Interview about self-publishing and hype up at Telereads

A lot of people try to compare music, film, and book publishing. There are obvious similarities, but ultimately they are different forms and we should realize that. The way things will play out will be different. Music worked by bundling songs together into albums. In books we don’t have that; a book is a long continuous product. Harder to strip out into components (though some novella collections that become a book might be, but the bulk of the business is novels).

(Via A Conversation With Author Tobias Buckell About Self-Publishing Hype TeleRead: News and views on e-books, libraries, publishing and related topics.)

In that quote I should have used the word ‘novels’ more specifically than ‘books’ to talk about those differences. I was moving quickly last night.

I have to say, the response to the post about survivorship bias has been amazing. And mostly very positive (a bunch of people have project onto me that I’m bitter, mad about a lack of success, and a number of people suggested I try self publishing and see how it could change my life, thus proving they haven’t actually read the article or paid attention to my 12 year history of trying all the different ways of publishing. Thankfully the negative nellies have mostly been the minority, or off hiding in places I don’t see them, which is just as fine by me.) Most of the negative criticism always comes from people who keep obsessing about who ‘wins’ and missing the point that no one has to lose.

A lot of people involved in digital publishing groups have noted to me that their hybrid authors sell better. I’m not shocked.

If reporters want to talk to the real interesting folk, it’s hybrids. I’m finding more and more wisdom in their moderate, hard-working voices.

Survivorship bias: why 90% of the advice about writing is bullshit right now

I love this quote from the recent marketing guide that Smashwords published:

“we cannot promise you your book will sell well, even if you follow all the tips in this guide. In fact, most books, both traditionally published and self-published, don’t sell well. Whether your book is intended to inspire, inform or entertain, millions of other books and media forms are competing against you for your prospective reader’s ever-shrinking pie of attention.”

(From Smashwords — Smashwords Book Marketing Guide – A book by Mark Coker – page 7.)

This just does not get emphasized nearly enough. And it’s something I’ve been thinking about a great deal since I published The Apocalypse Ocean. One, because so many rah rah eBook advocates have been indicating to me that if I’d only just publish digitally first I’d keep 70% of the profits and *obviously* make more than I would with ‘traditional publishing.’

Since 2001, I’d been involved in selling eBooks. I initially began with stories being sold through Fictionwise. I did this to test the waters, and begin understanding what I felt was going to be a new way of reading. I also have been reading eBooks since the same year. I’ve since switched to selling a portfolio of short story collections, individual short stories, novellas, and a novel via various eBook outlets.

I lay down my bonafides, because usually the first thing I get is a lot of ‘booksplainin,’ by which I mean people lecturing me about what to do as if it’s self evident, obvious, and usually based entirely on their own anecdotal experience.

In fact, the self assured expertise of anecdotes drives me nuts.

Here’s the data. Mark Coker, looking at sales of *all* the books self published at Smashwords, points this chart out in a recent slideshare of information and best practices (for all that he’s been an initial booster, I’m grateful to him for sharing some raw data, unlike the other venues which highlight, boost, and act as if the superstars’ stories are average):

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The problem, right now, in eBook direct sales, is that everyone is paying and listening to people in the green area. They’re listening to everything they say, and sifting everything they say as if it’s a formula for success.

Like in most cultish behavior, if you follow the rules and don’t get the results, you’re either ostracized, ignored, or it’s pretended you don’t exist. Many who don’t get the same results just shut up and go away. Thus creating an environment where people are creating massive amounts of confirmation bias by continually listening to the top sellers.

In an interview recently, David Kirtley pointed out that in business school there’s this point made that if you interview rich people who have won the lottery, you might come to believe that playing the lottery is the only way to become rich. I thought that was interesting. One of the things I’m constantly trying to point out is that we’re not doing nearly enough to highlight both median and failure modes, because that’s where the real lessons lie. As for myself, I find message boards where new writers struggle to sell more than a few copies interesting, and where I harvest data about the low end.

That survivorship bias is useful to understand, and I just read a very large article that I think should be required reading for authors.

If failures becomes invisible, then naturally you will pay more attention to successes. Not only do you fail to recognize that what is missing might have held important information, you fail to recognize that there is missing information at all.

You must remind yourself that when you start to pick apart winners and losers, successes and failures, the living and dead, that by paying attention to one side of that equation you are always neglecting the other.

and

Survivorship bias pulls you toward bestselling diet gurus, celebrity CEOs, and superstar athletes. It’s an unavoidable tick, the desire to deconstruct success like a thieving magpie and pull away the shimmering bits. You look to the successful for clues about the hidden, about how to better live your life, about how you too can survive similar forces against which you too struggle. Colleges and conferences prefer speakers who shine as examples of making it through adversity, of struggling against the odds and winning.

So here’s how survivorship bias affects people. Here’s a chart from Smashwords of how all the books do in their system:

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Guess where on this tail-like chart above the books and authors with the most articles, blog posts, and largest followings sit?

Mark helpfully takes out the top 100 so we can get a better look at it. But remember, the people in the top 100 are the ones that everyone points to as if those results have some meaning for the rest of everyone else.

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Does this mean I’m somehow against direct digital publishing? No, obviously I’m a hybrid player and have been for over a decade now. But my refusal to damn either version of publishing means I don’t get lauded by certain parties, ink isn’t spilled over me, I’m not some vanguard. I’m just a working stiff, a mid list writer with a decent but passionate audience. Both methods have benefits and drawbacks, and I’m fully aware of both and try to communicate that.

I am trying to say ‘please approach this with some rationality.’ I’m slowly building up a portfolio over time of work that I hope will offer me an additional income stream. There are some benefits to this form of publication that I like, but to be honest, in a direct apples to apples comparison, I’m making more off the much despised traditional publishing still. By a large margin. This piece of anecdotal data means that the formula for each writer is different, and the constant ‘us vs them’ battle going on is harming artists who are losing a chance to make more money, or get a larger audience, who are being led astray.

It is only by trying lots of different methods, and paying attention to real data, not cherry picked anecdata, that you will best succeed.

If you’ve been successful, good on ya. I’m thrilled when any artist breaks out to making a living. But genuinely understand that survivorship bias means there are plenty of people plugging the same formulas and not getting results that look even similar.

This is not bitterness on my part. I’m actually thrilled with where I am, which is far ahead of many. Over half my income comes from writing fiction (and if I weren’t in debt from having a medical crisis in 2008 I’d likely be able to make a living just on my fiction). I’ve been slowly building my career since 1999, since my first tiny sale. Each year my readership grows, my blog audience grows, the money I make off my fiction grows. I use eBooks, traditional publishing and crowdsourcing all as tools to survive. I’m playing the long game. And maybe I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m pretty open to that, but I’m always happy to report on what’s going on. Each successful career I’ve seen, though, requires a ton of hard work, and many people I see trying any method with a focus on shiny and new and ‘beating’ some system often flame out and fall away. Lots of people who’re doing the right thing and working hard flame and fall away too.

Making a living off art is hard.

But that isn’t a sexy sell.

That isn’t to say you should give up. Fuck that. But I am going to say: get ready to work, don’t expect riches. Focus hard on the art.

And pay attention to those charts and adjust your expectations accordingly.

There’s a lot of snake oil sales going on. And a lot of well meaning people who won the lottery telling everyone to go buy lottery tickets while financial advisors shake their head.

Pretty much the same as its always been…

PS: this survivorship bias also works for writing advice about ‘how to write’ if you think about it…

Nook Press announced

I find the collaborative features interesting, but that’s assuming I would use Nook for my primary book creation process. I’m going to have to look to see what kind of ePub quality it makes, and whether I can take them with me once made easily.

Seriously though, it seems they might want to focus more on making the readers happy with features. I still can’t find half the titles I know exist by just typing the title into the search bar at BN.com.

That’s kinda a bigger deal, guys.

“NEW! One-stop Publishing Solution: Write, edit, format and publish your eBooks in our web-based platform, instantly reaching millions of NOOK customers within 72 hours.

NEW! Easy ePub Creation and Editing: Upload your manuscript file and make changes directly in NOOK Press. Editing and previewing in one session saves you time and effort.

NEW! Integrated Collaboration: Collaborate with editors, copyeditors, and friends, allowing them to review and comment on your manuscript without ever leaving NOOK Press.”

(Via nook press™.)

Addendum: you know what, I look at something like Pressbooks here and wonder why B&N just doesn’t buy them or engage in some coopetition with them instead of just doing something that can already be done pretty well elsewhere.

What best route to publishing?

Chuck Wendig, as usual, brings the wisdom down on us hard:

“We’re possibly on the cusp of a golden age for writers. We have so many paths up the mountain. Let’s celebrate that. Let’s cheerlead not one option but all the options — and let’s embrace the fact that each path has strengths and weaknesses that’ll suit some authors and repel others. We don’t need to shut down or shout down options. We don’t need to suggest one way is superior. Or that others should feel inferior for their choices.”

(Via “Indie First?” What Is Best In Publishing? « terribleminds: chuck wendig.)

Self publishers: Read the Taleist Survey

So some self publisher wrote on Slate that he didn’t make shit off his attempt to self publish a book. For a rebuttal, Hugh Howey came in to say the opposite.

This has ignited the usual firestorm.

The KDP forums read like a cross between a big tent revival and villagers getting pitchforks out.

I’m a huge fan of data, so here’s what I recommend. Either direction, get your hands on data.

Here’s the Taleist. They did a survey of 1,000 and actually got some decent data. Buy it, read it. Notice the title: Not a Gold Rush.

No matter what direction you chose, try to avoid cult-like belief and mentalities, you’ll be okay. Follow data. Avoid anecdotes. Work on being a better writer.

“What the top earning self-publishers have in common
What marketing seems to be working
How much the average self-publisher is earning in royalties
What types of outside assistance really make a difference”

(Via Self-Publishing Report: The Taleist Survey – Not a Gold Rush.)

And again, I think Chuck Wendig has the right of it:

Hey, self-publishing is cool!

Traditional publishing is cool, too!

Both have strengths. And also weaknesses.

Not everybody is fit to be their own publisher.

Not everyone is fit to deal with a traditional publisher.

Something-something Kickstarter! And Amazon! And literary agents! And small presses! And big presses! And this genre and that genre! And Wattpad and Book Country and Goodreads and Bookish and Twitter and iBooks and Smashwords and Simon & Schuster and Barnes & Noble and blargh and flargh and zippity-motherfucking-doo-dah!

The reason we don’t put all our eggs in one basket is because broken goddamn eggs!

Amazon developing a cover creation tool

A smart move on their part, there are some truly horrendous self-made covers in the mix out there:

“Amazon is developing a cover creation tool for its Kindle Direct Publishing self-publishing platform, dubbed KDP Cover Creator. The tool is currently being tested by a limited number of KDP authors but the company expects to roll it out to all its KDP authors soon, an Amazon spokesperson told Digital Book World.”

(Via Amazon to Launch Cover Creating Tool for Self-Published Ebooks, KDP Cover Creator | Digital Book World.)

Cory Doctorow on being his own publisher

Cory summarizes what it was like to be his own publisher with his recent short story collection:

With a Little Help has helped me realize something: whatever I do next, I don’t want to be in charge of all these moving parts. I can’t be both a Zen, let-it-all-happen-at-its-own-pace writer and an aggressive, deadline-pushing publisher. If I were realistically going to keep up this publishing stuff, I would need to outsource every task that requires the virtues inherent in agents, editors, sales, marketing, distribution and retail, especially that willingness to tithe a large portion of my working day to logistics, follow-ups, and calls.