Sunday, September 11, 2016

It has been some time since I posted here. My central posting location at this point is:


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Lack of Enlightened Self-Interest on the Sidelines of Amazon–Hachette debate.

I have been blogging less and less on my New Libri blog here (as is obvious to the one or two readers I have).

One reason is simply time, the other is from a publishing perspective I have less and less to say. It has been said, by others, better than I.

One recent blog entry caught my eye.

I have commented on Mike before and received a lot of blow back from indie authors, who think everything he says should be ignored because he has been in the industry for so long. A logical fallacy at best (ad hominem). A lack of enlightened self interest at worst.

Many of the authors and micro-publishers who blast me for blasting Amazon seem to be forgetting the point raised by Mike and by some Facebook posts I made myself as the Amazon – Hachette battle (not really war) heated up. The point being the complete lack of statistical understanding shown by Amazon (or at least pretending to not understand) in the elasticity of demand with books.

Every successful and partially successful Amazon author should be supporting Hachette out of purely selfish reasons. With even a moribund (as many eBook centric authors like to think) publishing industry hanging on the indie author at Amazon has an advantage. ONLY IF big publishers hang on will the elasticity model that Amazon touts hold up. So all you lovers of Amazon publishing, pray (or whatever you do) for Hachette to hold on. Then YOU can discount your book and make money. Stop pretending to be altruistic! Be an enlightened sefl-interested Machiavellian!

The TOTAL number of books ACTUALLY READ (and pretty much sold) in the U.S. is fundamentally flat. The TOTAL NUMBER is inelastic. It is NOT like the paperback boom, as that coincided with an explosion of college education and even higher high school graduation rates. It is completely disingenuous of Amazon to link the two.

So, Indie authors selling on Amazon, cheer on Hachette, so you can continue to experience SOME elasticity within the domain.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

New Template and signed in comments only.

Well, the Google run Blogger, where this account is hosted somehow got hacked with a “widget” that was a virus that made it impossible to view the blog--without a thousand malware popups. One would think Google would scan the system more frequently, but there is a lot to scan on all the Google properties.

I apologize for any inconvenience to the occasional reader.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Continuing to examine forms of publishing

As I continue to see a variety of posts on Indie and self-publishing and to a lesser extent “hybrid” publishing versus “standard” publishing, the rhetoric seems to be getting more and more shrill, with—in my opinion—less and less thoughtful analysis. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that I am unbiased in my thinking, or opinion, but I do try and think about this from a bit of a statistical and analytical manner, rather than a series of anecdotes.

My first observation is everyone has an axe to grind. There is a group of successful self/Indie published authors who take a huge amount of schadenfreude at the woes of the publishing industry right now and use those woes as “proof” that the publishing industry is dying off, that they are no longer needed and that any interaction with the traditional system is stupid. This group points to their own success and says “see you don’t need publishers, or agents, or the old system. Many go on to say you don’t need printed books either. There are a number of financial models and calculations going around to “prove” that you make more money by NOT doing print.

The total number of TITLES published between 2010-2012, if you include eBooks, was an astounding 1,348,121 titles (this does NOT include textbooks). Versus the “big” five put out 83,463. So, the number of titles for Indie, small press, and self-published was over 15 times the number of titles of the big five. Now, if the Pollyanna group, as I call them, were accurate in that the big five were crumbling and had no power and all that, you would expect the REVENUE of all of those to be 15 times what the big five were. Yeah, we all know that is not the case. The total revenue for books over all has been largely flat. The big five have lost some of the slice of the pie, but they still control something like 85% of the pie.

Of course, what the successful Indie authors will say, is “yeah, but you CAN be successful, look at me.” Sure, but lets think about that. Say all the “successful” Indie authors (and this includes micro presses like our own) are lumped into one virtual company (I’ll call them the Polly-Indies) that takes the remaining 15% of revenue. Lets also assume that they sell per person a similar distribution as in a publishing house (which is optimistic). That means that about 17,000 titles in the Polly-Indie group are as successful as the publisher group. That means if you Indie/Self publish your odds of success are about 1.2%

So, can you be successful? Sure. But, it is hardly guaranteed.

BUT, here is where I will grant the pure self-publishers something. If you self-publish and do all your own work, you will be getting three times, or more, the royalties that you would get with a big five publisher. Given that advances are shrinking for new authors, this starts to be a big deal. Lets be super generous and assume that because of this greater royalty we can expand the number of titles that are successful by three. Now your odds of being successful go up to 3.6%.

Now, lets look at what success MEANS. Your average published book, by a publisher, sells 150 copies. Yes, that is a statistical mean. Still, that probably means that your AVERAGE successful published author makes 20% of say $5 * 150 = $150.  Don’t plan your retirement!  Your average successful (again I am making lots of assumptions, but really erring on the generous side) self publisher thus might make three times that amount! Woo Hoo. $450.

Now, of course, there will be THOUSANDS of Indie/self published authors that will laugh and say that’s ridiculous. “I made $100,000 last year” and similar claims. I am sure they did. If the 150 is also a MEDIAN, then half of the Polly-Indies are going to make MORE. 5% are probably going to make big money. If 17,000 * 3 titles were “successful” that is 51,000 “successful” (average = 150) titles per year. Realistically, if they have anything resembling the normal book distribution, then 5% of them will actually make “good money.”  2,500 or so. So, of the 1.3 MILLION titles, 2,500 or so were successful, make a real living, titles.

So, sure, you can ignore the publishers. It is possible. It is worth a try. But, if you think it is EASY and that it doesn’t involve LUCK then you are really Pollyannna-ish.

Book publishers (and their proxies, Agents) tend to accept 1 out of 100 books. So, if this sounds negative on the Indie/self published side, it is not. Your odds are about the same in both camps. Book publishers are NO MORE ACCURATE than the marketplace in predicting what is going to sell, so I would encourage people to consider BOTH. You probably double your odds. But, it is doubling from a small percentage. BOTH are a lot of hard work. You might actually make money as an indie, but if you want to double your odds, don’t ignore publishers. Not yet.

I was going to include some of the “Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt” that the publishers certainly like to tout, to keep their slice of the pie from shrinking, but that will be a different discussion.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Response to “Publishers Need to be Data Driven”

I just read an interesting post in Book Business concerning Publishers Must Embrace Data-First Thinking.

This article has some very interesting facts, but suffers from a number of fallacies. It is a conflagration of data and facts that destroys any semblance of a conclusion. This may be rooted in the article that the blog cites, by Tom Davenport, but I would have hoped that there would have been some analysis included in the blog entry.

Data, by its nature, is the past, yet there is a blast against big publishers for making bets on books based on what succeeded in the past. A retailer (such as Amazon) can use REAL TIME data, or near real time data to adjust certain things, such as pricing and what people might be interested in from a VIRTUAL inventory. A publisher has a lag time. The data will be old, even with technology, and the time to market—even rushed—will create a lag between the recognition of the data and action on it.

Now, this does not preclude the importance of data, I am a data person from way back. But, there is data and there is information. Data tends to be raw and needs interpretation. It also tends to be badly interpreted. I can demonstrate a statistical correlation between eating tomatoes and (for instance) the number of orgasms per year a person has. Yet, the correlation is probably nothing but a statistical artifact. Still, I am sure someone would then market tomatoes as the next cure for your sex life if I came up with a study with that data.

What Amazon is doing (disclaimer, I used to work there) is not just data, but using the business concept of “spinning the flywheel.” (The concept of the flywheel effect was popularized by Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great.”) The root of this is not just data, but synergies. Because of technology, Amazon is becoming a both vertically integrated and horizontally integrated, where ever it spins the flywheel. The examples Ms. Harvey cites of positive actions by publishers are really more of the vertical integration. Combining two, or more, businesses that are in different stages of production of similar products (e.g. a farm combined with a food manufacturer combined with a supermarket). By doing this, they are indeed capturing data. But, they are more importantly in control of multiple stages and able to respond separately to each stage as they see fit. Amazon does this incredibly well and it is all part of the flywheel.

Unfortunately, for the publisher, they do not have the horizontal integration that Amazon has. This is what really spins the flywheel. While Amazon uses some data on trends and what customers wanted, it too has the issue of lag time when producing its own video, or book imprints. What it has is the ability to largely ignore the need to guess and interpret the data by letting the market (or rather its market) determine the winners and losers and then automatically the system responds. If you pay your authors (largely) by only a percentage, the authors self-select out of the system. This is not so much data, but self-correcting systems that are possible when you control a large share and are both vertically and horizontally integrated.

To Ms. Harvey’s credit, the final section of her post captures the essence of this. Workflow. When you have a vertically integrated system, with a strong flywheel, you create a workflow that always provides additional momentum to the flywheel, rather than spin against it. Amazon is fantastic at this sort of thinking and internal development. In no other company that I have observed is this flywheel effect and workflow to mesh with it better implemented. It has its flaws, including stifling innovation that goes against the flywheel, but it is massively successful in creating growth (which Amazon does for revenue and customers, if not for profits).

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Pay an editor? (Or Polishing Your Work)

No one knows more than I that some authors are terrible at editing their own work. I can speed read someone else’s work and see a number of things from the theme, the arc, the character development, to hair color changing when it shouldn’t. Yet, I pull up my own work on a screen, read through it, and it all looks “great.”  This is partially because those of us who write novels tend to have a huge amount in our heads, or notes, or full backstories written. We don’t notice that the reader doesn’t have access to all that.

Critique groups help. To a point. If they are smart, really writers, and honest. But, even then most critique groups tend to look at one chapter at a time on an irregular basis (say twice per month) and soon the critiques sound very similar. “Your POV is confusing here.” “I don’t think your protagonist would know this word.” Very useful, but not a full analysis.

Some writers are awesome (yeah, an over used word) at editing. They just see the issues. They are ruthless at cutting and compressing. They write 500 words and pare it down to 100 great words.

Others want to speed the process up. We don’t have the patience, or skill to see our own work. This is not unlike software engineering, where there is a reason for testers/quality assurance. The programmer KNOWS what s/he intended and never causes the program to crash and burn. The tester acts like the consumer, but with an eye toward explaining to the programmer.

In comes the paid editor.

You can pay from $300 to $5000 for editing. Both ends of the spectrum are appropriate if you know what you are going to get. That is the key. You SHOULD get what you pay for, but often you don’t.

There are numerous sources that cover the “going rate” for editing. Check out the Editorial Freelancers Association for a good source. If you are paying $3000 or more for a manuscript (of say 300 pages), you are paying for heavy copyediting, good heavy line editing, or developmental review. Heavy. But, take a step back before you plunge into paid editing.

Copyediting is (or should be) the last step of the process. DON’T PAY for this if you don’t think the book is “perfect” as far as the arc, story, plot, consistency, etc. Consider not paying for this at all if you are not self publishing.

If you manuscript is not perfect, you probably want some developmental editing. Now, a good agent will often (but not always) help with developmental editing. but that assumes you have an agent. Most of us don’t for a variety of reasons. Agents are great, wonderful, and usually worth every penny they get. They are also (in my opinion) terrible at selecting new clients and use antiquated methods for selecting new partners, but that is a subject for another day. The truth is they are busy rejecting so many people there filters are frozen.

So, if you hire a developmental editor (as apposed to a line editor), what should you get (for that $3000). While a developmental editor label tends to be used for non-fiction, it applies to fiction also. The developmental editor should understand the genre and essentially coach the writer chapter by chapter based on the level of experience the author has and at what stage in the writing the editor is hired. If you have a complete manuscript and have done a pass at editing it yourself, but it still feels rough and incoherent a developmental editor can help. S/he should be able to read the manuscript and suggest in a paragraph or two per chapter what the arc is, the tension, the turning point, and what is inconsistent with the genre and the over all theme. If you hire a developmental editor, you will still need to do some work afterwards and then either line edit/copy edit yourself, or hire someone for that stage too. It may be the same person, or it may be someone else.

If you have a complete manuscript and you feel the right tone is there overall, you can write your own synopsis, and the novel “feels right” then you can hire a line editor.

A line editor goes through the manuscript line by line and looks for inconsistencies, weird language, etc. Line editing should include basic obvious spelling mistakes beyond what a spell checker would catch. Think grammar checker and appropriateness checker. It should catch some of the per chapter inconsistencies. It should be more than an English major, it should be someone familiar with the craft and genre. I would argue that most publisher editors do this, or should.

Copy editing is, to me, the boring stuff and yet, it also is what publishers do. It is the formatting, the dot your I’s and cross your T’s. You can hire an editor to do this, but some of this will get re-done by the publisher. If you self publish, then this might be worthwhile. BUT, in that case the copy editor should know the end format quite well (e.g. eBook, and/or InDesign for print). Simply knowing formatting in Word is not sufficient.

If you are paying real money and the end result you run spellcheck on the document and find errors—something is wrong. We had an author who paid professional money for editing and in the first five pages we found spell check errors.

If you are going to hire someone, PLANT some errors in the first five pages and ask them to edit that for free, or a small fee. If they don’t catch what you KNOW is there, they are not a great candidate as an editor.

Next, if you are serious about someone, offer to pay for a single chapter edit. Tell them you would like a developmental review and a high level/rough line edit. Same thing. Know at least some of what you want them to find. The first five pages are what you submit to the agents and editors and are the hook pages. If the editing does not sing to you, then bow out. You have lost only a fraction of what you would have.

The editor is not a ghost writer. But, s/he is a collaborator at one level and is taking your perhaps still tarnished silver and making it shine. Still, the value was in the the silver you created, but that value needs to be visible to everyone, not just you. S/he will point to the scratches, the dings, the bend and the dents and help fix those, but it remains yours. You need to decide what is worth fixing and what might even need to be thrown away.

Well on the mixed metaphor ending, I’ll sign off.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Delayed Response

To the kerfuffle between Random House’s new imprint (of sorts) Hydra and The Science Fiction Writer’s of America. 

What is interesting is that I do think that Random House is getting a bit greedy on its terms, but that SFWA is so completely out of touch with the modern world. I find it funny and ironic that a association of SCIENCE FICTION writers so completely refuses to acknowledge self publishing.

Self-publishing, for better or worse, is the twenty-first century. SFWA seems stuck in the twentieth. Hydra, for better or worse, is trying to capitalize on self-publishing, but put it under an imprint and give it some professionalism. And, at this point, it is also a filter, not accepting absolutely every person with an open checkbook. Should SFWA examine both the motives and the consequences of this new model from Random House? Sure, but it should simultaneously examine its own antiquated prejudices against self-publishing.

I am not advocating that EVERY self-published science fiction and fantasy author automatically be acknowledged as a potential member, but under SFWA’s by-laws, you could sell a million copies of a novel and not qualify as a SF writer. In other words the editors at a single publisher know more as to what is good science fiction and fantasy than any number of readers.

The Hydra imprint is, no doubt, flawed. The nickname for the merged Random House and Penguin is “Random Penguin” which may be an indicator on their actions this year. They are trying a random variety of things. The proof, as the cliché goes, will be in the pudding.

What is even more surprising is that SFWA has not responded—beyond a blog post—to the fact that Hydra HAS modified its contract options to include a more “traditional” model:

Under the advance plus royalty model, authors are offered a more traditional publishing arrangement, with Random House’s standard eBook royalty of 25 percent of net receipts. These authors will be paid an agreed-upon advance against royalties, and Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, or Flirt will cover production, shipping, and marketing for all formats at 100 percent of cost.

So what part of this refined model (in response to SFWA and authors) does not meet the guidelines and bylaws of SFWA? Are they just pissed at Random House after a few letters went back and forth?

SFWA’s blog post was a response, sort of, to the changes Hydra has made. Fundamentally it says, “ok, better, glad to see you are listening to us.” But, it is still not clear that Hydra is ever going to be considered legit in SFWA eyes, and it still begs the question as to when SFWA is going to embrace self-publishing. One concern might be that Hydra is eBook only. Yet, Angry Robot (a great little UK publisher) publishes eBook only also, so that can’t be it, can it?

The aegis that SFWA likes to project is one of protecting the author. I completely support that, but in the age of self-publishing and digital, are you protecting the author, or trying to force them into a 1950s model?

Stanislaw Lem famously disdained membership with SFWA, “describing it as: describing it as ill thought-out, poorly written, and interested more in making money than in ideas or new literary forms.” This was in 1973. It would seem that perhaps things have not changed much since then.

It’s as if SFWA is in a bad science fiction story, where nothing changes and time stands still.