Monday, December 21, 2015

Yes, Amazon is My Friend

I’ve been feeling a little depressed lately, wondering what the point of life is. We have so little time on this planet before we all pass into oblivion and… wait! I just checked my KDP sales page and I sold a copy of my book! Yaaayyy! Life is great again!

Okay, so actually I haven’t been depressed and I almost never ponder the meaning of life. But I sure was thrilled to see someone bought my novel! One silly sale shouldn’t mean anything. At 99 cents, I’m only going to see a profit of 35 cents. But I have to say, maybe I’m just an easily amused simpleton, but I still get such a kick out of this crazy self-publishing thing. It makes me very happy to know my story is out in the world and people can buy it. Especially when someone does. And I owe it all to Amazon.

Oh, sure, much of what makes it possible is the internet, computers and the digital revolution. (Not to mention my own efforts in writing the darned thing.) But that particular sale can pretty much be completely credited completely to Amazon. Technically, thanks to the internet, I could offer my book for sale on my own website as a PDF, but the odds of someone signing up their credit card, or even using Paypal, for a 99 cent purchase of a plain old PDF on a stray blogger’s site is pretty much nil. I suppose its also possible, if my book was available on some other book distributor, it might have sold too, but even those sites only stepped up their game to support self-publishers in response to Amazon’s success. (Prior to Amazon they all required either fees to publish, like Bookbaby, or required going through an aggregator who took a cut, like iBooks.) Not to mention, other distributors sales are still a drop in the bucket compared to the Zon. I don’t know if someone decided to buy Eve’s Hungry after a recommendation by someone else who had read it, or because of my modest promotional efforts on social media, or if they just stumbled on it through Amazon’s very useful search features. But I know that the convenience and trust of Amazon’s Kindle sales and distribution platform played a huge part in them clicking that purchase button.

The best part is that one little 99 cent sale instantly propelled my novel from a Kindle sales rank number below 1.4 million right up to #120,614! Amazon has over 12 million books available, so my book is close to being in the top selling 1%! Which is a huge boost to my ego. My book is more popular than almost 12 million other ebooks and a mere 120,000 (in the world!) are selling better.

Well… actually no. Amazon calculates it sales rank based a rather complex (and secret) formula that takes into consideration not just pure sales numbers, but also sales “velocity.” Sales rank climbs very rapidly for a book with a low sales history (or a history of no sales), and very slowly for a book with a recent history of high sales frequency. So in all likelihood, there are many, many more ebooks that are selling in far greater numbers (and at higher prices) than Eve’s Hungry at the time of that single sale. Of course, while sales velocity will bump a low selling book up the chart fairly quickly, if the book doesn’t keep selling it will start back down again. So I have to enjoy my sales rank bump while I can. But I’m a “cup is half-full” kind of guy, so even if it goes down, then it just gives me a chance to get all excited when it goes up next time.

The other great thing about Amazon’s sales ranking is that it breaks books down into a variety of categories, so in addition to being ranked in the top 200,000 overall, Eve’s Hungry was at #1828 in Science Fiction, #1357 in General Humor, and all the way up to #45 in LGBT Science Fiction. Critics of Amazon make fun of all these various categories and point out, correctly, that it’s possible for people to game the system with a few sales and end up with what is technically a “#1 Amazon Bestseller.” But what the heck is wrong with that? It’s not like the New York Times best seller list isn’t gamed (and corrupt). You just have to be rich to buy your way to the top of that. Amazon gives the little guy a chance to win by carefully selecting a genre subset and using some smart promotion. And why not give a new writer a marketing tool by being able to claim (even if it was only temporary) a #1 status in a genre? Who exactly does that hurt? If it draws a readers interest, they might be thrilled to find something new. If they don't like the blurb, or the sample, they can move on, or even get a full refund if they start reading and don’t like it.

Now, there are plenty of good business reasons for Amazon to rely on “velocity” rather than pure sales, and also to add in as many categories as possible to give indy writers a shot at #1 bragging rights. It’s in Amazon’s interests not to have all the lists of top sellers dominated by the same books every day that readers might have already purchased or made a firm decision not to. It helps readers and Amazon to have frequent churn in the top selling lists. It also provides a lot of incentive for indy writers to keep writing and keep marketing, which means sales. Amazon’s exclusive deals with self-publishers are not only an asset to making money and keeping readers but also leverage in negotiations with big publishers. Still, while there are solid business reasons for Amazon to be so supportive of the struggling indy writer with low sales, it’s still very… nice. And I sure as heck appreciate it.

Last year, a bunch of Amazon haters, including writers with traditional publishing deals and pundits dining on big publisher’s expense accounts, warned self-publishers that “Amazon isn’t your friend.” It was a stupid, illogical, meaningless meme, undoubtedly cooked up in a PR spin room with the hope of turning indy writers against Amazon during the Hatchette/Amazon contract dispute. The indy community responded by patiently explaining that, no, we aren’t stupid, we understood that Amazon was a corporation and is just trying to make a buck like all businesses. Unfortunately, the meme did succeed in sucking some of the air out of the truth. Which is, while Amazon might not be a human “friend,” and some day it's business interests might change, right now it’s one hell of a business friend to indies.

Because, even though there are business reasons for Amazon to go out of its way to try to help self-publishers, there are plenty of business reasons not to. Amazon could, like Google and You Tube, focus on free content and give short shift to helping writers get paid. They could, like Apple, be far more focused on making deals with big corporations and major stars rather than helping out the little guy. And don’t think those big corporations haven’t noticed and aren’t happy about Amazon’s embrace of indies. There have been more than a few hints that the big publishers would like to dictate to Amazon how sales ranks are determined. More than one traditional publisher has floated the idea of segregating indies into a ghetto were they can’t be found. I firmly believe that much of the efforts by the traditional publishing community to get the government involved in “saving” literature is their hope that they can somehow force Amazon to tweak their search engines and rankings to be more favorable to the “right” kinds of books. Books by big publishers rather than indies.

Now, Amazon is not perfect, and not everything they do is going to make every indy writer happy.  Self-publishing is also hard, and if you're expecting overnight success you're going to be disappointed. But seriously, if you’re a self-publisher trying to make it in this crazy big writing world, Amazon is really is your best friend.

Friday, November 6, 2015

How to Write a Press Release for Your Self-Published Book and Why You Should

As I talked about in a previous post, I decided against trying to mount a big PR campaign (or even a tiny one) for the launch of my first self-published novel, Eve’s Hungry. After much fretting, I decided to focus my spare energies on completing another ebook. I did, however, do one thing to promote Eve’s Hungry about a month after I launched it. I ran a Kindle Countdown Deal, which was as easy as clicking a few buttons and picking dates.

Then I wrote a press release to announce it.

Now, of all the things I might do to promote my book, search for reviewers, do an online launch party, stage a promotional contest, work the heck out of social media, etc., writing a press release might seem like a big waste of time. If I’m not going to really promote the book, who cares about a press release? Why would anyone bother to read a press release about one more Kindle Countdown deal for one more self-published ebook? Moreover, in this internet era, aren’t press releases kind of hopelessly old school?

Well, I’m kind of an old school type of guy. During my many years in Los Angeles as a jack of all trades writer/consultant, I’ve written several press releases for independent films and startup companies. I learned how to do it from some old school PR type publicity people. One of the things I learned is that if you’re planning to promote ANYTHING, having a press release really is important. The last thing you want is for some reporter to stumble upon your film/startup/book, offer to write about it, ask for a press release, and then find yourself scrambling to write one quickly. If you don’t already have it ready to go, by the time you scramble to put one together, they might have lost interest.

Admittedly, the kind of reporters likely to ask for press releases are a fading demographic. These days more and more people are getting their news from bloggers who probably have as much interest in press releases as they do in having a fedora with a card that says “PRESS” in the brim. But there are still enough traditionally trained journalists, traditional newspapers and news services, that I believe it is still worthwhile. Moreover, even a non-traditionally trained blogger will probably find a press release helpful if they decide to write about your self-published book. It never hurts to offer it up. And as I said, it’s something you want to have ready BEFORE someone shows an interest in your project.

Finally, like everything else related to text and media, the internet offers unlimited self-space, world wide reach and easy search that allow even old school stuff to be disseminated quickly to a broad audience and be available in an instant for basically forever. So that press release you send out today, might come in handy to someone writing about your book ten years from now.

Writing a good press release is hard, but even a bad one is better than nothing. Below is a link to a great post explaining the basic form. It also has links (which I used) to a press release template and good suggestions on where to send it when you’re done.


I pretty much followed the suggested template and then wrote a press release for Eve’s Hungry which I posted, per their suggestion, on a separate blog so I could have a clean link to it.  Below is my version.  (Note that I don't bother to mention the book had already been out for a month.)


Then I took Duolit's advice and submitted it to a suggested press release distribution website, It’s free and easy to use. Here’s what my press release looks like when they published it:


Kind of cool and official looking, huh? What’s nice about a well written press release, distributed in this way, is that it doesn’t look like self-promotion. Sure, it’s promotion, but it looks like it’s coming from a promotional agency or team, not from some guy working out of his garage. That’s why you write it in third person and include “quotes” as if you were interviewed by someone else. In addition to submitting it to, I directly emailed the press release to about a dozen writers for various Apple news sites, because that’s my target audience.

And what was the result? Well, I actually think it was pretty spectacular given my low expectations. Technology Tell reporter Kirk Hiner wrote a very nice post about it, based primarily on my press release (he never directly contacted me). Here it is:


This, to me, is exactly the kind of article you’re hoping to get from a press release. The reporter includes all the key information about the book, throws in quotes from the author (me), and added some personal commentary of his own. This was a win/win for both of us. My press release did most of the leg work, by providing him with all the information and quotes in a simple and organized way. Then it was easy enough for him to add his own take, and zip, send it out on his blog and move on to the next story. (And this being the internet, it was mirrored on other sites like THIS.)

Now, I don’t know exactly the size of the audience for Technology Tell, but what's great is that if you google “Eve’s Hungry” now, the Technology Tell article comes up third, right under the Amazon listing for the ebook and my own Eve’s Hungry website. And that’s exactly the way I would like it. If someone is curious, Kink Hiner’s article provides a quick overview of what the book is about.

But isn’t all that information on the Amazon listing? Some of it is. But my Amazon listing is kind of a hard sell and has to be short and sweet. The thing about a press release, and the hoped for articles based on it, is that it has a “just the facts” quality that appears to be more “objective.” It can include a little more detail that wouldn’t work well on the Amazon sales page. For example, I explain my motivations for writing the novel and it’s history as a blog series. That’s the kind of background material that might just confuse (or bore) someone who is debating clicking on the sale button. Yet, ulitimately, it's good to get as much material out on the internet about your book as possible.

So, did this particular article result in a huge sales spike for Eve’s Hungry? No. Overall, I only sold a few ebooks thanks to the Countdown deal and I have no way of telling how many might have been because of the press release coverage. Probably a couple.

So has it worth the time and bother for just a few sales? Yes, absolutely. For starters, it’s nice to have that article out there on the internet. It makes me feel a little more like a real author. (Nothing wrong with feeling validated.) On top of that, long term, I’m hoping that when people search for Eve’s Hungry, they'll think I'm a real author, one with a press team. (Or an author who at least has their act together.) In terms of search optimization, it's nice that Google suggests more than couple links for Eve’s Hungry. And, of course, if someone inquires in the future, I’m ready not only with my original press release but now there's an independent article about me and my book, including interview quotes, that I can send them a link too.

Eventually, when I've written more ebooks, I plan to put in more effort (and maybe money) into promoting them in other ways. But the great thing about a press release, like writing a novel, is that once it's done, it's done. You have it whenever you need it. A lot of other kinds of promotion comes and goes. But your press release can live on and be reused or revised. (And it's FREE.) So even though I'm more focused on creating new content, it was worth getting it out of the way now. And while the end result was only one news article, if the book takes off some day, other reporters will be checking out that story and it will provide background for their own takes.

I would, however, keep expectations low for press releases. There are a lot of sites that charge for distributing them, and frankly, I don’t think it’s worth spending any money on special distribution. (PRlog also offers premium/paid services, but I’m not sure they are worth it.)

Lastly, putting on my “PRESS” fedora, I suggest you don’t just include the basic facts in your press release, but really think about what kind of “spin” you can put on your ebook announcement so it helps your long term promotional goals. What is the story you’re trying to tell with the press release? Beyond the launch and sales price? What are you trying to get people to feel about your book? In the case of Eve’s Hungry, the story I was pitching about the novel is that no one has really been able to capture the spirit of Steve Jobs in a non-fiction biography, and maybe the only way to do it was in a fictional story like… Eve’s Hungry. And darned if reporter Kirk Hiner didn’t run with that angle.  That's what a good press release is supposed to do.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

FREE Kindle Download of Eve's Hungry

I'm testing out all the marketing tools of Amazon's KDP Select and one of the things people say can work well is using free days. Amazon gives books in Select five free days. I wanted to try just one to see what would happen, but what day?

Hyper Geek Press CEO (and Brazilian MMA fight champion) Conceição Cohen suggested International Left Handers day.  Cohen is left-handed, which she says is actually an advantage in most fights.  And since Cohen is the inspiration for Eve, it sounded like a great idea.

So here it is, one day only, Eve's Hungry is a free download.  Snatch it up and tell your friends:

Friday, June 19, 2015

My Big Huge (Not) Self-Published eBook Launch Party!

I published by first novel, Eve's Hungry, but I'm sure you’ve already heard the internet buzzing endlessly about it. Oh, you haven’t? You haven't been reading all the coverage of my epic blog tour? You haven't seen all the tweets and retweets and retweeted retweets? How about that massive paid advertising campaign for my huge Facebook campaign packed with giveaways and incentives? No? Then surely you've run across my many viral book promotion videos on YouTube, Vimeo, vSocial and jumpcut? Or perhaps my clever Pinterest graphic poster campaign? No? All the reviews on eZines? No? My incessant email blasts? No?

Well, maybe that's because I didn't do any of that. Here's what I actually did for my big huge ebook launch: I put my book up on Kindle. That's pretty much it. I designed a cover, I wrote a sales blurb for Amazon’s listing, I plugged in the metadata as best I could and choose a sale price. I then bought one myself to double check the formatting. I send out a tweet and a quick post.  That's pretty much it.

I had been thinking about doing a lot more. In fact, I had been getting a little panicked about the idea that if I didn't do a ton of pre-launch promotion (spending a lot of time and money) I would doom my beautiful novel forever. After all, the internet is packed with advice from various bloggers saying it's critical to have a big launch and make a huge splash or your sales will never take off. Many say you have a very short window (30 days) to get your book noticed when it first gets on Amazon. If you can sell enough books in the first few days, Amazon's sales rankings will kick in and then you can mint money. Otherwise, it will disappear in the glut of ebooks and be lost for the end of time

There’s no question a well run launch campaign can work. Steven Konkoly and Bobby Akart held a launch party just last weekend for their new thriller The Loyal Nine. It was as well organized as military commando operation, with a Google hangout, Facebook launch party page, video feed, prizes, not to mention an in-depth website that fills in the background of is likely to be a series of six books. (One that screams television mini-series.) I bought a copy, checked out the live feed and watched in awe as, in a single afternoon, the novel jumped up the Amazon rankings from #25,000 to #5,000 to #1 in political thrillers.  (It's currently at #10.)

But Steven is an accomplished writer and a very experienced self-publisher with a great catalog of books and even a popular Kindle World offering. Not to mention a former active duty Naval officer who worked with elite military units. It’s only Bobby Akart’s second book, but he’s someone who had a dual bachelor's degree, masters and law degree before he was twenty three and moved onto a legal career in international banking. They completely disprove the meme that self-publishers are unemployed losers who can't get past literary agent’s slush piles.  These are two accomplished individuals who know how to get complicated things done. In college, I was trying to top John Blutarsky’s record before I dropped out to make money charging people to install Flying Toasters on their Macs. There’s no way I could pull off something like what Steven and Bobby did by myself.

But surely I could have done something more than simply publish and walk off. I couldn’t have jumped up to the top of the chart like they did, but why not at least try to make those early rankings work for you when fewer sales might take you higher?

When I started my novel, I vowed that I would see it simply as an experiment in self-expression and not worry about sales. There is a lot of competition out there in the the growing ebook world, and it bound to be tough to get my first book noticed. I promised myself to keep my expectations reasonable. I’m not looking to quit my day job and live off of ebook sales. (My day job isn’t so bad.) However, coming from a freelance business background, I couldn’t help but be interested in how to encourage sales, and wonder if there was a way to make the book profitable. Over the three years it took me to finish it, I read a lot of advice about ebook publishing, much of it contradictory. I find it fun to geek out about self-publishing strategy and have read tons of posts on the subject and several books. I’m always interested in different writer’s opinions about the best way to publish and promote.

So bear with me if I geek out a little here about my own, completely untested and possibly very unwise, strategies.

As my book neared completion, I had to get serious about exactly when I would publish it on Kindle and make choices about things like going exclusive with Amazon (which I did) and pricing strategy (my book is priced on the high end for self-published novels at $5.99). At that point, I also had to really think about whether or not I wanted special marketing efforts for the “launch.” I spent many a sleepless night worrying about what kind of ebook promotion made the most sense. What worked and what didn't work? What did it all cost and was there enough of a payoff? What was the minimum you needed to do? What was the most clever way to launch? How do you break through the clutter?

I worried about this so much it was a big distraction from the real reason I got so excited about self-publishing, which was, to PUBLISH MY NOVEL. It got in the way of me finishing my novel, and focusing on the important things like polishing, proofing, and proper formatting. Should I try to figure out how much it would cost to advertise the launch on Facebook? Or should I recheck the spelling of exotic locations and make sure I wasn't overusing adverbs?

Finally, I made a decision. I junked any thought of a big launch campaign until I was totally, completely done polishing my novel, and then, I quickly decided to junk the idea of doing any real promotion before launch. Not just because I wanted to make sure I wasn't distracted (or because I was too lazy) but the more I thought about it, the more I decided I didn't like the very idea that I had to do a lot of pre-launch publicity.

Pre-launch publicity, and a set launch window, is the fundamental marketing model in the traditional publishing industry. I know this from reading traditionally published writers who complain strongly about it. Basically, in traditional publishing, writers would have about a four week sales window when their book is launched and widely available in bookstores. If it doesn't sell well in that short window, they are screwed. It is likely their book would soon disappear from shelves and eventually go out of print. While there are some real world justifications for that business model in traditional publishing, much of is simply for the convenience of publishing executives who want to move quickly from book to book and aren’t that invested in the long term career of any specific writer, particularly a new writer.

In self-publishing, long term career advancement should be a writer’s primary concern. And the ability of a self-publisher to look at the long term, and avoid short term compromises, is a key strategic advantage of the little guy competing against big corporations. Getting sucked into a traditional publishing launch model seems to me to be philosophically wrong. So even if there might be some short term sales advantage to a big launch, I’m kind of against it in principle.

“Philosophically against big launches in principle?” Am I being too high minded here? Isn't the point to sell books? Shouldn't results be all that matters? Long term, isn’t selling more books better, regardless of how you do it? Well, no.

As someone who has done a lot of work in the entertainment industry (after my Flying Toaster days), including career consulting with various artists like filmmakers and actors, one of the biggest dangers in creative careers is burn out. There really is an argument for slow and steady wins the race. The artist who rushes into too many projects and over extends themselves trying to promote can simply get exhausted or discouraged. They can give up or lose focus and stumble. That isn’t to say that hard work isn’t necessary, but it’s best if that work is clearly productive and has measurable results. And even better if it focuses on the artist’s strengths and what they enjoy doing.

I’ve encountered the same thing working with tech startups that rush into business without being clear which direction they are heading or what is at the finish line. The good and bad thing about the internet is there is literally no end to what you can do. Back in the fifties, the owner of a brick and mortar store would have a limited number of places they could advertise: the local newspaper, the local TV station, limited signage opportunities. The owner of a factory would have a limited number of buyers to sell to, and a limited number of suppliers. Much of what worked and what didn’t work in those limited parameters was common knowledge. All of that has changed because of the internet, particularly with creative endeavors. There is no end to different ways to enhance your book, through professional covers, editors, proof readers, formatters, aggregators and no end in to all the ways you market it, with social media, paid advertising, publicity consultants and written, video and graphic promotional material. What works and what doesn’t work is constantly changing. This is why lots of creative startups end up spending a ton of money and time before finding out there is a limited market for whatever they are promoting, and end up shutting down at a big loss.

If there are unlimited creative ways I can spend money, or even just time, promoting my book, where do I concentrate my efforts? Here’s the advice I would give another artist and plan to take myself:

1. Try to focus as much time as you can on things that you enjoy doing.

2. Focus on efforts that deliver measurable results.

3. Prioritize what gives the best return for time and money spent.

4. Favor efforts that are repeatable and scalable.

So, for example, cold calling every acquaintance I know and begging them to buy my book during a launch window would probably deliver some measurable results, and might even be a good return on time and money. But I wouldn’t enjoy doing that. It’s also not very scalable. My list of acquaintances (as opposed to a real fan base) isn’t going to grow that much and might even shrink if I keep begging them to buy my books. And it might not be repeatable. How many times can I put the squeeze on people before they stop answering my calls?

What about handing out swag at a sci-fi convention? If I hand out colorful promotional stickers to the crowd, is it possible a small percentage will buy my ebooks and justify the time and cost? Let’s say it did. Let’s even say I enjoyed mixing it up with the sci-fi fan base. How repeatable and scalable is it? How many sci-fi conventions are there? How often would I be able to attend them? If two days of handing out stickers sells 50 books, do I really want to go to 10 conventions in the hopes of selling 500 books? At what point would I get burnt out and give up on that approach, even though I invested time and money testing it out and learning how it worked? Moreover, what’s the likelihood that it wouldn’t pay off in the first place? What are the chances that I would spend money on stickers and end up selling no books? Pretty good.

Much of marketing and promotion is guess work. It’s hard to know what will work. You have to assume much of what you do won’t work. But you also have to think about what will happen if it does work. Is it something you want to keep repeating? Is it something you can expand? So while, in the excitement of finishing my first book, the idea of handing out stickers to sell a few copies doesn’t seem so bad, I can’t really see it being something I want to do on a regular basis. And I can't really see how it could be something that could lead to a lot of sales.

Instead of spending a $100 on stickers, I could spend $100 on an Amazon KDP select advertising campaign. It also might not work, but if it did work, it is certainly something that is repeatable and scalable. If $100 leads to $200 in sales, then $500 might lead to $1,000 in sales. Not to mention it takes little time and effort to set up. So it seems better to test that out before heading off to a sci-fi convention.

While there are still more questions than answers about what is effective in the way of ebook promotion, many successful authors seem to agree on a few things that consistently work:

Mailing lists. If you can build up a good mailing list, it helps sells books to your fan base.

Bookbub. Bookbub seems to work more often than not, and sometimes work incredibly well. But it’s expensive and hard to get placement.

Kindle Countdowns and Free Promotions. Many argue that making your book free doesn’t work as well as it used to, but others say it’s still a great way to promote your work. Kindle countdowns are a newer development, but generally people think they can boost sales.

Finally, the thing almost everyone agrees is the best way to boost sales is:

PUBLISH ANOTHER BOOK. I’ve repeatedly heard experienced authors say that publishing another book helps boosts sales of your older books. Now, what the hell could be better than that? If you like writing, writing more sells more? Great! It’s staggering to me that with all the complaints about “too many writers” and “too many books,” successful self-publishers almost all say exactly the same thing: “more books equals more sales.”

Which brings me back to why I didn’t bother to mount a big launch for my debut novel. I don’t have a mailing list yet, and it seemed silly to hold off until I could develop one. Particularly since the best way to build your mailing list is with a link in the back of your already PUBLISHED book. Bookbub won’t accept you until you have enough reviews (and are going on sale from a previous established higher price), so you have to have already been published for some time. Kindle Countdowns and Free promotions aren’t available until a month after you publish. And finally, whatever time I spent on a debut book launch probably would be better invested in WRITING MY NEXT BOOK.

This isn’t to say that I won’t make any effort to promote my first book. I plan to and I’ve got some creative thoughts about how to do it, which I will share in future posts. (Hint: the internet likes cats.) But I prefer to test out my marketing without the gun to my head created by an arbitrary launch date.

Like Steven and Bobby, there are plenty of other writers, who are either more experienced with the process, already have good mailing lists, or enjoy engaging social media, who successfully use ebook launches to increase their intial sales. In the future, when I have a few more titles and more experience, I might also give it a try. (Though, when I read this post by David Gaughran, who literally wrote the book on self-publishing, and the struggles with his own launch, it still seems pretty stressful even for the established ebook author.)

So, now a month after my non-launch launch, what happened? Not too much. I’ve sold about ten copies, mostly to close friends. I’ve watched my Amazon best seller sales rank drop from a high of 80,000 after a couple sales in the first few days, to below 1,000,000 with no sales for the last two weeks. All of which would seem to confirm that more of an effort at launch might have helped.

Or not. It’s possible I could have spent a lot of money and time and ended up with the same amount of sales (which sure would have depressed me). And even if I had doubled or tripled my sales, I probably would have eventually ended up in the same spot today. Hard to know for sure.

But it shouldn’t matter so much since the most dependable way to boost sales is to write more books. That’s where my focus needs to be. In the meantime, I want to use this first book to learn as much about promotion as possible in a calm, collected, and inexpensive way.

What I’ve learned a lot so far, which isn't surprising, is just putting it up for sale on Amazon isn’t enough. I kind of figured that, everyone else said that, but it’s nice to know for sure.

I also probably priced my book too high. I suspected as much when I priced it at $5.99. Amazon suggests I price the book at $3.99. But I wanted to test out if a higher price made it seem more valuable to people who might check it out on Kindle Unlimited. So far, only a couple Kindle Unlimited borrows, so I’m not sure that is a good reason to keep it priced high. The other reason I priced it high, was so it would seem to be a bigger value when I did a Kindle Countdown sale. I’ve got one coming up on June 30, were it will be priced at .99 cents for seven days. (So if you’re curious about Eve’s Hungry, but think it’s too expensive, that would be a good time to buy it. See how I snuck that advertisement in here? Now, imagine a cat holding up a .99 cent sign.) If my Kindle Countdown goes well, it probably indicates the book was priced too high. Or, maybe it indicates pricing it high makes it look like a better deal.

How do I fully test a lower price? Well, I could just drop the price down, but… wouldn’t it be better to write another book (perhaps a shorter one) and price that lower? I think so.

The other thing that might be a problem is the cover. The cover I have (which I designed) is a little mysterious, perhaps more like something you’d see on a work of “literary” fiction. Not a laser battling, sword fighting, bisexual sci-fi epic geek out about a future war between Apple and Google, which is what Eve’s Hungry really is. The standard cover for a book like that is supposed to be a sexy girl with a laser pistol looking over her shoulder. Okay. Maybe some day I’ll do that. But Eve’s Hungry isn’t really a normal sci-fi space opera. It’s… a little different. So I like the idea of a different kind of cover. I can always change it later. And… maybe go with something less mysterious on my next book.

The good news is, my book is published! And, I believe at least three people I don’t know bought it. Even with little promotion, a high price and mysterious self-made cover. I also got one terrific review (thanks Ian!) and have learned a lot in the process without spending much money.

Time to get started on my next book!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Self-publishing: The Tragedy of the Tragedy of the Commons

Of the many eponymous laws (laws named after people, like Moore’s Law of integrated circuits), one of my favorites is Godwin’s Law of the internet.  It states:

Godwin’s Law - As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.

What’s great about this law is that it is not only true, people too quickly play the Hitler card as debates rage on, but it has a helpful corollary.

Godwin’s Law (corollary) - If you resort to comparing something to Hitler or the Nazis in an argument: you lose.

The corollary has a welcome corrective effect for online debates. People familiar with the law are more hesitant to invoke Nazis for fear of being told they lost the argument.  Which is a good thing all around for internet discussions.

Thus, in an effort to improve the quality of debates about indies and self-publishing, and hopefully immortalize myself by joining the ranks of Godwin, Moore and Murphy, I nearby introduce Mackay’s Law.  It goes like this:

MACKAY’S LAW - If someone invokes the Tragedy of the Commons when discussing self-publishing, they know nothing about the Tragedy of the Commons.

The corollary is: 

MACKAY’S LAW (corollary) - If you invoke the Tragedy of the Commons in an argument about self-publishing: you lose.

I created this law not simply for personal aggrandizement, but out of absolute necessity.  Seriously, this has to stop.  The Tragedy of the Commons has nothing to do with self-publishing.  Yet it is constantly being brought up, usually by supporters of traditional publishing, as if it were relevant to the topic.  It isn’t.  It has no more relevance to self-publishing than The Monroe Doctrine has with streaming music subscriptions.

The  "Tragedy of the Commons" was an economic theory published in 1968 by Garrett Hardin.  It’s name was inspired by 1833 pamphlet by English economist William Foster Lloyd.  In short, it goes something like this: farmers are allowed free grazing on a "commons," an area that locals can use for free.  Because they only care about their own interests, they overgraze, the commons are ruined and everyone suffers.  I prefer to think of it as the story of the stupid farmers.

To the extent that the Tragedy of the Commons has anything of value to say about real life economics (and it doesn’t have much, as I’ll explain later) it is only in relation to discussing situations involving limited resources.  Self-publishing, however, is particularly notable for it’s lack of conventional limitations.  That’s what makes it so revolutionary.  There is basically limitless shelf space for an boundless number of writers to market as many ebooks as they like to a virtually inexhaustible number of customers (because new babies are being born every day and will eventually grow and learn to read and spend money).  Yes, I suppose there are some theoretical limits to self-publishing.  It’s possible the Earth will be consumed by the sun and all of mankind will perish.  Or an inevitable Zombie apocalypse.  But other than that, there is no practical limit on the number of books that can be published online, the number of writers who can write them, or the amount of money writers can theoretically make from those books.  So a theory based on problems with limitations is particularly irrelevant.  Yes, not all writers are guaranteed to make money by self-publishing, but the Tragedy of the Commons never said anything about making money.  It was about destroying a limited resource, not the difficulties of making money in highly competitive market.  There is no economic lesson to be learned from farmers overusing free grazing land that can be applied to the disruptive effect of limitless shelf-space, low cost publishing and easy world wide distribution of literature. 

But, oh boy, do people like to reference the Tragedy of the Commons (TC for short) when talking about self-publishing.  It doesn’t matter that they’ve never read the original paper or studied its history.  They think TC is a kind of “shit happens” mantra for arguing that good things never succeed.  And there are lots of people who want self-publishing to fail, because it is a really good thing (for self-publishers and readers, not so much for traditional industry pundits grasping for reasons why it can’t work).

I briefly took down the Tragedy of Commons in Part Two of my series on the “Too Many Writers” meme, but it deserves a more detailed thrashing, and a corrective eponymous law, in hopes of discrediting it once and for all.

It was recently invoked by an unlikely, and frankly disheartening, personage: The Data Guy, Hugh Howey’s secret sharer and the math genius responsible for Author’s Earnings, a critical and wonderful resource for self-publishers.  There’s no doubt about what side The Data Guy is on in regard to self-publishing.  He’s for it.  On top of that, in all his commentary on Author’s Earnings and his posts in various blogs, he is unfailingly smart, knowledgable and eloquent on all issues and topics swirling around the indy scene.

So what the fuck was he thinking when he brought up the Tragedy of Commons in an online discussion about ISBN numbers and self-publishing?  Sadly, I have to invoke Mackay’s Law against him: he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  His quote was made in the comments about a Porter Anderson post and then Anderson referenced it again in a new post.  Here’s the quote:

“I agree also with your and Jane's comment that indies need to start thinking of themselves as an industry sector. We've outgrown the "counterculture" phase now. We're an established part of the business landscape, and if we want to help reshape the industry and level the playing field to our advantage, we need to "stand up and be counted." But at the same time, it's harder to make a case to indies that they should play by the industry's established "rules," when doing so imposes asymmetrical business costs on them while providing no measurable near-term business benefit. It's a classic tragedy of the commons.”

No, Data Guy, it’s not a classic Tragedy of the Commons.  The issues around a counter culture growing into a business sector is not what the TC is about.  The issue of whether it is in the interests of indy writers to use ISBN’s has nothing to do with TC.  The fact that indies are charged more for ISBN codes than larger publishers doesn’t relate to TC, even metaphorically.  Because, most importantly, the Tragedy of Commons is an economic theory that is totally irrelevant to anything having to do with self-publishing.

Well, not completely irrelevant.  It’s relevant to self-publishing like evoking Hitler when discussing whether comic books are sexist, or comparing breaking DRM to Nazi war crimes.  That is, it is only relevant because it shows the persons evoking it have lost the argument.

That is why it was so sad for me to see someone as smart as the Data Guy bringing up TC in such a careless way and lending it validity.  The Tragedy of the Commons is normally brought up by people rabidly opposed to self-publishing.  That’s why Anderson, a traditional industry apologist, quickly ran off with the anti-self-publishing scissors the Data Guy handed to him.  He used it to help justify a meandering post to the effect that self-publishers should shut up about how great self-publishing is.

While we can explain away the Data Guy’s transgression with Mackay’s Law, a larger question  is why do people who hate self-publishing gravitate to the Tragedy of the Commons in the first place?  Why fixate on TC?  It is certainly not as well known as Hitler and the Nazis.  Still, there is a long history of TC being used to support evil arguments.  When bad people are looking for an "economic" excuse to do something wrong, or kill something good, the Tragedy of the Commons is frequently the club they grab for.   Not because it makes sense, or is true, but like the “shit volcano” meme invented to discredit self-publishing, it is a colorful way of dismissing positive things by making comparisons to stupid famers, ruined fields and doomed cattle.

Mike Shatzkin, another traditional publishing industry consultant/apologist (who as far as I can tell makes his living attacking self-publishing), loves to bring up the Tragedy of the Commons.  Attacking writers who dare to promote their books by offering them for free, he says:

“It’s a classic Tragedy of the Commons. Each person giving away ebooks succeeds in their intentions to boost their sales, but everybody will pay for the overgrazing in the end.  …I think the Tragedy WILL take place; is taking place. I don't see how it can be prevented. … the unfolding Tragedy of the Commons, which I fear cannot be stopped.”

Shatzkin made this prediction in 2010, long before the “gold rush” in self-publishing really took off.  In the five years since, the “tragedy” he said was “taking place” didn’t take place. In fact, ebook sales grew by leaps and bounds every year since (and all signs point to them continuing to do so). Not only was Shatzkin spectacularly wrong in predicting the future of self-publishing, but he is a classic example of Mackay’s Law.  He didn’t know what he was talking about, and lost the argument.  TC has no connection with how free samples hurt price points.

In 2012, Chris Meadows cited TC on TeleRead to suggest that Amazon and the "glut" of easy to publish ebooks was somehow contributing to plagiarism:

“It’s not terribly surprising to learn that there is a very active underbelly of the Internet devoted to selling digital snake oil like private label rights and plagiarized material for 'instant' Kindle publication. It’s the tragedy of the commons—any time something could be abused for a quick profit, there will be those who will try to profit, directly or indirectly, from abusing it.” 

Once again,  illegal plagiarism doesn’t have anything to do with TC’s theory of limited resources even if you mix it metaphorically with snake oil.

It comes up all the time on discussion boards, like this quote about Amazon:

“You have a classic tragedy of the commons problem in getting self-publishers to act in concert. Amazon is the commons. You are each ‘grazers’ on the commons. It is true that if you all work together, you *might* be able to gain some traction with amazon. However, your individual self-interest is to not work together. Your individual self-interest is to get everyone else to collude to pull their books, but for you to leave your book up, so it is among the few books available to buy. Individual self-interest almost always prevails over acting in community interest.”

In this weird version of the analogy, writers become the cattle, and the farmers have disappeared.  I can't really quite see how cattle would try to convince other cattle to leave the commons and then stay on to graze, but okay.  That's not really the point.  Often the TC is cited simply to suggest the inevitable tragedy that must befall all human endeavors.  Particularly, nice ones like self-publishing.  Anything good is doomed because “self-interest almost always prevails over community interest.”

Hmm… is that true?  No.  In fact, it is obviously not.  There would be no communities (including discussion boards) if that were true.  What is true is that acting in the larger interests of a community is often also in a person's self-interest.  People additionally have a tendency to act in the interests of the community in the hope that it will eventually have a personal payoff.  But there is also plenty of evidence that many (if not most) people act in favor of communities even when it is against their self-interest.

Acting for the greater good of the community is pretty much hard wired into our DNA.  Human’s evolved past eating our young, have nurturing instincts and depend on each other for cooperation.  Cooperation is a huge part of our political, cultural, business and educational institutions.  And for a good reason: societies that don’t have an emphasis on community fail or split apart.

That’s why, even though the Tragedy of the Commons is a real economic "theory," it is a theory that has been widely and effectively rebuked.  While not all economic theories can be proven one way or another, in the case of the Tragedy of the Commons, it has been very effectively disproven.  It’s not true.  It doesn’t happen.  It’s false.

In his original discourse, Hardin pessimistically said that "Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.”  Yet environmental historians have correctly pointed out that Hardin is "an American with no notion at all how Commons actually work.”  The supposed tragedy was not based on a specific true-life event, even with cows, even back in 1833.  It is not even likely that it might have happened.  Historically, the grazing commons referred to in England and Wales were highly regulated and carefully managed, including there being limits on the number of cattle.  Today, there are still millions of acres of shared public grazing land in many countries, including modern England and Wales.  Sometimes they are managed well, sometimes not, but there are no enviable tragedies.  Moreover, economists who have studied real world situations where farmers share common land, including nomadic societies, discovered that they generally balance stock and manage rangeland in ecologically sounds ways, even without formal regulations.  They are actually less likely to overgraze or destroy the environment than land held by private interests or controlled by single organizations because people watch over each other.  So even the basic cow/farmer analogy of the Tragedy of Commons is completely wrong, historically and in modern application.  Because, you know, most farmers aren't stupid.

It should not be a surprise that the “Tragedy” has no real economic basis because Garrett Hardin was not trained as an economist (or historian).  He studied zoology and received a PhD in microbiology.  He had no business background.  He wasn’t interested in markets, commons, farmers or cows.  He was financed by groups like the Pioneer Fund which researched and promoted eugenics and scientific racism.  He didn’t bother to study economic markets or farming because the commons Hardin was concerned about was what he called “a commons in breeding.”  The Tragedy of the Commons was written to promote the idea that overpopulation, particularly in countries with people of color, was about to destroy the world in a Malthusian catastrophe.  He was also fond of life boat analogies for the Earth where the rich are urged to reject and throw off the drowning poor, even if they have spare room.  Hardin's thoughts are nicely summoned up by David Correia:

"Hardin advanced a cruel codicil to his original Tragedy thesis. In it he equated the earth to a lifeboat. The rich float about comfortably while the poor flail desperately in the open sea. This is the situation we find ourselves in, he argued: too few resources to support too many people. For Hardin the question was not Why are the rich comfortable and the poor suffering?, but instead he asked, Who among the poor should we let into our lifeboat? His answer? None."

Hardin's unpleasant metaphorical theories included very specific unpleasant proposals.  He lobbied actively, and successfully, against the “Food for Peace” program that sold surplus grain to famine-stricken nations.   He praised abortion (for the poor and people of color), forced sterilization for those with “unqualified reproductive rights,” and spoke out against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because he believed that the poor needed to be coerced into “breeding” less.  He was in favor of what he called “passive genocide” by allowing famine, crime and wars to cut down “excess populations” in poor countries. 

Here’s what the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes, says about him:

“Over the course of his career, Hardin wrote 27 books and over 350 articles, many of which were frank in their racism and quasi-fascist ethnonationalism. Nevertheless, whenever Hardin’s views are presented to the public, the white nationalism that unified his thought is invariably glossed over. In general, the only places to find open discussions of the entirety of Hardin’s thought are on white supremacist websites, where he is celebrated as a hero.”

I doubt most people who cite the Tragedy of the Commons in relation to self-publishing are aware of it’s lurid history and the extent of Hardin’s obsession with “breeding” issues.  Perhaps some would give him a pass for promoting forced sterilization or even admire his tough stance on denying food aid to the starving.  I would hope, however, they might question the motivations behind an un-researched economic policy advocated by someone who praised genocide, even when they called it “passive.”

There were also elitist class warfare motivations behind the original 1833 pamphlet Hardin dug up from the economic graveyard.  It’s purpose was to provide an excuse for the rich to steal from the poor.  The Commons referred to were used by Commoners, i.e. peasants.  The land the commons sat on was technically owned by "the manor," land barons, rich aristocracies, and inherited wealth.  By ancient tradition and hundreds of years of "common law" poor farmers were allowed access to small parts of the vast tracks of land held by the rich, so they could, like, have food.  But around the time of the pamphlet a lot of rich landowners decided they would like to erase those laws (without, of course, compensating the commoners).  They wanted to fence everything off.   William Foster Lloyd’s convenient 1833 argument, or lie, was that the commoners were just screwing up anyway, and it would be better if it the land owner took total control.  Because, you know, rich people, particularly those who inherited money, know how to manage stuff better than commoners.

What happened to all the farmers?  Well, in Part One of my “Too Many Writers” piece I kept referring to the exploited mine workers in How Green is My Valley?  Pretty much they are the children of the farmers who lost their rights to the commons.  It might be argued that this shift from a feudal society was inevitable as Britain industrialized, but there are other ways it could have been done without the wholesale stealing from the poor.  Unquestionably, the rich got richer while the poor had to search for work.

What does any of this have to do with self-publishing?   Nothing.  Because, as Mackay’s Law states, anyone who cites the Tragedy of the Commons doesn’t know anything about it.

It should be no surprise that TC has been wrong about predicting the fate of the flourishing Indy ebook industry, because, as I said earlier, it is always wrong about… everything.  In science, a theory needs to be able to make accurate predictions.  What goes up must come down.  If only some balls go down and others don't, then theories of gravity don't work.  You abandon it and find a new theory.  Economics is often called a "soft science" because a lot of economic theories aren't good at predicting outcomes.  Sometimes this is because of the complexity of markets, and the difficulty of putting theories into real practice.  But often it is because economic theories aren't based on research and are simply masks for political agendas.  Thus is the case with the Tragedy of the Commons.  In addition to being used to advocate stealing land in 19th century Britain, and against feeding starving nations in the 70’s, it is often cited by those who argue against health care, affirmative action and social safety nets.  It is used as a justification for all sorts of nasty scams where private interests steal public lands.

What is also relevant is that useful economic theories normally have a part two.  Do this and that will happen.  Keynesian economics states that when governments inject money into a depressed economy they create growth.  There's a lot of evidence that works (but not always).  Trickle down economic theory says that if you give tax breaks to the rich, the poor will end up benefiting.  There's a lot of evidence that doesn't work, but at least it predicts a hopeful outcome.

One of the utilities of the pessimistic Tragedy of Commons is it makes no such predictions.  What happens to the cattle when you don't allow them to access the commons?  Do they live happily?  No, you fool, the cattle are the whole problem!  They die or get eaten.  What about the farmers, do they go on to learn better grazing practices?  No, they're idiots!  They need to get out of farming and line up to work in a coal mine or something.  Who cares about the farmers?  What is important is protecting the commons.  Well, what happens to the commons?  Is it used to the betterment of society?  No!  Society is ultimately doomed anyway.  The commons goes back to the land owner and he can build a tennis court or something. (Honestly, this is what Garret believed.)

That no positive outcome is possible, of course, is a feature, not a bug, of the Tragedy of the Commons.  It urges that nothing good can done in any situation, and if something good looks like it is happening, it must be stopped before it goes bad.  If farmers are allowed free grazing, they must be stopped before "tragedy" accrues.  If self-publishing is making a lot of people happy, and bringing them money, that also must be stopped before "tragedy" sets in.  It can’t be fixed.

But while the theory is conveniently vague and offers no hope, it does make a measurable prediction.  Tragedy.  And this is where it ALWAYS fails.

Let’s review.  It was wrong about commons, farming commons worked in William Foster Lloyd’s time, and they work today all over the world.  It was wrong when Hardin predicted a soon-to-come Malthusian catastrophe of “overbreeding” back in the 1960’s.  Hardin tried to mask his racism as a concern for the environment, but all modern environmentalists have disowned him and his theory.  It was used to predict total economic disaster from freeway gridlock in Los Angeles in the 1970’s.  More recently in the 1990’s it was used to predict email span would force people to stop using email.   In 2009, the nobel prize for economics went to a woman who proved that TC is simply wrong on all counts.  And, of course, it’s wrong about self-publishing.

None of this means that bad things don’t happen in the world, and that resources, even seemly unlimited ones, don’t need management.  Yes, some people are selfish jerks and can try to ruin things for others.  But most people (including farmers) aren’t inherently stupid or self-destructive and collectively they usually work together to make things better.  Jerks are weeded out, shunned or forced to moderate themselves, commons can be regulated, education and development ease overpopulation, freeways get widened, spam filters are invented.  Tragedy is only inevitable in Greek plays.  In real life, it is always avoidable.  A theory that suggests that problems can’t be solved has nothing to offer, except to people who don’t want solutions.  So those who want self-publishing to fail flock to the vague doom of TC, but its consistently incorrect track record proves that self-publishing will prosper forever.

Defenders of TC might suggest that it "could happen" or might have happened a little bit in some situations.  After all, sometimes cattle overgraze, traffic was bad in Los Angeles (and still is), population is a serious issue, spam is annoying.  But this is like saying people were a little bit right when they said that the world was flat and predicted you would fall off the edge if you sailed too far.  No, the world isn't flat and you don't fall off.  So that theory is useless, worse than useless, even if sometimes it seems like the world is flat or you wonder what happens if someone sails too far.

When communities use limited resources there is no inevitable tragedy, nor is there likely to be a tragedy, because communities are regulated by law or markets or self-regulate.  When something does goes wrong, it's because of problems in the community.  Problems that could have been fixed and that might get fixed.  What is important is the quality of the community.  A theory that says that all communities are the same (and doomed) is worse than useless.

The “commons” of self-publishing are not a problem.  They are, in fact, the greatest thing about the indy world.  Yes, it’s really nice that Amazon and Apple let you publish for free and transparently collect money for you.  The internet is a wonderful distribution system.  There’s great technology in ebook readers and software for writing.  But the best thing about self-publishing is the community.
Despite tripping over Mackay’s Law, the Data Guy, with Hugh Howey, has created an incredible resource with Author’s Earnings.  Hugh is tireless and articulate in getting positive messages out about the indy world (and exercising tips).  J. A. Konrath continually gives great advice and assistance to help other writers.  He formed a collective to get self-published books into libraries.  He got Amazon to revise it’s copyright policy for Kindle Worlds to favor indy writers.  David Gaughran exposes the sleazy efforts of Authors Solutions to rip off writers while writing some of the best books on how to self-publish.  Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch also write great books on self-publishing while offering the same information and more for free on their blogs.  Designer Derek Murphy creates free tools to allow authors to create their own book covers.  These people, and many more, are all "grazing" in the self-publishing commons, unafraid to invite more to join them.  There is an incredible mix of working class mothers, retired lawyers, serving military, successful and struggling, experienced and debut writers.

New bookstores are being created to stock self-published books to promote local writers.  Hundreds of websites market services to self-publishers and find readers for indy books.  Blogs and message boards allow writers to share ideas and learn about best practices.  If you can’t write a good blurb for your ebook, post it on KBoards and other writers will rewrite it for free.  There is free advice, support and assistance everywhere.  When things go wrong, the indy community is quick to try to fix them.  

All sorts of creative arts and other interests are supported by similar communities.  But in my experience, what is going on in self-publishing, on a world wide scale, with the amazing mix of commerce, camaraderie and creativity, is something very special and beautiful.

That is the victory of the commons.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Eve's Hungry Update

My first novel, Eve's Hungry, is all finished, including a careful proof and polish. I'm going to be publishing it soon on Amazon KDP Select.

I posted a new chapter of it on my Eve's Hungry story blog, which you can check out here.  I'm going to be posting a couple more soon, but save the last few chapters for the published version.  Also, since KDP Select requires exclusivity, just before publishing I'll be pulling down most of the chapters, leaving only the first three.  After that, I plan to turn the Eve's Hungry blog into a place for new stories, maybe some artwork and updates about the book.  This blog will remain focused on more general publishing commentary.

In the meantime, for a limited time only, any fans of Eve's Hungry, or this blog, or just people wandering by can receive a full PDF Advanced Reading Copy of the completed novel.  I'm not so much looking for beta readers or reviews, but, of course, if you find any typos you want to pass on or write a review when the book is published that would be nice.  But feel no obligation.  I just want to reward anyone who has been paying attention to my literary adventures so far and might be curious about the finished work.

For your FREE ARC of Eve's Hungry just email me at:

(And I promise not to share your email with anyone or spam you or any of that stuff.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

How Much Can Writing One Song Make?

One of the arguments against self-publishing, free ebooks and the lack of gatekeepers, is that supposedly the music business has been wiped out by the internet due to piracy and the fact that no one will pay for music anymore.  That's supposed to happen to ebooks sometime soon also.  It won't.

For starters, ebooks and music are very different.  Readers have shown a proven willingness to purchase ebooks at much hire prices than individual songs.  But that aside, the meme that the music business has been destroyed by the internet is simply false.

Is there still money to be made in music?  Yes.  Will people still pay for downloads?  Yes.  How much?  Hard to say for sure because the music industry is very secretive about how profitable it is, even as it continually complains that it's not making any money.  But one key example was just revealed.  In court filings it was shown that the song "Blurred Lines" made over $17 million IN PROFIT.  More than 5 million a piece for it's two writers.


Not bad, huh?  One song, 17 million in profit.  That's the incredible value of intellectual property.  And the internet is making it easier, not harder, to reach those kinds of numbers.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

No, There Aren't Too Many Writers - Part 3: It's Okay to Want to Get Rich

In this final post taking down the "too many writers" meme, let's talk about getting rich. Really, really, really rich. Gold bath tub rich.

Indy writers often begin any discussion on the topic of self-publishing with "I'm not saying every writer will get rich but…." This is because people attacking self-publishing are constantly accusing the community of promising writers they will get rich. Hugh Howey seems obligated to insert a standard "I'm not saying you'll get rich" qualifier even when he's giving tips on ebook formatting. Successful indy writers who talk about their achievements are required to issue the equivalent of mandatory pharmaceutical warnings:


The other compulsory admonition, the one I hate the most, is that anyone who has made a lot of money in self-publishing is required to say, "I was lucky." No, you weren't lucky: you are talented, clever at business and/or worked your ass off. Most likely, all of the above.

Those pushing the "too many writers" meme say that self-publishing unrealistically encourages writers to dream about getting rich. They frequently cite any struggling writer who hasn't succeeded, or has a set back along the way, as proof that everyone is doomed to failure. They are fond of saying "the gold rush is over." The implication is that eventually everyone will be forced to return to the prison of the traditional publishing models where big corporations decided what should be printed and who was allowed to benefit. (Usually, everyone but the writers.) As if that is better than even their most pessimistic predictions of self-publishing's future.

Indy writers responding to these attacks frequently stress the non-monetary positives of self-publishing: freedom of expression, the joy of engaging with even a small fan base, and the satisfaction of knowing your work will available as a collective part of human culture, possibly for as long as humans are around. These are all good things and deserve to be touted as the main reason to self-publish. But…

Three more things:
  1. There's nothing wrong with wanting to get rich.
  2. Self-publishing is a pretty darned good way to try.
  3. The gold rush ain't over.
While there are other good reasons to self-publish, no one should have to apologize for hoping they can make good money from it. Nor should they have to apologize that some people will succeed at making money and some people won't. That's no reason not to try.

There might be quicker and more reliable ways to get rich, like maybe grifting, war profiteering, or starting your own religion. If making lots of money is your main interest, real estate and the financial markets might be a better choice. If you're looking for a nice dependable income, there are opportunities in the tech, legal and medical industries. But most people aren't solely motivated by money. It's a sign of intelligence, not naiveté, to not to only want to make money, but to make money at something you love.

Does that mean you still have to be practical? Yes, of course. Don't rush to quit your day job. Don't mortgage your house to hire a publicist and advertise on blimps. Yes, writers who leap into the market thinking they'll get rich overnight will likely be disappointed.

On the other hand, some writers have gotten rich, or thereabouts, very quickly. When an aspiring writer reads about how Amanda Hocking sold $2.5 million dollars worth of ebooks 20 months after she began self-publishing, what is that person to think?  "Oh, that could never happen to me.  I shouldn't even try." That frankly seems like a strange, defeatist attitude. Is that they way people should approach life? It seems a better reaction would be, "Okay, if she did that well, maybe I could do a tiny fraction of that and still make a nice profit in terms of the work involved."

An even better reaction might be: "Heck, maybe I'll do even better!  What have I got to lose?"

This is America, dude! (And dudettes.) Making money is the name of the game. Whether you want to play or not, you're on the field. There's nothing wrong with kicking the ball and seeing where it goes. There is nothing wrong with dreaming about getting rich, and it's even better to take logical steps to try to make it happen. Succeed or fail, at least you're playing the game. And that can be fun in it's own right, even if you don't win. Amanda, herself, was inspired by J. A. Konrath, who talked about his success and said, jump in the water's great!

Always swirling around the arguments about "too many writers" is an undercurrent of elitism and snobbery from the traditional publishing establishment. This is also true about the fake hand wringing that gullible fools are rushing into self-publishing in a "gold rush" to "get rich." The truth is, they don't care about the writers who might fail at self-publishing, but they are terrified of the ones that will succeed.

Many in the established publishing world are horrified that writers can go around them and make money for themselves, cutting out agents, editors, and executives. These gatekeepers and middle people came to believe they were the real force behind publishing and they should reap all of the monetary rewards. For several decades they have been squeezing writers with increasingly lousy contracts that took away most opportunities to make money. In order to get published by the big conglomerates, writers had to give up movie and television rights, sign life of copyright deals, agree to non-compete clauses and accept shady accounting practices. Any leverage the writer had to make real money, other than what the publisher might trickle down to them, vanished. Mid-list writers found it impossible to make a living, let alone even hope to get rich. Which was fine with the established publishing scene. Because they wanted less writers in the market anyway. They were already throwing the slush piles in the trash. They were perfectly happy with the idea that writing should not be viewed as a source of real income. Writers should be starry eyed artists, grateful for any attention, and not bother thinking about dirty things like business and money. Writers aren't supposed to compare revenue streams and share tips on making money. Those were the secrets that executives and agents guarded. Writers weren't suppose to know if you can make more money with audio books or how to get their books distributed into foreign markets. Writers of the most popular genres, the ones that really made the money, were treated like second class citizens, and consistently paid poorly. The money they should have earned was channeled to promote literary darlings from Ivy League schools, and pay off politicians and the socially connected with lucrative and undeserved advances to finance a range of nepotism and influence peddling.

Now, lest I sound like I'm invoking too much class warfare, there are perfectly nice rich people. I'm in favor of more writers, not less, so I'm also glad when rich people want to write books. It's also reasonable they use whatever advantages they have to try to get ahead of everyone else. But I have no patience for lectures by people of privilege, and their proxies, that "too many writers" hurts literature or gives the lower classes unrealistic expectations of succeeding. As Clay Shirky says, in his brilliant and off quoted piece on elitism in publishing, if you aren’t aren’t happy that more books are available to more people then “you’re kind of an asshole.”  Not everyone in the New York literary scene fits Shirky’s description, but right now it seems like they have the megaphone.

Likewise, there is nothing wrong with big companies. Some big companies are run really well. As I said in my first post on the subject, some bosses are good people and threat their employees more than fair. Big companies can do things that individuals simply can't. That includes big publishers and the conglomerates that own them. It is reasonable that big publishers want to promote certain writers. I don't even have a problem when they try to monopolize distribution, as long as they don't do it illegally. Unfortunately big publishing has a long history of engaging in shady and illegal practices to try to control distribution and fix prices. That is a problem. But an even bigger problem is when big businesses, particularly publicly traded companies, are poorly run to serve the whims of snobby executives. Many executives in the publishing world seem to be more interested in catering to the literary scene and basking in their role as cultural curators than selling books and making money for their shareholders. They favor writers who write books that people don't want to buy, simply because they came from the same social circle, instead of the writers who write books people love. Big publishing should embrace ebooks and view self-publishing as a non-competitive college league. They should be snapping up the best self-publishers like hot draft picks. Instead, they have been colluding to try to kill the ebook baby in the cradle, not because it will hurt their business, but because it will hurt the feelings of the literary elite they have been subsidizing on the backs working mid-list writers. This is what is behind the coordinated PR attack on self-publishing and the organized spin by pundits and main stream press to get the message out that "too many writers" have unrealistic dreams of "getting rich."

It is great when people have dreams and can actively pursue them. Writing, in hopes of getting rich, is a lot better than someone buying lottery tickets or playing slot machines. It is better than sitting on the couch watching television and wishing your life was better. Who exactly is harmed when someone sits down and works hard to produce and self-publish a book? Other than the egos of those who want it to be an elite activity? Or those who fear fair competition? If it does or doesn't sell it should be no one's concern but the person who wrote it. If that person wants to publicly complain about low sales, or disappointing reviews, that's alright, people complain about the weather too. And if another person wants to share their advice on how to avoid failure, or achieve success, that is even better. But putting out misinformation to discourage people from trying to pursue a dream? That's pretty disgusting.

Writing, fiction writing in particular, has historically been a successful method for people to rise above disadvantaged backgrounds or limited means. This goes back to Poe, Dickens, Mark Twain, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Raymond Chandler, Steven King to J. K. Rowlings. While there are other paths for someone to go from poverty to wealth, it is difficult to argue there is a better one than making money by writing stories. Or even to argue that other paths are more likely to happen. It is always difficult for someone to rise from one social economic class to another. But if you have a desire to write, self-publishing books to make money is worse than… what? Where are there other, better opportunities to get rich that people should be directed to?

Self-publishing means that you own your own business. This is supposed to be the American dream. Owning your own business has many perks, starting with the fact that there are less people between you and the money you earn. There are nice tax benefits too. Working harder means you earn more. You have control over your destiny; you can learn from your mistakes and benefit from your clever decisions. In creative endeavors, having control over your work is almost always preferable.

Moreover, the start up costs for a self-publishing business are minimal. They can range from zero to a few thousand dollars and are completely within the control of the writer. I can't think of any other real business with such low start up costs. Let alone one with the risk/reward potential to make serious money. Should someone with a desire to write avoid self-publishing because "there are too many writers" and instead open a restaraunt? Most new restaurants go bankrupt within a few years. The start up costs can be enormous. The amount of work involved is huge. And, in even in success, the amount of revenue generated is not likely to be huge, certainly not as much as a best selling writer. Of course, if the restaraunt branches out, becomes a successful chain, much more money can be made. But how likely is that? More likely than someone writing a popular book?

Is house flipping better? There are higher rewards but huge risks. Starting your own limo service? Selling Tupperware? What exactly are the better business opportunities that writers should be pursing instead of joining the "gold rush" of self-publishing?

Of course, the critical part of all this is a person has to have a desire to write. Not everyone does. Then the person has to be able to sit down and actually finish a novel or story. Even fewer people can do this. Then they have to believe that what they have written is good enough to be worth self-publishing. I suspect quite a few would-be writers stop at this point, when even their mother says, "It's not so good, honey. What's so bad about working at Starbucks?" But assuming a person can get though these steps, why on Earth wouldn't they try? Would it really be better to spend the rest of your life wondering if you could have been successful at writing?

Now, it might sound like I'm just saying everyone should "follow their dreams." I'm not saying that. I'm talking specifically about self-publishing, which is a very low-risk/high-reward way for some people to follow their dreams. Including a dream to get "rich."

Not all dreams should be pursued with equal vigor. If you're 20 years old and 5' 2" and dream about being a professional basketball player, I would highly advise you to put some energy in a good backup plan. I'd be skeptical if someone told me they were going to get rich as a race car driver just because they beat people at traffic lights. If you’re a mother who told me she was going to pay $10,000 to a talent scout who promised to make her child a movie star, I’d appeal for an intervention.

The entertainment industry, in particular, is a very dangerous place for people to wander about with unrealistic dreams. It can be brutal and cruel to the innocent and naïve. There are many tragic stories of people wasting their lives trying to break into acting, singing, stand up comedy, film directing, etc. The performing arts, in particular, are incredibly competitive while also rife with exploitation, nepotism and favoritism.

Moreover, anyone with a desire to start up their own business, even a freelance business, really needs to study the market and think carefully about whether they can succeed. Just wanting to do something is not enough. There should be a reasonable expectation of results in exchange for hard work.

A little over a decade ago, I would have even been pessimistic about anyone seeking to pursue a career in fiction writing, particularly if they were looking to get rich. While writing historically has been a possible path to making money, it was always been a difficult one. It was made even more difficult by consolidation and market manipulation in the traditional publishing world over the last fifty years. In recent decades, abusive industry practices made almost impossible for anyone but insiders to succeed. A system was codified, by accident or design, to discourage and distract outsiders and to prevent writers from gaining money and independence. It was, effectively, a rigged game. And for me, the downsides playing it were far greater than any potential rewards. That's why I quickly gave up any dreams of writing novels in college, once I got just a hint of how the system worked.

Self-publishing changed everything. In studying self-publishing (because you should always do research before starting your own business) I learned that my prior concerns about traditional publishing were not only justified, but barely touched the surface. Before the self-publishing revolution, most writers pursing careers were hesitant to talk about just how bad traditional publishing was. Also, before the internet, they didn't have a good channel to talk about it even if they were willing. But now we are able to really starting to hear about the dark side of traditional publishing. Here's a quick list of some of the most abusive practices and why self-publishing solves them:

1. Submission process. In traditional publishing, the bulk of submissions to agents and publishers are tossed away, unread, wasting enormous amounts of both time and emotional energy for writers trying to get printed. But even worse, in many cases writers would sometimes be told to rewrite their work (for free) and still not get a deal, wasting even more of their time. They would be given notes on what kinds of stories the publishers were supposedly interested in, often by junior people with no real power, and still not get deals if they tried to write (for free) to appeal to what they were told the market wanted. Many, many writers would go through this horrible submission process, working really hard for many years, and end up with absolutely nothing to show for it. The writer who self-publishes skips over all this misery and goes straight to readers. If readers buy their work, they know they can trust their own instincts, if readers don't, they know they should try something else. In the old process, writer's were appealing to middle men who often had no real idea what readers wanted and little intention of signing the writer regardless.

2. Non-compete clauses. Many publishers force writers into contracts with non-compete clauses, which basically means the writer can't work for anyone else. This drastically limits the writers options if the publisher turns out to do a bad job packaging and promoting the writers work. The writer also has little leverage to improve their deals even in success. Obviously, self-publishing eliminates these kind of unfair contract provisions.

3. Long lead times to publish. Traditional publishing moves extremely slowly, more for the convenience of executives than from any practical consideration. Writers who get traditional deals have to wait years to see the results of their work. If they write contemporary, cutting edge material, they have to worry it will be dated by the time it reaches readers. This unnecessary slowdown in getting material in the hands of readers can have very negative effects on a writer seeking to make money through their work. Self-publishing gets material to readers almost as quickly as the writer can write it.

4. Limiting writer output. One of the dirty secrets of traditional publishing is that publishers discourage even best selling writers from writing quickly and putting out a lot of books per year. Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a great post on this. Even in success, publishers don't want writers to become too successful. This is a bad business practice which is, at best, an issue of publisher laziness, not wanting to disrupt their slow moving distribution plans. More likely it is to prevent popular writers from dominating the market and becoming too powerful. Publishers prefer to have a stable of writers putting out one book a year (or even every two years) so money is divided up between writers and there is still room for them to market and distribute their less popular literary darlings. All of which is completely against writers best interests (except for literary darlings). Readers love it when their favorite writers put out lots of books. So another key advantage of self-publishing is there are no artificial limits on writer output. Which gives writers a better chance of getting rich by working hard.

5. Series, short stories, boxed sets. The huge money in writing is almost always in a series or franchise. Yet big publishers, completely against their own business interests, are lukewarm about them, despite the proven success of Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, romance and detective series. Publishers still prefer make deals for single books and market books as single products. Even when publishers make deals for a book series, they usually insist on putting out one book to test the market, rather than commit to the entire series. As the series progresses, they often allow the first books to go out of print. Again, this is primarily to protect their distribution system, which needs to keep slots open for less popular literary fiction and politician biographies the publishers want to insert into bookstores before they are returned and pulped. They don't want the co-op shelf-space to be taken up just by popular series. Publishers are willing to make exceptions for some big names, but it's actually mid-list series that need the support of having all their books marketed and available at one time. Self-publishing eliminates this bias toward single titles, allowing writers to make money in the most profitable way possible, by creating a set of characters and writing multiple stories based on them. Readers win, writers make money. Self-publishing also allows writers to sell their work in a variety of boxed sets, sometimes with other writers' work, and also profit from writing short stories based on popular franchises. The flexibility writers have to market these potential cash cows is much, much greater than anything traditional publishing can offer.

Prior to the self-publishing option, the traditional publishing world so dramatically limited the options for all but a few writers that I don't believe it was a good business for even a talented writer to pursue, unless they had some inside connection. The risk that a writer could spend twenty years working hard to get through the system and end up with nothing was too great.

Self-publishing changed all that. For very little money a writer can test out whether there is an audience for their work. If there isn't, they can make their own decision to get out, or change their writing or marketing to appeal to a broader audience. If they succeed, there is virtually no limit to how high their income could rise based on how hard they are willing to work at it. It isn't artificially limited by the whims of large corporations.

The notion that writers should only be worried about their art and not bother about money issues was a self-serving meme put out by some people in the traditional publishing world against the interests of working writers. Writing is a form of expression, but it can also be a business. A business oriented writer should absolutely be focused on what sells and how to sell it. Getting rich (by whatever definition) is a reasonable goal for anyone starting a business.

Much of the talk so far in the self-publishing community has been focused on being able to quit a person's day job. That is a completely understandable goal for some writers. But I think it is ultimately limiting the discussion. The reason to self-publish is not that it's an alternative to a "day job," but because it's work that can make some people good money. People with writing talent would be foolish to pass it up, regardless of their current finances or work situation. To make "a living" from your writing is a goal, but it's not the only goal and maybe not even the best goal.

The best advice I heard for people seeking a living in creative arts was: get your life together first. If you hate your day job, find a better one. If you are having trouble paying your bills, cut your expenses and live more modestly. Find a job you can live with, a life style you can afford and then focus all your efforts on your art. All of this is easier said than done. Particularly for working parents. People can find themselves in situations where there appears to be no way out. (I've been there.) But a person trying to compete in a highly competitive market like self-publishing is at a huge disadvantage if the rest of their life is out of control and they feel pressure to succeed overnight. That's not a good way to pursue a new business startup.

But wait, didn't I just say it was okay to want to get rich? Yes, getting rich is a legitimate goal. But it shouldn't be the expectation. Good jobs are hard to find, but it's going to be more likely that a person will find a better "normal" job than it is that they will make enough from self-publishing to quit a job they hate. People, of course, have to make their own choices, and some people actually find inspiration in trying to escape from unpleasant employment. But we're already hearing stories of people who found success in self-publishing, quit their day jobs, and then were forced to return when they suffered a downturn in sales. Others feel embarrassed if they are forced to go back to work to pay for a child's schooling, or deal with medical issues, like needing health care insurance.

So I would argue that as great as it is to hear the stories of people who quit a day job and became full time writers, that should not be the goal line everyone feels they have to cross. There should be no shame in working a day job and writing on the side. There should be no pressure to quit that job as quickly as possible. Nor should there be any embarrassment at going back to "regular" work after a good run as a self-publisher. Optimistic as I am about the business prospects of this growing industry, creating the expectation that self-publishing is a way to escape unpleasant day jobs ultimately sets most people who try up for failure. That will generate a lot of disappointment, bitterness and anger that can eclipse the good news about this new business.

What should be the goal? Making money.

(Oh, and yes, self-expression, exchange of ideas, community, saving the world through art, etc., etc.)

As Auda abu Tayi said in Lawrence of Arabia, "gold is honorable." It is. A focus on how to make money, and how much money is possible, is likely to be more productive in the long run than promising to solve people's day to day financial issues.

Not too long ago I read a writer complaining in the comments section of a self-publishing blog. One indy writer had commented on how much money they were making, over six figures annually, and another complained bitterly that they were making "only" ten thousand dollars a year after several years trying. It wasn't enough for that writer to support themselves.

My reaction was, ten thousand dollars a year is pretty damned good for a few years in. I was even more stunned when I checked out the complaining writer's website and discovered they had only five books for sale. Ten thousand dollars a year for five books?! That's not bad at all.

The Author's Earnings reports (which every self-publisher should thank Hugh Howey and Data Guy for daily) estimates that there are some 700 self-published writers who are earning over $25,000 a year from Kindle ebooks. If their rent is cheap enough, a writer might be able to live off of that (heck, if you found a cheap enough shack, you might do it on $10,000). That number is far greater than the number of newer traditionally published writers, so it is a huge vindication of self-publishing. But in terms of full time employment at a living wage, 700 slots out of tens of thousands of writers self-publishing, is not a lot. Zappos has over 1,000 US employees in their high perk jobs, if you can get one. Google hires thousands of employees in the US each year, and I would guess most make a lot more than $25,000.

Even if Kindle ebook sales double in the next few years, which is possible but on the high side, that still means there are not that many writers who will be able to live solely on their ebook sales. And the odds against it for any single individual are quite large.

But wait! Mackay! You said you were going to talk about getting really, really rich! Now you're talking about lowering expectations and how hard it is to make a living on ebooks? Where's the gold bathtub?!

I'll get to the gold bathtub in a moment. Yes, I am saying lower expectations, at least as far as being able to make a steady living wage and quit your day job. The people who will succeed in self-publishing are those who treat it as a business, and that might require reinvesting the money you earn back into the business, not quitting your job and paying your rent at the first opportunity.

The other problem with there being an emphasis on self-publishers being able to make a "living wage," in my opinion, is that it sets the bar too low. Not all writers are looking to quit their day jobs. Some writers are retired, or already have a lot of money. The larger self-publishing community will benefit from those writers. We want wealthy, powerful, well connected people to join this movement and feel invested in it's success. We want lawyers, military, politicians, judges, celebrities, debutantes, high society, and business executives to self-publish. We want all the best selling writers currently working for traditional publishing to self-publish some of their books, or better yet, abandon traditional publishing all together. We want the rich son of a Senator to self-publish his Zombie books so that when a bill comes up on the Senate floor to regulate self-publishing, the Senator votes against it. In other words, we want this to become a big industry. It will help if the debate shifts to the fact that self-publishing is a great business, not a quick way to escape working at Burger King. Along the way, hopefully a lot of people from modest means will be able to write full time, but if a successful executive, working on the side, makes enough to buy an extra sports car, that's okay too.

So let's get to the gold bathtub. The reason a writer making $10,000 a year, or even $1,000 a year should not despair is because they are creating a library of intellectual property. Intellectual property is like real estate. The value of it depends on a large number of factors, and the value can change quickly. The value of it can grow over night. Some intellectual property is more valuable than Manhattan apartment buildings. And the great thing about intellectual property is you don't have to pay property taxes. And more you exploit it, generally the more valuable it gets.

If you can make $1,000 a year from a few books, odds are you can double that by writing more books. And you can figure out what books sell the best and focus on writing those. If you can keep your costs low, you can keep working and building a library of intellectual property. And then… you can get rich.

Because the real money in this game is not going to come from ebooks. It's going to come from everything else that spins off from the intellectual property contained in the ebook: merchandising, movies, television, video games, soundtracks, and maybe even theme park rides.

So far, most of the conversation in self-publishing is about selling enough ebooks to be able to quit day jobs. That's completely understandable, particularly since so many in traditional publishing argued it wasn't even possible. It is possible. That's been proven. But now I believe the conversation needs to shift to the incredible potential value of creating intellectual property, building libraries, and selling ancillary rights. Because that's where the big money is. That's where the gold bathtubs are.

Let's call it Phase Two. That's where self-publishers will branch out from making money selling ebooks, to making money selling the rights to their intellectual property. Dean Wesley Smith calls it the "magic pie," because if you slice it up right, you can sell the slices and there's always more. Already, self-publishers like A. G. Riddle and Hugh Howey are selling options for films to be produced based on their ebooks. Film production has about a five to ten year lag time and the ebook market only started to take off a few years ago. Once a few films based on self-published ebooks become successful, there is likely to be a rush of new deals. So "only" 700 self-publishers right now make more than $25,000 a year on their Kindle ebooks alone. Well, there are more than 700 films produced a year (about 250 wide releases, another 400-500 limited releases, TV movie, made for cable and direct to video), and almost half of all films produced are based on books. So it's not impossible, in fact it's likely, that hundreds of films will be produced based on self-published novels in the next decade. (And hundreds more will be optioned, making money for the original writers, even if they aren't produced.) Naturally, a successful produced film will greatly enhance ebooks sales not only of the writer's source material, but sales of the writer's entire library of intellectual property.

Beyond movies, already many self-publishers are finding additional revenue from audio books. This is completely in addition to and sometimes larger than the revenue they get from ebooks sales. Some writers are even producing their own enhanced audio books so they can have better production values, more control and take a larger share of the profits. Does having an audio book hurt a writer's chances of getting a film or television deal? No, in fact, it is quite likely to help it. (Lots of film executives hate reading, so it never hurts to have an audio version.) The already huge landscape of intellectual property opportunities for self-publishers is growing every day. I'll cover it more in another post. But for now let's say what should be the obvious, the real money, gold bathtub money, is going to go to the writers who are able to exploit their work in other forms of media in addition to ebooks.

Writers have an incredible advantage over performing artists, sports stars and many others in the entertainment world. An actor has a limited time that they can play certain roles, daughter, lover, mother, grandmother. The clock is ticking against them. It's even harder in sports, you have a window of a few years to make it or not. When film directors and producers can't get projects produced, all those years are lost. Even in non-entertainment business, if someone doesn't get in at the ground floor when they are younger, it is very difficult to start out at an older age. But, and this even more true thanks to self-publishing, time is on a writer's side. You can publish fifty novels that only sell a few copies a year, and then if one breaks out and becomes successful, your entire library becomes more valuable. You can start at any age, you can take breaks and go back, you can work at whatever speed you want. Your work can even become more valuable after you die (but try to get rich when you can enjoy it). The only way you fail is by giving up. You will also help yourself if you pursue a long term strategy. Some gimmicks that might increase sales in the short run, might not help, or might even hurt you in the long run. (For example, lots of poorly written books with great covers might sell in the short run, but their value long term might be lesser than fewer, better written novels.)

Writers also need to ignore the misinformation being put out there that "too many writers" means that writers can't get money. Or that writers shouldn't concern themselves with making money. Or that the "gold rush" is over. Intellectual property isn't a gold rush, it's a gold mine. While it's not a good idea to pin all your hopes on quitting your day job by writing a few ebooks, or quitting your job the minute you make your first six figure year, there's nothing wrong with dreaming about getting rich from self-publishing. Because it absolutely is possible.