Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Guest Post - Nursery Crime writer Karen Mauck

Karen Mauck is my guest today. There has been a LOT of buzz the last year or so about self-publishing. I thought it would be nice to hear from Karen about why she took this route and how it's worked for her so far. Nursery Crimes is her fourth book.

When you hear someone has self-published a book, what’s the first thing you think?

I might know your answer, because I’ve heard it before: some people think self-publishing is for lousy writers who couldn’t get an agent or “real” publisher to give them the time of day. And believe me, I have seen some self-published books that fit into that category. But not all of them. Ever heard of Amanda Hocking? You will.

So you may ask, knowing that I admit there is ongoing debate about the value of self-publishing, why did I choose that route with my latest book? Or, for that matter, all four of my novels?

Oh, I tried the traditional route, querying agents and attending conferences. I was always rejected. But that doesn’t mean I am a lousy writer. (I hope.) The few rejections that were not form letters but were instead directed at my material mentioned things that I consider personal preferences, such as “It’s not long enough for what I’m looking for” or “There are too many stories with cops.” I’ve heard from other writers who received rejections that were not so nice, so I’d go as far as saying those are good rejections.

Another reason for the rejections, in my probably underinformed opinion, is that so many people are trying to pitch a novel to an industry that lately somehow seems to be both oversaturated and in flux. Everybody and their sister thinks they can write a book (Snooki, anyone? And yes, I am including myself as one of the sisters), and yet bookstores are in bankruptcy and publishing models are being debated (paper vs. e-book, traditional vs. independent, which is what I am).

There were several hundred people at just one regional writer’s conference I attended, all hoping to be published. Multiply that by however many other conferences, regional and national, in a given year, then multiply that number by genre – thriller, romance, mystery, childrens, biography, literary fiction, etc. – then divide by how many books a publisher releases in any given year, and that’s a lot of rejections. I’m not alone.

Even if I were lucky enough to get a contract with an agent, who was then able to successfully pitch it to a publisher, my novel wouldn’t see the light of day for a couple years. A book accepted today might not make it to print until 2014. And one thing I have learned is, life is short. Doing it my way means I have an actual book with my name on it in my hot little hands in less than 4 months.

This reminds me of another reason I chose to self-publish: my recent release, Nursery Crimes, has been completed since 2007. It sat, forlornly languishing, in the bowels of my computer since then (long enough that I had to update some technology references I made). I figured that was long enough. It was time to do something. I spent all that time writing it, I might as well let someone actually read it.
And why not now, when self-published books are losing the less-than-stellar reputation they had when I first started publishing this way 10 years ago. There will always be people who deride them, but others are giving them some respect, national best-selling authors with recognizable names, no less. Just ask JA Konrath or Bob Mayer how well sales of their self-published novels are going. (Hint: Very well indeed.)

There are now a great many companies that offer various levels of self-publishing services, many more than when I started out. Back when the rejections were piling up on my first book (Scraps), someone pointed out to me one of these then-new companies, iUniverse. I checked them out and liked what I saw, so I tried it out. I liked it so much that this is now the fourth time I’ve used them.
I like them because they do a lot of the work for me, and I am inherently lazy. I could have done it all myself, applying for the ISBN number and asking retailers to carry it and designing the cover and all that. I know someone who did that, and after several years of good selling she has yet to break even, plus she has a few thousand copies of her book in her basement. The company I chose did it all for me, for far less money that what she spent going it alone, and I don’t need to stockpile anything. They did an editorial review and made suggestions to help me make it better. I told them what I wanted the cover to look like, and they did it. They listed me on amazon.com and other Web sites like Barnes and Noble and Borders, plus Ingram’s Books in Print so anyone can walk into any bookstore and order it. They formatted it in both paperback and e-book. They also provide me with opportunities to advertise in magazines, newspapers, and e-mail blasts, if I so choose. I couldn’t figure out how to do that (well, I probably could, but you’ll remember that I’m lazy), let alone afford the rates I’d be charged if it did it myself. They handle the orders and the shipping for me, and deposit a check into my bank account at the end of the quarter if I’ve sold anything. And if a “real” publisher somehow stumbles across my stuff and wants to publish it themselves, I am free to accept their kind offer. (Other companies offer similar services at various costs; if you are interested in doing this yourself, I suggest you do some research to see which one is right for you.)

Now, there are other, newer services I could have used that would have cost me less, much less; if I had wanted to create my novel as an e-book only, I could have done it for practically free with services such as createspace. But I am admittedly technophobic – I will carry my flip-style cell phone until either I or the phone die – and still prefer the traditional paper book to e-book (although I do read e-books – mainly authors who publish e-book only). Using this option allows me to offer the book in both formats. Plus it was a known entity; I’d used them before and knew what to expect.

Sometimes self-publishing is called Print-On-Demand (POD) or even “vanity press.” I find that last term somewhat dismissive, but on the other hand, perhaps it fits. Because I printed my books just for me.

I guess that’s not entirely true. I asked local bookstores to carry my books. I made bookmarks and postcards and gave them to every person I knew, and a few I didn’t. I bought a fun shirt with Velcro letters that I used to spell out “Ask me about my book”, then actually wore it in public. I put up signs on coffee shop bulletin boards. I set up tables for book singings at art shows, book fairs, and garage sales. I’m posting about it on Facebook and various blogs.


I don’t expect to sell a lot. I don’t delude myself into thinking I am the next Nora Roberts, or even the next Snooki, for that matter. I’m not doing this to get rich. I’m doing it because I like to write stories. And if I make a few dollars in the process, that’s just an added bonus.

All this is not to say I won’t ever publish the traditional route. I still have one completed manuscript and a couple languishing works in progress up my sleeve, just waiting for the right time, the right stage, the right platform to publish. Maybe I’ll go with the same press, or try one of the many other companies. Maybe I’ll finally embrace technology and try this new-fangled e-book-only route that’s been so successful for Miss Hocking and others. Or, who knows? I may yet have a shot at the big leagues the traditional way. Maybe one day I’ll be rich and famous despite all my best efforts to the contrary.

Karen Mauck writes sexy romantic suspense and is the author of Scraps, Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence, Last to Know, and her latest release, Nursery Crimes. She lives in southeastern Michigan.

With only twisted nursery rhymes as clues, a tough, dedicated cop puts his life, and his heart, on the line to protect a schoolteacher and her young students from a killer calling himself Father Noose.

Jillian Hobart is passionate about teaching and devoted to her class of kindergartners. But someone else is showing a more deadly interest in her students, leaving eerie nursery rhymes behind as her students begin to disappear.

Deputy Sheriff Peter Dack is attracted to Jillian's quiet intensity even though his job requires he keep her at arm's length. But working together to stop the killer brings them into close contact, increasing the heat even as it becomes apparent that the intended target may not be Jillian's students — but rather Jillian herself.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Children's Movies

Last week, I was going through the movies at work and marking them as one of the AFI Top 100 movies. Two were children's movies. I got to thinking that there should be a list of Top 100 Children's movies. There is but I don't agree with it. A significant portion are from the original list.

So I thought about what I consider a great kids' movie. My criteria were simple. The movie had to entertain, engage and linger. It had to stand the test of time. Was I still thinking about those characters/story/plot for months or years afterward? Would my niece, who is ten years old, be as thrilled/entertained/entranced as I? I've only been able to run the last test by a few of them but one surprised me by not making her cut. ET bored her to tears. ET! While a singing Sean Connery amuses me no end, she found the effects on Darby O'Gill and the little people to be too clunky.

My brief list includes, in no particular order,

The Railway Children
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Napoleon and Samantha
Mary Poppins
Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Chicken Run
Nightmare before Christmas
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Lilo and Stitch
Monster's Inc.
How to train your dragon
Swiss Family Robinson
The Princess Bride
Finding Nemo
Bridge to Terabithia
Herbie the Lovebug (the original)
The one and only Genuine original family band
The Parent Trap(Hayley Mills)

There are some great classics in that list, and others to see in the trailers. I feel like spending the afternoon with some old celluloid friends. Which movies would you add to this list?

Sunday, June 05, 2011

One format, multiple ereaders

I've complained about them before. I'm still not satisfied that any one reader is going to do what I want it to do. My request is simple - read the books I buy.

I don't want to be tied to Sony, Amazon, Chapters, Barnes and Noble. I want to buy books from whatever store I want then read them on whatever device I prefer. I don't want to be tied to one reader and one reader only. There's a hardcover book I've been reading from the library, Harmony. It's a coffee table book full of weighty issues. I could use it as a tray table, it's so big. I'm enjoying it immensely but am exhausted from carrying it. I was going to buy the ebook version but was stopped by the need to commit to a particular reader.

Right now, I'm reading pdf files on my laptop and smartphone. I have a Sony PSR-350 Reader that freezes all the time. It may have been run over by my mom's wheelchair when she was rushed to the hospital a few weeks ago. I'm not sure as I wasn't with her but her purse has a big tear in it. Regardless, the Sony Reader is frozen. I cannot reset it. I cannot power it down. I've been staring at the same page for the last two days trying to figure out how to fix it. I've followed along on all the Sony forums looking for a solution. So far, nothing has worked.

All of the books are saved to the laptop but they were purchased from the Sony store. I can't transfer them to my phone and read them there. I can read from the laptop but who wants to lug that around everywhere? If I replace the reader, I'll have to replace it with another Sony so that I don't lose all of my purchases. That doesn't seem right.

So I ask, why aren't all ebooks in the same format? They've done it for CDs and DVDs. Why not for books?

I've purchased several items from Who Dares Wins Publishing for several reasons. One, I like the way both Bob Mayer and Jenni Holbrook write. They provide entertaining reads. Two, and equally as important for me, I can buy their books in pdf versions. This means I can read them everywhere I want, on whatever device I choose.

They dare. I win.

Why doesn't everyone else offer that option? It's clearly possible.