I'm an established full-time author - willing to answer questions if you have them

question

#1

Hey, I’m a veteran of the Wattpad Industry Insider group and just learned it’s shutting down, so I’m moving what was the most popular post on that site to here. I’ve been in publishing for about a decade and have done it all (small press, self-publishing, and had 8 books released through the big-five). I’ve sold more than a million copies, have 70+ foreign translations, and been on the Amazon Top 100 best-selling fantasy authors for more than 3 years. I’ve also presented at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference (and done several online courses for them).

Past questions have been on self-publishing, finding agents, signing contracts, marketing, income expectations, how authors are paid, and the craft of writing. But I’m open for anything, all you have to do is ask.


Publisher Scam! Beware
#2

Hi! Guess, I’ll throw up a couple questions that I’ve been wondering about.

Given your experience, how much of a difference would you say the current industry has changed compared to how it was a decade ago? Anything major and/or minor that you’ve noticed?

When it comes to sales, has there been a higher preference in book formats that you’ve seen? Like say between physical, digital, or audiobook copies? Has one been sold more than the others? etc.

When it’s time to search for an agent, the most common advice I’ve seen so far was to apply to as many as you can due to long periods of time waiting for a response. Aside from that, do you have any tips or advice based on your experience that every writer should always keep in mind?

Also, what kind of challenges and hardships should a newly contracted author expect at the beginning of their career?


#3

It’s completely different. When I started (in 2008) you really couldn’t make a living through self-publishing. Now it’s extremely viable and I know many indie authors earning six-figures. Traditional publishing has changed in that certain rights that you could reserve (like audio) are now required, but they aren’t increasing advances to account for the extra right. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Advances have been going down industry wide. So, indie is stronger and traditional is weaker. Even so, both have pros and cons and as I said both are viable from a financial standpoint.


#4

The fastest growing format in publishing is audiobooks (and it has been that way for a while now. ebooks are still the place where MOST sales are made. Mass market paperbacks are way down and will likely disappear in a few years. Hardcovers started losing ground since around 2009 but have stabilized at the lower levels over the past few years. When combined with audio and ebook that makes sales of books from traditional publishers essentially flat over the last decade. The good news, is the addition of self-published books have come along and bolstered sales. In my genre (scifi & fantasy) book sales have doubled (from 25,000,000 to 50,000,000 over the last decade but all of that growth came from indies and the Amazon imprints.

Here is a study with some data that may help


#5

So, I didn’t get my agent through “the query-go-round” so I’m not sure I’m qualified to talk about how best to manage that process. What I can say, is that writing the query is very important (and very difficult) and I have found some resources to help with that.

Look at the links at the top of this post for four of the best resources I’ve found.


#6

When it comes to traditionally publishing the two biggest challenges are (a) the small amount of money that most authors generally receive and (b) the incredibly long period of time everything takes.

Most advances are around $5,000 - $10,000 per book and are spread over 3 payments that are spread out over 1 - 2 years (depending on how long it takes the books to be produced) 1/3 on signing, 1/3 on acceptance, 1/3 on publication. From the time that you start submitting a project until it gets on a store’s shelf can easily be 2 - 3 years (about 12 - 18 months from signing a contract until the book is published). Also only 20% of advances earn out, so that $5,000 - $10,000 is likely the only money that the author will earn (unless the book has strong foreign translation potential).

When it comes to self-publishing, patience is also a factor. Most authors need to write several books before they get their skills up to a professional level. If they publish their early not-ready-for-primetime works then they risk tarnishing their reputations and may need to use pen names to escape them. The hardest thing to evaluate properly when self-publishing is what is good enough to publish, and what should remain in the drawer.


#7

Hi there!

How do you protect your work from piracy? What steps/measures would you recommend to an author heading for the traditional route?


#8

You don’t. One of the issues about putting your work “out there” means it has a chance to be pirated. I highly recommend to NOT use DRM (digital rights management) as pirates know how to break the code on that and so the only one that drm hurts is those people who legally and legitimately published the books.

In 99.9% of the cases, your books won’t be pirated because obscurity is a MUCH bigger problem than piracy. In some ways, if your work is pirated you should feel a certain sense of accomplishment because people don’t bother to pirate stuff that’s not any good. So, if you are being pirated it generally means that (a) your readership is quite high and (b) your books are well thought of.


#9

Both routes require the same things for success:

  1. Writing a book that people enjoy enough to tell others about
  2. Releasing more than one book over a long period of time (a rate of one every six-months or one every year would be a good pace)

To write a good book takes practice, learning through critiquing other people’s works and reading and studying books that have been publihsed in the past.

Once you get your work highly polished, it’s time to search for an agent. Here is a link that can help:

Writing Query Letters & Where to send them


#10

Regarding piracy, I’ve also heard the argument that the people who steal your work – or those who prefer reading stolen work to buying it – are not part of your market anyway. In other words, they were never going to spend money so there’s not actually a loss.

I’m not sure how accurate that is. Lately I’ve been wondering whether sites like Wattpad do more harm than good for authors as they create an expectation that we should give away our content for free.

Question for you: Have you seen any significant uptick in your revenue from the time that you invest in social media conversations? I’d imagine some channels are more effect than others (e.g. Facebook vs. Twitter, or Goodreads vs. this one).


#11

That is a commonly voice argument, and I do think it’s true, but it’s more rationalization than anything else. It’s an attempt to masage the guilty conscious for people who KNOW they are doing something unethical. It’s designed to make them feel “not so bad” about screwing the author over. On the flip side, the author can also use it to “feel better” as they can justify that the piracy isn’t hurting them “that much.”

Yeah, the downward race to the bottom is a scary proposition. I’m not generally a fan of publishers, but I will say they are doing a good job keeping the book business much more stable than the music business as far as still providing some income for themselves and authors.

My “social media time” isn’t a marketing investment, it’s just me having fun talking to people about books - oftentimes my own works. There is no way to correlate that to sales in any quantifiable way. Does it end up making me sales? Yep, but that’s the byproduct not the goal.


#12

I wanted to ask about romance, if you had experience with it. I recently admitted to finally being more … of a romance writer, not sure why. To much to get into now.

In any case, is there a recent certain romance conventions came about, and is that why some romance novels get rejected and others don’t?


#13

I’m 98% fantasy and 2% sci-fi so I’ve had no experience with the romance market. I can say it’s boom genre for both self and traditional and it’s definitely an area where a lot of people are earning well.

I don’t know how true it is today, but I remember talking to my agent about romance (this was about 7 years ago) and she was lamenting how she got out of that genre because there are very specific formulas that are supposed to be maintained. She got tired of reading the same stories over and over so she went into other genre work instead. Basically what she said is that if you deviate from the norm, the publishers won’t pick it up. Now granted, this is one person’s opinion, and was from a very long time ago, but it’s the only real data point I have on that market.


#14

That’s really interesting. would you say that’s something that’s true of most genres? There’s a lot of discussion on WP about creative freedom and whether or not a writer should conform to certain rules and guidelines etc. I think that’s why some people prefer to self publish.


#15

Hi!

I was wondering which method of publishing (self or traditional) do you prefer and why?
For a person publishing their first book which method of publishing would you recommend?


#16

I prefer self-publishing because (a) I have full control over the final product (b) I earn higher income © I get paid faster (d) I don’t have to surrender rights for the rest of my life + 70 years.

It all depends on the author. Both paths are viable but there is no “universal” correct route. The better route on an individual basis is going to depend on the author’s goals and abilities. For instance, IF you can create a book that stands toe-to-toe with those released through traditional publishing, then self is a POSSIBILITY. But if you can’t you definitely need to go traditional as the quality of the book is paramount. If you REALLY want to see your book on the Barnes and Noble’s shelf (because otherwise you won’t feel like a “real author” - then self-publishing is not the way for you.


#17

I think there is some truth in it. The issue is publishers don’t want something “too original” as it’s difficult to create a good P&L for it. In many respects they want something that is “similar” to a successful book, but still have enough unique aspects so it’s not a complete retread.

And yeah, if you are writing something “really out there” and possibly tonly attractive to a niche audience, self-publishing is the way to go.


#18

Very true, A publisher wanted me to change my heroine from a wife to a fiancee in my first novel because the character commits adultery and the editor said, “Adultery is a no-no in the romance genre.” She agreed the character needed to be married, but said it broke a rule that can’t be broken so they couldn’t/wouldn’t publish it.

I hope your wife doesn’t realize that. Sorry, but I couldn’t resist showing what happens when a person is quoted out of context.


#19

I’d like to know how a book gets to be made into a movie. I’d imagine that’s where the big bucks are.


#20

It needs to be optioned by someone – a studio, an actor, a director. That means that they are licensing it temporarily so they can shop it around.

Getting optioned isn’t actually hugely unusual. Getting a green light after being optioned is EXTREMELY unsual. Only a tiny, tiny percentage of those that are optioned will get a green light to move forward (and only a small percentage of THOSE are made and released).

Once the project gets a green light, then they start the work of putting together the script, attaching a director and actor, and so forth. That’s the stage where they’ll outright purchase the story.

Once they purchase it, you are out of the process – and they can do whatever they want to with it, including COMPLETELY changing it. You will have no say in that. You also won’t be able to write the screenplay or have any say in the casting. If they’re really nice they might let you visit the set, but that’s just an olive branch, not something required.

Also, be aware, Hollywood contracts are worse than those offered by the Big 5. They take your IP and pay you a pittance for it. That’s how they can do sequels and merchandising and such.

The writers of Crazy Rich Asians did everything right in their negotiations, and they kept their rights. They are very unusual. Had their property not been hot, hot, HOT, they’d likely have failed.