Self-Publishing and Censorship: A Brief Discussion

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In case you haven’t noticed, censorship has become a big hot-button issue in the self-publishing world. First The Kernel, a tech tabloid in the UK, a tabloid in the UK, published an article slamming self-publishing platform Kobo and their British partner company, WH Smith, for allowing obscene materials to be produced and sold on their websites. Then The Daily Mail, an even bigger UK tabloid, then picked up the story from there with their own article on the subject. While both The Kernal and The Dailly Mail are widely regarded as being interested only in “clickbait,” or producing eye-catching and often controversial headlines that encourage people to read on so that the publication can make money from the incoming web traffic, the damage was still done.

To combat the negative press, Kobo went about scrubbing its self-published materials for anything that supposedly depicted offensive content which included incest, rape, and/or bestiality. WH Smith even shut down its entire website while searching for such content, and Amazon and Barnes and Noble are also said to be quietly removing offending works in the hopes that their previous presence on these sites would go forgotten. Of course, The Kernel, not to be outdone, recently also published an exposé linking Amazon to scores of self-published books that deny the Holocaust — even in countries where Holocaust denial is technically illegal.

The end result? According to writer David Gaughran, “it’s quite clear that most books removed [from WH Smith] don’t have any erotic content and are written by authors who haven’t published any erotic content.” Furthermore, “Kobo claim that removed titles which haven’t broken the rules, will be put back on sale ‘as soon as possible’ – but no timetable was given.” In other words, in Kobo’s zeal to remove what The Daily Mail and The Kernel had deemed offensive, they also did away with a lot of perfectly acceptable books for no reason.

So what can we take away from this? Regardless of your thoughts on the potential harm that overly prurient material might cause, it’s clear that many self-publishing platforms have yet to take a serious look at their guidelines for the content that gets published on their websites — which is concerning, to say the least. It also means that when you sign an agreement to publish your work on the Amazon Kindle publishing space, you also run the risk of having your work unexpectedly taken down at Amazon’s discretion, so you need to be absolutely certain that you’re willing to take that kind of risk and give up some of your rights as a creator in order to make publishing an easier process. Otherwise, you can always go the more difficult and time-consuming route of creating your own PDFs and physical book copies entirely by yourself — which many authors do, of course!

Do you know anyone who’s been affected by this recent crackdown, or do you have any questions or concerns about whether or not your book is safe from censorship? Let us know in the comments below!

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A series of quick hooks

You already know you need a catchy title for your book. And you have – I hope – taken care with the language in your text.

But what about chapter titles?

They’re often no more than an after-thought. They should be more than that. The cover and the title will persuade someone to peruse your book – but if you’ve titled the chapters, they can help turn a browser into a reader; a table of contents tells a prospective reader what to expect from the reading ahead.

What do yours say?

Not all books need titled chapters. Many novels use numbers–some non-fiction books, too–and are none the worse for it. If chapter titles don’t add something useful to the book, you’re better off without them.

The Great Gatsby managed well enough with just chapter numbers, but it might have drawn in even more readers with sympathetic chapter titles. (Scott Fitzgerald had no end of trouble coming up with a name for his novel and didn’t much care for the end result; having to write chapter titles as well might have thrown him.) But even there, what they can add might surprise you. For Gatsby, one online editor suggested these:

  • Chapter 1- The Truth of the Green Light
  • Chapter 2- Among the Ash Heaps
  • Chapter 3- The Host
  • Chapter 4- The Pursued, the Pursuing, the Busy and the Tired
  • Chapter 5- Ghostly Heart
  • Chapter 6- Among the Millionaires
  • Chapter 7- The Inferno
  • Chapter 8- The Holocaust
  • Chapter 9- The Dream of the Green Light

Had those chapters been so named when I first considered reading it (at that time, and for some years, I passed), they might have drawn me in sooner. There’s a hidden or subtle bit of wisdom (though it may turn out to be something else) hinted at in that first chapter; conflict or disaster in the second; a striking character in the third, and so on. In short, the chapter titles would have piqued my curiosity, given me a sense of what to expect. And I would have wanted to discover more.

Many writers start with “plain vanilla” topic-covering chapter titles, which are fine as placeholders. But by the time your book hits print or electronic format, they should be revised to do more useful work.

One writing blogger, Christina Mercer, suggests, “For me, good (operative word here) titles set the tone, boost excitement, and/or give a quick window into what’s going to happen even if it’s not the way the reader thinks (like a twist on the actual meaning of the title).”

A good title gives a sense of what’s in the chapter to come, but it also adds an element of suspense, surprise, curiosity, even thrill. This is true for both fiction and non-fiction.

Here are the first 10 chapter titles from Robert Caro’s latest (and terrific) Lyndon Johnson biography, Passage of Power:

  • The prediction
  • The rich man’s son
  • Forging chains
  • The back stairs
  • The “LBJ Special”
  • “Power is where power goes”
  • Genuine warmth
  • Cut
  • Gestures and Tactics
  • The Protégé
  • The Cubicle
  • Taking Charge

All are relevant to their chapters, but none gives away the story of those chapters. They raise questions and provoke suspense, but you have to keep reading to find out more. “The prediction” – what prediction would that be, and what’s its significance (and did it come to fruition)? “The back stairs” sounds as if we’re being let in on the hidden story of what happened in back rooms (which we will be).

“Gestures and tactics” suggests we’ll be getting more detail about how this master of politics worked (and we do).

Episode titles in television series serve much the same purpose as chapter titles in books, and they can give you good ideas as well. You can get some good ideas from reviewing series episode titles.

You might glance, for example, at some of the neatly chosen titles for the first season of “Lost” (after the first episode, which was simply labeled “Pilot.”) “Tabula Rasa” was about the supposedly blank slates that were the characters as we first met them and as they arrived on their mysterious island. “Walkabout ” was about a journey to a place, the activity planned for the place, and then related to a startling twist and reveal at the end. “Whatever the Case May Be ” involves different interpretations of a series of events – as well as a physical, hard-to-open briefcase with something mysterious inside.

What do these titles have in common?

They bear no whiff of cliché, at least in an overt way. Beware of anything that sounds trite or even ordinary, a truism or a common saying. They not only suggest similar qualities in the text, but used without care they come off as self-important and ponderous. Note however that clichés can be rewritten (to give them new bite) or repurposed or turned on their head (“Whatever the Case May Be”). Many good chapter titles give you the uneasy sense that they may mean something quite different from what you’re expecting by the time the episode (or chapter) is over.

Even better if the title has not just a couple of meanings, but a multiplicity. The right title can transform a chapter into a gem with many facets, no less in non-fiction than in fiction.

Good titles often are intriguing: You may wonder what that could be about.

The first chapter of a great biography of Oregon Governor Tom McCall was titled “Old Roman and the Copper King,” which got my attention when I picked up the book.

Include a twist, if you can. Misdirect (without misleading altogether or promising what isn’t delivered). You can use a title to provide an O. Henry ending.

Some very good chapter titles are deeply ironic, which can carry a great impact. A chapter title that tells you up front, in explicit language, what the chapter is about, takes away the opportunity to do that, to let the reader discover as he reads.

Titles should suggest what’s to come, but the best don’t lay it out explicitly. They tease, they hook, they make you want to know more. They don’t beat you over the head with a declaration about the subject they’re going to address or the point to be made. They let the reader find out about those things in the course of reading the chapter.

Fewer words are better. Period. One is better than two, two are better than three, three are better than four …

It’s your chance to grab a reader in the space of a single second.

stapilusmugRandy Stapilus has been since 1988 publisher of Ridenbaugh Press (www.ridenbaugh.com), which publishes books and periodicals mainly about the Pacific Northwest states. He has written a number of books for Ridenbaugh and four for other publishers as well. A former daily newspaper reporter and editor, he lives with his wife Linda in Carlton, Oregon.

 

Online Reader Reviews Might Not Be As Important As You Think They Are Anymore

One of the first things most people will tell a budding self-publisher is that they need to make sure they make their book stands out from the pack in some way. In the past that sometimes meant convincing friends, family members, and third party reviewers to read the book and leave a thoughtful review on Amazon or Goodreads. However, recently it seems as though online reviews are starting to be taken less and less seriously by the community at large.

First, as Digital Book World notes, Goodreads announced their decision to heavily regulate reader reviews on their website in order to weed out the “trolls” — users who write extremely negative or nonsensical reviews for personal reasons, or just to get a kick out of the reaction. Then there was the piece the New York Times ran on restaurants and other companies who pay people to write fake good reviews for their products, and a similar piece by On The Media for WNYC (it’s worth a listen!) And then there was the International Business Times story about a self-published author who woke up to a sudden stream of negative one-star reviews after she’d written a poorly thought out public ex-shaming on her blog. With all that hitting the fan in such a relatively short time, it’s no wonder that people are having second thoughts about trusting the reviews you find on Amazon and other sites!

So how do you look for reviews in such a difficult climate? The trick is not to seek out the best reviews, but instead to go for the most honest ones. If you ask your friends to read and review your book for you then they’ll most likely want to give it five stars as a way to support you, but a large number of five star reviews are more likely to trigger a stranger’s suspicions. Instead, ask them to be as brutally honest as they can be — if it helps, they might want to submit their reviews anonymously, using a username that you won’t recognize. That way they won’t have to feel guilty if they didn’t like the book.

Another option is to ask a third party site or organization to look at your work, such as Kirkus Reviews or Blue Ink Review. They’re not like the companies that fake hundreds of positive reviews — instead they want to give you a professional, well-constructed critique of your book that’ll be miles more impressive and noteworthy than anything you can find on the standard Amazon page. And, of course, BookWorks will also be starting its own professional Book Review Service soon, so check back to learn more about that!

Just remember that above all else, you shouldn’t lie in order to get your book attention. Not unless you don’t care what kind of attention you get, of course — but given that companies who fake reviews online are now getting hit with massive fines in New York, you still might want to steer clear of paying anyone to write a bogus, needlessly positive review for you!

Smashwords Smashes Self-Publishing Stigma

ImageFrom Gutenberg’s moveable type, to the printing press, to computer screens, to the Cloud, writers have seen the slow democratization of authorship.  The evolution of the printed word for consumption has taken hundreds of years. However, there’s been more progress in the last five years from one company that’s grown to become the world’s largest distributor of self-published Indie books.  On September 4, 2013, Smashwords reached the milestone of 250,000 books from over 65,000 authors around the world.

 “The previous stigma of self-publishing has largely disappeared, while at the same time the stigma of traditional publishing has increased,” asserts Smashwords’ founder Mark Coker.

Traditional Publishers

Not too long ago, authors attempting to secure a book deal with traditional publishers had to compose a pitch letter, find a literary agent who would submit a paper manuscript, only to endure the endless time lags associated with a lengthy review process. At the end of that tedious cycle, the common denominator for most would-be writers came in the form of a rejection notice, not a contract.

Self-Publishing Option

At the dawn of the new digital era came the introduction of the self-publishing option, but as this door of opportunity creaked opened, new challenges presented themselves. Authors had to incur significant up-front investment to pay publishing services to format, distribute and sell their work. The royalties were more than they had been in the traditional business model, but in most instances still amounted to more than half of an author’s earnings.

Today, just as ‘old school’ publishing is now being displaced by the popularity of ebooks, the self-publishing world is evolving yet still.  Due greatly to the new free distribution tools available, service companies like Smashwords built a monetization model that took a smaller percentage of an author’s sales and allowed them to keep the exclusive rights to their work. Over the last five years, they maintained the same business model where 85 percent of the net proceeds go to the writer, and there are no upfront fees.

“Authors have come to realize that as self-publishing ebook author, they can enjoy faster time to market, four to five times greater per-unit royalties, greater creative control, and greater price competitiveness than traditionally published authors,” asserts Coker. 

Stigma Reversal

The dark shadow of self-publishing has lifted as writers now ironically view the publishing model of the past as a hindrance.  “In other words,” says Coker, “there’s a growing recognition in the author community that a (traditional) publishing deal might actually harm an author’s ability to reach readers, grow their fan base and make money.  It’s getting tougher for publishers to recruit the best authors.  Many authors want to stay Indie and not sell out.”

Coker sees the growth of ebooks accounting for close to 30% of the overall trade market in the U.S.  In some genres, such as romance, that percentage is significantly higher. In the very near future, Coker believes “we’ll see over 50% of authors’ words consumed on e-reading screens as opposed to paper.”

Best-Sellers

“If you look at the bestseller lists at any major retailer on any given day, you’ll see how Indies are hitting more and more of the top 20 bestseller slots,” says Coker. In September alone, a pair of Smashwords’ authors ranked the highest among paid books on Apple’s iBookstore. Justine Elvira took the “number one” spot with The Road to Forgiveness, and Melody Grace came in second place with Unbroken.

JD Nixon who writes in the crime/mystery genre is one of Smashwords most prolific writers.  Hailing from Queensland, Australia, her successful Heller series has allowed her to leave her 9-to-5 job for a full-time career in writing. “Smashwords is a convenient distributor to all the ebook markets, some of which are not directly available to me as a non-U.S. author,” notes Nixon.

Author Kirsty Moseley is also a Smashwords advocate.  “Mark and his team are always striving to find new ways to bring independent authors more opportunities, and their relationship with Apple and others is a tremendous advantage to us ‘little guys,’” says Moseley. As testimony to working with the best, Moseley to date, across her three books has sold over 252 thousand ebooks via Smashwords.

“They continue to add new ways of getting your book out there and noticed by the public – one of their newest features, ‘the pre-order’ actually helped propel me into the number one spot in the iBookstore across several countries,” adds Moseley.

Multi-Channel Distribution

Differing from the single-channel retail distribution of Apple iBooks, Kindle Direct Publishing and Pubit! By Barnes and Noble, multi-channel distributors like Smashwords act as middlemen that push an author’s work out to the single channel.  Today, Coker’s company has been successful in working with all the major players (save Amazon) in addition to public libraries. The advantage to writers working with a company like Smashwords is that it reduces a lot of the heavy lifting. Instead of writers working with each retailer separately, they need only sign up for one service.

Kindle Direct Stands Alone

Amazon still dominates the self-publishing and ebook market space.  With stats that earmark Kindle Direct garnering at minimum 50 percent of the ebook sales  in the U.S. and sometimes as high as 70 percent, depending on the category, “Amazon currently doesn’t see the need to work with multi-channel distributors. “We want to work with Amazon, but to date, they’ve made it difficult . . .and have yet to provide us their automated distribution capability,” says Coker.

“Many of our authors would prefer to consolidate all their retail distribution through Smashwords as opposed to being forced to upload directly to Amazon,” says Coker.

Smashwords, Still Evolving

Coker still views his company as a “start-up,” and as such will continue to make changes and add new features. This past week around the time they reached their 250,000-book milestone, they also announced new distribution to Flipkart (India’s #1 online bookseller) and Oyster (a new ebook subscription service).  “In the months and years ahead, you’ll see us continuing to search out new methods of connecting our authors’ words with reader eyeballs, “ adds Coker.

Now that’s he’s a proven force to be reckoned with and has eliminated a major stigma in the literary world, it’s certainly less of an uphill battle in reaching his ultimate challenge – simply put – “ My goal is to make authors and publishers who work with Smashwords more successful than those that don’t.” 

Want To Self-Publish All On Your Own? Someday Pubsoft Might Be Your Biggest Asset

pubsoft-ebook-store Self-publishing can be easy for authors who are more than willing to give up some of their control in order to produce their book. But what if you’re a real DIYer who wants to know everything about the inner workings of publishing? The traditional publishing model has so many weird twists and turns that it can be hard to keep track when it’s just you at the helm. But a new software called PubSoft wants to help you do just that.

Intended to be a new platform through which publishers can cultivate their brands and reach out to consumers, PubSoft works by streaming many of the backend tasks that go on behind the scenes of creating a great book — like tracking growth and managing royalties. It also helps you to build your own online store or author website, convert documents, integrate search engine optimization, and provide portals to your readers. You can even upload your novel to an eBook cloud reader with HTML5, which readers can use to highlight, take notes, and share excerpts of their favorite passages on Twitter and Facebook. Best of all, you will even be able to download a Pubsoft iPad app, so you can take it everywhere you go!

In an interview with Good e-Reader, entrepreneur and Pubsoft business developer Dougal Cameron said that, “Publishers’ websites are increasingly being used by readers who want to know more about authors. The very fact that they’re on that publisher’s website suggests that they have a deeper level of connection with the publisher. Our aim is to capture that reader and allow the publisher to connect with that reader, helping publishers understand what readers want and refine their offering.”

In other words, Cameron and the rest of the team at Pubsoft believe that creating a brand can be just as important to a self-publisher as telling a story. Of course the quality and popularity of your book itself is the most important thing to think about, but being easily accessible to your readers might be able to give you a leg-up in today’s saturated self-publishing market! pubsoft We’re excited to see whether or not Pubsoft is on the way to becoming an integral part of the self-publishing process. What do you think? Is this software something that you’re interested in, too? Let us know in the comments below.

(Pubsoft, via Marketing Tech Blog and Good e-Reader)

Check Out the Top Twitter Apps For Managing Your Tweets

Maybe it’s just us, but it seems like Twitter’s been getting a lot of attention in the news lately. You should check out some of these apps to get your own Twitter account as on track as possible!

BookWorks

Let’s say you want one Twitter account for all of your personal tweets and another for a book you’d like raise awareness for. How do you manage two accounts at once? You could just log in and out of each account, but that can be a lot of work. That’s why a lot of people who use Twitter professionally have separate third party applications that they use not only to tweet from two accounts at once, but to schedule tweets in advance and so much more. Here are the top four apps that Twitter gurus love — why not try one out for yourself?

1. Tweetdeck

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Not only is this app free to use and created by the team behind Twitter.com, it’s super customizable so you fit each column of the app to suit your personal preferences. You can use it to display your Twitter timeline, mentions, direct messages, trending topics, search…

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Top 5 Productivity Apps to Help Writers Get Motivated

Sorry there’s no new content this week! To tide you over until next week, here’s another older one from our archives that shows you how to get motivated as a writer. We hope you like it!

BookWorks

You could have the fanciest word processing app on the market, but as anyone who’s currently working on their NaNoWriMo piece can tell you, it’s often tough to face the blank page and even tougher to keep your thoughts and words going once you’ve started. While it always helps to have an outline, sometimes you need a little more help getting motivated. That’s where these applications and programs all come in — some are silly, some are a little more soothing, but they were all created to get you out of your slump!

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