Two years ago, after amicably parting ways with my literary agent of four years, I decide to take destiny into my own hands and publish my books in eformat. I had a huge collection of completed and professionally edited novels and decided that publishing one every three months seemed feasible. So, that’s what I did.
Little did I know I was on the cusp of an indie publishing revolution. My books were available at the right time, for the right audience, and at the right price. Kindles and Nooks were the new “it” device to have, and readers who were once against reading a story electronically, suddenly realized the ease in which they could purchase and carry along their favorite books. My sales went through the roof.
I’m not saying I was a bestselling author, but my books all ranked in the low thousands for a time. Then something strange happened, my sales started to drop. I wasn’t doing anything different than before. I still spent an average of two hours a day marketing my titles, on top of the two hours a day I spent writing new material. Yet, my rankings kept slipping.
I decided to look deeper into this new age of publishing and what I discovered is frightening.
It seems anyone who’s ever written anything is now publishing it on the internet. Last year, Amazon reported about 20,000 new titles being published a month. This December it was over 80,000. That’s a lot of competition! And these new publishing folks are savvy marketers even if they’re not great writers. They’re using Utube, and audio conversions, and video’s, and social media, and a thousand other techno resources to peddle their stories to the masses.
So, where does that leave the introvert, artist, novelist who cares about his books as if they were his children?
As I get older and more experienced in my writing, I’ve come to realize that it is the story that is most important. It is eternal once written. To create something that effects people, or entertains, or changes their perspective about life, is what any real writer hopes to achieve. Sure, there are gimmicks and tricks, and social media, and threads to artificially raise awareness of your book, but if it was written as a piece of merchandise just to have out there, chances are it will fail.
Last month, I researched much of the latest trends in marketing (seo optimization, book trailers, keywords) and it made my head spin. Whatever happened to a good story selling itself? It’s getting harder and harder to keep up with the world.
Honestly, the publishing world has become a disappointment to me. There are so many great novels out there, yet it seems that quality is lacking when it comes to popular fiction.
I want to make a point, and it will be at the expense of a very popular novel, as I feel it's relevant to the topic.
The 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon.
Not everyone can have a bestseller. I'd be giddy as a schoolgirl if I had a fraction of EL James' success. Think that goes for a lot of authors. However there's a lesson to be learned.
Originally a Twilight fanfiction, it garnered a lot of readers on fanfiction.net. So the author changed the eye color and names of characters and ebooked it. Made literary history. However, it has several detrimental factors, aside from the plagiarism aspect. It has grammar issues, subject-verb agreement issues, espouses abuse (outside of the "bdsm" factor) masquerading as romance (an affront to someone who has spent twenty years with her nose buried in romance novels and once had ideals of twu luv) and despite all these issues, the trilogy has done beyond well-- skyrocketing past Harry Potter in sales. [That all said, Yay EL James for penning a winner and making history. Well done. Not hating on her success, but it's celebrating mediocrity.]
This is our competition. We need not write well nor have original ideas. We just need to make it tawdry so we can slide by on shock factor instead of quality.
I'm almost to the point where I'd post my novels on my blog, free for my readers, just so there's no excuse to reading something other than what's popular. Something different, something entertaining, something that doesn't lie to the reader.
Bestselling doesn't necessarily mean good.
I want to be a good author, if not great. I don't have to be a bestseller, but I don't want my success to be built off the back of another author's work.
Fifty Shades of Grey- Factuary great little video about the phenomena and compares it to Valley of the Dolls, and it's popularity-- which really makes me think that if I wanted to go to the realm of Bestseller, I'd have to follow the formula FSoG and Valley of the Dolls take.
Is that how we bolster sales? Just make it shocking?
Alice in Sexland is shocking. It's pure XXX porn. It's not selling as well as I'd like it to. Crap sells. No doubt about it, but luck is the biggest factor we face. We need to make our luck, hope for luck, and I pray for luck. She tapped into a barrel of readers, and sold enough books for a publisher to pick her up. The publisher added more hype, and the phenom began. Crap sells. I got over it and moved on.
This is the only thing I can do as an indie. I write the best story I can, edit it to the best of my ability, make my own cool cover, format it, and then price it. To gain any sort of reader awareness I give it away, and then I hope for the best. I'm making my own luck.
Love Dark by Ripley King at Smashwords.
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I agree that the story is the most important. When the story "Human Interference" came to me, I was an air traffic controller looking forward to retirement. I had never planned on being an author, but my wife talked me into writing. I spent four years crafting the novel, pouring my heart and soul into the pages. Now that we have it published it seems like it is lost in the multitudes. Even though we may never see it on Oprah, we have that satisfaction of it being out there. Thanks for the blog.
"To create something that effects people, or entertains, or changes their perspective about life, is what any real writer hopes to achieve." I love that, and that's what I'm trying too not just aiming or hoping for sales.
Anyway, if others are smart we too have to do or use whatever possible tools to reach the audience and be smarter.
Writing is a business like any other art form. Adapt or die. The other things you mention are to a great extent abstractions.
Hopefully you will find this relevant.
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Back to basics - is the book good, not is it at the top of some gerrymandered bestseller list.