Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ups and Downs

                                                by Laura Crum

            Isn’t life just a series of these? We had a lovely ride on the beach this week along with the news that our friend/boarder, Wally, must go in for knee surgery ASAP. So we went from this:

            To the sad acknowledgement that our summer will be very different than we planned.Wally will be 80 this year and though we are all hoping that the surgery will return him to riding and roping, we also know that it is not a certain thing. So it was a bittersweet moment to see Wally and Twister wading in the surf. 

My son and I will keep on riding, of course, but many of our horseback activities included Wally, and won’t be the same without him. Here we are headed out to gather the roping cattle. That’s my son and Henry on the left and Wally and Twister on the right.

            And Sunny’s ears, of course, as we look for cattle. Can’t have too many ear photos, right?

            My uncle Todd and our friend Mark roping a steer.

            Anyway, in other news we went from down to up. As some of you know, last year my entire mystery series—twelve books about the adventures of equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy—became available as Kindle editions. I was pretty happy about this. I have spent the last twenty years of my life writing these books, and it was really gratifying to me that not only was the whole series once again available to readers at a reasonable price, BUT I was also making a little bit of money on every sale. As you may know, an author doesn’t make a cent on used book sales or books borrowed from the library, and though I did not and do not resent readers who read my series this way (not at all—I’m just grateful they read my stories), I will admit that it was a bit galling to be making NO money off my backlist. Authors, in general, don’t make much money, but it is very pleasing to make a little bit from your books—sort of validates your work.
            I am not an “indie” author. Twenty years ago a major New York publisher bought my first book, Cutter, and proceeded to buy the next seven novels in the series. I’m afraid that I state this fact with some pride. My apologies to all the excellent indie authors out there—and I know you exist—but there is a BIG difference between deciding that a book you have written is good enough to be published-- and publishing it yourself-- as opposed to having your book chosen out of thousands of candidates by an editor who has been in the business a very long time, and is willing to pay you for the privilege of publishing your novel.
            This is not to say that some “indie” books are not better than some traditionally published books. I have no doubt at all that this is true. But it is not very hard to understand that there is a slight drawback to a system in which the author is the only judge of his/her own work. Even if all the author’s friends/family like the work (and write positive reviews), and an editor who has been paid by the author likes the work…well, let’s just say I see a hole in this process and I’m sure you do, too.
            On the other hand, traditional publishing has created a climate that is VERY unfriendly to authors. I should know—I’ve been in this business for over twenty years. I spent years acquiring a literary agent, and another year while she sent the book around to various publishing houses and got the usual rejections. And I was one of the lucky ones. A big publishing house DID eventually buy my book (s). I like to think this is because they were worthy of publication (well, I would think that, wouldn’t I), but the truth may be that I was lucky.
            In any case, I do understand why authors are so keen to take the “indie” route now through ebooks. No years of hoops to jump through, no rejections, and a fair royalty on every copy you sell. So much easier, and in some ways, so much more fair than traditional publishing. So I get that. Its just that those of us who did jump through the hoops and got that blue ribbon are sometimes a little, shall we say, cynical, when indie authors talk about themselves as “published” authors. When I got started in the publishing biz, “self-published” was a word with a huge stigma.
            Once again, I am not intending to insult the excellent indie authors out there. Some of your books are no doubt much better written than my books. However, I’m sure you can see my overall point.
            For me, it was not a case of deciding my work was good enough to be published (an experienced mystery editor had made that call years ago), but rather deciding that my backlist, which was out of print (and the rights had reverted to me), ought to be put up on Kindle and made available to readers once again. And perhaps, just perhaps, I could make a small amount of money from these books that I had worked so hard to produce.
            So I did the work to get my first eight books up as Kindle editions and the small checks came in and it was all good. Until my former publisher claimed the rights to a few of these books.
            I’m going to make a long story short and say that it took several months and some negotiating, but we all remained civil and pleasant and no lawyers were involved. And eventually the company agreed that the rights were mine. So after a period of frustration I am happy to announce that the 6th, 7th and 8th books in my series—Breakaway, Hayburner and Forged—are once again available as Kindle editions for $2.99 each.

            Quite a few people had written to me in the last couple of months asking why they couldn’t find the books as Kindle editions, so, to make it easier for you, I am providing the links and a short description of each book. You can click on the titles to find the Kindle edition.
            My sixth book, Breakaway, is by far the darkest of all my novels, and the crime on which the plot turns is pretty twisted. People either love this book or hate it. Those who have been through a depression themselves are more apt to love it. And I must add that, weird though it is, the strange event that the book describes did take place in real life at a barn where I once kept my horses.
            The seventh book in the series, Hayburner, is as close to an erotic novel as I have ever written. (Disclaimer here—this is not really an erotic novel; my books are pretty much straight up mysteries, but it is as close to that form of writing as I ever got.) There may be quite a bit from my own life woven into this story. And once again, the central crime around which the plot turns did actually happen out at our family ranch when I was a teenager.
            And the eighth novel, Forged, involves a scenario that many horse people will relate to. Your classic always late, hard drinking, womanizing farrier (not that my farrier is anything like this, but I have known the type) gets murdered in Gail’s barn, while in the process of shoeing her horse. There is no shortage of suspects, as you can imagine.
            All three books feature much riding through the coastal hills and beaches and every bit of material about horses is drawn from my life and is absolutely accurate (the horses themselves are real horses). You won’t find horses talking and solving crimes here. You will find some thrilling horseback chase scenes in all three books.

            And for those who would like to start the series at the beginning, the first two books, Cutter and Hoofprints, are currently on sale for 99 cents each. Click on the titles to find the books. 

The series, in order, is Cutter, Hoofprints, Roughstock, Roped, Slickrock, Breakaway, Hayburner, Forged, Moonblind, Chasing Cans, Going Gone and Barnstorming.

            Those of you have read some or all of these books, I would love it if you would comment and point out strengths and weaknesses. And if anybody has time to put up a review on Amazon or Goodreads, I would be very grateful. Many thanks to those who have already done so!


Unknown said...

I am in the middle of the second book right now. Love it!

AareneX said...

As the author of an indie-published book AND a traditionally published book (not a horse book, it's the "Sex in the Library" book forthcoming from VOYA Press this summer), I totally understand where you're coming from...and I offer this:

The book industry has changed tremendously in the last five years and it continuing to change. Traditional publishers for the most part aren't *getting* this. They are not changing any of the ways they do business. Publishers have always been gatekeepers, determining what information and stories are available...and they don't, in general, make the decisions based on what is true or good or right or important. They print whatever they think will make money.

In the case of the Gail McCarthy books, they thought they could make money from a well-written murder mystery with a horse on the cover. Fair enough.

Good luck getting Gail McCarthy accepted by a publisher today, though. They think they know what readers will buy, and that's what they publish--and horse fiction is pretty much not on that list now. The publishers don't really know what readers want, and they still behave as if they can DICTATE what readers get. But that just ain't true anymore.

Now there is a way for lovers of horse fiction to find the books they want, even when publishers deny them: indie! Yes, I daresay the vast majority of what used to be called "vanity press" books are pretty dreadful. But some aren't. Publishers can continue to guard their gate--that's fine. But readers now know that they can walk around the side of the gate and buy whatever they want to read. And that's fine, too.

As an author of both kinds of books, I gotta say that I *love* the control that is available with an indie-published book. The horse book is *exactly* the book I wanted--because, even without a traditional publisher, it wasn't a solo project. The photographer isn't just some yabbo with a phone camera, she's an artist who designed the cover, the layout, and created the internal art as well as arranging the photos to go with my text---and allowed me to tweak the text to support the photos. You don't get that kind of control with most trad publishers.

The editor on the horse project is a poet by day, and it SHOWS in the changes she made to my text. My "traditional" publisher declined to hire the poet, and used an in-house staff member instead--somebody who fixed my comma splices, but didn't really improve the text otherwise. The result: the trad-published book is well-written and funny and timely and useful to the intended audience. But it's not as good as it could have been.

Ah, well. I've got another book in the pipe now. Guess which route I'll take for publishing it?

Laura Crum said...

Thank you, Cindy D! Glad you are enjoying my stories. I really appreciate the feedback.

Aarene--I agree with every point you make. You are one of the excellent indie authors I was thinking about when I wrote the post. And I think you can see my point as well.

I will add to what you said that traditional publishing has very much changed for the worse, since I "broke in" twenty years ago. Most of the big houses have merged and I believe there are maybe three actual separate entities left (?) You are right that I probably could not sell my series today--in fact it is MUCH harder to break in to traditional publishing now than it was twenty years ago--especially with a mystery series of any kind--let alone a horse-themed series.

Also, it was terribly frustrating to me that in my days with that big NY publisher I had NO control over the cover. Some of my covers were great and some were awful. One of them portrayed a cutting horse with an English saddle (!) And since most readers believe that an author controls his/her cover, I'm sure a great many knowledgeable readers instantly assumed I was terribly ignorant about horses. Yuck. I also, like you, was handed some TERRIBLE copy-editors by the big publishing house (also some good ones). It was very frustrating.

So yes, I hear you. But the fact remains that absolutely anyone can self-publish a book, and yes, that means some very awful things are put up alongside legitimate work, and if said "awful" author can get enough friends/family to post positive reviews, how is the poor potential reader to tell one thing from another?

RiderWriter said...

Having just tried to read an indie book last week (published by the father of the friend), I thought I'd chime in the discussion. This was not a terrible book, nor extremely badly-written; in fact, the author had a very unique story to tell and I loved the theme. My problem lay in the fact that I swear no one else had proofed the thing. I mean, there were missing words, misspellings and other glaring gaffes that a high schooler could have picked up. It needed some editing too, of course, but the lack of proofing was enough for me to abandon the book. Call me a snob but I just can't stand that!

Anyway, I applaud anyone who actually finishes writing a book. I know it's next-to-impossible to get one past the gatekeepers at the big houses nowadays, so extra props to anyone who perseveres. I can't blame anybody who goes the indie route now, but for pete's sake, get somebody else who even semi-knows what they are doing to look over the darn thing before you hit print!

F.J. Thomas said...

It wasn't until the last couple of years that I've gotten serious about writing. I've had a few articles published but that's it. In 2011 I finally wrote my first book (Non-fiction) and in 2012 started writing children's books and seriously re-writing a fiction novel.I read all the info I could find on agents and in 2011 started querying agents and have yet to get an offer.

I hesitate to go the self publishing route because I agree with what you're saying. Too, I'll be honest I'm somewhat intimidated by the formatting requirements.

I think in your situation where your work has been published but it's out of print and you're bringing it back is a prime example of self publishing at it's greatest. I'm going to have to get your books - they sound fantastic!

mikki925 said...

I loved this post. First of all, good luck to Wally. I hope he and Twister will be back riding with you soon.

I finished writing a book in November - well, almost finished it, I'm still struggling with final edits - and have been back and forth on whether or not to spend months or years trying to get it picked up by a publisher or just go the "easy" route. I don't have complete confidence in what I've written and don't know if anyone but me (and my husband, who read it and thought it was great...I know, he kinda had to!) will be interested in it. So I'm grateful for what you and AareneX had to offer on the subject. Hopefully by the time I think it's ready to be read by someone more critical than hubby, I'll have made up my mind.

Laura Crum said...

RiderWriter--Yes, one of the big problems with indie books is that not everyone is Aarene. She is very experienced in the book business, being a librarian, and she hired a competent editor...etc. But as you so fairly point out, not all indie authors bother with this. It sort of the big hole in the process that I was trying to pint out.

FJ Thomas and mikki--I am going to be up front about the fact that I would probably go the indie route if I were getting started today. I would hire a competent editor and do pretty much what Aarene did. Big publishing is really in a terrible state and it is next to impossible to break in.

That said, I still feel there is a difference between an author whose work has been judged publishable by an independent professional not paid by the author and an author who has chosen to self-publish. As I said over on facebook, its as if you have jumped through all the hoops and spent the years to get your veterinary degree, and someone who is just out of high school hangs up their shingle calling themselves a vet right next to yours. I think you'd be a tad resentful if people acted as if that other person's claim to be a vet was as good as yours. On the other hand, if, over the years, it became obvious the non-accredited vet was just as competent (or more) at treating animals, you would probably acknowledge (if you weren't too defensive) that their claim to be a vet was as good as yours. I guess I see indie authors in the same basic way.

HHmstead said...

I've loved to write my entire life. Starting out with letters to my Grandparents on a weekly basis - then writing "horse" themed stories while in primary school. Now, I feel totally overwhelmed with the quality of the writers who are already published & intimidated by what I see as a saturated market place - at least when it comes to equine material of any sort! :-) So, though I often think that I'll quit blogging - it's still my "outlet" - whether anyone reads it or not - I do get some personal satisfaction in recording my horse experiences...

F.J. Thomas said...

Just downloaded Breakaway. Your comments earlier intrigued me! I can't wait to read it!

Laura Crum said...

HHmstead--I really enjoy reading your blog! I actually love reading and writing horse themed blog posts more than I enjoy reading and writing fiction nowadays. I'm not sure why. I read fiction (particularly mysteries) voraciously for many, many years. And I've spent the last twenty years writing my mystery series. So maybe I'm just a little burned out on fiction? During the years I was writing the series, I tried to weave everything interesting in my own life into the stories, as well as craft an exciting mystery. I guess I'll let readers say whether I succeeded or not.

FJ Thomas--Thanks so much. I would love to know what you think of the book. As I said earlier, its one that people either love or hate. It deals with depression and a pretty twisted crime. Most of my stories are more upbeat.

Alison said...

Good luck to Wally!

Glad you brought up the 'indie' author conundrum. You never shy away from any topic. :)

As for anyone who wants to publish -- I've written, published and edited over 60 manuscripts for 35 years. If you need someone to proofread, let me know! (not for free, of course. :(

Laura Crum said...

Alison--Yeah I know--the indie author thing is really a hot button topic. Said indie authors do NOT like it when it is correctly pointed out that "indie" is just a version of the once despised "self-published." I just don't see the point in pretending. But...this does not take away from the fact that any given indie book may be far better than any given traditionally published book.

mikki925 said...

Laura, thank you for being so frank. I have been leaning toward the the self-publishing route just because it's quicker and easier. Also, my husband is in marketing, so I hope I would have a slight advantage in that area.

But I'm with you - I would love to be able to say that my book was published by an actual publishing house. It just seems a lot more prestigious, since literally anyone can self-publish a book. That is just a fact. Right now, at least, there is a lot more validation in being a traditionally published author.

It seems like the industry is ripe for an overhaul, though. Perhaps self-publishing will be the change it needs. With social media being the giant engine for publicity that it is now, it's not so impossible to get an indie book noticed like it once was. Like AareneX pointed out, the publishers think they can still dictate what they think the public wants, but things have definitely changed in that regard.

Alison, I might take you up your editing offer. After reading an indie book that was so full of errors that I couldn't get past the first quarter of the book - for example, the author had done a search-and-replace to capitalize the word "Act" without confirming each one, so the text was full of things like characters "reActing" to things - I never want to send a book out into the world that isn't as perfect as it can be. I may not be the next JK Rowling, but by golly my grammar, spelling and punctuation can be impeccable!

Laura Crum said...

mikki925--I think that self-publishing an ebook with the help of a competent editor (like Alison) is probably the most logical way to go in today's climate--especially if you can market it effectively. And traditional publishing is CERTAINLY ripe for an overhaul--I couldn't agree more. There are also smaller presses--and some of them may be an effective way to go. Good luck!