Tag Archives: markets

For the Love?

There’s a worrying trend developing whereby publishers (often individuals who just call themselves publishers, with about as much market knowledge as a used condom) snap up stories, compile them into ezines or anthologies, and put them on the market hoping to make a fast buck. They don’t pay contributors, instead calling themselves ‘For The Love (FTL),’ or ‘exposure’ markets. It’s nothing new, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. There’s been a debate going on over the viability of these markets since forever, the main argument in the ‘for’ column being that they provide platforms for emerging writers to break through. That may be true, but only because more established writers don’t work for free.

Generally speaking, there are two distinct forms of FTL market. The first is where the publisher invites submissions, edits and compiles the stories, sorts out a cover, then distributes a finished product in the form of a website, ezine, or anthology, free to the public. This is a true ‘FTL’ market. Everyone works for free; the writers, the editor, the artists, using the publication as a platform to showcase their work. This is perfectly acceptable.

Then there is the dark side.

Other publishers invite submissions, edits and compiles the stories, sorts out a cover, then distributes a finished product in the form of a website, ezine, or anthology, CHARGES the public money for it and keeps the profits. They don’t pay the writers, or the artists, and what’s more, where possible they charge for ad space, thereby creating two revenue streams (sales and ads) whilst incorporating virtually non-existent overheads and operating costs.

The publisher, who is also usually the editor, maintains he or she invests a lot of time in the project and should be compensated. That is true. But what about compensating the contributors who also invest a lot of time in their work? And make it possible for them to make their cut? Not only do writers invest their time, but also money in the form of materials, hardware, software, electricity, etc. It actually costs money to write and submit. The ‘exposure’ guff doesn’t cover it. Would you ask a workman to your house, ask him to build you a wall, which you then charged people to look at, and when the workman asks for payment (or at least a cut of the profits) you say, “Well, didn’t you enjoy building it?”

I don’t think so. Not unless you want a punch in the face. The same principal should be applied here. Otherwise, you are effectively profiteering. The publisher will probably maintain that they can’t afford to pay contributors. But in that case, the project isn’t economically viable and shouldn’t even have left the ground. Would you start building that wall if you couldn’t afford to buy the bricks?

Of course, there is a wicked little sting in the tail here. These non-paying markets rarely attract writers of the calibre required to shift large amounts of product, because a lot of these writers have been around a while, quietly building their reputations, and know their worth. They put their hearts and souls into their work, and aren’t about to give it away for free (apart for the odd charity contribution), and stand by while someone else makes money off them. Therefore, the only people who contribute to these publications are writers ‘on the way up.’

This isn’t a judgement of their quality. They might be, and probably are, very capable writers. The problem is they are yet to build an audience, so very few prospective readers know who they are. This doesn’t sell books. Obviously, submitting to FTL markets is part of the process of building that audience, but it does nothing for sales in the short term. Publications need a few big hitters in order to sell copies. But if you don’t pay, you won’t get those big hitters and you won’t sell many copies.

Catch 22.

Of course, you can flip that equation on its head and say that if a publication offered contributors even token payment, the quality of submissions would increase and so would sales. From there, the more money you offer, the better standard of writers would contribute and consequently, the more copies you sell. The more copies you sell, the more you can pay contributors, and so on. This might be a very simplistic way of looking at it, but why can’t it work? If only more people recognized that you get what you pay for, we would all be better off.

This post was first published on the Deviant Dolls website.

And don’t forget, you don’t always have to start at the beginning!

Advertisements

Jumping Through Hoops

ar131246472218197

As a jobbing freelance writer, I’m a self-confessed media whore. I’ll write for whoever pays me. It’s what I have to do. I make a living through a number of channels, one of those channels being dark fiction. Dark fiction with a twist of sardonic humour, as reviewers often point out. I’m not going to lie. I don’t make a lot of money from it. I sell a few books a month, and place a couple of short stories a year in various magazines, ezines, literary journals and anthologies. It’s never going to make me rich. But I enjoy it, and I count myself lucky that I am in a position to make a little extra income to supplement my day job writing for sport and lifestyle magazines.

In order to have your work published in one of the many outlets there are, you have to submit your work according to the publication’s specific formatting guidelines. Some want a particular font, in a particular size, some want single-spaced copy, others double-spaced. Some request a cover page with your name and contact details, while others want ‘blind’ submissions with no identifying information. About the only thing all publications have in common, is that they all want something different. I don’t mind going through every individual story I have and changing the font or whatever if the potential pay-off makes it worth my while. The more a publication pays contributors, the more I am willing to do. Unfortunately, this is a practice that occurs right across the board, even down to ‘exposure markets’ that don’t pay any actual money. In fact, they are often the worst offenders. I once had an extremely bitchy email from the ‘editor’ of an ezine complaining that I hadn’t followed the guidelines not just in the manuscript I submitted, but also in my cover letter. He took particular offence at my use of the word ‘hi’ instead of the more formal ‘hello,’ and the smiley-face at the end of my email was a deal-breaker. He clearly wasn’t a fan of the friendly approach. When I checked their guidelines again, I saw how much they paid per word. Not a penny. Zero. Nothing. You would think a publication expecting established writers to work for free would be a bit more forgiving, but it served me right. If I’d read the guidelines properly I would have realised they didn’t pay and wouldn’t have submitted to them in the first place.

Anyway, I digress. On the face of it, it all seems like a massive ball ache for no good reason. I was always of the opinion that if a story is reasonably and legibly laid out, what difference does it make if its double-spaced in 12pt courier or not? But then I started thinking about it, and looking at the situation from the point of view of the publication. If a prospective contributor doesn’t pay any attention to the guidelines, why should the publication pay any attention to the prospective contributor?

The publication don’t put all these guidelines in place just for the sake of it (though some probably do take some perverse pleasure out of making you jump through hoops on their behalf). They are a test, designed to ascertain in an instant how closely you read those guidelines. Or if you read them at all. It reminds me of Van Halen and their infamous tour riders. In the decadent 1980’s, when they were among the biggest bands in the world, Dave Lee Roth and co insisted that all the brown M & M’s be removed from bowls backstage at their gigs. Years later, they confessed they weren’t just being pretentious dicks, but making sure the venue adhered to their requests. If they didn’t take care of the small things, they couldn’t be trusted to take care of the big things, either. In retrospect, it all adds up, and maybe these editors are thinking along the same lines.

Check out some of the times I jumped through enough hoops on my Amazon Author page:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Christian-Saunders/e/B0034QAX0E

 


Adventures in Indie Publishing: Part 4

Crunching Numbers

Hopefully, if you run a free promotion on KDP and promoted it properly, you will have benefited from a few hundred, or even a few thousand downloads depending on how much marketing you do. Incidentally, you can track exactly how many copies are being downloaded , and in which territory, in the ‘Reports’ section of your account. This is an invaluable tool because as you progress through your marketing campaign it allows you to instantly see which strategies are working for you and which ones are not. There are some general rules that it’s worth applying; probably the main one being that most people have more leisure time on weekends and are more likely to download your book, so when utilising KDP promotions, make sure the promo runs over Saturday and Sunday.

In the first three days X: A Collection of Horror was up for free, it was downloaded 368 times in America, 157 times in the UK, and 17 times in other countries, for a total of 542. The following month I put it up for free for another two days, and shifted another 362, for a grand total of 904. I have no idea if that’s good or not. It peaked at number 14 in the Amazon free books horror section, if that’s any indication. I priced paid copies at $2.99 (£1.87, approx) which meant I gave away $2702.96 (£1690.48) worth of books, before tax and Amazon’s 30% cut.

That’s one way of looking at it.

But obviously, most of the people who downloaded my book for free probably wouldn’t have forked out actual money for it, anyway. So the other way of looking at it is that I gained 904 new readers.

I’m not stupid enough to think that every one of those 904 will get around to reading my book. First and foremost, I am a reader. I download a lot of free books to my Kindle, a lot of which I never actually read. I am assuming most people do this. There are a lot of free books out there. Making a rough estimate based on my own reading habits, I imagine around half of that 904 will never open my book. Still, looking on the bright side, that leaves 452 who might!

The Selling Game

From here on out, bar the occasional other promo I do, every book I sell makes money. That should be all the incentive you need. Now, it’s time to go to work and step up your promotion efforts. You can’t force people to buy your book. And begging is just embarrassing. In the most basic terms, you have to get your book in front of people who might like it and persuade them that they need to buy it.

It helps no end if you have a good, concise, well thought-out blurb, or product description. Make it exciting. Check out the blurbs on top-selling titles in your genre for some tips, taking note of what kind of words they use. This may not work for every book, but soon after I put out my latest release, X: A Collection of Horror, I revised the product description to include the following:

WARNING: Adult Content.

At first, I just wanted some kind of safeguard in case I started getting emails from angry parents of kids who had downloaded it. The strange thing is, after I inserted the warning, there was a mini-spike in sales. Then I started thinking, what happened back in the 1980’s when the PMRC made record companies put parental advisory labels on record sleeves? That’s right, sales went through the roof. I don’t pretend to know why, I’m not a psychologist, but I can tell you that after that, I left the warning there!

Getting noticed

The media industry may be in flux, but there are more markets, and more ways to access these markets, than there ever has been before. The sheer number of websites, blogs, magazines, fanzines, newspapers, radio and TV stations, is bewildering, but the one thing they all have in common is that they all need content. You can provide that content for them, either by way of giving interviews or simply sending out review copies of your book. Don’t forget to tell your local newspaper. They love local-boy-does-good stories, and so do readers. However, don’t expect to command a fee. You aren’t Dan Brown or Stephen King. Just be grateful with the column inches and hope they translate to sales.

Try to get a handle on things and focus your efforts. I made up a list of blogs, websites and publications that may be interested in promoting my book either directly or indirectly, then contact them systematically. If you can count some fellow writers amongst your friends, offer to do a guest blog for them. In this manner, you can even organize virtual blog tours. Within the first couple of weeks X: A Collection of Horror was on sale, I managed to secure publicity interviews with:

Zombie Girl Shambling:

http://zombiegirlshambling.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/x-collection-of-horror.html

Daily bookworm:

http://thedailybookworm.com/christian-saunders-interview/

Gingernuts of Horror:

http://gingernutsofhorror.com/5/post/2014/03/horror-author-interview-cm-saunders.html

None of the above are massive sites, but every bit of exposure helps build your platform, increase your profile, and boost your internet search rank.

My first indie offering, X: A Collection of Horror, is out now:

amazon.com/dp/B00IGHTFC8 

Adventures in Indie Publishing: Part 3, focusing on promotion and social networking can be found here:

https://cmsaunders.wordpress.com/2014/05/25/adventures-in-independent-publishing-part-3/

Part 2, covering advice on editing, cover art and priming the market, can be found here:

https://cmsaunders.wordpress.com/2014/04/20/adventures-in-independent-publishing-part-2/

Part 1, featuring an overview of the industry and an introduction to Kindle Direct Publishing, can be found here:

https://cmsaunders.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/adventures-in-independent-publishing-part-1/


Modern Publishing

books460

I’ve kicked around the publishing game for a while. In the past decade I’ve had two books published by traditional publishers, and four by digital publishers. On the flip side, I’ve collected more rejections than I can count. I’ve experienced the high’s and the low’s, and now I’m going to share with you some of what I’ve learned…

First of all, the phrase ‘traditional publisher’ is a misnomer. There is nothing traditional about publishing in the current climate. Now the term implies a publishing house which is a bit long in the tooth, maybe a little bit resistant to change. Traditional. Like antique furniture. They publish paperbacks, maybe even hardbacks, but have a very basic website and minimal internet visibility. They probably advertise in the classified section of the local paper, if they still advertise at all.

On the other hand, digital publishers specialize in, surprise, surprise, digital e-books for computers and reading devices. Even phones. Some digital publishers do distribute actual, physical copies of books. These tend to be Print on Demand (POD) and are so expensive, hardly anyone buys them.

The tricky part is the huge grey area between trad and digi publishers. This is filled in part by vanity publishers. They are a different proposition entirely, and one to be avoided. If anyone tries charging the writer money for any ‘service’ at any stage of the publishing process, they can safely be considered a vanity publisher of some description. Under no circumstances should the writer pay the publisher. It should be the other way around. They might tell you they like your book, that it will sell by the truck load, that you should pay them X amount of money to produce X amount of copies, and pay them RIGHT NOW to take advantage of this special limited offer they have going on. After you have paid for the cover design and editing, of course. If you are foolish enough to go through the process and pay the fees, you will end up with a room full of books you then have to sell on your own just to recoup some of your outgoings, which is virtually impossible.

Digital publishing houses (I use that term very loosely) hand out contracts like confetti at a wedding. Some even publish via Smashwords or KDP, something the writer can easily do themselves. Most ‘name’ authors are contracted to one of the larger publishing houses, who are very selective about who they take on. They are generally unwilling to take a punt on a ‘new’ author purely due to the costs involved, and because they have so few books to promote, they can afford the necessary investment and the books sell. Some sell very well.

But it seems the lower down the chain you go, the less selective the publisher becomes. The result is that smaller publishers often have dozens or hundreds of authors tied to contracts with dozens or hundreds of books to promote simultaneously. It’s the scattergun approach. Instead of having a hundred authors each selling a thousand copies of their book, they have a thousand authors each selling a hundred. Of course, with so many authors and books to promote, and with less staff and a smaller marketing budget, the publisher can’t actually do much actual promotion. If any. That is left to you, the writer. Right across the board, publishers now seem to be doing less and less marketing. Instead, they lean on the authors to generate sales. This strikes me as lazy, exploitative, and a bit tyrannical. In theory, the system works; get loads of people to write books then sell them on your behalf, handing you a hefty slice of the profit.

ipad-magazines

But in practice, it just doesn’t add up, and here’s why – most of their ‘clients’ are new authors who have no existing platform, and very little experience of marketing. That’s where it all breaks down. Being semi-pro at best, the vast majority juggle real-world jobs and responsibilities and have very little time to do any book promotion, or even learn how to do it. Nobody ever sits you down and tells you what to do. You are expected to just know how to market yourself. Even if you DO know what to do, securing reviews, doing interviews, blog tours, book signings, giveaways, competitions and the like, even utilizing social media, all takes time. Time that most writers would rather spend writing.

Now, if they are doing all the promo and marketing themselves, any author worth his salt has to ask what the publisher actually does to justify the percentage they demand from the writer’s sales (usually 40-50%). In most cases, they pay an in-house designer $30 to knock up a cover, do a rough edit of your book, then bung it on the internet and hope for the best. When the money doesn’t start rolling in, they send out abrupt emails to their writers asking what promotion they are doing. Which, of course, is code for, ‘I’m not making enough money from you. Make me more money!’

I had such an email from a publisher recently, and after explaining in detail what book promo I was doing/had done, I felt compelled to sign off the email with, “Now tell me, what promo YOU are doing?”

Of course, the publisher didn’t reply.

At times it feels like I’m doing all the work, and giving away a large proportion of my (very minimal) profit in exchange for little or no service. Not any more. I’ve had enough. I’m going solo. It’s the indie life for me. For fiction, anyway. Non-fiction is a little bit different. That way I can write what I want without editorial interference, set my own prices, and keep track of where the money goes. Who even needs publishers these days?

Get ready for X.

@CMSaunders01

The original version of this post first appeared on:

http://www.deadpixelpublications.com/

Copyright remains with the author.


%d bloggers like this: