In books as in life, gender shouldn’t be everything
I’m a radical. I’d truly like to live in a world where a person’s gender was one of the least important things that other people registered about them – you know, after their sense of humour, their personality, or their intelligence, for example.
However, it seems that humanity as a species can’t keep itself from a prurient fascination with the shape of other humans’ genitalia. From colour-coding new-born infants to be sure that complete strangers can recognise on sight what shape their genitals are, to trying to control who sleeps with who (if it’s consensual and they aren’t trying to get in your pants, why exactly is it your business?), to regulating what a gender can and can’t do, it’s everywhere.
It’s particularly annoying to me that I can go to the effort of writing an entire book (that shit’s hard, folks), with a plot, and character arcs and everything, and the main and possibly only thing that sticks with some people is the fact that it’s got a female protagonist. And *gasp* she’s in a leadership role, not in one of the approved female positions, like between the hero and a mattress.
When are we going to get past this massive hang-up? I’m tired of being told what I can and can’t do based solely on my gender. I’m tired of seeing books filled with characters who are, basically, tropes (princess who needs rescuing, anyone?). I’m tired of reading about US politicians advocating the death sentence for abortion, and seeing adverts where men are repeatedly indoctrinated with what ‘being a real man’ means.
So yeah, I do get mildly irritated when someone reads one of my books, goes to the trouble of leaving a very nice, in-depth review…but focusses strongly on the fact that the protagonist is a woman.
Khyria’s gender is one of the least important things about the character. I can’t help feeling that, much as I appreciated the review, some of the key points about the character and the book were relegated to a secondary position by the sheer level of shock and awe generated by her gender. I also can’t help feeling that this points to something deeply wrong with our society.
Hidden Gems advertises as an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) program, although they also accept published books for their reviewers. As well as their core ARC program, Hidden Gems is branching out into cover design and editing.
Once signed up, your book is offered to their readership, and readers request the books they’re interested in reading and reviewing. You aren’t guaranteed any set number of takers, and you aren’t guaranteed any reviews; however, at time of writing, their review rate was 80%, meaning that if 100 of their readers ask for the free copy of your book, you’re likely to get something on the close order of 80 reviews.
Hidden Gems asks for a minimum $20 US for basic set-up and send-out of a book in their newsletter. You must be able to provide an PDF and a MOBI variant of your manuscript file, as well as a cover image JPG. After that, you can set the bar for number of reviewers as high as you want, and you will be billed based on how many people volunteer to read and review.
It’s also a relatively simple submission and payment system, which I really appreciated, and their FAQ is well set up and answered pretty much all of my questions.
Well, I was impressed.
I asked to have Through the Hostage circulated on 24th Sept, and I was notified that 15 people had asked for a copy. By 1st Oct, I’d gone from 10 reviews on Amazon to 23, with a nice mix of ratings. A couple of those readers were also kind enough to copy their reviews to Goodreads and even BookBub.
Hidden Gems is still building their reader base for sci-fi, so I presume that in a more mainstream genre like paranormal romance or new adult, you would probably get a higher number of takers, but frankly, I was very happy.
There are way too many review sites out there that ask for money, state (honestly) that they can’t guarantee a review, and then, sure enough, nothing ever happens. Hidden Gems isn’t one of them. Through organisation or some other alchemy, if one of their readers asks for a book copy, there’s a much better than average chance that they will also choose to leave a review.
There have been books where I had to agonise over the title, and ask for help, and toss coins, and read the cards…Through theHostage wasn’t one of them.
The title was inspired by an old, old Keanu Reeves film, ‘Speed’, where Keanu is working as an American police officer. Near the beginning of the film, his partner’s being held up by the bad guy with a gun to his head, and the partner keeps on mouthing ‘Shoot the hostage!’. In the end, Keanu’s character does just that, and much drama and manly distress ensues.
The concept seemed very appropriate for the first book in the Cortii series. Jack Connagh is the human hostage, held on a Cortiian Base, his only real protection the fact that an alien species has some very powerful leverage over the Councils of the magaii, and those aliens want him alive.
However, given that the magaii are violently allergic to being blackmailed, and that Jack is in the keeping of Khyria’s trainee unit, whose chances of surviving to full Cortia rank get slimmer every day, the chances that someone’s going to shoot him are pretty high. ‘Through the hostage’ seemed uniquely appropriate.
Reliable rumour, however, indicates that there’s at least a few hareni on most Bases.
There have been hareni at least as long as there have been Cortii, maybe even longer. The word ‘harena’, in modern Cortiian, has some nasty connotations built in, but historically the meaning was very similar to ‘berserker’, and was used to refer to the best fighters, the ones that threw themselves into the front line of a fight.
Like any unofficial group on a Cortiian Base, they’re extremely secretive. Membership is invitation-only, and the only qualification for staying a harena is ability to stay alive. The hareni allow any training level to join, which makes it a risky gamble for junior deriani. Those that do survive, through luck or fighting ability, have the advantage of training with some of the best fighters on a Base at any rank, and exposure to a diverse range of fighting styles and techniques.
While the hareni are primarily infamous as a fighting group, and the majority seem to have a strong focus on fight skills, they’re also the Cortiian equivalent of gremlins, frequently blamed (or praised) for the more unexplainable casualties.
Although time in the haren can be considered worth the risks, there’s also the point that discovery is a guarantee of a slow and messy death at the hands of the akrushkari. The Councils of the magaii do not tolerate disobedience. The hareni are also, by best accounts, a set of violent mavericks and thrill-seekers. Some of their reputation, according to solid Base rumour, is absolutely honestly come by.
On Corina Base, because Khyria got sucked into the hareni before even achieving full rank, there are several hareni whose names show up regularly: Khyria, of course, but also Ashan Maklin, Evor Leistor, and later on, Tayin Vern. They make up an over-powered set of powerful allies and enemies, or occasionally heavily-armed neutrals, depending largely on context and the mathematics of personal profit and loss.
Well, it’s finally That Time – after months or years, you’ve written, revised, gathered your alpha and beta readers’ input together, revised a bit more, run a spellcheck, discovered just how awful MS Word spell check is, got a human editor to read it, found a cover designer … and you’re sitting in front of your computer with your heart pounding and your palms going sweaty, about to actually upload your work of genius for the worldwide audience.
How many copies will I sell?
Will there be trolls?
Will anyone pirate my stuff?
When will I be able to live off the money my books make for me?
Will the world know my name?
Before you can become an international bestseller of E L James-style fame (oh, God), you need to find a self-publishing platform. I’m going to provide a non-exclusive, non-endorsing list below of a few of the better-known options to give you an idea.
Self-publishing platforms come in two basic flavours: ebook only, or print-on-demand. In this post, I’m going to focus on the print-on-demand platforms – or this post will attain novella-length in short order. Catch up with me later for the ebook 101 post.
CreateSpace (Amazon), and Lulu are two of the best-known self-pub options if you want to provide physical copies of your book as well as (or instead of) an ebook. They both allow you to set up print-on-demand for nothing and take a cut of the book price every time you sell a book as their payment.
I’m also going to touch on Bookbaby, which doesn’t offer a completely free option, but does offer a lot more support options if you happen to have the funds to pay someone else to tear their hair out to get your book printed.
Pros: They’re flexible, efficient, have great customer service and, provided you use one of their formatted templates (really. This part is important unless you’re a masochist) very easy to use. They provide a great quality of product. They’re also an Amazon company, so your print offering shows up, hassle-free, on the majority of Amazon country sites almost as soon as you approve your proof. You can opt for expanded distribution, which makes your work available to bookstores, libraries, and academia as well as Amazon. You can also opt for a number of helpful extras if you have the need and money, such as professional formatting, cover design, editing, etc. For the record, I print with CreateSpace.
Cons: Getting paid. CreateSpace only offers Direct Deposit (as of today) to authors with bank accounts in the USA, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Belguim, or the Netherlands. If you happen to not have access to a bank account in one of those countries, CreateSpace will accumulate the royalties from the sales of your book in each region, and send you a cheque when the total for that region hits about $100 USD. To be clear, this doesn’t mean you can sell $33.33 worth of product in Asia, Europe, and South America (or wherever else) and get a cheque: it means you have to sell $100 worth of product in Asia, or Europe, or South America to get a cheque, which you then have to convert into your local currency. So be prepared for the fact that for a lot of indie authors, this means you’re going to be effectively providing your print books for free for the foreseeable future when it comes to money in hand. Another con: should you choose not to copy your text into one of their pre-formatted templates, be prepared for a lot of hell when you come to upload into their online proofing portal. Their main outlet is Amazon.
Pros: They offer payment via PayPal, which basically means you can be paid anywhere you can have a PayPal account that you can receive payment from. This may, of course, incur PayPal fees, but you aren’t left hunting a bank that will cash a USD cheque for you. They offer optional professional publishing services, but you can also go full-DIY if you choose. They will allow you to distribute your print on Lulu, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Ingram, and they offer a wide variety of sizes and binding options, including stitched if you happen to be a fan of the traditional.
Cons: You have to have the software to put the ISBN and bar code, wherever you choose to get that from, on your own print cover for a certain set of print formats. The up-front expertise needed to prep your files for printing from you, the author, is a bit higher than for CreateSpace.
Pros: They give you a webpage space with the publishing package. They distribute to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, Baker & Taylor, and Ingram, among others, as well as several niche options. You can choose to be paid via PayPal (there is a $1.50 processing fee per PayPal payment). They offer promo services with their packages, and a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
Cons: You have to go with one of their publishing packages. There is no full-DIY option with Bookbaby. You can only opt for Direct deposit if you have a US bank account; if not you’re stuck with cheque in the mail (or PayPal).
So, you’ve now followed a bunch of links, checked out arcane FAQs that talk about metadata, ISBNs, ASINs, the non-transferability of your platform-assigned ISBNs, and tax-witholding, and your head’s spinning.
Is it really worth all this effort and research, just to get a print copy of my book? I mean, I’m indie. Is anyone really going to buy the d*mn thing anyway?
For me, I wasn’t going to bother. Not right away. Not after having figured out that I couldn’t get paid for it in any reasonable amount of time, and given indie sales generally.
Then, I actually had people – family, friends, colleagues – start asking me if they could get a print copy, and I sat down and thought a bit more. After a bit of that, I actually did set up POD – and I’m really glad I did. Not because it’s making me a fortune – hell no, far from it. But it’s not costing me anything extra, as I’d opted to get a print and an e-cover from my cover designer anyway.
But the real pay-off, from my point of view, was the moment my actual book proof showed up on my doorstep, and I got my book, after all the blood and sweat and tears, in my hands looking like a real book.