Self-publishing data from Smashwords

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, talked “Money, Money, Money” at a Romantic Times event earlier this month. points apply to all genres.

Interesting stuff for those who are self-publishing, or thinking of doing so. One highlight: readers appear to favor longer over shorter books. Of course, as Coker is careful to point out, you have to write a good book in the first place.

 

Nice start to a New Year

I woke up this morning to find that the January 2012 issue of 10Flash Quarterly has gone live. It contains my zombie flash piece “Base Instinct,” which was fun to write.

Super-short-form writing doesn’t come easily to verbose me, but it was satisfying to pare a story down to its essence–and there are lots of markets for flash. I plan to submit a few more 1000-word (or shorter) stories this year. My main writing goal, though, is to finish the draft of the novel I’m writing, and that right speedily. We shall see.

2011 was neither a bad nor a good year for me. Meh, I would have to say. I would look forward to 2012 with less trepidation if it did not include the specter of a presidential election. Still, I hope it turns out to be a terrific year for all of us, and that the Mayans will have the last laugh and the world will not end.

Inventory

Zachary’s in Italy for a couple of weeks. At such times I enjoy taking on projects: sorting out the hall closet, say, or organizing the pantry. This time I’ve inventoried my fiction output.

Two realizations led me to spend the last couple of hours sorting files, an enterprise that eventually required me to fire up Z’s oldest, most dust-covered computer.

One realization was that I want to use Scrivener for writing and revising fiction from now on. To this end I consolidated all the files for current or recent stories and novels from my laptop and netbook into one set of files with a consistent labeling system. The next step will be to decide what’s worth working on, prioritize it, and import those files into Scrivener.

The other realization was that there was a shocking amount of stuff–from mss. of romance novels that were published in the 90s to proposals, ideas, and correspondence–languishing on 3.5-inch floppies in a box in my office. Hence the firing up of the aforementioned ancient computer, the copying of files from many floppies onto a flash drive, and the examination of those files on my laptop.

They were full of surprises related to my nonfiction career and to fiction projects I’d started but set aside long ago. In addition to the usual kind of thing–letters I don’t remember writing to people I don’t remember meeting–I found that I have full mss. (some in WordPerfect 4.2! but OpenOffice converted it) of successful nonfic books from decades ago. That got me thinking about self-pubbing some of them, now that rights have reverted, on the “nothing to lose” principle.

On the fiction front, I found proposals and ideas for romance novels from back when I was writing for Harlequin. Some that got turned down then as too weird or unconventional would seem tame in today’s romance market. I also rediscovered a fat Civil War novel I ghost-wrote for a CEO in the 1980s; the surprise here was how little I got paid for it, although I must’ve thought it was enough at the time.

The best part was that while copying the files for a historical novel I started a long time ago, but gave up on after 105 pages, I got an idea for turning it into a steampunk novella, so now I can be excited about it all over again.

After all this filing, an afternoon of yard work might be positively refreshing. But probably not.

Lunch with Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Specfic writer and publisher Silvia Moreno-Garcia has traded rainy British Columbia for somewhat- less-rainy Portland–for a few days. She shared a couple of her vacation hours with me at lunch today.

Moreno-Garcia is, among other things, the publisher of Innsmouth Free Press. If you like horror and dark speculative fiction, you probably already know the site. It’s an online magazine packed with reviews, interviews, articles, and–thrice annually–fiction. (Horn-tooting: Moreno-Garcia and editor-in-chief Paula R. Stiles bought a story of mine, “The Second Sphinx,” for an upcoming fiction issue.)

Innsmouth Free Press serves up cosmic dread and Lovecraftian horror. As its recent anthology Historical Lovecraft shows, IFP’s vision of Lovecraftian horror is much broader than tales of appalling Elder Gods and forbidden tomes, wonderful as those are. In our conversation today Moreno-Garcia shared her enthusiasm for weird and dark fiction that reaches beyond the derivative to explore new territory, not just in subject matter but in approach to storytelling.

One weird tentacle has probed its way into Portland’s restaurant scene, and I’m not talking about calamari. Lunch took place at the Lovecraft Bar, a dark venue decorated with a cabalistic ceiling painting, Lovecraft posters and images, and many, many skulls. Animal, not human. In this spectral setting Moreno-Garcia and I talked about Clark Ashton Smith, the challenges and the importance of writing about the Other (cultures, races, eras), and trends in publishing. Ebooks are accounting for a much greater portion of total Historical Lovecraft sales than expected, Moreno-Garcia told me–a fact that fits in with a lot of what I’ve been reading lately about ebook sales.

Here’s hoping the Lovecraft Film Festival resumes here in Portland next year. It might lure Silvia Moreno-Garcia back for another visit.

The Importance of Royalties

This morning’s mail brought an unexpected check for $200 dollars: my royalties for recent sales of the German edition of a Harlequin Silhouette romance published in 1995.

I published the novel under the pen name Suzanne Sanders. Its title was One Forgotten Night in the US and most other countries. In Germany the powers that be gave it the rather literal title Der Cop und die Lady.

The point isn’t the book, or the amount of the check. It’s that fifteen years on I’m still earning something from work I did in 1995. One Forgotten Night is one of many revenue pipelines I’ve laid over the years. A lot of them have run dry; others burble along modestly but steadily, or spit forth intermittent gushes. Some were disappointments and never produced at all. Newer ones have yet to show what they can do.

Royalty earnings from published books make up a share of my income each year. Some years that share is small. Some years it’s not. It’s never predictable.

Today’s little mini-windfall reminded me that I’ve been thinking about trends in one corner of publishing: YA nonfiction for the school and library market.

When I started writing for this market, some publishers or imprints paid authors under royalty agreements (in which, typically, the author holds copyright in the work and receives a share of the work’s earnings down the stream, if any). Others made flat-fee deals (in which copyright is held by the publisher or packager that commissions the work; the author receives payment for the work but no share of its downstream earnings). That’s still the case, but these days more publishers have adopted or are shifting to the flat-fee model.

My first published work–fiction and nonfiction–was flat-fee, for packagers or specialty publishers. When I started being published by houses like Simon and Schuster and Oxford University Press, and getting royalties, I said I’d never go back to flat fee. I’d even get all soapboxy and proclaim that authors should never shortchange themselves and undermine their profession by taking flat-fee work.

Since then, of course, I’ve made plenty of compromises–especially when working with packagers or contributing to multi-author series with a compensation model already in place. I might write for a flat fee if the fee is juicy, as in a recent one-off for a packager in which I adapted a work of popular science for kids. Or if I like the subject and know that I’d find the work fairly congenial. Or if I like the editor. Or if I need the work. Conversely, if an editor offers me a book deal and I like everything about it except the flat-fee contract, I’ll ask for a higher fee in exchange for sacrificing royalties. Sometimes I get it.

But I do my damnedest to do as much of my work under royalty contracts as possible. This might mean taking a $5000 advance on 7 percent, say, instead of a $6000 fee. Or turning down a flat-fee offer in the (sometimes justified) belief that something better will come up. Or working harder to come up with book and series ideas and pitching them to my publishers, as opposed to just signing on to existing projects, because when an idea I “own” is bought, it goes to copyright contract.

I don’t mean to lecture or tell other writers what kinds of deals they should or shouldn’t make. I’ve been all over the place in my writing career, and I don’t expect that to change. But I’ve learned to consider, when offered a book deal, whether it serves my long-term as well as my short-term goals, and to aim for a deal that suits me and not just the Gods of Publishing.

That $200 I got today, thanks to amnesiac-gemologist-shooting victim Nina and hunky maverick cop Mike? I’m gonna spend it on massages.