Tag Archive: Rules for Authors

Jul 21

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Three



Number Three

Never Pay For Cover Art


See also Rules One, Two, and Four as they are closely related to this Rule.

As outlined in Rule Number One, cover art is a part of the cost of doing business, but that cost belongs to the publisher, NOT the author. Just like with editing as detailed in Rule Number Two, the biggest reason is Rule Number One itself, that money flows TO the author, but there are other more subtle reasons.

I know a few authors who do their own cover art, and I envy them to a large degree. I’m horrible at anything even hinting at graphic arts. PhotoShop is an absolute mystery to me. I just can’t do it. I need an artist who can make all of this work.

The exact same arguments for using the publisher’s editors apply to cover artists, but to an even larger degree…I would estimate that 90% or more of the advertising for a book is directly from the cover art. Think about it…

A potential buyer is strolling through the bookstore (brick-and-mortar or online, it doesn’t matter). Before they read the blurbs or thumb through the book to get an idea of the story, they see the cover. Does the art make them pick up the book to read the blurbs or thumb through the content? If not, a sale just passed you by.

Just like with editors, it all has to do with motivation.

A contracted artist will create a cover that the writer likes. Yes, that’s important, but it’s only number two on the list of priorities, and that’s being generous. The writer is not the person we need to sell the book to…not even close.

An artist working for the publisher will create a cover designed to market the book to the public. In other words, something that will make the aforementioned shopper pick up the book and look deeper.

Once again, the motivation is money, but the difference is where the money comes from.

Contracted artists make their money by pleasing the writer. Ideally the artist will read the book before doing the art. In practice, this almost never happens.

Publisher’s artists make their money by selling books. All real publishers require the artist to read the book before doing the art. In practice, very few small press and e-pubs even pretend to do this.

If you’re one of the lucky ones who can (and has the time) to do your own artwork, then you’re ahead of the game, but there is one thing you need to do…if you’re providing the cover art, then demand a couple of extra percentage points on the royalty. After all, the publisher doesn’t have to pay an artist, and you deserve to be paid for that part of the work.

But the real bottom line is that no matter the details of the publication (self, small press, or major print house), the cover art is of supreme importance. We’ve all seen great works sit on the shelf because the cover sucks. Make sure this is done right and well.

As an aside, you will often hear small press authors complain that they have no input to the cover design. Stop whining and start reading and changing the contracts before you sign them. If the publisher balks, walk away. Insist on right of veto on the cover art.

Keep Loving!



Permanent link to this article: http://melodeeaaron.com/blog/2017/07/21/melodees-rules-for-authors-number-three-5/

Jul 14

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Two



Number Two

Never Pay To Have Your Book Edited


See also Rules One, Three, and Four as they are closely related to this Rule.

As outlined in Rule Number One, editing is a part of the cost of doing business, but that cost belongs to the publisher, NOT the author. The biggest reason is Rule Number 1 itself, that money flows TO the author, but there are other more subtle reasons.

The biggest of these has to do with the attitude and approach to the editing task.

A contracted editor working for (and being paid by) the writer makes their money by getting writers to come to them to edit their work. A huge percentage of that income is from repeat business where a writer keeps coming back to have books edited. There is also the word-of-mouth advertising where a writer tells their friends how great John Doe edits their books. This all means that the editor has a vested interest in getting the writers to like them.

As a group, writers have pretty big and fragile egos. We sweat blood, laugh, cry, pull our hair out in clumps, fall in love with our characters, learn to hate some other characters, and in general see our stories as our children. Just like a momma bear, we will defend our stories to the death. If someone attacks our story, we will come to hate that person. In business, we will look for someone who treats us—and our stories—better and likes them just the way we write them.

See the problem here?

The contracted editor will tend to tell us what we want to hear. This may or may not be intentional, but the tendency is to say what the writer wants to hear so we like the editor and will come back to them and tell our friends how great they are.

In other words, for a contracted editor, they have no interest in if the book sells or not. Their income is based on how much the writer likes them. The contracted editor must have the writers like them in order to make a living.

Now let’s look at an editor that works for the publisher…

The publisher’s editors are paid by the publisher. They might be paid on salary (or hourly), or they might be paid per book that they edit. Some publishers even pay a royalty to their editors. It varies, but the bottom line is that the publisher—not the writer—pays the editor.

This boils down to the fact that the editor (and publisher) doesn’t care if the writer likes the editor or not. The editor’s job is to massage the story into something that will sell. If they fail to do so, they won’t work for the publisher for very long.

Both of these editors are motivated by money, but the source of the money is the difference…

Contracted editors only make money if the writers like them.

Publisher’s editors only make money if the story sells.

See the difference?

I have seen various authors (and we’re talking about self published authors here) post messages here and there about how wonderful some editor or another is. They rave about what a great job the editor did on their latest book and how it only cost $800 to have their story edited. When I have read some of the books, they are riddled with simple mechanical errors and have issues with flow and logic.

On the other hand, I have seen writers wailing about some editor at a publisher who absolutely shredded their book. The manuscript came back with more red ink than black. I hear how the author cried for a week over how harsh the editor was. And at the end of the message, the writer will say how much better the story was when all was said and done.

In the interest of being totally fair, I have seen a few cases where this was reversed, that is, a contracted editor doing a great job and a publisher’s editor being horrid. It happens on both sides.

Again, with self-publication the writer and publisher are the same person. But this is another reason to keep the two roles isolated in your mind…you The Publisher must be able to attack you The Author and make it stick. Not an easy thing to do!

Keep Loving!



Permanent link to this article: http://melodeeaaron.com/blog/2017/07/14/melodees-rules-for-authors-number-two-4/

Jul 07

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number One



We’ve reached the point in the cycle where the Rules for Authors return to the beginning.

I repost the Rules instead of pointing to the prior iteration because the Rules are in a constant state of flux, just like the entertainment industry itself.

So, here we go again!


Number One

Money Flows TO The Author


While most of the Rules for Authors are not in any particular order of importance, this is number one for a reason: It is THE most important Rule and actually summarizes many of the other Rules into one easy to understand concept.

So, what does it mean?

Simply stated, the author should always be paid for their work and should never pay in order to create their work. See Rules Two, Three, and Four in particular.

As stated in Rule Number Four, if an author pays a “publisher” for editing, cover art, or anything else, you don’t have a publisher at all…you have a printer.

Think about it…

If you need some business cards, you go to a printer. They will, if you desire, create the artwork, layout, and other technical details for you, and then they will print, cut, and package your cards and ship them to you. You pay the printer for these services, and the printer deserves to be paid for these services. The only place they make any money is by providing those services to you.

A publisher makes their money by selling books. Editing (from acquisitions, to line, to content, and every other stage) is simply getting that product ready for market. The cover art is just marketing. These things are a normal part of the costs of doing business—just like the electric bill—for the publisher.

In other words, these costs are NOT the direct responsibility of the author.

Yes, I know…

The higher the costs of the publisher, the less they can afford to pay the author in terms of royalties, but this is another problem most writers have in their thought processes…an editor (or artist) working for a publisher can process more books for less money than can an independent contractor.

They also do a better job.

If you hire an editor to work on your book, they have a vested interest in saying everything is perfect. Why? Because you are paying them. The more you like them and the more they stroke your ego, the more likely you are to bring them more work in the future.

The publisher’s editors get paid no matter if you like them or not. They keep their job by editing books into something that will sell for the publisher, so they don’t care about your feelings.

And never lose sight of the fact that this is a business. We are all—authors, publishers, editors, artists, etc.—here to make money.

Oh, don’t give me that crap that you write for the joy of writing or that you want to change the world.

You’re going to starve to death with that attitude. Get over it.

Finally, changes in the industry have created a flood of “self published” works. In these cases, the author and the publisher may be the same person. That doesn’t change anything…when you are writing, you wear your author’s hat. When you are publishing, you put on the publisher’s hat. There are a ton of reasons to keep the roles separate, mostly financial…but a few will protect your sanity.

Remember that writing is a lot like sex…

At first you do it for a few close friends.

Then you do it because it’s fun.

But if you’re any good at all, you end up doing it for money.

Keep Loving!



Permanent link to this article: http://melodeeaaron.com/blog/2017/07/07/melodees-rules-for-authors-number-one-4/

Jun 30

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Thirty-Six



Number Thirty-Six

Advertising Bang versus Bucks


Many people think of promotion and promoting their books. In more general terms, promotion is just a subset of advertising. But no matter what you call it, you need to get the most bang for the buck when you are trying to sell your books.

Now, if you’re really not interested in making a living as an author and/or don’t care how much you make (or lose), you might as well skip this rule. It won’t make any sense to you and some will even puff up like a bullfrog and fuss about the art or craft or some other thing in order to get the entire world of writers to see the light and make as little money as you do.

For the rest of you who want to (or already are) make a living as an author, read on…

I want to make sure you understand that I am NOT talking about the basic promoting needed from the author of any book. What we’re looking at here is extra promotion down the road.

First off, you need to set a price on your time. This isn’t easy, though. In a general sense, you need to know how long it takes to write a book (from concept to release) and how much you gross from each book on a yearly (or other time frame) basis. Obviously, both of these values vary, but think in terms of averages. Let’s assume you can write a book (as defined above) in six months and in the first year of release you’ll gross $100,000. This means in a year, you’ll write two books and get $200,000 from them. Using the standard working year of 2,080 hours (40 hours a week for 52 weeks) you made just over $96 an hour from writing.

Now we do something similar on the promotion work…how many hours do you spend promoting and how much gross income is made from that? In short, the dollars per hour spent on promotion must be less than the dollars per hour earned from the book.

This is MUCH harder than the book income and to simplify the numbers, we’ll make a few assumptions that seem to fit a good number of professional writers. We’re going to cut the dollars per hour from the book to 25% of the above value. This is to allow for “normal” promotion and deviations from the averages. So, instead of considering $96 per hour, we’ll call it $24 per hour.

In other words, if you spend two hours on promo, sales must increase by at least $48 to stay in the black.

Just as an aside, if you have a person employed to handle promotion and you pay this person $20 an hour, using the above numbers you still come out ahead.

DISCLAIMER: All the above numbers are 100% fictitious and many were selected just to make the math easy. You’ll need to plug in real numbers that fit you and your situation.

One thing you’ll notice is that, no matter the values used, as you become more successful and your books sell more and your gross income goes up, the value of your time writing also goes up. This means the payback from promotion must get greater and greater to be worth your time and extra effort.


Promotions, especially live appearances like signings, can be a lot of fun. You can also combine such trips with a vacation (about 80% of which is deductible if you’re incorporated) and that’s worth something, too.

The real bottom line is to carefully weigh the costs and benefits of promoting beyond the basics. Is it really worth it?

Keep Loving!



Permanent link to this article: http://melodeeaaron.com/blog/2017/06/30/melodees-rules-for-authors-number-thirty-six/

Jun 23

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Thirty-Five



Number Thirty-Five

Ignore the Critics


As a group, critics are pompous morons.

Sorry, but I call ‘em like I see ‘em.

Anyone remember Phil Collins? How many of his albums did you buy? Want to know what the critics thought of people who bought Phil Collins albums? Try https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phil_Collins#Criticism_and_praise on for size.

And critics today are no different.

If you DARE not to think, act, dress, and eat like them, or if you disagree with them in any way, then you are stupid. See link above.

Personally I don’t even read reviews of my stories. Part of that is I don’t like critics. Part is I just don’t care about the reviews.

I’ve had books get terrible reviews at the same time they sold 40,000 copies in the first weekend of release. I had books called, “…the worst writing since the room full of monkeys tried to write a sonnet…” that made $5,000,000 gross sales in the first six months.

I really don’t care about reviews or critics.

They don’t buy my books.

I care about the readers.

They DO buy my books.

Keep Loving!



Permanent link to this article: http://melodeeaaron.com/blog/2017/06/23/melodees-rules-for-authors-number-thirty-five/

Jun 16

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Thirty-Four



Number Thirty-Four

Don’t Give Away the Store


Let me start off saying that I do enjoy a little gambling now and then. I’ll buy lottery tickets from time to time. I’ll drop a few dollars in the one-armed bandits as well. I like to play penny-ante poker (real poker, not the assorted nonsense popular in the casinos these days). I like strip poker even more, but I digress.

What I’ve never been a fan of is contests where books are given away as the prizes. I’m in the business of selling books, not giving them away.

There is a ton of research dating back more than 80 years up until just a matter of weeks ago showing such contests do little or nothing to improve sales.

As a caveat, there is a subset of contests where sales are positively impacted: Contests that require the entrant to read a book to come up with the right answer. Be VERY careful with this type of contest. It can be construed as making a purchase required to enter and that is illegal in many jurisdictions.


In general, a more effective approach is to give away something unrelated to books as the prize. Jewelery, gift cards (not to book stores), fragrances, clothing or accessories, and a host of other items work well. The simple fact is that these prizes can (and usually do) stimulate book sales. For all I know, the entrants feel guilty if they don’t buy a book.

Also, be judicious about your contests and prizes. Carefully evaluate the overall impact. If you run a contest and sales go up by $20,000, you’re still in red ink if you give away a new Lexus.

Let me tell you about a contest I used to run on a regular basis when I was living in San Diego…

A couple of years after I stopped having a booth at the San Diego Comic Com, I would put out a notice that I would indeed be at the Con, but not as an exhibitor or panel member. I would simply be there as an attendee, nothing special, not even doing cosplay. I would also announce the exact day and times I would be there. And the very first person to walk up to me at the Con and say, “You’re Melodee Aaron!” (or whatever pen name I was attending as that day) would get, on the spot, $1,000 cash money. This encourages people to read my books to get to know me, but still does not require them to buy anything. They could just walk up to any random blonde girl and play the game. Trust me…there are a LOT of random blonde girls at Comic Con!

Yes, it cost me $1,000 a day plus admission to the event plus other expenses. Call it about $6,000 total for the three-day event. And don’t forget about the time. I typically saw a jump of about $12,000 in sales across the three pen names I would appear under.

Not a bad return on the investment.

Keep Loving!



Permanent link to this article: http://melodeeaaron.com/blog/2017/06/16/melodees-rules-for-authors-number-thirty-four/

Jun 09

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Thirty-Three



Number Thirty-Three

To Thine Own Self Be True


And for God’s sake let others do it, too!

I can’t tell you how often I see comments in mailing lists, blogs, seminars, and any number of other venues where someone who fancies themselves to be a successful author is telling everyone how they should all do the same as the commenter and then they too can make $5,000 a year writing.

The simple fact is not everyone wants to make a four or five digit income. Most people can’t live on that. Most want to be in six or seven digit range.

And yet the commenter keeps at it…and in many cases, the attacks on those who want to make a living as an author become personal.

The basic message from the commenter is something along the lines of, “If you aren’t doing things [fill in the way the commenter does things] then you’re a loser.”

There are, in general, two groups these commenters fall into:

(1) Traditionally published writers who think those who self-publish are wasting their time and stealing readers (and dollars) from them.

(2) Self-published (AKA independent) writers who think the traditional writers are doing the same in addition to selling their souls to the Evil Publishers.

The fact is both sides are dead wrong.

Personally, I self-pubbed a few books under pen names. All but one sold well when compared to other self-pubbed works. One was a total flop, but it was also total crap (in the 20K copies in the first year range). But when I compared the income for the self-pubbed books to traditional books of similar length and production time, my take-home pay was cut by about 95%. And I had to work harder to get the sales I did get on the indie works. In other words, for me, I was going in the hole pretty fast by self-publishing. Just not worth it for my particular situation.

On the other hand, I know of several colleagues who were struggling with traditional publication. They made the move to self-publishing and by virtue of being very prolific (36+ books a year) they are able to make an acceptable living. Interestingly enough, one of this group built a small fan base (about 25,000) and was picked up by a good representative. He’s now traditionally published and in the lower seven figure income range.

The point here is each person needs to find what works for them.

If you personally can’t deal with the business world side of traditional publishing (deadlines, structure, corporate politics, etc.) AND you can make the money you need, then self-publication may be the right answer for you.

If you need (or just want) to make a higher income AND you want to focus on writing only (no promo work) AND you can cope in a high-pressure business environment, then traditional publication deserves a look.

No matter what group you’re in (even if you plan to jump to the other group), it’s OK to voice what you see as benefits to your (current) group.

It’s NOT OK to belittle the people in the other group. Ever.

It’s also OK to ask members of the other group meaningful questions, especially if you’re looking at being a switch-hitter.

Keep Loving!



Permanent link to this article: http://melodeeaaron.com/blog/2017/06/09/melodees-rules-for-authors-number-thirty-three-2/

Jun 02

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Thirty-Two



Number Thirty-Two

Pick a P-Word That Works for You


Some people in the industry are into buzz words. Really into buzz words. They can sound like a cliché festival run amok sometimes.

As for me, I hate buzz words, corporate-speak, and pretty much anything politically correct. I’m the CEO and board chair of a reasonable size corporation, and just ask the other board members or division VPs. Many are MBAs and similar business types. They hate me sometimes. Not as much as the corporate lawyers, but they still hate me.

Anyway, I need to use a couple of buzz words here simply because they are in common usage and fairly widely understood…

Plotter: An author who plans the plot of their stories in some detail, usually using an outline of some form.

Pantster: An author who just starts writing and lets the plot develop as they go along…that is, they write by the seat of their pants.

I’m sort of between the two, perhaps closer to the pantster end of things. For me, that works well about 95% of the time.

I know highly successful writers at the extreme ends of this curve. A dear friend of mine in the hard SF arena won’t write out a shopping list without a 10 page outline. Another colleague can’t even define the word outline.

In other words, pantsters and plotters are equally able to write good stories that sell very well. Neither is a superior approach.

The secret is to find the place on the continuum that works for you.

Try both. See which you are more comfortable with.

Some writers (like me) find a detailed outline too restraining. Now, I enjoy being restrained as much as the next girl, but not when I’m writing…but I digress.

Others find they wander from the point without a clear plan as an outline.

Odds are, about 99% of writers will end up between the two extremes, and that’s OK.

Again, find what works for you, and run with it!

Keep Loving!



Permanent link to this article: http://melodeeaaron.com/blog/2017/06/02/melodees-rules-for-authors-number-thirty-two-2/

May 26

Melodee’s Rule for Authors — Number Thirty-One



Number Thirty-One

Size Matters


And it matters in more than one way, too.

People tend to make up their own definitions, but let me give you the industry-standard ones right up front…

Flash – Less than 1,000 words
Short Story – 1,001 to 7,499 words
Novelette – 7,500 to 17,499 words
Novella – 17,500 to 39,999 words
Novel – 40,000 to 79,999 words
Long Novel – 80,000 to 119,999 words
Jumbo Novel – More than 120,000 words

These are the lengths used throughout the publishing industry. Some publishers may have others like Super Flash (less than 500 words) and Super Novel (more than 160,000 words) but the above are pretty well universal.

The size of what you write makes a huge difference in your sales and income.

At first glance, it would seem bigger is better…after all, in general, a Long Novel will command a higher price than a Short Story. This first glance is true in terms of the dollars per sale, but there is more to the equation.

If we are talking about a fairly typical author, the general rule is you will sell fewer longer works at a higher price than you will shorter works at a lower price.

This implies shorter books may very well make more money for you, but there is a point of diminishing returns. That is, at some point your books become so short and are priced so high (in terms of cents per word) that no one will buy them.

Just a few caveats here…first, there are some authors who are known for long books. Stephen King could write a 2,000,000 word novel and price it at $300 and it will sell about the same number of copies as any of his (slightly) shorter works. Second, there are some genres where longer books are very popular. Hard science fiction comes to mind. Many publishers in this and similar genres won’t accept manuscripts below a certain size. Thirdly, readers come to expect works of a certain length from an author. This means if you are known for writing (let’s say) Long Novels, don’t be too surprised if your new Novella flops like a fish on the beach. And fourth, for ebook-only releases, shorter books (Novella or smaller) often sell very well because many readers will view the book on a mobile device while they have a few minutes of spare time, like waiting at the doctor’s office.


For most of us in most genres in today’s world of simultaneous print and ebook releases, the magic number is in the range of the upper half of Novella to the lower half of Novel as defined above. For those who don’t want to page up, that’s about 30,000 to 60,000 words.

There is one final money issue to keep in mind, especially if you self-publish…Amazon (and others) are kicking around (internally) the idea of charging higher fees for both very long works (they take up more server space and bandwidth to transfer) AND very short works (they still need a certain amount of storage and administration). There is a chance ebook publishers may jump on this bandwagon as well by paying (or at least offering) lower royalties on similarly-sized ebooks.

But the real bottom line for most authors is going to come down to finding a story length that both sells well and that you are comfortable working with. If either of these things is missing, you’re going to either go broke or crazy.

Maybe both!

Keep Loving!



Permanent link to this article: http://melodeeaaron.com/blog/2017/05/26/melodees-rule-for-authors-number-thirty-one/

May 19

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Thirty



Number Thirty

Thou Shalt Not Snark


(This Rule was triggered by a production meeting I attended in Los Angeles where the other two writers on a project were nipping at each other like a pair of chihuahuas.)

Isaac Asimov said in The Foundation Trilogy: “Violence…is the last resort of the incompetent.” I believe this applies to physical and verbal attacks equally.

Since I started writing professionally back in 1986, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry. Not so many in the readers and what they want, but still a few. There is, however, one constant, and it’s the one thing that bugs me—and this one really bothers the crap out of me:

The snarking I see between authors not only in one of the several hundred private forums I participate in but even in public settings. Sometimes the attacks are very personal and I can’t help but wonder if these two people just plain hate each other for some reason. If so, perhaps the best solution would be 12 rounds with a three-knockdown rule and no saving by the bell.

But often the snarking is because one of the writers feels that the other (or others) is somehow picking on them. Usually it’s over something trivial like, “I love MS Word [insert version]” and someone else says, “If you don’t use MS Word [insert a different version] then you’re not doing it right!” In this case, both sides need to take a step back and see if they aren’t overreacting a bit.

Bet they are.

Frankly, most of these arguments are because one or the other side is envious (or even full-on jealous) of the other. In more than a few cases, the two sides feel that way about each other. The exact dynamics are, of course, variable and detailed.

But there are two simple facts that apply in all cases…

(1) Both sides need to look at their behavior, act like adults, and stop the nonsense.

(2) The readers (in the public forums) and the other authors (in the private areas) find no end of amusement in the childish behavior of the combatants.

It’s easy to stop…

Unless one person says something like, “And you, Betty-Lou, are a terrible author because you use a lot of split infinitives…”, then do NOT assume the poster is talking about you.

In other words, you are NOT the center of the universe and all creation doesn’t revolve around you.


More to the point, and perhaps more politically correct (not my strong suit), is to actually understand, believe, and apply the concept that everyone finds their own way in this world. Don’t just pay lip service to the idea…you see that a lot, too.

You and the other person will be much happier this way.

In our trivial MS Word example, wouldn’t it be easier for the second person to accept that the first writer does things differently and just move on? By the same token, author #1 needs to understand that what works for them isn’t universal and never can be. There is no need for any disagreement at all.

Unless you either: (A) Are envious (jealous?) of the other person, or (B) Enjoy having a victim mentality hanging out to show the world.

In many cases, the attackee will simply ignore the attacker, and you would think the attacker would just quietly stop the nonsense. Sadly, with authors, that rarely happens because the ego of the attacker will force them to continue to act poorly.

Oh, and remember the bit about the readers and other authors finding it all amusing? Well, also remember that publishers, producers, directors, and a slew of other professionals are likely reading along, too. At some point, the readers and professionals will get tired of the snarking and write one or both of you off as being incompetent kooks.

Problem is neither of you will know it has happened until it’s too late to save your sales.

Keep Loving!

(Oh, in case you’re wondering, the two writers were arguing because one thought the other was attacking his professionalism because he said, “Wow…all this red ink makes my eyes cross after a while.” And it was the producer who put the red ink on the draft script.)



Permanent link to this article: http://melodeeaaron.com/blog/2017/05/19/melodees-rules-for-authors-number-thirty-4/

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