Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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.

The Hard Part

3 April 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Some weeks I hate opening my e-mail. Most of March fell into that category.

Throughout the entire month, I got e-mails from writers at the end of their ropes. Some were losing their traditional contracts; others had seen their indie sales fall through the floor; still others were thinking of declaring bankruptcy. A handful asked for the names of attorneys to sue various and asundry publishers, agents, subrights organizations—you name it. And another handful wanted to know why they weren’t making the promised millions.

Welcome to the garbage pit found at the end of the gold rush.

. . . .

The gold rush started tapering off in 2012, but smart indies kept their income alive by moving with the changes in the industry for another year or more.

Then the tricks stopped working completely. On the Kindle Boards, they actually have a phrase for the end of the gold rush era: they call it the KU Apocalypse. The introduction of Kindle Unlimited put the final nail in the gold rush’s coffin. The readers who want free all the time had only to subscribe to KU to get all the books they wanted. With KU, writers got a fraction of what they were being paid before.

There is anecdotal evidence that the KU Apocalypse also hit the writers who weren’t exclusive with Kindle. In fact, some say, that’s where the apocalypse hit first.

I don’t know, because I have never allowed my ebooks to be exclusive. It cuts out too many readers, especially in growing markets, like iBooks. But indie writer after indie writer reported huge sales losses—many going from making tens of thousands per month to only making hundreds.

Tales like this were happening before the summer of 2014, but in the summer of 2014, some big names were affected, and that made national (mainstream) news.

That last bit showed hundreds of authors that the get-rich-quick schemes of the early indie days had a shelf-life, just like everything else in the world. The problem was—and is—that so many of these authors never planned for the gravy train to end.

I tried to talk about it. And I often got shouted down by people with only a few years in the business, people who told me I didn’t understand the new world of publishing.

. . . .

Does this mean that everyone whose indie writing career has trundled downhill have written bad books? Not at all. There are other issues at play here. Some of them have to do with bad covers or poor copy editing or poor content editing . . . . Some have bad book descriptions or blurbs. And a whole bunch of the books, more than I want to say, are just okay.

There’s nothing wrong with “just okay,” except that it doesn’t inspire readers to return for the next book. Just okay sold in the early part of the gold rush because there wasn’t enough supply to meet the demand for ebooks.

. . . .

Now that the gold rush is over, the indie writers who earned a lot and are now earning one-tenth or even less of what they had previously earned are feeling like failures.

How do I know this? Because I’ve watched it for decades. Not with indie writers, but with traditional ones. Whether you like it or not, the pattern is the same.

Back when I started, the writers who’d been in the business a long time tried to warn new writers not to quit their day jobs when they got their first book advance. Yet I personally know dozens of writers who did. They sold a three-book contract for more money than they’d seen at one time, and think they had it made.

. . . .

Not every novel published traditionally succeeds. In fact, most don’t. Just like most indie books fail to make sales that can provide the writer with a living.

The writing career doesn’t follow a steady uphill trajectory. Unlike a salaried position where you remain at the same rate of pay until you get a raise, writing is filled with ups and downs. The writing career is made up of a succession of waves. Sometimes the waves are so huge that they could swamp a cruise ship, and sometimes they’re so tiny as to be invisible to all but the person measuring them.

And around every wave is a trough.

Sometimes—often—a writing career will dip to its lowest level ever before or after it hits its highest level ever.

The writers who stay in the business are the ones who learn how to surf.

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

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

Controlling The Creatives

26 March 2015

From Kristine Katheryn Rusch:

Right now, a visible group of people in the field of science fiction are engaged in a protracted battle about the genre’s future. Both sides are practicing a nasty, destructive campaign against the other, and not worrying about the collateral damage they’re causing on the sidelines.

Those of us who’ve been in the field a long time have pretty much abstained from the arguments. Not because we lack opinions. We have opinions and have discussed them with each other privately, but we remain quiet because we’ve seen such protracted battles before.

When I came into the field in the 1980s, I watched the remnants of two such protracted battles. The first was about the legitimacy of Star Wars and Star Trek and whether or not Trek and SW fans even belonged in the genre, let alone any writers who admitted they enjoyed those things.

That first argument spilled into a sillier side argument about whether or not tie-in writers tainted their writing skills by writing novels in someone else’s universe. Hugo Award winner Timothy Zahn pretty much destroyed the naysayers by writing excellent sf novels under the Star Wars label and making a small fortune doing so.

The second argument was about whether fantasy was a legitimate genre. The writer-critics agreed that slipstream fantasy—the kind that where you can’t tell if the fantasy is something that really happened to the character or something that he misinterpreted—was legitimate. But the rest of it? That could’ve been crap, as judged by the terms the writer-critics used, like “fat fantasy novels,” as if they were all the same or “elfy-welfy” novels that obviously weren’t up to any kind of quality whatsoever.

When I published my first novel, a not-quite-fat fantasy novel set in a magical kingdom, a writer-friend told me that I had just ruined the career I was building because I was writing crap fantasy, not real literature.

. . . .

If you think these kinds of arguments only occur in the sf genre, think again. In the past few years, I participated in a few group projects in the romance genre. In two cases, one of the participants was a male romance writer, and I’ll be honest: until this sf argument started, I had never before seen such naked bigotry between writers.

Some of the female romance writers hated that a man was involved, wouldn’t admit that he could contribute anything of value, and essentially treated him (if they spoke to him at all) as if he was an imbecile. These women, all of a certain age, had had the same experience themselves in reverse in their real-world careers, so I was stunned that they would turn on a fellow human being like that, but turn they did.

. . . .

While these distinctions might sound silly to the casual reader, they’re extremely destructive to writers inside the various genres. I know of writers who stopped producing in the genres they loved because of the vicious attacks from one side or another. I also know of writers whose outspoken nastiness destroyed their careers with the very editors (and readers) they wanted to sell books to.

Since the advent of indie publishing, it’s not as easy to destroy a career as it was in the past. An editor might not want to take a toxic writer into the fold, but the writer can self-publish. You’d think that would solve the issues of divisiveness—if writers want to write something, they can—but it hasn’t. If anything, the problem has grown more pervasive, louder, and uglier.

Personally, I believe that a writer’s politics and religious beliefs (including beliefs about a favorite genre) should remain off-social media if at all possible, and that arguments in favor of one thing or another should be made in person, if at all.

I think it’s more important to incorporate your worldview into what you write and let the readers decide whether or not they want to read your work than it is to win an argument that will seem quaint fifteen years from now. Of course, I also believe that we should all look at the way people live their lives rather than focusing on the words they use or the color of their skin.

. . . .

My tenure in the publishing industry has shown me that these bitter disputes are really about change. One side resists the change while the other side advocates for it, and they remain locked at each other’s throats, calling each other names. The thing is, as they’re screaming at each other, other writers are quietly effecting change by doing what they do best—writing fiction.

. . . .

The problem with all of these arguments, from the cozy versus the hard-boiled, the fantasy versus science fiction, the women versus men, the white folks versus people of color, is that they prescribe how a story should be written.

What’s wrong with writing a story from your own heritage? If the story’s from a perspective that hasn’t seen a lot of print, then write it. If the story’s been done before (as is the case with so much white American-European fiction), write it anyway.

Write it. Because it comes from your personality, your knowledge, and your heritage. That story will contain your passion. Write it and let it find its audience.

I know that a lot of curated fiction—stuff that came out of traditional publishing—closed and barricaded the door to people of color (in almost all genres), to women (in most genres), and to men (in the romance genre). I know that these issues still need resolution.

I also know that indie publishing has allowed these voices to finally be heard.

That’s change, and so many people are so terrified of change that they react with startling bigotry and language or behavior that they would never use in polite company. Social media has allowed a lot of horrid things to slip through the cracks—racist, discriminatory, biased and just plain ugly stuff.

And because of it, so many newer writers are backing away from topics that they could easily write about now that the gatekeepers have lost their hold on the entry points into various fields. These newer writers are letting the opinions of others—others who, in the scheme of things really don’t matter much—shut down the creative process.

What these newer writers don’t realize is that a lot of these arguments are a last-ditch effort to control the conversation—and more importantly, to control the creatives.

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

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

Getting By

5 March 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Here’s an anecdote those of you who have faithfully read my Business Rusch blog or The Freelancer’s Survival Guide have encountered before. I apologize for the repetition, but the context needs to be here.

Trust me. I will bring this anecdote around to writing and freelancing farther on in this post.

One-hundred-and-fifty thousand years ago (or the early1980s, whichever makes me seem older), I got a job at a textbook publishing company. I came in as the lowest of the low, an editorial assistant—in other words, a secretary with a fancy title that made me seem more important than I was.

I was barely out of college and the best thing I had going for me was that I knew how to turn on a computer. (Seriously, these people had had a new computer sitting idly because no one could find the on-switch.) We did everything by hand or by typewriter, and for the bulk of my time there, that computer gathered dust.

I had come from freelancing. My (soon-to-be ex-) husband and I owned a failing business, and we were broke. So I got a full-time job to pay the bills.

Day one, I got trained by the woman I was replacing. Day two, I came in and did everything I had been assigned to do within 30 minutes. My boss, the wonderful Editor Greg, was startled that I finished so quickly. He double-checked me, found out I had done everything right, and gave me more to do. Still and all, I was done with my tasks by noon.

With Editor Greg’s permission, I read a book all afternoon. The book was one of the company’s textbooks, but Editor Greg thought that it might be useful if I knew the product.

Day Three, same thing.

Day Four, the other secretaries—I mean, editorial assistants—waylaid me as I came into work. They explained in no uncertain terms that I had to make my 30 minutes of work stretch throughout the 8 hours, or I would make every other editorial assistant look bad.

. . . .

After that textbook publishing experience, I stopped hiring out as a secretary for part-time work. (For a while anyway. Years later, I moved to Oregon, and was desperate for any part-time work. Then I got hired by a wonderful man [still a friend] who let me leave when I finished the tasks assigned me.) For most of my early working life, part-time work I got go augment my freelance income was as a waitress.

Waitresses in busy restaurants can’t slack off. If you do, you get fired. Or, if your bosses really don’t care, you don’t make money. Because other (good) waiters and waitresses will take your tables—and your tips. By the time I was out of high school, I could handle an entire Country Kitchen restaurant at breakfast by myself (with the assistance of someone to bus tables) and still get customers in and out of the restaurant within an hour.

And I had fun.

Why am I telling you this?

Because one of the things I learned in 2014 is that a lot of employees get by.

Dean and I own or co-own eight different businesses—not all of them to do with publishing. Generally speaking, we’re good at hiring people and for the most part, over the years, we have hired excellent folk. We have a good staff of people right now—people who work hard, care a lot, and do an excellent job.

Dean and I have hired and fired people throughout our adult lives, and also generally speaking, we tend to avoid the get-by folks. We get rid of them fast when we accidentally hire them.

How do we accidentally hire them?

They present well. They present as smart and talented and (sometimes) misunderstood. In their (excellent) interviews, they complain that they were in the wrong job. Sometimes, given their resumes, it seems like they actually were in the wrong job.

While the get-by folks talk a good game, they don’t perform well. After their training is complete, they can’t seem to meet deadlines or get work done.

. . . .

There are writers who get by.

I’ve always known that, but I hadn’t given it a lot of thought until the indie publishing revolution. Throughout my entire career, I’ve known writers who take five years to write a book (or a year to write a short story!), writers who never try freelancing because they can’t get their production up, writers who can’t seem to finish anything after the first few books.

I always thought, ah, it’s their critical voice that’s on too loud, or they really don’t want to become a writer, or they have some other interest that’s more important.

I never thought—I never realized—that a goodly percentage of these writers are simply folks who get by. These writers figure out how to game the system at their jobs. They do like my very good friend did at his job; they seem productive when they are not.

Unlike my very good friend, many get-by people seem to believe their own hype. They seem to think there’s a way around everything, that everyone else does this, and that successful people aren’t people who work hard but are people who know how to play the game well.

Does this sound familiar?

There are blogs everywhere on how to manipulate Amazon’s algorithm to make a book a bestseller. There are writers who cringe when you tell them the best way to sell your first book is to write a second. There are writers who simply do not believe that writing the next book (and the next and the next) is more important than promoting the only book.

. . . .

Expecting recognition for a minimal amount of work is a get-by attitude.

Why do I call writing one novel a minimal amount of work? Because I’m mean or a show-off or a hack or freakishly productive?

No, because I know writers who have long-term careers. Most of us never talk about our productivity. Most of us never talk about how many hours we spend at the computer. As Dean often says, we are successful because we work harder than everyone else.

. . . .

It is an accomplishment to finish your first novel. Go celebrate. Most wannabe writers never finish a novel. They may not ever finish a short story. They talk the good talk, but they don’t put in the work.

When you finish your first novel, you have taken that first step toward being a professional writer. But from the perspective of career writers, people who’ve been at it for years, you’re a baby who has toddled over to your parents for the very first time.

Yep, it’s an accomplishment worthy of cake and videos and applause.

Now, time to emulate that toddler and learn to run.

These days, most indie writers expect that first novel to be a success. I expected my first (real) novel to be a success as well. We all write because we know we’re brilliant, because the world was just waiting for our wisdom, because we have done something Mankind Has Never Seen Before.

Then those of us who want careers get over ourselves and move onto the next novel, and the next, and the next, and the next.

Right now, the Get-By People who wrote that first novel, gamed Amazon’s algorithms, and tried to convince everyone under the sun to buy that novel are leaving the writing business in droves. The Get-By People are complaining that “sales aren’t what they used to be.” They’re complaining that “free doesn’t work any more.” They’re wondering why no one is praising their (three-year-old) work.

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

A Year of Experiments

21 February 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

This week, I did something I hadn’t done in nearly five years: I wrote a book proposal. Yep, I hit upon a project that I think would be better off produced through a traditional publishing company. If the proposal does its job, and the project sells, I’ll be more forthcoming about what the project is and why I went this way.

Suffice to say, these days all writers have options—and as I weighed my options on this particular project, I realized that the best way to handle it was to license it to some place traditional.

. . . .

At the same time, I’ve finished the first novel in a series I’ve wanted to do for almost ten years. The Fates series, which I’ve written under the name Kristine Grayson, introduced three teenage girls who were acting as the Interim Fates. I had written Tiffany’s story and had trouble selling it eight years ago. When I reread it, I realized that the book was just fine. Then I mentally reviewed the rejections I’d received on the project back then, and realized what the problem had really been.

The rejections had all focused on the “dialect” and the unacceptability of the point-of-view character. The young adult editors who saw the book said the point of view was unacceptable for the market, and no YA reader wanted to read about characters like this.

At the time I was truly confused. I’d sold books about those kinds of characters—magical characters negotiating our world—before. I couldn’t figure out what these editors were talking about. When I asked my then-agent, he said that the editors were just clueless. Comforting, sure, but not helpful.

Now I realize he didn’t want to tell me what the editors really meant.

So I didn’t know what I had done “wrong” until this year (nearly a decade later). It was a problem I had seen before; I just hadn’t recognized it.

Tiffany is African-American. Her race shows up in the very first paragraph. There is no dialect—there isn’t even slang in that opening. Just a rather sassy voice of a confused young woman who has entered our world for the very first time.

I never thought of the book as anything but a Fates book, so when I got horrid (and I truly mean horrid) rejections—mostly based on that first chapter saying that no one would read a book like this let alone publish it, I thought I had done something wrong in the writing.

I hadn’t done anything wrong. Unless you consider a non-white protagonist to be something wrong. I hadn’t. I still don’t.

But now I don’t have to deal with the perceptions of what is or is not acceptable to the YA market. I can just finish the trilogy-plus that I’ve been trying to write for years now.

The book is now in production, and I finished the next book, dealing with Tiffany’s half-sister, Crystal. In March, after I finish the seven (seven!) short stories I’d promised that are all due right now, I’ll write Brittany’s story, and then the final wrap-up novel.

Those novels will be published, one a month, later in the year.

I could never have done this in traditional publishing. Obviously, right?, since I couldn’t sell the first one because of Tiff’s race. But I’m not really referring to that: I’m referring to the one-per-month pace.

As most of you know, I’m publishing one novel per month right now, and whoa doggies, did that turn out to be a good idea.

Not just from a sales standpoint—which is sooooo much better than expected (thank you, Retrieval Artist fans!)—but from a creative standpoint.

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

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

Weird Misinformation

13 February 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

It’s been a long time since I’ve spoken to a bunch of writers at the very beginning of their careers. When Dean and I teach our in-person workshops, we teach professional writers.

. . . .

I learned something this past weekend. Everyone who is still active in the industry has kept up on the changes, but there are terrible old pieces of advice still floating around the universe, and newer writers are acting on that advice.

. . . .

[The Superstars Writers Conference] covered all sides of the industry, from bestselling writers talking about process to the people directly involved in indie publishing discussing how to do it effectively to traditional publishers discussing how the business works now. Lectures on Hollywood, copyright, negotiation, you name it and it got covered in three intense days.

. . . .

[A] lot of learning happens in the time between sessions. Meals, conversations in the bar or around the hotel’s fireplace, a handful of chance meetings gave me the opportunity to speak to writers I had never met before.

. . . .

[I]n those conversations, I heard bits of misinformation that took my breath away. I think a lot of the reason I heard this stuff was because these writers felt as startled as I did by the misinformation and wanted to find out if that misinformation was something they needed to pay attention to or something they needed to ignore.

Startlingly, these questions about misinformation didn’t come from the folks who were brand-new to the publishing industry. The serious misinformation came via the folks who are what the sf field calls “neo-pros,” newer professionals with a few sales under their belts or that brilliant first novel that some agent agreed to take on.

Clearly, these young writers (and I mean young in the time they’ve spent in the field, not in physical age) had been studying the field for a while and had absorbed some bad information along with the good. But some of the information was so bad, so out-of-date, that I don’t think these writers got the information from anyone who has published in the last 20 years.

. . . .

These discussions happened because, for my sins, I sat on a panel about agents (with Dean, Dave, Eric, and Toni). It was a different panel than it would have been five years ago, as Toni remarked when it was all over.

But because of that panel, a lot of young writers who were at the stage where they’re contemplating hiring an agent (or already have hired one) asked me questions in the after-hours discussions.

Writer One hadn’t hired an agent yet, but said, in all earnestness, that he was not looking at agents who charged photocopying or postage for mailing out work. And I told him that was a good thing, since no reputable agent has photocopied or snail-mailed a manuscript in at least 10 years (maybe not even in this century). I’m not even sure a bad agent or scam artist would list those things on a website.

Shortly thereafter, I was talking with another writer who had just hired a major agency, one that I’m familiar with (and have known its founder before the agency started). In the middle of a very good discussion about the firm and the agency, the writer told me that she had queried her agent-to-be, making sure this high-level agency did not charge for postage or for photocopying.

I’m sure at that point, the agent in question stared at the phone (or the e-mail) and wondered where in the hell that writer’s query had even come from. Because the agent in question probably hadn’t sent out a photocopied manuscript in her entire agenting career. (There are other agents at the agency who were in school when the last photocopied manuscript got messengered to a publisher. High school.)

. . . .

Business advice in how-to-write books published in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s is also woefully out-of-date. As is most business advice written before 2009.

. . . .

The business has changed dramatically, but because publishing does not have a reputable way for young writers to learn the craft and the business, then intern somewhere, and then become a full-fledged professional, the writer has to assemble his education from bits and pieces of knowledge scattered in a variety of sources.

And if the writer is new to the business, the writer has no way to separate good advice from bad, current advice from outdated advice.

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

Following The Crowd

6 February 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

We all have those moments when we think, Jeez, if I just write [insert latest trend here], I’ll do so much better than I’m already doing. It doesn’t matter how well we’re already doing. There’s always a better.

If you’ve been in the business a long time, you have a follow-up thought: I know how to do [latest trend]. It wouldn’t take much.

And if you were in traditional publishing, and occasionally wrote tie-ins or some novel that your traditional editor demanded you write, you have a third thought: I’ve played in someone else’s universe before. It wouldn’t take me long to churn out something just like [latest trend].

Yes, note that I used the phrase “churn out,” which I complained about a few weeks ago. I did so deliberately. Because that’s the mindset you end up in.

You’re not writing for the joy of the art. You’re not writing what you want. You’re writing what you think is required for success.

A lot of people end up with an okay short-term career doing just that—writing the latest trend, whatever it is. When that trend eases, they move onto the next trend, and the next until they burn out. Sometimes, for some of them, following the trend works, and they find their niche. But for a lot of folks, they wake up one day to find themselves not wanting to go to their writing desk because sitting there feels too much like the day job they quit (or are still working in the hopes of a windfall).

When I say “short-term,” I say it from the perspective of a long-term career. I mean a five-to-ten year career in publishing, with only two or three years of real success. It’s a career. It’s something to be proud of. But it isn’t a lifetime career, which so many writers say they want.

. . . .

I know I can’t write well about something I don’t enjoy.

I write in a lot of genres because I read a lot of genres. I write a lot of short stories for themed anthologies to stretch myself. Once in a while when I write a theme anthology story, I discover a subgenre I don’t really want to tackle again, but mostly I learn the ins and outs of the genres, and often I get too many more ideas to ever finish before I die.

Writing novels to follow a trend (even if it stretches me) is something I won’t do. Novels take too much time, and you have to sink into them, or at least I do. I need to lose myself in the world that I’m writing about, and losing myself means a full commitment.

. . . .

But trend-following in novel-writing, that’s generally not collaborative. That’s just being outer-directed instead of inner-directed.

What do I mean by outer-directed? Someone else or something else, in this case a trend, determines what you write from day to day. Nothing wrong with that, except…

To me—and this is probably just me—it completely defeats the point of being a freelance writer. If I wanted a day job, I’d get one. If I want someone to tell me what to do, then I’d have a boss. If I wanted to guess trends, I’d work in advertising.

I don’t want to do any of that.

At heart, I’m both a rebel and an artist, and those two aspects of my personality have allowed me to freelance successfully for decades.

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

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

Traditional Numbers

23 January 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I’ve started this blog four separate times in the past week, and each time, I stopped about 1,000 words in. I have been planning to analyze some bestseller numbers that I found two weeks ago, numbers that truly had me shocked. In doing so, I wanted to check some other numbers as well, because an article about numbers is only as good as its data.

It didn’t seem to matter how many numbers I found, how much data I linked to, or how I did the math, something was confusing me. The harder I worked, the more confused I got.

It wasn’t until I was complaining about this at the weekly professional writers’ lunch that it all came clear to me: Most of the numbers I was working with were suspect in one way or another.

. . . .

Let me give some examples of confusing information that I explored these last two weeks:

  • In an article titled “Real Data On Print Sales In the eBook Era — And the eBook Plateau”  Publisher’s Lunch reported that ebooks have “cannibalized” sales in trade paperback editions, not in hardcover editions. The conclusion comes from a presentation that Jonathan Nowell at Nielsen Book gave at Digital Book World last week.

I like numbers, and there are some fascinating ones here, and even more fascinating ones in Nowell’s slide show presentation but they are completely untethered to anything. By that, I mean, I could find no information on how the study was done, how many data points Nowell worked off of, and what he based his conclusions on.

Granted, Nielsen Book is the company that does Bookscan, so in theory, they have raw data, but as I examined thePublisher’s Lunch article (which is on Publisher’s Marketplace, mentioned last week), I found a statement that set my teeth on edge:

[Nielsen Book’s] quiet PubTrack Digital service — the only source of real, granular ebook sales data, based on invoices for ebook sales from participating publishers — shows adult fiction still accounting for 65 percent of all ebook sales.

Um, what? I’d never heard of PubTrack Digital. Where did it get its numbers? How does it track things?

. . . .

But here’s where PubTrack Digital comes in.

The description for that service isn’t based on a physical product. It doesn’t seem to go by channel either. It uses information from 30 publishers (according to this site) to examine “the top e-book categories, authors, and titles based on unit sales and revenue.”

So, thirty self-reporting publishers send their numbers (unverified, I guess) to PubTrack Digital in order to receive information from the other twenty-nine.

. . . .

Both PubTrack Digital and Publisher’s Lunch also tell me that PubTrack Digital is the only source for aggregated ebook sales in the country.

. . . .

But the data is self-reporting, which makes it flawed from the get-go.

. . . .

Digital Book World . . . hired PubTrack Digital specifically for the conference last week.

. . . .

“Digital Book World asked this guy to examine the impact of ebook sales on hardcover sales, making the study flawed in the first place.”

Words straight out of my subconscious. Of course, the study is flawed. Because we have no way of knowing if ebook sales have any impact on paper sales at all. No way. None.

We don’t know if people who bought paper books in the past are buying more books due to ebook availability while still buying the same number of paper books—or if those people stopped buying paper books altogether, or, if faced with a choice of ebook or paper, choose ebook. We don’t know.

And because we don’t know, looking to see if ebooks have had an impact on hardcover sales by looking at ebook sales and looking at hardcover sales doesn’t answer the question. We don’t know if hardcover sales remained steady (as Nowell reported) because hardcover readers are hardcover readers and have sought out the hardcovers in various markets. We don’t know if the rise of ebook sales over the years is because ebooks are cannibalizing print sales or because more readers have ereaders (or tablets or phones) and therefore have 24-hour access to books and can order easily and quickly.

We don’t know if the reason trade paper sales have gone down (which Nowell reports) because most people don’t like the format or because the number of retail outlets carrying trade paper books has gone down (witness the loss of many chain bookstore locations, where most trade papers were sold) or because given a choice between trade paper and ebook, the average reader will choose ebook.

. . . .

So we can’t do a legitimate study of how ebooks impact the sales of paper books until we have done a study that tells uswhether or not ebooks impact sales of paper books. Looking at the sales figures of hardcovers, ebooks, and trade paper does not give us that answer, because that data doesn’t address the initial question.

. . . .

[D]uring my entire career, the “numbers” in traditional publishing have always been based on extrapolations from one piece of evidence.

For example: traditional publishers used to base all of their accounting on books shipped not books sold. Why? Because books shipped was the only number traditional publishers could be sure of. The books sold wouldn’t be known for six to nine months, maybe even for a year or two. That’s because of the returns system. A bookstore could return a book, depending on the account the bookstore had with the distributor or publisher, for as long as a year after purchase.

. . . .

In other words, all of traditional publishing from the introduction of the returns system in the 1930s to the early part of this century was based on educated guesses by the sales department in consultation with editorial.

Not based on actual numbers. Not based on real sales figures. Not based on any kind of fact-based system at all.

The traditional publishing industry is in transition because it’s gotten gobbled up by international conglomerates who need real numbers for their own internal reports. Digital book and online sales actually allow for real numbers. Since the American Booksellers Association has taught independent booksellers how to manage their inventory (at the ABA’s Winter Institute), those booksellers have lowered their returns to a maximum of 25%.

So the traditional publishing data is becoming solid, but it’s not there yet. And because so many people in traditional publishing—particularly those in its upper echelons—have been in the business as long as I have, they’re a lot more accepting of wishy-washy numbers and fake statistics. Reports that have lovely graphics and percentages that seem real are still the norm in this industry, rather than studies based on real methodology.

. . . .

I know of no traditionally published bestselling author who regularly audits their agents and publishers. Not a one.

I know of a handful who have audited when something went wrong. But a standard business audit? Never.

Yet all of those traditionally published bestselling authors are million-dollar businesses, just like the local businesses our accountant/writer friend worked for are. These local businesses, these small town businesses, as a matter of course, audited their sources of revenue every year.

But writers, who make millions, and often funnel those millions through a single point—an agent and/or an agency and/or their publisher—never audit that agent, that agency, or their publisher.

In fact, several years ago, when I ran into some glaring errors in my payments from a former agency, I threatened to audit that agency. It was still handling the books my once-agent had sold for me. It wouldn’t release those books or split payments. When I pointed out the errors and demanded an audit,  the agency did the literary equivalent of flinging my books at me. The day after my threat, made in December, just before Christmas, that agency decided it no longer wanted 15% of my business, and sent letters to all of my publishers telling those publishers to send any monies owed directly to me. That agency—on its own volition—cleared me out of its entire company.

Within 24 hours of me stating that I wanted an audit, I was finally free of that agency.

This was—and is—one of the biggest, most famous agencies in New York, with several repeat #1 New York Times bestsellers. I found irregularities in royalty reports coming from overseas, irregularities that made it clear someone (probably a foreign rights affiliate agency) was pocketing my money—and, most likely—pocketing a lot more money from all those #1 bestsellers.

Because I personally know that those bestsellers don’t audit their revenue sources.

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

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