Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Financial Reality Check for Writers

Many years ago, I belonged to an informal writers’ group that met once a month on Sundays. One of them announced her intent to make a living from her writing. At that time, she’d finished a small number of stories and hoped to sell her short fiction to literary markets here in Canada. I pointed out that selling short stories was a pretty tough way to make a living (or anywhere else for that matter). Even if she could sell her stories to every major Canadian literary magazine within a year (a feat I don’t think anyone’s ever achieved), she still wouldn’t make enough to live on. Those magazines paid on average, $250 per story, and there were only about twenty of them in the country. Plenty of smaller magazines were around, but they paid in pennies or free copies. Well, the writer shut me down, saying “I don’t want to hear this”. As far as I know, she’s still not making a living, however we lost touch years ago.

Having goals is important, but if a writer is depending on writing income to pay the bills, then reality checks are crucial. By this I don’t mean reading about the success stories of Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath, Amanada Hocking, E.L. James, and others. They are the rare exceptions to financial success.

Even traditionally published authors aren’t having an easy go of it these days. In fact, there’s been a lot of discussion on forums this week about the cracks in the romance writing biz. It appears that increasing numbers of traditionally published writers want out of their contracts due to poor print sales, lack of publisher support, almost nonexistent editing, and terrible covers. Romance readers have jumped on the e-book bandwagon, causing print sales to drop significantly.

Digital Book World recently took a survey of 10,000 authors and discovered that most authors are making less than $1,000 a year from their work. 80% of self-published authors earn less than $1,000. Over half of traditionally published authors earn less than that, as do 40% of hybrid authors (those both traditionally and self-published). Unsettling, huh?

The data also revealed that only 10% of traditionally published authors make over $20,000 a year and 5% of self-published authors. I’ve written before that even Pulitizer prize award winners are selling less than 1,000 print copies of their work, and e-book sales for many aren’t faring much better.

We work in an over-saturated market where free books can quickly provide enough reading material for the rest of one’s life. Still, we also work in a world, where readers always seek the next good read and movie producers constantly search for that next big movie. Is there hope and opportunity to break through that $1,000 mark, or $20,000 mark? Of course, but while you’re shooting for the stars, every once in a while, put one foot on the ground just to make sure it’s still there. To read more of the Digital Book World’s findings, you can find the link through GalleyCat’s blog.

P.S. I almost forgot. My publisher's put my first Casey Holland mystery, The Opposite of Dark for sale on Kindle for $1.99 until Feb. 2nd!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Authors, beware of a company called eBookSmarts!

There is a company called eBookSmarts (.com) run by a fellow named Hassan Shah, and I am appalled at his expectations--and you should be too.

They claim to be able to give you free stats on your books. Sounds okay. I was interested, even though I have other ways of viewing stats. But I have always been open to new ideas, so I thought I'd give them a try.

After finally getting into the site, I went to set up my book info and what did I discover? They actually wanted me to give them my Amazon login info, INCLUDING PASSWORD. WTF???

And you only discover this AFTER you have signed up for their free beta.

When I asked him what "idiot in their right mind" would give him such access, he said "Apparently a couple hundred idiots think our service is worth trying..."


Then he mentioned KDP. So he's asking for either my KDP login info which gives him access to all my personal info like bank account info, including the ability to mess with our publications, pricing and more; or he was asking for my personal Amazon account login info, which gives him access to my personal info and credit card. Really??


Ok, today's rant--over! Maybe...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Do You Take Plastic?

For years, I've resisted getting a smart phone. I was forced by unfortunate circumstances to get a cell phone, but only used it extensively during the crisis, then kept it for security reasons because I was on the road so much going to book signings and events.

Still, I resisted the shiny smarties. I saw too many of my friends tearing their hair out trying to master the dang things. And, after all, who needed one?

My phone could:
  1. make calls
  2. receive calls
  3. send texts
  4. receive texts
  5. record voice mail
What more could I want?

Well, I thought, if I had a smart phone, I could get one with a camera, and then I wouldn't have the weight of a cell phone AND a camera.


Then I went to an event and somebody asked me if I took plastic. The person next to me said, "I do." She whipped out her smart phone, plugged a little square piece of electronics into it, and BOOM took plastic. Fortunately, this person was a friend, and took the sale for me and gave me the money for it.

Now I have a smart phone. On the advice of my friend, I opened a separate bank account just for those plastic transactions. Then I went to Square, Inc. and requested a FREE square credit card reader, which just came.

And the next time I'm selling books and somebody asks me if I take plastic, I can say, "I sure do!"

Ha ha ha ho hooooo!

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Amazon's New Shipping Strategy

Privacy seems to be increasingly difficult to keep these days, doesn’t it? This week, one of our local news programs told the story of a man who was furious that his Google searches for sleep apnea quickly resulted in a bombardment of ads for sleep remedies. I’ve been told (although frankly I haven’t paid attention) that Google is notorious for keeping track of every site we visit and then transferring that information to those who want to sell you stuff. Don’t even get me started on the ads that pop up on my Facebook page.

As many of you know, Amazon is also pretty good at collecting information which is used to anticipate your next purchase. Every time I post a book review on Amazon, I get a profusion of suggested titles by the same or similar authors on my next couple of visits. It’s funny because Amazon hasn’t quite figured me out yet. Although I review primarily mysteries, I review something from nearly every genre, and only one book by an author. Although I’ve posted about 235 reviews with them, I’m getting an increasing flurry of review requests from authors who, according to Amazon, have ranked me among the top reviewers? Huh? No matter.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal suggests that Amazon is taking its knowledge of your buying habits to a whole new level by way of “anticipatory shipping”. Amazon’s so serious about this that they’ve patented the ability to start delivering packages to a customer before that individual has even clicked the “buy” button!

Amazon’s argument is that the time between ordering a book and its arrival could dissuade buyers from ordering. In other words, Amazon’s spending big bucks in hopes to keep you from heading to the nearest physical store. They’re adding warehouses and packing up boxes of books, for example, that they think you’ll want, based on their algorithms. They’ll then ship the box to your area in anticipation that you’ll click that button.

Do you see problems with this? What if you move? What if your financial circumstances for you to stop buying and you don’t bother to notify Big Brother—I mean, Amazon? Apparently, Amazon anticipates errors and, in some instances, may wind up sending a box of complimentary books to an address for promotion purposes. It’s not yet been established if this method will actually reduce shipping time, nor will Amazon representatives say if this strategy is already in place. So, if you wind up with an Amazon delivery to your home that you didn’t order, at least you’ll know why.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Guest Post: Essential Proofreading Tips by Nikolas Baron from

Today's special guest is Nikolas Baron, from, and he's sharing some great tips for writers on the importance of proofreading...

Proofreading, or line editing, is an essential skill set that every writer must acquire. Whether it be writing for a blog, a college essay or even a work related email, proofing your work is essential. Day in and day out, I spend my time studying people’s writing for my work at, and it has become apparent to me that most people only afford the minimum amount of time to proofread their work. Granted, it’s been a few years since your last grammar class back in high school, but it is high time the writing world at large become expert proofreaders. Fear not ye intrepid scribes, for I am here to help you! As with most things, becoming an excellent proofreader just takes time and practice.

The first step is to set aside a proper allotment of time to work on proofreading your text. Proofreading takes concentration, which means turning off your cell phones, shutting off the television, and minimizing Reddit. I know it is painful, but you have to do it. All done? Great! Let’s get started.

Below are some easy-to-follow steps to help you on your way:
  1. Read slowly — perhaps the most important step to proofing is to read slowly and read out loud. Saying every word allows you to hear mistakes you might otherwise miss. 
  2. Correct one thing at a time — trying to correct every error in a paper can at times be a bit overwhelming. Instead, try to focus on one type of error. For example, it is easier to find and correct grammatical errors when you are only looking for grammatical errors. In summation, just take your time and be as thorough as possible. 
  3. Highlight punctuation — pro-tip here: highlight every punctuation mark. This forces you to study every mark and determine whether or not it is appropriate. 
  4. Read backwards — start from the very last word of the text. Reading backwards, word by word, is an effective technique to spot and fix spelling errors. It is also an excellent way to isolate sentences. Isolating sentences is an excellent way to give each sentence the attention it needs and expose errors you otherwise might have missed. 
  5. Ask for help — don’t be afraid! Proofreading is a difficult and often tedious process, so it is important to ask for help when you need it! It is never a bad idea either to have a second set of eyes check over your work. 
  6. Look it up — when in doubt, always look it up. You think this sentence needs an extra comma? Look it up. Is that word being used incorrectly? Look it up. Is this en-dash supposed to…yea, you got it. Look it up —a simple but effective practice. 
  7. Use online resources — fortunately enough, you live in the digital age, and that comes with some pretty lofty benefits. For one, there are a multitude of websites that specialize in proofreading. Sites like Purdue’s Online Writing Lab, for example, have a multitude of valuable resources wherein you could learn about grammar and different writing styles. Further, there are now a wide array of online proofreaders that can correct spelling and grammatical errors. One such site is Grammarly—an excellent proofing site that offers more than your average proofing site. Grammarly can even improve the quality of writing by offering input on style, detect plagiarized materials, improve diction and more. Undoubtedly, it is an excellent resource for any writer. 
By following these simple steps, you are already on the road to becoming an excellent proofreader. Just remember, becoming even an adequate proofreader takes time. But surely if you work hard, use every resource available, and learn from your mistakes, you will be a pro in no time.

By Nikolas Baron

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Contradictions Everywhere

Are any of you confused by all the information you read about publishing trends, publishing advice, and most recently, publishing predictions? Well, my hand is raised and waving frantically.

A few weeks back, I quoted from a blog by Libby Fischer Hellman telling authors to stop writing so many books. She said that too many authors were publishing books too quickly. She said that quality is important (Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch would agree) and that “binge publishing”, as she called it, wasn’t helping anyone. I remember referring to a couple of authors who blogged about the backlash from publishing too much too fast, as each new title resulted in fewer sales.

So, this week I read a piece in the Wall Street Journal (link might expire) touting the success of multi-published authors who publish several books a years. Russell Blake has released 25 books in 30 months. He apparently believes in volume and works from eight in the morning until midnight at a treadmill desk. For him, volume is paying off as he’s sold 435,000 books at around $5 each while earning 70% of royalties.

Another woman published 11 romances in 2013 and she has sold over 400,000 copies. Bear in mind, though, that the road wasn’t easy. Blake reports that he lost money on his first 10 books as he paid on average $1,500 for editors and designers for each book, but then changed his marketing tactics. From there things took off. Needless to say, his story certainly contradicts what I’d heard from others.

Meanwhile, the 2014 predictions are out, and following them makes my head spin too. Some are saying that digital publishing is now mature and thriving, and will continue to thrive. Others say, that softening sales in 2013 will likely continue in 2014. Well, I could go on with the many contradictions in this industry, but frankly, I’ve read enough for one week.

I’ll have to be satisfied with striving to write better and more efficiently. In other words, doing the best I can. Since I’m working a day job now, writing from 8 a.m. to midnight is impossible. I didn’t attempt this when I was writing full time either—didn’t want to. But that’s the point. Each of us has to find our own path and definition of success. If you read all the blogs and articles about the writing biz, take what resonates with you out of them, then find your own way to achieving your goals. Best of luck to you in 2014!!

Sunday, January 05, 2014

What Goes Around Comes Around

When I self-published Taxed to Death nearly twenty years ago, few people were self-publishing. My choice prompted cautionary tales by traditionally published authors, yet for many reasons, it was something I needed to do. While the venture was expensive, I learned a lot about producing a book and the challenges of distribution, being reviewed, marketing and promotion, and collecting money from bookstores. Despite but the stigma of self-publishing, the experience was terrific.

Thirteen years later, I was finally ready to bring out the sequel, Fatal Encryption. This time, self-publishing had gained acceptance in many areas, although newspaper reviews were still out of reach. In one area, self-publishing had taken a step back as the Chapters bookstore chain would no longer stock books by self-published authors. It hadn’t been a problem with Taxed to Death, but clearly times had changed. More authors were self-publishing and Chapters didn’t want to deal with all these single titles by micro-publishers. In fact, they drastically reduced the number distributors they would work with. A handful of stores did allow brief consignment sales, particularly if you did a meet ‘n greet there.

About this time, I jumped on the social media bandwagon and met a great group of self-publishers (now known as indie authors). They were friendly, supportive, and told me about other places like Goodreads. By 2010 and 2011, self-publishing was really exploding. It seemed that nearly everyone was putting out their own book and thumbing their noses at traditional publishers (which was around the time I signed with a traditional publisher), while celebrating the phenomenal success of people like Amanda Hocking. The stigma of self-publishing was dying big time.

But then another backlash started, particularly on Amazon forums. Readers were tired of indie authors promoting their books on threads designed for other purposes. Verbal wars, one-star reviews, and general author bashing began. Blogs and magazine articles criticized indie authors’ lack of talent and professionalism—and let’s face it—with some authors it was true. Readers were warned to beware of any book that sold for $.99 as it was likely self-published and probably lousy.

Well, here we are in 2014 and I just finished reading a blog by the highly successful and insightful Hugh Howey who notes that self-publishers are not only gaining stature, but will likely be copied by traditional publishers. It seems that a growing numbers of readers fully support indie books. In fact, they look for indie titles. As indies take a growing percentage book sales, Howey predicts that traditional publishers will implement steps to make their books appear to come from self-published authors. What, you say? Really?

He says that we’ll see lower prices (this has already started forsome publishers) perma-free, faster turn-around, more print-on-demand, and traditional authors who are doing all the things that self-publishers have been doing for ages. Interesting, huh?

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Coloring My New Year

calendar_2014I’ve never really celebrated New Year’s because it doesn’t mean much to me. It’s a relatively arbitrary date. The calendar numbers change, but that’s all. It’s not a universal new beginning. The Chinese New Year this year is on January 31, the Jewish New Year is on September 24, the Persian New Year is March 20, the Korean New Year is January 31, the Tibetan New Year begins on January 31 , and various communities in the Hindu religion have different dates — January 14, March 31, April 14, April 15.
January 1 is not even the beginning of a new season or of a solar cycle such as a solstice or an equinox. Nor is there any personal demarcation — no black line separates the old from the new. The world is no different today from yesterday, nor are we. We carry the old year with us because you have the same problems, sadnesses, hopes, fears.

There is a newness to January 1, though, and that is the newness of a new calendar.

Like school kids with stiff new clothes and a satchel full of crayons, unread books, and blank paper, we are ready to set out on an adventure, trembling with both trepidation and excitement. Our new calendars have 365 blank squares. How will we use those squares? With notations of appointments and special days, of course. Perhaps with reminders of bills to pay and chores to do. But many of those days will be blank. What we will do with those blank days? Will we search for happiness or a new love? Will we recommit to an old love or strive to attain a better level of health? Will we experience new things, meet new people, visit new places, sample new foods?

I do feel that particular newness today, that hope. I’ve had marvelous adventures the past past year — going to Seattle to see Shen Yun, riding in a limousine, hiking with the Sierra Club, making new friends, attending parties and performances. I’ve walked hundreds of miles in the desert, posted 500 bloggeries, learned dozens of delightful new words (my favorite is eupathy), shared many meals, laughed untold times, and exchanged thousands of smiles. It hasn’t all been wonderful, of course, but somehow I found the strength and courage to deal with the trying times. I cried when I needed to, threw my griefs into the blogosphere, talked about (or rather, talked around) a heartbreaking family situation. And I survived. Even thrived.

And now I have 365 blank days on my new calendar. I plan on getting out my box of crayons and coloring those days brightly.

I hope your days will be filled with wonder, new adventures, and much joy.

Happy New Year.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”

Words of inspiration from author Cheryl Kaye Tardif via The Happiness Recipe

Listen to Cheryl's latest interview at The Happiness Recipe:

Then check out the recipe she talks about--Strawberry Dumplings--at