Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Changing Tastes

28 August 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

The June, 2015, issue of Vanity Fair had a nice little puff piece on the upcoming Star Wars film (the June issue came out in May), The Force Awakens. Interviews with J.J. Abrams, discussions with Kathleen Kennedy, a few tidbits about the storyline and George Lucas’s (possible) reaction to it all.

Star Wars is and was a cultural phenomenon, and I would expect Vanity Fair to cover the new film in one way or another, just like it’s covered the Oscars and Downton Abbey and other things that the society is currently discussing.

But I didn’t expect the article’s focus. It was worried that somehow the Abrams film wouldn’t upset “persnickity” fans. Okay, I assumed, as I started reading, that this was an anti-fan article. Yeah, that stuff happens, especially in some of the more elitist magazines like Vanity Fair.

However, the deeper I got into the article, the more I realized that the tone wasn’t about “persnickity” fans. The author of the article, Bruce Handy, also seemed concerned that the film would upset people who loved the original three movies.

He ended with this paragraph:

…“wonderful preposterousness” isn’t a bad descriptor of the Star Wars ethos at its best. Reviewing another scene, with spaceships blasting away at each other with phasers or whatever, Abrams could briefly be heard making ray-gun noises, the way a kid lying on his bedroom floor and drawing his own spaceships might. That galaxy far, far away appeared to be in good hands.

The fact that a magazine like this one worried that the “galaxy far, far away” was in good hands damn near floored me. I have been knee-deep in the women in sf project, and that has taken me back to the big sf fights of my early career. One of those fights was against space opera and the Star Wars/Star Trek fans “taking over” sf. In fact, as recently as ten years ago, David Brin edited an entire book on that very issue, Star Wars on Trial. I had an essay in that book, defending the media properties, an essay that Asimov’s also reprinted.

The idea that elites and critics would worry about the upcoming Star Wars movie living up to the original…well, it makes my brain hurt.

Those fights back in the day were pretty ugly. The woman responsible for the tone of The Empire Strikes Back, screenwriter and sf writer, Leigh Brackett, had trouble being taken seriously be the sf establishment of the 1970s, partly because her style of sf was considered passé—even though she influenced almost everyone writing and editing sf back then.

. . . .

Leigh Brackett was and is a marvelous writer, and if you read her science fiction, you’ll understand why Lucas asked her to contribute to the original Star Wars trilogy. Essentially, Lucas’s entire universe wouldn’t exist without Leigh Brackett.

I had a few moments of panic because of Hamilton’s comments. I read them just before NASA’s New Horizons space probe changed everything we “knew” about Pluto. Fortunately, I never wrote about Pluto. But I wonder sometimes what we “know” about something, that I’ve written about as hard sf or even as contemporary fiction that will be debunked in the future.

I cringe at times, because I came of age when the arguments were loud, particularly in sf, about what was and wasn’t appropriate for the genre. Whether I agreed or not, those arguments went in.

It took me forever to write space opera, and it took some creative traditional editors to buy it. Nowadays, we can publish what we want, indie if traditional publishing doesn’t want what we’ve done, and public opinion shouldn’t make a difference.

But it does.

Writers still put themselves in boxes. You can see it in the comments section of my recent rebranding post, where some of the people commenting followed a link from other sites. A handful of the people following links didn’t read the post at all. They just looked at the rebranded covers, and schooled me in what paranormal romance readers expected.

. . . .

[M]y Grayson novels—which were marketed as paranormal romance ten years ago—don’t fit much of the genre expectations at the moment.

That will change again in a few years. Genre expectations always do. That’s what Hamilton was fighting in his defense of Leigh Brackett. That’s what we looked at with the redesigned covers. That’s why people who were born after the original Star Wars trilogy have no real idea that, among the sf genre purists, those movies were reviled.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment, whatever that moment might be. Since I’m digging into thirty- and fifty- and seventy-year-old fiction right now, I’m finding a lot of things that aren’t acceptable to modern audiences. From smoking cigarettes on spaceships to stories causally using racist terms to terms that no longer mean what they meant sixty years ago, I occasionally get inundated with then-versus-now.

. . . .

I think Lee always wanted Watchman to be in print. It’s a vindication, of sorts, almost sixty years later, of what must have been a terrible time for her. The book is finally in print, for good or for ill.

When she wrote that book, everyone would have understood the subtext. Now, she’s “ruined” Atticus Finch by portraying him as a bigot.

Here, I think Le Guin is spot-on. She writes,

So I’m glad, now, that Watchman was published. It hasn’t done any harm to the old woman [Lee], and I hope it’s given her pleasure. And it redeems the young woman who wrote this book, who wanted to tell some truths about the Southern society that lies to itself so much.

Times change. Opinions change. What is “true” changes as well.

And books still follow trends—or lead trends.

I’m not sure how Watchman would have been received had it been published in 1958 or 1959. It might’ve simply disappeared, and Harper Lee might’ve been a midlist author of good quality books for twenty or thirty years.

Instead, she wrote a second novel at the urging of an editor who liked the nostagic parts ofWatchman better than its truths. Mockingbird echoed the national mood of 1960, as the white establishment learned that injustice existed, injustice that people of color had lived with for generations. Mockingbird is an important book, not just for the excellent story that it tells, but because it hit the zeitgeist and helped with the national conversation of its time.

Some books do that. So do some movies.

Vanity Fair covered the new Star Wars movie because Star Wars, along with Jaws, changed the way that movies were made, and what was “acceptable” in film. We wouldn’t have any of the Marvel films or any of the summer blockbusters without Star Wars. But going to the movies would have been a lot less enjoyable.

. . . .

We can write what we want.

The trade-off is that hitting the cultural zeitgeist is much harder. The world has gotten bigger. The days when a single book rests on the coffeetable of everyone who reads are long gone.

What we gain in freedom, we lose in attention.

And many writers do their best to build boxes around themselves, as you can see from those comments a few weeks ago. Even indie writers believe that there are Rules To Be Followed, and Tastemakers To Be Placated.

Weirdly enough, in this world where we can upload the book today we finished writing yesterday, we have to wait to get attention for it. Yes, we might get our usual readers to pick up a copy, but for the book to have “legs,” for it to make an impact, that takes time.

And sometimes that time might be years, not weeks. The book we published today might be part of a cultural trend ten years from now. It’s up to us to remain informed, to see the trends building, to change covers or point out that this book—which first saw print a decade ago—actually has a lot to say about what’s going on right now.

It’s a whole different way of thinking about things, a way we’re not yet used to.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

What Traditional Publishing Says It Does Best

14 August 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Last week, Steve Hamilton utterly destroyed his career—or would have, if it were 2005. Steve, a New York Times bestseller and two-time Edgar winner, pulled his novel, The Second Life of Nick Mason, from St. Martins Press less than two months before the book’s release.

Steve didn’t just pull the book; he canceled the entire four-book contract. His agent repaid the monies that St Martins had already paid on that contract.

Why would a writer do such a thing? According to the articles I saw, Hamilton claims that the book, which had received excellent pre-publication reviews, was getting no support from the publisher.

To be clear, I should add two things here as a former St. Martins author that might color my perspective:

  1. Like Steve, I got excellent prepublication reviews before all of my Smokey Dalton books were published, as well as promises of huge promotions on those books. The promotion never happened; the books were dumped. St. Martins is the company that sent me on a book tour and refused to supply books. So…
  2. In all things here, my sympathies and my experience lead me to believe Steve. You might see me as biased. Go ahead. Because I am. :-)

What St Martins promised on the back of the galleys sent to reviewers and places like Publishers Weekly was this:

A 75,000 copy first printing, and a lot of national marketing, including a national author tour and a national ad campaign for the book.

But not even Publishers Weekly, an industry trade journal, was buying that. In an article about Hamilton’s parting with St Martins, Rachel Deahl of PW wrote, “It is an open secret in the publishing industry that claims made on galleys and other material for the trade–about everything from first printings to marketing budgets and efforts–can be gross exaggerations.”

In that article, Steve says he’s canceled the contract because of a lack of publisher support. Since he’s been with St Martins for 17 years, he knows what he’s talking about.

. . . .

In the past eight years, I’ve canceled two book contracts because publishers didn’t fulfill their promises. I felt relief both times.

But I had options, even before the changes in publishing. Steve had options as well. It looks like his agent had talked with other publishers before pulling the book from St. Martins. After the book’s rights were freed up, over 10 publishers bid on the book.

G.P. Putnam’s Sons (part of Penguin Group USA) won the bid for “substantially more than the near-seven figures Hamilton was to have received from St. Martin’s,” according to the AP report on the new sale.

The world has changed. Back in the day, no publisher would have bid on a book already in production, no matter what was going on. And no agent would have tried this, no matter how bad things got.

But Steve’s agent, Shane Salerno, is not a New York based agent. He’s an author himself, as well as a filmmaker, and screenwriter. He runs a company in Los Angeles called the Story Factory. He’s not playing by the old rules at all, which is good, because large corporate publishers aren’t either.

But let’s assume that Steve had done all of this without having other publishers in his back pocket. These days, he still had options. If no one had offered on the book, he could have published it himself.

If he handled it right, it would have sold better than it would have through St Martins, which has a lot of trouble selling most of its hardcovers to places other than libraries.

Books get canceled all the time. Often they get canceled because the writer fails to deliver. But sometimes there are other problems, as there were with me and my two publishers above. One of those publishers had assigned me the editor from hell. (Wait, that’s being unfair to editors from hell. She was and is a demon spawn, a hell native who makes hell hellish for anyone who is there. [yeah, you guessed it. I think she’s a terrible editor and an even worse person.]) I refused to work with her, and that ultimately led to the cancellation of the contract.

. . . .

In addition to the monies paid to Steve, St Martins had probably invested $100,000 in actual costs and overhead on the book, if not more.

Pulling the book two months before publication guarantees that St Martins lost money on the deal. Other publishers know that. In this instance, they didn’t care.

. . . .

[I]n the old days, the days before the indie publishing revolution, Steve Hamilton’s byline would have vanished.

Oh, he would have kept writing, and he probably would have had a frustrating few years. He might’ve tried to write under his own name, and except for the short fiction magazines, probably not sold anything. Then he would have moved to a pen name, and maybe used the cover of his agent to keep his real name out of the loop until the book was accepted (and maybe not even then).

That kind of secrecy revolving around a pen name happened all of time back then. I know of several writers whose real names are still hidden from their publishers because the writer did something to get blacklisted under that name.

. . . .

Force the publisher to keep promises? Force the publisher to honor a contract? Horrors! Better to get some naïve young writer to write books than an old pro who knows what he’s doing.

. . . .

Dean’s asked me more than once what it would take for me to sell another novel into traditional publishing. (I sell other projects to traditional publishers—nonfiction, editing, short stories.)

If the novel contracts change, maybe, I would sell a novel to traditional publishing again. If I’m offered 7-figures and the contract change, and…

Probably not even then. As Elizabeth Spann Craig says, I’ve done all of this myself with better financial results.

Plus, as she says, I like the control.

. . . .

Writers are the brand. We always have been. And because of that, traditional publishers are slowly beginning to realize that indie published writers are cutting into the bottom line.

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

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

Price Wars and Victims

6 August 2015

From Kristine Katherine Rusch:

I had an interesting experience this week: I just bought a brand-new hardcover novel for less than I would have paid for the ebook. I wouldn’t have noticed except that I’ve been doing a lot of stuff online this week, and Amazon, good marketers that they are, sent me an e-mail to let me know that I had received a preorder discount of 90 cents.

I prefer to read paper books, although I do read ebooks, especially when I’m binging on a series.

The thing is, I’d ordered the book six months ago from Amazon. The book, Sara Paretsky’s Brush Back (which I’m enjoying, thank you very much), has a publisher’s list price of $27.95 for the hardcover. Amazon never listed the book at full price. I believe I initially ordered a $17.95 hardcover. I kept getting notices of discounting from Amazon, until this last, which arrived after the book was shipped.

Caveat here: I preorder because it makes some random day feel like Christmas. Suddenly, a book I really, really want shows up in the mail, almost like a surprise gift from a special friend.

I had forgotten that the Paretsky was coming out in August. If you’d asked me, I would have said September, because that used to be her release date. So when I received the most recent notice of the preorder discount—one that sounded final, final—I went to Amazon and looked up the publication date for the book.

And just about fell off my chair when I saw that the Kindle edition was $13.99 and the hardcover was listed at $13.

. . . .

As I searched for the publisher’s list price, too lazy to get up and pick up my copy from the other room, I found that Barnes & Noble lists the book at $16.83 for the hardcover and $11.84 for the Nookbook.

. . . .

Agency pricing has returned to ebooks, which means that publishers are setting their own ebook prices and the retailers, like Amazon, are not discounting. The ebook price on Amazon is clearly a price-match with Barnes & Noble, not something that Amazon has done.

I poked around Amazon, looking at e-book prices, and almost fell off my chair for a second time. Lisa Scottoline’s next book, which releases in October, has a $14.99 ebook. So does Michael Connelly’s November release. And Stephen King’s November release. Robert Crais’s next book shows a $12.70 Kindle edition paired with a $13.37 hardcover. Does that sound familiar?

And what’s fascinating to me is that these books, and the dozens of other traditionally published upcoming releases that I looked at are coming out of different publishing companies. Not different imprints of the Big 5, but each of the Big 5.

Once again, pricing seems…agreed upon.

. . . .

Nonetheless, Amazon is leaving the ebook prices—set by the publisher—alone…and messing with the paper prices.

I mean seriously messing with the paper prices. I should not have been able to get a brand-new hardcover for more than half off the list price on the day the book released. Maybe at Christmas. Maybe nine months from now, as the publisher gets ready to release the mass market paperback.

But now? Release day? Seriously?

. . . .

The traditional publishers are screaming about Amazon. I’ve learned over the years that when someone screams about something, they’re doing so because they feel some kind of pressure, some kind of pinch.

How could traditional publishers be feeling a pinch from Amazon? After all, in the United States, Amazon is selling more books than any other retailer. Why would that hurt traditional publishers? Is it hurting traditional publishers?

Oh, my friends. One should never ask these sorts of questions. Because the answers are often surprising.

From the evidence that I’m seeing, here’s what I believe is going on.

Amazon is clearly fighting the price war on a variety of fronts, and I’m sure Amazon’s policy is pretty simple: They want affordable ebook prices. So if traditional publishers want to charge $14.99 for a Kindle edition, then Amazon will make sure no one buys the expensive Kindle edition by lowering the price of the hardcover.

My unscientific examination shows that when the Kindle prices are high, the discount on the paper edition is deeper.

. . . .

When publishers returned to Agency Pricing, they had to agree to the same ebook royalty schedule that indies have. Which means that for any ebook priced over $9.99, the publisher will receive 35% of the sales price. (If the publisher prices the books between $2.99 and 9.99, then the publisher receives 70%)

The publisher, with a $14.99 ebook, will receive a royalty payment per sale of $5.25. If the publisher had priced the ebook at $9.99, the publisher would have received $6.99.

So traditional publishers are deliberately receiving a lower percentage royalty to keep the ebooks prices artificially high.

But traditional publishers aren’t the only ones taking less money to prove a point. If business is being conducted as it usually is, then traditional publishers sell their books to Amazon at the discount they use for all of the other big accounts (Wal-Mart, Costco, and so on).

That would be 60-64% of list price. This is known as a deep discount.

So, if Amazon pays 64% of $27.95 for the hardcover of, say, the Paretsky book, then Amazon is paying a little over $10 per book. Amazon is currently selling that book for $13, making a $3 profit.

If Amazon sells the Kindle edition of that book, Amazon makes $7.57 per sale. (65% of $11.64) If Amazon sells any of the $14.99 ebooks, it makes $9.75—over three times what it’s making on these discounted hardcover new releases.

Why is Amazon doing it?

I’m guessing here that the price wars continue. And Amazon is trying to force publishers to return to $9.99 ebook prices.

. . . .

Publishing contracts have changed in the past 15 years. Now, each contract has a discount schedule, reducing the royalty if a book is sold at deep (or what the average person would call high) discount. In the past, many contracts didn’t have a discount schedule; the publisher would eat the loss.

Now writers get a much lower royalty if the actual discount to the retailer is low.

At 60-64%, some writers are receiving only a 1-2% royalty. Let’s be charitable and give that writer a 2% royalty. That’s 2% of $27.95, which comes out to 56 cents per hardcover sold.

If the book sells at full price, the writer would get 10 to 15 to 20%, depending on the royalty schedule. (Often royalties are based on sales numbers—10% to 150,000 copies, 15% to 500,000 copies, 20% over 500,000 copies.)

Let’s be realistic instead of charitable this time. Most writers traditionally published in hardcover never sell 150,000 copies of that hardcover. The writer will get the 10% royalty, which is $2.75 per book. Not 56 cents. That’s a significant loss for books sold at deep discount.

But it’s a fact of life. That writer would get the 56 cents if Amazon sells the book at $27.95 or if Amazon sells the book at $13.37. It won’t matter to the writer at all.

The squeeze occurs on the ebook prices. Currently traditionally published writers across the boardare getting 25% of net income received on ebook sales.

So…if the publisher sells the ebook through Amazon at $14.99, and Amazon pays the publisher a royalty of 35%, then the publisher will receive $5.25. That’s “net income received” of which the writer will get 25% or $1.31.

However, if the publisher sets the ebook price at $9.99 on Amazon, the publisher will receive $6.99. The writer will get 25% of that $6.99 or $1.74. A little better.

But the other bonus at the lower ebook price is this: It has been proven over the years that the lower price point brings in more sales. So the writer would receive more money per sale and also make more sales.

The traditionally published writer is losing out here.

Link to the rest at Kristine Katherine Rusch and thanks to David for the tip.

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

Fighting the Wrong War

18 July 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I know some of you are going to ask me what I think of the latest Authors United letter, the one they’ve just submitted to the United States Department of Justice.  For those of you who don’t know,Authors United—a group of New York Times bestsellers—have chosen to speak for all of us…in demanding that the DOJ stop Amazon’s monopolistic practices, because Amazon is ruining the book business.

Sigh.

There’s so many things wrong with the Authors United letter that it makes my brain hurt. Writer Joe Konrath has fisked the letter on his blog, putting a lot of time and effort into debunking almost everything in the letter. Writer Joe Konrath. Bestselling writer Joe Konrath—in case you missed the point.

I’m not going to replicate Joe’s work. He’s fighting The Stupid, so the rest of us don’t have to.

I’m also not going to defend Authors United. I really wish those folks, some of whom were writers I respected (note the tense), would learn the business of publishing, rather than listen to their agents and publishers, who have a different set of concerns than the writers themselves.

. . . .

Here’s what I wish: I wish that writers had business sense. I wish that they would then use their collective multimillion dollar clout to fight the real war, the one that the music industry is slowly turning its attention to.

I’m pretty sure that no writer besides me noticed this headline on National Public Radio’s website on Tuesday: Is Transparency The Music Industry’s Next Battle?

My answer to that question would be a resounding yes. And after that, perhaps someone can tackle transparency in the traditional publishing industry.

Transparency. What does that mean? It is actually a financial term, with a specific meaning. Financial transparency means that a company must make information as clear and accessible as possible for its investors and business partners. There are a million explanations of financial transparency on the web, but my favorite comes from the Investopedia, which has this sentence in the middle of its four-paragraph explanation of the term:

Transparency helps to prevent the corruption that inevitably occurs when a select few have access to important information, allowing them to use it for personal gain.

So, when artists in the music industry are asking for transparency, they want to be able to track the royalties and other income that artists are due, in an easy and explainable way.

. . . .

Think of this complexity, when you contemplate the revenue streams on your one novel. You wrote the novel, and yeah, you might have put it up on various ecommerce sites yourself, so you have a handful of revenue streams that you can keep track of.

Some writers just publish to Amazon, and have a single revenue stream. When that revenue stream gets disrupted, the writers complain loudly.

. . . .

If you move to other places besides Amazon to sell your single title, then you have multiple revenue streams on that title. Those of us who have freelanced forever learned the first rule of freelancing is to have more than one revenue stream, because the single stream can close literally overnight.

The complexity for writers grows with the number of titles that you publish. Each title, published on multiple sites and in multiple formats, has multiple revenue streams. Not just streams for subscription services like Oyster, but through the digital sites like Amazon and iBooks, and through print, and audio, and podcasting, and a dozen other licenses.

And that’s just the indie work. Hybrid writers like me have titles in channels we can’t monitor easily. Any book still licensed to a traditional publisher has multiple revenue streams, some of which I control and some of which the traditional publisher controls.

That traditional publisher reports on those revenue streams twice a year, a throwback to the origins of the publishing industry, when all of this stuff was done by hand.

. . . .

Figuring out what’s going on with traditionally published work is truly a nightmare, because traditional publishing is not transparent, in any sense of the word.

Sure, writers get paperwork from our traditional publishers. At the beginning of July, Dean and I each got over 50 sheets of paper royalty statements for some of the tie-in novels that we wrote in the 1990s. We could sign up for the online version of those royalty statements, but we haven’t done it yet. I think we’re being passive-aggressive: we’d rather have the publisher spend the money to print out the things than do it on our own.

Most traditionally published writers also have agents, and have a traditional relationship with those agents. That means the money from all of the various revenue streams funnel to a single point—the agent—who removes his 15% before sending the rest of the money to the writer.

You’d think that financial relationship would be transparent, but it is not. In fact, in all the years I had agents, not a single agent ever sent an overall yearend statement, delineating all of the financial transactions that we had throughout that year. Hell, I just got a financial transaction statement from my veterinarian because we spent quite a bit of money there these past two months. And it was amonthly statement of account.

No agent has ever done that for me, and I’ve had several agents from some of the biggest agencies in the business. Think on that, and look at that Investopedia quote again. Then add 2+2, and see what you come up with.

. . . .

The Author’s Guild had one moment of clarity in May, when it announced the Fair Contract Initiative, and I had hoped the Guild was moving to sensible fights. Sigh.

Of course, even the Fair Contract Initiative is behind the times. It’s something that an organization like the Author’s Guild should have fought for fifty years ago. But the Author’s Guild, unlike many music organizations, is toothless. The Guild has no clout at all (even though it thinks it does), and others in the industry can easily ignore it.

As the Berklee study points out, the artists who handle their own finances and don’t go through what the study calls “intermediaries” like record labels have a better understanding of what the income is from music.

Those of you who are indie published can keep track of what you earn with greater ease than traditionally published writers can. The problem isn’t with the transparency of Amazon or Barnes & Noble or other retailers. As I’ve said before, these large organizations with public stock are governed by very strict laws, some of which address the need for transparency for investors.

The problem for indie writers comes in the amount of data, as I mentioned above, and trying to keep track of all of it.

The problem for traditionally published writers is the same as the problem for musicians who have chosen to go through labels to market their work. As the study says repeatedly:

Data provided to artists and writers with these royalty payments is often opaque. As a result, they often don’t understand the payments and accountings that they receive. One reason for the opacity may be that it benefits intermediaries—Fair Music: Transparency and Payment Flows in the Music Industry, P. 3

. . . .

Traditional publishers have already gotten into trouble with the Department of Justice for bad business practices. It’s not hard for anyone who understands business to believe that organizations which have already proven that they’ll break the law to have a business advantage will break the law in other places as well. Companies that are willing to cut corners will look at the most vulnerable parties first, and in publishing, those parties are naïve writers, who expect honesty and get none.

Neither the music industry nor the publishing industry has an internal reason to change its reporting structures. Those structures also benefit agents, no matter how much they complain to the press. Because a lot of agents skim. Some do it on the float, by holding money in interest-bearing accounts for as long as a month—which is, by the way, perfectly legal if the writer has agreed to it in a contract. Other agencies actually skim by “losing” payments or by taking a larger percentage than they deserve.

Even if individual agents believe that the system must change, the company they work for, the agency, will not take on this fight. It’s not in an agency’s best interest either.

Writers have to do it. And the big names should stop wasting their time and what little clout they have with things that have nothing to do with the sharp decline in traditionally published writer revenue, and go after the thing that actually has impacted writer revenue: the way that this new digital income gets reported.

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

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books

Gaming the System

19 June 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

It has taken the latest Kindle Unlimited Apocalypse (KUpocalypse 2? KUpocalypse Part Deux? KUpocalypse XXL?) to help me understand my visceral reaction to all of those writers who game the system.

First, let me explain the reaction. It ain’t pretty. It comes from decades of watching young (meaning newer) writers try to game whatever system exists, whether the system is traditional publishing or indie publishing or getting an agent or trying to sell a book to Hollywood using by writing “blockbuster” novels based on current movies (I can’t even begin to count the ways that’s stupid).

By gaming the system, I mean artificially elevating book sales by doing something non-writing related.

For example, when I edited The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, I stumbled on a writing article in which some newbie writer claimed to have found “the secret” to selling short stories to me. That writer analyzed every story in every issue I had my byline on up until that point, found common elements, and told the writers reading his essay that I looked for those elements.

Ooops. That was wrong. Because the first 18 months of my editorial reign included works purchased by the previous editor Ed Ferman. Just like the first 18 months of Gordon Van Gelder’s reign included works purchased by me, and part of Charles Coleman Finlay’s early years will include works purchased by Gordon, depending on inventory.

Half the things that writer found in my editorial canon were in stories I didn’t buy (and maybe didn’t like). The other things may have been things I decided I had enough of and wasn’t going to purchase for a while.

. . . .

Writers do a variety of things like this even now, from analyzing the kinds of clients agents have, to writing to order based on Amazon’s bestseller algorithms. Kindle Unlimited really provokes a lot of this behavior, with writers admitting in blogs and other places that they were deliberately writing shorter works (and serialized works) to make more money on Amazon.

We’ll get to all of that in a minute. But first, I want to talk about gaming the system just a bit more.

In a closed and arcane system, like publishing used to be and like traditional publishing still can be, some amount of gaming is inevitable. Because there was no school for writers, no business training, and very few established professionals who mentored and/or taught newcomers the tricks of the trade, each generation of writers had to learn from scratch how to break into publishing.

This led to a weird phenomena. Good information got mixed with totally useless information, and presented as Gospel.

. . . .

In a closed system, guesswork often takes the place of actual information. Guesswork means that the individual writer will poke and prod, trying to find what works.

That habit, guessing and prodding, continues among some writers, who don’t learn to substitute knowledge for guesswork. Those writers end up spending their writing life on guesswork.

And working off guesswork as a professional leads to behaviors that make those of us with a business background shake our heads, behaviors like giving an agent 15% of a copyright for the life of the copyright just because the agent made a few phone calls or like selling a book to a small press in the hope of that book becoming a bestseller when that press has never had a bestseller and wouldn’t know what to do with one if one came along.

The practice of using guesswork as fact becomes a way of life for some writers. It’s now built into the arcana of writing. It makes gaming the system seem normal, the way that business is conducted.

. . . .

[T]he internet has made it possible for writers, without leaving the comforts of home, to actually gain knowledge on how to be successful from people who have long-term careers.

Why am I stressing long-term careers? Because a lot of things work in the short term and don’t work long-term at all. Writers who have freelanced for decades know how to survive the ups and downs of the publishing business.

. . . .

In the beginning, I tolerated gaming the system.  I used to think that writers would get by it. Some writers do get past that idea that they can game their way to success. Some writers do game their way to success. But I have learned that every writer who games his way to success has short-term success.

And then that writer gets caught or the system changes or the bottom falls out. Most writers quit at that point. Last summer’s Kindle Unlimited Apocalypse took out hundreds, maybe thousands, of writers who had some success. Many of them left writing altogether.

Some of them found a new way to game the system, still with Kindle Unlimited, figuring out the new algorithms and what those writers “should” be writing in order to win the big prize—which is, either, some imagined (unprovable) bonus to their bestseller rankings or part of the Prize Pool. Ooops. I mean the Select Global Fund. Or none of the above. Honestly, I haven’t made much of a study of it, because, as you can tell from my tone, I don’t think it important.

The remaining writers who were gaming the system and got nailed did the cliché thing and turned lemons into lemonade. They learned that they were approaching their business wrong, and they took the collapse as an opportunity to build a foundation underneath their writing career.

A lot of those writers are showing up in the discussions about the latest change in Kindle Unlimited, and mentioning how they changed their behavior, so that this year’s change will have little or no impact on the way they’re doing business. I’m very impressed by these folks.

. . . .

You are responsible for your career. You’re responsible for your successes and your failures. You’re responsible for whether or not you have a career.

There are ups and there are downs. You ride them, like you surf a wave. No surfer rides the crest of every wave each time. Surfers do crash and burn. Then they paddle out and catch another wave. And no wave is the same.

. . . .

In addition to the writers who mentioned they had left Kindle Unlimited last year and put a foundation under their business, a number of other writers commented on the changes. Those writers defended the fact that they were continuing to game Amazon’s system, and those writers vowed to find the new way to game the system.

And that bugs me.

It bugs me because of the contempt these writers show for the craft of writing.

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

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books

Hidden Treasures

11 June 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

At the end of May, I hit most of my major writing deadlines. I’m turning my attention to short stories and to a massive project I’m doing for Baen Books, under the unwieldy title Tough Mothers, Great Dames, and Warrior Princesses: Classic Stories By Women in Science Fiction. (Yes, I’m considering another title, but still haven’t come up with it.)

In connection with that book . . . I’ve started a website called Women in Science Fiction, mostly so I have a place for suggestions from you sf fans, and also so that I have a record of the various stories I like that probably won’t fit into the book.

. . . .

I’m amazed at how many writers I’d heard of, but not read. I’m also amazed at how quickly names have gotten lost. I actually found many of the suggestions shocking—not because I disagree or anything, but because I hadn’t realized these writers had become writers who needed to be rediscovered.

For example, a number of people told me about Ursula K. Le Guin, because they hadn’t heard of her until lately. Or Octavia Butler, whom many don’t know. And then, the Andre Norton discussion I had on this site with Jeffro Johnson on Norton’s obscurity to an entire generation.

. . . .

You mention Christie these days and everyone has heard of her work, even if they haven’t read it. You mention Burroughs, and everyone has heard of Tarzan, and some even know about John Carter of Mars. You mention Robert Heinlein to science fiction fans, and they know who he is as well.

Heinlein, Burroughs, and Christie have been continually in print for generations. But Andre Norton hasn’t. Some of her work left print during her lifetime.

. . . .

But part of the reason that Andre Norton’s work has faded into obscurity for younger generations is precisely what Jeffro Johnson mentioned. He wrote,

There is a generation gap. In the seventies, fantasy readers would have typically read stuff from a half dozen decades without giving it a thought…Something happened with regard to publishing, libraries, book clubs, and book stores in the eighties to cause a shift….

He guessed about what the shift was, blaming the usual suspects, video games, blockbuster movies, but those—frankly—were 1970s phenomena, and while prevalent in the 1980s, didn’t stop people from reading the old stuff.

. . . .

So here, in the smallest nutshell I can manage, is what happened. I’m dealing with the US only because that’s what I’m familiar with. But as I’ve been Googling today to double-check my facts, I realize that some of what I mentioned here (particularly the part about libraries), occurred in other Western nations as well.

First, the rise of a certain type of chain bookstore occurred in the 1980s. Bookstore chains have existed almost as long as bookstores. It’s pretty normal for a successful retailer to open another store once the first store does well. Until the 1980s, bookstore chains were regional. You’d hear a New Yorker say that he’d be going to Brentano’s, not that he was going to a bookstore. Or someone from Michigan would go to Borders. These were independent booksellers, who owned more than one store.

. . . .

The early chain bookstores in malls were small. These stores had a tiny footprint and big rent. They had to “churn” books, meaning that every month—or in some cases—every ten days, the entire content of the store would change. Books were being stripped and tossed out if they didn’t sell in less than two weeks. The bestsellers would remain in the stores. Everything else would change.

At this point, though, independent booksellers still grew and expanded. The chains had no real impact on independents because the chains weren’t in their neighborhood. Very few independent bookstores opened in shopping malls again, because of the high rents. Bookstores tended to locate in older parts of a city where the rents were low.

. . . .

Less money for libraries meant a shift in the way that libraries handled their collections. Libraries needed patrons to show up and then support organizations like Friends of the Library, so libraries cut back on book orders and increased periodicals they carried. Interlibrary loan became important. As long as the book was somewhere in the system, then someone could order it and wait and wait and wait.

As you can tell, this had an impact on the little shelf-scourers, like me. I couldn’t randomly discover a writer and then easily read her work. The library, the place I always thought of as a repository of knowledge, became more about the churn as well, mostly in self-defense. The books didn’t stay on the shelves for five to ten years. By the end of the 1980s, if a book hadn’t been checked out in two years, it went to the library book sales department or got pulped. (Writing that hurts. It really does.)

So by the end of the 1980s, as Jeffro Johnson noted, books went out of print. There was also a tax ruling that got misconstrued as the main cause of the loss of the backlist in the 1990s, but that ruling only had an impact for a few years. The ruling changed the way that warehoused items were counted on taxes. It’s too complicated to go into here, but suffice to say it wasn’t cost effective for publishers to sit on books in warehouses during that period, so stocking books at a publisher’s expense (to replenish when the supply in the market diminished) ceased.

Midlist books got published, but older titles? Important titles? The first books in a series or books by authors no longer producing new work? Those books were the first to leave the inventory.

Publishers stopped reprinting them, but kept them as company assets unless the writer or the writer’s estate asked for a reversion of rights.

The changes in the way that books reached readers continued in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. The rise of the superstore bookstore chain started then, with Barnes & Noble leading the way. These huge bookstores needed “wallpaper,” books that would sit on those far walls, almost as decoration. The bookshelves in the middle of the stores held the newer material. The older stuff went back on the walls.

. . . .

The superstore chains were good for writers with established careers because the superstore chains, unlike the chains before them or the smaller independents, carried an entire series, and often the writer’s entire backlist. Writers could walk into a Barnes & Noble and find their own books that had been published two years ago, still stocked.

. . . .

Those other stores—those not-bookstores that carried books? The grocery stores, truck stops, drug stores, restaurants? They all got their books from a little local distributor down the street.

Literally down the street for me and Dean. We lived in the country, and the only people near us for about a mile were the owners of the book distributor for Lane County, Oregon. They rented a warehouse in Eugene, and they trucked books all over the county. Those folks knew that truck stops sold more romances and Louis L’Amour than the snobby bookstores near the University of Oregon. They knew that chain bookstores sold more bestsellers and the local grocery stores sold books on calorie counts. They knew every little detail about an area, and they knew who bought what kind of book.

Algorithms before Amazon, just kept in a distributor’s head (and on their rudimentary computer).

Grocery stores also chained up during these two decades. Instead of the regional large stores or the mom-and-pop stores on the corner, large grocery chains dominated. These chains funneled their invoices to corporate, and corporate hated the regional book distributors. The product was the same—books—but the invoices came from thousands of different distributors, sometimes with invoices as small as a few hundred bucks.

So giant grocery chains (my memory says Walmart and Safeway, but my memory might be wrong and I can’t find this quickly) decided they would deal with ten distributors each. Nationwide. They let the existing distributors compete for the business, and each company chose a different group of ten. (Eventually, those twenty distributors whittled down to four.)

. . . .

Most of the regional distributors who didn’t work with the chains went out of business, including our former neighbors. Some of the distributors got bought up, but those employees (if they stayed) were busy trying to provide books to a much larger market. The initial twenty distributors who survived didn’t have time to learn that book buyers in Raleigh preferred historical novels over science fiction novels or who the local authors were in New Orleans. So all the surviving distributors did was order bestsellers and pray that those books would sell while the distributors learned how to do business on this grand scale.

The distributors learned within a year, but the damage was done. The publishers were repeatedly told that only bestsellers could get into the pipeline, so publishers only bought guaranteed bestsellers. The whole idea of growing a bestseller from a midlist book went out the window. If the books didn’t perform significantly better with each release, then the authors were jettisoned.

And backlist? Gone, at least from these distributors. The big chain bookstores started ordering directly from the publishers, setting up their own distribution arms. Midlist writers and their backlist still made it to the superstores, but not the smaller retail outlets and not to their customer base in certain regions.

And the older books didn’t stand a chance. Unless they were being released in classy editions that looked good as wallpaper.

So here’s the upshot. By the beginning of the new century, the old genre classics in science fiction, fantasy, romance, and mystery were unavailable. They weren’t in new bookstores; they had a small (and often expensive) presence in used bookstores; and they weren’t in libraries.

. . . .

Young writers professing an ignorance of the past got me started on this project. These writers said that women had never had a place in science fiction, and I knew that was wrong. But when I tried to find books to disprove the point made by those writers, I couldn’t find much that was in print.

From a look at the evidence—and the dearth of materials online as well—it would seem that the young writers are right. In the Information Age, information is being lost.

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

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books

PG can’t think of anyone blogging who puts the present book business in context with the past as well as Kris does. She does a great many other things well, but she’s unique in this respect.

Writing by Committee

26 May 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I had a shudder moment yesterday. While researching something else, I read a New York Times interview on leadership with Gina Centrello, president and publisher of Random House Publishing Group. (No, she’s not the head of Random House. Just a section of it.)

She mentions the importance of teamwork in the publishing industry. She’s running a huge section of a major company. Of course there needs to be a team, and of course, the team needs to work toward a common goal.

In the article, she says some of the right things about writers, like:

Authors are fascinating people, and as a publisher, your job is to make their work public

Okay, that’s simplistic, but this is an interview, and one thing about interviews is that the interview’s subject has to simplify major concepts to be clear.

But the article bothered me, not from a business perspective, or even from what’s on the page. Just based on some things bestselling writers have told me about working for Random Penguin. This paragraph bothered me in particular:

Our group is composed of a ton of stars, but they’re part of this bigger galaxy. If you want to be a solo artist, you’re probably not going to be happy in our group. If anyone doesn’t succeed here, that’s usually why.

Again, she’s talking about working inside the publishing company. When you’re dealing with that many employees and a division as large as the one she manages, having an outlier employee might be a problem. (It might also be a boon, but that’s another article.)

However, that line: If you want to be a solo artist, you’re probably not going to be happy… kept reverberating for me. Because novelists are by definition solo artists.

. . . .

I do read bestsellers—generally, though, I started reading these writers before they became bestsellers—and many of their latest works have become frighteningly predictable.

Some are predictable in the way that writers become predictable once you’ve read a lot of their work. I was the annoying twelve-year-old who read every one of Agatha Christie’s mysteries (in a month) until I saw the pattern: the killer was always the person with the little or no motivation to commit the murder. Murder on the Orient Express was the one that made me quit because… SPOILER…

I had this thought as I read, “No one has a motive. She wouldn’t have all of them do it, would she?”

Turns out I was right.

END SPOILER (although, really, if you don’t know this one by now, you’re clearly not a mystery reader or a movie fan).

All writers have patterns, and sometimes, if you binge-read, you learn what those patterns are.

Those patterns are unique to the writer, so if you only read a few of the writer’s works, you’ll never see the pattern at all.

The patterns that have been kicking me out of so many bestsellers these days aren’t unique to the writers. The patterns aren’t even unique.

They’re storytelling patterns—familiar ones. The kind that tell me if the writer does A, then B will follow. A writer’s job isn’t to move from A to B. It’s to move from A to M, then back to E, and maybe all the way to Z before ending with L.

A lot of these authors specifically thank their “team” for help with the writing experience. Most writers have trusted readers, usually unfamiliar names to the rest of us. These unfamiliar names are friends and family, people who may not be in publishing at all.

But the writers I’m mentioning? They thank their publishing team for the help with the storytelling.

Since I started the blog on publishing six years ago, a lot of #1 New York Times bestsellers contacted me privately to talk with me about indie publishing. Many of these bestsellers had “retired” and all of them, to a person, mentioned the lack of respect at their Big 5 publishing house.

It seemed to these writers that the Big 5 publishing team thought they knew what sold better than the writer did. As one romance writer said to me, “Maybe they do know what sells well. But I became a bestseller without their help, and they have nothing to add creatively. They just want me to dumb things down.”

That romance writer retired, left her publisher, and now has left retirement to publish on her own. Her fans are happy, and so is she.

. . . .

A bestselling mystery writer told me that his treatment the last several years with his Big 5 publisher was so disheartening he thought he’d never write again. Again, he was told he didn’t know what sold and that he had to write the way that the company told him to, so that he could sell his books. Like the romance writer, he got angry. He’d sold a lot of books before these editor/publishers had even had a career in publishing.

So, rather than deal with that, he retired.

But he couldn’t stop writing. Also like the romance writer, he revived his career and his passion for writing by self-publishing.

. . . .

Corporate publishing has changed the game. With the emphasis on quarterly profits, the decline in a real sales staff, and the lack of institutional memory (due to so many in-house layoffs), the folks who work in traditional publishing are trying to make a fast buck by selling sure-thing products.

The problem here isn’t just with the publishers. It’s also with the writers who acquiesce. I know how seductive it is to have someone tell you what to do with your writing.

Even strong personalities, like the writer whose work I just quit reading forever and ever, can be seduced with the right language.

Your fans expect you to have a strong romance

Your fans won’t like a graphic murder scene

Your fans read your work for comfort; this book isn’t comforting

And so on.

Writers in these situations will often say that they and their agent are partners or that they and their editor will hone the book into the best book it can be.

But they’re wrong. And that’s why the books are starting to sound the same. The suggestion that the writer who is still with the Big 5 company received from her publisher  was so trite as to be the kind of cliché that movie-goers make fun of.

Big 5 publishers are patterning their business on the Hollywood model in a variety of ways. They want blockbusters, so they’re demanding that their writers produce blockbusters according to formula, even in original work. (Tie-ins are another matter; the writer is under contract to produce formula.)

. . . .

Last month, I spoke to a long-time bestseller who told me (like so many other bestsellers) that he doesn’t have time to deal with business or publishing his own work. He doesn’t deal with business now—his agent and his business manager do, so he can just write books.

I found myself wondering how much money his assistants helped themselves to over the years. But I’m too polite to ask questions like that in public. Usually I don’t say a lot to people when they tell me in person that they’re too busy as writers to handle things like finances. Sometimes I can’t shut up, though, as in the case last year of a writer who told me how much she adored the agency that represents her. It’s one of two that I caught embezzling from me.

. . . .

Some committees do work well together—a very creative writers’ room in a television series, for example—but most do not.

And no committee composed of business types can help on the creative end. That’s why the suggestions coming from the suits are usually mediocre and why suggestions based on an assumed fan/audience expectation are bad.

Audiences expect to be entertained, but the entertainment should be unique to the entertainer. That’s you, writers. I know it’s scary, but the best writers work without a net.

Many, many, many bestselling authors tell the sales force or the publisher/president to take a flying leap when the suits make suggestions that put the suits directly inside the creative process. Many of the bestsellers who “retired” did so because they didn’t want to deal with that ridiculous attitude any longer, and those bestsellers retired before indie publishing became an option.

Once it became an option, these writers embraced it. Their sales are at the same level (or better) than they were when the writers were with their traditional publishers, and the writers are making a lot more money.

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

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books

PG says the consolidation of publishing into a handful of big conglomerates is death for creativity. The corporate mentality invariably runs to something like “Give me another Hunger Games” or “We’re looking for the next Fifty Shades.”

Whatever generated that big quarter last year is what the suits want to do again this year. In their perfect world, the publisher would release one huge book every quarter, quarter after quarter. Think of how much excess headcount you could cut with a business model like that.

 

Debt Collection

8 May 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

When writers get overzealous, they sometimes burn bridges that don’t need to be burned. I saw that last December as one writer who, in trying to deliberately burn a bridge, burned at least five other bridges, probably unknowingly. Editors, writers, and other publishers do work with each other and talk to each other, so realize that when you burn one bridge, you often torch bridges you can’t even see.

All of the tools I discuss in this post can lead to bridge burning if handled incorrectly. You should not burn bridges except in an extreme situation—no matter how much money someone owes you.

. . . .

First, a lot of people say my earnings numbers when discussing freelancing are unreasonably high. No, sorry. Successful freelancers often work in those numbers. I know hundreds of writers who do. And there’s no point in discussing American taxes at the lower earnings numbers either, because if you have a good accountant and you know what you’re doing, you won’t run into major tax issues when you earn $20,000 to $30,000 freelancing. It’s when you get to the higher numbers that taxes should become a major issue.

Second, a number of people said that they would never become freelancers without having a day job in reserve. Not only is that silly, it also shows that the person making the comment should never freelance.

Think of this way: do you have another day job lined up in case your current day job goes belly-up? Because that’s the attitude you’re expressing about freelancing.

Day jobs are no more secure than freelancing. If you believe your day job is secure, then you are deluding yourself. If you work for a major corporation, the office in your area could close without warning. I can cite example after example of company towns that get wiped out economically when the big company pulls its stakes with less than two weeks notice.

If you work for a small company, then you might want to figure out who owns the company and what happens in the event of that person’s death. Because anyone can get hit by a bus tomorrow. Just because someone else pays you doesn’t mean you’re secure.

. . . .

The difference between long-time freelancers and people with long-time day jobs is that the long-time freelancer knows how to handle personal economic ups and downs, and people who lose their day jobs often don’t. Unlike long-time freelancers, people with day jobs have no idea how to function if their primary income source disappears.

That’s what this entire series is about: how to survive the economic ups and downs of freelancing. Which is why I call it the freelance scramble.

. . . .

The problem is that most freelancers don’t know the signs of a business in serious trouble. Good, established businesses will often have cash flow bumps, and payments will sometimes be late. (Usually with explanation.) Sometimes businesses need to revisit their internal models and make course corrections.

In other words, healthy businesses lay off employees, get rid of departments, cut underperforming product lines, and change focus to growth areas. If I thought that every business I’d ever worked with was going out of business when it laid off an employee, I wouldn’t work in publishing any more.

Every single publisher I’ve ever worked with has laid off employees (sometimes en masse), cut book lines, chased new areas of profit, and reorganized entire departments. But let’s leave publishing for a moment.

. . . .

But sometimes the layoffs, shutdowns, and reorganizations are signs of a company in trouble—ironically, because the company hasn’t been making cuts or changes up until that point. In other words, the company put off making the hard decisions, and then, when it’s probably too late, they throw the kitchen sink at everything and hope it will work.

Again, impossible to tell if that’s happening, unless you’re involved in the decision-making

So, if most people can’t tell how a business is doing from the outside, then why am I telling you that freelancers should know? Or at least, should be able to guess?

Because there are some signs. And most of those signs involve payment.

. . . .

What isn’t contract specific is something that most people who work in business have learned over the years. To maintain good relationships with the people you do business with, you give the opposing party the right to cure the problem.

The right to cure is a legal term that I might be misusing, since I’m not a lawyer. But the theory behind the right to cure is a good rule of thumb when you’re dealing with a contract.

. . . .

Whenever someone fails to meet one of the terms of a contract—turning a book in by a certain deadline, making a payment on time—the contract suddenly comes into play. The contract has been violated, but not fatally so.

. . . .

There’s an implied few days or few weeks in which the party who has screwed up has time to make things right without anyone making a fuss.

Unless the contract has some language that penalizes the parties for missing the exact date and time.

. . . .

So, let’s pretend your contract on this project is a standard publishing contract, one that lays out payments and deadlines, but doesn’t ascribe penalties (like late fees for missed payments or automatic cancellation for a missed deadline).

How do you handle it when a payment gets missed?

You write a polite letter, reminding the company that payment is now overdue. The letter should be pretty casual. You should get a response—with a new timeline for payment.

Your letter should say something along the lines of:

Dear [Name],

I’m rather stunned that it’s May. I’ve come out of my latest project and as I put my business affairs in order, I noticed that the contracted payment for [title of project] has not arrived yet.

According to our contract of [such & so date], the payment for [title of project] was due on April 10. [Then you do an update here—you turned in the project on such & so date…]

I’m sure this was just an oversight. Please let me know the status of the payment.

Thank you.

All the best,

Polite, friendly, with a bit of an edge. The implication here is that you’re looking at the contract, and you will take action if the contract terms aren’t met. But you haven’t threatened anyone, and you’re not angry. We all make mistakes.

The response you want from the company is pretty simple: You want your payment. And you want them to want to pay you. At first, you do that with honey. Honey also keeps the relationship intact because, chances are, someone did screw up.

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

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books

As usual, good advice from Kris. PG doesn’t remember ever suing someone over a contract breach without sending a letter first.

A letter from an attorney can have a bracing effect — PG even sits up when he receives one (emails not so much) — and sometimes, catching a person’s attention is enough to resolve the problem.

At other times, sending a letter has brought a response providing PG with new information that caused him to advise his client to hold up on the lawsuit and go talk to the other party. Sometimes a resolution of the dispute followed soon thereafter.

The Freelance Scramble Part Three: The Unthinkable

24 April 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Freelancers must plan how they will get through a year financially. Which means they need four cash flow charts. Now, realize, when I’m talking about cash flow, I mean how the money owed will arrive. It generally will not arrive in one lump sum.

So here are the three charts that I listed in the first freelance scramble post:

The first chart shows how everything might flow.

The second chart shows how it probably will flow.

The third chart shows the absolute worst case scenario…assuming the freelancer does get paid.

For more explanation of those charts, please read the earlier post. In it, I also recommend a reserve savings account to get you through the hard time, and paying off all of your debt. That means a paid-for car, paid-for house, and paid-off credit cards, among other things.

After I laid out those first three charts, I mentioned that there is a fourth chart that every freelancer has.

The Fourth Chart shows the true worst case scenario—what happens when no one pays.

Does that happen? Oh, sadly, yes. Especially to new freelancers. Freelancers who’ve been at it longer usually know how to mitigate the circumstances, which I’ll discuss in a future post.

. . . .

Do not volunteer to write anything for free. Ever. You make your living as a writer. Do you go to your day job and tell them they don’t have to pay you for your efforts this week? Then why in God’s name would you ever do that as a freelancer?

Value your work so that other people value it as well.

The problem of undervaluing what you write isn’t just a traditional writer problem. It’s also an indie writer problem.

In the United States, the myth is that artists (writers, painters, actors, musicians…) starve. And so anyone who chooses the lifestyle of artist, it follows, should expect to do a lot of work for very little money.

That attitude is what causes so many writers to undervalue their own work. Indie writers do it more than traditionally published writers. Most traditionally published writers have at least gotten the memo that they should, at worst, get an advance on their novel.

. . . .

Dean and I did not get paid by any of our New York traditional publishers for six months after 9/11, even though some of that money had been due since July. In some cases, we went more than a year without payment from our usual sources. We survived because of the freelance scramble.

Major crises happen, from the stock market crash to the fall of the Berlin wall. And sometimes those crises have an impact on freelance writers (as a group).

Other times, though, it’s just a series of bad circumstances that keeps every client from paying the writer. One client goes bankrupt. Yet another shuts down his business for good. A third decides to pay a different writer instead of you.

Everyone is late, significantly late, for a variety of different reasons. There are techniques to get money from each of these clients, and I’ll give you some techniques later in this series, but for the sake of argument, let’s say you know you’re not going to get any cash for the next six months, despite what’s owed to you.

What now?

If you’re a longtime freelancer, you’re prepared for this contingency. You might hate it, but you’re ready. You have a plan.

The plan, simply put, is this:

You use your reserve funds to pay this month’s bills. And then you find new work. That new work will not pay as quickly as the work you’ve already done should have paid. But it will eventually pay.

You just need to hang on until the new money comes in.

. . . .

So you made $200,000 last year, and will make $50,000 this year. You will still have to pay taxes on that $200,000 this year. If you didn’t save for it (or pay estimated), then you will have to pay those taxes out of that $50,000.

This is why, in addition to copyright, the other thing writers need to learn to maintain a long-term career in this business is how to work the tax system to your benefit.

Because a good half of my readership for this blog are not in the United States, I am not going to go into a long tax discussion here (or in the comments). Suffice to say that you need a good accountant who works with non-traditional clients—particularly musicians and other writers. Because the tax law is different for those of us who freelance, run businesses and/or make a living as artists. There is no one-size-fits-all tax preparation and no one-size-fits-all answers to tax questions.

If you need a way of thinking about this fourth scenario, think of it like this: You got fired from your day job and you have no prospects for a new job. You still have to pay your bills and cope with the day-to-day stuff, but you have no unemployment coming in and no safety net except the one you build for yourself.

That’s the scenario I’m describing here.

Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it might happen to you.

The key to surviving it isn’t to hide your head in the sand. The key is to plan for it. Expect it, at least once in your freelance career, and then when it hits, do your best to find new work.

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

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books

The Freelance Scramble

9 April 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Writers who become successful freelancers learn how to manage money. But more than that, they learn how to manage cash flow.

Cash flow is the way that the money comes in, not how much is owed or how much will be paid.

For example, a freelance writer with traditional publishing contracts will have the pay schedule delineated out in that contract. The lump sum advance is listed, along with the way it will be paid. For example, many contracts these days look like this:

1/3 on signing

1/3 on acceptance

1/3 on publication

So, if a writer gets a $12,000 advance, she’ll get $4000 on the signing of the contract, $4000 on the acceptance of the manuscript, and $4000 on publication of the book. Those three events, in traditional publishing, often happen in three different years.

. . . .

What writers soon learn is this: $4000 on signing doesn’t mean the day the contract is signed. It means “sometime after the contract is signed, a check will appear—maybe 30, 60, 90 or 120 days later.” Acceptance is worse, because the manuscript has to be accepted first—and that can take months after turn-in. Then that 30, 60, 90 day thing starts all over again. And publication—well, the payment doesn’t come when the book comes out. The invoice gets triggered in the publishing house, and the writer then gets paid some undefined period of time later.

. . . .

Successful freelance writers learned how to manage the vagaries of lump-sum checks arriving at irregular intervals. Some writers had several publishers. Other writers augmented their book publishing with short fiction or nonfiction or tech writing.

The problem with all of that, though, was the same: Each company paid the writer in its own way, and in its own time.

Long-time freelance writers are very happy with their indie publishing careers because the checks from the online retailers arrive at regular intervals. Most pay monthly. A few pay biweekly. Some pay every quarter (I’m looking at you, Smashwords.) And the writer always knows what the payment will be.

For example, if a writer’s January sales figures on Amazon US were $1,000, the writer knows she’ll get a $1,000 from Amazon in March. The same with the other online retailers. Generally speaking the writer knows how much she’ll get paid two months before she gets her check.

Which is better than that ill-defined system traditional publishers have. But it’s still dicey. Because, as the KU Apocalypse proved to so many writers, you can’t count on earning the same amount of money in September as you did in January.

. . . .

But a freelancer can’t rely on $2000 every two weeks. Even if the freelancer has indie income combined with traditional income, and even if the freelancer figures out how much she’s owed for the next six months, she can’t guarantee that the money will flow in the time that it’s allotted.

The traditional income is generally late. The indie income will arrive on time, but the freelancer has no idea what that income will be six months hence.

Which means that the freelancer must learn the scramble.

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

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books

PG will note that some publishers and some agents have been known to manage their cash flow by slowing down payments to authors.

However, unlike the electric company and Mastercard, authors don’t receive interest and late-payment penalties when their money is delayed.

Next Page »