making books The outside world: people publishing scientification
by Harry Connolly
There was a great piece on Morning Edition yesterday about art that becomes popular versus art that doesn’t. Is there some quality that makes some art successful and preserved forever or is it all just random chance?
Obviously, the big problem with a question like that is that you can look at only one timeline; there’s no way to look at an alternate world where the Potter books never took off (or they did, inevitably).
For those who haven’t clicked the link (you can listen to the short news piece or you can read a transcript of it) a Princeton professor decided to create a number of alternate virtual worlds to test the hypothesis that popular art becomes popular because of its inherent qualities rather than random chance. He created a database of music by unknown, unsigned bands and invited thousands of teenagers to listen and download their songs for free.
Those teenagers were randomly sorted into nine different “worlds.” In one control group, the teens did not get the chance to see which songs other teens selected. In the other eight, they did.
Try not to be wildly surprised, but different songs became popular in different virtual worlds. A song that was number 1 in one setting was 40th (out of 48) in another. Further experimentation established that there was a minimum level of quality below which popularity was not possible, but after that there was no predicting what would be successful and what would not. Read it yourself if you’re curious.
My problem with this is not the assertion that popularity does not come solely from quality, and that a piece of art that is well-known is not inherently better than something obscure. It’s always been perfectly obvious to me that wonderful and excellent books could/should have been popular but weren’t (I’m not talking about me, now).
My objection here is that the good professor chalks popularity up to “chance.” In fact, he (or at least the reporter covering his work) hits the idea of chance very hard. But that’s a black box.
I’ve talked about this sort of thing before, but there are a lot of effects that people attribute to chance simply because they are not well understood. What I would like to see is an experiment that examines the way those songs became popular in each virtual world. Was it an early surge? Was there an early surge that faced a backlash, with the more popular work getting a secondary surge? I’d like to know, and by that I mean that I’d really really like to know.
making books The outside world: people publishing
by Harry Connolly
As a followup to the post I put together linking critical analyses of Hugh Howey’s Author Earnings report, I have something brief to say: It’s clear that Howey’s data isn’t all that great, which he knows. It’s also clear that the conclusions he’s jumping to–even before he gets to analyzing B&N or whatever he’s doing next–are not supported by the data.
That’s too bad because this could have been the data I’m looking for. The book I published before last was self-published, and this year I expect to self-publish five more times. As I consider small press offers to put out the books, it would be really helpful to have numbers to look out.
Sadly, despite Mr. Howey’s bold conclusions, I don’t. Yeah okay the guy keeps talking about the limits of the data he’s collected, but he also talks as though the data has proved him right. Actually, he’s claiming to be proved righter than ever.
As the links in that previous post demonstrate, that’s not the case. It’s pretty clear that, once Howey got the data, he didn’t really know how best to use it, nor did he know what was absolutely not allowed. The enthusiasm and certitude behind his conclusions are textbook Dunning-Kruger Effect.
We’re all prone to confirmation bias. How many people dismissed what he said without really looking at it? How many people really looked at the report, recognized the flaws, then decided to believe it all anyway? It’s easy to believe flattery. It’s easy to stand in the mirror in just the right way to catch yourself at a good angle. We exert that sort of unconscious control all the time; that’s why we need smart knowledgeable people who know the rules. Howey may know how to write a bestseller but when it comes to data analysis he’s just another thriller writer. Also, it seems that his “Data Guy” is really just “Coder Guy.”
It’s too bad. I could have used expert advice. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have any to offer and he doesn’t even know it.
Chad Orzel, (the scientist blogger who wrote How to Teach Physics to Your Dog) wrote a response to my own post about persistence, which was itself… actually, let’s just say there’s a conversation going on and leave it there. One thing I should point out: Chad has no reason for feeling guilty about “breaking in” the way he did. Blogging is writing, and he clearly put in the hours to do what he does well.
That said, not everyone kicks off their career in “ridiculously unlikely” ways. I mailed cold queries to the agents, which is the most boring way to start off in the whole world. It’s only after breaking in that things got weird. So, that’s a method anyone can try deliberately.
Yeah, I’m aware of the website http://www.authorearnings.com/, which supposedly contains the results of a big data-crunching project instigated by Hugh Howey. Apparently, a coder/analyst/whatever approached Howey with the idea of taking self-reported sales to Amazon sales rankings and using them to analyze Amazon’s bestsellers list to see which types of books (self/other/small press) do best for authors.
I say “supposedly” above because as I write this, high traffic has crashed the site. [Update: I accessed it a few minutes ago.] The only place to find the data at the moment is on Joe K*nr*th’s blog, and he’s added long exchanges with a straw man figure “Legacy John”.
Which… ugh. So. Much Smug.
As a so-called hybrid author who has self-published before and will self-publish again this year (thank you, Kickstarter backers) I’m interested in this analysis. Unfortunately, Howey and K*nr*th are not exactly the most trustworthy of sources. If confirmation bias were a medical condition, both men would have to be kept alive by a machine in some ICU somewhere. Anyway, the numbers are interesting but I’m reserving judgement on them until someone with more time and expertise picks them apart.
Apparently there are companies you can hire to create infographics now? I mean, it makes sense, but I didn’t realize it was a thing. Anyway, people love stats about books and reading, so these guys have put together an infographic called “The DNA of a Successful Novel.”
It’s the usual bullshit. “Books priced at $3.99 earn the most revenue!” “Ninety nine cent books sell the most copies!” I also seriously doubt that science fiction earns more than romance, even if you combine it with fantasy.
And of course it doesn’t touch on the actual content of the books at all: voice, character, plot, none of that. It’s page counts, prices and genres.
Still, if you’re wondering if more people will finish a short book or a long one, they got that covered.
“Part of the problem is that the major publishers ignore the genres that sell the best. This is a head-scratcher, and it nearly caused a bald spot when I was working in a bookstore. I knew where the demand was, and I wasn’t seeing it in the catalogs. Readers wanted romance, science fiction, mystery/thrillers, and young adult. We had catalogs full of literary fiction. Just the sort of thing acquiring editors are looking for and hoping people will read more of, but not what customers were asking me for.”
You know what? The last time I walked into a Barnes & Noble, I stood looking at all those shelves full of books and thought “Jeez! If only I could find books that I want to read!” Too bad those multi-million dollar corporations don’t have a sharp guy like Howey around to explain to them how their business works. All you have to do to get bestselling authors to renegotiate their contracts en masse is to put them on a mailing list with struggling midlisters! Gosh, it’s so simple! Amazing that no one realized this before.
And yeah, get out of New York City, publishing! Why would you want your business in a hub full of smart, creative people who share your interests and might have the skills your company needs. Telecommuting! Email! The car-centric hell-hole that is Houston! Because efficiencies are less important than an easily understood number like “rent in Manhattan.”
(Actually, most of that post is pretty embarrassing. h/t Mr. Hornswoggler) #sfwapro
The process of setting up my book in Lightning Source is now complete. That means you can buy it from Barnes & Noble or any other brick and mortar store that sells books. If you like buying from indies, swing by your local shop and ask them to check the computer for you.
They might ask you to pay ahead of time, because the discount is thin and I made them non-returnable (to keep the price low) but the books are finished and ready.
One thing: a friend offered to do the interior design for this one, and she matched the book design of the other books in the series beautifully. Seriously, I’m not sure if she wants credit for this, but she did a fantastic job; the inside of the book looks fabulous.
Any complaints about the cover are on me.
In other news, I have a lot I want to blog about and no time to write it. My life is consumed by homeschooling, revision, and trying to get enough steps every day to satisfy the FitBit parasite attached to my wrist. More on that another time.
At the moment, I have finally, FINALLY created a POD edition of Twenty Palaces for people who prefer to read (or gift) in paper. Yes, it would have been better if I’d managed this before Giftmas. I know this. I wish it had been possible.
[Added later: Yep! Now available at Barnes & Noble, which means your local indie will be able to order a copy for you through Ingram. They may ask you to pre-pay, though.]
And if you hate Amazon.com with an icy fire and refuse to give them your money: watch this space. I hope to have more options soon. Very very soon.
If case you forgot what it looks like:
making books personal The Great Way: moi? publishing
by Harry Connolly
This was a tough, weird year.
It started off badly. I was in the dumps, THE WAY INTO CHAOS was not getting any bites from publishers, and the computer we got for our son (which he swore would not be a source of obsession) became an obsession. As the year went on, it became a bigger and bigger source of conflict.
In April, I signed on to a themed Kickstarter anthology called “Walk The Fire 2″ (theme: certain people are able to enter special fires and emerge from a fire elsewhere and elsewhen. They’re space-faring/time travel/whatever you want stories about travel) and it was funded. I turned in my story “A No Without A Thank You” but am still waiting on the edits (for perfectly understandable reasons).
I also tried an experiment in April: since sales of the ebook for Twenty Palaces had been waning, I dropped the price to $2.99. End result: no advantage. Sales were slightly better but the money it brought in was pretty much the same. This was a problem because it didn’t look like my agent was going to sell THE GREAT WAY and my only ebook was bringing in $100 a month, approximately.
I’d hoped to finish the zero draft of THE GREAT WAY in the spring, but it actually took me until August. While I was wrapping it up, I was also busting my ass trying to get the Kickstarter ready. I wanted it to run from August to September, but I couldn’t get everything ready in time.
As it turns out, pushing things back a month was a good idea.
The thing is, this was a very stressful time. Money was tight. I kept asking my wife if she wanted me to go back to temping, and she kept reassuring me that I didn’t have to, not yet. Also, it was looking like Christmas was going to be pretty thin.
The Kickstarter turned that around, but I’ve talked about that here at length already.
While the campaign was ongoing, KING KHAN finally came out. It’s the rpg tie-in for the Spirit of the Century game that was a stretch goal for a completely different Kickstarter from last year. (Or the year before, it’s hard to keep this straight.) It’s a fun, upbeat, bright book, but I wish I’d had a chance to give the text one more polish.
I also got invited to submit to a John Joseph Adams anthology of sf/f Kickstarter campaigns, which seems like a weird idea but I wrote up a love potion KS and PUA satire called “Beyond the Game.” JJA sent me his notes last week and the story is almost ready to return. Royalties! Boy, it sure would be nice to get some royalties.
Kickstarter is sorta running my life right now.
Anyway, things went from omg we have no money and this Kickstarter goal is too large omg can’t sleep feel sick all the time I should get a job mopping floors somewhere to Holy shit! for the last few months. We’re still pinching pennies, but I managed to replace my aging laptop with the cracked cover this Christmas, and I’m hard at work on revisions.
For 2014, I have to get the books out to people… and onto the market so they can start earning money again. I’ll also have to publish the two stretch goal books, which will take some revising. Someday soon I really hope to write original long form fiction again.
making books: mac hate mac love publishing Twenty Palaces words
by Harry Connolly
Like a lot of authors, I uploaded my self-published ebook to Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords a long time ago. The benefit of Smashwords is not the direct sales they make (which are pitiful) but that they distribute to many other book vendors who, generally speaking, sell only marginally better than Smashwords itself: Kobo, Flipkart(?), Sony, Oyster(?)… actually, you can tell that I haven’t visited my Smashwords Dashboard in a while because some of these I haven’t even heard of before. Yeah, they pay quarterly instead of monthly, and yeah, their “meatgrinder” requirements are tedious and annoying, but once the hoops are properly jumped through, they do what they’re supposed to do.
They also upload to Apple’s iBooks.
However, I recently pulled my books from iBooks distribution and created an iTunes Connect account. You have to be vetted by Apple and of course you can’t sell your book by simply uploading a file and filling in some data. Apple makes you download a special program to enter all the metadata, select the proper files, then upload in one go.
Why go to all this trouble? For this:
This year, we might be forced to buy two iMacs (low end ones, but still) to replace my rapidly-aging current equipment and I’m hoping we’ll qualify for the 20% discount for both.
Anyway, we obviously haven’t ditched Smashwords completely. It turns out that Flipkart is an ebook seller in India, which is nice since I refuse to let Amazon take a 65% commission or force my book into their Select program to sell there. Oyster turns out to be a subscription-based book service like Netflix or Spotify: users pay $X a month and read as many listed books as they like. I get my money if they read 10% of my book. (So hey, Oyster-users, why not slowly page through my ebook while you’re watching TV or something. My bank account will be grateful.) I’m pleased to be distributed to both services plus Kobo, plus Sony, plus whatever.
But I do my work on Apple computers and the savings I will get this Giftmas was worth a little extra fussing with the distribution of my books.
making books The Great Way: a blessing of monsters internet moi? publishing
by Harry Connolly
So! As many of you know, last September and October I ran a Kickstarter for my new epic fantasy trilogy. My goal was $10K, which was barely enough to cover the cost of cover art, interior design, a map, printing, copy editing, etc. In my original budget I had about $80 worth of wiggle room, which I figured would be safe enough; if costs went over, I could cover them with the Twenty Palaces POD edition which is coming out soon.
Then this happened:
The project hit its goal in about 8 hours and doubled it the next day. This post is going to be about what happened, why it happened, what I did right and wrong, and what I learned from it. more »
The outside world: comics film funny games interesting things people publishing
by Harry Connolly
2) Steve Rogers: Premature Anti-Facist. h/t James Nicoll
6) Pacific Rim in the Power Rangers style! Video.
7) Want to deter pests without using chemicals or traps? Try an automatic lawn sprinkler with a motion-sensor attached.