If Barnes and Nobles Closes, are Unknown Authors Screwed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Book Publishers Support White Privilege

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Do readers prefer longer or shorter books?

Big pile of books

I saw this article from The Guardian:

Books are steadily increasing in size, according to a survey that has found the average number of pages has grown by 25% over the last 15 years.

A study of more than 2,500 books appearing on New York Times bestseller and notable books lists and Google’s annual survey of the most discussed books reveals that the average length has increased from 320 pages in 1999 to 400 pages in 2014.

According to James Finlayson from Vervesearch, who carried out the survey for the interactive publisher Flipsnack, there’s a “relatively consistent pattern of growth year on year” that has added approximately 80 pages to the average size of the books surveyed since 1999.

The literary agent Clare Alexander agrees that long books are more portable in electronic formats, but points out that much ebook reading is focused on genres such as romance, crime and erotica. For Alexander, the gradual increase in size is evidence of a cultural shift.

“Despite all the talk of the death of the book because of competition from other media,” she says, “people who love to read appear to prefer a long and immersive narrative, the very opposite of a sound bite or snippets of information that we all spend our lives downloading from Google.

This would have surprised me. All along I’ve been told short stories are back in style because of declining attention spans and people reading from their phones, on smaller screens unlikely to be suitable for a 500 page turner. Therefore, the argument goes, quit writing those 300 page stories and instead sell 15-40 page short stories at 99 cents a pop.

But longer stories also sell better, according to Mark Coker at Smashwords:

Longer books sell better than shorter books.  This finding is consistent with each of the prior year’s surveys, though as I mention in the presentation, this year’s finding comes with a lot more caveats.  In a nutshell, I suspect the rise of multi-author box sets, often at deep discount prices, is probably throwing off the data this year, and as I discuss in the presentation, some of the dynamics will cause it to understate impact of longer books and some will cause it to overstate it.

I think this is what’s happening: Casual readers who would rather watch TV or play video games prefer shorter works, because they can finish a book or short story in an hour or less and feel like they read something to completion. But passionate readers prefer a story they can connect to, and more often than not shorter works don’t do that in fiction. Now that doesn’t mean shorter is worse: Animal Farm, The Notebook, The Alchemist, The Old Man and the Sea, MacBeth, are all examples of shorter works which told stories most readers still remember today. Animal Farm and The Alchemist are considered among the best fiction works ever written. That said, some of the best-selling works are longer and it does mean I believe a well-written story is more important than a short one, even if some are emphasizing shorter over quality.

As readers, do you prefer shorter or longer works?

 

 

 

Do Million Dollar Debut Authors Help or Hurt Publishing?

Million Bucks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

Do Indie Authors Need Gatekeepers?

As someone who has published indie before (disclosure- that was once on Wattpad, but technically it counts), I follow the news in the indie author world. And while many are embracing the “don’t query, just publish” mentality, I find it deliciously ironic that some indie authors are now, in fact, wondering if credible gatekeepers might be a good thing.

Tahlia Newland, Australian author, submitted an op-ed to Self Publishing Advice where she addresses that question:

The problem is that not every book written is worthy of publication and, in general, the author is the least qualified person to make the decision as to its worthiness. Even for an experienced author, the temptation to publish just because you can is strong. How many self-published authors stop and consider whether their book is actually worth publishing or, better still, ask someone objective and well read that question?

The fact is that for all the books written, only a small percentage are worthy of publication. During the days when traditional publishing was the only practical way to get published, publishers used to pick up around 5% of what was submitted to them. One publisher I did a workshop with said that around another 10% were well-written, but they weren’t something the publishers felt would sell.

But the advent of easy self-publishing hasn’t made 85% of the books written any better, it’s just made it possible for readers to read them. So what we can get, at best, is a lot of mediocre books because authors are not that discerning in deciding if their book is worth the effort. They just want to see it published.

The problem of quality in self-published books will only be solved when authors ask a publishing industry professional if their book is worth publishing, and if they get an honest answer and are prepared to not publish. Sounds a bit like a gatekeeper, doesn’t it?

Well, there was a reason for them, and the reason still exists: to protect readers from books that aren’t that great, and to protect authors from the career-killing repercussions of ill-advised publication.

Whoa Nelly! Hold the horses. Is an indie author suggest we need, dare I say it, gatekeepers? And she doesn’t mean readers; she means before it gets to readers, so many won’t be jaded by the perception of indie books being crud.

Often authors who want to publish debate between self-publishing and trying to seek an agent. From my own interactions with indies, most hate the idea of querying and waiting years to get a novel published, with no guarantee a book will ever see the light of day. At least when published, your script has a chance, a 0.0000001% chance, but nonetheless, of hitting mega-stardom and propelling you next to the mega-bestsellers, both indie and traditional.

But as someone who has read chapters or stories from other indies, I can honestly say there are some people I really would love to just say, “you should do something else with your time. You’d be more productive.” They are just not good writers. But the pressure to “write! write!” and “publish! publish!” persuades some that either they are the next big thing, or else at least they can say they did something few achieve: actually publishing a novel, from start to finish. And to be fair, there are some traditionally-published books that are terrible and should not have been published in the first place.

For all authors, making the decision whether or not to kill a manuscript can be tough, especially if one devotes dozens or hundreds of hours to a particular story. But sometimes, shelving that manuscript is for the best. The question is, will those who write treat their work like a product and have it tested before publication? Or do they just toss it up to the internet and hope for the best?

If Book Publishers or Amazon did this, they could solve our reading deficiency problem

It’s not looking good for authors who seek to make money from their writing. Recent data from Author Earnings shows a growing gap between authors who self-publish/go with a small publisher vs. those who receive a contract from a “Big Five” publisher or one of their imprints. And the obvious takeaway: Writers are really, really, really, really, really, really unlikely to make money from their writing, despite the vague “more writers earning a living from their writing than ever before” meme pushed out by a few top authors.

Books have never been the most popular form of entertainment and while there’s been a bounce with people buying more work, particularly from indies, the long-term challenge of encouraging a reading culture remains. The problem is, the literary world is ill-equipped to overcome these challenges. There are many reasons, but today we’ll focus on what book publishers can do to improve the quality of their product.

As a newbie writer, I have no ill will towards publishers, nor do I believe an author is wrong for choosing traditional publication. But I do follow publishing news, and I get the impression the major publishers (other than Amazon) have no idea how to consistently build readership. I say to build a readership, they need to develop the talent who can build the readership. So I propose the publishers…

create an Author League.

The concept is simple: publish fewer books, but invest more in their talent to develop. I got this idea from baseball. Players are drafted and nearly all go into the minor leagues. The goal is to develop the players and see who is good enough to become a pro. While most will never make it that far, at least they get some level of coaching. And those who DO make it are better because of the training, the experience, and the commitment to the player from the organization.

Here’s the plan: Sign an author to a contract and place that author in a ‘league’. The expectations and money goes up as the author’s writing improves. Authors who don’t improve or who miss objectives get cut.

Pros: Reserved for only the top few authors who either have, or are capable of, massive sales. These authors seldom need coaching, though having some from time to time never hurts. They have big platforms and really need help distributing their works, primarily in print. These authors are fully ready for international tours, major Hollywood movie deals, merchandising opportunities, and essentially running a medium business. Authors who can sell 50,000 or more copies a year belong here.

AAA: Authors here are emerging breakouts, but not quite mega stars. These authors are well-known in the literary community, and they have a solid fanbase who will come to their book signings or other events, though they may not be household names and blockbuster franchise-ready yet. These authors are experienced and skilled writers who may or may not need additional help with their prose. The main challenge here is helping them improve their storyboarding or getting their careers to the breakout level. They may be ready for minor movie deals or limited merchandising/licensing opportunities. Expectations are high and advances and contract perks are higher as well. Authors who sell between 15,000-49,999 belong here.

AA: The next level up for authors. These writers have some type of working platform, some level of public speaking ability, have shown a greater range of talent needed for major publication, and are taking the craft more seriously. Authors here tend to not be the best at marketing themselves and still need help improving their craft and productivity.  Authors here typically sell 5,000-15,000 books per year.

A: The lowest tier for all authors who are ready for professional publication and don’t qualify for Rookies. These authors typically lack previous writing experience, including coaching or supervision. They also lack the star power needed to move lots of copies. Expectations are lower, but so are advances. Authors here have some talent, but need help improving their writing. That may mean improving productivity, forming outlines, or platform building. Publishers will dedicate help to authors who land here. An author who would sell between 2,500-5,000 books per year would be best suited here. Note that authors who really could not move at least 2,500 copies (smallest possible print run for a publisher) are not worth the publisher’s time and would be better off self-publishing or doing something better with their time.

Rookie: Reserved for new authors under 30 who aren’t ready for higher levels. This is more of a “career development” than anything. Not just improving writing, but helping young talent adjust to becoming a professional. The truth is, few teens and twenty-somethings are fully prepared to be working professionals, putting in all the time needed to be a full-time author, and even fewer would be prepared for celebritydom if their novel took off. The goal here is to seek publication for short stories or small works and build their platforms.

This is only a base guideline, but it’s something to think about. Whoever comes up with this idea is in great shape to retain talent and cut into losses. If you give every signed author some marketing help and lowered expectations for smaller players, the industry would be more likely to break even or profit from work rather than lose significant money on most books. Publishing a book with almost zero marketing help is totally worthless.

What would you add/subtract to my list?

Author Interview: Robert Krenzel, A Veteran Who Helps Veterans

Today’s author interview is with Robert Krenzel, former Army officer who served in the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan with a specialty in Armor and Cavalry operations. He focuses on writing and helping fellow vets suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a serious problem that sadly goes untreated in too many vets. I spoke to him about his new book and his work.

S: You have some great military experience which suits you to write novels based on the battlefield. Can you tell me about how your experiences shape your writing?

RK: I think the equation goes something like this: Experience + Research + Imagination = Story. I have been around soldiers most of my adult life so my experiences with them obviously color my approach to writing about them. For example, I can’t write about British troops without balancing the research I have done (not all of it casts them in the best light) against the incredibly positive experiences I had with British troops in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan! On top of that there is a warm place in my heart for American troops; for one thing you never know what is going to come out of their mouths! In my upcoming novel there are a few scenes that are based on actual conversations I had with members of my tank crew in Kosovo. I think things like that add some color, warmth, and realism to my work…and I think they are a fitting tribute to my brothers and sisters in arms. Oh, and I know what it is like to be absolutely terrified, although that never really happened in combat (it was in an airplane).

S: PTSD is such a major issue, but one which unfortunately is not well understood by the public at large and is not well treated by the VA. Did you ever suffer from PTSD, and/or do you mentor other veterans, but in particular those who have PTSD?

RK: First of all, every war is different for every soldier, and PTSD is not something that goes away. I have seen and done things I would really have preferred to not have experienced, but I know men and women who experienced far, far worse. Yes, I have been diagnosed with PTSD, and it has been a rough road, but I am doing very well now. I try to help others, and I try to raise awareness of this issue in my books. I also support organizations like Invisible Wound, a non-profit founded by friends of mine, Adrian and Diana Veseth-Nelson. Adrian and I served together twice in Iraq; he was decorated for valor (a well-deserved medal, by the way), and experienced some horrific things along the way. Check out their FaceBook page at https://www.facebook.com/InvisibleWound (BW note: Consider supporting veteran organizations which work directly with vets, such as Invisible Wound)

S: Tell us your thoughts about the self-publishing vs. traditional publishing path for authors. Why did you choose your path?

RK: My genre is not one of the most lucrative, and I was spending more time trying to convince agents that my book was worth their time than I was making the book worth the reader’s time. I also think independent publishing has a tremendous future. To top it off, the process of publishing was both fun and rewarding!

S: Have you ever attended a writer’s conference? If so, what was your experience?

RK: I have never attended a writer’s conference. The closest I came was taking an online course on writing improvement; it involved a great deal of writing and feedback from other writers. I really enjoyed the interaction with other authors and potential authors. That course was so helpful in fact that the opening scene of “Times That Try Men’s Souls” originated as a homework assignment. I got feedback from my peers, developed it further, and am very pleased with the results.

S: How do you deal with negative feedback about your writing? Do you get back more positive or negative feedback?

RK: I have been fortunate to get mostly positive feedback. What negative feedback I have gotten has been constructive; I have been able to learn from it and use it to improve my writing. I also bear in mind that no matter how well I write, not everyone is going to like my work. Many people do, and I love writing, so that is what really matters.

S: How many Gideon Hawke novels do you intend to write? And tell us a little more about Gideon.

RK: I will write until the story has told itself. I have ideas for several more books in the queue, and it was a very long war! As long as Gideon remains committed the Cause I will continue to write about him.

Tell you more about Gideon? I will give you a little teaser about “Times That Try Men’s Souls”: Gideon’s biggest flaw is that he is too protective of those he cares about. He is willing to take risks, but he holds back others who are willing to do the same. Let’s just say that causes conflict.

Check out Robert’s website and Facebook page:

www.facebook.com/GideonHawkeNovels

http://robertkrenzel.com/

You can find “This Glorious Cause” on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/This-Glorious-Cause-Gideon-Hawke/dp/1511465190   

Book Review: Percy Jackson, the All American-Greek God-kid

The Last Olympian " Signed "

For my first book review at the rebranded site Bradan’s World, I want to focus on a hyper popular book which already has so many purchases I doubt Rick Riordan gives a darn if I steer a few more his way. But here is a review for his last book, The Last Olympian.

Where I got it from: I picked up the copy from an indie thrift store, and they just had the last book in the series. I guess I got there before the other fan finished book four.

Scoring: As you know, I give 0, 1, or 2 points for plot, style, editing, book cover, and intangibles. Book Cover replaces belivability, which is hard to be precise about. Instead, I’ll put that towards intangibles. Every review has some spoilers, so read at your own risk.

Plot: You may need to pick up books 1-4 to figure out everything that happened, but Rick’s writing is good enough that I got the plot without needing to go back. At this point, Percy Jackson, the son of Poseidon, is trying to figure out a way to stop Kronos, Lord of Time, from destroying Olympus where the Gods are. Apparently Greek Gods looove Manhattan and so this is where Mount Olympus is, along with the last half of the novel. After a losing battle with Kronos, who is using the body of Luke Castellan to do his bidding, Percy goes to camp Half-Blood to regroup. He and his friends eventually go to Manhattan where a dark battle is brewing. It’s up to Percy and his outmanned friends to stop a very powerful army, led by Kronos, at the feet of Olympus.

I will judge this book as a standalone, and I can see why it hit the bestseller’s list. It’s really good, the plot makes sense, even if the ending is not quite as dramatic as I would like. 2/2

Style: This is where Rick’s writing stands out from every other kid’s book I’ve seen. It’s really funny. The entire thing is a comedy, but he does a great job at making the dramatic scenes dramatic when he needs to. At times his serious parts were weak because of all the jokes, but no complaints with his writing. 2/2

Editing: I am generally lenient with minor spelling, punctuation, or grammar errors. If you are an indie author or small publisher, I give a lot of leeway. For a traditionally published dude? Not so much. I found a few typos and punctuation errors. Not enough to ruin the story, but come on, Disney. 1.5/2

Book Cover: I loved the cover of the reprint edition, which is the one I have. So much so, I wanted to find John Rocco (Riordan’s cover artists) and ask how much he charged to do a book cover for a comparable novel. 2/2

Intangibles: This is the “emotional” pitch of the book or other factors. Familiar readers know that if you make me cry or feel something in my stomach, you will hit the bestseller’s list. I want to lock that in as a fact.

This book needed to be a little darker towards the end. While the plot and the romantic angle did work, it just came up short. Much as I hate giving halfsies, I have to. 1.5/2

Overall: 9/10 Only a little too much out-of-place humor and a few typos missed by editors from a big publisher kept this from being a solid 10/10. But this book is really, really good. It’s unique (enough), creative, and fun. I can get why kids love it, and I’m sure a fairly high number of adults loved the book and the series too. Good job Rick.

Be one of over 35 million and buy a copy of his book:

At Amazon

at B&N

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.