I’ve had this post in the queue for several months.* It’s one of those posts that I’ve needed to write, but haven’t wanted to write, and… Well, here’s the thing: I can be dumb, and insensitive, and I write from my own life’s perspective (which has been pretty darned good). Since I’m a writer, sometimes there are elements in my projects that can be dumb, or insensitive, or come from my own life’s perspective (which sometimes ignores that other peoples’ lives have not been pretty darned good).
I submitted DIGITAL DIVIDE to Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award early this past year. It made it through the first rounds, but was blocked from going further. The contest is long over (I didn’t want to post this and make it into a Thing while it was ongoing), so I’ll just leave this here for you.
Because people who look “normal” have never, ever experienced harassment for being different.
Hey, did you know that people can be awesome? Since MAKER SPACE was released, readers have been donating copies of the books for a giveaway. I’ve already done a bunch of digital donations, but this holiday season, I’ve got 3 paperback copies of DIGITAL DIVIDE and 6 copies of MAKER SPACE to give out (postage included).
Would you like one? Do you have a camera? Great! Let’s do this!
Write GIMME BOOK! on a piece of paper and take a picture of it. Then post a link to your photos at your own blog (preferred method) in the comments. If you don’t have a blog or have privacy concerns, you can email it to me and I’ll post it anonymously.
There are three categories:
Most Boring Photo
Who needs dynamic or exciting photos? Not us! Those require “time” and “skill”. Your entry should be as dull and mundane as possible. Make us cry with boredom. One copy of MAKER SPACE and one copy of DIGITAL DIVIDE to the winner. One copy of MAKER SPACE to the runner-up.
So you think you can do better than a boring photo? Prove it! Stick your Post-It in weird places, or on a stack of stuffed ducks reading books of their own, or within a basket of sleeping kittens. One copy of MAKER SPACE and one copy of DIGITAL DIVIDE to the winner. One copy of MAKER SPACE to the runner-up.
Most Gut-bustingly Funny
You win if you make me laugh harder than anyone else. I don’t care what you do–Heck, if you can draw, make a cartoon! As long as it says GIMME BOOK! somewhere in it, it’s legal. One copy of MAKER SPACE and one copy of DIGITAL DIVIDE to the winner. One copy of MAKER SPACE to the runner-up.
- I’m the one who decides who gets what.
- You have until midnight EST on Monday, December 8, 2014 to post your photos.
- You can have one entry per category, but you can only win in one category. See: Rule 1.
- The usual disclaimers (aka: Don’t do anything stupid or dangerous or harmful to yourself or others when taking these photos! Don’t send me pictures of your junk, or your poop, or your dog’s poop…) apply.
- You don’t have to use brand-name Post-Its because I’m not getting royalties or nuthin’.
This is a post about self-publishing, and why Maker Space has been available since March in ebook form but took until Thursday to finally become available as an actual book.
I’m aware that some of you reading this are traditionally published authors (hi Jean!), and I am assuming that some of you are self-published (are author-published, practice artisinal publishing, engage in the craft of putting out your own writing…Ugh. Some days you just want to hit the terminology with a baseball bat and use what’s left of the pulpy mess when you’re done.). If you keep up with the publishing community in any way, you’re aware there is some controversy over which method of publishing best benefits the author. This argument can be boiled down to money and control.
Money is a big one. Royalties, obviously, but there’s also who foots the final cost of the product. Self-publishing is not cheap. Rephrase: self-publishing where the end result is a quality product is not cheap. (If you have not yet searched for “dinosaur erotica” on Amazon, please do so.*) If you pursue traditional publishing, the publisher is responsible for taking your manuscript and creating a finished product. They are also responsible for advertising, shipping, and the other elements of successful books.
At first blush, the issue of control sounds fairly simple. It asks: who maintains control over your work? If you are traditionally published, you turn over control of your work when you submit the finished manuscript. Elements of control, such as who holds the copyright and when it reverts to you, are (should be) established in your contract. The publisher is also responsible for advertising, shipping, and… Yes. That. Money and control are entwined.
I come from webcomics, and I’ve been putting out content for the better part of a decade. This has worked out pretty well for me, because I’m one of those weirdos who enjoys the process of taking my product from raw, unfinished ideas and shepherding them through the final stages. If you just did that thing where you said, “control freak” and pretended to hide it behind a cough? Thank you! When you’re responsible for putting out your own content, you are your own quality control expert, and nobody’s going to buy your shit if it looks like shit.
There are so many challenges/problems with this I can’t even, by the way. The learning curve is steep and expensive and frustrating… There are products you’re so excited to make that you forget to assess costs (case in point: the saga of the Speedy plush). There are designs you send to press and then, years later, your husband takes That One Shirt out of the closet and now you’re embarrassed that he’d still consider wearing it. To do yardwork! So, yeah, it can be horrible, and if you’re not careful, you stand a very good chance of losing a lot of money on products that won’t sell.
But it also can be wonderful, as you get more flexibility to work within the scope of your own ideas. The Rachel Peng novels were intended as a series. Seven books, with one overarching plot driving events. With that in mind, I wanted a single thematic cover design to carry over from book to book, so they’d look like a set when sitting on a shelf. Rose Loughran, who does the webcomic Red Moon Rising, is the cover artist: each book features a different landmark from Washington, D.C. The jacket design reflects the colors in Rose’s landscape painting. DIGITAL DIVIDE was all reds and golds, with MAKER SPACE in blues, purples, and grays.
Rose does the painting for the cover art, but I do content, text layout, and everything else. The cover layout for DIGITAL DIVIDE was delicious cake, and I had no serious problems getting this first book through printing. Since MAKER SPACE was the same size and on the same thematic template, I didn’t think it would be different.
/casts summon problems
I use CreateSpace as my printer. It’s owned and operated by Amazon, so do with that what you will: hopefully,
all self-publishers–heck, let’s go with absolutely everybody–is aware that using Amazon and its affiliates comes with baggage. Most of this baggage is tiny and maneuverable and needs very little management within the day-to-day of your busy schedule… but then there’s that steamer trunk that’s about to crush your grandma and her local bookstore. I’ve got my reasons for using it, and one of those is that CreateSpace generates high-quality books at a reasonable price. Copies fresh off of the CreateSpace press are as sturdy as anything you’d receive from a traditional printing press, and the cover resolution is high. My husband has a loupe left over from when he used to work in printing which we use to check for DPI resolution on my products, and CreateSpace does right by Rose’s paintings.
So, right before MAKER SPACE was supposed to hit, I submit the cover to CreateSpace and order a proof copy. Cue shenanigans.
I think I ordered eight proofs in total over four months. Each time I got the copy back, there was something wrong with the cover. The color printed dark: the first two versions were purple-blue blobs. After tinkering to lighten it up, some of the colors didn’t match each other. And when I finally got the colors right, the whole cover had somehow jumped a quarter-inch to the left and the spine was misaligned.
These proofs weren’t free, by the way. CreateSpace charges me per item, same as you. I get a discount because it’s my content, but the endless proof-chain did set me back close to $70**. Now, if I were published by a traditional printer, I would have had a nice box of ARCs shipped to me prior to publication, free of charge and to distribute as I want. But I wouldn’t have had any say whatsoever in choosing the cover art, or its design, or the text on the back, or the pull quotes for the cover… Easier, less expensive (for me)? Definitely!
And I would have felt as though I had been excluded from part of the process.
Such exclusion is arguably a good thing. I might enjoy controlling the development of a product, but that doesn’t mean I’ve got specialized skills in cover design, font selection, or so on. I think the final layout of the book cover is solid; it could probably be better. In ten years, I might look back on the Rachel Peng covers like those ratty old embarrassing tee shirts in the back of the closet.
Today? I enjoy what I do and how I do it, and I’m better at it than when I started. Life’s a process, too.
*I am not suggesting that all dinosaur erotica is of terrible quality. I am merely saying that I have judged these books by their hastily Photoshopped covers, and by titles such as Turned Gay by Dinosaurs.
**Always figure in shipping and handling. Always.
It looks as though I’ll be starting a Patreon campaign soon, which I said I wouldn’t do until everyone and their sister had one, and since everyone and their sister now has one, I should really get my butt in gear. This means planning bonuses to entice readers to donate. Here are a few ideas I’ve been playing around with…
The Return of the Joshsmut
Josh has been married eight times (Mare was both Wife Three and Wife Eight… Look, they’re complicated), so there are seven novellas left in the series. I’d love to do these as some sort of serialized incentive program for Patreon donors, then turn these serials into a finished product for everybody.
The Disasterhouse Blog
This house, man. Today–this very afternoon!!!–a structural engineer will conduct an assessment of what must be done to keep the southern side of the house from collapsing. Guys, this house is literally falling down and the problems keep getting worse. We’re also trapped in it due to financial reasons: what was supposed to be an investment in cute structurally-sound fixer-upper has become a freakin’ nightmare. And we’re forced to live in it!So you can forgive me if I load up the home blog, look at all of the topics that would make a great (for you) update, and think, “NOPE.”
In addition to updating that blog at least once a week, Brown and I have been kicking around the idea of doing a podcast. Or, as he says, “I will happily argue with you in public if it means I get to review new tools.” Patreon donors would have access to this podcast before it goes live.
Speedy has over fifty kids throughout the United States, and will soon have a couple hundred more in Australia. None of his offspring can talk, and they aren’t quite as bright as he is, but they still have human-level intelligence. I’ve wanted to do a simple one-panel inkwash comic featuring four of these young koalas on Tumblr for ages… Think Chopping Block, only cuter and much, much darker. Patreon donors would have access to each comic before it goes live.
I dunno. What do you want from me?
None of this will happen immediately. Kickstarter fulfillment takes priority, and I need to also finish the thank-you gift for people who bought the serialized version of Digital Divide before it went live. Which was over a year ago and… ugh. Anyhow. In my opinion, it’s dickish to ask for more money before fulfilling prior obligations, so I’m at least going to get the bonus gift, the Digital Divide audiobook, and League Night (the .pdf of the Kickstarter bonus story) sent out before putting up a Patreon campaign.
Thank you for reading. Please enjoy these owls.
Long-time readers of the comic may remember that I’ve been working on the Rachel Peng series for years. I’ve got giant files full of scraps of notes and stray paragraphs, and each time I found a new news item that could fit in her world, I’d open these files and slide that tidbit into its appropriate place.
Maker Space closed with Rachel coming to terms with her blindness. The next book in the series has her relearning how to read. She’s one of those people who has a stack of favorite books, and she can pick one at random, flip to any page, and plunge herself into a familiar world. In that respect, she’s probably like every one of you reading this. Now, imagine if that was taken away from you. All of those worlds you loved? Gone. Rachel can still read, but it takes her a lot of effort: ever since she woke up and found her eyes no longer worked, the only way she can visit these favorite worlds of hers is on brief business trips.
Semi-tangent: Audiobooks are often held up as a viable substitute for reading for persons with visual impairment, or just used as a substitute for reading in general. They aren’t. Listening to a book is passive. You are an audience to a performance. Reading a book makes you an active participant in a world that is only partially described, and you fill in the rest with your own ideas. What did the birds sound like the first time you entered the Shire, what did the sewers smell like under Derry… A good audiobook gives us some limited opportunity to fill in these blanks, but the rises and falls within characters and plot? Those are carried along with the performer, and tend to dominate the experience.*
It’s been my intention that Rachel will relearn to read with her fingers instead of her eyes. A few years ago, Yanko Design went into my plot note files. This is a South Korean company that’s been working on innovative technologies to translate printed text into Braille. They’ve developed a portable Braille tablet, as well as some other (ridiculously cool) product concepts. Fast-forward to this week, when I’m working on the part of the new novel where Rachel is relearning how to read, and I decide to revisit Yanko Design to fact-check their progress on these products.
As far as I can tell, none of them have gone into production. This seems kind of messed up to me, so I started looking around and found that no low-cost portable Braille e-readers exist.
For me, this is an opportunity. It’s a handwave where smart people do things with wires and poof! Rachel has her magic device:
“The Braille e-reader was slightly thicker than a tablet, its back and edges sealed in some sort of silicone to make it waterproof. Calling it a first-generation device would have been generous: the thing was so far removed from the production line that it might as well have come from the technological equivalent of a farmer’s market. The silicone was lumpy, the metal shell beneath covered in deep scratches where a Dremel tool had kicked sideways, but the reader’s face was as smooth as glass. Mako and Santino had made it for her, and it had quickly become one of her favorite things in the world.”
In real life, tho’…
Guys, this is truly messed up. I’m going to do a little more searching to check if there’s a different barrier besides “the economics don’t make it worthwhile.” Maybe the prototypes worked for about three days and then caught fire, I don’t know. I do know that we are at a time and a place in our civilization in which these types of products should exist.
*Not bagging on audiobooks, by the way. We got the recording and editing of Digital Divide all wrapped up just this past Friday. Just saying that listening to a book is a different experience than reading it.
No no, not “me” “I”. I meant “you” “I” and…
Let’s try this again.
I’m now reading on a Kindle. A friend gave me his Gen 2 Kindle to test the formatting for Digital Divide. I expected to use it once and then stick it on a shelf to collect dust until the next time I had to proof an ebook; instead it has created a fundamental shift in my reading habits. Yes, it’s convenient; yes, it’s portable, but…
Okay, backing up again. I’m an avid reader, and run through at least two or three books a week. Until I got the Kindle, I made a bi-weekly trek to a used bookstore, filled up a shopping basket with whatever paperback caught my eye, and paid about $10 for the entire mess. I discovered a lot of good authors this way, saved a hell of a lot of money, and supported a fantastic independent used bookstore.
Now, I go to Amazon, locate the book I want to read next, download it, devour it, and repeat the process a few days later.
You could argue that changing my habits might have hurt some people: yes, I’m now supporting Amazon instead of a used bookstore; yes, there are repercussions for the publishing industry because fewer print books are in circulation. I would argue that an in-law worked in that used bookstore and I got mad store credit, and that sales of those used paperbacks weren’t tracked by the publishers.
I would also argue that changing my reading habits now means I’m supporting authors. There are (enormous) flaws in the ebook pricing model, but for every traditionally-published book I download, the author gets a cut. For self-published books*, the percentage the author keeps is higher. This was not the case with my used paperback habit: I might have been keeping the stories alive by reading used books, but I was doing no favors to the authors who created them.
There are other hidden benefits in how self-pubbed ebooks are purchased. Speaking for myself, I make the most financial profit through .pdf sales through the store, because the third-party cuts are smaller. However, purchasing my books through Amazon or another online vendor gives me free advertising. Ranking is everything; the more sales that a self-pubbed book gets, the higher it climbs in the lists, so its exposure increases, which results in more sales… It’s a lovely circle of profitability. It’s also an indicator that a self-pubbed book is good–or at least readable–as there is the very real problem of the self-publishing shit volcano.
If you’re a reader of mine and you want to know where to purchase my books, use the purchasing service that best benefits you. I will get different benefits, financial and otherwise, no matter which method you use. But if I were asked about my ideal book-purchasing scenario, I’d say: (1) Download from Amazon; (2) Read, read, read!!! (3) Post an honest review; and (4) Tell your friends if you’ve enjoyed it.
With this in mind, Maker Space should hit on Monday. See you later! I’m off to the Anxiety Pantry for some cake mix, and then I’m spending the weekend in the Weeping Closet sucking that cake mix through a straw.
*Or author-published, or whatever you want to call it. Lately I’ve been saying I practice “artisanal publishing”. Check back in June for my hand-crafted slow-brewed Summer Wheat fanfics!**
**Totally kidding about the Summer Wheat fanfics.
This is my first crowdfunding project, which is apparently exactly like self-publishing your first novel, in that you think that every new donation or purchase is a fluke and you obsessively monitor your stats while trying to not lose your shit completely or think about what might happen if you fail (oh God oh God we won’t be able to afford dog food and the monster will eat me…).
It’s not really that bad.
(it’s totally that bad…)
I know not everyone likes audiobooks, so over the past month I’ve been working on different products that would be worth the purchase price, as it were. The first of these is a new Rachel story, where she takes Shawn for his first social outing. Shawn’s getting better, but “getting better” in the OACET mansion and “getting better” in a public place are two very different things.
The second is a laser-cut custom name plate:
There’s NO adjustment of the colors on this image. Our buddy Steve took a photo of a nameplate on a black satin background with a light above it, and removed the stands and some dust specks in post, but otherwise this is an untouched image. We’re working with a local laser cutting shop on these. Brown and I have been to the shop a couple of times, and the design’s been tweaked so the detail glows. We’ve had some of the samples out on the counter and when the sunlight hits them, you have to move them or they’re distracting.
The next is the Cuddly Hippos t-shirt:
I thought long and hard about using Rosie the Riveter as the basis of this design (feminist icon > and is also ≠ to gang of assassins), but you see that Latin motto there? It translates to “underestimate us at your peril.” So, the spirit of the homage is consistent, and if anybody makes a joke about how hippo = woman, just don’t hang out with that person and maybe let a little air out of their tires when they aren’t looking.
Finally, the badges. I talked about these in the last post. All in all, I’m pretty happy about how it’s going, but I’ll be happier in a month when it’s over. And then I can freak out about releasing MAKER SPACE…
I think I lied. It’s never over.
You know that moment when you’re all like I NEED TO WRITE OUT MY SCHEDULE FOR… OH HELL JUST PUT IT ONLINE AND CALL IT A BLOG POST? I did not just have one of those moments. Nor is this my rough schedule for first-quarter 2014*
JAN 20 – Launch 30-day Kickstarter for the DIGITAL DIVIDE and MAKER SPACE audiobooks.
I’m keeping production of books and audiobooks completely separate. MAKER SPACE will exist no matter what. Audiobooks? Well, that’s what the Kickstarter is for. Since Rachel is blind, I think it’s critically important to make the Rachel Peng series available in audiobook form and improve accessibility of the story to persons who may be visually impaired. However, producing a high-quality audiobook is pricy. Boom. Kickstarter.
MARCH 3 – MAKER SPACE RELEASE DAY
I learned quite a few things from the release of DIGITAL DIVIDE. I think “set a release date and stick with it” might be the most important of these. Then you can schedule the production phase of the book, and add some extra time when all of these internal deadlines go whooshing past like doves. Or bullets.
MAY 1/JUNE 1 – JOSHSMUT THE SECOND
The next Joshsmut will be a treasure hunting adventure through ancient ruins (giggity). It will either come out in early May or early June, depending on how well the Kickstarter does and how much time I have to spend on shipping.
Again, depends on how well the Kickstarter does. I’ve heard a high-quality audiobook can take over a month to record and another month to edit.
And then there’s the comic, and the paid work, and the home repairs, and the work on the next book in the Rachel Peng series…
Bye gonna fall down for like six days okay thanks.
* This is totally my rough schedule for early 2014
Back in August (Wait, that can’t be right… Holy crap, yeah, August) I made a Futurama Head In A Jar template. And then I started working on heads-inna-jar. I finished and posted two of them, and then worked on a bunch of others. Two of these I sent to author Seanan McGuire when I sent her a copy of DIGITAL DIVIDE.
And her alter ego, Mira Grant.
Seanan has been amazing. We’ve been chatting back and forth since I featured her book cover in a comic strip. At the time, I hadn’t read any of her works and picked the cover of a popular zombie novel off of Amazon at random (because what the hell else would undead pixy Ben Franklin read?). Man, I am glad for that chance landing on Feed. Seanan has been nothing but awesome. She’s funny, helpful, and willing to say “Yes, that thing you are doing? Do not do that,” or “That other thing? Do that more.” And today she wrote up a hell of a fantastic review for DIGITAL DIVIDE.
I’m unbelievably appreciative both to Seanan and to her (insanely prolific) writing abilities, because I’ve been devouring her October Daye series like the scrumptious treats they are. BUY HER BOOKS!