As I’ve probably said before (I’m too lazy to look it up), the publishing industry has changed mightily since I got my first publishing contract in 1979. Back then, editors were editors and you didn’t have an agent until you wrote a best seller. Along the way, the editors started letting agents man the front lines of over-the-transom submissions.
Bill Thompson, my first editor, didn’t offer me a contract because my novel was flawless. He did it because he saw some talent in me, something he felt he could work with over time to produce a solid writer. Had I had another book in me when Bill asked for it over thirty years ago, my life would have undoubtedly turned out completely differently.
Had I sent in that early draft of Sending Down the Fare in today’s publishing climate, I would never have even heard back from the agents. Not that it’s their fault. The internet has increased the volume of submissions to floodgate levels. No one in the business can afford to spend any appreciable time on work that isn’t, basically, ready for the printer.
But at the same time, more than half the books published by physical publishing houses go on to sell less than a thousand copies.
We all know that the industry is changing again. We just aren’t really sure how. We know it has something to do with the internet but we’re not entirely sure what. Oh, and eBooks. But what about them?
The reason I’m back to puzzling over this issue is that I discovered B. V. Larson over the weekend. I’m not really even sure how I found him. I was looking for a new book to listen to and I just sort of came across him in the Science Fiction section of Audible.com.
I always want to know about an author before I commit to reading his work, so I found his site and started reading. He had been writing novels for ten years with zero to show for it when he tried just putting everything on Nook and Kindle. After a decade of rejections from agents, he puts all his books online and in three years, he has moved over 250,000 copies.
Now, this is impressive but whenever I see an author who puts out 36 books in three years, I get suspicious. I bought the first book of his first series, Swarm, and fired it up on my phone. Not only is not badly written, it’s actually very well written – certainly better than the little bit of Breaking Dawn I was able to get through. It’s face paced, literate and fun science fiction.
Yes, he has put out a lot of books in a short period, but the truth is that half of those books were written over the previous ten years. No mistaking it, though, the guy is a machine. It appears he’s written over fifteen books across three genres in the last three years. What is that? A book every two or three months? For me, that would mean publishing partial first drafts. But, you know what? Legend has it that Harlan Ellison does everything in one draft. So who knows?
Anyway, all this new information got me wondering where I went wrong with my detective novels. I’ve moved just under a thousand units of all four books combined. Five star reviews and quite a few readers of The Vengeance Season go on to buy all my other books, but the spark failed to catch. Where is my sales report saying I moved 250,000 copies over the last 36 months?
I can tell you where: in my flawed plan of execution. I’ve been thinking a lot about this and I’ve come up with a list of mistakes that I’m about to try to rectify.
1) Wrong genre. Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror (truthfully, all sub-genres of Fantasy) are far more likely to get gobbled up in eBook form than detective novels. The demographics of who is buying books in those two genres make it pretty obvious why.
2) Not enough content. I put out The Vengeance Season and the other three books and then ran a huge promotion that moved 750 copies. Then nothing. Why? Because what I should have done was write all five volumes of the Roy Doyle series, put them all out at the same time and then run a huge promotion on the first volume to drive purchases of the other volumes. eBook readers, especially science fiction/fantasy readers, aren’t will to commit to volume one of a series until they know volume five has already been written.
3) Bad attitude. I still, in the back of my mind, have the same opinion of Kindle and Nook publishing that I got from the vanity press self-publishing industry from back in pre-internet days. Vanity press books were for deluded wannabe writers with no grasp of grammar, plot, characterization or dialogue. They had to self-publish for a reason. They stunk. But we’re seeing something different now with eBook publishing. Agents and publishing houses are using sales in the electronic market to weed out the weak for them. They just watch the numbers and then send out offers to whoever is moving units. It makes sense.
My attitude was very half-hearted when I went out with detective novels. I didn’t see it as an avenue to reaching readers so much as a place to dump novels I hadn’t been able to get New York interested in.
I also took my time. If you read this blog at all, you know that I routinely take three years to get to the final draft of a novel. That’s not acting like a working writer. That’s acting like an amateur with all the time in the world to pursue his hobby. Even though I write every day and I produce a ton of material, the pipeline is still three years long.
What am I going to do about it? I’m not entirely sure yet, but a plan is coming and you will be the first to hear it.