Snot-work (or ‘s not work)

Gah. Snot. The story of my weekend in one word. Not the worst problem in the world, but the one most on my mind at the moment. Well, pressing on my brain, anyway.

I’m a one man business: so snot, or not, something must be written. I have either ‘flu or a cold but trying to work, as I am not in the least subject ‘man-flu’ (I have taken to my bed for a day and half in the last 30 years, with malaria. Add ‘bed-rest’ to the very long list of things I am not good at).

None-the less I will admit my brain feels like cream cheese and just as capable of rational thought. Yes, I did stick my finger up my nose to find out. Or I might have, if not for the Niagra pouring out of it. We’ve reached peak tissue in this household and have been forced to exploit less gentle on the nose supplies of kitchen paper towel, and no end is in sight (it being the Queen’s birthday holiday here, with the tissue mines closed for the day).

It has made thinking difficult, because every train of thought is rapidly derailed by a hunt for more nose fodder, let alone that a head-ache and fever don’t help me to be at my brightest. And I needed an idea for today’s post. The thought ‘so this is what it feels like to be the kind of person who believes File 770 is a reliable source’, wasn’t very constructive.

And then it came to me: this is the core of being an author – especially if you’re in Indy publishing. No I didn’t ACTUALLY mean unable to think coherently and in dire need of soft nose wipes. Or ‘feeling rather stupid’. That too those are added extras that come FREE if you call now! And for the 99 callers we’ll throw in an extra parcel of confused, and our bestselling pack of ‘did-not-read-but-gave-a-one-star-review’ because we decided we wouldn’t like your politics or possibly even the price you set.

What I mean is you’re a one-man-business. If you take off sick, or don’t produce… no one is going to fill in for you. There is a strange belief out there- particularly among non-writers and occasionally among wannabes (not much among the earnest, researching hardworking kind, but the kind who think publishers keep special people to correct grammar and spelling problems. They do. They’re called ‘authors’) that ‘being your own boss’ means you can afford to do Sweet Fanny Adams (AKA SFA Writers) most of the time. Well, no. It means that you work for a prick-of-a-boss who knows every skiving move you could pull, and spies on you non-stop, and is intolerant of your excuses and unsympathetic about your illness or frailties. If he (or she) isn’t just like this, actually, you’re stuffed. Give up while you’re losing without making the hole deeper.

Deadlines, wordcounts, to-do lists, are your friend. So is forward planning, thinking ahead, collecting materials, doing scut work when you feel sick or rotten or braindead, so that when you aren’t – you can write. For me a daily discipline works. Nothing extreme, an electric cattle-prod is good enough to get me to my desk most of the time. A red-hot poker will do the rest of the time. This is a real challenge, because as you’re a one man business… you have hold the poker and threaten yourself. And you have to really believe you will apply it. And then at the end the you have the difficult problem of sitting at your desk with a red-hot poker in one hand. At all costs (or at least, replacement cost), resist putting it through the screen. One day I did 37 trips to the fire-place to return it, to need to apply it again to need to return it… Seriously, a rigid pattern helps me. So does a word-bank (I have a minimum words-per-day, and a final goal date. If I am ahead and something comes up that doesn’t involve writing for a day… well, I need enough words in the bank.

What most of us tend to forget, is that it isn’t just words. Trad published, or indy, a real part of EVERY day has to go to promotion. I’m rotten at this. Vox Day, John Scalzi, Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt and Peter Grant are good at it. You don’t have to like any of them, or their work, to study what they do. But here’s the key. They post often, and not just about their books. They interact on social media (to various degrees, and at various levels). And they work, relentlessly, at it.

This, sadly, is a major feature of modern writing. Your publisher will not do it for you. It is not impossible to succeed without it, just a much bigger hill to climb.

If you’re indy of course it is important to remember your time isn’t JUST writing – and you have allow in that word-count planning everything else, from designing your cover (or getting it done) to editing (and I advise getting this done, at least copy-editing. It is now becoming common for trad authors to get this done independently too, as it seems this is another ‘cost saving’ trad publishing is investing in).

One of the most difficult things I find is to ‘get distance’ while editing. I’ve got a love-hate relationship with most of my work. I either love it or hate it – whereas really a dispassionate assessment has ‘like’ or ‘yawn, bleah’ as both more likely, and more worrying things. I’ve found the best tool I can use to be dispassionate is the intent to be… and time. If I can leave work for years I can edit very well, but even weeks helps. What doesn’t work is hot out of the hot head and onto the screen… and process.

Talking of my own work, Tom is selling relatively well (yes, the picture is a link)

Nothing wildly exciting, welcome money, but don’t quit my trad income yet. I’m still wondering if the cover is too cutesy, and putting off readers who might enjoy it. It is, however intended to be light, amusing, and easy to read, and fairly fast paced. Might be a welcome change from the news, if less fictional. As I said, not War and Peace, light escapism, with my gentle satire under it (yes, of course I poke fun at the world, politics, fantasy tropes. This is Dave Freer writing, not some sf-establishment dahling.).

One thing I’d love opinion on is KENP (KU and KOLL ‘borrows’) and whether other folk have any opinion of how good/bad for a writer this is. Look, I figure I’m getting around 40-50 people -‘borrowers’ reading TOM a day. I’m not knocking them – they paid to belong to Kindle Prime, I get something – probably around 50 cents a read. I’m not sure how many of these are ‘new’ (have not read my work before) or potential return customers, or people who know my name and, understandably are reading it for ‘free’ (at no extra cost to them, even though I get paid something). If it is the latter, well, I am better off, financially, charging $2.00 and getting more customers and 70 cents, or $2.99 and getting $2 a copy… But if I’m gaining readers that I would not otherwise, well, the longer term wins the game. What is your opinion?

And now to take my snot to bed, it being 9.00 PM here. I need an early night.

37 Comments

Filed under DAVE FREER, Uncategorized, WRITING, WRITING: LIFE, WRITING: PUBLISHING

37 responses to “Snot-work (or ‘s not work)

  1. I’ve been accused of being a KU cheerleader, but here’s my 2 cents:

    At .4 cents a page (the last couple payouts have been more than that, but I usually divide my page read by 250 when I’m trying to figure out my monthly income), you should be getting about a dollar per full read of Tom if the 260-page count matches the KENP page count (it’s usually 1.5 to 2 times larger than the print count). That is a lot less than 70% your cover price; for a larger book, the disparity isn’t as bad, and for short stories, it plain blows.

    My guess (based on personal experience and anecdotal evidence, so take it for what it’s worth) is that Kindle Unlimited subscribers are increasingly loath to purchase books; they paid their $9.99 and for many of them that’s their book budget for the month). Which makes them a market segment that can’t be tapped otherwise. If you can make up for the ‘lost’ income between a sale and a borrow in volume, then it’s worth doing.

    KU borrowers are also far more likely to give new authors a chance, because the cost to try their work is much lower (reading time as opposed to money, basically). My advice to starting writers, particularly for genre authors of full-length novels, is to try Select for at least 90 days: between access to the KU subscriber pool and the promo tools Amazon provides, your chances to make a splash and build an audience are much better than going wide. For primarily short story writers, I’d say go wide, because the gap between a sale and a borrow even at $0.99 cover prices is going to be so large it’s probably not worth it.

    The other factor to consider is KU’s effect on Amazon’s sales rankings. Based on assorted Kindle Rank calculators, my books’ position in the best-seller lists are about twice as good as they should be with sales alone. Better (lower) ranks mean more visibility and the increased likelihood AZ will promote the book for you (via the coveted front spots in the ‘Also Boughts’ and Hot New Releases list. That can lead to increased sales and borrows. I figure the rank boosts from borrows have increased my overall sales by a huge percentage. Given how tough it is to stay visible, that is an important consideration.

    The only reason I’m a KU cheerleader is that I’m getting well over half of my income from borrows, which has allowed me to write full time. If I was making only 40-45% of that income, paying the bills would be a lot more difficult. I’m sure others are doing great by going wide, and I would love to hear their stories. And a lot of people are not doing well in KU, in which case they’d be foolish not to try other markets.

    • A question from someone still at the ‘finishing the books’ stage (who thinks now is a better time to learn this than after I’ve tried and fallen on my nose for a few books.) While the KU folk might not buy themselves, have you gotten any indications that their word of mouth sells?

      • As much as anybody else’s word of mouth is my guess. People recommending a book to their friends and acquaintances aren’t likely to concentrate on the way they acquired it (sale or borrow).

        • Fair enough, at least not until the ‘where do I get a copy’ question comes up.

          • There is that. In that case, the answer is going to be “Amazon and nowhere else,” which may lose you some customers (people who refuse to shop at the big Z). On the other hand, other KU subscribers might be happy to find another book to add to their queue.

    • It’s a good argument. I’m not sure it’s a good complete strategy. Look I earn 64 cents for trad paperbacks. I’m not sure that 36 cents extra is worth all the extra work. It would depend heavily on Amazon giving me a market for a LOT of books a day, over reasonable amount of time.

      • Not sure I understand. Putting a book in KU requires no extra work at all once a book is on the Kindle. The cost is losing the opportunity to sell in other markets like Smashwords, D2D, etc. The current size of the KU market is $14 million a month, give or take. That’s the payout for writers; AFAIK nobody knows how big the subscriber pool is. If Amazon is plowing every subscription cent it gets back into payouts (a big if), then the pool would be 14-15 million readers.
        The question, I think, is whether or not going into KU (and exclusive with Amazon) is going to reduce one’s bottom line, either because of lost sales in favor of borrows, or not reaching customers who use other venues to buy their books. Only way to determine that is by trying both ways. I admit I’ve only dipped my toes in the ‘wide’ market, and the results have been terrible. I’m sure if I put in more work, I could improve those sales, but I don’t know if it’s worth it.
        And 64 cents per paperback? Yikes.

        • C.J. to explain I’m in the position (by luck and a long time in the market), where I do have the possibility of a choice of going trad (in which case, covers etc become Baen’s expense and problem, or doing books myself, as they’ve told me they’d like to see and have a chance to offer for anything I am going to put up. They took Changeling’s Island, and turned down Tom, so it’s not a shoo in. But I have a good idea what they’d like, so I can influence the odds, if I choose (Both of those where books were ones I thought there would be no interest from them, but I wanted to write). Paperback income is 8% of cover so the 64 cents depends on the cover price. e-book is IIRC 25% of cover. – so if most of my income is from KU I may well end up being better off to take Baen’s cash in hand, and work on another book.

          My experience with ‘other venues’ – Smashwords, is hassle, pretty crap uptake and very little money. So I have no real interest in that, but I could sell direct to customers who want it early, and then go to Amazon without KU, and then sign up for KU.

          • Ah, ok, that makes perfect sense. Yes, I would love to be published by Baen myself, they are the only trad pub I’d consider submitting to, and having someone take care of the cover, editing and at least some of the marketing would be a huge load off anybody’s mind, not to mention getting access to the print market, which is still out of reach for most indies. That does add another set of opportunity costs between using KU/Amazon and going trad.

            The timed approach definitely sounds interesting, and it may be a better way to go. My current approach is to go all-in with KU; it’s had mixed levels of success (I’m about to find out how well my current series is likely to do as Book #2 comes out later this month).

            Something else to think about: for my first novel, I did a Kickstarter campaign first to help finance production costs, and it generated a decent “advance” plus enough to pay for a cover and editing (money which I squandered on a terrible editor, unfortunately) after paying for all the fulfillment costs. Given that you have an established fan base, you might want to consider that approach for your indie projects. It does add another layer of work and headaches (promotion and fulfillment) but it can pay off.

            • I like the kickstarter idea to some extent. But it does sound like lots more admin.

              • Yes, it’s at least a month or two of promotion plus another one or two months fulfilling the backers’ rewards (in my case, they included Tuckerizing some of the high-rollers into a couple of short stories, and that was quite a bit of work).

  2. Brother Dave, I have great sympathy for your plight. You don’t mention tummy problems associated with your sinus, but those sometimes do occur. At any rate, you may find yourself on the potty chair with both ends needing paper. This is entirely manageable, but the most important thing to remember is this: SEQUENCE MATTERS!!!
    With respect to writer benefit, specifically YOUR benefit, from KU, I have this to offer: I can’t buy books, with rare exceptions, but I CAN budget the $9.95 per month that gives me KU. And so, you will receive a moderate amount from me every time you put something in KU, but only rarely from something that isn’t, even if it’s on sale. The exceptions, I think, are Road to Dundee, that marvelous story designed to be read aloud; Joy Comes in the Mourning, yer cozy to raise funds, and another one I can’t recollect – was it to raise money to get yer animal family out of Africa? It’s not in my current e-library, but that may have been six computers ago, and I haven’t gone back to get another copy because I’m behind on reading and writing anyway.
    Recently, one of the flagrantly brilliant (I think it was Jeff D) looked at his revenue stream and found KU was additive: increased income, without cannibalizing sales.

    Slightly dampen (and really: SLIGHTLY!) the kitchen paper towels with water before blowing yer nose into them. They won’t lose much of their absorbency, and will be MUCH softer on yer abraded skin.

    • Holly

      As someone who doesn’t plastic purchase, I have no imput on that. But I am up to five or six hard copy purchases of Joy. (I have all these friends whose names start with Pastor, and they all like ‘Miss Marple crossed with Father Tim’.)
      So I’m putting in a please may we have more Joy? I promise I’ll buy multiple copies!

      • Holly, I am slowly noodling away on ideas for a ‘Joy’ sequel. It was I know, an easy book to read… but it was the single hardest book to write, that I have written. I learned a lot in the process, but it’s no light enterprise. Joy is a very complex character, and getting into her head – as someone who is not… precisely a small spinster lady priest, or very gentle. It’s also a book with a lot of tension… with no on scene action. That was so hard for a man who uses action scenes for pace, that I am quite wary about being able to do it twice.

    • I’m at the stage of just hold it there and let it run out into the absorbtion – nose is raw. Fortunately tummy is fine! It’s really about making a living Pat. I might go E-arc model – and release the book outside KU – and then put it on KU in say 2 months – getting the readers who have money and don’t want to wait, and then those who can’t/don’t want to spring extra on their book budgets. Still thinking about it.

  3. I’m not entirely in love with KU (Go Horn Frogs!) but I have gotten more revenue from them in the past year than I did from Kobo and B&N for almost three years. Usually I seem to get a roughly equal number of buys and borrows. This month has been odd, in that I’ve had twice as many borrows as buys and both of them are far lower than average, but that may change this week (pay-day, people back from graduations et cetera, new novel coming out). I suspect if I were to go back over the past 3.5 years I’ve been selling books, I’ve benefited more than hurt from participating in KU, but that may change, and I’d love to have more alternatives.

    • The end-of-school-start-of-vacation season is always a bad sales month. It should pick up in another couple of weeks, as people drag home relieved and exhausted and look for something to read.

      Dave, KU is usually half my income, and my sales didn’t slump when it started. Now that they’re doing the payouts by pages read, the novels are worth putting into the program.

      • Pam – I still think I am tempted to a Baen style model – with various staggered releases – one direct from me/co-op group (which will be cheaper than via Amazon, but will pay me more). That will be followed by a Amazon non-KU release, at a slightly higher price, which will then be followed by a KU release, and a paper release. – in order of what pays me best, to capitalize on demand but still get as many readers as possible.

    • I’m still ambivalent, and exploring the various options. I’ll see. That’s why I was asking.

  4. I suspect the real issue isn’t how much one is (or isn’t) being paid per ‘read’ or ‘borrow’ on KU. It’s that buying and reading patterns are changing (well, have changed), following in the footsteps (or should that be pixels and bytes?) of music and video consumption. A great many people now see no need to actually own a piece of entertainment. They can ‘consume’ it, then discard it and go on to the next item, secure in the knowledge that if they want to read, or watch, or listen to it again, it’ll be out there ‘in the cloud’.

    That means we, as authors, have to make a paradigm shift in our approach to marketing. We want as many people as possible to ‘consume’ our work. Whether that’s through purchasing or through a subscription service like KU, or iTunes, or Scribd, or whatever, is basically irrelevant to us. Sure, we’d like our customers to use the avenue of consumption that pays us the most money; but it’s their choice, not ours. We’ve lost control of that selection. Therefore, it behooves us to adjust our expectations and write to the current state of the market, not what we wish it was.

    I don’t like the fact that I make less money from a KU ‘borrow’ than from a sale. Nevertheless, the fact remains that there’s nothing I can do about it. I can either participate in KU, and make some money from that channel, or decline to participate, and make none. If I decline, can I make up that revenue from other channels? I suspect not. I briefly tried selling through other outlets besides Amazon.com, and was very disappointed in the slow takeup, minimal returns and even more minimal customer service interaction. For better or worse, as far as books are concerned in the North American market, Amazon.com is the elephant in the living-room. There’s no alternative on the horizon. We can either play in Amazon’s playground, or do without most potential revenue from our books. That simplifies matters, doesn’t it?

    I am going to adapt my approach as a result. I’ll be releasing an omnibus volume of some earlier books this year, hopefully in time to catch the Christmas market. However, I’ll release it for sale only, not on KU. I see no reason to restrict my earnings through the latter channel. The books it contains will still be available through KU as individual items, and having them ‘borrowed’ as such should bring more income than having multiple books ‘borrowed’ as a single entity.

    I’m also going to see whether I can raise the proportion of income I earn through the sale of printed books. There are interesting figures showing that this market is actually improving slightly. If I can produce mass-market paperbacks at a price close to market levels (e.g. $7.99 a copy) instead of the more expensive trade paperbacks, that should stand me in good stead. Sure, I’ll only make a dollar or so from each sale – but that’s probably as much as, if not slightly more than, I’d make through a KU ‘borrow’. If I can also offer the option of a trade paperback and/or hardcover edition at a higher price, that’ll return more profit per sale.

    Nor are print books the only option. There’s also the possibility of getting into the audiobook market. Profit percentages are lower, because of the way such deals are structured; but the selling price of an audiobook is also higher, so the lower percentage will still return an adequate profit compared to an e-book sale. It’ll take a lot more work on my part, and finding the right narrator is critically important, but I think the effort will pay for itself over time.

    There are lots of possibilities, and I’m looking at all of them. I’ll use KU as the ‘flavour du jour’ because there’s no choice right now, but that doesn’t mean I have to let it restrict or define my marketing.

    • Peter my thoughts on an omnibus – especially with a little added new material – is that it is in KU terms (where you are paid per page read, money for work I have already done, and because it is long, probably near as much as I could ask for a single e-book containing 3-4 books. So I might be tempted to go the other way around – put 2 books on KU and leave the third off… but have the Omnibus available.

    • I agree that we should all be constantly looking on new ways to monetize our work. I’d love to get more traction on paper copies (I currently make next to nothing on CreateSpace; on a good month I might break $100, and most months aren’t good).

      Getting into audio books is easy enough. ACX allows authors to find producers and vice versa. I was able to get a royalty share deal for my last novel within a month of the book’s release. It’s doing a lot better than the print version (which isn’t saying much) and I’ll be using the same producer for the sequel(s). As you say, finding the right voice for the project is the most time-consuming part; I was lucky to find someone who’d been doing military fiction for a while, which fit right in with my mil-sf book.

  5. bkc1066

    Not a writer, not up on the latest acronyms and such (KENP?) In my experience free reads at a certain level are great, that is how I started reading your books, a BAEN freeby on one of your collaborations with Eric and then a WOW! what else has this guy written reaction.

    Even people who can’t afford even your low prices are going to generate some good word of Mouth buzz….

    • Yes, the whole any exposure is better than none thing is why I’m probably just going to let this one ride. Obscurity is our worst enemy 🙂

  6. Reality Observer

    Thanks for reminding me to stick a poker in the barbie tonight, mate! (Not the time for fireplaces here in Arizona…) Finally getting serious on covers, despite overdrafting at the word bank, so I needed that.

    On the way to go, I obviously have no experience points. But I’ll throw this raw newb’s plan out for comments.

    1) I have some rather oddball short stories (the ones I’m trying to build covers for right now). Those are going into KU under a pseudonym.

    2) The novels that I began working on when I decided it was time to get serious – pretty much mil/sf – I’ll put up on regular sale somewhere in the Amazon “sweet spot.” With, of course, once I have more than one there, discounted or free on the “first taste.”

    3) The fantasy series – pretty much sword and sorcery, bit of comedic overtones – that Muse diverted me into picking away at, I’m going to be putting into the Baen slush pile – in hopes an elf comes along with some sparkly dust that catches Toni’s attention.

    • We’re definitely at the stage of ‘try multiple strategies, don’t have all your eggs in one basket.’ Sigh. In my ample spare time I’m vaguely considering a pseudonym myself. Just so I have another iron in the fire…

  7. It means that you work for a prick-of-a-boss who knows every skiving move you could pull, and spies on you non-stop, and is intolerant of your excuses and unsympathetic about your illness or frailties. If he (or she) isn’t just like this, actually, you’re stuffed. Give up while you’re losing without making the hole deeper.

    This. It’s part of self-employment. Like farming. Well, like farming without friends because if you’re really laid up with something a neighbor might drop by and help out. You don’t work, you don’t earn money. No sick days off with pay. And if it’s not appealing, it’s time to get a job in town.

    Well, actually, with farming around here, you still have to get a job in town, but still . . .

    Anyway, hope you get to feeling better.

    • Farming -at least cattle, here is paying well. But yep. A friend might help out a little, but long term you are on your own. But you do get to choose your projects. And get nagged a lot for sequels 😉

  8. mrsizer

    I like the cover. I think it matches the tone of the book, which I read yesterday (after buying it from a link here – last week, I think). I’m trying to come up with a review that matches the tone and doesn’t read as mocking. It’s a very difficult book to describe – but a very easy book to read and enjoy.

    I still like to buy books because I re-read them. This is a hold-over from print books, which doesn’t really apply to KU books (which are always in the cloud – until the author yanks them to sell on the new myEBookReadsUltra.com site). I rarely re-watch movies. The only reason I would buy a movie (or TV series) is to watch it before it comes out on DVD (i.e. Netflix). I’ve never been a big music purchaser and think (paid wo/adverts) Pandora is just dandy.

  9. Matthew

    Of all the books of yours that I’ve read, “Joy” was probably my favourite. I would love to see those characters again. As for ‘Tom’, the cover led me to believe he would face his trials as cat, not as a cat turned into a human. It’s not a bad thing, but there was a moment of disconnect very early on in the book.

  10. Christopher M. Chupik

    “the kind of person who believes File 770 is a reliable source”

    It’s bias is very reliable, I find. 😉