Tag Archives: digital publishing

Writing Vs. Music: DIY

The perspective on DIY is the most difficult gap between writing and music for me to come to terms with. I’ve talked about this before, I’m sure I will again. The more I see on the publishing side of the fence the more the argument for the traditional process seems to come down to self-definition and ego.

“Real” writers are put out by traditional publishers, I empathize with that still, aspire to it still. But it’s changing. Established authors, fortunate enough to control their back catalog, are beginning to turn to self publishing ebooks because it gives them control and greater income potential.

The knock on self publishing has always been the amount of unedited, hackneyed garbage that clots the markets. However, the argument that having been vetted and validated by a traditional publisher makes self publishing acceptable now is gaining momentum. The wisdom of the gatekeepers is still looked at as wisdom, but there are exceptions.

Authors like nothing more than getting paid for their work, and as the landscape changes ebooks are becoming the field of play for getting paid. Here’s a little discussion from the Shocklines board about the decline in author advances to chew on.

There is no shortage of shitty stories that publishers have let through the gate. There is no shortage of horrible music everywhere you turn. The gatekeepers are searching for product they are not searching for art. A product does not have to be good, it merely has to appear good. With the diminished retail shelf life (and shelf space) of books, and companies forgoing marketing for hype, they don’t even need to appear good for very long. I have read a number of books on reputable imprints, that are frankly uninspired. Maybe its personal taste, some of these books have been very well received. But it doesn’t bolster my faith in the gatekeepers.

Mark Samuels has an eloquent take on “success” and publishing he recently re-posted from a diatribe written back in 2007.

My take with music and my record label was that those who were seeking the kind of thing I was releasing would find it. I did limited, targeted promotion and submissions for review but refrained from whoring about and flapping my arms to get people to buy the records.  Word of mouth being the ideal mode of promotion, my hope was that thoughtful reviews and thoughtful listeners would generate interest.

Carlton Mellick III recently posted a great piece on his site about the evolution of word of mouth and the role that e-book sites, particularly Amazon, can play in drawing readers to little know writers.

It irritates me that I think about this stuff as much as I do. But as someone who is beginning to build a collection of writing and starting to submit, it feels like a necessary evil. If I am going to put my work into the world to be judged, and knowing it will be judged not only by the work but by the means of delivery, it is something I have to consider.

I self released the first Gruntsplatter material on Crionic Mind as split releases with other artists. This lead to getting signed to  “real” record labels, and allowed me to release other artists on my label because my work was being handled by others. What started as a “vanity” label became a “real” record label. That was my plan from the get go and it worked out. I wanted to start a publishing arm to Crionic Mind for years, but at this point in my life I am kind of over that. I have spent enough time focusing on other people’s work and standing around at the Post Office.

So, when I look at the lean options for submitting work, the pay rates, and so forth. . . I have to wonder about the effectiveness of sending to an obscure magazine that might pay enough to go out to dinner or releasing a small collection as an e-book that offers the potential to generate more. I myself have never purchased self published an e-book from an author that hasn’t gone through traditional publishing route and I am apprehensive to do so. When looking at the Amazon sales charts, it’s clear that others do. J.A. Konrath’s blog makes a compelling argument for its potential.

After all of this, I still don’t have an answer. I will be trying traditional routes for the time being, but at a certain point I can see giving the self published e-book route a go. The definition of who is a writer, and who is an author is changing. I have to come to terms with that as well. Is it better to have a limited edition book of 300 or so that pays a little something and produces an artifact in the form of a book, or is it better to put out stories that can continue to generate income and interest in a format that has little prestige? How much of that self-definition and ego do I have a need for? And how much do I just hope I can write stories that mean something to me and have the ability to resonate with others? Put that way, it seems rather obvious.

Writing Vs. Music: Limited Editions

I stumbled across this post over at Speculative Fiction Junkie the other day. I would really encourage you to read it, the meat is in the comments section.

The gist of it is that this excellent outlet for small press reviews has gone on hiatus. The reason being:  so many of the books he’s reviewing are released in such limited quantities that by the time the reviews appear they are out of print or nearly so. Many of these limited editions run in the $40-60 range, with deluxe limited editions going for anywhere between $75-$200 +. It can be far more depending on the author and what about it is “deluxe.”

The futility of it should be apparent. He’s taking his free time to contribute to a genre that seems bent on staying obscure. I wrestled with the same feelings many times when reviewing for Worm Gear. I’d get a great release limited to something ridiculous, and know by the time anyone read the review they wouldn’t be able to acquire it. I continued to review that stuff with the hope that people would see the review, jot down the projects name, and when they were able to find a release they might check it out, even if it wasn’t the one that I had reviewed.

That is the argument that Simon Strantzas (a fantastic writer I will have more to say about at another time) makes in the comments. There is value in the exposure, even if  the particular work being reviewed is out of print. His hope is that eBooks will help the obscure or overlooked work happening in the small press to escape the confines of the default limited editions.

This raises a secondary issue for me which is true of both music and books. I buy the limited hardcovers much like I buy vinyl. If I can’t get it any other way I’ll buy it, or if it’s someone I know I will enjoy. . .

Limited edition price tags make it tough to check out new writers when your disposable income is also limited.  eBooks to me are a pale solution though. Practically speaking they are perfect, I don’t argue that. However like an MP3, it’s just not the same. I have always said, and feel myself back pedaling a bit now, that it’s the music or the story that matters, and it does. But…

The experience of reading a Tartarus Press hardcover, like Strantzas’ Cold To The Touch or opening up a lyric book or fold out digipak with great art enhances the experience for me. Glass Throat Recordings is a great example in the music realm. The stories or songs are powerful in their own right, and would still be if written in crayon on a place mat, or played on 8 track, but it wouldn’t be the same.

If it was a matter of  – you’ll never read this story unless you buy the download –  I probably would. There are music releases that are long out of print and impossible to track down I have done that with. I don’t, however, buy MP3’s of releases. I go to the record store and get the real thing. I burn them to MP3’s  for convenience, and the car and so forth, but if the original can be had, I track it down to absorb to complete package.

The underlying, and most discouraging, element here is that there is great work out there going unnoticed, or noticed, but unobtainable. I hope there is a better solution than eBooks, but I don’t see it. I was surprised to find that the limited nature of my records, in many instances, was still a larger pressing than some of my favorite books. Sad.

Writing vs. Music: Labels and Publishers

Since making writing a serious focus, I have tried to find parallels between small press publishers and underground record labels. Chances are if you’re reading this it’s because you found the site via my own music or because of something I released on Crionic Mind. I understand underground music and labels pretty well I think, so I keep hoping that familiarity will assist in finding a foothold in the publishing world.

There are similarities in the spirit of both worlds, but the machinations really are pretty different. This will be the first of a couple posts looking at those differences. The more I look into it the greater the differences become.  The soul of the participants share common ground but the approach and relationships are unique.
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Underground music for this discussion refers to experimental music, dark ambient, lesser known metal, punk, industrial etc. Music that is released by small labels that operate out of the corner of the labels owners house. Limited edition releases that end up somewhere near the high/low mark of 1,000 copies,  There are publishing companies that fit this description as well, good ones.

Underground music functions more or less on a barter economy. Labels and distributors trade merchandise more often than not rather than buying from each other at wholesale rates. This allows each to diversify their mail orders while being able to put any real money into releasing new product. Bands or projects are usually paid in product that they can then sell. There are exceptions, but much of the music is obscure enough, and the pressings small enough, that a royalty arrangement is essentially agreeing to do it for free.

If you aren’t familiar with my music and found this through a tag search, there is a discography in the side bar. I never signed a contract, never received a check for any of it. I received product. This worked for me because with running the label I was able to convert my releases into other releases and build a nice mail order catalog (that I will get online again at some point). The bands I did releases for –  I would take care of the artwork and mastering if they wanted, but I paid them in product. No one even raised the issue of money because we all knew how it worked.

I’ve been releasing music since 1995, and recording it longer than that. What did I get out of this model? Reviews, contacts, interviews and friends on every continent but Antarctica. It helped me build a record label that  garnered some amount of respect, had an identity and supported itself. It put me in touch with people who remain friends and inspirations and people who I think might say the same about me. Those things have a value,  but none of them pay my bills. For what I do soundtracks are perhaps the one area that could be lucrative, even then there are a lot of variables.
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I’ve not yet published anything, in fact I have not yet submitted anything, though that time is near.  These impressions are based on the extensive research, market reports, submission guidelines, classes and the advice and comments of those who have.

With publishing, the battle cry is that the money flows to the author. If you publish something you aren’t paid for it’s seen as an invalid writing credit by many. If you self publish, it’s viewed with scorn and can work against you when you submit through the established channels. The editors and publishing houses have determined the chain of worth. It counts if they say it counts.

Print on demand services and e-publishing  have made it easier than ever to self publish, just as affordable home recording software, mp3’s and cdr’s made it easier to make and spread music. The distaste for self publishing comes from the amount of sub par writing that surfaces there. There is so much garbage that the gems are not worth the energy it takes to find them. However, I’ve read books published by reputable houses that contained work I’d have been embarrassed to show anyone. It’s not that published work is better, just that it is more likely to be better.

There is a saying, the hardest book to sell is your second book. Publishers will take a chance on new writers, but once you are published your track record is established. If you aren’t able to sell through your first pressing, your opportunities become more limited. Other publishers have access to the sales numbers for books published by other houses. Not only are your chances diminished with your original publisher if you don’t sell through, they are hurt with prospective publishers. This is with marketing budgets nearly non-existent in the small press world and the responsibility falling to the writer to hustle their work.

Joe Konrath, has a blog called A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing that makes a case for ignoring some of this conventional wisdom and ways to get the money flowing to the author without filtering it through the publishing houses. Paul Jessup had a nice bit of musing on the state of publishing recently on his blog as well. The model is going to change because the tools exist now in such a way that it will have no choice. There will always be garbage on the market, but the time will come when it is the market that determines what is garbage and what is not.

R. Thomas Riley has a post on the Apex Books blog regarding the differences between writing and publishing which I think is a good place to wind this down. This is incomplete, and maybe even ignorant. I wrote it for myself as much as anyone else. Having had success, at least as I measure it, with music and exploring this new parallel underground is an odd thing. There are more rules and more divides. Right now my goal is to write well. I will try to publish. Whether I am successful at that end of it or not I will still try to write well.

To be continued…

eBooks

I’ve been holding off on posting about this topic, but news just came down from Delirium Books that has brought it to mind again. Here is the announcement from Delirium.

Delirium is discontinuing all publishing of trade paperbacks (TPB) in favor of digital publishing for Kindle and other eReaders. Delirium will continue to produce limited and lettered special edition hardcover titles for the collector’s market.

This is disappointing because I am signed up with Delirium’s TPB book club and that will be coming to an end. It was a great way to check out new authors and titles at a very fair price. The collector’s hardcover book club will continue, but sinking $40+ bucks (at  least)  into an author I haven’t read is not something I’m interested in.

The digital products will be affordable. However, I sit in front of a computer well over 8 hours a day. I’m not going to read at length off my desktop screen for fun. One of the pleasures of reading is not looking at a screen. The other option is to shell out for an eReader. The Kindle is $299 right now and it looks like the Sony one is around $275. Everyone I’ve heard from that has used a Kindle says that it’s not like reading off a computer. I am skeptical, but I will give the benefit of the doubt to those who have actually done it. The market is new enough that the devices out there are going to go through an evolution and sinking that kind of money into something destined to become obsolete in short order seems a bit silly.

While the digital releases will be more economical, that point  does appear to be undergoing some debate. I don’t see this as being an issue with the small press community like it would be with the big publishing houses. However, for the eReaders to take off and remain viable cooperation from the big publishing houses will be necessary. If they fight it or seek to manipulate pricing, then it will be more convoluted than the mp3 fiasco. With publishing there are different rights available for an author’s work, electronic, print, audio, foreign, anthology etc. If people start bootlegging books on mass, those permissions will become entirely clouded and work will be devalued because of it. (Though, the thought of a world where people cared enough about books to bootleg them is not wholly unpleasant)

As it stands now, publishing a story on your personal website, blog or whatever is considered publishing by many publishing houses. Thus selling that story to one of those houses becomes even more difficult than it already is. Suddenly you are selling to the reprint market rather than the new market because you hosted it on your site. The pay rates for reprints are often reduced and this is assuming the houses are interested in reprints at all.

For people writing for the small press market,  I wonder what accepting digital publishing for their work may mean for that piece to ever see a print edition.

In theory all of this means writing (books) can be distributed at a much lower cost, allowing consumers to get more for their entertainment dollar and the author stands to be paid more for their work because the publisher doesn’t have the overhead to recoup. Sounds great, but whether that market establishes itself and what paraphernalia you will need to read that market are all still question marks. Whether eBooks are able to shake the stigma that say print on demand/self published books have in regards to quality is also up for some debate. One would hope that reputable publishers will produce reputable eBooks, but from discussions I have seen the quality definitely varies even from reputable publishers. I will add, since Delirium is my jumping off point for this, I have heard nothing but high praise for the quality of their ebooks. 

Delirium is one publisher. I’m not suggesting this is a death knell to paperbacks. However, the Delirium folks are highly respected for their catalog, and business practices. In addition, they operate The Horror Mall (which you should go buy something from) and the horror themed social networking site The Haunt. Their position in the community makes this a significant development that  I suspect will have some influence over other publishers in time.

Here is an interview with award winning book designer and novelist Chip Kidd with his thoughts on “the death of books.”