I'm back from book release recovery and rolling up my sleeves, friends. I was going to ease my way back into my weekly routine with something nice and easy, but kismet had some other plans. Let me blow the dust off my soap box ...
I recently stopped by one of my local bookstores - a place I've frequented and enjoyed for decades. The manager is a good colleague, and she recommended a new company she learned about at a recent book expo: DartFrog Books. They are the first distributor geared exclusively toward independent and self-published authors, so my interest was piqued. She gave me a bookmark with their URL and the not-so-subtle hint that if I were to say she referred me, she'd get a finder's fee. So I went on my way.
It took me a few days to get around to looking DartFrog up. Something about the interaction gave me a strange vibe, and I was right, but I'll come back to that. Here's their mission statement: "Every year there are an estimated 450,000 self-published titles released into an overcrowded literary marketplace. Unfortunately, most of those books will live forever in total obscurity. But, there are within that mass of self-published books, some real gems. DartFrog finds those gems and distributes them to our partner bookstores."
O-kay. So, sounds good, but how does it work? I clicked on every link that looked as though it'd give me a straight answer. "About Us"? Mission Statement and glamour shots of the staff. "Why Dartfrog"? Buzzwords and all the stuff that sounds too good to be true, no numbers or details. "Our Standards"? Some stuff about quality control that's just a little bit condescending, if you ask yours truly... and it had typos. (I laughed. A lot.)
Oh, wait. "Author Agreement". Finally, I thought, something that should lay it out in black and white. Click: "The author agreement is a straight forward document that seeks to remove all the legalese that most of us don't read or understand anyway! But there are a few highlights that you should know." Not only is that on the edge of condescension ... but the full, actual text of that agreement isn't anywhere I could find on the website. Presumably, you only get it after you've started the sign-up process.
So I made a mock order for In The Cards. It asks some straight-forward questions about your book: did you edit/format it yourself, how long is it, what's the ISBN/genre, etc. But it doesn't even tell you what your order form is doing. Or how much it'll cost. I hit "proceed to payment" and was hit with the sticker shock: $350.
Let me reiterate: I still don't know what, exactly, I'm paying for, here.
I clicked back out of the cart - or, in the vernacular, "noped out like nobody's business" - and tried to dig a little deeper to see what that price tag entailed. The closest thing I could find to ANY detail about what my money would buy was on "Why DartFrog":
DartFrog evaluates your book to ensure that it meets a standard-of-excellence bookstores require. Those books that do, we make available for distribution to our network of partner bookstores. If your book is not ready for distribution, we will tell you what needs to be fixed and allow you to re-submit when the changes have been made. We do not charge an additional fee for a second evaluation.
Oh. So I'd be paying DartFrog $350 to pat me on the head and tell me my book is good, and then add it to a catalog they give to a (so far) very small list of indie stores. How is that any different than an agent or a publisher? I don't really think it is. Sure, that 70/30 split afterwards is pretty nice, but I'd have to spend an initially HUGE chunk of money that I don't have. There's very little about their evaluation team, so I don't even know if the people I'm paying to vet my book would be fair or unbiased.
Given that I had to do a half hour's worth of web surfing to find all this, I'm pretty unimpressed. If you're a web-based service, you're catering intrinsically to people who are used to very fast service: go to the site, find what you need, get it, get out, move on with your day. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but self-published authors' time is precious enough without having to constantly verify and vet their potential allies and business collaborators. I could have spent that half hour connecting with my peers, making marketing graphics, preparing for my new collaboration release, or - oh, hey! actually writing more. Instead, I'm here. Because I get the increasing feeling that I need to share these experiences with you all, to save you the time and make your life as fellow authors a little easier.
We're all in this together. I've never felt that it's about the money - but saving it where and when we can is crucial. Being transparent and communicating about what works, what's fair, and what things really are is even more important.
In the end, I passed on BookFrog because I just can't spare that kind of money for a random person's validation. If you can, I don't judge: in fact, I'd love to know what you think. If you've had experiences with BookFrog, yourself, please leave me a comment or shoot me an email. I want to be proven wrong: I want to believe that there really are people out there who genuinely want to help find the good indie books, give them the love they deserve, and build a mutual relationship ... not just take our money and laugh all the way to the bank.
Until next time, dream on, write on, and stay amazing!
Story time! Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then we'll begin.
Once upon a time, there was a young(ish) girl who had loved books since kindergarten. An only child, she made some of her earliest and oldest friends between their pages: precocious girls like Pippi Longstocking and Anne Shirley were her favorites, but she soon grew just as fond of super-sleuths Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, and went on adventures with the brave mice of Redwall and discovered the creeping, delightful horrors of Edgar Allen Poe and Christopher Pike. Around that time, she was also beginning to discover the prospects of responsibility, as her teenage years loomed on the horizon, and her parents, wanting to coax her into it in the best way possible, suggested she get a job at a bookstore.
The bookstore was tiny, tucked away on the shores of a nearby lake, and catered mostly to tourists looking for summer beach reads, but our heroine loved it nonetheless. She learned how to open up shop, run a register, and create workshops for the kids who came in to amuse themselves on lazy summer afternoons. (One particularly memorable afternoon was spent teaching them how to draw Mushu from Mulan... which might tell you how long ago this was, if you're very clever and know how to use IMDB.) She discovered the joys of coffee, classic literature, and mystery novels, but more importantly ... she discovered the concept of book signings.
She was only able to work at one of them, but one was enough. The author, though no one she had previously heard of, was a mystery author, just like the books she was starting to love so much, and was willing to talk to her at length about her craft. Not only that, but she signed a book for her:
The advent of the internet (yes, this IS an old story, isn't it?) meant that she began to meet other people who wrote their stories in secret, same as she did, and one of them, a little older and a little braver, convinced her to share her own stories with the rest of the world. The wide anonymity of the internet made this all seem so much safer, and she began to gain a little following, which made her think that maybe her writing wasn't so terrible after all. College and the so-called "real world" took their turns at her confidence, but eventually, she began to share stories which were entirely her own, and discovered self-publishing, and all the freedom and challenges that came with it.
There's no neat dovetail to the end of her story - of course, she's sitting here typing it to you. ;) I will say that things have managed to come full circle: later this month, I will have my second-ever book signing at the store that started it all. I invite those of you who are able to come and join me ... it's not quite a Happily Ever After, but as far as I'm concerned, it's damn near close enough.
I hope you'll come back next week, when I'll drop some exciting stuff: the cover reveal for The Proper Bearing, and the party schedule for the month leading up to its release! Until then, I'll see you in the stacks...
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