The Business of Writing

How to Back Up Your Book Manuscripts and Marketing Files

20 November 2016

From author Russell Philips via The Alliance for Independent Authors:

At its simplest, a backup is just a spare copy of any important files, like your manuscripts. Ideally, a backup will have the following properties:

  • It’ll be located in a different physical location. A backup won’t save your work from a fire or burglars if it’s next to your computer.
  • Backups will happen automatically. If you have to remember to do it, you might forget, or decide that something else is more important.
  • It’ll keep older versions as well as the most recent one. This enables you to reverse changes if you need to.
  • It will retain deleted files. If you delete a file by accident, you can get it back from the backup.
  • If your files are stored by a third party, they should be encrypted. This keeps your private files private.

. . . .

Your web and mailing list hosts probably have backup procedures in place, but it’s still sensible to keep your own backups. If your web or mailing list host decides to terminate your account because you’ve contravened your terms of service (whether you did or not), a backup will allow you to switch to a new provider.

. . . .

MailChimp and Aweber both have reasonably straightforward instructions for exporting data. You can also export your data from Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Unfortunately, Facebook’s export doesn’t include data from pages. For email, you’ll have to check your email provider’s help pages to find out how to export your messages. There isn’t a simple way to automate any of these, so I suggest you set up a repeating reminder in a calendar program. If you really want an automatic option, it may be possible to set up a recipe on If This Then That to (for instance) append Tweets to a file in Dropbox.

Link to the rest at The Alliance for Independent Authors

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

PG has used computers for centuries and will guarantee that computers and floppy disks (remember those?) and CD’s and hard drives and solid state drives and backup software and backup services can and do fail.

If you use computers for a long time, one or more of them will also fail (or you’ll do something stupid to zap a file or a folder or a drive).

PG uses some of the suggested techniques/services in the OP and some that are not mentioned.

The single most important thing about backups is simply to make them. Regularly (as in on a schedule). Most of PG’s backup programs run automatically, but he also has some scheduled manual backups just to make certain. He uses some commercial offsite backup services and some nearby physical backups.

The legacy of Black Ink

10 November 2016

From The Bookseller:

The Black Ink Collective, founded in 1978 and the first of its kind, provided a platform for young black Britons to write, have their voices heard and their work published over the next 10 years, a time of great social upheaval in Britain.

During the 1960s and early ’70s a number of small alternative bookshops in the UK provided an outlet for mainly political and local history publications and pamphlets. Some of these were specifically black-oriented, such as The Black Panther Bookshop (later Sabarr) in Brixton. Bogle L’Overture Publications, and New Beacon Books were independently publishing books that brought a radical perspective to non-fiction, fiction and poetry.

The publishing industry in the UK at the time was very white, male and middle class – both product and staffing. Some black novelists such as Sam Selvon and George Lamming had books that came from major publishing houses, but they didn’t speak to the young, black British experience.

Black Ink created the first imprint specifically designed to give voice to young black writers in the UK. It was a bridge between the mainstream literary scene and a new, vibrant, up-and-coming style that encouraged those in the publishing industry to look beyond where they were.

. . . .

Initially there was considerable resistance from the industry. It was impossible to get publications into High Street bookshops. Black Ink was not taken seriously by established publishers until the success of its second publication – The School Leaver by 16-year-old Michael McMillan – for which there were several reprints in quick succession, prompting an approach from Macmillan to acquire the rights, which was declined because it was felt there was nothing to gain. Their plans only included a new cover and additional print run, which Black Ink had started, but Macmillan lacked the personal approach to the audience Black Ink had established.

Nowadays there are far more books by black British authors available, but far less reading by young people in general. There has been a decline in the number of black bookshops in the last decade, but increased opportunity to self-publish and promote writings online and on social media. This has meant that black authors are not so reliant on the mainstream publishing houses to get published.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

10 Lessons from 10 Years Running a Small Press

8 November 2016

From Literary Hub:

When I first began Prospect Park Books ten years ago, not for a minute did I imagine it would still be in business today, let alone have grown from a regional guidebook publisher into a national house focusing on fiction, cookbooks, and gift titles. Sure, I cranked out a business plan or two along the way, but it’s mostly been a seat-of-the-pants ride. We’ve survived some intense challenges (cancer, gaining and losing a business partner, running out of money) to reach some wonderful highs (bestsellers, awards, critical acclaim, and, most of all, working with exceptional people).

. . . .

1. What the Hell, Let’s Go For It
You’re going to have failures anyway, so you might as well own it. I’ve had a number of what-the-hell-let’s-go-for-it ventures—mostly books, but sometimes book-related apps/websites/schemes—that weren’t budgeted for and might have seemed crazy. Some failed spectacularly (I’m looking at you, guidebook app). But we never would have had our #1 bestseller, the debut novel Helen of Pasadena, if I hadn’t said, impetuously, passionately, and (at the time) foolishly, “What the hell, let’s go for it!”

2. Ignore the 80/20 Rule
This everlasting gobstopper in the business world says that you get 80 percent of your revenue from 20 percent of your products, and that’s certainly how it works in Big Publishing, where salaries are mostly paid by J.K. Rowling, adult coloring books, and Captain Underpants. A few years back, I went to the Yale Publishing Course armed with one essential question: Can a small press make it with singles and doubles but no home runs? I was told “yes” by some experts, but as I struggled to grow the press, I decided they were lying. Just in the last year, however, I’m finally seeing it start to work, thanks to backlist growth, a more carefully considered title mix, and a whole lot of trial and error about what kind of books and authors we can sell and what kind we can’t. I now believe that a good, well-run small press might even be able to flip the 80/20 rule to at least 30/70.

. . . .

8. Filthy Lucre
This is not an issue at the Big Five, but in the world of small-press publishing, I sometimes feel like a philistine for acknowledging that my company is, in fact, a for-profit business that must operate in the black to survive. I partly blame the huge increase in nonprofit presses. I love my friends in the nonprofit world, and admire how they bust their butts to chase grant money and publish deserving works that would otherwise never get out there. But all it takes is one day with the cool kids at AWP for a for-profit press with a (necessarily) more commercial mix to feel like a poseur, a hack, a sellout—basically, a pursuer of filthy lucre. I have just had to make peace with this worry.

Link to the rest at Literary Hub and thanks to Ruth for the tip.

What Writers Need To Know About Patreon

7 November 2016

From GalleyCat:

Are you trying to raise ongoing funds for a long-term writing project?

A number of authors have used the platform Patreon to raise support for ongoing projects. Patreon helps creators of everything from web videos to novels to comics raise a “sustainable income” for their work, building a community of fans who provide monthly support.

Horror novelist Aaron Mahnke has 2,204 patrons on his Patreon page, earning a total of $11,167 per month to make his popular podcast about scary stories throughout history.

Mahnke rewards his backers with PDF transcripts of his show, a private podcast feed for subscribers, and an annual anthology of his podcast stories. He justified the campaign on his page:

“It takes time to research each episode properly, to write up each transcript, and to record and produce the audio at a level of quality that my listeners deserve. That time spent researching, writing, and recording has become my full-time job, so Patreon helps me pay the bills.”

On Patreon, the creator sets creative goals to achieve and fans pledge monthly contributions to help the creator reach those goals. Patreon takes a 5% fee from a creator’s pledges.

. . . .

To find out more about building a successful Patreon campaign, we caught up with Taryn Arnold, Patreon’s associate marketing manager. She shared some tips for writers considering the platform…

Patreon creators who offer rewards tend to have more patrons. What are some rewards that the community has responded to? Any writing-focused rewards you could recommend?  

Taryn Arnold: You’re totally right — our data shows that high-earning creators tend to have more than 2 reward tiers. Most creators who make money on Patreon have between 3-5 rewards. When choosing which rewards to offer, consider perks that are easy to create, distribute digitally, and that don’t take a ton of your time to fulfill.

I find that the best rewards are ones that you can pull straight from your workflow, like sneak peeks of upcoming work, early access to new releases, and monthly live streams for patrons only. For writers specifically, we just wrote a blog post with unique and compelling rewards, geared directly to the writing community and their readers.

Link to the rest at GalleyCat

Books-A-Million partners with Silicon Valley self-publishing firm

5 November 2016

From The Birmingham Business Journal:

Books-A-Million has partnered with a Silicon Valley tech firm to help build out its self-publishing platform.

Birmingham-based Books-a-Million’s BAM! Publish and FastPencil, a software platform and publishing engine for authors, will offer tools like ebook formatting and royalty tracking free of charge.

. . . .

 For premium prices, authors can snag a spot on Books-A-Million bookshelves.

. . . .

 “Providing a self-publishing platform that includes the opportunity for in-store distribution is a great way for us to enhance our customer’s experience and support authors who choose the self-publishing path.”

. . . .

The lowest priced paid subscription offers authors a professionally designed book cover, a hardcopy proof and distribution on BAM’s online store.

More expensive packages, priced at $1,799 and $2,799, offer authors in-store placement of their books, marketing kits and website creation.

Link to the rest at The Birmingham Business Journal and thanks to Hannah for the tip.

Here’s a link to the BAM Publish pricing page.

PG is trying to discern how the BAM/Fast Pencil deal is any different than a number of different vanity press operations. If any visitors to TPV see something PG doesn’t about this program, feel free to explain in the comments.

Making a Living Writing

14 October 2016

From author Elizabeth Spann Craig:

I used to feel like the sole, income-focused writer in any group I was in.  I was  the one on any panel hesitantly bringing up ways that writers could make money with their writing.

I’ve noticed now that there are more writers like me out there and I’m more relaxed about being a commercial fiction writer.

I’ve been asked by parents, college students, and high school students about what degree is needed for becoming a writer.

But that’s one of the wonderful things about being a writer. You don’t have to have a degree in anything.  I was an English major, but that’s as far as I went with it.  When asked for my advice, I ask what type of writing they’re wanting to do and what their end-goal/their child’s end-goal is.  If the goal is “a career in writing,” then I’ll go as far as to suggest that they don’t go the MFA (Master in Fine Arts) route. They should instead read as much and as widely as they can and start writing.

. . . .

Writers at the start of their careers should ask themselves: am I writing to please myself or am I writing to appeal to a broader market? My kids are older and if I didn’t make a living at this, I’d be getting a day-job.  Writing  is my full-time job.  I’m not making a ton, but I’m making more than if I taught school and more than I’d make at any other job; I’ve been out of the traditional workforce since my first child was born in 1997.

. . . .

It’s better, in the current environment, to self-pub instead of trad-pub (most of the time).  I experienced first-hand  cutbacks that publishers are employing to save costs.  When I started out, 3-book deals were the norm at Penguin.  That unfortunately changed.  The merger between Penguin and Random House meant a layoff for my editor. Now there are many stories about how difficult it is getting to break into the industry and the market. It’s obviously still possible to do so…but at what cost?  I made and make a good deal more from my self-published books than my traditionally published books.

Write for the market–modified. I got lucky in this sense because cozy mysteries became popular with the public around the time that I became interested in writing them.  I love cozy mysteries and I love the books that I write.  What’s selling well in a genre that you enjoy reading?  I can’t recommend that you write in a genre you’re not very familiar with or that you wouldn’t enjoy writing. There are standards/norms/tropes in genres that readers expect and are looking for.  They provide a blueprint for your book and for a better chance at success.  Writers should read as much as possible in their chosen genre and absorb as much as they can to learn about pacing, character development, action, dialogue,  and story arc.

Link to the rest at Elizabeth Spann Craig and thanks to Deb for the tip.

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

How to Become a Novelist in Ten Easy Steps

13 October 2016

From Literary Hub:

1. Examine your motives. Are you drawn to fiction writing because it can be performed cheaply at home? Are you an alcoholic looking for an excuse to sleep late? Writing is for compulsive storytellers. So are a lot of things—police work, diplomacy, counseling the needy, etc. Before you commit to writing as a career, make sure you’re not simply agoraphobic or depressed.

2. Arrange financing. If you’re in school, don’t waste time in English courses. Learn skills not everybody knows, like court reporting or Japanese, so you can get part-time work at a decent wage. Don’t write short stories and poems unless you have a trust fund. No matter how perfect they are, no matter what prestigious magazine publishes them, each one will be 200 pages too short to pay the rent.

. . . .

8. Get an agent. When you have 200 pages, start querying. See for instructions. A hint in re plot: If you struggle to write the synopsis, you fucked up. Getting an agent will take forever. It took Jonathan Franzen a year to find me one. The publishing industry runs on geologic time, and this will be your first chance to start getting used to it. Agents want to be persuaded of three things: (a) You can write five non-boring pages in a row. (b) You are a hard worker with the stamina to get to 200 pages. (c) You would rewrite all 200 if an editor asked you to.

9. Sell it. This is the easy part. Do whatever the agent says, and don’t laugh or cry. Poor editors pay in compliments, and rich editors pay so slowly you start to wonder whether they pay at all. I would never say you should relax—that’s impossible—but don’t act out.

Link to the rest at Literary Hub

The Case for ISBNs

10 October 2016

From Digital Book World The Digital Reader:

Just about everyone agrees that indie authors generally don’t use ISBNs on their ebooks. I’ve been pointing that out for almost four years, and it’s not hard to find a dozen posts why authors shouldn’t bother with ISBNs.

But have you ever considered the case_for_ ISBNs?

An ISBN is effectively a serial number for a book. A print book must have an ISBN or it can’t be sold in most bookstores (nor even on the bookstore’s website), but Amazon and the other major ebook retailers don’t require that an ebook have an ISBN, and so some indie authors think an ISBN has no value.

. . . .

Author Karen Myers presented a business case in favor of ISBNs a few weeks back in the comment section at The Passive Voice. She bought a thousand ISBNs from Bowker for $1,000, and has so far used 80 of them.

Myers has argued that one should buy an ISBN as a way of future-proofing, but also that there is a business case to justify the expense.

Here’s what Myers wrote about future-proofing in 2014. It’s all about controlling one’s identity because otherwise Amazon, Kobo, et al will control you:

Consider the following situation:

  • I publish a book, digital only. I don’t bother with an ISBN number.
  • I distribute it on Amazon, which assigns it an ASIN number, an Amazon product code.
  • I distribute it on Barnes & Noble, which assigns it an EAN number, a B&N product code.
  • I distribute it on Kobo, which assigns it an ISBN number owned by Kobo, so my book will appear to be published by Kobo, not me.
  • I distribute it on Smashwords, which assigns it an ISBN number owned by Smashwords, so my book will appear to be published by Smashwords, not me.

With the exception of Smashwords, none of these identifiers appear within the eBook itself.

And now, let twenty years go by… Barnes & Noble and Smashwords are out of business. Amazon changes its product code conventions and no longer uses ASIN numbers. There is no searchable database made available by Amazon for the old ASIN numbers. Kobo, which owns the ISBN it provided, controls what the Bowker Books In Print or successor database contains and updates the information about your book in ways you would not approve of, and since you have no ISBN number of your own that’s the only record of your book in Books In Print. Someone who chanced across a reference to your book based on an old copy from Barnes & Noble can’t find it because the B&N identifier is no longer alive, and may or may not connect it with a Kobo record in Books In Print which has a completely different identifier.

That is a cogent argument, and so is Myers’ point on the cost-benefit of buying ISBNs.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World The Digital Reader

PG apologizes to Nate and The Digital Reader for the error.

Lessons and Ideas from NINC

26 September 2016

PG is jammed up with work for clients and will share some thoughts and insights he picked up at the NINC conference when the smoke clears.

However, in the meantime, anyone else who attended the conference is welcome to share.

You can drop a comment into this blog post or, if you’ve written up your thoughts on your own blog, you can send PG a link and he’ll get it up here.

False Dichotomies of Publishing

21 September 2016

From Ryk E. Spoor:

Often, both those published in the traditional fashion and those who are self-published present their approaches as though they were equal choices which need simply be chosen between (and naturally extol the virtues of their chosen approach while pointing out all the deficiencies of the other method).

But this is, put simply, wrong. The two approaches are, first of all, not mutually exclusive, and there’s considerable evidence that many of the most successful authors are those who takeboth routes. But more importantly there are areas of contrast and separation which are implied – by one side or the other – to be simple dichotomies when they are not.

The most important of these is the often-unspoken implication that you can choose either path. Well, no, you can’t, not that simply. “In Soviet Union, publishing choose you!” You can choose to submit your manuscript to a traditional publisher, but that does not in any way obligate the publisher to accept and publish your work, and in fact they reject vastly more manuscripts than they will ever accept.

The acceptance of a manuscript also isn’t just a matter of “this is a better story”, although naturally that’s going to be a large part of it. It’s also “does this story fit with the kind of stories we publish”. Certain types of stories, therefore, will have a much harder time making it past that kind of evaluation, because they don’t fit well into any regular publishing category for one reason or another.

. . . .

Another common false dichotomy is “have no control over your manuscript, or have complete freedom with self-publishing”. While there have been, and probably still are, some publishers with really, really bad editors that will take apart manuscripts for their own entertainment, for the most part publishers aren’t there to dictate how you should write your stuff; after all, if they dictate it all to you, why not just write it themselves? As I have discussed before, the purpose of having editors is to make your work better but still in essence yours.

This points to the falsity on the flip side as well. Sure, you can have complete control of your work, write it and throw it right up on Amazon without anyone saying a word against it. But that’s almost certainly doing your work a terrible disservice. There may, possibly, be a few people who are so very good at separating themselves from their own work that they can honestly and dispassionately examine and edit that work. But I have never met someone like that. You need exterior views, and preferably a viewpoint that doesn’t have a vested interest in agreeing with you that your work is perfect. You need people to tell you what needs to beimproved, so that you can do so. So “having complete freedom” is not an unalloyed good, any more than giving up that control in traditional publishing is of necessity evil.

The third common dichotomy has to do directly with money. “Keep most of the money” versus “be paid a pittance by the publisher” is a common refrain – and one that’s pretty much, not to put too fine a point on it, twaddle.

Yes, on pure percentage basis, it does look like the trad publishers give you a raw deal; on paperbacks, royalties are around 7%, sometimes a bit higher for good sellers, and they can go to 10 or 12%, sometimes a bit higher, for hardcovers, and up to 20-25% for eBooks. But that certainly sounds rather puny compared to Amazon’s typical 70% cut.


Every expense of publishing in self-publishing rests squarely on the shoulders of the self-publishing author. Paying for the editors. Paying for the proofreaders. Paying for the cover artist and layout people. Paying for printing, if they’re making a physical book. Paying for any advertising/marketing.

Link to the rest at Ryk E. Spoor and thanks to Patrick for the tip.



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