Part 32: you’ve published on Amazon … what now? A collection of thoughts and ideas of where to go next.
You’ve done it. You’ve published your indie ebook on Amazon and started the long process of winding up the starter motor on your profile as an author. Or, perhaps you haven’t, and you’re just reading through to the end; however, for sake of romance, let’s pretend that you have. (I understand, though. I went through a nasty phase of reading the end of books first, which certainly sucked a bit of life out of Life of Pi, for example.)
So, the question becomes: where to now? Obviously, you’re still writing all manner of things and perhaps thinking about publishing your next book, whenever you are ready. This last article will be a bit of a random collection of thoughts and information, both for other avenues for your writing and little bits and pieces you may investigate to further inform your perception of the publishing industry.
The validation of publishing
My first writing teacher, nine years ago, was fond of saying, “Publishing is the only validation for the author.” (Some may disagree with this, like Beth Webb, although it’s probably much easier to talk about the joys of not being published when you’ve got fourteen books out and a guest column in The Guardian.) Mostly that was because we were lazy first-years who needed a regular and swift kick in the pants, but I found it to be very true later that year when I was introduced as a writer to someone at a party, which I hate, even now, because I’m not. I’m a teacher who writes.
Anyway, the person must have noticed my discomfort and homed in on it like people do, asking the dreaded, “So, where have you been published?”
Oh, Lord. “Um, well, nowhere yet. I’ve just started, really.”
“Oh,” she said, “then you’re not really a writer, are you?”
People are going to be a little bit impressed by your book, even if they say they aren’t. I’m not going to say that everybody wants to publish a book, because most people don’t, but nearly everyone wants to tell a story. And books are just stories wrapped in formal packaging. Having your own book feels good like dressing up in a tuxedo for a wedding feels good.
And if they aren’t? If they think that all indie published books are garbage? You’ve taken the time and care to make sure this isn’t true. Give them a copy and ask them to make their minds up about it.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves
The truth is, unless you are extremely lucky, you’re going to have to work for years to see any sort of significant financial return from indie publishing. And this is the real point of Beth Webb’s article. If you do not enjoy writing for the sake of writing, if your motivation is extrinsic (money, attention) rather than intrinsic, you may find it difficult when that external impetus does not arrive.
The sobering news of indie publishing is that, like traditional publishing, a small percentage of authors make most of the money. Half or all authors make less than $500 per year. You are not going to sell a couple of hundred copies and have traditional publishers battering down your door. As this editorial assistant states, it just does not work like that.
The Amazon survey Not A Gold Rush highlights more of these statistics, selected from a comprehensive study of one thousand authors. More is written on the results here and here.
If you can write good (or better) novels; edit, proof and design them to a professional standard; and you are a persistent marketer who plays the long game with social media, I believe you have a much better chance of achieving some measure of success.
I’ve worked as a short story editor for smaller and emerging journals. At least 90% of the submissions we received were rejected on the first read because they featured (most often several) fundamental flaws, such as: poor characterisation, terrible dialogue, no growth or change, too many clichés, too many plot holes, shoddy character motivation, weak or absent voice, gross spelling errors, gross grammar errors and an evident lack of editing, proof reading and redrafting. Especially redrafting. If you think I’m being picky, do a Google search for ‘short story judge reports’, because those flaws, and others, are mentioned time and time again.
I’m not saying that 90% of indie ebooks share these flaws – the level of quality will be higher, simply because writing and publishing a novel takes a hell of a lot more effort, leading to an attrition of the uncommitted. However, there will always be a good proportion of people who take the shortcuts. Don’t be one of them.
Five other avenues you can explore
Now that you’ve published your ebook on Amazon, you’ll want to do the same for the other major ebook format, and I’ll be covering this process in the future in similar detail. Smashwords has long been regarded as a portal to enter online booksellers such as Barnes & Noble’s Nook Book Store and Apple’s iBookstore. There are big movements in the EPUB market with recent news that Barnes & Noble are taking a hammering in ebook sales, but the open source nature of the EPUB should see it as the popular choice for many tablet users, who are increasing at a fast clip.
Why not audiobooks? Unleash your inner Morgan Freeman with spoken adaptations of your novels and short stories. Yes, so it’s not going to be that easy and it’s probably an area where calling in a professional will pay off in terms of the balance between time, money and results, with $50 per hour appearing to be the going rate for studio time in Melbourne, for example. However, there are plenty of guides to setting up budget home studios. Audible is Amazon’s entry into the ebook market.
Interactive reading apps
Interactive reading apps are set to explode because kids like technology, parents and teachers like kids to read, and these apps (simply, stories featuring animations that can be triggered via touchscreen or other input) are the junction between the two. Obviously, unless you are an animator, this is going to be a little beyond the capabilities of most authors, but a collaborative effort where our specialised knowledge in storytelling can shine is a very real possibility.
Choose your own path games, or interactive fiction games
Whenver I have a student who is a truly reluctant reader (educational softspeak for ‘detests books’), I introduce them to games such as the Dead Frontier series, After The End and, for the more sensitive, Inner Vision. These games are the intersection between interactive reading apps and the multitude of pick your own path books which were wildly popular in the 80s and 90s, and they work simply because the reader is given the intrinsic motivation of being thrust into the story and forced to make critical decisions based on close reading of the text. They haven’t stopped being popular, and they need writers, too.
Short form competitions
I’m not a great writer. Also, I’m a very, very lazy man. I’ve probably entered 15 competitions over the past five years. Yes, that’s three a year, a figure I’m both ashamed of and working on improving. From those, I’ve received a first place, a third place, a commendation and a shortlisting.
The win, in particular, was published in a specialist journal with a print run of several thousand and, with better preparation, I could have drawn some of those readers to my website and hopefully onto my books. (Hindsight, hindsight.) Never underestimate the strength of competition wins and placings on your both your self-esteem, and the value that your writing holds in the eyes of others. It is also much, much easier to justify outlaying money on your writing when you have earned that money through writing prizes.
The point is, if a lazy numbskull like me can snag a couple of contest prizes, it’s well worth other writers having a crack. You might surprise yourself.
The present and future of publishing
A lot of people spend even more time writing quality analyses about the publishing industry, such as Charlie Stross’ extrapolation of what the current and titanic struggle for control of publishing between Amazon and the ‘Big 6’ traditional publishers might mean for authors.
People throw all sorts of hypotheses around: the collapse of Amazon, the decline of ebook readers, and the rise of website-based books coded in HTML5 and hidden behind paywalls. Planning for the future is obviously a critical part of any industry, but it’s probably very easy to look too far into the future. Search for quality analysis backed by extensive figures, such as those given here and here.
However, pay attention to the now and its implications for the immediate future, which is slightly simpler to prognosticate. It’s easy to see the collapse of print magazines and newspapers, aside from boutique journals (serving the same consumer function as vinyl records), because it’s already happening. The web is killing them, tablet computers are killing them, and cheap, colour e-ink screens will be the coup de grace. Anecdotally, I’ve not purchased a magazine since 2006, which funnily enough is the same time that I finally shifted from dialup internet to ADSL.
If Barnes & Noble decided to pull up stumps and cancel the Nook, what would be the effect on ebook sales? What if high schools across the country (and I’m talking Australia here) decided to introduce compulsory ereaders for students in the same manner that many have made laptops compulsory? What happens when someone releases a next generation ereader with a hi-res colour e-ink screen and support for responsive and interactive HTML5?
By deciding to publish a novel, you have become part of publishing, an industry in unprecedented upheaval. Keep your ear to the ground of publishing industry news, so you can position yourself and your writing to reach as many potential readers as possible.
Most importantly, keep writing, keep reading, keep pushing you work out there. Keep believing in your ability to improve what you are doing. Keep believing that you’re going to make it. I reckon a few of us will.
Proceed to the ‘Amazon publishing checklist’, or return to the article index.
While I’ve endeavoured to provide you with accurate information, what is considered ‘accurate’ will change over time. If I’m wrong, or you’d like to ask a question or share your thoughts, I’d love to hear your take on things.