Business

Okay, guys, I get it. Most of us suck at business. If we were good at business, we’d be working in an office somewhere. Except we wouldn’t, of course, because everyone is working from their living rooms, and I suspect “everyone who can will work from their living rooms” for a long, long time.

But the difference between a mediocre career in…. well, anything, but yes, in writing too, is how professional you are.   When you see someone who can’t write half as well as you do raking in the dough? Professionalism. (Yes, there are inexplicable ones that you know it’s not professionalism. But some people also win the lottery.  However if that’s your plan for making a living, you’re doing it wrong.)Now I can see the people who were scarred by trad (show me on the doll where trad publishing bit you) rolling their eyes, but that’s something else again. Traditional publishers often demand you act “professional” or ding you on not acting professional, but what they really mean is “tug the forelock harder.”

You’re supposed to always be polite, never remind them of their errors, dress well, and even though what they’re paying you per novel is about the equivalent of what a minimum wage work makes in a month, you’re supposed to act as if this is your main job and your main priority. This even after you know they’re not doing anything to promote your books and have targeted you for mid-list hell.  (Yes, it makes sense for them to slate books to fail or putter along. BUT for now I won’t explain what is going on behind the scenes. For now.)

So, what do I mean by professionalism?  Well, even in the bad old days some of the things the publishers wanted were part of it:

– Write the best book you can.  This means, sorry — and I had a friend who was very promising burned because she refused to do this — learning your trade.  Just because you’re published or have assumed a modicum of success, it doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to learn.  Even the authors I love madly I can — as a professional — see their issues.  (Okay, not Heinlein or Pratchett, but virtually anyone else. One of my favorite authors clearly doesn’t know how to finish books. The plot gets increasingly more challenging, and then some amazing coincidence or deus ex-machina makes everything come out right in ten pages.)  You should always studying, learning, pushing ahead.

-Reading in the field is part of it. You have to know what is being done in the fields you write in.  Part of this is because fields change. Very rapidly, in the case of those that are indie, because they meander.  See what people are doing. And either watch movies/shows in the field, or if you’re like me have a designated “Watcher of crap” who gives you a report. (Not a put down. I have trouble sitting still and watching something, so all visual entertainment gets called “crap” or “time wasting crap.”) Because back when we didn’t own a television, I once wrote a short story with a stargate. Yes I called it a Stargate.  (BTW there was a magazine a line of whose rejections was “you got this off a tv show.”  I’ll be honest, some of those, to this day I have no clue what they were smoking. I’m going to assume I used a name that someone used in a TV show and that was their cue?)

– Okay, you’re a writer you can deal with the above (sort of. I signed up for a course, and have been startlingly absent, but 2020 has been tough.)  But now we’ll get to things you hate.  I do too. Like PRODUCE ON A REGULAR SCHEDULE.

I have a schedule. I have spreadsheets, I have a timer that tells me when to work.  This year I’ve finished zero of ten books (five short) I was supposed to have done.  How come?
Well… It’s not even the lockdown, though worry both about our essential character as a nation of free people is part of it as is worry about all of the people — many of you — who will take it in the shorts over the economy. It’s that 2020 has a bunch of other worries, deadlines and trigger wires for this family, including but not limited to a lot of health concerns.  Yes, it will get better after June. Yes, this too shall pass. Probably like a kidney stone.

HOWEVER producing books on a schedule, particularly for series is vital. You’re creating addicts, and addicts need their fix. I’m trying, and you can try too.

– Now we get to things you’ll hate even more: Newsletter. I was working on it as the year started, and then… yeah. So, okay, I need to figure this out. I think part of the problem is that I read Newsletter Ninja (it’s on KUL) which is an excellent book with tons of suggestions.  There is only one problem.  I feel kind of like when I tried to use the program “Dramatica” to plot a book. Or every time I try to use a Mac (I tried, for velum.) Or when I tried to put books up with Kobo.  Look, I might be an extreme case, because my brain is WEIRD.  One of the things that utterly defeats me is visual thinking. So, when I’m looking at a computer or publisher where all the clues are visual, I just sit there, frustrated and stewing.  But there’s a similar type of thinking, what I call “spatial with words.” It’s used in a lot of computer programming and consists of putting things in the right boxes, even if the “things” are words. And remembering where you put them.

I was an okay programmer back in the day, but it’s been a long time.  The methods Newsletter Ninja suggests, with onboarding and offboarding procedures and….  I can do it. But I need to block the time and be in the mood for it. And some services I tried, I can’t even understand what they want me to do on the sign up. So, perhaps if you guys have a newsletter service you like, suggest it in the comments. (I’ve got one, but I’m thinking that one is best for Elise Hyatt.  Yes, I’ll need a different one for her.  For Sarah D’Almeida too, though I don’t intend any new historicals this year, because I knew what it would be like and that I’d have no time.)

Anyway…  You should have a newsletter. I should have a newsletter. Do you have any bullets? I need to bite one.

– You REALLY won’t like this, but you need a website.  I keep half doing mine, then forgetting about it for three years. You might be as bad.  Anyway, your website needs, at a minimum, to be kept up to date on your latest books.
Btw, with that and the newsletter, if you’re as painfully bad as I am but can get someone to do it for love or money and can afford the money (Alas!) do that. Truly, it’s important.  And it shouldn’t be frigging expensive.

– You’ll like this even less….  Covers.  No one is asking you to do your own, though you probably can with stock photos and a little practice, honest. But covers….

I know about your dysfunction with covers, dear habitues of MGC, because I get your books for promo every Sunday (Good cover last Sunday, Pam!)

It’s not that most of it looks like bad photoshop. No. I mean, that ain’t good and marks you as a newby indie.  But it’s relatively survivable.

It’s that most of your books don’t look in any way shape or form like what they are.  The ones you pay people to do often ping “Literary and little” (though beautiful covers.) and the ones you contrive yourself range from “Travel log of suburban parks” to “Why does this science fiction have a cozy mystery cover.”

Look, every genre and subgenre has a “language” on the covers.  Remember above where I said I’m not visual. Well, I can’t think VISUALLY in a logical way, but I can sense it, which is why I do art. So–

Because it’s not rational, I just set myself a job, and spend a day a month or so looking at covers in the genres I am working in.

Yes, your super-hero thriller with romantic elements will be hard to cover (I’ll get on it, I’m assured newly built computer is ALMOST ready) because it’s such a weird mix of sub-genres.  And historic mysteries are hard to cover, because they’re mostly indie, which is to say…. well… covers styles are weird and change really fast.

BUT most genres, the cover requirements are obvious once you look at a hundred covers or so.

– And speaking of that….

Your blurb dysfunction is possibly worse than your cover dysfunction

Yes, I DO know how hard it is. My blurbs suck hairy …. never mind. Bad things. Mostly because once I’ve finished the book, I don’t want to TALK about it.  I think once, before I fixed it, I put up one of the Musketeer mysteries with “This is a mystery. There are musketeers in it.” Because that was my level of functioning.
But remember you are competing with people who are better at this.

So, what should you do? Go read bestseller blurbs. Ten or twenty of them in a row. Maybe more. Then do your own.  (BTW, I don’t get putting things like “An exciting thriller” which sounds more like a cover quote than a blurb on the blurb, but it seems to sell. All bestsellers have it.)

So…. If you’re like me, particularly while writing from “office family room” when everyone else is working from home too, it’s hard enough to get writing done, much less this business stuff.

Well, I was never very good. In the bad old days, I often did every other week. One week I wrote, one week I sent stuff out, wrote to agents, etc.  I don’t think that will work great with indie though with the publishing computer down and waiting for the build to be done on the new one, we might end up this month with that, but I think it is very silly to go a month with nothing, then put out three books in a week or whatever.

I hear people have a day for business, and maybe I should try that. Like everything else it should get easier (or massively worse, of course) from mid-year on.

Anyway, I stand before you admitting I suck at all of these.  I deal with you enough to know you also do.  But the sad truth of the matter is that I think we all need to take the next step forward and level up.  Part of it being that I think traditional publishing will have imploded by early next year. The shutdown is not doing good things for the paper brick business, and that’s what they’re invested in.

So if you had a dream of having someone do everything else for you and you just write?  Well, it was sort of a dream of winning the lottery, but never mind. Now it’s more unlikely than ever.

There’s just you. And you HAVE to step up.

 

31 comments

  1. “This is a mystery. There are musketeers in it.”

    That would sell *me* on a book, but I guess other people might need a bit more.

    1. Same here. I dislike the standard blurbs enough that… well, sounding like a standard blurb is a great way to convince me to move along. I find more appeal in “Here’s a book. It’s got words in it.”

  2. You mentioned Photoshop in the context of cover art. For those that don’t want to pay the monthly fee for an Adobe subscription, there is a fantastic online Photoshop-like program called Photopea. I don’t know if I can provide a link or not here, so just use your favorite Internet search engine and it’ll be the first result.

    I’m not a graphics person, but I’ve looked at the Photopea site, and it certainly looks like something that can do 90% of what Photoshop does. And to think that one guy wrote it all by himself. As a sometime-programmer, I’m amazed at what this guy created.

    If you want to play around with graphics, and don’t want to buy anything, I’d recommend trying it. (And no, I don’t have anything to do with the site nor do I get a referral if anyone goes there 😉 )

    1. GIMP is also out there. It looks (in terms of buttons and commands) like an older Photoshop. There is a decent support network and lots of YouTube stuff, although people do tend to assume that you are not a rank beginner. It is free. I don’t love it, but part of that is not having really taken the time to sit and play with it. HOWEVER, you will have to buy the necessary fonts, because many of the ones in the program either don’t work for covers, or are not for commercial use (you have to really dig into the rights pages to check, so it is easier for me just to buy rights to a font from a reputable source.)

    2. Also the Affinity products are excellent Adobe replacements: Photo, Designer, and Publisher. Mac and Windows and, at the moment, they’re actually 50% off normal price. I know, I’ve been waiting to pick up the Windows version after using the Mac for years.

    3. PD Howler isn’t free, but it’s cheap and goes on sale often. It’s a one man crew, as well. AND it’s great for painting like natural paint media as a side gig.

        1. Very cool! And yes he’s a decent guy. I’m on the Beta testing team for PD Howler, and he always tries hard to do the best he can to fulfill folks wants. He’s also just finished his 5th novel! And he is a great artist.

  3. “I have a schedule. I have spreadsheets, I have a timer that tells me when to work. This year I’ve finished zero of ten books (five short) I was supposed to have done.”

    Yep. I surely did hear that one. There’s always something more important than writing or making a new cover going on. Always.

    Example, later today I will be cutting the grass, in the SNOW. Its still fricking snowing here. But first I have to fix the big lawnmower, which has been sitting outside all winter long. But first I have to make room to fix the big lawnmower, because there are a bunch of people running around Chez Phantom because lockdown, and they’re busy doing stuff too.

    Because if I don’t cut it now, pretty soon it will be getting too long to cut with the Big Mower, and I will be stuck using the side-eject Not So Big But Still Pretty Substantial Mower. That one takes longer and leaves ruts in the wet parts. Ruts are bad, we don’t like those.

    I spent the morning supervising movers. Who moves during Corona Time? The Phantom. Because OBVIOUSLY a pandemic means you should be schlepping stuff from Point A to Point B. Third move since December. Thank Ghu it isn’t moving my living arrangements, just stuff.

    So where’s my writing today? In the snow.

    But I’ll get there…

  4. I think once, before I fixed it, I put up one of the Musketeer mysteries with “This is a mystery. There are musketeers in it.” Because that was my level of functioning.

    *laughs* You know, that’s unusual enough that it might even work.

    Once, anyways. Better for a short story prequel or something.

    1. I queried for the story that I have coming out shortly with just three words. But they were intriguing words.

      My book blurb—oh lordy. The one I wrote for the back isn’t great, but the one that ended up on Amazon is outright incorrect. Definitely a place to work on (except I’m not a writer; I’m a reader. The stories are accidental.)

  5. Okay, not Heinlein or Pratchett, but virtually anyone else.

    This wasn’t a skill thing, but Pratchett’s degenerative disorder seemed apparent in some of the later books.

    You should always studying, learning, pushing ahead.

    Some of Kazuma Kamachi’s less advertised works struck me as pretty heavily experimental on his part.

      1. They just tell me to do everything I most hate in life. *sob* It’s easier to just write and be satisfied with not much money. But some people need real income, not a nice surprise now and then.

  6. …And if you aren’t writing anything new, then while working on the website and trying to get a newsletter up and running are laudable goals, they’re former needs to be aimed at selling your backstock to the idly curious browser, and the latter doesn’t have much effectiveness because you have very little to engage the reader who wants more from you to read.

    Received wisdom in trad pub days used to be: update your covers and blurbs every 5-10 years, if still in print. In these days, it is both easier and harder. Anything put out when indie was still a gold rush market probably needs a new cover. Beyond that, if it’s been a few years, it’s good to skim the latest cover trends in your subgenre (or sub-sub-genre, to see if you’re still signalling that you belong to said genre to the readers. Because subgenres proliferate, and trends change quickly.

    Blurbs – like anything else in life, the more you do, the better you get. So read blurbs in and out of your genre, and update the old ones when you get better. The point being: covers and blurbs don’t attract people who’ve already read your book, they’re there to attract the readers who haven’t read your book yet.

    Titles – changing titles is an interesting subject for debate. Some genres do it a lot, some don’t. If the title was a play on a fad that has past, it may be good to change it so it’ll attract current readers. (Once, millions of readers were looking for ‘something like Fifty Shades’, and now they’re not. So if your Fantasy Humour is titled “Fifty Shades of Faerie Shrooms”, you might want to rename it so it doesn’t seem so dated.) One thing readers agree on, though, is that if you do change the name, you’d better put the old one at the bottom of the blurb, just like if this is a short story previously published in an anthology. Because they get right grumpy at seeing something they hadn’t read before, gleefully purchasing it, and then finding out it’s a new wrapper on a story they’d already read.

    Given Peter’s medical problems have pretty much killed all creative writing until he’s off the current meds, we should be focusing more on covers, blurbs, print, backmatter linking to other books, and Amazon Ads. Unfortunately, right now I’m entirely too busy to manage that.

    …and yes, I still hate writing blurbs for my own stuff.

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