Creating with other writers always sounds like fun. If you've been with any type of writing group, whether something formal or just a friend, you've brainstormed and come up with lots of nifty ideas. The energy in shared creativity can be intoxicating.
So intoxicating that writers don't stop and think about the business ramifications of publishing a joint project.
Laura Kirwan and I came into collaboration from a different angle than most writers. We were both attorneys at one point in our lives. So we were very aware that we needed an agreement in writing to cover our asses, aka a contract.
As Laura mentioned in her comment on Wednesday, we have a clause concerning acts of Murphy (feel free to substitute the deity of your choice). It acknowledges that we are both in positions of dealing with elderly family members, and frankly, shit can and does happen with them, or us. That goes back to how the actual writing is divided between us and what happens if one of us cannot fulfill her duties.
In most contracts, the parties to the contract agree to which state's law controls the contract (aka, choice of law). In most situations, each party tries to get their own state listed. When we first started talking about a collaboration, I was in the process of moving from Texas to Ohio and Laura lived in Arizona. So which state did we choose?
Yes, we picked the most inconvenient place for both of us to force us to come to an amicable decision over something we were at odds over. Though I really think our coin toss clause will solve most of our problems.
We decided whose imprint our joint books under which will be published. (Neither. We created a whole new imprint.) We decided how money will be handled. We also came up with a formula if one of us decides this isn't working and wants to buy out the other person.
These are the situations most writers don't want to think about when they're in the throes of a new relationship. But by shaking out the business bullshit well before hand, you can focus on writing the story.
For those of you who don't know, I'm currently working on a joint project with fantasy author Laura Kirwan. (If you want an older heroine, and many readers have said that they do, go read her books Impervious and Crushed.)
Laura and I are creating a series called 1-888-HERO about a couple of lawyers who specialize in superhero and supervillain legal problems. Writing with another person has been an education for me.
First of all, most writers live in their own heads. We build entire worlds, galaxies, even universes inside the couple of pounds of gray matter between our ears. It's hard enough conveying the complexity of our internal story to paper or pixels. To create a joint universe? That's taken a lot of talking, a lot of e-mails, and a little compromise. (We actually wrote into our contract that we flip a quarter if we hit a snag we can't resolve.)
The other problem? I'm one of those people labeled from an early age as "Doesn't play well with others." Seriously, my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Eaton actually wrote that on my report card. I know I can be a demanding bitch, so it's probably a good thing that Laura lives in Arizona and I'm in Ohio. But I like and respect Laura, so I'm trying very hard to rein in my natural tendencies.
Probably the scariest part of this collaboration is how much we think alike in terms of story. She was concerned I'd be upset about her adding secondary characters. One of them had been someone I thought we needed, but I didn't want to cross into my bossy territory and tell Laura what to write in her chapter. We're about twenty per cent into the first book, and so far we haven't had to flip that quarter. Yet.
We are writing alternate chapters. And it's been fun seeing what one of us comes up after the other's person cliffhanger.
After the debacle of selling the house in Houston, I think the most important part of this project is that I'm finding the joy in writing again.
Here's the deal. I've learned not to let this kind of crap bother me. Yes, it used to, but I also thought my normal bullshit meter didn't apply to the writing world. I was stupid. I was naïve.
I got over it.
There was one nasty comment. It popped up while I was online, so I caught and deleted right away. If you subscribe to comments, you may have gotten the notice. If so, delete the e-mail. I'm pretty sure it's the buddy of a former friend, who likes to troll me every once in a while. This person's crap has tapered off since I no longer associate with the former friend. Since I'm a non-Christian, I'm the equivalent of Al-Quaeda in their Tea Party minds. As GK would say, "What evs."
I received three e-mails from "friends" who are oh-so-worried about my incredibly bad decision to indie publish. But then, they've been worried for four years now. To a person, they said the same crap Kris mention on her original blog--no one will take me seriously if I write too fast. *cue eye roll*
The only person whose comment concerned me was my new writing partner, Laura Kirwan. We had a nice talk about expectations and writing speed, and I like to think we both walked away feeling a lot better about completing our joint project.
The funny thing about the November post? I didn't even mention the Alter Ego projects for 2015.
Can you imagine the eye-popping apoplexy some of these people would have if they knew? LOL
Controversy. There's always controversy on the interwebs, the latest being a blog post by La Nora Herself.
First of all, I admire her incredible work ethic and her prolific career.
Secondly, the reason I have one of her trilogies is the books were a gift from one of my legal secretaries, who knew I loved paranormal romances. I won't ever get rid of them because I appreciated my sectary's thoughtfulness.
Finally, I did learn quite a bit as far as craft went by reading her books.
Unfortunately, the lovely gift books weren't my normal taste. But I would never DREAM of going to Ms. Roberts' Facebook page or her blog and tell her they suck. That's her space for her fans.
And I'd like to think I'd never be so rude as to go into someone else's space and tell them they suck.
Yet a few weeks ago, someone did exactly that on Ms. Roberts' Facebook page. She laid out her policy regarding comments, only to have someone do it again on Christmas Eve when she was trying to spend time with her family and not think about work. So she reiterated her policy more firmly in a blog post entitled, "Bite Me". The gist of the post was that her blog and FB page were for her fans, and that any criticism or critique of her work is appropriately made in reviews.
For some strange reason, Ms. Roberts' post is causing a shitstorm among writers more than readers. How dare she alienate readers! How dare she think she's above criticism! By the way, none of which she actually said. The whole thing scarily reminds me of the Fake Geek Girl controversy last year, where certain people thought they should be the ones to decide who was a true sf/f fan and who wasn't.
My personal view is that Ms. Roberts is totally correct. Not that she needs my approval by any stretch of the imagination. But fan places are exactly that--fan places. No one has a right to determine who's allowed on a webpage except the administrator of that page. If you misbehave, you'll get blocked.
As for the people who feel the need to express their negative opinions? They can have their opinions. No one is saying they can't. And there's plenty of places where they can express that opinion. But when you deliberately go to a fan site and diss the thing people are fans of, the only reason you're doing it is to cause trouble.
There's a phrase for people like that--DRAMA QUEENS.
Oh, and before you decide to comment here with some bullshit about your First Amendment rights, you'd better be prepared to cite the particular federal case you're using to support your argument. Otherwise, I WILL delete your comment.
Far-Fetched Fables is the fantasy portion of the District of Wonders series of podcasts. Last year, I was contacted by the editor, Nicola Seaton-Clark , about one of my stories. Podcast No. 38 contains the audio version of my short story "Justice" that was originally published in Sword and Sorceress 28 back in November of 2013.
If you didn't catch "Justice" the first time around, you can listen to it or download the podcast for free from the Far-Fetched Fables website or download it from iTunes.
And definitely check out the District of Wonders other podcasts!
As I've said previously, I wrote very little and published only one thing in 2014. That doesn't mean I haven't been keeping up with industry news. By participating for little, I've gained a different perspective.
Some stuff I already knew. Like the fact that the publishing industry runs on fear. When you let fear overwhelm you, you're not going to make the best decisions.
Have you ever watched It's a Wonderful Life? At one point, the Bedford Falls bank is on the verge of failing. Potter, the richest man in town, bails out the bank. When the financial panic spreads to George's building and loan, Potter offers to buy the B&L's shares for fifty cents on the dollar.
George: "Don't you see what's happening? Potter isn't selling. Potter's buying! Why? Because we're panicking and he's not. That's why. He's picking up some bargains."
Amazon's launch of Kindle Unlimited (KU) has engendered a lot of fear in writers. There's all kinds of rants online about how Amazon turned its back in indies. There's a lot of glee from the Amazon naysayers too, in the form of "I told ya so!"
Let's break the business side down.
1) Amazon already had a lending function for the Kindle, i.e. if I buy an ebook from Amazon, I can lend it one time to one friend or family member for a maximum of two weeks. The writer/publisher only got paid for my initial buy, but it was a way for me to share really good books.
2) Amazon then started the Kindle Lending Library as part of their Amazon Prime program (currently $99). I can borrow one book per month from writers/publishers who put their books into the KLL program. In return, writer/publisher received a pro-rated payout based on the total borrows per month if they were in the KDP Select program. Bigger publishers that Amazon convinced to be included in KLL would receive their normal retail share per borrow.
3) In 2013, two companies, Scribd (which was notorious for pirated books and is trying to go straight) and Oyster, created subscription services. I could borrow as many books as I wanted for $8.99 to $9.99 per month depending on which service I choose.
4) Never one to be outmaneuvered, Amazon enfolded KLL into the newly created KU last summer. Amazon Prime members are still restricted to one borrow per month unless they cough up an additional $9.99 for unlimited borrows. Non-Prime members can enroll in KU only for the same $9.99. Again writers/publishers in KDP Select are paid from a pool of money and their share is based on their borrows vs. total borrows for the month.
I have no doubt that Amazon's creation of KU was in response to Scribd and Oyster's new revenue stream.
So, there's a number of concerns and fears:
1) Are subscription service viable in the long run?
That really depends on the readers. I currently have five novels in both Scribd and Oyster via Smashwords. The retail price of each novel is $2.99. If a reader borrows all five from Scribd, then Scribd pays out $2.09 per novel or a total of $10.45, which is more than their monthly fee from a reader.
Both Scribd and Oyster are gambling that each subscription holder will borrow less than that per month. In fact, in a recent press announcement concerning the $22 million on venture capital Scribd raised, the CEO stated that Scribd subscribers borrow less than one book a month.
Amazon took a different approach by pro-rating writer/publisher income shares that ensures that they make money regardless of the number of borrows.
2) Why do writer/publishers view borrowing and buying as equals?
Honestly, I really don't get this one because they are not equal. Just because someone borrowed or bought another book doesn't mean they will buy yours. A lot of readers are on limited incomes. If they perceive the subscription service as a better deal then they'll pay for that. For that matter, they may go to the library.
3) Is participating in a subscription service worth it?
I weigh the exposure I get from each retailer or service versus the payout I receive versus my time and money dealing with that retailer or service. I've donated books to libraries at their request. I have put my books in some subscription services and not others. I have put my books in some retailers and not others.
There's no right, and definitely no perfect, answer for every writer. I experiment because I've found I do well in areas where others don't. YMMV.
4) Is the income subscription services receive worth alienating the vendors?
I do think Amazon made a critical mistake in their rush to jump into the monthly subscription venue. They didn't raise the payment pool significantly when they went from one book/month/person to unlimited books/month/person. A lot of writer/publishers saw a massive drop in their per book share of income.
5) Is the drop in book sales over the last six months due to KU?
Yes, there was also a drop in book sales at that period, but I don't think it was all KU. KU launched in late July of last year. For the last four years that I've been publishing, my sales crash with the start of school in late August to Thanksgiving. That's because (1) my primary buyers (women) are busy as hell between kids and holidays, and (2) the BPHs release what they hope to be their bestsellers through Christmas. I'm not saying KU didn't affect sales, but I think its a minor reason for what is the normal seasonal sales slump.
6) Can putting only shorter works in KU help raise a writer's income?
There's been public statements from writers that they are pulling their novels off KU. if not pulling out of KU entirely.
In theory, shorter works would bring in more income, but the question you have to ask yourself is can you do without pissing off the readers. Too many folks are breaking up a larger work in order to make more money through more borrows. There's already a backlash in book buying with the numerous writers who end a novella or novel with a cliffhanger. Readers feel tricked into buying the next book, and many times will refuse to read that author any more.
Short stories are doable in KU, but again, are they complete and fulfilling?
* * *
I think the real problem is that too many writers/publishers rely on Amazon (and Amazon's exclusivity requirements) as their only means of income. Going all in with one source of income is never a good idea as a business. Often, these same people are ones howling the loudest about Amazon's switch from KLL to KU.
I also think that we need more data to determine how KU, or any subscription service, is affecting the market. There's also the factor that the BPHs are signing up with Scribd and Oyster, but not KU.
What else is going to change in the publishing arena in 2015? I don't know, and quite frankly, anyone who says they know are either lying or smoking some primo weed. KU isn't the end-all-be-all in publishing, so saying it's ruining the industry is right up there with e-book sales are stable at 25%.
I think all subscription services are going to help expand readership if used judiciously. If you don't like what they are doing, then there's always the option of removing your books from them.
Provided you can't because you signed away all your right to begin with.