Does a new publishing model really exist or is it still in the making? We have all gone through the frustrating efforts of trying to solicit a dialog with a publisher or agent. Notice I said dialog, to hell with getting an actual deal. I went through the exercise briefly and found it perplexing, incredibly stupid and somewhat amusing because of its inherent inefficiencies. I only sent out ten inquiry letters to a few random agents and got only a few replies. In one case, I actually did get a formal rejection notice that I kept. I won’t mention the agent’s name because they at least had the courtesy of returning a rejection notice but their response was curious in that the agent claimed to be working with an author on a project of a similar nature. Yeah right, more likely the agent never bothered to read my synopsis in its entirety but here is your opportunity to vent your spleen. Oh, yeah, where the hell is that project they were working on anyway? At least I got my project out as podcast.
Slush piles and the like are norm for this industry (?) and I agree with the assertion from Michael Allen, who wrote the depressing “The Truth About Writing”, that there are many more lotto winners than there are financially successful authors. And as form of mea culpa, we are to blame also, or rather I should say the advent of the PC and word processor since any blithering idiot can now post some words and claim to be a writer. I include myself among the league of blithering idiots but I will continue to work to improve my form. Also, a book that sells only 5000 copies is losing money at most publishing houses. But let’s remember those brutal numbers in any given year, about 98% of all books sell FEWER than 5000 copies. 80% sell fewer than 100 copies!
So what about the traditional publishing industry? Is the end near? Well, I’ll tell you a little anecdotal story that might give you a little insight. I have a good friend who works for Doubleday and I met up with her at a friend’s party. She knew of my work and she gave me the name of a head huncho to forward my manuscript to. I dragged my feet for a few months frankly because I felt the manuscript wasn’t ready. Now keep in mind I have my other friend telling me to write another book and move on because nobody cares if you have written one book. However, this book is my obsession and getting it right is more of a priority to me than writing other stories. Anyway a couple of months pass and the word gets back to me that my friend is looking for a job because the entire Doubleday division was laid off! I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry.
So what the heck is going on? Well, I am marketing type and I see this all the time. We call it convergence, new technology being disruptive and challenging the established traditional business models. Nothing is more traditional than the present publishing model but the Internet, ebooks, podcasting and blogging are changing the model in so many different ways. It happened to the computer industry and now it is happening to newspapers, television, music and other traditional educational/communication forms. And nothing reflects this better than the news that Amazon ebook sales now total $5 billion annually. Change is a bitch and it is up to us to separate the noise from the facts. And now Web 2.0 is our new reality.
Authors Take on More Tasks!
One of the worst aspects of publishing a novel in a Web 2.0 world is the myriad tasks the author must undertake. Besides writing the novel the writer must undertake numerous sometimes odious marketing efforts. In the past that been relegated to the obligatory series of interviews and book signing, assuming that is if the author was lucky enough in his career or her to get to that point.
Today the challenges are different and far more varied. Most of the work still revolves around the writing, editing and marketing of the work. However the marketing piece of the puzzle is a bit of a quandary and requires the greatest flexibility on the part of the fledgling writer. Worse, it is also damn time consuming.
If you go the route of podcasting, which has its myriad appeals and challenges, it requires the author to do production work and possibly the biggest challenge of all: narrating the actual work. The web work can involve a site or minimally a blog for the author’s various fans to turn into. Besides words, structures these endeavors typically require some type of graphics, Search engine optimization and knowledge of key words; all daunting challenges for the uninitiated. If you have money you could have somebody else do it but you still must manage the ongoing mess.
The biggest marketing challenge could be the designation of your work into one of the existing genres. Why? That’s because the genre designation ultimately determines your readers and finally your choices among agents and publishers.
My problem was what the hell do you call Flores Girl: The Children God Forgot? Scif-Fi? Adventure? Romance? It has all of those elements but what is best for marketing? An adventure story sort of describes it but there were some science fiction elements as well to the story. After all the core of the story is about the survival of Homo floresiensis on a small tropical island and that is speculative at best. In actuality these small three-foot tall hominids died out 12,000 years ago or maybe as recently as 400 years ago based on some early historical accounts. In any case, nobody expects them to be found alive and well today, at least not with the way China is clear cutting the forests of Southeast Asia. To call it science fiction would really disappoint the hardcore science fiction fans; you know not enough hardware and overall fantasy elements to keep them enthralled to be quite honest with you. I mean if you can’t have sex with an alien then why bother calling it science fiction?
Then I came across the term speculative fiction and the Robert Heinlein definition. The definition seems appropriate for my book but its usage and acceptance as part of the vernacular is nowhere near as universally accepted as science fiction. As a measure of popularity I did a search for speculative fiction and turned up only a couple of million hits in Google. Compare that with science fiction with nearly 140 million hits and you have yourself a huge disparity in overall acceptance. So which sandbox do you want to play in, the larger one where you won’t get noticed or the smaller one with a much smaller audience? As I found out perhaps the genre designation is a bit old school and my recent experience with the good folks at Wattpad has drastically changed my perception of the marketplace.
Fortunately, I had one lucky marketing surprise and found that it doesn’t matter what you genre you call a novel but if readers get a taste of something they like they will read it. Let me explain. As a newbie author, I made Flores Girl: The Children God Forgot free as an eBook to get an audience and the twists and turns I have seen with my own pitifully small self-publishing efforts is amazing. One of my big surprises was with my Flores Girl on Wattpad. Wattpad makes eBooks available for downloading and reading on smartphones and frankly, I never figured so many people read novels on their phones. And fortunate for me they like Flores Girl: The Children God Forgot (check it out at WWW.iPhone-Novel.com).
To me, the tiny size of an iPhone or Blackberry screen made that exercise impractical at least to my particular mode of outdated fossil thinking. I mean who wants to read War and Peace on a BB? On the other hand, as a former commuter, I realize that now it makes a lot of sense especially if you are blessed with a younger set of eyes. With your Smartphone you can escape to a world of music and prose away from the other human cattle you are sharing a ride with. And if you don’t like the book, you just download another.
Ebooks will happen and like other authors I will have to figure out a way to monetize my writing efforts in the near future. But you know Amazon did not buy Stanza just because they had cash in their pockets. Nobody knows how this is going to turn out but you can either get in front of the wave or drown in the resultant flood! I’ll swim, thank you!
Flores Girl: The Children God Forgot is now available as a free ebook novel on the iPhone or if you are interested here is the link to Flores Girl on WattPad: http://www.wattpad.com/125445-Flores-Girl-The-Children-God-Forgot-Part-1. On your smart phone just sign up at Wattpad (www.wattpad.com) to install the free app and add Wattcode 125445! There have been over 2 million downloads of Wattpad to date and over fifty-seven thousand reads for Flores Girl.