Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Books and Censorship

This week a lettter from Smashwords was posted in my publishers author group about a policy PayPal is enforcing with their book sellers. Basically PayPal is forcing their booksellers to remove any books that contain certain content (erotica featuring bestiality, rape, and incest for example.) While I don't write (or read) these kinds of books, plenty of people do.

I'm not a fan of censorship. I think people should have the freedom to choose whatever types of material they want. People are smart. If something offends someone, they won't buy it again. A book rating system could even be put in place to make things easier on readers.

I'm concerned that PayPal could enforce stricter regulations in the future. Who's to say they won't start limiting the amount/type of violence, or swearing, or whatever else they feel like in the future. PayPal's job shouldn't be to regulate and enforce content, in my opinion. But right now, book sellers don't have many better options.

If you haven't seen it, I'm going to post the letter from Smashwords below.

What do you think about the situation?

From Smashwords:

I'm writing to give you an update on where things stand. We are extending the
deadline (previously set for tonight) for Smashwords authors/publishers/agents
to voluntarily remove certain content (erotica featuring themes of rape, bestiality,
incest) from Smashwords . I'll communicate the new deadline in a future email
once I gain new information.

I had another call with PayPal this morning. Our conversation is continuing
with them as I seek to achieve a less onerous, more sensible result.

There's a sliver of hope that I might be able to obtain a more positive, less
restrictive outcome than I communicated on Friday, yet it's unlikely we'll achieve
the true result I want (no censorship) in the near term. Today, PayPal hinted
at a more relaxed definition of prohibited content as, according to them [I'm
paraphrasing], "books for which rape, bestiality and incest are the major theme.
If rape, bestiality and incest are incidental plot points, then that content
might be allowable."

This represents a significant clarification in our ongoing attempt to delineate
the gray areas and push back the onerous, unfair and restrictive definitions
as they now stand. It's an opening, but it's not the final word from PayPal.
Our friends at PayPal are trying their their best to help Smashwords authors
and publishers.

This potential relaxation doesn't solve the broader issue of censorship. I think
if a writer wants to write fiction around the theme of [anything], I think they
should be able to write it if it's legal.

Today's progress, while encouraging, also opens up new gray area. How does one
judge whether the taboo subjects are incidental instances or major themes? Where
does one draw the line? The PayPal rep and I agreed our discussion will continue,
and they assured me our PayPal services will not be cut off as we both work in
good faith to advance the discussions.

A lot of people have been attacking Smashwords for my decision to comply with
PayPal's requirements. They're pointing their arrows at the wrong target, and
they're not helping their cause. We're working to effect positive long term
change for the entire Smashwords community, and that includes all our erotica
authors and readers. This change is possible only if we work together toward
a common goal. When people spread lies that this is all part of a Smashwords
plot to dispose of "icky books" (their words, not mine), or try to portray our
actions as some sexist attack against against women, or worse attacks I won't
repeat here, they're wrong. Despite the ugliness shown to me and Smashwords
over the weekend, I'm still working to protect these very people who attack us.
The attackers don't understand what we're doing on their behalf behind the scenes,
and even if they did understand I don't expect them to agree with our approach.
I'd rather work with PayPal in good faith than martyr the entire Smashwords
community upon the stake of this impending deadline.

This is only the first chapter in this battle. Even if we fail in the short
term we survive to fight another day. Regardless of the near term outcome, we
will continue to engage to effect positive change with your help.

Over the weekend, many Smashwords authors and publishers demanded we abandon
PayPal and find a new payment processor. It's not so simple, and it doesn't
solve the greater problem hanging over everyone's head. PayPal is trying to
implement the requirements of credit card companies, banks and credit unions.
This is where it's all originating. These same requirements will eventually
rain down upon every other payment processor. PayPal is trying to maintain their
relationships with the credit card companies and banks, just as we want to maintain
our relationship with PayPal. People who argue PayPal is the evil villain and
we should drop them are missing the bigger picture. Should we give up on accepting
credit cards forever? The answer is no. This goes beyond PayPal. Imagine the
implications if credit card companies start going after the major ebook retailers
who sell erotica?

My objective is for PayPal and Smashwords to pull the credit card companies into
a more open discussion about these issues. I want all financial institutions
to reevaluate their policies. I want the banks to change or clarify their policies
toward something more enlightened. I want PayPal to loosen their policies. We
need financial institutions to get out of the business of telling writers what
they can write and what readers can read. Without this much-needed debate, the
slippery slope gets more slippery for all indies.

Indie authors are the biggest publishers of erotica. Already, one retailer/distributor,
Bookstrand, decided to drop all indies from their store. I can only assume
they decided the angry authors were more trouble than they were worth. Our business
is all about serving indie authors, so even if some segments of our author community
are shooting arrows at us, we still want to help them work through this. The
campaign at hand goes beyond erotica authors. It's an indie issue. Indies are
breaking the boundaries previously set by large traditional publishers. This
boundary-breaking scares people. We should welcome the debate about what a "good
book" should look like. I think a good book is anything legal that readers want
to read, even if I don't want to read it myself.

This campaign represents an incredible long shot. To move this forward, I need
your help. Even if you don't publish in the categories directly impacted by
this crackdown, this campaign matters to you.

What can you do to move things forward? First, direct your attention where it
matters most. Contact your credit card company or congressperson and tell them
you want financial services companies out of the business of censoring what writers
and readers are free to imagine with fiction. Blog about it. Tweet about it.
Contact your favorite blogger and encourage them to raise awareness. Start
petitions and tell financial institutions you want their censors out of your
head. Contact the media. The media, with your urging, has the power to shine
a bright light on the dangerous slipperly slope of censorship by financial institutions.

If the media (both traditional and social) calls on credit card companies and
banks to honestly answer these simple questions, then they'll either be compelled
to acknowledge the absurdity of their policies or they'll be compelled to rewrite
their policies. This troublesome tide can shift if financial institutions are
forced to answer why they're prohibiting legal fiction.

I realize my message to you today cannot possibly answer all the questions you
may have. Know that we're working for all authors, even those likely to suffer
from whatever ultimate changes we implement in the near term. We all want censors
off our backs and out of our heads, and if that's not the result we achieve,
then we'll at least work to get you more clearly defined rules. Bear with us.

I will post this message in the Smashwords Press room at
so it's archived.

Mark Coker

Sunday, February 26, 2012

How to Make a Book Trailer

Okay, I’ve been meaning to do this for awhile now. It’s my guide to making a book trailer. This is just a rough guide to get you started. Do it however works best for you.

5 Step Guide to Making a Book Trailer

Step 1. Start with an idea. You need a concept going in. Think about your book’s tone and genre. A tagline is a good starting point. You can also use a short description about your book, or quotes from other people to give viewers a feel for what your book is about. Please Please Please keep it short, though. No one wants to sit through a 5 minute book trailer, no matter how awesome it is. I think 30 seconds-1 minute is a good goal.

Step 2. Once you have an idea, you are going to need video, photos, and music as well as any cover/promotional art you want to include. There are some great sites out there that sell royalty free music and videos. You just put in what you are looking for in the search box and it will give you lots of options. I use Pond5 for music (songs run around $2 and they also have lots of videos to choose from) and MotionElements for animation and video. Some of their 3D animation is amazing. Prices vary depending on the length and quality of the video. Dreamstime has royalty free photos available. There are also sites that offer free music, and photos if you do some google searching. Make sure you get music and images that work well together.

Step 3. After gathering the material you need for your trailer, you will need some sort of movie editing software. I use Windows Movie Maker-it’s free and comes installed on a lot of PCs. I’m pretty sure MACs come with a similar program. You can also purchase or download movie editing software online. I’m using WMM for this guide, but use whatever works for you. Most of them are really pretty similar. Now you need to import whatever files you download into your editing program. There’s an easy to find Import Media button at the top on WMM. I did hit one road bump during this step-some video files are quicktime-and WMM can’t read them. But don’t freak out! There’s a free and easy to use program called WinFF that will convert Quicktime files into files WMM can read.

Step 4. Now comes the fun part. You need to put it all together. Simply take the bits and pieces you want to use and drag them into the timeline at the bottom. The timeline is divided into 3 parts. Video, Audio/Music, and Title Overlay. (See image.) I think it’s easiest to put the video in place first, then add the music and text, but the order isn’t super important. The best way to get a feel for Windows Movie Maker is to just play around with it. There are tons of interesting transitions and effects you can add to videos and your text tiles. To add text to the video, click on Tools and then Titles and Credits. Every time you do this, it creates a new slide that can before added before, during or after a video clip. Once you have things in place, you can slide them up and down your time line, make them overlap, or cut them (by clicking the split button on the right side of the screen. Also use this button at the end of your video.) WMM is designed to be user friendly, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Just be sure to save if there’ something you want to keep a certain way.

Step 5. Once you get your video exactly how you want it, click the Publish Movie button at the top. This will save your project and you will be free to upload it all over the internet!

I’m no expert, but if you have a question about how to do something, feel free to e-mail me and I will try my best to help. Making a book trailer can be a lot of fun and can help you market your story-so don’t be afraid. Just go for it! Oh, and if you haven't seen it yet, here's the link to the trailer for my upcoming book, Nightfire.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Weird, Wild World of Publishing

Most writers start out have very little knowledge of how publishing actually works. Literary agents, query letters, and contract negotiations are not even a consideration for the majority of people starting to write a book. And that’s probably a good thing. It’s really easy to get caught up in all the technical aspects of publishing and waste , er use, hours of time trying to understand it all.

Publishing is changing at the speed of light and everyday something new comes along. There are so many options for authors right now (great,right? Right??) that just about anyone can find a way to get their words out into the world. But figuring out the right way to do it can be overwhelming. Self publishing, legacy publishing, and small press publishing and even Amazon publishing can all be great options for different people.

So how do you decide which is right for you?

Well, there's one secret I’ve figured out over the last few years. Sometimes you have to just follow your gut. If you take the time to listen, your brain will often tell you where you should be going, and what options are worth pursuing. If you spend too much time overanalyzing information, you will get lost. Learn to understand and follow your instincts. They will rarely lead you in the wrong direction.

Monday, February 6, 2012

I've got my release date!

Well, I've finally got my official release date for Nightfire. It's actually the original date I was told, but I thought it might get pushed back. Nope, it's still May 4th. It's a little frightening because it seems so soon, and I haven't even been through editing yet. I'm still thrilled though, and can't wait to have my book out in the world.

For those of you with books out/coming out, do you like your release dates? Would you change them if you could?