Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Business Musings: I Spent Decades Developing My IP (Contracts/Dealbreakers)

22 September 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I’m conducting too many negotiations right now. I discuss them as if they’re easy.

They’re not. They’re stressful and take time.

But I always learn something.

And yesterday, I gained a brand new perspective.

I wrote the following sentence to someone who wanted to take my entire IP in a series for a pittance:

I’ve spent decades developing my IP.

I then proceeded to explain to that person that I controlled my IP and they would not get their grubby paws on it, especially for a few thousand dollars and promises of future money. (Anyone who could read contracts would know that the company didn’t have to pay me the full up front money in a timely fashion if at all, and there would be no future money…to me…because I would have signed it away.)

I’ve spent decades developing my IP.

I have never said that before, nor have I said it so blatantly. It provided me with an incredible and unexpected perspective.

I was trained in traditional publishing, where writers go begging for opportunity. Writers are taught to beg, from professors (let me into your class!) to critique groups (is my writing good enough?) to agents (will you take me on?) to publishers (will you buy my book?).

We’re not trained to value what we’ve built.

I’ve spent decades developing my IP.

That statement is a statement of power. It’s a statement of value. It says I have worked hard. Respect my work and deal with me like a professional.

Imagine if all writers took that attitude into their negotiations for their work. Or into anything they do for their writing.

Writers would become stronger, just by owning what they have done. By valuing what they have achieved.

I know many of you are frowning as you look at that sentence. A few of you don’t know what IP is. IP is intellectual property. Intellectual property has become so important in modern business that companies are buying it up and sitting on it.

. . . .

Writers are so used to begging to get attention, that they have no idea how to think of their work as something not just important to them, but as something with lasting value.

As Forbes said in the very short introduction to its list of the Top 25 Intellectual Property Valuation firms:

The world has changed dramatically in the past several decades with more and more of a company’s value attached not to factories, machines, or hard assets but rather the companies’ ideas, processes, and designs – their intellectual property.

The American economy has moved from a manufacturing economy to one that makes most of its revenue from businesses that monetize their intellectual property. You know, like film studios. Game companies. Damn near every business in Silicon Valley.

While I’ve been writing about the disruption in publishing initially caused by (ahem) someone’s proprietary design (um, Amazon Kindle), I really wasn’t paying attention to the outside world’s acknowledgement of IP. In the past, if I had written I’ve spent decades developing my IP to someone I was negotiating with, they would have responded with a confused “Whaaaaat?”

Now, they understand exactly what I mean.

Writers need to understand it too. Even if your books don’t sell well.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Aggressive Growth (Branding/Discoverability)

12 August 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Here’s the surprising post. Many of you who read this blog regularly probably think that I’m opposed to major marketing campaigns. I’m not. I’m opposed to them when they’re done incorrectly.

What’s incorrectly?

Pretty much everything you see from traditional publishing to most indies. You have to look outside of publishing to see how to do a smart, aggressive growth campaign designed to grow an audience.

Why do I say traditional publishing and most writers do it wrong? Because…(wait for it)…an aggressive campaign to grow your target audience is part of a long-term strategy.

Publishing has turned aggressive growth campaigns into a short-term strategy, one that has no real upside.

Here’s what I mean.

Traditional publishing in modern times is based on the velocity model—selling a lot of books fast, then ignoring the product, and moving to another product.

Standard business growth is the exact opposite. You develop your company, develop your brand, cultivate your consumers, and then, once your business is large enough, consider making that business bigger.

When you decide the time is right to aggressively grow your audience, you should pull out every trick in the book and design a few of your own. You will work very hard on getting people to sample your wares. Most of the people who try your books will not continue reading them. Most people—because they didn’t like the book they sampled or they have only so much time or other favorite authors—will not return to your other work right away. And that’s okay, because your efforts here should have netted you 5-10% of the readers you targeted.

In other words, a properly done aggressive growth campaign, will get you more readers. Just not all the readers you expected.

. . . .

Readers are not predictable folk. So, of the 100,000 new readers who bought the book, 50,000 actually read it in a timely fashion (meaning the first three months). 25,000 read it eventually, and 25,000 more might get to it one day.

Already your “readership” is down to 75,000, and one-third of them might not have read the book they own by the time the new book comes out. Generally speaking, the release of a new book reminds slow readers that they already own one of your books, and they should read it now.

Of the 50,000 who’ve read book six by the time book seven comes out, 10,000 were unimpressed and will not buy your next. Another 10,000 liked it, but not enough to run right out and get another book with your byline. The remaining 30,000 split in a variety of directions.

Some read the series from the beginning. Some go back to book five. Some buy book seven and forget all about books one through five.

You can measure some of this. After a huge marketing push on book six, you will see a lump of readers work their way through the entire series. Even if the series is compelling, the lump will spread out over time. Why? Because some readers don’t like binging. So they’ll read one of your books, then five books by other writers, then another of your books, then ten books by other writers—and so on.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Business Musings: Define Your Target Audience: The Intermediate Stages (Branding/Discoverability)

9 July 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

In the past eight or so years since indie publishing took off, writers found that the commodity they lack the most is time. Time to write. Time to research. Time to read. Time to market.

We get inundated daily with shoulds and have-tos. Someone is always so much more successful than we are, and they’re successful at something we’ve wanted for a long time.

Then there are the overnight sensations, the folks who claim to make $50-100,000 per month on their writing, even though they have only published five or fewer books. They have some kind of marketing system, and 100,000 people on their newsletter list. They have figured out how to game Amazon’s algorithms or they’re the first people to use that brand new marketing tool (cough: Facebook ads) that some gigantic corporation has come up with. Or the first to use it effectively.

If you only follow these five steps, you too can make $50-100,000 per month on your writing as well.

Only it never works that way. First of all, there’s no way to know if the folks who claim to have a working system actually do have a working system. There’s also no way to know if that $50-100,000 they earned in one month was for just one month or if they consistently earn at that level.

Have they done it for four months? A year? Five years?

Because I don’t know about you, but what I care about in this business is staying in it for the rest of my life. That means building a business, not being an overnight sensation. (Or, becoming, as the music industry so aptly calls it, a “one-hit wonder.”)

This blog is geared toward the career writer, not the person who is in it for a fast buck and will leave when the going gets rough. (As many of you have noted in my comments and emails, the gurus of 2011 and 2012 have mostly disappeared. Even their websites are down. The ones who have survived have transitioned to career writers and generally don’t use gimmicks any more.)

. . . .

When I wrote the initial target audience post (six weeks ago!), I assumed that you either had no idea who your audience actually was or were so new that you had no audience. Today’s post assumes you have an audience, but you have no idea who they are.

Now, a lot of what I write in these branding posts (and many of my other posts) takes into account the fact that none of us have any time. Most of us lack the big bucks that major corporations have as well. So doing some of the market research things that marketing and advertising blogs tell you to do to figure out who your audience is are things that we either don’t have time to do or the funds to pay someone else to do it.

Besides, how many of you want to send out newsletters or updates to readers, asking them to take marketing surveys? Think about it from a brand perspective. How annoyed would you be if your favorite author wanted all of your personal data so that she could sell to you and people like you better than she already is?

If my favorite author was a nonfiction writer who was a marketing guru and her topics were only about marketing, I probably wouldn’t be annoyed. But if my favorite author was a Regency romance writer who had never contacted me before…well, at best, I’d ignore the email. At worst, I’d make a little mental note of my annoyance and do a small compare/contrast: is it still worthwhile to me to buy her books after she annoyed me? Probably yes. But if the annoyance continued…

So how do you find out about the audience you already have? And how do you find out about the audience you might be able to build?

The answer is both simple and hard. You take the information you already have available to you, extrapolate from it, and continue to pay attention to the world around you to gain even more information.

Sounds straightforward. But what does all that mean? What information do you have already? You probably had no idea you have information, except—if you’re lucky—emails from readers who liked your work. And please, don’t email them back asking them for personal details. Just thank them for taking the time out of their day to make your day a bit brighter.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Writers, Scam Artists, Agents, And More (Sigh)

29 April 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Just when I thought it was safe to get back into the water…

I’m editing a lot these days. I only edit short fiction projects. Anthologies, anthology series (Fiction River), the occasional nonfiction book, and some magazines. I’m also consulting with the fine folks at WMG Publishing, because they’ll be handling the contracts for the revival of Pulphouse next year. Dean’s vision for Pulphouse includes reprinting some of the older stories, which means we have to deal with estates.

Too often, estates mean agents.

But even some lazy-ass living writers give their agents control of everything. It took me one year—one year—to get my hands on a non-fiction reprint that I wanted for a project of mine. The centerpiece for that project was an editorial written more than 20 years ago by a writer who had forgotten they had even written it. This writer, a friend of mine, doesn’t do email, and mostly stays off-line. (I know, I know.) I didn’t know about their tech phobia when I started into this, and had sent five different emails before I asked another editor friend how to reach this writer.

The editor advised snail mail.

Before I resorted to that, though, I called. The author and I are friends, after all. On the phone, the author told me that their agent handles everything. I do mean everything. The author—one smart cookie otherwise—can’t be bothered to concern themselves with touching anything to do with business. I had no idea this author was an Artiste, but I guess I know that now.

I also know why most anthologists refuse to reprint this author’s work.

I was pretty excited about this non-fiction project when I started it. I missed the publication window because of this agent and this writer. Fortunately, my publisher pushed the deadline back. We’ve pushed it back again, and again, and again. And frankly, I’m not feeling it any more. I have completely soured on the project.

The big bad agent, by the way, negotiated a horseshit deal for the writer that essentially gave me more rights than I would ever need. I offered the usual fee, which the agent did not negotiate up (although he could have). By that point, I was too pissed to give a break to these people. The amount of money—on publication, if there’s a publication—to the agent and the author will be negligible.

. . . .

Who the hell gives over control of everything, I mean everything, to an agent?

Oh, most writers. Never mind.

Still, I expect better. And if a writer is going to give control of the business side of her work to an “expert” then the expert better be damn good at negotiating and taking care of the writer’s interests.

So far, all of the agents I’ve encountered who handle everything are the worst negotiators in the business. They let things slide, they don’t care about being paid, they don’t ask for the right kind of language in a contract, they license the wrong rights or sell those rights outright.

. . . .

On one of the many projects I worked on recently, I contacted a writer to reprint one of their stories. I wrote a standard email letter, requesting permission to reprint, and the writer wrote back that they had no idea if the rights were available. The writer said I should contact the editor who originally published the story and ask.

I was taken aback. I had never had a writer say such a thing before in all of my years of editing. I knew the editor in question, and had worked with him many times. Never once did that editor, in all his various projects, try to control all the rights to a project. It wasn’t in his standard contract, the one he used for his anthology projects. It wasn’t in his special contracts, for other projects. It hadn’t ever happened, not in years of dealing with this man.

Honestly, this is where Writer Me and Editor Me had a conflict. Writer Me decided that Editor Me should get clarification from that writer before going to the writer’s editor. You see, Writer Me figured the editor in question would be confused at best or insulted at worst by the suggestion that he controlled the rights.

I did not want to offend him—as a person, not as an editor I might work with.

So I asked for clarification from the writer on the problem and added, as I do with many writers—bestsellers and nonbestsellers alike—that I would be happy to look at the clauses or contract in question (with the pertinent information like SSN and payment blacked out) to see what rights the author had actually sold. After all, the author clearly had no idea. Frankly, I figured the author didn’t know how to read a contract, and certainly didn’t know copyright law. I’ve seen that dozens of times before.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Mushroom Publishers And The Tsunami of Crap

18 April 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

So much of the writing advice we get comes from a set of assumptions that are no longer true. I’m not sure if they were ever true. But that’s for another blog post. (Or maybe I’ve written that post already.)

Anyway, the assumption is that our culture is monolithic, that we all read the same books, and we’re all influenced by the same writers.

Maybe most of us were once. In the 1950s (before I was born), my father used to teach an adult education course called The Great Books, and it had a set curriculum. If you were going to thrive in the monoculture, then you needed to read these books.

The course was developed in the 1920s, taught around the country, and included books from the Western tradition only. The books included things like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (which I can’t imagine my father teaching) and Bertrand Russell’s Principles of Mathematics (which I can).

. . . .

[W]hat passed for U.S. culture for most of the 20th century believed that there was a list of “great books” which we all had to read to be educated.

The intelligentsia could augment that foundation with other prescribed books. Those books came into our house regularly—or at least the flyers for them did—usually promulgated by The Saturday Review, The New York Times Book Review, the Quality Paperback Book Club (yes, there was such a thing), and the Book of The Month Club.

Underlying all of these notions was the idea of “good books” and “bad books.” Books that could destroy your mind, books that were the equivalent of potato chips (unhealthy, but occasionally enjoyable), and books that would make you a better person.

. . . .

In his tome, An Experiment in Criticism, (published in 1961), C.S. Lewis writes, “The best safeguard against bad literature is a full experience of good….” That attitude is precisely the attitude most of us grew up with. The assumption that we could actually harm ourselves by reading the wrong things.

. . . .

A lot of the books we consider classics now were considered “bad” in their day. Worse, those books never appeared from “regular” publishers, but from presses that had terrible reputations.

Right now, I’m reading a badly designed, badly printed book from 1993, about the publishing industry in England in the Postwar period. The Mushroom Jungle: A History of Postwar Paperback Publishing by Steve Holland is, as far as I can tell, out of print itself. But it’s a fascinating read about publishers that grew in the dark—mushroom publishers—which published everything from what passed as porn back in the day (now we’d barely call it erotica) to science fiction, hard-boiled mystery novels, and other disreputable fiction.

Brian Stableford’s foreword reminded me of the C.S. Lewis book, which I had tried to choke down when I was in high school—after I had read The Chronicles of Narnia. I tried to work my way through Lewis’s oeuvre, only to discover that most of what he wrote was so not to my taste that I stopped trying.

In that old book of criticism, Lewis was justifying the fiction that he wrote. He didn’t like the terms “highbrow” and “lowbrow” fiction, choosing instead to label readers “unliterary” or “literary” depending on the kind of attention they pay to the texts in front of them. (If the reader read solely for pleasure, and did not reread books, they were generally unliterary.)

This snobbishness permeated the industry. The snobbishness went all the way into business practices and marketing, in contracts and in expectations. Paperbacks were considered disposable. Hardbacks were not. The returns system in the U.S. was predicated on that. Hardbacks required full copy returns, and if the books were damaged, then they would not count against a bookstore’s bill. Paperbacks were mutilated, the covers returned only, so that the book could be thrown away.

Contracts and deals reflected the perceived ephemeral nature of the material, and writers often fell prey to it. They signed deals that would be ludicrous if anyone had thought more than two years head.

The attitude was that nothing good could come from disposable products, even though the paper books often outsold hardcovers by literary (and accepted) writers by ten to one (and sometimes by 100 to one).

Here’s the thing, though: the only way to become a remembered author who survives the test of time is to influence a lot of readers. If a “good” novel has a 5,000 copy print run and sells out, and a “bad” novel has a 50,000 copy print run and sells out, guess which one has the better chance of being remembered? The one with tens of thousands of readers, not the one with only 5,000.

But those are yesterday’s economics.

. . . .

[W]hile traditional publishing keeps repeating that there’s a tsunami of crap in indie (or self) published books, traditional publishers can’t really cite the same examples. Because no one is reading the same books any more.

That influential book, the one that changes minds and hearts, has to cut a swath through an accepted culture, and we don’t have one any more. Yes, every now and then, a book rises above, but it’s becoming rarer and rarer.

So how come I’m writing about the past yet again?

Because, as I read The Mushroom Jungle, replete with the judgments of critics and tastemakers long dead, I see the same phrases used against the mushroom publishers that I see used against indie publishers now. Phrases like:

  • The books are not very good (unliterary). The books have no redeeming value. The books aren’t memorable. They can be read in a single night. They’re not worth a reread.
  • They’re only read for entertainment. They’re not curated, not vetted, not approved by the literary powers that be.
  • How do you know if the books are any good, if there’s no consensus on what’s good and what’s not?
  • Yes, they’re all right to while away the time, but you (or your children or your sick aunt) would be better off reading something of quality, something worth spending your limited time on.

Have I raised your hackles yet?

. . . .

Books with a lot of readers tend not to be the critical darlings of the day. They tend to be the books that get the most word of mouth, books that are passed from hand to hand to hand or written up the most in blogs or discussed by savvy readers everywhere.

How do you become one of those writers?

Well, I don’t think you do it by setting out to write Art. As Holland notes on the next page of The Mushroom Jungle:

I very much doubt if any of the novels quoted in this book were written with any intention other than to put food on the table of the author, but like so much that is thought by the literary establishment to be ephemeral or unworthy, they stick in the memory of the reading public….

The thing is…the books that often stick in the memory of the reading public are books that surprise in some way or counter expectations or make the reader lose a few hours of sleep because the reader can’t put the book down.

Those books aren’t manufactured and fussed over and edited to death. They weren’t written to be judged, as literary novels often are. Those books weren’t written to impress. They were written because they had to be, or because the author needed to eat. The author wrote it, someone published it, and then both moved on—even though the readers didn’t.

Indie writers are doing the same thing right now. They’re writing what they love. A few are still writing what they think will sell, although that trend seems to be moving past us now. (Thank God). Most writers are simply trying to put food on the table so they don’t have to go back to the day job.

Traditional publishers, whose sales are continuing to decline and whose revenue is spiraling downward, keep trying to justify their curation services. Want to know if your book is any good? The traditional publishers say. We’ll let you know that—forgetting, of course, that readers decide what’s good and what’s not.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Newsletters and Discoverability

8 April 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

 Newsletters Before 2011

Writers have had newsletters long before email newsletter services came into being, long before the internet came into being. The indefatigable Debbie Macomber has done a newsletter for more than twenty years, and she has used it to great advantage. She used a lot of strategies that helped her hit the bestseller list, but also kept her readers loyal.

A May 2010 article on the BookPage.com blog lists three reasons why Debbie Macomber is a bestseller, and they all have to do with her newsletter.  Please note that the post got published just as the indie world was starting to take off. Debbie’s still traditionally published, so she was doing all of this stuff before Constant Contact and MailChimp.

She wrote, printed, and snail-mailed a newsletter.

. . . .

The three things the 2010 newsletter had were:

  1. Coupons for upcoming books
  2. Stickers and bookmarks with her 2010 releases listed on them
  3. Folksy news of Debbie, along with recipes and tips

The coupons and stickers weren’t in the newsletter. They were with the newsletter, in the same envelope.

Here’s what the BookPage blogger said about the coupons:

Here’s the smart part: they’re only valid during the first week of a book’s release, when sales are especially crucial.

. . . .

But in her newsletters, she hasn’t just offer coupons to her fans. She’s done all kinds of promotions. Debbie has been the queen of sharing and promotions as long as she’s published. She published her first novel in 1983. I don’t know for a fact whether or not she started doing newsletters then, but I do know that she’s been an innovative promoter since the early 1990s. A lot of the things you see romance writers do for promotion were ideas that Debbie had first and did better.

. . . .

I’ll be honest. I look at everything Debbie’s done or doing or plans to do, and I get instantly tired. I know how brilliant her promotions are. I know how much work she did from the very start to create this bond with her readers. She’s amazing.

What you need to know about her is that she does not cynically cultivate these connections. She enjoys them, and does them really well. There’s a reason her newsletters resemble the chatty letters that my aunt used to send me.

First, Debbie is that chatty, driven, organized person. Second, the newsletters reflect the kinds of books she writes, the books that appeal to her readers. And third, I’ll bet she can’t imagine doing this work any other way.

. . . .

The newsletters let fans know about upcoming releases. Every newsletter Debbie and Kevin release assumes that the people who get the newsletter are familiar with the author’s work, like the author’s work, and want more of the author’s work.

Keep that in mind.

. . . .

All newsletters—from Debbie’s to Kevin’s to some brand new indie writer’s—are advertising.

And like all advertising, the person who is writing the ad copy needs to know where the ad is going.

If you are trying to use your newsletter to get it in front of people who have never read your book, you’re using the newsletter for a different purpose than Kevin and Debbie do.

To put this in better marketing terms: when you’re using the newsletter to attract new readers, what you’re actually doing is some kind of ad flyer. Or, if you’re a good writer (and I’m assuming all of you are), you’re producing an advertising circular.

. . . .

How to communicate.

It’s all about audience, baby.

If your newsletter is for your constant readers (to use Stephen King’s term), then your newsletter will have information a regular reader wants.

That information includes:

  1. When the next book is coming out
  2. Where you’ll be appearing to sign books or to give a presentation
  3. Special perks

The newsletter for possible readers, which I am going to call the ad circular only for clarity’s sake (not as a judgment because, again, I think it’s a valid way to go), also includes that same information.

  1. When the next book is coming out
  2. Where you’ll be appearing to sign books or to give a presentation
  3. Special perks

But…this is where the content varies.

The old-school newsletter will then have chatty commentary. For Kevin’s newsletter, that includes where he hiked while writing certain novels, inspiration he found in other places, some of the fun trips he’s been on that weren’t writing related.

In Debbie’s case, she often discusses her family or what she’s knitted recently (seriously) or recipes that she loves. One newsletter on her site includes her wedding photo.

These newsletters assume the readers will want to know these personal things about the writer. I’ve seen newsletters that discuss upcoming books which will feature favorite side characters or include some material that was excised from a novel but isn’t a standalone story.

These are things that fans and long-time readers are interested in, but that people browsing the bookshelf for their next read have no patience for.

The ad circular newsletter will have (or should have) basic information. Where can the reader find more books by this author? What order should the books be read in?

The ad circular should be shorter and to the point. But it should also have a lot of voice in the body copy so that the potential book buyer actually reads the newsletter rather than deleting it.

It’s a trick to write that kind of copy, especially on a monthly or quarterly basis.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Bestseller Lists and Other Dreams

31 March 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

 In March, Marie Force announced she would no longer chase the bestseller lists when she released her latest book title. She wrote a great, honest, and direct blog about her thinking, and I urge you to read it all.

In the blog, she describes a trajectory of obsession and disillusionment that is very familiar to me. I’ve gone through that range of emotions several times in my long writing career. Ironically, the change in my attitude toward the bestseller lists and the status they confer (or don’t) came when I was still a 100% traditionally published novelist. (I’m hybrid, traditional and indie, although I don’t publish my novels [in English, anyway] traditionally any more.)

Why is that ironic? Because by the time it became easier to chase a bestseller list, I was no longer interested. Yet the entire focus of the first wave of indie writers after the introduction of Kindle Direct Publishing was on the various bestseller lists, first on Amazon, and then the established ones, like The New York Times and USA Today.

. . . .

Whenever I write a blog post that upsets a certain group of indie writers, they discuss the post on their blogs and cite whatever Amazon rankings they can find of my books at the moment. Often the books they find have low rankings, and they use that to say I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Okay. Fine. Whatever floats your boat. My business is based on a lot of product, published wide in a worldwide market, using print, audio, ebook, translations, and more. I don’t usually look at an individual book’s ranking in one format in one marketplace—and even though Amazon is the biggest marketplace at the moment, it’s certainly not the only one.

I write that with complete calmness, and a bit of a shrug, but believe me, that calmness and shrug came years after I got rid of my bestseller list obsession.

. . . .

I knew I wanted to be a fiction writer from as far back as I can remember. I wrote my first novel in grade school (and, sadly, illustrated it too). I didn’t know any professional fiction writers. I firmly believed in the myths, that it was impossible to make a living as a fiction writer—unless you hit a bestseller list, specifically The New York Times, which was the only one I saw in the books around my parents’ house.

So, I imprinted young: bestseller list = enough money to make a living = success.

And as I got older, I met a lot of writers. Some were journalists (making a living: check); some were poets (working as professors: check); some were fiction writers (making money…how?). It took me a long time to realize that you could make a good living without hitting a bestseller list. A lot of successful writers taught me that, sometimes directly and sometimes through example. To say I’m grateful is an understatement.

Before Roc Books bought my first novel, I had made friends with an outspoken book dealer. He was trying to qualify as a New York Times bookstore—the first I’d ever heard of such a thing. He ran an sf and fantasy store, and he was campaigning to be one of the stores that the Times spoke to on a weekly basis to compile the sales.

I have no memory of whether or not he succeeded. I don’t think he did. Over the years, I met many booksellers who were Times qualified. They were required to keep their status quiet, but some didn’t. And some told me years after they were no longer on the Times list.

I remember being shocked at what I learned: no one independently verified the bookseller’s numbers. No cash register receipts were submitted, no one checked shipping orders. The bookseller could have conflated his best friend’s book if he wanted to.

I don’t think any bookseller did that—at least not any I knew—but the temptation was there. And my outspoken friend was most worried about being told which books to include in his list, because he had heard the Times sometimes nudged a bookseller in a particular direction.

True? God knows. Maybe true in the late 1980s when these discussions took place. Maybe a beloved conspiracy theory among genre booksellers. I have no way to verify.

. . . .

Then in the year 2000, the New York Times got really peeved at J.K. Rowling and the YA writers who “hogged” the adult hardcover list. The Times introduced a “children’s book list” for bestselling books, and made no bones about why they were doing so:

The New York Times Book Review will print a separate best-seller list for children’s books starting on July 23. The change is largely in response to the expected demand for the fourth in the Harry Potter series of children’s books, editors at the Book Review said…. With an enormous initial print run of 3.8 million in the United States alone, it is widely expected to reach the top of the list.

”The time has come when we need to clear some room” on the list, said Charles McGrath, the editor of the Book Review…

The phrase missing here is “for more worthy titles.” Adult titles, even though adults were reading Harry Potter.

I had never noticed the Times monkeying with the list before, not like this, and not so blatantly. I was offended, upset, and crushed—in my dreams.

. . . .

This was when I really learned that the lists were based on velocity—how fast a book sold—not on actual total sales. This finally answered my questions about the way that genre writers could earn a hefty living while literary (and critical darlings) often had to teach. “Sales” were based on books shipped, not on books sold, which really came home to me from traveling.

I went through O’Hare around this point, saw a book by a writer I knew, and the book was on every bookstand, at every checkout place, even at the restaurants. The book was there on Thursday, as I flew out, and in seemingly the same numbers on Monday when I flew home. At the time, I thought that the books had been replenished.

Nope. They hadn’t sold.

But for that week, my friend was on the bestseller list. And he couldn’t sell another book after that, because his sell-through was so abysmal as to make him untouchable under that name.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

PG says it’s great when indie authors appear on bestseller lists, but the point Kris makes about velocity of sales is key to understanding bestseller lists and in placing them in their proper business perspective.

If you sell 1,000 ebooks in a single day, you’ll likely be at the top of an Amazon bestseller list and probably more than one list. For marketing purposes, you can probably advertise yourself as “#1 Amazon best-selling author” forever because it actually did happen one time. Lots of traditionally-published authors have been promoted as a “New York Times best-selling author” many years after any of their books actually appeared on an NYT list.

However “best-selling author” is used so often that PG expects it may not be a terribly-effective marketing claim regardless of how much it impresses Uncle Jake. Just like all the students in Lake Wobegon who are above-average, a lot of authors have been bestsellers.

PG thinks a better mark of business success in writing is whether an author can quit their day job and support themselves with their books or otherwise generate a reliable income stream. Still a better indicator is if they can support themselves by writing year after year after year. If an aspiring writer wants a model to emulate, the author who quit the day job ten years ago is probably a better example than someone who was #1 on an Amazon romance list three years ago and still works the swing shift at 7-11 to make ends meet.

To be clear, PG is not denigrating anyone who works at writing, day job or not, and who has been or is listed on a bestseller list. That’s an accomplishment that many indie authors never enjoy.

However, earning your living and making a career as an author is more of a long game. Selling 1,000 ebooks in a single day won’t pay the rent next year. Writing ten books that each sell 40 copies per week on average won’t make you an Amazon Sales Rank queen for a day, but they’ll be a far more significant benefit to your household budget. If you work hard and add another ten books then another and keep doing the sorts of things that generate that 40 copies per week in sales for each one, you’re looking at a successful business career as a professional writer.

That’s the sort of thing that Kris has done for a long time and why PG believes what she says about how she’s done it is worth considering.

Data Diving

24 March 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Once a month (more or less), we host a gathering of professional writers on a Friday night. The gathering is open to writers from our writers network, and other professionals we know. Most are from the Pacific Northwest, although folks who are traveling through often stop as well.

We have only one criteria: The writers have to be working hard at the business of writing. You’d be surprised at how many professional writers are ineligible just from that criteria. You’d also be surprised at how many writers who absent themselves from the gathering after attending once. We’re too intimidating, I think.

I mean that sincerely. I don’t think it’s because of the accolades in the room (multiple award-winners, New York Times and USA Today bestsellers, multi-published fiction and nonfiction writers). I think it’s because we’re all working hard at our indie publishing businesses, and we don’t dumb down the meeting.

One extremely prolific traditionally published writer showed up last year, and started asking basic questions (how do you format books?) and everyone shut him down before the meeting even started.

If you don’t know something basic, you can ask someone on a break, and more often than not, you’ll get weird look and a series of links. This is a serious meeting of hardworking, serious professionals who are bootstrapping each other into the ever-evolving new world of publishing.

. . . .

In the middle hour of our three-hour talk, the conversation went something like this:

my click-through rate is…

…I received 96,000 impressions…

…at least thirty-percent downloaded my…

Numbers, data, and more numbers. Writer after writer recited facts about their newsletters, their ad campaigns, their book sales, and all of those facts had data to back them up. These writers were often looking at phone screen or their laptop to give accurate information (as if the rest of us would shoot them if they reported wrong), and we were comparing performance, subscribers, money earned, and books sold.

I don’t think anyone mentioned craft except to acknowledge that a certain level of craft is necessary to get readers to return to the fold.

I sat back and absorbed this conversation, letting the words run over me a little, because I was surprised by it. Not by the conversation itself—we’ve had a variation of that conversation off and on for a year now—but by the complete acceptance of it. I was surprised by the way that no one, not even the newcomers to the meeting, seemed to think the conversation was out of the ordinary. We were comparing results of various marketing techniques, trying to figure out our way through the morass of data that’s being flung at us, and—most importantly—sharing what we had learned, what worked for us, and what didn’t.

. . . .

[In years past] At conventions, we writers discussed a variation of the same topics—agents, editors, marketing to the increasingly smaller and smaller subset of publishers, and the best way to handle the problems that came up in our various careers.

Not once did we mention data. We did discuss how to goose book sales, but based on the royalty reports. We tried to figure out how to get rid of our reserves against returns. We often argued about the value of book signings and book tours, but we never had data.

Because our publishers didn’t have data either.

Data is becoming the new religion at traditional publishers, but they’re the proverbial first-year English majors trying to understand an advanced-level Physics course. They don’t have the math skills, mostly, to understand, for example, why Author Earnings really is a good way to look at the entire industry.

(The responses to Data Guy’s presentation at Digital Book World, both live tweeted [live social media-ed?] from the conference and in private, were disbelieving. I’ve heard industry professionals say that the only accurate reports came from Nielsen later in the day. (I searched for someone courageous enough to write that in their blog about the event, and couldn’t find it. I don’t want to out folks who wrote me emails, so I’m afraid I can’t link here.)]

. . . .

But the one thing we didn’t discuss, something I hadn’t even thought of until Saturday morning, was how to manage all the data we were receiving. We joked about it a bit, about a writer we had been watching—a high-end marketer who reported that his well-known marketing practices were finally failing him, until he realized (hello!) that he needed to produce more product. Everyone he had reached had bought his five or six books. He needed to write another one.

That got a great laugh from the group, because the one thing we do, we all do is write the next book. We’re constantly trying to figure out how to write as much as we can, with this fire hose of information streaming our way.

And it’s not just the new programs, the new way to market, the new opportunities opening up each and every moment of each and every day. It’s also the changes in the data we receive.

. . . .

However, we are rapidly getting to the place, as writers, where we need to figure out how much of this data is relevant or useful. Just because I can find out that more people in Hong Kong open my newsletter at 10 in the morning on weekdays than on weekends doesn’t necessarily mean that I need to know that information. I might, if I’m looking for the best time to send a newsletter. But the service I use for my newsletter will aggregate that data for me, and tell me the optimum time to send a newsletter to that subset on my mailing list.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

PG says anybody who doesn’t understand why Data Guy’s information is extremely useful shouldn’t be trying to run a business in 2017. With every passing month, the business practices and business savvy of traditional publishing are falling farther and farther behind both indie authors and the rest of the world.

When PG is negotiating agreements with traditional publishers, it’s an entirely different experience than negotiating IP rights agreements with tech companies or investment bankers. The publishers are so far behind and so unaware of things that are taken for granted in today’s business world, it’s almost laugh-inducing.

Just as one example, royalty statements every six months give rise to visions of row after row of ink-stained bookkeepers laboriously adding up long columns of numbers by hand.

Of course, Amazon pays every month and so does the rest of American business. The same people who don’t understand Author Earnings are the ones saying it’s impossible to calculate and pay royalties more than twice per year.

And this is a business which is heavily dependent on Barnes & Noble and similar organizations that are stumbling towards bankruptcy court.

In a near-future United States where 80-90% of all books are sold through Amazon, what, exactly will publishers have to offer authors?

 

Writing with Chronic Health Problems

5 March 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Dozens of you have asked me, both privately and in comments, how I write with a chronic health condition.

There really is a trick to the writing while chronically ill. But the trick is personal, and it’s tailored to each individual person.

So, more personal stories—and then tips.

I have many many many allergies. It’s taken years to identify them, particularly the food allergies. I’m deathly allergic to perfume and soaps (particularly anything with manmade glycerin) and that causes more problems than I can say. It’s also the allergy that’s forcing me to rethink travel.

The worst health problem I have, though, is chronic migraines. From the age of 19 on, I got migraines so severe and long-lasting that I would lose weeks to them. By the time I reached my mid-thirties, I would have migraines 21-25 days per month.

And yes, those were the years I was building my career, and editing The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I was working at an international level career, traveling (even though it made me sicker), and was horribly ill through much of it.

. . . .

So…how did I work with all of that? Mostly, I didn’t. That’s the odd thing. If I had a nine-to-five day job, I would have had to go on disability, like so many of my friends in similar situations. Either that or have a truly understanding boss, one who knew I wasn’t faking when I said I couldn’t come in until the afternoon—and maybe not even then.

With the exception of one job I had with a truly understanding boss, I never worked traditional hours. When I had day jobs, I had unusual ones, the kind with flexible hours or the kind that were performance based. (If I finished all my work, I could go home.)

So, as we’re talking about working through chronic health problems, keep in mind that as writers, we’re in control of our own schedules. We figure out how to manage the day-to-day business.

. . . .

So I evolved around the migraines.

Here’s what I realized I could control:

  1. I could control the triggers—and avoid them.
  2. I could exercise. The migraines got better if I exercised. And I could run (or walk) with a migraine and, magically, the migraine often got better.
  3. I could divide my work days according to the migraines. Remember, I told you that I could work through some migraines. The key for me was to try to do the actual work I wanted to do. If that wasn’t possible, then I would move to “easier” work. If that wasn’t possible, then the couch it was for me for the rest of the day, so I could work the following day.
  4. I could prioritize everything. Rather than try to do all of the work all the time, I could divide the work into things that I absolutely couldn’t miss to the things I could let slide. (Filing, I’m looking at you.)

. . . .

I came up with a list.

I needed to:

Write Every Day

Exercise Every Day

Manage My Food Intake

Get Enough Sleep

Read something

Sounds simple, right? But simple was what I needed, what I still need.

Notice what’s missing from the list? No email, no website work, no promotion. Those weren’t my priorities, and still aren’t. Those things can—and often do—wait.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Writer Finances Versus The Paycheck World

23 February 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

 Here’s a piece of advice you don’t hear very often:

Pay off your house.

Seriously, my writer friends. If you get a lump sum of money, pay off your house.

Or your car.

Definitely pay off your credit cards, and take them out of your wallet. Use them only when you travel to a conference or plan to make a big purchase.

If the indie writers who made a lot of money in 2012-2014 had followed that advice, they’d still be writing and publishing. Sure, their incomes would still be down, along with their sales, but their careers would continue.

How do I know they didn’t do that?

Because they’re gone. Mark Coker commented on it in his year-end blog. Writers in the comment section on this blog have mentioned that they’re leaving the business. The Kindle Boards discuss all the writers no one hears from any more.

And if you go to writer website after writer website, many of them for successful indies, you’ll see sites that haven’t been updated for a year or two, or you won’t find any site at all.

What happened?

Well, those writers will say that their sales went down to unsustainable levels. Those writers will say there’s no point in continuing now that they can’t make the same kind of money they made in 2013. Those writers will say that writing, as a profession, is impossible.

And it is, if you don’t understand money management.

. . . .

I’ve never had a traditional job (for long) or a traditional attitude (ever).

And therein lies the heart of this blog post.

Because if I had had a traditional attitude toward money, you would not be reading this blog. You would never have heard about me. My career would be over now.

Money management is a crucial part of running your own business, and in the Survival stage, it’s all about cash flow.

Cash flow, for those of you who don’t know (and in the U.S., I’m assuming that’s two-thirds of you reading this blog) is about the way money flows into a business and flows out of it. In a business, cash doesn’t arrive at predictable intervals or in predictable amounts—such as $2,000 every two weeks. Sometimes a business is lucky enough to have a predictable payment cycle (for example, Amazon KDP pays at the end of each month), but not a predictable amount.

Even when a young business has a predictable amount of money headed their way—say, a client who agrees to pay $1,000 every month until a bill is paid off—that client might pay $1,000 one month, and then pay the entire amount the next.

The problem is that the business might have planned for the $1,000 per month, but not the entire payment. That entire payment (let’s call it $4,000) might seem like a windfall, but it isn’t. Instead, it’s money that was expected and should have been used in the succeeding months.

How many writers would parse out that “extra” $3,000 at intervals of $1,000 per month? Not many.

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

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Next Page »