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Re: May 2016 Author Earnings Report

how the hell do you know if you've written a quality book?  getting a traditional publishing contract seems like a pretty solid way of validating that.

cart, meet horse.  horse, this is cart.

Having an agent or editor pick up your book is probably a good sign it is publishable, but not always, and that is not the only way. Trying to figure out if your book is publishable is the one step a lot of self-pub folks skip, but it's by no means impossible. You just have to do the job that the big presses do, on your own.

Basically, the route to determining if your book is publishable is this:

Advance Readers!
You need them. Five is good. Ten is better. Twenty is great, and if some are authors as well, all the better.

These advance readers need to be people who read your genre (fantasy, sci-fi, or whatever) and they need to be people who will give you an honest review and tell you what sucks in your book. Most of the time, this excludes family, though one author friend of mine has a wife who reads in his genre and critiques his stuff mercilessly (and his work comes out the better for it).

Take the feedback you get and look for trends. If 1 of 10 people didn't like something, but the other 9 did, you're fine. If 8 of 10 people disliked something, fix that ****. And if 5, 10, 15 people who read in your genre say "Wow, that book was good! I really enjoyed it!" you've managed to write a quality book.

Get that sort of feedback, and you're ready to self-publish if you can't land it traditionally (after Step 2, below). You should *always* try traditional first, but the market is so saturated that good books get skipped all the time. So if all traditional publishing routes dry up, don't throw away your work. Publish it yourself.

Examples: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and The Martian both got skipped by all major publishing houses, and their authors had to self-publish them before they hit big. That's right, the big houses which are supposed to be the "arbiters of quality" passed on both books, saying they wouldn't sell. Of course, after they sold like crazy, they came back and acted like it was their idea all along. :)

There are dozens of stories like that, so don't ever let yourself believe that the traditional houses are the only arbiters of quality. They publish great books, but they miss great books also, and sometimes they publish really bad books. Honestly, feedback from advance readers of your genre is the best yardstick you can have that a book is good or needs work.

You Need to Pay an Editor
Hire a professional editor with experience (other published books), and LISTEN to where they point out that your book needs work. Then make their changes. An average editor charges $0.02 cents per word, so if your book is 90,000 words, that's $1800. Plan and budget accordingly.

This is another step that too many self-published authors skip, because they balk at the cost. Cost is the #1 factor people avoid ... they want to be able to publish themselves, but refuse to pay the money involved to give their readers a quality book. That's a mistake, and that's the rub.

If you want to self-publish, you can, but you're paying for it or you're publishing sub-quality work and screwing your readers. You have to *become* a publisher, which means taking on the costs associated with that. Sorry to be blunt, but if you aren't willing to pay for an editor, you shouldn't self-pub.

June 11, 2016, 06:53:32 PM
Barnes and Noble will now allow self-pub books in their stores
Barnes and Noble is starting a program that will allow successful self published books to be sold in their stores and participate in store events. I was speaking to the chap in charge of this program and they seem quite committed to it. This could be great for successful self-pub authors. Now we just have to hope Barnes and Nobles survives long enough to enjoy it. It will also be interesting to see how Amazon responds.


July 15, 2016, 02:27:22 PM
Re: May 2016 Author Earnings Report

Could you unpack that please. How are their figures different and how does that play into their worldview?

Sorry it took so long to respond, but I was in NYC for Thrillerfest last week, and then in Sudbury this week for work.  So now that I have unpacked, I guess I can unpack a little bit for you.

I don't know how closely follow the issue of publishing sales etc data or Author Earnings history so bear with me if I go too light or too in depth.  I could write about it for pages and pages but time is limited.

So Author Earnings got started a few years ago when DBW did a study about authors, their earnings and what traditional publishing could do better for authors.  Hugh Howey didn't like the outcome (I think that study was fine but Hugh is Hugh...) and decided he wanted to get some numbers to prove it wrong.  So he got an anonymous guy they called "Data Guy" (who is still more or less anonymous) and they went out to gather some data to present Hugh's case. 

That is the first problem.  Their approach from day one has been results driven.  Hugh had a worldview and was seeking ways to confirm it.

So the first iteration took some data from a small period of time on Amazon and a limited number of books on Amazon and then did a whole bunch of projections on it.  They needed a Rosetta Stone to Amazon rank vs. sales numbers etc and IIRC they started off with a small group of indy authors (I think less than ten at that point) sharing some royalty numbers with them.  So there earliest work was based on a tiny slice of Amazon only data, from a snap shot of time and titles, interpreted through the window of a small group of authors to make gigantic projections and then (more or less) start making insulting statements about the traditional industry and saying (simplified here) it was a doomed dinosaur. 

Later iterations got a little better.  So they started covering more titles and sites, and I think now get royalty numbers from a couple of dozen writers, but there are still significant gaps in the way they approach the data and what they do with it.  They simply don't have access to much of the data they need to draw the conclusions that they draw, and they ignored that problem in all of the work up to their more recent and still came up with strongly held and controversial conclusions based on very inadequate data and a results driven approach.

Their results and conclusions often were strikingly different from groups that seemed to have access to much more accurate data and were less results driven and followed more conventional data gathering and interpretation approaches.  Without going back and checking the data from DBW studies, Neilson, Gallup, Codex, Authors Guild, Forbes and other groups (there are a number more) was different and their conclusions were different as well especially in the area of how much authors were earning in various formats.

Now Hugh Howey has (more or less) sailed his way out of this project and left it to poor old Data Guy to carry on by himself.  He recently did a presentation at the DBW gathering and his tone (and many of his conclusions) has greatly changed to a much more moderate, less hostile approach to traditional publishing. Although I don't profess to read his mind he now is sounding much more like a guy looking for a job in traditional publishing than someone forecasting it's doom.

He has also fessed up to many of the problems in his work's previous iterations:

In the afternoon session, Data Guy spoke frankly about how Author Earnings is a series now of some 11 or 12 analyses of scraped data, and of how the snapshot approach can, of course, never be as effective as a more consistent, frequent, scanning pattern would be. He also said that in hindsight (and with more royalty-statement sales input from what he described as “dozens” of authors), it’s possible to tell now that the ranking-to-sales curve in the original doing of this data dance was even farther off than the 18 percent he reported in the last quarterly article.

So last week I had dinner with one of the top guys in the field of tracking publishing data who sells his work to major publishers and authors, but is not employed in traditional publishing.  I was talking to him about Author Earnings and he suggested that they do some aggressive calculations and projections based on a tiny sample size and a significant degree of guesswork which has led them to some inaccurate conclusions.  Nobody in the industry takes the time to refute DG, because nobody cares.

But some people outside the industry treat AE as gold and say things like:

In short, if you want to earn money from your writing, it's an increasibly bad idea to go the traditional publishing route. That holds true across the higher income groups too - even the $1,000,000 per year threshhold.

That is just not so.  What the data tells us is that on average hybrid authors have the highest income, strict traditional second, and self published last. DBW's survey also told us that a large plurality of working authors hoped that their next book would be published by a traditional publisher.

There is a lot of really interesting information out there on how to make money as a writer.  IF you really want to have a career in writing you should know it well.  Unfortunately the most controversial positions get more air play then they might deserve.

July 15, 2016, 08:21:54 PM
Re: May 2016 Author Earnings Report
That is just not so.  What the data tells us is that on average hybrid authors have the highest income, strict traditional second, and self published last. DBW's survey also told us that a large plurality of working authors hoped that their next book would be published by a traditional publisher.

There is a lot of really interesting information out there on how to make money as a writer.  IF you really want to have a career in writing you should know it well.  Unfortunately the most controversial positions get more air play then they might deserve.

Excellent breakdown. This matches up with my (granted, personal) experience, having gotten to know authors with different revenue models and whether they can support themselves by writing full time.

People seem to think self-publishing is a goldmine, when in fact only a tiny, tiny percentage of the total self-pub market ever makes it big, and a slightly larger group break even. Traditional pub is always the way to start if you can manage it, because even a poor selling traditional press book from a new author typically sells a huge number more copies than an average self-pub from a new author.

Once you've been traditionally pubbed, and you've built a significant audience, that's when you can really make a killing with indie pub (hybrid), assuming you were saavy enough not to get contractually forbidden from doing so. Publishers are acutely aware of how well traditional pub authors who gain an audience can do self-pubbing their stuff on the side, which is why many contracts for new traditional press authors specifically disallow any self-pubbing, or have "non-compete" clauses where you can't release any other books (by any method) for a set period of time after they publish your book.

Indie gaming has the same model. For every Minecraft (Notch sells his game for a couple of billion, retires, and buys a mansion) there are 10,000 tiny indie games that never even recoup their dev costs. Yet there are so many young indie devs who get into debt because they think their game is going to hit big.

I think the appeal of self-publishing (of any stripe) for many folks is our general tendency to be overly optimistic about own chances of hitting the jackpot, as opposed to taking an unbiased look at what the data out there shows. That's why, though I have self-pubbed several books (eyes open) I still tell everyone to exhaust all traditional pub options first (which is exactly what I'm currently doing with my latest book).

July 15, 2016, 10:15:32 PM
Re: Does anyone write about space colonisation? Yes they have:

The Expanse by James SA Corey is rather good fun.  It begins with man having colonized just our solar system, but quickly expands beyond. 

Stephen Baxter is very hard sci fi, but has written a series of books which explore the future of our colonization of space.   Destiny's Children starts with the Roman Empire but ends up several millennium into our future (and features colony ships.) 

I recently read Something Coming Through by Paul McAuley which has as a premise, aliens coming to man's aid after a very nasty nuclear attack by terrorists, and giving us access to 15 new worlds to colonize.  But what are their motives? 

And @Idlewilder recommended Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson to me recently which features a colony ship.

July 17, 2016, 10:32:57 PM
Re: Is There Room For Yet Another Tolkien Clone? I wish I had the time to ponder for paragraphs about whether the common-or-garden elves-dwarves-and-whatever in the cultural fantasy consciousness at present have more to do with Tolkien or D&D (by, admittedly, way of Tolkien, but with a lot of alteration).

It's probably best for everyone that I don't. ;p

August 01, 2016, 06:59:19 AM
Re: How much did you write today? 3k last night. If I can hit that a few more days this week and the upcoming weeks in August, plus a Saturday at some point, I think I might be able to finish the first draft of my fantasy WIP!
August 03, 2016, 06:14:31 PM
Re: Dual Wielding... practicality, thoughts, etc. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJBEDxh0RQw

It's OK for dueling, but not practcial for war.

Not that it stops me from giving it to one character. Cos it's just so COOL. 

August 18, 2016, 01:48:57 PM
Re: Stranger Things Poll I am actually obsessed with Stranger Things, best thing on Netflix imo.
August 18, 2016, 06:11:04 PM
Re: How much did you write today? Today, I edited pretty much a full chapter. I wish I edited faster.
August 25, 2016, 02:42:59 AM