Telling tales or making sales? The author as entrepreneur
This is just me, thinking in pixels.
I don’t have an answer for you, or even advice.
I’m just pondering something, and I’ll be interested to see your response (if any).
In the traditionally published world, an author can just be an author.
It’s possible for someone to really want to simply tell a story.
They write a book, submit it to agents, get one who finds a publisher, and don’t have to be concerned about much else.
If the book is good, reasonably promoted, and the publisher finds it an audience, the author has focused on the writing.
Almost all of the advice I see for people who are independently publishing is how to get people to buy the book.
Not how to write it.
There is a sense to me that if you write a mediocre book and promote it extraordinarily well, you can be a successful author.
That’s obviously idealized on my part. Authors in the traditional publishing system certainly might have written a book in a way to get it selected by a publisher. The author might be consulted on non-writing issues (the cover, the layout). The author might have to do a lot of promotion outside the publisher’s efforts to get the book to sell.
I have a hard time picturing Hemingway or Capote figuring out how to get more user reviews and timing giveaways to move up the bestseller lists.
One of the clear strategies for indies: quantity.
When we hear about really successful authors using KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), I notice they’ve often published ten books in a year or two.
Is it really because the bureaucracy of traditional publishing slowed the production so much that the author could have been writing a classic book every month or so if they had only gotten it together? Is it because of the publishers that we didn’t have fifty Rabbit Angstrom books from John Updike instead of six?
Now, I greatly admire Lester Dent who wrote most of the Doc Savage pulp adventures (under the house name* of Kenneth Robeson). I’m always impressed that Dent was writing an eighty or hundred page novel a month.
I suppose some people would equate pulp work like that with somebody publishing ten novels through KDP in a year, and that may be a legitimate comparison.
However, it just feels like all the advice is on gaming the system.
Do a free day. Put the book in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library**. Exchange reviews with other authors. Tweet. Comment here (and not there).
It suggests to me…that promotion is more important than product.
Now, certainly, the publishers have always thought like that…how to get the maximum sales through promotion.
They were paid to do that…so the authors didn’t have to do it.
Does it change writing? As promotion becomes more of a science, will really great books fail because their independently-publishing authors don’t know the rules? “You tweeted twice on a Tuesday? No wonder no one read your book, Mr. Twain.”
I recently wrote in another blog I have (that apparently almost no one reads, but I have fun writing in it from time to time) about the movie, The Devil Inside.
It’s an inexpensive horror movie, picked up by a distributor for $1 million. In the opening weekend, it grossed $33.7 million in the USA.
“Yay!” you think, “a quality small movie found a distributor and reached the audience it deserved.”
Unfortunately, by pretty much every measure we have, the movie isn’t a good movie. It got overwhelmingly, practically historic, bad user reviews (and terrible reviews from professional critics, by the way).
More importantly, the box office has absolutely crashed, dropping an astounding 83% from the first week to the second.
People all over the movie industry are going to try to emulate that success.
After all, it’s easier to find bad movies than good ones…they are more common. It you can make tens of millions of dollars with very low risk, that’s a good business model.
Okay, sure…you still want blockbusters. I don’t think Burger King is going to do The Devil Inside action figures, and merchandising makes a lot of money.
Is that the model for new authors, though?
Promotion over product…the book doesn’t have to be good, you just have to find that elusive formula that gets people to buy it…whether they like it or not?
I’m not good at promotion. I’ve had people tell me that I should be breaking up my books into a bunch of small books. I’d make more money with ten books each on one topic rather than one book with ten topics in it.
That’s probably true…but it doesn’t seem like as good a value for the reader.
In fact, I recently combined three of my books into one…at the same price for which I was selling each of the individual titles.
I go back and add more to books I’ve already written…because I want to give people more.
I’m certainly not saying I’m better than anybody else for doing that. I just want people to get value. I don’t want to have to spend time promoting ten different titles like that…I do want to concentrate on the writing.
I’ve had people ask me how to promote their books: I dunno.
This blog sells well. My latest book is selling better than I might have expected.
I don’t have anywhere near the sales as the successful independent authors that get into the news, though.
I congratulate them on that. Getting large numbers of sales like that is great! It’s not something I do well, but I’m impressed by other people doing it.
Again, I’m just thinking about this. I suppose my main question is, “Does the traditional publishing model allow authors to just concentrate on the art, where independently published authors concentrate on the business?”
It’s funny, because my first thought would be that indie publishing is passion publishing…you want to get that one novel you’ve been writing for years out to the public, so people can read it. It seems, though, to be more about, “How can I make a living as a writer?” Nothing wrong with that…I think authors should be compensated for their work, and I like the idea of professional writers.
I’m just not sure that I like authors focusing on how to make sales, rather than how to tell tales.
What do you think?
* A “house name” is owned by the publisher, and several author may write using that name. “Kenneth Roberson” was an example of that
** The Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) is a set of books from which eligible Amazon Prime members (who typically pay $79 a year to get free two-day shipping on many items) can borrow up to one a month for no additional cost
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.