Career Implosion in 5, 4, 3, 2 …

Writers need Readers. Period. End of story. They’re our bread and butter. As long as they One Click, flip the pages, and Rate and Review, we can write. They make what we do possible. And the interest — hopefully the continued interest — they show in our work affords us the LUXURY of doing what we do.

They should be treated with gratitude, respect, and, yes, patience.

If you’re lucky, if you’re VERY lucky, your readers will forge a relationship with you. Will feel they’re welcome to reach out with questions and praise. Will feel, on some level, that you CARE about them, sincerely, and that you APPRECIATE their interest and support. And if you’re very, very lucky, readers will enjoy your work so much that they want to see you succeed. Perhaps even have some kind of vested interest in seeing you do well. Will CELEBRATE with you as you do better and better. Will tell their friends about you. Urge their friends to buy your work and read it and review it.

And, my god, guys, that right there is the Holy Grail for writers. Really. Readers being so engaged that they, via the oh so powerful Word of Mouth, get out there, sing your praises, and, essentially, do your marketing for you.

But that’s a double-edged sword. 

When Readers become that engaged, they’re working with a narrative of Who You Are. Or, more accurately, Who They Believe You Are. A narrative you help create, by the way, with social media, quick emails, blog tours and interviews.

Now, if the narrative is good — Oh my god, Jonathan is so freakin’ cool. I love his work! — you’re golden. But if the narrative is bad — Wow, Jonathan is such a douchebag. I can’t stand that guy and wouldn’t read Proseuche if it was the last book on earth — it’s really, really, really bad.

Of course the narrative can change. If you’re going from Douchebag to Golden, congrats. Takes a lot of work, a lot of humility and apology, the repairing of an image and the forging of a lot of trust, but it can be done.

But what happens if you pull a Chelsea Cain (I refuse to link her because, as she herself said, you can Google it yourself), go on a social media rant about all the “inane” questions you get from readers and how you are, in essence, not the readers’ bitch, dig the hole deeper by being utterly unapologetic about how ungrateful you sound, and, in the space of an afternoon, completely change the narrative of Who You Are?

Well, you’re fucked.

Because, and this is something her Publisher gets that she still doesn’t, there are now a whole bunch of readers who have as an introduction to her this Angry Facebook Rant reeking of a sense of entitlement and a lack of gratitude. And who knows how many people who were familiar with her, who’d read her books, and were perhaps looking forward to the new one, have now decided NOT to One Click because, really, if she’s not going to appreciate their support, why should they?

Besides, there are so many OTHER authors to support. Authors who are nice. Who appreciate them. Who WANT their support. Who still NEED them.

Of course some will say Hey, people are talking about her and that’s a good thing.

But is it? Having people know you as someone who didn’t appreciate their readers — now, I’m not sure that’s how Miss Cain actually feels, but that’s the NARRATIVE that’s being discussed and lodging itself in the minds of readers — and who was generally unpleasant about the whole thing is somehow going to help her in the long run?

Let’s ask Faye Dunaway how well that works. (hint: not very well)

Point is, a history as a bestseller doesn’t exempt you from being gracious and polite. From APPRECIATING those who choose to One Click and show their support. And if their questions are REALLY that inane and troublesome, then get off your ass, set up an automated email response that addresses those most frequently asked — Hugh Howey has one that’s humorously apologetic for being “from a robot”, witty, engaging, sincere and, best of all, informative — and maybe update your website, showing the number of the book in the series instead of assuming readers will figure it out by reading the synopsis.

But, for god’s sake, if you’re feeling THAT stressed and THAT angry, turn Facebook off, close the computer, and WALK AWAY!!! 

Because bitching about your readers is one surefire way to completely screw up Who They Think You Are and implode a career in 5, 4, 3, 2 … 

 

Welcome to Suckyville, population You

If you’re familiar with this blog, you already know my thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.

If you’re not, it’s boils down to my suspicion that for most writers walking the self-pub route hooking up with a traditional publisher doesn’t really make sense.

But what if I’m wrong?

I’m gonna do the Devil’s Advocate thing here and try to figure out why oh why I, a writer who still does a happy dance when he sells a book, would want to cuddle up NOW on that Publishing love seat with a Major. By the way, notice the singular “a” and the lack of an “s” on “book”? Yeah, Majors are knocking down my door, I tell ya.

Any-hoo, there are several reasons to consider a Major, some of which I might cover in future Posts.

The selling of film rights is my focus today.

I’m a screenwriter. I’m also lucky enough to have longtime friends who are neck deep in that world, be they actors, producers, directors, etc. I know the desperation Hollywood has for new source material and the lengths they’ll go to find it. And I also know what it’s like for writers who find their books being optioned into films.

In most cases, it really sucks.

Yeah. It sucks.

Once you’re past the initial excitement of a movie producer actually LOVING your work and being wined and dined by Big Names in LA and then signing a contract (!!!!!!!!) with Celebrity Superstars (OMG!) being bandied about as possible Leads and, of course, having to seriously consider those Oscar nods coming everyone’s way (deep breath), the process kinda goes downhill.

What?

Yep. Immediate hard left into Suckyville, population You.

Because the reality is it takes a … long … time … to … get … anything … done … in … Holly … wood.

Years.

Anne Rice’s book “Interview with a Vampire” was optioned by Paramount before it was published in 1976. They sat on it for ten years and did absolutely nothing. For ten years. Once the option expired, the Rights reverted back to her — smart move, Rice’s Attorney — and she took it to Lorimar Productions/Warner Bros. who scooped them up before flipping them to David Geffen a couple years later. Co-writing the script with the uncredited assistance of Neil Jordan, Rice finally got her film made in 1993/1994.

And it only took eighteen years. From the first selling of the Rights to Red Carpet Premiere, eighteen years.

You see? Forever.

But she’s a big fish. And, remember, she infamously had NO say on casting even if she is Anne f’ing Rice.

So, what’s it like for us?

Let me put it this way: make sure your contract gives you tickets to the Film Premiere.

Truth of the matter is, once you sign away the Rights, whoever’s brought in to adapt your work into a screenplay has license to change whatever they like at the Studio or Production Company’s behest. No longer OWNING the story or the characters as it pertains to the Film, all you, the Author, can do is sit back and watch. That’s if you’re lucky enough to be kept in the loop.

And it can get worse from there. I could write a thousand or more words about how Hollywood conveniently forgets you exist once you sign away your Rights with an excited flourish. Months and months going by without a word from anyone about anything as your new BFFs suddenly go all MIA.

Which brings me back to why oh why would we sign with a Major.

Their Legal Department could — COULD — walk you through this. Their lawyers might — MIGHT — have a good relationship with Studio A and perhaps you won’t get screwed too badly. And the Major has stood in this room a million times before (perhaps) whereas you, Newbie Author #54, are stuck doing the I-can’t-see-a-fucking-thing tango with a chair while searching for the light switch.

And let’s not forget the Major knows EVERYONE in Hollywood. You know where Julia Roberts lives, if this Map of Celebrity Homes is correct. (it’s not)

In other words, it’s still up to you to know what you can and can’t get and what you can and can’t ask for.

Reversion of Rights? Sole Separated Rights? Derivative Works and Passive Payments? How about Freezing your Reserve Rights? What Credit are you getting? Is there a Production Bonus? What’s the formula for Residuals? Will there be Box-Office Bonuses? Will you be attending screenings, festivals, premieres?

Granted, the above questions might be more from a screenwriter perspective. But that’s another question that should be on your mind: what access will you have to the screenwriting process? Will they even consider letting you anywhere near the script AT ALL to offer notes or thoughts or WTFs or you-gotta-be-kiddings?

You know, if you’re a screenwriter as well, try and negotiate the writing of a First Draft with two or three rewrites. I mean, hell, you’ll be one of many, many, many writers brought onboard to make this “perfect”, so you might as well stamp your stank on that puppy and hopefully line yourself up for a Written By credit.

Why the hell not?

What I’m trying to say is one of the pluses of signing with a Major is the hand-holding you might get should Hollywood come a’callin’.

But first you gotta write a book — preferably a series — Hollywood will want to buy and build a readership the Studios know without a doubt will put their butts in the seats in a movie theater.

And that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

It’s not you, Sue

I’ve gotten some private flak for my recent post on Sue Grafton and the interview she gave.

You know, the one where she called those who self-publish too lazy to do the hard work?

Yeah, that one.

But, listen, this isn’t about Sue. I have no doubt those who know her and love her and read her find her to be simply lovely. And, frankly, anyone who can write a series with titles based on the letters of the alphabet (I’m assuming G is for Gimmick?) knows her way around a keyboard … and the alphabet.

In fact, this isn’t even about the dismissive, condescending tone she used to describe, well, me … and 99.9% of the self-pubbed authors out there.

In all honesty, this is about the death of traditional publishing.

Okay, maybe death is too strong a word. Let’s go with extreme reluctance to grab the lifesaver we self-pubbed authors are throwing them. But even that gives us too much credit.

How about we just say We’re showing Them that We can do what We do without Them.

And that terrifies Them. (thus ends my brief foray into capitalized pronouns)

A cursory wander ’round Google will bring up all kinds of hits from well-established blogs and writers who’ve discussed this issue at length. So, if this intrigues you — and, if you’re a writer, it damn well should –, there’s a lot out there to read.

I’ve decided to take this bull by the horns in a more personal way.

One person who wrote me about the earlier post said that if I were offered a contract from a traditional publisher, I’d take it!

But, hand to God, I don’t know if that’s true.

You see, as a newbie writer, a contract with a Publisher would basically put me where I already am. I’d still have a book to write, still have a book to market, still have a book to sell, still have other books to write. The only differences would be A) I’d be under contract and more than likely have to alter what I write — bye bye, awesome freedom –, and B) I would not be getting the sweet royalties I get now.

Oh, and there’s a C) in there, too: I’d be not-so-gently penalized (Hello, Bargain Bin) for sales that underperform expectations.

Ouch.

When publishers make budget cuts — and, believe me, the floors are awash in red over there these days — the first things to go are Executive Pay and Star Author Perks.

Just kidding.

Marketing and Editing hit the chopping block first.

So, as a new writer, you’ll get a line edit looking for typos and grammatical errors, but you’re not getting any structural edits. Gone are the days when a pair of Wise, Experienced Eyes would look over your opus, highball in one hand, cigarette in the other, and say in a sonorous voice, “Listen, kid, trim here, give me more of Character A, pep up Character D, ditch Character B ’cause he’s a boring asshole, and lose that bit with the blue hat ’cause it doesn’t make sense”.

Nope. Typos and misplaced commas. That’s what you get as far as Edits go.

And marketing? You’re on your own there, too.

Sure, they may throw a tiny bit of cash your way in the very beginning. But, and this is the kicker, if your book doesn’t show strong numbers right away based on the small ad they ran in some obscure publishing magazine, guess who gets bundled with two other low performers and tossed deep into the shadows of the $1 bin.

Nothing you can do about it.

Shoppers will continue to find themselves face-to-face with Bestselling Author A’s Big Tower’o’Books the minute they escape the revolving doors while you languish deep in a box in a warehouse or far, far, far in the back of a shelf no one can reach.

You signed the dotted line, you agreed to it, you are contractually trapped.

And you no longer call the shots.

Oh, did I mention the royalty payments? If you’re lucky enough to sell a physical book, you’ll see perhaps 12% of that. Or 15%. Or 20% tops. If you’re lucky.

When?

Payments are sent quarterly. Maybe. There are all kinds of accounting gimmicks they pull out of their hats to buff up their bottom line and sap the happy from your checks.

And ebooks? You’re looking at maybe getting 20% to 30% of that. Maybe not. Accounting gimmicks apply as does the quarterly schedule.

So, in the face of all this ridiculousness the Author has no control over, why would I or anyone else who self-pubs go with a Major?

Well, if you’re as unknown as I am right now, you wouldn’t. If you’re Amanda Hocking or that 50 Shades of Grey chick, money. Up front. A lot of it. You sign away the rights, agree to a new series or something, shock your bank account with more numbers than its ever seen, and, finally, take a deep breath and relax.

And then it begins.

Your books no longer priced at .99 or $1.99 or $2.99, you lose a chunk of your audience. The marketing angle the Major decides on is fairly Old School and completely misses the mark ’cause they have no idea who your readers are. You do, but they won’t listen to you because, well, you know, you’re just the Author. Oh, and the new covers kinda suck.

But it’s out of your hands.

So is the fact that your books are no longer selling at the numbers they had been when they were self-pubbed, usually because your readers balk at the new price point and it feels like the work is no longer speaking to them. Because it isn’t.

The marketing budget for you is reigned in a bit. Your new agent assures you everything’s okay when you know it’s somehow not. You’re lost in the dark wondering when the next interview or book signing or whatever will be. And no one is returning your calls.

Surprise! You’re expendable.

Because the unspoken deal behind the smiles and three-martini lunches at restaurants with table cloths and violins (no, scratch the violins … too distracting) the Major will shower you with is that the numbers you have as an incredibly successful self-pub are the numbers you have to bring as a non-self-pub … and then some. If even a small percentage of your readers leave — which inevitably happens when a series ends or they outgrow the genre and move on to other things or the phenom hits its peak and then ebbs or, although your readers love you, they don’t love you enough to splash out $9.99 for something they used to buy for $2.99 or .99 — your numbers suffer.

And where will the smiles and tablecloths and violins (changed my mind, they’re back in) be then?

But there is a way around this.

A very successful self-pub whose name escapes me (apologies) just signed with a Major. For physical books. Only. He keeps the ebook rights and profits, they work the physical book angle and he gets the standard 15 – 20% or whatever.

Smart, yeah?

So, if a Major were to ever wine and dine me — and, let’s face it, the chances of my getting a gilded invitation to sup at Fancy Pants Restaurant are pretty darn slim — , that’s the kind of deal I’d make. And if they balked and hemmed and hawed, I’d walk away. A bad deal will never magically become a good deal. Best not to agree to it and then fan the flames by legalizing it with my Jonathan Winn.

I’d just go back to doing what I was doing well in the first place.

Because, at the end of the day, it’s pretty damn awesome being self-pubbed.

It’s about time the Majors realized that.