Friday, February 19, 2010

A change of Plans?

Yes, I am a couple days behind on this posting. It's been a busy week, an annoying week -- and a snowy week. Yes, it is snowing again, though not much I'm glad to say. We already have drifts that are over five feet high in several places. We really have to start hoping for a slow warm up this next spring. Even the meter reader today mentioned the fear of floods.

Whenever spring gets here.

But let's talk about writing and not the weather for a while. I recently had an odd realization -- one that has flittered about my mind before, but never quite as strong as in the last few weeks. Even if an agent picked me up today and I started seeing my books in traditional markets within a year (that would never happen, by the way), it would be really unlikely that I ever see more than a fraction of my books in publication. Even if I stopped writing today, it would be difficult to see them all make it to print.

Which, in turn, makes me think about the true reasons I write. First, of course, is because I love it. I love the rush of creation and -- oddly -- I love fixing the creations later to make them better. I love writing stories and (here's the important part I've been missing) I love sharing those stories with others. By a 2008 total, I have written 77 novels and sold 18 of them. (Here is an online list of my works up to that date. I have written over a dozen more short stories and I'm not sure how many new novels: ). I am prolific. I will always be prolific because it is the way I work. I have more stories than I can write and more stories written than I can get published.

It's an odd realization.

I have a few of my pieces up for free in various spots on my websites:

Angst of Hero Naming (Poem):

Sub-Textual Evidence for the Existence of Alien Life and the Extrapolation of Internet Protocols (SF short story):

Author Versus Character (The infamous Poodle Wooves story):

Don't Go Home for the Holidays-- A Tale of Spies, Aliens, and Really Bad Timing (A novel-sized collection of short stories on a blog -- read in the order on the Table of Contents)

PSI (SF Novella):

The Last Dragon (Fantasy 100 word drabble):

the end of the world and we know it (poem dedicated to don marquis and archy and mehetibel):

A Message from the Lost (Poem):

Return to Redlin (Romance novella) -- This is a PDF, not a web page so click to see and right click to download:

I know there are a few more pieces at various websites still, but I'll just go with the ones I have put up myself. That's really an odd, wide range of work, but it does indicate my wide range of prolific tendencies. I am not stuck in one genre, though Return to Redlin is my only romance and I don't see myself writing more of them. I need to get something from my YA contemporary collection up, since it's the only one not represented at all.

Here are three things I can say about myself as a writer:

1. I am mostly an 'old style' science fiction and fantasy writer.
2. I am prolific and not likely to slow down much in the coming years
3. I am not fully in tune with the current market.

That last one is the difficult one, of course. I know I'm not writing for the current market because there is so little of the current market that I find enjoyable to read -- and I write what I want to read. That doesn't mean I'm going to stop trying to break into the market because there are still a few writers out there whom I enjoy so there is still hope. However, I'm starting to see two things:

1. I have a hellish amount of written material that is never going to see publication
2. The publishing world is changing in many strange ways.

With that in mind, I am working up a test project of a very small, invitation-only publishing company. To test out the feasibility of my ideas for this company, I will first be working with some of my own material. (Yes, that does mean self-publish. You can stop gasping in shock.) Hey, I have enough to spare, after all! If I see even the slightest glimmer that the overall project might work, I'll start inviting a few others to join me. This is not going to be one of those 'get rich quick' schemes. I don't expect sales to ever be spectacular because the market is so fractured that it's difficult to draw enough attention in one direction.

However, there are only two real choices for those of us who aren't in touch with the current market. We can let our material sit in files, or we can choose a few pieces and see if we can work up a little interest and make at least a few dollars to help out in this horrid economy. I don't know about others, but for me even making and extra $100 a month can make a huge difference in basic lifestyles. Many of us are living on the edge -- many people all over the world are, in fact. Why aren't we using our works to help make life a little better?

For me, the hold up has always been a dream to reach a traditional publication stage. Even if I do this, I am not giving up that dream. Publishing is not an either/or world. It may be best not to mention some aspects of your career -- like self-publishing -- unless the work has made extraordinary sales. But just because you chose an ebook publisher or self-published some work, doesn't mean you are forever tied to that track and can't take a trip on another one.

As with any experimental project, this one might not make it any farther than the drawing board. However, I know there are a few other writers out there who are faced with either being too prolific for their own good or not writing material that suits the current market, but which they enjoy reading. Or both. I've had a lot of experience in the publishing world over the last ten years, from both the author and publisher side. I know all the mistakes I've made on both sides, and I think it's time to stop riding along the tide and start making some waves of my own, so to speak.

There are a lot of questions. What are the top ebook readers? Kindle, Nook, Sony, Palm, iPad, etc... Oh, and let's not forget those who are reading on cell phones and the new netbooks. How many different types of files do you need to make to be a viable ebook seller these days? What is the best route for offering print books? What is the market for signed books and limited editions? What 'extras' can you provide to make purchases look more appealing? A big problem with ebooks is that they are 'shared' which means fewer sales. What if the original sale included something concrete -- something that could not be shared? Perhaps even bonus points towards buying other books, print books and Café Press stuff at a discount. Would that encourage some people to buy rather than pirate?

And what about the very basics of marketing that we don't even think about much these days -- websites, twitter, blogs, journals, facebook, and all the rest. A publishing company needs those sorts of Internet links and so do the authors.

What prices can ebooks sell for that will draw readers to relative unknowns and not feel as though they are risking too much? I've seen studies that show very low prices can actually mean more income. I'm seriously looking at $3.00 ebooks.

Art work. I can do some, at least. Art is far more important to draw sales than many people realize. I can't do it all. I have a limited talent in what I do, but I can get things started.

The big problem is going to be editing. This is a problem that will have to be worked out before this can be a viable project. It is far harder to deal with than buying ISBNs and ads. Those just take an application of funds. Editing takes skill and should be compensated for in funds, but with a new company like this, pushing for a marketing presence, that's going to be difficult. And yet necessary, because any amount of market presence can't overcome poor editing in books.

The good part of the 'new world of publishing' is what makes it attractive to people who rush into self-publishing. First, it is relatively easy to set up some of the options. Second, it doesn't cost anything up front for much of it. The problem is that many people stop there. (And we'll ignore the idea of editing and expectations from the uninformed.) The next step is the hardest for almost all writers and that's marketing. And there is the question of the ISBNs --those magic numbers that cost quite a bit, but that open the door to certain places.

Oh yes, and time. It's not like I have boxes full of time stored away somewhere. I have other commitments that I am not going to short. So this may prove to be unreasonable just from that point of view.

But you know, there is no harm in trying. There's no harm in looking at options and fully informing ourselves about what might or might not work. As long as a person understands the problems, limitations and expectations, it's not going to hurt to try something.

So, we'll see where this goes. It's a fun project to research at the moment, even if I never go any farther with it.


J.A. Marlow said...

Go Zette! I'm excited to see how this will work out for you!

Cheryl Corbin said...

Zette, I've been following JA Konrath's experiments with ebooks and I think his experience shows a lot of promise for writers, especially very prolific writers like you.

He's traditionally published, but has been releasing his rejected novels (after rewriting to his current writing standards) and short stories on Amazon, iTunes and B&N for $1.99 or less. He's sold 26,000 copies since he started releasing his ebooks last year and has determined that if he had the electronic rights to his in-print novels, he'd be making even more money than he's getting from royalties on them now from his publisher. He also provides free download links to all of his ebooks on his website.

To make it easier for writers to get their work listed with the big distributors offers a free service to writers. You can create an account with them and upload your ebooks for free. You have to follow their style and formatting guidelines. You set the price for each and Smashwords takes a percentage (15%). They'll list your ebooks in their catalog and in the big distributors' catalogs. You still have to do the marketing, but it's an easy way to get wide distribution with minimal effort. I have no affiliation with them. I just see them as providing a valuable service to writers.

Joe's post on his ebook experiment is here:

And his latest thoughts on being prolific and diverse as the key to getting lots of fans:

The world of publishing is changing with the digital revolution. I love your work and I'd really like to see you and other authors like you succeed in this new publishing world. The world needs more great stories.