Saturday, January 28, 2017

Reading as politics

The year 2009 will go down in history (or infamy) as the year that e-books and print-on-demand books became available to authors. Two years previous to that, however, both Goodreads and the Kindle e-book reader were introduced. Throw in Project Gutenberg and maybe a couple of others and suddenly almost anyone in the world had access to almost any book ever written. And instead of having to go to a research library to find reviews of these books (and, for the most part, try to wend their way through the critical jargon), they now have the ability to read what their peers are saying about the books. And most important, to write reviews themselves.

So here we are. Literature is divided between the literary and the not-so-literary, the oh-so-literate and the barely literate. And of course, books within sub-genres are rated differently than general works. For instance, if Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice deserves a 5, then nothing by Danielle Steel does. Yet Steel's novel Blue has over 1400 5-star reviews on Goodreads. E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey has over 561,000!—553,000 more than Pride and Prejudice.  It’s as if the common reader, who may not have a college education but still likes to read—or maybe graduated college with a degree in a non-artistic field—has decided that they need their voices to be heard. Sound familiar?

Well, think back. 2009 is also the year that President Barack Obama first took office. The ascendancy of an African-American to the land's highest office, as well as his eventual attempts to safeguard the rights of other minorities--immigrants, the LGBT community, Muslims, and the like galvanized the racist parts of the United States like they had never been galvanized before. Anyone claiming to want to dash Obama's dreams--like Donald J. Trump--was their new messiah. Not surprisingly, Trump is not a reader.

So just as the country is now deeply divided along ideological and political lines, it is also divided along literary lines, where—just as fiction becomes fact—good writing becomes bad and bad becomes good. Or rather, it no longer matters if a book is written poorly or not. But is this true? Maybe. After all, unlike President Trump's claim that his inauguration had about 3 times more attendees than it actually had, a book review is an opinion. As long as it is heartfelt and honest, one review is just as valid as another.  Instead of paying $10 for Jennifer Egan's A visit from the Goon Squad, that $10 goes to Colleen Hoover. So be it. But unlike scientific facts (the earth revolves around the sun) or mathematical equations (1+1 is always 2), opinions can change.

I honestly believe that some books and some authors are intrinsically better than others--that words are put together more carefully, relationships are deeper, subject matter is more important, locations are described more realistically, and on and on. Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth is simply better in pretty much every way than anything by Dean Koontz, Lee Child, or Nora Roberts. But being intrinsically better is not the same as being demonstrably better. Education and training--yes, training in how to read properly--are the keys. As author Sara Warner notes in Down to the Waterline, her groundbreaking text on how to properly measure the boundaries of rivers and lakes, there is a line there. There is a difference between a bad book and a good one, an important book and one written for thrills, a book that makes you think and one that keeps you from it.  Fortunately, readers--and that's who we are talking about here, readers--have a good chance to evolve. Those who thrive on young adult fiction will someday grow up, those who read unedited werewolf e-book novels will someday get tired of the typos, romance readers will get tired of the formulas, and maybe one in a hundred will realize that Jane Austen is a far more satisfying author than Colleen Hoover.

And here's the neat thing: it's a one way ride. No one who enjoys Kazuo Ishiguro's A Pale View of Hills, or Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, or Arnold Bennett's The Old Wives' Tale, can ever be "trained" to prefer Janet Evanovich. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

How many of my publish-on-demand books should I order?

I mentioned in my last post that in 1990 I self-published a book of short stories that I found, decades later, to have some very minor typographic errors. As it happens, I dislike typos almost obsessively and I ended up pulping many hundreds of unread copies of the book. To me, the copes were worthless. Not only did I no longer want to sell them, I didn't want anyone to even read them.

So I came out with a 25th Anniversary Edition of the book, which has all the errors removed. But instead of ordering several thousand copies, as I had to at the time it was first published, I ordered 2. Instead of writing a check for $5000.00, I used PayPal to the tune of about $8, plus shipping. I have had a dozen or so books published since 1990, but it has taken me this long to finally get the message. Here it is: most published books contain errors; indie or self-published books contain even more. If you are terrified of people finding typos or other errors in your book, print as few as possible. Zero is even a possibility. Here's why: publish on demand.

Publish-on-demand companies take your uploaded manuscript file and cover illustration and create a professional-looking paperback copy of your book. Although there are many such companies, all with different policies, I use CreateSpace, even though it is owned by Amazon, who is generally no friend to authors. With CreateSpace I can upload my book file and cover for no charge. Zero. A small caveat here is that I am a professional formatter who also has enough knowledge of cover design to get by. Many people choose to pay for these services--either to CreateSpace or to private entities such as myself--but it is not required.

So let me make this clear. As soon as my book is approved by CreateSpace, it goes on sale worldwide, not only through CreateSpace, but through Amazon--the largest book distributor in history--as well. Your book cover and description will appear on Amazon search engines and on more general search engines like Google. Forever. The only reason you would actually have to pay CreateSpace a dime is if you wanted to order author copies for yourself or your friends. The cost on these depend, of course, on the number of pages and whether or not color is involved in the interior, but generally, for a 6 X 9-inch book of 250 pages--a fairly standard size--it will cost you in the neighborhood of $4 per copy, plus reasonable shipping. A bargain? You bet.

But--and this is the point of this post in case you were wondering--don't fly off the handle with excitement and order thousands or hundreds or even dozens of copies of your new masterpiece unless you are planning to go out on the road promoting them or you have copies pre-sold to people you know. Why? Because they have errors.

Here are a couple of cases in point. In my earlier post Why are there so many errors in self-published books? I mention my experience with a young author whose otherwise-excellent young adult novel had literally hundreds of errors, despite the fact that she had several advance readers. In another case, one of my own books was given a poor review because of an error that crept in during the conversion process from InDesign to Word. Luckily, this happened in the e-book only so it was quickly fixed and a new e-book file replaced the old one.

But what would have happened if the error had been in the printed version? Well, that's happened, too. I have published somewhere around a dozen books now, and there has never been a time when at least one typo or inconsistency was not pointed out to me. To my mind, those errors rendered the existing paperbacks worthless. By using a print-on-demand publisher, though, I was able to correct my book file within minutes. And because CreateSpace does not print a book until it is actually ordered, no unrevised copy of a book can ever be purchased.  Unless, of course, it is purchased as a used copy. And of course the fewer copies that are initially printed, the less chance there is of many used copies existing.

This post is not only for authors who publish themselves; it is also for those of you who publish thorough indie presses and have errors pointed out to you by your readers--readers like me. Most indie presses go through a publish-on-demand service just as I do. If they have chosen to have it print beaucoups copies of your book hoping for wonderful direct sales, they are not thinking clearly. And if they say that they can't afford to fix the errors that escaped their review process, they are lying. As I have posted earlier, the world is your editor.

I no longer give readings or make book-signing appearances. And because I no longer have to have a stack on hand, I now order only 2 copies of any book I print--enough for a casual sale and to have one in my bookcase for display. 99 percent of your books are going to be sold through Amazon anyway. Even if you do sell a few copies yourself, it only takes a week or two to receive new copies from CreateSpace. They are surprisingly fast. And when new errors crop up--and they will--you have lost almost nothing except a little pride.

So what can you do with all those error-filled copies of your book that you bought in the first excitement of its publication?  If you give them to a Goodwill store, people might buy them, see the errors, and give you a bad review on Goodreads or Amazon. You can donate them to a library, but then--same as the above. The only safe place to donate imperfect copies of your paperback books is to a prison library. Every prison has one, every prison needs donations, and prisoners generally don't notice grammatical errors or have access to Goodreads.

The only other solutions are to use them to fix the holes in your driveway or pulp them. Just hope that the people at the recycling station do not take them home, read them, and, well, you know.

Why I needed to publish a 25th Anniversary Edition

I self-published my first book, a collection of stories called The Principle of Interchange, in 1990. At that time, set-up costs for printing a book were considerable. The vast majority of that expense was in the pre-printing phase. If for some odd reason you wanted to print a single copy of a book (say, a novel of 200 pages with no illustrations), you would have to pay for typesetting, paste-up, printing machine set up, labor, binding, trimming, and a lot more. Although paper for a single book would cost almost nothing, the final out-of-pocket cost on such a book would be--if you used an inexpensive printing company--around $3000.00. In other words, to print a single copy of your book would cost you $3000.00.

To get a book's cost down to where someone might be tempted to buy it, you had to print more of them. Printing 100 copies, therefore, would bring the cost of each copy down to $30. Printing 3000 would get it down to a manageable price. Add a markup for yourself and then set a price for the book. In the case of The Principle of Interchange, I got the per-book cost down to somewhere between $2 and $3, then marked it for sale at $7.95 which, at the time, was a little high for trade paperbacks. Still, if I sold it through a distributor, who wanted 40 percent of the cover price, I would still be making a dollar or two. The total cost to me for printing somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 books was about $5000.00. Luckily I had a pretty good day job at the time.

A few months ago, I decided to rerelease The Principle of Interchange as an e-book. This presented a lot of problems, as I had no computer file of any kind to work with. I ended up cutting the binding from one of the copies and scanning each page into a tif file. Using Microsoft's One Note application, which has a character recognition feature, I was able to come up with a rough Word file in several days. Of course no character recognition software is perfect, so I had many hundreds of places where commas appeared as periods, question marks appeared as capital P, and so forth. And so the proofing began.

For one reason or another, I had never felt the need to actually read the printed version of the book, so this was a first for me. Before publication it had been read by several professional editors and proofreaders as well as myself (who was also a professional editor and proofreader at the time.) And no one who had ever read the book (and yes, there were some--it been used as a textbook in a literature class at Florida State University for several semesters) had pointed out even a single typo. Imagine my surprise, then, when errors began to pop up in my reading--errors having nothing to do with the scan.

My main goal in republishing the book was to get an e-book version, but when I kept finding errors I decided to do a print a paperback version as well. As I read  on I was pleasantly surprised to find that the stories seemed to hold up over time. But no matter how happy an author is with his or her work, there are always just the little tweak here and there that would make the story a little tighter. So I tweaked here and there. Although I only found a couple of dozen actual typos, I ended up making over a hundred actual changes--all very minor. At this point, I decided to make the new version of the book a "25th Anniversary Edition," and with it came a new cover. Why not? With the Publish on Demand services now available, set up fees are a thing of the past.

But what to do with the dozens of boxes of the original version of The Principle of Interchange  that I have been carrying around with me for the last several decades and take up valuable space in my closets and attic? I am no longer a young man and no longer have visions of being discovered and having my early work command high prices and vast audiences (well, maybe I am, a little). In fact, I have been donating copies to libraries and thrift stores for years, as well as giving copies to my family and friends with instructions to do the same. And last month, the paper-recycling bin received ten full boxes or unread books.

Read my next post to see where I am going with this.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book-selling wars

I have been following the dispute between Amazon and the Hachette Book Group with interest. It almost certainly signals a shift in the way the book business is run—hopefully it will be a shift away from both Amazon and the Top Five traditional publishers and toward a more independent industry controlled mostly by the authors.

In a nutshell, Amazon thinks that publishers do not deserve as much of the retail price of e-books as they get for paper copies. On the one hand, this makes sense because there is no paper or ink or trucking fees to pay. On the other hand, it is the same book as the paper copy, which has been through an expensive editing, proofing, and formatting process—not to mention an e-book formatting process, which a print book does not need. The retail price of the book also, of course, includes the cost of keeping the CEO of the company wealthy beyond dreams.

Amazon—because it is the largest distributor in the world—wants more of a percentage (currently 30 percent of the suggested retail price) than it has now. Publishers such as Hachette refuse to agree to this, especially since it has the current number one bestseller in Robert Galbraith’s The Silkworm.  As of this date, June 25, 2014, here is what the book is selling for by some of the mega retailers.
Barnes & Noble is selling the hardback copy of the book, which has a suggested retail price of $28.00, for $16.80, a 40 percent savings. They are selling the e-book, which has a suggested retail price of $14.99, for $11.00, a 20 percent savings.
Apple’s iTunes sells the e-book for $9.99.
Kobo also sells the e-book for  $9.99.
But of course Amazon refuses to be outdone by anyone and is selling the hardcover for $16.79 and the e-book for $8.99.

This cutthroat policy of Amazon’s is reprehensible, but no surprise. In addition to being the largest retailer on the planet, they are also the largest predator. Let’s face it; as long as Hachette wants to sell their books to Amazon for distribution, Amazon has the right to price them whatever they want to, even if they lose money on every sale. Who are the winners and losers here?
Winner: Hachette, because they get the price they want from Amazon.
Winner: The authors, because they get the same percentage of the suggested retail price despite what Amazon ends up selling their books for.
Winner: The customer. Anytime there is a fierce competition to sell a product, the customer stands to gain by the existence of lower prices.
Winner: Amazon, who will get the lion’s share of the sales, despite a lower percentage of profit. Because the more sales they get, the less their competitors get.
Losers: B&N, Kobo, Apple, and anyone else who competes with Amazon as an e-book distributor. But this has a caveat. Owners of Nooks, iPads, or Kobo readers will probably buy their e-books from B&N, Apple, or Kobo despite the difference n price. Buyer loyalty works both ways.

The above was the situation before Amazon decided it wanted a larger slice of the pie. Because almost everyone was a winner except Amazon’s competitors, it is difficult to see why Amazon would want to change things. Anyone who knows Amazon, though, knows that 1. Amazon will never be satisfied with its current profit margin, and 2. Amazon does not like it when it is not the only winner. It treats as competitors not only Apple, et al,  but also publishers and editors and yes, even the poor authors  If they could create a program to actually write the books themselves, they would do it in a heartbeat.

But let’s say that Hachette refuses to let Amazon distribute their books.—or, conversely, Amazon refuses to distribute them. Who are the winners and who the losers then?
Loser: Amazon, who will not reap any sales at all on certain titles.
Loser: The customer, who will not get quite as cheap a price on e-books from that publisher.
Winner: Kobo, Apple, B&N, and many other e-book retailers who will not have Amazon as a competitor for these titles.
Winner: The book industry, because any time Amazon is thwarted, the industry gains.
If this situation results in the publisher selling fewer books because of not having Amazon as its main distributor, then both publisher and author are also losers—at least initially.

But remember, this battle is between Amazon, who says that the distributor should get the lion’s share of the profit, and the publisher, who says that production is more important. Where does the author fit in all this? Well, nowhere; and that’s a bad thing.

Essentially, Amazon seems to want a monopoly. They will first corner the market on everything and then raise the prices. This is indisputable given their past performance. Yet the Big Five publishing houses (of which Hachette is one) remain annoyingly pompous when it comes to their own self-importance, and uncompromisingly thrifty when it comes to paying their authors.

The rise of independent publishing will be the sorting out of the Amazons versus the Hachettes. Just look at the price Hachette is asking for The Silkworm: $14.99! For an e-book that has no collectible value, no resale value, and in fact, no physical form at all! Under the “guidelines” followed by most major traditional publishers, the author gets 25 percent of net sales. So if a copy of The Silkworm is sold at that price, the author would get no more than $3.00—and probably less. An independently published book selling on Smashwords (who gives the author up to 75 percent of gross sales) for $4.99—$10 less than Hachette—would get the author about $3.75. Something is wrong here.

In my opinion, then, the future of book publishing will have to incorporate some of the procedures of Amazon, the Big Five publishers, and Indie authors. But they all will have to change some if they want to survive at all.
Amazon has proved to be bad for publishing, and worse, bad for literature. They need less of a market share and less profit margin. They need to pay more attention to their customers and their authors and less to their shareholders and to Jeff Bezos. They won’t, of course, so they will have to be forced into it.
Top Five Publishers (hopefully followed by the majority of all publishers): need to build their own storefront websites for both printed books and e-books. With their own sites—and not having to pay a middle party, like Amazon, they could afford to discount books for customers. They could also afford to charge less and pay their authors more. If they don’t, their authors will pay someone like me $100 to format their e-books so that they can get three times the money they are getting now on each new sale. This will happen anyway.
Authors:  need to retain your e-book rights. It’s not hard to publish an e-book yourself on Smashwords, Amazon, Apple, Nook, or any of the other major e-book retailing platforms. You will pay a small fee only on each sale, but will receive 75 percent of all gross sales. No more money to pay the CEO. You are the CEO. Some authors and publishers are self-important enough to deserve each other’s company. But they better enjoy it now, because it will soon be a very small party 

Monday, March 3, 2014

North Florida Trilogy

The recent publication of Time Piece, the third book in The North Florida Trilogy, puts an end not only to the series, but to the 30-year story surrounding the books. Here is some of that story.

In the mid-1980s, I was editing vocational materials for the state of Florida. One of my co-workers was Anne Petty, a woman who was just beginning to dabble in creative writing after publishing a nonfiction book on J.R.R. Tolkien. I had published a couple of handfuls of poems as well as a book of short stories. I also had three full-length novels completed and stored away in a drawer.  It was natural, then, that Anne and I became friends and we often talked about what we were working on at the time. Sadly, I was in a severe and protracted writing slump and had produced very little over the preceding few years.

One morning, Anne came to my office and showed me a picture she had taken the weekend before. It was a snapshot of an old, abandoned country church near her property in Crawfordville. You could almost hear the creaky front door, smell the mold creeping along the damp walls, and feel the dusty bat dung on the bell rope. "This would make a great setting for a horror story," she told me.

I agreed; in fact, as the day wore on, I became more and more captivated by the idea. Here at last was something new that I could sink my fangs into.That night, I went home and wrote five pages of the first chapter along with a several-page synopsis, complete with events and a preliminary cast of characters. I don't think Anne actually thought that anything would come out of her little photograph, but when she saw how excited I was about the idea, she became as enthusiastic as I was.  Somehow, over the next six or eight months, we crafted a novel around that little church featuring a shrimpboat captain named Carla Conway and a menagerie of rural misfits. Although no longer a horror novel (we agreed that the description "literary suspense" was more accurate), the novel is a rich and exciting adventure that tells many stories,not only about the characters, but about North Florida itself. But this novel, like most novels written by anyone before 2010, went into a drawer.

For a while we were content with this single novel; its creation had gotten us both off  our creative tookuses. But then we got to talking about a bizarre museum near Panama City that we were both familiar with. It  dealt in the most esoteric junk--widgets and postcards and knives; even a mummy and a cigar store Indian. Outside, a giant statue of a gorilla could be seen for miles on State Road 20. So, yes, we had to write another novel about this. The scene had changed from near Apalachicola to Panama City and the characters changed, too. This one featured P.I. Vicky Rankin, her husband Rick (a failed Western writer), and son Rusty (a teenage weirdo who liked fire and knives). It also dealt with Snag Black, a hunchbacked homosexual whose father owned the odd museum. Snag turned out to be the person who offered Vicky her first detecting job, one that would cause her to solve a 500-year-old mystery. The novel was finished and it, too, went into the drawer.

It was more than a year after Museum Piece that we realized that it and Hell and High Water should be part of a loose trilogy. But for this third book, we had to change the scene yet again, setting the novel in Pensacola, a bit west of Panama City. The main character, Melanie Truslow, had appeared as a minor character in the first two novels and in fact is the only character to appear in all three. She had moved to Pensacola to get to know her father, who had divorced her mother before Melanie was born. But his mysterious death left her alone in a strange city and a large  house, rife with secrets. I  had visited a Vietnamese Tent City near Pensacola at the end of the Vietnam war and we used some of what I had experienced there in the book. Anne used her experiences of having to put her mother in a nursing  home because of an unusual type of dementia. And then there were the watches. We called the book Time Piece, and I have always considered it the most literary and the most important.

And there we had it. We finished the last book in the late 1980s. I left my state job to open a bookstore and concentrate on poetry, which seemed easier to publish than fiction. Anne, too, went in her own direction, becoming fairly well known for her dark fantasy novels and Tolkien criticism. The North Florida Trilogy languished. Every few years I would take one of them out of its drawer and begin to submit it to agents or publishers, but nothing ever came of those efforts. And every decade or so we wold undertake a revision of each one. And after every revision, the works got tighter and tighter.

In 2012 we did a final revision of the trilogy and began our independent publication of the series with Hell and High Water. In 2013 Museum Piece was published and finally, this week, Time Piece became available. All exist in both paperback and e-book form. An interesting sidelight is that the books--which we wrote as contemporary fiction--have become historical. Much that we wrote about is no longer there.

Unfortunately, Anne did not live to see the last book in the series published. Cancer took her just after Museum Piece came out last year. I think, though, that like me, she was always proud of the series, the work we both put into it, and the experience we gained from it.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A formatting invitation for lesbian mystery authors

I am a professional e-book formatter as well as a huge fan of lesbian mysteries. And, as I've mentioned elsewhere, I also have a vision impairment that prevents me from reading the relatively small type of normal,  printed books. I can, however, still read books in electronic format due to the ability of most e-book reading devices, like my iPad, to enlarge the print. Unfortunately, I have found that many--most perhaps--lesbian mystery e-books are either priced too high or do not exist in e-book format at all.

There is a reason--although not a good one--for the high e-book prices.Many authors of lesbian mysteries have let publishers do the work for them: formatting, bookkeeping, etc. Unfortunately, the publishers also claim the lion's share of the sales; that is, what is left after Amazon or the other e-book retailers take their cut. This is true not only for mainstream publishers but also for some of the independent counterculture presses--Bella is maybe the best example but there are several more. Bella regularly sells their e-books--backlog as well as new releases--for $9.99 to $10.95. In my opinion, these are ridiculously overpriced and are doing harm to the authors by not only keeping them to a small royalty but also a small readership. Those prices are simply higher than most buyers--even hard-core aficionados such as myself--are willing to pay. Although I am not privy to any actual contracts, I suspect that an author gets less of a royalty from a publisher selling their book at $9.99 than they would if they published it themselves and priced it at $4.99 or less.

But I am also saddened by the complete absence of e-books by some of the most interesting authors in the lesbian mystery genre. It's like they lave either been forgotten or are balking at giving themselves over yet again to a publisher who will control more aspects of their work than they feel comfortable relinquishing.

So here's my offer. I would sincerely like to help some of these authors without e-books get their work back out--not only to new readers, but to the world at large. I charge a small up-front fee of course (usually $100 or less for full-length works), but the formatted book would then be under the total control of the author, who can then decide what retail distributors to use, what price to charge, and the like. Most important, they will then be able to receive up to 70 percent of each sale. Believe me, nobody gives a flying fruitcake whether an e-book publisher is Simon & Schuster or Auntie Lute or a name that the author makes up themselves. Or no publisher at all. They all look the same on an e-book reading device.

I'm talking to you, Vicki P. McConnell. And to you Alma Fritchley and M.F. Beal and every other writer of lesbian detective fiction who does not presently have their books converted to an electronic format. Let's get your work back in the public eye, and let's do it in a manner that is professional and affordable and that will win you not only a little cash, but a well-deserved n audience as well.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Big-name recognition

The recent news that Robert Galbraith, author of the suspense thriller, Cuckoo's Calling, is in actuality a pen name of J. K. Rowling, took a lot of people by surprise. I'm an admirer of Rowling myself and can't wait to read the book. But in this post I want to examine the roles that high-profile author names--combined with the money and power of traditional publishing houses--play in the success of pseudonyms. Let's go back a couple of decades.

In the mid 1970s, a young and virtually unpublished author named Chuck Ross wondered whether his first novel was being rejected because it was bad or because he was an unknown, untried author. So he typed out, word for word, the text of Jerzy Kosinski's Steps, which had won the National Book Award a few years before. He then sent the manuscript, under his own name and without a title, to 14 publishers, including three who had published at least one of Kosinski's books. All rejected it; Random House, which had published the original work, used a form rejection. This experiment went a long way towards convincing him that the name was more important than the work.

But what about writers with big names--like Rowling--who write under pseudonyms? Let's look at a few. One of the most famous writers of this generation, Stephen King, used the pseudonym Richard Bachman for a series of novels. The reason for this was that his publisher felt that for an author to publish more than one book a year would saturate the market and decrease the anticipation. The Bachman books sold quite a few copies, but nowhere near the amount that King sold under his own name. And, of course, when it was revealed that Bachman was King, the Bachman sales skyrocketed.

But over thirty years before, another famous author had done something similar. Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason mysteries, decided to write another series--this time featuring the characters of Donald Lam and Bertha Cool. He used the pen name a.a. fair. Trouble is, he didn't bother to disguise who he really was. Look at some of the old covers and you'll see "By ERLE STANLEY GARDNER (in gigantic type) writing under the name of a.a. fair" (in small type). What Gardner's reason for this was we can only guess, but certainly his publishing company was not going to wait for several years--before someone leaked the information--to start making the big bucks off his name.

Skip forward again a couple of decades. In 1984, future Nobel laureate Doris Lessing sent a novel to her agent with the instructions to shop it out to various publishers as if it were written by a first-timer named Jane Somers. He did so and it was rejected by several of them. It was, however, enthusiastically picked up by a young editor at Michael Joseph, and it was published to little acclaim and few sales--until, of course, Lessing's name was linked with it.

So what do these books by Lessing, Gardner, King, and Rowling have in common? Did any of them become popular under the pseudonym? No. In fact, it is worth discussing whether any of them would even have been published if the author had not been first plugged into the big-time-author-and-publisher network. The Cuckoo's Calling was selling poorly--despite the fact that her publishers knew that Rowing was the author all the time and had put money and effort into promoting the Galbraith title. King and his publishers were in it together from the beginning, as were Gardner and his. The only one who really tried to keep anonymous was Lessing, but even she instructed her long-time agent to shop the book around for her. What if she had tried to shop it herself, under the name Jane Somers? Would any publisher even have looked at it or would they have tossed it, unopened, back out the transom through which it came?

This is not to denigrate any of these authors. All of them paid a lot of dues and richly deserved their popularity and success. As young authors, they went through the same thing that their alter egos went through later--many rejections before finally acceptance. It is the question of what would have happened if any of them had decided to go indie and published their work through CreateSpace or Smashwords or Kindle Direct. Like we do. And without spending thousands and thousands of dollars in advertising.

Even better, what would happen if one of them took one of our unpublished novels and given it to their publisher, saying that they were experimenting with a new style. Would we be famous too? Even if no one knew it?