Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bestseller - How Does it Translate into Numbers...?

Not a day goes by that I don't see at least one or two announcements cross my screen, proclaiming that the author's novel is a "bestseller." I often hit "reply" and congratulate the author but it always, always bothers me that I don't know what exactly does that mean -- in terms of numbers. And who has kept such count and provided it to the author?

I guess the ultimate question is: "Do the e-publishing houses have their own standards of what constitutes a bestseller - or is there an industry standard for this?"

One of my e-publishers holds an actual event as a standard for the rest of her authors. One particular author worked so hard on promo in his hometown that he sold 400 trade paperback copies of his novel, that was also available in electronic format. The publisher holds this number for print copies as the company's topmost standard for "bestseller." It's the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest for this particular e-publisher. However, she also holds 50 electronic copies sold as a "well-selling" book. And 100 e-copies sold represents a bestseller. The sales would be within 2 or 3 quarters - or in some cases within a year. A 100 e-copies of any novel sold in one year would represent a "bestseller" for this publisher.

Then there is the other publisher who considers 500 electronic copies sold in about 2 quarters as a threshold for bringing the book out in print format. However, she will make an exception (don't know the background of this) and now and then she will send a book into print after having sold only 200 e-copies. I've four publishers but none of them have given me their standards on what constitutes a bestseller. It's probably the reason why I constantly wonder how those other authors advertise their novels as bestsellers. What do they base their 'bestseller' tag on? And WHERE exactly is the given book a bestseller? On the, on fictionwise, on other e-book distributor sites - or if it's in print, how many paperback copies did it sell?

In Canada, and in traditional print publishing, 5,000 copies sold constitutes a bestseller. In US, it has to be 10,000 or more. Once again, St. Martin's Press might have a higher threshold for declaring their novel a bestseller than Random House but once you're in this category, it hardly matters.

Where it does matter, is in e-publishing and for all the e-pubbed writers, like me.

So...what is your understanding/take on the issue? What constitutes a bestseller for you? Who has the authority to declare any e-pubbed novel a bestseller and who keeps such statistics? I'm sure many of you have followed the NCP saga - and I am one of their authors - and therefore know that NCP no longer provides any numbers sold to their authors. They simply send a royalty check for copies sold during any particular quarter. The author is left to ponder just what does the dollar amount represent in terms of number of sales. It's also a mystery as where did these sales come from. Thanks for any input. Edita.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Great Editorial Debate

Ever since the New Concepts Publishing came out and flatly stated that they do not do editing of contracted novels - because neither writers nor readers know any better regarding editorial instructions or the writing craft rules - there's been a "rippling" storm coursing through the yahoo group lists and many blogs. General questions that I've seen used in attacks and counter-attacks are:

  1. Do readers, especially of e-published novels, actually notice any lack of editing and/or do they catch any poorly crafted writing? And if they do - do they care?

  2. How many writers - e-published mostly but also pubbed by large New York presses - actually understand editorial requirements and instructions given as edits of their work?

  3. Has poor editing or lack of editing actually hurt author's sales? (of subsequently released new novels)

  4. What exactly does an author understand by “poor editing or lack of editing?”

  5. What exactly does a reader understand of the same conditions? And what does it mean to an editor?

Does any of the above matter - in the e-publishing or traditional pub-houses?

I'd like to hear any opinions or experiences from readers, writers and/or editors on the above questions. And here are my experiences - as a reader and author.

I've read many books by Koontz and Danielle Steele that were riddled with typos. Is this bad editing? Nah. Just some tired copy-editor's late night work. Did I forgive it? Yeah, I did. I've read trade paperbacks that started as e-print novels by some of the well-established e-publishers out there -- also riddled with typos. Did it 'swear' me off the writer's work? Nah.

But something else did.

Poor story flow. Lack of story structure. Rambling or stilted prose. Fragmented dialogue and blatant discontinuity. For example, some of the e-novels written in 1st person, offer comments and observations - in a sense making a promise to the reader to "I'll tell you later about this..." and never, ever do come back to the started story-thread. I've combed such trade paperbacks for just this one "clue-answer" that was promised on pg 11 and by pg 258 it still was not to be found.

Do pov-changes within a sequence or as may be the case in many stories, within a paragraph or couple of lines of dialogue, bother me as a reader? It's jarring. It's annoying and it's distracting to a degree where the reader wonders whether the author knows anything about his/her writing craft at all...but, hey, it's forgivable. One can actually LEARN to live with it - if the story's strong. If it flows. If it has believable dialogue. If it delivers on ALL its 'hidden' sentiments and promises. If it is otherwise written well.

But often it's the story that's delivered in such a convoluted, sloppy and nearly haphazard manner that as a reader, I confess to not being able to finish quite a few trade paperbacks that started very promising...very promising indeed.

And this is where the writing craft itself separates proof-readers from editors. Typo-free story is not necessarily a well-written story. An author who establishes e-pub business to promote his/her own work...along with works of others, is not necessarily a good editor - or even an editor - period.

Do I want another author editing my work?

That's the billion-dollar question today in the e-publishing industry. There are a few superb editors out there who later on settled into writing. Nancy Mehl is one of them. She helped me edit my first published novel, "The Cracked Shadow." She was an editor and taught creative writing for 30 years before she settled into writing her own novels. She is a superb editor and a great writer. How many e-publishers today actually have STAFF editors who have editing experience (never mind credentials) and do nothing but editing?

NCP has just owners who write. In a sense, they're doing their writers a huge favor by NOT even attempting to do edits. And their readership certainly doesn't seem to mind so...? I think NCP will survive quite nicely and continue doing what they've been doing all along - producing novels for which there is an established readership out there that either doesn't care, desn't know better or doesn't notice lack of editing. There are other e-pubs that do little (typo-only) or no editing - I won't mention them but they're doing fairly well too with their established readership.

And then there are publishers, e-and-print, who actually have "Howitzer-size" editors - big-guns. These folks really know what editorial process entails, how to apply it and what constitutes editorial improvements - not to be confused with editorial whims, edit-by-numbers, and silly, petty indulgence. These folks will pick up story disconformities lickety-quick. They will ask one question that will very often lead to the author having to re-write most if not the entire storyline - if the author wants the novel to see the light of electronic debut. These are the folks who will not contract a poorly-structured, poorly-executed novel and will see this from reading the first 5 pages of the story - first 5 pages that are totally typo-free. These are the folks who will INSIST on changing one sentence and when the beleaguered author finally gives in, he/she will see that the change actually streamlines the story's flow - ENTIRE STORY'S FLOW at that.

These are the folks who know their facts, know their history, know their social or political taboos and are quick to censor any offense in a manuscript. These are the folks who have ONE preferred manual of style for placement of commas and will stick to it - author would be wise to just accept the comma placement with a blanket acquiescence.

These are the folks who have actually READ every single page, every single line of your manuscript and you as an author can readily see this - because Microsoft and Bill Gates gave us "track-changes" tool.

These are the folks who actually pick-up on your characters' motivations, no matter how subtle, and, depending on the action, timing or surrounding events, will question these and you as an author better have a logical answer.

These are the folks who give you 3 months to "answer" 750 questions enclosed in ''comment" balloons that arrive with your 1st edit.

These are the folks who give you an additional month to repair what they still see amiss in 350 questions that arrive with your 2nd edit.

These are the folks who generally edit for a living and to them editing is a job - not "that proofing thing they do to writing before we can put it up on our site for sale."

As an author, I've been in all three categories - good edits, poor edits and no edits. Did it hurt my sales? I don't think so. Not with any of the pubs where my works appear. However, I definitely prefer to work with an editor who knows his job, even if time and experience has shown me that those works that are with a publisher who has no editorial staff whatsoever, aren't going to suffer that much. It's actually quite an exciting experience to work with an editor who takes your story and its characters to task, every step of their actions and motivations. Such true editorial application makes you a better writer - it challenges not only your creativity and imagination, but your knowledge of writing craft.

As a reader...well, that's a different story. I've spent a lot more time on reading excerpts of those e-published authors whose print books I bought to see whether there's been improvement. It made me smile when I saw it...but it wasn't too often. I wonder whether we approach 'reading novels' differently as authors and readers? Or whether I'm just an oddball.