Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

More Author Earning Data: Making a Living or No?

28 March 2014

I haven’t updated the spreadsheet I pulled a few weeks ago, but here are the numbers from the last I pulled.
There are some data quality problems here. The low end of people who say they’re making a living writing? I don’t think $450 is a likely real response. Likewise, some of the higher numbers from people who say they’re not making a living writing would be perfectly respectable incomes for many. I’m not judging people’s responses here, just pointing out that there may have been some incorrect yes/no responses.
And, as always, this is self-reported data, so take it with a grain of salt.

Authors Saying they Make a Living Writing

Type # 25% 50% 75% 90% 95% 100%  
Self 160 25,000 51,000 140,000 305,000 500,000 13,000,000  
Hybrid 103 55,000 103,000 235,000 540,000 1,025,000 3,663,000  
Trad 27 18,300 55,000 100,000 215,000 250,000 450,000  

Authors Who Say They’re Not Make a Living Writing

Type # 25% 50% 75% 90% 95% 100%  
Self 571 150 800 5000 15,000 24,000 113,000  
Hybrid 78 2,300 10,200 20,000 40,008 50,000 89,150  
Trad 54 500 4,000 17,500 35,000 50,000 60,000  

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Expressiveness and Disbelief

26 March 2014

I’ve been kicking this post idea around in my head almost a year, ever since I sat in front of a computer working on a fan site wondering if I’d gone mental. Adding to the surreality was working at a glass desk over the shallows of the Indian ocean — hardly normal for me.
Backing up a bit, several of us were fans of a particular actor and role on a particular show that was, as is often the case, canceled. It was obvious the actor in question hadn’t found additional work in the US and would return home to Australia soon. One night, a Twitter direct message conversation spawned between myself and another fan, and I up and registered a fan site domain on the spur of the moment.

The Site That Almost Wasn’t

The following morning, I was scheduled to leave for Tokyo.
No worries, I thought, it’s a few bucks. If I still think it’s a good idea in when I arrive in Tokyo, I can do something about it.
Or, you know, not.
Honestly, I almost didn’t. It’s putting one’s self out there a lot and it’s a lot of work, not to mention an implied ongoing commitment. Making a fan site is adopting someone as “your people,” only they don’t really get a say the other way.
Plus, back when I was a teen, a friend of mine and I were singing at Disneyland in the annual Christmas Hallelujah Chorus thing, and Jimmy Stewart was the big actor there that night. My friend was a total fan. Just loved him. Unfortunately, he was a total jerk that night, and it broke her fannish little heart. Sometimes, we’d rather keep our fannish things to ourselves.
From the other end of things, I remember the first time I saw a positive review for one of my pieces. I was stoked. This person probably will never understand why I think they are so totally awesome—even if they never feel the same about anything else I ever do.
Back to the site…I got to Tokyo. Kinda freaked out. Emailed someone who ran a different fan site:

I’ve just bought a domain for a Ryan Johnson fan site, but it’s the morning after and I’m having cold feet, so please tell me that you’ve had some positive feedback from someone other than me. 🙂

This is where people you don’t know from Adam will leap to help you.

Most people in the limelight are happy with a fansite, as long as it goes easy on the gushing, treats them as human beings without objectifying them and respects their private lives.

Which is really good advice for dealing with anyone, and not different than I’d planned. I can’t handle the fan sites that are populated by stalkerazzi photos. I hope that fan site runner gets some happy feedback from their person eventually.
However, it was a couple more weeks before I told Rick about the fan site, though that was partly because I was in the Maldives and he was not….

Stuff I Learned

I’ve always thought of myself an audio person rather than a visual person. In high school, I was in band, marching band, orchestra, dance band, and choir at the same time. I studied sound recording (audio and film) in college. I’m generally more interested in how someone sounds than how they look.
I’ll often identify actors by voice long before I recognize their face (due to lighting, makeup, and the general chameleon-like nature of actors in their profession).
However, suddenly having (way) more than a thousand pictures of an actor’s career in front of me and having to pick and choose which made the cut and which didn’t — things started to click.
I’ve never really liked animated movies. Sure, I can enjoy them, but I never deeply bond with them. If you asked me why, I’d have said: the limited facial expressiveness doesn’t bridge my suspension of disbelief.
And that’s true, as far as that answer goes, but the real answer runs far more deeply than that, and I really had never put two and two together.
People’s facial expressiveness mattered to me far more than I realized. I tend to take people at face value, and I realized that I was getting far more of that “face value” from facial expression than I’d been aware of.
I started thinking about people I liked—the colleague you joke with, the person who sticks out at an event you attend—and realized that many of them had more expressive faces than average.
And, unfortunately, people whose faces are less expressive than average are generally people whose faces aren’t as memorable for me unless they say something that’s particularly memorable.
As I sorted through the pictures and tried to get good screen captures for the fan site I was building, I finally understood a whole lot more about why I hated YouTube so much, why I preferred Vimeo, why I liked BluRay and hated standard def, and why I generally loathed streaming media. The lossiness of video, particularly streaming formats, cuts a lot of the facial expression detail. I kept feeling like I was watching Odo from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine when his face was melting—not because of any issue with the acting or production, but because of the quality of the video I was viewing.
So while the fan site wasn’t a project I undertook to understand more about myself—it really was “Dude, I love your work”—it helped anyway.
I was nervous and strung out about announcing it, but he was very kind. It’s hard to pick a favorite out of all the pictures, but this one’s on my short list.

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The NYT Bestsellers by Genre

26 March 2014

Several people have said to me, “Yes, Deirdre, we all know romance sells well.”
I think, in trying to let the data speak, I gave too little context about what surprised me.
It doesn’t surprise me that some bestselling self-pub titles are romance. It does surprise me that so many of them are. There were, for example, zero science fiction titles.
So, just to point out the difference, here’s the NY Times list (I used a single week, but you’ll get what I mean):
nyt-sales
Names, titles, and genres I used at the bottom.
By comparison, here’s the Smashwords chart from before, using the same color coding per genre:
smashwords-sales
See how many more titles there are in other genres on the NY Times list? Also, the NY Times list has quite a few more titles written by men. (Still mostly women, though.)

Current NY Times Fiction Bestsellers

NIGHT BROKEN, by Patricia Briggs. (Ace.) Fantasy
AFTERSHOCK, by Sylvia Day. (Harlequin.) Romance
POWER PLAY, by Danielle Steel. (Delacorte.) Fiction
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR, by Jeffrey Archer. (St. Martin’s.) Mystery/Thriller/Suspense
STONE COLD, by C. J. Box. (Putnam.) Mystery/Thriller/Suspense
THE GOLDFINCH, by Donna Tartt. (Little, Brown.) Fiction
THE INVENTION OF WINGS, by Sue Monk Kidd. (Viking.) Historical Fiction
THE HUSBAND’S SECRET, by Liane Moriarty. (Amy Einhorn/Putnam.) Fiction
ORPHAN TRAIN, by Christina Baker Kline. (Morrow/HarperCollins.) Historical Fiction
SYCAMORE ROW, by John Grisham. (Doubleday.) Mystery/Thriller/Suspense
WORDS OF RADIANCE, by Brandon Sanderson. (Tor/Tom Doherty.) Fantasy
PRIVATE L.A., by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan. (Little, Brown.) Mystery/Thriller/Suspense
THE ALCHEMIST, by Paulo Coelho. (HarperCollins.) Fiction
THE CHASE, by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. (Bantam.) Mystery/Thriller/Suspense
THE BOOTLEGGER, by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott. (Putnam.) Mystery/Thriller/Suspense
AMERICAN GODS, by Neil Gaiman (Morrow) Fantasy
THE CHANCE, by Robyn Carr (Harlequin Mira) Romance
STILL LIFE WITH BREAD CRUMBS, by Anna Quindlen (Random House) Fiction
FATED MATES, THE ALPHA SHIFTER BOXED SET, by Skye Eagleday (Excessica) Paranormal Romance
CONCEALED IN DEATH, by J. D. Robb (Putnam) Mystery/Thriller/Suspense
KILLER, by Jonathan Kellerman (Ballantine) Mystery/Thriller/Suspense
GONE GIRL, by Gillian Flynn (Crown) Mystery/Thriller/Suspense
ME BEFORE YOU, by Jojo Moyes (Penguin) Romance
WILD HEAT, by Bella Andre (Dell) Mystery/Thriller/Suspense
FALLING FOR A STRANGER, by Barbara Freethy (Fog City) Romance

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Smashwords Self-Publishing Bestseller Genres

25 March 2014

Publishers Weekly has been publishing the top 25 bestselling self-published works on Smashwords each month. Here’s February’s list.
I’m not the least bit surprised that Romance is the top-selling category in terms of those top 25. What does surprise me, though, is the overwhelming percentage of those titles that are romance: 2/3 if you include the related genres of YA Romance and Paranormal Romance. I’m also surprised that Fantasy does as poorly as it has been.
smashwords-sales

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Not Losing Planes: Lessons From MH370

25 March 2014

In listening to a lot of people talk about the missing Malaysian Airlines MH370, I sometimes wonder if some of them truly have a sense of how remote some places in the world are, or how much it’d cost to monitor all that.
This article featuring a video with Mary Kirby talks about connectivity being the key. I don’t disagree.
However, a little over two months ago, I was on a ship sailing about 2,500 miles (4,000 km) almost due west from Valparaiso Chile to Easter Island. While it’s a remote place, it does have an international airport, cell service, most of that modern stuff.
What it doesn’t have? Satellite coverage in many bands for three of those five days of travel.
There’s something amazingly humbling (and somewhat terrifying) about being out of satellite range on what’s surely a cargo shipping route, especially when you’re sailing over water that is 13,000 feet (4,000 m) deep.
There are very few flights in the southern quarter of the world (by which I mean at least latitude 45° south). Here’s the entire list of settlements (where there’s at least 1000 people) south of 45°. That’s incredibly sparsely populated. Compare the latitudes with the northernmost settlements here.
So far as I know, there aren’t any southern polar air traffic routes the way there are so many northern polar routes. So probably the very last part of the earth that would get coverage is the kind of place where MH370 is believed to have been lost. I still think it’s too early to know that that’s the wreckage for certain, and I really feel for the people out there in the bad weather and rough seas doing that duty. Thank you.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t do something more in the future to make these search and rescue (where “rescue” is more about confirmation of what happened and the opportunity to not do it again) efforts less costly. For me, the turned-off transponder is the single weirdest thing: that, combined with the believed wreckage position, doesn’t make sense absent the information we now lack.

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The Amount of Time it Takes

25 March 2014

Just for the record, the amount of time it takes from the time someone decides to to use a new pseudonym to:

  1. Google the potential problems with the name, then register the variant that’s the most promising.
  2. Wait for DNS to propagate.
  3. Find a theme for a landing page site template.
  4. Upload the bare bones to the writer’s server of choice.
  5. Find the right stock art and fonts for the right look. Requires searching five different sites, but you think you nailed it for not just the one book, but the planned series.
  6. Start setting up the email accounts. This needs another round of DNS propagation for reasons you never have figured out, and it’s two in the morning already.
  7. Restart Apache. Whoops.
  8. Web server down! No………..
  9. Obligatory teeth gnashing step.
  10. Oh, that’s why. Doh.
  11. Web server running again. Phew.
  12. Design the book cover from scratch. Fuss with it a few times.
  13. Hack and saw the web site template into something resembling what you need right now.
  14. Verify that the email accounts now work. Woohoo!
  15. Hack and saw the background image that isn’t as perfect as you thought it was. What’s that jaggy edge? Ewww.
  16. Write all the copy for the web page.
  17. Have the author sign up for Twitter.
  18. Have the author sign up for Smashwords.
  19. Figure out how you broke the author’s web site’s layout. Twice.
  20. Fix it, declare victory!

…eight hours have passed. And $35 or so ($15 for domain, $12 for landing page template, $8 for art).
Just in case you’re ever inspired to, you know, do the same.
I can has nap nao?

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Jackie Barbosa's Son

24 March 2014

Most of you reading this will have no idea who Jackie Barbosa is. Nor who her son is.
Jackie’s a romance writer. Last week, her teenage son was driving to school and struck by an oncoming car. Dear Author mention is here, including link to a fundraiser.
I don’t know Jackie, but I do know what it’s like to have a husband suddenly die, and it really and truly sucks.
So, what I’m asking: here’s her booklist. If any of those are your cuppa, consider reading a sample and see if it’s something you want to buy and read the rest of. If you know other people who might like her work, consider telling them about her stuff.
She has a blog about publishing matters (she is a hybrid author, meaning both published traditionally and self-published). You might wish to read that. Like, for example, this post about metadata ownership concerns in publishing contracts. So, even if you don’t care about the romance genre, if you write, there may be something of interest to you in there. Maybe even if you don’t write.
From my own experience and that of others I’ve known in grief support groups since my first husband’s death, it’s going to take 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 years to be fully productive again. I don’t know how many of you read the linked Esquire article in my recent MH 370 blog post, but part of what was disturbing about it for me was how the article really communicated how differently people grieve and how that can drive a wedge between family members when someone dies. And in the case of that article, between parents who’d lost a child.
I wish her (and her family) the best.
Update: Kensington has put one of her books on sale until 4/1. Link has details.

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Two More Scrivener Tip Posts

23 March 2014

I’ve been writing so much the last couple of days I’d almost forgotten about my little demo project to show how to produce different e-books by vendor. (Why? So your Amazon version has Amazon-specific links, etc.) I should have that done this week.
Jacey Bedford has an awesome tip about keeping character viewpoints in order. Which now makes me want to add that tip into the sample project.
Diane Patterson has an awesome tip about how to easily keep track of new characters or add new information to existing characters’ sheets. This will save you a ton of time later and will help your copy editor (if your copy editor is doing your consistency editing). If you’re writing a series, it’ll not only help your copy editor, it’ll help save your sanity.
Jacey and I posted because of Jaine Fenn, who’s recently joined us on the Scrivener side. Also, Jaine’s book, Queen of Nowhere is Hugo-eligible this year. Which, I’ve been catching up with Jaine, so perhaps I should resort to reading out of order at this point.

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Long Overdue Author Platform Rant

23 March 2014

Me: I’m writing my author platform rant.
Rick: Is that what your statue sits on?

I said a few months ago that I had a pending rant about author platforms. It’s that time. I’m completely frustrated about something entirely different, so it’s a good time to fuel that energy into this.
For non-fiction writers, your platform is, in part, your specific expertise to write that book. Being a kick-ass researcher, like Mary Roach, will help you get through problems writing books like Packing for Mars even without subject-matter expertise prior to starting the book.
Note that I said in part. I’ll get back to that.
For fiction writers, your platform is a lot more nebulous, but the similar part would be what you write about.

Platform Isn’t an External Thing

Which is another thing. I sometimes see statements like: my platform is (and a list of social media and blog stuff, possibly with a mailing list). Um, no. That’s an important aspect, true, but it’s like saying the car you drive is you.
The rant, for me, comes in here: a platform isn’t an external thing. It’s not actually external to you. It is you, but it’s not all of you. People asking, “What’s your platform?” just make it feel like it’s something that’s external.
It’s how you present your work and how you interact with potential and actual target audiences. It also excludes the audiences you alienate, even though you may think you don’t ever want to alienate any. You will. It’s a given. Not everyone will be into what you write. It’s okay.
Let’s say you’re writing a historical romance. I’m not your target audience, so that would generally exclude me unless you happened to hit enough other things I liked that my interest in those things transcends genre. Write about a romance with strong women in the Venetian Renaissance? I’m there.

So Here’s How I Think of It

Your platform is how you appeal to and interact with the various groups that comprise your target audiences, including:

  1. What you write
  2. Your face-to-face interactions
  3. Your email interactions (including a newsletter, if you have one)
  4. Your website and blog (some people use different servers for these)
  5. Your other social media
  6. Your marketing (business cards, bookmarks, blog tours, etc.)
  7. Everything else

Note That Plural

Target audiences.
Even if you’re writing two books in the same series, not every book in that series will appeal the same to every reader. It’s not even about what book is (or isn’t) objectively better. The Empire Strikes Back is (my opinion) objectively better than Star Wars, but I still prefer Star Wars because it doesn’t have the middle-part-of-a-trilogy structure problem.
My favorite plot structure is, essentially, not really in the catalog of possibilities for a typical romance. However, I enjoy reading romance. I just won’t bond with it quite as deeply as I might if the story used my favorite plot structure. (Books: Tim Powers’s The Anubis Gates and Steve Martini’s The List. Movies: The Player, and, to a lesser extent but for similar reasons, Donnie Darko and Inception.)
As I’ve said when giving career advice to people in technology: the sum total of what you care about, what you do not, and how much you care/don’t is unique. I care about my favorite plot structure, but not to the exclusion of other plot structures.
How do you help people find you who care about the same things you write about?
That’s the big question, isn’t it?

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NTSB Fatality Family + MH370 = Stress

22 March 2014


On the ring finger of my left hand, I wear the wedding ring that once belonged to Pan Am Captain Arthur Moen. My late father-in-law, whom I never met.
Anyone who flies a lot fears the worst. Truly, on average, the risks in commercial aviation are low. Not zero, but low. Those of us who flew, say, 160,000 miles last year, some of that over the Indian Ocean, might be a wee bit more stressed about MH 370 than average folks.
This household, though, is a dual-NTSB-report family. A dual-NTSB-fatality-report family.
Rick and I were the same age when tragedy struck our families’ lives in very different ways.

My Side O’ The Family

My stepfather had a Cessna 182, and it was on a leaseback, meaning other people could pay to fly it when we weren’t. One pilot with 1500 hours (quite a lot for a private pilot) decided to fly himself and three passengers to the Reno air show that year.
The pilot blew off the weather briefing that morning and, despite not being instrument rated (and the plane didn’t have the right gear for IFR), he took off in weather that required instruments. The fog was all the way to the ground at the place of impact.
The pilot mis-estimated where he was and, well, “struck obscured mntn side” says it all, doesn’t it?
Four people died. NTSB report.
Crash victim family members threatened to sue my family. There was an NTSB investigation, but our hands were clean. Still, when you’re a kid (or even an adult), it’s rather horrifying to think that the plane you flew in not so long ago flew full-speed into a mountain and caught fire.

Rick’s Side O’ The Family

Rick’s father’s case is the more famous one, a Pan Am cargo flight to Viet Nam.

The Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was an attempted takeoff with the flaps in a retracted position. This resulted from a combination of factors; (a) inadequate cockpit checklist and procedures; (b) a warning system inadequacy associated with cold weather operations; (c) ineffective control practices regarding manufacturer’s Service Bulletins; and (d) stresses imposed upon the crew by their attempts to meet an air traffic control deadline.

On Christmas Day, the flight left San Francisco, bound for Anchorage for refueling. The weather at the commercial airport was unsafe, so they landed at Elmendorf Air Force Base instead. The following morning (which, being Alaska in December, was completely dark), there were a number of irregularities in procedure during takeoff, and the time pressure wasn’t helping.
None of the three people survived the resulting crash.
The NTSB report resulted in a number of psychological studies on the relative effectiveness of checklists, though. Overall, checklist procedures at all airlines changed, albeit slowly.
The findings and related research were incorporated into other works. An example would be this dissertation. Or, perhaps strangely, the NTSB’s conclusions reached software development books like Model-Driven Development of Advanced User Interfaces.
Perhaps the most relevant book would be The Multitasking Myth (Ashgate Studies in Human Factors for Flight Operations):

However, accumulating scientific evidence now reveals that multitasking increases the probability of human error. This book presents a set of NASA studies that characterize concurrent demands in one work domain, routine airline cockpit operations, in order to illustrate that attempting to manage multiple operational task demands concurrently makes human performance in this, and in any domain, vulnerable to potentially serious errors and to accidents.

These were things that were largely unknown at the time. Pity we found some of them out the hard way.
If a job asks you to multitask? Better hope what you’re doing isn’t critical.

The Waiting

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wonder if the Asiana 214 report will be ready soon. I double-check to see I haven’t missed it.
Three weeks before the Asiana crash at my home airport, SFO, I was returning home from Alaska—my first trip there, and a place Rick understandably doesn’t wish to return to—when my United flight missed their approach and did a go-around. It was very strange looking out the window down at the airport from an angle you’re not supposed to see it.
While I hadn’t had a near miss, let’s just say that it rattled me. I didn’t tell Rick about the missed approach until the Asiana crash because it involved Alaska.
The only reason my wedding ring exists? Art had left it home to see if it could be adjusted by the local jeweler as it wasn’t fitting him right any more. Therefore it wasn’t in Alaska when the crash occurred.
So MH 370 —especially as someone who flew the airline last year (Maldives-Malaysia-Myanmar)—has me on tenterhooks.
We want to know what happened. We’re realists; we expect that there are no survivors. But we want to understand what happened. To feel reassured that’s not going to happen to us. We feel it more deeply than many other people because we’ve pored over other NTSB reports, become fascinated with tragic failures.
Family history has become part of our culture in gruesome ways. Rick keeps a photo of that particular Pan Am plane (the featured image for this post) at his desk at work. In my office at Apple, I kept a vintage ad for electronics marketing from Pan Am, also featuring that exact plane. Sadly, I don’t have the ad showing the tail number, but I have seen a copy. I just saw it minutes after it was sold. The ad I do have, though, was clearly taken in the same photo session.
Rick says that his real nightmare, thanks to SwissAir 111 (and the amazing writing in this Esquire piece), is this scenario. Warning: this is extremely difficult reading and will likely become a nightmare for you, too.

Then he told his wife, and she said, Until they phone us with the news, we have to believe. And the man said, But darling, they’re not going to phone with news like that. They’d come to the door —
And before he’d finished his sentence, the doorbell rang.

Two hundred thirty-nine people’s families are waiting for their doorbells to ring.

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