Author Puts Novel Online For Free... And Gets A Book Deal

from the but-free-never-works dept

alex was the first of a few of you to send over the story of how author Marta Acosta posted her "young adult vampire novel" online for free at Scribd, where it became a top download with tons of great reviews... and that helped her get a book deal with Tor, who will be publishing the book in hardcover shortly. Once again, another example of how "obscurity" is a bigger problem than "piracy" for most content creators.


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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 14th, 2010 @ 12:26am

    No!! Not MORE young adult vampire novels! :(

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 14th, 2010 @ 1:16am

    Please God have mercy on our souls!

     

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  3.  
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    Michael Long (profile), Jul 14th, 2010 @ 1:16am

    Are you next going to publish an article that, like the prior articles on labels and studios, explains how an author isn't going to make any money from a publisher either?

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 14th, 2010 @ 3:18am

    Too bad the publisher will be forced to "Hollywood accounting" all the profits and claim the endeavor as a loss...

     

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  5.  
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    LoL, Jul 14th, 2010 @ 3:30am

    Kill me please.

    No! No! No more please.

     

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  6.  
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    Farrell McGovern (profile), Jul 14th, 2010 @ 3:37am

    "Accounting" in the book world

    Actually, there won't be any type of "Hollywood" accounting. Luckily, the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), which also represents other related genres, like Fantasy, is a strong writers union, and the fact that many editors in the field are also writers,and usually a member of SFWA. That said, you are not going to make millions selling your first book, but depending on the publisher, you may get as much as $5,000 (US) for your first novel, or as little as zilch. That is, assuming your work is published as a paperback. You do better if the publisher decides to go with a hardcover edition, as usually they put out a paperback edition a year later, or more if the hardcover sales are strong.

    Of all of the media fields, the SF&F publishing field is probably the most honest and transparent.

    ttyl
    Farrell McGovern,
    Chair, The Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature, Aug 20-22, Ottawa, Ontario, http://can-con.org

     

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  7.  
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    Claire Ryan, Jul 14th, 2010 @ 3:39am

    Interesting

    This is pretty interesting, but you should be careful to note that this is not a first time author. Acosta is already published, and has a vampire series of books out there called Casa Dracula.

    Essentially what happened here is that the novel was pitched to various publishers (by her agent, I assume) and nothing was heard about it for months. Then Acosta put it up on Scribd for free, and lucked out by getting great reviews and a lot of interest - and the editors at Tor took enough notice to believe that there was a market for the book, and bought it.

    Putting it out there on the net for free is risky - it means one less thing you can offer a potential publisher. (Ebook rights, if I remember correctly?) Most agents tell aspiring authors to never, ever do this unless it's a work you're using for promotion only, and do not expect any publisher to want to buy it.

    It worked for Acosta, and it's brilliant that it did in her case, but I would argue that this isn't a good strategy for an unknown, unagented writer. Obscurity is indeed a big problem for authors, far more than piracy, but this only comes into play for authors who have a marketable, sellable product - and very frequently, starting writers don't have that.

    That it worked for her shouldn't give them the impression that it will work for them - it's far, far more likely that it won't and they'll be left with a crappy book up online that will reflect badly on them later in their career. I should know, because I've written two books already and although I thought they were pretty hot stuff at the time, I can look at them now and recognise that they're actually shit. If I had made them available to the public back then, I'd be dying of embarrassment right now.

    This is not to say that it can't work, though. I'm pretty sure it can for a new author. But chances are that it won't.

    (If you read blogs by literary agents, you'll find out pretty fast that they're desperate for good books. They want to be the one to find the next big thing and sell it to Random House or whoever for a million bucks. But a lot of what they get from aspiring authors is just terrible; books that are badly written, unmarketable, outside their field of expertise, too long, too short, too similar to already published works. In short, they're not turning people down just because they're the evil gatekeepers of the literary world and feel like shattering the dreams of many.)

    Hmm, wall of text...

    tl;dr - Yes, this can work, but the odds are not good if you're not already published.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 14th, 2010 @ 4:30am

    "another example of how "obscurity" is a bigger problem than "piracy" for one content creator." - fixed that for you mike.

     

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  9.  
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    Skout (profile), Jul 14th, 2010 @ 4:48am

    Re:

    To think that it's just one is a clear view into how narrow your mind is.

     

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  10.  
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    Christopher (profile), Jul 14th, 2010 @ 5:07am

    Re: Interesting

    Speculative argument. You say it worked out because she's established, but I think your main point is that first efforts are shit that should be denied by publishers... which really *only* leaves online self-publishing as an option.

    The way I figure it is this: you still retain copyright, if your work is any good you'll get the correct amount of attention given a decent venue. The venue doesn't have to be print, either, it just needs to be where the readers are. Scribd happens to be such a place.

    --#

     

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  11.  
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    Scott, Jul 14th, 2010 @ 6:02am

    not the first

    Scott Sigler started out podcasting his own, unpublished books back several years ago. Finally got noticed by Crown and got a 3 book deal.

     

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  12.  
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    Matthew, Jul 14th, 2010 @ 6:11am

    Re: Re: Interesting

    Actually, there is an option besides self-publishing and that is NOT publishing. If your first book or two are bad, then consider them practice and get to writing that third book, which might be publishable. A career in writing is hard work.

     

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  13.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 14th, 2010 @ 6:24am

    Re: not the first

    Scott, did you just write a comment about yourself in the third person? Remember, POV is important!!! ;)

     

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  14.  
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    Jay (profile), Jul 14th, 2010 @ 6:31am

    Re:

    I can assure you that writers do not do that nearly as much. Just take a glance at the 2010 Writer's Market and you will notice that all fees and commissions are laid out up front. You get to pick and choose what type of genre you're dealing with as well as how much you pay your agent.

    It's a far cry from the world of secrecy in either movie or music making.

     

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  15.  
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    Jay (profile), Jul 14th, 2010 @ 6:41am

    Re: Re: Interesting

    I unfortunately disagree with you Christopher. The thing about a new author is the very fact that they don't have a lot of options.

    The best thing you can do is hire an agent who starts a bidding war for your work and makes different editors clamor to see it.

    However, with Scribd or any other free service, you're effectively taking away an option for an agent. In this case the book was damn good. With unknowns, this really isn't the best way to get known.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 14th, 2010 @ 6:59am

    Re: Re: Re: Interesting

    How will you know if your first book or two are bad if no one reads them? All media created by artists of every flavor need to release their works and see what sticks and what people liked about them... get critiques. From the actual content consumers!

    Typically an artist will make something, think it's bad but everyone loves it. Or a small group of people are brought in, reads/watches whatever you made but it turns out they were completely wrong on it being good or not and is a flop.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 14th, 2010 @ 7:01am

    Re: Re: not the first

    Anonymous Coward laughed in a bemused tone at Dark Helmut's comment, then wrote "Neigh good sir! His POV is quite appropriate!"

     

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  18.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 14th, 2010 @ 7:24am

    Re: Re: Re: not the first

    Dark Helmet scratched his head in confusion. Was he happy that he made someone laugh? Of course he was! But he couldn't wrap his bulbous head around the idea that the correct point of view was utilized.

    Yet that wasn't even the most puzzling part of the comment. Given the first word written by the anonymous coward, a very real and frightening question presented itself: how in the world is a horse using the internet?

    A shiver ran through him that had nothing to do with the conditioned air being pumped into his office. Something was very, very wrong here....

     

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  19.  
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    RD, Jul 14th, 2010 @ 7:37am

    Re: Re: Re: Interesting

    "The best thing you can do is hire an agent who starts a bidding war for your work and makes different editors clamor to see it."

    Wont work. You cant GET an agent UNLESS you have an offer an interested publisher. Its chicken-and-egg. As an new, unknown, unpublished author, you cant just run out and get an agent, it doesnt work like that.

    "However, with Scribd or any other free service, you're effectively taking away an option for an agent. In this case the book was damn good. With unknowns, this really isn't the best way to get known."

    Possibly, but then again, if you are new/unknown, how are people supposed to get to know your work? How about, instead of putting the entire first book up on a place like Scribd, put up half the book, or a large excerpt? There are new ways now than the traditional "send a manuscript to ONE publisher and wait up to 18 months for a reply, if you get one, then if not repeat with the next publisher" as it used to be.

     

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  20.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 14th, 2010 @ 7:50am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Interesting

    "Wont work. You cant GET an agent UNLESS you have an offer an interested publisher."

    That's not strictly true. You can get an agent w/o a publishing contract, though it is EXTREMELY difficult. And you have to be an absolute God at writing query letters....

    "if you are new/unknown, how are people supposed to get to know your work?"

    Seems like an excellent job for social media. I know that I'm going to be sending a status update out telling people where to get Echelon for free on DocStoc later today. Part of that will include a request that if they read it and LIKE it, I'd appreciate them also doing a similar status update on Facebook letting their friends know where to get it. The hope is that, at some point, you reach a critical mass of people enjoying the work and reposting it. It's all predecated on whether or not the book is actually good....

     

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  21.  
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    Matthew, Jul 14th, 2010 @ 8:11am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Interesting

    Publishers know a thing or two. Even if they won't publish your first book, they do read manuscripts and they accept or reject them for good reasons. You probably won't get back too much feedback but if you get rejected, it means your work needs some improvement.

     

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  22.  
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    Ron Rezendes (profile), Jul 14th, 2010 @ 8:28am

    Re: Interesting

    "Then Acosta put it up on Scribd for free, and lucked out by getting great reviews and a lot of interest - and the editors at Tor took enough notice to believe that there was a market for the book, and bought it."

    Are you always so condescending?

    Wouldn't "...getting great reviews and a lot of interest..." be a direct result of a quality piece of work, rather than defying the odds and "lucking out"?

     

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  23.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 14th, 2010 @ 8:48am

    Had to tag along :)

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/34324424

    Feel free to help me become the next Marta Acosta, Tech Dirt!

    /Shameless self promotion

     

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  24.  
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    Corey, Jul 14th, 2010 @ 9:25am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Interesting

    "Wont work. You cant GET an agent UNLESS you have an offer an interested publisher. Its chicken-and-egg. As an new, unknown, unpublished author, you cant just run out and get an agent, it doesnt work like that."

    That's not at all true. If you have a quality manuscript finding an agent really isn't that difficult. It's difficult if you have a bad manuscript that no one is ever going to want to buy.

     

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  25.  
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    Corey, Jul 14th, 2010 @ 9:30am

    "from the but-free-never-works dept"

    Who ever said free NEVER works? What people have argued against is your business model where all digital property should be free. No one ever said it'll never work, but for many authors the question becomes, will the increased audience from the free exposure make up for the loss of profits from selling the digital property. In many instances I don't believe the extra exposure would make up for the losses.

     

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  26.  
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    Marta Acosta, Jul 14th, 2010 @ 11:38am

    OMG, I'm on a tech site!

    Hello, gentledudes, one of my geekish pals alerted me that you were yammering about my book deal so I thought I'd comment.

    Actually, I went the very traditional (arduous, time consuming)route to first publication, which included getting a degree in lit/writing, being a freelancer for major newspapers, and writing for non-profits.

    You don't need to have a book deal to get an agent. You need a great query letter and a manuscript that is marketable. This is not the same thing as a manuscript that is brilliant. You can have a wretched book that is really hot and get an agent, or a great book that has no audience and be rejected. You can land a plane in the Hudson and get a book deal.

    You should never ever pay an agent. Legitimate agents may occasionally charge for copying fees, but they never charge to represent you. Your agent should be a member of AAR.

    It is counterintuitive to give away something for free if you want to sell it, but it can work for publicity. I posted my book out of pure frustration. At that point, I wanted my young adult gothic to be read more than I wanted it to be sold because I knew it was as good as the comedies-of-manners that I'd had published. (Yes, they have vampires, because I was spoofing the cliches, but that's another story.)

    I don't know that I'd recommend this route to someone who is unpublished.

    As for rights, I've retained the copyright and will pull it from Scribd soon. The manuscript will be rewritten after I've gotten notes from my editor. It will be polished, copyedited, proofed, etc. In my experience, a final book can be markedly different from the first version.

    Now can one of you guys tell me why my videos won't load properly? I get these weird flashes on my screen and the little clock ticks away and it all confuses and terrifies me.

     

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  27.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 14th, 2010 @ 11:53am

    Re: OMG, I'm on a tech site!

    Marta:

    Thanks for coming by! Just wanted to let you know that I've thrown a novel I did under a CC license up on Scribd after reading this story. I'm sure you're busy, but I'd love to email you a couple of questions if possible as an aspiring novelist....

     

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  28.  
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    Marta Acosta, Jul 14th, 2010 @ 12:25pm

    Re: Re: OMG, I'm on a tech site!

    Hey, Dark Helmet,

    Sure, I'm happy to answer questions, so long as they aren't "A train going 65 mph leaves Station A at 10:27 a.m..." Send me an email.

    Just FYI, one thing that publishers all want to know before offering a deal is how much a writer will market the book and what connections the author has. The internet offers opportunities for those of us who don't happen to have well-known relatives/friends, or a trust-fund.

     

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  29.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 14th, 2010 @ 12:34pm

    Re: Re: Re: OMG, I'm on a tech site!

    Thanks Marta. I'll email you tonight after work (damn 9-5!)...

     

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  30.  
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    Jay (profile), Jul 14th, 2010 @ 3:28pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Interesting

    "Possibly, but then again, if you are new/unknown, how are people supposed to get to know your work? How about, instead of putting the entire first book up on a place like Scribd, put up half the book, or a large excerpt? There are new ways now than the traditional "send a manuscript to ONE publisher and wait up to 18 months for a reply, if you get one, then if not repeat with the next publisher" as it used to be."

    I'm not saying that they should send in the entire manuscript. With regards to putting out the entire book, it's not really feasible IMO.

    Rather, there's quite a few things I can think of, which I'm doing myself.

    There's a few things that you can do. One is to send in excerpts. Two pages to an editor which starts the bidding war without an agent.

    Another is what I like to call "bread crumbs". Think Hansel and Gretel and you'll understand what I mean. ;)

    There are other ways to do this. I just felt that putting up the entire book for all to see limited her options. Yes, it is CwF, but it makes that scarcity into a common good a little early, which took away a few people's RtB. Not enough to kill the market, true. I just think there were a few extra options she could have used in this regard.

     

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  31.  
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    Marta Acosta, Jul 14th, 2010 @ 4:26pm

    Re: Interesting and Jay's comments

    Marketing yourself is different for fiction and non-fiction writers, but there are ways to make yourself more attractive to agents and publishers.

    Editors at major publishing houses will not look at a submission unless it comes from an agent. So you won't get a bidding war. (Exceptions to rule: land a plane in a river.) An editor or agent may seek out an author if that author has developed a large following. Say, you're very successful in your field and profiles are written about you in major magazines. Yeah, me neither.

    However, I wrote about well-known people for major publications. It's harder now that newspapers are collapsing, but you can write online about something related to your story. You can start a blog, which is what I did, to promote yourself and your writing. Invite guests, play nice, take advice. Work on your writing. Work some more. Keep working.

    If you've written non-fiction, offer to speak on the topic to community groups and schools. Add that to your query letters to agents. Say "I have x number of visitors to my site every day, and I'm a sought-after speaker to blah, blah, blah."

    Nope, I don't recommend putting your whole book online. That was an irrational, impulsive act. Hey, if I was sensible, I'd be able to have a real job. With benefits and vacations days and I could call someone to fix my damn computer.

     

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  32.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 14th, 2010 @ 5:30pm

    Re: "from the but-free-never-works dept"

    What people have argued against is your business model where all digital property should be free.

    Um. But I've never argued that all digital "property" should be free. It's got nothing to do with "should."

    will the increased audience from the free exposure make up for the loss of profits from selling the digital property. In many instances I don't believe the extra exposure would make up for the losses.

    It's not the "extra exposure" that makes up for the losses. It's a good business model.

     

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  33.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 14th, 2010 @ 5:41pm

    Re: OMG, I'm on a tech site!

    Hi Marta,

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Curious why you're going to take down the uploaded version -- especially if the final copy will be different?

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 14th, 2010 @ 6:01pm

    "That said, you are not going to make millions selling your first book, but depending on the publisher, you may get as much as $5,000 (US) for your first novel, or as little as zilch."

    Is that not the definition of "Hollywood accounting"? Pay you a small lump sum now, then pretend the movie(or book) was a failure when it comes time for the additional royalties to be payed out...

    I'm not a writer, but I can honestly say that if I'd spent a year or so writing a manuscript and then got a whopping 5 grand when it got published, I would be pretty underwhelmed about even bothering to write another. How would anyone be expected to live on that kind of money? Even if you write three published books a year... you're making less than the 18 year old IT interns do where I work.

    Kinda makes me wonder why my favorite sci-fi and fantasy authors are in the business at all.

     

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  35.  
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    Corey, Jul 14th, 2010 @ 6:35pm

    Re:

    AC, I think the $5,000 he is referring to is the advance, so profits can go above that. Still, most authors do not make as much as many people think (unless they are published by a major New York publisher). And it's not "Hollywood accounting," it's just the fact that most books are not selling hundreds of thousands of copies.

    I'm a history author who has been published by mid-sized presses (usually University Presses) and it's not something you're likely to make a living at. For the few that do it's about bulk. Publish a book a year and hope that a few of the books go through many printings. The combined royalties from all of the books may allow you to quit the day job and focus on writing.

     

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  36.  
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    Farrell McGovern (profile), Jul 14th, 2010 @ 7:29pm

    Re: "Hollywood Accounting"

    The $5,000 is the advance against future earnings if the actually sells well. Most authors first books don't make money for the publisher. There is no "hollywood accounting" here, SFWA has audited publishers to make sure that they are actually are paying the authors for sales. So if your first book does sell well, you may make more than just the advance...but don't hold your breath! SF&F, Horror and such writers usually break into the field selling short stories. Then they sell a book, and their career is off and running. If they are good, and the public likes what they are writing, an author may start making enough money to quit their day job within 5 books...but, that is getting harder and harder to do.

    ttyl
    Farrell

     

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  37.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2010 @ 5:46am

    Re: Re:

    and to think how narrow your mind is not to notice that this is all mike has shown.

     

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  38.  
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    Marta Acosta, Jul 15th, 2010 @ 9:50am

    Re: Re: OMG, I'm on a tech site!

    Hi, Mike,

    I took down the uploaded version because my agent asked me to take it down. I would have kept it up for a little longer because I think most of the people reading for free probably aren't book buyers. Maybe they are. I have no frickin idea. It's all a crapshoot.

     

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  39.  
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    Jennette, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 10:49am

    Gives me hope

    I'm writing a novel right now and its open to the public to read right now. When I publish it, I'm still not sure how or where to go, but I know I still want it up to the public if I do. Obviously you can still make money putting out for free. :D

     

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  40.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 1:12pm

    Jennette,

    Unless it's generating some kind of buzz that will help you get a publisher and/or agent, I would take it down if I were you before beginning the submission process. Ultimately whether it's available for free or not would be a decision your publisher would have input in.

     

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  41.  
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    Jayna, Nov 16th, 2010 @ 9:40pm

    Vampire Diaries

    I always wanted to make my own vampire diaries on FanFiction.net and I would tell everyone how my vampire love looks like. All I want for Christmas is a typewriter to write all my vampire diaries.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
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    Wee Red Bird, Feb 24th, 2013 @ 9:13am

    Putting out a few chapters free

    Would making the first chapter or two available for free help? Get people intrigued in your book and maybe they will buy the full thing?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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