One of the biggest concerns for writers considering indie publishing is the fear of being drowned out by “the Noise”–all the obnoxious crap that will inevitably pile up because everyone thinks they can write a book. After all, if anyone can self publish, anyone WILL self publish, including all the hordes of terrible, terrible writers. In such an environment, how will anyone find you?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and reading a lot of author blogs to hear their take on this issue. While I was afraid of the Noise at first, I’m not that worried about it anymore. Here’s why:
1) The Noise has always existed.
The Noise is not a new problem. Anyone with a printer and/or internet access can submit their stuff to agents and editors–and they do. It’s called the “slushpile.”
Under the old system, good stories would never find their audience unless they got picked up by one of a handful of editors. Problem is, this creates a huge bottleneck that only amplifies the Noise, making it even harder to get noticed. Editors outsourced the slushpile to agents, but this only made it worse, like adding an extra level of bureaucracy to an already inefficient system.
The way I see it, if I’m going to have to fight the Noise one way or another, I would rather have direct access to my potential readership than be forced to submit to an overworked editor who doesn’t have time to give my work fair consideration.
2) Epublishing gives books more time to find their audience.
Traditional publishing works on the “produce” model, where new books have only a few months on bookstore shelves before they’re pulled to make room for something new. In sf&f, it’s more like a couple years for paperbacks, but it’s still the same thing.
If your book doesn’t find its audience in those first few months–and therefore doesn’t sell very well–it’s considered a failure. With epublishing, though, there’s unlimited shelf space, and that means the book will ALWAYS be available. It might not sell for the first few months, but that’s okay–it has as much time to find its audience as it needs.
I believe that given enough time, the good stuff always rises to the top of the heap. I would rather follow the model that gives me that time, rather than gamble on the arbitrary timetable established by the traditional publishing establishment.
3) The revolution is social.
At LTUE this year, Tracy Hickman astutely pointed out that bookselling is no longer about creating artificial marketing hype so much as making a direct and personal connection with the reader. With modern social networking platforms, writers can connect directly with their audience in a meaningful, peer to peer manner, expanding their readership naturally.
If we still had to rely on old, top-down marketing models, the Noise would certainly be a problem. But with social networking, the audience is becoming much more interconnected, revolutionizing word of mouth and making it easier for writers and readers to connect than ever before.
4) Success comes at a much lower threshold.
For my purposes here, I’ll define “success” as making a full time living as a writer (>$20k/yr, though that will probably change when I’m married).
Under the old model, a $20k advance for a new writer like myself would be quite good, especially in my genre. However, that money would get paid out over the course of several years, and I probably wouldn’t get a contract for another book until after the first book proved itself.
But the $20k is really just an advance against royalties, and the royalty rates run pretty low (<12% hardback, <8% paperback). At those rates, I probably wouldn’t start to make a full time living until my devoted readership (those who buy my books in hardcover) numbered at least between 5,000 and 10,000. And even then, my publisher might still drop me.
Under the current indie publishing model, though, the author gets a 70% cut. That means that I could significantly undercut traditionally published books in price and still make more money per book. A $5 ebook earns as much at 70% as a $25 hardback at a 14% royalty rate, and will probably find its audience a lot faster because of the lower price. With paperbacks, the difference is even more stark.
An audience of 5,000 is a drop in the bucket compared with the population of all readers. The Noise might keep me from reaching everyone, but I don’t need to reach everyone to make a living–just a few thousand.
5) Transformational growth will greatly expand the market.
Right now, we seem to be on the verge of transformational growth in the publishing industry. With epublishing, not only are avid readers buying more books, but more people are becoming avid readers. This means that now, more than ever, publishing is NOT a zero sub game.
Sure, the Noise will get louder as more people self publish–but that Noise will also be spread out across a much larger market. Even if my piece of the pie gets smaller, the pie itself is getting much, much larger, and that’s good news for everyone.
I have other reasons for not fearing the Noise, but these are the biggest ones. Promotion is still a major question in my mind, but for now I’d rather get back to writing. After all, that’s what I do–I’m a writer.