In this final installment, I cover a few of the most destructive myths. A warning before you read further: if you’re looking for feel good affirmations, this ain’t gonna be your brand of cereal. But I’ve always believed that it’s best to go into any enterprise with your eyes wide open. God knows I’ve done a few where I didn’t, and those were always failures.
1) Write a good book and you will make decent money. Or write a lot of good books and you will make decent money. Would that it were so. Reality is that the overwhelming majority of good books, which is to say competently written-and-edited tomes, fail to sell much. That’s the harsh truth. If you dislike that fact, that’s fine. The world should be fair, but it’s not. Puppies starve or are crushed by cars or brutalized by sadists every day, good, hard working people are maimed or killed in horrible circumstances, and evil men who have never contributed anything worthwhile to the world prosper while screwing everyone else. So let’s get clear on that. The world is not only not fair, but it’s highly unfair much of the time. Never more so than in the arts.
In the old days of trad publishing, if you rubbed shoulders with the right people in a small area of New York, your odds of being published were off the charts compared to the great unwashed. One of the reasons is because of nepotism. It’s natural. People are more likely to sign you if they know you. Just the way things work. But even so, that was no guarantee you’d have much more than bragging rights. Because readers reject most books traditional publishing slings at them. Whether that’s because the trad establishment’s hopelessly out of touch with what the vast majority of readers prefer and are victims of their own inbred literary tastes, which are usually far more advanced and nuanced than yours or mine, or because nobody has the faintest idea what the public prefers (even on their best day), is debatable. If you’re reading this, it’s probably not your problem, because you’ve chosen to self-publish. Which is a double-edged sword.
Let’s assume you’ve written a good book. Hell, let’s assume it’s a frigging awesome book. I mean, Lord of the Flies-level prose, an incredibly innovative story with unexpected hooks and a message frenzied crowds can rally behind, mesmerizing mastery of craft…the whole shooting match. And let’s further assume you package it well, and have a competent editor polish it, and a proofreader catch most of the nits. You put it out there with an awesome cover and a breathtaking blurb, you do all the right things, you tweet, you facebook, you advertise, you blog, you do interviews, you go to bookstores and kiss babies and shake hands…and nothing happens. The book doesn’t move. You’ve lost a grand or two and are scratching your head, or if like me, are standing on the roof of your house, brandishing a broadsword and a tequila bottle, screaming incoherently at passers-by whilst making obscene gestures with your man thong. Meanwhile, your slow cousin who can barely cobble together three sentences makes a hundred grand from her zombie-vampire love triangle potboiler, with more typos per page than a prison menu and a plot that would make Dr. Seuss cringe.
That’s reality. Shit happens. If you’re writing because you think it’s your ticket out of whatever misery that is your daily grind, think again. It’s not a ticket to stardom. It can be, if you win the lottery, but that’s not a business. That’s playing the lottery. If you write you should do so because you love it. Not for any other reason. And you shouldn’t expect your first, or your fifth, or your tenth book, to put you into the black. Law of averages says you won’t do well. Sorry. And it’s not because you, or your writing, blows goats. Although you or it well might. It’s because life isn’t fair. So get over it already.
When I offer advice, I do so with the expectation that you can write decently. If you can’t, that’s not necessarily a deal killer, but it makes your chances far, far worse. My message is simple: working very hard and very smart can improve your terrible odds, but that’s all it can do. It’s not a magic pill, nor a recipe for success. There is no such thing. The concept that anyone has one is bullshit.
I can tell you how to operate your writing and publishing company intelligently, but you need to recognize that most well-run publishing companies fail. Just as most well-run any-kind-of-companies fail. Most start-ups don’t last. They go belly up. Even those with the smartest people and shiniest wow products. That’s just how it works. Don’t start a company if you’re uncomfortable with that idea. Own it, internalize it, and if you’re okay with it, then plot how to be the exception. Because being one of the majority means you won’t make it. Harsh? Yes. But that’s life.
As I write this, I realize that this topic deserves more examination than a few paragraphs. So forget the rest of the myths I was going to cover today. Let’s focus on this one.
It’s a depressing business. There’s no certainty to any of it. You dance at the king’s pleasure, and there’s no reason to it – it seems completely random…and yes, unfair. Most authors I talk to don’t like hearing that, or think that somehow, they’re the exception. Only they aren’t. Everyone thinks they’re the exception. Every. Single. Person. They’re right and they’re wrong. We’re all special snowflakes, but the world doesn’t really give a crap. So what to do?
I’m a big proponent of choosing a genre that can support you, which means one that’s popular, and sticking to it (with the caveat that if it doesn’t meet your expectations after a massive, concentrated effort, pay attention to the result you’re getting, and switch to something with better odds). I’m also big on publishing regularly, meaning every three or four months (more often if possible) if you intend to make this your living. I’m huge on pro editing and covers and proofreading. I consider your cover and your blurb essential to success. But those are the basics. Important basics, but still, building blocks.
They will narrow your long odds because most authors simply don’t do what they should to make themselves successful. Understanding that is an advantage. It means you already know more than 90% of those who will publish on Amazon this year. If you do everything right, that will make you the 10% that has a chance.
But still, it’s not a lock. By any stretch of the imagination. Get clear on that. In all businesses, this included, you can do everything absolutely, spectacularly right, and go nowhere. Because God hates you. Or because the world’s unfair. Or because you’re not good enough. Or were born under a dark star. Or didn’t get breast fed enough as a child. Pick your reason. It doesn’t matter what your reason is, as long as you recognize that in ALL industries, most businesses do not succeed.
Nobody’s holding a gun to your head, forcing you to write. It breaks my heart when I correspond with authors for whom writing is their last chance – they have no money, no prospects, their life has hit bottom, and their hope is that their book will pull them out of the swamp.
It doesn’t work that way. It can, but it’s as rare as flipping a coin and having it land on its side. Mostly, those are people whose dreams will be crushed by a cold uncaring world. Is that fair? No. Go back and reread my words about life not being fair.
I wish I could tell you how to avoid being that person. I wish there were a formula. What I’ve come up with I share openly: Pick a genre you love and that’s large enough to support you, stick to it, write a lot of seriously good books, focus on improving your grasp of craft each time you sit down to write, make each book your best ever (meaning respect your reader above all else), package and quality control your books like the pros do, market intelligently, and spend massive amounts of time and energy working smarter than everyone else. And above all, be extremely realistic about everything. Some might say, cynical. I’d say pragmatic. Don’t allow your mind to be your worst enemy. Understand you’ve taken on a difficult challenge. Eschew those who cheerlead and cajole – that won’t do you any good. Be your own motivation. Don’t rely on others. Develop a relentless drive to succeed at this, don’t take no for an answer, and build a self-perpetuating engine of achievement and determination. Make yourself essential and relevant. Don’t have an attitude, just focus on backing your mouth with product that delivers. Or have an attitude. Whatever. In the end it won’t matter. The important part is to recognize that your job, should you decide to take it, is to be one of the exceptions, and that to do so is damned hard.
Now that you want to put your head in the oven, let’s look at the positives. Right now, your odds of making decent money, even good money, are better than at any time in the history of publishing. More authors are making five and six figures self-publishing than ever. It’s happening every minute. It’s not an illusion. Every day new names appear on the bestseller lists, but perhaps more importantly, every day more authors are appearing with four, six, ten books in the #1000-#15,000 ranks, which collectively, add up to a nice living. It can be done. And you can do it. Someone has to. Why not you?
I counsel tough love. My inner dialogue isn’t particularly fluffy or fun. I’m hard-nosed as they come when I put my business hat on. I don’t bullshit myself into performance. I sit down, get clear on how hard it is to do whatever I’m thinking about doing, determine what I’ll need to do to succeed, ask myself honestly whether I’m willing to do what it takes, and if so, I spend some serious time researching how to devise a plan that will make me the exception. I’ve done that in a number of different fields. It works more often that it doesn’t. It’s not a magic bullet, but it narrows your odds.
Can you do this part time and make it? Sure you can. So can someone who starts any business part time. Just recognize that your odds of making it are lower than if you did it full time. Duh. Put in 80 hours a week, you might get better results than 10. Big surprise. Can you put in 10 or 20 and still do well? Sure. Again, anything’s possible. But you have to be unable to grasp basic business concepts if you think your odds will be the same. If they were, nobody would put in the 80. They’d all put in the 10, because their odds are identical. Figure it out.
Self-publishing is two jobs, not one. It’s the job of being an author, and hopefully a constantly improving one who’s concerned with mastering an essentially un-masterable craft, and it’s the job of being a publisher, which is a production, marketing and distribution engine. Two separate jobs. Both requiring an investment in time and energy.
I get a lot of emails. I talk to a lot of authors who are making decent to great money at self-publishing. They all work their asses off. Every. Single. One. They all publish regularly, are hyper-aware of the changing landscape of the marketplace, invest money in their business, and are constantly trying to improve their product. And they all love what they do, and are passionate about it. They’d be doing it if they were making a tenth what they make. Because it’s what they do.
What’s my point? That self-publishing is both exciting in its possibilities and daunting in its requirements. And that very few businesses succeed, whether it’s a new shoe shop, or a convenience store, or a restaurant, or a software start-up…or a publishing company. But it’s more possible now to succeed than at any point in the past. I’m living proof. Authors like Bella Andre (who I’ll be featuring this month on an Author Spotlight), Holly Ward, Melissa Foster, Barbara Freethy, Hugh Howey, LT Ryan, CJ Lyons, Jay Allen, Saxon Andrew, Joe Nobody, BV Larson, Colleen Hoover, and on and on and on, are doing it every day, and making bank. They’re all exceptions. Every single one. Not one chose the same path. Not one did exactly the same thing. They all made their own way, in their own way.
The good news is there’s plenty of room for more. The question is not whether there will be more, the question is whether you will be one of them, and what your plan is to get there.
Now I’m going back to writing my next one. JET – Ops Files is in the bag and will release in a week, and it’s a barn burner of a prequel to the JET series. My co-authored action/adventure novel with Clive Cussler is already in the top 1000 as a pre-order, five months before release. Sales are good, more readers seem to like me than hate me, and I’m enjoying the hell out of writing for a living. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Jason Gurley. Write the name down. A talented cover designer with a distinctive look.
He retooled the Upon A Pale Horse cover, and just finished a new look for my JET series, which is now a year and a half old.
I wanted something different, but a step above. More polished.
NEWS: BLACK is now available in audiobook format, and I have to say, the narrator, RC Bray, frigging nailed it! Listen to the sample and tell me that’s not noir, baby, noir!
To get the effect I wanted, I hired a photographer and a model. Once we had a suitable number of shots, Jason went to work.
I’m thrilled with the new look. Absolutely stoked. Now I can’t wait to see the rest done.
Jason came to my attention after doing Hugh Howey’s covers. I loved the vibe of those, and was glad when Jason agreed to sully his reputation with the likes of me.
Without further ado, here it is, going live on April 22, and currently available for pre-order: JET- Ops Files (which kicks major action ass, BTW, but that’s not the point of this blog, although I’m certainly willing to talk about it for hours).
Last week I covered the top 8 most insidious falsehoods I’ve heard about being a self-pubbed author. This week I continue my rant and tackle a few more:
9) We are artists, above the vagaries of commerce and filthy lucre. Sure we are. Until we want to make money by selling our work. At that point we’re in the book selling business, which is a commercial enterprise involving the production and sale of books. In the case of self-publishers, of books we have written. Our author selves may well be artists, but if you want to avoid being a starving one you need to develop the skills of a publisher, not an author. They are different. You need both.
NEWS: My co-authored novel w/ the one and only Clive Cussler, The Eye of Heaven, is now available for pre-order!
NEWS: This is kind of fun. My deal with Amazon Crossing has issued forth a German edition of King of Swords!
At the risk of being obvious, if you want to make good decisions for your book selling business, ask yourself the questions you’re grappling with as though you were deciding on selling and packaging other people’s books. That removes you as the author from your publishing business decisions. Which is as it should be. If you wouldn’t sink a grand into packaging someone else’s book on making bass lures out of Coke cans, you probably shouldn’t be doing it for your own, either. Or put really simply, if something looks like dead money, don’t waste your, or your readers’, time, regardless of who wrote it.
If you don’t want to, or can’t, develop those skills, start querying agents, because you won’t have a good self-publishing experience. Uploading your screed on Amazon does not a viable self-publisher make, any more than printing a thousand books and having them in your garage will make you a successful traditional publisher.
10) Your muse cannot be forced to dance. Of course it can. If you were a writer on 24 or CSI or SNL you’d be expected to perform every week or you’d be out of a job. Most who work hard enough to get those gigs don’t want to lose ‘em, so they perform. Whether they feel like it or not. Whether they’re particularly inspired or not. The notion that you need to wait for your muse to decide to infuse you with story is fine if your books sell 10 million and you can afford to wait 4 or 5 years between each one. If that’s not you, you need to develop two things: a work ethic, and a system to inspire yourself.
One technique I use is to ask myself how I can make this book, or this chapter, the best I’ve ever written. You get completely different answers depending upon what questions you ask yourself. “How can I consistently write 5K a day and enjoy it?” will get you a different answer than “How am I ever going to do this?” If you’re stuck, ask better questions.
11) Everyone’s got a book in them. Maybe, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good one. Given that most people are by definition average, most people’s books will also be average, which is to say, mediocre or middling. Yours too. If you want to be above average, you need an edge. Talent helps. But working hard to develop your grasp of craft will result in a far better result than relying on talent alone. Which means if you want to be a writer people are willing to pay to read (be they agents/publishers, or readers), you need to learn the basics of your craft: grammar, spelling, story structure, vocabulary. Far too many sit down and start writing believing they’ve been blessed with unique properties that will enable them to write books people want to read without having done much, or any, of the work to become competent at what they’re doing. Guess what the odds are that turns out well? The same as everyone else’s. Or actually, far worse, because even if 99% of all books fail to find an audience, that includes a boatload of competently executed books. If you don’t know how to write, your odds are way worse than that blended average.
If you want to make your book exceptional, expect to have to work at becoming an exceptional story teller and writer. In my experience that doesn’t happen by clicking your heels together and wishing it were so. It requires effort. A lot of it. Which means you need to study how to write a good book and learn about things like echoes (repeated words), how to vary sentence structure, how to avoid things like head hopping, etc. etc. – unless you have a miraculous gift that’s one in ten million. In other words, expect to have to spend time learning your craft.
I get told I’m a big meanie for saying this. But if I were a piano teacher, I wouldn’t be considered mean if I told students they needed to spend a lot of time and energy getting good enough to be paid to perform. If I were teaching ballet and I told aspiring ballerinas they could expect to spend years before they’d be even close to competent, I wouldn’t be labeled mean. If I taught cooking, I wouldn’t be a buzz kill if I told aspirants they’d need to spend years learning the ropes. Even if you wanted to do something as workmanlike as being a cosmetologist or a plumber you’d expect to spend a while learning which end of the scissors or wrench to hold, and yet many hopeful authors’ plan amounts to, “I’ll just write a book and see how it does.” Or worse yet, “I’ll write a book and it should do well, on account of how special I am.” Here’s the newsflash: nothing worth doing’s ever easy. This, especially. If you think this is going to be easy, you came to the wrong dance.
12) I’m too busy to read. Who’s got the time? This one kills me. How in the hell do you expect to be a good writer if you don’t read a lot of good books? Intuition? Divine guidance? Magic? It’s like saying you plan to be a movie director, but don’t have time to watch and study films. Then how do you know anything about that which you are planning to do? Look, I understand we’re living in an instant gratification world where, if we can imagine it, we feel entitled to it, but that isn’t how this works. In order to master something, you need to do a lot of it (practice) and you need to model successful examples (reading/studying writing). Reading a lot is how you do the latter. There’s no way your writing’s going to be very good if you don’t read a lot. Sorry. Make time for it or find some other pipe dream where you don’t have to work to master it.
13) So-and-so hit big without marketing/with their first book/is illiterate/sucks. Sure. Anything at all’s possible, and you could be the one in a gazillion. But the odds are better that you won’t wake up tomorrow, or will be killed by a crocodile or a falling coconut. Or paralyzed on the way to work. Singling out the exceptions that defy explanation is a fun game, but it’s not particularly useful unless you can reproduce that success, which you won’t be able to do. Because you aren’t them, in the same time, place, market, with the identical set of circumstances, experiences or contacts. Sorry. You aren’t. So pointing to no-talent hacks whose books sold big, while amusing, doesn’t mean your business plan should amount to “be a no-talent hack, too.” Pointing to books that defy all odds and are breakouts is a great pastime, but if it doesn’t enable you to predict the next breakout, it’s useless. Whenever I hear a variation of this, I shake my head because I know I’m hearing a rationalization for failure.
14) I don’t have time/energy/money/whatever to do this right. Fair enough. Nobody’s holding a gun to your head. But as I’m fond of saying, don’t expect full-time rewards from part-time effort. Figure out what the average part-time, unskilled or marginally skilled job pays, and that’s what your expectation should be based upon if you haven’t invested a ton of time mastering your craft (the skilled part) and can only allocate a few hours here and there (the part-time bit) executing.
This one always pisses people off. “But that’s not necessarily true!” If not, why, exactly, not? In what world does putting in time “whenever you can” translate into a successful career at anything (and please don’t point to #13 – some outlier who was a lightning strike)? That’s not to run down those who don’t write full time. I can completely sympathize. For years I wrote whenever I could, practicing, learning my craft, while I did other things. But I didn’t expect to make full time money at it. I didn’t think it was good enough for people to pay to read. I may be many things, but delusional in that regard isn’t one of them. My expectations were reasonable: I expected to get better over time, and maybe get good enough to write for a living, or at least to be proud of what I generated as being worth readers’ money.
That’s just on the writing side. If you intend to query, you better make damned sure your work is frigging brilliant or you’ll spend forever getting rejected. You can spend years getting that one book just right, so that approach can accommodate a part-time schedule. But if you want to be a vocational self-publisher, you also have the full-time job of being the publisher in addition to being the writer. That’s a ton of responsibility and two full-time jobs you’ll be doing only part-time. So what’s your expectation?
I think the biggest killer in this business is having unreasonable expectations. They’re a recipe for disappointment. So many seem to believe that they can put something up on Amazon, after having practiced little or not at all learning their craft, and having invested nothing in editing, packaging, etc., and yet somehow do well. It’s akin to announcing oneself to be a master chef, after having spent a lifetime microwaving TV dinners and dining on fast food, and expecting folks to line up for your culinary masterpieces when you have little idea how to boil water. Not even in the movies does this turn out well. Be honest with yourself. Figure out what it will take to achieve your dreams, and then get ready for some serious sacrifice and work. Maybe you’ll get lucky and be the next EL James, but odds say not so much. Get clear on what a reasonable expectation is, then devise a plan to achieve it.
15) I’m good. I can self-edit. Why throw money away? I can’t tell you how often I hear this one. Usually from novices who grossly overestimate their own competence. Their logic goes, hey, I know how to write, so I’m qualified to edit my own stuff. No, darlin’, you special snowflake, you aren’t. For instance, you might understand the basics of grammar, and then use the same word six times in three sentences while approving stilted dialogue that sounds idiotic and wooden. Or you may simply not know you’re getting half of it wrong, in which case you’ll also fail to see your deficiencies on the editing pass. Or you may be blind to lazy habits like repeating yourself every few pages, or belaboring plot points, or you might have pacing or plotting issues, or myriad other sins you don’t know are problems. To put it into perspective, in many of the arts, coaching is ongoing, be it music, or dance, or acting. But for some reason, many beginning authors believe it’s unnecessary, to their career’s detriment.
It’s possible you’ve been an editor for a decade or three, in which case you can ignore this (although even the editors I know who write use editors for their work). If not, read on.
Worse of all, and this probably isn’t you if you read my blog regularly, are the authors who say “but I don’t have the money to hire an editor.” Ah. But you have a cell phone and cable TV and manage to fork enough into your pie hole to pack on a few extra. So it’s not that you don’t have it, it’s that you either are unwilling to sacrifice and save it, or won’t. To me that’s disdainful of your readers, and is a recipe for disaster, and speaks volume about your commitment to turning out a good product.
I can honestly say that 99+% of serious authors I’ve met appreciate and understand why professional editing matters. Those that argue against it invariably are trying to figure out how to produce the cheapest product, not a quality one. And they will also be the loudest to howl over all the “unfair” and “mean” reviews as their sales stall to nothing. I’ve gotten to the point where I rarely try to argue this anymore. If you think you’re the exception and possess the editing chops of someone with decades of germane experience, or your girlfriend or buddy or second cousin says they can edit your work and you believe that’s equivalent to hiring a seasoned pro, and saving those few hundred bucks are representative of your approach to this highly competitive business, knock yourself out.
That’s my slice of reality from the ink trenches this week. If you disagree, or think I’m a party pooper, that’s your right. I get paid exactly the same for being right as being wrong on this blog. It’s your career, not mine, and I’m just trying to share what I’ve learned along the way. Take it all for what it’s worth.
I hear ‘em all the time in chat groups and forums, and they drive me nuts. Author myths. Beliefs that are just not true, and yet continue to circulate like literary fool’s gold, luring newbies and veterans alike into a kind of idiotic somnambulism.
I’m here to disabuse folks of a few in an ongoing series of blogs. Here, in no particular order, are several doozies that I believe are responsible for more author misery than VD, divorce lawyers, and taxes combined.
1) Books Sell Themselves. No, sweetie, they don’t, at all, and never did. That’s why trad pubs spend massively on promotions. Because they know that visibility sells books, not invisible cosmic forces or author brilliance. It’s a highly competitive market with millions of choices, and it’s a retail market, and in retail, visibility is key. Which means constant promotion. Which most authors hate. But it’s reality, so get used to the idea. A companion to this aphorism is the next one…
2) Just write the next one. Sure, if you want to have two undiscovered gems instead of one. Look, writing the next one’s important, but not if it’s used to justify not promoting the last one, which is often the case. You have to both market the last one AND write the next one. Sorry. You do.
3) It’s all about luck. Well, perhaps some of it is. Maybe even much of it is. But so’s everything. You drive to the market, and 30 seconds after you pass the intersection some dumbass crashes into the car behind you. Luck. A hundred people start restaurants in town and two do well while the rest fail. Luck. A mugger attacks you after a movie. Luck. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. The book biz is no more or less random and chaotic than life, and yet some folks seem to consistently do better than others. I believe you need to work very hard, prepare, and be persistent, thereby creating some of your own luck. As an example, it’s possible you always wear your seat belt and the other driver didn’t today. In that case, bad luck becomes disastrous due to a simple lack of preparation. Or in the case of the restaurants, perhaps the ones that prospered had owners that worked 18 hour days and were talented chefs, and further, were savvy and inventive about getting people to try their cuisine. Preparation, persistence, hard work combine in that case to drag Lady Luck in their direction. With the mugger, maybe you have pepper spray or spent years on martial arts or have a concealed carry. Your preparation is the mugger’s bad luck.
Luck may be a factor, but in my experience it’s only one factor, and that perspective of it all being all about luck breeds apathy.
4) Do everything right and you’ll make it. Huh. If that were so, every book put out by big pubs would do well. The vast majority don’t. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to do everything right, unless you want to worsen your already slim odds rather than improving them.
5) The best you can do should suffice. Mmm, not so much. This is a popular refrain from those destined for obscurity. In a highly competitive business you need every possible edge. Which means, in this one, your cover, your blurb, your concept, your writing, your formatting, and your marketing need to be top shelf, not as good as you can manage given all your issues. Nobody cares about why you can’t produce a product that’s great. Your job is to produce it. Cheap out or try to do it yourself (unless you’re one in a million and not only a brilliant author but also a brilliant, experienced cover designer, editor, formatter, etc.) and you just radically worsened your odds. Why would anyone buy something sub-par? Would you buy a sub-par car, or house, or phone, or anything, because the company producing it found it too hard or expensive or time-consuming to do it right? No. And neither will readers. At least not for long.
6) Do this and you’ll succeed. Whatever. No you won’t. Or rather, not necessarily. No more than practicing your basketball skills will get everyone into the NBA. Millions play every year, tens of thousands are good, many thousands are excellent, and yet only a handful make the cut. There’s no guaranteed formula, just ways to improve your odds. But fail to develop good work habits, don’t refine and improve your craft, don’t learn everything you can about the biz and put it to use, don’t turn out a polished product…well, your chances just got far worse.
7) The secret is X. Nope. There is no secret. The book business is, as are all businesses, a business of exceptions. Exceptions because most don’t succeed. So you need to figure out how to be one of the exceptions. That’s really tough. Almost impossible. It usually involves a ton of effort, sacrifice, and risk that’s commensurate with the reward. Beyond some general guidelines and common sense principles, nobody has the secret – and snake oil salesmen abound.
Nobody can tell you how to be an exception. You have to figure it out. Part of the job.
8) It’s all hopeless. Yes, it is. Or rather, it can seem that way. But every year some make it. Every week there are new names on the lists. It may seem hopeless at first blush, but the only truth is that every day someone beats the odds and has a win. That’s exciting as hell to me, just as it was when I first started at this 33 months ago. Put another way, it’s only hopeless when you give up hope.
There are far more of these destructive myths, and I’ll do another eight when I can. I had a fender bender the other day and due to a freak accident, my hand’s now in a cast for seven weeks (apparently if you wear a big watch, like nearly 50mm, if your hand hits the steering wheel just right, even going slow, the watch can transform into a blade and snap your metacarpals near your wrist, which my TW Steel did in two places – just put your hand up like you’re signalling stop, and imagine a disk the size of a silver dollar strapped tight to your wrist, and you’ll quickly get the idea).
If anyone wants a deal on a big watch, you know how to reach me…
Oh, and in some super cool news, I’ll be featuring two remarkable talents this season on my Author Spotlights: Bella Andre and H.M. Ward. They don’t get much bigger than that, and it should be fascinating to get a glimpse into their processes. Stay tuned. If anyone has specific questions for either, email me through this site.
Now back to editing my WIP one-handed. The fun never ends.
Yes, it’s time for another installment in the popular BLACK series. As of 1 a.m., March 24, BLACK to Reality, wherein our hangdog hero joins the cast of a reality TV show in order to stave off financial ruin (as well as to investigate dirty deeds, of course), goes live.
This is the fourth book in the series, and likely the last for a bit, as I have other fish to fry. I’m finishing up the polish on JET – Ops Files, which explores her past before becoming a member of the Mossad’s special team, taking her from the West Bank to Tel Aviv to Rome to Indonesia. It moves like a freight train, and was such fun to pen I’ll probably do one more covering her time from when she joined the team that awarded her the code name Jet. Maybe next year.
In other news, I see that the novel I co-authored with Clive Cussler, The Eye of Heaven, is now out in pre-order, with an official release date of Sept 2. That’s pretty cool, to see my name next to Clive’s. I mean, talk about a “Whoa” moment in your literary career. That’s it for me. I can die now. Hopefully it will sell a ton and we’ll do another one. You never know. The ranking for a novel six months out ain’t bad, so the future looks bright, in that he hasn’t blocked my number. Yet. Give it time.
Can’t really talk about it, but there are three or four interested parties sniffing around JET for the talkies. Not Ridley Scott, but pretty damned big nonetheless, as in you’d know their franchises with one or two words. Although Ridley. Call. I’m so over the stalking thing. Really.
Amazon featured BLACK as one of their Big Deal books all last week, for which I’m extremely grateful. Shifted a ton of copies. Hats off to the all-powerful Zon!
That’s it from my end. Oh, except that the photo sessions for the JET and Assassin series are done, and the preliminary shots are frigging awesome. Throw Jason Gurley into the mix, and what do you want to bet it’ll be a brave new world for the little books that could?
And finally, if you haven’t gotten tired of by BS yet, I did a podcast interview with Simon Whistler on RockingSelfPublishing.com that explains why I’m such a dick about separating business from pleasure/art. Although he edited out all the profanity. Party pooper. I’m surprised he was left with three coherent sentences. And not all that coherent at that.
The bundle to end all bundles!!!
Well, okay, perhaps not, but it is a pretty amazing deal.
NEWS: There’s a new podcast interview on my approach to the book business, with Simon Whistler, at RockingSelfPublishing.com. Worth a listen…
The last bundle I organized, 9 Killer Thrillers, sold over 160,000 units since it went live. But was I satisfied? Did I rest on my fleshy, tequila soaked laurels? No. Perish the thought.
So what did I do? Create 9 More Killer Thrillers, another bundle with most of the same authors, including NY Times and USA Today bestsellers. The price? .99. That’s right, nine more full length novels for only .99.
And these aren’t barely coherent screeds by names you’ve never heard of. I mean, other than mine, of course. No, the authors are all top sellers, and the average ranking runs from 4.3 to 4.8 stars!
I know, you’re thinking, how is he going to pay for his tequila with a bundle priced like that? The answer, of course, is volume. Thanks for caring. Really. But I have to sell a boatload, and I mean a frigging ton of these, to buy anything decent, like a pony or a new liver, so step up and break out your buck.
The bundle goes on sale the morning of March 17, but it’s available for preorder on Amazon, iTunes, and B&N, for the impatient. It’s probably better to wait until Monday if you’re going to pick it up, so your purchase factors into the sales ranking, but either way, hey, it’s a hell of a deal, and an over $40 value if purchased separately. So it’s really like if you don’t buy it, you’re the guy who just stepped over two twenty dollar bills and didn’t pick them up. Don’t be an ass clown. Don’t be that guy.
I swore I’d never do another bundle after I did the first one, but as all my exes have learned, my word can’t be trusted, and with sales of the original one still huge, it seemed a shame for the party to end.
In other news, BLACK To Reality will release on March 24, and I’m just finishing up with the new JET prequel, titled JET – Ops Files, which will release April 22. I’m very excited about it, because not only does the book move like a freight train, but I’ve hired a model for the cover, who will be gracing all the JET covers in a makeover that will be revealed…whenever all the covers are done! And I hired Jason Gurley, who is sh#t hot, to do the new ones, about which I’m totally stoked.
Next weekend I start JET – Sanctuary, which picks up where JET VI left off, so look for that end of May, with an Assassin novel slated for September or earlier, and JET VIII around Xmas. And possibly a surprise new series in September as well coinciding with my co-authored novel with Clive Cussler, The Eye of Heaven, which releases then (and is already moving well as a preorder six months ahead of release), in addition to my new collaborative romance novels with Melissa Foster, which are also slotted for Fall.
So it looks to be a full year for me. Which should come as no surprise. But next year I swear I’m totally slowing down, and I mean it. I’ll have 30 books out by Xmas, with another three or four romance under the RE Blake moniker, so the problem won’t be too few Blake books to read.
In the meantime, scoop up the bundle. You’ll be glad you did. Can’t beat the price with a stick.
Mark Coker of Smashwords wrote a provocative blog about the future of indie publishing, in which he predicts that indies will have 50% market share within six more years.
I disagree. I posted a long comment as to why I disagree on his blog, but I wanted to summarize my thoughts and explain them a bit more than I could in 4073 characters.
NEWS: Wow! JET has been selected as one of the featured novels on Authoreads this month! Check it out.
First of all, the folks who buy my books are a different market than the ebook segment the trad publishers market to. They focus on the guy who buys a book every month, at most, when he’s getting on a plane, going on vacation, or looking for something to read a few pages of every night. Why? Because that guy doesn’t have a lot of time, doesn’t really read a lot, and most importantly, isn’t price sensitive, so he’ll buy a book for $15 and not care too much. And he’ll likely buy a book by an author whose name he recognizes: a brand author, so to speak, like a Cussler or King or Grisham. They love that guy, because he’ll pay whatever it costs, and they’ll sell many millions of whatever that brand’s latest offering is. All good. Especially in airports, but once he gets a kindle for his birthday, he’ll go online and look for the same names. Big win for the publishers and the big names. Everyone makes bank.
The people who buy my books, and those of other indies, are largely big volume readers, meaning they burn through five to ten times more books than the trad publisher’s target market. Trad publishers don’t target that reader, except in romance and NA (hot genres), because their fixed costs and overhead make targeting what is a price-sensitive market a lousy return on investment.
They also don’t target him because they don’t want to become what they perceive as pulp mills, like the publishers of old, like Pocket Books, who did service that market, just as indies service it now: with product that’s economically priced. Rather, they want to continue selling $15 ebooks if at all possible. I don’t blame ‘em.
Their model is one that looks for blockbusters and attempts to figure out what the next fad book will be – that book every year everybody has to read because everyone else is reading it. Which brings us to the other type of reader: the very occasional, who might read one book a year – that fad book. Trad pub loves that reader, too, because he also isn’t price sensitive. Everyone’s reading the book, so if it costs $15, whatever.
Back to Mark’s blog. Why do I think he’s wrong?
Because the occasional reader’s not likely to become a high volume one given his time constraints and habits, and the one-a-year guy isn’t either. Which means the overall market for indies has a natural ceiling, of sorts, unless the high volume readership grows significantly. I guess I just don’t see that happening. Where will all those readers come from? Non-readers? Mmm, no. Which leaves us with either the occasional guy, or the one-a-year, becoming a high volume reader – neither of which I see as likely.
There’s an exception here, which is romance – if I were a trad pub in the romance game, I’d be crapping my drawers, because that crowd’s a volume crowd, and it will naturally gravitate to lower priced offerings – why do you think so many of the huge sellers on the Top 100 are romances priced between .99 and $2.99? So we might see even more growth in the indie slice of the pie in that segment, but probably not in the others, beyond the next couple of years, when my gut says things will plateau.
So what does that leave us with, as indies? A great business. An interstitial opportunity to be the equivalent of Pocket Books to our volume audience. That audience will reward quality at an economical price, which is where we can shine.
If you notice, my business model is one featuring a large number of titles, all high quality, none of which sell huge. Last year JET was my big mover, this year, who knows? My hunch is that it will continue to be a big seller (as I release three more JET tomes this year – I’m working on the prequel, JET – Ops Files, as we speak, for release in April), but BLACK is also turning respectable numbers, and with BLACK 4, it could be a surprise for the season. I’m planning to put the series into KDP Select in a week or two to see whether that kicks it in the pants. Because you always have to keep mixing it up and experimenting. Other surprises for Q1 are Fatal Exchange and Upon A Pale Horse, both of which are selling nicely now that they’ve gotten new covers.
But back to my point. What’s exciting to me is that, whoever’s right, the opportunity for indies is huge, and growing. We may quibble over how large it will get, but to me that’s immaterial. It’s big enough.
There will be a lot more competition in that volume market moving forward, but hey, no market stays static, and you have to roll with the punches.
I disagree with blogs predicting the death of the trad pubs. I don’t think they’re going anywhere. I think they’ll continue to do fine, because the occasional reader isn’t going anywhere, so their bread and butter isn’t, either. I also believe they’ll scout the promising indies who are selling tonnage, and scoop those they can up, as they look for the next generation of names they can build into tomorrow’s big brands. Whether that works is questionable, because most of the big money’s being made in the one market that’s the most price sensitive: romance, and its cousin, NA. And romance authors tend to be a savvy bunch, so few that are making real money are likely to want to trade their million dollar a year income for a $500K advance, spread out over three years, with 15% going to their agent. Not even a million dollar advance would do it – that’s what they’re already making, per year. So that’s a tough sell for the publishers, who traditionally rely on non-economic arguments (prestige, etc.), to entice talent. Most romance authors are pragmatic, and so use their calculator, not their ego, when evaluating a deal.
But that’s neither here nor there. The opportunity is in understanding what we are, and who we service, and what motivates their buying decision. For our segment, it’s price/quality that creates the value, whereas for the trad pub ideal customer, it’s brand/quality, with little emphasis on price. Two. Different. Markets.
To me, this is exciting stuff, because it spells opportunity. Nimbler competitors can create nice cottage industries in the gaps the big boys miss. Sure, occasionally a Hugh will break out, but he, much as I love him, is a singularity. An exception in an industry of exceptions, a big winner. Most of us won’t be Hugh. We can’t be. It’s nice to dream, but reality suggests it ain’t going to happen. But what we can be is an emerging middle class that his numbers hint at. A middle class that makes a nice living servicing a market that’s been left behind.
My prediction of the future looks different than Mark’s, but it’s not a glum one. It’s one where smart, hard-working indies make comfortable livings selling their books to the volume readers, and enjoy the process. Sure, there’s always the chance one of us breaks big, but the point is that we don’t have to in order to have nice, satisfied, creatively-fulfilled lives doing what we love. Trust me, I’ve made good money doing things I didn’t love, and this is way better.
That should excite everyone, because, while we’d all like to be among the elite, being part of a prosperous middle class is a hell of an alternative to sitting in a slush pile for eons while working at Starbucks, which was the alternative until just a few short years ago.
I’ll take it as a win.
Now back to writing the JET prequel. Be nice to each other, and feel free to chime in about any or all of this stuff.
A friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer last week. He’s 40 years old, and an author, and went full time about six months ago.
His blog on his diagnosis can be read here. It’s not what you think – it’s irreverent, heartwarming, and poignant.
NEWS: 9 More Killer Thrillers bundle is available for preorder now! Woohoo! 9 full length novels from 9 bestselling authors for .99 – WTF!!!
MORE NEWS: BLACK To Reality, the fourth installment in my BLACK noir detective series, is now available for preorder!
His name is Brandon Hale and he writes the popular Day Soldiers series, which feature a world where the undead walk the earth, battled by a group of young men and women with extraordinary stamina and courage.
Two things Brandon is going to need throughout the coming ordeal.
The other thing he’s going to need is money. He has a young wife who has her own challenges, and God knows being an author doesn’t pay particularly well. And there’s no health plan. No retirement plan. He’s a young man in the prime of life who just began pursuing his dream, fighting tooth and nail to make it in a very, very tough business. And he did it. He isn’t getting rich, but he was able to quit his crappy job and write for a living – something we all aspire to. Hat’s off to him for making that leap. And now he’s got another tough challenge ahead of him. One that I’m asking you to read about, and if so inclined, to help support.
To find out more about Brandon’s situation, here are two blogs that best summarize it: One on what getting this sort of devastating diagnosis has taught him, and the other on gratitude, and what will be required moving forward.
If you want to support his cause, as I and quite a few of my author friends have, click here.
You never know what life’s going to throw at you. Sometimes it’s all curve balls and sliders, and the only thing you can do is stand your ground and wait for something worth swinging at. What I have learned, though, is that we are at our best as humans when we’re giving, not taking. A lesson too few seem to understand these days.
My mom used to be fond of an expression that comes to mind: “There but for the grace of God go I.” Exactly. We are all cast from the same clay, and it could just as easily be any one of us. So act as you’d want to be treated if I was writing about you.
If you’re so inclined, please share this blog and encourage folks to help out. I’ve never written a blog like this before, nor shall I again. This will be the only one, and I hope that impresses upon my readership how important I feel this is.
Thanks for taking the time to read it.
Anyone that knows me knows I’m not a bleeding heart. I’m not a tree hugger. I’m certainly no vegetarian.
I do love animals. Guilty as charged. They’re often better than many humans I’ve had the misfortune of running across.
I can’t tell you how upset I am after watching the following video and reading the expose. I have to warn you it’s shocking, sickening, and shows the most disturbing acts of torture I’ve ever witnessed.
I try not to use my blog as a platform to advance agendas. That’s not why people come here.
But I feel like if I keep my mouth shut on this, I’m part of the problem. And I refuse to be part of this particular problem, even though I don’t live in the U.S.
People, read this report and watch the video. It broke my heart. Hours after viewing it I still feel like some essential part of my soul was violated. I’ve also sworn off eating pork anymore. I can’t do it. What kind of human being would I be, what sort of hypocrite, if I could? I’m not saying you should take the same action. I don’t try to dictate what people should or shouldn’t do. I’m simply telling everyone the steps I’m taking.
The events in this video are heartbreaking because this is happening in a nation that prides itself on being better. On being more advanced than the savage places it routinely vilifies. We’re somehow superior, because we have a moral barometer, a conscience.
No, what we have are special interests that keep their dirty laundry hidden, and politicians that accept blood money to enable them to hide from the average person the atrocities that are perpetrated every day.
I write conspiracy thrillers. Oftentimes they feature schemes where corporate interests work with governments to abuse and hurt. I wish I could say they were based in fiction. Truth is that I don’t need to invent – I just need to tame down reality so people will believe, because often, they don’t want to understand the world they live in. I try not to preach, but rather to inform. Unfortunately, most don’t want to know the horrors that take place. Because it’s uncomfortable for them. It might require that they do something, or inconvenience themselves, and that requires effort.
Note that I don’t have a solution other than to lock people like these up, or better yet, treat them in exactly the same manner that they treat animals. I could go to my grave with a clear conscience signing off on that. Wouldn’t lose a minute of sleep. These are sociopaths, and the world would be better without them. Plain and simple. More disturbing is that these are sociopaths who live in a corporate culture of torture and violence being not only acceptable, but mandatory.
You may not believe in concepts like good and evil, right and wrong. It’s hip to be apathetic and lacking of a moral barometer. But I can say absolutely that if these peoples’ acts aren’t evil, then I don’t know what is.
Why am I writing this blog? Because I want you to watch the video, read the short commentary, and sign the petition. I’ll let your conscience be your guide on what other steps to take. I know I won’t ever be able to eat pork again, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing, on balance.
And I want you to share it. I want you to tweet and Facebook it so the villains in this drama don’t get to hide. It needs to go viral. It’s clear that companies like Walmart will continue to support groups like this until the public outcry and bad press is such that they’re forced to stop. I believe there’s few nobler callings than getting them to stop.
I’m sorry if anyone gets disturbed by this. My intention isn’t to give you nightmares. It’s to encourage you to make a difference, even if it’s a simple act of signing something or saying no in your shopping habits. My next act will be to go see how I can donate to the organization that brought this to light. If anybody’s deserving of some of my cash, they are.
A good article came out today on the GoodeReader blog, which can be viewed here. In it, I’m interviewed and quoted about my thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.
To expand a little on my comments, I’ve always viewed traditional publishing as a lottery. Because it is. One with very long odds of success, even if you’re fortunate enough to land an agent who believes in your work and is pulling on the oars right along with you. That’s not news. It’s been like that for years. All you have to do is consider masterful bestselling authors like James Lee Burke, whose breakthrough novel was rejected 115 times by every New York publisher over thirteen years, to get a feel for the odds.
The model I liken it to is the record business. Or rather, the old record business that’s largely dying, or dead. In that model, a record company would sign 100 promising acts every year. Each would get a recording budget and one video. Then they would be spewed into the market, and the company would wait to see who caught fire. The one or two that did got most of the marketing money (along with the big selling established acts) and the rest would languish.
If that sounds familiar, that’s the NY model. Now don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of fine, hardworking, talented folks at publishing houses. Every book they sign, somebody had to feel had that special something that would make it a bestseller. Just as every act that was signed by an A&R department had that special something. Were these big brains all wrong, when the vast majority of their picks consistently do nothing?
Yes and no.
I think the more important point is that with self-publishing more authors than ever before are earning a livable wage. Because what might have been a yawn in terms of sales numbers for a big company is more than enough to support a lifestyle for an individual. I know at least a dozen folks who are earning in the six figures, who’ve never had a hit book. Never cracked the Top 100. But their work appeals to a readership that’s loyal, loves it, and buys every book the author puts out.
I know close to a hundred who are earning five figures and don’t go to work anymore, preferring to write for a living instead.
Sure, self-publishing is a lottery as well. The odds are long. The hours longer. You have to be prolific, dedicated, determined, and confident in your abilities to make it. And persistent.
But the chances of being able to make a nice living from self-publishing are better than at any point in history. eBooks and Kindle changed everything. The 70% royalty rate, as opposed to 25% of net, represents a roughly 5X larger payday for the same number of books at the same price. To put that into perspective, if you sell 15,000 books a year as an indie, at, say, $5, you’re taking home a nice fat paycheck for your time, and getting paid monthly. If you sold the same number as a trad pubbed author, you’d be a failure, and would probably be dropped, likely not earning out your meager advance once you were done (after reserves for returns, special discounts, related party subsidiary sales, etc.). In other words, you’d still be going to your job every day while writing at night, and you’d have made less than minimum wage when you added up all the hours you put in.
That’s the reality. Unless you’re Dan Brown. In which case, forget everything I said. You’re rich, a rock star, and the system is working for you.
But if your business model isn’t “Be Dan Brown” you have a rude awakening in store, even if you’re lucky enough to win the lottery and get an agent who knows his stuff, and then find an acquisition editor who gets your work, and then make it through committee, where a host of folks who have never written a bestseller decide the safe place to invest the company’s cash this quarter so they don’t get downsized…you are still likely to make peanuts in the trad system. It’s always been like that. But it’s getting more so now, because with mergers and tightened belts the chances of your work getting picked up are slimmer than ever.
Self-publishing is also a big crap shoot, but one where you can do things to narrow the odds. Get compelling professional covers done. Release books on an aggressive schedule. Hire pro editors to polish your work. Use out-of-the-box marketing to gain visibility. React to new changes in the landscape quickly. Price aggressively and do constant promotions.
In both systems there’s lots of risk. I maintain for the average author, though, the financial reward is considerably bigger in self-publishing. As a guy who’s built a comfortable business with a lot of titles, none of which are blockbusters, I can assure you that it’s possible to have a sustainable gig where you make more than enough money, and you can be your own boss.
Does that mean traditional publishing sucks a bag of dicks? I guess it depends. I’m shopping to the trade right now with a new series, because I want to be in airports. In my genre, being in airports is big. That’s where many thrillers and action/adventure books are purchased, and I can’t reach those readers without a trad deal. So for me it’s worth it to roll the dice – and I’m getting paid in the meantime. Frankly, with 500K books sold in 32 months, I can afford to wait a year or two if things don’t catch fire. That’s the other dynamic that’s kind of amazing. I can earn solid money while waiting and honing my craft. Maybe at a million sold I become attractive for an airport deal. If not, maybe at two million. At the end of the day does it really matter? If you have thousands of excited, supportive fans who buy your work, do you really need more? I mean, you can always have more. But do you need more?
These are exciting times. I by no means believe trad publishing is in trouble or going anywhere. I think the sentiment that they’re all going the way of the dinosaur is misguided, and probably driven by a certain bitterness over how unfair it all seems. Reality is that the publishers will continue making plenty of money – they can release their massive backlists (to which they own the authors’ rights for pretty much ever) and price them at sub-$5 whenever they like, and pay their way for years without ever signing anyone again.
The good news is that you can make a nice living outside of that system and you don’t have to worry about a deal. If you sell enough, they’ll come to you. If you don’t, guess what? You’re making money instead of waiting for a chance to maybe make money.
Although, being a buzz kill, I should end with the fact that most self-published authors don’t make much, or any, money.
Then again, most aspiring trad pub authors don’t either.
I just like that you can even the odds some and get paid while you reach readers. If you’re in the slush pile you aren’t being read, and there’s nothing sadder for an author than not being read. For me, that was the deciding factor in doing this the way I have. I wanted to build a sustainable biz, but I also wanted to see what readers thought of my work.
And now, every day’s Christmas. Which doesn’t suck at all.