Making sense of it all
By Janet Lane
As the Rockies prepare to send out their first pitch of the season, I, too, prepare for my time at bat in the literary field. I peer from the bull pen, alarmed at the massive market changes. After a decade of plying my writing wares, I thought I had it down pat: continue marketing my novels through my publisher, Five Star/Thomson Gale. Perfect my craft. Gather fans and work my way up to the New York publishers. But now the game rules have changed.
Strike one: Five Star Publishing discontinued their Expressions line under which my historical romance novels were published.
Strike two: E-books make significant inroads in the publishing industry much faster than predicted, creating a threat to traditional publishers.
Strike three: Tried and true publishers announce bankruptcy and/or continue to trim releases, shrinking to survive. Agents tighten their acquisition process even more.
Am I three strikes and out? Are you? Are all of us? Like a splintered bat, marketing strategies hang useless in our hands and we wonder how best to react as we face the competition’s star pitcher.
While on a project this winter in North Dakota (in a town with a population of 16,000), I was shocked to learn that their mall – indeed, the entire town — had no new-book bookstore. This revelation left me close to speechless. Then I found myself strolling through the dying remains of a Borders store, shopping with throngs of other guilt-ridden bargain-hunters as Borders closes over 200 stores.
And e-book sales are growing faster than our cell phone bills. From March 17 Publisher’s Weekly come this stat: e-book sales rose 115% in January beating out both paperback and hardcover sales in the same month.
Personal stories abound on the exponential sales of e-books. Authors can cash in on this bonanza, many say. For example, author Barry Eisler (Best Thriller of the Year award from Gumshoe) recently made the switch from traditional publishing to self-publishing e-books. His short story is on track to make $30,000 this year and unlike print books, it will stay on the virtual “shelf” (earning royalties) forever. And for pre-pubs, it’s also good news: now pre-pub writers can snub the editors and agents and market their novels to instant success.
Once a novel has been written, it can be produced into an e-book in as quickly as one day and sold at any price you wish, right down to 99 cents. But alas, whole novels can also be copied and pirated in hours. As RMFW’s Kenn Amdahl points out, print pirates can change the title and/or author name spelling, making it difficult for the authors to monitor piracy through such tools as Google search.
What’s a striving pre-pub writer or a modestly selling pubbed author to do?
Sometimes historical perspective helps. An enlightening glimpse-back was offered in a Slate news article, What Are Independent Book Stores Really Good For? By Tyler Cowen, the story reminds us that the bookstore “field” is constantly evolving. In the 1920s and 30s, we bought our mass market books at drugstores. Then came the Book-of-the-Month Club and, in the 70’s chain bookstores took to the plate, making home runs at area shopping malls. Every inning brought a more commercialized alternative to bookselling. And in spite of all the changes, literacy continued to rise.
Now we see books in grocery chains and super discounters like Sam’s and Wal-mart, and 99-cent books on the Internet.
So all this “change” is really just “more of the same” and one fact is constant: we can’t win the game if we don’t play.
Get to spring practice. To thrive in these new outlets, let’s learn how the game has changed. Sort through the hysteria to find facts. Learn what we can do to compete in the new climate.
Watch other batters. We need to visit sites like the creativepenn.com by Joanna Penn, author and business consultant. In a recent article, she writes about creative destruction and how to survive the e-book apocalypse. In this article, she discusses the strategy of writing e-books at the same time you’re writing for the New York houses. To learn more, go to: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2010/10/22/creative-destruction-or-how-to-survive-the-ebook-apocalypse/ And definitely read about Amanda hocking, the 26-year-old phenom who self-published with such fabulous success, at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tonya-plank/meet-mega-bestselling-ind_b_804685.html
Here’s an excellent March 30, 2011 overview of the indie vs. traditional publishing options available to both pre-pub and pubbed authors. In it, Kris Rusch succinctly explains how an author can and should make different decisions about this based on the changing status of his or her career. http://kriswrites.com/2011/03/30/the-business-rusch-smackdown/
And Google for similar sites. We need to learn so our decisions will be informed.
Go out there swinging. After careful consideration, we need to approach home base with confidence, ready to build our fan base. This will help us through the challenges of a changing market.
Batter, batter, batter! Let’s not allow naysayers to distract us from our course. Our spring mantra is, “Learn, focus and pick up the bat.” We can hit a home run!
What are your strategies to get published? Please share them with us!