It Takes Work

Oh, my. This isn’t going to end well. I haven’t had coffee. My sinuses are killing me. Worse, I came across several posts this morning that left me wondering why in the world people decide being a writer is something easy and that they will become rich and famous just by throwing their books up on Kindle Unlimited.

Let’s get the first one out of the way. If you want to write in someone else’s world, use their characters or write something without filing off the serial numbers, you MUST get their permission BEFORE publishing. It doesn’t mean writing the book and having a cover designed and having it ready to throw up onto Amazon or elsewhere and then going to the author with an offer of percentage of sales. You’ll be lucky if all they do is laugh at you. If it happens to be certain authors or certain corporations (especially one with a certain mammalian mascot), you will probably be served a cease and desist and face having everything else you write for some time closely scrutinized by their experts to make sure you haven’t violated their own copyrights.

Fan fiction is fine. Lots of authors, including yours truly, have or currently do write it. You may do it for fun, to help refine your craft, or just because you want characters to do something they didn’t get to do in the book or show or movie of origination.

But here is one of the very few rules in writing that you really should not ever break. Don’t write in another’s sandbox or universe without first getting permission if you plan on putting the story up for sale. Contact the rights holder. Explain what you have in mind and ask if it might be something they could agree to. If it is, they will probably want to see more–an outline, a draft, etc. Keep all your correspondence. Have a good IP attorney draw up the contract between you or, at the very least, vet the contract the rights holder offers. Even though you are playing in their sandbox, you still need to protect your rights.

And, if they don’t agree, don’t automatically throw the book idea away. Look at it and see if you can file those serial numbers off and write the book, making it your own. It will be work, but it can be done. Just make sure you have some beta readers who are familiar with the originating material read it–without telling them the history of the story–to make sure you still aren’t too close to the source material.

Now for the second piece that caught my eye this morning. I originally found it mentioned on The Passive Voice. This particular article appeared on Medium and is one author’s experience going indie. It started out like so many stories about authors’ experiences with some publishers. Lots of work for a percentage of royalties only to find out it wasn’t worth the time or effort. So the author decided to go indie and, like many, is Amazon exclusive.

Now, one of the author’s complaints about their experience with the publisher was there was no marketing for her book. She also felt the book itself was too niche. Both are very real concerns, not only when working with a publisher but when going indie as well. And this is where I have a problem with the rest of the post.

The author in question writes non-fiction. That already narrows the pool. She also writes niche books. There are books on writing, on “pagan journeys”, on memories of World War II. She has one novel. And, according to the article, she’s made around £900 for everything. Now, that might be a lot for some indies. But I had to wonder why someone who should have a built-in audience like the OP has such low sales. Remember, we are talking several years and not year-to-date.

The first thing, as I already mentioned, is she rights niche books. I’ll admit I’m not familiar with some of those, but I do know the writing niche and there are a ton of books out there about writing both fiction and non-fiction. If, as she did, you are basically repackaging your already published articles, you need to give those who have already read your articles a reason to buy the book and you need to do something with the cover and the blurb to invite new readers.

But, more than that, you have to push your book. You have to advertise. You have to promote. Otherwise, you’ve just fallen into the same trap that caused you to leave the publisher.

She’s right about wanting to keep costs down. I do as well and I make substantially more than she has. But even when I was barely making anything, I did my best to make sure I had good covers. If it meant licensing an element or two, I did so. It meant begging Sarah to do covers for me for a long time. It meant spending hours and hours studying covers in my genres and sub-genres and learning what successful titles did.

While the rule is that money flows to the author, there is a secondary rule. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money. That applies to covers and it can apply to promotions, although there are free routes on both.

I really feel for the OP. She would write another book if she found an author willing to give her an advance of £1000 or more because indie publishing is “hit or miss”. I hate to tell her, but all publishing is that way. It is also hard work. You can’t just write the book, throw it up on Amazon and sit back, waiting for it to take off.

This is why I keep harping that writing is a business. It is more than just the creative aspect of putting words on paper. Unless and until that is realized, most writers will find themselves in the same situation as the OP–books out there without much of a following, not making much money and stuck in niches with too few readers to make a difference.

But even then, there are ways around that. We’ll get into that later, if there’s enough interest.

Until later.

16 comments

  1. And, if they don’t agree, don’t automatically throw the book idea away. Look at it and see if you can file those serial numbers off and write the book, making it your own.

    This is something fanfic is *awesome* for– the more you try to write in Established World, the more you’re going to run into stuff that just doesn’t work. Especially when it’s a TV show or long running comic series/world, where you’ve got a ton of writers who are facing a deadline and pulling it out of their ears.

    If you read enough fanfic, you can even sometimes go “ooh! Ooh! I see where that came from!” — I’m almost positive that Wings of Fire grew out of How To Train Your Dragon, from the dragon’s POV. (They are almost nothing alike, it’s just one of those “Wait, I recognize that….” things from not being interested in either, but having kids who are obsessed with both. 😀 )

    They are STILL not even vaguely playing in the same park, much less the same sandbox. 😀

    1. Oooh, that could be a whole new post or drinking game. What movie/book/TV show do you think (name the title) is based on. 😉

      1. A post on influences, or a series of them would be fun too. I realized the other day I’m really STILL just rewriting Enid Blyton. (no, seriously. At least to an extent.)

  2. But, more than that, you have to push your book. You have to advertise. You have to promote. Otherwise, you’ve just fallen into the same trap that caused you to leave the publisher.

    Well, not COMPLETELY the same trap, because at least there’s no one taking a percentage of your royalties for not promoting your book, but I understand what you mean. Though it’s notable that, even without promotion, she was STILL making more in royalties from her self-published book than the one she did with a publisher.

    I’ll admit that one thing I would like to see more of on MGC is ways to get this promotion process started. I know I need to do it, but starting at the very bottom of the mountain here, promotion looks like an insurmountable cliff that doesn’t have any handholds.

    1. I’ve tried figuring it out for a post or more here but every author does it a bit differently. The key is to start and to be consistent with it. You have to figure out if you have the money to do paid promotions. You have to look at what sort of free promotions work. You have to figure out what promotions are and various ways you can promote. For example, it means for most authors having a solid FB presence. But that’s now expanding to TikTok and other social media platforms. I know the FB thing rankles a lot of folks here (myself included) because of FB’s politics and uneven way of dealing with posts of a certain flavor. But it is still the main social media platform and where most folks go for their “fix”.

      It also means blogging or TikToking or something on a regular schedule–something I try to do and all too often fall short on. Newsletters are another method, something else I fall short on. Mainly, promotion means getting into a mindset and sticking to it. I’ll try to cadge something together for next month.

  3. I did what began as a fan-fic, but as soon as I added, “Oh, and the character has to earn a living. So, how does that happen? What niche would keep a person fed, clothed, but off the radar of the Bad Guys?” Aaaaand away it went. Even so, I went through to make absolutely certain that any trace of the original fell into “Look, it’s [subgenre]. Everything in [subgenre] has that.”

  4. To be fair, some people seem to do okay publishing fanfiction of public domain stuff. Sometimes have thought about doing it myself, but keeping faithfully to the audience’s expectations, which are usually set by some famous adaptation you can’t directly reference, seems pretty tough to me.

    1. That’s kind of a different situation. In the situation I referenced in the post, the material was still under copyright and the “universe” still active. But yeah, there are a lot of successful “adaptations” of public domain works and some that were successful and still have me going “Wut?” (Pride, Prejudice and Zombies for one)

    2. If you include movies, the Mouse company made a lot of money doing this (in general, I prefer their originals over their fanfic adaptations).

  5. The Princess Seeks Her Fortune is all playing in other people’s universes. Then, the folk tradition is everyone’s playground.

    I’ve done the filing serial numbers off thing, a lot. It’s a skill like any other and takes practice. It helps if there’s one bright shining thing that you want to rip off — the more of the universe you steal, the harder it is to disguise.

    1. Exactly. And it becomes even more difficult if the universe is something currently under copyright and popular at the moment.

  6. I think it is at least vaguely on-topic to comment on Fire Striker since you used its cover as the post’s image. LOVING IT! I had to fight to put it down to get to bed last night. I hadn’t even realized it was first-person until I was falling asleep (I generally don’t like first-person).

    1. Thank you so much! You just made my day. As for it being 1st person, some books demand it and this was one of them. If you wouldn’t mind, please consider leaving at least a ranking, if not a review, for it on the platform where you bought it. Those really help.

      Thanks again!

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