• Member Since 15th Dec, 2011
  • offline last seen May 11th

Neon Czolgosz


"Violence for violence is the rule of beasts" - Barack Obama

More Blog Posts153

  • 162 weeks
    Vamps

    If you guys like kinky vampire roleplay with delightful OCs, boy have I got a story for you:

    Into That Darkness Peering

    It's written by my lover, the vastly talented Cynewulf. Go check it out!

    0 comments · 476 views
  • 163 weeks
    Kitchen's Closed

    I cannot fucking deal with Anthony Bourdain dying before Henry Kissinger.

    The only celebrity death to hit me even half this hard was Terry Pratchett. I don't even know where to fucking begin.

    Read More

    19 comments · 733 views
  • 166 weeks
    A Visual Glossary of Brawlers, Part One

    I swear I'm not writing this just because some commenters said all the fight jargon was hard to follow, I'd actually planned to do this as a companion piece all along. Honest.

    Read More

    6 comments · 544 views
  • 167 weeks
    Writing again, a bit

    They say it's better to burn out than it is to rust, but after a year of adapting to a 50 hour/week desk job and barely writing anything because of it, I say "Why not both?"

    Do I still have fans on this site? I hope so, because I've got a new story out! It combines three of my passions: teenage dirtbags, mixed martial arts, and prescription stimulant misuse.

    Read More

    11 comments · 470 views
  • 203 weeks
    Scarlet's First Ever Story is Out!

    So, ScarletWeather, my future wife, is amazing. You all should know this.

    For starters, she's my brain. If there has been a coherent arc in any of my stories, a well-crafted bit of characterization, an evil twist, welp, it was probably midwifed if not hatched entirely by Scarlet.

    Read More

    3 comments · 783 views
Jan
20th
2017

Big Squishy Ideas About The Writing Business · 8:50pm Jan 20th, 2017

First off, when I say the writing business, or simply 'the business,' I mean the actual business of writing stories and getting paid for it. I'm not talking about the bookselling business, the publishing business, the paper business, the wholesaler business or any of those businesses that perch up on high overlooking the scribblers down in the dirt. It doesn't matter if Bloomsday or Waterstones are making record profits if a skilled writer can't catch a break. When I say the writing business, I'm purely concerned with the business of selling your own words for money.

Second off, for the purpose of this discussion, when I say 'writer' I mean 'skilled writer,' and by 'skilled writer' I mean a writer who can tell a coherent story, finish it within a reasonable timeframe, and send it in. By 'skilled writer' I mean E.L. James and up. Don't laugh! Also, if I say 'you' and 'your,' count yourself for the purpose of this post as a skilled writer.



The writing business has a cash-flow problem.

It could be worse! Thirty years ago it had a cash-flow problem and a risk problem, where your ability to survive long-term even after a successful book depended on factors you couldn't control, from publishing fads to the caprice of editors. Ten years ago it had an outright solvency problem, where being a top 5% lucky duckie putting in 60 hour weeks of skilled creative work plus editing and promotion and sometimes outright driving to bookstores to hawk your own books got you publishing contracts that were just above minimum wage.

Back in the bad old days, shit was fucked up and bullshit. A single-digit number of publishers controlled basically everything, and they set royalty rates (17.5% for dear old you!) and contract terms in a lockstep manner that cynics would call 'exactly like a cartel.' Their involvement in printing meant that their business model revolved around selling paper rather than selling stories*. They expected all writers to have an agent (13% for you, my mistake!), to do the bulk of editing themselves before an agent would even give them a look-in.

Since then, ebooks have taken off. The lowest rate of royalties for ebooks is double the normal rate for traditional publishing, publishers no longer have a deathgrip on distribution, you're selling stories instead of paper, and the barriers to entry are much, much lower. The royalty increase alone changes the business: to make £14k/year, roughly minimum wage, you gotta shift 10,000 paperbacks at £9.99 with trad royalties. If you're getting the Amazon 70%, you gotta shift 2000 to make the same money. That's the difference between selling five copies (of any of your books) per day, and selling twenty-five. If you've got a catalogue of ten books, each needs to sell a copy every other day to earn a living.

This is better! In the last decade, there is now a business model for us that doesn't purely revolve around patronage, whether that involves being supported by a partner who does the earning, or being plucked from a pile of dirty scribblers by a doting editor at one of the Big Five. Go us!

It still has a cash-flow problem, however: you've got to do a hell of a lot of work before you see a penny. I'm not talking about between the day you first start writing stories up to your first sale, or even the day you start your first publishable work to the day you finish it - if you're a skilled writer, you've got the work ready to prove it - but the gap between first getting an income stream, and getting enough of an income stream to start winding-down other jobs and do more writing. There's a snowball effect to publishing, where the more books you have out the more each individual book will sell, and momentum works in your favor, but... momentum works in your favor. If you're struggling to slam out even a book per year, you're not building that base of excitable fans who want more and more of your stuff.

So, that's the state of things. Writing can now be a day-to-day, predictable-money job rather than a glorified crapshoot, but getting to the 'money for ramen' stage is a slog. That's the way it's gotta be, right?

...What if it didn't have to be this way?

(From hereon out, all numbers are strictly hypothetical unless stated otherwise)

We got a writer, let's call her Jilly. She writes good, and she writes at a good clip. 800 words per hour, let's say. She wants to write full-time, and she thinks she can wrangle it so that ten books, each selling on average 120 copies per year, will add up to enough money to make rent payments in one year. We know, for the sake of this exercise, that she's a good enough writer to sell at those baseline levels by the time she's at her 10th book. If she writes another ten books the next year, she'll be earning a ramen wage, assuming none of her books take off or become particularly successful.

She writes a novella, 24000 words, and it takes her thirty hours of real, actual writing, ten hours of writing-adjacent stuff like plotting and thinking, and ten hours of faff. That's 50 hours she could have been doing anything else already, cool, fine, add it to the tally. She's done, right? No. Course she's not done.

She's got to edit, and chances are she's doing it herself. Self-editing takes two forms: it doesn't take long and you don't catch all the errors, or you catch most of the errors and it takes forever. Call that an even eight hours. If you've got art skills, cover art is another eight hours, another eight on top of that if you're learning - plus it looks lame - then there's the stew of blurbing, uploading, and formatting that'll take another eight hours for a noobie. Tack on another hour for release-day promotion on blogs and social media, and that's seventy-five hours.

Say that's split across a month. If Jill is working full time, she's basically pulling sixty hour weeks. We've all done that from time to time, but it comes at a price. Everything else suffers for it. You jealously hoard your concentration and hold it back from your day job, you carve out time away from your family, you nudge away your social life and hobbies. She could split it further and only do an extra ten hours per week - but the longer you spread it out, the more time goes in the 'faff' column as you try to stay organized, remember where you were going, and remain interested in the idea.

Her first book debuts, which means she gets £360 from the 120 sales of it, right? Wrong wrong wrong! She's just starting out and barely has an audience. If she's lucky, she gets a third of that. Six weeks later. She's burned the candle at both ends, pushed herself, learned new skills, and earned... about £1.50 an hour.

But that's fine, right? Just nine or so more times, and she'll have enough to make rent payments from writing alone! Woohoo!

As long as her loved ones are fine with her working an extra 20 hours per week, seemingly indefinitely, for seemingly no extra money. As long as she doesn't have people around her who will suffer unduly without her time and energy. As long as she's mentally healthy enough to just plain maintain that pace of work, and not say 'fuck it, what's the point' and waste valuable writing time watching Food Network and playing Skyrim.

It doesn't have to be this way. You might argue that writing is just one of those jobs where a few succeed and most must fail, but in this scenario, we know from the premises that she's capable of succeeding and growing into a stable, profitable writer. But there's a good chance she'll fail, purely because she can't get on top of the cash flow fast enough to turn it into a career.

Enter a small, understanding, creative company, or SUCC. They think Jill has promise. As soon as Jill hands over the first manuscript, and that's her first fifty hours of work. They do the editing, which is quick and bare bones, perfunctory cover art, which is still better than what most writers can do first-time, and do all the blurbing, formatting and editing, which all take a lot less time after the learning curve. Jill and SUCC both do promotion, but this time, Jill has only worked 51 hours, and SUCC has done the rest in about ten hours.

Jill then gets a cheque for £720, and a deadline for her next novella in five weeks time. Right off the bat it's a paying job with deadlines and responsibilities, and right away it's giving just enough money to justify the hours she's putting in. It's nothing compared to what she'll be earning in four years time when she's got a following and fan art and a bunch of lovable stans, but it's enough to haul her over that curve.

SUCC recoup their advances from initial sales, and take 13.5% of net thereafter. It's not much, but they're a bare-bones low-budget operation consisting of two dopes with a graphics tablet, two laptops and an internet connection. They're waiting for the big one - the book that sells more copies in a year than the rest of their books put together. 13.5% of a million is still a tidy little sum, after all.

SUCC would need low overhead and a sizeable sum of startup money, but would fill a huge market niche. It could scoop up every potential writer who can't get started with no advance, but can't hope for the lottery ticket of a 10k advance. It relies on shifting short novels and novellas rather than bloated reams of paper. It can publish writing that hasn't been written either by blessed-life fops who don't have to work full time at something else, or by the will-to-power Type-A fanatics who dive headfirst into eighty-hour weeks.

SUCC is the future. The half-dozen companies that call themselves Trad Publishing are teetering, and Amazon is kneecapping them with a sense of whimsy. Books will still be sold, and writers will still prefer to spend their time writing rather than editing, marketing and arting. I think that the groups that pop up to do this will look like SUCC.

Whether they're started by smart castoffs from Trad Publishing, or a goon with a blog, who can say?



*You know how if you read fantasy books from the fifties to the seventies they're like normal paperbacks, and if you read them from the eighties onwards they're suddenly eight-inch doorstoppers? That wasn't because customers really wanted shitty, padded books.)

PS: I haven't included any sources because most of this is off-the-cuff, but if I get a lot of response along the lines of either "oh that's interesting can you give me more info on that?" or "lmao this is total horseshit you're wrong about everything," then i'll come and add some extra reading.

Comments ( 16 )

I haven't further questions or criticism, but I very much enjoyed the post. I just learned new stuff. :twilightsmile: This being a market niche sounds plausible. And now you mention doorstopper syndrome... first thing that comes to my mind is Steven King's Dark Tower.

This is sufficiently interesting to me, that if you came to me with this as an investment pitch, I would absolutely give it a second look. I'm actually a little bit excited, and wish that I actually had the money to invest.

Just so we're clear if anyone wants to invest you can start by buying my boyfriend's book and telling me where we can find people because if I thought we could make this work, yes?

Just to relate a relevant anecdote, I got picked up by a SUCC-like company. Yes, I am technically a published author! One whole e-book that came out sometime around 2010. But they were a startup. And they had just started.

They had no audience yet, and then they did what most startups do, and failed. I think I earned $25 total? It was $25 more than I'd ever have earned otherwise, I'm not cut out for pushing my own books, really. But while I think you have a very good point here, and the future you see probably is coming--is already here for some folks even--authors shouldn't think their career has been made just because somebody from a nice-sounding startup that pays really great rates approaches them.

And new businesses are hard enough to run when they're not also entirely new business models. When they are, expect the failure rate to be high until people start figuring out how to make it actually work.

Huh. I am... not sure how I feel about writing as a potential career now. Still a pipe dream, but I'm pretty sure it requires less proverbial opium now.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

This is why I kinda gave up on the idea of being a writer as a career. I'd love to get paid for my writing, sure, but the potential to actually live off it is more or less nil. You won't know you're the next JK Rowling until you try, but chances are, you're not.

Of course, I've kind of given up on everything at this point, so maybe it's just me

That actually sounds like an awesome business model. If I had the capital, I'd do it myself. Like you said, all you need is a chunk of cash to invest, and a couple goons with a computer.

Well, on the editing side, there is a workaround there - a thing lots of us do, which is having people who like reading works for free and volunteer to edit. I mean, on Fimfic the deal is 'edit, and you get to give feedback & input & see the story prior to publishing'; in Ebook, the deal shifts to 'Edit, and you get your copy for free'.

Brandon Sanderson has a bunch of prereaders who do the latter for him and I mean, he's basically King of Fantasy right now, so it works all the way up the chain - and also helps you get free advertising, because hey, you know, those people? You can be like 'Well, I want to keep writing for you guys and any friends you can sell on the book helps!' and boom.

As for becoming SuccessorCompany - it's a cool idea, but the big problem is the Ebook Market runs through Amazon & B&N primarily, and well, the main issue to starting new authors is advertising, which ain't cheap. You could do adsense ads, but again...not cheap. It's hard to break through that, especially since you're starting as a Startup meaning you have no viewership.

Were I doing it, I'd probably try to have Youtube be my platform for adverting, and have Successor utilize it to build their fanbase and promote their stable of authors (Plus I mean, run ads there and boom, those interviews become a revenue source as Google pays you.)

The biggest barrier is that initial momentum - especially since to build the fanbase there your initial Youtube should have production values and things like 'having the author in the studio', which means 'Transporting authors to you', and stuff like that.

It could work, but it's one of those things that has the same issue facing new Ebook authors : How do you get off the ground and build the initial fanbase that becomes self-sustaining and recoups your original investment? Seed capital isn't so much the problem there is developing a fanbase.

So, story time!

I worked for HP circa 2009-2011. During that time period, one of the projects there was a small-scale publishing platform - basically, a machine that would cost under $10,000 that would allow you to print books. And I don't just mean the pages, I mean it would do the whole thing, including binding and putting on a cover.

It was a totally awesome project. We thought it would revolutionize publishing forever.

We couldn't do it. The machine simply couldn't be built profitably for $10,000.

The idea of small world publishing sounds really neat. But the problem is that it is really fucking hard to do for any reasonable sum of money.


Enter a small, understanding, creative company, or SUCC. They think Jill has promise. As soon as Jill hands over the first manuscript, and that's her first fifty hours of work. They do the editing, which is quick and bare bones, perfunctory cover art, which is still better than what most writers can do first-time, and do all the blurbing, formatting and editing, which all take a lot less time after the learning curve. Jill and SUCC both do promotion, but this time, Jill has only worked 51 hours, and SUCC has done the rest in about ten hours.

I think the real problem with SUCC is the firehose.

I used to do reviews for the Royal Guard. And the reality was, we had to go through a ton of stories to get a reasonable blog post together. If you have only one person looking at each story, that's going to be less... but that also means more variance in terms of quality.

But the real problem is you have to spend an inordinate amount of time going through submissions to figure out which ones are worth publishing. And that's a huge time sink which gets you $0 most of the time.

Amazon's trick is that they don't need to care - they have very little overhead on your ebook publishing process, so if some random schmuck wants to publish Space Raptor Butt Invasion you aren't taking any risks.

But this puts all of the risk on the shoulders of the consumer. And, well, while SUCC sounds nice, if you're really good at selling stuff, why make SUCC when you could go work for a real company?

The signs of improvement you mention are encouraging, but the odds against being able to go professional are still so great, it makes me wish I had gone to trade school. But no, Dad insisted I get a B.A., and so writing is my only real skill. What a life. :ajsleepy:

4389706


Raymond Feist has Tolkien-length books where the thin worldbuilding and weak characters (who are also Tolkien clones) makes it feel bloated. Trudi Canavan won't excise even the most roundabout and unnecessary plot arcs, stretching what would be a decent pulp paperback into very slow epic. David Fucking Eddings takes such joy in removing all tension from his dozen scenes per chapter that his epic fantasies - all of which are at best, one book stretched into a pointless trilogy - that his work all reads less like an epic and more like an extended (and shitty) picaresque.

I see where you're coming from wrt King and The Dark Tower. I think it was the book where like, the wheelchair-bound woman reverse-rapes a forest spirit into submission and then they make a computer explode by giving it Star Trek logic puzzles that I realized "okay here's the part where he's writing for coke money."

4394841 Another would be Jean M. Auel and her Earth's Children books that with each new instalment increasingly read like a layman's version of a scientific publication on botany in prehistoric Europe mashed into a Lonely Planet travel guide. The clop was excellent though (I feel the term is justified, considering the setting). :trixieshiftright:

Funny you should mention these arcs of Dark Tower, as they are exactly those I had in mind. Admittedly, it gets much worse in the next book, but that has so many fillers that it's difficult to pick a specific one. I feel it necessary to add the scene before the reverse rape and computer riddles: a surprise battle with a machine bear/bear shaped machine (I never figured that one out). Several pages of pointless battle out of nowhere that doesn't change anything at all. Not even the Gunslinger's ammo count.

Good topic, this. :twilightsmile:

4389711
4390269

Like, the amount of capital it would need to start up would be substantial. I don't mean like, corporate substantial, but definitely 'low six figures for paying authors alone' substantial. If you know anyone who'd like to invest/donate that kind of scratch to the arts, well, give me a heads up and I'll get a business proposal together :derpytongue2:

4389825

Yeah this is... not something that could be done bare-bones with couch change. You're expecting the biggest income flow when one of your stable of writers' works just explodes and sells a hundred thousand copies in a month instead of a hundred. If you can't keep the payments ticking along until that happens, and you can't recoup enough from the plodder books to make it back...

<sigh> This is now sounding like one of my "When I win the lottery" plans.

4390272

Well, on the editing side, there is a workaround there - a thing lots of us do, which is having people who like reading works for free and volunteer to edit. I mean, on Fimfic the deal is 'edit, and you get to give feedback & input & see the story prior to publishing'; in Ebook, the deal shifts to 'Edit, and you get your copy for free'.
Brandon Sanderson has a bunch of prereaders who do the latter for him and I mean, he's basically King of Fantasy right now, so it works all the way up the chain - and also helps you get free advertising, because hey, you know, those people? You can be like 'Well, I want to keep writing for you guys and any friends you can sell on the book helps!' and boom.

I've always found that there's two different quality control problems here: the first is the quality of the beta readers you get, and the second is the quality of the writer at actually evaluating what makes a good editor. The reason I think SUCC style editing is better - I don't know that it would be profitable enough to work, just that it'd produce better work faster - is because it's a more efficient share of labor to have one person putting in say, 40 hours to become an A-grade editor and then editing for ten writers, than to have ten writers each spending 20 hours to become B-grade editors so they can do their own stuff.

Also, generally speaking, editing your own work is a bad no good crappy idea.

As for becoming SuccessorCompany - it's a cool idea, but the big problem is the Ebook Market runs through Amazon & B&N primarily, and well, the main issue to starting new authors is advertising, which ain't cheap. You could do adsense ads, but again...not cheap. It's hard to break through that, especially since you're starting as a Startup meaning you have no viewership.

You ever bought a book because you saw it on a banner ad?

I think there's close to an inverse relationship between the price of advertising for books and its effectiveness. The best forms of advertising, I would wager, are time and knowledge intensive rather than money intensive, which is why I think it'd work better in a slightly more centralized manner.

The biggest barrier is that initial momentum - especially since to build the fanbase there your initial Youtube should have production values and things like 'having the author in the studio', which means 'Transporting authors to you', and stuff like that.
It could work, but it's one of those things that has the same issue facing new Ebook authors : How do you get off the ground and build the initial fanbase that becomes self-sustaining and recoups your original investment? Seed capital isn't so much the problem there is developing a fanbase.

Because of the word-of-mouth nature of selling books, a lot of it is based on time and output. An author consistently putting out good quality books on a regular basis will grow their fanbase, and with a mechanism to make sure they can keep a more consistent output, they will grow faster.

Whether that's enough to make it profitable for an author under the system, let alone the system itself, I don't know.

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