Friday, May 10, 2013

Not All Reviews are Equal

Feedback and reviews for a writer of fiction -- hell, for just about any writer -- is important because it allows you to gauge if your draft is on target. But not all reviews are equal. In most cases, a review or critique is subjective based on the bias of the reviewer. This is important to remember.

I had forgotten it until the other day. I know this because two stories I submitted to an anthology were rejected yet the stories continue to do well in Smashwords. So while the stories might fail to meet some literary benchmark, they resonate with my readers. Given that choice I'll gladly take the latter option.

And this fact reminded me that in an age of self-publishing, old literary standards mean little. People who insist on upholding them are clinging to a past that is evaporating. It is kind of like living in an closed religious community with strict rules of dress and behavior. You miss out on everything around you. They insist on the old ways out of fear.

I'm not saying down with the old ways; but I do think people need to be open to change and have to learn how to adapt. I'm not one to talk here; I really dislike change. But when I see the handwriting on the wall, then the time to change is at hand. In this case, how you judge a good story from a bad one depends on who you are.

I know that my two stories were rejected because they were not considered very original. I would argue that because originality is in the new of the beholder. Sure, an editor of an anthology who sees hundreds and thousands of stories could have that reaction, especially if he or she doesn't read the whole story. But for others, the story is unlike anything they've every seen.

And that's the point. As a writer I tend to think that all comments are equal and have equal weight, but that's not true because for the editor of the anthology my work is crap. And I know that's wrong. So my goal is to write the best story I can. Make the text as clean as possible and adhere to the rules of writing creative fiction, such as they are. Beyond that, what you think of a story is your business and rushing to judgement does not do you or me much good.


Anonymous said...

I wonder what you mean when you say your stories are "doing well" on Smashwords. Have you sold 2,000 copies in the first year? A major publishing house would consider that pro bono work. Read to the end.

Rick Horgan, Executive Editor of Crown, an imprint of Random House, was kind enough to break down some numbers. Horgan estimated a distribution of 25,000 copies on an average commercial fiction launch for an author's debut novel in hardcover. The publishing house might announce 50,000 copies, but this is a "gross exaggeration because publishers always over-announce," Horgan says. Of those 25,000 copies, 65% will sell through with the remaining 35% in returns. To put it simply, if the publisher ended up selling roughly 15,000 copies, with the author making 15% in royalties on a $25 hardcover ($3.75 per book), that equates to about $50,000 in author earnings on a hardcover printing.

Many novels also have a paperback life. The formula Crown uses is half-half the distribution, half the author's royalty rate, at half the book's selling price. If the hardcover had a sell-through of 15,000 copies, the paperback run would be 7,500 to 10,000 paperbacks, either trade paper or mass market. The typical sell-through rate of trade paper is 70%. The typical royalty rate is 7.5% of $13.95 ($1 per book), making about $7,000 in profit for the author on the paperback run.

"If it had some legs it would sell a little bit more in the next few years," Horgan says. This is a specific example for a hardcover novel, however.

"If you sent me a book that was a trade paper submission," says Horgan, "say it's a TV companion guide to that Keifer Sutherland show, '24,' an episode guide. You'd view it through a whole new lens. No one's going to pay $25 for this book, every other TV companion guide in the universe, they're trade paperbacks, you'd price it at $13 at 7.5% royalty rate. You'll try to get out 15,000 copies. You probably won't project a net more than 20,000 copies."

Academic and poetry presses distribute much smaller quantities-2-3,000 copies-at a rate more akin to pro-bono work. The economic model is simply different and can't be compared to big New York publishing houses like Random House.

Rich Feitelberg said...

Obviously by the standard you cite, very few writers are doing well. But In the last two weeks I've gotten 16 new downloads. That's about one a day. That's good as far as I'm concerned for now. Would I like it to be better? Sure. Who wouldn't but as I'm just starting to get the word out about my stories I can use this as a baseline and go from here.