Friday, May 18, 2018

The ever changing, ever volatile publishing landscape...

Where the big books get published or rejected...

...back in the old days (say the mid '90s), when I first started out in this business, I had always intended to write a lot of books as quickly as possible (I got lambasted for this attitude in writing school). I also intended to get them to market as quickly as possible. I would then spend the bulk of my free time on wine, women, and song (I played drums in a bunch of punk bands). Woe was I to find out that while the writing came quickly to me, the publishing game quote one of my late dad's favorite euphemisms...slower than whale shit.

On top of that, it turned out that aside from a very select group of writers (about .0095) of them, acquiring major publishing deals of say, $250K or more (plus the multi-media rights that go with them) every two or three years without question, was akin to winning Power Ball over and over and over again. I hit one of these mega deals right out of the gate and since then, I've struck a ton of "nice" deals, but nothing that nice. Simply put, if your book doesn't earn out and then some, the monies offered goes down on you faster than Stormy Daniels.

Then came the indie publishing movement, and gone suddenly was the query, wait, and hope days. Suddenly, the publishing end of things go from agonizingly slow to as fast as you can put out a book. To make the sauce sweeter, books no longer have a shelf life. They will be published long after you become worm food. Here's what this means (bulleted of course):

1. Your words are no longer dead once the publishers and bookstores say so.
2. Your books become investments, much like mutual funds or perhaps more accurately, real estate. You put up an initial investment and every year, year in and year out, your books earn you a solid return of perhaps %25 (My indie books on average earn me %40 annually, while my mutual funds earn me about %5. You see where I'm going here.)
3. Fiction writing has become not about the initial advance, but more about the tail end "passive income." If I get sick tomorrow, and can't work for a month or two, the money keeps coming in. It also means...and this is the magical unicorn feel good portion of our story...that my kids and their kids will eventually earn several thousand dollars per month for the rest of their lives.

Back to traditional publishing. Yeah, I'm a hybrid guy. I publish traditionally and indie. I do it all, because I lust publication in all its forms. Plus I'm a control freak and I love controlling my own destiny rather than a bunch of accountants and sales reps determining it for me. Over the past seven or eight months I've started working with a new agent on a couple of books that will eventually go up for sale to the big five or four or whatever they are now. We're working very carefully on these books and quite arguably they are the best of my career. In a sense we are manufacturing a deal here, which is precisely the point.

But the going is slow. As a full-time professional writer, I could never depend solely on this "traditional" publishing model. This model is for "authors." Authors generally speaking have day jobs. They are either lawyers, or writing teachers, or famous journalists, or dentists, or what have you. Again, generally speaking, the traditional model is too slow and too risky to actually give up your day job.

However, for those of us who possess God's gift of proliferation (I'm a machine), we can indeed quit the day job and build an indie list to supplement one's traditional efforts. We are not authors, we are "writers." Think about it, in the seven or eight months I've been working on those two big manuscripts with my agent, I've written three full-length genre novels and another six novellas, plus a ton of short journo pieces and blogs. And folks, even though I do this full-time, let's face it, it's part-time work. In other words, Although it looks like I'm always working, I still have time to work out a couple hours a day, take a nap, go fly fishing, fly to Vietnam (did I tell you I'm heading back to Asia next month on a research trip?), or just pretty much do whatever then hell I want to do when I want to do it.

So there you have it, the hybrid life to date.

One bit of news before I go: Amazon Publishing has very abruptly shut down their Kindle Worlds program. A lot of writers are pretty upset about it. About four years ago I was commissioned to write a novella for the program. It was an X-Files novel. It was fun to write and I was paid $10K, but it never saw the light of day since in the end, Fox couldn't come to a satisfactory licensing agreement with Amazon. Ironically, I might now be able to somehow legally publish the book. However, the point here is that AP is going through some definite changes. They've been wonderful to work with (I have 9 novels at Thomas & Mercer), and I hope to work with them again. But take my advice and be sure to diversify your publishing. Go traditional, go indie, go wide, and build up that mailing list. One day sooner than later, you just might be publishing your books directly to readers off your own website.



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