Monday, April 4, 2011

Food for Thought

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money." Samuel Johnson

Well, Sam there may have taken it a little over the top. Sure there are all the intangibles – truth, beauty, all that stuff, including the belief that women find authors irresistible.

But can we all admit that somewhere lurking in the backs of our minds like a dirty little secret we don't even admit to ourselves is the idea that we'll be "touched by the golden claw," as Calvin Trillin put it, that something we write will lift us out of the masses and make us rich. Didn't most struggling writers pause a couple of years ago and say (quietly, to themselves only,) "If my book could have 10 percent of the success over its lifetime that J.K. Rowling had in the first hour of sales of the seventh Harry Potter book, I'd quit my job tomorrow!"

Truth and beauty etc. are all very nice, but the bottom line is the bottom line.

One of the author blogs I follow spent the last week on "monetization" – how authors will make money in the future, or if authors will.

Nathan Bransford is an author and former literary agent. He knows the industry from both sides and gives an interesting, informed take on things. His monetization series is worth a look if you're even thinking about how to make a few dollars – or a lot of dollars – from your writing.

The first installment looked at self-publishing versus traditional publishing in far more detail than I could absorb in one reading. I'm not even close to figuring out his various scenarios, and will have to take several more passes through the material before I get it all. He also links to a site with a spreadsheet that takes it to even more fiendishly mathematical depths. But for all that, it still raises issues the author and aspiring self-publisher needs to think about. How was it, for instance, that one author could turn down a $500,000 advance from a publisher and make more money self-publishing? What are the factors the guy had to consider? In another scenario an author faced a similar choice and opted for traditional publishing. How did that work out? And why?

It raises questions you need to ask yourself. And it really highlights the way ebooks and print on demand and the web in general have changed the face of the publishing industry. It's definitely worth a read.

The next post took on the question of how an author can make money – even just beer money – from his or her web presence. All the usual culprits are addressed – advertising, Amazon affiliate links, selling coffee mugs from Cafe Press, etc. It's interesting, but there's less earthshaking about it. If you've got a big enough presence online, there is some money to be made. And he has a funny idea for a coffee mug, so it's worth checking out.

The final post in the series is a guest blog on how to use something called Kickstarter to fund your self-publishing venture. It's interesting, and gave me some food for thought. Kickstarter is a web site where you can post your creative project – books, art, music etc. – and your budget for achieving it. People can pledge support. As I understand it, about 40 percent of the projects up there eventually get funded.

You don't get any of the money until pledges equal 100 percent of the budget. The guest blogger wrote that she had a budget of around $2,000, and within three hours had received pledges for the total, by the end of the day she had doubled it, and be the time the pledge period ended she had received pledges for 500 percent of her budget. Although, since less than half actually reaching the full funding, that's obviously unusual. There are a lot of factors for why her project was so popular, and they raise questions you'll have to ask before you decide whether to go this route.

And you have to offer incentives for people to support you – different rewards for different levels of giving. It's sort of like a pubic television station's pledge drive. Remember that people aren't supporting you because you're cool. You've got to offer them reasons, that might include a T-shirt, or tote bag if $15 is pledged, or a coffee mug or a signed special edition of the book at a higher level. And at what level of giving would you be willing to name a character for the person who wrote the check?

And you've got to include the cost of that reward in your budget, or you're fooling yourself.

Anyway, the whole series is quite interesting and will help anyone who is poised on the edge of deciding whether to continue trying the traditional agent-publisher route or self-publishing. It certainly gave me plenty of food for thought.

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