Friday, August 16, 2019

Speed Kills

Speed kills. I was told by a Marine Corps jet fighter pilot that that phrase was not always true, that speed is your friend when flying a jet. I will bow to his expertise and acknowledge there may be an exception, but i still feel my statement generally holds true.

As it relates to writing, I certainly believe it's true. I know. You've read posts from me that say you need to write more books and churn them out faster. I was wrong. I stand by the first part of that statement: more writing, more publishing, will lead to more sales. Write more, not just books either. Submit short stories and essays too. The more people read your work, the better chance they will buy more. Of course, the big caveat is they will buy more only if it's good, only if it's worth paying for. And that's where slowing down will help. I saw this post about handwriting the first draft.

“A laptop may be able to perfectly typeset my thoughts as I write them, but a first draft has no business being easy to read. A first draft shouldn’t herald itself in a cacophony of clattering keys. A first draft should arrive with the raindrop-quiet of the popping sound my ballpoint makes skittering through the cursive-and-printing hybrid of my handwriting. A first draft needs the whisper of the thoughts I haven’t made sense of yet to be echoed by the whisper of my hand gliding across the page as I finish with one word and move onto the next.”

I used to hand write the first draft all the time and I stopped for a long while. Now I'm back to it. I'm sure you've noticed the improved quality! 😀 The process feels right to me, for me. It turns out I can type much faster than I can think (same with talking, but that's another post), and that usually ends poorly. It think it's one of the reasons social media and the 24/7 cable news networks are so low quality. Too many are in too big a hurry to be first and so we read speculation more than actual facts far too often.

Keep writing. Keep submitting. Keep publishing. Don't stop, but don't go too fast either. Pay attention to craft. Haste makes waste - that phrase has been around a long time for good reason.

“Instead of strapping into the digital fast lane where my touch-typed thoughts can be zapped—fast, fast, fast—onto a screen, pen and paper slow my mind long enough for my heart to get a word in edgewise; pen and paper slow my mind long enough for my heart to encourage me to wait for truths that filter up as slowly as water from an aquifer…”

Read the entire article.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Now Some Writers Will Have to Compete With Computers!

The Creative Penn blog recently posted about how AI (Artificial Intelligence) has been used to create books.

Computers have already been used for quite a while to “write” news articles, particularly sports articles.

AI has been successfully utilized in many areas: chess, poker, medical research… The concept of “deep learning” enables a computer to play millions of games of chess, or poker, and learn what works and what does not. Now, these same capabilities of artificial intelligence are enabling computers to encroach upon the world of fiction writing. Feeding the AI millions of books and articles allows the computer to learn what makes a bestseller and what does not.
“The ‘write and publish faster’ model will soon be broken. You cannot write as fast as AI. It doesn’t get tired or burn out and it can consume millions of academic papers or books much faster than you can read. 
Publishers are not charities and authors are basically content creators, writing products to be sold. An in-house proprietary creative AI will work constantly with no hand-holding and no need to be looked after in any way. 
For example, what if my objective is to write a bestselling horror novel — and what if I give the AI the entire Stephen King backlist to learn from? 
Or the top 1000 bestselling horror novels from Amazon? 
I could probably do a rudimentary version of that right now with AWS Amazon Comprehend (which discovers insight and relationships in text) and then utilize a Natural Language Generation [Wikipedia] tool like GPT2, considered so dangerous that it has not been released (OpenAI), but of course, many other such tools will be created. 
The first movie has been created from a screenplay written by an AI [Ars Technica]. While the result might not be high art, it’s a first draft, and it took only a few minutes to create (after much deep learning from existing scripts).

If content is produced by AI at a faster rate in every medium — and possibly with the addition of translated material — then the tsunami of content will soon bury us all.
Authors and publishers already have to pay for Amazon Advertising to even be seen in the Amazon stores right now and this model will soon be broken as ads become too expensive for most.”
How will humans compete? You will have to abandon generic, formula-driven literature. You will have to write more about niche subjects, with strong emotional impact, something that computers will struggle with for a while. Another advantage to this approach: marketing is easier, more effective, if you write a narrower-niched, more focused work.
"The mass market is dead. Bestsellers are dead. Micro-niche will be everything and more granular discoverability will be better with AI, e.g. emotional resonance matching or specifics like I want a thriller set in Rome with a female protagonist who likes fast cars and Renaissance art. 
We’re starting to see this with Amazon Advertising auto-targeted ads. They were pretty bad a year ago but now they are starting to become more effective."
You can’t fight these developments. You can writer in your style, telling your stories (it’s not likely computers will be writing memoir, or tightly-niched history any time soon) with an intense devotion to craft. This may turn out to be a boom time to those writers who can writer for the love of story, language, ad the craft of writing.

"Publishers are businesses. They will use whatever tools they can to bring down the costs of doing business and authors are just content creators at the end of the day. Yes, your editor may love you, but it’s the accountants who make the decisions. 
You cannot win on speed when an AI can write a screenplay in two minutes, or generate a textbook, or translate a book faster than you can read this sentence. 
But there is one thing that you can do that AI cannot — be you. 
Move away from the ‘faster is better’ model to ‘artisan craftsmanship.’ Stand out by having a unique voice. Don’t write anything without giving it your own authentic stamp. Focus on local, imperfect, real connection with other humans."
Read the entire article.  

Friday, August 2, 2019

Where is the Growth in Publishing?

There is massive growth in digital books (ebooks and audio), but it’s not happening in the US.

"By 2025, there will be another 4 billion people online and most of those will be accessing the internet through mobile devices. This is why Streetlib now has a publishing portal in every country, in every language, positioning themselves as the portal for the 2020s (and why I am now distributing on their platform as well as others). 
The massive growth of digital book sales (ebook and audio) is not in the US, UK, Canada, or Australia. It’s everywhere else — and most of those countries don’t use Amazon to shop for books."
Another thing about Streetlib: you can upload your manuscript and they will create both the ebook (suitable for multiple platforms, not just the Kindle) and printed book - for free. I'm looking for new business opportunities soon as it's more and more apparent that book designers will no longer be in demand! 😟

Friday, July 26, 2019

Jane Friedman's Annual Key Book Publishing Paths

Jane Friedman published her latest edition of the Key Book Publishing Paths.

As you might expect, getting a book deal from a traditional publisher is the best option, whether it be the big 5 or a small press. The key thing to remember is that being traditionally published means that the author pays nothing to get published; the publisher assumes all the financial risk. You may earn a smaller royalty, but the editing, design and marketing support will be better than you can do on your own.

The next best option, in my opinion, is the Indie / DIY (Do It Yourself) option. You get complete control (you have little control with traditional publishing, especially with the title and cover) and receive the largest royalty. But, everything is on you. You have to find a competent editor, a good book designer (if you're reading this blog you already know one) and a book cover designer. All the marketing is on you.

The worst option is Assisted & Hybrid. You pay upfront, usually at inflated prices, for the privilege of publishing. This category contains most of the scams - companies making promises they can't, or won't, keep.

The last column is labeled "Social." This column is for bloggers or writers that publish on Wattpad or Medium. It's not easy to make money this way, but it can give authors exposure for their books.

Read the entire report.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Too Many Books?

I follow a blog on photography. It recently had a post about how digital photography is ruining art photography. There are too many pictures being posted, mostly about mundane things, and that has devalued the world of art photography.

Is it the same for publishing? Has self-publishing just made it too easy and flooded the market with too many books? I recently saw (and posted) about ads I saw for formatting: $27 for an ebook, $48 for a printed book. (I will not do formatting at those prices.) As I predicted, it has gotten so easy to take a document in Word and turn it into a book that I suspect even more books will be published every day (currently the number is estimated to be around 6,000 books every single day - traditional + self-published). This isn't a print vs ebook rant either - both formats are being flooded.

Below  are some lines from the photography post. Do you think the world of writing has suffered from the same problem?
Each and every year we take over one trillion photos, collectively. That’s 160 photos per year for everyone alive on the third rock from the sun. This number is expected to grow by 100 billion photos every year too. That’s just insane. Cameras and photography are accessible to billions of people in every corner of the planet, but the ability to overindulge in what used to be an art form that was not as easy to access has had some negative effects. 
The digital age has enabled us to take photos of literally everything. But in the process of photography becoming so accessible it has cheapened the value of the art. Most people in this world really do not care about images, and most people do not value photography or the power of a photograph. 
People just don’t care as much about digital images as they do about physical prints.
We can bring back the value of photography by shooting with intent, with purpose, by creating new unique images, and by making every click of the shutter count.”

Read the entire article!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Stop Wasting Your Time Marketing on Social Media

This article is from way back in the digital stone age: 2014. I wish I had read it then, and taken it seriously, though I’m not sure I would have that year. My attitude has changed drastically since then, based on my own experience and the lessons learned from my clients.

My 7/8 post was about focusing on writing as opposed to marketing. This post is in the same vein. Social media: writers are supposed to develop their social media platform. The marketing gurus say if you self-publish you have to do this. Agents won’t talk to you until you have a social media platform all set up with thousands of likes. But is there any return on all the time you have to spend on it? This article argues that there is no return, in fact, if it reduces the time you spend on your writing (which it inevitably will), it will generate a negative return.

Once again, the same advice I’ve seen over and over appears here. This time it’s from Amazon Publishing! Write more books. Keep writing. If you love it, do it and stop wasting your time and money on gimmicks that claim to sell more books, but don’t.
“Conventional wisdom in the publishing industry suggests that a robust online presence, maintained by an author, will compensate for a non-existent marketing budget and that some uncoachable mix of wit and digital luck can propel an author from obscurity to fame. The reality is that successful online marketing, just like successful offline marketing, is driven by money. A social media presence with no cash behind it doesn’t do much for the average author when it comes to selling books, and squandering precious hours on building a platform that few people will ever see—hours that could otherwise be spent writing—is a mistake that can hurt your productivity and, therefore, your career.

According to research by Social@Ogilvy, which was recently published in Advertising Age, a mere 6.15 percent of fans (people who like a page) see each organic (unpaid) post from a brand.

The advice they gave to my author friend (who spoke on the condition of anonymity, per her contract with Amazon): write more. Don’t waste time on social media. The single biggest factor in whether or not you sell books is whether or not you write books.

When you have to make a choice about how to spend your writing time, choose your book first. Every. Single. Time. To approach your writing career any other way is a mistake.”
Read the entire article!

Also, Seth Rogen had something similar to say about social media in 2018:
“The narrative of social media grooming is a seductive one, but it’s as much of a dead end as spending an extra hour picking out which tie to wear before giving a speech.”

Monday, July 15, 2019

Is Indie-Publishing a Good Choice for Literary Fiction?

Is indie publishing viable for literary fiction authors? Here's a podcast with successful literary fiction author Jane Davis that suggests it is not the best choice, even though she appears to have made it work. The interview starts at 21:30, but some of the introductory stuff is interesting.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Do You Need a Publicist?

If you want to get the word out and are having a difficult time doing that, consider hiring a publicist. Jane Friedman wrote about this recently.

"Nowadays, many writers elect to hire their own publicists. That’s especially true for those who publish with small, independent, or nontraditional presses, since that may be the only way for them to secure media attention. It’s also true, however, for writers who take the traditional route. Unless you’re a major name, your publisher will have limited time and resources to devote to your book. If you want more exposure, you’ll have to make it happen yourself. 
Marketing refers to the things you pay for, in order to become known (like ad placements), while publicity refers to attention from the media (like interviews and reviews) that you do not pay for. You pay for them indirectly, of course, by paying for the time (that is, the connections and clout) of a professional publicist."

Read the entire article.

Additional reading:

If you want to do some press releases on your own, here's a good article about sites to submit that don't charge you for the privilege:

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Case For Being a Writer, Not a Marketer

A lot of things have been swirling around in my brain about writers and getting paid.

First, a little bit of background might help set the stage. In 2008 I left the world of software development. I volunteered to do websites, for free, to members of Batavia Mainstreet, an organization devoted to helping promote Batavia’s downtown, which consists of mostly small businesses. At the same time an artist’s cooperative, Water Street Studios, was forming in Batavia. I worked with artists from that organization. I realized that many artists were not good marketers. I became a bit obsessed with the idea that artists, and later mostly writers, should get paid for their work.

It’s now 12 years later and I don’t have much to show for my efforts. A couple of books have influenced my recent thoughts.

I read Journey of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters by John Steinbeck. He kept a journal, written in the form of letters to his agent, while writing East of Eden. I found it fascinating. First, Steinbeck was unsure of his writing. East of Eden was not his first novel. The man had an American classic, The Grapes of Wrath, already written and published, yet he still seemed unsure, insecure, about the quality of his work. More to the point of this post, he only mentioned issues related to potential sales of his new book a couple times, and only in the vaguest terms. He didn’t write anything about his “platform,” his book description, the book cover, garnering book reviews – none of the things today’s authors have to contend with. 90% of his concerns were about the story. The other 10% of his journal entries were about his pencils; the man was obsessed with his pencils.

This book, along with other things I read, made me start to question the wisdom of self-publishing. I expressed these thoughts in public and a friend recommended I read How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent by Noah Lukeman. I read the beginning of the book and then stopped, convinced this wasn’t the way to go either. First, Lukeman recommends authors adopt a 20 year timeline. 20 years to hone our craft, find an agent and get published! I’m 62. Many of my clients are older. Waiting 20 years is just not practical. He may, however, be right. That is depressing. Shortly after reading that, I came across the chapter on the author’s platform. An author is expected to have a website, a robust social media presence, a podcast or YouTube channel, a public speaking business, and ideally interviews on national media outlets like CNN. All this is before landing an agent or publisher! It made me wonder: what do agents and publishers do anymore? I know the answer; I’ve published posts on that question before. The answer is nothing for new or midlist authors.

Where does all this leave me? Despair? Not really. It has shifted my attitude, my expectations, and hence my advice to writers.

My new advice: obsess about the quality of your writing; stop obsessing about sales, especially online sales. I wish I knew the secret. I don’t. But, I’m now convinced no one else does either. Focus on the only thing you can control: the writing. A lousy book cover will deter sales, but a really expensive book cover guarantees nothing. Write a good book description. You’re a writer; at least spend the time to try and sell your book, do the best you can and then forget about it. You already know how I feel about formatting: keep it simple and cheap. Expensive formatting will not sell more books. If you enjoy them, do readings and signings. You’ll sell some books and have some fun. If you enjoy blogging and social media, do it. If you have the money and think you can write some ads, try it. But, if all this sounds like a drag, then stop trying to be a businessperson. Just stop.

Forget all the online marketing tricks, especially the ones that cost you money. Most of them are just another way to separate you from your money.  Consider this from JA Konrath, an author who has sold more than 3 million books, both self and traditionally:
“Bookmarks don't work on me, so I don't give them away. I don't click on Facebook ads, so I don't buy Facebook ads. I've never gone out of my way to go to a booksigning, so I no longer do booksignings. And so on. I'm not saying that these things don't ever work for other authors. But if it doesn't work on me, I don't do it.”
Consider how you buy books. I have never once gone to BookBub, or participated in a giveaway. I don’t browse for books, so the “magic” of the cover doesn’t really matter to me. I get suggestions from friends, on Goodreads, or in my writing group, or I read about the book in a mainstream newspaper or magazine. That’s how I develop my list of books to read. How do you come across books you end up reading? Use that to decide how to market your own books.

* * *
An aside: the entire article by JA Konrath is pretty interesting. It’s title, On Writing Shit, caught my eye and it’s worth reading. Basically, he says don’t try so hard to make your book perfect, it’s just not worth it. It’s destined to become a future blog post. Read the entire article.
* * *

Get working on the next book. Enjoy writing again! If you want to be an artist with words, be that and skip the rest. Life is way too short to do otherwise.

Friday, July 5, 2019


I’m very ambivalent about medium when it comes to books. While the vast majority of books I read are in print, I do also like my Kindle. The Kindle is wonderful for travel.

When it comes to magazines, however, I strongly prefer print. I only subscribe to two: Pen World and Conde Nast Traveler. I could have subscribed to the digital editions, but it wouldn’t have been the same, not even close. I like the feel of a magazine. The pictures look so much better in print. The print version fonts are usually larger and easier to read in the printed copies. I know people say this about books too, but I really am comfortable reading a book in either print or Kindle format – they are equally the same to me.

I like the length of magazine articles too. Generally, longer than newspapers, going into greater depth, the magazine article is still easily digested in a single flight.

I used to travel a lot for work. I’d bring a book on most trips, but usually packed with clothes in my luggage. My laptop case was stuffed full with the laptop and files, but there was usually room for 2 or 3 magazines. They became my go-to in-flight reading material and the love affair began.

Magazines are having a tough time lately, especially print versions. Ad revenue is way down. People continue to expect content for free (in reading material, music, photography…). I really do hope they survive, and I’ll continue to subscribe to some in an effort to help.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Writing Contest Scams

Writer Beware had a post recently about writing contest scams. Here are the red flags:

  • Solicitation
  • High entry fees
  • Dozens or scores of entry categories
  • Anonymous judging
  • Non-prize prizes
  • Opportunities to spend more money

There are so many opportunities for scammers to make money in the writing world. Please don’t fall for them. Don’t spend your hard earned money seeking prestige that isn’t really of any value whatsoever.

Read the entire article.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Book Isn't Selling? Here Are Some Ideas

"While there are countless sources of advice and marketing tricks on how to sell ebooks and books online on Amazon, the most important factors of all are to have a good product and to attract positive attention to your books. 
If you have published more than a couple of titles, perhaps it has been some time since you analysed what you are really doing to attract attention."
I do have to note that the advice to post on Google + is old - Google + is sadly no more. 

I did recover and change the description to my book (Deliveryman: Palm Springs), and though I think both of those areas are much improved, it hasn't resulted in any movement. I haven't advertised it though, so the experiment continues. 

Monday, June 17, 2019

Ebook Pirates: Using Ebooks to Spread Malware and Get Personal Info!

“The reason is simple. Spammers and scammers have seized upon ebook piracy as means not to offer illegal downloads, but to gum up the search engines with spammy links that, at best, trick people in viewing a lot of pointless ads and, at worst, try to scam users out of their personal information.”
You may find your ebook for sale on some other, oddball, site. It's happened to at least one of my clients. However, that site may just be fishing (or phishing) for personal information, or to try and get someone to click so the site can then download malware. They don't really have your book - it's just used as bait. 

People sometimes suck. 

Monday, June 10, 2019

My Days as a Book Formatter are Numbered!

I received an email recently announcing that Kindle Create will soon be able to format paperbacks as well as Kindle books. The Kindle conversion process is incredibly easy as long as you have the Word document formatted correctly (and that is also very, very easy to accomplish by following some very simple rules). I haven't downloaded the new Kindle Create yet, but I suspect it will also be easy. Anything I do, formatting-wise, can and will be automated. It's only a matter of time.
“You can use Kindle Create to prepare an eBook and paperback with the same manuscript file. If you prepare your paperback with Kindle Create, you can publish it in any trim size. Kindle Create also takes care of complicated paperback formatting tasks for you. When you upload your file to KDP, margins are automatically calculated, and page numbers are added to your paperback's table of contents page and footers. Your first chapter will start on a right-facing page, with subsequent chapters starting on the next available page.”
Read about the new Kindle Create - coming soon!