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Category : Deep Thoughts
The Pareto Principle
Vilfredo Pareto was a Paris-born Italian, from a prominent exiled Genoese family, famous in his own day as a social economist. He is often referred to as the first modern economics professor, and he more or less developed microeconomics as a discipline. But what he’s best known for is the principle of factor sparsity — what we usually refer to as “the 80/20 rule.” Pareto noticed that 80% of the peas in his garden came from about 20% of the pea pods. He determined that 80% of the wealth in Italy was held by roughly 20% of the population. And, when looking at the Italian tax structure, he noticed that 80% of the government’s income came from just 20% of the taxpayers.
Sometimes referred to as “the law of the vital few,” the Pareto Principle is found in many of the organizations you belong to. For example, 80% of the work done at your church is performed by about 20% of the members. 80% of the money raised by the non-profit you belong to is donated by 20% of the givers. And, if you work in publishing, 80% of the income your publisher makes comes from 20% of the books. (Which, if you think about it, means there is significant factor sparsity in book publishing, since 80% of the titles released this year will produce very little income for publisher and author.) Pareto noted that most every element tied to finances is ruled by a vital few (which he referred to as “the elite,” thus popularizing the term), and that it’s the success of those vital few that allows the rest of the category to persist.
Here’s why you need to understand that as an author: Your publisher is going to release a LOT of books this year. A mere 20% of them are going to generate 80% of the publisher’s income, so of course your publisher is going to
What's your best advice for making a living at writing?
Over the past few weeks we’ve been talking about “making a living at writing.” In addition to the advice I’ve doled out, I’ve heard from several people with wisdom to add to the discussion, and I have a few other tips to share, so I thought for the Thanksgiving weekend, we could share the best advice we all have for those looking to make a living at writing. Some of my thoughts:
—Keep your mornings protected for writing.Â Move the other work to the afternoon, but write every morning.
—Group similar activities.Â If you do all your phone calls back to back, you’ll get through them faster. Ditto emails, snail mail, project planning, looking over proposals, etc.
—Organize your day first thing every morning. If you have a plan, you’re much more apt to stay focused. Having a “to do” list helps most writers immensely.
—Take a day off one each week.Â Getting away from writing one day each week allows you to recharge your batteries and get your mind refreshed. Hey – even God rested.
—Kill the muse.Â That is, forget the concept that you have to be in a certain mood to write, or find exactly the right space to create words. Just sit and write. I’ve long appreciated Ernest Hemingway’s writing idea that you end each day in the middle of a sentence. That way, when you sit down the next morning, you don’t have to figure where you are, or get yourself into a certain moody, or work up to it. All you have to do is to finish the incomplete sentence you’d left yourself, and you’re off and writing.
—See the value of shitty first drafts.Â Too many writers tie themselves in knots because they think they need to make their manuscript perfect. But for most novelists, what they really need is to
Why you need a Writing Calendar
If you’re going to make a living at writing, you’re going to need to consider creating a writing calendar. This is, you need to have a document that details what you’re going to write each day. Think about buying a big paper calendar, and jotting down a writing goal for each day of the month. For example, perhaps on Monday you’re working on chapter five of your book, Tuesday you’re completing the chapter, Wednesday you are creating that article you’ve wanted to do for the writing magazine, Thursday and Friday you are doing a paid edit. In each day on your calendar you’ve got something that focuses you on the task at hand.
To figure out what you put into each day, you look at your “to do” list and do some prioritizing. If you’re one of those writers who has been stuck at “writing 1000 words each day,” but not ever feeling like you’re actually moving forward in your career, you should try this. There’s nothing wrong with having a word count goal, of course, but sometimes it’s better to know which project you’re working on, and how long it’s going to take you. You’re going to have plenty of other things to do, of course — there will be phone calls related to your work, and seemingly endless emails, and forms to fill out, a friend’s piece to critique, some social media to participate in… but at some point you just want your writing life to have a focus — getting these pieces written so I can make some money.
And that’s why you don’t just write down the goal for each day and stop. You then go back and add in a dollar figure, so each project is seen as contributing to your budget. For example, that article you’re writing for the writing magazine? How much is that paying you? Let’s say it’s $150 — you write
Treating your writing as a business
I’ve been exploring the notion of making a living in the new publishing economy, and I want to make sure writers understand the big picture… You’ve got to treat your writing as a business.
Oh, sure, some writers will insist on treating their writing as an art, which is fine, and for some writers no doubt more appropriate. I represent some authors who don’t really see themselves as business people, but as artists, creating words that share their stories. I totally understand and respect that perspective, since some writers are, in fact, artists with words. But if it’s important to you that you generate a full-time income through your writing, and you’re pondering how to create a number of writing projects that will improve your bottom line, then you need to begin to see your writing as a business. In essence, your words are a service or product — they have value, and others need to pay you in exchange for them.
Determining the value of your words is tough at first, which is why I’ve encouraged authors to begin by setting a small monthly financial goal, then building up the number as you find success. If you know you need to earn, say, $2500 per month, then it’s clear the goal is about $500 per week (which sounds small when you put it that way, doesn’t it?). Thinking in that manner moves writing into more of a business model, since it reduces your work to numbers: “I need to make $500 from my writing this week.” You then begin to map out which projects you can do that will generate the cash flow you need.
As I’ve said a number of times on this blog, today is a great time to be a writer. There are more readers and more opportunities than ever before, so there’s a market for people who can create good content. You’ll still hear people
The (new) MacGregor Theory of Making a Living
A few years ago, I created a talk about how an author can make a living with his or her writing. I called it “The MacGregor Theory” (with apologies to the MacGregor who came up with all the Theory X and Theory Y stuff), and over the years it’s been picked up and discussed by all sorts of writers and editors in the blogosphere. But now, with the changes we’ve seen in the world of publishing, it’s time I go back and revise my theory of making a living. So if you’ll indulge me…
I have five rules for authors who want to make a full time living at writing:
1. You need to have four-to-six books earning you a royalty. In other words, you’ve done books in the past, you’ve had some earn out, and you currently have some books that are making you a passive income.
2. You need to have 18 months to 2 years of contracts. This is much harder to do in today’s publishing economy, but if you’re going to do this full time, you probably need to know clearly what you’re going to be writing for the next year or two. If you have your calendar filled up for the next 18 months with projects that are contracted, you’re at least afforded the clarity that comes from knowing what you’ll be working on.
3. You need to be self-publishing. These days, most successful authors have generated some sort of income by self-publishing books, novels, novellas, articles, and/or short stories. This is a new piece of the plan (well… not to those of us who started out in this business writing magazine articles, but new to everyone else), and fairly essential to make enough money to live on. The days of surviving on book advances are over, for all but the A-list authors who are getting the mega deals. In today’s market you need to
What did the publisher do to help make the novel succeed?
Recently I had a couple writers ask me about two particular novels that did well in the market. In both cases I had been the agent for the books, and they wanted to know what the publisher had done to help make each book a success. I can think of a number of things that were done well, and I think they offer a model for others to follow…
First, in both cases the authors spent a couple years building a readership for her writing through websites. That took a lot of patient work and investment by the authors, and it helped immensely (and I realize that’s not a publisher activity, but I bring it up because it wouldn’t be fair to talk about the success of the novels without that fact). Both authors worked tirelessly at marketing, which also helped. I’m one of those who realizes writers don’t get into this business to become “marketers” — they want to be writers, so investing a bunch of time into marketing is a sacrifice. Both of these authors made that sacrificed and did the hard work to make their books succeed.
Second, each author wrote a very good novel. The publisher’s role in that was to push the writers to make their books better. The editors weren’t satisfied to let the novels be adequate — they pushed them toward greatness. So I think the publisher really believed in the books. That may sound trite, but I think it makes a difference. A publisher can’t believe in every book — no matter what they say, the lists are too long, and there’s only so much time to invest. They need to spend the bulk of their energies on their current bestsellers, since that’s close to being a guaranteed source of income. It’s tough to invest a lot of time, money, and manpower on a newer author who may or may not pan
What about a mega-giveaway? (a guest blog)
BY GUEST BLOGGER RAJDEEP PAULUS, author of Swimming Through Clouds
Life is about give and take. My mom taught me this at a very early age. We learn this on the playground: “Give me a push on the swings. Now your turn.”
But as we grow older, we get confused. We don’t always know what we want. And we’re wary of those who offer to give us something in return for anything. How much will they expect? Will the return be worth the effort? We can all think of a hundred better things to do with our time. Time is limited, after all.
So as a newbie author navigating the torrential waves of marketing, I have decided that I’ve tried sailing, kayaking, and snorkeling with the likes of blogs tours, twitter parties, and spray-painting Swimming Through Clouds across NYC brick walls in the best view of passing subway riders. I suppose the latter is something I only dream about but some day…
Anyway, the most success I’ve personally had at spreading book news has been with the A-MAZING dessert party put on by the fabulous Amanda Luedeke (of “Thursdays with Amanda” fame, although lately…) and her partners in crime, Chip and Sandra. You can read about all the fun here at Playlist Fiction or here on Chip’s Blog!
Although I like to say life is one big par-tay, the truth is, most of us can’t afford to party Monday through Friday and on the weekends. That’s just not reality.
So back in my little boat, swimming through ideas of how to get the word out about my book and all the fab titles over at Playlist Fiction, I ventured out and researched what other succeeding Indie YA authors were doing. Stumbled upon a new writer who is tearing up the charts with her New Adult book, and one major thing she’s doing differently that I hadn’t seen before
More Words of Wisdom from Joyce Magnin
BY GUEST WRITER JOYCE MAGNIN
Below is the second half of the text from a speech given by the well known novelist Joyce Magnin. Part I ran on September 19th.
THE POWER OF WORDS: Part II
I soon became enamored with the words of Emily Dickinson and to this day I still am often awestruck with the power she could convey in so few well-chosen words. Her words, although I most of the time didn’t get what she was saying, pierced me and helped me to transcend my life. I learned to dwell in Possibility, as she called it and to concern myself with Circumference.
Circumference, a powerful word she used often, a double metaphor that is both an extension, think of the circumference of the earth and a limit, think of the sand on the shoreline.
Emily Dickinson used the word to contain some things that transcended space and time like ecstasy, and grief and I believe helped her understand God, and to touch the sublime.
Her words had the power to stun me, amuse me, and capture a feeling I couldn’t quite explain. Emily taught me that
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
Hope. Emily Dickinson’s words, written long before I was born instructed me and healed me. This is the power of words.
And then I began to write, learning the difference between the spoken and the written word, I chose the written word.
Spoken words for me were hurtful most of the time, silly and uncertain coming from mouths that I
THE POWER OF WORDS
BY GUEST WRITER JOYCE MAGNIN
Below is the text from a speech given by the well known novelist Joyce Magnin.
THE POWER OF WORDS: Part I
As I thought about this topic my natural inclination was to go back through my notes or talks and workshops and rehash some things that I have already taught, I thought about looking for particularly snappy passages from literature, to find wisdom in someone else’s words, wisdom and ideas that I believed as well. But as I did this I became more and more uneasy and threw out my new notes, tore pages off my yellow legal pad like they were Autumn leaves and let them rest on the floor until I had so many discarded pages I almost felt I couldn’t do this.
But then in a flash I decided to not tell you about the power of words in the same old way.
We all know this. We all know that words can heal or harm or instruct or entertain and make us laugh. No one will dispute that, and I didn’t think it would be telling you anything you didn’t already know.
So in keeping with what we began last night as I shared my personal writing journey and some thoughts on what it means to become a writer I thought it more appropriate to share with you what the power of words in my life
. . . was . . . is . . . and will be because as writers we all understand that the one common aim of our writings is to say something that will resonate with others, that our stories will matter in what Carl Jung called the collective consciousness, or the Greater Narrative. That we have something to say.
And I would suggest that this is true not just for the writer but is apropos for all our gifts. Don’t we all want to
An Orkan becomes a Human
A guest post from novelist Ann Tatlock
“Jesus told his disciples a story….” Luke 18:1, NLT
Remember the Mork Report? In the 70s sit-com “Mork and Mindy,” Robin Williams played the alien Mork from Ork who was sent to earth to study human behavior. At the end of each episode, he reported his findings to Orson, his Orkan boss. Mork often seemed baffled by this strange species called humankind, yet at the same time, he longed to be like them.
I myself am baffled by at least one segment of the human race—those who don’t read novels, claiming fictional stories to be entertainment at best, a waste of time at worst.
A waste of time?
How do we begin to learn as very young children? Most often through stories. What inspires our play and lays the foundation for the games that challenge us and help us grow? Stories. What carries us off to places and times that we otherwise wouldn’t experience and, in so doing, makes them a very real part of our lives? Stories. It’s only natural that this should be so. We were created for stories.
Jesus knew this, for he was himself a storyteller. Not that what he said wasn’t true, but he often wrapped the truth in fictional packages called parables. By doing so, he gained his listeners’ attention, captured their imagination and gave them images they could understand and hold onto. Novelists today are simply doing as Jesus did, offering truths within the context of fictional narratives.
Stories affect us profoundly. Stories have the power to change minds, change hearts, change lives. That’s because, as C.S. Lewis put it, stories have the ability to “baptize the imagination.”
And Lewis should know. He was an atheist until he read Phantastes by George MacDonald. Upon reading this story, Lewis claims his imagination was in a certain sense baptized because his mind was first opened to the possibility