Tag Archives: Norwescon 40

My Norwescon 2017 Panel Notes: Advanced Self-Publishing

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Advanced Self-Publishing (Tori Centanni (M), Annie Bellet, Mark Teppo, K. M. Alexander, Elliott Kay)

The discussion started with genre silos – writing books that are strictly within a genre, vs cross pollination. Also: If you write in more than one genre, should you consider different pen names?

Annie: It’s important for new writers to stay strictly within a genre, because of the way Amazon algorithms work. The most important element is the Recommendation engine, which will tend to recommend books similar to the ones a reader has already bought. The “also-boughts” are key: If people who bought your book also bought other books within the genre, then the also-boughts will give the correct signal. If you use the same name for two separate genres, you might get some cross-over readership – people who liked your Urban Fantasy may also enjoy your Adventure thriller series. But percentage-wise, most genres are separate readerships, and the result is the also-boughts get confused and give the wrong signals. So if you’re writing in two genres, at least use slightly different pen-names – like adding in an initial – to distinguish them. The Romance readers are more likely to cross into other genres than most other readerships.

Series are good for self-publishers; if readers like one book in the series, they buy all the others. The best thing you can do for your sales is to publish the next book in the series. It gives a boost to all the previous books.

How soon should you publish your next book?

For traditionally published books – about one a year was the conventional wisdom.

For self-published books, the ideal would be every 30 days (!) in the same series. If you can’t do 30, go for 60. If you can’t do 60, go for 90. If you’re a slower writer, then wait until you have at least 3 books in a series ready to go, and then release them once a month. This again comes from an Amazon algorithm. They have a 30-day “Hot New Release” list. If your next book comes out in time to get on the list *again* it will boost your series’ profile. They also have a 60-day list and a 90-day list.

Writing fast is important.  She said that when her pace of writing slowed, her income dropped every month. If you want to write faster, Annie recommends the book: “2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love” by Rachel Aaron.

What’s the difference between paper books and e-books?

For much of the readership – they’re two different things. People who buy paper books don’t always read e-books. But people who read e-books often read paper as well.

For a self-publisher, paper books aren’t worth the trouble. The pricing is hugely different – an e-book can be priced at 99 cents to maybe $7.99, while the paper book will be $15 or more. The margins are tiny. You don’t have the reach to get them into bookstores. That’s where the traditional publishers have a stranglehold on the channels. Annie said she makes more (per book) on a $3.99 e-book than on a $25 hardcover book. On Amazon, at any price above $2.99, you get to keep 60-70%.

Annie sold the paper rights to her “20-sided Sorceress” books to Saga, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. They called her when her series took off on Amazon, and asked if she was interested in a deal. She crunched some numbers, and said it would require an advance of around $2 million. There was complete silence from the other side. Then after a few minutes, they asked about print-only rights.

“That… would be a lot less,” Annie said. So she sold them the print rights (and, she says, immediately turned round and paid it to the Federal Government as tax!), and took down the print version of her books. They were selling only a few copies anyway.

 

 

 

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My Norwescon 2017 Panel Notes: Running Your Author Business

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Running Your Author Business  (Raven Oak (M), Tori Centanni, Annie Bellet, Jak Koke)

The panel emphasized that unless you were writing as a hobby with marginal expenditures and earnings, you need to run it as a business. Annie recommended watching “Shark Tank” to get the flavor of it.

Publishers are not employers. They can and will drop you and your books. You have to look after your own career.

If you’re self-publishing, you have to find and hire and co-ordinate with editors and cover artists. It’s your book when you write it, but once you publish it, it’s a product. Like hamburger. You want people to love your hamburger. Put on your publisher hat .

Covers?

You can find a cover artist by looking at the covers you like, and contacting the artist. Or ask the author of the book who the artist is.

Annie: Very important to find an artist branded to your genre, who understands the tropes of your genre. If you’re a romance writer and you hate man-chests… well, that’s the branding for your genre. The cover must convey the flavor of the genre. (She related a story of going through 4 different covers for one of her books to get the right one. The first two weren’t too expensive, but the 3rd one cost $650. And it was a beautiful cover, just not right for the genre.)

Raven Oak does A/B splits to see which cover will work (for books from her micro-press).

Back cover blurb: Keep it short, but long enough to convey the tone. It should capture the character, setting, tone, and stakes.

Best marketing?

Annie: A new book. It boosts the sales of all your books. Besides that, good covers. Third, mailing lists.

Tori: Bookbub!

Jak: Blurbs and reviews. (Annie disagreed. Kirkus reviews had no effect on sales. The only one that mattered was Library Journal and that was hard to get into.)

Raven: Make friends with librarians, other contacts like Seattle Times, independent book sellers.

 Various income streams?

Tori: Amazon is the largest, Kobo if they do a promotion

Annie: Amazon dwarfs the rest. In one month, I made $31,000 on Amazon, $1500 on audio, $700 on Kobo and bits and pieces elsewhere. [I’m not completely sure I noted down the numbers correctly, but the point was that Amazon accounts for at least 80-85% of her income stream.]

Jak writes traditionally published books. Many have earned out. He also does freelance work for hire.

What about audio? When is a good time to do an audio book?

Someone (Raven? Jak?) said, ideal would be right away. Annie pointed out that making an audio book was expensive – it would cost $150 per hour or so just for a voice actor. She suggested waiting for Audible or one of its competitors to approach you. She has a audio contract with royalties.

Taxes?

Definitely get an accountant. Very well worth it.

Keep records meticulously, in real time. Record all your earning at the time in an Excel spreadsheet. The IRS recognizes income when it can reasonably be expected to arrive, not when you actually cash the check. A lot of expenses are deductible, including furnishings for a dedicated home office.

Don’t expect a 1099 will arrive. You may have to track it down. You’re responsible.

Is an LLC worth it?

Probably not. It’s state level, not federal level. It doesn’t make a difference on taxes. It only protects against liability, but not against libel/ slander/ copyright infringement – the things of most interest to authors. If you get sued, you would be better off using the money to hire a lawyer.  It’s only useful if you want to hire employees. If you’re big enough, you may want to form a corporation, but only when you’re really big.

What about Conventions? And what promotional material do you use?

Jak: I go to all affordable Cons within driving distance. For large Cons that are outside driving distance, I try to combine it with other stuff like visits to family. WorldCon is huge. I use business-card size cards of my book covers with contact information.

Annie: I go to Cons to hang out, meet other writers, and help others. I go to local Cons and WorldCon. I don’t sell a lot of books at Cons.

Tori: I go to local Cons, and now I’m the Track Lead at Norwescon. It’s for learning, meeting people. I carry business cards.

Raven: I go to all local cons, and a few outside. I booth. Sell books, make a connection with readers. When I’m at a Con, Con sales outsell online sales. (She also has “drop cards” that enable her to sell her ebooks at conventions to people not interested in buying print editions.)

Other forms of promotion? What about social media?

Annie: Have a mailing list and a monthly newsletter. Doesn’t really promote her books on social media.

Raven: I use Instagram. Pictures of our books photographed in interesting locations. It does boost sales.

General suggestion: Pick the social media you already love. You may or may not get much of a sales boost from it, so don’t do it if you hate it.

 

 

 

My Norwescon 2017 Panel Notes: Writing to Market

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Writing to Market  (Tori Centanni (M), Annie Bellet, Marta Murvosh, Brenda Carre, Tegan Moore)

For me, this may have been the most interesting panel of the day. It nicely complemented the New Publishing panel I attended earlier.

  1. What is writing to market?
    • Marta: Understanding the tropes of a genre and making sure you deliver what the readers want. (She writes to anthology calls to challenge herself, and considers that writing to market.)
    • Brenda, who is published in many short-story markets – both spec-fic and literary – writes to her passion, and less to the market. She’s also published several books.
    • Annie (who is a very successful self-publisher): Writing with reader expectations in mind.
    • Writing to market is not writing to trend. Writing to a fan-base is ultimately a more successful strategy than hooking on to the latest trend. Even if you can do it, you may not be able to repeat the performance.
    • Teagan writes mainly short fiction, and writes to anthology calls. Pacing in literary markets is slower than in spec fic markets.
    • Markets may be more liberal than people think.
    • Distinguish between writing to the reader and writing to the editor.
  2. So how do you achieve this “genre methadone”?
    • Marta: As a librarian, I look for “appeal factors.” When someone likes a book, I ask what they liked about it. For e.g.: Hunger Games. Some of the factors: Dystopian; Speaking truth to power; Love triangle; Action adventure; bows and arrows. Then I can recommend another book with the right appeal factor.
    • Annie listed all the things she loved about books she read, focused on the urban fantasy genre, and wrote a series (The Twenty-sided Sorceress) using that analysis.
  3. How do you study the market?
    • Annie: Read! Read extensively in the genre you want to write.
    • Brenda: Read widely, it can spark new ideas.  Markets change over time, especially Young Adult.
    • Teagan: This is even more true (changing markets) of short fiction markets.
  4. Marketing to readers vs marketing to editors
    • Annie: It’s easier to market to readers than to editors. Editors are jaded, and they have to read lots of manuscripts and get fatigued when the same tropes keep appearing. Readers don’t care, they like what they like.
    • Brenda: Also, editors are responsible to a committee. Readers only have to please themselves.
    • Annie: For commercial success, reverse-engineer your tastes to the market. There is no such thing as trash. You have to enjoy popular culture. Find out what will connect you to your market. Susan Kaye Quinn suggests starting out by writing fan fiction of genres you love.
    • Annie: Look at the sales of sequels to your novel. Ideally, it should be >50% of Book 1.
  5. Is there a market for everything? Can I just take what I like, and extrapolate?  Someone spoke about books written from the point of view of the bad guy. Does the protagonist have to be appealing? We go into a discussion about flawed heroes and anti-heroes.
    • Marta: The market may exist, but it may be small. Who in this room has read “The Best American Short Stories 2016”?  [ I look around, and maybe 2-3 people have raised their hands.] “Right? Not many. It’s an important book, edited by Junot Diaz, but it appeals to a small market.”
    • Annie: I think there’s a market for everything, but there may not be a market for everything we write. And your market may be too small to support you as a writer. (She also has trunk novels which will never get published.)
    • Marta: It may appeal to a different audience than intended. I get YA Romance that aren’t really YA. They don’t address the concerns of teenagers,  the characters don’t think like teenagers. They’re just cleaned up romance novels. But there’s a market for clean (i.e. no onscreen sex] romance, and so I direct them to adults who want clean romance.
  1. What are the biggest mistakes?
    • Annie: They want to write something no one has seen before. It’s difficult to do and even harder to market.
    • Brenda: Only getting the low-hanging fruit – duplicating the market.
    • Marta: Not understanding what the reader wants

NorWescon 2017 in Seattle

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I’d given up blogging about the Cons I attended, until the recent LiveJournal kerfuffle made me realize that I really valued having those Con notes afterward. So I’m starting again.

I only heard about Norwescon last year, when writer friends rounded up a bunch of people for breakfast. Next year, I decided, I really must attend the Con as well. It’s large – around 3,500 people, and very much a ‘big tent’ Con with books, media and costuming. There are literally thousands of people milling around, many of them in quite fantastic costumes.

The registration lines were long, but once that was done,  I attended panels, made a round of the pretty awesome Dealer Room, visited the art show twice, and also got to the Masquerade (amazing) and the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I’ve wanted to see for years.

It’s also a great Con for meeting people, if you set it up with them. (You *can* run into people, but with such a crowd, it’s easier with planning.) I’m lucky to be a member of Codex, a neo-pro writers group, and so I knew a few people there. I imagine it could be quite daunting for someone altogether new.

Overall, I attended a bunch of writing/ publishing panels, as well as a couple on other media (film, sound) and a few others that were new information/ experience. I am putting some of the panel notes into separate posts for easier access. And, of course, got to hang out with a great bunch of Codexians.  I really hope I can make it again next year.

Links to my Panel Notes from Self-publishing Panels:

  1. Panel: Navigating the New Publishing
  2. Panel: Advanced Self-Publishing
  3. Panel: Writing to Market
  4. Panel: Writing as a Business

Norwescon Film-making Workshop: Introduction (Daniel Kaufman (M), Ryan K. Johnson, Brian D. Oberquell, John Medlong)

Each year at Norwescon, the film team and a bunch of volunteers put together a short film over the weekend. It’s planned on Friday, shot on Saturday, and shown on Sunday. They showed us two films made in previous years They talked of how film-making was now very affordable, since the technology costs were very low and even excellent equipment could be rented at a reasonable price. Anyone could make a film – it was  a matter of learning (and the internet provided lots of information) and then, practice.

  • Three phases to making a film:
    • Pre-production (time to do the planning for the film and pull together all the elements needed);
    • Production, which is very time-sensitive because you’ve assembled the team and rented the equipment etc so it has to be done right then and there or it becomes too expensive.
    • Post-production, which is essentially the editing stage. A lot of things can be accomplished here.
  • People will tolerate poor video, but can’t stand poor sound. Make sure you get professional sound quality. Beware of copyright issues. (That made me remember the whole story of Sita Sings the Blues, where the maker thought the songs she used had aged out of copyright, not realizing that the studios had tied up all the rights for decades more.)
  • Pointers and tips:
    • You can get people to participate by asking for volunteers among your friends.
    • Feed your crew on-set – at least one hot meal, coffee, snacks. Especially when they’re volunteers! (Check if anyone is vegetarian, they may not mention it in advance. Also ask about allergies.)
    • During production – know what your role is and stay within that role even if you can do others. It’s not your job.
    • Especially when you start out, you don’t need to buy very high-end equipment. Also, rent! Glazer’s in Seattle treats a weekend as one day and only charges one day of rent.
    • For camera equipment, lenses are more important than cameras. “Latitude” (sensitivity to light from white to black, measured in “stops”) is as important as resolution. (8 1/2 is good enough, 13 1/2 is excellent).
    • Most times, the audience is more interested in the story than in the cinematography. No use shooting technically perfect shots that don’t advance the story.
    • Practice is more important than equipment quality.
  • Seattle’s grey overcast skies are wonderful for filming. You can brighten it up in post-production so it looks like summer in L.A.
    • (But to make Vancouver look like L.A., we bring in heaters to dry the pavement, and people scraping moss off the benches!)
    • The problem for Seattle is sound – crows and airplanes.
  • Special effects is not just blowing stuff up.

I’ll put panel notes on other panels in separate posts. I don’t want this thing to become 5,000 words long!

My Norwescon 2017 Panel Notes: Navigating the New Publishing

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Navigating the New Publishing (Mark Teppo, Raven Oak, Shannon Page, Marc Gascoigne [Angry Robot])

I didn’t take notes, so all this is what I remember from the panel.

  1. Publishing, as we all know, is moving really fast as an industry. There are many options beside the traditional Big Publishing Houses. Small publishing houses like Tor and Angry Robot; micro presses that are even smaller, and often the work of a few individuals, maybe even one person; and, of course, self-publishing
  2. The big publishers have the best reach – they can get books into stores, they can get books reviewed in prestigious venues, they can promote your book in a big way. The question for most authors is, will they? The big publishers are notorious for concentrating their resources on the books they think will sell in millions of copies, and not doing very much for others. If your book is one of the left-behind ones, it may get hardly any promotion.
  3. The small publishers do better for new authors. They still have reach and a name in the market that provides an advantage. And with fewer authors, and especially, fewer big-name authors, they pay more attention to newcomers and new books.
  4. The micro-presses take it a step further in terms of personal attention and support for the author. They don’t have big budgets, but they are in your corner. You have a committed supporter who can take over many of the tasks writers don’t enjoy – the technical and business side of publishing and promotion. They can seldom afford to give advances.
  5. Self-publishing can work really well if you’re willing to make the effort and do the work. You start at a disadvantage without the reach, but the flip side is that you keep a much larger percentage of the sales, and you have complete creative control. You don’t have to hassle with trying to find a publisher willing to take your book. Some self-published authors have been very successful.
  6. Should you get an agent? It depends.  The panel had mixed views on agents as sellers of your book. If the agent has a really good list of contacts, it may be worth it. But it’s usually a lot of work to find an agent, and many writers discover that after all that trouble, it doesn’t work out. (I personally know several people who’ve parted company with their agents.)  If you’re willing to look at contracts really carefully and do your own negotiating, you make not need one. Shannon said she’d had an agent but they parted ways amicably. Mark said he has an agent whom he pays 15% for agented sales and 10% for sales that Mark negotiates, not so much for sales as for being there if something went wrong and needed fixing. Raven doesn’t have an agent, but has a lawyer who looks at the contracts. Tom, speaking for Angry Robot books, says that they don’t accept unagented submissions except for personal invitations (and he invited everyone in the room to send him manuscripts); it’s basically to keep the worst of the slush out.