Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The eRoute to eSuccess

When I first started writing War of Nutrition (so long ago it even had a different title), self-publishing was frowned upon by "real" authors. It was a route for amateurs and, more importantly, it was the route that once taken could never lead you back to "proper" publishing. Real publishers and agents, it was said, would never touch anyone tarnished with the shame of self-publishing.

What a difference twelve years makes. So what happened? Lots of things:

Computers and the Internet.

Of course the Internet existed in 2000, but there were far fewer of us on it, and outside of the US most of us accessed it over dial-up. Slow and clunky, yes, but even back then it was starting to connect us in exciting and previously unimaginable ways. One of those burgeoning ways was a new route for authors to reach their readers, but much more than that the Internet provided a faster, easier and more accessible research tool. I can't begin to think of how I'd have learned enough protein science, or geography, or helicopter piloting (all of which are essential to the plot of WoN) before the Internet, but it would certainly have involved hours and hours in public libraries and in my case would probably have prevented the book ever being written.

The Recession

While traditional publishers were at first bemoaning, then begrudgingly accepting and then (almost but not quite) embracing the self-publishing revolution, the world plunged into recession. There was no longer as much money to risk on unheard of new authors (there never had been much), and scarce agent and publisher resources were focused on known quantities and guaranteed profit-makers. If you're an Ian Rankin or a Stephen King, no problem. Otherwise getting published became an even less likely proposition (and the odds never were that good).


(Other e-readers are available) Obviously ePublishing could never have taken off in the absence of a platform to ePublish to. In the vanguard, Kindle offered not only a device but also a (fairly) simple route for authors to go it alone. Its success has been well documented, followed up in short order by other variants by the same and other suppliers, and eBooks recently overtook hardcopy sales in at least one marketplace. Although there still are, and will continue to be for many years, some dyed-in-the-wool lovers of paper, it's inevitable that these will decline as the generations turn and in a decade or two will be looked upon with the same gentle forbearance currently reserved for lovers of vinyl, 8-track, Betamax or more recently HD-DVD.

Naturally, it's not all good news. Easy access to self-publishing has removed many of the gatekeepers, and there are easily as many deluded authors as there are deluded auditionees on The X Factor. All their friends and family have told them what a good writer they are, they've had this cracking idea for a story which they've knocked up in a few weeks. No, they don't know how to spell- or grammar-check and have no idea what a copy editor is, but why does that matter when they're only a few clicks away from seeing their name on Amazon's bestseller list? With several thousand new works being published every day for e-reader platforms, consumers of fiction have to plough through mountains of dubious quality output to find something worth reading. So ironically, now that it's easier to publish, it's harder to find something that was worth publishing, let alone is worth reading. Not surprising readers tend to stick with what (and who) they know. Unless you're prepared to spend hours online on Facebook and Twatter or in Amazon forums and the like, the chances of you drumming up a readership beyond your list of Facebook friends are slim to none. And even interesting THEM in your creation is hard work half the time.

Not that having those gatekeepers in place was necessarily all that much better. What? You've never read a bad book? Never reached the final page and thought "God. That was *crap* - how did it ever get published"? Lucky you. During my 100-Theme Writing Challenge last year, I had the opportunity to explore reasons why in this post. It's depressing. But like so much in life if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. In the end it's probably better to write your book because you want to write it, not because you're expecting to get rich off the back of it. Very few people get that lucky.

(Originally started writing this in Feb 2012 shortly after War of Nutrition was published for Kindle. Hard to believe almost a year has passed.)


Anonymous said...

I am going to bring this to Liz Horrocks' attention. She's been published the traditional way but sales are not sparkling.

How many copies of WoN have you sold?

Digger said...

Difficult to say exactly, because I don't get figures directly from Kobo, Sony, or pretty much anything beyond Kindle, and royalties take forever to trickle back to my non-Kindle publisher (Smashwords).

But from the numbers I can see, split between Amazon and direct downloads from the publisher's website, it's around 100. I'm not retiring *just* yet.