Ad Astra 2015 day 2: Cutting contracts and shaking hands

The business basics of writing

Panellists: Greg Wilson, Monica Pacheco, Gail Z. Martin, Leah Bobet

Cutting Contracts Panel

Q: Do I need an agent?

LB: First, you have to ask yourself what you want. What will your career look like?

MP: If you want a Big 5 publishing deal, film rights, foreign rights, etc., you need an agent.

GZM: Can you do your own taxes or do you have an accountant? An agent has specialized knowledge that’s critical in the publishing industry. Their 15% commission is well worth it.

LB: I have to clarify my response: if you want to self-publish, no, you don’t need an agent. If you focus on short fiction, you don’t need an agent.

MP: Short fiction is excluded in publishing contracts.

GW: The stuff that used to be done by acquisition editors in the publishing houses has shifted to agents. There are many ways to achieve the same result. Having an agent can free up more time to write.

GZM: I don’t need an agent for short fiction, but if I notice something hinky with the contract, I can run it by my agent. He gets paid if I get paid, so he’s invested in my success.

LB: Agents aren’t interchangeable. It’s like a marriage. Fortunately, break-ups are rarely acrimonious.

MP: Your agent is also a buffer between you and the editor, you and marketing, etc.

GZM: My agent can play the bad cop.

MP: There’s an imbalance of power.

GW: A bad agent can be worse than no agent at all. You have to believe in what you do. Get the right agent for you.

GZM: I recommend the Guide to Literary Agents.

LB: Don’t take the boiler plate! [Mel’s note: a boiler plate is a standardized contract that frequently offers the worst possible terms for the author.] When it comes to long form contracts, it depends on the publisher, the genre, and the specific rights asked for.

MP: An agent will get a different boiler plate as a starting point for negotiation. Sub-rights depend on whether the agency has a strong film/foreign rights department.

GW: Also look out for audio rights and gaming rights.

GZM: Ebook rights are now a part of the non-negotiable rights a publisher can ask for. It will differ by house. A lot of authors are doing more hybrid work as their careers progress. Your contract determines what you can do (e.g. when rights revert to the author).

LB: Non-compete clauses are something to examine carefully. Looking at the big picture, publishing houses are figuring out how to proceed in the world of epublishing and publishing on demand (POD).

GW: Distribution wars can have an affect on your novel. When Amazon and Hachette were fighting it out, some authors lost out because their books were getting into the stores.

GZM: The sales of your current book will determine how many copies of your next book stores will order.

GW: Titans fight and the peons pay. I self-published and then I got a traditional deal. Publishing and writers are both more flexible. Hybrid will become the norm. You have to have more awareness of the “shape” of the industry.

MP: We used to search WattPad to find the next author. Now, established authors are publishing on WattPad.

LB: I’m interested to see if WattPad will be monetized.

GZM: How does free translate to readers (which translates to income)? Some people read a book a day. They can’t afford their book habit, but if they read and review, they become influencers.

GW: We now have multiple avenues to get our work out there. You can leverage multiple fan bases. The more each author is successful, the more all authors are successful. The rising tide floats all boats.

LB: YA rules are a little different. It’s flush with money. It’s a gold rush. I’m aware of my limits as a writer, though. 18 hour days on an ongoing basis would kill me. Publishing is built on interns. Books are great, but they’re not everything. You have a life outside of books. Your career is your choice.

GZM: Precarious is in the eye of the beholder. I have a life and I do work long days.

GW: Being a college professor is precarious. You have to learn how to work smarter, not harder.

LB: No one knows what the magic button is.

And that was time.

Next week: We move on to DAY 3 (!) and making a living as a writer.

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Ad Astra 2015 day 2: High quality self-publishing

Panellists: Beverly Bambury, Caro Soles, Catherine Fitzsimmons, Samantha M. Beiko, Stephen Kotowych, Mark Leslie

Self-publishing panel

ML: When you self-publish, do you use your own name?

CS: It’s not professional.

BB: If it’s a small publisher that no one has ever heard of, why not use your own name?

SMB: It doesn’t really matter. The book will speak for itself.

SK: Using your professional name adds credibility.

ML: I run Kobo Writing Life for small publishers and independent authors. The top 15 to 20 best selling Kobo books are independently published.

BB: Does Kobo offer supports?

ML: We’re looking into how to best connect authors and services. There are a lot of predators out there. We should be bringing out something later this year.

BB: Supports vary. Authors have to do more regardless.

SMB: An author will finish writing and editing a book and say, “Well, that was a nightmare.” Fasten your seatbelts, people: it gets worse.

ML: What’s your best advice to the author considering self-publication?

CS: Join writers’ organizations. You find out what’s going on in publishing. Hire a copyeditor.

SMB: Come out to events like this one. Everyone really wants to help everyone else.

SK: Don’t spam people. Offer something of value.

CF: Don’t skimp on the cover, but be smart. Shop around.

CS: I do my own covers. You just have to learn how.

BB: Someone with a graphic design background could be better than an artist. Invest in an editor.

CS: A beautifully written story, if poorly copy edited, will lose competitions for awards and other opportunities.

ML: A good cover catches attention. A good back cover copy reels readers in. Write your next book. Nothing sells you last book like your next book.

CS: An ebook cover has to look good in thumbnail form.

CF: Check out Kindle cover disasters on Tumblr.

Q: You mentioned two different kinds of editors. Could you elaborate?

SMB: There are substantive editors. They look at the big picture, structural stuff. They can cost a lot. A copyeditor or line editor looks at sentence structure, grammar, and syntax. Is this the best way to convey your intent? A proof reader looks at spelling and punctuation.

ML: Who’s looking at the revised copy? If you have beta readers, ask them, “Where did you fall out of the story?”

CF: With beta readers, the more the better.

ML: Beware the hype of the Kindle gold rush. Don’t look at self-publishing as your ticket. It’s a long term game, not a quick buck.

BB: As a publicist, I have people coming to me with unrealistic expectations.

Q: What are your thoughts on giving away your work for free?

CF: You shouldn’t start that way. If you have a complete series, then offer the first for free. If readers like it, they’ll buy the rest of the series.

ML: Kobo uses free in different ways. It works best when the call to action is to buy the author’s next book (series or otherwise).

SMB: If you have a novella, don’t give it away for free. It’s considered an exclusive item. Give it a limited run.

ML: Let’s run the numbers. Say you offer a book for free and 10,000 people download it. Of those 10,000, maybe 2,000 will open the book. Of those, only 350 will finish it. Of those, only 175 will buy the next book.

Q: How do you balance everything?

CS: That’s up to you.

SK: Schools can be a goldmine.

And that’s all we had time for.

Next week: Ad Astra gets punked 😉

And sorry folks, you’ll have to wait until next weekend for my report on Madeleine Callway’s workshop and Wordstock. I’m bushed.

WWC 2014, day 2: An hour with Mark Leslie

Mark is a writer, editor and bookseller who was born and grew up in the Greater Sudbury Region, spent many years in Ottawa and currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario.

Find him online at markleslie.com.

mark-leslie


 

I ended up in publishing because I’ve always loved writing. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. When I was a kid, I told stories with my Fischer Price people.

I got a job in a university books store and I noticed that the new edition of a textbook was being developed before the current one was even on the shelves. Students were getting outdated information. Sometimes the changes were subtle and I realized it was a big money grab. I decided to do something about this abuse of students.

I talked the bookstore into investing in an Espresso Book Machine and we entered into an agreement with McGraw-Hill Ryerson and Nelson publishers. A professor would choose the chapters he felt were pertinent to the class he was teaching and the publisher would provide a .pdf of the chapters. These were printed and sold in store.

The custom edition of the material would be 50-60% cheaper for students. The publisher made more. The store made more. Free digital copies were made available if sales of the print edition were reasonable and everyone still profited.

I tried it out for fiction. Amazon ships in 24 hours, but with the Espresso, I could print on site in 15 minutes.

I learned that if you put authors first, you can both make money.

A textbook that cost $86 could be printed for $25 on the Espresso and we could ship it wherever the client wanted. Later, we uploaded it to Kobo and the ebook is still selling everywhere for $10.

I became a consultant for On-Demand Books and then joined Kobo. When Kobo wanted to put out a writer-centric platform, I wanted a part of that action. Kobo Writing Life came into being. It was less money, but I was passionate about books and authors.

Kobo Writing Life was built for writers. We’re in the top five in every territory. We sell more units than Random House in Canada.

As the platform grew, I gained staff. My team nurtures authors.

Q: How does Kobo Writing Life make self-publishing easier?

Authors used to have to go through the same process as a publisher to get their books on Kobo. Now you can do it overnight.

This raises an important question: you can put your book up overnight, but should you? Many authors rush into self-publishing before they’re really ready. Make sure you’re putting your absolute best work out there.

Q: I was in Adrienne Kerr’s session and she mentioned Booknet. Can you speak to that?

The average author can’t access Booknet. Until we can more of the key players on board, it won’t happen.

Q: If I’m an indie publisher or author, why should I bother with Kobo?

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. The more ways your readers can get hold of your books, the better. It’s not Kobo only, but Kobo and.


 

As ever, my notes cannot reflect the full experience. I can’t write that fast (!) And, Mark, if I’ve gotten anything wrong, please let me know and I’ll fix ‘er up post-hasty.

Up next: a Caturday quickie on the developments (construction and dog-wise) of the week.

Next weekend: Jacqueline Guest: Have Pen, Will Travel.

In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian readers, and we’ll see you on Tipsday with the Writerly Goodness of the week.

WWC2014 Day 1: Successful self-publishing with Jodi MacIsaac

Jodi MacIsaacAbout Jodi MacIsaac:

She grew up in New Brunswick, Canada. After stints as a short-track speed skater, a speechwriter, and fundraising and marketing executive in the non-profit sector, she started a boutique copywriting agency and began writing novels in the wee hours of the morning. She currently lives with her husband and two feisty daughters in Calgary, Alberta.

Find out about her books.


 

 

The current state of the publishing industry is both fascinating and depressing.

The first thing you should do is research. Victoria Strauss’s Writer Beware is a great resource. You’ll be kept aware of all the scams and less-than-reputable publishing services.

The debate about traditional publishing vs. self-publishing is polarized and getting more so every day. The big self-publishing success stories are flukes and outriders, but it is possible to make a living publishing your novels independently.

Indie or self-published books make up:

  • 31% of daily ebook sales;
  • 40% of ebook royalties (greater than Big 5 authors’ ebook royalties);
  • 30% of ebook revenue.

Most self-published books sell fewer than 200 copies.

You have to be professional, patient, and treat your self-publishing as a business—because it is.

Regarding patience, Hugh Howey’s Wool was his eighth book.

Backlist sales are important, but in order to have backlist sales, you have to have a backlist.

You have to be talented, hard working, and obsessive.

If that’s you, self-publishing may be for you.

The pros:

  • 70% royalties;
  • Complete control; and
  • Greater speed to market.

The cons:

  • Little/no bookstore presence;
  • No advance;
  • Up front costs; and
  • No support.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do you enjoy learning?
  2. Are you proactive?
  3. Can you multi-task?
  4. Are you entrepreneurial?
  5. Are you willing to develop a business and marketing plan?
  6. Can you organize and work with a team?
  7. Are you willing to work HARD?

Writing is an art. Publishing is a business.

Roles of the self-publisher:

  • Author;
  • Editor;
  • Copyeditor;
  • Proofreader;
  • Cover designer;
  • Layout and formatting;
  • Scheduling;
  • Marketing;
  • Public relations;
  • Webmaster;
  • Distribution; and
  • Bookkeeper.

These roles can be farmed out, but you have to be able to afford to pay other people to fill them. If you don’t have a lot of money, this may be a problem.

If nothing else, you need to pay for the “big three.”

  1. Editing—substantive, copyediting, and line editing. Yes, you may have to pay three people, or one person three times.
  2. Cover design.
  3. Formatting.

Costs:

  • Substantive edit               $2,000 to $10,000
  • Copyediting                      $1,000 to $5,000
  • Proofreading                    $500 to $1,000
  • Cover design                    $150 to $3,500
  • Formatting                        $100 to $500
  • ISBN                                 Free in Canada/$125 in the US
  • Net Galley                         $399
  • Audiobook narrator           $1200 (or royalty share)
  • Marketing                          $100 to $5,000 (or ??? more)
  • Website                            $100 (hosting and domain registration)

Where to sell

Digital

  • Amazon
  • KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing, Amazon’s exclusive ebook service.)
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Kobo
  • iBookstore
  • Smashwords (distribution to everyone but Amazon until you reach $5,000 in sales)
  • Draft 2 Digital, Bookbaby, etc.

Publish on demand (POD)

  • Lightning Source
  • CreateSpace
  • Lulu
  • Trafford
  • iUniverse
  • Xlibris
  • Author Solutions

Check Writer Beware and Editors & Preditors before you commit. I’ve listed all services here for thoroughness.

Pricing

  • $2.99-$9.99         author receives 70% of every unit sold.
  • Under $2.99        author receives 35% of every unit sold.
  • Over $9.99          author receives 35% of every unit sold.

The best way to sell backlist is to write more books.

Aim for 80% writing/20% business.

Q: What is metadata?

Metadata is data about data. Keywords, categories, etc. You have to be strategic.

Q: What are your best marketing and communications strategies?

Reviews are the number one way to generate sales and word of mouth.

FaceBook ads, in my experience, don’t translate to sales.

Giveaways on Goodreads are a good tactic, especially if you ask for an honest review.

Blog tours are not worth it. It’s a lot of work to generate content for all the blogs, and there’s no evidence that anyone will be encouraged to buy.


Next week: Jacqueline Guest on Preparing the Perfect Pitch Package.

Mark Leslie workshop with the Sudbury Writers’ Guild

This past Thursday, November 28, Mark Lefebvre of Kobo, who writes under the pen name Mark Leslie, conducted a workshop on self-publishing for the Sudbury Writers’ guild.

Mark spoke a bit about his experience with self-publishing first.

Mark Leslie

Mark Leslie with members of the SWG and Barnaby

His horror short story collection, One Hand Screaming, was published using Lightning Source (now Spark) from Ingram.

For his anthology Campus Chills, Mark and his friend Steve formed Stark Publishing (Steve + Mark). They used the Espresso Book Machine, which got its name because in the time it takes to make an espresso, the machine could produce a book.

At the time, Mark was working for a university book store and convinced the store to invest in the machine. He made the venture a paying one, producing all kinds of books for various groups in the university and surrounding community.

Mark is also an editor, editing North of Sixty, and Tesseracts Sixteen.

More recently, he compiled stories with background research for Haunted Hamilton and Spooky Sudbury, which he co-authored with Sudbury journalist Jenny Jelen. Both books were published with Dundurn Press in Hamilton.

One of the things to keep in mind is that traditional publishing can get you into places that you could never get into alone, for example, Costco.

Now Mark works for Kobo (which is just an anagram of book, by the way).

Why authors choose to self-publish

  • For the new author, it’s a way to break in to traditional publishing, make a mark, get noticed.
  • For mid-list writers, it’s most often used to resurrect their backlist. As copyright returns to authors, they format for self-publication and keep their work in circulation longer than their traditional publisher were willing to.
  • For the NYTBS author, self-publishing offers control.

In general, self publishing offers higher royalties and faster payouts than traditional publishing.

Epub format is the industry standard.

Mobi is the Amazon standard.

Self-publishing is good for long-form journalism. (Mel’s note: we had a fair discussion of this. For those who don’t know what long-form journalism is, it is the full version of the article with bonus research materials. The print article may be a thousand or so words. The long-form version may be five or ten thousand. Think academic essay, but more accessible.)

It’s also good for publishing collections of short stories. If the stories have already been published elsewhere, then it can be seen as a kind of validation or pre-screening, and the collection may have a ready audience.

Services:

  • Kobo
  • Kindle
  • Nook
  • iBooks
  • Smashwords

Kobo started out with Reading Life for their ereaders, and then developed Writing Life for their authors. The Kobo dashboard allows the author to see stats, earnings, and sales figures globally at a glance. (Mel’s note: Hugh Howey used, liked, and promoted Kobo Writing Life.)

You can format your work in Word or OfficeLibre (formerly Open Office). Use Sigil, or Calibre to tweak formatting, and Kobo even has a native WYSIWYG editor which will be familiar to WordPress users.

Follow the formatting instructions of your chosen platform carefully.

A word on DRM: it only hurts paying customers.

Branding

It’s not just about your name.

Mark takes his skeleton, Barnaby, on the road with him wherever he goes. He puts a t-shirt on Barnaby and sets him up outside the bookstore. People wandering by sit down and have their pictures taken, post them on social media. It’s free publicity.

Vistaprint is a great source for promotional materials. Pens, mugs, and t-shirts are just some of the swag you can buy to give away and promote your work.

KDP and KDP select

KDP select is Kindle’s exclusivity line. You can only publish with KDP select, no one else. You can only price books for free on KDP select, but only for five days out of every ninety.

You can work around it. Just publish using KDP and also on other services. Price the book for free on Smashwords or elsewhere, and Amazon will price match if one of your fans reports the competitor pricing.

Diversifying is better. Get your work out there and into the hands, or ereaders, of your fans. Let them choose the service.

Price is a verb

$2.99 seems to be the sweet spot (right now). The lower you set your price point, the more your royalties will be reduced.

You have to know who your audience is.

$1.99 seems to be the price point of doom. Currently, no one knows why.

$.99 is good, as are $3.99 and $4.99.

Authors can experiment. One author change the price of her ebooks from $4.99 to $5.99 and saw sales across all platforms except Kindle increase slightly. Kindle sale went down initially, but within two weeks, they levelled out again and all was well.

The two biggest complaints from marketing about ebooks are:

The cover sucks; and

It’s priced too low.

Free can work as a gateway to a backlist.