Authors with six-figure incomes

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Twenty years ago, Donald Maass interviewed authors to find out who had six-figure incomes, and what they had in common. What did he discover?

No conventions. Hear that? They don't attend many conventions

Excerpt from ‘The Career Novelist’ by Donald Maass

Download a free copy of the book this is from at this link.

Obviously, none of them listed “Lucky” among the important factors in their success, but we can take that as a given. You can do everything right, but if you’re abandoned by your editor, or your preferred subject matter appeals to a small audience, well, that’s just too sad for you.

But how much of this advice (to the extent that it actually constitutes advice) still holds, twenty years later?

I suspect that writers really do need to be somewhat “plugged in” right now. Writers aren’t going to make a lot of sales by going onto social media and calling for readers, but they can recommend other authors, and those other authors can recommend them in return, if they like. Log-rolling! It’s not actually evil, if you liked the book.

I also wonder what other factors would weigh in here: how quickly do they publish? Are their books largely within a single series? Do they win awards?

Personally, last month I passed the five-year mark on my publishing career, and it hasn’t be great. When the trilogy and the new UF comes out this winter, I’ll have published or self-published ten books.

I’m not looking for six-figures here, but mid-five would be nice. Very very nice, actually. We’ll see.

Time is running out on Dark Fantasy StoryBundle

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Mind if I show some covers?

All 9 StoryBundle Covers

The countdown for the dark fantasy StoryBundle is about to run out. If you want to do a little early Giftmas shopping, now is the time.

Some points:

    Pay $3 or more, get five books.
    Pay $12 or more, get all nine.
    You get to choose how much goes to the author and how much to StoryBundle.
    You get to choose which charity, if any, your purchase will benefit.
    You can buy the books as a substantial but inexpensive gift.

Anyway, I’m trying one last push to sell some books. The more retweets this tweet receives, the more free bundles I’ll give away. If you have a Twitter account, please consider clicking that RT button.

No one is ever going to hire me for my graphic design skills. Yikes.

The last Twitter giveaway got over 70 RTs, so I have hopes this one will do ever better. Thanks for clicking “retweet.” Frankly, I need the money.

Novelist given psych exam, locked away by police for work of fiction he published at 20

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[UPDATE: According to the L.A.Times, McLaw was not removed from his job and taken for treatment because of the novels. Apparently, he wrote a four-page letter that alarmed authorities, and they've known about the novels for a couple of years.

It's frustrating, because I heard about this story a week ago when it first broke, and I was waiting to see what would shake out before writing a post. If I'd waited until this afternoon instead of this morning, I wouldn't have relied on the ridiculous early news report, which was disseminated widely and which explicitly linked his books to administrative action.

I'll leave the original post below, for the obvious reasons.]


You may have heard about Patrick McLaw, a twenty-three year old teacher in Maryland who has been kicked out of his job, is being investigated by the county sheriff, has had his home searched, had the school where he taught searched, has been forbidden to go onto county property at all, is being given a psychological exam in a location that the police will not name, and is not free to leave, according to the cops. Has he been arrested? Authorities will not say. Try not to be surprised when I say he’s black.

His crime? Three years ago he self-published a science fiction novel, set 900 years in the future, about the race to stop a school shooter.

You can read about his story at The Atlantic. I encourage everyone to read it; it’s short and it matters. If you’re curious about the book, not only is it still on Amazon, but the publicity has bumped it quite high in the sales rankings.

I guess it’s possible that there’s something else going on here beyond administrative freak out, but I would be surprised. This sort of over reaction from a school administration is all about the fear and power of petty bureaucrats who are terrified of being seen to have done too little. Any possibility, however slim, that they might be dissected in the media, post-catastrophy, about what they knew and why they didn’t act, drives them like fanatics.

It doesn’t help that so many school officials seem ready to accommodate the most paranoid parents in their district. It all feeds the little voice inside them that says thinking up the plot of a book is the same thing as fantasizing about it.

Based on the news reports we’ve had so far, Patrick McLaw has broken no law. It’s possible he’s being told that he has to do everything he’s told to keep his job, but I can’t understand how a sensible member of the judiciary thought publishing a novel three years earlier was probably cause for a search of the guy’s house.

It’s disgusting.

In which I invite another author to kiss my fat ass

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Usually, when I see a stupid thing on the internet, I laugh and maybe tweet about it. “Look! Someone spilled a pile of dumb on the internet!” Then we’ll all share a laugh together and I’d go back to blocking “Emergency Cat” accounts. If I think the source of this particular piece of blockheadery is a pernicious sort who is actively courting the attention, I won’t bother.

But some things are annoying enough that I feel moved to blog about it. Here’s the deal: When Guardians of the Galaxy came out, a lot of people were talking about how upbeat it was, as though it was this bright, cheerful thing. They were also contrasting it favorably with Man of Steel, an objectively terrible movie no matter how thrilling the special effects were.

Me, I didn’t think GotG was all that upbeat. In fact, I thought it was pretty dark (without being grimdark) and said so.

You don’t have to click through on that link. Basically, I embedded a Kameron Hurley tweet about the movie’s success being the “sound of grimdark being over”, then I talked about the actual darkness in GotG, why it was a welcome contrast with MoS, and the piece ended like this:

So, don’t expect GotG to be light, cheerful fare. It has more than its share of darkness. The difference is that it also has clever, dedicated protagonists who are capable of prevailing in the end.

That’s it. That’s the whole deal.

I don’t know how that got interpreted as As fantasy authors Kameron Hurley and Harry J. Connolly observed, the success of Guardians of the Galaxy heralds “the sound of grimdark being over. over on io9. If I’d agreed with Hurley’s tweet, I would have just retweeted it, not written a fucking blog post. Anyway, I tried to clarify this in a comment over there, but it didn’t go and I’m too busy to fuss with blog comment systems.

And now I have this shit, in which Richard K. Morgan links to my post (and only my post) and responds to it as thought I’m personally calling for the end of the grimdark subgenre.

As anyone who’s read the actual post (rather than the io9 summary) would know, I’m not. Maybe Kameron Hurley would like it to go away forever; I’m not her so I wouldn’t know. Personally, I’m happy to see grimdark on the shelves, because I read it. Not only that, but anyone who’s picked up my short fiction collection knows I write it, too.

In fact, I have never felt the urge to call for the end of any genre. Some I read. Some I don’t. It’s no big deal. When I go into the supermarket, I see vanilla AND chocolate ice cream in the freezer. I get to choose the one I like and leave the other for someone else to buy, maybe. I don’t require everyone to want what I want. In fact, I don’t really care what you like (unless it’s my books, in which case why not buy some, please).

But all I have to do is point out that MoS was deeply muddle-headed in its attempt to be serious and grim, and suddenly I want to take away people’s favorite ice cream.

What is it with that shit, anyway? Why do these guys reflexively read any criticism at all–even of something dumb like MoS–and interpret it as “You’re trying to ban something I love!”

Anyway, that’s the stupid thing, what I would normally just tweet about for a laugh. This is the annoying bit.

Is this a constituency so totally bombproof resistant to cultural shift that they want to go back to a fictionscape dreamed up in the middle of the last century, back when women and coloured folks still knew their place, the cop on the beat was a lovely cuddly (white) guy, war was a glorious endeavour undertaken against dastardly foreign foes, and real men walked like John Wayne?

Hey, Mr. Morgan, you can kiss my fat ass for this. And if this wasn’t meant to be addressed to me directly, you should have linked to someone else at the start of your post.

Anyway, I’m sure regular readers (both of you) will be startled to discover that grimdark is totes progressive. You know those olden days, when everyone’s art was all about capital G good and capital E evil, no nuance need apply!

Please.

For the record, the only work of Mr. Morgan’s that I have read was a trade collection of a Black Widow comic, which I thought was excellent. In fact, I thought it should be the basis of the character’s first movie. The blog post he wrote is still as dumb as a sack of ice cubes.

Also, the short fiction piece of my own I consider grimdark is the title story in my collection: “Bad Little Girls Die Horrible Deaths” even though no girls (bad or otherwise) die in the story. #spoilers

Yes, I realize that last link is basically an invitation for punitive one-star reviews. So be it.

The awful stink of writer desperation

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Last night my wife received an email from a fellow she sort of knows. He’s a fantasy writer, apparently, and after hearing that she’s married to me, he pressed her to take a copy of his novel (which comes with supplemental materials, it seems).

My next sentence will have even more commas.

There’s a lot of calling people “friends” and more than a few claims that Goodreads, et al, make certain books more visible based on an algorithm that blah blah blah. Seriously, do these sites not also sell co-op? I don’t actually know if they do or not; I’ve always just assumed.

Anyway, the whole thing reeks of desperation, it’s awkwardly written, and it makes the deadly mistake of (politely) ordering people around. That’s why I’m going to address the rest of this post to the unnamed and unquoted indie author.

Yes, word of mouth is important. Yes, readers spreading the word about books they love does good things for those books. However, that word of mouth has to be done out of love. If a you’re relying on some sort of social obligation (“I’d better give Arlene’s new book four stars before I see her at the office on Monday…”) then everyone loses, because that reader is going to resent being recruited as a volunteer PR person, the review they write won’t be honest, and anyone fooled by it is going to be disappointed. That’s not what you want.

Look, I know it’s tough. I know it’s hard to get any kind of visibility, especially as an indie author. It’s hard to get reviews, or any sort of attention. It’s like shouting in a crowd of other shouting people.

You want to know the real secret here? It’s not about the marketing. It’s not about emails to acquaintances begging for reviews. It’s about three things: the book itself, your ability to identify the people who would like it, your ability to give them a reason to read a free sample.

If you can get those three things right, you don’t have to worry about the book too much. It will take off on its own. Breaking it down:

The book itself: This isn’t a question about whether your book is “good” or not. There’s no point in arguing that your book is good (which won’t stop people, but that’s beside the point here). Is the book a story that people love and want to share with their friends? Do they read it and then buy three copies to give as gifts?

If you’re not getting that kind of response, no marketing in the world is going to help you.

Your ability to identify the people who would like it: You know how much fantasy fiction my wife reads? None. Well, it used to be none before she got tangled up with me. Now she reads mine, but I don’t think that counts. Thing is, she’s not what you’d call a geek at all. She’ll see the movies because that’s fun mass entertainment. She’ll watch ARROW if they remember to include workout scenes. When she sits down with a book, she reads about non-fiction about education reform.

Seriously, that’s her thing. She’s a homeschooling parent, and she wants to do a good job. So pressing a fantasy novel into her hands will do nothing for you except waste your time.

Your ability to give them a reason to read a free sample: See, even if you can identify potential readers of your work, you need to pique their interest. You ought to be funny, or kind, or insightful. You should be out in the world, most likely in social media, sharing things that interest people. And right beside that, you have a bio that reads “I write books. Read a free sample here.”

That’s it. Yeah, there’s more to it, obviously, but those are the basics.

I understand how frustrating it is, but some choices can actively hurt your chances of success. Sending long emails to my wife is one of them.

Good luck.

Another strike against Smashwords

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On July 8th, Smashwords said my short fiction collection would be distributed to Kobo’s ebook store. As of yesterday, that still hadn’t happened (just like last year). So, I canceled Smashwords distribution and uploaded directly through Kobo, which meant the books were available for sale in less than 12 hours.

Three and a half weeks: nothing. <12 hours: listed. There's no doubt that Smashwords is less useful all the time.

Yes, I could have done what I did in May '13, emailing customer support and asking them to straighten things out, but I'm not willing to do that every. Single. Time I put something in Smashwords's distribution channel. Too much bother.

Anyway, the book is now available on Kobo, too, for you international epub buyers.

Cover art for Bad Little Girls Die Horrible Deaths And Other Tales Of Dark Fantasy

Cover Art

Writing and physical pain

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Last night I was trading tweets with a writer who has been having serious pain for a long while, and we joked about how much it would help her to know my wife.

And it’s true. My wife does sports massage (as I’ve mentioned before) and she takes away pain for a lot of people. Folks fly from the east coast so she can work on them, because they just can’t find anyone as effective where they are. She’s worked on sports stars, rock stars, and movie stars, along with office workers who went from never doing any kind of exercise directly to Crossfit, and who can barely walk around.[1]

Anyway, I mentioned this to my wife and she immediately responded with “Where does she live?” because obviously her first idea was to work something out with this author. Sadly, the answer was “Not nearby.”

After that, her next recommendation was this book: Pain Free at Your PC by Pete Egoscue, although she said Pain Free for Women: The Revolutionary Program for Ending Chronic Pain is even better.

It’s been a few years since I glanced into these books and I can’t find them now, almost certainly because they were loaned out and never returned, but I remember them as being fairly free of woo-woo [2] but heavy on recuperative movement. And I don’t mean “My wrist hurts; I have to do wrist exercises.” It’s more focused on healing specific issues through changes in the entire body.

Also, anyone who is having chronic soft tissue pain right at this moment might find some relief doing a vasioflush, which is really just the alternating application of cold and heat, described in more detail in this post I wrote for Charlie Stross’s blog.

Obviously, these recommendations will only work for people with soft tissue pain: posture problems, overuse of certain muscles, muscle imbalance, muscles that are very weak and tight, that sort of thing.

You don’t have to live in this kind of pain.

[1] And, frankly, after twenty years of doing the same thing every day, she’s become a bit bored with it. She would write a book if her learning disabilities didn’t make that all but impossible. I’d help her if my work load weren’t so heavy. She would teach if she had any inclination to be a teacher (and if teaching in the massage world weren’t so filled with weird guru types). It’s a shame, because she’s extremely good at what she does, but it’s a physically demanding job and she doesn’t have anywhere to go next.

Of course, if The Great Way does really well, she won’t have to worry about that anymore, but no pressure on me.

[2] Woo-woo is defined here as “You must align your energies with the universe” -type talk. And while the two books I’m recommending here are fine, some of his later work is less helpful.

That new Amazon press release.

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John Scalzi jumped on it before I could. I could have written a similar post but I’m sort of tired of the whole business and I wanted to work on my book. You can read Amazon’s original post (on their Kindle message boards, which still seems weird) right here.

Which isn’t going to stop me from offering up one or two additional points that Scalzi didn’t cover.

First, people are talking about this release as though it fully identifies the source of the dispute between Amazon and Hachette, but we don’t know that’s true. I don’t doubt that it’s part of the dispute, but the PR piece opens like this:

With this update, we’re providing specific information about Amazon’s objectives.

A key objective is lower e-book prices.

It’s not “The key objective is….” It’s not “The sole remaining disputed contract point is….” It’s “A key objective is…” That suggests there are more, some of which might not sound so sympathetic if they came to light. Is Amazon planning to raise co-op fees? Do they want POD rights from publishers for books that aren’t in stock? Are they pushing for some form of exclusivity, as they do with KDP Select? We don’t know, so lets not pretend that this is the sole source of conflict between the parties.

Second, Amazon does not seem to understand windowing, which is where publishers release an expensive edition first, then lower-priced editions later. That’s why books in hardcover will be followed a year or so later by a mass market paperback. An author’s superfans will buy the expensive version right away because they can’t wait; more casual fans wait for the price to drop. So, when Amazon says this:

We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000.

it shows they don’t understand that those hypothetical 74,000 sales are not necessarily lost, not if the ebook price drops at a later date. Maybe you won’t catch all of those readers, especially since the lower price comes well after the initial marketing push, but you’ll definitely capture some of them. Long term, those numbers don’t work.

Self-published authors and ebook readers *hate* windowing. Just mentioning the word calls up the threats of torrents and warnings of obscurity, but indie authors fuck around with the prices on their books all the time. When they do it, it’s just to drive sales, hey, not big deal. When publishers do it…

Third, several of the commenters in Scalzi’s post are arguing that Amazon will not try to drive ebook prices down below the $9.99 cap they’re currently arguing for. In other words, once they get this price cap, they’ll stop.

Even if you believed that (and I’m not convinced myself), holding prices at a specific cap for the long term is driving prices down, because inflation.

Anyway, let me tack on the usual disclaimers: I sell books on Amazon. I buy books from them sometimes. I self-publish my own work through their site and they represent the bulk of my sales. I’m not picking sides in the Amazon/Hachette dispute, just picking over publicly stated positions. I’ve worked in their first distribution center at a time when I really needed a job. Long term, I support a diverse publishing and bookselling market. Short term, I’m glad Amazon’s shareholders are beginning to demand that Amazon show a profit; the ability to operate at a loss has been one of the company’s biggest advantages.

Are there special instructions for helping your favorite authors?

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I was just asked about this recently: a reader wanted to know where was the best place to buy my fiction (gratuitous plug) so it would be of the most benefit to me. The answer is simple. It doesn’t matter.

(I’ll talk about what does matter at the end of this post.)

I mean, yeah, it sort of matters a tiny bit. For my self published work, some vendors pay slightly more or slightly sooner than others. For the traditionally published work, I’m sure Del Rey makes slightly more or less from different stores (I’m not privy to the details of this) and anything that helps pay back my advance is an unalloyed good.

But there’s a flip side: saying “Buy from [Vendor], please!” will give a lot of people pause. Maybe they don’t have access to that store because of where they live, or the file formats don’t work, or they’ve had a bad experience there. Simply by directing people to one store over another, I would lose a certain percentage of potential readers for whom that’s not feasible. The perfect is the enemy of the good, after all.

Besides, the real differences in pay are negligible. The benefit to me from selling a piece of self pubbed fiction in one store over enough is less than the tip I leave for the baristas who sell me coffee.

When The Great Way becomes available, things might be a bit different. Amazon owns POD pubisher CreateSpace, but books made at CS and ordered through Amazon have a *much* smaller profit to me, undoubtedly because of all the extra handling. When the time comes, I may write a post about that.

But for now, let me say not only does it not matter, but I would encourage any reader of any author’s books to not worry about it. Do whatever is most convenient. Readers is what authors need most, so go ahead and buy the books however you like (or borrow them from a library).

Because what’s really important is not identifying which vendor pays the most, it’s generating word of mouth. The best thing any reader could do for the authors they want to help is to talk about the work, express their enthusiasm, write reviews, tweet, post Facebook updates, whatever. Hell, even buying a copy of a book for a friend (as long as you honestly think they’ll like it) is nice.

This is true for obscure authors like me and the top bestsellers. Share your enthusiasm. Write about it. Talk about it. Nothing helps us more.