The Business of Independent Publishing
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The Business of Independent Publishing

Regarding the business of independent publishing: A few months ago, I received a polite email from Professor John Maxwell of Simon Fraser University. Some of his students had come to him. Between the covers of the text he had ordered for his graduate class on publishing, The Content Machine by Michael Bhaskar, was the novel Broken by Traci L. Slatton, in its entirety. He attached a picture to show me, see below.

Here was an opportunity to spread the word about Parvati Press in general and about my novels in particular, I thought. “Are your students interested in the novel? Would you like more copies?” I asked. I am always looking for opportunities to promote the Press.

He accepted with alacrity. Ten copies shipped out to him at SFU.

Sometime later, during an email exchange, he invited me to guest lecture to his class via Skype. I accepted. It was a good experience; his students were bright, polite, inquisitive, and thoughtful. I enjoyed talking to them but finished with a feeling of frustration: there was so much else to say about independent publishing.

Much of it I’ve learned the hard way, too.

It has been an intense journey since the day I decided to expand the Press and take on other authors. I’ve learned some tough lessons. My first time out of the box, I took on a writer who turned out to be certifiably insane. Not, like, a little kookie, but off-her-rockers lunatic demented. I’ve blogged about that elsewhere, including a Huffington Post article about How to Handle eMail Harassment.

The next three writers weren’t crazy, but I still made a big mistake in trusting one of them.

After the debacle with the first writer, I realized I needed a solid contract for dealing with potential Parvati Press authors. I hired an attorney who had helped me on other matters. She wasn’t a publishing attorney, and the contract put off the other writers.

That was my responsibility, I knew. So I went out and found a real publishing attorney, I mean, the guy in publishing law, to create a contract that was clear, simple, fair, and had precedents in publishing. He did a great job.

He also yelled at me about the deal I was giving the writers. He explained that I could not sustain the Press with that deal. He was right, but I felt that I had given my word to the writers, so those first few would still receive the deal I had originally offered them. He called me crazy. But I was going to keep my word.

One writer refused to do a revision that his manuscript urgently required. Line for line, his prose was polished and perfect. Unfortunately, it was a good story badly told. His novel was boring. He had to revise it to bring it to life. He didn’t want to do the work required because he’s had a storied career as an author. But production values matter to me, so I declined to send him a contract.

A second writer saw immediately that I was being scrupulously honorable. She signed the contract and sent it back immediately.

Ah, but the third guy. He had been hemming and hawing, wringing his hands, and dragging his feet about signing a contract from the day I sent him one. Days and weeks would go by. He was always about to talk to his attorney, who was so busy…. When I sent him the second contract, he said, “I’ll sign it right away, I’ll tell my lawyer that I want to get this done unless there’s something major wrong with it.”

As the months went by, with all the foot-dragging and hand-wringing and excuses, I was working on this writer’s manuscript. I stupidly invested a great deal of my own time, thought, and energy into his manuscript. Now, it had a germ of a good idea, and the writer showed flashes of serious, big talent throughout. But it was no where near publishable. It was going to require sustained heavy lifting to get it to the point where the manuscript was professional and polished.

Also, it was tricky to deal with the writer because of the arrogance involved. Taking editorial criticism is a skill that requires learning for most of us.

I paid for the Parvati Press editor to do a thorough manuscript critique. It was still going to be at least three more revisions before the manuscript was ready to be published, two that I could do and one more from the professional editor. Note that this editorial critique is the work product of Parvati Press.

Despite my honorable behavior, there was only continued hand-wringing and hawing and excuses about the second contract.

I woke up.

I realized–finally!–that this writer had no intention of signing a contract with me. One tip-off was when he asked why there was now no “out” in the new contract so he could go to a bigger publisher if one made an offer.

It broke over me that this writer was out to get free editing for his manuscript so he could shop it around to other publishers.

I conferred with several experienced business people close to me. One woman with her own PR company told me that it happens all the time. Clients come to her, get her ideas, and then don’t sign a contract and pay her. They go off and use her ideas either by themselves or with another PR firm.

Essentially, they rip her off, the same way that this writer planned to rip off Parvati Press.

Another businessman said to me, dryly, “Welcome to the business world.”

Another friend said, “These are the early business mistakes.”

My publishing attorney said, “Never work on a project without a signed contract.”

I emailed back to him, “I’m learning.”

This is just writer relations, a tiny slice of the whole juicy pie. There is so much else to independent publishing, especially the way I do it: with integrity. The book has to be high quality in terms of content, and it has to look good, too. It has to be copyedited, proofread, professionally laid out with an appealing, professionally designed book cover, and given an ISBN and accurate categories…And all that is BEFORE the hard work of marketing a book so it stands out from the crowd: so that readers will know about the book and buy it.

Marketing is a big challenge. It deserves its own post, so I’ll pause here. Meantime, here’s Professor Maxwell’s post about finding BROKEN in his textbook, called, cleverly, “My Content Machine is Broken.”

Maxwell is a good writer himself. His post is worth reading, though his characterization of my novel BROKEN is condescending and pejorative. I emailed him to let him know this:

I would like to put out there (please indulge me) that BROKEN is more than a paranormal romance. It is based on a serious philosophical question with which I wrestle every day: How could a good God allow such pain and suffering?
In this vein, FOREWORD REVIEWS, which is the Library Journal for independent publishing, is reviewing BROKEN for its forthcoming Sci Fi issue, and wrote, “This is a gorgeous philosophical treaty on right and wrong….”

To his credit, Maxwell agreed with me.  He has yet to correct his post to reflect the respect my novel deserves. And this is part of independent publishing, too: Making sure that independently published books are valued and respected.

independent publishing

Latest HuffPo Piece: Ongoing Chicanery with the Gehry Memorial
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Latest HuffPo Piece: Ongoing Chicanery with the Gehry Memorial

Ongoing Chicanery with the Gehry Memorial

The editorial board of the New York Times is at it again, opining in high-falutin’ ways that show for the millionth time just how much this newspaper wants to set policy, rather than report it objectively.

This time the Editorial Board is commenting on the ghastly Gehry design which is supposed to honor our plain-spoken 34th president Dwight Eisenhower, but instead just serves to memorialize an aging architect’s vanity.

The august editorial board pronounced that Gehry’s “innovative and modernistic design plan…predictably raised the hackles of neo-classicists,” as if only neo-classicists would object to the appalling spectacle of a monstrous woven 80’-high metal curtain with two attached columns and two detached columns that look like smokestacks. It’s a sly piece of spin doctoring crafted to jam this dreadful design down the throats of the American people. It is a marketing sleight-of-hand to relegate criticism of these plans to the category of “raising the hackles of neo-classicists.”

After all, neo-classicists don’t matter, so no one should care what that insignificant group thinks. No worries, the New York Times will tell you who does matter.

But it’s not just benighted neo-classicists who are appalled by Gehry’s design. These ugly tapestries have been widely said to evoke concentration camps, not a great and humble leader who loved his country and his family—who surely would have wanted his family’s voices to be heard regarding his memorial.

At least in this press release Rocco Siciliano, Chairman of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, isn’t openly sneering at the Eisenhowers. Instead, there’s a dismissive throwaway line, “Critics continue to object, including members of the Eisenhower family.”

At this point, I will repeat the disclaimer I included in my post last year, “The Problem with the Frank Gehry Memorial”: I am the wife of sculptor Sabin Howard, who was courted by Frank Gehry for the Eisenhower Memorial, told the sculpture gig was his and he would begin working on the project next week, and then suddenly dropped.

But this is the least of the ugly business surrounding this memorial project. There’s the misrepresentation in the editorial piece that the lengthy opposition to Gehry’s design is typical of the process for memorials in Washington. In fact, this is not true, and is another example of spin doctoring to achieve an objective.

Fifteen years of objections is not typical. The Vietnam memorial, for example, shows another way—a better way. An open design competition was held beginning in December, 1980. Maya Lin’s breathtakingly gorgeous Memorial Wall won.

Yes, there was controversy. The Three Soldiers sculpture was added because of the controversy, and ground was broken in March, 1982. Lin’s design, in its stunning and elegant simplicity, shocked many people. It still took less than two years to break ground.

It also required far less than the more than $42,000,000 that has already vanished into the maw of the Gehry design, according to the website, with almost nothing to show for it. Is this $42,000,000 taxpayer money or privately raised money? There is so much obfuscation about the money that it’s hard to tell—and I made some phone calls to that end.

Indeed, the bigger question here concerns finances, which the New York Times editorial saw fit to overlook. How has this money been spent? Where has it all gone? Don’t the American people deserve an accounting? If it’s taxpayer money, then we have the right to demand one. If it’s privately raised money, since the memorial is a public project, We the People have a stake.

Instead of discussing the specific details of financing, including the vanished $42,000,000 and the estimated additional $140,000,000 required to build Gehry’s design, the Times editorial quotes Representative Darrell Issa as saying, “We can’t go back to square one. We have an obligation after fifteen years to get this thing going.” Note: the editorial makes careful mention of Issa’s status as a “senior Republican.” After all, approving of a Republican means the New York Times isn’t biased on this issue.

I personally think we have an obligation to create a beautiful memorial that will serve both the memory of a beloved president and the American people, something with the grandeur of the Lincoln Memorial or the Vietnam Memorial. Note that both of those monuments are about their subjects, not about their architects.

But time is an issue for the Gehry Memorial because Gehry himself is so very elderly.

If there is never going to be an open competition for the Eisenhower Memorial, and if, in fact, Gehry’s self-aggrandizing design is going to be inflicted as a fait accompli on this nation, then at least show us where the money has all gone. Don’t just sweep it under the rug. Eight figures worth of cash has disappeared. Give us a line-by-line accounting of that money.

I’m not saying that anyone absconded with the money. Nor am I suggesting that it’s lined anyone’s pockets to keep a bad plan rolling. It is, however, most interesting that in September the Gehry Memorial was reported to be on life support, and then suddenly in mid-October the plan was passed, a done deal, with the Commission refusing to address any aesthetic concerns. Huh? Was that money well-spent?

If no one else will say that the emperor has no clothes, then I will. Gehry’s design is hideous and will be an eyesore in this nation’s capitol. Refusing to address the legitimate, ongoing aesthetic concerns, and refusing to inquire into possible financial mismanagement of memorial funds, is a way of pulling the wool over the eyes of the American public, the very people who are supposed to benefit from the memorial, and who are putting up 80% of the funds for it.

I suggest that a fair and open competition would best serve the integrity of President Eisenhower’s memory, and that it is most likely to yield us a design that is both innovative and beautiful. To Representative Issa, and to everyone else, including those who connive to ignore the aesthetic concerns, I say: It is time to start over. Scrap this terminally ugly, expensive project. If that’s not possible, then create an Eisenhower sculpture, a sculpture of President Eisenhower, that will be a fitting tribute to the statesman and to the country he served with such distinction. Iron smokestacks and giant metal drapery won’t do it.

Latest HuffPo Piece

Copyright: sborisov / 123RF Stock Photo


Hear this post as a podcast at the Traci L. Slatton podcast channel


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Dump the Dump: No Marine Transfer Station at E 91st Street NYC
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Dump the Dump: No Marine Transfer Station at E 91st Street NYC

Some New York  city politicians are proposing a mind-boggling folly: a marine transfer station within a few yards of Asphalt Green, a widely used children’s sports facility.

Writer Matthew Chapman had an excellent piece on the Huffington Post describing the sheer and EXPENSIVE stupidity of this giant garbage dump.

Here is some of what Chapman wrote:

This outdated, geographically-challenged environmental lunacy is rationalized as “environmental justice.” It is neither. The solution to New York City trash problems does not lie in building massive, expensive 19th Century industrial structures next to children and homes and then sending it hundreds of miles to poor communities.

It lies in changing behavior across the city. By the time the MTS is built, New York — currently one of the more backward cities in America when it comes to source reduction, recycling and composting — will be one of the most advanced. The genuinely progressive aspirations of Mayor de Blasio and the City Council will make sure of this.

And then an MTS as dangerous as the one at 91st Street simply won’t be needed.

If you want to understand the full scope and scandal of this gigantic municipal blunder, read the report, “Talking Trash.” It explains everything. The city has not refuted a single piece of evidence presented in it…

Budgeted at 44 million, the 91st Street MTS is now projected by the Independent Budget Office to come in at 240 million.

In other words a forty-four million dollar project will end up being almost 200 million dollars over budget!

It can not be repeated often enough: this colossal garbage dump is a colossal exercise in unnecessary extravagance and DANGER, especially to children.

Read the article here.
Dump the Dump Dump the Dump

My New HuffPo Piece: Five Questions You Must Ask Your Protagonist
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My New HuffPo Piece: Five Questions You Must Ask Your Protagonist

…Before Writing Your Novel…

Here’s my latest piece on the Huffington Post, some advice for writers: questions you must ask your protagonist.

To pull off the herculean task of leading a reader through a few hundred pages of a book, that character has to be magnetic. Here are five questions to ask your protagonist, and the answers will lead to a fully fleshed out person who captivates your readers.

One. What do you do, and are you good at it? Americans always want to know what someone does for a living. Increasingly, because of the global economic situation, readers all over the globe are curious, how does this character support herself? The answers yield important information….

Two. What was your happiest childhood memory? This question helps create a backstory for the character….

Three. What is the biggest loss or regret of your life?  Real people are scored and sanded down and polished by failure and tragedy. Real people have regrets….

Four. What is your goal? That is, what do you want? This question goes right to the heart of your story, of course. The action itself revolves around the character trying to achieve something or avoid something, whether it’s to rescue a child, find a lost treasure, make a million dollars, arrive in the Emerald City, steal a fortune in gold bullion, or rescue a naughty billionaire with a penchant for kink. It’s the story itself. However, there are usually two levels, the concrete and the intangible.

These are questions that lead me into fuller character development, so I know my protagonist inside out, upside down, and backwards. The first person is my preferred person for writing a novel, and these questions help me feel as if I am slipping inside my character like falling down a chute. I think it helps storytellers to have tricks like these. Of course, it is most helpful to develop your own strategies….

Find the article here.

Questions You Must Ask Your Protagonist

Gehry Memorial Delays & Expense: I said it last year in the HuffPo
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Gehry Memorial Delays & Expense: I said it last year in the HuffPo

Do you notice how it’s called the “Gehry” Memorial, not the “Eisenhower Memorial”?

That’s because this ugly, outrageously expensive, inappropriate memorial is a tribute to Frank Gehry’s ego, not to the revered former President and statesman. Ike is nowhere to be found in this ghastly monument to an aging architect’s vanity.

The New York Times is pronouncing on the Gehry Memorial, reporting that it’s being called a “five-star folly.”

I would like to point out that I wrote words to the same effect more than a year ago, in my Huffington Post piece about the memorial. I also wrote of the atrocious way Gehry treated my husband Sabin Howard.

Regarding the spiraling expense of the piece, I wrote:

Nor was the announcement written to give hard facts that allow people to know the truth. For example, what wasn’t said is how much Gehry’s design will cost: at least $142 million of taxpayer money, according to sources.

But the Times  quotes from a 58 page report stating that Gehry & Co. have pocketed over $10,000,000 for the memorial. What’s there to show for the sum of money? Where can I get a gig like that, where I can siphon off eight figures and produce almost nothing, or at most a few little macquettes? Nice work if you can get it!

I applaud Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah who has introduced a bill to appoint a new commission.

My latest HuffPo piece: How to Handle Email Harassment
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My latest HuffPo piece: How to Handle Email Harassment

I went through an ordeal, and I wanted to help other people who experience something similar. So I wrote this piece. It’s received a wonderful response, with many people contacting me to thank me or to comment on the usefulness of the information. Jayne Hitchcock herself, founder of, commented. How cool is that?

How to Handle Email Harassment, in the Crime vertical

My latest HuffPo piece