Category Archives: professional life

Professional Self-Publisher vs Professional Author, the Bottom Line

I just read an article about professional self-publishing authors versus hobbyists. I thought it was reasonably presented, well-written, succinct, and to the point. There were a couple of things, though, that niggled at me, mostly because my brain is always adding in the qualifiers, quantifiers, and outliers — the means and the extremes. First, though, a short synopsis:

The author, Peter Mulraney, first defines professional versus hobbyist quite nicely. There can be no argument from the tax authority, which is where the distinction is most critical, much as many a self-published author will dodge that comprehension until after they’ve gotten themselves stuck in some auditing mire.

From there, we get a quick summary of product-based business basics:

  1. the business plan
  2. the product and its marketing
  3. diversification
  4. record-keeping
  5. self-discipline

And, of course, this is where my brain releases devils within details, the first and foremost being that, in order to do #1 on the list, you have to have previously mastered #5, no small feat for many. Heck, for the majority, it’s tough to even muster enough self-discipline to get up in the morning in time to shower, dress, and head out for the day job with enough time to spare that some unforeseen delay like a train at a railroad crossing doesn’t send them into a frothing frenzy because they’re going to wind up fifteen minutes late for the job …again. Hence, you see that frenetic driver, their body leaned forward in urgency as they weave in and out of traffic to then cross three lanes in a dive for their exit, tires smoking as they round the last corner to scream into the employee parking lot.

Luckily, Peter lays out a nice road map, though, defining a business plan as “setting measurable goals.” He then gives a tidy example:

  • writing and publishing a book every year – that means scheduling time to write
  • building a body of work within a defined timeframe, for example, ten books in five years – that means committing to the long term view
  • setting sales targets, for example, selling 10,000 or 100,000 copies – that means scheduling time for marketing

Let’s take a look at those, shall we? Write and publish a book a year, and — very important this — scheduling the time to write that book. Okay. Do-able. …For some.

But, wait. Check out bullet point number two: Build a body of work within a defined timeframe — ten books in five years.

[Sputter.] That’s two books a year, something even big-name, trad pubbed authors often sweat to accomplish …and they (supposedly) have editors and agents to help them along in meeting that goal.

But there’s help once you’ve got number one out the door. It’s NaNoWriMo!

Voilà! That should get you book number two for the year.

Okay. Onto the second part of bullet point number two: committing to the long-term view.  Now, I ask: How many folks can you name, including yourself, who can make a monthly plan and stick to it?

How about just a weekly plan?

A day plan?

Okay. Let’s lower the bar: How about just making and fulfilling a monthly shopping list of everything needed in your household for the month, vowing to never venture out to the store again until thirty days hence? …How about just a week’s worth?

I’m sorry, but most everyone I know these days, save myself and Bill next door, can’t even manage a full day! And you think a five-year plan is going to be a functional reality? Do you remember that research paper you had to turn in by the end of the month in high school? How did that work out? That book you were assigned to read and give a book report on? That chapter of reading for History class?

If the honest answer is, “Great! No problem. Always got my goals and assignments done” or, even, “Usually got my goals and assignments done,” then, yes, do give long-term goal-setting the go. If not, practice completing short-term goals, increasing the length of time for each practice goal by twice every time you succeed. Once you have managed to succeed at setting and accomplishing a yearly goal, then, okay, give longer-term planning a try.

And now we come to bullet-point number three: “setting sales targets.”

In a word, don’t. Not even if you’re a best-selling, trad pubbed author with an awesome advance release team and publicist, plus an in on Oprah …unless,of course, you’re the mob boss in some mafia, syndicate, or cabal with enough influence that will guarantee the numbers you set yourself, by hook or by crook.

As to some of the details Peter mentions, I’m only going to address this one, because it’s to-the-point and on-target:

“Being in business means being flexible with what you write and publish. There is no point in persisting with a product line that does not sell.”

Bingo!

And here’s the translation: If the books you’re passionate about writing don’t sell, are you willing and able to write what does? Because that’s the difference between being a professional self-publisher and being a writer. The bottom line drives the former; passion, the latter. I count as the latter, which, because I do make a profit, because it’s work, not a hobby, makes me, not a professional self-publisher, but a professional author who now just happens to choose to self-publish rather than go back with the trads.

Don’t.

Dear Website Owners Selling Something I May Decide to Try,

Don’t:

  • hide your pricing;
  • hit me with a persistent pop-up window requiring me to create an account, login with my Facebook account, join your mailing list, and/or anything demanding I share with you any contact information or identity information, forbidding me from exploring your products and/or services unless and/or until I do.

Do:

  • prominently display the benefits of your goods or services and the cost of those goods and/or services;
  • allow me to decide if I want to create an account and share my identity and contact information with you once and only if I decide to buy.

Your job and your website’s job is to convince me that you’re trustworthy, dependable, offer a worthy product and/or service. Hiding your pricing and terms of service, blocking me from information about your products and/or services unless I jump through hoops to get there is a sure way to lose me as a potential customer.

Author Community All Aflutter and Cluck. OMG!

So, a bunch of “legitimate, hard-working ‘authors'” are in an outrage. Feathers are kerfuffled, bent, even broken. Tsks, clucks, cries, and screams of outrage (text-style) flood the cyberlanes. SJW-style calls-to-action abound. Hands grab virtual pitchforks, clubs, hoes, and hatchets.

It might not make your local news, but, in the online author circles, the ripples are palpable, the temblors quaking their virtual landscapes. The headline reads: “Scammers Break The Kindle Store”. (If you’re interested, DuckDuckGo it, because, no, I won’t link to it or any of its reblogs.) What that headline should read is: “System-Gaming ‘Authors’ Beaten at Their Own Game,” because that’s what’s happened.

Authors ‘serious’ about getting their ‘eBooks’ noticed in the hopes of making both money and a name for themselves as ‘successful indie authors’ collect and then mine their followers, email list subscribers, author pals and cooperatives, friends, relatives, and anybody else they can to try to get their books highly ranked on Amazon and other online book selling venues. Calls-to-action abound with

  • Urges to read a provided eARC (eBook version of an Advanced Review Copy) then post reviews of the book on its release date or very soon thereafter. (Of course, four and five star reviews are expected.)
  • Coordination of blog posts among genre-similar associate authors promoting the book are pre-scheduled, as are blog tours.
  • Subscribers and followers are urged to buy within x days of release or an older release’s new promotion, with specific dates sometimes assigned.
  • Social media pals are sent copy to post pre-release, on release day, and the few days following that release.
  • Seeking permafree status on Amazon of an author’s first book or, better, of the first of a series, is something pursued with vengeance and artful manipulation.
  • BookBub campaigns, Book Gorilla campaigns, eliciting votes for best cover contests and best book contests….
  • et al. ad infinitum.

Here’s the reality: Legitimately good books written by legitimately good authors don’t usually make it to the top of any rankings, because most legitimately good authors don’t have the crowd charisma and marketing gumption (and, yes, I said ‘gumption’, defined as ‘boldness of enterprise; aggressiveness’, because that’s what it is) necessary to hold sway.  Success in eBooks, especially on Amazon, regardless of actually how good the book is (and most of them are, in fact, schlock) is based on how well the author of that top-ranked book has gamed the system, which is dependent upon ‘likeability’, luck, skill at manipulating the various ranking algorithms and, more so, skill at convincing others to raise you and your book’s popularity and sales/download/pages-read numbers.

So, indie authors are in an uproar …because outsourced clickfarms have stolen their tactics of inner circle clickfarming and are ruining their game-plan. Truth is, all the outsourced clickfarms are doing is exactly what the authors were doing, only much more effectively, it seems.

Me? I don’t find the outsourced clickfarming any less ethical than author-run efforts. In fact, I think I find them less offensive. Of course, my opinion is that of a tiny minority, and, I guess, it’s extremely offensive to people like Stuart Whitmore over on G+ who decided to resort to insults and trolling me over it. That’s okay. I expect that. I’m not and never have been willing to just go along to get along, embracing the most popular opinion just because it’s socially advantageous.

Updates Interminable

I turn on the system in the morning, check email …and it starts–all these demands for me to attend the fact that WordPress needs to update across the board on the more than two handfuls of installs I monitor and maintain for myself and others. Then there are the plugins updates, sometimes a theme update. Meanwhile, FireFox, Chrome, IE, and Thunderbird are also demanding to install security updates. My anti-virus, too. And all the rest of it.

This is not a once-in-awhile occurrence like it used to be. This isn’t even just a monthly occurrence. This is, at minimum, weekly, and, sometimes, even every couple of days.

I spend more of computer time than ever approving updates to install, then waiting through the process, only to move on to the next demand for yet another update over here, over there, under there, up there….

I eye the master surge protector’s off switch, consider parking all domains…and wait for yet another update to install on the server, breathing a sigh of relief when a client’s rather Twidget-laden website makes it through intact with everything still working and located on the pages where it all is supposed to be.

…Oh, look! Here comes another one!

How to be a Hugely Successful Published Author

First off, you have to write a book …or get somebody to write it for you, but it has to be one that is going to strike the fancy of ‘the mob’. (Think 50 Shades….)  If you don’t have something that’s going to strike a chord with the masses, then you’re just one insignificant among the millions of others publishing in the U.S., never mind globally.

Now, before doing anything else, and I mean anything (no queries to literary agents, no submissions to publishers, or, if self-publishing, no announcements, no pre-publication notices or pre-release sales, no cover reveals…NOTHING), lets go down the checklist:

  • Are you an extrovert? Yes?  Good.  Continue.
  • Are you part of one or another ‘in’ crowd, hugely popular both in the real world and on social media, and do you have a frenzied bunch of followers who dote on your every word, video, and image share? Yes? Good. Continue.
  • Do you have a bunch of money to fling to the winds? Yes? Good. Continue.
  • Are you already famous? Yes? Excellent. If no, continue at your own risk.
  • If self-publishing, get a really good cover made for your book. If going the literary-agent-to-big-traditional-publisher route, start querying the big agents, but, after landing one who actually manages to shop your book to one of the big five, expect to wait about 1.5 years before going to the next step.
  • Whether self-publishing or going with one of the big trads, hire a top-of-the-line publicist, buy lots of advertising, and get on with it.

And, no, this is not tongue-in-cheek. And, yes, you’ll come out behind for the first book, but, if it’s a hit like 50 Shades…, no problem. You’ll make it back on books 2 and 3. If it’s not a hit, continue with books 2 and 3 at your own risk …and, yes, if it’s not a hit and traditionally published, your publisher may very well dump you; your agent probably will, too.

One more thing: If you do make it, hire a financial adviser and learn what NOT to do so you don’t wind up blowing your wad and end up in the poor house.

 

Calling the Bluff

I spent the greater part of yesterday testing a friend’s website that I neither own nor manage. This website is a rebuild of a previous version hosted somewhere else, and it’s supposed to open this Sunday. After some shallow testing using four tools, I was having grave misgivings. I spoke with the owner. Then I pulled the owner’s content to ensure its preservation just in case things should ‘go south’.

I don’t like messing with another’s website. I don’t like or want the hassle. However, there’s this sense of ‘what needs to be done’ and ‘what’s right to be done’ that won’t allow me to just turn my back. It’s the same core in me that makes me stop and help when another entity, regardless of species, is in jeopardy.

When it comes to webmastering, I think I’ve spent as much time rescuing domains for their owners as I have building them. That’s probably not at all accurate, but it often feels that way, because, often, it requires hours, days, and a lot of research and expertise to effect the necessary solution, and it’s always tedious and laden with bureaucratic nightmares. ICANN is not fun to deal with in these cases. and you’d better have your receipts and documentation in order, a good fax machine, a notary on standby, and some solid gold identity proof, because you’re going to need it along with me or someone like me to help free your property from danger. Else hire a very good, expensive lawyer.

In this case, it was a matter of getting the content as secured as possible — some thirty pages, only — then writing up some pertinent questions that should instantly demonstrate to the would-be webmasters involved that their bluff has been called. “Lay your cards on the table, boys. It’s over.”  Luckily, the owner retains complete control of their domain — the only saving grace to this. But not the content. The content wasn’t backed up before turning it over to the ‘boyz’. Hence, scraping it to preserve it …just in case. It’s now in a nice .zip file, handed over to the owner, though I retained a copy …just in case, as well.

I hate when things like this happen to unsuspecting people, and, actually, I’m very sure the webmastering dudes running this show are genuine in their desire to do the job right …for their fee. But it’s too obvious they are in way over their heads and don’t realize — not at all — that their underpants are showing, and those underpants have a very noticeable brown stripe.

 

A Forced Abandon

The Internet went down. Soggy cables of a crumbling infrastructure will do that when a melt happens. Of course, it happens other times, too, but that’s usually either rodents chewing through the lines…or somebody’s highway construction project severing the main trunk. Gleefully, I took advantage of the hiatus granted me from the Net–from having to deal with servers, email, and everything cyber. It let me concentrate…or should have, on working on my projects.

First day down and, yes, me without any withdrawal symptoms (I never suffer withdrawal from losing connection. The opposite, in fact.), I worked on my audio project…until the cyberzombies who were suffering withdrawal descended, wondering if I had Internet access some way. (They know me too well, I think…and, uh-huh, I did have a way to connect, but I didn’t tell them that, because, for me, it’s only for emergencies. Using it is hyper-expensive.) Second day down, and it’s Mom’s birthday, which means everybody and their puppy either calls or shows up–no appreciable work done.

And, then, the DSL came back up…earlier than predicted. (Grumble.) There is something to be said for having no connection to the world at large, except for what’s outside your door. Life is cleaner, less cluttered, less stressful, less concerned. I prefer it that way, but the reality is that, without connectivity, I become insulated from the reality in which most people live, experiencing only the reality of localized here and now. I would have no idea if nuclear war broke out…until I became a shadow burned into the ground–no terror possible.

I remember when I lived as a recluse for long years, only coming out maybe once a month if I needed some fencing material or food staples. And to get the mail. Back then, I had an early form of Internet, too–all black screen or telnet white screen, delivered via braided copper cable that I paid a substantial amount to have run to the property from miles away. Communication was limited to text, used by few, and completely devoid of trolls, advertising, and, mostly, malevolence from black box intruders. It also was devoid of inanity, breakfast bagels, and surf-by spammers. I was reminded of that time today when, coming back online, Nathan Lowell poked his head out long enough to type of few conversant lines with Anita Lewis and me. It was refreshing to commune with people you know are intelligent and of sound character.

The point? I don’t know if there is one. Yet, I know that the Net as it stands today is completely unfulfilling as a communication and connection medium. At least, for me.

 

February 16, 2017 – Changing Weather, Virtual & Real

This morning’s chores included spreading traction sand on treacherous, water-slicked ice, because it’s so darned slippery, even with traction gear on feet and wheels, there’s just no way not to fall on butt or wind up in the snow bank. It’s raining…and, of course, flooding in some places where ice dams prevent drainage. (Not here. The water drains downhill from here. But, yes, out there.) Little cars wind up in trouble where water crests the road to levels where even jacked-up pickups roll through very slowly, carefully.

Another thaw has hit us, stripping all the remnant ice and snow from roofs and ledges. squashing down the giant snow berms and making icy slides of the mountains scraped and shoveled off the roofs. Nobody will be sledding down the garage roof, anymore, a favorite winter game for some. (Not me.)

I’m done with any labor, now, for at least an hour. Checking stats, I fill in my Excel spreadsheets with copy/paste, then nod as pre-set formulas churn out results, broadcasting them to a selected handful who will, in their turn, pass them on to others in the group. Miles away–thousands of them–my cohorts chatter on my live feed. We launched our latest project right on time in January, and, yes, our suspicions prove themselves already, though it’s only February.  Six-and-a-half weeks of tracking for specific patterns already shows the trends. I’m glad I’ve made my plans. I’m glad I’m already prepping for the changes that we suspect are happening.

Ruffled Feathers, the Dead Wood, Entitlement, & the Right of Choice

Whenever I open my mouth to say what I think…or, rather, type on my keyboard (because the Internet is where it happens most, now), feathers get ruffled. What I consider a common sense viewpoint is, more often than not, objected to by a specific mindset owned by those who claim entitlement to any and everything, and by those whom the entitlement claimers have brainwashed into believing their pap.That happened this morning when I posted a rather mild rant about attitudes about piracy, specifically piracy of eBooks and audiobooks–piracy of my books.

Enter the self-appointed publishing expert who, after chiding me on the use of the word ‘bullshit’, claiming it to be cursing (an antiquely Puritan viewpoint, IMO) ‘informs’ me that:

  • of course I’m wrong;
  • of course the statistics gathered from an eight-month study that I instigated last year in my private webmaster group of skilled and learned people is also erroneous;
  • of course it’s not costing anyone really–no, not at all.
  • And, he insists, after all, according to [reference] and [reference], it’s no big deal.

(Remember The Emperor’s New Clothes? Remember Stone Soup? Obviously, he has deluded himself into seeing the emperor’s clothes and thinks hucksters are heroes for tricking people into sharing their hard-earned assets with clever vagabonds.  …Remember The Ant and the Grasshopper?)

…Then there’s the gamer who somehow added 1 and 1 and got 31, claiming that I must be against friends loaning to friends.

Ah, duh, that feature is enabled on my eBooks, and you can, with a click, share your eBook purchase through Amazon with a friend or several, albeit one at a time…and Amazon is the only place I publish, right now.

Then he added that I must have a problem with libraries, too.

No, not, and never. It’s stealing I have a problem with, dufus. Jumping to erroneous conclusions that have nothing at all to do with the topic demonstrates, at least, your level of desperation to support your stance, never mind your lack of foundation.

There’s a whole generation of you–comprised mostly of youth and Gen-Y-ers, who believe you’re entitled to access anything on the Internet for free. You claim It should be free, and, one way or another, you’re trying to force it to be free. Well, it’s not free…just like the clothes on your back, the shoes on your feet, the food that you eat, and drinks that you swallow aren’t free, much as you’d like them to be. My book sales are my income.  It’s the work I do.  I should be paid for that work, and, in fact, I insist on being paid for that work. If you don’t want to pay, then go entertain yourself with one of those ubiquitous free books out there. (Psst! There’s a ton of them, with slack-skilled authors just begging you to download them, all for free. In fact, they’ll even pay you to read their books! Have at it.)

In point of fact, I’ve loaned or even given my eBooks and print books away. Yep. But that’s MY choice to do it…when and if I choose to do it, which, admittedly, isn’t often. But it’s MY choice of when to do it and upon whom to bestow my gifts–my right as the intellectual property owner. It’s also MY choice to set a price that I think is fair and reasonable…just like it is YOUR choice to choose whether to pay for the privilege of reading my novels and books. (“Oh, gads,” they mutter. “She has the audacity to say ‘privilege’!” …Yep, I do.  Because it is.

You don’t want to pay the price?

Don’t.

I’m not begging you to read my work. Not at all. The key word there is CHOICEMY choice not to let you read my work for free, and YOUR choice not to pay my price for the privilege of reading it.  But a lot of you want to take that right away from me. You object to the very fact that it is my right, a right you don’t think that I, as the creator, should hold. You actually promote and sanction a policy that I, the creator, should be denied that right, not just nationally, but globally!

You think you are somehow owed the right to consume whatever content you want to and not be required to pay for it. And when somebody says, “No!”, you throw a hissy fit. (You should see the private messages…or should I say the private scolds and castigations I received. Too bad they weren’t posted publicly. I would have loved to share them, especially the ones decrying me as a “capitalist [c-word]”, “a selfish control freak”, and…well, we won’t go farther than that, thanks.)

I knew when I posted that editorial, I was going to get the rats, termites, and maggots crawling out of the walls.

And crawl you did.

I was prepared for that, and was, actually, quite surprised I didn’t receive more text-lashings. The few I did receive just prove my point. You’ve proven to me just how stupid and unabashedly hypocritical you are–you who demand fair wages for your work, but would deny me mine. And you’ve convinced a lot of gullible authors of that, too, demonstrating just how well the very people getting ripped off by your ‘content-should-be-free’ meme–authors who accept and even sanction it–can convince themselves that they’re so very lucky to be getting hung with a new rope, rather than a used one.

Of course, on the up side, I got nice support, too. Not so many in private messages, but in the sharing, plussing, and the few brave souls who commented.  Thanks, all.

Meanwhile, of course, the response I got allows me to separate more chaff from wheat. I love pruning out the dead wood and keeping those who hold a vital mind.

The ‘Content Should Be Free’ Mindset

 

Most of you know that I quit publishing more books because of piracy problems. Since then, I’ve done a lot of research on the subject.

The common indie author response to this problem is (paraphrasing): “Piracy is okay, because the people who download your book wouldn’t buy it anyway, so you’re not really losing any revenue, and, besides, it’s actually good because your work is being read and you’re potentially gaining fans.”  Then, of course, there’s the ‘content should be free’ people–people who think that ‘liberating’ (stealing) intellectual property isn’t wrong, at all–that any creation that doesn’t require tangible resources should be given away, the creators not compensated except maybe for voluntarily dumping some pennies into a tin cup…if that.

To which I now, after a whole year’s worth of intense research, say ‘bullshit’!

In March of 2016, I discovered that I had over fifteen thousand illegal downloads of two of my books. (The number has gone up a lot since then, btw.)  And my numbers aren’t but a scratch to what other authors, both indie and trad pubbed have suffered, even from just a single torrent site. For just one novel, from just one site, their numbers rank anywhere from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of downloads–that’s for a single title. (Luckily, my books appeal to very narrow niche of readers.)

Figure that out, even at pennies in royalties per copy, rather than several dollars in royalties, like my books are set,

So, a couple of days ago, I found out that my audiobook of OHL has also been pirated, an audiobook only available, supposedly, from Audible, an Amazon company that is very keen on protecting that content…and their attempts to foil pirates still failed.

So, now, after a year of research, picking the brains of experts in encryption, licensing, and in protecting against piracy, including the top, most successful company at protecting games, at least during the game’s initial month of release, which is all they’ll guarantee, it comes down to this: There is absolutely no way to prevent piracy, not of eBooks, not of games, not of music, videos, audiobooks, artwork…nothing…when they are offered for sale online.

One expert suggests that the best answer to combating piracy is to create a better delivery service to consumers. He cites Netflix as an example of his thinking–that Netflix makes it so cheap and easy to watch just about any movie or TV program you want with their huge catalog that you don’t bother trying to locate pirated versions or pirate them yourself.  I can see the logic, but, again, I say bullshit.

My take, after a year’s worth of research, is that It’s a mindset we’re doing battle with, the mindset that says “I should be able to get it all for free, and, if I can’t get it for free, then I’ll steal it and release it to everyone because content should be free.”

I wonder how these “content liberators” would feel if someone broke into their bank account and liberated all their cash to anybody and everybody.  You can bet they’d be REALLY upset.  Well, that’s exactly what they’re advocating, that’s exactly what they’re doing and supporting with my own and every other creative artist’s intellectual property when you and they pirate it, distribute it, and when you and they download those pirated copies.

Meanwhile, I’m still working on a solution to my dilemma of how to publish and release my creations and at least net enough to live on without my husband having to put his life in jeopardy every bloody day so we can make ends meet…and, yes, I do think I’ve come up with a solution.  It will take planning, it will take effort and time, but at least I won’t feel violated by hypocritical assholes.