Why order direct?

On a weekend when I’m removing my Loose Id books owing to the publisher closing, a post on book sales is timely.

Sales are down. Not just my sales. Author sales. Book sales. There’s been many recent reports revealing the average income for a writer to be low. This one from the Guardian dated 2016 reports British authors’ annual income below minimum wage. For many it’s much lower, and nothing has improved. Dear Reader, if you thought writers were in this for the money, you’re mistaken.

What can help is in-house sales, but they are down the most. Print books tend to go out to distribution, a.k.a. shops. I’ll be simplifying here so figures will not be accurate but to provide a basic idea, let’s say the author gets a usual 7-10% on a print book. Often that’s not even on the cover price; not unless sold through the publisher. (Don’t forget possible taxes but that’s another subject I won’t throw into the equation for this post.)

As a rough example, let’s say we’re walking into a high street shop that sells printed books. In my imaginary store I’m setting the cover price of all the paperbacks at a cosy £5. Now if the shop takes £2 of a book’s cover price of £5, this means the profit (£3) shared by the publisher and writer is 90% to the publisher and 10% to the author. My maths may not be wonderful, but even I can say that’s £2.70 and 30p respectively.

To many this likely sounds like a lot less per book than they were expecting, but what if we’re talking about an £18 hardback? These figures get a lot larger as does the discrepancy between them.

If my father were alive, he would say a million x 30p is a lot of money but he was under the mistaken assumption authors automatically sell books in these kinds of numbers. In reality, many books never sell more than 500 copies or fewer.

I’m not saying don’t buy from bookshops. I’m saying do. I’m one of those who hates the disappearance of the high street bookshop, and these shops may well take £6 (often more) of an £18 book, but they have heavier overheads and can’t discount the same way as supermarket chains.

Electronic books tend to earn the writer a larger cut, anything from 25 to 50% is average with some markets. For our purposes, let’s set the author’s cut at the highest end of the scale at 50%.

If sold in-house this means on a £5 e-book the writer and publisher split the price so a nice £2.50 each. A big difference for the writer, though maybe not so great for the publisher, but, don’t forget, on a lower percentage, the split might be £1.25 to the writer and £3.75 to the publisher. A big difference to both. Still, don’t overlook the fact, if electronic books are sent out via a distributor the company will still take their cut the same as any bookstore would, and this can vary tremendously.

On an e-book the online retailer may take 35% or more. £5 – 35% = £3.25. Divided by 2 = £1.60 each to the writer and publisher. Right away both parties have lost 90p profit on a book had it sold in-house.

If the percentage taken by the retailer is higher, the potential ‘loss’ on the cover price to the writer AND the publisher can spell disaster, particularly when you take tax and other expenses into account. I know I said I wouldn’t mention those, and I won’t, but I will add books sold abroad will also be subject to the potential loss of earnings based on the exchange rate. For me, a book sold in dollars has on occasion suffered another hefty 50% chop on exchange.

In that scenario, you’ve got 100% minus 35% to the distributor, equals 65% divided 50/50 between writer and publisher, equals 32.5% to each, minus the exchange means my 50% is down to 19 to or 16% of the cover price.

Switching dollars over to pounds to make this more accessible: $5 – 35% = $3.25 divided by 50% = approximately $1.62 each to the publisher and writer, with a 40 to 50% lost on exchange = 97p to 81p earned by the author on say 500 copies means the writer may earn approximately £400 on one title or less. Divide that by the amount of man hours put in to write the book let alone go through the editing process and the hourly rate is pitiful.

To those who say e-books cost nothing to produce, they are wrong. To those who question why many writers at least consider ‘going it alone’ (not without its problems) there are reasons I’ll address another time.

Almost all e-book sales going to a certain one-click online retailer is putting publishers out of business. Buying direct helps keeps these publishers and writers afloat.

And here is where it becomes necessary to point out to anyone who owns a reader suitable files are available direct from most publishers now for all types of readers and tablets, and you receive the actual ‘file’ rather than rent it. Please bear this in mind next time you reach for your reader and buy with a ‘click’ because sales are down and in-house sales the most. This is why Loose Id and many other mid-range publishers have closed or are set to. For many, in-house sales are a sweet memory of a better past.

Not so Warm Bodies

The other week I read a post by Isaac Marion. He’s the author of the best-selling WARM BODIES, made into a film. He’s a success. A writer who has ‘made it’ in the world of the book industry, right? With a film (somewhat based) on one of his books, how could he not? Alas, being a writer is rarely that simple.

As I had already discovered, Warm Bodies is now the first in a trilogy. I read the second title, THE BURNING WORLD, this year after discovering its existence. I include my thoughts on both books below but what I didn’t know until more recently is that the third title, THE LIVING, is burning a hole in Isaac Marion’s hard drive, the author having finished it almost a year ago.

Although the first book was on the NYT bestseller list, book 2 hasn’t done so well, and, unless it does, there may be a no go on the third title. If it comes to that, I can only hope the author will find another publisher or go the route so many writers have to and self-publish (if contracts allow, mind). I won’t go into the pros and cons of that in this blog but I’m using it to illustrate one of the many reasons ‘why’ authors turn to self-publishing and why the perception that indie is purely amateur hour is false.

Not everything is as elementary as writers or readers would like to believe. This is a perfect example of the struggle writers face, of how ‘every’ book is as good as starting from scratch. Akin to an actor reading for a role, writers audition every time they submit a manuscript, and, if expectations aren’t met, the writer may have to climb a proverbial ladder again even if they’ve notched up a bestseller on any of the rungs close to the top.

That’s the truth, a simple, not-so-pretty fact about publishing. Unless the writer is a huge, well-known, consistently best-selling name (brand) often seen in the top 10, their next title will not automatically get snapped up. Even if under contract ‘to be published’ it may get pushed back or off a publisher’s list and, depending on the contract clauses, end up in limbo with the writer in purgatory. And I’ve known more than one writer to be in this position.

One thing I have to add is that I hadn’t heard a thing about the release of the second book or that even one existed. This leads into one of the biggest battles writers deal with every day — the need for marketing, something too often left to writers in the present climate. Most publishers do not have huge marketing budgets; many have none. Writers have even less but the expectation falls on them to get the word out. I only came across the second title because the question, ‘I wonder whether Isaac has written anything else’ popped into my head.

As to those books: I first read Warm Bodies about 4 years ago. With my hands on the novella prequel and the novel sequel I dipped in again. First, a word on the film of the book. It’s not bad, but it uses the more humourous parts to convey the author’s much more visceral idea in a too-light way. When I first saw trailers I imagined the book to be a Young Adult ‘popcorn’ story, a jokey hoot. Do yourself a favour; if you’ve seen the film, regardless of whether you liked it, DO read the book. It’s a decidedly different experience.

With the characters of ‘R’ and Julie, the setting is a modern twist on Romeo and Juliet set in a dystopian future where zombies outnumber the living. Even many of the survivors seem dead inside, imprisoned as they are behind their safety barriers. Like many zombie books this is a story that questions and reflects society, but in a skillful way. An unexpected read the first time around, and no less pleasurable the second. The book contains threads of something dark and disturbing, yet enlightening, will speak to some people though not all; I hope it speaks to many. This is not a gory horror novel, not a teen rom-com spoof. Hidden within its pages the tale celebrates life in all its messiness. The story is a metaphor for so many things, the state of the world, the meaning of life, civilisation out of control. It imparts the essence of almost every zombie story and life itself. It’s a book about living.

Where Warm Bodies stopped, the Burning World continues, and the story seems to speak on a wider basis reflecting society, the way we view authority and vice versa, the way countries are run. Maybe because Warm Bodies felt like a complete read I didn’t enjoy this as much, which isn’t to say I disliked it. It’s definitely a worthwhile read, earns maybe one star less than the full score of the first title. I’ll be interested to see where the author is going with this series. Warm Bodies is a book about living. The Burning World reflects more on ‘how we live’, on the quirks of society and how it’s governed.

If you read Warm Bodies and are interested in following further chapters in R’s world then it’ll be worthwhile to help Isaac out by buying The Burning World (and no, I do not personally know the author before anyone asks, but I loved the first book, enjoyed the second, and long for the third).

Amazon Shenanigans

This week I’m simply highlighting some more Amazon Shenanigans. I, too, was fooled by cheap books in the beginning, but this steamroller is now out of control, and is no less damaging. Alas, some writers and even publishers have to rely on Amazon these days, but they’ve done nothing for writers or the book industry overall. I’m not telling anyone what to do, or where to buy, and in some cases there is literally ‘no choice’ but, please, open your eyes. Search online for more related articles.

Perfect sentences

The power of a single sentence can make a whole book not only memorable in the short term, but a forever favourite. The perfect sentence (or paragraph) can be humourous, insightful, frightening, heartbreaking, or a combination of these and many more. The right sequence of words can convey a thought process, the whole subtext of a novel, and/or make the reader look at the world a different way. I’ve kept some novels simply because I felt the book contained a perfect sentence, one that resonated. The writer cannot get too engrossed with creating the correct phrase, however, because he or she would never complete any work. Fortunately, for everyone, sometimes the magic happens anyway, but one sentence that means the world to one reader will be meaningless to another. All our experiences differ. As unique individuals what we appreciate and what has meaning varies as much as our personalities. Life would be boring if the situation were otherwise.

One such perfect sentence for me is toward the end of Poppy Z Brite’s, Drawing Blood. “The art was in learning to spend your life with someone, in having the courage to be creative with someone, to melt each other’s souls to molten temperatures and let them flow together into an alloy that could withstand the world.”

This is perfect to me because it reveals the human condition, of the struggle to withstand and sustain life, and includes a simple but well-presented explanation of why for many of us we find it important to create and to love. We may not need books, music, art etc., or even require companionship to exist, but we need them to ‘live’. The above sentence takes something fundamental to most of us and presents it in an untarnished, descriptive, and beautiful way.

Regard Fear as the Enemy

A little over a year ago I did a guest spot on Southern Writers. Several months on this seems a perfect moment to reproduce that blog here, though an introduction explaining why won’t hurt.

Writers everywhere get days when they would like nothing more than remain in bed, and to draw the pillow over their heads. Despite the longed-for dream, not everything about writing is fun. I always look at writing and publishing as two different ‘beasts’. This is one of those not-so-fun instances.

I’ve moved. We’ve work to do in the house, and this being the biggest relocation of our lives (so far), we’ve much to organise. I’d love to be one of those people who can compartmentalise, push everything to the back of my mind and write. I’m much better at getting everything finished and then concentrating on one thing at a time. No way in publishing can that happen. Right now I’ve a book to finish I wanted to sub at the end of January. I’ve another in a trilogy that requires approximately another 20k of words and I should be sending in…oh about now. There’s no set deadline, but I’m trying to reach readers, publisher, and my expectations. Then I’ve another, and in many ways far more important book to finish that needs a whole subplot adding to it. I’m swamped.

At the weekend I walked away from it all. I took a time out I couldn’t afford because something was going to snap; bad enough it should be my temper but I didn’t want it to be me. All that leads me into the subject because writers live with a good deal of fear. Fear they won’t meet deadlines. Fear they won’t be able to finish a book. Terror each new work won’t be received as well as their last. Fear of taking on new projects, especially those outside of their comfort zone, and the temptation to walk away from it all.

While the books I refer to below are currently unavailable I’m working on other projects that feel as terrifying, maybe more so. Add to that the dread of days that end in what feels like a blink and bed and a pillow seems evermore enticing. The trouble with that temptation like so many types of avoidance, it cures nothing.

***

I wish I could write an encouraging ‘how-to’ narrative revealing all the secrets of mastering the writing craft. Such a missive might make the task easier and eliminate writer anxiety. My own included. My advice? Be afraid but grasp opportunities anyway.

The secret is there is no secret. What may work for one author may not work for another, same for genre or market. There’s no specific wrong or right way to write, wrong or right way to market (though spamming is never a good thing). There’s no yet to be revealed way to kill the worry of finding the next idea, the right publisher, receiving a bad review, or jumping in and trying something new. I’ve learned to view the occasional fluke as providence.

I try anything, and file that which doesn’t work now in case something becomes useful in the future. This goes for stories as much as promoting. I find stories often by ‘accident’. I’ll begin with two seemingly unconnected incidents, a vague idea of characters or places, or a single occurrence. I’ve even created stories from a title idea, a phrase, or a random selection of words, tried numerous genres. Some markets I stumbled into because an idea nagged me to write it, or because I was searching for submission calls. That’s when accident bridges the gap to intent. Where one formula won’t work for one writer, it may do so for another. Where a blueprint doesn’t apply to one genre, another must be rigid. Study the market. It’s amazing how many writers still send the wrong material to the wrong editor or publication. A horror publisher doesn’t want romance or vice versa. Pay attention to guidelines.

I read anything and everything; have too many interests, so when it came to writing it was hardly surprising I wanted to run in all directions. I decided to call myself a multi-genre author little knowing I was making an already difficult task more problematic. Branding is important, possibly imperative. My stories appear from the mysterious ark of my imagination working together with a brain that seems to tuck away the quirkiest detail; I sometimes feel as if I’m fooling myself if I think I’m anyway in control of them. There’s no knowing where I’ll head next, so I keep my options open. That’s why my next publication will take me to Jupiter where there are dragons.

Being willing to make ‘accidental’ connections both in real life and in my storytelling is how I came to be embroiled in the steampunk world of Space 1889. I was invited. I quietly panicked. Then I took a breath, started reading and researching. Now I have three titles (one co-authored) in a series that is a little part of history. Regard fear as the enemy.

Why ARe’s Closure Matters to All

Some stopping by may have heard the shocking news of the closure of All Romance Ebooks, otherwise known as ARe. Others may not and that’s why I’m rehashing some of the details before moving on to explaining why situations like this and the outcome is important to all. The shock comes because of the way the owner, Lori James, chose to deal with the closure and treat the people who have supported this book distributor and publisher for so long.

Let’s be clear, this isn’t simply another case of a publisher letting down its writers — a situation that is always a blow resonating through and carrying consequences for the industry. This closure affected publishers, writers AND readers. The publishers and writers were incensed and disgusted to be ‘offered’ a fraction of all monies owed, but they were as much if not more concerned for the readers who had extensive libraries stored on ARe, libraries that short notice would never give them the chance to download.

Let’s deal with the closure first. Lawsuit documents reveal Lori James (and I quote from sources) ‘screwed’ her business partner Barbara Perfetti who sued James in early 2015, stating claims to which James never responded. In addition, there are only vague references to a decline in business and ‘poor financial forecasts’ to explain the closure, unsupported ‘mutterings’ from a company who reported sales running into the millions in recent years, worked with both publishers and writers, began to publish its own titles, and who claimed more than a million books listed.

But what raises the level of suspicion is the abruptness, the indifference and the blackmailing tactic of the company’s closing ‘offer’, and the fact that, mere days before the closure, James distributed ARe’s advertising rates for 2017. Publishers and writers took out and paid for advertising for 2017, and James ‘accepted’ those payments knowing full well the announcement to close was to follow. I know because I received the same offer and was one of the fortunate few who did not take out advertising…but my publishers did. To my knowledge, there has been no offer to repay any of those advertising spots. That screams of nothing less than fraud.

ARe wanted to pay 10 cents on the dollar to publishers, a real blow to those owed thousands (yes, thousands) of dollars. Those publishers need to pay their own salaries, pay their writers, pay their editors, pay their cover artists and more. It’s been documented and I can personally confirm, some publishers have contemplated trying to withstand the loss themselves in an effort to pay those they owe, but such decisions could put their own companies at risk. James proposed a payment in order to avoid filing for bankruptcy. Sorry to sound flippant, but boohoo. Even if the company is in as large a financial mess as it claims (though it really hasn’t stated specifics) the situation did not arise overnight. And as part of accepting the 10 cent payoff, James stipulated that those who accepted must waver their legal rights to take further action. In short, James was stating that the payment may be the only one anyone would see, take it or risk receiving nothing, and in so doing no one would be able to chase her no matter what happens to the rest of the takings.

Lori James also hurt the readers. Even after the announcement, books were still up for sale spurring publishers to remove their books from the sites as swiftly as possible. Some succeeded; some did not. James then blocked access so readers could download their libraries and finally stopped selling more books (as far as I know only after complaints). Readers lost books removed by publishers, but it mattered not as they had insufficient time to download their libraries in just ‘four days’, and may not have even received their notice to do so in time, being that this took place over the Christmas period with the site shutting down on 31st December.

Four days. Everyone got ‘four days’ to download libraries, or to make informed and difficult decisions regarding payment, and this does not even address the issue of worthless gift vouchers unlikely to ever receive a refund. Readers, you should be angry, too.

To those who have contacted some authors saying it’s not a blow to the industry (yes, unbelievably, some have written to authors directly, which is my reason for writing this post as I feel incensed on behalf of others), how many times do writers have to say that what they do is work and it comes with a cost? What part of cover artists want paying does not compute? What part of editors want paying does not sink in? Why are writers not entitled to receive payment for every word they put on the page? The writer only gets a fraction of the cover cost and a fraction of a fraction is nothing. Why is a writer’s time worth nothing to so many?

Publishing at any level is an ‘industry’. It is BUSINESS. The same way the public purchases a cinema ticket, those who wish to read a story need to lay down money at the door. And where do those blockbusters we love to sit in darkened cinemas spring from? It’s born from the imagination and talent of a writer and many people helping that spark along the way. There are many behind the scenes whose name and craft the viewer or reader will never know of. They all want, and NEED, their cut. So do not come out in defence of people like Lori James who treat those they owe with such disregard. Do not claim it doesn’t matter. It very much does. It’s why writers go it alone. It’s why the good works are entangled with the bad and why Indie publishing is a growing threat to traditional publishing. Writers often ‘go it alone’ simply because they feel safer doing so, believe they have more control. In the case of ARe even Indie writers got stung.

Lori James writes under a pen name and no doubt in future will write under more. I’ll have to be on the lookout in the hope I never put another dime into this woman’s hands. I can’t tell anyone who to read, but I hope their conscience will.

Being Busy, the art of Tinkering, and Screaming

I came across this post from 2012 and repeat it here now almost word for word as I wrote it then. This year is different. I am writing. I have been doing lots of editing and I’ve more of both ahead of me. I’ve not done anywhere near enough promotion and those ‘life’ annoyances are different but still very prevalent, maybe more so. Part of me wants to sum up the entire post into a single sentence: I’m a writer and I’m forever busy:

A friend sent me a text last night: “I hope the writing is going well.” I had to reply that I’m not writing. I haven’t been for…well, I’m not sure. Several days, maybe three or four weeks, and it’s starting to annoy me. I’ve found a moment here and there to ‘tinker’ but not to write, although that’s not entirely true either.

I’ve ‘tinkered’ with a bit of story, but not had time to sit down and truly write so in that sense I’ve hardly written a word. On the other hand, I’ve written plenty. I’ve had edits. I’ve written long-overdue emails. I’ve three works out in December so have written blurbs and promo, and typed my book details everywhere I can think of, and written blog posts for places I’m hoping to show up at to pontificate about my books or the writing process that created them for anyone who has asked me, or cares to read them. And sometimes just to say hi — to connect with other writers and readers and thank them for their support, understanding, and lovely words and messages.

This is another side of ‘writing’ and I’ve had lots of that to be going on with, but I’ve also spent some time out to attend to daily ‘life’. Much as I’d like to claim otherwise, we all have them, these daily lives, and maybe that’s a good thing — keeps a person grounded. I’ve a relative in the hospital, the extension roof sprung a leak, and I’ve done some shopping, some of which I can’t avoid as we head towards Christmas. I will have a Christmas run of presents to attend to, and I have parcels to pack up, post off or deliver. I have cards to write, and a yearly letter to put together for those I have and haven’t neglected equally — either way it will be a chance for them to catch up on what is happening at ‘our house’.

I’m…deep breath…busy, but in that, I can’t say this time is all that different to any other time. I’m always busy, because when I’ve ticked off all the things on my current to-do list, there will be another one to attend to, and another one, and another after that. It doesn’t stop. It’s part of writing, living this double life, and sure, sometimes it’s part of any normal life, too, but having all this going on occasionally means I procrastinate and tinker a bit with something trivial because it stops me from screaming aloud, which will only earn me strange looks and speculative whispers. And if there ever should be a time when I’m not busy… As if that’s going to happen. I’ll still be occupied because what writers do when they’re not busy is get busy writing. See how that works?

Still, I’m getting antsy and I’m longing for the moment — and it will arrive this week — when I sit down and begin work on something. It may be something that needs editing — it may be old or new, may require a complete re-write, or may be ticking over quietly in a dormant brain cell for now, but I’ve reached a point where if I don’t write ‘story’ it’s quite possible you’ll hear me screaming.

Happy Halloween

Last year I took part in the ‘Howloween’ Blog Hop. Unfortunately, owing to an update of my site I’ve lost that particular post, but I did note the contents. When discussing all things unnerving, it occurred to me there are many things ‘scary’ about writing. One of those is the fear there will come a day when someone devours all the plot bunnies. Often the writer struggles to kick the furry little blighters back because they’re rampaging and demanding attention as much as any zombie on the march for brains. I’m sure my bunnies have nasty sharp teeth and claws — they sure enjoy nipping at my ankles — but many ask the question: where do they come from? So let’s concentrate on the scary ‘how’ and ‘howl’ of plots. How does one make the magic happen?

I doubt there’s a writer in existence who won’t one day be asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” There is no spell book. No magic shop one can go to. Authors wish there were, but in some ways ideas are conjured up out of thin air. A writer is someone who can connect two or more seemingly dissociated events, can play the ‘what if’ game, and maybe add an extra twist.

Here is a brief example. I wove my short story Bitter and Intoxicating for the anthology Red Velvet and Absinthe (editor Mitzi Szereto; foreword by Kelley Armstrong) in answer to a submission call for gothic erotic romance. Although a list of example work was given, I didn’t have anything written that fitted, and worse, I had no ideas. I went online and began running searches for red, velvet, and for absinthe. Although the stories didn’t need to have anything to do with these items, I needed a place from which to start. I certainly didn’t expect to write anything on those topics. I was just searching for a spark.

I came across a painting by Albert Maignan, La Muse Verte, which seemed a good portrayal of what the effects of absinthe was supposed to have on the artistic mind. Inspiration! What if a distraught painter came across a seductive woman in a bar, one with flaming red hair clad in a diaphanous green gown, and she was to take him home to try absinthe promising that it would be the answer to all his woes? The resulting story is part BDSM, part gothic horror, part sensuous seduction ‘painted’ with words — something fitting to read on a dark October night in front of the fire with the wind blowing outside.

From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

Plot vs Pants

First, an explanation.

A writer who is a ‘plotter’ plans out the course of the story, spends time thinking about the plot, theme, subtext, characterisation, and many other elements ‘before writing’.

A ‘pantser’ sits down at the keyboard with an idea or a model (these are two different things I won’t explain here except to say one is more fully-fledged than the other) and begins to write. ‘Pantsing’ is to ‘fly by the seat of’ (one’s pants), though I prefer to call it organic writing.

I’m (mostly) a pantser, which I’ve come to realise doesn’t mean I don’t plot but having read a reference to Stephen King recently, a proverbial lightbulb went off in my head illuminating the fact that, like King, I’m an intuitive plotter. I am NOT for the record stating at this point in time I do it as well as he does, but here’s hoping one day, preferably soon. Really, that’s the definition of (successful) pantsers — they are intuitive plotters.

Yes, I am able to face the blank page and craft a story with nothing more than a vague idea in mind. I tend to write from beginning to end. I seldom jump around. The story comes to me as if I am reading, and in that respect it appears I’m lucky the way King is fortuitous. We are able to ‘pants’ it. The same cannot be said of every writer, though it doesn’t diminish the effort required, and a simple but painful truth remains: sometimes planning isn’t a bad idea even for pantsers. A story may not work for many reasons. Vital elements may be missing. Or be in the wrong order. Even a good book may benefit from being looked over to check all the important formations of story-telling are present and/or in the right place.

I imagine most writers start out as pantsers, unless they have some form of professional writing background. The majority of writers are readers who range from someone ‘wanting to have a go’ to those who have always dreamed of it being a vocation. Some (the lucky few) will discover they are intuitive, their writing tends to be organic, and they write something good enough to capture a publisher’s interest. Those who aren’t intuitive likely never publish anything, or nothing well-received.

Stories have patterns. Don’t worry if you didn’t realise this. If you’re a reader, you shouldn’t. I was ‘just’ a reader once, though there’s no such thing as ‘just a reader’ to those who love books, who buy them or produce them. A reader should enjoy a book without seeing its framework. The reader isn’t supposed to know the design is there.

Pantsers start writing and either give up or get nowhere (I throw my hands up and confess there are always the often-dreaded exceptions) because they don’t realise this, or they are intuitive and form the shape without realising. Once pantsers become published authors, they may or may not perceive the hidden construction of stories. Some will continue to be intuitive without thinking about it, while some (of which I am one) will begin to spot these layouts.

A note of warning: IMHO recognition of these designs ‘may’ spoil the simple enjoyment of reading somewhat (at least for me). As an author I now read a book more aware of the narrative. I’m able to spot the ‘inciting incident’ (for example). Don’t worry if as a reader you don’t know what that is, but writers should understand. For me, books were more enjoyable when these plot points were ‘invisible’ because as a reader my mind wasn’t tuned in to spot them.

Plotters know stories require an arrangement and they set out to make the task easier for themselves by laying the groundwork beforehand.

To a pantser plotting feels like studying for an exam. A plotter to a pantser can seem like one of those irritating kids in school who enjoyed the study process. Ironically, I was one of those who didn’t overly mind studying — good thing because as a writer there are times when I need to do research.

The trouble is, depending on what level of intuitive grasp the writer has of the subject, the pantser can be the one looking wistfully back, wishing they had spent the hours pouring over the text books in order to obtain a better result, but I’m not advocating either option.

Which is better? This is a simple question with an easy answer: use the one that works for you. Some writers plot, some pants, and some do a mixture of the two, and what’s required can differ from work to work, genre to genre, project to project. The choice often comes down to which the writer finds easier, more natural, or even which he or she can withstand. For some pantsers, plotting can seem torturous. For some plotters, pantsing must seem bewildering and disastrous.

Real Publishing, Real Books

An ebook is a book in what may be, for some, an unfamiliar format. This necessitates the reader to get used to different methods of reading and storing books, but the end product is still that of a story. The writer has other differences to consider between electronic and print markets.

First, there are seldom advances. Some publishers have introduced a small advance but generally, this is not the case and don’t expect the type of up-front payment as the ‘big six’ might offer if they feel a book has the potential to be a bestseller. To be fair, many mid-stream print publishers aren’t so free with initial payouts. When offered, these prepayments aren’t always as large as they once were and based on a number of books a publisher ‘expects’ to sell. I’ve heard of huge advances withdrawn if an acceptable manuscript isn’t delivered and, in some instances, if books simply don’t retail well and meet expectation. Advice is, don’t spend an advance — bank it for a good while.

Print books are often also released electronically now whereas predominately electronic books aren’t going to make the shelf in a local bookstore, not unless they eventually go to print, or the shop has the facilities to offer electronic books as part of its ‘stock’. Maybe not even then. Many printed books never make it to local shops, either, and require ordering, but let’s not forget technology is advancing. Predictions are one day a book ‘shop’ may consist of a catalogue and a screen from which to order, the books appearing ‘magically’ as some sort of electronic download or almost instant POD (Print on Demand. While this sounds like science-fiction such scientific applications are being considered and in development.

The good news for the writer is royalties on ebooks are higher and here’s where the ebook author has a difficult choice. Print books are wonderful and many writers will say they long for their titles to be in print. They may read ebooks themselves and love them, but the writer wants to hold their work as something ‘solid’. Touch makes something feel more actual. It may be why many mistakenly conclude the electronic markets aren’t real publishing, while others love being able to cart a library around on a small device that fits into a pocket. In context, there are those who say emails aren’t real letters but the technology still transfers information effectively. However, the writer also needs to consider he or she can earn approximately 25, 35 or 50% in royalties from an ebook. From a print book, royalty payments can be as low as 7%. Let that sink in for a minute before I add a writer can earn more in royalties from an ebook but these titles may not have such a wide distribution, so the potential to sell fewer copies, though this has improved through distributor networks more recently. As more mainstream titles appeared in electronic formats so more companies became distributors just as they would with print, and even printed works can have the same problem with limited markets and outlets.

Now we move to why ebooks cost so much. After all, they skip the printing stage. Yes, they do, but this is another matter for those who scorn ebooks to consider. Printing is the ONLY element that the ebook skips. This is a rough guide only based on experience but consider the levels a story goes through before release.

When submitted to a publisher the submission goes to a reader. A reader may be an editor at the publishing house or a reader only, but either way, from a synopsis and first three chapters, a reader will decide whether to ask for the entire manuscript. If the reader likes the draft, they’ll pass it on, discuss it with others in the publishing house including management, and a team will decide whether to offer a contract. This is especially true if the writer is an unknown name to them. An editor is assigned and the work goes through the editing process. Some publishers allow a writer to work with a single editor for all work submitted. Sometimes, publishers simply hand the next book scheduled for editing to an available editor. I much prefer building up a relationship with an editor, to learn how we both work, and where we can trust each other. This can make for less friction and time wasted. Depending on how much attention the work needs, it may go through one, two, three, or more edit rounds before the line-editing department provides a fresh ‘set of eyes’ to look the story over. This time, the book is specifically checked for punctuation errors, house-style etc., and even obvious story problems. When one or two line editors are finished, the work is returned to the main editor who will look at the changes before sending them on to the writer. The writer and editor collaborate and, once happy, send the work to the proofing department. A final effort is made to spot any errors before the book is formatted* and ready for release. The writer may or may not get to proof the final galley. (*Some formatting is often left to the author, but I’ll not go into that this time.)

While this sounds like a leisurely process, it isn’t. I’ve grown used to “Can we have this yesterday?” It’s often a fraught time. Think of all the effort that goes into this editing procedure. As much as I love my books when I’ve gone through all the revisions I do prior to submitting and all these edits, and considering that I try to re-read at every opportunity, by the time the book is published I’m feeling a little sick of it. Also, keep in mind most writers work part-time if not full-time as well as write. Many editors do likewise. In some instances, so do the publishers. Many companies, with the exception of extremely large publishing houses, are run as secondary businesses. Management, editors, line editors, proofers, and the authors all give of their so-called ‘spare’ time — a phrase that quickly becomes an in-house joke. When considering the number of man-hours, it makes the financial rewards paltry.

There’s also the cost of cover art. Early on the writer may be required to submit a cover art request to provide an idea of the book’s subject. Providing the artist with enough details takes considerably more thought than many expect. Some publishing houses ask the writer to ‘okay’ the cover, some don’t. I’ve heard of some authors being extremely upset by their book covers. I’m sure there are good and bad examples in all markets but, so far, my comments have almost always been taken into consideration. Covers can range from quite cheap to expensive.

Wait. We’re not finished. Who writes the blurb? That’s the short teaser on the back cover of a printed book to get the reader interested in buying. Often, that’s the job of the author, too. A publisher may change the blurb completely or simply tweak it, but the author has to provide an original and full blurb. The writer also has to submit a new story with a synopsis and usually needs to maintain a website. The author needs to promote, though if with a good publisher the company will do at least of a portion of promoting, too. Some now request a whole marketing strategy along with a manuscript. I’d be wary if the publisher asks for this without any indication of what they will do in return, but it is a part of modern-day publishing. A writer’s best ability is to be accomplished at marketing. Promotion shouldn’t be left entirely to the author but any ‘wannabe’ needs to know they are expected to play their part. For the writer who envisages the romantic image of sitting at a desk tapping happily away, one work after the other, nothing could be further from the truth.

This still looks as if I’ve not answered why ebooks can cost as much to produce as print. One reason is the difference in those royalties, but we’re not talking millions made by the writer or publisher. Not these days. What this means in terms of actual money, I’ll cover another time, but in brief, an ebook goes through the same or similar process as most printed books. Only the final stage — the format it’s produced in — differs, and this can take ‘more effort’ because there are many types of files available now. Glitches can happen. Returns for errors create more work and cost.

As for whether to read ebooks…as much as choosing what book to read is about choice, so should choosing the format in which one wishes to read be an act of free-will. I’d be devastated to see print books disappear, but I like to own a collection of both if for no other reason than much-needed space. Something else to consider is that I made my decision to write for an e-publisher based on what I could see happening to the book market in general. Although erotic publishers were at the forefront and the mainstay of the e-publishing market for a long time, books face strong competition. Many people struggle to find the time to read. The way ALL books are produced is changing, with even large mainstream publishers turning to POD technology and electronic formats. I own the works of Poe both in print and ebook. When considering publishing I decided not to turn my back on what might happen to the future of books. I could see many who sneer being taken by surprise. The author who turns their back on the idea of change could risk being left behind, and may miss out on some wonderful opportunities.