Writers Chatting: Chapter 8 – Getting Back in the Swing

I almost decided against this post today, but I thought we could use a distraction. I’m jumping right back into more serious writing questions and essays. If you’ll add any questions you have in the comments (throw my name in there somewhere so I can search for your Qs later) I’ll do my best to tailor future posts to focus on them.

And as always, if you’d like to share your experience with a short essay, email me.  I think sharing our stories is a great way to focus our chats. Today we’ll jump in with an essay I received at the end of March: 

Carol Van Natta shared her experience in a comment and expanded on it in a short essay:

I’m an indie author because it’s the better business model for me, and see it as the only road to decent profit.

I’ve been in the indie publishing game since Oct. 2014. My flagship series is science fiction/space opera, with 4½ books out and counting, and working on a 5th even as we speak. I also write fantasy paranormal romance, with one out, and three more planned for next year.

I’ve been in the indie publishing game since Oct. 2014. My flagship series is science fiction/space opera, with 4½ books out and counting, and working on a 5th even as we speak. I also write fantasy paranormal romance, with one out, and three more planned for next year.
 
In early 2014, when I was finishing the manuscript for book 1 in the space opera series, I attended a local writers conference and listened to a panel with agents and trad-publisher editors. An aspiring author asked about the science fiction romance genre (which my series can also fall under), and the panel responded with varying degrees of pity and condescension, because “no one buys that sort of thing.” I’d been leaning toward indie publishing because I wanted my first book out that year, on my schedule, and I had a day job that allows me to invest in my author business, i.e., production of my books.
I read the helpful blogs and articles by indie authors wherever I could, and got recommendations for editors, cover designers, and file conversion specialists. I made contacts with author groups on Facebook, and still interact with them regularly, because we all learn from one another on how to handle the ever-evolving marketplace for genre fiction books. I don’t make even moderate money (yet), but I’ve only just hit the threshold where readers will trust me to continue and finish the Big Damn Story Arc that I’ve started in the first 4½ books. I plan to invest in more serious marketing this coming year, with the release of book 5.
 
The most tangible difference between trad pub and indie pub is the money. With trad pub, if I negotiated a smokin’ contract, I might get 12% royalties on ebooks, which is where the profit margin is. With indie pub, I get 60-70% royalties. The difference is primarily marketing and paper print runs. However, if I’m supposed to come to a trad publisher with an established social media platform and a built-in audience, why should the trad publisher benefit from my hard work in establishing it, and still only pay me 12%? If ebooks result in the highest profit margin, why am I subsidizing the trad publisher’s vertical supply chain business model for paperbacks? A publisher’s customers, by the way, aren’t readers; their customers are bookstore buyers. “Ooh, look, a new book published by Random House,” said no reader, ever.
 
The indie author gig is like any startup business, with product acquisition and startup costs. Your product is your writing, which is the only thing you can’t outsource (James Patterson notwithstanding). If you have more money than time, you pay people to do the things you can’t (cover design, editing, marketing). If you have more time than money, you can learn to do things yourself, though I’d still recommend hiring a professional editor and cover designer, because it’s the very rare author who can do those things well, and your books will not fare well in comparison to the competition.
 
My long-term goal is to be able to support myself with my writing. I’m writing as fast as I can and continuing to learn the business in case the odious popular-vote-loser and the co-dependent opportunists in Congress tank the government and the economy. I don’t think I’d have that option at all with a traditional publisher.
Let’s start the conversation. What are you working on at the moment? Where are you stuck? Who has some good news to share with us?
Remember, be supportive and kind.

44 replies
  1. 1

    I could use a few recommendations. I’m working on a piece where the narrator interacts with the fictional characters – visually I can see it, but I need some guidance on how to format it. If you think of movies/series, it would act much like a fade to a voice over as the character’s narrative takes over from the narrator’s scene.

    Any fictional works you could direct me to for formatting ideas? Thanks!

  2. 2
    Sab says:

    @TaMara (HFG): Doesn’t “Outlander” sort of do this, alternating between Claire the narrator in first person and other characters point of view in third person?

  3. 3
    Miss Bianca says:

    “No one” reads sci-fi romance? Someone tell that to Lois McMaster Bujold…I don’t think she or her legion of fans have got the memo…

    I’ve heard that “The French Liuetenant’s Woman” has an interesting narrator/character relationship – which was one of the hard things about translating it to film, from what I recall – but I haven’t got around to reading it, so I’m putting it out there with that caveat.

  4. 4
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Sab: I was thinking of “Outlander”, too – also “Moby Dick” and “True Grit”, but those are all first-person narratives. (at least, the first “Outlander” is, and I think the series diminished the further and further it got from Claire’s POV, but that’s just, like, my opinion, man.)

  5. 5

    @TaMara (HFG): Can you say a little more? Are you looking for something where the narrator is kind of a character, though s/he doesn’t appear as a character?

  6. 6
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Iowa Old Lady: That’s what I was wondering, too. Another model might be Susannah Clarke’s “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” narrator – there’s a voice there that definitely feels authorial, and every once in a while you get a sense of the narrator’s involvement on a personal level with the characters – but it’s never revealed exactly what it is.

  7. 7
    woodrowfan says:

    Editing page proofs. Pretty good so far and keeps me distracted as I am sitting get by my wife’s bed in the hospital

  8. 8

    Good morning (or afternoon, depending on where you are), and thanks to @TaMara (HFG) for posting my little treatise on the independent author business. The only thing different since I wrote that is that I published another book. ;-)

    @Miss Bianca, the poor young things representing trad pub at that particular conference didn’t have the first clue about SF authors, either. My biggest heartburn with them, after the fact, was that they spoke quite authoritatively on areas of the market they knew fuck-all about.

  9. 9

    That line about nobody buying science fiction embodies the brokenness of the traditional publishing system right now. It’s not just that they’re wrong, it’s that they don’t care about the book, or any facts at all. They’re chasing a marketing superstition. If you match their prejudices at the time of submission, great. If you don’t, sucks to be you, and it doesn’t matter how good you are.

    As for my current project, I’m in the last half of the final Penny Akk book. It’s zooming, and may get even faster because I switched my word processor to white on black. Man, does that reduce eye strain and help me focus. I got 5000 words written last night.

  10. 10
    Oatler. says:

    @Miss Bianca: I’d recommend Gene Wolfe’s “Peace” for a masterful use of narrative voice, as well as masterful storytelling.

  11. 11

    @Iowa Old Lady: It’s a split story – her story and the characters she’s imagining. So part of the book follows her quirky life and the other part follows her characters.

  12. 12

    @Miss Bianca: I will check that out. Also – I wonder if that’s why they brought Pinter in for the screenplay, if anyone could bring something difficult to a script, he could.

    All the suggestions so far sound like a great place to start.

  13. 13

    Sheryl Nantus is a fellow X-Philer I know. She writes sci-fi romance stuff as well.

    I am in Florida waiting out the storm. I’m trying to write while I sit and wait. Wish me luck.

  14. 14
    MarkP says:

    Just found out yesterday that Aliterate wants to publish my fantasy short story, so yay!

  15. 15

    @PaulWartenberg: Sheryl Nantus wrote a lovely series that starts with Into the Black that I wish she’d write more of. Her books are some of those I recommend when people say “I just discovered science fiction romance — what should I read?” Good luck in Florida, and in writing while distracted.

    @TaMara (HFG), you might consider starting a new chapter for each point-of-view change, e.g., author, characters, author, characters…, and clearly labeling each chapter with a subhead: Chapter 1: Suzy Author; Chapter 2: Weathering Lows, Miss Pink; Chapter 3: Suzy Author; Chapter 4, Weathering Lows, Mr. Hubert…

  16. 16

    @TaMara (HFG):
    It’s a shame the black and white format of Kindle makes the Neverending Story’s color switch system impossible.

  17. 17

    @MarkP: Congratulations! When it comes out, tell us.

  18. 18

    @Carol Van Natta: Most of it is that way, it actually is very natural flow. but I have a couple of places where they interact directly before the new chapter starts and that’s one of the areas I’d like to do something fun. And another area where she starts to tell the story to her husband and then it dissolves into the actual story.

    I didn’t mention it in the email I sent you last night, but your self-publishing story really lit a fire under me. I’ve gotten good feed back on the finished novel, so now I’ll get serious about an editor and start the self-publishing journey. So thanks.

  19. 19

    @PaulWartenberg: Stay safe! And keep us up to date.

    @MarkP: Yay!

    @Frankensteinbeck: Yeah, anything I was imagining, I thought it would’t work with the simple e-book format. :-(

  20. 20
    Snarkworth, short-fingered Bulgarian says:

    Trad publishing is sloooow. Waiting for second edits to come back, hoping to get a release date and see cover art before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

    Working on a synopsis for the sequel. There are some serious holes in the plot.

    Woodrowfan, wishing you and your wife well.

  21. 21
    Joyce Harmon says:

    @Frankensteinbeck:

    That line about nobody buying science fiction embodies the brokenness of the traditional publishing system right now. It’s not just that they’re wrong, it’s that they don’t care about the book, or any facts at all. They’re chasing a marketing superstition. If you match their prejudices at the time of submission, great. If you don’t, sucks to be you, and it doesn’t matter how good you are.

    Boy-howdy, ain’t that the truth! “Nobody’s reading X right now.” “Uh, maybe that’s because nobody’s publishing X right now.”

    That’s the great thing about self-publishing, you can write in any genre you want, even the so-called dead genres, and see if people want to read it. I’ve been seeing some indie gothics. When was the last time you saw a damsel in white fleeing a forbidding castle in a bookstore? Decades ago, maybe?

  22. 22

    @TaMara (HFG): Scott Westerfield’s AFTERWORLDS is a double story about a YA novelist and the story she’s writing. I had some problems with it and didn’t finish reading, but that wasn’t because of the structure. Maybe you can see some technique that’s useful there.

    I’m also rereading Megan Whalen Turner’s YA A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS. It opens with a third person scene, and then switches to first and one of the characters narrates his story. He’s claiming to tell it to a specific person and at the end of this section of the book, he says “and then you laughed.” And the books switches back to third. Again, I don’t know if that’s useful.

  23. 23
    West of the Rockies (been a while) says:

    I didn’t know we’d meet today, but am glad we are.

    For those who don’t know about it, sci-fi author John Scalzi runs a blog (Whatever). He offers some very useful and edifying stuff for writers. He’s also politically pretty progressive. Great resource material!

    I’m close to putting out an ebook. Anyone have thoughts on if the Amazon exclusive route is better or the non Amazon route?

  24. 24
    debbie says:

    @TaMara (HFG):

    Sophie’s Choice. Apocalypse Now also.

  25. 25
    debbie says:

    @Miss Bianca:

    You’re right about FLW. Both book and film are very powerful.

  26. 26

    @TaMara (HFG): The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a truly remarkable book, which does this.

  27. 27

    @Frankensteinbeck:

    I switched my word processor to white on black. Man, does that reduce eye strain and help me focus.

    AFAIK, and I’ve looked it up several times and edit text all day for a living, the best-for-your-eyes combo is dark text on a lighter background. If the white hurts your eyes, try a sepia combo rather than the inversion, or an app like F.lux.

  28. 28
    West of the Rockies (been a while) says:

    @Frankensteinbeck:

    Yes, the trad-pub route is infuriating! The condescension and lamentation from publishers in advice bits to writers is disheartening. Frank Herbert’s Dune was turned down dozens and dozens of times before auto-repair-manual publisher Chilton said, “Well, sure, we’ll give it a go…”

  29. 29
    Miss Bianca says:

    @West of the Rockies (been a while): Really? *Chilton* of Chilton Manuals published Dune?

  30. 30
    germy says:

    New film about a writer:

    In October 1843, Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) was suffering from the failure of his last three books. Rejected by his publishers, he set out to write and self-publish a book he hoped would keep his family afloat and revive his career.

    Directed by Bharat Nalluri from Les Standiford’s book of the same name, The Man Who Invented Christmas tells the story of the six fever-pitched weeks in which Dickens created A Christmas Carol. The film takes audiences inside the magical process that brought to life Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer), Tiny Tim and others, changing the holiday into the merry family event we know today.

  31. 31
    West of the Rockies (been a while) says:

    @Miss Bianca:

    Yup, that Chilton! The rest is literary history.

  32. 32

    I’m working on a children’s book–editing and illustrating it. I’m a little stuck on just how far I should simplify. I have a friend who used to edit children’s books so I’m thinking about asking for his advice. Also, still writing a murder mystery set in our dystopian future. Main hangup there is world building. Main hangup here is the story hinges on the extinction of pollinating animals. I assume we could survive as a species if we pollinated plants ourselves but also assume this would be a Herculean task made impossible by increasingly toxic atmosphere and excessive radiation from the sun due to thinking atmosphere. Also would assessing a large die off of population. So ends up humans are living in small disconnected highly structured and controlled societies, in domes, underground, etc. Question is how much land needed to plant enough to keep what size population alive and therefore how many people needed to pollinate as a result? Clearly need more research.

  33. 33

    And commenting on my phone sucks, hence my poorly worded comment above.

  34. 34
    West of the Rockies (been a while) says:

    @Mrs. D. Ranged in AZ:

    You ever see the 1976 Logan’s Run? Feeding the domed populace was addressed in an interesting fashion.

    My writing also straddles multiple forms — Y.A., children’s, adult-audience genres… I’ve been encountering opinions that we must choose one genre and stick with it or risk somehow disorienting and disappointing our audience. People point to J.K. whose Hogwarts stuff is legendary but who has no audience for anything else.

    Should one have pseudonyms for different genres? I’d love some opinions!

  35. 35
    Mnemosyne says:

    I’m heading off to a week-long writer’s retreat in about half an hour — bow down and envy me, all of you! 😂 I’m lucky that I had some extra bonus money from work that I was able to throw at this. I hope my carpal tunnels hold up okay — that’s really my main worry.

  36. 36
    West of the Rockies (been a while) says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    Have fun (he begrudgingly said). I’m jealous.

  37. 37
    Mnemosyne says:

    @TaMara (HFG):

    I have neither read the book nor seen the movie, but apparently Tony and Susan, the novel that the movie Nocturnal Animals was based on, has a structure where one of the characters wrote a book that may or may not be based on events in his own life. Unreliable narrators galore.

    I think that the movie Stranger Than Fiction, where the author’s main character comes to life and has to track her down IRL so she won’t kill him off, was also based on a novel.

  38. 38
    The Lodger says:

    @West of the Rockies (been a while): It seemed to work OK for Iain M. Banks, who used his middle initial for SF but not for mysteries. Also Ed McBain and his non-pseudonymic self.

  39. 39
    Mnemosyne says:

    @West of the Rockies (been a while):

    To be fair to JK, she tried to write her adult books under a pseudonym, and some publishing jackass decided to unmask her, which seemed very unfair. Her book got some decent reviews until she was unmasked.

    As far as using different pseudonyms for different books, most people say it isn’t necessary anymore unless you write in completely divergent genres like, say, erotic romance and pre-teen books. There seems to be quite a bit of crossover between the romance, romantic suspense, and mystery/thriller worlds. I’ve seen quite a few romance authors make the transition using their romance name. Sci-fi/fantasy seems to be a tougher crossover sell — Mary Jo Putney has been trying, but her magic series doesn’t seem to have sold very well. I suspect she also has publisher troubles because she’s changed several times.

  40. 40

    @West of the Rockies (been a while): Re: Amazon KU vs. publishing wide (e.g., also at Nook, Kobo, iTunes, Google Play, etc.), the decision probably depends on your book’s genre. Only about 15% of my mailing list, which tends toward the SF/space opera genre, is a member of Kindle Unlimited, so I’d probably lose as many readers from the other venues as I’d gain from the increased visibility that Amazon gives to KU books. However, for the paranormal romance series I plan to put out next summer, I’ll strongly consider at least a 6- to 9-month run in KU first, because KU has a TON of voracious romance readers, and it’s a newer genre for me. The solo man-chest cover you see in TaMara’s post above is my only PNR; the rest are space opera.

    Regarding pen names (which can be an administrative nightmare), I’d only probably use one if I wrote something that would shock my present reader base, or is in a totally incompatible genre that confuses Amazon’s also-bought algorithms. For example, if I ever publish a nonfiction book, I might go with my initials instead of my first name, to keep it in the family but make it easily distinguishable.

  41. 41
    RSA says:

    @TaMara (HFG):

    I’m working on a piece where the narrator interacts with the fictional characters – visually I can see it, but I need some guidance on how to format it.

    Jostein Gaarder does this in Sophie’s World (which is kind of a spoiler…) Samuel R. Delany does some fancy narrative work in Dhalgren, but it’s been a long time since I’ve read it so I don’t recall how well it worked for me.

  42. 42
    West of the Rockies (been a while) says:

    @Carol Van Natta:

    Thank you for the input, Carol! And congratulations on your successes.

  43. 43
    Joyce Harmon says:

    @Carol Van Natta:

    Re: Amazon KU vs. publishing wide (e.g., also at Nook, Kobo, iTunes, Google Play, etc.), the decision probably depends on your book’s genre. Only about 15% of my mailing list, which tends toward the SF/space opera genre, is a member of Kindle Unlimited, so I’d probably lose as many readers from the other venues as I’d gain from the increased visibility that Amazon gives to KU books.

    Whenever I hear about writers making significant money on the non-Amazon sales platforms, I’m intensely impressed. When I was ‘wide’, Amazon was the only place where I sold more than pocket change. The other venues simply weren’t worth the bother. So when I went exclusive to Amazon, I wasn’t really losing anything, which made it an easy decision. And now KU page reads make up well over half of my total income from the books. Of course, I haven’t published anything new in almost two years now, so a new release might be different. But I’m staying with KDP Select until something changes; it’s just so much easier and the other places for me turned out to be more work than they were worth.

  44. 44

    @West of the Rockies (been a while): I will have to rewatch Logan’s Run–its been a while. As for picking a genre, I don’t believe that. Most of my favorite books series (Outlander, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Ancillary series, etc) actually cross genre boundaries. My two cents–write the kind of book you want to read.

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