The Business Rusch: Time And The Writer

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The Business Rusch: Time and the Writer

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Recently, I got an e-mail from a writer whose name you would recognize. She has written dozens of novels, maybe a hundred or more. Her career stretches back more than thirty years.

She has jumped into indie publishing whole-heartedly and cannot imagine going back to traditional publishing, unless she gets a good contract, which she considers as likely as winning the lottery.

“I know you’re famously DIY,” she wrote to me, “but I just got this audio book offer and I’m on the fence.”

The offer wasn’t for a lot of money up front, but it had a decent royalty rate. It was also for book twenty-something of an on-going series. And, here’s the key, the audio deal was for seven years, with an option to renew.

I know I have a reputation for being do-it-yourself, but I’m not. I still have traditional book deals, I still happily sell short stories to magazines, I do auxiliary rights—including audio—with firms other than those I’m affiliated with.

While I believe writers can and should do some things themselves, I think it’s fairer to call me pro-reader. I want to have all of my work available in as many formats as possible, so my readers can find it.

Of course, I make my living off what I do, so I don’t want to give everything away for free (nor am I giving anyone permission to pirate with these sentences).  I believe that sometimes it’s better to get help producing a book in whatever format than it is to do it yourself.

I told my writer friend that in her situation, I would take the deal. The series is composed of stand-alone books, in the way that mystery series or romance series work, and none of the previous books were in audio. I know she has plans to put the work into audio, but like most writers, she’ll do the series in order.

I asked her if she thought she’d get to this book in the next seven years. If she thought she’d get to it soon, then she shouldn’t take the deal. But if she thought it might be three or five years out, then the deal makes a lot of sense.

Plus the professionally produced audio book will break her series into a new market, doing the preliminary advertising and reader identification for her.

The key, though, is that limitation on the deal. We would have had a different discussion if the contract did not terminate in seven years.

It’s getting harder, not easier, to figure out exactly what to do when offered a good deal on a side project. If you’re like me, you do want to do things yourself.  Next fall, J. Daniel Sawyer and I are teaching a workshop about putting your work into audio. I haven’t done any audio DIY in years. Dan will cover the latest technology part. Because of my radio background, I’ll be training beginners how to read aloud. (It’s not as easy as you’d think.)

By the time we teach this, I will have several short works that I’ve done myself up in audio. Dean and I are setting up a studio now. (Most people don’t need a studio, but I’ve been hankering for one ever since I left the radio station, and now the price of one is within the realm of possibility.) When that’s done, I’ll play with the new technology.

As I write that sentence, I can already feel my writing time slip away.  If I’m not careful, I know I’ll be spending all of my time sound-mixing and playing with all the new options. I’ve already set up a schedule—an afternoon one day a week—and I’ve insisted that the studio be at least a mile from my home office, so I can’t just wander in to “tinker with something for a few minutes.” That way equals tons of lost writing time.

All of this easily accessible technology, from the audio books to the print-on-demand books to the e-books themselves, suddenly gives us writers real money-making things we can do instead of writing. I have hundreds of stories in my inventory that aren’t up as e-books yet, not to mention possible collections or nonfiction shorts that I could combine into books.

I could spend the next year putting everything back into  print, plus do audio editions and maybe hire some translators and design covers for overseas editions. I wouldn’t have to write another word if I didn’t want to.

And, when Dean reads this, he will cringe. Not because he thinks I’ll do this—I won’t—but because the very idea of me not writing for a year is nightmarish in the extreme. For both of us.

Then there is the other side of things: I could hire dozens of people to do it all right now. The cost would be astronomical.

Dean and I helped with WMG Publishing’s start-up so that we would have help putting our backlist into print. WMG has hired a lot of people, from copy editors to artists, on a project-by-project basis over the past few years, but it hired its first full-time employee in April. Allyson Longueira has taken over the big job as publisher, and now I watch her struggle with her schedule. She has, literally, a thousand things to do, and time to do only a fraction of that every week.

It’s crazy-making, which causes stress. Our have-it-all right now society doesn’t help. Readers will wait, but they do want to be able to download the next book with the click of a button. I know I do when it comes to my favorite writers.

But that’s not always possible. Instead, we’re going to have to work at the best pace possible to keep our sanity and to ensure the long-term survival of our various businesses, from our writing businesses to WMG.

Which means that it will take a few years for everything to be finished.

So how does all of this fit into my philosophy of making everything available in as many formats as possible for any reader who wants it?

Well, that’s the goal. And working on a goal means that you have to keep the goal firmly in mind as you make decisions.

For example, sometimes it’s better to license the audio rights for seven years to the twenty-something book to a series than it is to hold those rights in case you’ll get to that audio book three years from now.

Another writer friend of mine who retired a few years ago from his day job is now raising his grandchildren. He has a sick wife. His traditionally published series has kissed The New York Times bestseller list with the most recent release.

He has taken courses in producing his own books. He knows how to do that work. He thinks it’s a viable option.

But right now, he barely has the time to write. And he knows he can’t do the kind of push he would need to do to independent booksellers to keep that Times run going. (If you want to know how to do that kind of push, Dean Wesley Smith touches on it in his Think Like a Publisher book. He’s reprinting the chapters for free on his blog right now.)

My friend has looked at his available time—which isn’t much—and has decided to write three novels per year instead of two. He used his newly acquired indie-publishing skills to inform his traditional publisher that he has options now, and he’s asked for contract terms he would never have asked for in the old publishing world. He told me if the publisher does not concede to those terms, he will walk away.

So far, the publisher has conceded.

My friend has looked at his schedule, examined the best use of his time, and has also looked at the deals he was being offered. He figured that, with the life he has right now, staying with traditional publishing is for the best.

But you can bet his new contracts will enable him to leave that publisher should those circumstances change.

What my friend has done is what all writers should do. Those writers should examine what they can and cannot realistically do, and then figure out how to get those things done for the least problem and the best return. If a writer decides to stay with traditional publishing, then he better get the best terms possible.

The contract terms in traditional publishing are getting worse for most writers, not better, so writers need to negotiate. Most agents will not do this kind of negotiation. Writers who decide to go this route will need an IP attorney and some personal fortitude. I’ve done blog posts about contract terms, as have The Passive Guy and Joe Konrath. Read those. And read my book on negotiation. Anyone can negotiate, given a few guidelines and a willingness to stand up for yourself. You don’t have to negotiate in person or on the phone. You can do so in e-mail (and I would recommend it, so everything is in writing).

Am I telling writers to stay in traditional publishing? Not at all. I’m famously DIY, remember?

But so many of us have extensive backlists that will take years to put in e-book alone that we need to figure out how to use our time effectively.

Here are my personal rules. These rules are  unique to me, and I share them here not to make you like me, but to give you a starting point for your rules. Yours will be different. You have different needs than I do. It’s important to remember that.

Here we go:

1. I need to write new material every day. In fact, writing new material is my focus. I want to write the next book in this series or that series. I want to write a stand-alone short story for one of the fiction magazines. I want to write some stand-alone novels that have been in my to-do list for years. I want to write short side stories that go with my romance novels.  I’m busy with the writing alone. I have enough to keep me going for at least five years, maybe more—and that doesn’t count new ideas, which hit me every day.

2. I prioritize my backlist. Backlist novels first, with a focus on novels in series. If the series is on-going, either through WMG or a traditional publisher, then I need to do that first. For example, we made sure the Kristine Grayson backlist novels were available in May of 2011 when Wickedly Charming was released.

I can’t do everything right away (and neither can WMG), so the priority list becomes all important. It also gets revised as circumstances change. When Kensington released the rights on the last two Kristine Grayson novels just this month, those novels rose to the top of the priority list. They’re already with the copy editor, and should be out sometime this summer, between the release of Thoroughly Kissed in June and Charming Blue in September (both from Sourcebooks).

3. I listen to all offers. If someone wants to buy auxiliary rights on a novel or a story, I will consider the offer. I will look at the things I mentioned above with my writer friend. Those things are:

A. What are the contract terms?

B. When does the license expire?

C. When will I realistically get to this project?

D. Can this company do things that I cannot do?

E. Is this company asking too much in rights, limitations of my ability to write, or in lost revenue to negate the benefits of doing business with this company?

F. Is there a way out of the deal if the company does not keep up its side of the bargain? (So many publishing contracts are one-sided and only favor the publisher.)

G. Will I regret this decision in the morning? (In other words, don’t get pressured into accepting; any time anyone pressures you, you should walk away.)

H. Who does this deal benefit the most? Me? My agent? The publisher? If the answer is the agent or the publisher, then run. If the answer is two-fold—it benefits me and the publisher equally—then the deal is fine. (Not three-fold; remember, agents work for you, and should get paid from your end of the deal. They should never make more money on a deal than you do—although that often happens in both foreign rights deals and in Hollywood deals.)

If you like the offer and it benefits you for where you are right now, then take the deal. If you feel any qualms, do not, and wait for the time when you can do whatever it is yourself—or wait until you get a better offer.

4. I keep repeating that patience is a virtue. Of course, it’s one I lack. But I’m striving to be a better person. Plus, I like to sleep. So I’m doing my best to remain on pace and on target with all of my projects.

5. I do no active promotion. Yeah, I do a few things because my traditional publishers ask me to, but I also say no to some of those things. I do the occasional book-signing, but only for my very favorite booksellers. I say no to all others. I’m on social media because I like social media. But if I hated it, I wouldn’t do it.

The best promotion I can do is write the next book or the next short story. Readers don’t buy a book because you’re a witty tweeter. They buy books because the book looks interesting. If they like your book, then they’ll buy another one. So there’d better be another one to buy.

That’s promotion. In fact, that’s all there is to promotion. Everything else wastes your time—time you could spend writing or putting up backlist or designing a cover for your new frontlist title.

6. However, when my time is limited, I write new work. Got that? The default in all of this is write. That’s the foundation of any writer’s business. New words, new stories, new novels. Write, write, write, write.

Everything else is secondary.

So…when you get an offer for auxiliary rights—and you will—examine it closely. When your indie book does really well, and a traditional publisher comes calling, offering to do that book “professionally,” do the math. Not just the money math, but the time math. If you’ve already published the book, if it’s already selling well, then why would you waste time on a traditional deal? You’ll have to work with an editor who wants to change the already-selling book, a copy editor, a proofer, a promotions person who’ll want you to waste time guest-blogging for no money. If you have an agent, that agent will make money on a project she couldn’t earn anything on before. You’ll get a fraction of what you would have gotten financially for the book if you had just left it alone, to sell on its already existing terms.

In other words, if you go with a traditional deal to “improve the quality of you’re already-published book,” you’ll lose time and money. If you think the book needs a good copy edit or a good paper edition,  and the book already sells well, use some of the profits of your edition to hire a copy editor or to hire a company like Lucky Bat Books to do the paper edition for you for a flat fee. You will spend less time than you would with a traditional publisher and you’ll make more money in the short- and long-term.

The key in all of this is to think like a business person. Make decisions based not on gut, not on impulse, not on what someone else wants, but on what’s best for your business.

Your business exists because you write. So you must write. You get paid when you publish things. So you must earn money. You have only so much time. So make sure whatever you take on will not take time from your writing.

Inevitably, thinking like a business person will slow you down. That’s okay. Remember, patience is a virtue. You may not have that virtue, but you can pretend to.

I do—every single day.

One of the reasons I do this blog every week is to force myself to keep up with this constantly changing industry. It’s important for me to know what opportunities are out there, what changes are coming, and what practices have become passé. I do my best to share that information with you in the hopes that it will benefit you.

If you got something out of this week’s blog, if it has value to you, then please leave a tip on the way out. Thank you!

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“The Business Rusch: “Time And The Writer,” copyright © 2012 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.




36 thoughts on “The Business Rusch: Time And The Writer

    1. Absolutely, we all need to experiment. Which is why I take on anthology and tie-in stories. They make me think about things I wouldn’t think about otherwise. 🙂

    1. Well, Alan, I didn’t send you there to defend your own position. I sent you there in the hopes that you might see a different perspective, and perhaps give it a try. Good luck with everything.

  1. Great post. It really drives home the fact that I need to write, write, write. I just published my second title, and, yes, taking a break is okay, but it can lead obsessive checking and rechecking, which is really bad when one hasn’t sold anything yet. But the more I get up, the more chances I’ll have that one of the titles will tickle someone’s fancy, and all it takes is one to get the ball rolling.


  2. As a fan of audiobooks– I have an audible platinum level account and also take advance of audible’s sales– I would urge authors to be cautious about starting with books in the middle of a series. I’ve run into this, looked around for the first books in the series and ended up annoyed (and not buying the book available) because I couldn’t find the earlier ones.

    I also hate looking for the audio books of an author and finding out that the audiobooks in question are not for sale in my region and/or are outrageously expensive because the are only available on some bulky media that has to be shipped.

    1. Mystery series usually standalone with the same characters, Arachne. I agree with you on series that are linked like George Martin’s books, where you can’t read one without the other. But mystery and some romance series it’s fine to start with #30 because in the bad old days, all the previous books would’ve been out of print any way. You can read #30 without ever reading #29 or #1. So it’s not that big a deal.

      Regions are another matter, which is why I’m not saying ACX yet until I read all the documentation. If people can get the books everywhere that Audible goes and can also publish audio books in places where it doesn’t go, then that’s good. Otherwise, you’ll have to think hard before you chose ACX. Right now, I’m not sure on any of that.

      Try to make your books available to as many people as possible in as many formats as possible, imho.

  3. Now I know what it means when someone comments, “What a timely post…” Timely, indeed, for me. Prioritizing and scheduling my writing business has been kicking my butt a little lately. At times I feel like what Dean calls a writer who wants to be taken care of. I just want to write, and forget all the other things like making covers, formatting, proofing, submitting short stories to traditional markets, etc. Unfortunately, I can’t afford to hire out anything like covers or copy editing. So everything is in-house, and threatens to eat at the writing.

    I also keep feeling like a slacker because I’m not doing all the promotion that everyone else seems to be doing. I’m on Twitter and Facebook, and technically I have a blog, but I barely ever post on it. Are you really saying I could never post another blog and that would be okay? 🙂

    Anyway, I guess the main question is, what is a good ratio of writing to all that other stuff?

    1. Rob, my answer is you can do 80% writing and 20% publishing. As for Twitter & social media, 0% if it cuts into your writing time. I would suggest picking one day per week for your publishing operation and spend the rest of your work week writing. Or something like that. You do need to publish, but you can take your time to do that. Eventually, you’ll have enough $$ to hire help, and they can help with the backlist. I hope that answers. (And yes, you don’t ever have to post another blog if you don’t want to.)

  4. Excellent advice as always! I’m in the same boat as far as being tugged twelve hundred ways at once–in addition to my writing I’ve got the day job, two part-time jobs (helping/being part of small publishers), and of course my family and whatever I can manage for a social life. But, like you, I place the writing first as far as my own projects. I have to, both because it’s the only way for me to keep moving forward and because the writing is the point of it all. I get antsy to the extreme if I don’t write my own fiction for a few days. The rest I manage as best I can, whenever I can, but the writing is the part I absolutely have to do in order to stay sane (-ish).

    1. Yeah, Aaron. Like you I get antsy if I don’t write. Dean read that part about me not writing for a year and yelled at me. I told him to continue. He was afraid of what our household would look like after a week, never mind a year. I need to write, so I do. Nice to know I’ve trained the folks around me to need me to write as well. 🙂

  5. Fabulous post, Kris. It’s so easy to buy into the mentality that all the social media/promotional stuff is the work that matters and keeps the ball rolling. It’s exhausting and time-consuming. It’s also fun and having people chit-chat with you all day can fool you into believing that you’re actually working when you’re not.

    Honestly, you’re really only as good as your next book. Which means you have to screw your butt in the chair and focus on only that for the majority of your time because that’s the work which makes all the other stuff happen.

    And speaking of which . . .

  6. 5. However, when my time is limited, I write new work.

    Well, there’re two 5’s, but that’s the one I mean when I say awesome. (The other one is good too.)

    Of course, I don’t have a giant backlist, but that’s the only way to get one…

  7. You say reading a book out loud isn’t as easy as you might think. I have quite the opposite worry: I’m happy to do it myself, and I think I could handle the tech and the production; but I just don’t think my voice would work even for short stories, and I think it would get worse for novels.

    1. Martin, anyone can read aloud with the proper training. It’s all about training. Listen to the varied voices on the radio and you’ll see what I mean. They go from gravelly to melodious. And readers love to hear writers read. I always buy audio books read by Stephen King. I learn how he believes the story should flow whenever I listen. And he doesn’t have a pretty voice. Quite the opposite. But it’s magical all the same.

  8. Really good advice, especially your #1. That is so easy to overlook when getting caught up in the business and publishing side. I’ve been spending a lot of time the past couple of months working on my website, publishing my first two indie stories, doing social media, blogging, and had my first guest post today. The problem is that it is easy to let writing new material slide, and writing new material must come first.

    I’ve only been “traditionally” published with short fiction in smaller online markets, so I don’t have any real presence with readers. So, like Alan, I’m trying to overcome obscurity. At the same time, I agree with you, Kris, that new writing stories and novels are most important. “Writers write.”

    Thanks for writing this, along with all your Business Rusch posts. Much appreciated!

    1. You’re welcome, Dale. And the best way to become visible is to write more. Readers don’t care about your social media presence or some bookstore that you sign in which is not in their hometown. They care about the next book or story. Give that to them, and you’ll become a success. Just not overnight. 🙂

  9. I agree, they are not much of a pay-off. And the total writing time of my next book (between 160 K and 170 K words) which I began in 2011, will at least equal two years.

    But I’ll take the risk to disappoint my readers, because I want to get it right. And I still need to build my self-confidence by building my audience.

    Don’t make me wrong : I’m sure the advice you and your husband Dean give, that writing is the best promotion is right on target. But I don’t feel I have yet attracted enough readers, or that the ebook market has grown enough here, to really launch a writing career, so it has to be a mix between writing and promoting.

    If I was Sisyphe, I would say I put so much energy on moving that damn rock that I don’t want to stop pushing. Not until the third book of my current trilogy is written. As I said, I certainly lack self-confidence.

  10. Kris,

    I like this summary of what you have been saying all along in the past couple of years. It’s nice to have it all in one place to review. My life situation has necessitated a short few months of hiatus from writing. I knew it would happen and I planned for it and allowed it to myself. Sometimes this sort of thing just has to happen. The truth is, after about sixteen years in Greece and thirty-five years overseas in Europe and Asia I will be moving back to the States. Permanently? Who knows? But at least for now. There are a million things to attend to and I have to dive in and get them done. But in a few weeks I will be on my way, and the day after I fly out I plan to be back to (I hope I hope I hope) at least a thousand words a day of original material again. For now I have seven books published and a lot of short stories and I’m letting them ride. Sometimes recently I haven’t been able to follow your posts as closely as before, and my comments have all but disappeared, but I read your blogs as often as I can. I credit your posts and Dean’s with helping to change my life for the better, definitely changing my writing life – setting me free to write what I need to and publish it where readers can find it. Who knows, now that I will actually be in the same country I might be able to meet you one day and say thanks in person. Thanks electronically for now, anyway.

    1. My goodness, John W. That kind of move is time consuming, esp. after all the years you spent abroad. The best to you. I hope it all works out wonderfully. (And I do think this is a good time to leave Greece.)

  11. Time management is my kryptonite. Given the option between working on my writing and working on someone else’s, I always choose the someone else’s. But a priority list! Something to guide my in-tthe-moment decisions toward a bigger goal. Such a simple thing. Such a simple way to short circuit the reactionary way I live my whole life, constantly jumping toward whatever makes the loudest noise. I am aflutter with the possibilities! (and of course the procrastinatory potential of choosing the list, formatting it, printing it, hanging it where I will see it, telling others abput it …)

  12. Yay for writing more! I adored the workshops this past week, but then I got worried about hearing that some who attend become frozen afterwards when the Critical Voice goes into overdrive. I came home determined to plow through it. The result is a new 5000 word short story. It feels great to be back in the saddle again!

    I also love what you said about promotion and the use of social media in particular. I only do those things I enjoy, and even then it’s more about my writing life. Not because that will sell books, but because that’s what I enjoy discussing.

    This new world of publishing is so amazing and FUN. Sometimes I think the ‘fun’ part gets forgotten in the frenzy to get everything done. Today, I’m making it a point to go write something fun for the next short story project.

    1. JA, I’m glad that the workshops didn’t get in the way of your writing. Yay!!! Good job. Like you, I think social media is a blast. But there are days (like most of Thurs and all day yesterday) where I can’t even go online. So things have to wait. And really, who cares? I don’t think anyone is breathlessly waiting for my latest tweet. I do know that folks are waiting for the next novel–in a variety of series. So I better get cracking.

  13. Excellent piece of advice.

    As I said on Joe Konrath’s blog, I have a motto : I don’t put my work on lottery. I hate “writing in the void”, for nobody. So, although I have a daytime job (3/5), I put much time into promotion. But the only kind of promotion that make me sell my books : signing them in large book stores.

    I’m very little fish, as you could guess, having sold less than 1500 books by this way, since 2010. And it is wery frustrating not to have much time to write.

    But it’s my choice. If the readers want me to write more, they’ll have to buy my books, so I can quit my daytime job. I hope one day, ebooks will help more than they do in France. In the meantime, I just will not give up trying to find new readers.

    1. If you actually compute your time versus earnings, Alan, you might see that the signings are really not much of a pay-off. If you don’t have more work to attract readers, then they’ll read the one or two books and be disappointed they can’t find more. I’ve always trusted readers to find my work–and they do, even when traditional publishers publish the books badly or if the book has limited copies. And I get to write. But as I said, it works for me. YMMD

  14. I think I’m finally getting all this through my thick skull and learning to do what is best for me and my writing career.
    First thing I have to do is unplug from the internet and concentrate on the writing projects and art projects that I want to do.
    I have lots of work to do if I’m going to self publish next year, time is running out!
    I’m not into social media but I do enjoy blogs like yours, Deans, the passive voice and a few author blogs. Still, it’s time to unplug and go to work. Thanks for the inspiration.

  15. Dear Kristine,

    As I’m sure you know, another option on the audiobook side is ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange). They help match narrator/producers with rights holders and facilitate the creation of the audiobook on either a ‘pay for production’ or royalty share basis. You can opt for exclusive distribution through ACX (,, & iTunes) or go non-exclusive. The work will still be distributed via the above 3 channels, but you can also distribute elsewhere. Of course, nonexclusive carries a lesser royalty rate. The term of the ACX deals are seven years.

    Bob Mayer recently did a great blog post on the program. It’s here:

    Just another case of a possible hybrids between going completely DIY and getting some help on close to your own terms.

    Keep up the great posts.


    1. I’m aware of ACX, Bob & Liana, and we’ll be discussing it at the workshop. Some of my friends like the program, but I haven’t investigated it thoroughly enough to recommend it yet. I do appreciate the link.

  16. Thank you for the advice, now your blog is listed in my favourites!
    I am struggling to organise my writing time and I think I found what I needed in your very astute advice.
    Thanks again.

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