Reality 301 With @heidicullinan

This post by Heidi Cullinan originally appeared on her blog on 5/15/13.

Tonight Twitterverse roared with outrage over Kendall Grey’s post on Authors for Life where she bemoans the fact that sometimes, publishing is hard. Grey spent four years writing and a great deal of money and effort promoting an urban fantasy trilogy; it tanked. She wrote an erotic novel she describes as a “piece of trash” in two months, spent much less in promotion and gave it much less effort, and that book made some decent money. She’s angry that she wasn’t rewarded for her “beautiful, artistic” book and that by selling out she made money. Grey writes:

I know it’s depressing to hear that in order to find success, you may have to compromise your principles. I’ve come to grips with the fact that in the current market, trashy smut sells, and urban fantasy does not. Tough shit for me. If you want to sell books, you have to feed the market what it craves.

Grey goes on to state that

once you’ve done your part to feed the reader machine, and you get paid ridiculous amounts of money for publicly shaming yourself and lowering your standards, you’ll be armed with the power to write what you want.

I think the best place to start in response is to take a moment to acknowledge where this kind of selfish, angry thinking comes from, and like most things gone awry, it starts from something well-meaning. We could build several acres of affordable housing out of the stacks and stacks of books, blogs, and inspirational memes urging writers to write from the heart, to follow your vision, to let your voice ring out and be heard. The problem is that almost always after that advice comes the promise that should a writer (or any artist, really) follow this path of purity, success and happiness will unquestionably follow.

It’s not that this promise isn’t true, exactly. It’s that for far, far too many writers “success and happiness” gets equated with “lots of money and fame.” Here’s the reality of making art: the brass ring is BRASS, not gold. To believe even for a moment that simply producing the work of one’s heart means one will now be a bestseller is beyond naive. To proceed as if commercial success is due because of one’s effort or expenditure is embarrassingly foolhardy. But most of all, publicly ridiculing readers, especially one’s own, is a hanging offense, and anyone who commits it will very quickly feel the cinch of a brutal noose.


Read the full post on Heidi Cullinan’s blog. Note that it contains strong language.


Shocking WSJ Discovery: Higher Prices=Lower Volume!

This piece by Barry Eisler originally appeared as a guest post on A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing on 8/4/15.

Barry Eisler here. Joe, thanks as always for the guest slot. I was going to mock this Wall Street Journal article somewhere, and there’s no better place than A Newbie’s Guide for that…

So okay, today the Wall Street Journal ran a piece headlined, “E-Book Sales Fall After New Amazon Contracts: Prices Rise, but Revenue Takes a Hit.” The article is behind a paywall, but you can access it by cutting and pasting the headline into your browser and clicking on the result of the search.

I just want to make sure I’m the first to congratulate the Wall Street Journal on its shocking discovery of a correlation between higher prices and lower demand. And, while I’m no economist, I’d like to humbly propose that the WSJ call its discovery something like, “The Demand Curve.” If this doesn’t win the newspaper a Pulitzer, I have one more suggestion: an even more radically new article on how a round object fastened to an axle can work as something called…a wheel.

Apologies for the snark, but where else but in publishing could a notion like “higher prices lead to lower revenues” even be controversial, let alone newsworthy? But the publishing industry is notoriously special, and Joe has been beating this drum for years. Five years ago, he wrote:

Naturally, people would rather pay less for something than more. And in a digital world, like we’re rapidly becoming, consumers have shown consistently in other forms of media that they place less value on downloads than on physical products.

When companies price digital content too high, consumers respond by pirating that content. That’s the ultimate in “devaluing.”


Read the full post on A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.


The Creative Apocalypse That Wasn’t

This article by Steven Johnson originally appeared on The New York Times Magazine site on 8/19/15.

In the digital economy, it was supposed to be impossible to make money by making art. Instead, creative careers are thriving — but in complicated and unexpected ways.

On July 11, 2000, in one of the more unlikely moments in the history of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Orrin Hatch handed the microphone to Metallica’s drummer, Lars Ulrich, to hear his thoughts on art in the age of digital reproduction. Ulrich’s primary concern was a new online service called Napster, which had debuted a little more than a year before. As Ulrich explained in his statement, the band began investigating Napster after unreleased versions of one of their songs began playing on radio stations around the country. They discovered that their entire catalog of music was available there for free.

Ulrich’s trip to Washington coincided with a lawsuit that Metallica had just filed against Napster — a suit that would ultimately play a role in the company’s bankruptcy filing. But in retrospect, we can also see Ulrich’s appearance as an intellectual milestone of sorts, in that he articulated a critique of the Internet-­era creative economy that became increasingly commonplace over time. ‘‘We typically employ a record producer, recording engineers, programmers, assistants and, occasionally, other musicians,’’ Ulrich told the Senate committee. ‘‘We rent time for months at recording studios, which are owned by small-­business men who have risked their own capital to buy, maintain and constantly upgrade very expensive equipment and facilities. Our record releases are supported by hundreds of record companies’ employees and provide programming for numerous radio and television stations. … It’s clear, then, that if music is free for downloading, the music industry is not viable. All the jobs I just talked about will be lost, and the diverse voices of the artists will disappear.’’

The intersection between commerce, technology and culture has long been a place of anxiety and foreboding. Marxist critics in the 1940s denounced the assembly-line approach to filmmaking that Hollywood had pioneered; in the ’60s, we feared the rise of television’s ‘‘vast wasteland’’; the ’80s demonized the record executives who were making money off violent rap lyrics and ‘‘Darling Nikki’’; in the ’90s, critics accused bookstore chains and Walmart of undermining the subtle curations of independent bookshops and record stores.


Read the full article on The New York Times Magazine site.


The Art of Asking – Why Amanda Palmer is So Divisive and So Important

This post by Dan Holloway originally appeared on his site on 11/19/14.

In the comfortable bubble of liberal, left-leaning indie arts land it’s hard to state a genuine opinion that will cause much more than a chinny collective nod and hemp-gloved circle backslap. Nigel Farage? Call him dangerous, call him toxic but don’t call him an imbecile because we all agree that perpetuating ableist language is simply playing the UKIP game. Amazon versus Hachette? Come on, Amazon AND Hachette are monsters of equal maw!

But there is one thing guaranteed to split any collegial campfire circle into a bicameral mob. Declare your love of Amanda Palmer. Which is something I do. On a regular basis. Usually accompanied by a plea to my creative friends to watch her amazing TED talk The Art of Asking, and now the even more amazing book of the same name. Half the people who comment will share “Amanda Palmer saved my life” stories while the other half will steam in with their “Amanda Palmer makes me want to barf then block you” ire.

There were so many times while I was reading The Art of Asking when I had to put down the book and think through what I had read and when I concluded that the problem of Amanda Palmer is more than just that. It is the problem of the independent arts scene as a whole – or, at least, of the independent writing world that I know so well and those parts of the independent art, music, and theatre world I have come to be on reasonably tea drinking terms with.


Read the full post on Dan Holloway’s site.


Kindle Royalty Payment Changes Roundup

Amazon has recently announced a major overhaul of how it will calculate royalties to be paid on Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Select Lending Library borrows.

Since most authors seem perplexed at how the new system works, and will affect them, here’s a roundup of reactions from people who’ve done some analysis.

Over on the Melville House blog, the outlook on these changes is gloomy:

When Kindle Unlimited was first formed, it offered royalties to authors as long as book borrowers read 10% of the text. Now authors are likely to make less money each time the book’s borrowed, unless his or her readers complete a considerable chunk of the text (or even–gasp–read the whole thing).

Trent Evans isn’t so sure, and he lays out a very detailed and intricate financial analysis to back up his theory that the changes could be a good thing for authors, since they will very likely force authors to stop slicing and dicing their books into much shorter novellas in order to get more borrows:

The more I think about this, the more I suspect this change is almost wholly focused on combating the rampant gaming of KU that’s been going on. The absurd ease with which KU (in its current form) can be ruthlessly gamed is one of the many reasons why I stayed far away (after my initial experiment with it).


C.E. Kilgore is in agreement with Evans on the “gaming” aspect, but her overall opinion of the changes is still negative and she calls Amazon’s sample payout scenarios into question:

Now, being paid per page means that the 25 page novellas filling the pool are going to be earning significantly less than their 250 page swimming-buddies. But, exactly how significantly less isn’t being honestly represented.

In [Amazon’s] redonk [payout calculation] example, they are giving each page a $10 worth. Excuse me for a moment while I LOL at that. Authors, please – stop right there and don’t even get any ideas about that actually happening. No way is Amazon EVER going to pay out anything close to $10 per page.

A more reasonably achievable figure is 1 penny per page (but I believe it will end up being something more like 0.006 cents – 0.008 cents per page ‘ i.e. not even a penny per page) payouts.


Read the different perspectives and analyses before making up your mind about the likely impact on your own Kindle books.


How Much Are Words Worth?

This post by Scott Carney originally appeared on his blog on 4/27/15.

Writers tend to keep their thoughts in the realm of ideas rather than calculate the seemingly mundane matter of the mechanics of the trade. However, a few months ago I sat down in a Chinese restaurant with a friend of mine who writes for the New Yorker and we agreed to leave our narrative musings to the side and think about practicalities. We were going to try to figure out how much the printed word is worth in America today.

We wanted to calculate how many feature stories the top magazines in America assign every year, and how much they typically pay their writers for the assignments. The list was only going to be for the top publications in America–the ones that pay between $1.50-$5 per word and that comprise the top tier of journalism. These are the magazines that line the shelves of airport bookstores everywhere and the ones that we write for pretty regularly. Think The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, Atlantic, Wired, Men’s Journal, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Vanity Fair, Mother Jones, O, The Atavist, and the dozen or so other magazines that sits on the tops of toilet tanks and the tables of dentist offices from Seattle to Orlando.

It was back of the envelope math at best, but as far as either one of us could determine, it was the first time anyone had tried to figure out how big the pie was for long form freelance writing in America. There are hundreds of amazing writers in the country, delving into stories that drive the national conversation on everything from politics to the cult of celebrity to human rights abuses to cutting edge scientific and technological discoveries. These are the types of pieces that we make a living on, and ones that, frankly, we feel are important to write.

After ten minutes listing the average number of features in each magazine multiplied by the number of issues annually we had a number: 800. On average these stories would run at about 3000 words and pay $1.50 per word. It was only a ball-park estimate of the overall freelance writing market cap. But it was also a rather depressing one. Let me put this in bold so it stands out on the page.


Read the full post on Scott Carney’s blog.


10 Things Authors Learn The Hard Way…

This post by Diane Hall originally appeared on BDAILY on 5/25/15.

Writing workshops and books, professional advice, even Google, won’t answer every question an author may have. Some knowledge can only be gained by personal experience. The following list stems from genuine reports by authors I’ve either spoken to or worked with, across the globe. Individual points are not meant as sweeping statements; there may be a good portion of authors who have different outcomes and opinions. Nevertheless…

No one but you cares as much about your book

Agents, publishers and publicists – and especially readers – don’t have the same emotional investment as the author of a book. They might just as easily prefer another book on the same subject, or easily forget your title altogether; with over 14 million books to choose from, that yours will be the best, most unique book they’ve ever come across is unlikely. Dump the ego, and work on enticing them to look at your book in the first place. Help them to make their buying decision, don’t just assume that once seen, automatically sold.

Traditional publishing is not better than self-publishing

Yes, TP has a lot going for it, but it also has its downsides. Sacrifices to become a TP author may include your book no longer being recognisable to you, little control over the book’s aesthetics, a long, long time to market and vastly reduced royalties. That’s not to say self-publishing doesn’t have any cons; TP and SP are essentially just different ways to publish that should each be thoroughly investigated.

Read the full post on BDAILY.


Kindle Scout

This post by Polly Iyer originally appeared on The Blood-Red Pencil on 5/20/15.

My book, Indiscretion, has been on Amazon’s Kindle Scout program for an entire week as of today. It’s been on and off the “Hot and Trending” list, which I guess is natural. This is measured by how many people read the sample and nominate my book during a thirty-day period. I’ve done some promotion, but there’s a fine line between promo and overkill. I try to be cognizant of where that line is. That said, self-promotion has never been an easy fit for me.

So what is Kindle Scout, you ask? This is from the Kindle Scout website:

“Kindle Scout is reader-powered publishing for new, never-before-published books. It’s a place where readers help decide if a book gets published. Selected books will be published by Kindle Press and receive 5-year renewable terms, a $1,500 advance, 50% eBook royalty rate, easy rights reversions and featured Amazon marketing.”

Bloggers have debated the pros and cons of the program. From my point of view, the answer depends on where you are in the publishing world. I’ve self-published seven books with Amazon. The difference with Kindle Scout, besides the nice advance, unheard of for an indie writer, is the strength of Amazon’s marketing that I wouldn’t get otherwise.


Read the full post on The Blood-Red Pencil.


How to Price Your Work on Amazon

This post originally appeared on Writer’s Circle.

So you’ve decided to publish a book on Amazon (and hopefully read our helpful guide for doing so). Before those pages hit the presses – or the Kindles – you’ll need to price your work on Amazon, and we’re here with a bit of advice on finding the right price for your readers.

Think about your motive. This is a great tip from Publishers Weekly, which advises writers to think about the purpose of their book: readership or revenue? Ideally, of course, you could get both, but a lower price will likely earn more readers (e.g. people will be more willing to try a new e-book author when the price tag is only a buck or two) while a higher price could earn you more revenue. The latter is true, of course, especially if you already have an established fan base – but many new authors prefer to price on the lower side to attract new readers.

Consider paperback vs. e-book. E-books should not cost as much as paperback books, for two reasons: Firstly because fewer resources are needed to publish the work, and secondly because research shows that expensive e-books don’t sell well, according to Mill City Press. While paperbacks can easily find success priced above $10, e-books do best when priced between $2.99 and $9.99 – in fact, PBS says $3.99 seems to do really well.


Read the full post on Writer’s Circle.


May 2015 Author Earnings Report

This post originally appeared on Author Earnings in 5/15.

Welcome to the May 2015 Author Earnings Report. This is our sixth quarterly look at Amazon’s ebook sales, with data taken on over 200,000 bestselling ebooks. With each report over the past year and a half, we have come to see great consistency in our results, but there is always something new that surprises us. Often, it’s something we weren’t expecting, like the massive shadow industry of ISBN-less ebooks being sold, or the effect Kindle Unlimited has on title visibility. This time, we went into our report curious about one thing in particular. But we were still not prepared for what we found.

If you’ve been shopping for ebooks on Amazon lately, you may have seen this new addition to many ebook product pages:

Nelson Book

This announcement can be found on ebooks from several of the largest publishers, and it appears to serve as both an apology from Amazon and also a shifting of the blame for high ebook prices. Amazon has stated in the past that they believe ebooks should not cost more than $9.99. Self-published authors are no doubt familiar with this price constraint, as their royalties are cut in half if they price higher than this amount. But after a contentious and drawn-out negotiation with Hachette Book Group last year, Amazon relinquished the ability to discount ebooks with several publishers. Prices with these publishers are now set firmly by them.


Read the full report on Author Earnings.


Are You an Overworked Freelancer? 10 Key Moves to Avoid Burnout

This post by Carol Tice originally appeared on Make A Living Writing.

Many writers tell me they wish they could find even one client. But today, I want to talk about the other side of the coin.

Once you get rolling in freelance writing and word starts getting around about your talents, you can quickly find yourself overbooked, overworked, and exhausted.

I recently had a chat with freelance writer Alyssa Ast about this on my Facebook chat — she was getting overloaded, and her personal passion writing projects were sitting idle. She’s got a passel of young kids to care for, too.

And she was nearing her breaking point.


A tale of overwork

Here’s Alyssa’s story:

“Basically, things have taken off, which has left me working 16 hour days — and I don’t know how much longer I can keep it up.

“I’ve cut all of the small fish and narrowed it down to three well-paying clients– two full-time contracts and a part-time one. I don’t want to put all of my eggs in one basket [and cut down to one client], as the main breadwinner. We NEED my income.

“I refuse to outsource, because I don’t trust anyone to produce the quality I expect or my clients expect. I thought cutting out the small clients would help more than it has. I’ve scheduled everything out to a T, but as soon as I start to get my head above water, I get slammed again.

“How can I keep my sanity without losing my income? I am open to just about anything at this point.”

This is a good problem to have — you’re in demand! But we all need a personal life, too, and some downtime.

How can you turn this around and stop being an overworked freelancer? Here are my tips:


Read the full post, which includes specific tips for coping with burnout, on Make A Living Writing.


Should you be a full-time writer?

This post by Mary Robinette Kowal originally appeared on SFWA on 3/5/15.

A lot of writers have a goal of being a full time writer. I think there’s this image of your life continuing exactly as it is, except that now your job is writing. Sure, you know you won’t go into an office, but it will be so nice to have no demands on your time, except writing.

Yeah… so, about that.


Writers are freelancers.

As someone who has spent most of her adult life as a freelancer, let me speak to those of you who have conventional day jobs. How comfortable are you with not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from, or even how big it will be?

Being a freelancer means that you have to constantly be hustling to get work. You get big checks when you turn in projects and nothing in between. Royalties? Twice a year and unpredictable in size.

When you are not writing, you are unemployed.

If this idea makes you uncomfortable, think very carefully before quitting your day job.


Your quality of life will change

You no longer need to leave the house. You won’t see people unless you make the effort to do so. Ah…. solitude. At first, yes. It’s glorious. But if you are even a minimally social creature… it can get really isolating really fast.

If you are a midlist writer (likely), you will have less money for indulgences. You might have to move to somewhere less expensive. Or travel less. Or you might have to travel more to promote the book. The only thing that is certain is that your life will not look the same as it does with the regularity of a dayjob.


There is no guarantee you will sell the next book.


Read the full post on SFWA.


Which Authors Do Subscription Services Benefit?

This post by Dana Beth Weinberg originally appeared on Digital Book World (DBW) on 4/28/15.

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Subscriptions services may yet turn out to be a next game-changer in publishing, but for the moment that market is in a state of flux and expansion.

Oyster recently added an ebookstore loaded with Big Five titles, a move that could in turn bolster the subscription model, potentially attracting new readers and making the brand more competitive with Amazon. Scribd is steadily bulking up on audiobooks. Two major publishers added ebooks to new the multimedia subscription platform Playster in recent weeks. Meanwhile, Amazon continues to grow Kindle Unlimited yet continues to pay participating indie authors at rates similar to those that spurred grumblings late last year.

What do these services mean for authors? Since, on the one hand, ebook subscription providers typically pay authors less than an individual book sale, they could ultimately undercut authors’ earnings in a market where so few are “making it.” But on the other, subscription services may encourage readers to take risks on new authors, aiding certain authors’ discoverability over the longer term.


Read the full post on DBW.


Fighting With Both Hands

This post by David Gaughran originally appeared on his Let’s Get Digital site on 4/17/15.

This blog has been quieter than usual lately and I thought I should let you know what I’ve been doing.

I’m going to prattle on for quite a while; you might want to get comfortable (or head off to Tumblr).


It’s good to do a bit of soul searching now and then, to look at what you have achieved, where your career is headed, and to decide if you are on the right track.

My goals and dreams have changed a lot since I started self-publishing in 2011. I haven’t been a big success, but I’ve been able to tick off little career milestones along the way. Some months my sales are wonderful, some months they are terrible – generally a function of how long it is since I released or promoted something. Overall, the good months more than outweigh the bad and I’ve been scratching out a living for a while now.

Dream: achieved.

But the sales maw, as all writers know, is insatiable. So I’ve been noodling ways to take my career to the next level.

I feel like I’ve got a good handle on the publishing/marketing side of things, but I’m still serving my apprenticeship as a writer – especially as a writer of fiction. Non-fiction comes naturally to me. I find it quicker and easier and (much) less of a brain-melting puzzle. Whereas, fiction is much more of a challenge – probably why I find it ultimately more satisfying.

My goals tend to focus on aspects of the craft, rather than some notional sales number. There is always something particular I want to achieve (that’s a euphemism for “work on”) with each book, aside from the general desire to make it better than the last one – and I think that’s something most writers do.

But, perhaps partly because of the above, I wasn’t necessarily selecting my projects with my “career” hat on. I gave an interview to Simon Whistler at Rocking Self-Publishing last September, during the launch of Digital 2 (disclosure: he subsequently became my narrator for the audio edition).

Simon asked why I wrote all over the map: short stories, science fiction, literary fiction, historical fiction, non-fiction, and asked if that was something I would recommend to others.


Read the full post on Let’s Get Digital.


Keep Your Options Open

This post by Allan Leverone originally appeared on Kill Zone.

My first book was published a little over four years ago, in February 2011. You may remember that as the chaotic period when the self-publishing phenomenon really broke through and turned the traditional publishing model upside down.

Between December 2009, when I signed my first contract, and February 2011, those changes swept through the industry. One result of everything going on was that I suffered a unilateral modification in contract terms by my publisher—changing the agreed-upon format of my upcoming release from mass-market paperback to ebook-only—a change that forced me to reconsider signing in the first place.

My debut novel hadn’t even been released yet and I was already questioning my decision to sign that first contract.

Should I hire an attorney and attempt to force the publisher to abide by the original contract terms? Should I demand they return the rights to my book based on breach of contract? Or should I suck it up and accept the change?

Eventually I chose the third option and the book was released almost a year later, and I was left with the challenge faced by all authors not named King or Patterson or Grisham.

How the hell was I going to attract readers to a book offered for sale by a virtually unknown writer?


Read the full post on Kill Zone.