Two Years?

I just came across some pretty disturbing information about the time frames involved in legacy publishing. Right now, from the time a book is signed until it’s actually released is running upwards of two years. TWO YEARS! And in some cases, we’re talking about ebooks taking that long!

What on earth are publishers doing with writers’ manuscripts that it takes them two years to publish them? I mean, seriously. I’m asking the question.

As an individual, I can put an ebook out in a matter of months. That includes a couple rounds of editing, copyediting, cover design, formatting, uploading, and marketing. And I work full time, so it’s not like I just have all day to do these things. If I can do this in a matter of months, why does it take publishers years? These are people with staff. With resources at their fingertips I could only dream of. And it takes them twenty-four months to put out a novel? As a freakin’ ebook?

And if you tell me that it’s because of backlog, because there’s too much in the pipeline to begin with, then the problem is only going to get worse. I’d say it’s time to fix that pipeline problem. Hire some additional staff or publish fewer books, faster. It’s not rocket science. I’ve worked with a large publisher, and I have to tell you that the inefficiencies in that system are astonishing.

Yet they wonder why indies are doing so well? As an indie author, I can see a market trend that I find interesting and I can write to it. I don’t have to wait three or four years (if you consider the time to write the book, get an agent, make the submissions rounds, and finally get signed, in addition to the actual publishing time) for someone else to put my book out. I see a trend, decide if it’s something I can actually passionately write about, and I can write it and have it out before that trend has reached its peak.

Publishers have a very hard time doing that anymore, because their publishing workflow and timeline is just too damn long. There are too many steps to the process that aren’t necessary and there are too many points of failure (and let me tell you, they do fail, and in my experience, they fail quite often). There are hundreds of digital tools out there that can be used to speed up the publication process and make it more productive and more useful, and from what I can tell, large publishers aren’t using any of them.

Granted, some publishers are putting books out rather quickly, in less than a year (my own non-fiction book was done in less than eight months between the time I signed the contract and the time it was available on Amazon, and less than a year when you look back to when the proposal was originally submitted). Some small fiction publishers manage to get books out in a matter of months. But the standard, the length of time most legacy published authors are coming to expect, is now eighteen months to two years. And that’s after the contract is signed.

I’m sorry, but this isn’t acceptable. Let’s actually crunch the numbers here:

I write a novel. Let’s say it takes me six months to get it into submission-ready condition (which is typical for a lot of professional, career-oriented authors). Let’s say I start this on January 1, 2012 (for ease of tracking). It’s ready to go on July 1, 2012.

I send it out to agents. It takes six months to find an agent who wants to take me on (which is honestly probably a bit on the quick side, as I know a lot of people who sub for much longer, but we’ll be optimistic here). It’s now January 1, 2013. It takes that agent another three months to find an interested publisher, and a month beyond that to negotiate an acceptable contract (again, this is being optimistic, but I’m trying to paint a best-case scenario here, not a worst-case one). It’s now May 1, 2013.

The publisher schedules it for release in April of 2015, just under two years after the contract is signed. But that’s three years and three months after I started writing the thing. And don’t forget that I’ll need to do a good bit of marketing after the book is released, so I better just round it up to four years.

Now, let’s say I have a very good agent, and she gets me a good advance for a first-time author: $30,000 for the book. I know a lot of authors would jump at that kind of advance, and a lot of them are getting paid a whole lot less than that. But broken down yearly, that’s only $7,500.

You might argue that during the two years that book is with the publisher I can be writing other things. But that publisher might just (probably does) have a clause in their contract saying I can’t publish any other novels (or even book-length works) before this one comes out. So effectively, my hands are tied. And the publisher isn’t going to contract another book from me until they see how the first one fares.

$7,500 a year. A part-time minimum wage job at McDonald’s pays more than that. Sure, you might get royalties down the line, but probably not until after that four years is up. And even then it’s completely up in the air whether you’ll actually get anything more than your initial advance. And we’re expected to make a living on that? I don’t know about you, but that wouldn’t cover my mortgage for the year (and I live in a very, very inexpensive area).

Authors need to look at writing and publishing as a business if they want to actually make a living at it (and if you don’t, then ignore what I’m saying here). You need to site down and crunch the numbers and the time involved in each and figure out which one fits your own goals. Just remember that there are indie published authors out there who are making the best seller lists (including at least two in the Kindle Millions Club), so that’s not a deciding factor anymore.

An Experiment with KDP Select

Earlier this year I published a women’s fiction book, Hold My Hand, but have done very little to promote it (I sent it to a couple of review sites, but so far no reviews have been posted). Sales, as could be expected, have been dismal.

So yesterday, when I logged into my Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) dashboard, I was very intrigued by the new KDP Select program. Basically, KDP Select lets indie authors add their books to the Kindle Owners Lending Library in exchange for a 90-day exclusive with Amazon (you also get 5 days of free promotion during that 90-day period). Now, the best part is that you earn a royalty every time your book is loaned out. There’s a royalty pool each month, and you get paid based on the number of times your book is loaned, based on the percentage of the total number of loans.

The book will still be for sale during this time, but only via Amazon. It’s in the process of being un-published from everywhere else (though I’ll probably put it back up once the 90-day exclusive is over). I’m hoping that if nothing else, this will get the word out about the book, and hopefully even get some reviews. If, at the end of the three months, there’s no change in sales and it hasn’t been borrowed much, then I’ll have to rethink some things about the book (probably the cover first).

So, I’ll post an update at the end of the 90-day period and let everyone know how it went. I’m also interested in how others who are trying the program fair, so if you are, please let me know in the comments how it goes (feel free to post a link to your own blog if you write a post about it).

Websites for Writers

A lot of writers, whether published or aspiring, have awful websites. I mean, as someone who writes about design for a living, and who has a background in web and graphic design (and still does side projects on occasion), it’s painful for me to see some of the sites out there that writers are using. And proud of in a lot of instances.

Now, I’m NOT going to name names here. That’s just distasteful. But I will say that probably 80% of author websites have some kind of major flaw that seriously interferes with their usability. Some are just poorly designed. Some are filled with broken links (there are some publisher sites that fall into this category, too). Some have so many Flash effects or other “fancy” things that they bog down the user’s browser and are unusable to boot.

As someone who wants to see writers succeed, and also wants to see good design on the web, I’ve put together this little guide for writers who want a website. Continue reading

9 Ways to Help Your Favorite Indie Author

Note: This post is being released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. That means you can take it, put it on your own blog, and make changes to it, as long as you credit me with the original and link back here!

As an indie author, it can be tough getting publicity. People are more than happy to email you privately and tell you they love your book, but getting them to leave a review on a public site, or recommend it to friends is trickier. And asking outright can seem a bit rude (whether it is or not depends on how close you are to the person; asking your mother or your sister isn’t rude, asking someone you’ve met twice might be).

Readers often don’t really know what they can do to help their favorite authors (indie or otherwise) be more successful. So here are nine things readers can do to help their favorite authors be more successful: Continue reading

The Steam and Steel Chronicles Facebook Page!

The Steam and Steel Chronicles finally has a Facebook page! I’ve actually been working on it for a few days now, and had hoped to wait until the cover was ready, but got impatient and decided to make it live last night. So feel free to “Like” the page here. I’ll be making announcements related to the series there, and may use it to announce things prior to announcing them elsewhere. I’ve also posted an excerpt from the first book (the same one that’s available on this site).

The book cover should be finished today or tomorrow, and then once that happens, I’ll get everything posted to Kindle and elsewhere. I’ll also be relaunching the Untime Press website this week, so stay tuned for that, too.

Creating a Book Trailer: An Interview with Cheri Lasota

I’ve been seriously considering creating a book trailer for the novel I’m currently trying to find representation for, Hold My Hand. But it’s a confusing and sometimes daunting project to undertake, and I’ve been unsure of whether it’s something I have the time to do properly. It’s something I’d like to do more like a movie trailer than a traditional book trailer (with still images and voice over), which makes it an even larger project and even more time-consuming.

Book trailers are more often used for published books, or upcoming books, to raise awareness among consumers. Very few people create book trailers for unpublished books. But Cheri Lasota, author of Artemis Rising, has done just that. She created a movie-like trailer for her book, which she’s currently seeking representation for. The end result is impressive, to say the least, both in terms of scope and quality. Unlike most book trailers, which only run around two minutes, Cheri’s videos is well over four minutes long. Here it is:

Cheri was kind enough to grant me an interview, explaining the process and hopefully shedding some light on it all for those of us considering creating our own book trailers:

How did you come up with the concept and script for your trailer? (Did you look at other book trailers, movie trailers, etc.? Did you storyboard or do some other kind of outlining?)

I had known the director, Bill Thoma of Axiom Shift Productions, for many years. In fact, we were in the same writing group for a time. What I didn’t know was how brilliant he was at filmmaking. We pulled off a four and a half minute trailer in about 3 months with almost no budget to speak of.

Bill and I sat down over two consecutive evenings and he listened closely as I basically gave him a rundown of my novel’s plot. He asked a lot of questions, trying to get to the heart of what I felt were the most important elements of the story to get across.

Bill is outstanding at whittling down a 350-page plot into a few snippets of dialgue and some powerful images. And that’s just what he did. We created the script together, as I looked for excerpts of dialogue from the book, etc.  It was fun and collaborative.

I looked at a few other trailers, but most of them were a succession of still images with voiceover, and we wanted to do much, much more with this one. Essentially, I wanted to bring several scenes from the book to life.

The director eventually moved from the script to a step by step storyboard for shooting. Mostly that was for his purposes, as he came up with interesting angles/shots for the different scenes.

Did you think about doing other kinds of book trailers, like interviews or a still image-based trailer? What made you decide to go ahead with a more traditional, movie-type trailer?

Usually, book trailers are a succession of still images, but those don’t catch my eye like movie trailers do. Perhaps it is because I went to school for film. I like the visual medium of filmmaking as opposed to photography, and when I wrote Artemis Rising, I always saw it as a film.

Did you consider doing the entire project on your own before deciding to hire a director?

I definitely wouldn’t have tried such an ambitious project on my own. I don’t personally have the camera equipment or directing experience necessary. However, this project re-awakened my love for filmmaking, and Bill let me do any part of the project that I felt able to do. I ended up serving several roles: producer, actor, script supervisor, art designer, and costumer. I’ve never had more fun in all my life than I did on that film set. The experience was priceless.

How did you find your director and other professionals? What about staff?

The director was a dream to work with because he was always the calmest person on set. He knew the shots he needed, knew how to communicate with the actors, and had the experience to roll with any complications that came up. The director of photography, Brian Neubauer was also a fun and calming presence on set–and an excellent cameraman too. Once I settled on the right actors–I had difficulty finding ones with just the right look I needed–everything fell into place. They were incredibly professional and it was mesmerizing for me to watch them work (most had theater or film/TV experience). The rest of the crew are friends I had worked with before on other film sets, and I knew they were hardworking and reliable, particularly makeup artist and art designer, Lyndsey Shaw.

Did you pay cast members and other staff or was it all on a volunteer basis?

Because the project was low-budget, we paid the actors in demo reels and the rest were volunteers.

Did you have to get permits or special permission to shoot in public places? How did you find out about what you’d need?

Having directed projects before, I had a good sense of what I might need to get this project rolling: costumes, makeup, props, locations, crew lunches, transportation, camera equipment. I have to say, organizing is one of my favorite things, and I took over most of the communications with actors and crew. We filmed at my apartment, outside a church, another filmmaker’s backyard (with a huge handmade crane shot), and at Cannon Beach, Oregon. We considered a few other locations, but decided that gaining permission would take too long. But, yes, often locations will require written permission, etc. We wanted to avoid the hassle, and all the locations worked out brilliantly.

How did you find your locations? Did you have to scout new spots, or did you already have places in mind?

It was critical to me that we film at Cannon Beach, as I knew it would be the perfect location for a cliffhanger shot we needed. Other than that, I was really open to other locations for other scenes/shots. Bill and I took a day trip to the beach ahead of time, and we drove up most of the coast, looking for the right location. But for the cliff-hanging, we had to take safety into consideration, so it was important to find the right spot. I suspected we’d film at my apartment, and that worked out well as a base camp for all our shoots.

How long did it take to shoot the trailer? How much footage did you end up with?

Principal filming took place over a weekend–one day in Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA and one day at the Oregon Coast. The following weekend we did pick-up shots, green screen, and voiceover work that we missed the previous weekend. The whole process took about three months, for pre-production, production, and post-production. I’m not sure how much raw footage we ended up with.

What was the post-production process like? How long did it take?

Post-production was cool. Bill let me into the editing room, so I could go over shots and scenes with him. He also let me watch him edit from time to time, since I am interested in every stage of the process. But mostly, post-production is just Bill in the editing room, slowly putting shots together. He did a lot of effects shots that had me pleasantly surprised, particularly the shipwreck and the book title sequence at the end.

Were there hidden expenses or time-wasters you hadn’t anticipated going into the project? Anything you would have done differently in hindsight or any advice you wish someone had given you?

The project was much less expensive than I originally anticipated actually. But that may not be the case for others. My book trailer was quite long by traditional book trailer standards. Most are around 2 minutes. I wouldn’t give up my 4:30 minute trailer for anything, as it may be the closest I come to seeing my book on film, but I wish we had originally created a 2-minute version for marketing purposes. The director is actually working on shortening it now.

I thought I should mention why I decided to make a trailer in the first place. I’ve never heard of any other writer creating a book trailer before his/her book is published. This was essentially an experiment to see if I garnered more agent/publisher interest if I included a link to it in my submission query letters. It worked. I’ve gotten more agent interest in my novel than ever before. I would say it tripled my response rate from agents, and most of them mention they loved the book trailer when requesting materials, including the latest three who have are reviewing it now. Regardless of what happens, I can use the trailer for the life of the novel’s marketing campaign, so I knew it would be worth it for me.

But nothing can match the excitement I felt on the days of principal production. It was a dream come true for me to see my characters come to life right before my eyes. I wouldn’t have missed that for anything.

New Social Media Book Site Launches Tomorrow!

Anyone who’s been following this blog for long knows I’ve been working on a nonfiction book about social media (did I mention that last part?). Well, tomorrow I’m launching the website for the book, along with a Facebook fan page and a Twitter feed.

Editing on the book is basically done, and I’m expecting to release the book (both in print and digital formats) sometime in August.

Tomorrow I’ll reveal the title of the book and give you all the URL for the new site. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek at the cover (and a hint: the number of question marks corresponds to the number of letters in the title):


Promotion with Book Trailers

Book trailers are a great, fun way to get the word out about your book. They’re just like movie trailers, just for—you guessed it—books. If you manage to get your book trailer video to go viral, the interest and sales you can generate can really make a difference to how well your book does. Continue reading