Source: Wattpad May Pay You…(Call Me) Maybe

Apparently Wattpad has rolled out a new feature for top authors: Get paid with ads in your story.

I received a tip from a fellow Wattpader with a story that has over 200k reads who announced that she is getting involved with a new program to place ads in her featured story as a means of seeing if Wattpad can  ever turn into YouTube and entice people to post, just like YouTube.

Now obviously you are almost impossibly unlikely to get rich making YouTube videos , even if some guy named Shaytard (more like Fucktard to be honest, proof that America is truly becoming an Idiocracy) made tens of millions “working” as a “video producers” (I don’t even want to link back to that) but if you are able to earn a few bucks or even a few hundred, it’s a nice night out gift. Here’s another article about your odds.

Now Wattpad is much smaller than YouTube: whereas YouTube has over 1 billion monthly users, Wattpad is just over 50 million. So Assuming a YouTuber with 1 million monthly views earns say twenty grand a year from her videowork, divide that by 20 and you can see that even the top Wattpadders will likely only take home pocket change.

However, this program could be a boon to authors who cannot get traditionally published or who are not good at selfpublishing, so even 2k is better than none.

 

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?

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.

 

Please Help Me Translate Litspeak

If you read the following two articles (edited for length but all points intact), you will most certainly be confused. The first article is an interview with literary agent Jane Dystel at indiereader.com. The second article is an article from J.H. Mae, also of Indireader. For your entertainment I’ve added my commentary since I was obviously (not) there.

Article 1

Loren Kleinman (LK): What’s been the most challenging aspect of choosing a title?

Jane Dystel (JD): I think the most challenging is finding something that is fresh.  The more I read, the more stories sound the same.  I am looking for “different” as are other agents and publishers.

B&B: Pretty much every story possible has been told in a basic form. Can I submit a story about a talking raccoon and a talking tree stump? Oh wait...

LK: How can authors improve their chances of engaging with a readership?

JD: The key here is, of course, the book.  Their story has to be well told and well written and fresh, as I said previously.  Second,  they need to spend lots of time on social media to build their fan base/potential readership. That is the key to sales these days—whether one is self-publishing or being published be a traditional publisher. Having a unique voice and working within a built-in community of authors and readers is a great way to stand out and cross-promote on social media. Authors should find what platform works best for them or that they’re most comfortable with (whether that’s Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.) and focus energy there. Better to excel in one place than to be mediocre in several.

B&B tip: The last sentence is very true.  Consider holding off your literary agent approach until you have at least fifteen thousand followers on social media or e-mail subscribers.

LK: How important is an author platform for the author, publisher and agency?

JD: The author platform is extremely important and will definitely make a difference in whether we can sell an indie author’s book to a traditional publisher. Social media is a big part of an author’s platform these days, and we find it works best when authors focus on the kinds they enjoy so that they can be consistent and genuine.

B&B: Very true for the most part, but something I feel like most agents and acquisition editors are missing. Just having a lot of social media followers doesn’t work if your book is terrible. It’s easier to market a great book from a relatively unknown than a total garbage book from a celebrity. Don’t believe me? Ask me how many books Snooki has sold. Social media matters but it isn’t the only thing. Follow my blog and I’ll tell you why!

LK: What can indie authors do to make their books more appealing in terms of covers, editing, etc.? What do you think is the most important aspect?

JD: The cover is very important in the indie world.  It needs to stand out in a very crowded market.  And, a manuscript that reads well—with proper editing and copy-editing—is always going to do better than one that doesn’t. Covers need to look professional. Invest in quality design or stock photos—something anyone could slap together on Microsoft Paint isn’t going to attract a reader, especially since they are only looking at a little thumbnail photograph of the cover and not holding a physical book in their hands. So, to that end, nothing too intricate either—what will stand out on a little screen is going to be what works.

B&B: Excellent point. Agreed.

LK: Do indie authors have more of a chance at traditional publishing later in their careers than those directly seeking publication or representation?

JD: It is very important, as I said, for the indie author to have a solid fan following in order to find a traditional publisher.  That takes time.  Also, unit sales of their self-published books is a factor in their ability to interest legacy publishers. Naturally, quality of writing is also very important—since traditional publishers aren’t as keen as they once were to purchase rights to books that have already been self-published, an indie author needs to be able to produce new work that is a) in line with the type of book they’ve been successful with and b) well-written and unique.

B&B: We won’t touch your book unless you have either a) celebrity status b) an easily accessible base of internet followers OR great access to some big-time talk shows or c) at least twenty-five thousand sales, likely e-books. After you do the work, THEN we’ll jump in and ask if you’ll turn over 2/3 of your revenue (or more) so we can give you “distribution” and “marketing”. IF we like you.

LK: What kind of authors are traditional publishers looking for these days? Is there a particular profile they consider?

JD: First, traditional publishers are no longer all that interested in picking up previously self-published books.  They want authors who are willing to work with them to grow their writing careers.  There is still so much to learn on both sides, and I think legacy publishers want to invest in those authors who are patient in terms of their growth as authors.

B&B: STOP! STOP! check out the two parts in bold. “Unit sales matter” and then “we don’t really want to publish previously self-published books.” So on the one hand, we won’t publish a book which has a lot of sales because we want an author to grow with them, but we want you to already have a lot of social media followers and success before we’ll offer you a contract?

How can you grow with a publisher if you have to do all the legwork before they’ll take you on? Someone help? Please?

Article 2

“These days, self-publishing doesn’t necessarily mean your novel will wither and die, unread, on the digital and real life bookshelves. Books with polished writing, a compelling voice, eye-catching covers, promising sales numbers and an author with a decent reader following may be destined for great things. Meaning a traditional book deal.

With so many indie titles released every day, the pool of authors has become something of a resource for literary agents eager to unearth new talent and sign the next breakaway bestseller – and a testing ground. “Traditional publishers let the indie market experiment, then they swoop in and try to grab what has worked,” said literary agent Evan Marshall with the Evan Marshall Agency.  “When a (book) is of high quality, the attention and popularity naturally come with it.”

The main indicator is sales rankings, which creates a slush pile that is self-curating,” added Laurie McLean, a partner at Fuse Literary Inc. Basically, if the numbers just aren’t there and the book isn’t making waves in the indie market, it likely won’t stand a chance in the traditional one, either, added Andrea Hurst, literary agent with Andrea Hurst & Associates.

The indie world is also allowing the traditional folks to see how new genres resonate with readers. It’s a “freedom and flexibility most traditional publishers don’t have,” Marshall said.

But there are barriers between a literary agent and the next great indie find. Mostly, it’s the sheer volume of titles, which bury the best ones. “It’s the same with the normal slush pile we deal with as agents,” said McLean. “We read. A lot … It’s the same as finding those needles in the huge haystack that we deal with every day.”

So where do agents look? Amazon Bestseller lists, The New York Times eBook Bestseller Lists, Bookbub and other major indie advertising sites. WattPad is another big one, along with Scribd – where McLean’s hybrid client Ransom Stephens got his start – Textnovel, FictionPress, FanFiction, textnovel, Worthy of Publishing, Mibba, figment, Quotev and other writing sites, as well as author web sites, popular review blogs and any place indie authors are being talked about – “the proverbial online water cooler vibe,” McLean added.

Writer’s conferences are also key. That’s where Toby Neal, a self-published author of police procedurals, met and clicked with McLean. Now she has an eight-book audiobook deal and two new series. “She’s given me six months. If I fail, she can always self-publish them. But this gives me a huge incentive to get this book pitched quickly and sold.”

And though word of mouth may be low-tech and old-fashioned, it’ll still get writers’ work under an agent’s nose. One of McLean’s hybrid clients, Michael J. Sullivan, referred her to two fantasy authors whose work he enjoyed and now one of them – Brian D. Anderson – is getting a chance to sell his new series with publishers in New York. “So, do a good job and your name will spread, I guess,” she said.

But the pressure is on indie authors to impress if they want to snag a book deal. Great writing, fresh ideas, a popular genre and novel-length stories – not short stories, novelettes or novellas –are required, added Marshall. (B&B: Didn’t the author of this article just say It’s also a popularity game, evidenced by a strong reader following and social media presence, plus a marketable author brand. But McLean pointed out another critical element– desire. (B&B: First it was new genres being monitored for signs of success, but now if you want a traditional book publishing contract you have to be in a popular genre? Hello? Help, please?)

“We’re particularly looking for indie authors who also want to have at least some presence in traditional publishing. “We’re in it for the long haul of an author’s career and we are looking to grow hybrid authors who can have one foot in the indie world and one in traditional publishing at all times.”

This element can be a challenging one to attain, because indie authors unfamiliar with traditional publishing get frustrated with the process. “They expect everything to move quickly and to have a say at every point along the way. That’s just not the way it works for the most part. You don’t get to pick your covers. You need to make some tough editing choices and trust your editor to make you a better writer. And you need to be patient.”

B&B: OK OK OK, hold up. Let’s break down the last two paragraphs together:
“We’re in it for the long haul of an author’s career and we are looking to grow hybrid authors who can have one foot in the indie world and one in traditional publishing at all times.”
But…Ms. Dystel said I need a massive amount of success in indie publishing, but then the publisher doesn’t want my previously successful work. The only want new books in the exact same genre I write in, assuming I write in exactly one genre. And if I switch genres? What then?
“They expect everything to move quickly and to have a say at every point along the way. That’s just not the way it works for the most part. You don’t get to pick your covers. You need to make some tough editing choices and trust your editor to make you a better writer. And you need to be patient.”
The technology world changes frequently. So on the one hand I have to be cutting edge and keep up with the latest in social media and book publishing, but if I were to be signed by a bigger publisher, I lose control of my work and it will take months or years? And while I agree a good editor is indispensable to a writer, the agent being quoted wants great books out. But that means I most likely hired a decent editor (besides close friends of course), and assuming I’m only writing one genre to build a “brand” (because God knows you aren’t allowed to try something different- see what happened to Lady Gaga?), then can’t I use my awesome freelance editor? Or is she out now?
B&B summary: I post this because I was colossally confused. Let’s be honest. I am very unlikely to ever get a traditional book deal, no matter what.  You, dear reader, are very unlikely to ever get one. It doesn’t matter how good or interesting you are. It doesn’t matter, in all honesty, how many books you sell at the end of the day because that isn’t enough. Heck, it doesn’t matter if I write a blogpost criticizing them, or don’t. All that matters is you and I do the legwork and build the fanbase, in a genre which is forever popular, then you “gets” if you are one of the “chosen ones”.
I have nothing personally against agents or publishers as people. I completely understand the difficulty in making decisions; only so many books per year can be printed and the sheer volume of query letters, plus self-published novels, plus the backlists, plus new material from the A-listers, is overwhelming. It isn’t always easy to understand why one book is so popular and one just like it is not. Changes in the industry have created a lot of uncertainty and I feel for those who worry about their future job status, especially in this economy. I have respect for publishing companies like Lee & Low books which publish the books they want, regardless of whether it has “commercial appeal.” Publishers like Lee and Low and Baen Books will even accept unagented queries, offering you at least a tiny chance to get your name in print, if this is what you want, without having to go through one more “gatekeeper.”
But to be honest, the agents quoted above come off as somewhat arrogant. They act like they’re doing you a favor by making you do all the legwork of building a fanbase, paying for your book’s production and marketing, building your website and your e-mail list, and then AFTER you put in that work they come in and offer to take 15% off the top, plus another 52.5% (give or take) to the publisher, for the right to do what?
What is the value added on they (publisher) are giving you if you’ve done all the work? Are they going to somehow give you a better cover than whatever your cover artist (or you, if you’re so talented) came up with? Will the editor they assign to read your book be better than the freelancer? More flexible? A better time table? Will they offer you help building your author site (this one’s a new post next week!)? Will they do a great job marketing beyond what you’ve already done on your own and can do by yourself or with a hired advertising team?
As for the agent, will she or he get you the money you’re looking for? Will she or he do a better job of managing your accounts and sales volume than Amazon, Ingram, or even an accountant? Will your book get a movie contract solely because of her work, and for more money than you would ever have been able to negotiate on your own?
And what about children’s books? It isn’t like there’s a major market for self-published kid’s books, especially compared to romance and mystery. Will a self-published children’s author attract their attention if the challenge of building an audience of kids is really difficult?
Unless we see reasonable and civil answers to these question, I get the impression, from the agents’ own comments, that the main appeal of being “snatched up” is to give you “legitimacy” at having your name in print by a Big 5 imprint. It’s prestigious. That seems to be about it.
Fellow bloggers and authors, please, help me learn Litspeak. I’m still new to this.

I just found the secret to making the bestsellers list! All you need is

$50 or more to take one or more Writer’s Digest course(s) on writing a breakout novel: (what, were you expecting something else?)

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Believe it or not, there are essential components of stories that show up again and again in bestselling novels. Learn these building block and you’ll be well on your way to completing your breakout novel in 2015!

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Many writers struggle with finding a happy medium for descriptive details. Either they have too much detail and lose the reader’s attention or not enough and leave readers confused. In this value pack, you’ll find instruction from literary agents, hands-on exercises from authors and examples from bestsellers on properly developing the description and setting of your novel. You’ll learn the keys to strong plot development, world building and writing characters readers relate to.

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EBOOKWriting nonfiction is an art much like painting. The words you choose to describe your nonfiction story have to illustrate the vision you have in your mind and capture the attention of readers. Learn how to develop their senses and powers of observation to uncover the rich, evocative words that accurately portray the mind’s images–and apply these descriptions to characters, settings, point of view, and more.
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ONDEMAND WEBINARIn this OnDemand Webinar, literary agent Roseanne Wells explores the crucial areas of character, plot and settling to show how they fit together and how you can ensure yours are working for your story. If your work is getting rejected, you may be using plot, characters and settings that just aren’t working for your novel.
World Building: The Art of Including Era and Place in Your Writing, Part 1
ONDEMAND WEBINARAn overdose of detail stops a reader, just as a deficiency causes reader confusion. But proper use of World Building keeps the reader in the moment of the story and compelled to keep reading, regardless of genre. Learn how to think of world building as a strategy to tell a descriptive story.
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ONDEMAND WEBINARReaders appreciate knowing where they are in a story. That’s where world building comes in. In this online tutorial, learn how to properly convey era and place in your writing to keep the reader intrigued from beginning to end.
Description and Setting
WRITERS DIGEST UNIVERSITY COURSEWriting a novel can be overwhelming—especially if you are new to writing. Build your writing skills and challenge your creativity with this online writing workshop. You’ll learn the elements on how to write setting and description from Ron Rozelle’s Write Great Fiction: Description & Setting.There is no instructor for this workshop. You will not receive feedback on assignments. You may review the lessons and exercises on your own schedule.
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10 Elements of a Viable, Lucrative Novel in Today’s Market

Many writers are in the dark when it comes to the question of what makes one novel saleable and another novel a “pass” in today’s complex publishing arena. What makes agents and editors say “no” to so many submissions and “yes” to just a few? (B&B answer: a much bigger platform than you currently have, the right connections within the industry, or you manage to write the EXACT book agents and publishers are looking for at the moment). Is there a specific formula? (B&B: no, vampire love stories and YA thrillers are the rage, and this is apparently making a comeback. I’ll explain in Sunday’s post) Are the criteria different today from 10, 20, or 50 years ago? What effect does the rise of e-publishing have on how novels are published, selected, and promoted? (B&B answer: Sell at least 10,000 copies of your e-book and an agent might actually reach out to YOU to see if you would be willing to sell print rights to a larger imprint. This may actually be the way most authors get representation in the future.) In the end, does it just come down to quality, or are there other forces at work? (B&B: a million YouTube subscribers or Twitter or Instagram followers or a TV show or Hollywood film lead role helps A LOT more than you know. Get on it, grasshopper!) This tutorial answers these questions (and more!)—shedding light on the inner workings of the often baffling publishing process, insight into the kinds of stories agents and publishers are seeking, and commentary on the principles every writer must be aware of to succeed in a dynamic and exciting time of change in the publishing world.

This tutorial is taught by literary agent Jim McCarthy. Jim is also the vice president at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management where he has worked his entire professional life since he started as an intern back in 1999. Jim focuses on adult and young adult fiction across categories from cozy mysteries and paranormal romance to literary fiction and some deeply quirky comedies. He is a frequent guest at writers’ conferences nationwide has numerous clients who are New York Times bestsellers.

In this 73-minute tutorial video, you’ll discover:

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Mastering Description & Setting

Format: Bundle

Many writers struggle with finding a happy medium for descriptive details. Either they have too much detail and lose the reader’s attention or not enough and leave readers confused. In this value pack, you’ll find instruction from literary agents, hands-on exercises from authors and examples from bestsellers on properly developing the description and setting of your novel. You’ll learn the keys to strong plot development, world building and writing characters readers relate to.

It can be difficult to discern which details of your novel are working and which aren’t. You may be getting rejected but are unsure exactly what the problem is. This kit walks writers through the process of writing their setting, point of view, plot, and characters in an engaging way that excites agents and keeps readers entertained from start to finish.

Write Great Fiction: Description & Setting
EBOOKMake your stories come alive on the page. In this reference book, you’ll find instruction on mastering the aspects of description and setting in your writing with hands-on exercises that allow you to incorporate lessons into your own work.
Word Painting Revised Edition
EBOOKWriting nonfiction is an art much like painting. The words you choose to describe your nonfiction story have to illustrate the vision you have in your mind and capture the attention of readers. Learn how to develop their senses and powers of observation to uncover the rich, evocative words that accurately portray the mind’s images–and apply these descriptions to characters, settings, point of view, and more.
The Three Essential Building Blocks of Your Novel: Who, What, and Where
ONDEMAND WEBINARIn this OnDemand Webinar, literary agent Roseanne Wells explores the crucial areas of character, plot and settling to show how they fit together and how you can ensure yours are working for your story. If your work is getting rejected, you may be using plot, characters and settings that just aren’t working for your novel.
World Building: The Art of Including Era and Place in Your Writing, Part 1
ONDEMAND WEBINARAn overdose of detail stops a reader, just as a deficiency causes reader confusion. But proper use of World Building keeps the reader in the moment of the story and compelled to keep reading, regardless of genre. Learn how to think of world building as a strategy to tell a descriptive story.
World Building: The Art of Including Era and Place in Your Writing, Part 2
ONDEMAND WEBINARReaders appreciate knowing where they are in a story. That’s where world building comes in. In this online tutorial, learn how to properly convey era and place in your writing to keep the reader intrigued from beginning to end.
Description and Setting
WRITERS DIGEST UNIVERSITY COURSEWriting a novel can be overwhelming—especially if you are new to writing. Build your writing skills and challenge your creativity with this online writing workshop. You’ll learn the elements on how to write setting and description from Ron Rozelle’s Write Great Fiction: Description & Setting.There is no instructor for this workshop. You will not receive feedback on assignments. You may review the lessons and exercises on your own schedule.
SKU MASTERING-DESCRIPTION-AND-SETTING
Format Bundle

In Stock

Retail: $324.95

Your price: $49.98

I am on the Writer’s Digest list (I bought a one-year membership last year when I first started getting involved in the whole book publishing business) so 95% of my e-mails from them look like what’s above. It is entirely up to you to decide if you should order a writer’s bundle to help you with things. Note that I am not counting essentials like editing, cover art, platform building, etc., which ARE things you need to get published, whether traditionally or self-pubbed. There are reasonable things to offer for a fee and then there’s just basic stuff no book can teach. You can hire a coach for a great athlete to make him/her better and more fit but if said athlete is simply not good enough to make it then no amount of X-treme coaching will turn that athlete into a superstar.

B&B advice: If you need to pay someone to tell you the basics of novel writing or storytelling, you really ought to find something else to do with your time.

B&B extra advice free of charge: How about sharing ideas at the Kboards site or just posting them here and I’ll review your blurb or plot outline free of charge. Seriously, I mean it! I won’t edit the book but blurbs? c’mon man, test me.

The Problems with Children’s Lit in 2 Graphs (Super Bowl Edition)

First off, let me say American Sniper is a 5/5 movie. Bradley Cooper surprised me by playing the part of Chris Kyle well, naturally, as though it really was Kyle and not an actor playing a former Navy SEAL. I HIGHLY recommend this movie to anyone who wants to see war through the eyes of a person who actually went to Iraq and fought.

Second, Children’s lit. Publisher’s Launch is a project of Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch and PublishersMarketplace.com and Mike Shatzkin of The Idea Logical Company to provide better data analytics on the book pub world to publisher’s. Such as, who’s buying what and what the trends are for literature and literacy, two big issues I care about. Education is so important to me that I do a lot of grassroots work to improve education but that’s a post for another time.

Jonathan Nowell of Nielsen Book had a presentation at Publisher Launch’s Launch Kids session at the most recent Digital Book World conference called “A look at the US Children’s book Market”. He posted his slideshow to the ‘net, for those of us who couldn’t go.

As someone who read a fair amount of kid’s books, and who just finished manuscript #1 for a middle grade novel, here is what’s wrong with children’s lit in 2 graphs: 

The takeaways:

1. Notice the book is missing from graph #1 for kids 14-17. For most American children once they turn 11 books drop off and YouTube and TV take its place.

2. By 14 social media and mobile devices are more important. Reading drops out of the top 8 slots and even sports drop towards the bottom. I was surprised that gaming was less interesting than Facebook and YouTube among teens. This must explain the rise in watching strangers on YouTube play video games and “commentate” rather than actually picking up the controller yourself like I did when I was a teen. Let me note: They are watching random strangers just play games and talk. Whenever I wanted to watch someone play a game and talk, I would go to friend’s houses and do the same thing! But I digress.

This sadly means it’s tougher to get kids and teens to read, which is noticeable when 80% of Young Adult books are bought by adults, for adults. Unless..

3. Graph #2 shows the rise in getting YouTube (and presumably other) internet celebrities in “writing books”. Now to be fair I’ve never heard of any of the celebrities listed on graph 2, but I found this tidbit on “Girl Online” by Zoe Sugg, who goes by the name “Zoella” online. The article notes that Zoe’s debut novel outsold other major authors like J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, and E.L. James. Apparently, though, her first week accounted for nearly all of her sales as she has since petered out near the 100,000 mark, surprising given that she has close to 7 million YouTube subscribers. She apparently did not actually write the novel; it was ghostwritten, a rather unusual thing for fiction novels, unless you’re bestselling author “Snooki” from the Jersey Shore.

No doubt the internet was a useful tool to help these YouTube stars, of which I am not one of them (I think I’m too old), sell books. However, in the long run, whose books sell better? The three authors Zoe beat, or Zoe? We all know the answer. Now in the short-term, getting celebrities of all stripes (internet, reality tv, etc.) is a better way of selling books than relying on little-known debut novelists with smaller platforms and fewer social media followers. You fans will go buy a book because it’s “you” and, like, you’re famous. BUT again, what are the odds of these books becoming the next Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games/Stephen King just because they have a celebrity’s name on it? Want to place a bet?

I can tell you why. At the end of the day it’s the product quality, not the person/people endorsing the product, which determines a product’s success. While I acknowledge I am a bit envious of my far-fewer social media follower status in promoting anything I have, I can say in the long run relying too heavily on poor-quality celebrity books, even to get kids to read, is not the answer. The kids who are not fans of these celebrities just won’t read or will go back to reading other things by established authors. I love Lord of the Rings, I consider it one of the all-time greatest fantasy series ever, but it’s a little sad to me when 2 of the top 5 best-selling Fantasy novels for January are by a man who’s been dead for 42 years, as though literally no one in the world can ever write a good fantasy book again.

Please share your thought about whether you think it’s a good idea for book publishers to rely heavily on celebrity-driven books, or take risks on little-known or unknown debut novelists. Remember. celebrity books are nothing new or bad. They can certainly boost sales at least in the short run over non-famous persons. My argument is that relying on internet & reality T.V. celebrities to “write” kid’s books is not a good long-term trend for brand development and literacy improvement.

The full report is here

SUPER BOWL PICK: I will be rooting for New England with my Pats shirt on at the bar tomorrow. Initially I had Seattle 27-16, but I’m more torn on it now. New England plays very well with the “us against the world mentality” and for that reason I leaned towards NE. But Seattle has shown the ability to do their best no matter what the other teams do, and can the Pats defense stop Lynch and Wilson?

The key players are Gronk vs. Wilson. I’ll go closer but I say Seattle 26 New England 23. Seattle’s defense has been very good at shutting down good offenses and even with the injuries in the back 7 I don’t know how good New England’s defense will be at slowing down the Seattle run game, even IF their WR’s are mediocre.

My First Query Rejection

Anyone who has submitted work to be represented in the traditional manner (by an agent, who then tries to convince editors at a publishing company to buy your work) knows how daunting it is for first-time noncelebrity authors to get representation and publication.

Now I know a lot of you who are authors, writers, or aspiring professionals in this regard have self-published material and I know there are some very opinionated bloggers on the web who are very passionate about this issue. There are pros and cons to both self- and traditionally- published books but we’ll save that for another time.

I’ve redacted the name of the agent I heard back from since it isn’t relevant for this blogpost. First off, I appreciate her very quick (1 day) AND her personalized response, even though it wasn’t what I wanted to hear:

“Dear Samuel,

Thanks so much for thinking of me for your book.
Unfortunately, this is not quite right for me. However, I really appreciate the opportunity to see your work. I’m wishing you the very best in 2015!”
Warmest Regards,
xxxxxxxx
We know the reading market has slowed down growth as it’s increasingly less likely people will sit through an entire book as opposed to watching videos or going online. This is actually not an insurmountable challenge, and stay tuned because later I will explain why we can’t give up on literacy and getting people to invest more time in reading. It isn’t just good for the industry, or for someone’s bottom line, but also for society: a more literate society is a society with less crime and poverty.
I also, having read books on publishing by publishers and on agent representation by current and former agents, know it’s tough to find that one person out of (tens of) thousands whose idea and marketability is solid enough for a publisher to put in serious effort to market and distribute a book. Sometimes we as aspiring professional authors wish there was less clutter in the agent’s e-mailbox to give ourselves a better shot, but this is unfortunately not true.
But here’s the question: How much of an eye-catching query letter is based on the plot of the book versus the author’s ability to sell it? I have a feeling your credentials or “platform” matters more than the actual book itself. Otherwise Snooki could never have gotten a contract. In other words, was the problem that she isn’t “the right fit”, or that I do not yet have a few ten thousand social media followers whom I can tweet or post about this book to get traction? (speaking of, please follow me on Twitter @sammydrf and I will follow you too). Speaking of social media, as your friendly “Millennial” social media “expert”, I have written, and will write again, about why social media platforms are overrated when judging the value of what is salable or not.
I sent out a few other representation requests, highlighting my active use of social media across multiple platforms AND my experience speaking on live commercial radio, tv, and being printed in newspapers. I actually have been published before as an author in both printed and online newspapers, but not as a fiction author. Sadly, I get the impression this does not have much bearing on my publication history for Big 5 book publishing.
If anything interesting happens with this, I will let you know. Any ideas? share ’em too. I love feedback (and I will subscribe to your blog!).

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.

Aspiring Authors: do you deserve a seven-figure book deal?

The holiday season is ending soon and we’ll be fifteen years into the millennium. Here’s a story for all you authors to think about as you weigh traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. From Publisher’s Weekly: (bold emphasis mine- edited for length)

Seven-figure book deals are nothing new in corporate publishing. But lately, these deals seem to be happening more frequently. During the run-up to this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair in early October, three seven-figure deals for debut works were closed by Big Five houses. Shortly after the fair, the New York Times ran an article about a waitress who landed a high six-figure advance. The streak continued with news that St. Martin’s Press had paid seven figures for a debut novel by New York Times reporter Stephanie Clifford. And, two weeks ago, word broke that indie author Blake Crouch landed seven figures at Crown for Dark Matter, his science fiction novel. For some in the industry, the flurry of big advances is simply business as usual. Others, however, attribute the run to a dearth of great material, along with the ever-pressing need on the part of the big houses to publish major bestsellers.

George Gibson, an industry veteran who is now publishing director at Bloomsbury USA, warned against reading too much into the latest round of big deals, noting that they happen “fairly regularly during the year.” Nonetheless, Gibson acknowledged that the business has changed. For the Big Five, especially, the highly sought-after projects have become essential. “The game plan to make your budget, or exceed it, relies on having bestsellers. That’s always been the case, but it’s the case now more so than ever.” Because both midlist and backlist titles aren’t selling as well as they once did, Gibson explained, the big books, “are more important.”

That a number of the major deals of late have been for debut works—five of the six aforementioned acquisitions were for books by first-time authors—is also not surprising. One editor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that since the advent of BookScan (which gives editors, sales reps, and retailers approximate print sales for any given title), having no track record is usually a plus.

Other insiders, who also spoke off the record, theorized that there is less of everything, which drives up the price for the most coveted projects. “The whole pool of talent is shrinking,” explained one source. “There are fewer publishers, fewer slots, and fewer submissions so… the higher the quality of the project, the more you’re likely to get.”

Agents, of course, see the trend of bigger advances as mostly positive. “It’s great for the industry,” said Stacey Glick, a v-p at Dystel & Goderich.

Glick felt the influx of big-money-deals might owe something to the fact that publishers feel a need to “prove themselves,” with more and more authors finding success self-publishing.

Regardless of why the big deals are happening, Glick did address one downside to this way of doing business. “The bigger issue is setting up an expectation level for an author that often can’t be met,” she said. While it’s wonderful when a writer lands a huge sum of money for their first book, it puts the author under more pressure to achieve commercial success. If the book doesn’t sell to expectations—which will be high—the author’s career, in the long-term, may be hurt. As Glick explained, the situation “can make it challenging for the author’s future books.”

Alison Callahan, an editor at Simon & Schuster, described what’s going on now as “the new normal.” She said that competition for the perceived best projects has been stiffer for the last four years, and that the biggest shift is how quickly sought-after titles will sell to editors. In the not-so-distant past, when there were multiple bids on a book, an author would often talk to competing editors—or meet them—as part of what’s known in the industry as a beauty contest. Those meetings, or exchanges, took time. “These days,” Callahan explained, “[a big book] is either preempted in 24 hours for an exorbitant sum of money, or you get a best-bid situation.”

The best-bid scenario Callahan referred to, in which editors must submit their best offer without knowing what their competition is putting up, is another element that can drive up prices.

Best-bid auctions can sometimes mimic high-stakes real-estate deals, in which bidders come forward with previously unheard of offers—huge sums of cash or other enticements—to beat out their competition. In publishing, the best-bid auctions are inspiring some jaw-dropping behavior. Supposedly, one editor at a Big Five house offered $500,000 sight unseen for the debut novelThe Girls—one of the most buzzed-about acquisitions of the season, and one of the pre-Frankfurt sales mentioned earlier.

Judging which books merit big advances is still as much art as science. Editors insist that there are specific factors (beyond taste) that go into paying large advances. Although many sources acknowledged there are aspects of luck involved—having an agent who is skilled at setting up auctions, for example—almost all those who spoke to PW said it’s a mistake to think money is being spent haphazardly. “We don’t throw caution to the wind,” Callahan said. “We really sit down and think about it. We have meaningful conversations when it comes to a seven-figure offer.” And what strikes some as excessive is, in actuality, the cost of doing business these days. As Callahan put it: “For a lot of books, it’s justifiable.”

______________________

An advance for those of you who don’t know is a book publishing industry term for a one-time payment made in exchange for a lower royalty (percentage paid for copies sold). So it’s reasonable to assume all the seven-figure authors, especially the debut novelists, earn somewhere between 5-15% royalty, industry standard. BUT paying $1 million or more means the publishing company must earn over $1 million in sales just to cover the advance- remember, the author does get a royalty, even if it’s small! So say an author gets 10% (just to be even). If the average book sold goes for $15 (let’s say $10 for traditional e-book and $20 for print/hardcover copies, just for mathematical ease), that means the publisher must sell about 66,700 copies to cover the advance, minus expenses for editing, illustration, printing and materials, paying distributors, and taxes. Plus, 10% of that million goes to the author, meaning the book company has made $900,000 in gross revenue. What if the publisher gives $2 million? $3 million? You could argue that one would expect the publisher to need to sell at least 90,000 copies (includes e-books) to break even on a $1 million. Even if most copies sold are e-books anything less than 80,000 copies sold for $1 million-plus has to be considered a flop, regardless of whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.

Again, please keep in mind “success” varies from publisher to publisher and author to author. Certainly if I ever got a million bucks for writing a book I’d be very, very happy. But from a business standpoint unless the author or book can be reasonably believed to move lots of copies, this is a throw-away of money. The lure to find the next big best-seller must not come before common business sense.

Agree? Disagree? What do you think?

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?