StoryFest 2012 is coming: June 8-10

This is for everyone – whether you wrote or you didn’t. If you wrote in a previous year; if you wanted to write but couldn’t make it; if you wrote one story; if you simply read and enjoyed someone else’s.

This is our chance to celebrate, and boost both the short story and our friends in StoryADay.

StoryFest 2012

June 8-10


StoryFest Logo

How To Celebrate StoryFest


  • Come to the site June 8-10, follow a link to a story, read it and comment on it.
  • If you wrote even one story in this (or any previous) StoryADay, submit one to be featured on the site’s front page June 8-10.
  • Nominate someone else’s story to be featured.
  • Spread the word: from Jun 1-10, tell everyone you know on every social network (especially the ones with readers in them) about StoryFest. Tell them to come to the site June 8-10 to read new and exciting work by up-and-coming future stars of the literary world!
  • Post the graphic on your blog, your Facebook timeline, tattoo it on your leg, whatever! (Get your graphics here)


What is StoryFest?

StoryFest is a weekend when the stories take over

On Jun 8, the front page of will change to one dedicated to you and your stories. It will be full of links to your stories, online, until June 10.

It’s our end-of-year party, our recital, our chance to share our work with readers.


How To Submit/Nominate A Story


Fill Out This Form.

Be ready to supply your storyaday username, your real name or psuedonym, a link to the story you’re nominating, its title and a summary, a link to a story by someone else (optional but karmically recommended).

Deadline: Tuesday, June 5.

This gives you a few days to pick your story and possibly polish it a bit. If you can get it to me before the deadline I’ll love you forever, though, as it’s going to take me a while to organize all the submissions.


StoryFest FAQ

Does my story have to be online?

Yes. We want to create a reader fanbase for you. Stories must be posted somewhere online, in full.

Is it OK if my story is on my personal blog (or other site).

Absolutely. Just supply the link.

Will it be considered published?

Your story is not being published by StoryADay, but you should be aware that some editors still consider a story that has been posted online, as having been previously published. If you think this is your last good story ever, by all means guard it with your life. Otherwise, I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about this.

Does It Have To Be A Story I Wrote During StoryADay?

Yes. I’ll have to trust you on this. But it can be a story you wrote in a previous year.

Why Do I Have To Select A Genre Label?

Try not to agonize over this. I know most fiction is really cross-genre. It’s just short-hand for readers. I know I’m more likely to plump for a Speculative/Sci-Fi story or a mystery before I will read a fantasy story. As a reader, you don’t want to scroll through a long list of stories with no clues as to which you might prefer. Genre labels simply help readers make a quick decision, rather than being paralysed or overwhelmed and not clicking on anything. Just think like a reader, grit your teeth and pick a genre.

Can I Submit Erotica/Horror/TheWierdStuff?

Um, okay. But I’d appreciate it if you’d label it as such, so as not to scare the grownups.

Can I Revise My Story?

Absolutely. Polish it up, shine its little shoes, put a bow in its hair and send it into the world looking its best. But don’t take too long! And remember, you’re unlikely to ever be 100% satisfied. Polish it a bit, then let it go.

Deadline is Tuesday, June 5.

Are You A Writer? Prove it!

This light-hearted article has a serious point: you are a writer, and you should stop at nothing to trick yourself into believing it, even on your worst days. Here’s how I did just that.

Defining ourselves as writers when we’re working on speculative manuscripts, short stories, queries — anything we love to write — is difficult. Most of us are conditioned to think that unless someone has given us a contract to write something, it’s not ‘real’.

I’ve been out of the wage-slave business for a long time now. Since leaving corporate life, first I was a freelance business writer, then  a stay-at-home mom and now I’m a mom/writer/part-time-lunch-lady-at-my-kids’-school.

Defining myself as a writer when I was doing freelance business & magazine writing was easy. I wrote something; someone paid me; I was “a writer”.

Defining myself as a mother is inescapable. I have two chatty reminders of it orbiting me at all times except during school hours. And it’s pretty hard to forget you’re a part-time-lunch-lady when hundreds of kids are streaming past, grabbing their yellow or red foodstuffs out of your hands and grunting monosyllabically as they go.

But our writing lives are real. We need to let ourselves take them seriously.


The Forehead Stamp

My writer’s group recently hosted Nicole Valentine of As well as running a writer’s site for teens, Nicole is a writer herself, pursuing an MFA. Yet she still has trouble with this question. She joked that she often wants to get a stamp with “writer” on it and stamp it on her forehead, just to remind herself that it’s OK to say it.

I was seriously thinking about how to fashion one of these stamps [1. Maybe with ink that only showed up under blacklight, so we could use it every day, in secret…] when an odd thing happened as I was running from the school to a store and trying to get home in time for the school bus.

In my rush I had forgotten to take off my ID badge. I feel kind of silly wearing it because I’m only a part-time lunch lady. That day I realised that, to anyone walking past, I could have been any working woman on a break from doing something high-powered and ‘important’ [2. I happen to think that being in the lunchroom and trying to slow the de-evolution of our children back to chimp-status is important, but not everyone sees it that way. Just as not everyone sees ‘making up stories with no promise of a paycheck’ as a worthwhile pursuit. Though, strangely, everyone is impressed by a ‘published’ author…]. Having been out of the corporate world for about a decade, I got a real kick out of having that ID card dangling from my pocket again. It was ridiculous.

Then I realized, beyond impressing grocery-store-bound strangers, that ID card had done something else for me: clipping that ridiculous card to my belt made me feel professional – even if I was just going in to sling pizza at pre-teens. If an ID card could make me feel professional about being a part-time lunch lady, then maybe I could go one better than Nicole’s forehead-rubber-stamp idea and issue my writer-self an ID card too.

So I Did


I know, it’s goofy. It cost me $18 with shipping, and it doesn’t actually change anything. But when I swap out my lunch-lady ID for my Writer ID, it is a tangible reminder to myself to come home and put my writing first. I can be a mom, a wife, a cook, a friend, a slob later. Now is the time for writing. Because see? I’m a writer.


If you want your own Writer ID card, you can go here (not an affiliate link). Go on, treat yourself. It’s cheaper than a set of golf clubs, a fancy bike, or even the cost of a sweater and nobody laughs at golfers, cyclists or fashionistas for spending money on their avocation. [3. Well, ok. We do laugh at them. But that just proves that the potential mockery of others from outside your tribe is no reason to hold yourself back.]

So, what do you do to remind yourself it’s OK to say “I’m A Writer”?


That Awkward Moment When I Met NaNoWriMo Founder Chris Baty

No Plot No Problem by Chris Baty, cover image

Or: Confronting Your Fears Can Be Fun!

OK, you’re thinking of embarking on a big creative challenge.

How’s that making you feel? Feeling some resistance? That’s normal. Feeling a cold rush of terror? Not unusual. But I’ll bet you’re feeling something else too: a little thrill at the idea. (C’mon, you’re a writer. Of course you’re tempted.)

Sharing your creative efforts is a risk and taking a risk requires bravery.

And sometimes, taking that risk leads to something completely unexpected.

Let me tell you a story about what happened when I met Chris Baty, the founder of National Novel Writer’s Month, an insane creativity challenge I in-no-way-ripped-off when I started StoryADay.

How I Absolutely Did Not Rip Off NaNoWriMo

In the late 1990s, when the Web was young, I had a writer friend who was a real sucker for collaborative creative challenges: Illustration Friday, Livejournal memes and, eventually, this crazy new thing called National Novel Writer’s Month.

It was the first time I had entertained the idea that writing might be anything but a solitary endeavour.

Over the years, I tried a few of these challenges (, NaBloPoMo) and even came close to signing up for NaNoWriMo in 2009. I had read NaNoWriMo founder, Chris Baty’s book “No Plot, No Problem” and loved his ‘creativity for all’ outlook — but by this time I had I had two small kids and my creative life had contracted to the point where I was reduced to drafting critical analyses on Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends (I have a whole thesis on Gordon’s daddy issues, and Percy? Classic victim mentality.)

So I chickened out. Again.

What Do You Do When You Hit Rock Bottom?

The winter dragged on and I sank into a deep slump.

I was grumpy with everyone all the time. I needed a creative outlet but every time I started anything, even my beloved short stories, I failed to finish.

You know that feeling when you’re scared to start because you might let yourself down again?

One memorable day in March 2010 I hit bottom. Driving along a bleak country road in Pennsylvania – the bare tree-limbs reaching out to claw out the last shreds of my creative soul as we sang along to “Cranky, He’s The Dockyard Crane” – I snapped. That’s it, I thought. I have to do something really scary to jolt myself out of this. I’m going to write a story a day for a month. I can do a story a day, right? I’m going to finish each one, and I’m going to tell everyone about it, so they can shame me if I stop writing.

It was terrifying.

So I did it.

See? “Inspired by” NaNoWriMo. Not “Ripped Off From”.

Fast forward to this January.

With two years of StADa under my belt I was ready to stretch my wings. My wonderful husband practically pushed me out the door to the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC (If you haven’t been to a conference, I can recommend it: being surrounded by professionals and passionate would-be-professionals has a powerful effect on your motivation and self-respect, never mind what the workshops do for your skills).

The keynote speaker was to be NaNoWriMo’s own Chris Baty, which was a bit thrilling, but I wasn’t actually going to, you know, meet him or anything. (Not if I could help it, anyway.)

The first evening was a whirl: so many ideas, so much inspiration, so many notes to take, so much preparation to do for the Agent Pitch Slam (like speed dating, with literary agents). I was up so late preparing my pitch than I hardly slept.

I Blame Sleep Deprivation For What Happened Next.

I stumbled into the wrong session. After ten minutes, I ducked out early to look for the right session. As I wandered past the author area, my heart gave a little lurch. There was a tall, bald man sitting behind a stack of Chris Baty’s books. And I’d just made eye contact with him. It couldn’t be, could it?

The long moment stretched. My internal thermostat went crazy. I think I did that darty-eyed thing small animals do when cornered.

What would I say? Would he be mad at me? And would he even understand me, now that my tongue had swollen up to three times its normal size and my mouth had turned to sandpaper?

The next thing I remember, I was standing in front of the great man (really. He’s very tall) handing him a card and confessing my sins.

He looked at the card.

He looked at me.

“Is it free?” He asked, somewhat unexpectedly.

“Um yes, yes!” I said. “I mean I have some courses and ebooks people can buy if they want, but the challenge? Oh yes, totally free. They don’t even have to sign up at the site. I just think its so important to encourage people to be creative and…”

I was babbling and breathless.

“Huh,” he said, looking up at me (he was sitting down). “This is so GREAT!”

He beamed.

I beamed.

We started ranting about creativity and the importance of people giving themselves the permission to write. We raved about community and the other creative challenges on the web (he gave me generous, concerned advice about running a challenge), and we shared typical-writer-insecurities. We talked about the thrill of writing and the joy of having a hand in other people’s growth as writers. We promised to stay in touch. I may have started to refer to him as “m’new-boyfriend-Chris-Baty” (it’s OK, the wonderful husband understands). I walked around on a cloud for the rest of the weekend.

The last person I saw, as I wheeled my suitcase out into the New York streets, was m’new-boyfriend-Chris-Baty, sitting in the lobby, tapping away on his laptop. He looked up and waved. I had a new ally and it felt wonderful.

Confront Your Fears And Wonderful Things Can Happen

Starting StoryADay was scary.

Walking up to Chris Baty was scary.

Sitting down to write every day is scary.

But pushing yourself to do the scary thing is almost never a bad idea. (Unless that scary thing involves heights. Or venemous snakes. Don’t do them.)

You Can Do This – Today

I cannot stress strongly enough the value of:

  • Making a commitment to your writing,
  • Taking a chance on yourself,
  • Reaching out to a wider community of writers,
  • Being open to support and encouragement from unexpected sources.

StoryADay May is one way you can do all those things. Sure, the aim is to write a story a day, but I’ve always maintained that you should set your own rules. Some people aimed for 3 stories a week and hit that challenge. Some people aimed for 31 but their lives got complicated and they came out of the month with ‘only’ 12 stories … and were still thrilled.

But you don’t have to wait for May and you don’t have to travel to New York to confront your fears.

Write a story today. Post it online, if you dare.

[UPDATED] See? I didn’t make this up!

A Time To Live

I was going to be starting the StoryADay Warm-Up Your Writing Summer Course today, but I’ve decided to postpone it until September.

I’m going to explain why and then I’m going to offer you some free tools, and a chance to help a worthy cause. If you just want the goodies, you can skip ahead.

Why I’m Not Running The Warm Up Writing Course This June

I live in one of those mythical neighbourhoods where everyone knows everyone else and we like each other. We have Easter Egg hunts and a Christmas party and our kids all ride bikes and play in the street together all summer and there is always a parent or five hanging out with them. It’s the kind of neighbourhood where you know that if your kid does something stupid while you’re not looking, one of the other parents will hunker down and gently discuss why ‘we don’t that’ and negotiate a peace treaty between whichever kids need it.

And if anyone needs help, the neighbourhood springs into action.

And we’re springing into action.

Last weekend my next door neighbour’s five year old daughter, Gabriella, was suddenly admitted to the local children’s hospital and diagnosed with a rare and aggressive brain cancer.

So we’re babysitting and running errands and making sure life seems as normal as we can for all the kids here at home. We’re raising money and cooking meals and organizing prayer chains and trying to be available for anything our friends might need.

And yes, though all this I could find time to run the course. But I wouldn’t be able to give it my all, and that’s not fair to anyone. So I’m postponing until September, when I will offer the Warm-Up Your Writing Course again, at the summer rate.

And in the meantime, I’m going to spend the summer creating high-quality free content and tools to help my lovely StoryADay friends focus on creativity and productivity and to keep writing every day, not ‘someday’.

An Important Reminder For Writers

But this bump in the road has reminded me of a very important rule for writers:

As important as it is to keep writing, it’s even more important to keep living. Only by grabbing life with both hands and holding on tight through every experience, can we hope to be able to write stories that help, heal, entertain, make readers think, and, in our own small way, change the world for the better.

Writing Contest 2011

So you’ve spent a month writing stories. Now what?

Announcing:’s First Writing Contest!

I am thrilled to announce that Heidi Durrow, author of last year’s breakout debut novel (and NYT bestseller) The Girl Who Fell From The Sky has agreed to judge our first ever StoryADay Writing Contest.

Anyone who has a StoryADay username and has been writing this May (I’ll have to trust you on that) is eligible to enter one story in the contest. There is no entry fee, but there are prizes!

  • 1st Prize: $50, A copy of the Writers Digest Short Story & Novelist’s Markets book, a copy of The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass, a box of Rory’s Story Cubes
  • 2 Runners-up: $25 and a box of Rory’s Story Cubes.

The deadline is June 15, with results announced in early August. There will be two rounds of judging. The first round will be judged by experienced editors and working authors, the final round by Ms. Durrow.

You may submit using a special submission from that will go be up by June 10, 2011. Details to be posted here.

Click here for the complete rules.


Is the contest open to everyone?

Only to people with a StoryADay username.

I was writing during May but didn’t sign up at the site. Can I still enter?

Sorry, no. This is only open to people who were in the online community. It’s a way for me to reward the community and ensure that only stories written this May get entered

But that’s not fair is it?

No, not entirely. But it’s the best I can do. Sorry. I will rethink this for next year.

How will you ensure the contest is fair?

Entries will go to judges without names attached. Beyond that, judging is entirely subjective as it is with all writing contests.

Will Heidi Durrow read all the stories?

No, she is going to read a short-list of ten. The first round will be judged by working editors and writers.

When will the results be out and how will I be notified?

Not later than August 15. Results will be posted on the site ( and entrants will receive an email telling them the winners and runners up.

How are the prizes funded?

The prizes are funded mostly by me, Julie Duffy of The copies of Rory’s Story Cubes were generously provided by Gamewright Games.

If I don’t win, does that mean my story is no good?

No, it very definitely does not. I have judged these kinds of contests myself and can assure you that judging is entirely subjective. If your story is not picked, all it means is that it did not appeal to this particular set of judges in this particular month as much as someone else’s story did. Keep writing (and submitting)!

The Myth Of The Solitary Writer

Today’s article is a guest post by Kirsten Simmons, host of The Interactive Novel. Thanks, Kirsten!

Run For Your Lives

“The first professional writing job I ever had, after seventeen years of trying, was on a movie called King Kong Lives. I and my partner-at-the-time, Ron Shusett, hammered out the screenplay for Dino De Laurentiis. We were certain it was going to be a blockbuster. We invited everyone we knew to the premiere; we even rented out the joint next door for a post-triumph blowout.Nobody showed. There was only one guy in line beside our guests, and he was muttering something about spare change. In the theater, our friends endured the movie in mute stupefaction. When the lights came up, they fled like cockroaches into the night.”

~Steven Pressfield, Do The Work

The movie, as Pressfield goes on to describe, was an unqualified disaster. It was roundly panned by the critics and barely registered on the gross lists.

What The…?

How did something which had such promise in the eyes of the authors go so totally wrong?

I’ve never spoken with Pressfield, so I can only guess at the reasons behind the tanking of King Kong Lives. But if I were to guess, I’d say it has something to do with community.

We tend to believe that writers work in seclusion. Think of the stereotypical writer pounding away at the keyboard all by his lonesome. This is especially true when there’s money attached to the work. The people paying us don’t want too many people to know the story, after all, otherwise who would buy it down the road?

But this brings up some problems, because the worst person to judge a piece of writing is the author. We’re far to close to our work. When I’m trying to edit anything I’ve written, I either think it’s brilliant or I see flaws that don’t exist. In my earliest writing days, I ruined dozens of perfectly good stories by tearing them apart to fix perceived flaws in the ideas. (My mechanics, on the other hand, were rarely the target of my edits, despite needing a fair amount of help.)

Fixing The Problem

What’s changed since then? I found a community.

All writers need people they can turn to for additional opinions when they run into problems. Outside eyes can offer a fresh perspective and are much more likely to identify the problems in our work. Communities like this one are essential to achieving a finely tuned, structurally sound story.

When you find your community, love them and hold them tight. Thank them profusely for their input (even if it’s not what you want to hear) and offer at least as many insights as you receive. Every amazing writer has a strong community behind them. We are nothing without our people.

Kirsten is a student, entrepreneur and author taking the idea of community to a whole new level. The Interactive Novel, about a girl who disappears without human touch, is evolving entirely in public with audience feedback. Come check it out!

Don’t Write! How ‘Not Writing’ Could Save Your Story

It can be a struggle to find time to write, and yet here I am, bringing you a post on fitness? What’s up with that?

Well, the facts speak for themselves: making time for fitness is like an investment in ourselves that pays us back in increased concentration, productivity and creativity.

Today I’ve asked Lisa Johnson from LisaJohnsonFitness to give us some pointers about how to integrate exercise and creativity without derailing our writing schedules.

I particularly like her 10-minute burst idea – check it out below.

Also, Lisa has offered to answer any questions you might have about integrating fitness into your routine. (Normally she charges people handsomely for the privilege!) Just post your questions below.

Thanks Lisa!

How ‘Not Writing’ Could Be The Best Thing You Ever Did For Your Writing Career

Joy In Motion!

Hunched over our laptops, tapping away on the keyboard, writers feel like we have to be writing to be productive.

But, to get those creative juices flowing, maybe what we really need is to push away from the desk, slap on those sneakers and head outside.

Taking a break to get your body moving will:

  • Decrease stress
  • Increase productivity
  • Improve time management
  • Improve mental sharpness
  • Boost creativity

The 30 minutes that you spend in motion will be more than made up for through increased creativity and output. I promise. )

So pick an activity that you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be a prescribed fitness routine with weights, reps, and sets at the gym. It doesn’t have to be the “Om” of a yoga class, but it can be if that’s what you like to do. Some options to consider:

  • Just go for a walk; nature helps us calm down and declutter our brains.
  • If you’ve got the cardio endurance, go for a run.
  • Take a yoga or Pilates class for weight-bearing strength work and a little Zen.
  • If you like group exercise classes or watching TV while you do cardio, go get a gym membership.
  • Buy some free weights for your home (cuts out all travel time).
  • Watch fitness DVDs; stream them on your computer or use your local cable company for free routines.

Also, if the idea of being away from your writing for an hour just seems completely unfathomable, you can always break workouts down into 10-minute bursts. I tell this to clients regularly. When you’re transitioning from one task to another, do a quick 10-minute burst of cardio. This can be as simple as running in place or skipping rope or throwing on some tunes and dancing around your living room. The brain break will give you a clean slate as you start your next task. It’s amazing how well this works.

If you’re looking for overall guidelines, you want to do a minimum of 150 minutes of cardio per week; anything above that is gravy. Your heart will thank you, your doctor will thank you, and your readers will thank you!

If you have any questions, just ask below, and I’ll answer them.



Lisa Johnson has been a certified personal trainer and Pilates instructor since 1997. She owns Modern Pilates in Brookline, MA and has been a fitness blogger for three years at Lisa Johnson She also blogs for (a Sears company.)

An Accountability Buddy: The Productive Writer’s Secret Weapon

Today’s guest post from Melissa Dinwiddie is a wonderful primer on how to use the StoryADay community to help you become more productive than you ever dreamed. Thanks, Melissa!

Farewell to Polina!

Do you know one of the most effective things you can do to get your writing done?

Make yourself accountable.

I don’t know the statistics, but it’s a well known fact that if you want to reach a goal, speaking your commitment — including your deadline — to someone you know will hold you to it makes you dramatically more likely to actually do it.

Accountability is a powerful tool, and there are a number of ways you can integrate it into your writing practice. One of my own secret weapons is an accountability buddy.

Here’s what I’ve learned about maintaining an effective accountability partnership.

At the start of the year I was in a mastermind group (another great accountability tool), assembled with the express purpose of helping each other accomplish one specific goal in the month of January. When that group dissolved, a couple of us decided to keep checking in with each other.

At first our monthly calls started to get a little chatty — understandable enough, since we liked each other and had come to think of each other as friends.

This is an inherent danger in any accountability relationship. The problem, of course, is that chatting does not make for finished projects and completed goals.

Accountability partners have to be vigilant, and must keep coming back to the purpose for their partnership. If you want to chat, set up another date specifically for that. During your accountability check-ins, stick with the agenda: keeping each other on track.

This is exactly what I did at the end of a particularly chatty call. “Before we hang up,” I asked, “what’s your next step?”

My buddy confessed that she had a novel that had been sitting in a drawer for way too long, and what she really wanted was to get it edited and up for sale as a download on her site.

“Aha,” I responded, kicking into coaching mode, “so what’s stopping you?”

I asked her realistically how long she thought the editing would take, and when she said “about four hours,” I suggested (okay, I practically insisted) that she do it this week. In other words, I held out an expectation that I thought was achievable.

With my kick in the butt, she was ready to take on this project that she’d been putting off, so the next step was to set up a check-in schedule that worked for her. She committed to emailing me a progress report every night before going to bed, and set a goal of a 2-3 chapters per day.

Although it turned out four hours was an underestimation, I’m pleased to report that in less than two weeks my buddy had finished editing her entire manuscript and was ready to tackle the production side of getting her novel made into a downloadable ebook format. She swears she never would have gotten there without my help.

Do you think this kind of partnership might work for you? Give it a try! To keep you on track, I recommend sticking with the same structure every time you meet. The following questions are a good jumping off place:

  • What did you achieve since we last checked in? Did you accomplish your goal?
  • What didn’t work? What are you going to do differently next time?
  • What goal do you commit to between now and the next check-in?
  • What can you use help with?

Remember to reserve your chatting for another time, and let me know how it goes!

Artist, Writer and Inspirationalist Melissa Dinwiddie helps creatives (and “wannabe” creatives) to get unstuck, get unpoor, and just plain play bigger. Find her at her blogs, Living A Creative Life and 365 Days of Genius.

Win! Win! Win!

Leave a comment with your best tips for boosting productivity and/or working with other people and win a copy of Rory’s Story Cubes, a wonderful dice game that doubles as a story-telling tool. Roll the dice and make a story from the extremely cute images on the dice.


Today’s winner will be a random draw, so you get extra entries if you post about StoryADay on your blog, Twitter, Facebook or anywhere else (yes, I’ll give credit for blog posts from yesterday). Just leave me a comment saying where you posted.

Special thanks to Rory O’Connor and the lovely folks at Gamewright Games for donating this prize.

How A Subsidy POD Company Made Publishers Pay 50% Royalties

The Author’s Guild last week declared that no contract should offer an author less than 50% royalties on ebooks[2. They seem to have <a href=””>modified</a> their stance a little].

15 years ago, it was rare to see a number larger than 12.5% in any publishing contract for primary rights. It was common to see 10% or 7.5%.

How Did We Get From 7.5% to 50%?

Let me tell you a little story about the ancient days of the Internet.

In 1997 John Feldcamp, a digital printing guy and Chris Kelly, a finance guy, decided to set up Xlibris as an ebook and print on demand service (the first time anyone had figured out how to offer true POD services directly to authors) .

In 1998, they hired me to help them change the world. Whatever else Xlibris became or did right or did wrong, it was founded — and operated for a long time — on the burning beliefs that:

  • No-one had the right to tell any writer to sit down and shut up.
  • We were going to help every writer master the new methods of delivery technology was opening up to them.
  • We did not deserve any ownership of their intellectual property in exchange for helping them distribute it.
  • The author should get 50% of the proceeds[2. On print books 50% of the profit was a lot less than 50% of the list price, which is why the company eventually started using different numbers and the word ‘net’, and sounding a lot more shady, even though it was the same thing. But on ebooks? 50% was 50% of list, minus transaction fees, and we didn’t even bother charging for those at first].


Barbarians At The Gates

Most people in the publishing industry, even many established authors, predicted that POD and ebooks would mean the end of civilization, that the world would be filled with dross and that not all writers deserved to share their stories with the world.

Three years later, in 2000, the big kahuna of traditional publishing, Random House, made a substantial investment in Xlibris. I listened with astonishment and pride as their spokesman started saying things like “Yes, we’ll be offering 50% on ebooks. That sounds like a fine deal”. I grinned to myself because behind Erik Engstrom’s words I heard the strong “Feldcampian” influence (John was not only extraordinarily clever, he was incredibly convincing).

From 50% to 25% in 8 Short Years

Eight years later Engstrom was long gone and Random House was changing the policy to 25%. Lots of other things have changed too: Amazon, Kindle, Nook, Apps…It looks like ebooks will eventually replace print books as a major sales stream. But authors will only get 25% royalties on ebooks, and the big publishers will get moremore of the profit than ever before.

Last week the Author’s Guild finally snapped and issued this outraged math lesson to illustrate the realities of the 25% royalty:

“The Help,” by Kathryn Stockett
Author’s Standard Royalty: $3.75 hardcover; $2.28 e-book.
Author’s E-Loss = -39%
Publisher’s Margin: $4.75 hardcover; $6.32 e-book.
Publisher’s E-Gain = +33%

“Hell’s Corner,” by David Baldacci
Author’s Standard Royalty: $4.20 hardcover; $2.63 e-book.
Author’s E-Loss = -37%
Publisher’s Margin: $5.80 hardcover; $7.37 e-book.
Publisher’s E-Gain = +27%

“Unbroken,” by Laura Hillenbrand
Author’s Standard Royalty: $4.05 hardcover; $3.38 e-book.
Author’s E-Loss = -17%
Publisher’s Margin: $5.45 hardcover; $9.62 e-book.
Publisher’s E-Gain = +77%

from The Author’s Guild site

The Rights Of Authors

The fact that my bosses convinced Random House, 12 years ago, to use the words ‘fifty percent’ is huge. I believe that Feldcamp and Kelly made 50% a number we writers can ask for today without being laughed out of the room (they endured that several times, on our behalf).

Some of the authors who hailed the ‘publishing services’ companies as Visigoths are now listing their own out-of-print titles with Amazon (at a 70% royalty rate) and keeping them in print independently via POD. They are demanding their due from their publishers, on a scale proposed by the former barbarians at the gate.

I am proud to have been one of those barbarians. And I am proud to have been friends with the men who smiled up at the publishing Caesars and convinced them to agree, for eight shining years, that 50% was, yeah, equitable.  The royalty and distribution debates of the future will be shaped by what they did back in the 1990s.

Writers, join me in raising your glasses today in a toast to Mr. John Feldcamp and Mr. Chris Kelly, founders of Xlibris, Kings of the 50% royalty.

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