Friday News: ambitiously presented author earnings,, suspicious book similarities, UK digital lending trends, and video game Romance novel covers
Author Earnings – The Report – Here’s a link to the much discussed “report” by Hugh Howey that he’s using to assert the supremacy of self-publishing. His data captures two days of sales and then extrapolates annual earnings based on one placement on the charts. Without question, Howey’s data is a good start to a necessary conversation about what is selling on Amazon, but how much one can extrapolate from that (as Howey does) is up for debate (or should be). Of course authors will have to decide for themselves whether the data is useful.
This data provided one piece of a complex puzzle. The rest of the puzzle hit my inbox with a mighty thud last week. I received an email from an author with advanced coding skills who had created a software program that can crawl online bestseller lists and grab mountains of data. All of this data is public—it’s online for anyone to see—but until now it’s been extremely difficult to gather, aggregate, and organize. This program, however, is able to do in a day what would take hundreds of volunteers with web browsers and pencils a week to accomplish. The first run grabbed data on nearly 7,000 e-books from several bestselling genre categories on Amazon. Subsequent runs have looked at data for 50,000 titles across all genres. You can ask this data some pretty amazing questions, questions I’ve been asking for well over a year [link]. And now we finally have some answers. –Author Earnings
Links: Good and Funny Stuff to Soothe the Part Where Plagiarism Is Still Ugly – Sarah Wendell reports on two cases of questionable similarities, and I’m adding a bonus one from a recent Dear Author review for the hat trick. First, you can compare passages from Marilyn Lee’s 2008 book Skin Deep to those in Leila Lacey’s 2014 book, Vixen’s Curves. Then there is the case of JB Lynn’s book Nearly Departed, which Kate Rothwell has blogged about, due to similarities with Wendy Roberts’s The Remains of the Dead. Then Jane reviewed Mariana Zapata’s Under Locke, noting similarities to several other books, including Karina Halle’s Artist’s Trilogy. Whether or not all of these cases are straight out copying, there have definitely been more questions lately about how books in the genre are overlapping or being “deconstructed” or borrowed from, or whatever you want to call it. As I’ve said before, we this really needs to be publicly discussed more readily and prominently.
Lynn’s book has been removed from retailers, however. The book was published by “Gemma Halliday Publishing,” a boutique publisher of mystery and romance run by author Gemma Halliday. The book also appears to have been removed from Gemma Halliday’s site. Lynn has published several other books, including two in her Neurotic Hitwoman series with Avon. I’m guessing readers and authors armed with combs and Google are going over those other works, too. –Smart Bitches Trashy Books
Libraries see surge in erotic book borrowing – Okay, before you start rolling your eyes, note that the title of this article is sensationalistic and misleading, because the piece is a broader look at what books are being borrowed in digital form from UK public libraries. Since Laurel K. Hamilton is being classified as “erotic fiction,” well, you can draw your own conclusions. Still, there’s some interesting data here, as well as a note that “all lending income goes directly to the author.”
Hilary Mantel becomes the first Booker winner to make the top 10 since PLR records began 20 years ago, with Bring Up the Bodies cited as the eighth most borrowed book.
However, US romance writer Danielle Steel dropped out of the top 10 most borrowed adult fiction authors list for the first time since comprehensive PLR records began in 1988/89. –BBC News
Power Couples : Classic Video Games Reimagined as Romance Novels – I think this is pretty cute — part satire, part homage, and a lot of clever. How can you resist the love story between “Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man” or the tag line for Shot to the Heart: Their Dreams of Desire Just Flew South . . . Forever. It’s the tender story of a dog and a duck. Heh. –Shutterstock
Howey’s snapshot report certainly has problems with its extrapolations, but they’re not nearly as egregious IMO as the problems with the Digital Book World report that firstly included UNPUBLISHED writers in their author pool (67% of their responses FFS) and them compounded this by lumping the 67% UNPUBLISHED responses in with the indie/self publishers. If you’re going to do that (and clearly, I think it’s lunacy), then you need to divvy up that 67% into “currently in agent/editor slush or hoping to be when I get around to sending it out” and “currently working up to self publishing”. I want to see the info for ONLY the 33% of published authors.
I don’t think the best response to a flawed study is yet another flawed study with equally bad conclusions.
@Isobel Carr: I disagree. First, neither one of us can judge the quality of the DBW study, since we can’t see the data. But in this post summarizing her results the author is very clear about what the data can and cannot tell us (unlike Howey in his post). There are problems with the sample, but there are enough respondents who are self-published and trad-published to be able to perform multivariate analyses on those subsamples.
I understand why authors dislike the study and I share some of their criticisms about it. It is very unfortunate that the study is so expensive, but my understanding is that it is aimed at publishers, not authors.
The Howey study is a mess from start to finish. There is no comparison between the quality of the two.
As long as we are bringing up studies, I’ve seen no mention if this awesome one done by author Beverley Kendall. It’s a survey and, IMO if you are comparing all 3, this is the best study by far.
@Jane: Agreed. Neither really tell us much of anything.
@Sunita: I can’t see what possible value the “income” of unpublished writers is to publishers either. And yes, I read through her summary yesterday. Thought it was a bunch of bunk.
@Brenna Aubrey: Thanks for the link. I’d heard about Kendall’s survey but hadn’t seen the report itself.
Just a quick note from reading the first few pages: like the DBW survey, this is a non-random sample, almost certainly suffers from selection bias, and therefore cannot be generalized to a larger population, even a larger population of romance writers, let alone all fiction writers or all writers. The Writer’s Digest sample for the DBW has a different selection bias problem.
I would suggest that the problem with ALL of these surveys is that they’re self-reporting – meaning, IMO, that it’s likely those who are earning little from their writing aren’t going to participate because they’re embarrassed to report their low earnings.
When you have to count on people submitting data it’s easy to twist and turn in the wind. I might have made only $10 last year from self-publishing but put down $1000 because I gave away a lot of free books – or maybe I’m making an assumption on a big sale and a fat royalty check from a small publisher. It works on both sides when you’re asking the public to respond.
There’s a reason why the American Idol or Dancing with the Stars winners are often not the best – but the ones who garner the most votes. When there’s no way to verify what’s being said it flows back and forth between who has the biggest agenda…
All IMO of course.
@Sheryl Nantus: The Howey “study” is not a survey, but it has a huge frickin’ Amazon bias (I know you know this, just reiterating). For the other two, I agree completely, and your opinion is backed up by plenty of analysis. In both the Kendall and DBW surveys you have (sample) selection bias, which is magnified by response bias, which itself is shaped by self-reporting bias on the part of those who did respond.
I’m glad the Gemma Halliday site took a potentially plagiarized book down from their site. What an awful thing to tarnish a publisher’s reputation. These stories fascinate and horrify me; and how whoever is doing this manages to put together a cohesive story using someone elses work is baffling.
Holy carp, I just read that “deconstructed” link; scratched my chin a bit and then the comments section… wow. Just wow. Thanks for pointing that out.
As a businessman who demonstrates keen acumen, ability to work scientifically with numbers, and insightful market analysis: Hugh Howey makes a yacht captain who presumably has expertise in how to tie a sailor’s knot. And he’s really good at stirring up $#!^. Props to him for keeping his name in front of media.
I’m so tired of people knocking the DBW/Writer’s Digest survey. I have no dog in the fight; I didn’t take the survey, don’t know anyone at either organization, and I’m not an author, just a reader who is fascinated by the disruption taking place. But I dislike false spin for spin’s sake, and the DBW/WD survey was never meant to be the last word on authors’ earnings.
The survey is entitled “What Advantages do Traditional Publishers Offer Authors: A Comparison of Traditional and Indie Publishing from the Authors’ Perspective.” It measures attitudes, not hard finances, and that’s the reason why it includes aspiring/unpublished authors. Presumably, the unpubbed/aspiring authors will be the published authors of tomorrow, so what avenues are they looking to pursue NOW? Are they rushing to self-publishing? Or does New York still have an allure? What do they expect from each? And that’s presumably why the report has an appeal to publishers: how are publishers viewed, are they still considered viable avenues to publishing by aspiring and current authors, what expectations are being set and are they/aren’t they meeting them?
Authors’ earnings was just one small subset of data in the survey.
In addition, the DBW/WD report says on the label that is is not scientific and not representative of anything but the respondents’ views: “The survey sample is a non-scientific sample, since it is voluntary rather than a random sample. The authors, most of whom responded after receiving a notification from Writer’s Digest about the survey, may not be representative of the population of authors.” http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2014/2014-author-survey-indie-authors-and-others-prefer-traditional-publishing-slightly/
Compare this to Howey’s report, which breathlessly claims “You can ask this data some pretty amazing questions, questions I’ve been asking for well over a year. And now we finally have some answers….Here you find everything that needs to change in the publishing industry” with no disclaimer other than a coy, “We expect flaws will be found in our reasoning and our sampling methodologies.” Well, no duh. The data and Howey’s analysis are so flawed, I thought at first it was an early April Fool’s joke. (But that’s not stopping Howey from trying to steamroll over everyone who does find flaws. Here’s his response to the DBW rebuttal: https://twitter.com/hughhowey/status/434181344201932800)
In fact, the inclusion of aspiring authors in the DBW/WD survey was, it seems, in part response to Howey’s demand that slush piles be considered when comparing trad vs. self-pubbed – which means that aspiring/unpublished authors HAD to be included in the DBW/WD survey to answer his criticisms! But when they do it, Howey et al turn around and mock them, because the data doesn’t tell the story Howey et al had in their heads! http://www.teleread.com/writing/latest-dbw-author-survey-results-give-more-info-on-authors-publishing-cycle/
So all this gnashing of teeth and flashing of knives in DBW/WD’s direction is, quite frankly, ridiculous. The survey never stood for all the things Howey, Konrath et al have tried to make it a scapegoat for.
TL;DR: Publishing is a very individual business. We should celebrate that authors have choices, not tear down the side that doesn’t 100% correspond to one’s view, especially since so much of the accepted conventional wisdom on both sides is based on anecdotal evidence and personal experience and little else. However, Howey appears to be gearing up for a religious crusade – and self-righteous proselytizers make my skin crawl, no matter how just their “cause.”
Wow. That asskick-age by Debra Holland on the deconstructed link makes me want to cheer and buy her backlist.
Even if these “authors” had given credit where it’s due, there’s something loathsome about writing a book in that unemotional, acquisitive manner.