Saturday, March 24, 2012

Is Manuscript Bouncing Okay?

There is nothing ill to be said about bouncing from one manuscript to another. But writing multiple manuscripts simultaneously can present some real problems Ever heard of term “50-page novel?” We've all had false starts, sometimes as many as a half dozen or more. Or we have an archive filled with 20, 30, 50-page novels. They all have their place in our writing career, since they were all born out of the same drive and inspiration. Each and every one seemed to be a good or even great idea at the time. Then one or two them loose their luster and you find the initial excitement has diminished. Yet you are not compelled to toss any of them away. So you bounce from one manuscript to the other, writing a few pages on one, finishing a chapter on another, or compiling notes for yet another.


If you're dividing your time between two manuscripts or more and don't seem to be making any headway, it's because you're probably not. You're beginning to feel like a master of none and a jack of all trades. You start one and it bores you. You change to another, looking for that lost thrill. It isn't there so you return to the original. This flip-flopping is confusing, time-consuming and depressing. You can solve the dilemma. Evaluate each of your projects by asking yourself several questions and analyzing your feelings.

Will this manuscript steal you away from the others? How so?
Does this story have the most unique and original premise?
Is this the type of book you would like to read?
What do your beta readers think?
Do you feel comfortable writing this tale, and do you find the tone, pace, genre and POV a good fit for your mood at this time?
What characters appeal to you the most and do you feel comfortable and at ease in their world?

Are you excited with the idea of crafting a special world in this story?
After you read several pages, are you easily drawn in and eager to add to the storyline?
You have to listen/feel for that magic, and a lot of it is gut instinct. The right story/book will flag itself. And I stress a single story. Hint: if you find yourself in a white-hot fit of inspiration and typing agility, go hard and fast, for surely that is the one that wants to hog your time.

Stories are like unruly children vying for your attention. Some are loud-mouthed, some are shy and timid, looking at you with soulful, watery eyes. Consider which one makes you feel happier when your in it. Consider which one seems more commercial. Consider which one is more mapped out and would be an easier trek. Hard choices. If you are comfortable biding your time between multiple manuscripts, and you can multitask, go ahead and give it a whirl. There's nothing wrong with it, if you truly have the talent to give each one the individual attention it requires.

I find that if I divide my attention between different story arcs and characters, I tend to dilute the overall execution of all of them. To keep me on target with one book, after I've settled on it, I copy the books/stories to a flash drive and erase the originals from my files. I'm then less likely to dive back into them, read them out of curiosity or play around with newer ideas. This gives me the impetus to stay focused and finish one project at a time, before I even think about starting or continuing with the next.

That's really the secret to good productivity—finishing one project at a time, slugging it out in the trenches, solving plot problems then and there, editing as you write, but spending all your time on that project. Until it's finished. Then start your questions and analysis all over again, and begin anew.

But just keep writing, even if it is touch and go from one to another. Heck, if you are a true multitasker, they eventually might all get done!

Planet Janitor: Custodian of the Stars (Engage Science Fiction) (Illustrated)

Planet Janitor: Custodian of the Stars (Engage Science Fiction) (Illustrated) [Kindle Edition]

Chris Stevenson , Toni Zhang

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

E-Publishing With Amazon and How to Make it Work

A few writers have asked me how I published and marketed on Amazon Kindle. This is only my experience, and can probably help the trade or self-e-published author.

My publisher suggested I write a prequel short that ties into the novel. I don't know where he got the idea, but he must have been studying Amazon or reading Konrath or something. Since the novel was a space faring adventure, where the crew performs "missions", it was an easy concept to grapple with and produce. He called it our "sacrificial lamb", because he intended to list it free as many times as we were allowed--something like five times or so in a 90-day period? I forget the maximum free download times. Then he would switch it over to a .99 price point and let it hang by its neck.

Our first free trial pulled about 650 takers, not a real big number. But after it went to cost (.99) the book sales spiked in the top 100. Sales started rolling in. When book sales started leveling off--he listed the short free again. Boom. Spike.

He tried changing the book price from $1.99 to $2.99 then back again over a period of couple of weeks. Another small spike. Then he offered the
book for free (over a weekend, I think), and when it came back on cost, it hit another rank spike. So he staggered the free trials between the short and the book back and forth, until ultimately our free trials were used up. But the short started selling all by itself, something like 1 to every 4 books, which was kind of a pleasant surprise. Imagine your short having a slap-fight with your novel for position!

Just in the last 13 days we've had something like 85 sales between the two, the majority of them books. Nothing to write home about, until you consider that the book came out in hardback first and flat-lined after 18 sales over a period of 11 months. Absolutely terrible. Since the book went e-book three months ago, and the short was put up only a month ago, it's sold hundreds of copies. We're still waiting on Kobo and some other online vendor numbers.

So, yeah, a tie-in short to your book makes things really happen. Seriously, I don't/won't pull the money that a self-published author does because I split the proceeds with my publisher. But still...

I went right to work on the second short and just turned it in. My publisher will edit it, format it and publish it on Amazon. Then we'll do the "stagger" thing again. Honestly, I think we can produce and list about five to six more prequel shorts to milk the Amazon system for everything it can give us. Then comes time for the real work--the full length sequel. Wash, rinse repeat.

I couldn't tell you what a standalone short would do. Just experiment and stagger the free trial periods. My first short was 6,500 words, and this second one is 8,500 words. I don't think I would go any lower than 5,000, just for personal reasons.

Did this help my my other genre trade and e-book sales? Nope. My paranormal romance picked up one sale through all this. So from my perspective, not many readers will check out your other genres unless you're pulling some huge sales numbers. I've pigeon-holed myself in SF for the time being.

I'm mini-me compared to some of the other e-book authors who really have the formula down pat. I'm very late to this game--even my blog is brand new, trying to catch up with all these others. But I do market-slut myself every day--places like the Blogs thread at my favorite writing group, FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, Book Blogs, Goodreads, and all those damn YADS sites, and as many interview and review blogs as I can participate in.

How long does it take to build up inertia and see good results? In my case, it took three months. YMMV.


Planet Janitor: Custodian of the Stars (Engage Science Fiction) (Illustrated) by Chris Stevenson and Toni Zhang (Kindle Edition - Jan 7, 2011)Kindle eBook

Buy: $2.99

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Are We Seeing the Demise of the Advance?

Are we headed for a No-advance publishing Industry? I'm talking about all these print-on-demand (POD) companies that are masquerading as traditional publishers. With the advent of POD, we've seen a proliferation of amateur printers hanging out their shingles, crafting attractive websites, writing glowing mission statements, and proclaiming that they are "traditional" royalty paying publishing houses. We've had about what, 10 to 15 years of this? 

These POD printers often convey lofty ideals that appeal to dreamers, the rejected, the hopeful or newbie writers. Without doubt, most of these pub outfits are run as hobbies in garages or spare bedrooms, with limited staff and resources. Many of them went through Lulu or iUniverse to publish their own tomes and decided they liked the idea and had enough business savvy to open their doors to fledgling writers. They enlisted their friends and family members to help out with book cover art, editing, shipping and mailing.  Or they hired professionals and provided a commission-sharing royalty agreement.

Presto, we have a publisher!

Not.  Many of these people usually have little or no experience in the commercial trade and don't belong there. They offer higher royalty percentages (they claim), but what they don't tell you is that those percentages are often based on net sales, or the profit they actually receive. No advance means a very low start-up cost. If they request that an author supply them with a large list of friends and relatives, you can bet that they know purchases from THAT source will compensate them for their initial print order, typically moving about 75 to 100 books. What's their initial print order? However many free copies they promised the author, usually 2-5 copies, and rarely more than a dozen to satisfy online vendors.  There will be no large print runs with a POD operation. Unless...they have procured dozens of advance-purchase orders.

First-time authors are so enamored with their books that they'll gladly lay down hundreds of dollars for crates of their own product. They can commission them off to book stores, sell them at conventions, speaking engagements and out of the car trunk. And those that do make these large outlays? congratulations! You have just become that publisher's unpaid sales force. Now they're raking in profits from the sale of your book back to you, less their printing cost. The game plan for these micro-PODs is to print as many authors as possible in a given month or year--quantity over quality--the K-mart mentality. And this is serious "author mill" territory.

Where is their incentive to offer you an advance now?

Look folks, an advance is a publisher's faith and conviction in a book that they expect to sell to the general reading public. They determine potential sales by mapping out extensive, complicated profit and loss spreadsheets. They fully expect to see their books shelved in brick and mortar bookstores, and can deliver them because they use off-set technology, allowing them to deliver warehoused inventory at a moments notice. They send out dozens or hundreds of review copies to legitimate trade reviewers. This is the way it's handled in the big leagues. 

An advance also confirms to the writer that they are being professionally dealt with, and this money offers the author a little leeway and time for them to write their next book. It's also validation--trust. An advance-paying publisher almost always uses an offset print run. Offset is much cheaper to produce thousands of copies. An advance-paying publisher employs/utilizes hard-mail color catalogs, has a trade show presence, retail and advertising budget, a publicity manager (bet you didn't know that), radio, TV and newspaper sources, and a real sales force that bangs on the doors of distributors, wholesalers and book stores. They rarely, if ever, ask for any list of friends and relatives. Author copies number in the dozens and the author discount is always up in the 40% bracket or better.

I can't think of more than 20 to 30 major publishers in my genre that provide an industry standard advance, starting at about $5,000. There are a few dozen (maybe) who offer a few hundred dollars to a couple grand. But there are thousands who are offering zero. The Zero people, I like to call them, think that they are revolutionizing the industry, fixing something they believe is inherently broken, saving money by lowering production runs, and leading the way into the next millennium. They are quick to proclaim that they are ready to get behind a book that proves itself. The trouble is, none of the books reach this milestone. Why? Because there was no advance and promotion/marketing budget.  Remember the Zero people rely on quantity.  An author might sell 100 copies in six months, but 100, 200, or 300 authors who sell 100 books can rake in some serious cash for the publisher. 

A meaningful advance means a publisher is serious about entering the book trade business. It means they have enough clout, prestige, and confidence in their ability to MOVE product.   It means libraries and bookstores will take them seriously, because they will receive the best discounts and quality books. It means the publisher has a real address, is working full time, and houses enough professionals to get the job done. An advance-paying publisher BELIEVES in you, the author and your book.

The Zero people have vision problems, as well as financial ones. They claim that once they are solvent things will change. The problem is, things never have to change when the profit is so good. Things can't change, really. It all goes back to that money thing again, the same reason why they didn't offer an advance in the first place--too much investment. It's just too easy to take the financial risk from the publisher and slap the author with it. It's much safer that way.

So the next time you receive a contract from a publisher who does not pay an advance, has no marketing or distribution, pays on net, asks you for a friends and relatives list, doesn't do offset or even qualify for Ingrams, all you have to ask them is, "Are you serious?"
But you'll already know the answer to that, won't you? Well, won't you?


Planet Janitor: Custodian of the Stars (Engage Science Fiction) (Illustrated) by Chris Stevenson and Toni Zhang (Kindle Edition - Jan 7, 2011)Kindle eBook

Buy: $1.99

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