Public Shaming in the Writing Community

Earlier this week on his show, comedian John Oliver spoke about public shaming, particularly on the Internet. At the time I’m posting this, the YouTube video of the segment, which features an interview with Monica Lewinsky, has nearly five million views. Take a look below:

Now, if you don’t have time to watch the twenty-six minute video, let me reiterate the main points: while public shaming may be needed when someone in the public eye does something truly awful, sometimes the shaming is taken out of context, becomes too harsh, or goes on for far too long, leaving those affected by it psychologically scarred and sometimes affecting their careers and prospects for years afterwards. And unfortunately, this unwarranted shaming happens far too often for all the wrong reasons.*

Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens quite a bit in the writing community. Sometimes this has been necessary: in 2017, Lani Sarem tried to scam her novel to the top of the New York Times bestseller list to get a film deal. In 2018, Faleena Hopkins tried to trademark the word “cocky” in book titles so no one else could use the word without fear of legal action. In both cases, the reaction from the greater author community, especially from the genres these writers wrote in, was instrumental in keeping these injustices from going unpunished.

However, there has been a number of authors who’ve been the target of online attacks that frankly don’t deserve it. In the past couple of months, there have been articles about writers who had to withdraw their books from publication–sometimes for huge amounts of money–just because they were targeted by their genre’s online community.

In the case of one author, she withdrew her book after people objected to one of the characters, a slave in that fictional universe’s version of post-Imperial Russia, was described as having “tawny” skin, and took that to mean African-American, meaning a horrible depiction of African-Americans in bondage. I believe the author, who is Asian, was actually going for a commentary on modern slavery and human trafficking in Asia.

In the case of another author, the objection was of the leads being two gay, African-American teens during the Kosovo War and one villain being an Albanian Muslim. And while I have my own reservations on including a Muslim villain, given my past published works, Americans did experience the Kosovo War firsthand, and no side of that conflict had clean hands.**

The fact of the matter is, these attacks are causing more harm than good. Yes, there are times when anger is needed, but in some of these communities the instinct to lash out has gotten so bad that people keep screenshots of things said online by their friends to use against them later if they ever have to. In other words, yesterday’s crusader has to prepare in case they or their friend is today’s victim. Or to put it simply, this is literary self-cannibalism.

And at the rate it’s going, soon there will be no one left to go after. There will be only those who are too scared to write lest they be targeted, those who have been targeted and don’t dare to write anymore, those who walk a tightrope lest they be targeted, and those who would attack and grumble that nothing new and mold-breaking comes out anymore.

So how do we stop it? Well, I think part of the solution has already come about by identifying the issue. But there’s much to do. It starts with awareness. And then it improves by resolving to not be part of mobs like this. Before striking out at anyone, look up to see if articles from reliable sources exist. Read more than one, if possible, from multiple sides. Read the work in question, or excerpts if that’s not available. Then try to understand what the author was going for. And then ask if what people are saying is worth getting angry about.

Also remember that publishers are usually great gatekeepers for this kind of thing. They wouldn’t dare publish something if they thought it was offensive and would cost them more to publish than they could earn. If the publishers deem it fine, shouldn’t that at least factor into our reasoning over whether to get upset over a book’s content?

And if others are upset and you think it’s not worth it, don’t engage. Anger like this is fueled by attention, and refusing to give mobs like this the attention it craves is like depriving a fire of oxygen. Don’t be part of the mob.

Obviously this might not be enough Any social problem requires a multi-pronged approach, and this may only turn out to be one or two prongs. But it’s a start. And without that, we can only expect more of the same, until the writing community at large becomes too toxic to survive. I don’t want to see that. Do you?

And if you’ve been the target of this sort of behavior, know this: you are not the problem. You don’t deserve what happened or what is happening to you. But there are people on your side. More than you realize. And you can get through this. And you will emerge stronger from this. I believe in you, and so do the rest of us.

Have you witnessed this sort of behavior before? Have you any strategies for dealing with this sort of behavior?

*And I’m well aware that even talking about this subject may upset someone and get me targeted for public shaming. However, I’m a Jewish bisexual man with a couple of disabilities and even more eccentricities. My very existence and interests probably offend somebody for stupid reasons. Not to mention I write horror, which always finds a way to offend somebody just by trying to scare people. I won’t let any of that keep me from putting myself out there, so I won’t let this do it either.

And if anyone does try to go after me, they should know: I BITE.

**Also, if one book gets this sort of reaction from these communities for a Muslim villain, I hope television shows like NCIS and Homeland or authors like James Patterson, Dan Brown or Daniel Levin, get the same sort of attention from them. Oh, they don’t? Interesting. Maybe they’re too big for them.

The Times in Self-Publishing Are Changing

There’s no doubt that some things are changing in the self-publishing landscape. This year has marked things I never thought I’d see when I started publishing on Amazon and Smashwords back in 2009. Back then the big thing was setting up free or cheap ebooks in order to gain a readership. Ebooks were new, and people buying e-reading devices were looking for content. This led to a boom in self-publishing I never thought I’d see. I honestly expected self-publishing to remain the redheaded step-child of the publishing world. Then somewhere around 2012-2014, it became popular and took off.

Around 2015, I started hearing about self-publishing becoming less lucrative than it used to be. Granted, there were some breaking out and making a lot of money. Some were making much more than I ever did at my peak. Some authors are still flourishing in this landscape. It seems to be mostly KU authors who are writing to market and buying a lot of ads. So at the moment, it looks like KU and ads have afforded some authors a very nice living.

Deep in my gut, however, I feel like we’re in for another shift in the self-publishing landscape. I have no evidence to prove this statement. I’m merely posting a theory. If you’d like to play, “Guess what’s to come,” feel free to join me in the comments below. 🙂

ID 121881135 © Artur Szczybylo | Dreamstime.com

 

Now, more than ever, it’s time to focus on the quality of our work.

This has always been true, of course, but in the hamster wheel game that has become popular at Amazon, I think genuine quality has fallen to the wayside. Amazon rewards authors for getting books out fast. They’re not rewarding authors for quality. They’re rewarding for quantity. This is a huge deal. For the short-term, authors can play this game. I went from publishing about every three months to two months, and last year, I was trying for one book a month. Long story short, I was unable to crank out a 50-60K story every single month. But I did push myself into burn-out by trying to do it.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had started to treat my books like a product on a widget line. This isn’t good. When we start looking at books as a cheap little widget to be shoved out the door as quickly as possible, we stop looking at good storytelling.

So really, there are three options I see open to authors right now: sacrifice quality to get books out as quickly as possible, hire ghostwriters, or slow down and focus on quality.

I think time is going to reward authors who focus on quality. If we want current fans to keep investing in our work, we need to keep writing good quality stories. If we want to acquire new fans, we need to make sure our next book is good quality, too. I have nothing against ghostwriters, but I don’t think two writers will write the same way. There’s something about your voice that no one else can master. A ghostwriter might come close, but there’s only one you in the entire world. I think readers can tell when we wrote the book or not. There’s something in our voice and style that is like a fingerprint. We are distinct. We are unique. So we’re not really producing a widget on an assembly line. We’re crafting a story. I think authors who focus on crafting good quality stories will have an advantage over those who don’t.

As a side note: I realize some readers don’t mind ghostwritten books. They just want a good story. Our most passionate fans, however, might feel betrayed if we don’t write our own stories. So weigh the pros and cons of this option. If you choose to hire a ghostwriter, I hope you pay that person fairly for their time.

Personally, I want to keep writing my own stories, so I’m picking that option. Which brings me to this thought…

Passion will trump writing to market in the long run.

This one is a wild prediction since it goes against most of the marketing advice I hear, but I think we tell our best stories when we’re passionate about them. I wrote to market for two years, and I crashed and burned. I never would have been able to keep writing if I had tried to keep going. I’ve since noticed other authors in forums mentioning being tired of what they’re writing. Some have even quit. I think you can only write to market for so long because eventually you box yourself in. That’s what happened to me. I eventually ran out of anything interesting enough to write about because I’d exhausted all of the angles that I believed the majority of historical romance readers wanted to read.

Writing to market is writing with the reader in mind. It is tailoring your story for the reader. From the outset, you have certain things you must do. There might be a few authors who can pull this off for years and years, but from my research on the topic, those authors who have been writing longterm write for passion first. To sustain a longterm career (or even hobby) as a writer, I think you have to enjoy what you’re doing.

Think about upping the price.

I think the time of free and $0.99 stories are about used up in effectiveness. I do think having a couple of series perma-free can still work for you, especially if you’re not exclusive to Amazon. If you’re wide, you have more leverage in this area. KU readers already get books for “free”, so this is a strategy I mostly suggest to wide authors.

Earlier this year, I stopped making every single series starter free. I cut that down to about half. I decided to go with $0.99 instead. Then I put a couple of the last books in my series at $3.99. I’m in romance, so that is within a good range for the romance genre. You need to price according to what your genre’s comfort zone is. I think at Amazon, cheaper books are probably still going to be popular. But I think if you’re looking for a strategy going forward in a wider market, then going a dollar or two more might be to your advantage.

I think there are so many free and cheap books out now that they don’t give us an advantage like they used to. If we’re focusing on good quality stories, then people who love our work will be willing to pay another dollar or two for a new book. The key is to focus on quality. Readers who prefer Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play buy books. They don’t borrow them like KU readers do on Amazon. Their mindset is different. When people buy something, they’re using a different thinking process in making a decision.

Here’s my personal experience from just releasing a new book at $3.99. I’ve been doing $2.99 since 2011 or 2012. (It’s been so long I can’t even remember.) Anyway, I noticed that my sales did take a hit on Amazon. On the other retailers, though, they stayed the same. I thought that was interesting, and it is what I expected to happen based on what other authors have been telling me.

Yes, you want a good cover. Yes, you want a good description. Yes, you want it edited by someone who knows what they’re doing. Yes, you want a good quality story. You’d want all of that anyway regardless of whether you’re in KU or you’re wide. But I think we’re at the point in self-publishing where we’re going to have to up the price. Upping the price won’t mean anything to KU readers. They pay one price a month no matter what. Wide readers pay for the book. I used to think that a higher price point didn’t give authors much of an advantage, but I’m changing my tune. I think a higher price will help us, especially if we’re wide. BUT a higher price only helps if the book is great quality. I also think the pricing going up is best done slowly so you don’t shock your current fanbase. That’s why I’m starting with a $1 raise in the price. I’m not jumping to $2.

All that being said, the more books you have out, the more you can have prices all across the board, which can help you gain new readers who prefer different price points.

Think global.

I know some of you aren’t in the United States (US), so you’re already thinking globally. The self-publishing market is ripe for explosion around the world. The US market has already exploded. While the US is still good, I think we have a wonderful opportunity to reach people worldwide. Kobo, iBooks, and Google Play are probably going to play a big factor in these markets. I know Amazon has a foothold there, too, but I think the other retailers have an edge in the international landscape. (This is based on things I’ve heard in podcasts over the past two years.)

What might be a small market today could be a tremendous source of income in the future. One thing I’ve learned over the past nine years is that every little bit counts. The more places you can be in, the better your chances are for exposure. Notice I said “the better your chances are”. There is no guarantee. There never was a guarantee. Whether you’re in KU or wide, there is no guarantee of sales. But you can increase your odds by reaching out in new territories.

You are the best marketing tool you have.

Free used to be the big marketing tool early on. I came in during this time of self-publishing. Shortly after I came on the scene, the big tool was $0.99. Remember John Locke and Amanda Hocking? That was that era. Then it was KDP Select. Then it was KU. Currently it’s ads. I see KU and ads declining in effectiveness. Authors who used to make good money in KU aren’t doing so anymore. As for ads… Well, when a lot of people are running ads, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd. Some authors used to swear by email lists, too, and recently, I hear that’s on its way out the door because readers have gotten exhausted from being inundated with emails all to the time. Does that mean we shouldn’t do free books, $0.99 books, run ads, or do email lists? Of course not. What it means is that these aren’t as effective as they used to be. They don’t carry the same “punch” anymore. I’ve never been in KU, nor would I join. So the KU thing is up to you to figure out. I understand why authors go into KU. For some authors, this is still an effective strategy.

But ultimately, what do we have that can survive the trends? We have ourselves. We are our brand. I still think it’s important to have a physical presence on the web. There should be a blog or website where you list all of your books, the links to your books, and where people can find you. I think having one place where you are willing to meet with readers is a good thing, too. Choose whatever social media platform you want, but make sure it’s something you enjoy. If you pick blogging and you hate blogging, this is going to become a chore really fast. Maybe you’d rather share pictures, give short little tweets, do videos, or engage in conversations other people have started. Whatever you enjoy, that’s what you should do because this is something you’ll want to stick with. You can’t gain traction anywhere unless you commit to it.

I don’t think you need to have a “contact me” page on your website or blog if you have a Facebook or Twitter account that allows people to contact you. There were a few people in my past who harassed me through my personal email account, so I don’t set up “contact me” pages on my sites anymore. One person even let me know they did a background check on me and what they had found out. The world gets too scary sometimes to be that personal. But I’m comfortable with letting Facebook be the way people communicate with me, so I’m available for contact over there. You need to do what is comfortable for you.

For those of you who don’t have a big following, remember that an organic and slow growth of genuine fans is much better than people you gathered quickly who don’t remember who you are. This is a marathon. Quality in your fanbase is just as important as the quality of your stories. They’ll invest in you. Whatever you write, they’ll read it. And they will pay a higher price because you gained their trust. Even better, they’ll probably mention you to someone else.

Side note: I don’t have big numbers. I’m not a huge seller. I have a little over 200 people on my email list. I used to have almost 500 before the whole GDPR thing in May. I just got 117 members in my personal Facebook group. On Bookbub, I think I’m at 494 followers. So my numbers are not impressive at all, and I’ve been doing this since 2009. Other (newer) authors outdo me by miles. So if you’re disheartened by having low numbers, just remember, you’re not alone.

Back to topic: We’ve hit a saturated market. We have a lot of books out there. The one thing we can leverage is us. Like our writing, no one can replace us. Who we are when we engage with people is as unique as our storytelling.

What about you? What do you think is going to change in the self-publishing landscape? Was there anything that took you by surprise? Are things worse, better, the same? I’d love to know your thoughts!

P.J. Boox: A Bookstore for Indie Authors

Remember in May of last year, when I reported on Gulf Coast Bookstore, a bookstore in Fort Myers, Florida that showcased the works of independent authors in the Florida area? Well, recently I was contacted through my Facebook page by one of the co-owners of the store with some very interesting news about Gulf Coast. Apparently since the store opened, it’s done rather well. In fact, it’s done so well that it’s expanded. And it’s expanded into P.J. Boox.

Opening in October of last year, PJ Boox currently houses 260 authors from about 11 countries, and plans to grow that number to 500 by the time they hit full capacity, each author getting to display ten of their books in the store. The way the store displays the books allows for readers to get a full look at the books’ covers, which allows readers to make a more powerful connection with the books. And the most interesting and exciting part, at least in my humble opinion, is that authors can actually interact with readers, from anywhere in the world, via Skype or other video-chat options, all in the store’s reading room (so if your book is featured by a book club, you can actually hear what the readers say. Hopefully that’s a good thing).

According to store co-founder and co-owner Patti Brassard Jefferson, the idea of PJ Boox came to her soon after she opened Gulf Coast Bookstore. Within a couple of months, she was apparently “inundated” with messages from authors. This inspired the idea for a larger bookstore that could host more indie and small-press authors. Thus we have PJ Boox today. And while other bookstores for indie authors have since appeared in other cities around the US, PJ Boox and its owners still manage to be trendsetters among the group.

So now to answer the most important question: how does an author get their books in the store? According to PJ Boox’s website, it’s actually quite simple. What you do is rent out space in the store for four months and send them up to ten of your books. In exchange, the store will stock and sell the books. And you get a majority of the royalties back (98% for in-store sales, 80% for online sales). Top that, Amazon! And you can pay for certain upgrades on your rental that include special online options and even more shelf space in the store. It’s not a bad deal, especially since you get some great exposure in the store.

In fact, I might have to try this once my new book comes out later this year. It might expose people to my sci-fi series.

And if you want to learn more about PJ Boox, check out their website for rental rates, books by great indie authors, and information on upcoming events.

When Should You Release a New Book?

Recently I wondered what the best time to release a new book was. Obviously you would want to release something scary prior to Halloween, something romantic right before Valentine’s Day, something full of snow and holiday cheer right before Christmas, etc. But what about the rest of the year? Are there days that are lucky for self-published authors? Is there a time of year that can help you get more copies into people’s hands? I was determined to find out.

Now despite my best efforts, I only have three books out at the moment (though I am working on getting more out soon), so I couldn’t rely on just my own experience ot answer this question. So when in doubt, I do what I normally do: ask the writing groups I belong to on Facebook. The answers I got were quite informative.

Of course there were the tips to release seasonal stuff around their seasons, but there was a ton more advice that I found quite interesting. One author’s observations was that people prefer introspective works in the summer (makes sense, seeing as I just read Go Set a Watchman) and mysteries and thrillers in the fall (that is when JK Rowling is releasing her next detective novel). Another author liked to follow the movie release schedule, releasing books whenever there’s a movie coming out in the same genre as his book. He also felt that people prefer laughter in winter months, “light and airy reads” in spring, adventure stories in the summer, and scary stuff in autumn.

Probably the most helpful advice I got from a woman who had recently read an article on the subject (which I wish I had a link for, but so far I have been unable to find the article). According to the article she read, the best time of year to run a promotion was the two weeks after Christmas. According to her, something about a free or discounted book after the holidays gets people buying, and that allowed her to retire from her day job and pick up writing full-time (which is something I’ll have to try).

Some other tips she gave included:

  • The best days of the month to release a book is between the 7th and the 14th.
  • If you’re self-publishing, don’t release your book on a Tuesday, because most big publishing houses release on Tuesday and you’d be in direct competition with them (wish I’d known that when I released my second novel). Instead, try to release on the weekend if you want good sales. Those days seem to be good days to publish for independent authors.
  • And if you’re trying to hit some bestseller list, release on Sunday or Monday. According to industry data, that’s a good time for self-published authors.

The one thing that all these authors seemed to agree on is that there was never a bad time to release a book. It was never directly stated in any of the comments I got, but it seemed to be implied. Sure, apparently Tuesdays might not be the wisest day of the week to release a book, but other than that there aren’t any days or times of the year when authors will doom themselves publishing a book.

And you know, I can’t help but see that as a good thing. Just means there are plenty of opportunities for authors to publish their books and maybe pull out a bestseller from them. And we all want that for our books, don’t we?

Does the advice here match your own experiences with publishing?

What advice do you have on the best time to publish a book?

Where to Publish (For New Writers Who Are Looking to Self-Publish)

Below is a video Janet Syas Nitsick and I did on publishing, specifically self-publishing.  The question came in, “What places can an author publish his book?” In this video, we answer this, but I’ll include the highlights below so you can read it instead if you wish.

There are two main options you have when you self-publish.  

1.  KDP Select (which means you can only publish through Amazon).

Amazon has a program called KDP Select which is exclusive.  It means you can’t publish anywhere else.  (You can, however, publish your paperback in several places.)  This exclusivity applies to the ebook.  And you must be exclusive with Amazon for three months.  After that, you can upload your book to other sites.

When you enter Amazon Select, your book will be automatically put into Kindle Unlimited (KU), which is a subscription service that allows people who pay for it to borrow KU books.  If someone reads 10% of the book, that counts as a borrow.  Each borrow doesn’t earn the same as a sale.  For example, if your book is $2.99, you will make 70% off that sale.  When your book is borrowed, you get a portion of whatever Amazon has decided to put into the pot for the month.  So if Amazon decided the pot is going to be $3 million, it will divide up that $3 million with all the borrows that were made on Amazon that month.

There are pros and cons to the Select approach.

Pros include: Amazon gives preference to these books.  For example, the book will come up more easily in searches.  Borrows count toward sales ranking, which can also help toward better exposure.  It is only three months, so you don’t have to be locked in for a long time.

Cons: While some books do well in Select, not all of them do.  It’s not a guaranteed ticket to instant sales/exposure.  In my opinion, this is not a good long-term plan.  The best strategy for a career as a self-published author is to be diversified.

You have to decide which is best for you.

2.  You publish on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Smashwords, D2D, etc…

You can upload directly to Amazon (via KDP), Barnes & Noble (via Nook Press), Kobo (via Writing Life), and iBooks.  I believe you can publish directly to Scribd, too.

What I do is use Smashwords to publish my books onto the channels they offer.  I don’t use them for Amazon, but I do use them for Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Baker & Taylor, Library Direct, Page Foundry, Overdrive, Flipkart, and Scribd.   Now, I have published some books directly to Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

You can also use D2D (Draft 2 Digital) to publish to various sites, but I haven’t used them and have no experience with them.  What I do know is that unlike Smashwords, you can’t sell on D2D.  Smash words will allow you to sell books (and yes, it’s not a whole lot you’ll sell there).  But D2D is pretty much a middleman to get your books from your computer to the other retailers.

***

No matter what option you choose, something to keep in mind is that the average author is not going to have instant success.  I understand it’s easy to think there’s some magic formula you can use and make a living right away.  But the truth is, for most writers it will take hard work and persistence to pay off.  You will need to improve your storytelling ability while you’re also improving your promotional techniques.

The self-published author wears many hats.  You’re not only writing a book, but you also have to take care of the cover, format it for ebook and/or paperback, publish it, and then promote it.  If you need help with formatting or covers, here’s a link at Smashwords to help you find people who can help you with these things.

***

Are there any questions you have or experiences you want to share with publishing?  The more input we have, the better we can all learn.  There might be something I missed. 🙂

Using The Audiobook Service ACX

I think I speak for many of us when I say we’d like to have our books in audiobook form. Besides being a possible way to connect to new readers who don’t necessarily like to sit down with a paperback or e-book and another possible source of revenue, audiobooks have a prestige to them. It’s sort of magical hearing your characters come to life in your car or in your earbuds through sound and description. It’s pretty powerful.

However creating an audiobook can be difficult. In addition to a book to narrate, you need an actor to read your book aloud if you aren’t comfortable or able to do it, plus recording equipment, maybe an engineer, something to edit the book with, and then some! And that can run up in terms of costs.

As one might expect, there’s a service that tries to make the process cost-effective and easy to do. Audiobook Creation Exchange, or ACX, is a service through Audible.com, which in turn is owned by Amazon, aims to match authors and their books to producers so they can create the audiobook together. I heard about it from an acquaintance of mine who had her book turned into an audiobook and got interested in it. So after some research, I’m sharing with you how it works and if it can potentially help you gain a wider audience.

First, what exactly is ACX? Founded in 2011, ACX is kind of like a matchmaking/dating service with the goal of creating an audiobook. Anyone who owns the right to the audiobook of a novel (such as authors, editors, publishers, agents, etc) can go on and find audiobook producers (narrators, recording studios, engineers, etc) who would be interested in producing your audiobook. The video they have on their website (the link is below) claims that only 5% of authors get their books turned into audiobooks, so they’re trying to change that.

What do you do? If you decide to use ACX, you sign up for the service using your Amazon account. Then you search for your book through Amazon’s database. Create a Title Profile, which include a description of your book and what it’s about, as well as what you are looking for in a producer (gender, special talents or accents they can do, etc). You also must upload a short one or two page excerpt for producers to use.

What happens next is that producers will look for books that they may be interested in narrating (and hopefully they may decide to do yours if they come across it). Producers will audition by taking your excerpt and recording themselves narrating it, and then sending it to you. Once you have a few auditions, you can go over the auditions, as well as find out a little bit more about the producers auditioning for you. You can most likely find out acting and audiobook experience, hourly rate, and so on and so forth. If you find an audition you really like, you contact the producer and make them an offer.

What sort of offers are there? There are two sorts of offers you can make to a producer once you’ve made a decision, and knowing which one to use is very important, so consider them carefully before sending a producer an offer. These are the sorts of deals available:

  • Pay a flat out fee. This is where you pay for the production costs of the audiobook. Each producer has his or her own rates, and you pay that amount for every finished hour of audiobook there is (for example, if I have an audiobook produced of either of my novels and the finished product is eight hours long and my narrator charges one-hundred dollars per hour, I would pay $800). You pay this fee at the end of the production period when you have reviewed the final product and given it your full approval. The fees vary wildly between producers, usually somewhere between $50-$200 with the average being around $100. You can also negotiate rates with your producer on their rates. The upside of this is that you get all the royalties at the end of production of this and you can decide whether to do exclusive distribution rights (which means the audiobook can only be sold through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes and you gain 40% of the royalties) or non-exclusive rights (which means you can sell the audiobook through other distributors and receive 25% of the royalties through the companies listed above).
  • Royalty Share Deal. In this deal, you forego fees and instead agree to split the royalties of any sales with your producer. This deal is handy because you don’t need to pay any fees upfront. However you can only distribute your audiobook through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes with this option and you only get 20% of the royalties, with the producer getting the other 20%.

Most narrators do a combination of these methods, so you’re probably going to find someone who is willing to either of these methods. Once you’ve hashed out the details with your producer, you’ll send them the official contract, which says you’ll work together to produce the audiobook, and that Amazon can distribute it for seven years, which is how long the contract lasts.

What’s the process like? The production process takes about 3-8 weeks, depending on the length of the book and the producer’s schedule. The producer will upload the first 15 minutes of the audiobook to the ACX secure website for you to get a sample. If you don’t like it, you can stop the process there or start a dialogue with the producer to see what could be fixed. After that, the producer will upload the book chapter by chapter until the whole book is completed and the author approves the final product. Once that is done, the producer will upload the book onto Audible/Amazon/iTunes, and you as the rights holder will get a notification email.

What happens after the book is uploaded? Hopefully people will buy the audiobook. In any case, Amazon has a contract with you that allows them to distribute through them (exclusively or non-exclusively, depending on the deal you made) for 7 years. After that, you can take down the audiobook, decide to have a new version produced, or extend the contract for another year. As the rights holder, it’s all up to you.

What if I want to narrate the book myself? There’s a process for that where you can do that. Basically you produce the audiobook yourself and upload it onto ACX’s website. Makes giving an offer easier, from what I hear.

What if I decide at the last minute the whole thing’s a mess or I don’t want my book in audio form? Well, then you can cancel the contract. As the rights holder, it’s well within your rights to do so. However, if you do that you’ll have to pay a fee one way or another so that the producer can come out of this with something. Depending on what deal you took, you could pay up to 75% of the producer’s fees or $500 plus whatever costs the producer incurred for producing the book.

How do I design a cover? ACX has their own cover guidelines that are too much bother to go over here, so I’m linking the page that has the guidelines to this article. Once you have some idea of what they’re looking for, it’s up to you to create or find someone to create the cover according to these guidelines.

What’s a Bounty Payment? As I understand it, if a new buyer to Audible buys your audiobook, you get a $50 bonus from Audible. It’s a great bonus system, from what I’m told. It encourages authors to advertise about their audiobooks, so new listeners will be encouraged to get the audiobook through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.

What countries is ACX available in? At the moment ACX is only available in the US and Great Britain, though ACX is hoping to expand to other countries soon, most likely Canada and other North American countries before becoming established elsewhere. So keep your eyes peeled if you want to do an audiobook through ACX.

How much will my audiobook cost to buy? Depends on the length of the book in terms of hours. The more hours the book is, the more they charge. To guess at the price of your book, an hour of audiobook is about 9,300 words, so do some math and then visit ACX’s website and go to the price chart on the Distribution page to figure out how much your book will probably cost.

Should I do an audiobook? Well, that depends. Personally I’d recommend only going through the process if you feel there’s a demand for your audiobook. It’d suck to go through the whole production process and, whatever sort of deal you have with your producer, only receive a couple dollars here and there, or maybe nothing at all. So before deciding to try and produce an audiobook, see if there are a lot of people who’d want to buy an audio version of your book, and how much they’d be willing to pay for it.

 

There’s a lot of potential in audiobooks, no matter how you look at it. Perhaps your book will be read by a great many in audio form, if you decide to go this route e to produce it.   Jut make sure you feel that it’s right for you, for your book, and that there is a demand for your audiobook before you do so.

Has anyone here used ACX before? What was your experience like? What tips do you have for authors considering using it?

And here’s the link to the website if you want to do more research on your own.

Some Tips For WattPad Users

I’ve been using WattPad for the past couple of weeks, and I thought that an article about it would be fun to write. Also, I found out this blog doesn’t have an article on WattPad yet, so I thought I’d break the ground and do a piece on it.

Throughout this article, I will try to give some sound advice on using WattPad and possibly getting some success through it. If any WattPad users have any additional tips they would like to…well, add in, please let us know. I’ll do a follow-up article with your words of wisdom.

So, first things first: What is WattPad? WattPad is a website where writers can upload and share stories with the public. It’s been in operation since 2006 and it’s been nicknamed the YouTube of storytelling. Writers can upload stories, gain feedback, create covers, and enter contests with their short stories or novels.

What sort of work is published on WattPad? Just about anything is published on WattPad. Novels, novellas, short stories, poems, non-fiction pieces, of all types and genres. Science fiction, fantasy, and YA stories tend to be the most popular, with horror and romance in a close second. There’s also a sizable amount of erotic fiction on the site, though I haven’t personally browsed that in any great detail. And technically erotica isn’t allowed on the website, but I won’t tell if you won’t.

Is it possible to get success through WattPad? Depends on what you mean by success. It is possible to spread your work to other writers and readers, maybe get feedback, and learn something from other writers by both reading and being read. And it is also possible to get the success that every author only dreams about (there’s an example of that in a recent issue of TIME magazine), but like anything in fiction, that is very hard to achieve and what can cause it is very difficult to predict.

How do you spread your work through WattPad? Tags and categorizing your work is very important, because it allows people with similar interests to search out and find your stories (and on that note, make sure to also rate your short stories appropriately. At the very least, an R-rating might deter some nine-year-old from reading a wildly inappropriate story). Also, networking with other authors, commenting on their stories, and even recommending works to authors you make friends with can be very helpful.

What are some ways to keep your readers interested in your work? Besides having interesting work, there are a couple of ways. One is to post frequently new stories or updates. Another is to post a novel on the site, but to do it in serial form. Posting new chapters on a regular basis keeps our readership up and it keeps them wanting to know more (especially if you end every chapter on a cliffhanger).

Should one copyright their work before posting? Well, that depends. Copyrights cost money and take time to process, so if you don’t mind waiting and shelling out money for the fees, then by all means get copyrights. At the very least, you should get copyrights for novels or for works you plan to sell in the future, and do it before you post it on WattPad.

I should also mention that WattPad allows users to post whether a story is copyrighted or not, so take advantage of that when you post a story. It could be seriously helpful.

If you publish a story on WattPad, can you put it on your resume as a publication? Again, that depends. This is a website where anyone can upload a story, so whether or not you want to include uploading stories onto an author’s YouTube on your resume is up to you. Some authors are comfortable, some aren’t. I know a few of both. If you are comfortable with it though, then only do it for stories that you’ve never published before in any way, shape, or form. And if you’re shopping for a publisher, definitely don’t do it!

What are these contests through WattPad you mentioned earlier? Wattpad holds a number of contests throughout the year. Most are small, but there are some big ones, including the Wattys, which are held once a year, and the Attys, which are for poetry and were started by author Margaret Atwood (yeah, she’s on the site. How cool is that?). The contests are open to all users with a WattPad account and who follow the rules of those contests.

If you are a regular WattPad user and have any other tips you’d like to mention, then please let us know. If I get enough tips, I’ll do a follow-up article on the subject with your tips in it.

Writing for yourself First

I was reading on a forum today where an author asked how he could get the joy of writing back. He was worn out and bored with everything he started. The thought of writing another word was akin to pulling his own teeth with a pair of pliers.

As I read through the comments it became very clear to me, despite all the great suggestions given on how to help him, that his true problem wasn’t writer’s block or burn out. It was gearing his writing toward what he thought readers wanted from him. It was suppressing his own creative voice in an attempt to give his audience what they wanted. And it was boring him to death.

You see, he loved his daily writing pages. He enjoyed warm up stage before the critic’s voice came in to kill the fun. He still daydreamed new pitfalls for his characters.

It made me start to wonder, how many writers start with the joy of writing only to lost the passion? How many authors gear their writing toward what they think readers want? How many writers are writing books they hate or would never read themselves because it sells well? How many of you are doing this right now?

Stop it. Stop it right now.

The best part of writing is writing what you enjoy for the fun of it. It’s what makes work a little less work-y. It’s what makes the right readers love your books. Passion in your writing voice will carry the book far longer than formulaic writing.

Things Are Changing at Amazon and Facebook….So How Do You Cope?

I just read an awesome post by Anne R. Allen titled “Indie Publishing in 2013: Why We Can’t Party Like It’s 2009”.  I encourage you to read the whole thing yourself, but to sum up the items I want to focus on in this post, it outlines the changes Amazon has been making.  These changes include the way authors have been able to effectively promote their books.   As most of you probably know, Amazon has been removing reviews, and I didn’t realize it until recently but they’re not just removing reviews from self-published books.  Traditionally published books are also at risk.  Amazon isn’t as quick to price match “free” anymore, which does limit the potential to reach a wider audience (on Amazon).  Traditionally published books are now cheaper, which (naturally) makes it harder for the indie author to compete.  It looks like sites featuring ebooks are being told by Amazon that Amazon won’t pay them if they keep featuring the free stuff.  And, to finish on my end of summarizing the post, Facebook is now wanting monetary rewards if you want to reach more people with your posts on there.  Okay, so that’s my quick breakdown of Anne R. Allen’s post because I want to alert everyone reading this that this stuff is going on, and as Anne R. Allen pointed out, we have to be flexible enough to work with these changes.

Thinking as a business person, some strategies on coping with these changes have come to mind.

1.  Patience is a must.

With the huge success stories we’ve heard about authors that seemed to pop up out of nowhere and made it big in a year or less, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking self-publishing is such an easy way to make money. The stars of self-publishing are what we hear about most.  That’s why we forget that there are a lot more other self-published authors out there who have been publishing for years who haven’t sold a million Kindle books or made megabucks.  Just like with traditional publishing, a few make it big, but most don’t.  While it’s good to have goals, I recommend being realistic about them.

2.  Sales are never steady.

Your sales from month to month will fluctuate.  I can promise you this because every single book that has ever been written has never remained at the same spot on a bestseller’s list forever.  If there is no other constant in the publishing business, you can count on sales going up and down.  Be prepared for it, and you stand a better chance of not getting depressed when your sales fall.

From what I’ve noticed (by my own sales, by talking to other authors, and reading up on the forums), a lot of authors are taking a hit in sales on Amazon.  But is it time to throw in the towel and give up?  If you don’t love self-publishing, I say stop doing it.  If you want to switch to traditional publishing, by all means do so (but I don’t think that’s the guaranteed golden egg either).  The fact of the matter is self-publishing is going to be  the easy way out.  I don’t think it ever was an easy way out, even when it was easier to get noticed on Amazon.  Why?  Because I started self-publishing on Amazon in 2009 with a few other authors, and we are not all selling the same number of books.  Some of us sell more and some of us sell less.  There will always be those who sell more than you and some who sell less than you.  What Amazon does might impact some sales, but it doesn’t have to effect all sales as long as you…

3.  Avoid exclusivity.

I’ve never been a fan of exclusivity.  I realize some authors have seen a boost from KDP Select, but I think this is way too dangerous.  I don’t care how much money goes into the pot for borrows or how much Amazon will push a Select book (which doesn’t have the same impact that it used to, from what I can tell).  If you limit yourself to one outlet, you are at the whim of the place you’re on.  I don’t care if it’s Amazon, Apple, B&N, or anywhere else.  Potential for longterm (emphasis on “long”) success requires a lot of patience and the willingness to keep going when you see no results from your efforts.  You might never make it big.  We are not all meant to.  But you might be able to have some spending money, pay some bills, or possibly make a living.  The more places you sell your books, the better your chances are of getting noticed.  Not everyone owns a Kindle.  Since we’re going global, I see this as a shining light.  Amazon is not the only place going global either, thank God.  You start getting international sales, and every little bit starts to add up.  It’s a slow process, but I believe if you’re patient, things can pick up.  Don’t shut out the potential fans.  Be accessible.  That is to your advantage.  Being dependent on one place to sell your books is not to your advantage in the long run.

4.  Watch your pricing.

As much as some of you might want to sell at a higher price, realize the fact that traditionally published books are coming down in prices.  The whole “only crap is cheap” is becoming invalid, as is the “you get what you pay for” motto that grates on my nerves whenever I hear it.  If you want to insist on a high price, understand what you’re up against.  While a lower price might not have the same incentive that it once did, it’s important to stay competitive in the marketplace if you’re running a business.  Whether you think your book is worth more or not is irrelevant if the reader doesn’t think so.  A book is worth what someone is willing to pay for it.   The same thing is true with any product.  I’m in the middle of selling my house and it will only be worth what someone offers on it, no matter how much work I put into getting it ready for selling.  Now, if you can sell at a higher price and be happy with the results, then by all means, do it.  Some of you can.  But for those who can’t (and I’m one of them), we will have to price the books at what readers are willing to pay in order to make a certain amount of money.  I believe lower prices on traditionally published books will change the perceived value readers are willing to pay for books, esp. by unknown authors.

5.  Email lists.

I wanted to mention this because of what Facebook is doing.  Facebook has been a good avenue to reach fans (esp. those on your friends’ list), but if they are starting to want money (and I’m not surprised by this), you can work around this.  On your blog or website, have a form people can fill out to be notified when you have a new book out.  Put their email on a list and send it out when the new release is out.  You only need to send this once.  Do not abuse this list or else people will block you or delete the email as soon as they see it’s from you.  And let them know upfront what the list is for.  You can also use Facebook to link up your blog post or link to your website.  You can put your website in your Facebook profile for people to view.  Anything that gets them to see the list will work to your advantage.

6.  Link your blog posts to Goodreads.

I’m surprised anyone at Goodreads reads my blog posts over there, but once in a while, I’ll get a comment.  This is a great place to have your blog posts at because people over there are book lovers.  You can also have your website in your profile page.  You don’t have to be active on Goodreads to take advantage of this.

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I better end this post here since it’s already over 1000 words.

 

 

Q&A: Sale of Foreign Rights and Self-Publishing?

I received a question in my inbox the other day for which I know not the answer  to and was unable to find the answer, so I thought I would ask you guys if you knew.

“My question pertains to the sale of foreign rights and self publishing. I’ve sold rights to a foreign publisher, but how does self publishing my second book affect my prior sale and future foreign rights sales?”

Any answers for a fellow writer?