Thursday, December 3, 2009

WORK THOSE L’IL DOGGIES

by Simon Wood

Today TKZ is thrilled to welcome Simon Wood, a darn good writer who I was fortunate enough to tour with last summer (I can still recite his "one time I literally ran into an assassin" story by heart). He shares a unique take on what we've been discussing quite a bit lately, creative ways for authors to earn a living in the digital age.

The writing world is an odd industry, but no different from any other. I think writers sometimes forget that our stories are commodities. A writer’s body of work doesn’t lose its value. Therefore, stories should be worked for all they're worth.

I didn’t look at my work this way until I heard science fiction and fantasy legend Gene Wolfe speak at a convention a few years ago where he was the guest of honor. He was talking about how he's always made his stories work for him. A good story doesn’t have to end its life at its first printing. Like Halley’s Comet, it can keep coming back again and again for the enjoyment of a new audience. He'd calculated how much some of his stories had earned for him. A number of his stories had earned several dollars per word. Admittedly, it had taken a couple of decades to do that. Nevertheless, that was pretty amazing.

This was quite a revelation to me. I took to heart what Gene had said. I’d had a handful of stories published so far, most earning a couple of cents per word on average. I looked at my body of work and found ways of getting my stories published and re-published. Stories I sold to print markets I resold to webzines. I looked to foreign language markets where the story would be fresh. Within a couple of years, I’d resold some of my stories three times over.

While I still have a couple of stories reprinted every year, with print markets shrinking and most other markets looking for unpublished fiction, I turned to the internet. A few years ago, I discovered Fictionwise.com. They were only interested in previously published fiction. They operate on a similar platform as iTunes where users downloaded stories like people do with songs. It’s worked out very nicely. My stories are still available and their popularity is determined by the readers.

I’m now taking this approach with my books that are going out of print. I like to think there's a demand for these books. Maybe not enough for a re-issue, but there's certainly more than enough for e-publishing. The likes of Amazon’s Kindle and Smashwords.com have made it easy for me to keep my books out there and meet a demand. I've recently e-published DRAGGED INTO DARKNESS and WORKING STIFFS, two books of mine that I believe contain good work.

This is where a little discretion comes in too. I’m only republishing things that people ask about or that I can hand-on-heart say represent my best writing. There's no point in me putting out things that are subpar. And I’ll be honest. There's stories of mine that got published, especially in the early years, which I look upon as amateurish now and while I’m not ashamed of those stories I don’t feel they represent what I write now. I could be a total reprint slut and toss everything I’ve ever written at the eBook reader but it’s not worth it. There's a massive pinball effect with a writer’s work. Someone reads a story and like it, so they check out something else I’ve written. That only works if what is out there is good. If it’s bad, it has the converse effect and they're unlikely to seek out other works.

I view eBooks as another weapon in my publishing arsenal and not a threat to it. That’s why I’m also going to explore the e-publishing route for some stories that I’ve been sitting on that don’t fall into traditional print publishing options such as novellas and novelettes. There's certainly an opportunity for me to experiment.

So how has working my stories hard fared for me? Not as well as it has for Gene Wolfe, but I’m getting there. Several of my stories have been picked up for different anthologies and have earned me two and three times what I was originally paid for the piece. One story, TRAFFIC SCHOOL, was published three times, each time earning pro-rates, before I put it on Fictionwise and there, it has found a following. It’s by far my bestselling story by a factor of at least two to one. I think this creepy little short about bad driving habits will be my little goldmine. My work for Writer’s Digest has done well too. A couple of the pieces have been reused two and three times and have earned four-digit paydays. I’ve now placed them on Smashwords.com and I’ll see how they work out there.

At the end of the day, as long as there are readers, stories are commodities that don’t diminish with age or time and the electronic option is helping there. And that’s all good as far as I’m concerned.

Learn more about Simon at www.simonwood.net and his work at:

Kindle Store
Smashwords.com
Fictionwise.com

9 comments:

  1. I've been thinking about setting up a stand at the end of my driveway to sell my eggs "and" copies of my novels.

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  2. Thanks, Simon. Good stuff. The absolutely most important graph, IMO, is this:

    There's a massive pinball effect with a writer’s work. Someone reads a story and like it, so they check out something else I’ve written. That only works if what is out there is good. If it’s bad, it has the converse effect and they're unlikely to seek out other works.

    Writers have simply got to understand it's not pervasive marketing that sells, but the books/stories themselves. You can market yourself to an introduction, but the readers will base future purchases on how much they like what they read, not on how many titles you have available on the Internet.

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  3. "I think writers sometimes forget that our stories are commodities."

    Great way to look at our work, Simon. Thanks for stopping by TKZ.

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  4. Simon,

    I sell through a small publisher eBooks I never could market to larger gatekeeping publishing houses (too much erotic in my Science Fiction I’m told) and Fictionwise is our biggest eBook seller so far volume-wise, although not the only one. In the past 2 weeks I've had 2 titles come out in both eBook and POD, bringing me up to a dozen now this year. I am not yet "making a living" from my writing and fortunately have a day job doing something else I also like a lot, so that's all good.

    My point of posting here is to contest one point that you make. While I agree that books are commodities, you say that you hold back some of your writing as not up to the standard you now wish to sell. I disagree with that philosophy for the following reasons:

    First, if everything you’ve written is a commodity and you’ve already been validated about it by selling it previously, why not continue to try and sell it now? You can price it very cheap, or put it along with others into an anthology at a good price. To not do so seems to violate the very idea you espouse here that everything you write is a commodity.

    Second, there are always new readers growing up and coming into the market, and they are more and more going to consume their books in the new media (i.e. eBooks and whatever comes after eBooks). Every story I’ve written so far has its own individual followers who consider it the best one I’ve ever done. In short, there are readers for every story. Acting as you say you’re doing now is to say that you are intentionally removing some of your own work from circulation, which, to me, seems the very opposite of what your post here is all about. If you feel it’s subpar work, why not rewrite it before reselling it? There must be a germ of a good idea inside there somewhere, and readers who will enjoy reading it afterwards. The thing about ePublishing through sites that never existed before is that the barrier to entry (cost and gatekeepers) has never been this low before. You could put out something priced very cheaply and still come out ahead selling only a hundred copies or so a year, and the downside is really nonexistent cost-wise. As for your fear of scaring away your readers from your other books, as I suggested: rewrite!

    Third, even if you don’t put those stories into print yourself, they may still appear as older print anthologies are sold into the new media forms, for which you may not receive the payments you would by marketing your material yourself.

    Every writer makes his own decisions of which of his or her works they wish to republish, but even your bad stuff is out there already anyway and not beyond being found so trying to hide it now seems rather futile and self-defeating to me.

    Respectfully,
    --DB_Story

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  5. g'day Simon. Thanks for the great post! It helps give a new perspective on our work.

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  6. Another thing about eBooks is they never "go out of print". As long as your retailer has room on a disk, the work can be sold until the copyright dies (which is long after the author has assumed room temperature).

    We publish eBooks only. Small market now. Great potential in the future.

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  7. Thanks for having me Michelle and everyone's comments.

    DB: For me, it's a matter of choice. Do all writers have to do things the way I do, no. They can do what feels right to them. Personally, there are stories that have been published that I'm not too keen to see out there again. The reasons for this vary. Some stories don't represent the kind of stories I tell anymore. Some are a little too cliched or don't possess the depth I like to see in my stories. Yes, I could go back and write these stories, but I'm too focused on new work. I'd prefer to look forward than back. On some occasions, I have revisited a theme contained in an earlier story and written the story from an entirely different perspective. But if the work is good enough for republication I will make it available.

    And while you make a valid point that all my stories have received validation in that a magazine previously believed in a particular story to publish it, that's not a strong enough argument for me. There are pieces that don't come up to my presonal standard. And yes, I could e-publish everything I've ever written and make a few bucks out of it, it's not worth disappointing my readership for it.

    Yes, you could find some of my older stories in old magazines and anthologies in 2ndhand bookstores and a like, and if someone reads the story and does or doesn't like it, then I'll stand by my work. As for the chances of them turning up in new media forms is unlikely as these places don't have the e-rights or reprint rights. There's a reason you don't give away world rights to anyone. The control stays with the writer and no one makes money off me without paying for it.

    And to make it clear, yes, I do see all my stories as commodities, but the value varies on each one. Some have the value of a Rolls Royce and some have the value of a Yugo. So while each of my stories is a commodity, I do have a responsiblity to those spending their money that they get the best and nothing else.

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  8. I like the idea of books being a commodity. As long as they are well done and valuable to their readers they will be a valued commodity, like gold, silver, electricity and spicy buffalo wings.

    The quality of writing must be the best we can make it so that we can keep clear the line between commodity and commode.

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  9. I sold three dozen eggs and two copies of UPSIDE DOWN today.

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