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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Selling Your Soul to the Company Store: Amazon’s Mistreatment of Its Employees, Partners, Developers, Publishers, and Content Creators

Tens of thousands of current and former employees of a prominent Fortune 500 company know the deal they made with the devil—a smiling faced devil named Amazon.com. And you may already know the lyrics to the “Devil Went Down To Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band, but just in case you don't here's a verse for you:

Well the Devil went down to Georgia; he was lookin' for a soul to steal.
He was in a bind 'cause he was way behind; and he was willin' to make a deal.

Although the song has a happy ending with Johnny besting the devil, the devil in Seattle continues to steal souls. As for my part in the devil’s rise, I regret being one of the movers and shakers who helped put the company on the map when I featured Amazon.com in my bestselling books and high-profile articles read by millions throughout the 1990s. I regret it because Amazon has become a heartless, soulless beast whose primary mission is not to create but rather to disrupt and destroy. The Amazon executive team states such things openly, that what they disrupt and destroy are marketplaces and outdated models, but what they’re really disrupting and destroying are livelihoods, careers, lives, and families.

There’s a reason Amazon offices and distribution centers are referred to as Meat Grinder by those who work there. It is a meat grinder, and at times it is akin to a sweatshop too. Many of Amazon’s own employees have come forward over the years to decry poor working conditions, substandard wages, and mistreatment at the hands of greedy company executives.

News outlets, including BBC Channel 4, have been telling the story of overworked, underpaid, and exploited Amazon workers and their extreme anger over timed toilet breaks, punishments for talking in the workplace, zero-hour contracts and more. Business Insider and others have reported on the miserable working conditions inside Amazon. Labor strikes in Germany have exposed Amazon’s dependence on exploitive labor practices. A BBC investigation into a UK-based Amazon warehouse found conditions that could cause mental and physical illness.

Meanwhile, Amazon management is greedily snapping up stock-based compensation, enriching themselves and lining their pockets with extreme wealth they are unwilling to share with the rest of their own workforce. As Amazon’s valuation remains lofty, however, public good will toward the company and its management team is beginning to wear thin. Over the past 52 weeks, Amazon has lost nearly $50 billion of its market cap and yet the company remains vastly overvalued given actual return on investments over its life as a publicly traded company. Whether this overvaluation is 300%, 500%, or 1500% is up to the stock markets to decide today, tomorrow or some day in the future.

What is up to the public decide is whether the human cost—the toll in livelihoods, careers, lives, and families—is much too much and whether any consumer with any sense of a moral conscience wants to continue to make purchases from such a company.

Employees aren’t the only ones being mistreated by Amazon. Amazon also mistreats those who do business with the company, including its partners, developers, publishers, and content creators. If you think this is where I’m going to dive into the recent Amazon – Hachette debacle as an example of Amazon’s mistreatment of its business partners, including publishers and authors, you’d be right and wrong.

Amazon does use its marketplaces as blunt instruments to achieve its goals, no matter the impact on livelihoods, careers, lives, and families. Amazon does use its proximate monopoly position to force partners, developers, publishers, and content creators to accept less than palatable terms. Amazon does want the buying public to believe that it has the right to set prices and that such price fixing is actually good for consumers.

What Amazon doesn’t want anyone to know is that the consumer public has already spoken, that the $9.99 price point for fiction ebooks is functionally irrelevant. Many fiction ebooks are, in fact, already priced well below $9.99. Why? Publishers have been lowering prices to stay competitive in a hyper-competitive industry. This trend of lower prices has been ongoing for years and it’s why you often can pick up last year’s bestseller for not $9.99, $8.99 or even $7.99 but often $6.99, $5.99 or even $2.99.

While we’re talking about how irrelevant $9.99 as a price point is for fiction ebooks, let’s look at list price and sale price. To Amazon.com, list price is the price set for a product by a business partner, such as a publisher. Sale price is the price a product actually sells for and that price is set by Amazon itself.

Consumers buy products based on sale price, not list price. Sale price is often a discount to list price. When you buy an ebook at Amazon you may not pay list price. That’s because many products are sold at a discount from list price. For example, instead of paying the list price of $12.99 for an ebook, you pay $8.88. Amazon, however, wants the publisher to list the ebook at $9.99 so they can sell you the ebook for $9.99, or even $8.88 in a pinch.

Why? Amazon has to pay traditional publishers 45% of the list price. When an ebook has a list price of $12.99 and sells for $8.88, Amazon has to pay the publisher $5.85 and keeps only $3.03. When that same ebook has a list price of $9.99 and sells for $8.88, Amazon has to pay the publisher $4.50 and keeps $4.38—a profit for Amazon that is 145% of what it was previously.

It’s worth noting also that Amazon typically only discounts $9.99 ebooks when a competitor’s site lists that ebook for less. Thus, the ebook with a list price of $9.99 is more likely to sell for $9.99. If so, Amazon keeps $5.49 and pays the publisher $4.50—a profit for Amazon that is 182% of what it was previously.

So is the consumer really saving anything? No. For the consumer, there’s no difference. For Amazon, there’s a major profit incentive.

Additionally, with the continued introduction and adoption of subscription services that let consumers read as many books as they want for $9.99, $8.99 or $7.99 a month, the list price of books will have decreasing relevance as well. With a subscription service, the list price and sale price of a product are irrelevant. The consumer pays a flat fee every month. Publishers and Amazon split this flat fee, with Amazon typically getting 55% and publishers sharing the remaining 45%.

Like a fight with your spouse that begins with a disagreement over whose turn it is to take the family dog for a walk, the fight for $9.99 isn’t really about the price and helping consumers at all. It’s about profits and who keeps what share of them.

Don’t ever forget that it’s Amazon that controls the sale price. Anytime Amazon wants to sell a $12.99 ebook for $9.99 or even $8.88, it can do so and does do so. The company would just prefer to keep more money for itself while leaving less for those who create a product in the first place.

Okay, so that’s a lot about a fight between two corporate heavy weights that you may or may not care about. Odds are anyway, if you’re a content provider, developer or publisher, you’ve made up your mind about this particular debacle one way or the other.

While public fisticuffs like this make headlines, you likely won’t be reading anytime soon about the tactics Amazon uses on those who don’t have public relations teams, corporate lawyers, and celebrated media connections. I’m talking about the little guys. Small developers, small publishers, individual content creators. Small businesses and people that Amazon crushes every single day simply because it wants more complete control over the content creation industry and those who work in it.

You won’t hear from these little guys because they are the voiceless, and just as often these days, the ones who have had their voices, livelihoods, and lives taken away by Amazon. Speak up for your rights, say something Amazon doesn’t want to hear, and you risk becoming one of the voiceless too.

Speak out and you’ll be told you don’t have to work with or for Amazon. You’ll be told to go somewhere else. You’ll be told many other things that anyone who ever cried out for what’s right and just has been told.

In the old days of corporate robber barons, a company like Amazon would have just sent crooked cops or hired goons with billy clubs to break legs and bash in skulls, promptly putting an end to any public outcry. These days, Amazon seems to do the virtual equivalent with as little care. 

Do you really think anyone who works in a sweatshop wants to work in a sweatshop? Do you really think teachers or machinists or engineers or anyone else want to work for substandard wages? Do you really think any Amazon employee wants to have a stopwatch tracking how long it takes them to pee?

Is it appropriate for a single company to have proximate monopoly control over the livelihoods, careers, and lives of millions? When will the US, UK, German and other governments step in and do what’s right and what’s needed. What’s needed not only for the employees of Amazon, but for content creators and everyone else who has no choice and no voice.

Amazon supporters don’t confuse your passion for ebooks, your love of the new opportunities of the digital age, or even your fondness for kindle, with a sense of loyalty to Amazon. Amazon didn’t invent ebooks, eink or even ereaders. Amazon doesn’t empower this social, connected age. We, the people, empower this social, connected age. We, the people, have earned the right to our voices. And we, the people, have earned the right to decry injustice and mistreatment.

As for me, you can consider me an Amazon expat if you want. I was for twenty years one of Amazon’s strongest supporters. But my support, your support, the support of your friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, and associates means nothing to a company that operates the way Amazon operates. Amazon controls public opinion with public relations teams, corporate lawyers, and media connections. What Amazon can’t control it buys, as was the case with the purchase of the Washington Post and as is the case with Amazon’s many political contributions to curry favor with governments around the world.

Thanks for reading,

Robert Stanek

Monday, September 15, 2014

Speaking Out About Ugliness in the Publishing Industry

Indie authors continue to get a bum rap from traditional publishers and authors. Read about the dirty tricks trad publishers and authors have used over the past decade.

I’m Robert Stanek, author of over 150 books, read by more than 7.5 million readers and translated into 34 languages. I’m speaking out about ugliness in the writing industry that has to end. Society gives this ugliness many names because it has many ugly faces. Whether you want to call it character assassination, mudslinging, railroading, a hatchet job or a frame up, the Internet gives these shameful acts new meaning and new ease. On the Internet, the court of public opinion can destroy you simply because someone points a mob in your direction—or in my case, keeps pointing mobs in your direction again and again over a period of more than decade.

Mark Twain once said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” But I bet he never imagined the Internet where a lie can travel millions of times around the world before the truth even remembers it has shoes. In this highly connected online age, it seems all someone needs to do is write hateful nonsense about someone else, point back to their own handiwork while writing more hateful nonsense and enlisting others to do the same, then rinse and repeat as they work their way across the Internet. That’s been the tactic used to trash my reputation since 2002 by a group of competitors I call the architects of hate. I’ve been blogging about what these despicable persons have been doing for years and years, recently in the posts titled “Unethical Competitors,” “Authors Who Trash Competitors,” “Authors Who Are Trolls,” “Speaking Out About Haters,” and “The Internet Isn't the New Wild West” as well.

Their latest hatchet job? On Sept 2 2012, The Telegraph wrote an article on RJ Ellory titled “RJ Ellory, Author, Caught Writing Fake Amazon Reviews For Books.” On Sept 4 2012, a Huffington Post blogger picked up the story added some additions regarding other authors who’d been doing the same and posted the story with the title “RJ Ellory, Author, Caught Writing Fake Amazon Reviews For Books.” (And to be clear, anyone, actual credentials or not, can blog for Huffington Post and post just about anything they want. The author of this particular entry is a self-published author and blogger with a single book to her credit at the time.)

The blog entry was posted at 1:26 PM on Sept 4 2012 and a regular member of Go Indie posted a link to the article shortly afterward. I read the original article at that time but not the article as updated several times afterward (with final edits at 2:44 PM on Sept 4 2012). As part of the edits, the following was slipped into the article along with a link to an i09 post which was itself a post from a message forum:
“Science fiction and fantasy authors also found that frustrated writer Robert Stanek was sock-puppeting in 2009.”

The link that they used to make this nonsense seem legitimate? It’s to the following io9.com post from June 23 2009 made by Adam Whitehead or an associate of his (http://io9.com/5300748/how-much-damage-can-a-maniac-and-his-army-of-sock-puppets-do-on-amazoncom):
How Much Damage Can A Maniac And His Army Of Sock Puppets Do On Amazon.Com? Science fiction and fantasy authors, including Pat Rothfuss and David Louis Edelman, have started noticing a rash of one-star reviews of their books on Amazon.com, all at once, The reviews seem to come from newly created profiles, and often say the same thing in slightly different words over and over. And now, observers think they've fingered the culprit: frustrated fantasy author Robert Stanek. In the past, Stanek has had the habit of posting tons of "anonymous" one-star reviews of people's books which all said, "This guy is rubbish, if you want to read real fantasy, go read Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin and Robert Stanek!" The new batch of reviews don't mention Stanek by name, but do suggest that the authors should try serving in the armed forces to build character (a Stanek bugaboo.) And if you look at their profiles, the anonymous accounts have all tagged Stanek as a favorite author. All of this raises the question: How much damage can one anonymous maniac with an army of sock puppets really do to an established author on Amazon? [SFF World]
Which is itself from a message posted on the forums at Sffworld.com made by Adam Whitehead on June 18 2009:
Okay, now this was pure surrealism.
Last week Pat Rothfuss made a comment on his Facebook about how THE NAME OF WIND suddenly started getting a rash of one-star reviews over on Amazon.com. Whilst the book has gone down quite well, it is understandable that, even on just a purely statistical level, some people out there don't like the book and are vocal about it, especially given the 'hype' it has received in some quarters. Fair enough.
But what was odd was that all of these one-star reviews were written one after another in a very similar tone by newly-created profiles and all seemed to be making the same, highly questionable, claims that the book was 'objectively bad' and that all of the 500+ positive reviews on Amazon had been written by Pat himself, his friends or family. They ignored the fact that the book has been an international bestseller, is published in multiple languages by reputable publishers, and just continued making questionable claims about the author's moral character. It was very weird. They then tried to get the Rothfuss' Wikipedia page eliminated and also made a very half-hearted effort to level similar complaints against Abercrombie, although I get the impression this was solely to make it look like they weren't just picking on Rothfuss.
All of this smelled like a rat, most notably when one of the reviewers started saying that Pat Rothfuss should go to Iraq to get the 'moral character' that only comes from serving in the armed forces. This was VERY familiar. Then I remembered that the legendary self-published, alleged author Robert Stanek kept making a huge fuss about how serving in the armed forces had been an important character-building exercise.
I dismissed the idea it could be Stanek though, as the critics weren't using Stanek's normal MO of ripping into the author and going "This guy is rubbish, if you want to read real fantasy, go read Robert Jordan, George RR Martin and Robert Stanek!"
Then today one of the other commentators following the situation on Amazon pointed out that almost all of these suspect reviewers had started 'tagging' Robert Stanek's books (you could see this on their profiles). By the time I checked them out, only three had them left, the rest having apparently removed them when they realised they were rumbled.
So there you have it, it appears that self-published, low-selling author Robert Stanek, infamously responsible for one of the biggest scams in SF&F history on Amazon (which Amazon still hasn't sorted out), is using his multitude of alias accounts on Amazon to tear down a new, fresh and critically-acclaimed author for petty and disturbing reasons.
Honestly, you could not make this up.
One of the same reviewers concerned has gone on to rip into David Louis Edelmen and Jim C. Hines' books as well. For those not in the know, both of these authors have posted blog entries about Stanek's activities in the past. Astonishing.

As I blogged about previously, Adam Whitehead is of course one of the original architects of hate and he actually did make it all up as he was one of the perpetrators who created the hate in the first place. He, David Langford, and others having started all this idiocy about me going all the way back to 2002. Incidentally, the "rash of reviews" on Patrick Rothfuss's book was exactly two reviews -- two reviews created by Adam himself and/or his associates, as I blogged about here.

I've blogged about what actually happened with Patrick Rothfuss here and what actually happened with Wikipedia here. In January 2007, Patrick Rothfuss's first book "The Name of the Wind" was published in hardcover and Rothfuss came out fully formed with an army of online friends and associates who were talking up his book. His associates, which included Adam Whitehead (Wertzone) and Patrick Dennis (Pat's Fantasy List), quickly enlisted him in the public trashing of my books and my reputation and used this as a platform for his success.

Of note, is that Adam Whitehead created Patrick Rothfuss's Wikipedia page in May 2007 (posting as Werthead). Knowing the furor caused on Wikipedia when they trashed my Wikipedia page previously, I'm certain Adam Whitehead and his associates made the scurrilous edits to the Patrick Rothfuss page. Why? They used this stunt as a vehicle to rally support and boost book sales for Rothfuss while once again using me as a scapegoat.

In April - May 2007, when Adam Whitehead, Andrew Gray, Urpo Lankinen and others were editing misinformation and lies into the Robert Stanek page, their primary focus was on destroying any positive impact such a page has. They were also desperate to get Wikipedia to remove related Ruin Mist pages and they got Wikipedia to do so by spreading misinformation about me and how according to them, I wasn't an author of note. Odd, considering I had more than 100 published books to my credit at the time and not only had those books been read by millions but they'd been translated into several dozen languages. Odder still when you look at the unquestioned basis for the Rothfuss page in May 2007, which was created and posted in its entirety with a single edit at 21:25 on 8 May 2007 by Adam Whitehead:

Biography
Patrick Rothfuss was born in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1973. According to his website, he became an avid reader after growing up in an area lacking cable television. At university he harboured plans to be a chemical engineer, but then changed his mind to puruse a career in clinical psychology. He finally declared his major as 'Undeclared' after three years and continued to study any subject that caught his interest, whilst working odd jobs and working on an extremely long fantasy novel called The Song of Flame of Thunder.
He finally left college with a degree in English, returning two years later to teach. After completing The Song of Flame and Thunder, Rothfuss submitted it to several publishing companies, but it was rejected. In 2002 he won the Writers of the Future competition with The Road to Levinshir, an excerpt from his novel. After chatting to Kevin J. Anderson at a subsequent writer's workshop, Rothfuss secured a deal with his agent, Matt Bialer, who subsequently sold the novel to Betsy Wollheim at DAW Books. The Song of Flame and Thunder was split into a three-volume series entitled The Kingkiller Chronicle, the first installment of which, The Name of the Wind, was published in March 2007.
Bibliography
The Kingkiller Chronicle
1.The Name of the Wind (March 2007)
2.The Wise Man's Fear (working title, scheduled for March 2008)
3.The Doors of Stone (working title, scheduled for March 2009)
This trilogy was originally one very long novel with the working title The Song of Flame and Thunder. It was split in three for publication due to its length. The series is essentially the biography of a famous warrior, wizard and musician named Kvothe. After gaining notoriety at a young age, he disappears from public life and is eventually tracked down to a backwater inn by Devan Lochees, who goes by the name 'Chronicler'. After some persuasion, Chronicler convinces Kvothe to tell him his life story. However, the story is punctuated by interludes, during which it becomes clear that something is looking for Kvothe, and Kvothe's friend Bast is unwilling to let Chronicler tell all of Kvothe's story. The story thus proceeds on two levels, as we learn how Kvothe came to be the man he is now, whilst other events take place in the present hinting at a greater story to follow.
Rothfuss has confirmed that The Kingkiller Chronicle will provide the backstory for Kvothe. Further books will follow taking Kvothe's story forward in the present day.
External Links
Patrick Rothfuss' homepage
Writers of the Future winners' bio
Interviews
Interview with Patrick Rothfuss conducted by SFFWorld.com, 26 March 2007.
Interview with Patrick Rothfuss conducted by Fantasy Bookspot.com, Spring 2007.
It's no surprise the page, like the author, arrived fully formed.

Here is the Robert Stanek page which was created over a period of weeks by devoted fans and subsequently destroyed and later removed because I supposedly wasn't noteworthy:
William Robert Stanek (born January 3, 1966) is an American author best known for his international best-selling how-to books and his work as a columinst for PC Magazine and Dr. Dobbs Journal.
   Stanek is the author of more than 100 books. His books have been successful, and have been featured on bestseller lists. He served in the United States Air Force from 1985 to 1991, and is the recipient of the United States highest flying honor the Distinguished Flying Cross.
   In addition to his non-fiction work, he is the author of many popular works of fiction, including The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches books and the sequel series In the Service of Dragons, which are set in his fantasy world of  Ruin Mist. King's Mate is a game Robert created for the books.

 Biography
Robert Stanek was born on January 3, 1966 in Burlington, Wisconsin. His father was an entrepreneur who immigrated to America from Budapest, Hungary. His mother is the granddaughter of French and Norwegian immigrants.
    He became interested in writing as a child and was creating stories virtually from the time he was able to read and write. He started work as a journalist and editor – with a school newspaper – at the age of nine!
    He joined the United States Air Force in 1985 and server in the Persian Gulf War from 1990-1991. He earned many medals for his wartime service, including the United States of America's highest-flying honor, the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross.
   At age thirty-one, he decided to devote most of his time to full-length works of fact and fiction. Since then has written more than fifty books, many of them international best sellers, and his work has been published in more than fifty countries, including the United States, Britain, Japan, Korea, Canada, France, Australia, Germany, India, Spain, Italy, Turkey and various Latin American countries.
    Today he works as a full-time author with an interest in, among other things, technology, computers, and the outdoors! He has broadcast and lectured about his work throughout the United States.

Family Life
Robert Stanek was the fourth child of five and the only boy. He spent his early years in Racine, Wisconsin. As a child, he attended Janes School Elementary, a turn-of-the-century schoolhouse. The same school his grandfather attended.
   As a child, he loved reading. In an interview form Robert Stanek: Candid Conversations (2003), he states he was fascinated with the Ripley's Believe It Or Not books and Guinness Book of World Records. He read classics like Treasure Island, The Swiss Family Robinson, Kidnapped, Robinson Crusoe, and The Three Musketeers. When he got absolutely hooked on Jules Verne, he read Around the World in Eighty Days, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. He through a Sherlock Holmes phase and read every Sir Arthur Conan Doyle book and then discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs. Burroughs's The Martian Tales got him hooked on the genre and he went on to read Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles and liked it so much he read The Illustrated Man, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Fahrenheit 451.
   Later in his childhood, he started reading Herman Melville, Jack London, Charles Dickens, and Edgar Allan Poe. Of that he says, "Edgar Allan Poe can be pretty bleak and dark, especially when you're ten years old. But I remember being fascinated with his stories. To this day, I can still remember parts of The Raven, The Tell Tale Heart, and The Murders in the Rue Morgue." Quote from Robert Stanek: Candid Conversations (2003).

Writing Life
Robert Stanek wrote his first novel in 1986 when he was stationed in Japan. He spent a large part of the next twenty years perfecting the story and developing a history of the world he called Ruin Mist. His first Ruin Mist novel was Keeper Martin's Tale, which was simultaneously released in adult and children's editions. He designed the original covers for the Ruin Mist books.

Languages
Robert Stanek entered the United States Air Force in 1985 and worked as a cryptologic linguist. His military training includes more than 3 years of language training. His linguistic background extends to Russian, Spanish, Korean, Japanese, and German, though in interviews he professes that much of his language skills have "dulled and rusted" since he hasn't used them. His strong background in multiple languages helped him develop the world of Ruin Mist. The names of people and places in this world are very distinct according to historical origins, and have roots in the romance and eastern languages he has studied.
 The languages of the peoples of Ruin Mist have roots in slavic, native American indian, and far eastern languages.

 Bibliography (Fiction)
...Adult Fiction Series...
 ''Ruin Mist Chronicles''
 1. Keeper Martin's Tale (2002)
 2. Elf Queen's Quest (2002)
 3. Kingdom Alliance (2003)
 4. Fields of Honor (2004)
 5. Mark of the Dragon (2005)

 ...Young Adult Fiction Series...
 ''Keeper Martin's Tales''
 1. The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches #1 (2002)
 2. The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches #2 (2002)
 3. The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches #3 (2002)
 4. The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches #4 (2003)
 5. In the Service of Dragons #1 (2004)
 6. In the Service of Dragons #2 (2005)
 7. In the Service of Dragons #3 (2005)
 8. In the Service of Dragons #4 (2005)

 ''Magic Lands''
 Journey Beyond the Beyond (2002)
 Into the Beyond (2005, international edition)
 Into the Stone Land (2006, forthcoming)

 ''Ruin Mist Tales''
 1. The Elf Queen & The King (2002)
 2. The Elf Queen & The King #2 (2002)
 3. The Elf Queen & The King III (2006, forthcoming)
 ...Novels...
 At Dream's End (1996)
 Sovereign Rule (2003)
 The Pieces of the Puzzle (2006)
 Stormjammers (2006)

 ...Collections...
 Magic Lands & Other Stories (2002)
 Ruin Mist Heroes, Legends & Beyond (2002)

 ...Short Fiction...
 Absolutes (????)
 August Rains (????)
 Silence is Golden (????)

Books About William Robert Stanek
Magic of Ruin Mist (2003)
 Robert Stanek: Candid Conversations (2003)
 Teacher's Classroom Guide to Ruin Mist (2003)
 Student's Classroom Guide to The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches (2004)
 Teacher's Classroom Guide to Magic Lands (2005)
 Student's Classroom Guide to Magic Lands (2005)

 Bibliography (Non-fiction)
Electronic Publishing Unleashed (1995)
 FrontPage Unleashed (1996)
 Peter Norton's Guide to Java Programming (1996)
 Web Publishing Unleashed (1996)
 FrontPage 97 Unleashed (1997)
 Increase Your Web Traffic in a Weekend (1997)
 Learn the Internet in a Weekend (1997)
 Netscape One Developer's Guide (1997)
 Web Publishing Unleashed Professional Reference Edition (1997)
 FrontPage 98 Unleashed (1998)
 Increase Your Web Traffic in a Weekend 2nd Edition (1998)
 All-in-One Java 2 Certification Guide (1999)
 FrontPage 2000 Unleashed (1999)
 Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 Administrator's Pocket Consultant (1999)
 Netscape Mozilla Source Guide (1999)
 SQL Server 7.0 Administrator's Pocket Consultant (1999)
 Windows NT Scripting Administrator's Guide (1999)
 Increase Your Web Traffic 3rd Edition (2000)
 Exchange 2000 Server Administrator's Pocket Consultant (2000)
 SQL Server 2000 Administrator's Pocket Consultant (2000)
 Windows 2000 Administrator's Pocket Consultant (2000)
 Windows 2000 Scripting Bible (2000)
 All-In-One Java 2 Certification Guide 3rd Edition (2001)
 FrontPage 2002 Unleashed (2001)
 Windows 2000 and IIS 5.0 Administrator's Pocket Consultant (2001)
 Windows XP Professional Administrator's Pocket Consultant (2001)
 XML Pocket Consultant (2001)
 Effective Writing for Business College & Life (2002)
 Essential Windows XP Commands Reference (2002)
 Essential Windows 2000 Commands Reference (2002)
 Windows 2000 Server Administrator's Pocket Consultant 2nd Edition (2002)
 Windows .NET Server Administrator's Pocket Consultant (2003)
 IIS 6.0 Administrator's Pocket Consultant 2nd Edition (2003)
 Faster Smarter FrontPage 2003 (2003)
 Exchange Server 2003 Administrator's Pocket Consultant (2003)

Columns
Robert Stanek was a tech columnist from 1995-1997.
PC Magazine
Dr. Dobbs Journal.

See Also
The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches
In the Service of Dragons
Ruin Mist
Ruin Mist Chronicles

References
Magic of Ruin Mist (2003)
 Robert Stanek: Candid Conversations (2003)
 The Complete Idiot's Guide to Elves and Fairies

External Links
The Official Robert Stanek web site
The Official Magic Lands web site
The Official Ruin Mist web site
Reagent Press Robert Stanek's publisher
Robert Stanek fan directory
The real MO here is how the people in the same core group keep working their handiwork forward. It’s how a 2009 message forum post by Adam Whitehead gets re-posted to io9.com by Adam Whitehead or an associate, cross-referenced in a 2012 a Huffington Post blog entry and then worked forward.

The Huffington Post blog entry was re-posted in its entirety to the Oh No They Didn’t blog at 2:39 PM on Sept 4 2012 by an anonymous blogger, the basis of a BoomTron post on Sept 5 2012 by Matthew Funk, and the basis of an Oct 14 post on Philly.com by David Griesing.

Matthew Funk said: “And if Locke isn’t enough to prove a trend, there’s Stephen Leather, thriller writer, and Robert Stanek, sci-fi writer, and Orlando Figes, historian.”
David Griesing said: “Writers such as John Locke, Stephen Leather, and Robert Stanek have all been exposed for submitting bogus reviews.”

Note how my name is worked in without context and as if fact. And it’s how a message forum post by an architect of hate works its way across the Internet. That’s how these people operated in 2002, 2005, 2007, and 2009 when they spread other nonsense around in big ways as well.

It’s interesting to note that in 2009 when Adam Whitehead and the architects of hate were spreading that particular nonsense at Sffworld and many other sites, I had over 120 published books to my credit. Those books had been read by over 6 million people and translated into over 30 languages. Today, I have over 150 published books.

As a point of fact, I’ve had 7 or more books published every year since 1995 when my first book was published. My body of work encompassing many millions of words and many thousands of published pages should speak for itself. As anyone who’s written a few books can tell you, writing that many books for that many years is a full-time occupation and then some.

Writing that many books for that many years required a tremendous dedication to the writing craft and a tremendous dedication of time. But I loved the writing craft and that love of the writing craft kept me going, even if it meant working 80 to 100 hours a week.

For those who seem to have never done good, honest, hard work like that in their lives, let me be the one to tell them that when you work 12- to 16-hour workdays 7 days a week you don’t have time for anything. The only thing you want to do at the end of the day is collapse into a heap and maybe spend a few minutes with your kids before you tuck them into bed.

It’s also interesting to note that while screaming about sock puppets and fake reviews for the past 12 years, the authors responsible for all this, their blogger buddies and their associates had no qualms whatsoever about creating sock puppets, writing fake reviews, spreading misinformation, and threatening anyone who stood up to them. Over the years, they’ve created hundreds of sock puppets to spread this idiocy and spreading this idiocy is something they’ve worked tirelessly to do using every dirty tactic you could ever think of from hiring lawyers to send notices to paying off distributors to drop listings.

Those who have been active participants in these hateful activities include:

David Langford (author)
Stephen Leigh (author)
Jim C. Hines (author)
Victoria Strauss (author)
David Louis Edelman (author)
Patrick Rothfuss (author)
Tim Spalding (Library Thing)
Maureen Johnson (author)
Melissa Foster (author)
Adam Whitehead (Wertzone, Best Fantasy Books)
Patrick Dennis (Pat’s Fantasy Hot List, Best Fantasy Books)

As the victim of these hateful activities, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time investigating the motivations. David Langford (author), one of two originators of this, is one of several high-profile influencers who made Harry Potter Harry Potter. David Langford also is highly connected into Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and related fantasy franchise.

In 2002, when all this started, Harry Potter wasn’t the Harry Potter we know and love today and the franchise could have gone another way: limited success or failure. I’ve no doubt the sudden rapid success of Ruin Mist Chronicles and The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches put fear into Bloomsbury/Scholastic, as both Bloomsbury and Scholastic made contact with me personally multiple times during the years 2002 to 2007. On separate occasions, Bloomsbury and Scholastic requested reading copies of all the books, related marketing materials, sales history, and other promotional backgrounders. More than once, under the pretense of using the books in their book clubs; more than once under the pretense of possibly publishing the books.

In these years, I was also contacted several times by Gollancz, David Langford’s UK publisher. Once was under the pretense of publishing the books in the UK, and as with Scholastic, requesting reading copies of all the books, related marketing materials, sales history, and other promotional backgrounders. Gollancz, Orbit and several other UK publishers were particularly interested in my approach to publishing separate adult and children’s editions of my books, and this was something they would later do with the books of a number of authors, including with Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. I mention this because having separate adult and children’s editions of my books has been a particular bone of contention for the parties involved with trashing my reputation.

Adam Whitehead (Wertzone, Best Fantasy Books, etc), the second of two originators of this, is an associate of George RR Martin and like Martin a conscientious objector. In 2002, when all this started, A Game of Thrones wasn’t the A Game of Thrones we know and love today and the franchise also could have gone another way: limited success or failure. I’ve no doubt the sudden rapid success of Ruin Mist Chronicles and The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches put fear in Adam and others as they started writing trash reviews of my books that kept mentioning George’s books and using the public trashing of my books as a promotional platform for George’s books has been a constant with them for the past 12 years.

The fact that Adam is a conscientious objector is of note as his associates were particularly hateful when it came to my military service. I am a distinguished combat veteran. When my nation called upon me to serve in dark hours, I did so without hesitation. Duty, honor, and country mean a great deal to me, and they always have.

For these despicable persons to try to claim that I wasn’t a combat veteran, hadn’t even served in the military or earned my military honors was the deepest of insults. Worse, was enduring years of threats and harassment from those who listened to this idiocy and accused me of stolen valor.

As I’ve written about previously, here, in fall 2001, Reagent Press and I tested the market by publishing my first fiction book as a serial ebook. The test was hugely successful and we released ‘Keeper Martin’s Tale’ as a single volume in February 2002, where it quickly became a Science Fiction & Fantasy bestseller.

With the phenomenal sales, the book started getting reviews. First, two short supportive reviews from readers who liked the book, then a strange one-star review that said, among other things, “I’ve been had. This is nowhere near a 5 star book like all these reviews claim.” Another of my books, published shortly after my first, got a similar strange ranting one-star review—the second review ever for that book.

This continued. An anonymous one-star review soon asked “Is it just me, or what?” before trashing the book and me personally. A series of one-star reviews followed, one in mid April 2002 stating “For those who enjoy a great fantasy read, no one comes remotely close to George R. R. Martin's ‘A Song of Fire and Ice Series’. Stanek has the initial makings of a good storyteller, but he's still a long, long way off. Don't waste your time with this one...”

This was followed by an anonymous one-star review on April 19 2002 stating “There's no way it even begins to compare to the works of authors such as George R.R. Martin.”

Another one-star review, written in an identical style, with the title “What book are the rest of you reading?” soon followed in late April 2002. This review said, among many things, “After reading him for an hour, I had to go pick up Lord of the Rings just to confirm to myself that Tolkien's writing wasn't that bad. I don't see how Stanek can even be close to Robert Jordan or George RR Martin, its like comparing a high school english paper with War and Peace.”

The flow of one-star reviews from anonymous (and sometimes from someone using pseudonyms and newly created accounts that typically had only reviewed my book the day the account was created) continued into May 2002 when David Langford / Adam Whitehead wrote the following in Ansible:

“Amazon Mystery. Authors of fantasies on sale at Amazon.com have noticed a rash of oddly similar customer reviews that rubbish their work and instead recommend, say, George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, and Robert Stanek. The number of Big Name commendations varies, but not the plug for self-published author Robert Stanek. Who could possibly be posting these reviews (many since removed by Amazon) under a variety of names? It is a mystery, but Ansible is reminded of how Lionel Fanthorpe's pseudonymous sf would often mention those great classic masters of the genre, Verne, Wells and Fanthorpe.”

After this appeared in Ansible, for whatever reason, I was suddenly being trashed all over the Internet by other authors, SFF bloggers, anyone with a bone to pick. Suddenly, authors, bloggers, others, who had never even read my work were writing hateful reviews and commentary, and just as often as not, they used sock puppets to do it. 
It didnt matter to anyone that what was written wasnt true, or that I was actually the one on the receiving end of the negative reviews.

Move forward to the present and the same core group is still doing the same dirty work and they’re just as active at it as they were in 2002. Why? Many are employed to do so, and by employed, I mean paid, as these types of activities are their full-time/part-time occupations. They are paid to be influencers, to be franchise makers and breakers.

Entertainment franchises are big business. The Harry Potter franchise has earned billions. The Game of Thrones franchise has surpassed a billion in earnings. With billions and hundreds of millions at stake, it’s no wonder why some organizations employ “actors” to do dirty work. And for relative peanuts, those “actors” will tirelessly work their social and online contacts to break some while making others.



While we’re talking about fakery, why don’t we look at sales of Rothfuss books compared to ratings. During the period January 2007 to present, Kingkiller Chronicle has sold approximately 2.5 million copies. As examples, according to Publishers Weekly for 2012 ebooks sales, The Name of the Wind sold 53,097 copies and The Wise Man's Fear sold 49,731.

Amazon US & UK have 3705 reviews for The Name of the Wind currently (3157 + 548) and 2852 reviews for The Wise Man's Fear (2364 + 488). Barnes & Noble has 2076 reviews for The Name of the Wind and 1570 for The Wise Man's Fear. Add in other book sites like Booksamillion and elsewhere, and the total reviews tops 25,000. Goodreads has 361,152 ratings and 26,050 reviews for Rothfuss. Other book sites, bring the total well over 500,000 ratings. Or in other words, approximately 20% of readers supposedly wrote a review or rated.

How many Robert Stanek ratings were Rothfuss and associates screaming about for over a decade? Out of over 200 Robert Stanek titles on Amazon US & UK, only 14 ever had 12 or more reviews.

Those 14 books were primarily my Ruin Mist books. In 2002 when they began screaming about fake reviews, Keeper Martin’s Tale had exactly two positive reviews, Elf Queen’s Quest had one positive review, and The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches had zero.

In 2005, when they kept screaming about fake reviews, Keeper Martin’s Tale had 140 reviews, Elf Queen’s Quest had 56 reviews, Kingdom Alliance had 20 reviews, Fields of Honor had 1 review and Mark of the Dragon had 1 review. The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches #1 had 79 reviews, The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches #2 had 45 reviews, The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches #3 had 31 reviews and The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches #4 had 19 reviews.

So what was years of negative noise about? Less than 400 reviews in total for books that had sold collectively over 350,000 copies at that time (2005). Or put another way, approximately 1/10th of 1% of readers had written a review.

In fact today, if 1/10th of 1% of my readers wrote reviews there’d be nearly 10,000 reviews of my works. But there aren’t 10,000 reviews of my work or even 1,000 because these competitors and paid actors have made sure there isn’t.

Let’s also look at the percentage of positive ratings, as that’s something these competitors howled about for years as supposed proof of fakery. Here’s what these competitors were saying when my Ruin Mist books had an 85% positive rating: “No real book has such a high positive rating. It’s all fake and fraud.” 

Well, during the period January 2007 to present, Kingkiller Chronicle has an astonishing 99% positive rating from Amazon US & UK to Goodreads. Is it a real boy too or just a wooden one with a long, long nose? I don’t know Pinocchio. I don’t know.

The online world is like High School that never ends, where the cool kids do anything it takes to make sure they stay the cool kids. And by anything, I really do mean they do anything it takes, because they have and likely will continue to do so.

At the end of the day, it’s the words on the page that matter. The books that matter. I encourage you to read my Ruin Mist books for yourself to see why they matter and why certain competitors have spent 12 years trying to get you not to read them. Currently, there are 18 books set in Ruin Mist:

Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches
Winds of Change
Seeds of Dissent
Pawn of Dragons
Tower of Destiny

In the Service of Dragons
A Clash of Heroes
A Dance of Swords
A Storm of Shields
A Reign of Dragons

Guardians of the Dragon Realms
The Dragon, the Wizard & the Great Door
A Legacy of Dragons

Dragons of the Hundred Worlds
Breath of Fire
Living Fire

A Daughter of Kings
Betrayal
Deliverance
Rebirth
Discord

Magic Lands
Journey Beyond the Beyond
Into the Stone Land

Read the books if for no other reason than my competitors are desperate for you not to. If you enjoy the books, wonderful. If you don’t, there are plenty of other books out there.

Thank you for reading,

Robert Stanek

Monday, May 5, 2014

Being a Solo Flying Writer Can be Scary As Hell. Being a Pro Writer Offers Grounding. Being an Indie Author Too Gives the Best of Both Worlds.

My first published works appeared in the Janes' School Gazette in 1976, a grade school newspaper where I wrote columns and was a junior editor. (Yes, that was when I was in the 4th grade. :-)

Ten years later though, in 1986, I finished my first full-length novel. In 1991, I won my first writing award--an award that sat on my desk for some 20 years, reminding me where I got my start in this crazy business called publishing.

But it wasn't until 1994 that I signed my first contract with a publisher, which makes 2014 officially my 20th year as a published professional writer.

Between 1994 and 2001 were a lot of good and great writing years. In 2001, I went independent and straddled the so-called hybrid-author line between published pro and indie writer.

Of all the things I've done in my life, going indie was one of the scariest. Why? Independent writers fly solo. They rely on no one and nothing. It is refreshing. It is releasing. It is renewing. And yet it also can be scary as hell.

ABOUT EBOOKS AND AUDIOBOOKS

Many people think ebooks are something fairly new, but an interesting fact about ebooks is that they've been around since the mid to late 1990's when there were several very popular ebook programs that helped writers produce books on floppy disk and later CD-ROM. The first really big ebook push was around the fall of 2001. Back then, Amazon carried ebooks distributed by Ingram Digital. 

Ingram Digital's initial ebook distribution program went to websites all around the world. The first Ruin Mist novel was released as a serial ebook in 2001 as part of Ingram Digital's early ebook service, as well as other early ebook services, and was very successful. Reagent Press and I followed the successful ebook launch with a print release in February 2002 and the Ruin Mist books quickly became bestsellers on Amazon and elsewhere. 

In 2005, Reagent Press and I brought the Ruin Mist books to audio, focusing particularly on digital audio which was something fairly new at the time and available from sites like The Audio Book Store, Emusic, and Audible. Upon their release, the Ruin Mist audiobooks quickly dominated bestseller lists, especially at Audible. 

Like Harry Potter, Narnia, and many other popular books, the original Ruin Mist books are available in editions for adults and young adults. For adults, there are 'Keeper Martin's Tale', 'Kingdom Alliance', 'Fields of Honor', and then 'Mark of the Dragon'. For young adults, there are the four 'Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches' books and the four 'In the Service of Dragons' books.

The world of Ruin Mist is expansive and there are many other related novels. 'Journey Beyond the Beyond' and 'Into the Stone Land' are Ruin Mist: Magic Lands novels. 'Breath of Fire' and 'Living Fire' are Ruin Mist: Dragons of the Hundred Worlds novels. 'The Dragon, the Wizard & The Great Door' is a Ruin Mist: Guardians of the Dragon Realms novel. Companion guides like 'Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ruin Mist', 'Keeper Martin's Guide to the Fantastic', and 'Art of Ruin Mist: Heroes and Villains' are also available.

About all this, I am certain of one thing and it is this: If the Ruin Mist books had been published only in print or only in print in standard markets, the books never would have sold over 1 million copies. Just as the availability of the Ruin Mist books in print beyond standard markets created new opportunities, so did the wide availability of ebooks and audiobooks. As you plan your author platform, you too should be looking at releasing your books in formats, editions and markets that make the most sense for you.

ABOUT MY DAY JOB

An industry joke by and between writers is "Don't quit your day job." Of course, I wrote the Ruin Mist books and many other fiction books while also working a day job. My day job from 1985 to 1996 was in the military. From 1996 to the present, my day job is as a technology journalist and writer.

After high school, I joined the military to see the world--and really did. I was stationed in Japan, and toured Asia. I was stationed in Germany, and toured Europe. I saw what hell is like during two combat tours in the Persian Gulf War. I was stationed in Hawaii, and toured the Pacific.

After the military, I began work full-time as a writer. My writing though was primarily focused on nonfiction. I wrote articles for PC Magazine, Dr. Dobbs, and other journals, and I wrote technical manuscripts and other nonfiction works for publishers like Macmillan, McGraw Hill, Pearson, Microsoft, and O'Reilly. This work paid the bills, the mortgage and kept the lights on, but I also kept dreaming of things beyond.

Lessons and experiences from all my military service and traveling spill over into my writing like water over Niagara Falls. When my children were young, I started writing the Bugville Critters books in the 90's and over the years finished dozens of illustrated picture books featuring a little bee called Buster, a little lady bug called Lass, and their friends. My children have always been big Bugville fans and they're the ones who urged me to get the books published. 

When I started the journey to get the Bugville books published in 2004, I decided to bring the books to audio first and then print. Audio seemed a natural fit as my children loved hearing the stories as much as they loved reading them. At the time, I also was starting work on the Ruin Mist audio books.

The first Bugville Critters audiobooks were released in 2007. The print books followed in 2008. After releasing the original books starring Buster and Lass, I realized I also had a wealth of early learning books. These books became part of my Bugville Jr and Bugville Learning product lines. About all this, I am certain of one thing: If I had not expanded the Bugville Critters into new product lines, the books never would have sold over 1 million copies. It was the wide selection and diverse product offering that helped the books become successful.

As an author, your books are your brands and you too should be looking for ways you can expand. Expand into areas that make sense based on what you are writing.

I've sold 2.5 million Robert Stanek books, but I don't know if I'd have been able to continue as a writer without also having sold 7.5 million William Stanek books. Selling 10 million books over 20 years is a solid success, but one without the other? I'm not sure that would have worked, and it's one of the reasons I decided to be both a pro and an indie author. 

I hope my insights from 20 years in this crazy writing business help you in your writing.

Thanks for reading,

Robert Stanek

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Long Hard Slog Up the Middle: A Writer's Journey Part 2

As I was saying last time, I finished my first full-length novel in '86, won my first writing award in '91, and signed my first book contract in '94. Since then, I've written over 150 books which have been read by over 10 million people. But I almost gave it all up in the late '90s.

After months of waiting to hear good news, my wife and I were considering our options and wishing we’d sold the family home and moved to Seattle where I was working at the time, having gone back to full-time work other than writing.

Thankfully though after months of waiting, I heard got good news from my agent. The publisher wanted to meet with me. The publisher wanted to discuss my ideas.

During the meeting, it was clear that the publisher liked my ideas but I’d need to provide sample chapters, expand the series details, have more face-to-face meetings, and generally do more to convince them. The hard part that followed required a leap of faith. I couldn’t do all that was required of me, in the time that was required of me, and keep working full-time elsewhere. I had to quit the day job and proceed, or keep the day job and let the dream die.

I chose the dream. I gave notice, worked my last two weeks while I continued developing the materials needed. A few weeks in, I learned the publisher had one idea for the series and I had another. Worse, the concepts were radically different.

I thought for sure disaster was ahead. Thankfully, the publisher did eventually sign me to a two-book contract. A contract to do things their way—and not my way.

However, the sample chapters I’d written over the past weeks were for my series concept and not theirs, so I kept writing the books my way. For this publisher, it was something unheard of for any writer to go outside the standard or to deviate from fixed standards. But my editors loved the final chapters I submitted, and I completed the work in its entirety ahead of schedule—so many weeks ahead of schedule they didn't quite know what to do, and this also was something else that was unheard of.

In fact, I was so far ahead of schedule, that the book’s publication dates were moved back several months. Those several months proved critical, as they allowed the publisher to showcase the books at a major industry event when the publisher otherwise would not have been able to. And the books done my way were smash hits at the event.

The rest as they say is history. Those contracts were followed by two other contracts from other publishers that I’d contacted previously. Suddenly, I was back in the publishing business.

Looking back now after I these years, I know exactly what I would have given up, had I not chased the dream. That little series I started? That series would eventually go on to become one of the biggest blockbuster series for the publisher, with $100M in worldwide retail sales—and counting.

Those first books I wrote in that series? They set the foundation for the entire series and became critically-acclaimed, award-winning bestsellers.

Sometimes in life you must take that leap of faith. Sometimes you must believe in yourself when no one else does. Sometimes you must follow the wrong path to find the right one.

Talk to you next time,

Robert Stanek

Monday, March 10, 2014

Long, Hard Slog Up the Middle: A Writer's Journey Part 1

I’ve been a writer for more than 30 years. I finished my first full-length novel in 1986, won my first writing award in 1991, and signed my first book contract in 1994. Since then, I've gone on to write more than 150 books, which have been read by readers all around the world.

I earned my stripes in this crazy business when I wrote for many years for the simple pleasure of writing itself. It wasn’t until 1994 that I signed my first contract. It wasn’t until 1995 that my first book was published. It wasn’t until 1996 that I was able to write full-time.

My full-time work as a writer is as a technology journalist and nonfiction writer. In those early days, I wrote articles for leading publications like PC Magazine and Dr. Dobbs. I also wrote books for leading publishers like Macmillan, Pearson, McGraw Hill, Microsoft, and O’Reilly Media. For articles, I often received $1 or more a word. For books, I often received solid five-figure advances. That was, of course, success, and I did in fact rise quickly, becoming a recognized world leader in my field in only a few short years.

Success, however, can be short lived. In publishing, a writer’s last success doesn’t necessarily pave the road to the future. A writer’s future is determined by his or her next book and often also by factors the writer cannot control. The world changes every day. Trends and tastes shift. Yesterday’s media darling can be tomorrow’s nobody.

I’ve lived the change firsthand. Between 1995 and 1998, I signed more than a dozen contracts, wrote books as fast as I could write them for readers who couldn’t get my books fast enough. I was on fire. In those few short years, my books earned millions at retail. I thought the ride would never end, until it did.

The market changed. Trends and tastes shifted. The hot topics of the day were flooded with a smorgasbord of offerings. There weren’t just 10 or 20 books on that hot topic, there were a hundred. Eventually, this oversaturation cannibalized sales of all similar books. Thus, even as my success and career were hitting new highs, I was left scrambling.

But unlike many of my contemporaries at the time, I saw the light of that oncoming freight train. I knew my options. I knew what I had to do.

I could continue to write books in an oversaturated market, try to live with sales that were a tiny fraction of what they had been, or I could look to new opportunities. I chose plan b—the new opportunities. I risked everything, left my old publishers who weren’t interested in my new ideas, and went out looking for publishers who were interested in my new ideas.

The change meant I had to rejoin the working world. I took a job with a tech company in Seattle and joined the ranks of the marathon commuters, driving 140 miles round trip every working day. I continued writing in the evenings and on weekends. I continued to pitch my new ideas to new publishers.

Days and weeks passed. Months too. By the sixth month, my wife and I were seriously considering our options and wishing we’d sold the family home and moved to Seattle months ago.
But I didn’t give up. Instead, I polished my ideas yet again and sent them out via my agent to a new publisher who I heard was looking to do something different. I just hoped that the “something different” they wanted would be my radical idea for a new series of books.

The wait to hear back from the publisher was agony because at this point it was make or break. If I heard back from the publisher and it wasn’t good news, my writing career likely was over. If I heard back from the publisher and it was good news, there was hope, but no certainty.

Thankfully, I heard back from my agent within a few days and the news was...

To be continued...

Thanks for reading,

Robert Stanek

Monday, December 23, 2013

How I Made This Crazy Thing Called Writing a 20-year Career...

2014 will be my 20th year in publishing. I signed my first book contract in 1994 and my first book was published in 1995. The wild success of that book and its sequel made me an international bestselling author. Since those early beginnings, more than 150 of my books have been published and let me tell you it's been one crazy ride.

I've seen other writers sharing about their experiences in their blogs, though mostly from the viewpoint of strictly self-published authors, so I wanted to offer viewpoints on two things: so-called hybrid authors and long tail publishing.

ABOUT MY PATH

The path I've traveled hasn’t been all roses, cavalcades, and unicorns. The publishing business can be an ugly business; the world can be an ugly place. And yet, I’ve never lost belief in my words or my ability to instruct, to entertain, to tell a story. I love the craft.

I’ve not only written in literary genres from action/adventure, mystery and suspense to science fiction and fantasy, in subject areas from computer technology to military memoir, and in children's picture books for toddlers, preschoolers and early elementary school readers--but I’ve been successful in all.

ABOUT MY SALES

From the publication of my first book in 1995 to early 2005, I had sold well over 5,000,000 books. From 2005 to 2015, I am on track to again sell well over 5,000,000 books.

In the past 20 years, I've sold well over $100,000,000 in books and I'm on track to reach $200,000,000+ in sales in 2014. That kind of outsized success isn't something everyone will achieve. That kind of success is something I can't believe I've achieved.

People often have ask me if all the success changed my life and I’d like to think that it has in many ways. But it’s been a long, long road and a road that never started with me trying to get published.

In fact, I wrote novels for years before I ever tried to get published. For me, writing was never about getting published. It was always about doing what I loved. And doing what I love full-time for 20 years has given me great perspective on writing, on success, and on life.

ABOUT GOING FROM PRO TO HYBRID

Being a hybrid author refers to writing both as a professionally published author and as an independent author. For a professionally published author, I think it's a logical transition to the independent marketplace and it's a transition born of simple economics. Economics that work like this:

$200,000,000 at retail x 45% = 90,000,000. Based on a typical 55% discount to bookstores.

20% off the top for returns, other withholdings, etc  = 72,000,000

Average royalties = 10% (I know, I know you hear 12%, 15% numbers but the actual rate varies depending on marketplace sold, whether 3rd party distributed, how packaged, etc).

10% of 72,000,000 = 7,200,000

20% off the top of this for agents, managers, etc. leaves about 5,760,000.

5,760,000 over 20 years is about $288,000 in annual earnings (not including actual expenses like health care, marketing, etc).

Or put another way, at the end of the day, what the professional author actually gets is about 3% of total earnings.

In contrast, indie earnings can be much more substantial as a percentage of total earnings, though significantly less in the total net earnings department. In theory, indie authors can earn as much as 35% - 70% of net sales. But theories don't always hold water. As an indie, my end of the day indie earnings, after top-level expenses, actually amount to about 10% of total earnings.

* The breakout that follows does not include sales data for 2.5 million Robert Stanek, Bugville Learning, Ruin Mist Publications, etc but does include sales data for 7.5 million William Stanek, William R. Stanek, William Robert Stanek, and related titles, etc:
500,000+ sales at $70 & up ($70 x 500,000 = 35,000,000)
2,000,000+ sales at $59.99 to $69.99 ($60 x 2,000,000 = 120,000,000)
3,500,000+ sales at $29.99 to $59.98 ($30 x 3,500,000 = 105,000,000)
1,000,000+ sales at $19.99 to 29.98 ($20 x 1,000,000 = 20,000,000)
500,000+ sales at up to $19.98 ($10 x 500,000 = 5,000,000)

ABOUT GOING FROM INDIE TO HYBRID

As an independent, authors can have total control of their works. However, the indie must wear many hats and perform many tasks, including sales and marketing activities. At some point, as an indie's success increases, an indie may have to make a choice between having time to write and performing all these other activities. At that point, I think trying to transition to a hybrid author model increasingly makes sense.

With pro contracts, agents, or both come things solo flying indies can't get. For example, access to large sales and marketing networks. Also, the ability to network with other authors published by the publisher or working with your agent. It's how a newly minted hybrid indie can make connections to big name authors and suddenly get written about in major magazines and newspapers.

ABOUT MY BOOKS

I wrote for many years before I got publishing, having finished my first full-length novel in 1986. Currently, I have over 150 published works, which vary in length from 654,000 words (the longest, a 1600-page behemoth work) to 300 words (the shortest and one of my illustrated children's books).

Those many works available in many editions, many formats, many languages, and many markets become several thousand live titles. For example, I have over 1,000 English-language titles just in library distribution.

I track the sales of my books across the more than 35 marketplaces where they are sold every few years (usually every other year). That's how I get fun stats like 7.5 million William Stanek books sold, 2.5 million Robert Stanek books sold, etc.

Hundreds of books and thousands of titles is an approach to publishing called long-tail publishing. With long-tail publishing, the author relies on a relative trickle of sales over many years. I say relative trickle as some of my books sell hundreds of copies a year while others sell thousands or tens of thousands of copies a year.

To better understand trickle theory, consider this:

A $350 monthly cell phone bill becomes a $50,000 expense after 12 years. $350 x 12 x 12 = $50,400.

A book that sells 100 copies a month has 24,000 sales after 20 years. 100 x 12 x 20 = 24,000.

Thus, the trickle of sales slowly builds into a mountain.

ABOUT MY WRITING DAY

Counting all my writing (indie, pro and otherwise), I have about 20,000,000 published words, 10 million pro and 10 million indie, give or take. Those ~20 million words written over a period of 30 years (1986 to present) weren't blasted out at a rate of tens of thousands of words a day or week. They were written at the rather sedate pace of about 2,000 words a day, across a 7-day work week--with some days lots of writing done and some days no writing done too.

Of course, my days also are filled with other writing-related tasks. If I’m not writing, I’m probably designing a book cover, doing illustration work, setting type on an illustrated page, sketching out a story line, reviewing printed pages, or any of the dozens of other things that must be done to prepare a book for publication. Why? Because there’s no one else to do that work if I don’t.

I don’t think many people understand how technical writing works and how involving it is. With technology books, writing is only one part of a much larger process that also involves author review and page review. As I write chapters, those chapters go to editorial and also are sent on to technical reviewers. When I get chapters back from editorial, the chapters contain edits and comments from the copy editors, development editors, and others on editorial staff. The chapters also contain comments from technical reviewers. This part of the process is called author review.

During author review, I’m working with the manuscript in Microsoft Word. I must respond to every question and query and a typical chapter may have several hundred of those which may or may not require me to make actual changes in the text. Author review is followed by page review. Page review is the final part of the manuscript review process.

During page review, I’m working with the manuscript in its final form in Adobe Acrobat. The manuscript is marked up with comments that I must address from the formatters, proofreaders, and others on the editorial staff. For pre-release products, there may be several rounds of author review and several rounds of page review.

After all these years of writing, I have a simple formula to determine how much of my time a writing project will require, inclusive of writing, review, and everything else that a book involves. 1 page = 1 hour. Thus, if I’m writing a 700-page book (inclusive of all front matter and back matter), I must plan for the project requiring 700 hours of my time.

With indie fiction, the formula is probably closer to 2 pages = 1 hour, but the actual work required can sometimes be more, as I have to wear many more hats when I do indie work.

ABOUT MY STRATEGY

As you can probably guess, with all the books I've published, writing is my full-time occupation and my full-time hobby and has been for the past 20 years. My strategy for spreading the word about my books is simple.

In the early days I did book tours when I could and traveled a lot. Traveling gets old though and the good news is that once you've established yourself, you don't really need to tour any more. For those reading this who haven't attended book fairs, done readings, or traveled for book tours, I recommend seeing if it's in your best interest to give it a try.

I haven't done the book fair, reading, book tour circuit thing though for the past 15 or so years. These days, I blog when I can, tweet a few things when I can, and post to Facebook and such when I can. And that's my primary marketing. I occasionally do media advertising and press releases, though I always ensure that I never pay retail for advertising.

Why? I want every dollar I spend on advertising to go 10 times as far as it normally would. Planning advertising across longer periods of time helps. For example, from mid-2008 to late 2009, my publisher and I spent $100,000 on advertising. As it was mostly my money, you can be darn sure that I made sure every dime went as far as it could. Large and repeated buys across various marketplaces got us some extremely good rates (we paid about .20 on the dollar, so our advertising at card rates would have been about $500K).

That kind of spending is not something I would recommend. That spending was for a special occasion, leading up to the recent year-long celebration of the book I counted officially as my 150th. (Significant career milestones are fun and important to celebrate.)

The kind of marketing I recommend to indies is this: market where you see the most value. Facebook is one of the places I see a great value these days. With $250 targeted correctly, I can reach 1 million people (or at least get 1 million views). That's extreme value and it's one reason why I've dropped $30K on Facebook advertising in the past 5 years.

ABOUT THE FUTURE

I'm not sure how many writers realize that book sales are more like the ebb and flow of tides than tidal waves coming ashore. Books sales rise and fall over time, and if you're lucky, they keep rising and falling over time. As the book world transitions to an e-marketplace, it's important to remember that ebooks are really only in their infancy. While ebooks are big in the US and a few other countries, the rest of the world is still largely dominated by print. And beyond both print and ebook are tons of additional opportunities, including audio.

I'm tremendously grateful to my readers and my publishers. Currently, I am working to finish an 8-book contract with my publishers. The contract is the largest one I’ve ever signed. The project, which has consumed part of last year, all of this year and will carry me well into next year, entails over 4,000 pages of writing—and I’ve been going at it 7 days a week trying to meet all the timelines.

Four of the eight books have now been published and I am working my way through writing, reviewing, and final work on all the others. I’m very grateful to have this work, especially as the industry is in such flux. Such tremendous flux is not uncommon in the publishing industry. There have been waves of flux in the past and there will be waves of flux in the future.

If all the years of writing have taught me anything, it’s patience. I’m not in a hurry to publish anything. I release my books on my schedule, not anyone else’s. I have so many finished books because I’ve been writing for 30 years--and 20 of those years as a full-time writer.

If you want to be a long-time participant in this crazy game, I hope you'll keep in mind the ebb and flow. The ebb and flow can ruin you or you can embrace it as simply the way things are.

Hope my insights from 20 years in this crazy writing business help you in your writing.

Thanks for reading,

Robert Stanek