There’s been a number of articles on various sites about publishers who hook unwary authors into contracts that give nothing in return. Many indie authors have fallen into this trap—I include myself, unfortunately, in that number.
When I was working on my first book length manuscript, a book on leadership that I was encouraged to write by a young man who worked for me as my speech writer when I was U.S. ambassador to Cambodia (2002-2005). After slaving over the manuscript for nearly three years, I went searching for a publisher.
I encountered an ad from PublishAmerica, a Maryland-based small imprint that, unlike the many vanity publishers advertising at the time, touted the fact that they PAID authors for their work instead of asking for payment. Knowing, or at least suspecting, that the book I’d written would have limited appeal, it didn’t sound like a bad deal, so I submitted it.
A few weeks later I received an email advising me that my book was accepted for publication. Attached to the email was a contract. Naïve in the ways of publishing, I unwisely didn’t have that contract read by a lawyer before signing it. From what I’d read, it didn’t seem to bad – the advance was paltry (a mere $1.00), and I was locked into an 8-year commitment. But, the book would be published, so I figured I had nothing to lose.
It was published, but from that point on, it was a nightmare. The cover was somewhat amateurish—even then, just learning the art of designing book covers, I could’ve done a better job. The price was a bit high, I thought, but again, I was new to all this and didn’t know any better. I was encouraged to buy copies for myself at a measly discount from the inflated cover price. The royalties were also small; something like 8% of the cover price (compare that to the 75% you can get publishing it yourself through the Kindle Direct Program, or even the rather generous percentage you get when you publish a paperback through CreateSpace). They did, at least, list it on all the major book-seller sites; Amazon, etc.
Surprisingly, there were a few early sales, and I even got it included in a couple of libraries (The U.S. State Department Library, and my college library, to name two). A few people I met at conferences, who had read it, also informed me that they’d purchased copies to use in their management training programs. Despite this, my royalty checks over the past eight-plus years have yet to exceed $50. Looking back, when I compare this to the $100 per month I get through KDP, and an average of $30 per month through CreateSpace and other sales of paperbacks, I can see that what seemed at the time to be ‘too good to be true,’ in fact was just that.
The eight years in the contract are up now, and you would assume, as implied in the contract, my book rights belong to me. Guess again.
PublishAmerica changed its name to AmericaStar, in an effort, I believe, to attract foreign indie authors, but its practices remain the same. It does nothing to promote the books it accepts, beyond importuning the author regularly to buy copies, and lately it has done something that seals its fate as far as I’m concerned.
Over the past 60 days, I’ve been getting emails from AmericaStar nee PublishAmerica, informing me that the company is getting out of the publishing business and going full time to book promotion. In doing so, it plans to sell the rights to the books it holds to another ‘Indie’ publisher, but I can get them assigned to me for a modest fee of $199—it said in the initial emails that this was to cover the cost of removing it from selling platforms, etc.
At first, I couldn’t believe they would have the gall to do something like this, so I just ignored the first four or five emails. Then, they said, if I couldn’t afford $199, for a few days I could get my rights back for a mere $149. Again, I ignored them. A week later, another email, informing me that I had only two days to BUY my rights back, and they were doing me a big favor by reducing the cost to $99. Thoroughly steamed by now, I just filed the emails away and went on to other projects.
The latest are . . . funny, pathetic, I’m not sure how to characterize them. I now have 24 hours to obtain the rights to my own work for $79. If I fail to do this, someone else (as yet unknown) will own the rights to my book, and they can’t promise what the buyer will do with these rights.
Thankfully, I’ve self-published scores of books since my first mistake, and while I’m not on any best-seller lists, and not getting rich from it, I’m enjoying fairly regular sales, and getting some pretty solid reviews. As for buying the rights back to my own work—I’m in wait-and-see mode. If the last email is correct, I will probably be hearing from the mysterious new publisher someday soon with a request that I buy my book, or something equally ridiculous.
I’ve written that book off as a lost cause, and a lesson learned. Never were the words caveat emptor more appropriate.
If you’re an indie author, or are otherwise engaged in a solo entrepreneurial activity, you might think growing your business (or selling more books) means that you have to cram in more hours of work and learn a whole suite of new skills. Not so. With a minimum outlay of money you can do what many big businesses do; you can outsource the things you’re not good at and spend more time doing the things you do well.
Karen Banes’ The Savvy Solopreneur’s Guide to Outsourcing is a brief tutorial that will help you in the task of finding skilled people to do things for you, leaving you more time to spend on doing the things you love doing. Written in plain words and crammed full of links to resources ranging from dirt cheap to expensive, and with a clear-cut guide to setting your solo business up to take the best advantage of the many resources available, this is a handy reference book for anyone who desires to grow their solo business.
Whether you’re just getting started, or you’ve been at it for a while, you’re sure to find a useful nugget or two of information in this book, so don’t delay; get it today and start taking advantage of all that it has to offer.
This one is a five star addition to your reference library!
Bryan Hutchinson is a freelance writer who shares his views on writing in a blunt, no-holds-barred manner. In Inspired Writer: How to Create Magic With Your Words, he takes the gloves off with some down and dirty advice on everything from overcoming writer’s block to finding your muse (or perhaps it’s better to say, letting your muse find you).
This isn’t a how-to book. It’s a think piece for anyone who wants to write better. Hutchinson’s focus is on YOU the writer, and how to unlock your ability to get your thoughts across in the most effective manner.
If you want to write better, you’re the key, and this book can help you find the right keyhole. It is not the magic bullet that will guarantee your next book will be a best seller; just some no-nonsense advice on how to write what’s inside you in a way that will resonate with readers.
Review of ‘Marketing Your Book On Amazon: 21 Things You Can Easily Do For Free To Get More Exposure and Sales’
Have you written and published a book, but sales are depressing—or nonexistent. Maybe what you need is a way to get readers to notice your book. Marketing Your Book on Amazon: 21 Things You Can Easily Do For Free to Get More Exposure and Sales by Shelley Hitz is a short Kindle book that outlines in easy-to-understand steps a marketing plan for your book, using some of the handy programs on Amazon as well as other social marketing platforms. Hitz shows how authors can use the Amazon Author Page, use keywords effectively to enable more readers to see your book, and many other methods, some well-known to anyone who has published on Amazon’s CreateSpace or Kindle Direct platforms, and others perhaps not so well known.
Along with the handy hints, Hitz has also included in the book a link to a free video tutorial that takes you through the marketing plan—a great tool for the visually oriented learner. While these tips won’t guarantee that you’ll instantly become a bestseller, they will certainly improve your chances of selling more books, and building a following of readers for future books.
If you’ve been struggling to sell your books, this is a worthwhile investment. I’ve used several of the suggestions, and while not all have worked for me, I have seen an increase in book sales over the past several months, so I can say that some of them do work. The one thing that is definite, writing your book is just the first step; marketing it is the essential next step if you want to be read.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give it four stars.
Bullies, Bastards & Bitches is a politically incorrect title (in today’s PC world), but it’s the absolutely correct title for Jessica Page Morrell’s book on how to write the bad guys of fiction.
Starting with an in depth description of the primal fears that motivate all of us, Morrell than proceeds to chart how to create memorable bad guy (or girl) characters that will keep readers turning the pages of your book, because they see in what you write the things they fear, and they’re afraid to stop reading.
Replete with examples of effective bad characters from classic fictional works, this book will help you bring life to your writing like no other. A total five star book.
Best-selling author James Scott Bell channels the Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu in The Art of War for Writers, a book of strategies, tactics, and exercises to help a writer navigate the terrain of creating characters and plots that will captivate readers.
Writing, Bell maintains, is a lot like waging war, and using the tactics of Sun Tzu, Bell takes readers on a journey through the campaign of bringing stories to life in a way that makes perfect sense. The final chapter alone is worth the price of the book; the writer must apply wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage, and strictness in the craft of writing, for it’s only through mastering these traits that truly great writing can be achieved.
So, be wise, and sincerely get this book for your reference library, and then have the courage to strictly apply the guidance contained therein to ensure benevolence in your writing.
I give it five stars.
Modern Mythmakers: 35 Interviews with Horror & Science Fiction Writers and Filmmakers by Michael McCarty is a gem. A collection of 35 interviews with some of the biggest names in sci-fi and horror fiction and film, this book is chock full of sage advice for those who want to write in these genres, or fans. It gives a down and dirty look at what drives or drove such greats as the late Ray Bradbury, Dean Koontz, and others who have given us books and films that have become classics.
This is a book that you’ll want to read again and again. It’s now in my reference library, and I proudly award it five stars–only because I can’t give it six.
It’s time for another posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. This is where you can see posts from a group of writers who share their success, fear, and advice with you on the first Wednesday of each month. This month, I have only a brief message; about a subject I’ve been avoiding, but there has been so much in the media about it the past several months, I’ve decided to be silent no longer.
In American politics, there are a number of topics that arouse intense debate whenever they’re brought up: immigration, gun control, gay marriage, social security, to name a few. In the publishing world, though, among publishers and writers, there seems to be only one subject that does this: Amazon.
The ‘Zon seems to be the third rail of the publishing world—especially when it comes to indie writers and publishers. Everyone has an opinion on it, and all opinions seem to be at one pole or another; Amazon is either a behemoth that is devouring publishing as we know it, or it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Let me give you my view, for what it’s worth. Amazon is big. It’s huge. And, while big is not necessarily better, it’s also not necessarily bad. Sure, Amazon’s a business, and the business of business is to make money. Amazon has become big because it’s been good at doing that. And, it’s made all that money by supplying what customers want. Along with the thousands of other products available for sale on Amazon.com and its other sites around the world, are tons of books in all forms, from hardcover to e-Book (to audiobook), all of them available at the click of a few keys on your computer; available, I might add, often at relatively reasonable prices. Reasonable prices attract more customers, which means more sales, which means more income—or so Amazon’s reasoning seems to be.
Now, one of the arguments against Amazon has been that it is creating a monopoly which will restrict the availability of books, which will hurt authors. Looking at what’s available for sale on Amazon and my own book sales over the past year, I have a hard time believing that argument. Will Amazon help or hurt writers, especially indie writers? I think the answer to that is, it depends. If you have a large backlist and your books are pretty good, I think Amazon’s business model will benefit you. Take my own case, for example. My books are so-so popular (I have a few diehard fans), and I have a backlist of 60+. Amazon’s new model, which pays authors for total pages read, has caused a 25% increase in my monthly revenue. Why? Simple really; the more you have available to be read, the more will be read. For example, if you have four books and readers read 75% of each, you still won’t do as well as I will with 60 and readers only reading 35% of each. Don’t believe me; do the math.
The same can be said of many of Amazon’s other business models, such as KDP Select, where you make a book exclusive to Amazon for a period of time. It’s easier to do that if you have several books, and can chose which ones you want to make exclusive, and which ones you want available on other platforms (and, I’m talking e-Books here, as paperbacks aren’t exclusive).
So, briefly put, Amazon is in the business of making money. If you’re an author, you should be in the business of gaining readers, and you do that by offering a wide audience of readers a wide selection of things to read. Amazon is the platform to do that. Not the only one, by any means, but a good one. So, rather than getting embroiled in the debate, get to writing.
When I’m asked how long I’ve been writing, I can say truthfully, most of my life. I was taught to read at the age of four, and by the time I was in third grade had devoured most of the books in the meager collection in my school’s library. I remember being most struck by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the worlds they created between the covers of the musty old books high up on the shelves.
By the time I was in fifth grade, I was making up stories of my own. In my freshman year of high school, when I was thirteen, I entered a Sunday school magazine short story writing contest. Surprise of surprises, I won first place, and it was a national competition. The fact that I was competing with other ten to fifteen year-olds is irrelevant – my name appeared in a national publication above something I’d created. I don’t remember what the prize was – probably just the byline and copies of the magazine – but, I was hooked. I wanted to create more stories, and share them with more people.
From the beginning that was my goal; to share the stories swirling around in my mind with others.
It wasn’t until I’d graduated from high school and joined the army that the idea of actually making money from writing occurred to me. I wrote poems, articles and short stories for publications for free. Then, I submitted an article to a magazine and along with the acceptance letter got a check – I think it was the princely sum of $10.00, which was a lot of money in the 1970s when most publications paid less than fifty cents a word.
Over the decades since, I’ve continued to write articles, short stories, book reviews, and since the mid-2000s full length works. Writing doesn’t pay the bills – it never has, and the odds are it never will. I’m fortunate in having served as a federal official long enough to qualify for a pension that, along with my investments and writing income, provides me with a comfortable living. The number of authors who make a good living from writing, compared to the total number of authors in existence, is a miniscule percentage.
It’s always been that way. There are some people who write books mainly for the money – most of them writing books on ‘how to make money writing.’ I’m convinced, though, that those of us who write fiction, don’t do it for the money. We do it because we love writing. Because we have these stories in our brains, straining to get out and be shared. If we just happen to get lucky and are able to grab the brass ring of ‘best-sellerdom,’ that’s a bonus. I’d be willing to bet that even if Stephen King hadn’t attained mega-stardom with his books, he’d still be writing. I know that’s why I continue to write.
Can writing be a career? It depends upon how you define career. Even though writing doesn’t provide the bulk of my income, I have no problem introducing myself as a writer when I meet people. With 40+ independently published books to my credit, and hundreds of clip sheets of published articles and book reviews, I think I can call writing something other than a hobby.
If writing is your career goal, there are a number of preparatory steps I strongly suggest. Get yourself a good style book and learn the rules of good writing – grammar, punctuation, and word usage. Now that you’ve done that, the next step is simple – sit down and write what’s in your mind, and if necessary, break the rules you just spent all that time learning. But, break them with a purpose. You’ll, of course, need some other source of legal income while you hone your skills – many writers before you have had to do the same. But, never despair. If your lot in life is to be a writer, you’ll know it. You’ll know it because no matter what, the urge to write will be there like that itch between your shoulder blades that you just can’t seem to reach. Most importantly, write, write, and write some more. Write something every single day. I once worked for an old newspaper editor in North Carolina who suggested that I write at least 1,000 words a day as a way of improving my writing skills. I’ve followed that advice, with my own shot of steroids; I now write about 2,000 words a day. Character sketches, plot outlines, research notes all count against that daily quota. When I’m on the road I take along an old steno pad or two, in which I write. I write on planes, in hotel rooms, and in the back of taxis.
That might not be the best way to become a writer, but it works for me.
For another perspective on writing, check out An Ode to Novel Writers at Webucator.com.
One by one they’re biting the dust – fading into obscurity – riding into the sunset. I’m talking about the content mills – those internet sites that took short posts from all kinds of writers and put them up for all to read. For this they paid peanuts; a mere fraction I’m sure of what they took in from advertisers. But, despite that, their business model is no longer seen as viable.
That at least is what the note said that I got from one of the sites that I’ve contributed to for the past several years. I never made a ton of money from feeding the mills; chump change actually; but it did help me to reach a lot of readers, and was great for working out the old writing muscles. Most importantly, having to write to the length limits – 200 to 600 words on average – helped me learn to trim the fat from my writing.
A lot of writers I know view content mills with disdain. They think of them as second rate places for writers that don’t pay enough. I’m not sure about the second rate part, but I do agree they never paid enough. But then, I used to work for print publications, the most generous of which paid me fifty cents per word, or sometimes $400 to $500 per article (the latter were very rare. My average per article was around $50). Compare that to the content mills that were paying based on readership. I’ve had content articles that made me a hundred bucks, and had the site not close for economic viability reasons, would still be paying. When the print publications I wrote for went out of business they still owned my articles. When the content mills shut down I can download my articles and sell them elsewhere.
So, I’ll miss them. But, like the changes from paper only to paper and e-books and the rise of indie publishing, the writing industry is forever changing, and writers who want to endure must change with it. I have no doubt that most of the current content mills will soon disappear – but, in due time they’ll be replaced by something else. I have no idea what that something else will be, but I’m sleeping with one eye open so I can be near the front of the line when it arrives.
Really sharp-eyed readers will notice that this is the second installment in two weeks of my offering for Alec Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I did a piece last week on creating fully rounding supporting characters in your stories. One reader caught me on the fact that I was out of sync – I guess everyone else was just too polite. That sharp-eyed reader said (tongue in cheek, perhaps) that I did it deliberately to see if anyone was paying attention. As much as I’d like to go along with that, truth is, I was just so busy with my writing projects and a few other jobs I’m doing right now I misread my calendar and thought June started last week. I broke the rule. And, that’s my real topic this week – writing rules and whether we should feel bound by them.
There are more rules on writing than I can count – so I’ve basically given up on most of them. I’m instantly suspicious of any writing advice that contains the words ‘always’, ‘never’, and ‘must.’ Even the rules of grammar can and should be broken on occasion.
Now, having dropped that controversial little bomb into the conversation let me explain. I don’t think you should necessarily ignore or be ignorant of the rules. I do believe, though, that you should consider junking them when the essence of the story you’re writing demands it. Take grammar for instance. In dialogue, if every character in your story speaks with absolutely ‘by-the-book- grammar, imagine how boring it will sound – and unreal. Real people butcher the language, and within reason, so should some of your characters. Fragmentary sentences, misuse of verbs, the whole ball of wax. Let your characters speak in keeping with their background, etc., and your story will be better for it. Regarding grammar rules, by the way – remember that ditty ‘it’s I before e except after c or when followed by g’? What about rein, ceiling, etc.? These words break the rules, and sometimes – so should you.
There’s more. Rules like start the action on the first few pages, for example. Not a bad idea for a lot of stories, but you can write a chilling tale by holding back on violent physical activity and just building up to it in some other stories.
I could go on and on, but the guts of what I’m saying is that you should let your story determine how and what you do. By all means know the rules. But, also know when breaking them is okay.