Tag Archives: Money

It’s Not Indie VS. Traditional, It’s Indie AND Traditional

As fiction writers, we live in an exciting era right now due to the new distribution opportunities available through Kindle, PubIt, and Smashwords. But to hear some writers talk, it’s Indie vs. Traditional, and one has to choose sides.

Well, a lot of neo-pros and old (20+ years) pros I’ve been talking to are excited about being able to do both indie publishing and traditional publishing at the same time.  Having more revenue streams as a writer makes it easier to pay the bills each month. And as long as one is careful about reading and negotiating away any excessively broad non-compete clauses in a traditional publishing book contract, doing so should not be a big deal.

Short stories still need to go to traditional markets first if you want to sell them to a place like The New Yorker.  But if you write a novelette or novella that can’t find a traditional home, it is now possible to indie publish it instead of just letting it sit around unpublished. And once the exclusive time frame on a traditionally published story expires (and if you didn’t sign an all rights contract), you can republish it as an indie reprint to generate more income.

But one thing I want to emphasize is the importance of thinking twice before giving away a royalty cut to an e-packager for an indie story.  Dean Wesley Smith and J. A. Konrath and Barry Eisler debate the pros and cons at length in a post put up today.

We’re all in for a wild run over the next few years in publishing. Since I used to work in the software industry–which makes publishing look glacial by comparison–I confess I’ve welcomed the publishing technology breakthroughs that are bringing on a faster business pace.

The Borders Bankruptcy Number Crunching

C. E. Petit is crunching the numbers over at his website right now about the Borders bankruptcy and how it may impact publishers as creditors in the Chapter 11 proceedings.  Go read his posts from yesterday (Feb. 20) and today, great stuff.

This is a wise time to learn about the financial health of any publisher you have contracts for novels with that are still in print, or if you are planning to sign a contract in the near future with a publisher.

If the publisher is part of a publicly traded conglomerate on the stock exchange (and you know the name or ticker symbol) you can easily look at the SEC filings at 
http://www.sec.gov/edgar/searchedgar/webusers.htm
The quarterly (10-Q) and annual filing with the SEC is where the good stuff can be found, like how much cash they have on hand (Cash and Cash Reserves), cash flow, and their debts. You’ll want to take your time and read back as far as the database will allow you to get a good feel for what is going on in a particular company.

As for private publishing companies, if your library has access to Hoover’s (http://www.hoovers.com/), you might be able to get some info on their finances from there.

Also, another resource to turn to for help in doing financial research on a publishing company is your nearest Reference Librarian. Librarians are a wonderful resource for this sort of research.

The insanity of the “I just wanna write fiction AND get published” mindset

I have no problem with someone saying, “I just wanna write.”   Creating art for art’s sake is a wonderful thing to do.

What drives me nuts is when someone says “I just wanna write fiction AND get published.”  That’s just crazy.  Because publishing is a business, and if someone wants to play the publishing business game, they’d better learn the rules of the business.  Otherwise, just slap a “I’LL BE IN TROUBLE” label on their back and be done with it.  Because one of the following WILL happen (let’s alternate between genders):

1) The writer will fall prey financially to a scam agent, a scam editor, scam contests, or scam publisher because she couldn’t be bothered to learn the business.  Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars will disappear into the black hole of scams.

2) The writer will be gouged in pricing by a subsidy or vanity press because he couldn’t be bothered to research actual publishing costs and methods.  Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars will be lost.

3) The writer will run into legal problems because she couldn’t be bothered to learn about publishing contracts so she could understand what she was signing.   If she’s really unlucky, she could find herself stuck in court for years.

3) The writer will be taken by surprise when his publisher goes out of business, sticking his books with that publisher in bankruptcy limbo.  He couldn’t be bothered to keep track of the financial health of his publisher.

4) The writer will be in financial trouble when she discovers her agent or publisher has been cooking the books.  She couldn’t be bothered to learn how to read a royalty statement, add important clauses to her publishing contracts to protect her interests, or how to track her own money.

5) The writer will run into serious career trouble when his agent dies, gets sick, dumps him, or leaves agenting as a career.  He couldn’t be bothered to learn the business of how to sell manuscripts to editors.

6) The writer will be surprised when her publisher drops her, because she couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to the print run numbers.

7) The writer will run into cash flow problems, because he couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to the out-of-print, e-book royalty rates, subsidiary rights, and reversion rights clauses in his contracts.

One thing I’ve noticed again and again at conferences is that the fiction writers I’ve met who’ve survived in the publishing business for 15+ years pay attention to the business side of publishing.  A writer can get away with ignoring the business side (if she or he is lucky) for maybe 7-12 years.  But statistically speaking, sooner or later a rough patch will happen, and the writers who survive to publish again are those who pay attention to the business side.

The Unpredictability of Book Sales

While browsing at a bookstore on Sunday, I found a copy of Audrey Niffenegger’s HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY shoved carelessly between two picture books in the children’s section.   The sight of it got me thinking about how unpredictable book sales can be.

Just this past March, Niffenegger got an advance of $5 million for HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY (here’s the New York Times article on the sale).   Then I saw an article in late October by Kate Ward in Entertainment Weekly about “Bookselling Blues.” Here’s the quote:

Some books are outright flops, not to put too fine a point on it. Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger’s follow-up to The Time Traveler‘s Wife, has sold only 38,823 copies; the new Mitch Albom book, Have a Little Faith, is at 148,974 copies. But despite numbers like these, the industry remains hopeful.

We won’t know until late January and February how book sales did this holiday season.  Sometimes a book starts off slow, then builds momentum, so perhaps HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY will follow that path.   I’ll be checking out the sales numbers for 2009 to find out how various big-name authors did.  How much effect will the recession have?

But it’s always disconcerting to realize that one can get a huge advance, such as the $8 million Charles Frazier got for his second novel, and then have the book do poorly in sales despite having a large marketing budget from a NYC publisher.  Sure, the money is nice (needs to be carefully invested though), but having a book undersell is no fun, especially when it’s time to try and sell the next manuscript.  These days bad Bookscan numbers follow an author around like a bad credit rating.

Make Goals and Take Action in 2010

Before we know it, 2010 is going to be upon us.   So I want to devote this post to encouraging people to take time over the next three weeks of December to dream about what they want, and then come up with a detailed action plan of how to get there.

I’ve noticed it’s the action part that often trips us up in pursuit of our goals.  Action plans tend to get left out when New Year’s resolutions get made.  Which is a shame, since we’re capable of more than we realize once we know what we should be doing.

I’m going to provide an example of the 5-year goal & action exercise.  Both BOOKLIFE by Jeff VanderMeer and HOW TO GET OUT OF DEBT by Jerrold Mundis have this particular exercise in their books.  Mundis’ book also has many other planning exercises readers can try 0ut as well.

Step 1: Spend quiet time thinking about what you’d like to be doing and how you’d like to be 5 years from now.  Write everything down on a piece of paper.  Then go back to your list, and try to be specific if you can (for example, “be an author” is a bit vague, while “publish 2 novels and 10 short stories” is more specific).  Goals are like a seesaw in trying to keep away from vagueness (i.e. “be happy”) versus unrealistic specifics (i.e. “marry Alan Rickman by 2012”).

A real Step 1 goal I had a few years ago:  Completely pay off all the credit cards in five years.

Step 2: Choose the three to five goals dearest to your heart.   Now come up for each of them a subgoal that is doable in one year.

Step 2 example:  1) Learn how to deal with debt, 2) track my finances, and 3) stop the credit card balances from increasing.

Step 3: Now ask for each 1-year goal, “What actions can I take this year that will bring me closer to my goal?

Step 3 example:  1) Find and read best books on debt and how to get out of it, 2) lock credit cards away, 3) learn how to do budgets, 4) do budgets each month, 5) brainstorm ways to save money and earn more money.

Step 4: Now ask, “What can I do this month towards my 1-year goals?”

Step 4 example:  1) Find and read best books on debt, 2) lock credit cards away.

Step 5: Now ask, “What can I do this week towards my 1-year goals?”

Step 5 example:  1) Research books on debt at the library, and 2) lock credit cards away.

Actions are cumulative, like pebbles rolling down a stone-strewn mountain to trigger a landslide.  Each small action I took to get the credit cards paid off had cumulative effects over time.  I learned how to control my credit card usage.  Created spending plans and spreadsheets that tracked how I spent money in about 25 different categories.  And had to make many other small changes in my behavior.

It never ceases to amaze me how tiny actions taken on a daily basis can lead to big changes in a few years.  I encourage readers to give this method a try and let me know in December 2010 how it went.  Good luck!