Saturday, 5 July 2014

Hugh Howey or BUST!

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

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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?

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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>

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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