The Business Rusch: Four Years

Business Rusch logo webOn April 2, 2009, I began what I called an experiment. I decided to write an entire book, section by section, online every week. It took me 18 months of weekly posts to finish the book, which is called The Freelancer’s Survival Guide.

By that point, I had thousands of weekly followers who came here for business advice. The Freelancer’s Survival Guide is for freelancers of all stripes, and for a few months, I tried to continue writing about freelancing in general.

Then I gave up and just went with the gigantic elephant in the blogosphere. I decided to write about all of the changes in publishing.

I haven’t missed a week in exactly four years. That’s over 200 blog posts at about 3,000 words each, which means that for my Thursday blogs, I have written around  600,000 words of reader-supported nonfiction. The reader support was part of my experiment. I wasn’t sure anyone would show up for the freelancer’s guide posts, and if readers did show up, I wasn’t sure if anyone would pay for what they read.

I was surprised to get donations that very first week, and the support has continued. Some weeks, I get no donations at all. Some weeks, I get several. Some people donate in one yearly lump sum, and others on a monthly basis.

I’m grateful for all of it. I’m also grateful for the interaction. I had planned a relatively short book for The Freelancer’s Survival Guide, but questions and comments and helpful links from readers showed me topics I was missing. The Third Edition has just come out with some material on estates which I added last year because it was missing.

I am doing an estate series slowly on this blog partly because people don’t donate when I write about money or estate planning, so I can’t afford one long lump grouping of blogs. And I’m learning along with all y’all, so I’m not always ready to write the next post right away. (I’m in that position right now: I’m researching the next post slowly and probably won’t get to it until May.)

I didn’t expect the interaction. I didn’t expect to still be writing something for Thursdays so many years later. But I am and I’m enjoying it. Although there are weeks when I think that 3,000 words would be better spent on a novel. (Okay, most weeks.) I’m still gamely plugging along, learning things, watching my own views change, and figuring out this new world of publishing along with everyone else in the business.

In December, I wrote a post called “Writing Like It’s 2009” which talks about some of the changes in self- or, as I call it, indie-publishing in the past four years. That post deals with some of the myths that date from that long ago and far away time, myths that are actually hurting writers because they’re stuck in old attitudes.

My, this modern world moves fast. :-)

For this post, I thought I’d look at how my own attitudes have changed about the publishing industry in the past four years. I’ll also explore a bit about what I’ve learned, and what I hope to learn.

That first post in 2009 was tentative. I made it clear I was experimenting. What I wanted was pretty simple: I wanted the Guide’s information out in the world. I started this at the worst time in the recession—the stock market had its low of 6,500 (that’s the US Dow Jones) one month before. Millions were out of work. It looked like we were heading for a Depression.

As a history major (and buff), I knew that economic downturns force enterprising people to start new businesses. Those folks can’t get a job, so they build one. This did occur in the years 2009-2011 (I couldn’t find data for 2012 on a quick search), with early-stage entrepreneurship growing 60% in the US alone in 2011.

I wanted to catch new entrepreneurs as they started, to prevent them from making the same mistakes I had. Because I hadn’t written the book yet, I figured if I went to traditional publishing, the book would come out as the country was slowly pulling itself out of recession. Most of my audience would have tried, and probably failed, in their new business/freelance attempts.

I had to publish the book right then and there. And I did.

My goal was to make what I called a small book advance. Frankly, I would have been shocked if I got that. I really hoped for was maybe $1000 to fund my three-months of once-per-week work. Then I’d market the book to traditional publishers, get a real advance, and have a product market-ready.

Well, I wrote the first few blogs, and pitched the book traditionally at the same time.  But before my agent could even send out the manuscript (yes, I was working with an agent on this), I changed my mind.

By then, I had earned my $1,000, and I realized the book was going to be longer and more complicated because of the reader involvement. My agent was worried (and I was too) that the online publication might hinder sales to traditional publishers. The publishers I talked to had the same concerns.

Four years ago. In 2009. Now such concerns are laughable. Think of all the writers who self-published, received great traditional advances, and have gone on to sell even bigger numbers. Things have changed greatly.

Because my readers and commenters had so much involvement in the project, suggesting topics, asking questions, and providing the initial advance, I decided that anyone who donated to the Guide would get an e-book copy of the finished book. I sent out hundreds of e-books in the fall of 2010, as a thank-you to all who contributed. Hundreds.

The Freelancer’s Survival Guide is still available for free on my blog, but the Guide itself also exists in a different order, with editing and an index!, in e-book, paper, and audio format. To date, the Guide (and not its spin-off short books) has sold as many copies as it would have sold if it were traditionally published with the standard promotion given to a writing book or a low-level business book.

By now, if I had gone the traditional route, the Guide would have had only one edition, and would no longer be on any bookstore shelves. You might still be able to order it through an online bookstore like Amazon, but you might not. The book would most likely be out of print. It would never have had an audio version (ever), it would not have been available outside of the US, and it would probably have had a very crappy e-book edition.

It certainly wouldn’t continue to reach its intended market, freelancers who are or have started their own small businesses.

The Guide has not made me rich. It was not intended to. I offer it for free because I know how broke most new business owners are. I appreciate all of the donation support and every purchase I have received on the title. The sales grow each and every year, which is also not something I would have expected in 2009.

Quite frankly, I expected to finish the book and declare the experiment a failure, and move on to something else.

I have so not moved on.  I am writing more business books, shorter ones, as I do these blogs. Many posts get reprinted in other venues. My weekly nonfiction readership has grown to several thousand, and on some weeks, depending on the topic, to even more than that. I have had twenty thousand unique visitors in 24 hours for some posts, more for a few others, and generally less for most posts.

I did not expect the readers of the nonfiction to buy my fiction, but many of you tell me that you have picked up my fiction after reading the nonfiction blog. Even though the information is anecdotal and I don’t know how to quantify it, I am astonished that any of you have done so. You see, one of those publishing myths is that people who read nonfiction about writing do not read the fiction that the same writer writes. In other words, if I wanted to use blog space on something that would promote my fiction, nonfiction on writing was exactly the wrong thing to choose.

Honestly, most of this website is focused on my fiction writing. I put up free fiction every Monday, without a donate button, because I advertise that little tidbit as free and I think it hypocritical to ask for money after that. I take the story down after a week and put up a new story. I’ve done this since November 29, 2010, and have yet to repeat a story.

I figured I’d get a handful of readers, and this would be a vanity project. And it would be incentive to get all of my short fiction into e-book format. It has served as that kind of incentive. Some weeks, I’m scrambling to make sure I have a new story to present on the site.

But the readership is growing, and it’s a different readership from that of my nonfiction blog. Yes, some of you overlap, but the people who come on Mondays are quieter. They don’t comment much—to me—although they do recommend one story or another to friends. Many make a weekly appointment to read the new story.

If I left the story up for a month, the story’s numbers might rival those of certain blog posts. Because I take the story down after a week, I have to look at two different parts of the analytics numbers to see how Free Fiction Monday is doing. Each story has its readers, generally by genre (some genres have more, some less), and then I must look at the unique visitors each month to the Free Fiction category.

What has evolved in two-plus years is this: my weekly free fiction readers rival the numbers for the weekly nonfiction blog. My monthly free fiction readers are greater than the number of print subscribers to a certain fiction magazine that I used to edit.

I have only anecdotal evidence that readers who read the free fiction go on to buy my fiction. In other words, I have no numbers on this and no way to know if someone who read Monday’s story which was (this week) an urban fantasy went on to buy other urban fantasy stories of mine, or some science fiction, or nothing at all.

I’m not sure I want to know. Because I love doing the free fiction, and probably would continue that even if no one showed up to read the stories.

These numbers—all website related—startle me. I would never have believed them if you had told me this in April, 2009. Actually, in March of 2009, Michael J. Totten and Scott William Carter tried to convince both me and Dean that websites, reader-support, and going direct to readers was the wave of the future. Dean and I were skeptical, but we both decided to try it.

That lunch conversation, and our decision to give it a shot, changed our lives.

The biggest difference in my attitude between 2009 and now is this: In 2009, I thought writers who self-published did so as a last resort or on projects like the Guide that didn’t fit into the slow traditional system. I worried that new writers would give up on themselves too soon and go directly to self-publishing, hurting their careers.

Then I watched the stunning growth in e-publishing, the rise of the self-published bestseller, and traditional publishing’s response to the new technology. As writers gained the opportunity for more autonomy, traditional publishing responded with draconian contracts and refused to negotiate with all everyone except writers who were being offered $500,000 and up. (This has moderated some, but not a lot.) Agents became scammers by trying to publish the writers instead of acting as representatives. And worse, agents started demanding a percentage of a writer’s rights in the work as well as a percentage of the work’s earnings.

To say I’m appalled is stunning. I’m shocked that traditional publishing has gotten worse, not better.

I am not shocked that so many writers still flock to traditional publishing, and bend over the moment they’re offered a really bad contract. That has happened since time immemorial. The problem is that there are more really bad contracts now, being offered with smaller advances, and in smaller numbers.

Weirdly—from my perspective—I now believe that any writer who goes to traditional publishing for book advance of less than $100,000 is getting screwed.

Why? Well, let’s go back to the Guide, shall we? I’ve sold as many copies as I would have sold through a traditional publisher. The book is still available in three different formats, its readership is growing, and here’s the real kicker: I’m making more on each copy of that book than I ever would have through a traditional publisher. At least five times more, sometimes as much as seven times more.

The same number of sales, the book is still in print, the book is in more formats than it would have been, and I’m earning five times more than I would have traditionally? That’s astonishing. And this, while the book is still available for free. Even more astonishing.

For all of 2010 and into 2011, I watched my e-book sales numbers. Not because I wanted to goose them (See this post on why that’s just dumb), but because I was having trouble believing that the new world of publishing existed.

Since my brother bought me a subscription to Writer’s Digest for my twelfth birthday, I have learned everything I could about traditional publishing. My goal was always to be a working writer, whatever that meant. Forty years ago, it meant selling my work to magazines and book publishers, signing a contract, getting paid, and moving on to another work.

It was that way in 2007 as well.

And then the disruptive technological change hit. My brain had a lot of trouble adapting. I looked at my e-book numbers every day for two years because I couldn’t believe those numbers existed. I somehow thought they would vanish overnight.

My disbelief became belief after I decided to publish my next Retrieval Artist novel outside of New York publishing. Anniversary Day sold very well without publicity or promotion or preorders. It didn’t hit bookstore shelves, unless the store heard about the book from a reader who wanted to buy there. The numbers grew from the publication date in December of 2011 to May of 2012, and then they tapered off to a very respectable monthly rate.

Realize, now, that I was only watching Amazon and Barnes & Noble numbers. Smashwords’ system flummoxes me on a quick glance, and I simply did not concern myself with the trade paper or the audio numbers at all.

The sales of Anniversary Day were better than I expected and, what I did not expect (deep down, although I said I expected it) was that those sales would goose the sales of the previous seven books in the series. The first book, The Disappeared, sold half as many copies as Anniversary Day, and I could see the readers who started the series move through the remaining books. The sales across the series increased.

And did so again when Blowback came out this December. By then, I had stopped compulsively watching the numbers. I didn’t have to. I was fully immersed in this new world, which actually feels familiar to me now. As I watch other countries come into the new world of publishing, and have the arguments that the US had in 2010, I smile in recognition, and feel like I had those arguments in another life.

I remember the concerns. I mentally have written them off like I wrote off the new writer myths.

It’s moments like this anniversary that remind me how new everything is. I was a different person four years ago this week. I had different beliefs. If you had asked me about my future in publishing, I would have told you about my hopes for sales to traditional publishers.

I still do a lot of work with traditional publishers. Most of that work is in nonfiction articles and essays and, especially, in short fiction. The short fiction editors are fantastic, but more than that, the contracts offered by short fiction markets are very new-world writer-friendly. I love the opportunity to find a new audience with each short story I write.

The traditional book world has become very writer unfriendly. Very music studio-like. Very Hollywoodesque. I dislike that world enough that I won’t play in it without several contractual guarantees that no one will give me at the moment.

That might change if I have a runaway bestseller on my own. But if I do, there had better be a damn good reason to go to a traditional publisher, because at the moment, I don’t think they can offer me anything that will entice me.

At tax time this year, I learned another fact about my work. Anniversary Day, out for one year plus (barely), has sold half the number of copies that each of the last three books in the Retrieval Artist series sold through the traditional publisher. That’s with no bookstore presence, no preorders, and no advertising whatsoever. The book went up in trade and e-book, I mentioned it on my blog, and sent out some review copies, and viola! sales.

Granted, it is an existing series, and that did propel a lot of sales. But as Blowback  came out, Anniversary Day’s sales spiked again. Because Blowback had greater visibility, and a lot of the regular readers of the Retrieval Artist series—those who found it in bookstores or because of my work in the sf magazines—found both books for the first time.

Anniversary Day is still in print. All of the previous seven novels are also in print, as well as Blowback. When the Retrieval Artist series was traditionally published, not one of the previous books was still in print when the next book came out. Not one. I was writing a series, and readers could not get the previous books in the series when the new book came out.

All those extra sales—which are happening again just because Blowback exists—never happened because they couldn’t happen. Because my traditional publisher took the books out of print within nine months of publication. Three months before the next book hit the store shelves.

The sales of that series are growing. The sales of my other series are growing without new books being released. We’ll see what happens when the next Diving book comes out in September. I expect to see another growth in sales on that series.

Not to mention the Smokey Dalton series, and the Grayson series, and oh, my. Popcorn kittens strike.

Finally, the one thing I would have laughed out loud about in 2009 and told you that you had to be on drugs to believe such a thing, was this: I’m editing again. Dean and I are doing Fiction River, an anthology magazine, like we did with Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine. We jumped back in because we don’t have to work for anyone any more, don’t have to do any of the hard work begging a distributor to take us on. The first issue is going to be out in a little over two weeks, and I’m extremely proud of it. I’m enjoying all aspects of my career again, from writing to editing and, on Thursday night, I’ll go into the studio at WMG to record some audio. Like I used to do when I worked in radio.

Oh, my.

I wouldn’t have believed that either.

2009 was so twenty years ago.

Seriously. I can remember the woman who wrote that first tentative blog. I wouldn’t be here without her. But her assumptions, the way she lived her life, the way that she had to bend her writing to fit into modern publishing, is not the way I live any more at all.

I love this new world. I’m happy to be here.

And I’m shocked that the blog is only four years old. Wow. It feels like I’ve been doing this forever.

I still do need donations to continue, however. Because as the popcorn kittens links and references show you, I have more work to do than I can get done in an average week. I’m already working seven days per week now, and still not getting everything done that I want to. An extra 3,000 words of fiction would help.

But then I wouldn’t have the weekly interactions with you all, which I love. You send me links, keep me on my toes, privately share your contracts and your frustrations, and point me to things I would never have discovered on my own. You keep me honest, and I greatly appreciate that.

Thanks for coming here for all these years.

I’m humbled by it all.

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“The Business Rusch: “Four Years” copyright © 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.




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51 Comments

  1. I read your short stories on Feedreader, but read your Business Rusch post on your blog. Not sure if your site counts Feedreader access, but you might have more people than you think reading your free Monday short stories. Thank you for every post. :-)
    I have learnt from you every week for the past four years, and my sales are slowly growing each year as I get more stories up.

    Reply
    • Oh, DJ, thanks. The analytics count feeds differently, and I never think to add them. Thanks for that! And congrats on the sales!

      Reply
  2. Thank you so much for this summarization of the last four years, it’s enlightening !

    Just the mere fact you have done an audio version of The Freelancer guide and made it profitable is fantastic. I have asked a french company about the fee for turning to audio a 368 pages paperback book, and it was like 10 000 euros.

    So I’m assuming The Freelancer Guide, a 612 pages book, has cost you about $15 000, just for the audio version. Just wow.

    Kris, considering the success of the free experience of the Freelancer Guide online, have you considered making permafree ebooks of some of your short stories ? Just one for each genre/penname ?

    I know Dean is against permafree, but it would allow you to be permanently promoting your work on different platforms like Kobo, Apple, Nook or even Kindle with the pricematching feature of Amazon.

    You know, there are readers who use only the online features of their devices to choose their books. It would help you sell a lot more, I believe.

    By the way yes, a non-fiction blog may attract fiction sales. I have been planning to read your Fey series (and perhaps some romance, just to go outside of my reader’s comfort zone) since I found your blog and I’ll do it when I’ll have finished my current TBR pile.

    With the growing of independant publishing in the US, more and more french readers will read directly in english, because :
    – english is more often than not the first foreign language learned in France
    – trad pub french ebooks are very costly
    – translated paperback or hardcover books are often divided in order to cover the translation expenses (and so, the price double or even sometimes triple)
    – fiction and non fiction publication in France, even with 65 000 books a year, is hardly exhaustive, particularly when you compare with the 3 millions books published in a year in the US alone.

    Reply
    • A quick answer, Alan, because I have another day of meetings ahead. We did the audio through Audible’s ACX program which is like KDP for audio books, so no major outlay. We have access to WMG’s studio now, so we’re producing our own, which is more costly, but still cool.

      And as for permafree, no. But we will occasionally put things free to boost something else. In fact, that’s something we’ll be discussing in a meeting today.

      More later!

      Reply
      • Thank you, I’ve found Audible page :
        https://www.acx.com/help/what-s-the-deal/200497690

        It seems an affordable deal, but if you go non-exclusive and you sell below 500, it seems as an author, you earn juste 12,5%.

        On a side note : “Audible retains the sole discretion to set the price of the audiobooks it sells.”

        The $25 bounty is a smart move, though.

        Reply
  3. Just to add to your anecdote data -yes I read the short stories weekly, but don’t often comment snd reading those stories here will sometimes send me to Smashwords to buy a copy of my own (or at least add it to my cart for later).

    Reply
  4. Happy Anniversary Day!

    I come for the warmth, the storyteller who has us all fascinated, whether it’s fiction or business.

    Hoping some of that energy might rub off.

    When I publish, it will be self-publishing – because anything else seems insane after all your words.

    And do continue to remind me that time is money, and yours could easily be spent elsewhere.

    Reply
  5. Kristine,

    Your blog here, both from a fiction and nonfiction perspective, is BY FAR the most valuable writing blog on the planet.

    Why?

    From the nonfiction side, there isn’t another writer, or a magazine for that matter, that can compete with 3000 words a week of “from the trenches” advice backed up by real-world experience.

    From the fiction side, it’s a pleasure reading a good (hall of fame, great?) writer each week… plus I study things like flow and character etc… for a general sense of what that good writing looks like. It keeps me on my toes. :)

    I hope you keep doing it.

    Reply
  6. Happy 4th anniversary, Kris! I arrived at your blog sometime in 2011. Your insight wowed me, and I’ve been visiting ever since.

    “You see, one of those publishing myths is that people who read nonfiction about writing do not read the fiction that the same writer writes.”

    Interesting. This was a myth I had bought. I love writing my blog – which is not about writing, but reflects my intense curiosity and passions about the world around me – and I feel guilty about it every week. Telling myself that I should be devoting that blog-writing time to fiction writing.

    I think it’s time I lose the guilt! :D

    Reply
  7. Insightful and interesting as always, Kris.

    Thank you for sharing your journey.

    Reply
  8. The first book, The Disappeared, sold half as many copies as Anniversary Day, and I could see the readers who started the series move through the remaining books. The sales across the series increased.

    I first started coming this site after finding Dean’s site (he must have cross-posted something over there first), and I was hooked. I read thru some of the Freelancing book here onsite before buying one of the offshoots (the one on negotiating).

    It was right around that time that I decided I’d been neglecting the SF reading side of things for long enough. I picked up a short on SW (not any of yours), and that was enough to whet my appetite to sample yours – novels, novellas, short stories. I was intrigued by the opening in The Disappeared – and I haven’t looked back. I have almost all of the Retrieval Artist series (just one of the novellas, the Paavo Dershin one).

    And now I’ve started reading the Free Fiction Monday stories. Some catch my fancy, others don’t. The latest one is wickedly good (I was chuckling throughout almost the entire thing ;-).)

    So count me as one of those who first came here for the non fiction and gravitated to the fiction – because I feel you’re good at both! :-)

    Reply
  9. I look forward to Thursdays because I know there’s going to be some new information, new insight, new inspiration posted on your blog. You never fail. I have recently quit my day job after giving myself a small advance from my own savings to dedicate myself to my writing. This isn’t as adventurous as it may sound (the job wasn’t a career and my expenses are low and I may be jumping back into another day job soon) but I feel like the shackles (expectations) have been removed. My folks used to tell me to always have a day job as a writer. Only the best-sellers can make a living at it, they said. You can write two novels a year and still have to work full-time at the grocery store. When I mentioned self-publishing in a writing class four years ago, the teacher (a wonderful lady) told me to be cautious. That a publisher might not be interested in someone who had self-published. When she said that, it was true. Now both of us have changed our tunes thanks to mavericks like you and dean and hugh howey and amanda hocking… the list goes on and on (good article from howey: http://www.salon.com/2013/04/04/hugh_howey_self_publishing_is_the_future_and_great_for_writers/)

    Thank you very much.

    Reply
    • I should add that I no longer WANT to go with a traditional publisher :)

      Reply
      • Nor me, Lara. I kicked my last, traditional publisher, into touch in Autumn 2010. I haven’t looked back since. Many thanks to Kathryn, Konrath and Kath’s hubby, Dean Wesley Smith. :-)

        Reply
  10. Cheers!

    –Tom

    Reply
  11. Great post, Kris, and thanks for the shout out. Can’t believe it’s been four years since you, Dean, Mike and I all met for dinner to talk about blogs, books, etc. The crunch of the peanut shells on the floor seems like only yesterday! And if I remember correctly, we all met at Borders before going to dinner . . . which is now gone. Kind of symbolic, eh?

    I’m not at all surprised at your success with the blog. I know you had your doubts, but I always thought your nonfiction writing (with its perfect match of accessibility and insightfulness) was a great fit for blogging if you could convince yourself it was worth doing (for money, exposure, etc.) I’m glad to hear there’s been multiple benefits to it. I still believe 99.9% of fiction writers shouldn’t blog about writing and publishing (and I include myself in that lot), but I always thought you and Dean were the exceptions.

    Someone asked me the other day if I still believe it’s the best time to be a writer. I told them I believe it’s the best time to be a writer, by far, *if* you’re dedicated to getting better, smart about business, and you’re patient. The early adopter phase is over. This is the new normal, and while writers who jumped in early may have gotten a little extra bump, there’s a huge opportunity for writers in this for the long haul. I haven’t had any break out books, just a steadily bubbling along, but I still wake up absolutely amazed at the power I have now as a writer going the indie publishing route. I used to think of indie publishing as akin to the minors in baseball, and for some writers hoping to get picked up by a traditional publisher, it will function that way, but I think it’s more akin to a reverting to the norm. I was reading Mark Twain’s autobiography the other day about his adventures publishing Ulysses S. Grant’s autobiography, with Twain’s own publishing company (where Twain published most of his own books), and was just nodding my head at how we’re just getting back to what used to be considered normal.

    Your points about the free stories touch on something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. There’s so many ways to do it wrong, and yet, nobody can deny how powerful it is with the Internet considering how cheap and far reaching the effects can be. I’ve really been challenging all of my assumptions lately about how writers, and artists in general, get paid. I find myself resisting some ideas the same way I resisted the idea of indie publishing four years ago, which tells me it’s something I need to keep thinking about.

    Amanda Palmer had a great TED talk not long ago that’s worth watching if you haven’t seen it yet. If nothing else, it’ll get you thinking about these things:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/amanda_palmer_the_art_of_asking.html

    ~Scott
    (signing off on the longest comment he’s posted on a blog in four years)

    Reply
  12. I honestly can’t remember when I found your blog. 2010 or 2011, I suppose. But I’ve been back here every week since, like clockwork.

    I know it’s still anecdotal, but there are several suthors whose fiction I now read (or have read) because of their nonfiction. You and Dean and Dave Farland through your blogs, and a bunch of other folks through their writing/publishing/podcasting podcasts. Yes, I’m a writer, but I’m a reader too, and voice shines through in non-fiction as well as fiction. If I listen to a podcast for long enough, I usually will pick up one of the authors’ books as a thank-you if nothing else, but usually there’s something I want to read in their catalog.

    I’m looking forward to more audiobooks. :) I really like having “Surviving the Transition” on audio.

    Thank you so much for doing these blogs. Between your writing and the comments, I always learn something worthwhile. I point other writers here all the time.

    Reply
  13. You see, one of those publishing myths is that people who read nonfiction about writing do not read the fiction that the same writer writes.

    I suspect this is because most of the people in publishing companies, at least at the buying-content decision-making level, are not readers. They don’t realize how rare and precious it is to find an author’s voice they love.

    There are authors whose fiction I enjoy but whose nonfiction comes across as incoherent rambling. There are authors whose nonfic I love but whose storylines seem clichéd, whose characters seem flat. Just like there are authors whose novels I love and whose short stories leave me cold, and vice-versa. Shrug. If I love an author in one genre, I’m always willing to at least try that author in another field. It’s certainly a better risk than trying a name I don’t know.

    As far as I can sort out, the whole “don’t cross the streams” plan of publishing was invented by marketing managers who believe the average reader has the attention span of a mayfly and would be confused to discover the same person can write romance and mystery plots. I am constantly annoyed at how many of my favorite authors’ books I missed out on because they weren’t sold under a name I recognized.

    One of the things I love about the digital revolution is that I can find new works by the authors I love, even if those works are outside of my normal genre preferences.

    Reply
    • As far as I can sort out, the whole “don’t cross the streams” plan of publishing was invented by marketing managers who believe the average reader has the attention span of a mayfly and would be confused to discover the same person can write romance and mystery plots.

      What I’ve seen of marketing people in the old-line publishing industry suggests that they aren’t really aware of readers. The whole industry long ago became fixated on the idea that bookstores were their customers.

      Viewed in that way, it makes a certain kind of cockeyed sense. If everyone’s favourite fantasy writer, Tracy Tolkienesque, went ‘off the board’ and wrote a mystery novel under the same name, Tracy’s fans, in the old days, might never find out about it. It was shelved under Mystery, not under SF & F, and unless you happened to be one of those readers who regularly check out both those sections in the store, you wouldn’t know that the latest Tolkienesque was shelved way over there.

      When you buy online, none of that matters. You can search for all books by a particular author — or by title, series title, subject, publisher, or date of publication. For all I know, there’s a way to sneak grep expressions into an Amazon search so you can look for books that have four 9s in the ISBN. Amazon is smart enough to let Tracy Tolkienesque’s fans know when any new book by their favourite author comes out, regardless of genre.

      From the reader’s point of view, ‘don’t cross the streams’ never made any sense. To a publishing marketroid, who had little contact with actual readers, it was a way of treating readers like Pavlov’s dogs. Ring the bell, and the customers will flock to the letter T in the fantasy section. Clearly dogs are not intelligent enough to check the letter T in mystery or general fiction as well. All very sensible and scientific — but dogs don’t read books.

      Reply
  14. I have another really busy day ahead, so I won’t answer comments until late tonight or tomorrow. I do want to thank you all for the great information & support & congrats. You’ve been reading, or I wouldn’t do this. So thank you!

    Reply
  15. Happy anniversary, Kris! I read both your business blog and your fiction, and I wanted to say that my favorite thing about you is how widely you write. In business, I never know if it’s going to be a blog about money or inspiration or something I’d never even thought of but desperately need to know. In fiction, I never know if I’m going to get mystery or fantasy or something I never even knew I’d like. Thanks for never limiting yourself and thereby never limiting your readers!

    Reply
  16. “I haven’t missed a week in exactly four years.”

    That makes 2 of us, Kris.

    Reply
  17. It’s been a great year of thought-provoking posts from you, Kris. I agree with Joseph Ratliff. You’ve got “the most valuable writing blog on the planet.” I look forward to reading it every week.

    I am kicking in another donation today, as I have every few months. I only mention it here to encourage others to do the same.

    Thanks so much!

    Reply
  18. I started an advice blog for journalists seven years ago. I turned nearly 1300 posts into two textbooks which sell pretty well, and are on the reading lists of at least two college professors. Non-fiction is paying the light bill. I especially enjoy those emails that thank me for saving someone from a bad contract or improving a career.

    Many writers of fiction work in other careers and probably have information enough for a non-fiction book kicking around in their heads. It’s a nice way to supplement your income while helping others.

    Reply
  19. Wow this is awesome post. Congrats with the Anniversary! May next 4 years be even more awesome! ;)

    And I can totally say that being non-fiction reader currently, I’m more likely to buy your fiction books too from sf series purely because of the Business Rusch Series. It’s Thank You Economy in action!

    Also, just wanted to mention/wonder.. have you done ads on GoodReads.com? I think your sales would improve even more. Since you have so many books, you may not get your money back at once in the book you advertise but combined sales and exposure could lead to much more sales in some time. Honestly, I think it’s a sin if you aren’t doing it! :)

    Cheers,
    Adrijus G.

    Reply
  20. Well, I was familiar with your work as an editor long before you started this blog–you sent me my second ever rejection letter when I was fifteen and you were editing for F&SF (George Scithers sent me my very first when I was thirteen). :) You were also “That Award-Winning Author Who Wrote a Cool Star Wars Book.”

    But like many folks, it seems, I discovered you here through Dean’s blog. Very glad I did. In fact, your article on perfection alone is solid gold.

    Here’s to four more years. (LOL, that sounds political.)

    Reply
  21. Happy Fourth Anniversary! I’m glad I’ve managed to read as much of this as I have. Within two weeks of reading the first of your businesses articles, I purchased your book. There’s just so much information.

    I think your ability to distill important elements of the writing business into useful and understandable tidbits is one reason I started reading your books, only I remember you from an Orycon circa 1990 (give or take a couple of years). I cannot believe how much information you can impart enjoyably and in a way that is useful for someone like me, who is barely a writer, as well as still being useful and thought provoking for those with far more experience.

    If my is it a second or third career (or perhaps the career I’ve been working towards all my life) ends up being a success it has a lot to do with you and this blog because here I learned something more valuable than any writing information. Here, I learned that my writing was a *product* and it was my *product* to sell, whoever and to whomever I wanted to and I needed to value that product.

    Reply
  22. I come regularly for the Business Rusch, but I’ll often page down and read the fiction. The hook alone will usually keep me reading, and I nod to myself (wow, character, setting and plot in the first three lines–great!). My favourite was The Hook, because the information flow just blew me away.

    I always look forward to the estate articles, so I’ll be reading eagerly in May.

    I just wanted to add my 2 cents that indie publishing has been a godsend for me too. I hesitated to jump in, afraid to give up my NY dream, but it has been intensely satisfying for me to make money on my writing for the first time in my life. In my first 1.5 years of indie publishing, I grossed about $20,000 on Kindle alone, with much slower but steady increases on Smashwords and Kobo. I stopped calculating the numbers after that, which was in August 2012, but I wanted to encourage other writers who may never have sold a trad pub novel that there can be money in striking out on your own. Yes, you may be like me and 95% of your money may come from a single book (a humorous medical memoir, for me), but I ended up calculating that 10% of them went on to buy my first medical mystery and a little under half of those bought the second, so even a little cross-pollination is helpful–and I own the rights for life + 50 (I’m Canadian). Next, I’ll move into audio.

    Now that I’ve had a bit of success, I feel like I won’t die unread, unwept, and unpublished, as the TV Anne of Green Gables once said. Instead, I own a profitable business. I now have money to attend more workshops to further my writing craft, donate to you and other causes I believe in, and mentally, it frees me up to travel and pursue other dreams, including increasing my medical workload, deepening my yoga practice, and relishing my young children.

    Yes, I love this new world, too!

    Reply
  23. I point all my just-starting-out writer friends here.

    I’d been reading Retrieval Artist in MMPB since maybe the 3rd (and yes, I did have to go to specialty SF bookstores to get the older ones — thank goodness book dealers at cons realize the importance of older stock!). But I hadn’t seen any for a while, stupid publishers. But here they were. Had also read your SF and mystery shorter works in Asimov’s, Hitchcock, etc. but if you miss an issue and the story doesn’t end up in a “Best of the Year” collection, there was no way to read them. And even used bookstores aren’t what they were.

    But coming here for the SF and mystery got me to try the Grayson novels, which are delightful.

    Special thanks for making your books lend-able. I only have one other friend with a Nook, but she’s borrowed all the novels and short fiction of yours that I have, in exchange for which I read a bunch of Lee and Miller that she bought. And, gosh, sometimes when your two weeks are up, you just can’t do without the book you borrowed…

    And honestly, as many cat videos as I watch (all DAY sometimes), I hadn’t seen Popcorn Kittens till you blogged about them. That alone has been worth reading here.

    Reply
  24. Like others, I can’t remember when I came across it, but I can’t think of a column from which I didn’t lern something new about the publishing business. Sadly I’ve been out of steady work for two years (freelance writing for a gaming company is a great second job, but a lousey first), or I would have contributed something.

    Still, this column has given my the momentium to write my own stuff. Slogging through the process of writing an original novel has been as eye-opening as this column has been. I have 30-40 links to other sites that explore the new world of writing, and I’m always on the lookout for new websites, news items, and other things I find of interest in the new frontier.

    So, congrats on four years, here’s to four more and beyond!

    Craig

    Reply
  25. Happy Anniversary, Kris!

    Gotta say, I agree totally with Cindie – I love the fact that you write so widely. I look forward to Mondays and Thursdays because you’re so dependable. I must add that I’ve begun following several non-fiction blogs because I love the writer’s fiction. It doesn’t always work out that way, but when it does, I love it. Now – here’s to another four years…and then four more…and – well, you get the picture!

    Reply
  26. Happy anniversary, Kris.

    I don’t know if I’ve been here since the beginning four years ago, but I begin checking out the freelancer’s guide pretty after you started it (found it via one a link round-up on an SFF related site) because I worked as a freelance translator and figured that the information could be helpful. Not everything applied to my situation, but a lot of it was helpful.

    Without your and Dean’s encouraging posts, I probably never would have started self-publishing or at any rate would have waited a lot longer. And now I’ve got 33 e-books, mostly backlist short stories and novelettes, for sale with number 34 coming soon.

    So many thanks for four years of great information.

    PS: I definitely bought Assassins in Love because of this blog, if only because I probably wouldn’t have known about it otherwise.

    Reply
  27. Self-publishing was once the option of last resort….

    You know, it’s funny but back in the bad old days, that’s not how I saw it. I saw it that traditional publishing was the option of ONLY resort in terms of making a career.

    I saw self-publishing as something you could do once you made money and reputation.

    That’s what I saw happening with so many writers. They built a career, and then they would self-publish chapbooks and special editions — do it for the love. (Because it was much too expensive to do for the money.)

    That was my dream — build a career, and then take that money and self-publish my real work.

    It wasn’t until early 2010 that I jumped on the self-publishing bandwagon. It didn’t occur to me even then that it could be a replacement for traditional publishing — it was just that the dream of what I wanted to do at the end of my career could happen sooner, while I continued to work hard on the career itself.

    Then I realized “What the heck am I doing? You’ve got what you want. You don’t need to do this other crap.”

    (The “other crap” being defined largely by the horror stories mentioned by Kris and others.)

    I’m a duck. I thank Joe Konrath for introducing me to water.

    Reply
  28. Thank you, Kris. Here’s to four more years…

    Reply
  29. I’ve been reading this blog for at least a couple of years now. It’s been incredibly useful. I occasionally take a look at your Free Fiction Monday posts when it sounds like the story is my type of thing.

    My fiction tastes are much narrower than my non-fiction ones – but I discovered your Grayson books through your blog. You posted an excerpt of Charming Blue and I went straight from your blog to Amazon to buy it! I’m now slowly working my way through the others in that series (I got a bunch for Christmas after putting them on my wishlist.) I’ve also picked up one of your non-fic titles.

    Another thing that the blog helps to sell is your courses/workshops. I’m now on my fourth online workshop with WMG – and I know that you and Dean work together to create those even though he presents them.

    The stuff you both share on your blogs let me see that you both know what you’re talking about. That’s important when you are deciding who to learn from. You can get great writers who aren’t necessarily great teachers. I knew from what you both write in your blogs that your workshop teachings would work for me.

    I’ve also got my eye on the lecture series, so I’ll get to experience you delivering the advice as well!

    Reply
  30. Thanks so much for everything you do, Kris. You have helped more writers than you know with your blog posts.

    Reply
  31. Happy blog-versary Kris!

    I look forward to the Thursday blog. I always read these posts. I always want to read the free fiction, but I frequently don’t get around to it. The blog I read here, on your site. The free fiction I read through my reader (was Google Reader, now is Feedly.)

    I’ve learned so much from you and Dean. I can’t thank you enough.

    I remember the stigma from self-publishing. I remember pitying the poor writers who had self-pubbed, and shlepped their books to cons, getting their own table and trying to sell them. I don’t know if all who self-pubbed deserved the stigma: I do remember trying to get through two of those self-pubbed books and having to put them down after the first page because they were so bad. The quality has improved.

    I wish you another happy, productive 4 years, and 4 more years after that, and 4 more, and 4 more, and… Yeah. You get the picture.

    Reply
  32. Congrats on the fourth anniversary, Kris! I remember when you were musing if it could be done . . . And how! This blog has been invaluable in so many different ways for so many different writers. I’ve directed dozens of people your way, and the dialogue in the end comments is the icing on the cake.

    Reply
  33. Wow 2009. That’s when I started writing novel length fiction. Back then I was all about snagging an agent, any agent, and getting my one book traditionally published. I never even hoped I’d have more than one book available in my entire life time, and now look at me with all my available self published titles. It’s all thanks to bloggers such as yourself. I kept feeling iffy towards writers who I first became friends with on my blog in 2009. When I started following the Passive Voice blog, Konrath’s, Dean’s and your blog, I’d write up blog posts about self publishing. My old writer pals looked down on me. They said I risked ruining my reputation with traditional publishers. They said my writing would be shit if I wrote too fast. They wanted to snag agents and to this day their minds are still set in these ways.

    I never looked back after the boom of eBook publishing in 2010. I had my first self published novel trashed by someone who I thought was a friend, but not even that deterred me when I got back to it. I never would have been able to persevere in self publishing if it weren’t for my new friends on twitter, Facebook, blogger and first and foremost my family.
    I wouldn’t be where I am today without your weekly blog posts. I’ve been blogging since 2009 too. Maybe now I’ll start writing up how-to posts so I can ask for donations too. Hehe. I want to give back as well.

    Reply
  34. This is completely off topic but…
    I was wondering what your view is on the recent Night Shade books fiasco? Do you think MWG or Ella Publishing could aquire these books? It seems like they (the books) would be a good fit. I was also wondering why there were no excerpts available on Ella’s web site.
    Keep up the good work.
    Annemarie

    Reply
    • I’ll blog about Night Shade at some point. I’ll tell you, though, this sort of thing happens all the time. WMG won’t be acquiring the books. Even if WMG wanted to, it’s too much of a legal mess to deal with, and WMG doesn’t want to. Excerpts, though. I’ll ask & see if they can change that. Thanks!

      Reply
  35. Happy anniversary!

    Too many writers still think that traditional in the only way to success. And too many traditional publishders write off indie publishing as a fad, not understanding that the industry itself is leaving them behind. They’re adjusting by tightening controls over their writers! That reminds me of the post office thinking that the solution to less people using their service is to raise the price of stamps.

    Reply
  36. Happy Anniversary and here’s to many more prosperous (and less hectic/exciting) years. Because of you, Dean, S. Hoyt, and a few others, I ventured forth to start publishing my fiction. And learned a whole lot, including the need to have an IP lawyer look at all publishing contracts, fiction and otherwise. That alone is worth twenty times what I’ve been able to put in the tip jar or buy in hard copy (the Diving series). Many, many thanks.

    Reply
  37. Happy Anniversary! I’m late I know, but just wanted to tell that I love your blog and after reading it for years, was feeling sort of guilty that I hadn’t read much of your fiction. It’s sort of like seeing someone whose company you enjoy at work every day and not knowing anything about their personal life. Don’t mean that in a stalkerish way.

    So I started at the beginning of the Retrieval Artist series. I’m about halfway through since I’m a slow reader with little time to read, but I’m loving them. Then I’ll move on to the other series.

    I’m one of those who’s learned so much from both you and Dean. And both imaginary and real popcorn kittens live at my house too! I’m alternately having a blast and tearing my hair out with writing and publishing. But wouldn’t change it for the world.
    Thanks again!

    Reply
  38. KKR & The Business Rusch

    Happy 4th!

    I evangelize this column to all my struggling writer friends. I’m trying to get my cousin to read & heed but he’s stuck in the “being discovered like Lana Turner at Schwab’s” mode, despite the modern paucity of drug store soda counters and the fact he & his wife are already a tolerably success as self-published homeschooling writers!

    Forex:

    http://www.designastudy.com/products/1891975099.html

    Keep up the great work & I hope the tip jar overflows.

    JJB

    Reply
  39. Bought Freelancers. Bought some of your fiction. Really appreciate the stuff on business.

    Regularly send new writers to read what you and Dean say, especially in regards to agents. Some of them are really skeptical. One said something about Dean along the line of, “Another failed writer,” and looked at me in shock when I laughed at him.

    Thanks, you don’t know how much of a difference you are making. I’ll bet based on my own experience in blogging that less than 1 in 100 readers comment, and you get a lot of comments.

    Wayne

    Reply
  40. I want to thank everyone for the comments and the e-mails and the donations this week. All of this positive support has been wonderful! Thank you!

    The week turned out so much busier than I planned. I wasn’t really able to focus on the comments, and answer them as I liked, but I did read them all and greatly appreciated them.

    You guys rock.

    Reply
    • FYI, dropped in to get the link to this article so I can send it to another writer who was disappointed by the “gold rush”.

      Wayne

      Reply
  41. This is another anecdotal comment – I had actually never read any of your work before. I ended up here from Dean’s blog, who I found while trying to find info on self publishing. I had seen your Fey series in the store, but at that point I was OD’d on fairies/fantasy stuff. I am so a binge reader, I find something I like and I read all of it. But back then when I saw it in the stores I didn’t understand the pen names thing (yes this was a decade or more ago) and just went “meh” and moved on. However since then I found your blog and I realized you wrote so much other stuff, I have started buying and reading your work. Starting with the Retrieval Artist series.

    But I am a Reader. I read everything, fiction, non-fiction. I’ve been known to buy textbooks from used bookstores because it was on something I wanted to know about. The more I’ve read your blog the more I realize how shortsighted publishers have been, and why sometimes finding backlist novels is damn near impossible.

    I’ve spent the last 3 months reading all your back blog posts, reading them in quiet moments (which are few) and thinking over what you’ve said and pointed out. All I can say is thank you so much. I’ll keep writing, but now I’m doing it my way and writing what I want regardless of what “sells”. I have marketing plans and a built in fan base that I can leverage.

    So thank you again, and may this never not be profitable for you!

    Reply
    • Thank you, Melisa. I’m glad you found the books. (I appreciate the anecdote!) I’m also glad the blog has been very helpful. That means a great deal. :-) Good luck with the writing. I’m glad you’re doing it your way. :-)

      Reply

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