Is being PC going to win you customers?
“Augustus,” announced Cecilia, putting up her chin, “Will be remembered long after you have sunk into oblivion!”
“By his creditors? I don’t doubt it.”
I’m re-reading THE GRAND SOPHY (Georgette Heyer) at the moment and thought this quote appropriate for aspiring authors. Augustus Fawnhope is the ‘beautiful poet’ whose verses don’t ‘take’, despite the prodigious amount his doting mama spent on getting them published.
Now as I have no interest in ‘dodging duns’ for the rest of my life, it is somewhat more important to me that my writing does ‘take’ than that anyone should remember me after I have sunk into oblivion, or worm-food.
We’re living in ‘interesting times’ for authors. Lots of opportunities, and a fair number of disasters. Some of the ones coming down the track at Random Penguin involving some fairly large name editors if the Scuttlebutt is correct. That should be ‘interesting’ for their authors. Trad cuts will substantively affect authors, and of course the grace-and-favor clients of the same. As the grace-and-favor camp-followers have – in order to show their loyalty – made themselves as popular as the guy frying bacon next to the Vegan conference with everyone else, it should be really interesting for them. Some of the authors will no doubt move to Indy – there is nowhere else for them to go. Some may well flourish. Many – out from the ‘doting mama’ – will discover that to ‘take’ you have to appeal to a lot of people outside of mama.
That means you have to start doing hard things – like looking at what is or isn’t popular. What you can sell. What you have to sell to survive or thrive.
That’s potentially very little of the population. Let’s just take the US, and assume you want to make serious money but could accept to make say $35K PA without too many creditors or duns…
Call it 350 million people in the US. Let’s assume you will write one book a year – most of us could do that – and that you’ll turn a clear $3.50 profit (once again a reasonable assumption). That’s 10 K copies or more or less 1 copy per year to for every 32 000 people.
It should be. The US is a big country, and yes you could find 10K of even the most obscure grouping scattered among them.
The problem is you have to look quite hard. And then knock out the part that doesn’t read or reads very little, or not fiction. And then the part that doesn’t read your language (translation costs) And you have to take the fact that only a few read sf/fantasy (somewhere between 2-5% IIRC). So let’s say you take guestimates at all those (and they’re just guesses, guys, informed guesses, but this is just is just illustration.) at 5% sf/fantasy, 50% reading fiction (a very high guess) and 80% reading English. Now we’re down to 1:640 people has to buy your book. Still not ridiculously hard.
Of course you still have to tell them it exists – which is harder.
You can see where it starts to get pretty serious now. The more people you exclude, the harder it gets, the more you include, the easier. The less competition you have, once again the easier. Look at the demographic data. You’re not trying to please mama-the-publisher and their tastes. You’re trying to please as under-served a market as possible, as well as write what you want to (because yes, you can write what you HAVE to. It just tends to lose some savor).
Let’s say you count out male readers, 1:320 and ones who don’t enjoy most of trad Pub’s very PC ideology (where approval runs at 28%)… yes, well. 1:90. It is interesting – looking back at several surveys that seems to have, at least, for now passed its peak. In 2010, 34% said PC balance was right (11%) or insufficient (23%), by 2014 it dropped to 28% – with balance right (16%) and ‘insufficient’ (12% ) . I’d hazard a bet that’s moved further since then, and the balance between ‘more needed’ and ‘enough’ has turned on its head. Needless to say Trad. Pub and its clients still continue to push for ‘more’. This will not end well. It’s a shrinking market they have 100% of!
Not all of those will read your flavor of sf, and while most people will buy a number of books a year… there are several hundred trad authors who may find their editor-mama just left them high and dry –as well as those readers still buying from Trad publishing.
It’s certainly not impossible. If you start to subdivide it even smaller, it does become harder and harder. If you want the $100K PA Kameron Hurley thought sufficienr to pay her adequately and choose a small section of the market to appeal to… do the sums again. Good luck.
It’s at times like this I am very glad of the cover quote on RATS BATS AND VATS from Booklist.
(the picture is a link)
I guess I was ahead of the curve. I have to wonder just how many Puppy Kickers ever read a book of mine – or any of the authors they kick?