Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Changing Playing Field

30 May 2013

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Let’s start with some really cool statistics. The first is reliable. It’s based on daily data received from 70 million retail locations all over the United States. Here it is:

In the first quarter of 2013, brick-and-mortar bookstores saw a 27% increase in foot traffic over the same period in 2012. Combine that with the number of independent brick-and-mortar booksellers increasing for the past four years, and you see an actual trend. People are going back to bookstores, including a return to Barnes & Noble brick-and-mortar stores, which moved 8 spots up the list of most visited stores in the U.S. In Q1 of 2012, Barnes & Noble was the 25th most visited retail store. In Q1 of 2013, it’s the 17th most visited retail store. Note, people, that abookseller is in the top twenty of all stores that received foot traffic in the United States. Pretty damn neat-o, huh?

Maybe, just maybe, some of the massive decline we saw in brick-and-mortar retail book sales had nothing to do with e-books. Maybe it had to do with the closing of Borders locations (and contrary to what you believe, Borders closed because it was mismanaged, not because of the growth of digital) and with the recession. As the recession is easing in various parts of the country, consumers have returned to actual stores, including the bookstore.

. . . .

In the past five years, e-book sales in the United States have gone from zero to (conservatively) 706 million, with no sign of slowing down.

. . . .

About 30% of those e-book sales come from independent (self-published) authors. That’s about 21 million ebook sales that did not come out of traditional publishing.  The bulk of those sales, as we all know, came in the last few years, not in the early years.

. . . .

Our industry is growing. We are getting new bookstores, new readers, new writers, and we haven’t hit the peak of the market yet. Why not? Because traditional publishers dropped the ball decades ago. Traditional publishersforgot that they sell books to consumers. Instead, they changed their business model to sell books to bookstores. When the independent bookstores declined at the turn of this century, traditional publishers started marketing to the big distributors and to the chain bookstores, which was why you heard such industry-wide panic when Borders went down. It wasn’t because the readers went away; it was because traditional publishers had no idea how to sell their books to people other than the ten to twenty buyers for national distributors and chain bookstores.

In the early 2000s, I had books rejected by big publishers with these comments.We love it, but we know we can’t sell this title to WalmartWe love it, but we checked with the buyer for Borders, and he doesn’t think the book will sell so we must decline. I’m not the only writer who experienced such things. When your business model is based on selling to ten or twenty people who act as the only gateway to millions of consumers, then those ten or twenty people wield a disproportionate amount of power.

. . . .

[M]ost non-urban areas within the United States do not have a bookstore of any stripe within 1 hour driving distance. The book suppliers to those places were grocery stores or places like Walmart, which in the last decade, cut back the number of books they carried. Many readers went without new books at all. Some used local libraries. Others found different forms of entertainment.

The brilliant thing about Amazon and other online print booksellers is that they started to tap that unseen book market.  Metaphorically, they’re increasing the number of book buyers across the U.S. just like the drop in TV prices (and rise in local stations) increased the number of television viewers in the 1960s.

. . . .

If you’re a traditionally published writer, you have already heard about smaller print runs and how that’s “worrisome” for the business. Publishers are asking their writers to take pay cuts, smaller royalties, tiny advances, and draconian contract terms because “the readers just aren’t there.”

Most traditional publishers do not understand how the change in ordering from brick-and-mortar store has impacted their bottom line. They don’t understand why readers have turned fickle and aren’t buying the Big Names in as big numbers as before. Traditional publishers think they need to advertise more or push harder, when in fact, they’re seeing that same leveling that the TV networks started to see in the 1980s.

With the exception of one or two cultural phenomenon books per year (think the last episode of M*A*S*H), few books will sell at the numbers they commanded at the beginning of the century.  Yes, the number of readers is growing, and yes, the numbers of books being bought (in all formats) is increasing dramatically, but not all sales will go to traditional publishers.

. . . .

I have no idea how to tell you traditionally published writers how to survive this change except to understand that it’s happening. You should also police your contracts well so that you can get out of your traditional publisher quickly. Even if you move to another traditional publisher, you need to make sure that your options are open.

The next two or three years in traditional publishing will see a lot of casualties. Writers will have to take smaller advances. (This is already happening.) Writers will also find themselves without a publisher much quicker than before. Traditional publishers won’t change their accounting practices quickly, and that too will hurt writers. It’s hard to negotiate from a position of strength when you have no idea if your actual book sales this year compare well or poorly to the book sales for your previous titles. Right now, royalty statements aren’t giving you (or the publisher) that information.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

A Publishing Education

30 May 2013

From The Future of Publishing:

The courses that convey traditional publishing knowledge are well-established. They’re mainly the Masters of Publishing courses at various universities around the U.S., Canada and the U.K. They’ve been turning out employable graduates for years now, women and men well-versed in publishing as we’ve understood it in the modern era. With the pace of change now so rapid it’s a great challenge for the educators responsible for these courses. In getting to know some of them I see their constant concern with keeping their curriculum up to date.

. . . .

“Over half of the students want to be literary editors when they first join the program,” Maxwell points out. “But then they get hired for marketing jobs or to solve data problems because that’s where the demand is. The publishers don’t know exactly what they need. They hire someone to solve an immediate problem, and that person may go on to play many different roles.”

. . . .

As Maxwell sees it ”our original dream in the program was that the graduates would rise to the top of major publishing houses. These days our target is to help them see themselves as self-sufficient agents — perhaps as employees, or as freelancers, or as entrepreneurs — in a rapidly changing world.”

Link to the rest at The Future of Publishing and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Politics, Art, and the Practice of Writing: A Conversation with Orson Scott Card

30 May 2013

From The Millions:

TM: In your How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy you talk at length about the “wise reader.” In brief: What characterizes the wise reader and how can writers find one to critique their work?

OSC: I warn my writing students not to submit their work to English majors, who are likely to be true believers in the anti-communication school of literature, unless they plan to do the opposite of whatever such readers suggest. Nor should they keep showing their work to the same writing group — after a year, you’ve learned everything they have to teach you, and you have nothing of value left to offer them.

Most such critiquers are like doctors who walk into the patient’s room, and without asking a question, glance at the sufferer and prescribe something in Latin and then move on.

The wise reader, on the other hand, prescribes nothing — ever. The wise reader merely reports to the writer on the experience of reading, which boils down to three questions: So what? Oh yeah? Huh?

When the wise reader catches her mind wandering, thinking about something else, she puts a line in the margin at the point in the text where she noticed she was thinking of something else. It means she lost interest — so what?

When the wise reader finds herself doubting — oh, would he really do that? — then she puts another mark in the margin. It means she cannot suspend her disbelief at this point — oh yeah?

When the wise reader finds herself confused, having to read a paragraph again, or look back through the text to see how she missed some fact now taken for granted (when did that happen?), then there is a flaw in clarity of narrative. Huh?

These boil down to belief, concern, and clarity — or, to help readers of the Pauline epistles remember it, faith, hope, and clarity. And the greatest of these, as Paul said, is clarity.

The wise reader then points out these marginal marks to the writer and says, Here I didn’t believe; there I was confused; in this spot I found I was thinking of grocery shopping. It is the writer’s job to figure out what in the text caused these poor responses, and then to figure out how to fix the problems. Foolish writers argue with the wise reader, pointing out how it’s perfectly clear, or this really happened once so it’s definitely believable, or how can you not care! Such writers don’t deserve a wise reader. The good writer thanks the wise reader and then reinvents the story so belief and concern are not lost, and edits the language so that the narrative is perfectly clear and never, never, never confusing.

. . . .

TM: You have written that “good artists do their best to sustain that which is good though their art, and call for the correction of that which is destructive of happiness.” Can you give examples of how your work tries to accomplish that mission?

OSC: I don’t consciously attempt to do any such thing. I’m not prescribing in that statement, I’m merely describing. Without any conscious thought at all, artists select the subject and the medium, the matter and the manner of their art. The very choices they make declare what they value and believe to be important. Artists are at their least effective when they try to make conscious statements through their art (they’re always free to write essays to make their case); the conscious statements are as obvious and empty and ineffective as “Rosebud,” while the unconscious statements are powerful because they are rarely noticed by the audience even as they have their effects.

Every work of art is an attempt to create a community; any artist who claims to create only for himself is a liar, unless he never showed his work to another soul. Every work of art is mostly a reflection of the artist’s culture, unconsciously passed along because the artist has never thought the world could work any other way; yet every work of art, even the most conformist, is still different from any other’s work, and so it challenges the status quo to some degree, however minuscule.

I love to work in science fiction and fantasy because we deliberately rewrite the rules of reality. Sadly, of course, even in our field we tend to converge on consensus realities, as Bruce Sterling once pointed out before he himself joined a new consensus reality. So even we keep searching for new writers to re-envision the world around our characters. Yet even in the most relentlessly conformist of the just-like-every-other-post-modernist fiction, there are glimmers of individuality — even creative writing programs can’t stamp out every vestige of it, try as they might. Whether you are openly reinventing reality, you reinvent it; whether you are deliberately championing certain cultural values, you champion at least the ones you have not yet thought to question.

I have learned to trust my unconscious mind. In my many years at this trade, I have had a chance to see what many readers have found in all my stories, and I am sometimes astonished at the personal and cultural meanings they found in them. Yet I cannot, and would not wish to, challenge their readings as long as they conform to the text

Link to the rest at The Millions and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

The Seven Deadly Myths of Digital Publishing

30 May 2013

From Publishers Weekly:

E-books may now outsell mass market paperbacks, but successfully selling digital editions of novels and other text-centric titles is only the first phase of a profound transformation of all segments of the traditional book publishing business.

. . . .

But it’s also critical to develop a longer-term strategy to exploit the next phase of the digital transformation. William James said “We have to live today by what truth we can get today and be ready tomorrow to call it falsehood,” and in digital publishing tomorrow is coming fast, and many of yesterday’s truisms are fast becoming misleading myths. Here are seven of the most dangerous of these “true lies” of conventional wisdom.

Myth #1: E-books Only Work for Novels and Linear Texts

The multi-billion-dollar U.S. e-book market has been driven by sales of novels and other plain-text titles. Sales of highly-designed illustrated and enhanced digital books have, by contrast, remained low. And costs to develop such illustrated and enhanced titles have been prohibitively high, particularly given lower sales volumes. Conclusion: e-books are only viable, at scale, for digital editions of novels and linear non-fiction.

But sales of dedicated e-readers using E Ink technology are plummeting, while digital readers are rapidly migrating to tablets and large-screen smartphones. E Ink devices, with slow black-and-white displays, were really only suited to plain text. But as the digital reading platform shifts from dedicated devices to tablets, all types of content—color illustrations, videos, interactivity—are becoming viable. And as support for the latest HTML5-based ePub 3 standard proliferates in authoring tools and reading systems, the costs of developing and distributing fixed-layout illustrated and enhanced content are dropping. Best practices for creating and structuring this content are emerging. And most of all, global competition is driving exponential innovation in tablets and smartphones. In two years, tablets as good as today’s iPads will cost $69, while high-end tablets and smartphones will be almost unimaginably improved.

. . . .

Myth #6: Authors Don’t Need Publishers

A number of individuals have found success selling e-books on a self-published basis, i.e., without a traditional publisher contract. Many are “hybrid” authors who in the past, present, or future had, have, or will have a publisher contract. This has led some to argue that, in the digital world, publishers are a superfluous intermediary.

Clearly self-publishing is here to stay, and publishers need to focus on where they add compelling value; publishers can no longer count on being privileged gatekeepers, and the ability to get books on the shelves of bricks-and-mortar bookstores is less and less critical. And the imperative to “bankroll” print runs is also fading. But most titles are really collaborations between authors and publishers, with only a small minority of authors able to act as editors, art designers, typographers, marketers, etc. As illustrated and enhanced titles mutate in the tablet-powered digital world, content will become even more complex and collaboratively authored, with the publisher/editor role becoming akin to that of a “producer” of a video game or mobile app. And in a connected world, segment-specific publishers will be a natural focus for community-building that will typically (although not universally) transcend the “platforms” of individual authors while being narrower than e-retailer storefronts. Overall, in the new digital world the role of the publisher may end up larger than ever.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to David for the tip.

The biggest difference between Amazon and book publishers

29 May 2013

From Paid Content:

“We’re in a major battle right now for the future of the industry,” Brian Napack, a senior advisor at Providence Equity and the former CEO of book publisher Macmillan, said at the Publishers Launch conference at BookExpo America Wednesday.

“We have Amazon as an example, and certainly not the only example, of someone who’s coming at this business from a completely different angle,” Napack told Publishers Lunch CEO Michael Cader. “Amazon, at its heart, is a customer relationship management company. [Book] publishers, at their heart, are author relationship management companies.

“Those two worlds could coexist nicely for awhile. The problem is, in Amazon’s search to grow and enhance its customer relationships…they are going headlong after what we think is book publishing, and what they think is an expansion of their customer relationship.

“[Publishers] have to do a great job of customer relationship management as well. [That means] we are going after [Amazon’s] business…not Amazon’s e-commerce, but Amazon’s customer relationships. That’s where these two are going to clash.”

Link to the rest at Paid Content

PG notes that Amazon regards KDP authors as customers. He will allow those who have been traditionally published to comment on whether publishers are good at author relationship management or not.

It is necessary to write

29 May 2013

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by.  How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment?  For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone.  That is where the writer scores over his fellows:  he catches the changes of his mind on the hop.

Vita Sackville-West

Indie Authors – The Biggest Untold Story

29 May 2013

We’re all familiar with breathless stories of big advances that appear in the publishing trade magazines. Just like Lotto winners, these featured authors experience a few weeks’ of bright lights for their big payoffs.

PG is convinced that a much bigger story is not receiving much press coverage – a lot of indie authors are making anywhere between a respectable income and a great deal of money.

PG doesn’t claim it’s a scientific sampling, but, in his conversations and emails with indie authors who were formerly trad-published, he has always found they’re making more as indies, doubling or tripling their best years working with a publisher.

Certainly there will be some that don’t fit this pattern, but the reports are common enough that PG is confident the experience is widespread.

Barry Eisler caused a big stir a few weeks ago when he said the only unique thing a publisher could deliver to an author was widespread print distribution. All other publisher services could be obtained elsewhere. Most important, big publishers and indie authors stood on an equal footing in accessing ebook distribution and sales.

Hugh Howey received a lot of press for his print-only publishing agreement with Simon & Schuster. He said he wouldn’t agree to any publishing agreement, even with a large advance, that required him to surrender his ebook rights.

The people who run Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing are low-key about promoting exactly how much indie authors are making on Amazon. However, given the painful decline of the Nook, in a very real way, KDP’s biggest competition, at least in the US, is traditional publishers. And the competition is not just for big-name authors. In PG’s experience, mid-list authors may have the most to gain from going indie.

Is a hot indie author better off taking a large advance or staying with KDP? The publishing Lotto stories make it seem like a large advance from a traditional publisher is the way to go. KDP hasn’t released any stories to offset those about tradpublishing’s jackpots.

In Passive Guy’s habitually humble opinion, KDP has a golden opportunity free for the taking. If PG were KDP’s king of marketing, here’s the kind of press release he would send out each month:


Amazon Payments to KDP Authors increase 79%

Amazon announced today that May royalties paid to Kindle Direct Publishing authors increased 79% over royalties paid in May, 2012. The amount of royalties paid by KDP has increased each month since it opened in 2007.

KDP is Amazon’s program that allows authors to publish their own works and sell them as ebooks on Amazon.

“Sales of self-published Kindle ebooks are going through the roof,” said Rex Riptide, director of KDP Author Relations. “Readers are excited to find fantastic new ebooks at reasonable prices from self-published authors. We’re excited to see royalty payments to our author customers grow with each passing month.”

Some KDP authors are generating sizeable incomes from their books. During May, 2013:

  • The top-selling 50 authors publishing through KDP received an average of over $110,000 in monthly royalty payments.
  • Over 20,000 KDP authors earned monthly royalty payments of more than $10,000.
  • Over 60,000 KDP authors earned monthly royalty payments of more than $5,000.

 Bestselling zombie romance author Lilly LaRue said, “With my old publisher, I never made enough money to quit my job as a Nobel prize-winning research scientist. Nine months after I started self-publishing with KDP, I said good-bye to the lab and am writing full-time. I’ve never been happier.”

The release is a little over the top and the numbers are entirely fabricated, but you get the idea.

So, here’s the question for those of you who have published traditionally and are now self-publishing – Are you making more or less as an indie author than you did as a tradpubbed author?

Who is a success and who is a failure?

29 May 2013

There are a lot of good comments under Survivorship bias: why 90% of the advice about writing is bullshit right now. Here’s one from Thomas E:

So, who is a success and who is a failure?

I’ve watched traditional publishing for a long time, and I’ve seen some trends. More often than not someone takes ten years to break in, having written more than two million words in that time. Other people sell their first story. I’ve seen glittering bestsellers… who five years later can’t sell a book to a publisher. LOTS of them. I’ve seen people who were told they were a failure for many long years that have hit a single home run and been able to retire.

Every writer in traditional publishing had a different story. But the one thing I have seen is that only one in a thousand people who want to be a writer actually ever have a book published.

And, most of the people who get a book published, even get ten books published… never make a full time living off it, and sooner or later get ditched by their publishers.

Success… Is that guy with the bestselling novel. Today. But in a decade will he be here? Still writing?

Failure… Is J.K. Rowling in her static caravan, typing a book that no one else believes in…

All I know is that at this stage I have been indie writing for two years, and written over a million words of fiction, and am still in my novice phase. Yet, I am receiving money every month. I wouldn’t have received any money yet in the traditional system.

Am I a failure? I am far from making a living with either the traditional or the indie method. I am learning.

Will I be a success in ten years?

Who knows. Can’t be predicted. All I know is that if traditional publishing was the only method on offer, I wouldn’t have taken the risk.

The one thing I know is that I’ve only seen two things in common with all the writers who have broken through into writing for a living. They all write good books (for their target market) and they all carry on writing even when they are a failure.

What writers can learn from Anthony Weiner, John Edwards and Mark Sanford

29 May 2013

From The Channeling Author:

As someone who has met and/or interviewed dozens of national politicians over the years, I want to tell you about the common denominator. (And no, it’s not infidelity.)

Politicians all have something many writers need. Party affiliation doesn’t matter; they pretty much all possess a certain personality trait, or they wouldn’t be holding high public office. If you guessed “egomaniac” you’d be close. “Having a set of brass ones” would mean you’re getting warm.

The common denominator is that they all act bulletproof, both on and off camera. But more important than how they act, these people believe they’re bulletproof. Because when you take a step back and consider their actions, they’re all acting like a bunch of teenagers in thousand dollar suits. The rules don’t apply to them. They can do what they want because they’ll live forever. Bad things happen to other people. Actions do not have consequences. They can lie, cheat, steal, be unfaithful, engage in activities that are beyond sleazy… and they still keep their jobs. They can get slaughtered in an election, blow it off, and run again. And again.

But here’s the key… even if they leave office in disgrace, they still think they’re bulletproof.

And they don’t give a damn what people think.

. . . .

Remember, they all fall back on the catch-all excuse of, “I made an error in judgment.” For the rest of us an error in judgment is painting the kitchen the wrong color. For a politician, it fits anything that would land the average person in a confessional for a hour.

But most writers aren’t born with that chromosome. Creative types are sensitive about our work. Bad reviews can sting. Piles of rejections make us question our talent… and make some of us quit. If we have 100 comments and 99 are positive, we’ll focus on the one negative piece of feedback and let it dance the Macarena in our heads like a demon on an infinite loop. We forget that opinions differ and that people have different tastes. (As an example of an opinion I considered to be out of left field, People Magazine named that bag o’ bones Gwyneth Paltrow as the world’s most beautiful woman.)

Since I’ve worked in an industry where rejection is common, I got used to it a long time ago. The problem is most writers are too nice. I know many writers who are incredibly sweet, decent people with amazing talent who desperately need a bulletproof personality. An anonymous person leaves a one-star review on Amazon and they go into a funk, or worse; blow up their novel and re-write the whole thing. They enter a contest, wait months without writing anything else as they have all their eggs in one basket, and when they don’t win they think there’s something horribly wrong with their writing. Their sensitivity sends their muses into vapor lock. They play not to lose, not willing to take enough chances or believe in their unique style. Many times when you play not to lose, you lose. The prevent defense often prevents you from winning. If you don’t send it out, it can’t get rejected. It’s the safe route, like not asking the beautiful woman at the bar for a date.

Link to the rest at The Channeling Author and thanks to Jennifer for the tip.

Gesture Writing

29 May 2013

From The New York Times:

Five years ago, I walked into a third-floor art studio on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, climbed atop a wooden stage covered in stained padding and dropped my ratty yellow bathrobe. A panel of strangers asked me to pose, and then to freeze. I had never modeled for artists, and had no idea how I would feel standing naked as people I had just met stared at me. The idea held some bohemian appeal, but more urgently, I needed to supplement my income as a freelance writer while I worked on a novel.

I made the cut, and became a member of the Bay Area Models Guild. I had hoped this gig might earn me grocery money. I soon grew to love the freedom and strange relinquishment of status that comes from offering your nude presence to artists. What surprised me the most, though, was how profoundly it changed my writing life.

Soon I was sent out on bookings, mostly to introductory college drawing classes. The professor’s approach was always the same. I was asked to do many sets of active one- or two-minute poses.

“Find the gesture!” the instructor would shout, as the would-be artists sketched. “What is the essence of that pose? How does that pose feel to the model? The whole pose — quick, quick! No, not the arm or the leg. The line of the energy. What is that pose about? Step back and see it — really see it — whole.” And then, my timer beeped, I moved to a new pose and the students furiously flipped to a clean page.

. . . .

I was, during those early days of art modeling, struggling to find the life in my stylistically choppy novel. At home alone, I heard the drawing instructors’ voices.

Find the gesture. Don’t worry about the details. What is the essence of that pose?

I left my laptop at my desk and moved to the other side of the room to sit on the floor with my notebook. I chose a scene that involved a woman and a man sitting at a table with a priest, going over the results of a premarital counseling questionnaire.

I knew what happened in the scene, and what each character said, but when I’d tried to write it on my computer, the results were clunky. I kept trying to make the scene better by adding more about the woman’s thoughts and tinkering with the dialogue.

Step back. See it whole. Sitting on the floor with my notebook, I didn’t worry about words, about sentences. I thought about how the woman and her fiancé were sitting next to each other at the table, how the priest was wearing a high-necked orange sweater, how the woman’s fiancé assumed the priest didn’t know about “intimacy” with a woman . . . click. Yes, it was so much more interesting from the husband-to-be’s point of view!

Where’s the line of energy? What is the essence of what you see? Quick! I wrote all over the page, a line of complete dialogue followed by a place-holder phrase of exposition, a one-word reminder of the next action followed by an arrow to the margin where I’d scribbled a description of a key image. The page looked a mess. But I had captured the movement of the scene, not one line of dialogue connected clunkily to the next action. There was the whole. It made leaps. It had perspective. It had emphasis and connection. It had life.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Patricia for the tip.

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