Author Archives: Dorothy Grant

New Author Earnings Report Out!

February 2017 Big, Bad, Wide & International Report: covering Amazon, Apple, B&N, and Kobo ebook sales in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand

While this can’t answer the question individually on whether you should go wide or go KDP Select, it’ll give you the best picture of what the market is doing. That way you can make an informed decision.

Also, a lot of people missed the last “not-a-report” report they put up, with the slides from the Digital Book World 2017 conference. If you haven’t seen that yet, you’ll want to: it’s pretty eye-opening on how much of the print sales have moved online.

Print vs Digital, Traditional vs Non-Traditional, Bookstore vs Online: 2016 Trade Publishing by the numbers

That one has some pretty fascinating numbers, including breakdowns that show some smaller genres lumped in the large “trad pub is still dominating” are actually far and away fast-growth for indies.

Go read!

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What do you do when things are going well?

Do you have a plan for extra money coming in above monthly budgeted expenses?

…wait, what?…

Yes, you need a plan for that. You see, freelancers don’t have a steady paycheck. There will likely be months without income. There will definitely be months with less income than your expenses. If they go on for three, four months – the infamous summer slump – or even longer, like when the nation is dealing with election drama and the fall rebound never comes – can you cope?

Part of coping is having a plan for the good times, before they arrive. Note that even in one of our oldest stories, Joseph had to start building granaries for the seven good years before the first harvest came in, so he had enough storage when the land was producing to set aside food for the seven famine years.

What should your plan look like? Well, first, do treat yourself to something nice – otherwise you’re going to feel deprived. So a nice dinner to celebrate Royalty Check Day, or that pair of boots you’ve been wanting. But after that, rebuild your cash cushion and reduce your expenses. What do I mean by that?

Fill your gas tank.

Pay your quarterly taxes.

Pay off your car.

Pay off your credit cards.

Pay off your house.

When a friend quit smoking, she was living on a ramen & rice budget – and every time she found she had enough money to buy a pack of cigarettes, she went to the gas station and put that money into the gas tank instead. Pretty soon, she was no longer permanently worried about running out of gas on the way to and from work, because it was always at a half tank or above. Then she started paying off the overdue bills – and the lack of worry, the knowing she could make it to work, and that she wasn’t going to get the power shut off again, was enough to practically make her into a zen master compared to where she was before. You ever meet someone who was calmer and happier when they were going through withdrawal?

As a freelancer, you need to have the same mindset. If you have extra money, put it somewhere that will cause you less worry in the long run. Paying your quarterly taxes is pretty high on that list, because if you don’t do it when you’re flush with cash, how are you going to manage later? Second, pay your bills. Third, pay off the things that demand money every month – because those are the things that will hurt the most on months when you don’t have enough money coming in. If your car is paid for, then you don’t have to worry about repo; if your house is paid for, then you don’t have to worry about eviction or foreclosure.

(One caveat: if you’re planning to move within 3 years, don’t sink it into the house. Rule of thumb: you’ll lose 1% of the value of the house when you sell, and another 1% of the value of the house when you buy. Because fixing a place to sell, and fixing the little things on the house after you buy one, costs money. Keep that cash in a separate account that you call “New House”, so it’s available to make buying and moving easier.)

Now, obviously this can’t cover every person’s life. If you were forced freelance before you had 6 months cash cushion, “remove worry” may be much more immediate. Have you been limping by on tires so bare that you can’t see any tread left? Is your spouse putting up with near-blinding pain because you can’t afford a root canal? Are any of your bills coming with an “overdue” stamp on them? Set aside enough to cover the quarterly taxes (so you don’t get hit with the freight train labeled IRS) and take care of your most immediate pain and worry. Use the breathing space to get a couple good nights of sleep, and then tackle the world.

And if you want more good advice, Kris Rusch tackled the same subject Thursday: http://kriswrites.com/2017/02/22/business-musings-writer-finances-versus-the-paycheck-world/

And if you want a bit of an escape from reality, where the good guys triumph and the bad guys get what’s coming to them, try Scaling the Rim. It has action, adventure, romance, and plausible science fiction! What’s not to like?

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Scaling the Rim

As we come up on Valentines Day, I want to take a moment to acknowledge all the gentlemen and ladies (and dragons, and other) in the audience who see a hint of romance in their scifi or fantasy and immediately ask:

As The Princess Bride proves, it’s possible for a wider audience to really enjoy your scifi and fantasy, even if it has kissing, as long as it’s worked in well. Who doesn’t enjoy fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, and miracles?

Good stories aren’t split into stories for boys and stories for girls. If you do it right, the guys will find that maybe it’s not so bad to sit through the kissing parts, and the girls will make it past the screaming eels. Besides, it’s always good to slip in there that you should never trust a traitor, even if he is your prince, and that even kissing can be awesome if it’s done by the Dread Pirate Roberts.

I tried to clear that high bar with this book – Scaling the Rim. It’s set on a colony trapped in a crater while the terraforming on their iceball is failing. While the two factions have temporarily ceased their running civil war and are pretending to cooperate in order to install a weather station that’ll warn them both of killing cold coming down from above, things are never as simple as they seem!

It’s got fighting and skiing, avalanches and intrigue, killing cold and uncovering old secrets, gunfights, true love and sacrifice…

You’ll like it.

Never underestimate the power of a competent tech.

When Annika Danilova arrived at the edge of the colony’s crater to install a weather station, she knew the mission had been sabotaged from the start. The powers that be sent the wrong people, underequipped, and antagonized their supporting sometimes-allies. The mission was already slated for unmarked graves and an excuse for war…

But they hadn’t counted on Annika allying with the support staff, or the sheer determination of their leader, Captain Restin, to accomplish the mission. Together, they will overcome killing weather above and traitors within to fight for the control of the planet itself!

Scaling the Rim, by Dorothy Grant

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bumps in the road and on the author

Last week (and part of this week), I got to have a lot of downtime whether I wanted it or not. I slipped on a wet patch on the kitchen floor, and bounced myself off the counter and stove before falling heavily on a shoulder. The bruising is, even by ER nurse standards, “spectacular.” (Thanks Brad, for covering Sunday!)

Given work requires lots of typing and being fairly thoughtful, one arm in a sling and being pretty spacey on painkillers won’t cut it. (Typing this took a lot longer than you think.) So there’s been a lot of time on the couch, and contemplating how this would be perfect downtime for getting X, Y, and Z done, if only they didn’t take physical effort or concentration…

Since I get paid by the hour, this means no paycheck for me for a week, combined with the ER, X-ray, and associated bills. (It’s January; the deductibles are all freshly unmet.) While this sounds like a disaster out of time and season, I’ve known two massage therapists that have had similar medical issues happen, and ended up with no income and medical bills piled on fresh misery. (One started getting carpal tunnel; the other other broke her arm when an ATV rolled over on her.) Writers are freelancers just like masseurs – and if our wrists, arms, or other body parts are injured enough, there won’t be any working.

Bad luck? Well, yeah. Completely unpredictable? Well no, not really. Insurance companies are great believers in getting All The Data, and using it to predict just how often the average person will need the ER, or have a house fire, or get in a car wreck. They then start breaking down humanity into smaller and smaller groups, to calculate the risk to each group… not unlike we break the great mass of English-speakers down into “People who like milscifi” and “People who like clean romance.” Given data, they can say that single men under 25 years old are far, far more likely to have car wrecks than married male homeowners in their 50’s… and be right.

They cannot say that Joe Blow, a 21-year-old single male, at 2:15am January 31, 2017, on his way home from The Wild Time Saloon, will cross the center line and hit a semi carrying a highly classified experiment from one lab to another. That’s science fiction, and our story is probably more concerned with the nature of the experiment, and what happens after it escapes.

But they can predict just how often I’m likely to end up in the ER. (Not often. I didn’t get lost on the way, I just didn’t know where it was. So we drove up to the hospital complex, and from there they had Big Signs For Panicked People.)

Anyway, sitting here, I realized that I have two important pieces of data to share with you. One: before you get to talking about copays and insurance rates and all, at the base, ERs are still about a thousand dollars an hour. Spend 30 minutes in one, expect $500 in bills (x-rays billed separately.)

Second, accidents happen. Cat underfoot happens. So do wet floors, splattering grease, kid toys underfoot in the dark, dull knives slipping, and all the other ordinary disasters. Even if you’re not a full time freelancer, expect that you’re going to get hit by something, and set aside the money for it. Injury is painful and stressful enough without worrying about covering bills because you can’t make it into work, and you just got hit with unbudgeted expenses.

How much to put aside? Well, I know of one place in the US that has a completely transparent billing: the surgery center of Oklahoma. http://surgerycenterok.com/ So take a look there, and contemplate what you bet will go wrong with you next. (And here everyone under 25 goes “I’m immortal and invincible!” and the further away 25 is in your rear view mirror, the more you start checking off procedures on that list as “been there” or “will need eventually.”)

The good news: unlike massage therapists, when you’re down for the count, readers can still find your books and buy them, providing some income. So the more you have out there, the more you’ll have coming in even when your highest ambition is to find some position that doesn’t press on the injury so you can sleep.

Take care of yourselves! Use proper ergonomics, give your eyes a break at regular intervals, stay hydrated, keep moving, and put away some money for a painful day.

..and if you need something to read while you’re stuck on the couch, Tom Rogneby just released Lost Children, which is darned fine sword & sorcery. I liked it; hope you do, too!
https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Children-Minivandians-Tale-Book-ebook/dp/B01MTBV4MF/

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How fast is slow?

…And other indie myths.

When talking to indies, one of the first pieces of advice you’ll hear is to have a lot of volume, putting out X stories per year. (I’ve heard anywhere from 4 to 12 on this one.) While this is good advice, it’s neither mandatory nor the only way to succeed, and “You have to write fast to succeed as indie” is fast on its way to becoming a myth masquerading as a bedrock belief in the indie universe.

Let’s break down the reasons why.

First, the indie market (in e-book) is very young. It’s still shaking out of the initial gold rush mentality and into a mature market, and isn’t there yet. (Despite being online, it doesn’t move at internet news cycle speed.) When the bad old days of trad-only were, ah, ten years ago? This is still a brand-new market. Therefore, the people who’ve come in indie-only are, at most, only on their tenth year of this. (Most haven’t been doing it for that long, either.)

Having a lot of books out there not only has more ways for readers to find you, it also lets them binge-read once they do find you – which creates fans, and plenty of royalties. However, ten years (or less) isn’t that long a time for writing a lot of books, so the indie-only authors who naturally write very quickly, and the ones who had a lot of backlog ready to put up, were able to get ahead of the trad authors whose houses didn’t upload ebooks / didn’t have rights back yet, and the newer indies who write more slowly.

However, let me show you two examples of people who don’t have to write quickly, both midlist. First, our own lovely Sarah Hoyt. Sarah has put years of effort into writing a blog, and built an audience there, as well as building fans between her mystery books, her scifi, and her fantasy. She only has one indie book out, while all the rest are trad… and when she didn’t get a book out for two years (three since the last one in that series), she still had fairly good sales, as many of her fans were happy to read anything she’d put out. (Others may be mystery-only or fantasy-only.) However, when she gets the next shifters book out, despite it being three? four? years since the last one, I guarantee you she won’t be starting from scratch on building a fanbase or selling the series.

Second, my darling husband, Peter Grant. Despite his body’s best attempts to sneak out of this marriage by hiding six feet under the soil, I’m not letting him go (and he certainly doesn’t want to go!) However, medical misadventures have seriously slowed his production schedule from the hoped-for four a year to two a year, and then only one. He’s better now (yay!) and writing again (yay!), but despite all the dire warnings of “you must do mass volume to make it as an indie…” we actually didn’t. Now, the sales do drop significantly when it’s been almost two years between books in a series (Feb 2014 to Dec 2015), but you’re not restarting from scratch. If you keep in contact with your fans, they’re excited to get the new book in the series when you help them find out it’s available.

(Caveat: if you define “making it” as “making a living”, well, yeah. Peter did not make enough off releasing one book in a brand new genre to pay the bills for all of 2016, until the December launch of Stoke the Flames Higher. I got a day job last year, and it’s both awesome and helping offset medical bills and mortgage. This is the freelance life: money does not come in steadily, and if the reserve drops too low, it’s time to supplement the income with a job until the reserve is built back up, and you want to leave. Personally, I like this job; I’ll be staying well after the reserve is rebuilt.)

When you think about it, it makes sense: back when trad pub limited us to one book a year per author, there were still plenty of people who became fans of Terry Prachett, Mercedes Lackey, Patricia Briggs and David Weber. They all started publishing well before the ebook revolution, and they still have plenty of fans even at a slow release rate today. (Heck, there are new Heinlein, Anne McCaffery, and Prachett fans being made all the time, even though those authors are no longer with us. All it takes is a body of work and visibility, or word of mouth, same as with the living.)

So if you’re a slow writer, don’t despair. Just keep writing! And if you’re a fast writer, don’t feel you have to kill yourself to keep up a schedule if your life (or health) falls apart. Just keep writing, as you can! It does help to have a place where your fans can gather and converse, so they remember they liked you and so you have an easy way to notify them that your newest book is out when it gets there. It may take a lot longer, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. (Quick math – if the average time for word of mouth to spread noticeably for an author is about three years, how many books do you have that have been out long enough to start to get word of mouth recommendations?)

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Get ready, ’cause here we go!

Welcome to 2017! Take a deep breath, let it out, and sweep the last clinging stabby shouty bits of last year on out the door. With it, send off all the rage, the despair, the frustration, and the bitterness that the year inspired: keeping those emotions around will only hurt yourself, and why start the new year by letting the old one still tarnish your life?

Now, with this brand new year before you, a full glorious twelve months and four seasons yet to be fulfilled, what goals do you have? What plans do you have to get there? What milestones along the way?

Remember the difference between dreams and goals: a goal is something that can be measured, achieved, and is in your power to accomplish. “I want to lose weight” is a common dream. “I want to lose 20 pounds by LibertyCon” is a goal, because it has a specific amount and a deadline (and a corset).

Similarly, “I want to write and publish three books this year” is a goal; “I want to sell 40,000 copies this year” is a dream. One depends on you doing the work; the other one depends on other people deciding to buy your work. (Unless you have 40,000 minions you can command to buy your books. Even then, there’s always that one minion who didn’t get the message.)

On habits: Habits take about two weeks of steady, constant doing to form. So if you want to start a new habit, set a note in two weeks to check how you’re doing. (Yes, I do have a note to check how often I’ve been doing my exercises, and what is getting in the way / how I’m going to modify that to work better, every two weeks.)

Speaking of things getting in the way: there’s no better way to discover the difference between what you thought was your routine and what is actually your routine. Roll with it, and change to fit. Even I have discovered that I can’t do weightlifting in the mornings until I’ve let the older cat in and out of the garage, and thrown the spring for the kitten (he plays fetch). Otherwise, I have seven pounds of cranky saying “Yo! Thumb-monkey! Operate the door!” and ten pounds of energetic kitten bounding between my feet and all over the room, pink spring stuck out of his mouth, as he tries to flag me down to throw it.

So what plans, goals, and dreams have you mapped out for this glorious new year?

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News Roundup

First, the good news: Peter has started preliminary work on the second Western. Amusingly enough, there’s a category of videos on Youtube that are just people driving from one location to another. And while the roads have changed a lot in 150+ years, the general scenery hasn’t that much – and they still seek the lowest pass, and the easiest climb and descent over the mountains. Nor do the river crossings really stray that far from where they first went in. (I learned this when I found Peter following one with both a modern road map and a very old map of original routes.)

Second, the cautionary tale: When you choose to participate in a multi-author box set, you are, in essence, choosing a publisher. You’re going to hand some of your IP over to a person or group of people, and they will receive the money from royalties and promise to disburse it wisely and in accordance with the written contract. That’s what publishers do. So don’t gleefully leap into “awesome marketing opportunity!” without doing some careful research on the prior history of your proposed publisher. Have they done this before? Did it go well on the marketing and release end? Did it go well on the royalties disbursement and return of rights / end of box set end? Talk to authors who’ve worked with them before.

The romance / erotica markets are seeing the rise of con artists who talk sweetly about “awesome indie author box sets!” … and then never pay the money. When pressed and threatened with lawsuits as the missing royalties climb into five figures, and as the retailers yank the bundles, the “coordinator / bundler” suddenly puts up posts about being deathly ill, so sorry, have sympathy… and then when the heat drops, immediately starts seeking new marks without paying the old.

What happens in erotica hits romance six months later. What happens in romance usually hits SF/F about a year later. But cons are cons, and depending on how hot they make their original pool of marks, we may be seeing them seeking new innocents to fleece sooner than that. So walk wary when people make offers that sound buddy-buddy “just for you”, or “we’re all in this together” or “I’ll handle everything, don’t you worry.” Research as carefully as if a small press suddenly came sniffing ’round your inbox, and do your due diligence.

To Quote Rosalind James:

Here are some other sketchy things I’ve heard are happening, just as an FYI, author-beware. If you’re being asked to do any of these things, you should seriously consider getting out. Remember: it’s your account you are risking.

1) You’re asked to put a KU book into a preorder for a wide boxed set, even with the idea that once it’s published, the bundle won’t be in KU. This is NOT OK, on preorder or after release, and Amazon has bots checking for exclusive content on other sites. If somebody talks to Amazon about it, YOUR account could be in trouble.

2) You’re required to have a bunch of friends/acquaintances buy or borrow/read the 99-cent bundle to push up the ranks (not just to share in your newsletter, on social media, etc., which any author would expect to be asked to do as part of their participation).

3) If there’s no transparent/explicit explanation of how all your buy-in money will be spent. The organizer should be sharing exact costs and where the money’s gone. When I did the only 2 boxed sets I’ve organized (I don’t normally participate in them), my assistant put together a spreadsheet listing every promo site, cover/graphics designer payment, etc., when the promo would run, when it had been booked, and how much it cost.

4) If there’s any resistance/anger to your request for that kind of transparent accounting, [ETA] or unprofessional online behavior in general (esp. somebody who complains about other authors, gets involved in public feuds, etc. This kind of behavior is sadly not unknown in the indie world, esp. in group stuff, but you really don’t want to get involved with people who engage in it–next time, it might be you in the cross-hairs, or you may be asked to join in to gang up on somebody else. In any case–unprofessional behavior in one aspect of work life probably ought to make you leery.)

5) If there isn’t a detailed contract saying what your obligations are and what you’ll get in return (when/how payouts will be made). If you’re asked to do anything beyond that contract (see above).

$500 buy-in for a boxed set is a LOT. Assuming there are 10 authors, that’s obviously $5,000. You’d really want to ask exactly where that money is going, and to be assured that you’ll be shown documentation. Also: be aware that there are SOME organizers out there using a type of click-farm or reciprocal borrows/buys to make the sets hit lists. Even if they do hit the list or whatever, is that really going to result in more borrows or buys for individual-you-set-participant? If people aren’t actually reading your book, the answer is going to be “no,” beyond whatever cachet the letters get you.

Really–at this kind of buy-in–dig deep. I’m not saying it can’t be legit. I’m saying–ask the questions. Hitting a rank, any rank, doesn’t pay any bills. Actual purchases or borrows of YOUR books pays the bills.

Others may have things to add to this list. I’m certainly not the most knowledgeable about this–those are just the items that have come to my attention sitting on the periphery.

Third: Yes, some Createspace books did go unavailable for sale for about 2 hours yesterday on Amazon, due to a glitch. They should have fixed everybody’s by now, but if you have print versions available through Createspace, check your Amazon page to make sure everything’s all right. It’s not a bad idea to eyeball your older books every now and then anyway, just to make sure everything looks good, and contemplate after all this time if the blurb could be freshened up, or the cover needs tweaking look like the current covers in your subgenre, or if you think it’s in the keywords and categories where it needs to be. (This is not unlike authors strolling through a bookstore to make sure their books are really on shelves / the coop endcap really was set up, whether they’re face-out or spine out. Just because it’s online doesn’t mean we shouldn’t occasionally look at it to make sure that it looks good, sounds awesome, and is properly presented and available.)

Fourth: Print-only deals are coming back. Yes, the famed “keep your ebook & subsidiary rights” deals that we haven’t seen since Hugh Howey? Joe Konrath just signed a print-only deal with Kensington for some of his books, and Annie Bellet got a print-only deal with Simon & Schuster’s Saga imprint for her 20-sided sorceress series. It’ll be interesting to see how it works out on the second round.

Fifth: This is my last post for the year, so have a wonderful Christmas, and may your next year be far better than the last! What plans do you have for 2017?

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