Self-Publishing News: 2.9.2021

Hello February.

news from the world of
self-publishing

Here’s an article from lifehacker‘s Explainer section that provoked a number of conversations among self-publishing authors this last week: Sam Blum’s take on the necessary underpinnings of published (and therefore public) authorship. It begins with a familiar hook, too. Write Blum, “No two writers’ journeys to publication are the same, but most follow the same general path.” To view publishing from the appropriate distance from which to see a general path, Blum begins his summary with a warning: “Don’t quit your day job.” (We are not going to spend too long thinking about how Blum’s imagination also leads to “you lovingly stroke its spine,” a favorite out-of-context comment about books that seems a little over the top.) He goes on to describe the various ways and means of going after a traditional publishing gig, but many of his suggestions are also applicable to self-publishing (which lifehacker‘s Nicole Dieker wrote about all the way back in 2017––we still highly recommend you read that article as well). He writes about building a network, self-education, and carrying out some intensive market research. The only point that doesn’t apply is the section on finding an agent, but one might argue that finding a self-publishing company and team that works for you would make a good substitute there. Not only is his recent article a good reminder of many points we’ve covered here on the blog on other days, but it is also a good reminder to check out Dieker’s older article.

This one is a more troubling bit of news. One of our favorite aspects of self-publishing that we like to celebrate here on this blog is the power of the indie world to democratize the entire publishing space. One might argue, as we have in the past, that a healthy self-publishing industry supports not just a healthy traditional publishing industry as well, but a healthy society. And we are extremely grateful to live in a part of the world where free speech is honored and enshrined in our founding charters––and where, although our systems remain imperfect, the average person can still find a way to say what needs to be said, write what needs to be written, and publish what needs to be published. This article from TechCrunch is a good reminder that this is not true of all corners of the world, and that the situation in China is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the quieting of badly needed voices across the globe.

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As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry.This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog each month to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “Obsolete: A Teacher’s Tale (of tomorrow, today!)” by Kevin Vachna

“Obsolete: A Teacher’s Tale (of tomorrow, today!)” by Kevin Vachna

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

For teachers and students ages fourteen and older, Kevin Vachna’s Obsolete: A Teacher’s Tale (of Tomorrow, Today!) is a thrilling sci-fi graphic novel set in the not-so-distant future, where technology is engrained in every aspect of life, even finding a home inside of us. There’s a big society problem: the kids are all becoming hyperactive, disconnected screen addicts. And then Professor T finds himself with a personal problem: After giving an unauthorized history lesson, Professor T is reassigned to one of the worst-performing schools. There, his challenges and the world’s collide, as unlikely allies and hidden threats lead T to revelations about a conspiracy with sinister roots that could threaten to overturn the very foundations of society itself.

Vachna is a teacher and administrator in New York City’s public schools with an expertise in themes involving technology and culture. The what-if nightmare scenario of where he sees our educational system leading are realized in the world and characters of Obsolete.

REVIEW:

Within minutes of picking up Obsolete: A Teacher’s Tale (of tomorrow, today!) I was already thinking back to the “dsytopias” unit I’d studied back in 2003 or 2004 as a part of my high school English syllabus. At the time, I was living abroad, and the materials we studied for the unit reflected that, but we still hit some of the major literary highwater marks of dystopic literature familiar to all: 1984, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Brave New World, and even the original (director’s cut!) Blade Runner. At the time, the word “dystopia” wasn’t a part of mainstream American conversation much at all, but I remember how quickly that changed after the publication of the first Hunger Games book in 2008. At that point, I was back in the USA, finishing up a college degree, and it seemed like the word became popular overnight! The meaning was altered somewhat from what I’d studied before, which was tied as much if not more to the notion of social commentary than a projection of our current society into the future as some kind of thought experiment. Several of the novels we studied in that unit weren’t futuristic in any way! Then, along came Hugh Howey’s self-published sensation, Wool, in 2011, and the floodgates were officially wide open to dystopic stories featuring more futuristic shenanigans, and now common definitions of the word reflect that.

All of this history is important, I think, to better understand what’s at work in Vachna’s Obsolete; as much as this is a graphic novel set in a frightening future, it is also a sharp social commentary about the way things are today, much in line with works like 1984 and Brave New World. Obsolete could be happening today, and much of it I believe already is! We are all, like the students in Professor Tieh’s classroom, firmly entrenched in our dependence on technology for daily living, whether consciously or not. Our cars and fridges have computers in them, our light switches and microwaves can be turned on remotely and our doorbells monitored by phone using apps, and our friendships are built and maintained digitally as much as through personal contact. This is the world of Vachna’s book, even though our present world is not quite to the point where “schooling” takes place in spheres designed to brainwash and then expel students, assembly-line style. It may seem like it sometimes, though, and all it would take is a bit of technological advancement to get us there.

Technological advancement, and the resignation of teachers to the new mode of education. And that is where Professor T (as he is called) comes in.

In his world, Professor T is the last bastion of critical thinking in a classroom of tech-addicted teenagers. When he goes off script during one class, his students barely know how to respond––at least, the ones who look up from their equivalent of tablet computers long enough to notice something is different. Professor T is immediately reassigned by the powers that be in Obsolete‘s education system, and must once again weigh his own personal security against the importance of deprogramming the next generation of children in order to allow them to sift through all of the white noise of propaganda and think for themselves.

Of course, you can probably guess what happens next ….

There has always been something appealing about the underdog, the rebel within an unfair system. Without giving too much away, I think it’s fair to say that Professor T (and a couple of other secondary characters) is anchored firmly in that literary type. I haven’t seen many teachers play this part, particularly in dystopias, so it is exciting to see how T’s relationship with his students differs from those relationships popularized in other recent dystopias. He’s in a position of some limited authority within the system against which he rebels, in that he has the authority to contribute to or alter the trajectory of his students’ worldviews, but he is managed and counteracted by an education system, which is not often seen in those other books. But there’s a plot twist lying underneath this choice of Vachna’s, so I won’t go into more detail there.

The other interesting deviation from the norm when it comes to dystopias is Vachna’s use of the Socratic Method, wherein a question-and-answer approach to public dialogue was used as a tool of education. (There are many more fascinating details to the Socratic Method, too many for me to go into, but I highly recommend reading about it sometime.) It has been far, far too long since I’ve seen this on the page, and to find it in a dystopic graphic novel was a pleasant surprise. I’d tell you more about it, but Obsolete is pretty much the perfect example of what it looks like on the page.

Of course, there is a third deviation from the norm, and that is Vachna’s decision to publish Obsolete as a graphic novel rather than as a text-based work. It’s not absolutely unheard of for a graphic novel to be published first, but it is far more common for books to start first as text, then be adapted into graphic novel or even a film format. I appreciate Vachna’s willingness to defy norms and to make the choices that best fit his vision for his book. I also appreciate the deliberate references to some of those works of social commentary that I referred to before: Vachna begins each chapter with a quote, including words by William Gibson and H.G. Wells. Even the art direction is designed to emphasize key points, reflecting a dimness of perception and propaganda-based black-and-white thinking in its largely monochromatic color scheme. Blue is used to highlight the workings of the ubiquitous technology, and more colors are introduced as Professor T begins opening his and his students’ eyes to the range of possibilities that lay beyond their screens and tracking devices.

There are other neat references woven into Obsolete, this time by way of the art direction instead of quotes: the arbiter of Professor T’s carefully curated world looks an awful lot like those that populate the popular comic series Saga, and the all-seeing eye of technology hints at the computer HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. None of these cross the line that keeps references and direct representations distinct from each other, but there are enough similarities to tease the reader’s brain. And the all-seeing eye … could it represent both the ever-watchful technology as well as the eyes of Tieh’s students as they are opened to the world around them?

As much as this is a graphic novel and therefore appealing to all sorts of readers, I believe adults will find it particularly rich in allusions and conversant with the public debate over the mediation of public education by technology, especially as a consequence of COVID-19.

IN SUMMARY:

Kevin Vachna’s Obsolete serves as a timely reminder that both technology cannot always mediate and can never serve as a full replacement for quality personal connections with others, be they friendships, the bond between teachers and students, or professional working relationships. This graphic novel prompts readers to examine their own use of technology and the ways in which it can operate, undetected, as a tool of social development––and even control.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find Obsolete wherever good books are sold, including Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also find out more about Kevin Vachna’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

I have a number of books on my TBR pile as I rush to catch up on (and close out) books published in 2020. There have been some fantastic new additions to that shelf, too––so I haven’t quite decided between all of the options!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.


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ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

In Your Corner: Welcome to Writer’s Block! Here’s the escape plan.

“Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.”

–Charles Bukowski

Writer’s block. The two words that no author ever wants to have to mutter aloud, nonetheless suffer from. While a myriad of writing ailments get lumped under the cognomen, “writer’s block,” it can generally be summarized as an overwhelming feeling that you are incapable of being creative or productive in your writing.

What are the causes of the infamous writer’s block? One could be timing: maybe you’re not in a good headspace for writing or you need more time to process your thoughts before getting them onto the page. Make sure to not confuse the wrong timing for procrastination. If you’ve worked a 40+hour week and just need to catch up on sleep before starting that next chapter, then that’s probably a timing issue. If you just sit in front of the computer day after day with one Microsoft Word window open and another Google Chrome window clogged with Facebook and news tabs open that you can’t help but check, that’s an issue of focus and dedication to the task at hand.

Another cause of writer’s block could be a general fear: fear that you can’t do your big idea justice, fear that your work won’t turn out well or will be ill-received or even go unread. If you fear those things, it becomes rather easy to ask the question, “What’s the point?”––falling prey to the inactivity bred by hopelessness and despair. I’d be lying if I said I don’t ask that question in many aspects of my life. Who doesn’t have days when they wake up to the alarm they set for work in the morning and contemplate just hitting snooze? Sometimes there seems to be little point in heading to work to carry out what sometimes seem like meaningless tasks for a wage that doesn’t feel as though it reflects the quality of our labor. Yet, we crawl out of bed and show up anyway. If we show up for things like a paycheck, we should show up for things that are more near and dear to us, like writing, even if we have doubts or fears associated with it.

Maybe you’re a perfectionist, and the idea that your work isn’t going to be perfect if you start it when you’re a bit tired means you don’t want to start it at all. That kind of thinking is highly unproductive for many reasons. Writing is a practice, some days you won’t perform at your highest, but it’s important to keep the creative juices flowing no matter what. If you’re worried about perfection, focus your energy on something that doesn’t need to be perfect, like a stream of conscience journal entry, blog or social media post.

If you, or someone you know and love is suffering from this horrible condition, I have a few suggestions that may help get you back in line.

  • Go for a walk or a run. Get the blood flowing and clear your head. I find some of my best writing ideas have come to me mid-run.
  • Brew some coffee or tea. This gives you a break from writing, a fresh boost of caffeine, and who doesn’t feel more ready to write with a mug full of some delicious hot bean or leaf juice by their side?
  • Read. Read quotes, books, articles, blogs…anything. Reading is part of the writing process and if you’re struggling to find your voice, sometimes it helps to draw inspiration from others.
  • Freewrite. Stream of conscience writing can clear some of those spider webs of the mind. Sometimes I surprise myself when I write with reckless abandon. Maybe you’ll even come up with a fantastic poem or epigraph for your book.
  • Call a friend. Sometimes talking about writer’s block helps you get over it.
  • Change your environment. Sometimes I have to go to a library or cafe to get any serious writing done. When I’m at my house I’ll randomly find myself scrubbing the toilet or baking banana bread when I was in the middle of writing. I also find that being in an environment full of other people being productive makes me feel like I also have to be productive…to “fit in.”

Overcoming writer’s block is really overcoming a mental block. Figure out what your mental block is, face it head on (with a cup of joe in hand), and get back to it. You are a writer. Get back to writing!

I’d still love to know, what are your 2021 writing goals? ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
Elizabeth
 

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

Self-Publishing News: 1.26.2021

news from the world of
self-publishing

The big industry news of the last week has been the acquisition of Wattpad by way of a 100% stake. Wattpad, a self-publishing platform known primarily for producing short-form serial stories as well as fanfiction, has been a key actor in raising mainstream awareness of self-publishing, while simultaneously lessening the stigmas attached to indie works and teen writers. It has also worked in partnership with Penguin Random House to traditionally publish The Kissing Booth, which we wrote about here on the blog several times back in 2018, and afterward the company created Wattpad Books, which partners with Macmillan to publish other stories in book form. Wattpad has yet to go public, having acquired all of its financing through private investors. And now, according to Korea JoongAng Daily (in association with The New York Times), the Korean-based IT firm Naver has purchased a 100% stake in the company. Kyoung-Son’s article summarizes this event, and makes note of Naver’s next steps in getting “administrative approvals” in multiple countries, including Korea and the United States. For more information on this major development in global self-publishing, please read Kyoung-Son’s article in full.

This fabulous article comes to us by way of The Bookseller, an industry news platform which has put out articles in support of self-publishing as well as traditional publishing over the course of its long history. (The website is part of a London-based company that claims to have been “the business magazine of the book industry since 1858.”) Angela McConnell-Hughes (AKA Angela Kay Austin) is a self-publishing author whose books have put her on USA TODAY‘s bestseller list, and whose voice has become a very welcome and much needed one within the industry as an advocate for diverse indie authors. We highly recommend reading the entirety of her article, but absolutely must amplify her hard-hitting conclusion:

I think recent events in America and across the globe highlight the need for indie publishing, but I also believe they support the rally for change within traditional publishing. The authors and poets of the Harlem Renaissance voiced the anguish of Black Americans during the early 1900s. Indie authors of today follow in this tradition, introducing readers to vivid worlds inhabited by people of color. As a self-published author, I don’t see an end to the growth of indie publishing because I don’t see an end to traditional publishing marginalising different voices.

– Angela McConnell-Hughes, “Taking Back Control” (2020)

McConnell-Hughes takes no prisoners in her article, and holds nothing back. By chronicling her own experience and honestly documenting some of the challenges facing indie authors, she comes across as an earnest and sincere advocate when she still thinks going indie is the best approach, at least for authors who find themselves unwelcome in traditionally published books, either by deliberate exclusion or the systemic advantages given to certain authors that we have talked about here on Self Publishing Advisor before. If you, like McConnell-Hughes, have grown used to reading books where characters “who looked like me weren’t represented,” you too might consider following in her footsteps and choose to self-publish. Whatever you choose, her article is worth a look!

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As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry.This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog each month to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “I’ll Fix America Tonight” by Nathan Andrew Roberts

“I’ll Fix America Tonight (well, at least by the weekend)” by Nathan Andrew Roberts

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

If you are tired of Democrats and Republicans making empty promises, and their followers dogmatically choosing sides on every debate and issue so their guys can remain in power, you’re a lot like the author of this book. Tackling tough issues like the immigration debate, slavery reparations, minimum wage, taxes, college tuition, the insurance industry, business, the role of government in ordering our lives, prisons, the relationship of society to police, and many more, he proposes revolutionary solutions instead of choosing to spend 70,000 words needlessly criticizing. Coming from the view that every human is an image-bearer of God, and that all man-made structures and agendas are open for debate, he offers up solutions to some of America’s most burdensome problems which can be considered and implemented to make both sides happy. Understanding that too many people nowadays take themselves far too seriously, he also gives the reader many self-deprecating and humorous asides (something sorely lacking in political and social debate). Buy this book and join the fight against poverty; namely his poverty.

REVIEW:

What an unexpectedly timely book!

It just so happens that Nathan Andrew Roberts’ I’ll Fix America Tonight (well, at least by the weekend) hit the top of my reading pile at the same time as the peak of America’s chaotic situation a few weeks ago, and that means I’m posting this review in a bit of a changed world from the one that existed beforehand. I sense that feelings are still running extremely high among both Republicans and Democrats here in the USA, and that not everyone is quite ready to open their minds to entertain the many exciting and interesting thought experiments that Roberts describes in his book––but I also hope and even truly believe (by force of will, maybe) that just as many if note more people are eager to reconcile with their friends and family on the other side of the aisle, and that a book such as this one has a real and useful function as we move forward into our brave new world.

Speaking of, I find our cultural associations with that Shakespeare reference (see below) quite useful indeed. It comes from The Tempest, my favorite of Shakespeare’s works, and is spoken by a young woman named Miranda, who has been sequestered on an island since infancy. When she meets outsiders for the first time, her reaction is:

In the eons since Shakespeare penned those lines, we have also seen the reference given quite the negative connotation, thanks in no small part to the British pessimist Aldous Huxley, who published Brave New World in 1932. Both Shakespeare’s play and Huxley’s dystopic novel are replete with social commentary, particularly on the nature of different worldviews.

For my part, I’ve always been drawn to Miranda’s approach. She falls in love with everything she meets, and is willing to suspend judgment where others leap to the worst conclusions about each other around her.

Nathan Andrew Roberts’ recent book is more or less designed for us Mirandas. He asks us to suspend our judgment of each other and work toward common goals and make daring attempts to heal the breaches between our American political parties.

In his introduction, Roberts writes:

Government (including education and municipalities), business, places of worship, and other societal groupings are the pillars of society. Family is the foundation. When the foundation crumbles, so do the pillars. What I propose is drastic changes to all of these. Mind you, many of my ideas come from a morally conservative Christian viewpoint (if you can’t even bear to listen to my words past this sentence, I would be happy to provide you a refund) but I take a centrist and liberal stance on many different political and societal issues.

“I‘ll Fix America Tonight” by Nathan Andrew Roberts (2020), p. iii.

Having framed his own personal stance in this way, Roberts goes on to say: “Now, there are some ideas pertaining to a lot of facets of our society contained herein.” So far, so good. But Roberts also has a request of his readers! “What I would ask of even the most unreasonable of readers is that if you detest one idea or belief of mine that you refrain from waving off all others.” He describes the book as a buffet, full of various thought experiments from which a reader can pick and choose what appeals, and leave the rest.

And wow, does he cover quite a few topics! It’s worth noting here that my family, too, is fractured between two (or three, or four, or more) radically different worldviews, and certainly represents both sides of the current political system. Running down Roberts’ table of contents is a lot like looking at a list of conversation topics we try not to bring up over the dinner table: the military, reparations, welfare, and education among them. We are not so invested in some of the other topic he covers, like foreign aid––but as this is a buffet, I didn’t feel as though I had to have a clear opinion on what the “fix” should be by the end of that chapter; I was merely curious what radical changes Roberts might suggest, and what funny anecdotes he might share. For some of the chapters that have been topics of serious disagreement among my family and friends, I found myself paying more attention to the suggested “fix” than to the humorous bits. Knowing that I had Roberts’, how shall I put this, permission to move back and forth meant that I didn’t set the book down when I disagreed with a point (or ten). I simply made a note (and probably said huh out loud) and moved on, knowing that I’m not being asked to carry the burden of forming a set opinion, just to entertain a possible future by way of thought experiment.

Roberts is, as my father would say, something of a “goofball.” He loves a good pun, cracks himself up with his own “dad jokes” and stories, and generally keeps the entire book light-hearted. (“That question isn’t rhetorical,” he writes at one point. “I want you to compose your answer in a well-worded essay and mail it to me. Route it through my temporary office at the North Pole.”) That said, he always clearly signals when he wants his readers to take him seriously. I really appreciated that. He’s seen and been through enough to more than fill out a straight memoir, but he chose to take on this project because he wants to help this country heal. I love that about this book: its intentions are so pure.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that Roberts also writes well! His language is accessible, and the book has been edited well. It doesn’t dither around, but rather is nicely streamlined. I can’t remember the last time I picked up a book (any book!) dealing with politics that was under 400 pages––and Nathan Andrew Roberts gets all of his work done in fewer than 300. My wrist (and attention span) are eternally grateful. And he ends the book on such a positive note: “I believe in us. Ready?” Yes, wolf pack supervisor, I am ready. Let’s build some bridges.

IN SUMMARY:

In a world absolutely riven with civil unrest (and sometimes, uncivil unrest), there is absolutely a need for more books like Nathan Andrew Roberts’ I’ll Fix America Tonight (well, at least by the weekend). His goal of providing fresh ideas to address social and political inequities that all parties can agree on is a fabulous one. I personally enjoyed the thought experiments he describes in this book, but I have the feeling this will be a book that lands well among people already willing to reconcile and make compromises to improve public discourse.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find I’ll Fix America Tonight wherever good books are sold, including Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also find out more about Marc McCormack’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.


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ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.