So, about a month later than usual, I’ve finally gotten around to starting my taxes for 2017. Which gives an opportunity to reflect on my situation as it pertains to my writing.
2017 was the year I released my most recent book, namely this one:
It was also the first year since 2011 – when I first started publishing – in which I have not made money from my writing, in fact I racked up a financial loss large enough to be uncomfortable if bearable. The reason for the loss is on the face of it simple, Out of Era flopped. Completely and utterly. A bit of a pisser but there we are; it reviewed well but it didn’t sell beyond a handful. You hope that somewhere down the line it will pick up but really that’s grasping at straws, if it doesn’t kick off pretty much straight away it’s not going to.
So where did it go wrong?
So from here on we’re going firmly into the realm of anecdotal evidence. The last of my successful Nameless War series was released in September 2014, Out of Era came out in October 2017. That’s a big gap. In fact to be brutally honest it was probably too big a gap. I never stopped writing during that time but there were other priorities – I started dating a woman who I’m please to say has recently become my wife, I moved house into what was a bit of a fixer-upper and changed the day job for the first time in over fourteen years. The time slot for writing and its attendant activities basically took one hit after another. Meanwhile the world moved on and I suspect, most of the people that read and enjoyed the Nameless War forgot me enough that the name Edmond Barrett, stopped triggering any kind of mental response when looking at Amazon for something to read. Years ago, before I started publishing I heard another writer claim that to make a living at it you needed to put out at least one book a year. I always found that extremely believable but I never came even close. To manage it I would have had to give up the day job, which when you have a mortgage and are the sole source of income to your household, isn’t really a runner unless you’re prepared to really live up to the starving artist cliche.
The next factor which compounded the first was that I changed genre. My name and reputation as a writer was made in military science fiction; Out of Era is time travel. If you aren’t into science fiction that distinction might sound wafer thin but in fact is a significant gap. I’m not a known name in time travel stories so Out of Era had to go it alone. Had there been less of a gap between books, meaning had it come out while the final book of the Nameless War – the Last Charge was still selling in significant numbers there would have been a better chance of readers following me into the new genre. Which in turn would have boosted my visibility to potential readers who never heard tell of me. So Out of Era just got lost in the crowd. I did try some advertising but the problem there is you can burn a lot of money very quickly for very little return.
Another fact is that to my mind self publishing in 2017 isn’t what it was back in 2011. I know e-readers have been around since well before then but in 2011 they were the new must have gadget. Since there is nothing as useless as a e-reader with no books, people were looking for content and when Amazon opened its system to the self publishers there was suddenly a lot of cheap content. There’s no doubt a lot of it was bad but there was also some real gold and I had the good fortune to be a part of the first wave of e-book self publishers. There were a lot predictions that self publishing and e-books were going to kill publishing and paper books stone dead. That hasn’t worked out. What I think has happened is that e-books found their level. They aren’t going to go away but equally that first great rush came to an end.
My run with writing has been a pretty privileged one. I got to make money in reasonably significant amounts straight off the bat which certainly did a lot to justify the time spent on it. I knew the figure weren’t going to be good but it’s another to look at the cold hard numbers. I’m still going to write, it is and always has been as much a pass time as a profession but have had to re-think my expectations.
Back in the days of yore otherwise known as 2011 the self publishing thing was still basically only getting off the ground (yes I’m ignoring pre ebook vanity publishing) and I had no way of knowing whether The Nameless War would be a success. Splashing out on cover art using money I didn’t really have spare didn’t seem like a great idea. So when I launched the Nameless War, the cover art was among the tasks I decided to tackle myself. I’ve upgraded a couple of times since then but if we are to be brutally honest, my best efforts come out at passable. Back in 2011 however that was enough. Every so often I peruse through the Amazon categories that are relevant to my books to see what’s popular and I’ve noticed that the quality of cover art has improved. Yes, there are still some god-awful covers on books that based on their position in the Amazon charts still sell but they seem to becoming an ever shrinking minority.
I’ve been saying to friends and family for a while that my current WIP (which is probably about a year away from release) so going to be getting a professionally designed cover but what about my older works? Well at the moment I’m currently investigating the possibilities of commissioning an artist who’s work I find attractive. One of the questions however is whether such as investment on my older works worth it at this stage of their life? The answer I’m edging towards is yes on a number of grounds. Unlike paper books, ebooks can remain available indefinitely. Even though we’re still in the early days of ebooks, it isn’t hard to imagine that a title published today could continue to earn for decades, even if annual sales are small a revenue stream is still a revenue stream. Certainly there is going to be a balancing act between spending enough to keep the title attractive to potential buyers and spending more than the title will every pay back.
The other reason I believe is that we have reached the end of line for the amateur looking works. I don’t mean an end to self publishing, much as some in the publishing industry would wish otherwise that’s here to stay. No what I mean is that works produced by individuals like myself – part-time, self published writers, can no longer expect to prosper unless our products can match the production qualities of traditionally published works. A book can be written by an amateur, but it can not look amateurish. In some respects this is a new barrier to entry but it one that comes from demands of the book buying public as opposed to any kind of artificial construction.
I suppose on a side note this is the reply to those* who a few years ago were predicting that self publishing would drown literature in a wave of rubbish.
* A self serving few in my experience.
Up to a few days ago I hadn’t heard of Clean Reader, then someone I know retweeted the following from John Scalzi
Asked for my thoughts on Clean Reader. They are: you bought the book, do what you want, but if you use the app, it’s not the book I wrote. [LINK]
My first thought was – that’s just dumb. Since then I’ve read a few more articles and blogs on the subject with more… colorful responses[LINK] and [LINK] (you have been warned) and I have come to the conclusion that Clean Reader isn’t dumb, it is dangerous.
This censorship of swearing is to me the thin end of the wedge. In itself if someone told me that they had read a book that had been subject to Clean Reader, what I would take from that is that they have actually read the book at all. In much the same way that if you read a book originally written in another language that has been translated into yours, then you are reading a version not the original. With a formal translation the objective will be get the most accurate conversion possible. While Clean Read is designed to be inaccurate. So in itself Clean Read doesn’t seem that big a deal; it is a clumsily and inferior version of the original.
But the more I think, the more I see things I don’t like and that might provide unwelcome precedent. To start with by using such a system you are effectively attributing words to an author that they didn’t actually write, something most us would react badly to. Secondly what next? This is just replacing individual words but assuming it doesn’t exist already, then if given the opportunity could we see programs that are even more invasive? One that edits away the subject of your preferred prejudiced, like people of colour?
It is worth noting that while Clean Reader is the product of an American Christian couple, this tendency isn’t unique to them. They was some argument a year or two ago about the removal of the word – and I apologize for its use – nigger in the works of Mark Twain. To put it mildly, it’s not a nice word but for better or worse, it is part of language and mindset of the time. If it is okay to change individual words in Twain’s work then is it for example okay to rewrite Jane Austin various heroines, so that they go out and make their own fortune rather than wait around for a man?
It speaks of a bland or cowardly mindset that decides to take out anything that doesn’t fit into its existing worldview. One that doesn’t want to be challenged and while Scalzi is right, you can do are you want, I can’t help feeling that there is a better solution:
Don’t read the book.
I’m pleased to say that Ships of the Fleet Vol 1 is now available in paperback thought Createspace as well as Amazon.UK and Amazon.com
As I said in my last post, I really wasn’t sure how well the print on demand system would cope with images, but they have printed out quite nicely and now I have the finished product in hand, I think paper is the superior product for this kind of material. Sure you can’t zoom in* like you can with a tablet but what you do is establish a fixed page layout. Obviously I have SotF on my own kindle and tablet and it is rather obvious that the spacing is rather thrown out by images as the machine will leave large blanks if it can’t fit the entire image on the screen. There isn’t really anything that can be done about it because different people will use different text sizes or screen orientation – I’ve noticed the e-book versions of the Osprey military history books suffer the same problem. Which I think shows why paper books are going to be around for a while yet. There is always likely to room for a premium version of practically anything.
In related news work is well underway for Ships of the Fleet Volume 2. This one will cover the cruisers of the Contact War through to the early post war period. So for readers of the Nameless War that means Hood and the rest of the Geriatrics squadron through to Mississippi. So far I have the first two models done, with the write up for one of them, which leaves another four models to do.
Until next times regards.
*except as Red Dwarf would put it by moving your head closer 🙂
Last weekend was a busy one with final changes to the text, finishing touches to the cover art and tweaking the blurb. This evening will see the first attempt at uploading the text to the Amazon system. I thought I was going to get to it last night but then found that a few things have changed in the upload procedure and decided this was not the sort of thing to tackle 10pm. I’ll go in fresh this evening. I haven’t done a new upload in two years and a couple of things on the Amazon system have changed. There now appears to be a pre-order option which is interesting – watch this space on that. The end however is definitely hoving into view.
I have now have a mailing list, if interested read here
Typos: the bane and torment of the self publishers. Book Three has now gone through, multiple edits by me, plus through two test readers, a professional editor, one final proofreader who hadn’t seen any of it before and still the on one creeps through.
This week I think I’ve found the winning typo for book three (at least I hope I have). There’s a line where a character is drifting off to sleep and it is supposed to read ‘his eyes flickered shut’ except the U from shut was an I.
Whoops. That character might want to see a doctor about that!
The Last Charge
Okay, so where are we up to?
Despite a dose of food poisoning this week saw the hand over of the manuscript for The Last Charge get handed over to my editor so unless he picks up something that has gone horribly, horribly sideways, the October release date is still looking good. In terms of tasks to be completed that leaves me with:
The Blurb (already wip)
The Cover Art (not started but I have some ideas)
Reading the manuscript again once I get it back. (I don’t remember writing this sex scene)
Preparing the file for the various electronic platforms. (Why won’t you work you stupid piece *************)
Preparing the file for the paperback. (Why won’t you work you even stupider piece *************)
Preparing for the release.
But like I said – looking good.
As regular visitors are likely aware I have had an ongoing blog project call Ships of the Fleet. Up to now it has been done mostly for my own amusement but I am planning to formalize and expand the material into a short ship guide which I intend to release as an ebook along side Book Three. I don’t know whether there is a market for this kind of material so this project is me testing the water. The subject of the book will be the ‘Battleships of the Fleet’. So far I already have one new model done up with another about a quarter done and the write up has begun. I’ll need to do two more models and go back and look at the three which have already been displayed to freshen them up a bit*.
This does mean that bits of Ships of the Fleet might be disappearing in the future so enjoy them now. However, this is a side project, which means of secondary importance. If time starts getting short, then Book Three comes first.
Okay that’s the new round up complete.
* I recently and finally got round to obtaining a new PC. In the past I would decide a model was done when it got to a level of complexity that caused my old computer to basically stop and have a little cry every time I asked it to do anything.