Monthly Archives: December 2011

2011 Year in Review for an Experimental Indie Author*

2 ebooks published

6 reviews–4 glowing, 1 a mixed positive, 1 a mixed negative

Somewhere south of 100 books sold but I haven’t added them up since I passed 70…I just know I haven’t sold another 30 since I did that.

$20 delivered to my bank account

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155 blog posts

2000 page views

95 followers of either my blog or my Twitter feed (which is sadly only a recap of the blog until I acquire a smartphone)

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6 new stories started (2 abandoned for forseeable future)

0 new stories completed

2 old abandoned stories reevaluated and found viable for future expansion

NaNoWriMo half-attempted and half-failed

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A reflection back on what I see going on in publishing and why I still think self-publishing was the right first choice for me. 

*If you have not been reading my blog since its inception, my original post about why I was choosing to try self-publishing first, in which I admit I was essentially undertaking an experiment.

Or, All things considered, I think I shall choose to be pleased

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How Can You Read This? There’s No Pages

Or, The effect of ebooks on my reading life

I have pretty well jumped over to ebooks for my entertainment reading. 

There are still a few books and authors I want in paper, whose works come out in hardcover and who I value enough to buy at the hardcover price.  By a few I mean…five?  Maybe as many as ten if I include certain series that I have started in hardcover and would like to keep going with, even if I don’t buy everything from that author in hardcover.

Research books I still prefer in paper—although half the time I am checking those out from the local university library.  I have not yet figured out how to visually summarize an ebook with multiple references or pieces of information flagged; the ease of flipping from one bookmark to the next just isn’t there for me yet.  Maybe it would be on a tablet where I could split the screen and still read the fonts, but I don’t want a tablet because of the backlighting (I am firmly in the e-ink camp when it comes to ereaders). 

Certainly any visual-heavy books, like sewing instruction books and art books I still need in paper.  I also don’t expect either to change because of the size—you cannot replicate a book that is a foot square, or 14 x 14 inches on a screen that is 10 inches or less.

Poetry, when I read it (which is about two nights a year) still needs to be in paper.  That one I can’t explain.  Maybe just because the poetry I read is all old stuff, and much of it has annotations that I do look at?  Maybe it just seems too…poetic for to read on a prosaic digital device?  Maybe because reading poetry for entertainment feels so old-fashioned that it just doesn’t fit the mood of reading poetry to do it on modern technology?  I don’t know, but poetry also I still want in paper.

For the most part, though, I have switched my book purchasing to digital.  I thought it might be interesting to jot down my behavioral changes as a consumer, for posterity or whatever, so here they are. 

My reading profile:  My tastes slant heavily to genre fiction if I am just reading for entertainment (and that is the primary reason I read).  I am a relentless re-reader of books I liked; if I don’t want to re-read it, it wasn’t very good (or it was simply too disturbing to want to read again even though it was very good, but those are few and far between).  I like to read novels in large swaths or even all at once, and rarely read part of a book to fill a half-hour or hour of spare time (I read articles online instead).  If I want to split a book up into more than two readings it probably isn’t very good—although there are exceptions to this, just not with romance novels.  I have about 15 hours a month of reading time, usually split into three or four sittings where I just take an evening and read from after dinner till midnight or a weekend afternoon or evening.  I can read most romance novels in four to six hours, so reading an entire book on a weeknight is usually possible without my having to stay up too much past my bedtime.

So how have my reading and purchasing habits changed with my move to digital?

First, for me the impulse buy is gone, barring a great sale on a book on my To Read radar.  I keep a wishlist on Amazon of books I want to read, and if I am in the mood to read and have time I go down my list and pick out what I want that night.  I no longer have to buy a book when I find it on the shelf (either at the B&N store or a used bookstore) because it might not be there later. With digital it will always be there later, so I only buy when I am ready to read.  I used to be exactly the kind of consumer bookstores wanted.  I always bought at a bookstore, because if I had the time to read I wanted the book that suited that mood, and if I wanted a particular book that night I wasn’t going to wait three days to get in the mail because it wouldn’t do me any good three days after my free evening.  I also tended to browse around and would often pick up a second book that looked good, just because it was there and so was I.  I know one of the supposed appeals of digital marketplace for writers trying to sell their books is the one-click digital impulse buy that leads people to overbuy, but the current system does not lead me into that temptation.  As long as I have an easy way to keep track of what I have looked at and decided I might want to read, then I don’t have to buy it in order to get it…so now I only buy when I’m going to read it.

Second, one of the largest barriers to reading literature is gone.  With all the works in public domain, I can finally go back and fill in most of the gaps my English degree missed.  There are plenty, and while affordable versions of many great works have always been available…the fact is, if I have a $20 per month book budget, chances are I’m going to spend that on three or four fun books rather than something high-minded and important but which has only a 30% chance of actually being fun and enjoyable for me.  So the availability of free downloads for the great literature in English, even if it’s just the original text with no scholarly annotations, is really fabulous.  It basically just leaves the 20th century literature for me to buy in one form or another, and much of it I already have.  (How much this will lead to my actually reading all that literature remains to be seen, but one of the greatest barriers is gone.  And no, I never liked checking literature out from the library, because it is the one kind of book I will read in a hundred little pieces and I can rarely finish the books in the check-out period.)

Third is about what I consider a fair price.  For me, an ebook needs to be cheaper than the mass-market paperback, since ebooks really are replacing that as the cheap, widely distributed, read once and passed on type of book form and have no physical production or distribution costs associated with them.  So for me the price I consider fair for a novel ebook is $4-7.  The range would be based on whether I’ve heard of you before and perhaps how long the book is…I have no issue with someone charging a higher price for a book that is longer than average.  The one exception to my perception of fair price for an ebook being less than $7 is if it’s the ebook for a new release in hardcover.  Then I think it could be as high as $10-12 as long as it drops when the paperback comes out, or would have come out.  I might or might not pay that if I knew the price would go down later.  If the price wasn’t going to go down later…I don’t know that I would buy that book at all.  If I wasn’t willing to spend my entire book budget for the month on the hardcover, I’m probably not willing to spend half of it on the ebook.

Discoverability is the one part I have not jumped into or noticed a big change in my habits with.  I have little enough time to read and enough writers on my “auto-buy” roster that only a couple of the books I read in any given quarter are from new (to me) writers.  Those books I generally find via internet discussions.  There has been one that I picked up from an Amazon…it wasn’t even recommendation.  It was me being a curious author and looking at the other “mistaken identity” romances they list, and thinking one of them looked interesting.

As to where I purchase, mostly from Amazon.  I have an account with Smashwords and am happy to pick something up there if Amazon does not have it, but I go to Amazon first.  It’s the path of least resistance, and for all the “what if Amazon changes their terms after they are 90% of all publishing and bookselling” conspiracies out there, I like what Amazon has created.  Right now they are an awesome company with fabulous customer service and a great deal for writers.  My take on them is that they are in the business of being the biggest and best marketplace on the internet, and I think they have a lot of business creativity going into making—and keeping—that goal a reality.  They created the ebook market and set the terms for writers self-publishing within it, and I want to support them for doing that because it creates a net benefit for me as both a writer and a reader.

So there it is…my behavior as a book to ebook consumer.  Has anyone else out there noticed shifts in their purchasing or discovering philosophies after switching?  Is anyone still buying some books in print (other than special purchases) after moving to an ereader?

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There Is No Bottle For These Symptoms

  • Sore eyeballs
  • Everything smells like a saltwater breeze
  • Bronchial tube so inflamed I can barely swallow
  • No appetite despite no fever

Ugh.  Came home from Christmas in my parents’ drafty old country estate house with a head cold that deepened into a chest cold the night I got back in my own house.  Very glad it waited for the central air to do that; I can’t imagine how much more this would hurt if I were still sleeping in a room hovering in the 40s all night.

In tangential news, it gave me an idea for a new story to start now and finish five years from now….

In tangential comments, I am finally feeling better enough to turn my computer back on, so from now on we should be back to more regularly scheduled blogging here at LWLF-Co.

Hope you all had a wonderful winter holiday, whatever name you use for it!

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At the Corner of Authenticity and Perspective

Or, Gentlemen readers, ye be fairly warned, there is sexin’ from the female perspective discussed below.

One of the most fascinating parts of the romance blogosphere is seeing how differently two people can react to the same text. There is just such a variance among the readership, and even among one individual’s moods, and I think it’s why romance is such a successful genre.  What one reader finds erotic another might find disgusting.  What I read in one mood as sweet can, in another mood, seem unfinishably boring. There can be a tremendous disjunct in how different readers react to heroes, or heroines–I find myself taking certain reviewers with a grain of salt because of how they reacted to characters in books I had read.

One aspect that recently came up in my blog reading is the idea of whether particular tropes in sex scenes are realistic. Most of them revolved around the virgin heroine, which is of interest to me as a writer of historical romance, since that was of more importance than it is (or at least should be) in contemporaries. Some of the items questioned included a virgin having an orgasm during her first experience…or a virgin having sex multiple times on the first night…or the “super hymen” that should be medically removed (at least in this day and age, and in the old days would require a Great Sundering).

As a writer, I find such discussions fascinating.  I want any sex scenes I include to feel natural and authentic, and what better way to get a sense of what readers respond to or roll their eyes at than reading a lively internet discussion on the topic?  There was no consensus, however, about what works and what doesn’t. Which is not really surprising to me…isn’t it a cliche for a man to comment about how “every woman is different”? I’ve always understood that to have a deeply sexual connotation–not just that some women like getting flowers and others hate it and others don’t care either way. 

Probably the most troubling part of the exchange were the readers who left comments to the effect of, “I don’t like X because I didn’t experience my first time in that way so I just don’t believe it could happen that way.”  I find it curious that some women think anything other than how they felt it must be made up, part of the “fantasy” of romance novels.  

I certainly don’t plan to write about my own first time over and over again. On the other hand, I’ve seen some authors who do essentially have all their heroines experience the same first time. But that propensity of some writers to only write their own experience (or so I assume, anyway!) and of some readers to find anything that doesn’t jibe with their experience to ring false makes me think…have these poor women really never discussed that kind of thing with their friends? Maybe it’s a generational thing, that young women who grew up post-second-wave feminism were just more open and comfortable discussing such intimate details? Because I know which of my friends had a really painful first time, and which didn’t, who had multiple relations the first night and who can’t even years later, who likes oral and who doesn’t, who needs what kind of stimulation to have an orgasm. Moreover, I don’t think it’s weird or unusual that I know such details. We were all comparing notes when we were 16, 17, 18, 19 years old and trying to figure out if we were normal or not, and trying to live vicariously through the exploits of friends who had taken the plunge if we had not.

I suppose the side benefit is that I have a lot of first-hand accounts to draw from.  The main one, though, is simply that I don’t feel so uncomfortable or ashamed of what is, really, a natural (zesty) enterprise that I can’t even discuss it with my friends, much less hundreds or thousands of strangers.

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Search Term Hilarity: Hint: It’s Unexpected

I know I go on and on about the crazy things people Google to end up on my blog. But, Ladies and Gentlemen, we officially have the search term of the year. The last one in the list. I apologize for the lack of screen capture to illustrate (commemorate?) it properly:

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Lucky Is Nothing More Than a Frame of Reference for the Unlucky

Or, Writers are better off today than they were yesterday, but it took today for them to know it.

It’s the end of 2011. This has been a big year for me, and overall a step–or maybe several–in the direction I want my life to go. I want to take a moment to reflect not on my year so much as on my impressions of the writing and publishing industry as a whole, and how I feel about the choice I made to self-publish first–before trying to find a traditional publisher.

I think my biggest take-away is a sense of relief that I decided to self-publish first. When I was younger, I used to worry about publishing contracts. Would I be smart enough to understand them? Would I take a really terrible deal because I wouldn’t know any better?  How did one find out what an “average” advance was when no writers talked about it and none of the books I checked out from the library about getting published actually discussed the vulgar question of money?

Enter the internet and the blogosphere, the digital revolution and easy self-publishing in the open bazaar of the online store. When I started seeing numbers for advances and the number of the sales required to be a “best-seller” I was shocked at how low most of it was.  $6000 average advance for a new author? Sometimes as few as 5000 sales in a week to hit the best-seller list?  No more than 25% royalties and probably a lot less, for all rights “including technologies still to be developed” for a lifetime?  Ebook royalties as low as print royalties even after the book had earned back all money the publisher invested into it, with no “out of print” clause because there is no shelf life in the digital world?

That’s surreal. It’s a horror story. Sure, some writers come in and blow every mind in the publishing house. They get offered six-figure deals and have the publishers hyping the book because they desperately want another Harry Potter or Twilight Saga. Sure, I might be one of those writers, if I really am as brilliant/talented/creative/original/superlative as I hope. But statistically speaking, I’m not going to get that kind of deal. I would get a crappy deal that would make me feel exploited and used, under the terms of which I would never be able to quit my day job.  

Then there is self-publishing. Sure, it’s a bit like shouting into the void. You never know if anyone will hear you. Sure, you’re responsible for everything (this might be a benefit if you are a bit of a control freak…I certainly don’t mind having to be responsible for the quality control of editing and formatting, because I am capable of making sure it’s done right, and because I am capable nothing would infuriate me more than a publisher putting up a digital copy I could have formatted better myself). Sure, you don’t have the cache you get from a publisher. Case in point: I still haven’t told my family I’m doing this (family = parents, siblings, kinfolk, not husband and best friends).  Sure, there is no instant success.  Well, there hasn’t been for me. I have not sold a ton of books. But I have sold some, and the response has been positive enough that I am encouraged to keep going rather than discouraged. I have a different business model than what a publisher does. Instant sales are the same as sales five years from now–all of it comes to me. Right now I have no bottom line to worry about; I am writing in my free time, spending nothing but my own energy on the project.  

Right now, the returns are better even for the “crappy option” on Amazon of 35% than you can get with almost any publisher. To the credit of a few forward-thinking individuals, I have seen some new digital-first/digital-only presses pop up that offer more attractive terms, about 50% split, which is still too low to tempt me yet but at least not a laughable number.  I wouldn’t feel disrespected with that number, simply skeptical of their ability to add that much more value than what I could do for myself. Most publishers are still trying to grab as much as they can for as little as they can, and they will continue to do so until so many writers wise up that publishers no longer have enough product to sell to stay in business. In my opinion the fundamental publishing contract will have to change at that point. I don’t know if it will be lower or no advance in exchange for better digital royalties, or higher advances against the status quo crappy digital royalties, or something else altogether. But I think the more people walk away from deals or choose not to pursue them, the more pressure publishing will be under to make themselves attractive to writers again. Right now they have violated the number one rule of making money on art: don’t upset the talent.

Publishing has been able to alienate all the talent they wanted, with impunity, for decades, because writers had no viable alternative. Now writers do. I don’t know how long the current situations will hold. But for now, there is an open and competitive market amongst publishers to see who can make themselves indespensible and attractive to writers. If writers in this context are the “consumers” of publishers–and I think the analogy holds, since in essence writers are paying publishers with the proceeds off their art for the publisher’s services–then writers will benefit. Free markets are good for consumers, bad for businesses.

Having an alternative puts writers in a position of power, even if it is only self-empowerment. If you know going into a publishing negotiation that you are willing to walk away from it, then you’re not going to let yourself be treated with disrepect, or shoved around, or intimidated. The onus is suddenly on publishers to prove that they’re worth 80% of your work’s earnings, and if they can’t then you walk away. It’s liberating to know that you can laugh in their faces. It makes you unafraid of their power over you, because their power over you has been broken.

I didn’t choose to self-publish because I had been rejected by publishers; I chose to self-publish because I was rejecting the traditional publishing model. Right now it still feels like the right move. If my work if quality, if it has an audience, then sooner or later they will find it. If my work is not quality, then publishing wasn’t going to want me anyway. If it is, then I am better off beholden to no one for any success I find.

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Writing a Novel: It’s Like Running Up a Really Long, Deceptively Shallow Hill

Or, Analogies self-referential from my childhood

I live in the coastal flatlands. My exercise of choice is jogging, and I have some very nice parks blanketed with green grass and trees draped in Spanish moss under which to run. But it’s all flat—every step of my run is as difficult (or easy) as every other step.

I grew up in the rolling hills that dominate the South’s landscape after you get north of the coastal plains.

I went jogging at my parents’ house this weekend, on the road where I cut my teeth as a pre-teen hoping to make the junior high cross-country track team come fall. The entire two and a half miles is up and down hills, and the last hill coming back in is this long—almost a quarter-mile—gently rising monster. It’s barely noticeable as a hill in a car, and when you start up it on a run, you think it’ll be nothing to get to the top. But halfway up, your legs are burning and your breaths are getting ragged as you try to maintain your pace up what is, after all, a not insignificant incline.

As I was panting my way up the hill yesterday, I was struck by how analogous that hill is to writing a novel. It’s a long grind that you start without properly understanding what will be involved in getting to the top. Your momentum going in can only carry you up about a third of it. Willpower and stubbornness are what take you through the middle third—the dangerous third where it’s so tempting to stop and walk just for a bit, but where, if you do, you will stop completely because the inertia of running again from the middle of that hill is just too great to overcome. By the time you get to the last third, every step is harder than the last, but you can also see the end in sight, and having come so far and seeing that end in front of you make you more determined to finish than any amount of pain and despair will convince you just to go ahead and quit. And then when you finish, you are exhausted, your energy is shot, and your lungs and your legs are burning…but you feel the most incredible sense of accomplishment, of satisfaction, of having met and vanquished a challenge unlike any you’ve ever faced.

And, just like you have to fight that battle every time you write a novel, you have to fight yourself every step of the way up that hill every time you go for a run.

Here’s to powering through that middle third….

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