On Writing,  publishing

The New World of Publishing: Time


Boy, discussion about “time” seems to be coming up a lot lately, especially in the context of writing and indie publishing. So let me take a hard look at the two routes only through the lens of “time.”

So why spend the time to talk about time now?

It was a week where I got hit with a number of factors concerning time.

I made some basic projections on speed and income in the last two posts in this column and had a number of people take me to task because there isn’t enough data to make projections, even though I was only using information from this very moment and saying “what if it holds?” Time seemed to be the issue and my use of it.

And then in the last few days Amanda Hocking made the USA Today bestseller list, while being excluded from the New York Times list. And of course, if you don’t understand bestseller lists, they are based on extremely flawed data that always has a time element in it. Usually one week. A bestseller is based on the old produce model and basically says a book sells more than other books in a certain time period in the places the list decides to look during that certain time period.

And speaking of time, I have shouted here a great deal about how indie publishers need to ignore the “book as event” or “book as produce” models, but yet few do, thus all the stupidity about self-promotion. Just let a story or book grow over time. Write more, but alas, my voice is shouting into a bad windstorm full of sand. Self-promotion seems to be the ugly curse of indie publishing. Sad, since the time used to promote a book will rob us all of books those authors might have written if not wasting the time on trying to push a few extra sales to come faster.

And then time ran into me this week as well as I worked to cut down one activity so that I would have more time to devote to indie publishing and working with WMG to get stories and novels up. I spent 15 hours a week playing on eBay as a hobby and now I want that time, so I am now shutting that hobby down completely.

And then on a major bestselling writer’s list, a number of writers were talking about how they didn’t have the time due to deadlines to learn how to do indie publishing, even though most, not all, thought it important.

So after all that, I figured the world was telling me  it was time to talk about time.

Day Job and the Writer

Even professional writers are faced with deadlines and lack of time. All of us.

No writer, beginner or long-term professional, has enough time to write. Period.

I find it funny when a beginning writer whines at me that they have little time because they have a real job and I don’t. Yeah, and the heavens just open up and drop money on me. I work just like the rest of you. I just work at my writing. And see the last post on speed to understand that I also work a lot of hours, which is why I am considered fast.

Actually, the reason I am successful is because I work harder than anyone I have ever met. I don’t know what a vacation is, never took one. I work seven days per week, month after month, usually upwards of twelve hours a day. I watch all of five or six hours of television a week, and I play poker four hours a week. That’s it besides eating and sleeping. And I don’t expect others to do the same. Honest. But it does make me laugh when someone with a forty-hour-per-week job complains to me that they don’t have enough time to write.

Of course, I don’t laugh out loud. I just nod sagely, knowing full well that person will never make it because they can’t get around their own excuses for not writing. I had three jobs when I started getting serious about writing. Go ahead, whine. I dare you.

I got so tired of the whining by young professionals that Kris and I decided to prove it to a bunch of writers at our master classes how writing really works. For the two weeks of the class, we kept them in actual class, not writing,  just over 40 hours per week. We also forced them to write and hit deadlines. And to read the other writer’s work. They all produced almost 60,000 words of fiction each in two weeks. And it wasn’t until the end of every master class that I stood in front of them and showed them that they had produced 60,000 words of fiction in two weeks, while reading, while working (attending class) basically a forty-hour-a-week job.

In other words, we took the excuse away from them. Some master class grads told me later that was one of the more eye-opening moments of the entire class. For some of them it didn’t sink in at all.

But basically, no matter your situation, there is never enough time to write as much as we all want to write. It is standard for all of us. And, to be honest, I’ve never learned to live with it. Most writers don’t. We all talk about it and complain about the lack of time and the push of deadlines. Nature of the beast called a writer.

Okay, got that out of the way. Now onto other details of time.

Traditional Publishing and the Writer

When a writer submits a finished story or novel to a traditional publisher, they have a number of tasks to do. They must print out the story, do a cover letter, do a SASE, and then find a market and address the envelope and get to the post office. And then they must keep track of the submissions and file the rejections and do the process again for the next market. Some of that is cut with electronic submissions, but not all.

This submission process takes time. One saving grace was that the time was spread out over sometimes years as the rejections trickled back in. Market research, bookkeeping, addressing envelopes, paying for postage, and so on and so on. It all took time. And some money.  I got paid $235 dollars for a story once after 30 rejections and did the math to see if I had lost money. Cost of envelopes, cost of postage. I did not figure in cost of time or gas to the post office. But there was a lot of time spent keeping that story in the mail thirty times. I ended up making over a hundred bucks. Honestly surprised me. I thought I would have lost money, but if I would have figured my time for all the submissions, I’m sure I would have been way under minimum wage per hour on that story.

But this submission time was part of the process, so we all just accepted it and worked it in. Complained, sure, but it was an accepted part of the process. And the cash outlay was also part of the process. It was normal and expected. It still is in many ways. Even electronic submissions take time and bookkeeping and so on. Remember that.

Indie Publishing and the Writer

Indie publishers seem to be complaining a lot about lost time, and how much time it takes to get a story up electronically. The indie publisher has to do a cover, which includes finding the photo or the art, then format the manuscript, and then launch it on Kindle and Pubit and Smashwords, among others. And oh, yeah, put it up on their web site, announce it on Facebook and Twitter, and then push it somehow with tagging and all that. All takes time.

But, if you are doing it right and focusing on writing the next story, it’s time spent ONLY ONCE.

See where I am going with this? In the old traditional publishing, you had to constantly come back to a story when it was rejected and spend time on that story again to get it back in the mail. And you had to constantly spend money on the story to keep it out there.

Indie publishers only have one small amount of time spent and then it’s finished. Period. (Unless some new market opens up and you want to get it published on the new market.)

Indie publishers spend far less time getting their story into readers hands than a writer working the traditional system. Far less time and money.

Time and Novels

I’ll try to distract the questions about the extra time it takes to get a novel up. Sure, with a novel you want it proofed. Might cost you to hire a proofer or have a friend read it. Time to key in corrections. Covers, maybe POD formatting. But on the traditional side, not counting the submission time and energy, you have to go over the novel in the copyedit stage and in the page proof stage, and over the years I’ve had books where I spent full days on just fixing bad copyedits.

Putting a novel into print indie publishing takes fantastically less “author” time than traditional publishing. Not even on the same scale.

Time From Finish Writing to First Purchase

The difference between indie publishing and traditional publishing in this area shouldn’t even be compared.

I talked about it in a previous chapter, but a book indie published can be in reader’s hands under a month after the author finishes it, maybe faster. Maybe even just days. I finish a short story in my challenge and you all can read it within twenty-four hours or less. It appears in B&N and Amazon within a few days, within minutes on Smashwords, and within a week or two on Sony, iPad, Kobo, and the others.

For traditional publishing, even if you pull a miracle and get the book through everything and sold within a year after finishing, it will take the publisher another year plus to get the book into print. And magazines can have a lead time of six months easy.

How much money in sales can the indie publisher make in that same two plus years of time? If your name is Amanda Hocking, don’t even ask.

And the number is still not a small amount for the rest of us.

Time and Traditional Publishing Changes

Okay, you all know I am not a doom and gloomer who thinks traditional publishing will collapse on December 21st, 2012. Or whatever.

I do, however, think that traditional publishing is changing and changing drastically.

I do think that over the next three years many stores will go down, many distributors will go bankrupt, and many publishers will be out of business.

So, in the last discussion on the “speed” chapter, I was taken to task about not having any information to make projections on electronic publishing into the future. I’m going to go out onto that same limb again here.  I have no real numbers, no real projections. Nothing. I am just watching the same news articles and discussions as the rest of you.

But even though I do not believe traditional publishing will end, in the turmoil that is coming I do believe some publishers will go down. But I don’t know which ones.

Which publishers survive and which don’t will depend on a series of changing factors, including bookstore collapses and more importantly distribution system collapses. And which publishers can move fast enough to electronic based sales in their accounting systems. And which publishers are not on an edge and which have bad cash flow situations, and so on and so on.

So here is the question I keep asking myself:

How safe do I feel mailing a book I spent a lot of time on into that traditional system right now?

Especially knowing that it might be up to three years out before that book sees print?

What will publishing look like three years out?

I don’t have a clue, to be honest. Traditional publishing will still be going strong, but I have a hunch the face of it will have changed dramatically.

Second question: Do I want a novel I spent a lot of time and energy and expense writing and getting out there to be trapped in a bankruptcy?

For those of you who don’t know, the bankruptcy clause in writer’s publishing contract is not valid, and when your publisher drops into bankruptcy, your book is an asset of the company and is treated like one and can be sold off to anyone for any purpose and you have no say over anything. Sure, the court must abide by the letter of your contract, sort of. But trust me, you don’t want a book in such a mess. It will be years before you see it again. (I am being general, okay. Not giving legal advice of any sort here. Just a warning for writers to think about.)

Summary

Every writer I know, professional or beginner, complains about not having enough time to write. Those who make the time are the successful ones, the rest aren’t worth any of our time to try to help. This is the same for both traditional and indie publishing.

Traditional publishing submission process takes a lot of time and sometimes costs money, and the time is spread out over the length of the submission process until the story or novel sells.

Indie publishing takes time and maybe a little money, but the time is all lumped up front and then, until something changes in markets, no other time is required to be spent. The story or book is just slowly finding readers and making money.

Note: In my experience, it takes me less time to indie publish a short story than it does to look up a market, get the manuscript ready, do a cover letter, do stamps and SASE, and go to the post office to mail it. Once.

Time between a reader getting your book in indie publishing and a reader getting your book in traditional publishing can be years. Clear win indie publishing.

Traditional publishing is in waves of change, and many companies are going to be going down, while others come in to take their place. In the two to three years it takes to get a finished book to market, the market may change completely. It might not. No one knows. But having a book trapped in a corporate bankruptcy is just a nightmare to be avoided if possible.

Does this sound like I’m suggesting that writers go more and more indie publishing?

When it comes down to just looking at things through the lens of time, the answer is yes. Completely.

But there are other factors to look at as well. But since this post was about time, the answer is very, very clear.

And now it’s time for me to go write some fiction.

Bye for now.