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Posts tagged ‘authors’

Publishing’s Bellwether

Welcome to the farm, today, where I’m leaning on my oak crook and feeling the gentle breeze in my hair and watching the lambs cavort. I’m also keeping a weather-eye on the sky, and listening to the animals as they move from place to place. Amanda’s dealing with real life, and I’m lost in a memory… 

A bellwether, in shepherding terms, is the leader of the flock. It would either be a sheep or a goat, depending on the sort of herd (and some weight given to the native intelligence of the animal individually) and it wore a bell on a collar. The bellwether was the critter always out in front, and the rest of the herd would slowly drift in his wake, nibbling and straying, but driven by their instincts to stay with the bell, with the herd. The shepherd (or goatherd. Anyone read Heidi, rather than watching the saccharine movie? Did you know there are sequels?) would follow along after the bell, keeping an eye out for strays or lambs that didn’t know enough to follow the bellwether.

In business terms, the bellwether is the indicator of a trend. In publishing, it currently seems to be ebooks. I posted Dorothy Grant’s post about the implications of the recent Author Earnings report on my facebook timeline, and got a comment: “her article is not correct in its specifics. The graphs are about Kindle ebook sales, not books in general.” My immediate answer, which then led to this post, was ‘That’s because there is NO way to get accurate data on books in general, so the bellwether is ebooks, which are trackable.’

See, here’s the thing. Print books are, in theory, externally trackable through the Nielsen BookScan data, which is notoriously unreliable. In theory, publishers ought to know what their sales numbers are, but there are two problems with that data. First, they aren’t going to release proprietary and sensitive information to the public. Secondly, publishers themselves often rely on BookScan, and as Dorie Clark writing for the Harvard Business Review put it “Shockingly” slow and outmoded: “Publishing through a traditional house? Most of us get weekly Nielsen BookScan reports—courtesy of Amazon—and sales figures every six months from our publisher.” Studies compiling data from both BookScan and the Association of American Publishers have ‘holes’ in their data. “The AAP and Nielsen data, while providing useful information that can point to important trends, does have some holes. As mentioned, AAP data doesn’t cover the entire industry, while Nielsen BookScan data doesn’t cover e-books. And lack of reliable e-book data is the most important omission.”

And here is where the most recent Author Earnings Report comes in. “Here at AE, over the last seven quarters we have steadily built up a comprehensive database of quarterly cross-sectional snapshots of the Kindle store, each of which captures between 45% and 60% of Amazon’s daily ebook sales. And while Amazon’s Kindle store alone doesn’t comprise the entire US ebook market, it does account for 67% of all traditionally-published ebook sales…”

While that might not seem enough, as the report points out, it is better than the claims being made on less data by PubTrack.

“The confusion is worsened by Nielsen’s misleading claims about their new PubTrack data products, which sell statistics about the US ebook market. PubTrack collects ebook unit-sales data from “a panel of over thirty US publishers,” according to Nielsen, who then sells that data back to the publishing industry at large. The fact that those Nielsen ebook sales numbers come from only 30 publishers, however, doesn’t stop Nielsen from claiming that their PubTrack numbers represent “85% of the nation’s eBook sales” and drawing broad and unsubstantiated conclusions from them.”

So if we go back to the bellwether metaphor, and the shepherd trying to keep track of his flock, we suddenly see that print data is like a sheep wrapped up in an invisibility cloak, trying to avoid his annual haircut.

Shrek the sheep, who hid to avoid being fleeced...

Shrek the sheep, who hid to avoid being fleeced…

I ran across an article very recently, and as I was assembling the material for this post about sheep, goats, and books, I knew I had to include the concept of scapegoats. In the publishing industry, the scapegoats are the books and authors that pay for other books and authors to be published. Oh, they aren’t given any choice, not any more than the goat which was symbolically bound with the sins of the people, and then sent into the wilderness to die alone.

Instead, the popular, best-selling books, are bound with the production and promotion costs of the prestigious and award winning books. “Washington Post critic Ron Charles reviews the kinds of books that get nominated for literary awards. These are not the blockbusters, the books written by the likes of Stephen King and Nora Roberts that make millions. Charles knows that. Even so, he was dismayed when he saw a story about the sales figures for the novels long-listed for the Man Booker. The list included The Green Road by Irish author Anne Enright, who’s won the award before. “When I saw that Anne Enright — [who] I think of as giant in literary fiction, beloved around the world — could only sell 9,000 copies in the U.K. I was shocked, that’s really low,” he says.”

The numbers for the potential Man Booker Prize winners? Tyler’s book has sold 20,102 copies in total across all editions through Nielsen BookScan. As well as being the biggest selling book of the Man Booker Dozen, it is also the book which has seen the most copies sold since the longlist was announced in July – selling 7,680 copies since then. Most of this is down to the release of the paperback last week, which sold 7,115 copies.

Anne Enright’s The Green Road (Jonathan Cape) has sold 2,355 extra copies since being longlisted, for a total of 8,938.

Hanya Yanigahara’s A Little Life (Picador), which was published three weeks after the longlist announcement, has sold a strong 7,542 copies since 13th August. Yanigahara’s book is currently the favourite to win the prize at William Hill, with odds of 2/1 at William Hill, while Paddy Power is offering odds of 9/5.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (Oneworld Publications) has sold 6,694 copies across all editions in total, more than double (3,471 extra) what it had sold before the announcement.

Andrew O’Hagan’s The Illuminations (Faber & Faber), has sold 457 copies since the longlist was announced, for a total of 3,273 copies.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson (Virago) has also sold strongly with 12,184 copies total for the hardback, but only 625 copies are from after it was included on the longlist.

Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island (Jonathan Cape) has sold an additional 589 copies, going from 922 before the announcement to 1,511.

The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota (Picador) had sold 413 copies before the announcement and is now on 1,302, an increase of 889 copies and Anna Smaill’s The Chimes (Sceptre) has risen almost as much – from 411 to 1,008.” 

So the books that pay off for the publisher obviously subsidize the books that are published solely on ‘literary merit’ and the scapegoat trots off blithely into the desert to take his chances with the fickle public. With the rise of Indie Publishing, the scapegoat is no longer a necessary thing. No one can force an independent to bear the burdens of his less fortunate fellow authors, who write for awards rather than to sell books and make money.

The flock is hearing that bell jingle, and they are changing their path to follow him toward the good green pastures. “It’s a world where authors with plenty of Big 5 sales experience choose to say, ‘You know what, I’m not playing this game any more.’ Where authors make a positive choice to walk away from the terms offered by good, regular publishers. This new era of publishing is one where authors have a meaningful choice.”

I spent a couple of years as an apprentice shepherdess when I was a teenager. I grew up with a small flock of goats, and I can assure you that not all sheep are dumb, the flock instinct much-mocked is a vital survival tool for them. Goats, kept with sheep, quickly become the trouble-makers, the leaders of the flock, which is why one is usually the bellwether. The goats, in the publishing world, are the early-adopter Indie authors, getting through the fences any way they can to reach the less-worn down grass. The goats know where the noms are, and the sheep will follow them around the gatekeepers. In publishing, we follow that bell to the market.

And finally, don’t stop listening for the bellwether. Today, it’s ebooks and Amazon. But take your attention off the market indicators, and you might lose track of the flock and get too far from the market, getting lost in the process. Amazon might not always provide the greenest pasture, so pay attention to the industry blogs, keep up with the data, and don’t be afraid to move closer to the leading edge. Maybe you can be the bellwether for a while.

 

The Dog’s Breakfast

Look, something a certain author needs to grasp is that although you may like your writing style, and the book is (traditionally, indies don’t have this limitation) published so you can’t change it, that doesn’t mean that readers have to buy it or like it. Pretty much the only time you can force anyone to read anything is if it’s required for a class, and even then they will creatively dodge the reading assignment in any way they can think of. I’ve seen that with college textbooks, forget fiction. So why on earth would you boast about your poor writing and gloat over the readers not having a choice? Like it or lump it? Mister, they may set your book on fire just to watch the world burn. People don’t like the idea of being forced into anything, and pleasure reading is always optional.

mislectorism

When you confront your reader with, in the first paragraphs, sentences that don’t make sense, you are doing the worst thing to readers an author can do. Mislectorism. Betrayal. You’re showing your readers you hate them, and they will respond to it. “This particular ship has seen action: plasma scarring across the wings and tail fins; a crumpled dent in the front end as if it was kicked by an Imperial walker.” Look at that sentence. Consider that it is not alone. I don’t think I have ever seen as many colons in one passage in all the thirty-some years I have been reading. Nor have I seen this many sentence fragments in once place. I shudder to think of how many dashes and hyphens met their ends here. If I had to name this style I’d call it post-Modern chop suey, because everything is minced and mixed together until it resembles a dog’s breakfast.

This isn’t the first time I have encountered an all but unreadable book. I recently read for review the rough draft that had been published in ‘sample’ form of a book which I now discover to be more readable than the sample that has been draining my brain cells tonight. Stilted, sure, but at least it had sentences and dialogue.

dialogue exemplar

Dialogue from Solutrean Atlantis

I have to wonder, looking at the sample below, if it was meant to be read aloud. Perhaps the author was aiming more for screenplay, in a movie tie-in book? but for reading with the eyes, it is painfully disjointed, as the style persists beyond the spoken word into the structural elements of the work. With the ‘herky-jerky’ qualities, the book is left structurally unsound, tenses waver in and out of present like quantum universes, and the result is… unreadable.

SW aftermath dialogue

Dialogue from SW: The Aftermath

However, this is not the worst dialogue you will find in a published work. That distinction probably belongs to another book I shall-not-name although I will link to it. And then I will link to a review of it.

horrible writing

Dialogue exemplar from the book-that-shall-not-be-named.

So what is my point, with all these examples of bad, worse, and absolutely deplorable writing? I’m not trying to beat up on authors, here. Everyone makes mistakes. We all have bad days. But as an author, we cannot expect our readers to put up with the egregious errors we perpetrate when we are told repeatedly of those errors. If the reader’s don’t like how your story is written, don’t double down and say that the readers are wrong. Don’t try to blame the readers for your failings by telling them that they aren’t smart enough, hip enough, or… something… to understand and appreciate your work. That isn’t how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

Writing is, in essence, a seduction of the reader. You want to keep them reading, to intrigue them with the possibilities. Ideally, your prose should become invisible to them, a mere glass-clear pane they gaze through as they discover the world you have created in the story. By using stylistic writing, you cloud that pane and jar the reader out of the world. They are unlikely to make a second attempt once they have your measure. With the Star Wars books, this is particularly mystifying – the author had to have known the enormous fan base (and a rabid one) would not appreciate the ‘literary’ pretensions he adopted for his work.

The fans have already spoken, and the Aftermath is telling.

Aftermath reviews

Aftermath Review

aftermath review 2

But wait, there’s more…

Writing style

Snipped from a very long review, click to read all.

The moral of my story? Suck it up, buttercup. If you don’t, and keep spitting on your fans, you won’t have any fans.

The Fading Stigmata of Self-Publishing

Gerry Martin pointed this article by Liz Long out to me, thanks, Gerry.

The publishing system isn’t broken by any means, but the stigma behind “traditional” and “indie” publishing has really gotten my goat lately.

I’m independently published, or self-published. What does that mean? It means I do not have an agent or traditional publisher backing me. It means that I’m in control of my stories, my edits, my covers, my marketing, and everything else that goes along with it. It means that I bust my ass working towards a dream.

Does it make me better than traditional authors? Nope. We all work hard to earn our keep; they just have a little extra help.

Does it make me worse than traditional authors? Still no. I’m not just chucking up the first draft and waiting for rave reviews to come in.

Things are changing and it’s time for folks to get on board before they’re left behind. I work in magazines, but it’s no secret that the indie waves are crashing down and changing the book publishing landscape. You know the stories – how Amanda Hocking self-published and rocked the publishing world to its knees when she became a bestseller without the help of the Big Six. How hundreds of authors are hitting NY Times and USA Today bestseller lists thanks to their fans and friends, to the straight up hustle it takes to earn such a title.

Self-published authors are not desperate losers (nor were they ever, but I like to think we’re more marketable now). Those of us in it to win it are not hoping to publish one book and get rich quick. I’m not quitting my job in the hopes of writing the “Next Great Novel” (because that plan doesn’t work for me).

I don’t need to be a traditionally published author to understand what goes into my books. I put on my pants like everyone else, going through the correct steps just like traditional authors do with their work: I have an editor to check my spelling and grammar, brilliant cover designers to catch readers’ attention, and a marketing team behind me so that I’m not in it alone and completely overwhelmed.

Read the whole thing here.

I think it is a slowly receding stigma – healing stigmata, if you want. When asked, I tell people I’m independently published. I own my publishing imprint, and because I have the background, I run it like a business. I do my level best to deliver a professional product to the consumer, just as if I weren’t the artist creating it in the first place. To that end, I’ve gathered a crew of people who help me with the bits I can’t manage on my own, like editing. And it’s not easy, it’s a ton of work. But I don’t expect to wind up on bestselling lists (other than on Amazon, where they count, being generated by real sales rather than projections).

As for the slowly fading, a movie comes out in a couple of months, created from a book that was originally self-published. I read The Martian back then, before it was bought by a ‘real publisher’ and optioned to be a movie. It was good. It’s still good. The only difference is who is handling it, and the level of publicity… and that’s making a wave through readers. If a self-published book can be good, then maybe others will be, too?

It’s not going to be overnight. But already, I’m seeing the readers care less about who handles the book and more about the story inside the book.

Brad Torgersen, commenting on the article, talked about his path into publishing,

It may be another generation before the unconscious “wall” totally collapses. Too many of us were born in the age when “self” and “vanity” were synonymous.

Kevin J. Anderson said it best: publishing has now been made *easy* but SUCCESS is still as hard as it’s ever been.

Speaking from my military experience, I think it’s inevitable human nature that people begin to check each other out according to what kinds of rites of passage each of us has endured. For the vast bulk of publishing history, “making it” with an editor was a celebrated rite of passage. You knew you were “for real” when you’d cut muster with an established magazine or novel house.

Certainly the three most joyous events in my entire publishing career to date have been (in order):

1 – winning Writers of the Future.

2 – getting my first sale to Analog magazine.

3 – getting a first novel sale with Baen Books.

I am a middle aged duffer. I come from the “old” world. I think the new world is exciting (and a relief) because now there is an amazing additional option that is available to everybody, and people are making money at it. But I also think it’s not perfect either. Especially when Amazon dominates so much of the marketing and delivery mechanism. If Amazon were to fold, or get draconian with its practices, indie publishing would be in a bad place.

 

Cedar brings up a GREAT point: indie publishing forces the writer to actually *be* “in the business” as it were. A lot of us from the “old world” of publishing (I guess I am technically a “cusper” because I broke in right when indie was exploding?) are absolutely shit businesspeople. You can’t be a shit businessperson and manage your indie career. You just can’t. You might luck into a phenomenon, such as 50 Shades. But that’s a one-in-a-million lightning strike. The working indie writer MUST be his/her own accountant, tax specialist, marketer, art department, etc.

I respect the HELL out of the successful indie writers I know, for this reason above all others. They are doing so much more than just writing books!

I ran into this perception with the first business I ran – and I was pitched into that one headfirst with no option but to learn how, or drown – and that is that artists can’t be businesspeople. Which is BS, and lazy. It’s a matter of learning, and even if you aren’t an Indie Publisher, you still have to learn how to be businesslike, or you will be taken advantage of. How many of us know writers who blithely signed over rights to a publisher than then ripped them off for that book, and possibly others? Brad’s been fortunate – or wise, and I know where I incline with that – in that he’s working with honorable publishers.

As for the fading stigmata, it’s going to take time. It’s going to take a raft full of authors willing to put in the time and effort to prove over and over that we can deliver professional products the public will enjoy reading, and that we can do this consistently. Right now, we’re getting our toes in the door by being able to deliver those products for less than the Big Five do. That won’t last forever – someone over there is going to get a clue and realize they have to choose between obscene profits on ebooks and keeping any bit of market share. Readers choosing between the $9.99 ebook and the $3.99 ebook will buy two or three of the latter before the former. If they really really want the expensive one, they will wait for a sale, or go to their library.

And like any scar, there may be lingering marks for a long time to come. Something makes me suspect that they may come to be a badge of honor, on the other hand. We’re working hard to make a go of it, and when you work hard, you get banged up. As much of a cliche as it is, something you have to work for is worth more than something that’s handed to you. I’ve seen that over and over.

In the meantime, the advice I offer everyone who asks about Indie?

  • Write. Write more. You will survive on quantity, not quality alone. Perfection is the enemy of good enough.
  • Go into it with your eyes open. It’s a sh*t-ton of work, and still, you’re going to trip over things you weren’t prepared to do when you started out.
  • Be patient. This is going to take time, and writing, and more writing – not all of it fiction.
  • If you opt out, read the contract. Have an IP Lawyer look at the contract. Even then, know that small publishers have the unfortunate problem that they will go belly-up on a surfeit of dreams and lack of capital.
  • Study the success stories. Larry Correia, who self-published his first book. Kevin Anderson, who writes like a machine AND runs a good-sized publishing house. Hugh Howey, the self-published man of mystery (just kidding. But he’s pretty nifty to watch work). There are others, but that’s a start.

 

 

F%$K me, SFWA, One More Time

*eyeroll* SFWA’s getting involved? On the side of Hachette, obvs. 

 

Nothing like supporting the pimp and dissing the girls.

 

What? I give you pleasure, you give me money. What does that make me? 

 

Only… I don’t have a middleman over my head taking most of my money. I’m a free girl. 

 

I’ve blogged before at length about the whole Hachette-Amazon thing, here, and here, and here. It’s business, folks, nothing personal. Amazon is in the process of renegotiating, which comes after Hachette settled over a price-fixing dispute. If you’ve been living under a rock, this comes as a surprise to you. Otherwise, it’s everywhere.

And now, SFWA has come out in support of Hachette. “Author Don Sakers has posted an essay to his blog complaining that the SFWA has endorsed Douglas Preston’s letter. Sakers, an independent author who makes most of his sales through Amazon, is annoyed that SFWA’s leadership did not make any attempt to consult or discuss the matter with its members before acting, and points out that this comes only a week after SFWA asked its members to comment on a proposal for allowing self-published authors to join.” Chris Meadows does a good job reporting on industry news over at Teleread, and covers this one.

So here we have an organization that still claims it supports authors and helps them get the best deal, but now they are in bed with one of the biggest publishing businesses. Their cover story is getting thinner than a streetwalker’s top.

Fortunately, I don’t need them. Even if they deign to ‘let in’ Indie Authors, I wouldn’t join. For one thing, they are sure to put all sorts of qualifications on membership for Indies. But I don’t need them, I repeat myself. For sure, they aren’t fighting for authors to get the best deal. They just came out in support of the guys who pays 12.5% on a book sale, over the guy who pays 70% on a book sale. Even the least mathematically able among us can see where the “bend over and spread, dear’ side is.

But enough about panderers. I’m sick of them. I’m sick of this whole mess, and the Stockholm Syndrome it has revealed in so many authors. I just want to write, and see my books sell. I’m not trying to put out the “Great American Novel,” I’m a mercenary wench who wants to give pleasure to as many readers as possible. Which is how I set my pricing.

See, here’s the thing. For Amazon, and Hachette, it’s cold, hard business. They are almost reptilian in their lack of warm-blooded feelings. But for me, the creator, I do get a buzz out of feedback. When I hear about people enjoying my work, and the pleasure I see on their faces when they thank me for my books, I get a rush. I want more of that. And I know it’s hard out there. So I balance my costs, which are low, with what I think people can pay for some entertainment to brighten their life.

Hachette just wants to milk the consumer for all they have. They try to skim the cream of the authorial crop (or whatever is floating to the surface, anyway) and push some, while others are left adrift without a paddle. But the prices… why price an ebook at $9.99? Think about that, and we’ll discuss it in comments.

Because me, I have a book to send off to an editor, so when it’s released in less than a month now, I can feel that rush all over again. And it’ll be less than $5, so you, my beloved readers, can afford to indulge, over and over again.

Oh, and because I love you guys, I have a novella up for free over on Amazon this weekend. Grab it before Monday, and be sure to give me a little something when you’re done…

A review! What did you think I was asking for? LOL