Branding is more than a logotype or a genre to write in…
I’m still thinking about the breakfast seminar I attended yesterday… Bear with me. In it, the number 76 was imprinted (branded?) on us. 76% of all marketing efforts of companies selling primarily online was aimed at strengthening their brand, NOT to promote specific products or getting people to buy stuff. Research from traditional marketing suggests that number be 60%. So why do online brands focus more on branding? The answer is that people buy your goods on marketplaces that do not bear your logo, places like Alibaba, Amazon et al. For me, as an author, I can add B&N, Apple, Smashwords, Kobo and all the many bookstores around the world. NONE of them bear my name (duh!) and none of them care the least about me. In order to make a dent, to be recognized, we need to focus on our brand image.
What is a brand?
According to Wikipedia, a brand is, I quote:
A brand is an overall experience of a customer that distinguishes an organization or product from its rivals in the eyes of the customer. Brands are used in business, marketing, and advertising. […]
Branding is a set of marketing and communication methods that help to distinguish a company or products from competitors, aiming to create a lasting impression in the minds of customers. The key components that form a brand’s toolbox include a brand’s identity, brand communication (such as by logos and trademarks), brand awareness, brand loyalty, and various branding (brand management) strategies. Many companies believe that there is often little to differentiate between several types of products in the 21st century, and therefore branding is one of a few remaining forms of product differentiation.
Here’s what I take from this for me, an author; words like customer experience, but also identity, communication, loyalty, and awareness. But also the last sentence, which is how I began the post. At the seminar, we were told that we live in an age where there is a bigger supply than demand. How can I make sure that a reader chooses my books among fifty million to choose from?
How to approach branding
One of the many swag items I produced. This coffee mug is the most expensive item, either sold at cons or given to those who buy several books in bulk.
I do not have many resources for branding. There are anecdotal stories about how a book reaches a big audience. One of the stories I recall hearing relates to the first English translation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Apparently (I can’t vouch if this is true or just an urban tale, so take it with a pinch of salt), the English publisher passed out thousands of free copies of the book in the London subway to create a buzz for the book. If true, it certainly worked, as the Millennium Trilogy has since been adapted for the silver screen and expanded into additional books ghost-written after the author’s death. A lot of money involved. That would be considered an example of product branding. Who cares about a dead author? Not much to work with except of course legends (there is a certain amount of that going on here in Sweden, but that’s beside the point here)
I don’t have the money to give away thousands of printed copies of my books in the subway. I have tried to move books using BookBub, and in both instances, a book of mine was accepted, it worked out nicely. however, and I think this is critical, while both books became bestsellers, the number of reviews garnered was low. Of fifteen-thousand plus copies sold of The Opera House, only thirty-five actually reviewed the book. Mind you, great reviews, but still. 0.0067% is a miserable conversion rate. My second Bookbub with Disease didn’t fare any better. While Bookbub will get you great sales numbers (at considerable cost!), it will not lift your book in the long run due to miserable conversion rates.
My (lacking) approach
So what else can you do?
The official logo of author Hans M Hirschi
What do I do? Swag is something that comes to mind, a logotype. I began creating swag in 2015 for conventions I attended (another branding aspect.) The logo came in 2016. I’m not a huge fan of swag and I haven’t produced anything for two years. I still have pens left over (the most sensible thing done) as well as buttons, key chains, and coffee mugs.
I have never really done my homework. Yes, I gave the designer of my logo instructions, but if you look at my author logo you may not necessarily get to the same associations about the brand I want you to. Then again, what logo ever does that? My logo is fairly masculine, despite the “crown” (which stems from my nickname “The Queen of Unconventional Happy Endings“) I still like my logo and even though I might wish to alter my brand image, I believe I can achieve that with the existing logo. Others have. Besides, I’m a writer. My logo isn’t the culmination of my brand. It’s only a facet of it.
So what will I need to do?
So many faces, so many expressions. Who am I? Which best expresses my core values? My brand?
I need to sit down and figure out what I actually want my brand to signify, what I want it to imply. What emotions do I wish to evoke? What is it I want readers to associate me with? How broad do I want my branding to be (which speaks to my target audience), how do I communicate these values and emotions? I have a lot of work to do, and it’s not made easier by the fact that I have very little in terms of money to play with. If I could’ve asked my hosts from yesterday for help, I could easily spend tens of thousands of dollars in fees (before spending a dime on actual marketing) to answer these (and other) questions and reach success.
I remember a question that was put before me once by the GM of one of our countries in a company I worked for: what conversion rate do you envision? I was asking for funds for a campaign. He expected a 1:100 conversion rate, i.e. for every dollar spent he wanted 100 dollars ROI. Maybe he was just yanking my chains, maybe he was being realistic. At the time, I turned around and walked away. I barely knew how to compute ROI on training (different topic altogether) and we never saw the revenue of any sales. But that was then. Given that most of my books sell for five dollars, and we get maybe 50-60% of that, which I share equally with my publisher, I get about $1.25 per book sold. You do the math of how many books I’d have to sell to even afford a campaign, not to mention getting to that kind of ROI. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of ebooks. Compared to the 1,800 books sold last year. Yeah. Whatever approach I choose, it better be dirt cheap.
I have some ideas…
I have homework to do. Once I have figured out what kind of emotions I want my author brand to evoke, I need to work out how to communicate those. I need to think about how my genre-jumping (which doesn’t make things easier) can be aligned with the brand. And then I need to figure out how to communicate that to my readers (existing and potential ones.) Followed by actions on how I can convert that into sold books. I have ideas but need to carve out time to actually work on that. And I feel I really need to begin to focus on that work. I’ve always enjoyed marketing and PR work, although (in my previous life as a training and development executive) I used to have a fairly nice budget to achieve my goals. No longer. I may have to rely on guerilla tactics…
How can readers find my work?
I attended a breakfast seminar this morning, getting up way early to go downtown. The seminar was organized by the Dentsu Aegis Network in Gothenburg and it was all about the rumored, coming, pending, threatened (I could go on, you know…) arrival of Amazon on the Swedish market. This has been talked about for years, but only last year (or so) did they get the .se domain and rumors have it that they’re working on distribution and/or have that finalized. Whether or not they’ll open up, that’s a different question. Doesn’t stop companies from selling services or others from wondering about how to tackle the arrival of such a disruptive force in e-commerce.
Author, what are you doing there?
My logo, part of my branding. But hardly enough.
First, as a poor author, it would be stupid to say no to a free breakfast. Thanks, Dentsu Aegis! 😉 Second, duh! Amazon, right? I mean, where do I make most of my money (what little I make) if not through Amazon? I’ve been working with them since 2013, and even though I often want to pull out every last hair on my head, I realize that they ARE the most important sales channel for me. So I was curious to learn more about how I might improve my presence on Amazon, potentially learn about advertising as well as tips and tricks on how to beat the system. I left disappointed. The seminar wasn’t geared toward authors who possess no marketing budgets from which Dentsu Aegis could’ve recovered the cost for my morning coffee and sandwich. I already knew that before sitting down.
However, I did learn some interesting things, even though I qualify as “vendor” to Amazon and they fulfill everything. Things like the fact that most people never click beyond the first page of results, which is frustrating, particularly when you write queer literature, and you compete with naked torsos and Michelle Obama’s biography (WTF?) It’s a fact and not much I can do about. At one point, one of the speakers rightly pointed out that the more you sell, the higher the ranking, which leads to more sales. Mind you, he was referring to products not books, but we were first and bestsellers do sell best. Duh.
I’ve never tried advertising on Amazon. I wish I could, but they won’t let me. As a non-US entity, I can’t advertise on Amazon and every time I try, I’m met with this lovely fuck-off message: “This account may not purchase licenses for this product due [sic!] country or region restrictions. Please check your country or region settings and try again.” Besides, I readily admit that I wouldn’t even know where to start. It’s like contacting them and getting to talk to a human.
What I did take away from the seminar though was that branding, and focusing your ad money on branding was more important than focusing on pushing product, which feels a bit counter-intuitive until you think about it. Because when others push your wares (aforementioned Amazon), you need to have a strong brand to stand out against the rest, selling similar stuff. Mind you, as authors it’s a little bit different. A book isn’t a phone or a fridge. But there are similarities in that even writers have a brand, and it is important for us to focus on our brand, to cherish it, look after it, cultivate our image.
The speck of light…
I’m but a speck of light in the universe…
Which brings me back to the title of this post: who the hell am I to help a reader find my bock in a place filled with over fifty million books? I feel like that one speck of light in the universe and the readers are literally lost in space looking for something. That something I so desperately want to be me? My speck of light? Will they be attracted to the brightest light? The most colorful? Probably a bit of both, and without overstretching the analogy, I can say that this is what I will try and focus on a little more going forward, to build a brand image of myself (inexpensively) to increase the lumen of my brand.
Do I have a brand today? I guess I do, but it’s obviously not nearly well known enough, so that’s one aspect. The other is obviously to make sure the connotations associated with me and my writing are such that readers want to read more, can’t wait for the next book.
Breadcrumbs on the way to success: reviews
There are obviously other aspects as well, particularly reviews. I don’t really have to worry about customer service, fulfillment etc, as Amazon handles that for me (and my publisher.) However, I do worry greatly about reviews and the lack thereof. Most people who buy my books do not leave a review, and that is sad because I know. I sold 1,800 books (not much, I know) last year, but only a fraction of those left reviews. I think that is probably my number one goal this year, to get more people to review my work on Amazon. If only 10% of those people had left a review, that would mean 180 reviews. My most reviewed book to date has 37 reviews. Mind you, that would make a HUGE difference. How to get there? That’s a different question altogether. Tips? Always welcome.
I’ll keep thinking about this for a day or two, and who knows, I might come up with more. Some things I know might help (e.g. stick to writing in one genre) I won’t consider. It’s not me. Others I may not be aware of yet.
The economy sucks, but I have few alternatives
This weekend I attended a regional book fair a few hundred kilometers north of Gothenburg. It was my second visit. Last year the organizers had asked me to attend and “sponsored” me. I was also able to stay with friends to minimize the cost. Not so much this year. I had sold decently last year and figured I’d do well again this year. Well being about ten books, if memory serves me right. We decided to take the weekend and take our son along, as he loves train rides and hadn’t seen this part of the country. While a fun day and fair for me, financially, it was a bad decision.
The economy of a non-bestselling author
Most people don’t like to talk about money or income. I don’t have much to hide. My royalties are non-existent and I still see (on average) a book or two per day, making my Amazon author rank zig-zag between 30,000 and 250,000. It goes up when I release a book and down again after a while. Every time I sell a book, it goes up drastically. Makes you wonder how many people actually make a living from their writing. I know authors who sell a lot more who still have day jobs. I don’t. More about that (and why) in a minute.
Let’s just have a look at this weekend and the cost I incurred: train ticket, hotel, a table at the conference, the cost of books v the income of books sold. Book fairs are fickle beings. Some years you sell well, some you don’t. This year, a combination of fair weather, plenty of other events and the “unknown” of the visitor composition meant that few people bought books. Writing in English, selling books in the Swedish countryside is challenging as it is, and given that some of my colleagues didn’t sell a single book, I have to be pleased with the two I did sell. However, comparing the cost I incurred (~$458), the revenue of ~$27.50 is a drop in the ocean. Two-thirds of my royalties spent in one weekend.
Why I make these “horrific” financial choices
The indie author’s daily reality: money down the drain.
Some might say I’m crazy. They might just be right. Some might not make the same choice. Why do I attend a fair like this, knowing full well that I will never recoup that cost. I will also add here that these events are like best-selling lists. Only a few will ever make money. At the fair this weekend, I reckon one, possibly two authors got their money back, one being the “star” of the show, the main event. Already making money, she likely made even more and was paid to appear. I’m not envious, but as these things go, the book world is a funny place: you need to be famous to get a book deal to make money which you already have, as you’re famous. Alas, it’s the world.
So why do I (and many others) attend these events? What could possibly motivate us to throw away money? Had I not better save that money for a rainier day (e.g. my retirement?) Obviously, I don’t. So why? I think for most authors, our “need” to tell our stories goes far beyond simply writing them. Many of us also invest a lot of money to get these stories published. ONE author in Sweden was lucky enough to be published by Nordic (and global) giant Bonnier last year. One author! I have a hunch that the picture is similar for the remainder of the “big five” (regardless of what country you call “yours”.) The rest of all debutants had to either rely on small niche publishers or self-publishing. Some might even have paid for expensive vanity publishing services. My publisher is a niche publisher, a small indie house, and they make about as much money as I do. The only real income is the love for stories and to be able to read and polish stories, to make them available for a wider public.
I think that applies to me as well. I enjoy meeting readers, to showcase my work, and the joy of someone buying a book (or two as it were) goes a long way. Will I make the same decision again next year, given the meager results? Probably not. But maybe attend another book fair?
An indie author’s drive
Money can’t be our driving force, that is clear. So what is? What keeps us going? Well, I think we have those stories bubble up within us and we just can’t help it. We have to tell them. And just as some people spend thousands of dollars renovating vintage cars, collecting stamps or coins, we spend money making these stories available, regardless of the cost (to a degree anyway.)
The decisions we make to arrive at where we are aren’t driven by what is most economically beneficial to us, or even from a marketing point of view. We often choose covers because they appeal to us, because they’re beautiful, not because they sell. We write blurbs that convey an emotion of the book, not one that hooks people into buying it, and we send our ARCs to those who would’ve bought the book anyway, in hope for a review, thus losing both money (and often enough not seeing a review.) We make decisions regarding our books from a place of love, not a place of making money.
Yet somewhere, in the depth of our subconscious, we all hope that some mysterious agent might pick up our work, that a film studio will stumble across it, despite the handful of reviews on Amazon, and love the story so much they’ll send us a contract worth six-figures to sign us with all the fame and glory that comes with that. We all do. One in a million actually sees that contract. Just like the American dream, for most, it remains a dream at best.
Are you crazy? Get out and work!
I’m sure that most of the handful of people who will read this post will have this thought on their mind by now: why don’t you get a job? Why don’t you go back to working full-time? The answer isn’t an easy one, and it implies a shameful admission: it’s not as easy as it sounds. Today’s job market is brutal and we compete not just within our own countries but with bright, well-educated people around the world. I’m old, and at fifty-one (soon to be fifty-two) my education isn’t “fresh”. I’m also quite expensive (and no, I can’t call an employer and say that I’ll accept a 28-year old’s wage because they’d think I’m nuts/desperate) in the eyes of an employer given my thirty-year experience on the job market.
I’ve applied for a great number of jobs, both within what the market considers my “core” competencies and within adjacent areas. The result: one interview in three years. I’m either considered over-qualified (aka too old) or I don’t have the right industry background. Add to that that every year that I’ve been writing widens the chasm to the so-called workforce and I’m considered too remote and useless. Spice it up with a pinch of Xeno- and homophobia and my job market is all but the Gobi desert. This is all doing a stellar job on my self-esteem. So I keep writing because I can’t sit still and twiddle my thumbs. I need to work, I need to do something. And yes, I’m keeping my eyes on job adverts, too. I am capable of multi-tasking. 😉
I honestly don’t know. I have no real WIP at this time. No inspiration for the next great Swedish novel (in English.) I’m working on a children’s book, but that’s a long-term project. Short term? Find my inspiration? Make sure my self-worth, my self-esteem and what Americans so often refer to as “confidence” doesn’t plummet further? I don’t want to appear as a pity-party because I’m doing well, especially compared to the millions and millions without a meal on their table, those who lose house and home to natural disasters or those who are constantly under threat from oppressive regimes. Who am I to complain? First-world problems, right?
Happy Release Day to me: the Golden One–Deceit is out
Early reviews for Deceit are very encouraging.
‘Tis time again. A new book drops at midnight PST, which is about an hour from now. I feel pretty good about this book because the reception by readers has been very positive. Yet still, despite all of this, I can’t entirely shake that nervousness that always beleaguers a writer on release day. Which is odd, right? ARCs have been out for weeks, people have been reading the book, it’s been on sale for a month and we have an idea of how it does. Still. Nervous. Even though it’s my umpteenth release day.
A lesson in philosophy dressed as action-packed fantasy
What’s Deceit, or indeed the Golden One, about? On the surface, it’s “young adult” (read: teen literature) fantasy, a shapeshifter story. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find a discourse about humanity’s treatment of Earth, how we treat the one home we have, the very fact that we are literally defecating our own living room, our bedrooms, not to mention our kitchen. If an individual were to do that, we’d commit them to psychiatric care, provide them with all the help and assistance they need. But on a planetary scale, we simply shrug and say “at least he shat in the corner!” or worse, we pretend it didn’t happen.
Another encouraging review.
The way the climate is changing all around us reminds me of the old folktale of the frog and boiling water. Have you heard it? Throw a frog in boiling water and it’ll jump out immediately, but put a frog in cool water and heat it gradually and you’ll have a nicely cooked frog before you know it. Mind you, this story is a fable and not true, but maybe that’s because frogs are smarter than humans?
The Golden One is a mirror of how we treat our planet, and it seems to me, as an adult, that the young generation is the one we need to turn to because my own, and the ones who came before me are utterly unable (or unwilling) to tackle the challenges we face. To hear that Greta Thunberg was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize is a great symbolic step. She and the kids fighting for the planet are the real heroes out there.
No, it’s anything but boring…
Think this sounds rather dull? Don’t worry. The Golden One is action-packed, exciting and there is always something going on. Who is “good”, who is “evil”? Just that question will keep you busy during the second installment of The Golden One. Jason and his friends struggle with this question and they don’t really know the answer. Not even at the end. And what is driving people to do what they do?
Even though from my husband, but this is the reaction I wish all readers had…
Deceit is also a reflection of adult life vs that of children, the different perspectives we have, and what drives us. Without the burden of grown-up responsibilities, children are able to view the world differently. They have the luxury to see patterns that transcend our adult ability which is clouded by having to earn a living, making sure that we (and our progeny) have clothes to wear, a roof over our heads and food on the table. Kids take that for granted, at least in most of the world today.
Release day, so what?
Yes, it’s release day today. For the rest of the almost ten billion people of the planet, it’s just another Thursday, another day to go to work, another school day. Sunny in some places, rainy in others. A handful of people look forward to Deceit. I am very happy about that, of course, and I nurture a dream that more and more will discover the story of Jason and his four valiant friends. This is certainly a story worth any attention it gets. I say that in all humility.
Tonight, I’ll be celebrating the release of Deceit with a few friends and we’ll look at the final cover for the series, for the third book, Reckoning, which will release in September. Another release day, waiting for me…
How do you explain this to a five-year-old..?
I recently began writing the second book in the series about Valerius and Evander. Let’s be honest, it’s only really a series if you have more than one book, so duh, given that we called it a series, I needed to continue writing about the two princes whose love story was at the core of book one. I see Valerius and Evander as a way to use to “tool” of a fairy-tale to tell young kids (as a bedtime story) about diversity. Reception of the first book was really great, from both parents, librarians and some of the kids themselves. My son loves it (which is the most important praise.)
The second book deals with becoming parents. A challenging topic for every grown-up. I mean there has to be a reason we invented the stork, right? We use it because we feel uncomfortable talking about sex with children. And because it is difficult to explain the whole eggs and sperm concept to children.
To be honest without overwhelming children (or bore parents)
At first, I had this idea to explain all the various ways in which a gay couple (Valerius and Evander) could become dads. I introduced a Lesbian couple to explain the womb and IVF and surrogacy and suddenly I felt lost. I can barely grasp these concepts myself, from a medical point of view, even though I’ve done it myself in real life and wrote a book (primarily for my grown-up son, but also for adults interested in surrogacy and IVF) about it. However, this is all so very difficult and complex that I finally ended up abandoning the concept. The two queens are still in the manuscript (for now), but they might yet be bumped, as their presence fills no real “need” purely from a storytelling aspect.
Writing for kids, particularly very young children is challenging. As an author, you want to make it fun and exciting while at the same time tell the story and convey whatever lesson the book is meant to tell. Children’s books tend to be a bit on the educational side, and whenever I talk to schools and libraries, it’s what they tell me: we need this or that, we have no books on this or that.
Front cover of my coming children’s book The Dragon Princess, releasing September 20, 2018
Focusing on the child, the story, rather than the procedure
What I ended up doing was just writing. I subject Valerius and Evander to a challenge, or two, and then help them figure it out. In this particular case, it’s an orphanage. In the realm of the fairy-tale it’s workable, even though in our modern day and age, most societies don’t have orphanages anymore. We use foster care instead. To use children in an orphanage allowed me to talk about the plight of children who most commonly end up in LGBT families: orphans or abandoned kids.
To talk about why some parents can’t raise their own kids isn’t easy, and this is the most difficult aspect of re-writing and editing right now. I have enough text to fill the book, but is it the right text? The right words? It’s about teaching the kids new words, but also help them understand societal phenomenons and to enable a discussion between parent/teacher and child when reading the story together. In a way, I have to go back to being a teacher and use pedagogy all over again. Fun, yet difficult because in my daytime career, I used to work with adults. The irony…
So what is Valerius and Evander 2 all about?
The story highlights the wish of our Princes to be parents, that which we label as involuntary childlessness. While recognized and part of the medical profession’s arsenal when it comes to het parents, for gay couples, this is still a territory mired with discrimination and–frankly–lack of understanding and deeply rooted homophobia. That’s where the book starts. Easy, right? It then moves on to show how children are a natural part of society and how they are literally everywhere: in towns, on meadows and even in the forest. To use animals helps to keep things grounded for the kids.
That’s when the orphanage comes in and gives the two princes something to sink their teeth into, but as they busy themselves with helping those kids, their own needs are put on the backburner, which, eventually, leads to the big conclusion of the story, and a chance encounter… To find out what that is, you’ll have to wait for the book to be released.
I still feel that I’m a long way from being done with this. The first book in the series took almost three years to be done. Oddly, it’s so easy to write down the story in a rough draft, but incredibly hard to rewrite, to make sure it’s understandable, relatable and on par with the level of understanding we can expect from a four-, five-, or six-year-old child. Once the text is finalized, edited and proofed, I’ll contact Felicity for the illustrations. That’s when the real magic happens…
Are you looking forward to it? Any other topics you would like to see Valerius and Evander to tackle?
Throughout history, few authors were successful enough to be financially independent
As a resident of the Kingdom of Sweden, I am days away from receiving the “invitation” from my government to file my taxes for 2018. As for most of us, a somewhat sensitive topic. As a full-time author, I don’t have much to look forward to. With little to no income, I don’t really pay taxes and I never ever see tax returns, obviously. I don’t mind paying taxes, but these days, my financial “well-being” is on my mind. Income is so much more than just taxes. I’m lucky to live in a country where much of our social services are offered equally to everybody, regardless of income (or lack thereof.) But other things, such as my future pension, aren’t.
The future looks bleak
“Garantipension” is a thing here, it’s a minimum pension paid to those who haven’t saved enough to warrant a higher pension through contributions (by working.) Our current pension system relies heavily on employers diverting a certain amount of money every month. No employer, no savings. As an author, I’m my own employer and without an income (to speak of), I have little resources to save for the future. But this isn’t just about me. This is something a lot of artists share. But what income sources can we tap into?
Looking back in history
Historically, authors have relied on rich patrons, usually royalty. Every court that could, would employ a bard to entertain nobility at festivities. It’s how we were afforded the great plays, dramas and comedies alike from the ancient Greeks and Romans, and I have a hunch that circumstances were similar elsewhere in the world.
Patrons, these days in the re-invented Patreon-version, have always played a huge roll in the life of artists. Just look at how Italian and French nobility supported Leonardo, Machiavelli or Michelangelo. Many of these artists died in poverty despite their fame today. Nothing changed until books became a thing for a broad mass market. Suddenly you had authors who became celebrities, who sold books by the millions. Reclusive or not, they were famous and rich. But how many of them were there at any given time, globally?
Grants, stipends, crowd-funding or patrons
Few! Very few. But their visibility served like a beacon of light to the hundreds of thousands of authors who self-publish on platforms like KDP today. Of all those people, a handful per year, at the most, land a bestseller and a contract with one of the big houses who long ago abandoned niche literature for the benefit of celebrity literature, books they know will make them money.
So what do poets, authors do to pay their mortgage? Their utility bills? Groceries? Most of them work daytime and write at night. At my age, finding work is becoming increasingly difficult. My value on the job market is equal to the likelihood of global warming being a hoax. Some authors chase grants or stipends, spending many hours researching what is available and submitting proposals. For a shot at a few hundred dollars, these people spend days and weeks.
The advent of the Internet has not only changed publishing forever but also how we can earn money. Asking for donations online, Patreon (see above) or crowd-funding platforms are all ways to make a buck. One thing is certain: the only winners are the platforms… Oddly, the more famous you are, the more books you sell, the more likely you’ll attract money, whereas those who need the money most, they go without.
The Swedish Academy debate
In Sweden, we’ve recently had an interesting debate around income for poets and writers. With Katarina Frostensson offering to leave the Academy (her husband was convicted for raping women on two counts and has been suspected of using his relationship with her to gain financial benefits and access to many of the women he allegedly harassed sexually.) Frostensson refused to leave without financial compensation, having made millions on her “chair” every year. Most other poets make a tiny fraction of that money.
There is an interesting discussion going on in artist circles and in public access media about what an artist should make, what the value of a book is, etc. I think this is a valuable discussion. No doctor treats a patient without pay, the milkman won’t let you take his product for free, and no carpenter will make a table and chairs for you for free. Yet artists are often expected to give away their books, music for free. If nothing else, we expect to find them for free online.
Sometimes, people suggest a basic income. This has recently been tested in Finland, but not to a specific group of people and the trial has yet to be evaluated. The general idea is to supply every citizen with a base income above the poverty limit and to remove all other subsidies instead (housing, social welfare etc.) Some claim that a base income would be less shameful and would free up a lot of resources from the government (as the entire administration of pensions, welfare, etc. would cease.) Others call it a socialist vanity project. Personally, I’m on the fence.
It would certainly help artists and it would remove the angst of having money for the most basic aspects of life. As long as it would also count toward our pensions, all the better. But is it fair to ask for the working population to support artists? Would people still work? Are artists necessary for society to work? Do we add value? Or are we simply lazy leeches? Interesting questions that deserve looking at in more detail.
How much did I sell last year? What will I sell this year?
Sadly, my book sales have dipped in recent years. The first half of 2015 was my best-selling year, and while I had “bestsellers” on various lists in Canada, Australia, and the UK over the years, those books weren’t on the list long enough or the country too insignificant to warrant any major income. I don’t know how many books I’ve sold last year. Like all authors, I always dream that “the next one” will be my breakthrough, will be the one to propel me to the NYT bestseller list and a steady income to allow me to pursue my writing without turning each penny. It’s a dream all artists share, most of us being aware that we’ll never get there.
But we still hope. Thus I hope that 2019 will be a better year, with more sold books, ebooks, and audiobooks. Meanwhile, I enjoy the great reviews my books garner. They may not pay invoices, but they inspire me to work even harder on the next book.
How can you help?
If you are a reader, there are many things you can do to help an author you like. Apart from buying their books (thank you!), often at the cost of a large latte, you can help them at no cost:
- Tell your friends and acquaintances about a book you enjoy, and why.
- Write a short review. Tell people why you liked the book. Preferably not just on Amazon or GollumReads, but also on another site, e.g. Apple, Google, Smashwords et al. All those sites have sales, but very few reviews. Your review might make a big difference.
- Follow, like and share social media posts. Unfortunately, many of the social media sites and their algorithms only care about those metrics and will promote (i.e. make more visible) posts that are “popular”.
- Attend signings and readings. Often, those are instances where authors can sell books and/or are paid to attend.