Tag: Business

Defining "Professional"

We hear this word thrown around a lot, but many people seem to miss the mark on what it means. While the literal definition of a professional is just someone who gets paid, being “professional” encompasses more than that. In that case, let’s dig into what the publishing world considers to be a professional:

  • Dressing properly when required.
    I’ll edit in my fuzzy bunny slippers and PJ pants because there’s no one around to judge me, but I wouldn’t wear jeans to a black tie affair. Also, when meeting clients or engaging in business deals I dress up, shower, do my hair, etc. It’s important.
  • Punctuality.
    If you say you’re going to be somewhere or do something in a specific time frame, then you should probably do it. It marks you as someone trustworthy and dependable. If, for some reason, you can’t do it, communicate as soon as possible.
  • Politeness
    This is a tough one sometimes. We’re conditioned to bleed on the page, but we need to know when to keep our mouths shut and smile. It’s never easy to do that when you’re dealing with a situation you can’t stand, but it’s important. Being polite also carries over into any public interactions, including social media. People really DO judge you on that.
  • Business Acumen
    While you may not have a degree in it, understanding when business is business and personal is personal is big. I’ll talk more on this later.
  • Having quality marketing materials, covers, websites, etc.
    This isn’t unique to writers, either. Having good-looking business cards, websites, fliers, and other such communication materials is a defining mark of a professional in the world beyond just writing. This means that just because you “can” design your own website you maybe should rely on someone with professional credentials. These things are your face to the world.
  • Literacy
    No joke, the fewer typos, the fewer mistakes, and the more attention you pay to your writing and communication, the better you look.
  • Email Etiquette
    Do you know how to write a proper email? What’s your email signature like? Are you using frilly colors in order to “get attention”? Is your font easy to read and clean? All of these are important.

Knowing these qualities and seeing what is expected can be a sobering experience for some of us when we realize we don’t quite measure up. The thing is, behaving professionally (even if you aren’t making money yet) is important. This also includes how we treat our professional colleagues (editors, publishers, etc.) as well as our readers. If you see a poor review of your book, do you jump on the thread and make a bunch of unfriendly comments? Or do you thank the person for their critique and move on with your life? There are many ways to address things, but if we want to be taken seriously and regarded with positive esteem, we need to realize that epitomizing (or at least aspiring to) the qualities I listed above is a major part of it.

Professionalism is one of the defining factors in whether or not you’ll get anywhere as a writer. I know we all wish it were just about whether or not we can put together a good story, but that’s just not the case, unfortunately. We have a lot of things to consider when we are looking at our success, and many of those factors have nothing to do with what we put on the page.

How to “Fire” a Freelancer

I had a friend post a very frustrated and sad status on Facebook yesterday about an editing client who refused to pay her for services rendered despite being contractually obligated to. They claimed they “weren’t happy” with the edits, without explaining why they found them unsatisfactory. I have had nightmare clients like that in the past, and I wanted to bring that behavior to the foreground.

This isn’t just about writing, either, it’s about business in general, a subject many people struggle with. I took business courses in college (a lot of them), but I often forget that many folks don’t have the benefit of growing up in that environment or receiving a good education on business practices themselves.

As a publisher and editor, good business is something I need to keep my focus on. I need to make sure my authors, clients, and customers are all receiving the best possible behavior from me. I need to make sure I treat them fairly and well, even if that means muzzling myself when I want to bark at them. This also means, when I am purchasing professional services (editing, cover design, whatever it is) I must also behave professionally.

So what do you do if the work you’ve hired someone to do is unsatisfactory? What do you do when you are done working with someone because of whatever reason? Maybe they haven’t paid, maybe the two of you just don’t work well together as a team. Regardless of why, you need to tell the person why. In polite, but complete detail. In addition to that, there are a few more things you should remember when “firing” someone.

  1. The person you’re trying to part ways with might surprise you and fix the problem or apologize and revisit their behavior. This is rare, but it does happen.
  2. You do not receive a reputation of hopping between professionals for what they will probably perceive as no good reason.
  3. Unless there has been a gross breach, don’t share their name around. There are times when I have shared the name of a particularly dangerous client with other editors to warn them of the person’s unhealthy nature. Don’t complain about people by name, though. And particularly not in public.
  4. Be honest. If the reason is that you just don’t get along with them as a person that’s actually okay. You don’t need to invent reasons.
  5. Pay what you owe. Work like editing, ghostwriting, etc. is not a product you can return to the store; it’s time rather than physical product. Unless the editor has dropped the ball so egregiously that they should be hit with a catfish, don’t try and get out of paying what you owe them. This is also why many editors insist on payment before product delivery. Many of us have clients who squawk and squeal about our work (even if it is on point and correct) and try to weasel out of paying us. “I just don’t like it” is not a valid reason to avoid payment.
  6. Be respectful. Even if your freelancer (or, conversely, client) is driving you up a tree, be unfailingly respectful to them. This will go a lot further for you than slinging mud and becoming rude. That kind of behavior will reflect poorly on you for a very long time while polite but firm language isn’t going to come back to bite you as hard or as certainly.

Having to part ways with someone is tough. There’s no getting around the fact that you’re going to be upsetting someone because that’s just how life goes. However, the more polite, honest, and up front you are about it, the easier the whole process becomes.

 

Giving Up Rights

I have been seeing a lot of misconceptions about contracts in the writing community lately, and I thought I might take a stab at pulling back the veil. One of the things I keep seeing is writers upset that contracts favor the publishing company and not the author. While the publishing company shouldn’t be predatory, the contract should favor the publisher. Before you close this blog in a fit of rage, let me explain why.

Writers are protective of their work, and that’s understandable, commendable, and a good thing. However, when you approach a traditional publisher you need to realize a few things. The first is that when you are traditionally publishing you must understand that you will be giving up some things. This is a reality – a contract must involve both sides giving something up and gaining something, and that is something many writers appear to forget. You give up certain rights to the work in exchange for the support of a traditional publisher. Assuming you are working with a good publisher you are going to be gaining more than you are losing.

Also it seems to be a trend that writers think that publishers should be a service to authors. That’s not how the business works. A publisher is in business to make money and benefit themselves. That’s the crux of the matter – they aren’t in it for you. While they may be altruistic and work to the good of the author they are looking to pay their people, make a profit, and continue working. That means they are going to write contracts to their advantage. That, however, is also because in this deal they are assuming the most financial risk.

Despite the fact that writing the book is an integral part of the process, the writer does not need to pay the overhead involved in publishing it. That’s squarely on the shoulders of the publisher. They pay for editing, typesetting, marketing, distribution, printing, ISBN numbers, cover art, and a hundred other things besides. They are investing a lot of money into this book, and they would like a return on their investment. They don’t want to break even, they want to make a profit. Does that sound mean? In some ways, but if they have half a dozen employees involved in the project they need to pay them, they need to pay the author their royalty, they need to pay for their location, their website, and all the other pieces of doing business. Unlike the author, they have overhead to cover that isn’t even directly related to the book. If they are big enough they have to pay for employee health insurance, retirement packages, taxes, and all sorts of other fees that writers never encounter.

Many writers hate the idea of giving up rights to their book. They argue that publishers don’t deserve subsidiary rights, that they shouldn’t get a penny more than they “deserve”. Unfortunately those people don’t take into account that the publisher, if they are doing their job right, is going to be both the launch pad for their book as well as their partner. The work of writing may be on the author, but the publisher is at least a 50% partner, if not more, in the actual work of publishing.

I don’t mean to make this sound like authors shouldn’t be cautious about giving away their rights. You should, and you should really consider everything you are giving up. But you can’t expect the publisher to foot the bill for everything and then eat scraps from the table of the sales. That’s not really how things work  nor would it be fair.

Assuming your book does amazingly in sales and you skyrocket up to fame don’t they deserve a part of that? If you get a movie deal or people want to translate it internationally, your publisher has been an intimate part of that experience and is the reason you have gotten where you are. Without that help you would either have had to learn how to do all of that yourself or paid others to do it. If you have approached a traditional publisher I assume that’s not what you wanted to do, so you have already made that decision. In that case, doesn’t the person, or group of people, who worked so hard to get you where you are deserve some form of remuneration? I would say it’s only fair.

Of course, all of this is assuming you have a reputable and legitimate publisher who isn’t taking you for all you’re worth and treating you like nonsense. I can’t account for that.

Reading the Fine Print

In the publishing industry we deal with a lot of contracts. Contracts for editing, contracts for publishing, contracts for cover art, contracts for typesetting… We handle a lot of them. It’s actually a big part of the business that doesn’t fit the romantic idea of writing in our underpants while drinking coffee from a mug the size of a whiskey barrel.

Okay, so that image wasn’t all that romantic, but it’s probably what most of us want to be doing right now.

Having worked with several companies as well as freelance work I can say that contracts are a major point of stress for writers and for companies. Writers want to make sure they aren’t getting screwed over, and companies want to make sure they aren’t losing out on rights that they need in order to make a good profit on any book they produce. It’s a wrestling match with each often trying to obtain the upper hand. I’m not going to sugar-coat it and tell you that publishing companies aren’t trying to make a profit on writers because they are. Insomnia tries to make a profit on its authors, so we need to write our contracts to the tune of what we need in order to maximize our ability to do just that.

Conversely, authors want to try and gain the upper hand so that they’re making more than the company because they wrote the manuscript, and it’s theirs. I’m not going to say this is wrong, because authors deserve to make a profit, but I will tell you the honest truth: it isn’t going to happen. If the author has the upper hand on a writing contract the company publishing the book is going to flounder and fail because it costs the publisher a whole lot more to publish a manuscript than it does an author if they’re going the traditional route.

However, I will say that both sides need to protect themselves. It’s important to make sure you read and understand the “fine print”. I’ve seen a lot of contracts that made me cringe both in publishing and in other places. They include clauses that are just inappropriate, and often don’t provide an exit strategy if things aren’t going well. No matter what contract you are signing you should be reading the details. That also includes things like KDP (whose contracts are actually pretty strangling) and other marketing channels as well as printers. There are many places where people in those businesses will try and sneak in bits and pieces limiting where you can market or sell your books. You also need to make sure you are careful selling to brick-and-mortar bookstores because of the whole “selling on consignment” business. I’ll explain that in another post more thoroughly, but I’ve seen and heard of many authors and publishers tanking because of that particular situation.

I am not a lawyer, and I’m really not all that good at “legalese” which is why I have people in my life who are reading the things I sign to make sure I’m not putting my foot in something I shouldn’t be. Whatever you decide to do just make sure you heed the adage of reading the “fine print”. It’s important and will save you a lot of frustration and heartache later.

One of Those Days

I had a great weekend with my friend Selene, her family, and her room mates. On Monday I spent some time with them at their place in Mass, and we had fun hanging out. However, being an introvert I am exhausted. I really like spending time with my friends, but I think most writers will understand when I say that I really want to be home.

I think most writers are introverts, to be honest. Most of us prefer our own little worlds over participating in others. I know this is true with me. Whenever life was difficult when I was a kid (and that was a lot of the time) I retreated into the worlds I created and wrote stories. Whether I acted them out with my toys and dolls, played them out with my friends out in the woods, or wrote them out on my computer it’s all been the same. I do the same thing now, except it has strings attached to it.

I think that’s something we all start fighting with – when we start doing our art and our escape as a business. We want to write because we just want to write, but at the same time when we do so we become tied up in what our target market is, who we are writing for, whether or not it will sell… and it starts to lose its charm. It starts to lose its beauty. A writer whose book I worked on, Luke Reynolds, said a lot of good things in that book. And while I was helping edit it I remembered a great deal about what it was like to write before I started doing it as a business.

These days I am often so overwhelmed with my professional writing and editing that I don’t have the opportunity to really do much writing for myself. This is something I’m struggling with because time management has never been one of my skills. I’ve finally been able start getting up at a more reasonable time (for a long time I was on a bizarre third shift schedule) which means I have more time in the day. However, I’ve still been struggling to organize things.

One of the things about being a full time writer/editor is that I make my own schedule and answer only to myself and my clients. While this might seem like a dream job for a lot of people it’s a nightmare if you have trouble keeping yourself focused and organized. Also, if you have a dry spell your world becomes rather bleak and frustrating. For example, I’ve been struggling for the last week to write my daily Q&A. While I’ve managed it, it’s been impacting my quality a little. This means I fight with it and stress about it. Last night I spent about six hours trying to write 700 words and when I was done it was past my bedtime, and I passed out immediately. I forgot a few things while writing it, too.

Finding my stride in writing and in my newly busy editing and writing schedule is an adventure. Ultimately I think it’ll do me good and at least get me to organize my desk. Speaking of which I should probably get on that…

Perils and Pitfalls: Self Publishing Edition

English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...
A Picture of an eBook(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Authors have a lot of people hawking services to them from the minute they start to the minute they finish. There are people out there that will do everything from sitting with you step by step, to marketing your book, to rewriting the damn thing for you. And probably wiping your nose while they do it.

The cause of this, in my estimation, is the dramatic turnover in the publishing industry. Whereas before in order to be published authors almost had to go the traditional publishing route in order to be considered a “real” book these days the DIY trend is pervasive. This, of course, means that there is a huge influx of writers looking for professional help while they engage in the various stages and flavors of publishing.

In this market there are many people looking to prey on authors that are new, inexperienced, or ignorant of what goes on. There are “editors” that can’t edit, “reviewers” that charge an arm and a leg for reviews, “self publishing” companies that are no better than Publish America, and “cover artists” that steal copyrighted material to make covers with.

How can an author protect themselves in this environment? The best way is to educate yourself. Read, watch, and think about everything you encounter. There are certain things that an author (specifically a self publishing author) needs, but there are a lot of “services” that you can forego. And even more that you may be getting scalped on.

1) Editing

Many writers reference the Freelance Editing Association as the paragon of freelance editing. I don’t know how good their skills are, but I can tell you that their prices are outrageous. If you want to pay that much money to receive editing I won’t stop you, but I can say that there are a lot of very good editors out there that won’t scalp you. I’m one. Also, just because they are in the FEA doesn’t mean that they’re good – anyone can pay the membership fee and join. Unless you have worked with an editor before or have been referred to them by happy clients don’t trust anyone’s abilities until you see them in action. Also, don’t judge us by their blog posts – we write these at midnight while furious at injustice and having drunk too much caffeine.

Another thing I’ve seen with editors is that there are a lot of sub-par editors that charge a lot because they think those are the going rates. These editors miss important and large issues with works, and I don’t mean missing the occasional typo or something; I mean big, sweeping problems. Make sure you see if you can find any reviews of the editor or company before you decide to have them pick up your book, and see if they offer a sample edit. Remember, an editor is like any other service: you are paying them to perform a service. Don’t be cowed by their expertise (whether real or imagined).

2) Cover Design

Cover design can be a HUGE money pit for authors doing freelance work. There are a lot of people out there offering photomanipulated covers for prices in the hundreds, and the work isn’t… bad, but it isn’t amazing. Unfortunately, many of these people are using brushes, photos, fonts, and resources from stock that they didn’t pay for, aren’t crediting properly, or aren’t permitted to use. It’s a common problem. They then sell these covers without licenses to do so, and the author using the cover becomes culpable for the copyright infringement.

Save yourself the trouble and make SURE that the cover artist doing your work (or you, if you’re doing it) have the proper licensing to use everything you are using on your cover.

I won’t comment on the cost of handpainted covers because they are a huge amount of work, and the artist has to speak for themselves since you will have seen their art before commissioning them to design a cover for you.

3) Ebook Conversions

This one I just heard of. Apparently people are charging hundreds of dollars to have their finished manuscripts converted into ebooks. And I don’t mean typesetting – that’s worth hundreds of dollars or more. I just mean strict conversion to ebook format without the typesetting. That made my jaw hit the floor.

The best method I was given was to export your manuscript as an unfiltered HTML document, load it into Calibre (a free, open source program) and format it that way. There is a learning curve, but it won’t cost you anything other than some cursing and effort.

4) Reviews

ALL reputable review sources (magazines, newspapers, etc.) make their money off of sales of their product and advertising, not off of selling reviews. They do not charge authors for them. Unfortunately, some of the larger venues only accept requests for reviews by reputable publishers, and are thus inaccessible to self published authors. However with that being the case you should never, ever, under any circumstances pay for a review. Anyone who is charging you is scalping you. Just don’t do it.

Also, Amazon will remove reviews they discover are paid for, and Amazon doesn’t typically remove reviews for many reasons. I can’t underscore this enough – you are being scammed. You will not make back that money, and the people doing it are not providing you with a serious service.

5) Self Publishing Companies

These aren’t all bad. Some of them can be a huge resource to authors. Others are nightmares waiting to happen a la Publish America. Again, as with all others (except reviewers) read the reviews seriously. Look for people that have used their services, and examine the books that they have helped put out. If they’re full of errors, have ugly covers, and the typesetting looks like a fifth grade paper you have your answer.

Since I offer self publishing services I won’t tell you that we’re all crooks and highwaymen, but just be cautious, and stick with reputable people where you can.

Overall, you just want to pay attention. Look for reviews on the people and services that you think you might be interested in, ask for samples, and don’t part with your money readily just because someone says, “Oh, yeah, you need this for your book!”

The reality is that there are a few things you need. Most of them you don’t have to pay for. As in my previous blog, self publishing comes with unavoidable costs that traditional publishing doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean that all costs associated with self publishing are unavoidable. Or need to be egregious.

It’s Work, Not Disney

Many authors come against a wall, eventually, when they start working to get published. This wall is called the “oh my God, this is actually work?” wall. Okay, well maybe it isn’t the official title, I’m sure I’ll think of something snappy later.

Most writers think about how great it would be to be the next Stephen King or J. K. Rowling (I know I have) but very few of them actually consider just how much real, grueling work it is to get there. I don’t just mean learning how to write and sprucing up your grammar, I mean rewriting your story so many times you never, ever, want to see it again when it’s finished.

“But it suuucks!” Yes. Yes it does. Unfortunately, writing isn’t a trip to Disney land. While it’s a labor of love, or even a hobby, it’s still a kind of work. You can’t just set it like a cruise missile and assume that once you type “the end” and save your document that the process will be over. Even after your work has been published, it’s still not over (you need to drum up readers, for a start).

Many authors I encounter sum up things in a simple “that’s too much work”. I have had people send me “queries” that are simply their manuscript attached to a blank email and when I responded, asking that they follow the query process, they said, succinctly, “It’s too much work. I can’t be bothered.” If that’s the attitude that is common, then I’m sad to tell you that you’ll never be published outside very small lit. journals or maybe Publish America.

The reality is that the hard part comes after you type “the end” and close the document. Why? Because you have to edit it. And editing, my friends, is miserable. Before anyone else (except maybe a few trusted individuals) even see your work, you should be proofreading it for grammar mistakes and other such problems. However, it won’t be until you have someone reading it that is able to see your flaws (“this plot has a hole the size of Canada!”, “why do you kill BobJoe off in chapter two and have him come back in chapter seven?”) and then, what’s worse, is that you have to go in and correct them.

Once that’s all been done, and you have a publisher say “hell yes” to your manuscript, you have to go through yet another round of editing, this round almost more grueling than the last because this editor knows what they’re talking about. Theoretically. If you’ve got friends that are professional editors and willing to assist you then that’s grand and dandy, you might escape the worst of this “round two” because you’ll have caught these errors ahead of time. There is, of course, also the possibility of hiring a freelance editor (like yours truly) to do work on your manuscript and help you out in this phase, too. But most writers don’t go that route and instead have their friends try and weed out the worst of the mistakes.

The unfortunate truth is that being an author is like any other job, in some respects. You have certain duties, you have certain responsibilities and if you don’t maintain a degree of professionalism and quality in what you’re turning out, you will be “fired”. Of course “fired”  has different forms, like being dropped from a publisher or never being published to begin with. It’s also not a very high-paying job unless you’re Dean Koontz (don’t we all wish we were!) so expect long, grueling hours for a very small paycheck.

But with all this said, if writing is your passion, then the work isn’t as bad. It’s there, it’s rough, but it’s worthwhile the moment you get the “We are interested in publishing your work” letter from a publisher (a real publisher…) and see your name on a front cover. Worth. Every. Second.