Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What's the buzz?

This morning I received an email from the Indiegogo folks. According to them, my "gogofactor" is DOWN. Your gogofactor, they explain, isn't just based on how well your campaign is doing, but also on how much people are talking about you and your campaign. You know, on buzz.

Did you know that "buzzability" is an actual word? This is terrifying. I can barely handle "impactful." Now I have to be buzzable.

I also apparently have no Klout. Klout is the latest social media tool designed to humiliate you, this time by somehow looking at your online activity and determining, on a scale of 1-100, how influential you are. A friend suggested I see how much Klout I have (you know, since I'm doing so well at being buzzable), so I checked.

My Klout score is 10. I think they give you a 10 just for being online. According to the good people at Klout, Rice Krispies are more influential than I am. Also, Honey Boo Boo and the plague.

Listen, people. This is not okay. What is this, time to pick sides for dodge ball in 8th grade gym class? Thanks a lot, Klout.

I'm now at the halfway point for the Indiegogo campaign. There are 15 days left. To make this thing happen, that means we need to bring in about $287 a day between now and November 01. That's what, 8.2 hardcovers a day? Surely we can do that.

We have to do that. Remember, if the project isn't fully funded, it doesn't happen. Nobody gets books. So here's the plan. Tell EVERYONE. And I mean everyone. Make LILY buzzable. Start buzzing.  Because if this doesn't happen, I'm going to be sad. We're all going to be sad. Do you really want me to  have a dismal gogofactor, no Klout, and no book? No, you don't. Because that's just wrong.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Indiegogo Campaign: Day 10 Report

Day 10? What, you might be asking, happened to days 4 through 9?

Well, a couple of things. I got the flu (again). The truck died. One of the dogs was sick. Some other unpleasant stuff got in the way. Frankly, I was a little depressed and decided to watch bad horror films instead of be my usual perky self.

But I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk about Lena Dunham. Book circles are buzzing about the $3.7 million advance Dunham just got from Random House for her as-yet-unwritten advice book for young women. Dunham, by the way, is the 26-year-old writer/director of the film Tiny Furniture and the creator/writer/director/star of a show called Girls, which apparently received a bunch of Emmy nominations this year. So yay for her. That's impressive. She also seems really nice.

But this advance. Oy, this advance. I have also been published by Random House. They're home to my Jane Austen-as-modern-day-vampire series. And I can tell you this--I didn't get $3.7 million for those books. I was really happy with what they did give me, but probably not nearly as happy as Lena Dunham is. Particularly considering that this is her first book. My books were my 55th, 56th, and 57th. Not that I'm counting.

A lot of people have asked me if I think Dunham deserves her advance. Well, a publisher decides what to advance you based on how well they think the book will sell. And if Random House thinks Dunham's book is good enough to warrant giving her $3.7 million, they must think she's going to sell somewhere between 500,000 and 750,000 copies, because that's how many they'll need to move in order to make a profit. And even at those numbers, Dunham won't have actually earned back her advance, as she'll presumably be getting the usual 15% royalty rate. If her book has a $27 list price, that means she'll be chalking up $4.05 for each copy sold, meaning she'll need sales of about 913,500 copies to earn out.

That ain't gonna happen. Never. So does that mean Dunham doesn't deserve her $3.7 million? To me, the more useful question is, does anyone deserve a $3.7 million advance?

That's a difficult question to answer. If Random House had offered me $3.7 million for my Jane Austen vampire books, I don't think I can with even a hint of honesty tell you that I would have said, "That's way too much! How about we do a hundred thousand and you use the rest to sign up some other folks?" But I know someone who did just that. When bidding on her novel reached heights she never dreamed of, she called a halt to it and accepted a lower offer. Why? Because she knew that if her book failed, not only would she never receive an advance like that again, no one writing books like hers would receive such an advance. She didn't want that to happen.

Her book, by the way, went on to be very successful, and ultimately she did earn an amount equal to what she would have gotten had she let publishers keep upping their offers for her book. It just took her a lot longer to get there. As in probably twenty years longer. And that brings up a good point: As an author, you're going to earn the same amount for your book whether you get that money up front as an advance or over time as royalties. Unless, of course, you're overpaid to begin with and never earn back the advance. But let's assume you do. Lena Dunham could indeed sell enough copies to earn her $3.7 million over time. It's doubtful, but it could happen. So why throw that $3.7 million at her right away? Why not give her a million now and let the rest come to her in the form of royalty checks twice a year? Then use that other $2.7 million to buy some other books.

My novelist friend Michael Lowenthal pointed out that pretty much every author we know would be thrilled to receive a $50,000 advance for a novel. That's a lot of money for most authors, who generally receive well below that. Using that number, we could give Dunham her million and still have enough left to give 54 other writers and their books a chance at success. That seems reasonable, no?

But of course that $3.7 million isn't just about the quality of Dunham's book. It's about creating buzz. The $3.7 million isn't for Dunham's words so much as it is for Dunham herself. She's the It Girl of the moment. She's funny. She's hip. She's everything Random House wants their readers to think they are. What they're buying in Dunham isn't a book, it's an image, or more precisely a pop culture moment that they hope will live long enough for them to get a return on their investment.

So do I think Lena Dunham deserves a $3.7 million advance? No. But it has nothing to do with her as a person or a writer. I think she's pretty great. And it's not her fault that the world of books and publishing is changing into something that writers like Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner wouldn't recognize. She's just the most recent beneficiary of a publishing world desperately trying to figure out how to stay relevant. But if she wants to donate $50,000 to my Indiegogo campaign for my book, I wouldn't say no.

Speaking of which, I'm at the 1/3 mark as far as campaign time goes, but just under that for actual sponsorship. If you've been thinking about participating, please head over to my Indiegogo campaign page now. And please, please, please keep telling your friends about the project. Word of mouth has been my biggest promotion tool, so hound everyone. They'll thank you for it later.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Indiegogo Campaign: Day 3 Report

Three days in, and we're already at 25%! I'm really, really pleased with how it's going. I'm even more pleased at how much conversation this campaign is generating. Thanks to a mention by the fabulous Emma Dryden of drydenbks, I've been corresponding with a lot of people interested in this idea. One of the questions I'm being asked most often is if I'm doing this because I think authors and traditional publishers have an adversarial relationship. The short answer is that no, I don't think authors and traditional publishers have an adversarial relationship. What I think is that the publishing world has changed so quickly--and continues to change so rapidly on a daily basis--that no one really knows what to do. And because authors are ultimately the ones most affected by whether or not their books sell, we're the ones who need to take control of our work and our careers. Nobody else is going to do it for us. I started in publishing in 1988 as an editorial assistant. When I left five years later to write full time, editors at my company still weren't using computers. "Electronic rights" were a vague concept that neither the contracts department nor agents really knew what to do about. We all pretty much had our heads in the sand and kept reassuring ourselves that huge changes might be coming, but if so they were waaaaaay down the line. Well, that lane was shorter than we thought. Those changes came, and they're still coming. And we still don't really know what to do about them. Ebooks have changed everything about how we read books, about how we sell books, and about how books themselves are perceived. Self-publishing has gone from being largely a vanity undertaking to a viable pathway for authors who want to have more control over their work. Publishing is a totally different world now than it was when I stepped into it 25 years ago. I decided to go this route with LILY because it's an odd little book that, frankly, probably would have gotten lost in the shuffle if I'd taken the traditional publishing route. This way, readers who want to read it can get it, and I get to do the book the way I want to. It's simply another way to get a book into the world. I'm still working on projects with traditional publishers, and while I think there's definitely room for improvement there, I'm also excited by the things publishers are trying to do. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to Emma for mentioning my project, to everyone who has written, and to everyone who has donated to the campaign. There's still a long way to go, but every time I get an email from Indiegogo letting me know that someone else has contributed, it makes my day. Please keep spreading the word!