Tag Archives: Amazon

Progress Being Made!

At last… In the absence of the late, great teaching hassles, I managed to work on not one, not two, but all three books in progress today!

Holee maquerel. It’s some sort of a miracle. Got a little work done on each of two books and a lot done on the third:

Revised (while word-processing) another chapter from the ancient graduate-student novel, lately retrieved from a dust-covered box in the garage. Contemplated the possibility of spicing it up…a rich possibility, indeed.

Organized research materials for the Boob Book. In the process identified topics that are over-researched and some that are under-researched. Realized the next step really oughta be to draft the appendix describing how to read & understand a scientific paper.

And finally, went through (at endless length) the long, long manuscript of Fire-Rider‘s first installment, did word counts of its 79(!!) chapters, and figured out how to organize it into bookoid-length installments. Discussed this idea with graphic designer; procured his agreement to create “brand name” covers based on the present cover image, at little extra cost to me.

The latter was the biggest project and potentially the most productive. As I thought about the tale of the guy who’s minting vast riches (so we’re told) by churning out 5,000-word “books” of erotica and peddling them on Amazon, it occurred to me that the model could apply to any brand of fiction, even the nonpornographic variety. And, by golly, I happen to have an excess of that laying around the computer drive.

It took all afternoon, but by 7 p.m. Fire-Rider‘s content had tidily coalesced into 18 segments averaging a little over 8900 words. Only one of these runs less than 5,000 words. Interestingly, each section holds together pretty well, and taken together they move the story forward at a nice pace.

This is a book, as it develops, that lends itself to serialization. In one piece it’s impossibly long. But in separate pieces, it can carry a reader along happily.

So I’m thinking for sure that one gets put online in shards.

Ditto, I think, the proposed racy-fied crime novel , which I now think starts out at about  85,000 words. The writing’s atrocious, but at the rate of a chapter every day or so, I should be able to clean it up and zing it up over the course of a few weeks.

If I could break loose enough time every day, seven days a week, for several weeks in a row, I could probably get at least one of these up on Amazon very soon. If I can learn the Kindle conversion software (which doesn’t appear to be very hard), it shouldn’t be hard to mount both pieces of fiction, in serialized format, over the course of a month.

Stoked!

Why Publish with a Mainstream Press?

One reason: creds.

Several of my friends and acquaintances have immersed themselves so deeply in the indie publishing/self-publishing phenomenon that they can’t see why anyone would want to publish through an old-fashioned brick-and-mortar mainstream publisher. After all, they cry, look at how much more money you can make on sales of your book through Amazon!

To that I have this to say:

a) Fat chance and good luck with that.
b) Even if you make more per retail transaction, you’re still very unlikely to make as much publishing a good, truly promising book through Amazon as you would on an advance against sales from a major publishing house. And…
c) Let’s look at the whole picture.

Here’s the thing: even if you publish regularly on Amazon, you’re not very likely to earn a living on it. Sure, some people do. But most people don’t. And dreaming about being a Writer with a Capital W does not put food on the table or a roof over your head.

Unless you have a working spouse or independent wealth, what you need to be a Writer is a job that will support you while leaving you enough hours in the day, every day, to do the work of writing. And those hours cannot occur after eight or ten hours in the salt mine: writing is every bit as much a job as slinging hamburgers or preparing tax returns or or painting houses or pushing some company’s papers. The Writing hours need to occur when you’re fresh enough and energetic enough to devote your full attention to your job of preference.

There is a type of work that fills the bill: teaching in higher education, preferably at a university. Preferably in a graduate-level writing program. Whereas in the olden days artists and writers were supported by aristocratic patrons — dukes and earls and kings and such — today’s patron is the university.

Universities (and, to a lesser degree, two- and four-year colleges) support artists and writers by employing them in jobs that are light on labor and heavy on prestige. And the “prestige” part is the part they expect you to deliver.

To provide that — to get a tenure-track job at all — you have to be published through a recognizable press. And that does not include CreateSpace. As with any tenurable position, jobs in writing programs require more than just publishing. It’s not that you’re published. It’s where you’re published. You have to be published with a first-line press that has gatekeepers — editors and marketers and reviewers who assess the quality of your manuscript before it’s accepted for publication.

A book or two published through a recognizable house will open the doors to jobs that ask only that you teach two or three sections of creative writing or literature in exchange for freedom and time to build your career as a writer. It doesn’t have to be a Big Five publisher. An academic press or a small (but real…not CreateSpace, not Nook, not iBooks, not Ingram, not Kindle…) publisher will do the job.

I landed a full-time teaching job complete with excellent benefits, very nice office space, a decent salary, and a future on the strength of two books published through university presses and one through a major commercial publishing house. If I were to apply for such a job today, my CV probably would contain no mention of the book published through Amazon’s Kindle platform. Any whiff of a self-published book could be fatal.

Could I earn more by aggressively marketing a self-published book with broad appeal than I would by publishing the same book through a mainstream publisher? Maybe. Let’s even say “sure.”

But that income would be short-term. It would peter out in a few years, maybe even in a single year. To stave off the evil day, I would have to devote an inordinate amount of time to marketing and to hustling sales.

A salary from an academic job, on the other hand, will remain a salary as long as I hold the job, whether I publish more books or not. The academic employer will match contributions to a 403(b). It probably will offer a health insurance plan. It will offer disability insurance. It will give me an annual travel budget to cover junkets to various professional conferences. It will, in a word, support me.

Now, I’m not saying no one ever cobbles together a living wage by cranking out self-published books. No doubt some people do — maybe a lot of people. But it’s an iffy proposition.

If your books are good enough to sell to enough readers that the proceeds will support you, then they’re good enough to sell to a mainstream publisher. And the kind of job you can land with a few mainstream publications on the CV will support you steadily and usually better than a catch-as-catch-can income stream from Amazon will.

Mainstream publication gives you credentials — the credentials you need to persuade an academic patron (a university or college) to support you while you keep on writing.

Launching the Amazon Adventure

So I’ve established my “author’s page” on Amazon. The URL is supposedly www.amazon.com/author/victoriahay, but when you enter that your address line magically changes to the strange set of characters that is the back-end URL: http://www.amazon.com/Victoria-Hay/e/B00PRINAQG So, though it gives you a more plain-English URL, it doesn’t save a lot of space. If you wanted something shorter and simpler to put on a business card, you could easily generate one through Bitly.com or some such. Strange.

I hate this kind of techie thing. Such a time suck!! And frustrating. Beyond frustrating.

The first frustration has already cropped up. I have a name that I deeply dislike: Millicent V. Hay. Because I was endlessly bullied and abused as a child, and because one aspect of the bullying had to do with the weird name, just the sound of the name “Millicent” makes my skin crawl.

But when I published my first book, which was a historical biography, it had to come out under my full legal name, because there was a good chance I would use the publication to try to get an academic job. And of course, I did not want to have to explain to hiring committee after hiring committee after hiring committee that “Vicky” is “Millicent.”

Later, I started a C-corporation, a finder’s agency that farmed out work to established writers, photographers, illustrators, and graphic designers. My business partner was an old-line PR guy and marketing agent. He thought “Vicky” sounded way too informal — “infantile,” I believe, was his term. He suggested identifying myself as “Victoria.” So, henceforth “Victoria” it was, and so it stayed, even after I sold the business to him.

Well, so I have three books other than the do-it-yourself Slave Labor: The Essential Feature, published by Columbia University Press under the name Vicky Hay; Math Magic, cowritten with Scott Flansburg and published by William Morrow under the name Victoria Hay, Ph.D., and The Life of Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester, published by Folger Shakespeare Library under the name Millicent V. Hay.

So. That’s all well and good. On your author’s page, you can publish links with colorful widgets to all your books as they appear at Amazon.com.

But. Well. No, you can’t if you used the various permutations of your legal name as bylines. When you go to claim a book with a slightly different byline, you’re told “this doesn’t appear to be you.”

Ask customer service, and you learn that to bring those books into your author’s page, you have to state that the variants of your name are NOT your name but are “pen names.” A-N-N-D when you do that it creates a different author’s page for each not-a-pen name.

I don’t want separate author’s pages for each of my books. I want all my books to appear on MY page, under the name I presently use to do business.

A-N-N-D…it gets worse! I intend to publish my first novel, which is ready to go except for the final e-book formatting, under an actual pen-name: Estabanya Marcanda do Tilár. But Amazon limits the number of “author’s pages” you can have to three. If I’m made to call the two variants of my real name “pseudonyms,” then I can’t publish Fire-Rider under the pen-name I invented!

And that pen-name is part of the entire conceit behind the book. If I have to take the pen-name off the cover and title page, that will wreck the whole crazy premise I cooked up!

Presently I’m trying to explain this to their customer service people. But experience with these kinds of bureaucratic structures promises that I won’t get far with it. So I guess I just won’t be able to have my other books show on the Amazon Author’s Page.

It’s not like that will bring an end to the world as we know it.

It’s just annoying.

{sigh}

First eBook: PUBLISHED!

Pleased to report that my first effort at e-publishing is now live at Amazon. The title is Slave Labor: The New Story of American Higher Education. If you are enrolled or about to enroll in a college or university, if your kids are going to college, if you’re a graduate student who has designs on an academic career, if you’re a legislator who cares about the future of this country, if you’re a member of a board of regents, if you’re a college administrator, this book is for you.

Slave Labor describes the short- and long-term effects of replacing professors with part-timers and chronicles one adjunct’s semester in America’s largest community college district.

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Click on the image to go to Amazon. And buy, buy, buy!

This is the first stage in what will be a fairly elaborate experiment — or so it’s planned. We’re told the key to making a profit at Amazon is (in addition to astute marketing) to get several titles on the market there. And we have several more titles forthcoming. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next year and a half. For nonacademic clients who are writing book-length works for business marketing or for personal reasons, I believe it will be very interesting, indeed.

The cover design was done by colleague James Metcalf, a veteran of many a magazine issue and many an advertising campaign.

The physical e-book itself was created by Ken Johnson, proprietor of Your eBook Builder. Copyediting was done by my business partner at The Copyeditor’s Desk, Tina Minchella. I did the easy part: writing it.

Self-publishing, I have to allow, was never my style. As a creature of an earlier era, I was brought up to believe that only writers who weren’t good enough to persuade an acquisitions editor to buy their work self-published books, usually at great expense and to little profit. My books appeared through mainline publishers: William Morrow, Columbia University Press, Folger Shakespeare Library.

But times have changed. Among the crowded mediocrity, a fair number of decent writers are publishing on Amazon, Nook, and iBooks. Most are nonfiction writers — a salable piece of nonfiction is not very difficult to write, and occasionally you come up with an idea with some real redeeming value. Some decent fiction surfaces in those precincts, too.

More to the point, Amazon’s publishing model offers the potential to earn much more money from a moderately successful book than you could expect from a traditional publisher. You do split some of the revenue with Amazon, but it’s negligible compared to the proportion of gross sales that goes to a major publishing house. The books you see to the left here paid me 10% royalties. Today, 7% is more typical.

Amazon flips the traditional model upside-down: because of the almost nonexistent cost of production — at least to the “publisher,” Amazon itself — and because neither Amazon nor the author has to pay bookstores and distributors to get the product on retail shelves, the author collects a large share of gross sales.

As pretty as that looks, though, one can’t expect to get rich publishing squibs on Amazon. Some people do, of course, but they’re the exception. What I have been told, however, is that with consistent marketing of a number of Amazon-published books, it’s possible to earn something approaching a middle-class income. We’re told (depending on who’d doing the claiming) that the critical mass, as it were, is five to eight books.

Well. I can churn out books as easily as I can breathe. As we scribble, two more are under way — a work of speculative fiction and a diet/cookbook. I hope to get these out by the end of this year or, at latest, in Q1 2015.

And I’m nine chapters in to a second novel; a book of essays is in draft; and several other schemes lurk at the edges of the drawing board. It’s within reason to think I could put five books out by the end of 2015.

Giving this project two years should reveal whether revenues from a number of books residing on Amazon actually do cumulate to yield a living wage, given an active marketing plan. I think it will be interesting to see what happens.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to take part in the experiment, buy that book!

🙂