The Business of Writing

The more you write, the less you make

7 November 2014

From The Globe and Mail:

When author Richard Flanagan finished his latest novel, relative poverty forced him to contemplate getting a job in the mines in northern Australia. His Booker Prize win has spared him a life underground for the time being, but he did not waste the opportunity to acknowledge in his speech that “writing is a hard life for so many writers.”

And it’s only getting worse, as Elizabeth Renzetti wrote wrote recently in these pages. Twelve thousand dollars – that’s the figure the Writers’ Union of Canada estimates as the average annual income writers make from their writing in this country. I remember what it’s like to live on $12,000. You live in a shabby apartment furnished with hand-me-downs from your parents and garbage-picked gems, you allot $25 a week for food and you wear a borrowed dress when you’re invited to a gala fundraising dinner for writers at a fancy hotel. You take the subway there. If you are in your late 20s, as I was then, it’s fine, you make do because you are doing what you love and most people don’t have that extraordinary privilege.

. . . .

So many writers I know are looking back at this point in mid-life and saying, “I had a good run.” A good run saw us earn increasingly bigger if still modest advances. (Yes, $75,000 sounds like a lot, but when it takes five years to complete a book and your agent is taking a cut of 15 per cent, you’re still below the poverty line if this is your sole source of income.) Publishers were once able to invest in a career, with income from bestsellers offsetting the less sensational works in a catalogue. Now, every book has to be a winner. If you fail to earn out your advance through sales, your next advance will be lower, or perhaps, as has become increasingly the case among my mid-career contemporaries, you will lose your publishing home.

Writing seems to have become one of the few careers where the more experienced and proficient you become over the years, the less you are compensated. And the humiliations of this are great. It does become difficult to uphold belief in the worth of your work. And since this is work intrinsically tied to one’s sense of self, it becomes difficult to uphold a sense of self-worth. It takes ego and adrenalin to work in solitude, through years of confusion and uncertainty, in the writing of a book. If you don’t believe in it, no one else will. Of course, there is reward in art for art’s sake, but few can sustain morale, motivation or mortgage on an income of private aesthetic fulfillment.

Link to the rest at The Globe and Mail and thanks to Tudor for the tip.

There is no war between Amazon and Traditional Publishing

3 November 2014

From Studio Tendra:

There will never be peace in the war between Amazon and traditional publishing because there is no war.

One of the defining qualities of the current dispute between Amazon and Hachette is just how softly softly it is. These kind of disputes between a mega-retailer and a major supplier happen every day in other industries and are notably brutal. The retailers promote the supplier’s competitors heavily and with eye-bleeding discounts; they remove the supplier’s goods from sale completely; they pressure other companies to stop dealing with the misbehaving supplier. Most large retailers have clout and wield it. Amazon just lost ten times more on the Fire phone alone than they were ever likely to lose from properly blacklisting Hachette. In turn, Hachette isn’t playing hardball either. They aren’t making sweetheart deals with Amazon’s competitors. They aren’t organising eye-watering sales or promotions with B&N. They don’t have a competent direct sales platform they can use to leverage the publicity the dispute has generated. Both parties are just continuing with business as usual, just with a little bit less effort. The predominant characteristic of the argument is its sheer lack of inspiration. It’s pedestrian and mundane.

All of the major retailers are horrible, ruthless companies. They treat their employees like crap, pay them as little as is legally possible (or less if they find loopholes), and bust unions with the glee and enthusiasm of a scouser wolfing down a full English breakfast. Amazon is just another typical example of the mega-retailer species. And if your only reason for being against Amazon is its fight with a multi-industry conglomerate with holdings in anything from retail to defence contractors then you’re either incredibly self-centred or a genuinely bad human being.

. . . .

When a patient with an immune deficiency gets a cold, their symptoms are severe to the point of being life-threatening. While the symptoms are technically caused by the cold virus, the severity of the symptoms has a deeper underlying cause in the patient’s compromised immune system.

What we’re witnessing aren’t battle-lines drawn in a war between Amazon and traditional publishers but the death throes of authorship as a viable profession—even as a part time one. After decades of slow decline, as advances grow smaller, as sales concentrate more in the head, and as the midlist disappears, what was once somewhat possible—writing as a profession—is now unlikely, and is fast becoming impossible. What we’re witnessing is the panic of a deathbed patient. Authorship is being de-professionalised and deskilled; the professions that hang off the professional authorship tree—editors and agents mostly—are following suit.

That’s why authors have been aligning themselves in a variety of factions, each more hyperbolic and extreme than the other. That’s why authors freak out and respond irrationally to bad or even merely lukewarm reviews. That’s why they take to social media to promote their books with a shrill, manufactured exuberance. That’s why a lot of the bestselling self-published books are guides on how to market, write, promote, and sell self-published books. That’s why you see authors track reviewers down in real life and harassing them at work. That’s why an author travelled all the way from London to Scotland to hit a reviewer over the head with a wine bottle. A desperate profession attracts and breeds desperate people.

. . . .

Nobody can broker a peace in this war because the war ended years ago. It ended when we let multinationals take over publishing. It ended when we let big retail chains take over bookselling. It ended when the business classes realised that books are, from an economic and business perspective, a commodity and that their cultural role has no effect on the bottom line. Blockbusters are an emergent phenomenon completely disconnected from what the hoi polloi consider to be culturally worthwhile or how they define literary quality. Publishing as an industry is just as well served by a class of chattering, attention-seeking amateurs as it was by the professional author. If you think that publishers learned something constructive about fan communities from 50 Shades or Cassandra Clare you’d be wrong. The lesson they took from that—building on the trend of celebrity books, blogger books, cutesy titles on the latest meme—was something else entirely:

Authors, as a professional class, have ceased to be a necessary part of the publishing industry.

Link to the rest at Studio Tendra and thanks to William for the tip.

Art vs. Commerce: Can Writers Make It Without Day Jobs?

3 November 2014

From author Holly Robinson via The Huffington Post:

My head is spinning after reading the latest letter by Editor-in-Chief Kevin Larimer in Poets & Writers magazine. Larimer makes some fair points in his piece, called “It’s All about the Writing,” saying that most of us don’t write for the money, but because we love writing. Then he takes it one step too far, practically sniffing as he says, “without that book deal, without that money, we will still write. And most of us — not all, but most of us — do not ‘write for the market’ (whatever that might actually mean).”

. . . .

I did finally sell a novel to one of the big publishers 25 years after I started writing fiction. By now, I’ve written nine novels and am about to publish my fourth, so I know the real magic happens during the revision process.

. . . .

Before selling my first novel, I self-published a novel through CreateSpace for less than $2000 and sold enough copies to make my money back, plus a bit more.

Two weeks after I’d self-published that book, my agent sold the novel he’d been shopping around. Suddenly, I was catapulted into the category of “hybrid” author, straddling the worlds of Indie publishing and traditional publishing.

Which did I like better? Um, both.

. . . .

The thing I’m wondering as I scramble to meet this deadline is whether traditionally-published authors can keep up with Indie authors, and whether we should even try. In other words, can you have both an artistic career and a commercial one?

My self-published writer friends tend to work very differently from the friends I have who write for traditional publishers. Here is a typical phone call between myself and bestselling Indie author  Toby Neal, a mystery writer who sets her crime series in Hawaii:

Me: “Hey, can you talk?”

Toby: “Sure, I’ve made my word count for the day.”

“Word count” is a critical daily goal in the Indie publishing world. Indie authors who self-publish romances and mysteries in series are the ones making the most money. They churn multiple books out every year and can get them to market at top speed, assisted by a flotilla of freelance editors and designers. At the London Book Fair this past spring, for instance, eight self-published authors renting a single booth had sold 16 million books between them. They’re making bank.

Meanwhile, at the most recent Newburyport Literary Festival, I attended a panel discussion with literary greats who had all been Oprah authors. In response to an audience question, they said each of them takes between four and ten years to write a single book. Their publishers presumably add on another year or two as the books go through the process of being edited, copy-edited and designed.

. . . .

Most novelists with traditional publishing houses must augment our living by working at something other than making up stories. Yet, the pressure is on traditional publishing companies — and therefore on their writers — to keep pace with self-publishing. Recently, my editor said that my publisher was interested in pushing up the deadline on my next book — hence my tight deadline — and wanted me to think about it. “No pressure,” she said.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post 

Here’s a link to Holly Robinson’s books

Artist’s Tax Exemption Set to Increase

29 October 2014

From Hotpress:

 In what could be of significant benefit to many Irish artists, the Department of Finance have decided to increase the artist’s tax exemption threshold by €10,000. It means profits will only be taxed above €50,000.

With Arts minister Heather Humphreys stating that “Budget 2015 sends a strong message that this Government values the arts, our heritage and the support of the Irish language.”

. . . .

Humphreys called the increase to the threshold for the artist’s tax exemption, “a clear recognition of the need to support artists. Artists are the bedrock of our culture and they continue to represent us at home and abroad with great distinction.”

“There is an implied recognition from the Department of Finance that it was a mistake to push the limit down in the way that they did,” one music industry insider revealed. “The truth is that we need to provide every possible reason for artists to live in Ireland, because once they are successful, there is a natural draw that takes them to the US or the UK. we need to avoid that brain drain.”

Link to the rest at Hotpress and thanks to Caoimhe for the tip.

Signing a Publishing Contract

11 October 2014

What to Do Before Signing a Publishing Contract

Column by Brandon Tietz at LitReactor

Writing a novel is damn hard. Selling one to a publisher, in its own distinct way, is even more difficult because you’re essentially convincing a company to gamble on you and your work. This is part of the reason self-publishing is booming right now. Searching for a publisher is both a hassle and a blizzard of heartbreaking rejection, so when you actually do get an offer, it’s a huge moment. So euphoric that emotion can often blind the writer to those important details on what’s on the actual contract. It amazes me how many authors took their time working on their novels only to sign a contract after skimming it once. It’s not an iTunes update, guys…read the damn thing. Here are some key things you should know before signing on the dotted line.

Who Are These People?

I will go on record and say that I have scared away authors from a publisher I went through because it was a sub-par experience. They’re out of business now, if that tells you anything. What I’m saying though is that you should know the publisher before you sign any sort of contract that binds you to them. Now I don’t recommend asking authors whether they do or don’t like the publisher while you’re querying, but after you get the offer, feel free to reach out and get a feel for how they’re handling their business. Unhappy authors are usually a good indicator that you should tread lightly.

****

Conclusion

Don’t be blinded by your contract. Signing a bad one can be the thing that ends up screwing you over for the life of the novel. Do your research, ask questions, and for the love of God, don’t be afraid to ask for changes if you don’t like something. If three author copies sound low—ask for more. If you don’t want your book assigned to a certain designer—ask for an alternative. A contract is an agreement between two parties…not one party telling the other how it’s going to be.

Read the rest here.

From guest blogger Randall

Is Amazon responsible for the Ellora’s Cave fiasco?

3 October 2014

From Sal Robinson at Melville House

Ellora’s Cave, publisher of erotica, was for a long time a great success story of the electronic publishing age. Founded in 2000, they published stories and novels that contained material that was more explicit than mainstream romance publishers would touch. And because this was the pre-ebook age, they published them as PDFs, emailed to readers. Their audience turned out to be huge and undaunted by the format, and their revenues grew accordingly.

****

Posts like the one by Kayelle Allen, founder of the site Marketing for Romance Writers, give a sense of what’s going to come out when these stories start being told: Allen published a novel with Ellora’s Cave in 2013 and was faced with, first, having to hassle the publisher just to get a royalty check (which, when it came, was for $17) and then a series of disturbing developments, like learning that her editor was being let go, that executives were leaving, and that many, many other Ellora’s Cave authors had also had problems with missing royalties.

****

Each story adds to a larger picture of a company in dire straits. Which is weird. Because the perplexing thing about Ellora’s Cave (as Litte pointed out in her original post) is that as the ebook market has matured, the fortunes of the company — so good at ebook publishing they ruled it even before there were actual ebooks —have gone the opposite direction.
Growth stagnated. In 2010, it was revealed that EC’s revenues were $5 million but a reported $6.7 million in 2006. How on earth was a digital publisher’s income declining in the biggest boom period of digital books?

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Well, funny you asked. Because in a story that doesn’t appear to be about Amazon (and we only let ourselves write stories that aren’t about Amazon when swayed by a) dogs and b) Satan), this tracks back at least partly to everyone’s favorite purveyor of pet sweaters.
Earlier this year, Ellora’s Cave saw steep declines in their Amazon sales. Calvin Reid reported on it for Publishers Weekly:
[CEO Patty Marks] said Ellora’s Cave sales via Amazon have dropped by as much as 75%. “We’re talking to Amazon and trying to figure out why this is happening,” Marks explained, noting that Amazon is the biggest sales channel for the digital-first erotic-romance publisher.
According to Marks, the issue is likely related to a change in Amazon’s search algorithm. Many of Ellora’s Cave’s bestselling authors and titles simply don’t show up in the Amazon search engine anymore. She pointed to one of the house’s most popular authors, Laurann Dohner, whose books are New York Times bestellers, noting that a search for her titles on Amazon initially retrieves only free giveaways.

****

Or it could be about money—discussions on romance messageboards describe the high prices of EC titles on Amazon, compared to buying the books through the company’s website, and it’s mentioned that Ellora’s Cave refused to give Amazon the discount they were asking for, which meant that prices were sometimes double on Amazon versus the EC site. Could Amazon have retaliated by making the Ellora’s Cave titles harder to find? Or was it a misjudgment of their strength on Ellora’s Cave side? A commenter on Litte’s post suggests the following explanation:

They’d been almost the only place that people could go to for that type of product for so long, that when competitors opened and started actually competing for authors and readers, and when Amazon became the third party seller powerhouse, it was like EC threw a tantrum, like, “No, *I* want to be the only one!” and packed up its toys and hoarded them, instead of trying to find a way to be part of this new way of selling books.

In any case, whether the house’s troubles are due to their own decisions or to outside factors, they’re a stark example of how much publishers are dependent on Amazon, and how much of the market it controls. When those sales disappear, all the abs and cowboy hats promised at Romanticon – EC’s annual conference, happening next week in Canton, Ohio – aren’t going to change the picture for authors.

Read the rest here.

From Guest Blogger Randall

Why I Haven’t Been Writing Many Publishing Blogs Lately

20 September 2014

From Dean Wesley Smith:

I’ve gotten a few e-mails wondering when I was going to resume writing some of my different publishing blogs.

. . . .

But here’s why there hasn’t been many lately.

1… Most of publishing news has been focused on the fight between a bookstore and a publisher. There must be a thousand blogs on the topic now, and not a person knows what exactly the two major companies are fighting over. At least no one talking and blogging knows. I hate uninformed opinions. I love opinions and good discussions, but when pure idiocy goes on this long on both sides, I just get bored. So nothing for me to write about.

2… Writers are fighting and that just makes me sad. I think all writers should just help each other. This business is tough enough without writers going at one another for no logical reason that I can find. Yet indie writers go after traditional writers and traditional writers jab at indie writers. And respect of long-term writers by baby writers seems to be a thing of the past, from what I have witnessed on some blogs and in person. Just sad and not something I’m going to write about. However, I will say that most writers I know just keep our heads down in this fight and keep writing. That’s what I’ve been doing.

. . . .

6… I am sick to death of all the articles about how paper books are going away, yet all data shows exactly the opposite. And I am sick to death of all the articles about how B&N is going to go away, all written by people who couldn’t read a stock report if they tried, let alone understand the health of a major corporation. So nothing there for me to write about lately. Belief that all paper books are vanishing has reached religion status, where proof and data no longer matter. Time, meaning a decade or two, will tell.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith and thanks to Colleen for the tip.

Here’s a link to Dean Wesley Smith’s books

Tax Thriller: Best Selling Crime Writer Karin Slaughter Versus The IRS

12 September 2014

From Forbes:

Since her first crime thriller, Blindsighted, became a bestseller in 2001, Karin Slaughter’s books have sold more than 30 million copies  and earned her tens of millions in royalties.  Now, the 43-year-old Atlanta writer has a new and fearsome antagonist: the Internal Revenue Service.

In two previously unreported lawsuits in the U.S. Tax Court, Slaughter has staked out a position at odds with longstanding IRS dogma, and her efforts could help other celebrity writers cut their tax bills.

. . . .

An earlier suit, which Slaughter quietly settled in July on favorable terms, covered 2008. The IRS had been demanding $146,155 in tax and a $29,231 penalty on top of the $1.14 million she originally paid, but settled for $27,160 in added tax and no penalty. In all three years, the IRS disallowed some of Slaughter’s big business deductions including the more than $70,000 a year she spent to rent a New York apartment which she says she used exclusively for business trips and meetings with agents, publishers and the media, and the costs for a log cabin where she retreats to do most of her writing.

. . . .

But the biggest dollar issue and the most intriguing legal one in both cases is this: for nearly six decades, the IRS has held (see Revenue Rulings 55-385 and 68-498) that 100% of book royalties received by an active writer (as opposed to one who is no longer in the writing biz) is self-employment income subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes.

. . . .

That IRS position became a much bigger deal for best selling authors and other celebrities after 1993, when Congress removed the cap on the amount of self-employment earnings subject to the 2.9% Medicare levy. (The Social Security tax is still imposed on only a fixed amount of wages or net self-employment income–$117,000 in 2014.) Since then, successful self employed folks have looked for ways to move earnings off of Schedule C, which reports profit and loss from a sole proprietorship i.e. self employment income.

. . . .

Slaughter and her tax advisers, for their part, reduced the Medicare bite by reporting the bulk of her book income on Schedule E as “Royalties” instead of on Schedule C as self-employment income. In the new suit they argue that this is proper because most of the millions she receives are for use of “her name, her image, intellectual property rights, fan base, and other assets, and not for services rendered.”

In 2008, Slaughter originally assigned just 18% of her $4.6 million in book income to her Schedule C and put the rest on Schedule E.

. . . .

The settlement for 2008, according to Slaughter’s tax attorney, Charles E. Hodges II, of Atlanta, came closer to Slaughter’s 18% Schedule C allocation than the IRS’ 100% claim—an assertion the publicly available settlement amount of  $27,160 seems to support.

“The IRS needs to recognize that a good portion of their (famous writers’) income is based on the brand they have created, and not just the physical writing. It’s that simple,’’ Hodges told Forbes.

Link to the rest at Forbes and thanks to Suzan for the tip.

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.

How to Spend the First 10 Minutes of Your Day

5 August 2014

From The Harvard Business Review:

If you’re working in the kitchen of Anthony Bourdain, legendary chef of Brasserie Les Halles, best-selling author, and famed television personality, you don’t dare so much as boil hot water without attending to a ritual that’s essential for any self-respecting chef: mise-en-place.

The “Meez,” as professionals call it, translates into “everything in its place.” In practice, it involves studying a recipe, thinking through the tools and equipment you will need, and assembling the ingredients in the right proportion before you begin. It is the planning phase of every meal—the moment when chefs evaluate the totality of what they are trying to achieve and create an action plan for the meal ahead.

For the experienced chef, mise-en-place represents more than a quaint practice or a time-saving technique. It’s a state of mind.

“Mise-en-place is the religion of all good line cooks,” Bourdain wrote in his runaway bestseller Kitchen Confidential. “As a cook, your station, and its condition, its state of readiness, is an extension of your nervous system… The universe is in order when your station is set…”

Chefs like Anthony Bourdain have long appreciated that when it comes to exceptional cooking, the single most important ingredient of any dish is planning. It’s the “Meez” that forces Bourdain to think ahead, that saves him from having to distractedly search for items midway through, and that allows him to channel his full attention to the dish before him.

. . . .

What’s the first thing you do when you arrive at your desk? For many of us, checking email or listening to voice mail is practically automatic. In many ways, these are among the worst ways to start a day. Both activities hijack our focus and put us in a reactive mode, where other people’s priorities take center stage. They are the equivalent of entering a kitchen and looking for a spill to clean or a pot to scrub.

A better approach is to begin your day with a brief planning session. An intellectual mise-en-place. Bourdain envisions the perfect execution before starting his dish. Here’s the corollary for the enterprising business professional. Ask yourself this question the moment you sit at your desk: The day is over and I am leaving the office with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. What have I achieved?

Link to the rest at The Harvard Business Review

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