10 Things I’ve Learned After 7 Years of Blogging

Today, according to WordPress, is my 7th anniversary of blog writing (nearly 6 with this blog).  I started this blog because I got my first story sale with my short story Death Watch, which was published by the good folks over at Liquid Imagination.  Originally my blog was my website, and though I have since separated the two, a lot of people still find me through this blog.

When I started out, I really didn’t know what to expect.  And seven years later, I still really don’t know what could happen.  But here are at a few things I have learned since starting out.

1 – Getting traffic to your blog is hard.

It took me a long time, a really long time, to gather up any type of blog traffic.  I tried funny posts, writing posts, life posts, and mixtures of all three.  What I learned is the topics don’t really matter, it just takes time to start showing up in search results and for people to come to your blog looking for certain content.  Which leads to number two.

2 – Pick a topic for your blog

Pick a topic for your blog and stick to it.  Does that mean I don’t blog about life? No.  It just means that the general topic of this blog is books and writing.  I love the movies, video games, and hockey.  Sure I mention those in my blog, but I don’t think I’ve written blog posts on those things.  This doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to write on other topics, but you’ll get a better following if your blog has a theme.

There are exceptions to every rule.  My post, Eight Things I’ve Learned Since Moving to Washington is not writing related at all, but it is the only post that gets a hit at least once per day.

3 – If getting traffic is hard, getting a following seems impossible.

For the longest time, my family were my only followers.  It look a long time to work up to a decent following and to keep them following.  There are a lot of ways to get the regular following and keep them, and many of those are involved in these things I’ve learned.  The truth is, no advertising ever worked.  The only followers I ever got were from reading a post of mine and liking it enough to follow the blog.

4 – Losing followers is very easy.

People stop following a blog for many reasons.  The most common, you offended them.  Society has placed a lot of weight on being offended, as if it really means anything.  I’ve lost followers when they found out I’ve got LGBT characters in my novels. I’ve lost followers because I’ve mentioned I own guns.  I’ve lost followers because I made a Trump joke.  You will also lose followers if you don’t blog in a while.  I lost most of mine during my two year hiatus.

5 – You can’t please everyone.

So you may be thinking that you should sterilize your blog from any possibility of offence.  I tried that in the beginning of my blogging days.  Hell, I used to try that in the start of my writing days.  Well, fuck ’em. People will get offended by what you say.  If they don’t, does your writing carry any real passion anyway?  As I said above, people think being offended means something.  It doesn’t.  What I have learned is that more people appreciate the honest writer connecting with his audience than they do a sterilized blog.  You can’t please everyone, so don’t try.

6 – Listen to your audience.

Many of my blog post ideas come from blog comments or my social media.  I’m not saying you need to ask them what to blog about next, though you can a time or two.  But pay attention to what they are saying about your blog.  As a self published author, I noticed many of my readers were talking and interested in that aspect.  As a result, I wrote Self Publishing, a post in which I explored what Self Publishing was all about.  It took more work than most of my posts do, but it was also the most successful post.

7 – Read and connect with other bloggers

You really need to read and connect with other bloggers.  For one, you will see what is trending and discover what other bloggers like you are doing.  This will let you know if the topic you want to blog on is over-saturated or that it is of no interest to anyone.  But also you can work with others to do guest posts and other connections to attract their followers to you and your followers to them.

8 – Guest posts are great.

Guest posts are a great way to drive followers of others to your blog.  For a long period of time I was doing an author focus blog series that allowed guest posts from other authors.  It drove new eyes to my blog that may have otherwise not visited.  Don’t expect a ton of new followers from it, but you just might get someone poking around your blog for other stories.

9 – Don’t expect your blog to be a revenue stream.

I’m not sure I have made any book sales from people who came to read my blog.  In most cases it is the other way around.  People have come here after reading my work.  Some to complain, but most because they liked what they read and wanted to see more.  Also, ad riddled blogs suck to read (of course we have no control over the WordPress ads).  One ad maybe, or sponsored content is okay.  But some blogs read so heavily of sales pitches that they become no fun to read.

Also, don’t overly self publicize on you blog. It isn’t wrong, but it is a fine line between content and advertising.  The point of a blog is to connect with your audience, not sell them shit.

10 – It is okay to blog for yourself.

It is absolutely okay to write a blog for yourself with no aim to gain followers.  You might accidentally acquire a few anyway.  But not every blog has to be for fan connection or to gain more readers.  Some can be for the hell of it.  You can have as many blogs as you like too.  The choice is yours.

BONUS: We’re all full of shit.

Here is a bonus thing I’ve learned, everything on the internet about how to write a great blog is full of shit.  This one included.  What worked for me may not work for you.  Lord knows I read a lot of crap, that when I tried it, did’t work for shit.  More to the point, articles with things I’ve learned titles are there to help you see what was learned.  You can use it, or you can toss it.  The choice is yours really.

It is your blog, write what you want, but I’ve shared what I’ve learned.  Your results may vary.

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Where have you been?

I know I have been a really bad host lately. I keep inviting people to the party, but then I never show up.  I’ve been less than active on this blog and not very active on social media either. So what has been going on?

Well, I’ve been a bit down about things. I have not felt very validated as an author and have been in one of those self induced moods where I hide from the world.  But, I’ve come back out from my cave, and I didn’t see my shadow. So I think that means I am able to break down this barrier and start working on what I enjoy. And to start, I put out this blog post.

So what have I been up to?

DetCon1

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Well, lets start with the biggest of things that kept me away.  And that is DetCon1. Most of you know how excited I was about being part of the participants for this great convention. And it was really a good time.  I got to meet some great people, break down my fear of reading in public, and even got a few great compliments.

One of the things that was so cool was I got to meet, and for just a little bit, talk with John Picacio. He is one of my all time favorite artists and we talked for brief moment before he was off to do more Guest of Honor stuff.  But, he happened to know who I was.  We’ve interacted a few times on Twitter, and I guess he seemed to remember me from there.  I also attended some of his panels, including one where he broke down how he did “Girl with Microphone”, which is one of my favorite art pieces (bottom left of the picture below is my print copy which I won at the art show!).

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I also spoke to Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld at some length after one of his panels (the day before we sat on a panel together). Clarkesworld, and Neil, have been a great inspiration to my work on Plasma Frequency. And Neil was very much aware of my publication and I was so pleased to know that. He also shared some great insight with me into his own experience in the business and I was quite surprised by things I learned from him. Needless to say, it made me feel as if Plasma Frequency was doing some good in the Science Fiction short market world and I can’t wait to push forward.

Photo by Al Bogdan
Photo by Al Bogdan

I also had a panelist on my first panel tell me that I had a “Stephen King vibe” to me. I took that to be a compliment and he seemed genuinely surprised that I had not hear this before.   Perhaps that means that I am good on these panels and can be invited back for more.  I don’t believe I have signed up for WorldCon in Spokane, so I better do that now.

I had a big fear of reading in public.  I am not the best out-loud reader and I notice if more and more as I get older. I stubble over words when I read out-loud to the kids. So I was really worried.  I did have a reading, but it was late and not many people showed up.  I went last, and many people walked out during my reading. I don’t know if that was from boredom or from it being close to the end of the panel. I hope it was the later.

Plasma Frequency

Oh, this magazine of mine. It is always on the list of things that keep me from writing, but that is a good thing. We are starting year 3 with the publication of Issue 13 on September 5th. We are making some changes to the publication this year. And just like last year we are letting our readers choose half the stories we publish in the Year 2 Anthology.  You can vote on those here: LINK.

We really need the support of our readers if we hope to continue. So we are also asking for your ideas and thoughts in our survey that is just before the story voting.  We are also asking you to pick the cover artist for the anthology.  So if you have read Plasma Frequency at all, please go complete the survey.

A Day Job

So I got one of those again.  Which is good because I was out of a good paying job for sometime.  But I have one that pays pretty good now.  I am still in physical security.  The job is boring, has lots of down time, and the hours really suck.  But, I did finally get a laptop this last week.  So I can now  make use of the down time.  Can’t do much about the bad hours right now.  It is just hard on family time, especially once the kids are back in school.  But, I will make use of the downtime to get things done that need to get done.

A new cover for Volition Agent

Volition Agent eBook

So, I finally decided I needed to do something about the cover for Volition Agent.  The original cover wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t enticing buyers either. So I had Rebecca Treadway at ATRTink redo the cover.  What do you think?  I think it is awesome while still using the model and photographer that worked so hard to get me the first cover.  Also, you can now get Volition Agent on Kindle for just 99 cents. So go pick up a copy here: LINK

Family Time

So I touched on this when I mentioned the new job.  It has meant that when I am off work, I am spending time with the family. This is because I know that time won’t be around when all three kids are in school on my days off and I don’t see them. Especially since I work 18 of my 40 hours on Saturday and Sunday.  So I have been spending the time with them exploring Washington state, our new home state.

My Health

My health hasn’t been so good as of late. I am thinking my gallbladder is acting up. I was in a lot of pain off and on while at DetCon1 and lost 10 pounds in the week I was gone.  Which is odd, considering you don’t typically lose weight on a vacation.  I can’t see a doctor until 2015, unless something changes and I can get insurance before then.   That is a long story.  But I have to have them run a whole series of tests on me, because I am also dealing with some other issues health wise.  All in all I need to make sure I take care of myself.

Feelings of Failing

I touched on this at the start of this blog.  I can’t help but feel as though I am failing at doing what I love. Writing is so much fun to me, but I am just not getting the attention of readers. I recently discovered that none of my books have even broke even. And that is a bit of a sad fact of being a self-published author.  And when you feel like you are failing is can be difficult to motivate yourself to write.  So while I have a whole list above of valid reasons that kept me from writing.  This funk is the real reason.  The rest are just excuses.

So what is coming next?

Well, finally adding a laptop to the equation should help me get back into the swing of things. I will be able to get more writing and Plasma Frequency business done when I am away from home. And that is a huge plus.  It also means I will be able to finally start putting words down on the sequel to Dissolution of Peace, which is starting to be on pace to be a lot longer of a novel than the original is.  I am still trying to think of a good series title for this series.  Any ideas from my readers?

I am trying to keep my chin up.  DetCon1 was a huge boost to that.  I think once the kids are back in school, and before the Washington rain hits, I’ll take this laptop out to one of the great state parks here and use nature as my inspiration to start putting the letters on the page again.  In the meantime, I think this blog post is a good re-connection with the writing world and I’m ready to get things rolling again.

The Ups & Downs (and way downs) of Being an Independent Author

AuthorBeing an Independent Author sounds easy.  It sounds like a ton of fun.  First, you get to write.  I love that part.  Second, you don’t have to deal with the hassles of agents, query letters, chapter submissions, and the countless months waiting for answers.  I love that part, too.  And with the invention of KDP, Nook Press, and Smashwords (just to name a few) it is fairly easy to get your work published.  All this adds up to a very quick time from finishing a book to having it available to readers.  All of these reasons are exactly why I went the Independent Author route.  I had stories I wanted to tell and I wanted to reach readers quickly without the hassles of the traditional route.

Sounds easy doesn’t it.  A lot of people say it is easy.  Well that isn’t entirely true.  No one ever told me it would be easy.  They made is sound easy, they made it seem like the right path.  But no one ever said, this is the easy way to go.  And, I’m telling you right now… This is not the easy way to go.

Marketing as an independent author is hard, bordering on impossible.  There are so many authors standing on the roof tops yelling, “Buy my book!” that no one really listens anymore.  I am a member of several Facebook groups, and they are filled with nothing but “Buy my book” posts.  Now I wonder if anyone going to these groups looks for books to buy, or are they all coming to these groups to tell me to buy.  And your Facebook page and Twitter page will only reach a limited audience, and if all you do is try to sell you’re follower numbers shrink even more.  I love my blog audience, but again this is a tiny group of people.

Independent Authors talk a lot about the way we should share each others posts, help build the word of mouth, but in actuality they rarely step up to the task.  Is that bad of them?  No, they should only share what they want to share.  Not just share because I say they should.  But the point being is that social media is not the selling tool everyone thinks it is.  It is not a direct selling method.  That is to say that if you expect to tweet your book link and get clicks and sales from that, it won’t work.  But if you expect people to follow you for you (because they like what you post about), well then you just might get somewhere.

Don’t even get me started on how Facebook has destroyed the ability for the Indie author to reach out.  Let just say, now that only roughly 10-25% of my followers even see my posts, it has really killed my ability to use them for anything.

With the release of Volition Agent, a novel which I thought was anticipated by my readers, I have found that there are many down sides to being an Indie Author.  My sales numbers for Volition Agent have been so low I’ve found myself fighting off a bit of depression.  It is hard when you’re very excited about a novel, and the release day comes and you get no love.  It stings actually.  No, stings isn’t the right word.  It makes you sink so low that you wonder if writing is even your calling.  It makes you want to throw everything away and yell “FUCK IT” and walk away.

Then you get your first review on Amazon.  I was so happy to see a five star rating on Amazon.com.  It was a short review, “Although I’m only a third of the way through the book, I’ve found the ideas and writing style to be so good that I want to read more. Highly recommend this.”  But that review lifted me up.  They like the book, they like it so much they want others to know before they even finished it.  So naturally I shared this with all the writing groups I am on.

In one particular group, another user commented.  That user said. “Only a third of the way through the book, and already recommending it? Based on what I’ve seen I would wait for it to come the the library, rather than pay money for it.”

Talk about a slap down to Earth.  This hurt for several reasons:  First this is an authors and artists group.  Not one other Author in that group spoke up in my defense.  Not even the admin.  It is a fairly standard rule the constructive criticism is acceptable, but there is nothing constructive here.  The comment was meant solely to crush my positive review.  What happened to the Independent authors banding together?  Of course now, I find it funny that he would criticize a review simply because they passed judgement when they were 1/3 through, but he passed judgement without reading a word.

Then I go to seek comfort in my sales numbers, to which I found no comfort.  I simply slipped way down into the depths of a depression and the “screw it” mentality that I stopped planning anymore writing projects.  I simply shut down, and had enough.  Being an independent author hurts and there is no respect in it.  I’ve tried a lot to get some hype built.  My giveaway on Goodreads is doing well enough. My giveaway on Rafflecopter is a laughing matter, with only 7 entries.  The photo contest will likely be canceled because of no entries.  I’m still trying to get people to click on my Goodreads ads (with no luck and a lot of money still tied up).  And neither book has even broke even yet.

It isn’t about money for me.  It never has been.  I just want to be read, and accepted by readers.  I just want people to enjoy my stories, but how do I make them aware I even exist.  I love the fans I have, and I am sure some of them are telling their friends to get my books, but I want to find some new readers.  For the independent author this is the hard part.

So between this new level of depression and the 60 hour work weeks of my day job, I haven’t bothered to care about writing anything.  I know I am not the only indie author that feels this way.  I know I am not the only one that feels like they’ve tried everything to get people excited and talking about their work, only to find that no one cares.  I know I am not alone, but it certainly feels that way.

There are ups too.  Like getting an Amazon review, a Goodreads review, and especially a blog review.  Yesterday I got a very nice, actually it was excellent, review from the Devoted Mommy of 3 blog.  I know of a review coming for Volition Agent, though I don’t know when yet.  And I’ve had a few positive words from others about my books.  So, I started another novel.  I’ll keep writing because I have faith that eventually readers will discover me, and when they do they will want to read as much of what I have written has they can find.  So for them I keep writing, and for them I will stay on the independent path for now.

Now many of you writers might be reading my blog and thinking; Oh man, Independent Authoring sucks!  I’m going traditional.  Well, that is a choice that is up to you.  I think every author needs to ask themselves three questions before deciding if traditional or Independent in the right choice for them.

Why do I write? If you are writing to get your stories out to readers as quickly as possible then that leans to the independent side.  If you are writing to get “discovered” and make a good living on it, you might want to think about the traditional route.  That doesn’t mean that indie authors don’t get discovered, it just means that your odds are lower.

Where do you want to see your books sold? If you want to see your books in B&N stores nationwide, traditional.  If your writing to see your works published quickly on the major online retailers, indie.  If you are happy with local book sellers, you might try the indie route, but be prepared to do some convincing.  If you want book tours, book signings, and all that fun stuff, traditional is your choice.  If you want blog tours, indie is good.

Do you want to make this your career?  If you plan to write for a career, I don’t know that Indie is your choice.  It certainly isn’t the faster way to do it.  I am still in the negative for Dissolution of Peace, which I have spent roughly $500 on to date.  I think I have made about $150 on the book so far, I am still -$35o on the book.  I’m already into Volition Agent for around $350, I’ve just now hit $15 into that.  You don’t get rich in the indie market, at least not easily.  All marketing, cover art, editor, and promotional costs are on you.  I haven’t even included the free books I’ve give away in the costs above.  You won’t make a lot of money easily.  But, there is no guarantee you’ll make it big in the traditional method either.  Even if you make a sale, most books don’t earn out their advance and start earning royalties.

Typically this would be the part where I tell you that you can help me in a few simple steps.  You know the drill because it is on every Independent Author blog.  You know, write reviews, tell a friend, blah blah blah.  I’m going to skip all that.  You’ve heard it before and either you are doing it, or you are not.  That is your choice to make.

The point of this blog is simple.  Being an independent author is not easy.  If you are planing to be one, or are one, because you thought it would be the easier way.  You’ll get a rude awakening.  The independent author road is filled with a lot of ups and downs, and the down can be really bad.  But don’t give up either.  There will be critics, there will be praise, and most commonly there will be readers who will say nothing.  Just breath, get out of the funk, and start writing the next one.  I’m glad I saw that and started my third novel.

 

Dissolution of Peace Blog Tour

Dissolution of Peace Spring Blog Tour is official!

Book Tour Image

I am going on a blog book tour with Dissolution of Peace.  The book and I will be traveling through the virtual world to attend various blogs to spread the word about my book.  I’m excited about this since it will allow me to share a little bit about me and the book with a new audience.  You can visit these blogs and see interviews, guest posts, and book reviews.  I will be on tour from April 8th until May 13th this year!

Dates:

As I mentioned above I will be traveling blog to blog from April 8th until May 13th.  There are still a number of dates available so if you would like to get in on the tour, it isn’t too late.  There are still several open dates available.  If you want one, just go here (link) and pick a date.  Then scroll to the bottom of the page and you will see “Would you like to host this author on your blog?”  Click the link and sign up.

The folks over at Orangeberry Book Tours are hosting this tour for me.  They’ve taken a ton of the work out of it so I just get to hang out at various blogs.  While I will try to keep the listed dates below updated, for the most current dates and locations visit my Tour page.

While I hope you will go check out each blog host before and after my posts, I will be posting links to blog tour posts throughout the tour on my Facebook and Twitter pages.  So if you don’t follow me there, please do.

Terms:

Book Feature: A quick feature just announcing the basics about Dissolution of Peace

Twitter View: A interview with me over Twitter.  I’ll be off work so I am going to do my best to answer these questions live.

Twitter Blast: A collection of book quotes sent out via Twitter.  Please RT the heck out of those. 🙂

Book Review:  Just that, a review of Dissolution of Peace

Author Interview: An interview with me, posted on their blog.

Guest Post: This is a post I write for their blog, as a guest.

Tour Dates and Locations:

8th April – Book Feature at Peace from Pieces

9th April – Twitter View with OB Book Tours

10th April – Twitter Blast with OB Book Tours

11th April – Author Interview at Mommy Adventures

12th April – Guest Post at The Bunny’s Review

13th April – Twitter Blast with OB Book Tours

14th April – Book Feature & Author Interview at The Reading Cat

15th April – Guest Post at Blog-A-Licious Authors 

16th April – Book Feature & Author Interview at Author’s Friend

17th April – Guest Post at Kindle Nook Books

18th April – Book Feature at Paws on Books

19th April – Guest Post & Book Feature at Anya Breton‘s blog

20th April – Book Feature at Book Professor

21st April – Author Interview & Book Feature at Michael R McDuffee‘s blog

22nd April – Guest Post at Books Are Magic

23rd April – Author Interview & Book Review at Pages 2 Pages

24th April – Guest Post  at Disincentive Reviews

25th April – Book Feature at Book Professor

26th April – Guest Post at Quality Reads

27th April – Author Interview at Fantasy Books

28th April – Book Feature at eInk Reviews

29th April – Book Feature at My Love for Books

30th April -Book Feature at Brainy Reads

1st May – Book Feature at Pages to Chapters

2nd May – Book Feature at Living for Books

3rd May – Orangeberry Pick of the Week & Sidebar

3rd May – Guest Post, Author Interview & Book Feature at Talisman Book Publishing

4th May – Book Feature at Gentleman Reads

5th May – Book Feature at Working For Books

6th May – Book Feature at My Love for Books

7th May – Book Feature at Aspiring Book Reviews

8th May – Book Feature at Reading My Addiction

9th May – Book Feature at Imagination in Books

10th May – Orangeberry Book of the Day – Gentleman Reads – Excerpt /

11th May – Author Interview at Up In Smoke

12th May – Guest Post at Richard Stephenson‘s blog

13th May – End of Tour Celebration post! at Flores Factor.

Blog Tour Giveaway!

This book tour will include the largest giveaway I’ve done to date.  There will be some great prizes including: Signed Paperbacks, Free Paperbacks, Free eBooks, and an Amazon Gift card.  This is hosted by Rafflecopter and there are multiple ways to enter.  The giveaway will end on May 19th.  Check back with the giveaway often because as more blogs post, more entries will be possible.  In fact, you get five entries just by entering this GIVEAWAY CODE: “E.S.S. Australia”

You can find the Giveaway on my Facebook page: CLICK HERE FOR A DIRECT LINK

I can’t wait to see you all on the tour!

Richard, Where Are You?

I’ve not been around much.  And those of you on Twitter, Facebook and here have probably started to wonder where I have been.  I assure you I am fine.  I have just been very busy.  And a bit sidetracked with other things to get my weekly posts done.  As far as Facebook and Twitter go.  I guess I have just been quiet.  So here is what I have been doing:

Working.

Oh how I love and hate my day job at the same time.  The last two weeks I worked sixteen hours of overtime.  They have decided to unveil a new system at work, and I was chosen to be one of the trainers on this new system.  While the system will make one aspect of our job so much easier, it takes time to teach everyone.  Work already takes over 40 hours a week of my life.  It would be great to make my writing and editing my day job.

Plasma Frequency. 

Now here is one project I love to do.  But let me tell you how much work it takes.  Issue 4 has been one of our best and most highly read issues to date.  That is great news.  But the talent submitting to us has become so good that picking just eight to ten stories every two months has become very difficult.  Even my earlier reading editors are finding it harder to reject stories.  I think it is great to see so much talent coming to our magazine.  As a writer, I love to see other writers succeed.  As a business man, I love to see some of these big names seeing my publication as worthy of their work.  As an editor, well my work has become a lot harder.  For issue five I had to narrow down 25 great stories to just the eight that would fit in our issue.  That is hard work, and very time consuming.  I debated for a long time on many of those stories.

Speaking of Business.

I had two magazines approach my company, Plasma Spyglass, and ask if we would be interested in taking over their magazine’s production.  I won’t name the magazines, but I will say I think they are great publications.  So I had to make some tough business choices over the last few weeks.  While Plasma Spyglass does have every intention of putting out more magazines, I had not expected to do it so soon.  Plasma Frequency is not even one year old yet.  And for the time being we are going to focus on growing that publication first.  We still have the goal of advancing our pay rates to pro-rates, and I want to follow through on that.  Plus we have our year one anthology coming soon.  And we will be announcing more about that in Issue 5.  So much is going on, or about to go on, with Plasma Frequency that I had to pass on these other two great offers.  But don’t count us out.  I think Plasma Spyglass will be publishing a number of different publications by 2014.  And by 2018, I suspect we will be doing very well in the short fiction market place.

We do have plans for a charitable anthology coming soon.  Once I have heard back from the charitable organization, more details will come.  We are also considering many other great things.  So, needless to say business has taken up a lot of my time outside of work.

Writing.

Just last week I finally got more written into my next novel.  I plan to make an announcement on that one very soon.  The first draft should be completed by next week (fingers crossed).  After which I will begin rereading and editing.  And, I plan to contact a cover artist soon.  So I am thinking that I will announce the release date with the cover art in April.  Get ready for this one, it promises to be a great one.

Speaking of great books, the sales for Dissolution of Peace have faltered a bit.  I think this is because all of my great followers now own a copy.  So it is time I branch out and reach some new followers.  I am planning on doing a blog tour.  Perhaps in May?  Maybe sooner.  I would really love one in April.  But scheduling these things takes time (as I am am learning).  So I plan to get that underway soon.  Watch for more details on that.  Make sure to share some love with those blogs that host my tour.

Chores.

I thought I was a grown up now and work was my chore.  Well the front and back lawns seem to disagree.  There is a ton of yard work to do around here, and I get stuck doing it.  Some people love that stuff.  Time in the yard pulling weeds, mowing the grass, that is fun for them.  For me, not so much.  I’d much prefer to hire a landscaper and just admire how great it looks when they are done.  But writers can’t afford landscapers, and besides my wife would insist we got a maid first.

Family time.

My family and I don’t see each other much right now.  My wife works on the days I am off, and I work when she is off.  My hours don’t lend well to having school age kids, as I am at work all afternoon and evening when they are home.  When I get home, they are in bed.  So I have been trying to make some extra time for them around all this other madness.  I took my kids to their first professional hockey game, actually their first ever hockey game.  My middle child was so overly excited, it was a great thing to see.  Besides that, I try to make some time for TV, movies, and other activities with them.  Family is important.  More important than everything else I’ve listed here.  So I make time for them and I hope someday my kids will really appreciate the fact that their dad pursued his dream to publish novels.  I also hope that one day, I’ll make just enough money on my dream that I don’t have to “work” any more.  Ah, the good life.

Shame on You Duotrope

oh_no_you_di_int_retro_housewife_b_w_tshirt-d23504043240443180228y9d_325For well over a year, perhaps closer to a year and a half I have been very openly supportive of Duotrope.  They have offered a great service that was 100% free for users, and all they asked in return was for donations to help keep the site running.  Unfortunately, according to Duotrope, only 10% of the users donate.  As a result they feel compelled to begin charging users a subscription fee for use of their services starting January 1st.

As a business owner, I understand needing to cover your expenses.  I can’t even blame them if they want to make a profit (though they have never said they want to do this), but I can blame them for a lot of bad business choices they are making by passing this cost on to users.  Especially at the crazy price of $50 a year.

It is my prediction that this move will ultimately lead to the downfall for Duotrope.  Not because of this choice to charge, but because of how they have implemented it.  I don’t think they really have given much thought to this.  Recently they posted on Facebook that they did consider this for some time, but this has all the markings of a hastily made decision rather than a carefully thought out one.

Here is why I say “Shame on You, Duotrope.”

You didn’t consult your users for their thoughts:

The users are the life blood of a service such as Duotrope.  You need their submission stats to get the information other users come to your site to gather.  And you spit in their face by not even offering a simple survey of your users to see what options they would prefer to keep the site running.  Ads on the website, subscriptions fees, multilevel publication listings, and much more are all options that could have been put on a survey to see what your users would prefer.  It would have also given us more time to prepare for the idea of Duotrope charging.

You gave us no time to get acquainted to this idea:

The first announcements came December 1st.  Giving us one month to be prepared for this idea.  Past posts on Facebook gave no hints to this plan.  There was nothing in the newsletters to prepare us.  You sprung this on us with one month’s notice.  This is where the above idea would have benefited us all.  If you had told us three months ago that donations were down and in order to keep the site up, Duotrope was considering other options to make money.  Then if you offered a survey for user ideas, we would have known something like this was coming.

You’ll become another service trying to take advantage of writers:

Let’s face it.  Duotrope offers little more than you can already track yourself.  After all the most valuable feature to the writer, is the submission tracker.  To be honest, all you have to do is make an excel spreadsheet to do that.  I admit that the response stats, acceptance rates, and “Top Market” lists are fun.  But you really don’t need any of that information to be an author.  And if you want to find markets, Google works for free.  Ralan.com is also free.  And all the writer’s groups you are in are also free.  They can tell you about markets.  The main appeal of Duotrope was that is was convenient and free.

Writer’s don’t make a lot of money.  Lets put this is perspective here.  $50 a year means selling 5,000 words a year at one cent per word.  Not to bad, if you are a good writer.  But if you are like me, who has a lot of other projects going on at one time.  I don’t always get 5,000 words sold in short stories each year.  And considering the bulk of Duotrope’s listings don’t pay anything, there is not much chance of making any money on your $50 investment.

This puts Duotrope right in line with other rip off services, such as markets that charge you to submit to them.  There is no value in the $50 a year you will spend.  You get nothing of real value from it that isn’t free elsewhere. They are doing nothing more than tricking you into paying for something you can get for free.  That is the definition of a scam.

There are better ways to make money:

There are a lot of better ways, but they take work.  I admit that charging users is the simplest and easiest answer to their funding problem.  But there are ways that are better for their users and Duotrope in the long run.  This includes selling advertising space on their website, charging markets to list on their site, and multilevel listings.  I like the multilevel listing and website ads options best.  As the owner of a publishing company, I would gladly spend a little extra to be a “featured listing” on Duotrope.  I’d pay $50 a year to do that or even $100 a year depending on what I got for the money.  As a writer, I’d pay to have my book get an ad on the website.  The traffic I am sure Duotrope currently generates would make advertising with them a worthwhile investment.

I’m sure that if they really put their minds to it, they would find these would make far better choices than charging users.

They won’t make anymore money from this:

The reasoning behind this choice was to make enough money to run the website.  The problem is that simply won’t happen.  Read the comments on the Facebook announcements.  You will see that most of those that say they will pay, say they already donated anyway. Many say they donated more than $50 a year.  I suspect that 10% of users that donate, will likely stay the same.  That is, I think only 10% of the current users will subscribe.  And if many of them donated more that $50 a year, then Duotrope will actually lose money from this.  Even if 15% of current users subscribe, they won’t make that much more than the donations.  And by the time they reverse the decision and try something else, the damage will be done.

Statistics will no longer be reliable:

If the number of users decreases by even just 50%, the statistics they collect will be damaged significantly.  I suspect the users will decrease by 90% or more.  This will destroy the integrity of the Duotrope’s statistics.  So even if you plan to subscribe because you like the stats, you won’t get what your think your paying for.

Currently Duotrope.com represent around 30% of the actual submission to Plasma Frequency.  And that is high.  Other editors are reporting that Duotrope’s stats are only reflective of 10% of their submissions.  Imagine how much lower this is going to drop when Duotrope’s user pool shrinks by 90%.

This will change what Duotrope is all about:

Duotrope has been free for seven years.  For seven years Duotrope has been about helping writers find markets for their writing.  Duotrope now wants to be about making money.  Don’t let them fool you into thinking that $50 a year goes to running the site.  Because it doesn’t cost a lot to run a website.  I run two of them right now. Let’s look at this by using costs from Go Daddy:

Domain name: $14.99 a year, unlimited disk space hosting is $179.88 per year.  Now, assuming they build their own website (and they now have the templates all in place for every new listing).  That is all the real cost associated with running this site.  $194.87 per year, if they didn’t take advantage of any of Go Daddy’s regular sales.

What they (the owners of the site) want to be paid for is their time.  Does this make them evil?  No.  Business needs to make money.  And clearly Duotrope wants to be a business now.  That completely changes the dynamic of the site.  This will now be about paying for them to do the work required to run the site.  Something they already admit to doing part-time.  But if four users can pay the operating expenses of the site itself for one year, how much are the owners going to take in for their time?  A lot.

I don’t pretend to know all their costs.  And they refuse to tell us (see below).  Even when they did donations, it was just blind percentages.  There was no defined dollar amount to run Duotrope.  So now they plan to charge writers so they can make some money, rather than continue to be a valuable resource for writers.  Once again, this goes back to the fact that I feel they are simply trying to take advantage of writers.

Duotrope doesn’t care about the user:

This is the part that inflamed me the most.  They could care less about writers.  They’ve made that clear by everything above.  And they have practically said so.  The overwhelming majority of comments on Facebook are against this, yet they just continued to repeatedly post the same generic announcement. This morning they finally posted something more, and it angered me.  You can read the whole thing if you want, but I’ll just address what made me mad:

“The decision to become a paid service was not made lightly; many, if not all, of the suggestions mentioned on social media were considered, but in the end our current subscription model is what we determined to be the best compromise all-around. I know some of you want specifics on our numbers, our decision process, etc. While we understand your desire to know the inner workings of Duotrope, we are a private company, and our internal data is not public domain.”

Why can’t you share your operation costs with us?  User numbers?  The amount of money you are losing each month?  Is it because, as I showed above, the real costs are not all that much?  I think so.  Do they have to share this information with us?  No, they don’t.  Should they?  Considering the outcry from users, yes they should.  It is my opinion that they should give us some idea of why this has to be the way it is and why it has to happen in January.

“We knew going in that many of you would be terribly upset over the upcoming change. We are extremely sorry that this has caused you anger, sadness, and the like. However, the decision has been made, and while we are certainly not inflexible about adjusting to upcoming challenges, our subscription model needs to be allowed the opportunity to go into effect before it can be evaluated fairly. Time will tell what the future holds, but time will be allowed to pass before any changes, if any, are made to the way Duotrope plans to operated as of 2013.”

If many of your customers will be upset, and you know it, then it is not the right choice for your business.  The problem with putting something out there and evaluating it on the fly, is that the damage will be done.  If I leave, Duotrope, I won’t come back.  Even if they go back to free.  It took seven years to build Duotrope, they can destroy it in 30 days.

“This is the basic principle of quantity v. quality. As just one oversimplified example, many casual users (and we do mean many!) will report a new submission to a market and then never follow-up on it, leaving that entry as a sort of orphan in the overall data. That is the type of data problem we predict will be reduced significantly under the new model, increasing the accuracy of the statistics on listed markets. We know this is not specific enough for some of you, but we hope that over the many years Duotrope has offered its services for free we have managed to earn at least a little bit of your trust.”

When it comes to statistics you need quantity.  As I mentioned above.  A smaller statistical sample will not mean a better result. The writers that can afford this will be writers who are accepted more often than others.  Therefore the statistics will become skewed to only experienced writers who sell a lot.  Right now, it is reflective of a broad range of writers.

And don’t even get me started on trust.  We trusted you, and you are expecting us to keep trusting you.  Trust is a two-way street.  You want us to share money and trust you with it, but you don’t want to show us where the value is.  You won’t explain in depth why seven years of free service no longer works.  Trust me, I am a Nigerian Prince who wants to give you ten million dollars, just send me $5000 to facilitate the transfer of funds.  Come on.

“We have always known this decision meant parting ways with some of our users. If you will not be joining us, then we thank you for all the support, promotion and participation over the last seven years, and for helping grow Duotrope from an experiment into a mature company and service.”

A business that makes a choice knowing that users will likely leave, is making a foolish choice.  And thank you for acknowledging that you used us to grow your company into a money-making venture and then tossed us aside for the people who can pay you.

My summary:

Duotrope is moving in the wrong direction.  I can no longer recommend anyone use them.  They need to take a pause, listen to the users, and postpone this going paid idea.  They need to really evaluate the priorities of Duotrope and make choices that better follow the goals of the company.  But if the goals are to make money, at the expense of writers, which is exactly what this will be doing, I will want no part in this.  I still firmly believe that money should flow in the direction of the writer.  We writers already make so little, we don’t need this new scam sucking money from us.

Go to Duotrope, back up your data.  And track your submissions the old fashion way, with an excel spread sheet.  Then join the countless writers groups on Facebook, Twitter, and online to find new markets.  Go check out Ralan.com for market listings.  It may take a bit longer, but it will save you $50 a year you likely can’t afford to spend.

Spotlight on Dissolution of Peace

The folks over at Celebrating Authors have done a Spotlight on Dissolution of Peace.  You can check it out here: LINK.  As you usual please show your support by letting them know you saw my spotlight, what you thought of it, and any other comments.

Celebrating Authors is a great website dedicated to spotlighting authors and trying to unite them with readers.  I think they are a great site, and I follow them on Twitter and Facebook.  Check out their Facebook Page, Facebook Group, and Twitter page too.