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Monday Musings: Plan B

April 25, 2011

I’m writing this on April 8, at which time I’ve sent out 38 queries for this story.  Twelve have already been rejected, form rejections all.  A few others have sent standard Emails saying they might send something in 6-12 weeks, by which time I might also get my X-ray specs in the mail.  Let’s see which one happens first!  Between now and when the entry airs I might send a few more to round the number closer to 50.  Or whatever.

[And as of April 21 I sent out 69.  26 form rejections and 1 full request.  I could have sent more, but as someone who appreciates a good dirty joke, 69 seems like a good number.  Probably just stop there.]

Anyway, I’m just going to assume they’ll all be rejections.  My philosophy is that queries are like job interviews:  if you don’t hear back right away then assume the worst.  Sure you can point to some examples of where that didn’t happen, but I don’t care.  It’s not going to happen in this case.  If it does, then woo hoo.

[And backing that up was the 1 full I got came back the next day.]

So Plan B is that I’d probably just do what I did with other books.  That is to look them over, make up a cover, and convert it to Kindle format.  Then I can maybe make a couple of bucks to recoup the expense of all the tea I drank at Starbucks and Panera Bread while writing it.  Or at least one tea.  If I sold enough I might put the second one on there too and so forth.

It occurs to me that’s a really nice luxury to have.  In the old days if the publishing industry wouldn’t take you, the story wound up in a drawer or at the bottom of a bird cage.  Now it’s so easy to put it out as an eBook for virtually no cost.  (Though the publishing industry will claim it’s so horribly expensive they have to charge $9.99 for what I could put on there for $0.99.)  Or if you feel like wasting some money you can use a POD publisher like CreateSpace or Lulu.

Of course it’s not as good as Plan A–the getting Ms. Big Agent who sells it to Random House and makes me a millionaire, leading to a Charlie Sheen-type meltdown plan–but at least someone might read it, which is more than you could say 30 years ago.  Technology is our friend!

Anyway, expect a spate of shamelessly self-promoting blog entries this summer when that happens.

In a bit of synchronicity, Writer Beware was complaining about 99-cent ebooks that no one probably reads anyway on their Facebook page and I said I didn’t really care if they read the book so long as I got paid for it.

Then in a post a few days later, I read this at the end:

When I posted this article to Writer Beware’s Facebook page, one reader quipped that he didn’t care if anyone read his book, as long as they bought it. But authors should care, because the reading–not the pricing–is what keeps people coming back.

And no, I still don’t care.  Why?  Because no one was going to read those anyway!  Those books were going to rot in the drawer anyway with no one reading them.  This way there’s a chance a few people might read them and I make a little bit of money.  Win-win for me.  Now if you’re Stephen King or John Grisham you would be pissed just like Lars Ulrich was pissed about Napster.  If people can get books for cheap then they can’t buy the solid gold Jacuzzi for their cat’s summer house!  (I know, most authors don’t really make that much money.)

The obvious fallacy in their line of reasoning is that if people pay more for a book they’ll read it.  To borrow a stat from Michael’s entry on April 19, 57% of new books aren’t read to completion.  That’s more than half!  And these books probably aren’t just 99-cent eBooks written by a nobody.  So no, higher prices do not equal better readership.

But I as the author can’t control whether people read the thing or not.  I don’t know who buys it so I can’t go to their houses with a gun and force them to read the book.  (I would if I could!)  All I can do, like any businessman, is make my product available and hope for the best.  Since I don’t have name recognition and a huge marketing budget, the only advantage I have over the “legitimate” authors is that I can charge less than they do.  That’s called “competitive advantage” in business.

And really, what’s the difference between paying 99 cents for an eBook and paying $1 for a book from the remainder store or a used book store?  Or paying $0 to rent the book from the library?  At least the author of the 99-cent eBook gets 35 cents of royalties, which is something.  Not much, but something.

Wednesday I’m going to reveal my Marxist plan for taking over the publishing industry…

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14 Comments
  1. Well, having a back up plan is always important. 😉

  2. Try not to become discouraged mutt. I think you are an amazing writer and you just need to be patient and wait for those answers to come back. Basically, don’t jump the gun and say, “Meh…they’re all rejections.” I read the other day that some people can send out well over 150 or so letters before being successful. I suggest looking at the query that was successful in netting you a full manuscript and examining that for possible things that are eye-catching that perhaps could be incorporated in different letters.

  3. Lots to think about here.

    First, like I always say (to nobody in particular) selling a book to an agent/publisher is different than selling a book to a reader — query letters market to a particular demographic and may not represent the prospects of that book in the open market.

    Garrison Keillor a while back said that eventually there will be “18 million authors in America, each with an average of 14 readers, eight of whom are blood relatives. Average annual earnings: $1.75.”

    (Here: http://tinyurl.com/27shbh2.)

    But would that be so bad, assuming that we all earn a living doing something we enjoy, anyway? Keillor assumes the books would be bad — but good writers are good writers, whether or not they sell anything. (See, e.g., Richard Yates.)

    That’s actually just Keillor arguing against the change that’ll ultimately overtake publishing the way iTunes overtook music. The ability to self publish (POD are wasting money? But I like hard copies of my books!) has changed the game, and the ability to self-promote has, too. Dane Cook, Arctic Monkeys, and Amanda Hocking are proof that the Internet can make you big even if the gatekeepers don’t like you.

    As I said before, walk around a library and see ALL THE BOOKS that you never read, and be amazed. Who ever heard of “Up In The Air” before a producer liked it and bought the rights and then got Clooney to star in it. Who ever heard of Diablo Cody or the guy that does “Stuff White People Like?”

    I still send stuff to publishers, occasionally — less and less frequently, but I do– but I find writing for myself and self-publishing it to be more fun. But I’m not relying on it for a living, either. (And few people can; I read that the average author earns $27,000 a year.)

    But Rogue’s right: the important thing is that people read it. My collection of short stories “Just Exactly How Life Looks.” (Available on Kindle 99 cents! Sorry, Rogue!) sat around for years, a collection of stories I’d typed and kept because I liked them but couldn’t get them published. Now they’re published, and while they’re not front-and-center at Barnes & Noble, people have read them — people not even related to me.

    The key factor is SELLING. Publishers will sell your book for you (maybe, but not likely if you’re not a big name). Authors have to sell themselves now the way garage bands have had to sell themselves: blogs, friends, book sales. I feel like I could do more to promote my books, but I’m too lazy/employed to do it.

    My point is: Write what you like. If someone else will publish it, great. If they won’t, Rogue’s exactly write: DIY and people will read it.

    By the way– I price all my books at 99 cents because I want people to read it; I figure if I sell a million copies I’ll not only make money, but my NEXT book will be published because I sold a million of the first. But there’s some merit to the thought that people will buy it if it’s priced higher — UW recently began charging for their spring game because teams that charge for exhibition games found attendance increased, as fans thought that if they paid money the thing must be worth something.

    • I think we’d both be doing a lot better if we had more time, inclination, or name recognition for the selling part of it. Or maybe I’ll just borrow my sisters’ kitten to make funny videos of it and get views that way.

  4. That’s one perspective that wasn’t on my mind (referring to above post). You know, when I go to an agent blog and read, “I’m a Christian Agent that represents fine works of Christian literature” I think to myself… “Well that’s one that won’t want to read my manuscripts where two men are French kissing…” So yeah, it’s nice to have an outlet where (for example) religious and political gatekeeping is not preventing your work from being seen.

    • That’s how it was with “Where You Belong.” The word length and topic pretty much made in untouchable commercially. For some reason this one is going the same way, though, so I’m not sure what the deal is except maybe a conspiracy against me.

  5. Putting stuff on Kindle is not Plan B for me…I want to publish stuff on it that I wouldn’t publish traditionally, flash-fiction, for example. I haven’t dipped in my toes, yet, thought, and the thought of all the format conversion is making me queasy.

    I have been published traditionally, in various anthologies…and while it has made me happy, because it is after all, a sort of validation, it has neither made writing less challenging, nor made me rich.

    Writing is its own reward, as far as I’m concerned 🙂

    The Kindle venture (if I can kick my lazy butt hard enough) would be an experiment and a learning curve, because I’m beginning to believe that e-books are the thing of the future.

  6. onceupona permalink

    Well, I anxiously await your marxist plan to take over the publishing industry…

  7. Ethan Cooper permalink

    I agree with Damyanti: Writing has to be its own reward.

  8. Ethan Cooper permalink

    This may be old news: But The Times today had this story about a new service from Penguin that is designed to connect unpublished genre writers with agents. If the link doesn’t work, search: Julie Bosman, “Aspiring Authors Get Help Online.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/26/books/book-country-an-online-site-by-penguin-group.html?ref=arts

    • My possible distant cousin Margaret Dilloway (author of “How to Be An American Housewife”–on sale now!) posted a link to this on Facebook just an hour or two ago. Synchronicity!

      I remember Time Warner had a site called iPublish (I think) back in 2000 that was in theory supposed to do the same thing. Unpublished people could post stories and whatnot and Time Warner editors would maybe look at them and find some good stuff to publish. The site folded back in 2001, but just the basic description sounds kind of the same.

  9. I think you’re probably right about the either/or scenario. Of course it’s better in an ebook than at the bottom of a drawer, but it’s best in the hands of an agent, and there’s no reason to give up after just one round of queries. There are many, many blogs, bloggers and editors that will help you with your query letter. So will writers groups and conferences. With my first query letter, I thought it was perfect, for rejection after rejection. Then I went to the SCBWI conference and discovered a new angle to write it from. BAM. Three requests. No sign, but it was a step in the right direction. Keep at it! If you want your book in print, if you want the contract, you’re the only one that can get it 🙂

    • To play devil’s advocate here, you spent a bunch of extra time and money on your query and got two more full rejections than I did. Doesn’t really seem worth it.

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