PublishAmerica’s Twittery

If you’re bored by publishing talk, go learn how to build TRON lightcycles out of LEGO instead.

PublishAmerica has been around for a while.  You might remember them as the publisher who offered to buy Atlanta Nights, an educationally awful book designed to demonstrate that Publish America would accept just about anything.  Nor does PA pay much attention to things like cover art, as you can see in one of my old LOL books.

PA claims to be a traditional publisher (a term with no actual meaning).  They emphasize that they’re not a vanity press; they pay an advance (generally $1.00), and they urge writers to avoid self-publishing.  From their FAQs:

PublishAmerica adheres to the traditional publishing concept … we earn our income by selling books.

So who do you think they’re selling those books to?  You’ll find few if any PA titles in bookstores.  They’re listed on Amazon like everything else, but an Amazon listing by itself doesn’t sell books.  As far as I can tell, PA appears to make most of their income by selling books to their authors.

PA recently joined Twitter as @publishamerica.  They’ve already protected their feed.  For those of you who don’t want to follow PA, let me sum up.

There’s a note about a 66% discount for online orders, which is cool.  I’d love to be able to sell my books at 2/3 off.  (But my publisher doesn’t sell horribly overpriced books, so that kind of discount is difficult to pull off.)

Reading on, I see a few tweets about individual authors … and a ton of tweets talking about how great PA is.  Canadian libraries stocked seven of our books!  Our authors have booksignings in 50+ bookstores this weekend!  A bookstore in NY just ordered some PA titles!

This isn’t advertising intended to sell books to readers; it’s aimed at selling PublishAmerica to new authors.

Compare this to @dawbooks, my own publisher’s Twitter feed.  DAW also uses Twitter for marketing, but almost every post includes an author’s name and/or a book title.  The goal is to sell books to readers.

From the PA stream:

one cool element of PA’s success is that it drives the opposition nuts. they keep writing about us, fortunately spelling our name right.

Opposition?  That implies that PA has any impact whatsoever on serious publishers.  But they’re right about one thing.  PA does drive me nuts.  It pisses me off when people take advantage of new writers.  I spent years trying to break in.  I remember that feeling of desperation, of wanting someone, somewhere to validate my work.  Of wanting to finally be a published author.

If all you want is to be published, PA might be the right choice.  You’ve got almost zero chance of rejection, and they’ll create a book with your name on the cover.  You’ll probably even get that $1.00 check as a bonus.

If, on the other hand, you want to be read–if you want people to seek out your book, to read and enjoy it–well, there’s a simple test.  PA claims to have 35,000 authors, orders of magnitude more than any commercial publisher I’m aware of.  How many PA books do you own?  How many PA writers have you read?

So how does PA stay in business?  I’ll toss out one final tweet to answer that one:

one twitterer just purchased 200 books, using his ‘twitter’ coupon. his savings: over $3000.

Why worry about selling books to readers when you’ve got authors willing to shell out thousands of dollars for copies of their own books?

There are no shortcuts.  Frustrating as this road can be, I’m very happy to have waited until I could sign with a publisher who would get my work out to readers and fans.

Self-Publishing Myths

I wrote this piece two years ago, but wanted to get it reposted to the new WordPress site, especially after reading a few of the comments over at Genreville’s post on self-publishing.

I have absolutely nothing against self-publishing.

Let me say that again. I don’t hate self-publishing. I don’t hate self-published authors. I’m not interested in keeping anyone down, bashing authors, or mocking people who have accomplished the difficult and impressive job of completing a novel.

I do have serious problems with scammers trying to talk would-be writers into shelling over hundreds or thousands of dollars, while completely deluding them as to what they’re getting into.

The sad thing is that most of these places recycle the same old lines about how “traditional” publishers refuse to accept new writers*, and then they start listing famous and bestselling authors like Grisham and Paolini who chose to self-publish instead of going with one of those New York monstrosities . . . the implication being that you too will be a NYT bestseller if you self-publish your novel!

I finally got annoyed enough to gather some of these claims together, starting with good old Grisham.

1. John Grisham self-published A TIME TO KILL. Actually, Grisham sold A TIME TO KILL to a small publisher, Wynwood Press, who did a 5000-copy print run. Grisham bought the remaindered copies, which he sold himself. While this is the sort of hard work self-publishing often involves, A TIME TO KILL was certainly not a self-published book.

2. Christopher Paolini self-published ERAGON. Paolini’s family ran a small commercial press. ERAGON was not the first book published by Paolini International. Paolini International was founded in 1997, and you could make a strong argument that they are a commercial publisher, albeit a small one. On the other hand, since they were publishing the work of their son, you could also call this self-publishing. In either case, Paolini’s success** relied heavily on the fact that his family had five years of experience running a publisher, and were willing to devote themselves full-time to promoting his book. Unless your family has the same experience and devotion to your book, I wouldn’t count on achieving this level of success.

3. Mark Twain self-published HUCKLEBERRY FINN. I love this one. Companies will loudly proclaim that publishing is changing, that “traditional publishers” are the dinosaurs of the book world, and that self-publishing and print-on-demand are the wave of the future. These same companies then cite examples well over a century old. HUCKLEBERRY FINN was published in the late 1800s. Given how much the publishing industry has changed, how about we confine our arguments to examples less than a hundred years old. M’kay?

4. James Redfield self-published THE CELESTINE PROPHECY. Actually, this one appears to be true. From everything I’ve researched, Redfield did indeed self-publish. He gave away about 1500 copies, and word-of-mouth helped from there. What, you thought I was only going to post the false myths? Self-publishing canlead to success. Not as often as scammers would have you believe, but anything’s possible.  (For an example of a SF/F author who made it work, check out Simon Haynes.)

5. William Strunk, Jr. self-published THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE for his classes at Cornell University. Also true. However, it’s misleading. First of all, this book had a captive audience from day one. Unless you can force several hundred students to buy your book every semester, don’t count on seeing the same success. Also, there’s a huge difference between self-publishing non-fiction and fiction. With non-fiction, if you have a niche audience and you’re an expert on your topic, then you have a built-in platform through which to market your work. The success of Strunk and other non-fiction works is pretty much irrelevant to those of us who write fiction.

6. Even famous authors like Louis L’Amour self-published their work! L’Amour’s collection SMOKE FROM THIS ALTAR was published in 1939 by Lusk Publishing Company, which was owned by Enoch Lusk. I’ve been unable to find any other books from this publisher, so it may be self-publishing and not a small press publication. Regardless, what this claim usually omits is whatL’Amour self-published. The implication is that he’s another success story who went from humble self-publishing to bestselling author. In fact, SMOKE FROM THIS ALTAR is a collection of L’Amour’s poetry. Poetry, like non-fiction, is a very different beast than fiction. L’Amour’s first novel appeared in 1950, and he never self-published his fiction.

7. What about L. Frank Baum? He self-published, right? L. Frank Baum wrote 14 Oz books, which were published between 1900 and 1920. (So I suppose you could say this example is less than 100 years old. But you’re cutting it close!) THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ was the first book, and was published by the George M. Hill Company in 1900. Hill also published at least one of Baum’s earlier books. George M. Hill went out of business in 1902, after which Reilly & Britton published Baum’s Oz books. The final two Oz books (by Baum) were published by Reilly & Lee. But this myth isn’t completely false. My research suggests that Baum did indeed self-publish one work . . . a manual on chicken farming.

I could go on at length, but this could easily become a novel-length work if I had the time and energy. I have books of my own to write. And my goal isn’t to analyze every last myth, but rather to take a critical look at some of the most popular claims, in the hope of helping others do the same.

Publishing is hard work. It doesn’t matter which route you choose. Commercial publishing can be slow. Most authors who go this route face years of rejection and struggle. Self-publishing gives you more control. You can publish the very first book you ever write, if you’re so inclined. (I’d advise against it, but that’s just me.) On the other hand, the average self-published book sells very few copies, and requires much more marketing and self-promotion by the author. A commercially published book doesn’t make you an instant celebrity either, of course. Believe me, I wish it did. But the average book from Baen, DAW, or Tor will sell more copies in its first week than most self-published books sell in their lifetime.

There are no easy paths to success. Whatever you might think of THE CELESTINE PROPHECY, Redfield did an awful lot of work to sell his book and build word-of-mouth. Paolini went to hundreds of schools, in costume, promoting ERAGON. My books are published by DAW, but I still I spend way too much time designing and distributing promotional materials, not to mention traveling to conventions and libraries and anywhere else I can go. Being a writer is hard! (Anyone who says differently is selling something.)

Bottom line: know what your goals are. Do the research. There are plenty of scammers and snake oil salesmen*** in this field. Don’t fall for the sales pitch, and make an educated choice.

Good luck!

*Off the top of my head, here are a few new SF/F authors who sold books to major publishers in the past few years: Sarah Prineas, Tobias Buckell, Joshua Palmatier, Marie Brennan, Jay Lake, Matthew Cook, Anton Strout, Seanan McGuire, Stephanie Burgis, C. C. Finlay, and myself.

**Don’t get me wrong. I would love it if my books did half as well as ERAGON!

***The snake oil salesman analogy is borrowed from John Savage, who writes an excellent entry on self-publishing myths at

Thursday has a Prize Inside

• Holy crap!  Some time this week, I hit the 1000 friends mark on LJ.  This calls for a book giveaway!  I used to pick a winner: #676.  I then realized that counting through the list to figure out who #676 was would be a major headache, but fortunately, plugging ’em into Excel proved to be quicker.  Congratulations, patesden!  Would you please e-mail me at jim -at- to let me know which of my books you’d like and where to sent it?

dragovianknight made two LJ icons, and gave me permission to share them here.  ::Happy dance::


• Last night was my daughter’s first day of soccer practice, so I was out entertaining the boy at the park while she practiced, which means I didn’t have time to think up anything for today’s post.  So instead, check out this LEGO Demonic Castle by einsteinonthebeach.  Click the link or the picture for details.  This thing is mind-blowing and seriously twisted.  Minifigs bathing in LEGO blood falls?  Evil genius.

Twilight, Part II

So I finished reading Twilight [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].  It was a better book than I expected, though I certainly wasn’t blown away.

In brief, Twilight is the story of Bella Swan, a high school girl who falls in love with a vampire.  Then about 80% of the way through the book, some other stuff happens.

That structure was odd.  For 400 pages, this is a fairly typical teenage romance, except the boy happens to be a vampire.  Suddenly we have evil vampires chasing Bella and everyone’s fleeing and scheming and hunting and fighting.  It didn’t throw me out of the story, but I think the book could have been more effective had we seen how dangerous vampires could be a lot sooner.  Edward spends a lot of time trying to persuade Bella that he’s dangerous and she’s better off without him, but like Bella, I never really believed him. 

I mentioned in Twilight, Part I that it was a fast-paced read.  Don’t want to rehash that, except to say it holds true for the rest of the book.  Whatever strengths and weaknesses the book has, I kept turning the pages, and I finished it within a few days.

I was intrigued by what Meyer did with vampires, eliminating many of the traditional weaknesses.  Holy symbols?  Edward’s dad keeps a 300-year-old cross on the wall.  Sunlight?  Yay, sparklies!  Edward explains that the only real way to destroy a vampire is to rip it apart and burn the pieces.

Think about that.  Buffy would be out of luck in this world.  There’s no way a human being is going to be able to fight a vampire; the only one who can is another vampire.  (Or another equally powerful supernatural creature.)  Humans?  Helpless as insects.  The implications are powerful, but I didn’t feel like there was any follow through.  Maybe it gets brought up in later books.  But heck, if vampires are this indestructible, why  bother to hide at all?

As for Bella and Edward … yeah.  This is the part you’ve been waiting for me to rant about, right?  But I’m having a hard time judging Edward’s behavior the way I would a normal abuser.  Controlling?  Absolutely.  Creepy?  Oh hell yes.  Breaking into a teenage girl’s room every night to listen to her talking in her sleep?  The dude puts stalkers to shame.

But he’s not human.  He is, as the book stresses again and again, better and beyond human in so many ways.  He’s a century old, powerful and beautiful and unstoppable.  Why should he treat a human with any more respect than you or I treat a pet cat?  I like my cats, but I don’t consider it abusive to toss one off the counter.

This isn’t where Meyer was going with the book.  Edward’s behavior is glossed over as part of our whirlwind teen romance.  He’s treated as a normal human teenager, except when he’s not.  As a normal human, he’s an abusive, controlling creep.

Having been young myself, I can certainly understand Bella’s infatuation and obsession.  Been there, done that (though I cringe to think about it now).  I just wish Meyer had been more conscious of the dynamics she was writing.

There’s so much going on here, and the book seems blissfully unaware of it.  It ignores the implications of Meyer’s changes to vampire lore.  It glosses over the unbalanced nature of Bella’s relationship with Edward until the very end, when Bella decides she wants to be a vampire too.  (And why not?  There’s no downside!)  It shows us a jealous, controlling stalker and treats the whole thing as dreamy and romantic.  This is where I think the book fails.

Don’t know if I’ll read book two or not.  But in the meantime, please feel free to jump in with your thoughts and comments.

Why Linkbacks are Better than Reposting

• 4 weeks until the release of The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy]!  Early reviews are starting to pop up.  Romantic Times called it quick-paced, engaging, and a great read.  Rhonda Parrish, who won the NCADV auction for an ARC of the book, posted a nice review here.  ::Happy dance::

• I’ve said before that it’s okay to write crap in a first draft.  For me, this helps me get to the point where I can figure out the story and rewrite to actually make the thing work.  Dean Wesley Smith offers an alternate approach.


Welcome to everyone who showed up after yesterday’s Neil Gaiman Facts post!  Lesson to self: if you want more blog traffic, joke about Gaiman groping Ellison.  Huge thanks for the linkbacks, the comments, and the extra Gaiman facts.  (The comments include some very funny suggestions.)  Y’all gave me a serious case of the warm fuzzies 🙂

No love, however, to the very small minority who simply copied and reposted the whole thing without asking.  Way to harsh my warm fuzzies, people.

I was torn about whether I should even say anything.  I’m not planning to go all DMCA on anyone’s ass over this, but it bothers me.  Maybe I’m oversensitive after dealing with the whole Google Settlement mess, I don’t know.  But here’s the deal: reposting someone’s work without permission is rude.  It’s also illegal, but in this case I’m more annoyed by the rudeness.

The primary reasons I post stuff like the Gaiman list are because it’s fun and because I love entertaining people.  It makes my week to get comments from folks telling me they laughed so hard their significant other came in from the other room to find out what was going on.  It’s a high like nothing else, and I love it.

There’s a secondary reason, though: the crass, greedy, totally commercial reason.  When I write and post this sort of thing, it brings new traffic to my sites.  New people who might remember my name, who might decide to stick around on the blog, who might even decide some day to go out and buy one of my books.

If you repost the whole list, you’re taking away some of those new visitors.  Is it a terrible, crippling blow to my success as a writer?  Not at all.  But it is rude.  So don’t do it, ‘kay?

Enough on that.  I love 99.44% of you, and I’m not going to let the other .56% spoil things.  So as a reward for reading this far, here are a few more Gaiman facts.  Enjoy!

  1. Neil Gaiman writes faster than Harriet Klausner reads.
  2. Neil Gaiman solved the Rubix Cube in 7 minutes. One-handed.
  3. Chuck Norris could roundhouse kick Neil Gaiman in the head. But Neil Gaiman could write Chuck Norris out of existence.

20 Neil Gaiman Facts

  1. Neil Gaiman once wrote a Nebula-winning story using only the middle row of his keyboard.
  2. Harper Collins has taken out a 2.5 million dollar insurance policy on Neil Gaiman’s accent.
  3. If you write 1000 words and Neil Gaiman writes 1000 words, Neil Gaiman has written more than you.
  4. Neil Gaiman does not use Microsoft’s grammar-check.  Microsoft uses a Gaiman-check.
  5. Neil Gaiman once did the New York Times crossword puzzle in pen.  In fifteen minutes.  He won two Hugo awards for it.
  6. Neil Gaiman is who the Ghostbusters call.
  7. Most agents charge a 15% commission.  Neil Gaiman’s agent pays him an extra 15% for the privilege of saying “I’m Neil Gaiman’s agent.”
  8. William Shakespeare once came back from the dead to ask for Neil Gaiman’s autograph.
  9. Neil Gaiman is the reason nobody teaches “I before E except after C” anymore.
  10. Some writers take inspiration from the muse.  The muse takes inspiration from Neil Gaiman.
  11. Neil Gaiman once groped Harlan Ellison.
  12. The pen is mightier than the sword; Neil Gaiman has mastered fourteen different styles of penmanship.
  13. Rumor has it that a NY editor rejected Neil Gaiman’s first book.  This can not be confirmed, as the editor in question was never heard from again.
  14. Neil Gaiman can tweet 175 characters.
  15. Neil Gaiman’s personal library includes an autographed copy of the Necronomicon.
  16. Hitler actually won World War II.  Then Neil Gaiman wrote an alternate-history story in which the allies won, and reality was too intimidated to argue the point.
  17. Some authors write in omniscient point of view.  Neil Gaiman lives it.
  18. Neil Gaiman’s next novel is expected to win the Nebula, the Hugo, and the Heisman Trophy.
  19. In any given week, 7 of the top 10 books on the NYT Bestseller List are by pseudonyms of Neil Gaiman.
  20. Neil Gaiman has never written a deus ex machina ending.  However, God once wrote a Gaiman ex machina ending.

Twilight, Part I

One nice thing about surgeries — they give you lots of time to read.  I finished up The Soldier King on Thursday and started in on Twilight, as promised.

I started by checking the front matter.  This book is in its 47th printing in paperback (19th in hardcover).  Dang.  And I thought I was doing well when Goblin Quest went back for a 4th printing….

I’m about 25% through Twilight, and so far, the book is surprisingly readable.  It’s not great, but I haven’t tried to gouge out my eyes with a spork yet either.

It reminds me of Harry Potter: it’s a quick, easy read; our young protagonist leaves one life and enters another, more magical one where they’re amazingly popular; it has lots and lots of pages…

Several people commented that Bella Swan is very much a Mary Sue, and I can see that.  She complains about how she’s so unpopular, and in the meantime she’s go no less than four–maybe five by now?–boys sniffing after her.  There’s a wish fulfillment feel to the story, which I imagine is a lot of the appeal–just like in Harry Potter.

We’re only beginning to get into the Edward revelations, but I can already see where the dynamics of Edward/Bella are troubling, to say the least.  So far, we’ve already seen some radical mood swings from Edward, as well as seriously controlling behavior (physically dragging Bella into his car being the most blatant so far).  Pulling her away from her friends to sit alone with him at lunch isn’t by itself a pattern of isolating behavior, but I’ll be curious how many more warning signs we’ll see from Edward.

Mostly, Twilight does what a lot of successful SF/F books seem to be doing these days: it makes the fantastic more accessible.  Like Harry Potter, it starts in our own world and grounds the reader before bringing in the fantastic elements.  It reaches beyond the hardcore SF/F readers, to whom the first 125 pages will be not only familiar but even a bit boring.  Yes, we get that he’s a vampire, and we’ve read this “discovery” process a hundred times before.  We’ve read it, but folks unfamiliar to the genre haven’t, which might explain why this is the book reaching a larger audience.

One final thought: this book looks like it was designed to be a quick read.  Larger typeface, big pages with larger margins, more spacing between the lines … physically, these pages were laid out in such a way that it makes you turn the pages faster.  I find that interesting.

375 pages to go.  More thoughts later I’m sure.  For now, have a Harry Potter pic, ’cause it amused me.

So Much For “Don’t Be Evil”

As most writers already know, the deadline for opting out of the Google Books Settlement is September 4th.

I stalled.  I didn’t want to deal with this crap, so I ignored it in the hopes that someone would come along and deliver a legal smackdown to Google.  (Germany is working on it, but not soon enough to make a difference on that 9/4 deadline.  ETA: And Amazon too!  Thanks, dqg_neal.)

I’m not a lawyer.  There’s a lot about this issue I probably don’t understand, and I expect smarter people to come along and correct me on any number of issues.  Let me start by pointing you toward some of those smarter people: Writer Beware’s Google Settlement primer and SFWA’s objection to the settlement.

Copyright law is a hotly debated issue.  I feel that it’s flawed, but show me legislation that isn’t.  Right now, that law says if I write something, it’s mine.  I have the legal right to decide what’s done with it*.  If you publish or repost it without permission, you’re breaking the law.  Once the copyright term expires, the work enters the public domain, and you can do whatever the heck you want with it.

Enter Google.  From what I’ve read and understand so far, Google decided copyright was more of a guideline than a law, conflating out-of-print with public domain, and going with a “Scan ’em all and let God sort ’em out” approach.

Naturally, there were objections.  The Author’s Guild went to court and negotiated a settlement wherein authors whose works had been illegally scanned might be entitled to some small payment, and we would all be able to opt out of Google’s ongoing book scanning & sharing project.

This is where I get cranky.  The opt-out project requires me to log into the settlement site, search for every book I’ve published (English and translations), as well as every variation of every book, not to mention every short story I’ve had published in any anthologies, and claim them all.  I can then either opt out of the whole settlement, or opt in and specify what I’m allowing Google to do or not do with my work.  In other words, the onus is not on Google to obey copyright law, but on me the author to tell them “Yes I really, really do want you to obey the law in respect to my work.”

Tell you what, Google.  How about I head down to your HQ and start looting the building for all of the high-tech computers and equipment I can find.  If you don’t like it, I’ll set up a form on my Web site where you can log in and tell me exactly what you want to keep.  Make sure you provide the serial numbers for each item!

There’s a lot of discussion and commentary out there, and I’d encourage interested parties to read up.  Jay Lake pointed to one post that takes an opposing view, which I think is also worth reading.  (Though I’d argue that Mr. Lee’s complaints are better directed toward reforming copyright law, and don’t justify simply ignoring or breaking current law.)

You know, there are even some stories and books I wouldn’t have minded letting Google display on their site … if they’d bothered to ask first.

*Fair use is a whole other textbook unto itself, but I believe the Google settlement issue goes way beyond fair use.

Happy Book Day

-Interview – I talk about Mermaid’s Madness over at Sci-Fi and Fantasy Planet.

-Fantasy Discussion Panel – I’ll be at the Delta Township Library tonight from 6:30 to 8:00, talking fantasy with local authors Daniel Hogan and Phil Kline.


The first Tuesday of each month is a big day for a lot of publishers, marking most of the new SF/F releases.

First up we have Rosemary and Rue [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], the first of many books I’m expecting to see from new DAW author Seanan McGuire.  I blurbed this one, and what I loved the most was the way McGuire blends a complex fairy society into modern-day San Francisco.  (Okay, really my favorite part was the rose goblin, but I’m biased.)  If you’re into urban fantasy, I think you’ll enjoy this one.  Also, she does nifty promo comics.

Next up is The Storm Witch [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by Violette Malan.  This is the third book in Malan’s series about mercenary partners Dhulyn and Parno.  I reviewed book one, The Sleeping God, back in June, and I’m currently reading the second.  Swords and magic and kick-ass mercenaries, and a much more … mature relationship between our two protagonists than I usually see.

Also out today is Witch Craft [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], the fourth Nocturne City book from Caitlin Kittredge.  I met Caitlin at Fantasy Matters a few years back, but I’m afraid I haven’t gotten the chance to read her work yet.  (No reflection on her books; I’m just slow.)  I’m betting some of you can fill us in on this series, though?  Caitlin also has excerpts of her books at her site.

Finally, we have Other Lands [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by David Anthony Durham.  This is the sequel to Acacia, which is sitting in my TBR pile.  Unlike the other three, this one doesn’t come out until the 15th, but I include it here anyway because David is just that awesome.  Excerpts on his site.


So go forth and read, or hang out here and chat about books.  It’s all good.  And maybe I’ll see at least a few of you at the library tonight?

Jim C. Hines