Anthology Woes: Amazon Try to Rule the World!

When I started out on the Anthology Project (back in early 2007) I did so with enthusiasm and excitement. For several years, I had been trying to help writers become published and finally, I believed, I had found the way to do just that.

Whilst receiving and reading submissions for the project, I was also spending hours and hours combing the internet to find the right printer for the job. There are so many printers out there, but when I read the small print I was surprised by the charges involved and the odd terms that didn’t sit right with me. I continued my search, widening it to include reading what other people’s experiences were and this narrowed the market for me considerably.

From memory I ended up with three possibilities. None of them were perfect, but these three sounded better than all the rest and the reviews were more positive too. For reasons I can’t remember, I settled on Lulu. I set about creating an account and started a “fake” project so that I knew the process well before doing the real thing. In all honesty, the process was mostly painless even if it was time consuming.

The anthology was published on 25 July 2008. And that’s when my excitement truly started to wane.

Suddenly, everyone at Lulu was complaining that the distribution service had changed; it had gone downhill…and quickly. It is clearly stated on the Lulu website that books published by them will appear on Amazon and other online bookstores within 6 to 8 weeks. The anthology appeared within three weeks so it wasn’t an outright lie. However, it showed an “out of print” status and no one, no matter how eager, could purchase the book. Although I was aware a problem existed I didn’t know (or understand) the depth of it…or the ramifications. I am, after all, a writer, not a publisher. But that is no excuse and I realise now that I should have made it my business to know what the problem meant. Anyway, the anthology has now been published for 16 weeks and the status remains unchanged even though I have been in contact with Lulu repeatedly in this time.

No wonder the service had suddenly become “free”. If they (meaning Lulu) had charged for the service then they would have been faced with a lot of unhappy people demanding their money back – me alone with them. I feel they knew the problem was bigger than they were letting on and that’s why they dropped the charge and this knowledge angers me more.

Having said all this, I understand that Lulu is between a rock and a hard place. I don’t think they wanted or intended for this to happen to the people who use their service – not at the beginning. I also believe that there is nothing much they can do about it, which presents a problem for the anthology (but I’ll get back to this later).

Amazon is the real problem. They have become greedy and are trying to squash print on demand books being published by anyone but themselves. If a POD book isn’t printed by their subsidiary then they will not list it on the website (or they will, but the “buy” button will be deactivated so they may as well not list it, in my opinion). From what I’ve learned, this only applies to the books distributed from about six to eight months ago. Those already in the system are not affected.

If the people at Amazon want to be jerks, fine. I’d be happy to ignore Amazon from this day onwards and buy my books from other online bookstores instead…and I would encourage everyone else to do the same thing because, quite frankly, Amazon isn’t the “be all and end all” of the publishing (or reading) world.

But…the other bookstores are listing the book as unavailable too! Why? What reason do they have? Are they sheep? I’ve contacted a couple of them and their response is that they want copies of the book sent to them so that they have them in stock. Why? POD means the book is printed as needed. It never runs out of stock. They don’t need a stock pile. Honestly, I have no idea what the hassle is and I’m finding the whole mess frustrating and pointless.

At this point, I would like to clearly state that I do not recommend Lulu in any way, shape or form. I would never use them again. Ever! If you had any brains you wouldn’t either. It’s not worth the stress.

What does all this mean to the anthology?

In hindsight, if I could redo this project from scratch there are certain things I would change. Of course, experience is talking now. I didn’t have any experience when I started this project back in January 2007, but now I’m older and wiser.

The main change I would make would be that I wouldn’t pay for the stories and artwork in royalties. That is the biggest mistake I made. I would have been better off paying outright for the stories and artwork and having a contract for world wide exclusive rights for the first year and then the right to continue publishing the book, but allowing the authors to submit the stories elsewhere. If I had done this I wouldn’t be bound by a contract that has literally killed the project. You see, it’s because of that contract that I can’t pack my bags, walk away from Lulu and start afresh with a POD company that doesn’t have the hassles Lulu has. In order to do this, it would mean I would have to apply for a new ISBN (because Lulu owns the current one). With the new ISBN I could apply a new cover, fix anything that might be wrong with the current book and then publish a second edition. The contract doesn’t allow any of this to happen because it’s for the first edition only. The second edition would require a new contract and, to be honest, I’m not keen to go there.

Right now, that means two years of planning, reading and publishing (and I don’t mean just me here either) has been…for what? To me, it feels like a waste of time. Maybe the others don’t feel that way, but when I was bubbling over with excitement two years ago I wasn’t imagining the frustration I’m experiencing now. I was imagining speechless joy and wonder. Believe me, this experience doesn’t come close to that.

Cat’s Eyes: Submitted!

Some weeks ago I mentioned that I want to submit Cat’s Eyes for consideration. The manuscript has been completed for some time, but I haven’t done anything with it since entering it into a competition last year. Anyway, once the decision was made to submit it I set about, and spent over a week, writing a one page query letter. As I wasn’t entirely happy with what I had I did some research to ensure I was including all the right things for such an important letter (which I was). Finally…I pushed the letter aside as I still felt something wasn’t quite right.

Yesterday I mentioned in an email to a friend that I needed to get onto this submission. I questioned my reasons for not sending it out already. No reason really came to mind, except self doubt and that’s not a good reason to hold back a submission. Actually, the thought angered me so last night I opened that query letter and looked at it again. It has all the elements of a good query letter. I know that for sure, however, I still had to do some more research. In the end, I had to concede that I’ve done the best I can with it and now I have to take a chance.

Once this decision was made, I turned my research to publishers instead. Who do I want to submit to? My first choices are the big names – Scholastic, HarperCollins, Random House, Penguin and Allen & Unwin. I visited each website and found their submission guidelines. Two are not taking submissions of any kind at this time. Two would accept full manuscripts for children’s manuscripts, but only queries for adult manuscripts (luckily, my manuscript is for children). One would only accept an email query from unpublished writers, promising a response within two week. This is the one I targeted.

The guidelines were clear, so I adjusted my letter accordingly. They also only wanted the first 250 words of the manuscript, as a sample of my writing. This once again reiterates the need for strong openings, which I’m a believer in, so that shouldn’t be a worry. I read through that one and a half pages … oh, three dozen times, at least. Still not confident enough to send the email, I sent it to myself first as I wanted to see how it would be received. Seeing the email made me feel better. It looked professional and there were no errors, but there was a problem. There was an attachment! I didn’t include an attachment and the guidelines clearly stated that emails with attachments would not be read. I fiddled with settings, which made no difference. Then I copied and pasted the contents of the letter into a fresh page and emailed it to myself again. No attachment. Yay. I emailed it again to be sure. OK, we’re in business and now it’s time to send the real email.

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to press “send” when the email is this important? My cursor hovered over the button for several minutes; I kept wanting to read the entire thing one more time (just to be sure). Finally, I had to force myself to click on the button and trust in myself. The email – the submission – has been sent. I have done the best I can, with the manuscript and the letter. Now I must wait and see if that is enough.

Planning a Scene

I was recently at Jim Butcher’s blog – author of the Dresden Files. There is a lot to read there, but I was especially interested in the article about using an arc to plan a story. His suggestion is to simply draw an arc on a piece of paper. Naturally, the beginning of the arc is the beginning of the story and the end of the arc is the end of the story. Then you place “markers” across the arc which coincides with crucial events in your story. Finally you add in more markers for other important scenes and anything else that moves your story forward. This is a good idea.

Anyway, I don’t need an arc for my current manuscript – Mirror Image. It’s well and truly passed the arc stage. Not being one to pass up a good idea, I figured that the most important scene in my manuscript – the climax, which is long and complicated – needs a lot of work and I could adapt the arc for improving that scene.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been drawing arcs everywhere. But something good came from all that physical labour. I realised that the scene has to be cut down into four crucial sections and each section needs an arc of its own. This will enable me to focus on the emotions of the MC and therefore build the tension accordingly, which is something that didn’t quite happen in the first draft.

What I did was, in blue, put in essential “events” from the character’s viewpoint including what the character was feeling at the time. These were added to the top of the arc. Then, in red, I added events that other characters contributed to the scene, which affected the MC and in turn affected the overall scene. I added these to the underside of the arc. I’ve done this for Section 1 of the scene and will do the same for the other three sections over the next few days. Then I’ll have a comprehensive plan for the climax. However, I will not be tackling the edit of this scene for some time yet. I am currently working through each character’s storyline and I need to finish doing that because I might find other things that must be added to the arcs. However, it was because of this that I discovered missing elements for the characters I have done. The storylines feel unfinished yet once the climax has been reached I cannot go back to these other characters and give them their required resolution. In other words, this information must be added to the climax. I have no choice. I did say the scene was complicated, but hopefully using the arcs will help me get it right eventually.

Bet You Didn’t Even Notice

I just spent an hour logging in to a number of websites I’m subscribed to or a member of and have cancelled my memberships. You will no longer find me at places like MySpace, Twitter, Issuu, Bebo and quite a few others. The reason I deleted my accounts is because I rarely visit any of the websites and when I do I find nothing much of interest to keep me there or make me return in a hurry. Besides that, I’m sick of all the email I receive because of those memberships.

The only membership I kept was Facebook. I like the interaction with other people through this site and it’s a quick and easy way of finding out what my friends are doing. And…I’ve managed to find long lost relatives (and friends) through the site…so that’s a definite plus.

Let Me Think About It…Please

The minor character in Mirror Image I mentioned a few days ago – the one who started out one dimensional – is now a fully fledged person. It didn’t take much work – several days of thinking about it, then finding the right place to add in additional information and then the actual edit of his three scenes. His presence in the manuscript isn’t much longer than before, but I am happy with the change in him and the overall effect it will have on the plot. In fact, his story is quite sad and I felt sorry for him when I reread his scenes.

I did have one other problem with this character. His resolution – the big ha-ha moment – comes right in the middle of the climax of the story, which is told from another character’s point of view. However, I know without doubt that I cannot swap view points at the crucial time as it would be detrimental to the manuscript. And it is impossible to return to his character later as, to put it simply, it would be too late.

I have spent a couple of days thinking about this and I realise the only thing that can be done is to write his resolution from the main character’s point of view. But…it’s the climax and the main character has some pretty heavy stuff happening at the time, so she isn’t the least bit concerned about this minor character’s resolution. It’s going to be difficult to write, I’m sure, but I must find a way of getting the information to the reader without the main character’s storyline being affected. Luckily, I’ll be editing that character last so I have plenty of time to think about how I’m going to do that.

I’ve now moved onto editing another minor character. This character is female and she wasn’t as flat as the male character, but she still needs some work.

It seems this first edit mainly consists of days thinking about how I’m going to fix things. This troubled me at first, but after seeing the result of those “think” sessions I can see it’s time well spent.

Minor Characters Deserve the Same Depth

I started the editing phase for Mirror Image on the weekend. There are six view points (I thought there were five, but discovered I was wrong) so I decided to create six files and work on each viewpoint separately. Sounded like a good plan to me. That is, until I tried to edit one of the files.

There are three major character and three minor character view points. I decided to work on the minor characters first. The character I chose only has three scenes in the entire manuscript. The scenes make perfect sense, but the character feels one dimensional. He’s made out of words alone. There’s no substance to him. That’s bad!

Naturally, this made me feel as if I’d hit a brick wall. But, determined not to let it beat me, I let my mind mull it over for three days and that’s when I suddenly realised what I had done wrong. The character does his part in the story, but doesn’t gain anything in return. Again, that’s bad!

As mentioned, this is a minor character, but he is a character with a life and reasons for choices made and I have neglected to show any of that when writing from his point of view. I managed to knock down that brick wall that was holding me back and have started giving this character a real reason for being in the story. When I’m finished, he won’t feel used and abused any more. He’ll be a legitimate character, with real conflicts, real objectives and a real personality. Now, that’s how it should be.

The Lord of Beasts

The Lord of BeastsI would call The Lord of Beasts by Justin Elliott a classic fantasy novel for young adults. It’s about a group of young teenagers (from memory, I think they are about 14) who are drawn together in the most unusual circumstances and then thrown into a quest that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

The story has it all – ogres, pixies, faeries, magic, fear, laughter and a very real threat of death, just to name a few. The characters are a good match. They are well written and each has their own problem to overcome. The setting is put together well and easy to imagine. The plot is believable, which is something some stories (and not just fantasy stories) lack, and it’s also fast paced. I enjoy a fast paced story. I don’t like being dragged through a book – grumbling and groaning all the way – so it was nice to find myself transported through a world I would not have been able to visit without the help of the author.

The Lord of Beasts is the first story in a trilogy or series. I look forward to the publication of the second instalment.

Mirror Image: First Draft Complete!

That’s right; the first draft of Mirror Image is finished. It took a long while, actually it’s almost a year to the day since I started this project, but it’s finally done. As mentioned, it is the first draft and a long way from really being finished, but I’m ecstatic that I’ve got this far. The last few scenes are rough…and I mean rough. I’m not happy with them in the slightest, but at least the story is down, which will take the pressure off me. Now I can work on the finer details and I already have a list.

Before I do that, however, I intend to put this manuscript aside for a time – a very short time. I’m going away for a short holiday next week so I’ll give myself until 27 October 2008 and then I’ll start the edit. By then I’ll be revived and ready to go.

My plan is to cut the manuscript into sections. As it is told from five view points, I will make five files and concentrate on each view point one at a time. Then…I will merge the view points back into one story and edit it as a whole. I’ve thought about doing this for a while and I know it will be the best way to handle the edit. I’m looking forward to attacking the story in this way.

In the meantime, I’ll turn my attention back to the query letter I wrote for Cat’s Eyes. There’s something wrong with the letter. I haven’t been able to work out what it is, but as it’s been placed on hold for 10 days or so maybe I’ll be able to spot the problem now. I want to post the first set of queries (no more than five at a time) by the end of the month.