Friday, November 4, 2011

The Hand that Reads #3: Turning Nothing into Something

by JW Schnarr

Recently a discussion on a small press forum got me thinking about some of the dynamics involved in the small presses, and how I've made them work for me over the years. This is something I picked up on some years ago, and it really is a no-brainer. I'm actually amazed more people haven't caught on to it.

In the last ten years or so I've seen magazines replaced by the rise of the small press anthology - books often put together by Indie writers dabbling in the waters of the publishing world (they are vast and deep, believe me, I've done it myself).

These books don't usually pay much, and they don't usually sell much. Nobody makes any money off them. The writer adds a publishing credit to his or her resume, the publisher goes out of business, and the circle of life continues in grand fashion. These books are often looked down on by more established writers, and the professional industry at large almost completely ignores them.

Years ago I gave up on 4TL and token payment markets, insisting on what's generally considered to be "semi-pro" payment for work sold. But even the 1-3 cents a word I usually sell for is really a joke compared to what I make writing professionally. The money is merely to settle my own piece of mind that my work has value and other people believe that as well.

But there's an easy way for a writer to ramp up the value of a story while gaining exposure AND helping out the publishers who are going broke putting these books out. Ready? It's really groundbreaking stuff.
Buy some books yourself, and sell them.

Mind blowing, right?

Now there's a catch: you need to submit to publishers who offer trade discounts to authors (40% or more), and honestly if they're not doing that, they really need to learn something about marketing, don't they? The discount is the same they'd give to a bookstore, and believe me, you, as a contributor, are going to sell more books for them than any single bookstore.

Let's do some easy math. The publisher gives you a book for say, $9 or $10. If you order 10, you might even get a deal on shipping. But if not, let's say your investment bounces up to 11 bucks per book. (S&H gets cheaper per piece the more you order). Now, go sell the book for $15 to $16 (a common Indie book price), and pocket the difference. Do it 10 times and add $40 to $50 to the value of the story you wrote. When you've sold out, put another order in.

The economics of this setup are perfect for everyone. The retail cost for 10 books might be $150. Broken down, that's $50 for the printer, $50 for the publisher, and $50 for a certain enterprising contributor. If it was originally a 4TL market, congratulations, you just graduated to paid status. If you were getting a token or semi-pro payment, well, you might have just added a cent or three to the value of your story. Over the course of several years, that little 4TL contribution could eventually generate hundred of dollars in revenue for you and the publisher. And it will continue to generate revenue as long as you keep pushing it.

Can't afford a table at your local Con? How about a craft fair? How about a flea market? Hell, I've sold books at the pub. I've sold them at weddings and funerals. Believe me, I'm not bragging about funeral sales. But there was drinking involved, and they were insistent. I keep boxes of books in the trunk of my car because you never know when the subject is going to come up. When somebody says, "do you have any copies of your book?" you ALWAYS want to say yes.

As for the tables, get a handful of these anthologies working for you and you're going to look like a REAL WRITER with a table full of books containing your work. Guess what? You ARE a real writer.

Too often Indie writers feel that support for small press means hanging out on forums and networking, or they mistakenly believe cash should only ever flow one direction - from the publisher to the writer (that saying actually means something else entirely). Real support for Indie markets grows out of mutual work on behalf of the publisher and the writer to reach target markets.

Too many Indie writers sell a story and then write off the book it appears in forever, moving on to another story without another thought. This is one way to do it, but in my opinion it's a very narrow-minded view. It's missed opportunity.

So next time you sell a story, bite the bullet and order a handful of copies. It helps you, and it helps the publisher stay in business. A low paying market may not be such a big deal to you or your online writer buddies, but it is a big deal indeed to people who have never written a story, who are impressed that you have been published, and are interested in hearing about your work, buying a signed copy, and reading what you've created. Hell, they may even LIKE it. They might come looking for more next time you have a story to sell. And I guarantee you'll love signing the book and pocketing some cash.

"JW Schnarr is a writer from Claresholm, AB. He works as a reporter/photographer by day and a horror writer/publisher by night. He is the author of "Things Falling Apart" and Alice & Dorothy.  JW can be reached at