Appropriating and Updating the Race

In this crazy new world of e-publishing, the rules of getting published and making a living at writing are shifting.  As anyone reading this blog at all will know, I’m a huge follower of Heinlein’s Rules for Writers.  But where does putting my own stuff up without going to an editor who can pay me fall in the mix of those five rules?  I’m not sure.

But e-stuff sells.  I’m selling handfuls of copies of two literary short stories a month, stories I’ve done basically no marketing for at all.  How much better will novels sell? Novels I intend to push in front of people and do as much marketing for as I can handle?  Does that count as “keeping it in the mail until it sells”?  Maybe.

Dean Wesley Smith came up with a points system called the Race back in the years when I was a wee little girl.  The gist is that you get one point for each story in the mail, three points for each novel proposal (only for each novel, not for each editor you send it to), and eight points for each full novel out (again, only counts once per book).  Dean explains in his blog here and here much better than I can.

But if I put a story up on Kindle… I lose the point in the Race.  I’m sure that Dean will come up with a new Race point system to account for that, but in the meantime, fellow writer Amanda McCarter and I decided on a rough new plan, which we’re calling the E-pub Race (different from the Trad-pub Race).  It works like this:  (and this is probably way more complicated than it needs to be, but hey… games are fun!)

1 point for each short story.  If you bundle shorts, this counts as 1 point up to 4 shorts bundled.

3 points for each short story collection (5+ shorts minimum, repeats allowed with shorts on their own).

5 points for each novel. (Novels bundled in Omnibus form count separately unless they are repeated, in which case you only get the points once).

No points count until you’ve sold at least five copies (the original race has you losing points after getting paid, so we figured the E-pub race should have something opposite of that).  Copies you buy yourself don’t count of course.  Editions don’t count as separate (so if you do a POD version, you still only get points for that novel once).

Ok. Hopefully that isn’t too complicated.  Suggestions and comments are welcome, of course.

12 Responses to “Appropriating and Updating the Race”

  1. Race scores and e-publishing « Amanda McCarter's Blog

    […] writer Annie Bellet and I have discussed this and come up with something that may work a little better. This focuses on […]

  2. Ben Godby

    Maybe you should base your score around some kind of calculation of costs and benefits. For example, compare how much you made off your sale to Daily SF to how much you’re making from your e-pubs. How do they stack up? How many copies need you sell of your e-pubs to match it (or a sale to a similar “professional” publication)?

    In theory, it seems to me at least, it’s the same amount of effort, roughly – at least, I don’t usually find submitting difficult. Thus, the costs and benefits should fall in favour of the professional pubs (I think…), unless you’re at a point where you can reliably sell a lot of e-pubs. But, then again… my stories bring in $0 every month, and even a few bucks is more.

    I guess I’m a pessimist when it comes to self-publishing, but don’t take this the wrong way. I’m looking for proofs, not to in any way disparage your work. I’d love to see you crunch some numbers, if you’re willing to share!


    • izanobu

      Ben- Numbers? Sure. One thing to remember in self-publishing is that you can’t expect the same up-front profit. From what I’ve seen (and read, with exceptions of course), self-pub is a trickle that builds as your inventory grows.
      So far I’ve made about 7 dollars in three months on two short stories that are up. I made another 1.05 on the story I had to take down cause I accidentally sold it (see my post on my stupid error for the story about that). I get the rights back to that story in about Jan, so it’ll go right back up to earn me more money.

      Mind you, these are 3 month numbers for stories I’ve done practically no promotion for, that are literary, niche type stories. I know who a few of those sales came from (a couple of friends, for example), but others I have no idea (especially the sales from Amazon.UK). I put up these stories as a way to learn formatting and see how it works. The results so far make me very hopeful for my ebooks which will be short novel-length and which I intend to actually market (well, offer ARC for reviews etc).

      I fully support trying for trad publishing first. All my shorts are out to markets except these literary ones (and they all got rejected 5-8 times before I put them up). As DWS says, balance is key.

      • izanobu

        Also important here, I’m earning only .35 from each sale.
        With my novels I’ll be earning between 2.04 and 3.49 depending on where I price them.

        Shorts I think are especially going to stay a trickle (but imagine if I had 50 up instead of 2… Maybe I should do a numbers post…hmm

  3. Thomas K Carpenter

    I like the idea, but I’m going to keep focusing on the writing part of the Race for now. I think the ePub and traditional balance should be thought of as a business decision. My process (and goal setting) will look something like:

    1) Keep writing 250,000 words per year (~2-3 books and 5-10 shorts)
    2) Keep them out at publishers and magazines. My first goal is to sell traditional.
    3) If a short uses up all its pro markets (or a few semi-pros I like and pay decently); I’ll put it up online. If a novel doesn’t sell for a year (or other predetermined time; depending on the size of the trad pub market) then I’ll go it alone.

    On the novels, I’m really taking into consideration the potential sales value to traditional publishing. My niche sci-fi novel, will probably go to ePub in a year. The YA sci-fi novel I’m writing right now, I know it has a much larger potential to be sold, so I’m going to give that one a longer traditional publishing go.

    I think based on the numbers Dean ran at the workshop, it seems like if you think you can get more than a $25k advance with trad pub, then sell it to them. Keeping in mind the rights that you give or don’t give (sunset clauses!).

    And with shorts, usually they have a one year rights lease. Once its up, you can put it up yourself. I plan on doing that in a month on the one story I did sell (token market).

    I do, in general, agree with the idea you’re suggesting. We should be consistantly pushing ourselves to write, ship, sell and publish. Interestingly, Dean’s post today about “Fears” addresses this very subject, though I don’t think you all meant it the way he’s talking.

    Anyway, I’m exciting, and can’t wait to get home to write tonight!


    • izanobu

      Tom- I definitely think balance is key. Also, you have a family and day job. I don’t (well, I have a cat. And a husband…)
      For me, doing both things is very doable. My plan roughly involves writing 40ish short stories a yeah, 2-4 novels for NY a year, and then 4 (short) novels for e-pub.

      All in all I think I worked this out to about 650,000 words a year for me. Which I’m slowly ramping up to doing, but really works out to about 2500 words a day each week-day (2 hours of work, in other words, if I’m consistent and don’t take vacations etc, but have weekends off). I’m not there yet this year, but I figure to aim high because even if I fall a bit short, I’ve still accomplished a good deal 🙂

  4. thomaskcarpenter

    Cats are very demanding. No really, it’s true.

  5. The Practice of Failure « The Future Digital Life

    […] may be other benchmarks to go by.  My writer friend Annie Bellet has argued for counting the number of ePub products we have on the market.  As the marketplace is changing rapidly, this may end up being a good way […]

  6. Jeff @ Dark Elms

    Like I said over at Amanda’s blog, the only problem I have with these scores is waiting for five sales to count it.

    For example: while looking at Book A by Author A, Amazon (or someone) guides me to Book A by Author B. But when I start looking at Author B, I ending up buying Book B, not Book A. Wouldn’t have happened if not for Book A — even though I didn’t buy it.

    It seems to me that what you’re calculating in the e-pub race is how much your have out there driving potential sales. A short story is only going to garner a little bit of attention, but a novel a lot more.

    I like the 1, 3, and 5 points … just unsure about waiting for five sales to count.

    • izanobu

      We wanted some kind of marker for each story up, that’s why the 5 sales. Otherwise I could “game” the race and put up hundreds of 6 word stories or something. Not that someone would (I mean, you can do that with the normal Race and submit hundreds of 6 word stories), but Amanda and I felt that some threshold was needed. Obviously you can just ignore that if you want, but 5 sales takes really no time at all (I had that in my first month with my lit fic stories), so it doesn’t seem like a big deal to me.

  7. J.A. Marlow

    The E-Pub Race sounds like a lot of fun. I’m ramping up to start releasing in February and I think I might have to take a stab at this. Use it as a way to quantify the earning power put up for sale.

    Although I understand why you have only 3 tiers, 4 would have been nice, too. I’m intending to price short novels (novellas) and novels differently. That means they have different earning power. Not to mention short and longer novels each have a different time-element to finishing.

    Eh, might be too complicated. Still mulling it over. 😀

    • izanobu

      Yeah, we decided to lump novellas and short novels in with novels to keep things simple. If you want you can have anything over 75k words be 8 points instead. After all, the Race and the e-Race are just there for personal use 🙂

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