The Business of Writing

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 Audible.com 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.

99% of what Writers are hearing in terms of advice comes from 1% of Authors

29 June 2014

From author Bob Mayer:

[W]e want to hear from success stories, not failures. Still, if it were easy to replicate those successes, then everyone would be doing it. Plus, many success stories feel their path is thepath, and don’t take into account not only other paths, but the changes in the business and even in story telling since they started.

For decades the spiel was pretty much the same: write a great novel following a traditional form of narrative structure (I still teach the five part structure) and then query an agent, hope the agent takes you on, then the agent pitches an editor, etc. etc. etc.

That’s somewhat true now, but there are so many more options, if I were new to publishing I’d be completely confused, as many writers I’ve met at conferences are.

First—does what the 1% say regarding their career path even apply any more? Things are different now than they were just six months ago. For trad authors issues like rights granted, reversion clauses, and non-compete clauses are growing more and more important. For indie authors, the market is saturated, so how do you get a toehold in it and leverage your way up, especially if you don’t have backlist, which is the conundrum for the new author?

When I was listening to an agent present I felt like I was in a time warp going back five years or more. Much of what she said was applicable but some of it had cobwebs hanging all over it. In fact, the success story she touted was a couple of years out of date and no longer applicable. But in a similar manner, I’ve heard some on the indie side speak and while what they say is often cutting edge, the cut is often very much slanted toward indie, while disparaging to trad publishing. I tend to believe for a new author, trad is probably the better option simply because the learning curve in publishing is so steep, that to learn it and break in while publishing yourself (while still writing, being a parent, working a job, etc.) might be more a cliff than a curve.

Link to the rest at Write on the River and thanks to Glinda for the tip.

Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Indie Publishing: #8… I’ve Missed the Boat

16 June 2014

From Dean Wesley Smith:

Myths ignore facts. Myths are often beliefs built from fear or past actions.

In this series, and in the previous series of Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Publishing, I call the myths that control writers “Sacred Cows.”

Writers hold onto myths like lifelines that are keeping them from drowning in a raging river of information. Sometimes sane people in the normal world will follow a publishing myth that makes no sense at all because it has something to do with the publishing business. And they follow the myth without thought.

So this new series is an attempt to help the new world of indie publishing with the growing list of myths that plague it.

The eighth myth to hit Indie writers and publishers is this:

I HAVE MISSED MY CHANCE

…or in similar think…I AM SO FAR BEHIND, WHY BOTHER STARTING?

This myth, of course, has a lot of origins, but the biggest one is the totally false thinking that this indie world is a gold rush. Nope. It’s not anymore. Indie publishing is now a new part of publishing here to stay for any foreseeable future.

And it might, if some people are correct, become the dominant form of publishing. Who knows.

. . . .

But this new world has made it very, very possible for writers with no knowledge of the publishing business to get their books to readers directly. That ability for nonprofessional publishing professionals and writers has only been around since the KDP program started up.

Those early few years of this new wave happened fast, first with the KDP program, followed by Smashwords, and then B&N opening up their bookstores. That was followed by the POD programs to get paper into regular bookstores. All those changes happened seemingly instantly and every indie publisher seemed to be in a huge hurry.

Kris and I were no exception to that in those first few years. It felt like a gold rush, no doubt.

But then everything settled. The explosive growth of electronic books has slowed to a tiny and healthy growth. We are now in a new normal.

Granted, there are major changes coming in publishing because of disruptive technology hitting big companies not capable of handling the changes. But for indie publishers, we are now playing on a level field with all traditional publishers.

. . . .

— First off, stop comparing yourself to other people.

Look around at what other indie publishers are doing and learn and adapt ideas that work for you and ignore all the rest.

— Ask yourself a simple question. “Do I want to be in this exact spot five years from now?”

If the answer is no, then start figuring out where you want to be in five years and in ten years. For those of you without any sense of business, this is called “Making a Business Plan.”

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

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