This is awesome

This (via Isobel Carr) is a very funny article in Cracked (and, not to display my advanced years, but who the hell ever expected Cracked to be an exciting and original source of humor in the digital age? When I was a kid, it wasn't even the better of the two Mad knockoffs) that is also very true.

He brings up writing:

Being in the business I'm in, I know dozens of aspiring writers. They think of themselves as writers, they introduce themselves as writers at parties, they know that deep inside, they have the heart of a writer. The only thing they're missing is that minor final step, where they actually fucking write things.

But really, does that matter? Is "writing things" all that important when deciding who is and who is not truly a "writer"?

For the love of God, yes.

And he lists all the ways you can ignore criticism (take it as an insult, shoot the messenger, focus on tone to avoid content, pretend improvement is selling out). It pretty much rocks.

Of course I had to say a little (OK, a lot) more

Yeah, you knew that this dinky post on the analysis of E.L. James' book deal would not be enough for me.

To boil it down, Shawn Coyne guesstimates that James made $58.5 million from her deal with Random House, which sounds pretty good until he guesstimates that she could have made $61.25 million on her own.

He assumes that, on her own, James would have sold only 8.75 million copies (25% of the 35 million copies she sold with Random House), and that they would all be e-books (instead of a mix of e-books and paper books).

Obviously Coyne makes a solid ton of assumptions here about everything--James' royalty rate, Random House's production costs, you name it. These are guesstimates, not real figures.

So let's play with them! Let's say that, on her own, James sold exactly as many e-books as she sold with Random House. After all, Coyne argues (and I agree) that a traditional publisher doesn't really bring a serious advantage to the e-book playing field.

Coyne assumes a 50/50 split between paper and e-books, which leaves James selling 17.5 million e-books.

She would make $122.5 million.

In Coynes' 25% scenario, James makes $2.625 million more if she self-publishes and never sells a paper copy. In my 50% scenario, she makes $64 million more.

Yes, yes, yes, this is all pie-in-the-sky stuff. It's assumptions piled upon assumptions. But that extra $2.65 million comes from a pretty conservative set of assumptions, just like my guesstimates about Stephanie Meyer's earnings versus those of her publisher.

Someone might read Coyne's post and think, Well, James sold 35 million copies! For that kind of exposure, I'd take a $2.65 million haircut, especially since I'm still getting $58.5 million!

But would you take a $64 million haircut? Or maybe some number in between--$20 million? $30 million? $40 million?

I really want for writers to think about their earnings potential in a much more serious way, because the money is there. Hit books really do make obscene amounts of money, but like Klayman, the vast majority of writers are happy if they can afford a bagel with lox for breakfast every day.

Recently Marvin Miller passed away. He was the man who radically altered how much sports players are paid. When Miller took over the baseball player's union, the minimum salary was was $6,000 a year, and a third of players were making less than $10,000. Can you imagine the change in mentality that had to happen for anyone to even envision a future where a baseball player would sign a $252 million contract? Can you understand why so many baseball players--not the team owners, not the fans, but the other baseball players--were so angry when Curt Flood likened the reserve clause to slavery?

It takes a certain amount of nerve to say, "I am worth $122.5 million. Don't you dare give me less." We're socialized not to make these kinds of demands--writers are supposed to be poor.

But guess what? If your book makes $122.5 million, you are worth $122.5 million. Or more--Coyne estimates that Random House made $163.5 million off of James. Why does that company deserve that money more than she does? Because they're not embarrassed to have it?

When is that going to happen?

It's no secret that I think the notion that e-book sales are leveling off is simply an example of what happens when you draw conclusions from bad data--i.e., surveys that count only publishers and not indie writers. (And if paper-only deals with publishers become the norm for successful writers, this bifurcation within the industry will become even more pronounced.)

So it was interesting when Passive Voice posted a projection of e-book sales that purports to show that they will soon plateau.

The first problem that I saw was that the actual data points show slow uptake, followed by faster uptake--no actual data shows a leveling off, that's all the "projection" part of things. Now, when I was a reporter, I had a policy of ignoring projections, because they're usually just bullshit invented to dupe the credulous. But I don't know that much about statistics, so I thought that maybe these guys were at least using some kind of respectable methodology. But someone with more expertise said, No, the leveling off is just bullshit.

Nice to know the world hasn't changed that much after all.

Anyway, other folks also stepped in on the comments section to critique this projection, and I think those comments are well worth the read. Jim Self pointed out that e-books are not devices (and in fact can be read on devices people have bought for other reasons), so expecting e-book adoption to follow the adaptation curve of new devices is a little silly. Another commenter points out that, if current pricing tends continue, a bare-bones e-reader may soon cost less than a hardcover book.

The projection also assumes what the author calls "a relatively stable publishing industry" over the next three to five years, which is amusing because the industry is anything but stable now. The only thing publishing is relatively stable to is the drama surrounding the brick-and-mortar book retail chains, and of course if more of those go under, that's going to rebound onto the publishers in a big, bad way. Any crisis in the traditional publishing/bookselling end of the industry is going to make paper books less available to readers, which will presumably motivate more people to figure out how to read stuff on their tablets and phones.

The other assumption of stability that I take issue with is that the overall market for books is static. That is simply not true. The introduction of the paperback drastically expanded the overall book market, and I think e-books have similar potential because they are so easy to buy.

Will e-books eventually level off? I guess--paperback sales did, after all. But that took decades! We have no idea where the ceiling is on this, and to be honest I feel that a lot of the "e-books are plateauing!" stuff is coming from people who are terrified that the authors they now exploit will run off and go indie just like Aunt Edna did. And I hope they do!

Amazon vs. blind and deaf school kids--hmm, could be a PR problem

Apparently there was a protest by the National Federation for the Blind at Amazon headquarters, because its proprietary Mobi format is not as accessible as it could be. They've really got Amazon by the short hairs on this one because the company is trying to promote its e-books in schools. (The ADA? What's that?)

I'm glad to see people putting the screws into the e-book providers, because e-books have such great potential to make so many more books accessible to the visually impaired--no need for special formats or expensive Braille editions. I mean, I understand someone not wanting to cough up the money to create a Braille version of their book, but if it's a matter of making Mobi files compatible with plug-in Braille displays so that blind and deaf kids can learn at school--come on, they can do that. Do they really want to be the bad guy in the latest remake of The Miracle Worker?

Progress report, talking funny edition

I had the girl yesterday, but today I finished off Chapter 2 of Trang. I made a point of listening to what was there before and matching my voice to it--it's not like there aren't a couple of places where it's fairly obvious (at least to me) that things were recorded at different times, but this last batch actually matches pretty well.

The other thing I was playing at was noise removal. One of the issues I've been having is that I sometimes exhale with the last word of a sentence ("Have a nice dahhyhhhhh"--among my other vocal shortcomings, I also have a breathy voice). That makes it hard to cut out the breathing sound without having a really obvious cut-off (you either have a partial breath sound, which sounds really weird, or you lose the last letter of the word, which is obviously unacceptable). But I realized that you can set noise removal so that it only decreases the noise instead of eliminating it. I still have a couple of obvious cut-offs from earlier, but this time I was able to eliminate the problem breath sounds without making conspicuous cut-offs by taking this more subtle approach.

What's really interesting is that when a character voice is speaking, it sounds more natural to leave in the breath sounds, because that's how people talk. But when you switch between character voices, it makes it so much harder to follow if you leave the breath sounds in. I think unconsciously you think the character is taking a breath to talk, and then it's confusion when a different character or the narrator suddenly starts talking--it's like, Where did that guy come from?!

Jim Self mentioned that Joanna Penn has interviewed podcasters/audio book people, so I was looking at that, and this interview with Brendan Foley amused me. He said:

You . . . become aware of how localized your speech is. As an Irish man I gave the UK director and sound man a few giggles when pronouncing tree hundread and tirty tree!”.

Oh, God, can I ever relate. It's been a quarter of a century since I lived in California, but my audiobooks are going to be Cali accents on parade!

Progress report

I finished the noise removal on chapter 2 of Trang. But I'm thinking now that there are a couple of spots where I want to dub in--in one place "of" sounds way too much like "and" (I tried pasting in another "of" from elsewhere in the chapter, but it doesn't really work), and in one place a character interrupts, and it's not in his voice but really needs to be.

The last one is a place where I pronounced "sloshed" as "shloshed," the result of a lifetime of making fun of the way drunk people talk. ("Wha sheems to be the problem, oshifer? I'm sotally tober!") I considered leaving it "shloshed," and if it was Shanti I probably would, but it's Philippe, so, sadly, no.

Raab is on crack


[E]ven with charging only 99 cents for some books, [author Stephanie] Bond says she made more than half a million dollars in the last year. . . .

“When you price a book at 99 cents, $1.99, I personally think it devalues the author’s time and effort,” said Jamie Raab, the chief of Grand Central Publishing, part of Hachette books.

Let's look at that again!

[E]ven with charging only 99 cents for some books, [author Stephanie] Bond says she made more than half a million dollars in the last year. . . .

“When you price a book at 99 cents, $1.99, I personally think it devalues the author’s time and effort,” said Jamie Raab, the chief of Grand Central Publishing, part of Hachette books.

Well, Bond sure enough has been told! I bet she'll go scampering back to traditional publishing in no time flat!

"Effectuation"--I like it!

In my last post, I cited a Wall Street Journal story that mentioned what Saras Sarasvathy calls "effectuation," which is a thought process used by successful entrepreneurs.

I thought what was there was pretty insightful, so I wanted to look up more. Unfortunately Sarasvathy is an academic, so most of her stuff is wildly expensive and unavailable at the libraries in my area. (Let's hear it for those academic presses! I hope they finish going under soon!)

Still, there's a Web site about effectuation, this article in Inc., and there are excerpts of Sarasvathy's work around--parts of her book can be read here, for example. And a nice definition of effectuation (contrasting it with causation, which is how managers at large corporations tend to think) can be found here. It reads:

Causation rests on a logic of prediction, effectuation on the logic of control

In her book, she lays out five principles success entrepreneurs tend to rely on. These are all principles focused on things these people control, rather than abstract or expert notions of what ought to work. They are:

1. The "bird in the hand" principle: You use what you have.

2. The affordable-loss principle: You plan depending on what you can afford to lose.

3. The crazy-quilt principle: Similar to the bird in hand, but it applies to people--if you can get someone to help you out with X, then you focus on doing X, instead of trying to do Y.

4. The lemonade principle: When life gives you lemons . . . you "leverag[e] surprises rather than trying to avoid them."

5. The pilot-in-the-plane principle: You are in the driver's seat, and what you want to do and are good at is more important than, say, what genre of book is the most commercial or what marketing strategy worked for somebody else.

I think these are all good, and many of them are especially applicable to writers, who really are the pilot in the plane!

To focus on one for a moment: The affordable-loss principle puts a name on a phenomenon I've certainly noticed--when people focus on the potential for success, they sometimes decide not to do anything, because of course there's never any guarantee that something will be successful. Or, they decide to take some insane risk, because they're blinded by their dreams of bestsellerdom.

But if you focus instead on the (REALISTIC) price you will pay for failure, then that helps you make better decisions: You will risk what you can afford to lose. That helps you avoid paralysis on the one side, and ruin on the other.

My observation about successful indie writers is that they tend to experiment and to keep experimenting until they find what works. If you never do anything, you can't ever figure out what works; if you bankrupt yourself, you'll take yourself out of the game too soon to succeed.

Nothing is really wasted

If you haven't noticed, I haven't written in a while, primarily because life circumstances are not allowing it.

The funny thing is, this off time has resulted in my figuring out some plot problems in Trials that were bedeviling me, and gave me some good ideas for making the book's climaxes more climatic. So this "wasted" time, this time not spent writing, has actually turned out to be really beneficial, and when I finally get back to writing (which I will), I will do so feeling newly excited about my book.

That got me thinking about how very few things are truly wasted. For example, I "wasted" a good deal of money marketing at sci-fi conventions--and indeed, from a marketing perspective, that money was very poorly spent. But from a professional-development standpoint? Well, I probably wouldn't be doing an audiobook right now were it not for the money "wasted" at GeekGirlCon.

And remember that very successful indie writer I met earlier? This person initially put tremendous effort into social media, garnering gazillions of Twitter and Facebook followers, and then discovered that those followers were not their actual audience.

What did this writer do? Well, they started a business promoting indie books. It turns out that having a business that promotes lots and lots of other people's books affords excellent opportunities to promote your own as well!

While having big social-media presence among authors might not have directly led to sales, I'm sure it helped to build this book-promotion business--which did lead to quite a lot of sales.

You just never know. Crabby McSlacker, who just produced a book based on her Cranky Fitness blog, writes

I said goodbye to Cranky Fitness back in the beginning of 2010, with no plans to return. I had tried to turn it into a part time job, but alas, couldn't get quite enough ad revenue to swing it.  But I left the blog up, and checked back in every quarter or so with an update... just in case.  Then after a year and a half (an eternity in blog time) I missed it too much.[. . .] Plus I'd reinvented myself as a Life Coach and figured it might make sense to use Cranky Fitness to let people know about that.  Quitting back in 2010 was totally the right thing to do! And yet, so was returning.[. .  .]

Did I regret all the time I'd spent on Cranky Fitness the day I quit?  You betcha!  Do I regret it now? Not one bit.  Life is weird that way.

Before you think this is all mushy Pollyannaish goo, it turns out that a willingness to be a little wasteful, as well as a willingness to work with what you have (which includes the results of previous "wasted" efforts) are both traits of successful entrepreneurs. According to the Wall Street Journal (emphasis added):

Research by Saras Sarasvathy, an associate professor of business administration at the University of Virginia, suggests that learning to accommodate feelings of uncertainty is not just the key to a more balanced life but often leads to prosperity as well. For one project, she interviewed 45 successful entrepreneurs, all of whom had taken at least one business public. Almost none embraced the idea of writing comprehensive business plans or conducting extensive market research.

They practiced instead what Prof. Sarasvathy calls "effectuation." Rather than choosing a goal and then making a plan to achieve it, they took stock of the means and materials at their disposal, then imagined the possible ends. Effectuation also includes what she calls the "affordable loss principle." Instead of focusing on the possibility of spectacular rewards from a venture, ask how great the loss would be if it failed. If the potential loss seems tolerable, take the next step.

And this just annoys me

That Time magazine article (PDF) contains this little gem:

“A lot of the people who are debating [self- publishing] are people who didn’t have the success that they dreamed of, who are disgruntled,” says Jamie Raab, the head of Grand Central, a past target of [Joe Konrath's] vitriol.

Wow. Why, yes, it seems that quite a number of people are disgruntled with traditional publishing in general and Grand Central in particular! They seem to feel as though the system is set up to make them fail, so that it becomes impossible for them to make a living as writers. Many of these disgruntled souls have years of experience working with Grand Central.

They must all be kee-RA-zy!

Good thing that writers who haven't worked with Grand Central before are still sane, otherwise where would they be?

Some pots of gold are better than others

I was reading Passive Voice today (hey, look, a scam! and another scam!), and I saw this item about Bella Andre (aka Nyree Bellevue), which says:

Take Bella Andre, for instance. She has been published by Hachette, Random House and Simon & Schuster but has long since left the traditional publishing world to go it alone. She told me earlier this year that she made over $1 million in 2011 and recently told TIME Magazine that she’s made $2.4 million this year.

That Time article (note: PDF) also notes that Amanda Hocking got her $2 million deal from St. Martins, and Fifty Shades of Grey got a seven-figure deal from Random House.

So that seems like six of one, a half-dozen of the other, right? I mean, if you hit it big, it doesn't really matter what route you take, right?

Well, not really. E.L. James may have gotten seven figures from Random House, but the success of her book has just allowed Random House to pay out a $5,000 bonus to its employees, which, as Warren Curtly points out, means that Random House got at least eight figures from E.L. James. It's the story of Stephanie Meyer all over again--$21 million sounds like a buttload of money, until you realize that it's only a small fraction of what her publisher made.

The important thing to remember about Bellevue's $2.4 million is that, unlike an advance, it is not a one-time payment. Bellevue isn't getting $2.4 million and then seeing nothing until her next contract is signed. She has developed a category of assets that pay her $2.4 million per year. (And that comes on top of the $1 million she got from Harlequin for her paper rights and any movie money that may come down the pike.)

Right now, Bellevue is busting her butt, working 70 hours a week to crank out and promote books, which is why her annual income went from $1 million to $2.4 million. But what if she couldn't? What if some major life roll hit her, and she wasn't able to dedicate the time and energy she gives to her career right now?

Chances are that her income would decrease, sure. But would it bottom out overnight? Probably not. Her current fans would presumably lose interest if she stopped putting out new titles, but at this point, even without huge promotional efforts, new readers would continue to discover her books, especially as more and more people buy tablet computers and start reading e-books.

I know people's synapses start to fry whenever large sums of money start getting mentioned, but there's a big difference between getting $2.4 million as a one-off hunk of money (invested relatively conservatively, that would give you an annual income of to $48,000-$72,000 per year) and getting $2.4 million or thereabouts as your annual income. A big difference. (How big? Making the same assumptions about investment return as I did earlier, you'd have to get a lump sum of roughly $100 million to pull in an annual income of $2.4 million.)

And, frankly, it just annoys me to see a publisher get 90+ percent of the pie. Screw that.

Go, Crabby!

So, Crabby McSlacker has indeed put out a book based on her Cranky Fitness blog, which I've mentioned is a favorite of mine. I just wandered over to Amazon to look at it, and holy crap, it's free right now! Even if you don't want to buy it, just go read the book description--hysterical!

End of year data dump: Counting costs

It's not to early for this again, right?

Note that I do not include the cost of a new computer (my old one was a decade old and was having serious problems, so I probably would have replaced it anyway) or organizer dues for my Meetup group (that's really a personal expense).

Spent creating Trust:

$568.75....copy editing

$9.51........proof from CreateSpace

$25.00......expanded distribution on CreateSpace


Spent creating audiobook of Trang:


$19.70....pop filter


Spent marketing:

$46.23........hard copies of Trust and Trang for reviewers

$19.93........postage to mail hard copies to reviewers

$65.00........Westercon admission

$20.00........Westercon parking

$152.15......Westercon flyers

$32.04.......GeekGirlCon admission (one day)

$216.22.....GeekGirlCon flyers

$55.00.......Foolscap admission

$23.54.......Foolscap flyers

$45.00.......Norwescon admission



GRAND TOTAL: $1,367.24


Which is actually more than last year's $1,308.68.

The major costs were copy editing (which was considerably more expensive this time around because the copy editor did a style sheet and a lot of checking for series continuity) and all those science fiction conventions, which I've noted are not a particularly effective means of marketing. In fact, I debated over whether or not to include the Norwescon admission as a marketing cost, because at this point I really consider going to a con as more of a personal indulgence. Nonetheless, you can watch how I educated myself regarding the cost of flyers: The Westercon flyers were expensive because they were four color, the GeekGirlCon flyers were expensive because there were 4,500 of them, but the Foolscap flyers were cheap, cheap, cheap (if remarkably ineffective--but that had nothing to do with their cheapness).

Progress report

I dubbed in the messed-up lines and did an audio compression on chapter 2 of Trang--it went fine (and the compression took care of that pesky clipping all right), but I decided to give it a listen-through. Well, I'm happy I did--there's a character in that chapter who gives a speech early on. He's the only character talking then, so I just did it in my voice, but later on, several characters are talking, so he took on more of a character voice. It was a subtle voice adjustment, so I didn't think it mattered, but it really does: Even a subtle character voice has far more continuity (it's always soft, or it's always deep) than my natural speaking voice. So I re-recorded his speech, compressed it, and edited it in.

I'll do noise removal next. So far, it definitely seems like there's no point in doing noise removal before compression--I haven't see any drawback to waiting, and if you do it before, you just wind up doing it twice.

Beyond good and bad

M. Louisa Locke has another good post up: It's supposedly about marketing for the holidays, but it's really about figuring out how to reach readers who like your kind of book.

She writes:

Over time . . . I started to notice that fans of the books also kept mentioning that they liked my books because they were “clean,” that they could recommend them to anyone, of any age, that they were a “comfort” read, that they were “gentle,” etc. It dawned on me (head slap) that these readers were saying they liked the books because they fit the format for a cozy mystery.

The common definition of a cozy mystery is that there is an amateur female sleuth with a partner––sometimes love interest––who is in police or legal profession, a community of secondary characters––including animals, and no explicit sex or violence. My series features Annie Fuller (widowed woman supplementing her income as a clairvoyant), Nate Dawson (her romantic partner and a lawyer), a cast of interesting characters (the people living in Annie’s boarding house––including Dandy the Boston Terrier), and the murders occur off-stage while the sex stays carefully within the bounds of 19th century middle class propriety.

At the same time, the few negative reviews I got mentioned the tameness of the romance, frustration that the mystery pace wasn’t fast enough––which also seemed to suggest these readers were looking for a book with either the more explicit sex of an historical romance or the tension of a thriller. Clearly I needed to make sure that the potential audience for cozy mysteries would find my books, and those who wanted something more racy or thrilling would look elsewhere.

This is precisely why I think it's important to read reviews and listen to reader feedback--not so you can beat yourself up over your shortcomings as an author or so you can say, "Well, that reader was stupid," but so you can figure out how to reach readers who will like your book. If Locke were insecure, she might have responded to the criticism by striving mightily to make her next book racy and violent (which--no, I just don't see that working for her); if she were dismissive she would have just bemoaned our violent and racy times.

Instead, she had the emotional distance and analytical propensity to realize that her book had this quality of coziness that divides mystery readers, and that if she appropriately labeled and categorized her book, it would get her more happy readers and fewer miserable ones. It also helped that she didn't think in terms of value judgements like "good" or "bad." Think about it: Is the quality of coziness good or bad? That's clearly an absurd question, because whether coziness is good or bad is strictly a matter of taste. And taste varies mightily among readers, even those readers who like mysteries.

Thinking about your book this way is a little like reaching the point where you realize that romantic relationships don't typically fail because one person is right and the other person is wrong: They fail because the two people are a bad fit. You want to attract a reader who is a good fit with your book--that's what really matters.

Biennial data dump: What sold when & where

I put Trang up in January 2011, so it's been almost two years since I began e-publishing. I recently decided to actually look at all my sales reports (a first for me). My sales have never been stellar, but I thought it would be interesting to break down what sold when and where. These percentages are on a per copy basis, not a revenue basis, but I did not count freebies.

These sales are limited to e-books, and for good reason--I have sold almost no paper books.

Untill this month, my books have been available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords, which distributes to a variety of retailers (I've been on expanded distribution most of the time). The Smashwords data complicates things, because at least in the spreadsheets I downloaded, they don't tell you the exact date of when a sale through a retailer occurred--they just give you the year. So sales data within a year is approximate.

So what's selling where? Everything's pretty much selling on Amazon--89% of sales there; 11% on Smashwords (through a mix of retailers). Barnes & Noble has yet to sell a single copy.

Which title sells more? I have two titles out, Trang (which has been out since January 2011), and its sequel Trust (which has been out since June 2012). Trang accounts for the lion's share of my sales--fully 76% of copies sold are Trang, only 24% are Trust.

So Trust was kind of a bust, right? Oh, no. Before you decide that, you have to ask...

When did you sell your books? The short answer is: After June 2012. Obviously all of my Trust sales occurred after that date, since that was when Trust was released. But surprisingly, approximately 45% of copies of Trang were sold after June 2012, meaning that I have sold almost as many copies of Trang in the five months following the release of Trust as I did in the 17 months before the second book's release. I have also sold more copies of Trang since Trust was released than I have copies of Trust. Overall, approximately 60% of my sales have accrued since the release of Trust last June--and only about 10% of my sales took place in the first six months of 2012.

Well, what about promotions? Hard to say. I put Trust on sale in its first month of release and it did fairly well that month, but then again sales probably would have been relatively strong at release anyway. And its impossible for me to tease out the effect of promotion like con flyers (although sales were not particularly strong in July and August, when I did my most aggressive efforts) or putting a Smashwords coupon on Kindle Boards from the effect of simply having a second book out (which implies to readers that I'm actually going to finish the series). It's not like I did absolutely nothing to promote Trang before June 2012, but my focus was certainly different--I ran an ad and sought reviews (and while I don't think that particular ad worked, I still think reviews are important). I can say that putting Trang at 99 cents with no other promotion had a negligible impact--I didn't actually sell no copies during those five months, but I sold very few.