Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Do Self Published Authors Make More Money Than Traditionally Published Authors?

The conversation about author's wages continues to sizzle. Last month, I posted about average author salaries after one Big 5 published author posted her annual earnings. This month, I wanted to share another interesting blog post centered on self-published incomes vs. traditionally published incomes.

In this post on, Hugh Howey takes a hard look at ebook data to assess who earns more -- shelf published authors or traditionally published authors?

The analysis looks at the top 7,000 genre fiction ebooks sold on, breaking out author incomes based on whether the book was self published, published by the Big 5, by Amazon, by a mid-to- small-sized pub house or by an uncategorized source.  The results are quite intriguing, and make a strong case in favor of self-published authors' earning potential.

Go ahead and take a look.  I'll wait.

Interesting, right?

Now before we all jump ship in favor of self-publishing, I wanted to point out a few things.  I'm a big believer in using data as an unbiased source of information. But you have to be careful when analyzing partial data because it can very easily be skewed. And in the case of the publishing industry, where only a portion of the information is ever available, the data is always inherently flawed.

For example, this assessment only takes ebook sales into account.  To me, this biases the results in the favor of non-Big 5 publishing houses.  If you included print books in the mix, you'd likely see a bigger swing in favor of the Big 5 because of their print distribution networks. In fact, distribution networks are often the catalyst for successful self-pubbed authors deciding to partner with a Big 5 house - they can offer access to mass retailers that you simply can't get on your own.  And while ebook growth can't be denied, print is still the dominant form, so you can't look at ebooks in absence of print and assume it represents the whole picture. At least not yet.

Total size of market also has an impact on the number, as does proliferation.  For example, the data suggests that authors publishing with small-to-mid-sized houses make less than indie and Big 5 pubbed authors.  But this could be driven by the fact that they represent a significantly smaller portion of total books on the marketplace - if a house is only publishing 5-10 books a year, they're going to make up a smaller portion of the earning pie, regardless.

Similarly authors who publish multiple books a year will naturally have greater earning potential. And as the article points out, traditionally published authors are typically limited to one book per year (at best) where indie published authors don't have the same process or contract restrictions and can publish with more frequency.  More books = more money.

So does this mean I don't agree with the article?  No, not at all.  It raises some interesting points, and I think makes a very favorable case for publishing overall:  we might not all become millionaires, but there's money to be made regardless of which path you choose.

The one undeniable fact, no matter how you split the data, is that a self-pubbed author makes a larger percentage of every book sold. For ebooks, that number is ~70%, where a traditionally pubbed author takes home ~30% per book.  That means self pubbed authors have lower volume hurdles - they need to sell half as many books as traditionally pubbed authors to make the same income, assuming flat pricing.

The other thing that all of us need to remember - regardless how we decide to publish - is that publishing a book alone does not guarantee success.  Hugh Howey's article only focuses on the top 7,000 ebooks - but there are millions published each year through various avenues.  And as I pointed out in my previous post, most traditionally published authors won't earn past their advances, and most self-pubbed authors won't break through the already cluttered marketplace to sell a large number of books.

I don't say this to depress you, but simply to paint a realistic picture of what you can expect to earn as an author.  And at the end of the day your path to publication is yours and yours alone. It shouldn't matter which path will make you more money, but whether or not your decision is the one that makes you feel like you've realized your publishing dreams.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Industry Review: Trains, Planes & Books!

Amtrak Train

This has got to be the highest trending topic for writers this week (besides the Olympics - congratulations Team Canada & Team U.S.A!). Amtrak's Writer's Residencies Program has got everyone uber excited. I bet there's not a writer out there who's not sitting at their desk daydreaming about a getaway to write while traversing the American countryside - for FREE! Well…the first two were anyway.  But the cool thing is, this all started on social media and with enough support, this could become a regular program (Canada Via Rail - hear that? *hint* *hint*). 

If you had a chance to book a train or flight to catch SCBWI's New York Conference this weekend, you were in for a treat! From sold out intensives like "For Writers: Plot and Structure in Fiction" moderated by veteran editor and publisher Emma Dryden to thought provoking keynote speeches by poet and best selling author Nikki Grimes and best selling author Kate Messner, this year's New York Conference was not one to miss. BUT, if you did, fear not. You can catch all the highlights on the official SCBWI conference blog.  

Fall may be quite some time away, but if you're planning a trip and you're looking for reading material, there are some great novels headed your way.  Publishers Weekly just released it's Fall 2014 Children's Sneak Previews.  Special shout out to author/friend Martina Boone who's Beholden will be published by S&S/Pulse. 

Now finally, everyone can enjoy a little downtime from all the activities these past few weeks and bask in their new found SCBWI knowledge and Olympic glow (hopefully aboard a scenic train ride across some great states ;)). 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Power of Distance - Why You Should Break Up With Your Manuscript

It's been almost a year since I last touched (or looked at) my WHERE THE STAIRCASE ENDS manuscript. And man, did I need the break.

By the time I signed my publishing deal with Month9Books I was so tired of looking at STAIRS that I could barely tell wrong from right and up from down.  So I was relieved when my editor told me my revisions  wouldn't come until winter, because it meant I could take some much needed time away to focus on other projects (read: me time.)

During the one year break from WTSE, I was promoted to a new role at work, started two new stories (well, technically only one, but the second is alive and thriving in my head), and read anything I could get my hands on. (Forty-two books to be exact, but who's counting? ;-) )

Meanwhile, WHERE THE STAIRCASE ENDS slept quietly in cyberspace.

Until one day it woke up.

I was reading in bed, fuming over my dissatisfaction with the final installment of a well known YA trilogy (I bet some of you can guess which one!) when my MC's voice popped into my head from out of no where. Suddenly I had an idea for a scene that addressed a piece of recurring feedback I'd received from Beta readers.  I had addressed it in my pre-submission rewrites, but in that moment I realized there was an even better solution.  In fact it was so glaringly obvious that I couldn't believe I'd never thought of it before.

A few days later I had another burst of inspiration.  Then another.  Until my notebook was filled with ideas for tweaks that would make STAIRS better. Things that, looking back, should have been obvious. But because I'd been so close to my manuscript I couldn't see them.

This morning I received my revisions from my editor (squeeee!) and sure enough, one of the suggestions is to revisit the exact item I had my epiphany about.  I can't help but wonder what would have happened if I received my revisions six months earlier. Would I have been ready to fully address the areas that needed improvement?

This whole experience has made me appreciate the advice I've heard from just about every veteran writer: The best thing your can do for your manuscript is to break up with it.  

I thought I had taken a break when I took a three month hiatus after my second round of rewrites.  But it wasn't really a break - even though I wasn't writing I still thought about it and mentally plotted the next round of tweaks. What I should have done was lock that sucker up in a drawer until it collected a nice layer of dust so I could come back to it with fresh eyes.  

So add me to the long list of veteran writers: break up with your manuscript!  I promise, your story will be better for it.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Teen Voice

Writing the teen voice isn't easy. We often stereotype it as whiny, dramatic, and sarcastic, but I'm not really a fan of that stereotype, or of its sometimes-portrayal in YA lit. I'm around teens every day, and one of my favorite things about them is their ability to inspire me. Sure, they're often whiny, dramatic, and sarcastic, but they also have this amazing capacity to wonder and to believe that they have the ability to make the world a better place. For those of you who want a reminder of the wonder and inspiration teens are capable of giving us I recommend listening to them at their best. Here's a link to TEDxTeen. There are several teen speakers here who fill me with humility, awe, and wonder in the midst of their their awkward pimple-cream-wearing era in life. Enjoy.

Monday, February 10, 2014

YA Book Pick: The 5th Wave

On the second Monday of every month, we choose an outstanding YA book to review. We want to spotlight books of interest to aspiring writers, as well as highlight some of our favorite books and authors!

This month's Book Pick is THE 5TH WAVE by Rick Yancey.

Synopsis (from Goodreads): 

The Passage meets Ender's Game in an epic new series from award-winning author Rick Yancey.

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it's the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth's last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie's only hope for rescuing her brother--or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between hope and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

First Line: "There will be no awakening." This is the first line of the prologue. Although many agents and editors advise against beginning your novel with a prologue these days, this one really works. The author keeps it to half a page, and what occurs in that half page is chilling enough to hook the reader instantly.

The first line of Chapter One: "Aliens are stupid." This does a good job of establishing the young adult voice immediately (not many adults would put it quite like that) and setting up that the aliens are, in fact, already here.

I'm a big fan of well-written sci-fi, and this book delivers. As the description says, it definitely has a similar feel to Ender's Game (reviewed by fellow blogger Jenn here), in that the kids and teenagers in the book are dealing with situations and events that would make most adults curl up in a ball on the floor.

Although it's not mentioned in the Goodreads summary above, the book also includes kids and teenagers going through military training and then deploying on missions to fight the aliens as a major plot point. I loved this section, as it was very reminiscent of one of my favorite classic sci-fi novels, Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein (insider tip: read the book, but skip the movie!).

Notes for Writers:
Correct pacing is important for all types of books, but it's vital for sci-fi. If things unfold too slowly or there's too much time without much action, the reader gets bored. If the pace is too fast (what the movie trailer guy likes to call "Nonstop Action!"), the reader can feel like the characters aren't well-developed or that they'd like to put the book down to get a break. The 5th Wave has perfect pacing: not too fast, not too slow. I couldn't put the book down.

The characterization is also excellent. The main characters have been changed and hardened by their environment, but there are still flashes of the people they were before the invasion. It's this humanity that ends up propelling the plot forward.

A Good Read For:
Fans of sci-fi. If you're working on pacing or characterization in your own writing, this would be an excellent book to study.

Friday, February 7, 2014

All the Best: Old and New

There's always a list for something and this is no different.  Amazon just released it's "100 books to read in a lifetime" and it's chalk full of classic and contemporary fare.  I'm also happy to see that YA and MG are well represented.  From childhood favourites like Charlotte''s Web to 21st century hits like The Fault In Our Stars.

Number 11 on the list is one of my all time favourites: Judy Blume's Are you there God? It's me, Margaret. Coincidentally, Simon & Schuster just recently unveiled newly minted covers for seven Judy Blume novels.  I'm please to see that fellow Canadian and ultra talented illustrator Debbie Ohi was selected to illustrate the cover of my number one pic!

So take a look, check out the list and let us know how many you've read to date!

Judy Blume, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, old and new covers

Monday, February 3, 2014

Villain of the Month: Captain Hook

While normally I would ramble on and on about what elements make Captain Hook such a great villain, this time I can't figure out a way better to say it than Elizabeth Holmes already has in her fantastic poem The Fathers. Do yourself a favor and click on the link to read for yourself. Oh, and Happy Monday!!!