Tag Archives: publishing

It really is a business

Maybe it’s because taxes are due today. Maybe it’s something else. But, for whatever reason, the last few days have been spent looking at my writing from a business standpoint. I try to do this on a regular basis, but I know I don’t do it nearly as often as I should. Part of the reason is because I would much rather write. After all, I am a writer, not an accountant, etc. But the business aspect is a necessary evil.

It also includes much more than simply looking at sales and making sure taxes are paid.

But it does include numbers — ick — and looking at trends, seeing what other authors are saying about their sales and making determinations about what needs to be done, if anything.

So, the short version of what I’ve done over the last few days is simple:

  • Reviewed my sales for the last year
    • by title
    • by genre
    • by price
  • Looked at pricing for similar titles, including age of title
  • Reviewed blurbs and keywords
  • Reviewed covers and compared them with what is currently selling well, indie and trad published
    • looked at the art elements
    • looked at the font
    • looked at overall cover design
  • Reviewed my publication schedule for the next year
    • made determinations about what should be released when
    • made determinations about new titles (unrelated to current series)
  • Reviewed my meager promotion operation with an eye to expanding it

Now, don’t start running to the hills. I’m not going in-depth into what I did and what my plans are. For one, a lot of those plans are still being made. For another, right now a lot of it is subject to change, at least until I work some more on it. Still, some of the things that are factoring into my decisions are, I believe, things each of us need to look into when it comes to our writing.

Because numbers (ick) are involved, I’m still looking at my sales figures and comparing them with the last several years. In some ways, this is an exercise in comparing apples to oranges. In others, it is interesting. For one thing, I can definitely see a trend. Once I hit 10 novels, my sales across the board went up. Also, once I started linking my pen names with my name, sales across the board went up. Still, numbers are involved, so this will take several more days for me to winnow out all the information I’m looking for. (sorry, I’m a writer, not an accountant and numbers make my head hurt.O

The next thing I looked at happened to be my product pages. Oh my, there is so much there we have to take into consideration and we don’t tend to. At least I don’t. Sure, I want to have the best possible cover to draw the reader’s eye. I want a snappy and interesting blurb to grab the reader and make them want to buy the book. But I don’t tend to check the product page on anything other than my laptop. I forget to look at it on my Kindle Fire or Mom’s iPad. I sure forget to look at it in my phone. Or, more accurately, I used to forget it. After the last few days, I won’t. What I learned is that the longer blurbs will work on a tablet or computer screen but, on a phone, they are a pain because you have to keep scrolling. Not good. Scrolling for a screen or two is one thing but for screen after screen after screen — nope. Not gonna happen. Fortunately, most of mine weren’t that bad and those that were happen to be on two titles I am going to withdraw because they were supposed to be short term promo titles initially.

Another thing I don’t always do, and it is now on my list of must do, is check the preview function for my books. I’m not talking about the downloadable preview (although that should be checked as well) but the “click to see inside” preview. A number of readers, myself included, use this to determine if we want to buy or borrow a book. This is where they will get their first real impression of that particular title. It’s important to make sure the preview doesn’t appear to be poorly formatted. Even more important is making sure there are no misspellings or outrageous grammatical errors present. I can’t stress this enough. This is a free promo and so many of us don’t bother checking to make sure it is accurately representing our work and that, in turn, can cost us sales.

All that showed I have some blurbs to update. As a reader, one thing that will stop me from buying a book is a badly written blurb. If I find misspellings or poor grammar or punctuation in a blurb, I’m going to assume the book is written in much the same way. Also, look at the formatting of the blurb. If there is no white space between paragraphs, you are basically screaming one of two things. Either you are in newbie who doesn’t know how to format blurbs or you are careless and don’t care. Either way, it isn’t the image you want to put out for your readers to see.

I also need to update my keywords on several books. This is important because the keywords help with the search function. Also, in case you didn’t know it, keywords can also help determine what genres and sub-genres your work is listed under. Amazon is starting to crack down on what keywords you use because they had so many complaints by readers about searching certain keywords and finding books that were not “romance” or whatever. That means I need to go back and make sure I have not run afoul of the rule by mistake.

Also, the keywords change from time to time. So to sub-genres. That makes it imperative to regularly make sure we are using the best keywords we can. It helps sales by helping readers find out books.

While doing this, I also looked at my covers. Now, I’m not going to spend any time on the making of covers because, duh, I’m not an artist. I will say this. Don’t be afraid to periodically change your cover. Now, I’m not talking every month or even every six months. But, just as sub-genres change and expand, covers for those genres change as well. As indies, we need to be aware of what the trads are doing in our genres, both with images and with fonts. While we don’t have to copy them, it never hurts to at least have the same “feel” as they do. Why? Because if you write books with the same feel as the Mercy Thompson or Jane Yellowrock books, it will only help for your covers to have the same feel. Why? Because readers of those series will see something that is familiar when they look at your work and the cover might just entice them into reading the blurb and buying the book.

But there is something else to look at as well. If, like me, you write series, your covers within the series have to relate to one another. It is another way of cuing your readers that the new book is part of the series they are already reading and enjoying.

Finally, even if your cover worked when the book came out two years — or ten — ago, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will now. So look at what is selling well in your book’s genre and sub-genre and then look at your book cover with a critical eye. If it doesn’t feel fresh, if it looks and feels dated (or worse, amateur), then change it. But do your homework. Know what works — both in images and in fonts — in your genre and sub-genre.

Now you see why I said I wasn’t going in-depth today about everything. All this was just off the product page. More than that, it was off the product page of just one one-line store. More than that, it isn’t everything off the product page that I’m looking at as an author. By the way, I am also looking at it as a reader, trying to think about what strikes me and grabs my attention when I’m looking for a book to read. If you guys want, I’ll continue with this next week. Otherwise, the next scream of frustration you hear is me when I once again return to the task of looking at my numbers and trying to see if I can make sense of their arcane magic.

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Watch where you step

Yesterday, I went browsing through sites like Publishers Weekly and The Passive Voice, looking for inspiration for today’s post. I’m not too proud to admit my brain is still in that post-publication funk, a funk aided by the fact my work computer (a really nice Asus ROG less than 7 months old) had to be sent back to ASUS for warranty work. That’s meant making sure all files were backed up,the laptop reset to factory settings and then setting up the secondary laptop as the current work machine. So, with all that going on, I felt sure I’d read the article wrong when I saw something about Cory Doctorow setting up a “store” to sell e-books traditionally published.

Okay, that sentence was a bit awkward, so let me try again.

Cory Doctorow, long a supporter of Creative Commons, is setting up an online bookstore to see e-books that were traditionally published.

I’ll give you a moment to consider that statement.

From the start, it is clear Doctorow has fallen victim to the Amazon Derangement Syndrome.

Buying an e-book from a website and sideloading it onto your Kindle will never be as easy as buying it from the Kindle store (though if the world’s governments would take the eminently sensible step of legalizing jailbreaking, someone could develop a product that let Kindles easily access third-party stores on the obvious grounds that if you buy a Kindle, you still have the right to decide whose books you’ll read on it, otherwise you don’t really own that Kindle).

Hmm, so he has an issue with Kindles because you can’t buy directly from other stores. Guess he hasn’t tried using e-readers from other stores or had to deal with some of the problems i-Pad owners have had in the past when Apple decided you couldn’t buy from in-app or you had to sideload. Or let’s not forget about the issues Nook owners have faced either. But Amazon is the big evil. And what do you mean “you don’t really own that Kindle”? Just because a tablet might not do what you want it to, it doesn’t follow that you don’t own it. His logic fails him.

As an author, being my own e-book retailer gets me a lot. It gets me money: once I take the normal 30 percent retail share off the top, and the customary 25 percent royalty from my publisher on the back-end, my royalty is effectively doubled. It gives me a simple, fair way to cut all the other parts of the value-chain in on my success: because this is a regular retail sale, my publishers get their regular share, likewise my agents. And, it gets me up-to-the-second data about who’s buying my books and where.

He’s right here but this is also where his reasoning hits me as being “off”. Yes, if he owns his own bookstore, he gets all this. But he also gets the headaches of operating it, the costs of operating it, etc. Now, I hear you saying he’s been doing this for years already. Yes, but that’s been for his indie books. Now he is talking about selling for trad publishers. That means he is giving them money and doing for them what they should be doing for him.

Remember, writers, the money is supposed to flow to you and not the other way around.

Ah, then you read on a bit further and remember the political diatribe he went on at the beginning of the article and realize that’s what is behind it. Politics. He hates Trump. He wants to reach out to markets ignored by Amazon and others.

Whatever.

The Digital Reader has an excellent post about Doctorow’s announcement. “I want to point out Doctorow’s blind spot: the unwarranted assumption that authors need or even should be doing business with publishers. . . But like many pioneers, Doctorow advanced only so far. He never managed to shed his original assumptions and keep up with the times.”

That last statement hit home with me. One of the things I, as well as the rest of us here at MGC, strive to do on an almost daily basis is see what is going on with the industry, both trad and indie. We are constantly looking for new ways to promote our work, newer and easier ways to put our books together and make them more appealing in look and content. Some of us have been doing this long enough to remember hand-coding the html for e-books. At least one of us has had to show traditional publishers how to make text in an e-book look more like what you get in a printed book (effects, etc.). In other words, we haven’t sat back and rested on what we first learned while the indie industry passed us by.

So, what is it Doctorow wants us to do? He wants us to act as shills for traditional publishers. You know, those folks who, before they sign an author to a contract want us to do our own marketing, have a blog, be active on social media and already have a platform and built-on audience. And, before you say anything, unless you are King or Patterson or the “new big thing”, any marketing the publisher is going to do for you is basically nil beyond getting your book into the catalog sent to booksellers. So, you have to do the job of marketing your book, something they used to do.

Now Doctorow wants us to add to that by selling e-books for traditional publishers, accept and handle all payments (and that will include returns and making sure all tax laws are followed and tax reporting done) and then remit money to the publisher.

My only comment is “WTF?!?”

The Passive Voice says it best, “PG delayed posting about Doctorow’s plan because he was waiting for someone to propose a theory about why an intelligent trad-pubbed author would try to sell books directly from some strange organization for side-loading onto a Kindle. What kind of service is that for an author’s readers? Who do those readers call for tech support when the ebook file won’t load?”

Above and beyond the fact that selling e-books on your site for publishers (when they should be the ones selling your books) makes my head hurt, there’s something else Doctorow didn’t take into account. As I write this, my 85-year-old mother sits across the room from me reading on her Kindle Fire. She gets her Kindle. She gets the books downloaded directly there after I buy them either from the Amazon site or through the app on my tablet. If she had to sideload a book, she wouldn’t do it. For one, it is a hassle. For another, she isn’t anywhere near geeky enough to understand the process.

Then there are those who don’t have computers. Yes, yes, there really are folks like that. Some are older, like my mom. Others spent their working lives dealing with computers and never want to see another ever again. They might compromise with a smart phone but that’s about it. So, Mr. Docotorow, how are they supposed to sideload?

Doctorow has clearly fallen victim to Amazon Derangement Syndrome and forgot to look where he stepped.

***

Now for my bit of marketing.

Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2)

Plots form, betrayals are planned and war nears.

Cait Hawkener has come to accept she might never remember her life before that terrible morning almost two years ago when she woke in the slavers’ camp. That life is now behind her, thanks to Fallon Mevarel and the Order of Arelion. Now a member of the Order, Cait has pledged her life to making sure no one else falls victim as she did.

But danger once more grows, not only for Cait but to those she calls friends. Evil no longer hides in the shadows and conspirators grow bold as they move against the Order and those who look to it for protection. When Cait accepts the call to go to the aid of one of the Order’s allies, she does not know she is walking into the middle of conspiracy and betrayal, the roots of which might help answer some of the questions about her own past.

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Time to Change

Last week, a number of companies released their financial reports for the last quarter of 2016. Among those doing so was Barnes & Noble. The bookseller, that has seen a revolving door in the CEO’s office over the last few years. Leonard Riggio is now back in charge, at least temporarily, and he addressed his stockholders after the release of the figures.

The good news is that B&N did post a profit of 96 cents (per share, I assume). The bad news is that the forecast profit was $1.13. The worse news was that same store sales fell 8.3% (as compared to the same period the previous year). This was the worst performance for the chain in the “holiday quarter” since 2005. The result saw stock dropping 9.1% (intraday drop). That comes on the heels of an 11% drop for the year.

The Nook and its related products, including content, completely failed to deliver. According to Bloomberg, linked above, sales “of Nook content, devices and accessories fell 26 percent.”

Another indicator that the publishing/book industry has become one that relies too much on “trend” buying and not in building a solid customer core by expanding their mid-list offerings, etc., is that BN knew the quarter would be weak “in part because sales of coloring books and other art supplies have slumped. That category had helped prop up results the previous year.” We’ve seen this sort of thing in YA sales when the Twilight series ended. In adult fiction sales when the 50 Shades trilogy ended and now, this past year, with coloring books no longer being the rage. Were publishers ready with something to take their places? No. Because they were still trying to push the trend with pale versions of what had been “hot”. Again, when publishers pared out most of their mid-list, those authors whose books they could always count on selling, they hurt themselves as well as bookstores.

Several things hit me as I read various articles about the earnings report. The first was that BN has been rudderless for so long, because of the turnover in the CEO’s office but also in its failure to adapt to the changing demands of its customers, that it might not be long for the retail world. If written before about how it needs to lessen its retail footprint. The overhead of running the hugs “superstores” is no longer justified in most instances. Before leases are up, it needs to be making the hard decisions about what stores should be closed due to under-performance and what stores should be moved to smaller real estate footprints. Doing this would serve several purposes, all of which are positive. First, it would lessen the financial hit the company takes in leases and related expenses. Second, with less space to fill, it could then sit down and do a serious look at what BN is going to be going forward.

It is easier to be a bookseller if you aren’t trying to pay the rent, utilities, etc., for a building you can no longer afford to stock with just books. We see this with the resurgence of indie bookstores. They are moving into small storefronts — sort of like what they did before they were driven out of business by the big box bookstores like BN and Borders. If BN truly wants to continue being a bookseller, it needs to take a hard look at where its money is going and how wisely — or foolishly — it is being spent.

It also needs to understand that e-book fans are not the enemy. We buy books too. But we also, or at least a lot of us, buy print books and magazines. Give us a reason to come into your stores again. Let us actually see books when we walk in instead of non-book related items. Give us employees who are knowledgeable about your stock and enthused about books. I miss the days when I could walk into a BN, be greeted by name and have someone take me over to the shelves and shown a new book they think I might like.

Put comfortable chairs back into the stores and even the small reading areas. Sure, some folks came in and spent hours reading without ever buying anything. Guess what? That’s okay. It builds up goodwill with them as customers and they will come in later to buy something. Even if they aren’t buying a book, they are buying coffee and food at the cafe. They are talking to their friends and families about what they read, how nicely they were treated, etc.

Now, the problem doesn’t just rest with BN. What is happening with BN is indicative of what is happening with the publishing industry. Major publishers are still trying to convince themselves that the reading public wants things they way they did 20 years ago. Publishers price e-books so high, their sales suffer. Then they point out how their digital sales dropped. You can see the glee in their eyes because, to them, it means people really want print books.

Sorry, but no. It means people are finding other ways to get that e-book they want to read. They check it out from the library. Don’t ever forget that most libraries have the capability of checking out e-books and audio books. It also means people are turning to smaller presses and indie authors to feed their reading habit. E-books, like it or not, are here to stay and readers are smart enough to know that an e-book, especially when publishers say you don’t actually own it, should not cost the same as a print version.

Then there is the attempt to survive by going from trend to trend. There aren’t enough words to explain how foolish this is. Yes, publishing has always been an industry where editors have been in competition to try to figure out what will be the next best seller. However, in the past, they also knew they needed a backbone of mid-listers who basically supported the publishing house. These mid-listers might never sell as many books per title as a best seller. However, those mid-listers had a fan group that could be counted on buy pretty much anything and everything their favorite authors put out. That, my friends, was guaranteed income and it was what the publishers used to keep their houses profitable and successful over the years.

Unfortunately, a few years ago, publishers decided they needed to clean house to decrease their expenses. Not only did we see a number of editors and other employees being let go – resulting in more work being outsourced – we saw a number of mid-listers being cut loose. When that happened, guaranteed income was lost. Now publishers and, because they are tied to closely to publishers, bookstores, rely upon trends to keep them afloat. Because of this, we see things like entire lines of books being recalled or delayed so the publisher can “rebrand” them to look like 50 Shade of Grey. Go talk to some of the authors involved in that debacle. How many saw sales go down the tubes because their books were delayed or because their book looked like every other one on the shelf and readers couldn’t tell if they’d read it or not.

Because there was nothing on the cover or in the blurb that made it stand out from every other book.

This lack of foresight, this lack of originality, is what is hurting the industry. Add in the fact that, for whatever reason, publishing doesn’t seem able to adapt to changing customer demands, and I find myself wondering how long it will be before we see the major publishers shrinking in number again. They can continue to blame Amazon for their problems but the real problem is they refuse to take an honest, deep look into their own practices. They need to allow store managers to order stock — and arrange displays — to appeal to local customers.

A store in El Paso, TX shouldn’t look like the store in Times Square or Seattle. Employees should be required to know the stock. Hell, if you work in a bookstore, you should be able to talk books with the customer.

Right now, BN is suffering from an identity crisis. Partly because of its leadership failing to adapt to changing times and partly because of problems in the publishing industry. Mr. Riggio and others need to understand that people aren’t staying home because they are watching TV. We are staying home because you aren’t offering us the shopping experience we used to get when we went to your stores. We want bookstores to be, well, bookstores. We want to be able to browse and sit and read and have a cup of coffee. We want to see books when we enter and not Nooks and toys and who knows what else. We want books.

 

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Say what?

In one of my rare breaks from the keyboard yesterday, I went wandering around the internet in search of inspiration for today’s post. I’ll be honest. I thought the search would be fruitless. Why? Because so much digital space was being wasted on conspiracy theories about Envelope-gate from the Oscars or more screaming about politics. Then, there it was. A story that had me looking at my screen, looking away and then looking back, sure I wasn’t reading what I thought I did.

Nope. I read it right. After beating my head, figuratively at least, against my desk, I put the link in a private writer’s group I belong to and waited to see if they had the same reaction I did. It didn’t take long for the responses to roll in and they were all about the same as my own. Imagine a group cry of “WTF?!?” going up, followed by shaking of heads and chuckling and then each of us shuffling back to our keyboards to get back to work.

What, pray tell, caused such a reaction, you ask. The answer is simple. This article chastises indie authors for writing too much, too fast. The author of the article is Michael Cristiano who works in editing and acquisitions for Curiosity Quills Press.

As I started reading his post, I had a feeling I wasn’t going to like what he had to say. After all, when someone begins with “I’ve been a little wary of the potential backlash I might face,” you get the impression that he is either going to strike right at the heart of some sacred screed of writing or he’s about to go political. When that is followed by admitting there is no one right way to write, that everyone’s process is different but. . . well, he just foreshadowed how he is going to begin telling us that there is a rule we must all follow and it is his rule.

Guess what that rule is?

We, as indies, are to slow down.

Wait, let me do that the way he had it in the post. We are to SLOW DOWN!

Today in the publishing industry, especially in the indie-author market, quantity is king. I’m not saying that quality isn’t being taken into account, because to some extent it probably is, but there is a new mantra for indie authors like myself: write a lot and publish as often as possible. That means that some authors are publishing three or more novels a year, sometimes as many as ten novels a year.

That one statement is enough to justify the author’s concern that he would take flak for the post. As he should. The chutzpah of assuming to know what drives the indie movement is mind-boggling. I don’t know any indie author who takes their work seriously, who has pride in what they do, who is more concerned with how often they click the publish button more than they are about putting out the best product possible.

Are there exceptions? Of course there are. But they are, pardon the pun, the exceptions and not the rule. But let’s continue.

Apparently, according to the OP, publishing three or more novels a year is a bad thing. Hmmm. Wanders over to Amazon to check my author page. I published three novels, a short novel of approximately 40k words and two short stories, both of which were between 10k -20k words. I guess that makes me a bad author because I write too fast. Funny thing, I have folks who are constantly asking me why I don’t write faster because they want to read the next entry in of series or another. Does that make them bad readers?

Okay, second amendment (and I’ll be generous): I judge authors who release three or more books within a year ESPECIALLY if the three books are not part of the same series.

Wait, what?

So, here is an author who begins his post by telling us there is no one correct way to right who is now telling us there is? Bad Amanda, you have now broken two of his rules. You put out three or more books in a single year and — gasp — they weren’t part of the same series. Oh woe is me. What am I ever to do? I know. I’ll tell the readers of the Honor and Ashes series, as well as the Nocturnal Lives series and Eerie Side of the Tracks series that they are going to have to wait at least another year or three for the next book in their favorite series while I finish the Sword of the Gods series. I’m sure they’ll understand and wait patiently for me to get around to writing the books they like. Oh, and I’m sure they won’t forget about the series at all as they wait years and years for the next book to come out.

NOT!

I don’t know the OP’s writing process any more than I know that of any other writer except, perhaps Sarah’s and Kate’s because we tend to bounce ideas off one another. For me, I need to step away from a series after writing a novel and, perhaps, a short story, for a while. By doing so, it lets me get a clearer perspective on what the plot for the next entry in the series should be. Yes, I could do that by simply not writing anything else for several months after publishing the latest book in the series but I’m a writer. I make my living writing. If I spend months not writing, I am not doing anything tangible to increase my income. So, instead of sitting around, twiddling my thumbs until my head is ready to wrap itself back around the next book in a particular series, I move on to something else, something different form what I just spent the last few months researching, writing, editing, formatting and then publishing.

I’m sorry: a writing career shouldn’t be a puppy mill of stream-of-consciousness vanity projects.

Wow. Condescending much? Even giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming that by “stream-of-consciousness” he means pantsing — and I don’t think he does — the “vanity projects” kills me. But it gets better.

I just don’t see how anyone has the time to publish more than three novels a year AND maintain consistent literary quality.

So, because Mr. Expert here can’t figure out how to do it, none of the rest of us can either. And remember, he started out by saying there are no two processes that are the same and no one “right” way to write. I guess that’s right, as long as you also accept his exceptions to those two rules.

He has a series of questions about how long you spend writing, how many drafts you write, how long you edit, etc. Then he comes up with this little gem.

Sure, if you’re a full-time writer and you have a really quick team of beta-reader/editor-robots, you could have a really good, polished manuscript in a year. Eight months if you’re lucky.

Now, show of hands. How many of you are laughing hysterically at this point? For one, I have this vision of robots sitting at desks, red pencils in hand, editing.

What the OP is forgetting is — gee, I think I mentioned this earlier — that no writer has the same process as the next writer. We write at different speeds and in different manners. Some of us are pantsers — hi, Kate! — and others are plotters. Some do a bit of both. Some authors put out a rough draft that is publishable with very little content editing needed — hi, Sarah! — and just a bit of proofing. Not every author needs to do three or four or six rough drafts.

Also, the more you write, the more you study the craft, the better you get. When I started out, I was lucky to get a book out a year. Why? Part of it was confidence. Part was that I needed heavier structural editing than I do now. Part was I couldn’t let go of a manuscript and wound up editing the life out of it. Ask Sarah. She got to the point of threatening to publish my work and then tell me about it because I was doing so many editorial passes.

So, where’s the sweet spot? How many novels should you release a year in order to ensure highest quality? I don’t know, frankly.

Wow, after telling us for how many hundreds of words that he knew and if we were releasing more than two or, at most, three books a year we were doing it wrong, he now says he doesn’t know? Surely there’s a catch. Ah, there is. You see, according to him, a book is like good wine or cheese. It has to age. So, if you haven’t taken enough time — whatever that means — you aren’t putting out the quality of work he wants.

Too bad he judges by the number of books an author releases and not by, gosh, actually reading the book. But I guess he’s afraid he might get the equivalent of moldy cheese and he doesn’t want to ruin his literary palate.

I will admit he is right on one thing. You shouldn’t release novel after novel just to inflate the number of titles you have out there. But to say it is nigh on impossible to produce quality work more than once or twice a year is to insult every indie author — and traditionally published author — out there who does just that.

I assure you, I will continue putting out more than one or two books a year, real life willing, as long as I am satisfied with the quality of the work. I will work on more than one series at a time because that helps keep it all fresh for me. Unlike the OP, I am a working writer, like so many of you. This is how I make my living. I don’t have the time to go backpacking around the world — or the spare cash to do it. So I write. As long as I have people out there wanting to read my work, I will continue doing so.

And so should you. Write at your own speed. Use your own process, as long as it works for you. And ignore everyone who tells you you are doing it wrong just because it isn’t the way they do things.

***

And, just to show I am doing it my own way, linked below is the pre-order page for the second book in the Sword of the Gods series. The first book, Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1), is currently available for purchase.

Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2)

Publication date – March 15.

Plots form, betrayals are planned and war nears.

Cait Hawkener has come to accept she might never remember her life before that terrible morning almost two years ago when she woke in the slavers’ camp. That life is now behind her, thanks to Fallon Mevarel and the Order of Arelion. Now a member of the Order, Cait has pledged her life to making sure no one else falls victim as she did.

But danger once more grows, not only for Cait but to those she calls friends. Evil no longer hides in the shadows and conspirators grow bold as they move against the Order and those who look to it for protection. When Cait accepts the call to go to the aid of one of the Order’s allies, she does not know she is walking into the middle of conspiracy and betrayal, the roots of which might help answer some of the questions about her own past.

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING, WRITING: CRAFT, WRITING: LIFE

What to do? What to do?

As Dave alluded to yesterday, Sarah threw down the challenge gauntlet over the weekend. She tagged Dave, Kate and myself and “asked” which of us would be the first to fisk the article Dave linked to about publishers hiring “sensitivity readers”. Fortunately, Dave beat me to it. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a few things to say about it — hey, you knew I couldn’t let him have all the fun — as well as a couple of other things happening in the industry. So grab your morning coffee, sit back and hold on because it’s been a somewhat bumpy ride in the industry news of late.

First up, the ongoing tug-of-war indie authors face when it comes to publishing. No, not where to list their books. There are any number of outlets where we can post our books for sale. For those of us in the US, we have four major outlets: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo. If you have the right equipment — thanks, Apple — you can upload your books to these outlets yourself or you can go through a third-party like Draft2Digital. No, the real issue facing indies comes to what format(s) you are going to release. Despite what so many articles and “polls” would have us believe, the e-book market is still going strong. There are many indie authors who make more than their traditionally published counterparts.

The question we face is actually two-fold. First, do we release print versions of our books? Second, what about audio books?

The first question should probably be rephrased to “why should we re. lease print books?”. The truth is the vast majority of indie authors who release print books see no real sales from those books. We offer print copies not because we expect to make money from them but because it makes our product pages look more “professional”. Having print books also means we have copies to take with us to conventions or when we do speaking engagements. It’s an ego thing as well. So many of us still have that niggling voice of doubt in the back of our minds that tells us we aren’t real authors unless our books are in print.

But, can we really justify the time and, yes, money involved in putting out a book in print? The time isn’t that much, not once you have a good template in place and know how to use it. Then you only lose a couple of hours in transitioning from the final version of your manuscript to your interior file. Add another couple of hours to pull together your cover flat, assuming you do that yourself. After all, you need a different sized cover image from what you used for your e-book cover. You need to design the spine and back cover as well. Then you have to fit it to the template and submit it. Then you wait to see if it passes inspection wherever you are creating your print books.

But that isn’t all. To have a print book, you need an ISBN. Sure, you can go with the free ISBN from Amazon/Createspace if you want but there are downsides to that. Your imprint will not be listed as the distributor. You have just slit your metaphorical throat when it comes the very slim chance of seeing your book in a brick and mortar bookstore. So, if you think you might be able to convince a bookstore to stock your title, you have to pay for an ISBN and then hope that happens and, to be honest, it will be a cold day in Hell for most of us. Why? Because the large brick and mortar stores are told from their home offices what books to stock and there is little leeway left for them. As for the locally owned indie stores, you have to be able to show them that there will be a demand for your book. It’s one of those situations where they have to see a demand but if the book isn’t in the stores, how can there be a demand?

There is another form of “book” more and more indies are turning to and making good money from — the audio book. But it, too, has pitfalls. You have to have a file that Amazon and the other outlets will accept. You have to find a narrator who can and will do justice to your prose. That narrator has to be paid. Do you pay them a set fee up front, praying you make that money back? Or do you ask them to take a percentage of whatever you make on audio sales? Then there is, again, the time involved for the author to review the audio file, making sure the narrator didn’t go off the deep end somewhere along the way and start reading another book in the middle of yours or that the audio quality didn’t suddenly go down the metaphorical drain. I’ll be honest. I’m hoping to do audio books — I’m looking at you, D. — but won’t know for sure for a few months.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that authors need to look at their sales, their plans and what sort of impression they want their product page to make before determining what formats they release and why.

Okay, next up is a warning from Writer Beware. There was a time when you had to have an agent if you wanted to be published. Even now, if you want to be traditionally published, most major publishers require you to submit your work through an agent. However, that is often not the case if you are looking at mid-sized or small press publishers. When indie publishing really took off, a number of literary agencies opened publishing arms to “assist” their authors in their indie endeavors. Several of us here at MGC raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest then.

Writers Beware, in this latest warning, reminds authors looking for agents that there are certain things we should do before submitting to an agent, much less signing with them.

  1. Check sales from the agency. In other words, look at who they say their clients are and what titles they have sold for those clients. See who the publishers are. If the agency seems to have sold more titles to mid and small-sized publishers, check the publisher pages to see if they require submissions to come through an agent. Heck, check the major houses as well because some do have imprints that allow for direct submission. In other words, if the agency is mainly selling to publishers that do NOT require agented submissions, thing twice before going with that agency. Ask yourself if you would be happy selling to these same publishers and, if so, ask why you would want to pay someone to do something you can do yourself. (that someone being the agent)
  2. If an agent offers to represent you but says your manuscript needs editing and says they know a freelance editor you can hire, check to see what sort of relationship might exist between the agent and editor. In the situation presented by Writer Beware, the agent in question and the recommended editor apparently have some sort of personal relationship. This relationship wasn’t revealed to the potential client. That is a huge red flag for me. Always remember that the agent is supposed to work for the author and put the author’s interests ahead of everyone else.
  3. Look at how long the agency has been in business and how many books they have sold to publishers — and look at who those publishers are. You want an agent with a track record that shows not only sales but sales to reputable publishers.
  4. Probably most important in the long run, if the agency contract includes the “interminable agency clause”, run away. Run far and run fast. This is the clause that grants the agent representation of the book for the life of the copyright. In other words, basically they hold the book — and get to collect on royalties, etc — for as long as the book is in copyright. You do NOT want this.

Finally, on sensitivity readers, let’s be honest. Most writers aren’t out there trying to appropriate anyone else’s culture. Nor are they out there trying to insult their readers. What has happened is publishers are now so worried they might put out a book that will upset a single reader that they are bending over backwards to make sure no one gets their feelings hurt. The result is that they are instead putting out books that are turning away readers. Why? Because these publishers are trying to be so “diverse” that they are sacrificing plot to make sure no one is upset.

As writers, we are told we can’t write what we don’t know. For example, if you weren’t raised in a certain certain economic condition, you can’t write about it. If you aren’t the same race or sex or gender of your main character, you shouldn’t write about it. Yet, on the other hand, we are told we need to diversify our characters and plots. It is a catch-22, one that is currently bringing many writers to a screeching halt because they don’t know what to do.

My advice is to quit worrying about what these folks are saying. Write your book. Write it the best way you can, using the characters and settings you feel best suit the plot. Do your research. Talk to people. But put your butt in your chair and write. Then send your book out to your beta readers. Workshop it in your local writers group. Listen to what they have to say. Then decide if the book is good enough to send to traditional publishers, if that is the route you want to go, or to release as an indie.

What publishers forget is that there is a market for everything, good and bad, offensive and inoffensive. That is the great thing about the reading world. The only difference is the size of the audience. So write the book you want to write and then , once you have released it into the wild, sit down and write the next book. That is what writers do. Write the story you feel needs to be written. No one else will, at least not in the same way you will.
***

Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2)

Now available for pre-order.

Plots form, betrayals are planned and war nears.

Cait Hawkener has come to accept she might never remember her life before that terrible morning almost two years ago when she woke in the slavers’ camp. That life is now behind her, thanks to Fallon Mevarel and the Order of Arelion. Now a member of the Order, Cait has pledged her life to making sure no one else falls victim as she did.

But danger once more grows, not only for Cait but to those she calls friends. Evil no longer hides in the shadows and conspirators grow bold as they move against the Order and those who look to it for protection. When Cait accepts the call to go to the aid of one of the Order’s allies, she does not know she is walking into the middle of conspiracy and betrayal, the roots of which might help answer some of the questions about her own past.

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING

Why not let a little reality into the room?

Let me start by saying I have not successfully carried out a coup here at MGC and taken over. Nor did I draw the short straw and get stuck with filling in for everyone. Brad did me a favor last week by switching days with me. That left me posting Sunday, his usual day, and yesterday, mine. This morning, knowing Sarah is on the homestretch of her novel, I offered to fill in for her. I blame the fact that I am in the last third of my final edits and that gives me brain mush. But, in a way, I’m glad because it lets me continue talking about about the DBW conference and some of the information coming out of it.

Once again, I want to thank The Passive Voice for pointing me in the direction of the post that is today’s inspiration. For those of you who are not currently following TPV, why not? All kidding aside, I highly recommend the site.

Ron Vitale attended the DBW conference and has blogged about the experience. I will admit up front that I don’t agree with everything Vitale has to say. That doesn’t mean he is wrong, just that my experience as an indie shows me different aspects or approaches to the subject. His comments are italicized.

The biggest take home message from Digital Book World Indie is so simple that I almost missed it while preparing for the next talk. When we as indie authors unite, we have strength. We are the sum of our individual skills.

I totally agree with this. There are very few of us who have all the skills necessary to put out a quality project. Sure, we are writers. Some better than others. Some of us are excellent self-editors and others, to be honest, suck at it. Some of us are also awesome artist or can do a beautiful job lettering a cover. However, those who can do it all are few and far between. So what are the rest of us to do? If you are like me and most of us here at MGC, you find other authors or artists who will trade services. Or you hire someone to do it for you. This is not a new idea. There are any number of loose, informal co-ops for indies out there. We do not have to work in a vacuum.

The second most important lesson I learned at DBW Indie is that traditional publishers, to quote Jane Friedman, “are kicking ass in marketing.”

Now, this is where the OP began to lose me. What? How are trad publishers “kicking ass” in marketing? The only real advantage I see with going the traditional route is that it can get you into bookstores — for a limited period of time. But, as we’ve discussed before, how much of an advantage is that really when more and more readers are going to online sites to buy their print books?

But, I’ll give the OP the benefit of the doubt and see why he believes this to be the case.

Not only are publishers creating apps such as Crave, but they are performing A/B tests with their advertising, targeting the appropriate readers with the ads as well as sending out thousands of ARCs in advance to build reviews online.

Wait, what? Publishers are creating apps and testing their marketing targeting and sending out ARCs?

First of all, as PG noted in his comments about the piece, just about anyone who wants to can create an app. So what is Crave and can it really help you, the reader?

I remembered vaguely reading something about Crave, but I didn’t remember the details. So I followed the link and, omg, all I could do was shake my head. In case you haven’t looked it up, Crave came out in 2015, iirc, and was built to keep the Twitter and Snapchat generation interested in a book. Here is a description of what Crave was meant to do:

As you scroll through an ebook on Crave, the app periodically breaks into the narrative to show you a text message conversation between two characters, a video of an actor portraying one of the characters doing an interview about the book’s events, a filmed moment (like the hero first looking up at the heroine) or even a reaction GIF.

But after around 1,000 words, you’re cut off. Crave slices each book into mini-chapters intended to take only three or four minutes to read, including multimedia. You can tune back in the next day for another bite-sized installment, generously salted with supplementary videos and text exchanges.

Now, I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want is for some idiotic text message to pop up in the middle of a scene I am reading — or a video or pretty much anything else. I sure as hell don’t want to be forced to stop after 1,000 words. Can you imagine how long it would take you to read a book that way? A 100k word book would take almost 1/3 of a year. Would you remember the beginning? Would you even care about finishing it? And yet this is supposedly one of the ways traditional publishing is winning the marketing war against indies.

The mind boggles.

As for the testing of advertising to see if it hits the right target market, hell’s bells, that is what advertising agencies have been doing since their inception. It is not new.

The sending of ARCs? Again, not new. Also not limited to traditional publishers. Indies do this as well. Indies also utilize social media, email, mailing lists, etc., to get the word out.

I’m not convinced traditional publishing wins the marketing war in any way except for getting books into bookstores and that is no longer nearly as important as it used to. Do you agree?

There is more and I’ll let you read it. The one thing the OP brings up that I will admit I have been thinking about again is diversifying my catalog beyond Amazon. For a long time, I had my books in every major online outlet. I followed the adage of not putting all my “eggs” in one basket. It made sense to make my work available on all platforms.

Then came the day when I realized I was actually losing money doing so. I wasn’t bringing in enough from the other sites to justify the time needed to put together different upload files, the time necessary to upload the files and build the product page on the different sites, the time necessary to check to make sure the other sites had the correct information on their sites, to check the sales pages, make sure I got paid on time, etc. Then Amazon started Kindle Unlimited and the monies for “borrows” went up dramatically.

There was also a change in technology. More and more people were reading their e-books on tablets and smartphones. That meant they were not tied to a single store like they were with dedicated e-book readers. Folks who had been buying solely from BN could not buy their books through Amazon and read them using the Kindle app. That was another thing that saw my sales on Amazon increasing. No longer was I getting folks asking when my books were going to come out on BN?

Now, however, more and more indies are taking part in the KU program. That is great in some ways but when you look at the bottom line, there is an impact. Just as there was after about a year of the old Kindle Lending Library. The monies being brought in are decreasing. I know this isn’t what is happening for some indies but a number of others I have spoken with are experiencing the same thing. So it is time to sit down and determine whether to remain solely with Amazon or to give up the monies coming in from Kindle Unlimited and expand my marketplace once again.

Any way, read the OP and let me know what you think. The one thing I agree with completely is the best way for indies to not only survive but to flourish is to share ideas and information. That is what we try to do here at MGC and each of you are a big part of that.

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Filed under AMANDA, MARKETING, PROMOTION, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Parasite load

“So nat’ralists observe, a flea

Has smaller fleas that on him prey;

And these have smaller fleas to bite ’em.”

Jonathan Swift, On Poetry: A Rhapsody

We’re all a cheerful heaving mass of parasites.  Parasites on parasites at times. A delightful thought, one of the joys of having a biologist write about writing…

Some of these parasites do no real harm – we can survive them, although we might do better without them. Some of course, do harm. They can maim, hobble, weaken and indeed kill. There are tales of cows being killed by mosquitos, by sheer blood-loss (not, thank heavens where I live). Other parasites stray a little… or even quite a lot into the area of commensualism, and right through to outright symbiosis.

It might, for example be said that the male anglerfish particularly in the deep-sea ceratiidae (the sea devils) is perfect example of parasitism that is essential to the survival… not of the host but the host’s products – well, offspring. Genes.

You see out in the deep blue desert – well, ocean, but it is de facto rather like a desert in that food is sparse and scattered (although there is plenty of water) – but it’s nutrient poor, deep and cold. The possibility of finding prey is small, and find sex when you need to breed, well, let’s put it this way, you’d have more luck finding a nudist colony in Riyadh. So the sea devil females have a way around this. They keep one… well I was going to handy, but it more like hanging around their butts.

Now, as I said food is scarce, and taking someone for dinner down there is well, usually digestive, for at least one. If you have ever seen an anglerfish you’d know they are like banks – a little dangly ‘bait’ on the end of the illicium – held just above a vast mouth full of evil teeth to make sure dinner doesn’t leave undigested. The males are more like politicians, they can somehow – despite having lousy noses or eyes or anything else except testes, find females in watery waste. Perhaps there is a sea-devil pub.

Once they find a female… they bite her. This may be just as well as she’s all too well equipped to bite them, and they’re small and feeble compared to her. Females need to be big to accommodate a lot of relatively large eggs – males do not.

And at this point things get really, really weird… as he bites and then releases an enzyme that digests the skin on his mouth, and her body, where he has bitten… and the ‘wound’ heals up with the male and female joined in sense humans can never experience. The male and female join at the tissue level, and share blood-vessels.

He gets what he needs to live directly from her bloodstream. The bits he no longer need atrophy. He’s there to be sperm when she needs it. Sometimes as many as eight males can be found like ticks that have actually grown into the host (and you see why biologists look at arts graduate sf writers blathering about ‘non-binary sex’ with amusement.).

I suppose too many would kill her, but it is a system that works, despite the fact that the parasitic males draw all their nourishment, and indeed oxygen from the host. Without them, the species would die. With them, individuals may.

It has parallels in our lives (and no I don’t just mean the waste of space who does little more than father children) and of course in the writing world.

Most of life involves ‘carrying’ a ‘freeloading parasite’ load which may do you (or at least humans in general) some good – or not. There’s a fine line between the benefits (if they exist) and the sheer cost of carrying this load. Governments (national and local) and bureaucrats with their slew of petty rules and associated costs and taxes are good example. Yes, they might protect you from being eaten, but they’ll make up for it by devouring much of your subsistence without doing much positive, most of the time. Still, rather like the male anglerfish, they’re supposed to be there when you need them.

In writing there is some difference of opinion as to who the degenerate freeloaders are. From the point of view of agents, traditional publishers, and at least some of retail, we are. We’re interchangeable widgets, sucking their blood and giving precious little in exchange. Without them, we are nothing, and while they need us as a group, as individuals we’re worthless, instantly exchangeable if we want too much of their precious lifeblood for doing the trivia we do. After all, any fool can write books. Look at Freer for example… It’s one point of view.

As with so much of writing, the point of view makes quite a difference, as I for one am reluctant to see myself as an exchangeable widget. However, while I may want and benefit some – or all – of the services that agents, Trad publishers, and retail provide (almost as an afterthought it seems at times) – I can do without them. Some writers can do very well without them, selling directly. You can certainly cut some of them, and benefit a lot from carrying less of a parasite load, and simply do what they do yourself, or contract it out for less. The agents, traditional publishers and retailers can do without me, but they cannot do without writers.

It then becomes – for the writer, anyway, an equation of can he survive and have his work thrive alone in the deep blue sea of making a living from writing, or does he need all, or some of the ‘parasites’ so they’re there at the right time, so his work does not fail to find readers. That equation varies from writer to writer. Honestly, I believe if you can, you’re wise to outsource proofing. Unless you’re a wiz at covers or the cost cannot be met, well, they’re your display. If you can afford – and if you can find a good structural editor, take this opportunity with both hands. They can turn a mediocre or even bad book into something great, just by finding where and how to tweak it. This is difficult, because most Trad publishing houses don’t have them either. Copy editors have value, but seriously, most of them are widgets. If you find one that isn’t, hang onto them. Marketing… well IF you can do it well, great, if you will probably do it better than any publisher’s employee, even though they have the contacts etc. You will work only for you. He or she will work for the publisher – who has lots of irons in the fire. Even outsourcing here is tricky – so much marketing these days is social media.

When it comes to retail – unless you have a social media platform par excellence and/or a mailing list, retail still are ‘have to have’. That’ll cost you. But some parasite load has to be carried.

It’s always good to know what you’re carrying, and to work out if it has value relative to the cost.

Otherwise ditch the sucker.

As the anglerfish didn’t say, ‘there are plenty more fish in the sea.’

And biology is very useful for designing implausible aliens.

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Filed under DAVE FREER, point of veiw, Uncategorized, WRITING