A Tip for Getting Featured on Wattpad

logo property of Wattpad.com

I got a note from one of Wattpad’s Ambassadors, which is (for those who don’t know) an unpaid position to help Wattpad monitor the site to keep it clean (or at least that’s my impressions anyway) saying they liked my store enough that they’d like to feature it when I finish posting it, in late March. Of course, I accepted it.

Here’s what the Ambassador said:

Your story will get a week or so pinned to the top of it’s genre List, then it’ll join the main part of the List. Each section of the List is randomised each day to give everyone an equal chance. Although we ask for six months, we’re happy to leave the story up there longer if the writer is happy and the story remains complete. Anyone with a Wattpad account can see your story and the Featured Lists are given prominence on various home pages on App and Web so you should see your exposure grow.

I’ve heard it’s difficult to get a story featured, because there is only so much space to promote work and so many stories to read. In this way, I’m grateful, even though I won’t make any money from the story. The network is about 40 million people, which means many potential readers.

My tip is this: You may ask for a story to be featured even if you haven’t posted it. Right now I have a third of the book posted, and while I am promising to post the rest of the story a month earlier than I had scheduled myself to, I must have impressed the Ambassador after 10 chapters because that’s how many were up when I received the offer. Actually, what happened was, I thought you sent them a PDF and if they read it and liked it, they would post and feature your story. So I  told them I would post it and be in touch when it was done. The Ambassador then checked out my story a third of the way in and liked what he saw.

It should be a fun experiment. I’ll keep you posted. In case you’re wondering, the goal is to see if I can get enough reads either to a) attract a publisher and publish traditionally or b) get enough supporters to then promote book 2, and this way if I can’t get a publisher and I self-publish, I’ll have a bigger audience than if I self-published this second.

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Don’t Bother With #NaNoWriMo

For all you writers out there, you know this is the month you’re supposed to put out 50,000 words to “get to it”, to show you can produce some great literary work. Or at least get most of your next book done.

I don’t know how many of you several hundred monthly readers of this blog actually write, and how many of you actually bother with this month. I won’t bother pushing myself this month, for the following reasons:

  • For me, I treat EVERY freaking month like this. While 50,000 words is a tall order, I don’t like to wait around for that special time of year to be told to ‘bust my butt’.
  • For all you writing on the side while working 1 or more jobs: just saying you’ll write 50,000 words a month is a lofty goal that is more inspirational than realistic. If you live in the states, take at least 2 days off for Thanksgiving weekend. For those of you who don’t write, a full-time writer like your favorite multimillionaire author ___________ can easily write 50,000 words a month, if s/he is doing it full time and able to write about 5,000 words a day for 10 days a month. The rest of us? Write in our spare time, fortunately to make time in a day to get to writing.
  • Already booked up this month. Let’s just say the soccer league I ref got waaay more interesting on the weekends, and I have other projects going on.

Feel free to participate in NaNoWriMo and enjoy yourself. I, however, will write when I can and just continue with my normal writing schedule.

Are you participating this month? How many words do you honestly think you’ll get done?

Is Harry Potter a sacred cow?

“Be mooooved by my sacredness!”

Today’s post is rated E for everyone, but also is rated H for Harry. As in Britain’s real Harry, Harry Potter (We all know Harry Styles is a make believe tale we tell children, like the tooth fairy and Easter Bunny).

As a middle grade fantasy writer, I, and all the other genre writers, know we pale in comparison to The Greatest Book Ever Written, My God (TGBEWMG).

How many people do you know who read the books didn’t like it? The sales, the fandom, the theme park, the movies, the story, all back up the success. It was well-written and cleverly thought out. JK Rowling is awesome with the English language, and, as I’ve said before, no one will ever recreate that level of excitement or sales success ever. I’m serious; it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime books that you just consider yourself lucky or amazed to be alive in when people lined up at midnight, in costume, to pay $30 for a hardcover book, when people around the world were begging for the next copy and crying when the series ended and then the movies too.

I was 10 the first time I had heard of HP. There were three books out and everyone in my elementary school was reading them. Only I, feeling cool, decided not to bother reading them until I think I was the last in my 5th grade class to pick up a copy. Surprisingly, it was interesting and different, more so than most other books I had read*, and I was a huge Goosebumps/Hardy Boys/Encyclopedia Brown fan growing up. Yes, I had read about other magical schools, but not to HP’s level. They really were magical.

*Did I, the video game junkie, just admit to READING?

Along with immense success comes fandom and respect. Even Fifty Shades, much maligned for being half Twilight Fanfic, half softcore porn for women, deserves credit for being able to do what no other book has done since HP and Twilight; cross the 100 million sales barrier for a series (In fact, I’m pretty sure no book will even hit 100 million again, but it’s possible a series could do it. Maybe), especially in an age where the diffusion of entertainment options, decline in reading for pleasure, and massive competition between books make finding those gems much harder.

Well, I have learned that there is a group of Harry Potter have, for whatever reason, decided that because the books were so great, now no one can write a children’s fantasy series, especially if a magical school is involved, and not automatically have either complaints or comparisons to Harry Potter. And in this case I’m referring to those who will dismiss any middle grade fantasy novel the moment they sense “similarities” between your/my story, and HP.

Don’t misunderstand, those of us who write in this genre (middle grade fantasy) would be happy with that level of respect (and sales-even a tenth of them) Rowling received. If someone wants to say “This is the best book I’ve read since Harry Potter” (and one kid DID say something like that to her parents a few months ago during a first read), I’d be thrilled.

But we who write kid’s fantasy like the genre and have our own stories, separate from HP. Will stories have similarities? Of course. There are about 12 unique story ideas in the world, and every story everywhere is a derivative of another one. Every idea builds upon another one. Even my idea, which I know for a fact has never been done before in the way it’s been done (when the story’s completed), is a cobbling of other people’s ideas synthesized with my own. It’s just “First to Market” who gets to claim originality.

Check out Viktor Kloss’ page, Middle Grade (MG) fantasy author. To be fair, I haven’t read his book just yet (will do so soon). But check out his comments- you can’t go more than a few before someone either decides: a) this is too “Harry Potter” and this is an issue, or b) has to plead with fellow posters that is is NOT Harry Potter and they should just like the book. I’d guess at minimum 40% of the commenters feel the urge to mention Harry Potter and try to argue the similarities and difference. Which wouldn’t be necessary if so many folks just didn’t get bothered by similarities.

Read the plot and tell me if it is:

“Two years ago, Ben Greenwood’s parents walked out the door and never returned. The police have all but given up finding them when Ben stumbles upon a peculiar letter addressed to his dad. “You are the most wanted man in the Unseen Kingdoms. Unless you come to us, we cannot help. For your child’s sake, tell us what you know.”

The letter is from an organisation called the Royal Institute of Magic and is dated a day before his parents disappeared. Like most people, fourteen-year-old Ben hasn’t the faintest idea what the Royal Institute of Magic is, but he has his first clue: the logo on the letter.

Armed with nothing but his wits and the help of his good friend Charlie, Ben sets out to find the Institute and, through them, his parents. To succeed, he will have to navigate a land filled with fantastic creatures and Spellshooters, where magic can be bought and sold, to unravel an ancient family secret that could hold the key to defeating an evil the Institute has been fighting for the last five hundred years.”

Sure, you could argue his magic or parts of plots come from other sources…Dungeons and Dragons, Lord of the Rings, et cetera. But notice in the comments what one book gets mentioned as being “too similar” or “this book is NOT Harry Potter! Only a few similarities please like it!”

*Update: Victor sent me a blogpost. I’m glad he got some people who like it the way they liked Harry Potter, which he notes. But he also has to feel the urge to specify how his book is a) NOT Harry Potter and b) not using concepts not already used, such as the “world within a world”. Apparently some Harry Potter fans also believe the ideas in the novels were original to her, and forget about the great writers before her who shared ideas which laid down the groundwork.

I write this because your humble, lonely, merely “aspiring” author has written his own book, also MG fantasy, also with a character who is sent to a preparatory academy, who also receives a letter (in her tree-shaped mailbox) saying she and her sister were accepted to this school, which is not for everyone. That’s honestly about it for the similarities. I have no wizards, witches, dragons, ghosts, trolls, or elves in mine (In book 1, the only one written), no one picks where they live at school, the main character has a separate life than Harry, and the main villain is not an evil wizard who wants to live forever/destroy the world (in fact it’s not even human). In addition to writing my own ideas, I did as much as possible to avoid the comparisons, and I would think and hope on its merits the book will be well-received, or poorly received if it sucks that bad. If anything, I might guilty more of being too influenced by Naruto than Harry Potter.

I can only wonder, though, if my editor was right after she read my first draft, and I’m just going to get the “Harry Potter did it! Harry Potter did it!” comments. If you think this doesn’t matter to a MG fantasy writer, picture review after review of people wasting time talking about how this book is/is not like TGBEWMG, as opposed to saying what it is about my book they liked/disliked, independent of other works.

The thing is, the series I’m writing has no relation to Harry Potter, or Naruto, other than some occasional similarities. But will readers give book 2 a chance if book 1 is a “knockoff?”

For the record, I wonder how many of these “You just stole from Harry Potter” types thought the same when Hunger Games was accused of ripping off Battle Royale, or when Divergent was accused of ripping off Hunger Games (to be fair, I did not read Divergent, nor do I know what the plot is about; it’s anecdotal what I’ve heard from readers). Somehow that didn’t impact sales for Suzanne Collins or Veronica Roth. So why do some Harry Potter fans treat the series like it’s a sacred cow that cannot be replicated in any way?

(Okay, rant over, off the soapbox. Now time to get back to work)

Please someone, prove me to be a ranting jackass. Find me proof of diehard Potterfans who WANT to find a new MG Fantasy series to fall in love with, the way they fell in love in Harry Potter.

Image is from www.robertscottbell.com. I have no ownership rights, and I am not making money or benefiting from using that image.

Your Thoughts: Are Novellas the “New” Novels?

What do you think? Given the advent of e-books and free-books and the cost associated for an indie author to pay for editing and other services, plus the sheer number of content available for download and purchase, will the novella form see a revival? or will novellas, which are like “long short stories”, become a fad because people decide they want longer stories (but not too long!) with more substance? From io9:

“Tor.com is moving aggressively into publishing novellas (or short novels) in e-book format, and they just announced their first list of titles. But why is Tor.com (and everybody else) so convinced that shorter is better for e-books? Editorial assistant Carl Engle-Laird explains.

“When asked why Tor.com is focusing on publishing shorter works as e-books, Engle-Laird tells io9:

When the book wars sweep across the galaxy, and the blood of publishers runs down the gutters of every interstellar metropolis, the resource we fight for will not be paper, or ink, or even money. It will be time. For our readers, time is the precious commodity they invest in every book they decide to purchase and read. But time is being ground down into smaller and smaller units, long nights of reflection replaced with fragmentary bursts of free time. It’s just harder to make time for that thousand-page novel than it used to be, and there are more and more thousand-page novels to suffer from that temporal fragmentation.

Enter the novella, an old form with a new lease on life. We expect that the reader who has to fit their reading into their daily commute will appreciate a novella they can finish in a week, rather than a year. We’ll be releasing books that can be begun and completed on just one of those rare evenings of uninterrupted reading pleasure. And we think this will resonate especially with those readers who have so much reading to do that they’ve compressed their habit into a portable device.

Of course, Tor.com won’t just be a science fiction publisher. Our fantasy sensibilities insist on reminding you that novellas aren’t just the future of genre, they’re also our past. Science fiction and fantasy were born in penny dreadfuls, came of age in magazines, and novellas have been essential to their development, from The War of the Worlds to The Shadow Over Innsmouth to Empire Star. Tor.com wants to carry that fantastical history into a future that is beginning to outgrow its magazine predicates, but has no need to outpace its love of excellent stories at the length in which they were meant to be told.”

The Traditional Publisher’s Revenge: Turns out Publishing with Amazon has Drawbacks, too

cartoon credit: Dan Wasserman, Boston Globe. Distributed by the Tribune Content Agency.

On December 27 the New York Times ran an article called “Amazon offers all you can eat books: Authors turn up noses”. The problem starts with a new Amazon program called Kindle Unlimited, which allows readers a.k.a customers to buy into a monthly membership for $9.99 to get unlimited access to a wide range of titles. Needless to say, this is great for avid readers and for Amazon, who gets people to use their services, but a bad deal for authors who depend on selling books even if only for $0.99 a copy.

From the article: (bold emphasis mine)

“Authors are upset with Amazon. Again.

For much of the last year, mainstream novelists were furious that Amazon was discouraging the sale of some titles in its confrontation with the publisher Hachette over e-books.

Now self-published writers, who owe much of their audience to the retailer’s publishing platform, are unhappy.

One problem is too much competition. But a new complaint is about Kindle Unlimited, a new Amazon subscription service that offers access to 700,000 books — both self-published and traditionally published — for $9.99 a month.

It may bring in readers, but the writers say they earn less. And in interviews and online forums, they have voiced their complaints.

For romance and mystery novelists who embraced digital technology, loved chatting up their fans and wrote really, really fast, the last few years have been a golden age. Fiction underwent a boom unseen since the postwar era, when seemingly every liberal arts major set his sights on the Great American Novel.

Now, though, the world has more stories than it needs or wants to pay for. In 2010, Amazon had 600,000 e-books in its Kindle store. Today it has more than three million. The number of books on Smashwords, which distributes self-published writers, grew 20 percent last year. The number of free books rose by one-third.

Revenue from e-books leveled off in 2013 at $3 billion after increasing nearly 50 percent in 2012, according to BookStats. But Kindle Unlimited is making the glut worse, some writers say.

The program has the same all-you-can-eat business model as Spotify in music, Netflix in video and the book start-ups Oyster and Scribd. Consumers feast on these services, which can offer new artists a wider audience than they ever could have found before the digital era.

Holly Ward, who writes romances under the name H.M. Ward, has much the same complaint about Kindle Unlimited. After two months in the program, she said, her income dropped 75 percent. “I couldn’t wait and watch things plummet further,” she said on a Kindle discussion board. She immediately left the program. Kindle Unlimited is not mandatory, but writers fear that if they do not participate, their books will not be promoted.

One major point of contention: Kindle Unlimited generally requires self-published writers to be exclusive, closing off the possibility of sales through Apple, Barnes & Noble and other platforms. (Ms. Ward was an exception.)

Amazon usually gives self-published writers 70 percent of what a book earns, which means a novel selling for $4.99 yields $3.50. This is much more than traditional publishers pay, a fact that Amazon frequently points out.

Are you Addicted to Social Media?

First off, Happy Holidays to all this December, no matter what you celebrate.

For this post I’ve decided to look at social media addiction. In an article written by Jess Ostroff at Spin Sucks, she talks about how lots of us are not only internet addicts, but social media addicts.

womenonthefence.com

Do you care what your friends, family, and favorite celebrities are up to all the time? Do you frequently check you social media pages to see new statuses, tweets, pins, keekbacks, vine posts, etc. etc.? Could you go an entire day without social media? How about a week? a month?

Jess writes: “Some people are addicted to social media the same way others are addicted to heroin.”

The summary of the article is this: There is a chemical called dopamine which, when released, provides you with the feeling of pleasure. For many people the constant need to read what others are posting {you can be excused for my blog- I love it when you read my posts :)}, post new content yourself, or struggle with Fear Of Missing Out syndrome (FOMO) which for some people is a real disorder, is a direct result of our brains being retrained by our internet browsing habits to crave the internet and get annoyed when we aren’t around it.

under30ceo.com

For me personally I don’t dispute that I do monitor social media during the week, as for my job I am required to update and post new content at least once daily. However on weekends I am pretty good about turning off the social media and picking up a book or at least continuing the books I’m working on now.

This is an important point for those of you trying to complete projects, especially books, film projects, etc. One way I find I’m able to write better is to put my phone in another room so I can hear it but I’d have to get up to answer it. This removes at least one distraction.

What about you? Are you or someone you know a “social media addict”?

Books in 2014: Year in review

This post is about the state of book publishing. Whether you’ve gotten a book published or if you’re looking to get one published, here are some highlights:

  • $5.25 billion: Amazon’s current annual revenue from book sales, according to one of Packer’s sources. That means books account for 7% of the company’s $75 billion in total yearly revenue.
  • 19.5%: The proportion of all books sold in the U.S. that are Kindle titles. E-books now make up around 30% of all book sales, and Amazon has a 65% share within that category. Apple and Barnes & Nobles make up nearly all of the rest.
  • >50%: The decrease in the number of independent bookstores over the past 20 years. There used to be about 4,000 in the U.S.; now there are fewer than 2,000. Amazon’s arrival on the scene is only part of the story here, of course; the decline of the indies started with the debut of big-box stores like B&N and Borders. (Forbes.com)
  • E-books Still Outsold by Hardcover and Paperback E-book sales accounted for 23% of unit sales in the first six months of 2014, according to Nielsen Books & Consumer’s latest survey of the nation’s book-buying behavior. Paperback remained the most popular format in the first half of the year, with a 42% share of unit sales. Hardcover’s share of units was just ahead of e-books, accounting for 25% of unit purchases.
  • The fight is over Amazon and Hachette’s feud over the price-setting of Hachette books sold on Amazon ended with Amazon winning some ground, though a look back shows it was probably a draw. In the short-term, Hachette may have held its ground, but the fact that Amazon controls so much of the book selling market means they can outlast their print and brick and mortar store competitors (if the company can keep from losing more money).
  • Print isn’t dead despite the belief that someday no one will hold a paper book, there are more small indie presses than there were ten years ago.
  • The top ten publishing houses of 2013:
  • Rank (2013) Rank (2012) Publishing Company (Group or Division) Country Mother Corporation or Owner Country of Mother Corporation 2013 Revenue in $M 2012 Revenue in $M
    1 1 Pearson UK Pearson UK $9,330 $9,158
    2 2 Reed Elsevier UK/NL/US Reed Elsevier UK/NL/US $7,288 $5,934
    3 3 Thomson-Reuters US The Woodbridge Company Ltd. Canada $5,576 $5,386
    4 4 Wolters Kluwer NL Wolters Kluwer NL $4,920 $4,766
    5 5 Random House Germany Bertelsmann AG Germany $3,664 $3,328
    6 6 Hachette Livre France Lagardère France $2,851 $2,833
    7 10 Holtzbrinck Germany Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck Germany $2,222 $2,220
    8 8 Grupo Planeta Spain Grupo Planeta Spain $2,161 $2,597
    9 11 Cengage* US Apax Partners et al. US/Canada N/A $1,993
    10 7 McGraw-Hill Education US The McGraw-Hill Companies US $1,992 $2,292

(Publishers Weekly)

We won’t have final 2014 numbers for publishing companies for some time, but in the meantime one thing’s pretty clear: despite the consolidations in the publishing industry, smaller indies are managing and an increasing number of best-sellers are coming from self-publishers (basically, anyone not with a Big 5 contract). Even though many kids don’t read (a goal of mine I want to work on), people have not yet thrown away all the books for Angry Birds.

What do you think 2015 will hold?

My first-ever writer’s conference

As approach Thanksgiving I though I’d share a few thoughts on the 2014 Baltimore Writer’s conference I recently attended. This was my first-ever writer’s conference and looking back at it it was an interesting time. Sadly, no photos 😦

The highlights:

  • Took place at the campus of Towson University.
  • -about 125 people, mostly under 30. Mostly White but there was some diversity (more than the publishing industry, I’d guess)
  • -Four session times offered. I first went to the session called “Publish your own lit journal” The takeaways were: don’t quit your day job, set specific times to allow for author submissions, get a great cover designer, figure out the costs for physical copies if you’re selling, and make sure you have a phenomenal editor team in place to read submissions. One magazine assigns one editor per genre, another passes it around to 5-6 editors and has a “two votes and you’re out” policy. Despite the challenges facing print publishing the publishers featured were enthusiastic about what they publish, seeing it as more of a hobby or life-long fulfillment than as a way to make millions.
  • -The second session I went to a session called “how to craft a better query letter” which turned out to be about how to pitch story ideas to a local Baltimore feature magazine. The session was not that interesting to me since I have no desire to become a reporter for any local featurettes, so I went to the “creating dialogue for fiction” session, which had about half the total conference participants in it. Although I missed the beginning I got these tips:
  • -don’t use dialog in low-contect situations. Skip hellos, goodbyes, self-appraisals, and statements of feelings (can use in high-contect situations like family feuds and spousal arguments)
  • Characters only ask, say, answer, and reply. They never chortle!
  • Strike out words like “Oh, yes, well, so, um, etc.
  • Avoid dialect in dialog.
  • Avoid over-telling
  • Have characters do stuff while they talk. People don’t always sit around doing nothing.
  • 3 lines of dialogue per one character speech. Save longer monologues for specific situations.

Do you agree/disagree with any of these?

After a lunch of penne paste and grilled chicken I had a critique section! Jessica Blau, who wrote a best-seller, critiqued my work. She liked my chapter but we disagreed on some of the dialogue structure. She did catch a few errors but it would have been nicer to show her an entire book and not just one short chapter. A good experience; I’d never had work critique by anyone before. My mom doesn’t count. I was surprised only 30 of the conference attendees came to this session. Maybe they didn’t have anything they were ready to have critiqued.

There last session was by a woman named Bonnie Friedman who talked about “Envy fear, distractions, and other dilemmas in the writer’s life”. This was a forum attended by younger people who had to suffer anxiety, frustration, and a lack of support from friends or family in regards to their writing career. I know this: tell people you write and most folks are either unimpressed or they don’t think I’m spending my time wisely. I hope they’re wrong! One girl started crying and she said she suffered from anxiety issues related to her work. Later on the elevator on the way down she told me she had a mental health issue. I won’t divulge her name but let’s just say it isn’t the way you want to introduce yourself to people. Even if she was telling the truth, there’s a time and place to talk about those things and a writer’s conference with strangers isn’t one of them.

Overall I had a great time. I met a few people I hopefully will talk to in the future and  who knows: Maybe somewhere in that conference call is a person who will write a best-seller or a Hollywood blockbuster.

I’ll have a post on Tuesday, my last before Thanksgiving, providing a few fun (and little-known) Thanksgiving facts. Until then, !hasta luego!

How “The Shazam Effect” changed music- and could change book publishing

There was an interesting article in The Atlantic earlier this week called “The Shazam Effect.” For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Shazam is a tech start up founded in 2000 by a Standford Ph.D. named Avery Wang who wanted to develop a service which could use a cellphone to identify any song within the phone’s range using an algorithm which created a unique acoustic fingerprint for each track, turning each song into a piece of data which could be read by the Shazam program. 500 million downloads later the program is used by music industry executives to determine not merely what songs are popular, but which songs will be hits with the right marketing effort in the future based on early-detection. Read the following (edited for length) and for those of who who like reading substitute “music” for “books”, “songs” for “self-published novelist” “artists” with “authors”, “hear” and “listen(er)” with “read(er)”, and “labels” or “music executives ” with “traditional publishers”:

“By studying 20 million searches every day, Shazam can identify which songs are catching on, and where, before just about anybody else. “Sometimes we can see when a song is going to break out months before most people have even heard of it,” Jason Titus, Shazam’s former chief technologist, told me.  Last year, Shazam released an interactive map overlaid with its search data, allowing users to zoom in on cities around the world and look up the most Shazam’d songs in São Paulo, Mumbai, or New York. The map amounts to a real-time seismograph of the world’s most popular new music, helping scouts discover unsigned artists just as they’re starting to set off tremors.

Shazam searches are just one of several new types of data guiding the pop-music business. Concert promoters study Spotify listens to route tours through towns with the most fans, and some artists look for patterns in Pandora streaming to figure out which songs to play at each stop on a tour. In fact, all of our searching, streaming, downloading, and sharing is being used to answer the question the music industry has been asking for a century: What do people want to hear next?

It’s a question that label executives once answered largely by trusting their gut. But data about our preferences have shifted the balance of power, replacing experts’ instincts with the wisdom of the crowd. As a result, labels have gotten much better at understanding what we want to listen to. This is the one silver lining the music industry has found in the digital revolution, which has steadily cut into profits. So it’s clearly good for business—but whether it’s good for music is a lot less certain.

Next Big Sound, a five-year-old music-analytics company based in New York, scours the Web for Spotify listens, Instagram mentions, and other traces of digital fandom to forecast breakouts. It funnels half a million new acts through an algorithm to create a list of 100 stars likely to break out within the next year. “If you signed our top 100 artists, 20 of them would make the Billboard 200,” Victor Hu, a data scientist with Next Big Sound, told me.

Last year, the company unveiled a customizable search tool called Find, which, for a six-figure annual subscription, helps scouts mine social media to spot artists who show signs of nascent stardom. If, for example, you wanted to search for obscure bands with the fastest-growing followings on Twitter, Find could produce a list within seconds.

To get a song on the radio in the first place, music labels confront a paradox: How do you prove that it will be a hit before anyone has heard it? DJs consider unfamiliar songs “tune-outs,” because audiences tend to spurn new music. In the past, labels sometimes pressured or outright bribed stations to promote their music. Songs became hits because executives decided they should be hits.

But radio, too, has come to rely more on data, and now when label executives pitch a station, they’re likely to come armed with spreadsheets. The search for evidence of a song’s potential has become exhaustive: you can’t just track radio data, or sales, or YouTube hits, or Facebook interactions, or even proprietary surveys and focus groups. To persuade a major radio station to play a new song, labels have to connect all these dots.

The Hot 100 matters because it doesn’t just reflect listener preferences, it also shapes them. In a groundbreaking 2006 study on the influence of song rankings, three researchers at Columbia University showed that popularity can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The researchers sent participants to different music Web sites where they could listen to dozens of tracks and download their favorites. Some sites displayed a ranking of the most-downloaded songs; others did not. Participants who saw rankings were more likely to listen to the most-popular tracks.

The researchers then wondered what would happen if they manipulated the rankings. In a follow-up experiment, some sites displayed the true download counts and others showed inverted rankings, where the least-popular song was listed in the No. 1 spot. The inverted rankings changed everything: previously ignored songs soared in popularity, and previously popular songs were ignored. Simply believing, even wrongly, that a song was popular made participants more likely to download it.

Everyone I spoke with about the Hot 100—label and radio executives, industry analysts, and other journalists—agreed with Jay Frank’s assessment that consumers have more say than they did decades ago, when their tastes were shaped by the hit makers at labels. But here’s the catch: if you give people too much say, they will ask for the same familiar sounds on an endless loop, entrenching music that is repetitive, derivative, and relentlessly played out.

Because the most-popular songs now stay on the charts for months, the relative value of a hit has exploded. The top 1 percent of bands and solo artists now earn 77 percent of all revenue from recorded music, media researchers report. And even though the amount of digital music sold has surged, the 10 best-selling tracks command 82 percent more of the market than they did a decade ago. 

And not only are we hearing the same hits with greater frequency, but the hits themselves sound increasingly alike. As labels have gotten more adept at recognizing what’s selling, they’ve been quicker than ever to invest in copycats. People I spoke with in the music industry told me they worried that the reliance on data was leading to a “clustering” of styles and genres, promoting a dispiriting sameness in pop music.

In 2012, the Spanish National Research Council released a report that delighted music cranks around the world. Pop, it seemed, was growing increasingly bland, loud, and predictable, recycling the same few chord progressions over and over. The study, which looked at 464,411 popular recordings around the world between 1955 and 2010, found that the most-played music of the new millennium demonstrates “less variety in pitch transitions” than that of any preceding decade.

The problem is not our pop stars. Our brains are wired to prefer melodies we already know. (David Huron, a musicologist at Ohio State University, estimates that at least 90 percent of the time we spend listening to music, we seek out songs we’ve heard before.) That’s because familiar songs are easier to process, and the less effort needed to think through something—whether a song, a painting, or an idea—the more we tend to like it. In psychology, this idea is known as fluency: when a piece of information is consumed fluently, it neatly slides into our patterns of expectation, filling us with satisfaction and confidence.”

You can see what data analytics can do for music, you can imagine what they can do for books.

Imagine major publishing companies using data algorithms to predict what self-published author or book might be the next big hit. Rather than let the market decide, they take someone with potential and make sure he/she is shot up to the top based on data and the assumption people want more of the same. Since most people prefer things they already know, they will support whatever is considered “popular”. So if the major publishers decided a particular book should be popular, they can simply bump it to the top, knowing the book-buying public will buy a print or e-book copy because they think everyone else is. The power of peer pressure, combined with people’s comfort in seeking out things we are familiar with and enjoy, could continue moving the literacy world in the same direction as the music industry: Authors will be chosen based on potential popularity and fitting their books into a formula for what people want, which means make sure your books look like everyone else’s with only minor differences. Those who are “chosen” will earn even more of the take on book revenue because they will perpetually be near the top. Only now people will be chosen by data analytics rather than someone reading the slush pile.

This could be a boon to self-publishers, who with a little marketing, social media presence, and luck, could be plucked from relative obscurity and made into the next big thing. Agents will have an important, but diminished, role in finding new talent because the publishing companies will just pay a tech company for this service. In this system agents would focus more on the contract and business side and less on presenting an author to the editors and publishers.

However, this system would further increase the disparity between the top and the bottom, as anyone showing even a modicum of talent will be whisked to the top just as the music industry has been successful at doing. And we all know there is a reason authors on a major bestsellers list stick that achievement on their books.

What do you think about this article? Could reading become like listening? Books treated like the music industry treats authors? the gap between the wealthy few mega best-sellers and everyone else continue to grow? Or are reading and listening too separate for this ever to happen?

The image is owned and copyrighted by The Atlantic.

Is Indie book publishing the best way to go?

There is a lot of debate among authors as to which methods of publication is best. Here are the four most common options:

1. Traditional publishing (Big 5- Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, MacMillian, Simon & Schuster, and all of the smaller printing companies they own)

2. “Indie Publisher”: small and medium sized printing and publishing companies unaffiliated with the Big 5.

3. Self-publishing with a major company like Amazon publishing, where you publish with a major company but it’s largely self-publishing, just on their platform.

4. Self-publishing: you do all the work yourself of creating  or hiring someone for the content, graphic design, editing, etc, and then you publish it on a site like Amazon, Nook, or smash words as an e-book with the possible Print on Demand function.

*Disclaimer: I am not at this time a published author. This is my take on how I view the industry based on the experiences of other authors and my understanding of the publishing industry.

Traditional publishing has the biggest pro in terms of marketing and budget. They can get your book into stores faster than any other method, you can sell copies, print in particular, faster through a big company AND they can quickly have your book translated and sent to foreign nations. They also have massive credibility. The catch is, you actually have to get these services. Go on your typical author message board and notice how many authors complain about the contracts they have to sign (granted, they may have other reasons to complain, but that’s another topic). these contracts often require signing away rights to books for a long time, if not forever. You would get a very low royalty, unless you have had previous success. Advances can vary but they seem to me to be almost totally at random, depending on whether you “fit” with the current crop of publishers. Even if you get a book deal you are still going to have to do your own promotion, though they can help you out. Many authors don’t seem to be good at self-promotion. Also, you will have very little say in how your book is produced, including cover art, illustrations, etc.

Small/Indie publishing: Small/indie publishers are more likely to work one on one with you to make the book look the way you want. As a legitimate publishing house they will take the costs of production onto themselves, and you can (and should) expect better contract terms- higher royalties, more control over cost and production, and legitimate assistance in marketing and promotion. However, you should not expect a large advance, your print runs will be smaller, and you will likely have to do even more self-promotion because indie publishers rarely have the staffs to keep up with the bigger publishers. One bonus is that BECAUSE budgets are smaller at indies your books won’t cost as much to produce, and a basic  economic principle is that the lower the price of a good or service the more likely you are to sell that good or service. Also, books get out to market much faster than big houses but slower than self-publishing.

Amazon publishing or similar service, including Kindle Direct Publishing- many authors who don’t want to write query letters, can’t handle rejection, and/or who can’t, don’t, or won’t wait for an agent to accept a book, pitch the book, sell the book rights, and then have the publisher decide when to print and sell it. You sign with a large company like Amazon, choose what contract terms you want (in KDP), and your book is available as a Print on Demand (POD) or as a legitimately published book. But I got this from the website today:

Amazon Publishing does not accept unsolicited manuscripts, proposals, or other submissions at this time.

Plus you also have to realize you’re working with Amazon…now while the “Big 5” don’t seem like the most pleasant bunch to deal with, and they do control way too much of the book publishing industry, Amazon controls over half the total e-book publishing market and they control a large number of sales volume on the internet. And another economic principle- monopolies are not a good thing. Replace the big 5 with Amazon and it will be exactly the same, but with one company in control and not five.

True self-publishing: You don’t sign a contract with anyone, other than choosing your terms with KDP or Nook Press, for example, for how much in royalties you want to receive. You write your book, take care of production yourself, and sell it as an e-book with POD option available. You publish it on as many sites as you are allowed (depending on your terms) and hope for the best. If you are lucky you might even sell a bunch of copies while keeping 100% of profit and not signing away any rights to anyone!

But…self-publishing has a bad stigma. Anyone can do it, and when anyone can do it, it isn’t very valuable. You will have to take care of ALL your publishing, production, promotion, etc. Many authors, as I stated above, cannot manage to essentially become entrepreneurs. Plus publishers can get access to media and brick and mortar stores you the lonely author are not likely to get access to, even if you’re nice.

My take: I personally favor the small indie publishing model, provided they are a credible publisher. You get the advantage of working with a real publisher who will handle much of what a big publisher will just on a smaller scale, and you will have a better chance of getting a more favorable contract. Self-publishing is very risky and giving your printing rights to a big corporation carries its own risks too, that you’ll either be drowned out by the huge roster of authors they already publish or you’ll have to live with the knowledge of letting an oligarchy have control of your hard work.