Showing posts with label charts and statistics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label charts and statistics. Show all posts

Two Reasons I Haven't Been Blogging Much

Reason #1: Because the intersection represented in this not-to-scale diagram is very small.

The red circle is the real killer. That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has read this blog before. Something about having 2-3 fulltime jobs and only 24 hours in a day. WHATEVER.

I do tend to talk about things on Twitter and Facebook from time to time, so I'm not silent (most of you probably got here from one of those platforms, so you know). There has just been very little I have required a long-form medium for.

But also, there's been Reason #2:
I know. I completely ruined the Venn diagram thing I had going. But you know what? That's what anxiety does it ruins everything and makes you talk in all-italic run-on sentences.

Before you worry about me too much, don't. My anxiety is relatively mild and hasn't lasted for more than a couple of days at a time (I only had one really bad weekend a few weeks ago). I don't even know that it would count as clinical anxiety. I just know that whenever I thought about writing a post on something, my brain shouted, "HERE ARE ALL THE REASONS YOU SHOULDN'T DO THAT, YOU UTTER SCREW-UP!" and then it would launch a 3-hour marathon of Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen.

Mainly, I just had to remind myself to focus on my work, take a walk, get off social media, and talk to my three-dimensional loved ones (though not all at the same time). I won't say my anxiety is over, because the triggers are all still out there, but I'm coping all right.

Anyway, I'm just letting you know the blog still isn't dead. It may never be (because where else would I post long-form thoughts?), and it's definitely not dead now.

So. How are you guys doing?

And hey, how do you deal with anxiety when it pops up in your life (for those of you in whom it does)?



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?

The Reality of Time Travel

"Time travel is theoretically impossible, but I wouldn't want to give it up as a plot gimmick."

— Isaac Asimov


So. Back to the Future. You know, the scene in the third movie where Marty complains they can't get the time machine to 88 mph because they'll run into a movie theater, and Doc says, "You're not thinking 4th dimensionally, Marty! When you go back to 1885, none of this will be here."

It's clever, cuz see, even though you're traveling to a different time, you're still in the same place. So while there's a movie theater in 1955, it's all prairieland in 1885. Where a bridge is under construction, 100 years later it'll be finished and you can just sail across.

But if you think about it, that's ridiculously Earth-centric.

See, during the time you skip, the Earth will have moved. For one thing, it rotates constantly. California (where the movies take place) moves through space at about 700 mph. So unless you are arriving at the exact same time of day as you left, the Earth will have shifted underneath you.

Pic by JasonParis, cc
In the DeLorean's inaugural voyage, Ein would've crashed into a house 12 miles west of the mall.
Also the Earth is traveling around the sun at about 67,000 mph. So not only would you have to arrive at the exact same time of day, but also the exact same time of year (we won't talk about that quarter of a day that makes Leap Day). So Einstein would have appeared somewhere past the International Space Station.

"Was that . . . a DeLorean?"

But that's assuming the sun is our central reference point, which is just as arbitrary. Why not use the galactic center? Or the (impossible to define) center of the universe? By some measurements, Earth is shooting through the universe at over 1 million miles per hour.

Poor Ein would end up a tenth of the way to the moon. And that's just for traveling one minute in to the future. Marty's first jump would land him somewhere past Neptune. His final 100-year trip would shoot him out of the solar system entirely.

Don't get me wrong, I love time travel stories. But writing them gives me a headache.

Who's not thinking 4th dimensionally now, Doc?

Speculative Fiction: A Diagram

Following up our conversation a couple weeks ago, I present Adam Heine's Official Definition of Speculative Fiction:

1. Speculative Fiction is an umbrella term covering everything that is either science fiction or fantasy.

2. Science Fiction and Fantasy are the two main branches of speculative fiction. Sometimes they overlap.

3. Horror is fiction intended to frighten or scare. It could be sci-fi, fantasy, both, or neither.

4. Magical Realism is not sci-fi, but to quote Terry Pratchett, it's "like a polite way of saying you write fantasy."

5. Everything Else -- paranormal, utopian, dystopian, superhero, apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, alternate history, urban fantasy, weird fiction, supernatural, and all of the -punks -- is a sub-genre of sci-fi/fantasy.

Among other things, this means there is no speculative fiction that is not either sci-fi or fantasy. You will be very hard-pressed to convince me otherwise.

Here, I made a diagram to help.

Why Are Movies Based on Video Games SO BAD?

This is not a rant. This is SCIENCE.

First, all the data (culled, of course, from my beloved Wikipedia). Click to embiggen.


Some facts:
  • Movies based on video games have an average Rotten Tomatoes score of 18 out of 100. None of them got higher than 42.
  • Most (72%) had a budget of $50 million or less.
  • Most (68%) made less than $100 million at the box office.
  • It should be no surprise then that half of these movies did not make a profit.
So that's pretty bad (relatively; I mean I wouldn't mind making $100 million), but why? Is there something inherent in video games that makes them un-movieable (totally a word). Or is it the way they're handled? I have my own ideas, but let's look at the data.

Looking at the list of movies, my first thought was they were poorly chosen. There do exist games with solid, character-based stories (I helped make one of them), but Doom, for example, is not one of them. So it might be that producers are choosing games from the wrong genres:


84% of these titles are in action genres. And while RPGs (for example) are known for their stories, action and fighting games aren't so much.

Unfortunately, when I grouped review scores by genre, there didn't appear to be much correlation. Every genre is spread pretty evenly between hits and misses:

Apologies for not labeling the genres. Excel was mean to me.
Maybe it has to do with where the games come from (a heck of a lot of these games come from Capcom, for example), but I found no correlation there either:


At this point, I wondered if there was any answer at all. Is it just dumb luck? Is there even a correlation between review score and profit?


Thank goodness there is. It's not a huge correlation (and my heart goes out to the Final Fantasy movie, which got the highest score yet lost the most money -- clearly there is no justice in this world), but the trendline definitely goes up.

Finally, I had the idea to look at the directors. It turns out there is one man who has directed almost a quarter of these movies -- twice as many as any other single person.

He has directed movies from four different game genres. The highest score he received was 24 out of 100, and it was an outlier. Only one of his games-based movies ever made a profit (a whole two million dollars). In short, this man has never directed a video-game-based movie worth seeing.

His name is Uwe Boll.


I'm just looking at the numbers here, but it seems to me that this man should never be allowed near a video game again.

It's science.

A Steampunk Chart and Writing to Trends

This data comes from Wikipedia's list of steampunk works. I didn't see any glaring mistakes or omissions, so I ran with it. I've called out a few moments in steampunk history, though they are not meant to be comprehensive or even telling. Mostly, they're just some of the steampunk works that influenced me.

Data from Wikipedia, retrieved July 7, 2012.

You can glean what you like from that chart. Here's my (almost certainly biased) analysis:

TRENDS COME IN WAVES
Something new hits the populace. People get excited about it and create more stuff like it. Then eventually they get bored of it and the trend goes back down.

But, if enough people still haven't heard of it and a second new thing comes along within the trend, the cycle could start again. It could even get bigger as a whole new group of people get into it, and the old people go, "Wait, that's a thing again? I was into that when we called it 'steam-driven punk.'"

I think it's safe to say THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE and its precursors sparked that first little bump from '92 to '95. I don't know what triggered the spikes in 2001 and 2004 -- maybe PERDIDO STREET STATION, or maybe the manga STEAM DETECTIVES or even WILD WILD WEST (a bad movie can start a trend as much as a good one, as people think about what might have been great).

Now we're in the middle of a whole new wave, triggered by movies like STEAMBOY and THE PRESTIGE, books like AIRBORN and MORTAL ENGINES, along with everything that came before it as more and more people explore the history of steampunk. This wave is big, though I suspect it's coming to its end in the next couple of years (at least on the book side, see below).

MOVIES FOLLOW BOOKS
It was interesting to me that almost every bump in the graph started with books, then film and TV carried the cycle while books backed off the trend. This really shouldn't be a surprise, since most movies are based on books.

But it's important to remember: if you write steampunk because of SHERLOCK HOLMES or LEGEND OF KORRA (for example), you might be too late to cash in.

THIS IS HOW I THINK TRENDS HAPPEN
We see something we like and go, "Cool! I want to make something like that!" So we do, though even with self-publishing, it takes a long time to make a (good) book from scratch and get it to market. That's why bumps tend to occur a couple of years after certain inspirational works.

But here's the thing: we're not the only ones who have that idea. That's why agents get hit with waves of similar stuff: vampires, werewolves, angels, people who control the elements. They're often triggered by the earlier release of something that inspired a bunch of people.

That inspiration is a good thing, but chances are, by the time you've heard of a trend, you're already behind the curve. This is why we're told not to write to trends.

What do you do about this if we genuinely love the trend? I mean, I've loved steampunk for as long as I knew it was a thing (I think that would be Brisco County Jr. in '93). I still love it. But what if nobody else does?

I think there are two reasons this doesn't matter:
  1. Because eventually it will trend again. Maybe. Just hang on to the idea and try to time it later after the hype has been forgotten.
  2. Because if you really love whatever it is, you could be the one to trigger the next up-cycle. When someone writes something just to cash in, it shows. Steampunk for steampunk's sake is boring. But when you write something out of true passion, it can transcend the trend to become something awesome.
So no new conclusions here: Screw trends. Write what you love. But being aware of what's trending -- and what hasn't trended in a while -- is a good thing too.

What do you think? Have you ever written to a trend? Are my chart-based conclusions way off?

Blog Growth: 2012

About a year ago, I took a look at the growth of this blog, what I thought was working and wasn't. It looks like a heck of a lot has changed in a year.

WHAT GETS HITS
(1) Google Bait
I don't intentionally write Google bait, but the vast majority of daily hits come here from Google. They come looking for images of steampunk, board games, Lord of the Rings, Dune, and various classic novels (assuming those last two are students looking for an easy book report: let me know what grade I'm getting, m'kay, guys?).

(2) Getting an Agent
Writers who read blogs are interested in a couple of things, and one of them is seeing other writers succeed. I started this blog as a narrative of my journey, and though the narrative is really slow and plodding, people notice when critical plot events happen. (Well, mostly. Note the lack of growth when I got published in BCS.)


(3) Content People Talk About
Before I got an agent, blog growth jumped around September 2011. Sometimes posts just hit a nerve, and then people link them so they can hit more nerves. For me, some of those posts were: Why Haven't You Self-Published Yet, What Do Agents Owe You, and Writing When You Hate Writing.


WHAT GETS READERS
Hits don't mean readers. All those folks who found me on a Google image search are unlikely to stick around for more. I think the Google hits from that one steampunk post prove that.

Even hits from getting an agent don't automatically mean readers. Honestly, a lot of the growth since December is due to other nerve-striking posts: The Offer I Turned Down, What Makes a Query Letter Awesome, The Thing About Rue and Racism, etc.

So what do I think gets readers? Content People Talk About.

But how to write content people talk about . . . Heck, I don't know. For every post that got retweeted, there were a dozen or so that only you (my loyal readers) noticed. If I knew how to hit a nerve every time, I'd be rich.

I do know this:
  1. Know your audience (from the post titles, clearly my audience is writers).
  2. Write stuff nobody else is writing.
  3. Write you.
As I said in last year's post: "Honestly, this is stuff anyone can do."

What do you think? How did you find this blog, and why do you stick around?

Writer's Reference: Distance to the Horizon

[You've entered the Giveaway in Support of YA Asian Book Covers, right? Today might be your last chance! (Boy, I should've thought of a better name).]

How far is it to the horizon? How far away can you see an approaching object? This is something I come across in Air Pirates a lot, but it always takes multiple clicks and conversions to get at the simple formula I want. So, fully expecting mathematics to drive away half my audience, here it is (in both kilometers and miles):

So someone 5 and a half feet tall (1.7 meters) would see the horizon disappear about 3.1 miles (4.7 km) away.

Keep in mind:
  1. These are approximations. Don't be doing science with these numbers.
  2. These numbers only apply in clear weather.
  3. You could still see tall objects peeking over the horizon. More info on that below.

Measuring the distance to something over the horizon only requires one extra variable. When the top of the object first peeks over the horizon, you can figure out how far away it is like this:


Now if you wanted to figure out how far away an object is based on how much of it is peeking over the horizon . . . well, you're on your own. I love math and all, but I'd lose the other half of my audience if I did any more of it in public.

Boy, I hope at least one of you cares about this.

Holding Back Surprises

I can't think of a story with no mystery at all, whether it's a revelation of secret paternity, a mentor back from the dead, or a social worker with government connections. So as a writer, you have to figure out how to hide your secret long enough to surprise the reader.

Unfortunately, readers will be trying to figure out your secrets the whole time and, as we've said before, they are super geniuses. Their reaction is directly related to the amount of time between when they figure out your mystery and when you reveal it.


Obviously, you want them to figure it out as late as possible (zero words; though a smug nod is okay too; it means the reader thinks they figured it out before "most people," which makes them feel good about themselves).

You should know this is very hard to do without trial and error, which is why God created beta readers. A good beta reader can help you figure out which secrets are working, which are not yet, and which are so annoying because oh my gosh it's so obvious HE'S YOUR LONG LOST TWIN BROTHER, YOU TWIT!!

Sorry.

When you find readers are picking up on a secret much too early, there are at least two things you can do.

1. Be more subtle. Figure out what the reader picked up on and remove it. (Be careful, though. If you withhold too much information, the reader will feel tricked. If that chart went into the negatives, this is what would go there.)

2. Add misdirection. Make the reader think they know what's going on, even though it isn't. Scooby-Doo was a master of this . . . for 7-year-olds. If your audience is any older, you'll have to get more creative. The trick, I think, is to believe your own lie as you write it.

I think I'll talk more about misdirection later. For now, do you guys have any other ideas for successfully hiding a secret from the reader?

3.5 Years + 231 Rejections = 1 Crazy Author

(I've been using my temporary insanity tag a lot lately. That's what querying will do to you, I guess.)

So here are statistics on three rounds of querying, including some highlights and A Chart. Let's jump right in!


QUERY STATISTICS
("Queried From" counts from the months in which I sent out queries; it doesn't count when I got responses. "Rejections" are of the query itself. Consequently, "No Response" are also rejections.)

Travelers
Queried From: May 2008 - Jan 2009 (8 months)
Queries Sent: 52
Requests: 0
Rejections: 41
No Response: 11
Request Rate: 0%
Representation Offers: 0

Air Pirates (Adult SF/F Version)
Queried From: Feb 2010 - Jun 2010 (4 months)
Queries Sent: 41
Requests: 5 = 4 partial + 1 full
Rejections: 16
No Response: 20
Request Rate: 12%
Representation Offers: 0

Air Pirates (YA Version)
Queried From: May 2011 - Oct 2011 (4 months)
Queries Sent: 140
Requests: 16 = 5 partial + 11 full
Rejections: 72
No Response: 52
Request Rate: 11%
Representation Offers: 2

Obviously, I sent out a LOT more queries for this latest version. Part of that is there are just a lot more agents repping YA than adult SF/F. Part of it is I got excited/desperate sometime around my 10th request, and, thinking I had gold on my hands, started sending queries to EVERYBODY.

It didn't work though:

Air Pirates (YA Version)
Request Rate in the 1st Half of Queries Sent: 17% (12 out of 70)
Request Rate in the 2nd Half of Queries Sent: 6% (4 out of 70)


RECORDS
Across all three rounds of querying:

Slowest Request: 78 days (one of two requests I got after following up on a lost query)

Fastest Request: 3 hours 45 minutes

Slowest Rejection: 1 year 24 days (the query had gotten sent to the agent's spam, but she fished it out along with a number of others)

Fastest Rejection: 55 minutes. That was Michelle Wolfson, who also gave me my...

Best Rejection: In which Michelle said she recognized my name from the comments on Kiersten White's blog. The rest of the letter was a pretty standard form, but because of the personalization, I felt like she meant it. (I also started following her on Twitter. She's fun.)


THE CHART
So, a couple of months in, I wanted to see a graphic of the responses to my query. I'm not sure what I hoped to glean from it -- probably I just wanted to make a chart. Here it is.

(RED = query rejection/no response deadline passed; BLUE = partial request; GREEN = full request; BROWN = partial rejected; BLACK = full rejected; GOLD = offer made).


I did learn a couple of things. (1) Most agents responded on Monday (being Tuesday here and on the chart), with Tuesday and Wednesday coming in second. (2) My emotional state in any given week had a very strong correlation to the placement of green and black circles.

(The chart also makes it look like summer responses are few, but keep in mind, too, that I doubled my query rate in the middle of August)

The fact that I got an agent exactly where the chart ends was completely unintentional, or coincidental, or God telling me something. Take your pick.

Was there anything else you wanted to know? I got all this data here; might as well do something with it.

Statistics, Milestones, and Statistics

As of this morning (last night for you in the Americas), the first draft of Post-Apocalyptic Dragon-Riding Ninjas (with Mechs!) is finished, and I can breathe a big sigh of relief. Not because the work is done (far, FAR from it), but because drafting is my least favorite part of the process.

To celebrate, I'm posting these pre-revision statistics on the four finished novels I have sitting on my computer. (What, you don't think statistics are fun? Perhaps you've mistaken this blog for someone else's.)

I also submit these in the hope they will encourage any of you who feel you write slow: It Gets Better.

TRAVELERS 
Time to Draft: 4.5 years, both planning and writing (mostly writing).
Outline: None (GASP!), but lots of notes.
Draft Length: 76,000 words.
Avg Drafting Speed: About 1,600 words/month.

AIR PIRATES
Time to Draft: 19 months.
Outline: 244 words.
Draft Length: 100,000 words. 
Avg Drafting Speed: 5,200 words/month.

CUNNING FOLK
Time to Draft: 9 months.
Outline: 5,500 words (if you think I'm proud of that, read on; it gets better).
Draft Length: 48,000 words. 
Avg Drafting Speed: 5,300 words/month.

POST-APOC NINJAS
Time to Draft: 4 months.
Outline: 9,100 words (<--- !!).
Draft Length: 79,000 words. 
Avg Drafting Speed: 19,800 words/month.

I'm not quite at NaNoWriMo speeds yet, but I am finally at a place where I feel like I could produce a book a year, if I had to. You know, if someone wanted to pay me to do that (do you think that's too subtle?)

Level Up: 1,000 Words in a Day

I'm a slow writer. Like, really slow. I mean, I wrote the freaking book post on writing slow. So I'm a little weirded out to have to admit the following:

I have written 1,000 words a day, every (writing) day, for the past two weeks.

Now, granted, I'm usually only able to pull 3-4 writing days a week, but my previous average was 1,000 words per week, so this is kind of a big jump. How am I doing this?

Well... I'm still trying to figure that out.

BETTER GOALS?
With Travelers, my only goal was to finish the novel. That took 4.5 years. Air Pirates wasn't much different, but I got that done in 2 years. I had a for-real word count goal with Cunning Folk, but it was a soft goal (meaning I didn't do anything if I missed it). I finished the draft in 9 months, but my production rate was about the same as Air Pirates.

Now? I have a hard goal of 800 words/day. "Hard" meaning on the first day, when I didn't meet my goal during my isolated writing time, I squeezed in extra work wherever I could.

The weird thing is, that's the only day I've had to do extra work so far.

WRITER'S HIGH?
My writing time is two hours. Often, by the end of the first hour, I'll only have written about 100-300 words. It sucks. It's hard, and I feel like I'll never make it. But something weird happens around 600-700 words: I stop paying attention.

I've never had a runner's high (what with my loathing for the activity), but I've heard it's a thing. So maybe there's a writer's high too -- a point at which you stop feeling the pain and just get lost in the story. There seems to be for me. Every time I sit down to write, I dread it and wonder if I can maintain this breakneck (for me) pace. Then by the end I wish I had a little bit more time to write.

OUTLINING?
I've written enough novels to know the kinds of things I tend to get stuck on and the kinds of things I'm good at just writing through. With this novel, I went over my outline until I had 9,000 words of the thing detailing every major plot point and motivation I could think of (plus a few minor foreshadowing tidbits), until I could read through the outline without any gaps.

There's still a lot I have to make up -- action scenes, conversations, the dreaded segues -- but those things haven't been slowing me down as much as they used to.

STREAMLINED PROCESS?
I used to revise as I go. Heck, I had a whole ritual every time I finished a chapter: revise, record statistics, send to alpha reader, update blog sidebar, try to remember what the next chapter is about...

I've cut out a lot of that now, but most importantly I've cut the revising as I go. It's hard (especially when sending really rough drafts to my alpha), but it keeps me moving.

PRACTICE?
I'm a big fan of the idea that you can do basically anything if you practice hard enough. I don't know why it surprises me that writing fast is one of those things.

How about you? How do you maintain your pace (whatever it is)? Got any tips for someone trying to get faster?

Sifting Through Self-Pub Statistics

It's hard to find good statistics on what's going on in the publishing industry. If you read J.A. Konrath's blog, it sounds like making five figures a year in self-publishing is easy. If you read almost any publishing insider blogs, he's an unpredictable outlier.

I want to know what the averages look like, not the outliers. Let's see what we can find.

Disclaimer: I'm working with a lot of averages and assumptions in this post. Feel free to refute them if you've got hard, non-anecdotal facts.

CHANCES OF BEING PUBLISHED
Traditional publishing is tricky. I've heard everything from 0.03% to 1%. Agents get something like 10,000 queries a year, and take on a handful of new clients each. Of those, only some get published. Probably the number is lower than we'd like to think. Traditionally published: 0.1%.

Self-pubbed is easy. Anyone can do it, that's the whole point. Self-published: 100%.

So far, self-publishing looks like an easy pick, but getting published isn't our goal, is it? We want to make money.

HOW MUCH CAN YOU EXPECT TO MAKE?
No one likes to talk about advances in the publishing world, except to say that "it varies." Tobias Buckell did a survey a few years ago and found the median advance on a first novel was $5,000. Those numbers are old, but we'll go with it. Apparently most novels don't earn-out their advance, meaning royalties become a moot point. So unfair though it may be, I'm sticking with the simple number (minus your agent's 15%). Traditionally published: $4,250.

Self-publishing has no advance, but depending on how you do it, you may not even pay for editing, cover art, or printing services(!). On top of that, Amazon gives authors 70% royalties. JA Konrath suggests an eBook price of $2.99 to increase sales, and I have no reason to refute him here. That means $2.09/book.

But how many books? That's more difficult. Konrath sells thousands of copies per month, hundreds of thousands totals, but that's on many books. Breaking down his numbers, it looks like he has sold, on average,* about 4,000 copies/title. On a given title, then, he made $8,360, almost twice as much as our traditionally published debut author.

But we're not Konrath, are we? We're Average Debut Author Joe (or Joan). And the average unknown author sells, as near as anyone can figure, somewhere between 100 and 400 copies on a single title. Self-published: $522.50.

Traditional publishing wins, right? Well, this is still not the whole story.

EXPECTED VALUE
If I offered you $10 right now versus a chance to win $80 for rolling a '6' on one die, which is the better bet? You have to look at the expected value. If you take the former, you have a 100% chance of getting $10. If you take the latter, you have a 17% chance of getting $80, for an expected value of $13.30 ($80 x 0.17). So, the $80 is a better bet (though the risk-averse might not care and opt for the ten-in-hand).

That's what we've got here. Traditional publishing offers more money on average, but it's much harder to get there. From the numbers I've got, the expected value for traditional publishing is low. $4,250 x 0.1%. Traditionally published: $4.25.

Where as self-publishing gets 100%. So, Self-published: $522.50.

ALL THE STUFF I IGNORED
But it's still not even this simple. These numbers make it sound as if $522.50 is a sure bet (the ten-in-hand, as it were). If that were the case, I'd be working on a random novel generator right now and sell books at $500 a pop! But randomly generated novels will not make you money. In both cases, you have to write something people want to read.

And in both cases, you have to do an insane amount of work both to write the novel and promote it. Once again, you have to ask what your work is worth. Nothing is certain, whichever direction you go.

For me, I'm still aiming at traditional publishing because it's not (strictly) about chance, and I believe I can do it. Because I wouldn't be the writer I am today if I had self-published the first thing I wrote, and I want to see how much better I'll be in the future. Because I'd rather hold the novel for some point in the future when I can make it much better, than make a couple hundred dollars today.

But that's today. Who knows what the future holds?

What's your route, and why do you do it?



* I'd prefer the median, since all of these stats are tainted with outliers, but I gotta work with what I got. Anyway, medians would just lower the numbers, not raise them.

Waterworld and Other Worst Case Scenarios

I learned some interesting things in the aftermath of the Rule of Cool post. In particular, did you know the underwater future of Waterworld can never happen? Shocking, considering one of the main messages of that (stupidly expensive) film was: "If we don't take better care of our planet, this is what will happen."

In order for the world to be entirely, or even mostly, covered with water, sea levels would have to rise over 8 kilometers.* But if all of the ice in the entire world melted, sea levels would only rise about 80 m. At worst, the Earth would go from this:



To this:**


Interesting. Devastating. But not world-destroying, which, really, is what I was hoping for.

So what's an inspiring author (who wants a world covered entirely in water) to do? Here are some possibilities:
  • Fantasy World. It's not Earth, so who's to say how much ice may or may not have melted to drown the civilization underneath?
  • Ice Meteor. An asteroid made entirely of frozen water crashes into the planet, and then melts. Such a meteor would have to have a radius of 900 km (about a seventh the size of the moon) to contain enough water, and that kind of meteor collision would have other consequences. But we're talking thousands of years in the future anyway, right? A crater the size of Australia wouldn't be a big deal by then.
  • Shrink the Earth. Theoretically, if enough internal pressure were released such that the Earth shrank, the existing water would be enough to cover the globe. Of course the very act of releasing that pressure, combined with whatever catastrophic event triggered the release, would probably wipe out life on Earth anyway.
  • Science Is Wrong. This is my favorite one to fall back to. Science is not often wrong, but considering how much we don't know and those times science has been wrong before, it's always possible. Maybe the Earth is filled with water that comes to the surface. Maybe there's more ice underneath Antarctica than we thought. Who knows?
I'm not saying I'm going to do any of these to my world, but it's fun to think of the possibilities. Speaking of which, this list of risks to civilization is all kinds of awesome, especially for those of you considering post-apocalyptic scenarios that are scientifically possible.


* The metric system is just better, sorry. Do your own conversions.

** The map isn't entirely accurate. The program that generated it just uses altitudes, so places like the Caspian Sea wouldn't actually get bigger like they do in the picture.

Blog Growth

I want to take a look at how a blog grows, what does and does not affect it, what you can do to...

Okay, that's a lie. I just want to geek out about statistics.


This blog has been running since May 2008. Other than the spikes, you can see that it has had a pretty steady growth. Let's take a look at the spikes, the dips, and things I think should've affected this growth but didn't.

THE SPIKES
Both spikes were a direct result of someone linking to a post (this one in Oct 2009 and this one a year later,  though I think that first spike is a fluke ... as I recall, most of those visitors came from Google looking for this picture). Although I definitely gained readers both times, there was no significant, long term change in the blog's readership, no matter how big the spike. This is almost certainly due to the lack of swearing, drinking, and scantily-clad women on my blog needed to keep people coming back.

MORAL: Swear more, dammit.

THE DIPS
The dips are usually when I posted less, like last August when I disappeared for two weeks. Makes sense in a graph that shows monthly readership as opposed to per post.

MORAL: Post more often to artificially boost my number of readers per month.

STUFF THAT DID (ALMOST) NOTHING
In Nov 2008, I started posting blog links on Facebook and Twitter. There's a little growth, but not what I'd call significant.

In Sep 2009, I started posting on a regular schedule. Again, there's growth, but that's more easily explained by the fact I went to 13 posts/month instead of 8 (see moral to THE DIPS, above).

In Apr 2010, I got published and ran a contest. I got a few extra page loads that month (usually indicative of new people checking out old posts), but otherwise no big change.

MORAL: Nothing matters. Give up.

CONCLUSION
I don't really believe nothing matters. The graph obviously shows growth, but it also shows there's no single event to magically boost your readers (at least not this side of being agented). I'd say the growth correlates more with me getting better at social media than anything else--commenting on blogs, interacting on Twitter/Facebook, stuff like that.

Not that I'm awesome (I'm SO not), but I try to figure out what people do and do not like to read, and then give them that while still being me. And I'm slowly learning how to actually talk to people, even if it's just over the internet. Honestly, this is stuff anyone can do.

So do you keep track of your readership stats? Have you noticed any trends in what works or doesn't?

Unexpected Convergence

Something I noticed the other day when my daughter asked if she could listen to music on the way to school.

The Slow Death of a Literary Agent

Average American
You are an average American. You sleep 8 hours, eat 2.5 hours a day, work 40 hours a week, and commute a quarter of an hour each way.* The rest of your time is split pretty evenly between things you Have To Do (cooking, cleaning, fixing things, buying things...) and things you Want To Do (watching TV, reading, playing guitar, having a social life, etc).

* Those last two are actually below average, but I'm being generous with the numbers in this post to make a point.


No Response Means No
You decide you want to be a literary agent. That means, in addition to your regular work hours which make money, you have to read query letters. Thinking a query letter is something like a resume -- you send it out widely and only hear back if you get an interview -- you adopt a "no response means no" policy.

Still, it takes you an average of 3 minutes to read and make a decision on each query. Getting through 200 queries a week, plus partials and fulls, means 12 extra hours of work. Fortunately you weren't very good at guitar anyway. And you probably don't have to see a new movie every week.


Form Rejections
Writers, you discover, are needier than the average job seeker. Without a response, they pester you endlessly wondering if you've gotten to their query yet. After talking to your agent buddies you adopt a form rejection policy. Copying/pasting everything, including the author's name and their book title, takes an extra minute per query -- over 3 hours more each week. No big deal, but it does mean you have to stop watching those reality shows.


Improved Form Rejections
After a few years of interacting with writers on your blog (which you do now instead of going out Saturday night), you decide form rejections aren't enough. You're eager to give writers what they want, so you personalize your rejections -- not all the way, of course, but since a query usually gets rejected for one of a few reasons, you create five "personalized" form rejection letters.

What you didn't realize was how difficult it is to stop and analyze every query for why it doesn't appeal to you. And some queries don't even fit into your categories. It ends up taking another 2 minutes per query, leaving you with only 4 hours of "Want To Do" time a week. You survive though, trading sleep so you can play Halo or read a book occasionally.


Personalized Rejection
It's still not enough. Instead of being thankful for your help, the writers are arguing with you over why you didn't like their story! Years later you'll learn it's just human nature, that it's hard NOT to defend your work even when faced with hard evidence. For now, you decide you'll write truly personalized rejections. It takes a while -- about 10 minutes per query, actually -- but it's worth it if it helps writers improve their craft.


Of course everything you eat is ordered online now, weekends are something that happen to other people, and cleaning is right out (and you can't afford a maid, of course, because you're not getting paid for any of this). But finally the writers will be satisfied.

Won't they?

Followers, Readers, and Venn Diagrams


I don't actually like the Followers widget on the sidebar there. I mean, yes, it feels nice every time the number goes up, but it's misleading. Followers do not mean readers. Readers don't mean fans. Fans don't mean friends. And really, I think we all want our blog/Twitter/whatever followers to be one of those last two.

Getting followers is easy. Well, not easy -- it's a lot of work. But it's mostly within your control: comment on and follow 1,000 blogs, and you will instantly get 100 or more followers. Just like that. Elana Johnson has some great advice on getting lots of followers, and I agree with every one of her points. But followers do not mean readers.

Turning followers into readers is a bit harder, but still within your control. Just write something people want to read. It takes practice and (again) hard work to figure out topics both you and other people are interested in (hint: it's not you, not at first), but it can be done.

Now I'm not large enough in the public sphere to understand how readers become fans, though I do know how to make friends (be one). But here's a secret: it's not a progression. The diagram above is far too simple. In reality, it's more like this:


You can have readers who aren't followers. Friends who never read your blog. Followers who genuinely like you and would help you out, but don't have time to read all your posts. Readers who like your blog and like you, but aren't really a fan of your fiction.

It's a complicated world, but the encouraging bit is this: you don't have to get a lot of followers to be successful. You don't have to follow everyone who follows you. You don't have to chain yourself to that stupid widget.

I admit, things can change when blogging becomes part of your profession. In the comments of Elana's post, she points out that her editor sees a 1400-follower blog. In fact it's the only measuring tool an editor, or anyone else, has to see how popular a blog is. But Elana uses her blog to make money. If only 100 of those followers buy her books, that's 100 books she wouldn't have sold otherwise.

But most of us aren't there yet. If I got 500 more followers right now, what good would it do me, even if I could turn them into fans? Not much. Blogging for me is more of a long term investment, so I invest slowly. I use it for practice, for networking, and yes I'm looking for fans and friends, but only so I have some folks to celebrate with when I sell something. I don't need "followers" to do that.