One very narrow minded opinion of the publishing world…that clearly isn’t correct.

There are a lot of things to be annoyed about with the state of the publishing world, however there are even more things to be excited about though.

With so many new voices finding their way into the market either through small presses, independent presses or just self-publishing their novels…we are quite literally spoiled for options when trying to decide what to read next.

What invariably follows is a cat and mouse game of what my friends are reading and whether or not it’s something that will appeal to you. This is actually both a blessing and a curse. Ebooks have only exasperated the situation as one can read thousands of books for pennies on the dollar…or absolutely free in some cases.

Now, enter my annoyance.

As both a reader and a writer, I find it frustrating being subjected to gimmicks. I don’t mind a series of novellas perse, I just like to know what I’m getting myself into. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s what’s been going on for a couple of years now. This is primarily an ebook issue, however at a recent signing and workshop event I attended I found some print versions as well.

What happens is a new book releases; the first in a series. Typically the ebook is priced at $2.99 so that it takes advantage of Kindle’s higher payout structure. A few weeks later, another book comes out…and then another a few weeks later. Eventually, what was originally one novel has released in 10-20k increments. Now, this being a short-attention span time in our society, this is perfect. A longer novel releases in bits, making it easier to quickly read and move on…until the next part drops. This builds a buzz and it creates the appearance of a prolific writer.

There are groups, podcasts and forums dedicated to this type of sales gimmick, and it’s not the worst gimmick I’ve ever seen. It’s actually quite brilliant and it takes advantage of our need to quickly ingest something in easy to handle portions. It’s akin to pricing something at $39.99 and people glance at it and call it $30…instead of $40. It’s not a lie, but it also isn’t the truth.

Still, far be it from me to point out to my own readers that I’ll sell a whole book for $3.99 – $4.99 as opposed to six parts of a book for $2.99 each (that’s $17.94 for those mathletes out there).

Now, what amuses me to no end is that traditional publishers are seeing this trend and can do nothing about it. Their whole business model is setup to function on a per-book basis and releasing novellas are typically reserved for early education level readers. My daughter reads novellas…Princess Ponies to be specific. There is definitely a market for it, however the big publishers only target the beginning reader.

 

I suppose the point of this whole post is that I’m stuck in a quandary. I’ve said numerous times that I want writing to be more than a part-time job for me. In order to do that, I need to adapt to the changing marketplace. Yet…there’s still this old fart part of me that scoffs at the idea of this sales gimmick as a bona-fide tried and true method to appeal to the market as it exists.

It can be pretty hard to switch gears sometimes when you’ve been doing something one way for so long.

Adoption – A Personal Journey

I’m adopted.

I’ve known since I was five.

My adoptive parents were very open about it with me, although they generously left out the biology details on why they couldn’t get pregnant. I don’t think I’d even want to know now…who wants to know the sexual details of their parents? Honestly.

Notice for a moment that I didn’t say “kids of their own”.

That’s on purpose, because they did have kids of their own; My sister and I. Both of us will always view both sets of parents as parents…however, the ones who raised us will always be Mom and Dad #1. Yes, it’s sappy and somewhat vomit inducing I’ll grant, but it’s true…so get over it. lol.

Now, spoiler alert, I’m going to be using some words that might be “triggers” so some folks. The purpose here is not to offend, it’s to educate (with some personal anecdotal evidence) and when you’re talking about birth parents and adoptive parents it can get a bit confusing.

One of my mother’s closest friends was adopted and she had a horrible experience when she met her birth parents…they literally slammed the door in her face and shouted for her to get off of their property. So, it was important for her to ensure that I was just as prepared for a negative experience as I was excited for a positive one. This became an alarming theme as I grew up whenever folks would learn that I’m adopted. Too many Orphan Annie and Oliver Twist adaptations have made everyone a little cynical in my opinion.

Now that I have children (biological) of my own, I am honest with them about their grandmas…I do get a chuckle when they explain it to others in our small town because it sounds like they’re a lesbian couple. I’ll admit I get more enjoyment out of their expressions that I probably should, but I’m evil that way.

My adoptive father passed in 1998 and my birth father doesn’t want anything to do with me, which is fine…and I’m not saying that passive aggressively at all.

My birth parents were dating in college and towards the end of their relationship my mother got pregnant. By the time she started showing, they’d broken up and she’d moved back home to have me. So, it wasn’t until about ten years ago that he even knew that I existed. I imagine it was quite a shock and when the three of us met for coffee he spent most of the time reminiscing with my mother. I definitely don’t blame him, if that was me I doubt I’d have a better reaction.

During the time my mother was pregnant with me, she struggled with what to do. The topic of abortion came up as well as adoption. I don’t want to “out” the folks who were arguing each because it really doesn’t matter anymore.

She contacted the government department that handles adoptions – withheld for privacy reasons (sorry…kind of) – and started the process…but still hadn’t decided on what she was going to ultimately do (keep me or put me up for adoption).

A few weeks prior to my birth, she decided to give me up for adoption and her case worker began contacting parents on a waiting list to find me a new home. Mom went into labour and had me, but still hadn’t signed the forms. It wasn’t until the social worker showed up with the papers that she finally pulled the trigger on my adoption. So, unlike a lot of adopted kids, my mom held me after I was born.

In most cases, the child is left in the ward and collected by a foster family who care for the baby until the adoption process is finalized. It varies, of course, base on local laws and policies, but this is still how things are done through the system where I’m from. Private adoptions are another option and those can vary wildly as well from the birth mother spending a few weeks with the new family to surrendering the baby upon delivery. I’ve heard some horror stories I would rather believe are urban myths…so all I can attest to is what happened to me.

I spent a little over four months in a foster home and then was delivered to my adoptive parents in August 1979. It’s pretty normal from this point forward. I was a loud, rambunctious kid into sports, daydreaming and writing. Not many of my friends knew I was adopted and the ones who did, couldn’t care less. I went through most of the things normal kids go through; dealt with bullies, played sports, got bruised and stitched but never broke anything, had years when I was Mr. Be Everyone’s Friend and years when I kept my circle very small.

In 1998 we went through some family trauma, every family does in some way, when my father passed away suddenly. We drifted apart for a while and then came back together, again…pretty normal family stuff. The point though is that adoptive families are like any other family. We do and say horrible shit to one another and yet that bond remains. Even years later my sister and I can fight like children…even in front of our own children, but we still love each other. Sometimes we’d rather beat each other with wiffle bats, but we’d probably feel bad afterwards.

It was also in 1998 that I met my birth mother. It was a few days after my dad passed away, so most of that year is a blur of emotions and craziness. I do remember it being very surreal. We started off exchanging letters through a case worker and eventually met. I’m a huggy guy, so of course I hugged my mom. I think she was caught by surprise, but we hugged for quite a while and I think that helped the guilt that a lot of parents who give their children away feel. I understand why they feel this way, but I’m not sure it’s fair. Feelings aren’t always very rational.

We took things slow, I was introduced to my half-brother and half-sister a month later. This was around the same time my adoptive family was going through the trauma of losing dad, so this was cathartic for me. It definitely wasn’t for my adoptive family though, they felt like I was abandoning them for a new family…which, of course, I wasn’t…but feelings are what they are and rationality be damned.

My adoptive sister and I didn’t hang out much growing up. But my brother did start hanging out with my friends and I, which I found fun. Looking back now, I think it made things worse. The timing of finding my birth family was horrible and it created a rift that took years to heal. Family, right?

These days we all keep in contact over Facebook and around Christmas time, but like all families, when you have children it tends to be all about them and their activities. So in that respect, we’re all too normal. We squabble and laugh, goof around with each others kids, tease each others spouses…it all settled into this very normal and arguably dysfunctional way that most families are with one another.

I’m not sure what a “normal” family looks like, but it’s the stuff of nightmares for me.

I prefer the mess…it’s honest and real…and much more fun.

Recently a friend of mine has been seriously considering adoption (for many private reasons I won’t get into here) and threw up a Facebook post asking for any friends with adoption experience to help with some information and advice. It shocked her that I was adopted. I’ve never hidden it, it’s just not something I start conversations with. I was surprised at how many people didn’t know.

I guess people are just too polite when I talk about my moms to inquire.

Anyway, the whole point of this is that I know things can be a little challenging for parent(s) who are considering putting their children up to adoption and parent(s) who are considering adopting. We so often hear the horror stories of abuse and neglect, while so rarely hearing any stories of the majority of us who are perfectly average and normal and lead happy lives.

Professionalism is for suckers…

This last Friday marked my sixth anniversary in publishing. Things started off slow and I struggled, in fact I still struggle. Many indie authors do. We struggle to find the artists for our covers, the editors for our manuscripts and the best practices for marketing. There are certainly others far more adept than I am at all of these things. The one thing that I have learned over the years is that there are no rules. What works for one project or for one author will not necessarily work for all authors or projects.

 

I’ve been fortunate enough to find artists that I respect and offer a great deal of professionalism. Every cover I’ve assembled wouldn’t be what it is without a great artist. Every map I’ve had commissioned wouldn’t have turned out as amazing if I hadn’t found the artists who put my ideas into action.

 

Editors haven’t always been as easy to track down and going from a rough draft to a draft ready for editing wasn’t always as smooth as it is now.

 

Marketing still largely eludes me. I’ve built up my “author platform” on twitter, facebook and reddit…but I still often feel cheap and tawdry every time that I promote my work. So I try things, like blog tours, interviews, ad spots, anything and everything as I search for the “right answer” that very likely does not exist. There are months that pass that I simply rely on a twitter or facebook post a week, perhaps a blog approaches me to give an interview or discuss my books or journey. Once in a while though, I try old fashioned marketing; I pay someone to put my book on their website and see what kinds of results I get.

 

Before I continue, I should point out that none of this is the fault of Fiverr. Actually, I love that website. I’ve had a couple of promos made for podcasts I’ve had over the years, I found some editors that I still use through their website. Hell, I even found my cartographer (map maker) using Fiverr. As we all should know by now; marketing is an art form. It’s highly subjective and the same thing doesn’t work every time. So when looking for someone to market something for you anywhere, you should be aware that you’re buying their access to an audience…and not a result.

 

Obviously I wouldn’t be writing this if I’d had an excellent experience. To be honest, the only marketing campaign I purchased that had a result beyond my expectations was when I purchased an ad spot on the Keith & The Girl podcast. I find that I get the best results when I have an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit. It might not work for everyone and there’s certainly a risk of being trolled or mocked…but I’m happy to take the good with the bad and for the most part Reddit has been a lot of fun. However, back to the problem at hand.

 

Fiverr has many folks offering “gigs”, as I mentioned before; some of these are home runs and some of them are empty promises. Fiverr does their best to weed out the liars and cheats, but they couldn’t possibly nail down all of them without a staff of thousands. Fiverr has truly become a marketplace for people to find those willing to contract out their time, skill and audience to new customers. That being said, here was this months adventure;

 

I run a traditional, indie publishing company. We have a blog where we like to showcase authors and their books, especially if you are up and coming. You can be an author of any genre. We will interview you for our blog, which is ranked NUMBER ONE for out TOP keyword search (over three million searches monthly!), and showcase your book as well. The interview will stay up permanently on our site and be in the author spotlight section of our blog. It is great advertising and exposure for your book and as an author, as we have been publishing books now for seven years and have had 8 best sellers. You might ask then, why are we on fiverr with this gig? The answer is simple: We like to work with authors who value themselves and their work enough to market their vision in a savvy business place like fiverr. Let us help you find some new people who will appreciate your literary vision!

 

That was the ad and it sounded like something I was willing to give a shot. $25 included a “gig extra” that would have my book cover up on the website for 90 days. Assuming three million searches monthly, that’s great value. Of course, I assumed that three million was an exaggeration…but I wouldn’t know how right I was until I purchased the gig.

 

Now, I wouldn’t never fault another writer for taking the chance that I took and I would never judge one who found this gentleman’s service to be everything it was promised to be.

 

However. I was less than impressed when I was sent the website.

 

Ok, first impression? It looks like a BBS message board.
But who the hell am I to judge? My website is built on a wordpress blog platform, I don’t hide the fact that I’m a woefully sub-par website creator. I’m not alone thankfully and wordpress has made it easy to at least look moderately professional. But I also don’t claim to generate three million hits a month. The seller also claimed that it’s a top search on google.

 

Alright, I typed in “Sakura Publishing” on google. Top three results? A facebook fanpage, librarything post, and an absolutewrite.com forum post (it wasn’t too complimentary  in which the “owner” shows up to defend his publishing firm and is taken to task by the forum regulars).

Alright…so “top” search result might mean top 10, right? Fair enough.

#4 – Smashwords profile.

#5 – Twitter handle.

#6 – Yelp profile with no reviews.

#7 – bookbuzzr.com profile.

#8 – publishersarchive.com profile.

#9 – Linked In profile.

#10 – biblio.com bookstore profile.

Ok, why am I being so mean?

 

Well.

 

Even though I didn’t get any results at all from the Fiverr gig I purchased, that didn’t really shock me. I wasn’t purchasing a result. The odds that out of nine million hits (remember, the claim was three million a month) during my ad’s scheduled run that not a single person clicked on the book are fairly remote. Regardless, I was purchasing an audience and the audience might have thought my book sucked, my personality turned them off (by far the most likely), they didn’t like the image, or they didn’t like the interview.

 

Actually, let’s talk about that word for a moment; “interview”.

 

When you read the word “interview” and romanticise it in your head, you might imagine something like Barbara Walters sitting down with a prolific writer and getting down to what makes them tick. At the very least you expect a question sheet from the interviewer with questions that they might ask. If it’s a blog, then you might get a list of questions that you then write your answers to. I’ve done that before. No problem. I like to write. In the case of this gig, the “interview” portion I “misunderstood” from the gig was that I would provide both the answers AND the questions. Now, where I come from that’s not an interview…but like I said; I love to write. So I found a few blog tour question primers I had from previous marketing excursions, picked my favourite questions and then provided some answers.

 

I wish I was kidding.

 

Now, after one month…like most writers…I became insecure and thought: Hey…maybe it’s me?

 

So I tweeted a book cover.

 

361 impressions, 11 total engagements, etc….on twitter. Results in my sales? 241 ebooks, 5 print books and 5,132 pages read.

 

Is it possible that coincidentally all of his site hits blasted my book sales on the same day as my tweet? Sure. But frankly, I’d learned a lesson and I was moving on to my usual marketing gimmicks and started posting to my twitter and facebook feeds more regularity until my sales went back to where they were before this little experiment.

 

I left a review of the Fiverr gig in the most honest way possible. I gave five stars out of five for communication, because even though I’d “misunderstood” what an interview was, he did at least communicate right away. I left four stars for “was this gig as described” because who knows? Maybe he does get three million hits a month. I mean…when I google my name, the first result is my website and it damn sure doesn’t generate three million hits a month. In fact, when I used an Alexa search…the publishing company mother-ship website gets less than 100 hits a month. The blog website for us lowly authors who demean ourselves to use his services to reach “three million” people, doesn’t even ping on Alexa.

 

Anyway, I didn’t want a refund. I was willing to leave my huge $25 on the table because I’d been stupid and wandered away from what works for me. Lesson learned.

 

That was, of course, until last night. What follows is the completely unedited chain of events for your enjoyment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He “bro’d” me…I couldn’t stop laughing for a solid minute. But, up until that point…he’d actually delivered on the “gig” promises…up until the point where he pulled the ad with sixty days left. He thanked me for my $25, which I thought was polite…even though it passive aggressively said “you get nothing”…the fun continues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alexa is wrong though…you know…the industry standard. I’m on Fiverr though, so I must be doing horribly…I cringed a little because is he on Fiverr to “take advantage” of rubes like me then? I didn’t even know what to take away from that. He’s absolutely right though, only two reviews for my latest book is pretty sad. I’m not quite sure what to make of the “bought” reviews other than perhaps he’s used Fiverr for Amazon reviews, which is against Amazon policy and they’ll pull your book if they suspect reviews have been purchased…but that’s supposition.

Anyway, he did not contact Fiverr support by the way. I had to. No offer of a refund or even a partial one for time not used on the ad. But no spoilers! Keep reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ah! Finally the mention of a refund. Now we’re getting somewhere.

 

But he did lie. He stated that his blog gets three million hits a month. He also lied in that he didn’t want to interview anyone, he wanted others to interview themselves and he’d post it. We might be “peers” in the way that both myself and Tom Clancy fancy ourselves writers…but clearly one of us is a more adept communicator than the other.

 

Again though, all a seller on Fiverr has to do is click “cancel gig” and the refund is issued. All of this back and forth and name calling is just frosting…delicious frosting that I get to have for free. I feel all warm and tingly inside. We continue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To be clear, he never represented anyone except the poor desperate folks he cajoled into believing that he is indeed a “traditional, indie publisher”…whatever that is. Sakura Publishing’s website is down, but after a little Amazon searching most of their books are nutrition based. It’s been around since 2011. In 2015 they stopped charging writers to publish their own books and that was their most prolific publishing year. Although, since that was really their only publishing year, I can only conclude that the new business model (likely triggered by the forum post earlier) wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Now he’s on Fiverr. Lucky for me.

 

He…by the way…is Derek Vasconi and he’s written a book called “Kai” which is a Japanese horror story. There’s a litany of indie prizes he’s won, I’ve seen them all before and they’re purchased reviews, in fact of the twelve reviews of his book there are only three that were made by verified purchasers. I’m sure the rest just got donated review copies, like I said before; I would never fault someone for trying to make things happen. However, one really shouldn’t drag out the judgmental pendulum until one is aware that it swings both ways.

 

The moral of this story boys and girls is simply this; While you are out trying to make your writing dream a reality, you will be taken advantage of at some point AND it’s okay to fight back.

 

Don’t be the road…be the boot.