The Business of Writing

Writers, Scam Artists, Agents, And More (Sigh)

29 April 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Just when I thought it was safe to get back into the water…

I’m editing a lot these days. I only edit short fiction projects. Anthologies, anthology series (Fiction River), the occasional nonfiction book, and some magazines. I’m also consulting with the fine folks at WMG Publishing, because they’ll be handling the contracts for the revival of Pulphouse next year. Dean’s vision for Pulphouse includes reprinting some of the older stories, which means we have to deal with estates.

Too often, estates mean agents.

But even some lazy-ass living writers give their agents control of everything. It took me one year—one year—to get my hands on a non-fiction reprint that I wanted for a project of mine. The centerpiece for that project was an editorial written more than 20 years ago by a writer who had forgotten they had even written it. This writer, a friend of mine, doesn’t do email, and mostly stays off-line. (I know, I know.) I didn’t know about their tech phobia when I started into this, and had sent five different emails before I asked another editor friend how to reach this writer.

The editor advised snail mail.

Before I resorted to that, though, I called. The author and I are friends, after all. On the phone, the author told me that their agent handles everything. I do mean everything. The author—one smart cookie otherwise—can’t be bothered to concern themselves with touching anything to do with business. I had no idea this author was an Artiste, but I guess I know that now.

I also know why most anthologists refuse to reprint this author’s work.

I was pretty excited about this non-fiction project when I started it. I missed the publication window because of this agent and this writer. Fortunately, my publisher pushed the deadline back. We’ve pushed it back again, and again, and again. And frankly, I’m not feeling it any more. I have completely soured on the project.

The big bad agent, by the way, negotiated a horseshit deal for the writer that essentially gave me more rights than I would ever need. I offered the usual fee, which the agent did not negotiate up (although he could have). By that point, I was too pissed to give a break to these people. The amount of money—on publication, if there’s a publication—to the agent and the author will be negligible.

. . . .

Who the hell gives over control of everything, I mean everything, to an agent?

Oh, most writers. Never mind.

Still, I expect better. And if a writer is going to give control of the business side of her work to an “expert” then the expert better be damn good at negotiating and taking care of the writer’s interests.

So far, all of the agents I’ve encountered who handle everything are the worst negotiators in the business. They let things slide, they don’t care about being paid, they don’t ask for the right kind of language in a contract, they license the wrong rights or sell those rights outright.

. . . .

On one of the many projects I worked on recently, I contacted a writer to reprint one of their stories. I wrote a standard email letter, requesting permission to reprint, and the writer wrote back that they had no idea if the rights were available. The writer said I should contact the editor who originally published the story and ask.

I was taken aback. I had never had a writer say such a thing before in all of my years of editing. I knew the editor in question, and had worked with him many times. Never once did that editor, in all his various projects, try to control all the rights to a project. It wasn’t in his standard contract, the one he used for his anthology projects. It wasn’t in his special contracts, for other projects. It hadn’t ever happened, not in years of dealing with this man.

Honestly, this is where Writer Me and Editor Me had a conflict. Writer Me decided that Editor Me should get clarification from that writer before going to the writer’s editor. You see, Writer Me figured the editor in question would be confused at best or insulted at worst by the suggestion that he controlled the rights.

I did not want to offend him—as a person, not as an editor I might work with.

So I asked for clarification from the writer on the problem and added, as I do with many writers—bestsellers and nonbestsellers alike—that I would be happy to look at the clauses or contract in question (with the pertinent information like SSN and payment blacked out) to see what rights the author had actually sold. After all, the author clearly had no idea. Frankly, I figured the author didn’t know how to read a contract, and certainly didn’t know copyright law. I’ve seen that dozens of times before.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

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The Sky is Falling (Again)

24 April 2017

From The Crazy Chronicles by author  Elizabeth Barone:

I’ve been working in the indie publishing industry for five years, with a smattering of trad pub experience right before that. I mean a very tiny smattering; I had a couple short stories and poems published in journals before I got addicted to self-publishing, and I was with a small press for a year. But I’ve always been an introvert, and the thing most people don’t know about us introverts is that we’re super observant. We may not say much, but we see everything. And we pay attention.

Lately there’s been a lot of ugliness in the lit community. Some high profile authors were outed for attacking readers, there’s been a lot of mudslinging over diversity in fiction, and now I’m seeing a lot of authors griping about how “oversaturated” the industry is.

I get it. Amazon sales have tanked for everyone this month. In general, there’s been a decline in sales. The industry has been plateauing, trying to find its footing in the midst of this digital revolution. But I’ve noticed the panic really dig in to authors when Amazon changes something. And then things get ugly.

. . . .

For one, the market has always been full. Even before indie publishing took off—back when it was considered vanity publishing to go and print copies of your books and sell them out of your car—there was a vast traditional market. Book stores became more and more selective with who they gave shelf space to. It was a game of dollars—which publisher could pay the most to get their star author front and center in stores. And it still is.

. . . .

Authors, we’re not competitors. There are millions of readers around the world, with new markets opening up every single day. (Right now India and Nigeria’s ebook markets are booming, by the way.) Readers don’t play favorites. Sure, there are authors they love who they will always buy from right away. But most readers are just looking for something good to read that fits their tastes and their budget—especially while their favorites are in between releases.

Link to the rest at The Crazy Chronicles and thanks to A. for the tip.

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

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Mushroom Publishers And The Tsunami of Crap

18 April 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

So much of the writing advice we get comes from a set of assumptions that are no longer true. I’m not sure if they were ever true. But that’s for another blog post. (Or maybe I’ve written that post already.)

Anyway, the assumption is that our culture is monolithic, that we all read the same books, and we’re all influenced by the same writers.

Maybe most of us were once. In the 1950s (before I was born), my father used to teach an adult education course called The Great Books, and it had a set curriculum. If you were going to thrive in the monoculture, then you needed to read these books.

The course was developed in the 1920s, taught around the country, and included books from the Western tradition only. The books included things like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (which I can’t imagine my father teaching) and Bertrand Russell’s Principles of Mathematics (which I can).

. . . .

[W]hat passed for U.S. culture for most of the 20th century believed that there was a list of “great books” which we all had to read to be educated.

The intelligentsia could augment that foundation with other prescribed books. Those books came into our house regularly—or at least the flyers for them did—usually promulgated by The Saturday Review, The New York Times Book Review, the Quality Paperback Book Club (yes, there was such a thing), and the Book of The Month Club.

Underlying all of these notions was the idea of “good books” and “bad books.” Books that could destroy your mind, books that were the equivalent of potato chips (unhealthy, but occasionally enjoyable), and books that would make you a better person.

. . . .

In his tome, An Experiment in Criticism, (published in 1961), C.S. Lewis writes, “The best safeguard against bad literature is a full experience of good….” That attitude is precisely the attitude most of us grew up with. The assumption that we could actually harm ourselves by reading the wrong things.

. . . .

A lot of the books we consider classics now were considered “bad” in their day. Worse, those books never appeared from “regular” publishers, but from presses that had terrible reputations.

Right now, I’m reading a badly designed, badly printed book from 1993, about the publishing industry in England in the Postwar period. The Mushroom Jungle: A History of Postwar Paperback Publishing by Steve Holland is, as far as I can tell, out of print itself. But it’s a fascinating read about publishers that grew in the dark—mushroom publishers—which published everything from what passed as porn back in the day (now we’d barely call it erotica) to science fiction, hard-boiled mystery novels, and other disreputable fiction.

Brian Stableford’s foreword reminded me of the C.S. Lewis book, which I had tried to choke down when I was in high school—after I had read The Chronicles of Narnia. I tried to work my way through Lewis’s oeuvre, only to discover that most of what he wrote was so not to my taste that I stopped trying.

In that old book of criticism, Lewis was justifying the fiction that he wrote. He didn’t like the terms “highbrow” and “lowbrow” fiction, choosing instead to label readers “unliterary” or “literary” depending on the kind of attention they pay to the texts in front of them. (If the reader read solely for pleasure, and did not reread books, they were generally unliterary.)

This snobbishness permeated the industry. The snobbishness went all the way into business practices and marketing, in contracts and in expectations. Paperbacks were considered disposable. Hardbacks were not. The returns system in the U.S. was predicated on that. Hardbacks required full copy returns, and if the books were damaged, then they would not count against a bookstore’s bill. Paperbacks were mutilated, the covers returned only, so that the book could be thrown away.

Contracts and deals reflected the perceived ephemeral nature of the material, and writers often fell prey to it. They signed deals that would be ludicrous if anyone had thought more than two years head.

The attitude was that nothing good could come from disposable products, even though the paper books often outsold hardcovers by literary (and accepted) writers by ten to one (and sometimes by 100 to one).

Here’s the thing, though: the only way to become a remembered author who survives the test of time is to influence a lot of readers. If a “good” novel has a 5,000 copy print run and sells out, and a “bad” novel has a 50,000 copy print run and sells out, guess which one has the better chance of being remembered? The one with tens of thousands of readers, not the one with only 5,000.

But those are yesterday’s economics.

. . . .

[W]hile traditional publishing keeps repeating that there’s a tsunami of crap in indie (or self) published books, traditional publishers can’t really cite the same examples. Because no one is reading the same books any more.

That influential book, the one that changes minds and hearts, has to cut a swath through an accepted culture, and we don’t have one any more. Yes, every now and then, a book rises above, but it’s becoming rarer and rarer.

So how come I’m writing about the past yet again?

Because, as I read The Mushroom Jungle, replete with the judgments of critics and tastemakers long dead, I see the same phrases used against the mushroom publishers that I see used against indie publishers now. Phrases like:

  • The books are not very good (unliterary). The books have no redeeming value. The books aren’t memorable. They can be read in a single night. They’re not worth a reread.
  • They’re only read for entertainment. They’re not curated, not vetted, not approved by the literary powers that be.
  • How do you know if the books are any good, if there’s no consensus on what’s good and what’s not?
  • Yes, they’re all right to while away the time, but you (or your children or your sick aunt) would be better off reading something of quality, something worth spending your limited time on.

Have I raised your hackles yet?

. . . .

Books with a lot of readers tend not to be the critical darlings of the day. They tend to be the books that get the most word of mouth, books that are passed from hand to hand to hand or written up the most in blogs or discussed by savvy readers everywhere.

How do you become one of those writers?

Well, I don’t think you do it by setting out to write Art. As Holland notes on the next page of The Mushroom Jungle:

I very much doubt if any of the novels quoted in this book were written with any intention other than to put food on the table of the author, but like so much that is thought by the literary establishment to be ephemeral or unworthy, they stick in the memory of the reading public….

The thing is…the books that often stick in the memory of the reading public are books that surprise in some way or counter expectations or make the reader lose a few hours of sleep because the reader can’t put the book down.

Those books aren’t manufactured and fussed over and edited to death. They weren’t written to be judged, as literary novels often are. Those books weren’t written to impress. They were written because they had to be, or because the author needed to eat. The author wrote it, someone published it, and then both moved on—even though the readers didn’t.

Indie writers are doing the same thing right now. They’re writing what they love. A few are still writing what they think will sell, although that trend seems to be moving past us now. (Thank God). Most writers are simply trying to put food on the table so they don’t have to go back to the day job.

Traditional publishers, whose sales are continuing to decline and whose revenue is spiraling downward, keep trying to justify their curation services. Want to know if your book is any good? The traditional publishers say. We’ll let you know that—forgetting, of course, that readers decide what’s good and what’s not.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

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Building Your Writing Career

9 April 2017

From Dave Farland:

Many writers begin their writing journey and choose to focus on gaining the skills they need to become publishable. In fact, that becomes their sole focus. They don’t worry about learning how to sell their books. After all, you can’t sell a book that you haven’t written, right?

But what happens when you do sell a book and suddenly find that in addition to learning how to write, you now need to launch a career?

I’ve known many authors who have done just that. They focused on becoming writers and never learned the first thing about building a career. They’ve taken so little thought to the business side of writing that in some cases, they even managed to derail their career before it got started.

So, what are the first steps in building a career?

One of the first steps you need to take is to begin building “your list.” What is your list? It is a list of friends and fans and business associates who want to follow your career. These are people who will go out and buy your books. In fact, a good friend or fan will go out and buy your book on a certain day, a day that you ask them to buy it, in order to help launch your book on the bestseller lists.

Now, if you’re like me, you’ll think, “I don’t know anyone who would do that!” Well, you might be surprised at how many people would be willing to do that, if you just ask them to.

So, how do you ask? You send an invitation to people that you keep on an email list. This list is your most important business asset as a writer.

Who is on your list? How about this: look at your family first, not just your immediate family, but also your cousins, nephews, nieces, and even your crazy uncle. If you’re from a large family, getting the names and email addresses of these people can take some time. But it’s worthwhile. Family members are often eager to buy your books, tell friends what you’ve done, and so on. Even if they aren’t frequent readers, they’re likely to read your work.

Who else is on your list? How about your business associates at the place(s) that you’ve worked? How about old friends and classmates from school—from kindergarten on through college, and even people that you’ve taken seminars with?

Then go to your business associates—other writers, producers, editors, agents, and so on.

. . . .

But what if you don’t build your list? It is possible that a few great reviews will help guide readers to your book, and advertisements in magazines will also help. And if people begin reading and talking about your novel, the “word of mouth” advertising is invaluable. The problem is, that word of mouth is also slow. If someone buys your book and doesn’t read it for a few weeks, by the time that she tells her friends about how great you are, your book might be out of print.

. . . .

My friend Richard Paul Evans has a story about a writer who failed to build his list. Richard went to do a book signing on the East Coast a couple of years ago and was excited to be signing right next to an author whose first novel was a blockbuster—one that stayed on the New York Times Bestseller list for more than a year. He’d sold millions of copies and had gotten emails from tens of thousands of fans. But when Richard got to the store, he found that his own fans were there but the new author had no one in his lines. His publisher had not advertised his second novel widely, and the author hadn’t kept a list of his fans, so he had failed to tell them about the signing. When Richard asked the author what had happened to his fans, the author said, “I guess that they didn’t get the memo.”

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

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

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25 Habits That Will Make You a Writer

6 April 2017

From Startup Grind:

1. Write every day.

A daily writing habit is thing number one because it is THAT important. Move your story forward by even a few words every single day and you’ll be surprised by what happens.

Or maybe not, since what will happen is this: you’ll write a book.

2. Read like a writer.

Stephen King says that if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or tools to write. You know he’s right. Make it a habit to carry a book with you. Keep one in your bathroom. Learn to read in sips instead of gulps — so that not having hours to indulge won’t keep you from reading at all.

And read like a writer. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. Read craft books. Read fiction (for sure, read fiction) that does what you want your stories to do. What works? What doesn’t? (Most important) WHY?

3. Watch TV like writer.

I’ve written before about my absolute belief that if you want to be a writer, you need to be watching television. I still believe it. Some of the best writing and story telling is happening on television.

Just like with reading, watch like a writer. Pay attention to why you like a show, why you’re willing to invest hours of your life in it. And why you’re not, if you turn it off at the first commercial break and never come back.

. . . .

12. Save your pennies for a real edit and a professional cover, if you’re going indie.

This is non-negotiable.

If you wouldn’t be okay with Penguin releasing your novel with your best friend’s edit and your own homemade cover, then YOU can’t be okay with it either.

If you’re planning to self-publish that means you’re a PUBLISHER. A professional publisher. And that means that you have to find and hire an editor and a cover designer for your book, and if you don’t know how to do it yourself, probably a book designer as well.

Plan on spending about $1500 and start saving your pennies. The hope is that your first book will pay for your second.

Link to the rest at Startup Grind

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The Career View

5 April 2017

From Books & Such Literary Management:

What kind of things do I look for in a new client? Things like being knowledgeable and invested. And writing books that have commercial appeal. And offering fresh ideas and a fresh voice.

I also look for a writer who is realistic and prepared for the career view. When I get a query that insists I look at the “next bestseller,” I toss it in the round file. Yes, there are a number of debut books that became overnight successes. Just like there are lottery winners who recently won hundreds of millions of dollars. But does that mean if you buy a lottery ticket you’ll win millions?

We can’t plan a career around hoping for a miracle. Many fine, fine published books go virtually unnoticed every year. Reaching bestseller status is a convoluted combination of hard work, writing skill, word-of-mouth and that unpredictable  combination of events that take an author to the tipping point.

I’m looking for writers who are realistic– knowing that they are going to have to pay their dues, possibly with very little return in terms of attention and money for the first few years.

. . . .

So I’m looking for writers who are prepared financially for the long haul.  When we have clients who are desperate to make money we have a problem. This industry is not like a job. The money is sporadic and never guaranteed. A writer needs to be able to support himself while he builds his career. Or else you need a “patron of the arts,” as one writer describes her spouse.

. . . .

I also look for writers who have enough years to build a career. As agents, we pour ourselves into our clients. The first several years we may see precious little return on our investment. That’s okay, that’s our part of the financial long haul. If we believe in a writer we’ll work like crazy with absolutely no return in the early years if necessary. But if a debut writer who is seventy-five years old comes to me, I need to be positively bowled over by her book because, even if she writes for ten years, it’s barely enough time to really get a career launched. Of course that’s not to say I wouldn’t take her on if I loved that one book. I’ve done it more than once.

I look for settled writers. If a writer tells me he’s going to be moving to Sri Lanka for a period of five years I have to wonder how we can build a career with an inaccessible author.  Writers who take “writing breaks” to raise children, to care for parents, or to “find themselves” usually find themselves with a stalled career.

Link to the rest at Books & Such Literary Management and thanks to Dave for the tip.

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What I’m really thinking: the failed novelist

3 April 2017

From The Guardian:

My biggest mistake? Thinking it was my destiny. After all, I’d written stories since I could hold a pencil, won every creative writing prize at school, then, as an adult, short story competitions. I joined writers’ groups, honed my craft, completed a great manuscript. I found an agent, finally. He was reputable and confident, and initially there was a flurry of interest from publishers. How could I fail?

But, over several months, my manuscript was rejected for reasons that bewildered me: often because all the slots for debut literary fiction that year were taken; once because I was a woman; but mostly because editors “just didn’t love it enough”. When I took the call from my agent saying we had no deal, I cried like a little girl.

I defiantly started a second novel. It was my masterpiece, but it bombed, too. Years of work and emotional investment wasted, I finally gave up, to save my sanity.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Dave for the tip.

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Golden Age of TV is not so golden for writers: Why the Writers Guild of America is moving closer to a strike

3 April 2017

From the Los Angeles Times:

A decade ago, Hollywood writers brought the entertainment industry to a standstill when they walked off the job for three months in a dispute over pay for movies and TV shows distributed online. The strike halted dozens of TV and movie productions and sent shock waves through the Los Angeles economy.

Now, the Hollywood community is feeling a sense of déjà vu as the possibility of another strike looms large. After the collapse of talks with the major studios, the Writers Guild of America is seeking a strike authorization vote from members. While the union has until May 1 to reach an agreement, tensions are as high as they’ve been in years, say people close to the negotiations not authorized to comment.

The charged atmosphere is the result of a perfect storm of economic and digital changes bearing down on the business. Since the last writers strike, the industry has seen far-reaching shifts. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon have transformed Hollywood and contributed to an unprecedented number of quality series being produced — a phenomenon often described as the new Golden Age of TV.

But times haven’t been golden for many writers for whom more is now less. Shorter seasons are the new norm, with many series consisting of 10 or fewer episodes on cable and streaming — less than half the length of traditional seasons on network shows. That has put writers in a financial crunch since many have exclusivity clauses that prevent them from working on multiple shows per season.

. . . .

“It’s getting more and more difficult to make a living as a writer,” said John Bowman, a TV writer-producer, and former head of the WGA negotiating committee.

Studios are equally dug in as more customers cut the cable cord in favor of streaming options. They’re also grappling with a dramatic fall-off in once-lucrative DVD sales and a flattening of attendance at the multiplex. They are releasing fewer titles a year, meaning fewer opportunities for screenwriters.

All of this has set the stage for conflict. A strike authorization vote is set to take place mid-April. The move is a typical negotiating tactic by unions, but the WGA said it’s a response to the hard-line position taken by the studios, which have so far refused most of their demands.

“No one on the board or committee wants a strike,” Chris Keyser, co-chairman of the guild’s negotiating committee, said in an interview. “Unfortunately, the only way to be treated reasonably is to bring to bear the power of labor.”

Link to the rest at Los Angeles Times and thanks to Erica for the tip.

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Bestseller Lists and Other Dreams

31 March 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

 In March, Marie Force announced she would no longer chase the bestseller lists when she released her latest book title. She wrote a great, honest, and direct blog about her thinking, and I urge you to read it all.

In the blog, she describes a trajectory of obsession and disillusionment that is very familiar to me. I’ve gone through that range of emotions several times in my long writing career. Ironically, the change in my attitude toward the bestseller lists and the status they confer (or don’t) came when I was still a 100% traditionally published novelist. (I’m hybrid, traditional and indie, although I don’t publish my novels [in English, anyway] traditionally any more.)

Why is that ironic? Because by the time it became easier to chase a bestseller list, I was no longer interested. Yet the entire focus of the first wave of indie writers after the introduction of Kindle Direct Publishing was on the various bestseller lists, first on Amazon, and then the established ones, like The New York Times and USA Today.

. . . .

Whenever I write a blog post that upsets a certain group of indie writers, they discuss the post on their blogs and cite whatever Amazon rankings they can find of my books at the moment. Often the books they find have low rankings, and they use that to say I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Okay. Fine. Whatever floats your boat. My business is based on a lot of product, published wide in a worldwide market, using print, audio, ebook, translations, and more. I don’t usually look at an individual book’s ranking in one format in one marketplace—and even though Amazon is the biggest marketplace at the moment, it’s certainly not the only one.

I write that with complete calmness, and a bit of a shrug, but believe me, that calmness and shrug came years after I got rid of my bestseller list obsession.

. . . .

I knew I wanted to be a fiction writer from as far back as I can remember. I wrote my first novel in grade school (and, sadly, illustrated it too). I didn’t know any professional fiction writers. I firmly believed in the myths, that it was impossible to make a living as a fiction writer—unless you hit a bestseller list, specifically The New York Times, which was the only one I saw in the books around my parents’ house.

So, I imprinted young: bestseller list = enough money to make a living = success.

And as I got older, I met a lot of writers. Some were journalists (making a living: check); some were poets (working as professors: check); some were fiction writers (making money…how?). It took me a long time to realize that you could make a good living without hitting a bestseller list. A lot of successful writers taught me that, sometimes directly and sometimes through example. To say I’m grateful is an understatement.

Before Roc Books bought my first novel, I had made friends with an outspoken book dealer. He was trying to qualify as a New York Times bookstore—the first I’d ever heard of such a thing. He ran an sf and fantasy store, and he was campaigning to be one of the stores that the Times spoke to on a weekly basis to compile the sales.

I have no memory of whether or not he succeeded. I don’t think he did. Over the years, I met many booksellers who were Times qualified. They were required to keep their status quiet, but some didn’t. And some told me years after they were no longer on the Times list.

I remember being shocked at what I learned: no one independently verified the bookseller’s numbers. No cash register receipts were submitted, no one checked shipping orders. The bookseller could have conflated his best friend’s book if he wanted to.

I don’t think any bookseller did that—at least not any I knew—but the temptation was there. And my outspoken friend was most worried about being told which books to include in his list, because he had heard the Times sometimes nudged a bookseller in a particular direction.

True? God knows. Maybe true in the late 1980s when these discussions took place. Maybe a beloved conspiracy theory among genre booksellers. I have no way to verify.

. . . .

Then in the year 2000, the New York Times got really peeved at J.K. Rowling and the YA writers who “hogged” the adult hardcover list. The Times introduced a “children’s book list” for bestselling books, and made no bones about why they were doing so:

The New York Times Book Review will print a separate best-seller list for children’s books starting on July 23. The change is largely in response to the expected demand for the fourth in the Harry Potter series of children’s books, editors at the Book Review said…. With an enormous initial print run of 3.8 million in the United States alone, it is widely expected to reach the top of the list.

”The time has come when we need to clear some room” on the list, said Charles McGrath, the editor of the Book Review…

The phrase missing here is “for more worthy titles.” Adult titles, even though adults were reading Harry Potter.

I had never noticed the Times monkeying with the list before, not like this, and not so blatantly. I was offended, upset, and crushed—in my dreams.

. . . .

This was when I really learned that the lists were based on velocity—how fast a book sold—not on actual total sales. This finally answered my questions about the way that genre writers could earn a hefty living while literary (and critical darlings) often had to teach. “Sales” were based on books shipped, not on books sold, which really came home to me from traveling.

I went through O’Hare around this point, saw a book by a writer I knew, and the book was on every bookstand, at every checkout place, even at the restaurants. The book was there on Thursday, as I flew out, and in seemingly the same numbers on Monday when I flew home. At the time, I thought that the books had been replenished.

Nope. They hadn’t sold.

But for that week, my friend was on the bestseller list. And he couldn’t sell another book after that, because his sell-through was so abysmal as to make him untouchable under that name.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

PG says it’s great when indie authors appear on bestseller lists, but the point Kris makes about velocity of sales is key to understanding bestseller lists and in placing them in their proper business perspective.

If you sell 1,000 ebooks in a single day, you’ll likely be at the top of an Amazon bestseller list and probably more than one list. For marketing purposes, you can probably advertise yourself as “#1 Amazon best-selling author” forever because it actually did happen one time. Lots of traditionally-published authors have been promoted as a “New York Times best-selling author” many years after any of their books actually appeared on an NYT list.

However “best-selling author” is used so often that PG expects it may not be a terribly-effective marketing claim regardless of how much it impresses Uncle Jake. Just like all the students in Lake Wobegon who are above-average, a lot of authors have been bestsellers.

PG thinks a better mark of business success in writing is whether an author can quit their day job and support themselves with their books or otherwise generate a reliable income stream. Still a better indicator is if they can support themselves by writing year after year after year. If an aspiring writer wants a model to emulate, the author who quit the day job ten years ago is probably a better example than someone who was #1 on an Amazon romance list three years ago and still works the swing shift at 7-11 to make ends meet.

To be clear, PG is not denigrating anyone who works at writing, day job or not, and who has been or is listed on a bestseller list. That’s an accomplishment that many indie authors never enjoy.

However, earning your living and making a career as an author is more of a long game. Selling 1,000 ebooks in a single day won’t pay the rent next year. Writing ten books that each sell 40 copies per week on average won’t make you an Amazon Sales Rank queen for a day, but they’ll be a far more significant benefit to your household budget. If you work hard and add another ten books then another and keep doing the sorts of things that generate that 40 copies per week in sales for each one, you’re looking at a successful business career as a professional writer.

That’s the sort of thing that Kris has done for a long time and why PG believes what she says about how she’s done it is worth considering.

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When Reality Kicks Back

31 March 2017

From author Sarah A. Hoyt:

Well, yesterday this was doing the rounds of our circles: Sales, Earnings Fell at PRH in 2016.

First of all, what doesn’t this mean?  It doesn’t mean Random Penguin is in serious trouble.  Not yet.  It doesn’t mean the entire edifice of traditional publishing is going away, either.

Look, at this point, just like Hollywood is mostly supported by foreign releases of the movies that don’t do too well here, traditional publishing is owned and propped up by European media houses who, if I read the situation right, don’t even understand how obsolete they’re becoming on this side of the pond.

. . . .

I think the European overlords of publishing houses have no fricking clue what is going on with reading here.  Note that all the official publications still lie about it.  And the trend is masked with things like the adult coloring book thing, which has kept Barnes and Noble afloat for the last 10 years or so.  We went in before Christmas, looking for something for Robert.  We found it.  It was a book of Drawing prompts.

In fact, the part of Barnes and Noble that is still books is mostly what I would call “novelty books” — drawing prompts, writing prompts, ten things you can do to make your house smell better this afternoon, and adult coloring books.  A LOT of adult coloring books.  By comparison the fiction section, let alone the science fiction section, was almost impossible to find and paltry.

Which is okay.  I mean for years I went to Barnes and Noble and the only thing I bought were the sort of Barnes and Noble Published books like “ten tales of knights and dragons.”  Only of course, now that’s not such a good business, because all that stuff is on the net.  And their fiction still disappoints me, which is why I started buying from Amazon the year it started up, when it sold only books.  Because books were published that I wanted to read, they just didn’t get SHELVED at my Barnes and Noble.  Which is why now that the coloring book thing is receding, B & N posted a loss (I think 16%) OVER CHRISTMAS.

But hold on to that “Books were being published.  They just weren’t shelving them in my Barnes and Noble so I could buy them.”

Because that’s what this post is about.  Reality and the limits of manipulating it.

Barnes and Noble isn’t going away tomorrow, there are fifty shades of bankruptcy in the west before you even have to face you shat the bed and should change approaches.  They’re not close to that yet, or if they are they think they can fix it with more cowbe– toys.  And “lifetsyle” gifts like mugs and reading lights (not needed since I got the backlit kindle.  Never mind.) Yes, I believe they will eventually go the way of Borders, and it will be sudden and terrible when it happens, but I don’t think we’re close to it yet.  On the other hand I could be optimistic.  I’ve been so in the past.

The publishers are even less going away tomorrow, because frankly, the non-fiction side is still very profitable and besides they get money from Europe.  Mind you some of their lines might disappear with an earthshattering kaboom very suddenly, and I’ve heard rumors that better connected people than I expect it “in the next five years.”  Could be.  Could not be.  I don’t know.  Indie has moved both faster and slower than I expected.  The establishment has certain resources, including money to weather slow periods (which they don’t seem to realize is now permanent) and a lot of magazines and papers willing to do its bidding so it seems like it will recover TOMORROW.

. . . .

First let me take you to a time far away, where there were no mega bookstores.  No Borders, no Barnes and Noble, none of the others, either.  The biggest ones were two or three branches of a bookstore in a big city.

These businesses were managed the way such things are managed.  You hired people who like books.  You eventually promoted them to managers.  And then you had managers who liked books.

To communicate with these people who loved books, you had book reps who loved books. I met some of these before the great layoff.  These people read the books and pushed them at the bookstores with attention to “Well, old Joe who has a bookstore at the back of his feed store in rural Colorado has done pretty well for science fiction in the past.  So, this book I just read which knocked my socks off will interest him.”

The system worked pretty well.  Look, no one was going to get massively rich from running a bookstore.  And writers still worked on a hit or miss basis.  But there was always the possibility of a surprise bestseller.  You might not appeal amazingly to your publisher, and you might stand outside the narrative they’re pushing, but if you’re a fan and you love the genre you’re writing in, well, some rep or even a bookstore owner might read it, love it, and handsell it to everyone, and word of mouth spreads…  So, in a way writers could sell to the public bypassing gatekeepers.

This didn’t make the gatekeepers happy for several reasons, the first being that after several mergers the houses behaved like normal corporations (which could be titled “death by bureaucracy”) and so an editor got incentives to accurately forecast how a book would sell.  Yes, your career could, justly, be ruined by giving millions to an author who no longer has a book in him and who writes something pathetically poor, but it could also be ruined because that book you bought for $5k had a runaway bestseller run with a hundred reprints, because it threw all the schedule out, and why didn’t you foresee this?

Link to the rest at Sarah A. Hoyt

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

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