Can You Believe the Kindle is Ten Years Old?

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

The Kindle turns ten next month. My, how that little baby has grown!

When Amazon’s ereader first came out (November 19, 2007 to be exact), I sensed most people were skeptical about the future of digital reading. The Sony Reader had been around for years but failed to take hold. “Electronic books” were thought to be the coming thing around Y2K. Publishers Weekly even started a section to cover the subject, but later dropped it due to failure to launch.

Clearly, serious readers preferred paper. So the Kindle would probably sell to some early adopters, but likely would not revolutionize anything.

**clears throat**

In 2008, Oprah Winfrey gave the Kindle her endorsement. Talk about a boost! Then people began to realize they could have all the works of Dickens and Dostoevsky on a single device which they could take on a plane or a train or (in L.A. commuter traffic) an automobile. Pretty doggone cool!

And the biz mavens realized that Amazon was (as always, it seems) making a powerful and forward-thinking business move—selling the Kindle as a gateway to their massive bookstore.

Here at TKZ, we were analyzing all this from the start. On Kindle’s one-year anniversary our own Kathryn Lilley wrote:

I think it’s time for all of us to stop mourning the nongrowth of paper book sales, and celebrate the new digital age. It’s the future. Let’s embrace it. For example, last week when I posted, I was freaking out about the changes in the industry. This week, I have decided to reframe my thoughts about the book publishing crisis, and seek out the hidden opportunities in those changes.

Because ready or not, the digital era is here. Kindle products like the Oasis are still going strong. In fact, this review of Oasis is spot on.

And what did all this mean for authors? Well, beginning in 2009 or so, it became apparent that Amazon was presenting a viable new way for writers to get published—by their own selves!

And get this: by offering authors an unheard of 70% royalty split!

The lit hit the fan.

A complete unknown named Amanda Hocking made a cool couple of million dollars publishing directly on Amazon!

This got the attention of many, including TKZ emeritus Boyd Morrison, and a mainstream mystery author by the name of Joe Konrath who, via his blog, began to champion the new digital possibilities.

When I went to Bouchercon in San Francisco in October of 2010, everybody was wondering how to get in on the ebook thing without ticking off their agent or publisher. Agents (and I heard several) were warning writers not to “go there” for fear it would jeopardize their careers. Publishers were not at all sanguine about their authors moonlighting with a company they saw as their biggest threat. Some writers even got sued or terminated over this.

But the money was dropping off Kindle trees! That could not be ignored.

A funny thing happened at that Bouchercon. I was sitting with a couple of writer friends in the lobby of the SF Hyatt Regency, talking about all this, when Joe Konrath arrived and made his way to the bar area. He was flocked by fellow authors peppering him with questions.

The next day, at lunchtime, I was outside the Hyatt and spotted Mr. Konrath and one Barry Eisler walking and talking excitedly along the sidewalk. I thought, “What is that all about?”

A few months later I found out. Mr. Eisler, a New York Times bestselling thriller author, turned down half a million bucks from his publisher in order to publish with Amazon!

It was the talk of the industry. I saw it as a real tipping point. In fact, I gave it a name: “The Eisler Sanction.”

Self-publishing was getting serious.

I put my own toe in the E waters in February of 2011. Now I’m all wet.

So ten years after the birth of the Kindle, what have we seen?

1. Kindle devices and apps are awesome. I’m currently reading the two-volume memoir of Ulysses S. Grant, easily highlighting passages I want to review later. The General is bivouacked on my phone. Cost me 99¢.

2. While other ereaders have appeared—notably Nook and Kobo—the Kindle is dominant and unlikely to lose market share. The poor Nook, which is also a cool device, is hanging by a thread.

3. Kindle Direct Publishing has saved the careers of thousands of midlist writers, and created the careers of thousands more who are making good-to-massive lettuce every month. Those who are doing well have mastered some basic practices but also concentrate on the most important thing: quality and production.

4. The traditional publishing industry was hit hard by the digital disruption. There have been mergers, layoffs, shrinking profits and even a DOJ smackdown.

5. But the Forbidden City is still open for business. And while large-advance deals for debut authors are becoming as rare as the blue-footed booby, they still happen.

6. There has been chatter about the “comeback” of print books, but it appears that most of any increase in print sales can be traced to … Amazon. (And here’s a counterintuitive development: Millennials may actually prefer print books!)

7. Big bookstores took a huge hit due to e-commerce. The massive Borders chain of stores went down, followed by Family Christian. Barnes & Noble stores have been closing steadily for the last eight years, a trend that will likely continue.

8. However, local independent bookstores may be emerging through the cracks. Oh, and guess who else is opening up physical stores? Amazon.

9. On the other hand, many niche bookstores are closing. The latest is Seattle’s Mystery Bookshop.

10. We’ve reached a period of relative stasis in the “self v. trad wars.” From 2010 to 2014 or so, it seemed like we’d get blogosphere firestorms every week cheering for, or predicting the demise of, Big Pub. There was also a lot of “gold rush” talk on the indie side. Reality, as it is wont to do, has settled things down. There’s a lot of information out there now (e.g., Author Earnings reports) and the savvy players have a better handle on where they stand.

In an episode of Downton Abbey, when it became clear that the old ways of life were on the way out, never to return, Carson the butler mused, “The nature of life is not permanence, but flux.”

Kindle brought the flux. And a decade later, we’re living it.

What do you say, TKZers? What are your reflections on the 10th birthday of the Kindle?

6+

Facing Down the Harsh Realities of Publishing


Why doesn’t Phil Ivey get to the final table every year in the World Series of Poker? In fact, why hasn’t he ever won the main event? Every observer of the game puts Ivey at the top of the charts in terms of all-around poker skill. He wins a lot of tournaments, but never the big one.

It’s because poker isn’t only about skill. You’ve got to get the cards. You can go all in with pocket aces only to see your opponent from Hoboken draw that third eight on the river.

So yeah, it’s a mixture of skill and luck. While you may not feel you have the skill to succeed when playing poker on an online uk casino, this doesn’t mean you can’t win big. Which pretty much defines any endeavor in life.

Of course, stronger skills increase your odds of success. As one wag put it, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

In the writing world, especially now, you’ll hear a lot about luck and the “harsh reality” of publishing. Whether you’re self-pubbing, going with a traditional house (large, small or in between), or doing a mixture of both, the truth is it’s hard to break through to big numbers.

A few weeks ago the highly successful, and most generous indie author, Hugh Howey, wrote the following in regard to a post on Joe Konrath’s blog.

I think Joe comes as close as anyone to sorting it all out. Like me, he includes luck in his secret recipe, and he qualifies that with the hard work that magnifies luck. Let’s say luck, as an ingredient, accounts for 30% of the Breakout-Sauce. That’s enough to explain how some authors go nuts with a single book, or expensive books, or books with crappy cover art (like mine), or books with technical faults. It would also explain how someone with a dozen excellent titles isn’t taking off. How someone who does everything “right” doesn’t have success.

If that’s the reality of it, then what’s the answer? The same answer you’d give anyone starting a business. Do you really want to do this? Are you willing to pay the price? Can you live with risk and uncertainty? Can you look reality in the eye and make adjustments? Is this business enough of a passion that you’d do it even if you barely clear your bottom line (e.g., run an independent bookstore)?

Yes? You will keep writing? Even if things are not taking off? Okay. Then:

1. Keep your expectations low

The great world religions, and various schools of philosophy, teach that unhappiness comes primarily through expectations unfulfilled. Expectations can form images in your mind, such as seeing your ebook hit the Kindle Top 100 list, or some such. When it doesn’t happen, your brain orders a secretion of chemicals that make you feel like pig slop.

Set goals and have dreams, yes. But temper them with your mind telling you not to be dependent on them for your happiness or productivity. “If you can dream, and not make dreams your master . . .” Kipling wrote.


2. Keep your work ethic high

I believe I said this best in my post called “How to Make Money Self-Publishing Fiction.” Especially the part about constantly learning the craft. Get feedback. Read books and articles on writing. Keep learning. Try new things. Experiment with short form. Maybe you’ll find a new genre you like, and that readers like, too. At the very least, you’ll be exercising your skills. Dean Koontz was a middling writer for the first ten years of his career. But he was crazily prolific. And all along the way he taught himself about the craft. When he intentionally took a leap into deeper characterization (with Whispers) he shot up another level. And he’s had several leaps like that since.


3. Keep your joy hot

I also wrote about joy in your writing being a key to success. You see, it’s always a combination of things that betters your odds. Knowing how to free your voice is one of those things. It’s also more fun to write this way. You might as well have fun at this thing.


4. Keep your grumbling cool

I used to say that if you got a rejection from a publisher or agent, let it hurt for half an hour, then get back to your keyboard. Same if you self-publish. Your latest release mired in mud? Okay, grouse to somebody about it, or bay at the moon, but then get back to work on your next project.


5. Keep on writing for the rest of your life

If you love to write, why would you ever stop? If writing doesn’t make a living for you, do it because you love it, and do what you can of it. Keep your day job but find your “quota sweet spot” and stick to it.

Persistence plus production plus quality improvements all along the way. That’s been the formula for business success ever since Eli Whitney (did you know the cotton gin didn’t make him rich, but muskets did, years later? Well, now you do).

Let Hugh Howey, from the same comment I linked to above, have the last word:

Which leads to my point of this long-winded nonsense: Time has to be an ingredient. An important one. This revolution has barely gotten started. Good luck and bad luck require time to even them out. If you’ve done everything right, your works might take off in ten years. Who knows? We haven’t been at this long enough. I think it’s too early for any of us to say something isn’t working or that it won’t work. I just have to remember back to writing seven novels over three years and watching them sit between #335,204 and #1,302,490 in the Amazon store. I didn’t care. I just kept writing. I read about Amanda Hocking, and I thought: “Hellz yeah!” And I kept writing. I gave myself until I was 40 and I had twenty titles published before I worried about whether I sold enough to pay a bill. And even if that never happened, it was an excuse to publish twenty titles. I could always say that. No one could take it away from me. And anyway, I’d sold a handful of books and heard from people that they loved them. I remembered when that was just an idle dream.

So how is the reality of writing treating you? What do you intend to do about it? 

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The State of Self-Publishing at This Moment in Time

Today’s post is brought to you by a “Happy Birthday.” On this day in 2004, the print version of Write Great

Fiction: Plot & Structure was published by Writer’s Digest Books. I wanted it to be practical and immediately useful, the kind of book I was looking for when I was learning how to write. It was my desire to deliver writers from what I call “The Big Lie,” that good fiction writing technique cannot be learned. Bosh. Piffle. Hooey.

I still get emails and tweets each week from authors who give the book an esteemed place in their fictional development.
For this I am truly grateful. So thanks for allowing me a moment to toot a birthday horn and let loose a balloon. Now on to today’s subject
•••
We know some things about self-publishing that we didn’t know a few years ago.
First of all, we have to define the epochs. Yes, self-publishing has epochs.
There were the early years, which archaeologists call the Konrathian Period. Here you will find those who jumped in early and eagerly as the Kindle was taking off (late 2007 to 2010). Etched in the fossil record you’ll find names like Mr. Konrath himself, Amanda Hocking, John Locke, TKZ emeritus Boyd Morrison and many others. The period is marked by some staggering sales of 99¢ novels. Also by wild and sometimes intemperate remarks about the demise and dastardliness of traditional publishing.
Barry Eisler ushered in the next epoch, the Lower Entrepreneurial. This was in early 2011 when Barry turned down a cool half a mil from St. Martin’s Press in order to self-publish his next John Rain thrillers. At the time I called this “The Eisler Sanction” because here was a legit and well-paid traditional author taking a businesslike look at the future and deciding to go indie. It was the sort of risk entrepreneurs take in new and untested markets. Thus, a little more intentionality had evolved out of the rough-and-tumble Konrathian.
Over the last year or so we have entered what I call the Mature Entrepreneurial. The risks and rewards are more evident now. A certain reality has set in. We have track records that help us assess the relative merits of traditional versus indie publishing. For example, some of the risks of going straight into self-publishing:
1. Foregoing an advance (even at the lower rates now being offered by publishers. “15k is the new 50k,” an agent told me recently).
2. Missing out on the chance that a traditionally published novel or series might be that “one in a hundred thousand” that breaks out into huge sales and makes a “star.”
3. Not having behind you a team that does things very well: edit, design, get books into bookstores.
4. Getting lost in the Sargasso of mediocrity that is the digital book world.
However, rewards look like this:
1. Author as master of own destiny.
2. Not roped to a single brand.
3. Books published as soon as the author deems them ready.
4. Royalty structure more favorable.
But what about actual money? During the Late Konrathian and into the Lower Entrepreneurial, dollar signs sparkled in the eyes of many new writers. Dreams of scoring big with one or two books, or maybe a series of shorts, danced like a temptress in scribal heads.
Reality has a more temperate message: Self-publishing is a volume business, and the product has to be quality. And it takes time, lots of time, to grow a customer base.
Gee, just like any business! Imagine that!
Also, for more and more writers, it’s not just a money game. In a recent interview at Huffington Post, Eisler says:
Then, there’s the issue of happiness. I wouldn’t divorce money from happiness. Most people would be happy making more money than less. But my happiness quotient wasn’t driven entirely by financial considerations.
Because of my personality and business experience, I found it very frustrating to have to entrust business decisions to people whose thinking, work process and conclusions I didn’t necessarily agree with or respect. I’ve had publishers make terrible business decisions for my books. I found it painful and frustrating to have to live with those decisions. I find it much more satisfying to be responsible for and in charge of those decisions.
So where are we with self-publishing at this moment in time? It continues to evolve, of course. But every month we have more and more data and testimony about methods and results. Which puts us on the brink of a new epoch, The Vocational, wherein writers wisely choose their path based on what they feel called to, where they feel happiest, where their writing can flourish according to their own definition of success. 
Which is what it should come down to, after all. Not someone else’s definition of success, but your own.
Define it. Write it down. Then go for it.

NOTE: I’m in travel mode today. Mix it up in the comments and I’ll get to them when I can. Talk about where you are in your publishing journey. What does the landscape look like to you? 

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5 Things Every Author Needs to Understand About Self-Publishing

@jamesscottbell

        
So now you are either self-publishing or thinking about self-publishing.
         Yes, welcome to the world of everybody.
         I have a question for you. Do you actually want to make some money at it?
         Here’s the good news: your ficus can make money self-publishing. Your cat, Jingles, can make money self-publishing.
         Of course, by money we are talking about enough scratch to buy some Bazooka at your local 7-Eleven. Or maybe a Venti White Chocolate Mocha at Starbucks. That’s not bad. It’s something.
         But if you want to make some real dime, and keep it coming, there are a few things you need to understand.
1. You are going into business
         The authors who are making significant money self-publishing operate with sound business principles. Which makes many other authors as nervous as Don Knotts.


         “I’m just not wired that way!” they’ll say. “I want to concentrate on my writing! I haven’t got the time or inclination to think about business decisions.”
         But guess what? Even if you have a traditional publishing contract, you’re going to have to give time and attention to business, namely marketing.
         What if you spent a little of that same time and effort learning the principles of successful self-publishing?
         Of course, a lot of authors now want to go right into digital. Well, don’t do it until you fully understand that it’s a business you’re going to be running. That business is you.
         Learn how. The basics are not that hard. In fact, I’ll have a book out soon that’ll help.
2. Your mileage will vary
No one can replicate another author’s record. Each author and body of work are unique. Innumerable factors play into the results, many of which are totally out of the control of the writer.
If you go into self-publishing expecting to do as well as author X, you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment.
Instead, concentrate on being the best provider of content you can be. See # 5, below.   
3. This isn’t get rich quick
         In the “early days” of the ebook era, those who jumped in with both feet (Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath, John Locke) and those who had loads of backlist (Bob Mayer) or caffeinated series ideas (Lee Goldberg) got some nice returns.
         Now, the future for the overwhelming majority of writers is about quality production, consistently and over time. A long time. Which is fine if you love to write. 
4. You can’t just repeat “buy my stuff” and expect to sell any of it
        
         We have left the age of sales and are now in the age of social. The way you market today is not by hard sell but by relationship. Even if you’re putting together sales copy, you have to think about how it offers value to the potential reader.
         What isn’t valuable is a string of tweets that are little more than “buy my stuff” or “please RT this” messages. Some authors think it’s a numbers game and repeating these messages will work over time.
         They won’t. They’ll annoy more people than they’ll attract.
5. It is first, and always, about the book
         I don’t care if you can out promote and out market anyone on the internet.
         I don’t care if you can afford to spend $100,000 to place ads for your books.
         If your book fails to catch on with readers or, worse, turns them off, you’re not going to do well over the long haul.
         Which is how it should be, after all. The quality of the writing itself should be the main thing in this whole crazy process.
         So you should concentrate a good chunk of your time, even more than you do on marketing, on a writing self-improvement program alongside your actual writing output.
         One of the reasons I’m conducting intense, two-day writing workshops this year is to take each and every writer who attends to that next level, where green is earned year after year.
          Now is the best time in history to be a writer. No question about it. The barriers to entry have been destroyed and opportunities to generate income have taken their place. But you have to think strategically. Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, puts it this way: The biggest challenge faced by self-published authors, it’s not marketing, it’s not discoverability, it’s adopting the best practices of the very best publishers. It’s about becoming a professional publisher.”
       Of course, if you have trouble with that, you can always partner with your cat Jingles. 
Updates
We’re fast closing in on the Austin, TX 2 day fiction workshop, June 16-17. To get the special room rate, sign up with the hotel before June 1. Details here.
I’ve posted a new writing video on Agents. If you want to know what a pitch session feels like, tune in
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Field Report from the E-Book Revolution


As the E-book insurrection continues apace, things change on the landscape (some would call it a “battlefield”) almost weekly. Today your intrepid reporter issues a few notes and predictions which I am typing inside a tent somewhere in the literary DMZ:
– Physical shelf space continues a precipitous decline. Print sales are down 25% this year, so bookstores are folding or increasing their stationery footprint at the expense of physical books. Book buyers increasingly browse and buy online, adding to the woes of brick-and-mortar.
– E-Readers are going to explode this Christmas (again). Last year Kindles and Nooks broke the sack on Santa’s back. This year St. Nick will be lugging Kindle Fires all over the universe.
– E-fiction (what Mike Shatzkin calls “narrative text”) is already 25% of the total market. Look for it to be close to 50% by the end of next year. Shatzkin thinks it’ll be 80% within five years.
– This puts increasing stress on the Traditional Publishing Industry (TPI) because print is what made it and sustains it. TPI is doing what it has to do to survive, which comes down to keeping and making happy their A-list authors, and reducing overhead and advances (which of course means less money to invest in new and midlist authors).
– Agents are feeling the pinch, too, since their bread has been buttered by advances. That’s why many of them are transitioning into e-publishing hubs for their clients. The dollars and sense [sic] of this is still being worked out. An agent might broker a deal with a digital house like Open Road in a somewhat traditional manner. Others might offer actual e-publishing services, which raises conflict-of-interest and competency issues. Literary agent Jason Allen Ashlock argues that, “workflow restraints, small staffs, capital concerns, and the modest revenues generated by most digital properties will prevent most Agent-Publishers from adequately managing and effectively publishing more than a few titles.”
– Authors who are succeeding at being completely independent are those who are able to bring entrepreneurial analytics to the task. If you’re going to publish successfully as an indie, you have to think like a business. You have to think about genres and branding and marketing and design and all the aspects of bringing a book to the world. Authors like Bob Mayer, who are trained in strategic thinking, have an advantage. Business skills can be learned but it takes time. For that reason authors may decide to partner with a digital publishing entity. There are way too many variables to discuss here (percentages, length of time for rights, what marketing advantage is offered, and so on). Suffice to say you’ll need to be just as sharp about the details (where the devil is said to hang out) when signing away any digital rights. 
– New and frustrated authors are attracted by the nice royalties they can earn by going indie, but you still have to move units to make dough. And to do that, you have to get noticed in the ever-increasing content tsunami. The two bottom line requirements are: consistent production of quality books coupled with creative marketing efforts. Those who are able to deliver the goods at a brisk pace, and are savvy about promotion, have the best chance to reap rewards over time.
– The greatest benefit of indie publishing is speed. It’s hard to wait 12 – 18 months for a physical book to appear. Over the course of a year, from March to March, I will have eight new books out. Three of them traditionally published (one of these is non-fiction), five of them indie originals (and I’m not counting the 7 backlist books I have all the rights to and will bring out next year). I love this! Why the heck not? I love to write and my e-book income in the first 6 months surpassed my latest traditional advance. I say it is okay for writers to make money doing what they love. Radical, I know, but there it is.
– I like TPI. I wrote a nice open letter to that effect. But we all know there is a vicious business spiral going on. Imagine you’re the Ty-D-Bol man and a giant has just flushed the toilet. TPI is in that little boat, hanging on for dear life. Conference rooms all over Manhattan must feel like they’re swirling.


– BTW, did you know Robert Ludlum did voiceovers for those Ty-D-Bol commercials?
For writers considering the indie trail, the times are both challenging and refreshing. But you have to be realistic. The metaphor that e-book publishing is a “gold rush” is no longer apt. There were some early strikes for the bold (e.g., Joe Konrath, Amanda Hocking) but now things are reaching a market equilibrium. That means: an indie writing career is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to train (learn to write), get plenty of nutrition (critical feedback) and then run a smart race (strategize with business thinking, pick your spots, make your moves).
And while huge success is not guaranteed, the nice thing is the race is now open to anyone who loves to run.
So what is your current thinking on this ever-changing landscape? What do you think the future holds, say, a year from now? 


****
NOTE: I want to amend a response I made earlier this week to Paula Millhouse, who asked about the advisability of putting a book online before getting a deal. I said Nay. David DeLee respectfully dissented. So I asked my agent about this, and he said it was true a couple of years ago, but things have changed. Publishing online will not kill a potential deal if the book performs. No guarantees either, of course, but that’s always been true in the writing game. Thanks to David for the prompt.  

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The Eisler Sanction

The Liternet was abuzz this week with the news that a New York Times bestselling author, Barry Eisler, turned down half a million bones from a traditional publisher to go E.
Some are calling this a “key benchmark.” Others, a “tipping point.” Whatever you call it, it’s a pretty big deal. Eisler giving self-pub his sanction will increase the number of name authors making the same move. It’s happening even as we read.
Meanwhile, self-publishing millionaire Amanda Hocking has just signed a traditional deal for more than $2 million. Ms. Hocking, 26, explains her decision here. She’s not giving up self-publishing, which is itself news—she has given herself the clout to get a traditional publisher to go along with a tandem track. What’s funny is that she is the one who calls having her books traditionally published a risk—for her.
Interesting times, eh? It used to be publishers were the ones who talked about risk. Where is Lewis Carroll when you need him?
Both Alice and the Mad Hatter would agree, I think, that it’s a good times for writers. As I have put a toe in the water myself,  a few thoughts are in order over several current “debates.”
The Rapid Rise v. The Tailing Off Debate
Digital publishing is moving faster than most expected a year ago, and that makes this a good  move for Eisler. He can have more books come out at a faster clip. He’s in a position to rake in the kind of dough Joe Konrath is (reportedly that same half a mil per year).
Can this growth be sustained? I think so. It will reach such a scale that any “tailing off” will be insignificant.
The Publishing Establishment v. Rogue Authors Debate
In a looong dialogue with Konrath, Eisler says this:
As a news junkie, it’s been fascinating for me to watch the way the publishing establishment has tried to marginalize you. First by ignoring you, and then, when ignoring you become impossible, by trying to position you as some sort of shrill, bitter, fringe player with nothing more than an axe to grind. The way legacy publishing has tried to de-position you is perfectly analogous to what The New York Times and other establishment media players have tried to do with Wikileaks.
I’m not sure one can generalize about the entire “publishing establishment”  being intentional about marginalizing Joe Konrath (Eisler, of course, is ex-CIA, so he may have some intel we don’t know about).
Anyway, this is less about “who’s right” than it is about objective facts and business models. The traditional model is reeling right now. They’re like Jake LaMotta in his sixth bout with Sugar Ray Robinson. And it’s not because “they” are mean and nasty. They simply are not an exception to the inexorable laws of innovation and economics. They have to adjust, but it is extremely difficult for major industries to change course, and especially to do it quickly in response to the sudden reshaping of market forces.
I love traditional publishing. Publishers have been, and are, very good to me and I have many friends in the industry. I’ve also seen friends lose their jobs. I hate that, but I also understand the business angle. Businesses have to do what they must to do to survive. So do authors.
Which is why I see no reason an author might not self-publish and work with a traditional publisher in some form or fashion (this will require two oft ignored business principles, creativity and flexibility).
My novella and short story collection, Watch Your Back, probably would not have seen publication in print. So it went live as an e-book in February, and sold well enough to show me it was worth it.  
But for this month to date, March, sales are ten times what they were in February.
To which I say, WHAT?
I’m not sure how this happened. It could be the result of a well placed blog interview, or some cumulative effect of Amazon’s recommend-algorithm (you know, “If you liked this, you may like this”). Or it could be some alchemy no one can reconstruct or replicate. The one thing it does prove is the tremendous potential of E.
And here’s another thing: I am making new readers daily. Isn’t that what publishers and agents are pushing authors to do? Build a platform? This is nothing but positive for an author and a traditional publisher, should they team up down the line. Which brings us to:
The Platform v. Random Acts of Discovery Argument
Konrath has made a good case, backed up by examples, of those who did not have a platform or readership before self-publishing. There are some who have blasted off, others who are doing quite well. (The majority do very little, but this has always been true).
An established base certainly doesn’t hurt, but zero name recognition can be overcome with quality writing, consistent output and marketing energy. Which leads to:
The Quality vs. Persistence Argument
Is it possible for someone to just keep pumping out dreck and make some good coin? Depends on your definition of “good.” A hundred bucks a year may be okay for someone. But if you want to make substantial lettuce, I say you have to produce really good books. So it’s better to wait than to rush in with a lot of bad stuff. That will only hurt your long term results.
The Extinction of Traditional Publishing v. A New Model Argument
Is traditional publishing dead and just doesn’t know it (as some writers, with a bit too much glee, assert)? Or will it find its way to some new equilibrium? Even the ever prescient Mike Shatzkin isn’t sure:
If the legacy publishing establishment can develop tools to deliver marketing at scale, adjust its contracts to pay higher digital royalties, and, perhaps, offer a “fee for service” model alongside its “advance against royalty” model, it might, like Major League Baseball did, weaken the infrastructure that is developing that will increasingly tempt authors (and readers) to abandon it. But it also could be that U was right four years ago when I said that the general trade publishing house was a dinosaur in the emerging world of 21st century publishing. Wasn’t it a natural disaster that was the catalyst for killing the original dinosaurs as well?
Whatever the future brings, it’s still going to be all about the writing. The one thing publishing can’t do without is writers. The one thing readers can’t do without is writers. I’ve worked hard at this craft for over 20 years. I love it. It’s what I do. And I believe any way to make a fair exchange with readers is worthy. E-pubbing provides another way to make that exchange.
So does the Eisler Sanction feel like a “tipping point”? What do you think it means industry wide?  What does it mean to you?
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A Word of Caution

James Scott Bell

John’s post on Friday sparked a healthy combox on the subject of self publishing in this new age. We all know it’s now possible to send an entire novel out to the e-osphere without having to pony up for printing or warehousing. Dreams of making a good sum of money this way, a la Joe Konrath, are dancing in many heads, like visions of sugarplums. Since it isn’t Christmas yet, I feel the need to offer a word of caution.

If you upload your self published novel before it’s ready, you’re more likely to turn off future readers than gain them. If someone plunks down even 99¢ to take a chance on your book, and is disappointed, they are not going to plunk down that money again. If you want to have a career as a novelist, you have to reverse that dynamic. You have to offer books that readers love and leave them wanting more.

Now, this is America. We have free speech and free enterprise. You can put your novel out if you want to. But before you do, I would urge you to consider the following:

It takes a long time to learn how to write narrative fiction. I would guess that 98% of traditionally published authors paid years of dues learning their craft. That same 98% would probably look with horror at their first attempt at a novel. That novel likely sits in a drawer, or on a disk, and will stay there—as it should. Many of these writers have multiple efforts that never saw the light of day.

But let’s say you’ve written and studied and been critique-grouped to the point of psychosis. You have determined you are ready. Hold the iPhone. Before you publish, do the following:

1. Get your manuscript to five “beta” readers. These should be people who are not just going to gush over your work, but people you can trust to give you direct comments on likes and dislikes. Make sure 4 out of 5 give it high marks, and the fifth is pretty close.

Note: this is not your critique group (if you’re in one). Such groups have their own peculiar dynamics. What you want are people who will experience the book as the average reader would. Be prepared to make substantial changes based on the feedback.

2. Hire a freelance editor. It’s well worth it to find somebody who can go over the manuscript, catch glaring errors, and offer fixes. Do your research, though, and make sure you get what you pay for.

3. Pay for a good cover design. Nothing looks cheesier than a typical, self-pubbed, self-designed cover. I recently went browsing at the Kindle store, looking at self-published works. The covers were, by and large, terrible. Unless you have strong graphic and artistic ability, find someone who can design you a great cover.

4. Even after your upload, do not get overconfident. The odds are stacked against you making walk-away-from-your-day-job money this way. If you want to be a real writer, and not just somebody who has made an e-book available, keep growing and working at the craft. Every single day. Then maybe your efforts will start to pay off, down the line.

The modern self-publishing movement, which began with Bill Henderson’s The Publish-it-Yourself Handbook (1973) has just taken a quantum leap forward with e-publishing. But the same caveat that applied then applies now: just because you wrote it doesn’t mean it’s ready.

Be patient. Take some time. And don’t go it completely alone.

Then, if you want to play, you’re free to try your hand at this. As Henderson wrote back in ’73: “Publishing-it-yourself is in the individualistic tradition of the American dream.”

Just do your dreaming with your eyes wide open.

Any other words of advice or warning for those who are itching to jump into self-publishing?

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Konrath & AmazonEncore strike a deal

by Michelle Gagnon

I’m a huge fan of Joe Konrath‘s ‘Jack’ Daniels series (written under “J. A Konrath”). So it was with tremendous excitement that I read this news:

Amazon.com, Inc. today announced that AmazonEncore, Amazon’s publishing imprint, will release the newest book in bestselling author J.A. Konrath’s Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels series, “Shaken.”

This is a huge step forward, both for Joe and for Amazon’s imprint, which traditionally has only published reprints of self-published books by new authors, not original titles from known authors.
Clearly Amazon is now throwing the gauntlet to the traditional publishing houses, starting with a writer who has already carved out a name for himself by publishing over a dozen books using Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (in addition to his success in the traditional publishing milieu).

Joe played coy regarding the actual details of his advance with AmazonEncore, saying only that he received a very favorable contract. The digital version of the book will be available on Kindle four months before the print version.

So what does it all mean? It brought to mind an interview a few weeks ago with a Newsweek editor. Responding to the news that Newsweek had been offered for sale, he said that he felt they’d been doing things backward in recent years, compiling a weekly magazine while simultaneously offering daily articles on Newsweek.com. In the future, he thinks the most viable model will be to start with the daily articles, compiling the most popular into a print edition at the end of every week for readers (such as myself) who prefer reading in print form.
In other words, the online content will drive the print content, not vice versa.

Coming on the heels of my post last week about the recent uptick in digital vs. print sales, this was big news. I’ve felt for a long time that if Amazon got their act together by offering Kindles at a lower price point (which hasn’t happened yet, but must be on the horizon), they could easily position themselves to dominate the industry, effectively cutting out traditional publishing houses. They already have massive marketing and distribution resources at their disposal. All they’d have to do was hire a team of editors, and offer the mainstays of the industry (Patterson, King, Child, Steel, etc) a larger percentage of the royalties. As Konrath says in his press release, “[This] company can email every single person who has every bought one of my books through their website, plus millions of potential new customers. I’ve never had that kind of marketing power behind one of my novels. I’d be an idiot not to do this.”

As with the music industry, what I suspect will end up happening is a consolidation of the various houses into a few major players (with, most likely, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Apple among them). A few months ago the industry seemed to wake up to this threat, leading to the “agency model” battles between MacMillan and Amazon. (The “agency” model is based on the idea that the publisher, not the vendor, is selling to the consumer and, therefore, setting the price.)

I think that in the end what the publishers need to fear is not that Amazon will set the prices for their new releases, but that they’ll take them over entirely.

I’m not saying this is good news for writers-it remains to be seen if this will lead to a larger publishing base, or a more narrow one. But it does appear to be the first volley over the decks in the coming battle.

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Size Matters

by Michelle Gagnon

burritoA confession: I’m not a big short story reader. I’ve gone through phases where I was on a Chandler or Munro kick, but by and large I tend to read novels. Recently I’ve been judging a short story contest, however, and it’s been an interesting experience. What I’ve discovered is that when it comes to crime fiction, the short story format is apparently a trickier beast to wrestle down.

The stories that fail appear to fall into a few categories (food-related; humor me):

  • The Grande Burrito: The author crammed it all in, and what could have been expanded into a full manuscript has been abridged. These stories tend to open with some lovely lyrical passages before morphing into a rapid-fire ending that usually involves an information dump on the final page. In these cases, I get the sense that the writer bit off more than they could chew. Rather than focusing on a smaller, self-contained story, their scope was too broad and it ended up being a hot mess.
  • The Chinese Food Syndrome. The opposite problem: these stories left me wanting more. Not enough happened, or the scope was too small. The best short stories are self-contained, hewn down to the bare essentials, and when you turn the last page you find yourself fully satisfied. You’ve been told just what you need to know, and everything was resolved in a way that was satisfying. The perfect dessert, if you will.
  • The Pancake: Everything is flat. Two-dimensional characters whose motivation is never clear, a plot that doesn’t make sense, nothing seems to gel. You don’t need much to describe a character; the best writers can do it in a sentence. So for me to go through an entire story and come away with no sencarverse of the characters is inexcusable. One of my all-time favorite stories is “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver:
    • This blind man, feature this, he was wearing a full beard! A beard on a blind man! Too much, I say.

That one passage not only describes the blind man, it also speaks volumes about the main character, telling you everything you need to know to make the final passage of the story transcendent.

  • The Filler: Like a hamburger without the bun. These stories invariably involve characters from a recurring series. Ideally, these stores should offer another perspective on them and their actions, whetting your appetite enough to draw you into following them for a full book (or ten). But far too often Thrillerthese are an ad masquerading as a story. I love vignettes told from the point of view of a different character in the book (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is a favorite of mine). Our own Clare did this recently, as did J.A. Konrath and Lee Child in the Thriller Anthology. For me, those stories work. Less appealing is something that’s clearly excerpted from a book.

Mind you, many of the stories I loved, and all for different reasons. Most offered a glimpse of characters at a crossroad. The story depicts a flash from their lives when the crime they encounter, whether expected or unexpected, defines them in just a few short pages. A standoff in a drugstore, or a murder in an alley. Not that it has to take place in a short time frame, but by and large I don’t need to see their entire lives, and I really don’t enjoy a Christie-style parlor room “this is what happened” scene at the end. Just give it to me straight.

So what do you think makes a strong short story? And is it a tougher format for crime fiction?

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