Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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.

PG says the insights Kris shares with authors are extremely valuable. You can make a direct donation to Kris at the bottom of the blog post or buy her books to show your appreciation.

The Rise of The Backlist

16 January 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

The new year hadn’t even had a week to catch its breath before the first year-end numbers for 2014 appeared. The definitive numbers—if you can call any numbers “definitive” in traditional publishing—won’t show up until late February or early March. But the early numbers reveal quite a bit.

. . . .

I often find Publishers Marketplace’s analysis of the publishing industry useful, not because it’s accurate, but because it gives me a fairly clear snapshot of what the traditional industry’s thoughts on the business are. Publishers Marketplace’s focus on traditional means that it misses a lot of the trends and changes that happen because of indie.

. . . .

Nielsen Bookscan reported that print book sales—in the outlets that report to Bookscan—went up 2.4% in 2014 over sales from 2013. Half of the gain in sales—1.2%—came from a better-than-expected holiday season.

In that first week, Publishers Marketplace went deeper into the numbers than Publishers Weekly did and came out with some fascinating information, some of which I’ll deal with in the next week or two. But here’s the take-away:

All of the year’s gains and then some came from backlist, however, not newly-released titles. Frontlist unit sales fell 2 million units to 276 million, while backlist sales rose 17 million units to 359 million…

Those of us who’ve been publishing indie have known how powerful the backlist is since 2010. Fortunately for most of us early adapters, the traditional publishing industry didn’t get the memo for about three years. They started to get a clue in 2013 that there was wine in those dusty old bottles, which is why it’s become harder and harder to get rights reverted from traditional publishers in the past couple of years.

. . . .

Traditional publishers still don’t have a complete clue about the importance of the rise of the backlist, as evidenced by this comment from Publishers Marketplace:

[backlist sales rose]…reflecting the lack of new breakout hits…

Sorry, Publishers Marketplace, no. The backlist rose because the industry is changing. The way books are being sold everywhere, not just online, is changing. Readers are changing.

Well, actually, readers are staying the same. They want “what they want, when they want it, and at a reasonable price” to quote Kevin Spacey on the lessons Netflix learned from House of Cards.

Readers have always wanted that. But traditional publishing, like all other media in the 20th century, was based on the scarcity model: if you make readers hunger for a book, they’ll pay more when they see one. They also buy it immediately, and they’ll be grateful for what’s offered, rather than buy what they like.

The internet broke the scarcity model.

. . . .

Because the entire traditional publishing business is based on the scarcity model, Publishers Marketplace can’t understand the rise of the backlist. The rise doesn’t fit into the scarcity model.

Here’s the logic of the situation when looked at from the scarcity model: if people are buying “old” books, then the new books aren’t satisfying. The new books aren’t “good.”

That analysis was true-ish before backlist was constantly available. I say true-ish because, remember, not a lot of “old” books were available—just the ones that readers would keep recommending to their friends, so publishers couldn’t take those books out of print.

Back then, breakout books happened for two reasons: First, the books stayed on the shelves long enough to get word of mouth; and second, the books dominated the conversation.

It’s almost impossible to dominate the conversation now. Traditional publishing doesn’t control every book that makes its way into the media now. One book might get some traction, but definitely not all of the traction.

And the conversation moves faster as well. We might discuss Book A today, but tomorrow we could be discussing Book J. Or not discussing any traditionally published book at all.

. . . .

My dollars are finite, just like yours are, but book-buying dollars are not. Now that more books are available to more people, book sales should—logically—go up.

And they are. But they are going up outside of the traditional models. At least 20,000 of my ebook sales in 2014 did not get counted by any traditional measure—Bookscan or otherwise. I say “at least” because I don’t know if Smashwords sales count toward Bookscan numbers or if some of the other ebook sites (like Kobo) count as well. I do know that Amazon and Barnes & Noble ebook sales get counted.

So there is a shadow industry. There always has been. Even Bookscan itself says that it only covers 80% of the print book business. That’s up, by the way, from the old days, when Bookscan was less than 50%. There’s a lot of give in that 20%. And that’s in the traditional industry.

There’s even more give when you consider indie publishing. A lot of indie writers publish their print books without an ISBN, so the books don’t get tracked by traditional means. I suspect Bookscan covers 80% of the traditional market, but in all of trade publishing? I think that Bookscan misses a lot of books. How many? I have no idea. I doubt anyone does.

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

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

 

Churning It Out

8 January 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Toward the end of a pretty good Entertainment Weekly article about the romance side of the publishing industry, this sentence appears:

[Bella Andre]’s a naturally fast writer — on average she churns out four to six books a year — and she released the first one in June 2011.

Before we get to the reason I’m telling you about that sentence, let me say one thing that might or might not be related: There’s a slight snobby tone to EW’s romance article. What’s that all about? The magazine’s called Entertainment Weekly, not The New York Times Book Review. EW sings the praises of The Walking Dead and video games, and everything in between, for heaven’s sake, but somehow romance fiction doesn’t meet the high standards of entertainment?

Sorry. I had to get that off my chest.

. . . .

So why am I objecting to that single sentence?

I’m not, really. It’s a common sentence from any media that covers books. And I’m not even objecting to the entire sentence. Bella Andre does write fast by most writers’ standards, and she does so comfortably.

What I’m objecting to is the phrase “churned out.”

It’s become a cliché. Any writer who writes fast “churns out” material. Or she “cranks out” or “pounds out” whatever it is that she writes. Because clearly, no writer who writes fast can think about what she writes.

There are other implications in that phrase. The material “churned out” isn’t very good. It’s also an exact copy of what has come before. It has no real value, primarily because of the speed with which the writer “churns” the material out.

In the olden days of traditional publishing, those of us who “churned out” a lot of books did so under a lot of pen names. Here’s how it worked in my case: Kristine Kathryn Rusch might, at best, put out two books per year; Kris Nelscott one every two years; and Kristine Grayson one every six months.

. . . .

While reading a midlist thriller novel in bed one night several years ago, I laughed so hard that I woke Dean up. What made me laugh? The author’s bio, which stated that the byline of the novel I was reading was a pen name for a “well-known #1 New York Times bestselling author.” Ballsy and hysterical. That writer wrote so many books that his publisher refused to publish them all under his bestselling name.

. . . .

Think about this, people: How many other industries that have megaselling products demand that the producer of popular, high-quality material slow down? What happened to providing the consumers with what they wanted?

When Nora Roberts started out, she was fortunate to begin with Harlequin, which could publish as many books as she produced. She stayed with Harlequin even after she moved to a bigger publisher (Bantam for a once-per-year hardcover, which then became a once-per-year hardcover and twice-a-year mass market paper, and then became twice-a-year hardcovers and three-times-a-year mass market paper, and finally, she had a big fight with Harlequin, and started up the J.D. Robb pen name (twice per year) and her publisher (by then, Putnam) threw in the towel. The publisher finally agreed that Nora could put out a lot of books. But not the publisher’s other writers.

Her speed didn’t matter to that publisher because the publisher had no expectation of quality based on the genre. As we all know, and Entertainment Weekly’s snobby tone confirms, romance is trash anyway. No one expects quality fiction from writers who crank out cookie-cutter books for women.

. . . .

Romance has a lot of respect now compared to thirty years ago—and still writers see phrases like “churned out” and that slightly school-boyish tone that every Literary Critic uses when discussing romance.

It’s about love and mushy stuff. It can’t be good. It might include kissing and touching and actual irony-free emotion. Anyone can churn out that crap if they put their minds to it. But most people are sensible enough to want respectability instead of…whatever it is that these romance people have.

Oh, yeah. Money.

And readers.

Who actually like the books.

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

Things I Learned (Or Relearned) in 2014

31 December 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

2014 was one of those years where frustration seemed to be the dominant emotion for me. Some of the lessons I learned twenty years ago got refined for the new age, and some of the new things I learned took more time than I anticipated. I also learned a few things about other people in general, some of which I did not want to know. The good things about other people though, came through strong, and that was truly wonderful.

One of those good things happened in the last few weeks. It’s been great to come back to the blog, and to find so many of you still reading, still waiting, and still supporting. You’ve touched me with your kindness and your good words. Thank you.

. . . .

Big Projects Suck All of The Air Out of The Room

When people are working on a massive project, they can’t do anything else. So even important stuff goes by the wayside.

I finished the big Retrieval Artist project in the fall and have been cleaning up ever since. Lots of projects left undone, lots of people waiting for things, lots of little details missed.

I should have expected that, but I stumbled into this big project. I truly thought it was going to be smaller—three books instead of six. Jeez. It kept growing and growing, and I kept triaging.

I doubt I’ll ever plan something that big—I didn’t plan this one!—but next time I won’t be surprised by the way it took time from everything else.

. . . .

I’ll Probably Never Stop Working

When most people say that phrase, they’re whining. Me, I simply don’t understand retirement or relaxing. I tried to relax in a traditional fashion when I finished the massive Retrieval Artist project. I took a small trip, I saw a bunch of movies, I’ve read a lot of books, I’ve tried to stay away from my desk. I keep wandering back to it.

I guess when play is the same as work, time off isn’t necessary.

. . . .

Success Costs Money

Those investments I mentioned above, those wrong roads? Sometimes they happen because people like me try many roads and experiment and take chances. Those chances cost money too, but they always have a good return on the investment. So…the lessons are mixed here.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kathryn Rusch’s books

Things Indie Writers Learned in 2014

26 December 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I’d love to say nothing, but that’s not true—if we’re discussing indie writers who have remained in the business for several years. There will always be new indie writers who know very little, and there will always be those with “experience” who turn a year or two worth of sales into a know-it-all platform.

However, those indie writers who’ve been at this since the beginning of the self-publishing revolution in 2009 have learned a lot in 2014.

. . . .

I’ll be using “indie writer” instead of “self-published writer,” following the music model. I’ll also talk about “indie publishing” instead of “self publishing,” because so many writers who are not with traditional publishers have started their own presses. It’s not accurate to lump all writers who are not following the traditional route into the self-publishing basket any longer, if it ever was.

. . . .

Telling stories is fun. Every person does it. Some of us do it better than others. When we’re in school, those of us who tell stories verbally often get pushed into theater or the dramatic arts. Those of us who tell stories well on paper often get rewarded with excellent grades and much acclaim. Teachers love good writers. And good writers are told they’re talented.

As a student, I often wrote essays instead of taking multiple-choice tests, partly because even then I was a good writer, but also because I’m dyslexic. I screw up a multiple-choice test most of the time.

Writing was easy; multiple choice was hard.

When something is easy, then you should do it, right?

The problem is that when you go from the high school or college stage to the Big International World of Storytelling, your chops can’t be just okay. They have to be wonderful. Even if you have an innate talent, you have to improve on that talent.

Plus, writers spend most of their time alone. Writers get no feedback, and what feedback they get is often negative.

It takes a certain personality type to persevere through the solitude and negative feedback. I often say I’m a writing junkie, but more accurately, I’m a storytelling junkie. I consume and create story in equal measures. Take my stories away, I’ll wither and die.

Most people have a real life that writing gets in the way of. I have a writing life that real events interrupt. Most writers who have committed a novel or two find the writing life not to their taste.

Solitude and making things up is not for everyone.

. . . .

Sure, your first book can have 50,000 free downloads. Is that success?

Not to a long-term writer.

Sure, your first book can have 50,000 99-cent downloads. Is that success?

Not to a long-term writer.

Sure, your first book can have 50,000 $4.99 downloads. Is that success?

Well, that’s a hell of a start, the kind that’ll make the long-term writer start rooting for you, and hoping you make it through all the upcoming pitfalls. Why? Because readers are spending noticeable money (not pocket change) on your book. Lots of readers. You’re developing a true fan base, and you’re making real money.

We all measure success differently, and we should know what it is before we start publishing. But most writers don’t. Success is finishing a novel (check). Success is getting that novel published (check). Success is getting good reviews (check). Success is getting paid for that novel. (check) Success is making a living. (um, what?)

Making a living means doing the process all over again. And again, and again. Most writers achieve the first goals or a version of the first goals. And then, the real work hits them.

Lots of writers have been publishing indie long enough to realize that self-publishing is as much work as a day job, if not more work. Lots of writers who started their own publishing companies have learned that indie publishing is more work than a day job.

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

What Traditional Publishing Learned in 2014

18 December 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Traditional publishers learned a lot these past few years, and in 2014, started putting their knowledge into action.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll do the traditional media thing, and provide you with my own sort of year in review. All of it will focus on publishing and writing, both indie and traditional, and all of it will be my opinion.

. . . .

I started with a comment Dean made about a line in a traditional publisher’s quarterly financial report for the third quarter about the importance of copyright. Dean couldn’t remember what financial report the line came from, so I decided to find it–and of course, I couldn’t. Not fast anyway. But the upshot was that I read a mountain of financial reports for traditional publishers, and honestly, they sent chills through me, considering what’s been occurring with publishing contracts.

Over the past year or two, publishing companies have changed their thinking about the industry.

. . . .

Much of the change is in response to 2013’s dismal fall sales, which happened courtesy of the Justice Department’s investigation of six major publishers and Apple for price-fixing. It didn’t matter how that case turned out; the case itself changed business as usual inside publishing.

Business as usual was this: Before that all important Christmas shopping season, publishers consulted with each other about the timing of their blockbusters.

Think of it the way that the movie industry does: When a film that will suck up all the ticket sales of a particular genre (like an Avengers movie) declares it will release in May, other filmmakers in that genre will avoid that weekend. Generally, studios will release a film that they think will appeal to a different type of audience.

. . . .

it was smarter marketing to make certain that John Grisham’s latest novel would not compete with Scott Turow’s latest novel, on the theory that legal thriller readers wouldn’t pony up $60 the week of the hardcover releases—they would choose which author they liked best, and only pay $30.

So publishers would contact each other about a year before and informally discuss release dates. Weekend 1 (in September) would belong to Turow; Weekend 6 (in November) would belong to Grisham. But…Stephen King was releasing around that time, and he might take some sales from Grisham, so move the Grisham to Weekend 4…and so on and so on.

When the court case started, publishers couldn’t make these informal phone calls. And traditional book production takes a fraction of the time movie production takes. The publishers released their fall catalogues early in the year, and then the orders would occur, and the release dates would be set in stone.

Because there was no consulting in 2013, a disaster set up: Turow, a former juggernaut author, whose legal thrillers were always an event, was releasing his first book in three years. In theory, his sales would have destroyed any other author’s sales in the same genre.

Just like John Grisham’s sales would in their first weekend. Grisham’s books had ceased to be “Events” like Turow’s, but Grisham had a loyal mass following that bought everything. He got his own release week, generally speaking, just like Turow.

Only in 2013, their releases were exactly seven days apart. Turow’s novel came out on October 15, and Grisham’s on October 22. And Grand Central, Turow’s publisher, learned that readers preferred John Grisham by a huge margin.

Even so, neither book sold at the author’s historic high.

. . . .

No book in that fall sold at an historic high. Factors came together to prevent it. Some of those factors were:

1. Publishers could no longer collude on release dates (or anything else, including price).

2. The rise of independent publishing meant a lot of readers, who would have bought a legal thriller from Turow or Grisham because those two authors were among the few still writing in the genre, got siphoned off. Those readers found other legal thriller writers or backlist novels that had been taken out of print when the legal thriller genre “died.” Indie publishing gave readers what they wanted when they wanted it, and a lot of them abandoned the bestseller they sorta liked for a midlist writer they loved and whose book was now available to them.

3. The utter decimation of the newspaper book review section. When newspapers died, they took their book review sections with them. Surviving newspapers cut the “fat” from their pages, including the book section. (Which is stupid to me, because the book section was a guaranteed source of weekly advertising revenue.) Only a handful of book sections survived, and those were in truncated form.

4. Magazines got rid of book review sections as well. Those that kept the review section, like Vanity Fair, put it in (I kid you not) 9-point type or smaller.

5. The reluctance of the book blogger. Book bloggers with large followings don’t feel the need to review a Big Book just because some publisher said they must do so. In fact, book bloggers prefer to be the source of recommendations for the eclectic reader, not the mass reader.

6. The decline of shelf space in the brick-and-mortar store. In 2013, there were fewer paid placements available in bookstores (up front is paid for, folks, as is that new release table). Readers were learning to shop differently.

7. The rise of the algorithm. Online bookstores would send out targeted marketing e-mails to readers based on previous purchases. Sometime in 2013, online bookstores changed their home pages so that a reader might see only the types of books that interested her. This is changing back in late 2014 because Amazon has realized what a cash cow coop advertising is. Now, when you log onto Amazon or Kobo or Barnes & Noble, you will see a scroll of bestsellers along the top (relatively small) before you see all the “recommended for you” books. But that sales venue is nothing like walking into a store and seeing John Grisham’s latest stacked in piles of twenty everywhere.

There was a lot of gloom and doom throughout the entire traditional industry in 2013 because it was clear to everyonethat the old system wasn’t working. The old system, based on velocity and constant push of new product, was actually falling apart.

So traditional publishers did what all businesses do when something isn’t working: they reassessed. They studied financial sheets and looked at two things—where their business lost money and where it earned money.

The publishers had a surprising realization: those backlist titles they threw up on Amazon and one or two other sites because everyone was demanding ebooks? Those damn things were selling and making the company an astonishing amount of money.

. . . .

Here’s how Houghton Mifflin Harcourt stated that in their third quarter results:

The increase in product profitability was primarily driven by a $17 million reduction in product cost…

You’ll find little phrases like that one in all the financial reports of the major publishers.

. . . .

Ebooks—at any price—are an astonishing revenue boon to traditional publishers. I say astonishing, because I’m pretty sure that no traditional publisher realized how well these things earned until they reassessed their entire business model.

The protectionism that sparked the price-fixing case from the Justice Department? That desire to make sure no ebooks sold so that customers would only buy hardcovers? That’s so 2012.

Where publishers discovered that they lost money was on marketing and any attempt to push velocity. Ad buys in book publications, doing a ton of up-front promotion to spark interest in a book, pay-for-placement in a brick-and-mortar bookstore, all had very little effect on sales, unlike the past.

. . . .

The present is pretty simple: the bestseller numbers have flatlined significantly. In the past, a new release by John Grisham would have sold at least half a million copies in its first week.

Last month, Gray Mountain, Grisham’s 2014 release, sold 122,506 copies in its first week, the highest selling fiction title out of the gate for the entire year. (The closest competitor? Top Secret Twenty-One, the latest Janet Evanovich title, which sold 88,997 copies in its first week. (As reported in the November 14, 2014, Entertainment Weekly Chart Attack [no available link.])

Neither sales figure would have gotten the Evanovich or the Grisham on any chart before the ebook revolution. Those sales figures are extremely low.

I spent much of the fall of 2014 asking serious readers if they heard that this bestselling author or that bestselling author had a new release. Every question I asked was about an author with a fall release, and every person I asked, in my informal sample, said no.

I was particularly shocked to see the anemic promotion for Lee Child’s latest, Personal, which came out on September 2, 2014. Personal is a Jack Reacher novel, and Jack Reacher is a well known character—so well known that Tom Cruise played him in a film—10 months before.

. . . .

Writers haven’t yet realized what they’ve signed. Nor have a lot of this potential cases become lawsuit worthy. Writers have yet to complain about the contracts because writers are still working to fulfill those contracts.

Although you’re hearing whispers. The entire controversy over L.J. Smith who wrote The Vampire Diaries for twenty years is a contract dispute.  Smith signed with Alloy Entertainment, a packaging firm. Smith got nothing from the sale of The Vampire Diaries to television, nor does she get anything from all the marketing and merchandising rights. In fact, Alloy Entertainment fired her a few years ago—which was all within the legal boundaries set by the contract.

Packaging firms have existed for decades. The packaging firm owns the rights to the entire creation (the “world”) and the writers are simply contractors with no rights in the work whatsoever.

When traditional publishers can devise contracts that essentially do the same thing, they do. And writers, desperate to be published, signed those damn things.

Signing those publishing contracts is more dangerous now than it was fifteen years ago. Because fifteen years ago, books would go out of print, and then the contract would end.

Now, books don’t go out of print.

. . . .

Traditional writers who go blindly into this world will get screwed worse than they ever have before. Traditional writers who go in with their eyes open might gain some benefits at the expense of a book or two or three.

Generally speaking, the writers who go into traditional publishing are risk-averse. But it would seem to me that the only writers who should go into traditional publishing are writers who appreciate and understand risk.

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

PG is very happy to see Kris posting again about the publishing business, traditional and indie.

In PG’s astoundingly humble opinion, nobody writes on this subject as well as Kris does.

At the bottom of this piece, Kris has a Paypal, credit card, etc., donation button. If you want her to keep writing on these subjects, you might consider clicking on the donation button.

Here’s a link to Kris’s books

What Kind of Writer Are You?

10 August 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Generally speaking, a good publicity campaign starts by defining the campaign’s target audience.

Here, however, instead of figuring out your campaign’s audience, we’re going to figure out who you are. Because until you know your strengths and limitations, you can’t do any planning well.

What I know about you is that you’re a writer.

. . . .

I also know that you want as many readers as possible to find your books. In a perfect world, the readers would find your work without anyone doing anything.

. . . .

I’m very good at marketing. But that doesn’t mean I like all of it. In fact, I hate some of it. I know how to do it, and I would rather have someone else help me than do it myself.

However, I also know there are some things that will take me five minutes and take someone else hours. I do those things, and maybe, someday, I’ll train the other person.

Part of my attitude toward marketing comes from the fact that I have done it since I was a teenager. I learned to write ad copy in junior high (yes, in the days before those years were called “middle school”). I learned to write good ad copy in college. I did a lot of PR and marketing for various companies in my twenties.

And, for my sins, I did countless on-air pledge drives for the non-profit radio station I worked at. When you do on-air pledging, you know immediately when your pitch is working and when it isn’t. The phones ring in the studio if you’re doing well, and they’re silent if you’re not doing well.

. . . .

[T]he most important commodity you have is time. And the best thing you can do with that time, my writerly friends, is to write.

Finish the next book and the next book and the next.

The more product you have on the market, the greater the chance that readers will find you. It’s the simplest way to market your work and the one most suited to writers.

But we’re all different.

Which is a real bummer. Because what most writers look for is one-size-fits-all marketing.
If the marketing strategy used by Writer John put his first novel on the bestseller list, then clearly that marketing strategy will work for every writer. Right?
Sorry. Nope. It doesn’t work that way.

Marketing follows a standard statistical model. The outliers are complete opposites. The successful outliers are the handful of people who invented the strategy. The complete failure outliers are the handful of people who are the very last people ever to try that strategy.
The packed middle is filled with all the writer-lemmings who follow the one-size-fits-all marketing crowd. They have some success, but mostly, the strategy gives them just enough traction to disappoint them—because those writers didn’t make millions like the successful outliers.

. . . .

The idea that each book is the exact same product, the way that each jar of peanut butter is the same product, is hard-wired into the conventional publishing wisdom.

As readers, we know that’s wrong. What Huckleberry Finn has in common with The Goldfinch is that they’re both novels. But they are not the same book or even the same kind of book.

They appeal to different readers.

Sure, you could do a Venn diagram of the readers for each book, and find a overlapping subset of readers who like both books (that subset includes me), but most of the readers only like (or have read or want to read) one of those two books.

The books are dramatically different. The way that peanut butter and hummus are different. Peanut butter and hummus are both food. They’re (usually) both brown. They can both be spreads for bread or crackers. But peanut butter and hummus don’t provide the same eating experience.

They’re not even close.

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

The Business Rusch: All Good Things

24 April 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

April marks the fifth anniversary of this blog. Not of the Business Rusch, exactly, but of me writing every Thursday about business or writing or something to do with publishing.

Five years at 52 weeks per year at about 3,000 to 4,000 words per blog. That’s damn near a million words about various topics, more than some business writers have written in their entire careers.

This morning, I had no idea what to write about.

. . . .

I’ve been looking at traditional publishing contracts. They’re so disheartening that I really don’t want to write about them again.

In fact, the word “again” is what keeps cropping up. The publishing industry is stabilizing. We’ve found our future. We’re still not sure how it will go, but it’s pretty clear that e-books are here to stay, traditional publishing will continue (although maybe not at the heights it reached decades ago), and writers finally have a career path outside of traditional publishing.

The writers who work hard will be the ones who will succeed. Those who don’t work hard or don’t learn will be the ones who will fail.

The road ahead looks good to me, finally. I feel like we’ve come through a pretty dark wilderness and we’re heading into a new world together.

. . . .

I’m looking at updating everything. From the contracts and dealbreakers posts to the bits of the Freelancer’s Guide, to a tweak on the way we look at self-publishing versus traditional publishing, all of it needs a slight revision.

But it’s a revision, not an exploration.

And exploration is what interests me.

So…

I think it’s time I end the Thursday Business Blog. Not because you guys have failed to support it. You’ve done a fantastic job, sending me e-mails, links, commenting, and donating. I appreciate every single bit of it.

No, the reason I need to end the blog is that I’m looking on it as a burden, not as something I look forward to. I’m not enjoying writing it any longer. I have so much other writing to do that the blog is actively interfering with.

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

PG will certainly miss the insights and understanding that Kris so generously shared with the rest of the authors in the world. She has made an enormous contribution to the well-being – financial and otherwise – of many, many authors throughout the world.

Good luck with your writing, Kris.

Generational Divide

21 April 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

When I was taking classes in the craft of fiction, everyone—from established professional writers to English professors—recommended that a writer never ever say that a character looked like a famous actor. No “he resembled a young Orson Welles” or “she dressed like Claudette Colbert.”

Not only was it lazy writing—the Gurus said—but, more importantly, there was no way for your reader to know exactly what you meant.

You see, kids, back in the days when you walked uphill both ways in the snow to get to your typewriter, when manuscripts were laced with white-out, and copies were made with carbon paper, old movies were hard to find.

. . . .

 But the teachers all had a point. Not only did referencing old movies make it difficult for modern readers to “see” your characters, it also dated the work. Because so much of popular culture back then was available for such a short period of time, and then it was impossible to find without an archive nearby, a good old movie house (with a lot of money), or a lot of late-night television viewing. I often memorized TV Guide, and stayed up until the wee hours to see a censored version of a movie I’d only heard about.

. . . .

 By the early 1990s, I realized I could compare my characters to movie stars, if I wanted to, and people would understand. It’s still lazy if that’s all I say—but if I’m in the point of view of say a major movie buff, it might be a great way to characterize my narrator. The option is open to me.

. . . .

 But we haven’t given much thought to the world we’re moving into. The world that so many people who were born from about 1995 to now will inhabit.

. . . .

Brian Robbins, who runs Awesomeness TV, a provider of YouTube channels (and programming) and which attract (as far as I can tell) at least thirty-one million teens and tweens. About their attitude toward programming, he says,

The next generation, our audience and even younger, they don’t even know what live TV is. They live in an on-demand world.

An on-demand world.

Think about that for a moment. Those of us raised in that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it world had a sense of urgency about everything we loved. If we didn’t schedule ourselves around a TV show, we’d miss it. If we missed the opening weekend to a film, we might not see it. If we weren’t listening to the radio during a baseball game, we might never understand the nuances—we’d have to stick with the reported coverage the next day.

That’s changed. I don’t feel any urgency at all about finding what I love. I just deleted a show to make room on my DVR, secure in the knowledge that I can pick up that series on demand when I’m ready to.

. . . .

We writers take advantage of it when we write in series. Our readers want the next book the moment they finish the previous one. E-books allow the reader to get that book at 4 a.m. on a holiday weekend in a town where there won’t be an open bookstore for another 48 hours (and even then, it’s a crapshoot as to whether or not the bookstore has the title).

But on demand has its other side.

Personally, I love it, although it does make me pickier than I used to be. Faced with the choice of programming or reading material, I can judge what I watch by mood. I need something funny tonight, or maybe I’m in the mood for a detective show, but not urban fantasy with a detective (like Grimm). Back in the day, I had to watch whatever was available on Thursday on Thursday, mood be damned.

. . . .

I think the first metric is how many people want a book within a week of its release. That doesn’t make a book an instant bestseller. It simply shows us—the writer—how many fans we’ve managed to capture.

The next metric is how many copies of the book sell over time. That time should probably be measured in year-long increments. How many copies sell in the first year? How many in the second? How many in the fifth?

Because if the book’s sales increase per year, then something is happening for that book. That something is word of mouth.

We never had a way to measure word of mouth before, because books became unavailable within weeks of their release, and went out of print within months. Now, we can see the growth as more and more people tell their friends about a title.

. . . .

The publishing industry isn’t even talking about new metrics. That idea hasn’t occurred to traditional publishing, and indie (or self) published writers are constantly seeking validation from the old system—trying to figure out ways to game the bestseller lists or to get a fantastic review from somewhere that has old-world prestige.

. . . .

The traditional publishing industry is notorious for not studying anything. What works to promote a book? Who knows. Why should they study that?

But at some point, traditional publishers are going to have to develop new ways to figure out which products sell well and which ones don’t. All of their systems—from sales figures (which measure books shipped not books sold) to bestseller lists to critical acclaim—are based on the old models.

It might take another ten years or more before traditional publishing figures out how to measure success for its various titles. What happens in ten years or more? Members of the on-demand generation will start to step into positions of power at traditional publishing companies (and everywhere else). Those future adults will want metrics that mean something to them, not things that belong to a hot autumn night accompanied by the smell of burning leaves and ancient voices on the radio.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

PG had a couple of thoughts while reading Kris’ latest business post.

First, he wonders if traditional publishing will stay around long enough to develop new ways to figure out which products to sell. There will probably be organizations named Penguin Random House, etc., but PG suspects that, like big record labels, they’ll be vastly shrunken and have less money to throw around than they do today. Certainly, they’ll have less influence over authors in general.

Second, he agrees with the suggestion not to say one of your characters looks like a famous actor.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use a famous actor as a source of character description.

PG did some acting in college. He was competent, but that’s about it. He did, however, perform with very good actors, including some who went on to have successful professional careers in movies, TV and on stage.

One of the things the very good actors did was always look interesting. Little things were going on with their posture, their faces, their hands most of the time they were on stage. When you were in the audience, your eye was drawn to them even when they weren’t speaking. They weren’t doing big hammy things, just subtle little things that sometimes communicated with the audience on almost a subconscious level.

In movies, really good actors usually do the same kinds of things. (What they have to do on a stage that is 30 yards from some of the audience members  is different than what they do when a camera is shooting a head-and-shoulders shot, but they’re still doing interesting things that you and I wouldn’t do if the camera was pointed at us.)

So, PG’s suggestion is to watch what an actor does when playing a character that is somewhat like a character in your book and take ideas for character descriptions from them. How do they move and what does that tell you about them? What are their mouths and eyes doing? Their hands? Perhaps it might work better with the sound off, but you might also want to analyze what’s going on with the voice as well.

Just a passing thought.

Stand Up For Yourself

14 April 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

A few weeks ago, at our weekly professional writers lunch, a writer mentioned a private listserve he’s on with other writers, all of whom are traditionally published. According to him, that list has been discussing an abusive editor, one who is tearing apart her bestsellers, making them revise their books repeatedly while telling them that they don’t know how to write.

. . . .

I knew the editor in question, and she went after me viciously in October of 2011. So viciously, in fact, that I immediately attempted to terminate my contract with the publishing company.

Let me tell you what happened, then let me tell you what I did, and then I will expand this essay into something everyone can use.

October of 2011 was a bad time for me.

. . . .

Publishing in the United States was changing quickly, and it often felt like the ground was shifting under our feet. We had cash flow issues because of the estate (see the link above) and because we had started three new businesses before Bill died. My stress was off the charts.

I still managed, somehow, to write a novel that I was quite pleased with. For once, I managed to hit every note I had promised in the proposal that sold the novel. The novel was risky for its genre, but the editor had approved the proposal and all was fine—I thought.

Then on the afternoon of October 18, 2011, the editor called me from a conference I had had to cancel out of due to my health and the estate issues. I thought she was going to update me on a book the company had just published—sales figures or something—or maybe convey something about the conference.

Instead, she wanted to talk about the book I had turned in. She didn’t ask how I was (and remember, she knew that I couldn’t attend for health and personal reasons) or anything. Instead she lit into me and my work as if I were a beginning writer.

She told me that I couldn’t write very well. She told me I knew nothing about the genre I’d been publishing in for fifteen years. She told me that I might think I was a good writer, but I wasn’t, and I needed to shape up.

I was stunned as this torrent of abuse continued. It went on for fifteen minutes before I could get a word in edgewise. I should have hung up; I was too sick and emotionally exhausted to think of that option until after the call ended.

. . . .

I drafted a letter to the publisher of the company. I cited everything the editor said in this and previous conversations, said I had concurrent notes so I wasn’t trusting a faulty memory, and then demanded to be released from my current contract.

Because I’ve been in publishing a long time, I did not do this angrily or stupidly. I told the publisher of this company that I would repay my advance and, on the book that was currently in production (not the one I had just turned in), I would repay all expenses the company had incurred to date.

. . . .

In my letter to the publisher, I cited my credentials, my publishing history, and my business and financial history, so he knew who he was dealing with.

He knew this was not a bluff.

I also told him that his editor was not doing her job. She was having subordinates do much of the work for her, if not all of her work for her.

I sent the letter as an email and as a certified letter, then sat back to see what would happen next.

What happened was a prolonged negotiation with the vice president of the company, a much higher ranked person than the publisher I had initially addressed. I still had several books under contract, one in production, plus the one I had turned in, and three more to write. I was going to cancel the contracts on all of these and repay the advances.

He reminded me how expensive it was.

I told him that I would not work with a company that approved proposals and then turned down a book that followed the proposal to the letter. I also told him that I had been misled about the company’s focus. I had not realized that it expected me to follow rules of a subgenre I would never ever write in. I usually avoided companies and book lines that required such things, because that’s not how I write.

He assured me the company did not expect that. We went back and forth for some time, and came to an understanding. I would switch editors for the book in production and the book I had just turned in. I would have no contact with the first editor.

If I was still dissatisfied, we would part company before I started writing the next novel I had to finish for them.

The new editor was just fine. A gem, in fact.

. . . .

Which brings me back to that professional writers’ lunch a few weeks ago. I asked the writer who is on this listserve what the writers who were being abused by this woman had done.

He said they hadn’t done anything. They were signing up for more books and taking the nastiness—the you-can’t-write, you-are-worthless comments—and sucking it all up, trying to continue forward. And unsurprisingly, several were having trouble finishing novels.

I had to clarify: You mean no one has asked for a different editor? No one has withdrawn her book? No one has left the company?

. . . .

In publishing, when someone in charge of your book does not respect you or the book, it shows in the book’s treatment. I fired an agent of mine shortly after she told me her bestselling client wrote smut. It wasn’t literature, it was crap, but it sold, she said. And then she laughed.

She said that to me, another client, about a client who earned millions for the agency. Imagine how she talked to the client’s editor. Imagine how she talked about me.

Respect matters, and writers should demand it.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

One of PG’s rules for business and life is not to deal with jerks.

The only exception is when PG has been in court and the jerk was on the other side of a case. Then it could be fun.

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