Several years ago, when I was green as lettuce and attended the Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith workshops on fiction writing — which made me a little less green, if nothing else by providing a much needed wilting — they kept saying the same puzzling phrase “Treat it like a business.”
And of course, I understood what they meant, and it was sense, but at the same time it wasn’t. It’s very hard to treat as a business a career you have no control over, and which does not, and unless you’re very lucky cannot (yes, talent comes into it too, and the balance of talent and luck vary according tot he writer, but you still need to be in the right place at the right time, something you in the end have no control over) pay a living wage. At least not if you’re already in the business and know that they’ve got you slotted mid-list.
Well, ladies, gentlemen and filofaxes, all that has changed, in the seven years, changed completely and turned on its head.
Even if you are, like me, still writing for traditional as well as indie, you have so much more control over your career, it’s not even funny. The fact that indie authors who actually work at it are out-earning their traditional colleagues; the fact that my indie book out-earned my traditional ones, means I have options. If for whatever reason working in traditional publishing becomes intolerable, I can escape and make more money.
And right there I can see some of you go “but if you can make more money, why are you still working for Baen?”
Because I treat it like a business. Baen gets me exposure and distribution that indie can’t — yet — get me. If and when that changes, I can always reevaluate.
The thing is a business isn’t just money. Business isn’t having a product and selling it. That’s what my mom used to call “buying and selling” a genteel hobby for a lady (according to her, don’t ask me. She tried to convince me what I wanted to do — be a journalist — was no fit profession for a lady, while a little genteel buying and selling was okay. Of course, I presume ladies had more money than we did, but there you have it. Mom was aspirational.) It’s not a business. It is to some extent what I had before indie became viable.
What is the difference you say? Well, the first and most important difference is that you can’t “build” on a little buying and selling. It happens, it’s not really fully under your control, it has no long term future. Sure you can make a lot of money if you’re in the right place at the right time, but that’s only partly controllable because the authority is not in your hands. Yes, it’s different if you come into the field at a higher level and your publisher doesn’t view you as midlist, because then you always have the power to walk for a better deal. But if you were in midlist hell in the good ol’ (not) days, all you could do was take what was dished out, good or bad. Which meant you couldn’t really make plans or work to build your future.
And in the end that’s what this writing business is “a future.”
No one — or at least very few people — makes a living from their first book. I’m however reliably informed that after the 10th indie book (for whatever reason reissues don’t count) things get VERY interesting. I’m not there yet. I have one — count it, one — book published all on my own. That’s going to change this year, and I hope to have ten by next year at this time. However, I can plan to get there. It’s under my control
At the same time I can plan projects to build my career with my publisher, and if they reject those projects I can take them indie.
The freedom is something I couldn’t even have DREAMED back six or seven years ago.
But with freedom comes responsibility.
Because any book you put out there is going to be scrutinized more closely than traditional books. No, it’s not fair, but fair is a place where you sell livestock. Just like in the oughts people had an image of bloggers as working in their pajamas (I don’t. I found out long ago if I treat the work day as a job, I work better and more. so I’m sitting here wearing business-casual. I am, however, on my sofa. The real post-blogging work day is upstairs in the office.) they have an image of indie authors as working at their kitchen table, and never proof-reading. Which means if you have the average number of typos in a traditional book, you’ll get reviews talking about how you need editing. Heck, even if you have no typos, someone from the school of “no sentence fragments, every sentence must be perfectly grammatical” will come along and slap you for no reason.
And then there’s other stuff, particularly if you are a new-ish writer. Look, I’ve been at this for — heaven help me — almost 20 years from the time I sold my first book (but not that it came out) and let me tell you, even young geniuses can’t see the flaws in their plot or structuring. More importantly, they don’t see how to “punch up” a book and make it better. And of course you want your books (each of them) to be as good as possible. Each book is an opportunity to hook readers who will read everything else you write, but you have to make sure you are as good as you can be.
So, this is where being a business comes in. You hire people to help you, you manage your costs. Your forecast your revenues. You set your schedule.
We’ll start with “atmosphere and impression.” What I mean is that we humans are monkeys of habit. Monkey see/monkey do. And studies have shown, and it’s true, that what you wear and your environment affect your performance. So, take off those skivvy jeans. Now put something decent on. I confess I don’t wear great clothes, mostly because I gain a ton of weight whenever an auto-immune attack hits and more if I go on prednisone. So I don’t HAVE any great clothes that fit me. I do wear jeans, but mostly black jeans, and a blouse of some sort. (a step above t-shirt.) I don’t look out of place when I have to go with Dan to the office. I found early on that getting up on time and wearing clothes made it easier to get myself in working mode. It also helps to “walk to work” (I walk about a mile, then go to the office to work) And it helps to have different computers for different tasks. Like I have a writing computer and an editing computer, and an art computer.
Okay, now that’s out of the way. You, the CEO of Yourself corp, are in your office. You looked at your schedule, and you have a book due to be delivered in two weeks, and one making its way through your betas, and one being edited/getting a cover.
So, first thing in the morning, you make some “calls” (these are now mostly actually email.)
To begin with let’s clarify the process books go through. Few people can write a clean first draft, even with much experience. So the first thing you do to your book is read over for continuity. Did you forget a character halfway through? Did you change someone’s name/haircolor/etc? More importantly, if your book changed directions halfways through (mine often do) did you go back and fix all the “pointers” in your foreshadowing (the thing that hints to your readers’ subconscious what’s going to happen? For instance, if your girl was supposed to fall in love with A but she insisted on loving B, did she still notice how A looked, etc in chapter 3, while ignoring any mention of B’s looks? Do one read for all of that. Sticky notes are your friend. (Yes, this is still easier done on paper.) Then do one read for wording. Are you really calling a desk “thingy for computer” because that morning you couldn’t remember “desk” to save your life? Fix that and that sort of problem. Do a third read for typos.
You are now done with your solitary work on this manuscript. Send the manuscript to betas now. Get as many betas as possible because most won’t answer. No, it’s not your book. It’s unpaid work, and people have jobs and lives. I get about 25% response.
When your betas come back evaluate their input. If three or more agree in a misstep, give it some thought. It might not be exactly what they think it is — for instance when all my betas complained nothing happened in the first five pages of a short, they were objectively wrong: someone got killed, the body got hidden, etc. However, I used passive voice throughout — but they’re seeing SOMETHING.
Some betas will also be nit picky on grammar and typos. Consider their input, but don’t change your voice/the tone of your book/your word choice unless you REALLY agree with them. Some non-writers have the funny idea that fiction should be written in carefully constructed sentences consisting of subject/verb/predicate or object every TIME. If you do what they want, you’ll achieve a soporific result.
Okay. Now the free part of your book process is concluded, and you engage in the “paying pros” part. Indie publishing has sparked whole rafts of associated professionals who do various parts of the journey of your book from head to market.
First up: structural editors. These are not copy editors. They’re people who will go through and tell you things like “if you punch up this scene, it will make a big difference”. Or “Lose this character. He’s not doing anything, and it slows the action down.” Or… whatever.
These are probably the highest paid of the associated professionals. And, let’s face it, most of them are not very good. If you feel — or have become convinced — you need one, be prepared to shell $500 to a thousand, and take them only on recommendation. I can recommend only one of those, D Jason Fleming. Editing at djasonfleming dot com. Also if you’re on facebook, he’s on my flist. He’s good enough not to do the thing bad structural editors mostly do: tell you to write the whole book and make it something THEY would write.
Next up: Copy editor. Copy editors run anywhere from $100 for 20k words, and up. There are people who will do it cheaper, though. You ask the price and you see if you can live with it. I can recommend Dave Truesdale (he edits Tangent online, so you can probably get to him via that. Or, again, my flist on facebook) He charged me $400 for a horrendously in bad shape book (artifacts of conversion from Word Perfect to word everywhere. Some words obliterated by them) but less when the book is relatively clean. Also, our very own Jason Dyck, aka Free Range Oyster, is a good and thorough proof reader/copy editor. (Freerangeoyster at gmail dot com.)
Then there’s covers. For covers I can heartily recommend Jack Wylder (again my flist on fb) who does the covers for my refinishing mysteries.
The caveat is that it’s not his profession of choice, and he takes limited jobs. I do okay at taking art, modifying it, and slapping a title/author name on it.
My son’s upcoming collection cover:
It was a picture of a guy fishing. I did things to it…
My husband’s cover:
This one is a composite of many elements, plus a filter to do the cool effects.
Most of these are from stock art, though several of them are made of various parts of art and run through filters. I charge $200 and I have exactly ONE person who pays me. The others we work out things.
Which brings us to another point: you see, it depends on how much money you can expect to make. I made 20k (plus some) from my one indie book, but the thing is that until I have more of a frame of reference, I can’t be sure this is replicable. So I try to put books out as cheaply as possible. I do what I can do (covers) in exchange for copy-editing with Amanda, for instance. A lot of writers have this sort of round-robin relationship in groups. It’s more complex than paying, but also cheaper. Again, it’s a business decision. You have to decide. if you’re a crazy-good copyeditor who sucks at art, but your buddy can do art and not copyeditting, it’s a no-brainer.
While talking of covers, I must mention that even if you don’t want to do your own, you’d benefit from taking the WMG cover class. Most of the professional cover makers out there are either used to making literary-and-little covers, or — often — doing things to gratify their own artistic sense, and not to make a selling cover for you. Even if all you’re doing is giving art direction, it helps if you have a clue what a selling cover looks like. Yes, the workshop is expensive. That’s life. All I can say is it will save you/pay you thousands in the long run. Same for their typesetting/paperbook making course.
If you decide to make your own covers, there are free stock art sites. My favorite is pixabay. I’ve also worked with Morguefile, but there are others, and I’m sure they’ll show up in the comments. If you can’t find what you want, the stock place I use most is Dreamstime.
When I put out a call for names and contact for associate professionals only two responded. I don’t work/haven’t worked with either, but I know people who have. The associated pros are:
Meghan of hyde-n-seek-editing.blogspot.com
(hide.n.seek.editing at gmail dot com)
This is her announcement:
My website is in my signature. I am not currently opening submissions, but that will change probably in a month after I do initial intern training. I will offer reduced rates (to be posted) for those who want to help train the interns.
I have yet to find a publicist I agree with who will work for me. The ones I’ve interviewed ranged from the goofy (got interested in my Shakespeare books, wanted me to break into academic publishing to push them. At the time, note those books were out of print, and I wanted to publicize my urban fantasy. Threw hissy fit when I pointed that out. Not hired.) to the inscrutable (wanted me to write for Portuguese Publications in America. Seemed to think that was my natural/only audience) to the scary (wanted to send out tons of spam (automated emails) advertising my books to his “very good list” — which had mostly non-fiction writers as clients. Um… no.)
I do know a very good publicist, but he says writers are all crazy and make his hair go gray. So there you have it.