Sunday, April 19, 2009

Flash Me

The May issue of The Writer has an insider's guide to flash fiction by Mary Miller, along with a short list of info on seven flash fiction markets: Elimae, Hobart, Juked, Quick Fiction, Smoke Long, Subtropics, and Wigleaf. No payment info offered, but if you're a flasher, check out the web sites for more details.

Our blogpal Simon Haynes got a double mention in this issue as well; Scott Rhoades listed his yWriter and Sonar freeware in his article Great Software that Won't Cost You a Dime.

Poets & Writers magazine May/June issue has a big splashy article on author Jay McInerney and his well-publicized woes and trimuphs, but I liked the indepth article about author Joe Meno and how he survived what was supposed to be the end of his writing career. He did it by selling a novel his former major publisher and twenty others had passed on to an indie upstart publisher. What's interesting about Joe's story is that he's a literary writer, but was considered washed up after his first two novels sold fewer than 3K copies each. I've heard of that happening with four or five books, and once in a while with three, but given only two shots? Given the amount of competition, especially in the lit end of the biz, and the fact that very few books earn out anyway, I think that's unrealistic.

I'm just curious -- how many chances (as in published books) do you guys think a writer should be given to turn a profit for a publisher?


  1. I can't answer this without knowing what it takes to turn a profit for a publisher?

    and what the publisher has invested in the book upfront?

    and how wide a distribution the book was given?

    and if that distribution was backed up by real marketing efforts?

    and what percentage of books do turn a profit for a publisher?

    You gave us real numbers on a real royalty statement and I can't thank you enough for that openness. But without that kind of openness all up ladder, I think it's unreasonable to expect authors bow to the realities of the business when those same realities are shielded from us.

  2. Thanks for the mention!

  3. 2 maybe 3 is what I would have guessed. And with bookstores basing orders on how well the last book in the same format (mm, etc.) by the same author sold, it has to be getting harder and harder to dig out of a hole.
    As to how many SHOULD they get? I don't know. I think it depends on the book. Times change...a series that didn't sell well two years ago, might have a good shot today. So, if the publisher cut it off too soon they could be missing out.
    Also are we talking declining numbers book to book, or numbers that just aren't increasing like the house would like? An author is going to feel a lot different about that than the person staring at the P&L who has 4 million other authors nipping at her heels wanting a spot. Bright shiny new authors without that mediocre history. (sigh)
    I think my biggest issue with this system is that one stinker could really shoot your career in the a$$.

  4. That's a tough question. Lit fiction isn't usually a big money-maker, is it? I think in genre fiction you might get three because you have to have time to build and releases come out close enough together that book 3 has to already be in the schedule to benefit from momentum. But lit fiction goes on a slower schedule, I think, so I'd expect more time between books. Maybe enough time to have seen the numbers on the first two before taking a look at #3.

    The reality of publishing is that a lot of books don't earn out. And I think writers get a shorter life-cycle now than they used to, when it was expected that they'd need years and several books to build.

  5. That's a hard question. Sometimes books arrive too early on the market and the interest just isn't there. I'd hate to see a good book die just because of that. BUT a bad book is a bad book. You can't force people to buy it. I definitely think a second chance ought to be offered. It gives the author the opportunity approach his/her audience again, this time with some knowledge of what might have gone wrong the first time around. A third book after two failures would seem to me to be the last chance. If a writer hasn't learned to capture his/her audience by then, I don't think that he/she's will ever learn.


  6. When I worked as an editor (which was some time ago, I'll admit), one thing was clear: while many books failed to earn out (based on my hazy memories, I'd guess now that only 30% do--but don't quote me on that), most still turned in a profit for their publishers. How many? I'm not sure: but I doubt that we lost money on 20-25% of the books that we worked on, if that.

    I'd like to see far more transparency in publishing; I don't think things are hidden because of some great conspiracy, but because editors are too busy to do much more than they're doing, and the administrators are largely disconnected from the writers and aspiring writers who want to know all this stuff. It's why I blog as I do (my main blog is called How Publishing Really Works, but I have a collaborative fiction blog too, and a review site); it's still not enough.

  7. I heard Joe Meno read at the AWP conference this past February -- that man definitely deserved a third shot!

    The literary market is even scarier than the genre market -- perhaps why the lit market writers all try to get seats as tenured professors -- publishers are looking for "literary acclaim" as much as the big numbers. Acclaim (read: name recognition) they can build off of as much as they can build off of good sales numbers.

  8. I'd like to see authors getting three or four chances (ie deals) to hit their writing stride, but the reality is these days you'd better hit it out of the park on the first swing or you may not get another chance. Publishers want immediate success or so I've been told. :)

  9. I think a lot depends on the size of a publisher. A large group like Bloomsbury can probably afford more loss-making books than a small press with only three or four titles on its list.

    There's also the question of why the first book lost money. If there's a good idea about why and a plan to put it right, the publishers will probably be more prepared to take a chance than if they have no idea why the book bombed. Or if the reason why can't be fixed (that category suddenly died overnight, frex).

    It would be interesting to look back at authors who are successful now but who took time to become established, and see how many second chances they got.

  10. Just another thank you for all the information you share. This post counts--and I'm also thinking about that sales figure post of a bestseller, which is fantastic.

    That is all. Thank you.

  11. Good article. Here's a another market for you.

    The Rose City Sisters is an online flash fiction anthology now accepting stories. Details? Right here:

    Note that one quirky requirement. No, we're not kidding.