It's bad enough that Kris Rusch announced the end of her column, The Business Rusch, last Thursday.
Shortly after supper last night, I started reading about another impending demise. "It's Hollywood rumors," I prayed. But no, it's true. Craig Ferguson is leaving The Late Late Show at the end of the year.
The only thing that will make me feel better is if someone can tell me the brand and color name of Eddie's nail polish.
Both Disney and Warner Brothers streamlined their print book operations so that they are focusing on materials and IP properties they fully control, e.g. Star Wars and Superman among others. Supposedly, Disney is keeping the contract Lucasfilm had with Random House to produce Star Wars novels, but I question how long that arrangement might last.
After news got out that Harlequin used contractually sleight-of-hand to rip-off writers, pitch slots to their editors were empty at the 2013 Romance Writers of America Conference. Other small publishers, such as Kensington and Ellora's Cave, are seeing a drop in submissions, and the submissions coming in are dropping in quality.
Overall, the publishing houses are reducing advances, reducing print runs, and issuing draconian contract terms to keep the writers they already have tied to them. They are also tying up reversion rights even though they seem to have no interest in reissuing the older books.
The question is at what point will the majority of writer grow tired of these shennanigans and walk way from the publishers, or writing, altogether.
3) Brick and Mortar Stores
It's been a little over two years since Borders collapsed here in the U.S. Barnes & Noble is scrambling to stay alive by cutting down on books and selling trinkets and toys. Book-a-Million and Half-Price Books only sell a fraction of what the ailing B&N sells. Walmart, Target and Costco will only sell book on the top twenty of the New York Times bestseller list. Groceries stores and pharmacies are whacking their mass market paperback displays in a quarter of what they used to carry, assuming they are still carrying books at all.
On the plus side, many independent bookstores have arisen from the ashes of the Borders collapse and the closing of several B&N's. They've learned their lessons that they can't compete on price alone and are focusing on service and the customer experience.
Can the bigger stores afford to carry books? And if not, at what point do they quit?
This is where I think the most pundits are short-sighted. I've read article after article about slow down in sales of dedicated e-readers. Barnes & Noble is floundering. Sony gave up on devices totally, then sold its e-book division to Kobo. Kobo turned around and laid off 63 people last week. Yet, I still see publishing CEOs claim the slow down in dedicated device sales means adaption to e-books is also slowing.
This is where I *facepalm*.
First of all, if e-book adaption is slowing, why are the same companies claiming record profits? Sales of paper books are down or steady according to the folks who keep track of such things like Bowker.
Second of all, consumers are buying more and more tablets and smartphones. These multi-purpose devices are driving technology sales right now. In fact, tablets sales are seriously impacting Dell's laptop business. Executives don't seem to understand that you can READ on these multi-purpose devices.
Do you want a prime example? Two weeks ago, an older woman and I were sanding in line at the post office to mail Easter packages to family. I was reading on my iPhone 4. She had a HC. She didn't understand how I could read on such a small screen. I showed how I could adjust the font on the Kindle app, which led to an explanation of how apps work on a phone.
And why am I reading so much on my iPhone? Because the toggle switch on my Kindle 2 broke. While I like reading on e-ink since I spend twice as much business time on my computer than I ever did when I was a programmer or systems engineer, I question why should I spend the extra money. If my eyes need a break, I have 1300+ paper books I can read.
Even Genius Kid, who just got a Galaxy S4, doesn't think he needs another device, even though he's been asking for a Kindle for the last year.
When are execs going to understand that the loss of dedicated devices doesn't mean the loss of e-books?
* * *
With all these issues still outstanding (and I'm sure there's more I missed), I can't see any supposed stability lasting for long. The real question to me is--are we on the clean side of the hurricane or the dirty side when the storm roars past us?
Yesterday was like every other Thursday. I got my caffeine first. This time I ran over Starbuck's for a trenta iced tea, black, no water, no sweetner. In other words, my standard order when Houston temps reach the mid-eighties. I had a hard day ahead of me--getting several thousand words in for a super secret, not-my-usual project I'm working on.
Like every other Thursday morning, I booted up my computer and clicked on Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog for my weekly dose of The Business Rusch before I started.
I totally understand her reasoning. If you're not enjoying something you're doing for free, then you need to stop.
In this case, Kris had dispensed her thirty years of experience and hard knocks to a multitude of writers. She was to the point that she felt she was repeating herself, and she had started to dread what was a self-imposed deadline.
Kris also announced that her blog will be revamped soon, so she can't guarantee all her columns will survive the transition. I highly recommended that if you haven't read The Business Rusch yet, start printing off copies for study. There's a lot of advice in the million words she's written. If you haven't read them, you'll never know if there's some tidbit that may take your career to the next level.
To Kris, thanks from all of us newbies from the bottom of our hearts.
My writing productivity has left something to be desired in 2014. Between packing, getting the Houston house ready to go on the market, and dealing with some family issues over the last year, I think I've officially burnt out the creative part of my brain through stress.
While I can't make all the stressors go away, I'm following Colleen Thompson's advice and refilling the well. I'm reading a little more and writing a little less. I'm watching the movies I missed at the theater over the last two summers, and re-watching my favorite sitcoms.
And I'm jumping ship on my book schedule and working on a couple of projects I hadn't planned, just to shake things up in my brain a little.
Hopefully, this will jump start the creative process again.
(P.S. That book the stormtrooper is checking out? Excellent!)
You know who you are. You scour the internet for tidbits of anything to make that one book a success. How do I know this? You're hitting this blog from Yahoo or Google under search criteria such as "indie writer income" or "how to make money writing erotica".
Want to know the secret?
There isn't one.
Right now, a lot of you are grumbling under your breath.
"She won't tell us."
"The bitch is hiding the truth."
"She's just trying to keep us out like all the other successful writers."
Okay, maybe I did lie. Why? To quote Jack Nicholson's character from A Few Good Men, "You can't handle the truth."
So here's the truth. Two simple steps to being successful.
Write a lot. Publish what you write. Rinse. Repeat.
I hate to tell you, but you probably aren't going to make it with one book. There's going to be more blood moons this year than people who can repeat Margaret Mitchell's or Harper Lee's one-book wonder type of success.
"But writing is hard," you whine.
So what? Either you want to write or you don't. I can't make you. Your mommy can't make you. Only you can make you. It's up to you.
2) Be nice.
Call it the Golden Rule, the Threefold Law, Karma, or whatever the hell you want. Personally I prefer Wheaton's Law, aka "Don't be a dick."
Treat everyone with respect, even if they want something from you. Why? Because you don't know when or how it'll come back to you.
For example, Newbie asked Alter Ego for some self-publishing advice a little over a year ago. I gave her some pointers and blogs to check out.
Fast forward to a couple of months ago. Newbie's doing pretty well for herself. She hired a personal assistant and mentioned AE as one of her inspirations. PA checks out AE's books and tells her friend, who happens to run a book review blog. Book Review Gal contacts AE and asks for a review copy of the book Newbie originally referred to PA. BRG loves book and gives a glowing review. Established Erotica Writer sees review, checks out book, then contacts AE about submitting a story for an erotic anthology bundle.
It's pretty simple. Write. Be nice. You have to work pretty hard to fuck that up.
Considering what we call "traditional publishing" has been around for roughly seventy-five years, you would think they would know what they bring to the business table. If folks in the publishing houses do know, they are having a very difficult time articulating those points.
I'll give Barry credit that he does do some editing, but the amount?
Excuse me? The night before I saw Barry's piece, I had edited a fifteen-page short story that I'm about to submit and twenty pages of novel prior to posting the sample online. All of this was done the forty minutes while I ordered and ate dinner at a local Mexican restaurant because I needed to get out of the house and away from Alter Ego's current wip.
Many more trad authors are coming out of the woodwork and talking about no editing, or even worse, abusive editors. In the same link to Kris Rusch's blog above, she talks about an editor who was downright psychotic and gives good advice for dealing with difficult people in the industry.
So what about cover art?
This is the notorious cover for Barry Eisler's book, Fault Line, issued by the French trad publisher. All cultural differences aside, does this look like an international, jet-setting thriller?
And if the writer gets a bad cover, can they do anything about it? Generally, no. The publisher complains about the cost (if the writer is lucky), or simply ignores you.
Not too many writers can turn a bad cover into a plus, but Christina Dodd did. Go ahead. Count how many hands the lady on the cover has. Dodd used the screw-up as a marketing gimmick. But a bad trad cover can't always be changed into gold so easily.
One of fabulous pluses as an indie is the ability to change your cover on a moment's notice. Like when several retailers decide out of the blue that your erotica covers are too risque. *wink*
Another factor is that the writer is blamed for the editing and the cover art, not the publisher, because it's the writer's name on the book.
The publisher doesn't care. There's a million writers banging on their doors, so they'll chuck the one that complains and grab another serf writer at the gates.
So what about promotion, publicity, and marketing by the publishing company? These should be the publishers' biggest strengths, right?
Fuhgeddaboudit! Seriously. Nearly every mid-list writer I personally know who signed a contract within the last ten years spent their entire trad pub advance on getting word out about their books. And with advances getting smaller and smaller and costs rising, that means more money out of a writer's pocket.
And heaven forbid if you ask the trade publisher to put specific marketing efforts in the contract!
These are the three big things that trad publishers could bring to the table for writers, but they refuse to do so. Here's the thing--it really wouldn't cost them a lot to do even one of these three. Do it cheap. Do it right.
Because indie writers are doing it every freakin' day!
There's a myth going around writer circles, egged on by trad editors and agents, that a writer HAS to do every, single type of social media available, and if you don't, then your writing career will fail miserably!
(Say that sentence all in one breath. I'll have an oxygen tank waiting for you.)
No, you don't have to do every single one. (Hold the mask to face and inhale.)
There's no measurable, predictable way to know which social media will work for you specifically. None. What worked for Amanda Hocking or J.A. Konrath or Bella Andre may or may not work you.
Why do I say this?
Because Suzan Harden DID everything and couldn't sell shit for her first year. Alter Ego did NOTHING, she had no plans to do so either, and sales took off in the second month.
Why did Alter Ego's sales take off with no social media? I published her first novella the month before everyone and their grandmother went apeshit for Fifty Shades of Grey. And that first novella happened to be a BDSM romance. So all those ladies needed a fix until Book 2 in the FSoG series came out. It all came to down to luck and timing.
As for the Suzan Harden books? Well, frankly, I burned myself out trying to do a zillion marketing things everyone insisted HAD to be DONE in order to be successful. And they didn't do jackshit for me.
So how do I decide what social media to engage in? I go where I am having fun.
1) Alter Ego has a blog, but it acts as a surrogate website with announcements of releases, a mailing list sign-up, catalog of available books, and buy links. She doesn't anything more than that.
2) Suzan has two blogs. One is publishing business and other things she finds cool (i.e. the one you're reading right now). The other is for readers, where she posts short stories and samples from current wips. She also comments on the blogs of other folks actively involved in indie publishing.
1) Alter Ego has a very active FB account. She loves talking to readers and other writers!
2) Suzan thinks FB sucks. Her husband insisted on creating a fan page. She tries to post something funny once a day, but often forgets. Even then she gets nasty messages from people she doesn't know (and sometimes from people she does know) who think she sucks. She'd chuck it all if a handful of fans hadn't started visiting the page this year.
1) Alter Ego gets on Twitter once in a while, but for the most part has her FB posts going to her Twitter account.
2) Suzan has given up on Twitter because the only folks who follow her are other writers hawking their books and third party vendors trying to sell her their overpriced services for indie writers.
Yep, that's it. That's all I do. This isn't a slam against other social media you might enjoy.
Well, wait. That's not true. I won't do LinkedIn because they have a very bad habit of harvesting e-mails from your address book. (Or they did. I'll retract that last statement if someone can prove to me they've stopped.) I also won't do Pinterest because they made a blatant rights grab in their original terms of service. If that's changed, send me the link. But I refuse to go back to their website because they seriously pissed me off the first time.
The big thing you need to remember to BICHOK, aka Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. (If you don't use a computer, then change the fucking acronym!) The best publicity/marketing is putting out a new story. All the promotion in the world won't help you if you do gain fans, and there's nothing else for them to buy.
In six days, tax filing must be done. Yesterday, DH and I got our returns back from our CPA, Ed.
What a difference from three years ago when I took my first tentative step into publishing. Not only did I make a profit for 2013, I had to pay self-employment tax!
Okay, I know most people aren't (or shouldn't be) excited about paying taxes, but for me, it means Angry Sheep is a real business. Not that it wasn't before, but this is my type of validation. Not getting a traditional deal, but having to cough up money to Uncle Sam.
Your mileage may vary.
As for what's happening in 2014?
The ramifications of the Kernel Pornocalypse are still being felt in Alter Ego's sales. On the other hand, word-of-mouth is starting to spread about her books. I'm getting requests for ARCs from book bloggers.
The fantasies under Suzan Harden got a nice little plug thanks to Jonathan Moeller's interview and the release of Sword and Sorceress 28 last fall, but the surge was short-lived. All I can do is keep plugging away at the writing for the small cadre of readers who like those books and keep my fingers crossed.
In the meantime, there's been shuffling and weirdness in the e-book retail world. Sony sold its business to Kobo, and Diesel shut down completely. I'm not holding my breath about getting paid for the last sales from those companies.
While total sales are down across the board, my Apple sales have been outstripping my Amazon US sales this year. In March, Amazon UK sales beat Amazon US.
What does this mean? I think it shows how wide open the world markets are. Most writers are only look at a little slice of America, and then only looking at Amazon. I.thought that was short-sighted three years ago, and so far, my opinion hasn't changed.
Barnes & Noble continues its death spiral. I've been lucky to sell one book a day when two years ago, I could sell 200 a day. As I've said repeatedly, I hate seeing B&N throw away its advantages, but they seem intent of commercial suicide.
As for Smashwords, I haven't made a sale there yet this year. I've heard a couple of different rumors regarding Mark Coker's intentions with the company, but nothing I can verify through independent sources. And these are the types of things that even if I asked Mark, he would have to lie because the truth would majorly fuck over both him and the writers distributing through Smashwords. So we'll see on that front.
Is the e-book market becoming saturated? Yes and no. There are thousands more books out there than there were three years ago. But like the other entertainment industries, a consumer is more likely to find enough material in her favorite niche to keep her happy. In four words--I am not worried in that regard.
My biggest problem is that my productivity for the last twelve months is down considerably due to the move from Texas to Ohio. Things aren't over yet. We still need to sell the house in Texas. So right now, I'm doing more general contracting than I care to and battling a colony of bees that are setting up shop in my siding.
Between a retailer upheaval and slow production, there's a reason for my drop in sales. I can't fix one, but I can fix the other.
After I deal with this stupid house and a possible killer bee invasion.
1) I think in my secret heart-of-hearts I hoped Marvel Studios would tap the Winter Soldier storyline. Sebastian Stan did a delicious job as James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes in the first Captain America movie. In this case, making Bucky the same age as Cap instead of his junior sidekick, as well as having the two of them being childhood friends, twisted the knife even more cruelly when Steve discovers what has been done to Bucky.
2) Two sidekicks in one movie! Just as Bucky had been Cap's sidekick in the '40's comics, Falcon filled that role in the '70's, aka my childhood. I'm thankful that the writers turned Sam Wilson back to his social services roots (as a returning veterans counselor in the movie) as opposed to the pimp/drug dealer an asshole comic writer retconned Sam into when I was a kid. (The retcon in the book seriously pissed me off even as a kid. Heaven forbid a black man be a respectable citizen!)
3) Black Widow kicking ass. 'Nuff said.
4) Yeesh! The effects this movie will have Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s storyline! I'm a little upset about Sitwell, and I'll be even more upset if May follows in his footsteps, which seems to be where the storyline is going. But the rest of the season should be very interesting!
5) Chris Evans has finally found his happy place as Cap. Over Christmas, I re-watched Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers. I'm more aware of how stiff Chris was in the first movie. I'm not sure how much was the directing and how much was him, but I think that's what contributing to my dissatisfaction with the first movie. In The Avengers, I think working with RDJ made Chris step up his game. In this one, he obviously feels a lot more comfortable donning the star-spangled suit.
6) The "ripped from the headlines" story was a pleasant surprise. The writers did an incredible job of adapting the Snowden incident to the Marvel world with the correspondingly devastating ramifications.
One of my great-grandfathers was very fond of the saying, "The only constant in the universe is change."*
Great-grandpa Ed was born in 1888 when farming was still the main occupation for the United States. Cars, electricity and telephones were toys for rich city folk. He was a teenager when Wilbur and Orville tested their airplane at Kitty Hawk. His eldest child was born the same year Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated.
All four of his sons dabbled in farming, though it was more a hobby than a living. Newspapers, then radio, then television in turn were the primary method of disseminating information. He watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. PCs were in their infancy when he passed away.
Why am I telling you all of this? Great-grandpa never complained when a new method came along. Pick-up trucks were a hell of a lot easier to deal with than a stubborn mule team. Tractor-driven rakers and balers? The best things ever invented. And how amazing is it we can get fresh fruit from South America!
Yesterday smacked me just how much people become so settled in their lives they resent change.
First of all, late night talk shows are nearly as old as television itself, which a fairly young medium compared to dirty hieroglyphics in Egypt. They all follow the same general format, even my beloved Craig Ferguson (though he generally has read the book an author plugs on his show). Someone will step into David's place, just as Jimmy replaced Jay who replaced Johnny who replaced Jack.
Now I could take that quote TOTALLY out of context like someone did with Tracy Hickman, which would be an evil and terrible thing to do to a writer I admire. Neil was talking about the feeling of being overwhelmed in a big box store compared to a small bookshop he recently discovered. This made me think that he won't be having this feeling for too much longer if certain big chains don't get their act together and innovate. They cannot continue to ignore the changes in the publishing and book retailing industry.
On the other hand, Great-Grandpa Ed died in 1981 and never saw the downfall of the American family farm. I wonder how he would have handled it. Would he have accepted it and found an alternative occupation? Or would he have railed against fate and succumbed to despair? Given his disposition, I'd say he'd jump into the new world with both feet.
It's ironic to me that Dave, Neil and Tracy got their starts in their respective fields in the same decade Great-Grandpa passed away. My grandchildren will probably work in fields I cannot even envision.
Things change. The only choices we really have are adapt or die.
*It was decades before I realized how unusual it was to know five of my great-grandparents.
Since I've been flat on my ass for the last four days with a serious infection, I'm playing catch-up with household chores. Because, well, you know, clean underwear is always good. So here's a little riff on James Bond by the incredible actor/comedian Eddie Izzard, all set to Legos.
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