I’m linking to an article I wrote that was published today in Kirkus:
Currently in Seattle where we infiltrated Amazon’s Death Star yesterday, Jen teaches at Bellevue Library tonight and I teach for PNWA down the road. Then then Emerald City Writer’s Conference tomorrow.
I’ve been pretty quiet on the entire publishing front for a long time, mainly because I’ve been focused on producing content (writing) and running Cool Gus with Jen Talty (Jennifer Probst’s first book with us is out on the 22nd of this month, Executive Seduction).
But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about it and discussing it with my wife, the font of useless information; until I need it. So here are 5 off-the-cuff thoughts. Do with them what you will.
- It’s not ‘all about the book’. Someone said that and it made groan. It’s about story and content. How that gets to readers varies. Digital, print, audio, carrier pigeon. We have to be open to it all.
- Authors need to make more off a book because they’re going to sell less copies. I used to see numbers posted by indie authors all the time. I’m not seeing those numbers much. I check on sales ranking for authors and most authors who were doing great two years ago have seen a decline in sales. The market has become saturated. While trad authors might still be selling lots of print, that number will decline as venues decline. They will be surprised to see their digital sales also get muted, because there is much more churning in bestseller lists in digital than ever before and it won’t get better. So 25% of cover price for an eBook aint gonna cut it.
- The “leveling off” “we’ve made it through” mindset that started at BEA this year is so naïve it’s sad. We’re not sliding back to the good old days of publishing. In fact, I submit things are going to change even faster and those who are taking a deep breath now and thinking they’ve weathered the change are going to get tsunamied under. I’ve had several #1 NY Times bestselling authors ask me about what’s going on in the past six months and the clock is ticking. My wife says 2014 will be the year of big name authors jumping ship and going indie. They have to deal with those pesky contract issues, politics, yada yada, but a few are going to start seeing the gold mine of top royalty rates via digital and audio offsetting loss of print sales. But they’re going to need help doing it, because it aint as easy as it looks. Drop Cool Gus a line. Even though he’s wearing the cone of shame.
- Things haven’t really changed in terms of marketing. Each book and each author is a unique commodity. Publicity people in traditional publishing weren’t stupid—they did the best they could. To think it’s all changed because of digital is naïve. Some things are different, but overall, there is no one solution. I see a lot of Marty’s from House of Lies out there trying to sell their magic formulas for online marketing. Except not one has listed an example where they actually did it. And could prove their marketing led to sales. That’s the problem. We realize each author is different so we don’t have boilerplate. We make a unique plan for each one.
- The eBook is not the same at the print book. Even in terms of narrative structure. I find my books are shorter. I do more “info dump” but that’s because people read for two main reasons: one is entertainment, but two is information. You can look up stuff right out the manuscript now. I hear Jenny Crusie screaming in New Jersey right now. Do you know who Mary Meyer was? That Khrushchev was forced out of office the day after these was murdered? They’re shorter, but they’re cheaper. $3.99? Seriously? You can’t get a cup of coffee at Starbucks for less. And get more value and time well spent.
Nothing but good times ahead.
Okay, I coined “hybrid author” in June 2011 and this January it became all the rage as NY discovered it. Wow, pretty quick. Only 18 months.
Now we have Jedi Mind Tricks. Ah ha! I wrote about Amazon being the Evil Empire back on 2 April here. I labeled Jon Fine as Darth Vader, etc. etc. yada, I had the bisque. I mean really. I know we’re out in the sticks if we’re not in NYC, but self-correcting doesn’t seem to be working for the Big 6, 5, or whatever. Author Solutions as a solution? Come on. We didn’t collude but we’ll pay out as if we did?
I just saw a book deal in Publishers Lunch for 2015. Isn’t the Zombie Apocalypse coming before then? World War Z with Brad Pitt looking cute with an M-203? Don’t get me started on zombies, although I did watch Warm Bodies and it was a pretty brilliant spin on the genre which reminds me every idea has been done but not every story (but there was that Romeo & Juliet moment with the zombie and cute girl). Royalties are still being paid out as they were before the computer was invented. Really?
I digress. I’ve had a lot of thoughts about publishing this past six months, but I’ve been keeping my head down, something my first platoon sergeant (who had most of one leg shot off in combat) taught me: there are two firing positions in combat: the prone and the flying prone (which is when you got shot at and you’re not already prone).
He was quite correct.
He also told me “no one looks up”. What he meant was on patrol no one looks up and sees that sniper in the tree. But I also take it to mean few people look far enough ahead in a volatile and rapidly changing situation.
Frankly, everyone is grappling for answers and frankly, it’s kind of dumb to give them when
- Few are really listening.
- Those people are my competition.
- They’re not paying me for them.
The further we dive into the digital age, the more I realize what a unique entity Jen Talty and I founded with Cool Gus. And how the plan we laid out years ago is playing out as if we actually controlled things. And how our adjustments have fine-tuned that plan. A big example was back in January this year when we had a moment of enlightenment that we were not a ‘publisher’ but rather a partner to our authors where the author is in control and we support them, not vice versa. We’ve always had the mantra that authors create the product (which is story, not a book) and readers consume the product. Everyone in between must add value or else they are an impediment.
The concept of authors in charge is so anathema to traditional publishing that it’s a major issue. Frankly, I get it. A lot of authors are, shall we say it, assholes? They’ve got egos. Sometimes too big. And as I teach: every writer needs therapy because to sit alone and write 100,000 words is not normal. Writers are not in the bell curve and we’re not necessarily on the good side of it. 80% of authors have depression. 92% are angry. I made that last one up.
Which, in reverse, leads me to this: this is a business, not a love fest. I see authors tweeting and blogging how much they “love” their agent, their editor, their publisher. Yeah. And wait until the day your contract isn’t renewed and see how far that love goes, because, bottom line, their love is based on numbers. I see trad authors desperately defending trad publishing (can we say Authors Guild, and BTW, Scott, your books are still for sale on Amazon, huh?). I saw the interviews from BEA declaring the rise of the eBooks is over (yawn, learn math) and everything is just fine damnit, while I saw zero QR codes on those huge banners hanging everywhere.
Which, in reverse, leads me to this: After The Gold Rush. Yeah, Neil Young.
The gold rush is over for the indie authors. Oh yeah, we still got our Bella’s, our Hugh’s, etc. but what I’m seeing is a deluge of titles, a rapid reshuffling of bestseller lists in digital, and a growing sense of desperation and frustration from a lot of authors who were doing pretty damn well just a year ago. Even some of those who are raking in 7 figures annually are fraying around the edges. How many books can they write a year? How long can they keep the pace? Hell, Sylvia Day’s tweets exhaust me, and she’s living them. How many Bookbub ads, .99 specials, frees can one do until it’s all been tried? Then try them again as even more people are trying them?
A fundamental of Cool Gus was something one of my former students at the Maui Writers Conference told me when I saw him in New Orleans. He’s an extremely successful businessman. Head of the Bourbon Street Business Owners Assoc. We met for coffee at a hotel on Bourbon St. then walked across the street to one of his businesses, Ricks Café (you know Rick, Casablanca?), and he unlocked the door (it was early, before business hours for an upscale strip club even in the big NO). We went upstairs to a private room where I could only imagine what happened on that big table there (I doubt even Sylvia Day or EL James could either). And he told me . . .
See. That’s the point. Why give it away? In my Who Dares Wins consulting business I get paid more for one day of my expertise than most Harlequin advances.
The biggest issue is most people are reacting, not acting. A strategic plan, aka as in Write It Forward, is key to succeeding in the digital world. Most of the big publishers are reacting. Frankly, most indie authors are reacting, going to the thing that works now, rather than positioning themselves for what’s going to be working 2 or 3 years down the line.
Which is the last thing I’ll note for authors: if you don’t value yourself, no one else will. No matter how much you ‘love’ your agent, editor, publisher, indie bookstore, the Death Star, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Brad Pitt and his M-203, the person your really need to love is your reader.