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June 19, 2012

Why the Book Publishing Industry needs to Evolve

Book publishers are pricks. If you've ever tried to publish a book you know that publishers are basically sifting through their inbox of manuscripts and sending rejection letters back to authors claiming the book isn't suitable for whatever nonsense reason they can pick out of a jar. Wrong age group. Too much swearing in the book. They didn't like the plot. Yada yada yada.

However the problem these days is that authors are no longer forced to go via the traditional book publishing industry if they want to write and make a profit off their work.

eBook authors like fantasy author Charles Moffat and feminist writer Suzanne MacNevin are coming out with their own works via websites like Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble's Nook, and others. And eReaders are selling like hotcakes too. Chapter's Kobo is planning to allow self-publishing in the near future too because they've realized the potential of self-publishing.

NOTE: If you do buy a Kindle or Kobo however you will also need to buy a protective case and a screen shield to protect your new gadget from scratches and damage. After all who wants to read off a screen with a big scratch in the surface?

To better explain the woes of the publishing industry we'd like to now quote an article written by Jessica Park, an American writer who writes novels for women in the 18 to 25 age group (which apparently most publishing companies avoid for some silly reason).

How Amazon Saved My Life

By Jessica Park

I am an author.

I still can’t get used to that title, but I suppose after having written seven books–five of them traditionally published–that’s what you’d call me. The funny thing is that I feel more like a real author now that I self-publish than when I had the (supposed) support of a publisher behind me.

How did I end up on my own? It began when I couldn’t get my first YA book, Relatively Famous, published, despite getting stellar feedback from editors and nearly selling the film rights to a teen pop star. I was at a loss for what to do. I couldn’t keep writing books without selling them. What if the next thing I wrote flopped? I took a risk, in many ways, and wrote Flat-Out Love. It was the first book that completely came from my heart, and it was a book that ignored all the industry rules. I knew in the back of my head that I could self-publish it, but at the time it seemed like that would have been an admission of defeat.

I spent months thinking that I needed a big publisher in order to be a writer, to legitimately carry that “author” title. To validate me, and to validate Flat-Out Love. I needed a publisher to print my books and stick a silly publishing house emblem on the side of a hard copy. They were the only way to give my books mass distribution, and having them back me would mean that readers would know my book was good.

I also, apparently, thought that I needed to be taken advantage of, paid inexcusably poorly, and chained to idiotic pricing and covers that I had no control over.

I was, it seems, deluded.

It turns out that I was entirely wrong. I was missing what I really wanted. One of the major reasons that I write is to connect with readers, not publishers. The truth is that I couldn’t care less whether New York editors and publishers like me. I don’t want to write for them. I want to write for you. The other undeniable truth is that readers could care less that my books aren’t put out by a big publisher. They read for the content, not the publishing house emblem.

I have a lovely, smart, powerhouse agent, who tried to sell my next book, Flat-Out Love, to every major publishing house. She adored the story and thought it would sell. Fourteen editors turned it down, although each one said how strong the book was. But, editors seemingly didn’t give a crap about whether or not they liked the book. What they did pay attention to were their totally misguided ideas about what would and wouldn’t sell. I heard two things over and over again about my book. The first was that my story starred an eighteen-year-old college freshman, and that age was “categorically” too old for YA books and too young for adult books. It seems that one is not allowed to write about characters between the ages of eighteen and…what? Twenty-five? Because… because… Well, I’m not sure. The second thing I heard was that because my simultaneously-too-young-and-too-old heroine was not involved with anything slightly paranormal, the book wouldn’t sell.

Did I cry over some of these rejections? Absolutely. Did I feel inadequate, untalented, hurt? Yes. Did I doubt my ability to craft a story that readers could fall in love with? You bet.

And then one day I got yet another rejection letter and instead of blaming myself and my clear lack of creativity, I got angry. Really, really furious. It clicked for me that I was not the idiot here. Publishing houses were. The silly reasons that they gave me for why my book was useless made me see very clearly how completely out of touch these houses were with readers. I knew, I just knew, that I’d written a book with humor, heart, and meaning. I’d written something that had potential to connect with an audience. As much as I despise having to run around announcing how brilliant I supposedly am and whatnot, I also deeply believed in Flat-Out Love. I knew that editors were wrong.

And I finally understood that I wanted nothing to do with these people.

I snatched the book back from my agent and self-published it. With great relief, I should note. I could finally admit to myself that the only thing I had really wanted was to be told, “You’re good enough.” You know who gives me that? My readers. My generous, loving, wild readers.

Publishers pay terribly and infrequently. They are shockingly dumb when it comes to pricing, and if I see one more friend’s NY-pubbed ebook priced at $12.99, I’m going to scream. They do minimal marketing and leave the vast majority of work up to the author. Unless, of course, you are already a big name author. Then they fly you around the country for signings and treat you like the precious moneymaking gem that you are. The rest of us get next to nothing in terms of promotion. If your book takes off, they get the credit. If it tanks, you get the blame.

No, thank you. I’m all set with that.

You know who I do like, though? Amazon. Well, all online ebook sites that let me self-publish, but Amazon is the true powerhouse right now. Say what you want about this company, but it’s because of them that I can continue writing. It’s unclear to me how a big publisher thinks that I could live on their typical payouts, and why they think I should drop to my knees in gratitude for their deigning to even publish my book in the first place when I’ll do all the work myself. I’m not going to be grateful for that nonsense, but I am going to be grateful as hell to Amazon.

Bestselling trad-to-indie-author Barry Eisler, famous for turning down a six figure deal from St. Martins Press to go out on his own, took a lot of heat for having compared an author’s relationship with a big publisher to Stockholm syndrome. The truth is that it’s not a bad comparison at all. Snarky, funny, and exaggerated, perhaps, but there is more than one grain of truth there, and I just know that authors across the country were nodding so violently that we had collective whiplash. When writing for a publisher, you learn to be overly thankful for every pathetic little grain of positivity that comes your way. A disgustingly awful cover? Smile broadly and say how gorgeous it is. Contracts arrive months after arranged? Whip out your pen and sign with no complaints. You’re eating Ramen noodles while they are taking all of December and January off and while they essentially shutdown during the summer to vacation on the Cape? Slurp your soup and be happy.

Because of Amazon and other sites, I’m making enough money that I can continue writing. I’m averaging sales of 3,500 books a month, not including the month that Amazon featured Flat-Out Love in a list of books for $3.99 and under. That month I sold 45,000 Kindle copies, and sold over 10,000 the next month. Those numbers are insane to me. Absolutely insane. The fact that I continue to sell well a year after the book’s release is humbling. Yes, I wrote a book that has earned me excellent reviews, so I take credit for that, and I worked myself to death finding bloggers to review my book (God bless my loyal bloggers who took a chance on me!), but I have to credit Amazon with giving me such a strong platform with such overwhelming visibility. I can be a writer. I am a writer.

And it’s not just me. Self-published authors, many of whom are writing about college-age characters, are finding viable careers. Abbi Glines, Tammara Webber, Jamie McGuire, Tina Reber, AK Alexander, Angie Stanton, Stephanie Campbell, Colleen Hoover, Liz Reinhardt, and plenty more. I’m seeing more and more traditionally published authors walking away from the headaches and turning to self-publishing. It can be tricky to leave because very often an author needs the advance money in order to survive, and then gets stuck contracted for books that quite likely won’t earn out that advance or won’t ever provide much in terms of royalty checks. When authors break the cycle, get the hell out, and flourish on their own, it’s a wonderful thing.

Indie writers owe Amazon big time for what they’ve given us. Are they perfect? No. Do they make mistakes? Yep. And they’ll continue to make mistakes. But I promise you that traditional publishers never call up their authors and ask what they can do better. I nearly wet my author pants when I got a call from someone in the Kindle publishing department who wanted to know what publishing and promotional features I’d like to see. He wanted to know all about my experience with them, what I liked, what I didn’t like, and on and on. I was floored. Amazon messed up their sales reporting page not that long ago, and you know what they did? They sent a goddamn email out to their authors explaining what had happened! And then they fixed it! Do you think a big publisher would do that? No, they certainly would not.

But you know what these silly NY publishers are doing? Running around trying to buy now-successful self-published books. I know more than one author who is making $50-150,000 a month (yes, a month) who are getting the most stupidly low offers from big publishers to take over that author’s book. Why would my friends take a $250,000 advance (if even offered that much), take a puny royalty rate, see their sales hurt by higher pricing, and completely give that book up for life? They can and will earn more themselves and continue to reap the benefits of a 70% royalty while maintaining all the rights to their work. If publishers want to play the game, they have to pay according to what authors can make without them. Offer something that we can’t do on our own. Help us, believe in us, support us, and play damn fair for once.

While I’m certainly not making $150,000 a month, Flat-Out Love has done very well for me, and I’m earning enough that I can keep writing. I’m in the middle of another book right now, and I realized that one of the many fabulous things about working for myself is that I have complete freedom to write whatever the hell I want. A publisher certainly could have bought Flat-Out Love and signed me for a two or three-book deal. One of the many whopping hitches with that would have been that I’d then have to write another book or two that were in a very similar vein to Flat-Out Love. But I don’t want to do that. I want to write the book that I am now. The book that has swearing and sex. The book that is darker and edgier. The book that is definitely not for younger readers. A publisher would never have let me do that.

The New York Times recently ran an article about authors who are now writing two books a year instead of one. Why? Because they need the money. Of course they need the money! Their publishers are gouging them out of money that is rightfully theirs. When I read about one highly successful author who is now writing for fourteen hours a day, seven days a week, I thought, “What a lunatic. That’s not a life.” Look, I don’t think any author needs to release two or three books a year to earn a living. If that’s what you are comfortably able to do creatively speaking, go for it. Being on a publisher’s deadline to deliver a book every four to six months can be pretty rough. Life gets in the way, and emotions and creativity ebb and flow. Yes, writing is work and requires dedication, but it also has the capacity to be amazingly fun. Publishers, if you ask me, take a dump on much of the good stuff. For now, I’m happy to do one really strong, solid novel once every twelve to eighteen months. If I tried to bang out a book every few months, they would be crummy books, and I would be broke.

What’s funny is that despite loathing publishing houses these days, I actually hope that they pull their act together. They have distribution power. They have dedicated, talented people in the industry. They have the capability to do wonderful things. But for now they are so messed up, so outdated in the way they structure their contracts, and so often very out of touch with what readers want. Smart editors are often ruled by archaic designs. Do I have plans to seek out a publisher? Um, no. I can’t imagine one would take me anyhow. And I wouldn’t consider working with a publisher unless (until?) they make drastic changes to their business model.

Indie authors are writing for our readers, not for publishers and what they think will sell. And now we can afford to write! And I can assure you that freedom fuels creativity, risk-taking, and passion. We get to bring you our stories in the way we want to tell them, without the dilution and sculpting from publishing houses. And the fans? Oh, the fans are simply unbelievable. We are so directly connected to them, and the ease of communication and feedback is unparalleled. I’m learning what readers want, and I can incorporate that into my work without worrying that an editor will nix all the good stuff. Their support and enthusiasm breathes life into days when I feel particularly challenged.

And there are some spectacularly moving experiences. I’m in a circle of authors who have been dubbed The Cancer Warriors because our books have become saving graces for people going through cancer treatment. Readers are escaping hell on earth through our books. We sell smartly priced books with sharp content, books that never would have reached these readers without the ability to self-publish. We get to do our small part to help them fight. Getting to be part of something like this is at the top of my list for why I write. It makes me want to face New York publishers head on and scream, “You see that? Do you see what we’re doing without you?” Indie writing brought me into readers’ lives in ways that I never could have imagined.

I wouldn’t trade that for all of New York.

So yeah. Want to publish your books? Screw the old publishers. Self-publish and then let them try and woo you with a contract actually worthy of your hard work.

June 11, 2012

DALLAS returns to television with a bang!

If you've never watched Dallas then you maybe you should. The show was on from 1978 until 1991 for 14 seasons and it had it all! Drama, sex, scandals, lawsuits, violence, explosions, theft, terrorists, criminals, communists, spies, warmongers, mercenaries, greed, corruption, betrayal. It made traditional soap operas look weak, crime dramas look superficial and action shows look meaningless.

And now Dallas is back, the first show to air tomorrow night (June 13th on TNT) as a continuation of the original with the return of J.R., Bobby and Sue Ellen plus new (young and sexy) cast members to carry on the next generation of Dallas.

If you're itching to watch the old 14 seasons of Dallas then we recommend visiting where you can stream all 14 seasons of Dallas for free. (Although the ads are a tad annoying.)

June 7, 2012

America's Glorification of the Obese

Is it a coincidence that the history of the world's fattest people is dominated by Americans? 10 of the world's 11 fattest people were Americans.

#1. Jon Brower Minnoch, American, 1400 lbs, died at the age of 42.
#2. Manuel Uribe, Mexican, 1320 lbs, still living. (Has since lost 500 lbs and is much healthier.)
#3. Carol Yager, American, 1200 lbs, died at the age of 34.
#4. Walter Hudson, American, 1200 lbs, died at the age of 47.
#5. Rosalie Bradford, American, 1200 lbs, died at the age of 63.
#6. Michael Hebranko, American, 1100 lbs, still living.
#7. Patrick Deuel, American, 1070 lbs, still living.
#8. Robert Earl Hughes, American, 1070 lbs, died at the age of 32.
#9. Kenneth Brumley, American, 1030 lbs, , still living.
#10. Mills Darden, American, 1020 lbs, died at the age of 58.
#11. Mayra Rosales, American, 1000 lbs, , still living.

And you will also probably note half of them are dead.

The USA is also home to the World's Fattest Twins Billy and Benny McCrary, often known as the McGuire Twins, shown here on their Honda motorcycles. They weighed 720 lbs and 750 lbs. They're both dead now too.

In North America the general philosophy is that Bigger is Better. Thus when eating out Americans love eating whatever is biggest because they want to get their money's worth. And frankly who can blame them, the prices in so-called healthy restaurants are ridiculous. It makes perfect sense that people will want to get a bigger bang for their buck.

The problem is that those bigger bangs have more fat and sugar in them.

And this isn't limited to America's eating habits. Big cars, big trucks, big houses, big mortgages, big economic failures, big bailouts...

And the worse the USA becomes the more governments and health officials struggle to get obese people to recognize their problem and do something about it.

And so governments weigh options like:

#1. Increasing funding for school exercise programs.
#2. Creating a Fat Tax on fatty foods. (Although I would argue this should be a tax based on the percentage of fat in such products. eg. 10% fat = 20% tax.)
#3. Use the money raised from a Fat Tax to create Free Public Gyms, Swimming Pools and Stationary Bicycles in an effort to make it easier for Americans to exercise.
#4. Ban advertising for fatty foods on television and in magazines/newspapers (cigarettes are already banned this way).
#5. Charging parents with negligence if they feed their kids unhealthy food.

The problem with trying to enforce some ideas turns it into a civil rights issue. People talk about things like "personal responsibility" and that the government should mind their own business, but its clear that most Americans aren't that responsible when it comes to their health.

66% of Adult Americans are overweight or obese. 42% are obese and 6.3% are "extremely obese". 33% of American children are overweight or obese. (CDC / February 2012)

The exercise and diet industry in the USA is also huge, but it seems to be largely based on short-lived fads and not many real solutions.

And the sad truth is that the only real long term solution is changing your lifestyle to include a healthy diet and exercise. But that sounds like too much work for most Americans.

And why bother when so many people now glorify fat and celebrate it? Brag about it even.

Its a bit like "Look at me, I am so fat I will die before the age of 40!"

But ask yourself, do you really want to die before the age of 40? Its no wonder so many people are hiring personal trainers (even though they charge an arm and a leg) in a desperate need to lose weight by throwing money at it.

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How to Drive around Cyclists

It may seem like a no brainer to some people, but you would probably be amazed by the number of braindead drivers who don't know how to share the road with cyclists. (Especially since bicycles have been on the road longer than cars.)

Click on the infographic below to see a larger version.

June 5, 2012

Toronto Crips at fault for Eaton's Centre shooting

Christopher Husbands, 23, is facing one charge of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder after the Saturday shooting at the Eaton's Centre in downtown Toronto. The shooting killed a fellow gang member Ahmed Hassan and injured 7 others who were in the food court of the Eaton's Centre at the time. Police believe that both men were members of a local Crips gang. (Most gang homicides in Toronto are the result of the Jamestown Crips and the Mount Olive Crips.)

Husbands is also facing additional charges for violating the terms of his house arrest.

Yesterday Husbands surrendered to police after investigators announced they had pinpointed a suspect in the case.

However police are quick to point out that the shooting was not the result of gang on gang violence. Instead it appears that both the shooter, Husbands, and the victim were members of the same street gang and they had a private beef.

Most of the homicides in Toronto are actually the result of gang on gang violence, of which the Jamestown Crips and the Mount Olive Crips play a central role. Most of the victims are men and most of the murderers are men too. See the graphic below which shows the history of homicides in Toronto for 2006 to June 2012.

HOWEVER we should note that Toronto has one of the lowest murder rates per capita compared to other regions in Canada.

In order the three regions with the highest murder rates are:

#1. The North West Territories
#2. Saskatchewan
#3. Nova Scotia

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