Hugh Howey

Kindle Unlimited Scores a Knockout

16 August 2015

From Hugh Howey:

After 40 days in the Kindle Unlimited program, and after going through my first royalty statement that includes KU pagereads, I have a few observations.

First, a little background for the uninitiated: Over a year ago, Amazon launched an ebook subscription service known as Kindle Unlimited. For $9.95 a month, readers could enjoy unlimited access to over a million ebooks. For authors, the program was contentious, because it required making those titles exclusive with Amazon. You couldn’t sell them elsewhere. This was the price of admission.

To entice their bestselling authors to try the program, Amazon allowed several dozen indies to keep their titles in KU for a limited time without the exclusivity requirement. I was invited into the trial, and I could see the benefit of being in the program immediately, but it wasn’t clear whether my readership was best served by being in KU or not. When the time trial expired, I pulled my ebooks out of KU. Looking back, I can see that this was a huge mistake.

A month and a half ago, Amazon changed the way they pay authors in KU, moving to a per-page-read method rather than a flat fee (once 10% of an ebook was read). The idea was to reward reader engagement with longer works, rather than pay short story authors the same amount as novelists. As a data geek, I was dying to test this program out and see what difference it made for earnings, reader engagement, and sales rank. Entry to KU would require me being exclusive with Amazon for at least 90 days. With several of their competitors in disarray, and with KU free of competition from books by major publishers, I thought now was a good time to give it a go.

Even though the new KU seemed to reward novels over short stories, I immediately began publishing shorter works and making them available in KU. I wanted to see if short fiction — an area I’m fond of and have made a career exploring — was still viable in KU. After joining the program, I released several titles in the 7,000 – 12,000 word range.

. . . .

I knew within a week that I’d made the right decision to join KU. My KU ebooks saw an immediate boost in ranking. Not only were the page-reads mounting, but the sales of those ebooks were also on the rise! This was like advertising that I got paid for, and advertising that led to more paid sales. The only cost was exclusivity.

I’ve written at length about exclusivity, but I’ll sum up here what might seem paradoxical at first: You can sometimes reach more readers by making your products available with fewervendors. By concentrating sales in one location, sales rank gets a boost and more reader reviews are compiled in a single place. This means more visibility and more word-of-mouth sales. It can also mean more readers.

. . . .

What is the collapse of Nook doing for the adoption of ebooks? Barnes and Noble goes back and forth on whether or not they’re going to support their own device. That causes those who bought a Nook to become wary of committing to buying more digital books. And what about Apple’s refusal to make iTunes a web-based store rather than an application? This makes sharing links and buying ebooks more difficult across devices. And let’s not even start on B&N’s storefront. Or Google’s hubris when it comes to dealing with authors.

Indiscriminate business partnerships does not move the industry forward, and making my ebooks available at places that don’t provide the best reader experience does not help my career. When I saw that KU was going to help me reach more readers —and more than make up lost income from all other outlets combined — I was swayed. But it was when I blogged about unlimited access to ebooks with readers, and heard what kind of experience those readers were having with KU, that I saw why it was important for me to only make my works available at top-notch retailers.

The reason is this: I want greater and greater ebook adoption. I want more and more readers to move to ebooks. It is the artistic medium, the environmental medium, the democratic medium, the literary medium, and the indie medium.

Link to the rest at Hugh Howey and thanks to Stephen for the tip.

Here’s a link to Hugh Howey’s books books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

The Myth of The Lazy Writer

3 August 2015

From Hugh Howey via Publishers Weekly:

The hardest part of getting a book published is the actual writing. All it takes to see this is the number of people who dream of publishing a book but never manage to hammer out a rough draft. I spent 20 years trying to write my first novel before I finally pulled it off. It’s not unusual for an aspiring writer to struggle for years and never produce a finished product to submit to agents or editors.

Once the hard part is done and a draft is written, there are two basic routes a writer can take. Much ink has been spilled over the past few years about the rise of self-publishing—even though the route predates Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin. To self-publish requires hiring cover artists, editors, and typesetters or learning to do these things on one’s own. The difficult task of emailing a cover artist to hire her services is often used to frighten authors away from self-publishing. That’s because there’s a myth that authors are lazy, and a myth that some authors merely write for a living. No such creature has ever existed.

The alternative to self-publishing is to sign over your work to a traditional press. It sources the cover artist, editor, and typesetter for you. In exchange, it takes most of the income. This is sold as a fair deal, especially since it is said that publishers support authors while they write their novels by providing a livable advance. This is yet another myth: authors produce their first works while working another job; they are not given a year’s salary because they have an idea.

What is being sold with these myths is the notion that the self-published author works extra hard beyond the writing, while all other writers simply craft their drafts and FedEx the results to agents in New York. Having published along both routes, I can attest that the amount of work either way is roughly equal. Learning to query agents took me longer than learning how to self-publish.

Successful authors work their butts off either way. There is no such thing as a lazy successful author.

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

Here’s a link to Hugh Howey’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

New KU Payout Structure

16 June 2015

From Hugh Howey:

Has it been a full year since KU debuted? It feels like longer. And yet, the year seems to have flown right by. Weird how that works.

With another June coming and going, we enter KU 2.0. Starting in July, payouts for Kindle Unlimited authors will be based on pages read, not whether or not a reader gets through the first 10% of a work.

I love this change. It’s one many of us have been clamoring for and even expecting. If anything, I’m surprised it took this long.

What this means for authors is debatable. Those who write shorter works designed for KU may see a drop in income, while those who provide full-length novels may see a rise in income (depending on how many pages readers enjoy). My guess is that the vast majority of authors will earn about the same amount as before. That doesn’t mean their income won’t fluctuate, only that this change won’t be the reason for most fluctuations.

. . . .

I have a feeling we’ll see some knee-jerk reactions from authors without considering these pros and cons. Shorter works still make a lot of sense in KU. It’s hard to justify selling short stories for more than a dollar, and you only make 35 cents on that dollar under KDP terms. In KU, a 20 page story might earn just as much as a sale. What we should celebrate is that short stories will no longer earn the same amount as a novel, especially since the 10% threshold was much easier to reach on a short story. That system just wasn’t fair. The new system is a vast improvement.

To those who write works with a mind of maximizing their earnings according to Amazon’s algorithms, take note: It’s not a good idea. Not in the long term. Write the stories you enjoy and that you think readers’ will love. This remains the best way to game the system: Write great works.

. . . .

I think this modification highlights one of the big reasons Amazon dominates its competitors: They simply don’t rest. They aren’t afraid to change course. They aren’t afraid to fail, and to learn from their mistakes.

Link to the rest at Hugh Howey and thanks to Patrice for the tip.

False Summits

3 June 2015

From Hugh Howey:

It’s the bane of hikers, the false summit. You’re staggering up the trail, or a rocky ridgeline, and you’ve been eyeing the peak for hours, only to reach that spot and see that the trail keeps rising, that the rest of the mountain was simply occluded from view.

So you march toward the next peak, believing this one, only to discover yet another false summit.

This can go on so long that when you arrive at the true top, the feeling is one of both immense relief and disbelief. You march the last agonizing steps expecting to be fooled again. And then you want to collapse and kiss the rock that leads upward no more.

For the longest time, turning 40 was my personal summit, the end of my road. My plan was to be dead by June 23rd, 2015. And not in some vague, “If I keep this up, I’ll probably never to live to see 40″ kinda way, but more in the tradition of some Inuit tribes, where the elders paddled off in their canoes to make room for a new generation.

. . . .

I’ve always been fascinated with the perception of the passing of time. My earliest powerful memories are of being in the back of our red and white Ford van on the way to the beach. We made the trek every summer, and my brother and sister and I would create a playroom on the folded-flat rear seat, which turned into a bed. The three and a half hour drive was interminable. Time slowed to a crawl. Anticipation, striving, forgoing immediate self-gratification, and the racing mind of youth conspired to turn what I could otherwise idle away with a book on any given afternoon into a savage form of torture for which there was no end.

In high school, years later, I would do the exact same drive, and time would fly right by. Same length of time, two very different experiences.

Being curious about the cause of this, I began paying attention to how different time seemed to flow depending on circumstances. What I noticed was that the first time I drove anywhere with my new four-wheeled freedom, the drive felt much longer than the subsequent trips. Each drive along a route seemed to take less and less time. I realized that the first time I drove to a new place, I was hyper alert for the directions, and I was seeing new things. There was so much to take in, and so my brain would rev up, effectively slowing time down by processing a lot more. As I became familiar with the journey, my brain would shut off and coast. I could zone out, later “come to,” and marvel at the curves I navigated without being aware of them.

. . . .

Comparing life to a road we travel is so obvious that it’s become cliche. So my revelation from a car crash as a youth and all those road trips was this: The way to make a life feel long was a combination of newness and danger. Seeking danger seemed like a bad idea — more a recipe for a shortened life than a perceived longer one. But what about newness? I decided to explore this further.

And what I noticed right off the bat is that for most people, life is not so much a journey as it is a commute. We like to pretend that life is some open road we explore, but it’s really a path we carve into the pavement, worn there by habit, or the back and forth of routine. I wrote about this in I, Zombie, a horror book primarily concerned with the horrors of a habituated life.

A life of commute scared me. It meant traveling the same road back and forth every day. Wouldn’t my brain then shut off and allow me to coast, managing curves without even thinking about them? Wouldn’t my life speed right by like the drive between my house and my best friend Nathan’s?

I wanted a life that would feel longer, a path that stimulated my mind by constantly feeding it new scenery, new experiences, and new information. This realization hit me like a lightning bolt one day. I was 19 years old, sitting at a lunch table with my Tandy computer repair coworkers, all of us in our white shirts and garish ties, a few pocket protectors scattered here and there. My colleagues were a lot older than me. And I saw, in an instant, that I would be them with the snap of a finger. I would repeat the same actions over and over, and my life would disappear just as surely as those curves that I’m able to unconsciously navigate along familiar roads. I would startle in my seat, glance in the rearview, and wonder where the path went.

. . . .

When people tell me, “Oh, but 40 is young,” what I hear is: “Why try to live a full life today? You’ve got time!”

Without a deadline, it would be so much easier to put off bold plans until I was no longer bold enough to tackle them. Or to put off my dreams until the forever-sleep robbed me of the chance at them.

. . . .

When I lived on boats the first time, I met the most interesting families I would ever come across. Parents with teenage kids. Parents with newborns. Many of them stayed on the move, homeschooling as they went. I just spent a week on my friend Terry’s boat, and it’s littered with all the books and supplies for schooling his teenage kids. These kids growing up on boats are the brightest, most mature young adults I’ve ever met, hands-down. They aren’t on a commute; they are on a journey.

Our brains evolved to live a life of constant trouble and danger. Amber and I discussed this a while back, when she had a very restful night of sleep, but said she kept waking up all throughout the night. I’ve always noticed this with nights spent camping or on a boat at sea. You don’t get the eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, instead getting little naps punctuated by semi-alertness.

Link to the rest at Hugh Howey and thanks to Merrill for the tip.

Here’s a link to Hugh Howey’s books

Renting vs. Owning

22 May 2015

From Hugh Howey:

I couldn’t wait to own my first house. I mean, I literally couldn’t wait.

The closing date was still a week away, but I was already over at my future home on Taft St. in Hollywood, leveling a plot of soil in the back yard, spreading sand, and installing pavers. There was a covered arbor back there, and I wanted to create a patio where before there was just a patchwork of grass, soil, and loose rock. In the middle of the yard there was also a huge tangle of vines covering an old fish pond. Soon, I would have this up and running as well.

The owner of the house didn’t mind my enthusiasm. In fact, he very much didn’t mind. A lovely gay man, he spent the week sipping lemonade on the new patio and offering suggestions and advice as I worked on what would soon be my yard. I was learning not only how much I would love my first home, but how much I would love improving it and working on it.

I’d had the same experience with my first sailboat, Xerxes. I would stay up past midnight at times with a miner’s light on my forehead doing odd projects around the deck. Owning something is to want to care for it. Especially if you worked hard for the money used to acquire that thing. When something is given to you, or when you’re just renting, it’s hard to put the same effort in for its upkeep and improvement. Not to say it doesn’t happen, just that there’s something primal about sweeping out our caves and putting up some bison art.

There’s a myth out there about self-publishing related to this. Because of the big publishing houses’ eroding market share and growing irrelevance, there’s a concerted effort going on to promote traditional publishing as at least a viable alternative to going it on one’s own. The industry has moved quickly from besmirching self-publishing to attempting to sell the middleman-enriching route. Which is understandable; they want to lure in clients and continue making most of the profits off our art. But there is something abysmally wrong with many of their arguments, and we owe it to aspiring authors to point those fallacies out.

The particular myth I’m talking about here is that self-publishing requires a lot of hard work, while traditional publishing means all you have to do is write the manuscript. This is plain nonsense, of course. Publishers expect authors to promote their works, to engage on social media, to answer emails, to do signings and interviews, and much more. And this ignores the massive amount of work it takes to even get published (researching agents, writing queries, tracking responses, doing rewrites).

But let’s set aside the fact that authors of all stripes have to work their butts off to make a living at this. What pundits and publishers miss, because they have no experience with it themselves, is that self-published authors don’t work harder because they have to. They work harder because they want to.

Authors who have only traditionally published also fall prey to this myth. They’ve only ever rented. They sign ownership of their art away, and now they are punching a clock, toiling for peanuts, and that’s not a motivator to toil more. It’s a disincentive. Which is why most authors work a day job teaching creative writing, procrastinate, phone in manuscripts at the last minute, and waste their prodigious talents.

Link to the rest at Hugh Howey and thanks to Toby for the tip.

May 2015 Author Earnings Report

6 May 2015

From Author Earnings:

Welcome to the May 2015 Author Earnings Report. This is our sixth quarterly look at Amazon’s ebook sales, with data taken on over 120,000 bestselling ebooks. With each report over the past year and a half, we have come to see great consistency in our results, but there is always something new that surprises us.

. . . .

[The announcement that Amazon places in a book listing that the price was set by the publisher]  can be found on ebooks from several of the largest publishers, and it appears to serve as both an apology from Amazon and also a shifting of the blame for high ebook prices. Amazon has stated in the past that they believe ebooks should not cost more than $9.99. Self-published authors are no doubt familiar with this price constraint, as their royalties are cut in half if they price higher than this amount. But after a contentious and drawn-out negotiation with Hachette Book Group last year, Amazon relinquished the ability to discount ebooks with several publishers. Prices with these publishers are now set firmly by them.

Soon after these agreements went into place, industry observers noted an upward move in average ebook prices. Freed from Amazon’s discounting, and with complete control over pricing, the publishers made a decision to push the price of many of their books above $9.99.

With six quarterly snapshots, each snapshot consisting of 50,000+ of the top-selling ebook titles, we plotted the average price by publisher type to see just how much prices have gone up.

. . . .

Since we started pulling this data, the average price of an ebook from a Big 5 publisher has gone up 17%. Compare this to a difference of 5% for self-published titles, or the increase of 7.5% across Amazon imprints. The prices for Big 5 published ebooks have risen quite steadily, rather than a sudden surge since the return to agency.

What will the effect of these pricing decisions have on unit sales, revenues, and author earnings?

. . . .

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In the last three months, the Big 5 publishers have seen a 26% reduction in the number of titles on Amazon’s Best Seller lists. This means fewer titles are selling well enough to make these lists, and it also means fewer titles are receiving that added visibility.

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Over the same period, daily unit sales from the Big 5 have fallen 17%. This is a measure of the average rank of each ebook. Just as publishers study the New York Times bestseller lists to gauge the strength of their competition, we are looking at the same thing. But with a sample size of 200,000, rather than 20.

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Next up, we factor in the price of those ebooks to see how much money is being spent. Here, we see that daily consumer spending on books by Big Five publishers took less of a hit, with market share of daily revenue down 7.8%. Remember that prices on these titles have gone up. Publishers are trading lower volume sales for more dollars per title. But this might not be as clear a trade-off as it seems, as we’ll explain later.

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Most importantly for authors, we can see here a huge loss in daily earnings from Big 5 publishers of 20%. Their higher prices aren’t just hurting readers; they haven’t been good for their authors either. And authors seem to understand this, as many implored Amazon to continue discounting their works during negotiations with publishers last year. Now it is impossible for Amazon to discount these books, and publishers and their authors are losing revenue as a result.

. . . .

What the AAP hasn’t reported yet, because the data has yet to be collected on their side, is what we see below. January unit sales are on the [top]. Our latest report on daily unit sales is on the [bottom].

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In just the last three months, Big Five publisher ebook unit sales have fallen another 18%. Higher prices and a return to agency pricing seems to be seriously impacting sales. And self-published authors are moving into that lost market share, with an increase in daily revenue of 12.4% since January 2015.

. . . .

We noted above that daily revenue for the Big 5 publishers has gone down significantly, but not nearly as steeply as their plummeting share of daily unit sales. The fact that revenue has not fallen quite as severely as market share is explained by the higher prices of the titles being sold. But there is more at play with the return to agency pricing, and it isn’t good news for those publishers or their authors.

In the past, publishers set high prices on their ebooks knowing that Amazon would discount those titles, which would increase sales by not driving away price-conscious consumers. In fact, one of the complaints from publishers in their negotiations with Amazon is that Amazon was no longer discounting as per usual. Those discounts had been assumed and were factored into publishers’ pricing strategies. Widely misunderstood under this scenario is the fact that the discount came out of Amazon’s pocket, not the publishers’ nor the authors’.

. . . .

The move to agency pricing changes this relationship. Amazon now gets a fixed 30% of every sale, which means publisher profit is no longer the entirety of daily sales revenue.

Link to the rest at Author Earnings and thanks to Stephen for the tip.

PG says taking ebook pricing decisions away from Amazon and placing pricing in the hands of Big Publishing is like giving a razor blade to a toddler.

As Hugh and Data Guy point out in the OP, publishers have the idea that it’s a good strategy to “protect” physical bookstores with high ebook prices. Slack Consumer Economy + High Prices — What could be a better recipe for success?

One of the side-effects of the consolidation of what were formerly many more independent publishers into a handful of large international media conglomerates is a vast expansion of groupthink. Combine groupthink with typical big company quarter-to-quarter short sightedness and you have a recipe for an industry that hasn’t a chance of responding properly to a technology disruption of their world.

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Why Publishers Fight Digital

3 May 2015

From Hugh Howey:

I was reading the new Steve Jobs biography last week, and the author briefly touched on the roll-out of the iTunes store. Prior to the launch of the store, iTunes was just another place to organize songs, most of them no doubt stolen via Napster, which was terrorizing studios at the time.

Even with a promise to monetize digital albums, Apple had a tough go of getting all the major labels onboard. Were it not for the energetic push from one of the studio heads to corral the other five studios, it may not have happened. And were it not for charismatic Jobs behind the push, and Apple seen as a minor player, it might not have happened. It’s useful to remember that Apple had very little market share at the time; Windows was dominate. Jobs assured the studios that the iTunes store would not be made PC-compatible, which soothed the CEOs and bean-counters. The PC version would launch within the year, and within a few years, music stores would begin to shutter as listeners moved eagerly to digital.

The hesitation by studios to sign the iTunes agreement was largely due to the fear that they’d lose control of distribution, that they’d alienate existing retail partners, and that the then-existing model of selling entire albums just so fans could get the one or two tunes they wanted would wreck how music was produced and packaged. They were right to be worried, of course. These things came to pass. But they were wrong if they thought they could stop the change from happening.

Book publishers have been much more coordinated in their attempts to slow digital adoption, perhaps learning from music studios’ mistakes. The history of Amazon and Jeff Bezos getting publishers on board the Kindle store, and the subsequent pricing of ebooks at $9.99, similar to Jobs’ push to price songs at 99 cents, all have incredible parallels. Publishers eventually went to the enemy of the music studios for salvation, agreeing to a deal with Apple at the launch of the iPad to uniformly raise ebook prices and beat that $9.99 price point. But the fight against digital adoption had been going on long before that.

. . . .

Even though ebooks are more profitable than the venerable hardback, publishers have fought their adoption for many of the same reasons that music studios were reluctant to hasten the end of physical album sales. The number one service major publishers and major music studios offer their artists is retail distribution. That’s the absolute top incentive they offer. It’s all about distribution. Advances for new artists are too small to live off of, and editors and sound producers can be hired for a one-time fee. Writers and musicians alike have been producing their own quality offerings for generations. What they’ve had a hard time doing is reaching an audience of millions. This is what major publishers and studios offer. I’ve been pitched by dozens of publishers, and this is always the big promise: We can get you in front of a lot of readers.

The iTunes store and Amazon weaken this offer.

. . . .

There are also those who love books but rarely read. They might have dozens or hundreds of books in their homes, most of them unread or only partly read. These books are purchased and enjoyed as status symbols, and also like gym equipment. They are both a signal to others that this is a thoughtful, educated person. And they are also promises to ourselves to be the future person we hope to become. The gym equipment sits shamefully under the bed, but our books are on proud display. For book lovers, a move to digital reading is an absolute nightmare.

. . . .

There’s another reason I love imagining a reversal of time’s arrow: Ebooks are for the people, while print books are for the corporations. Imagine a world where writers make 70% of the proceeds of their sales and thousands of writers enjoy a full-time living with their writing, with tens of thousands supplementing their incomes doing what they love. These writers also employ cover artists, editors, audiobook narrators, assistants, publicists, and agents who earn a full-time living helping these writers produce top-notch work and reach the broadest audience possible.

Now imagine that Amazon’s felled-tree print books take away market share from ebooks (which is the opposite of what’s happening). Bookstores pop up across the country. Publishers form large conglomerates in order to represent catalogs of new releases, which their sales reps present to book buyers. What is displayed in stores is soon determined by co-op dollars, rather than what readers want to read. Bookstores also purchase on a fully returnable basis, which means the wasteful ordering of double what they will eventually sell, which leads to unsold books being returned to publishers, where they are tossed in a furnace and burned.

Link to the rest at Hugh Howey and thanks to Ashe for the tip.

Here’s a link to Hugh Howey’s books

KDP is for Chumps

24 March 2015

From Hugh Howey:

I have a confession to make: I’ve been a chump. When it comes to writing, I’ve been a majorchump.

Webster says that a chump is someone who is foolish or easily deceived. That’s been me as a writer. For 90% of my life as a writer, I’ve been a chump. Time to come clean.

I’ve been thinking about this lately as I work on a few writing projects that will make me little to no money. One is a story that may never get published. The other project will hardly be read. I’ve been devoting a lot of time to both projects.

I’ve been thinking about this as I see more reports on how rare it is for self-published authors to make considerable income. I’ve been mulling it over while watching this thread go wild at KBoards, asking if KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) is chump change for chumps.

I’m here to tell you that KDP is a place for chumps.

I know because I’ve been one. Let me tell you my story:

The year was 1986. Having recently read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Ender’s Game, I decided to write a novel. I was eleven years old. I sat down in front of my father’s Apple IIe computer, and began pecking away. I wrote a story about an oaf who stumbles through a hole in his yard, discovers that the Earth is a spaceship, and begins playing chess with his robotic bedpan. Adams and Card would’ve been very much not-proud of my attempts.

Within weeks, I abandoned that novel.

Then I started another. This time, a rip-off of Tolkien. Elves, dwarves, mages, and warriors.

Abandoned that puppy as well.

For the next 23 years, I read voraciously. I dreamed of writing a novel. This was at the very top of any bucket list I would’ve made during that period, a bucket list that swung wildly from marrying Wonder Woman to spending a year living on the Great Wall of China. Writing a novel was always at the top. Because it was the thing I tried most often to do and failed at most consistently.

I could never write anything worth reading. I would never be good enough. I was wasting my time. It took too much effort, and for what? No one would want to read what I wrote, not even me. I could never make a living as a novelists. Those people had college degrees. They studied literature. They had MFAs. And so writing-a-novel sat on my bucket list right above sailing-around-the-world.

. . . .

In 2009, I was 34 years old. I know how young 34 is, believe me. But I felt like my chance at so many dreams had passed me by. I was living on land, domesticated by the love of my life, with a perfect dog, a tiny home, no debt, and time on my hand. Yes, I was young, but I’d given up on some of my dreams. And so when I sat down to write one day, it was simply to write a first chapter. It wasn’t to write a novel. Just a beginning. The story was called Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue.

Instead of a chapter, I wrote 50 pages.

Amber came home from work, and I showed her the printed pages, my hands still shaking from mania and from having stared at a computer screen for ten straight hours. I’d written over 10,000 words since she left the house. I demanded that she read. She humored me. An hour later, she asked for more. She asked what happened next.

I said, “I have no freaking clue.”

For the next six days, I wrote. I may have eaten a little. I may have slept a touch. But mostly, I wrote.

. . . .

We were in Charleston, visiting my mom and sister the day I wrote the last word on the new ending. On a Sunday afternoon, we went to dinner, and I stared at the USB memory stick sitting on the table with us. A novel I wrote was on that USB stick. We drank wine. My mom, sister, and Amber chatted and laughed. I stared numbly at this thing, sitting on the table, a scratch off my bucket list.

The five hour drive back to Boone was one I’ll never forget. I was a different person. Before that moment, I was a bibliophile vagabond. I was a sailor. A dog lover. A life partner. A decent son. A middling brother. A failed writer.

Now I was one less of these things. I felt alive. I knew that this was what I was meant to do: Write.

. . . .

So I googled how to get published. I spent a week learning about query letters. I went to the library and found a thick book of agents and publishers. I queried. I kept writing. I kept sending out copies of that draft to anyone who would read it.

Two small presses expressed interest in my pitch. I sent partial submissions, which led to full submissions, which led to offers. Tiny advances, but I didn’t care. Someone was going to edit my work and pay to have it printed. This was beyond bucket list. This was something else entirely. Another celebratory dinner. A contract signed. A book edited and released.

Any dreams of making a living as a writer were short lived.

. . . .

I liked the writing more than the publishing. I enjoyed creating new worlds and new characters. I enjoyed sharing these stories with friends and family. I really enjoyed creating my own cover art, doing my own pagination and layouts, and contributing to my blog. When I wanted to move some text to the left five pixels, I wanted to do it on my computer, fiddle as much as I wanted in order to change how the story was delivered, not send emails back and forth with someone else, explaining my idea and getting a PDF in return. I just wanted to create stories, in their completed form, the entire book.

So I didn’t sign that contract. I bought the rights to my first novel back. In less time than it took to learn how to query, I learned how to publish my works on my own. Paperbacks and ebooks. It took me a weekend to learn how.

And so I wrote for the love of writing. I got a job in a bookstore. I wrote every morning before work; I wrote over my lunch hour; I wrote at night and on weekends.

I made my stories available. I was one of the early chumps who used KDP to upload my ebooks. I used a print on demand service for my paperbacks. For my birthday, Amber bought me a Kindle. I downloaded the first Molly Fyde book to the device and stared at it. And then, overcome with guilt over the price of the thing, I talked her into returning it.

I wrote and wrote. It was a hobby, in the dearest sense of the word. A passion. Something I would do if monthly fees were required. Something I would gladly pay to do.

. . . .

That was my goal in 2009. Write two novels a year for the next ten years. Twenty novels, and then I’d see where I was.

It is almost six years since I started writing that first novel. I think I’ve written fourteen novels since then. In addition to the novels, I’ve written novellas, short stories, edited three anthologies, helped direct a graphic novel, and wrote a children’s book. All for the love of it. And the biggest cost to me was my time.

Six years spent writing, mostly while working a full-time job. For several novels, I spent nothing on the production. I did my own cover art, my own pagination, my own layouts, my own formatting. Friends and family helped with the editing.

. . . .

But keep in mind that for over 20 years, I routinely gave up on writing. I started novels and abandoned them. Keep that in mind.

It wasn’t until 2009 that I started writing and loving it. A mere six years later, I have put a down payment on a sailboat.

. . . .

Now let’s get back to me being a chump.

But first, a disclaimer. Because the reports on earnings for self-publishers are right: Most people don’t have this level of success. Publishing stories like mine are the exception. Just like lottery winners are the exception.

But that’s a horrible analogy, a lottery. It’s one you see thrown around a lot, but it misses the point. Here’s a better analogy than a lottery: Imagine someone showing up to your house and giving you a fat check because of how many people read and enjoyed your Facebook posts. Or because a lot of people thought your front yard was beautiful. Or because your knitting or piano-playing were widely enjoyed.

Imagine this only happened to a few hundred people over the past five years. But now imagine that thousands of people are getting decent sized checks for their Facebook posts or Twitter feeds or forum contributions or hilarious emails to friends. Imagine that some entity was distributing more money to people like this than the 5 major publishers were distributing to all of their authors, combined.

This is how I look at my situation, and the situation of thousands of other writers. I’d be writing and making my stories available no matter what. Everyone reading this writes and entertains somewhere for free. But in my case and thousands of other cases like mine, KDP, Kobo, Apple, Barnes & Noble, CreateSpace, and ACX insist on paying. And paying more, and more often, than a publisher would. All while working at our pace, in full control, doing what we love.

. . . .

KDP is for chumps. Because it’s one of the best places for chumps to gather and to stop being chumps. KDP is for chumps like restaurants are for the hungry. It’s a magnet for chumps, and as soon as you enter, you stop being one.

Link to the rest at Hugh Howey

Here’s a link to Hugh Howey’s books

Zeitgeist is a lovely word. PG doesn’t speak German, but he is aware of some German words that describe a reality for which there is no good English analog. Zeitgeist is one of those words.

Most of the visitors to The Passive Voice will know whet Zeitgeist means. For those who don’t, here’s one definition: the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.

PG says Hugh Howey has many talents. One of those talents is a lovely ability to tune into and capture the the Zeitgeist of self-publishing. For PG, this post did that.

Bestselling author Howey speaks

23 March 2015

From Florida Today:

Hugh Howey has worked on boats. He’s worked in bookstores. And always, he’s written, with the idea that working hard at his craft for a decade or more would establish his career as a novelist.

Then, a couple of years into self-publishing, he became a Kindle phenomenon with “Wool.” Inspired by reader demand, he expanded his dystopian science-fiction story into a serialized novel that became a New York Times and USA Todaybestseller, selling about 3 million copies in more than 30 languages around the world.

What “Wool” also did was make Howey a publishing celebrity and a de facto spokesman for “indie” or self-publishing, as well as a vocal advocate for Amazon in its recent dispute with publisher Hachette.

“I totally embrace the idea that I’m a champion for Amazon,” he said in a telephone interview. Still, he adds: “There’s a lot that they could do better. Was it Churchill who said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the other forms? Amazon, in my view as a reader and a writer, is the company doing more for both parties than anyone else in the industry. It’s not even close. There is no one else in the industry that is making more books available at better prices for readers and paying authors more and giving them an equal platform.”

. . . .

Indie authors rushed to Amazon’s defense, Howey suggests, partly because Hachette advocates called for a boycott of Amazon.

“Telling anyone not to shop on Amazon is, in a lot of ways, telling people not to read independent books, because that’s where they have equal access to the market.”

He found it “comical” that “one of the biggest champions of the other side was James Patterson, a guy who doesn’t even write his own books.” Many media were “supporting the McDonald’s model of literature rather than the home cooking. … A lot of the people who should have been on the side of independent literature were on the other side, of mass-produced literature, and I still find that baffling.”

Link to the rest at Florida Today and thanks to Ashe for the tip.

Better book marketing in the future depends a bit on unlearning the best practices of the past

6 March 2015

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

A few years ago, publishers invented the position of Chief Digital Officer and many of the big houses hired one. The creation of a position with that title, reporting to the CEO, explicitly acknowledged the need to address digital change at the highest levels of the company.

Now we’re seeing new hires being put in charge of “audiences” or “audience development”. I don’t know exactly what that means . . . but some conversations in the past couple of weeks are making clearer to me what marketing and content development in book publishing is going to have to look like. And audiences are, indeed, at the heart of it.

I’ve written before about Pete McCarthy’s conviction that unique research is needed into the audiences for every book and every author and that the flow of data about a book that’s in the marketplace provides continuing opportunities to sharpen the understandings of how to sell to those audiences. Applying this philosophy bumps up against two realities so long-standing in the trade book business that they’re very hard to change:

How the book descriptions which are the basis for all marketing copy get written

A generic lack of by-title attention to the backlist

. . . .

I had a conversation over lunch last week with an imprint-level executive at a Big House. S/he got my attention by expressing doubt about the value of “landing pages”, which are (I’ve learned through my work with Logical Marketing; I wouldn’t have known this a year ago) one of the most useful tools to improve discovery for books and authors. I have related one particularly persuasive anecdote about that here. This was a demonstration to me of how much basic knowledge about discovery and SEO is lacking in publishing.

. . . .

But then, my lunch companion made an important operational point. I was advocating research as a tool to decide what to acquire, or what projects might work. “But I could never get money to do research on a book we hadn’t signed,” s/he said, “except perhaps to use going after a big author who is with another house.”

. . . .

I also had an exchange last week with Hugh Howey, my friend the incredibly successful indie author with whom I generally agree on very little concerning big publishers and their value to authors. But Hugh made a point that is absolutely fundamental, one which I learned and absorbed so long ago that I haven’t dusted it off for the modern era. And it is profoundly important.

Hugh says there are new authors he’s encountering every day who are achieving success after publishers failed with them. It is when he described the sales curve of the successful indie — “steadily growing sales” — that a penny dropped for me. An old penny.

We recognize in our business that “word of mouth” is the most effective means of growing the market for a book. If that were the way things really worked, books would tend to have a sales curve that was a relatively gentle upward slope to a peak and then a relatively gentle downward slope.

Of course, very few books have ever had that sales curve. Nothing about the way big publishers routinely market and sell would enable it to happen. Everything publishers do tries to impose a different sales curve on their books.

A gentle upward slope followed by a gentle downward slope would, in the physical world, require a broad and very shallow distribution with rapid replenishment where the first copy or two put at an outlet had sold. But widespread coordination of rapid replenishment of this kind for books selling at low volumes at any particular outlet (let alone most outlets) is, for the most part, a practical impossibility in the world of distributed retail.

. . . .

[I]f a store sells two copies, say, of a new book in the first three months, it probably doesn’t make the cut as a book to be retained. If they bought two, they’re glad they’re gone and not likely to re-order without some push by the publisher or attention-grabbing other circumstance. If they bought ten, they’ll want to get their dollars back by making returns so they can invest in the next potentially big thing.

But that’s not the case online, where there is no need for distributed inventory (especially of ebooks!)

. . . .

[I]n the brick and mortar world, the book will effectively be dead if it doesn’t catch on in the first three months. And the reality of staffing, focus, and the sales philosophy of most publishers means it won’t be getting any attention from the house’s digital marketers either.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG was going to make a comment, but he slapped his head too hard.

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