Monthly Archives: July 2013

I can’t eat publicity

Something topical culled from the internet.

There’s been a lot of talk online about authors being asked or expected to do events for free, or virtually for free. So I figured I’d stick my oar in on this.

When I started out as an illustrator, I took crap jobs for crap money, because I figured it was the price of getting established. And it was. There was no back-up or support for illustrators, particularly in Ireland. You were on your own. I sometimes took even crapper money for good jobs, just to get those jobs to have in the portfolio. I don’t do that any more, because I’ve been at this malarky for a long time now, and I expect to be treated like a professional.

But one of the most valuable lessons I learned was that I had to sell myself as a tradesman. If you wanted my work, you had to pay me an hourly rate. If you wanted ideas, I would charge you for the amount of time I figured I could put into coming up with that idea, and what it was worth to you.

As I did when I was an illustrator, I took on a lot of badly paid events, and free stuff and daft stuff, because I considered these the price of learning the ropes, getting established and getting publicity for my books. Most authors – particularly children’s authors – start off the same way

And while events are an essential part of getting publicity, if we were to do it for just the publicity, there would be almost no full-time writers, and therefore no one available to do these events, and certainly to do them to the standard that people can expect today.Let’s say you run a festival, and you want a writer to do it for free – for the publicity. Let’s say they’re a typical mid-level, full-time author, so you’re confident you can get an audience for them: maybe fifty people. You could maybe get more in than that, but you don’t want to hire a bigger hall, in case you can’t fill it. Let’s be really generous – to keep the numbers simple – and say that the author gets one euro for every book that sells for ten euros (they often don’t) as a result of that session. If every single person in that audience bought a book, that author would get fifty quid for travelling to your event, and performing for an hour with skills and experience that take years to develop. Does that sound reasonable to you?

All the various people and organizations who build their businesses around books expect to get paid for the work they do, but it’s astonishing that writers, and to a lesser extent, illustrators, whose work is the foundation of these businesses, are expected to give their time for free, in return for royalties they may eventually earn after every other person involved in the sales chain – most of whom are employed full-time – has been paid first.Do you work for a company or organization? Would you be willing to travel to another town or county to work for free, in the hope that you might get paid a little more somewhere down the line in return for this work . . .

And if you’re running a big, prestigious festival that can draw audiences because it has a powerful brand, and you think you can offer little or no fee on the basis that an author should be grateful they’ve been invited, then bear in mind we’re all talking to each other a lot more these days. Word gets around fast. And the problem with brands is that once a company’s brand becomes tainted, everything they do and everything they’re associated with becomes tainted too.

If you want people to bring their time and expertise to events you intend to hold, and you are counting on those people to attract audiences and make your events a success, you can’t expect them to come for free. We’re professionals. And professionals get paid.

The full post can be found here, I’ve met Oisin Mc Gann at a couple of the small conventions here in Dublin and he is an informative speaker.  Myself  I’ve never been asked to speak at event; since I am pretty small time and content to be an amateur writer this isn’t surprising. Still what I would take from Oisin is that a writer (or anyone creating with the aim to sell) has to grasp sooner or later is that it is a business. Sure not everything is about the pursuit of the mighty Dollar/Pound/Euro/Insert-Name- of-Reasonably-Hard-Currency-Here but unless independently wealthy, an average standard of living requires a certain amount of cold hard cash each year.

We can loop this back to what I said about linking to Amazon, that reaching out to a small geographically limited group is probably never going to pay its way even if the event is in the writers hometown and expenses are minimal. If further a-field then travel and accommodation are factored in so then the average writer will have to sell a significant number of books just to break-even on a single event. At the end of the day publicity might be nice but no one can pay next months credit card bill with it.

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Filed under Traditional Publishing, Writing

Time for something different?

Now for once something nothing to do with writing. Last Friday I attended my local cinema to see Pacific Rim, a film that could be summarized as big stompy robots punching big stompy monsters in the face. A lot.

It is not a deep film.

It is however not a re-imagining, sequel, re-make or watered down adaption from another source. Sure it has borrowed heavily from several tropes popular in Japan but the point is that it is something that in reasonable light resembles a new idea. Which with modern Hollywood is pretty close to heresy.

So far this year in terms of blockbusters we’ve had that I actually saw or consciously decided not to see:

Ironman3: Best of a bad lot. Fun but in terms of artistic creativity playing safe by relying on an established franchise and a popular actor.

Oblivion: Pretty but utterly predictable (particularly if you saw the trailer like I did)

Star Trek – Into Darkness: Utter, utter, utter rubbish! The cast did their best but the script might as well be written in crayon.

Superman: Not a fan of Sup and nothing I heard encouraged me to try.

World War Z: The book is one of my favorites. This I clearly has nothing beyond sharing a title in common, I don’t begrudge the writer any payout he got from this but I will not go to see it.

A few others that haven’t left much of a stain on my brain.

So whatever its limitations Pacific Rim at least has the backbone to be  something new and Hollywood should be encouraged to try that more often. Or to put it another way if you don’t see it don’t come crying when in the future all you’re offered is scarcely reheated sequels.

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Filed under Random Rants, science fiction

Branding, Oblivion and Big Breaks

As you many have heard the  big news in writing in the last week is that male debut writer Robert Galbraith has been… lets say outed as the female and decidedly not debut writer J.K. Rowling. The full story can be found on BBC and I recommend you read it.

It’s an interesting story because it does show fairly graphically the problems faced by a new author and the power of branding. Depending on which source you read, in the time between launch in April and the Outing the book had sold somewhere between five or fifteen hundred copies in I believe hardback. Which, lets be honest is not that impressive a number. Even if we assume the writer got a pound for every copy sold (which she certainly did not) that’s not going to yield anything close to a living wage, especially if we consider that under the old school book-are-sold-in-bookshops model that a titles first few months are the make or break. After that it it will be sent back to make room for the next new release. Even in the new world of electronic publishing as I have experienced it, the first couple of months are the best you’re ever going to get for title.

It’s worth dwelling on the following facts.

  1. This book was written by someone who can clearly string words together.
  2. But stripped of the ‘Big Name’ was turned down by at least one editor and probably others (doubt many will admit to it though)
  3. This is a book which has made it past the Gatekeepers.
  4. So by conventional publishing logical that means it is ‘good’
  5. It has received all the support traditional publishing can offer in terms of editing, cover art, etc
  6. Has received good reviews from fellow writers in the genre
  7. Still hasn’t sold very well
  8. At least not until ‘The Big Name’ is revealed.

Probably more by accident than design J.K. Rowling has offered us a really interesting live demonstration on the limitations of traditional publishing and the power of a writers Brand. Traditional publishing could sell very few Robert Galbraith books, J.K. Rowling on the strength of her name alone could sell them by the shed load.


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Filed under Random Rants, Traditional Publishing, Writing

The Job Offer


Well here we are mid July and as promised my Novella THE JOB OFFER is now available on:

Amazon UK, COM and the various other Amazons.




The paperback version is probably going to be an autumn project.

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Exactly zero reasons to link to Amazon (unless you live in the real world)

A few days ago a post went up on the Booksellers website berating writers for putting links to their books on Amazon. It was followed a few days later by another on the Melville site going by the catchy title ‘There are exactly zero defensible reasons for authors to link to Amazon’; there are links to both articles at the bottom of this post, be advised in both cases the tone is aggressive. The gist of each post is that authors should seek to support their local book – indeed that they have a duty to.

Now I will clear, I like bookshops, I like wandering around them, I like buying books and I have a home where books are colonizing most flat surfaces. My books however, have never been sold in any of Dublin’s bookshops. They were briefly sold in a hobby shop owned by an acquaintance of mine but didn’t sell fast enough for me to feel it was an experiment worth repeating. I have never approached any of the city’s book shops because I don’t believe it is worth my time. The nature of self publishing and print on demand would make it a bit problematic but even were I traditionally published I doubt it would make much difference.

One of the accounting and economic concepts that can be applied to the business writing is that of Opportunity Cost.  It is basically the idea that all resources are limited and a resource spent in one way can not then be spent another. I’m pretty sure I’ve made this point before, a writer is a small businessman/woman. They have to be business like. Which is where these proposals come unstuck.

I am based in Dublin, Ireland. The majority of my readers are in the UK but I have also that I know of, had sales in the USA, Romania, Brazil and New Zealand – which is about as far away from me as you can get without leaving planet Earth. A link to Amazon offers the casual visitor from almost anywhere in the world a chance to purchase my books. A link to a Dublin bookshop offer a chance to buy in one tiny little piece of the world. In essence these proposals are asking writers to make their own financial interests subordinate to that of the book shops, which is not realistic. So in short if independent book shops wish writers to engage with them they need to remember this is a business – writers can and must be business like. There is no debt owed, only however much or little independent book shops can do for us. If the independent book shops wish writers to engage with them, then they have to  give those writers a good solid reasons for doing so.


Melville House

The Nameless War, available on Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo and paperback.

The Landfall Campaign, available on Kindle, Kobo, Smashwords and paperback.

The Job Offer, currently only available on Kindle.

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Filed under Self Publishing, Traditional Publishing, Writing