I want to thank my good friend, David Coe, for such a warm welcome to Magical Words and for the privilege of joining all of you for every other Quick Tip Tuesday. I met David several years ago at DragonCon shortly after my first novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, had been published. David is very kind and he has always been exceedingly generous with his time in answering all of my “newbie” questions.
Even with three published novels, a fourth one being released in March, stories in four anthologies, and three new books under contract for this year, I still learn something new about this business every day, I still feel like “a newbie.”
In terms of the experience I bring to the table, I was a freelance writer and editor for 11 years and wrote for a number of local, state, national and international publications, including Starlog Magazine. In 2006, I was the Grand prize winner of the Star Trek Strange New Worlds contest and had my short story published in the ninth edition of that anthology. I sold Six-Gun Tarot without an agent to Tor Books after pitching the idea to one of their editors at a convention.
I’ve spoken on writing and the process of getting published at numerous conferences and conventions and I’d like to add to all of that a reminder that I discover something I didn’t know about writing and the business of writing every single day. So, please take my advice and musings with a big grain of salt. Your mileage may vary.
With all of that out of the way, I am going to start out with a quick tip, one which I think all the other tools of the discipline of writing can build upon. Can you shovel snow?
We got hit here in Virginia with what many of the locals are calling a “snowpocalypse” a few weeks back. Here in the balmy south, we got hit with about a foot and a half of snow. Once the snow stopped, long after the grocery stores were laid bare of bread, milk, and toilet paper, I decided to shovel us a path out to the main road, which had been plowed clear.
Now, it wasn’t a huge distance to cover, but I had only a trench shovel to use, and I am pushing fifty these days. The fella who used to run two miles a day, lift weights, and was a boxer, well, I haven’t seen him much in the last few years, or pounds. So off I went to blaze a trail to freedom for our car.
I huffed, I puffed, I nearly blew myself down. I stopped a few times to catch my breath, and as the sun dipped and sky got darker, I considered calling it a day and picking up again tomorrow. Inside was warmth and snacks and eight billion cable channels. That was when I realized what I was going to write about in this first post. I kept at the snow, shoveling it a foot at a time, visualizing the path meeting the open road. I shoveled and I shoveled, and I shoveled, and in the end, the path was clear and our car was free. I looked upon my work and it was mighty, indeed!
The most important tip about writing is to never, ever, ever give up on it. A hundred rejection letters, three jobs to pay the bills, doing the laundry, getting the kids to bed, and a million, billion other reasons to stop, to quit shoveling. None of them can stop you. A professional writer must be as stubborn, as determined, as undaunted as a distance runner, as a prize fighter. You must take all the reasons to stop and shake them off and keep going, keep visualizing what you are creating, see the road ahead, and reach it.
That, in my opinion, and in my experience, is the most valuable talent a professional writer can have, the power to keep going when everything in you and around you is screaming to stop. Keep shoveling.
Often times, if it’s a first draft, you may be shoveling something smellier than snow, but that’s a tip for another day.
Thanks for taking the time to read me, and if you have any questions you’d like me to address in Quick Tip Tuesday, please feel free to send them along to me at email@example.com I’ll be happy to do my best to answer you. It’s nice to meet you.
R.S. (Rod) Belcher is an award-winning newspaper and magazine editor and reporter.
Rod has been a private investigator, a DJ, a comic book store owner and has degrees in criminal law, psychology and justice and risk administration, from Virginia Commonwealth University. He’s done Masters work in Forensic Science at The George Washington University and worked with the Occult Crime Taskforce for the Virginia General Assembly.
The Grand Prize winner of the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Anthology contest, Rod’s short story “Orphans” was published in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 9 published by Simon and Schuster in 2006. It was his first professional fiction sale.
Rod’s first novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, was published by Tor Books in 2013. The sequel, The Shotgun Arcana, was published in 2014 and the third book in the Golgotha series—The Queen of Swords is currently in production. His novel, Nightwise, was released in August 2015, and his latest book, The Brotherhood of the Wheel will be published by Tor in March of 2016. Sequels to both books are forthcoming.
He lives in Roanoke Virginia with his children, Jonathan and Emily.
Contact Rod at:
Facebook: Author RS Belcher
Last month, I talked a bit about the changes present and coming to the publishing industry: the way that mass market paperbacks (the small paperbacks) are slipping away; the way that publishing houses are moving to Trade (the large paperbacks), Hard cover, and E-books; the way that bookstores are going to buy and stock fewer books altogether. A LOT less books; the way that the decreasing amount of shelf space for new books in stores will change the publishing marketplace. Worse – the way that, with fewer large pubs, there will be fewer numbers of writers published. Worst — the way that those fewer numbers of books in houses and on bookshelves means fewer editorial staff kept on hand, fewer PR staff, and all this means more adjustments for unpublished and midlist writers.
These changes have already resulted in a huge transformation in the way readers shop for books, and the way writers will be paid for books. It is also changing the effect of small presses on the readership of the US. And it is driving many more writers to self-publishing. I talked about all that.
Now I want to say that all these changes are placing opportunity in our hands. Yes. Our hands. The hands of the writer. I am not complaining about anything. I am simply seeing what is heading down the highway toward us, and taking a good long look at the publishing realities of the present and near future.
Change is always difficult. Change is another word for stress, even if the stress is good stress. It is enough to make us depressed. It can be enough to make us want to stop writing, or, it will drive us to look for innovative and smart ways to market ourselves and our work.
I have talked to David B Coe and John Hartness about the changing world of publishing and books, and the way that the evolving marketplace is both a help and a hindrance to writers. Being honest here. I have maybe ten more years of good writing in me. I will want to retire at some point and sit on my laurels and maybe take a pottery class or something. And maybe edit books. And only write a book every now and then. In ten years the marketplace may be quite different, and for the younger writers among us, that means keeping abreast of the changes and keeping one foot in several open doors.
Let me address the emotionally charged part of the issue of change. For those who feel the desire to quit, I say this. If writers quit, if we give in to despair, the US literacy rate will bottom out so fast it will feel like a bomb exploding on the Interstate. Pieces everywhere and nothing left but destruction and emptiness. More movies with dreadful dialogue. More TV that sucks. More action flicks with lots of stunts but no story. Fewer and fewer well-edited books… Just more and more of us putting out unedited edging-toward-crapola stories with no idea how to get readership. More and more of us turning to teaching and editing and falling out of the writing marketplace altogether.
We owe it to the future of the country to keep creating good work, to find ways of getting edited (and not by our mothers or English teachers, but edited by *real*developmental editors). We owe it to our readers, whether they be few or many. And we owe it to ourselves to keep writing. To keep finding ways to b published.
Somehow, we have to keep an industry of writing alive. How do we do that? Because really, folks, it’s up to us. It affects all of us. The future is hanging there, in front of us like a rotten apple. Or like a gem waiting for polishing.
In my opinion, all these changes mean three things.
- Creating, developing, and supporting small presses.
- Hiring real editors for our self-pubbed books.
- Finding new ways to cross pollinate the readership.
Next time, I’ll talk about the small press.
PS — Obligatory mention that BLOOD IN HER VEINS is out tomorrow.
Faith’s bio and social media:
BIO — Faith Hunter, fantasy writer, was born in Louisiana and raised all over the south. She writes three Urban Fantasy series: the Skinwalker series, featuring Jane Yellowrock, a Cherokee skinwalker who hunts rogue vampires. The Soulwood series, featuring earth magic user Nell Ingram. And the Rogue Mage novels, a dark, urban, post-apocalyptic, fantasy series featuring Thorn St. Croix, a stone mage. The role playing game based on the series, ROGUE MAGE, RPG.
Don’t forget SHADOW RITES, book 10 in the Jane Yellowrock series, out in April 2016. Pre-order now!
BLOOD IN HER VEINS – the (19) collected short stories and novellas of the Jane Yellowrock World. Out in Feb. 2016.
I’m very happy to announce that I will be joined on Quick-Tip Tuesdays by award-winning, critically acclaimed author Rod Belcher.
Rod is not only a good friend, he’s also a great guy and a phenomenal writer who has made guest appearances here before. Author of The Six-Gun Tarot, The Shotgun Arcana, Nightwise, and his latest, The Brotherhood of the Wheel, Rod has a lot to offer to the MW community. He’ll be starting this Tuesday, and then he and I will be alternating week to week.
I hope you’ll give him a warm welcome.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend!
As I mentioned last time, I’m working on publishing my first self-pubbed book (I was going to write self-pubbed publication–I need caffeine, obviously). I’ve wanted to publish something myself for some time, but I’ve had no time to write outside of my contracts for . . . well, a long time. Luckily, my contracts allow for me to publish independently. But that’s more of a business topic for later, or better yet, our intrepid Money Mondays duo might take it up for me. Hey Faith and John! 😀
All right, so I wanted to self-pub. You might as why. Go ahead. Ask. Well, I’ll tell you. There are several reasons. The obvious one is that I’d make a lot more money per sale doing it myself than going through a publisher. Always a nice thing. Plus the money comes in more frequently, which is to say, every month rather than every six months with a months-long lag after the end of the royalty period. But that isn’t the only reason. In fact, it isn’t necessarily the primary reason. When you have absolute control over a work, there are things you can do that you otherwise might not be able to.
- you can write the length required and not to contract terms. So if it’s very short or very long, you’re allowed.
- you can write what you want without concern about market trends or editor tastes. Yeah, it might flop, but you still were able to at least try. That’s a lot.
- when you can write whatever you want, you have joy. Joy is good on a lot of levels, but it tends to make your writing better.
- no deadlines. Nuff said there.
- You choose the cover.
- making more money.
- being able to give away copies in exchange for things, such as newsletter signups (newsletters are very important–those are your readers, so being able to talk directly to them is HUGE). You sometimes need to bribe them with things to get them to sign up.
- being able to change prices, covers, or anything else about the work at will–so if a cover isn’t working, you can try another. If something in the text stops working for you, change it.
- You can do ads in places like Bookbub. Bookbub has long been a source of great advertising for indie writers (though it’s growing less effective with time.) They have very specific requirements to run an ad, which publishers are sometimes unwilling to do. Not to mention that publishers might not be willing to foot the bill for an ad (you will have to do it, but usually your Return on Investment (ROI) is worth it).
- You choose the cover (I know, this is above, but now I’m looking at it from a marketing perspective–I’ll be talking in more depth about this next month). Covers are the first thing readers see and they do judge books by their covers. If it doesn’t look like what they want, they won’t grab it. They won’t even look at the blurb. Having control of the cover means you get to figure out how you want it to look, and also you can change it if it bombs. You can also update covers that have become dated to make them feel fresh and new.
- Because you have control, you can use it to leverage publicity on your backlist
There are other considerations here, but it comes down to control. You get to be in control of every single facet. If you don’t like it, you don’t do it. The flip side of that is if it flops, it’s all on you, which can be demoralizing. Or it could just be a lesson and move along, don’t make that mistake again. I prefer the latter.
A couple of years ago I was going through a difficult writing period. My son had been sick for months and I couldn’t seem to find my creative flow. I eked out words, but it felt painful most of the time. That’s when I attended my first Rainforest Writers Village (how I love this writing retreat!) I decided that the goal for me in those five days where I would be away from phone, internet, family, and all obligations, would be to try to find my joy again. I’d had this one idea kicking around my head for awhile, so I decided to just write on it. It wasn’t part of my contract, but since I wasn’t stealing a lot of time from the contracted book, I decided not to feel guilty.
It was exactly what I needed. I had a ton of fun. I’d thought it was going to be a 20K novella, but it wasn’t, so I knew I wasn’t close to finishing it. At that point, back home and in the land of obligations, I pretty much put it down and kept writing my other things and dealing with the boy’s illness and life and such. By the time the next Rainforest rolled around, I was in worst creative straits than previously. My son was much worse and no diagnosis in sight. To say my stress was high would be an understatement. Once again, I came to Rainforest to search for joy. I started by writing a short story that I owed an anthology–called “Grasping Rainbows” and published in the Weird Wild West antho, edited in part by our own Misty Massey.
After I committed those words, I returned to the last year’s writing and wrote forward. Still didn’t finish, but I’d made more headway and it was fun. Back home, back to the grind, no changes. Then, finally, came a light at the end of the tunnel with my son’s illness. I had turned in manuscripts and I felt an urge to finish this thing, whatever it was (the working title was The Ghost Job), and so I took about a week or so to push through to the end.
So that’s the history of how it came to be. But when it came to self-pubbing, I had no idea what I was doing. Luckily there are a lot of other writers who do and are kind enough to offer advice, not to mention many resources on the web.
From what I could tell, I needed to accomplish the following steps, not necessarily in this order:
- get the book beta-read and edited (I did this in two stages to really get the feedback I wanted)
- copy edits
- design a cover
- get an ISBN (or 2 if I do a print edition)
- get copyright
- convert to epub and mobi
- upload to all the major platforms
- open accounts to all major platforms
- write back cover copy
- come up with a tagline
- write back of the book copy–like links and such to other works/website/newsletter
- figure out how to do print layout, or find someone who can
- figure out what POD service to use and figure out how to use their service
- decide on a release date (and you have to hit that date)
- publicity (getting review copies out in time for your release can be very tricky)
- update website
I’m sure I’ve left some steps out, but you’re getting the picture. It can be a little bit complicated, especially your first time around. Next post I make, I’ll talk about going through these steps and some of the things I’ve learned. I definitely have hired out some steps. There was no way I was going to overcome my huge learning curve, and there were things that were cheaper to me if I paid for them, than if I tried to do them myself. I want to turn out a polished, professional product, and that takes seed money.
I’ve just started teaching an online course with the Odyssey writing program, and it should surprise no one here that the course is on “Point of View: The Intersection of Character and Plot.” As most of you know, point of view is kind of an obsession for me. I think it lies at the heart of all storytelling. You can do a Magical Words search of “Coe, point of view,” and you’ll get enough hits to keep you reading for hours . . .
In talking about point of view, I also can’t help but talk about character and the process I use to develop the characters I use, primary and secondary, in my own work.
One of the things I like to do when coming up with a character’s history and/or life circumstances, is give that person a secret of some sort. Any secret at all will do. It can be big. Huge. All encompassing. For instance, Jane Yellowrock, the heroine of Faith’s New York Times Bestselling series is a Cherokee skinwalker who shares her soul with that of a mountain lion named Beast. That’s a pretty big secret. It lies at the heart of everything she does and experiences.
Justis Fearsson, the hero of the contemporary urban fantasy series I’m writing for Baen Books, is a weremyste. He goes insane every month on the full moon, and those moon phasings are slowly driving him permanently insane. That’s a pretty big secret, too.
Characters can have much smaller secrets than that. Harry Potter has an invisibility cloak. That’s a secret. It’s a different kind of secret, but it is one, nevertheless. It’s not earth-shattering, but having that cloak is pretty handy, and it certainly makes possible many of the plot twists that give the Harry Potter books such sparkle. Katniss Everdeen and her friend Gale go hunting in the forests around her home in District 12, even though doing so is illegal. Again, this is not an enormous secret, but it plays a role at key moments in the narrative.
Lots of characters you know have secrets. But why are these hidden elements of their lives important?
Giving secrets to our characters sets up plot points for our stories. But secrets do more than that. They add dimension and richness to our characters. Those secrets become the source of our characters’ vulnerabilities, and often their strengths as well. They get in the way of relationships; or they enhance them. They can put the lives of our characters in danger; and they can enable our characters to escape those perils.
Secrets also make our characters more relatable for our reading audience. No, I’m not suggesting that our readers are skinwalkers or weremystes, or that they own invisibility cloaks. But all of us have secrets, some large, some small, some dark, some embarrassing, some positive but not yet ready for sharing. We want our readers to feel a kinship to our characters on as many levels as possible. Hiding things in our characters’ pasts can give our readers one more connection to them.
So if you’re starting something new and are looking for a way to make your character more interesting for your reader and a better vehicle for your storytelling, consider giving her or him a secret. Or if you’re already in the middle of a project and you feel like it’s missing something — energy, suspense, intrigue — plant a secret in the backstory of your protagonist and see what happens. You might just find that it’s the story element you’ve been looking for.
So I’m going to jump around a lot, topic-wise. It’s kind of what I do, and I typically write these posts on Monday morning before my Adderall kicks in. or Sunday nights after it’s worn off, and this week it’s definitely a weary Monday morning because it was hard getting to sleep last night after the excitement of watching my Carolina Panthers beat the Arizona Cardinals like they owed us money.
So the Panthers are going to the Super Bowl, and I’m currently waiting for the drugs and the caffeine to kick in, so you get some unexpurgated Hartness with your morning coffee.
Today we’re going to talk about one of my favorite and most hated things in the free world – hand-selling books to fans. I love it because I get to interact with fans, I get to work on creating new fans, and I get to feel a little like a rock star when I autograph my books for people. Don’t lie, you feel it too, and you like it. I’ve seen you. And seriously, I’m way too old to use what limited notoriety I have in the world to chase women, plus Suzy would kill me, so allow me my small, harmless Mick Jagger fantasies.
And now I’m depressed about David Bowie again. Poop. I’ll go on Youtube and watch Labyrinth clips later. That always works.
Anyway (I mentioned that I was going to jump around a lot, right? You still with me? You might want more coffee? Yes, this is what it’s like inside my head. All. The. Time. That’s why I’m on drugs, kids.), let’s talk about hand-selling books. I want to dispel a few myths, clear up a few clerical errors that many authors make (myself included when I choose to), and talk frankly about whether or not having a print presence is worth it for a small press or self-published author.
Note – at no point will I talk about what an author with a NY contract from a Big 5 publisher, or even a top-tier mid-level press, should do. I haven’t had a contract with those folks, and I would be making crap up if I tried to speak to that world. That said, plenty of this stuff translates, so pick up the pieces that work for your situation.
MYTH #1 – The books writers sell at conventions are free
I don’t know that anyone actually believes this, but there are plenty of people who act like the books are free, asking for steep discounts or free copies for whatever reason. Look, I provide bundles for multiple purchases at my table, because I know if you buy Book 1 and wander off, you’re not coming back for a year or more to get Book 2. But if I get you to buy Books 1-5 at a discount, then you have the whole series, and I KNOW you’ll be back soon for the new book. But those books cost me money. Typically I pay 40-50% off cover price for the books on my table, plus shipping. So it’s more like 30-40% off, depending on shipping speed.
So each dollar that I cut off the price of a book is a dollar out of my pocket. And I don’t make that many dollars on the book to start with.
The Black Knight Chronicles Omnibus (Collects Books 1-3) Has a retail price of $22.95. I pay $13.77 per copy, with a landed cost (book + shipping) of about $15. Books 4 & 5 retail for $12.95 and have a landed cost of about $8.50.
Retail price on the 5-Book Bundle is $48.85, or a little less than $10/book. I’m an unknown, and I’m selling a more expensive trade paperback product, so I discount the bundle to $40 (two bills is also a psychologically better purchase point than three bills, or at least that’s what I’ve heard anecdotally).
At $40, I make about $8 profit on the five book bundle.
An average three-day convention, with shared hotel and transportation, costs me a minimum of $250. To cover that, I need to sell 30 sets of all five Black Knight Chronicles, and I’m still a few bucks short. And that’s if my table is free, and I can find a roommate, and someone to ride share with.
At full retail, I make about $16 profit on the five book bundle, cutting my number sold to sixteen to cover costs.
Discounts come straight out of profits, so make sure that the discount you’re giving is getting you enough additional sales to make it worth it.
After running these numbers, I’ll be playing around with a $45 bundle this year, to see if I can maintain the gross sales numbers and increase the profitability.
MYTH #2 – You made money at that convention
I talk to a lot of my peers about whether or not a convention is “worth it,” and that’s a topic that we’ll certainly get into in more depth later, but one thing that always comes up is whether or not we “made money.” I put that in quotes because if we were to be honest, the answer would almost always be “no.” The question isn’t really whether or not we made money, it’s whether or not what we spent in attending the con is a reasonable marketing outlay for the month.
But the “making money” myth – some people think that because they made (gross) more than their table rental fee, that they made money. Not even close.
- Profit is not calculated off of gross revenue. If I sell ten Black Knight Bundles at $40, I did not make $400 that weekend in profit. In purely net profit (sale price – cost of goods sold) I made $80.
- The cost of your table rental (And really, try to negotiate that fee down to nothing or next to nothing, especially if you’re providing programming to the convention. I do very few conventions anymore that can’t give me a free table. It’s just one of my requirements. Obviously the bigger conventions don’t apply, but the small ones, come on, help a brother out.) is not anywhere close to your entire cost for the convention, and all costs should be figured in when looking at whether or not a con is profitable. In 2015, I sold books at 9 conventions. I sold a little over $3,200 in books across these shows. I made, after expenses, -$330.00 across all nine shows. and that’s with five of nine shows being local to Charlotte. If we take out the Charlotte Comicon, a great little one-day show, I lost $469 over the course of the year.
So if selling books at conventions doesn’t make money, why do it? Well, it does make money. Last year it made me $3,200, which helped to offset the expenses of a lot of conventions. And that left me with a reasonable marketing expense for the other $330. If I had sold nothing, I would have spent several thousand dollars on convention travel, and that’s more marketing money than I can afford.
So there’s a pile of data on the what, and a little bit on the why, in a couple weeks I’ll be back and we’ll talk about the HOW to sell books at conventions, because there are a lot of tips and tricks, and I’ll call out some of my friends for their poor book-selling behaviors. And you know you love to see me raise some rabble.
Until then, Read Recklessly, and go buy my $(!&.
John G. Hartness is a teller of tales, a righter of wrong, defender of ladies’ virtues, and some people call him Maurice, for he speaks of the pompatus of love. He is also the best-selling author of EPIC-Award-winning series The Black Knight Chronicles from Bell Bridge Books, a comedic urban fantasy series that answers the eternal question “Why aren’t there more fat vampires?”
John is the author of the Bubba the Monster Hunter series of short stories and novellas, the Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter novella series, and the creator and co-editor of the Big Bad anthology series, among other projects.
In 2016, John teamed up with a pair of other publishing industry ne’er-do-wells and founded Falstaff Media, a publishing conglomerate dedicated to pushing the boundaries of literature and entertainment.