person will contact those who were interested via Facebook messenger and then will ask them for personal details and most likely banking information. Nothing in this life is free after all.

My advice to those of you who come across posts like this online is to simply ignore them. They are scams in every sense of the word. To me these people who promise thousands of downloads and reviews are lower than low. Not only are they hoping to scam an author desperate to make it big but they also seemingly have a way to completely game the system and cheat. I will be doing some more research into these types of scam and will post an update if I discover anything worthwhile.

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Facebook Advertising – A useful Tool for book promotion or utterly useless?

Something a bit different for this week’s blog post. This time I am going to tell you about my experiences with Facebook advertising and why I will not give Facebook another penny.

I’m sure we’ve all heard the stories online that self-published authors have seen huge success promoting their books via Facebook advertising but from my own personal experiences with it, I have to call ‘BS’.

Sure you could spend thousands of pounds (seems that’s the only way to even reach a large enough audience to make it worthwhile these days) promoting your books, blogs etc but are they worth it?

Let’s go back a few years before Facebook introduced its ads. It was a great time for advertisers and marketers as your posts were pretty much guaranteed to be seen by a large amount of organic traffic and all for absolutely nothing.

Then Facebook decided to take advantage of its huge user base and smartly decided to charge companies and the like to promote their content and ads. All well and good you might think, they’re making cash that’s the whole point of business but then they changed things up.

At the start you could pay a tenner and your ad would have been seen by thousands of relevant people from the audience you chose in the options.  Today this is not the case. Even after you painstakingly tailor your target audience for your ad, you’re lucky if more than a 1,000 people see it at all let alone your target audience.

I recently ran an ad campaign targeting people in the USA and UK in the age group of 18- 50 and tailored their interests to relevant book genres and famous books. I thought that it was a solid audience to aim at. I submitted the ad and left it to run its course (this was with a £30 budget).

Sure enough, over the following days, the ad seemed to be getting some interest. A dozen or so people had liked the ad and the stats even said that it had generated a few clicks. Great, I thought, this should convert into book sales or Kindle Unlimited reads. No. No, it did not. Comparing the Amazon stats with the amount of clicks and likes the Facebook ad generated there was a huge discrepancy.

Ads Don’t Even Reach Your Intended Target!

I took a closer look at the Facebook ad stats and what I found both surprised and angered me. Of all the likes on the ad only one was by someone actually from the UK and USA. I clicked on each of the names that had clicked the ad and discovered that 99% of them were from countries like Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria and judging by their profiles they were either fake accounts or people with no connection to the US or UK at all!

More than a little peeved I did some research online and found numerous articles on the subject written by people who have all experienced similar discrepancies.

Here’s just a few –

http://radar.techcabal.com/t/is-facebook-advertising-the-biggest-scam-ever/4328

http://www.businessinsider.com/mans-600000-facebook-ad-disaster-2014-2?IR=T

http://digitalsynopsis.com/buzz/facebook-fake-likes-fraud/

With such hit and miss (mostly miss) results, it makes it extra annoying that Facebook now demands more money to reach such a small number of people. If you want to reach many thousands then you have to be willing pay out a LOT of money. With the ads not even being shown to your target audience, the whole thing just feels like a right scam.

I for one will not be wasting my cash on Facebook ads again.

What’s been your experience of using Facebook Advertising? Let me know in the comments or on social media.

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Vanity Publishers – A rant

 Ok, so as I was doing my daily round of soul destroying book promoting on Facebook I stumbled across a group where a fellow was proudly boasting that he had landed a publishing deal.

Living the dream? or…

Well done I thought, that’s someone living the dream right there, but pretty quickly my happiness for this author turned to one of annoyance and dare I say it anger. For you see dear reader this publisher was not a proper publisher at all but instead a vanity press (shudder).

What is a Vanity Publisher?

According to Wikipedia- ‘A vanity press, vanity publisher, or subsidy publisher is a term describing a publishing house in which authors pay to have their books published. Additionally, vanity publishers have no selection criteria as opposed to other “hybrid” publishing models. The term appears in mainstream U.S. publications as early as 1941.’

When I was first starting out as a writer I did a bit of research into publishing and at the time my younger more naive self contacted a company that seemed to offer the world. In reality, the company was a vanity press. After making initial contact with said press I was then harassed on a weekly basis by someone urging me to sign up with them, great you may think, but alas when I did some digging into the fine print I discovered that in order for them to publish my work I would have to pay them thousands of my own money for the privilege. It’s basically like me going to work and then paying my employer to use my work.

publish_scam

Jo Herbert’s piece on the Writers & Artists website sums it up nicely: ‘Authors owe it to themselves to be very clear on one point – traditional publishers never ask the author for ‘a contribution’. Traditional publishers only take on work they believe is worth investing their own money in, confident it’ll make a return when the book hits the shelves. Indeed, this is precisely the reason (or one of) it’s so difficult for new authors to get published. The publisher has to be sure that the book will sell.

Vanity publishers are cunning. They know many authors will be worn down by rejection. They know the elation authors will feel to finally receive a glowing report about their manuscript. However, once you’ve signed your name on the dotted line, the vanity publisher will take your manuscript, take your money and print several (usually poor quality) copies of your book. They won’t consult you and they won’t offer any help marketing or distributing the book. The vanity publisher isn’t interested in selling copies of the book, it doesn’t need to – they’ve already made their profit from the hefty ‘contribution’ fee they charged the author.’

Writers need to stop

The only reason these companies exist in the first place is because they prey on naive and foolish writers. Those that pay these scammers are giving these companies the means to exist in the first place. If you want to see your work in print then for the love of god do not pay for the privilege! Self-publishing allows you to achieve that goal without having to cost you a penny! (Paying for cover art and editing is optional but advised), but even if you do pay for those, chances are high that you will pay a hell of a lot less than if you used a vanity publisher.

The worst part is that writers who give these crooks so much cash actually think that the vanity publisher will actively promote and sell their books…sorry but that isn’t the case. Often they still demand the author to do all of their own marketing. Just look at the Amazon rankings for people who have gone down this route. Their books often languish at the bottom.

Would you use a vanity publisher? Have any tips to expose and avoid them? If so post them in the comments.

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Ebook Pricing on Amazon – Are authors selling themselves short?

Ebook Pricing on Amazon

There has been much debate amongst self-published authors over what price they should sell their work. I myself have been struggling with pricing. Do you drop the prices of your work to as low as 99p or make them free to encourage readers to pick up your work? or do you sell at a price that will actually make you a profit?

I’ve read and heard many arguments for selling at low prices and some self-published authors have done well from such a model. The problem is, however, is that there are so many self-published authors out there doing the same thing. Readers are bombarded with 99p or free books and as a reader myself I often turn away from those titles.

Price = quality

I’m no expert, but I did do business whilst at college and one of the fundamental rules of business is that price equates quality. It may sound strange to some but not everyone likes to buy cheap.

Remember that a reader has to invest their time into reading your work, so why would they bother reading a 99p or free book?  Such a low price suggests that the author has little respect for their own work. If the author thinks their work is worth so little then so will a reader.  Don’t get me wrong, using those prices for promotions is often a good way to get some extra sales or increase interest in a book series. I tend to set such promotions around the holidays or when a new title is being released.

As an author you will have invested some serious man hours into writing your novel. Let readers know that you value your work by setting a price that shows that. If selling via Amazon there is now a new option of the setting price screen on KDP.

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The KDP Pricing Support option is a really useful way of finding out just what price you should sell at. It factors in the size of the book and analyses data from the Amazon marketplace to set a recommended price. This actually works! As an experiment I raised the price of one of my titles. Within a day, sales had increased, (prior to that sales had been very slow).

What is your pricing strategy? Have you had success with selling cheaply or more success by setting higher prices? Let me know in the comments.

The epic Sundered Crown Saga is available on kindle and paperback!
Heir to the Sundered Crown (Book 1) – http://a.co/cRiRqBL
War for the Sundered Crown (Book 2) – http://a.co/39JC6qc
Paperback editions –
Heir to the Sundered Crown http://amzn.to/1XDSxlg
War for the Sundered Crown http://amzn.to/1RiVFDs

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E-Book Piracy might not be what you think

As I said in my previous blog post I did a bit of searching on the old internet and discovered that my book War for the Sundered Crown appeared on numerous websites offering its users to download for free. In short, piracy.

Most self-published and small press authors are not wealthy by any means, so discovering that some pirate ass-hat has stolen your (already cheap to buy) books and is giving it away for free online. Whilst this is a major issue for the industry it might not be what you think. After doing some research I’ve discovered that many of those sites that claim to offer free books are in fact a front for other scams. Some go all out to make their sites look genuine, they even have customer reviews (often fake profiles) to try and add to the sense of realism.

Cheapskates being suckered in by scammers

A user (from now on I will refer to people who are willing to download books for free despite them being cheap already as cheapskates) seeking to pirate a book is lured in but the majority of the time the site in question does not have the book at all, it’s just a scam to trick people into giving away their details. Many ask for credit card information before allowing access to the ‘free’ book or ask for personal details which they can then use for fraud and other dodgy purposes further down the road.

In a strange sort of way Spammers and scammers have seized upon eBook piracy as means not to offer illegal downloads, but to fill up search engines with spam links that, at best, trick people in viewing a lot of pointless ads and, at worst, try to scam users out of their personal information.

Who’s worse?

In some ways, there is a sort of ironic justice going on here. Who’s worse? The people claiming to be giving away free books illegally or the person who is so tight that they are willing to commit a criminal act and screw a hard working author out of potential income?

The main issue for authors is that it makes it more difficult for anyone searching for their books via search engines. The mass of spam with my books titles in is quite frankly ridiculous, but we as authors are powerless to tackle this (if you know a way how to tackle this problem let me know!)

Fortunately, if you sell your titles on Amazon then there is a high chance that the first search result will be the Amazon link. For authors who prefer to sell their titles through other means such as via personal websites, this is a major issue that is probably costing them a lot of sales and cash.

For the cheapskates that actually continue to be suckered in by these spam sites, they face a number of issues. Theft of details is one, but the other is the risk of having malicious malware being downloaded onto their machines via spam ads and the book links themselves.

The only ones with the power to tackle this issue are the search engines themselves. Google has been aware of this issue for a while now but has made little headway in tackling it. Authors aren’t entirely powerless. We need to work on building up a solid collection of legitimate links to help our books climb to the top of the search engine listings. As small press or self-published authors, this may require a lot of cooperation amongst writers. At the end of the day we need to help each other to tackle the piracy and spammer menace and for those of you that use illegitimate websites to download books that an author has spent hundreds of hours of their time writing, all I have to say to you cheapskates is; ‘Shame on  you!’

The epic Sundered Crown Saga is available on kindle and paperback now!
Heir to the Sundered Crown (Book 1) – http://a.co/cRiRqBL
War for the Sundered Crown (Book 2) – http://a.co/39JC6qc
Paperback editions –
Heir to the Sundered Crown http://amzn.to/1XDSxlg
War for the Sundered Crown http://amzn.to/1RiVFDs

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