Showing posts with label business of writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label business of writing. Show all posts

You Get One Debut... But That's Not All You Get

My friend and former query twin* Krista Van Dolzer wrote this excellent post for authors trying to get published.
There have been a few exceptions...but for the most part, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Stated another way, you can only be a variable when you're actually a variable. If you don't have a sales record, publishers have to rely on a set of complicated formulas--and possibly their tea leaves--to determine how much your book is worth...

But once you have a sales record, it will follow you around for the rest of your career. Publishers no longer have to guess how much your books are worth; your sales figures will tell them.
Her point (which I totally agree with) is that you should be careful how you debut and whom you debut with. Don't jump at the first small press or self-publishing option you get without really thinking about it. People generally put more value in unknown potential than they do in someone who has a record we can look at. Publishers and the reading market are not immune to this. (This has recently become an additional reason for me not to jump onto Kickstarter with my beloved-but-rejected novels. Not yet, anyway.)

However, I would submit that you're more likely to write a bestseller in your 3rd or 4th or 10th book than you are in your first. I'm basing this on the fact that many of the bestselling novels I know and love were not debut novels:
  • Orson Scott Card. Best known for Ender's Game (1985). It was his 8th published novel.
  • Suzanne Collins. Best known for Hunger Games (2008). It was her 8th published novel.
  • Scott Westerfeld. Best known for Uglies (2005) and Leviathan (2009). Uglies was his 8th published novel (dang, a trend!).
  • Brandon Sanderson. Best known for Mistborn (2006) and his contributions to the Wheel of Time series (2009+). Mistborn was his 2nd published novel.
  • Neil Gaiman. Best known for Sandman (1989+), Neverwhere (1996) and a bunch of other stuff. But his first published novel was co-written in 1990 and he'd been writing graphic novels since 1987.
  • Chuck Palahniuk. Best known for Fight Club (1996). This actually was his first novel, but according to Chuck it "was a huge failure" and the film (released three years later) "was a flop."
Of course we know plenty of debut success stories: J.K. Rowling, Pat Rothfuss, Kiersten White, Stephanie Meyer. But I hypothesize that they are the exceptions. (I admit I could be totally wrong about this, of course. I would love to see some data on this :-). Most of the big authors I've seen have worked and failed** and worked hard again until FINALLY they had something that hit that elusive golden snitch of a nerve that every publisher is looking for.

My point is that, yes, your debut is something special that you should take care of. Don't squander it the first chance you get. BUT if selling stories is something you really want, don't stop writing. Ever. No matter how you debut, no matter what publishers or the market thinks of you, there will always be a way for you to get new words to your readers. There will always be a chance that the next thing you write could be The One.

Statistically, the more you write, the better that chance gets.

---------------------------------------------------
* Krista and I were on surprisingly parallel querying-agent-submission paths for about a year or two, before she got a book deal and I got a job.

** Maybe not "failed" so much as "didn't hit it ridiculously big."

So You Launched a Kickstarter Campaign


ARE YOU CRAZY? WHAT DID YOU DO THAT FOR?!

Kidding.

So, you know you're ready for Kickstarter, and you've put your entire pitch together. What can you expect from the campaign itself?

THE LIFE OF A KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN
Most Kickstarter campaigns follow the same general trend:
  1. A large amount of pledges on the first day.
  2. A quick drop-off of pledges over the next couple of days.
  3. A long "lull" where the amount of pledges per day is about the same.
  4. A spike of incoming pledges on the last two or three days.
From this, I can tell you a few things.

First, don't freak out during the lull. It's perfectly normal, and there's nothing you can do about it (almost nothing; see below). Instead, interact with your backers and continue your non-spammy publicity (again, see below).

Make the first day of your campaign count. A lot of projects, even major ones asking for millions of dollars, like to throw their project up one day and surprise everybody. Mostly, this doesn't go like everybody thinks it will.

A better idea is to float the idea of a Kickstarter to your existing network (you do have one, right?). These are your core fanbase and your early backers. By telling them what's going to happen ahead of time, not only do you make sure that some people show up on that first day, but you can also get a sense of whether your Kickstarter is even a good idea. Are they excited about it? Worried? Do they have ideas for rewards you can offer? You can learn a lot from your core fans, so don't hesitate to include them on the idea.

Prepare for the last days. You'll have spent the lull interacting with the core backers who hang around the Kickstarter page, but on that last day you'll see an influx both of people who haven't been to the page in a while and who have never heard of your project at all. Make sure the information on your front page is still clear to someone who knows nothing about your project or stretch goals. Make sure your updates are inclusive.

THE LULL
Every Kickstarter campaign has a lull. It's perfectly normal, but your backers might not feel so. You can educate them on the basic life of a Kickstarter, but there are other, better things you can do to make them feel like the campaign is still moving.

Interact with, and listen to, your backers. I cannot stress this part enough: people want to feel like they're making a difference. If people suggest good ideas -- stretch goals, rewards, ways to improve the product -- take them, run with them, and don't forget to credit the people who submitted them.

Also answer their questions or just hang out with them in the comment threads. People are much more likely to invest in a person than a project, so make yourself real and personable to them.

Make stretch goals. Now, stretch goals are not appropriate for every project, but if they make sense for yours, then do them. In fact, plan them even before you launch (you never know when you might, you know, break the fastest to a million dollars record). They won't break the lull (more on that in the next section), but they'll give your core backers things to watch and root for.

Some of them might even plunk down more money just to meet a stretch goal.

BREAKING THE LULL
There is very, very, very little you can do to break the pattern of the Kickstarter lull. For the most part, there are only three things that can give you a spike in the middle of your campaign:
  1. Get to within a few percent of your funding goal. If you look at the pledging stats for other projects, you will notice that almost every single one has a spike of new pledges and new backers on the day they met their goal. Once again: people want to feel like they're making a difference.
  2. Get publicity to an audience that hasn't heard the news yet. This is about marketing. By the middle of your campaign, your core fanbase knows about the project. Their friends have heard about it. Is there anyone else in your target audience who might not have? Find them. Find the forum or news sites they hang out at, and tell them too. (But DON'T SPAM. Spamming only reaches the same audience repeatedly, thus annoying them. Even well-intentioned fans can be guilty, so be careful.)
  3. Make an announcement that changes the nature of the project (in a good way). For example, say you launched a Kickstarter to get internal illustrations for your book. Halfway through the campaign, you announce that Tony DiTerlizzi(!) has agreed to do the illustrations. Whether it's a newly revealed stretch goal or not, this sort of announcement can give you a huge spike in pledges once people hear about it.
Don't freak out if these spikes don't create a new level of daily pledges. Very likely, the pledges will jump up for a day or two then go back to the normal lull. But that's okay. You've created excitement, given your core backers something to talk about, and made just that much more money. And that ain't bad.

Hopefully this little mini-series (written while my novella is in the hands of the most awesome critique partners in the world) will help you, should you ever decide to Kickstart a novel. Or anything, really. You can't predict everything, but neither is it all completely random. Let me know if you have any more questions.

So You Want to Launch a Kickstarter Campaign

I think one of the reasons 56% of Kickstarter projects fail is because people tend to believe it goes:
  1. Have idea.
  2. Click 'Publish.'
  3. Rake cash.
But a Kickstarter campaign, a good one, is a lot of work. Not as much work as writing a novel, but it's not something you just post on a whim. Before you click "Launch," you need to know (or have) ALL of the following.

WHY KICKSTARTER?
This is every backer's first question: "Why are you coming to me for money instead of doing it yourself?" There are lots of great answers to this question. For example, you might want to:
  • Gauge interest before spending a year of your life writing it (though be warned: if you have no writing experience, people are going to wonder what, exactly, you're gauging).
  • Fund a nice print run, limited edition hardcovers, etc.
  • Fund a marketing campaign for a novel you've already written.
  • Hire an illustrator for the book cover, a map, or internal illustrations.
  • Hire an editor to give the book you've already written the polish it deserves. 

Whatever your reason, it's part of your pitch, and part of the reason people are going to back you. They want to be a part of something important, so make them feel that.

A FUNDING GOAL
How much money are you trying to raise? This is more critical than you think. People often judge a campaign based on how much it asks for. If you ask for $1,000, people don't expect much, but you lose some respectability. Ask for $10,000, and now people expect something serious -- a midlist author or a book that had a publishing contract but backed out for some (respectable) reason, for example.

Obviously it's not just about appearances either. How much do you actually need? What are you using it for? Are you barely covering your costs or did you build in a profit? Did you remember to take into account Kickstarter's fees? Rewards? Shipping? Once you are successfully funded, you are responsible for all the promises you made during the campaign. Make sure that, if you hit your minimum funding goal, fulfilling all those rewards will still be worth your while.

BACKER REWARDS
What are you offering your backers in return? Obviously a copy of the novel, but in what format? For how much? Do you have more rewards for people who want to back you at a higher level? Think carefully about this, because fulfilling rewards (especially physical ones that have to be mailed) can eat up a lot of your budget. But at the same time, people won't back a project if the reward they want is too expensive.

ART
You're a writer, so what do you need art for? Well, you don't have to have it, but if you can get good-looking art -- maybe concepts of your story, a map of your world -- it can make an average pitch look great.

Be careful, though. Bad visuals are worse than no visuals at all. 

THE PRODUCT
You might think that because the Kickstarter is meant to determine whether or not you'll even make the product, you shouldn't have to do any work on the product at all. This couldn't be further from the truth. The more work you put into your novel (or whatever you're pitching) ahead of time, the more faith your backers will have that you can pull it off.

There's a balance though. If your product is completely finished, people will wonder why you need to raise x-thousand dollars for it, and they could be more hesitant to put their faith in you. Again, people want to feel like they're making a difference.

THE VIDEO
This is the first thing people see when they hit your Kickstarter page. You don't have to have one, but some people are more likely to watch a two-minute pitch than read all the text on your page. How to make a good video is beyond the scope of this post, but in general:
  • Keep it brief.
  • Pitch what you're doing, why you're the one to do it, and why you need the backers' help to do it.
  • Show off any art you've got, even if it's just concepts.
  • Don't show anything that makes you or your product look bad. Kickstarter is about transparency, but you can go too far.
THE PITCH
This is the meat of your Kickstarter page. It's got to have all the information listed above, plus more to pre-emptively answer any questions a potential backer might have. The better you anticipate and handle potential questions, the better your launch will go.

What happens after launch? I'll deal with that in the next post.

So You Want to Kickstart a Novel

Kickstarter has funded the hopes and dreams of thousands. Could it do the same for you?

Maybe.

First things first: Kickstarter is not the new self-publishing. A quick look at their own stats will prove it: less than half of the projects put up on KS have been funded. The statistics for the publishing category are even more grim: only a 31% success rate.

Still, it's better than querying, amirite?

I want to spend a couple of posts talking about what you can do to get yourself in that 31%, and why you might want to do it at all. Kickstarter isn't a magic bullet.

NOTHING IS.

But it does have a couple of benefits over publishing straight to Amazon. Specifically:
  1. It shifts the risk. Instead of spending a couple years writing a novel only to discover nobody wants it, you can learn the same thing after only a couple of months.
  2. You can get input directly from the people you're writing for on what they like and don't like.
What Kickstarter can't give you is writing experience, which is admittedly kind of critical. So I can't really recommend it to inexperienced writers. But if you've been writing a while, and you've got this great idea for a story, but nothing of yours has ever sold really well and you're not sure if it'll be worth your time, well.... you might look into it.

There are 3 things you should probably have to run a successful Kickstarter. If you're only asking for a little money (say $1,000 or less), maybe you can get away with one of these. From $1k-10k (where most of the successful publishing projects are), you want at least two out of three.

(1) A great idea. Be careful here. Everybody thinks they've got a great idea. You've got to have an idea people want. No, more than that: an idea they need. It's hard to pitch something innovative, and a lot of great-but-untested projects fail right here. This is why nostalgia and spin-offs sell really well. But if you're an author looking to self-publish, you don't have the luxury of a license. High concept is your friend.

(2) Evidence that you can pull it off. Because everybody has great ideas, people are hesitant to back someone if that's all they've got. They want to know why you're the person to put this together. Anything that proves you can write: short stories, a blog with a following, even a popular Twitter feed. If you don't have anything, try an excerpt of what you're planning to make.

(3) A network of people to spread the word. Kickstarter does not mean instant visibility. While it's true your backers have a vested interest to spread the word on your behalf (another benefit of Kickstarter), you have to get some backers first. Having a platform to start from can help a lot.

If this looks a lot like what you need to succeed in self-publishing -- or querying agents and editors, for that matter -- you shouldn't be surprised. Kickstarter doesn't change the playing field. It just shifts things around. Instead of WRITE => BUILD PLATFORM => MAKE MONEY, now it's BUILD PLATFORM => MAKE MONEY => WRITE.

These are all just guidelines, of course. It depends very much on how much money you're asking for, and even then there's no guarantee that any of these will make your Kickstarter successful (see what I said before about magic bullets). Though if you've got an idea people are craving, a history that shows you can pull it off, and an audience just waiting for you to launch so they can tell their friends about it, well . . . then you might have something interesting indeed.

But you still need a campaign. We'll talk about that next time.

Kickstarter, Self-Publishing, and Video Games

You've all heard of the literary self-publishing revolution. (Heck, some of you are on the barricades). What you might not know is there is a similar revolution going on in video and board games. It has to do with Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects. Anyone with an idea for a book, a movie, a game, a technology, or whatever can launch a project page and see if people are interested in funding their project. Authors have used it to self-publish: to fund cover artists and editors, and to see if there's a market for what they want to write before they write it.

We all know why authors self-publish: because breaking into the Big 6 is freaking hard, especially if you write for what is essentially a niche audience. Turns out the same thing is true in games.

Video games, in particular, have their own Big Publishers -- companies with the connections and resources to develop triple-A titles for the major gaming consoles. I don't even know how an independent developer would sign on with them. You'd probably have to prove you have a significant platform first, or else develop a Halo clone or something else they know will work. (Sound familiar?).

But not everybody wants to make Halo.* A number of developers have been using Kickstarter to pitch the games they always loved, and to see if enough people feel the same. You may have even heard of some of the biggest ones:

* Nothing against Halo, of course. There are some very talented folks making those games.

Double Fine Adventure was a Kickstarter campaign by developer Tim Schafer, maker of some of my favorite games of all time: the Monkey Island games, Grim Fandango, and Day of the Tentacle. Last March he asked for $400,000 to make a new adventure game -- something big publishers haven't wanted for decades. He got $3.3 million and kickstarted a revolution (see what I did there?).

A month later, inXile entertainment (starring my former and current boss) pitched a sequel to a very old post-apocalyptic RPG. Wasteland 2 got running with nearly $3,000,000.

Project: Eternity is the brain child of Obsidian Entertainment, home of most of my former coworkers. They asked if people wanted to see a spiritual successor to the old Infinity Engine games like Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment. Seventy-four thousand people said, "YES!"

Why am I telling you this? Well, partially because it's fascinating to me. Anything that makes it easier to fund, create, and distribute creativity is awesome, in my opinion.

But also to show that independent publishing is not strictly a book thing. In the last year, there have been seven million-dollar video game projects on Kickstarter, dozens of smaller ones, and who knows how many hundreds of similar board games, RPGs, and other things.

And just like in the book world, I think the way to look at self-publishing is not as a challenge to publishers, but more like filling holes that publishers leave unfilled. Three million dollars sounds like a lot, but when triple-A budgets regularly hit 30 or 40 million, you can understand why EA and Microsoft might not be interested in a niche RPG.

In the same way, ten thousand book sales might not interest a publisher used to selling books in the hundreds of thousands, but to the self-published author, those ten thousand sales are game changing.

Whatever. I just like where the future is going. I'm excited to see what happens next.

What about you? Have you ever backed (or launched!) a Kickstarter? What do you think about the platform.

The Problem With Self-Imposed Deadlines


The trilemma above is a universal for any project. And I've realized this is exactly why my self-imposed deadlines almost never work. I mean, I'll set them, but then I'll get stuck on something, or a problem will appear that I didn't foresee. And once my deadline is broken, replacing it just feels . . . fake.

My self-imposed deadlines don't work because, in the querying and submission stages, the choice above is made for me:

CHEAP, because nobody's paying me. (The only way it could be cheaper is if I paid for the privilege to write which, really, yuck).

GOOD, because if it's not my best stuff, then nobody will ever pay me.

In a way, it's kind of nice. I don't have to choose! I can take all the time I need to make it right, and it's okay.

Under real deadlines, now, I'm a pro. But that's usually because somebody gave them to me. With money. And an implicit declaration of which of these three is least important to them.

I can do that.

How about you? Do self-imposed deadlines work for you?

When Is Piracy Okay?

It's been a while since we talked about piracy. I don't have anything new to say on the subject, but I thought we could have a little discussion starter. So first, a poll: When is it okay to pirate something?

The question is about ethics, not legality. The legality answer is easy and objective (for most countries, the answer is "never").


ANSWER DESCRIPTIONS:
1) Never. Self-explanatory, I think.

2) When there is no way to get it, even with money. For example, your favorite TV show is geo-blocked and is not available on iTunes. Netflix and Hulu are likewise geo-blocked. You couldn't pay for a copy even if you wanted to.

3) When there is no way to get it, except with a lot of money. The publisher of a book you want refuses to release an e-book version. You could get a paper copy, but within shipping it'll cost like $40. For one book.

4) When you've already paid for one version of it, but you want another version as well. You bought that TV show you want on iTunes, but you want a DVD so the kids can watch without tying up your computer.

5) When you could get a version of it, but it's not what you want. You don't actually want it on iTunes, since iTunes sucks on Windows and you'd rather watch it on your TV.

6) When you could get what you want, but the owner of the property is a money-grubbing corporate tool. Why pay for it when you can stick it to the man?

7) Whenever the heck you want. It's a free country. Also self-explanatory.

Feel free to elaborate your answer in the comments. It's a sticky issue, after all.

I'll be honest: I answered (2). We try very hard to lean toward NEVER (seeing as we are not, in fact, poor mountain villagers that eat only rice and chilis), but we also have a So You Think You Can Dance addiction that Fox won't let us feed :-(

On Covers and Curse Workers

I just finished reading RED GLOVE, the second book in Holly Black's Curse Workers trilogy.

And GAH! This trilogy!

Understand: I LOVE the stories. Love the characters, love the cons (oh my GOSH, the cons), love the powers, love the world. I think I liked WHITE CAT better than this one (the big con felt . . . connier in the first book), but RED GLOVE was still very good.

When I read WHITE CAT, my only problems with it were a minor plot issue and the cover.

Guess what my problems are now.

So, the minor plot issue is really minor. More of a world-building nitpick than anything: If everyone wears gloves all the time -- and the murderer was wearing gloves when she was caught on camera -- why would Cassel need to wipe prints off the gun? (And do police even use fingerprinting if everyone wears gloves all the time?).

 
But the cover. It's better this time -- it's not whitewashed, for example. Actually, it's a pretty cool design, but . . . I dunno. See, I think boys would love this book. Crime bosses, con artists, murders, brothers. What's not to love? But the cover's PINK, man. Even I was embarrassed to read it in public.

(Okay, so I'm very easily embarrassed. But still, it'd be nice if the cover could be more...neutral.)

The Science of Persuasion

A friend directed me to this great video on persuasion. It's about the psychology behind why people make decisions, and how you can ethically apply these concepts to persuading people to do what you want. This is ridiculously useful if you're trying to get somebody to buy something (like, say, a book you wrote), but it also applies to things like getting people to follow your blog, critique your manuscript, or blurb your novel.

(You can use them unethically too, of course. That's the problem with scientific principles. Con artists, for example, make use of these tricks all the time. For the record, I don't endorse this.)



In case you can't watch the whole thing, here's a summary on six shortcuts people use to decide whether or not to say yes to somebody.

1. RECIPROCITY: People are more likely to say yes to someone who has done something similar for them. It works best if you give something FIRST, and if that giving is PERSONALIZED and UNEXPECTED.

2. SCARCITY: People are more likely to want something that is about to be unavailable.

3. AUTHORITY: People are more likely to go along with something suggested by a credible expert. Apparently, this works even if the expert obviously benefits from whatever is suggested.

4. CONSISTENCY: People are more likely to do something consistent with prior commitments they have made. Even if that commitment is something minor (like hosting a guest post for a blog tour of your upcoming book), it can increase the likelihood of more major behavior (like buying your book when it comes out).

5. LIKING: People are more likely to do something for people that they like. And some of the main reasons people like someone are: (1) that person is similar to them, (2) that person compliments them, and (3) that person is cooperative with them.

6. CONSENSUS: When people are unsure about something, they are likely to look at what others are doing before making their own commitment. This is probably why bestsellers take off like they do. It's also why shills work.

Many of these seem obvious, but you'd be surprised how effective they can be when you use them intentionally in a marketing campaign (and ethically; sock puppets have a way of backfiring).

What do you think? Have you seen these work?

It's Okay to Write Slow

J. K. Rowling took five years to write the first Harry Potter.

It's okay to write slow.

Those of us who take a year or more to draft a novel are tempted to believe we're doing something wrong. Like we're too lazy, managing our time wrong, editing our words too much, or (God forbid) not meant to be writers at all. Some of those things might be true, but slow writing doesn't prove it.

(Terry Pratchett wrote his first novel at 400 words a day.)

You might be climbing a learning curve. My first novel took me 5 years to draft, 2 to edit. My second took me two years total. It's still slow, but I'm getting better. You will too. That's what practice does.

(The Harry Potter series took an average of 2 years per book to write.)

You might be a planner. Natalie Whipple can tell you that fast drafts don't mean finished products. They need a lot of editing after they're "done." Not that slow drafts are perfect, but sometimes slow can mean cleaner.

(George R. R. Martin took 6 years to finish the latest Song of Ice and Fire book. I still bought it.)

You might be unpublished. There are really only two reasons you have to write fast: (1) you signed a contract with a deadline or (2) you write to put food on the table. The rest of us have the freedom to write at whatever pace we want, learning as we go.

(Susanna Clarke took 10 years to finish her debut novel, which won some awards and got optioned for a lot of money.)

You might have a life. Maybe you have a full-time job, a family, and an X-Box. Kids are a full-time job on their own (I know, I have ten) and worth more than a publishing contract. Not that you shouldn't go for the contract too, but if you're sacrificing writing speed to play Guitar Hero with your daughter, I call that a win.

There are reasons writing can take a long time, many of them good.

Live life. Write slow.

(remixed from a guest post I did for Natalie Whipple)

Self-Pubbed vs. Traditional: Which is Better?

Someone asked me this recently and my answer got kind of long-winded insightful, and I figured why not inflict it on you guys? I'd save myself the trouble of writing another blog post you guys might be interested in what I think talking about it.

Although my personal neuroses have staunchly led me down the traditional path so far, the short answer is I don't think either path is objectively better.

Traditional publishing is harder to break into. You have to please more people (agents and editors need to believe they can sell your book, and sometimes they're done with a genre that readers still want) and you have to deal with more rejection. It will stretch you though, and if you make it, the benefits are pretty huge: an agent to partner with, professional editing, cover design, print distribution, etc.

Self-publishing, obviously, is easy to get into. I could do it right now. But success is more difficult because you have to do it yourself. You have to edit it (I recommend paying someone). You have to get a cover (again: pay someone). You have to find your audience by yourself (and hope they're into self-published e-books). The benefits are freedom, speed, and control.

But in my opinion, the biggest danger in self-publishing is fooling yourself. Susan Quinn addresses this really well in her Seven Questions to Ask Before Self-Publishing. I've seen a few folks go to self-publishing before they were ready. Some had been rejected by traditional publishing and didn't take the hint. Some thought the praise of their writer friends meant that perfect strangers would feel the same way. Some believed the hype of the self-pubbing community and were surprised when they only sold 200 copies.

Which path you choose depends on a lot of things: your writing, your personality, the market. But very generally, my advice is don't self-publish your first book.

But do query it.

Most likely it will be rejected, but I think you can learn a lot by querying, without harming your reputation or your status as a debut author. (I should note that weak sales in self-pubbing might not be a lot of harm, but I personally think you can learn more from querying anyway, so why risk it? You can always self-publish it later).

But no matter which path you take, no matter how low the sales or how high the rejections, don't give up and don't stop writing. Not if this is what you want. There are a lot of ingredients for success, but I've become more and more convinced that the most important one is stubbornness.

What do you guys think? Is there a better path? Why?

What To Do With a Bad Review

I once stated that I thought it was possible to respond to a negative review in a positive way (see the first footnote of this post). I am now rethinking that theory. Here's what happened to an author I know.

(Names and most specifics have been wiped, just cuz I don't want things to get worse):

1. A Reviewer posted a bad review of the Author's book on a popular book site.
2. In the comments, Reviewer picked out a couple users who liked the book (and had little or no other activity on their accounts), suggesting these accounts were sock puppets -- created by the author to artificially boost the book's rating.
3. Reviewer's readers agreed and mocked Author for such "obvious" fake accounts.

Before I go on, I want us to stop and think about what we would do in this situation. Assume the review counts (the book hasn't actually come out yet, so any buzz might count). For myself, it is taking every ounce of strength to take the high road right now and get to my point, rather than argue about Internet Immaturity and Spurious Evidence.

Oops. Moving on . . .

4. Author left a comment in the review thread -- not to comment on the review itself, but to mention that none of the accounts were fake (one of the accounts was actually her daughter).
5. Author was told somewhat bitterly that Reviewer is entitled to write whatever she wants about the book (note again, though: Author said nothing about the review).
6. A couple of people who liked the book spoke up in Author's favor (some in the thread, some in their own reviews).
7. These people were accused of being trolls, sock puppets, or both.

Then things got worse.

Friends of Reviewers left multiple 1-star reviews after not reading the book. Hateful comments were left on the reviews of the "fake" accounts. At one point, Author thanked a different reviewer for reading the whole book and being impartial, at which point two commenters blasted her for "dictating" what makes a review fair or not.

It's like this particular group of people has experienced other authors acting badly and assume Author is doing the same thing. They've seen authors with fake accounts and assume that any suspicious account is, likewise, fake.

To user-reviewers then: This is not (always) the Bad Author you're looking for. Sometimes people mean what they say, with no other agenda. Best not to assume.

But this whole thing just proves to me why commenting on bad reviews -- or trying to prove anything on the internet at all -- is generally a bad idea. Authors, don't comment on negative reviews. Yes, there are thousands of user-reviewers who will act professionally, even toward authors whose books they don't like. But it's not worth risking the ire of those who will misinterpret everything you do.

Professor Internet is right: it's better to just chill out and eat a sandwich.

What do you think? Would you have stayed out of it? (I don't know if I would have). Is there a way to step into this without making things worse?

About E-Readers and Free Books

One of the interesting things about the e-pocalypse is the proliferation of free books. Plenty of smart authors -- self-published and otherwise -- are releasing free books into the wild as a promotional effort.

In theory, this is a great idea. Heck, in practice it's probably a great idea, but I've noticed something about the free books on my Kindle.

I forget about them.

Seriously. I mean not all the time, and not forever. But yeah, most of the time: I hear about a free book; if it sounds like my thing, I have it sent to my Kindle; and then I forget.

Why? Well, partially because downloading it from the laptop and remembering that it's on the Kindle are two separate events. When I'm on my Kindle, I forget about wherever I was surfing that morning.

Mostly, I forget because I didn't pay for it. I'm sure there's a psychological term for this, but I value something more if I pay for it -- even if I only paid a little. It means I made a semi-difficult decision (knowing me, it was a long decision, probably involving lists and a flowchart), so I put more value in that book. I'm more likely to make time for it.

And I'm less likely to put it down. I can't tell you how many Kindle samples I've downloaded, thought "this isn't bad," and then never thought about again.

Does that mean giving away free books is a bad thing? Well, no. There's strong evidence that they work, and I do get around to them eventually (and it's kinda nice too, like, "Oo! I forgot I had that!").

There's no question free books will get more downloads. But I wonder if you couldn't get more readers overall if the price point was just a leetle higher. Low enough to be a steal, but high enough to make the buyers value the download.

I dunno, what do you think? How do you treat free books?

On the Ridiculous Idea that You Can Steal an Idea


Stop me when you know what famous book this is:
A young kid growing up in an oppressive family situation suddenly learns that he is one of a special class of children with special abilities, who are to be educated in a remote training facility where student life is dominated by an intense game played by teams flying in midair, at which this kid turns out to be exceptionally talented and a natural leader. He trains other kids in unauthorized extra sessions, which enrages his enemies, who attack him with the intention of killing him; but he is protected by his loyal, brilliant friends and gains strength from the love of some of his family members. He is given special guidance by an older man of legendary accomplishments who previously kept the enemy at bay. He goes on to become the crucial figure in a struggle against an unseen enemy who threatens the whole world.
If you said Harry Potter, you're right. But if you said Ender's Game . . . you're also right. This quote is from an article Orson Scott Card wrote, berating J.K. Rowling for this one time she got mad at someone for "stealing" her ideas.

Guys, you can't NOT steal ideas.

Don't believe me? Visit TV Tropes for like two seconds (if you dare). Such a site wouldn't even exist if the tropes listed there hadn't been done time and time again. Not because people are unoriginal, but because we are original, but that does not mean what you think it means.

Being original means we all take the same raw materials -- life -- and turn it into something unique. But it's because of those common raw materials that we all come up with chosen ones and special powers and wise old mentors and unlikely leaders. Because those are the things that move us.

Don't worry about someone stealing your idea, and don't worry about stealing someone else's. Ideas cannot be copyrighted and no one can win a lawsuit because you also made references to the Bible. If they could, the Tolkien estate would own Hasbro by now, and C.S. Lewis's benefactors would have a number of things to say to that guy who tried to sue Assassin's Creed.

Keep moving forward, taking people's ideas and letting people take yours. It's all good, and it'll come back around anyway. Because the goal is not originality or even money. The goal is to show people old things in a new way.

Your way.

In Which I (Yet Again) Discover Why I Don't Self-Publish

[Some of the links below go to TV Tropes. You have been warned.]

These days, there is no end of people who say, "Why are you still putting yourself through the misery of traditional publishing?" Some folks say it nicer. Some are meaner and use words like "broken," "obsolete," and "dinosaur". I've talked about my reasons before, but I've come to realize that the thing behind it all is an illogical personality quirk.

I am trying to get the best ending.

Before I go on, understand that I don't think either path -- self-publishing or traditional -- is better than the other. They are both means to reach readers, and to that end, both sometimes work and sometimes don't.

I'm talking about video games. The RPGs and graphic adventures that form the core of my childhood often gave you multiple paths to complete the game, and often different endings. Sometimes there was a "best" ending; sometimes the endings were just different.

The thing about me is, whether there was a "best" ending or not, I always tried to get it. I'm the kind of guy who will spend hours leveling up the most useless Pokemon in existence, trusting he'll become something awesome (spoiler: he does). I'll choose the Smash Bros. character everyone hates and spend weeks figuring out how to beat the crap out of people with him. I once stopped playing Riven for 5 years because I refused to look up the solution to the puzzle I was stuck on.

The point is I'm stubborn, and I've been conditioned to believe that the path of most resistance will yield the best rewards.

Again, before all you self-pubbers stab me with your pitchforks: I don't believe traditional publishing is better, not in a money-and-success way. It's only my subconscious that's convinced me there's some kind of unlockable bonus item.

But if my intellect says both paths are viable, why am I still doing the hard one?

Because the other part of my personality quirk is this: even if the ending is the same, I want to be able to say I finished the game on the hardest setting. To say I beat Super Mario Bros. without warping (I did), I caught all 151 Pokemon (I didn't), I finished Contra without losing a single life (did).


For me, getting traditionally published isn't about making more money or even reaching more readers. Neither path outdoes the other in that sense. Getting traditionally published is about being able to say I did it.

What about you? What's your path and why?

Why Should You Get an Agent?

(Remixed from a post over two years ago, when self-publishing wasn't quite the thing it is now. I'm still of the opinion that agents are a Very Good Thing. Opinions on self-publishing can be found here.)

When I first started querying, I didn't know if I should query agents or editors. I was only vaguely aware of what agents did. Based on my experience with real estate agents, I knew they handled the legal stuff and took a cut, that was about it.

I wanted help with the legal stuff, and preferred an agent to a lawyer. I figured I'd get one eventually, but I wasn't very adamant about it back then. Two things tipped me over the edge.

The first (though I don't remember where I read it) was this: say you submit to all the hundreds of agents and they reject your work. You can still submit to the editors.*

But, if you submit to all those editors who accept unagented queries and they reject you, any agent you get afterward will be quite disappointed to find half their prospective editors already said no.

* Though if all the agents are rejecting you, I don't know why you'd expect different from the editors.


The second was Tobias Buckell's author advance survey. I love statistics, and Tobias got some good ones from a decent sampling of authors. If you're at all interested in what authors make, I suggest you read it. But basically: the median advance for first-time authors with an agent was $6,000; the median advance to the unagented was $3,500.

Some quick math: the agent's cut is 15%. For the agented authors, then, the net gain was $5,100. Still significantly more than that of the unagented.

As far as I know, that 15% is the only downside to having an agent. If agents are making back 3x that, while simultaneously haggling for your rights, selling those rights for more money, and generally ensuring you don't get screwed -- all while you are busy with the task of actually writing -- the choice of agent or no seems like a no-brainer.

(From a publisher's point of view, it seems to me that they could save a lot of money by encouraging writers to submit to them unagented. But then Moonrat has a good list of reasons why editors would prefer to work with agents anyway. So there you go).

Does Social Media Affect What Books You Buy?

A little while ago, The Intern had an interesting post on how much (or how little) social media promotion efforts affect sales. She challenged her readers to take a look at how many books they'd bought because of social media efforts vs. traditional methods (like, say, word of mouth).

So I did.

 

Of the books I've actually paid money for since 2008:
  • I chose 45% because I knew the author (meaning I had read one of their books before and liked it).
  • I chose 35% because of word of mouth (meaning a trusted friend told me I should read the book).
  • I chose 20% because of social media (meaning I discovered the book independently, from twitter, facebook, blogs, book trailers, etc).

I thought that might be a little misleading, since many of the books in that first category were purchased after I discovered the author via other means (for example, after I discovered Brandon Sanderson and read MISTBORN, I bought three more of his books). So I looked at how I discovered these authors.

Of the authors I've discovered (and bought their books) since 2008:
  • I heard of 70% from word of mouth.
  • I heard of 30% from social media.

So does social media work? Well, it worked for me, but there's one statistic I haven't mentioned. Why did I choose 2008 as my cut-off? Because I wasn't even on social media before then. Before 2008, 100% of the books I purchased were authors I knew or discovered by word of mouth.


So does social media work for reaching readers? I think it's a starting point. But I don't think it's worth plunging hours and hours and days into.

I do think it's a fantastic tool to network with other writers though. I got my ill-fated referral that way, along with some of the most awesome critique partners in the business. And Jay Kristoff recently blogged about how both Beth Revis and Scott Freaking Westerfeld discovered him and offered to read his book for a possible blurb (which upsets me, because I wanted Scott F. Westerfeld to blurb my novel, but I guess you have to have a book deal first).

Man, this publicity stuff is complicated. Does it ever work? What do you think?

How Pirates Are Born

(Again, because I actually write about pirates, I have to specify that I'm talking about the lame kind of piracy today, not the swashbuckling kind. I will, however, use the swashbuckling kind to make my point.)

Before I get into this, understand I am generally against piracy. This is not a post about why piracy is okay. This is a post about why it happens, and what can (and cannot) be done about it.

So, say media producers -- Random House, NBC, Nickelodeon, Blizzard Entertainment, etc. -- are the governor, and their media is their smart, beautiful, confident daughter. Like any father, the governor wants his daughter to marry the right man, and he'd rather not have to pay a pirate's ransom to do it.

Consumers, then, generally fall into three categories: pirates, commodores, and Will Turner.


THE PIRATES
Real pirates don't actually care about the governor's daughter. They just want the ransom. The governor goes to great lengths to protect his daughter from these ruffians -- sometimes even making life more difficult for law-abiding citizens -- but in the end, if Captain Jack Sparrow really wants to kidnap and ransom her, he will.

These are the guys who will always rip off your media and distribute it for free (sometimes even if it's free already!). It doesn't matter what DRM or geo-blocking you put up, or where you release it, they can and will get their hands on it. These are the guys that make DRM almost worthless.

Fortunately, they represent a very small percentage of Actual People. Also fortunate: because they're never going to pay for your stuff anyway, they don't count as lost sales. That means media producers can effectively ignore them. Seriously, your daughter is fine, just pay the ransom and move on.


THE COMMODORES
Of course the governor wants his daughter to marry the commodore. He's wealthy, has a good title, and most importantly, he always obeys the law.

It's the same in the media world; the commodores will always obey the law and terms of service you provide. They don't know what torrents or VPN services are, and they don't want to know.

Unfortunately, like real pirates, commodores represent a very small percentage of the population.


WILL TURNER
Will is a really nice guy. He's honest, strong, he works hard, and he hates pirates.

At least, he used to hate pirates, until the governor's daughter disappeared. When he asked the governor about it, the governor just shrugged and shook his head. So Will did the only thing he could do: he turned to the real pirates for help.

I think media producers would like to believe that most people are either pirates or commodores. Unfortunately, that's not true. Most people -- I'm thinking 80% or more -- are Will Turner. We don't like pirates. We don't want to be pirates. But at the same time, we really, really love the governor's daughter, and we'll do anything to see her.

If the media Will wants is available for a reasonable price, then he doesn't have a problem. But when his favorite TV show is geo-blocked, or the eBook costs more than the paperback, or the movie isn't released in his country, it forces Will to choose between the governor's daughter and the obscure ethics of copyright infringment.

And since Will is just a humble blacksmith, and there are a lot of fancy words in those terms of service, he usually ends up infringing.


SOLUTIONS
Once someone pirates one thing, the ethics get fuzzier. The software is still on his computer, and downloading twenty movies is as easy as one. Will's unlikely to turn into a full-blown pirate (since that requires some savvy), but he probably won't see things the same as the commodore again.

What can media producers do? Provide the same service as the pirates, or better.

One of the most common reasons for digital media to be blocked from certain countries is a fear of piracy. "You can't release in Russia! You're just asking to be pirated!"

As game developer Gabe Newell discovered, that is ridiculous. The real pirates are masters of distribution. What you geo-blocked for US only, they have released to the world. Yesterday. When you don't release something in a foreign territory, you are only removing the pirates' competition.

But the pirates are not hurting your sales. What hurts sales is when Will Turner goes to your website or walks into the store looking for a legal copy and is told he can't have it because he lives in Russia or Thailand or Canada (seriously, guys, you're geo-blocking Canada?).

Will Turner (points at self) is your fan. He's willing to sit through commercials or pay a small fee to consume your work legally. Will wants to support you, but you have to give him the option!

When you force people to choose between pirating a show or not watching it at all, many will choose piracy. Your terms of service just aren't as attractive.