The Business of Writing

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?

****

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

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.

Next Page »