Why Bestselling Authors may just be Lucky

Creative people know any field where Intellectual Property is the primary value of something is going to be treated subjectively like the customer. It’s one thing to have a plumber who can either fix a leaky pipe properly and on time or who can’t. But writing a book, making a movie or music video, or a card game are totally subjective. These tend to have the very top 1% making a lot of money from their IP, maybe another 3% earning solid money from their IP, and everyone else is just doing it for the passion.

For years people have wondered though, why do some people make so much more money than others? How come one idea takes off, while 20 similar ideas don’t? Two researchers tried to  crack that code this week with their new book, The Bestsellers Code. I’ve added my reactions to help explain what they mean:


Back in the spring of 2010, Stieg Larsson’s agent was having a good day. On June 13, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest—third in the series from a previously unknown author—debuted at number one in hardback in the New York Times

The following month Amazon would announce Larsson was the first author ever to sell a million copies on the Kindle, and over the next two years sales in all editions would top seventy-five million. Not bad for an unknown political activist—turned-novelist from a little Scandinavian country, especially one who had chosen a rather uncharming title in Swedish and had written some brutal scenes of rape and torture.Men Who Hate Women—or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as it was renamed in English—was the sensation book of the year in more than thirty countries.

The press didn’t understand the success. Major newspapers commissioned opinion pieces on what on earth was going on in the book world. Why this book? Why the frenzy? What was the secret? Who could have known?

Answers were lackluster. Reviewers scratched their heads about it. They found fault with the novel’s structure, style, plotting, and character. They groaned over the translations. They complained about the stupidity of the reading public. But still copies sold as fast as they were printed—whether you were in the UK, the U.S., in Japan, or in Germany; whether you were male, female, old, young, black, white, straight, or gay. Whoever you were, practically anywhere, you knew people who were reading those books.

That doesn’t happen very often in the book world…The level of sales his trilogy achieved without even the backing of its author was supposedly just unfathomable. Freakish. Unpredictable.

Let’s consider some numbers. A company in Delaware called Bowker is the global leader in bibliographic information and the exclusive provider for unique identification numbers (ISBN) for books in the U.S. Their annual report states that approximately fifty to fifty-five thousand new works of fiction are published every year. Given the increasing number of self-published ebooks that carry no ISBN, this is a conservative number. In the U.S., about 200-220 novels make the New York Times bestseller lists every year. Of that…even fewer hit the bestseller lists and stay there week after week to become what the industry calls a “double-digit” book. Only handfuls of authors manage those ten or more weeks on the list, and of those maybe just three or four will sell a million copies of a single title in the U.S. in one year. Why those books?

Traditionally, it is believed that there are certain skills a novelist needs to master in order to win readers: a sense of plot, compelling characters, more than basic competence with grammar. Writers with big fan bases have mastered more: an eye for the human condition, the twists and turns of plausibility, that rare but appropriate use of the semicolon…But when it comes to the kind of success involved in hundreds of thousands of people reading the same book at the same time—well, unless Oprah is involved, that signals the presence of a fine stardust that’s apparently just too difficult to detect. The sudden and seemingly blessed success of books like the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey, The Help, Gone Girl, and The Da Vinci Code is considered very lucky, but as random as winning the lottery.


So these guys are essentially admitting that publishers have no idea how to identify a bestseller, right? And that there’s a lot of random chance in why one book is “it” and 5,000 other books similar to “it” just don’t have “it.”


White Swans

The bold claim of this book is that the novels that hit the New York Times bestseller lists are not random, and the market is not in fact as unknowable as others suggest. Regardless of genre, bestsellers share an uncanny number of latent features that give us new insights into what we read and why. What’s more, algorithms allow us to discover new and even as yet unpublished books with similar hallmarks of bestselling DNA.

There is a commonly repeated “truth” in publishing that success is all about an established name, marketing dollars, or expensive publicity campaigns. Sure, these things have an impact, but our research challenges the idea it’s all about hype in a way that should appeal to those writers who toil over their craft. Five years of study suggests that bestselling is largely dependent upon having just the right words in just the right order, and the most interesting story about the NYT list is about nothing more or less than the author’s manuscript, black ink on white paper, unadorned.

Using a computer model that can read, recognize, and sift through thousands of features in thousands of books, we discovered that there are fascinating patterns inherent to the books that are most likely to succeed in the market, and they have their own story to tell about readers and reading. In this book we will describe how and why we built such a model and how it discovered that eighty to ninety percent of the time the bestsellers in our research corpus were easy to spot. Eighty percent of New York Times bestsellers of the past thirty years were identified by our machines as likely to chart. What’s more, every book was treated as if it were a fresh, unseen manuscript and then marked not just with a binary classification of “likely to chart” or “likely not to,” but also with a score indicating its likelihood of being a bestseller. These scores are fascinating in their own right, but as we show how they are made we will also share our explanation for why that book on your bedside table is so hard to put down.

Consider some of these percentages. The computer model’s certainty about the success of Dan Brown’s latest novel, Inferno, was 95.7 percent. For Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer it was 99.2 percent. Both were number one in hardback on the NYT list, which for a long time has been one of the most prestigious positions to occupy in the book world. These are veteran authors, of course, already established. But the model is unaware of an author’s name and reputation and can just as confidently score an unknown writer. The score for The Friday Night Knitting Club, the first novel by Kate Jacobs, was 98.9 percent. The Luckiest Girl Alive, a very different debut novel by Jessica Knoll, had a bestselling success score of 99.9 percent based purely on the text of the manuscript. Both Jacobs and Knoll stayed on the list for many weeks. The Martian (before Matt Damon’s interest in playing the protagonist) got 93.4 percent. There are examples from all genres: The First Phone Call from Heaven, a spiritual tale by Mitch Albom, 99.2 percent; The Art of Fielding, a literary debut by Chad Harbach, 93.3 percent; and Bared to You, an erotic romance by Sylvia Day, 91.2 percent.

These figures, which provide a measure of bestselling potential, have made some people excited, others angry, and more than a few suspicious. In some ways that is fair enough: the scores are disruptive, mind-bending. To some industry veterans, they are absurd. But they also could just change publishing, and they will most certainly change the way that you think about what’s inside the next bestseller you read.

We should make it clear that none of the books we reference were acquired based on our model’s figures, and figures, beyond the ones you’ll read about here, have never been formally shared with any agent or publishing house. We should also be clear that these figures are specific to the closed world of our research corpus, a corpus we designed to look like what you’d see if you walked into a Barnes & Noble with a wide selection to choose from. Agents and editors do a good job of putting books in front of consumers—it’s not as though we are short of things to read. And some individuals in publishing have a particular reputation for the Midas touch. But remember that the bestseller rate in the industry as it stands is less than one-half of one percent. That’s a lot of gambling before a big win. Note, too, that year after year, the lists comprise the names of the same long-standing mega-authors. Stephen King is sixty-eight. James Patterson is sixty-eight. Danielle Steel is sixty-eight. As much as fans are still thrilled by another new novel from one of these veteran writers, it is telling that the publishing world has not discovered the next generation of authors who will similarly enjoy thirty to forty years of constant bestselling. Nor did the industry find, despite the thousands of manuscripts both rejected and published annually, a runaway bestseller for 2014 (Dragon Tattoo, Fifty Shades, and Gone Girl had been the standout hits of previous years), and neither did it publish a manuscript to impress the Pulitzer Prize committee in 2012. Why?

Well, it is a universal wisdom that bestsellers are freaks. They are the happy outliers. The anomalies of the market. Black swans. If that is the truth, then once you find a bestselling writer, why put your money anywhere else? Why put your millions on a new twenty-year-old writer instead of Stephen King? How could you possibly know if a new literary author is worth the sort of investment worthy of a future big-prize winner?

If you review their computing model, you find they only review bestselling books against each other. They don’t compare the bestsellers to every book ever published, or even a random collection of 10,000 indie  books or 10,000 traditionally-published books NOT on the bestsellers’ list so it’s unclear why bestsellers do better than non-bestsellers, according to their algorithm.


The conventional wisdom has always been that it’s random chance, and so publishers and agents take total guesses as to what book will become a bestseller in the future. Because of this, they look for authors who fit the ‘profile’ they’ve built up: someone between the ages of 25-39 with a killer manuscript and either a) a big following already (celebrities) or b) the chance to gain one super fast. The MS fits the common themes assigned for that particular genre but also has a twist on it so it seems fresh and exciting and can be promoted in 18-24 months when the book comes out (assuming it does). The public at large, who may prefer different novels, will love it as much as librarians.

I personally have an theory it’s the AUTHORS, not the books, that drive sales. You get an author willing to take risks and to become a lightning rod for attention (and controversy) and I think sales will increase over authors who just have good stories. I would love to prove the conventional wisdom wrong- quit look at the Manuscripts, agents! But then again, I’m a lowly writer with 43k Wattpad views and no fiction sales ever, so what do I know, according to them?

Well, at least we can agree on something- no one knows exactly how to build a bestseller. The difference is, I’m willing to bet that I can create them without needs for silly algorithms or guesswork.


Source Me: Wattpad Changing their Featured List Algoritm


I got this from Wattpad. Basically, I should expect my book’s ranking to drop after the six month period is over and if you’re Featured or looking to be Featured on Wattpad, be aware:

 We’re reaching out to you because one of your stories is currently Featured in 
one of our genre categories. We're making a few changes to the process in the
coming weeks and wanted to keep you in the loop!
The Featured List has been around since Wattpad’s inception, and since then we’ve
 had the pleasure of highlighting many remarkable stories through this carefully
 curated and coveted list. 

As you can imagine, after ten years there are now thousands of stories on
our Featured Lists all vying for placement. Unfortunately some are from 
writers who are no longer active on Wattpad or stories that have been removed. 
The more stories we add to the list, the less effective the list becomes and we 
want to make sure that all featured stories have a fair shot at being seen and 
discovered by our amazing community.
We’ve discovered that the Featured List is the most impactful in the first 
six months, therefore featured stories will now have a limited time of 6 months 
on the list. After that, they may be removed to make room for newer ones to keep 
things fresh and diverse. *Please note that some categories will be more 
affected than others as popularity varies by genre.
We want to thank you so much for sharing your story with the Wattpad community.
 It is writers like you that keep us all entertained and inspired!

Source: Wattpad May Pay You…(Call Me) Maybe

Apparently Wattpad has rolled out a new feature for top authors: Get paid with ads in your story.

I received a tip from a fellow Wattpader with a story that has over 200k reads who announced that she is getting involved with a new program to place ads in her featured story as a means of seeing if Wattpad can  ever turn into YouTube and entice people to post, just like YouTube.

Now obviously you are almost impossibly unlikely to get rich making YouTube videos , even if some guy named Shaytard (more like Fucktard to be honest, proof that America is truly becoming an Idiocracy) made tens of millions “working” as a “video producers” (I don’t even want to link back to that) but if you are able to earn a few bucks or even a few hundred, it’s a nice night out gift. Here’s another article about your odds.

Now Wattpad is much smaller than YouTube: whereas YouTube has over 1 billion monthly users, Wattpad is just over 50 million. So Assuming a YouTuber with 1 million monthly views earns say twenty grand a year from her videowork, divide that by 20 and you can see that even the top Wattpadders will likely only take home pocket change.

However, this program could be a boon to authors who cannot get traditionally published or who are not good at selfpublishing, so even 2k is better than none.


Will Audiobooks save Reading?


Getty Images

From CNBC:

“Sales of books, in both print and digital formats, are struggling around the world, despite the efforts to promote reading on World Book Day. However there is one area that’s bucking the trend: Audio books.

World Book Day is promoted (sic) a worldwide celebration of books intended to encourage reading, but revenue from book publishing is falling worldwide.

Statistics from Euromonitor released in 2015 show that turnover from book publishing has experienced sharp declines in recent years. Between 2011 and 2014, revenue fell from $165 billion to $145 billion. The harshest decline was 2011-12, when the global book market contracted 7.4 percent

Part of the reason for declines in print book sales was the rise of e-books and e-readers, but this sector is now falling. According to business magazine “The Bookseller”, e-book sales by the U.K.’s five biggest publishers dropped 2.4 percent between 2014 and 2015, to 47.8 million.”

Well, this sucks for those of us who want to sell our published works.

So why are print sales falling?

  1. Books aren’t cheap. A hardcover is like $30. Some good paperbacks are $7.99 or less, but I rarely buy any book over $8.
  2. I can get a lot of books free at the library or cheap from a discount store. Since most novels are timeless, who cares when i read them? As for non-fiction, I buy non-fiction if I think it has value. For example, “starting an E-commerce Business for Dummies” has information I want to have for a while. But a book that has neat but not critical information or info that changes every year? Checkout. Even Wattpad has some decent stories that cost nothing.
  3. People don’t read as much anymore. More specifically, anything with depth. That’s why news articles are shorter and less thoughtful (a notable exception is americanthinker.com, which is very thoughtful). Some of this is technology, but I think publishers have been very poor at predicting what people want to read. For example, publishing books that fit political agendas but don’t have a wide audience. I’ve written this here  and here  and here about the decline in reading.
  4. Authors are just not “cool”. Even John Green and Neil Gaiman, who are about as cool as it gets by author standards, are nothing compared to the Kardashians in terms of “trendy”, and I have yet to see any reality TV shows starring authors (movie studios, TV execs, publishers, agents: I am TOTALLY DOWN to do this for you and max out ratings. Just give me a contract). Why does this matter, because pop culture drives trends and if books and authors are just not cool, then a potential reading audience will not be persuaded to pick up books.

The question  is then, why are audiobooks sales going up? We should be happy that people are still consuming literature, even if they listen in, right?


  1. If you’re like me, and you’re on the road a lot, I can listen to an audiobook while I drive. I can also listen to an mp3 at the gym. This is great because talk radio is boring a lot of the time, and even Pandora is tiresome after 4 hours. Also great for parents with kids, because you can play something in the car to not only get the kiddos to be quiet, but to not be too attached to their Gameboys or smartphones.
  2. Unlike reading, which requires focus, Audiobooks don’t require as much attention. This is due to some cool science about how our brains process sound versus visuals.
  3. Audiobook packages are expensive, so my guess is a lot of the rise is in people switching from say a paperback to an audiobook.

Overall, if I have a story to tell, I don’t really care how they engage in it, as long as they do. And as long as I get paid. Speaking of, I’ve gotten 1500 Wattpad reads in 4 days and a lot of new fans. And of course I get zilch. But this book has been plowing through the 5-digit reads so it’s a good sign for me that this book will sell well when published. The question is, will a traditional publisher want this? Or will I end up self-publishing?

To be determined.

Do readers prefer longer or shorter books?

Big pile of books

I saw this article from The Guardian:

Books are steadily increasing in size, according to a survey that has found the average number of pages has grown by 25% over the last 15 years.

A study of more than 2,500 books appearing on New York Times bestseller and notable books lists and Google’s annual survey of the most discussed books reveals that the average length has increased from 320 pages in 1999 to 400 pages in 2014.

According to James Finlayson from Vervesearch, who carried out the survey for the interactive publisher Flipsnack, there’s a “relatively consistent pattern of growth year on year” that has added approximately 80 pages to the average size of the books surveyed since 1999.

The literary agent Clare Alexander agrees that long books are more portable in electronic formats, but points out that much ebook reading is focused on genres such as romance, crime and erotica. For Alexander, the gradual increase in size is evidence of a cultural shift.

“Despite all the talk of the death of the book because of competition from other media,” she says, “people who love to read appear to prefer a long and immersive narrative, the very opposite of a sound bite or snippets of information that we all spend our lives downloading from Google.

This would have surprised me. All along I’ve been told short stories are back in style because of declining attention spans and people reading from their phones, on smaller screens unlikely to be suitable for a 500 page turner. Therefore, the argument goes, quit writing those 300 page stories and instead sell 15-40 page short stories at 99 cents a pop.

But longer stories also sell better, according to Mark Coker at Smashwords:

Longer books sell better than shorter books.  This finding is consistent with each of the prior year’s surveys, though as I mention in the presentation, this year’s finding comes with a lot more caveats.  In a nutshell, I suspect the rise of multi-author box sets, often at deep discount prices, is probably throwing off the data this year, and as I discuss in the presentation, some of the dynamics will cause it to understate impact of longer books and some will cause it to overstate it.

I think this is what’s happening: Casual readers who would rather watch TV or play video games prefer shorter works, because they can finish a book or short story in an hour or less and feel like they read something to completion. But passionate readers prefer a story they can connect to, and more often than not shorter works don’t do that in fiction. Now that doesn’t mean shorter is worse: Animal Farm, The Notebook, The Alchemist, The Old Man and the Sea, MacBeth, are all examples of shorter works which told stories most readers still remember today. Animal Farm and The Alchemist are considered among the best fiction works ever written. That said, some of the best-selling works are longer and it does mean I believe a well-written story is more important than a short one, even if some are emphasizing shorter over quality.

As readers, do you prefer shorter or longer works?




What if Harry Potter was Crowdsourced?



The publishing world has changed, and the major players have lost ground to Amazon and some new upstarts looking to cash in on the rising indie-author boom, where more and more authors are choosing to self-publish their work instead of seeking a publishing contract.

The style of work has changed too. Short stories have come back in vogue, in no small part due to shortening attention spans among everyone with internet access. Heck, I stopped twice while writing this post to check e-mail. Even shorter pieces, called flash fiction (1200 words or less) are also in style, and some authors are demonstrating their ‘creativity’ and ‘talent’ by tweeting their work, others post to Wattpad or a similar social sharing site, and now we have interactive books courtesy of Apple. There are still ways to tell stories that have not yet been discovered.

One way which has and which is now being touted is crowdsourcing stories. The idea appears to be, someone writes an idea and writers compete to write the best versions of a chapter. Readers then vote on which chapters they like best, and that goes into the book. From Publishers Weekly:

“Traditional print publishing is gatekeeper driven. The traditional publishing model has focused mostly on large-scale print production and relies on a small number of retained authors with a proven track record of generating commercially successful work. The relationship between publisher and author is nurtured at a high cost. Publishers control their ROI by focusing on a small number of proven writers. With the emergence of e-books, the risk of picking the wrong author is reduced, but because of print’s continued focus on big authors, large publishing organizations are still a tough nut to crack for new authors or hard to categorize material.

Digital publishing is automation driven. Digital publishers saw an opportunity to automate many of the steps of traditional publishing, including digitizing books. This created cost efficiencies and increased the size of the market but the essential process of creating content remained the same. Hundreds of Internet-based publishers emerged to sell digital books, which gave birth to self-publishing and hybrid models in which authors pay partners to be published in exchange for a higher percentage of royalties. While digital publishing has expanded the number of published authors, it has not generated the revenues of traditional publishing, or garnered much respect for its content.

The sharing model of publishing is profile driven. In the newest sharing model of publishing, bits of stories are crowdsourced, and the community defines the best writing. Whereas the other models rely on the market to determine quality after the publishing process is complete, with customers using their wallets to vote, the sharing model publishes stories that have already been embraced by the crowd, eliminating the risk of publishing unwanted material. Instead of being process driven, the sharing model is profile driven. Readers and writers sit at the heart of this ecosystem of content generation, with their profiles defining the value they bring. A good analogy for how this model has evolved is the job postings market. Monster automated the process of scanning newspaper job postings. LinkedIn then focused on the profile of job seekers and allowed the community to crowdsource their careers.

Today there’s a similar opportunity for writers with the new sharing models of publishing crowdsourced original content through “competitive collaboration,” with writers competing to write sections of a story, and readers voting to determine which sections are published. Models like this turn the storytelling process into a social media experience.”

The premise is kind of like Wattpad meets celebrity authors, like how sometimes authors collaborate on a project to produce a book. But now, you promote your rough draft to the crowd, and let the reader tell you what’s good, rather than you finishing work and showing it to the reader.

The basic problem with crowdsourcing stories is that not all writers are equally talented. Yes, if five equal authors got together and agreed beforehand on a plot, it might work. The problem with Skrawl’s idea is, if one author is significantly better than another, then the good author will be dragged down by mediocre to poor authors, having to a) publicly show work that isn’t ready yet and b) being forced to compete with someone who may not be as good

Let’s use your favorite book, which is probably Harry Potter, since it seems like a lot of people’s favorite book is Harry Potter. In the old days, JK Rowling wrote an outline, then a book, then queried until a publisher bought the rights to the first book. The publisher edited the book, added a cover, and sold copies in bookstores. Today, if she received dozens or hundreds of rejections due to declining space for new authors, she could self-publish an e-book and hope for the best.

Under this crowdsourcing model, JK Rowling would post chapter 1 of Harry Potter to a website like Skrawl or Wattpad and then “compete” with some random schlub named Steve, living in Manalapan New Jersey, whose idea of a novel opener is “King Liprix wore a green coat and carried a purple sword.” Steve would post his chapter 2, and most of us agree it would suck. But, because readers determine via poll which chapter to vote on, Steve would get lots of his friends to vote for chapter 2 of the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s in UK) Stone. He has more friends who vote the same way most people do for social media competitons, so Steve wins. Then for chapter 3, Tanya from Redding, California gets her friends to pick her chapter 3, leaving JK out of the next two. By the time she’s ready to write chapter 4 (“Diagon Alley”), it no longer makes sense because the story is now about Harry using a staff and rubber band ball to fight a unicorn on a pogo stick while Harry Styles of One Direction looks on approvingly. Thus a great story is now ruined.

Crowdsourcing would require previous collaboration between authors, and voters who are truly impartial and capable of understanding the storytelling process are deciding one step of the way; and also if the authors are of relatively equal strength and talent. And as readers are already gatekeepers of literature, do you really need to check in with them first in a race to the bottom to see who can turn literature into whoever can push the most votes online?

Bottom line for Skrawl: Potential as a niche form of storytelling, but unlikely to replace conventional stories. I have a feeling most readers would rather just read a great story when it comes out instead of devoting hours to reading stinky writing so they can feel “important”.

No posts until next week. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Why I Don’t Bother With #NaNoWriMo

For all you writers out there, you know this is the month you’re supposed to put out 50,000 words to “get to it”, to show you can produce some great literary work. Or at least get most of your next book done.

I don’t know how many of you several hundred monthly readers of this blog actually write, and how many of you actually bother with this month. I won’t bother pushing myself this month, for the following reasons:

  • For me, I treat EVERY freaking month like this. While 50,000 words is a tall order, I don’t like to wait around for that special time of year to be told to ‘bust my butt’.
  • For all you writing on the side while working 1 or more jobs: just saying you’ll write 50,000 words a month is a lofty goal that is more inspirational than realistic. If you live in the states, take at least 2 days off for Thanksgiving weekend. For those of you who don’t write, a full-time writer like your favorite multimillionaire author ___________ can easily write 50,000 words a month, if s/he is doing it full time and able to write about 5,000 words a day for 10 days a month. The rest of us? Write in our spare time, fortunately to make time in a day to get to writing.
  • Already booked up this month. Let’s just say the soccer league I ref got waaay more interesting on the weekends, and I have other projects going on.

Feel free to participate in NaNoWriMo and enjoy yourself. I, however, will write when I can and just continue with my normal writing schedule.

Are you participating this month? How many words do you honestly think you’ll get done?

Find Out What Happens When You Click Bait a Book Title

To Kill A Mockingbird Link-Baity Title Remake

Today’s post is brought to you by the hashtag #clickbaitnoveltitle, courtesy of Hootsuite.

More than likely, you clicked on this post because I click-baited you. Since you are already interested in books, what happens when you try to find out when you click bait a title?

From Hootsuite, junior lieutenants of click baiting, serving Buzzfeed, the Lord of the Click Bait and Meme Realm:

“Love it or hate it, so-called click bait has become part of content marketing. While many people see these types of social messages or headlines as a trick being played on the consumer, the reason that they’ve become the norm is that they work. And they don’t just work once, they work over and over again.

This is not unlike classic literature, many examples of which have graced the high school desks of children, their parents and even their grandparents. The themes we see in Shakespeare and George Orwell were relevant when they were written and they are equally relevant today.

But as kids become more tech-savvy, many are turning away from reading as a means of education and entertainment. Just in case literature really starts falling by the wayside, here are 10 classic books reimagined with click-baity titles:

How not to end a relationship

A.K.A. Romeo & Juliet

These two kids were attacked by a racist. You’ll never believe who stepped in to protect them.

A.K.A. To Kill a Mockingbird

Old school Wolf of Wall Street? This author uses “damn” 85 times in one novel

A.K.A. The Catcher in the Rye

The “Rich Kids of Instagram” have nothing on this guy

A.K.A. The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby Link-Baity Title Remake

Can you create a better clickbaited title than these ones? Don’t forget to use the hashtag #clickbaitnoveltitle. And don’t forget to follow my page so you won’t miss any of the latest news, tips, and fun stuff!

Your Feedback on my Cover, Please

Jason Riley cover drafts

*update:JRiled image remix

Also, I need to decide if I should write under a pen name or use my real name. This book is different than my kid-friendly series, and has some edgy language or ideas. If I were to pursue traditional publishing at any time, I don’t think they would have a good sense of humor about it. Here are two excerpts from the  book to prove my point (middle of book- which is why you won’t know the characters). Total for both excerpts is five pages.

“Jason Riley?”  A woman’s voice asked.

Jason looked up and saw a woman, no taller than Mom, with dyed blond hair which Jason could see covered jet-black hair. The woman had a small nose like Emily’s, but her face was covered in a lot of makeup, unlike Emily’s. She wore an expensive pantsuit and her heels were so shiny Jason thought he could see his reflection off of them. “Jessica Rose. How are you today?”

“I’m fine,” Jason said. “It’s been wicked insane in here with all the people trying to meet me and say hi.”

Jessica laughed and sat down next to Tomas. She muttered “hello” to him but didn’t pay him any attention. Next to her was a really cute girl, not much older than him, with dyed blond hair and a one-shoulder periwinkle blue dress and a matching handbag.

“This is Lindsay, one of our interns,” Jessica explained. Lindsay got up to shake Jason’s hand. She sat down next to Jessica and to PopPop’s right. Jason noticed PopPop’s eyes drawn to Lindsay’s chest, followed by the obligatory slap from MomMom when she saw where his eyes were. They all began helping themselves to the appetizers.

Jessica handed Jason a business card, reaching across Tomas. She apologized for this. Jason looked at her card; it had a red rose and her company’s name and contact information on it. “I was just looking forward to meeting you. It seems like you became quite the sensation just a short time ago.”


“You have a lot of new fans, and I have to say, you have a great channel. Clearly, you’re very talented.”

“Thanks,” Jason said. A thought entered his mind- why was she sitting at his table? He didn’t know her. Maybe she was trying to do what Dad warned about: get him to endorse something. He needed to find out. “Which of my videos is your favorite?”

“Honestly? I really like your Hipster Hamster videos. Your pet is very cute and watching her-“

“It’s a him.”

Jessica laughed silently. “It’s okay,” she said. “Anyway, you were gradually building a following and then- FWOOSH! What happened?”

“I got mad at Fat- I mean Thaddeus,” Jason replied. He gave Tomas a look, and he nodded back. “He’s this obnoxious kid at my school. He made some racist comments to a friend of mine and a fellow YouTuber. And he made her cry. So we called him out for his actions and then the deusche-“

“The what?”

“The dude, he retaliated, so Thaddeus came and damaged Tomas’s bike. And that’s what prompted me to make that video.”

“Wow,” Jessica muttered. She didn’t asked why Thaddeus had targeted Tomas.

“So that’s what happened,” Jason continued. The noise got even worse as the appetizer plates were taken away. “That video had over eleven million views but my dad made me take it down because Thaddeus asked me to.  But I still have a lot of followers.”

“And your numbers are really growing, aren’t they?”

“Yea.” Jessica didn’t seem like a hustler; she seemed genuinely interested in his life and his work. “I didn’t do the math, but I think if I can make one more decent video I can hit two hundred thousand YouTube subscribers by the end of the year.”

“Fantastic,” Jessica said happily, with an emphasis on the last syllable. She sounded a lot like Mr. Kraiter. “That’s exactly what we’re looking for, Jason, in an aspiring author.”


“Yes, Jason, I represent people who write books for a living.”

“I can’t write and I’m not an author. Don’t you guys, like, go to book conventions and stuff to find authors?”

“We still do sometimes. But we try to branch out more, you know, meet new potential authors.”

“At ReYouCon?” Jason read maybe one book a year outside of class; he wasn’t dumb, but he knew he was a bad writer. So even he was trying to figure out how his Hipster videos and funny faces would make someone think he wanted to write.

Especially a place like this,” Jessica said. “We’re always looking for people with established, well-developed platforms who might be interested in writing.”


“Hey Jessica, can I ask for a favor?”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“Do you remember some time ago I mentioned that my dad wrote some books?”

“What about it?” Her voiced tensed, like she knew what Jason was about to ask.

“I wanted to know if now’s a better time for you to, like, look at them, and if they’re any good, get it published.”

There was a moment of silence. “It’s not so easy,” Jessica finally said. “Many books don’t get sold. Most of my clients are already famous, so it’s a little easier.”

“What about the first chapter at least?” Here goes. “I mean, he had a hundred fourteen rejections, I think he deserves like a break-“

“It’s not the same. I’d have to sell his books, and a publisher is unlikely to pay for a manuscript, let along four, from someone whose books have clearly been rejected so many times that he’s asking his teenage son to ask on his behalf.”

“He didn’t tell me to do that.” Bitch, he thought. What’s her problem?  “I asked on my own.”

“Even you can’t help him. We have lots of books and clients to deal with. You may be a celebrity, but you’re not special in the book publishing world.”

“But this is the twenty-first century.” Jason was starting to think less of Jessica. “Apple makes a new phone every three months. Why can’t you guys be like that?”

“Books are not tweets. And just because you kids-“


“-you kids think everything should be done right now, doesn’t mean the book publishing world’s gonna change. It’s had three major changes in the last six hundred years; and your impatience is not the fourth.”

Jason sighed. “Sorry, forget that I asked.”

“Besides, your father lacks a suitable platform to publish his novel. It’s a tough marketplace, Jason. Between all the books, games, apps, movies, and whatnot, your father needs a built-in fanbase.”

“What about mine? I’ve got millions of fans. I’ll ask them to buy the book.”

“Jason, that won’t work.”

“Why not?” He scratched his forehead. “I can get people to buy it…”

“No you won’t. Think about it. Your fans are mostly what?”

“Teens and young adults.”

“Okay. And what kind of books did your dad write?”

“Horror, contemporary fiction, and a science fiction book.”

“And are his books for teens or older adults?”

“Older adults, I think.”

“Okay. So your fans are not going to buy your dad’s book, because it won’t interest them. Plus they’ll get annoyed if you go overboard to sell something that’s not yours. Selling your cat shirts and ninja book is one thing, this is another. Plus, these kid’s parents have no idea who you are, and if they did, they’d probably avoid your dad’s book like Charlie Sheen avoids rehab (Jason laughed quietly). So you could end up hurting your father, and yourself. He will have to develop his own platform.”

“That just seems dumb. How bad can his books be?”

“You tell me.” There was an awkward pause. Jason hadn’t considered this might happen. “Okay, so I’ve never read it, but my Mom thinks it was pretty dec-“

“So what? Most people’s spouses and friends say that, so they don’t hurt any feelings. The point is, if I go to the publisher with the book, they’ll ask how he’s going to sell it. Jason, there’s not much budget for advertising anymore. It’s all on your own, unless you’re rich and famous, like Stephen King.”

“So then, why promote him?” Jessica wasn’t making sense. Jason wasn’t even sure why he was defending Dorky Dad- with his ugly Station Wagon, old-fashioned work clothes, flabby body, and his penchant for yelling at the TV when the news was on. But after all the things Dad had done for him, this seemed like the least Jason could do. “He’s gotta be worth a billion at least. Why give money to him instead of my dad?”

“Jason, I’m sorry.” Jessica sounded exasperated. “I admire your desire to help your father. I really do. But getting a book published is difficult, and rejected books from an unknown author just isn’t going to interest that many people. Now, if you don’t have any more questions, I’d like to focus on your book and your upcoming tour.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Pirates vs. Big Corporations: You lose Either Way

 vs.  and 

*disclosure. I meant to post this yesterday but I was…well, it WAS 4/20 and my inner Ganjaness wanted to be satisfied, so…*

About 3000 years ago, a man named Moses came down from the slopes of Mount Sinai and held out two large stone tablets with ten commandments from the Torah (aka Old Testament). These Ten Commandments were the first-known Cliff Notes version of any significant text in recorded human history; taking a very long scroll and condensing it to about 66 words (depending on the exact translation you use). These Commandments are easy to understand and easy to see why they were picked.

*Only kidding above.

One of those ten is “You Shall not Steal.” The Merriam-Webster definition defines the verb “steal” as

to take (something that does not belong to you) in a way that is wrong or illegal

: to take (something that you are not supposed to have) without asking for permission

: to wrongly take and use (another person’s idea, words, etc.)

Today’s lesson is about piracy and whether we should support piracy or the major book/movie/record companies who want to force you to spend a lot on their products, all with DRM to prevent you from accessing your purchased content on a different device than the one you used to buy it. So if I download a song to my Amazon cloud music store onto my laptop, which I paid 99 cents for, they want to set it up so I can’t download Amazon’s mobile music store with that song unless I buy it again for 99 cents. If you share even one of their products with someone else without them paying for it, they get angry.

On the other side we have folks to don’t care much for those four simple words which make up the eight commandment, and who want to take whatever they can because they can and because they don’t want to pay for anything, so they entitle themselves to things from other people, and if you call them out for what they’re doing, which is stealing, they get angry.

The truth is, both sides here are wrong in their actions. Excessively high prices of goods encourage counterfeiting, piracy, and general theft, but these same actions also discourage some people from engaging in the production of goods in the first place, if their rights to their own labors are not respected or protected.

The U.S. Constitution recognized this problem, and defined in Article 1 section 8 Congress’  obligation “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”  Because this clause is the source of Congress’ power to enact legislation governing copyrights and patents, it is often referred to as the “patent and copyright clause.”

This thread popped up on Kboards and, given what we do, it’s important for us to understand high prices vs. piracy, and how to balance both. Take notes: Your actions might be the difference between success and failure.

First, let’s present the argument in favor of piracy: the so-called “Cartel” the entertainment industry has to stifle competition.

In order to maximize their already-enormous profits, the music, book, and movie industry enacted Digital Rights Management (DRM) protection on their produced works. The argument they claimed was to prevent people from violating “copyright protection” for published works. However, the end result has been to inconvenience, or even criminalize, legitimate behabior like making a backup copying of a cd, sharing a file with a friend, or transferring files from one device you own to another. Opponents of DRM say it’s realyl a way for big buisness to stifle competition, by making it illegal to make “unauthorized uses” of reasonable purchases. Think of DRM as a lock against piracy, and if the technology changes, the “lock” may not be able to be adjusted. But, you still can’t remove the DRM.

Then there’s the prices. $10-15 for a book, album, or movie ticket may not be expensive indidually, but how many of these products will you access at these prices? More than likely you limit yourself to select items because you can’t afford to take a $10-15 (or more- what’s the price for most big 5 hardcovers these days?) “test drive” to find out if you like the product. Yes, you could sample any of these online in advance, but you still cannot guarantee that you will like it and feel like you got your money’s worth. Plus, digital products should not be so expensive. Once an e-file is created, say an e-book, it has no cost besides the initial recovery cost of your investment- editing service, book cover design, maybe a file formatter, some advertising, etc. If technology changes you will probably have to re-format your e-book but otherwise you incur no additional costs because the file technically doesn’t exist as it’s not a physical product, so you don’t have storage or ink to pay for.

I believe a lot of the movement to pirate works began with frustration at high prices for downloads and the reality of of big corporations treating artists/authors and their fans poorly while focusing more on distributors (I will say this is more anecdotal, since polls go in and out about the satisfaction of authors/artists with their publisher/label). Especially since the superstars are all multimillionaires, will they really be losing out because a few hundred or even thousand people downloaded their product free or went to a service which allowed them to sample your work without compensation? It’s hard to say.

Hypothetical scenario: Let’s pick the book Insurgent  by Veronica Roth. I’m picking this one because I looked at movie listings this weekend and this was the first one based on a novel which I saw listed. Say the scenario is: you buy the book and love it so much you want to share it with your friends. The truth is, the book publisher would prefer your friends all buy their own separate copies. If you buy the movie on DVD and you and all your friends watch it in your room together, the movie producer won’t object to this but their far and away preference is for everyone to buy their own separate copies.

Suppose one of your friends doesn’t come when you watch the movie. You lend it out to her, she watches the movie on her laptop, and returns it to you. Have you and your friend engaged in the crime of consuming a media product for free?

By Big Media standards, yes. Your friend has technically watched a copyrighted movie without paying/compensating the copyright owner, so if they could find out you did it, they’d come after you. If you use a program like Handbrake for Mac (open source video transcorder) to upload the movie from a disc onto your Mac, the movie industry will tolerate it ONLY if you use it just for yourself. If you share this file, say with your parents, and they find out about it, expect them to come down hard on you. As proof, recall the cases of the music industry finding people who had made a handful of downloads off Napster and taking them to court.

But most of us would agree that this kind of sharing is not bad. Expecting every person to purchase their own copy of a movie, especially at $25 a pop (HOLY CRAP- $25 FOR A SINGLE DVD?! Better be plated in gold) is a lot, and it would be tough to prove that Ms. Roth or Lionsgate, which produced the movie, was really hurt because you lent it to a friend. In anything, I suspect Ms. Roth would be happy since if your friend never read her books or saw her movies until that point, they might be converted into fans, and it’s possible they might go buy the books or merchandise from whoever I assume sells her merch. For those of us who are indie, whether by choice or by necessity, knowing that people like your work so much they want to share it with their friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors is like a blessing in itself.


Second, let’s talk about reasons Piracy is bad: the fact that piracy is literally stealing

Let’s revisit that Merriam-Webster definition:

“to take (something that does not belong to you) in a way that is wrong or illegal

: to take (something that you are not supposed to have) without asking for permission

: to wrongly take and use (another person’s idea, words, etc.)”

“the unauthorized use of another’s production, invention, or conception especially in infringement of a copyright”

Piracy IS stealing, regardless of the justification or excuse used for it. Just as it’s wrong to be customer unfriendly and force people to rebuy products they already bought, and criminalize minor peer-to-peer sharing, it’s also wrong to upload someone’s files without permission and then give it away to the world, or worse, sell it without permission and keep the money for yourself.

Some people may want to pay for something, and are put off by exhoribtant prices. Others just want to steal what they can and justify it by pretending that piracy somehow benefits the creator because in theory the pirate “might” buy another one of your books or some merch from you.

Some studies and economists try to argue that piracy doesn’t hurt anyone. Most reseachers will tell you it does. Let’s break down the arguments:

ARGUMENT #1: If a pirate steals from you, they have money to spend elsewhere. So don’t feel bad if the pirate steals from you, s/he might buy a fruit smoothie from McDonald’s and they’re happy.

RESPONSE: How does this help you? What about your editor? Your cover designer? Next, please

ARGUMENT #2: If people pirate your work, they might be tempted to become fans and pay for it later.

RESPONSE: And what percentage of piraters will do that? If they ripped it off in the first place, the odds of them suddenly paying for your work is ____%”

Here are two snippets from two different news articles about pirating:


  • Offer more digital-based releases that premiere before theatrical releases – What’s there to lose? Offer your movies on digital cable, smartphone or computer (in HD quality) a few days to a week before a theatrical premiere and already you’re cutting out one of the main incentives for pirating. And let’s be real: if your movie is good enough, people WILL shell out again for the “big-screen experience.” You may end up making more money than you would’ve. IfZombieland had been available on cable same day as in theaters, would a sequel be hanging in the balance? Maybe, but then again, maybe not…
  • Market the $mart way – If you’re taking full advantage of the digital market, what’s the need for huge billboards, three different trailers, TV spots, print ads, etc… If you’re selling a movie to the online/digital consumer then use the free promotion you get from blogs like Screen Rant (HINT!) – or maybe loop your trailers and spots on cable on demand menus ad nausem. Archive movie info in one place (on cable menus, websites), use fan reactions and early screening promotions to build an interactive rating/review system to let perusing viewers know what new movies are worth their time and money. Once the consumer adapts to the new digital model (i.e., learns where to go to find out about movies), you can spend less, more effectively, to reach them.
  • http://screenrant.com/movie-piracy-zombieland-video-on-demand-digital-download-solutions-kofi-35289/3/
  • The first business model that dissuades illegal file sharing is to make the downloading easy and cheap

Does Piracy Hurt Digital Content Sales? Yes

ARGUMENT: “I love pirates. I get money from them all the time,” said the best-selling author of Wool, Hugh Howey, who will be speaking later at the Digital Book World Conference + Expo on his success story. “They send me money thanking me because they loved my book. I sometimes go onto torrent sites and if I don’t see my book there I feel bad because it means I’m not in demand.”

RESPONSE: That’s like saying “You have a really nice-looking car. Don’t you feel great that people pick YOUR car, out of all the other car in the neighborhood, to break into and take things from? That proves that your car is considered beautiful by a lot of people. If people weren’t breaking into your  car, then that would mean it isn’t attractive and worth stealing from.”

Umm…someone BROKE INTO YOUR CAR AND STOLE STUFF. Which part of that did you not understand?

Disclosure: I have read Hugh’s blog, and Joe Konrath is another pro-pirater whom I generally agree with as well. They are both great indie author success stories and I agree with them on a lot. But not on this. I think they’re both totally wrong.

Some people argue that piracy has always been among us because it’s human nature. Therefore, we should not only tolerate it, but embrace it.

Murder is also a part of human nature. Some people want to kill, no matter how many laws there are against it. Just because laws don’t stop people from committing crimes like murder doesn’t mean we ought to tolerate and embrace murder.

CONCLUSION: So who’s right and who isn’t? Is it better to let big corporations control the sale and distribution, charging exhorbitant prices for the products and mistreating their artists/authors? Or is it better to let anyone who can steal or gain access to your work do so, because they might hack into your website and/or they might become paying customers down the road?

Here’s the answer: neither side is right. Both sides have good arguments. But the truth is in those “blurred lines” (speaking of copyright infringement…) should be up to you, and not someone else, to decide. For me personally, I think low-cost e-books and some freebies which lead to more purchases are the way to go. At the same time, protect your rights. If someone is stealing from you, be it books or merchandise, file a formal complain with the site hosting that content or, depending on the severity, with local police or the FBI. While you won’t stop 100% of it, especially overseas, you can do your part to help the rest of us reduce it. if you are an indie, you already cut out the expensive “middleman”. Now it’s time to look at the other side of things.

The bottom line is, there’s a difference between you offering your works for free download or distribution, where YOU control the time, place, and manner of distribution, and where YOU can still get something for it, such as e-mail addresses and merchandise sales. In fact, you may even offer an e-book with a merch purchase or vice-versa. But that’s YOUR right, not someone else’s.