Category Archives: business of writing

Break Out the Champagne–Concerto’s in the Top 100!

The day has dawned!  Forgive my enthusiasm, but I’m proud to announce that today Concerto broke into the top 100 in several categories on Amazon.com!

Right now, the exact stats are:

  • #29 in Books > Romance > Romantic Suspense
  • #29 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Romance> > Romantic Suspense
  • #75 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Mystery & Thrillers > Thrillers > Suspense>

And it’s in the top 1K in the Kindle Store overall, so that’s great!

Right now, Concerto and Lost Concerto are still on sale for .99 so I encourage you to grab a copy if you’ve been thinking about reading them.

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Wake Up, Writers!

Brace yourself, gentle reader, because I am about to do something I do not generally do. I am going to ask you to drop everything and do something.

In this case, read something. And it isn’t on this blog. It isn’t even something I wrote.

But I strongly believe it is one of the most important things you can read right now, especially if you want to be a writer, or already are a writer, whether you self publish or publish through New York.

I know many self-publishers have been gleefully predicting the demise of Big Publishing for months, sometimes years. I am skeptical of this, simply because their pockets are so very deep. We will lose some smaller publishers, and some big ones will morph into something quite different than what we knew in the before-time.

But with backing from the prodigious bankrolls of their parent corporations, I think a lot of publishers will stumble through and continue. They will feel the crunch of this sudden change, and they will respond to it by tying writers up in bad contracts.

And writers will sign them.

Not every New York deal is a bad deal. I have said before, the only important thing is to make sure that you understand exactly what you are getting & giving when you sign any contract. Make sure you have reasons for accepting the deal; reasons will be fulfilled by the contract you sign.

But be aware that many contracts harbor hidden demons–rights in perpetuity, rights of first refusal that sound harmless but may keep you from sending out anything until the current work hits bookstores, at least, non-compete clauses that may seal off your created universe to you forever, should your publisher decide to drop you. And ebook royalites.  Horrible, horrible ebook royalities–perhaps the only light in the darkness for publishers right now.

Paperback sales are tanking, Borders is gone, traditional book sales are circling the drain with reduced shelf space at every available outlet, the midlist is defecting to self-publishing–and publishers are still making money.

How?  Kris Rusch lays it all out:
http://kriswrites.com/2011/11/16/the-business-rusch-how-traditional-publishers-are-making-money/

Read it, pay careful attention, and remember what you learn. Common wisdom is that publishers were blind-sided by the ebook revolution. I don’t know, learning that tradition publishers began negotiating ebook royalties separately–and negotiating them down to a pittance through brute force–ten years ago makes me look at that differently. They are huge, lumbering mammoths who take a long time to change direction–perhaps that is why they start planning ten years in advance, when everyone else thinks what they are arguing is unimportant.

I’m not saying run away from any deal that comes your way. I’m saying be careful. These increased profits these publishers are so proud of are made up of money that would have gone to the writer in the past. We are swimming in a big, rough, open ocean, and these guys are more than willing to push you underwater to save themselves from drowning. Do you really want to swim with a buddy like that? Be certain before you sign.

The wolf may not be at the door. He may be in your living room, and he may be holding a contract.

It’s Here!

I have to admit, it was actually here October 27th.  I have been pretty sick since then, and am just now getting back into the swing of things.

But I’m going to celebrate anyway, because The Lost Concerto is available now in paperback, hardback, Kindle, Nook and other eBook formats!

If you enjoy fast-reading, tightly-plotted suspense with a gripping story, you may find that the Alexis Brooks series is for you.

You can find out more about The Lost Concerto here:

http://pgtc.com/~slmiller/lostconcerto.htm

And more about the Alexis Brooks Series in general here:

http://pgtc.com/~slmiller/AlexisBrooks/

I’ll return you now to your regularly-scheduled day, but if you find a free moment, do a happy dance for me and the new novel!

Can writers be editors?

Or perhaps more importantly, can writers self-edit?

If you hang around in places where self-published authors talk, you know the hard-and-fast wisdom handed around right now is that a self-publishing writer MUST hire an editor.  You are strongly advised to hire a cover designer, and sometimes even an interior formatting designer, but the one thing everyone is in agreement on is the absolute necessity of an editor.  It is unquestionable–a writer cannot edit their own work.

I’m going to step out on a limb here and voice an unpopular opinion.  I think that writers can be their own editors.  Or at least, writers can learn to be their own editors.

I think the heart of the problem here is that so many writers never really learn about story mechanics.  Writing classes, from secondary school to college and on, all seem to focus on either the very low level–parts of speech, sentence construction–or the low level–this is foreshadowing, this is allegory.  Most classes do not teach, or even attempt to teach, basic story mechanics.  Concepts like setting stakes and escalating them, building tension, pace, how multiple story threads are worked together so that the reader doesn’t lose sight of any of them…these things are usually not discussed in writing classes.  Or maybe I just took the wrong classes!

Editing requires a different view of your work.  You have to stop looking at your story as this precious thing you created, take a step back, and really examine what is there on the page, not what was in your head as you wrote it.  Does the story on the page work?  If not, how can it be fixed?

These are questions most writers are ill-equipped to answer.  But that does not mean they can’t learn.  Personally, I think an excellent place to start is Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel course.  She teaches various methods of taking that step back and evaluating the bones of your story, which is what developmental editing is all about.  If you’ve done the course, you’ll remember the index cards–to me, that is a great example of getting away from the story in your head to the story on your page, and showing you in simple terms what is not working.

I’ve heard the argument tossed around that writers can’t edit their own work because they are too close to it.  I don’t know.  I wonder, doesn’t that make the writer the *most* qualified person to edit that work, assuming they can achieve that necessary distance?  Nobody knows better than the writer what they were trying to do with a given piece.

I’m not talking so much about line editing and things like grammar checking, spelling, etc.  Those things are pretty objective.  But developmental editing is very subjective–no two editors are going to suggest the same changes to a manuscript.  An editor needs a firm understanding of what makes a story work, and how to fix it when it is broken.

These skills are not black voodoo magic.  They are not handed down from on high to a chosen few.  They are learned skills.

Most writers aren’t going to have these skills out of the box, as they say.  But I do believe that most writers can learn them.  What do you think?

Concerto’s New Cover

Well, I think I’m done monkeying around with covers for awhile, and thank goodness!  It’s fun, but can be a major time-sink.  But this new cover really needed to happen.

As you know, Concerto is a romantic suspense novel.  But its current cover (left) just screams literary fiction to all who see it.

I have to admit that didn’t occur to me when I designed the cover.  It looked elegant, and artsy, and beautiful, and the question of whether it conveyed any hint of genre just didn’t cross my mind.  But it’s pretty bad business to offer a product in a package that doesn’t tell you anything about what’s inside–or worse, actively misleads a customer about what’s inside.  Literary fiction readers who bought this book would be disappointed.  Suspense fans would never even consider it, because the cover does not call to them.

So after a step back and some serious redesigning (some of which you saw a couple of posts ago) I am here to unveil the new cover to you first, before it even goes live on Amazon.  The new design is not one of the prospective designs that was in the poll–it’s actually one I came up with later and liked better.

Ta-da:

Retailer as Publisher -or- How Amazon Took Over the World

I worry about the future of big traditional publishing houses, I really do.  They are behemoths, giant corporate entities owned by giant conglomerates.  Change comes slowly, when it comes at all.

For decades these groups have had a stranglehold on readers, and therefore also on writers, of books.  A kind of monopoly of their own–you couldn’t get into the major distribution channels without them, and you couldn’t get into bookstores without the distribution channels.  Certainly self-publishing, or even vanity publishing, were always options.

They just weren’t options that were very likely to succeed.

Along came the POD press.  Along came the eBook.  On their own, these didn’t cause any revolution–eBooks tied you to a computer and were inconvenient.  POD books were pricey and of substandard quality.  Even when good POD services came along–like Lulu, one of my favorites–their prices were still high enough to make it difficult to be competitive, and the lag time between ordering and receiving a book could cause a customer to drop your book and look elsewhere for more immediate entertainment.

This is all just my view, of course.  But I credit Amazon with cracking open the status quo.  Amazon and Big Publishing have gone to the mat several times–you may remember their recent squabble over agency pricing.

Big Publishing always regarded eBooks as a passing fad that would never catch on, much like that new-fangled television set.  As I recall, when the Kindle first appeared on the scene, most big publishers weren’t exactly beating down the door to get their content on the device.  I wonder how things might be different now if they had.

Amazon dealt a 1-2 punch combo that has pretty much assured everything must change.  They started CreateSpace, and they opened up their Kindle platform to everyone.

CreateSpace, on the surface, seems like just another POD.  When I look at CreateSpace, though, I see two distinct advantages–distinct enough that other publishing services have not been able to convince me to switch.  First, CreateSpace’s pricing models are more competitive than other services I’ve seen.  Especially if you use their Pro Plan.  Concerto is over 300 pages, it’s in trade paperback format–which falls somewhere between mass market paperback and hardback on the price & quality scale–and it retails for $7.60.  Granted, I see about a quarter of that, but I’m totally stoked to be able to get prices that low.  I have trade paperbacks from traditional publishers that I’ve bought in bookstores.  Their cover prices are at least double my price.  That is, to me, pretty cool.

CreateSpace’s second advantage is in your listing on Amazon.  If you publish through any other service, your book will show “Usually ships in XX days” next to the price.  As a reader, I hate seeing that.  I’m spoiled, I’m used to instant gratification, and I hate waiting for things to ship.  If I’m going to order it, I’d at least like it to be in stock so it can ship right away.

When you book is done through CreateSpace, it will show up on Amazon as “In Stock, Ready to Ship”.  That, to me, is a pretty big advantage.  As far as price and shipping, I can be on equal footing with big publishing.

Opening up the Kindle to independent content was a huge move–one I’m not sure Big Publishing saw coming.  I know I didn’t see it coming.  Suddenly talented authors could put their work out there on their own, and sell it for $4.99, $2.99, or even $.99–and still make a profit.  Big Publishing can’t compete on those terms.  They have too much overhead.

And now, Amazon has started their own publishing imprints.  They have hired big guns to run them, and they are aggressively pursuing books–some of the same ones Big Publishing is after.  Their contracts, from what I have heard, are more author-friendly than traditional contracts.

What would it mean for all of us if the next Stephen King, or Nora Roberts, or Dean Koontz novel came to us through an Amazon imprint?

What does this mean for Big Publishing?  I don’t know.  I wish I did.  The only thing I’m certain of at this moment is that things are not going to stay the same.  With the opening of the Kindle and like devices, Big Publishing cannot compete.  So they have two options: face extinction, or change the rules so that they can compete again.

Given the history of publishing, I think I know which one of those options I would bet on.  The only question is how successful they will be with their attempt, and I think Amazon will be a large determining factor in that.

Agent as Publisher

Last time I mentioned in passing that some agents are setting themselves up as publishers.  I also mentioned the term “conflict of interest.”  You may have gathered that I have some problems with this development.

Here’s why.

Let’s think about the agent’s original purpose.  You hire an agent for a single purpose, really: to be your advocate to publishers.  Your agent should back your work to editors at publishing houses.  Your agent should negotiate the best possible deal for you when the manuscript is picked up.

Now, how can my agent negotiate the best deal for me with a publisher, if he is a publisher himself?  Do you see the conflict of interest here?  Every manuscript that crosses his desk is potential money for his publishing arm.  If he sells that manuscript to a big publisher, that’s money he won’t make–even if the deal from the big publisher is better for you.  This conflict is always there, even if the agent tries very hard not to let his publishing business interfere with his agenting business.  I’m no lawyer, but I don’t believe that it’s very ethical for a person who has a publishing business to hire on to represent you to publishers.

So let’s put that aside for a moment.  Forgetting the conflict of interest, why am I uncomfortable with an agent as my publisher, even if I have no desire to shop my manuscript around to the big publishers?

This is a little more technical.  And there will be those who will disagree with me, which is fine.  All I ask is that everybody consider all of their options, and possible repercussions, before signing anything.  As always 🙂

First, I don’t believe an agent as publisher is going to offer me anything I can’t do for myself.  And I’m going to lose some things by going with this arrangement.

If I hire an agent to be my publisher, he’s going to take my manuscript, and format it for Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords (if he’s good; some of these guys only put it up on Kindle.)  Also, he may take it to CreateSpace or Lulu and make a paperback version available.  He’ll probably hire an artist for a flat fee to create a cover.

There’s nothing there I can’t do myself.  And nothing you can’t do yourself, either, even if you’ve never done any of those things before.  Is it worth giving someone a cut–sometimes a large cut–of your royalties to avoid learning these things?

I’ll also have to sign a contract with the agent/publisher.  And from the rumblings around the internet right now, that contract might have some really scary provisions in it that will make sure my grandkids are giving that agent’s grandkids a cut of any royalties those books are still making.  And considering Amazon is set up for a long-tail sales approach–it’s something to think about.

Another thing that concerns me is this: if my agent uploads my work as my publisher, my work will be under his account at Amazon, CreateSpace, PubIt, Smashwords, and anywhere else he places it.  I won’t have access to set pricing, create coupons or special promotions, or change up any descriptive text.  I can’t add editorial reviews as they come in.  (Technically, through Amazon’s Author Central, I could change text and add reviews–though Amazon warns this may cause problems if my publisher wants to change things later.  And I still can’t set pricing info, even through Author Central.)

This also means that my agent will have access to sales numbers on my books–but I won’t.  I will have to accept on blind faith that the numbers he reports to me are accurate.  Some agents are honest, and will always report everything accurately.

Some are not.

And I have no way to tell the difference, or to verify the numbers I am given.

To me, this is a big problem.  I realize this is pretty much the way big publishing has done business for decades–authors don’t usually have access to raw sales numbers.  They get their royalty statements, and they have to trust that the numbers on those statements are correct, or request expensive audits if they suspect a problem.  Occasionally, those audits turn up problems.

But now, with the reporting mechanisms in place online, you have the option of seeing your raw sales numbers.  Unless your agent loads your work through his account.  And in this model, you don’t even have the option of an expensive audit.

I know this new service agents are offering has been tempting to many authors, especially those with a large backlist they would like to offer electronically.  But before you commit to that path, make sure your gains outweigh your losses.