Mark Lefebvre, Director of Self-Publishing and Author Relations at kobo, didn’t just come to chat with us at The Toronto Indie Publishing Meetup, he brought us solid information about e-books sales, and he didn’t sugar coat it. Despite indie-publishing potentially throwing book sales wide open, a small number of authors still make a big chunk of the change, just like in the traditional publishing world.
Category archive: Authors to Watch
Fortunately, not a gambling addiction, which left Dostoyevsky destitute more than once until he married Anna.
In October of 2011, Hugh Howey noticed something odd when he looked up his sales reports in his Amazon account: a short story he’d uploaded, Wool, had sold twelve copies in the first week of the month. He was pleased and surprised that people would read a short story. By the end of the month, it had sold 1,018 copies. Hugh can be forgiven for thinking this was the pinnacle of his writing career. Who could imagine that it would go on to be a million copy, New York Times bestseller? Wool is now just part of the whole series that he wrote in frantic response to all the positive feedback.
Blogs live and die on content, and I admit mine has been pretty dead. The challenge is that I like to write quality posts about what I read or what’s happening, but life just won’t give me the four hours it takes me to grind out a blog. I know that sounds like a lot of time for six-hundred words, but
I don’t necessarily believe that all change is good even though that’s the fashion these days. We’re all supposed to embrace change and love change, as if everything that already exists is inferior, but sometimes change isn’t for the better, or is sideways. Our school board changed how they taught math, and that’s resulted in lower scores on standardized tests for kids in grades three to six, not exactly a good change.
I never attend a con without learning something new about the publishing industry, or at least about trends in publishing, and SFcontario4, which was held in Toronto this weekend at the Ramada Plaza Hotel, was full of surprises.
Johnny Depp has a knack for picking unusual and interesting films that don’t fit with the Pirates of the Caribbean box office smash, so when my kids wanted to watch Rango, I sat down with them, surprised that an animated Western even existed.
The Western, both as a film and novel genre, fell on hard times during the 1970s and 80s. The movie-going and reading public had begun to realize the Indians weren’t nameless and faceless “savages,” but rather that they were actually human beings who had, and still have, a legitimate grievance. The public lost interest in seeing John Wayne indiscriminately kill people who dared to oppose the US Cavalry or tried to stop the flood of settlers into the west. The audience began to feel guilty.
Westerns didn’t die, of course, but they centered more on outlaws, sort of the Mad Max movies set in the 1860s. Rango is definitely in the latter category. Thugs dominate a town while controlling its most limited resource–water. People are leaving, and everyone who stays behind owns a gun and knows how to use it. During a gun battle, creatures on both sides kill indiscriminately–yup, just like John Wayne in a 1940s Western.
That’s when it hit me. We’ve come full circle back to the Western. Now the stick-figure enemies are zombies/vampires, but this time our heroes can kill without remorse. The zombies are already dead and there are no land claims. The humans who need killing are vicious Mad Max-type bikers with no morals. They would be locked up if only there were any jails.
But it goes beyond just guiltless killing. It’s also the freedom that comes with being in a post-apocalyptic world, one where your credit card and mortgage are unimportant, but your next meal is always on your mind. I read a great blog by author Steven Montano on the appeal of the post-apocalyptic world. People actually enjoy the fantasy of waking up one morning to find out that they don’t have to go into work, that the boss is a zombie and their car payments can be skipped. Indeed, if you can drive, you can grab any car you want, preferably a big SUV. You don’t even have to worry about sustainable development anymore. Better yet, in every post-apocalyptic scenario, you are the one who survives and gets to wield the shotgun.
There was a time when I wondered if this genre would peak at the end of 2012 and dip after the Mayan Calendar reset and the world didn’t end. But now I believe that as long as the population density in major cities is on the rise, as long as consumer debt is high, as long as unemployment rates force people to stay in low-paying dead end jobs, there will be demand for post-apocalyptic fiction. That’s what Rango is: post-apocalyptic fiction set in the lawless West.
Amanda Hocking is an outlier and a fluke, writing only for flighty teenage girls. I heard this many times and one day decided to find out for myself, so last week I downloaded a free copy of Hollowland through Amazon. Right away I was impressed with Hocking’s business sense because she clearly knows that hooking an audience is more important than earning a few 35 cent royalties.
But I approached her novel with suspicion and preconceived bias. The title seemed suspiciously close to The Hollow Men by T.S. Elliot, and a quick check on Wikipedia proved that Elliot chose the title of his poem by combining the title of William Morris’ romance, The Hollowland, with Kipling’s poem The Broken Men.
So did Hocking know what she was doing when she chose that title? Then I read the opening line:
This is the way the world ends – not with a bang or a whimper, but with zombies breaking down the back door.
BANG! What a great opening line. She shows me right away that she knew exactly what she was doing when she chose that title, and she has a great sense of humor to boot. From this point on only people in love with that sense of humor will keep reading, and they’ll love the novel too.
Now I’m not saying that Hocking has replaced Elliot, or that Margaret Atwood should be fearful of the competition, but I read the novel and liked it. I admit I’m big into post-apocalyptic fiction so I’m an easy sell that way, although there are a number of indie ePubbed books in that genre that I’ve started and given up on. They were also cheap, but they just weren’t that good. That’s why they’ll never sell thousands of copies.
That’s my point. Hocking’s writing is actually good. It pulls me along and has me wondering what’s going to happen next when I should be concentrating on my own work. So in my estimation, she’s not an outlier or a fluke, she’s just a good writer.
The unfortunate piece of news is that the publishing industry rejected her many times, failing to see that she could make them money, failing to recognize that she was good. I don’t blame them because the slush piles are huge and it’s difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. The happy news is that indie ePublishing allowed Hocking to prove herself.
If I were a publisher, I’d trim my acquisitions department and follow the Amazon bestseller list to find new talent. This is great for them. Why sign a contract with an author if they haven’t proved themselves in the real world?
I can’t wait for the next “outlier” or “fluke” to sell a million indie ePubbed copies on Kindle. I’ll buy their book.
What most people don’t know about science fiction conventions is that a lot of them are not about actors or TV shows but about SF writers, and the discussions at the panels are educational, lively and provide a lot of insights into the publishing world. But yesterday I discovered that sf cons are not immune to the controversy over eBooks and indie publishing.
I attended a panel about “The Business of Writing” at SFContario in Toronto. The con was winding down, and I settled in expecting to hear the usual advice for want-to-be authors: get an agent, write short stories, and don’t pay reading fees to agents.
But instead author Robert J. Sawyer inadvertently dropped a bomb on me. When asked what the biggest business mistake a newbie writer could make he replied, “self-publishing or self-ePublishing.” He might as well have said, “Michael McPherson has made the biggest mistake of his career.” While Sawyer recognizes me at cons and remembers that he has mentored me in the past, he probably has no idea that I’ve indie-published. The comment was not just directed at me.
What he said (forgive the paraphrasing) is that only outliers have been successful in self-publishing either in print or electronically, and that you will have “vanishingly few sales” and never succeed as a proper science fiction author if you go the self-publishing route.
Yet, as I listened to this I was surprised to discover that I was encouraged and even more certain that indie-publishing is the road I want to travel. I know that sounds crazy, and I was reminded of a line from the movie Hoffa, so smartly delivered by Jack Nicholson. When several different people told him he should call off a strike, he replied, “If everyone says I’m wrong, I must be right.”
I know that this is the height of arrogance and conceit, but I also know what Mr. Sawyer had said earlier at his Kaffeekaltsch: it will be increasingly difficult and perhaps impossible for a science fiction author to make a living just from writing.
An indication of the direction the industry is going can be found in the subscription numbers of Analog Magazine: at its peak back in the seventies it had 160,000 subscribers, but now it has around 28,000. I’m also willing to bet a lot of those are older boomers, so as that generation goes on their ultimate adventure, Analog will probably also go down forever.
I’m sure Sawyer’s career will be fine because he’s so well known and has won every important science fiction writing award at least once, but a newbie like me–fighting to break into a dying industry–has nothing to lose by taking the road less traveled. The big six are struggling to adapt to eBooks, and their desperate throes are creating market opportunities.
If I landed a contract today with any publisher, my debut novel would have to compete head-to-head with Robert J. Sawyer’s umpteenth novel–one $10 paperback versus another. But I’ve checked the prices of Sawyer’s Kindle editions and discovered that they’re priced between $10-$13, with many of them more expensive than their paperback editions.
Wow! That means Vampire Road at 99 cents is less than one-tenth the price of most of Sawyer’s novels, and when I launch the prequel, The Book of Bertrand, at $2.99 it’ll still be less than a quarter of the price. This cut-rate is the only hope for a newbie author trying to seize a piece of the incredibly shrinking pie.
I considered putting my hand up and debating this with Mr. Sawyer–starting a lively old fight–but most of the authors were enjoying the last panel of the conference, and I knew there was little hope of swaying hearts and minds. The proof will come in the next couple of years, but even if I have “vanishingly few sales,” I suspect it will be more than if I was still desperately waiting to hear back from a publisher. And I’ll make this promise, if I haven’t had any luck by SFContario Four, I’ll volunteer for a panel: why ePublishing may not be for you. I love being on panels. Either way, it’ll be an interesting ride.