Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Decisions Decisions

This is an edited re-post of an older blog, but the contents remain relevant.

All writers get moments when they feel like giving up. Hard to say why this is. A long wait for a response, a snarky comment at the worst possible moment, the longest winter that a person can remember... Bad news can make other areas of life seem unworthy and for the writer sometimes their work takes the brunt. I doubt I will ever give up writing but I am aware I do need to attend to more than just one genre -- I love to write as I read, meaning anything and everything, and getting to join the Space, 1889 steampunk project was a proverbial deep breath of crisp air. It was also exhausting. One title had to be turned over at very short notice, was the second story I worked on and my first ever co-authored book. The first piece I wrote came out a few months later and required a good deal of research. Anyone reading would probably be amazed to see the list of study material. No doubt, it's not immediately obvious, and no reason should it be -- the whole point is the reader shouldn't necessarily know it's there.

I'm straying a little, though. The project reminded me of how I like many styles and genres, and that we all need a rest. At the time, I was with three publishers who take romance, two of which specialised in erotica, and one who was a multi-genre publisher. I had considered approaching a fourth, but at the fear of spreading myself too thin, I never did. I'm still with three, though one closed to be replaced with another, and I only recently published with one of them and may only continue with two. Any good writer or publisher will say it's best not to have even the most delicious eggs (even chocolate ones) laid by one hen in one tiny basket.

Publishers go under. Writing is like any business. Sometimes people fall out, there are differences of opinion. Any number of reasons exist as to why a writer may one day wish to part ways with a publisher or vice versa. It's good to have somewhere to go. Being with various publishers also extends an author's presence and readership. And let's not forget, different publishers are open to contrasting products. The best 'business' decision is choosing the right story and the correct publisher, matching a suitable pair, and deciding whether to spread the work or take on extra. Writing isn't all about the story -- it's about seemingly straightforward decisions having consequences. Even the writer can be so immersed in the story to forget that.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Wolf Moon

My short story The Wolf Moon finally released the other week and continues my foray into Dark Fiction. I plan to blog another time about how the story came into being, but for now, the story can be found in the Fox Spirit anthology Winter Tales. Though these tales may seem surprising to my romance readers, this type of fiction is where I started. What's held me back from pursuing more in this genre is the lack of an idea to produce a full-length novel. I've written long romances and long steampunk stories, and played with numerous themes, but nothing that comes close to the darkness explored in my short stories...until now. I'm pleased to say I've an idea that's nagging at me. The trouble is, right now I don't have the time to write it. I'm working on a project that I just submit soon although I don't know whether it will be suitable, and I've promised to re-work and re-release some romances. This basically involves as much editing as writing. I'm ploughing ahead as fast as my muse and ability to type will allow.

Fox Spirit was a good publisher to add to my Dark Fiction resume: shortlisted for the Best Indie Press twice in three years by the British Fantasy Society, their mission statement summarises the belief that day to day life lacks a few things, namely the fantastic, the magical, mischievous and a touch of the horrific. They aim to produce books 'full of wonder and mischief delivered with a sharp bite'. My short story definitely applies. Diana may or may not be a hunter, but Gabriel is no angel.

Diana, the huntress. Her mother called winter a time of silence. For Diana, most of her life is quiet, her only companions wolves. Known as a witch by those in the human settlement even her rare visits to town are unwelcome.

Gabriel, named after the angel; although he's no heavenly messenger, he refuses to trap what the locals want him to catch. When he sees Diana, he's on the hunt for different prey.

Two people, strangers to each other, both outsiders… A harsh winter is upon them, but when their paths cross it will take a little ingenuity to survive the coldest of seasons.

Shiver under The Wolf Moon, one of a collection of Winter Tales.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Guest Spot: Chantal Noordeloos

Today in honour of my Dark Fiction release, I’m purposely throwing the spotlight on author Chantal Noordeloos as a writer who is as in tune with my sensibilities as she is also apart from them. I understand her intentions behind her darker work, as she would no doubt understand mine. As her biography states, she’s a writer born in the Hague, lives in the Netherlands, with what strikes me as the perfect balance of family: a husband who shares the right level of unconventionality and a wily daughter as amusing as she is ingenious -- a word that suits the whole Noordeloos ensemble and zeal for life. It is this love of life that may make one question why Chantal visits such dark realms in her writing: one of those cases where the question itself may supply the answer, for these tales face our darkest fears and often drive back the shadows or, at least, greet what lurks within them head-on.

Wrath begins with a first-person telling of a vicious attack on an unknown woman, but what may seem like the end of her journey turns into another beginning...with choices only the wrathful can make. This is a thought-provoking story in the second of this author’s contribution to her ‘seven deadly sins’ series.

What immediately came to mind was the amount of unpleasant research done to get the atmosphere of this nasty little tale just right. The story plays out on many levels making the reader uncomfortable, questioning morality and even what constitutes ‘sin’. Some reading the story won’t agree, I’m sure, but it’s necessary to go deeper and consider the issues within to feel that greater sense of purpose. These layers are present from the outset. Not to give the story details away but a pre-set view of the main character forms before the truth comes to light and in this way made me question personal concepts; or in other words, I was too quick to impress my own view on the character and then surprised when I realised the actual circumstances, but this is a good thing, potentially making the reader self-aware of how ingrained preconceptions can be.

The story also highlights the plight of women around the world, how societies and even groups within societies view the issue of feminism (just another word for equality) and it does it at an emotional level that I hope will make both men and women squirm. If this story makes the reader uncomfortable, well it should. It should also make them question. On the negative side there were a couple of editing points, and although I found the end satisfying, it felt a little fast coming after a steady build-up. That’s why I award the story 4 out of 5 but I eagerly anticipate the rest of the series and these issues should be largely overlooked midst the bones of a provocative story.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Prepare to be Poor

"The average earnings of a professional full-time author is just £11,000."*

*Findings of the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society 2014.

This is as much a message to readers as it is to all those who freely file share whether they do or don't perceive the harm, pirates, and wannabe writers who believe a writing career will change their lives. I'm not up to date with the most recent statistics, but let's just run over a few possibly eye-opening figures.

My father was one reader who mistakenly believed whether a writer made £1 per book or 1p, the trading of a million titles added up to 'a lot'. Even if every author was guaranteed that number there's a huge difference in earnings if the royalties are a pound or a penny, but the main trouble with this thinking is most writers cannot sell even close to such an amount.

Let's look at sales:

Before the 2014 findings released I'd read articles reporting many printed, in the store, mainstream paperbacks sold on average 500 copies. Reports said celebrity-written novels selling between 100-200,000 were deemed flops owing to publisher expectations the books would retail well on celebrity status alone.

The situation can be even worse for electronic publications. I know many who never sell more than around 100 copies. I've been told some e-books won't trade significantly above 200.

So which writers are making money from book sales? Those often seen in the top ten positions in the bookstores, but their success is the dream and does not include the 'average' writer. Which isn't to say one cannot make a living in the industry. I know people who have given up the day job to survive on their writing income, but many have supporting spouses, and almost all say they live 'carefully'.

One of the draws of electronic publishing in recent years was their higher than average royalty share. The usual contract for rates on print is between 7-10%. It doesn't require a maths genius to calculate a paperback of £5.99 being approximately 60p a book earned by the author of the cover price.

Understandably, royalties of 35-50% are highly attractive. When the print market got on board with e-books, there was a lot of resulting disagreements over the percentages these previously print-only companies were offering with many well-known writers demanding more favourable terms. Some of those early negotiations reached 25%--still lower than some electronic-only publishers.

Now let's take these figures and see how the income starts dwindling in other ways:

Another pull of these markets is many sold primarily in-house so the royalty percentage received was based on the total cover price. When a distributor sells, their cut is first deducted before these contracted percentages apply between writer and publisher. We're talking the differences between net and gross here.

To be fair prior to the existence of e-books, publishers were always distributors but one draw of e-book publishing was they did sell more in-house, translating into higher profit margins. A large portion, which usually disappeared in printing costs, found its way to the writer. Lately, I've been noticing these publishers immediately sending titles to multiple marketplaces so a writer's slice cannot be construed from the full price on initial sales. One likely reason for this is that many are finding Kindle to be where most purchases now generate. Where many believed the invention of a good e-reader would increase readership, unfortunately, it took the exchange out of house. The app also allowed those who had no wish to own such a device to read on computers and tablets with the same ease. Readers like the ability to buy without difficulty and this is something Amazon does. Many publishers and writers have suffered because of simple single-click buying. I'm not claiming that this is the sole problem but I, like many, do believe it's a contributing factor.

The distributor deducts their cut before anyone sees anything of percentages. As most distributors have clauses that allow them to set their own cover price and not the RRP of the publisher, and even the freedom to determine when a product should be available at a reduced rate, this percentage can be lowered even more.

If a £6 novel is given a 30% discount that generates £4.20. Let's say distribution subtracts 35% of that customer's outlay. We're left with £2.73. If the writer's segment is 50%, the earnings will be £1.36. If the cut is 10% that approximates to 28p.

We'll be generous and use the average of 500 copies sold.

£1.36 x 500 = £680

28p x 500 = £140

Now, if applicable, calculate the removal of income tax.

Divide what's left by the hours, days, months taken to create the draft. Shall we also throw in the anxious pursuit of a publisher, the editing rounds, and the promotion time put in, all of which I'm sure I'll cover in other blogs.

For now, let's use NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) as an example and say it's a short novella, with a draft produced in a month and the writer is fast. Even if we round it up to a generous minimum of 50 hours of work, oh look... Based on the lower rate before tax amount provides an income of £2.80 per hour...before we take into account all the additional days required. Consider that some may take 3 months, or 6, or a year to construct a book and you quickly see your 'average' writer wakes up daily questioning what motivates them to do this job.

"At least writers can boost their income by attending conventions. They get paid to go, and there's all that prestige, and they're sure to sell a load of books at these things."

Only recently, best-selling author of His Dark Materials trilogy, Philip Pullman withdrew from the Oxford festival, having grown tired of 'writers expected to work for nothing'. As he rightly said, everyone else, "from the cleaners to the people who put up the marquees" get paid, so despite being a patron for the last five years, he resigned.

Now tell one of these writers he or she is 'rolling in it', that authors can withstand not to be paid for some of the things they do, that it's 'okay' to pirate their work, that £5.99 for a full-length novel is too expensive. Better yet accept my challenge of waiting behind at a writers' convention until you're the only reader in a room full of authors and say it aloud. If your family doesn't have reason to wonder why you never made it home, then do anticipate being killed in a few new releases. Many writers know where to hide the bodies.

The reality is a sad truth. There's money to be made, but don't expect to become rich overnight, if at all. One of the first things I was warned of when I chose to be a writer was unrealistic expectations. If fame and fortune are the main reasons to put pen to paper or hands to the keyboard, the wannabe might turn into one of those who makes the ten top slots regularly, but may also be extremely disappointed to hear he or she has only sold 200 copies. Success, like how much a book is 'worth', is largely subjective.

You may wish to check out these articles: