a short-term retrospective
This past week marked the one-year anniversary of my novella, A Greater Strength, being available as an ebook. Reaching this anniversary of being a published author has given me the opportunity to examine my own performance, my books, and the market, and formulate some opinions. Whether these opinions are astute or short-sighted, we shall see, but I thought I’d share a few of my reflections with those of you who frequent NAF, seeing as most of you are either in the same boat as me or looking to hop on-board if that particular gangplank lowers for you.
So, what has this first year taught me?
1. You will be surprised by what your readers love
Curse Bearer is the book I set out to polish and sell as my “first novel.” I started it on the last day of 2007, and it stepped into the public eye in October of 2012. It has always been my “larger work,” the one I revised over and over and over. In the meantime, my second-born series, The Windrider Saga, snuck in and found its way to publication last year, admittedly to my slight surprise. I will make no secret of the fact that Windrider has always been my sandbox. A place where I experimented with ideas and techniques. And apparently, especially with A Greater Strength, this freeness of experimentation has a unique quality that my readers are enthusiastic about.
It’s not to say that Curse Bearer has not gained its share of accolades from those who have read it. Whether owing to a shorter time to gather readers or a quality difference, I have no way to tell from my myopic point of view, but it does seem clear that Windrider illustrates my voice with better clarity. And I’m beginning to see why acquisitions people are hard-core about voice. Windrider simply took me by surprise how much people liked it, when I constantly doubted. I’ve hardly revised this. I’m trying all kinds of oddball stuff. Is it really ready?
Ready to have enthusiastic fans, apparently.
2. Small publishing is a complicated creature whose future is murky, even in the best crystal ball
We all know that the big publishing model is in peril. Big New York publishers are consuming one another, brick-and-mortar stores are struggling to remain relevant, and the ease of access to self-publishing and print-on-demand tools are causing authors new and veteran to re-examine the business surrounding books.
Enter small publishing—delightful in the way it can help unknown authors, like me, carve out a corner in the marketplace. But the fact is, so many small publishers operate on love and not-so-much on profit.
The question I have is this: can small publishing continue for the long term, selling only a few hundred copies per year, per book they release, or is this an equation for burn out and disillusionment? I’ve seen no shortage of authors become fettered in that swamp of frustration. Fortunately, most of those authors also eventually shake it off and get moving on the next project.
Publishing is a killer time-sucker of a business. I want to see the operators of the many small presses that have taken root in the last five years grow and thrive. But I worry about the question we call can’t ignore: does the return justify the investment?
3. And my final point for today: For relatively unknown authors like me, cheap ebooks serve better than expensive print copies.
I don’t think I can ever go to an all-digital model on my book releases, at least not yet, as there are still those folks who don’t and won’t read that way until the book industry forces them to. But in terms of profits, low-priced ebooks are SO much easier to sell than fifteen dollar hard copies. My lowest priced ebooks sell themselves. My hard copies go fast in the first month, and then I watch the Amazon ranking plummet into obscurity. (I know, I’m not supposed to be looking at that…or reviews, but I can’t help it.) But the fact is, until I can work my way out of the couple-hundred-copies-a-year corner that most of us in Christian Speculative Fiction occupy, I believe I need to focus on books priced at a point that makes readers feel like giving my work a chance is low-risk. It would be an interesting conversation to have with the people at large publishing houses who look at a published authors’ numbers on previous books when evaluating whether that author is a worthwhile risk. Do print copies and less expensive e-copies carry the same weight in that analysis?
All these ruminations notwithstanding, my end goal remains the same: I want to be read. Going forward, I hope to take what I’ve learned this last year and put it to work in driving my future books toward that goal.