#1 Indie Writer Pet-Peeve

Okay, I’m actually going to talk about 2 of my pet peeves today. One is book ads, the other is blog articles about mistakes indie writers make.

Let’s start with the latter.

I get it, you’re finding some success as an indie writer, or maybe you’re an avid reader, either way I’m assuming you’ve seen and hopefully read a lot of indie books before writing your article. Or maybe you’re a marketer and you’re viewing the mistakes from that angle. Most common items to make the list? Cover art, interior formatting, lack of editing, plot holes and character issues, pricing issues, spamming people with ads, not being willing to work at the marketing aspect, and ineffective marketing techniques.

No wait, that’s ALL you ever hear about.

And that’s my pet peeve right there. It doesn’t matter how many links I click on by any number of writers, marketers, or readers, they all say the same thing. I’ve read this advice already. I know my cover has to be professional, age appropriate to my YA readers, and catchy. I know how to format the interior. I know I need an editor. I’m very thorough about plot and character. My only pricing mistake is maybe putting it a buck or two too low. I don’t spam, I spend an hour per day online working on building my network and platform, and I do a lot of marketing research.

So tell me something I don’t know.

No, seriously. Please tell me something new. Please identify another little trick to success or quirk that is turning readers away. Give me something more to work with!

But if you’re just posting the same 5, 7, 10, 15 … tips that everyone else is posting, maybe you should just go reblog them instead.

And my #1 pet peeve has to do with book ads.

We see them everywhere. There are hundreds of Facebook groups that are basically ad spam hell-holes. I follow a few because I like to study them from a marketing perspective. Which ones make me interested, and why? Which ones do I scroll past and why? What appeals to me as a reader?

But I’ve become adept at identifying “authors” who speak English as a second language and I’d put money on the fact that most of them are purchasing their stories from ghost writers. I’d put my money on it because I am a ghost writer. I’ve worked with people with very unique names by my Anglo-North-American upbringing. I was also an Educational Assistant and worked with children who had recently come to Canada so I recognize the speech pattern errors of EAL speakers.

I can tell you right now that grammatical errors or spelling errors in your ad is BAD. Maybe not so much if you’re selling 99-cent smut, but if you’re serious about your book your ad had better be 100%.

Because it’s the first thing I as the reader often see. And if I see an error in the ad I’ll assume you were just as careless with the book. Because readers do judge the book by the cover – and the cover is no longer the first thing they see.

Maybe I’m preaching what everyone knows and am guilty of my other pet peeve, I don’t know. But not everyone knows it or it wouldn’t happen anymore.

Oh, and don’t use a copyrighted image in your ad unless you hold the copyright. Because that book of dark poetry I see crop up from time to time, yeah, your cover is recognizable the guy from the front of the Borderlands game box. Sorry.

So, what are your pet peeves in the indie world, as a writer or a reader?

New Disorder Sweeping our Nation

Breaking News: There is a serious disorder sweeping through North America. It has been present since the 60s and has only grown in severity. The number of people affected has grown exponentially. This is serious and serious measures need to be taken to ensure the spread does not continue.

What “disorder” am I talking about? Autism? Downs Syndrome? ADHD? No. Nada. Sorry. None of those has me up in arms. I’m talking about celebrity worship.

I hear you all screaming “that’s not a real disorder!” and I’m sure half of you are headed for the back button on your browser but please, hear me out. This is a social disorder that I firmly believe needs to be addressed.

It has been bothering me for some time, and for many reasons. Why are people obsessed with the lives of movie stars and musicians? Why do I care about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s marriage? Why do I want to know what Reese Witherspoon ordered at the coffee shop last Tuesday, and why do I care that she was wearing sweat pants?

I get it that these people are talented. I can’t act, I’m too self-conscious, too much of an introvert. I can sing but I’m really only good enough for church choirs and bonfire sing-a-longs. I’m not being hard on myself, I know I have talents and strengths but acting and music aren’t high on the list. I understand that people who play sports are talented too. Again, it’s not my strength – I’m an out of shape stay-at-home mother after all. Even at my physical peek back in high school I didn’t play on any school teams. Sports do not interest me unless I can sit in front of the TV and watch big guys in tight pants smash into each other for an hour or two.

That being said, I know a lot of other people who are very talented. Brain surgeons for example. I can’t do that. I can’t deliver a baby either. I can’t split particles or develop vaccines. All of that takes a lot of dedication, talent, and passion.

My talent lies in the written word. I write books and I know a lot of other very talented writers (whether I know them or simply know of them, it’s sort of the same for this article). So why doesn’t Stephen King get his 30 seconds on TMZ for wearing sweats to the coffee shop? I’ve never seen a brain surgeon’s divorce on the cover of the gossip magazines.

What is it about actors and musicians that makes them so irresistible to people? It can’t be the money. Bill Gates has money and he doesn’t show up on TMZ every night. Donald Trump has money and I’ve never seen a photo of him getting the newspaper in his pajamas.

I know why they’re famous. We all watch their movies and listen to their music. We all know who they are. But why this obsession with their lives off the screen. Just because I love The Avengers and have a major crush on basically everyone in that movie (shush, my husband already teases me about it) I don’t follow Robert Downey Junior on Facebook, I don’t stalk Tim Hiddleston on Twitter, and I don’t cut out magazine articles about Chris Evans.

I don’t care how many nose jobs someone has. I don’t care how hard they party. I don’t care if they’re getting a divorce or getting married, or having kids. I don’t care if they drink lattes or smoothies or what they wear on their own time, or if they look good in a bikini (unless it’s in a movie, then I care, but only for the duration of the movie). I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY THIS IS A BIG DEAL!!!

Please, someone, explain this to me!

Now, I suppose I owe an explanation for why I think this is a “disorder”. We’re obsessed. As a culture we’re obsessed with this trivial crap. And that’s causing a lot of problems.

1) In general people are paying more attention to what Kim Kardashian names her kids or wears to the store than you are to the political turmoil in North America. Look at what’s trending now on MSN or Facebook. Most of the time it’s celebrity news.

2) We are ruining their lives. I can’t imagine the stress of having to examine myself in the mirror under a microscope to ensure I look paparazzi perfect just to go to the corner store for milk. I can’t imagine the stress of having my kids’ temper tantrum in Wal-Mart aired on TMZ. I can’t imagine the embarrassment of having my marital struggles on the front cover of a magazine. THEY ARE PEOPLE. They are allowed to go to the store in sweat pants. They are allowed to have lives!! Why are we scrutinizing and judging them every second of the day. Seriously! Why do you think so many celebrity marriages end in divorce and so many of their kids are fucked up? Maybe if we just minded our own business and didn’t butt into theirs they wouldn’t be so messed up.

3) We are comparing ourselves to them. I will never be as pretty as these movie stars because I have to spend at least 6 hours a day in front of a screen writing to even scratch some spending money together. I cannot afford a gym membership, fancy equipment, personal trainers, plastic surgery, designer clothes … I can’t even afford to spend more than fifteen minutes on my personal appearance in the morning. If my hair and teeth are brushed and my clothes don’t clash I’m doing great!
We will never be as pretty as these people. We will never look perfect and airbrushed like them. But we still sit their and ooh and aah over their dresses and their hair and their styles and their waist sizes. Why? We can’t be them. Why would we want to? When did individuality and self-esteem get replaced with trying to be carbon copies of celebrities?

Culturally we need to pull our heads out of our asses. We need to spend less time staring at the tabloids and more time visiting art galleries and museums. We need to spend less time watching TMZ and more times watching documentaries and the news. We need to stop worrying about our waist size and start worrying about our overall health. We need to stop judging people for what they wear to the coffee shop and start judging them on what they are doing to make the world a better place.

I always love to hear about how Emma Watson is speaking out for women’s rights and how movie stars visit children’s hospitals. That makes me happy. I also love to hear about ordinary people protesting, or setting up memorials, or holding fundraisers for good causes. I love to hear that the pandas in the zoo in China successfully had a baby and maybe they won’t go extinct after all.

I don’t like hearing about war but I feel obliged to know about it. I don’t want my head in the sand. I want to know what’s twisting the world up and tearing it apart. I want to have an educated opinion on it.

Where do you stand on all this? Harmless distraction? Entertainment? Or is celebrity worship turning us into sheep?

A Picture’s Worth 1000 Words

Today a fellow writer on the NaNoWriMo Facebook page made the following comment:

Paying for artwork… now this has been a hot topic with me before (not sure if it was on here), but I don’t believe any drawing, no matter how good (unless you are friggin Royo) should cost 300 dollars/euro’s/pounds or more. I understand that you want to cash in on your abilities and get paid for the hours you spend drawing, but as a writer, if I calculate an hourly rate of the work I put in it a book would actually be impossible to are willing to trade me a small mansion in the south of France for it. I write because it is my passion, you draw because it is yours. I am not getting vast amounts of cash because your artwork is on my cover (again, unless you are friggin Royo), it’s just something nice to wrap the words in, so be reasonable. A 50 for a drawing is plenty. End rant. Peace.

As you can guess this created quite the debate. For the most part people were advocating that artists get paid a decent amount for their work. The definition of decent varied between 50$ and $300 depending on the size and style of the art, the medium (original painting vs print vs cover art vs digital etc), the talent of the artist, and the preceding fame of the artist. There was also intense argument over how much writers should make, and why the discrepancy between art and writing.

That’s all the recap you’re going to get. The rest of this is my opinion on a hot topic. 

Let’s start with artwork, shall we? Artists are talented individuals, some more than others, and each in their own area. I know many artists, some who work with traditional drawing mediums such as pencil, charcoal, and coloured pencils, some who do graphic design, some digital artists, a few photographers, and a couple of painters. These are people trying to make a living in the artistic world (except the two painters, they aren’t “professional” artists per say but that’s off topic), most of them work as graphic designers for local businesses, taking care of web page maintenance and updates and helping with ad campaigns. They work a 9-5 job for a wage doing graphic design related work. I can’t tell you how much they make because I don’t know, but since they’re all less than 10 years out of college I’d say they’re not making the BIG BUCKS yet.

So, when you buy a book cover, or hire a photographer, or buy a print of a picture in any medium, what are you paying for? Just an image? Just a few hours of someone’s time? Or are you also paying off the four year art degree? And the equipment and supply costs? Look at any other commodity. When you buy fruit at the grocery store the cost includes the produce, the cost of shipping it to the store, the wages of the person who put it out on the shelf, the wages of the person who supervises the shelf stocking staff, and a portion of the costs of maintaining the store (electricity, janitor, water, etc). When you pay for a university course you are paying for the professor’s time and knowledge, access to the classroom for one hour, the wages of the person who has to keep that room clean, the electricity for the lights in that room for one hour, the heating of that room for one hour, and the upkeep on the desks/tables/chairs. When you think about it, there are a lot of hidden costs to everything we buy. And artwork is no different. 

My sister is a photographer. For a one hour photo session she spends 30 minutes checking her equipment and loading it for the session, 15-45 minutes driving to the session location, 15 minutes setting up, 15-30 minutes in conference with the client deciding on poses, locations, group configurations, etc., 60-120 minutes actually taking the photos, 15 minutes packing up, 15-45 minutes driving home, 60-120 minutes reviewing and editing the photos to correct lens glare, red eye, over saturation, under saturation, and blurs, 15-45 minutes loading the photos onto a transportable medium, 15-45 minutes driving back to the client, 30-60 minutes reviewing the photos with the client and collecting the money, and 15-45 minutes to get home. Plus wear and tear on the equipment. Plus fuel costs. Plus someone has to watch her daughter while she’s working. Plus she has a student loan to pay off. So for a 1 hour in home photo session she puts in 5-10 hours of time plus additional costs. And most people want to pay her $20 for one hour of taking pictures. 

Do you think she’s getting paid fairly?

Other artists are putting time and supplies into their artwork. Plus the costs of making prints, and paying for a booth somewhere or internet hosting costs. They have to put those costs into the price of the artwork or they’ll lose money.

How many times have you seen someone ask a friend to do their photos for free, to design something for free, because they’ll get “exposure” for it? When my sister was still in university she would do my family photos for free because she was building her portfolio and because there was no travel time or client conference time since we lived together and we could talk over dinner. But now she’s trying to make a living at it so I get her to do my family photos only if we’re going to see each other anyways (she’s coming over for dinner this weekend and bringing her camera) and I pay her for the time, and I get my own prints at my own expense, and I still let her use the photos for advertising herself. They’ll pay $15 for a 6000 word erotic story – no credit to the writer. 

I work an average of 4 hours per day when I’m on a deadline (two hours while my daughter naps and the other two either before the kids are up or after they’re in bed), 6 days a week. It takes me just over a week to write a 6000 word erotic story. It takes me 5 weeks to write and edit a 40,000 word novella. So at 24 hours per day or 144 hours per week, that would work out to 1440$ per 5000-6000 word short story and $7200 per 40k novella – and that price includes all the editing and formatting. But I’m not getting paid that. I’m getting paid 15-75$ for a story and $400 for the novella – with no royalties. 

Besides time, what are you paying for? I have a BA in English Literature so I understand the mechanics of a story, character building, imagery, subtlety, etc. I took courses in grammar and punctuation and I do take on work as a freelance editor. I have a laptop that occasionally needs work. I have to pay for a word processing program. I have to pay for an internet connection so I can communicate with my clients/publishers and deliver my work on time. I have to spend time managing my various networking and job search accounts so I can promote myself and find more work. And I have a naturally creative imaginative mind which I am putting to work for you – in other words, natural talent and ability. Other writers are also paying for editors and cover artists.

If I self published a novella I wouldn’t charge $7200 for it. The difference between art and writing is that art is a one time sale (for the most part, or a limited sale in the case of prints) They rarely get royalties, even for book covers, and they don’t mass produce. But I have 127 friends on Facebook. Considering that some are related to each other and live in the same household even if every one of them bought a copy of my book out of support that would be 110 copies, tops. Add the 10 copies that other NaNo writers might buy in support, and maybe another 10 that my blog followers might buy in support that’s only 130 copies. Add another 15 for friends and family who aren’t on Facebook and that’s 145 copies. And this is thinking BIG. Realistic would be 75 copies. That’s right. Out of 200+ friends, family, and acquaintances I could count on less than half of them to actually buy a copy of the book to show support and of that 75, only 5 will go back and post a review. Anyways, that book is worth $7200, and I would get about 35 CENTS per copy in royalties through Amazon if I self published it. And we said a guaranteed 75 copies sold? $26.25. To get paid a decent wage for that book I’d have to sell 20571 at $1.99. And I have to do all my own marketing. If I pay for any ads or bookmarks or posters that means 100 or 1000 more copies before I see a profit. 

If you have any friends in the Indie publishing biz ask them how many copies of their books they’ve sold. I’m better 90% have sold less than 2000 copies. 

That $7200 was just for the story. It didn’t include the editor (which runs $50-$300 dollars) or the cover art (which runs $50-$300 dollars – and was the start of this whole debate) because as a freelance writer I’m not expected to provide those things. As an self-published author, I am. So now we’re looking at $7800 for all out of pocket expenses, including time, which is 22,285 copies. Or 22,200 copies more than I know I can sell. 

What about traditional publishing? At least then I’ll get a four figure advance and some chance at royalties. But even at a $2000 advance and $2/book there’s this clause that says the advance is against future royalties, I need to sell more than 1000 copies before I see any extra money. Still, at $2 per printed book, that’s 3600 copies to make back that $7200 figure we’ve been using as an example. But of course you have to pay taxes on that like everyone else, and EI, and CPP (I’m Canadian), and you pay your agent out of that so you’re only getting $1.50 per book before deductions (now we’re looking at 4800 copies). But you don’t pay for the cover and you get the book into physical stores. Still, that’s 4725 more copies than I know I can sell. Which is why it’s so hard to break into traditional publishing.

And it all comes down to the fact that people don’t want to spend 2$ on an ebook by an author they’ve never heard of because if the book sucks they’re out 2$. People don’t want to chance it on a $20 book because if they don’t like it they’re stuck with the book cluttering up the house and they’re out the money. At least with artwork you can preview the piece in its entirety before buying. Same thing with music. It doesn’t help that writers and artists aren’t supporting each other – advertising for each other, providing word-of-mouth recommendations for writers they like, liking pages and blogs, sharing links and release news, BUYING from each other. It doesn’t help that so many non-creatively engaged people are surrounded by so many “starving artists” and “starving writers” that they can’t support all of them. It doesn’t help that we’re under-pricing ourselves in the market place. It doesn’t help that our culture no longer values books and art. 

I suggest we work to change things. Charge what you’re worth. Advertise for each other. Let’s put some value into art and literature again.