Archive for the ‘Publishing’ Category

The Discovery Writer and I

Posted by arnaud on November 15th, 2012

Yes, I’m shamelessly pilfering Wicked here, but you know : artists do steal from time to time.

This is supposed to be a short post about my Utopiales con from last week. We’ll see how short I can go.

I go to Utopiales every year (in Nantes) for several reasons:

  • This con has been really good to me in the past. I got to meet wonderful people and spend time with them.
  • They love to invite international writers. Since french people don’t speak English this well, I can have said writers to myself
  • They mix science panels with literary panels. This pleases both the old physicist me and the new writer me.

So, how did this year go?

First, I had hoped to see our famous Dan Wells there. He was free this weekend and seemed interested, but the con’s schedule was already booked by the time I talked to him about it, so he couldn’t be there. Maybe he can join us next year, though only one week after WFC in Brighton, it might be difficult for everyone to stack 2 cons in a row.

Now, I did have a great time. I got to meet Nancy Kress, a very nice lady who happens to be a discovery writer too. We discussed a bit about discovery writing and middles, since those are a weak point in my writing. Imagine someone picking a car who wouldn’t know where to go? The resulting route isn’t nearly a direct line from start to finish, it’s a meandering path with dead ends, failed scenes and scenes that take off in unexpected ways until I stumble into an idea (usually about the 2/3 mark) and find my ending. She described her process in almost the same words, so I felt a kind of kinship here. When I asked her if there was some way to direct the trajectories to get a more direct path, she said no : you can either write too much and remove the extra or rewrite the whole thing once you know the story. I was kind of hoping to skip a bit of the editing part, but nope. She also mentioned that sometimes, the book doesn’t work. Either she doesn’t find the ending or it doesn’t work. In those cases, she has to scrap the whole project and do something else. That’s not good news to me : I spend too much time on my books to afford to lose one. Maybe it’s better than trying to sell at any cost a book that doesn’t work anyway.

I got to eat lunch with both Norman Spinrad and Michael Moorcock. Michael and I discussed about his ideas for distributing electronic contents (both words and music, as he’s a musician too). He didn’t think someone had already done it, but I mentioned that Kevin J. Anderson had a couple of books he had produced with a rock band, so Michael and him can discuss how Kevin did it.

A comment about the overall panels.

  • First, please do stop putting college researchers as moderators. They spend 15 minutes to introduce the topic without even presenting the panelists. I come to hear what the panelists have to say, not what the moderator wrote in his thesis.
  • Then, French writers seem to have different problems than the rest of us. They don’t need agents; get two-year contracts on electronic books; have their share of the cover price guaranteed by law. Different worlds. They don’t seem to care much about translation rights either. On the other hand, they don’t see themselves as storytellers, but as people wanting to make their readers think. It’s strange to me that a writer wouldn’t define itself as a storyteller first.
  • The science panels were all interesting. If I had more time, there are a thousand of story ideas there.

I’m done for this post. Next one will be about ending ‘The Emerald Shower’ – weird stuff.

ePublishing Maths

Posted by arnaud on October 15th, 2012

Yesterday’s writing group’s topic was “Gordon S. Black’s experiences publishing on Amazon.”

It was so interesting that we never got to critiquing our pieces and kept on discussing. All the numbers there made me think, so I opened up a spreadsheet and started crunching up numbers.

Gordon S. Black’s situation

Gordon’s view on publishing was that he didn’t want to deal with the gatekeepers anymore. After some time being rejected (and knowing what money his own father got from writing pulps), he decided to self-publish. He’s written an essay on that topic if you’re interested.
Now, he’s published about 8 novels on Amazon, with various degrees of success, and sold overall about 10 000 copies. He began with a platform and told us that he found out his sales were directly proportional to his own self-promotion efforts.  Prices apparently do not factor in the number of copies sold.
If I were to guess, I’d estimate that his platform is about 1000 people strong. That’s a good number to start with, I think, but will it allow you to make a living?

I’m on a different side of the spectrum myself. I want to be read by the widest audience, have no platform, and no inclination to be a salesman. I’d rather spend time writing than self-promoting, to be honest.

Let’s compare numbers then and see which side would pay better?

I’ll take ‘The Fifth Compendium’ as an example, with its 140 000 words :

On the self-publishing side, the costs are (if I take Gordon’s sources and their prices, which are fairly low)

  • Line editing :  $ 1,500
  • Copy editing : $ 1,400
  • Cover art : $ 400

I should also include my own cost to factor in. If I want to be paid a conservative $ 25 per hour, and assume I spent about 400 hours on the book (that’s only about 8 hours per week for a year), then my cost is $ 10,000 ; which is about the advance a publisher would pay me.

In total, the costs amount to $ 13,300.

What could the profits be?

If I publish on Amazon and get 70% royalty, with a reasonably priced $ 8 book, then I need to sell 2,375 copies to start making money (over what I already took with my $ 25 /hr salary).
It’s funny to see that 2,000 copies is about the number of copies at which publishers will start to notice you : at this point, you’re starting to cover your own costs.
Some might say that my real cost was only $ 3,300 and I only need 600 copies to earn this back, but if I want to be a professional, I have to pay myself.

How much time will it take me to sell 2,000 copies? At least 2 years, I think and that’s being very optimistic. With only e-books, how are people going to even know I exist? I would be very lucky to sell 15 copies per week, and at this rate, the 2,375 copies will sell in 3 years. It will be 40 weeks before I get to see a single dime to pay myself (I have to cover my other costs first before I pay myself).

For me to sell this much, I’d have to spend time self-promoting (which I hate) and stop writing. I’d need at least a year to recover my money anyway, and would probably need another year to gather enough money to pay for a second book’s editing and art.

On the New York publishing side,

If I imagine they’re paying me a solid $ 10,000 advance, what do I get?

$ 5,000 on signing, and probably the other half on publication 18 months later. As shown before, this covers about my salary for writing the book.
The publisher could price it higher than I do; let’s assume $ 11.5 (I took a reasonable $ 25 hardcover and deduced the shares for printing and distributing).
What royalty would I earn per copy? Right now, about 25% of price for electronic books (I know, the usual rate is 50% of net, but who knows what exactly net is), which I assume would be around $ 2.50 per copy. I know it’s not much compared to the $ 5.60 I’d make if I published myself, but I’m not the one taking the risks there nor footing the bills for editing and art.
For paper books, my royalty should probably be 8% of cover price, so $ 2 per copy (if still priced at $ 25). If i were to self-publish on paper, my own margin would probably be much lower, because publish on demand is so more expensive than a publisher’s usual print run.

What  number of copies do I have to sell if I want to earn back my book?

Guess what? Around 3,500 copies (actually, a bit more if I sell in hardcover where my royalty rate is much lower.
The average lifetime for a book on the shelf is 3 months, so I get 3 months of advertising to get the book started, and then it’s only the electronic copies that count. At this point, a paper book looks more and more like advertisement to me, as Tom Doherty says (“A book is a billboard”). I won’t make much money from them, but they will bring in readers.

Will I ever manage to earn back my advance? Difficult to say. Even the publishers don’t know that.
I’d say probably not (and this is a conclusion that most authors reach today, even successful midlisters).

Now, if the book is good enough, the publisher might ask for another one and pay me an advance before I even start writing it.

Let’s compare

It’s all a matter of probabilities it seems. If I’m moderately successful, I’m much better off with a publisher who will pay me in advance to work and promote my book so they can be seen by readers on an actual shelf.

If I’m very successful, I’m better off publishing myself where I will have the maximum income. Now, can anybody be successful by themselves without a lot of self promotion or a huge stroke of fate? Probably not.

Can I win at the lottery? Sure! Will-I? Probably not.

If you want to play the odds, it’s much safer to stick with traditional publishing. Now, after you made a name for yourself, the game changes and I’d say that self-publishing is probably going to bring in more money. Some midlist authors will probably have to do both : publish some titles with regular publishers to maintain their name in the community and gather new readers, and self publish the rest to make most of their income with their established platform.

Until I get that platform, there is no real value for me in self-publishing. So gatekeepers, here I come!