What if Harry Potter was Crowdsourced?

Happy-Thanksgiving-Pictures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No posts until next week. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

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?

A good reason to tune out “successful people”

willywonka - No, copying my candy factory idea will NOT  make you the next "Shark Tank" success story.

For those of you who write, or for those of you who are readers who want to know what an authors thinks about before writing, you need to understand that most authors are merely “wannabes” who aspire to become bestsellers. What I mean is, they want to be the next JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Stephen King, or even the next Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath, or Amanda Hocking, all multi-millionaire authors.

Knowing this, there is a huge market of people trying to peddle “information” or “services” to help make those writer’s “dreams come true.” While some services and information are legitemate and honest, this tends to fall into one of 4 camps:

  1. The entity offering the “information” or “service” sees a lucrative financial opportunity to make money off unsuspecting and desperate writers, so they make promises they can’t keep and stick you with a high bill. Vanity presses work like this, such as this one.
  2. The “bestselling” author sees an opportunity to make money and sell seminars based on “here’s how successful I am. Just do what I do, and you can be successful like me too!” They then give you “advice” which sometimes is practical, and sometimes is not. Here’s one example. The end goal is not primarily to help newbies achieve success: it’s to establish the bestseller as a credible authority because s/he achieved success and financial fortune, and to make money either from ad revenue on hits to their web page, or on seminars or books dedicated to “helping” you. Whether or not their advice helps you is none of their concern.
  3. The wanna-be author, who lacks an understanding of branding and market principles, follows the herd, not understanding just how many other people are doing the exact same thing. Which companies tend to be most successful long-term: the innovators, or the “sheep”? Our wanna-be, however, does not know this. So s/he copies advice from
    “self-help” books written by successful people who of course want to help them personally, and then claim it does work because their sales went from 50 a month to 100. They then write it in blog comments or on their own website.
  4. The entity which studies information and claims there is a specific formula to doing something. For example, the perma-free strategy. I have come around on it to some extend, conceding that it does work for some people and to some extent. But not for everyone; if it did, everyone would be rich. So giving away lots of freebies isn’t going to work just because you did it. You really do need a solid strategy in order to lure people to other offerings, using your free book as a “loss leader” of sorts.

You can substitute books and authors for any other topic, such as “how to grow a successful small business” or “how to reduce stress from your life”, etc. I just use books as an example. Again, some people do offer quality advice, but not always, and even then, you need to pay attention.

What the “successful” people fail to tell you, however, is how many factors, both in your control and out of it, play into achieving success. Yes, there is an element of luck and timing and various other factors, including socio-economic background, college education, access to capital, work ethic, ambition, being a producer first, not a consumer first, etc. Yes, there are some universal truths. But like religion, I really believe it is impossible to say there is one “true” way to live life to achieve the goals you want to achieve. Each of us is an independent human being with success as being defined by us, in the way which works best for us. A person who makes $30 million a year as an actor has different success than a kid living in a single-parent home in a federally-classified “war zone” who graduates college and earns $90,000 a year as a lawyer. Both are successful, in different ways. Very unlikely the actor and the lawyer could switch places and have the exact same success.

With that comes a post from the Huffington Post, which I believe is being unfairly maligned, but hits home some uncomfortable truths (bold emphasis mine):

“No matter what experts tell you, no matter what trends, conventional wisdom, social media chatter or your friends in the Facebook writers group insist upon, do NOT write four books a year. I mean it. Don’t.

Unless they’re four gorgeously written, painstakingly molded, amazingly rendered and undeniably memorable books. If you can pull off four of those a year, more power to you. But most can’t. I’d go so far as to say no one can, the qualifier being good books.

Beyond the fact that the marketplace is glutted with an overwhelming number of books already (many of dubious quality), writing good books simply takes time, lots of it. There’s no getting around that time. It involves learned skills, unhurried imagination, fastidious drafting, diligent editing, even the time to step away, then step back, to go over it all again. And, unless you’re a hack (and we know there are plenty of those out there), isn’t the whole point of this exercise to write good books?

So, her (blogger Penny C. Sansevierifirst piece of advice to self-publishing authors wasn’t to put more focus on fine-tuning one’s craft, it wasn’t about taking time to mull and ponder what stories, what narratives, most inspire you to put “pen to paper”; it wasn’t even a suggestion to be relentless about working with professional content/copy editors and cover designers to create the best possible version of your work. No, it was the insanely insane advice to pump out at least four books a year.

And people wonder why there are stigmas attached to self-publishing.

First of all, in looking at her point of reference, I suppose it depends on what you define as a “successful author.” I have a distinct feeling this may be where the disparities lie. Perhaps my own definition is a different one.

When I self-published my first book, After The Sucker Punch, in April of 2014, I had, by then, put years into it, doing all those many things I itemized above. Because I not only wanted to publish a novel, I wanted that novel to be a work of art, a book of depth and merit, one that would not only tell a compelling story but would meet standards of publishing that authors of the highest regard are held to. I wanted it to be a book that would favorably compare with anything put out by a traditional publisher. My choice to self-publish was a result of not having engaged a publisher by the time my book was done and I was ready to market it. It was not based on the notion of joining the “second tier club” where one is unbound from the stricter, more demanding standards of traditional publishing.

“Second tier club”? Yes. As insulting as that sounds, particularly in relation to self-publishing, there is no question that there are two tiers operating in the culture of the book industry. Take a moment to think about it: based on what advice is given to self-published writers, some of which I shared above; based on the”free/bargain” pricing paradigms of most book sellers hawking those writers; based on the corner (quality)-cutting measures required to pump out endless product to meet the purportedly endless demand of those sites and their bargain-hunting readers, “second tier club” is no misnomer.”

The author of that post was attacked by well-known authors like Larry Correia, who admitted he “averaged 2 a year until I quit my day job.” Now that he earns a solid living writing full-time, he can write more books and do so more efficiently. Good for Larry, but few authors earn a full-time living writing. so someone like me, with a full-time job (and seasonal/free-lance too!) who has no name recognition is not going to be able to churn out solid books every quarter to keep up with Larry, who is writing full-time because he was both lucky and good to make a lot of money. Of course, I may very well be so successful that I can do it, but even then my success wouldn’t necessarily translate to success for you because you did what I did. “First to market” principle is in place here.

Lorraine’s (HuffPo article author) attackers don’t get that she’s not saying you shouldn’t do it under any circumstances. She means you should do what works for you, not what others are telling you to do just because it worked for them or someone they know. Just because a few authors in this world got mega-rich, or even 6-figure rich, doing something doesn’t mean you will too, even if you do what they did, even if you’re a talented writer. Luck and timing are as important to the free marketplace as they are to casinos. My only advice is, consider advice from different sources and make your own decisions for your life. And quit propping up the “self-help” industry, because more and more I am convinced that most of those people are less interested in truly helping YOU than in helping themselves to some more money by dangling that success stick in your face and telling you how you can join the elite club for just $19.95.

The truth she’s exposing is that there is no “magic bullet” to success. Maybe an author who sells 10,000 copies can call it a day. Others could sell 100,000 and feel like a failure. But the people and businesses who earn money with seminars and books telling you how to do it don’t want you thinking independently, or else you won’t need them anymore. So they try to get you hooked so you can

If you don’t believe me, try writing a poorly-written erotic novel that sells over 100 million copies. Yea, thought so.

Do you agree or disagree? And it doesn’t just have to be books- how do you feel about people who offer advice or services, free or paid? Do you find most of them to be sincerely helpful, or are they tooting their own horn?

Amazon to pay you for giving away free samples

In a move which may make some authors happy, Amazon has decided to pay authors by the number of pages written:

“(Reuters) – It could soon pay more to write lengthier books, if you are an author self-publishing on Amazon.com Inc’s Kindle ebook platform.

Starting next month, the e-commerce giant will pay independent authors based on the number of pages read, rather than the number of times their book has been borrowed.

The move is aimed at authors enrolled in Kindle Direct Publishing platform – which lets authors set list prices, decide rights and edit the book at any time – and is applicable to e-books made available via the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library programs.

Self-publishing has transformed what it means to be an author. Simply uploading a document and adding a cover layout to it can turn anyone into a published writer on ebook platforms such as Kindle and Smashwords.

Amazon said on Monday the move would better align payout with the length of books and how much customers read.

“We’re making this switch in response to great feedback we received from authors,” Amazon said on its self-publishing portal.

Amazon uses a complex method to determine payments for independent authors – payouts are based on a fund, the size of which is set by Amazon every month.

Under the new plan, authors will get a share of the fund proportionate to the number of pages read.

While independent authors have largely embraced Amazon’s self-publishing platform, the company has in the past been involved in bitter fights with large publishers.

The company had a stand-off with publisher Hachette Book Group and some authors last year over pricing. The fight ended when Hachette and Amazon reached a multi-year agreement for e-book and print book sales in November.”

This change appears to be encouraged by other self-published indie authors but the gist is this: For those who were in Amazon’s KDP program or in Kindle Unlimited, writing longer stories didn’t benefit the writer, so many self-published authors began writing novellas and publishing those as they were shorter and the payouts were better. This way of doing business allowed people who sold short stories at 99 cents to make as much as an author discounting a book to 99 cents. if you get the same rates either way, then why write a 70,000 word book when you can put a short story trilogy of 25,000-30,000 words and sell that?

Everyone gives away page samples, and this move encourages authors to give away more free pages. This way, if someone “tries it before they buy it” you can still get paid. It’s along the same lines of the whole Taylor Swift vs. Apple controversy where Taylor called for Apple to pay artists for songs people streamed during their free trial period. No word if Amazon’s timing was perfect or if they reacted immediately to what was happening with the music industry.

The only catch is, you have to be in KDP to get this benefit. One argument going around is that this is a move by Amazon to try to convince more authors to go exclusive with Amazon. If you can get paid for free samples, versus putting up your book elsewhere and not getting paid for free samples, where you would go?

Actually, that IS the question for all of you. Who among you would take up Amazon’s offer to pay you for sample pages read, in exchange for going exclusive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

may-2015-combined-titlecount

Small and medium indie publishers really took it here!

may-2015-combined-unitsales

201505-marketshare-trend-unitsales-datefix

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

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 3.28.19 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Pub or Trad-pub? You’re asking the wrong question, Lil’ Fella

The never-ending discussion of whether it’s better to go indie or go traditional when it comes to your book’s publication just keeps on going, kind of as a way I think for those who are not big-time to get some consolation as to why you can’t get a book deal. Believe me, I’ve been there.

Now I personally do believe that indies have a lot of advantages in terms of control, flexibility, and freedom to write what they want without being cencorsed by corporate interests. However, let’s not kid ourselves: With the exception of 50 shades of grey, which was a once-in-a-lifetime strike of lightning, the A-list trad-pubbed authors outearn and are better-known than the A-list self-published superstars. It’s the trad-pubbed authors whose bestsellers are more likely to be turned into movies, maintain just about every blockbuster franchise, and sell the most merchandise and products (if that’s your thing) over indies, who don’t have the distribution, marketing, or credibility that comes with an established, big-time publisher. Yes, I know there are indie success stories. Bella Andre, whose twitter feed says she’s sold over 4 million books, mostly as a self-published author, just followed me on Twitter and she has the requisite 135k needed to land a major publishing deal, which she did.

However, I doubt Bella is reading my blog right now, and I doubt Hugh Howey or J.A. Konrath are either (howdy y’all, during National Teacher Appreciation Week 2015 in case you read this in the future- and please don’t unfollow me! It hurts my feelings). So let’s talk about why if you’re deciding to self-pub or find an agent to traditionally publish with, just stop.

First off, the odds are astronomically impossible that you will get an agent to request your full manuscript, let alone agree to an exclusive contract with you, let alone actually find a publisher who wants to buy your work, unless you have a major “platform”, meaning either online or terrestrial. So if you can count big-name talk show hosts or celebrities as BFF’s who will promote your book, then congrats. Here’s your contract.

  • If you have a column in a national newspaper, or you’re a reporter for a big magazine or newspaper, or some other well-trafficked outlet, that’s a solid platform and if your book is at least solid, if not spectacular, then here’s your contract.
  • If you can count millions, or apparently billions, of Wattpad reads for your stories, or you have publicity on another high-trafficked site, stop. Here’s your contract.
  • If you can pull out a list of at least fifteen thousand e-mail subscribers to your blog or website, who are clamoring for your next book, and it’s good if not great, here’s your contract.
  • If you’ve won major (and I mean MAJOR) literary awards, like a Hugo or Corretta Scott King Book Award, and you have at least some type of web presence, you can probably snag yourself a book deal.
  • If you have already self-published and can show at least fifty thousand sales, preferably in the $2.99 or above range, hold on there little fella, you just might land yourself a book deal from a publishing house.
  • On some occasions, if you are lucky enough to get noticed by a small, independent publisher willing to take a chance on you, you can get your book published by an actual company, with or without representation. Just don’t expect your book to end up in bookstores nationwide, because many small presses don’t have much better print on demand (POD) access or distribution than you could get on your own.

If you are still reading this and didn’t get your contract yet, then you don’t have a massive platform, don’t have enough A- or B- list celebrities who can endorse your work, don’t have tens or hundreds of thousands of e-mail subscribers asking for your next book, don’t have a major literary award, and you can’t show indie sales in the mid-5 figures or above, then exactly why are you spending your time trying to query agents? Unless you have a masochistic fetish, you will be hurt when those rejection letters come in. And the worst part is, you will never know if your book was rejected because a) it’s been done ten thousand times before, b) it just flat out sucks, c) your attitude was unprofessional, d) your platform wasn’t considered big enough to sell enough copies to justify the agent spending her time trying to place it, or e) the agent was just overwhelmed with reading too many queries when they have to promote their current list of authors, or go to YouTube conventions/reality TV show sets to find their next writer. You will get a friendly letter of “thank you for your book, but I’m going to pass” with no explanation why.

So what is likely to happen is, you will automatically end up self-publishing as an indie. You can either just go it totally alone, or get published with a very small, truly independent press, which I will count as self-pubbed since you will do a LOT of your own promotion, and you will still have to be on top of your publisher to make sure the book was edited and produced to high standards. You simply won’t be able to do that with a major publisher.

IF you are good/lucky/persistent, you might be able to sell enough copies that some agents will call or e-mail YOU and talk to you about whether you’d like to sign a contract with one (agent) so s/he can help you with traditional print publishing rights, overseas rights, movie rights, etc. You may yet get that traditional publishing deal, which does have advantages over going alone. Namely, the ability to sell and collect money in foreign countries, get your book translated (well or poorly, I have no comment since I don’t know) into multiple languages as opposed to finding translators or learning a lot of languages really quickly, the ease of having your book sold in bookstores and having distribution handled, the increased likelihood of seeing your book turned into a movie (unless you have great connections), the increased odds of winning the very book awards which keep you contracted, and the ease of having other productions like audiobooks handled, which leaves you free to write, do social media, and maybe sell some merchandise on the side if you don’t have a licensing deal in place with a company.

Given that the barrier between indie and traditional is blurred, and that you can still get that book contract if you want it, why even consider otherwise? Even if you don’t want a traditional book deal, for many reasons like loss of control, no compete clauses, mediocre or poor advance, lack of trust in the publisher or agent to properly handle matters, or any other reason, circumstances can always change your mind.

So go indie. It isn’t like you have a real choice now anyway.

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.

Five Reasons I Believe You Should NOT Give Away your Books Perma-Free

Should you give away any of your books for free, forever on the internet? This topic is frequently posted on the Kboards site of which I am an infrequent poster. If you didn’t know before Kboards.com is an Amazon-affiliated messaging board for writers, authors, editors, and anyone else involved in producing indie books. While a few of the editors and authors also have traditionally published books, most of the posters are like you and me, self-published or never-published types.

The consensus from most of the authors on that site, ranging from “small fish” to “big fish”, is that yes, give away free books on Amazon. Lots of books. Maybe just the first one or two you write, maybe the first in every new series. The argument goes like this: If I, anonymous author, want to get visibility, I need to let people “test drive” my book first. Not by merely provided sample chapters from a book before you buy, but the big kahuna. Then people will be more willing to give me a chance, and thousands will download my book free. Then when I charge $3.99 or $4.99 for the next book or rest of the series, people who liked it will pay the money knowing they liked it. After all, in a free market economy, don’t we all want the maximum value for the lowest price?

To be honest, I don’t think free-books is such a great idea as a long-term strategy. While innovation is based on people experimenting with new ways of doing things, the adage that “if it was such a great idea then everyone would do it” also bears some truth. Not that I am NOT talking about sending free copies for review, or having a special deal of “sign up for my e-newsletter” or “buy 2 get 1 free” or “buy a book and get a free bookmark or customized stylus pen” or “free e-book for 30 days”. Act now!. I am talking about leaving your work free, forever, to anyone who wants to download it, with no strings attached. I also included 5 reasons it MIGHT work for you.

“But,” you say, “so-and-so indie-published author did perma-free and she went from 10 sales a week to 500 a day! Clearly it works for everyone.”

Ahem, my friend, if this was true for everyone then all authors, including mid-list or low-list authors whose trad-pub contracts are expiring, would stop trying to seek a literary agents and would instead throw their product up on the web for free, assuming that somehow people will recognize the genius of their book and by book 2 or 3 so many copies will be purchased you won’t have to ever get a literary agent. It will not happen with 99% certainty. Below are my five reasons NOT to give away any of your books perma-free:

1. A well-published book, print or e-book, has costs. Editing, graphic design, advertising (if you choose), and most importantly, your time. What else could you have done instead of write? Yes everyone loves free samples and free stuff, but you tell me ONE business which gives away labor for free for all eternity without getting something in return and I will check dailyjobcuts.com to see if they’re still in business. While there is a high percentage of our population which never wants to pay for anything, most people are willing to pay at least a token amount for a product or service.

2. Giving away a “test drive” is no guarantee of future sales. Unless you just want people to read your story and costs and connection don’t matter much, you can’t be sure that test driving an entire book will somehow make people fall in love with your story. First off, how many people download your book and actually read it? How many WANT to discover new writers, instead of just scoring free e-books? And finally, the more someone pays for a book the more likely someone is to actually read it. I’m not saying price e-books at $9.99, but do you think a person who spends $5 is more or less likely to read at least some of a book than one they got free?

“But,” someone says, “e-books technically don’t exist since you create one copy and an unlimited number of people can download the file and it costs roughly zero dollars after the first e-copy.” True, but you still paid for editing, graphic design, maybe even beta readers for that one e-book. With REAL money.

3. The average book sells fewer than 500 copies in its entire lifetime. Now maybe you’re the superior author and it will turn out that giving away one book and selling 50,000 next time will happen to you. But think of the odds; if you are unlucky enough to be even “slightly above-average”, you will not make enough money from book 2 on to cover what you spent on book 1. Plus there’s the cost and value of your time. Don’t expect a free-book to necessarily get lots of downloads, and expect even fewer people to be interested. If you are “average Joe or Jane” and you sell 450 of each book, think of how many you would have to write to make up for book #1 being free forever at no cost.

3. Your new (and old) competition. “When you offer your work for free, you set yourself up for a massive new competition—namely, all the free stuff on the internet. Seriously. You are now competing with all public domain work (H. P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, etc.), fanfiction, and freebies from other writers of your own status or higher—not to mention torrents of books from popular authors. If you think competing with the open market is hard, try competing with the above.” (K.H. Koehler)

4. You are NOT guaranteed lots of reviews because you gave it away for free (K.H. Koehler and my own observations). For example, I have accepted free e-books in exchange for reading them and posting reviews on Amazon. That author may have 25 reviews but no sales, and all of his reviews he got from soliciting people like me to read them for free. Plus his time and money.

5. If you get caught up in the “free-book” movement then your followers may start to expect it. Yes, one or maybe two won’t hurt your reputation IF you are talented and savvy enough to sell significantly more copies. But start doing it at the beginning of every series? 1. you’re losing money on your work and costs that someone would have paid for (who among Orson Scott Card’s fans regret paying for Ender’s Game?) and 2. Don’t be surprised when you DO charge for your books and suddenly find a lot of your “fans” are a lot less enthusiastic to pay you for your work. Remember, I’m talking about throwing up your book to the universe for free forever. Are there really no people just looking for free stuff?

Even Brian Jud, a book-marketing consultant who supports perma-free, wrote (italics mine): “Invest in your future by giving books away now. But only do so with the expectation that you will be repaid with additional revenue over the long haul.

So then, are there times to give away free work forever? There actually are, but only if you’re going to meet any of the following criteria:

1. You’re giving away smaller content or content which no one would reasonably be expected to pay for. For example, short stories, sample chapters, a “guide” to your fictional universe, poetry, etc. This is done to highlight your main work to get them to the “prize”.

2. You’re getting something in return for your free-book. E-mail subscribers? Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, or Facebook followers? a book review in a place where it’s likely people are going to see it? Free services like beta reading and reviews? Anything at all.

3. At the very beginning of your writing career AND/OR you are really unsure if you’re going in the right direction– I am in this spot and the temptation to offer a free-book is tempting; why should I get to charge anyone? If you want to dip your toe in the water, or test a radical concept this may work. Then see rule #2 above.

4. If you are seeking publication which does not offer payment for publication. Self-publishing has lots of advantages, but if you can get published in a credible publishing establishment, take it. This section is for tiny publishers or academic journals where you’re mainly seeking a little prestige or ego boost. Especially if you’re just starting out AND #3 above.

5. You have a serious, solid plan for what you’re doing. If you have a well-planned long-term strategy for exactly how you will generate interest, or make money, giving away a free-book could get you the initial attention you want

So that’s my list. Feel free to send in your own ideas of why you should (not) give away your books perma-free. I’ll sweeten the deal: If I get at least five unique comments on this blog, I’ll choose one of you who posted at random and send a $5 gift card to you for Amazon or B&N, your choice. This is a way for me to build engagement. See? I’ll pay to get something in return.

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!).

Do You Need a Fine Arts Degree to Become a Successful Writer/Author?

I got an e-mail from a company called Self-Publisher’s Showcase, a company which says it aims to be a “very affordable promotional assist.” They appear to be a real company but you can decide for yourself if you want to use their services,though a look at their “About Us” section shows that none of them has a background in book publishing though their founder, Paul Martin, has a background in social media for professional use (as do I, for the record). I don’t know about Paul but you can count on me to give you social media advice for free and if you subscribe to my blog you’ll always be the first to get new social media and personal branding strategy tips.

The e-mail itself was not directly towards me, so I think I’m on someone’s list, but I don’t mind. Anyway, the website had a guest post which I wanted to talk about. Kevin J. Villeneuve is one of their “showcase” authors and in late October he wrote a post titled, “A Note to Young Aspiring Authors” (me!) which I just got but wanted to note. Here’s the passage which stood out to me:

“So what advice can I give to young, aspiring authors? Don’t get published for the money. Sure, it’s an amazing feat when someone pays you six-figures to write a book, but there are many ways that you can pay yourself to write. If you’re getting into it for the money, go get a master’s degree in literature, find a job that pays you to write, and hope that someday a publisher approaches you to write something bigger.”

Look at the second bold point. I thought it was interesting Kevin seems to think getting an MFA (Master’s of Fine Arts) is the ticket to success. Writer’s Digest seemed to think so this time a year ago. I assume this is because one has access to the professional critiques done by creative writing professors. Now to be fair I have never had a single class in literature or book writing, beyond freshman English class. This is an interesting topic which I’ll explore more in the future. But I don’t think one has to have an MFA to make it big.

It is nice to have feedback from others though I will note Chuck Sambino’s opinion from Writer’s Digest about this:

“Criticism: You might scoff, thinking you don’t need this (MFA), because you’ve lucked into a supportive, insightful writing group. Terrific! But friends, seeing how much work you’ve put into that manuscript, often hesitate to be critical. They want to be encouraging, so they’ll suggest changing scarcely a sentence. Not so in an MFA program. Red ink will cover your pages. You’ll gape in despair as you realize that, yes, your writing is crap. The advisors will encourage you, but they’ll be brutally honest about how to improve your work. This is why MFA programs are so expensive. The faculty isn’t comprised of amateurs who dabble at writing and coddle your ego, but of professionals who bring a cool eye and a scholarly approach to teaching. You’ll be exposed to smart and sometimes stinging criticism, which can be hard to take, yet is crucial to any serious writer.”

If you have an MFA or something similar, or have attended a serious writer’s course on writing, share your thoughts. Is an MFA or similar degree worth it? Or is it a waste of time and money?