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.)

1. EBooks

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.

4. Serialize

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.

6. Hollywood

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?

7. Work-For-Hires

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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  • Ty Schwamberger August 12, 2010  

    Great post! Keep up the awesome work!

  • Jason M. Tucker August 12, 2010  


    Brilliant post! As a writer with just one book out (Meat City & Other Stories), I’m always looking for ways to expand what I’m doing, and the changes in traditional publishers and the emerging ebook market are always worth watching from a writer’s standpoint. Embrace the change or drown. I’m glad to see guys like you, Konrath, and now Keene taking the lead in these changing times. It gives guys like me direction and hope!

    Thanks again for the great post,


  • JimPI August 12, 2010  

    Y’know, much of what you’ve said actually sounds like common sense to me. Any time a person is relying upon their skills/talents to make a living being self-employed, he or she should diversify their income streams as much as possible. It all comes back to that old saying about putting all your eggs in one basket. But, as you mention, so many genre authors looked at Leisure as being the “end all, be all” accomplishment for their career, when actually it should have been seen as just a stepping stone along the way.

    Just my $0.02, from the outside looking in.

  • Barry Napier August 12, 2010  

    I have read literally hundreds of blogs/articles about why writers should just give in to the e-book phenomenon. I have refused and refused and rolled my eyes at each one.

    But yours has me thinking harder than ever.

    Thanks for the wonderful insights.

  • admin August 12, 2010  

    Thanks for commenting, Barry – much appreciated!

  • admin August 12, 2010  

    Agreed, Jim! Thanks!

  • admin August 12, 2010  

    Thanks for stopping by, Jason – glad you found some value in the post! And congrats on the book!

  • admin August 12, 2010  

    Thanks Ty!

  • A.P. Fuchs August 12, 2010  

    I blogged about this here:

    This is what I posted on Shocklines on the self-publishing thread going on there after agreeing the cream rises to the top in terms of what self-pubbed titles are worth buying:

    The truth is–because I’ve been self-publishing for six years–is that self-publishing (properly) is hard, hard work. It’s definitely not for everyone. You need to not only be a writer (or artist or whatever), but also an entrepenuer to do it right. Anyone can upload on Kindle and sit back and hope. But what about promotion? Tracking business expenses? Paying business taxes? Doing cons? Mailings (online or off)? Etc. Going down the self-publishing road means around 10-15% of the time you’re writing, then rest you’re running a business. As said, this is to self-publish properly and not use subsidy services like Lulu or Createspace. You need to register your business with all the right people, comply with publishing laws in your country/state/province, and have the [disposable] funds to cover the needed costs for your project(s).

    So…some self-publishers might splash onto the scene and their “cream” will rise to the top, but only the ones who are serious about the biz and actually making something of their biz will stick around.

    And about the question that started the thread:

    Regarding the original question of what will now constitute a “pro” writer or even a “pro” market–for me this has never been an issue regarding a traditionally-published author and self-published one. I’ve always asserted that one is a pro if you get paid for your work. It doesn’t matter how your work got out there. The question is are you getting paid for it? Anyone can pick a number and state “This much equals a pro wage. If it’s not this, then you’re a bum.” Seriously? Imagine one guy selling a short story to a 5-cent-a-word market and getting his few hundred bucks. But that’s all he sells. Another writer sells a dozen stories to a 1-cent-a-word market, makes more money but isn’t considered a pro despite being paid for his work? Hmmm…

    I’ve always considered myself a professional despite some of the cheapshots over the years from folks knocking me for self-publishing. I used to care. Not anymore. I have Hollywood interested in me; potential mass market stuff happening; never mind a couple other things.

    But to be clear: self-publishing is not for everyone, big name author or small. Self-publishing is another word for running a business and if that’s not your bag, don’t go down that road.

  • A.P. Fuchs August 12, 2010  

    You won’t make as much as you will selling ebooks…

    Just curious what this is based on. Are you talking on the whole or per unit or…?


  • Kristine August 12, 2010  

    Do you recommend any how-to books about screenwriting? Courses? Or do you recommend reading scripts and then diving in?

  • admin August 12, 2010  

    Sorry AP, I should have made that clearer – yes, it’s per unit. Thanks for chiming in! I know you’ve got a metric ton of experience in the self-publishing arena, so I’m glad you swung by!

  • admin August 12, 2010  

    Kristine, one of the best I’ve read was recommended by my manager. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. Well worth a read.

  • A.P. Fuchs August 12, 2010  

    More on an eBook than print? Man…whatever you’re doing–or whatever you know someone else is doing–please stop. I make 3-5 times the amount I make on an eBook when I sell a print copy, middleman or not.

    Where’d you get the info from?

    Peace. Going to bed. Will check back later.

  • Christopher S. Penn August 13, 2010  

    On social media: there’s a flipside complement, and that’s a mailing list. You NEED a mailing list to capture the people who find you that aren’t willing to make a purchase commitment yet but still want to do -something- to get more. Email services providers (disclosure: I work for one) can range from dirt cheap to luxury class, but all provide the same basic service: the ability to reach out to people.

    If you are getting results in social media, you’ll see them amplified when backed up by a mailing list, because social media traffic is very, very transient. If you happen to get a burst of attention, capitalize on it by all means, but capture it too. The social media crowd is very much the ADHD “ooh shiny” crowd that WILL forget about you when the next shiny thing comes along, unless you have a way to remind them that you exist.

  • Mary Bowman August 13, 2010  

    Jon, As a new author I have a couple of questions regarding this blog. I read somewhere that publishing electronically is equal to a death knoll for unpublished writers but your blog offers some wonderful options for getting a new word seen by the public and maybe even making a little money. How do you feel about new writers bypassing traditional agent representation and going digital? Once a book has been published on the web, is it still possible for an agent to pick it up at a later time?

    Thank you for your time.

  • admin August 13, 2010  

    AP, as I said in the post itself, I haven’t yet explored the print self-publishing option, but the info I used to make the assertion that you’d make more from the ebook than print was based on some quick figures I saw using Createspace and a few other POD outfits. Please share your experiences with us! 🙂

    Chris – thanks for chiming in. Email lists are another vital tool for writers and I’m the firts to admit I haven’t done as good a job with my own as I’d like. I think I’ll be talking to you in the near future, lol…

    Mary – I think my biggest complaint about self-publishing by those “new” to the game might be that they haven’t taken the time to truly work on their craft to the point that it’s decent writing. (Of course, I say this with a huge grain of salt seeing how woefully awful Twilight was, lol) So on that level, there has been a rush in the past to bypass the “gatekeepers” of traditional publishing and simply go right ahead. That stigma is dying, fortunately, so I personally have no problem provided the author has obviously worked on their craft. These days, with the state of flux in the industry, my advice would be to first see what you can do as far as an agent goes, and if after a certain period of time, try it yourself. If you are selling ebooks and then a traditional publisher comes along, I think the worst that would happen would be they would want erights and you’d have to stop selling the ebook. I believe (check first before you take it as fact) that’s what happened with Boyd Morrison. he’d been selling tons of copies of his first novel and then when he got his deal, he simply took the book down. Thing are changing, and the previous prejudices – while not completely gone – are nonetheless dissolving.

  • A.P. Fuchs August 16, 2010  

    Here’s the thing: a lot of writers use Createspace or Lulu for one simple reason–it’s free and easy. Costs you nothing to upload. Make a mistake with your interior or want to release a revised and/or better-edited version? Just put in a new file and call it good.

    You don’t need to do anything businesswise. Not really. Just keep track of your earnings and tell the taxman about it in April. You don’t even have to go out and buy your own ISBN because they’ll provide one for you–for a fee.

    And it’s that “for a fee” part that puts Createspace and Lulu in the subsidy category. They are not just a printer. They are a service provider. Unlike the usual subsidy outfits where you pay stupid amounts of money up front and make a measly “royalty” from every book sale, Createspace and Lulu instead gouge you per sale. It’s the print cost that’s stupid. Sure, if you sell directly from their website, it’s not too bad, but I don’t know too many people who shop at those places–actually, I don’t know any–especially with their super-high shipping costs.

    If you opt into their distribution programs (see? A service for a fee), you get listed on Amazon, etc. The problem is once you factor in the book’s printing cost plus the retailer’s cut and Createspace’s cut, you got your $2 or so. Which is why I don’t blame you for saying you make more on an eBook sale than a print one.

    But the above is not true self-publishing. Self-publishing isn’t “upload and go” with these places. Self-publishing is you publishing yourself under your own imprint with your own business. You act as a publisher, running everything from creating the product; to packaging it; to printing it; to marketing it; etc.

    So it’s the printing part, really, that screws everyone over who uses Createspace or Lulu. I used Lulu once back in 2004 to publish a mareting book for frugal authors before a traditional publisher picked it up. Never again. Their service isn’t feasible cost-wise if you want to make a living at this, nevermind getting in copies to do a book signing or convention or even just sell to Mom and Dad.

    I suggest using a place like Lightning Source–who places like Createspace and Lulu print through anyway–and using them as a printer and actually paying real printing prices, not ones inflated to make your service provider rich.

    Yes, there is money up front, but you got to spend money to make money. Would you rather put up a few bucks first and make them back quickly, or get gouged over and over again for every paperback sale you make?

    One time costs like registering your business, buying some ISBNs, etc. is no big deal because running a business–especially a publishing one–is about big picture thinking, not short term.

    Don’t have money for these one-time costs? Get a part time job for a couple months to cover it. Totally worth it.

    But only if you’re serious about this stuff.

    Like I said, anyone can “upload and go.” That’s not self-publishing. Self-publishing is doing things right by actually acting like a publisher and publishing yourself, you putting the author part of you on 10% mode while 90% of the time you’re pushing product, making phone calls, doing business stuff. Just how it is.

    Self-publishing is hard, hard work. Folks making a mint on eBook sales–though that’s wonderful–isn’t the norm. And with the marketing getting flooded with all kinds of material, you got to really dig in your heels to get yourself noticed.

    You need to run a business.

    Anytime you want to talk, Jon, shoot me an email.


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