Thursday, March 24, 2011

Amanda Hocking's making a whole lot of sense

There's been a lot of buzz about Amanda Hocking on the Internet lately, even today on the Scribblerati e-mail list. I don't know Amanda Hocking, nor have I read any of her books, but I have been catching up on her blog and let me tell you, Amanda Hocking's making a whole lot of sense.

I'm not going to go into her whole life story, you can read her blog for that, but here's the basics. Amanda Hocking is a self published/indie sensation who is making a shit load of money. Here ends the basics.

Why am I so jazzed about her? Because she's one of the few people who seem to truly grasp what being an self published author really means.

She can tell you better than I can, so here's a few bits from Some Things That Need to Be Said

Traditional publishing and indie publishing aren't all that different, and I don't think people realize that. Some books and authors are best sellers, but most aren't. It may be easier to self-publish than it is to traditionally publish, but in all honesty, it's harder to be a best seller self-publishing than it is with a house.

I don't think people really grasp how much work I do. I think there is this very big misconception that I was like, "Hey, paranormal is pretty hot right now," and then I spent a weekend smashing out some words, threw it up online, and woke up the next day with a million dollars in my bank account.

This is literally years of work you're seeing. And hours and hours of work each day. The amount of time and energy I put into marketing is exhausting. I am continuously overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do that isn't writing a book. I hardly have time to write anymore, which sucks and terrifies me.

I also have this tremendous sense of urgency, like if I don't get everything out now and do everything now, while the iron is hot, everything I've worked for will just fall away. For the first time, I truly understand why workaholics are workaholics. You can't stop working, because if you do, it unravels all the work you've already done. You have to keep going, or you'll die.

I was blown away when I read this. For one thing, it's incredibly heartfelt and while I'm not as far along in my career as she is, I can identify with the angst she feels. Holding down a full-time job, spending time with my lovely wife, and writing in my spare time already leaves me feeling strung out and exhausted.

As I've gotten closer to the end of my journey with To Kill the Goddess, I’ve often wondered how I would EVER be able to tackle writing book two and living the rest of my life all while doing everything else she talks about. Facing that mountain is enough to make even a self-publishing fan boy like myself that there just might be something to be said for a more traditional route.

But having said that, here's Indie vs. Traditional

This whole ebook thing is going to benefit everyone in a real big way. 

Traditional publishers will not die. Some may suffer, most will adapt. As a breed, they will change, but they will not go quietly into that good night.

Indie authors will also continue to flourish. Some with have great success, some will have no success, but most will do moderately well. Writers will be happier because of this, and readers will be happier with more options.

Midlist authors will go almost entirely indie. I think this move with benefit both the authors and the publishers. In a real way, publishers lose money on midlist authors.

Publishers have for years been in the business of making bestsellers. They put all their money and energy into make best sellers, but the problem is, nobody can actually predict a bestseller. …. So sometimes publishers put money and energy into books that were not bestsellers, and because of this, they lost a lot of money.

That meant that publishers had even less money and energy to give to midlist authors, who suffered because of it and had fewer sales, which meant less money for publishers, who then had even less money, and the cycle goes on.

What indie publishing allows authors to do is grow the way they used to with publishers. Authors can put out books and build a fan base. (Or a "platform" for those who like terminology). They can become bestselling authors before a traditional publisher ever works with them.

Because of this, for the first time in history, publishers have a real way of being able to tell if a book will be a best seller. Basically, because it already is a best seller or is written by a best selling author.

You may ask yourself, "But if I already have a best seller on my hands and I am a best selling author, why would I want a traditional publisher? Aren't they just swooping now that the hard part is done?"

The answer: Ebooks are still only 8-30% of the market. People speculate that in five years it will be 50%, maybe in more than. But for the sake of argument, let's assume that's right. If you're already a best selling author in the 8-50% market, why wouldn't you want to take a chance on being a best selling author in the the other 50-92% of the market?

Let me put it this way: Being Amanda Hocking right now is awesome. But being J. K. Rowling is out of the world. If you're an author, and you've worked your ass off on your books and your career, why pass on a chance at maybe being J. K. Rowling and settle for being Amanda Hocking?

So as you can see, Amanda Hocking is making a whole lot of sense.

There's a lot of people out there on the Internet right now we seem to be saying that either traditional publishing is going to die or that, unless you're incredibly lucky, you're a fool to forgo the benefits of traditional publishers and self publish. People who know me also know that I've been predicting major changes in the publishing industry, yet the more I learn, the more I believe there is room at that publishing table of the future for both indie and traditional authors.

Amanda's argument articulates one possible (dare I say probable?) manifestation of that future.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Self Promotion

Is self promotion worth it?

The question comes up now and then with us writers, especially among those of us deep within the vast herds of the unpublished or the about to be published. Should you be taking yourself away from valuable writing time, valuable product-creation time, in order to possibly maybe/maybe not drum up a handful or two of new readers? Is it worth the time and effort?

The conventional wisdom seems to be: No.

There are those out there that swear by self promotion and all the myriad of potential bounties it will lead to and they have specific cases they will cite and cite and cite ad nauseum to prove this. The thing is, most authors (that I've seen/read/talked to/whatever) who've been there seem to say they got very little benefit out of their efforts and that ultimately, the writing is the most important part and if you're out there banging your drum all day screaming "HEY! ASSHOLE! LOOK OVER HERE, JERKS! AAAAHH! AAAAHH! BOOOOOK!" ...or something to that affect... you're wasting valuable time, time you could be writing. And without that writing, you've got nothing, most especially, you've got nothing to promote. So... get back to writing, right?

And there's the question: How many people do you actually expect to reach? 7? 15? 50? 104? 392? Huh? HUH? How many? And have you ever stopped to consider how many are needed to make an actual SALES difference? Take a moment and ask yourself, how many connections of value do you really have? In the sudden harsh light of those hard numbers, how can the internet version of a one-man band at a street fair come off as anything but a waste of time, money-wise? Isn't promotion better left to professionals? Is it anything but constant work for very little provable gain? After all that, how can it not boil down to the fact that, in the end, it was time that would have been better spent writing?

But there's that nagging little voice...

What's wrong with spreading the word a bit yourself? What can it hurt? And what if it helps? What if that one shameless little self-toot was all the blatt you needed to bring yourself to the world's attention and as a result, open a big time door?

And then there are those success stories, those tantalizing, golden and undeniable success stories, ones that deserve the accolades and success, and even more maddening, ones that most definitely do not. And you gotta wonder, what if a little bit of self promotion was the secret, the last little push needed to ascend the peak. What if? What if? What if? After all, no one wants to miss the boat.

So which is it?

Yay? Nay? Maybe the answer to enjoying the benefits of self promotion lies, much like twinkies, in balance and moderation. Maybe, much like twinkies, too much of it is a bad thing. And maybe, much like twinkies, too little is also a bad thing.

Mmmm... Twinkies...


I'm going to go for the balance.

(With self promotion, not Twinkies... I am just a man, after all, I am no god...)

In the time since finishing Gunslingers of the Apocalypse and starting my blog about my efforts to get published... and comics I like... and some movies too... and the occasional cute girl... and other stuff I like, but I digress, ever since I started all that, I've been signing up at messageboards and finding blogs and websites, places that look like folks that share my particular interests, and thus may enjoy my book, hang out.

My initial plan was to maintain a presence there, and then, when the day came and my book was imminent, I'd spew links all over those places. All over. I was planning on being a ticking info-bomb ready to explode. BOOM! BOOOOOK! LOOK AT MY BOOK! READ IT! LOVE IT! LOOK AT MY BOOK, DAMN YOU! DO IT! DO IT NOW! ...or something to that affect...

The reality however, is that I am way too lazy to bother with most messageboards anymore and frankly, at this point, I lack patience for the types of people who would happily dub themselves as regulars at those kind of places, you know? Ew, right? Anyway, I'm still gonna splatter-link them, eventually... they'll just have less clue it's coming.... Or who I am... Anyway, that's just about it. A little effort that may yield some interest, maybe, but not take up too much time. Other than that, I'm just going to stay open to any other possibilities and should one fall in my lap...

This is The Culture Buzz. It's run by my long time friend John Busbee. He's someone who has been active in the arts community of Des Moines, the greater Iowa area, and beyond (Mark, he did Locations on the Crazies, FYI) and his site is all about the arts and upcoming events and things of interest concerning theatre and movies and literature, what have you.

It's a great resource about the Arts.

And I am an Artist.


Seriously though, John and I have recently done an interview. It's about fifteen minutes or so and it's all about me, my book, trying to get published and all and sundry, basically the trials and tribulations of the process. It'll be available soon on The Culture Buzz as a free download and he and I will be talking periodically as the process continues and I hope you'll take a moment and have a listen. It's not up yet, of course, so keep an eye out, keep checking back. In the meantime, swing on over and peruse all the fun that The Culture Buzz offers. Say hi to John for me

So, toot. I have begun.

Look at me,

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Some Good Books About Writing

I knew I owned a lot of books about writing—but I never realized I have quite so many until I counted them tonight. Over 50.

I’m including among these some standard books every writer should have on hand. A couple dictionaries, the Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style (Yes, believe it or not, grammar nannies, I do own a book or two on grammar) a battered version of Roget’s Thesaurus, a handful of books on police procedures, building science fiction worlds and even on creating dark horror characters. But beyond that I have a lot of other books on the craft of writing, and I’ve read most of them, some from cover-to-cover, others just certain chapters that pertained to writing questions on hand at the time I picked them up. Most of them have not been all that helpful, some of them are downright bad, but there are a few of them I’ve enjoyed and have learned a lot from. These are the books I’m listing here.

Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg

What I like about it: The mix of Zen and writing practice. This book is pure inspiration. Fun to read and full of encouragement.

Nuggets of wisdom: When sitting down to write commit yourself to that task. Keep your hand moving, don’t cross out, don’t worry about spelling, punctuation and grammar, lose control, don’t think, go for the jugular (don’t pull away from things that come up in your writing). Good stuff that makes me want to put a pen to paper.

How to Write a Movie in 21 Days by Viki King

I love movies and I’m a big fan of trying to write on the page in ways that are exciting and potentially filmable. Viki King’s book does a great job of breaking down how a screen play works, section by section, with writing prompts to help you think about your writing project. It may be about writing a movie, but I used certain parts of her book to help me brainstorm my novel BLACKHEART (and I think with good results).

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

Another good book about screenplay writing with hints and tips about understanding story in movies. The author has a “Beat Sheet” section in his book that takes you through 15 key scenes (beats) that all good movies have, and then illustrates all these points with examples from contemporary movies.

Stephen King’s On Writing

I’ve read many, many books by Stephen King and it is interesting to me that several writers I know who had previously never read any Stephen King read this one book—and loved it. It’s a fun read (especially if you’re a King fan to begin with) containing many personal aspects of the author’s life as a writer and lots of good advice. There is a nice example towards the back of the book showing part of an edited manuscript. My favorite part of the book has little to do with writing: Stephen King’s retelling of the auto accident where he was run down by the equivalent of one of his characters.

STAR WARS the magic of myth by Mary Henderson

A very “Joseph Campbell-esque” look at the hero’s journey in the Star Wars storyline.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Bird by bird refers to dealing with things in small chunks, which for a novelist is the only way to go. My favorite concept of her writing about writing is that of the “shitty first draft.” Take small steps, get it down, fix it up later.

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

There are three slips of paper I have tacked above writing space containing these words: Work, Relax, Don’t Think. Bits of wisdom from Ray Bradbury’s book, that on an ideal writing day I try to follow. The “don’t think” part of the equation to me is the most interesting part of being a writer. I sit down at my writing desk some days and when I get into that groove and work and relax and let the characters go where they may things happen in the story I never would have planned and plotted out. Lots of fun stories and quotes in this book from Bradbury.

Do you have a favorite book on the craft of writing? I’d love to hear about it.

Friday, March 4, 2011

What I Got for X-mas or The Hunger Games - Part II

Mark recently blogged about his impressions of The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.
Which fit nicely into a blog I've been planning for the last while.

Over the winter holidays, whenever someone wanted my gift list, I asked for books. I've never liked owning books, because I've always lived in small quarters and I like my spaces sparse. But, I decided that if I want to publish my books, I ought to support the industry that might some day print those books.

And yes, I am aware that there's a big ol' elephant crowding out all these nice letters I'm typing - go check out Shawn's current blog about e-publishing.

But setting aside that elephant for the moment (uuuummpph), I thought I should in some way support the industry I want to support me.* So I asked for books. And I got books. Lots of yummy books. (And to deal with my I-like-my-spaces-sparse fetish, I've been passing on these books to friends and then eventually to the Women's Prison Book Project, a local outfit which sends books to, you got it, incarcerated women.) I spent my time off work reading, reading, reading.

And I learned a couple things. And one of the things I learned was from Suzanne Collins: how to end a chapter. (This is the flip-side of advice that Lyda Morehouse gave us in a Loft class: never end a chapter with your character falling asleep: your readers will do the same.) Collins very often ends a chapter with a one-line paragraph--sometimes it's even a one-word paragraph. And that one line or word packs a huge emotional punch. A punch which makes you want to pause for a moment and think, feel, reflect. But after that moment, it makes you want to turn the page and keep reading.

It's hard to showcase her skill here, because realistically I can only give you a couple lines of text, but here's a shot at it with an excerpt from Mockingjay, the final installment of The Hunger Games:

Then I know Prim is right, that Snow cannot afford to waste Peeta's life, especially now, while the Mockingjay causes so much havoc. He's killed [----] already. Destroyed my home. My family, Gale, and even Haymitch are out of his reach. Peeta's all he has left.
"So, what do you think they'll do to him?" I ask.
Prim sounds about a thousand years old when she speaks.
"Whatever it takes to break you."

Oomph. Collins doesn't have to go on to say how Katniss, the narrator, feels when she hears this, because I as a reader feel it. Like a punch to the gut. And if Collins had gone on to describe Katniss's reaction, my own reaction would have been dampened; I'd be reading about a feeling, rather than feeling the feeling.

After realizing this, I've been going through my own WIP, trying to end more chapters in the same way.

Saying everything without actually writing very much at all.

*I've also thought that I should send a couple bucks to authors whose books I got from the library and adored. Maybe choose my top ten authors of the year and send them each ten buckeroos. Especially if they're still in the struggling category. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Changing Face of Self-Promotion

Lyda Morehouse recently started a discussion here that Kelly McCullough continued here about self-promotion over on the Wyrdsmiths blog.

The Wyrdsmiths have had elements of this discussion before. Generally, they have been of the opinion that a writer gets more out of their time by writing than they do by trying to market what they have written. Generally, I would agree.

What makes this discussion interesting to me is how I believe the answer to this question is changing along with the shifting landscape of the publishing industry.

Let's start by taking the case of traditional publishing. Within that framework, the publisher typically takes on the responsibility of publicizing and marketing. Now, we could argue about the effectiveness of their efforts, especially regarding the difference in the way publishers treat mid-list authors versus more popular authors, but I don't want to go down that rabbit hole in this post. Let's say, for sake of argument, that they do market your work. In that case, I completely agree that it makes sense for publishers to do the marketing and for writers to do the writing.

Now let's consider how the publishing landscape is changing. E-Books are exerting major price pressures on publishers (read this by Mike Shatzkin). Every e-book sold means one less book sold within the brick and mortar distribution channel. This in turn means increased returns and price pressure from both sides of the equation. Furthermore, brick and mortar booksellers, already under siege by the economy, are going out of business (e.g. Borders’ bankruptcy). It's only a matter of time before publishers start ordering smaller print runs, which means more cost per unit, which means even more price pressure on already low profit margins.

I could go on, but I think at this point it's easy to see these are major concerns for both the publisher and the author. Publishers are going to have less money. That means, among other things, less money for marketing. There will also be less places for someone to see an author's book on a shelf and buy it. That means less sales. Can anyone say, “Vicious cycle?”

As the publishing landscape changes, I think the question about self-promotion will necessarily change as well. I think it will shift from, “Is it worth it?” to, “How do I do it effectively and with minimal investment of my own time and resources?”

While I don't think there is anyone who can say for certain what the effects of these changes will be, one thing seems to be clear: authors are going to need to learn how to compete with cheap e-books. If you are an author who has chosen to traditionally publish, can you continue to rely on your publisher to make a case for your book vs. the $.99 e-book when your publisher is forced to make do with less and less money? If you are self-publishing, how do you get noticed?

I think these are the questions that are going to shape this debate as it evolves over the next months and years.

Now I just wish I had some answers. Stay tuned!