This afternoon, I inadvertently started a mini-discussion on twitter with some #pubwrite writing friends about remuneration for writers. I noticed Michael Palante tweet that he received an email offering him a freelance writing gig for .02 cents per 100 words. He then pointed out how amusing this is, considering a whole novel would cost $16 to write.
Everett Powers suggested that Michael would be better of “flipping burgers, as at least he would get to eat”. As much as Everett and Michael were having a laugh, this is the sad reality for most writers. We are the underpaid and undervalued segment of the entertainment industry. More on our place in the entertainment industry in an upcoming post. Let’s get back to this twitter discussion.
After reading Michael’s tweet and Everett’s response, I suggested that a good way to get paid more for our work (or to get paid anything at all in my case), would be to get readers addicted to our work, then get it outlawed, and then start an over-priced black market for it. This was, obviously, a tongue in cheek remark but it sure started some amazing brain storming from the #pubwrite team. When these guys aren’t drinking, they sure are thinking!
The basic theme of the discussion became the premise that we could create success by breeding controversy, and reaping the benefits of the resulting publicity. I argued that any publicity is good publicity. Michael disagreed, and suggested that some controversy is just offensive, and adds no value to your promotion. To quote him, he tweeted “controversy is just controversy. Controversy which challenges people intellectually is gold”. In case his already rock solid argument hadn’t already convinced us, he used a perfect example – “A mosque kinda close to ground zero? Dialog. Burning the Koran? Offensive.” As a literary example, he pointed out that “Dan Brown (for what it’s worth) got big because reporters asked questions.”
I’ll just let you digest Michael’s wisdom for a few seconds…
As I farewelled the twitter discussion, Michael’s advice lingered with me. Dan Brown became a worldwide hit after Da Vinci Code stirred discussion and publicity around the theme of Jesus’s bloodline. It’s worth remembering that Brown wrote Digital Fortress, Angels and Demons and Deception Point before he wrote Da Vinci Code, but it wasn’t until Da Vinci Code hooked that magic formula of controversy, intrigue and a crap load of free publicity, that the three other books took off as well. This is interesting. Was Dan Brown better off flipping burgers before he made his fortune from one delicious plot line?
My mind also immediately went to my thriller Conspire, which is in its final stages of editing. I’m a little concerned now. Not because the book is devoid of controversy. It’s definitely got plenty of that. Has it got that magic controversy that Michael speaks of? Is my world government conspiracy theory going to start conversations? I guess there’s no going back now! I’ll find out soon enough.
In this wonderful post by Michael A. Stackpole, he compares self published authors to farmers who sell their produce from roadside stalls. Those who have traditional publishing deals are the farmers who sell their products in the grocery store.
Stackpole used the comparison to point out: “Many authors are resisting or denigrating the idea of digital self-publishing. This is like a farmer saying that the produce sold from his roadside stand just isn’t as good as the stuff you buy in the grocery store. It’s nonsense.”
This metaphor really stuck with me, because it is fitting in so many ways. Imagine a farmer spending weeks and months growing his produce, lovingly tending to it, picking it right when it’s ripe to be eaten, loading it into his truck and driving to a busy motorway to set up his roadside stand. We will need to assume at this point that there are reasons why the farmer chooses this method of distribution. He’s obviously decided not to sell his goods through a traditional grocery store for any number of reasons:
- Perhaps the grocery store already had enough other farmers supplying them with produce, and there was no room for our farmer’s stock.
- Maybe the grocery store manager only lets his friends stock him with goods, friends he’s had for years who he doesn’t want to upset by introducing more competition.
- Perhaps the farmer grows a particularly rare and special fruit, such as Tangelo, a mix between grapefruit and tangerine. The grocery store might not think there is any demand for Tangelo, so rejects the farmer’s innovative marketing proposal, in preference for the fruit people have been buying for hundreds of years.
Either way, the farmer is happy, because people are stopping by his roadside stall and love his fresh produce. The Tangelo is particularly popular. ‘Why can’t we buy this in the grocery store?’, one enthused buyer asks. The farmer starts to realise he is making more money now than he would by selling his fruit at a far cheaper price to the grocery store. He gets to keep all the profits, he mixes directly with his customers and by the time they get to the grocery store, they’ve bought enough fruit and vegetables already, so don’t even need to visit the grocer. They start to tell their friends about this wonderful little road side stall, and soon demand gets so high, the farmer opens his own market at his farm, where queues of cars line up every Saturday morning….. Ahem. I’m getting ahead of myself.
It is clear there are two important factors in the farmer’s success.
- He supplies produce that, once trialled, is instantly popular and worthy of word of mouth promotion. A author who self-publishes MUST provide work that is absolutely spot on brilliant. If someone buys a rotten apple from the farmer, his reputation is ruined. He’s no longer the popular alternative to the grocery store; he’s just the weird little man on the side of the road who marks down his fruit until he has to give it away for free. You must reward those consumers who take the time to pull over and check out your produce. Your work must be sensational.
- You have to set up your stand on a busy highway, where consumers have ample time and opportunity to pull over and purchase your product. Are you advertising your book in a place readers can find it? Or have you just plonked it on Amazon and you’re waiting for a consumer to scroll through a thousand other books before they accidently come across yours? This would be like the farmer putting his roadside stall on a road travelled by only three locals a day. Get it out there people! Find that traffic and then sell, sell, sell!
That’s all from me for now. I have to go and water my crops. I’ll be inviting you trial my Tangelos soon.
In a previous post, you have seen the rejection emails I received from agents. You may also have seen my comments on agents and publishers who still expect aspiring authors to post them letters. I really see this as evidence of the reluctance of many in the industry to adopt new technologies, to stream line and improve their business processes. Either way, when you’re trying to find an agent or publisher directly, you will come across submission guidelines which were likely written in 1972. I dutifully followed these guidelines on a few occasions, reacquainting myself with Australia Post. I even remembered to include a self addressed stamped envelope with my proposal, so the agent or publisher could post me back my rejection letter. Lucky me!
Here are three rejection letters I received by post for my book Times of Trouble: (Note that I never received a response from a few as well. Which is very frustrating! Maybe the letter got lost and will turn up in three years time, washed up in a bottle on a beach).
The Text Publishing Company
Monday, October 12, 2009
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your manuscript. We read it with interest but I regret we will not be making an offer of publication. We do not feel that Text is the right firm to successfully publish this book.
Thank you for thinking of us, and we wish you every success in finding a publisher for your work.
The salutation is a giveaway here – form letter! I have a name! And it’s not ‘author’ yet! Anyway, I really think Text could free up a lot of time to read more submissions if they digitalised their submission process. I understand that some manuscript assessors probably don’t like to read submissions on a computer screen, and don’t want to have to bear the cost of printing every submission that arrives. Have you thought about a Kindle? Or an iPad? Less printing means less damage to the environment! It’s impossible to say whether Text looked at my proposal, but I would guess that they glanced at it, decided it was unsuitable, and put it in a pile of automated rejection letters to be sent off by the work experience student.
The next two rejection letters are from Australian agents.
The Naher Agency
This one was addressed to me, which is a great start.
1st June 2010
Thank you for your interest in the Naher Agency and for giving me the opportunity to read a sample of Times of Trouble. I regret to inform you, however, that I unable to offer you representation. I am returning your sample pages herewith.
Your novel’s premise is interesting, but ultimately I didn’t find the authorial voice sufficiently memorable or arresting. In crime fiction style is almost as important as substance. As you probably know, fiction publishing is extremely competitive so an agent needs to be passionate about a novel in order to represent it successfully. If you are not already aware of it, the Australian Society of Authors’ website provides a comprehensive list of Australian agents.
I with you every success with Times of Trouble. Thanks again for giving me the chance to read your work.
With best wishes.
OUCH! I recall finding this letter in my letter box at the end of a particularly bad day at work, and when I read it, I think I might actually have cried a little. Then I shoved it in the bottom draw and tried to forget about it. I’d been wishing for so long to receive a letter from an agent or publisher with hard evidence that they had read my work. It is clear Gaby Naher had. It is also clear that she thought it was absolute crap. ‘I didn’t find the authorial voice sufficiently memorable or arresting’. I still cringe at reading that and wonder what exactly she means. Does she not like my characters? The style I use? Or does she think I’m a terrible writer? For a few minutes I wondered if my name and the title of my book had been added to a particularly critical form response letter? This is probably delusional – my self preservation instincts over riding rational thought. As hard as it is to thank Gaby for her letter, I do actually appreciate that she responded to my proposal. And I would like to take this opportunity to make myself feel a little better about her feedback by re-reading all the lovely reviews I have received for Times of Trouble. These are from readers, not agents, and of course both opinions are important, but for now, I’m going to run with the readers feedback as my driving motivation to keep going. Especially since I still have no idea what Gaby was expecting me to do about my ‘authorial voice!’ Blah!
Australian Literary Management
Also addressed to me, but I suspect the salutation line was the only unique part of the letter:
Thank you for submitting your work to the agency. After careful consideration I’m afraid I do not feel I am the right agent for this work, and I am therefore unable to offer to represent you. I’m sure you can appreciate the need for an agent to be totally committed to a work to sell it enthusiastically to a publisher; to do otherwise is not in the best interests of the author.
Unfortunately, because of the volume of submissions I receive, I cannot offer any critical comments on your submission.
Of course, another reader might have a completely different response to your writing, and I encourage you to send your work to other agents, or directly to publishers.
With best wishes,
I can’t help but feel the overriding tone of these form letters is something very closely nestled to patronising. I’m sure the agents and publishers don’t mean to be patronising, but when I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.
Lyn did miss one option from her encouragement in the last line – I can send my work to other agents, other publishers, or… here’s the one she missed…. publish it myself online. Which of course I have done.