The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels. Fitzgerald can write description that is so effortless to read that a whole page of it with no other action is still captivating. But I have to wonder if Fitzgerald’s great work would have made it to a second printing (it barely did) if it had been called The Incident at West Egg. That’s the original title. Not horrible, but certainly not as engaging as The Great Gatsby, and I think the novel really is more about Gatsby than the “incident” at the end of the novel.
Category archive: Indie Publishing
There were about thirty-five women at the meeting of the Ajax-Pickering chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women. I was invited to speak about my life as a writer, and since I find me so interesting I had no problem showing up for the talk.
But I can’t pretend that these women are going to be interested in reading my vampire apocalypse novels. The CFUW are a group of well-educated women, and I’d guess the median age in the room was fifty-five. This is not the kind of crowd that wants to read about machine guns and crossbows, slashed throats and desperate battles. They’re probably more the cosy murder mystery crowd. In fact, it’s unlikely they’d even read my coming-of-age Canadiana short stories that were first published in Storyteller Magazine. So why did I agree to speak despite the poor sales prospects?
Practice. I’m actually not very comfortable at the front of a crowd, but I’ve learned that as an author I need to be there if I want to sell. So I’ve appeared on panels at mystery and SF cons, and I accept all invitations to speak, and every time the adrenaline subsides, I review my performance with a critical eye.
Here’s what I learned last Wednesday.
First, I interrupted the moderator just as she began to introduce me, chopping her short and not giving her a chance. Oops. I was excited and nervous and launched right into my talk, stepping on her moment as it were. I should have taken a deep breath and remembered that they were there to hear me and would wait for the end (or in this case even the beginning) of the introduction.
Second: take my time. I still speak too quickly in front of a crowd. I shouldn’t be afraid to pause, check my notes and carrying on intelligently instead of relating the first stories about Afghanistan or bridge painting that pop to mind.
Third: Have better cue cards. There were some amusing anecdotes I had intended to share, like the time a mujahideen commander in Afghanistan told me I should shave because I didn’t look good with a beard–he was right.
But I did do one thing right that evening: I really had fun. Better yet, I think my audience had fun too.
Vampire novels are everywhere. You can find them in bookstores, at the library and on the electronic shelves of every eBook retailer. They’re populated with sexy vampires, conflicted vampires and murderous (as opposed to vegetarian?) vampires. The blood suckers can be found in space, alternate universes and historical fiction.
So why am I launching a vampire apocalypse novel now? I first thought of the idea of vampires having a communicable disease back in the eighties, but that theme is so ubiquitous now that it’s now far from an original concept. My novel is a unique approach, but so are a lot of novels in the genre, those that aren’t simply quick rip offs of Twilight. I could also point out that vampires are still hot, that the majority of the eBook reading public is under thirty years old and that there’s always room for one more vampire, but it’s not really why I wrote this novel.
It’s all about the 1000 Souls. I came up with this concept, this new religion, when I met a Russian in Bokhara, Uzbekistan. The man owned a small hotel. He was smart, professional and a master at supplying tourists with everything they could need at fair prices. He reminded me so much of a South African caterer in Canada that I was stunned. It was as if the two men had the same soul, even though their DNA had taken very different routes down through evolution. These men didn’t look at all alike, but they were the same guy in different bodies.
So as I wrote my vampire novel, the religion of Erics (yes, plural) and the 1000 Souls was born, the concept that there are only 1000 souls spread between 7 billion humans. Ever meet someone and swear you’ve met them before even though it’s not possible? Well maybe you have, but you were shaking hands with a different host body for the same soul.
So each living human’s body is playing host to 1/seven millionth of a soul, meaning you could meet quite a few people with the same soul. It also means that the souls are pretty thinly spread, which is where the vampire apocalypse comes in. Kill off billions of people, and the remaining host bodies now contain denser souls. This makes their human hosts more passionate and daring than our thinned-souled present day humans.
Confused? Like any religion, the devil is in the details. The Book of Bertrand is just the beginning, and religions evolve over time. A quick check of the first centuries of Judaism, Christianity and Islam alone prove that the formation of a new religion is a tumultuous time.
But why vampires? Why not a less dramatic plague like bird flu? Because every new religion at its beginning needs to confront pure evil.
But the biggest reason I’m adding another vampire apocalypse novel to the world, is because I enjoyed writing it. I believe it was J.R.R. Tolkien who stated that he wrote novels that he would enjoy reading himself. I enjoyed reading (and re-reading) the Book of Bertrand. I really like Bertrand and his friends, and I can’t wait to write what happens in the next novel.
The literary world is in an uproar. Again. Amazon, the company that publishers love to hate, is trying to steal all the–wait for it–self-published books. I had to do a double take at this Huffington Post piece by Mark Coker, the driving force behind Smashwords, to believe what I was reading–especially the bit when he compares indie-authors to farmers during the Irish Potato Famine.
Amazon wants books for its lending library for its Prime customers, and it has put together a big pot of money, $500,000 per month, to be split among the authors whose books are borrowed through the Amazon library. The big catch: your books can’t be available for electronic download anywhere else. And it’s a three month commitment. Paperbacks and hardcovers aren’t part of this exclusivity clause, those you can still sell anywhere. We’re just talking eBooks here.
I like Mark Coker because he has been an ardent supporter of indie-pubbed authors and has worked diligently to get their work up on as many platforms as possible. I certainly don’t blame him for decrying a marketing tactic that is clearly aimed at undercutting his business.
But I think he’s wrong to worry that indie-pubbed authors will abandon Smashwords wholesale. What’s more likely is that authors will launch a book with Amazon, choosing KDP Select, but will drop out of the program after the three month period ends. It’s not a lifetime commitment here, and authors will want to see their novels available for the iPad because it’s the coolest device ever invented, let alone all the other eReader platforms.
Coker has some good points about losing sales rankings if you pull your novels, which is why I’m not enrolling Vampire Road in KDP Select. It took months for this novel to appear in the search at B & N and others, something Coker has promised to try and speed up, so I won’t be pulling it out of Smashwords now that it’s finally available everywhere.
But the prequel, The Book of Bertrand, will launch on Friday (if the editor and cover artist deliver on schedule) and there is absolutely no hope that Smashwords can get it to the other platforms before Christmas. I know because they gave all us indie-pubbed authors a November something deadline for Christmas distribution.
Amazon says they’ve been selling a million Kindles a week for the last couple of months, and some of those will be going to Kindle Prime members, who are going to want to borrow a book because they’ve blown the budget on Christmas, so why not get The Book of Bertrand in front of them?
But now for the big secret: Summer of Bridges, my anthology of coming-of-age stories, the ones that were first published in Storyteller Magazine, turned out to be a perfect candidate for KDP Select. While I love these stories, I hadn’t got around to loading the anthology onto Smashwords, so I figured I’d enroll it in KDP Select to see what happens.
Someone borrowed it the very next day. Now this anthology hasn’t been selling well, I figure because they’re short stories and they’re very Canadian. The very name of our country induces yawns from most other countries–not a bad thing. But here’s the surprise: the sales ranking on Amazon popped up as if it had sold a copy.
Which got me thinking: the higher the sales ranking, the more I sell. Any chance that I can pump TBofB’s sales over the Christmas to New Year’s buying week is a good thing, especially if I also get a piece of a $500,000 pie to boot.
I also think that the most money to be made from the KDP Select program will be in the early days, when Amazon’s still fighting to lure authors into the program. Remember that the money is split between participating authors, and a lot of authors will be reluctant to pull down work already for sale elsewhere. I bet the biggest pay outs will be in December, January and February. After that, word of mouth about good payouts will cause a stampede, and then the payouts will drop when they have to be spread to more authors.
It’s good to be ahead of a stampede, but you’d better run fast.
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.
Publishers are my enemies. Okay, not really, but the obvious finally did occur to me the other day: publishers are my competition. I’d never thought of it that way simply because those corporations are so big that they operate in a totally different league, one so stratospheric that I couldn’t imagine that little me and my eBooks were anywhere in the same ballpark.
But then agency pricing came along. Those rascally publishers are forcing the price of eBooks higher than paperbacks, gradually moving away from the $9.99 price point that Amazon set and pushing prices up to twelve dollars and more. What drove this home for me was seeing that Amanda Hocking’s new eBook, Switched, published by St. Martins Griffin, will be nearly $12 while the paperback is around $10. Now my memory isn’t the best, but I’m pretty sure I missed a chance to buy Switched for 99¢ when Hocking first self-pubbed it. She’s very popular, so I was surprised to see the whole Trylle series off the market until next February when the paperbacks are ready. How many sales have been lost in the months since I first considered buying Switched?
That’s when it hit me. As long as Hocking is with St. Martins, her books will be far more expensive than mine. Thank you St. Martins. It’s like opening a coffee shop across the street from Starbucks and finding out that the corp back in Seattle has decided to charge $12 for a regular coffee compared to my $1 price point. You couldn’t ask for a more accommodating competitor. It’s like they want me to undercut them and sell.
Great! Thanks Big Six Publishers. You’re helping many writers like me along the road to indie-publishing success.
It’s not often that I can say a newsletter has shocked me.
Publishers Marketplace has an e-newsletter I subscribed to last year at the advice of literary agent Stacia Decker. While it’s really aimed at publishers, it’s good for authors to know what’s going on in New York too.
Of course I was more interested in e-publishing, so I was surprised that the newsletter tended to report about eBooks with a slightly condescending tone. You could almost hear the moniker “upstarts” muttered in between the lines.
But as Barry Eisler publicly jumped into self-publishing and then into the arms of Amazon, as Amanda Hocking and John Locke hit the millions in sales, P.M. adapted quickly, holding conferences at BookExpo like eBooks for Everyone Else.
Yet, the tone of their updates on eBooks still occasionally has that disparaging taint, perhaps because it’s written for publishers. Thus–because P.M. has tried to clamber awkwardly onto the eBooks wagon–I was stunned last week when I read their update on book sales.
They preface it by reminding everyone that the numbers are only from publishers who voluntarily report to the Association of American Publishers, so this is by no means an accurate measure.
P.M. then goes on to trumpet how hardcover book sales recovered nicely in July 2011 compared to July 2010, going from $68 million to $91 million, certainly good news for publishers. But what really made me slap my forehead was the next paragraph. While appropriately reporting that eBook sales were $82 million, making them the second biggest category of sales after hardcover, P.M. states that this is “only double the total recorded last July.”
Only double? I had to read it over twice to understand what great news this is because “only double” sounds like a failure. In any other industry this would have been the lead statistic because it indicates a trend. Could you imagine a stock broker telling a client that his portfolio had earned in July “only double” what it had earned the previous July. The broker would be screaming from every advertising venue possible that he had doubled his client’s earnings rate.
When I first subscribed to Publishers Market place way back in 2010 ( oh yeah, way back) they were still reeling from the shock that e-books were getting close to breaking double-digits as a percentage of publisher’s sales. Now P.M. blithely reports that eBooks are 20% of publishers sales. Nothing to see here. Move on. It’s only double from last year.
Of course I still like Publisher’s Marketplace because I get to read a lot of publishing industry gossip that I might otherwise miss, and it’s good to be updated on lawsuits involving agency pricing of eBooks, etc. So I won’t be canceling my subcription because I don’t like their tone.
The salient fact is that eBook sales–even just those voluntarily reported to the AAP–are obviously still rising exponentially. They may not be the biggest chunk of the sales pie, but they’re close and they’re headed in that direction.
Of course, these numbers do not include sales by indie-pubbed authors like Joe Konrath, Amanda Hocking or John Locke because they’re not members of the AAP. I suspect when Amazon or Barnes and Noble release their sales figures we’ll get a better picture of eBook sales, but I can’t wait to read how Publishers Marketplace will describe the numbers. Will they say that eBooks are now “only” half of all sales?
What if eBooks become 80% of sales. Perhaps then Publishers Marketplace will drop the “only.”
This will not be recorded in the annals of publishing history as a pivotal moment, and yet William Deverell’s decision to jump into eBooks indicates a fundamental sea change. More established authors every day are discovering that the barriers to distribution of their words have crumbled and that publishing houses are not the only way to reach the reading public.
There’s a shift going on in publishing that publishers and agents should be discussing over their lattes in the boardrooms of Manhattan. I have a friend who is a well-published, successful author, but his publisher is putting the screws to him on a new contract, refusing to budge from a very miserly e-book royalty that they’ve decided is “industry standard” in a fledgling e-book industry. This ridiculous “industry standard” mantra has so upset this author that he is considering walking away and self-publishing his next novel.
I can’t name this author because the contract negotiations are on-going, but I can say that he has a big enough name that he wouldn’t have to worry about being lost in what Joe Konrath aptly named The Tsunami of Crap that is flooding e-book stores like Smashwords and Kindle. My friend already has an established audience that will seek him out and buy his novels.
So if the publisher calls his bluff and he indie-pubs, who will they publish in his place? Who will accept a horrible contract to make a name? A newbie like me, of course.
Right now we newbies put up our e-books on Amazon, desperately market them and hope to make enough sales to get the attention of the publishing or film industry and make the big sale. Even Amanda Hocking, who could probably live on her e-book sales for the rest of her life, signed with St Martins.
But if the publishing industry continues to empty their stables of successful authors and runs instead with untested talent, it will come with an unintended consequence: self-publishing becomes more respectable.
For over a century publishers have maintained that only they know good work and that self-published novels must be crap. They’ve been right often enough that this mantra has played well with the public. But if publishers drive away their authors then a lot of high quality indie-pubbed novels will hit the market. Worse for publishers, it means the public will not be so afraid to take a fly on a indie-pubbed e-book. Note that it won’t be self-publishing anymore, it will be indie-publishing. Even J.K. Rowlings has placed a toe in that water.
So the streams would reverse: newbies would be with the publishers. Established authors would indie-publish.
Of course it’s going to be a lot messier than that. Newbies will still indie-pub first, get a small following and then take the lousy industry contract. After their first bestseller, they’ll say goodbye to their publisher and go back to indie-publishing so that they can get the 70% royalty.
Watch out now for publishers trying to force authors into ten-book contracts to lock in long-term, cheap content providers. This will hurt publishing in the long run, because sometimes acquisition editors make mistakes, and so a publisher could find themselves forced to publish one poor selling novel after another when an author doesn’t perform as expected.
In my humble opinion, publishers should just offer a better e-book royalty and keep their talented authors. My friend deserves it. Otherwise publishers may discover that they’ve made things worse for themselves by giving credibility to indie-published authors.