lend a hand to authors (young and old)

Like everybody else I have to limit the amount of time I spend wandering around in the ether. There are so many things to read and keep track of, I could easily spend the entire day doing nothing else. In these difficult times especially it feels like there’s an emergency every hour  on the hour, so getting stuff done is even harder. Add depression and anger (also about recent events) and it’s takes some real willpower to persevere. 

And yet, here I am asking you to read something new.  

Young writers — young people in general — are having a tough time. I see this up close and personal with my daughter and her friends. A college degree doesn’t mean much in this economy (and yes, it’s still pretty bad, especially for the very young and the 50+ crowd).  

Jason Howell is a talented writer who runs a website where writers chime in on questions he poses. One of his talents is asking interesting questions, so I generally get stuck there for a half hour or so when I stop by. Once in a while I participate by contributing an answer.  Please stop by and see what he has to offer. His website: Howlarium; his Twitter account: Jason Howell;  he’s also on Goodreads. Lend a hand. I can’t hurt and it might help.

See this ad to the right? Yes, I’m changing the subject, but not by very much.  

Bookbub seems to forget that if they put authors out of business, they will have nothing to sell. Isn’t that the definition of a parasite? How do authors counter this kind of mind-set? 

Marketing. 

Please remember that like almost every other novelist out there, there is almost no marketing coming from my publishers so somebody else has to do it, and that person is, of course, the author. We scribblers depend to a very large degree on word of mouth and the goodwill of our readers. I have wonderful readers, but you’re all very busy, too.  I hope you’ll understand why I post this reminder of the things you can do to help me keep writing:

  1. Hit ‘like’ here and/or on Facebook (see the bottom of this post or the right hand column). 
  2. Hit ‘share’ for Facebook and/or Twitter.
  3. Save something you see here to your Pinterest pages. 
  4. Share a post you like by email.
  5. Post a review at Amazon or Goodreads or Barnes & Noble or your own website. Mention something I wrote on Facebook or Twitter or your favorite discussion forum.  

And that’s it. The end of the regularly scheduled fundraiser. 

Crowdsourcing your Novel

fighting tooth and snail
fighting tooth and snail from The Marginalized Art of Snail-Fighting in Medieval Europe; because publishing has always been crazy

Two years ago Mick Rooney at  The Independent Publishing Magazine reviewed a British publishing outfit called Unbound, which is a new approach based on crowd-sourcing.  That is: you go to their site, read about an author and a book that author is proposing to write, and if you really want to read it, you pony up some money. When the funding goal is met and the book is written, it goes to press and eventually you get a copy.

I vaguely remember reading about Unbound and wondering if it might actually work.  Just today it came back to mind because Raphaela Weissman, a local author but someone I don’t know personally, emailed to say that she was launching a campaign through Unbound for her novel Monsters.  Raphaela originally had an agent and got great feedback from publishers, but in the end nobody took Monsters on, and thus she decided to proceed with the help of Unbound. Her launch page is here. With all this in mind,  I went back to find and re-read Rooney’s review of Unbound.   

It’s going to take me a little while to figure out how I feel about Unbound and that needs to happen before I can commit to anything.

If I knew Raphaela personally I might be tempted to contribute to her crowd-sourcing of the novel just to be supportive of a friend. And that is probably Unbound’s major weakness when it comes to lesser known writers. Monsters may be a fantastic novel, but whether or not it ever sees the light of day depends on how well Raphaela can push the crowd-sourcing.  She has about 90 days to hit the mark. The review at IPM summarizes:

Since Unbound was founded in 2011 [this article was written in 2014], it has successfully funded and published 54 books. There are currently 5 books funded by more than 50%, and 36 books below the 50% funding target. According to this article in the Telegraph UK, each funding project on Unbound needs the support of about 2,500 reader/patron pledges — ranging between £10 and £250. There are various levels of support depending on the amount of each pledge; typically, £10 would provide the reader with a digital copy and access to the author’s community ‘shed’; £20, an additional limited edition hardback; the reader’s name mentioned at the end of the book as a supporter; a signed hardback edition; tickets to the launch party; or a personal appearance by the author (about £750).

Unbound is interesting because it at least is honest about the way it operates. The author is responsible for raising the money necessary to get the book published. They estimate the cost for everything (except the author’s time, which is not calculated and no advances on royalties are paid), come up with a figure, help the author with the launch webpage, and then wait to see if s/he can make it happen. Once the author reaches a certain stage — somewhere about 70 percent of the estimated cost to publish — they step in. 

Traditional publishers go about this from the other end. They never tell the author what they think it will cost to publish the book. Instead they offer an advance and assume the costs of publication up front. So for example they might estimate that it will cost them $25,000 to get a book into print and out into the marketplace (and don’t ask me to verify that number; I’m basing it on the numbers Unbound uses). They assume that cost and offer the author money as well, let’s say $20,000 advance on royalties (which in this day and age would be very good). So that’s about 45K the traditional publisher commits before hand. If the book flops, that’s money the publisher loses. The author is unlikely to ever sell another book to a traditional publisher, but that 20K advance doesn’t have to be paid back.

As soon as the author finished the book and hands it over, the pressure begins. Once public relations teams would take over at this point, but these days — unless you are already a superstar, in bookselling terms — you are expected to be directly and deeply involved in marketing through social media. If the book fails it may be because it wasn’t strong enough or the timing was bad, but it will also be because the publisher put no money into promoting the book. Without promotion, it’s almost impossible to for a novel from a new author to gain a readership. I’ve said before that I truly dislike and resent the way publishers burden writers with marketing and selling their work. For most of us it’s torture and generally not very effective — unless they are already widely read with a large, loyal readership. And then the whole enterprise is beside the point, anyway. 

So I’m not sure what to think about Unbound. I have a large and loyal readership, but even so I find it hard to imagine that a minimum of 2,500 people would invest a minimum of $20 before I’ve ever finish writing the novel.***  Another thing: without an advance, how do I pay the bills while I’m writing the novel? The traditional publisher has that much confidence in me, at least. Of course, here’s where Unbound beats the traditional publisher. Penguin or FSG gives you somewhere between ten and fifteen percent of the amount the book sells for, but with Unbound you get 50 percent — an even split with the publisher.

Unbound is trying something different and attempting to move beyond a model of publishing that doesn’t really work anymore. For that they deserve credit. How well they are succeeding is something I can’t tell without investing a lot of time in reading more about them, their authors, and the individual case histories. Something I can’t afford to do because I have a contract, and a novel to finish. 

In the meantime I wish Raphaela Weissman well and I truly hope that the Unbound approach works for her. I’m just not sure that I can climb on board at this point.

***NOTE: Please do not comment to tell me that I’m right or wrong about this; I’m not considering crowd-sourcing, and not looking for encouragement in that direction.  

Here in one small image: the end of publishing

Or at least, the end of publishing as we understand it. Consider this fact: In one month there were more than 100,000 new book releases on Amazon Kindle.amazon-com-kindle-ebooks-kindle-store-literature-fiction-foreign-languages-romance-moreI took this screen capture last week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Two extreme ways of looking at this:

One: Electronic self-publishing has democratized the book industry. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

Two: We are caught up in a tidal wave with no refuge in sight. It’s an embarrassment. 

There’s a weird disconnect in the mind of most of the reading public. Pat doesn’t want to spend $15 on a novel, so s/he jumps into Kindle Land, wanders around, and exits some time later having paid $1.99 for a novel that will be tolerable, or vaguely amusing, or awful, or (this is also possible) excellent.

The author of the $15 novel is an endangered beast in this new landscape, and still Pat finishes the  $1.99 novel and dreams of giving up the day job to be a novelist. And not just any novelist, but a rich one. Someone who knows Oprah’s cell number and who has a film agent. The fact that Pat is unwilling to pay more than $1.99 for a novel should put a crimp in these day dreams.

But this is not happening, as is plain to see because in one month, 100,000+ new books appeared on Kindle. And there are lots more in the pipeline, waiting to be sucked into the tsunami.

It would be very useful to get this huge number broken down and put in context.  Here’s an inquiry for Amazon that I might send, but they will never answer.

Dear Amazon:  

I am researching the career  and life cycle of the modern American novelist and require data for quantitative analysis.  Your assistance would be very much appreciated and duly acknowledged in the author’s notes. 

The data I require:

  1. Total number of new book releases for the years 2000 ______, 2010 ____ and 2015 ______
  2.  For each of these years, I would like the percent published in paper and electronically.  
  3. For each year and category (paper/electronic), please indicate what percent were published by established houses, and what percent were self-published.
  4. Now the same figures, but limited to fiction for the years 2000, 2010 and 2015.

If Amazon were to cough up these numbers (and please don’t hold your breath) we would have the makings of a really interesting discussion. As it is, I can only give you my impressions.

Publishers are in trouble, and will continue to be in trouble until the whole industry self-corrects. Publishers are not particularly good at introspection, so this is another area where you should not hold your breath.

Authors are in trouble because not only is the market saturated with cheap books, the publishers have no interest in helping midlist authors keep their heads above water. It’s sink or swim.  If 50,000 new novels are released over a two or three month time period, how will a reader ever find the novel you just published? What are the odds that your novel will even make it onto a shelf in a brick and mortar bookstore?  Answer: poor.

And that’s where we find ourselves. On the bright side, you’ll be busy for the rest of your life trying to read your way through the mountains novels that are piling up, right now.

revealing words on words

There are many things to admire about Barbara Kingsolver’s work. She has written some novels that I think about all the time, even years after first reading them. Her people and their stories crawl into my head and make a permanent home for themselves there, settling in between  Aunt Helen’s overgrown garden at sunrise in the hottest days of summer and the sound of chalk squeaking in Sister Peter Joseph’s fourth grade classroom.  What more could any author ask for? 

Then today I came across this quote about writing, and now I know that she is indeed the wise woman I suspected she must be on the basis of her fiction. Because it all comes down to this.

“A novel can educate to some extent, but first a novel has to entertain. That’s the contract with the reader: you give me ten hours and I’ll give you a reason to turn every page. I have a commitment to accessibility. I believe in plot. I want an English professor to understand the symbolism while at the same time I want the people I grew up with — — who may not often read anything but the Sears catalog — — to read my books.”  

Barbara Kingsolver