Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Why I Love Websites that Pay Writers Like Crap

What I really want to talk about is capitalizing on your strengths.  Based on my own, I really do love websites that pay writers like crap.  I'm not saying you should love them.  Most people who make their livings as writers either hate them or, at best, have a love/hate relationship with them:  they provide an easy way to get writing work, which is better than flipping burgers, but the pay is probably worse.  More established writers lament, not without justification, the way these sites deflate market rates.

The reason I love these sites is the flipside of the reason most writers hate them.  They're very lucrative for me.

See, I know my strengths as a writer, and two of them are that I'm very fast and that I don't agonize.  So while I agree in theory that it's an insult to offer a professional $8 or even $17 for a 500 word article, my hourly rate cranking out these articles often exceeds my standard freelancing rate of $50/hour.  

A friend recently suggested that I was somehow cheating the system; he believed that the agencies that used these sites intended to pay writers minimum wage or less.  Because they didn't know how fast I was, he felt that I was sort of tricking them into paying me more.  But I don't think those clients care how much I'm making an hour.  I think they want a decent-quality article for a few bucks, and that if I can provide that they don't care whether it took me two hours or two minutes to produce.  

I know there will be writers who think I should refrain from making $40-60/hour on these sites because they're not lucrative for most writers, and I'm not even going to address that here. We can talk about it in the comments or another post if you wish, but I've written quite a bit already about writing for cheap/free and why my views differ from conventional wisdom in the industry.  

What I'm getting at here is that what constitutes a "good gig" for one writer isn't necessarily what pays off for another, and that rather than thinking in terms of a black and white generally accepted hierarchy, anyone who wants to make a living as a writer should figure out what his or her strengths are and then find the market or the job or the niche that makes those skills most profitable.

For me, content production sites are easy work that isn't especially interesting or demanding, but offers flexibility and quick payment.  I wouldn't want to do that kind of writing all day every day, but a few hours a week provides a nice little supplement with very little investment.  

What's your secret strength?

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Self-Publishing Fiction - A Whole New Ballgame

Back in 2008, I wrote about self-publishing fiction, and my view was pretty negative. I wasn't a self-publishing naysayer by any stretch--in 2001 I made a significant profit on a self-published non-fiction book. At the time, though, it was pretty rare for a self-published book that didn't fit a specific niche with an easily-targeted market to generate a profit.

That hasn't changed.

Though self-publishing models are rapidly evolving and opportunities expanding, the bottom line is that most self-published books just don't sell a whole lot of copies. Some of the reasons for that include:
  • A wariness about quality that makes some readers hesitant to take a chance on a new-to-her author if the book is self-published;
  • Actual quality problems with a lot of self-published books--a self-published book isn't required to pass through an editor, and many don't.; and
  • Writing a good book is the easy part compared with marketing and promoting your book amidst a sea of other titles.
One big thing has changed, though: the risk. Back in 2008, print on demand options (POD) were newer and more limited. The cost per book was higher and depending on the company you used, you might have a minimum order. That meant, in most cases, shelling out cash to get started.

Depending on the service you use, that may still be required. But there are other options, options that don't require you to invest a dime up front. When it comes to print books, even those options have drawbacks: your cost per book will still require pricing that's outside the typical range of a large publisher. For example, if I were to publish a 200 page romance novel through CreateSpace, Amazon's self-publishing POD division, I'd have to price the book at about $5.50 just to break even on $5.50 is in range for a book like that, but if you want to actually turn a profit, you'll have to mark it up even further--and that's only for sales on In the expanded distribution network that makes your book more widely available, the break-even price is about $8.15--far too high for a book of that length and type to be competitive, even without building in a profit.

So why have I changed my mind about self-publishing fiction? It boils down to Kindle Direct Publishing, the Amazon option that allows you to upload a book directly to the Kindle store. That's it. If you're just publishing the e-book for Kindle, you don't even need an ISBN. No up front costs, a little bit of formatting, a quick upload, and your book is available in the Kindle store.

Of course, no one will see it, let alone buy it. But it's there, quickly and for free.

And then the games begin.

I uploaded my romance novel, Homecoming, to the Kindle store on January 9. The day I uploaded the novel, I posted about it on Facebook (where I have a relatively small number of friends--I don't use Facebook for marketing), but didn't do any other promotion. A handful of people, undoubtedly all friends and relatives, bought the book over the next few days. And then nothing.

From what I've read, it seems that's the end of the cycle for many self-published novels. More for the sake of experiment than to revive this book, I agreed to the 90-day Kindle exclusive and offered the book free for 24 hours.

In that 24 hours, 1352 people downloaded the book.

"So what?" you might be saying. "You didn't make any money on those books." That's true. But that was okay with me, for a couple of reasons. One was that I have another romance novel almost done, and I figured that giving one away for free would be a good way to build an audience for that one...and the next, and the next. The other was that I suspected--though I was only guessing--that making the book available for free would make it more visible even after the free download period ended. That turned out to be true: the book started appearing in "people who purchased this book also purchased" and such, and strangers started to buy it.

It was only a handful of strangers; it was still nothing to set the world on fire. But an interesting cycle started. Because sales of most books in the Kindle store are so low, it only took a handful of books each day to boost my sales ranking. Oh, I didn't make it into the top 100 or anything; the highest ranking I've reached thus far was about 16,000. But that's apparently high enough to once again increase visibility. And that increased visibility draws a couple of additional sales, which in turn bump my sales ranking.

Right now, with no more effort than I've just described, I'm making about $12/day on the book. I'm not quitting my day job yet. But the sale numbers are increasing slightly every day, and even at $12/day this book is on track to pull in a few hundred dollars a month. That's certainly enough to have made it worthwhile to invest the five hours or so it took me to get the book formatted, uploaded, my account created, and formulate my strategy. And that's before factoring in the impact on sales of the next book, which will be available mid-February.

More to come as I see whether the numbers taper off or continue to grow, and how adding books to the mix changes things.

Friday, January 13, 2012

What I've Learned about Kindle Publishing Thus Far

Over the past few days, I've been paying close attention to whatever data I could gather regarding sales and ranking. Though this is conjecture based on incomplete data, it appears to me that of the 478,000+ books currently available in the Kindle store, nearly 400,000 don't sell any copies on the average day and another 40,000+ sell about two copies.

On the first day Homecoming was listed, I reached the top 8% in terms of sales ranking after selling just five books.

In a sense, this isn't surprising. We know that most self-published books, even in these days of easy and inexpensive self-publishing, don't make money. We also know that most people who write books and put them out there haven't given much thought to marketing and don't really know how to promote their books (or don't have the time to invest). And finally, not every book is going to sell copies through this one outlet every day.

This cuts both ways for those considering self-publishing to Kindle. On the one hand, it appears that you're not really in competition with 478,000 other books--at least, not if you plan to do some strategic promotion of your book rather than simply relying on browsers finding it in the Kindle store. On the other, it means that the vast majority of books--particularly fiction books that fall into broad genres like Romance or SciFi--will never be seen by the typical shopper. Even the edge that should go to new publications is lost because sorting by publication date yields several pages of not-yet-released even if your book was published two minutes ago, it's likely to be several pages deep in the listings.

It's early in the game, and I will be doing quite a bit more monitoring and playing with different variables, promotions, etc., but thus far my conclusion is very similar to the one I offered about self-publishing in hard copy back in 2008: it can be successful if you have a niche topic that people are searching for, if your audience is concentrated, if your name or brand is already known or if you have the time and skills (and possibly cash) necessary to conduct your own marketing campaign. If not, only one element of the analysis has changed: if you use a system like Kindle Direct Publishing, it won't cost you anything to test it out.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Self-Publishing Fiction Revisited

Back in 2008, I wrote a long post about self-publishing fiction, why I'd always been against it and why I was nonetheless considering it.

In the intervening years, I never did self-publish that novel (despite a very successful history of self-publishing non-fiction) and I also didn't make much of an effort to get it published through traditional channels.

Usually, ignoring things doesn't make them better, but in this case that turned out not to be true. For authors considering self-publishing, we're living in an entirely different world from the one we lived in four years ago. That's true for a number of reasons: the growing popularity of e-books, the increasing availability of POD arrangements that don't require a huge investment from the author up front and, most recently, Kindle Direct.

So, I decided last week to take that old romance novel and make it available on Kindle Direct. The process was unbelievably easy; I set out to get it done mid-afternoon yesterday and it's live on sale right now.

In the next couple of weeks, I'll be writing a lot more about the process of uploading, marketing, and whether or not I'd recommend this route for publishing fiction--right now it's too early to tell anything except that getting a book formatted and listed is a breeze.