Self-Publishing: The New Vanity Press?
Annie Bellet, Jess Hartley, John C. Bunnell
OryCon 33
  • Jess: 
    • 10 years as a freelance writer, editor, and developer in RPG industry
    • put out several products herself
  • John:
    • Reviewing and writing scifi/fantasy since 1984
    • Book review columns for Dragon magazine, amazing stories, Hugo nominated short fiction team, Publisher’s Weekly. Short fiction published in traditional anthologies and magazine. Two short ebooks with traditional publisher. 
    • Networked with a number of people going with self-publishing
  • Annie
    • Bunch of short stories published traditionally.
    • A lot of experimenting with self-publishing in the last year. One novel up, and four short stories.
    • Toes in both waters to see where I can make money.
  • Everyone has to pay the rent.
  • types of publishing
    • corporate publishing / traditional publishing: a company dedicated to putting out books.
    • indie publishing: a person or couple of people. 
  • John: refers to uncio press as a traditional publisher because its a traditional contract arrangement: he has a contract, they pay him, they do the production.
  • Annie:
    • The way I see it, there is my job as a writer. That’s the same job it has always been. To write good stories that people want to read.
    • Then there is my job as a publisher: to get covers designed, to get books out, to get the word out. And that’s the same job as any publisher.
  • Jess: Panel description is a trap. Vanity press has traditionally been defined as a book that isn’t good enough. A subquality book that is being put out only because the author is willing to push it through. 
  • John: 
    • Vanity press in the traditional world is a gloried printing service, because they never had distribution, so you couldn’t get sales.
    • Print self publishing had been grouped with vanity press because until recently most self-publishers had the same problem that vanity press had: they couldn’t get distribution. Now that’s change, and distribution is available. It’s easier to set yourself to get nominally distributed.
    • With ebooks, distribution (getting on Amazon, on Barnes and Noble) is easier, but that’s only half the battle, because you still have to get noticed.
  • John: The difference is partly in the goal.
    • If your goal is to get a bunch of books on your doorstep, that’s one thing.
    • If your goal is to make money, that’s another thing.
  • Annie: 
    • Publish America’s model is to sell books to the author. 
    • Whereas self-publishing is to sell books to the reader.
  • Jess: There is a difference in the vetting process between traditional publishing and vanity publishing.
  • John: Now there are lots of services springing up to help authors with electronic publishing, and their goal may or may not be to help get a quality product out.
  • Jess: You’re now the project manager for your book, even if you aren’t doing the work to self-publish yourself.
  • John: 
    • If you are a successfully published author, the economics of self-publishing stuff that is out of print can be very good.
    • If you are a new author, it can be much more challenging.
  • Annie:
    • Not that challenging.
    • My Annie Bellet name has been traditionally published. But my other pen names, my mystery and thriller stuff, makes 10 times as much money, even though that name has no traditional publishing clout at all.
  • There’s no “made it” day in this industry. You get an acceptance one day, and a rejection the next.
  • John: You are earning rent paying money off a single novel for which you have built no online presence. 
    • Annie: Yes.
    • Jess: But not just by throwing something up there. You hired a professional editor, you hired a cover designer.
    • Annie: Yes.
  • John: Where are these things selling?
    • Annie: Amazon, Barnes and Noble. Using Createspace. Annie Blum books in Multnomah Village. You can buy through Barnes and Noble and special order it.
      • Kindle by far sells the best. Amazon is a huge data machine designed to sell shit. It has taken time…about a year.
  • Q: What inspired you to take this track?
    • Annie: 
      • I’m poor. 
      • It’s helpful to have a backlist. I have to write a lot of books really fast. If you have twenty novels sitting on the shelf you can put all that out.
  • To get the “also boughts” to show up, it doesn’t start to happen until I get 25-30 sales.
  • Chunks of the market:
    • 43% – romance
    • big – mystery
    • 7% – science fiction 
    • 6% – literary fiction 
  • Q: Are authors perpetuating the notion of self-publishing as a vanity movement?
    • Readers don’t care who is publishing what, they don’t even notice.
    • Writers are all competing with each other, it is a very small world.
  • If you want to make money in this industry, you have to go where the money is.
  • Q: How much does the price of ebooks affect things? My dad doesn’t buy anything expensive, so he probably isn’t buying anything by traditional writers.
    • Annie: I don’t think 99 cents is a good price for anything but a short story. I price my ebooks at $5.99, my print books at $12-14. Just like traditionally published books.
      • You’re selling yourself short if you are not pricing it well.
    • Jess: there’s valid philosophies behind why to do loss leaders and for pricing compared to other quality work, but it is all so new, and the aggregate data is not available. it’s all still so new.
  • John: The revenue share I get from an ebook distributed from Amazon is different that what I get for something purchased direct from the publisher. 
    • Jess: The closer you get to the source, the more financial support the creator is getting.
  • Annie: 
    • The thing that seduced me is that 70% royalty rate – you don’t have to sell very many copies to make money.
    • I also alternate between making the book free and then switching to paid.
    • More works is more money: If you have 15 books put up, then…
      • it’s 15x more times to be discovered
      • it’s crossover revenue from one book to the next
  • Annie: I am still sending work to markets. I would still like money from other people.
  • Annie: Work on the work first. Nobody is going to buy a crappy book. Focus first on creation, not on marketing. More quality work out is itself marketing.
  • If you self publish a short story, no publisher will be interested in it, because they only want first rights.
  • But if you self publish a novel, there can be a chance that a publisher might be interested in it.
  • The scale is entirely different. If you self-publish, and sell 6,000 copies a year at $4/book, that’s great. But for a publisher, that’s not good enough to renew an author’s contract.
  • Annie:
    • For each book, I calculate a breakeven point:
      • I pay myself $25 an hour as a writer.
      • I pay a cover designer and an editor.
      • So I know how many copies I need to sell.
      • At a hundred copies, I’ve paid for the cover designer and editor.
    • For my thriller, I made it free for 9 days, got 18,000 sales.
  • If you select “Premium Distribution” with Createspace, people can buy your book on Barnes and Noble site or special order in a store.

Self Publish Write Now
Robert Plamondon
OryCon 33
  • You have options
    • You can write fan-fiction, and put it in book form, and as long as you don’t offer it for sale to the public, you haven’t violated anything.
    • Or if you wrote a book and it’s gone out of print. I sent a copy of the original book, and they cut the spine off, scan the pages, and it’s identical to the original.
    • Or if you write a novel, and every publisher in America rejects it twice.
  • Why would you do this and how?
    • Everyone values the printed book. It’s prestigous.
    • There’s the possibility of money.
    • If not money, other possibilities. First job out of high school was the result of a book that he had printed.
    • Publishing is a glamour industry. So it’s got to look good.
  • The interior is a PDF file printed on a black and white printer.
  • The cover is full cover with a plastic coating.
  • It’s printed much indistinguishable from a traditionally printed and published.
  • All the print on demand guys use acid-free preservation papers. It is better than what you get with publishers.
  • If you can make it look good as an 8.5×11, you can adjust the page size and margins and have it look good at 6×9.
  • Choose a robust font. Like 11pt Georgia.
    • Something like Caslon is too lightweight and feathery. 
  • Microsoft Word has pretty good typography. 2003 is actually considered to be the best.
  • Then you upload it to Createspace. They run some checks. Then you order a proof copy. After you approve the proof, it will show up on Amazon within a few hours.
  • You have a choice of public or private. 
    • If you don’t own the rights, you can’t do it publicly.
  • Q: If you want to tie together the Kindle version and the print version, can you do that?
    • Yes, definitely. You can do it through the tools. And even if you screw it up, Amazon has real customer support people. Hit the contact us button, and someone will fix it for you.
  • You can republish stuff that’s in the public domain.
  • If you want to get into bookstores, it can happen by a big publisher. Or by you going into a bookstore and getting them it order it for you via ISBN. 
  • Lightning Source
    • Is a bare knuckle, serious sort of publishing thing these days. It’s probably better to stick with Createspace.
  • It’s far easier to sell non-fiction than fiction. 
  • Recommended books
  • Covers
    • You can use the cover designer and get a pretty good design
    • You can use images from the government which are mostly all in the public domain and are all free.
      • hubble space telescope photos
      • photos of asteroids
      • great for any 
      • national archives photos are all free
      • patent illustrations are available
    • 300 pixels per inch is the standard you need for images
    • stock photo services
    • Even art is relatively cheap: a professional done fantasy art cover was $125 from an artist friend.
  • Q: How can you do images in the text?
    • A PDF file can have images and text.
    • Grayscale can be a little iffy. The printers they print them on are optimized for text. 
    • You can pay for color interiors, which are designed for art books, and look great – but cost about 5x per page.
    • Line art usually comes out great.
  • Createspace has a pro plan, which drops the cost per book, for a fixed fee per year per book.
  • Q: If you do Lightning Source, can you also sell it through Amazon?
    • Yes, but it probably makes sense to just do Createspace because then you have better availability on Amazon.
    • The one thing Lightning Source is essential for is if you need to scan an existing print book to do a facsimile reproduction.
  • Be generous when you have it: it’s rewarding to give away fan-fiction books.
  • He republished out of print books
    • As an author you can only write so many books
    • As an editor/publisher, you can do 10x as much material in a year
  • Everything published before 1968 is in the public domain if it hasn’t been renewed. Stanford has a copyright renewal database. You can check on books that have expired.
    • There’s a ton of stuff written back in the forties and fifties which is still modern knowledge and useful stuff. It’s highly relevant to current times.
  • Q: To become a publisher, what did you have to do?
    • You don’t need a business license if you are not a retailer.
    • You probably just need a D.B.A. (doing business as) to cash checks with your bank.
    • I have a class C corporation, which creates more paperwork.

These are notes from Ken Scholes’s presentation at OryCon 33 on Evolution of a Writer Career.

Ken Scholes
Evolution of a Writing Career
OryCon 33
  • Evolution of a career
    • Wrote as a teenager, got a dozen rejection letters.
    • World Fantasy Con – the big business con: agents and editors
    • Took three years of serious, solid writing and seventy rejections before selling his first short story
      • Having written 10-15 in high school and 15-20 in later life
      • Probably published ~50 stories by now
    • Took Swenson’s writing class in 98, learned about Tale Bones.
    • Sold first story in 1999 — to Tale Bones. 
    • Second one in 2000. 
    • In 2001, sold another story. Met Jay Lake. Became good friends.
    • Norwest Con
    • 2002: sold 4th story – his 2nd story for the 2nd time.
    • Didn’t sell another story until 2004.
    • Then in 2004, something happened. Sold a bunch of stories
    • In 2005, won third prize for one of his short stories
    • L. Ron Hubard Writers of the Future
    • In 2005, decided he would not longer treat writing as a hobby. started tracking receipts. took a different job that took less of his brain, left him more for writing. took writing more seriously.
    • In 2006: people taunting him to write a novel. Jay Lake said “if you have a first draft by World Fantasy Con, I’ll introduce you to everyone I know.”
    • Jay Lake introduced him to his agent.
    • In October 2007, Tor said “We want all five books”.
    • In 2009, Lamentation came out, started selling well. earned out by third book.
    • In 2011, have novels out in many countries. Doing quite well.
    • Still has a day job.
    • His career is making years in the making. What seems like a lot of success in 2009-2011 is really the result of 14 years of serious writing plus lots of history before that.
    • Make friends in the industry. Spent time in the industry.
  • Questions and Answers
    • Q: How to transition from writing short story to novels
      • Same tools you use to build, but the process is different (e.g. like building a shed vs a house).
      • Don’t write a novel. Instead, practice writing a novel. See where the practice takes you.
      • Or… don’t spend time thinking about it. Just do it as quickly as possible.
      • The biggest part is: don’t quit. Even if it feels like the shittiest book ever, don’t give up. He thought Lamentation was the worst book he ever read: flat characters, action happens off-screen, etc.
      • Most of the time we quit too fast.
    • Q: How do you decide what Con to go to?
      • My first was World Fantasy Con. Then OryCon. Then Norwest Con.
      • World Fantasty Con is really business driven. The agents and publishers all go.
      • Depending on where you are in your career, go for what you need. To learn craft, etc.
      • But go to make friends. Those friends will be really helpful throughout your career. Build relationships.
      • Now that he’s progressed in his career, he goes to the bigger cons to do business and network.  WorldCon, WorldFantasyCon.
      • It’s easier to sit down and talk to people, even big people at the smaller, local conferences. 
      • Send thank you notes and follow ups to everyone you meet.
        • “Greet meeting you at…”
      • Find out the publishers and editors that you love, and where they go.
    • Q: Agent recently said “not enough creative and unique manuscripts being sent”. Any thoughts?
      • It takes about a million bad words before your own voice really emerges.
    • Q: How do you assure you’ll get pay
      • You can report it through SFWA
      • If it’s a short story, the publication credit may matter more. Don’t worry too much about it.
      • Even the pro markets are very slow in payment: He has books out around the world, three novels, since 2009, and he still needs a day job and struggles to pay the bills.
    • Q: For short stories: How do you end it, and when is soon enough?
      • What’s the promise at the beginning of the story?
      • You start with a person that feels believable. They are in a setting. They are given a problem, always on the first page in a short story.
      • When they have solved the problem, and received whatever it is they get for solving the problem, that’s the ending.
    • Q: Finding agents
      • Willamette Writers
      • Suri
      • Cascade Writers 
      • you can meet editors more easily than agents
    • Q: How do you balance research, deliberate practice, and action creation of new content?
      • Follow my muse.
      • Sometimes the research leads to a story.
      • Sometimes I just fly by the seat of my pants.
      • I’d rather have my muse push me in the direction of production. 
    • Q: How do you figure out where your prospective readers are online?
      • Absolute Write
      • I tend to build my community at convention.
      • Mary Rosenblum’s panel on social media on Saturday.
      • Use Facebook because it’s easy.
    • Q: How do you know when your novel is ready to submit?
      • Get it as good as done you can get for that moment, then it’s ready.
      • Don’t spend your life revising one book.
      • As soon as some people who are not your immediate family say it’s good, then it’s ready.
      • You need to have some writers who can give you critical feedback. You also need to have some people who are just readers, not writers, who can simply say “good” or not.
      • You have to have a next thing to get excited about it. 
      • You will not grow by simply rehashing old stuff. You have to write new stuff.
      • If an editor says “do this”, then do it, because they’ll pay you.
    • Q: What if the most effective marketing program for selling your book?
      • Knowing what you want, where you want to go. Ken knew he wanted to go with Tor.
      • Go to cons.
      • And keep writing new stuff. Don’t fret about the stuff that’s out there. If you keep writing new stuff, it’ll build over time.
    • Q: Motivation
      • I write so I can know who I am.
      • I write so I can share a story with people that they might enjoy reading.
      • I write because I have daycare bills. If I finish this book, I can get a check.
      • Now Ken’s career is at a tipping point: Wouldn’t it be great if Ken didn’t have to have two jobs? 
    • Q: How do you convey non-human characters to readers without losing characteristic of non-human? (e.g. dragons)
      • You don’t want to have something so far from human that they aren’t enjoyable. People want to read for both the unique stuff as well as human qualities.
      • MSU: the great university of writers. Make Stuff Up.
    • Q: How do you effectively edit a novel?
      • I write good clean first drafts. The story is intact. It’s just spelling and word choice.
      • That’s the product of practice: lots and lots of words written, lots of short stories. In short stories you learn to make each word do three or four things.
      • Don’t spend years and years making it right.
      • Crank out a book a year.
      • If you want to make a living doing this, you can’t do a book every five or six years. You have to write faster than that.
      • Don’t take more than one or two or three passes through a novel before putting it out to market.
      • Effectively == quickly.
      • Figure out the strengths of the people who are reading it. Are they plot people or character people or what? If they are a character person and they complain about the plot, then don’t worry about it. If they complain about character, then listen carefully.
    • Q: Does speaking in front of an audience help you write?
      • I was a quiet introvert in high school.
      • I expanded – to choir, to music, to being a preacher.
      • If you are able to hold your own at a party, teach classes, give presentations, it gives you more opportunities.
      • But in the end, a writing conference is going to take a great writer who is a mediocre speaker than a great speaker who is a bad writer. So focus on writing.
    • Not willing to self-publish. Willing to do small presses for short story. Short stories are a reasonably small investment of time. For novels, it is a big investment of time. I wrote enough in the short story world that my first novel was good enough to be marketed.
    • Start at the top, and work your way down.
    • There are people who would have been with big publishers, and they settled for small publishers.
    • For people who have some readership, then self-publishing may work.
    • For small publishers, they don’t have the money to distribute you effectively.
      • Then you become a person who has to self-promote. Then you don’t have the energy to write.
    • Go through all the pro markets first.
    • Q: Mind hacks to keep writing
      • Music
      • Access to water and food so I don’t have to leave
      • Audience: the progress bar in scrivener
    •  Q: Does writing short stories help you improve as a writer faster than writing novels?
      • Yes.
      • Q: So if you are not inclined to write short stories, should you do it?
        • No.
        • But, what would it cost you to try? If you are used to writing 100,000 word novels, what would it take you to write five 5k-10k short stories? Try it.

      I love Apple Pages. It’s a clean, fairly minimal word processor. Compared to Microsoft Word, it has approximately 10,000 less buttons.

      It has a few shortcomings however, and if you’ve ever tried to take a .pages document, export it to .doc, and then upload it to Kindle Direct Publishing, you may have found that you couldn’t generate the table of contents that Amazon wants. Namely, they want a list of chapters, and those chapters should be enabled as hyperlinks. Apple Pages can’t do this automatically, and neither can Microsoft Word on the Mac.

      However, it is possible to do manually with Apple Pages. It takes about ten minutes. Here’s how to generate a Kindle table of contents or TOC on the Mac, using Apple Pages:

      1. Go through your document, and for each chapter title, select the text, and then click Insert -> Bookmark. After you do this the first time, a small link popup window will appear. This is the Inspector, on the “Link” tab. Keep this open. You can click the + button on that window to add subsequent bookmarks once you have the chapter title selected.
      2. Create a new page near the front of the book. Put “Table of Contents” at the top. Then manually type the chapter names, one per line. My chapters are unnamed, so I merely have “Chapter 1”, “Chapter 2”, etc.
      3. While we’re making bookmarks, let’s also generate the two Amazon required bookmarks:
        1. Select “Table of Contents”, and click Insert -> Bookmark, and name it “TOC”. All uppercase, just those three letters. (You can double-click the bookmark names in the popup window to rename them.)
        2. Go to the first page of your book – the actual start of text. Place the cursor before the first character of text. Again click Insert -> Bookmark, and name it “Start”.
      4. Go to the Inspector window, and click the hyperlink tab instead of the bookmark tab.
      5. For each chapter title in your manually created table of contents
        1. select the text. 
        2. In the Inspector, check the Enable As Hyperlink. 
        3. In the Link To: dropdown, select Bookmark. 
        4. In the Name field, select the name of the bookmark – your chapter title.
      Note: if the small link window closes, you can get back to it by clicking View -> View Inspector, and then clicking the second to last icon that looks like a arrow. 
      When you’re done, of course, you’ll want to export your Pages document as Word, and then you can upload to Kindle Direct, and it will convert it into a Kindle ebook with a valid table of contents, with the required Start and TOC bookmarks that Kindle insists on.

      Gene Kim and I were discussing how to reach an audience of readers, and he referred me to 1,000 True Fans:

      A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.

      The premise is that with 1,000 True Fans, it’s enough to support a writer or artist. If they each spend $100 per year, buying everything you produce, then that’s $100,000, which is enough to provide a living.

      One thousand is a feasible number. You could count to 1,000. If you added one fan a day, it would take only three years. True Fanship is doable. Pleasing a True Fan is pleasurable, and invigorating. It rewards the artist to remain true, to focus on the unique aspects of their work, the qualities that True Fans appreciate. 

      The key challenge is that you have to maintain direct contact with your 1,000 True Fans. They are giving you their support directly. Maybe they come to your house concerts, or they are buying your DVDs from your website, or they order your prints from Pictopia. As much as possible you retain the full amount of their support. You also benefit from the direct feedback and love.

      One of the key principles is that creators don’t need to strive for a best seller or #1 hit, nor do they need to settle for languishing somewhere in the long tail. 1,000 True Fans will sustain a happy medium:

      Young artists starting out in this digitally mediated world have another path other than stardom, a path made possible by the very technology that creates the long tail. Instead of trying to reach the narrow and unlikely peaks of platinum hits, bestseller blockbusters, and celebrity status, they can aim for direct connection with 1,000 True Fans. It’s a much saner destination to hope for. You make a living instead of a fortune. You are surrounded not by fad and fashionable infatuation, but by True Fans. And you are much more likely to actually arrive there.

      Check out the full original article.


      I read a great article today by Thomas Baekdal called The Myth of the 99 Cent Book. An excerpt:

      Another example is if you write a book for a nice market, totaling 20,000 potential readers. And you predict that for the price of $9.99 you will reach 35% of that audience. 

      35% of 20,000 = 7,000 * 9.99 = $69,930 

      Then using the same logic, lowering the price to 99 cents will increase sale by a factor of 10 …or cause you to sell 70,000 books and reach 350% of your total audience.
      But that is not possible. You cannot exceed your total audience–you cannot even get a 100% penetration rate (not even if you gave it away for free.) If you lowered the price, you might reach 60% instead of 35% 

      60% of 20,000 = 12,000 * 0.99 = $11,880
      There is something catastrophically wrong with how people perceive the price of content.

      I attended my first writers conference this past weekend: the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon.

      The conference included workshops on the craft of writing, as well as all aspects of a writers career, from using social media and building an online audience to the art of pitching to agents to the pros and cons of self-publishing.

      In addition, a major component of the conference is the ability to pitch directly to agents, either one-on-one (10 minute sessions), group sessions (approximately 2 minutes per person), or ad-hoc in hallways or over lunch.

      Prior to the conference, I attended a six hour workshop by Leona Grieve on preparing to pitch to agents. This was invaluable, not only because I learned about numerous mistakes I was making on my query letter, but also because it introduced the concept of the log line, a one sentence summary of your concept.

      Here’s an example of my log line:

      What if a man, desperate to keep his work project from being cancelled, modified the world’s largest email service to automatically and secretly alter people’s emails to ensure the success of the project, only to find that the software’s manipulations continually escalate?

      This isn’t a perfect example, as the ideal log line would be less than 25 words, but it’s a start. Many log lines will start with a “what if” but they should also include a “so what”. My first attempts at a log line didn’t include the “only to find that the software’s manipulations continually escalate”. Some intermediate versions cast the “so what” in terms of the impact to the main character.

      I also learned that agents like to have a two to three sentence summary of your book in addition to the log line. In addition, you must make sure to mention the title of the book, genre, length (in words), your name, and your credentials.

      All this can seem overwhelming, and I spent weeks whittling down what I had to fit the expectations of agents and editors.

      I didn’t really understand start to understand the point of it all until the workshop. Agents and editors expect to see something in a particular format with particular content. With anywhere from 25 to 150 queries a day to process, anything outside of the boundaries of their expectations is simply rejected or disregarded. In many ways, this is similar to what happens to resumes: when looking at 50 to 100 resumes for a position, the easy ones to eliminate are the ones with funny formatting or a lack of the expected content in the resume, or the ones without a cover letter.

      At the conference I attended a workshop on pitching that included literary agent Laurie McLean, who completed my understanding. Laurie explained that authors pitch to agents, but agents must then turn around and pitch to editors. Editors turn around and pitch to booksellers. Booksellers pitch to readers, who must buy the book. Unless a book has a succinct and compelling description that will ultimately become backcover copy, none of those steps can happen. An agent needs to be able to phone a editor and figure out in a minute if the idea is good. The publisher has to, with only a few words, convey the story and conflict and would it would be interesting to the reader, who will make a purchase decision based on those few words.

      Once I really understood how valuable the pitch is all through the lifecycle of a book, some of my internal resistance to creating a pitch evaporated, and I was able to focus on creating an effective one. Once I had it, I practiced over and over, so that I would feel comfortable delivering it.

      My completed pitch is 192 words, and it takes me about 1 minute and 15 seconds to deliver at a comfortable pace. Here’s the whole thing:

      My book, Avogadro Corp is a 67,000 word techno-thriller. 

      What if a man, desperate to keep his work project from being cancelled, modified the world’s largest email service to automatically and secretly alter emails to ensure the success of his project only to find that the software’s manipulations continually increase? 

      David Ryan is the designer of ELOPe, an email language optimization tool, that if successful, will make his career. But when the project may be cancelled, David embeds a directive in the software to filter the company emails for any mention of the project, creating a sense of self-preservation. 

      David and his coworkers are thrilled at first when the project is allocated extra servers and programmers. But his initial excitement turns to fear as David realizes that he too is being manipulated. 

      David and his team, and soon the whole company, take ever escalating action to contain ELOPe, including bombing their own data centers, only to find that ELOPE is always one step ahead of them. 

      Avogadro Corp was inspired by my work on expert systems and social media at Hewlett-Packard, as well as personal experiences with computer hackers.

      It’s still not perfect. In particular, I don’t at all capture how ELOPe plays into world politics, or the subplot of how David and Mike’s friendship is strained by differing opinions about how to deal with the project in the beginning, and in how to deal with the AI near the end.

      But it’s shorter and smoother than the 240 word that took me two minutes to deliver, and much shorter than the 350 word body of my query letters that failed to include a log line.

      I scheduled two agent group sessions. Unfortunately, there were only three agents interested in science fiction or techno thrillers, and one of them was already booked by the time I registered. I showed up for my first group session both excited and nervous. The agent introduced herself, and then said something along the lines of, “To alleviate some of the pressure and nervousness, I’ll be inviting all of you to send me a query.”

      It’s true that it does help if you are nervous, which I was, and it does feel good to get to send your material to the agent. But I can’t help feeling that I would want the agent to be slightly more discriminatory, because I’d like to know that if I am invited to submit that I’d have a better chance than if I had just emailed her agent out of the blue.

      Later in the day I went to my second group session, and this agent also again invited everyone at the table to send material to her.

      From the agents’ perspective, I think they might say that they can really only make a decision based on the writing itself, rather than a pitch.

      In the end, I feel that all the preparation that went into getting ready to pitch at the conference was extremely valuable. I’m not sure yet whether the actual pitching at the conference improves a writer’s chances of success, at least in the format of a group session where there is little time for discussion of the work.

      If you are a writer looking to get published, here are three key resources that will help.

      1. Duotrope: Duotrope is an online database of fiction and poetry publishers (or as they call them in the industry: markets), with tools that allow you to find publishers by genre, length of your work, and more. This is a good first place to go to find relevant publishers. Some publishers aren’t listed, and sometimes whether a given publisher is open or closed to submissions may be slightly out of date. Duotrope also has a weekly email that will alert you to new publishers, or publishers that have recently reopened to submissions.
      2. Pred-Ed: Preditors and Editors is a site that lists publishers and agents, among other things. Ignore the website design (which looks straight out of the mid-1990s), and focus on the recommendations for each agent and publisher. Whereas Duotrope’s Digest offers a comprehensive database of publishers without any information about the quality, Pred-Ed offers recommendations for each one: ranging from “not recommended” to “highly recommended”. The recommendations appear to be primarily based on the relationship to the author: do they treat the author well, honor the contract, have a good contract, etc. When I was looking for markets for my first novel, I read through the entire database of publishers, looking for anything with positive recommendations. I found at least a dozen markets I hadn’t found through Duotrope.
      3. Publisher’s Marketplace: If you’ve got $20 a month to invest in your writing career, subscribe to Publisher’s Marketplace for at least a month or two, and sign up for Publisher’s Lunch Deluxe, their daily email. Publisher’s Marketplace is an online database of publishing deals, among other things. A deal consists of an author, an agent, a publisher, and a book title. This means that if you’ve identified books or authors similar to yourself, you can see who their agent is. This is difficult to find anywhere else. 

      Why New Authors Should Think Like Indie Bands
      St. Ours
      Alan J Porter @alanjporter
      Amelia Gray @grayamelia
      Timothy Willis Sanders @timothysanders
      • Have you seen things changing in the publishing world? Does Amazon, Kindle, CreateSpace.
        • It’s become a lot easier to become a known quantity. Historically self-publishing has been looked down upon by traditional press. But in the comic industry, it’s the complete opposite. You have to be self-published, to prove you are committed, you have an audience. That will start to happen in the traditional publishing.
        • I could publish a story in the Missouri Review. maybe 20 people would read it, 10 people would like it, and 5 people would like it enough to seek me out. But if I put it online, I can reach many more people. The old print journals start to lose a little bit of their prestige.
        • The best print journals now have really vibrant web presences now. 
        • My editor contacted me through my web site. I didn’t have an agent. it was totally backwards from the traditional expectation.
      • What successes have you stumbled on?
        • Porter:
          • Different social media places have different audiences. I do promotional stuff on twitter, I do personal stuff, slice of life stuff. I like to keep it a mix. Through it I’ve got to know several editors and people in the publishing industry. When/if I meet these people at a conference, they know who I am, and can put a face to a name.
          • Building relationships both with your readers and the people who publish and distribute your work.
          • I used to blog, but now my blog is more of a static site, and I interact more with people on Twitter
          • Last novella I told was completely because of Twitter: was following a publisher, find out about anthology, and was able to get novella published.
        • Amelia Gray: 
          • Do accept friend requests from everyone, use it to promote stuff and do my business.
        • Willis Sanders:
          • It’s such a new problem: how do I manage my twitter, social media accounts?
          • It’s very different for writers and literature, because so much of what we do is in a very old-school industry. Where else do you study material hundreds of years old.
          • Fiction writers grapple with new technologies in their own fiction. Fiction doesn’t reflect our realities: we’re on Facebook every day, yet Facebook doesn’t make it into fiction. 
      • Do publishers take that following into account? Does it have weight?
        • Gray: The marketing people are obsessed with how many hits my blog gets, what are the search terms, how many followers and friends do I have. (my day job is online marketing/search engine optimization.)
        • Porter: 
          • It’s a great way to study relationships – who does this editor friend? 
          • Too many authors are burning bridges, not realizing that editors are following them. An editor may go from one publisher to another, and you can run into them again and again. 
      • Are writers finding a way to give things away to fans online, the way bands do, and how do publishers respond to that?
        • Publisher (???) has printable books, iPhone app, storigami. They have a huge commitment to design.
        • Publishers and journals don’t like to publish what’s already been published. But there are many online journals/presences that you can be linking to from your own blog.
        • Some of the more forward looking publishers realize the genie is out of the bottle: anything you can find online. 
          • all these books were being bit torrented. so harper collins gave away books for free. which ended up driving more sales of the printed book than before.
        • I took my self-published book, which was $15 for the printed book, and did a $2.99 book on Kindle. It was slow for a while, but sales have taken off, and they’ve even driven up the sales of the printed copy.
        • My main motivation is to have as many people read my stuff as possible. I don’t care how it happens, I just want it to happen.
        • Self-published authors can be book tours and signing. If you can offer a book store an event: a mini-concert plus a reading. Found a local Beatles tribute band to tour and do book signings.
        • Did a cross country book reading tour at bars.
        • Merchandising:
          • Not a lot of writers make T-shirts and buttons, which is something that bands do, which raises money and spreads the world.
        • Of course, it comes down to the work being good.
          • No different than music.
      • Now you can be a full-time author, not being published, just publishing on your own. Will publishing go away?
        • Porter: 
          • Publishing won’t go away entirely. In the end, you still need an editor, a designer, a promoter, and a publisher is still an effective way to get that.
          • What is changing is that publishing is no longer a matter of moving paper around. It’s more about the content than before.
          • Print is still the best user interface around. Books that have great photography and great graphics, I still want in print. The throw away novel I’m going to read once, I am happy to read on my iPad.
        • Gray:
          • The big houses can still afford to pay more, they can hire the best designers, best editors, and they do great stuff. 
          • And they are hiring great experimental people too, doing innovative stuff.
      • Marketing of the book is always going to be a important.
        • Porter:
          • You have to do the marketing yourself, even if it’s a traditional publisher. You have to market the book, and you always have. Now it’s just easier to do. Once upon a time you had to get in the car and drive to every bookstore in the country. Now you can get a national or international following through online tools.
        • Willis Sanders:
          • It’s cool because now the writer has more control. Traditionally, when an indie artist gets popular, their record label starts to focus on what will sell, and the band loses artistic control. Publishing houses are similar: they choose the cover, and the author gets no say.
          • The writer gets more control over the public image of their work.
      • What have you found that hasn’t worked so well?
        • Willis Sanders:
          • Measuring your self-worth by how many twitter followers you have or how many people friend you is a danger
          • Writers are nervous, anxiety ridden people – when they approach social media it can either make them really excited or depressed or both.
        • St. Ours
          • Writers can be slow to adopt social media technology.
          • But once you give them the nudge, they can be eager to adopt.
        • Porter
          • The downside as a writer is that we can look for anything to do besides write: so you can spend all your time on social media, and have no product to promote.
      • Questions
        • Q: There are lots of tools for indie musicians to publish their work and see it rise to the top. e.g. with one site,
          • Fiction audit (fiction off?, can’t find the reference): you put a story up, and people vote on it.
          • There are individual forums and websites that do that.
        • Q: Publishers care deeply about follower count and “platform”. If I have to come with the audience and the content and the legwork, exactly what is the publisher there for?
          • A: Exactly.
          • I’d rather do it on my own terms.
        • Q: What are the terms that make you feel successful?
          • “Success and writer?” do they go together?
          • There are writers with six books and 5,000 followers, and they live in very small apartments.
          • A success is being able to write another book
          • A success is when somebody comes up to me and says thank you.
        • Q: Have you tried giving away first chapters, and then sell the rest? Using the free to sell the non-free?
          • I tried it with one novel, and it bombed. Not sure if that was the writing or the method.
          • But $2.99 is an impulse buy. 
          • Plus with the kindle, you get a free first chapter.
        • Q: Comment from the publishing side: The really great writers are good at building their communities. But you need to find readers outside those communities. You might get 5,000 books from the community, and 15,000 through the curators: NY Times Review.
        • Q: ???
          • An editor is going to read hundreds of manuscripts, and find the one golden one. Writers who are adverse to the online communities can still be successful.

      I was recently asked “What is the process for pitching an idea to a publisher?”

      Although I am far from an expert, I am going through the process now of submitting my manuscript to publishers and agents, and so this was my reply:

      It depends on the type of book. For fiction, most publishers want a finished manuscript, not an idea. For business books and the like, some publishers will consider something in the idea phase, but usually only from established authors.
      Having an agent is a bonus, not a prerequisite (as some other people have suggested). If you have a finished manuscript you can be submitting query letters to agents at the same time that you are submitting to publishers.
      Duotrope Digest ( is an excellent resource to find publishers. You pick the genre of your book, the length, and you get back a list of publishers who are open to submissions. In addition, I highly recommend Preditors & Editors (, another website that allows you to review publishers, and get recommendations on which ones are good, and which are to be avoided (because of bad contracts, conflicts of interest, negligent on payments, etc.)
      When you do have a genre, length, and finished manuscript, by using the two resources mentioned above, you should be able to make a list of 10 to 15 publishers that are a good match for your work. (Perhaps less if you have a novella length work, for which there are few publishers.) Start with the most reputable and well known publisher, and work your way down the list. You don’t want to sell yourself short by starting at the bottom of the list.
      The best known and most reputable publishers will have the widest distribution, best sales and editors, and will do the best job of getting your book out there. However, just getting a first book published by any publisher (not a vanity press or self-publisher) will enhance the opportunity to get future books published, so it is perfectly reasonable to go with a smaller publisher too, if you are not accepted by the biggest/best.
      It’s helpful to have a blog or twitter, and establish a following, because that feeds into the publishers consideration: if you will be able to help promote the book, then you will increase sales. On the other hand, publishers don’t like if you self-publish. (The merits of self-publishing is another whole topic – but if you want to be published by a regular publisher, they are biased against people who self-publish.)
      Perseverence is key. Many published authors submitted their manuscripts dozens of times, likely spanning several years, before having it accepted. Authors talk about keeping the pipeline full: one you have one work making the rounds of publishers, get started on the second work, and then get the second making the rounds. Then the third, and so on.