Saturday, May 17, 2014

Pecking Order in the World of Publishing

 It happens everywhere in just about everything we humans do. A pecking order is established--someone or someones have to be on top, superior, which means someone has to be on the bottom--inferior, less than. I've been observing this in the world of publishing for a while now.

I looked for a definition of pecking order and here's what I found:
the order of power within a group; the order of power or importance within a group of people or animals.

In the beginning, to be a true author, you had to have an agent who represented you and your work to a 'traditional' publishing house and your book was published in hardback. You'd made it--you were an author. You were important.

Then small independent presses cropped up and writers no longer needed an agent to get their work submitted and, potentially, published. Authors who were published with the big 'traditional' houses said, "Wait, you're not an author. You haven't paid your dues. You haven't received enough rejection. You don't even have an agent." And, so, the pecking order began.

Enter the advent of e-publishing and ebooks. Small electronic presses open their doors and say, "Submit your book to us. You don't need an agent. If we deem your book worthy, we'll publish you electronically and, in some instances, even in trade paperback through print on demand. You'll receive editing services and professional cover art just like the authors with the big 'traditional' publishers. Was this true across the board? Not really. Let's be honest. Vanity presses began to offer major publishing deals that turned out to be fee-for-service packages anyone with a book could purchase. Some of the small presses and the e-publishers did and still do offer quality editing and cover art. Some do not. I know this because I've read lots of ebooks published by several e-publishers. Some are well done and others not worth the megabytes in terms of quality. Frankly, I believe the same is true with traditional houses, though perhaps less so.

And, now, we come to self-publishing. Anyone with a computer can publish a book. And, so, many do. Let's not forget the pecking order, though. Now those who went the route of small independent presses and e-publishers say, "Wait, you're not an author. Your work isn't vetted by a real publisher. It isn't edited by a real editor." There are a lot of complaints about the poor quality of some books that are self-published and how this avenue to publishing has glutted the market with poorly written and/or poorly edited work. With this point, I somewhat agree.

Quality is always of concern in publishing. With sixteen books published by three e-publishers, I recently stepped into the self-publishing arena. Gasp! I've learned a lot from that initial experience. Editing is essential. Good cover art is essential, but need not be costly. Some of my colleagues would say I've taken a step backward, should turn in my 'author card.' I'm a traitor to the profession.

It's probably a good thing I don't care that much what other people think of my choices. Here's what I know. I know that there are some very good 'traditional' (for lack of a better word to describe what has been called the 'big 6') publishers out there who employ professionals to take your book and make it into something as perfect and desirable as possible. I know there are small presses and e-publishers who do much the same thing on a smaller scale. There are also small presses and e-publishers who produce sub-standard work. I know there are writers out there publishing their own work without care or concern for the technical quality of that work. Not everyone can or should write a book. It is that simple. I know there are authors who are previously published with a publishing house who, for whatever reason (having more control over their work, reaping greater benefit with regard to royalties, expanding their publishing options), opt to self-publish. And they do it the right way by ensuring their work is edited and their cover art is professionally done.

The common denominator for every author today is Marketing and Promotion. I'm not the only nobody on Facebook or Twitter or other social medias pushing my books. I'm a nobody standing there alongside current and former New York Times bestselling authors who are doing exactly the same thing. Competition is a great leveler.

Those authors who self-publish find themselves, often, on the bottom of the pecking order. Is there a certain snobbery in publishing. Yes. It is true for everyone. No. At the end of the day, it's really just all of us chickens in the coop trying to hatch our next masterpiece. 

Would it be fair for me to say that all authors who are 'traditionally' published by the big houses are snobs? No. Would it be fair of me to assume that all authors published by the small presses and e-publishers are there because they are 'not good enough' to make it to the bigger houses? No. Then how is it fair of anyone to assume that an author who chooses to self-publish does so because they're work is so bad, a publisher doesn't want it? It isn't. We do a great disservice to one another when we generalize and assume one's lack of ability, talent or, yes, importance, based upon the road they choose to get to the same goal.

I should add here that I am very happy for my friends who are published with the bigger houses and have agent representation. I'm equally happy for my friends who are with small, independent presses and e-publishers. And I am happy for those who have taken the self-publishing route and done it the 'right' way--meaning giving care and attention to the editing and cover art. I'm happy for myself that I've done both small press and self-publishing and plan to continue both. I've been blessed with some very good editors and cover artists, for the most part.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Writing Strong Female Characters

I'm very pleased to welcome Women's Fiction author Ellen Butler who talks about strong female characters. (My favorite kind!) She's also running a promotional giveaway, so be sure to enter.

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As an author of Women’s Fiction and Romance, I’ve found that I tend to develop strong female characters. Women who have high profile jobs, that require a post-graduate degree, or entrepreneurs who run their own companies. I like to create women with gifts of intelligence and creativity. Why am I drawn to these types of characters? Perhaps, it’s because I like the idea of empowering my characters. I don’t care for wall flowers who allow life to happen to them. Do my characters have flaws? Of course, just as everyone is flawed, my strong women aren’t perfect, and sometimes they even run away from their problems before facing them head on. Who, after all, hasn’t procrastinated making a tough decision or telling an awful truth at one time or another?  I write women like this because it’s important to show that women can accomplish whatever they want, and finding love in the process of achieving their dreams is simply the cherry on top.

Friendships with other females can be some of the most important relationships in a woman’s life, which is one of the reasons that I tend to provide strong female bonds in my books as well. Personally, I’ve developed friendships with other female authors who I find are the embodiment of my empowered characters. These women run the gamut; retirees, full-time moms, single parents, wives, grandmothers, working two jobs, lawyers, bankers, journalists, the list goes on and on. The one thing I find we all have in common is our ability to support and promote each other all the time. We empower each other to continue striving for greatness, and better ourselves in doing so. Publishing is a tough business, and the more we can help other women achieve their goals the closer we’ll be to achieving our own.

Linda, thank you for hosting me at One Woman’s Write, and allowing me to share my new novel Poplar Place with your readers. The main character, Cara Baker, is one empowered lady!

Excerpt for Poplar Place

“What do you know about the tenant?”
“His name is…”
At that, Jackie came out of her speechlessness with a vengeance. “His name! The tenant is male?”
“Well, yes, but he’s harmless. As a matter of fact, he’s a recluse. You probably wouldn’t even notice him. You see, he’s some sort of computer programmer and rarely leaves the house. His groceries are delivered once a week.” Anne gave a reassuring smile.
“Great. Some creepy computer nerd that plays games all day lives on the third floor,” Jackie said derisively.
I looked at Anne. “Is he agoraphobic?”
Jackie looked confused. “Agora-what?
“Agoraphobic. Does he have a phobia of going outside his home?”
Anne took a moment to respond. “I don’t really know. I do know that twice a week his psychiatrist comes to the house to see him.”
“Who’s his shrink?” Jackie asked.
“Dr. Nolan from downtown on Bradford Street.”
Silence descended as we chewed on this information. I looked at the small wrought iron balcony jutting out from the third floor.
“What’s his name?”
“Dr. Jeffrey Nolan,” responded Anne.
“No, the tenant’s.”
“Oh, let me see. It’s right here in my file.” Anne searched through her files. “Yes, this is it. Daniel Johnson.”
“I can’t see the apartment at all?”
“I have photos that were taken by Mr. Stein before the tenant moved in. You can at least see what the finished space looks like. It has a small kitchen, two bedrooms, a den, a bath and a half and a large living room. All the utilities for the attic are billed directly to the tenant, except for sewer and water.”
“How much does he pay in rent?”
Referring back to her notes, Anne named a price that temporarily stunned me. The rent he paid would completely cover my monthly mortgage.
“There’s also an automatic three percent increase in rent every three years.”
“Is he ever late?” Jackie jumped back into the conversation.
“No. Never. From what I understand from Max, he pays punctually on the first of the month.”
I mulled over this new piece of information. “When can I meet Mr. Johnson?”
“Well, that’s the rub. He doesn’t see anyone besides his psychiatrist. I understand Mr. Stein met him when he moved in, but Max seems to think he keeps to himself and he’s not sure his father ever saw much of him.”
“Can I speak to Mr. Johnson on the phone?”
Anne brightened for a moment. “I have his e-mail address. I’m sure I could give you that.”
Jackie snorted but I pressed on, “Can I talk to his psychiatrist?”
“Cara!” exclaimed Jackie. “You can’t actually be thinking about buyin’ this house with this ridiculous condition.”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I am thinking very seriously about buying this house. Obviously, Mr. Stein, a well-known local lawyer, thought enough of Mr. Johnson to give him a ten-year lease. Clearly, the third floor is a full working apartment, quite separate from the rest of the house. Most importantly, the rent from the apartment would provide me a second income.”
Seeing a live one on the line, Anne began thrusting documents at me. “Here’s the floor plan Mr. Stein used when he had it finished. Here are some color copies of the finished product. I have the full color photos back at the office if you’d like to see them.”
“But…but,” Jackie stammered, “he could turn out to be some sort of lunatic that will murder you in the middle of the night. Or maybe…maybe he has that pack rat illness and the attic is full of newspapers and garbage…and RATS! The house could turn into a foul-smelling pigsty. Or maybe he’s runnin’ a meth lab up there!” Jackie pointed one of her pink manicured fingers at Anne. Turning back to me, she continued on her rant. “That’s it! Drugs! The police will descend upon you at three in the mornin’, guns a-blazin’, and the entire house will be blown to bits durin’ the raid.”
“This isn’t a war, Jackie. I’m sure Mr. Stein wouldn’t have allowed a drug dealer to live on his third floor. Right, Anne?” I calmly eyed Anne who shrank back into her chair during Jackie’s rant.

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Ellen Butler lives in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, and she considers herself an old-new writer. In other words, she’s old to writing, new to novel writing. She holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and Policy, and her history includes a long list of writing and editing for dry but illuminating professional newsletters, and windy papers on public policy. The leap to novel writing was simply a creative outlet for Ellen’s over active and romantic imagination to run wild.

You can find Ellen’s debut release, Second Chance Christmas, at Amazon. Professionally, she belongs to the Virginia Writer’s Club, the Northern Virginia Writer’s Club, and is a founding member of the Tempting Romance blog. When she’s not writing, Ellen is either, running around after her children, decorating a neighbor’s house, or holed up in her favorite lounge chair reading. Ellen is an admitted chocoholic and confesses to a penchant for shoe shopping. Book club questions for Ellen’s novels can be found on her website.

**I’m running a promotional give away. Readers can enter through the Rafflecopter link below.