The Ten Hard Kickstarter Lesson’s I’m learning

So we’re close to halfway through my Kickstarter campaign  and I am still well short of my goal. I’m not quitting in the hopes of getting more  backing and who knows, maybe I can still pull off a surprising comeback.

So far here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Crowdfunding really is all about you. Platforms do nothing for you besides make it easy for you to organize your idea, and then take your money.
  2. Treat crowdfunding like market testing Crowdfunding is basically a combination of product testing, marketing, pre-ordering, and the online version of people who used to have community fundraisers for causes like “Help Bill with his medical bills” or “raise $10,000 to pay for school building renovations”. This means people who come to your page will determine whether or not to support you based on your project’s offering, not on your company’s value to society or your mission statement. It’s NOT a real investment platform! To some extent Indiegogo and GoFundMe are more like social mission driven, but not much more.
  3.  BUILD YOUR LIST! If you can’t rely on getting at or close to 50% within your first week, your campaign is pretty much screwed. The only exception is getting a major celebrity to endorse your product or someone just happening in the middle or late campaign. I don’t have a huge list, and I think this has hurt me. If you’re not sure you have
  4. DO NOT do 2 Kickstarters in one year. The first time, I had reasonable support from people wishing me well. I suspect a lot of them backed me to help out, not for any desire to have my game, so they are not as enthused the second time around. Once I get Iron Phalanx vs. Dragonboat Raiders published, I am taking off at least one year, if not longer, from crowdfunding, so I can build support and get my old backers back.
  5. Presentation counts- mostly. You must have a solid, professional look with video, clear goals, stretch goals, game rules (games only of course) third-party reviews (for games at least- some products don’t require this), backer’s promise to fulfill your campaign promises if you’re funded, and some info about your product. However, product is still #1.
  6. Hustle for money– if you’re lucky, people might comment on your page or share it and you can go viral overnight and not worry about cash. However, your chances of going viral are not much higher than getting bitten by a shark in Colorado so expect to cyberbeg everyone you know for cash, particularly if you’re short of your goal. So far I’ve tried multiple strategies and few of them seem to be working. This includes e-mail everyone I know, speaking to everyone I know, and doing trade shows and demos of the new set and handing out postcards asking people to check out the page. I’ve even ran ads. All for maybe minor gain.
  7. Speaking of postcards, PROMOTE THE DATE WAY IN ADVANCE! I started telling people 4 months out about Greeks vs. Norse and I set the date 6 weeks in advance and began telling people. Appears not to be enough! I’d say I should have picked the date 12 weeks in advance and while I don’t think that would have helped much more, it would have helped somewhat. Still 15 days so there’s time. One of my friends promoted his a year in advance and it worked for him; he finally beat his goal.
  8. I haven’t seen any proof yet that the time left matters, but boy I wonder where I would be if I had say 40 days left, instead of 15.
  9. Goals should match what you need, but I’m wondering if I should have lowered my goal as to not frighten people off. 10k is a lot more than say 7k.
  10. Finally (for now), accept that it’s unlikely your campaign is going to be a big hit. Realistically, your campaign is unlikely to net you $100,000 or more. Only 36% of Kickstarters in 2015 succeeded, and 70% of those raised less than 10k (source: Kickstarter). Statistically speaking, it’s very difficult to raise lots of money crowdfunding without a big name, built-in base, massive PR campaign, an outstanding idea, and/or some insane luck in discovery and timing.

Lastly, I want to add that you don’t need to crowdfund your project. I’ll talk about why I don’t believe you need it when I do the post-mortem, whether or not I get funded.

What do you think? What has been your crowdfunding experience?

Don’t Quit: 3 Tips I’ve to Overcome Creative Fatigue

Heroes of History has been so time consuming that I have been unable to write, and that has been frustrating. Whereas writing a book is a pain because I am never satisfied with the final product, the same is true of Heroes: I am always looking for ways to make the game even better.

As a creative person, I work best at night, and trying to adjust to an early rise schedule isn’t always easy. As such, I’ve felt tired at times, and I just want to put off doing any real work. This is something non creative people  don’t get: They don’t know what it’s like to never be truly satisfied with your work, and always wondering how you can tinker with your work to make it better. Most people do something and they think that’s the end of things. We know, as creative persons, we always have doubts about whether our work is the best it could ever be!

So if you feel like you want to quit and take a long break, you will be advised to do so by other bloggers. I don’t agree, among other things that irritate me about some other bloggers (sadly, many give bad advice). Here’s what you can do instead:

  1. Instead of telling yourself, ‘self, I will write 2k words today’, and then not doing it, set a smaller goal of 500 words and then try to exceed it. If you don’t, 500 words is not that much.
  2. If you’re designing a tabletop game, ask a fellow professional game developer to check your rulebook and make sure s/he gives you the satisfaction that your rules are clear and good to go. At some point you do have to stop modifying the rules. This is the problem I had with Heroes: I put in a rulebook, and then decided it wasn’t perfect, so the next set will have a few rule modifications. I know the temptation to keep tinkering with your game, but please. Just. Stop.
  3. Take short breaks, like a few days, but try to work during daylight hours. The biggest mistake I’ve made is working late at night, and that means I sleep less than most people for when i have to get up in the morning.

This is hardly a complete list, but I’d rather get you, dear reader, to offer your thoughts. What do you do when you need a break from your work?

Note: My list is my personal opinion, not what you should be doing. Some people are obnoxious about how superior they are to you and while they are very insightful people, also love to dole out advice as if it’s always the truth and not merely their own opinions.

 

 

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Tips to Overcome the Challenges of Being Your Own Business Person: For Authors and Game Designers

Heroes in History25

So I’ve been at this blog thing for more than a year, though I wish I had more time to get to posting. Today I want to talk a little about the challenge of being your own businessperson.

It doesn’t matter if you are an author or aspiring game maker, it is REALLY HARD to stand out. Even if you have an above average product, you still have so much competition from many other people. Part of the extra challenge when you do creative work is that your product (with very few exceptions) is a WANT and not  a NEED. This I will explain in my next post.

No one needs your book or game to survive. However, there is a human need to be entertained, which is where you must fit things in.

Since I’ve been selling Heroes of History for about 3 months now, I can say I’ve done way more than the average person in terms of sales, going well into the 4 figures in total sales, including Kickstarter. This is considered exceptional for an indie game, which I am proud of. The fact that I got nominated for an award is even better. But, it’s even less likely that I will earn a living from making tabletop games than from writing, and neither is very likely.

I am aware that many indies, authors and game developers, are not very good at self marketing and promotion. So here’s what I’ve learned, and hopefully some of these tips will help you:

  1. don’t use conventions and  trade shows as a primary means of making sales. I’ve been to more than a half dozen comic cons and tabletop cons. I have yet to meet an indie game designer who plans to attend major conventions and actually turn a big profit, if any profit at all. The primary reason you go to those things is to network with fellow indies, meet bigger publishers that you might consider either selling your work to or at least get advice from, and collect information from your customers, such as their purchase habits, hobby enthusiasm, and what future products they might like (such as posters).
  2. You must make as many contacts as possible. One of the reasons I’ve been so successful in selling Heroes of History is that I’m willing to drive out and meet game shop owners from across the Mid Atlantic region, and even in New England (I also visit some Museums too). Now many of the owners will say no, but if even only a few say yes, you will make some sales that your fellow indies won’t because they work a day job and just sell on Amazon and at conventions. Many owners will allow you to do a demo day at the store, which is a good way of meeting potential customers and gaining fans. This rule also applies to authors: Find indie book stores (while they last) and talk to owners about buying a few copies or letting you have a book signing event to get your name out there.
  3. A lot of the stores and museum shops you reach out to will either forget, mislead you, or be careless with, their promises to buy copies. I have more than a dozen stores owners who allegedly were going to buy my game and simply did not return phone calls or emails. Most likely these owners are overwhelmed with running their stores, but many may think they want your product, then change their minds later.
  4. Carry sales receipts! The government counts what you do as a business, even if you’re self employed or file as a sole proprietor (meaning you’re the only employee and will always be the only employee), so you need to pay taxes. Not only to sales receipts give the store or museum a track record of your sale, but for taxes. I use Wave Accounting to log my expenses (disclosure: I have a friend who is my bookie) but I use printed receipts as a backup record.
  5. Use the MileIQ app to record your mileage expenses. Believe me, this is the best purchase I ever made.
  6. Be proud of your product. Even if you know it has flaws, you did what few people ever do: Actually produce something.

 

Got anything that I missed on this list? Share it below. And don’t forget to follow my page.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m a Winner! Maybe

bostonfig-logo

I am pleased to announce that Heroes of History will be a featured game at the Boston Festival of Indie Games and is a finalist for a Figgie. Check out their site:

Welcome To The Boston Festival of Indie Games!

You: What does this mean, Mister Friedman? And why should I give a fruck?

Me: This is their Fifth Annual awards and considering that this is my first try at designing games, the fact that Heroes of History is a finalist makes me proud.

A big thank you to the following people for all their help: Eric Friedman, Benji Seyler, David North, the rest of my illustrative crew (Mackenzie Brewer, Michelle Graves, Dagmara Gaska, and Ben Ramos), and all of my product testers for helping me to get Heroes of History to where it needs to be. Special thanks to Mark DiPaola, Danielle Oliano, and Yeshaya Cohen, Dakota Fuller, the Friedman family (including relatives), the entire Breakie family, and everyone else who assisted in helping bring the Heroes to Life.

Tomorrow: I’ll talk about what I’ve learned from my time selling as an indie. Authors and Game Developers, take note.

If Barnes and Nobles Closes, are Unknown Authors Screwed?

If you missed the news, New Republic has a new essay out on the impending doom of Barnes and Nobles https://newrepublic.com/article/133876/pulp-friction

There’s more than a little irony to the impending collapse of Barnes & Noble. The mega-retailer that drove many small, independent booksellers out of business is now being done in by the rise of Amazon. But while many book lovers may be tempted to gloat, the death of Barnes & Noble would be catastrophic—not just for publishing houses and the writers they publish, but for American culture as a whole.

If Barnes & Noble were to shut its doors, Amazon, independent bookstores, and big-box retailers like Target and Walmart would pick up some of the slack. But not all of it. Part of the reason is that book sales are driven by“showrooming,” the idea that most people don’t buy a book, either in print or electronically, unless they’ve seen it somewhere else—on a friend’s shelf, say, or in a bookstore. Even on the brink of closing, Barnes & Noble still accounts for as much as 30 percent of all sales for some publishing houses.

This happens a lot and B&N is still among us. Yet in the long run, they are clearing out space for book and selling more music and games. Borders did this, and look at where they are now.

Here’s the scary part for wanna-be trade-pubbed authors:

In a world without Barnes & Noble, risk-averse publishers will double down on celebrity authors and surefire hits. Literary writers without proven sales records will have difficulty getting published, as will young, debut novelists. The most literary of novels will be shunted to smaller publishers. Some will probably never be published at all. And rigorous nonfiction books, which often require extensive research and travel, will have a tough time finding a publisher with the capital to fund such efforts.

The irony of the age of cultural abundance is that it still relies on old filters and distribution channels to highlight significant works. Barnes & Noble and corporate publishers still have enormous strides to make in fully reflecting America’s rich diversity. But without them, the kinds of books that challenge us, that spark intellectual debates, that push society to be better, will start to disappear. Without Barnes & Noble, we’ll be adrift in a sea of pulp.

So accoring to this author, if you’re unknown, sold poorly in the past, and not famous, you will soon be beyond screwed if B&N goes out. This is because no one, not even Amazon, can or will ever create a viable national print bookstore chain again in this country, unless there’s a sudden return to reading by the public.

It’s pretty clear that without B&N, traditional print publishers will lose a massive part of their appeal. Their two biggest appeals are: Marketing and distribution. Yes, they could still send to indie bookstores, but I have a feeling that few but the biggest authors will want to give away 85% of their revenue to someone who is nothing more than a big marketing agency and seller to small bookstores, especially since there are and will be other services that can do this more effectively for less. And marketing can be done with an agency.

I’m not saying publishers will be extinct if B&N goes under, but they will lose a huge incentive to query those agents for years to land one, and then wait more years to find a publisher (unless you’re one of the lottery winners who just has ‘it’ and can sail through the process in months). The downside is, how will most people be able to get their work out in an overcrowded marketplace?

 

 

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?

Do Million Dollar Debut Authors Help or Hurt Publishing?

Million Bucks

Point One: Book publishing, like the entertainment industry at large, relies on a few breakout successes to overcompensate for the projects which don’t succeed. Point two: We as humans are wired for “narratives” in our lives-thus we seek opinions which confirm our pre-conceived notions, rather than being challenged.

For book publishers and authors, nothing beats a “rags to riches” narrative, given the struggles of pretty much every author who has a book, many who may live in poverty or low-income conditions, who see their work come to life via publisher. They watch the book become a hit, get rich, and stand tall as the next wave of eager beavers send in their manuscripts, in the hopes that their book might be the Next Bit Thing (NBT). The desire to stand on top of the mountain and shout to everyone behind you “yes, you can do it. See me? See me? I did it and perhaps it could be you.” Whether that desire is eager optimism to help fellow authors or a cynical ploy to sell “services” or “advice” to wannabes, depends on the author.

The desire to find the next breakout story drives publisher to seek the NBT. The problem is, it’s not really clear why some books do phenomenally well and others don’t. If it were, publishers and agents would only accept authors with a 95% chance of that book hitting the bestseller’s list. (Subscribe to my blog for a future post on this 95 percent confidence interval and what it means). But since determining those books is difficult without market research (which I don’t see them do for most books), they are left to what we used to call in grammar school “educated guesswork” or “guesstimates”.

The Wall Street Journal had a recent article about the “millionaire debutantes”- authors who got $1 million or more for their first book. This is like the legendary City of Gold or Shangri-La for authors, since it’s so rare to ever hear of an author receiving an advance this big. Or is it?

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, a former marketing copywriter in Los Angeles, dreamed for years of becoming a novelist but never had any illusions about earning a living from it. Her goal in writing her first novel, “The Nest,” which she tackled in her early 50s, was merely to finish it.

In a whirlwind week as publishers read the manuscript last December, HarperCollins’s Ecco editorial director Megan Lynch made a pre-emptive offer to publish the novel for at least $1 million. “I never imagined people would respond that way in a million years,” said Ms. Sweeney, 55. The book, about four adult siblings whose anticipated inheritance has all but evaporated because of one brother’s bad behavior, is scheduled to be published next March.

Literary fiction, long critically revered but poorly remunerated, is generating bigger and bigger bets by publishers. Thanks to a spate of recent runaway hits such as “The Goldfinch” in 2013 and “All the Light We Cannot See” last year, publishers are increasingly willing to pony up enormous advances to secure potential blockbusters.

Social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads have contributed to a culture in which everyone reads—and tells their friends about—the same handful of books a year. It’s increasingly a winner-take-all economy, publishing executives say.As a result, publishers are competing for debut literary talent with the same kind of frenzied auction bidding once reserved for promising debut thrillers or romance novels. “If they feel they have the next Norman Mailer on their hands, they’re going have to pay for that shot,” literary agent Luke Janklow said. “It’s usually the result of a little bit of crowd hysteria in the submission.”

“They’re basically betting on the book establishing itself as an important book in the canon,” Jane Friedman, co-founder of e-book publisher Open Road Media and former CEO of HarperCollins said of Knopf’s deal for “City on Fire.” “You’re betting that this is going to be the most-read book of the year.”

The lack of a sales track record is one of the factors that makes debut authors most appealing, publishers say, because there is no hard data to dampen expectations. “You can pin all your hopes and dreams and fantasies on a debut novel,” said Eric Simonoff, an agent known for negotiating seven-figure advances.

Some worry that large payouts for debut novels could do more harm than good. They put pressure on first-time authors and consume resources that otherwise might go to authors who have posted moderate sales, some agents and publishing executives said.

“It’s not that they’re betting on the wrong writer, it’s that the bet’s too big,” said Morgan Entrekin, publisher at the independent house Grove Atlantic, who noted that Grove can’t afford seven-figure advances.

Moreover, if the book doesn’t turn a profit, the relationship between the author and publisher can sour. And those disappointing sales figures are available for any other publisher to peruse when the author tries to sell her next novel. “That is a scarlet letter that you don’t get out from under,” Mr. Janklow said.

Indeed, million-dollar investments in debuts often don’t pan out, publishers and other industry experts say.

Read that quote by Eric Simonoff again and scratch your head. Is that how a business should operate? Committing millions of dollars to unproven projects because you could project your fantasies onto them?

Authors, unlike musicians or actors, are generally not public figures and rarely have the extroversion needed to build a massive social media or TV following to sell books. Whose fault that is you can argue all day. But the point is, you don’t see any reality TV shows featuring the writer’s life or asking aspiring writers to read their best flash fiction on-air for judges. Just imagine if publishers took most of that over-sized advance and instead committed it to marketing their books. Might they not sell more, especially of the ‘midlisters’?

The whole point of an advance is to provide authors with a source of income for their writing while they waited for their books to sell and collect royalties.But how can you justify handing one author a million bucks, probably 20 years’ of pre-tax pay for their job, when other authors barely get enough to pay their mortgage or rent? Or get nothing at all? Especially when who gets what is based on guesswork and not data.

The bottom line is, in an age where Amazon and self-published authors are taking market share from the traditional publishers of all sizes, the last thing the Big Five need is to spend millions on “guesstimates” of which books will succeed, enriching a tiny, tiny number of lucky authors while leaving the 99.999% out to dry, and focus on marketing the titles they already have. Then they might not need to rely so much on blockbuster titles.

photo: http://mymoneycounselor.com/net-worth-how-are-you-doing/million-bucks

 

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.

What if Harry Potter was Crowdsourced?

Happy-Thanksgiving-Pictures

thanksgivingprayer.com

The publishing world has changed, and the major players have lost ground to Amazon and some new upstarts looking to cash in on the rising indie-author boom, where more and more authors are choosing to self-publish their work instead of seeking a publishing contract.

The style of work has changed too. Short stories have come back in vogue, in no small part due to shortening attention spans among everyone with internet access. Heck, I stopped twice while writing this post to check e-mail. Even shorter pieces, called flash fiction (1200 words or less) are also in style, and some authors are demonstrating their ‘creativity’ and ‘talent’ by tweeting their work, others post to Wattpad or a similar social sharing site, and now we have interactive books courtesy of Apple. There are still ways to tell stories that have not yet been discovered.

One way which has and which is now being touted is crowdsourcing stories. The idea appears to be, someone writes an idea and writers compete to write the best versions of a chapter. Readers then vote on which chapters they like best, and that goes into the book. From Publishers Weekly:

“Traditional print publishing is gatekeeper driven. The traditional publishing model has focused mostly on large-scale print production and relies on a small number of retained authors with a proven track record of generating commercially successful work. The relationship between publisher and author is nurtured at a high cost. Publishers control their ROI by focusing on a small number of proven writers. With the emergence of e-books, the risk of picking the wrong author is reduced, but because of print’s continued focus on big authors, large publishing organizations are still a tough nut to crack for new authors or hard to categorize material.

Digital publishing is automation driven. Digital publishers saw an opportunity to automate many of the steps of traditional publishing, including digitizing books. This created cost efficiencies and increased the size of the market but the essential process of creating content remained the same. Hundreds of Internet-based publishers emerged to sell digital books, which gave birth to self-publishing and hybrid models in which authors pay partners to be published in exchange for a higher percentage of royalties. While digital publishing has expanded the number of published authors, it has not generated the revenues of traditional publishing, or garnered much respect for its content.

The sharing model of publishing is profile driven. In the newest sharing model of publishing, bits of stories are crowdsourced, and the community defines the best writing. Whereas the other models rely on the market to determine quality after the publishing process is complete, with customers using their wallets to vote, the sharing model publishes stories that have already been embraced by the crowd, eliminating the risk of publishing unwanted material. Instead of being process driven, the sharing model is profile driven. Readers and writers sit at the heart of this ecosystem of content generation, with their profiles defining the value they bring. A good analogy for how this model has evolved is the job postings market. Monster automated the process of scanning newspaper job postings. LinkedIn then focused on the profile of job seekers and allowed the community to crowdsource their careers.

Today there’s a similar opportunity for writers with the new sharing models of publishing crowdsourced original content through “competitive collaboration,” with writers competing to write sections of a story, and readers voting to determine which sections are published. Models like this turn the storytelling process into a social media experience.”

The premise is kind of like Wattpad meets celebrity authors, like how sometimes authors collaborate on a project to produce a book. But now, you promote your rough draft to the crowd, and let the reader tell you what’s good, rather than you finishing work and showing it to the reader.

The basic problem with crowdsourcing stories is that not all writers are equally talented. Yes, if five equal authors got together and agreed beforehand on a plot, it might work. The problem with Skrawl’s idea is, if one author is significantly better than another, then the good author will be dragged down by mediocre to poor authors, having to a) publicly show work that isn’t ready yet and b) being forced to compete with someone who may not be as good

Let’s use your favorite book, which is probably Harry Potter, since it seems like a lot of people’s favorite book is Harry Potter. In the old days, JK Rowling wrote an outline, then a book, then queried until a publisher bought the rights to the first book. The publisher edited the book, added a cover, and sold copies in bookstores. Today, if she received dozens or hundreds of rejections due to declining space for new authors, she could self-publish an e-book and hope for the best.

Under this crowdsourcing model, JK Rowling would post chapter 1 of Harry Potter to a website like Skrawl or Wattpad and then “compete” with some random schlub named Steve, living in Manalapan New Jersey, whose idea of a novel opener is “King Liprix wore a green coat and carried a purple sword.” Steve would post his chapter 2, and most of us agree it would suck. But, because readers determine via poll which chapter to vote on, Steve would get lots of his friends to vote for chapter 2 of the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s in UK) Stone. He has more friends who vote the same way most people do for social media competitons, so Steve wins. Then for chapter 3, Tanya from Redding, California gets her friends to pick her chapter 3, leaving JK out of the next two. By the time she’s ready to write chapter 4 (“Diagon Alley”), it no longer makes sense because the story is now about Harry using a staff and rubber band ball to fight a unicorn on a pogo stick while Harry Styles of One Direction looks on approvingly. Thus a great story is now ruined.

Crowdsourcing would require previous collaboration between authors, and voters who are truly impartial and capable of understanding the storytelling process are deciding one step of the way; and also if the authors are of relatively equal strength and talent. And as readers are already gatekeepers of literature, do you really need to check in with them first in a race to the bottom to see who can turn literature into whoever can push the most votes online?

Bottom line for Skrawl: Potential as a niche form of storytelling, but unlikely to replace conventional stories. I have a feeling most readers would rather just read a great story when it comes out instead of devoting hours to reading stinky writing so they can feel “important”.

No posts until next week. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Is Publishing Unfair?

camnanowrimo.org

Such was this question floated in The Atlantic:

Last month, the Jamaican writer Marlon James won the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for his riveting novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings. A spate of articles came out documenting his win, noting the fact that the 44-year-old James was the first Jamaican to win the prize. One article by The Guardian however,focused on the fact that the manuscript of James’s first novel, John Crow’s Devil, was rejected close to 80 times before finally being published in 2005. It also discussed how James had given up when faced with such vast rejection. “There was a time I actually thought I was writing the kind of stories people didn’t want to read,” he said, going on to describe how his desperation drove him to destroy his own work. “I actually destroyed the manuscript, I even went on my friends’ computers and erased it.”

This article was shared among writers on social media with exclamations of, “don’t give up!” and “keep at it!” But this reaction reminded me of the exuberance of many when Obama was elected President: To them, his election demonstrated the country had become blissfully “postracial,” despite all evidence to the contrary.

Time and time again, the literary establishment seizes on the story of a writer who meets inordinate obstacles, including financial struggles, crippling self-doubt, and rejection across the board, only to finally achieve the recognition and success they deserve. The halls of the literary establishment echo with tales of now-revered writers who initially faced failure, from Stephen King (whose early novel Carrie was rejected 30 times before being published), to Alex Haley (whose epic Roots was rejected 200 times in eight years). This arc is the literary equivalent of the American Dream, but like the Dream itself, the romantic narrative hides a more sinister one. Focusing on how individual artists should persist in the face of rejection obscures how the system is set up to reward only a chosen few, often in a fundamentally unmeritocratic way.”

The article author goes on to discuss race and publishing decisions, sans #weneeddiversebooks hashtag. While that is another issue for another time, let’s ask ourselves whether talented writers are being ignored by incompetent publishers who are a) evil, b) incompetent, and c) run by folks who are really, really bad at sales.

Just as occasionally athletes who were undrafted make a huge impact on their team, sometimes authors who were missed by the traditional system will have a second chance self-publishing. Just search for ‘self-publishing successes’ and the names of those who have ‘made it’ self-publishing will be there; many who were rejected so many times they took their shot with the internet, others who got their book rights back or were dropped by publishers, others who didn’t even bother trying.

The thing that drives artists crazy is that art is subjective. Unlike providing accounting services or inventing caffeinated peanut butter or chickpea pasta, there isn’t really any portion that is objective, besides a properly edited book. Even the cover is subjective.

Yes, one can argue that some authors are really exceptional at their craft, or that more people liking a particular story makes it better. Or most people agree a particular cover is better-looking than another. But at the end of the day, art is subjective. Meaning we have no way of knowing whether our work is liked enough to be bought until it’s out there. There has never been a golden age where artists of any kind were appreciated and most artists earned enough from their work to earn a living. We’ve ALWAYS had a few artists making most of the money. I would venture to say the top 50 bestselling authors worldwide earn more from their writing (only their earned portion of the royalties and advances received) than every other author combined, author being defined as having published at least one full-length novel for their genre that is sold for a price besides free.

As publishers are run by human beings, it’s natural like sports scouts, they will miss a particular talent, or choose to overcompensate the latest YouTube celebrity or Wattpad sensation with a bigger advance than could be ever earned back, while authors who could sell more than all of them get a smaller advance, if they even get offered a book contract. No, it isn’t fair, but private companies are not democracies and don’t need to be fair. With limited resources, and with art so subjective, editors and anyone else involved in buying book rights have to take their best guess as to what will be popular in the upcoming years when the book is actually published. Most of the time they guess wrong, occasionally they guess right, and rarely they guess super correctly, but those are the books which keep the company profitable.

Having said that, the author of The Atlantic article is correct in saying that the current publishing system is inefficient and does favor a select few. The few authors who have ‘made it’ happily talk about their rejection letters as proof of their ‘perseverance’. The even fewer who become millionaires from their writing are sometimes even more nauseating, as I have yet to see one of them say the traditional system is unfair, particularly to new writers. Of COURSE they will come out and defend the status quo, because THEY got rich off of it. Since they cannot truly explain why they got rich since art is subjective, they inflate their own writing abilities and defend a mismanaged system.

It should be obvious to every reader of this post why the traditional publishing world and their authors tout their ‘don’t quit’ stories, and this is important for you to understand. The closest I can explain it is a casino. Like respected artwork, winning at table games is largely out of your power. You may know the rules, you may have some experience that increases your chances of winning table games, but most winning is arbitrary. You may win the more you play, or you may not. You could win on your first hand or your twentieth, or not at all. Money you win is paid for by others who have played, or sold books. Bestsellers generally generate enough revenue to subsidize not only those authors’ lifestyles, but also purchase new books that might become the Next Big Thing. This is a lot of why publishers tend not to take risks on new ideas or new authors, sticking with the familiar faces and/or ideas that are like the last bestseller, with some changes in plot and character names. This increases the chances of finding more bestsellers to generate revenue.

Theoretically, if everyone knew which books were the best, we’d have a lean, efficient system and likely far fewer authors, meaning better earnings for those who do write. But no one has a clue. Not publishers, not editors, not agents, not authors, not the self-publishing world, not readers, no one. Therefore, traditional publishers require these ‘I made it!’ stories to make sure the authors who are talented keep querying agents and waiting for their book to be picked up. If the stories stop coming in, the system as we know it will collapse.

To be fair, indie publishing sort of functions the same way. Not for those who just want to publish their 1 or 2 books and be done with them, but who see writing as a career. You do remove the ‘middlemen’ and go directly to readers. But if you actually believe that you’ll hit it big by your fifth book, you’re fooling yourself. Your book is subjective, and it might hit it off or it might not. Anyone telling you indie is more ‘democratic’ is also not correct. It’s the same principle behind why people fear flying more than driving, even though flying is statistically safer: it’s the illusion of control. Just as we can’t control other drivers, indie authors cannot control whether potential customers (readers) will like their product enough to pay for it.

At the end of the day, book publishing has far bigger problems than if they miss some gems, because they always will. Getting people to read instead of doing other things. That said, the author of this article is partially correct: a lot of great work is being ignored. But a lot of great work has always been ignored, and will always be ignored, no matter what we tell ourselves otherwise.