Sunday, May 31, 2015

What's Missing From This Picture?

If you’re a professional author who works hard to make a living from writing, this week’s news is grim, based on three surveys from Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. TheWriters’ Union of Canada (TWUC) reported that writers’ incomes are down by 27% from 1998. 45% of survey participants report that they are working harder just to earn what they had previously. Note that the average income for writers is $12,879, which is $36,000 below the poverty line, and women earn only 55% of that earned by their male counterparts. One of the major reasons cited by TWUC’s executive director is weakening copyright protection in Canada. Also note that TWUC is comprised of 2,000 members, but this is only a fraction of all writers in Canada. Ironically, some writers I know find TWUC’s annual fee too expensive.

The American AuthorsGuild (AG) conducted a similar survey in April 2015. Results are still being analyzed but they do state that writing incomes have decreased by 24% since the last survey in 2009. Median incomes were $8,000 with full-time writers’ incomes dropping from $25,000 to $17,000. Here’s the stat that got me: writers who’ve been writing for 25 to 40 years have seen the greatest drop in their incomes from $28,7500 to $,9500. Yikes! The Guild is citing unfair publishing contracts as a main reason for the drop, claiming that publishers’ revenues have steadily risen over the years.

In the UK, TheAuthors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), gathered information in 2013 from different writers’ organizations. They found that writers’ incomes have dropped by 29% since 2005. They also found that the number of writers who’ve been able to make a living from writing dropped from 40% to 11.5%  This survey also acknowledges the self-publishing aspect a little, by indicating that 25% of survey participants had self-published at some point and that 80% would do so again.

But here’s the thing. All three surveys don’t come close to capturing the real story of writers’ incomes because, aside from ALCS, they don’t address indie authors. I suspect that many indie authors don’t belong to these organizations. I also believe that there is an increasingly large shadow industry of writers writing and selling books and earning money.

The shadow industry was alluded to in one of Hugh Howey’s Authors Earnings reports that I blogged about earlier this year. Howey discovered that a fair number of titles were selling without ISBN numbers on Amazon. ISBNS are used by many organizations to identify the number of books being published globally, but the stats aren’t accurate. I am just one of many authors who bought several ISBNs back in the day, but never used all of them. Also, I and other writers use local services to print books which we sell by hand at trade shows and other events. Honestly, I sell more print books than TWUC or any organization realizes. This doesn’t mean that I’m earning more than the average writer. In fact, I’m earning less. But neither am I working at publishing and selling full-time.

My point is that although those surveys reveal important things, they don’t tell us the whole picture. No one does because I seriously doubt that anyone knows what it really is.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

How Much Are You Willing To Invest?

This week, a statement in Hugh Howey’s blog, Renting vs. Owning, hit home for me. Howey states that many writers still believe that traditional publishers do most of the promotion and marketing. I realized how right he was when I gave a workshop (mentioned in last week’s blog) on landing a book contract.

I explained to attendees how authors are expected to do a variety of tasks that include everything from arranging book signings, to creating their own website, to paying for conferences, and buying copies of their own book at a discount. This was an eye-opener to most of them and unwelcome news for some who later told me they had no desire to do all that promotion and marketing.

In his blog, Howey claimed that, although both traditional and self-published authors work hard, the traditionally published do it because they have to while self-publishers do it because they want to. Huh? That’s not what I’ve heard.

I’ve spoken with many self-publishers who work hard because they have to, because they know no one else will do it for them. Trust me, like traditional authors, indie authors would much rather be writing the next book. If they work harder than traditionally published authors, it's because they are eager to recoup money spent on production costs. Others are hoping for at least a little profit. Most have become realistic enough to understand that they won’t  make a living at this right away. Sure, some indie writers do, but they are still in the minority.

Aside from asking yourself what you want to write in the first place, the next most important question is how much time, energy, and money you’re willing to invest in promoting and marketing, regardless of how your book will be published? If you don’t know the answer, do some soul searching. Ask yourself, if you’d be happy selling just fifty copies? Do you want to sell five hundred? Five thousand? Five million? You’ll need to tailor your plan according to your goals and your lifestyle. Certainly, an author with young kids at home and/or a demanding full-time day job simply won’t have time for all-out seven-day-a-week promoting. Realistic expectation is as important to success as talent, tenacity, and marketing skill.

Regardless of how busy your life is, though, there is always something you can do to move your plan forward. The most counter-productive thing you can do is to publish your book, then have no idea what to do next. Based on some of the forums I belong to, there is still far too much of that happening.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Timelines for Multiple Characters -- reblogged from

I've written a Big Fat Fantasy called SAGE that has a bazillion or so characters. One of the tools I used to keep things tidy is a timeline. This was particularly important in SAGE, since some of the action is presented in stories that people tell one another, and the people in the stories are (obviously) younger than they are at the time of the telling.

Timeline of SAGE


The straight line is marked off in years, as the main story takes place over the course of twelve years.

The scribble at the upper left is "A dies + 17 years to Cameron's death/coup, K 16, S 14". That means that, in the year the old ruler, Ada, dies, her elder daughter, Karol, is 16 and her younger daughter, Sorcha, is 14. It's seventeen years later that the major action begins.

The lists (V 14, A 13, M 11, B 9) are the ages of various characters at various stages of the timeline. Didn't want someone taking up arms only to later realize he hadn't been born yet.

The curvy bits encompass years in Kinnan's life: Where was he and what was he doing when other characters' stories were in the forefront?

Other notes remind me of the stages of Guthrie's rise to prominence, when Andrin was dismissed from royal service, when Brady came to work for Devona, and other fiddly bits.

This is by no means an outline, or even an exhaustive timeline; its purpose was not to be a map but a memorandum. It was just enough to keep the characters, some of whom grew from infancy to pre-teen self-sufficiency during the course of the story, from being the wrong age from chapter to chapter.

If you're having trouble getting the timing of fiddly bits right, try making a timeline to hang the bits from. It can be amazingly useful.

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Cautionary Tale

Earlier this month, I conducted a workshop about how to land a contract with a traditional publisher. In addition to the ins and outs of proper preparation and the importance of following guidelines, I advised the class to carefully review a contract before signing, to ask for clarification about things they didn’t understand, or to even reject clauses that were not in their best interest. I don’t know how much of it sank in, but I did refer them to The Writers Union of Canada website (TWUC), which provides plenty of good information, including a Writers Bill of Rightsfor the Digital Age, which offers ten principles about digital rights and royalties.

It’s too bad that this stuff wasn’t around when author Roxanne St. Claire was signing a contract for a book over a decade ago. As she states in her blog, she was so excited about signing the contract (and don’t most of us fall into this trap?) that she didn’t see a problem with the clause that said, “The book will be considered still in print as long as it is available for purchase in any format, including electronic”. More than ten years later, she still cannot get her rights back because the publisher refuses to revert them to her, and legally they don’t have to. St. Claire notes that her book sold only four copies last year. In a standard contract of the day, rights would immediately revert to her, but since the contract stated, “including electronic”, things changed.

Today’s contracts extensively cover digital rights, and writers need to understand what each clause mean, particularly when dealing with big five publishers who ensure that the contract is stacked in their favor. All this digital wrangling makes things exceedingly difficult and frustrating for writers. As St. Claire points out, her words, imagination, and heart went into that book. She’s gone on to self-publish and has produced a total of 45 books over her career. Yet she still wishes she had that book back. It was her favorite.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Genie's Out of the Bottle

For years, I’ve read numerous articles and blogs from professional writers telling freelancers to never give away their work. I’ve heard the same from authors, agents and publishers. Ten years ago, the idea seemed incredibly foolish until the self-publishing revolution changed pricing, and ebooks changed the way we read books.

For a while, offering a freebie prompted sales of other books for the author, but for most authors the strategy isn’t as successful as it used to be. In fact, it’s not really working at all for those who haven’t built a body of work or learned much about marketing. Yet, free books are still being offered by the truck load. The millions of books on the market have made it harder for anyone to find an unknown author. After all, digital shelves aren’t cleared, are they? They’re just added to. The genie is out of the bottle, folks. The question is, is the genie good or bad? Can it be put back? Should it be put back?

I’m asking these questions after reading a fascinating blog by author Fergus McNeill who creates apps in his day job, and he has some serious concerns. He asks “when did it become acceptable practice to give away books for free?” To provide an answer he draws on his experience in the rapidly changing app industry, noting that game apps can be customized and accessorized as the gamer progresses, generating more income. Books can’t, at least not right now.

If so many authors aren’t making money from their books, then why are free books so prevalent? McNeill maintains that it’s because the platform-holders are making the money. Giveaways and ridiculously low-priced books aren’t going away. In fact, the tsunami of free and cheap new titles swells every year. For some people this is great, for others not so much. As McNeill points out, it’s a complex issue. But we’re past the point of returning to the old days and, on many levels, this is fine with me. Just as long as those hundreds of thousands of newbie authors around the globe understand that the tsunami of free books offered by their competitors will probably destroy their hopes and dreams of earning a living from their writing.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Did You Hear the One About the Guy...

I came across an interesting article this week from Melville House about a man who’d finally been tracked down for dumping hundreds of books along a Colorado highway over a period of time. A State Trooper caught him in the act of literally throwing books out the window as he drove. Apparently, the litterbug had acquired thousands of titles from what a bookstore (possibly a mystery bookshop) that closed eight years earlier. His intent was to sell them all on Amazon, however, Amazon made it impossible for him to compete. The culprit stated that his arthritis and busy schedule prevented him lifting them into dumpsters or driving all the way to the landfill. He also stated that he tried to donate the books, but they weren’t wanted. Needless to say, he received a fine for littering, but here’s another twist in this sad, sordid little tale. Someone else is also dumping books along the highway, although this individual hasn’t yet been caught.

As the article suggests, the litterbug’s crime actually addresses a larger issue. First, the saturation of print books has made secondhand bookstores, and possibly other charities, less willing to accept donated books. In other words, there’s far too many print copies floating around and not nearly enough takers. This begs the question, are publishers’ print runs still too large? Sure, surveys indicate that the majority of readers still buy print books, but what happens when they’re done with them?

I know many people who love print books, but at my 50+ year of age, I also know plenty of folks who are downsizing their homes and giving away most of their collections. Truthfully, I honestly don’t know anyone who is actively building a book collection, and that’s the problem. Are those in their mid-twenties to mid-forties collecting books to the degree that we were their age?

As the article points out, there were places the litterbug could have taken the books if he really tried. What about thrift stores? Hospitals? Seniors' centers? Even a university? The university where I’m employed has a huge book sale every fall to raise money for the United Way. They’ve already started asking for donations and could have used those books. Here in BC, we also have book donation bins in our community. In fact, two of them are only five minutes from my house. I’m not exactly sure what is done with the books after I drop them in the bin, but I’m hoping those bins will be around for a while because we too will be downsizing in three to five years. If those bins should ever disappear, though, I can assure you that I won’t be throwing books out of my car window. Sheesh.