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Rebuttal from a PDF publisher

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RE: Who pays 5 cents a word?

Post originally by Lloyd Brown at 2005-07-09 15:01:38
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<<Now, it would be hard for Alea Publishing Group to pay .05 a word, but we would if ...we could get a profit. ...But for an unsolicited manuscript, by an unknown writer - .01 a word is not great but is feasible>>

I apologize for the selective quoting. I don't think I misrepresented you, though.

That's quite a huge variable you have there! You'd quintuple your normal rates if the quality of the work were high enough?

Everyone else: please not that I'm not holding Alea up as an example of every publisher. I'm asking questions of somebody I've never heard of before.

You mentioned a "commission." What do you mean by that? Do you mean a royalty rate based on sales?

And on that topic you said "which by the way is not translated as free"

Would you be willing to share a specific dollar number and the appropriate word count for comparison purposes? I understand entirely if you're not.

My statement behind the royalty is based on this: for print products, a publisher's breakeven, depending on a ton of variables, might run between 1,500 and 5,000 copies. Obviously, exceptions exist both below and above that range. Let's please don't quibble for 80 posts over that exact number.

Most RPG products in 2004 sold...less than that. A publisher paying a net royalty rate is likely to end up owing the writer nothing (because costs exceeded revenues). A publisher paying a gross royalty rate is going to owe a small number and still take a long time to recoup his costs--which is why I know of exactly zero print publishers offering that option. (If you know of an exception, please share).

If you haven't considered that already, *nothing* for 40,000 or 100,000 words or more is a painful, painful thought. Especially when a large portion of the factors that go into sales are entirely in the publisher's hand--trade dress, price point, distribution, and size of the initial print run being some of the big ones. It's one thing if I'm risking my own money with my own decisions. It's quite another to risk my income on somebody else's decision.

<<this is usually unsolicited material; i.e. the writer doesn't have an agent>>

Unsolicited and unagented are two different things. And I don't know of any agent that represents a writer for RPG work. I've been talking to Ed Greenwood's agent (on other issues), and even he won't touch RPG material. 15% of RPG rates is not worth the postage on the check.
 
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Post originally by Steven Trustrum at 2005-07-09 17:09:16
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Lloyd Brown said:
>> Actually, yes. I've never been contacted by a publisher directly for work. All work I've done has been in response to getting a job by writing a well-worded query letter or by developing a relationship with a publisher and then making a less formal proposal. The clear and professional query came first. Always.

I, on the other hand, have had various publishers seek me out. In fact, while starting up Misfit Studios I had to turn down offers to put the time in for my own company. Not always, but it happens. I've also gotten jobs because publishers talk amongst themselves and, at some point, someone said "I've worked with Steven and he'd fit right in for that project." So, yeah, your own personal experience being, of your own admission, of one type obviously doesn't reprsent the full writer experience and definately lends a great degree of biased perspective.

On the flip side, as a publisher I've had writers send me well written queries. I've had artists send me impressive sample works. I've turned most down. Why? Because, regardless of the person's talent there remains only so much money to fund projects. Period. I could certainly try to spread the wealth more and get more projects out by reducing the rates I pay, so then comes the question of is it better to put out two projects for lower rates that the respective writers accept or put out one project for a higher rate that the respective writer accepts? These are the questions publishers deal with and that a writer, not knowing about the other guy also looking for work, doesn't consider.

Lloyd Brown said:
>> I can assure you that if a publisher receives a well-written query/proposal from a new writer, and that writer follows it up with a grammatically clean manuscript that is interesting and that complies with the publisher's guidelines, then it deserves serious consideration, regardless of who was there first. It might not bump a project the publisher is committed to already, but he'll work hard to get it on the schedule as soon as possible if he thinks he can sell it.

And I can assure that this most definately is NOT so. It may be sometimes, but you speak as though "if you do the work and put in the time, you can sell anything to anyone eventually." That's bull. You can pitch an amazing project and it still won't account for other things such as licensing commitments, long term product line projections, downsizing, budget shuffling for product lines, etc. A good idea and skilled presentation for a prospective project is NOT a definate sale.
 
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RE: Thanks for interest

Post originally by committed hero at 2005-07-09 17:28:34
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Dana, I think you have to be willing to allow Lloyd some creative license in his writing - although it does seem that he tried to marshal all the potential arguments in this installment.
 
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Post originally by Dana Jorgensen at 2005-07-09 17:36:32
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Lloyd Brown wrote:
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<<If every publisher could consistently rely on generating over $1 million in retail sales each month like Dragon, or even the $100K per month of Kenzer & Co, everyone would enjoy a higher per word pay rate, but the fact of the matter is, we don't. >>

>>Your numbers are vastly off base. Kenzer might be bringing that in, but it isn't off the Kalamar line. WotC's beating that number, but as for Dragon, they publish an annual statement of distribution that shows the error in that math (even through it doesn't include ad revenue).

My numbers were guesstimates based on retail prices and circulation averages the last time I checked such things. Last I checked, Dragon had a circulation of 117,000 and the current retail price is $7.00. Do the math. Kenzer is based on an estimate involving all monthly production. A business' overall financial health influences the pay rates more than an individual line's success.

However, I can't argue with the overall conclusion that some publishers are larger than others. But since you don't run a business, you don't understand that.

>>I do hope you're not implying that working for a self-imposed minimum wage is wrong or immoral.

No, I'm not. However, your vagueness will inevitably lead to many readers of your column doing the wrong things in an expectation of higher pay.

<<Get out there and work the consumers. ...and then no matter who you're writing for, you can look forward to seeing better pay. >>

>>Really? About 60 of the posts ahead of you state that some publishers simply can't afford to pay more. You did say, and I quote again "no matter who you're writing for."

Must be nice living the life of a simpleton. You call yourself a writer and can't even see the "and then" in the statement that indicates future tense due to the snipped conditions needing to be met?

>>I will point out that 99% of the people who know Ed Greenwood don't know him from the local game store or from a game he ran at a con. They know him because he wrote good material.

Incorrect. 99% of the people who know Ed Greenwood know of him as an author of fictional novels, in the same fashion that people know of authors like Douglas Adams, Terry Brooks, Jack Chaulker, Fred Saberhagen, JRR Tolkein, Fritz Lieber, and all the rest who are known due to their cover credits.
 
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RE: Thanks for interest

Post originally by Dana Jorgensen at 2005-07-09 17:49:59
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Lloyd Brown wrote:
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<<Lloyd, allow us to thank you in advance for contradicting yourself with the next article.>>

I suppose that's one way to look at it. Since I identified the next article at the bottom of the page (for the first and probably only time), it's not like it's a surprise to anyone.

I'm simply presenting two angles in two different columns so that we can discuss each issue individually. What if the topic were different: "Why you should not get married", followed by "Why you should get married"? I doubt I'd be accused of contradicting myself. Fortunately, I think most people got it.
-------------------------------

Problem is, you weren't qualified to write the first article to begin with. You're certainly not qualified to play devil's advocate on the matter.
 
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Post originally by Paul King at 2005-07-10 04:40:55
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And you neglect one thing. The writers have to make a worthwhile return on their time and effort, too.

If that isn't possible with .pdf publishing then it isn't the responsibility of the writers to effectively subsidise economically unviable projects. And yes I do mean "responsibility" - writers can make whatever choices they want for whatever reasons. But they do not have a duty to accept whatever is offered.

If you want to argue that the rates on offer are adequate, professional rates then that would at least be a valid point. But if it isn't then you would do better telling would-be professionals to lower their aims and start at the amateur or semi-pro level. It's worked in the past for some through writing for Alarums and Excursions, which is solidly amateur.
 
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Post originally by Lloyd Brown at 2005-07-10 09:36:49
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<<However, I can't argue with the overall conclusion that some publishers are larger than others. But since you don't run a business, you don't understand that. >>

You’re right. Technically, I don’t currently own a business. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’ve forgotten my 17 years of retail management and business ownership. In fact, I've just sold my retail game store after several successful years of operation so that I can write full time.

<<Last I checked, Dragon had a circulation of 117,000 and the current retail price is $7.00. Do the math.>>

I did the math. I also used the right numbers. I see that you're also not familiar with periodical jargon. "Circulation" is a fictitious number that magazines use to sell ads. It’s usually 5 times the distribution number. "Distribution" is the actual number that describes how many copies were sold. Furthermore, they don’t see 100% sell-though on every issue. And, to further bring down your number, they hardly sell any copies at full retail. They get about 40% of that cover price for subs and copies sold through distribution. Their last annual statement was in Dragon 327.

<<Incorrect. 99% of the people who know Ed Greenwood know of him as an author of fictional novels,.>>

[TSR/WotC’s book publishing revenues have never significantly exceeded game sales, so at most, probably 50% of Ed's readers know him from his novels. It’s easy to see how you arrive at different conclusions when you’re working with the wrong numbers.]

Let’s back up a bit. It’s easy to get lost in these threads. My point was made in response to this quote of yours:
<<Get out there and work the consumers. Participate in conventions as panel members, guests of honor, etc. Make sure the local shops know you and what you wrote. Do appearances to sign books. Make yourself and your name recognizable to the consumer. When your name has recognition, then it becomes worthwhile to have your name on the cover, and then no matter who you're writing for, you can look forward to seeing better pay.>>

You urged consumer marketing as the writer’s sole form of marketing. This article discussed price positioning. Both elements fall under the larger category of marketing, and you can’t ignore one aspect just because you don’t understand its role or because you find it distasteful. In business terms, I’m proposing premier pricing as a pricing strategy for the service that freelance writers offer. If you want to run a column on consumer marketing for writers, great! I’d like to read it. I might pick at certain points, but I probably won’t call it lazy and self-satisfying.

The two are not mutually exclusive. There’s no reason anyone reading this column can’t do both. But here’s a secret: if you hit the convention circuit and help your publisher sell more books that pay you $1.00 per title (if you’re being paid royalties), you make more money than by peddling books that get you $.20 per copy.

So back to Ed. My point was that he did not become well-known through the efforts that you described. He’s known to his many readers of both game material and fantasy fiction. He did that by writing strong material and selling it to the market that did it the most good. If his material was no good, he wouldn’t have made any repeat sales, which he clearly did.

Long post. Last bit.
<<You … can't even see the "and then" in the statement that indicates future tense due to the snipped conditions needing to be met?>>

I clipped the insults. You can keep those, thanks.

How about restating your statement, then? Are you saying that improved name recognition will net a writer 5x the rate originally offered by a publisher? Can you support that with any verifiable specific examples?
 
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Post originally by Lloyd Brown at 2005-07-10 09:57:12
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<<I, on the other hand, have had various publishers seek me out>>
I know. I've seen your name on the message boards. I never claimed it didn't happen.

<<You can pitch an amazing project and it still won't account for other things such as licensing commitments, long term product line projections, downsizing, budget shuffling for product lines, etc. A good idea and skilled presentation for a prospective project is NOT a definate sale.>>

You're absolutely right. That's why I actually said <<then it deserves serious consideration>>

I did not say <<if you do the work and put in the time, you can sell anything to anyone eventually>>, which is how you interpreted it.

Solid market research is part of a writer's query/proposal, though, so (although it wasn't part of this article) the smart writer offers work that fits as closely as possible within publisher's stated goals. Usually, products in a series imply this: if you release a book on elves, it follows that you might be interested in a book on dwarves. Publish a book on England, and queries for book on France are probably natural.

Steve Jackson Games is awesome about this, by the way--they actually list titles they'd like to see on their website. You can't make it any clearer than that!

<< You can pitch an amazing project and it still won't account for other things such as licensing commitments, long term product line projections, downsizing, budget shuffling for product lines, etc>>

I described a two-part process: query, followed by manuscript. Most (if not all) of those factors affect the query stage. If you have a slot in a product line two years down the road, and you're casting about for a writer to fill it, and this query lands on your desk, then none of those apply (except unplanned downsizing).

And let’s look back at what I was replying to. You said
<<Are they open to newbies or do they go first to the publisher's preferred freelancers? Are they offered in a public search or are they farmed mainly or solely through contacts?>>

I stated "yes", and I stand by that. Yes, these jobs are open to newbies that present a professional image and offer work that fits within the publisher’s needs. Are they offered in a public search? Yes. Are they farmed mainly or solely through contacts? No, they’re not. If they are, I don’t know of them yet. Heck, I never even got into the Safe House in Milwaukee. I don’t have any secret contacts!
 
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Post originally by Allan S at 2005-07-12 11:43:41
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<<You’re right. Technically, I don’t currently own a business. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’ve forgotten my 17 years of retail management and business ownership. In fact, I've just sold my retail game store after several successful years of operation so that I can write full time. >>

On a side note. . .War Dogs is closed? Nuts.

Sounds like a catch-22 situation. Writers need a certain amount of money in order to make the career feasible. But the manufacturer profit margins are so thin that they can't afford to pay that amount, and the market price has to stay low enough (especially with PDFs) that they don't lose sales to piracy.

I would be interested in seeing the price point analysis of PDF sales. How much would raising the cost by $.50 to a dollar cut into the number sold?
Because, well, as much as I grouse about SJG's prices being $5 too much for everything (especially given the low cost components of those games), those prices are good for the industry as a whole, allowing writers, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to make a reasonable per item profit.
 
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Post originally by Lloyd Brown at 2005-07-13 07:58:53
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<<On a side note. . .War Dogs is closed? Nuts. >>

NO! I said "sold", not "closed"! The buyer is doing just fine, in fact. I should hope so, after I spent 2 years working with him.
 
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