Saturday, 5 July 2014

Hugh Howey or BUST!

Alternative Title: How To Be A Full-Time Author Without EVER Penning A SINGLE Bestseller!

******************
From an email a few weeks ago:

WRITER: Hi, could you show me someone on Amazon who is self-published and having success writing serials or series in the detective/mystery genre.

ME: Sure. Here. (attached a link to an author on Amazon)

WRITER: No, I mean someone who is successful. Making money. Her books are mostly ranked in the 20,000s. She has one at 11,000 and one at 15,000 but the rest aren't selling all that well.

ME: She has 11 books in that series, all priced at $2.99-$3.99 and they are all selling copies every day. She also has a second series of 4 books that are selling every day. The highest ranked is at 11,925.

WRITER: Yeah, but she hasn't even got anything in the top 10,000. MY book is in the 20,000s same as hers and I'm not making much money.

ME: She has 15 titles.

WRITER: Is there anyone else? Someone who is successful?

*******************

A more recent email:

WRITER #2: Hey, TW, since you won't reveal your pen names can you point me to a successful sci fi series. (self-pubbed) But not an outlier.

ME: Yeah. Here you go. (link to sci fi series on Amazon)

WRITER #2: No, his books aren't what I meant. I mean somebody making money.

ME: He is making money. Six books in the first series and the most recent was published in April but is still at 17,000 way after the "30 day cliff", showing he has a fan base. All the books are priced at $3.99 and the first in his new series is ranked at 11,000.

WRITER #2: I meant someone who has books in the top 2 or 3 hundred ranks.

ME: You said, "Not an outlier."

WRITER #2: Not an outlier but someone successful.

ME: <expletive deleted>

*****************

Here is something to think about:

YOU DO NOT HAVE TO WRITE BESTSELLERS TO BUILD A CAREER AS A FULL-TIME AUTHOR!

Hugh Howey has said that the real story of indie publishing is the amount of authors quietly making enough money to pay their bills.

There are many, many full-time authors out there making a good living from self-publishing yet their books have never graced the Amazon top 100, and maybe not even the top 1,000. They are known to their fans but are not household names and they MAKE A LIVING as FULL-TIME authors. Isn't that great?

If you go and take a look at one of their books and dismiss it because it is ranked at #35,000, you aren't seeing the full picture. Where are the author's other books ranked? What about books you might not know about written under pen names? How many titles do they have out? How much royalty are they making? How much does this all add up to?

If you get enough titles out, you can make good money even if no single title ever becomes a bestseller.

Think about that for a minute.

If you write enough good stories, you WILL make money. That wouldn't necessarily have happened in the old world of publishing.

So next time you think an author is not a success because their books aren't all at super-high ranks, take a moment to consider how many titles the author has to and how long all those books have been selling. Do some mental math. Maybe that's something for you to aspire to.


…which brings me on to my next topic, which I call the "Hugh Howey Or BUST!" syndrome.

I'm seeing writers on message boards bemoaning their lack of sales and saying things like, "I thought there was money in self-publishing." or "My <insert genre here> books don't sell, therefore the <insert genre> is dead." or "I've been doing this for a year now with not much to show for it."

This ties back to the topic above and the writers quietly making a living at self-publishing. Those "quiet" authors might be inspirational for people moaning about their sales but the moaners are focused on the authors the media mentions whenever a story about self-publishing crops up …the BIG names. Outliers like Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath and Bella Andre.

In the "failed" author's mind, if he/she doesn't become a success as big as Hugh then what's the point?

Isn't the point that you want to write? You DO want to write, correct?

Because if you don't, there are much easier ways to earn a living!

In the old days, before self-publishing, you wouldn't have been able to make ANY sales without first querying agents and publishers, signing contracts that gave you very little royalty and waiting years for your book to come out. If you make even 1 sale of your self-published book, you are doing better than you probably would have with all those gatekeepers.

And in the old days before self-publishing, there was a quality every writer needed: PERSISTENCE

Manuscripts would go out to publishers only to be returned with form rejection letters. The author would simply send it out again to another publishing house. And again. And again. They knew they were going to have to work hard if they wanted to make a living doing something they loved. And while the book was out doing the rounds, they were working on the next one.

Do you have the same persistence as those pre-kindle writers or are you spoiled by the ease of self-publishing? Just because it's easy to put a book online doesn't mean it's easy to make a career out of it.

Not too long ago, before the advent of self-publishing, you would have had drawers full of manuscripts that would NEVER sell yet you would keep writing and keep improving your craft. These days, you can out your work up online and hope it sells but you still need to keep working and improving. Who told you this was easy?



NEW WORLD OF PUBLISHING…SAME OLD AUTHOR STRENGTHS NEEDED

This may be a new world of publishing where you can publish yourself but I put this idea forward to think about.

To make it as an author in today's world, you must possess the same strengths as authors in the old world possessed.

Meaning: Don't do something that would have killed your career in the old model of publishing because it will probably kill it in the new model too.

You need that tenacity and stubbornness to keep going in the face of adversity. In the old days it was rejection, now it's lack of sales. Like the writers who shrugged it off and sent out the manuscript again, do the same and write another book.


PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS

Do you moan about your lack of sales? Think it's the genre and not your writing/covers/blurbs that is at fault? Want to do anything (marketing/promotion) other than write more books? Here are some solutions to specific problems…

PROBLEM: "I've been at this writing game for a year and am not where I wanted to be."
SOLUTION: Do it for 2 years.


PROBLEM: "I've been at this writing game for 2 years and am not where I wanted to be."
SOLUTION: Do it for 3 years.


…If you really want to be a writer, you will keep at it for however many years it takes. Look up your favorite writer and see how many rejections they had to endure before they "made it".


PROBLEM: "My <genre> books aren't selling. The genre must be dead.
SOLUTION: If you decide that a genre is dead, then it is dead to you. And you are dead to it. You could be making a big mistake turning your back on a genre you love. Opportunities are everywhere. Be a happy writer.


PROBLEM: My first book didn't make much money.
SOLUTION: Write your second book.

PROBLEM: My second book didn't make much money.
SOLUTION: Write your third book.

…if you REALLY want to be a writer you will KEEP GOING.


PROBLEM: There's an author who doesn't write anywhere near as well as I do but they make way more sales than me. It's disheartening. What's the point?

SOLUTION: You should only ever focus on YOUR OWN career, not anybody else's. You will be MUCH happier.


PROBLEM: Writing is a lot of hard work.
SOLUTION: Who ever said it was going to be easy? If you want to write, you won't mind doing the work.


PROBLEM: Writing is too much hard work.
SOLUTION: Get another job, An easier one. And forget all about that nasty writing.



BE THE WRITER YOU WANT TO BE

Don't spend your time focusing on the outliers. Concentrate on your own career and make it the best you can. Aim high but don't try to follow in someone else's footsteps (it's rarely possible to do successfully). Instead, be a trail blazer. If you want to write pearl diver romances (and let's face it, who doesn't?) then do it.

But be honest with yourself and be prepared to work.
























Thursday, 2 January 2014

The Indie Advantage…Have We Lost It?

Happy New Year to everyone. Here's hoping there will be continued success in 2014 for indies.

So, as usual, the landscape is changing year to year. A recent change is that a lot of trad publishers are lowering prices to compete in the market place. This is good for readers, not so good for indies. In fact, I've been hearing a lot of doom and gloom about this point. "How will indies compete?" "We've lost our advantage." "This is the END!"

Before we follow in Virginia Woolf's footsteps, let's analyse the situation a little deeper. 

When self-publishing was new, some authors hit the big time and sold a zillion copies by using the 99c price point. Amanda Hocking, John Locke and others sold their books for a low price the trad publishers couldn't duplicate. Readers went mad for low-priced fiction and large numbers of sales followed. John Locke used his 99c price in promotion, saying that Stephen King had to be ten times better than him. (Because his books cost ten times as much). Locke had some other promotional practices, like buying reviews, which we won't go into here.

Then the indie market became flooded with a lot of bad books by people who were trying to catch hold of the mythical "Kindle Gold Rush" and the 99c books lost traction, being regarded by a lot of readers as 'bargain basket crap'. Some writers (myself included) experimented with prices like $1.49 for short stories to make their books stand out.

Putting the 99c debate aside, self-published books have always been good value vs their trad-pubbed counterparts. $2.99 for a well-written novel is damn good value. But now the Big Five are catching on and lowering the prices of their books.

The Indie Advantage is gone. Gone! (insert doom-laden music here)


Or maybe it isn't gone...

Maybe it's time we looked at some other advantages we have over the big dogs.


Adaptation

No, not the movie with Nick Cage. The ability of indies to adapt to change. 

The market has been turned on its head since the recent advent of self-publishing and things have not settled down yet. Everything is still in flux. New trends arise, new superstar authors are made, there are even new genres (I'm looking at you, New Adult). If you were in charge of a company whose main business is selling paper books to distributors, how quickly could you react to these changes? If the next big thing happens to be Pearl Diver Romances, how quickly could you hire writers from your stable to churn out a series of Pearl Diver Romances, get editors to look them over, hire the cover designers to create the covers, then get everything to the printers before selling them to distributors?


Now, what if you're Susan Indie or Alex Selfpub and you notice the Amazon Top 100 being taken over by Pearl Diver Romances? How long does it take you to join the growing list of Pearl Diver Romance authors? How quickly could you catch that wave and reap the benefits of being a hot author in a hot topic? 

And before the 'artistes' leave comments with words like 'mercenary' and 'money-grabbing', they should use their artiste heads a little. You can still write what you want to write and hit a hot topic at the same time. You write thrillers? I can think of dozens of plots for thrillers involving pearl divers. Mystery? Yes. NewAdult Romance? Yes. Science Fiction? Yes. Fantasy? Yes. You just use your ability to write what you want to write while acknowledging market trends. That's not 'selling out' is it? If acknowledging the market means the same as selling out to you, you're reading the wrong blog.

And if Pearl Diving fiction becomes a thing, I want credit dammit!

So there is a huge advantage indies have over the trad publishers….adaptation.

No, Nick Cage…not you.



Knowing

No, not the movie with Nick Cage. The ability of indies to know their audience.

Trad publishers know squat about the readers of the books they publish. They don't know who they are, where they come from or what their names are. Trad publishers sell to big distributors who then go and sell the books to bookstores. A trad editor might know what certain distributors like to buy but they don't know anything about the reading habits of Amelia Tench who like cozy mysteries, or Jack Force who like's men's adventure.

As indies we can do what the trads can't. We can interact with our readers. Facebook, Twitter, and mailing lists are tools in our arsenal that enable personal interaction with our readers. This communication goes a long way to building up relationships with our customers that the trad publishers don't have. We can put the personal touch on our product.

So in addition to adaptation, let's add knowing.

No, Nick. 


Kick-Ass

No, not the movie with…

I'm talking about the ability to kick ass with what you write and publish. 

You see, when it comes to deciding what books to put out, trad publishers are limited by release schedules, budgetary constraints and the need to make a profit. So in a lot of ways they have to play it safe. You, however, don't.

Just before Christmas, I decided I wanted to write a post-apocalyptic sci fi story which I would publish in serial format. So that's what I'm doing. Could a trad publisher make the same decision? Not without consulting others, forecasting profit margins, fitting the work into the release schedule, testing the market, etc. How many serials are there out there published by the Big Five? Not many. In fact they are very rare. Beth Kery springs to mind but not many others. Stephen King did it with the Green Mile (I still have the original little books somewhere) but he's Stephen King and publishers do what he says.

So here's an advantage you have over the trads: you can publish what you want, when you want, how often you want.

Publishers limit their authors to one (maybe two) releases a year. But you can get your name out there over and over throughout the year, gaining visibility and an audience. 

You aren't limited by market forecasts . You want to release a book about a romance between two pearl divers? Then go ahead and do it. That's a freedom you have that trad publishers do not have.  Want to release it in weekly instalments? You can do it. 

So next time you feel like the trads are muscling in and shoving you out, remember you can kick ass in ways that they can never dream of. 

No, Nick. Just no.


"Argue For Your Limitations…

…and they're yours,"as Richard Bach said. If you want to make it in this strange world of self-publishing, you need to look at the positive position you are in. You have no limitations. You have the freedom to do what you want. Think about that for a moment. That is a great power.

Next time you feel like your self-publishing opportunities are about to be crushed by outside forces, remind yourself that you have advantages. Reduce the problems to what they are…an irritating piece of grit.

If you work around the grit, you could end up making a pearl





























Thursday, 24 October 2013

Words Are Not Gasoline: The Art Of The Short Story

There has been some discussion on the net lately about something Hugh Howey (author of 'Wool') said on a Facebook Chat

It's point #5 "More short works are better than one long work" that seems to have everyone's knickers in a twist. And despite the fact that Hugh adds a point #6 that says, "Ignore everything I and everyone else says and discover your own truths", a lot of focus is on that point about short vs long works.

I've even seen people comparing the 'price per word' of a short story vs the 'price per word' of a longer work. Let's get one thing straight right now. Words are not gasoline. You don't just go looking for the most words for the least price do you? If so, your buying choices as a reader wold be easy. Simply go to Amazon and look for the longest books in the free category.

That way, you can  fill up your tank with words and not pay a penny. Sounds great right? After all, if the argument is that short stories suck because readers are paying more per word, then the solution is to get the longest books for the least price. That way, you can pay the least per word as possible.

Ideal, right?

No?

If you don't agree that the best books out there are the longest ones for the least price, then you recognise that there is another factor that needs to be considered.

Quality. Enjoyment. A gripping read.

The fact is, all writers are not created equal. If they are, then why are there Stephen King fans? James Patterson fans? Fans of any particular author? It's because certain writers speak to certain readers in a way no other writer can, whether through brick-sized novels, slim novellas or quick-bang short stories.

So, if any author says, 'My work is better than yours because it's longer and readers pay less per word,' they are missing the point of what writing is. What stories are. They are unaware of the art of the short story.

Readers don't read stories with 'cents per word' in mind. They want a good story. They want to be transported to a world where they can lose themselves and their real-life problems for a while and identify with an author's characters.

And if you still think money comes into it, consider this: a well-written short story can give more enjoyment to a reader than a cup of coffee for less money.

Some writers have an aversion to short stories and the writers who write them, stating 'value for money' as the cause of their hatred.  I think there may be more to that. for some of these writers, the aversion could be caused by the fact that they cannot master the art of the short story.

In many ways, writing a novel is easier than writing a short story. Yes there is more time investment but there is also a lot more room for weak scenes and poor description. A novel is much more forgiving of these things because a few weak scenes are a small percentage of the whole. In a short story or novella, everything has to be tight and concise.

Brevity does not mean laziness. It means using powerful words to achieve a level of precision.

I won't listen to writers who say they are 'better' because they write longer works than writers who use the shorter forms to tell stories. they aren't worth listening to because they are wrong. The length of your work has NOTHING to do with how good a writer you are. There are good and bad short story writers and there are good and bad novelists.

That said, here are a few reasons why short fiction rocks:

1) For beginning writers, short stories are an excellent way to practice. Yes, writing does need to be practised just as any craft does. Ray Bradbury advocated writing a short story a week and he sometimes wrote a short story a day. Are you going to argue with Ray?

2) Getting a large number of titles out increases your chances of getting noticed. That is easier and can be achieved more quickly if your pieces are shorter.

3) If you become good at short stories, you have mastered an art that eludes many writers. Those 'I wrote a five hundred thousand word epic so I'm better than you' writers will never get it. But you will.

4) One of self-publishing's greatest success stories, Hugh Howey, got his break through writing a series of short stories. Other successful self-publishers have had great success with shorter pieces...H.M. Ward for example.

5) If you write in shorter forms, you can explore more of your ideas. You won't be tied up for months writing a novel for each idea. You can explore everything you can think up. And if something hits big, one word: series.

So, decide for yourself if you want to write short or long (or both) but don't fall into the trap of thinking that one is better than the other just because it is longer.


Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Developing An Idea

Ideas. They are everywhere. The problem that most writers face isn't a lack of ideas...it's having too many ideas and knowing which ones to develop into a project.

Here are a few ways to collect and develop ideas.

Collecting Ideas

One thing that every writer should have on hand at all times is a notebook or a device to make quick notes. The thing about your subconscious is that it will throw ideas into your brain at the strangest of times. You could be on the subway going to work, stuck in traffic, or even doing the dishes and that mysterious area of your mind where ideas percolate will suddenly say, 'Hey, here's an idea...' You need to be ready for those moments and have some way to record whatever flashes into your head.

A notebook is ideal, especially if it's small enough to fit in your pocket/purse and has a small pen or pencil attached to it. (There's nothing worse than having an idea and a notebook but no pen)

I use an Android app on my phone called "Smart Note". It's easy to get my phone out of my pocket and type in a few words or a sentence. The notes are there ready to be retrieved when needed. There's an app called "Evernote" that works the same way.

Voice recorders are useful in your car but less so in public if you're self-conscious about speaking notes while surrounded by shoppers at the mall. Most smart phones come with a voice recorder app.

You really should take note of your ideas as they occur. Don't say to yourself, 'I'll remember that and write it down later.' There's a good chance you will forget it.


Developing Ideas

If you write it, it will come. If you're the type of writer who works from the subconscious, letting that magical part of your mind do its stuff while you type, you might want to just take the idea on a "test drive" and see if you like it. Just as you would road test a car before you bought it, you can road test an idea before you invest too much time in it. 

How? Just write it out. Start the story/novella/novel you have in mind and see if the idea excites you. Does it make you want to write on? Would it make a reader want to read on? Your idea has now become more than just an idea...it has become something real. Something you can tweak and play with.

If you plan it out, it will grow. You know how a story works. You know the required elements to make it something readers will want to read. So write out your idea and ask youself if it has those elements.

Is it interesting? Will readers be hooked?

Does it have conflict?

Is the resolution of that conflict something that will interest readers and keep them reading?

DRAMATIC TENSION   Your idea must have dramatic tension. That means it must keep a reader guessing as to what happens next. And it must be interesting so that the reader wants to know how your story will end. They must be interested enough to stay with you to the climax and see how it all turns out. The best way to grab a reader’s interest is to introduce a character they care about and give that character a problem. The reader will want to know if the character will manage to overcome the problem. By the time the first problem is overcome, you have introduced a second, bigger, problem...creating even more reader interest.

TESTING AN IDEA FOR DRAMATIC TENSION   To create dramatic conflict, and these problems that readers will want to read about, the initial idea must have conflict. It is the conflict that makes your story interesting. Let’s look at a simple example:

a) An Idea With No Conflict Sally goes to visit her grandmother. She needs to borrow a thousand dollars so she can pay a deposit on a new house she is going to rent. She knows her grandmother will lend her the money no problem. Sally arrives and granny gives her the thousand dollars.  

b) An Idea With Conflict Sally goes to visit her grandmother. She needs to borrow a thousand dollars so she can pay a deposit on a new house she is going to rent. However, Sally is moving into the house with her boyfriend, Jake, and her grandma doesn’t approve of him at all. Sally isn’t sure how to broach the subject or how her granny will react. When she does tell her grandma the truth, she is told that she can only borrow the money if she dumps Jake first. How can Sally move in with her boyfriend if she can’t afford the deposit on the house?

The first idea has no dramatic tension and a reader would soon get bored reading a description of how Sally borrows the money with no problem or conflict. By simply adding a tiny bit of conflict (the fact that Grandma hates Jake), we have injected our idea with the tension it needs. Notice how the second example finishes with a question: “How can Sally move in with her boyfriend if she can’t afford the deposit on the house?” this is the question the reader will be asking herself in her mind and will make her turn the pages to find out the answer. So long as you have made Sally and Jake sympathetic characters, you will grab the reader with this problem.

Here’s another simple example:

a)  Idea With No Conflict Simon gets home late one night. His parents are already in bed. Creeping up the stairs quietly, he goes to bed and falls asleep without waking anyone.

b) Idea With Conflict Simon gets home late one night. His parents have vanished without any message. He finds blood splatters on the living room carpet. Where are his parents? Has someone taken them?

Again, the example with conflict puts a question into the reader’s mind. He will read on to discover the fate of Simon’s parents. Notice that in this example, the conflict didn’t come from a particular person but from an event. Outside occurrences can cause conflict for your characters. Think about a farmer who is stuck in a barn while a tornado rips through his farm. His child is in the farmhouse a mile away. Can he get to her to protect her? Conflict.

As mentioned earlier, ideas are everywhere. You shouldn't have a lack of idea. You just need to know how to inject the necessary conflict to change them into an intriguing piece of fiction.

A simple formula to remember:

CHARACTER + PROBLEM = CONFLICT
CONFLICT = READER INTEREST


Could that idea be developed into a novel? Here's a simple way to test it:

THE NOVEL IDEA TEST

 Does the idea have tension? (As discussed above. Are there enough obstacles and conflict in the story)

Is it sustainable over a novel length? (Does enough happen to make the story interesting for thousands of words ?)

Is it interesting? (Would YOU read a story on this subject?)

Has it been done before? (You can have a new slant on something that has been done before, but beware of plagiarism. So, you might be writing about a girl going to school and falling in love with a vampire, but don’t write Twilight)


Once you have an idea, make sure it is one you like and will be able to spend all that time writing. There’s no point trying to write a book if the basic idea doesn’t appeal to you. Forget about what’s “hot” at the moment; your book will be around for a long time. Write the story that cries out to be written. If it interests you, if it is something that you would read, then chances are other people will want to read it too.

Good luck!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Warehouse 13 and the Illusory Arc

OK, I've come up with a term to describe a series that has very little actual arc but gives the illusion of an arc by having continuity and development of characters in standalone episodes. I call it the Illusory Arc and I recently watched a show that uses this technique.

I give you...Warehouse 13 Season One.

Here's a summary of the season:

1. Pilot.
We are introduced to Pete and Myka and Artie and the story sets up the situation of the warehouse and what missions Pete and Myka will have to go on.

2. Resonance
Banks are being robbed by thieves using a unique sound device. The warehouse computers are being hacked.

3. Magnestism
The people living in a small town are going crazy. Pete and Myke find the artefact that is causing the behaviour and destroy it. the hacker is still trying to hack into the warehouse computers.

4. Claudia
The hacker, a girl named Claudia, kidnaps Artie. He helps her and she joins he warehouse team.

5. Elements
A thief is using a Native American cloak to move through walls.

6. Burnout
An artefact attaches itself to people's spines and makes them electrical conductors.

7. Implosion
A sword that makes its user invisible is used by an old enemy of Artie's...Macpherson. Macpherson escapes at the end of the episode and this is the start of what will be Season One's short plot arc.

8. Duped.
A case in Las Vegas concerning a poker chip artefact. Note that the Macpherson arc is left alone.

9. Regrets
A case in a prison.

10. Breakdown
Artie is taken before the Regents to explain his handling of the Macpherson case. (only now do we get back to the Macpherson matter). Pete, Myka and Claudia almost destroy the warehouse by accident.

11. Nevermore
Myka's father receives an artefact and the team have to help him. The ending of this episode ties into the Macpherson arc.

12. Macpherson
The Macpherson arcs is dealt with and the story ends on a cliffhanger.


So Warehouse 13 is purely 'Monster Of The Week' right up to episode 7, and that story isn't picked up again until episode 10 to round off the season. Yet the season overall has a feeling of continuity because of the developing relationships (the "B" stories) between Myka, Pete, Artie, Claudia and Leena.

The illusory arc gives everything a feeling of synergy until the actual arc (which is really only three stories out of the twelve) occurs.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

No Arc? No Problem!

A number of writers have been telling me they have a problem coming up with a series arc. You don't need to have a 'big bad' in your series.

If you are writing about a team of investigators or law enforcement or even vampire hunters, you could simply write a string of stories in which every story is a 'case of the week' or 'monster of the week' story with no connection to the other stories in the series other than the fact that the same characters are used in each story.

There are a couple of advantages to this approach. First of all, you get the same advantage as with any series...using the same characters in every story saves you the time needed to think up new main protagonists.

The other advantage is a big one. Even though you haven't got an overreaching series arc, just using the same characters for the stories gives the whole a sense of continuity.

So if all these "A Arcs" and "B Stories" are too much for you to handle, why not take a little time to create a team of characters, give them a job to do, and write a series of stories of them undertaking that job.

Just as overall arc series work on TV, so do what I like to call unconnected 'case stories' series.

CSI, Bones, etc.