Tag Archives: books

Do Writers Deserve to Eat?

The job title “writer” covers a lot of ground. Writers can be, among other things, journalists, web content writers, technical writers, script writers, legal writers, fiction writers, or song writers. They can be staff writers or freelancers.  Their work can appear in print, electronically, on stage or screen.  Some lucky writers earn a great deal from their work. And then there’s the rest of us.

According to a 2017 survey conducted by freelancewriting.com,  65% of freelancers in the U.S. earn less than $10,000 per year from their writing, while for over half of freelancers, writing is their only job. The “top tier” freelance writers work full time and earn $40,000 or more per year, not enough to get rich but enough to pay the rent and eat.

The writers involved in this survey do a broad range of work. Most of them aren’t writing books, but web content, technical material, advertising copy, articles, and so forth.  They’ve sought out work, sold themselves, and negotiated a rate (or accepted what they were offered). Somebody is paying them to do a specific job. Those of us who write books to share knowledge or tell a story have to find a publisher, or failing that, self-publish. We make our money off of sales of our work to the reading public. You are our clients. And you pay us not according to a contractual rate, but by buying copies of our work.

So the big question is, how much are you willing to pay? That’s been a burning question for independent book authors for quite a few years now. Scan the ranks of books by indie authors, and you’ll see ebooks selling for anywhere from nothing to a few dollars. Our print books typically cost more, but generally less than $15.00 and frequently less than $10.00. That’s great for the reader, but horrible for the writer. Why? Because at $0.00 per copy, the author makes nothing no matter how popular her work may become, and even at $2.99, the profits don’t exactly mount up.

Consider what goes into making a book. While we all write at our own speed, it’s not uncommon to spend six months to a year writing a book. Let’s go with the lower end of that range. Now, after that book is written and revised to the author’s satisfaction, it goes out to an editor. If a writer is very lucky–as I am–an “in house” editor like my wife Kathleen may be available for free. But most often, the writer has to pay for editorial services. That can run anywhere from several hundred dollars to over a thousand, depending on the skill of the editor and the length and complexity of the work.

So let’s say after six months hard work and maybe $500 editing expense, you have a book. You’re not done yet. You likely purchase an ISBN for each book format you intend to publish (about $25 if you buy them individually, although considerably less if you can buy them in bulk), possibly a bar code for the print book (another $25), and of course cover art. You might do the cover work yourself, but if not you’ll spend a few hundred to a thousand or more for that. And let’s not forget the copyright registration fee, another $35 to $55, depending several factors. So the writer has invested six months labor and probably anywhere between $100 and $1,000 in expenses to produce one book.

Now it’s time to make back that investment. The book goes on sale.

Many indie authors are lucky to sell 100 or so copies of a book. Even at the “high” price of $2.99,  that can fall well short of what they’ve spent in bringing you the book.  If they keep costs low, they might actually make a small profit, but let’s face it, how many other laborers would settle for a payout of $300, or even $1000, for six months’ work?

At the $2.99 price point, an indie author would, assuming a lot of do-it-yourself, need to sell well over 13,000 copies of their book in one year to hit that “top tier” income level of $40,000. That doesn’t happen too often.  Achieving “bestseller” status can require selling about 1,000 copies within a few days of release. That’s five to ten times what many indie books sell over a year or two. To make serious money as an indie author requires writing bestseller after bestseller.

If you’re a writer, this may seem discouraging, but don’t be disheartened. Consider this a call to keep writing good books while learning the art of promotion. A series of good books well-promoted can, given time and effort, earn you enough to enable you to eat.

If you’re a reader, consider this is a call for understanding and help. Please don’t expect to get something for nothing. We work hard to bring you stories and intellectual excursions you will enjoy. Be willing to pay at least as much for a good book as you pay for a good cup of coffee. You only get to drink the cup of coffee once. The book will stay with you through re-readings and conversations and happy memories. It’s also lower in caffeine. And if you do enjoy our product, please let others know about it by leaving reviews and telling friends and family. Praise from satisfied customers goes father than almost anything we can do ourselves.

Joni Dee: Unfathomable Treachery

Recently I’ve been reading novels by newer, largely unknown indie writers. By way of helping them along, I’ll be introducing some of them here. These authors are up-and-coming, at varying stages in their development as writers. They may not all have the polish of traditionally published authors, but I think they all have potential and deserve encouragement.

Espionage, political corruption, and international terrorism are a potent and frightening mix. Joni Dee dares stir in with them news still fresh in many people’s memories to deliver a seat-of-the-pants thriller centered in London but stretching around the world. It begins when Yochanan (John) Daniel, an Israeli computer programmer living in London, is flattened by a man desperately trying to escape pursuit. The man whispers a cryptic message to Daniel before picking himself up and continuing his flight, only to be killed by a subway train a few minutes later. Turns out the dead man was an informant of now-retired British handler Adam Grey. Grey and Daniel link up and embark on a journey that uncovers a chilling connection between a former KGB agent, Islamic terrorists, and Britain’s top security officials.

The premise has a ton of potential, and it does keep you reading. Alas, And the Wolf Shall Dwell suffers from a few shortcomings common to first-time novels by indie writers. I found the plot rather confusing owing to the number of important characters involved and the way the action jumped around. I expected John Daniels and Adam Gray to be the main characters, but by the end I wasn’t sure they had contributed all that significantly to events. Some of this may be the circumstances under which I read the novel: my wife had been hospitalized for eleven days. Nevertheless, the level of detail on the political background and the convoluted nature of the interactions between the characters made it hard for me to follow.

The writing needs a fair bit of tightening, and the text contains too many grammatical errors. According to Dee, the novel underwent two “translations” due to changes in publisher: first from British English to American English, then back to British English. I’ll grant that some of the editorial problems may have arisen from this convoluted history, but they get in the way.

This story has the potential to be 5 stars and could be a real nail-biter. But the execution falls short of that, even allowing for my distracted state at the time of reading. I’ll give it a 3.5. The writing, allowing for it being a debut indie novel with a troubled editorial history, gets a 3. Overall, then, call it a 3. That’s not bad for the first time out.

I recently asked Joni Dee about the novel and his writing. Here’s what he said:

Like the real world, Adam Grey’s is a complex place: a tangle of government agencies and personalities, both at home and abroad. How much of it is real and how much of it is your imagination?

Hi Dale, thanks for hosting me.

Funny that you should ask about Adam Grey, as for me John Daniel is really the main protagonist. However, a UK based blogger has made the same assumption, which kind of means that the person you relate with the most, if he has an equally prominent role, is your protagonist. This is something with which I’m happy to roll!

In any case, both Adam and John are fictional. Adam Grey’s entire very English personality is fictional and is not based on anyone in particular, but perhaps is a mix of a few people, if you may. His role as a former MI6 spy is also extremely fictional. I have no knowledge of how MI6, or “The Service,” do things except from popular fiction and from non-fiction reading/research, which included analysing the British Ministry of Defence’s financial reports.

Having said that, it is a well-known secret that I had a background in an intelligence service of a different Western country. The methodology and different branches, as well as their interactions, is pretty much taken from my experience, translated to “British”. Is it accurate? For sure it isn’t. Is it close to the truth? One assumes that the methodological work is similar between all Western intelligence communities. I’d like to think that without revealing too much of what I did and where I served, I managed to hit pretty close to base.

I don’t want to give too much away, but at the end of the novel I felt some key issues hadn’t been resolved. Certainly the principal “bad guys” had been put out of commission one way or another, yet a lot of questions seem to remain open, like gaping wounds. Did I miss something, or did you intend to end on a somewhat ambiguous note?

I intended to leave a few things open, indeed. While I think that the general plot and main scheme is done and dusted, I specifically left a few open issues such as (without giving away any spoilers): John’s future relations with MI6, John and Liz’s love-hate relationship, Katie Jones–who is one of my favourite characters in this novel–wasn’t given enough “screen time”, and of course the fate of one of the most prominent “villains”

Is this a one-shot deal, or might Adam Grey and John Daniel pop up in another thriller?

There’s a second book in the Daniel-Grey series which I’m currently working on. It has the working title Terror Within and it sends John and Grey head to head with what’s left of the Islamic State’s terrorist cell-activity in Europe. Surprisingly enough, they are driven by English and French right-wing extremists, politicians who are trying to use fear for their own agenda of nationalism.

Brexit is on. Grey is in coastal England. John is in a protest-stricken Paris. And the heat is on! Katie Jones will have a more prominent role, but both Liz and the villain which I mentioned before are absent. If there is ever a third book, they’ll return

Had you written anything before And the Wolf Shall Dwell, and what’s next for you?

And the Wolf Shall Dwell is my debut novel. I have attempted to write a few novels in the past and had always ended up throwing them into the bin. It took me nearly five years to finish, and I certainly hope it won’t take me as long to complete this one.

I’ll definitely find a platform to publish Book II. As for making this into a career … I wish! But realistically, I’m not sure I will ever get the big break I need to make a living as an author. One can only dream, though.

Meanwhile, I’m one of the founding fathers of BookGobbler.com, an initiative which sets out to get more reviews for indie authors or small publishers. I am a huge believer in this project. It already has a readership of 200+ with 1,000 unique visitors monthly, and that’s with zero advertising. In essence, it’s like NetGalley without the fees. I urge anyone who likes a free quality read and isn’t afraid to rate/review the book he or she reads to give it a try and register.

(One small disclaimer for my readers: I’m one of the volunteer staff reviewers for BookGobbler.)

What advice do you have for readers or writers?

Without getting into clichés such as “believe in yourself,” which is really a must in these sort of things, my best advice would be to keep an open mind, for both parties.

For readers I’d say, give an indie or unknown author a chance. Imagine you are in his shoes, trying to get your long-lost dream fulfilled. As readers nowadays, you have the power to help him or her make it so.

Writers, keep this same advice in mind: not everyone will like your book, not every review you get you’ll agree with, not every platform (whether a small publisher or a new service like BookGobbler) will look appealing. Keep an open mind, and keep the faith.

Where can readers find you?

So, my author website has all the updates about my projects, including how to be a character in my next book! You can also find me on Facebook. And the Wolf Shall Dwell is available from Amazon and from Blue Poppy, my publisher. They have other fantastic titles there.

Finally, I implore: I just hit 50 reviews on Amazon.com. Everyone knows how important reviews are, but not everybody knows that you need 100 on Amazon to get your book to appear in more searches. Please, if you’ve read, give me a rating and an honest, even short, review. Many thanks!


K. A. Hitchins: Life, Death, and Faith

Recently I’ve been reading novels by newer, largely unknown indie writers. By way of helping them along, I’ll be introducing some of them here. These authors are up-and-coming, at varying stages in their development as writers. They may not all have the polish of traditionally published authors, but I think they all have potential and deserve encouragement.

Dr. Matilda Moss is moving toward a bright future. A top British stem cell researcher, she’s on the verge of a breakthrough that promises cures for a variety of ailments. But then a fall from a balcony leaves her brilliant mind trapped in a useless body slipping inexorably toward death. Unable to move or speak or even blink her eyes, she is powerless to explain what happened to her. Was it a failed suicide? Attempted murder? She can only listen to the speculations swirling about her, collect hints from those who visit her hospital room, and sift through her own memories in an effort to find the meaning behind her life and impending death.

The Key of All Unknown floored me. Told in first person through Matilda’s eyes and mind, it is full of heart-wrenching, gut-wrenching twists and turns. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, the tale rounds a new bend and everything changes, not just once, not just twice, but time after time. Beneath it all runs a current of philosophical and moral questing touching on the deepest questions of life and death, and critiquing society’s mad rush to devalue its own humanity. Emotional, topical, and beautifully told, this novel is among the best I’ve read in recent times. I can’t find a thing to complain about, except a very occasional quibble over an excessively ornate description, and that may just be a matter of taste. The ending is so unequivocal that you’ll either be deeply moved by it or you’ll hate it, but either way it’s worth the reading. Five stars for story, five stars for the writing, five stars hands down. Brava, Ms. Hitchins!

I recently asked K. A. Hitchins about the novel and her writing. Here’s what she said:

As you can tell from my review, I think this is a brilliant novel. Is it a first novel, and what if anything had you written before?

The Key of All Unknown is my second novel. My first novel, The Girl at the End of the Road was published in March 2016, and is the story of a shallow, materialistic young man whose life is transformed when he falls in love with a woman on the autistic spectrum.

I have to admit that at first I wondered how you could possibly pull off an entire novel written first person from the point of view of a woman who had no use of her body. Did you find the prospect daunting or worrisome when you began writing?

When I originally started planning the novel, I wanted to set it inside the coffin of a woman who’d been erroneously buried alive. I’d read in the newspaper of a sixteen-year-old pregnant girl in South America who had “died” and been buried, only for relatives to hear knocking and screaming from the family crypt the following day. But by the time they released her, she’d sadly died of a heart attack.

I started writing but fairly quickly decided it was too difficult to have the entire novel set in a coffin, with all the action taking place through flashbacks. Once I’d moved the story into a hospital, the options opened up considerably. My main character, Tilda, wrongly diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state, is able to hear everything that goes on in her room – conversations between her family, the police, doctors, nurses, cleaners and the local radio news reports. Because I began with such a limited stage, placing Tilda in a coma in hospital was actually a liberation!

In addition to the mystery and suspense elements, The Key of All Unknown deals with a number of topical issues including the artificial extension of life, how we decide when to withhold medical care, abortion, euthanasia, and more. Did you set out to write a social commentary, or did it evolve on its own from the story?

I had a very clear idea of the areas I wanted to cover, because they’re the issues in the media at the moment and they raise serious moral questions. Medical science is advancing at a far quicker rate than medical ethics and there are things to consider today that would have never troubled our forebears. I wanted to clarify my own thoughts, and the best way of doing that was to write about them.

I also wanted to examine more closely the case for atheism. I read and researched quite widely before I began. Even though I’m a Christian, I wanted to challenge my beliefs on the basis that any worldview worth following should be able to withstand intellectual scrutiny.

I’d seen my own father die from cancer and I’d often wondered if he’d been able to hear me from inside his coma, and whether he was afraid or peaceful as he faced that greatest of all unknowns. He was a man of faith, so it was logical to wonder if he had doubts, but I also wondered whether those without faith – materialistic atheists who believe dying is simply a matter of returning to the oblivion from which they came prior to birth – might also have doubts at the end.

Despite my father’s suffering over many months, each day was precious to us as a family, and we were able to say everything we needed to before he passed. It made me realise that a “good death” is not necessarily a pain free death, and certainly not one where difficult questions are swept under the carpet. That’s why I have strong reservations about euthanasia. Humans are not just physical beings. They are intellectual and spiritual creatures, too. The very first thing we experience each day is our inner world – our consciousness – and it’s from that base that we move outwards and experience the physical world through our senses. Even if the body is useless, it doesn’t invalidate the intellectual and spiritual aspects of our humanity.

Ironically, when I was half way through writing The Key of All Unknown, I unexpectedly developed Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia , a condition where the immune system destroys the blood platelets, preventing the blood from clotting. I was taken into the Critical Dependency Unit of my local hospital, covered in a non-blanching rash and bruises, and observed overnight in case I was bleeding internally. I was told I probably wouldn’t sleep because of the drugs I’d been given. Suddenly, I was lying in my own hospital bed thinking about the meaning and purpose of my own life. It confirmed to me again that it’s not the strength of my faith that counts, but the strength of the One in whom I put my faith.

What are you currently working on?

At the moment, I’m preparing to launch my third novel, The Gardener’s Daughter on 15 March. It’s a Young Adult thriller exploring the theme of fatherhood: good fathers, bad fathers and absent fathers. The main character is a motherless nineteen-year-old girl who accidentally discovers she’s adopted. Penniless and cut-off from everything she’s ever known , and trapped in a deadly game of cat and mouse with a ruthless criminal gang, her journey of discovery unravels the shocking truth behind her mother’s death and the identity of her real father – with a sprinkling of romance along the way.

I have another completed manuscript called Love in the Village of Drought which requires some editing before I submit it to a publisher, and I’m in the very early stages of writing my fifth novel, provisionally entitled, The Shortness of Life.

What advice to you have for readers or writers?

My advice to everyone is to read widely and step outside of your comfort zone every now and then. It’s all too easy to get into a rut with a favourite genre, but mixing it up a little and picking up a book you wouldn’t usually choose, particularly one which stretches your heart, mind and soul, is a great way to broaden your reading experience and improve your writing.

Where can readers find you?

On my website , on Facebook, and on Twitter.