By Rachel Eliason-
Author of Run, Clarrisa, Run
The internet, the ebook revolution and the indie revolution have thrown the entire publishing industry into a state of flux. Social Media sites like Goodreads and Shelfari, coupled with retail sites like Amazon.com have revolutionized how we discover and buy new books. Amazon's kindle has brought ebooks to the mainstream. Ebooks currently run about 20% of total book sales, enough to say that they are here to stay. In an effort to get more content onto its platform Amazon made publishing on it's Kindle almost ridiculously easy, whether you were a major corporation, a small press or an individual. In doing so they fueled a new wave of “indie” authors.
For many writers, bloggers and freelance editors this is the wave of the future. Why would an author surrender the lion's share of her/his profits to publishing company? Gatekeepers? Let the readers decide for themselves what they want to read or not. Crowd source the gatekeeper role through reviews and social media sites. They cream will rise and the rest will sink.
Other writers, editors and industry types claim this revolution will be short lived. Readers need gatekeepers, they don't have the patience to wade through hundreds of poorly edited self-published books. Writers need publishers to edit their works and bring them to market.
Who is right? Where will these changes lead? After reading as many books, blogs and points of view as I can on the subject I have come up with one thing that I am fairly certain of:
1. Nobody knows what is going to happen next.
Anyone claiming otherwise is probably full of it. If, for example, some author were to write a guest blog about “three things every writer should know” they are probably just blowing smoke.
Seriously, no one really knows where this all headed. In a hundred years, when all the dust has settled, some historians will look back say, “so and so was right.” Right now no one can do that. Be they a huge success like Joe Konrath or a struggling newcomer, none of the Indie crowd really knows where this is all headed.
Agents, editors, publishing executives and traditionally published authors might seem like experts. After all they have the insider view of publishing. But they don't know either. Anything they say is just their own personal experience.
Publishing today needs to come with a warning label, like late night paid advertisements have. In fact lets give it one right now:
2. Individual results may vary.
Almost every diet has these words in the fine print somewhere. The book, video or infomercial features people who lost 20, 30 or even 40 pounds. But the average dieter will probably lose far less.
Writers are full of glib advice. You want to make money? Write romance. Romance sells. Ya is hot right now. Werewolves/vampires/zombies are big right now.
The romance genre is consistently the highest selling genre. But there is also fierce competition with many good established romance authors out there. There are conventions in each genre and writers who are not familiar with them probably won't do well in that genre.
YA is hot. But a few really big bestselling series (Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games) makes the genre look hotter than it really is. Werewolves, vampires, zombies are a great fodder for the writer and themes that come and go in literature.
My point is that the fact that Romance sells doesn't mean that you will have luck selling your romance novel. The fact YA is hot doesn't make it easier for you to start a career writing YA.
The same goes for other aspects of writing. Some writers are having great luck marketing kindle singles or short stories in ebook form. Other writers are finding they don't really sell. Some writers claim that series are where it is at.
Some writers find twitter to be a great platform for promoting themselves. Others prefer to interact with fans on Facebook or Goodreads. Others keep email list. Many authors do all of their promoting online and ignore old fashioned book signings and readings. Others make most of their money that way.
What will work for you?
3. It really comes down to trial and error.
If you are looking for a sure-fire guaranteed method for jump starting your writing career, you probably think this is pretty sucky advice. Would it make you feel better if I told you those bloggers with sure-fire answers are lying to you? They probably are. I refer you back to points one and two. Publishing is in such a state of flux that no one really knows what will work or not work. Individuals will have different experiences anyway.
Within this piece of advice is an incredible sense of freedom. Do you want to succeed? Try, try anything. Too many writers get bogged down in how-to books that they never actually write. Of those that do write, many get bogged down in books and blogs about publishing and never take a chance.
So take a chance. I have published a couple of short stories. I haven't had much luck in terms of sales, but that's doesn't mean you won't. I have written a couple of contemporary YA novels. They are important stories and I am glad I wrote them. They sell consistently but not particularly well. I am certainly not going to live off royalties on those books. Lately I have been drawn back to my first love, fantasy. Will my fantasy novels sell better? Time will tell.
I have many story ideas in my head and on my computer. They span many genres. I recommend that every writer should write the stories they have inside them and not pigeon-hole themselves as romance authors, fantasy writers or whatever too early in their career (or ever for that matter.) Take a chance and write a story that isn't in your usual genre. You might find a more comfortable niche for yourself.
I am most active on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter. I have accounts on almost all of the major social media sites. As new sites emerge I sign up and check them out. Some become part of my ongoing marketing and some don't. Again, I would urge all writers to try out as many social networks as possible. As time goes on you will have a first hand sense of where to prioritize your time.
When historians look back on this time period in a hundred years I think they will all agree on one thing. The writers who succeed will be those that were willing to try new things. So get out and try.
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