Tuesday, 17 April 2012

A Year and a (few) Day(s)

It's been a little over a year since I started this blog (yeah, I'm a man, I miss anniversaries. Deal with it ;D), and I realised that actually, I do have a few reflections on the year that may be of interest, because I happened to start blogging at a pretty good time for marking years from in publishing terms.

Specifically, I started this blog on March 27th, eight days after Konrath and Eisler published the first of their dialogues about self-publishing (which I think at some point got christened 'Be The Monkey', but I haven't looked into that too hard, out of fear). That's not a coincidence; the linked piece was the sum total of my motivation for deciding to self-publish.

I'm going to be arbitrary and say that the Konrath/Eisler piece marks the point at which self-publishing went mainstream (at least, as mainstream as publishing business models ever get). Maybe it went mainstream earlier, but certainly not any later - anything I've heard of is mainstream, because I have my ear to the ground on exactly nothing. If nothing else, Barry Eisler admitting that he passed up a half-million-dollar advance to self-publish was a huge event, without any precedent that I'm aware of.

That there's been a gold rush going on ever since is undeniable. It's too early to say whether the rush has finished. On the other hand, it's starting to look like the gold has gone, and that's what I want to talk about. By 'the gold', I mean the better-than-average chances of success for authors who decide to self-publish.

Let's get one thing straight off the bat; I'm not saying that self-publishing has ceased to be a good option for authors at all stages of career. I maintain that 'big 6' 'traditional' New York publishing is too wasteful a model to be good for authors. All I'm saying is that it's time to stop rushing. There's still gold in the hills, but you're not just going to trip over it lying on the ground any more.

Why's that? It's a question of access to readers. Twelve months ago, it was sort of plausible for Konrath to say (as he frequently did) that the only promotion he needed for his self-publishing was a post on his blog and a note in the Amazon Kindle forums. In fact, it was plausible for him to say that was all anyone needed to do, provided the note in the forums went in the right place. It may even, briefly, have been true.

It's easy to see how the gold rush got started, isn't it? Even people like John Locke, who advocated much more intensive marketing strategies (and Locke's results speak for themselves, with him being one of the first self-pubbers past the million-sale mark) relied on fairly easily-accessible marketing channels, with Twitter being a particular favourite.

I didn't have a book ready for publication at the time, so I didn't try for myself, but I know there were a bunch of people who carved out their niches going through that kind of easy-access channel; Twitter, the Kindle boards, Goodreads and so on. I'm prepared to allow that it worked at the time.

The channels, though, have clogged up. Really badly. I tried dipping my toe into Goodreads when I published 'Heaven Can Wait', but I couldn't find a single group that I thought contained more book-buying readers than book-selling authors (and yes, authors buy lots of books, but they don't go on Goodreads to find books to buy, they go there to find readers to sell to, and I was as guilty of this as anyone else). The only people I communicate with on Twitter that I feel are likely to buy my book are authors, most of them pushing their own writings.

As a community, writers can be a bit blinkered (this probably goes for all communities everywhere, one way or another). We forget that most people who read books aren't writers and probably don't even think of themselves as 'readers'. They're just people who are literate, usually have a book on the go, and probably know a handful of other literate people. They hear about books mainly through newspaper-type reviews, or from similarly literate friends, or from advertisements, or by wandering through their preferred bookstore sections and seeing what looks interesting.

Kindle briefly changed that, because it was a new gizmo and that meant all the 'early adopters' - people who are interested specifically in new technology - got into reading ebooks. This is a group of people who tend to be heavily engaged in social networking (because it's the only thing besides GPS that justifies owning a smartphone). They're also people interested in the technology for its own sake. They're interested in who made it. That means that when looking for content, they're going to go to the technology's source as much as to usual content sources.

For the brief, transitory moment that the Kindle was 'new technology', this meant there was a consumer demographic that was available through social media and retailer forums like the Kindle boards. Unfortunately, it's also a demographic that was always going to lose interest quickly in the event of a gold rush.

What does that mean for us writers, then? Mainly, it means it's back to business as usual. The key to success now is patience, perseverance, and concentrating on getting access to the big channels; newspaper reviews, major genre-specific interest mags and websites and, ultimately, Oprah. It's back to building up word of mouth one reader at a time. The chance for lightning-strike success is back down to the usual one-in-a-million (as opposed to the peak rate of maybe two in a million ;D).

The really important consequence, and I can't stress this enough, is that there's (still) ABSOLUTELY NO POINT spamming your Twitter feed with plugs for your work; a handful of tweets, well spread out over several days, arranged to catch the key time zones, around release time, is all you should go for. Instead of wasting everyone's time plugging, use Twitter for actually networking with other authors (which is still important; I've learned more about writing that way than from anything else in my life) and work on getting good reviews for your book so that Amazon's automated system will plonk it in front of ordinary customers.

This post is getting a bit long, and hasn't really covered everything I want to cover. The TL;DR of it is: there probably was a time for Twitter plugging, but it's over. The industry has moved on already.


  1. I'm reaching the same conclusions you are, especially about Twitter.

  2. To be honest, if I see that an author who's followed me does nothing but plug their book with their twitter account, I refuse to follow back. I find the constant self promotion off-putting, though I don't mind the occasional plug.

  3. I write books. I write blogs. I love tech toys. I've never tweeted or texted. I don't understand the fascination with Twitter, or understand why people who have phones prefer to type on them than to talk.

    1. Typing is silent and can be done from work. Talking means everyone around me can hear what I have to say.

  4. I have to agree with this post, as I've come to similar conclusions. I have a Twitter account, but as others have found, authors I'm following clog it with promotion, constant, non stop. I tweet new releases now and then, but not constantly as I'm afraid people will get sick of it. and I, too, refuse to follow authors who do nothing but plug, plug, plug... I'd rather exchange writing information, etc. or even share a fun joke, you know? It is nice to know others feel as I do, so I will share this post!

  5. Part of the problem with "branding," "platforms," "marketing," "social networks" and self-published authors is that marketing, like the 'net isn't about product, it's about the conversation.

    Marketing on the 'net is a conversation; most of the people trying to sell their books via the net were about one-to-many, about top down, not about conversation.

  6. I saw your blog as a link posted on Facebook by 'Writer Beware'. I wouldn't have called that an analysis, but more speculation. "That there's been a gold rush going on ever since is undeniable. It's too early to say whether the rush has finished. On the other hand, it's starting to look like the gold has gone, and that's what I want to talk about." This is pure musing. Successful Indie Authors are in it for the long haul, not dipping your toes and seeing if they come out shiny and yellow. The Authors mentioned have learned by experience, it's not a lottery that their work has been discovered. Sure, if you're going to take a chance and take a shovel out into the wilderness and complain you don't find any precious metals, go ahead. But let's call a spade a spade and say self-publishing is like any other job, it requires hard work, preparation and perseverence to see results.

    1. I agree completely. It's always been about patience, perseverance, and hard work. But the hype has been so loud, and so many have thought they could follow Konrath's lead to riches, that those factors have been shoved into a back room. The chance of hitting it big has probably been more like one in several million, since most of us don't write books that have the potential to be best sellers or even to gain large audiences. Worst of all, for those who try to follow his lead, very few seem to have noticed that Konrath's success as an indie writer is very much based on his huge backlist and already having some name recognition. If he'd started indie publishing as a complete unknown, with one or two books, he'd be going through the same struggles as the rest of us.

  7. P.S. Experienced Indie Authors like Konrath mentioned in your blog also dissuade new writers from 'spamming' other writers with their Twitter feed and Facebook groups "my book is the best thing from sliced bread!" Read 'The Value Of Publicity' and also put it under the noses of those desperately seeking sales by spamming other writers who are selling their own books. http://jakonrath.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/value-of-publicity.html

  8. K.R. - that's kind of my point. I think there was a period where the chances of stumbling over 'gold' were higher than average, and the spammy twitter strategy gained credence based on those successes. What I'm saying is that that opportunity is over, and people need to drop the strategy that went with it.

    All - thanks for commenting! I plan on writing a 'part 2' to this over the weekend, so stay tuned :)

  9. I think people who constantly plug their own work either on Twitter or any other social media platform are forgetting what these systems are actually meant for. They're so busy seeing the word platform that they forget that social media comes first in the equation. And that SOCIAL is the first of all.

    Interact with the tweeps... They are human, just like you, and they deserve to be acknowledged as such.

  10. The question is whether or not you're good at working Twitter. I don't have a smartphone and don't socialize well. That's a personal fault, and one that social networks can't solve.

    Fortunately, there are other ways to sell your books. You can concentrate locally, building relationships with booksellers and local media. You can give talks. You can write posts that draw people searching for certain subjects to your site. And if you have enough books available for the Kindle and other sites, a steady revenue flow certainly helps tide you over until the next big thing happens.