Self publishing! You do it right or spectacularly wrong- your buyers could be your mom and a few coworkers who feel badly for you, or it could take off, sell millions, and land you a movie deal with Ridley Scott.
Bowker updated their stats for the year 2015: 727,000 self-published books up from 2014’s 600,000.
Bowker only counts books with ISBNs, so they could be off. But they can confirm a surge as writers abandon traditional publishing routes.
How in the world does a reader adapt to this? Well, if a book is available for electronic format only, those sales are down. The Association of American Publishers saw a 14% drop in e-book sales in 2015 (compared to the year before). Codex did their own survey and confirmed those findings, reporting e-book sales dropped in 2015. Peter Hicklet-Smith (president of Codex) described this as “digital fatigue.”
This basically means that readers are inundated with options, so they are less likely to read on their devices. I have an old iPad, for instance, that is connected to a Kindle account I share with my husband. I use the iPad for reading some of the time (when travelling) but I prefer to have hard copies. I’d rather run back and forth to the library and have a physical book in my hand, for some reason.
I suppose for writers the lesson is this: have a presence in both physical print and electronic markets. If you’re self-publishing, however, that might be a challenge. Always keep up with the trends, I guess. And I say that without jumping from the self-publishing ledge.
I realize that the debate between traditional publishing and self-publishing can be a bit divisive. I honestly don’t know what to think myself, as I’ve just started to look into the major differences. Self-publishing looks like a lot of work, but the bottom line might be worth it if the author has any business sense. But that’s the key, right? Most authors think agents will do all the work, and that’s probably not entirely true. What I do know is that traditional publishing has a dark side. Creators are cogs in the wheel, often cut out of royalties.
Kris Rusch, former editor of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and author of several short works and novels, has a great post about contracts and what to watch for:
These discount clauses—which the authors have freely signed—are the way that publishers are increasing their bottom lines. This is also why so many #1 New York Times bestselling authors are seeing their royalty rates decline. It’s not because the books sell fewer copies (although that’s happening as well); it’s because the authors are being paid less per copy sold—significantly less… If you insist on selling your book to a traditional publisher, especially one of the Big Whatevers, then accept that you will lose that book for the term of the copyright, and you will not get rich off that book’s sales even if the book is a bestseller.
So what’s a writer to do? If someone as established as Kris Rusch is blowing the whistle, then I think the answer is to go hybrid if you want to make a living at all:
If your goal is to be validated while you work another job, then go ahead, sign contracts with big traditional publishers. If your goal is to be a professional writer with a long-term career as a writer and no other job, you have to stay away from contracts and clauses like these.
May is off to a good start: Futura Magazine, Medium’s Science Fiction short story collection, put up my Sci-Fi/ Horror short, “Arrogant Damned” . It’s about a murderer so know what you’re getting into before you leap! One of my beta readers for the story messaged me after reading the opening and said, “hang on I need to finish breakfast first.”
He was probably kidding. 😉
In other news I joined the New England Science Fiction Association (NESFA) and I’m now involved with NESFA Press. I’m currently working on a 240 pg editing project for them, which is very cool since it enables me to get a peek into the publishing process and work on something by a well-known SF author. I’ll be sure to share the work once it’s done and up for sale (and I can speak more freely to the specifics!)
Hear me out: There’s this great interview with Kazuo Ishiguro and Neil Gaiman making the rounds, so I’ll reproduce a part that was really interesting to me:
NG I loved the idea, because it seems to me that subject matter doesn’t determine genre. Genres only start existing when there’s enough of them to form a sort of critical mass in a bookshop, and even that can go away. A bookstore worker in America was telling me that he’d worked in Borders when they decided to get rid of their horror section, because people weren’t coming into it. So his job was to take the novels and decide which ones were going to go and live in Science Fiction and Fantasy and which ones were going to Thrillers.
KI Does that mean horror has disappeared as a genre?
NG It definitely faded away as a bookshop category, which then meant that a lot of people who had been making their living as horror writers had to decide what they were, because their sales were diminishing. In fact, a lot of novels that are currently being published as thrillers are books that probably would have been published as horror 20 years ago.
KI I don’t have a problem with marketing categories, but I don’t think they’re helpful to anybody apart from publishers and bookshops.
The rest of the interview can be read here.
I guess this is particularly of interest to me since I like writing ponderous stories with horrific elements, and I seem to be getting attention for my horror writing, not my fantasy work. A while ago one of my stories was shortlisted for a horror magazine, so if I get published my first appearance in print will be in the horror genre. I don’t think this is a bad thing, but I’v seen publishers give advice to new writers about the market: once you get published, stick with that genre. Your job as a writer is to build a fan-base and you can only do that if you stay consistent.
That seems narrow, but what do I know? More and more I see Horror/ Sci-Fi as a category and I’m not sure that’s fair.