November 15, 2009

A penny for your thoughts

Filed under: links,living in the future,Q&A — Tags: , — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 3:54 pm

A friend linked me to the discussion that’s been going on in writerly circles about donation buttons, direct selling to your readers and whether it’s possible to make money from online publication. Here are the posts I’ve been reading:

  • Steven Brust on begging for alms
  • Bill Ward on patronage and an online audience
  • Cory Doctorow in Locus about creative commons licenses and other ways of gaining attention for your books
  • Paul Raven in a Futurismic blog post about how to make money from fiction in the internet age
  • Since plenty of bright people will be putting forward their two cents of thoughts into the discussion I’m not claiming mine are the ultimate answer. Here’s where I stand on some of the questions that have been asked.

    Steven Brust asked what people thought about him putting a donation button on his website to help him with his finances because he is “bad at money management”.

    To this I’d say he’s perfectly free to put such a button on his site just as visitors are free to ignore it. I personally wouldn’t use it to donate to him. While it’s true that the author gets a pretty pitiful percentage of the cover price, this is how conventional publishing works. Very few people make large amounts of money from their writing – most writers do not make enough to support themselves, let alone their family. I’m not saying this is how things should be – but I’d rather look at solutions that affect the whole system and donating to Brust wouldn’t be a solution to anything other than gaining him a bit more cash.

    I donate to Brust by buying every last one of his Dragaera books, regardless of quality, typically in hardback. I then later buy again in paperback and donate the hardback to charity. If he’d like to make some extra cash from me then offering me something that would appeal to me as a fan of the novels would be a better way to persuade me. But again, I personally would prefer to donate extra content to my fans – hoping to persuade them into buying more books.

    I also don’t think being bad at money management is a good enough reason for a “moderately successful novelist” to ask for money. I can understand his problem, I can share his pain (I too am Not Good at money management) but I think you shouldn’t ask dedicated fans (who have already bought the product, see below on those who haven’t) to pay something for nothing.

    Paul Raven asked “leaving aside dead-tree or digital books bought in the traditional manner, where do you pay to read fiction, if anywhere? What does it take to get you to pay, and what amount seems reasonable to you for what you’re getting – if anything?”

    The answer to this, for me, is I don’t pay for fiction except from booksellers. I gain my reading matter either from a bookshop or online seller, for free as a review copy or gift, for cheap from a second-hand shop or (occasionally, but not often) borrow them from a library. I do pay for some online services (generally the ad free version or premium version of a site I use) but I have never donated money to an author or paid an author directly for their product. It would take a lot for me to be persuaded to. If Ursula Le Guin was in some sort of extremis (in danger of being without shelter or food) then I would donate to her and if she produced a book that was only available to be be bought direct from her website, I would buy that book. But she is my favourite author.

    I think I might make more of an exception for physical book objects or book-relate objects sold at promotional events. If I went to a book fair and found an author signing copies of their books and a table of books to be bought, assuming that I liked that author’s work in the first place and the prices of the objects seemed reasonable, I might then buy a self-published book by that author. As for what constitutes a reasonable amount, I wouldn’t pay anything higher than publishing company prices (between £4,99 and £14.99) and I’d be less likely to buy something at the high end.

    Cory Doctorow asked
    a) Will people donate to support a free book? How much? Will they donate more to support an audiobook or a print edition?
    b) How much work does it take to replicate a professional publisher’s contribution to publicizing and distributing your book?
    c) How much demand is there for premium editions, and what characteristics make those premium editions more valuable?

    My replies are:

    a) If you’re donating in order to gain a copy of a book, how is that book free? I would describe this as buying a book. I personally prefer physical book objects because they are easier on the eye and I can read them in the bath.

    b) Publicity and distribution are THE main things a professional contract gets you. (Also good editing if you’re lucky enough to have an editor who you work well with, but that’s not a given.) Even when the marketing of a book is effectively zero, you’re still benefiting from the name of the publishing company, a listing in their catalogue, and the kudos of professional publication. A known name like Macmillan is worth a lot to an author, especially when compared to a smaller lesser known publisher or a self-published title. I don’t think it’s possible to replicate this sort of distribution or publicity. Self-published books have to find a different method of distribution and a different kind of marketing. Viral marketing and word-of-mouth marketing are good for this type of title but very difficult to create yourself.

    c) A premium edition would have to press a quality of specialness that I actually wanted.

    JKR’s special charity editions of her tie-in Harry Potter title were handwritten by the author. I personally don’t give a damn about having a personal handwritten edition, I like print. It pains me to think of an author I cared about wasting their time laboriously copying out their words when they could be getting on with a new book. I wouldn’t want to support them in doing this for fear it would become popular.

    When it comes to books I don’t want or need them to have lots of bells and whistles. I barely remember to read the ‘Forward by Famous Person’ sections and when I do I find them so full of lushing up and soft soap I don’t care for them. I don’t need more artwork or a free CD or a special bookmark. I just want the words.

    I wish it was easier for authors to make money from their writing. But right now I don’t see a way to achieve that.

    March 17, 2009

    Blogging Sisterhood Award

    Filed under: awards,links,news — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 4:24 pm

    I have been given a Blogging Sisterhood Award by Scribble City Central. Lucy Coats writes: “Rhiannon has directed me to all sorts of wonderful places I never would have discovered without her. And she really (no, I mean REALLY) knows her stuff on the book front. A goldmine of interesting information. At least it is for me.”

    Thank you, Lucy, for your generous critique!

    The Blogging Sisterhood Award was created by Diana of Diana Rambles and is designed to be passed on. When you are gifted with it, you should pass it on. Scribble City Central suggested listing ten names of other bloggers but I’m not actively following enough blogs to nominate that many.

    Instead I shall list three blogs, to which I am passing the award on:

    • Hijab Style, a fashion blog for Muslim women
    • Farah Mendlesohn’s Inter-Galactic Playground, a children’s science fiction review blog; the blog is officially defunct now the book has been published but has lots of really interesting recommendations in the field of YA SF
    • Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose, a feminist blog

    Thank you to all three blogs for having informed and entertained me.

    Note: Some readers of this blog may be wondering about what connection my blog choices have to my life choices. I am a feminist and I believe in the gospel of size-acceptance. I am not a Muslim and I do not wear hijab, but I am interested in Islamic culture and dress. I am a YA SF writer and have been reviewed at the Inter-Galactic Playground but it’s for the recommendations of books other than my own that I am recommending it. I’m assuming that people reading my blog already know about my books!

    February 17, 2009

    What was that book?

    Filed under: links — Tags: — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 5:34 pm

    A while ago I used to run a ‘what was that book’ forum on the fan forum section of my website. I stopped running the forum but in the last couple of years I’ve been a member of a website called which does the same thing. The idea is that people post their missing books (stories they remember but cannot place the title and author) and other readers comment to say if they know what the book was.

    I can’t tell you how much I enjoy doing this. It’s like a game and resource all at once.

    My profile page on whatsthatbook is here and lists my replies to questions and my correctly identified books. Other authors may be amused to see which books of theirs people have forgotten!

    I’ve noticed some books that often show up on sites like this:
    The Changeover by Margaret Mahy
    Everything ever written by Monica Hughes, but especially Keeper of the Isis Light
    Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
    Drinking Sapphire Wine by Tanith Lee

    I once identified a book for someone on the basis of a description that “it was brown and was about a girl who could talk to animals”. Can anyone else place the book I’m talking about?

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