Marvel, and the Lessons We Can Learn

I saw Captain America Monday and I loved it. At the same time, Agents of Shield continues to grow into itself (as I said it would). Just so you know, there are some spoilers for both of these below.

The connection between the two is something I find especially appealing. What I’m seeing in Marvel and Disney’s plan is an effort to build a universe. It’s a universe that’s already been developed of course, but if anything that’s more difficult. What they’re doing is distilling thirty, forty, fifty years of lore and story into a few movies and a television show (with more to come of both).

The point is, it’s a universe that is meant to feed off itself. No matter the property, it bleeds into the others.

The biggest complaint with Agents of Shield has been its compartmentalization from the movies. Its best moments over the past few weeks have been with its crossing into Captain America. Shield’s betrayal and the infiltration of Hydra, done so well in The Winter Soldier, is even better in AoS. If ever I didn’t see a betrayal coming, it was Ward. I sincerely hope that’s legit, even though it’s upsetting, simply because of the balls it took to do that and how viciously it took advantage of the assumptions so many made about the show.

All this feeds off itself. This is seen best in the after credits scenes that lead into other stories, but you can see it elsewhere. What you see with the movies are actually one long series with different POV characters, constantly referring back to each other, building off each other. Different themes, different elements, same flavor.

Look at Guardians of the Galaxy. Even this wild, crazy-ass insanity is tied into the second Thor. I don’t know how else it might, if at all, but it’s set in the same world with similar themes, if not setting.

What kind of comparison does that draw for you? Because for me, it’s exactly what I want to do with my stuff. Virgil’s stories are my main efforts, but I have a lot of other things going on. Recently, I released a story featuring an agent of the Coven (kinda my own version of Shield). I have other shorts as well, and am either working on or have plans for several novellas.

All of these are within the same world, the same universe of possibilities. My hope, beyond providing an interesting reading experience with a unique continuity and flavor, is that these will feed into each other. My novels are the movies, the big budget affairs that provide the blockbuster experience, with the shorts being smaller episodes.

Part of what I’m envisioning is a series of novellas. Two are serious possibilities, with another one that is kinda interesting but I don’t really know if I want to do.

The point of all this rambling, is getting down to a strategy, a business plan. This is mine, to build a universe of different stories, with different elements, that hopefully sucks in readers that enjoy the flavor of my stories.

That’s my strategy.

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New Short Story

finally finished my short story, Broker of the Damned. It should have been done a month ago, but that’s my hangup and not the point of this post.

The point is, for the first time in four months, I’ve published something. Sorcerer Rising was published in August of last year and sales were strong until February. Since then they’ve slacked off quite a bit.  I’ve felt like my shorts, though they didn’t sell much, kept Sorcerer Rising visible. I’m hoping this new one will bump that up, but the point is the experimentation. I want to be able to analyze this and see if having a new published work, no matter how well it sells, draws people to the novel.

I’ll post here when I have my findings.

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Sharing the Wealth: 4/19/2014

I’m a day late Sharing the Wealth, but I’ve been working at home more than and more, with less and less time to write. I’d like to say the writing time I’ve had has gone toward fiction, but I’m not always that good. It was a slow week for the industry, still some good stuff out there.

TeleRead follows up Dan Meadows post on the value proposition of bookstores with an analysis of what the movie industry is seeing. It’s really interesting, and puts things in a new light. It also explains why every single movie right now seems to be an adaptation of books, fairy tales, or even board games.

TeleRead also brings us a quote from the Author’s Guild accusing Google of hurting Amazon sales with their book scanning. I don’t really know how I feel about the whole book scanning thing, I think Google took some liberties they maybe shouldn’t have but I don’t think there has been or will be any financial impact from that. At least not in a negative way. What’s so terribly cute is the Author’s Guild now blaming it for ruining their Amazon sales. Because they always need something to blame. Amazon ruined their B&N sales, B&N ruined their indie sales, ebooks ruin paper sales, paperbacks ruin hardcover sales. Anyone seeing a pattern?

Mike Shatzkin has a post on when and why author might self publish. First, he starts off by saying that, obviously, if an author already has a deal that is automatically the right one to go with. In listening to the self publishing podcast, the rocking self publishing podcast, and the self publishing roundtable I remember a dozen or so authors who turned down deals because of control issues…but whatever. He says money now is better than money later. He then goes on to discuss the speed to market and applauds how publisher are adapting by starting digital first imprints (even though Random House’s digital first publisher Hydra was so bad it actually dragged SFWA and John Scalzi into an actual act of author advocacy, nearly getting the whole company blacklisted). He points out how many authors have started out trad or gone back to it after being self published, ignoring those who do it the other way around. Lastly, he notes how agents have “filled the gap” as it widens between traditional publishers and authors, publishing author’s backlist and other work like that. Again, ignoring that many of these are effectively charging 15% to click publish.

Suzie Townsend discusses why agents might be bothered to represent you if you already have an offer from a publisher. Doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose? Like, if I had an offer, my strategy would be to hire an attorney, pay a few grand for him to redline the document, then send him on his merry way. Of course, that won’t be a problem if the offer is too small or with a small publisher, because a lot of agents won’t be interested anyway, at least according to Ms. Townsend.

I’ve heard this before, but never the way David Farland puts it. He explains that writer’s block is effectively the author recognizing they’ve taken a story down a path it wasn’t meant to go.

David Gaughran tackles the tough topic of pricing. My first semester in business school (that were business courses that is) were on management, marketing, and information systems management. The first thing they teach you in marketing are the 4 Ps (everyone has a version of this concept). They’re price, place, promotion, and product. You can probably figure out all these (place is distribution), but everyone usually centers in on price.

Here’s the thing to remember, things are only worth what people are willing to pay for them.


If no one would buy gold than it would just be a fancy, useless metal. Same for diamonds or anything else. “Value” is a term that refers to that good’s offering to the consumer. It is the seller’s burden to communicate that value. The optimum price is the one that makes you the most money. You don’t want to discuss money in terms of your art? We passed that line when we started discussing price. Anyway, the optimum price is the highest price you can set that nets you the most buyers. Say you net five dollars a book and sell a hundred a month. You made five hundred dollars. Then lets say you lower the price so that you only net two dollars a book…but sell three hundred copies as a result. All that matters is that you made a hundred bucks more (though there is also the added benefit of more readers, which hopefully garners you more permanent readers and expands your customer base). Sure, there is plenty of thought to marking your book up so that it has a perceived greater value…but only if that gets you more sales. If it cuts your sales, and nets less money as a result, than that is a faulty reasoning.

Leonard Riggio, Barnes and Noble’s chairmen, has sold 3.7 million shares of B&N stock. Ouch. With all that’s been in the news, this is not good for their share price. He makes some fuss about this being in the best interest of mixing his portfolio…but there’s no good reason the chairmen of the company would do this.

We end the week with that. Everyone have a good rest of their weekend!

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New KDP Dashboard

Believe it or not, nothing new has really happened in the world of publishing that I really felt the need to summarize here. Couple that with my personal forays into this world having been stalled by my day job (and a fair bit of procrastination on my part) and I just really haven’t had much to say.

Then I check my email and see that KDP has a nifty update waiting for me.

A lot of people have complained about a lack of visibility from Amazon regarding sales data. Both Nook and Kobo show you how much money you’re making as you go and allow for some pretty decent reporting. I was particularly impressed with Nook Press as their dashboard continues to look the slickest and provide some pretty good data.

Not anymore though.

Now KDP has a Sales Dashboard that show graphically how many sales you’ve made, is fully customizable, and even shows your royalties through that time period. Now, not only can I see what I’m selling, I can actually pull a full list of every single thing I’ve sold, see what price it was and what day it sold on. The only way I could think it could be better is if it told me the time of day.

This is a really great step for Amazon, to me at least. I’m sure there are a few things I’m still missing (and I would love to see how many people visit my book’s page, conversion from opening the intro to reading, etc, even if it were an aggregated percentage) but I’m sure there will be plenty of constructive criticism in the blogosphere.

Once I get around to reading it…

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Sharing the Wealth: 4/11/2014

The week started off with a post from Tracy Hickman, responding to the Joe Konrath post in my Sharing the Wealth last week. It’s very well done, and makes me respect him a ton more, but I guess I still don’t really understand what his biggest problem is. I think it all comes down to price, and he’s blaming that on his lower earnings. To me, price is the wrong thing to blame for this. I would argue this has more to do with a changing industry than anything else, specifically changing genres, booksellers (of which his type of fiction was so dependent), and selection.

The Hardman Writing Stylus discusses competition in the market. It makes an analogy between the car industry back at the turn of the century (the one most of us were born in, not the one we’re currently in) and authors. At that time there were a couple thousand manufacturers of cars, vs the few dozen we have now. It crowded that market, choking those that couldn’t keep up. I would say something like this will happen, but mainly because people who don’t really want to write as a career will move on to something else as they get bored or have their dreams realized.

The London Book fair opened with a keynote speech from Anthony Horowitz, who discussed how Amazon is evil. He goes on to discuss how they’ve dominated the bookseller market and don’t pay their fair share of taxes to the U.K. The horror! The thing is, he then goes on to discuss how much he loves them and that’s really the problem. So, as an author and consumer he sounds fine, it’s only as a supporter of traditional publishing that he seems to have a problem.

Amazon is discussing their vision for the future of self-publishing. It’s interesting, because they’re really just saying be a hybrid, that in a few years you’ll just be an author and no one will really look at how your portfolio is distributed. I’d like to see Fine more involved in the industry, before this I didn’t know who he was.

Forbes has a great post on how Jeff Bezos and Amazon decodes customers (brought to us by Passive Guy). This, the mindset of leaving a position for the customer at every meeting, is why they win. Passive Guy, and Amazon themselves, say they see authors as customers. I do not agree with this at this point. I love amazon, I love KDP, but I’m a supplier not a customer. Amazon’s treatment of their Suppliers has, as with any large company, been very severe and strict. It takes a lot to keep that machine running and they have no patience for anything but perfection. I hope they see us as customers, maybe that’ll keep them from dropping their royalty, but I don’t see it that way quite yet.

Kory M. Shrum discusses why she went hybrid. She’s not the only one either.

Scott William Carter makes the comparison between paperbacks at the turn of that aforementioned last century, and ebooks now. Cost went down, and people complained, people being everyone but the people who bought them.

Business Insider discusses Amazon’s Pat to Quit program, in which they will pay a warehouse worker $5,000 to quit. I believe they got this from Zappos (who they now own), who offers it to their customer service people after they complete their training. This is to get rid of people who don’t really want to be there, and helps cultivate a better workforce. Look, working in a warehouse is hard. Hardest work I’ve ever done. Also the most satisfying. It’s brutal and hot and sweaty, but it pays well and the dust from the belts and boxes is easier to wash out of your hair than burger grease.

David Guaghran compares price to value, and how that should apply to books. The whole, my books is worth more than that, is such bullshit. How much do you think it costs to make an ipod? You think it’s a couple hundred bucks? You’d be dead wrong, at least for the ONE ipod. If they only sold a few, it would costs MILLIONS to make an ipod. That’s how you have to think of your book. All your cost is fixed, the more you sell the more of those costs get diluted and the more money you make.

He also revisits 15 ways KDP can improve. Some have passes, others have failed, but a great analysis.

Speaking on that whole value thing, the Watershed Chronicles has an analysis of the value proposition booksellers have (or think they have) to readers and why they’re failing to find buyers. His followup is just as good.

Amazon is acquiring comiXology. I posted, I wanna say a couple weeks back, about comic book adaptions possibly becoming a thing, ala ACX. I could, very easily, see this making that happen. Amazon needs a place that sells comics to make this happen. Now they have it.

Calling it this week. Everyone have a great weekend!


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A Belated Sharing the Wealth: 4/4/2013

Yep, I’m still alive.

It’s been a busy couple weeks, due 100% to my day job. As a result, I barely had time to read through the blogoshphere, let alone commit to writing everything down. Tonight I’m taking a break from other things and starting to assemble the posts I’ve really wanted to talk about for at least half of March.

I don’t usually do this with podcasts, but Joanna Penn has a great piece on why authors might consider adapting their work to graphic novel form. The biggest eye opener for me is that comic book artists are actually looking for opportunities to do this. I guess because they want to make those type of adaptions, tapping into that customer base, but it’s just as hard to get George R. R. Martin to let you adapt his work as it is to become him. It’s definitely a macro thing, a way of expanding the portfolio once it’s reached critical mass, but it’s an intriguing one none the less that I am very interested in from a far reaching, keep your pants on perspective.

Then we move on to the thing that made my fingers itch. I thought about making a whole post about it, but just couldn’t find the time. Basically, two amazing stupid announcements came out. First, the founder of Waterstones has said that ebooks are a fad that are about to go away.

Are you kidding me?

Look, this isn’t even up for debate anymore. Ignore trad vs self, ignore what authors should be making, ignore the whole business side for authors, just look at what consumers want. Print is still here, and I’m not one of those that says it will go away, possibly ever, certainly not within the next few decades. But digital is the way everything is going. Even the Guardian agrees on this point. At the very least the people who prefer paper are, frankly, going to die. It happened with newspaper, it will happen with books.

The second amazingly stupid thing to his the news was a consultant who’s stated ebooks should in fact be more expensive that paper books, because they’re more convenient.


TeleRead does a fantastic job of tearing this apart, but I just can’t imagine the mindset behind this. Yes, things get dicey when you start comparing inflation, and every industry is different, but in this one, it is hard to justify an even higher price than what publishers want to set for print. You know what, just go read TeleRead.

Orna Ross discusses how both the business of self publishing and the flood of new authors it’s brought are good for literary culture.

I found both of these on the Passive Voice. Porter Anderson discusses the new voice in the literary world, authors. It’s a quaint idea, I know, but the “standard industry practices” of publishing have left less and less room for authors to be involved, giving rise to the revolt you’re seeing now. Tying into that, he looks at authors who are looking at hybrid options, not as a self pub going trad, but leveraging trad into a better self pub career.

David Farland has great career advice.

Barnes and Noble had a bad month. First, people are proposing that Apple may have surpassed the bookseller in sales (DBW proposed this, which I tried to link to, but they’re site was and still is down). DBW then announced (in a link that works) that one of their chief investors, Liberty Media, has sold their stock, effectively pulling out of B&N. That’s probably worse news by far, as it seems many expected this media group to be the one to bail out the bookseller. I’ve usually argued that B&N was stronger than most big box stores, but for the first time I can actually see the demise of America’s biggest bookstore in the future.

The legal battles in big publishing have continued to be waged.

Amazon and other booksellers have begun to issue credits to consumers for overpriced books. Apple continues to fight the judgement while Judge Cote authorizes a class action suit by consumers against the tech firm. And apparently, this isn’t the only industry Apple has gamed.

This all comes about as more and more becomes apparent why Publishers are, potentially, very bad for authors. HarperCollins won a suit, I’m sure the first of many to come, in which they’ve argued that just because the medium wasn’t included in the original contract, they still have the right to publish an author’s book digitally. This is what happens when lawyers and judges argue about what something seems to say vs what it actually says, to the detriment of those that own the work itself.

Tracy Hickman, writer of the Dragonlance series, has basically told authors that they’re shit out of luck. Joe Konrath took this to task and I’m glad he did. I’m sorry, but Hickman is a very, how shall I say, commercial author. He attached himself to a series that was a licensed property of dungeons and dragons and has ridden that hard for many years. I’m not saying he’s a bad author, The Seventh Gate is one of my favorite series and one of the series that helped introduce me to fantasy, but lets look at that for what it is. He didn’t dabble with adaptations, he built his career around a single one. The pain he’s feeling has to do with these properties (especially with the wane of high fantasy) losing their luster. Instead of whining about how much more he has to write, I would expect him to turn out something different, and I certainly wound’t expect him to discourage others because of his fading business model.

TeleRead discusses why GenCon is becoming more and more relevant to authors and publishing than BookExpo America. I’ve never really been one for conventions, mainly because I live in a part of the country where none are held (and I have no travel budget) but also because large crowds tend to make me want to do something sociopathic. Still, I love the idea of them and TeleRead makes a great point.

Speaking of TeleRead, they were on fire the past two weeks. Whether its discussing why literary writers won’t publish their own work (namely, that they need someone to vet their literary quality), pointing out the humor in editors saying they really do edit, or asking why it is publishers find themselves having to remind people they’re open for submission.

This was a biggie, to say the least. The Authors Guild has expanded its criteria of applicants to include authors who have made $5,000 or more in sales. You can even apply for associate membership for $500, which puts many people in the running, myself included. This is a big step and I’m happy to see it happen. Why I or anyone else should join a Guild or Association, well, I’ll get back to you on that.

Hugh Howey has a pretty damn good idea for how to sell books everywhere ala the RedBox model. It’s not perfect, one of my hangups on RedBox is when people browse (even thought, literally, everything is available for them to browse at home) at the machine. Books would be worse, people really like to browse books, there’s more of a selection, and it would take time, even if it was minutes, to print the book. All that said, it would be awesome to be able to walk into a Walgreens, CVS, Kroger, and be able to have a book printed right there.


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Sharing the Wealth: 3/21/2014

This ridiculous post details how an author/publisher is requesting people help fund the royalties she, frankly, embezzled from her authors. It seems to have since been shut down, but I can’t get over the gall of it in the first place. Embezzle isn’t usually the term I see, but that’s what it really is when your publisher or agent takes money out of the organization they’re not entitle to.

Dean Wesley Smith has a great Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. A quick caveat on his series. They are pure, unadulterated, self publishing support. There is no illusion of balance here, there’s no attempt at apologetics for New York. If you’re new at all this, definitely read this, but balance it with some of Chuck Wendig or Rachelle Gardner or any number of other trad pub sources. That said, this is a great post on how the book industry works and why a publisher isn’t required to get your books into bookstores. Booksellers were getting Hugh Howey’s books before he went to a trad publisher, even before Amazon’s Extended Distribution System. Bookstores, like any other business, will stock what their customers ask for. That’s an outlier, but it’s not impossible. On the inverse side, it is much more likely for your book to flop even though it’s being sold at Barnes & Noble, especially if its spine out, tucked in between other author’s works, and the first title of your series is missing…

On that same train of thought, IndieReader discusses whether or not segregation is the answer. You know, whether or not those filthy self pub books belong in the same store, or site, as the approved books.

Staffer’s Book Review has a very approving message of agents being publishers for authors. I can’t help but be shocked by this. At the end of the day, all agent’s are doing in this case is loading the book to KDP and the other markets. Some add formatting, book cover design/acquisition, formatting, etc. as part of that, but what’s the charge? If this is an author’s backlist, which in this is is exactly what it is, are these agent’s charging extra from books they already earn 15% on? Or are they just expanding the distribution, for free, of books they have a stake in?

The Author’s Guild has a new President. Let’s hope this one is better than the last one. He wrote some damn good books, but as as a leader he was a coward. He has misunderstood this industry and failed its authors. Anyway, now that I’m off my pedestal, CJ Lyons has been added to the board as well. I don’t know her work, but I know she’s a hybrid author who has been a steadfast supporter of authors pursuing what is best for their career.

This is kind of surprising, but Kobo has said ending ending agency pricing will kill them in Canada. Not only that, they cited the decline of agency pricing for their loss of market share in the U.S. I have to criticize this. Agency pricing was not good for consumers. Maybe it was better for publishers and booksellers and even authors, but at the end of the day, you can bet that what isn’t good for the consumer is bad for everyone.

Publishing Perspectives has an article on why publishers need to think more like Amazon. Part of the problem here is that authors don’t have a brand. And I don’t mean they’re failing to put their logo on their books. I mean, a publisher is an amalgamation of books. There are few, if any, publishers that don’t publish everything. A few have been Harlequin or Tor (both genre fiction, by the way) and even they have failed to capitalize on their selection, to show readers that if you buy a Tor book, if you buy a Harlequin book, you will get a hand selected story of high quality. Passive Guy has a reply himself, pointing out the attitude of New York doesn’t cater to the rest of the country, let alone the rest of the world. (When I say New York, I’m referring to NY Publishing, not the city itself.)

Years ago, the courts ruled that Random House didn’t have the rights to ebooks simply because the author had signed their print over. They separated the rights out, creating a precedent that helped protect authors, and created a frenzy as publishers set out to nab up ebook rights. Now the courts have ruled the other way in a case for HarperCollins. This sets a precedent for publishers to fight for the idea that they had rights for mediums that didn’t exist when the contract was signed. No one one knows what forms will come up, no one knows what the next big thing will be. TeleRead points out some of the dangers of this.

Mike Shatzkin says the publishing industry isn’t surprised by the state its in. I don’t really know what to make of his insistence that they really do know what they’re doing. I don’t buy that they’re biding their time, waiting for everything to get in place so they can strike. This is, frankly, an group of businesses that are out of touch, or if they’re in touch, don’t know how to apply the solutions they know are required. He talks about Penguin Random House doing all it can to increase its scale, while continuously pointing out its failure to leverage said scale. Others are agreeing that the biggest player is failing to see the opportunities so many others are taking advantage of.

They’re also failing to realize they are the man behind the curtains, not the performer themselves. There are very few entertainers where the publisher, label, agent, etc. is as popular as the star. Passive Guy points out some of their barriers in trying to be the cool guys in town.

Copyright law in the U.S. has its benefits and disadvantages. And apparently none of that will be changing this year.

Simon and Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy states that publishers need to change the conversation from “will publishing survive” to “how are publishers taking the industry forward”. I just got home from work and I don’t have the energy to answer this. Go though my archives, go through Passive Guy’s or Konrath’s. They haven’t done a damn thing. I’ll add this, those on the losing end of the argument are the quickest to change the subject.

Have a great weekend, folks!

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