The Business of Writing

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

Is It All A Matter of Luck?

4 August 2014

From author Merry Farmer:

I hear a lot of talk about luck and “magic” in the book world. There’s a sense that you have to write a great book and then be extremely lucky in order to make it into the stratosphere of publishing stardom. I also hear a lot of people say that luck isn’t an even thing, that some guys, like Hugh Howey, are just born under the right sign, positioned in the right place, and that they will always have a better chance of succeeding than your average schlub.

So, are some people just naturally luckier than others? Are some writers destined to “make it” where others aren’t because of some intangible, God-given magic that you or I just don’t have?

Heck no! I don’t think so. It’s really easy to dig yourself into a hole of despair by assuming that some people, other writers who have hit the big time, have something extra that you don’t have. It’s also a convenient excuse for not shooting for the moon. Because sometimes it looks like those awesome writers have been given something we haven’t. Then out pop the comparisons, and we start to feel really bad about ourselves.

. . . .

Right off the bat in her workshop, Courtney [Milan] made a key statement. I wish that every writer who hopes and dreams and struggles could have been there to hear that statement. She said that any good writer who wants to make a living off of their writing CAN make a living off of their writing. The only difference is that for some it might take a little longer. That’s it. What it all boils down to is time, not luck.

But she did qualify her statement with something that I think is crucial for all writers to sit up and pay attention to. She began by saying she was presupposing that everyone hearing her words was a genuinely good writer. She also said that statistically, at least one person in that room of a couple hundred people was writing and publishing crap without knowing it. This sounds harsh, but I think it’s the key to everything and the secret force behind luck.

. . . .

How does an established writer study the craft of writing? By reading for craft along with reading for story when I gobble up a book. By gobbling as many books as possible. By attending workshops and reading craft books. By hiring the best editors I can afford and seeking out the best beta-readers I can and listening hard to what they have to say…without being offended if they didn’t like what I wrote. By listening to the critiques that other people have gotten for their manuscripts, even if I’ve never read those manuscripts. By reading through submission requirements for various publishing companies, even though I have no intention of publishing traditionally.

Link to the rest at Merry Farmer and thanks to Anne for the tip.

Here’s a link to Merry Farmer’s books

Year End Summary of Writing in Public: Year One

3 August 2014

From Dean Wesley Smith:

I did (not counting comments on web sites) 1,281,675 original words in the last twelve months.

745,175 words of that was original fiction.

51,700 words of that was nonfiction. (So just under 800,000 words of fiction and nonfiction combined. More than I thought, actually.)

That ended up being twelve novels and over thirty short stories and three nonfiction books. All the novels are in the general 40,000 to 55,000 word range. The short stories make up the rest of the fiction word count.

. . . .

I tend to write fiction about 2 to 3 hours per day. I work seven days per week. I write fiction last thing every day. With workshops, being CFO of WMG Publishing, and other projects, I tend to work about 50 hours at least per week away from fiction writing.

In July I averaged about 2 hours of writing per day, about 60 hours of fiction writing for the entire month. That produced about 60,000 words of fiction, which is about my average of 1,000 words per hour.

So those of you with day jobs out there, realize and watch that I also function in my life as if I have a day job that takes about 50 hours of my time per week. Day jobs are not an excuse to not write. (How’s that for blunt? (grin))

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

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

Making Sense of Misfortune: Deservingness, Self-Esteem, and Patterns of Self-Defeat

1 August 2014

From The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:

Drawing on theorizing and research suggesting that people are motivated to view their world as an orderly and predictable place in which people get what they deserve, the authors proposed that (a) random and uncontrollable bad outcomes will lower self-esteem and (b) this, in turn, will lead to the adoption of self-defeating beliefs and behaviors.

. . . .

Most people can remember an occasion when through bad luck or bad timing they experienced a negative outcome, such as ending up on the losing side of a coin flip, failing an important task despite their best intentions and efforts, or accidently causing someone else harm or embarrassment. Anecdotal observation and experimental evidence suggest that such negative experiences, despite being unintended and unforeseeable, often elicit feelings of guilt and sadness.
. . . .

Perhaps even more intriguing and puzzling is research showing that people may be so moved by these experiences that they will even devalue themselves.
. . . .

For instance, Comer and Laird (1975) found that a large majority of their participants who were randomly assigned to suffer an ill-fate (i.e., to eat a live worm) later chose to suffer the same ill-fate even when they were given the opportunity to opt for a less aversive outcome. In a similar vein, innocent victims of extreme injustices (e.g., rape victims) sometimes try to breathe meaning into their experiences by devaluing, or somehow finding fault in, themselves.

. . . .

The notion that people may, at times, adopt self-defeating beliefs and behaviors following negative experiences may become less of a paradox in light of what we know about the psychology of deservingness.

. . . .

Specifically, theorizing and research—much of it originating with Lerner’s (1980) Just World Theory—indicates that people need to maintain the belief that the world is basically an orderly, non-random place where people—including ourselves—get what they deserve and deserve what they get.

. . . .

We adopted Baumeister and Scher’s (1988) definition of self-defeating behavior as “any deliberate or intentional behavior that has clear, definitely or probably negative effects on the self or the self’s projects” (p. 3). Specifically, we tested the general idea that, to the extent people are motivated to view the world as an orderly place that conforms to rules of deservingness, they might adopt various self-defeating beliefs and behaviors (e.g., self-handicapping, thoughts of self-harm, choosing to self-punish) following the experience of misfortune because people feel compelled to view misfortune—even though, by definition, it is uncontrollable—as deserved.

Link to the rest at The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

PG wonders whether continuing in an abusive business relationship with a traditional publisher is like eating worms because the author has devalued him/herself.

How Big is Your Pond?

14 July 2014

From NYT besteller and former writing professor Dave Farland:

Many new authors feel torn between two loves. They might ask, “Should I write science fiction, or should I focus more on young adult novels? Which way should I go?” There are three answers to this question.

You should be aware that this really is a big problem. I know many authors who start writing for small markets, only to realize that they can’t make a living in that market. For example, one author who pens religious fiction for a small church recently came to me for help, trying to figure out how to crack the national thriller market. He was one of the best-sellers in his pond, but it is a very small pond. So far, he is still struggling to make it big. Another who was writing little novels about kids on sports teams wanted to move into YA fantasy—and fortunately he was able to quickly transition into a much larger pond. He went from making perhaps $10,000 per novel to making, literally, millions.

. . . .

So, here is my advice.

1) Write what you love the most. When you love one particular genre more than another, you will usually invest yourself into it more fully, master it more quickly, and develop a name. It is possible to write a truly monumental novel in just about any genre. So if you’re 80% drawn to, say, science fiction and only 20% drawn to young adult, the choice should be easy, right?

But hold on just one moment!

Yesterday I read a piece of advice that said, “Write what you love.” The author pointed out that when George R. R. Martin wrote Game of Thrones, the fantasy genre was “mostly dead.” He stated that when Rowling wrote Harry Potter, she was writing the same Middle Grade story about a wizard school that had been written dozens of times before, and no one expected it to go big.

However, I have to say this. When Martin wrote Game of Thrones in 1996, fantasy was doing quite well. Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, Terry Goodkind, Stephen Donaldson, and a host of others were all making a very good living in the field. That was just about the time that I jumped into it. So it wasn’t “mostly dead” at that time, it was the healthiest that it had ever been.

And with Rowling? She was writing Middle Grade, jumping into a pond that is quite large, where authors often do strike it rich. For example, when R.L. Stine wrote in the Goosebumps series in the mid-1990s, he captured 45% of all sales in his market for a time, making tens of millions. Now, it’s true that others had written novels about schools for wizards (heck, I began writing one when I was 17), but Rowling’s love for the idea really did shine through. Hers was by far the best.

So really loving a genre is important, but it helps immensely if that genre is already huge.

. . . .

So if you’re 50/50 on which field to write in, money might sway you. Just be aware that genres are always shifting in popularity. Editors right now are getting a little jaded about dystopian YA, and it might be more difficult to sell this year than it was three years ago. So try to stay educated on your markets.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland and thanks to Eric for the tip.

Do Writers Need a Union?

6 July 2014

From Hugh Howey:

SFWA (The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) is drawing heat in some quarters for endorsing Hachette’s side in the ongoing negotiations with Amazon. The move was made unilaterally and without the consultation of its members (of which I am one). Author Don Sakers posted on his blog that SFWA does not represent him, and I add my voice to Don’s.

On the website ThePassiveVoice, commenters bring up trade and labor disputes and organizations, and I think these and class warfare comments I’ve seen elsewhere are spot-on. Trade fiction and narrative nonfiction authors do not have any meaningful representation. There is no group busting balls on behalf of writers, and there are a lot of balls out there to be busted. Amazon, the Big 5, B&N, Apple, Google … no one is fighting these people for better terms and pay. The Writers’ Guild seems to exist to fight Amazon and stands for the rights of bookstores and major publishers.

. . . .

So what we’re seeing is a protest of a lot of little voices, and they add up. It’s what a union is supposed to do, to unite a bunch of smaller, weaker forces so they can negotiate with a single, larger force. Writers have never had this before. I’m not confident they have it now. There is excitement from some, but also a call from others to get back to work, that this doesn’t affect us. Protests pop up now and then, but they rarely sustain themselves. They fizzle.

Here’s the tricky thing, I’m learning: How can anyone represent so many disparate interests? I sympathize with unions and trade groups like never before, as people are emailing me to ask me what authors stand for. I can’t speak for writers.

. . . .

Our readers are probably the one thing I can say with confidence that we love and adore. Without them, we in this trade are whispering to ourselves. Starting from there, I might be comfortable saying that anyone who serves our readers and facilitates our getting together with them is better than anyone who abuses our readers and works to keep us apart. I would sign that charter, and I think most writers would.

When physical bookstores decided to ban Amazon imprint titles, thinking that attacking a tiny fraction of larger Amazon was worth decimating the individual authors, they fell into the coming-between-us camp. When 5 out of the then-Big-6 got together to raise prices on consumers, they fell into the coming-between-us-camp. When B&N refused to stock Simon & Schuster authors last year, and when they decided to manipulate their online bestseller lists, they fell into the coming-between-us-camp. These middlemen work to blockade. Whatever you think of Amazon’s faults, they have worked to unite storytellers with listeners and readers. They have done this like perhaps no other entity in history.

So when this division broke, there was of course a 1% element to this movement not unlike many other protests. A small group of elitists think the universe aligns with their ideals. The system that made them rich is to be preserved, and screw anyone who disagrees. When you gain power, you tend to use it to maintain power, not to empower others. Human history is littered with these stories. But all it takes is a few megaphones in the crowd and gathering bodies to show them the other side.

. . . .

My fear, however, is that nothing will change. Nothing will come of this. I think the power is in the hands of our opponents, because they own the media (actually, the media owns them. Several of the major publishers are owned by companies like CBS). They have the bigger names. They also have the support of a lot of mid-list writers who really want to make the jump up and win the respect of those above them. And there are a lot of readers who haven’t given indie books a chance and see us as ditherers and cranks.

So I don’t have my hopes up, which is rare for me. My unabashed optimism is on hiatus. What I do see is the potential, the response to be had if there’s the right spark. And it highlights for me the need for a trade organization that represents writers, an organization with a focus on those who NEED representation, not those at the very top.

Link to the rest at Hugh Howey and thanks to SFR for the tip.

PG is grateful for Hugh’s kind words about his assistance to authors.

PG believes a strong and articulate association representing the interests of all authors – indie and traditional – would be beneficial. By their nature, authors are scattered and focused on their individual labors. The Internet has done wonderful things to create communities of interest, but that doesn’t always translate into influence in the non-internet world.

The artificial distinction between traditionally-published authors and indie authors does not enhance authors’ overall power and influence. As Hugh suggests, PG believes this distinction includes an elitist attitude on the part of some tradpub authors. Joe Konrath’s Stockholm Syndrome comparison may also apply.

Both indie and traditional authors are involved in the disparate power relationship between themselves as individuals and large corporate organizations.

Some individuals and groups have tried to form associations for indie authors, but PG isn’t certain any have really taken hold yet.

PG isn’t certain exactly how he can help, but he’s happy to contribute to a larger effort to create an effective organization of authors.

Amazon, Hachette, Publishing, Etc — It’s Not a Football Game, People

4 July 2014

From John Scalzi:

And now, some thoughts on subjects pertaining to publishing. I’ll use myself as an example for much of this.

1. I am in business with Amazon, though its subsidiary. As you might be able to tell by my post yesterday, I am deeply happy with my experience working with Audible (and thus, by extension, Amazon). They’ve been a very good business partner to me.

2. I am also in business with Hachette, via its Gollancz imprint in the UK. I think what Amazon’s doing to US Hachette authors at the moment well and truly sucks. I heartily remind people that just because Amazon has been screwing these authors by making it impossible to buy their books there, doesn’t mean you can’t get those books — pretty much immediately — from all sorts of other retailers, including local bookstores. This might also be a fine time to install a Kobo or Nook or iBook app on your tablet or smartphone and diversify your eBook retailers.

. . . .

4. I am in business with Macmillan, through Tor Books. As most of you know, I have been very happy with Tor, who treats me very well and who is very supportive of my career; I have the career I have because Tor has done well by me. What most of you may not know is that one major reason there was a three-year gap betweenZoe’s Tale and Fuzzy Nation was because Tor and I had a substantial business disagreement, and I chose not to write new work for Tor for a while. The details of that disagreement are not important now — water under the bridge — but it was significant enough that I walked away from the company and worked on other things. Then it was done, we came to an understanding, and now we are working together again, quite happily.

. . . .

Publishing is a business. As a writer, you are enaging in business with others, sometimes including large corporations. It’s not a team sport. It’s not an arena where there are “sides.” There’s no “either/or” choice one has to make, either with the businesses one works with or how one publishes one’s work. Anyone who simplifies it down to that sort of construct either doesn’t understand the business or is actively disingenuous, and isn’t doing you any favors regardless. The “side” you should be on is your own (and, if you choose, that of other authors).

These businesses and corporations are not your friends. They will seek to extract the maximum benefit from you that they can, and from others with whom they engage in business, consistent with their current set of business goals. This does not make them evil — it makes them business entities (they might also be evil, or might not be, but that’s a different thing). If you’re treating these businesses as friends, you’re likely to get screwed.

Link to the rest at Whatever and thanks to Liana and several others for the tip.

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