Articles and essays about the state of the industry.
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.
(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.
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.
Back in February, I posted the results of some data mining, specifically about the bestseller lists for fantasy and science fiction. You can see the old article here.
It seemed like now might be a good time for an update. There’s been much to-do about the change to the Amazon algorithms. The very-important “Popularity” ranking has seen significant changes in March and again in May. The new algorithms have made major changes to how books show up in the “Popular” ranking – which is the default manner customers see ebooks on Amazon, making it vital to sales.
Roughly how it works: you get sales, your rank goes up. The more sales you get over the period tracked, compared to other books, the more your rank goes up. The old system made loans via the Select program about the same as sales, and gave a lot of weight to free books given away through Select promotion periods. The new system rates free books at perhaps 10% of the value of sold books, does not seem to give any boost for loaned books, and most crucial – it seems to factor price into the equation, weighting higher priced books more heavily.
So how does this affect indies, whose books have been selling like hotcakes because they’re priced lower? If Amazon weights higher priced books higher, then this makes breaking out at $0.99 or $2.99 that much more difficult.
It’s the end of June, four months since my last survey and over a month since the May algorithm changes. Seemed like it was time for new data!
Fantasy Genre, Top Hundred Bestsellers
Well, top 95 bestsellers, anyway. There seem to be some issues with doubled up versions of some of George R.R. Martin’s books, which resulted in only 95 books actually listed in the top 100.
The breakdown was 53 (56%) traditionally published books vs 42 (44%) self published books. This is a significant change. In fact, it’s the first time this year that I’ve seen the genre drop much below 50% indie/self pub books; in February, indie books were 53% of the top list for fantasy, and it’s stayed at that level +/- about 4% through early May.
Some other interesting data points:
Indie price average: $3.24
Trad price average: $9.56
Overall average price: $6.77
Breakdown follows. Note, there were several books I raised to the X.99 levels to make the data easier to chart. These were Indie at $2.51 and $4.95, and Trad at $4.90, $7.29, $7.39, $8.32, and $9.34 (actual numbers were used for the averages above, no rounding).
$0.99 – Indie 6 (down 7), Trad 0 (same), Total 6 (6%)
$1.99 – Indie 2 (same), Trad 0 (same), Total 2 (2%)
$2.99 – Indie 16 (down 7), Trad 0, Total 16 (17%)
$3.99 – Indie 13 (up 1), Trad 0, Total 13 (14%)
$4.99 – Indie 4 (up 2), Trad 2 (up 1), Total 6 (6%)
$5.99 – Indie 0, Trad 0, Total 0 (0%)
$6.99 – Indie 1 (up 1), Trad 0 (down 1), Total 1 (1%)
$7.99 – Indie 0 (same), Trad 20 (same), Total 20 (21%)
$8.99 – Indie 0 (same), Trad 15 (up 4), Total 15 (16%)
$9.99 – Indie 0 (same), Trad 7 (up 4), Total 7 (7%)
$10.99 Total 0 (same)
$11.99 Indie 0 (same), Trad 1 (same), Total 1 (1%)
$12.99 Indie 0 (same), Trad 6 (same), Total 6 (6%)
$13.99 Total 0 (same) (0%)
$14.99 Indie 0 (same), Trad 1 (down 2), Total 1 (1%)
$29.99 Indie 0 (same), Trad 1 (same), Total 1 (1%) (Martin boxed set)
As ever, a picture is worth a thousand words:
This is not enough data to draw conclusions from. However, coupled with the excellent analysis done by Ed Robertson, it’s possible to hypothesize that the changes he noted to the Amazon book algorithms are damaging indie sales penetration. Some of this might be the loss of impact from Kindle Select promotions and loans. Some could also be due to algorithms favoring higher prices (note the upward trend across the board for prices of indie books which made the top ranks).
I think we need to do substantial more work on data crunching to see where things are headed, and I’m open to collaboration with others. In the short term, however, I think it’s extremely likely many indies are selling themselves short by pricing too low – to their detriment.
Hopefully this helps some folks out.
Thanks for stopping by! I hope you found this information interesting and useful. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the data, what it might mean, and how writers can best adapt to these changes.
To celebrate a year of indie publishing, I have my novel, “By Darkness Revealed” reduced to FREE on Amazon for today and tomorrow – 6/21 + 6/22 only. If you enjoy urban fantasy, you might enjoy checking it out, and you’ll aid my in my quest to break the top 100 free books! http://www.amazon.com/Darkness-Revealed-Blackwell-Magic-ebook/dp/B005G8L3X4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1340283711&sr=8-1&keywords=by+darkness+revealed
By this time next year, that will have gone up to over 2 million.
By this time in five years, I expect it to be over five million.
By this time in twenty years, I expect it to be…well, really, really, REALLY doggone high.
Breakout vs. Slow Boil
Guys, it’s important to understand something about writing: the one book breakout is RARE. It almost never happens. Of course, we see lots of them, so we think it’s the goal to shoot for. It’s not. Most writers who only produce one book will sell a few hundred copies, maybe a few thousand over the years. More marketing will only very rarely cause a breakout.
If you have one book to write, one story to tell, then write it, get it up there, and do a little free time marketing. Don’t expect big sales; expect a trickle. I basically don’t market my work, yet get steady sales. I have two or three more books and a serial coming out this year, though. And will have more coming out next year. And more the year after that. Once I have a few more books out, I’ll start focusing a little more on the marketing. But I need enough product to make it worthwhile first – you don’t spend time and money advertising your new hardware store when you have one tool on the shelf, right? Same is true for books.
The goal for a professional writer trying to make a living shouldn’t be to get a breakout on any one book. That’s impossible to predict and cannot be engineered. You can’t make Twilight happen. Sometimes it just does. If it happens to you, I am thrilled for you. I’m not going to plan my career around it, though, and I don’t think you should, either.
Instead, the goal for writers who want careers (which I am differentiating from those who just want to write a book and publish it – a fine goal, but not going to make a living) should be to slowly, over time, build a fanbase. You build readers who love your work. You build connections to those readers. You inform those readers when your next story is available, and they support you financially. This sort of organic growth takes time. Years. Many, many books. But that’s the key to making a living at writing: write a LOT, write WELL, CONNECT with readers, and build a group of people who like your work enough to buy it as soon as you release it.
I’m on BV Larson’s mailing list. A few times a year, he sends out emails to everyone on his list announcing a new book. Like many other people on his list, I buy the new book within minutes of receiving the email. (They are fun, not deep, SF&F books). I usually read the book that day, maybe running into the next. But I buy pretty consistently. I am one of his “10,000 fans”, the folks who will consistently buy what he produces as soon as he lets us know.
Mailing Lists Connect Us With Readers
A mailing list is a great way to connect with readers. You can sign up for mine here!
But treat the mailing list with care. You have to ensure what you’re offering in any email you send is something interesting, relevant, and of value to your readers. I named the list “Readers First!” to remind myself of that – that the list is about the readers, not about me. It’s not about my cool new blog post. It’s not about research I did on the industry. It’s about readers, folks who enjoyed my work and want to hear about more of it when it comes out.
Present the reader with well-designed, high quality emails. Look like a professional. Those emails should be your “business best” work. Keep them short and to the point: show respect for your readers by not wasting their time. Those emails are a way to maintain contact with readers, so make yourself available as well. Create means to do two-way contact through those mails, even if it’s something as simple as inviting your readers to email you. If they do, respond, even if it’s brief.
We want to build connections, to create doors that open both ways for our readers. For all MY readers who are reading this post: thank you. You’re the reason I keep writing, and I appreciate each one of you.
For the writers our there: how far into building your 10,000 fans are you? Do you have what it takes to go the distance and get there? What have you done today to help make that happen? Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint!
First, he was right – publishing is facing a lot of problems.
Second, that digital technology and distribution were on their way to solving many of those problems.
The list of problems was very different from the ones we hear so often. Nothing about indie bookstores being in trouble, or bad contracts, or the other stuff. It was all meta-analysis of the industry as a whole, and therefore kinda interesting! I thought I’d give a few of those problems AND the likely solutions here. The solutions that are already happening are happening because of digital. Or perhaps a better way of putting it: digital is happening, and happening so fast in book publishing, because digital presents new solutions to many longstanding industry issues.
We have a younger generation which is more focused on “gizmos” than on literacy.
That younger demographic is encouraged to read by the very devices they want to use; the internet is a blossoming ground of reading and writing, and it’s becoming well understood that those who can write well and in a convincing manner can attract a large audience to their work through that medium. The internet mandates a certain level of literacy.
Fiction today seems mostly dominated by tired plots and bad writing.
The tired plots are largely due to major publishers attempting to guess what readers want to read – and then overproducing tons of that specific band of content. Digital publishing, in contrast, opens the doors for ALL content (which means yes, a lot is bad). Readers then get to decide for themselves what is good and what is not; what they want to read and what they don’t. Readers as a group are *exceptionally* good at this.
Literature is lacking in notable masters, and often less skilled writers are marketed as “masters” of their craft without merit.
It’s been hard to determine who the true “master” level writers of fiction are, because fiction sales were dominated by publishers with narrow buying requirements, sponsored book placement, and big ticket marketing moves. Again, digital opens the doors for people with mastery to do very, very well (by reaching an audience!); with virtually unlimited choice of books, and the ability to sample them all for free, readers simply aren’t going to buy books they don’t like. Mastery of writing implies the ability to reach readers: masters of writing fiction will do remarkably well in a free market. On the plus side for publishers, freedom to publish gives them a chance to learn (by watching for successful work) which writers are masters of their craft.
Longer works are the norm, giving readers less time to explore more books.
Longer books were, again, the result of print retail demands in a print dominated market. Digital books have no physical shelf space. My 3k word short stories are selling at a slow but steady pace; so is my 45k word novel. In fact, there is strong evidence that while most readers prefer novels in the 60-100k word range even in ebook form that there is a growing desire among readers for shorter novels (40-60k words). And those shorter works are certainly more profitable for the writers creating them (more than twice as hard to write a 100k word novel as a 50k word one, in my experience; but income does not even double and often does not go up at all). Short stories, novellas, and short novels are back and growing in a big way.
The price of many books is prohibitive, especially in a still-recovering economy.
Books are getting less expensive. Writers can now sell an ebook for $4.99 – and earn about six times as much per copy as they used to get for an $8 paperback. Even selling at the lowball 99 cents, a writer will earn only pennies less per copy sold than they earn from that $8 paperback. Ebooks open the door for books to become less expensive, easier to acquire, and more abundant in terms of selection choice. Publishers are finding ways to reduce their expenses to compete with these lower cost works (or are simply losing market share). Lower prices are good for the readers and the market.
Digital SOLVES problems.
Digital isn’t just growing because it’s the “cool new thing”. It is growing precisely because it DOES solve so many of the problems with which publishing has been faced. The end of returns, which are a huge money sink for publishers. The opening of new options for writers. The ability for publishers to use self published books as a “farm league” from which to pick winners for future representation, and the associated ability for writers to tell them *no*, if the deal isn’t good enough.
Are there other problems in the industry you can think of? How can we push technology to help solve those problems? Looking at the problems an industry has today is the key to seeing what the changes will be in that industry tomorrow.
This year at BEA (Book Expo America), a number of sponsors are working together to bring a special all-Sunday set of workshops and seminars. They’ve named the experience “UPublishU”, and it’s ALL about self publishing. For $99, it looks to me like it could be a fun and interesting experience.
Here’s a link to the planned sessions for the day: http://www.bookexpoamerica.com/Concurrent-Events/DIY-Authors-Conference/#page=page-2
Highlights include a keynote address with Mark Coker (founder of Smashwords) as one of the speakers; a session on maximizing Kindle sales from the Amazon Director of Author and Publisher relations, Jon Fine; several sessions on social media and marketing for writers; and quite a bit more. Sessions run from 9am til 5pm.
It sounds like it might be worth attending for the networking potential alone. There’s bound to be quite a few indie writers checking this thing out. The seminars themselves look fairly interesting, though. When I first saw the announcement, I sort of poo-pooed it. What did Publishers’ Weekly (one of the sponsors) know about indie publishing, anyway? And was it in their best interest to provide a good set of seminars, or to do a lot of discouraging of self publishing? The latter, I thought – but looking at the list of discussions, this looks worthwhile.
So in a reversal of opinion, I’m seriously considering going. For the networking – to meet folks. To listen to Mark Coker speak. And to hit as many of the more interesting sounding seminars as possible. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that I don’t yet know *everything* about *anything* – which means there’s always at least one new byte of information or new trick I can learn from other folks. Probably always will be. I probably won’t stick around for the rest of the conference (although the tracks of the IDPF Digital Book seminar look awesome too) because I’m frankly just flat out busy right now.
So what about you? Thinking of going? Which sessions appeal most? I’d love to meet some of you folks there, if we can!
I’m writing this post on an iPad, using the virtual keyboard. No external keyboard, not bluetooth. Thus, writing on glass.
I was always a little iffy about the idea of writing on a virtual keyboard. I type pretty rapidly. On a good hour, I’m putting out fifteen hundred words. Losing writing speed in any serious way would be bad for me. But I had two experiences which made me want to give it a try.
First, I bought a laptop with one of those chicklet type keyboards about a year and a half ago. I’d typed on regular key type keyboards my entire life, you understand, starting with a manual typewriter over thirty years ago. It was a big adjustment. But I very quickly got my writing speed back up to full speed.
The second was talking to a college professor I know about tech. He commented that the new thing on campus was students using an iPad. Not alongside a laptop or desktop, but often instead of another computer. Simply typing out papers and assignments on the glass screen and turning them in.
OK. In my experience, college students are something of a litmus paper (perhaps canary in a coal mine is a better metaphor) for where tech is going. If the college students have moved to typing on glass keyboards, then not only can it be done, it’s likely things are moving in that direction for everyone. On the theory that this might be an upcoming vital life skill, I decided to give it a try.
A week in, and I’m basically up to full speed typing. There is no appreciable loss of speed. Oh, my fingers still stumble on the keys sometimes. But they always did that anyway. I’m back to touch typing, watching the screen more than my keys and fingers. Getting better as I go.
I’m not sure I’d have thought that was possible. But here I am. And it’s VERY freeing. With Storyist, I have a decent option for typing that I can export to my laptop. Daedalus Touch is a good program as well, but without support for RTF export there’s no way to retain formatting. Storyist retains bolds, italics, and other bits. I’ll be watching both as I go forward, as well as keeping eyes on the upcoming Scrivener for iPad.
So I can take this little pound and a half device with me anywhere, type away on it anywhere for eight or more hours, and upload it to my laptop via Dropbox when I hit an Internet connection. I’ve got a 3G iPad, but don’t have the service turned on right now. So far, I’m really liking it.
What have your experiences been with writing on tablets? Ever tried it? Thought about trying it? I’d love to hear your opinions on tablets for writing in general, and “writing on glass” in particular. I look forward to seeing what other folks are doing with these devices!