Archive for category Publishing
All righty, so last time in Real Writers Don’t Self-Publish we talked about a lot of myths that surround publishing in general and I promised to delve deeper into this subject. I hope, at the very least, y’all walked away with one core understanding about traditional publishing.
Traditional publishing measures one thing and one thing only…commercial viability.
Granted, this often means the author is professional and the writing is outstanding…but that’s isn’t always the case. Some works are published for the sole reason that they will sell a certain amount of copies (refer to Snookie’s memoir). Additionally some of the greatest works of our time are not coming to market (initially) through legacy presses (refer to The Martian).
But here’s the deal. While we certainly don’t have to be leggy-pressed to be “real” writers, self-publishing is no panacea.
The hard truth is there is a lot of junk being published. There are too many people who are so in love with the idea of calling themselves “published authors” that they take shortcuts, and I feel this is likely what irritates many professionals (especially since what this group lacks in skill and talent they tend to more than make up for in mass marketing).
But, the dangerous idea comes when we cut off our nose to spite our face.
We are SO scared that we are going to get lumped in with the folks who, frankly, should just increase processing speed by deleting Word off their hard drives, that we sit around believing we aren’t any good unless the Legacy Gods reach down from
Olympus New York and give us their blessing.
NY is not going to give you (or me) a writing career. We have to hustle. Self-publishing actually has a lot of benefits not only for writers, but for traditional publishers as well.
Really, I Mean It
In my post The Ugly Truth About Publishing I explained how the consignment model worked and how mega-stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble obliterated the bookstore landscape. We discussed the terrible consequences writers have endured because of these companies’ greed.
Borders is now a memory and, trust me, Barnes and Noble isn’t far behind. They’re succumbing to the effects of their own avarice. Having a megastore on every corner was a sound business model…until everyone began shopping on-line.
If Barnes & Noble survives (which I highly doubt because, to date, they have not listened to my advice to SAVE them😛 ) they aren’t going to offer writers all that much of an advantage. These days, their stores are few and far between meaning there are fewer point-of-sales locations than ever.
The remaining stores resemble a department store more than a bookstore. They look like a Starbucks, a Hallmark, a Radio Shack, a Tower records, a Blockbuster and a Toys-R-Us had a baby…oh and there are some books, too.
It’s almost an ironic homage to all stores/industries first plundered by the megastore.
You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.
Btw, that was WAY cooler before Amazon started doing it to them. Anyway…
This transition has a huge impact on all authors because bookstores no longer are the best place for discoverability. Gone are the days where most readers found what they wanted to read by browsing a bookstore. Amazon has done a stellar job of spoiling us and training us to rely on algorithms to help us choose.
People who bought this, also bought THIS.
This means the remaining points of distribution—Walmart, Costco, Sam’s, airport bookstores, drug stores and grocery stores—are the only common points of sale and they only carry a scarce fraction of available titles (and those are almost always established brands guaranteed to sell—you know, “real” writers😛 ).
The biggest advantage legacy press had was distribution, and in a world not yet shopping on-line? That used to be a big deal. Now?
For the first-time novelist or the novelist who’s yet to be a big brand? Not the big deal it used to be simply because shelf space is finite (and only for a short time) and brick-and-mortar stores are going under and the new brick-and-mortars are owned by
The Borg Amazon.
The remaining stores (the few indie bookstores that survived) are generally very small, which means limited inventory. By the time we subtract the classics which will always be a staple and the mega-authors who are guaranteed to sell? *cough Stephen King*
We don’t have a lot of space left for anyone else.
What Does This Mean?
In my opinion, the author career path is evolving. Traditional’s ability to distribute is still a pretty big deal, but due to market changes, NY can now be far smarter/surgical about how they choose. They need to be picky, especially now when shelf space is more limited than ever.
In the old days, a publisher took on a huge risk hoping a work would resonate with audiences and sell.
Now? They really don’t need to. They can simply look to what is doing well in the indie world then come in and help develop that work/author on the next level.
Try to go through an airport without seeing The Martian on a newsstand.
I feel this new trend also allows us to gain a greater diversity of works. Before we could get realtime feedback what audiences were loving, legacy presses were forced into a lot of guess work. They would spot a trend (Twilight) and then ride that trend until the sparkly vampire was beaten to death. Now? They can capitalize on what I am calling The Dark Horse Effect.
What is The Dark Horse Effect?
The dark horse is the outlier no one saw coming. It’s the candidate or competitor about whom little is known but unexpectedly wins. Instead of NY trying to create lighting in a bottle, now they just have to catch it.
It is impossible for NY to capitalize on the dark horse author without self-publishing. Why? Because by definition a dark horse is no one anyone expects to win, and last I checked? NY wasn’t into that.
Self-published/indie authors have much more freedom to experiment with writing that would have been patently rejected ten years ago. I know I keep mentioning The Martian but it is a stellar example because it breaks all the rules.
Too Much Science
First of all, I’ve read the book and it is very science heavy. I could see an agent going cross-eyed and telling Weir to cut all the talk about chemistry, that audiences would be bored. Why? Because usually that is great advice.
But had Weir (in a parallel universe) sought after approval from the Legacy Gods, they very likely would have given advice that wrecked the exact reason this book is so awesome.
Content Published on a Blog is No Good for Publication
For years (and even today) we will hear agents say that any fiction we publish on our blog is no good and not worthy of publication. The Martian, however, shows this is not always the case.
Weir was originally a programmer who left AOL and decided to pursue his childhood dream of becoming a writer…but failed. He couldn’t get an agent, let alone a publisher. So he then left writing and returned to programming, but then decided he would still write his story and offer it on his personal blog where anyone could read it for free.
Initially, his story flopped, but he kept at it fine-tuning and doing more research while honing his writing skills.
It paid off. BIG.
Eventually, word of the story spread and readers started requesting an e-version (the PDF was too hard to download) so Weir uploaded it into Kindle and sold it for .99. Within a few months The Martian rocketed to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list and an agent contacted him.
Soon, Random House called and wanted to make it into a hardcover. Within days, Hollywood called and asked for movie rights. Weir scored a book deal and a movie deal in the same week.
Crowd-Sourcing is Bad
I would imagine that many within Legacy Land would have broken out in hives at the thought of a book being written using crowd-sourcing. But that is precisely why The Martian ended up being so successful.
According to Business Insider:
“Chemists actually pointed out some problems in early drafts,” Weir said. He was able to go back and correct some of the chemistry that’s crucial for Watney’s survival.
Fans of the work were eager to be part of the collaborative process, even if it simply meant helping out with the facts. The writer of that Guardian article blasting self-publishing was adamant that “real” writers possess the decency to make mistakes in private.
But Weir wasn’t afraid to get it wrong in public…and it paid off BIG TIME.
Not everyone has the rhino skin to be corrected publicly, but if we do? We grow up way faster.
Breaking Making the Rules
What all this means is that a work that breaks all the “rules” for what NY might have been looking for in a query letter goes out the window the second they are able to see what readers really want…in sales figures.
NY didn’t have to guess that a science-heavy-crowd-sourced-geek-fest previously offered for free “might” be a winner. They could see it for themselves.
I’m also happy Weir didn’t care about being a “real” writer.
As much as self-publishing gets flack, it’s allowing legacy publishers to reap high profits in a world where that’s harder and harder to do. It’s removing much of the guess work out of what readers like and want which helps NY’s bottom line.
It’s also freeing up writers to do what we do best…get creative. We can experiment. Try new things. Adjust, adapt, grow and mature instead of slaving away on one draft for a decade hoping someone in NY will notice.
Additionally, successes like Weir’s prove that a writer can create a platform of hardcore fans before the work is ever published. The single greatest reason authors fail to ever make a living is they can’t escape the gravitational pull of The Black Hole of Obscurity. Now? We can.
The Martian wasn’t released into a vacuum (*bada bump snare*), rather Weir created a core group of die hard fans using…his blog. There was no high-priced marketing campaign or promotion (which doesn’t work as well as writers believe). Rather, it began as a small grassroots fandom that grew roots and
No ads, no algorithmic alchemy, no giveaways, no contests, no relentless blog tours, no slaving away on social media instead of writing. Hmmm. Wonder if he read my book Rise of the Machines? 😛 #heywhynot
Suffice all this to say that this notion that we are only a “real” writer if we publish a certain way is ridiculous. But, we find what fits for us and our work. We try things, we get creative and who knows?
We might just be the next dark horse😉 .
Are you ready for a perfect storm?
What are your thoughts? Personally, I love this new renaissance and it always thrills me to see how creative you guys can be. I’m also a helpless pawn on Amazon—the crack-meth-heroin dealer of books. I am now listening to three audiobooks, reading one novel and another novella on my Kindle. Yes, I am ADD but I do finish😛 #donotjudgeme
I am also completely spoiled that when I find an author I love? I can buy that writer’s entire backlist…probably far too easily.
I LOVE hearing from you guys!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.
March’s WINNER: DK WALKER! Please send your 5000 word WORD document (New Times Roman and one-inch margins double-spaced) to kristen at wana intl dot com and CONGRATULATIONS!
Before we go, I want to give you a heads up especially if you are thinking on attending a conference.
I’m holding my ever-popular Your Story in a Sentence class. Can you tell what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t? There might be a huge plot problem. This also helps if you are ever going to query or pitch an agent. The first ten signups get their log-line shredded by MOI for FREE.
Also speaking of FREE, I’d like to mention again the new class I am offering!
How and WHY are we using FREE!?
Making Money with FREE! As a bonus for this class, my friend Jack Patterson who’s so far sold over 150,000 books to come and teach us how to ROCK the newsletter. This is in excess of two hours of training and the recording (as always) comes with purchase.
Well, I figure I have one more day to drunkenly torch my platform. Sad thing is I don’t drink. I am apparently this stupid when sober😛 . Actually I am writing this as a follow up for my rant from the day before yesterday, because knowledge is power.
Writers need this. Your friends and families need this. Readers need this. The more people get how this industry works, the more everyone can start working together for everyone’s benefit.
In my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World, I go into a LOT more detail and I highly recommend you get a copy if you don’t have one. I spend the first chapters of the book explaining how the various forms of publishing work so you can make an educated decision.
All types of publishing have corresponding strengths and weaknesses and this is a decision only the writer can make. Not all writers are suited for self-publishing. Not all books are good for traditional.
And so on.
But today, dear newbies. I am going to take you on a tour behind the curtain. Also for those who are NOT newbies, feel free to pass this to family in a “Take Your Clueless Friends Who Think You Will Make a Million Dollars as Soon as You Publish To WORK Day.”
Nuts and Bolts of Publishing
Publishing is a very old business that has not updated its business model since the biggest traffic snarl in NYC involved a runaway horse carriage colliding with a drunken fish monger. In the early days of publishing in order to encourage bookstores to carry books, publishers invented what was known as the consignment model.
Publishers would guesstimate how many books would sell, send them to the merchant with the promise that, whatever did NOT sell could be returned at no cost. The merchant only had to pay for books that sold.
Hint: NO OTHER BUSINESS TODAY DOES THIS.
Can you imagine a car manufacturer sending out fleets of new cars that customers could test drive all day long. Run up mileage, spill drinks in the console, but then if they didn’t sell the dealership could say, “Nah, we’re good. Can you send us different models from another designer? We really dig that sleek crossover.”
Because often that is what happens with books. People use bookstores like a freaking library. They go into the adjacent Starbucks with a stack of books, read to their heart’s content and then leave a stack of books for the clerk to put away.
Now the spines are cracked, the pages wrinkled and no one is going to buy that book, but the bookstore isn’t out anything because they can rip the covers off and send them back. Ultimately the writer is the one who takes the hit. Kind of the publisher but really the writer as we are about to see.
Because bookstores want to provide a “browsing experience” they don’t want to rely on the new and far more efficient way of doing business, which is POD (print on demand). They like having stock to show off, which of course they do because they are not really out anything.
How Writers Are Paid
Why I kind of derailed into a rant Tuesday was because there are so many things that get presented as “blessings” for writers when in fact, they are benevolently killing us. They are undermining us and making it harder and harder to make a living wage. We can’t criticize these sacred cows lest we look like jerks.
You ever wonder why people just assume that a published author is rich? That is because this used to be a profession that did rather well. Granted it was easier to be elected to congress than write for a living, but these “good ideas to sell more books” have eroded the Author Middle Class and created a Publishing Third World Economy.
You know what a marker of a third world economy is? My degree is in political economy. In a third world country wealth is concentrated at the top. There is little to NO middle class and the vast majority are working poor or poverty level.
If you peruse my blog from the other day, I mentioned the ways we are paid best (digital and new books). We get a royalty. Anything used? We make no money. But let’s explore a bit further…
Back in the days before the mega bookstore, there was a very strong Author Middle Class. This author wasn’t a gazillionaire, but he did really well writing for a living. The reason was that a smaller store like B. Dalton often carried an author’s backlist. If you are old enough to remember browsing these small stores, you might even remember that factor coloring your decision.
How I ended up hooked on any number of SERIES was that the bookstores stocked the series. I didn’t want a standalone book. If I fell in love with an author or characters, I wanted to be able to keep reading.
What this meant was that writers weren’t being paid royalties from ONE book, but many books. Even if the author didn’t write series, if the author had multiple titles, odds were pretty good that the store ordered those, so even with single titles, a browsing reader could be assured they could get more than one title from THAT author.
But there was a downside…for the reader. Books were more expensive. The store was not the size of an aircraft hangar and had no place to buy a frappucino and good luck being able to buy a figurine of a chubby cat reading Shakespeare.
The MegaStore is GREAT for READERS…and Writers of COURSE
So then Borders and B&N came on the scene. I still remember how they were lauded. How they were going to improve literacy because books would be so much more affordable! They were “cultural centers” and “bookish hubs”. Writers will get so much more “exposure.” Does any of that sound familiar? Refer to that @$$hat article I was ranting about.
But there was a problem. There is no free lunch. Those “deep discounts” came at a cost…to the writers. In order to discount the books the way they do, the mega stores don’t stock like the old indie bookstores unless an author is a household name guaranteed to sell.
Megastores are in the business of moving high volume. That is how they give the consumer the discount. Books, for the first time in history, had a far shorter shelf life than ever before.
Instead of books remaining in the store and giving the writer time to cultivate a fan base, the covers were ripped off and the books pulped.
As a consequence? The mid-list author (Author Middle Class) was nearly wiped out. Authors who’d made a very good living previously had to return to the regular workforce (I.e. teaching) because they no longer could live off their writing income.
I had a friend of mine who won a Nebula Award in science fiction. She went from making a regular income off ELEVEN titles, to making income off ONE title at a time.
Even though she was a respected and award-winning author, she had to give up writing full time (until Amazon).
***This was all until Amazon, by the way. Many of these authors who were driven to poverty actually now make more money than they ever did traditionally published and they no longer have to be pillaged by megastores. Which is why I get pissy when people act like Amazon is the devil and bookstores are so awesome.
Megastores make money with volume and offering the newest shiny. But the problem is that books often are like fine wine. I said wine, not whine😉. They need time to mature.
But the problem was that the very literary ecosystem that helped launch unknown books like The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood into legendary status…was destroyed. Traded for
beads frappucinos. Borders and Barnes & Noble obliterated the small bookstore and took with it the earning ability of many writers.
The mega-bestsellers did VERY well. Ergo my reference to Publishing Third World. Wealth was redistributed and concentrated at the top and the middle class was eradicated.
If you do not have an on-line platform, then Browsing Roulette is about the best you can hope for. But those spots in a bookstore are all negotiated in a writer’s contract. Those front slots on a table are premium real estate.
Same with displays. Ironically, though, the authors with the most selling power often get the best displays (remember the volume thing). But, George R.R. Martin is probably going to sell books. The writers who need that placement the most are the least likely to get it.
This isn’t personal. It’s business.
If I came out with a novel, I am going to sell a heck of a lot less than George R.R. Martin. Well, at least five or six copies less😛 .
In seriousness, though it makes sense to display your heavy hitters. Problem is then that the newer writer no one knows then better hope her last name falls at the fortuitous eye-level because she will be spine-out on a shelf.
And if the time runs out and no sale? Off with that cover and the book is pulped.
Before I became a writer I bought books everywhere. Because it was not my profession I guess I really just never put any thought into how that writer was paid. If I bought a book at a used bookstore and it was new, I assumed it was overstock. I had no idea what a remainder was (more on that in a moment).
I’d also watched movies and heard this term “advance” tossed around as if it meant money rained from the sky. In fact, as a new writer, I dreamed of all kinds of ways to spend my million dollar advance.
Advances are not free money. They are essentially a payday loan. It is money loaned to the author against the money eventually earned in royalties.
So if an author is given a $20,000 advance, he is not paid another dime until that book earns over $20,000.
Herein lies the pickle.
If an author doesn’t “earn out” the advance, odds are she will not be given another book deal. So, if you get that $20,000 and the book makes $19,700? No more deals. That’s why BIG advances seem like a good thing, but can actually wreck a career. It’s far easier to earn out a $20,000 advance than a $90,000 one.
Writers don’t have to pay back the advance, but if it doesn’t “earn out” it means the writer is not a wise investment for the publisher so the odds are not good for the author getting another book deal. Depending on the author or the book, they might get another deal. But with newer authors? Probably not. And first-time authors? Forget about an advance. Not happening unless your name is Kardashian.
This was a really big deal before the digital age because traditional publishing WAS the only game in town. So if an author didn’t make her quota? Game over.
These days, advances are pretty much a thing of the past. Any money most writers will make are going to come from US buying books from them.
One can tell how much confidence a publisher has in a book (author) by the print run. Low print runs mean the publisher is being conservative to hedge losses…but low print runs mean the writer doesn’t make as much. A standard print run for a new unknown author is 10,000 books. But traditional tends to limit authors to one book a year so even if an author makes $2 per book, that is $20,000 before taxes.
Yes, J.K. Rowling is a billionaire but she is not the norm.
***Btw, all of this is VERY unscientific and very broad strokes to give y’all the gist.
This isn’t BAD for the new writer because it is way easier to sell out that 10,000 and then she will get a bigger run the next book and the next as her brand grows (if she doesn’t starve in the meantime).
However, higher print runs? We are in the same deal with advances. If you don’t sell out your print run, the remaining copies are remaindered.
There are ways writers can buy a portion of their remainders to sell by hand and they can get a far lower royalty off remaindered copies that are then sold through wholesale outlets and used bookstores.
Usually if you see a new book at a used bookstore and it looks like this (pic below)? It is a remaindered copy. That’s why yes, I get the Doctrine of First Sale and that used bookstores are not doing anything “illegal.” But don’t assume that a writer was paid a full royalty the first go. That isn’t always the case.
Yes, this is a great fabulous discount for the reader, but when I see this? My heart feels heavy and sad for the author. That is why in my last post I said, YES feel free to buy used but if you can, please see if you can buy new from the author. The reason is that those sales can make the difference in that author earning out the advance, selling out a print run and getting their next book contract.
Because used bookstores do not favor self-published and indie authors. Most of their stock will be traditionally published authors so you (readers) supporting who you like with a new sale becomes far more important to that writer’s future and career.
Traditionally published authors are often paid yearly. Sometimes quarterly. That is negotiated. It is why you have an agent. So whatever the author makes, Vinnie the
Fish Agent makes sure the publisher pays, then takes 15% (pretty standard). Then the writer is subjected to self-employment taxes, but with all this “exposure” from the megastore the writer might qualify for food stamps.
So writers are paid like farmers. Let your family know that your down payment on the yacht might be delayed.
I get that a lot of people buy used because they are on a budget. Been there so *fist bump*. You can still support writers in meaningful ways.
Even if you buy new, there is another way you can support writers you love. Write a REVIEW. A GOOD ONE.
As a writer I have a personal policy. If I can’t say something good, I shut up. Mainly because I AM far more picky about story being a writer and an editor but also this business is brutal. If we are not supporting each other? Who will? Because our families don’t get us. Our significant others might. Our kids think we are nuts. So I only leave glowing reviews. But that is me. Writers shouldn’t eat their young.
For READERS. Reviews are more important now than ever before, especially for the indie and self-published author. The reason is that with the change in the publishing paradigm, the slush pile (unfortunately) has been dumped into the reader’s lap. There are a lot of bad books out there. But even then, that really isn’t all that big of a problem.
Want to know the bigger problem?
There are a lot of good books out there.
With the Internet and social media and the explosion of books there is SO MUCH content. This means consumers are overwhelmed with choices. Reviews help writers sell books because if readers see a book with no reviews or five reviews versus a similar title with thirty reviews? Who will they choose? Additionally writers gain access to promotional tools like Bookbub, but can ONLY do this with a minimum number of reviews.
Instead of sending me an e-mail about how much my book changed your life? Put it on Amazon and change MINE!
Readers are essential to our success beyond just the sale. If you love our books, your promotion means a thousand times more than any ad I could pay for. Ads and marketing don’t sell books. Never did and never will. Only thing that sells books is word of mouth.
Beloved reader? You would be shocked how much regular people will pay attention to you. That review is worth your weight in gold to me for a number of reasons. Humans don’t like being first. So unless a couple of you are brave and review? My book can sit with NO reviews and it is then unlikely to sell.
Think about a shelf with ONE item. It freaks us out. There is only ONE. Is it poison?
Secondly, when you review us, Amazon favors our books in the algorithms meaning more people SEE our book. More people SEE it, odds are I will sell more copies. In the on-line world YOU have the power to get US that awesome front of the store book placement. The more reviews the better the algorithm. Better algorithm, more views. More views, more sales, more sales—>we make a best-seller LIST!
You can also use your social media because it means more than ours.
Tweet a picture of our book. Put it on Facebook. People in your network ARE noticing. Peer review and approval is paramount in the digital age. And don’t support your favorite author on Goodreads as a first choice (AMAZON reviews are better). The only people hanging out on Goodreads for the most part are other writers and book trolls.
Support us on your regular Facebook page or Instagram or Twitter. Because when you post a great new book you LOVED your regular friends see that. When they get stranded in an Urgent Care or an airport? What will they remember? THAT BOOK. They won’t be on Goodreads. Trust me.
So there is your year’s end peek behind the curtain. Sorry (again) it was so long but this is meant as a reference/guide. Readers, we love you. Honest. It is why we are so stupid to work for free so much. This is a labor of love in many ways. Writers, I hope this helps you understand your profession better and maybe even “get” why I was so ticked off the other day.
Happy New Year! I love all of you very much. So NO, your writer friend is NOT YET a millionaire, but you can help MAKE HER ONE😀.
I love hearing from you!
What are your thoughts? Feelings? Are your eyes wide open? Would you like to add anything?
I love hearing from you!
Make SURE you sign up for my upcoming classes! This is part of how I fund my plans for global domination. Purchase a class! Buy a book! OR ignore all that follows but DAMN sure buy all your books NEW or I WILL FIND YOU ….
Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International. Your friends and family can get you something you need for Christmas. Social Media for Writers, Blogging for Writers, and Branding for Authors.
Also, I have one craft class listed. Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.
Enough of that…
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.