My Novel got Rejected Again

After revising my query and trying again, I finally got an agent to request a partial. After she read it, here’s what I was told:

” I read it and found the plot interesting, but wasn’t as taken with the dialogue or writing, so I’m going to pass on the opportunity to represent this.”

I offered another novel that’s totally separate but that was declined as well (without being read).

So what does this mean? Ironically, I thought the writing and dialogue were good and the plot not so much, so this agent saw things completely opposite. However, as of this writing I’m over 17.5k reads in less than 3 months, and my story is consistently in the top 400 (as high as #49) out of at least 100,000 fantasy stories on Wattpad, so clearly there is interest in Bradan’s story. Per popular demand, I will post book 2 as I have no ability as of yet to market the novels themselves. I will continue to try to seek a traditional publisher but if no one wants the novel, I will self-publish the series rather than sit on them forever.

While I appreciate this agent’s time in reading the first 50 pages of ERA OF BRADAN, it’s disappointing that yet again, I cannot get interest in a novel that, as I note above, has a pretty solid following on Wattpad, especially given that it’s my only book and I only began posting it this calendar year. While the number may fluctuate, I gain about 1000 new reads every 4-5 days, which means close to 7,000 new fans a month or another 55,000 by the end of this year (this is just at current trends- typically as books get more reads, they attract even more people so I could end up averaging 1,000+ a day). Now that’s not a lot of reads on Wattpad, but it does suggest there’s interest in this story. Keep in mind this is a MG novel and isn’t even the right age for Wattpad’s readership. By the time I post the second novel, I should be able to easily get over 100,000 views (and no money for it). This doesn’t even count my kid beta readers, the few who’ve read the whole thing on PDF and have liked it, if not loved it.

I get that agents have a lot of submissions and it’s a totally subjective field. But I think they are looking for different things than what readers are looking for. And remember, we aren’t even up to the publishers yet. Oh well. In the meantime, back to selling card games.

 

What do you think about the traditional book publishing process ? Have you experienced rejection within the industry?

3 Kickstarter and Wattpad Tips

So now that Kickstarter is over, here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • Kickstarter was fully funded! I cleared $4100 in 30 days, which is a good marker of success. I now hope I can deliver, both figuratively and literally, within the next month.
  • Waiting to get my cards printed up. Expected deliver is May 27th. My printer doesn’t move any faster. Check below for tips for success.
  • Got an agent requesting a partial! It’s not much but it is pretty cool. First time I’ve ever gotten a literary professional interested in any of my work. With luck, that agent won’t be the last.
  • Story was featured on Wattpad and I am over 8k views in less than 2 months. I expect that by May 25th I will have passed the 10k mark on reads. No, reads aren’t everything. But for those who care about such things, averaging 5k reads a month is not bad at all, especially since i’m still a relative unknown on Wattpad. Probably by the time I clear the 10k mark, I’ll see a bit of an uptick in views per day. My goal is to get 50k reads before my featuring expires. At my current rate I’m expecting 30-35k reads which is not bad given that I won’t write fanfic or teen romances. I’ll check back in periodically to  see if I can hit 50k before the featuring expires.

 

As it’s Mother’s Day, I won’t bore you with a long article. As much as I’d rather Vlog than blog, I just cannot find the enthusiasm to perform like a street monkey for a tiny number of strangers. Plus editing takes a lot of time, even for simple, jump-cut oriented video that is the favorite on YouTube. If you’re wonder why you’re probably not gonna become YouTube or Wattpad famous, I’ll post that next time. Hint: Has little to do with you.

That said, you can have some success, so here are 3 Wattpad tips:

  1. Write in a genre that has more readers, and give them what they want. Teen romance and fantasy (particularly with romance) does very well there, as does fan-fic of popular things. If you do horror or comedy, you won’t have as big a reach. Adjust expectations accordingly
  2.  Don’t do read for read swaps. At first, you will do this because you want to pump up your count. At a certain point there just isn’t enough time. An easier way to find new readers is to post to message boards. You can do this a few minutes a day and still reach a lot of readers.
  3. DO thank voters, commenters, and followers. Not just because it’s nice, but because you will show up on their profiles and this boosts your profile to whoever follows THEM.

 

Now three tips for success on Kickstarter:

  1. I wish I had known how hard it is to raise money by myself. Don’t get sucked into the hype that you just make a profile and “build it” that they will come. The more partners you have on your project, the loftier your expectations will be and the more money you can make.
  2. Get your supporters lined up early. Kickstarter favors those not even with more money, but with a combo of more money AND a higher percentage of their goal reached in the first day and then the first week when choosing which projects to feature. I hit 22 percent of my goal in 7 days, which is the minimum to even have a shot at featuring. But if I had hit 40 percent right away, my ranking would have been boosted and I would have seen my numbers go even higher.
  3. Use the Kickstarter hashtag on twitter. I not only gained a bunch of followers but I actually did get 2 donations of Twitter for boxes, which is pretty cool.

 

Got questions or tips? Post ’em below.

Book Publishers Support White Privilege

At least according to a survey done by Lee and Low, the independent book publishing company:

Lee and Low created and executed a large survey of publishing players in the States. The report tells us that the survey went to “1,524 reviewer employees and 11,713 publishing employees for a total of 13,237 surveys deployed.” With a gratifying 25.8-percent response rate, the team has reason to feel good about how much input they received. I’ll give you the very useful infographic here produced by the company. In addition, the results are set out in a slide presentation you can access here. And the report, itself, from Lee and Low is here, dated January 26: reactions have been coming in for about a week.

Lee and Low’s corporate information makes it clear that the company’s own mission in publishing is “to meet the need for stories that children of color can identify with.”  Writing about the story for Quartz, Amy X. Wang described the Lee and Low ethnic results this way: “In the industry overall, 79 percent of people are Caucasian while just 4 percent are black, 7 percent are Asian, 6 percent are Hispanic, and less than 5 percent are Native American, Middle Eastern, or biracial. Figures on sexual orientation and disability status are no less lopsided.”

Lopsided, clearly, and most of us, sadly, are not surprised at these figures. In such campaign efforts as #weneeddiversebooks and myriad other consciousness-raising efforts, the failures of publishing to serve major sectors of the population adequately have been clear for some time. These are serious, pressing shortcomings and the more discussion about them, the better.

Basically, Lee and Low tells us that most publishing employees are straight, physically-abled, college-educated white women. Even at the executive level, long seen as the domain of men to the exclusion of women.

From the Lee and Low Diversity Baseline Survey (DBS) 2015

Lee and Low are big promoters of the “We Need Diverse Books” campaign (disclosure: I’ve entered in two of their contests) and I do want to address that in a future post, specifically my objections. But basically, the recap here is that they believe authors who fit a mold- college-educated, straight white women, are going to be the most likely to be published, because they look like the typical publishing employee.

I do believe that kid’s literature is too female-dominant. When I went to the SCBWI conference in Virginia in October, it was 93% female (I counted) and almost all were Caucasian. Granted, that tends to be who is most likely to read and want to be authors, not to mention editors and illustrators. Now the members were polite and no one made me feel uncomfortable. But I could see how someone like me might wonder if s/he belongs. The same is true in the indie publishing world. Just about all, if not all, bestselling indies are Caucasians writing primarily from their own middle-class POV.

As a kid I had no problem reading books with girls as the main character. But Goosebumps were one thing: Mary-Kate and Ashley’s Slumber Party is another. And unfortunately, I see too many variants of the latter these days and much less of the former. I personally do not care who runs what in publishing: My contacts, smart white women, are great and I enjoy working with them. But I actually do agree with Lee and Low that there is a bias, however unintentional, that promotes certain types of stories unappealing to boys and certain groups, and favors authors who fit a certain profile and who write a certain kind of story.

If book publishers want to reach boys and increase literacy overall, especially among kids, they have work to do. Now I don’t necessarily want white people getting bumped to fit “affirmative action” programs if the books are inferior. But publishers need to consider making an effort to reach audiences like boys and men if they want to boost sales. This means taking risks on those who may be able to bridge that gap between potential customers and the authors.

The ultimate goal is to get people to read, and be interested. Not to pander to the latest fad of making works shorter and more shallow, or giving up on books to exclusively sell coloring, connect the dots, fill-in-the-blank, and whatever else is popular, or that teaches people that books are outdated and we should just tweet stories instead, but more interesting and more engaging. That does mean embracing technology and maybe making books more interactive, available for mobile devices, and making books cheaper  and somewhat shorter than what they are now so they’re affordable to more people and folks decide to read and not do other things. I saw two kids at the library last week playing games on their phones. The horror.

Indie publishing is different-the only real barrier is cost. That’s not something that can be controlled. For now, I think indie publishing is the domain of middle-class and above authors who can afford to spend several thousand dollars on something that is unlikely to earn money in the short term. That may change, and I hope it does, so more people enjoy stories and the people who tell them.

 

Five Reasons Millennials Are Not ‘Entrepreneurial’

Nary a day goes by when a commentator or columnist doesn’t express dismay at the struggling American economy and how lazy/selfish/unappreciative/fill in the blank “kids these days” are. I don’t know if it’s new or a pattern that occurs every decade.

The Millennial Mindset and America’s Productivity Crisis” by Steve Tobak 1/18/2016.  Below are his reasons Millennials aren’t more productive (truncated for length):

1. Quit trying to deal with a certain generation as if they’re either special little snowflakes or entitled, narcissistic brats and start holding them accountable as unique individuals.

2. That said, those unique individuals need to quit doing such an effective job of living up to those Generation Me stereotypes, put on their big boy pants and get to work.

3. And their coddling parents should quit acting as if they had absolutely nothing to do with the demon spawn they raised and stop blaming gadgets, schools and society in general.

The problem is that Millennials are not getting jobs or starting companies like their predecessors did. What are they doing? We’ll get to that in a minute, but suffice to say that America’s largest generation is not pulling its weight. And if we don’t start facing that reality and dealing with it, we’re all screwed.

Since the dawn of Web 2.0…Millennials have been branded as the entrepreneurial generation…The hype and the sensational headlines have been overwhelming:

Millennials Are the True Entrepreneur Generation.” “Gen Y Grads More Likely to Launch Startups.”… “Why Millennials Could Be the Most Entrepreneurial Generation Ever.” and so on.

But that turned out to be far more myth than reality…Millennials have actually been the least entrepreneurial generation…perhaps because they see entrepreneurship as a mindset that has nothing to do with actually starting a company. Unfortunately, wishful thinking does not lead to jobs or GDP.

While it’s true that many Millennials are snubbing corporate America, they’re generally not starting companies but joining the growing ranks of the gig economy: doing a little of this and a little of that as self-employed solopreneurs. A recent report by MBO Partners says that Millennials make up 30% of all full-time independent workers.

Instead of climbing the corporate ladder and building their careers or starting companies and creating new jobs, they’re opting for the perceived freedom, flexibility and control of self-employment…The problem is that driving an Uber cab, renting out a room on Airbnb or generating online content are not exactly high paying gigs or boons to the economy. That’s why self-employed Americans make up 17% of the working population but generate just 7% of the nation’s GDP, according to the MBO report..

If we don’t start treating Millennials – the largest demographic in our nation’s history – as individuals and hold them accountable for becoming productive members of society, how in the world are we going to increase productivity, return to robust growth, pay down our national debt, and fit the bill for all those entitlements?

2015-Millennial-Money-Report-Earn

2015-Millennial-Money-Report-Debt

This is not the first, nor the last, hand-wringing that will come with why kids my age aren’t running out to build the next Uber or Facebook. Despite the sensational media reports about teens and twenty-somethings getting rich of some new business idea, the author is right that few of us actually will try any business startup, let alone some major innovative company.

Points 1,2, and 3 are about how coddled we are. I can assure you, dear reader, I got no coddling, except Mama’s delicious spaghetti and meat sauce. And laundry done. And a roof over my head. Okay, fine.

As for debt, that is very unfair. We are not only pressured to go to college right away (in hindsight I should have joined the military or the National Guard, would have doubled as serving the country and also gotten help on student loans) but to take out massive amounts of debt, then run into an economy that’s been struggling for years. My entire adult life has been essentially a recession or stagnant economy. Not the kind ideal to finding a high-paying job or confidence in starting out on a business.

Wherever else you may see lists or reasons of why we aren’t making enough money to buy our first mansion at the age of 26, here are my five quick reasons:

1. Cost. I started to produce a card game for kids, not fully aware of just how expensive it gets to produce two decks of cards for a game. Especially when I’m trying to create a valuable product and not take shortcuts on the product itself. Fees, taxes, regulation costs-things I could not know about until I had to pay them, at least without the time investment to shop around. In hindsight, I wonder if, knowing what I know now, I would have continued with this venture. But it’s too late now.

2. Debt. I addressed this above. My guess is, many of the young techie startup folks have little or no debt, due to a) scholarship money, b) rich parents, c) trust fund, or d) any combo of the above. The rest of us, not towering geniuses going to Ivies, Duke, or Stanford, carry a lot of debt.

3. unprepared for hard life. Going into business for oneself isn’t easy, even if Warren Buffet makes it look like anyone with $100 and a pair of shoes can make millions overnight. It requires long hours, personal sacrifices, and lots of focus, which is hard in this ADHD age we live in, and which some of us suffer from, maybe even quite literally. I completely get the need for hard work and sacrifice but that really has to be conditioned, and it’s not something that can be taught in a classroom.

4. Lack of access to mentors. I noticed that most of the top Millennial Entrpreneurs have solid access to a) capital and b) advisors. I don’t mean they did so great and then got a and b. I mean they had them FROM THE GET GO. To be fair, it is possibly to meet or exceed one’s goals without “privilege”. But MAN is it hard. Far easier to start with one’s first million, or a “small loan”.

5. Government. No one knows all the regulations out there, but there are lots of federal, state and local codes and taxes to manage. And we didn’t even address the IRS tax code today.

If you have any thoughts, feel free to comment below and share this article. I’m sure there’s a lot of hand-wringing, but to me, the combo of high-debt, low cash to begin, and inexperience both as a professional and in preparedness contribute to most of us just checking out and playing the latest Assassin’s Creed, which is awesome for the record.

 

Being Realistic about George Washington’s Slave Views

illustrator: Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Published by Scholastic Press

You may have missed this little tidbit from the Huffington Post on a new children’s book that some say makes our first president’s slaves look happy and content.

“Scholastic is pulling a new picture book about George Washington and his slaves amid objections it sentimentalizes a brutal part of American history.

“A Birthday Cake for George Washington” was released Jan. 5 and had been strongly criticized for its upbeat images and story of Washington’s cook, the slave Hercules and his daughter, Delia. Its withdrawal was announced Sunday.

“While we have great respect for the integrity and scholarship of the author, illustrator and editor, we believe that, without more historical background on the evils of slavery than this book for younger children can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn,” the children’s publisher said in a statement released to the AP.

The book, which depicts Hercules and Delia preparing a cake for Washington, has received more than 100 one-star reviews on Amazon.com. As of Sunday evening, only 12 reviews were positive. The book also set off discussions on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere on social media.

While notes in “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” from author Ramin Ganeshram and illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton had pointed out the historical context of the 18th century story and that Hercules eventually escaped, some critics faulted Ganeshram and Brantley-Newton for leaving out those details from the main narrative.

“Oh, how George Washington loves his cake!” reads the publisher’s description of the story. “And, oh, how he depends on Hercules, his head chef, to make it for him. Hercules, a slave, takes great pride in baking the president’s cake. But this year there is one problem — they are out of sugar.”

As someone currently working on a historical card game for kids and as someone who has read several biographies on Washington, it is true the “father of our country” owned slaves. First, as the owner of a (comparatively) small plantation in Virginia he inherited from his brother Lawrence (this is Mount Vernon), who inherited it from their father Augustine. He then married Martha Custis in 1759 and acquired her massive plantation she inherited from her deceased first husband Daniel Custis. As a member of Virginia’s gentry in the 18th century, Washington was surrounded by slaveowners and those who justified it. Mount Vernon had 318 slaves at the time of his death in 1799 and he himself purchased slaves over the course of his lifetime.

Richard Parkinson, an Englishman who lived near Mount Vernon, once reported that “it was the sense of all his [Washington’s] neighbors that he treated [his slaves] with more severity than any other man.”( Parkinson, Richard. A Tour in America, in 1798, 1799, and 1800 (London: Printed for J. Harding and J. Murray, 1805), 420. Having that said, he did own slaves.

However, Washington became increasingly distant from slavery as a practice beginning in the 1770s and continuing until his death. While not a true abolitionist (he never freed his slaves during his lifetime), he expressly turned away from slavery as Revolution became inevitable. It boiled down to one question: How can we as people say we want a nation full of liberty for all if we keep certain folks in chains?

In 1778, not long after breaking camp at Valley Forge, Washington, who was then forty-six years old and had been a slave owner for thirty-five years, confided to a cousin that he longed “every day…more and more to get clear” of the ownership of slaves. (George Washington to Lund Washington, 15 August 1778, The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 12, 327.) He vowed never to separate slaves by purchasing one individual and not the others (a common practice at the time). He was further influenced by the views of the Marquis de Lafayette, an ardent opponent of slavery.

Not only did his views evolve on black people, but Washington was one of the first people to stand up for other groups as well. In a letter to Moses Seixas, a leader of Newport, Rhode Island’s Jewish community, Washington wrote “For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.” (read more here)

As Washington neared the end of his life, which is the time when “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” takes place, he signed a will saying that, upon Martha’s death, all slaves they owned together were to be freed. He also stipulated in the will that money be left to those enslaved to provide for education or for living expenses.

The conclusion we are left with is that Washington was a product of his time, whether we like it or not. 250 years ago, slavery in most parts of America, especially the South, was considered acceptable and that’s what you did if you were among the better off who could afford vast tracts of land. A good comparison is to how many people today may think poverty is immoral, but do little to make the kinds of changes we need to raise the poor up. For example, opposing or not supporting school choice programs that would allow impoverished children who attend poorly performing schools to attend another school for reasons that have nothing to do with the child or that school, but have everything to do with money and who gets it.

I wish those who are commenting on this book in anger would take the time to understand Washington’s evolving views and recognize that, while hardly perfect, Washington was still ahead of his time and overall one of the greatest men who has ever lived. These attacks are part of a widescale effort to demonize our Framers as “evil old white men” whose Constitution we should ignore because women, blacks, and First Nation peoples (among others) were not granted equal privileges right away.

To be fair, I haven’t read this book, and I do not know whether the slave called Hercules was “happy and content”, though I doubt there were many slaves happy to be treated like inhuman beings. I personally think the author should have considered this before writing a book following a few of Washington’s slaves and making them look happy. (update: In hindsight, the author probably did consider this and did what we love- generate drama to boost sales).

But I’m sure the people attacking Washington for his slave-ownership haven’t read the book either. And few of them will take the time to study the Framer’s views on this issue or the tumultuous Constitution conventions where slavery was a major source of contention between those who supported the institution and those who wanted to see it banned. Keep in mind in that time tarring and feathering were common forms of punishment, and most doctors treated illnesses with leeches, cold baths, or beliefs in “negative energy” because they were not aware of viruses and bacteria like we are today.

Read more about Washington’s views on slavery HERE

Will Authors Quit Writing in 2016?

photo: Wikipedia       

That seems to be the prediction of Mark Coker, Founder and CEO of Smashwords. Via his blog:

“Many indies and traditional publishers alike reported flat or lower sales in 2015. The go-go days of exponential ebook market growth of the early days (2008-2012) are over. As I shared in my November 2014 post, Things Get More Difficult from Here – Here’s How to Succeed, a key factor in the slowdown is an emerging equilibrium for consumption of print and ebook formats. Due to the law of large numbers, ebook sales growth (or declines) will begin to more closely mirror the overall market for all books. The book market is mature and is therefore a slow or no-growth industry.  Additionally, there’s an ever-increasing glut of high-quality low-cost ebooks that will never go “out of print.” These continuing factors paint a picture for a more competitive landscape for authors in 2016 and beyond. Every author will face more competition today and tomorrow than they faced yesterday. In addition to the factors I outlined above and in the “Things get more difficult” post, the growth of Kindle Unlimited presents a new existential threat to the industry (more on this in the next item).

 Kindle Unlimited will gut single-copy sales and drive greater ebook commoditization

Earlier this year I blogged how Amazon’s merchandising pages encourage Kindle customers to read books for free as part of a Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime subscription. Most of the publishing industry remains oblivious to the long term ramifications of Amazon’s strategy here (not a surprise, because despite Amazon operating with amazing transparency and predictability, most industry watchers and media still don’t understand Amazon’s long term self publishing strategy). The issue of immediate concern is that Amazon’s merchandising tactics discourage readers from purchasing single copy ebooks. Amazon is training Kindle customers to view even 99 cent ebooks as too expensive when other books can be read for what feels like free. Amazon’s success with Kindle Unlimited, which now offers over 1 million books almost exclusively supplied by indie authors is going to gut the market for single copy sales at Amazon. It’ll be death by a thousand small cuts.  The pain will be felt by four publishing industry constituencies. In descending order of pain, and in order of who will feel it first, these constituencies include traditionally published authors and their publishers which I’ll consider as a single group; non-exclusive indie authors; Amazon-exclusive authors; and competing retailers.

Basically what Mark is saying is that selling single e-book copies, or even e-book bundles will soon become obsolete, replaced by subscription programs. The only question is whether the distributors assume an pool-sharing model (where money is collected and distributed equally among contributors as the distributor sees fit) or agency (where the contributor is paid for each book downloaded or read as an individual unit). If Mark’s prediction is accurate, and Amazon shifts more and more e-books into a subscription program, then you should know much much harder it will be for an indie author to make money. Especially since Amazon continues to dominate e-book sales. Read his post; it’s worth your time.

He also writes:

“During the early days of the indie ebook revolution, it was relatively easy for a quality writer to earn good income self-publishing low-priced ebooks. The market was doubling and tripling each year, readers hadn’t really seen 99 cent ebooks before, and everyone was happy.  As I mentioned in the “Ebook publishing gets more difficult from here” post, the exponential growth masked challenges that market’s maturation has now brought to light. Many indies who quit their days jobs to pursue writing full time will find they need to return to a “real” job in 2016, especially authors for whom writing is their sole source of income and they’re already feeling challenged to make the monthly rent. This means production will decline among the indie midlisters. As I’ve been telling the audiences for my ebook publishing workshops for the last seven years, if you want to make a lot of money publishing ebooks get a job at McDonalds instead. Publishing has always been a tough business. Witness the fact that most traditionally published authors must maintain day jobs. Ebook publishing is NOT the path to riches except for a very few authors. Yes, I’ve been pleased see the many Smashwords authors whose indie ebook earnings have allowed them to pay off mortgages, buy homes and save for retirement. These stories inspire me, yet we must remember these are the exceptions, not the rule. In 2015 I witnessed a growing desperation among many bestsellers, some of whom – I can imagine due to their prior successes with indie publishing – had might have changed their lifestyles or quit their day jobs. These authors are now feeling the financial and emotional pain of struggling to make ends meet. I hate to see this pain and anguish. As I’ve advised in the past, your prior success is no guarantee of future success. If you’re among the many Smashwords authors who’ve been blessed and have done well, or if you’re fortunate enough to sell well in the future, please bank that money when it comes. Pay off your debts and be conservative with your savings so you can build up your rainy day fund.”

No one has ever said publishing was easy, but I’ve noticed big-time indies are often more optimistic than the rest of us into the future of indie publishing, in terms of making serious money and not just doing it as a side-hobby. It’s easier to think earning money writing is easy and Amazon is great if you’re one of the lucky few to earn 6- or even 7- or 8- figures a year writing, just as a lot of the blockbuster best-sellers in the traditional system rarely complain about their publishers or support changes to the traditional publishing system that are needed. It’s a matter of whose bread is begin buttered by whom, I guess. I’d guess an author has maybe a 2% chance at best of earning enough money a year to sit around and write (and do writing-related activities) all day. That includes authors who could do that, but who choose to maintain other occupations, such as with non-fiction writers. And that’s just to pay bills; that’s not the lavish lifestyles some of them live.

David Boyle of the Society of Authors, based in the UK, writes:

“You worry a little, as an ebook author, that people might be sceptical that you have ever written anything. Or indeed whether all that writing exists in any real sense, since you can’t see it on your shelf. I mean, where is it? You can’t lend it, copy it or give it as a present. Yet bizarrely, online pirates seem capable of giving it away for free within days of it going on sale.

There are certainly advantages to writing the new generation of ebooks that are designed as such, rather than as reluctantly issued e-versions of printed books. They are often a convenient length – maybe a fifth or quarter as long as a traditional book, just long enough to read on a transatlantic flight or a train to Scotland. And they are priced low enough to sell widely. It is a marginal decision to buy a short book at £1.99 or £2.99. You might as well buy it as not.

an ebook writer, I’m only too aware of the problem flagged up by the Society of Authors, that the income of writers is still falling. I certainly agree that authors should get at least half the royalties on ebooks; the big publishers often fob them off with 25% or less. Well, I would say that.

Yet this is not primarily a difficulty with ebooks. It is a symptom of two more fundamental, linked problems. The competition watchdogs have allowedAmazon and the big supermarkets to strangle what had been a working business model. As a result, the remaining, desperately consolidated, mainstream publishers are trapped in a business model that works for nobody – except perhaps for the 5%, the mega-earning authors, who take 43% of all the money.”

Though Mr. Boyle says he will continue writing (and I assume working his financial services job while he writes on the side), no doubt many authors will come to the conclusion that yes, it’s really, really hard to earn a living from writing and the time spent writing could be better done doing other productive things.  I think his concern is more aimed at the Big Five traditional publishers, who are losing to Amazon and who don’t offer a good deal on e-book royalties to their writers. I can’t speak for smaller presses.

So writers of the world: How many of you will continue to write, and how many will decide the time spent writing just isn’t worth it anymore?

Nielsen says: More Dead Trees Coming

A recent blogpost by Joe Wikert, Director of Strategy and Business Development at Olive Software, recaps data from Nielsen Bookscan on the reading habits of Americans. Here is Joe’s analysis:

Self-publishing and the Big Five are crowding out everyone else – According to Nielsen’s data, from Q1 2014 to Q1 2015, self-published books have grown from 14% to 18% of the overall market. In that same period the Big Five’s share has grown from 28% to 37%. Meanwhile, the rest of the market, all the large, medium and tiny publishers, have seen their share decrease from 58% to 45%.

The print/e split is now roughly 74%/26% – Plenty of articles have been written about the plateauing ebook market. Most publishers report ebooks represent anywhere from 15% to 30% or so of total revenue. According to Nielsen, the current state of equilibrium is closer to a 74%/26% split. That ratio varies widely by genre, btw, but it’s worth looking at your own rate to see how it compares to the overall industry average.

Price drives ebook interest – According to Nielsen’s consumer survey, almost 60% of respondents said they’d choose e over p if the savings is at least $4 for the former. Additionally, approximately 50% said they’d do the same even if the ebook is only $2-3 cheaper than the print version. So as publishers wrestle back consumer pricing via the new agency model, driving ebook prices up, it’s clear they’re inadvertently (and sometimes deliberately) nudging consumers back to print.

Consumer prefer print and e, not or – 49% of consumers surveyed said they bought print and ebooks in the past 6 months vs. 42% who only bought print and a paltry 9% who only bought e. Just because a consumer buys ebooks doesn’t mean they’ve abandoned print. This is a huge opportunity most publishers are overlooking. Why aren’t there more digital products that complement print rather than assume the ebook is replacing the print one?

Amazon dominates subscriptions too – It’s been hard to find data on the all-you-can-read ebook subscription market but Nielsen is finally shining some light on the model. And just as they do pretty much everywhere else, Amazon is crushing it. First of all, according to Nielsen only 5% of consumers have signed up for any ebook subscription solution, so the market remains small. Kindle Unlimited led the way with the largest chunk of market share, jumping from approximately 40% in January 2015 to almost 60% in April. Scribd and Oyster were tiny players by comparison in that period, and they’re only getting smaller. Given their teensy share of a small segment, it’s no wonder Oyster is going away soon.

Let’s add that many e-books do not have ISBN numbers and their sales don’t count. If they were, the share of self-published would be higher, between 20-25% of all sales. The takeaway here is the squeeze smaller companies are holding, every single publisher that isn’t the Big Five or one of their imprints. This is worrying, because most publishers are not big corporations or their subsidiaries. If the trend continues, you will see a gap between the select few who get a major publishing contract, and those who self-publish. Those who pursue an indie publisher could wind up at a disadvantage down the road.

Like most people, I prefer print books, but I’m more likely to buy e-books. Why? I spend all day on screens, and print books are essentially my “escape”. With non-fiction, I like being able to physically have information I may need later. Anecdotally, most people I know who are not avid readers prefer print to e-books, though nearly all own some type of e-reader (includes smartphones).

The publishers are overpricing most e-books, and it’s pretty clear they want to protect paper sales. That’s partly why paper is still strong- most people figure for $15 they should just get the paperback. Personally, I think that’s a mistake- the e-book ought to complement the print book, not compete against it. If self-published e-books continue to rise, this model may change as publishers much charge a price comparable to an indie-published book, which means growth in e-books.

Subscription models are the new model of business for many distributors, whether or not they’re good for content creators. Increasingly, consumers expect to get a buffet at their business of choice, paying a flat rate for all the products they can consume. The problem is, not all subscription models are sustainable, and many content creators (rightfully) object to some of the practices by the distributors, namely in how little the creator gets compensated while the distributor keeps most of the money. To be fair, a lot of authors have complained about this with the traditional publishing model too, and it is a legitimate topic of discussion.

The conclusion: Continue to write e-books, but don’t stop killing those trees just yet. A lot of readers want them for their books, including yours.

Is Star Wars Proof Readers Like the Same Old Story?

 

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Unless you live in a cave, or Afghanistan (which to be fair is sort-of one and the same thing), you know the seventh Star Wars movie is out.

This movie has already surpassed the half billion mark in box office receipts and the Star Wars Franchise, nearly 40 years old, is still going strong. New generations of fans are always being born, and there is literally no shortage to the possible number of video games, t-shirts, posters, fan art, etc., available. I still remember, as a kid, all the Star Wars games and books I used to have.

So what is it about Star Wars that makes it so popular? And how does it affect the type of stories we write? Is it true that, despite people saying they like ‘fresh and original’, they in fact, prefer the exact same story with some subtle changes?

I searched for the answer to my questions to the omniscient, onmipresent God Almighty, who is manifested on this Earth in the form of the search engine, delivered from Mount Silicon from His prophet Google.

Levi Throckmorton, Star Wars historian (did you know there was such a thing? How much does that pay?) says:

  • Star Wars is genre-defining. It was the first feature film of its kind and it opened the gate for space-based science fiction to occupy an unshakeable position in mainstream culture.
  • The story of the original trilogy of Star Wars is one of humanity’s favorite stories. David beats Goliath. The underdog good topples the powerhouse evil.
  • The universe is vast. Multiple planets are mentioned, visited and explored. All manner of sentient and non-sentient beings are on display, including the primary antagonist being a mixture of both. Entire books have been written just about the spaceships, land vehicles, and weapons that exist in Star Wars. And those are just the films…
  • The movies aren’t the end of the story. In fact, the seven Star Wars feature films that exist only comprise around 35 years of the history of the galaxy. There is so much more information to explore, whether via novels, comic books, video games, or the Star Wars Wiki (lovingly nicknamed Wookieepedia).
  • The stories are relevant to children as well as adults. A 40-year-old can watch these films or read these books and get just as much pleasure and satisfaction as a 10-year-old. The Star Wars universe isn’t something that just fades away as you grow older. If anything, rewatching the movies with an adult perspective on the politics and relationships featured in them has only enhanced my love for the universe.

Here’s a second take from Michael Wolfe:

This may in part explain the recycling of the same idea in our movies, books, TV shows, and video games: Regular joe discovers he’s (almost always a man, it seems) the ‘chosen one’ and must save the world from pure evil, which is evil because it is evil.
Some scripts like Game of Thrones defiantly bucks this trend with main-character-killing or no specific good vs. evil plot to overcome. But for sure, the good will triumph over evil plot is popular, chosen one stories are popular, especially when the hero is unaware of his special powers and doesn’t want to cause trouble in the beginning. It also helps in my view to be “first to market”, getting there before anyone else does. Once you do that, anyone who tries to compete with you will be derided as a “copycat” and will have to compete against your brand, which will occupy space with the divergence of media that is our internet world.
Having said that, is it a bad thing that the most popular story ever told is recycled 2-3 times a generation in a well-told story? or does the public love these stories because they do not believe we live in a just world?

As always, make sure to follow my blog for more fun analysis and talking points. Happy Holidays, whatever you celebrate, and Happy New Year.

Is writing being devalued?

Yes, if you ask Roxana Robinson, head of something called the Authors Guild, of which I am not a member. Heck, I’m not even sure how I would be eligible for this; I guess I need to sell a lot of copies when I finally do get published.

From the article:

“Writers are contributing to the fall in their incomes by penning free pieces for large companies in the hope that it will raise their profile and lead to book sales, Roxana Robinson, president of The Authors Guild, has told The Bookseller. She also said that Amazon was devaluing books and writing.

Robinson right, a novelist and short story writer who has also written a biography of artist Georgia O’Keeffe, has been president of The Authors Guild—the US equivalent of the Society of Authors—since March 2014. She said that “it is clear that writers’ incomes are declining”, claiming a drop in the number of people reading books and “struggles over royalty and prices” were among the reasons for lower incomes.

“Amazon discounting book prices means that there is a movement toward devaluing books,” she said. “And I think that has an impact on the way people look at writing. If Amazon keeps pricing e-books at very, very low prices, people start feeling, ‘well, actually, writing isn’t a valuable product’.”

But, she added, authors were not helping themselves by writing for free. “People write on Huffington Post, they write for Goodreads, they write for Medium.com: valuable sites owned by big tech companies that make a lot of money for those companies. Writers choose to write there for nothing and to provide content for nothing. That’s another issue, and that is something that writers are doing deliberately.”

Robinson said The Authors Guild would not advise any author to stop writing for publications, but argued that an article by an author on a website may not lead to book sales. “I don’t know that anyone has figures on sales that result from this kind of writing (for free),” she said. “Everyone says, ‘get your name out there’, but does that really translate to connecting to the hard mental presence of the book? We want writers to recognise what is happening, to be aware of this trend, that writers themselves are contributing to the idea that their writing doesn’t deserve to be paid for.”

Okay, here’s the rub: She is not completely wrong, but she writes from a different position than the rest of us.

Where she’s right: Digital content has basically been devalued to zero. The top selling mobile games are all free. How many people actually pay for music? You can stream free via Pandora or Spotifly, or just listen on YouTube. Sure, artists make some money, but not a lot.

A lot of this is because since anyone can get in, everyone can get in. And as the polar opposite in sports, where once an owner decided to pay top dollar for the best athletes and thus drove up the athlete’s salary, the moment some people decided to give away freebies because they were in a position too, people began to expect it. Woe be that writer who wants to make even a dollar off his/her work, when most of the public doesn’t mind paying $5 for a Starbucks grande latte. So in the sense that it’s become harder to make a living, let alone money, I think she’s on to something.

She is also correct that sites like Wattpad, Goodreads, Medium, etc., make money by essentially getting people to post free stuff, without being more supportive of indie authors who want to earn an honest buck selling their work (Wattpad is particularly unhelpful). While it does build exposure for some, it encourages people to expect to never pay for anything, because if you see all stories as merely words on a screen, and not anything with meaning to you, then it’s easy to just read free books. Look at all the folks who only ever go to the free-book section to download work.

However, suggesting that it’s bad to post free content to build a following is nuts. What am I doing now? How about your blogs, which I follow and read from time to time? How about Kboards, or Goodreads, or Wattpad, or any other place? The big advantage of these sites is that they allow anyone, even those without a “platform”, to get one. How can one get a platform if one isn’t already famous or well-connected? These sites, and the entire concept of self-publishing, do just that. It isn’t like I have a published op-ed column in a national digital newspaper with tens of thousands of views per article. So what to do if Oprah doesn’t know your cell by heart, or Bill O’Reilly can’t announce in on his show? Only via social media can some of us reach an audience.

The big question for anyone who writers, whether indie or trad-pubbed, is this: Will the market for paid books at least hold steady, or will we turn into the music industry, where a few megastars make tens of millions from sales of everything, while most indies struggle since no one wants to pay for their music?*
*I have bought indie albums before, so don’t blame me.
B&B: I enjoy reading posts from other bloggers, so don’t be a stranger, follow my blog and I will follow back! I also like featuring authors here. If you have a book and you’d like me to interview you, just message me and we’ll talk.

New Author Earnings report. And…very good for indie #authors

The friendly folks at Author Earnings have taken it upon themselves to measure how much we’re making-at least if you’ve published anything, which I have not (yet- stay tuned, yung’ns). And a look at this says that if you’re an Author Going On Your Own (AGOYO), the bag is mostly good, but some data is still incomplete, IMO.

First, the bad: Indie book sales per title dropped from a high of $4.26 in October 2014 to $3.87. Some people might say this is great, lower prices=more sales, even if you give away the occasional freebie.

BUT (and there’s always one of these) the average e-book sale price of:

small/medium publisher- $9.53, down from $10.81 in October 2014

Amazon Imprint- $4.29, up from $3.95 in February 2015

Big 5 publisher: $9.83, higher than $9.58 in February 2015.

So while the authors who actually had their book published “legitimately” saw there average price per sale go up, indie sales went down. This isn’t great, because this is the average price for what people actually paid, sans freebies. A lot of this is due to authors who can “box” their books, 3 for 99 cents. This may drive total sales, but the cost per e-book is dropped way down. So what’s the actual sales volume?

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Small and medium indie publishers really took it here!

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This chart is significant. For the first time ever, 2015 saw the year where Indie sales actually surpassed the collective sales of the “Big Five”. But this is what happens when you charge $12.99 for an e-book, which is merely a digital file. B&B understands the need to pay for more than one editor, book cover designer, etc., but that is a LOT for an e-book. The authors least bothered? Those who earned success in the pre e-book era (pree-book)

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This is one of the charters I was looking for. Rather than a pie chart which just compares slices of pie versus the total sum, this one shows that every day, indies are selling about 370,000 books, about 100,000 more than “Big Five” published authors. Figure in the high pricing of the e-books.

Author Earnings has their own take on it, which you can read on your own. Here’s the B&B spin:

First, AE is missing one thing- total sales split between the bestsellers and total. The reason we need to see this is to know how much bestsellers are bringing up the market. While 370,000 a day is insanely good, what if the top 25 indies are selling 60% of that. Suddenly the numbers don’t look so appealing to the rest of us. The same with the other published- how many sales are by the bestsellers, versus the rest? I’d like to see that. I have a feeling more than half of total Big Five sales are from the big names and not the midlisters.

Now, to play devil’s advocate, the trad-pubs still have a lot to offer. Since many people still buy print books, medium and larger publishers still have that market cornered since most indies are not very good at handling their own shipping and distribution network. Book translations? Big pubs can take care of that faster than you can, and at no immediate cost to you (though the QUALITY of translation remains to be seen). Want to see your movie on the big screen? While a small number of indies have made it, the largest share of books-to-movies comes from trad-pubbed books. The biggest blockbuster franchises, besides 50 shades, are all trad-pubbed. Indies make a lot of money by quantity more than the other models have.

But the reality is in: cheaper, affordable e-books, written by people who have great stories and were simply not given the time of day by lit agents or publishers, are what readers crave. Authors who can connect with a loyal audience do much better than those who barely acknowledge their fans, except maybe for the occasional retweet or Facebook like. Authors who offer some promo item, whether a “buy 2 get 1 free” deal or a piece of merchandise with every print sale, can engage much faster and more efficiently than when your work is being managed by someone who has one too many authors to promote, and all of them are more famous and respected than you. Also, I am still amazed by how incompetent the publisher’s marketing is. The number one challenge is not to redistribute the wealth, but grow that pie of people reading for pleasure. Put me in charge and you will see book sales increase as I go out to engage kids and adults who might try a book 5 hours a week instead of more Netflix shows.

Finally, to  quote from Author Earning’s October 2014 report:

“What the data tells us, then, is that self-publishing is just as viable as any other form of publishing. Perhaps more so. No one can halt your career because an early title underperforms expectations. You get to hire the editors and cover artists you want to work with. You get to write whatever you want and publish whenever and however often you like. And you can publish every which way. Self-publishing used to close you off to other avenues, now it simply opens them up. Many authors publish in several ways simultaneously.”

“Every author will need to find their own path. There is no one right answer. If there’s anything the data tells us, it’s that readers are starving for great stories at fair prices, and whoever can deliver that consistently has a chance at earning income doing something they love. Maybe not a great chance at earning a full-time living, but a better chance than at any other time in human history. And that must be celebrated, however you crunch the numbers.”

So if you are indie or represented by a small/medium publisher, you could pop the bubbly right about now. While I do not cheer for the demise of the larger publishers, they had it coming. Without being able to tell the reader why one story was better than the other, their high-priced model faltered. Without being able to properly measure quality and an author’s ability to generate sales volume, rather focusing on the already-built “platform” which the author had without the publisher’s help, they struggled to move books. Without the appearance of customer-friendliness as opposed to selling to bookstores and wholesale distributors, they saw their numbers fall.

So if you’re indie, congrats. If not…I sincerely hope your book is getting turned into a movie or tv show soon. Like this author, whom I like a lot.

all graphs in this blogpost were originally published by AuthorEarnings.com