The other day, I wrote that my candidacy appeared to have annoyed the folks over at The Write Agenda. They’ve written to explain that no, not only have I not annoyed them, they’re actually pleased with my candidacy, wishing me the best of luck and describing me as “a potential Moses.”

Okay, I admit this was not what I was expecting, and even threw me off-balance a bit. So I went back and checked the comments that referenced my “bad reputation” at TWA.

First of all, I was shocked to discover that, despite having three different names, those comments appeared to have come from the same person! What a shocking twist. And the IP address puts this individual on a computer at Matawan Aberdeen Library–

HOLY CRAP, IT’S ANOTHER TWIST!!! By an incredible coincidence, Matawan also happens to be the home of “literary agent” Barbara Bauer:

Barbara Bauer Literary Agency, Inc.
[Street Address Removed]
Matawan, NJ 07747-2944

Some of you might recall Ms. Bauer from such blog posts as Making Light’s Dumbest of the Twenty Worst, the discussion at Absolute Write, alerts from Writer Beware, and more.

Now, according to a great deal of research by Writer Beware, The Write Agenda appears to be associated with Robert Fletcher and Strategic Book Publishing, a.k.a. Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Agency, along with a number of sockpuppets.

While the Write Agenda seems to have a fairly cozy relationship with Ms. Bauer, it’s also true that The Write Agenda have their own sockpuppets, like “Nick Caruso” and “Lizzy Greenberg” and “Michael Sigvagni.”

Ms. Bauer–or whoever from Mattawan, NJ happened to be posting those comments–seems to have adopted a different approach, using the names of authors and others she feels have wronged her for her sockpuppetry.

I’ve watched enough Criminal Minds to realize what this meant. The signatures didn’t match, and I was accusing the wrong unsub!

Man, do I have egg on my face or what? I MIXED UP THE SOCKPUPPETS! Mea culpa, and I apologize to Robert and everyone else at The Write Agenda for getting their sockpuppets confused with those of Ms. Ba–I mean, the “anonymous” commenter from New Jersey.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Last month, I wrote a blog post looking at my early numbers for The Snow Queen’s Shadow [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]. Based on those early numbers, the print sales seemed pretty much in line with what I’d seen for other books.

“If you eliminate Red Hood, then according to Bookscan, the new book sold more print copies in its first week than any of my previous books … What does this all mean? Not too much, to be honest. I’m one author, and there could be any number of factors going on here.”

It’s almost two months since Snow Queen came out. Since then, Borders has officially gone into bankruptcy. George R. R. Martin’s new book came out, which I’m told cannibalized some fantasy sales across the board. And B&N has started cutting back on their orders.

So I put together a comparison of total print sales for the first eight weeks of each of my books:

Keeping in mind that Red Hood got some additional display space and advertising push, this is … still better than I was expecting to see. Snow Queen has slipped behind the other princess books, but continues to outsell the goblins. Not too bad.

On the other hand, the numbers for Snow Queen include a visible boost in sales when Borders declared bankruptcy and people started rushing out to buy books at 40% off. That’s a short-term gain, and I expect to see another dropoff once Borders closes its doors for good.

And of course, I won’t know how the e-book is selling for quite some time.

In conclusion … I don’t know. I’ve been pointed to more “Publishing is DOOMED!!!” articles recently, and all I can think is “Bored now.” I don’t see publishing disappearing any time soon.

Changing, yes. Continuing to work toward an equilibrium point between print and e-books, sure. Causing some people to freak out like poo-flinging monkeys on crystal meth, absolutely.

I don’t know what publishing is going to look like five or ten years from now. I don’t know if the death of Borders will lead to a resurgence in the independent bookstores, or if brick & mortar stores will continue to decline. I don’t know whether the mass market format will go away, replaced by print-on-demand and e-books. I don’t know.

But then, if I wanted a stable, secure, unchanging career, writing fiction might not have been the best choice.

I do know that people enjoy stories. Publishing is changing, but love of story has been a core part of our species for as long as we can remember. While the delivery of those stories will continue to evolve, the demand for those stories isn’t going away.

So as for me, I’m just going to keep writing, and I hope y’all will continue to read and enjoy those stories with me.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

jimhines: (Default)
( Aug. 2nd, 2011 09:30 am)

There’s been a fair amount of discussion in writing circles about agents taking on the role of publisher, stepping in to help clients self-publish their work. When I published Goblin Tales [Amazon | B&N | Lulu], I did the majority of the work on my own, but my agent posted it for sale at Kobo and iBooks (taking their usual 15% commission on sales through those outlets).

Joshua and Eddie at JABberwocky have a post about the issue here, wherein Eddie says, “I think the decision to help an author self-publish a book, after failing to place it with a real publisher, is rooted in hubris.

Keep in mind that JABberwocky has e-published several books already. The difference being that JABberwocky is publishing out-of-print backlist titles as opposed to releasing original work. Is that a significant difference? I think so. Does it eliminate any ethical conflicts or problems? That’s a better question.

Joshua asks about the agent’s role in the ever-evolving world of publishing. Personally, I want my agent to do several things for me:

  • Negotiate with publishers on my behalf for the best possible deal.
  • Work on those lovely foreign sales of my work.
  • Help me build a long-term and successful career.

That first point is huge, especially when agents go into self-publishing. If an agent e-publishes a client’s original work, is that really the best possible deal? Personally, if I have a book that doesn’t sell, I’d be tempted to wait a few years and come back to it. For the most part, I’m skeptical that self-publishing an original book through your agent is the best possible deal for the author.

Some of the questions I’m asking as I try to sort out the ethics and potential conflicts of interest for myself…

  • Is the agent charging an up-front fee for self-publishing, or are they working on commission?
  • Is this service limited to clients, or are they offering to self-publish the work of non-clients as well? (The latter suggests they’re moving much more into being a publisher, and I want my agent’s primary focus to be representing clients.)
  • Does the agent threaten former clients with legal action for describing the agency’s “assisted self-publishing initiative” as digital publishing? (Read this one and draw your own conclusions.)
  • Is the agent pressuring clients to use their self-publishing service? (This would push me toward “Run away” mode.)

People have asked, “Why give your agent a cut for something you could do yourself?” But that holds true for agents in general. If you’re savvy enough, you can represent yourself, negotiate your own deals, sell your own work overseas … all it takes is time and expertise.

Some of us don’t have the time. Others lack the expertise. While I enjoyed putting together Goblin Tales and Kitemaster, I want to spend most of my time writing, not publishing. That means hiring someone else to do the work.

There are services out there that will do it for you. Is it better to keep those services entirely separate from agents? Maybe … here are a few things to consider in any case.

  • If the agency is acting as publisher, is there a contract? Who’s negotiating that contract and checking to make sure your interests are protected?
  • What happens if you and your agent part ways?
  • Has the agent demonstrated that they can do this job well? (Being an author doesn’t mean you can typeset or do cover layout or the rest. Neither does being an agent.)

I think it’s an important conversation, and as always, I’d love to hear thoughts and discussion from other folks.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

I’ll be the first to admit there’s been some bad news for bookstores lately. Borders is facing liquidation. Barnes & Noble is doing better, but they’ve had a few speed bumps as well.

So what does this all mean? Are we seeing the long-predicted Death of Print Books? Are the folks who claim New York publishers are dinosaurs, and everyone should run to self/e-publish instead, actually right?1

I did see a dropoff in my Bookscan numbers when Borders closed a group of their stores earlier this year. Maybe doomsday is finally here. Maybe the print book is finally going the way of the 8-track.

The more speculation I read, the more eager I became to see my Bookscan numbers for Snow Queen’s Shadow, which came out at the start of this month. Maybe the end of print, which I’ve been told is just around the corner for roughly a decade now, had arrived at last.

Behold, my print sales for each of my books after release week:

The first  thing most folks will notice is the big jump from Red Hood’s Revenge, and the dropoff when Snow Queen came out. Aha! Print is dying!

Actually, Red Hood is an anomaly. Penguin/DAW arranged to get that book included in a riser display in Barnes & Noble, which means the biggest chain in the U.S. ordered more copies and displayed the book more prominently, leading to much higher early sales.

If you eliminate Red Hood, then according to Bookscan, the new book sold more print copies in its first week than any of my previous books, just edging out Mermaid’s Madness.

What does this all mean? Not too much, to be honest. I’m one author, and there could be any number of factors going on here. Maybe I’ve been getting more popular, and the increase in my readership was significant enough to offset dwindling print sales. Maybe because this was the last book in the series, everyone rushed out to get it right away, and I’ll see a faster dropoff in future weeks’ sales. Maybe my Mom bought 1000 copies because she loves me.

But the fact that my print sales are continuing on this curve suggests to me that despite some problems, print ain’t dead yet.

Sure, that doesn’t mean paper books won’t go belly-up tomorrow. But I’ve been hearing predictions of the end of books and commercial publishing for a long time, and I’m just not seeing the data to support it. A new equilibrium between print and e-books, absolutely. The death of print? So far, not so much.

  1. I really wish we had a simple term for self publishing electronically.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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Several people have e-mailed me about Robin Sullivan’s Midlist Author Comparison, wherein she compares my writing income to that of e-published author David Dalglish.

Tangential disclaimer: back in January, I pointed out some errors in Sullivan’s guest post at J. A. Konrath’s place. She recently responded that the errors were part of Konrath’s introduction, and were his mistakes, not hers. Konrath’s post was edited within 24 hours of my post, but looking at it now, it does appear that the mistakes I pointed out are Konrath’s, not Sullivan’s. My apologies to Sullivan for that.

Sullivan’s new post has its own erroneous details, like “Thomas Buckell’s” survey on advances, or my book “Step Sister Scheme” being book #2 of the Faery Taile Project. But the numbers she gives regarding my writing income look correct. I assume the numbers she cites for Dalglish accurately reflect his self-reported sales as well.

Her conclusions:

  • “Jim’s six books has taken him 4 ½ years and he still is not earning a living wage. His income is impacted substantially by his foreign sales … and without that his income would be dismal …”
  • “David’s six books took 1 year to get to market and while his income initially appeared to be modest within 10 months he has grown to a substantial six-figure income that certainly would classify as a ‘living wage’ … if the current trends for both of these authors continue there will be a significant gap with David outperforming Jim by a substantial margin.”
  • From her post at Absolute Write, “It took Jim 4 years to release six-books and he can’t make a living wage on his writing. David Dalglish has been at it less than a year and gone from making a few thosand a month to making a six-figure income.”

I initially planned to ignore the post. I’m getting more and more bored by the “Indies vs. Traditional” thing. I’ve got a friend whose updates have turned into nothing but advertisements of his own books, retweets of other self-pubbed authors, and slams on commercial publishing. It’s tiresome.

My guess is that people who want to believe Sullivan’s conclusions will do so. But here are some of my thoughts as I read her post… 

  • If Dalglish’s numbers are correct, then he and his books are doing quite well, and I’m happy for him and his success.
  • A comparison of two individuals doesn’t do much from a statistical standpoint (though I recognize the difficulty in gathering larger samples of this sort of thing).
  • Sullivan’s conclusions are based in part on the assumption that both Dalglish and myself are representative of the “midlist.”
  • Her analysis of Dalglish’s data appears to omit a few months.
  • Her projection of Dalglish’s future income assumes his February/March sales rate will continue.

Some of her comments about commercial publishing also jumped out at me:

  • “Typically when published through a traditional publisher a book can take 15 – 18 months to be released and they generally stagger offering from an author at 12 month intervals. For those who write a great deal this can be problematic.” Counterexamples: see Seanan McGuire, Jay Lake, Elizabeth Bear, and many others.
  • “[I]ndustry standards are that only 20% of authors earn out their advances so in many cases the advance is the ONLY money they will see.” More statistics without citations. If she’s correct, doesn’t that imply that 80% of traditionally published authors end up with more money than if they were getting a strict per-book rate?
  • “The traditionally published author will get an advance but it is woefully small … I’ve done a ton of research on this and it really hasn’t changed much over the years but generally ranges from $5,000 - $10,000.” She only cites Buckell’s survey … but that survey appears to contradict her numbers if you read past the section on first novel advances.

Draw your own conclusions.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Over at Making Light, James MacDonald explains How to Get Published.

Before I go any further, let me state for the record that MacDonald knows his stuff.  He contributes good writing advice at Making Light, Absolute Write, and elsewhere.

That said, I’m gonna argue with a few of his points now, ’cause what fun would it be if we all agreed with each other? :-)

To be a writer, you must write.  Absolutely, 100%, yes!  However, MacDonald goes on to give the oft-repeated advice, “Write every day.”  Good advice, but not an iron-clad rule.  I write five days a week, but generally don’t write on weekends.  I believe writing every day is a good goal, but ultimately, it’s important to find the schedule that works for you.  The important thing is that you’re writing.

On the day you reach THE END, put the book aside for six weeks.  Let me put it this way: I wrote, revised, and started submitting Goblin Quest [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] over the course of six weeks, and that seems to have worked out pretty well for me.  Distance can be a very good thing, and these days I usually try to do a short story or something else between drafts/books as a palate-cleanser.  But once again, writing is like the Matrix: some “rules” can be bent, while others can be broken.1

Now find a publisher.  This is exactly what I did when I finished Goblin Quest, actually.  It’s not the path I’d follow if I had to do it all over again today.  Publishers are slow to respond (2.5 years in one case), and they ask for exclusivity.  Personally, I would go directly to querying agents, and let them submit to the publishers.  Authors have sold books both ways, as you can see in that First Book Survey someone did earlier this year.

I remember being a new author trying to break in, and assuming that Advice = Law.  If a pro said I had to sell short stories before selling a novel, then by Asimov’s Sideburns, that was what I must do!

It messed me up more than once.  So while I think it’s incredibly important to listen to authors who have this sort of knowledge and experience, it’s also important to remember that none of us have the Gospel of Getting Published.  (And I don’t believe MacDonald is trying to preach Publishing Gospel, but I know how easy it is for new writers to take things as such.)

That said, MacDonald gives some good advice, and those working to break in could do much worse than to take a few minutes to read his post.

  1. With most rules, things generally turn out better if you make sure you understand the rule before you break it.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

I’ve updated the Reporting Sexual Harassment in SF/F page with a link to the Geek Feminism Wiki’s Sample Convention Anti-Harassment Policy.  I particularly appreciate the internal guidelines for convention staff.

#

Months ago, when I was talking about how my e-book sales were about 3-5% of my print sales, a champion of self-publishing said my problem was that my $6.99 e-books were too expensive, and if I dropped the price to $2.99, I’d have better sales.

So in mid-October, I put my mainstream novel Goldfish Dreams [B&N | Amazon] up for sale as a $2.99, DRM-free e-book.

I posted my first week’s results, and said I’d follow up in a month or so.  Well, over the past weekend I came across a post that mentioned the “great success” authors like Jim Hines and others have had putting their own work out through Amazon, which told me it was definitely time for a follow-up.

I’ve got about six weeks worth of data now.  Are you ready to see what my great success looks like?  B&N doesn’t give a nice week-by-week breakdown, but here are my weekly Amazon Kindle sales.

All total, I’ve sold 21 copies through Amazon.  Add in the 4 copies sold through Barnes & Noble, and I’ve made about $70, selling an average of about 4 copies a week.

For those keeping score at home, this would not even cover the conversion costs for having the files prepped.  (You can do this yourself, of course, if you have the time and the know-how.  I suspect I could have taught myself the tech side, but time is another issue…)

I should note that I’ve done nothing to promote this particular book.  I’ve been busy attending cons, working on short stories, revising Snow Queen, and also doing the day job and taking care of the family as my wife recovers from knee surgery.  But it’s pretty clear to me that simply putting a book out there isn’t enough.

By contrast, I haven’t really been promoting my books with DAW very much these past weeks, either.  In those same six weeks, my books with DAW sold around 2000 print copies (averaging about 300/book), which translates to about a thousand dollars in royalties … $850 for me after my agent takes his cut.  (I have no access to the weekly e-book sales for the DAW books.)

I know there are people making self-pubbed e-books work for them.  My friend Sherwood Smith has been successfully selling some books this way.  I suspect that if I released one of my fantasy titles, either a reprint or an original goblin/princess book, I’d do a lot better.  But Goldfish Dreams is a mainstream title, so doesn’t necessarily tap into my preexisting audience.

I also know that an ongoing, persistent sales effort can drive sales.  I have friends who keep up a pretty constant sales push to sell their e-books, and it does seem to help them sell more books.

But I barely have time to keep up with the blog.  I’d rather keep writing new books and the occasional short story, and let my publisher do most of the work to actually get my books into the hands of readers.

I’ll keep checking in with further data, but my conclusions so far?

  1. Simply putting an e-book out there ain’t going to accomplish much.
  2. Having a preexisting audience helps, but may not do much for cross-genre e-books.  Brand new authors with no audience — you’ve got a steep climb ahead of you.
  3. You are your own sales force.  You can improve your sales, but it will take time away from something else.  (I would advise you to make sure you’re not being obnoxious about it, as author self-promotion can get annoying pretty fast.)

Thoughts and comments are welcome, as always!

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

jimhines: (Default)
( Oct. 20th, 2010 10:00 am)

Reminder - tomorrow is the last day to enter to win books by Tanya Huff and Marie Brennan!

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Joshua (my agent) e-mailed me after Monday’s blog post to tell me I should really stop calling myself a midlist author.  Personally, I’d rather call myself Segway Ninja and Tribble Juggler Jim C. Hines.  But his e-mail got me thinking, and I realized I don’t even know what “midlist” means.

My future author photo, complete with Ninja Death TribblesOh, I know the term originates from publishers’ catalogs.  The Big Names are there at the front of the list.  Older and poorly-performing books get tucked away in back.  The rest get tossed somewhere in the middle of the list, ergo midlist.

Years ago, I remember Elizabeth Bear commenting that to be a midlist author, you have to have five books in print.  This isn’t an official Law of Publishing or anything, but it stuck with me.  Getting my fifth book into print was a nice little milestone.

But am I a midlist author now?  I have six books in print, so maybe I’m upper midlist?  Lower frontlist?

Joshua said my sales continue to improve and my backlist is selling well, and these things propel me past midlist status.  Maybe I should start calling myself a Future Frontlist Author?

It was also pointed out that, at certain publishers which will remain anonymous, the fact that I’ve made the Locus bestseller list with my past four books would get me billed not as a midlister, but as National Bestselling Author Jim C. Hines.

Pardon me while I choke on my Diet Cherry Pepsi.

I know this much: I’m not about to start slapping “Bestselling Author” onto my business cards.  While technically true, it feels deceptive.  Like certain self-published authors who make it into the top 10 of some obscure Amazon subcategory and immediately dub themselves “Bestselling Author Spock T. Pizzatrousers” or whatever.

In some ways, this is pointless navel-gazing.  Who cares what I call myself, as long as I keep writing, selling, and enjoying it?  But the discussion brought something into focus: in certain respects,  midlist feels like a relative term, a comparison of your own success to that of other authors … and I have no clue where I fall on that continuum.

I know I’m not selling like Gaiman or Rowling or Harris, or any of those NYT Bestselling authors.  But that only tells me I’m not in the very top percentile.  Am I in the top ten percent?  Twenty?  At least in the upper half?

Again, in some respects, it doesn’t matter.  I’m not trying to compete with my peers (except maybe that Anton Strout fellow), and as long as DAW keeps buying my books, I’m happy.  But I feel like I’m in the dark here.  If I’m future-lower-front-and-slightly-off-center list, should I be pushing for larger advances or better/bigger deals?  How confident should I be in my long-term career?

It reminds me of karate.  In Sanchin-Ryu, I’ve never been told what the requirements are for any given rank.  I had to teach myself not to worry about it, and to just concentrate on improving.  Let my sensei decide when I’m ready for the next rank.  But then, I’m not trying to make a career out of Sanchin-Ryu…

What do you think midlist really means?  Who do you think of as midlist authors?  And for the published authors, am I the only one who feels clueless about how successful (or not) I really am?

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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Nifty First Book Friday news: Harry Connolly’s piece has been picked up and reprinted at Black Gate.  Congrats, Harry!

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I’ve talked a bit about e-books and self-publishing.  There are folks like J. A. Konrath who claim to make it work.  When I posted about my electronic royalties, Konrath was one of the first to jump in and say flat-out that $6.99 was too much, and I would make more if the books were cheaper.

I decided to experiment.  I’ve taken my mainstream novel Goldfish Dreams and have released it in Amazon’s Kindle store.  There’s no DRM, and I priced it at $2.99 for worldwide distribution. I’ve also uploaded it to B&N.  (The B&N version is still being processed.)

I intend to be 100% transparent about this, sharing sales and royalties and the rest.  I’m as curious as anyone to see what happens.

Here are the advantages I believe I have, going into this:

  • I’m a midlist fantasy author, so readers will (hopefully) have some confidence that I can write a decent book.
  • I’ve got a moderate online following.  At best guess, about 2000 people see the blog each day.  I don’t expect everyone to rush out and buy the book, but I suspect some will.
  • Goldfish Dreams is a rerelease of an out of print book from a small press, so it’s already been through the gatekeepers once, and has benefited from some editorial feedback.

On the other hand, this is a mainstream book, so I’m not sure how much my stature as a fantasy author will help.  And as a reprint of an out-of-print book, I lose the initial friends & family sales, because many of them already have the printed book.

My investment so far:

  • Steven Saus did the e-book conversion, because it quickly became apparent I would need many hours to teach myself and prep the files.  Steven did a very nice job putting the book together in multiple formats and checking to make sure everything was clean and ready to go.
  • The cover art is recycled, with permission, from an unused concept from the original print release.  I added a blurb from Heinz Insu Fenkl.
  • Setting up accounts on Amazon and B&N and getting the books uploaded took an hour or so of my time.

I honestly don’t know what to expect.  I imagine there will be some initial sales, but how many?  I couldn’t say.  And what will happen in the long term?  Will sales grow over time or die off?  I keep reading arguments about how e-books can be so much more profitable for authors.  Will I actually see a significant profit?  Your guess is as good as mine.

I am not going to start going all-out on advertising and self-promotion.  For one thing, I don’t have the time.  For another, that sort of thing gets annoying fast.  I’ll post updates about the experiment, but I’m not going to become That Guy.

Let the experiment begin!

Where to purchase:

  • Amazon
  • B&N - Forthcoming
  • Other suggestions?

Description: Eileen Greenwood’s first year at Southern Michigan University means freedom: freedom from the brother who molested her, freedom from the father who refused to believe her, and freedom from the sister who turned her back on it all. Eileen desperately wants to escape the past and live her life, but nightmares and flashbacks make it impossible to forget what she endured. Instead, she becomes obsessed with learning what transformed her brother into a predator.  In the effort to understand, she risks her health, her friendships, and her future. She will face both her own memories of the past, and a monster far worse than her brother … if she can find the strength to confront him.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

jimhines: (Default)
( Oct. 7th, 2010 09:30 am)

My post on royalties earlier this week generated some interesting responses, particularly with regard to e-book sales.  My e-book sales were, at best, 4.3% of my total sales (for The Stepsister Scheme).

Several people said my e-books were priced too high.  The printed book cost $7.99 (U.S.), whereas the e-book was available for $6.99.  If the price were lower, I’d sell more e-books.1

Well … sure.  And if the price of the paperback were cheaper, I’d sell more of those.  That’s basic economics.

Beneath those responses is, I think, the belief that e-books just aren’t worth $6.99.  We’re still arguing over the value of an e-book, meaning both how much does it cost to produce, and how much are people willing to pay?

There’s an assumption that e-books should be cheap because there’s no printing cost.  But printing costs are only about 8-10% of the overall cost of producing a book.  Shipping and storage are also a factor, but the majority of the costs aren’t about the physical book.

For the sake of argument, I’m talking about professional, commercially produced books.  You have to pay the author’s advance and royalties, the cover artist, the editor, the copy editor, the typesetter, the sales force, and that doesn’t even get into distributor costs or the percentages taken by retailers.

“But then how do you explain all of those cheap/free e-books on Amazon, Jim?  If they can do it, why can’t you?”

I can, actually.  I’m planning to re-release Goldfish Dreams as an e-book, and it will be significantly cheaper than my other books.  This book has already been commercially published once, and the rights have reverted to me.  So a lot of the professional work has already been done.

When the rights revert to me for my other books, I may consider doing something similar.  Cheap e-books seem like one good way to keep an author’s old backlist in print.

But those initial production costs have to get covered somewhere.  Sure, I could skip straight to self-publishing for my next book and bypass the publisher, but I don’t have the expertise to produce a good product, and I don’t have the sales force or distribution to get that product out there.

One thing I’ve considered is that it might be cool if the e-book price dropped 50% a year or two after a book came out, assuming the book earned back most of its costs in that first year.  But then, why couldn’t you do the same with the print book?  (I’m sure there are reasons; I’m just letting my mind wander a bit now.)

I don’t know what the “right” price for an e-book is, or if there’s one correct, fixed price point.  $6.99 seems reasonable to me, but it’s obvious some people disagree.  I’m personally reluctant to buy an e-book for more than $10 … but if the alternative was a $25 hardcover or waiting a year for the paperback, I might go for the e-book.

I know this is an old and ongoing debate.  But I wanted to put a few of my thoughts out there as to why “Just make the e-books cheaper!” doesn’t strike me as the answer.

Discussion welcome, as always.

  1. Please note that I have no control over my book prices. Those are set by the publisher.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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One of the many things my agent does for me is to take my royalties information from DAW and track it all in a nice, convenient spreadsheet.  This allows me to better indulge my data fetish, examining trends and playing with numbers until my wife reminds me I’m supposed to be going grocery shopping instead of spending all afternoon on the computer.

Last week I received the spreadsheet for my royalties statement through June 30, 2010 — right before Red Hood’s Revenge came out.

This is my fifth royalties check from DAW.  (They come out every six months.)  As of June 30, I had five books in print, four of which had earned out their advances.  I’m still waiting for the reserve against returns to go away on Mermaid, at which point I expect that one to start paying out as well.

To me, this royalty statement — particularly the graph I put together below — illustrates the importance of a backlist.  You can see how the royalty checks have grown pretty steadily over the past three years as I’ve continued to write and publish books.  This latest check will be about ten times what I got back in June of 2008 (point 1 on the graph below).

Some authors who get that bajillion-dollar advance for their first book.  I’m not one of them.  The slower but steady approach seems to be working for me though, at least so far.

Those books will eventually go out of print.  But DAW is pretty good about keeping things in print for a while, so I’m hopeful this trend will continue.

Another interesting data point came when I compared print sales to electronic.  I believe e-books are growing, and electronic sales are likely to take up a larger portion of overall sales.  For the moment though … well, take a look at the breakdown of total sales per book:

I’ve had the best electronic sales with Stepsister Scheme (don’t ask me why).  For that book, e-books make up about 4.3% of the total sales.  I don’t really have enough data to say how much or how quickly those e-book sales seem to be growing.  For now, while I definitely appreciate the extra royalties, they’re not yet a significant factor for me.

Another interesting point from that second graph: total sales of Stepsister are a little lower than sales of Goblin Quest.  Likewise for Mermaid.  This threw me for a second.  After all, the weekly sales numbers for the princess books are great, so why are the goblin books selling better?

The answer is, the goblin books have been selling longer.  Goblin Quest came out in November of 2006.  Stepsister came out in January, 2009.  Meaning in a year and a half, Stepsister Scheme has sold almost as many copies as Goblin Quest did in just under four.

And now it’s time to save this post and go get groceries.  Questions and comments are welcome, as always.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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While I was at the Durand Fantasy Expo on Saturday, I ended up talking to several other authors and publishing folks about self-publishing and print-on-demand.  Here are a few of my thoughts from the drive home.

1. Dear self-published authors: As a writer, I am not your target audience.  I can’t count the number of times authors, mostly (but not always) self-published or PoD, have tried to hard-sell their books to me.  Just don’t.

2. Self-publishing seems to work pretty well for comics and graphic novels.  This is something I’ve noticed over the past year or two.  Maybe it’s just me, but a lot of the self-pubbed/PoD comics I’ve seen are just plain good.  A while back, Jane Irwin gave me copies of Vogelein: Clockwork Faerie and Vogelein: Old Ghosts.  They were well-done, and I enjoyed the stories.

A lot of web comics seem to go the same route, using small PoD printers or self-publishing, and producing very nice products.  It makes me wonder what we on the prose side of things could learn from the comics folks.

3. Self-publishing takes a lot of time and work.  My very first book, a mainstream novel called Goldfish Dreams, recently reached the end of its contract with Fictionwise.  I’d really like to put the book out there on Kindle and maybe in a few other places.  Thus far, I’ve done absolutely nothing on this project.  I only have so many hours, and I also have to write my next book.  It makes me wonder — if I was fully responsible for the entire publication process, how much longer would it take to release each new book?

4. People will believe anything that protects their egos.  “New York editors don’t want good stories, and won’t take new authors.  You’re better off without an editor, because they’ll destroy your unique vision.  Self-publishing is better, because publishers only pay 6-12% royalties.”

There are times when self-publishing can work.  However, many of these claims are total crap … but they’re crap that protect the ego, and thus people choose to believe and defend ‘em.

5. I’m outnumbered.  There were a handful of other authors there on Saturday.  As far as I know, I was the only “traditionally” published one there.  A lot of people kept checking out my books and saying things like, “So I have to go to your web site to get these, right?”  Um … sure, you can go through my web site.  Or you can walk into most any bookstore in the country and pluck one of my books off the shelves.

I don’t know what to think about this.  I know the technology has gotten better and more available, and this is going to mean a lot more authors taking advantage of that technology.  But it was an odd feeling.

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Please note that I’m not bashing self-publishing.  As I said in #3, I’m planning to use it myself.

Anyway, questions and comments and discussion are welcome, as always.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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Dorchester Publishing recently announced they were dropping their mass market line and moving to an e-book/print-on-demand model.  Dorchester’s president John Prebich describes his company as pioneers, boldly leading us into the electronic frontier.  This has led to a new round of “print is dying,” and e-books are the way of the future.  There’s an almost religious fervor to it.

J. A. Konrath suggests the end is nigh for commercial publishers, and self-publishing is the way to go.  His anonymous sources claim sell-through on printed books is as bad as 20%.  He describes a (hypothetical) commercially published author who gets a $50K advance and 30% sell-through, selling a mere 9000 print copies in the first year–

But wait, let’s back up and take another look at Dorchester, who’s been in trouble for a while.  “Dorchester had serious cash-flow problems throughout 2009.”  (Thanks to Nick Mamatas for that link.)  The move to e-books/PoD isn’t as much a dramatic step into the future as it is a desperate attempt by one publisher to stay in business.

As for Konrath, he’s done an excellent job positioning himself as a champion of self-publishing.  I have no doubt he talked to somebody, somewhere, who reported sell-through could be as bad as 20%.  But “as bad as” generally means the low edge of the bell curve.  Not the normal or the average, but the worst-case scenario.

To offer an alternate data point, my books have a sell-through around 80%.  I’m not aware of anyone whose sell-through is down at 20-30%.  I’m sure it happens, but to base an argument on those numbers is, in a word, silly.  As for the rest of the example, well, I sell more than 9000 print copies in a year, and my advances are far lower than $50K.

I’m not saying Konrath’s example couldn’t happen.  It’s possible.  It’s possible to be struck by lightning seven times, too.  But it ain’t the norm.

Wait, you say.  80% sell-through still means 20% returns, right?  Doesn’t it make more sense to go electronic/PoD, where there are no returns and you can get 100% sell-through?

That depends.  80% of what?  100% of what?  Konrath proposes that his hypothetical author will sell 5000 e-books in that first year.  I’m curious where that number comes from, particularly given a New York Times report in which “publishers point out that e-books still represent a small sliver of total sales, from 3 to 5 percent.”  If I had to choose, I’d take 80% of a 20K print run over 100% of the <1000 copies my books have sold electronically.

Konrath also argues that:

“The main reason we need publishers is for distribution. We can’t get into Wal-Mart or Borders on own own. They can. So we accept 8% royalties in order to sell a lot of books. But if publishers are no longer printing books, there is ZERO reason to sign with them, because they no longer have that advantage.”

Distribution is part of what my publisher does for me … but it’s not the only thing.  They pay professionals to create my cover art, and to edit, typeset, and proofread my book.  They do the work of converting my books into electronic formats.  They pay for advertising and promotion.  Basically, they do a ton of work to sell my books, which allows me to worry about writing them.

Publishing is changing.  My guess is that we’ll eventually hit a new equilibrium point between print and e-books, and I do think e-books will be a larger percentage of book sales than they are today.

I’m not bashing self-publishing, either.  For some people, it’s the right choice.  Konrath certainly makes it work.  My friend John Fitch V sold more than 100 books last month, which is damn good for the self-published route.

Both e-books and self-publishing have their strengths and advantages.  And I could be wrong — it’s possible print and/or commercial publishing are on the way out.  But I’ve been hearing about the imminent death of print and commercial publishing for more than a decade, and it’s getting a little old.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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jimhines: (Default)
( Aug. 4th, 2010 09:30 am)

One of the frustrating things about being a new writer is that you get different advice depending on who you ask.  I remember my confusion that the wisdom of Big Name Pros, the people who had been doing this for decades, was sometimes completely off-base.  But it makes sense — publishing is a changing field, and some of the rules of 20 years ago are different from the rules today.

Imagine my shock when it occurred to me that I started writing 15 years ago … that my own experiences were different than those of new writers today.  (Not to mention the fact that many of my fans hadn’t even been born when I started writing.  Eep!)

I sat down to take a look at some of the things that have changed since I penned my first story in 1995.

1. Electronic submissions.  All of my early stories were printed and mailed.  I went through boxes and boxes of manila envelopes.  Submitting by that new-fangled electronic mail?  Unheard of.  International submissions were sent with an IRC (International Reply Coupon).

2. Electronic markets.  There were few online ‘zines and publishers, and those that did exist were small and often amateurish.  (Strange Horizons showed up in 2000, and was the first professional-looking online ‘zine I knew of.  Happy 10th Anniversary, SH!)

3. Web sites. A web presence wasn’t required, though some of us were experimenting with pages and online journals. I put up my own page on that fancy new Geocities site.

4. Submission guidelines advised you to always use a fresh ink ribbon in your printer.

5. Market Research. You still had to do your research, but my first round of agent hunting involved several hours in the MSU library, reviewing the current Literary Agent Guide.  (I can’t recall the actual title of that tome.)  I also subscribed to Speculations, a print publication, to keep up with the short fiction markets.

6. E-books.  Wait, e-what now?

7. Standard Manuscript Format was 12-point Courier.  Two spaces after periods.  Underline to show italics.  Does anyone even use Courier anymore, or is it hanging out with other forgotten fonts, drinking and talking about the good old days?

8. I could walk into a bookstore and introduce myself as an author, and the staff wouldn’t instinctively flinch or hide.  (Also see: Vanity presses, explosion of.)

9. SFWA pro rate for short fiction was 3 cents/word.

10. My hair came down to the middle of my back.  (I maintain that the hair loss is writing-related, caused by stress!)

11. There were agents charging a 10% commission.  I’m not sure exactly when the switch to 15% happened, but pretty much every agent is working for 15% these days.

12. People were bemoaning the Imminent Death of Publishing, as opposed to the present day, when … um … never mind.

Strange to realize that even though my first book with DAW came out a mere four years ago, much of my experience as a new writer trying to break in is already a bit outdated.  And if that’s true, imagine what it’s like for someone who broke in even further back.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t listen to professional authors who talk about this stuff.  However, it’s good to be aware that publishing is constantly changing, and some advice from ten years ago might not hold today.  It’s also good to pay attention to whether the author giving the advice is aware of and in touch with those changes.

So what’s changed since you started writing?  Contributions to the list are welcome (as are regular old comments and discussion).

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

One question I get asked a lot is how the release of a new book affects sales of my backlist.  I’ve said before that the only factor I’ve seen consistently and clearly improve sales of a book is the release of the next book in that series.  I figured with Red Hood coming out, I could indulge my inner graph-geek and share a little data to back that up.  (For legal/contractual reasons, I can’t share the actual numbers.)

Let’s start with the princes series.  The green line represents sales of Red Hood’s Revenge.  You can see the first two books in the series were selling fairly steadily.  Column 4 marks when copies of Red Hood started showing up in stores.  Column 6 is the official release week.

Sales of the older books are nowhere near as good as the new one, but those sales do increase significantly when the new book comes out.  In this case, the sales in column 6 for Stepsister and Mermaid are about triple what they had been before.

But what about the goblin series?  Sadly, a new princess book doesn’t do much to bump goblin sales.  Because the goblin books are older and thus not selling as many copies these days, I stretched the graph a little so you could see them there at the bottom.

Looking at the raw numbers, I do see a slight increase in goblin sales in column six.  Maybe five percent?  It’s small enough I’d have to do a lot more work to determine whether there’s any statistical significance, and it’s been way too long since stats class.

So at least in my case, a new book in a new series only moves an extra handful of copies of the old series.

I do think new books help keep bookstores and readers aware of an author, and that readers who enjoy the books are more likely to eventually go back and buy the author’s backlist.  But it’s not an immediate boost like I see for books in the same series.

This has been Jim Geeks Out With Graphs.  Tune in next week when Jim charts hair loss against number of books written, proving once and for all that publishing will make you go bald!

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Totally unrelated, a few of you asked for pictures of Jig the runt guppy.  I still couldn’t get the camera to focus, but for some reason it would focus in video mode.  I like this, as the video is actually cuter.  There’s only a brief glimpse of his kinked back about halfway through, and then at the end one of the other guppies comes along to give you a sense of scale.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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Most writers, both commercial and fanfic, have heard some version of the Marion Zimmer Bradley “cautionary tale” regarding fanfiction.  In one version, Bradley was a generous, nurturing author who encouraged fanfiction until a greedy fanfic author tried to sue her, torpedoing a book in the process.  In another, Bradley had was preying on helpless fanfic authors, using their ideas to perpetuate her publishing empire.

If we’re going to toss this story around every time we talk about fanfiction, it would be nice to have a few facts to go with the fourth-hand accounts, guesswork, and rumors. Michael Thomas and opusculus have both posted about the MZB incident lately, and provided inspiration and starting points for my own write-up. But I wanted to dig deeper, and to avoid the wiki-style sources which in my opinion aren’t as reliable for this sort of thing.

To put my own biases out there, one of my first sales was to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine.  I later sold a story to Sword & Sorceress XXI.  In addition, I’m published by DAW, which also published Bradley’s work.  I’ll leave it to you to read and decide whether this influences my research and write-up.

First hand statements are in red.  I’ve included links wherever possible.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Update: The full survey results and the raw data are now posted at http://www.jimchines.com/2010/03/survey-results/

Last month I collected information from 246 professionally published novelists on how they made their first pro novel sale.  This was rough, Mythbusters-style science.  It’s not a perfectly controlled study, but it provided much more data than I usually see when we talk about these things.

I’m wrapping up my results, and will be working on compiling everything into a single essay, to be posted on my web site along with the raw (anonymized) data.  Today I’ll also be examining the weaknesses of my survey, as well as other data sources for those looking to learn more.

Can You Boost Your Odds?
Survey Flaws
Other Resources
Final Thoughts

Read the rest of this entry » )

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Update: The full survey results and the raw data are now posted at http://www.jimchines.com/2010/03/survey-results/

For those of you just tuning in, last month I collected information from 246 professionally published novelists on how they made that first pro novel sale.  This is rough, Mythbusters-style science.  It’s not a perfectly controlled study, but it provides a lot more data than I usually see when we talk about these things.

Today I’m looking at two more myths about the writing process:

The Overnight Success
You Have to Know Somebody

Read the rest of this entry » )

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Update: The full survey results and the raw data are now posted at http://www.jimchines.com/2010/03/survey-results/

Last month, I began collecting information from professionally published novelists.  The goal of the survey was to learn how writers broke in, and to use actual data to confirm or bust some of the myths about making it as a novelist.

My thanks to everyone who participated, as well as the folks at Smart Bitches Trashy Books, Book View Cafe, SFWA, SF Novelists, Absolute Write, and everyone else who helped to spread the word.

The survey closed on March 15, 2010 with 247 responses.  There’s a great deal of information here, so I’ll be breaking the results into several blog posts.  At the end, I’ll combine everything into one big write-up and post it on the web site for future reference.

So let’s bust some writing myths.  Today I’ll be looking at:

The Raw Data
Short Story Path to Publication
Self-Publishing Your Breakout Novel

The Raw Data:

For this study, I was looking for authors who had published at least one professional novel, where “professional” was defined as earning an advance of $2000 or more.  This is an arbitrary amount based on SFWA’s criteria for professional publishers.  No judgment is implied toward authors who self-publish or work with smaller presses, but for this study, I wanted data on breaking in with the larger publishers.

247 authors from a range of genres responded.  One was eliminated because the book didn’t fit the criteria (it was for a nonfiction title).  A random audit found no other problems.  The results were heavily weighted toward SF/F, which is no surprise, given that it was a fantasy author doing the study.  But I think we’ve got a respectable range here:

The year in which authors made their first sale covered a range of more than 30 years, with the earliest being 1974.  The data is heavily weighted toward the past decade.

When I do the final write-up, I’ll also include a spreadsheet of the raw data (with all identifying information stripped out).

So there’s the background information in a nutshell.  With that out of the way, let’s get to the first myth…

Read the rest of this entry » )

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

jimhines: (Default)
( Mar. 4th, 2010 09:30 am)

With 11 days to go, the First (Pro) Novel Survey is up to more than 200 responses, which is wonderful!  But it’s also generated some interesting feedback in comments and e-mails.  Some people are upset that small press, self-published, and e-book authors can’t participate.  Others say advances are part of a dying publishing model.  There’s been worry that advances can actually harm an author who doesn’t earn out.  To top things off, I’m told I’m completely out of touch with the current state of publishing.

Let’s start with the basics.  An advance is an advance against your royalties.  When I sold Goblin Quest to DAW, they paid me $4000, half on signing and half on publication.  (Slightly lower than the average, because Goblin Quest was a reprint of a small press title.)  For the sake of easy math, let’s say I got 50 cents in royalties for every copy that sold.  So for the first 8000 books, I got nothing — I had already received that money up front.  But once we sold book 8001, I officially earned out the advance and began receiving royalties.

Even if I never sold those 8000 copies, I keep the advance. Nor would I be blacklisted for failing to earn out.  A lot of books never earn out their advance.  Understand that the publisher doesn’t necessarily lose money on those books.  The math is a little messy, but publishers can and do still make a profit on books that don’t earn out.

Will publishers get a little cranky if they pay you a six-figure advance and you only sell 10,000 books?  Well, sure.  It might mean smaller advances in the future.  You might need to adopt a pseudonym (as many others have done), or change to a different publisher.  But it doesn’t mean the end of your career.

Remember the advance represents an investment on the part of the publisher, and I want my publisher as invested as possible in my book. There are never any guarantees, but which do you think will get more of a sales push, the book where they paid the author $5000 up front, or the one where they paid $50,000?

Finally, there’s the fact that royalties take a long time to show up.  Let’s assume your book is going to earn out, which means you’re eventually going to get the same amount of money either way.  Would you rather get that money today, or wait and get it in a year or two or more?

Writing is not a hobby to me.  It’s a career, one that helps me pay the mortgage and feed my family.  My advances mean I know I’m going to receive a certain minimum amount on each book.  I can start to plan and budget, meaning I’m better able to make a living with this.  (Now if only my publisher would offer a health plan for its authors…)

As for the frustration and anger that I’m shutting out small-press and self-published authors with this survey?  Yes.  Yes I am.  I’ve got nothing against small press and self publishing.  (Please see above, where I first sold Goblin Quest to a small press.)  But that’s not what I was interested in for this survey.  I wanted to learn more about how authors break in with bigger, advance-paying publishers.  If you have a problem with that … well, it’s your problem.  Deal with it.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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