Investing in your writing

Earlier this week, Wayne Stinett, fellow self-published writer at the Kindleboards, posted this in his blog (this post opens in a new tab, so this blog post will still be here when you finish reading.

You will probably know me as someone who advocates not to spend money self-publishing. Maybe, but that’s not true. What I advocate is not to spend too much money when you’re starting out. I totally advocate spending money once you learn where to spend it. In fact, the way Wayne, who sells far morethan I do, went about the process is just about perfect.

I advocate being really careful with your initial expenses because it is so easy to become utterly discouraged by the disparity in the number of zeroes between your income and what you spent.

Why this post? Because I’m spending up. I seriously don’t want to look at my selfpublishing income vs outgoing this month.

At this point in time, I have FIVE people doing things for me.

My awesome editor/formatter I’ve had for a long time. But these days there is not a month that he’s not doing anything for me.

I’m having a whole bunch of covers designed. This is because I want to have wraparound print covers and seriously can’t be arsed to redo the illustrations. It is also because I have a few new releases coming out and my ideas for covers are moving south. And most importantly, because I think I can do better.

So…

Tom Edwards is an awesome artist who is doing the Ambassador covers.
Damonza is considered the single best freelance cover designer. He’s doing the ISF-Allion books.
Lou Harper is a very talented graphic designer with a lot of experience. She is doing the For Queen And Country series.

And the fifth person? The woman who is translating the Icefire Trilogy into Spanish. She isn’t actually costing me any money right now (phew), but she’ll be paid out of commissions.

For me, this is a gamble. I’ve sold enough books to pay for this giant splurge, but I’m not a mega-seller. What I’m hoping for is this: awesome, really professional cover design sells. It’s not that hard to whip up an acceptable design, but there is a difference between acceptable and awesome. Awesome sells books.

Expect a lot of cover reveals shortly. First up: The Sahara Conspiracy, which will be published with the new cover by Tom.

Investing in your writing was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

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Once again about sexism in Science Fiction

It’s been a while since I wrote this post where I encountered blatant sexism, and today, Sean (@Seandblognaut) alerted me on Twitter about the existence of this post from inside the publishing world.

Written by Tor UK editor Julie Crisp, it is exactly the sort of stuff I wanted to hear from the industry. To take a few excerpts:

In the last few years I have seen numerous articles deploring the lack of female SFF writers, in science fiction in particular. And usually, the blame always comes back to the publisher’s doorstep. Every time I’ve seen one of these articles I get a little hot under the collar because, guess what? I work in publishing. I work in genre. And here’s the kicker – I’m a woman. Yes, a female editor commissioning and actively looking for good genre – male AND female.

And

The sad fact is, we can’t publish what we’re not submitted.

She goes on to quote that only 22% of science fiction submissions they receive are from women. This has been my (admittedly very limited) experience in the ASIM slush as well: that there is a distinct disparity in the submissions.

That said, the incident was inexcusable, no matter how much I was supposed to have “prompted” it. The proper reply that should have been given to my question was what Julie wrote. End of story. Thanks, Julie, for writing it.

Do I believe that pockets of blatant sexism exist in publishing? Hell, yes.

Do I believe that the majority of the publishing industry is at least attempting to be even-handed? Yes, I do. But that will not stop me speaking out when I encounter sexism as blatant as I encountered.

In any case, while I’m angry on behalf of women in general, it’s no skin off my personal nose. I am enjoying my self-publishing journey more and more every day, and getting more rewarded for it every day, too. Ticonderoga Publications is working on edits for my novel. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, the cliché goes, and I’ll survive well without a deal from a “big six” publisher.

A silver lining

DSC_0095

(I took this picture of clouds today to test out some features of the new camera)

I decided to experiment with making a book free for a longer period. The trilogy is selling well on Kobo and B&N, but wasn’t doing so well on Amazon. I’ve always felt that a lot of people on Amazon are out for bargains. However, other people had good experiences with making volume 1 of a series free for a few months or even permanently, so I decided to give this a try on Amazon. Of course you can’t make your book free on Amazon through their author dashboard, and that meant it had to be free on another major competing site first. I made Fire & Ice free on Smashwords and it went through to B&N. Amazon matched the price on the last day of February. Counting that day, and the 1200 downloads on B&N in February, the book has been downloaded close to 7000 times.

What does making a book free do?

Well, it makes people buy the other volumes. Not immediately, usually, although my sales for those two books have jumped up significantly and my Amazon sales are doing their best to impersonate my Kobo sales. This is a good thing.

It also helps to put your name out there. It means that people who liked book 1 and bought the trilogy might try any of my other books.

With all this happening, it looks like my self-publishing income may be breaking the $1000 monthly sales barrier in March. This is a lot more than you can make selling short stories to big-name magazines, or at least in the longer term. Added up over a year, it is probably also more than you will see from the sale of a debut novel. And you know what? Those books never go off sale.

As bonus, I get a feel for what sells well.

1. Series with characters with human-character-related problems
2. More series, as long as they’re complete
3. Sex (uhm, yeah, not going there :P)

It’s different from the way you’d plan a debut novel to be submitted traditionally. People love series. Publishers can be nervous about them. Readers like getting involved with characters. Publishers like prestigious stuff like awards.

So, what’s next?

I think that I might get a start on the sequel to Trader’s Honour once that book is done (four chapters and an edit still to go!), then a sequel to Ambassador (which is about a third written) and then maybe think about a alternate-history-ish fantasy (meaning that setting only resembles real places in the way of Kushiel’s Dart).

Why the hell would I want to sell a book?

ETA: Let it be VERY clear up-front, that I am talking about Big Publishers here. There are many smaller publishers that are wonderful, on the ball, and don’t leave their writers hanging. Tsana drew my attention to this post, which provides more arguments, if you needed any.

Beware, some puppies will be kicked in this post.

I had an epiphany on the weekend.

You see, I harboured a small hope that if only people like agents and publishers saw my bio and saw that I was writing a new book, they might offer me things, like, a publishing contract, and then I wouldn’t have to do anything to sell my books and Big Publishing Company would do it all for me. Yeah, right, I know.

There is also that issue of the Harper Collins open submission period. Do I submit something? Don’t I submit something? What the hey, what is there to lose, really?

Really?

It all comes down to the question: what do I want from my writing?

About two weeks ago, I met another writer, and as we were sitting and talking over coffee, we discussed submissions. Said writer hopes to be published traditionally and mentioned to me how utterly depressing it is to send something on request by an editor to then have it sitting on that editor’s desk for two years, only to hear back “we like it, but we’re not going to buy it.”

Well, crap. That’s two years of your life.

Two years of not doing anything with that manuscript. Two years of hope.

I understand how publishing works. I understand how and why things take a long time. I like book editors I’ve met. They’re nice people who genuinely go in to bat for their authors.

But man, two years.

You know, Big Publishers have audiences and all that. That’s something you can’t drum up on your own.

Yup, I know. So all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I uploaded the first three chapters of my book to a publisher site.

That of course put me straight in the path of a licherary snob (not an employee of the publisher, but just a random) who wrote a three-page review about the first three sentences and appended another standard bit of cut & paste advice to it. Yeah-blergh, like I really needed a dose of Creative Writing 101. Which part of WOTF winner and Analog did you not get, dude? Why ever did you think that minutiae of wording made that much of a difference anyway? I write as I write and if you don’t like it, go somewhere else. Tell me that it’s crap. That’s OK by me, just don’t tell me that I should Write Like You, because… well, fuck off, man.

I also poked about a bit in their forums, where I found some threads on people laboriously pontificating on the possibility of uploading their books to Amazon as if this was something they’d only heard about yesterday. And then the replies… urgh.

O.M.G.

I am SO over this shit.

I am OVER licherary snobs holding up self-imposed measures of quality. I am over old-school editors snooting on Twitter that they are God’s greatest gift to the literary world and their primary function is to save writers from themselves especially the eeeevil self-publishing hordes (insert sneeze that sounds like E.L. James). I am OVER non-responses, year-long waiting times and being fucked around by people. I am OVER writers clamouring for rays of hope while the traditional publishing model is fast riding off into the sunset.

Seriously, what rock are these people living under? One that stinks of an issue with the sewerage, that’s for sure.

Why the hell would I sign a traditional publishing contract, especially ones of the kind that stipulate things like right of first refusal on other works? WTF? Are you with me and can you see the manuscript sitting there on the desk for two years? For every book I write? You got to be joking.

The money? Advances in the US may be in the five figures, but in Australia, they’re definitely not. The most I’m likely to see from a novel is a few thousand bucks. Well, you know what, the trilogy is ready well underway to earning that… this year. I’m not talking about next year, or the year after that. Why would I sign to receive 7% of RRP when I can get 70% or even 80%? Why the hell would I take books offline that are selling a couple of copies each day?

Quality? Well, people can look at my bio and see I’m not a doozy. In terms of whether or not I can write, I prefer to speak in terms of sales. Because no matter how much licherary snobs like to think so, there is no common testable definition of quality. The problem of getting sales is to find the people who like to read what you write. The rest of the world will probably think it’s crap, but that’s OK. They’re not, and will never be, your audience.

Marketing? Yeah, maybe. This applies for print books, though. Why would I sign a contract which pays me no advance to get a much smaller percentage of RRP for a book that will be sold at twice the price alongside my self-published books? The marketing drawcard will be my name, because who the hell looks at the publisher anyway? Why would I think it’s OK to sign a contract that buys print rights, even though they won’t be used? This was the reason my contract for Watcher’s Web fell through, btw. Because I wanted Australian print rights. Australian Only. Blergh.

Recognition? Well, that’s always nice, but if you feel you need regular confidence boost from a sale to a reputable venue, you’re doing it wrong. You do not want the publishers to approve of your fiction. You want readers to approve of your fiction. They do this by buying it. Whichever reader looks at the publisher when they’re buying… OK, OK, you get the gist. Your name is the drawcard. You. Not the publisher. What? Did I say that before?

Genre magazines are totally cool. They provide fast turnaround and fast reversion of rights after a sale.

Small press can be awesome. They can be easy to work with, can do things you don’t want to or can’t do, and contracts are negotiable.

Large publishers…

Bye bye for now.

Watch my fat arse as I skip into the big blue yonder.

The thing no one tells you about self-publishing

Cute rabbit, huh? I bet that the first reaction most people have to this picture is “awwwww”. If you saw the rabbit in a shop, you would want to buy it and take it home.

What does this have to do with self-publishing? Well, like the rabbit, it evokes an emotional response in the writer. It is so damn addictive.

Over the last two days I’ve run a promo for Watcher’s Web on Amazon. I’ve had a total of 10,606 downloads. That’s not a typo. More than ten thousand. On top of the ten thousand that have been downloaded over the past few promos, there are now more than twenty thousand copies in the hands of people with Kindles. People I don’t know. People who are for the most part not active in the SFF circles where I dwell.

These people do things like… read the book, talk about it with their friends, list it on goodreads, ask me if there is going to be a sequel, tell me how much they’ve enjoyed this or other books, follow me on Facebook or Twitter… the list is endless and awesome.

And the thing is, I am certain that for some books in some situations it might be a really good career move to look for a traditional publisher, but every time I even contemplate sending a query, I think of my little book in the hands of twenty thousand people, and I can’t bring myself to do it.

Heck, I am enjoying this too much. If a publisher wants me, they can come and find me.

Why no response was the deal-breaker for me

Yesterday, Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware brought to my attention to a post with which I wholeheartedly agree, and then some. Go read it Do editors not say no because they can no longer say yes?. In short, it is a sad commentary on the latest status quo adhered-to by many publishers and agents: that they only respond if they’re interested, and that responses routinely take twelve months or more.

Regular readers of this blog, and my other blogs, will know that I have long riled against this trend.

The compliant amongst them have–repeatedly and to my great annoyance–reminded me that “this is how the industry works” and “just be patient, Luke”.

Well, yes, there is being patient and being patient. Some examples.

In 2009, I had completed book 1 of the Icefire Trilogy. I sent out five queries to agents. I got three requests for material, two of which led to a request for a full manuscript.

It was a scary moment. I might actually sell this thing. You know, wow.

One of those agents–someone I respect very much–replied after an acceptable time with reasons why she wouldn’t take the manuscript on.

Fair enough, I thought. I’ll send out a couple more queries. I did, in two batches.

Response?

Not. A. [insert expletive]. Word.

You see, meanwhile, the effects of the GFC had hit the publishing industry, and everyone was sitting on their hands. At the end of the year everyone reported on how few new writers they’d signed. I never heard back from anyone, including the agent who still has my full (if you’re reading this, shame on you).

I also, in 2008, wrote a 10,000-word story that led to the trilogy. I submitted it to a magazine in June 2009. As of this moment, I am still waiting for a reply. Oh, yes, I did ascertain that they actually had my submission. It was “passed up to the editor”. They’ve had some one thousand and eighty days to think about it.

I mean–seriously?

Where in the world would this sort of behaviour not just be condoned, not just be accepted, but EXPLAINED AWAY by those taking part in the process?

If instead of “large publisher” or “XYZ literary agency”, you inserted “Microsoft” or “Apple” the internets would be exploding with outragedness, and said companies would meet the wall very quickly. OK, authors are not customers. They are content-providers, probably on par with the hamsters who occupy the offices at the large companies. So–if Microsoft and Apple treated their employees with such contempt, the internets would STILL explode with outragedness.

What is it that makes aspiring authors not only accept this behaviour, but pat any fellow writer who gets upset about it on the head with a “there, there, dear”?

Luke will not be patient and grin and bear it, and if that makes me Darth Vader, then so be it.

Is it really a wonder that so many writers are voting with their feet? Out of sheer frustration? Especially those writers who have something that might actually sell, because they’re just not willing to wait twelve months for someone to decide about it, and then a year and a half or more for them to actually publish it? For an average advance of $5000?

Fortunately, there are some companies–publishers mainly–who are doing the right thing.

Angry Robot responds to all of their open door submissions in timely fashion. Kudos.
A number of magazines (you can find them on Duotrope) repond very quickly indeed. Kudos.

And the latest: the other day, I made a submission to a publisher where I will not have to worry about how long it takes them to respond, or whether they will respond at all, because the submission guidelines expressly stated that it was OK to submit self-published material.

It is the future. The rest of the industry had better pull up its socks.

To change or not to change: the self-publisher’s question

I’m going to ramble a bit on a subject that has disturbed me for a while, and I hasten to say that I have not yet found the definitive answer.

It was prompted by this post by Stacia Kane, which was actually inspired by something entirely different, but in the bottom half of her post, she takes a huge swipe at self-published authors who change their works according to reader opinions, effectively using paying people as beta readers. I agree with the vast majority of her points, namely:

1. Changing your book after a reader’s comment makes you look pathetic.
2. Using paying readers as beta readers is just–urgh. I have no words.
3. Using paying readers to pick out your typos–ditto.

That said… I found myself getting a bit annoyed by the sanctimonious my-way-is-the-only-right-way tone of the post. One of the facts of self-publishing electronically is that you can easily change your book. And it’s not as if it doesn’t happen in big-publishing land either. I read a hardcover of a book borrowed from the library in which a place name is spelled incorrectly in about half the book. In the (mass paperback) version that I bought afterwards, only a few misspellings remain. OK, OK, I agree, that’s only a typo. What about changing the story, or adding to it?

No! My rational mind says. You have a contract with your reader. A book is carved in stone the moment you publish it.

Then again, I read most books only once. I don’t really care about any further special editions of the book that come out after I’ve read it. Also, what exactly do you pay for when you buy a book?

I buy a book to be entertained for however long it takes me to read the book. I buy a book because I like what the author is doing. I buy music because I like the band. I will buy two different versions of one song, because they’re different. I’ll pay to go and hear the band play live, even though I will know for certain that the sound will be nowhere near as sophisticated as that produced in a slick recording studio, where re-takes and mixing are possible. And where there are a lot of backing singers, and did I mention the accompanying orchestra? Is one version worth less than the other?

What do you pay for when you buy something that is the product of someone else’s imagination?

If I buy a painting, do I expect the artist to never paint and sell anything similar? If I buy a novella, do I get upset when I learn that there is a longer version of the story?

As I said, I don’t have the answer. So while I agree with Stacia that you should not put up an unedited first draft, or use Amazon buyers as beta readers, I also don’t see any harm in expanding or modifying the story at a later date. Also, because it is easy to change books, there will be lots of people who will do it, and the process of publishing will become more fluid and interactive. And that is something that is both inevitable and something that some people will deride for some time to come.

As for myself, I have never touched anything since publishing it. Just the thought of continuously changing my books makes me feel tired. I put them out because they’re finished.

Self-publishing successfully, seven further thoughts


Publishers are only evil gatekeepers that stop people from recognising your genius? Think again! Publishers have huge marketing networks and have accumulated much experience about what works in terms of selling books. Quit blaming them for all your ills and watch what they do and how they do it, and how long it takes them to do it.


One of my most popular writing posts is Ten Home Truths About Starting out in Self-Publishing which I wrote a few months ago. In it, I outlined in a nutshell my feelings about the average self-publishing no-name author. It’s awesome to see all those points agreed with and elaborated on by Mark Croker from Smashwords in his free guide The secrets to Ebook Publishing Success

Awesome.

But, OK, you’ve self-published. What next? Here are a few more observations.

1. Experiment with your books’ listings
Use some of your earnings to design a more striking cover. Try a different sales blurb. Ask random people for their opinion. Do they find the cover attractive? What genre do they associate with the image?

Make sure you fill out all fields relevant to your book in Amazon’s Author Central page. Change the categories your book is listed in from generic to more specific. Prepare some books for a print version.

2. Giving away books helps sales
This one sounds counter-intuitive, but it works. Don’t be stingy or demanding about copies you give away for the purpose of getting the book reviewed. Many people won’t get around to reading or reviewing. Get over it. Give away some more books. Saddest thing I ever heard a self-published author say: “Let’s face it, your friends and family will be the only ones to buy your book.” No. Your friends and family should get the book for free. At this point in the game, the word is generosity. Getting your stuff read. Give lots of freebies. This month, I’ve given away over six thousand copies of various pieces of fiction.

3. Don’t sweat the numbers
Especially if those numbers are Amazon sales rankings. Who cares? Who of you intended audience browse by popularity anyway? Most will browse by genre and author name.

4. Don’t talk back to reviewers
Even if they are clearly wrong or show no sign of even having read your book. It just make you look like an arse. Online bookselling sites are the domain of readers, not writers. Don’t be creepy and look over the reviewers’ shoulders. Browsing people can see that some reviews make no sense. Trust their intelligence. I don’t remember who said If you fight with a troll, you both get dirty, only the troll likes it

5. Work to make your name memorable in a good way
Love your work, be proud of it, and develop it as best as you can. Be interesting. Don’t spam people with Buy-my-book messages. Your Twitter and Facebook followers know who you are. There’s no point in spamming them.

6. Write more fiction
So that the people who have liked your freebie can buy it.

7. Start over with point 1
Selling fiction takes a long time, but put yourself in the best position for when an opportunity comes along.

Selling fiction–anywhere, self-published or traditional–is like bashing your head against a wall. You will see cracks every now and then, but few of the bricks ever fall out. “Will this book sell?” is the eternal question, even if you have had fiction successfully published with large publishers.

Authors and small press

Recently, the wonderful Tehani Wessely, the face of Fablecroft Press, asked a series of authors, including me, to write about small press.

There were a lot of great stories in this blog series. People whose beginnings were in small press, whose success was due to small press, and for whom small press offered a lifeline when their writing career was in the dumps.

Australia has many wonderful and amazing small presses that do great work.

Yet my personal experience also spans some not-so-great experiences. I have no intention of mentioning names, but would rather like to caution authors against that all-pervading despair you fall into when you’ve been told that you have a publishing contract (and you’ve been publicly wooting about it) and now you find out that, perhaps, you don’t.

The publisher is late producing the work.
The publisher makes excessive excuses as to why your work hasn’t been published yet.
The publisher produces shoddy work and neglects to fix it.
The publisher neglects to pay you.
The publisher does not respond to communication.

All these should probably be taken as indicators that the press is in trouble. I know it sounds distrustful and horrible. Small presses are run by one or two people. There are perfectly legitimate reasons why the main publisher can be taken out of action. Illness, change of job, you name it.

But, and here is the big but–it’s your work they’re sitting on. This publisher is not your best friend; they’re a business relation. If any of the above happens, chances are that any of the problems causing it are permanent. It could be for the simple reason that the small press’ owner has discovered that running a small press is hard and has moved onto the next shiny toy, but has neglected to tell the authors involved. Emails pile up in the inbox until it becomes all too much, while the press owner sends out general messages that ‘things are getting back to normal’.

That may well be the case, and sometimes it’s true. Then again, pigs have been known to fly. Unless you are getting serious indications to the contrary, as affected author, you should by now be scavenging your contract for the ‘out’ clause. That means that the contract has to have one in the first place: a set time by which the publisher should publish the work before the rights revert to you. For ebooks, there should be clauses that cover failure of payment or other breaches of contract.

Check your contracts now.

Or go read this awful tale

Catch 22: Tony Frazier – Writing to publish vs. writing to sell

There’s a mantra you read all the time on sites like Writer Beware (and while I will be taking minor issue with this one thing they say, I don’t take issue with them–they are a great resource with a lot of valuable advice): “money always flows to the writer.”

The mantra is used in the context of publishing through vanity presses. Basically, if anyone asks you to pay money to publish your book, run away. They are ripping you off. The “real” publishing industry always pays you.

That model is starting to break down a little with the spreading practice of self-pubbed ebooks. But before I published my latest e-book, Hero Go Home, I published a novel titled Blue Falcon through vanity publisher iUniverse. It didn’t make me any money, and it’s far from my best work now, but I don’t regret it a bit.

Blue Falcon was the first book I ever finished, a sprawling, complex novel about a modern Korean war with several viewpoint characters on both sides of the conflict. When it was done, I queried several agencies and almost immediately got a request for a full manuscript from a major one. I sent it and waited. Several months later, I got a reply saying no thanks with no other real feedback.

I tried other queries and also joined up with a program through Penguin Putnam which would get you an “in-depth critique” from an editor at the company, with a shot at a publishing deal. After over a year of waiting, my in-depth critique consisted of “it’s too long and the foreign characters’ names are hard to keep straight.”

So after years of futile effort, unable to bring myself to write anything else until I had this book out of my system, I decided to go with iUniverse. At the time, their prices were very reasonable (they’ve increased considerably since then), they were Print on Demand so I didn’t have to buy a ton of copies, and they offered several other valuable services. I sat down to prepare my manuscript for publishing with them and ran into a problem.

The POD model trades the convenience of only publishing a few copies of a book at a time with the inconvenience of a higher cover price. My manuscript was so long that the book would cost $25.00 as a trade paperback. In order to get it down to a reasonable price I thought people would pay, I would have to cut at least 10% out of the manuscript.

That was the single most valuable lesson I think I ever received in writing. When I was writing the book, I was afraid to cut things out, because I had no idea what worked and what didn’t. I hoped I would have an editor or agent who could nudge me through a rewrite and help me get it more focused. But now I was my own publisher, and thinking like a publisher rather than a writer enabled me to cut out a lot of needless material. Blue Falcon as published was a much better book than the one I originally wrote, and I owe it all to the decision to self-publish. For me, the experience was worth the money I paid.

I had a similar experience with Hero Go Home. Early drafts wandered and waffled. It wasn’t until I decided to put it out on the web and started reworking it as a publisher with an audience in mind that I really got the story working the way it was supposed to. I’m pretty happy with the final result.

We’ve all heard horror stories about authors so successful that publishers were afraid or perhaps contractually unable to edit their work anymore. The result was flabby, overwritten stories that weren’t nearly as good as they should have been. For me, self-publishing and thinking in terms of the experience of the final product on the audience has greatly improved my storytelling. And with modern self-publishing services, you don’t even have to risk your own money upfront. All money flows to the writer again, so I can even stay on Writer Beware’s good side.

Tony Frazier’s short stories have been published in Jim Baen’s Universe, Strange Horizons and the anthology, Daikaiju! 3: Giant Monsters vs. the World. He is currently serializing a new story 5 days a week at www.herogohome.com. Enjoy your daily dose of super-adventure with Hero Go Home: Run Digger Run! starting October 3!