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Saturday, July 21, 2012

For Authors: Professionalism


A week ago today, I attended the Chicagoland Authors Expo where I met with other Chicagoland authors and gave a talk.  It was a very good event put on by Dominique Wilkins --the writer, not the basketball player.  Now that I've gotten a chance to sit down at my computer, I've taken the liberty to post the transcript of the talk that I gave on professionalism because the more I log onto the social networks, the more I see authors putting down other authors under the guise of protecting readers or for the sake of putting down other authors to appear as if they're shining gold above us unwashed, indie authors in the eyes of their peers and readers alike.



PROFESSIONALISM


I came out today to meet everyone in this room and to give a talk on professionalism and how it relates in today’s business of writing and book-selling.  Unfortunately, the inspiration behind this topic comes from a lot of unprofessional behavior that I've seen online, particularly on facebook and kindleboards.

Being professional isn’t about how well you talk or how much you spam your social networks.

Professionalism extends beyond whether or not you hired a cover designer or a copyeditor.  Its not about having purchased ISBN number or registering as a business.

And professionalism is not about putting on airs in a desperate attempt to stand out amongst your peers. 
Let me expound upon that last point.

I’ve been seeing a growing minority of writers who engage in a daily ritual of putting down other authors for trivial matters such as publishing book with a homemade cover  or not getting said work copyedited.  I believe most of us agree that those aren’t the best practices for bookselling, but everyone has different reasons for writing and publishing books.  Regardless of how we may feel we need to respect one another as peers even if you don’t agree with another writer’s method of conducting business.  It is not our job as writers to put other writers on blast just because they don’t meet our subjective quality control standards.  We simply don’t vet work that we’ve never read under the guise of protecting readers from making bad purchases.  Fact of the matter is, readers are perfectly capable of separating good books from bad. 

That’s how it always has been and that’s how it always will be.  Readers are not stupid.  They can make their own choices as to who they want to read and the books they want to buy.  Let the marketplace determine whether or not a book is any good.

Speaking of which, its very unprofessional to hound a reviewer just because the rating that she gave you was lower you had hoped.  Listen, reviewers in many cases do a thankless job of reading and reviewing unknown authors in exchange for nothing more than a free book.  They are human beings giving their subjective opinion on a book.  If a reviewer gives you a less than favorable review.  Thank them for taking the time to review the book, don’t explain any perceived misinterpretation of your story, and certainly don’t send your fans to harass them.  This is not professional.  We need our reviewers to be able to feel comfortable giving their honest assessment of a book without fear of retribution.

One more thing about reviews, it is not professional to make accusations towards other authors of buying 5-star reviews just because you believe that they have too high of a number of 5-star reviews.

Don’t entertain or engage in any of this behavior because worrying about how other authors conduct their business is not going to positively impact yours.  Voicing faux concern about the quality of books or gaming the review system is neither going to build your backlist, nor put money in your pocket.  In all, unprofessional behavior is a big time vampire that accomplishes nothing.

So what is professionalism?

To put it simply, professionalism as a writer is about striving to improve your craft, making sure that you have the tools necessary to write a good books, and having the work ethic to write every day.  Its about not giving up when you feel like giving up.  Professionalism overall is about doing the right thing and not compromising your ethics to make a dollar.

So how can we as authors strive to be professionals?

Read a lot of fiction

 I know that many people say that they don’t have time to read.  Let’s face it, none of us have time for reading, so we gotta make time.  Fifteen minutes during a lunch break, a half-hour before going to bed, a quick read during our metra commute.  Fit reading in or as Stephen King says “you won’t have the tools to be writers.”

Write for at least an hour a day

Don’t wait for the eureka moment of the perfect idea falling out the sky before writing.  Park your ass in front of the computer and type.  Stephen King says that all writers should strive towards writing 2,000 words per day.  For now, just worry about fitting an hour a day in.  Don’t tell me you don’t have time, you can write 15 minutes during break, 45 minutes when you get home.  Or just break it up into four 15 minute spurts.  However you decide to do it, don’t tell me you don’t have time.  If you have time to watch Love and Hip Hop, you have an hour to write.

Submit your book to a publisher, or self-publish it

This goes back to writing an hour per day.  The more you write, the more work you’ll publish which translates to more income potential.  Why?  Because the more books you have, the more flexibility you have in running sales.  Let’s say you’re at a book fair and you have several titles.  You can offer sales like 2 for $15 or buy two, get one free, etc.  In ebook format, you can drop the price of one book to $2.99 or give it away for free to introduce people to you without giving away your entire backlist.  Writing more gives you more options.

Say please and thank you

Whenever someone reads and reviews your book, thank them.  Whenever someone recommends your book to someone else, thank them.  Whenever someone does something for you, thank them.

Network with other professionals

This is something that I need to improve upon, but look around.  Today is a great time to begin our professional relationships with one another.
As every one of you move forward in your writing endeavors, remember one thing.  BE PROFESSIONAL
Thank you

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Personal Short Story Challenge: Days 2 and 3

Yesterday and today I've been bogged down with a lot of non-writing related tasks that I absolutely had to get done.  I only wrote 221 words yesterday and 903 today, both for Til Death Do Us Part.  I hope to be able to get some more writing done on The River later tonight.  Gotta go!

Authors: Can we be too outspoken?

The title is a rhetorical question and I have no intention of delving into the matter with studies or any other data, nor will I tell you what you should do.

I'm seriously considering deactivating my facebook page.  All I end up doing is confronting ass clowns who speak as if they're the end-all, be all of publishing.  I don't like when authors disrespect other authors --directly or indirectly-- under the guise of reprimanding them for not taking a more professional approach towards writing and publishing their work.  We've seen it all before: "authors need to be more professional, author's need to hire an editor an a book cover designer, authors need to stop self-publishing..." Okay, that's enough.  Regurgitating vomit from self-appointed authorities on publishing such as other authors, book reviewers and other self-important ass clowns is pretty nauseating. 

My response to all this:

WHO GIVES A FUCK?

How is another author's arguably unprofessional approach towards writing and publishing books hurting me?  If a reader sees that shitty book with an even shittier homemade book cover they won't buy it.  That's hurting that particular author's brand and if another author wants to be known for putting out substandard work that's perfectly fine for me. This is the only industry where so-called professionals rag their peers.  I don't see Five Guys publicly insulting McDonald's for selling shitty burgers, because they're too busy selling the public $7.00 burgers that are far superior to McDonald's double cheeseburgers.

Different authors have different motivations for writing and publishing a book.  They write book as a hobby.  I write because I hope to never work a day job again unless its a rewarding opportunity that I can't refuse.  I don't knock other writers for their methods of publishing because the writers who chose to cut corners will not affect my business negatively or positively.  When it all boils down to it, its up to me to sit my ass at the computer and craft my stories.  Giving my unsolicited subjective opinion on authors' shitty publishing practices is not going to build my backlist or put any money in my pocket.  At best, putting down authors who choose not to be in my league --quality and talentwise-- only serves to distract me from building my backlist and making money.

My suggestion to other writers: focus on your own career.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Personal Short Story Challenge

I'm testing Dean Wesley Smith's theory for Making a Living Writing Short Fiction with a short story challege of my own, which I started today.  I can write 600-1500 words in an hour and since I have a lot of free time on my hands I will embark on a short story challenge in which I write 40 short stories in 40 days.  This means that I will attempt to write 40 short stories of various lengths in 40 days by writing 3-4 hours per day.  Some of these stories will become 10,000+ word novellas, I can live with that.  I know Dean Wesley Smith caused a shitstorm on a kindleboards post by suggesting that an author can write 50 quality short stories in one year.  Some dismissed it as being impossible.  Being a person who writes fast, I don't think this is impossible.  I released 5 short stories in 6 months last year and 3 so far this year after spending much of my time bullshitting procrastinating.  Now I'm going to test my discipline in participating in my challenge.

Here's my results so far:

1 hour: The River 1612 words

I pretty much bullshitted a lot of my day playing on facebook, texting and talking with friends on the phone.  I really need to close my browser out and focus on writing.  A few things I will do:

1) Spend most of my writing time at the library
2) Prohibit myself from using the internet during my writing hour

Now I must get back to work.  Hopefully, I can work on two more stories today.  If I do, I will update this blog.

Update:

1 hour: Til Death Do We Part 824 words

This story didn't flow as well as The River, but I'm satisfied with my progress.



Thursday, July 5, 2012

Writers and Book Authors: Value Your Work


When Amazon opened their retail channels to independent authors, a huge door opened.  This meant an opportunity to publish without gatekeepers, digital distribution to potential Amazon customers for all, and new money for some.  Essentially, this gave us the opportunity to start our own publishing businesses overnight.  

Unfortunately, many authors got the opportunity to start their own businesses with nary a clue in basic business principles.  That’s when a stampede of authors raced each other to hell as they stomped, crawled and shoved anything standing in the way to lower the price of their novel to 99 cents hoping to replicate John Locke’s success.  Some achieved a lot of sales, and some saw no change in their results.  

Then Amazon introduced KDP Select which allowed authors to offer their ebooks for free for a limited number of days ONLY if they agreed to unpublish their ebook from other sales channels as part of their 90-day exclusivity agreement.  Many authors signed up –including myself—and saw huge sales increases after their free promotion expired.   This was 6-7 months ago.  Fast forward to today, Amazon has changed their algorithms and we’re no longer seeing the same sales bounce coming off free promos that we saw several months ago.  Many authors are blaming the sales decline on the increase in the sheer number of free books being offered.  People are being trained to pay nothing for books they complain.

So these authors naturally pulled their books out of KDP Select, right?  

WRONG

Instead, those same authors are saying:

"Why leave select?

When B&N and Apple roll out anything that remotely compares with Select in its leveraging of their own visibility systems. Even with the topsy turvy changes in sales bumps neither of these two other distributors have anything close (Nook First but that seems more geared for new releases) then you'll have something more than just equilibrium across all platforms to compare with.
If you're already gaining sales or able to maintain them on B&N or Apple then that makes sense to get a run on Amazon and then expand out. But the argument that you can't do much worse I'd have to say, yes you could. Slow sales and low visibility spread across all platforms and not much you can do to leverage any visibility system.”
Because Amazon no longer seems to give a shit about authors in Select.  I hope I'm wrong, but if I hope in one hand and shit in the other, I think we all can figure out which will fill up faster.
“I am still getting more borrows on several of my novels than I ever got sales at B&aN and iApple so it makes me stay in, especially since I see no way of promoting on either venue. I'm open to giving them a try, but I have to have some reason to. No, Select isn't working for me as well as it once did, but it still works better than the nothing that they offer.”
I don't like massa mistreating me, but at least he lets my wife come home to me after he has his way with her.

“Now, I'm aware that Amazon has changed their algorithms since December, causing a dropoff in the post-free bounce, but I've had one title go free four times, and even with the dropoff, it's providing me with a lot more visibility and sales post-free than I would've otherwise had.”
Visibility to more hoarders and less to paying readers.

Those are only a handful of the kindleboards posts that have pretty much said “yeah, Select is losing its effectiveness, but why pull out when the other channels haven’t garnered many sales for you.
My answer:  OPPORTUNITY COST
It is my opinion that KDP Select no longer produces enough sales to justify the opportunity cost of not having your book for sale on Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iBookstore, Sony Reader bookstore, and Diesel.  Granted I only had a handful of sales in six months with the other online stores –before pulling out to satisfy Amazon KDP Select’s exclusivity agreement—the opportunity cost was those sales, and the potential for a sales increase.  This is why I enrolled in Select with the intent to re-enroll into those other retailers after the 90-days were up because the opportunity cost was high.
Of course, 90 days came and went and I re-enrolled because I was satisfied with the sales bounce.  Then April arrived and the algorithms changed.  No more sales bounce, yet I’m stuck in this program for 90 days.  I HATE EXCLUSIVITY!  Once July 24, 2012 comes around, I will be publishing my ebooks with the other online retailers.  With that said, I encourage authors to do one thing.
RESPECT YOUR WORK
There are too many authors who are unwilling to let go of KDP Select after they’ve decided not to encourage sales for their independent authors as of the date of this blog.  Instead, they continue to give more and more of their work away for free in exchange for minimal sales afterwards.  They won’t opt-out of Select because they’re still believing that they’re getting way more exposure than before.  THIS IS FEAR-BASED THINKING.  You're only getting more exposure from hoarders and freeloaders are downloading your shit without as many paying readers to back up those freeloads with paid downloads.
Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not against giving away downloads of my ebooks because freebies are part of the cost of running a business.  However, I am against giving away my shit AND being exclusive to an online retailer who won’t do their part and help me achieve a big sales increase in return for my participation.  That’s flat out fucking wrong on Amazon’s part.
Another thing…
I see too many authors pricing their work in the gutter for no other reason beyond “it worked for such and such and he says that more people buy books when they’re $2.99 or less.  Anything above $2.99 is too expensive.”  That’s fucking nonsense.  I love to write and share my stories with readers.  Nothing for me compares.  However, the royalty rates at all the retailers makes selling short stories and novels at the 99 cent price level downright criminal.  For fuck’s sake, I’d rather do a giveaway than to price my shit at 99 cents permanently.
Short stories and novellas need to be priced between 2.99 - 3.99 and novels should be priced no lower than $4.99.  
Radical?  I’ve already read the arguments on other blogs about how those price points are ripping off the readers.  That’s complete bullshit.  Traditional publishers are charging well over $10.00 for their ebooks and are seeing record profits.  Those same blogger have spelled doomsday for the big, traditional publishers for the past 5 years, yet every year they post profit gains higher than the previous year.  Plus, if a reader thinks that three bucks for a short story is a rip off, then that reader’s problems have nothing to do with my price and have everything to do with their personal circumstances.  Me charging two dollars less isn’t going to help their circumstances one bit.
But Glenn, you’ll get more sales for your short stories at 99 cents.
And more sales at 99 cents is not worth it because the royalty rate is 35% at that price point and 60% for books priced 2.99 and up on most sales channels.  Because of that, it takes 10 sales at .99 cents to equal the royalty amount for one sale at 4.99.  Pricing all my titles at 2.99 and up works for me –99 cents doesn’t.
I urge authors to increase their prices to 2.99 and up.  Selling anything at 99 cents is pointless.  The royalty is so low that you might as well give the book away.

To all my writers and book authors...

VALUE YOUR WORK

Your stories are worth more than a candy bar.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Ad-Supported Ebooks


There’s a lot of talk amongst authors about the ebook revolution and where publishing is headed.  I’ve read many blogs and participated in online discussion groups where some authors believe that print will be dead much like the cassette tape and the vcr.  Many have said that all ebooks will be free and that they forsee an ad-supported model because more and more readers are deciding that this is what they want.

My take on this…

They are absolutely wrong.  People hate ads and go through great lengths to avoid them.  This is why people buy TiVos and other devices that allow people to skip commercials.  Have you heard the news lately?  Dish network is getting sued by cable companies over the Hopper –which allows their customers to skip commercials- citing copyright infringements.  It appears that the Hopper is making a big splash in the cable service provider market because they’re giving people what they want.

Ad-supported ebooks are not what the people want.  As recent history has indicated, consumers will go through great lengths to avoid ads and ignore them altogether.  Sure, some cheapskates will indulge in free, ad-supported books as early adopters, but in the end they’ll grow pissed off with ads and avoid ad-supported ebooks like the plague by either buying non ad-supported ebooks or downloading pirated non ad-supported ebooks from torrent sites.

On the other hand, ads absolutely make sense on ereading devices as people can either sit through the 20 second ads on kindle fire-like devices and get to their book, or buy a non ad-supported device altogether.  What an ad-supported model for ebooks might end up doing is strengthening traditional publishers.  They’ll continue to publish non ad-supported books and continue to make record profits while indie authors who have no business sense will continue to self-loathe as they try to figure out ways to make money on ad-supported free.