1 August 2013 - SELF-PUBLISHING IS? by Paul Goat Allen


- By Paul Goat Allen -

G'day guys,

Today I feature some more wonderful work by Paul Goat Allen, a book reviewer for more than twenty years. 

How do traditionally published authors complete the sentence: “Self publishing is?" Their answers might surprise you.


 “I thought it would be interesting to ask a bunch of established authors — writers who have found some semblance of commercial and/or critical success through traditional publishing — to finish this simple open-ended statement “Self publishing is…” to see if there were any prevailing responses or attitudes.

Would these writers respond with disdain, ridicule, or pity, or would there be some level of acceptance?

Although the responses were varied, collectively they offered profound insight and enlightenment into the future of self publishing.

Several authors pointed out the obvious difficulties and hardships involved in self publishing:

Nicole Peeler: “Self-publishing is a lot of work.”

Adam Connell: “Self-publishing is writing your book, editing it alone, formatting it by yourself for outlets such as Nook and Kindle and Smashwords—whose guidelines all vary—and then acquiring quality cover art. After this comes the marketing and promoting of your novel by exploiting social media with half of your spare time, spending the other half in the mostly fruitless endeavor of scrabbling for review attention. All the while competing with 60,000 or so other authors who are using the same tools with the same enthusiasm. This is what self-publishing is.”

Jennifer Pelland: “Self-publishing is very difficult to do well.”

Richard Kadrey: “Self-publishing is the literary equivalent of riding a Conestoga wagon into the West in the 1840s. You’re heading into largely uncharted territory where you might find a place to settle down. Or you might strike it rich. Or you might disappear without a trace, only to be stumbled upon years later, bones by the side of the road. Like those early travelers West, I admire self-publishers’ gumption and fortitude. They’re carving out a road for others to follow. Frankly, I don’t know if I could do it. There are so many obstacles in the way. So many dead ends. I wish them well and I hope they find the mother lode.”

David Nickle: “I think that people who self-publish take a great risk with their careers. For years, I thought they did so recklessly. But I’ve watched too many good, business-savvy writers do very well for themselves—and their books—by hiring editors, publicists, and cutting a deal with Amazon to dismiss self-publishing as a viable option. With all that said: nothing beats working with a good, nurturing publisher who handles everything from copy editing to cover art to publicity. But it is, like the song says, nice work if you can get it. And there are a lot of good books that don’t quite fit the needs of the publishing houses that still have an audience out there.”

Other authors — like Rhiannon Frater, who has found success through both traditionally published and self-published works — see self-publishing as an increasingly advantageous option:

Rhiannon Frater: “Self-publishing is liberating.
“For a very long time writers were dependent on publishing houses to deliver their stories into the hands of readers. I’ve had editors tell me that perfectly good stories are rejected because they just won’t sell in large enough numbers. They’re too niche. Oftentimes, those manuscripts eventually were tucked away in trunks, drawers, or closets never to be seen again. Now those perfectly good stories can reach their audience through self-publishing. One of my manuscripts was rejected because it was too similar in theme to another book my publisher was releasing. I self-published the novel to rave reviews, accolades, and brisk sales. In another age, it would have been dumped into a drawer and forgotten.

“Self-publishing is freedom.”

Adam Pepper: “Self-publishing, when coupled with digital technology and the power of the Internet, is the great democratizer of our literary culture. For better or worse, it’s become very easy to publish a book and have access to a mass audience. This has been a boon to writers trying to maximize their earning potential. It also presents great opportunities for creative minds working outside the corporate culture. Although most of the success stories thus far have been accessible fiction (thrillers, romance and mysteries), it’s only a matter of time for something really brilliant to come through.”

Jessica Meigs: “I think self-publishing is definitely becoming a viable career path for many writers. I am glad to see that, in many instances, it is beginning to lose its stigma and become more accepted as an alternative or an in-addition-to for traditional publication.”

Samantha Mary Beiko: “Self-publishing is the next inevitable step in the book publishing industry as we know it. A lot of traditionalists tend to scoff at it, but when the economy forces big houses to limit their acquisitions around Big Selling Authors, and technology continues to give independent authors the means to penetrate the market on their own, what did you think would happen?”

Carrie Clevenger: “Self-publishing is a viable option, provided it receives the same amount of care, polish, and editing as a traditional route. It is also a great way to release previously-published works or short story collections.”

Two particularly revealing responses came from two very well known paranormal fantasy novelists, Jaye Wells, author of the bestselling saga featuring half vampire/half mage heroine Sabina Kane (published by Orbit); and Marcus Pelegrimas, whose Skinners saga (published by HarperCollins) brilliantly blends horror with urban fantasy. Both are part of a growing category known as “hybrid authors,” writers whose portfolios include both traditionally and self-published works.

Jaye Wells: “Self-publishing is a great opportunity for authors to diversify and experiment. On June 6, I’ll be publishing a novella called Meridian Six, which will hopefully be the first in a series of novellas set in this new dystopian world. I decided to self-publish it because I wanted the freedom to work on these stories outside my traditional deadlines. I’ve also recently published two light paranormal romances under the name Kate Eden for the same reason. I enjoy the structure and support traditional publishing offers, but it’s nice to have the ability to experiment and control scheduling with indie, as well.

 “I guess this makes me one of those hybrid authors we keep hearing about. My experience so far has been positive, but it’s definitely by no means easy. Being an author, regardless of the medium or format in which you share your stories, is not a get-rich-quick scheme and it’s not for anyone who’s afraid of hard work.”

Marcus Pelegrimas: “Self- publishing is something that used to be a sore spot with professional writers — kind of a shortcut taken by those who hadn’t paid their dues by submitting, being rejected (more than a few times) and sticking at it for years if necessary until something happens. That whole process I mentioned earlier wasn’t just some kind of hazing. It helped forge writers into better writers and skipping to the end avoided that. Kind of like a garage band with a home-mixed demo tape expecting to get a Grammy at their first show. That’s not to say every self-published person was perceived this way. I’d say it’s the fault of some very loud people who insisted on sitting next to the pros at signings while chatting themselves up with their friends. Once again, the annoying few ruins it for the rest.

“But that’s changed recently and never more so than it has in the last couple of years! Not only has self-publishing changed, but the big-time publishing has as well. Due to a struggling economy, the big publishers (like most other big businesses) have to be much more careful. That means the non-NYT bestsellers are having a much tougher time of it. Publishing houses want to find new talent, but also want a guaranteed profit margin. That amounts to a lot of stuff getting passed over that would have been published years ago. What this means for self-publishing is simple.""

Clancy's comment: Thanks, Paul. I have been an advocate and activist for self-published authors for years; probably to my detriment. However, many self-published books I've read and reviewed have been magnificently prepared and written. Sadly, the attitudes towards self-published authors has denied libraries, the general public, teachers, kids, parents and grandparents the opportunity to avail themselves of the entire list of books available.

Again, I repeat. Being an author is the toughest gig I've ever been involved in, but it can be an extraordinary journey. I guess things will change in time, but better sooner, rather than later ...

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Don't ya just love this shot?

31 July 2013 - JIM MURRAY - Guest Author


- Guest Author -
G'day guys,

Today I feature my first author from Ireland, a magnificent country full of interesting, funny and smart people. Jim Murray is one of them.

Welcome, Jim ...


I think I wrote my first book when I was little more than a toddler. I managed to cram a volcano, an explosion, a plane crash and a lion attack into the first paragraph, and it pretty much continued in that vein! I have always scribbled, and made my first concerted efforts to write prose in my late twenties when I knocked out a few experimental (unpublishable) novels. Then, as I saw many of my friends progress in their careers, I realised I had to earn, so I set up a business in my early thirties and have been working on that ever since – for more than ten years. I returned to writing a few years ago, and recently completed the novel, Brother, which I have self published.


With the novel I have just published, I pretty much ‘shot from the hip’. It wasn’t an ideal process, and as the story unfolded, I found I had to engage in a lot of rewriting, much more-so than I would if I had mapped it out beforehand. I am currently working on my next novel, and I wrote a very comprehensive outline to it before I got down to the real writing.


I think it is legacy. I don’t want to pass through this World without leaving a contrail. When I write, I feel that I am leaving that mark of my existence – whether any, or many, people will every read my writing, that is besides the point. In my mind I am creating something that will endure.


The hardest thing for me was the lack of power I felt in the face of disinterested and dismissive Literary Agents and Publishing Houses. I actually feel that the traditional publishing industry is the architect of its own doom. The main interest seems to be in publishing celebrities. I feel that if I were a thrice divorced footballer with a drug problem and a ghostwriter, I would get a deal tomorrow. At the last count, Justin Bieber and Kathy Price (aka Jordan) each have three autobiographies under their belts!

I have a friend who once got a publishing deal with a major imprint, and had his novel appear in the leading retailers. He didn’t sell the requisite volumes in a very short space of time, so they pulled his books. He is now back to obscurity, albeit a bitter obscurity, and I think he is worse off than a self or never published writer as he had thought he had hit the big leagues.

It was a relief for me to discover self-publishing, especially through the Amazon platform. However, this of course brings its own problems – in particular the daunting challenge of raising visibility and reader interest. 


I am working on a novel which is a police procedural with maybe a hint of the paranormal, and written in a literary style.


I like a compelling plot, so I am drawn to Crime / Thriller / Suspense, but I write in quite a literary style.


I remember when I first started writing, I wanted to show the World how clever I was. I spent a lot of my time crafting elaborate similes and metaphors. Over time I learned that a good writer is economical when it comes to descriptiveness – they limit the obstacles to the flow of the story. The best bit of advice I have ever heard is: write your page, read it, and then cut out anything that looks like writing. Essentially, a writer needs to learn to get out of the way of the story. If they are a genius, or a highly talented writer, that will shine through without being forced on the reader.

Also, if a new writer is going to go down the self published route, they need to learn skills that go beyond writing. Presentation of your work is hugely important; cover and book description in particular. It might not be a bad idea to publish your book to Amazon and then submit a question to the writers’ forum in Amazon KDP, or on Goodreads. This is what I did – I submitted a query on KDP - and I got a lot of brilliant advice on my cover and my description. 

I took all of these recommendations on board, and I feel that my presentation has improved dramatically for it. The participants in these forums don’t usually critique the actual writing, but they will pull you up on bad grammar and spelling. It is very important to take all of this advice for what it is – the generous gift of these writers’ time and experience.


I never did – not until I became a father. I think I should have named my baby son ‘Writer’s Block’.


Morning, definitely morning. I have steam for about 4 – 5 hours, and then I’m done. Afternoons, I can sometimes manage a little revision. However, these days I get very little time to write. The fact is that I have a ten month old son, and as I heard another writer with small children phrase it: I am now a naptime novelist.


Not really. When I first started writing it was pen and paper – that already sounds quaint. I was very glad to graduate to a word processor, though I do need a desktop PC. I can never write on a laptop keyboard, and certainly not without a mouse – so maybe I am again at the point of being outmoded!


I don’t. I am an obsessive re-writer.  My current novel has probably been through hundreds of drafts, and I think in fact that I am an editor more-so than a writer.


I’ve already read them J I’d take my Kindle and hope for WiFi.


I have noted a trend in my characters – my stories usually involve a conflict between a naive hero and a manipulative psychopath. I don’t see myself as fitting either of these personality types, and I have never really known anyone who does, so I wonder if these two characters aren’t opposing facets of my psyche!


I feel that it is important to write for pleasure rather than ego. Ego will lead to disatisfaction. Once I abandoned all of those fantasies of paparazzi and prime-time chat shows, I began to hugely enjoy the process. Success to me is a meditative enjoyment of the craft and the unfolding story. If fame and financial success are to follow, that will be a bonus.


On my current novel I had a graphic designer acquaintance do me a freebie cover. She didn’t read the book, and the final cover – while nice – didn’t really speak for the book. I put a question to the writer’s forum on Amazon, and was amazed by the comprehensive feedback I received. Many of the commentators remarked that the cover needed work, so I decided to invest a whack of money in getting this right, and I contacted a very talented designer I know. He read the book, and he came up with the current cover which I am very happy with.


I had written my current novel with the hope that I would secure a traditional publishing deal and let the publishing house worry about design, marketing and PR. This didn’t happen, and when I decided to go down the self publishing route, I had to quickly learn to wear many hats. I have to say, though, that so far it has been largely an enjoyable process. I already had a good handle on how to utilise social media, so I set up author accounts on Twitter and Facebook. I am still in the early stages, but I will eventually be launching an author website and blog.


And there followed an awkward silence . . .



Clancy's comment: Go, Jim. Thanks for sparing the time, mate. Best wishes.

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30 July 2013 - CAN WE CREATE A UTOPIA?


by Jolene Hansell

G'day guys,

Today I feature an article written by Jolene Hansell. Jolene is a Master’s Candidate of Conflict Resolution at Georgetown University. Her specific area of focus is transitional justice and rule of law. Currently she is in Arusha, Tanzania, working as a Legal Intern for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. 

"Recently, I pulled a childhood book off my shelf – The Giver by Lois Lowry. The book is one of my favorites, and since I hadn’t read it since the seventh grade, I decide to re-read it. In the context of my studies now, the book took on a whole different meaning for me which had me asking: What does post-conflict reconstruction look like? Should democracy always be the goal? Or put more simply, is there such a thing as a utopic  society?

The aftermath of war, be it civil or international, is almost as bad as the fighting itself. Yes, the violence may have stopped – the result of a victorious party, a peace agreement, or an international intervention – but the battle has not yet been won. The conflict is frozen, balancing on the edge of a knife; a sudden movement in either direction could cause the process to unravel. It is at the moment, when a country is most vulnerable, that post-conflict reconstruction begins. The goal is to rebuild the country from the ground up, putting in place the necessary infrastructure and institutions, with all the checks and balances to hopefully ensure that such violent conflict does not reoccur. The traditional formula has been the institutionalization of democracy, but is this the most viable option? Can this create an enduring peace in and of itself?

There are two characteristics of democracy that are pertinent to this discussion: competition and choice. Democracy is competitive by its very nature. An election is a competition between competing parties for control of the government. Sounds simple, civil; people go to the ballots, cast their vote, one party wins, and there you have it, a new government. And in a developed democratic system this might be the case, but in a newly formed, or rather forming, democracy, the situation is quite different.

Imagine this: the multiple competing factions in a civil war have managed to come to a peace agreement, by way of an international intervention, have agreed to participate in national elections to determine the next legitimate government. In preparation for these elections, the former conflict factions each form their own political party. As, resources are scare and corruption is high, the only way to ensure one’s interests is to control the access and distribution of both resources and power. Thus, the elections have become a power struggle between the former competing factions. In support of this claim, Soth Plai Ngram, an expert on peacebuilding in Cambodia wrote in his M.A. Dissertation, “democracy is a competing terrain for political parties to win their power by controlling military forces, money and resources, rather than by winning the hearts of the people by improving their lives” (p.53). Consequently, rather than foster peace, democracy could actually create another means by which these parties continue to fight, pushing the fragile peace off the edge of the knife and sending it back into the chaos of violence.

Democracy is also characterized by choice; the capacity of each individual to have a voice in the process, to make their choice, and to cast their vote. But choices also create differences. They distinguish us from one another. The creation of differences between people, can be the source of future violence is a fragile state if these differences are not addressed or if there are not mechanisms in place for the reconciliation of such difference without resorting to violence. The construction of an identity based on differences is one of the foremost sources of conflict. Take, for example, the Rwanda genocide (rooted in construction of Hutu/Tutsi identities), the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (rooted in different religious identities), or the conflict between the two Sudans (rooted in a conflict between Arab/African identities). Democracy helps to facilitate the capacity of choice, but could it be possible for this capability to actually be detrimental to post-conflict reconstruction? How do we reconcile this? If not by democracy, then what?

There is a quote from The Giver that fits perfectly here, and attempts to define an alternative to democracy:

“We don’t let people make choice of their own…We really have to protect people from wrong choices…It’s safer” – Jonas to the Giver (Lowry p. 99)

The community in the giver is supposed to amply a utopic society; however, it is anything but a democracy and is rather more akin to a dictatorship. There is no suffering or pain, no bloodshed or tear, but there also is not choice or freedom. The society has a prescribed set of rules to which its citizen must adhere and the citizens are constantly monitored by camera to ensure compliance. The society has a predetermined number of births and deaths (referred to as ‘releases’) per year and each family unit has two children (one male and one female). A Committee of Elders matches husbands and wives, children to their parents, and jobs to the children at the age of 12 based on their individual characteristics and personal attributes. There are not differences. There is no colour, only shades of grey, emotions are suppressed with medicine, and there is an emphasis on uniformity and conformity. This system is functional and it seems to works, at least in the short term. The problem here is that it is like a teeter-totter; it can be a stepping-stone to something greater or a system needing just the right straw to entirely collapse.

So where does this leave us in terms of post-conflict reconstruction. What I have just described represents the two chasms between which peace balances: democracy, by nature of choice and competition, resulting in reoccurring conflict at one extreme, and dictatorship resulting in conflict when its authority is shaken or threatened at the other extreme. And in between we have a peace, fragile and fleeting, but nevertheless struggling to exist. The goal of post-conflict reconstruction should be neither democracy nor dictatorship, but rather the expansion of the space in which peace can be created; a widening of the tightrope to a more manageable size. It should begin with dialogue among the parties involved, but should not move too quickly towards any particular goal. A strong foundation needs to be built otherwise the system will collapse once more.

 If democracy is the answer, then the progress towards it needs to be slow. It needs to be built up brick by brick, not thrown together with fingers crossed hoping that it works. A democracy in a post-conflict situation needs to be continuous supported – one election does not create a democracy. It is a process. It may come with initial elements of dictatorship – highly centralized power, lacking in rights and freedoms – but these elements do not spring up overnight. Yes, the ultimate goal should be an open, democratic society, but this takes time.

So, can we create a utopia? Is a post-conflict situation the opportunity to sculpt a utopia society? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive towards it. If we are taking utopia to be synonymous with peace, reconciliation, the absence of violence, human rights, sustainable development, and the dignity of human beings, then it is a goal that we must continue to work towards. However, it is a project that never ends. There is no perfect system, no perfect democracy, no perfect society; it can constantly be improved. Although utopia will never be reached, striving towards it is what helps to create a lasting peace, one step at a time."

You can email Jolene at jah340@georgetown.edu or follow her on twitter @joleneh340
Clancy's comment: Thanks, Jolene, for kind permission to repost this. 

Stay safe.

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