Will Authors Quit Writing in 2016?

photo: Wikipedia       

That seems to be the prediction of Mark Coker, Founder and CEO of Smashwords. Via his blog:

“Many indies and traditional publishers alike reported flat or lower sales in 2015. The go-go days of exponential ebook market growth of the early days (2008-2012) are over. As I shared in my November 2014 post, Things Get More Difficult from Here – Here’s How to Succeed, a key factor in the slowdown is an emerging equilibrium for consumption of print and ebook formats. Due to the law of large numbers, ebook sales growth (or declines) will begin to more closely mirror the overall market for all books. The book market is mature and is therefore a slow or no-growth industry.  Additionally, there’s an ever-increasing glut of high-quality low-cost ebooks that will never go “out of print.” These continuing factors paint a picture for a more competitive landscape for authors in 2016 and beyond. Every author will face more competition today and tomorrow than they faced yesterday. In addition to the factors I outlined above and in the “Things get more difficult” post, the growth of Kindle Unlimited presents a new existential threat to the industry (more on this in the next item).

 Kindle Unlimited will gut single-copy sales and drive greater ebook commoditization

Earlier this year I blogged how Amazon’s merchandising pages encourage Kindle customers to read books for free as part of a Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime subscription. Most of the publishing industry remains oblivious to the long term ramifications of Amazon’s strategy here (not a surprise, because despite Amazon operating with amazing transparency and predictability, most industry watchers and media still don’t understand Amazon’s long term self publishing strategy). The issue of immediate concern is that Amazon’s merchandising tactics discourage readers from purchasing single copy ebooks. Amazon is training Kindle customers to view even 99 cent ebooks as too expensive when other books can be read for what feels like free. Amazon’s success with Kindle Unlimited, which now offers over 1 million books almost exclusively supplied by indie authors is going to gut the market for single copy sales at Amazon. It’ll be death by a thousand small cuts.  The pain will be felt by four publishing industry constituencies. In descending order of pain, and in order of who will feel it first, these constituencies include traditionally published authors and their publishers which I’ll consider as a single group; non-exclusive indie authors; Amazon-exclusive authors; and competing retailers.

Basically what Mark is saying is that selling single e-book copies, or even e-book bundles will soon become obsolete, replaced by subscription programs. The only question is whether the distributors assume an pool-sharing model (where money is collected and distributed equally among contributors as the distributor sees fit) or agency (where the contributor is paid for each book downloaded or read as an individual unit). If Mark’s prediction is accurate, and Amazon shifts more and more e-books into a subscription program, then you should know much much harder it will be for an indie author to make money. Especially since Amazon continues to dominate e-book sales. Read his post; it’s worth your time.

He also writes:

“During the early days of the indie ebook revolution, it was relatively easy for a quality writer to earn good income self-publishing low-priced ebooks. The market was doubling and tripling each year, readers hadn’t really seen 99 cent ebooks before, and everyone was happy.  As I mentioned in the “Ebook publishing gets more difficult from here” post, the exponential growth masked challenges that market’s maturation has now brought to light. Many indies who quit their days jobs to pursue writing full time will find they need to return to a “real” job in 2016, especially authors for whom writing is their sole source of income and they’re already feeling challenged to make the monthly rent. This means production will decline among the indie midlisters. As I’ve been telling the audiences for my ebook publishing workshops for the last seven years, if you want to make a lot of money publishing ebooks get a job at McDonalds instead. Publishing has always been a tough business. Witness the fact that most traditionally published authors must maintain day jobs. Ebook publishing is NOT the path to riches except for a very few authors. Yes, I’ve been pleased see the many Smashwords authors whose indie ebook earnings have allowed them to pay off mortgages, buy homes and save for retirement. These stories inspire me, yet we must remember these are the exceptions, not the rule. In 2015 I witnessed a growing desperation among many bestsellers, some of whom – I can imagine due to their prior successes with indie publishing – had might have changed their lifestyles or quit their day jobs. These authors are now feeling the financial and emotional pain of struggling to make ends meet. I hate to see this pain and anguish. As I’ve advised in the past, your prior success is no guarantee of future success. If you’re among the many Smashwords authors who’ve been blessed and have done well, or if you’re fortunate enough to sell well in the future, please bank that money when it comes. Pay off your debts and be conservative with your savings so you can build up your rainy day fund.”

No one has ever said publishing was easy, but I’ve noticed big-time indies are often more optimistic than the rest of us into the future of indie publishing, in terms of making serious money and not just doing it as a side-hobby. It’s easier to think earning money writing is easy and Amazon is great if you’re one of the lucky few to earn 6- or even 7- or 8- figures a year writing, just as a lot of the blockbuster best-sellers in the traditional system rarely complain about their publishers or support changes to the traditional publishing system that are needed. It’s a matter of whose bread is begin buttered by whom, I guess. I’d guess an author has maybe a 2% chance at best of earning enough money a year to sit around and write (and do writing-related activities) all day. That includes authors who could do that, but who choose to maintain other occupations, such as with non-fiction writers. And that’s just to pay bills; that’s not the lavish lifestyles some of them live.

David Boyle of the Society of Authors, based in the UK, writes:

“You worry a little, as an ebook author, that people might be sceptical that you have ever written anything. Or indeed whether all that writing exists in any real sense, since you can’t see it on your shelf. I mean, where is it? You can’t lend it, copy it or give it as a present. Yet bizarrely, online pirates seem capable of giving it away for free within days of it going on sale.

There are certainly advantages to writing the new generation of ebooks that are designed as such, rather than as reluctantly issued e-versions of printed books. They are often a convenient length – maybe a fifth or quarter as long as a traditional book, just long enough to read on a transatlantic flight or a train to Scotland. And they are priced low enough to sell widely. It is a marginal decision to buy a short book at £1.99 or £2.99. You might as well buy it as not.

an ebook writer, I’m only too aware of the problem flagged up by the Society of Authors, that the income of writers is still falling. I certainly agree that authors should get at least half the royalties on ebooks; the big publishers often fob them off with 25% or less. Well, I would say that.

Yet this is not primarily a difficulty with ebooks. It is a symptom of two more fundamental, linked problems. The competition watchdogs have allowedAmazon and the big supermarkets to strangle what had been a working business model. As a result, the remaining, desperately consolidated, mainstream publishers are trapped in a business model that works for nobody – except perhaps for the 5%, the mega-earning authors, who take 43% of all the money.”

Though Mr. Boyle says he will continue writing (and I assume working his financial services job while he writes on the side), no doubt many authors will come to the conclusion that yes, it’s really, really hard to earn a living from writing and the time spent writing could be better done doing other productive things.  I think his concern is more aimed at the Big Five traditional publishers, who are losing to Amazon and who don’t offer a good deal on e-book royalties to their writers. I can’t speak for smaller presses.

So writers of the world: How many of you will continue to write, and how many will decide the time spent writing just isn’t worth it anymore?

Do you Enter Writing Contests? Do You Hear Back?

I had submitted a few short stories for some contests earlier this year. Now I did submit one which was rejected by Highlights for Children, but that was not a contest. I got a message from the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award saying my story “Palace of the “King” was not going to win. Granted, it was not even close to my best work, but I didn’t win.

I also submitted a story for the Baen Fantasy Adventure Awards. That one I thought was a lot better- still not my best, but a solid fantasy adventure story. Well, I never heard back from them, even though I was promised an answer by July 1. I was finally read to send an e-mail asking if they were going to let me know if I was picked, when I decided to DuckDuckGo them (think Google, but with a different search engine). Well, I found out who the finalists were. And no, I was not picked.

While I was not surprised I was rejected, I am annoyed I didn’t at least get a generic rejection letter like I get from most agents or contests, if not the mailed letter Highlights send out. I noticed the winners were well-known names in the Fantasy/Sci-fi writer’s community. I get it, I’m a Millennial and a newbie whose writing is terrible and who isn’t a “superstar” writer. But would it have hurt Baen to sent form rejection letters to us losers? I had ordered a cheap cover design, but then canceled, in case I was a finalist.

The only benefit is, I can now offer this story as a giveaway or as a package deal with the other short story, so buy 1 get 1 free. I’ll publish it soon.

I really want to hear from you: Do you enter contests? Do you ever win? If not, do you hear back?

can you guess where this is? Bonus points if you do.

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

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

Write A Breakout Novel in 2015

THIS will be the year you get published! You’ll write the story that launches your career and lands on the bestsellers list. With advice, tools, and hands-on exercises from bestselling authors and agents, this bundle will walk you through the key elements of writing an unforgettable story that is sure to get published in today’s literary marketplace.

Learn the foolproof, time-tested strategies for writing a page-turner readers can’t put down!

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

(I suppose you could just read the bestsellers in your genre but that will take too much time.)

If that doesn’t help enough you can get some great tutorials:

$199.00 

12-Month Membership – All Tutorials
BEST VALUE Gain access to all writing tutorials for an entire year. Watch every video whenever you like, as often as you would like . . . and be the first to watch the new tutorial we post each week! Your subscription will automatically renew after 12 months if you do not cancel.
Just want to try it to see if you like it? Test it for $25 for one month.

Mastering Description & Setting

Format: Bundle

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

It can be difficult to discern which details of your novel are working and which aren’t. You may be getting rejected but are unsure exactly what the problem is (B&B note: Your ‘platform’ probably isn’t big enough yet to guarantee 5,000 immediate sales). This kit walks writers through the process of writing their setting, point of view, plot, and characters in an engaging way that excites agents and keeps readers entertained from start to finish.

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

In Stock

Retail: $324.95

Your price: $49.98

10 Elements of a Viable, Lucrative Novel in Today’s Market

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

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

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

  • What elements a novel needs to be considered saleable by agents and publishers today—such as memorable characters, a three-act structure, and more
  • Why great novels will always have a place in the literary landscape
  • How to give your novel a fair self-assessment through self-editing (quick point: everyone thinks their book is the next Greatest Book Ever. It’s understandable; our books are like our babies, only no diaper change needed)
  • Why people read novels, where they get them, and what makes them decide which ones to buy
  • How the criteria for a novel today compares with that of the past, and what can be expected as the industry continues to change

Having trouble world-building? Too many descriptions or too few? Let Writer’s Digest help you out.

Mastering Description & Setting

Format: Bundle

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

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

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

In Stock

Retail: $324.95

Your price: $49.98

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

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

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

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!).

Can an Author be Successful Without a Huge Social Media Platform?

Could Steven King  land a book contract today for his debut novel without celebrity status or being know by the “in-crowd?”

photo credit: blogs.denverpost.com

As I have discovered since I decided to try to have my novel published, publishers care A LOT about an author’s social media platform in order to drive sales. Now I happen to be a public relations pro and so building a platform, however cost-effective at this time, is not a problem for me to want to do and do well. Many authors, however, are not very good at doing this, and thus is one reason I provide helpful tips on social media strategies (and coming soon, media appearance tips) to anyone who reads this blog or follows me on Twitter @sammydrf.

Having a social media strategy is a good thing. As an author you have to be able to sell yourself and it is unreasonable to think a publisher or agent will just book your tours, get you media appearances, or market your book while you kick back and do nothing but sign copies between working on your next novel. However, I agree to some extend with comments made by Seth Godin, founder of the website squidoo.com. At this week’s Digital Book World 2015 conference he said (emphasis mine):

“Not all of your authors want to be good at social media. Not all of them have something to say when they’re not writing their book,” he told publishers.

In Godin’s view, the emphasis on building author platforms has gone too far. If so many authors now approach social media as a part of their jobs in the digital era, it’s at least partly thanks to their publishers, who have assiduously told them it is. But the problem is that it often looks that way to readers.

For one thing, that can make it hard to build a following, Godin says, and for another, doing so isn’t just about driving engagement on social channels, anyway.

Establishing and maintaining a loyal audience is by its nature a long-term investment, and what loyalty looks like online can sometimes differ considerably from what it looks like offline, “where the real work” gets done.

Godin points to Bob Dylan, who isn’t particularly active on social media but still has a vibrant and profitable career. “The long-tail rewards people for whom there’s passion from a few,” he says. “The Monkees had a TV show, but Dylan’s still around.”

Is this not an accurate observation, or what? It’s the quality of the book and the personality of the author which sells, not just how many social media followers he/she has. For example, Steven King (pictured above) had exactly zero (0) Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, or Vine followers when his first book Carrie was published in 1973. Did he end up being a colossal failure because he couldn’t tweet or post to his 35,000+ fans to buy the book? Of course not. He built his reputation on being an excellent writer (my favorite King book is Firestarter) and by the time he joined Twitter he was able to secure fans based on a previously built reputation.,

Contrast this with the Jersey Shore castmember Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, who published A Shore Thing in January 2011 and sold a whopping 9,000 copies in its first month, and not much more after that (note: I actually read a full chapter of this book). The reason? It really was NOT well written. Believe me.

So assuming that because an individual has online popularity, whether via television or social media, will mean lots of sales forever is mistaken. The problem is, if the quality is sub-par, even a person’s fans will not buy future copies and thus harm his/her future sales and writing career.

Now having said this, I agree with publishers and agents that authors should have social media platforms and be regular users. The reality is, we live in the age of the internet and this is where people find you and me. Thinking you never have to market your book yourself is asking for too much from a publisher or agent. The difference is that I agree with Seth that publishing good quality literature will drive up a person’s popularity and as long as the author is willing to be a self-promoter, that has to matter more in the long-run than just expecting people to have a built-in platform based on popularity somewhere else, which is a short-term strategy.

Note: for non-fiction authors you must have credibility, whether via popularity a la Bill O’Reilly, or by being respected in your field of study a la Noam Chomsky. However, in the end it’s the content that sells and not just the platform. If O’Reilly was really that bad he would not have a list of bestsellers in his Killing series.

So going forward here’s to writing good quality literature and being a willing self-promoter, while recognizing that quality drives sales better in the long run than short-term fame.

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