Posting Your Book on the Internet

This is a long one, so I'm going to insert my comments within the letter itself. You'll know it's me because it's in red and it's not italicized.

LDS Publisher,

First, thanks for your great blog. Great information that can't be found anywhere else.

You're welcome.

Here is my question: have you seen [a site that allows authors to post their stories on the Internet and receive feedback]?

Yes, I have seen the site, but I haven't read any of the posts.

I'd really like your opinion on the site and the concept. The intent is to provide a convenient place for aspiring, and published, LDS authors to post their work for others to review and provide feedback. The site is completely free and includes auto-notification to let those who are members know when new content or comments are posted.

My assumption is that the typical "publisher" response will be negative. Maybe something along the lines of, "Free content on web? We're doomed!" But I'm hopeful that more progressive publishers will see it for the boon that it can be.

Yes, many publishers will see it that way.

Here's how I think it can help publishers:

1) Market Development - Publishers want to sell more books. You posted a great example recently of an author building some viral buzz for her book.[website] can get the buzz started. Would publishers rather publish the work of an author with no email list or with a long list of avid readers? [website] provides a way for authors to start building their list.

Yes, in this way the site is a positive thing--IF the authors are able to capture the e-mail addresses of everyone who visits or registers on the site. If there is no way to contact those avid readers when the book is released, then it really doesn't help.

2) Market Understanding - I know publishers are really good at what they do, but they could always use more market intelligence. Reviews and comments on [website] could provide one more--actually several more-- data points to judge the potential market acceptance of the work.

Yes, if there was a way for the publisher to determine the demographics of the people who post comments--who liked it, who didn't--and use that info to target their audience, then it would be helpful. However, I am guessing (and this is just a guess) that most of the people who come to the site and post positive comments already have a vested interest in the author--friends and family, fellow writers, etc. Unless your site was getting lots and lots of hits a day from a large cross-section of readers and most of those readers were posting comments, then the comments may not be helpful.

3) Author Development - There is a no doubt a lot of junk out there. [website] provides a free platform for authors to get their work out for the world to see and comment. The reviews may not be professional quality, but practice is practice. Why not a sentence at the bottom of the standard rejection letter: "You might consider posting a portion of your work on [website]..."

This is the best reason for having a site like [website]--to help inexperienced writers hone their craft and to practice getting it out to readers they might not normally have contact with. For that reason alone, I am glad to see that this site exists.

One of my concerns is that the writers may not be getting helpful or correct feedback. A comment that says, "I loved this" or "This stinks" is not productive. Comments that say why they liked/disliked it are more valuable. However, you can't know the expertise of the commenter. When someone suggests doing something differently, do they know what they're talking about? I see suggestions on other sites (and hear them at writers conferences), sometimes by experienced published writers, that are so off track I hope no one follows them.

So to those who have posted on this site, great. Just take the comments with a grain of salt.

And this concept is too new for me to even consider recommending it as part of my standard rejection letter. (See also my last comment.)

4) It is Never Going to Replace Print! - It is a rare individual that is willing to sit in front of a screen and read an entire novel. With the cost of ink and paper, it is much cheaper to go down to your local Deseret Book and buy the book than try to print it out yourself. [website] will never replace traditional book publishing. On the contrary, it will create a number of vocal advocates that will help drive sales as the book goes into print.

You are right, this is not going to replace the printed book. However, I know from experience that it does have an impact on sales. I had an author post his entire manuscript on the Internet--after I had already published his book. His business cards referred readers to the Internet site. Sales dropped almost immediately--enough that I seriously considered suing him for breach of contract. I decided against it for other reasons, but I was really ticked and I absolutely, positively will never publish anything else that this man writes. And if I hear that other publishers (my friends and colleagues) are considering publishing a book by him, I will definitely share my experience with them.

Well those are my opinions, but what I would really like is yours.

I reserve the right to change my mind at some future time, but as it stands right now, I personally, would not have a problem with an author posting short stories or works they didn't intend to publish. This gets them some experience and name recognition. But if they are posting works they intend to publish, my biggest concern is the protection of the author's copyright. Someone could steal the work and publish under their own name before the true author was able to publish or be publishing simultaneously with the real author. I would never be able to determine if that was happening. If that were to happen, it would really cause a sticky and very expensive mess. For that reason, I would have to think long and hard about publishing a book that had been published in its entirety on the Internet.


Anonymous said...

What about rights? Once it's posted on the interent, isn't it considered "published"? Would a publisher consider publishing a book that was already "out there" for the world to view?

When you sell magazine stories/articles you sell certain rights, wouldn't this prevent people from selling their stories after posting them at this site?

I'd also worry about someone stealing a story and passing it off as his/her own.

I see this site as a place to post stories not intended for other publication.

Just my thoughts.

LDS_Publisher said...

Since this is a free site, there are no rights being sold. Some sites like this charge a small fee and purchase "first rights" or "Internet rights". Neither of these necessarily interfere with publishing in the traditional way.

The biggest problem is that of protecting the content from the unscrupulous. And from those that just don't have a clue about copyright. (I helped someone self-publish a book and they told me that another person in their industry lifted multiple pages of text straight from his book and published it in his own book without permission and with no indication of the original source. He (the "stealer") clearly did not know what he was doing as he proudly told the original author what he'd done, thinking it was a good thing.)

The one good thing about sites like these is if you're good, and you mention the site in a query, and I go read it and like it, I'll probably ask you what else you have that hasn't been posted on the Internet.

Anonymous said...

I'm assuming that your discussion is about www.ctrstories.com established by Dave and Joe Free. Its a terrific site for authors to get feedback. And if something is really, really good and a portion of it has been posted on the internet, a good publisher like yourself would be goofy not to pick it up, publish it and then ask what else they have. If Harry Potter's first three chapters were posted on www.ctrstories.com you certainly wouldn't tel the author to find something less apealing to the reading public. And anyone who steals your stuff does so at the peril of their own demise. Its a terrific site. LDS authors should start sharing some of their stuff, get feedback from each other and enjoy the ride. Go ctrstories.com!

Anonymous said...

Publishers forget why we write. The business of writing is for middlemen (and women). They do the math in the arithmetic of sharing stories, but they don't create narratives, they don't invent the plots, they don't suck the marrow from the bones of a fictional corpose and give it life on the pages of a novel. Publishers are consumed by the bottom line of the story-telling business, but it is the author who knows that the business of story-telling is the sharing of a creation with the reader. That is magic of what we do and somewhere in the long grind of putting out books year after year amnesia set in. Take away all the glitter of marketing, jetison the sales department projections, toss out the promotionals, be rid of the retail shelf space battles, the access to distribution lines, and the corporate boardrooms. And what do you have left? An author writing for a reader. You middlemen publishers are scary people. You're once removed form the real business of story-telling.

Anonymous said...

As for the comments and constructive feedback -- in many cases, you also don't know how the author will respond to corrections. I hope that everybody who posts on a site like that would be professional enough to graciously accept constructive criticism and not get hot and huffy about corrections. (I've seen this happen on fan fiction sites, though admittedly, many fanfic authors concentrate more on sharing their fan fantasies than becoming a published author.) On the other hand, maybe readers could offer to contact the author privately if they have more than one or two general nitpicks.

Melanie Goldmund

W.L.Elliott said...

I have to agree with LDSP in that how could you possibly know that any feedback you receive is worth anything? I want to know that any critique I get is from someone who knows what they're talking about, or at least whose opinion I trust. I'm not going to read through a slam "It stinks" from someone I have never met and probably don't even get to know their real name!

Another peeve I have is that I have seen several sites where the "authors" aren't really interested in feedback - unless it's "oh you're ssooooo good". That, to me, is a pointless waste of time.

Thanks, but I'll be keeping my writing off the net and on the page.