My Gut Reaction to Naomi Baron's "Case" Against E-Readers

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Before I dig in, it's time for a quick disclaimer: I write, primarily, for the digital medium. I blog, and am the author and producer of eBooks. I am a reader of novels, more often than not, at least lately, in their digital format. I own and adore my Kindle. I do not, for a single second, believe that physical books are superior in any way - but, I used to, for reasons that were predominately irrational. And this WaPo article? I read it digitally, not in their print publication, but via their link on the Facebook website. I am a user, generator, and consumer of digital stories. Now, on with the show...


 

I usually ignore these types of articles, or, at best, take them with an incredibly large grain of salt. But, this latest salvo in the "grrr! argh! digital!" argument from Naomi S. Baron, courtesy of Washington Post, was particularly rankling.

Baron takes care of the easy-picking arguments typically found in these debates, looking at ease of portability, digital democratization, environmental factors (renewable trees versus irreplaceable and toxic rare Earth metals in production of books vs digital devices - both of which would have been much more interesting, and more well deserved of research, than her focus on the low-hanging fruit she occupies herself with), before writing about her research - just in time for the publication of her novel, Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World.

Now, I haven't read her book, nor do I plan to. I want to talk (rant?) solely about Baron's Washington Post article and its narrow, murky thesis. The gist of her article seems (to me, anyway) to revolve around this: eReaders are OK for fluffy little best-sellers, but not for monoliths of "important" literature, like James Joyce. And the implicit argument in that is, eBooks are fine for the wee little minds geared only for entertainment, but if you're a serious connoisseur of literature, you cannot possibly read it digitally.

To me, this reeks of elitism, and its a classist argument, a facade of high brow mindedness pitting "real" readers versus consumers of more pedestrian novels. The argument goes, if you are a true, pure-blooded reader of literature, you best dare not read it on your Nook.  And just why not?  Well, Baron argues, because, distractions. She writes:

But the real nail in the coffin for one-size-fits-all electronic reading is concentration. Over 92 percent of those I surveyed said they concentrate best when reading a hard copy. The explanation is hardly rocket science. When a digital device has an Internet connection, it’s hard to resist the temptation to jump ship: I’ll just respond to that text I heard come in, check the headlines, order those boots that are on sale.

Readers are human. If you dangle distractions in front of us (or if we know they are just a click or swipe away), it’s hard not to take the bait.

But, are eReaders really the object to blame for reader's attention deficits? I don't find that to be a very valid argument, and Baron seems to send a bit of a mixed message here. Her argument carries the same sort of baggage that other, older, similar arguments had in response to any technological revolution that threatened to destabilize The Old Way. If I recall correctly, television, video games, and smart phones have all had the same criticisms leveled against them. It's a bit of a chicken and the egg argument - are people to blame for their dwindling concentration, or are the inanimate devices around them to blame? But, then she points out that humans are supremely distractable anyway, so maybe it's a moot point. So, then, why make it at all, let along as a particular crux in your axe grinding?

Some also acknowledged they took more time with printed text and read more carefully – not really a surprise, since digital screens encourage scrolling and hasten us along to grab the next Web site or tweet.

Now, I'm not sure what kind of eReader Baron is using (I'll give her the benefit of the doubt and presume that she is actually familiar with these devices), but after having avidly used a Kindle for the better part of a year, I never felt "encouraged" to scroll or "hasten" along.

Mind you, not all "digital screens" are equal, nor are the guts behind their shiny display. Your traditional PC computer software functions quite differently than your eReader software. You interact with it differently, and both the behaviors and purposes of the devices are different. Further, I do not think the format one reads in is at the center of blame for their bad behaviors.

Here's an anecdotal example for you. When I was reading physical books, either for enjoyment or for school, I would - gasp! - set the book down on occasion to go online and check out Twitter, reply to an e-mail, or check the headlines. Should we then blame the physical novel for that? I "jumped ship" even without any internet connected devices!

This anecdote is ridiculous, of course, but so is what Baron is implying. Because readers can easily switch between a novel and a web browser, all on the same device, that means digital is bad for books? Admittedly, I'm not a rocket scientist, but I do not find her premise to be as plainly clear-cut as she implies. I have little trouble staying engaged in a story regardless of its medium. Maybe I'm just special, who knows.

What fascinates me is how many people – from teenagers to millennials to those of a certain age – prefer print when reading both for pleasure and for school or work. Drawing examples from my own research, some of the reasons are aesthetic (“charm of actually turning pages” and “scent of a new book”). Others involve a sense of accomplishment (“able to see how much I read”), ease of annotation (“I can write on the pages”), and navigation (“easy to locate where I was”).

Baron is initially supported here by a 2013 research study that was widely circulated amongst various news outlets, and which responders showed a strong preference for physical books. Looking back at my own self circa 2013, I would have been one of those readers affirming preference for physical books. Now, two years later, I staunchly prefer digital. I'd be curious to find more recent studies to see what they show. I suspect there's been a growth, perhaps even a large growth, in acceptance of eBooks in the intervening years, so this merits some more research on my part. It could be out there and I'm just not aware of it. I do wonder, though, how much of Baron's new book is reliant on old research. Technology and adoption rates of new devices can advance a hell of a lot in such a short amount of time.

And drawing examples from my own use of a Kindle, I find Baron's other examples lackluster at best. Before actually giving digital a try, I was a die-hard physical book only reader, convinced that I would never, never!, read a digital book. There was something pure about a printed work, the scent of those pages, the accomplishment and ease of seeing how much I'd read and what was left to go. And that was largely all nonsense, in hindsight. Which, again, makes me wonder just how current Baron's research is and how dated her pool of examples might be in the present day. Times change, sometimes very rapidly, and I doubt I'm the only to reverse course on this issue.

In 2013, I slowly began reading eBooks on my wife's iPad - and largely because I was able to find a hefty novel for less than $2 to read through the Kindle app. It was a matter of sheer convenience in the beginning. Did I want to lug around, say, for example, Stephen King's massive door stopper, IT, or a light-weight iPad? But, the more eBooks I read, the more I realized that I was not actually missing anything. The story was the same, as pure as it had ever been, but a little more portable, and a little easier to access on cross-platform devices - I could literally take my book anywhere and read it on anything, aestheticism be damned.

I took me a little while to adjust to the "accomplishment" factor, but again, it was not a significant hurdle that made one form of delivery inherently superior to another. I've got plenty of Kindle books with real page numbers that I can digitally bookmark, and I can type in annotations and highlight passages. And that highlighting business? That is something I absolutely would not have ever done to a physical novel, short of a textbook, because I so strongly believed in the sanctity of the novel, as if it were a monolithic object to be revered. After all, it was special and sacred, damn it! I actually got annoyed when I would lend out a pristine yet well-read favorite novel to a friend, only to have it returned dog-eared and its spine broken and scarred. Digital books? I can loan them out with full peace of mind. And I can, and have, highlighted and annotated away without troubling my conscience.

I think the argument behind this "preference" is really just a lack of understanding about the digital world. The reasons Baron lists for why physical books are preferred were many of the same that I shared way back when, but which were easily corrected as I became familiar with eBook devices and their various options. These examples she relies on in her research are not a "digital book problem" so much as "user error."

I also wonder how many people just blindly cling to the assumption that print is better, as I once did, just because it was all they knew and were hesitant, or maybe even fearful, of change.

We know a lot about the pros and cons of reading a hard-copy book vs. reading electronically. The problem is, many of us refuse to listen.

I refuse to listen unless solid evidence can be presented. I want facts, not opinions or preferences. If you want to tell me that eBooks are bad and print books are great, or maybe even the be-all, end-all of our shared reading experiences, then I want something a little better than "well, Joe, likes how books smell." Because, really, what are these pros and cons, and what do they essentially boil down to? Baron doesn't do this argument much service in her WaPo article beyond what's been quoted here, and most of these cons are really non-issues, ultimately.

The ones that could legitimately foster discussion and thought - such as the use of rare Earth metals in production of eReaders - the discussions that could put serious weight behind the "are eBooks bad?" argument, are quickly dismissed in favor of respondents preferences. And, frankly, I couldn't give a shit about what Joe think versus what Timmy think, because Billy said this while Sue said that. I mean, really? That's what this debate is, at its heart.

Beyond that, a number of these are cons that can be worked around, or even turned into pros. It might mean trading page numbers for percentages read, but that's not really the end of the world or a nail in anybody's coffin. Preferences do not mean an eReader is bad - it only means that you think it's bad. It's telling that Washington Post's capsule summary in their Facebook post distills her piece down to "Hard copy books are just more pleasant to read." Oh, well, OK then. Show's over! The case has been made!

I don't buy into the argument that one way of reading a book is more valid than another, that one way of reading is "more pleasant" than another. I'll levy this against the fact that I do get eyestrain from prolonged computer monitor use; Kindle books, well, not so much. So, it's pretty rare that I'll read a book on a PC screen for any length of time. This is an important distinction to make because there are differences in the quality and types of screens in various eReaders, where much focus has been made toward ensuring the comfort of its users. Whatever eyestrain issues that the proponents of print books have, I think that particular argument has been lessened by technological advances and will be, if it hasn't already been, eliminated entirely.

I can't help but think that Baron's article is borne entirely out of fear for the loss of the cherished, Old Way of doing things. Mostly, this whole argument behind book vs eBook is a silly canard, with time better spent encouraging people to read, regardless of the format they choose. And isn't it better that they have an option as to how they get to enjoy or study their material rather than being confined to one particular method, simply because that's just how it was done in the past? We should be celebrating the written word, rather than agonizing over the various options available for the consumption of those words.

What are you thoughts? Chime in below.


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Pig & Whiskey 2014

The last time my wife, Maureen, and I attended Pig & Whiskey in Ferndale was two years ago, so we were a bit overdue for a return. This festival is the highlight of July in Michigan, as far as I'm concerned, and namely because it involves two of my favorite things: whiskey and pork products. The temp was a fairly comfortable 80 degrees, a nice breeze blowing, and the sun was shining. Certainly a perfect day to partake in some barbecue and booze.

Unfortunately, the ticket prices and our budgeting didn't line up exactly, but we still got to sample some damn fine stuff. Among the highlights were Woodward Avenue Brewery's candied bacon, Vinsetta Garage's Macon Bacon slider with a cup of bannoffee pudding (a small meal that I happily recalled from 2012), Ole Smokey Moonshine, and The Smoke Ring BBQ food truck served up a truly marvelous pork belly sandwich - absolute dynamite!

I'd never had moonshine before, but they had multiple flavors on display, in addition to the straight-up 'shine. The menu listed blackberry, which caught my eye immediately, but they were out, so the wife and I split a strawberry and, later, apple pie moonshine. Unfortunately, Maureen liked them so much that I didn't get much more than a taste of either. Still, the sample was more than enough to sway me and we'll be on the lookout for this during our next shopping trip. Dangerous stuff, that moonshine, but so damn delectable!

I was really surprised by the Black Velvet Reserve. This was my first time trying the brand at all, and I found the drink to be incredibly smooth and mellow, with a solid bit of oak, but not overpowering or unpleasant. Jack Daniels, Southern Comfort, and Woodward Reserve were on hand, as was Red Stag, and a few others, but I wanted to focus on some new brands I hadn't had the pleasure of tasting previously. I did have a SoCo cocktail that was made with a jalapeno syrup that was tasty, but didn't quite have the heat I was looking for.

The festival had expanded to take over a couple additional blocks then the last time we'd attended. I'd expected more distilleries to be on display given the expanded territory allotted to the festival, but maybe the bigger turnouts were on Friday and Saturday and we just missed them. There was also a large array of music acts scheduled, and I can't recall what the line-up, if any, was like during our previous attendance. We weren't too focused on the musicians, though I managed to catch a few snippets of The DeCamp Sisters, and it sounded like they've got some nice vocals. I may need to check out their music a bit more later on.

One great thing about the additional space for all the revelry was  that it provided lots of extra room to maneuver, and lots of tables and seating made for easy access comfort, something we struggled with a few years ago. If I had one complaint it would be directed toward the almost incessant badgery of Uber salesfolk; we managed to get stopped three times by three different salesman trying to sell us on the app with reward incentives, but that's not what we were there for. Even though we promised to find an alternate route through the lot, just to avoid the Uber tent, we somehow always managed to find ourselves passing by it anyway and eventually just kept on walking while they tried to flag us down. I hate to be rude, and I know sales is a tough business, but after a certain point there's little other recourse. To top it off, we had even less need for Uber than usual thanks to the accompaniment of our sister-in-law, fellow pork enthusiast, and designated driver (thanks again Jenn!!!).

Regardless, it was a lot of fun and I'm already looking forward to next year's festival. In my opinion, this is, hands down, one of the best events to occur in Michigan (maybe because I'm not much of a car guy and the annual international auto show does little for me? Either way, it seems really hard to go wrong with Pig & Whiskey, far as I'm concerned).

Here's some pics I took on my iPhone, so excuse the quality and click to embiggen:

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Adding the finishing touch to the paella.

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Future Homes

Since buying our first home nearly five years ago, my wife and I have become pretty well versed in locating problems, minor maintenance, and fixer-upper work. We've had a good eye toward energy efficiency, but there's still plenty of other areas we'll need to modify and adapt as we go forward, and figuring out better sustainability methods, like installing solar panels, which makes long-term sense for us given the amount of direct sunlight our home absorbs and rising energy costs. Our home is only 30 years old, but from a design perspective, quite a lot has changed. And present-day technology seems fit to modify home design even further and perhaps permanently alter the face of architecture and construction. I really appreciate the amount of innovation that has come alongside these new innovations, and I'm very excited by the possibilities now opened with these broader scopes. If we can aim high with 3-D printed organs, why not go simpler (and perhaps quite a bit less sexier from a pop-sci perspective) and more immediate?

Recently, China built several homes constructed from a 3-D printer. That's a pretty impressive breakthrough, although questions of long-term durability and sustainability of this initiative still remain.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/OYqBxEAtXZA]

Personally, I think it's a pretty significant breakthrough. 3-D printing seems to have sparked a bit of a race to see how compatible this technology is with architecture. Ultimately, the answer seems to be pretty damn compatible after all, and there's a lot of areas where it may even be better, from a design or aesthetic view, than traditional methods. As ArchDaily suggests, 3-D printing may make for a low-cost, simple method to execute Hadid architecture.

Another significant breakthrough could lie in these smart bricks.

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Designed by Ronnie Zohar, his focus is

to make it as simple as possible to build using the bricks. "I'd like people in Africa and other places in the world to be able to build with our brick and get a thermally-insulated house using the same money they would have spent on tin."

Both of these technologies, perhaps even acting in unison, strike me a terrific solution to low-cost urban development, and a smart way to get financially strapped regions back on their feet following natural disasters.

On a side note, and from the perspective re-purposing, recycling, and reusing, I'm a bit enamored with the Shipping Container Home movement. Check out this article from Popular Mechanics. Lots of intriguing design work happening with a rather surprising object.

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Angry Robot Closes Two Imprints

On Friday, June 20, Angry Robot Books announced that they were shuttering their Strange Chemistry (YA) and Exhibit A (crime/mystery) imprints due to "market saturation." They go on to say that, effective immediately, neither imprint will publish any further titles. It's a sad affair, of course, for the writer's with those imprints, such as Scott Lynch and Richard Parker, who have enjoyed a lot of critical and creative success under Exhibit A. One writer I've been following, thanks to his work with LitReactor, is Rob W Hart, who got hit hard today with the news that his two book deal dissolved entirely. Hopefully NEW YORKED finds a new home, and I'd encourage you all to check out Rob's novella, THE LAST SAFE PLACE.

As a whole, Angry Robot has a pretty strong output, and some of my current favorites (like Chuck Wendig and Chris F. Holm) are with that publisher. Although Angry Robot says their core imprint is "robust" and that they are increasing their monthly output to three titles, I have to echo Scalzi's sentiments about why reversion clauses are so damn important.

There's a lot of heated back and forth between indies and traditional publishers, and which path is safest. Really, though, no path is "safe." There is a no "guarantee." If you sign with a traditional publishing house or imprint, you risk them closing down operations entirely and putting your work out of print, particularly if you have a crappy contract that lacks reversion clauses. What do you do when your publisher owns the rights to your work, but fails to exist?

With self-publishing, you retain control of your work forever. You produced it, you own it. But it's not a safer path, business-wise. Yeah, you own it forever and nobody can really take that away from you, and you never risk it going out of print. The risk, instead, is that you never get noticed. That you sink time and money into this particular avenue and fail to ever make a return. Either way, you're gambling with your work. Although, one could certainly argue that with going indie, you still have the chance of eventually being discovered, especially if you stick with it long enough to grow a significant body of work. That would be harder to do with your volumes of work tied up at a publishing house that has gone out of business, a publishing house that you've given all of your rights away to, and which will now be forever out of print.

Don't think of publishing in any form as a safer path. Think of it as a lesser of two evils.

Those of you who have read some previous posts may have seen me talk about Angry Robot Books recently. I love their output. I have no idea what their contracts are like, but based on the quality of their authors, if I were to ever pursue a traditional path, I'd seriously consider signing with them. Which is why I put CONVERGENCE into their open door submission period back in October 2013.

Earlier this month, a representative of Angry Robot Books asked to see the full manuscript but by then it was too late. For them, at least. In the intervening time, I'd self-published CONVERGENCE, which took it out of the loop for consideration by Angry Robot.

Maybe that wasn't such a bad choice. I don't know. But, I do know that I have not, for even a single second, regretted my choice to self-publish. Now, if I had sent them CONVERGENCE in full earlier this month, I'd suddenly be looking a lot more worried about signing with them were they to have made me an offer. While Angry Robot claims to still be "robust," would we really expect them to announce otherwise? Add to that, recent news that the Osprey Group is considering selling Angry Robot Books....

As some other writer's have opined, don't put all your eggs in one basket. Self-publishing is not the be-all, end-all to getting your work out there, and there are other options to consider, should you feel them worthwhile in your own particular scenario. Be sure to do your due diligence, and research accordingly. But know that publishing, in any way, shape, or form, is not for the risk averse. There's all kinds of risks regardless of which path you take. What varies is the amount and degree of risk involved.

My heart goes out to the authors affected by the closure of these imprints. It's a sad day for them, and I am sorry to hear of the loss of both Exhibit A and Strange Chemistry; I know I have several works from those writers in my TBR pile. Hopefully the writer's there had solid, fair contracts and will be able to keep control of their work and do as they see fit. Time will tell, I suppose. In the meantime, I wish them the best and hope that they continue to produce terrific work.

[Update Saturday, 6/21: Check out A Fantastical Librarian for a round-up of the story with more worthwhile links.]


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The Five Year Plan, Part III

If you're joining this series already in progress, check out Part I and Part II. Yesterday, I talked a bit about my business goals and operating in a deficit for the first few years. Obviously, it's not ideal, but these plans are fluid and built on, what I hope, are realistic expectations. I wouldn't have a very good business plan to say, as a virtual unknown, that I'm going to sell eight million copies by November and then fail marvelously. No, I think modest achievement is the best route in these early, leaner years of development. Besides, like I said, the plan is fluid and open to readjustment as needed. Additionally, all those sunk costs are a one-time deal. Once the book or short stories earn out, it's all profit after that. Remember, e-books are forever and the more work you can get out there, the more eyes you'll attract. And who doesn't love finding a new author and discovering their copious amounts of prior work? So, an initial deficit is OK because you're looking on capitalizing the investment at a later date. Of course, if you can get an immediate return, all the better, but let's not to be too delusional simply for the sake of practicality.

Today we're going to look at the second half of my five-year plan, focusing on production schedule and writing plans, target audience, and goals beyond the initial five years.

And, of course, if you have any suggestions feel free to comment below.


 

Production Schedule and Writing Plans

For the first draft of EMERGENCE, I committed to a 1,000 word minimum per day, for a minimum of five days per week. Often, I was able to beat this daily writing goal, and in less than three months I produced an 86,000 word first draft.

Future first drafts should abide by that same standard. I will allow the work to “rest” for a period of three to four weeks, in order to fully divest myself from the work and re-approach it with a cleaner perspective as I work on the second draft.

Depending on the nature of my first-pass edits as I build toward a finalized second draft, I estimate a period of two to three months between the start of second round edits and submission to a professional editing service, such as Red Adept for novel-length work.

I began working on EMERGENCE in February 2014 and finished near the end of April. What I had not counted on was the production of my short story, CONSUMPTION, the writing and editing of which occupied the first week of June. I had begun editing EMERGENCE in the latter half of May, but paused for the entire period I was singly invested in my short story. As a result, I’ve had to alter my production schedule for my second novel as follows:

  • June – August 2014: second pass edits and development of the second draft of EMERGENCE
  • July 1, 2014: submit second draft of CONSUMPTION for content edit and incorporation of edits
  • August 2014: cover design for CONSUMPTION
  • August 2014: proofread of CONSUMPTION
  • September 15, 2014: Submit second draft of EMERGENCE to Red Adept
  • No later than October 2014: Submit CONSUMPTION for formatting development
  • October 2014: Release CONSUMPTION
  • October – December 2014: Review edits and incorporate changes for EMERGENCE
  • January 2015 – Line Edits for EMERGENCE
  • February 2015 – Cover design for EMERGENCE
  • March 2015 – Release EMERGENCE
  • April 2015 – Begin first draft of MUCKRAKER

This production schedule is a combination of hard and soft dates, with some built-in flexibility. It’s entirely possible that I will be able to complete the suggested content edits prior to the end of 2014 and begin line edits sooner than January 2015. The release of EMERGENCE in March 2015, nearly a full year after the release of its predecessor, CONVERGENCE, is a very realistic goal. Depending on the fluidity of my workflow during this period, it’s possible that my next novel will release sooner than March 2015. And, once all of the editing work is done, I’ll be able to focus fully on my third novel. April 2015 is sort of a last-gasp guesstimate, but I actually expect to be able to begin writing it sooner, rather than later. This timeline can be updated accordingly, as needed.

Targeted Audience

By targeting readers of speculative fiction, I expect to build a wider fan-base than I would by focusing on single-niche market. CONVERGENCE, for instance, is (I think) more of a mystery/thriller/espionage read that just happens to have some science fiction elements in it. I think it has a very contemporary feel to it, and is grounded in a familiar landscape. EMERGENCE continues this presentation, but is geared toward drawing in fast-paced action-thriller readers. Both function entirely under the auspices of speculative fiction.

Horror readers and dark fiction fans are the natural target audience for CONSUMPTION. Again, though, it falls nicely in the speculative fiction category. I think there is plenty of overlap in the sci-fi/horror/thriller genre that my body of work, when taken as a whole, should be able to garner some attention and a devoted readership.

Planned Marketing and Promotion

The first year is fairly conservative. As of June 2014, marketing efforts have been geared toward Twitter and Facebook. An eBookSoda promotion was purchased for cheap ($5), but failed to draw in any sales. I suspect there were a number of factors playing into the lack of success – few reviews available, a lack of promotional price (I kept the price at $3.99, treating the eBookSoda more as an announcement tool than a sale advertisement), and a lack of awareness surrounding my identity as an author.

If another eBookSoda promotion can be secured, I plan on purchasing an e-mail ad blast for the release of CONSUMPTION, which, I think, at a price of $0.99 will make blind-purchasing easier to swallow. Time will tell, of course.

Initially, I will be relying on the books themselves to promote my work. After three or four years, I will begin playing with price adjustments, and hopefully enough positive reviews will have accumulated to consider a BookBub advertisement.

The release of MUCKRAKER would be an ideal time to experiment with cheaper sale prices on both CONVERGENCE and EMERGENCE, in an effort to build up awareness of the forthcoming release.

Web Plan

Having established an official author site, the key will be in maintaining the site’s blog with regular updates and news of forthcoming releases. I expect that platform to be the central stopping point for readers. Of course, I can also be connected with on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

News release announcements will also be made through my mailing list, once that becomes a viable option and I have a healthy number of subscribers to merit its use. My mailing list is still in its infancy, but I fully expect it to grow with future releases. Also, I did not have a mailing list prior to publishing CONVERGENCE, which, in hindsight, was a mistake. I'll be able to readily advertise the mailing list to buyers of future works and will seriously consider reformatting CONVERGENCE at a future date to incorporate updated links, as well as excerpts of other available works.

Long-Term Goals

The first and foremost of my long-term goals is to make my independent author-publisher production a viable business, with a sufficient annual income, enough to allow me to quit my full-time day job and concentrate on my writing career.

I am approaching these first five years with an eye toward this business as a part-time endeavor, but a full-time passion. As these goals stretch beyond 2018, I would expect to have a demanding readership that relies on me for quality stories, and for the multiplication effect to take a firm hold in both sales and earnings, as well as audience.

So, my primary long-term goal is to make an additional $50K annually, with repeated success, prior to leaving my full-time job and focusing exclusively on writing and promoting my works. By 2020, and even further beyond, 2025, I should have a nice enough catalog of works to draw in more new readers, and have the flexibility to test a greater number of promotions.


So, there's the plan!

Now, of course, the big question: how successful will I be? Only time will tell, naturally, but at least I have a stronger methodology in place and established goals to reach and parameters to work within. I'll also be able to conduct routine reviews of these goals over the next few years and chart my progress. If I am successful, I can then make the necessary adjustments in goals. If I'm not successful, I'll need to take a long, hard look at the plan, figure out where the failings occurred, and set a corrective course and re-plan.


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The Five Year Plan, Part II

[For previous entry, see The Five Year Plan, Part I] Yesterday, I introduced my need for a Five Year Plan, in the vein of Denise Grover's three-part business plan and Susan Kaye Quinn's longer-term strategy for managing your own independent publishing business. Go check out the previous post, linked to above, for the links to their articles.

Over the next two posts, I'll be talking about my own Five Year Plan and briefly discussing my goals, financial plans, production schedule, pricing philosophy, and long-term goals. Hopefully other authors can find this helpful, and if you have any suggestions, concerns, comments, please sound off below!

Here we go!


 

Goal

My goal is two-fold:

1)      Present the public with solid, high-quality reads in multiple genres, under the overarching umbrella of “speculative fiction” (this is, fiction built around a “what if” conceit). My first two novel-length works, CONVERGENCE, and its follow-up EMERGENCE, will both be character-driven, science fiction thrillers. They are in the vein of works by Barry Eisler and Lee Child, with a dash of William Gibson high-tech “tomorrow’s future” technology. Future works may include horror, high-tech political thrillers, and additional novels that expand upon the world-building established in CONVERGENCE and EMERGENCE (collectively known as the DRMR series).

2)      Whereas the first goal is entirely driven by creative forces, the second goal deals with financial success in the arena of indie publishing. I fully expect to operate at a loss on the first two novels, as I will be an unknown name not in only the larger scope of publishing, but within the smaller community of independent author-publishers. Sales-wise, my first-year goals are quite small, bordering on non-existent, but reflect an increase with the publication of subsequent novels over the next five years.

Year One – 2014               100 sales

Year Two – 2015               500 sales

Year Three – 2016            1000 sales

Year Four – 2017              2000 sales

Year Five – 2018               3000 sales

These sales goals are quite modest, and I am not expecting to make a substantial enough living on my independently published work to supplant the income of my full-time day job. However, they are also completely fluid - target goals may be reached ahead of time and allow for readjusted goals as necessary.

Products

  • CONVERGENCE (sci-fi/thriller) – published (Feb. 21, 2014)
  • CONSUMPTION (horror, short story) – expected release Fall 2014
  • EMERGENCE (sci-fi/action-thriller) – expected release 2015
  • MUCKRAKER (political-crime thriller/mystery/suspense) – 2016
  • Third DRMR novel or horror novel – 2017

Pricing Strategy

This pricing strategy is meant to reflect the consumer demand, willingness, and perception of eBook prices, particularly in the realm of indie author-publishing. EBooks are cheaper, quicker, and easier to produce. Current etailer platforms allow for 50-70% royalties at higher price points (typically, $2.99 or above).

I believe that $3.99 is a very reasonable price point for a novel-length work that has been professionally edited and formatted. By keeping the price below the $5 threshold, buyers may be likelier to impulse purchase, and perhaps even buy more work in a single sale (binge-purchasing) as my catalog/backlist grows.

Short stories or novellas will be priced cheaply, between $0.99 - $1.99, depending on page count or word length. Ideally, these short stories would help to act as a gateway to longer works and capitalize on impulse purchases for readers of both short stories and cheap reads.

Financial Plan

The plan is to release at least one novel per year. Accounting for current finances, this appears to be a realistic goal. As my backlist of available titles grows, I expect sales to increase in correlation to a widening fan-base.

The first year will operate in the red. The expenses for editing (content and line edits, as well as proofreading), design work, and formatting were around $1500. Priced at $3.99, with a 70% return in royalty earning, I would need to sell roughly 555 novels to break even. Given that I am a virtual unknown with zero name or brand recognition, I’ve set a goal of making 100 sales in 2014, which (based solely on eBook sales) would generate an income of only $270.

I am counting on a multiplier effect to take hold within two to three years, allowing me to break even on my expenses by the third year. Fourth year income should offset production costs entirely, and allow for a positive net income by fifth year sales.

For future novels, I expect to spend $1500 - $2000 in production costs, but will work to reduce cost wherever possible. However, editing and cover design should are premium expenditures and there should not be any corner-cutting in those areas of necessity. For shorter stories or novellas, if CONSUMPTION is any sort of benchmark, I can produce equivalent products for under $500, depending on cost of editing and proofreading. The use of high quality pre-made covers, should I be able to find one that is sufficiently in synch with the story itself, can also be relied upon and help diminish the cost required to but the book to market.


 

Tomorrow, I'll wrap up the discussion of my plan, so check back for part three in the a.m.

[UPDATE: Part III is live!]


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The Five Year Plan, Part I

Last week, I hit my thirty-fifth year on this rock. One of my big life goals was to be a published author. I'd carried this dream around with me for at least half of all my years, if not longer, and I think this desire really solidified during a high school creative writing course under the guidance of Lisa Hunt. In some ways, I think she was my first fan and first really vocal supporter. I remember penning a series of detective fiction short stories over the course of five assignments, and I put a little "to be concluded" at the end of the fourth story. As we approached that final assignment, she returned our stories and mine had a big smiley face next to my end note with a "Yay!" [I prefer to think that this 'yay' was regarding the resolution of a growing theme that developed across the series and that she was genuinely happy about my work, and not the more pessimistic view of "yay, I never have to slog through another one of these stupid, piece of shit "stories" he turns in...."]

Those short stories have disappeared in the intervening years, but the fundamentals of story-telling that Mrs. Hunt instilled in me have remained. In fact, a short time after finishing that creative writing course, I returned to those detectives to produce my first novel. This was before self-publishing was any sort of viable option, so I did what all other writers of the early 2000s HAD to do and sent that book out to a number of literary agents. I then waited, and waited, and waited, then spent sporadic amounts of time rolling around in rejection letters or being duly ignored. (Mostly the latter.)

It's probably for the best that I've lost that novel with the passage of time, along with many of those short stories. Looking back on it, the work strikes me as immature, although I think the core idea was sound and there might even be enough fodder to someday return to if it has merit.

But, this post isn't really about looking back, even though I often find my own post-birthday reminisces to be about all the things I haven't done, the things left unaccomplished, the failures I've collected rather than the successes I should be proud of. But that's a whole other ball of wax.

Now that I'm a little bit older and probably none-to-only-a-little-bit the wiser for it, it's high time I tried something different by looking ahead. Mostly because I did get to fulfill one of my big ambitions, which was to be a published author. Shortly after 2014 rolled around, I released CONVERGENCE, and went from writer to author-publisher. Which now means, I need a plan.

If the goal was to be published before I hit 35, then I nailed it with little time to spare. But what comes next? What do I need to do by the time I hit 40? Or 45?

Writing is its own pursuit, and that's fine and noble. However, being an author, and, I think, particularly when being an author-publisher where one individual has to wear multiple hats, a bit more is needed.

Being an author-publisher means running your writing operation as a business, and businesses need, yup, you guessed it, business plans. I need to forecast, I need to set goals, I need to work my ass off to hit my own self-defined levels of success. Success comes in a couple different ways - there's financial success and creative success - and I need to weigh which is more important at this time, in the immediate, and figure out how one type of success can lead to the other over the next few years.

Hence, my Five Year Plan.

This is a topic I've been thinking about since hearing Denise Grover's interview on the Self-Publishing Roundtable podcast in April. Grover wrote a three-part business plan (part One, Two, Three), which is collected, along with a number of other valuable business tips for indie writers at The Writer's Guide to E-Publishing. Also, a very timely tweet popped up not long ago on the topic of planning from Indie Author News and Susan Kaye Quinn's guest post on thinking long-term in the realm of indie publishing. Quinn is the author of INDIE AUTHOR SURVIVAL GUIDE, and the Mindjack trilogy. And I'm pretty sure she gets all the credit for inventing Bollypunk with her The Dharian Affairs trilogy.

In order to figure out how to build my own five-year plan, I turned to both of her very helpful posts, as well. First up was this excerpt from her INDIE AUTHOR SURVIVAL GUIDE, as well as Grover's own five-year plan and how she created it.

While I've recognized the indie publishing gambit as a self-starter business on its own, I have been a bit lazy in carrying out the full implementation of what it means, exactly. My efforts have been limited, and little of it committed to paper or word processor. I keep track of the one-time expenses, monthly net profit, and monthly net sales of my one book across its various outlets in an Excel spreadsheet, and that's about it currently. Whatever little bit of long-range planning there is rests rather uneasily in my head, which makes setting benchmarks goals and measuring success a rather iffy proposition.

The importance of having a plan in place, rather than winging it, crystallized a bit further earlier this month. Back in Oct. 2013, I had submitted the manuscript of CONVERGENCE to Angry Robot, during their two month open door period. After growing decidedly impatient at the continual delays in decision from the Harper Voyager open sub period, I never expected to hear from ARB. Until, in early June, I did. Angry Robot requested the full manuscript, a rather surprising, if not short-lived, bit of excitement. Now, let me say for the record here, Angry Robot Books is hands-down one of my absolute, drop-dead favorite publishers. They really seem to have their act together, and their cadre of authors that I follow all seem to be really happy with them. If there was one publisher I'd really be enthusiastic about signing with, it would be Angry Robot. Getting an offer to review the full manuscript was no small thing, so I was truly delighted at their reaching out to me and responding well to my effort. However, not wanting to mislead them or risk damaging things later on down the road, I explained that I had already self-published the book. Any chances of having it published by ARB and joining the ranks of Lauren Beukes, Chuck Wendig, Chris F. Holm, Michael Boatman, and Adam Christopher quickly evaporated, but I do have a solid contact now for future works, should I want to pursue a traditional path with them later. And that's really freaking awesome, I think!

Also evaporated - the chance to have any books in this series published by ARB alongside CONVERGENCE. Which means, no editor, no cover designer, and no marketing or publicity for any past or future DRMR novels. While they expressed a desire to see any future work not in the DRMR series (and I'll certainly consider them, once I approach those future ideas), as far as this brand of books go, I'm on my own. And it's simply not enough to stay the course and do what I've been doing.

When I set out with publishing CONVERGENCE, the intent was to stick with self-publishing for the long hall. Nothing has changed in that regard, although there is certainly potential to grow into more of a hybrid-author model, rather than purely independent. And with CONSUMPTION on the docket for a fall release, and EMERGENCE dropping in 2015, I really need to sit down and examine the state of affairs of this thing I do.

So, the plan. Much needed.

And I'll be talking about it some more tomorrow, so check back then!

UPDATE: Part II is now live.


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Operation Backpack

I am proud to announce that CONVERGENCE will be included in the "Thank You" gift pack of eBooks given to all contestants of this year's speculative fiction writing contest from Bards and Sages Publishing. The contest opens today, March 15 and runs until Oct. 31. A significant portion of the contest's $20 entry fee will be going to support the Operation Backpack program run by Volunteers of America Delaware Valley. Those who submit their stories to Bards and Sages will be rewarded with a collection of titles from KJ Colt, Deirdre Gould, Jeff Bracket, as well as myself and a few others. Entrants will also have a chance to win some audiobooks donated by Red Adept Publishing. For the full-list and details on entering, check out the contest here.

Donations made to Operation Backpack will help provide some of America's homeless children, or children living in foster care, with much-needed school supplies. It will also help fund VoA's after-school and youth mentoring programs.

Now, I say "some of" because, let's face reality here - there are an awful lot of homeless children in the US, kids whose families are poor and struggling, and who don't have the means and options available to them that a number of other luckier, better-off kids have. And, there's a number of reasons for this, all of them well beyond the control of these poor, young kids. It's a sad state of affairs all around. The American Institutes for Research estimates that there are over 1.6 million homeless children in the USA. I would encourage you to read more about this plight here and prepare to be shocked and dismayed, and then, hopefully, use some of that anger, contempt, sadness, or whatever emotions this inspires in you to at least try to help make things right. You can find a list of other Operation Backpack campaigns here.

I know that, sadly, there's quite a bit of cynicism regarding charitable organizations, and the argument that the only people who really benefit are the wealthy elites organizing the campaigns. I'm sure we've all heard about the backlash against Susan G. Komen For the Cure, or remember the criticisms of donation campaigns in the wake of 9/11. Protestations aside, I do believe that acts of kindness, generosity, and charity can go rather far. It's way too easy to brush aside the kindhearted efforts of these organizations by saying it all just goes into the pockets of the rich fat-cat organizers behind these campaigns. To which I say, do your homework, and don't paint all charities with the same wide brush. One bad apple, in fact, does not ruin the whole bunch. It's easy to be cynical, but it's even easier to be lazy and selfish.

Volunteer's of America is an accredited Better Business Bureau charity, and ninety cents of every donated dollars goes to the folks who need it. And 1.6 million homeless children certainly do need it. Kids are our future, and we need to make their lives and our world better for them.

Bards and Sages Publishing has been holding this annual speculative fiction writing contest for a few years now, and in that time they've raised thousands of dollars for charity, including American Red Cross, Children's Literacy Initiative, and Doctors Without Borders. They've done solid work, for a number of solid, worthwhile programs.

In short, I'm more than happy to take a small part in this fund-raising campaign. To all you speculative fictions writer's out there, I encourage you to submit your work. At best, you'll win $500 and a pack of audiobooks, and at worst, you'll be getting your twenty-dollars worth of reading material. And beyond those fine incentives, you also just might give a child the chance to tough out another school year and let them know that somebody out there cares enough about them to help. Seems like a win-win no matter how you look at this.


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