I write like
Jack London

I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Surviving the 2013 Pornocalypse

While the 2013 Pornocalypse came to a head in October with a smear piece by The Kernel, the actual event has roots back to the beginning of the year.

In the first quarter, erotica writers noticed weird events like they were no longer showing up in the Top 100 on various retailers despite selling in record amounts. (And yes, indies do compare sales numbers with each other.) Several authors compared rankings/sales and discovered on Barnes & Noble, no erotica author was ranked higher the #126. It was too much of a coincidence.

At the same time, erotica no longer appeared in the Amazon search function if you searched from the main menu, even if you knew the author and title. Indies discovered their books were being slapped with the super-secret ADULT label. The problem was none of the authors knew what the criteria was.

Through experimentation, and a few assertive conversations with Amazon, Selena Kitt mapped out some of the issues and developed survival tips.

Things got a little better over the summer, then the Kernel attempted to take down Amazon with their smear piece. At which point, Amazon, Kobo and a few other retailers overreacted. The sad part is the fake alarm didn't really hurt the retailers, but it did fuck over a few thousand indie writers, most of which didn't publish erotica to begin with!

I talked about my personal issues in November. It didn't get any better in December. In fact at one point, I was banned from Amazon for six hours. Why? I asked very politely why Amazon wouldn't tell their long-time vendors what the changes in terms and conditions were because they weren't posting the info on the KDP website, but something had obviously changed.

To paraphrase the one sentence answer I received from Amazon:  We don't have to tell you shit.

(And people wonder why I don't go exclusive with Amazon.)

While retailers have the right to decide what they will and won't carry, it's the hypocrisy in their decisions aimed solely at indie writers that burns my britches. It burns Selena's too, and she goes in depth here. Unfortunately, we are not protected from corporate censorship, only government censorship. (Something a lot of Americans just don't get.)

So that means we need to play the corporate game if we want to use their retailers. Would it simply be easier for a company to have an adult filter that ADULTS can turn off if they so desire? Yes, it would, and it's exactly what Smashwords does. You know, it's pretty fucking sad when Mark Coker can outthink Jeff Bezos.

First, go read Selena's survival tips. I'll wait.

Now, here's things that have happened to me and erotica writers I know:

1) Selena's bad word list now applies to the descriptions, too. And here's the thing, THE WORDS CANNOT BE IN THERE. PERIOD. I've had two of my books banned because those particular words WERE TAKEN TOTALLY OUT OF CONTEXT.

For example, one story was about a rape survivor dealing with her boyfriends treating her like a porcelain doll. I asked politely for Amazon to reconsider, and then asked them to confirm this was the new policy. (P.S. This is the one where I got banned from the site for six hours for daring to question their policies.) I can say, "brutal sexual assault" but I can't say, "rape."

Both another writer and I used the the word, "forced", in a sentence that had nothing to do with sex. As in, "forced to leave the state to find a new job." Yet, Amazon laid down the hammer on those, too.

2) Beast erotica is the latest target of Amazon. Dinosaur porn is okay, but Bigfoot, centaurs, and satyrs aren't. Pseudo-incest? Forget it! Ironic that Flowers in the Attic is still available.

3) Covers? The policies concerning clothing and position don't make any sense whatsoever already, but things have been added to Selena's list. No partial boobs. No butt cracks. Ropes, handcuffs and whips are now verbotten. Hell, you can't even put an innocent puppy on your cover without being accused of bestiality.

The only good news to come out of this? The retailers aren't restricting actual content, just the packaging and themes.

So far.

Like I said in my November post, once we erotica writers get past the initial fallout, things will get back to normal.

Until the next Kernel writer gets rejected at a bar.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Special Thursday Writers Beware! Edtion

Vanity publisher Publish America is trying to fool writers again. A warning was issued at Writers Beware (R) on Tuesday that Publish America has changed their name to America Star Books.

They are specifically targeting non-American authors this time, saying they will translate non-English works to English editions in order to get into the American market.

DO NOT BELIEVE THEM!

If you're one of my non-American readers, don't fall for this! Real translation takes some serious money (I know because I checked into Spanish and Norwegian translations for my own works).

If you know ANYONE looking to get translations done, please WARN THEM AWAY from America Star Books!

Most of all, spread the word through your blogs and other social media, so no more innocent writers get ripped off by these people!

If you've already had problems with America Star Books or Publish America, please contact Victoria Strauss at Writers Beware. She keeps a file (and trust me, the one on Publish America is as big as the one on Author Solutions, another notorious vanity scam artist).

And if you're not already following Victoria, bookmark Writers Beware and its sister site Preditors and Editors to stay on top of the scams targeting writers.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Pulling the Plug

I know I said I was going to talk about another subject today.

But I can't because I crying too hard to do it.

For those of you who don't know, there's been an ongoing legal battle in Texas regarding a woman named Marlise Munoz. You see, the first problem is Marlise had died on the kitchen floor of her family's home two days before Thanksgiving.

The second problem was that she was twelve weeks pregnant when she died.

Retired U.S. Navy Chief Warrant Officer Jim Wright, who blogs at Stonekettle Station, talks about the horror the hospital and the State of  Texas put the Munoz family through. You see, Mr. Wright went through a similar loss around the same time.

Now, excuse me while I get another box of tissues.

(P.S. Comments have been disabled for this post.)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Return on Investment - Part 2

Last Friday, I talked about how to calculate your return on investment. Just a quick reminder:

Return on Investment = (Gain of Investment - Cost of Investment) / Cost of Investment

or

ROI = (GOI - COI) / COI

If your ROI is not a positive number, you're losing money on your investment.

If you're an indie writer who has all your rights, the next question you need to ask yourself is how patient are you. Last Friday, I used the first year's worth of data to demonstrate a negative ROI for Seasons of Magick Spring. Assuming I do absolutely nothing with the story, I will eventually break even because I OWN AND CONTROL ALL THE RIGHTS to the story.

I can fix the cover. I can raise the price. I can even bundle the four separate stories into one volume and sell it as a collection.

Here's the next step you need to consider - Opportunity Cost.
This means taking into account what you would lose by picking a certain alternative.

Opportunity costs apply NO MATTER WHICH ROUTE YOU GO--indie, assisted or traditional. It's up to you to calculate the costs.

Example 1 - Indie Only
As I said in the previous post, my typing speed was 500 words per hour in 2011-2012. Through practice, my typing speed is up to 750 words per hour. Before I do anything now, I have to consider the loss of pages by doing an alternative activity.

It will take me approximately two hours to search for a new cover for Seasons of Magick: Spring. Then there's the tweaking in Paint.net, which is another hour. Redoing e-book files with the new cover = 1 hour. Uploading to retailers and distributors = 1 hour. I'd spend five hours for re-doing one little book instead of writing 3750 new words (roughly 14 pages).

Also, remember my cost of investment for this particular story is already $435. Total units sold as of December 2013 is 148 with a income of $0.35 per copy.

($51.80 - $435) / $435 = - $0.88

I'm adding the new photo ($8) and five more hours of my time ($50). Therefore my new COI is

$435 + $8 + $34 = $493

which drags my ROI down to

($51.80 - $493) / $493 = - $0.89

I going to have to sell 22 more copies at $0.99 each to make up for the time and money spent. Definitely not worth it at $0.35 a copy.

However, if I create an anthology of the Seasons of Magick series, it's still going to take me the same amount of time and the same costs, but I can reasonably justify a higher price point of $5.99 (which actually gives the customer a discount off buying each story separately).

The photo and five hours would actually be pro-rated between the four stories, so the new COI would be

$435 + $2 + $12.50 = $449.50

And the new ROI for Spring alone would be

($51.80 - $449.50) / $449.50 = - $0.885

With the new price, my income would be roughly $4.19 per copy or $1.05 per story. Therefore, I would only have to sell three copies of the anthology to surpass my original ROI for Spring only!

Edit to add: Yes, my ROI is still negative, but the odds of a reader picking up the longer work. (See Mark Coker's analysis at the Smashwords.com blog.) When I do put out the anthology later this summer, I'll keep you folks updated.


Example 2A
The problem with most assisted publishing packages is that you, the writer, will have to pay the overhead (cover, editing, etc.) as well as 15% of your gross income to your packager.

I'm going to stick with Seasons of Magick: Spring so you can see the difference.

My gross income is $51.80. My packager gets 15% percent or $7.77, which lowers my GOI to $44.03. That same $7.77 get shifted over to COI. Therefore,

($44.02 - $442.77) / $442.77 = - $0.90

Here's the problem: packagers always take their percentage off the top. Your COI will NEVER go down. It will increase with each transaction.


Example 2B
What would have happened with a book I've made money on like Friday's example of Sluts in the City #1?

Remember the original factors for the first year were GOI was $2962, COI was $433 and ROI was $5.84. 15% of $2962 is $444.30.

($2517.70 - $877.30) / $877.30 = $1.87

Major difference going from $5.84 all the way down to $1.87. Your opportunity cost is a loss of $3.97 ROI by choosing to go with assisted publishing. This is why folks like J.A. Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch constantly preach about sticking to fixed, one-time costs when publishing your books.

IMPORTANT POINT #1! I won't be able to do anything else with this story without going through the assisted publisher. If I want to do the anthology for Seasons of Magick, I may not be able to depending on what the contract says.

IMPORTANT POINT #2! The other factor is how long an assisted publisher can collect from you after you've terminated the relationship. Many times, their contracts are worded so that they can collect 15% for the life of the copyright, which means the rest of your life plus 70 years!

WARNING: I used my fixed costs for the example. Assisted publishers generally charge you much, MUCH more for these services!


Example 3A
What about a traditional publisher? First of all, they usually won't accept a novella all by its lonesome. There are exceptions, but for simplicity's sake, let's pretend Sluts in the City #1 is a novel. To make it a little more realistic, let's assume it took me 200 hours to write the novel (200 X $10 per hour = $2000).

Let's assume instead of publishing the book myself, I sold the license to Kensington. Based on a lot of conversations lately, I could expect a $2500 advance for a first-time novelist, 6% royalties of gross for print, and 25% of net for e-books. Kensington sets both the MMPB and the e-book price at $7.99. The wholesale price is $4.00. Let's also assume I have a print run of 10,000, I still sell 1481 copies, and my print and e-book sales are split 50/50.

For the first year:

Advance against Royalties = $2500

Royalties = (741 MMPB X (.06 X $7.99)) + (740 e-books X (.25 X $4.00)) = $1,085.24

Hey, Kensington gave me more money than I would have gotten through royalties! Therefore, my ROI is

(2500 - 2000) / 2000 = 0.25

That's a positive number, I cheer.

But wait, I forgot about my agent! She gets $375 of my advance. And what about the 100 hours my editor insisted I spend promoting my book online? The bookmarks I handed out when I spoke at the local writer's group ($25.00)?

(2125 - 3400) / 3400 = - $0.38

It gets worse. Because 1481 is considered a pathetic performance, no other publisher will touch me. There's no second year because all the copies are returned and/or pulped. And depending on the terms of my contract, I probably won't be able to get my rights back.

Oh, and my agent will dump me.

In other words, I can't do a damned thing to change that negative ROI.

Example 3B
Let's change the scenario that my entire print run is sold the first month it's out.

Royalties = ((5000 MMP X (.06 X $7.99)) + (5000 e-books X (.25 X $4.00)) = $8397

Agent fee = $1259.55

So my ROI looks better right?

($7137.45 - $4284.55) / $4284.55 = $0.67

The problems start if Kensington decides my book is not worth another print run. This is ALL the money I will EVER make from the paperback version Sluts in the City #1 until I get my rights back (if I ever do). What happens if Kensington sublicenses my e-book to a subsidiary which reduces my royalties (which is a stunt Harlequin pulled)? I have no control of what happens to my book.

But more important, what are the lost opportunity costs of not publishing myself? Let's assume I sell the e-book for $4.99 and $14.99, which would give me revenue of approximately $3.45 and $2.00 per copy for the same 10,000 copies.

Lets assume my costs are $2000 for writing the book, $100 for a professional cover, $500 for editing, $150 for e-book formatting, and $500 for print formatting. Just like signing with Kensington, I'm not doing any other work myself except for the writing. I'm also not pimping myself online and not having bookmarks made.

(Please note: I'm not pulling these numbers out of my ass. I've been getting estimates for publishing A Question of Balance (formerly Sword of Justice), my NaNoWriMo project)

GOI = (5000 X $3.45) + (5000 X $2.00)
= $17,250 + $10,000
= $27,250

COI = $2000 + $100 + $500 + $150 + $500
= $3250

Therefore, my ROI jumps to

($27,500 - $3250) / $3250 = $7.46

Even better my rights aren't tied up for the life of the copyright. I can lower or raise the price as necessary. I can join with other erotica writers to create a sampler. The possibilities are endless.

I hope this information helps you in your writing journey! Q'pla!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Videos I've Been Watching Lately

So glad to see Ron Jeremy has recovered from last year's health problems! His parody of Miley Cyrus cracks me up.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Lessons Learned: Return on Investment - Part I

In all the hubbaloo over The Passive Voice, Steven Zacharius of Kensington, Barry Eisler, Robert Gottlieb of Trident Media Group and the infamous Writers Digest poll, people are trying to frame the issue as traditional publishing versus indie publishing.

People are asking the wrong damn question. If you are writer who wants to be published, you should be asking, "What's the return on my investment?"

The return on an investment is when you divide the gain of the investment minus the cost of the investment by the cost of the investment. Or

ROI = (GOI - COI)/COI

I'm going to walk through two examples: one to show my ignorance as a indie publisher in the beginning and one to show how I did it right. I'm going to simplify a few numbers for math clarity.

Example 1
Seasons of Magick: Spring was the first book I put up as an indie author.

It's approximately 20K words. At the time, I wrote about 500 words per hour, so it took me 40 hours to write the story. Let's say I, the publisher, paid me, the writer, $10 an hour.

I paid a friend's teen daughter $25 to create a Photoshop file for my cover.

A friend and I edited each other's novellas over coffee, so throw in $10 for my Starbucks card.

I know just enough HTML to be dangerous so I formatted this myself using freeware.

My costs of investment? $400 + $25 + $10 + $0 = $435.

I priced the book at $0.99. 99 copies sold the first year it was on the market. Again, for simplicity's sake, let's say I made Amazon's rate of $0.35 for all the copies (which really isn't far from the truth). My gain on investment in Year 1? 99 X $0.35 = $34.65

Therefore, my ROI for this book is ($34.65 - $435)/$435 = - $0.92

Now the nice thing is this book will be available (hopefully) for the rest of my life plus seventy years. Odds are it will eventually earn a positive ROI.

Example 2
A year after I started indie publishing I wrote a BDSM erotic romance. Since I'm not ready to reveal Alter Ego, we'll call it Sluts in the City #1.

Again, this novella was 20K words so my costs as a writer remained the same. So did my editing costs.

By now, I'd learned my lesson about having a decent cover. I'd bought the picture to the left for $8 with the intention of using it for the cover until I saw how many covers, both indie and trad, used it. So I bought a different cover at Romance Novel Covers for $15.

I used freeware to tweak the picture and add the title and author's name by myself. (I had a lot of fun experimenting, too!) Again, I did my own formatting.

My costs of investment? $400 + $10 + $23 + $0 = $433

I priced the book at $2.99. My income per copy ranges from $1.05 to $2.68, so once again, let's use $2.00 for ease of math. The first year I sold 1,481 copies so my gain on investment was 1481 X $2.00 = $2962.00.

Therefore, my ROI for Sluts in the City #1 is ($2962 - $433)/$433 = $5.84

$5.84 versus -$0.92. See the difference?

Two erotica novellas. Same length. Same amount of time they were on sale. Little to no marketing.

The two big differences were the covers and the price. Both had a significant impact on my income.

On Monday, I'll talk about determining ROI for an indie published project, an assisted publishing project, and a trad published project.

On Wednesday, I'll talk about why using a picture like the Handcuffed Girl above will hurt more than help you thanks to the Kernel Pornocalypse.

Until then, stay toasty this weekend!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Why the Digital Book World-Writers Digest Money Survey Is Flat-Out Wrong

A lot of trad publishing pundits, including Steve Zacharius of Kensington, have been quoting a survey done by DBW-WD saying the average income for writers is $1000.

Why do I think it is highly misleading on earnings for writers? Let me reframe WD's basic supposition regarding income to apply to plumbers instead of writers.

I grew up on a farm. My dad taught me the basics of home repair. I can swap out gaskets and bobbers on a toilet. I can replace a faucet. I know where the cut-off valves are for each inlet and the main one for the entire house.

Does this make me a master plumber? Hardly. Can I go to True Value Hardware and buy the parts I need? Yep. Does this mean I made money? Excuse me while I laugh.

For things that surpass my meager abilities, like replacing the hot water heater or the garbage disposal, I call our plumber Bob. Bob is a licensed master plumber and has been for twenty years. This is how Bob make his living.

For simplicty's sake, let's assume Bob makes $60K a year. If we averaged my income from plumbing ($0) and Bob's, we get $30K a year in income. Add in my husband and son who've never touched any plumbing in their life and the average goes down to $15K. Then we turn around and say all plumbers in Houston average $15K in income per year.

Silly, right? The number isn't close to being accurate because three out of the four people averaged are not plumbers!

Yet, this is exactly how WD did their survey. 64% of those surveyed haven't finished writing a book, MUCH LESS STARTED ONE.

Why on earth would you include people who HAVEN'T PRODUCED A DAMN THING?

Sorry for the shouting, but this REALLY pisses me off!

Before anyone jumps on my case, I know what it's like in the beginning. How hard it is to finish that first story. How that first novel took years to write. Been there, done that, have the t-shirt.

But nowhere in my wildest dreams do I think my $0 income from 2004 should have been included in a survey regarding the 2004 income of professional writers.

The definition of "professional" means you are making money from a trade. I wasn't making money from my writing in 2004 because I didn't have anything for sale. 64% of folks from the WD survey didn't make any money because they didn't even have anything to MAKE AVAILABLE for sale. Therefore, WD's conclusion is meaningless.

If you want to check out a survey that at least talks to writers who have stories for sale, I recommend Beverly Kendall's look at published writers. I think it gives a far more accurate look at which writers are doing what and why.

Do I think publishing will make every writer a millionaire? Heck, no! But as the late, great Mark Twain said once, "There lies, damn lies, and statistics."

Trust your gut and always question someone's statistics.

Monday, January 20, 2014

When a CEO Has No Concept of Social Media

For the record, I have nothing against traditional publishing. My regular readers know that I advocate READING AND UNDERSTANDING YOUR FUCKING CONTRACT before you EVER SIGN IT! But that's the former lawyer in me talking.

I also have nothing personal against Steven Zacharius, CEO and President of Kensington Publishing.

But apparently, Mr. Zacharius has something against me as an indie published writer according to an article he wrote in the Huffington Post. His diatribe about how I don't make any money, how I don't have any editing done, how I can't get quality cover art felt pretty damn personal. But I let go because I had a deadline...

Until a Kensington writer crafted a blog post aimed at readers saying how she was not rolling in gold. Apparently, she was being hit up quite a bit for free books. I would link to it, but within four hours of her post going live, it was taken down.

And that one big difference about indies. We talk money. We talk business. We give each other recommendations on services. But then we have our big girl and big boy panties on. I've got friends who make a lot more than I do. I have friends who make a lot less. And frankly, y'all know what I made last year.

Trad publishers don't want writers talking about their contracts. The scary part is they treat their writers like employees when they are independent contractors. Unfortunately, many writers accept this treatment because they are afraid they will be blackballed. And shunning was a real problem when trad publishers were the only game in town.

But the game has changed, folks. Big time.

Why did the Kensington author take her post down? I can only speculate in my own warped mind, but there's another problem.

Whatever you post on the internet takes on a life of its own. Even though she took the post down, it was cached. And copied. And spread. And discussed. Including at The Passive Voice.

And Mr. Zacharius responded at TPV.

All I can say is if I were Kensington's PR person, I wouldn't have any hair left after he was done. He apparently didn't know who hangs out at TPV. Sure, we're all writers. But we are also attorneys, doctors, psychologists, accountants, game designers, military vets, and teachers, just to mention a handful of the occupations. And a great many of us have been trad published.

One person published at Kensington was brave enough to comment though she did it anonymously because she's trying to get her rights reverted and fears retaliation. PG posted her comment as a main post because he felt it was important. And it is important because it shows Mr. Zacharius isn't talking to the people he needs to--those already under contract with his company.

However, J.A. ("Joe") Konrath took the questions Mr. Zacharius posed at TPV and crafted his own answers on his blog. Mr. Zacharius has said in Joe's comments that he's sending a reply to Joe, and Joe has said he will post the reply.

Can Mr. Zacharius have a meaningful dialogue with writers, or will he stick his other foot in his mouth? It should be a very interesting and entertaining Monday indeed.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Videos I've Been Watching Lately

Remember Wednesday? Talking about beagle IQs? Well, this little guy takes the cake!

Or actually the chicken nuggets.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Why Kris Rusch Is Super Smart and You Should Listen to Her

There's lots of people throwing advice left and right in the publishing world these days. Folks who've only put their first indie published book up last week. Folks who've worked for NY publishers for fifty years. Very rarely can you find someone who's a melding of both with a large dose of common sense.

If you don't know who Kristine Kathryn Rusch is, you should find out. She has written in so many genres under a variety of pseudonyms that you've probably read one of her books without realizing it.

In fact, I think the only position in publishing she hasn't held is illustrator.

Right now, she is posting a series on her blog about discoverability. I suggest you start with Part One. She's up to Seven and still going.

One caveat before you click over to Kris. This is NOT a "Three Easy Steps to Becoming a Bestseller" manual. If that's what you want, you need to go elsewhere. And frankly, if you believe writing/publishing is that simple, I have some land in Florida I want to sell you.

Kris's series looks at the long tail, i.e. how to create a career out of your writing. If that's not your worldview, nothing Kris says is going to help you. She also talks about where the industry has been in order to understand where it could possibly be going. You know the old saying about people who don't understand their history are doomed to repeat it.

I'm not saying Kris's series is the Gospel, nor should it be treated as such. But I am a huge believer in having a business plan if you want to make a living in this crazy industry, and Kris's thoughts are an excellent place to start.

And if you're reading my blog for business advice, remember that I'm only telling you what I've tried, what worked and what didn't.

I probably should re-title the blog to "Don't Fuck Up Like I Did."

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

One of Those Days

It's been one of those days.

A bout of insomnia meant I didn't get to sleep until sometime after five this morning. When I did finally drift off, I had dreams about being trapped on a Jurassic Park-type island and being chased by various dinosaurs. (I'm still trying to figure out how the torosaur turned carnivorous.)

I woke up at noon with what I call a weather headache. When a front moves through, the change in air pressure seriously affects my sinuses. The resulting pain is migraine level. And yes, the doc tested me to make sure it wasn't actual migraines. Believe me, I'm very familiar with differentiating between the types of headaches. *smile*

So I started with minor household tasks while I waited for the ibuprofen to kick in. Only to have someone from the water company knock on the door. There was a leak on their side of the water line, but he needed shut of the water in order to fix it. At least, it wasn't something where they had to dig up the street. (And really, Universe! What's with all the water leaks over the last five months?)

While I finally shower and decide whether it's worth braving the grocery store or would it be better to pick up something from a restaurant, here's one of my favorite videos from YouTube. It always brightens my day.

(And as a beagle mom, I can definitely say they are this smart!)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Am I a Failure?

The Negative Writer I mentioned a few blog posts ago struck again with a snotty remark. The unnamed website's host had posted a story about Another Writer who'd turned down an auctioned trad deal to indie publish her book. Another Writer had a very successful launch and was kind enough to share her numbers and experiences.

FYI - Another Writer spent approximately $2000 in production costs and brought in nearly ten times that in revenue her first month. (I love seeing an indie do well!)

So of course, Negative Writer made an nasty comment to the effect that no one ever hears about the indie failures.

Well, first of all, very few humans want to admit they fucked up. At least, no one I know will. Heck, even most dogs I know tuck their tail between their legs and hide when they screw up.

But I think there's a deeper question here: what constitutes failure as an indie writer?

According to Negative Writer, anything less than a comfortable six-figure income is failure. (But then, this is the same person who thinks ALL readers owe that comfortable living to Negative Writer.) So by Negative Writer's standards, I am a failure.

Am I really? Should I curl up in bed, sob uncontrollably, and refuse to shower because I sold zero books yesterday?

Yep, zero. Nada. Zilch.

THE HORROR!

Even worse, I brought in less than $5000 for the entirety of 2013! That's below the poverty level! I should just give up!

Maybe I should stop using so many exclamation points instead.

Instead, I'm looking at what I can do better.

Take the Bloodlines series for example.

The stories themselves are good. I especially enjoy the reviews that start with, "I thought I would hate this, but I LOVE it..."

However, the window dressing needs help. DH and I did the best we could on covers with a friend's help, but frankly, they need a serious upgrade. DH and I had a long talk about my publishing business. He's the one who said I needed to start farming out some of the work in order to spend more time writing.

I'm searching for a digital fantasy artist. I have a few names, but I can't do anything until this summer. (Real life expenses have a way of intruding.) I've also have a proofreader, a e-book formatter and a print formatter in mind. What I hope to do is relaunch the entire series when the last three books are published at the beginning of 2015.

In the meantime, I can't do a half-assed release of the Justice series. Not when the short story concerning the main character was in a trad-published anthology. So I'll be putting the cover artist to work right away.

So am I a failure for not doing perfect covers the first time? Am I a failure for not putting out a print edition right away?

No, I did the best I could with the tools I had at the time. I learned a lot from simply trying. I have better tools now. More knowledge. The next time around will be much better.

To me, a failure is someone who doesn't want to improve. Who quits. Who would rather wallow and blame everyone else for their misfortune than figure out what needs to be fixed.

I can't afford mentally to do any of that. Why? Because I means I've wasted the last ten years of my life trying to learn this damn business. Because I don't want to give up using my imagination. Because I like getting e-mails and comments asking, "When's the next book coming out?"

If I give up on writing now, I will climb into my bed and refuse to get out. I've been there before. It isn't pretty. And if all it takes is getting some outside help with cover art, then by [deity of your choice], I'll do it.

Am I or anyone else who took the chance of putting their stories out for public consumption a failure?

HELL, NO!

It takes a lot of guts to expose yourself in this way. Maybe we don't make a zillion dollars. Maybe we don't have a zillion fans. Maybe that was never the intent of some of us to begin with.

Every writer does this for different reasons. Some want fame, fortune or some other form of validation. Some of us simply want to be read.

You're reading this right now. All the way to the end. Which means no, I'm not a failure. Thanks for taking the trip with me.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Videos I've Been Watching Lately

Indian movie star Imran Khan hilariously addresses his country's Supreme Court decision to uphold the law making homosexuality a crime worthy of life imprisonment.

SPIT WARNING: Keep liquids away from your computer or other electronic devices! You WILL be laughing your ass off!


Friday, January 10, 2014

Flogging Social Media to Death

Once upon a time, a writer could use social media to connect with her readers, build a fan base and sell more books.

What's the key words in that last sentence? Trust me, it's not "sell more books."

Today, I don't even get on Twitter anymore. No one talks. Every single tweet screams, "BUY MY BOOK!"

Something a lot of writers don't seem to understand is that following other writers, then demanding the other writers follow them back IS NOT BUILDING AN AUDIENCE. It becomes one ginormous echo chamber.

Even worse, half the new followers on my Twitter account are companies trying to sell their "special services" to indie publishers. Sorry folks, I know how to format, and I already have editors lined up. And I'm sure as hell not paying four-to-five figures for someone with no internet marketing experience to promote my books.

(Though if anyone can recommend a good fantasy digital artist, I'd love to hear about them.)

Facebook isn't much better. With the company going public, the shareholders are pressuring Zuckerberg to show them the money. Over half of posts don't show up on my family and friends' feeds, much less my fans. I'm sure as hell not paying $20 bucks to contact my family! And I don't trust Facebook's analytics for advertising when they keep telling me I need to improve my love life by joining a dating website, and I should earn my degree in medical transcription.

Oh, and I need to increase the size of my penis.

(Seriously, dudes?)

MySpace is officially dead. YouTube's become a joke since Google took it over. And Google+ is selling what info they can collect about you to any scam artist willing to buy it.

(Guess what? My penis still does not need to be enlarged. Thank you very much.)

If I haven't responded to you LinkedIn invite, I apologize. What do you mean you didn't send me one? Didn't you realize they mined your entire address book?

Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest simply don't appeal to me. I write. I don't take pictures. And I really don't want Pinterest reselling pictures of my adorable beagle around the internet.

So for now, I'm sticking with Blogger. Hey, I'm a writer, so why not write?

Or I will until Google takes all my blogs and uses them as evidence of why a middle-aged mother of a teen needs her penis enlarged.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

To Distribute or Not To Distribute

Not a whole lot has changed in the nearly  three years since I first talked about distributors. If anything more distributors for e-books have joined the fray since Smashwords opened their doors. The problem is that many distributors are distributing in order to get their claws in the burgeoning indie market without regard to long-term implications.

And yes, despite claims that e-book sales are down or flat, many of these pundits have no accurate way to count indie books that don't use ISBNs. Amazon isn't about to inform them either.

Is it worth it to use a distributor?

Three years ago, I said yes, if only to get into Apple, Kobo and Sony. None of these retailers allowed direct uploads from individual writers at the time. Sony still doesn't. But three years ago, the only distributor to handle indie e-books was Smashwords.

There were complaints about Smashwords at the time, primarily about their trademarked Meatgrinder software that converted a MS-WORD file to various formats for distribution. Smashwords has since upgraded so you can upload an EPUB file. However, the EPUB must pass EPUB3 check (which, frankly in my personal opinion, is a bogus, bullshit way of trying to keep some books out of the market). But you still have to upload the MS-WORD file in order to convert to MOBI and other formats.

Since 2011, Kobo and Apple have launched their own self-publishing initiatives. Unfortunately, as the Kernel Pornopocalyspe showed, using Kobo's Writing Life shows their utter disregard for indie authors regardless of their genre. Apple insists that you can only upload through a Mac or other Apple device.

More companies have popped up since 2011 offering to distribute your e-books to retailers.

One of the most popular is Draft2Digital, aka D2D. They currently only distribute to Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. They ran in to a major snag during the Kernel Pornpocalypse when their entire catalog was deleted from the Kobo retail site. They have worked hard to settle the situation for the benefit of their e-book vendors

While I have no complaints about D2D's handling of the matter with Kobo, I had problem with a particular book passing the EPUB 3 check for distribution to Apple in June. Again, this was not something that was D2D's fault. Because of my family's moving situation, I marked the book as 'Do Not Distribute' to Apple on June 10. I saved the e-mail confirming the book's status.

Out of the blue in October, I received a notice from D2D that the book had been rejected by Apple. When I went online, my D2D dashboard said the book had been sent to Apple, but the book's individual record page said it was stil marked as do not distribute. After several frustrating e-mails with a young woman in Customer Service where she basically accused me of lying about the situation, I was so angry that I called D2D president Kris Austin and told him to delete my account.

My experience with XinXii wasn't much better. The company started as a German e-book retailer, but has expanded into distribution to the major retailers (Amazon, Apple, Kobo, etc.). I have sold books in Germany, but only through Amazon DE. The year and a half I was with XinXii I didn't sell a single thing, but there are American indie writers who sold very through them. My problem with them began when they switched to an opt-out method instead of opt-in and only gave vendors two days to opt out.

In all fairness, Smashwords has also switched to opt-out for new markets, but they give vendors at least two weeks notice.

Overdrive focuses on the library and educational markets, but they do some distribution to retailers. They still doesn't distribute for individual indie writers. In theory, writers could form their own company to apply with Overdrive, but so far I haven't heard from anyone if it's worth distributing through them.

If you write romance, in ANY of its subgenres, check out All Romance e-Books. They are primarily a retailer, but they do distribute to the major markets. I haven't applied to them yet, but there are some legal matters involving Angry Sheep Publishing since I want to apply as a company.

So does using a distributor make sense?

It depends on your resources and plans. For me, uploading directly to Amazon and Barnes & Noble makes sense as long as books are $2.99 and up. Below that I actually earn more by distributing through Smashwords.

DH has suggested that I buy a MacBook for the sole purpose of directly uploading to Apple since my sales have improved significantly during 2013. I don't know if I want to deal directly with Apple considering some their previous behavior.

Kobo? It's going to take a lo-o-o-ong time to forgive their extreme over-reaction during the Kernel Pornocalypse before I would try them. I wasn't harmed, but I know too many authors who were.

One last word of warning, do not take my word or anyone else's concerning any distributors. Do your own investigating and do what's best for your business.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Songs I've Been Listening to Lately

While working on an Alter Ego novella, I've been playing this particular song a lot.


Friday, January 3, 2014

How Being a Douche Can Affect Your Sales

I don't know if it's the extreme weather we've been having. Maybe it's the flattening of sales. Or maybe enough chemicals are in our food and water it's messing up our minds. But a lot of writers have been acting like total douches lately.

Newsflash, folks. I read just about anything. From the Cheerios box to the latest best seller to Playboy. (Yes, I know the joke about reading the articles, but there was a time when Playboy had some great journalism.) And when I meet new authors, a lot of times, I will check out their books.

If the book grabs me, I'll recommend it to someone I know. Not just anyone, mind you. I wouldn't give my mother a Jim Butcher novel anymore than I would give DH a Debbie Macomber book.

So what does that have to do with writers acting like douches?

Why on earth would I pick up your book if I see you acting like douche to other writers? Or even worse, readers?

Because that's what I am when I interact with you. A potential reader. Not some ignoramus you feel you can insult. Not your competition. A reader

When I see you treat people like crap, it doesn't make me want to buy your book. And it obviously doesn't make other people want to buy your books either from your Amazon rankings and the way you bitch about low sales.

Here's a couple of examples:

I met L.M. ("Libbie") Ironside on The Passive Voice. She's witty, charming, and offers terrific insight in the conversations on PG's blog. When I learned she writes about Ancient Egypt (one of my favorite time periods for historical fiction), I immediately checked out her books. I bought them. I loved them. I've been recommending them to my friends who are into Egypt and/or great women in history.

Even sweeter, Libbie checked out my website and asked about the urban fantasy I'm working on based on Egyptian mythology. She did everything right by engaging and showing interest in a potential reader.

Then there's another writer, who I will not name, that I met on a website I will not name. This person was an award-winning trad published author before turning to indie publishing. And it's almost like they think indie publishing is beneath them. Or they think other indie writers are beneath them. Sometimes, it seems a little of both. When this person leave comments on this particular website, they are mean, derogatory, and mostly ignored by the other participants.

The sad part is this person also writes in a genre I adore, and I will probably never pick up one of their books because of their sour attitude and their insults.

While Libbie has a couple of hundred reviews and is ranking in the top twenty on Amazon in her genre for most of her books, the other writer has a handful of reviews and is averaging about a sale a day OUT OF OVER 20 BOOKS despite being an accomplished, talented writer.

Word-of-mouth is the greatest promotion tool in your arsenal, but it is a double-edged sword. A retailer I used to work for commissioned a study that showed for every good experience a customer has, they tell 5 people. For every bad experience, the customer tells 14 people.

Am I saying that you cannot disagree with someone? Of course not. If you're a regular reader, you know that my friend Angie (aka M/M romance writer Angela Benedetti) disagrees with me quite regularly and vice versa. But Angie doesn't insult me and she's respectful in her objections over whatever stand I've made that particular day. Because of HOW she argues with me, if I meet someone who reads M/M romance, I suggest Angie's books.

So think twice about your behavior online. Despite what you may believe, it really can affect your bottom line.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The 2013 Status Report

2013 was...weird. For everyone, not just me.

On one hand the acceptance among writers of the indie publishing avenue has never been greater.

On the other, more pressure was applied on indies from corporations including ones we thought were supportive.  Now, that true colors are being shown, we got to watch each others' backs and share information more than ever.

Over the next week or two, I'll talk about my run-ins with Amazon, Apple, Kobo and Smashwords in regards to a third chapter in the Kernel Pornocalypse. I'll also talk about the problems concerning distributors versus uploading your books on your own.

Personally, 2013 had some bright spots and dismal points.

The Pros
- I made more money this year (approximately $4930 because I don't have all my final numbers yet) than I did last year ($4058), but I didn't hit my target of $7500. The multiple reasons are listed below.

- I licensed my first short story to a traditional market. I saw that with a bit of irony because The Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Trust has brought its production in house instead of hiring a small publisher to handle the actual print and e-book publishing.

- GK is back in public school and doing very well ('A' student and on the student council). This frees up more of my schedule to focus on my career.

- I have three novels under my name and three under Alter Ego in various stages of completion. It's just a question of finishing them.

The Cons
- The family move from Texas to Ohio put a major crimp in my productivity this year. As a result, I only released one novel and two short stories under my name, and five novellas under Alter Ego.

- I spent way too much of my precious writing time dealing with the direct effects of the Kernel Pornocalypse to Alter Ego. I'll give more details Part 3 of this disaster.

- Issues with one of my distributors not only took precious time to deal with, but made me look like a total idiot to one retailer.

I don't know what going to happen in 2014 because our personal situation in Ohio has changed again. All I can do is to keep things together as best I can, and keep writing.