24 Aug 2015
When it was introduced in 2007, the Amazon Kindle didn’t look like a revolutionary device. It was a white rectangle with a blank cover, and when you turned it on, it didn’t chime or show you a pretty picture. It was as utilitarian as Soviet housing but without the charm. It’s said that Steve Jobs looked at 4,000 shades of beige before picking the perfect one for his Macintosh. Jeff Bezos, it seems, didn’t give a rat’s ass what it looked like, so long as you could read a book on it.
Yet the Kindle changed the lives of millions. There had been reading devices before, but the Kindle was designed to make buying and reading books as easy as possible. Bit by bit, Amazon rolled out tweaks that improved the book-buying experience. It allowed you to buy books through the device and have them installed automatically. It let you download free samples. The review system gave customers their say about a book’s quality and gatekeeping critics the vapors. By making the Kindle software available for smartphones, tablets, and desk computers, Amazon made it convenient for readers to read their purchases anywhere on any device.
But it was Amazon’s decision to allow anyone to publish their books, sell them to readers, and earn a significant percentage of the price, that shifted the balance of power in the publishing industry from the publishers to the writers. Authors could strike out on their own, to write their books their way, publish them their way, and reap most of the rewards. Midlist writers who were dropped by their publishers discovered a way to get back into the game. Traditionally published authors who get the rights back to their books could publish their backlist.
After a barrage of complaints from publishers about the quality of self-published works, it became clear that they could use the market as a sort of minor leagues. Authors with best-selling digital books found themselves being courted by the majors. Some jumped over with varying degrees of success, while some major writers considered letting their contracts run out and test the waters of independent publishing.
For readers, the result has been an outpouring of books to choose from. Great for them, not so much for the writers. The young up-and-comers encountered stiff opposition from many sides. They were tossed into a pool in which they were competing against hundreds of thousands writers: new authors, the pros, and even long-dead authors whose works could be found at Project Gutenberg, Google Books, and the Internet Archives.
During the early years of the Kindle, this did not matter as much. There were a lot of Kindles out there and a lot of people eager to fill them up. Many authors found were selling thousands of books with not much effort. Then there were the fly-by-nights, who were using software to convert thousands of public domain works (and not a few copyrighted works as well). One opportunistic publisher I came across decided the world did not have enough stories about Hercule Poirot, so took the works of writers such as R. Austin Freeman, changed the names, and republished them. He also managed to pirate Alan Moore’s wonderful “League of Extraordinary Gentleman” graphic novel (which starred literary characters such as Huck Finn, Professor Challenger, and Captain Nemo) by combining public-domain works featuring those characters and selling them under the LEG name. When I emailed him about the propriety of using copyrighted titles (and images for the cover art), he seemed genuinely surprised that someone thought he was doing something wrong.
The publishing environment has changed since then. The get-rich-quick schemers are still there, as are the self-anointed book marketing experts, and the “publishing services” companies. Every year, there are fewer new Kindle owners hungry for books. That means, if you want to stay in the arena, you’ll have to up your game (if you haven’t already).
It’s time to build a career.
“You’ve never been out of college. You don’t know what it’s like out there. I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results.” — Ghostbusters
“The Career Indie Author” is for those who want to make a living from their writing. It focuses on the business side of the profession, with an occasional glance at the writing side. It is for writers who want to put out more than one book, who want to find an audience for their works, who want to put food on the table and support their families and earn the rewards from their hard work.
With a few exceptions, “The Career Indie Author” will not make you a better writer. There are plenty of books on plotting, characterization, grammar, research, revisions — in short, the mechanics of writing.
“The Career Indie Author” picks up after you’ve finished your book and you’re wondering what to do next. It will take you through the revision process with a line editor. It will show ways to track your sales. It will discuss how to market and promote your work and the what tools that are out there that will get the job done.
If you have problems meeting a deadline, scheduling your book’s publication and promotion, or working with reviewers and ebook makers, “The Career Indie Author” can help. I’ll talk about establishing good working habits, the risks and rewards of being your own boss, how to pace yourself at the head of a one-person company, and how to organize your work and life for the long run.
A lot of these tools I developed over the years, first as an author who took 15 years to write his first book before selling it to a major publishing house, then as the owner of Peschel Press, under which I edited and issued eight books (so far) with more in the pipeline. I also have drawn from my observations of the publishing scene, and talked with other authors to get their insights into what worked and what didn’t for them.
Before we get into the meat of the book, let me lay down a few ground rules so you know where my advice is coming from.
The first rule, from which the rest evolve, is that there are many paths to publishing, you have to find what works for you.
“The Career Indie Author” is for novelists, short-story writers, polemicists, and non-fiction authors. There are numerous sub-categories in each, and what works for one type of author might not work for another. So not all of this advice may apply to your particular situation.
For example, a writer of science-fiction has numerous ways to find potential readers. There are websites and forums dedicated to the genre. There are conventions where a writer can appear as a guest or to sell books. The work could be recast as a graphic novel and reach those fans. A group of writers can work together to publish an anthology.
A writer of popular non-fiction might need a different set of tools. Someone who writes a book about great science-fiction authors could follow the same path as the science-fiction writer, but someone who writes about American politics would have to reach out in a different direction.
That’s why there’s plenty of guidelines and advice, but very, very few rules in this book. Not only will the type of books you write help dictate how you’ll market some, so will your talents, interests, time, money, and energy. If I state that you should only hire artist for your covers, that would be wrong if you’re an artist, or you know enough Photoshop to put together your own cover.
For example, what do you think of this cover?
So unless you’re multi-talented or so well-financed that you can hire whoever you need, chances are you won’t be able to use all of the advice in this book. That’s all right. Take what you need for now, and come back to it later.
Because here’s the last thing you need to know before we plow into the book proper: You can always correct your course. It used to be that you have one, maybe two chances to launch your book. But now, you can always reach out and find potential readers. You can change the cover, add more material to create a “director’s cut,” or relaunch it as an audiobook or a graphic novel.
So relax. As you gain experience and knowledge, you could new and potentially better ways to spread the word about you and your books. There will always be opportunities. It’s never one-and-done.
In short, you can build your future, one task at a time, in any order and at any time. So why not start today?
This is the first in a series of posts that wants to give you advice based on my experiences running Peschel Press. I hope to go into detail about the type of things I’ve thought about but haven’t found elsewhere, such as how you organize your day, how to track book sales, how to record expenses, and when and how to find help. With a little persistence, I’ll eventually have enough material to publish a book on the subject, but in the meantime, enjoy these samples and let me know what you think. And if you have particular question or want to know more about a particular subject, drop me a line through my Contact Me page. Thanks.