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Best of the Blogs 9 September 2017

Best of the Blogs: 10 June 2017

Six of the best blog posts this week in writing, editing, publishing, and marketing.

Writing

Skills Writers Need

Frances Caballo from Social Media Just for Writers visits The Book Designer to share 5 Skills Every Writer Should Develop. I don’t think each point should get equal weighting: learning writing craft is far and away the most important skill. And I think I’d substitute building a website and email list for blogging (I agree non-fiction authors need to blog. I’m not convinced that fiction authors must blog. But they do need an email list).

What do you think?

Writing Effective Backstory

An excellent post with practical tips on how to drop in your backstory, from Kathryn Craft via Writer Unboxed. I especially like her idea about using continuity words—a new term to me, but one I’m going to remember (and apply).

The (Social) Rules

Literary agent Donald Maass visits Writer Unboxed to ask What Are the Rules? When I read the headline, I thought he was going to be talking about writing rules. Because, you know, he writes books like Writing the Breakout Novel.

But no. He’s talking about the unwritten social rules we all live by, and asking which of those we bring into the lives of our fictional characters. Take food as an example. For those stuck in poverty, the main concern is quantity—is there enough? For the middle classes, the concern is quality—did you like it? But for the wealthiest among us, the concern is presentation. Hmm …

Characters

Author Sonja Yoerg visits Writers Digest to share her tips on writing mentally ill characters. As she points out, up to one in five people have some form of mental illness. As authors, we have a responsibility for getting the details right and building a rounded character who suffers from a mental illness:

Mental illness can be debilitating and all-consuming, but it does not define a person. That job still rests with the writer.

Publishing

What Authors Earn

Written Word Media share the results of their latest survey into author earnings. The result which surprised me was how little people claim to spend on editing (often less than they spend on cover design). I get that cover design is important to attract a potential reader, but it takes a lot longer to edit a novel than it does to design a cover, and it’s the quality of the writing and editing that turns a casual buyer into a reader and fan.

Amazon Book Sales

Last week I commented on the kerfuffle around Amazon’s changes to the buy button. Kara Isaac visited Australasian Christian Writers this week to share her view in Buy New, Get Secondhand? If you’re buying a paper book from Amazon, make sure the book ships from and is sold by Amazon. If you buy from a reseller, it’s likely that the book is secondhand. This means the author doesn’t receive a royalty on the sale.

Or buy the ebook—the author probably earns a higher royalty on the ebook sale. Or ask your library to order a copy, or borrow the ebook from your library if you have that option. Remember, authors are paid for library copies and some are even paid more if the book is borrowed more.

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Print is Not Dead. Really.

“Print is Back!”

Print is not dead. At least, that’s what the headlines say as they report a 3.3% increase in US print sales in 2016.

But are the headlines telling the whole story?

Graphic: Amazon eats the little guysNot according to Author Earnings, who say the reason print sales increased in 2016 was mostly because of aggressive discounting from Amazon … which leads to print books from major trade publishers costing about the same as the ebook versions (which a lawsuit says Amazon are not allowed to discount).

I prefer ebooks for novels, but I’m still reluctant to pay USD 9.99 for a computer file.  I’m happy to pay that or a little more for a paperback which I can easily loan to friends, and can donate to the church library or charity booksale if I no longer want it. But not for an ebook.

Other highlights from the report:

  • Sales of adult fiction from traditional publishers are nearly half digital (either audiobooks or ebooks), almost all of which are online sales.
  • Print sales actually decreased in large book chains. The only increases were for independent bookstores (a 5% increase), and Amazon (a 15% increase). Another win for online.
  • Ebook sales aren’t shrinking. Ebook sales from traditional publishers are shrinking, because Amazon started discounting print instead.
  • Sales of ebooks from independent publishers and Amazon imprints remain high.
  • The publishing industry typically tracks sales using ISBNs, but many indie publishers choose not to use ISBNs (which are free in Canada and New Zealand, but not in countries like Australia or the US).

On Amazon, 43% of ebooks sold don’t have ISBNs, so aren’t being tracked (well, except by Amazon. And Author Earnings. And individual indie authors).

Overall, the picture is of rising online sales in adult fiction and non-fiction: 69% of US book sales were online. Of those:

  • 91% were digital purchases
  • 52% were from non-traditional publishers

So the question isn’t paperback or ebook. It’s online or in store. And online is winning.

Adult titles are more likely to sell online than young adult and children’s titles. And fiction is more likely to sell online than non-fiction.

An exception:

It won’t surprise any Christian to know that religious non-fiction and Bibles are one of the biggest areas where we still buy from traditional publishers. This makes sense. I don’t know about you, but while I’m happy to try a novel or devotional from an indie published author, I want my Bible translation to have the backing of a major publisher.

The other genres where traditional publishers have retained online market share include reference books, biography/memoir, self-help, textbooks, and thriller/suspense novels. None of those surprise me: most are genres I’d expect people to prefer to buy in paper.

Data Guy says:

I don’t think Christian fiction is underserved by traditional publishers. But I do think traditional publishers have a skew towards conservative titles, and a growing number of titles which are “clean” rather than Christian. Agree or not, Christian agent Chip MacGregor sees the CBA moving further in this direction.

Please try not to laugh at “declining indie sales” in #8, and focus on #10, where Chip says:

CBA fiction is going to morph into “clean romance” and “values fiction” and “apocalyptic biblical thrillers” aimed specifically at a shrinking group of hard-core conservative evangelical readers in their 50’s. There are only a handful of houses still acquiring Christian fiction these days, and some of them are shifting to doing high-quality literary or women’s stories for a broader people of faith, or a slim list of suspense novels, rather than clearly religious stories aimed only at the faithful.

I don’t know whether to agree or disagree, whether to laugh or cry. What do you think?