As many of you know I went to the Oregon Coast to take a workshop with Dean Wesley Smith and Scott William Carter with Special Guest Appearance by Kris Rusch ;), on the whats and hows of epublishing, and – more importantly – whys.
I’ve taken other workshops with Kris and Dean in the past, and this one was both similar to those (starting with the very first master class which I attended) and completely different.
It was similar in that Kris and Dean give value for their workshops. I’ve said this before. They don’t have the lengthy breakfasts, the laid back chats… No, every minute of the workshop – and often of the working lunches, when they have to let us eat before we faint (grin) – is dedicated to learning. This makes it very exhausting even if you already know some of the material they’re teaching and, probably, near-lethal if you’re learning and thinking it all for the first time.
This is in no way a complaint. If you’re going across the country for a workshop; if you’re a writer who is perpetually semi-broke; if you have a family you’re leaving on their own while going, you WANT the workshop to be intensive. The last thing you need is to spend time out there doing nothing, while you know you could be working at home.
It was very different from past workshops, though, in that Dean was sharing things he learned just recently and often saying “this might change” or “this might be different for you.”
It was similar because, as with many of their workshops, a lot of what they said I have to struggle to accept – even when I logically should know it’s true.
It was different because the market portion of it was more tentative. See, the market portion used to be on how to submit to editors. It now is on how to submit to… readers. Editors were a small group, living in NYC, attending the same parties, talking about the same topics, practically inhabiting each other’s pockets. You could psyche their preoccupations and their hot buttons one way or another. Apparently my subconscious has a long – LONG – list of “do not write this, no one will buy it” topics, and by “no one” I mean NYC editors. OTOH, ebooks are marketed to a for all intents and purposes infinite market, which does not live in each other’s pockets. Who knows what will find a niche audience of, say, a million people or so, and take off like a rocket?
It was similar because the emphasis was on writing, telling good stories, writing fast and well. Okay, it wasn’t a writing workshop, but 99% of the attendees were traditionally published authors, and Dean kept emphasizing if you stop writing to do tech, you will fail. The writing is what drives all the rest, and the tech is designed to give you freedom to create what you want to, beyond the limits of the traditional market.
The funny thing is that they didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t know. I mean, at the back of my mind, I’d already arrived to similar conclusions. I know this, because as they presented their conclusions, the reaction wasn’t (usually. There’s one exception) Oh, Heavens. I Never Thought Of That! It was more like Oh, Well, DUH. However, they were things I knew but would never have put together, if that makes sense. As is, some of them, though I know intellectually, will take me months to adjust my mind to.
So, without further ado, let me give you some things I learned at the Think Like A Publisher workshop.
1- The market is infinite for all practical purposes.
Qualifications – of course it isn’t infinite. There is a limited number of readers in the world. Also, for now ebooks only reach into about four countries (easily and from the US, that is) and are way behind the US in most of those countries. BUT in terms of “there will be enough people in that group that like any given thing that you could not just make a living but become a millionaire” the market is infinite.
1.a – This is an answer to the “tsunami of sh*t” complaint about how indies will ruin publishing. You see, with that vast a market, what you have to remember is that there are a lot of people in the group you can now access who LIKE sh*t. (This reminds me of the quip in Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment “I just said it was horse p*ss. I didn’t say I didn’t like it.)
1.b. – by the law of statistics this creates a curious “flattening” of the market. Yeah, some things will sell better than others, but not that insanely better. Look, the thing about our “names” in publishing (by which I mean bestsellers. For the benefit of the audience, no, I’m not a name. I’m barely a name in my OWN household.) is that lately there have been so many of them they’ve become “niche names.” Unless you’re talking of J. K. Rowling – and even then you might have to add “Harry Potter, you know?” – chances are any of your non-writing friends will give you a blank stare at the mention of any bestseller. Heck, I’ve had people in the business give me a blank stare at t he mention of a bestseller in UF. Part of what causes this is that there are so many books/authors out. Now multiply that by a bazillion (yes, this is an exact figure! Shut up.) And throw in every writer who ever lived and whose work can be scanned in. Compared to Rowling, I have a name in my own household. Compared to, oh, Kipling, I’m “who is she?” even to my own kids. But the thing is this is NOT a problem. Why not? Because some night people might not want to read Potter or poems, and they might type in keywords that kick up my books – like Shifter. Or Dark Ships. And given an almost infinite market, there will always be a baseline of those enough to keep me in roof and meals and possibly even assistant. Also, with luck and a little care on my part, they’ll come back because I give value. And I’ll have an expanding audience that does not rely on gimmicks or publisher push.
2 – The supply is infinite for all practical purposes. There’s every author who ever lived out there. If you read a new author every day of your life, you’d never run out. It’s reader’s paradise. It’s also writer’s paradise.
2.a This creates the next answer to the tsunami of fecal matter thing – in the enormous pool of the market, no matter how much er… waste splashes in, it will be negligible. Think of the difference between peeing in your bathtub and peeing in the ocean. (This is not, btw, an encouragement to put out randomly generated stories, based on an algorithm that scrambles sentences and creates the equivalent of Atlanta Nights. Peeing in the ocean is still bad manners and if people pay you for it, they’ll get upset. At you, personally.)
2.b. The doors have been thrown wide open. You want to write about people who have a fetish for hydrogen peroxide? There are probably enough of them out there to make you a very rich writer.
3- Chinese Math applies. Sort of.
(Chinese Math states that if you sell something for a dollar to every Chinese person, you’ll still be rich beyond the dreams of avarice.)
3. a But Sarah, you say, you are unlikely to produce something that EVERYONE out there wants to read. [Stop. Just stop. You’re giving me the shakes. I’m visualizing billions of dollars flowing in. (Moans. Clears throat. Sits up straighter.)] Right. So, I am. But I don’t need to. Even if any given piece of my work appeals to say 1000 people on any given month, I’m making a living. And if it appeals to 10000 people, I’ll be making a GOOD living.
3.b. It has a multiplier effect. If one piece of my writing appeals to a thousand people a month (these numbers seem to be unrealistic, btw, unless you’re very good or very lucky. Or both – hi Ric! If a story is doing well it will sell maybe a few hundred a month) then why don’t I have ten pieces out? Or twenty? What am I, stupid? At the level of criminal stupidity? Agatha Christie used to say she sat down and said “I think I’ll write myself a house.” Midlisters, in a way can now do that.
3.c. It REALLY has a multiplier effect, because readers are creatures of habit. What in heck do I mean by that? Well, once we find a writer we like we will keep reading him/her. Sudden, for us, that author has stood up and is beyond the random selection thing I talked about. Oh, it’s unlikely he/she will be an author “everyone is talking about” – look at that near infinite supply thing – BUT he/she will have a growing share of the market and enough to be very rich indeed. So, have books out there under the same name/in the same style, etc, enough to make a living.
4. Book launches are irrelevant. So is most other publicity.
4.a. All they do is speed up the process of finding an audience. Okay, so perhaps not totally irrelevant, particularly very early on, when you want to start seeing some money for a proof of concept on your indie efforts. But ultimately, say two years in the future, you’d be in the same place. This means, if you can wait, you don’t need to publicize. Your book is not going to age or fall off the shelf.
4. b. Yes, this means that books don’t “age” – that relates to shelf space, etc. If anything, since the best publicity in the new market is word of mouth, older books have an advantage. Stop thinking of your books as bananas that will spot and spoil. Now.
4.c. If you’re the sort of writer who wants to sit down and write furiously, your time has arrived. (Thank G-d almighty, free at last.) Oh, okay, you might need to learn some basic coding, but I’m now where I can see how to do it, sort of. And if I can do it, ANYONE can do it. Including people who’ve never seen a computer before and for whom chipped flint is the height of technological innovation. (Yes, that’s how techy I am.)
4.d. There is no such thing as a “big book.” Oh, sure, some of your work will sell better than other work. But the difference won’t be enough for you to think in “big book” terms. What I mean is for most of us, the editors have got in the back of our head and made us think things like “Oh, this next book is going to be huge.” Now you don’t need to let that happen. Just make each book the best it can be, and enjoy the process.
Now, for the one thing that is still hard for me to accept: It is still very early days on this. Dean said it over and over again. And I couldn’t believe it. I mean, intellectually I know it’s true. The very cumbersomeness of the software proves it. You have to spit and duct tape things. When it becomes more main stream, it will become easier, and eventually there will be a push-button solution.
But that’s INTELLECTUALLY. Emotionally, it seems like everyone got there before me. I have to tell myself this is not true and to calm down.
Anyway – these are the general impressions from the workshop. Of course I can’t tell you everything they said over three days. Even if I could, I’d miss little points, which would mean something for you that they don’t mean for me. This is all filtered through my mind, of course, and I might have drawn conclusions the presenters never intended. However to me, it is what I’ve seen.
I went to the revolution and took some snap shots. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to write me a house.