The Everyday Author

For authors who can't quit their day jobs...yet

Month: February 2016

Is traditional publishing the new vanity publishing?

Let’s get one thing straight: I don’t intend to crap on traditional publishing or further beat the dead horse of traditional vs. self-publishing. The purpose of this article is to discuss a trend I’ve witnessed firsthand among aspiring authors. There are good and bad reasons for pursuing any type of publishing. It sucks being at the bottom of either ladder. How you choose to publish isn’t wrong, but why you pick a particular route definitely can be. That said, let’s begin.

The publishing industry is changing — not exactly breaking news. The institutional gatekeepers of yesteryear are fading and the pie has been cut into millions of tiny slices. Many of us are scrambling just to get some crumbs from the crust. But one thing remains the same: the blissful ignorance and vain imaginations of many aspiring authors.

Through interactions via email, social media and various conferences, I’ve been surprised by how little these acolytes understand about how the publishing business really works. Sure, they’ll be the first to point out the uphill battle they face but the next words out of their mouths are usually some variation of “I won’t get discouraged, though, because [insert name of filthy rich author superstar] got rejected X amount of times before [insert name of filthy rich author superstar’s bestselling book/series] got a publishing deal.”

I’m a pretty optimistic guy with dreams of my own I don’t want crapped on, so at this point in the conversation, I usually smile and ask them how long they’ve been pitching their book. Responses vary, but I usually follow that up with “have you ever though about self-publishing?”

Most of the time, the answer is no. Here’s a sampling of the responses I get when I ask why:

  • “I want to be a real author.”
  • “I don’t want to sell just ebooks, I want paperback and hardcover copies as well.”
  • “I don’t want to do anything other than write.”

You get the idea.

What many of them don’t realize is that the scenario they’re imagining is vastly different than the reality they’ll face as a debut author. The dream they’re imagining is exactly the same thing vanity publishers have painted for gullible author-hopefuls for years. The irony is that these acolytes will still turn up their noses and sneer at vanity-published authors without realizing they’re pretty much getting the same raw deal.

With the list above in mind, let’s look at the facts behind traditional…er, I mean vanity publishing for new authors:

  • Authors are validated by “real” books that are in print, not those fake digital things.
  • Publishers take a large percentage of royalties and do little, if any promotion for the author and his/her book.
  • No advances are given.
  • A lot of hoopla is made at the time of publication and then…nothing.
  • Distribution to bookstores is limited.
  • Contracts are structured in favor of the publisher, not the author.
  • Books (especially those fake ebooks) are often extremely overpriced.
  • Authors are dropped as soon as their books stop selling. (Although in no way do I consider Michael Fletcher part of the vanity trend, this recently happened to him: read about his experience and the aftermath.)
  • Even after choosing to to pick up the option for the next book, rights to the first work often remain with the publisher.

To be fair, I don’t think any traditional publisher charges authors at any level to publish their book with them (at least to my knowledge) like vanity publishers are infamous for. [UPDATE: since we published, Churck Wendig wrote THIS awesome article about how much writers should pay to be published. Check it out] I would make the argument your contract is likely costing you money, though, — especially if you’re “one and done” when your books doesn’t sell like planned. If you don’t believe me, sit down and make a list of what a publisher really does for their 80+ percent of the royalty haul. It’s not as much as you think.

Things get worse when you realize hallowed, prestigious bestseller lists like the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and New York Times are often gamed by wealthy “authors” buying (or arranging to have bought) vast quantities of their book to push them up the charts.  The so-called honor of being a NYT Bestseller equates in many cases to who wrote the biggest check. The system is biased and flawed internally, designed to play up to the VANITY of people who pay to have their ghostwritten books hit the chart. (To be clear, I’m not discounting the mighty feat achieved by those who got their books on one of these lists the honest way.)

The bottom line:

Know what you’re really getting and what it’s going to cost you to get it. Both sides of publishing have unique offerings and challenges. Signing your life away to legitimize and stroke your writing ego is a mistake. Going the traditional route just because it’ll validate you as a “real” author with a “real” book is an awful career move. Check out the Authors Earning Report here for evidence of that. Still not convinced?

You’re so vain.

How to get book reviews: Book Review 22

It’s a conundrum that’s frustrated authors since books were first sold on the Internet: you can’t sell books without reviews and you can’t get reviews without selling books. The question of how to get book reviews is more vexing than the old chicken and egg scenario. What are we supposed to do then?

If you’re like me, you’ve scraped together a handful of reviews through a variety of tactics: dancing naked beneath the quarter moon in March, begging your mailing list and offering up a second book free in exchange for a review of another. There’s only one catch with the aforementioned moves (aside from the moon dance, that is): you’ve got to have an audience already in place to gain a lot of traction. Now we’re back where we started — how am I supposed to get an audience if no one will read my books because they don’t have any reviews? To be or not to be? That’s not the question for authors. We want to know  how to get book reviews. In just a second I’ll tell you the solution I found.

There’s one or two other things you may have tried, such as scouring the web for book reviewers that have reviewed books similar to yours. (Check out another great post we did about this: Go Pitch Yourself: A case for indie author public relations). Maybe you hired a “publicist” or “Book PR company” to do this for you. Either way, an email was sent about your book and now you’re in a line of to-be-read titles longer than Disneyland during spring break. Worse still, you probably spent countless hours combing through blogs, gathering email addresses and filling out contact forms for bloggers (or paid a so-called publicist or maybe an author assistant to handle this chore). This is precious time spent away from WRITING, which is what you’d rather be doing anyway.

Trust me, I’ve been in this boat — long enough they’re starting to call me the captain.

As an author living in this amazing era of publishing, it astounded me that there wasn’t a better solution out there. As a public relations professional by day, it made me sick to my stomach that “publicists” were charging authors an arm and a leg to write a worthless press release and blast it out to bloggers. (Here’s a little secret: bloggers could care less about press releases.)

On the flip side, I saw how many bloggers were being flooded with books. Not just great books or even good books, either. I started doing my homework and found out bloggers were getting review requests in droves. Many of the books inquiring authors wanted them to review were one of the following:

  • NOT in the genre the reviewer read
  • NOT professionally edited or even proofread
  • NOT finished

In short, bloggers everywhere are pulling their hair out because their inboxes are flooded with crappy books they don’t want to read. This makes it really hard for YOUR book to stand a chance.

Until now, that is.

Book Review 22 Logo FINAL

The results of my research led me to combine my two passions and careers (publishing and public relations) into a new company called Book Review 22. Book Review 22 makes the book review process awesome — for both authors and reviewers. It’s how you get book reviews made simple.

Instead of wasting HOURS of time researching, digging through search results for book blogs, authors fill out a short form with us and we get their books into the hands of reviewers who actually give a rat’s rear end  about reading and reviewing their book. We pitch your book for you to our extensive database of book reviewers and bloggers, leaving you time to do important stuff, like write (you can continue the moon dance if you REALLY want to, I guess). Check out how here.

On the flip side, we work with reviewers to condense all those emails they’re getting into one simple list every few weeks. We help weed out the garbage and make it easy for them to 1. Scan the book cover and synopsis (if a book wasn’t ready to be published, you can often tell from these two things) 2. By partnering with Bookfunnel, we’ve also made it a breeze to download a copy of the book. Reviewers only get pitched for books they actually want to read. What a novel concept! Here’s how it works.

I would have KILLED for a service like this when I started publishing two years ago. After a year of development I’m still just as excited about it: a simple way for authors and reviewers to work together in a win-win relationship.

We’re off the ground and pitching books right now. In the coming months, we’ve got a whole slate of ideas to make this service even better for authors and reviewers. For now, why don’t you give us a test run? Let Book Review 22 pitch your book and you can get back to the stuff that you really care about: writing books.

Author Origins: Brian Rathbone

author origins brian rathboneBrian Rathbone is a bit odd. Fitting in has never really been his thing. He tried it once — it didn’t work out; neither did high school. After getting his GED and leaving the life of a professional horse trainer, Brian went to work at a nuclear plant, and then a convenience store, a gas station, a pizzeria and eventually in the mailroom of a commodities trade company. After discovering computers in the early 1990’s and doing consulting work for companies like Lockheed Martin, Dale Earnhardt Inc., and Joe Gibbs Racing, Brian moved up to Voice President of Research and Development for a medium-sized Internet company. Later in his technology career, Rathbone helped expand broadband Internet access into rural areas as part of a stimulus funded broadband planning grant awarded to the North Carolina State Broadband Initiative.

During much of this entire adventure, Brian was an avid reader of fantasy fiction. For years he’d known he would eventually write his own stories — he even told his wife he would someday write fantasy novels on their first date. It took many years of thinking about writing novels before he got the opportunity to act on it. After a couple false starts, he found himself at a career crossroad. While sitting in the Atlanta airport on a 2-hour layover, Brian finally committed himself to writing. He wrote the first chapter of Call of the Herald that day and has been at it ever since.

The first trilogy in the Godsland fantasy series is The Dawning of Power. The ebook is just $0.99 on Amazon Kindle, and with the purchase of the ebook the audiobook is just $1.99!

Introduction: Tell us who you are, how and why you decided to be an author and where you’re at right now in your career.

Hi, everybody! I’m Brian Rathbone, a successful self-published writer with a good chance of soon becoming a hybrid author, who is both self-published and traditionally published. I’ve always had a deep love of fantasy fiction and decided as a teenager that I would someday write my own books. When I worked in technology and programming, I would have difficulty shutting my mind off at night and would debug code in my sleep. Sometimes I fixed real problems this way, but it was exhausting. I began thinking about my stories I would someday write. When I finally got the chance to write, I had fifteen years of thinking into it. I couldn’t type fast enough — still can’t.

It took me a decade to succeed as a self-published writer, but now I am able to write full-time. It’s not always easy, but I am living my dream.

What was the hardest thing about balancing writing with a day job. What’s still the hardest thing to balance with everyday life?

Time and money. When I had a day job, I had plenty of money to provide a robust marketing budget but not enough time to make effective use of that money. Now that I am full-time writer, I have the time but fewer financial resources than I did. I anticipated two years to make the career change, and a year and a half into it, it’s working out about right.

All the nights, weekends, vacation days and sick days I spent writing have finally paid off.

Tell us about your schedule and habits from this time (or what you’re doing now if it hasn’t changed).

I’m currently busier than I’ve ever been before, but it’s all good stuff. I recently finished writing my eleventh novel, which is the first I’ve intended for traditional publishing in eight years. I queried an agent I met at a convention and am waiting patiently for a response. In the meantime, I am outlining the fourth and final trilogy in the Godsland fantasy series. I’ve also been working on some collaborative novels, two of which are in the final stages of editing. I’ve been planning a Kickstarter fundraiser for these books for a couple years, and it’s all coming together. My voice artist has six novels in his que and I’ve been proofing those as they come in.

Just in case I was getting bored, I recently had a non-fiction writing project offered to me. It’s broadband related, which allows me to tap my passion for technology and utilize my writing skills in a way that will actually help people.

I also occasionally tell a bad dragon joke on Twitter.

If you don’t mind, would you tell us how your sales first started out? How many books did you have out before you started seeing traction?

My sales started out heartbreakingly slow. It was 2007, and eBooks weren’t what they are today. I had finished my first trilogy but failed to attract an agent or publisher. I decided to run an offset print run myself, which was a huge mistake. I did lots of things wrong and risked $7,500, but I believed in myself. It took me three years to make my money back.

Eventually I discovered Mobipocket, which was the dominant ebook retailer at the time. The Dawning of Power became the best selling epic fantasy on Mobipocket for the better part of two years. I was hooked. Once the Kindle changed the world and absorbed Mobipocket, I continued to make a solid part-time income from my writing. Releasing the second trilogy and the audiobooks solidified my sales, and the release of the third trilogy made it possible for me to go full-time.

At one point in time did you make the decision to support yourself/your family as an author? What was that decision like and how did you feel afterward?

I wanted to write full-time for years before I got to do it. It was very difficult managing my time and family life against my writing and publishing work, which was a full-time venture in itself. My wife and I decided we needed certain savings and safeguards in place before I made the leap. When the federal grant I was working on ended as scheduled, I had the opportunity to make a clean break. I couldn’t resist. It hasn’t always been easy, but I don’t regret a thing.

Do you support yourself completely from writing books or through a variety of work? If so, what else do you do to pay the bills?

I can live off my fiction royalties alone, but I also write non-fiction and computer code when the opportunity arises. For example, I wrote software for the furniture manufacturing industry back in 2005-2008, and it has been running eight or nine factories ever since. There is a good chance if you bought a sofa, recliner, ottoman, or ‘lift chair’ in the US in the last decade, my software was used when cutting the wooden parts. Every once in a while those factories need something tweaked or added and I put my programmer hat on. It’s fun as long as I don’t have to do it all the time.

What is one thing about your author career that not many people know of? What are some of your interests outside of writing?

People told me to give up writing for years — even people who love me or are dear friends. I almost gave up a hundred times, but I just couldn’t give up. I knew it was something I was supposed to do. I persisted even though it made people think I was nuts and put pressure on a number of my relationships. There were a lot of sacrifices, but it has finally paid off. It’s a good thing, or I would be in the dog house for years!

I love racing. If it moves, chances are I tried to race it at least once, but mostly I raced horses, motorcycles, and cars. I never went pro as a harness driver, but I did win a number of amateur horse races in my younger years. Later in life I adopted online stock car racing, which is a good bit safer. I won an online racing championship in 2007 after four years of trying. People laugh, but it was among the hardest things I ever pulled off and something I’m very proud of.

What’s the single best piece of advice you have for authors who can’t support themselves with their writing yet? What should they be focusing on?

Don’t give up. Building up a residual income through royalties takes time, but it is by it’s very nature residual, which means I now get paid even if I don’t work. Granted I earn more when I release new work and when I put effort into marketing, but I still get paid even when I don’t do those things. It’s been almost a year since I’ve released a book or have done any work that contributed directly to the bottom line and I’m not homeless.

Focus on producing lots of quality content and building your audience. Content is king and visibility is queen. I give away series starters as eBooks and audiobooks and use bad dragon jokes on Twitter to drive traffic to them.

I wrote a book about how I built my audience for anyone interested. It’s also free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

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