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.

Randomness for 9/11

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1) X-men mashed up with The Smiths.

2)
Five Classic Authors Who Hated Their Book Covers (and One Who Got His Ass Kicked as a Result)

3) Scrublands: photographs of people who live off the grid.

4) Rupert Giles plans coursework for an MLS.

5) Everything you need to know about 5th ed D&D.

6) Beautiful animated gifs. h/t @keithcalder

7) “Every year, Americans spend nearly three times as much on candy as they do on public libraries.”

The Way Into Darkness cover art reveal

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The September Kickstarter update just went out, but you don’t have to click through to see the unveiled cover art by Chris McGrath. Why, just look
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right
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here:

Cover art for The Way Into Darkness

There’s a progress update, too, but you’ll have to click through to read it because I don’t want to type all that out again.

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.

How not to respond to a mildly negative review, part 3,000,807

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Guy writes interactive novel about mystery-solving teddy bears in Venice, which is apparently not for children(?)

Reviewer gives it a mildly negative review.

Author loses his mind in comments.

This is from last May, and I’m not sure how I missed it. It’s the perfect example of the ABM, Author’s Big Mistake, in which an author takes great pains to try to school the reviewer in all their numerous errors but ends up looking like a complete tool. As it so often is, Dunning-Kruger Effect is in full swing here. The writer thinks his book about teddy bears is on the level of Keats or Fitzgerald, and nothing can convince him otherwise.

This train wreck comes to you courtesy of @Hello_Tailor, @Stacia_jones_, and @jamesdnicoll.

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.

Amazon launches assault on Hachette’s interns

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Okay. I’m going to deal with this quickly and I’ll be out of here.

Background: Last night Amazon sent an email to everyone who had published books through their Kindle Direct Program (KDP) and since I’m one of those authors (Buy My Books) it came to me, too. You can read the whole thing here.

It’s kind of weird. I mean, I do business with Amazon. I don’t do business with Hachette. However, Hachette isn’t releasing oddball press releases via email, nor are they sending out rallying cries to garner support. Some of their authors? Yeah. And it’s weird. The company themselves? Nope.

So, let’s linkfarm this shit:

Amazon says that George Orwell was against cheap books. Accurate or selective quoting? The answer will won’t surprise you. Unsurprisingly, this is what people are talking about, not whether Amazon is totally on your side, readers.

Should KDP authors be on Amazon’s side? Actually, higher ebook prices from big publishers helps indie authors. Why would I want to help Amazon bring their prices down to my level?

Like Chuck Wendig, I’m not terribly moved by the Authors United push.

Also like Chuck Wendig, I think Amazon’s latest press release is fucking ridiculous.

Why? Because they published the Hachette CEO’s email address and gave people a bunch of talking points to send him in an effort to make him cave on their negotiations.

Seriously. Let me state for the record that I am not going to spam anyone’s inbox for the sake of a big corporation. I wouldn’t spam someone’s inbox for a real life friend, so I’m definitely not doing it for Amazon.

Let me also state that anyone who thinks Hachette’s CEO is going to be skimming through those emails thinking “Hmm. SilverDragonLady211883 At Yahoo dot com makes a good point about her mother’s reading habits” is kidding themselves. The only people who’ll see these emails are the bored interns tasked with deleting them all.

I shouldn’t be surprised by this PR fail (after “human shields”) but I am. It’s incredibly unprofessional.

Amazon, get new PR people. Stop trying to be loved. You can’t be beloved by consumers and be Walmart at the same time. Choose between those options and live with the consequences.

UPDATE: I forgot to include this!

UPDATE 2: I’d seen the Authors United NYTimes profile, but not the big ad they purchased. Apparently, that ad includes Jeff Bezos’s email with a request that readers spam him. Uncool, AU.

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

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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.