a few things, mostly short

serial publishing

Following up on her earlier post (which I talked about here), Audry Taylor has a new post called "The return of the serial – to big publishing." Important reading if you're interested in serial publishing.

netflix should offer these two in a single envelope

I just (re)watched Match Point and Scoop back-to-back, and it is really the best way to watch them, because they are the same movie – not because Woody was being lazy, but because that's the point, as I talked about here.

a novel is not a sacred text

I've seen a few blog posts here and there commenting that David Fincher's upcoming remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo changes the ending, which is apparently causing a furor among the Larsson purists. Well, the original movie changed a lot of things, mostly for the better, and if the part being changed is what is reported (I'm avoiding spoilers), then I'll say that in the book it was a really bad idea on a number of levels, and good for them if they changed it (the original movie did).

It reminds me of the people who got all worked up that the movie of Watchmen didn't exactly follow the ending of the original comic book. Hey, the movie ending was better. They kept the overwhelming cynicism (if that's what you're into), but at least they got rid of the giant squid monster thingie, replacing it with something better. Good for them. The Lord of the Rings movies made a lot of changes also, and some are for the better. Some aren't, but that's how it goes.

Occasionally it works when you film exactly what's on the page (The Maltese Falcon is really close to the book), but mostly you do need to make a film out of it. Making a movie by just filming the book is like a band with a really good stage act going into a recording studio to record their set as they play it for audiences, thinking it will make a great album. Mostly it doesn't.

what marketing is (and isn't)

I read an interesting post on Stephen Watkins' blog called "Clearing the Waters: Marketing with Traditional Publishers vs. Digital Self-Publishing." In it, he breaks down the common "Even if I get published by a major I'm going to have to do the marketing myself, so why not self-publish?" argument.

I won't try to summarize all of his points (anybody who's wrestling with the decision of how to publish should read the whole post), but he does break down the common idea that "Marketing == Promotion." Marketing has four components, as he details, which are Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. He invited comment by people who have experience with any of these, and while I'm almost completely ignorant about three of them, I do have some experience with Product, since I have published a book, called A Sane Woman.

Which is good, by the way, and you should check it out. You'll like it.

(That's a sample of my Promotion, so I'll move along to Product now.)

First of all, A Sane Woman is an actual book, on paper, and as Stephen points out, there are advantages, but I'll start with questions that apply to all kinds of books, hard copy and digital. I'm leaving out the actual conversion to the various digital formats, since I have not yet published an e-book. But, in any case, Stephen (referring to publishing in general) talks about: "...Editing, Copy-editing, Type-setting, Cover Art, Art Direction, Interior Art, and of course Printing, along with others I’m too inexperienced to remember to point out. The author may have some input into each of these aspects, but collectively all of these non-writing inputs are the Publisher’s responsibility. Some writers prefer to have more input on these activities. And that’s great. But they’re not the writer’s job. Self-published authors, of course: all of these are your responsibility. You may like that. And that’s great. Or it may be a whole lot of extra work you’d rather not worry about. That’s a decision you’ll have to make for yourself. For those that would prefer to have this control, self-publication is a great option. For those for whom this extra non-writing work is a hassle, be aware of this before you choose to self-publish."

All of this is true, but I would add the important qualification that the desire to do any of these things for yourself (and I would add proofreading to the list) does not equal the ability to do them. Frankly, for any of these things, you have two options. Hire professionals (and professionals of course cost money), or produce a product which will not appear to be professional.

Because two facts are unquestionably true (I've read about this on other blogs, but can't recall where offhand, or I'd include links):

1) Even professionally produced books have mistakes (Inherent Vice, a professionally published book by a major author, has three typos, for example).

2) Self-publishers don't get the benefit of the doubt in this area. Nobody is going to dismiss The Penguin Press as a bunch of irrelevant amateurs because of a few typos, but they will dismiss a self-publisher for the same reasons.

Okay, make it three.

3) If your book is not professionally edited and proofed, it will almost certainly have more (and more embarrassing) errors than Inherent Vice does. Will this matter to your readers? Some of them, yes, but it is more likely to matter to any potential reviewers.

Well, say you do pay for professional help in these areas, then you still have to deal with Price, Place, and Promotion.

But what about real books? If you decide to go digital-only, is that because you think hard copy books are now irrelevant, or because digital-only seems doable for self-publishing and paper doesn't?

(I'm not making any proclamations on whether the future of publishing is paper or digital or both, by the way – I have no idea. But if you're dismissing the way books have been delivered to readers for hundreds of years, I'd think it would be a good idea, from a professional standpoint, to have some data to back up that decision.)

If you do decide to do hard copy (in addition to or instead of digital), then you have all the tasks mentioned above to deal with, plus you have to design a book. There's the cover, of course (which you need for ebooks also), but there's also the interior pages. What font, what font size, what leading, what margins, how much indent? What about widows and orphans and bad breaks? Not only how to spot them, but also how to fix them in a way that doesn't make readers cringe. How many hyphens are acceptable in a single paragraph?

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. I've done desktop publishing professionally since before Microsoft Windows existed, but I had to learn a lot of new things to do A Sane Woman. And ASW is not a professional product, which is deliberate. I love the cover (which I did not draw), but no professionally-produced book looks like that these days, which is the idea.

Amateur has two meaning, after all. It can mean lacking in experience or competence, or it can mean someone who engages in a pursuit out of enthusiasm rather than as a profession. This is the sense in which Jim Jarmusch (possibly my favorite living movie director) calls himself an amateur, and that's an honorable route to choose.

And ASW has been extensively and carefully proofed, by the way, including by professionals. The punctuation rules diverge from the Chicago Manual of Style in a couple of ways, but that's deliberate.

But if you do choose the professional route you will be held to professional standards, and that's important to keep in mind when deciding if self-publishing is the best way to go.

Oh, and check out A Sane Woman. It's available for e-readers for free, and in hard copy for the modest price of $10.00.

(If you can think of a way I could give away a hard copy book without losing money, let me know.)

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4 Responses to a few things, mostly short

  1. sonje says:

    I think I will have to see the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movie. I was thinking about reading the book but I hear that the first half or so is extremely boring, and I’ve lost most of my patience with books like that. Unless I’m writing them of course. (Bada boom!) I think I’ll see the Swedish version of it.

    I remember watching the Lord of the Rings movies and thinking, “Why are they doing so many really, REALLY stupid things?” It’s been many years since I’ve seen the movies now, but I seem to remember repeated instances of “This is a very dangerous/unstable thing we’re trying to cross/get through. We better go fast,” and then Frodo always being the last to cross when it was at its most dangerous/unstable. I was like, “Why isn’t he going first? Or at least second if you want someone expendable to go first? This is just stupid.” Anyway, then I read the books and all those stupid things weren’t in the text, and I felt better about Tolkien.

    • I recommend seeing the Dragon Tattoo movie. I can’t speak for the remake vs. the original (the remake isn’t even out yet, and I’m not sure if I’ll see it or not), but it’s a really good story and definitely worth seeing. I know I keep harping on the novel’s weaknesses, but that’s only because the plot, characters, and ideas were so strong. That’s why Larsson’s weaknesses as a novelist are so annoying, because they hampered him in telling a very good story. If the story had been lousy, I wouldn’t really care.

      If you do see the movie, let me know what you think of it.

      I laughed when I read your point about the Lord of the Rings movies, since those things never bothered me at the time, but the minute I read your comment I thought of three instances from the first movie alone. I had other complaints about the movies, but in general I liked them, and they got some things pretty magnificently right.

  2. Good thoughts on the specifics of crafting the physical product of a book. Not having had any experience, as yet, in that arena, I couldn’t comment on them directly (and plus, even if I could, the post was long enough without), but it’s interesting to see further example of how difficult it really is to do on your own. So Kudos to you for doing it.

  3. Well, I’m definitely not a book designer, but I have relevant professional skills both in laying out pages and in proofreading text.

    I am, in a way, more vain about that than I am about my writing. If somebody reads A Sane Woman and finds a plot hole, or an unconvincing character, or some awkward dialogue, I’d make note of it to learn from for the future. If somebody finds a really bad typo, I’d probably fix it. 🙂

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