ONE READER: New and Old World
I have been been just sort of thinking through different aspects of the new world of publishing compared to the old world. And adding in what is success in this new world and time and other factors.
It has been kind of fun and I hope to continue approaching this from different angles at times. Not all the time, just at times.
So for a moment here, I want to be clear on the summary of some of the clear differences between when I sold my first novel in 1987 (not first novel written) and the world now.
First, what was happening thirty years ago for me.
— For 13 years before 1987, I had been working on my writing and submitting my stories and a couple of novels. I knew it was going to take that long and I was fine with it most of the time.
(Note: I will be serializing my first novel sold coming up in Smith’s Monthly with only a couple of character names changed. Nothing rewritten at all. So anyone supporting me on Patreon or subscribing to Smith’s Monthly will get that novel to see how far I have come since 1987. (grin) It’s still a pretty fine book, which surprised me.)
— I sold my first novel to one reader in 1987. At that point Kris was the only other person who had read it. So on the day I got to go out and party after the editor called, it was because two people had read the book. No one else read the book for 14 months.
— In 1987 I gave no thought to readers. Not one thought. And I didn’t know until 1990 or so how many copies the first book had actually sold. And they were copies sold, not readers. Never occurred to me, not once, to think of those books sold as readers three years later. They were just copies sold on a royalty report. Just as I never think about the 17 million copies of my books I have in print as 17 million readers buying my books. I clearly have a disconnect that still comes from that old world.
— Over the years of the one hundred plus novels I sold in traditional publishing, I had, in my mind, 14 readers, meaning editors who bought those one hundred plus novels. That’s right, I sold and focused all my attention on 14 readers. Period. Over an entire twenty year period. (Sounds too strange to believe in this modern world, doesn’t it? But it was true.)
— We mostly all had agents back then, but they mostly never sold books for us. We sold our own books to editors, agents just got the coffee. And they were bill collectors when we were owed money. In other words, agents were nothing more than an employee we used when we needed something. Now, in this new world, agents are completely worthless and have god complexes that are head-shaking.
— It never once occurred to me to promote my books to readers or anywhere else for that matter. That was the publisher’s job. I’ll bet many of my long-term writer friends remember me saying that in the mid-nineties as the writer promotion phase started to kick in. I hated that, and clearly from the lack of book listings on this site, still have trouble with it. (grin) My job was to sell to my few editor readers and nothing else really mattered.
— Self-publishing back then was called “Vanity Publishing” and it was never considered by anyone who was serious. Now writers of all levels start their own presses and indie publish some if not all of their work.
— Reviews, unless in a major trade magazine, were to be ignored. No writer cared and no writer paid much attention to reviews. And readers gave reviews by asking a writer to sign a book at a convention. Or in a fanzine if they were dedicated inside a genre.
— Since I liked to write and wrote too much for one genre or one publisher, I used a lot of pen names and wrote a lot of media and some ghost novels. I had no choice if I wanted to write more than one book a year. I didn’t care about getting any recognition as long as the check cleared and I got to have fun writing. (Granted, writing Trek, Spider-Man, X-Men, Men in Black, and other fun stuff wasn’t the hardest job on the planet. (grin)) I often call myself one of the most read unknown writer around.
NOW THE SHIFT TO THE NEW WORLD
— One reader is great, but now we all focus on lots of readers and how to get readers to pick up our books and give them a chance. That’s all most of us ask, is that a reader give our book a few paragraphs of a chance and let us do the rest with our stories. But the focus is on the people who spend money for the book, not some editor. Success is having lots of fans and readers.
—Focus of Success in Old World… Selling to one person.
—Focus of Success in New World… Selling to lots of readers.
— Promotion to readers in some form or another is required of the writer. Newsletters, blogs, Facebook, and on and on. Some of us don’t do much, but try to do more. Others take it too far and let it get in the way of the writing. The modern world is all a balance on promotion.
—Focus of Promotion in Old World… Publisher does all promotion. Writers might do a tour if asked and it was paid for by the publisher.
—Focus of Promotion in New World… Writer does everything, even when traditionally published. And pays for everything.
— Learning and expectations of success had time buffers. No one I knew coming into writing when I did thought it would be a one year thing. Or even five years. We all wanted to hit big, but even after selling a novel, we knew it would be years before it came out and we knew sales numbers. And making a living with your fiction writing was a dream in the far future.
—Focus of Time in Old World… Measured in decades.
—Focus of Time in New World… Measured by the latest book and the daily sales reports.
There are so many smeller differences as well now, some of which I have tried to go over. For example, in 1987 money came in large chunks six months or longer apart. Now money flows to writers like a paycheck every month. I am still not used to that change, but am not complaining.
Reviews matter in the strangest ways now, often to the ability to get into some promotion sites. And readers are doing the reviewing for the most part. At least the reviews that matter to other readers.
And pen names now are just damn silly unless you already have an established name or a personal reason for the pen name. All readers and sales look for author names. So now writers like me who don’t much care about recognition but want readers to find their work no matter what name is on the cover are forced to learn promotion, at least the basics, and move everything to just one or two names.
WHY TALK ABOUT THIS IN DIFFERENT WAYS???
Simply because so much of this new world is governed by silly crap from the old world. And almost all the myths of writing come from that old world. (New myths are building, like the idea that every book must be in a series, but another topic.)
And also, the younger writers coming in now and thinking they can make a living at fiction writing in a year or two just don’t know any history or have respect for an international profession. (Granted, sometimes not knowing something is better, but in a major industry, not so much.)
And now different aspects of being a small business are important. All writers were always good at business if they lasted for a few decades, but now it is critical for even beginners.
And the myth of going to traditional publishing is better is still very, very strong. And agents still go out there trolling for the uniformed young writers, hoping to strike gold.
So to try to be clear here is why I revisit this topic regularly.
Honestly, I am trying to clear out my old thinking as well, and to do that, I ramble here.
I make more money than I ever did in traditional publishing, I get to write what I want when I want and not worry about one person liking it or not, but instead letting readers decide, as it should be.
And I am constantly learning and am constantly excited about learning. Both craft and business.
So now the thought of going back to the “good old days” of 1987 publishing makes me just shudder. I love this new world and want my thinking to be completely in this new world.
And to do that, there are a lot of myths, bad hangovers, and stupidity left from that old world that I need to clear out.
One more night of trying to clear it. (grin) Thanks for listening to me ramble.