Sunday, January 30, 2011

More on Modern Publishing

While I make my living as a professional writer, it's Technical Writing, and it's working for other people. For many years, I've dreamed of being a professional fiction writer, a totally different animal. Toward that goal, I've put in thousands of hours of effort. Now I'm at the point where I'm selling short-story fiction on a frequent and ever-more successful basis, and am moving to get my first novel out to readers. I've got an ebook out already- a non-fiction work on improving your interviewing skills.

Until the present day, a writing career was not a good bet. For the first thing, most people fail to complete a good first novel. Many start, but few finish, and fewer still edit it until it's good enough, and fewer still get it out to market. Those that do, 96% fail to sell more than a thousand or two copies, and half of the rest fail to sell more than a few thousand more.

Despite that enormously high "failure" rate, thousands of books a year got published, which lead people to believe they could do it through the traditional method. But the cold hard fact is that for most folks, it just wasn't worth it. Working a year on a book and getting a few hundred dollars for it just didn't pay the bills.

Publishers had and still have, almost no idea on what makes a book sell, or how some books rise while similar ones fall. Two good posts on the industry, one by Debbi Mack, who's been reviewed here, and another by Zoe Winters. Read these, and you'll wonder how publishers make money, when they come off as looking like clowns who don't know what they're doing.

Simple answer, until recently they were the only real game in town for someone who wanted to look like a pro. They were the gatekeepers, and you had to go through them to get taken seriously. Bookstores were the place to go for books, and they only bought from publishers. They did this because they could get credit for any books which didn't sell.

The failure rate for self-published work was even worse, as something like 98% of self-published books failed to sell more than a hundred or so copies. And it cost money that the author might never get back. You had to distribute and sell by hand, face-to-face, so the numbers remained small.

Now a revolution has occurred- the price of printing a book has dropped, there are tools to format and create cover art, there are companies who will help the independent, and websites allow an author to get the word out. People can buy books online, and they can buy them in different formats: print, electronic, and audio. They can get editing, so the book doesn't have to suck. If it's any good, they can expect to sell some copies, with a bit of marketing savvy.

So it sucks for the big publishing companies, the bookstores, the agents, and all those who are tied to the old model. They're getting beat on price, and their volumes are down. Since they never had a clue as to how to run a good business, they're in danger of becoming extinct.

The good news is for writers and readers. You can now check out a new author for a few bucks, instead of paying $25 or more for a new hardcover. I read many books, and it would costs me thousands if I had to pay bookstore prices for everything I read in a year. I'd say my book consumption has gone up 10% or more, and I don't even have an e-reader device. Sure, not all of the independent works are well-written, but I'm out only a buck or two, and I don't have to read anything else by a writer who's not good. I'm discovering a host of writers, who are starting careers. Good for them, and good for us.

As a writer, I spent years carefully following the rules set up by the gatekeepers, time I could have spent writing more and getting better. It got me nowhere. I've got good, polished work (industry pros have told me so) and I'm going rogue soon. You'll be able to read samples before you buy, and buy cheap when you find you like what's been written. My hope is to get readers who'll want more, and I'll keep writing more.

That's what the real model is supposed to be. Viva la revolution!


  1. Hi Dale,

    Imagine my surprise at seeing my name mentioned here! :) I'm honored. Thanks.

    And for the lowdown on how well authors are doing self-publishing ebooks check out Joe Konrath's blog at

    Obviously, your mileage will vary. However, the stories are inspirational and the potential is limitless.

    It really is the best of all times to be an author. :)

  2. Debbi, you shouldn't be surprised, as once I discover someone good, I start following. Your experience and success is invaluable, and inspirational.
    Oh, yes, I follow Joe Konrath, the champ of self-pubbing. Though he sells more right now, I did like your Sam McRae better than his Jack Daniels! (I'm picky)