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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 40K 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 middle 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!

THWT Question for 26 MAY 2020

This week’s Two Hundred Word Tuesday question is:

What was your first job and how did you get it?

Keep Loving!

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!

THWT Question for 19 MAY 2020

Here is today’s Two Hundred Word Tuesday question:

Have any of your books/stories been made into a video production (movie, TV, etc.)?

Remember to keep your answers to 200 words or less!

Keep Loving!

Melodee’s Rules 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 herefirst, there are some authors who are known for long books. Stephen King could write a 10,000,000 word novel and price it at $500 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!

THWT Question for 12 MAY 2020

This today’s Two Hundred Word Tuesday question:

Is there any subject you particularly liked in school?

Keep Loving!

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.)

THWT Question for 05 MAY 2020

Here’s this week’s Two Hundred Word Tuesday question:

What leisure time activities are you involved with?

Keep Loving!

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Twenty-Nine

Number Twenty-Nine

Have Book, Will Travel

Yep, just like Paladin on TV.

Well, sort of…

For most writers, there will come a time in their career when they will need to travel. Sometimes it’s to a convention. Others it may be to do a business meeting. And there may come a time when you’ll need to actually do an appearance tour.

Yeah, yeah…you can do a lot of that electronically. Sure you can. If you’re willing to give up a huge part of the impact and effect. Then again, if you’re making $10,000 a year and figure a tour to NYC will result in a 25% increase in sales, and the trip will cost you $5,000 to make, just stay home. Again, maybe.

People love to meet “celebrities”, and like it or not, we authors are celebrities in the eyes of our readers. I used to go to Comicon, Dragoncon, and a slew of other you-name-it-cons as a number of my pen names. It was fun and you get to see and meet a lot of fun people. You also get to see and meet a good number of absolute nut cases. But the simple fact is you will see a dramatic spike in sales after such an appearance.

The same goes for less, um…esoteric conventions. An appearance at the RT convention will boost sales. Ditto for other similar gatherings. Even a single signing at a single bookstore will usually pay for itself.

And don’t forget the college lecture circuits…you can easily get $25,000 plus expenses for a two-hour lecture to a group of grad students who can’t string more than seven words together into a coherent sentence.

What this means is you need to get out there and pound the pavement and press the flesh. Oh dear God…I’m channeling Zig Ziglar!

If you’re thinking of making some appearances that are more or less local to your area, that’s something you can probably set up on your own without too great an effort. For more ambitious outings, you’ll likely need some sort of help. A good personal assistant can usually do it, but as I’ve said, good a good PA isn’t cheap.

Also, if you are traditionally published, talk to your publisher about kicking in a few dollars to help with expenses. If you’re doing an appearance at a bookstore, the publisher and store will often pick up the tab for signage and such, and they will make sure the store has a good supply of books on hand. And yes, there will come a time when the publishers and stores will pick up the entire tab for you.

Besides, if you ask, the worst thing they could say is “no”.

And never forget that writing is a lot like sex…

At first you do it because it’s fun and it feels good.

Then you do it for people you really like.

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

Keep Loving!

THWT Question for 28 APR 2020

The last Two Hundred Word Tuesday question for April is:

All authors have had at least one story “get away” from them and grow too large or have way too many characters or other writing nightmares. What was your worst runaway story? Did you fix it or just throw it away?

Keep Loving!