Saturday, March 29, 2008

MONEY With A Capital M-O-N-E-Y

Let's talk about getting paid.

As writers, we're often so grateful that someone would actually want to publish our words that we may devalue them. Hell, sometimes we pay others to publish us.

This mentality won't help you make a living.

But the problem is that so little is written about money, we really have no idea how much we're worth.

Unlike other professions, where salaries often stay within a certain range, a novelist can earn anywhere from some contributors copies to tens of millions of dollars a book.

So what are your words worth?

If you're writing poetry, they're worth pretty much nothing. Sorry poets.

If you're a short story writer, they're worth between 2 cents and 20 cents a word. There are exceptions, of course, but the most I've even been paid for a short story is $1500, and they mostly pay in the low hundreds.

If you're a freelance article writer, the price can go up a bit. But you have to publish a lot of articles to make a living, and finding places to buy your articles is actually more work than writing them.

Now if you're a novelist, I've heard the average advance is still $5000. A tiny amount for something you spent a year of your life on. And this average includes all of the huge bestsellers making big bucks, so you have to assume there are tens of thousand of writers out there making much less than $5000 a novel.

I've talked money with a few close writing friends, and I've learned something pretty shocking; there's no rhyme, reason, or sense as to who gets paid what and why.

First of all, we need to dispel any bullshit about "talent" and "hard work." We're all talented. We all work hard. That's how we got published in the first place.

Next, we need to shatter the time-honored myths about "deserving success."

Here's your wake-up call, Mr. or Ms. Entitlement. I've gotten over 500 rejections. I wrote 1,000,000 words before earning a dime. In the last four years I've travelled to over 35 states, visited over a thousand bookstores, attended over a hundred book events. I've mailed out over 7000 letters to libraries and bookstores. I've signed over 10,000 books, and 30,000 drink coasters. I have 13,000 MySpace Friends, and my blog and website combine for more than half a million unique hits a year.

I still do not deserve success. And neither do you.

There is no arbitrary power controlling fairness in the universe, making sure everyone gets their due. There is only luck.

Those writers who make more money simply got lucky.

I have peers who earn 20 times what I make, even though our sales numbers are pretty close. I have friends with over a million books in print, who make less than half of what I make.

It's not fair. It never will be.

Now that we've got that established, let's talk about what we can do to get more.

1. Be Confident. You must have faith in your writing, and your efforts. Being cocky, or feeling entitled, won't work. But knowing your strengths, and your platform, and being able to show that to a room full of editors will go a long way to getting a better contract.

2. Ask For More. Waiting for someone to notice your genius and get behind your books is a fools game. The only way to get more is to ask for more.

3. Change. Often the only way to get a big bump up in net worth is to change something. Genres. Houses. Agents. Working with new people means new excitement, new enthusiasm, new expectations. This translates into more money.

4. Be Willing to Walk Away. This is something that VERY few writers can do. We accept offers, don't negotiate hard, and perhaps devalue our writing because of it. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. A house that pays less will have less of a marketing budget, which means the book will sell fewer copies.

5. Earn Out Your Advance. It's your name on the book. It's your responsibility to sell it. I've heard agents say that if a book earns out, the advance wasn't high enough. I think the opposite is true. if your advance is so large that you'll never earn out, it's going to be very difficult to sell your next book.

Can you earn out your advance through your efforts? Maybe not. But I'm pretty sure my efforts contributed to my earning out. While you don't have to be as psychotic about promotion as I've been, every single book you sell goes toward your advance, and toward your future sales when that person becomes a lifelong fan. The more you do, the more you'll sell.

6. Take Control. So much is beyond your control in this business. But a lot of things are within your control. You do not have to wait for your agent or your publisher to tell you what to do. You can't fight the power by reacting.

You're the boss in the agent/author relationship. Your agent is probably savvier than you are, and knows more about the business. That's not an excuse to stay ignorant. You should learn as much about this business as possible. Trends. Gossip. How it works. Who is buying what.

If your publisher doesn't tour you, doesn't put down money for coop, doesn't have a wide distribution, that doesn't mean you can't fill in a lot of these divots yourself.

No, you can't personally sell 100,000 books. But you can personally sell 10,000. And that's not small potatoes.

7. Know Your Worth. This is a hard one to figure out, because comparing yourself with other authors does zero good. But you can't enter any sort of contract negotiation without having a number in mind. If you accept any old number, that's like dogs begging for scraps.

The dog that is content begging for scraps will never get the whole steak.

You need to go for the steak. That means placing a value on your work, and sticking to it.

"But JA," you say, "What if I don't get that number I have in mind? Isn't this more bad advice, like telling authors not to use SASEs and recommending they give exclusive submissions to a bunch of agents at once?"

If you can live with what you're being offered, that's fine. But then you've lost your License to Bitch. You can't complain about your shitty deal if you didn't have the stones to ask for more.

Also, SASEs and exclusive submissions suck.

"But JA," you insist, "You say this is all about luck. What if I do everything right, and I still can't earn enough money writing to support myself because I haven't gotten lucky yet?"

It sounds like you think you deserve this career. I've already stated my thoughts on that. The world doesn't owe you. And may not get out what you put in. Quit writing and buy stock in Kleenex, so at least you'll recoup some of your money during your life-long pity party.

"But JA," you say, "With everything you've said and done, with all your hard work, you still haven't gotten lucky. Why should I listen to you? You're not a millionaire bestseller."


I'm not going to become rich because I deserve it.

I'm going to become rich because nothing is going to stop me.

What are you going to let stop you?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Your Daily Inspiration Booster Shot

A Newbie's Guide To Publishing is now three years old.

That's a long time to be blogging. And reading some of my older posts (over 300 of them) I've found that many of the things I've said are still relevant.

So here's a list of some Joe Konrath quotes. If any of them resonate with you, please tell the folks at Bartlett's...


There's a word for a writer who never gives up... published

Before you make the key, study the lock.

People would rather defend their beliefs than question them.

It's about what you have to offer, not what you have to sell.

You have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than landing a publishing deal. But understanding the market and working to improve your craft can have the same effect as climbing a tree in a thunderstorm, carrying a long iron rod.

No one is entitled to anything.

What are the last ten books you bought, and what made you buy them? Use those techniques to sell your books to other people. Do what works on you.

Hard work trumps talent. Persistence trumps inspiration. Humility trumps ego.

Praise is like candy. We love it, but it isn't good for us. You can only improve by being told what's wrong.

Your book is your child. You can't recognize its shortcomings, any more than a proud parent thinks their child is dumb and ugly.

The experts don't know everything, and they might not know what's right for you.

Fate is a future you didn't try hard enough to change.

Anyone looking for you can find you. Get them to find you by looking for something else.

Life gives you wonderful opportunites to conquer fears, learn skills, and master techniques. "I can't" shouldn't be synonymous with "I don't want to."

People seek out two things: information and entertainment. Offer them freely, and they'll find you.

The Internet isn't temporary. What you post today can lead people to you decades from now.

Writing is a profession. Act professional.

Always follow the advice of an editor, even if you don't agree, because then your book becomes our book. A editor will fight harder to champion our book.

No one said it would be fair, fun, or easy. But it is worthwhile.

Publishing is a tough industry. Celebrate success whenever you can, because there will be many failures.

We're all in the same boat. Start rowing.

If you can quit, quit. If you can't quit, stop complaining---this is what you chose.

Don't compare yourself to other writers. Nothing good can come of it.

There are a lot of things that happen beyond your control. Your goals should be within your control.

Just because something is publishable doesn't mean it will get published.

Write when you can. Finish what your start. Edit what you finish. Submit what you've edited. Repeat.

The most successful people on the planet have one thing in common: nothing can stop them. Don't expect to reach your goals without sacrificing things that are important to you. You can't be both happy and ambitious.

Being your own best advocate is about understanding how people react to you.

Fake confidence, and real confidence follows.

Maybe you can't win. But you sure can try.

It's your name on your book cover. It's your responsibility to sell your book. If it flops, your publisher will still be in business, but you won't.

Always have two hands reaching out. One, for your next goal. The other, to help people get to where you're at.

If you can't be smart or funny, be brief.

There's a word for a published writer who never gives up... me.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dealing With Discouragement

It happens to the best of us.

We start out wide-eyed and optimistic, hoping for the best. We work hard, we do everything we believe we're supposed to do, and even go above and beyond the call of duty.

But no matter how good your book, how supportive your publisher, how enthusiastic everyone is---bad things still happen.

Publishing is a tough business. Staying idealistic is impossible. Sooner or later, something is going to disappoint you.

Perhaps your agent, thrilled to work with you when you signed on, doesn't seem to be answering your email with the same energy or frequency.

Perhaps your publisher cuts promotional dollars, or print runs.

Perhaps your numbers are getting smaller, or aren't where everyone hoped they'd be.

Perhaps you didn't get nominated for that award like you'd hoped, or get reviewed in a certain publication.

Perhaps your book(s) go out of print, or your contract doesn't get renewed.

Perhaps you agent can't sell your latest.

Perhaps your career is in a slump.

The list goes on. Success in this business takes a staggering amount of luck, and no matter how much you do, it still may not be enough.

Here are some tricks to dealing with the discouragement inherent in this profession.

Act Successful. This may sound like "put on a happy face" but the fact is, if your career is taking a downswing only a few people know about it. Your fans, your peers, and most of the publishing world has no idea your last book didn't do as well as expected, or that your agent isn't taking your calls.

Projecting confidence, showing the public you're a winner, goes a very long way.

Get Busy. Worry, regret, and guilt are useless emotions. They do nothing to help you. If you're discouraged about something, the best remedy is to act. Write. Promote. Write. Promote. Keep repeating this.

Depression can derail you. The only way to combat that is to get back on the horse and ride even harder.

Plan. Like chess, you should always be thinking several moves ahead. What you did in the past may not have worked out. Learn from it, and figure out what to do next. Maybe you need to change agents, or publishers, or genres. Do some soul searching, pinpoint what the problem is, and brainstorm solutions.

Vent. Talking about problems not only makes them feel better, it helps you deal with them. But you should limit this kind of talk to a few close, discreet friends. Keep your dirty laundry private.

Forgive. Both yourself, and those you believe have wronged you. Keeping all that venom stored up can poison you. Let it go, and move on. Blaming people for your problems won't change the situation.

Remember. You became a writer for a reason. It's easy to lose sight of that when something discouraging happens. Remember why you chose this path, because chances are good those reasons are still valid.

Of course, the most important thing to remember is:

Time Heals All Wounds.

We all have setbacks, and when they occur they may seem insurmountable. But you'll get through them. You always do. And you become stronger, smarter, and better because of them. Today's tragedy is next year's fond memory.

The scariest thing about this profession--the uncertainty--is also one of the coolest. You never know what will happen.

Some of what will happen will be good. Guaranteed. And the bad things that have happened will make for a terrific story to tell newbies some day...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Bad Promotion Techniques

I've blogged a lot about things writers can do to promote their books.

Here are some things they shouldn't do, both on the self-promotion front and in service of their careers.

Don't be pushy. Ever. It's about what you have to offer, not what you have to sell. Your main goal in self-promotion should be finding and meeting people who are looking for your type of book.

Don't be self-absorbed. If all you talk about is you, people will tune you out. A conversation isn't a monologue. Give and take should be part of all human interaction. No one wants to listen to you toot your own horn.

Don't be boring. Unfortunately, boring people never think they're boring. Short of videotaping yourself to see how you act, try taking your cues from the people you interact with. Do they seem into you, or anxious to escape? The better you can read your audience, the better you'll do.

Don't feel entitled. Yeah, you work hard. Good for you. That doesn't mean you deserve to be published, or you somehow earned your success. You got lucky. Feeling like the world owes you, or acting like God's Gift, is a sure way to annoy potential fans.

Don't be ungrateful. Being thankful, gracious, and helpful goes a long way. Don't bite the hand that feeds. Your fans, and anyone who helps you on your journey, deserve your attention and praise. Give freely of your time.

Don't be bitter. Yes, you got screwed. We all get screwed sometimes. Complain to your mom and a few close friends, but let the public always see you as successful.

Don't be defensive. There will be critics. There will be suggestions. There will even be people pissed at you. Don't take any of it personally, and diffuse the situation by listening to them and thanking them for their time. Once you put up your dukes, its hard to put them down again.

Don't be needy. Sure, you want to be read. Yes, you want your time in the spotlight. But fishing for compliments and begging for scraps are pathetic and embarrassing. Act confident at all times.

Don't be unprepared. You're a professional. There's no excuse for not giving 100% in everything you do that's related to your profession.

Did I miss anything?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Write A Good Story

It drives me a little crazy whenever I hear authors state that their job is to write the best book possible, and that's all they have to do.

The "that's all they have to do" part is what drives me crazy. In this competitive marketplace, the more the author can do to promote the book, the more books they will sell. Period. You can argue with that, but you'd be an idiot to try.

But the "write the best book possible" is something I agree with 100%.

Of course, the concept of "good" is a subjective one. One person might like something, the other may hate it. The author has little control over that. But the author does have the power to understand the genre they're writing in, and the ability to deliver on reader expectations according to some standardized storytelling mechanics.

If you write recognizable, conventional prose in a popular genre, your chances of getting published increase dramatically. I'd go so far as to say that the reason there are so many writers getting rejected isn't because they suck. It's because their work isn't focused enough to appeal to key demographics that publishers actively sell to.

Know your market, and you have a much better shot at selling your book.

This just happened yesterday to a close friend of mine. I'll name him if he allows it, but we'll call him HP.

HP labored in obscurity for years, writing a lot of unpublished stuff.

Then he wrote a damn good thriller, and landed an agent and now a great publisher. He called his shots, and hit what he called.

Congrats HP, we always knew you had it in you.

But HP's success story isn't one based on fairy tales and lottery wins. Was luck involved? Hell yeah. But craft, study, and deliberation paid a huge part.

HP immersed himself in the thriller genre. He attended the conventions. He met and befriended authors. He read extensively. He wrote hundreds of thousands of words of mediocre prose to hone his craft. He learned about the industry, and how it worked.

Then he wrote a thriller using everything he learned. He wrote. And rewrote. And edited. And rewrote. And rewrote. And edited. And rewrote. Until he had something that his peers generally agreed was publishable ("good" being subjective, but I certainly thought it was good.)

In short, he demystified the publishing process, and found his place within it.

But it doesn't end there for HP. Getting a publisher is just the beginning. His "good story" will hopefully be embraced by the unwashed masses, and they'll like it so much that they talk about it and buy copies for each other.

Agents, editors, and publishers believe they know what will sell. But they still fail all the time. Ultimately, the public determines what will sell, by buying it.

Writing a good story plays a part in that.

Sure, there's coop money, and ad campaigns, and discounting, and lots of ways for a publisher to push a book. But the book still has to be worthy of the push.

Make sure your book is worthy.

All too often, writers dwell on telling the story they want to tell.

Maybe writers should take a step back and ask themselves:

What is this story trying to do?
Who is this story for?
Will this story satisfy the intended reader?

Because a "good" book is ultimately the one that fulfills reader requirements. That reader could be an agent, an editor, or a single mother in Scranton, PA. They all have criteria.

Learn what those criteria are.

Promotion is about getting people to try you.

But once they try you, telling a good story is what makes that person a fan.