The Business of Writing

5 Observations on the Evolution of Author Business Models

6 October 2015

From Jane Friedman:

Over the last four days, I’ve been attending and speaking at the NINC conference, which is open only to NINC members. To be a NINC member, you must be a novelist with at least two books published. Most members have published far more than that—even over a hundred titles. 

While NINC is not limited to women, most authors at NINC are in fact women who actively publish romance and women’s fiction. While a mix of traditionally published and indie published authors attended, most sessions were heavily oriented toward self-publishing and digital distribution.

. . . .

 This was my first time speaking at NINC, and it’s by far the most professional and established group of authors I’ve ever spoken to. The absence of the aspiring or first-time author was especially stark for me, since that’s who I’m much more accustomed to encountering.

. . . .

1. The Importance of Series in Marketing, Promotion, and Overall Career Growth

My guess is that the large majority of NINC members are actively writing at least one series, if not more, and also releasing new titles on a very regular basis (every three to six months). Having more titles gives an author far more flexibility and options when it comes to marketing. You can make your first-in-the-series book free (to bring in new readership to a series), run more types of promotions because of more diverse pricing across your list, and do bundling and box sets.

The branding and promotion benefit offered by a series is a huge advantage; authors of standalones are hard pressed to match it unless they’ve managed to build up significant brand awareness or strong direct reach to readers. Years ago, when I first talked with Sean Platt (before he released Yesterday’s Gone in episodes and seasons), he was convinced that the path to success was following the narrative model that’s evolved for binge-worthy TV, with seasons-long story arcs and episode cliffhangers.

Sometimes in the industry we divide authors into indie versus traditional or genre versus literary. The more important difference I’m seeing is series versus standalone, not that one must choose, but when trying to gain any traction as a new author, publishing standalone after standalone feels much more Sisyphean than starting with a series.

I’m starting to hear established authors advise new indie authors to wait to go to market until they have three titles ready to publish. When first-time authors come to me for marketing advice, more and more I feel at a loss to help them. I’m inclined to say “Come back when you have a few books, all targeted to the same readership, and maybe we’ll have something to talk about.”

. . . .

3. Where Innovation (and Power Plays) Happen: Ebook Retailers and Distributors

As I mentioned in the opening to this piece, nearly every ebook retailer, distributor, and service provider was at NINC to meet with authors and to discuss large-scale trends, metadata, title optimization, new features, and merchandising/promotion opportunities.

Not that long ago, it would’ve been unthinkable that an author would be able to talk directly with a retailer or distributor about sales optimization. (Not that your average non-entrepreneurial author would even be interested in the first place—that’s traditionally the domain of the publisher.) Now you’ll find retailers and distributors assuring authors that they’re working on new features and innovations to help sell more books. I sat in on a session presented by Draft2Digital (an ebook distributor), and it became clear the service was beloved by the NINC membership because they are so customer-service oriented, make the authors’ jobs easier, and continue to innovate. (I’m pretty confident even traditional publishers would love to have some of the features offered by Draft2Digital for their own digital housekeeping purposes!)

Yet—and this is not to undercut the very real advances made by ebook retailers/distributors—we’re still talking about rather simple, commonsense improvements, e.g., alerting customers when their favorite author releases a new book. (A no-brainer, I think everyone would agree.) Such progress receives overwhelmingly positive response from authors, but we’re truly in the early days (dark ages) of what’s possible in ebook retailing.

Also, whereas authors were overly dependent on their publishers for success prior to the ebook revolution, will power now overly shift to these services? Obviously, people often talk about Amazon as having too much power, but it’s not necessarily just Amazon who can and will affect how well authors sell in the digital market.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman and thanks to Laura for the tip.

Why crowdfunding is vital to disabled creatives

30 September 2015

From author Lesley Smith via Kickstarter:

Tonight I want to talk to you about disability and what Kickstarter means for people like me.

This isn’t a sob story or emotional B.S., this is me trying to explain what a lifeline crowdfunding is to me personally.

I’m disabled, I make no bones about that. I’m legally blind, I have bipolar disorder (a boon and a bane but I wouldn’t change it), I was born so early and my brain so saturated by oxygen that I have white matter damage and my brain literally spent years rewiring itself, I have physical co-ordination issues and high functioning autism (which is genetic). I have PTSD (don’t ask). I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder. I’m introverted and my autism means I have a schedule which I hate breaking.

I’m also on enough medication to knock over a horse and my life is painfully constricted by timing and the side-effects of my medication which makes me incredibly tired and to sleep for twelve hours (if I can actually get to sleep). My life is about ensuring I take my meds at the right moment and get up early enough that I can miss the fog.

Oh and drink coffee.

I have a guide dog (and unofficial emotional support hound) named Uni who puts up with me. I use a white cane and wear dark glasses to avoid getting migraines (I’m very light sensitive). Despite that I go to Zumba twice a week, I’m active and I have quite the social life and circle of friends, many of whom are also on the spectrum of disability (and most have their own gorgeous canine companions).

. . . .

I was a journalist for a decade before my heath problems got worse. I used to work seventy hours a week, traveling all around the world. I used to be able to earn more than enough to be comfortable, to support myself and then my sight deteriorated to the point where I just couldn’t any more and my mental health took that moment to plummet.

. . . .

Disability means that I’m creative but it also means I’m on limited funds. I don’t quite live hand to mouth but it’s close. If I want something I have a choice of credit or saving for months.

It means fun projects, like publishing books, are completely out of the question. I cannot afford to get my books edited, to pay for covers and proofs, to turn a project from words on a page to a Real Book™. This is why I crowdfund.

The thing is anyone who thinks crowdfunding is easy, well they’ve never done it. Unless you’re doing a massive project with a billion follows you have to earn every pound. £4k might as well be £400,000 and books are, sadly, a niche product and it’s so much hard to fund, let along over-fund. You’re also a one-man band; I’m the PR girl, I do the finances, I liaise with the members of my indie toolbox to ensure the editing is done on time, that the covers are perfect. You get the idea.

. . . .

Normally, if I was neurotypical or not disabled, if I wanted to do something like publish a book, I’d work extra hours, I’d get a second job or start a freelance business. As a disabled author I simply don’t have that option; publishing one book would take me a year if I had to save for it myself and crowdfunding allows me to cut that time in thirds, perhaps even less.

. . . .

Disability restricts me, crowdfunding frees me.

Link to the rest at Kickstarter

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

The Overwhelmed Writer

25 September 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Sometimes I look at all the things I’ve done, all the truly stupid mistakes I’ve made, and I’m amazed I still have a career.

Fortunately for me, indie publishing came along. I was able to get out of the traditional publishingnovel merry-go-round, which never suited me, and able to publish my novels on my own.

There are a lot of capable people working in traditional publishing, some fantastic editors, and publishers who really care about writers and books. I love working with those people. I consider it a privilege to interact with them.

But now, I’m straddling both worlds, and I find myself a bit overwhelmed by the weirdness of both pace and deadlines.

Traditional publishing has its systems, many of which have existed for more than a century. A book gets turned in. The editor reads it, edits it, then the writer revises (if asked). The book goes back to the editor who reads it again (reads again in theory—I’ve had dozens of book editors who have punted on this step). The editor approves the book, puts in for the acceptance check, and sends the book to the copy editor. There are rounds of copy editing, proofing, cover design. There are sales meetings, scheduling, planning charts, promotion discussions—none of which involve the author, especially if the author is being paid less than six-figures for the project (and sometimes not even then).

The book goes out for review four to six months in advance of publication. The book is also in the catalog, and about that time, major retailers are placing advance orders. The book gets finalized, it gets printed, and, on the big day, it hits the shelves. (There are lots of steps in between which I am leaving out.) Then the promotion machinery hits its peak. With luck, the book sells lots of copies very fast, it hits lists, it gets good word of mouth, and then…and then…

The pages of the calendar turn. Another book comes up in traditional publishing’s queue. Your book becomes less important, then it becomes unimportant, and then it gets forgotten.

You—the writer under contract—are working on your next book, and that machine gears up for it again.

The moment the publishing house commissions a book from you to the month after publication usually takes two years. Some special projects take less time—Dean and I did some tie-ins which went from commission to publication in six months—and many take more time. My first novel took so long from commission to publication that I had sold eight more books to other publishers before it appeared.

. . . .

A traditionally published book takes two years, generally, to work its way through the process, only to dominate the shelves for a month or so (if, indeed, you’re lucky enough to be a dominant author). God knows how many years it took you to get a publishing house interested in the book.

So for a writer, a book might take anywhere from three to five years from the first proposal to publication. Some traditionally published authors wait to write another book until the first one sells. I call those writers hobbyists. They clearly don’t have a profession or a work ethic, at least for writing.

. . . .

WMG is a traditional publishing company. Yes, Dean and I started it and we’re involved with it, but it’s a corporation, with others who actually run the business. WMG is a small traditional publishing company, and purposely nimble. (Actually, in traditional publishing, WMG fits into the medium size press category, based on the sales and number of titles printed. When I say small I’m referring to the number of employees, and the overall business structure. WMG Publishing doesn’t have a lot of baggage, no longer has too many employees who can get away with sitting on their asses and getting paid for minimum effort, and therefore there is no possibility for a game of Telephone.)

WMG uses the some of the best parts of indie publishing (quick turn arounds on some projects, the ability to rebrand immediately, flexibility in the schedule) and the best parts of traditional publishing (all of the sales systems that have existed for decades, for example) to become a new entity. A hybrid-traditional publisher.

But when I finish a project that will end up being published through WMG, that project goes on a schedule. It goes through rounds of proofers, copy editors, design, much of that stuff in the traditional publishing section above. The project acquires a publication date, and sometimes there’s a promotional push behind that publication date. Meaning that we’re using the traditional system to gain attention for the book—reviews, getting preorders, making sure the book is on shelves before release.

. . . .

[WMG] keeps its assets active. In fact, as some of you know, WMG has spent much of the summer rebranding its larger projects, so that they look better for the market of 2016, rather than looking like books published in 2010.

WMG is not the only company like this these days. Several other small publishers have arisen in the past five years similar to WMG, and all of these new companies keep their assets alive as books. A book is a book is a book, and the newest book is no more important than a book published five years ago.

In fact, the good folk at WMG actually prefer the older titles. They’re more familiar with those titles, and the staff have a ton of marketing ideas for them.

. . . .

I’m sure Bookbub has dealt with a lot of writers and publishers who want to send them new titles to skirt the reader review issue (Bookbub prefers reader reviews and likes). Eventually, when you try to game a system, those running the system notice and put up roadblocks to prevent.

Bookbub, and the dozens of services like them, want to advertise what we used to call backlist. The stuff I mentioned above, the stuff that gets forgotten by old-school traditional publishers.

Yet most of the promotions Dean and I have done through WMG have been backlist promotions.

. . . .

All of those old titles, the ones that were dead in traditional publishing, have come roaring back to life. The old titles have fans who want a particular series book now, the old titles have opportunities (do you have a high fantasy to promote, because we’d love to include you in this…?), the old titles have value again as much more than a book listed as an asset on a spreadsheet (with an ebook ghost floating around).

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

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

If You Sell It, They Will Read It–or not

19 September 2015

At the IDPF/BE conference in May of this year, Kobo disclosed data that revealed only 60 percent of books purchased are ever opened. And that says nothing about whether they are even finished.

Interestingly, the more expensive the book was, the more likely it was the reader would at least start it, though data wasn’t shared on whether the likelihood of the book being finished went up. It most likely didn’t, though, as completion is probably entirely dependent on the quality of the book, not the price of it.

At Jellybooks, we have been conducting reader analytics surveys of readers using iBooks, Apple’s reading app, by using modified ebooks. We measured that 50 to 55 percent of ebooks get opened, though it should be noted that these are Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) that users receive for free.

Read it allIf You Sell the Book Will They Read It

Self-Publishing and Living the LLC Dream

16 September 2015

From Scott De Buitléir at the Huffington Post

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and as a child I imagined my name on the cover of several novels. As I’ve grown up into a digital age, the possibilities for being a writer today seem endless, and nowadays one doesn’t have to rely on the mercy of large publishing companies to grant you your dream come true as self-publishing has fully come into its own in the publishing world.


As more self-publishers rush to place their books on the market, the number of copyright infringement lawsuits have increased. Many authors are now facing lawsuits that not only threaten their writing, but also their personal assets and savings.

It is for reasons like this that many self-published authors are starting to approach their writing as a business and taking the right steps to separate their book income from their personal assets by setting up their writing under a Limited Liability Corporations (LLC) or other business structure.


“[LLCs]… still provides adequate protection of assets while not being as difficult or expensive as setting up a Corporation. Furthermore, an LLC is more versatile and allows you to tax it as a Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, C Corporation or S-Corporation. Basically, it is the best of all worlds and fits nicely in the self-publishing business structure.”


Risks are abound in this industry and increasing every year. Those authors that don’t take the necessary action to protect themselves may find that their “dream come true” turns into a nightmare.

Read the rest here.

From Guest Blogger Randall

Taste-Test Your Books: The Secret Sauce to Boost Sales

16 September 2015

From Rob Eagar  at Digital Book World

The publishing business is one of the few industries with the audacity to create a lot of new products without testing them on consumers first. Imagine running a restaurant and never taste-testing new recipes before serving them to customers. Or imagine automobile companies trying to sell cars without test-driving the vehicle first. What if Hollywood never pre-screened their movies before opening night? You get my point. Failing to test new products on consumers before launching them is a risky business move.


You don’t have to try to guess what readers will like. Instead, test books on them, and let them convey what works and what areas need improvement. Gathering this kind of specific information will help improve sales, as it’s easier to incite word of mouth when you use the consumers’ own language to communicate a book’s value.


The digital age of reading now enables publishers to take advantage of the same approach better than ever. So taste-test your books on readers just like great chefs taste-test their new menus. Why leave money on the table? These days, you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Read the rest here.

From Guest Blogger Randall

How to talk about a self-published novel in a query

15 September 2015

From Janet Reid, Literary Agent

“You’ve said that a self-published novel is not considered a valid credit when approaching a publisher or agent, but then I was wondering what you’d write at all if you happened to have one?…. Is admitting I self-published a previous book bad because I’m admitting my last attempt was too poor to sell? Should I not mention it at all as a relevant credit? Or should I just avoid self-publishing as long as I’m trying for commercial publishing?”


The reason self-published books aren’t a writing credit is there was no independent selection process. You wrote the book, then you, yourself and ewe edited, copy edited, fact checked, sent it off to the typesetting elves, and presto, one ISBN later, it’s a book.


Now, as to whether you SHOULD self publish your novel, I will simply say this: the most common thing I hear from writers who query me again after a period of a year or more, and query for a new book is they now realize they queried too soon with that first novel.

I well understand your impatience with the glacial pace of publishing and the idea that getting the book out there is better than not, but that’s impatience and inexperience talking. And lo! I have heard their siren song myself and always to my detriment I must confess.

Self publishing your first novel is a whole different kettle of fish than publishing a novel AFTER you’ve had several published already.

Link to the rest here.

From Guest Blogger Randall

The State of the Publishing Industry in 5 Charts

15 September 2015

Purely by coincidence this was published the same day as the Authors Earnings report. Randall will leave it up to the gang here to come to their own conclusions.

From Jane Friedman




Source: Foner Books put together this visual based on Amazon KDP Select payments to indie authors for book borrows before and after the debut of Kindle Unlimited, the all-you-can-eat ebook subscription service offered by Amazon.

Takeaway: The last year has hinted that the ebook subscription model is experiencing some strain. This graph shows how Amazon payouts dropped in conjunction with the rollout of Kindle Unlimited, which obviously forced Amazon to change their payments to a pages-read model over summer 2015.


More than a few people are asking how long ebook subscription models can pay a full royalty—since greater success in engaging users/subscribers means costs can outpace revenue.


Current wisdom is that people are moving to tablets/phones for reading, and that’s where ebooks will be primarily read. People inclined to use e-readers already have one, and the technology isn’t advancing in such a way that people are compelled to buy a new e-reader like they are a new phone or tablet.




Zombie Publishing Meme #4: Self-Publishing is Costly and Risky; Legacy Publishing is Guaranteed and Free.

10 September 2015

From Joe Konrath:

Self-Publishing is Costly and Risky; Legacy Publishing is Guaranteed and Free

This meme takes a couple different forms. Sometimes it expresses itself as a comparison of the worst possible example of self-publishing to the best possible example of legacy publishing. Other times, the comparison is between the typical reality of self-publishing and the rare ideal of legacy publishing. Either way, the framework is misleading.

The meme is customarily introduced by someone claiming she explored self-publishing and was shocked to find it involved such high costs–$4000 just for editing, for example. The writer paid anyway, then was disappointed to discover that her ebook, which she was selling for $14.99, sold poorly and seems unlikely ever to recoup its costs.

. . . .

The writer then compares this unfortunate state of affairs to the possible ease of mailing out a few query letters, landing a six-figure deal with a Big Five publisher, and having all publishing services delivered smoothly and expertly.

In fact, many authors self-publish for nothing (both in ebook and pbook). They do it themselves, or barter for services (I’ll proofread yours if you proofread mine.) There are also many affordable freelance editors, artists, proofers, and designers.

. . . .

But regardless of what a self-published author chooses to spend on publishing services, it’s critical to understand that the author keeps her rights and the majority of revenues (typically 70% in digital). In other words, the costs of self-publishing–whether the self-published author prefers to spend a few dollars or a few thousand–are generally upfront; the payout is over the long term.
By contrast, the upfront costs of the legacy route tend to be relatively modest (if you don’t include time spent mailing out query letters and manuscripts, and waiting, perhaps permanently, to hear from an agent or editor). If you do land a legacy contract, you can expect some sort of advance (probably a few thousand dollars) and a promise that you’ll receive all relevant publishing services. In exchange, you’ll have to give up approximately 85% of revenues and you’ll almost certainly be surrendering your rights forever. The costs of legacy-publishing are therefore long-term; the payout, in the form of whatever advance you are offered, is upfront.
If a writer is lucky enough to get a gigantic advance–which Joe guesses only happens in less than 0.1% of legacy contracts–royalties don’t matter because they won’t ever be earned out. The advance is the only money the writer will likely ever see. But any advance less than life-changing money functions as an ridiculously high interest loan.

If you were a genre author offered a $100k advance earning 17.5% royalties off of the digital list price, and your ebook is priced at $4.99, you earn $0.88 per ebook sold. You need to sell 113,600 ebooks to earn out your advance. And when you do, you’re stuck with 88 cents per sale, FOREVER.

The same ebook, self-published, earns the author $3.49 per copy sold. If they sell 28,653 copies, they made the $100,000. Every copy they sell after that, they make 4x more money than they do on a legacy ebook.

Which seems like a better deal for authors?

Not only is the loan high interest, it’s also forever, because the author will never get those rights back.

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath and thanks to Stephen for the tip.

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

Why does everyone want to be published?

27 August 2015

From MacGregor Literary:

I thought you’d like to see this question someone sent me: “I’ve been writing for several months now, and I’m trying to figure out what my motivation is. Can you help me understand WHY so many writers want to become published authors?”

A fascinating question. Okay, this may surprise you, but I believe most new writers basically want to get published so that they’ll be famous. They want that thrill of holding up a book with their name emblazoned on the cover, show it to their friends, leave it on their coffee table, maybe peruse a copy at the bookstore and casually mention to someone in the aisle, “You know… I wrote this.” I think most new writers are seeking fame and encouragement, that they believe validity and meaning will arrive out of publication. They see fame as offering a measurable amount of worth and competence.

That’s not to say most new writers don’t also have something they want to say — they do. It’s just that many newer writers struggle with having a worthwhile story. Think about it — we all know it takes a while for a writer to become competent. Rarely do you see a novelist get her first completed work contracted. The industry average is five complete books before landing a deal… in other words, if you’re starting out, it will probably be your fifth completed novel before you get a contract.That’s why so many writers give up after one or two — it takes persistence to complete five novels before a publisher will pay attention to your work.

. . . .

Yet most writers who have achieved some level of fame fairly quickly eschew it in favor of craft. They may still enjoy the warmth associated with being recognized, or having someone come up and praise their words, but most successful authors discover that fame is not only fleeting, it doesn’t make us better people or better writers.

Link to the rest at MacGregor Literary

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