Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Hiatus

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Because even watchdogs have to rest sometimes, the Writer Beware blog will be taking a break over the holiday season. Unless there's a really juicy publishing story, this blog will be on hiatus until the new year. (We'll still be answering email, so if you want to reach us, drop us a line at beware @ sfwa.org).

Wishing all our wonderful readers and subscribers a happy, healthy, and peaceful holiday season--whatever kind of holidays you celebrate. See you in 2011!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Some Tips on Evaluating Literary Contests

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Since I so often get questions about the legitimacy of literary contests (see, for instance, my posts of December 16 and December 7), I thought it would be helpful to post some suggestions for evaluating any contests you may be thinking of entering.

Who's conducting the contest? If it's an organization, magazine, or publisher you don't recognize, be sure to verify its legitimacy. If you can't confirm this to your satisfaction--or if the contest doesn't name its staff or sponsors--don't enter.

You may have to do some digging--for instance, this contest, which on the surface looked like a collaboration between a writers' magazine and a publisher, turned out on closer inspection to be one writer attempting to promote his self-publishing endeavor. Or this one, which appeared to have several sponsors but was actually all the same (less than reputable) company.

Be especially wary of contests that spam you, or are nothing but a webpage with an entry form, or are announced on Craigslist, or appear in the form of an ad in the back pages of writers' magazines or an announcement in a national newspaper supplement (these are usually vanity anthology companies).

Is the contest free? If so, you probably have nothing to lose by entering--though be sure to read the fine print. If you're a poet, be aware that a "free" contest is one of the major warning signs of a vanity anthology scheme.

Is there an entry fee? Contrary to popular belief, an entry fee does not indicate a questionable contest. Many legitimate contests charge a fee to cover processing expenses (which sometimes include an honorarium to readers) and to fund the prize.

However, entry fees should be appropriate. Excessive entry fees can be a sign of a profit-making scheme. For book manuscripts, stories, or poems, between $5 and $25 is typical. Larger contests may charge more--the IPPY Awards, for instance, charges $75--but anything over $40 should prompt you to do some careful checking, especially if you aren't familiar with the contest organizer.

By entering, do you get the "opportunity" to spend more money? If you're encouraged to buy additional services when you enter--critiques, marketability analyses, tickets for an awards banquet--it may be a sign that the contest is a moneymaking venture, rather than a real competition. Some contests are no more than fronts for selling services or merchandise. For instance, this one, which requires contestants to buy a coaching package. Or this one, which peddles paid critique services to entrants. Or this one, where winners must buy their own trophies.

How often does the organization conduct contests? Excessive frequency--running a contest every month (as this writers' magazine does), or bunches of contests every quarter--can also be a sign of a moneymaking scheme.

How many categories are there? Reputable contests typically have a specific focus, and limit the number of categories under which you can submit. For instance, a contest may be for screenplays only or for book manuscripts only. A contest for fiction may have separate categories for books, poetry, and short fiction, or be broken down by genre.

The point is that a reputable contest shouldn't feel like the kitchen sink. Be careful of contests that call for any and all talent, especially if everything is lumped together under a single prize (how can a novel manuscript compete with a short story or a screenplay?). Watch out for contests that have dozens of separate categories (like this one, which has well over 100). Again, the contest sponsor may be trying to make a profit from entry fees.

Are the contest guidelines clearly stated? A legitimate contest will provide clear rules, including information about contest categories, deadlines, eligibility, format, fees, prizes and the circumstances in which they will or will not be awarded, judging, and any rights you may be surrendering. If you can't find these, don't enter.

Who'll be doing the judging? It's in a contest's interest to name its judges, since the caliber of the judges speaks directly to the contest's prestige (or lack of it). This is important information for you as well, since a contest with a judging panel of successful writers and/or industry professionals is much more likely to be a good addition to your writing resume if you win.

Some contests prefer to protect judges' privacy, so a contest that doesn't name its judges isn't necessarily illegitimate--as long as you're confident of the reputability of the contest sponsor. If you aren't, be wary. No-name judges may be under-qualified, or the contest's own staff may be doing the judging--or, in the case of a contest that's a moneymaking scheme, the judges may merely be a fiction.

For contests that are wholly or partly judged by crowdsourcing (for instance, reader votes may advance entrants through initial rounds, with only the finalists actually considered by judges), be aware that this is a capricious process that is vulnerable to cheating.

Are there fringe benefits? Critiques, general feedback on your entry, or meetings with industry professionals are often a worthwhile feature of the more high-profile contests. However, you should never be asked to pay extra for this perk. Also, be sure that the professionals really are professionals. A legitimate contest should clearly state their names and credentials.

What's the prize? There are many possibilities--money, goods, services, even publication. Prizes should be clearly described in the contest guidelines (watch out for contests that allow the contest sponsors to substitute prizes--you may not get what you expect), and they should be appropriate to the contest sponsor. Unless you're certain of the sponsor's legitimacy, contests with very large prize amounts--$5,000 and up--should be treated with suspicion, since they may be moneymaking schemes. (Such contests, which tend to have higher-than-average entry fees, often have fine print that pro-rate the prize amount according to the number of entrants--i.e., as the number of entrants falls, so do the prize amounts, with the downsteps carefully calculated to preserve a profit for the contest sponsor.)

Contests that offer representation, publication, or production as prizes are very appealing. Winning can be a genuine springboard for a writer's career--as with the Delacorte Press Contest for a First Young Adult Novel. Be sure, though, that it's a prize you really want to win. Always research the agency, publisher, magazine, or production company to make sure it's reputable, and don't enter a contest whose rules make it impossible for you to refuse the prize if you win. If publication is involved, be sure that you know exactly where and how you'll be published--magazine contest prizewinners are sometimes published in a separate booklet available only by special order. If you're looking for exposure, that's not the way to get it.

There should never be an extra cost associated with a prize. If there is, it's almost certain the contest is a fake.

Have you read the fine print? Always read the contest rules and guidelines carefully before you submit, so you can be sure exactly what you're getting into. Odd and unpleasant things are sometimes lurking deep in the fine print.

For instance, you may be asked to provide inappropriate personal information. Or just by entering, you may be granting rights to the contest organization, such as first publication or the right to sell your entry elsewhere. Winning may impose obligations--for instance, you may be required to use the contest sponsor as your agent, or agree to publication as a condition of winning (beware of offers you can't refuse, especially if you can't view the contract beforehand). A condition of winning may be giving up copyright, which means the organization holding the contest could use your entry for any purpose it wishes (even without your name). The sponsor may reserve the right to substitute prizes, or to reduce or eliminate prizes if certain conditions aren't met. Watch out for language suggesting that the contest sponsor can use your entry for purposes other than publicity. And if you enter a contest online, be aware that you may be giving permission for your entry to be published at the company's website, whether you win or not (a frequent complaint about the now-defunct vanity anthology company Poetry.com).

Is it worth it? I've left this till last, but in many ways it's the most important question of all. Many writers see contests as a possible springboard to success--a way to bulk up their writing resumes, or get a toehold in the industry. However, for novelists, poets, and short fiction writers, few literary contests have that kind of cachet. A contest will impress an agent or editor only if s/he recognizes it, and a string of obscure contest wins will not strengthen your query letter. Screenwriters have more options--but even in the film world, reputable contests are greatly outnumbered by pointless, useless, or deceptive ones.

Remember also that submitting to a contest can take your work off the market for weeks or months, since many contests don't allow simultaneous submissions. Also, depending on the contest, your chances of success may actually be a good deal slimmer than if you simply approached agents or publishers in the conventional way (assuming your manuscript is marketable). The mammoth Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest, for instance, which offers publication as the prize, allows up to 10,000 entrants, of whom only two can win.

Finally, even your best efforts at due diligence may not keep you out of trouble. The problems with the contests run by small publisher Zoo Press provide a cautionary example.

Bottom line: thoroughly research any contest you're thinking of entering, always read the fine print--and consider whether your time and energy might not be better spent actually submitting for publication. That's the real prize, after all.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tidbits

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Query Letter Mistakes

Following on the theme of my previous post, here's a fascinating survey on the common mistakes that writers make in their query letters.

Blogger JM contacted one hundred literary agents with the following question: What is the single biggest mistake writers make when querying you? More than 50 responded. Here are the problems mentioned most frequently:
- "Go to my website for a sample of my work…"
- "Find my query attached…"
- Querying before your manuscript is ready
- Writing a query that is overconfident or pompous
- Sending a query that has clearly not been proofread
- Queries addressed to "Dear Agent" (or anything similar!)
- Vague query letters!
- Queries with more than one agent listed in the "To" field
- Queries that have no clue what the agent represents
- Queries that have no clue what the agent's submission guidelines are
JM also includes a treasure trove of quotes from the responding agents about each of these problems, and exactly why they will torpedo a query.

Great information, direct from the source.

How Not to Use Social Media

"Get thee to social media." This is universal advice for new and newly-published authors looking to build their readership. But though it's easy to say, it's not so easy to do. For social media to work as a promotional tool, you have to know how to use it--and that does NOT mean begging people on Facebook to "like" your page, or blasting out 500 "check out my new book!" messages on Twitter. If you use social media solely for self-promotion, or if you're too obvious about the fact that you're promoting yourself, you will probably fail.

So how do you make social media work for you? Jane Friedman takes an illuminating look at this question in a blog post entitled When (or Why) Social Media Fails to Sell Books. The bottom line:
Your social media involvement and platform building won't work as a one-time effort (though, of course, you might have a specific campaign for a specific book that's very strategic, which is excellent).

You have to be consistent and focused over the course of your career.

Most importantly, it has to be about more than selling books—or whatever your goal might be. It has to be about what you stand for, and who you are.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

If I told you that there was a literary agent who promoted his services via a series of videos featuring a sex doll, would you believe me?

Meet "Arielle," virtual hostess for Mocknick Productions Literary Agency.* Arielle's "job" is to "give you information on the agency and the literary business in general" (including why paying an upfront contract fee is a good idea), via "four informational slide shows." (The slide shows used to be available directly from Mocknick's website, but possibly due to the attention they've brought him recently, clicking on them now takes you to YouTube.)

But wait, there's more! Arielle the sex doll has HER VERY OWN STORY! She's a Doll Warrior, star of a screenplay written by Mocknick himself. That's right, folks, David Mocknick, fee-charging literary agent, is also an aspiring writer.

For much more ridicule, see P.N. Elrod's blog post.

* It probably will not surprise you to learn that David Mocknick charges a $500 contract fee, has never sold a book or a script that Writer Beware has been able to discover, and is included on Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Agency List.

Monday, December 13, 2010

One Way Not to Get Published

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Taking a cue from Janet Reid, who over the weekend posted a truly amazingly bad agent pitch letter (yes, I do know who the agent is, and no, this person does not have any sales), I thought I'd start the week off by posting the spam I received this morning from an aspiring author (sent via a DIY email marketing service).
Greetings!

Hello, my name is [name redacted]. I am the author of [title redacted] (now available nationwide). I am also an unsigned (hungry) artist, and very creative. I have two more books I need to finish, and I'm looking for any opportunity that anyone of power and influence may offer.

I'll like to invite you to my website [link redacted].

Author [name redacted]
[email address redacted]
Writers--don't do this. I mean, for a start, I'm not an agent or publisher, so there's no reason for me to be receiving any kind of "get me published" request. Just a small amount of research (as opposed to snagging my email address from somewhere and doing no further checking) would have made that clear. For another, if I were an agent or publisher, I wouldn't give five seconds of consideration to a mass-mail pitch, even if it were much more informative and better written than this one. (Not to mention, being a cautious Web user, I'm not going to click on a link in a spam email.)

Alternatively, this author may not be seeking an agent or a publisher at all, but a patron. Um....yeah. I don't think I need to say any more about that.

Friday, December 10, 2010

More Contest Alerts: Brit Writers' Awards, Amazon Studios

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Brit Writers' Awards

I've been getting questions recently about the Brit Writers' Awards. It's a writing competition for unpublished and self-published writers, with a rich trophy for the grand prize winner: £10,000. Writers can submit work in several categories (to enter, you must be a member of BWA; membership costs £10.95); a panel of judges selects two winners for each category, plus the grand prize winner (the Judging Criteria page references "various stages of the judging process" but doesn't say what those stages are).

BWA's judges have real credentials. But how rigorous was the judging process in last year's competition? According to Jane Smith of the excellent How Publishing Really Works blog,
Writers were being notified left, right and centre that they had made it through to the various shortlists; very few writers who entered ended up being told that their work hadn’t made it that far.
Shades of Poetry.com. And that wasn't all:
[C]ommunications with BWA seemed less than satisfactory. Several writers had submitted more than one piece of work but were never informed which piece had reached the shortlists; people were offered free tickets to the prizegiving, but just days before the event they had heard nothing more; and when they did get to the event it was chaotic and didn’t seem to deliver all that had been promised.
The grand prize winner received not just the promised money, but--apparently unbeknownst to her--rush publication of her YA fantasy novel by a publisher that had never before published fiction. Jane comments:
[S]uch a rushed schedule is likely to have serious implications for the quality of the final product...the publisher, Infinite Ideas, appears to be more of a packager than a publisher; and although the people who work for Infinite Ideas do have a reasonable amount of publishing know-how between them this is the first young adult book they’ve published; although it’s possible that they have previously published young adult books through their self-publishing service, Infinite Authors.
As Jane notes, the BWA is a moneymaker--entry feees alone came to nearly £230,000 in the first round in 2010, and that's not counting the support BWA got from sponsors. And that's not all. The BWA is now promoting its own consultation, critique, and publishing service, Your Book Your Way (which includes a referral service to "BWA approved" agents and publishers that "allow[s] us to act on your behalf and negotiate the best deal for you."). Prices aren't mentioned, but the services are certainly not free. And BWA has also recently sent out solicitations inviting applications to its Publishing Programme, which will select 15 unpublished authors, work with them "on an intensive one-to-one basis" (there's no info on who these intensive mentors will be, or what their qualifications are), and at the end of a year guarantee publication with "a top publisher" (again, no info on the publisher--and anyone who tells you they can guarantee publication either wants to sell you something or is fibbing). The cost? Just £1,795.

I don't suspect that this competition or its adjunct programs are a scam. But as tempting as BWA's prize money is, there are enough questions here to prompt caution. 

(The lengthy comment thread on Jane's post makes for fascinating reading--among other things, the grand prize winner confirms that BWA entry guidelines did indicate that the winner would be published--although she had no idea her book would be printed for the awards ceremony.)

Amazon Studios

The Web was abuzz in November with news that Amazon is getting into the movie business. Its new venture, Amazon Studios, is looking for films and scripts that it may produce as feature films, either through a "first look" deal with Warner Bros. or, if Warner passes, with another company. To incentivize submissions, it's giving away millions of dollars in prizes, via monthly contests and annual awards.

Writers have rushed to enter--already, according to the Amazon Studios website, more than 1,000 scripts have been uploaded. But is it really a good idea to hand your intellectual property over to Amazon Studios? The film world is not my area of expertise, so I don't really feel competent to analyze Amazon Studios' Contest Terms and Procedures. Fortunately, others more knowledgeable than I have already done so. If you're thinking of entering, there are some issues you ought to be aware of.

Amazon Studios employs a crowdsourcing model, with uploaded scripts and films open to feedback from readers, who are also free to re-write and amend them. Scriptwriter John August asks, Do you really want random people rewriting your script?

Writer and director Craig Mazin weighs in on the same issue, as well as the 18-month exclusive option you agree to by submitting to Amazon Studios:
When you submit material to Amazon–say, a script–they have an exclusive option on the script for 18 months. During that 18 months, they can do whatever they want with your script. They can change it, smash it together with other scripts… and of course, make a movie from it, or commission a book, or any other derivative work.

You know what else they get to do? They get to sell your material. They can sell your script to customers. If you submit a movie, they can sell that too. Oh, but that’s not just for 18 months.

That’s FOREVER. They have a permanent right to sell that stuff. After 18 months it’s not an exclusive right, but good luck competing with Amazon, friend-o.
Mazin also discusses Amazon's exploitive financial terms:
In Amazon-ville, you option your script for NOTHING, and the option buy-out is $200K. And when you get that 200K, my brothers and sisters, Amazon owns that script lock-stock-and-barrel for ever, just the way a studio would.

Okay, okay, but what if they make the movie?

NO GUARANTEES. Not a dime. In fact, the only way you get a penny more is if the film grosses $60M in the U.S. (not North America, btw, which is standard for domestic B[ox] O[ffice] calculations). If it hits $60M, you get a bonus of $400K.

Let me put this as plainly as I can: if your screenplay was good enough to be distributed by Warner Brothers and subsequently sell enough tickets to hit $60M at the box office, YOU DID NOT NEED AMAZON, and YOU SHOULD HAVE MADE MORE THAN $600K.
Scriptwriter Michael Ferris sounds similar warnings. "In effect, if your script was good enough that a studio would buy it, and you hadn’t submitted your script to Amazon, you probably would have made more money on the sale, you would have full rights to your material, AND no one else would have the ability to put their name on it."

In other words, as usual and as always...caveat scriptor.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The 2011 Indie Publishing Contest

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I've been getting questions about a brand-new writers' contest: the 2011 Indie Publishing Contest, sponsored by (among others) the San Francisco Writers Conference.
Write, Win AND Publish!

New ‘Indie Publishing Contest’ Revamps the Traditional Writing Contest with the Benefits of Indie Publishing.

Since when can a writing contest turn the winner into an author with a published book...and provide a staff of book marketing professionals to help get the book into bookstores and publicized? This is the new reality of combining a traditional writing contest with the myriad advantages of indie publishing.
By "indie publishing," they don't mean true self-publishing, or publishing with an independent publisher, but the kind of publishing provided by print-on-demand publishing services--in this case, Author Solutions, Inc., which is one of the contest sponsors. This is not, in fact, independent publishing--but since I've already done two blog posts on that subject, I'm not going to belabor the point.

According to the contest guidelines, writers can enter up to the first 5,000 words of a novel, nonfiction book, story, or poem, from which a grand prize winner, four category winners, and runners up in each category will be selected. The entry fee is $35 ($25 for poems). Category winners will receive either a one-hour consultation with a literary agent, or a free publishing package from ASI. Runners up get $50 plus a 50% discount coupon from ASI. The Grand Prize winner gets "an indie publishing contract" that includes:
* A print publishing package from Author Solutions

* eBook format conversion from Author Solutions

* 90 days of mentoring from a literary agent selected by SFWC

* 90 days of consulting and publicity from an AuthorHive publicist

* A high quality video book trailer from AuthorHive

* The scheduling of a blog tour and a video press release from AuthorHive

* Distribution of the book online and in bookstores from Author Solutions

* Book signing at a bookstore near the winner's home (Continental US only) from Author Solutions

* Public announcement and promotion at the San Francisco Writers Conference

* ISBN number from Author Solutions
Now, I have some quibbles with this list. Two of the highlighted items--the ISBN number and the distribution--are a standard part of any print publishing package from Author Solutions, but are listed here as if they're important extras (plus, the wording of the distribution item might lead inexperienced writers to assume that the winning book will actually appear on physical bookstore shelves, rather than merely being available for order). And I am skeptical of the value of the "consulting and publicity" from AuthorHive, which sells a la carte the mostly dubiously effective, and in many cases wildly overpriced, marketing services that ASI offers through its imprints.

There's no doubt, however, that this prize would cost a bundle if you had to pay for it, and the literary agent mentoring is a nice perk that ASI authors wouldn't normally get (I contacted Contest Director Laurie McLean, an agent with Larsen Pomada Literary Agents, to ask who the literary agents would be,and she says they will be chosen after the winners are selected, to ensure they're a good match for the winners' writing.) For anyone who was already planning on using a publishing service, it's an attractive prize.

The problem is, the contest isn't being pitched to those people. It's being pitched to anyone and everyone who wants to be published. "While the Holy Grail remains a contract with one of the big six publishers in New York, that goal is getting more elusive than ever for writers," says Ms. McLean on the main contest page. "We are offering the indie alternative to get to the big six--and hoping to establish the credibility for indie publishing that the indie film and music industries enjoy today." This characterization of ASI and services like it--which could come straight out of the ASI propaganda mill--not only partakes of the misconceptions and the misleading hype that surround so-called "indie publishing", but helps to further them. Spin it how you will, at the end of the day (or in this case, at the end of 90 days), the winner will wind up with an unedited (unless they obtain editing themselves) book with limited distribution and major marketing challenges. Could they parlay their way to strong sales and mainstream notice? It's possible. Motivated self-publishers have accomplished this, and self-publishing evangelists are only too happy to trot out these examples as "proof" that self-publishing can work for anyone. But there are good reasons why, as ASI's CEO revealed in a January 2009 New York Times article, the average book from any of the ASI brands sells only around 150 copies. That, of course, is not mentioned in the contest material.

So if you're already thinking of using a publishing service (and I'm optimistically assuming that if you are, you've done your research and are clear about your goals), the 2011 Indie Publishing Contest looks like a pretty decent deal. But if your goal is readership, wide exposure, professional credibility--in other words, a writing career--please do not mistake this contest for a step in that direction.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Democratization or Disinformation?

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Per a recent press release posted online, Author Solutions--owner of a number of print-on-demand publishing services, including AuthorHouse, Xlibris, iUniverse, Trafford, WordClay, and Palibrio--has just issued another whitepaper.

 A previous whitepaper, released in early 2009, attempted to re-brand AS as an "indie" or "independent" publisher (see my debunking of this co-opting of terms with already-established meanings that don't fit the AS business model at all). In the current whitepaper, AS announces "The Democratization of Publishing," crediting "the historical convergence of three technologies for bringing about the end of the publishing 'aristocracy.'”

Which three technologies? Well, first, desktop publishing, which "replaced traditional typesetting, [and] meant an individual could design a book more quickly and cost effectively". Second, print on demand technology, through which "copies of a book could be printed individually, at costs comparable to traditional, large offset runs" (actually, this isn't true; low setup costs make digital printing cheaper for one-at-a-time production and small print runs, but offset printing, which can benefit from economies of scale--i.e., the more you produce, the lower the unit cost--is far more economical for runs of more than a few hundred). And third, the Internet as a distribution channel, which "leveled the playing field for authors who wanted to distribute their books broadly and cost effectively."

The result? "These technologies, all developing at the same time, meant the elite no longer held the power. Authors now had it. This fundamental shift in control has transformed the publishing industry."

Here's the proof of this seismic change, according to Author Solutions:
While this revolution has been taking place for over a decade, this year marked a milestone. Publishers Weekly, the leading industry periodical, published an article titled "Self-Publishing Titles Topped 764,000 in 2009 as Traditional Output Dipped" essentially declaring victory. Reporter Jim Milliot states the latest Bowker data, the industry measuring stick, shows "the number of 'non-traditional' titles dwarfed those of traditional books."
There's just one problem with these figures (which I analyzed in much more detail in a recent blog post). More than 697,000 of those non-traditional titles weren't self-published at all, but reprints of previously-published works (most in the public domain) put out by reprint specialists such as BiblioBazaar and Kessinger Publishing (despite its misleading title, the PW article makes this clear). According to the statistics PW provides, self-published titles from the largest publishing services, including two of the Author Solutions brands, actually numbered around 77,000. That's an impressive figure, but even if you double it to account for the many smaller publishing services that PW doesn't mention, it's still considerably fewer than the just over 288,000 titles issued by "traditional" publishers.

A "victory" for self-publishing? A pie in the face for the elitist traditional publishing industry? Not so much.

Not content with its skewed presentation of facts and figures, Author Solutions next pulls the trick of the non-comparable comparison, invoking nonfiction author Seth Godin, who recently made the decision to bypass his trade publisher and self-publish his next book. "In other words," Author Solutions declares, "he is taking his message directly to the people."
Now the question remaining is how many other authors like Mr. Godin will follow his lead. Is he a lone rebel or the first one to take advantage of the new freedoms afforded authors? Time will tell, but one thing is for sure: The walls have come down. Publishing is no longer a closed society. As Mr. Godin stated in a recent interview, "[After the fixed costs of an editor and book formatting,] your book is packaged as you want, and it can then be put on sale next to other potential best-sellers on Amazon and elsewhere."

In other words, there is equal opportunity for authors to be successful and achieve their dreams. Long live the revolution!
Now, I really don't think I need to get up on a soapbox about how Seth Godin--best-selling author of numerous books, with a high profile, a huge platform, and (presumably) substantial financial resources--differs from Joe First-Time Author or Jane Midlist Novelist. Godin's choice to self-publish (and the choices of other well-known authors who are bypassing the traditional system in various ways) says a great deal about the changes that are currently rocking the publishing industry, and the ways in which savvy, entrepreneurial-minded writers who are already successful can use their existing platforms to exploit the opportunities offered by the free-for-all of the Internet and the burgeoning world of digital. But it says nothing whatever about the viability of self-publishing for writers in general (for a succinct analysis of why, see this blog post from Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt). Nor does it demonstrate that publishing has been democratized (or that it would be a good thing if it were), or support the claim that the accessibility and relative inexpense of digital printing--which hasn't so much transformed the publishing industry as created a brand-new, parallel industry--equates to providing writers with equal opportunities for success. Digital technology has made it possible for just about anyone to turn their manuscript into a printed book and offer it for sale via the Internet--but it has not solved the problem of how to grab reader eyeballs. If anything, by vastly increasing the number of new books in circulation, it has made that task even more difficult.

I am sure it won't be long before an Author Solutions staffer stops by to chide me for my negativity. But even if you ignore the misrepresented facts and misleading comparisons in this latest whitepaper, AS does writers an extreme disservice with its glib presentation of self-publishing--all upside, no downside, suitable for anyone no matter what their needs or ambitions. Rah, rah! Vive la revolucion! Cue clenched fist! But the truth is that the choice to self-publish is a complicated one that should be made only by writers who have studied the alternatives and clearly formulated their goals. Too many writers fall into self-publishing out of ignorance, unrealistic assumptions about its potential benefits, or misconceptions about traditional publishing.

Judging from this latest whitepaper, that would seem to suit Author Solutions just fine.