Wednesday, November 30, 2011


We all know what happened when the music industry coupled digitization of music formats and the internet: Chaos. (From a business perspective). Napster. File sharing. Torrent. College kids going to jail for sharing their music collections over the web. Anarchy. But the publishing industry seems to have eased into both digitizing books and the web in a little more orderly fashion. I'm not talking about Amazon, or other distributors of paperbooks on the internet, but rather digital publishing and distribution of 'ebooks'. (Which Amazon had a hand in with the kindle, of course).

In the 'olden days' (last year) authors would write a book, seek representation (an agent), find a publishing house, work with an editor and the marketing department, the book would be launched and sell hundreds of thousands of hardback copies, followed by hundreds of thousands more copies when it was released in paperback. Now, not every book went down this path, but this is more or less the Rube Goldberg process. I went down this same road, got really positive feedback from agents (but no representation) shopped my book at the big houses (positive feedback, but no thanks), the medium houses and then small presses (more than one offer to publish each book from small presses). Both STG and GOB were, as you know, published by small presses.

In order for a publishing house of the Old Guard to invest in a book they have to really believe that it will make them money. Cold hard truth; it isn't about literary merit, or the story that is told, it is about being able to move merchandise. (Most celebrity kiss and tell books have very little merit for instance, and their 'authors' rarely actually write much of the book- but... everyone wants a copy of Justin Beaver's autobiography, right?) Every rejection letter I received contained a phrase related to not being able to sell many copies. No sour grapes on my part, they were right. My books have sold in the hundreds of copies, not thousands (combining print and ebook sales). Now with stronger marketing support they might have sold more, but ...

There are other publishing venues. 'Vanity presses' for instance have been around for years. These are publishing houses that you pay to publish your book through. Some authors have done this with the thought selling their books (and there have been commercial successes). I didn't want to go down this path because I think it's easy to get myopic about your own work, and I wanted an external gut check. My Mom liked the book, my friends liked my book, I believed in it and it was the best book I could write at the time I wrote it, but how did it fair as a subjectively ranked, competent work of genre fiction?

Hey guess what? They did fine. Almost universally positive reviews (one guy really panned STG due to the editing- which has been fixed), consistent sales (though not super high) volume, and the people I meet that have read it say they really enjoyed the reading experience. Which is what I was shooting for. Now don't get me wrong, if Baen or Random house wanted to give me a big fat advance to stay home and write books I would be sorely tempted (and externally validated), but most likely I wouldn't quit my day job, as I believe in the work I'm doing in Georgia (but this is a blog about my writing life, not about being a program manager on an assistance program- so I'll get back to my writing point...maybe... perhaps...).

So, dear reader, what does all this have to do with digital publishing you ask? I have told you in previous posts to be patient, I will eventually meander back to my point.

Publishing a print book costs a lot of money. With POD (print on demand) technology it's much cheaper, but there is still a cost involved. With electronic publishing the costs are negligible. So now writers don't have to meet an agent's or publisher's subjective quality threshold (sales being the metric). But they don't really have to meet any threshold, do they? And oh my goodness, there are some self-deluded people out there publishing some real ebook stinkers. But there are also a number of competent writers who have decided to go into ebook publishing on their own, with low prices points, no middle man, and they're doing quite well, in terms of sales (which is a metric), reviews, etc.

Novlr is blog that delves into these issues in much greater detail.

So my point is that I am flirting with the idea of going it alone with my current WIP. I am a member of 'Goodreads', (part of my 'online presence') an online community for book readers and writers and I am being inundated with ebook offers, many free (the idea being to build a fan base just like Randolph Lalonde did).

So I don't know how that would work out in terms of getting my own work out into your hands (or on your eReader device). My motivation is not necessarily maximizing ROI, or sales volume, though I think running off copies of my work and passing it out on the street corner for free wouldn't meet my self-imposed vision of being a competent genre fiction writer. Hmmm, I'll have to ponder that one.

There are many examples of authors who have written competent books and are getting them out to readers with this POD/eBook/Indy renegade author directed publishing movement. Smashwords is an ebook publisher that makes it almost painless... Most likely I will give this a trial run. I have seven short stories that I have sold to various anthology markets, online publications, etc, that I have thought I might like to collect into a small (40K word) anthology of my own. All have my signature hard-boiledish, and mostly manly action-oriented prose, and like I said they were good enough to sell once...(though one sold three times- and funny it was my only short story with a female main character. What does that mean? Do I need to spend more time in the gym? Tell me the truth, do these sweat pants make me look fat?)

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