Saturday, 28 March 2015

Where to start?

If you guys are anything like me, I get confused when I'm interested in a new author and they've got more than, say, one book out. Where to start?

Well, I have nearly 30 current releases going, and I get some very confused readers who "have heard of me" or "are interested", but have no clue where to start. So I thought about that problem and while all the information is out there - blurbs and excerpts - it's never really in one place. And to access it, people have to be online to access publisher websites or Amazon/B&N or whatever place they go to for that information.

So I decided to make it easy and create the kind of little helper I wanted to see myself. And it was a few days' of work, so originally it was supposed to be a birthday present from me to you, but there's no way I'm waiting until 4th May to present this beauty.

Taster Volume I combines all my currently available releases with excerpts (always from the beginning, and usual several chapters) and blurbs. But what's even better, I've added some author commentary for each work to make it interesting even for people who've already read the books, and a chronological list of releases. This anthology is up to date - from Deliverance to No Place That Far, so roughly end-2009 to beginning of 2015.

You can get a PDF version, an epub and a mobi on my website here. I've done the conversions myself, so it won't be quite professional grade, but they seemed clean enough for me.

All in all, it's nearly 170,000 words or almost 500 pages. And needless to say, feel free to share the file with your friends, too. I hope you'll find it useful and entertaining.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

The way forward

I've been extremely fortunate again - yesterday, I received an offer from the investment bank I was interviewing with and I've taken it quite happily and proudly. It took three rounds of interviews to get there - this was literally the most attractive job I've come across in four years (and four years ago, I landed my favourite job in my whole career), and I clicked with the culture and people working there.

I've recently done quite a bit of work around my "values" (the stuff that's driving us), and found a company that aligns with those. I like efficient, focused places - in fact, I need those to do my best. Very few companies are focused like investment banks. I'm also quite interested in the capital markets - business, the flow of money, company research, stocks, the big economic picture - and it'll be good to go back to all that.

And some of that research has made it into books - both Gold Digger and Return on Investment were cut from the real-life financial shenanigans going on.

I've already received some worried messages about what that'll mean for my writing. At the moment, it's hard to say. I was productive in that other investment bank (writing in the ebbs of the workflow), but it seems this place is too efficient for that - the workload seems to be significantly larger, and I'll have more responsibility actually managing projects.

The hours are VERY early (I'm a night owl, so I'll need to re-train my brain and try to get sleep when the opportunity arises), but they aren't outrageously long. So there will be time to write.

I had a fairly ambitious plan of writing five novels a year. That won't be happening now. I have some fragments I want to finish up this year (Suckerpunch, Dark Heart, and a couple co-writes), but I've been drifting away from gay romance and erotic romance. I don't write the books that sell huge numbers, don't write the kind of plot people are very interested in, and all that means that I don't make enough money to live off writing.

So, for the moment at least, I'll consider writing strictly a hobby. No deadlines, no "I should do this", no expected minimum income, no production plan. I've considered taking a year out and focus entirely on other stuff (like a martial art, or switching to a different medium like sculpting or painting) to refresh the Muse. I might still do that.

I want to finish Suckerpunch and Dark Heart because I promised those and people are waiting. Mostly, though, I want to finish my WWII cycle - essentially more books in the vein of the Bird Book. The nice thing is that the bank job means I can afford to write books like that. It'll be a huge relief to not have to plan my release schedule or genres according to what sells and might allow me to pay the mortgage. It also means if a book needs a year or two, I have that time while I'm employed.

Basically, I can now afford to not care if anything sells. I'll just put them out there and write the next one. If they make money, great, if not, at least I wrote them and hopefully evolved as a writer.

Those books will still likely have a love element, but I don't feel I'm a writer who delivers the typical (lucrative) romance plot very well, so I'll stop trying. If it happens, great, but I won't focus on Romance by any means. I'll focus instead on stuff I'm good at and to create more balance in my life, which has been out of whack - working too hard and too much and being totally focussed on just one thing will do that.

I want to learn new things, maybe write some non-fiction, write the books that keep me up at night and not the books I *should* be writing or the books that "sell". More historicals, fantasy, sci-fi, maybe horror. I might even write "straight" books under a different name, just to see if my skills are still sharp and because I have a Templar bunny that wants out.

I'll be attending the European conferences in Bristol and Munich, but I don't foresee travelling much beyond that for writing-related things - I have limited holidays and it would be nice to spend some of that time with my very patient partner.

So, it's a major shift, really. It's not a retirement - obviously not - but while I can afford to do so, I'll write the weird and wonderful books I've pushed aside for too long, at a speed that suits them and me. I've had a good run so far, but it's time to switch direction and focus on other things. I want to grow as a writer and person - and leaving the little comfortable corner I've made for myself will achieve that.

For me, that's the way forward and I've shied away from that for too long - I like my comfort zones, too. But I'm sure I can trust the Muse and there will be wonderful books in the future - whatever their genre.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

March check-in

As of yesterday, I'm a certified NLP Coach/NLP Practitioner - about the result of three hard weeks of preparation and a very hands-on in-person course and test that completed yesterday. Met amazing, inspiring, wonderful people on the course, did a lot of work on myself and others. It was quite the experience.

At present, I'm still working out where I'm going to taking all those therapy skills I've been acquiring over the last few years, but it's calling to me and I'm starting to see glimpses of what I'm starting to call "my system". In the end, I'll be making my own, all based on NLP and various meridian techniques as well as hypnosis. Mostly, I think all the questions I still have will resolve themselves as I get to the NLP Master Practitioner/NLP Master Coach level. I'm also looking at going for the Trainer/Master Trainer levels afterwards, but one step at a time.

Today I slept in late and then started sorting out some admin stuff that I didn't have capacity to deal with last week. Also for the first time in three weeks, I can focus on my books, so I'm currently going through the new set of developmental edits for my historical novel. After that, I'm hoping to look at some projects that were/are translated into German, and then back to Dark Heart.

Also, on Tuesday I'm going to a second interview at a large bank. I did enjoy editing for banks, so I'm hoping to land the job; the pay is very very good, and cons such as GRL wouldn't be a financial problem (I can't make this year's GRL, but the next one won't be a problem). Also, it should help me pay off my house very quickly, as well as pay for the qualifications I want to achieve. So it'll be a dramatic change, but I'm walking into that with very open eyes. It will likely have an impact on my writing and the time I can spend doing all my other stuff, but at the moment that's very all right with me. It'll take the pressure off, and I'm all for that.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Quiet time

I'm currently fairly quiet - mostly I've been busy with some projects. For example, I've done some work for CritShop, which I've been planning together with Anyta Sunday. I've worked with groups before, but I'm much better now, so that should be a really cool experience. We do have a couple places left, so if you feel so inclined, check it out!

Then I've been working on edits for the Bird Book, which are coming along. I should get it ready for copy-edits by the end of the month. We're currently doing developmental edits, which is when the structure and all the "big picture" elements are checked. I'm also pleased to announce that it has been signed by Riptide. (In summary, I didn't think the book would be commercial or romantic enough so I was ready to self-publish it.) We're looking at a release date towards early October (to get a shot at mainstream reviews.)

Then I've been readying Deliverance for publication. Cover by the very talented Garrett Leigh.

This short story has a long history--first published with Noble Romance in 2009, I reclaimed my rights a couple years ago (read: bought them back), re-edited and expanded it and then donated rights to Another Place In Time, a charity anthology of historical short fiction that has raised several thousand dollars for, so a very worthy cause indeed. That said, the exclusivity clause ends on 1 April 2015, and I've decided to put the short story out there for everybody who wants it by itself or as an exercise in completion.

It's a short story (not a novel) and my first commercial solo m/m effort. I'd write it a bit differently these days, but I also wanted to keep it as-is. I can't run around and keep rewriting "old" stories. So here it is. If you've read it it in Noble's anthology, this one is improved an expanded. If you've read the version in Another Place In Time, this is the same version. It can now be pre-ordered. And after the feedback I got about Return on Investment, Deliverance is up on Amazon AND B&N and iTunes and several others. (Also, I've expanded distribution of Return on Investment, so you can buy it at the major retailers now too - that's my strategy now going forward anyway.)

The  blurb is:

Once a renowned tournament fighter known as the "Lion of Kent," William Raven joined the Templars in the Holy Land to escape his past and the political machinations of his enemies. Called to protect travelling pilgrims bound for Jerusalem, William comes face to face with Guy de Metz, his lover from the past. But Guy is no longer the foppish young noble William knew.

Guy de Metz once tamed the famous Lion, but failed to hold onto the man. Rumours and intrigue tore them apart, and William left seemingly without a thought. Now as they meet again, William claims he has sworn himself to God and God alone, but Guy believes that somewhere inside William’s chest, the proud, fierce man he used to love is still alive, and he will prove it.

Then I've been studying hard towards an NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) qualification. It feels like about 50% hypnosis, and you guys know how much I love trance, so it's been fun and mind-bending so far, and that's just the at-home pre-studies. The idea was originally to be a better coach (people ask me for advice all the time, so I wanted to be better at giving it), but my fascination is running deeper now--I just really enjoy the whole model and the possibilities are stunning. There's three things I could do all day without ever getting tired of it: writing, trancework and talking about writing, so I'm playing with ways to combine those.

With studying hard and thinking in those models, I struggle a bit to focus on creative writing per se--I'm more in an editing mindset at the moment--but the idea is still to wrap Dark Heart by end-March. Suckerpunch hopefully by end-April.

Lastly, I bought a webcam yesterday and will sort out insurance so I can start practicing as a therapist/hypnotist. Currently I'm mostly gathering experience, but generally, I'll be available for face-to-face coaching/therapy from today. (I have a few clients lined up, so that's brilliant. I know my stuff, and nothing beats practice.)

Right, I better get back to my studies. The actual course starts on Saturday and is from 10am to 8pm until 6 March. Considering I have to commute there, I don't expect to do more than fall into bed afterwards. It'll be great.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Why my books don't cost 99 cents

I was recently asked why my books are so expensive. Surely, the reasoning goes, if my books would cost 99 cents, I'd have more sales and make more money, and besides, it would curb piracy.

No. At 99 cents, I couldn't live off writing, simple as that. I most definitely wouldn't even have attempted becoming a full-time writer. In fact, I wouldn't have walked out of my day job, and would very likely now be doing some (read: any) job out there, leading to less time to write and possibly giving up.

Let's walk through the facts and numbers:

Amazon sets the price bracket

The common price points for books are heavily engineered by Amazon based on the payout. Amazon pays out 70% on books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, and only 30% on books priced below $2.99 or over $9.99.

In other words, a self-published writer makes about $0.30 for a 99-cents book, but about $2 for a $2.99 book.

And why is Amazon important? Because Amazon is 80-90% of everybody's ebook sales.

Cost of producing a book

Producing a novel-length book properly (edits, edits again, decent cover, formatting, conversion, etc) easily costs between $1,500 (that's low-balling, because I've cut deals with some people) and $2,000 - all of this is money you have to invest before the money is starting to roll in. There are people who don't invest in an editor, because an editor is by far the most expensive part of production, but a good editor makes all the difference. There are people who cut corners on editing and claim nobody notices. Well, I notice, and I want to publish books that are worthwhile, which means investing enough money to make sure I'm proud of what I'm putting out.

Now, if you self-publish, you need to sell nearly 6,700 copies to make your money back at $.30 royalties per copy. And this is where the kicker is - speaking from my own personal experience, I haven't written even one book that has sold that many copies. Even if I do manage by some miracle to sell 6,700 copies - at that point, I haven't even been paid for my work.

Conversely, let's assume you have a really, really good contract and a publisher would pay you 50% of earnings per copy (publishers pay closer to 25-40%), a publisher would have to sell twice those 6,700 (= 13,400) copies for the author to make $2,000 for a novel. The publisher has to pay for its own expenses, aka marketing, staff, possibly offices, conferences, IT support, corporation tax (that's after footing the bill for production costs of the actual book).

Investment in training/man-hours

I haven't crunched the actual numbers, but let's assume a novel is about 100-300 hours of work (I'm pretty sure that a historical novel, with all the research and fact-checking is a lot more than that) and you do manage to sell those 6,700 copies and do make $2,000 for a book. If you average the production time (200 hours), that would be a theoretical $10/hour (before tax, before cost like internet connection, heating, research books). That's about £6/hour. Minimum wage in the UK is £6.50/hr, while London "living wage" (how much you need to cover living costs in London) is £7.85/hr.

Now, I've made more making sandwiches at gas stations (EUR 9/hr), which required about a 30-minute training. Yes, everybody can write, but to write something other people want to read takes tens of thousands of hours of practice, which isn't paid and incurs quite a bit of cost as well. I'd estimate if you're working very hard and have access to mentoring and how-to books, it will still take 3-7 years to train yourself to become a writer who can write a decent story. I've been writing and learning for 20+ years.

And we often forget all the other hours an author spends on supporting their books and being available to readers: answering reader emails, blogging, paying out of pocket for print books for giveaways, swag, attending conferences, postage and admin for sending signed print books around the world, responding and being present on social media, responding to thousands of messages and questions overall. All those are hours not spent writing or doing a day job. I believe they have value.

Depth of market

I don't have access to actual hard sales data apart from my own and some data from friends and colleagues, but I do have a decent idea about the size of the m/m market specifically. In m/m, I'm considered a "mid-lister", which is a polite way of placing my sales somewhere in between "doesn't sell enough to make money" and "bestseller". I'm in that nebulous area where I'm making some money but still can't afford to travel to GRL on my writing income alone and where a month of bad sales means I'm fretting about whether this whole thing was a crap idea and whether I shouldn't just go back to a day job because every year out of the day job means I'm getting less employable.

I have steady sales on some books (thank you, Dark Soul and Market Garden), but even so, only very few of my books have sold more than 3,000 copies - and those that did were co-written (in other words, I only make half the money on those). I don't think any of them have sold more than 6,700 copies.

Now, obviously there are best-sellers in m/m who sell 20,000 and 30,000 copies of a book, so there's some depth in the market, and you could argue that the high prices keep people from buying the other books. Let's test that theory: I've experimented with freebies (Bookbub/giveaways), and the best performance of those was another 2,000 copies given away for free for a book that had sold 2,000 copies thereabouts.

If that number had been 20,000 copies, that would have meant there's 20,000 people I'm not reaching because of the high prices. But there aren't. Even assuming the "freebie downloaders" would be willing to pay 99 cents for a book, I'd only reach 4,000 people with my average book if I priced it at 99 cents. Still way short of the 6,700 I need to earn the initial $2,000 investment let alone make even a dollar of profit.


Short of becoming a bestseller, who reliably sells 20,000 copies of everything (which isn't really in my control), there are obviously ways to make the numbers work. Considering that 70-80% of those $2,000 production costs are editing costs, there are authors out there who simply don't pay a professional editor. I've tried that: I've had Return on Investment checked by a lot of friends and I gutted it myself, and I'm a decent self-editor, but I know Return on Investment would have been a better book if I'd paid a professional editor. At that point in time, I just couldn't afford it and so I did the best I could. I don't regret it, but I wish I'd had had the money. But then, I expected it to sell maybe 100-200 copies in total.

Thankfully, there's so many free books out there that people who don't want to pay for their reading don't have to. There's tons of fanfiction and free fiction on the internet, and a lot of it is very good. The Kindle Free list is huge and gets more books added every day. Of my own works, there's Special Forces, which is 1,000,000 words (roughly equivalent to 10-15 novels, which would cost people normally $75-100 to buy if we assume an e-book price of $6.99 per novel).

Other authors are doing it

Some authors are making the 99-cent model work for them. Mostly, these books are very short (flash fiction, short stories) or aren't edited (the "throw unedited crap onto the market" model), and then readers complain about how the book was too short or the novel was so bad it wasn't even worth those 99 cents. However, this is not what I want to be known for - I like to take pride in my work and do the best I can, which does mean some investment in a good team. (And yes, I charge more than 99 cents even for short stories, because they still cost money to produce properly.)

But there are some authors that do edit their stuff and still put it out for 99 cents. These are usually first books in a series, or cheap tasters, and the bet is that the reader will enjoy the book so much they'll pay more for the next installments in the series, at which point, everybody wins and the author earns money from the other books (another version of this is the "permafree" series starter, where the first book is free). A 99-cent book is like getting offered a piece of cheese at the cheese counter - it's always to entice the customer to then buy more of the cheese they liked.

There are also bundle deals - I recently bought two 99-cents bundles. One was a bundle of ten epic fantasy novels, the other a bundle of ten hetero historical romances. These bundles are usually an attempt to break a bestseller list (like the New York Times Bestseller List), so the participants can adorn their names with the very coveted "New York Times Bestseller" bit. I bought those because I was quite ready to discover new-to-me authors in a genre I love (epic fantasy) or do market research in a genre related to my own (hetero historical romance). If I find an author I like, I'll buy their full-priced backlist.

And I think in some genres, the 99-cent model can work. But these tend to be BIG genres, like hetero romance or thriller/mystery. M/M in my view is too small to support the same kind of numbers. I'm hopeful this might change over time, but we're not there yet.

What if writing doesn't pay

If writers can't earn a living from writing, the obvious solution is that somebody else has to pay for them to live. I have writer friends who're on social security (nothing shameful about it - it's never really a choice), or have wealthy spouses (personally, I prefer the power balance in a relationship to be more equal). Others have several day jobs and run the risk of burning themselves out. I can't count the writers who have severe mental and physical health issues because of stress or massive self-exploitation to somehow make this thing work.

Obviously, nobody owes a writer a living. I'm not entitled to sales, but I am entitled to profit off my copyright (I wrote it, I get to sell it by law, so yes, I object to piracy). At the moment, my writing is my only source of income, and it's not enough to make pension contributions or rack up savings (and I'm 39 years old, so I need to plan for retirement, as I won't inherit any money).

At the moment I get by on less than UK minimum wage. I still need to make a profit, because my only alternative is to return to full-time work and that means more stress, less writing, fewer releases. I would even have returned to a day job, if I could have found a job in my field. EVEN so I'm acquiring qualifications to earn money from a career unrelated to writing - I like a Plan A, B and C.

But in the meantime, I need to charge more than 99 cents for my work.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Let's talk productivity and limiting beliefs

I've been exposed to NLP for a while - I was taught by people who're also qualified in NLP, or Neuro-Linguistic Programming - basically a model that tries to explain how we think and how to fix problems that arise from how we think of things... it's become clearer when I apply some of the model further down.

Mind you, I'm not qualified myself yet, though I'm hoping to find the money in 2015 to change that. It just appeals to me.

Let's see if it makes sense to look at a writer's productivity from that model.

NLP was created to "model" success - examine how highly-skilled people achieve success - their habits, their attitude, their thinking, everything. You want to get into their skin/head and, the thinking goes, you'll be able to do what they're doing or at the very least vastly improve your own performance as you use the elements that are working for you and discard the ones that don't.

Say, you want to model highly productive people - you study how they work, when they work, what's going on in their heads as they work or just before. How their life and habits support being productive. You might be able to study them "in the wild" or get as close as possible by other means. I believe this is why writers, for example, love books on writing, and writers' biographies. We're on a quest to find "the secret". At the very least, we hope to learn from people who've walked the walk.

I've devoted a bit of time to this, and talked to/watched both very productive writers and less productive ones, and the most productive writers have very little "negative self-talk" going on, while I'm at my most unproductive when my inner voice has me convinced that I can't write my way out of a wet paper bag. I don't write a word when I listen to that. A productive writer is usually able to switch the voice off.

Conversely, I'm at my most productive when I'm having fun - it's no longer "work" or "serious", but play. Nobody gets graded/evaluated/paid for "having fun". Except I often get paid when I'm just having fun. That's kinda awesome and mindboggling.

NLP works at identifying "limiting beliefs" - in short, convictions that we all hold that are counterproductive to achieving our best. If you look at the paragraph above, there's a limiting belief right there - one that a lot of writers have: Having fun and getting paid for it is a conflict. It's strange to get paid for "having fun". It's kinda cool, but it's not what work is ABOUT, right?


Actually, it's bollocks. I've made a LOT of money from stories where I was just playing. But somewhere inside lives a little voice that firmly believes that "work has to be hard", "and hard work means getting paid well". Presumably the harder the work, the more money I get paid for it.

Now that we've isolated that belief, we can see how it's "limiting". It might, for example, mean I'm not doing stuff that's fun - I might prioritise the tough work, the constant battle and simply not even start on projects that are "easy" or "fun". And my quality of life takes a nosedive as I act to verify that inner belief.

There are a LOT of limiting beliefs around productivity:

- If you write fast, it has to be crap.
- Fast writers are just churning stuff out.
- Fast writers aren't artists. They don't care about quality.
- I can't possibly write 3,000-5,000 or even 10,000 words per day. Some hacks might be able to do it, but I want quality.
- If you write that fast, you can really only write the same story over and over.
- Nobody has enough good ideas to write more than a novel a year.
- Only sell-outs and bad writers write more than a novel a year.
- Writing so much is such hard work! How can anybody do that?
- Fast writers are less deserving of money/praise, because their books are nothing special.

And so on. If you're a writer wrestling with productivity, make your own list. Really. Look at your beliefs. See what's going on in your own head. Write down as many of them as you can.

NLP believes that every behaviour we have is based in these beliefs and all of them try to achieve a good end - for example, you might write less than you could because you really want to seen as an artist. The good end is "respect". You might write less than you could because you feel guilty for spending so much time away from your family/partner - not writing is a way to show your love and care for those closest to you. You might make the sacrifice to prove your love.

These limiting beliefs get extremely powerful when fed in from the outside. If people keep telling you that "fast writers are always crap", and they're your friends/family or have credibility with you, you will slow down because a) you believe the same, and b) you try to conform to their expectations/want their respect/love/acceptance, and c) believe you have your best interest at heart, because they're your family/friends, right?

Personally, I might have my own limiting beliefs mostly under control (they can pop up every now and then), but I still encounter that negative belief from the outside. Sometimes, people are aware what they're doing, and they phrase it as, "All fast writers are crap, though of course not you."

It's important to reject those limiting beliefs - your own and those from the outside.

First, find proof that they're wrong.

It gave me a lot of heart to learn that William Faulkner, my own favourite author, wrote some of his books in a matter of a week or two (can't remember the title, but he went into frantic bouts of productivity during which he literally locked himself away and wasn't seen anywhere.) And I ignore the little voice that says, "Yes, but you're not William Faulkner". (No, I'm not, but I don't have to be. He's been taken.)

I've co-written a full historical novel in 3.5 days. It's possible to do 10k days. They're tough (yes, they are), but it's doable. It's actually pretty easy, if intense, if you're having fun. The big thing is to make sure I'm having fun and actually care passionately about the story.

Make a list why those beliefs are wrong. ("There's no limit of good ideas. I had two good ones on the bus today alone! If I could write faster, I'd be able to write those stories, because the ideas were actually pretty cool!")

Make a list why productivity is a good thing:

- I don't have to choose my favourite idea to work on - I CAN WRITE THEM ALL.
- People are desperate for a sequel of [book]. If I'm more productive, I can make them happy/give them what they want.
- Not every book might be a hit, but every book I write has the potential to sell a lot of copies. Nobody knows what's going to sell, so finishing another book is like buying another lottery ticket.
- More books = more income = more freedom.
- If I write that book, that idea/character will stop haunting me.
- It's not really work if you're having fun.

Do those beliefs feel a little bit different? Maybe lighter? Like a couple doors opening in your head?

Do that with every belief that holds you back (example: "I'm not good enough to work with [publisher]", "Self-publishing is too hard/nobody will respect me if I self-publish", "nobody can live off writing", "these are terrible times to be a writer", "why do I even bother? I'll never amount to anything.")

Very often, these beliefs have no basis in fact. Weakening or knocking them out can make a world of difference.

Another thing that's very important is to manage who you're exposing yourself to. I tend to not hang out with people who believe and say that productivity is an awful thing.

Productivity means I get to eat and pay my mortgage - for me it's not only a good thing, but absolutely vital - and I won't allow anybody to mess with that conviction. This conviction means I am able to write several books per year.

Many of us already do this - many people have the good sense to shut out negativity - we know instinctively when somebody else's negative beliefs are messing with us. For example, I'm simply not associating with people who think that all authors are greedy and heartless and cynical, or people who believe that authors shouldn't get paid. I've cut off a friend years ago who told me that "all content wants to be free" and told me I was robbing society by insisting I have copyright and want to get paid for my work. I've cut off another friend who kept telling me what an awful writer I am. If I'd believed her, I'd have stopped writing circa 2005. Fighting her over it was pointless - there was no way I could have changed her attitude.

So, yes, creating and guarding that "positive space" is about managing your own beliefs and those of people you're surrounding yourself with. If all your closest friends believe that productivity is a natural thing, that writers write, that success is definitely possible, and meanwhile that writing and creating is awesome, very often fun and a worthwhile way to spend your time - you're surrounded in a kind of energy that will have a beautiful impact on your ability to believe and create.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Why authors aren't employees and need to cover themselves

Triggered by a post here by the awesome Angel Martinez, I'm just going to babble on a bit about how and why authors are neither freelancer/contractors nor employees.

I'm aware I'm talking about employment as practiced in the more enlightened parts of Europe, namely the ones with strong unions or work force protection laws. I'm aware that the case as outlined further down doesn't apply everywhere in Europe. For example, the UK has the infamous "zero-hour" contracts, Germany has or had unpaid internships, and I'm definitely speaking about benefits I received in decidedly white-collar professions in a sector flush with money. Outside of it, different rules apply, but the gist remains intact.

Some authors think of themselves as the employees of publishers. Some seasoned authors consider themselves "a [publishing house] author". I see relative or total newbies take pride in defining themselves that way. Defining ourselves gives us a sense of security, of "that's it, decision made, no more anxiety". I see the point, but I think people are deluding themselves if they go so far as consider themselves "employees".

In my neck of the woods, an employee gets a guaranteed salary (you might get a basic and a bonus/commission), and a lot of them get some kind of benefits: The UK has now auto-enrolled workers into a pension scheme (at 3% it's puny, but it's there); employees, more often than not, work at employers' premises (telecommuting is either a benefit or for temps/contractors). Employees get paid time off. Many/most employees get company-sponsored life/health insurance, pension, sick days. None of that for authors.

Authors also don't get a minimum wage – considering the payout of my books, I’ve made anywhere between $1.50/hour to $400/hour (yes, the latter shocked me too and is an aberration, though a nice one). I’d never take a real-life job where I’m not guaranteed a minimum wage on an hourly or project basis. If I get paid on a project basis (done it as a student), I know exactly how many hours it'll take me. Books I can't possibly project that way. Some are a few hundred, others a few thousand hours, depending on research. (Also, shorts and novellas are faster.)

So, authors most definitely aren't employees, and we're not even freelancers or contractors – a freelancer negotiates their fees beforehand. I’ve seen novels worked on for years pay out basically zero – they’re DOA. The only time I’ve seen contractor-like terms was when I wrote roleplaying novels pretty much “for hire”, meaning I got an advance/one-time payment and gave away all my rights for practically ever. They never earned out and I walked away with maybe EUR 5/hour payout - I'd have made more making sandwiches at a gas station or working security in a concert/event hall (EUR 7 and EUR 11 per hour, respectively).

So, yes, our position is far worse than that of any contractor/employee. In addition, a lapse in productivity (writers’ block, health issues, computer crash) means you might end up not eating/paying rent/mortgage. At least at a day job, you get medical leave or therapy/support. Several placed I worked for had therapy hotlines for stuff like burnout and a support network in place. (Yes, that was financial services - you don't want a suicidal/burned-out trader going crazy on the markets.)

These very restrictions of the "author job" obviously mean that we need to stay nimble and smart. It absolutely means to protect yourself like a lion/ess, especially your rights. Getting a working knowledge of contracts (“What’s life of copyright and why is it the worst thing I can sign?”, “Are they paying royalties based on net or gross?”, “What does the Right of First Refusal mean?” etc) is vital. It’s not fun, but I’ve signed every awful contract somebody offered me and these days I negotiate ALWAYS. My work is my only source of income at the moment. I need to get paid fairly or can't sustain my position.

In the new landscape, the hybrid model is absolutely doable. I'm doing it. It's an accepted way to get books to market, as most readers seem to buy books by author or genre/subject (“gay dragons”, “romantic suspense”) rather than by any other criterion, though the problem is financial. Editing/cover/proofing is expensive, so in my case, I’m going hybrid on works that don’t fit into narrow little genre boxes (Return on Investment was rejected by every publisher I sent it to, but I believed in the book and took a punt on it, and it worked out fine). I consider myself more an entrepreneur than and employee/contractor - the risk is really pretty much all mine. If a book I write bombs, that's my risk - I put in the hours, and I'm paying an "opportunity cost", which means the money I've lost by now working on stuff that does sell/pay out. Going with a publisher means you spread the risk - the publisher can lose its investment in bringing the book to market, and the author might not get paid. As a self-publisher, you take that whole risk on yourself.

Personally, I’m planning to self-publish books in the future that don’t have romances, and I’m possibly opening up “straight” fiction or fiction without any sex or queer content, because I have those bunnies, too, and these days, I can write those books without having to lock them away in a drawer because "my publisher/s won't buy them."

At the very least, we've been released from the “little boxes”, which I personally consider the biggest boon of the new paradigm. You can write “weird” books that likely won’t be bestsellers, but will still find their couple hundred readers, which makes releasing them financially viable. And who knows, you might be wrong, and people end up buying the weird book in larger quantities than you'd have expected. Publishing is full of surprises.

What's absolutely important for self-publishers is to look at distribution. By looking at my sales numbers for Return on Investment, I worked out that Kindle’s exclusivity is actually a bad deal for me. Come February, I’m going wide with distribution via Draft2Digital.

I was all right with Kindle Unlimited when the payout was closer to $2 per borrowed copy, but by now it’s dropped to $1.36 – on a book where I make $4.11 per sold copy. (Getting into Oyster/Scribd means I get paid full whack when people choose to borrow my book). the KU borrows cannibalise my sales. As long as Amazon doesn’t pay me full royalty like other players do, I’m not staying exclusive with them – there’s something fundamentally wrong about learning a month later how much you’ll get paid, and that number getting smaller every month. That's much worse than contracting, it feels like begging for whatever scraps Bezos is throwing your way.