Talking to the other side
And no, I don’t mean dead people. I mean non-writers and writers whose usual fields aren’t the ones we frequent.
Why? Well, between the furor that seems to have finally died over Sarah’s analysis (and anger) over a non-fiction author’s assumption that fiction is easy – just making things up (and therefore more amenable to self-publishing and not getting destroyed by changing times), and the non-fiction author’s response (and challenge) I realized that yeah, we do tend to get wound up in our own universe and frame of reference and forget that there are other people out there with other points of view.
For those who choose to read the comments, especially on Sarah’s blog (things got rather… ahem… animated – I had fun playing with the guy who was either criminally dense or deliberately obfuscating, and may have crossed a few lines there, but that’s me for you. I like playing whackatroll, and seeing how much it takes before the brains splatter everywhere or they start flapping and frothing and contradicting themselves… What? I never said I was nice). Um. Anyway, I realized that between the Mad Genius Club and Sarah’s blog, there’s been quite the evolution of views and development of a new paradigm.
So here’s where I see it. Apologies if this is way too obvious for anyone: I’m trying to look at where we are here from the perspective of someone outside.
- Heinleining: fitting the salient details seamlessly into the narrative and action, without overloading the reader with details
- Good research: in the fiction world, especially genre, this is research that’s mostly or entirely invisible but makes the whole piece feel solid and ‘real’. Even if it’s about cyborg zombies.
- Time: a mysterious entity no author has enough of.
- Money: see ‘Time’.
Where we stand: in the middle of an ever-widening chasm, trying to keep enough appendages (virtual or otherwise) attached to something so we don’t plummet to our metaphorical deaths-as-writers in the gaping pit that used to be traditional publishing. Traditional publishing is the corpse kind of sort of straddling the gap. I know it’s still twitching: ignore that. Some kind of parasitic outgrowth could still find roots in there and produce something, but for all bar the uber-bestsellers and the industry daaaaahlings (they’re the ones who got gifted with the numbers that should have been credited to the midlisters – visit The Business Rusch for details – that thing is deader than dead, the serious kind of dead that doesn’t get up and start lurching around. There may be a bridge somewhere off in the distance but most of us are right here near that corpse, since it used to be what fed/kept/chained us. Us in this case not including me personally. I’m generalizing here, okay?
Where we’re going: sod if we know, but we’re trying anything that looks good in case it works. Most of us figure that the more different tactics we can get into the mix, the more likely we’ll find one that lets us survive as writers, and maybe even thrive. We’re all banking on the long tail concept – our potential audience is now everyone in the world who can read English (say about a billion people), so we can do well with a really tiny proportion of those people as fans – and cumulative volume – twenty books or more at $5 apiece, which nets an independent $3.50 a sale from Amazon (I’ll use them as the example), each selling 100 copies a month is $350 x 20 – $7000 a month. And since the independent is the one controlling what’s there, those books never go out of print. The first one starts earning a few sales a month when it’s put up, and it’s still earning five years later when the author’s entire trunk list has gone up and there’s now a good, solid income stream. Length doesn’t matter – independents can put up short pieces (short stories, or for the non-fiction minded, monographs) that take a lot less time to write, and have a fat-looking list, all of it selling for not too much, but continuing to sell for as long as there’s an internet.
The catch – and there’s always a catch – is that it takes time for all of this to build. A young writer doesn’t have as much to publish as a more established writer, and none of us have enough money or time. It takes time to properly format anything for ebook reading, and money to get a cover that won’t scream “stock art” or “amateur” (Ask Amanda if you want info on her epublishing online course – she’ll let you in and give you the website. Or just scroll back through the history here until you find it.). Unless you’re one of those fortunate individuals who are good artists as well, in which case you’re going to need more time. So it’s slow. Most of us are holding two or more jobs. Some of us the “day job” is writing for traditional publishing houses, for others it’s a salaried thing. It’s still a time sink.
The key thing – and probably the only thing keeping all of us going – is that there’s hope where there wasn’t before. Within the last couple of years, self-publishing has become both possible and a viable way to enter the market as a writer. We’re not limited to the stale old “just like the last big hit, only different” that’s all mainstream’s managed for years. We’re not having our books – and careers – killed by editors who think we’re not “sexy” or “interesting” enough to justify selling. We’re not being nixed by glorified accountants who reward meeting the sales prediction even if it’s bad and penalize not meeting it when it’s good. (You outside the field, you’ve wondered why there’s so little that interests you in the bookstores now? That’s why. You’re not jaded. Fiction’s been murdered by glorified accountants who think one book is just like any other book. Sarah’s posted about that, too.)
So, give us time. Give us patience. We’re figuring this out as we go, and many of us are escaping an abusive relationship (with the publishing houses) as well, so the process is going to be a little (okay, a lot) messy. But we’ll get there in the end. We might even figure out where ‘there’ is.