Monday, May 5, 2014

Authors Not Getting Paid: Guest Thoughts about Piracy


Piracy increases discoverability. For writers who aren't yet famous, this may be a net positive. Also, it's doubtless true that many more ebooks are downloaded than are read. Some people who download have a hoarder's mindset, and they want to have every text and every song that they might one day want to read or listen to. Every download does not represent a lost sale.

What I find troubling is that there are three models for monetizing pirated content. One is a subscription service: Pay a fee to download as much content as you want. (Some such arrangements are legitimate and have licensed rights or have public-domain content. Others are pirates.) Or link hubs that generate a lot of traffic and sells advertising based on user visits. And, finally, there are eBay pirates who sometimes don't know that they are pirates. I've shut down dozens of these when I've found my work included on DVD libraries. Sellers typically post some boiler-plate language about how all the titles on the DVD are public-domain books, but this just isn't true. However, EBay requires that rights holders track down each seller and fax a VERO take-down form. I waged war on some of these resellers for a while, and none of my work is available on ebay currently. But the work of many writers is.

When pirates are making money from piracy, they have an incentive to persist and grow. I don't worry that friend-to-friend file sharing is a problem. But commercial ventures can eat away at the thin margins of publishers and the already-meager earnings of authors. Musicians have found that they can give away recordings and make a living from live performances. What will writers do?


At the same time, indy publishing enables us to publish our books and earn a margin that's maybe eight times what our royalties would be with a traditional publisher, per book. So a writer who sells 800 copies earns the equivalent of a 6,400-book press run selling out with a traditional publisher. If readers feel like they are supporting a particular writer, then they don't mind paying for physical books when they could have the ebook for free. That is, it may become all the more important for writers to find a readership that acts more like patrons than like consumers, but the good news is that each writer needs only a few hundred or (one hopes) a few thousand such readers.

The upshot, however, is that the Big Six will feel piracy cutting into their sales just when high overhead is cutting their margins thinner and thinner. I think writers are going to survive these enormous changes by coming to think about publishing in a very different way. Most big publishers will not last ten years, unless they figure something out. Many genre writers have been talking about this for years, but most literary writers haven't been paying much attention, or have been told that literary sales are so small they such writers aren't targets for piracy.

The issue remains just about as clouded as Lloyd Shepherd found it to be I find myself wishing there were more of a conversation about these issues among literary writers, but most MFA programs really don't address the business of writing and publishing at all, and that seems to limit discussion.

*****

Bruce Holland Rogers is on the MFA fiction faculty at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. He was recently a Creative Artist fellow for three months in Japan and is a 2014 NEA creative writing grant recipient. His stories have been translated into more than two dozen languages, including Pashto and Klingon. Yes, really.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Gift shopping for a writer?

Earlier this month I was thinking about gifts for writers. I did what alot of my students do when they have important questions about life; I turned to about.com
I don’t know anything about the writers at about.com. Well, that’s not true anymore because now I know that they have an excellent sense of humor. The gift suggestions are darkly hilarious.

Among them:

A magazine subscription.
Like our desks aren’t *already* piled with words (ours and other people’s) we don’t have time to read.

Books on writing.
What you should actually get.
Don’t writers only turn to those in times of horrible desperation? When they are convinced that they only wrote something decent by accident and they will never, ever, write anything good again? They turn to the how to write books in the hope that they might find a tiny something that will help them fake their way through whatever terrible, terrible manuscript they are currently ruining with their bad, bad writing.  

Tickets to see an admired writer.
One, aren’t these things supposed to be free?
Two, good God, is there anything worse than hearing someone else talk about their huge writing success? Especially when you, the gifted writer, are facing the guilt from the unread stack of magazines and journals and the shame of sneaking into dark corners hoping to discover whatever secret will enable you to keep fooling everyone that you too are a writer to be admired?

Next gift suggestion: A journal filled with blank pages.
Oh yeah. That is exactly what every writer wants. A crap ton of more blank pages to fill.  ‘Nuf said.

Alright, I admit the whole list wasn’t ironically funny. The fifth item: a massage.
This sounds awesome. Especially if the masseuse  doesn’t speak English. That way they won’t ask what you do for a living, and make you remember why you need the massage so badly in the first place.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Social Media, what it should do for authors, writing programs and some #random #thoughts

I don't have any training in social media. I've formed my opinion from what I've heard at conferences, from other authors, and what I've pieced together from articles and stuff. Before I reworked my commercial fiction blog,  I averaged 150 hits a month. Now I average over two thousand and it continues to go up. For me, I think social media ought accomplish to three key things:
  • reinforce brand. 
  • organize the brand.
  • build and maintain buzz.  

Reinforce Brand
By reinforce the brand, I mean provide information on events and topics, whatever things are of interest to the audience. I know "reinforce the brand" sounds kind of markety or contrived, but all I mean is to think about who you are as an author, and provide whatever your audience needs or is interested in. In the case of an author, that will be anything connected to to the author's books and related topics. In the case of a writing program, audience would be prospective and current students, alum, faculty, and friends of the program. Friends of the program would be other writing programs that are in some way connected with the literary community, for example, journals students and faculty submit to and publish in. I've heard that social media should be 80% information, fun notes about successes, relevant chatter, and 20% promotion. If there is too much obvious promotion, the audience will not perceive themselves to be a beneficiary but a target. So they disconnect. I use this philosophy in my own use of social media. 


Organize Brand
Another thing I think is helpful is to use social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, tumblr, etc) to drive the audience to the one common source. For me, my one common source is isabelledrake.com. Once they get there, readers will find not only what they are looking for, but other great stuff. The one source place serves as an archive of information and whatever else is relevant and is searchable. It's also designed to provide what the audience seeks. An author can use social media to drive the reader to the one source place (blog or website) by posting the content on the site and putting links to the site out in the media. For example, program press releases could be posted on the program blog or site and the link to the blog could be put on the program Facebook page. That way, the news gets out right away and it is also available later. Also, with student and faculty publications, the same thing. The info could be posted on the site with the link posted on Facebook and twitter. Instant news, but also available later. Another example, covers could be put on Pinterest and the cover would link back to the program site. See? The social media drives the audience to the site so they will see all the awesome stuff right there.
 

Build and Maintain Buzz
The need to generate buzz for authors is often discussed as though it is impossible and mysterious. There is certainly a luck component to "buzz" but authors can use social media to their advantage by thinking about how different social media accounts function and how the accounts can interconnect and strengthen each other. Name recognition is important for authors and writing programs but for different reasons. Authors need to focus on themselves and their work. Programs must consider the needs of the program as well as the needs of the students. The program needs buzz to attract new students; the current and alumni students need buzz to achieve their individual goals. This can be achieved through the use of social media. For example, featuring student work and news on a writing program site accomplishes both needs because the links to the program site can be easily shared by students, alum and faculty to people outside the program. If a someone in the writing program does a post or has something featured on the site, they can post the link on their own social media outlets and that too will drive people to the program site. This cross promotion generates buzz and enables the program to reach many people. Also, the post could be used later by students. For example, in a query letter or job application, the student could include the link to show off their work. The post on the program site would show off their work but again drive someone new to the site. In that way, it benefits both the student and the program.


Some really random thoughts:
  • I avoid posting anything on my site that will either need updating or that itself becomes out of date. Anything with a deadline, for example. To me those items become stale. I post those items on Facebook and others (twitter, tumblr) only.
  • I use Blogger because I find it easy to use. I know it is more simple and limited than Wordpress, but I get tangled up in WP. Wordpress locks up on me and has eaten more than one post...like after I have written them.
  • I have a tumblr blog where I'm trying to reach a slightly different audience. It doesn't have the ability to have "pages" like Blogger. That's a disadvantage because it would be difficult to organize stuff.
  • My Pinterest is new. I don't love it as much as other people, but it can be a fun task avoidance. I suppose it may turn into something.


Why the Pin-Ups here?

Friday, August 9, 2013

AWP 2014, Seattle


I was excited to receive notice that my proposal for next year's AWP conference has been accepted.
 
Title
The Irony of the Internet: Reevaluating and Redefining Business and Creativity in the Digital Age

Description
The literary world is experiencing what the music industry has been for years: expanded audience access, revised distribution channels, and pressure from business giants. We all know business is done differently, but the digital age also requires us to think differently. This panel—editors, authors, and an agent—will explore these aspects of the digital age as well as how the internet and electronic media alter attitudes on creativity and the perceived value of artistic endeavors.