Tag Archives: professional

End of Amateur Hour?

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.

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Book Three – The Last Charge is now available for Pre-order

If the end was near in my last post it is getting nearer. Book three is now available for pre-order on Amazon.UK and Amazon.COM. Publication date is now set for the First of October. (Yippeee)

Last Charge cover

Those of you on my mailing list will be getting a sample chapter later this week just to whet your appetite.

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Filed under Book Three of the Nameless War, Self Publishing, Writing

Amateur or Professional?

As previously mentioned last weekend I was at Shamrokon – the Eurocon for 2014, which saw my debut as a convention panelist and something else I might be mentioning at a later time. But what I’d like to talk about the question of when does the amateur become professional?

To date in a little under three years the combined sales of my three titles are over fifteen thousand copies. It is always hard to get any serious data on what constitutes average sales. There was a report in the media a year or more back that suggested that the average self-publisher makes less than $500 from their books, which assuming it was true then or now, would put me well on the far side of that particular bell curve.

I’ve always referred to myself as an amateur writer but over the course of the con I got into conversation with a number of other creators, who felt that the word isn’t one that I should really be applying to myself. The argument was put that once being paid, a writer should call themselves a professional.

Before going any further let me to introduce the accountancy concept of materiality. It tends to be a big deal especially in auditing work, but basically it means at what point does a sum of money or figure matter or become material? For example ten thousand euros/dollars/pounds would likely be a material amount for an individual or small business but not so much for the Microsoft corporation.

Why do I mention this? Well my definition of professional writer has been: where writing represents the individual’s primary revenue stream – or in other words it is where they get most of their money. Clinical but it does get us to why call myself an amateur – my day job is the one that pays my bills, the writing income is a supplement.

Still, I do know writers who have number of titles to their name – through traditional publishing – who still have day jobs because that is what is necessary to bring in the necessary funds. But because it has gone through traditional publishing, no one would question their credentials as professional authors. Self publishing doesn’t have quite such a clear line and for my tastes as-soon-as-being-paid fails the test of materiality. Ten sales doesn’t make you a professional, nor does a fifty but a hundred thousand does. Where is the line? I’m not sure but think I am a bit close to it than ever expected.

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E-Book Covers – Refresh, Redo or Rebrand?

During December I finally got around to what had for a while been on my mental to-do list for a while, namely to change the front covers for the e-book versions of both the Nameless War and the Landfall Campaign. I was never entirely happy with my first efforts and as a consequence of my ongoing Ships of the Fleet  project my 3D modelling skills are definitely better now than they were three years ago. I did wonder whether this would have any effect on actual sales.

And the answer a month and a bit down the line is…. maybe.

December probably wasn’t the best time to undertake this change if I wanted to try to study the effects of this change. Over Christmas a lot of new e-reader devices hit the market simultaneously and obviously that has an effect on sales. Still my sales, which after the glory days of just after the launch of book two, had been bobbling along at under a hundred per month, close to doubled. Also I did notice that my Amazon ranking has on average improved. But a lot of different and in many cases uncontrollable factors could be coming in play. So far so ambiguous.

The relevant the cover art for e-books – given that the image will be the size of a postage stamp on the screen of an e-reader – is subject to debate but the whole exercise has got me thinking. The conventional advice is that you get everything right before publishing. But in the case of cover art is there a right answer?

Below is one of my childhood favorites. The edition I read was one on the left, the one on the right is I assume the current edition.

ExamplesSo, same book, same title, same author, different cover; or perhaps we should say different branding.

Back in the days of yore (so ten years at most) when books only existed in dead tree format, they would get printed in runs of hundreds to thousands, depending on expected popularity. If the book did well enough to justify further runs then every so often a new edition would be prepared with a new cover.

Why update at all? If the cover on the left was judged good enough in the seventies or eighties when the copy I read was presumably printed, then what’s wrong with it now?

Well obviously times have moved on. Styles and expectations changed but also the familiar can slowly become the ignored. No publisher wants their titles to lie gathering dust and an old familiar cover become easier for the book buyer to pass over on route to something newer and shinier. This applies to really everything that can be bought and sold, so even if the product remains unchanging, the wrapping needs to be refreshed every so often.

But returning to e-books. As I’ve said before, once an e-book hits the digital shelves it could potentially stay there forever. Unlike the finite shelving of a physical bookshops there is no space limitation. But this means that a given title is in competition with every other book available and with each new year thousands more books will join it.  Again, as I have said before, the self publisher has to think into the long term. At the very least a the cover art will likely have to rejuvenated every few years to keep up with style changes. But should we be thinking in terms of ‘the very least’?

Unlike physical books the digital cover could, if the mood took you, be changed on an almost daily basis. Now that would probably be over the top but perhaps the self publisher should be thinking in terms of having two or three covers and cycling through them every six to twelve months. Just enough for them not to fade into background.

I’m not selling this idea as part of the next get-rich-quick self publishing scheme. I have no evidence to back this line of thought up.  But possibly it is something to be added to the self publishers tool box. If you want to compare my old cover to the new, the links to Amazon below are the new, I haven’t got round to updating the Smashwords.

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

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

The Job Offer, available on Kindle Kobo and Smashwords

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Writer Beware

A celebrated children’s author-turned-publisher has left the country, with a trail of unpaid debts and angry authors in her wake.

It started so promisingly and ended so horribly. Twenty months ago Jill Marshall was a local hero, albeit an adopted one. In 2011, Next magazine chose her as its Woman of the Year (arts and culture), an honour still listed on her profile on internet site LinkedIn.

Marshall is now back in England, having left behind a posse of irate and disillusioned authors, a trail of debt and no forwarding address. A “desperately-seeking-Jill” message by one of the authors on Marshall’s Facebook page has gone unanswered, attempts to contact her by email and via the two vice-presidents appointed to her company have proved equally fruitless…

The above quote is take from the New Zealand Herald and the full article can be found here. Now I’ve talked quite a bit about self publishing and traditional publishing but now I’d like to say a word about publishing in general.

For the would be writer I believe we have entered a golden age. With the advent of e-publishing the writer has never had more potential routes to the book buying public. But while there are readers out there, there are also sharks. The vanity press industry has of course a long and inglorious history and somewhat inexplicably still exists. But they aren’t the only ones a writer should beware of.

In the case of the article at the top I would guess1) that the individual in question went in with honest intentions but found herself in over her head. What can be taken from that is that someone can be honest but that doesn’t make them competent.

So what I my watch out for points? Well…

1) Money. Lets start with the sordid one. If a ‘publisher’ can make money without you making money, that’s not a warning sign, it’s all the reason you should need to walk away2).

2) Know what level you’re aiming for and develop the necessary skills. Self publishing mean developing certain computer skills3). Traditional publishing means entering into business relationships4). Either way do the research to know what you’re getting into – do not assume it-will-be-all-right-on-the-night.

3) Research anyone/organization you deal with. There are plenty of places on the net where other writers will have reported the dishonest and inept. Find them.

At the end of the day if you have written a book, then what you have is probably the fruits of several years of effort. You have likely poured yourself into it and regardless to what it is, how good it is or how you would like to put it out to the world you are proud of it. Don’t you want to stay proud? You don’t want in a few years time to be looking back on it with anger and bitterness because you or someone else screwed it up.

So take a step back, engage what in the world of accountancy is called Professional Scepticism to take a cold hard look at your options, then proceed.

Regards

 

1) Emphasis on the word ‘guess’

2) Obviously there are a couple of qualifiers to that statement. If you self pub editors and cover designers are going to be paid before you make anything. But the point is these individuals offer only one service. Anyone calling themselves a publisher is in theory offering the full range of services needed to bring the book to market. If they’re looking for you to pony up cash… well then you’re effectively taking all the financial risks of self publishing without the potential rewards or put more succinctly – a sucker.

3) Which are surprisingly limited. I am not a computer expert and my first port of call when the computer acts up is to swear at it. After that I generally muddle through.

4) It is especially important that once contracts are mentioned you damn well read it. If it is over your head get someone with the necessary know-how and training to read it. Sign without knowing what you’re signing is just asking to be ripped off.

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

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

The Job Offer, available on Kindle Smashwords and Kobo.

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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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When to let go of the setting

Recently a reviewer commented about that he would like to see the Nameless War/Battle Fleet setting go on beyond the Trilogy that is currently WIP in progress. Certainly friends and family have joked about me writing a trilogy in seventeen part (which I am categorically NOT doing) but when should a writer walk away from a setting?

Now to my mind a setting where as a reader you can only imagine it supporting one story is not a very good one (a statement some of you may disagree with) a setting should have space in which other stories can happen.  That being said I don’t like stories where it is the same character(s) saving the world again, and again, and again, and again… which is probably one reason why I never got into comic books. However I don’t mind where the writer reuses a setting with new characters; in fact I’ve come across writers who as one hero rode off into the sunset, moved a new character or a previous sidekick centre stage and have made it work very well. Even so every setting will I think soon or later hit the wall. Whether because events have altered the setting or characters so drastically that further adventures will seem forced or the need to do something new, makes the later works so different from the first they really should be separate setting.

Of course I am – and am content to be – an amateur, not a professional[1] writer. The money I make is a supplement to rather than my income and I don’t have a publisher on my back demanding that my next book reuse my most popular character or setting. Walking away from a successful setting means rolling the dice in terms or whether you can bring your readers with you. Stay in the creative comfort zone however and a writer may go stale (how often have you through: I loved his/her early stuff but the new is rubbish) So the decision for the professional must be a desperately nerve-racking one.

As I mentioned in a previous post the Nameless War  was not the book I set out to write. What would now be a prequel was in fact the story I intended to tell. Since I know how book three and the trilogy as a whole will end, I know the Battle Fleet Universe has a lot of room for further stories. I have some rough ideas for further events and perhaps even side events, which could fill anywhere between one and three books. But only rough ideas since I’m not going to waste thinking time which could be more productively used on the book I’m actually writing. Beyond that however I have at this point no real desire to go further because I think the setting would have gone as far as it could do. Anything more would be at best the lesser son of a greater sire.

Also like a good entertainer I believe you should leave your audience wanting more[2]

[1] My definition of Professional being anyone who relies on writing as their primary revenue source  (if that seems a little clinical I would remind that a work in accounts so I’m never going to take a fluffy view of money)

[2] although not too much more – I don’t want to be lynched.

ON AN ENTIRELY UNRELATED NOTE

I haven’t forgotten about Ships of the Fleet. I started work on the Luna Class Cruisers (Deimos) but then the muse clocked on and frankly when she say jump, I say how high?

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Filed under Self Publishing, Ship design, Writing