Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Literary history repeats itself ... for $2

We were looking at website stats and so forth this morning, and saw something wonderful. The Lords of Harbendane had popped up to an Amazon ranking of about 46,000, which is nothing short of amazing. Many thanks to everyone who's ordered this book -- and also to everyone who's over on Legends. I'm actually enjoying the digital fantasy novel immensely --

Speaking of which, Chapter Seven concluded today ... and of course, I'm way ahead of you guys in the text, so I'm into the steamy stuff -- which you'll be getting into in about three days. It's also hugely gratifying that emails have been bouncing all over the world ... readers are landing on Legends from Istanbul, Baghdad (!), eastern Europe, China, Russia, many parts of Aus, NZ, the UK and US. Which is exactly what I'd hoped for.

Also, early comments on the book are very good. I'm hearing words like "lush, exotic, compelling, fascinating." Always nice to see such adjectives. It's also very nice indeed to be shipping copies, either physical or electronic. As a writer, to me it's all about earning the money to pay expenses so that I can write again next week!

And I know, as I say that, the market is tougher than its ever been, and a lot of writers are taking a kicking, which is more than likely undeserved. I've fielded numerous questions on this blog, but one which has been popping up at least once a week since Christmas is, "How do I sell copies on Amazon?"

That's one hell of a tough question. I could write ten thousand words and not answer it fully. The answer-in-a-thimble is courage, ingenuity and energy ... and I know that's not what folks wanted to hear. Writers who are struggling to get sales moving need, desperately, to hear that there's a "magic bullet," a kind of cookbook recipe. Do A, B and C, and you'll get sales.

I wish it were true, but it isn't. A while ago I read a post on a blog called Publishing Basics. Let me share a little of it with you, and give you the link to go over there and read the rest:

More people today than ever before are becoming authors. Unfortunately, most of them fail in their quest for success. According to a Jenkins Group survey, seventy percent of books published in this country do not make a profit. The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) backs this up. Their statistics show that in 2004, over seventy-six percent of all titles sold fewer than 100 copies. Why are so many authors failing?

  • Uninformed authors approach the publishing process all wrong.
  • Even excellent, worthy books go unnoticed when the author isn’t industry-savvy.
  • Inexperienced authors quit promoting their books when the going gets tough.

It used to be that authors wrote books and publishers produced, promoted and distributed them. After participating in a few book signings, the author was free to go back to his home office and write his next bestseller. In order to be a successful author today, however, you must have a significant understanding of the publishing industry and be willing to establish a sense of intimacy with your book. It’s imperative that you become involved in the promotion of your book and, in some cases, the production process.

Technology has fueled dramatic changes in the publishing industry—and the news isn’t all bad. Hopeful authors are faced with greater challenges today, it’s true; but there are also more options and opportunities.

According to self-publishing guru, Dan Poynter, in 1970, there were only about 3,000 publishing companies. Today, there are somewhere around 85,000—many of them small/independent publishers who have established companies through which to produce their own books. There are still a significant number of new traditional royalty publishers emerging, as well. So why is it so difficult to land a publishing contract? In a word, competition.

Some years ago, I heard it said that over eighty percent of the public believe they have a book in them. With expanded publishing options, more and more of these people are actually writing their books. And millions of them are currently seeking publishers. Is there room in this industry for all hopeful authors? Probably not. But, according to R. R. Bowker, a whopping 291, 920 new books were published in 2006. And it’s pretty easy to predict which of these books will succeed and which of them won’t.

That was published back in August of 2007 ... long before the Bing Crunch of last October and November. Patricia Fry, who wrote the post, is a writing and publishing specialist, not a stock market guru. She couldn't have foreseen what was going to happen more than a year after her post ... but let's put it this way: things have not gotten any easier.

The line between the writer, editor, publisher and entrepreneur is blurry even now, and has been getting blurrier in the last six months. The next couple of years will change so many things. There is also a kind of wildcard factor to think about, which I'm sure publishers have missed.

It's on the news frequently: people are increasingly illiterate. Even those who can read and write well enough to chat on Facebook and what have you, are not exactly what would have been deemed literate way back when. The fact is, a really badly written book is only obviously a stinker when it's read by someone who is literate. When it's read by someone who's skating around the fringes of sheer illiteracy -- or by someone who's reading English as a second or third language -- the shortcomings of the work are utterly transparent. All that comes through is the story (which is either interesting or boring) and the characters (who are either endearing or annoying), and the conclusion ... which either delivered the goods or left the reader saying, "Well, poop. After 350pp, I wanted something better, or different, than this load of twaddle.")

Now, I'm not using this as an excuse for the number of really horrible books that are published, POD, via Lulu and CreateSpace and so forth, every hour of every day.

What I'm saying is this: publishers -- whether New York or DIY -- shoot for the mass market. The big-time publishers have their market pegged: extremely literate people who demand high standards in their reading. But the mass of the public is increasingly illiterate; the readers who demand high standards, and have $40 to spend on a hardcover, are an ever-shrinking group, while the millions of readers who wouldn't know good grammar if it jumped up and bit them ... well, these people have pockets full of smartphones. And a lot of smartphones take SD cards. You can read stories on smartphones, kill time on the bus, train, plane, whatever.

Here's the bottom line: For every highly literate lady or gent with a credit card, standing in line for the hardcover of the New York Times bestseller, there could be a thousand, or ten thousand, semi-literate readers with smartphones, willing to pay $2, or $1, for an entertaining little read to pass the time on the commute.

Short version: there is an incredible fortune out there, reapable in the next few years ... and I have the sneakiest feeling that the writer's literary merit will be just about the last quality looked for by the mass of "common" readers who are, by the millions, daily, paying tiny fees for quick, cute reads.

Adult literacy is an increasingly lost cause, at the same time as the technology is racing to put video phones on our wrists, video wallpaper in our living rooms, and the electronic equivalent of the old "penny dreadful" in our laps, to while away that train ride, after we've all put the car up on blocks in a concerted effort to save the planet from our carbon emissions.

I have a feeling the age of the penny dreadful is returning. Rapidly. But they'll more than likely cost you $2.


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