Let’s Just Say No to “Sensitivity” Readers and Other Forms of Censorship

I’ve been reading a few articles lately about a disturbing new trend, particularly in traditional publishing–using so-called, “sensitivity” readers.

Wow. When did we, as a society, become so thin skinned that we now need, “sensitivity” readers to ferret out so-called, “trigger” words in our manuscripts?

Here in the United States our constitution includes a wonderful thing called, the First Amendment. This amendment guarantees our right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression. There are, of course, some exceptions, such as slander and libel, but those exceptions are few and far between. And while the First Amendment guarantees your right to free speech, it was never intended to protect you from being offended by someone else’s free speech.

Oftentimes what is and isn’t, “offensive,” is subjective. For example, a vegan may be offended by your photo of a hamburger, while a chef at a gourmet burger restaurant will not. But because the vegan took offense at your photo, should he or she then have the right to prohibit you from posting it on social media, or even publishing it on your website or blog? Even worse, should the vegan be allowed to force the gourmet burger restaurant to close just because he or she finds it offensive? I fully support that individual’s right to choose to be a vegan if he or she wishes, but I draw the line at that individual telling me what kind of photos I can take, or what restaurants I can patronize, just because he or she is, “offended.”

So-called, “sensitivity readers,” pose a real threat to a writer’s ability to express him or herself freely. I’m a woman who writes romance novels, therefore I have plenty of male characters in my books, even though I’ve never been a man. I also write in a third person narrative, which means some of my chapters will be written from a male character’s point of view. I’m simply trying to tell a good story, but to the so-called, “sensitivity” expert, I could be, “stereotyping” men. And because the “sensitivity expert” has determined that I’m stereotyping men I’m no longer allowed to write anything from the male viewpoint, because it could possibly “trigger” some reader. And by the way, the word, “trigger” is the new politically correct word for offend.

I guess maybe I’m just too old school. If I’m reading a book, and for some reason I find one of the characters offensive, I simply stop reading the book. I don’t go off on a tangent because I was, “offended.” I don’t demand the publisher pull the book because I was, “offended.” And I most certainly don’t go on a hate campaign campaign against the author, or demand the book be banned, just because I was, “offended.” As I said, I’ll simply toss the book aside and read something else. How’s that for a concept?

“Sensitivity” is the new, politically correct word for CENSORSHIP,  and censorship goes against everything The First Amendment was created for.

Well, guess what? The “sensitivity thought police” can go straight to Hell. I’m protected by the First Amendment, therefore I will write what I wish to write. Period. If you don’t like my books then don’t buy them. How hard is that to understand? This is yet another reason why I choose to remain an indie author.



Why Political Posts on Social Media is a Bad Idea for Authors

Hands at KeyboardIt’s that time again. A presidential election is coming up, and people are expressing their opinions all over social media. Hey, I understand freedom of speech. It’s the American way. But our mothers also taught us that you should never discuss politics or religion in polite company, and our mothers were right.

Social media is an invaluable marketing tool for authors. It’s the best platform out there for driving traffic to our websites and blogs, and, with some hard work, perseverance, and a little luck, we can get people to buy our books. It also takes a huge amount of time to build a following, and by huge I mean months, or even years. That said, do you really want to risk alienating your fans and followers?

If you’re a political writer, then it’s a given that you should write about politics. But if you’re not a political writer, then my advice is this: DO NOT write political posts on social media.

I may not be a mathematician, but I think it’s a safe bet that roughly half of your fans and followers do not share your politics, and they do not like your candidate. So if you’re out there bashing the candidate you don’t like all over social media, then you’re going to make half of your fans and followers angry. And if you really tick them off they’ll unfriend or unfollow you on social media, and they may unsubscribe to your blogs and newsletters. And they even if they don’t ditch you on social media, chances are they’ll be less inclined to buy your next book. So, do you really want to lose your fans?

I’m sure there are some of you out there who are so passionate about your beliefs that you don’t want people who disagree with you buying your book in the first place. However, I think most of us really don’t want to lose any of our fan base. I know I don’t.

Over the past few weeks I’ve unfriended a number of people on Facebook for overloading my newsfeed with negative political posts, and no doubt I’ll be unfriending more before the election is over. Some have been people I’ve known for sometime, and it made me sad to unfriend them. However, I’m honestly burned out on all the candidate bashing, and it’s put me in a place where I’m reevaluating some of my friendships.

I guess I’m kind of old school. I subscribe to the belief that who I decide to vote for is for me to know, and the rest of you to wonder about.


Welcome to From the Writer’s Desk

Welcome to the new home for From the Writer’s Desk.

I’m an independent author and publisher who’s been there and done that, and I created this blog to pass on the lessons I’ve learned about this crazy book business to other writers and authors. So please, pull up a chair, and make yourselves comfortable at the new home for From the Writer’s Desk. 

Gayle Martin

Why Having the Cloud or Other Off-Site Storage is a Must

clouds 2
Photo by Gayle Martin

It’s happened to me twice now. That oh so sickening feeling I get when I go to open up a file, and either half of it’s gone, or I get an error message telling me it’s missing off my hard drive altogether. Computers are mysterious creatures. I jokingly tell people they’re all black magic and voodoo, and sometimes I wonder if there could actually be some truth to this. Both times this happened was after I had saved the files and shut down my computer properly, which proves that files can still be lost or hopelessly corrupted, even when you’ve done nothing wrong. This is why I have off site storage, and why I so highly recommend having it to others, whether or not you’re a writer.

Off site storage, sometimes called, the cloud, is just that. Your files are backed up to a third party server, and, heaven forbid, your computer gets lost or stolen, or an important file gets lost or damaged, you can easily download a backup. Some people may worry about privacy, and that’s a legitimate concern. However, any reliable off site storage company will encrypt your files. You’re far more likely to lose an important document then you are to have a hacker steal your work.

I use Carbonite, but there are other off site back up services available, such as iCloud. It costs me a little over $50 per year, and it’s money well spent. It automatically backs up my files, and whenever I’ve had to use it I found it was very easy to locate and download the needed files. The first time I used it was to recover a Word file, and I got all but the last two paragraphs back. More recently, I had to recover an Adobe InDesign file that mysteriously disappeared off my hard drive, and Carbonite downloaded it completely intact. The only problem I have with Carbonite is that it’s unable to back up my external hard drive as I’m on a Mac. This means I cannot store archived files on my external disk, but I’m otherwise a very satisfied customer.

Some people tell me they don’t need off site storage as they back up their files to a flash drive. That works as long as you remember to do it on a daily basis. And, Murphy’s Laws being what they are, rest assured the day a file corrupts or disappears completely will be the same day you didn’t do a back up.

Stuff happens, and it can happen to you. Carbonite has saved my rear-end not once, but twice, and I’m now a customer for life.




Are You Including Photos in Your Book?

Photo Shoot Set
Photo by Gayle Martin

When one of my authors sent me the photos he wanted to include in his memoir, I noticed several of them were family portraits, taken by professional portrait studios. Many of you may not be aware that when you have a portrait done, the photographer, or the studio, owns the rights, even though the images may be of you, or members of your family. This means the photos cannot be used in a book without written permission of the copyright holders. My author was unaware of this, but, fortunately, was able to obtain release forms for the photos in question.

I’m not a copyright attorney, so the following isn’t meant to be taken as legal advice. It is, however, common knowledge and accepted business practices by publishers.

Prior to 1978, a copyright was good for twenty-eight years from the date of registration. Once it expired, it could be renewed for another twenty-eight years. After that the work was considered public domain. Then, in 1978, the law changed. Now a copyright lasts for the lifetime of the copyright holder, plus another seventy years after his or her death. This includes works of visual art, such as drawings, paintings, and photographs. So if you’re including photos, graphics, drawings or other works of art, either for your book cover, or inside your book, and they weren’t created by you, then you will need to get permission from the person who created the work before you can publish it.

So what about work you’ve commissioned for your book, such as a photo or illustration for your cover? Typically, there will be verbiage in the contract between you and the artist transferring certain rights over to you. Most often these rights are for the use of their work for the intended purpose, such as your book cover. Now let’s say you wanted to use their image for something else. For example, let’s say you published a cookbook, and you hired a photographer to take a photo of one of your dishes for your book cover. Then, later on, you decide to open a restaurant, and you want to include that same photograph on your menu. Never assume that just because you paid him for the photo, you’re free to use it any way that you wish. Putting his photo on your menu, without his knowledge or consent, might land you in some legal hot water. You need to go back to the photographer and get his permission to use his photo for your menu. Chances are, he’ll allow you to use it in exchange for a royalty. But he says no, then you cannot use it. Period.

For more information about copyrights, or to discuss a specific case, please consult a copyright attorney.



Let’s Stop Putting Labels on People

Scarlet LetterNot too long ago I was at a business networking event and I struck up a conversation about what I do with someone I didn’t know. When I told her I wrote novels she honest to goodness looked at me and said, “Oh, so that means you must have ADD.” (Attention Deficient Disorder–a mental illness.)

Needless to say I was flabbergasted that someone would actually make such a hurtful, not to mention ignorant, remark. I looked her in the eye and said, “Well, in my line of work, that would actually be considered a job requirement.” It immediately shut her up and she walked away, which is exactly the reaction I wanted.

Few things make me bristle like people who insist on putting stigmatizing labels on other people and branding them with scarlet letters. Why must they do that?  Is it because there is some narrow definition of “normal,” out there, and creative, imaginative people simply don’t fit that so-called norm? Is that why creative people must be stigmatized for being creative?  Or is it because making other people look bad is how they make themselves look good? I suspect the answer is both. What I do know for certain is there are people out there who simply do not like creative people. Period. A few years ago I read an article instructing parents on how to “reprogram” their children if they showed any sign of being, “right-brained creative” so they could be made into, “left-brained analytical.” Apparently being “creative” is something else parents now have to fear.

Newsflash for all of you left-brained, self-obsessed psychiatrists and psychologists out there, (and yes, that means you with the MD or the PhD after your name.) I am a right-brained creative and I’m damn proud of it. It’s who God made me to be. And guess what? Even though I’m a, “wacko,” by your so-called, “standards,” I still manage to get myself out of bed every morning. I practice proper hygiene. I wear the same clothes that “normal” people wear. My house may not be June Cleaver clean, but you won’t find uncategorized life forms growing in it either. I’m not only able to perform my job, I even run a publishing business, and somehow I manage to get the job done for my clients.

So, Miss Smart-Alec, who the are you to pin your scarlet letter on me by labeling me with “ADD” because my job involves using creative skills?  Here’s a thought. Why don’t you worry more about your own life, and stay out of mine.


Tax Tips for Writers and Authors

Spring is in the air, and that means it’s tax season once again. I’m not a tax expert, so I’m not purporting to be giving any kind of legal advice, but the one thing I have learned, through trial and error, is to save those receipts. Come April 15, it’s far better to have your tax preparer tell you that you can throw a receipt away because you don’t need it, instead of having him or her tell you that you won’t be able to claim a deduction you would otherwise be entitled to because you don’t have your receipt.

Generally speaking, if it’s an expense incurred in writing, publishing or promoting your books, you can deduct it. Your tax preparer will ultimately determine what deductions you will be able to take, but they will probably want to see your documentation first. Therefore, you should keep your receipts for:

  • advertising expenses
  • book design services
  • book reviewers, (if you had to pay for a review)
  • editing services
  • photographers and illustrators
  • publishing services
  • research materials

Does your publisher charge you for your copies of your books? If so, hang on to the receipts.

Other expenses that may be deductible would include:

  • Book signing materials, including tables and chairs, tablecloths, display materials and signage
  • Cellphones, (if purchased for business use)
  • Computer hardware and software
  • Office supplies
  • Postage and shipping services, such as UPS

Do you work out of your home? If so, a portion of your rent or mortgage, and utility bills, may be deductible. Keep the receipts.

Some authors, including yours truly, write genre books that sometimes require special attire for book signings. For example, I write Old West historical fiction, and some of the Old West venues where I sign my books require me to wear period clothing. Again, whenever I buy any period outfit or accessory, I keep the receipts, because it may be tax deductible.

Many authors also have book related travel expenses. Whether it’s across town or across the country, you need to keep track of your travel expenses, as they too may be deductible. These expenses would include:

  • Air fare
  • Gasoline
  • Hotels and lodging
  • Meals
  • Rental cars
  • Taxi fare

Business mileage is anther potential tax deduction that many us of tend to forget about. You can document your mileage by either keeping a log book in your car, or via websites like Google Maps or Yahoo Maps. Simply enter your address and the address of your destination, and the exact mileage will display at the top of the page. Print out the page and put it in your tax files.

Remember too that authors and writers are not immune to tax audits. You should keep your final return, as well as all of your documentation, including receipts, on file for six years. Rest assured, if you’re ever audited, you will most certainly have to have your receipts. If you don’t the IRS will, more than likely, not only disallow the deduction, they may also hit you with a big penalty as well. It’s far better to have those receipts and not need them then the other way around.

My tip for the day.