Thursday, September 21, 2017

Is there money in self-publishing?

A well researched report reported in the Guardian newspaper reports that
Despite the splash caused by self-publishing superstars such as Amanda Hocking and EL James, the average amount earned by DIY authors last year was just $10,000 (£6,375) – and half made less than $500.

...

Romance authors earned 170% more than their peers, while authors in other genres fared much worse: science-fiction writers earned 38% of the $10,000 average, fantasy writers 32%, and literary fiction authors just 20% of the $10,000 average.

...

Self-publishers who received help (paid or unpaid) with story editing, copy editing and proofreading made 13% more than the average; help with cover design upped earnings by a further 34%.

Read the full article here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/may/24/self-published-author-earnings?CMP=share_btn_fb

Note that the 'average' (i.e., mean) was highly skewed by a handful of high earners. The mode was closer to $500 and a quarter did not earn back their costs. One should probably start with the expectation of making less than $500 on one's first book...

I do know self-published authors who are making a living, though. Krista Ball comes immediately to mind, since she is also one of my favorite authors. But she had a long term strategy and really works at both the writing and marketing...Nobody could say she had found a get-rich-quick scheme. If you're in writing for the money, I think you're in the wrong business. There are a lot easier ways to make a living. But if you're in it for the love of writing, yeah, you have a shot at making...$500.

It only makes sense to seek professional editing if one amortizes the cost over not just one manuscript, but over one's whole career—what one learns from having one's first book edited should show up as a better first draft of #2, and getting #2 edited teaches you how to write book #3 and so on. Editing gets less expensive as you go because your manuscripts start out cleaner, and so take less time to edit. That's theory, anyway. Doesn't always workout that way--being creative, authors can always come up with new ways to screw up a manuscript. But I for one like to think of myself as an educator as much as an editor for any particular manuscript.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Essential Edits at Word on the Street Sept 23

Essential Edits will be engaged at Word on the Street Lethbridge in three ways:

  • We'll have a table in the display area where you'll be able to meet Essential Edits staff (Dr. Runté, Elizabeth McLachlan, and Lesley Little) and view some of the titles they've edited, find out about free online resources for all types of writers, sign up for a free consultation (first come, first served), and ask questions about writing, editing, and publishing.
  • Dr. Runté will be participating on the 12:00–1:00 PM panel, "Writing Nuts and Bolts: Editors and Publishers Talk about Submissions"
  • Dr. Runté will be participating in the Blue Pencil Café (along with authors Barb Greiger and Paul Butler, and poet Richard Stevenson) from 3:00–5:00PM.
There's lots going on, and it's all free.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Faabulous article on what (substantive) editors do

Great article from August 2017 The Atlantic on The Book He Wasn't Supposed To Write". My favorite bit is where the author asks his editor why the editor was so rough on the initial draft/submission, and the editor replies,

“Sometimes my job is to be an asshole,” he explained with equanimity. I wasn’t startled at this. At one point on an earlier book, when I told him how stressed I was feeling, he had replied, a bit airily, I thought, “Oh, every good book has at least one nervous breakdown in it.”

And a second great quote was:

The first draft is for the writer. The second draft is for the editor. The last draft is for the reader.

Seems about right to me.

Highly recommend the whole article, especially for authors who are feeling picked on, and editors who feel they might be pushing too hard.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Theses and Dissertation Writing Strategies

I finished revising and have now posted my 32 page guide to writing strategies for theses and dissertations to the Essential Edits site.

I argue that one has to unlearn undergraduate writing skills to learn a completely new skill set to survive.

Research suggests attrition rates of between 50% to 65% for PhD candidates and thesis-route master's programs. Interestingly enough, most drop out of the program after completing all the course work and all the data collection and analysis for thesis/dissertation, which suggests that the problem is in the writing stage—though this is seldom recognized in the literature, and often not even by the students themselves! Reorienting graduate students to the different nature of sustained writing projects could assist many more students in completing their graduate degrees.

The guide is available free from EssentialEdits.ca/ThesisStrategies.pdf.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

H. A. Hargreaves, PhD (1928-2017)

H. A. Hargreaves, the grandfather of Canadian science fiction as a distinct genre, passed away July 27, 2017. This is more or less what I said at his funeral yesterday:

I have to confess that I didn't know Hank all that well. I'd only ever met him in person five or six times. But as H. A. Hargreaves, the author, he had a profound influence on my life.

I first met Dr. Hargreaves in 1977 when I was helping to organize an open house for the campus science fiction club (ESFCAS). A club member I didn't know well said, "Hey my English professor has just had a collection of his science fiction published. It's actually pretty good. Let's get him to do a reading." I was skeptical, because in 1977 sf was not widely considered appropriate subject matter for a professor of English literature, so who knew what an English professor might think of as SF; and I had frankly never heard of Hargreaves. But I didn't have a better idea, so we invited Dr. Hargreaves to read.

He read "Dead to the World", his most famous and most widely reprinted story, to a crowd of about 50. That story—and the rest of the North by 2000 collection, which I then rushed out to buy—changed my life.

First, Hargreaves showed me that there could be a distinctly Canadian science fiction. Hargreaves' was the first collection ever explicitly marketed as "Canadian science fiction", which was itself a new idea for me. I think everyone assumed that SF was a strictly American genre, exemplified by John W. Campbell's Analog magazine. Before hearing "Dead to the World", I had been slowly reading my way through the Hugo and Nebula award-winning novels (mostly American and British writers), but after hearing "Dead to the World" it occurred to me to search instead for Canadian SF. "Dead to the world" was charming, oddly engaging, and completely different than anything I had ever encountered before. Here was a new version of the genre that resonated with me in a way I couldn't completely put my finger on. So I tried to nail that down, and ended up spending the next 40 years of my career lecturing on the nature of Canadian science fiction, as distinct from the American and British versions of the genres.

Second, Hargreaves was a major influence on my own writing. (Well, by "major influence", I mean the opening scene in my novel is a direct steal from the opening scene of "Dead to the World".) As a reader, reviewer, and editor, I must have read thousands of short stories over my career, but the stories that most often come floating into memory are those from Hargreaves' collection. There is something strangely compelling about his story-telling that makes these quiet stories about TV repair, bureaucracy, or a college classroom so uniquely memorable. I never took a class from Professor Hargreaves, but he was certainly one of the people who taught me how to write.

More than that, his writing from a distinctly Canadian perspective gave me (and the other Canadian SF authors emerging in that period) permission to do so also.

I mentioned the American editor, John W. Campbell. Campbell was immensely influential, not least because his was the highest paying SF magazine, which meant everyone tried to match their style to Campbell's tastes in hopes of selling to Analog. Hargreaves was a great fan of John W. Campbell as well, and always sent his stories first to Analog, for as long as Campbell lived.

However, in contrast to Cambpell's preferred alpha-male, engineer heroes—who always won the day by dint of superior character and scientific knowledge—Hargreaves' protagonists were ordinary people caught up in sort of mundane events. Instead of a Captain Kirk or a Captain Picard heroically defending Star Fleet, Hargreaves wrote about the spaces station's TV repairman. Whereas Campbellian fiction was about winning through to one's goals, Hargreaves heroes often failed to achieve their goals. Instead, if they got their happy ending, it was by suddenly realizing that they had been pursing the wrong goal, and now choosing something different. The protagonist of "Dead to the World" for example, fails in his attempt to correct the computer error which has listed him as dead. After several attempts to be reinstated, he comes to realizes that he's actually way better off (listed as) dead.

Campbell always wrote back with a two-page critique, saying he loved the story, but that it would have to be changed to be an Analog story, fit for Campbell's American audience. Hargreaves, however, always chose to stick to his own vision, and sent it instead to British editor Ted Carnell—who always printed the story exactly as is.

(There was one exception. On the last story Hargreaves submitted to Campbell, Campbell made the usual demands for revisions, but then ended by saying, 'or you could forget all that and instead take this other suggestion for when you send it to Ted.' Hargreaves took that one, greatly pleased that Campbell had apparently understood Hargreaves' vision all along, and had approved of the stories going to Carnell instead.)

By modelling one version of what Canadian SF might look like, and sticking to his vision rather than trying to conform to the American market, Hargreaves became the grandfather [Phyllis Gotlieb is the grandmother] of a distinctly Canadian SF. He was consequently inducted into the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Associations Hall of Fame in 2015.

Hargreaves next to display of Hall of Fame Trophy, at Fish Creek Library, Calgary.

Third, it was not lost on me that although Hargreaves wrote only a single story every other year, he still managed to create a significant canon—both in terms of size and importance—over his lifetime. Busy with life as literature professor and father, teacher and opera singer, he devoted only a single week of his holidays to writing that year's short story. As a professor and dad myself, I look to Hargreaves' as my model of a successful writing career. I often hear people claim they need to quit their day job to become full-time writers, or that anyone who claims to be a professional writer who does not make their entire income writing is a fraud. Hargreaves' example puts the lie to all of that. No one can dispute either the quality of his work or his place in history of the genre, yet his writing life was squeezed into a corner smaller than that afforded to many of those who complain that they cannot manage with less than full-time. Full-time is great if you can get it, and even half-time would be privileged, but no time is no excuse. Writers should check their sense of entitlement when embezzling time from parenting, familial, or day-job responsibilities. If Hargreaves could do it, so can the rest of us.

Similarly, although I recognize the existential threat presented by the writing hobbyist to those professional writers trying to distinguish themselves from those engaged in vanity self-publishing, Hargreaves' writing career demonstrates that percentage of income may not be the best measure of 'professional quality'.

* * *

After lecturing about Hargreaves place in history for two generations, I was confronted by an audience member who pointed out that North by 2000 had been out of print for years, and nearly impossible to find.

"I'm surprised no one has thought to reprint it," I said. "It really deserves to be available to the current generation."

"Aren't you Senior Editor at a small press?" my questionner asked.

Do'h!

So I did take the manuscript to my publisher, who developed the expanded edition, North by 2000+, which include every SF story Hargreaves had ever written. She loved Hargreaves writing so much, she asked to see what else he had. Thus was born Growing Up Bronx Hargreaves collection of autobiographical stories.

* * *

Meeting Hank, the person, was always an honour and a pleasure. He was always kind, generous with his time, and soft-spoken. I can't imagine him ever shouting in anger, though I know that injustice angered him. He was the archetypal 'nice' Canadian, though as demonstrated by his refusal to compromise his vision, 'nice' should not be confused with a lack of strength or character. I suppose I should count this the fourth dimension on which Hargreaves has had a significant influence on me. I hesitate only because I spent so few days in his actual presence, but reading Growing Up Bronx makes it feel like I have known the man from childhood.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Starting a Writers' Group

Here is a link to a reasonable column on starting a writers' group.

I have been a member of a local writers group several times and found it helpful. The trick is to find one (or start one) that works. The two biggest problems plaguing writers groups are the dangers of becoming either

  • a mutual admiration society:
    "My but that is a wonderful story!"
    "Oh thank you! And I love your story too!"

  • OR
  • a cesspool of negativity:
    "Your opening sucks!"
    "Oh yeah? Well at least my story isn't homophobic/racist/politically incorrect/fake news like yours!"
It doesn't take much imagination to see how bad either of those scenarios could get. The mutual admiration society ends up publishing each other's work in a self-published anthology that nobody outside the group and their mothers will hear about, let alone buy, instead of focusing on improving to the point where they are selling their work to objective editors in professional paying markets. The downward spiral of the overly negative (people who don't know how to give constructive feedback, or who think being 'honest' means saying whatever pops into their heads) is that one or more members end up stopping: not just coming not coming back, but giving up writing all together. Getting the right balance requires designing appropriate structures; having ground rules (e.g., give three positive comments and three areas in need of refinement); having good leadership (rotating chair? elder statesman chair? guest editors as invited chairs?); and/or recruiting the right people in the first place.

The blind leading the blind is not that helpful, but finding one's way into a professional writers' circle can be difficult. I have seen writers getting terrible advice from other group participants; writers getting shrugs from other members who don't understand the writer's genre, or style, or purpose; and writers so intimidated by their more experience or more advanced peers that they give up. So writers' groups can easily go very, very wrong.

But I've been a member of at least two that worked very well. The first dissolved when too many members graduated university and the group lost critical mass (in the days before the internet); and the second is still going 20 years on, but without me because I moved away for my day job as a professor. (That group has the best writer group name ever: "The Cult of Pain") In both instances, the majority of members have ended up getting published. Similarly, two of the novels I've edited for Five Rivers Publishing this year thank writer's groups in their acknowledgement, groups that have routinely produced professionally successful writers. On the other hand, Lorina Stephens, the publisher at Five Rivers, has sworn off writers groups because of her negative experiences. So...your mileage may vary.

Note the not all writers' groups are critique groups. Some just get together for coffee once a month to commiserate on how hard it is to find time for writing; how relatives do not understand; how hard it is to work in isolation (in contrast to working in a workplace); how unreasonable editors are; and so on, or to celebrate successes. A writers group as water cooler social group can be surprisingly helpful, giving a moral boost that can last a month or more. Just knowing that others 'get it' and that one is not crazy for feeling what one is feeling is often really helpful. Another possible approach for a writers group is the educational workshop that invites guest speakers (editors, successful authors, representatives from the regional writers guild, publishers, book designers, cover artists, etc) each month on topics of interest to the group. Online groups can similarly go beyond offering each other critiques to organize private Facebook groups, cooperate on a blog or podcast, or organize webinars.

It is surprising how helpful a writers group can be, but one needs always to keep one's activity in the group balanced against one's own writing priorities. I have known aspiring writers who became so focused on participating in the group's activities that their writing time suffered. As writing superstar Robert Sawyer recently said at a WWC presentation, it's important that one doesn't get distracted by pseudo writing activities, such as participating in workshops, marketing oneself through social media, and other professional activities that take time that might be better invested in actually writing.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Aurora Award Voters' Package available until Sept.

The Prix Aurora Award 2017 voter package (e-copies of most of the nominated novels, short stories, etc) is now available at http://www.prixaurorawards.ca/auror…/voter-package-download/. The package is free to members of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association so they can read nominated work before voting.(Seems like a pretty sensible idea to me!)

Membership in CSFFA is $10/yr and open to any Canadian, and includes the right to nominate and vote for the Auroras.

My short story, "Age of Miracles", was nominated for a 2017 Aurora in the short story category, so is included in this year's voters' package. I'm really pleased because that means more people will likely have the opportunity to read the story, though the anthology it's from, Strangers Among Us is a good one (six aurora nominations in all!) and well worth buying.