I know I’ve gone dark over the last few months. I’m sure that’s left many people wondering about the status of The Last Firewall, my third Singularity novel.

I’m delighted to announce that The Last Firewall will be available this summer. I’m targeting an August launch. 
So why the long wait?

As you may know, my previous novels are all self-published. They’ve sold well, but I often wondered how many more readers might find my books if I went with a traditional publisher.
In addition, many folks have asked “When will we see the movie version?” about Avogadro Corp and A.I. Apocalypse, but very few self-published novels have made that leap. Hollywood often judges potential movie options by the interest publishers take in novels. That was another reason why I was interested in traditional publication.
I started working with a literary agent who saw great promise in The Last Firewall, but wanted substantial revisions. I subsequently worked on The Last Firewall for another eight months until it gleamed brighter than the titanium shell of a robot.
That’s where I’ve been for a while, and I think the results are great: I’m convinced it reads better than anything I’ve done before, and a few other folks have read the manuscript and agree.
However, traditional publishing is a tough nut to crack, and if I persist with that path, The Last Firewall will continue to languish on my computer when it really wants to be read.
So I’m self-publishing The Last Firewall, as I have my other novels. It’s worked great in the past, and I’m happy to be going this route again. I’m choosing cover images and working on cover design right now, even as the manuscript undergoes a final round of proofreading.

I think it’s going to be awesome, and can’t wait to get it in your hands. If you haven’t done so, sign up for the mailing list and I’ll let you know when it’s available. 

This is an amazing deal: Audible just bought Avogadro Corp and A.I. Apocalypse audio books on sale for $1.99 each!

As I don’t have any control over Audible.com pricing, this is an exciting opportunity to pick the audio editions up at a significant discount compared to their usual price of $17.95. I don’t know how long it will last, so take advantage of it while you can!

Democratization of Publishing: Survive & Thrive
Aaron Rubenson, Director Amazon Appstore for Android, Amazon
John Densmore, Artist, @JohnDensmore
Libby Johnson Mckee, North America Director, Kindle Direct Publishing, @libbyjm3415
Steve Carpenter, author, creator of Grimm series on NBC, @GrimmStephen
Guy Kawasaki, @GuyKawasaki

·      LJM: All of these guests have had the opportunity to traditionally publish and chose to self-publish.
·      John Densmore
o   Had 6 figure deal from major publisher
o   Kept getting requests “more stories about Jim Morrison”, “we don’t like the title”.
§  They wanted “The Doors: The Inside Story”
o   Realized my baby was going to be morphed into something I didn’t want.
·      Steve Carpenter
o   Very similar story to John.
o   Wanted creative control.
o   No bar to entry.
o   I just had to figure out how to upload the book, and then I was published.
o   It was up to me to sink or swim.
o   After waiting 4 to 6 weeks just to get a phone call returned, I realized I would have to wait a year or more to see it in print.
o   And also realized I’d have to pay an agent 15%, which is more than the 10% I pay for movie agent.
o   So I decided to do it on a lark.
o   The first reviews all mentioned the lousy formatting. So I unpublished the book, hired a real person to reformat it.
o   Then the reviews mentioned they didn’t like the ending. So I unpublished it, rewrote the ending, and published it again.
o   I’d rather hear from thousand of people who paid money to read the book than to hear from one person to whom I am paying money.
·      Guy Kawasaki
o   I’ve published a lot of books, so I have more creative control.
o   But the speed of publishing: it’s less than 24 hours with KDP. With a traditional publisher, even the fastest is at least six months, and they lock the print and ebook together.
o   The royalties are great: If I had a $10 book, I make $7 with KDP, and I’d make maybe $1 traditionally published. That’s 7 times the revenue.
·      Rubenson:
o   Apps grew up in the a world that was self-publishing from the beginning.
o   There’s so many self-service options out there, which one to choose from? There are many different stores.
o   The challenge is where to publish and how to get discovered.
·      Q: This shift happening in publishing, where if everyone publishes, then there is so much out there. How do you stand out in a crowd? Is this a problem?
o   Guy:
§  You shouldn’t have gates up. If I have a choice between 6 large companies in NY picking what people can read and everyone can pick forthemselves, I would choose that everyone picks.
§  It doesn’t matter now who the publisher is. The proxy for quality isn’t the publisher, it’s the number of stars on the revenues.
§  Spend $1,000 and get a professional cover.
·      You have about a second to make people click.
o   Carpenter:
§  I struggled with this for a while.
§  Went to a panel this morning, speaker said: “The good news is that it’s a meritocracy. Be awesome.”
§  The tools for being discovered are way better now than four years ago.
§  Get into KDP Select. “Think like a drug dealer. Give away the stuff for free.”
o   Densmore:
§  Thanks to technology, everyone can make their own music, movie, book.
§  I hired –someone- to do my cover. The cover is hot. So hot that publishers are coming back to talk to me.
o   Carpenter: Made a tabletop display. Cost me $300. I put them in a friend’s coffeeshop, go into bookstores and put them into the books there.
·      Q: There’s a lot of conversation about how authors have to build their platform. But authors ask “How do I do that?” What are your platforms?
o   Guy:
§  Platform is the sum total of the number of people in the world who have heard of you.
§  Start today. It takes 6 to 9 months to build a platform.
§  Use the NPR model.
·      They make great content 365 days a year.
·      They have a telethon to raise money once a year.
·      They have earned the right to bother us during the telethon because they’ve shared such great stuff all year long.
§  As an author, you must share great content on a subject. You are establishing credibility and expertise in a given area.
o   Carpenter:
§  I asked my 16 year old son how to tweet.
·      He said “Just pretend you have a cool life.”
o   Rubenson:
§  The tools are often the same for app developers.
§  Developers spend a ton of effort to use one app to build the platform for future apps: by cross-merchandising other apps, by selling stuff within the next.
·      Their goal is to get to 100% adoption of their next app from the current app users.
o   Densmore:
§  I had to ask my son to turn on the television there were so many buttons. Now I tweet and use facebook.
§  There’s people who won’t admit that they want as many people as possible to see their baby. That’s the first step.
·      Q: There’s a shift from the business of writing to the business of publishing. Can you talk about the shift in your mindset?
o   Guy:
§  Everything that a traditional publisher does, you now have to do yourself. With total control comes total responsibility. You have to do it or hire people to do it.
o   Carpenter:
§  Don’t pass up any opportunity. Do they have a blogger with six followers? Do something with them. Don’t turn down an interview.
§  Guy: If they have one follower, don’t turn them down. They could be the next west coast director for Rolling Stone.
o   Rubenson:
§  Developers are looking at exploiting intellectual property across all of their properties. The Angry Bird folks have a cookbook, merchandise, etc. They want creative content that spawns everything.
o   Guy:
§  My 10th book was called Enchancement. I thought that was the pinnacle of my literary achievement. So I got a facebook page forenchancement. Now I have 35,000 people following that page. I can’t move them over. I should have done a fanpage for Guy the Author. Now what do I do? A page for each book? That doesn’t help me market the next book.
·      Q: Let’s talk about pricing. I get the most questions. What’s the role of free? How do you think about pricing?
o   Densmore:
§  I priced in the middle ground.
o   Carpenter:
§  Trial and error. I tried a bunch of different prices. Since you can choose yourself, why not try a bunch of different things?
§  I thought it was important to stay under $5. Because of the retail theory that anything under $5 people don’t think that much about.
§  I eventually settled on $3.99.
§  I love the free promotions. It allows the book to get up onto a list. It doesn’t matter that it’s the free list. It’s right there next to the paid list.
§  Let it ride, let it get out there. Get onto that first page.
§  People who get your book for free tend to write really positive reviews.
o   Guy:
§  We wanted APE to be taken very seriously. It’s not a get rich quick. I want it to the Chicago Manual of Style, not get-rich-quick.
§  We wanted the lowest price that still seem serious. That’s $9.99.
§  We also wanted to get the 70% royalty.
§  (We got blessed to be the Kindle Daily Deal one day, sold thousands of books.)
§  If you price your book too cheap, it sends the message it’s not good.
§  If I was a novice novelist, I might try 99 cents to get to $2.99.
§  But for non-fiction, pricing it too cheap sends a message that something is wrong.
§  I sent a message to 5 million of my closest friends, asking people to fill out a form, if they wanted a review copy.
·      We sent out a thousand or so full manuscripts.
·      Amazon won’t let people post reviews until the book is for sale.
·      So after the book went on sale, I sent a follow up message to those people with the manuscript, and told them to post their reviews.
·      And so the first day of sales started with 50 reviews.
·      Q: What have you learned? What shocked you?
o   Guy: It astonished me that to this day, people think that they need a kindle device to read a kindle book. I was stunned people didn’t know there is a kindle app for every platform.
o   Carpenter: The thing that shocked me is how many books I sold. I did it as a lark. I did no social media. It took about six months, and then something just kicked in.

Self-Publishing in the Age of E
Hugh Howey (Wool, @hughhowey),
Kirby Kim (William Morris Endeavor, @pantherfist)
Rachel Deahl (Publishers Weekly, @PW_Deals)
Erin Brown (Erin Edits)


·      Self-publishing not new. Anyone can publish, find an audience.
·      50 Shades of Gray, essentially self-published, fastest selling adult series of all time.
·      Number of books self-published has grown nearly 3x.
·      About 250K books self-published books per year.
·      Q: More projects start as self-published, and are they of higher quality?
o   Kim:
§  Authors trying to show that they have a sales platform, that they can get reviews.
§  But for quality, not necessarily. Even if someone puts something on Amazon, I am still looking at whether the project is appropriate for me, their query letter.
·      Q: Has 50 Shades changed things?
o   Kim:
§  At one time, it cost money to self-publish, and lots of barriers: hard to get books into stores.
§  It’s a natural result of more ereaders and ease of publishing that more works are self-published.
·      Q: Hugh, you went traditional, then self-published.
o   Howey: I saw my traditional publisher using the same tools for self-publishing any author would. When I looked at the royalties and the amount of work involved, it was obvious I could do it myself. It’s a startup with zero up front costs if you’re willing to do the work yourself.
·      Q: What about pricing?
o   Howey: I wanted to make them free, but Amazon wouldn’t let me, so I set them for 99 cents. Then readers would complain that they couldn’t find my books because they were underpriced, so I raised the price.
·      Q: When did you decide to get an agent?
o   Howey: I didn’t, I was too busy writing. I was pitched by Kristen (his future agent) that I was missing out on all these other markets.
o   My sales were a hundred thousand copies per month. Publishers were offering advances comparable to just a few months of royalties.
·      Q: When should people go self-published vs. traditionally published?
o   Brown:
§  I encourage people to go traditionally published first, including getting an agent who will protect their interests. Publishers are also useful feedback: if you get criticism, then maybe you need to address that feedback.
§  Success stories are still few and far between in self-publishing.
o   Howey: It’s hard in both paths. And I know hundreds of people online who are quitting their day jobs and earning a modest income from their self-publishing writing, and that is really hard to accomplish with traditional publication.
·      Q: “Amazon bestseller” is thrown around a lot, and it’s a slippery term.
o   Kim:
§  Agents have to decide that either they are going to work on books they have a passion for, or sometimes they’ll work outside their comfort zone. They’ll think “oh, there’s some money here.” The agent then is left focusing on the wrong thing: the numbers. It makes it hard for them to pick up the phone and call editors and pitch the book with enthusiasm.
§  Some people are successfully leveraging that sales platform.
·      Q: Is it harder to find success in either way, given that so many people are self-publishing, is there too much competition?
o   Howey:
§  We can’t possibly produce enough material to entertain all the readers.
§  I don’t worry about it. I write because I enjoy it, and I’d keep writing if I never sold a book.
§  Writers are not my competition. We’re all in it together.
o   Brown:
§  Finding quality material is about the same: you’re looking for a needle in a haystack. Readers are looking for so many different things. There are storytellers who are great writers, and great writers who aren’t good storytellers. Some people love 50 Shades, and some hate it.
o   Kim:
§  All boats rise with the tide. These are dark days in the industry. When you hear of any book working out, it’s good for everyone.
§  Publishers are learning about new markets, markets that were underserved.
·      Q: Howey did a unique deal with S&S. Can you tell us about that?
o   Howey:
§  It make be dark days for publishing, but publishers are making record profits. The upside for ebooks is huge.
§  I said to publishers, if you want the print rights, you can have them, but I’m keeping the e-rights. I get paid every month with ebooks, I can’t afford to give that up, and only get paid every six months.
§  S&S came to me with the deal I had wanted all along: they bought the print rights, and left all the erights with the Howey.
§  I still want to be an indie author. “I don’t want the stigma of being with a big publisher.”
o   Kim:
§  Ebooks are outselling print books now.
§  So it’s extremely rare for a publisher to give that up.
§  Howey had an a lot of leverage based on the strength of his sales.
o   Howey:
§  I’m not the first person to do this, and I’m not the last. Next year we’ll have a panel on how to do print-only negotiations.
§  The publisher sees the sales, and they’d rather have part of something, than nothing.
o   Kim:
§  It’s hard to bootstrap sales from nothing. Having sales is a big deal.
·      Q: What were you selling in digital versus print, and how did you sell those print copies?
o   Howey:
§  The up-front cost of producing physical books has gone to zero.
§  Fans will want them. You need to bring them to signings. They’re nice to have on your shelf. Some readers are always going to want print books.
§  When you sell hundreds of thousands of books, people are going to talk about it. When the coworker who doesn’t have an ereader wants it, they look for a print copy. When a Barnes and Noble gets 5 people who ask for a book, they’re going to stock it at a bookstore.
§  S&S has done a second print run of the hardback already. True fans want the ebook and then they also want the print copy too.
·      Q: The success stories (Amanda Hocking, Bella …, etc.) are genre writers with a lot of books self-published. Do you need to be writing genre fiction? And do you need a lot of books published?
o   Brown: It’s helpful to write that way. In traditional publishing, I dealt mostly with genre fiction. They have rapid fans who want to read a lot of books, at least a book or two a year. If a writer publishes a book every five years, they can’t sustain their fan base.
o   Kim.
§  Agree with above. Genre readers, who read a lot of books, have a particular affinity for the ebook form. They don’t want a stack of 100 physical books.
§  For commercial novels, you need to get into the 50,000 sales range before they are impressed. 5,000 sales doesn’t cut it anymore, unless you’re talking about a literary novel.
o   Howey: We have to remember what readers want. Look at TV, and what’s popular. People want fun, they want escapism. They want Twilight and 50 Shades.
o   Kim: You also see people coming out of MFA programs and they want to write a literary genre novel: it’s a science fiction setting, but it’s a sophisticated writing style. They’re elevating the entire category.
·      Q: Is Hollywood having a hunger for self-pubbed works, or are they just motivated by sales?
o   Kim: Hollywood wants commercial stories, and most self-pubbed successes are very commercial. Hollywood is looking for a good story.
o   Howey: Hollywood is dying for the next thing. They’ll option a twitter feed or a grocery list. The economics are different: $5,000 is a big deal for a publisher, and it’s a valet ticket for Hollywood.
·      Q: Is erotica tapped out after 50 Shades?
o   Brown: Romance and erotica has been around forever. It’s not changing.
o   Kim: We see 50 Shades and knockoffs on the racks even at airports now.
o   Howey: I think the anonymity of ereaders and reading online allowed it to expand. We’ll never see another 50 Shades, because you’ll never be able to brag about reading BDSM erotica again. Once is curiosity, and twice is perversion.
o   New Adult: It’s YA books, ramped up, and more explicit, with risqué sexual themes.
o   Howey: The books are following the readers. Harry Potter readers became Twilight readers.
·      Q: What’s the biggest misconceptions about traditional and self-publishing?
o   Brown:
§  MisCon: That traditional publishers are heartless corporations out to extract every last dime. But publishers are full of people who love and breath books, and want them and the authors to succeed.
§  MisCon: That you’re going to get a big advance and quit your day job. It’s not going to happen, and it’s split among four payments over a year or more.
§  MisCon: That, for self-publishing, that you don’t need an editor. And that success is easy or overnight.
o   Kim:
§  We’re all in it because we love it. Discovery is the best part of the job, championing and advocating for it.
§  MisCon: That your job is over once the publisher has the book. You have a lot of work ahead of you, lots of pounding the pavement, lots of work to get the word out.
§  MisCon: That self-pub is easy. The odds are still against you.
o   Howey:
§  Everyone I worked with at traditional publishing has been amazing, even the ones I had to say no to.
§  MisCon: That once you get an agent or a book out there, that you have a career ahead of you. The reality is that you have six months to prove yourself. In my case, it took three years for me to take off. I’ve had friends whose dreams has been crushed when the traditional publishing didn’t turn out the way they wanted.
§  MisCon: That self-pub and traditional pub is very different in quality. They aren’t, the only difference is that the self-pub slushpile is available for purchase. If you look at the top 1%, they are of roughly equal quality.
·      Questions from audience
o   Q: Why would an author who does the hard work to build an audience, why would you go with a traditional publisher?
§  Howey:
·      Publishers are doing e-only imprints to get authors into the stable early, because once a book becomes big, it is too expensive for them to acquire.
·      We will see more hybrid deals.
§  Kim:
·      Publishers can help you break out, reach new audiences, at a faster pace.
·      Publishers can help you get reviews, they can give you some financial security up front.
o   Q: From an editors point of view, do you have a preference for who to work with? What should selfpub authors do to not make their editors mad?
§  Brown: I’m never mad at my writers. I always work directly with writers. I get a clients manuscript in the best shape possible, whether they are pitching agents or self-publishing. I can’t make promises. It’s a collaborative relationship to make the best relationship possible.
o   Q: What are you seeing for kid’s books, especially with ereaders? Is there much talk in the industry about it?
§  Deahl:
·      All of the children’s publishers see apps as a major potential revenue stream. It’s not been the business they’ve been in, so it’s something new. Is it the product? It is ancillary? How do we price it? How do we link it to the book?
·      No obvious examples of anything that’s been big revenue generators.
o   Q: Are there any creative, outside the box examples of authors who were able to market their books?
§  Kim: John Green, his first thousand books he sold on Amazon were signed copies. He always had a fan base, so this was a big boost for that book. He also has done a lot of viral videos with his brother.
§  Howey: science fiction author did his own audiobooks serially.
o   Q: As a big six publisher, what can we do, within reason, to recruit new authors and keep them happy?
§  Howey: Pay us monthly, and show us real-time sales, so I can see the effects of the marketing I do.
§  Kim: We have full agency meetings about marketing. We have our own brainstorming meetings for marketing our authors. We want publishers to come to us early and have a candid conversation about marketing and trying new things. Too often we see the same old stuff.
o   Q: How can business founders who are writing business or self-help books market their books?
§  Howey: it’s easier for those kinds of books, you just need to get the meta-data right, so people can find it when they search for the topic.
o   Q: Lots of new digital marketing tools out there like goodreads. Are you using them, and what do you use?
§  Howey: My blog post this morning was thanking my goodread readers. It’s good to engage with your readers, rather than try to brow-beat other people into your books.

In 2012, I organized a panel at SXSW on the future of artificial intelligence with Robopocalypse author Daniel H. Wilson.

I’ve spoken at SX many times, but I was pretty excited last year because it was the first time I was going since my novels had been published and, alongside Daniel, I was scheduled for an signing slot at the onsite Barnes & Noble bookstore. My first book signing!

Unfortunately, when I arrived, it turned out Barnes & Noble had failed to actually get any copies of my books, and so my signing didn’t happen.

I had dinner with a Barnes & Noble Vice President the next night (a weird coincidence), and told her my story. She was very apologetic, and asked if there was anything she could do. Joking, I said, “It’s OK, I just told everyone to buy my books on Amazon.” She face-palmed, and we both laughed over it.

I’m going back to SXSW this year. I was invited to do a reading from my second novel, and again asked to do a signing at the bookstore.

But, once again, Barnes & Noble won’t stock my book. (This time they at least told me up front.) It turns out they won’t order copies because it’s a print-on-demand book.

The reason this matters has to do with the relationship between publishers and bookstores. Traditionally, publishers take all the risk. The bookstore orders a book, and if they don’t sell it, they send it back to the publisher, who gives them a full refund. It doesn’t work this way with print-on-demand books however: if the bookstore orders it, they’ve assumed the risk and can’t return it.

However, this is still a decision for the bookstore to make. Will they accept some risk in exchange for being able to make a sale they wouldn’t make otherwise? (All business decisions carry some risk; if they choose not to stock the book, they’re accepting the risk of lost sales.)

Amazon ordered several hundred copies of my print books going into the holiday season to ensure that they’d have sufficient stock to handle Christmas sales. They took the risk to stock those books (paying my royalties up front, and well as paying the cost of making a print-on-demand book), in order to be better able to fulfill their hoped-for sales.

I’ve sold tens of thousands of books in the last year, and though I have distribution of both ebooks and print through Barnes & Noble, 99.5% of my sales have been through Amazon.

When Barnes & Noble doesn’t stock my book, they can’t make the sale. They’re choosing to give the sale to their primary competitor. Readers lose out on chance discoveries, indie-authors are alienated, and in the end, Barnes & Noble risks business irrelevance.

It’s no wonder the financial news for Barnes & Noble looks bleak: Where Barnes & Noble Went Wrong, How Many Strikes Does Barnes & Noble Get? and Outlook Dims for Barnes & Noble.

By the way, if you’ll be at SXSW this year, I’d love to get together. Along with Gene Kim, we’ll probably do a bar-meetup one night and buy drinks. I’ll sign Amazon-purchased books, kindles, or business cards. Just don’t expect to buy my books from Barnes & Noble.

Several years ago, before I’d published any of my books, I read Charles Stross’s essays on the publishing industry.

His essay on writing income, in particular, was quite discouraging to a new would-be writer. 
My favorite author, a good mid-list author, could just barely scrap by on his writing income. And it turned out the writers have the highest income inequality of nearly all professions. He quotes from a research article “The top 10% of authors earn more than 50% of total income, while the bottom 50% earn less than 10% of total income.”

Fast forward a few years. While the economics of the traditional publishing industry has stayed much the same, the economics of the indie publishing industry are very different. 
The ratio of inequality may still exist, as there are many people self-publishing, but in terms of absolute terms: the number of writers capable of being supported by writing as a full time career has grown.
Here’s why:
A Bigger Bite of Pie
Self-published authors get a bigger bite of piece with every book sold. The exact figures seem to vary, but on average, traditionally published authors get about 60 cents for every book sold.
By comparison, when selling indie-published ebooks at $2.99 (a common price point, and the medium that self-published authors tend to sell the most in — see my essay on pricing), authors get about $2.00 per book. 
A traditionally published author would need to sell 125,000 books to earn a $75,000 income, while a self-published author could earn the same income selling 37,500 books.

More Slices
The number of books many readers buy is limited to a portion of their disposable income. At $10 each, traditionally published books are expensive.
With the exception of non-fiction books that address a niche topic, most books are fungible. That is, a reader wants to read a book they’ll love in genre X, and any of thousands of different books will fulfill that need. (I differ from Stross in this regard, as he says books are non-fungible.)
If a reader who is budget limited can buy indie-published books at $2.99 as compared to traditionally published books $9.99, they will buy more of the less expensive books. 
They can afford to buy 3 times as many, therefore, the total number of books purchased is greater.
Not all readers are budget limited, but if we assume that half are, then we’re floating the entire book market by 50%.
Since the indie-author’s royalty per book is higher, and their books are priced such that readers can afford to buy more books, the total royalties available to indie writers are about 4 1/2 times greater than that available to traditionally published authors.
Even if indie authors are subject to the same income inequity as their traditionally published brethren,  the economics will still support five times as many writers being supported by writing indie books.
If the income inequity is better or worse, then this difference will be magnified or diminished. Also, to be fair, we should realize that the traditional publishing industry supports a great many jobs (editors, proofers, designers) that don’t exist or are greatly diminished in the indie portion of the field. So we can’t look at it and say the indie movement is growing jobs as a whole, merely that it’s growing writers as a portion of that industry.
If you dream of being a full-time writer, it’s never been a better time to do it.

I frequently see authors panic when they discover that their years-long labor of love has appeared on a bit torrent or other filesharing site. Reactions range from tear-filled “How could they?” to more pragmatic “How can I get that site taken down?”

Not all authors reaction this way, but most do, especially new authors.

Don’t panic. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, it may help you sell more books. Here’s why:

  • Some people are looking strictly for free content. They’ll read any books they can download for free. They go to bit torrent search engines or sites that like books that have been pirated, and they get stuff that sounds good. They are extremely unlikely to buy a book if it’s not available illegally. They’ll just go read something else that’s free.
  • Some people buy books. They have an ecosystem that they love, whether that’s Amazon, iTunes, Smashwords, or Kobo, and they buy content in that ecosystem. They’re extremely unlikely to forego buying a book just because it happens to be available on a pirated content site somewhere.
  • A tiny percentage of people, probably far less than 1%, do fall into the category of people who will download for free if they can, and buy otherwise. But this truly is minuscule.
What does this mean?
First: It means that pirated copies are of your book are not likely to cost you very many sales at all, because few, if any, of the people who download pirated copies would have bought it.
Second: If your book is good, you’re likely to get additional word-of-mouth advertising from pirated copies. Just as with paid copies, a small percentage of readers, probably about 1%, will tell others what a good book you’ve written, either through face to face interactions, social media, or blog posts.
Third: If your book has been pirated, congratulations! Someone thought it was good enough to share. And many more people will now read it! (Surely you want people to read it, because if all you wanted was the money, there’s easier ways to make money.) Rejoice and celebrate: people like your book and they’re reading it, and that will drive sales.
Does this mean I want everyone to steal my book? 
Definitely not. I’d like to have enough legitimate sales to support myself as a writer. But I’m pretty sure most people will buy it, and that’s enough for me. Even though authors who have given their books away for free online (Cory Doctorow comes to mind) are making it as professional writers, so clearly the free availability of a book doesn’t preclude making a living from writing.
I do have a request:
If you download pirated books, support your favorite authors by recommending their books: tell friends, post on Twitter and Facebook, and write blog posts about it. Words cost you nothing but mean everything to authors.

Creating Blockbusters
by Gene Del Vecchio
Wow! This was a great talk. (Cue a dozen more exclamation points.) It was so great that I bought his book ten minutes into the talk. Unfortunately, I had to leave early to give a pitch, and I wasn’t able to capture even a quarter of the data Gene shared, but this should give you the flavor of the talk. Buy the book
  • Has done 30 years of consumer research
  • Does pilot episode research
  • 3 research studies just on Pirates of the Caribean
  • Research like “What does an audience want the protagonist to overcome?”
  • Most entertainment fails
    • most books don’t make back their advance
    • most tv shows/movies bomb
    • 5% of the movies make 90% of the profits
    • audiences tell us why stories disappoint
      • 59% say the story was boring
      • 50% say it was just stupid
      • 39% say it was not funny enough
      • 32% say not enough action
      • 23% say the characters were not relatable or aspiring
  • The analysis
    • decades of blockbusters
  • biggest movie franchises
    • harry potter, batman, pirates of Caribbean, star wars, james bond, shrek, lord of the rings, spider-man, transformers, jurassic park
  • blockbusters connect with the kid in all of use
    • one approach: take a child-like idea and make it edgy enough for adults, too.
  • The Gremlins: first PG-13 movie. Spielberg lobbied for it. Wanted to make a child-like movie that was edgy enough for adults.
  • The 11 Principles
    • 1: satisfy deep emotional needs
    • 2: align with ontemporary culture and trends
    • 3: create relatable, aspiring, memorable characters
    • 4: generate compelling story ideas
    • 5: add broad audience appeal
    • 6: build in elements that make it a franchise
    • 7: fix common execution problems
    • 8: create marketable artistry
    • 9: apply the ever-cool formula
    • 10: use research to optimize decisions
    • 11: launch an idea quest
  • Lucas made 4x the money on merchandise than he ever made on movies
  • “Marketing is ingrained in what you are writing”. It doesn’t come later.
  • satisfy deep emotional needs
    • chart with Maslov’s hierarchy of needs: physical needs, safety, love and belonging, esteem, self-actualization
    • slide showed chart:
      • jurassic park: survival
      • princess bride: love and belonging
      • esteem: breakfast club
      • self-actualization: bad news bears
      • best of the best: do all of them
        • avatar
        • star wars
    • Audience opinion
      • highest four things audience wanted to see:
        • survive life and death: 53%
        • be brave: 49%
        • fulfill full potential: 45%
        • find love w/ family/friends: 45%
        • stop evil: 43%
        • get respect: 39%
    • Character transformation
      • emotional
        • unconfident to confident
        • shy to bold
        • cowardice to bravery
        • selfish to selfless
        • unloved to loved
      • physical
      • Audience
        • weak to strong: 53%
        • helpess to survivor: 44%
        • loser to winner
        • coward to brave
        • no love to love
        • boring to exiting
        • no friends to some
    • Fears for protagonist to face:
      • death: 36%
      • personal injury: 35%
      • war: 30%
      • kidnapping: 30%
      • losing friends: 29%
      • being alone: 29%
      • kid’s biggest fear: public humiliation. even more than death!
  • Align with contemporary culture/trends
    • Successes
      • Monopoly was invented during the great depression wen people needed the get-rich fantasy
      • Barbie was introduced when little girl’s career fantasies were about to explode
      • Harry Potter released with interest in magic and fantasy growing
    • Trends
      • Technology/VR
      • total immersion
      • social networking
      • the great recision
      • natural disaster
      • environmental sensitivity
    • Pop culture
      • environmental
      • culture
  • Character archetypes
    • hero type
      • ultimate hero: superman
      • hero in training: luke skywalker, harry potter
      • everyday heros: soldiers, police
      • bombling heroes: maxwell smart, austin powers
    • nemeses
      • ultimate evil: darth vader, voldemort, sharks
      • bumbling evil: dr. evil from austin powers
      • bully: biff from back to the future
      • non-human: storms, disease, fire
  • characters in conflict
    • hero vs. nemesis
    • good/innocent vs. bad/unscrupulous
    • conformist vs revel
    • responsible vs. irresponsible
    • moral compass vs. morally challenged
    • striver vs. detrctor
  • iconic characters
    • warrior
    • king
  • audience:
    • spy/secret agent: 40% (#1 for kids)
    • vampire/werewolf: 35%
    • wizard, witch: 35%
    • adventureer/treasure hunter: 34%
    • mom/dad/kid: 34% (#2 for kids, #1 for women)
    • warrior/solder: 32%
    • mythics gods
    • scientist and inventor
    • bride/groom, boy/girlfriend: 24% (#2 for women)
  • creating compelling story
    • lots of different types of conflicts:
      • man vs. man
      • man vs. society
      • man vs. supernatural
      • man vs. machines/technology
      • man vs. nature
      • man vs. self
    • the best stories have ALL of these
  • morals
    • is there a deeper truth? a moral of the story? some virtue?
    • the best movies have these:
      • the wizard of oz: we all have what we need inside us
  • broad audience appeal


Literary Agents Panel
moderated by Betsy Amster
1. Bernadette Baker-Baughman /YA, Middle Grade, graphic novels; 
2. Rita Rosenkranz/Nonfiction
3. Robyn Russell /Fiction & Nonfiction;
4. Susan Finesman /Bookto-Film; 
  • What makes a great cover letter?
    • Susie: 
      • “It’s refreshing to get a nice letter on a nice piece of paper.”
      • “I see that you like X, and I have written X.” Address someone personally.
    • Rita: Concision and clarity. It doesn’t feel generic. It feels particular. It’s a window on a world.
  • What flaws are you willing to overlook and why?
    • Bernadette: Sloppy editing, mistakes as a matter of technicality, should all be fixed. It doesn’t leave a good first impression.
    • Rita: 
      • If I ask for a proposal and don’t get it, I wonder what’s up. If you query, you should be ready to execute the proposal.
      • If the authors platform doesn’t match their book, then they’re the wrong author.
    • Robyn: I can overlook a scene not being strong enough or a character needs to be tweaked. But I can’t overlook someone who queries me and their novel is not complete. You can only read for the first time once.
    • Susan: Agree: don’t query until finished.
  • To what extent do you work on material (editing, etc.)
    • Bernadette: If I read something I love, I send it to two other readers. We compile a report of what’s working and not working. 5 to 10 pages of detail. Then have a conversation with the author on how much editing is need. If its a lot, then we suggest they work with a private editor.
    • Robyn: Sometimes we suggest they go with an outside editor, but more usually we’ll work with the author. Sometimes we’ll go through 3 or 4 drafts with them.
    • Susan: When it comes to non-fiction and crafting a proposal, I work very closely with them. Fiction is on a case by case basis. Do I know what’s wrong and can I help them fix it?
  • What do you tell an author whose platform isn’t quite right, or isn’t quite large enough?
    • Susie: You have to work the social media racecourse. You have to know how to reach people and connect with them.
    • Robyn: It’s critical to have a web presence. Review books and push them on your blog.
    • Rita: Publishers want proof, not promises. The author has to continue the promotional activities after the three month campaign. Sometimes the smaller publishers are willing to work with someone who is still developing their platform. 
    • Bernadette: You have an opportunity to craft your personna and to bring that out into the world. There’s an easy way to get that following by building connections with other authors. 
  • What do you think makes for a long writing career? 
    • Rita: 
      • Listening to thriller writers, they say they have pressure to publish at least a book a year.
      • Authors who are willing to listen to feedback, to plot a course over time.
    • Robyn: A willingness to evolve. One author when from memoir to non fiction to YA to memoir.
    • Susie: Writing to sell. Looking for commercially viable books. You have to keep working. Don’t be wed to one particular style. Because the world moves on.
  • Are there warning signs or pet peeves? Things that make you say this author isn’t for me.
    • Bernadette: Authors who think that once they have an agent, things are going to get easier. The work of building their career is just starting.
    • Rita: We’re dealing with skeletal staffs in publishing today, and so there’s more that can do wrong. Authors who come with trust and use my time well, they get my respect. There are authors whose talent is not up to their ambition. They’re expecting greatness, but all I can give them is goodness. When there’s tension based on expectations, that’s awkward.
    • Robyn: An impatient author who keeps asking when we’ll read their stuff…our reading time is on our evenings and weekends. 

Writing for Middle Grades and Young Adult
Duane Wilkins
Ted Butler
Anna Sheehan
Alma Alexander
Gibbitt Rhys-Jones
  • What are YA reading now?
    • Everything
    • Don’t go where the market is now, because the market moves
    • Plenty of fantasy
    • Not much science fiction
      • Duane: Not much science fiction is being written for those ages
    • Hunger Games
      • movie driving book sales
    • Dystopia wave: 50 in the pipeline
      • some are great, but many are just OK
  • Is Dystopia overused?
  • The adult author side-step
  • One reason YA has often been the best of the scifi field is because they won’t put up with crap. They don’t want a 500 page introduction.
  • A YA reader don’t have filters: they will either love it or hate it, but they won’t just tell you “it’s nice”.
  • How do you write for YA?
    • Alma
      • I just write a book, and the reader will find their own level.
      • Any good YA book can be read by anyone from 10 to 99.
      • But you do have to censor yourself a little bit: no sexually explicit scenes
    • Wordcount: 
      • middle grades: 40k to 75k
      • ya: 75k words
      • adult: 100k to 120k
    • Ted:
      • 16 year old age is best protagonist age
      • nancy drew: is 19 for all of the books
    • Duane: 
      • need to keep the momentum up
    • volunteered from audience: protagonist should be about 2 years older than the audience you are shooting for
    • Gibbitt:
      • the adults in the novel shouldn’t solve problems
      • the protagonist has to solve their problem
    • Anna:
      • but don’t make the adults be incompetent.
  • Q: Prose style: Do we need to use simpler language or metaphor?
    • Anna: can use any word, so long as the supporting text helps define it
  • Q: Should YA deal with big issues: bullying, existantial angst, etc?
    • Alma: there’s no reason to write a downer of a book, nor should you pick an issue and write a book around it. write your plot, and the issues will come up, and they should be addressed.
    • Duane: Rob Thomas, wrote YA books, and really got the voice right.
  • Q: Is romance too prevalent in the YA market?
    • Duane: It can’t be romance for the sake of romance. It has to be written with a real plot.
  • In a school situation, if one kid reads a book, everyone will read it. And if one kid likes it, the other kids feel pressure to like it too.
  • Q: How do you go about getting YA published?
    • With difficulty.
  • Q: Have you written anything into YA that was controversial, that got pushback from editor or publisher?
    • Anna: Yes. And I went with a different publisher so I could keep the creepier ending I wanted. You have to pick your battles.
  • Agents are invaluable. They will help with battles with the editor.