The Future for Writers (part 2)
So, in my last post we talked about how a lot of authors (myself included, briefly, when I started doing this full time about a decade back) have relied too much on only one source for their income over the years. And consequently, when that income source is threatened or dissolves in the fashion that Dorchester’s Leisure mass market paperback line is, then those authors are left without much. I recommended that all authors in the current market build multiple income streams to take into account fluctuations in demand, economic conditions, bad luck, what have you. When I was cast out by my first publisher Kensington back in ’04, I struggled for years to preserve and expand my writing career. The following list is just some of what I use on a daily basis – some are actual income streams and some are ways to enhance those streams.
(Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments section.)
I’m not crazy about reading books on a small screen. But a huge and ever-growing segment of the population really digs this. I’ve seen plenty of authors resist the ebook advance with as much obstinacy as traditional publishers. That’s stupid. Get out on Amazon through their DTP program and sell your backlist or any other projects that you haven’t found a traditional home for. Price your novels at $2.99, get a great cover, and bump your descriptions and tags up. 60 days from now, you’ll have your first royalty check direct deposited into your bank account. It’s faster and easier than traditional publishing, there’s very little overhead, you can do the formatting yourself (or hire someone for fairly cheap scratch) and get your work out in front of millions. And earning roughly $2.09 per book (the 70% royalty rate for an ebook priced between $2.99-$9.99) is pretty sweet.
Along those lines, get your work out on Smashwords. And Barnes & Noble is doing their own thing soon with Pub It!. You can already sell your ebooks through the Apple iBooks store, but you need an account and have to follow some extra guidelines to do it. Of course, you can always get your books made into iPhone apps as I did with several of mine. Each week, I sell a few copies out there that gets me a monthly PayPal payment from the guy I teamed up with to develop them.
Ebooks are an incredible boon to authors right now. If you’re not taking advantage of this, then fix it before you do anything else. Seriously. Literally every minute you delay, you’re losing out on sales.
2. Sell Direct
Middlemen can be helpful; middlemen can be a pain-in-the-ass. If you’ve got an established fan base, there’s no reason why you can’t sell directly to them – ebooks, print books, merchandise, etc. Set up a Paypal account or Google Checkout and start selling on your website. You can sell ebooks directly and pocket even more of the money. It’s a fairly easy matter to convert ebooks into various popular file formats like .epub, .mobi, and even Amazon’s .azw.
3. Print Your Own
Createspace and various other outfits can print your backlist on demand. I haven’t yet explored this option myself, although I intend to. You won’t make as much as you will selling ebooks, but it’s another way to help make sure your product finds its way into customer hands. Some people will always prefer print books to ebooks, so make sure you cater to them.
Serialized fiction works for me. I’ve twice experimented with it, this year selling the exclusive early Lawson Vampire adventure THE MADAGASCAR MATTER direct to subscribers. Each week (barring a few delays that couldn’t be helped) they get a new chapter in their email in one of 3 formats: as a text within the body of the email, a .pdf file, or an .azw file they can read on their Kindle. The price was $7.95. I’ve had hundreds of people sign up for it and we’re still going strong, just past the midpoint of the novel. Just don’t make the mistake I made last year and announce the project around Christmas. I heard crickets for a while there, lol…
5. Embrace Social Media
Yeah, I know a lot of you don’t much care for promotion. Tough. Get used to doing it, because the rest of the world is out on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Linked In, Plaxo, and about a million other sites. Get a personal profile on Facebook and then set up a Page for yourself as an author. Here: use this handy ebook guide to help you set it up. I’ve heard the author is wicked cool. (If you need the book in another format other than Kindle, drop me a line) Social media sites are an integral part of interacting with your readers, developing your brand identity, expanding your audience, and attracting new readers and sales. You NEED to be on it, no matter how desperately you wish otherwise.
Writers normally look at an option or film rights deal as some type of ultimate pie-in-the-sky event. But the business model in Hollywood is changing as well. Not radically, but enough that you have a better chance now to make an impression out there provided you know how to do so. Start studying the business. Understand how studios make money and where they make it. Stop listening to halfwit idiots espousing box office takes and read THE BIG PICTURE: Money & Power in Hollywood by Edward Jay Epstein. Then read it again. Read it until you know how things have evolved from the start and why TV and feature films make money and yet they don’t make any money.
Then learn how to write a screenplay. Learn what a beat-sheet is. Learn what a scriptment is. Learn how to create a compelling B story within your screenplay.
And if you’re not satisfied with things in Hollywood, buy your own camera, like say the Canon EOS 5d MKII, which shoots glorious full 1080p HD for a measly $2500 for the body. My production company for THE FIXER (website’s being redesigned, come back in October for the trailer’s debut) has three of these cameras along with a bunch of lenses and rigs. They’re awesome. And the camera is revolutionizing Hollywood. SO go buy it for short change and start making your own content. No reason you can’t. You can take the LONG and hard path like my business partner and I did and find investors for your project (it’s only taken us about three years of constant frustration and heartache, but we’ve found some truly awesome folks) or you can raise funds through Kickstarter or from your reading public. Hire yourself top talent and crew and wow the world.
Who says you can’t?
I write Rogue Angel novels for the Gold Eagle imprint of Harlequin. I started a few years back and have thus far penned eleven of those suckers. It’s a terrifically fun series and the books tend to write themselves. I earn no royalties from that work, but the pay I get (half on the signing of the contract and half when I turn it in) is pretty sweet change. I write about three each year. That’s a good chunk of money. It’s not easy to break-in, but if you can work your way into the business, it’s worth staying there until you can afford to get out of it for good.
8. Traditional Deals
A lot of ebook exponents are declaring the era of traditional publishing dead. It’s not dead yet. Until that final death knell comes, it’s still a good idea to have a traditional publisher backing you up. Here’s the thing: if you’re selling lots of ebooks, have a good social media presence, and more, you’re making yourself more attractive to a traditional publisher. The fact that I have over 13,000 followers on Twitter helped secure my deal St. Martin’s Press. Don’t discount anything these days.
9. Small Press
Until very recently, I haven’t had much luck with the small press. But I know others who have enjoyed great success there. My suggestion is to find one that likes your work and set yourself up as something of an exclusivity with them. If you’ve got a brand, then the publisher benefits and you benefit as well. Chapbooks, novellas, collections, novels, compilations, whatever. It’s yet another avenue to be explored and mined.
10. Develop a Brand
Yeah, I know what you’re saying: “But I’m a writer.” So are about a zillion other writers. What do you do that separates you from the crowd? Why should anyone care about what you write? Why should they pay $4.99 for your book when there’s someone else writing about ghouls on Amazon and is only charging $2.99 for their book. “But I’m the Ghoul Guy!” Okay, now why are YOU the ghoul guy? What makes your ghouls better than that guy’s?
My “brand” is this: writer, producer, ninja. I write books (and various other things); I produce my own TV show, THE FIXER; and I’m a 5th degree black belt in the last authentic lineage of Ninjutsu and have studied the art for over 20 years. Not too many (er, any as far as I can see) other authors can say the same thing.
Figure out who you are and you’ll be in a much better position to find new readers and fans, and thereby sell your work to them.
One final note: be honest. Don’t lie to your reading public. They’re smarter than that. I’ve read countless blogs where someone claims this movie deal or that they’re being actively pursued by multiple publishers, etc. etc. Please. It’s not THAT tough finding out if it’s true or not. We’re not in a giant, nameless industry. And a lot of us have extensive contacts that we can easily call and ask about things. I find it amusing that so many authors need to lie to make themselves seem more important than they are. Readers don’t care about that crap. They want a great burst of entertainment from you. And if you’re honest with them, they’ll reward you with their loyalty. Respect them accordingly.
All right, that’s enough from me. I’d love to hear from readers on other ways writers can flourish in these volatile times.
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