Once, there was a broad river. On one side of the river lived many mice. Those mice would wander about, collecting eggs from the various birds that built nests throughout the area. For some mice, it was arduous work; for others, it was joyous. But it was work nonetheless.
The mice would gather their eggs, and bring them to the river. The river was so wide that none of the mice could see the other side. Swimming across the river was unthinkable. But on the far side of the river were men and women and children who loved their eggs for breakfast and baking. In exchange for the eggs, the humans would give the mice cheese.
Luckily, some enterprising souls had built steamships to cross the river. They steamed from the human side to the mouse side, gathered the eggs from the mice, and brought them to the men and women. Then they would bring back cheese to the mice. It wasn’t a bad life. The mice had to collect a great many eggs to get enough cheese to eat, because most of the cheese the men and women paid for the eggs went into maintaining the steamships. But the mice knew pretty well how much cheese each day’s work would bring.
Not all eggs were alike. Some were rare eggs. Many were bad eggs. The rare eggs would bring a much higher price, and the bad eggs? Well, the steamboat owners would refuse to take them, leaving the mice who had gathered them hungry and wistful. But mice who wanted cheese would learn which eggs were good, and which were not.
So things went for a very long time, until one day, an enterprising man built a bridge across the river. And everything changed.
The bridge owner invited the mice to bring their eggs onto the bridge. And he invited the men and women to come onto the bridge as well, to select the eggs they wanted from the selection.
“It won’t work!” said the angry steamship captains. “People want eggs that we’ve checked for quality.”
“It won’t work!” said many of the old and experienced mice. “We need the steamship captains’ services.”
But in a short while, it was apparent to everyone that things had changed. Soon enough, about a quarter of the egg traffic was happening on that bridge. The steamships still plied the waters, but they could not sell as many eggs as they once did. So they couldn’t pay as much cheese as they once did, either. The reduced cheese payment led many mice who had been using the steamships to sell their eggs to check the bridge out.
“We’ll just try the bridge today. Test it out. See how it goes.”
Some were thrilled by the results. Others were less happy.
The bridge was a raucous place. Thousands of mice sold their eggs on the bridge, and the number of men and women buying eggs there was so great they were difficult to count. But some of the eggs were terrible – old, rotten, stinky eggs. The good eggs, and even the rare and precious eggs, were difficult to spot in the mess. So the bridge owner began to give the mice spots on the bridge based on how well their eggs were selling. The mice whose eggs sold best got the best spots, where lots of men and women would see their wares. The mice who could not sell any eggs were given spots that were much harder to see.
“It won’t work,” the steamship captains muttered. “The men and women can’t tell good eggs from bad. They need us for that.”
But oddly, it seemed to be working. Some men and women complained long and loudly when they bought a bad egg. But that was noted by other people, and the mice selling those bad eggs had trouble selling more. Overall, the people buying eggs were content.
Another thing about the bridge was that the eggs there tended to cost less. Without the cost of the expensive steamships to maintain, and with only a small percentage of the cheese they earned going to the bridge owner, the mice were able to charge less cheese for their eggs, and still be much better fed at the end of the day. Not all mice did well; but those who consistently brought good eggs day after day found they were able to earn more cheese for the same work than they had using the steamships.
The grousing among the steamships began anew.
“They’re ruining the value of eggs!” complained the steamship captains. “They’re pricing too low, and soon men and women will think eggs are worth less than they ought.”
But despite the lower prices, the mice selling on the bridge continued to be better fed.
“They’re hurting my egg sales!” complained some of the older mice. These mice had become adept at finding eggs that people really wanted. And the steamship captains had learned to give their eggs special placement in shops, so they always sold. But on the bridge, these mice were just like anyone else. Without the special placement, their sales would drop. These mice railed long and loudly against the bridge.
But the sales on the bridge continued to climb.
Some cunning steamship captains saw ways to profit from this. They began charging the mice cheese to ferry their eggs across. “Give us some cheese,” said these captains, “and we’ll bring your eggs over. Then we’ll pay you a part of the cheese we get for selling them.”
Smart mice saw this for what it was, and avoided these captains. But some mice brought their eggs to these steamships – usually the most desperate or newest egg-gathering mice. The quality of these eggs was poor, but the steamships didn’t check them for quality. They took cheese from the mice, smiled nicely, brought the eggs over. And when they didn’t sell, and the mice were even hungrier than they had been? The steamship captains smiled toothy smiles, and suggested that for another payment of cheese, they would help the mice market the eggs once they were on the other side.
That didn’t work either, because men and women can tell bad eggs from good ones, and refused to buy the bad eggs. The mice were left poorer and sadder. And those steamships who had concocted the scheme were left with a tarnished reputation, with the other mice worrying what else they might do to try to skim more cheese. Mice began to avoid these ships, in favor of other ships and the bridge.
Other steamship captains saw the changes, and saw the old way of doing business fading. Instead of charging the mice cheese to transport the eggs, they began offering better services to the mice.
“Yes,” they said, “we do keep some of the cheese earned from selling your eggs. But we package those eggs up in beautiful ways. And we have worked hard to earn the trust of many men and women over the river. They buy eggs from us because they know we always, always, bring the sorts of eggs they like.”
Some steamship captains tried to do this, and failed. They were not able to effectively reach enough men and women. Their job had always been transporting the eggs, not dealing with the people who bought the eggs! Those ships grew worn out, carrying less eggs with each year. Eventually, they stopped crossing the river completely.
But other steamships understood that dealing with the people buying the eggs was the most important thing they did, now. The bridge made getting eggs across the river simple and easy. Any mouse could do it. The steamships were no longer necessary. So the steamship captains became experts at reaching the people who bought eggs, instead of just experts at shipping the eggs from one place to another. And they knew they had to treat the mice well, because the mice could leave them at any time, and use the bridge instead. Without the mice, the steamships had nothing to carry, nothing to sell.
The mice who used these ships were very happy with the cheese they earned.
The mice who used the bridge? Some of them were very happy indeed. Others were moderately happy. Some grew discouraged, because they could not sell their bad eggs, and didn’t understand that they had to gather good eggs to sell. Some were OK with just the chance to earn a few scraps of cheese. Others earned a great deal of cheese, enough that the good steamship captains would take notice, and offer to carry their eggs, perhaps even give them special placement in the shops on the far side.
The one thing everyone who survived understood was this: the bridge was not going away. It was too easy to build bridges, once you understood the principles involved. Even if a catastrophe tore down the first bridge, other bridges would be built – and in fact, some competing bridges went up, and much commerce moved to those bridges. The idea of the bridge had changed the way everything worked.
Because mice could sell across the bridges, they no longer needed the steamships.
Because the mice no longer needed them, the steamships had to make the mice want to use their ships instead of the bridge.
What they discovered was that when they did this, everyone was happier – mice, men, and captains alike. The bridges continued to have as much traffic as before. But the steamships and the mice who used them had a good share of the cheese, and were content.
Hey folks! Tara Maya’s a fantasy novelist who belongs to the same online team/collective of writers that I do. She’s just released the sixth book in her ongoing series – an interesting epic fantasy with some remarkable twists. To celebrate the new book coming out, she’s taking the spotlight in here today.
And here’s Tara:
5 Signs You Might Be a Writer
1. You read. A LOT.
You read constantly, or at least did at one point in your life. Some of us had more time to read (for pleasure) when we are kids, but are swamped with work now. For others, literature seemed boring when we were younger, but now has appeal. In my case, I devoured science fiction and fantasy when I was younger, but while I was in grad school most of my reading was non-fiction. Once I graduated, I had time for fiction again. I do still read non-fiction for pleasure and for research.
2. You have been coming up with stories since you were a kid.
You have way more story ideas than you could ever write down. When did you write your first “story”? Okay, maybe it wasn’t much of a story, but when did you start trying? In my case, I made little pretend “books” out of folded paper and scribbles before I could write my ABCs. I wrote my first four complete and illustrated stories in fifth grade and completed my first novel in Jr. High. Granted, they all sucked rocks. But I know I am not unusual in starting out young. Most writers I know began writing early. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they published early, or that those around them recognized their efforts.
3. You have a bunch of manuscripts under your bed.
It’s one thing to write stories in your head. That makes you a storyteller. But not yet a writer. If you’ve actually written down your words, that’s what makes you a writer. Not getting published. Writing is what makes a writer. Getting published, and more to the point, selling copies, is what makes you a paid writer, a professional writer, a writer who can actually eat something other than ramen noodles, and that’s a good thing. But you’ve already started writing without any idea whether you can sell those words or not.
4. You write for love, not for money.
Let’s face it. You know that being a writer is not as lucrative as other jobs, like doctor, lawyer or fast food employee. Screw that. You’re writing anyway. Cruel reality may force you into a day job. It happens. You write anyway. You’re jotting down ideas for your novel between flipping burgers or taking notes on your character in your office cubicle. You care enough to constantly hone your craft. You would write even if your plane crashed on a deserted island. Even if you were locked in a prison on Gamma Beta IV. Even if you had to become an accountant.
5. You write for money, not love.
Nah, this doesn’t really contradict what I just said. It only seems to. Because if you really love writing–or any art–enough, you’ll realize that the only way anyone will let you do it full time is if you can get good enough to earn mullah at the same time. Yeah. By selling your writing. So even though it feels like jabbing steak knives into your eyes, you send out queries, you send out review requests, you–ugh, self-promote. You sell your sweat and tears as if it were vacuum cleaner parts. And on days when the sky is grey and your nose is runny, you feel sorry for yourself because it turns out that writing is a job, and all jobs have moments that suck. The rest of the time, you appreciate–I sure hope you appreciate because otherwise why do this?–that you have the best damn job in the world.
About Tara Maya:
Tara Maya has lived in Africa, Europe and Asia. She’s pounded sorghum with mortar and pestle in a little clay village where the jungle meets the desert, meditated in a Buddhist monastery in the
Himalayas and sailed the Volga River to a secret city that was once the heart of the Soviet space program. This first-hand experience, as well as research into the strange and piquant histories of lost civilizations, inspires her writing. Her terrible housekeeping, however, is entirely the fault of pixies.
Dindi and Umbral have an uneasy truce, forced to work together to defeat a greater enemy: the Bone Whistler. The Bone Whistler’s scheme to sacrifice humanity and resurrect the Aelfae will culminate during an eclipse on the spring equinox…in three days.
Their fragile alliance may not withstand the terrors they face. Dindi hides as a clown, but even disguised, her dancing draws the eye of the Bone Whistler himself. She will have to defy him alone, for Umbral has his own troubles.
Finnadro, who has hunted Umbral for a year, finally catches up with him… determined to punish Umbral for all his black deeds.
Life and death, spring and autumn, human and faery, are all reeling out of balance, and these three days will determine the fate of all Faearth.
Couple of days ago, author Chuck Wendig made this post on his blog:
NOT EVERY WRITER WANTS TO BE A PUBLISHER
This is something I see often enough: an author talks about losing a series or having some difficulties with a publisher or whatever, and someone from the crowd eventually says, “You should self-publish. We want more of you, the money’s better, we’ll support you. Plus, so many options! Amazon! Kickstarter! Bookflipper! Pub-Burger!” Sometimes it’s a polite suggestion, sometimes it’s double-barrel proselytization and they start spouting off “facts and figures” along with a dose of venom against the oppression of the traditional system.
Some writers just want to be writers.They don’t also want to be publishers.It’s just that simple. Neither wrong nor right. It’s a personal and professional choice.
Self-publishing is an act separate from writing.Not every writer has the time, the talent, or the interest.
Both writing and publishing take work. Self-publishing demands the work of both.
Worth it for some, tricky or undesirable for others.
This isn’t meant to dissuade any author from going that route. It’s more to dissuade everybody else from haranguing authors about self-publishing when it’s just not in their wheelhouse.
All of the above is very true. And this is a great article. I understand the point of view. I mean, who among us HASN’T felt overwhelmed when our job suddenly starts demanding some new adaptation or new technology or new training? It can be doggone scary. So yeah, there are some writers who don’t want to be publishers.
I suspect that will be LESS true in the future, however. I mean – back when I started writing, nobody knew how to use computers. That was a tech thing – you had to be a serious nerd to have a home computer back in 1980 or so. But somehow, now, most writers have managed to pick up those incredibly difficult computer skills, so that now it’s rare indeed to find a writer still espousing the virtues of her manual typewriter.
Likewise self publishing.
Yes, you need to learn how to find your very own editor and cover designer, which means you need to learn what good editing and covers look like. And you probably ought to learn how to format your own ebooks, too (hint: it is roughly the same level of difficulty as exporting a PDF from Word, and my six year old was exporting flawless Epub and Mobi files – two years ago, when she was four).
Everything else, you have to do anyway. Marketing, promotion, accounting, all that jazz? Guys, I’ve done both the trad route and the indie route. There’s no real difference in the level of complexity of any of those things, whichever path you choose.
If anything, I found that the indie route allows more time for writing, and less time dealing with publishing hassles.
There’s no guarantee that your self published book will earn you as much as it would via a regular publishing deal. But then, there’s no guarantee that book would get a regular publishing deal, either. If the average indie book earns say $100 a year, as some folks say – well, do recall that the average submission to a major publisher earns something like a penny. Ever. Because most submitted books are terrible, just like most of the self published books which earn poorly. If your book isn’t ready for prime time, it’s not going to do well. Being ready for prime time doesn’t mean it will automatically win through (how many times was Rowlings rejected?), but those low averages are skewed by all the books out there which just were not ready.
We’re rocketing toward a future where agents are busily going into publishing themselves or going out of business. Where publishers are actively scanning the bestseller lists for authors of good self published books to pick up. There’s some suggestion that self publishing might even *replace* agents as the first gatekeeper. If that happens – and it might be happening now – in a couple of years you’ll see all the Writer’s Digest articles about “how to self publish so you can get a traditional deal”.
But even if things don’t pan out that way, the writers coming up through the ranks today are learning ebook self publishing as part of their basic training. Those of us in the old guard may or may not feel warm and cozy about this stuff, just like those of us back in the 80s were iffy about losing our typewriters for those ‘computer’ things.
But it’s changing, with or without us.
That change isn’t an option.
How we choose to react to that change is up to us.
(The second episode of the STARSHIP serial was released on February 7th. The third episode will be out on February 14th, available from all major ebook retailers. You can find it on Amazon, Nook, Kobo, and iTunes.)
One of the things which interests me about serial fiction is the ability to engage the reader on multiple levels.
Ideally, readers get directly engaged with any good story they are reading! But with a serial, the writer has opportunity to get feedback from readers, and incorporate that feedback into future stories. If readers are enjoying one character more, perhaps the writer can concentrate on that character. Had a bad guy you loved to hate? The writer can bring that bad guy back again.
In the old days of serial fiction, writers didn’t have the ability to collect that sort of immediate feedback. But today…? With the internet, there’s a lot more writers can do to connect with readers.
So what ways might work?
Of course, writers can connect with readers like I am right now. Post about the story, and readers can give feedback here. This is helpful because most writers like having a blog anyway, as a central point for their web presence. But, hey – blogs can also feel a little one sided! If you want to begin a discussion, writing an essay isn’t always the best way to manage it. If you want to build a community, you need to give all the members more tools than just being able to respond to what you feel like talking about that day.
Yahoo Groups were the quintessential internet community source for years. They work; they’re easy to set up and manage; they keep all those conversations sorted by threads forever, so you can refer back to things if you want to later.
The down side of Yahoo Groups is that again it’s a limited channel of communication. It’s awesome for discussions. One person starts a thread. Other people reply to that thread. You can easily get discussions sent right to your email inbox, and reply back from there too. But they lack some of the immediate responsiveness of other social media. There’s no way to opt in to specific discussions while ignoring others, for example. You can post multimedia, but not as easily as would be useful.
Google+ is a great community site, right now. It’s the second largest social network, so a lot of fans are already participating. You can discuss things easily – and in real time, pretty much. You can upload images and video pretty easily. Users can opt in and out of specific threads. My personal feeling is this is one of the better community tools available today.
Still, on the negative side – you have to join Google+ to be able to participate, and not everyone wants to do that. With a Yahoo Group, for example, you just need to give an email, any email.
What sort of community site do you think works best? Which ones have you used before? Any other thoughts about pros and cons of the options mentioned above?
Writers being able to receive almost real time feedback from readers is exciting, invigorating stuff! As the STARSHIP series continues to grow, I look forward to being able to do something like this in the future.
Way back, some of my first long fiction books were the Skylark and Lensmen series by Doc Smith. These were fun stories. By the time I read them, they were all in book form, of course. But originally, they were serialized in magazines. So were later works like Heinlein’s “Farmer in the Sky”, most of which first appeared in Boys Life.
People would read a section of the story, and then have to wait a week, or often even a whole month, before they would get the next section of the story. Unfortunately, I don’t really remember those days. A child of the 70s, the day of the serial was long over before I was reading. But the format was once the dominant one for fiction. Good stories got serialized first, then compiled into books.
And readers loved it.
Today, we have our own echoes of that old style. Soap operas, and their evening counterparts on TV, carry us through long plots from one episode to another. Comic books still play out these sorts of episodic fiction in much the same way they always did. But prose has been a long time coming back around to the serial mode.
Then last year, a lot of exciting things started happening. Serials started popping out in ebook form. And they started selling. Amazon noticed, and opened up a new serial label for fiction produced under their imprints. TOR noticed – and John Scalzi got to write one of the first of the great new serial novels, “The Human Division” – which, by the way, is fantastic. Definitely worth the read if you like science fiction!
I’m excited about serial fiction making a comeback. I find that I enjoy reading these nice chunks of story. I enjoy the anticipation of wondering what will happen next, and having to wait a little while to see. I’m glad Scalzi is putting new episodes out weekly, not monthly…!
But We Can Do More, Now
So far, the serials produced have pretty much followed the old model. Take story, write it so that it is broken into logical parts, each one a segment which will be published separately. Then when a set of episodes is done, compile them into a full sized book for the audience that prefers to read the whole book all at once. That’s how it was done in the early 20th century. Heck, that’s even how it was done in the day of Charles Dickens.
But is that the only way to do serials? I don’t think so.
I think that, today, we have more to bring to readers.
We have better connections to our readers, for one thing. We can get very fast feedback from folks reading the story. Readers can be involved in the stories in a way they never could before. Sure, by the time they read episode 3, episode 4 is certainly already written. But their feedback might be able to directly influence episode 6. The internet has given readers a way to reach favorite writers in real time. And it opens the doors for a lot of new potential in serial fiction.
Readers can be part of the story in ways that were never possible in old-style serial fiction.
Readers: how would you like to connect with a writer, during a serial season? My new work, STARSHIP, launches officially today. It’s a science fiction serial set in the very near future. Humanity has its first starship, far sooner perhaps than it had any right to possess one. It’s a story about people, though – about people life has beaten down, who try to reach for the stars regardless.
And I’d love to connect with readers as the story moves forward. I am excited about the opportunities for readers to engage in the process of storytelling. I’d love to hear from you! How can STARSHIP become our story?
STARSHIP Episode 1: Ad Astra is available from all major ebook retailers. Following episodes will be released weekly, until the first story (five episodes, forming a novel-length story in total) is released.
If you’d like to hear about new releases as they’re available, you can sign up for my newsletter here!
So what happened in 2012? More important, perhaps, is that we look forward at the same time as looking back, and peek for clues about what is GOING to happen next year based on what we’re seeing now. But we are, finally, beginning to see some stability building in the market. Things are settling down, moving toward a “new normal”, and there are advantages to be taken from understanding that new normal.
Let’s break it down a little:
Traditional publishers saw, in general, rising profit margins in 2011. It remains to be seen whether that trend continued in 2012, but I believe it did. To quote the 2011 Penguin stockholder report, the “more profitable nature of digital book sales” is driving this increased profit.
The DOJ settlement issue has come, gone, and the publishing world has not imploded. In fact, I predict zero short term impact on publishers’ bottom line from that change. Discounting, which is now an option for retailers, is mostly just happening on major titles. Publishers still get the same income from titles which are discounted, and their suggested pricing gives them profit levels on most ebooks in excess of what they were earning on print sales. Amazon market share continues to slip, as everyone who knew anything about retail (including Amazon itself) knew would happen.
However, publishers are facing some stressors. Mostly, these revolve around author relations. The recent move by Penguin into subsidy press scams (by acquiring Author Solutions) and then Simon & Shuster’s new co-op venture with Author Solutions for their own subsidy scam, have angered thousands of writers. When Random House merges with Penguin, it acquires the baggage of Author Solutions with the deal. This leaves Pearson (owner of Penguin) free from the stigma, but there is a dark stain now on the reputation of Penguin, S&S, and soon Random House as well. This sort of thing is penny wise and pound foolish, because to writers one of the last remaining reasons to use a major publisher is the reputation of that publisher. Sullying that reputation by scamming newbie writers out of thousands of dollars may make a few bucks, but is potentially deadly in the long run.
The mergers raise their own concern. With four of the “big six” merging or discussing merging, we’ll be down to the “big four”. And maybe the “big three” next? Multiple problems with this. First, they’re trying to get big enough to fight Amazon, which simply isn’t possible. All of the big six could merge, and they’d still have a tough time outspending Amazon, should Amazon choose to go to the mat with them. The merger will not achieve the desired goals. Second, the merger will result in overlapping lines and imprints. A good chunk of those will likely be cancelled or merged. This will cause more editors to go to the street looking for freelance work or starting their own small presses. It will offer less slots to writers who want to publish with these publishers, forcing more writers down the indie path. Publishers are LOSING good talent by shrinking their collective mass.
Third, it means these companies are growing larger at a time when small and nimble is better. The last couple of years have seen hundreds of comments about publishers being “like the Titanic”, “turning like an oil tanker”, or compared to dinosaurs. We’re living in a time when the small animals are going to succeed better than the huge ones. Yet the major publishers are trying to intentionally evolve themselves into bigger and bigger dinosaurs, rather than smaller and more nimble animals. This seems backwards to me.
Indies have seen a pretty static year. Self published ebooks began the year at about 35% of the top hundred bestsellers, and ended the year at about the same level. Indies began 2012 at about 40-60% of the top hundred lists in most genres and have ended the year at about the same level. Not a lot of change there. The indie position in terms of market share seems pretty static at something like 40-50% of US ebook sales.
Pricing has seen some changes. Amazon altered the algorithms for visibility, giving free downloads and sales of below $2.99 priced books much less impact on what books readers see. This upset a lot of writers who had been using the 99 cent price tag and Kindle Select programs to get visibility. The ranting on the internet has been significant. Other writers simply adapted, moved on, and changed their pricing to take advantage of the new algorithm. The latter group tended to perform much better. Overall, the price of indie books on top hundred bestseller lists has risen about fifty cents over the course of the year – from about $3 to about $3.50. It’s a small change, but it’s a good trend. Indies are selling well at higher prices, which is good for the writers.
This was a big year for midlist writers vacating major publishers. With advances crashing and big six imprints still offering very low ebook advances while also being unable to competitively price their ebooks, many experienced writers have shifted from submitting work to the majors to indie publishing that work instead. Some of them are being sucked into the subsidy scams. Hopefully, over time the word will get out about best practice methods for production.
Another huge note for this year: indie publishers are beginning to decline major publishers who offer to pick up their work. This began in 2011, but became much more common in 2012. I feel the trend will become common in 2013. Publishers are making offers on indie books which do well, but by the time major publishers are noticing an indie book, the writer is already making more money than the publisher is willing to offer, in many cases. Also, as writer faith in publishers continues to decline, the cachet involved in being traditionally published is slowing being replaced with a stigma – an odd reversal from just a few years ago, when the stigma was on self publishing!
Lastly, professionalism is coming to count for more. A couple of years ago, a writer could put up a barely edited work with a mediocre cover for 99 cents and get some decent sales. Even last year, that was the case, pretty much. In 2012, we saw readers beginning to ignore the 99 cent deals in favor of higher priced work. More importantly, there is a trend toward readers ignoring mediocre work in favor of better edited, better produced books with stronger covers and blurbs. As competition for readers’ eyes continues to heat up, this will intensify. The moral here is simple: write good books, and produce them very well. The minimum bar for most indie success in 2013 will, I believe, be to match the big six imprints on quality.
B&N got an influx of cash from Microsoft, announced they were spinning off all their profitable elements into a new corporation, and then… Well, we haven’t heard much else, since then. B&N’s new company will include the Nook, online store, and college bookstores, we’re told. This still reads as protective measures to me. With the big box retail stores losing money every year for years now, the likely answer is that they’re trying to protect the good assets from upcoming bankruptcy involving the bad assets. Time will tell. In the meantime, I expect further shrinkage of their physical bookstore assets, and further expansion of their online sales and ebook assets. The Nook remains a strong contender for ebook sales, and with the new moves into the UK, B&N is perhaps opening doors to work globally now as well.
All ebook retailers except Amazon continue to struggle with poor web design and search systems. It’s gotten so that even avid iBooks users are browsing for books on Amazon before buying on iBooks! Kobo is not a lot better, although B&N seems to have made some forward strides. The iBooks store is the worst though (reflected in their poor market share). On their iPad app, it is almost impossible to dig deep into the stacks looking for good books. You have to either already know the title you want – or you have access only to the top hundred bestsellers in each genre.
Contrast that with Amazon, which has genre breakdowns, subgenre breakdowns (in increasing numbers), released in last 30 or 90 day toggles for every genre and subgenre, and ability to browse as deep into a genre as the reader wishes – scanning hundreds, even thousands of titles deep. You can even exclude low rated books if you like. And the “customers who read this also read” and recommendation systems are superb.
Retailers take note: competing with Amazon means meeting or exceeding their level of professionalism. A smaller retailer cannot compete with a larger one without being *better*. Since it is unlikely other retailers can compete with Amazon by setting lower prices, that means the quality of user experience must be higher at your store than it is on Amazon. The best retailer is the one which best helps readers to search through the sea of available books to find ones they will enjoy. That’s Amazon, right now. Other retailers need to step it up.
This year has flown by. And we’ve seen some significant changes. But mostly, I feel like we’ve seen things settling into a new normal. We’ve seen more static results in data this year than we have in the last three. Ebook sales are still climbing, but more slowly. Market shares are no longer in as much flux as they once were. Pricing is settling down a bit. And readers are getting used to finding new ways to discover the books they want to read.
2013 will be an interesting year to watch, as well. Will we see things become more stable, less fluid? Will something break somewhere in the system under the assorted stresses still present, and send everything stumbling again?
What are your predictions for the new year? And what did you feel were the most noteworthy publishing events of the last? I’d love to hear from you!
Print book length today is decided mostly by marketing forces. Publishers request specific lengths for novels not because those are the best lengths to tell a story, but because they have carefully studied the finances behind producing books. A 500 page paperback costs very little more than a 200 page paperback, for example; the printing cost of either is minimal, so the cover price publishers would have to place on a 200 page paperback would be almost the same as the price they’d be able to put on a 500 page doorstopper. Readers get more feeling of value from buying a longer book – when you place the 500 page novel next to the 200 page novel on the shelf, both for $8, the 500 page one looks like the better deal. But bookstores can’t place as many copies of longer books, which results in reduced orders for longer books.
So physical book length is determined by marketing forces: longer books having more apparent value for readers, but shorter books taking up less space on shelves and racks. The “happy medium” as it exists today is the result of significant (and ongoing) data analysis by major publishers.
In short: the medium, not the story, is determining the length of stories being told. Go back fifty or sixty years, and most books were half the length they are today, because the market pressures were different.
Ebooks free us from some of these expectations. As a result, short fiction is seeing huge renaissance right now; some writers are looking at perhaps being able to make a living from just short fiction for the first time in decades. Serialized stories are coming back in a BIG way; little 8-20k episodes released on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. Reading material for an hour or two. Something like a TV episode you can read on the train headed into work and finish up over lunch or on the way home.
Short novels are back, hugely so. The old norm for a novel used to be 40-60k words or so, and writers are moving back in that direction. But there are longer works as well, because there is no *upper* limit on book size either. So writers can produce stories which are the length the story ought to be. However long that might be, for that story. And writers can now make sales of that work, be it 3k words, 10k words, 25k words, 60k words, or 500k words. (Although there is significant downward pressure now on story length – it is advantageous to release 4+ works per year, keeping something in the “new” category at all times, which is easier to accomplish if at least some of the works are shorter.)
What do you think? If you’re a writer, is the digital medium impacting how you write? The length of your work, the pace of your work, what sort of stories you are willing to try? As readers, are you trying out new stories at different lengths via ebooks? Are you reading short stories? How do you feel about serials? If doorstopper-length novels start to go away, will you miss them? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.
Forgive the “taste of home”, please. When searching for a mountain image to include, I briefly considered a variety of peaks. Wikimedia has a huge array of creative commons images of mountains. Peaks from all over the world. Tall crags. Famous mountains. Gorgeous photos.
So I picked Camel’s Hump instead, this relatively low mountain in Vermont. It’s not particularly famous, but it’s a great hiking site. Amazing trails, and some great faces for climbing if you’re into that. Am I still missing Vermont a little, since I’m including a Vermont mountain as my focus image? Yeah, probably.
Neil Gaiman made an outstanding speech last Spring. He went before a bunch of students graduating from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA. If you haven’t listened to the whole speech, I can’t recommend it strongly enough. There are few speeches I’ve heard which are so down to earth and inspirational at the same time.
Here’s the video, if you’d like to watch now. It’s about twenty minutes long, and worth every second of the viewing:
But the part I wanted to focus on is at about 3:40 into the video. There, Neil talks about his goal – his aspiration to be a writer, to make a living telling stories. And he uses the metaphor of a mountain. He envisioned that goal as a distant mountain. And, he says, he constantly asked himself whether new opportunities he found took him closer to the mountain…or farther away. If something brought him closer, he took that path. If it brought him farther away, he passed. His entire journey, then, was a walk toward his own personal mountain.
It’s a great parable for artists of any sort, but of course because the original metaphor related to writing, it works brilliantly for us storytellers.
David Farland wrote a related piece recently, in his “Daily Kick in the Pants” series. Titled “Make Writing Your Only Plan”, David discusses how many writers set themselves up for failure by having “backup plans”. They end up building careers in the backup plans, because frankly it is easier and safer to build a career in just about any career with a steady paycheck than it is to survive as a freelance storyteller. We become addicted to those paychecks, to the (false) security of knowing we have money coming to us in a consistent and predictable manner. I say “false”, because we all know that those jobs are not really secure – they can and do go away – but the consistency feels like a secure safety net.
So we settle into that job, and it starts soaking up more time. We get a little more pay, get married, have kids, acquire a mortgage, pick up more bills (which make us more reliant on that paycheck), and over time life simply erodes what was once the real goal: writing stories.
Oh yeah. Been there. I think many of us have. It’s a struggle to maintain a focus on writing in the face of heating, electric, and cell phone bills.
David suggests that we remember we are writers first. He says “If you’re stocking shelves in a grocery store, see it as a means to an end. Remember that you’re a writer first. You only stock shelves to pay the bills until your writing career takes off.” And of course, the same thing is true whether you’re stocking shelves or pulling down six figures in a fancier career. If your goal is to be a storyteller, then THAT is your profession, and anything else you are doing to earn income is simply a means to an end… A way to keep food on the table until you succeed at your primary career. It’s hard to make that shift in focus. It takes effort to shift your priorities and still keep your job. But ask yourself: does your job take you closer to your personal mountain? Or farther away?
And to tie it all up, Dean Wesley Smith recently wrote what is perhaps the best blog post of writing advice I have ever read. Titled “The New World of Publishing: How to Get Started Selling Fiction in 2013″, Dean goes into his views on how to go about building a career in this new environment we find ourselves in. He talks about a bunch of paths one can choose, and a lot about the myths and pitfalls which can stand in the way of a writer trying to build a career. And then he goes on to summarize a bit, saying:
Telling a good story is an art form. As with any art, the art takes time to learn.
Make writing new words your main focus. Make learning business and craft your secondary focus. And get your work out for people to read.
Don’t get in a hurry.
It really, honestly, is that simple.
And that hard.
Neil Gaiman says “Make good art.”
David Farland? “Make sure that each day, your writing takes precedence.”
And Dean says that it really is that simple – and that hard.
Which pretty much sums up everything, if you think about it.
Now go write.
And after a long, long break, I’m back up and running again! This time, not from the wilds of Vermont, but from Boston’s Metro West.
The late summer, autumn, and early winter were a flurry of house hunting, house selecting, house buying, house packing, and then moving. We finally moved into the new home on November 20th, just before Thanksgiving.
Yes, it really has taken me two weeks to begin getting settled into the new place.
The kids enjoy the space though. Bigger rooms, bigger house, more rooms… The new house is about 150% the size of the one in Vermont. And my wife somehow managed to find a house a short walk from a 250 acre wooded park. Just outside Boston. I know, right? I mean, how does that happen? But we have trees and forest, which is a blessing for expatriate Vermonters, let me tell you!
I can only look at stained concrete for so long before feeling a little depressed and a lot exasperated.
On the plus side, I’ve begun writing again. Wifi is running. I’ve managed a couple of chapters on a story. As things settle down more (this weekend, we’re off to Vermont again to work on the old house and prep it for sale), I’m planning to get more writing done.
So, I’m back – if anyone is still stopping by, thanks! I’ll have more content of the sort I used to post soonish.
Yup, I have BY DARKNESS REVEALED free on Kindle. Ends at about midnight.
Why give my book away? I know that subject is controversial, but I have reasons.
First? Because I’ve been indie publishing for a year now. Happy anniversary! Here’s a free book. =) No, seriously – I mean that. It’s been a fun year so far. I’ve learned a ton. And I have oodles of fresh material coming out later this year, so it seemed like a nice time to give something to the reading community. DARKNESS has a 4.9 star rating on Amazon – if you like urban fantasy, give it a try.
Second? Because it helps my book’s rankings. In theory at least, the arcane meta-mumblings of the Amazon Algorithms will increase my book’s visibility when you get your free copy. So when it goes not-free Saturday, it will be much more noticeable to many more people. That’s the theory, this is the experiment testing that theory. You’re helping ME out when you download your free copy. Thank you!
Third? The book is going up to $3.99 shortly. It’s been $2.99 for a while, and now free for a couple of days (ENDS 6/22!), but after that it is going up. For a variety of reasons, this seems like a sound choice. But, here’s your chance to get it free before it goes up.
Fourth – and this one is important – I am removing the book from the Kindle Select program. That’s the program where Amazon gets a book exclusively on their site, and puts it into their Lending Library in return. The publisher also gets five promo days every three months to make the book free. I tried the Select program. I have to say, I’m extremely underwhelmed; and the impact of Amazon algorithm changes recently have made be even less interested in continuing. So – exclusivity time is over, and the book will VERY SOON be available again on B&N, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and other major retailers.
That bit is the good news for those of you who don’t read Kindle books. =)
I’d originally planned to time this free promotion with the release of the next book, ASHES ASCENDANT, but ASHES isn’t quite ready and I don’t feel like renewing the Select program for another three months is worthwhile. So I’m running the free days now – and I’ll come up with something else interesting to do for my readers when ASHES comes out. In the meantime, if you like BY DARKNESS REVEALED, you can read the short story “By A Whisker”, a short adventure about Ryan set a bit in the future, after ASHES ASCENDANT. No spoilers though, don’t worry!
Thanks for reading! And I’m always open to hearing what folks thought of my stories. Improving my craft to tell YOU better tales is central to what I do.