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Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Writing Wibbles

Feeding the Troll (or, the Winters of Our Discontent)

In today’s column, I’m going to break a long-standing rule of mine and feed a troll. Just this once.

The troll’s name is John Winters, and his bait is called I’m a self-publishing failure (capitalized, or not, exactly as shown). In a nutshell, a journalist who writes for Salon self-publishes a novel, doesn’t do too well with it, and thus gets to write off the entire phenomenon as “the literary world’s version of masturbation.” The condescending tone comes through loud and clear, even when he pretends to be self-deprecating.

Now I’ll be the first to admit: even with five books available, one of which has been fairly successful, I’m still trying to figure out a lot of this—especially the promotion stuff. Still, the methodology that Winters describes in his column just plain reeks of UR DOIN IT RONG. As a journalist and (according to his bio) someone who teaches writing classes at a local college, I’m guessing he knows better. In fact, I’m guessing he deliberately sandbagged the whole process, playing at being the newbiest of newbies, so he could write about the outcome he’d planned all along.

First off, he tells us “Turning my [book] to a title on Amazon took relatively no time at all.” No comment about formatting or editing it, nothing about getting cover art, no agonizing over the synopsis (although, to be fair, he could have done the latter when he was querying). Are we to believe that a journalist/columnist/writing instructor is ignorant of the importance of production values? I’d bet a box of donuts that Winters has editors and artists in his personal address book. It’s not beyond the pale that he could have had both done for sweetheart prices. And (he doesn’t mention this part in the article) he sets a retail price of $9.99. Um… yeah. No wonder he’s not getting any sales. Spending 10 minutes cruising the best-seller list would have shown a lot of titles at $2.99 or less. (Although it’s free as I write this, and doing well enough in the rankings. Maybe his Salon article touched off some interest.)

Next off, Winters goes on to talk about the variety of advertising he did. According to his article, he spent $100 on Google ads, and (reading between the lines) $50 on Facebook to promote a giveaway. Nothing spent at Goodreads, Indie Author News, or any other bookish site, where he might have had at least some return. (I’ll be doing a little advertising later this year, but even now I know that Google and Facebook aren’t the places to advertise books.)

What strains belief most of all (and this article is dated April 1): someone who has the kind of exposure you get writing for Salon, doesn’t think to use it. Well, maybe he did—if Winters has sold 20 copies of a $10 eBook, that’s not bad. But he doesn’t know any book reviewers who would let him jump in line? A positive review on a major site can really kick your sales, after all. Coupled with a reasonable price, there’s no reason that a good book written by an author with connections can’t do quite well.

Winters speaks of two groups of indie writers: the half who make less than $500, and the blockbusters. But what about the (almost) half of us in-between, the hundreds of authors making a decent living, or the thousands with a nice supplementary income? Not a peep. Why not talk about those people if you’re not writing with a pre-determined conclusion in mind?

OK, I’m done feeding the troll. In other news, I received an email from Amazon about a “Kindle Quality Notice” for Accidental Sorcerers. The email calls out a typo and something they call “forced alignment,” which I assume refers to the block-quoted sections. So whoever you are, thanks for the typo catch, and for caring enough to report it. I’ve emailed back to ask for clarification on the “forced alignment” issue, and I’ll update as soon as I know what to fix there.

If you haven’t grabbed my new anthology, Oddities, you’re missing out. Reviews have been pretty positive so far. If you want something to read on your commute, or during a coffee break, you’ll be treated to what Eric Townsend called “one entertaining story after another.”

And you’ll spend a lot more than 99 cents on that cup of coffee! If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can borrow it, too.


  1. Interesting read Larry - I'm no good at promotion at all and that's probably why I'm not doing very well - but I try not to think about it all.

    I found the points you made in your article very good and even though I don't know who you are talking about, I think those points are very valid.

  2. Great response, Larry. The deliberately inflammatory tone of that Salon piece is attention-seeking mummery, at best.

  3. I'm glad I read this before I wrote my bit on it. Not only was I planning on feeding a troll; I wanted to make him a bed and then proceed to beat him with a tire iron.

  4. Maybe the Saloon piece will get him some sales. But it is so negative, you would feel like an idiot to go find it and buy it.

    If it had been a little more self-deprecating, rather than category-deprecating, I might have bought into it more.

  5. Excellent points all around. I never went to see what the book was selling for -- ten bucks and he's not a "household name" author? Yeesh.

    I have had the bad luck to meet people, in the publishing industry no less, who have the "you're only a real writer if..." bar raised so high that one must make 100% of one's income from writing or else be called out as a wannabe. If a writer makes most of their money off books and some from lecturing, journalism, or something else writerly, they'll accept the writer is trying. I have no idea what they make of people like William Carlos Williams.

  6. I think I skimmed that guy's article halfway and then stopped reading all together because of his tone.

  7. I ought not to stereotype like this, but it's Salon. They curate condescension and obnoxiousness; of course his article about whiffing on the self-pub market is unbearable. Their stuff always is, even when I agree with it. It's what their editors want. You cannot go there expecting reasonable or compassionate coverage.

  8. I had the same feeling as you when I read it - "This guy works in the industry and didn't know more than this about what to do?" I did kind of wonder if the article was an attempt to generate interest for his book

  9. It wasn't just an elaborate April Fool's?

    I'm rubbish at promo but even I know a $9.99 price tag is just asking for trouble.

  10. Thanks, Helen. I think when it comes to promotion, though, it's better to be lucky than to be good. ;-)

    Tony, when I'm feeding a troll, I like to use lots of salt and hot sauce.

    So have you written your piece yet, Angela?

    Russell, I did go find it. But even the day it was free, I left it be.

    Katherine, he lowered it to eight bucks. Still pretty excessive, but in the paperback range at least. I had to go look up William Carlos Williams—I'd love to see the smoke coming out of their ears over that kind of thing!

    Patricia, that was probably best. I probably would have as well, had I not needed something to wibble about this week. ;-)

    John, I don't think they used to be like that, but I'd stopped reading Salon regularly a long time ago. To be fair, they ran a counterpoint by Hugh Howey explaining why self-publishing is the way to go. The money quote in that piece was (about why half of self-published writers earn less than $500): "In self-publishing, the slush pile is made available to readers. These comparisons between the two paths take the tip of one iceberg (the books that made it through the gauntlet and into bookstores) with an entire iceberg (all self-published books). It’s not a fair comparison."

    Chuck, I think if he was trying to stir up sales for his book, he'd have linked to it. Another FAIL on his part, unless the link were disallowed by Salon itself.

    Icy, we're all rubbish at promo. Like I told Helen, it's better to be lucky than to be good.


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