Monthly Archives: December 2012

The Daily Routines of Famous Writers

31 December 2012

From Brain Pickings:

Ray Bradbury, a lifelong proponent of working with joy and an avid champion of public libraries, playfully defies the question of routines in this 2010 interview:

My passions drive me to the typewriter every day of my life, and they have driven me there since I was twelve. So I never have to worry about schedules. Some new thing is always exploding in me, and it schedules me, I don’t schedule it. It says: Get to the typewriter right now and finish this.


I can work anywhere. I wrote in bedrooms and living rooms when I was growing up with my parents and my brother in a small house in Los Angeles. I worked on my typewriter in the living room, with the radio and my mother and dad and brother all talking at the same time. Later on, when I wanted to write Fahrenheit 451, I went up to UCLA and found a basement typing room where, if you inserted ten cents into the typewriter, you could buy thirty minutes of typing time.

. . . .

E. B. White, in the same fantastic interview that gave us his timeless insight onthe role and responsibility of the writer, notes his relationship with sound and ends on a note echoing Tchaikovsky on work ethic:

I never listen to music when I’m working. I haven’t that kind of attentiveness, and I wouldn’t like it at all. On the other hand, I’m able to work fairly well among ordinary distractions. My house has a living room that is at the core of everything that goes on: it is a passageway to the cellar, to the kitchen, to the closet where the phone lives. There’s a lot of traffic. But it’s a bright, cheerful room, and I often use it as a room to write in, despite the carnival that is going on all around me. A girl pushing a carpet sweeper under my typewriter table has never annoyed me particularly, nor has it taken my mind off my work, unless the girl was unusually pretty or unusually clumsy. My wife, thank God, has never been protective of me, as, I am told, the wives of some writers are. In consequence, the members of my household never pay the slightest attention to my being a writing man — they make all the noise and fuss they want to. If I get sick of it, I have places I can go. A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.

Link to the rest at Brain Pickings

After nourishment, shelter and companionship

31 December 2012

After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.

Philip Pullman

The novel America needs in 2013

31 December 2012

From CNN:

It seems today that a new stage of life has opened up. Sociologists call it “emergent adulthood,” Time magazine termed it “the Twixter years,” and author Kay Hymowitz referred to it as “pre-adulthood.”

People in this group are over 18, but as they head toward 30 they still act and think like adolescents. They bounce from job to job and relationship to relationship, live with parents at home or in a house with five friends, watch ESPN and play video games (the boy-men) and read “Twilight” and ponder whether he’s just not into you (the girl-women), while all of them sprinkle “like” and “‘n stuff” and “ya know” in their speech. Adolescence used to be a condition you escaped as soon as you could, but these 20-somethings want to prolong it.

We need to counteract them, to restore embarrassment to adolescent habits, and books are a key weapon.

After all, books have the power to fortify attitudes. For instance, the “Harry Potter” books, a wonderful phenomenon for tweens and early-teens, offered so compelling a world of heroic, beset youth and hostile adults that readers clung to Harry well past the proper age. In fact, quidditch matches have spread to more than 200 college campuses. “Twilight” has had a similar impact, intensifying the ordinary shenanigans of teenagers to luridly high melodrama.

. . . .

Yes, there are several superb recent novels about teens and 20-somethings by talented writers, like Jeffrey Eugenides’ “The Marriage Plot” and Gary Shteyngart’s “Super Sad True Love Story.” But they have too much sympathy for the emerging adult, too much understanding of young love and companionship, to do the work of correction.

It will take an altogether different book to explode extended adolescence; specifically, a frolicking comic novel that submits the interests and longings of pre-adults to whimsy, burlesque and farce. Not gentle humor, but all-out comedy or satire that casts the whole experience and habitat of pre-adults as both ludicrous and avoidable.

. . . .

It will serve a larger purpose, too, the same one that motivated satirists from Aristophanes and Juvenal to Swift and Pope to Mark Twain and the creators of “Dr. Strangelove”: to curb self-indulgence, deflate pretense, and expel stupidity. To take down a popular genre or a representative figure or a trendy pose, one good belly laugh works better than pages of strict criticism.

Link to the rest at CNN and thanks to B.S. for the tip.

How Long Should You Keep Trying to Get Published?

31 December 2012

From Jane Friedman:

Don’t you wish someone could tell you how close you are to getting traditionally published? Don’t you wish someone could say, “If you just keep at it for three more years, you’re certain to make it!”

Or, even if it would be heartbreaking, wouldn’t it be nice to be told that you’re wasting your time, so that you can move on, try another tack (like self-publishing), or perhaps even change course entirely to produce some other creative work?

. . . .

Recognizing Steps That Don’t Help You Get Published

Let’s start with four common time-wasting behaviors. You may be guilty of one or more. Most writers have been guilty of the first.

. . . .

2. Self-publishing when no one is listening

There are many reasons writers choose to self-publish, but the most common one is the inability to land an agent or a traditional publisher.

Fortunately, it’s more viable than ever for a writer to be successful without a traditional publisher or agent. However, when writers chase self-publishing as an alternative to traditional publishing, they often have a nasty surprise in store:

No one is listening. They don’t have an audience.

Bowker reports that in 2011, more than 148,000 new print books were self-published, and more than 87,000 e-books were self-published. . . . Since Bowker only counts books that have ISBNs, that means thousands more titles go uncounted, since Amazon doesn’t require an ISBN for authors to publish through the Kindle Direct Publishing program.

If your goal is to bring your work successfully to the marketplace, it’s a waste of time to self-publish that work, regardless of format, if you haven’t yet cultivated an audience for it, or can’t market and promote it effectively through your network. Doing so will not likely harm your career in the long run, but it won’t move it forward, either.

. . . .

  • Many first manuscript attempts are not publishable, even after revision, yet they are necessary and vital for a writer’s growth. A writer who’s just finished her first manuscript probably doesn’t realize this, and will likely take the rejection process very hard. Some writers can’t move past this rejection. You’ve probably heard experts advise that you should always start working on the next manuscript, rather than waiting to publish the first. That’s because you need to move on, and not get stuck on publishing your first attempt.
  • A writer who has been working on the same manuscript for years and years—and has writtennothing else—might be tragically stuck. There isn’t usually much valuable learning going on when someone tinkers with the same pages over a decade.
  • Writers who have been actively writing for many years, have produced multiple full-length manuscripts, have one or two trusted critique partners (or mentors), and have attended a couple major writing conferences are often well positioned for publication. They probably know their strengths and weaknesses, and have a structured revision process. Many such people require only luck to meet preparedness.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman


31 December 2012

BookTrakr is a new service which plans to provide an information dashboard for authors and, maybe, publishers to track

Dear Potentially Interested BookTrakr Wanna-Be User,

Sometime in the last few months, you signed up for the BookTrakr Beta. Well, we’re pleased to announce that we’re almost ready to start it! We’re putting the finishing touches on the Beta right now, and we’ll send the first invitation emails shortly after the New Year.

So far, we’ve been pretty vague about what BookTrakr does for you. We’re not quite ready to spill all the beans yet, but we’ve put up a tour to show you the highlights! You can take the tour at




Thanks to Joshua for the tip

Bestseller Lists – Fair or Unfair?

31 December 2012

A spirited discussion about bestseller lists is happening in the comments to New Year, New Hurdles & Opportunities.

One thing to remember is that best-seller lists, whether from Amazon or the New York Times, are marketing tools – focused on consumers – designed to help etailers or retailers sell more books. That, in turn, helps publishers and self-publishers sell more books.

Is a bestseller a book that sells the most copies, sells the most retail dollar volume, or generates the most profit for Barnes & Noble or Amazon? If you remember that bestseller lists are marketing tools, you’ll understand that the answer to this question may be different depending upon who is creating the list.

What time period is used to calculate the list? Are you looking at books sold in the last hour, since midnight, all day yesterday, during the last three days, this week, this month or since the book was first published? Do you give more weight to the number of books sold yesterday than the number of books sold two weeks ago? The answer will depend on the marketing decisions of whoever creates the list.

Do you consider the length of time a book has been published? PG remembers reading (he can’t remember where) that Amazon downplays the sales of certain classic books – Lord of the Rings, for example – to keep those books from always showing up high in the Fantasy list.

PG has no idea if this is true, but it raises an interesting question. If your bestseller list is a marketing tool, would you rather structure it to feature a new fantasy novel that sold 2,000 copies yesterday, the first day it was released, over Lord of the Rings, which sells 2,500 copies every day? From a marketing standpoint, since everybody already knows about Lord of the Rings, putting it on a bestseller list is unlikely to goose its sales much. Besides, it’s much easier to engage someone’s attention with a new product than it is with an old product, even a very good one, they already know about.

Amazon has boatloads of data, expensive analytics software and some very smart people who are watching, among many other things, the impact of best-seller status on book sales and the profitability of various types of sales.

PG suspects that, being able to combine customer purchase information across a wide range of products, Amazon has more genres or, even better, more customer segments than most of us can imagine. A romance reader who buys baby diapers is a much different sort of purchaser than a romance reader who buys adult diapers.

Amazon uses customer segmentation to recommend more products – books and non-book products. The ultimate goal of this sort of segmentation is to come as close as possible to being able to write a master shopping list for each customer and send pieces of that list when the customer is ready to buy whatever he/she needs next.

There’s also a dose of longer-term strategy in bestseller lists concerning matters like how to best deal with publishers who would like Amazon to disappear. Indie best-sellers at indie prices are nice little tools in the ongoing battle between Amazon and publishers about how much a book should cost.

I suspect Amazon is happier than the NYT with more volatility in its bestseller lists. The NYT lists only change once a week and not very much then, in part because they’re heavily based on physical bookstore sales.

Physical bookstore sales are influenced by where books are placed in the stores. If Publisher A has purchased space on a big table at the front of Barnes & Noble and directs Barnes & Noble to place 200 copies of Fifty Shades of Fly-fishing on the table, that book will sell more than if it were placed on the bottom shelf at the back of the store. There are issues with moving printed books around in the store once they’re shelved. Your employees can’t rearrange the Romance section ten times a day.

In Amazon’s online world, you like to have change happening so sci-fi junkies see new titles in the afternoon that weren’t there in the morning. That may make a lot of junkies check back in the evening as well. The more engagement any online store can generate with visitors, the more those visitors are likely to buy.

PG’s bottom line on this is that people who become upset about the perceived unfairness of bestseller lists don’t understand that there is no government standard for how a bestseller list should be constructed. New York Times, Amazon, USA Today – it’s a marketing tool, just like the sign spinners who try to persuade you to buy pizza. (If anybody uses a sign spinner to promote a book, send PG a link to the video.)

On Idiot Reviews

31 December 2012

From Publetariat:

I’ve said many, many times here that reviews are the lifeblood of an author’s career. And reviews can mean literal reviews, posted at places like Amazon, Goodreads and so on, as well as reviews in newspapers and on dedicated reader blogs. But reviews can also refer to readers simply talking about a book they enjoyed with friends, family and colleagues. That may lead to those people buying the book, so it works just like reviews are supposed to. But not all reviews are created equal.

In essence, any review is valuable. Even if you didn’t like a book and you give it a bad review and a low star rating, it’s still useful to potential readers and it may lead a different reader to think, “Well, the problems that person had with the book don’t sound like problems to me, so I’ll give it a go.” And besides, you can’t please all the people all the time, so a good spread of reviews and ratings shows honesty and means we don’t start to suspect that Auntie Mabel and the Sockpuppets are the only people reviewing the book.

. . . .

The “reviewer” even says they thought the book was good, but they’re giving it a one star review because the Whispernet service was slow delivering a completely different novel by the same author. The degree of stupid here is staggering. What the fuck did the author do to deserve this one star review, exactly?

Link to the rest at Publetariat

New Year, New Hurdles & Opportunities

30 December 2012

From suspense writer Russell Blake:

Many indie authors are complaining that their sales are down. That may be true. Could be any number of things causing it. I speculate as to some possible reasons in my predictions. But with all the gloom and doom, at least three success stories from December are noteworthy.

. . . .

The third December story is my own. I don’t like to publish revenue numbers, but this month is my biggest month to date, up 30% from November, which was a huge, and I do mean huge, month for me. This, 18 months into my journey. Over 100K books sold this year, not counting free downloads. How next year goes is anyone’s guess, but for now, so far so good.

The reason for highlighting these examples is because Steve’s book was 14 or so months old when it took off on this go around. My oldest is 18 months old. Rob’s are about the same, if not a bit older. It can take a while for a title to hit, and yes, aggressive and well-timed promotions can help, but foremost, having a book worth reading in a popular genre is a big part of it.

. . . .

But on to the predictions.

. . . .

1) The KDP Select free program will continue to wane in terms of usefulness for authors. As of Black Friday, I believe that Amazon further de-tuned their algorithm so free downloads count as even less towards ranking on the popularity lists. From what I can tell, free now has 5% or less of the impact on ranking than it originally did, meaning that if you don’t land in the Top 40, you won’t see any bump in sales. I believe this is because Amazon dislikes free as much as many authors do. It served its purpose, but now it’s hurting sales and has created an environment where a certain segment of readers no longer buy books they might have, preferring to download free books instead, even if the majority of them suck. I believe that eventually even the dimmest indie authors will figure this out, and stop putting their books free unless they have a good chance of landing in the Top 40. On December 27, there were 43K books free. You’re reading that correctly. 40 might see a post-free bump in sales. The other 42,960 titles won’t, and the authors either wasted their time or saturated their own market and diminished their likelihood of selling anything.

. . . .

3) The environment will get tougher, redux. Traditional publishers will lower prices or release some of their huge backlog of titles for which they own the ebook rights, creating even more competition for indies. Many of these books will be marginal or won’t have withstood the test of time, but supply will increase even more as trad pubs try to duke it out for dwindling reader dollars.

4) Many indies will give up. Having realized belatedly that 99% of indies fail to make any real money at this, those that don’t feel like beating their heads against a seemingly indestructible wall will go on to something more lucrative. The Gold Rush mentality of “hey, look at X, he’s a talentless twat and sold a ton; it must be easy, so I’ll throw my hat into the ring because then maybe I’ll sell a ton, too” will die, as it should. It will become abundantly obvious to even the dimmest that this is a very, very difficult business to make a living at, and that the chances of being that one in a million are close to nil.

. . . .

8) Amazon will continue to lean towards pushing trad pub books and their own labels, as they have most of 2012, for two reasons: Trad pub books generally cost more so they make more absolute dollars from doing so, and trad pubs pay advertising dollars back to Amazon, whereas indies don’t. This isn’t because Amazon is the great Satan. It’s because it makes better business sense to push products you’ll make more money selling, and higher-priced products from producers who will give you money to advertise tend to be more lucrative than lower-priced products from folks who produce no ad revenue. And the reason for pushing their own labels is obvious – more margin. It’s all about margin. So deal with it.

Link to the rest at Russell Blake

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