The Business of Writing

Rejection: A Wilderness Guide for Writers

22 November 2015

From author Mark Evanier on News from Me:

[A] lot of what we think are rejections really aren’t rejections. They’re more correctly viewed as non-acceptances. Those may seem like the same thing but they’re not and understanding why they’re not may be vital if you are to keep your career in perspective.

What’s the difference? Let’s say you and I are going out to dinner and there are three restaurants nearby — an Italian place, a Chinese place and a Deli. I say to you, “What do you feel like?” You say, “I’m kind of in the mood for corned beef…how about the Deli?” I say fine and we go to the Deli. The whole discussion takes ten seconds.

Imagine then that the managers of the Italian and Chinese restaurants are standing outside their respective businesses and they see us drive by, park down the street and go into the Deli. Imagine too that they get upset and start wondering, “Why did they reject my restaurant?”

But we didn’t. The managers of the Chinese and Italian restaurants didn’t do anything wrong. We just decided that at that particular moment, we didn’t want what they offered. That’s not exactly a rejection and to the extent it is, it’s a rejection that has nothing to do with them.

Writers — and actors, as well — have a tendency to think of every potential hiring opportunity as something they should get. When (as usually happens), they don’t get hired, they think of it as a competition they lost for one of two reasons. Either they didn’t receive proper consideration or the person doing the selecting wasn’t wise enough to see that they were the best choice. These two views are especially prevalent among writers or actors who’ve never themselves been in a hiring position.

Either view could be correct and in a future installment of this series, I’ll have a lot more to say about your work not getting proper consideration. But there’s a third reason which is often the case. The person making the decision just had a hunch or a whim. The decision was made quickly because it didn’t seem to merit a long discussion…just as you and I don’t have to spend an hour weighing all possibilities before we decide where to have dinner.

As you may know, I sometimes voice direct the cartoon shows I write…which means I do the casting.

Now, I happen to know a lot of voice actors and actresses. I know a lot of them personally and even more of them professionally. When it comes time to cast a major, ongoing role, I will spend a lot of time considering and auditioning different folks but most of the time, I’m casting non-recurring, small parts…and those, I cast quickly. On The Garfield Show, we have a regular cast — Frank Welker (who voices Garfield), Wally Wingert (who plays Jon), Gregg Berger (who plays Odie the Dog and Squeak the Mouse), Julie Payne (who plays Liz) and others. Sometimes, one of these folks will also voice a new character. Sometimes, I need to book another actor.

Booking another actor usually works like this: As I write the part or go over the script, I suddenly “hear” a voice in my head…and then I see if the actor who matches that voice is available. It might be Neil Ross or Joe Alaskey or Bob Bergen or Laraine Newman or someone else but if I can get them, I’ll get them. If not, I’ll think of someone similar. It’s not hard since I have hundreds of actors to pick from…and frankly, almost anyone can do one of these smaller roles. It’s just like in a live-action show. If you need someone to play a cop who has six lines and your first choice isn’t available, your second or third choices are probably just as good. Occasionally, you even find out they’re better.

Link to the rest at News from Me and thanks to J.R. for the tip.

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

PG says this is a big difference between traditional publishing and indie publishing.

In traditional publishing, you’ll have a handful of editors who decide whether to buy your book. Strike out with three or four people and your book is toast.

“Zombie fry cooks are so last year” can sink you with this group.

In indie publishing, you’ll have millions of people who decide whether to buy your book. Strike out with three or four people and there are several million others left who might be buyers.

“I can hardly wait to share this with my zombie fry cooks reading group!”

PG says the odds of success (if you define success as having readers buy and read your books more than seeing your name in Publishers Weekly) are much better for indie authors.

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Writing to Market

20 November 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Marie Force wrote a lovely blog post this week on the five-year anniversary of her major success as an indie writer. She busts a few myths about her career in the post, and she’s very clear about her numbers, and the events that came together to launch her success. She’s written something similar before, but not in quite as organized a fashion. Take a look with an open mind. You’ll benefit from it. (Thanks, Marie! And congrats!)

I’m going to mention a few of the myths she busts in that post, and then I’m going to look at one thing she focuses on, something that other writers either miss, scan over, or don’t understand at all.

. . . .

While Marie was traditionally published when she started her self-publishing career, she hadn’t been in traditional publishing for very long. She really didn’t have much of a platform. Look at the dates she lists in her blog, and realize that the publication of her “big” traditional books happened in the same period of time as her indie books starting up.

Some of her traditional publications were with a small press. The bigger traditional publisher who took her—Harlequin—had her in their Carina line, which, at the time, was e-book only unless a book took off.

So, her traditional publishing “platform” wasn’t really a platform at all. It barely counted as a dock at the edge of a shallow lake.

The build in her career—traditional and indie—started at the very same time.

. . . .

Marie Force kept her indie published titles secret in the beginning. She did zero promotion, because she was worried about “publisher retribution.” She didn’t want her traditional publisher to know that she was self publishing — even though contractually, she could self publish.

Smart woman. Traditional publishing is nothing if not unpredictable.

She was on the cusp of the ebook revolution, when there were a lot of devices, and not a lot of content. Her books were good, and they sold, primarily by word of mouth—word of mouth that she had nothing to do with in the first several months of her self-publishing career.

. . . .

She’s a good writer. Readers like Marie Force’s books. She’s constantly improving her craft, telling stories that she loves to tell.

In other words, that free book was one of those promotions that’s really hard to replicate in the market of 2015.

Writers tend to miss that—the way that promotions change.

My Real Point

Writers tend to miss something else, in all these stories of wild success.

The successful writer does something new, and daring, and different.

Not in promotion. Not in cover design.

In the book itself.

From Marie’s blog:

I’ll never forget the reason my agent said the publisher gave for rejecting True North: “No one wants to read about a super model.” Those became the nine words that changed my life. At that point in my “career” I had received a lot of rejections. I’d need a third hand to hold them all. By then, every romance publisher in the business had also rejected Maid for Love, Gansett Island book 1. I’d grown accustomed to rejection, but the True North rejection made me mad. It made me sad. And it made me determined to take control of this ship myself.

Most writers see the last sentence of that paragraph as the all-important part of what she’s saying. While it’s important, it’s not the most important thing here.

What’s truly important is the fact that Marie Force self-published a book in a subgenre that traditional publishers believed to be worthless. The story of a famous person (insert your favorite noun here—super model, star quarterback, actor, high-powered CEO, singer) was considered unsalable in New York, for some reason I’ve never understood.

Believe you me, writers for decades have butted their heads against that one. For every book that slipped through, like the Nora Roberts category Once More With Feeling that got me started reading her work to Suzanne Brockmann’s Heart Throb, there were dozens, maybe hundreds, that didn’t sell—just because traditional publishing “believed” that those books wouldn’t sell.

I put “believed” in quotes on purpose. Traditional publishers never do market research. Their prejudices come from their gut or from the results of a book badly published decades before.

So, when the country supposedly got sick and tired of the Western in the late 1970s, traditional publishers gave up on them. Try selling a Western to a traditional publisher these days. Can’t be done, unless the Western has another label—like Weird Western (western & fantasy) or Western romance (self-explanatory).

Somewhere along the way, publishers decided that romantic suspense didn’t sell, either, and that once-booming market has trickled—in the traditional world—into a handful of writers.

Why is the fact that True North, the book that launched Marie Force’s successful indie career, is about a super model important?

Because the book—in addition to being good—filled a gaping hole in the market. Readers were looking for famous-people romances, and they bought that one.

If you look at the game-changing novels that have been published in the U.S. in the last 100-plus years—and believe me, I have—what you’ll find is this: They are, to a book, stories that were unique, different, and (dare I say it) original.

There was nothing else on the market like those books.

They were not part of a major subgenre. They were not part of a trend. If anything, they were the kind of book that got rejected a lot, the kind of book the gatekeepers said could never, ever sell.

Ever hear of Harry Potter? The DaVinci Code? Presumed Innocent? The Flame and the Flower?—ooh, wait. That’s probably too far back in publishing history for you people.

All of these books surprised their publishers with the success. Just like True North surprised the publishing world with its success.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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.

Talking To Writers

30 October 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I just got back from MileHiCon in Denver. Not only did the con committee and the attendees treat me well, I had an absolute blast. I met a lot of people—readers, fans, wannabe writers, published writers—and I saw a lot of old friends.

. . . .

I have no idea how to talk to a room full of writers any more.

I know that sounds weird. I talk to writers all the time. Just before I went to MileHiCon, I helped Dean teach the first four days of the week-long Master Class for professional writers that we hold here on the coast.

. . . .

It used to be that everyone on the panel would give the same answer to basic questions. On the basic how-to-get published questions, there was only one answer, and it was the same for writer after writer after writer.

In fact, those of us on the panel were interchangeable. It didn’t matter if I sat there or another writer sat there or a relatively new writer sat there, we all gave the same answer. So did editor after editor, agent after agent.

Everyone who had the smallest bit of writing experience stopped attending publishing panels at cons because those writers had the basics down.

Now, the basics differ depending on who you talk to. We all agree on craft issues. To sell, whether traditionally or direct to readers, writers have to tell a good story. A good story includes all elements of craft—good plot, memorable characters, a clearly defined setting, and so on and so forth. Writers need to learn all of that, and never stop learning. We all can improve our craft and we should work at it, day after day after day after day.


When we move to how to get published, writing panels actually get contentious now. When Dean and I spoke at a writers conference in Idaho in May, we debated whether or not we would say what we really believed. Because if we said what we believed, we would anger half the room. And (bonus!) we would piss off every agent in the place.

I have a lot of trouble fudging my answers if I believe someone will get hurt if I don’t speak up. And on the topic of agents, my beliefs have shifted strongly. I believe (and have seen) most writers get seriously harmed by having an agent.

I can’t, in good conscience, recommend a writer have an agent for any reason.

Before I accept a writers conference request, I always explain that I will anger every agent and book doctor who shows up. I anger agents because I think they’re no longer useful. Some agents I’ve met at writers conferences are not only no longer useful, they are actively harming writers. I know this, because I’ve seen it or experienced it.

. . . .

The book doctors who show up at mainstream writers conferences fall into two categories. Those book doctors are either scammers who want to make money off writers who don’t believe in their own work or the book doctors are well-intentioned souls who have never sold a book of their own yet somehow believe they can make a book marketable.

Both types are complete and utter waste of money. There are real book doctors who work in traditional publishing. They’re hired (for a minimum of five figures—usually more like six) by a traditional publishing house to either improve a manuscript or to write it from scratch. Generally, those book doctors work on guaranteed bestsellers, whether they are written (or should I say bylined) by a celebrity like Snooki or whether they are written by a former bestselling writer who has gotten ill or has writer’s block or a wide variety of other problems.

If a publishing house has spent millions on a project and that project suuuuuuucks, then a book doctor gets brought in to make the project acceptable so that it can recoup its investment. If it wasn’t fixed, the project wouldn’t last longer than a day or two on the bestseller list before word-of-mouth put the book out of its misery.

Those book doctors never show up at writers conferences.

. . . .

I sigh, and say that with all honesty, I can’t recommend any agent. I mention the fact that it’s illegal in all 50 states to practice law without a license, which most agents are doing, and I mention that you just don’t need them for anything, and on and on, trying to keep my answer relatively short.

The woman who worked for the agency was incredibly cool. We agreed on most things. She’s bright and is a writer herself, and handled me with aplomb. Of course, she rebutted some of what I said, but not all of it (turns out, I learned after two panels with her, we agreed more than we disagreed), and she ended her statement with a sentence that I hate.

I’m sure Kris can do these things because she’s Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

Hell, no. I can do these things because there’s this thing called “the internet” and writers I know who do not have the credentials that I do have done the same things and more because they have a “contact” button on their website. Good books are good books, and foreign rights offers as well as movie/TV offers follow the good work, not the big names.

. . . .

The 1995 answers don’t really work any more. It’s a shark tank in the traditional publishing world, and if a minnow enters, it will become chum within the first five seconds of its attempted tenure in the tank.

So many writers are minnows with no desire to swim with the sharks. And the problem is that in today’s publishing environment, the writers have to be able to swim with the sharks comfortably and easily to survive.

Writers who’ve gotten their feet wet in the publishing industry, writers who’ve finished more than one book, who’ve submitted more than one short story, who are driven and work hard, know this. They’re coming to panels and conferences to learn how to become sharks—at least when it comes to business.

But the minnows, they don’t want to learn anything except how to be sell that one project. And the poor things, they’re going to get screwed.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

Things I’ve Learned: To Myself As A Newbie Writer

18 October 2015

From author Russell Blake:

Four years, four months into this, and I’ve learned a lot.

Someone asked the other day what the number one thing I would pass on to myself as a newbie. It may surprise you. After much thought, what I came up with was this:

If you’re successful, you’ve bought yourself a job. Just like buying a liquor store, or a clothing outlet. A job can be rewarding, both economically and emotionally, but it’s very different than a lottery win, in that you are signing up for a long haul of showing up every day and doing the work.

That’s different than I thought when I started out. I kind of hoped that the old canard that you wrote a great novel, sold it to NY, and then sat back and got rich, was true. That you only needed to produce a little work over the years, and could devote lots of time to thinking great thoughts, traveling the world, observing, etc.

Maybe for a few of the very top earners who’ve been doing this for decades and can command seven and eight figure advances. Of which there are fewer than 100, by my estimation. But for the rest, and certainly for the self-published, it’s a job, just like showing up to work at Pixar or Disney and creating content is a job. If you don’t put in the time, your slot goes to someone else, and the world keeps turning, only without you getting paid as a writer.

That’s a harsh truth, because it basically says that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is not the equivalent of an annuity that pays out year after year, but more like a nice business where you still have to work nine to whenever, five to six days a week. Don’t punch your time card, your sales fade, you’re forgotten by all but a few die-hards, and someone steps in to fill the gap.

. . . .

Knowing all this, would I have done anything differently? Probably not. I’d already learned these harsh truths in other businesses. Those past experiences might have actually been one of the reasons I was able to break at the time I did. I didn’t bemoan the fact that I needed to create a compelling backlist to be taken seriously. I didn’t resent that it would take 12-14 hours a day. I didn’t insist that I was doing the best I could, as though that should earn me some reward. I come from a school of hard knocks where just showing up doesn’t get you a treat – nobody hands out A’s for effort in the real world. That shit stops at high school.

But it would have been nice to hear it going in. Would have confirmed I was approaching things correctly.

I got an email last night that made me think about this. An author bud of mine who has been struggling to get a toehold in his/her preferred genre took my advice and wrote a couple of books in a different genre, and saw his/her first four figure day yesterday. He/she asked me whether there was any secret that could take it to the next level. I responded that the secret was to put out a new volume every sixty days so your name appears on the hot new releases list with regularity and momentum is built with readers, and never forget that you’re there to entertain your readership – not to get too clever, or if you’re bored, change things up for your amusement. It’s a job. Do the work, do it well, and maybe you get paid for a while. That’s the secret.

Link to the rest at Russell Blake and thanks to Patrice for the tip.

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

How to write at least four novels a year

15 October 2015

From author Toby Neal:

How to write at least four novels a year is a simple matter of math.

People don’t like that answer, and I don’t really either. I want it to be something mystical, magical, something inspired by muses wearing dragonfly wings and wielding lightning bolts of inspiration.  Sometimes, it is that. But mostly, it’s showing up at the page and getting the words down. Do the math: four seventy-five thousand word novels equals three hundred thousand words. Divided by 365 days in a year, that’s 822 (rounded up) words a day.

Even on my laziest, bitchiest PMS day I can do a thousand words. So can you. And if you can’t, writing more than four novels a year just isn’t the right goal for you.

I’ve written eighteen novels and a lengthy memoir in the last four years (a few of these projects not published yet) and people ask me how I do it. Honestly, I’m nowhere near as productive as some, but I’m as productive as I currently want to be.

And that, my friends, is where it all begins: in the mind. Examine your beliefs about writing. You probably have some myths you are believing that limit your output. Identify the beliefs that aren’t serving you and substitute new ones. For instance, I love the idea of a muse, but I’ve invented her as a happy, creative workaholic bubbling with ideas. So far, she’s never failed me, because I don’t believe she’ll ever run out of ideas or energy. Therefore, she won’t.

. . . .

  • Make a production schedule. I have the year’s writing projects planned out on a white board in little boxes by month. This allows me to add and erase, and integrate with other things going on, like holidays, vacations, relatives visiting, surgeries, etc. Other folks use spreadsheets, calendars or software of some kind. Whatever rubs your Buddha! For me, going “old school” when planning stuff seems to help me get things nailed down better. Setting out annual goals means we’re twice as likely to achieve them.

. . . .

  • Develop your main characters on paper before you ever bring them out to dance. I used to do mental health assessments and diagnose patients. I do that with my main characters before I start writing: what is their driving need? What is their pathology? What’s the family dynamics like? Social style? Physical appearance? Quirks? I call these Character Bios and they help me know a character before I ever interact with him or her on the page. Writing down things about a character that may never be seen in the story helps them leap out, well rounded, from the first word.

. . . .

  • Acknowledge that this is going to change your life and make room for it. Writing at this level takes room. Mental room. Emotional room. Disciplinary room. Whether that room is early in the morning, late at night, or has now become your main activity, you will never write seriously until put it front and center as a priority, reducing other activities, cutting out empty socializing, pruning out anything or anybody that distracts or drains your energy. It may bring to the fore toxic relationships you’ve tolerated. Be prepared to get radical if you need to, to guard your writing energy. If you want to really write, energy vampires must go.

Link to the rest at Toby Neal

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

Kris Rusch on Author Earnings

9 October 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

A while back, I promised I would look at the new report from Author Earnings. I needed time to assess the data for the purposes of this blog.

. . . .

I also write this blog primarily for career writers, those who are either in the writing business for the long term or hope to be in it for the long term.

That automatically makes me an outlier among bloggers. I have 30+ year professional career in publishing, in all aspects of publishing except agenting (which is something I never, ever, ever wanted to do), so I have a long term approach to all that I look at, including a historical approach. What is old is often what is new.

And what looks obvious sometimes isn’t.

That said, I have three problems with Author Earnings. Hugh and Data Guy do not work magic. They’re trying to find out information here, and they are limited by the way they have set up their company. They’re aware of the problems I am going to list below, and address them in their report, mostly by saying they don’t have access to that particular data.

My problems with the data? First, Author Earnings measures one day on one bookstore. Yes, it’s the largest bookstore in the United States, but not in the world.

Second, Author Earnings only measures ebook sales on that one bookstore. Not print sales, not audio sales, not outside earnings.

Finally, Author Earnings tries to separate their data into “traditionally published writers,” “self-published writers,” “writers published by Amazon” (which is, by the way, a traditional publisher), and “hybrid writers.” Their categories leaves out the most business-minded writers, those who understand how to set up corporations, how to establish their own small traditional publishing companies, and those who publish a multitude of books in a variety of ways.

That makes Author Earnings data small and specific, not really a snapshot of the industry at all, but a snapshot of the ebook sales on one bookstore in the United States, a snapshot that shoves some of that information into categories where it doesn’t belong.

In other words, like any statistical analysis, it has flaws.

Once you recognize the flaws, however, as Hugh and Data Guy do, you can work with the numbers to make some conclusions. Especially given the last report they released at the end of September.

. . . .

They created a study that did the things they wanted. They wanted to know, specifically, what route a new writer of 2015, with manuscript in hand, should take to have success. Success, as Hugh and Data Guy define it in the study, is hitting Amazon bestseller lists and making a “midlist” income of at least $10,000 per year.

Let’s ignore the fact that most one-book midlist authors in traditional publishing do not hit bestseller lists nor do they make $10,000 per year even if that was the advance.

. . . .

Hugh and Data Guy found that long-established writers, who were publishing before the year 2000and still consistently hit bestseller lists out earned every other writer on the list. But, according to Hugh and Data Guy:

13 out of the 20 authors who debuted in the last five years, and 8 of the 10 authors who debuted in the last 3 years, and who are now consistently earning $1,000,000+/year from just their Kindle ebook best sellers are indie authors.

So the thrust of the study is this: If you want to earn the most money as a writer in 2015, publish indie. Which to me is a well-duh, because indie writers earn at least 65% of their retail prices (which the indie writers set themselves), and traditionally published writers—ebook only—earn 25% of net price paid, minus 15% for an agent.

However, ebooks on Amazon make 70% of retail, and Amazon is what Hugh and Data Guy measure.

So for an ebook priced at $10 (because $10 math is easier for Ole Kris here), the indie writer would earn a minimum of $7.00 for each sale.

The traditional writer earning number is dicey from the beginning. What is “net” after all?

“Net” varies from contract to contract, writer to writer. But let’s assume that “net” is 75% of the retail price (assuming, perhaps falsely, that a traditional publisher will get a better deal from Amazon). That means the publisher gets paid $7.50, and the writer gets 25% of that number, which is $1.875. The agent then gets 15% of that $1.875, and the writer is left with roughly $1.59 per book.

The indie writer earns $5.41 more per ebook sold than the traditional writer.

. . . .

Most traditionally published midlist ebooks sell the same number of copies as an indie published ebook by the same writer, if the books are priced the same. The indie writer will make more money. Significantly more money.

. . . .

When I look strictly at ebook sales, I have to wonder why anyone would go with a traditional publisher any more. (When you factor in paper books sold over three years [as opposed to six months of release], the sales numbers are similar, and the indie writer earns more as well. But that’s a blog for another day.)

. . . .

They write:

There are fewer than half as many traditionally published authors as indie authors who debuted in the last 3 years and are now earning consistently at the $25K/year level or $50K/year level from Kindle ebooks.

Numerically, Hugh and Data Guy are correct, but the situation is worse than they allow. They make it seem like they’re doing an apples-to-apples comparison for writers whose work released in the past three years, but the comparison isn’t apples-to-apples.

What’s the difference? Traditional publishing does not (yet) allow for a writer to release more than four books a year under the same name and in the same series. Yeah, there are a handful of exceptions, writers who release more than four books per year traditionally, all in romance. There are also exceptions who are forced to publish only one book per year traditionally, mostly in mystery or literary mainstream. So it balances out. That four books per year is me being generous.

Assume, though, that the debut traditional writer is “fast” and working in a genre other than romance. He’ll publish one book per year, no matter what his genre. So at the end of three years, he has at bestthree books. In many cases, because of the vagaries of a publishing schedule, he’ll publish two at the end of three years, with a third coming “real soon now.”

A debut indie author can publish as many books as he wants in that period of time. If he’s really fast, he can publish a book per month. But let’s give him two books per year. Not really a huge advantage, but still, he’ll have six books out (or five with a sixth coming out) in three years.

Readers like it when an author has a lot of books to choose from. That indie author will double his e-book money simply by doubling the books published.

. . . .

But if you add in what I just mentioned above, that the indie writer who debuted in 2012 will already have a career while the traditional writer is still finding her sea legs, you can extrapolate forward. For writers who debuted in 2010 or 2012 or 2015, indie is the way to go.

Indie writers earn significantly more money. They’ll publish more books. They’ll have a career much faster, and one that is sustainable. A traditional publishing career requires the writer to be flexible and write under many names–if the writer signs the proper contract. Most don’t.

. . . .

But if you want a career as a writer, if you don’t want to have a day job, if you only want to write, then it seems to me the safest path to take is the indie path. You’ll have more opportunity. You can work hard and publish a lot and make money doing so.

Will every indie writer make six-figures per year? Hell, no. Nor will every traditionally published writer. But what this particular Author Earnings report shows is that if you want the chance of making six-figures or more per year with your writing, the best publishing path is indie.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Stephen 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.

PG says Kris has, as usual, focused on the key point for most authors – Do you want to make a career as an author? If so, the rational choice is to go indie.

Yes, it is still possible to make a career as an author by being traditionally-published, but it’s much less likely you will succeed. It’s not the safest route. It’s the riskiest route. In the first place, you have to run the find-an-agent then find-a-publisher gamut and most people get shut out there.

Then, you’re in the slow lane for getting your books to readers – one per year. Five books in five years (if everything goes perfectly because you’re not in control of the publishing process).

You have to hope the readers who bought your first book remember you one year later. Most won’t, particularly enthusiastic readers who read lots of books. If I read one book per week, I don’t remember the names of all 52 authors I’ve read in a year. Absent huge, huge sales (which very few traditionally-published first novels or second, third, etc., generate), promoting a traditionally-published author’s second book is almost as much work as promoting their first.

Plus the large majority of the sales revenue generated by tradpub books goes to support the publishing/distribution/retail sales structure. You have to sell many, many more books as a tradpubbed author to make the same money an indie author does.

PG did some math (always a dangerous thing) to compare indie vs. tradpub earnings based upon the concepts Kris discussed.

Basic assumptions for the comparison:

  1. Ebooks Only
  2. Indie Ebook is $2.99, Tradpub Ebook is $8.99
  3. Both books sell 10,000 copies per book in the first year and 2,000 per book per year thereafter as backlist
  4. Both books are in the 70% royalty category on Amazon
  5. Indie author publishes 3 books per year, tradpub author publishes one
  6. The comparison covers a five-year period, beginning with the first year an indie author and a tradpub author publish their first book
Ebooks Sold Price Royalty % Earnings
Indie (per book) 10,000 $2.99 70% $20,930.00
Traditional (per book) 10,000 $8.99 17.5% $15,732.50
Five Year Earnings Total First Year Average Annual Earnings (first year only, no backlist)
Indie (3 books per year) $313,950.00 $62,790.00
Traditional (1 book per year) $78,662.50 $15,732.50


Backlist Sales (20% of first year sales)
Indie Backlist Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Total Backlist
Total Backlist Books 0 3 6 9 12
Backlist Earnings 0 $12,558 $25,116 $37,674 $50,232 $125,580
Traditional Backlist
Total Backlist Books 0 1 2 3 4
Backlist Earnings 0 $3,147 $6,293 $9,440 $12,586 $31,465
Five Year Earnings (First Year+Backlist) Total
Indie $439,530
Traditional $110,128


This isn’t perfect because the indie author won’t release three books at the beginning of each year, but as you move forward and the number of books in the backlist for the indie author grows so much more quickly than a tradpub author’s backlist, PG thinks those differences will be smoothed over.

An essential fact that Kris points out is that, so long as each author keeps writing at the assumed pace, the indie author is going to have many, many more titles in print than the traditionally-published author.

Additionally, it’s well-known that publishers ignore the large majority of their backlists and put no promotional effort at all into them while indie authors can and do promote their backlist books in a variety of ways.

This comparison is based on ebook sales only at Amazon royalty rates. It does not include any estimate of bookstore sales. PG will note that, for most fiction titles, bookstores are focused on new releases and a great many (most?) tradpubbed authors won’t find many of their backlist titles in most bookstores. If you’re a tradpub author, check your royalty statements for the number of hardcopy books sold for your titles that are three, four or five years old.

Absolute Zero — The Temperature At Which Writers Give Up

9 October 2015

From author Kameron Hurley via terribleminds:

I’ve given up on a lot of things in my life: Relationships. Carbs. Being an astronaut. Adjunct teaching. Running for “fun.” Most things concocted at Taco Bell.

What I never gave up on is pursuing a career as a writer.

. . . .

Why do some writers persist, and some writers – many of them the most talented and promising writers I’ve ever known– quit?

It’s a question I ask myself the longer I work in the business. And it’s a question I get from a lot of colleagues and fans the longer I persist.

This is a post for writers who want to make their career as writers of fiction. If you’d just like to “put something out there” or write a great book every ten years for a few thousand dollars, those are perfectly valid approaches to writing. But heads’ up that this isn’t going to be the post for you.

It took me sixteen years between my first short story sale and first novel sale, and twenty years and six published novels before I had a single year’s income that looked anything like a living wage. I still don’t write full time. The day job pays all.

Don’t I get discouraged? Don’t I look at the six and seven figure deals that some debut novelists get and cry into my cornflakes?


. . . .

Signing a three-book deal in no way guarantees you will sell another. In fact, once your shine wears off, it gets much tougher, because now you’re a known quantity. Publishers can no longer pitch you like you have infinite possibilities. You often have to reinvent yourself to keep swimming. And you need to learn to run your career like a business, not a hobby, because all the people you’re working with now are certainly running their own businesses like businesses.

The truth is, there will always be times you want to give up, no matter what stage you are in the process. My fifth book is out this week, and I’m sitting here working on edits for my essay collection out next year, and I want to give up. I want to send back the advance check and just pack it all in. I don’t want to fix another broken transition. I don’t want to dig up some other reference. I don’t want to dance again in the court of public opinion with a big collection of bloody personal work that will get me eviscerated all over again. I don’t want to read another review. I don’t want to see another sales spreadsheet. I want to get a little house in the deep woods with no internet connection and never speak to another human being ever again.

. . . .

So why not give up?

Because what would I be doing in that little house? What would I be doing if I wasn’t out here on the internet? If I wasn’t stacked up four years deep with projects? And the answer is always the same. The answer is: I’d be writing. I’d be writing anyway.

I may as well be writing here.

. . . .

We all have a different point at which we hit absolute zero, that point at which we can’t endure another moment of knocking our heads against a publishing industry that so many treat like a slot machine, hoping that this hit, this time, will pay off. If you’re here hoping to hit it big, you will probably give up much sooner, because the reality that publishing works like a casino and not a meritocracy will be devastating.

You will come to this crossroads many times. There will never be a point in your career where you are done choosing to be here. No one wants you to be a writer more than you do. So you better care about it. You better care about it more than anything.

Link to the rest at terribleminds and thanks to Alexis for the tip.

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

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.

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