Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Monday, March 14, 2011

The publishing industry continues to ravage itself. Borders is closing 200 stores and considering whether to close 75 more. For those who travel a lot, the good news is that so far, they say they are trying to keep their airport stores open.

With more and more bookstores closing, it seems like the game is changing in favor of mass market outlets like Wal-Mart, Target, and other discount stores. Category romance books from industry giants like Harlequin will therefore continue to have strong sales as they’ve always maintained a strong shelf presence in those spaces. Likewise, bestseller authors with traditional companies should continue to do well as they’ve always received shelf-space in those stores.

If you’re a mid-list author (or lower, non-existent/small-publisher-list like me) you can pretty well forget about sales except through Internet store-fronts like B&N and Amazon.

But it’s not all gloom and doom out there. Just a lot of turmoil. A lot of authors are finding success with the rise of ebooks. Most people are familiar with the mega-success of Amanda Hocking and J.A. Konrath, who have been talking about the glories of epublishing for a couple of years now. Even Bob Mayer in his recent blog  has turned the corner on accepting epublishing as a viable route for new and mid-list authors.

As Mayer points out, mid-list authors get virtually no marketing/promotional assistance from their publishers, anyway, so it’s up to the author to market his/her work.

However, unlike Konrath, I’m not as sanguine that new authors won’t get lost in the huge tidal wave of backlist books by established authors with well-developed fan bases. Literally hundreds, if not thousands, of excellent, well-edited books coming out as folks upload them into various ebook outlets such as

I’m hoping, however, that there will still be room for small press and independent authors. It will be a challenge to find an audience when you’re one tiny voice amidst thousands, but I feel sure at least some will make a success of it, like Amanda Hocking.

There are some lessons learned, however, that are particularly relevant here.

Amanda’s success grew gradually, over the course of 8 books. That’s right, it was her 8th book in combination with 30 or so reviews that tipped the scales toward success. The lesson here is two-fold: a) the chance of having a hit on your first, indie ebook are very, very slim; and b) you’re going to have to work like the devil to socialize your books to garner enough reviews and attention to attract sales.

Editing, cover art, and pricing are critical. Most indie sales occur at the $.99 price. But now that everyone has learned that lesson and is offering their books at $.99, you’re going to have to have an even better product and work even harder to socialize it to beat out well-known authors like Konrath. That means, your cover art and editing have to be top-notch. Some recommend buying professional editing and art work.

This isn’t a competition…or is it? There are only 100 books in the top 100 list for any genre. Amazon doesn’t list all books for every genre when it offers suggestions. Like it or not, you’ve got competition for the reader’s dollar.

There are reasons for optimism, even heavily tempered with the harsh realities of the marketplace. Much as we might like, we can’t all be Amanda Hocking, J.A. Konrath, or Bob Mayer, but at least if we work really, really hard and then harder still, and are willing to edit the heck out of our books, we can get them in front of readers.

In my case, I’m ecstatic that The Vital Principle, a historical mystery has sold well over 100 copies in the first two weeks. It’s a start and a good one.

The Vital Principle
In 1815, an inquiry agent, Mr. Knighton Gaunt, is asked by Lord Crowley to attend a séance with the express purpose of revealing the spiritualist as a fraud. The séance ends abruptly, however, and during the turmoil, Lord Crowley dies. Gaunt is left to investigate not only fraud, but murder. Suspicion turns first to the spiritualist, Miss Prudence Barnard, but as Gaunt digs deeper into the twisted history of the guests at Rosecrest, he discovers more deadly secrets.  Inevitably, long-time friends turn against one another as the tension mounts and Gaunt is challenged to separate fact from fiction.


Beth Trissel said...

Interesting post, and a lot to think about. I admit to being quite discouraged that no matter what I'm selling whether it's pod print or ebooks, I always seem to be 'too expensive' compared to many other authors at Amazon. My publisher, The Wild Rose Press, cannot sell my books or any of their other authors, for .99 cents. Yep, the emarket is being flooded with established authors selling their reissued books in the kindle market for around 2.99. That's for novels. My comparable kindles sell for more like 4.00-6.00. We just can't win. That leaves us with self publishing, or finding that hard won niche at the end of the rainbow.

Beth Trissel said...

PS. Congrats on the success of The Vital Principle. I hope it continues to do well.

Amy said...

Beth, I know. I'm in the same pickle. I like the small press environment and love The Wild Rose Press. I have a fantastic editor there and I need the editorial assistance. I'm not to proud to admit it.

But the prices can't compete with what an indie author can do, or authors who are reissuing their backlists.

We're caught between a rock and a hard place and I'm afraid it puts the squeeze on small press. I wish I could see a better solution. I shouldn't say this, but I've been trying to consider asking my editor "on the sly" if she'd be willing to work independently for a set fee to help me edit books I would publish as an indie. I'm just afraid of stepping into a flaming bag of poo if I do that. I really don't want to anger my publisher by taking such a step, and yet, realistically, they can't compete with the indie author prices.

Beth Trissel said...

All too true, Amy. A hard truth I am only just now fully realizing. I thought if only the ebook market would take off THEN our digital books would sell and we could finally stop hearing how people couldn't read them because they didn't have readers, blah blah blah, and I already knew TWRP paperbacks were priced way too high to compete. Well, the ebook market has taken off and once again, we are trailing behind. Only one of my titles is selling respectably as a kindle and that's Red Bird's Song. I suspect because I've carved something of a niche for myself in the NA romance arena at Amazon. But NA isn't all I write.
I love the Wild Rose too and need the support and editors too. But I'll admit to feeling caught between a rock and a hard place. And I don't know what to do either.

Vonnie said...

Just finished it four minutes ago Amy. Loved it, loved it. I HAD to read it right through.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Amy and Beth,
I agree with everything both of you have said, and of course I am in the same situation.
My greatest fear is that the "big boys" of publishing, now that they have embraced the e-book, after ridiculing it for years, will swamp the market and destroy the small e-publishers the same way that they destroyed the small print publishers a few years ago.
Unfortunately e-pubbed authors are often their own worst enemy,e.g. asked in interviews who their favourites authors are, the majority always quote some big name author from a major publishing house or they buy their books and rave about how fabulous the story was, and probably it is, but why give them your hard earned money and free publicity when the books from e-pubbed authors are just as good, if not better?
It might sound bitchy, but I never buy a big name authors book (would they buy mine? not in a million years,) and I don't give them free publicity either. Well, better climb off my soap box.



Amy said...

Thanks Vonnie!
And Margaret--I agree with what you've said. Not only that, I'm finding that I often prefer new authors because of their fresh voices and the fact that they often try something different than the old hash served up by the traditional publishers. I've started buying a lot of independent authors, as well, for the same reason.
At the moment, I'm hooked on historical mysteries and have found many good ones from the ranks of the small press authors and indie authors.

Beth Trissel said...

I agree with both of you. Maybe our future as authors of a small (but growing, I add) press lies in our own hands.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Beth,
You are right, I think it does lie in our own hands. If we don't support each other, not necessarily by buying each others books, I know people are often strapped for cash, but giving publicity to our fellow E-pubbed authors cost nothing.



Amy said...

You couldn't be more right. And the one thing we don't do that we should is get on Amazon and Goodreads after we've bought a book and give a review. Even if it's just one or two sentences, it helps.

And it helps other readers to know if they might like to try the book, too.