Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Indie Publishing Success- Best Practices

Listen to the companion podcast episode

This post is going to be very beginner-oriented, but hopefully vets will find something of value.

If you spend time on indie publishing forums or in author/publisher groups, you'll likely hear the term "best practices." While there's no hard-and-fast definition, "best practices" are the things indie authors can do that are generally a good idea, and have often proved effective for commercially successful authors. Obviously, there are no guarantees, but it's my belief that emulating the best practices of successful authors improves your odds of success greatly. Here are a few:

Produce a Quality Product 

Pay Attention to Craft 
 We covered this topic in detail here
*Attending to craft includes, but is not limited to things like:
*Writing Workshops
*Critique partners
*Reading widely

Identify and Study Your Genre/Subgenre 
*Make sure your work fits the tropes
*Study the bestseller lists and learn from the successful indies.
*Figure out what's selling and what isn't. Mass market readers don't necessarily want "unique," "new and different," or subversion of tropes. Most of the time, they want "more of the same."

Have a Good Book Cover
This should go without saying, but it doesn't. Take a look at Lousy Book Covers.
*Emulate the bestselling indies in your subgenre.
*Remember, the book cover is a sales tool, not an artistic reflection of the contents of your book. The cover needs to entice the reader and capture the general spirit of your book and subgenre. Don't pass up an amazing book cover because the cover model's hair is too short, etc...
*Don't clutter your book with a bunch of images from your book.
*If you can't afford a custom book cover, look for premade book covers. Lots of professional designers are making high-quality covers for a very reasonable price, and the price is only going to get lower as more and more artists offer premades. (I won't list sites here. A simple Google search will turn up plenty of results.)

Product Description
Some people call this the "blurb," "synopsis," or "back cover copy." In short, this is the description/summary of your book that will appear on your book's Amazon (or Nook, iBooks, Kobo...). There are many things that could be said about this, but in general:
*It's an ad, not a summary.
*Open with a hook. A couple of examples:
-A lost world has been found again... and no one is getting out alive. (The Valley by William Meikle.)
-Sometimes, the legends are true.(Primordial by yours truly and Alan Baxter.)
*Keep the description snappy and not overlong.
*Focus on what the story is about and what the character will face.
*This is not the place to load up on back-story. Don't tell us the history of your fantasy world, your character's life-story, etc...

*Learn from bestselling indie books in your subgenre.

Proofreading and Editing
*There are many editors professional content editors and proofreaders doing freelance work nowadays. Many are working both freelance for indies and traditional publishers. If you can afford it, it's possible to get trad-pub quality editing for your work.
*If you can't afford the best editors and proofreaders (yet), take steps to make your manuscript as clean as possible:
*Before making your final pass over the manuscript, change the font and font size. Some authors find this helps put them in different headspace and helps them catch errors.
*Read the book aloud to yourself.
*Read the book page-by-page beginning with the back page. This prevents you from focusing on the plot.
*Use a text-to-speech program to read the manuscript back to you.
*Use a program like Grammarly to help check for errors. (Note- a program like Grammarly will identify possible errors, but you will still have to be the judge of whether or not what you've written is incorrect. It will be of little help if you don't understand the rules of grammar and punctuation.)
*Get as many eyes on your manuscript as you can. Perhaps you can find people among your street team who are skilled editors.
*Network with other indies to find affordable editors and proofreaders. Check the Kboards Yellow Pages.

None of the above is intended to suggest you shouldn't hire an editor or proofer. I simply recognize that, for some people, it might be years before they can afford those services. I believe that if your book is well-written and you make it as clean as possible, readers will forgive a few mistakes. My first books had many mistakes and I've had them re-edited and proofed. It's not ideal, and I might have lost a few readers along the way, but that's my journey and it's turned out all right. I do encourage you to engage the services of good editors and proofers as soon as you can afford them.

*Learn from the indie authors who are enjoying success in your subgenre. Look at how they go about their business. See if they've written blog posts or articles, or have given interviews in which they talk about their best practices. Understand and emulate those practices. (Please, do not contact authors and ask them to be your mentor. The successful authors are almost certainly too busy to take on a mentee and they'll feel guilty about saying "no.")
*Listen to podcasts like The Creative Penn, Self-Publishing Formula,  and Sci-Fi Fantasy Marketing Podcast for info and advice on the business and shows like Writing Excuses or The Roundtable Podcast for advice on the craft.

Be Careful About the Advice You Take
*Give greater consideration to those who are where you want to be in terms of commercial success. especially those who are succeeding in your genre.
*Does the person giving advice share your goals? If your goal is commercial success, the person whose focus is elsewhere might not be the best person to offer guidance.
*When it comes to business decisions, take the advice of indies who have "made it on their own" rather than "name" authors whose brand identity can overcome their publisher's bad marketing decisions. Also, if an author whose small-to-midsize publisher has cultivated a solid niche audience, beware when that author tells you "I don't worry about branding or marketing." In short, look for apples-to-apples publishing circumstances.
*Before handing money over to advice-givers, check to see if they're actually making a living selling fiction, or if they're actually making their living selling advice to authors in the form of workshops, books, etc... (It's a red flag if they say- "I make all my fiction money through my super-secret pen names.)
*Don't believe every indie conspiracy theory you read, especially about Amazon/algorithms.
*It's not all about luck. This could open a can of worms, so I'll cut to the chase: the harder I work, and the smarter I work, the luckier I get. Focus on what's within your control. Using best practices and learning from successful indies is no guarantee of success, but it gives you your best chance.

Publishing/Writing Considerations
*Be productive! Producing regular content is essential
*The longer you go between new releases, the sharper the sales decline.
*Writing novellas is a great way to keep a series going and produce regular content. My novellas sell almost as well as my full-length books, and the occasional "this is too short" review doesn't hurt sales.
*Short stories have their uses, but aren't particularly effective as tools for generating new sales/keeping momentum in the sales rankings.

*Writing a series tends to be much more effective than writing a variety of disconnected works.
*Putting out a new book in a series tends to lift the sales rankings of previous books in the series.
*Don't believe the old publishing "truism" that an author's books compete with one another. The opposite is actually true. Some indies have even found they can put out a book a month without detrimental effects on their catalog.

Consider Your Own Consumer Behavior
*Before spending money (or time) on a given strategy, ask yourself: has this particular strategy ever led me to buy a book? If so, how often?

*Here are some things that have never persuaded me to buy a book:
-SWAG (stuff we all get) bags
-Book Trailers
-Author TV/Radio appearances
-A Facebook ad proclaiming a given author as "better than..." This is an automatic "no" for me.

*Here are some things that have often persuaded me to buy a book:
-Recommendation from a friend who shares my reading interests.
-A sharp-looking book cover
-Finding the book in the also-boughts of my favorite authors.
-Finding the book in the besteller lists of my favorite genres.

Whew! This was a lengthy post. If you've made it to the end, thanks for reading and I hope you've found something useful. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Book of Bones Audiobook- Part 1

Are there aliens among us?

Legends tell of battles with strange beings living under the earth, beings whose origins lie beyond the stars.

When Bones Bonebrake is stranded in a small New Mexico town, he comes face-to-face with a local legend and dangerous enemies.

Joined by old friends and new, Bones finds himself caught up in an action-packed search for a lost Native American artifact that may hold the key to unlocking one of the world's most enduring mysteries. Hounded by conspiracy theorists and secret government agencies, he must stay alive long enough to find the Book of Bones!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Beware of the Bitter Author

Listen to the Companion Podcast Episode

One of the phenomena you'll encounter on your publishing journey is the Bitter Author. The Bitter Author will try to discourage you, give you bad advice, or make you feel badly about your publishing path. Don't let it happen. Keep your guard up, your eyes open, and focus on your goals.

The Bitter Author comes in many shapes and sizes. A few I've encountered include:

"Former Big 5" Author:
This author was once published by a major house, but no longer is. Maybe he still has an agent, but probably not. He might even have had a movie option once, but that didn't pan out. No one remembers his name or his debut novel. Maybe he had some short fiction sales back when people read things like magazines, but no one remembers those either. Now, he clings on, published by a variety of small houses. His books still don't sell enough for him to make a living because he's the same writer whom all the resources of a big publishing house couldn't turn into a commercial success.

Former Big 5 Author is an angry man. He thought he'd reached the summit of Everest when he signed his first deal, but soon discovered all he'd received were directions to the base of the mountain, and all his sherpas quit on him when they saw he wasn't that great a climber. Now, he wraps his disappointment in layers of condescension. He bemoans the "unedited crap" being churned out by "no talent" self-publishers. He won't hear a word otherwise, and mocks and belittles anyone who disagrees with him. Why does he do this? Maybe he believes he'd be selling books if only it weren't for all these cheap, crappy, self-pubbed titles. Mostly, though, he resents seeing others succeed where he failed.

How do we handle Former Big 5 Author? Don't engage. Nothing you say will ever change his mind. And even if you could, what would it gain you? Just smile as he flails away online, spewing his bile, and then get back to writing.

"The Gatekeeper Let Me In" Author:
This author hasn't made it to Big 5 publishing. Maybe she came close, but couldn't sell her manuscript. Maybe she never managed to secure an agent. Maybe she never even tried for one reason or another. This author is published by a small, perhaps tiny, digital/POD press. Like Former Big 5 Author, her books don't sell. She deals with this by clinging to the fact that an "editor" deemed her work worthy of publication. This, she claims, elevates her work above the flood of poor-quality books that are published only because digital publishing has made it possible to bypass the gatekeepers. Meanwhile, it never occurs to her that her "publisher" only exists because of digital publishing opening these gates, and were it not for digital publishing, she'd be unpublished.

The Gatekeeper Let Me In Author is another whom we can ignore. If she wants an editor of some stripe to affirm her work's worth, that's fine. We'll let the readers affirm our worth.

"Failed/Failing at Indie-Publishing" Author
 This author generally comes in two flavors:

"Did Everything Wrong" Author
This author dipped his toe into the waters of self-publishing, but he didn't take the time to learn anything about the best practices. Maybe he tried publishing some short fiction. Maybe he published a few disconnected works. Maybe he didn't identify niches with the best sales potential. Perhaps he had a crappy book cover. You name it, he did it wrong. Why did he do it? Impatience? Arrogance? Maybe he's traditionally-published and is accustomed to being taken care of. In any case things on the indie side aren't working out for him.

Did Everything Wrong Author will get on your nerves. It might be mild comments like, "It might work for some, but it doesn't work for me." In his more annoying form, he'll visit self-publishing forums in search of a magic bullet to make his books sell. Whatever you do, don't suggest that he start from the ground up, utilizing best practices. He'll get indignant and accuse you of "lecturing" or "straying off-topic." If you want to give him a gentle nudge in the direction of resources that would be helpful to him, feel free. Just don't expect it to make a difference.

"Just Can't Write" Author
This is the toughest one of all. Some people are simply bad writers. I'm not talking about genre differences or subjective tastes. Some writing is objectively bad. Other authors can write clean, perhaps even quality prose, but can't tell a story. Some can't write engaging characters. Others write dialog so bland that you sometimes can't differentiate it from the narrative voice.

This author might have actually done everything "right" but when push came to shove, readers tried her work and didn't like it. It's not that she sells zero books. She probably has a handful of readers- just enough to convince her that it's not her writing that's the problem.

Just Can't Write Author is angry. She's followed all the publishing advice, and she's still not selling books. She's convinced the quality of her writing is not the problem, so the issue must be that all the publishing advice she followed is wrong. Why did some succeed where she didn't? Luck. That's all. She lurks on sites like Kboards, itching for a fight, contradicting the advice of commercially successful writers, giving bad advice, seconding bad ideas, and saying things like, "Don't let anyone tell you your (terrible) idea won't work!" Why does she do this? Because, deep down, she doesn't believe anything other than luck makes a difference, so what's the harm in trying out strategies that have failed again and again? Good luck will overcome bad practices, and all the best practices in the world won't overcome bad luck.

Just Can't Write Author shouldn't be ignored. There's no point in engaging her directly- her mind isn't going to change. What you can do is offer good advice to the people she's guiding down the wrong path. They might not know any better.

So who isn't a bitter author?
There are lots of "Positive Authors" out there at all stages of their careers. In fact, I've encountered very few bitter authors. The common denominator? On some level, they're happy with where they are. Maybe they're indie authors earning a nice living; perhaps they've got a nice career going with a traditional publisher; could be their work is being recognized for its literary merit; maybe they're just happy to be published and are having a great time; or, maybe they aren't anywhere near where they want to be, but they still have hope and have surrounded themselves with the right sorts of people to help them on their way.

"Positive Authors" are secure in the knowledge that they are responsible for their own careers and the opinions of the bitter among those they encounter don't matter in the long run.

Focus on the positive influences. Don't let the bitter authors into your life.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Writing is Not a Job

Click here to listen to the companion podcast episode

Writing is not a job.
No, really, hear me out.
It's not a job, at least, not in the way most people think of jobs, and in the way most writers talk about them.

First, let's get a couple of things out of the way:
-As always, I'm addressing writers whose goal it is to earn a full-time living writing commercial fiction.
-When I say writing isn't a job, I'm talking about the idea that writing is an endeavor for which you should expect a living wage merely by showing up and putting forth effort, as you might in many vocations. 
Let's take a look at some of the definitions of "job:"

job: a piece of work, especially a specific task done as part of the routine of one's occupation or for an agreed price:

As an author, a work-for hire agreement, in which the writer is paid an agreed-upon price for a specific task, is sort of a job, but it's a contract arrangement; you're not an employee, and you don't necessarily expect a living wage from that specific task. The traditional "Here's your advance; let's see if this book sells enough to earn it back" is not a "job" in the traditional, "full-time job" sense.

job: a post of employment; full-time or part-time position.

You are not an employee. You're an independent contractor producing a product that the people who have -jobs- at the publishing house will attempt to sell.

job: anything a person is expected or obliged to do; duty; responsibility.

This doesn't really fit either. My daughter washing the dishes fits this definition of "job." And even though writing a book is something we're obliged to do, the obligation is a contractual agreement between parties, not an employer/employee relationship.

What I'm getting at is, when you have a "full-time job" in the traditional sense, you almost always know how much you'll be paid, either per hour or year, or at least what your baseline pay will be. As long as you show up when you're expected, put forth something that approximates reasonable effort in the eyes of your superiors, and don't screw up, you'll get paid your agreed-upon wage. Furthermore, employees doing the same job will generally make about the same living wage  (although, certainly with some variation.) The author life bears little resemblance to that arrangement, and it's folly to discuss author compensation in those terms.

At this point, you';re probably wondering why I'm wasting our collective time on this topic. Here's why (and again, I'm talking about commercial fiction, not literary):

-I'm discouraged by authors complaining about how little their writing "job" pays them.
-I frequently roll my eyes at writers who produce one book a year (or maybe not even that) complaining that they're underpaid at their "job."
-I'm discouraged by writers who make the choice to surrender 50%-90% of their potential income to publishers and agents complaining their "job" doesn't pay them enough. If you're an author for whom indie publishing just doesn't fit, there's nothing wrong with that, but don't be surprised when you're making the same sort of income as others in your genre.
-I'm weary of writers bemoaning the low average and median incomes of authors, when we all know those incomes include unproductive authors, authors who dip their toes into self-publishing and fail...
-I'm weary of authors who think it's impossible to produce multiple quality books a year. (That's another post entirely, but it's been thoroughly debunked.)
-I'm puzzled by "full-time" writers who act like 500 words a day is a Herculean task, and then wonder why they aren't earning a living wage.
-I'm tired of hearing about muses, or hearing the word "can't" applied in silly ways to so many aspects of the act of putting words on the page.
-I'm worried for writers who quit their actual jobs (you know, the ones that pay the bills) because they believe unemployment is a magic pill that will turn them into writing machines, churning out loads of commercially-appealing prose.
-I'm baffled by writers who ignore all the readily-available data on what traditional publishing pays, quit their day job, and are surprised when they aren't  the exception to the rule.
-I'm frustrated at seeing writers who can't make a living at traditional publishing make a half-hearted effort at indie publishing (publishing a short story collection, a novella disconnected from the interests of their established audience, not taking the time to learn best practices of indie pub), predictably failing, declaring "indie publishing might work for some, but it doesn't for me," and then putting their hand out for donations.
-I'm tired of people who think they should be paid a living wage simply because they engage in the act of writing for a few hours, most days of the week, most weeks of the year.

So, if writing isn't a "job" in the traditional sense, what is it?

An author produces a product for sale. That's it. As I said in a previous post, we're paid for the product, not the process.

Also as previously discussed, an author's compensation will therefore be determined by:
-Commercial appeal of the product.
-Effective pricing and marketing strategies
-Work ethic (more products=more income)
-How much of an author's potential income is surrendered to agents and publishers (or, in the case of indies, investment in the production process, cuts taken by distributors...)

So, what's the point of all this?

I believe it's in our best interests to change the way we think about writing. Instead of thinking about ourselves as employees slaving away at a job that pays poorly, let's start recognizing ourselves for what we are: producers.

When we accept that our compensation hinges on quality and quantity of our products, and the wisdom and effectiveness of our business decisions, we begin to see writing in a different way, and we begin to focus on what really matters:

-Work on our craft
-Strive to be more productive and efficient
-Stay on top of the business aspects, best practices, and realities of the publishing industry.

Let's stop sapping our time and creative energy fretting about what everyone else is being paid, and figure out how we can make our own careers work for us. On that note, I'm going to get back to work.

Good luck on your writing and publishing journey!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Encourage A Young Writer Day

Listen to the companion podcast episode.

Today is National Encourage a Young Writer Day (and I'm writing it out because NEYWD isn't much of an acronym; kind of a misspelling of NUDE.) As someone who gave writing a try as a kid and then stopped for decades before returning to it, I thought I'd take a moment to offer some
encouragement and advice to young writers:

Don't be shy or self-conscious. When I was in middle school, I decided to try my hand at writing a book. My mom saw the pages, picked them up, and read them. She didn't say anything about them, or do anything to make me feel embarrassed (in fact, my parents always praised my writing) but I was still mortified that someone had read my fiction. There was something about writing fiction that made me feel vulnerable in a way that writing essays or humorous pieces didn't. It was a long time before I wrote fiction again. I regret the years I wasted. I probably wouldn't have produced anything publishable during those years, but I've had gained experience and had fun in the process. And who knows? Maybe I would have produced something awesome.

On that note...

Don't focus on getting published. When I taught middle school, one of the most awkward positions I found myself in was when a young writer would tell me, "I wrote my book and had it checked for mistakes. Now, how do I get published?" I never wanted to say anything that would discourage a young writer, but I also didn't want to lead them into a situation where their writing would be dismissed (or worse) by editors (or readers, in the case of self-publishing.) The first books you write aren't going to be publishable, and certainly not a first draft that's been checked for typos. Take pride in what you've written, share it with people close to you, learn the writing and revision process, keep writing new books, and read. Don't be in such a hurry to publish, and don't feel like you haven't accomplished something just because you did not seek publication for a given book.

Learn a lot. You can find a wealth of information on writing and publishing for free on the web: blogs, websites, forums, podcasts, YouTube. Heck, Brandon Sanderson offers some of his graduate level writing courses in their entirety for free on YouTube. The writing life is a long journey, one you never complete, so learn all you can along the way.

Read a lot! Read books in genres you love. Read books in genres you're not sure you will enjoy. Read non-fiction (you'd be surprised how many story and character ideas you'll get from non-fiction.) Learn from "classic" books but read what's current, too. And don't read the same things over and over.

Write a lot! Write short stories, write books, write fan fiction. Practice, practice, practice.

Get honest feedback. As you grow as a writer, you'll want to get feedback on your stories so you can improve. This is where writing short stories can be great. It's one thing to ask someone to critique a short story. It's yet another thing to ask them to critique a book. But remember, when you're young job # 1 is...

Have fun! Enjoy creating characters and stories. There will be plenty of time later on for harsh criticism. While you're young, just create and have a blast doing it.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Indie Publishing Success- Street Teams

Listen to the companion podcast episode

Today, let's talk about "Street Teams" or "ARC Groups."

An ARC Group is a group of dedicated readers who receive advance review copies (ARCs) of your books in exchange for an honest review when your book is released.

I like the term "street team" because an effective group does more than just review your book; they "take to the streets" upon release and spread the word about your book, and talk you and your work up in general. They're your grassroots marketers. They help provide the essential "word of mouth" buzz that helps you reach new readers. 

What are the advantages of a street team?

 -Your book has reviews right out of the gate. Because your team will be comprised of people who enjoy your work, the reviews will likely tend toward the positive. Don't buy into all the "algorithm voodoo" you hear claiming that "after your book gets ____ reviews, Amazon's recommendations kick in." While confirmed purchase reviews play a part in recommendations, the greatest factor by far (and I mean far) is sales. What reviews give you is social proof. A book with a decent number of reviews and a good average rating is going to have a lot more appeal to a potential buyer than a book with no reviews.

-Word of mouth advertising. As mentioned above, having your Street Team members spread the word about your book to other readers is invaluable. And if you treat them well, they'll likely spread the word about you in general, not just when you have a new release. Some will blog about your books, others will post on social media, still others will talk you up on book clubs.

-An added layer of editorial feedback. Some of my team members love catching typos. Some have specialized knowledge and will catch factual errors. Others will give you general feedback about the story. Your team shouldn't take the place of editors and proofreaders, but their help is invaluable none the less.

-Cultivating relationships with readers. We've discussed the importance of this before. Ideally, your  team becomes your "insiders." I've gotten to know some of my best readers much better through my street team and have met some truly delightful people in the process!

When am I ready to form a street team?

Ultimately, you'll have to trust your instincts. It's not something I'd recommend doing right off the bat, but you can take it in steps from the outset. Begin by asking your beta readers to leave reviews. As your Facebook author page grows, you can give away a limited number of review copies upon release, and eventually work up to a full-blown street team.

How do I set up my street team?

Start by creating a signup form on your website.
-Clearly state your expectations. Make it clear the subscriber must read and review all the books you send.
-Ask for a link to where the person currently leaves reviews. (Amazon or Goodreads profile, Audible listener profile, blog...)
-Ask why the person believes (s)he would be a good member.
-You might want to make it clear that you are only sharing advance ebooks, and that the reader must know how to side-load or open the ebook file on their device.

Decide how you will send out advance reader copies. Some authors keep a list of email addresses, and simply send out a mass email (be sure to put the team members' addresses in the "blind copy" section.) Others use an automated system like you might use for a newsletter.

Create a "special access" point for your team. Your team deserves more than the occasional $3 ebook in thanks for what they do. I have created a secret Facebook group for my street team. They get direct access to me, I can bounce ideas off of them, we can interact, but also the group gives me an opportunity to give them special treatment by sharing things like news, previews, and book cover reveals.

Decide how to recruit your first members. Since I started out by giving away review copies in my Facebook author group, that was the natural spot for me to begin. Once I reached a target number, I deleted the post, stopped actively seeking new members, but left the signup form on my site for a while. Once I reached the next benchmark, I removed the form from my site. I'll re-post it from time to time to add new team members. Some authors like to start small, then let it be known that new members will be added in X months, and acceptance will be based on the applicants' review history.

Other tips, questions, and concerns

Is there a limit to how many readers I should have on my team? That's your call. The number of reviewers you accept will likely be a reflection of how well your books sell. Some highly successful authors have ARC lists of over 1,000 while others cap the number at a much, much lower total. Do what's comfortable for you.

Should I periodically  cull my list of readers who aren't reviewing? Again, your call. Some authors aren't worried about it, others check from time-to-time. One effective tool is simply to send out a group email, BCC'ing those who haven't been reviewing, and asking if they still wish to be on the list. Sometimes life legitimately gets away, so you might wish to take that into consideration.

Should I worry about people scamming me? It's something to at least be aware of. Definitely beware of people who want paperbacks, people who tell you all the reasons they "can't afford" your $3 ebook, people who get on as many ARC lists as possible just to get the free books... I'm not suggesting that many of those who are interested in being on your team are grifters, but it's a reality in the industry. I wouldn't lose any sleep over it, but keep it in mind.

Parting thoughts-

-Know your expectations at the start and stick with them.
-Some authors suggest that reviewers not  use language like "I received an ARC for an honest review" in their Amazon/Goodreads reviews, or else Amazon will remove the review. Use something like, 'I voluntarily read an early copy of this title.'
-Don't fret that giving away a few books will cost you money. A well-managed team will more than pay for itself through reviews, promo, and positive reader relationships. Some will still purchase the book when it comes out as a way of supporting you.
-Don't feel bad about cutting a member loose if you feel it's warranted.
-Remember, the above is simply an example of a "starter" team. Some authors take it to the next level, with point systems, rewards, and challenges. Remain open to ideas and possibilities.
-Don't be afraid to ask your team for help, but never miss an opportunity to thank them and tell them how awesome they are!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

"Fair Compensation" for Your Work

Listen to the Companion Podcast Episode

Something I see regularly discussed in writing and publishing circles is the subject of a writer being
"fairly compensated" for her/his work. Often this takes the form of a pricing discussion, or perhaps in the context of reports on authors' average or median income. There are many common refrains I think are misguided. They include:

"I set my ebook price at $9.99 [or other high amount] because I want to be fairly compensated for my work."

In indie publishing, seeking "fair compensation" on a per-unit basis is the wrong strategy. You're not flipping a house; you're creating a work of which you can sell an unlimited number of copies. Your strategy should be what any competent businessperson does: find the price point at which sales*price= maximum revenue. The ability to offer books at a significantly lower price than traditional publishers and still make a solid royalty per-sale is one of an indie's most effective tools. We'd be foolish not to use that to our advantage.

I recently participated in a pricing discussion in  which an author advocated for the $9.99 price point, cited the length of her books as a deciding factor, and claimed her readers "thanked her for charging a fair price for her work." Her book was ranked around 1,000,000 on Amazon, which means she probably hasn't sold a copy in more than a month. We'll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she's selling a copy a month. Is the (a little less than) $7 she earned last month a "fair compensation" for her work?

"I'm going to set X price point and train my readers to expect that price for my work."

Bad news: your readers aren't exclusively yours. They're reading lots of other authors in your genre (and probably in other genres) and those other authors, if they're indies are most likely pricing according to the market. In commercial fiction, our work is fungible. Fans of George RR Martin don't go on a "book fast" in between new installments of A Song of Ice and Fire. If I stopped writing tomorrow, readers who love Dane Maddock will be disappointed, but they aren't going to give up reading forever. They're going to keep enjoying all the other thriller and action-adventure authors in their TBR pile. If I were to start charging $9.99 for an ebook, a fraction of those readers would come along for the ride, but most will simply spend their money one more reasonably priced indie authors, or will buy books from better-known trad-pub authors.

"I'm not going to charge less than X for my book. I worked too hard on it for that."

The level of effort you put into your work has no bearing whatsoever on what price point will maximize your revenue. If you want to be compensated for your hard work, charge a price that the market will bear, and earn as much as you can from your book.

"I'm not going to be a part of the race to the bottom in indie book pricing."

There's no race to the bottom. The indie ebook market is fairly stable, with $2.99-$4.99 being the price points (according to Data Guy) at which authors are maximizing revenue, and that's been the case for a while. Thanks in large part to Bookbub, 99 cents is no longer "special," and is now typically used as a special sale price. The same with free books- authors offer them as part of a larger sales strategy.

"X author charges X and earned X last year!"

- Are you sure?
- Even if that's true, the exception doesn't prove the rule.
- I'll wager I can point to many, many more authors who are pricing according to the dictates of the market, and are making a lot more money than X author.
- If you're new to publishing, or haven't yet reached the level of success you're aiming for, X author's income probably seems like a lot, but remember, your best chance of earning that much (or much more) is to follow the examples of those authors who are enjoying the most success.

"Oprah says, 'Don't accept no from people who don't have the power to say yes.'" 

I saw this comment in reply to a debut indie author who was planning to charge $9.99 for his book. (Side note- Oprah's a badass and, in context, that's a great quote.) If your goal is to succeed in indie publishing,  it is absolutely your prerogative to ignore the experience and advice of the authors who have worked their way to the level you hope to reach, but do so at your peril. No one's telling you "no:" they're saying, "I wouldn't do that if I were you." (Side note #2- the author did, in fact, price his book at $9.99, and it's not selling.)

"It's so awful that the average author only earns X per year. People need to value our profession more than that."

While I won't dispute that the vast majority of authors don't earn a substantial income from writing, let's face some harsh realities:

-A commercial fiction author is creating a product for sale.  The author's compensation is dependent upon that product's commercial appeal, the pricing and marketing strategies applied to that product, whether or not a publisher and an agency are taking cuts of the author's work, and how frequently an author generates new products.

-We are compensated for the product, not the process (and not the effort we put into it, nor the 'intrinsic value' of our work.)

-Author earnings reports tend to be skewed by authors who: don't put out books regularly;  write bad books; write good books but use bad business practices; are fully invested in the traditional publishing model (meaning they're earning pocket change per book sold, and then giving an agent a cut too) but have midlist, or lower, sales figures.

At this point, there are several rabbit holes down which I could run, but instead, I'll save those topics for another day and underscore my main points:

The best way to be fairly compensated for your work is to use the best possible pricing strategies.

While luck plays a part, your compensation as an author will be determined by the commercial appeal of your work, your business decisions, and your work ethic. The time we spend grumbling about underpaid authors is time we could spend writing. Get to work!