Thursday, May 3, 2012

Exploring the New World

There is a revolution in progress and it is probably as significant as Gutenberg's magic press. If you are among the hundreds of writers who are exploring and experimenting in this new world you are already attuned to this.  The problem currently is that no one knows the territory or even where the best paths may lie.  We are all explorers of this new world, it seems.

Historically writers wrote, editors edited, publishers produced, and booksellers sold.  Each of these was a link in a long chain that stretched from writer to bookseller.  That chain defined the industry for years.  Each link depended on the next one on the chain and ceded control to the next link.  Occasionally, some of the links of he chain profited.

Enter the electronic age, the ubiquity of the internet, and the development of cheap, efficient tools for producing reams of electronic text. Suddenly any writer - ANY WRITER!! - can write and compile an electronic version of their work and, what's more, throw it out on any number of outlets for the world to see and, hopefully, purchase. Nirvana, many think, writers are free of the publishing industry at last.  Writers are finally, completely free of the industry chains!

Well, writers might be free, but free do do whatever marketing is required to bring eyeballs and wallets to their work. They are free to have their work copy edited, to have someone design and compose a cover page, to have some soul edit their work if they are not capable of the necessary detachment and objectivity. They are free to decide on layout, font, format, and the crap that is bread to the book's meat - end pages, ToCs, Title pages, and copyright, ISBN, and author information.  They are free to put the work in one of the many distribution chains.  They are free to live or die on the marketability of their words.

Publicity is another issue and not that different from print publication. To bring eyeballs to their electronic offerings writers need to become a media darling - public appearances, hawking their wares on street corners, being charming in interviews, and continually stroking the flames of fandom. Like it or not, people will come because of a writer's interview or appearance for their first taste then, if they like the writing, might buy more. Writers can't sit in dark rooms and write.  Like it or not, we all have to be of the world now,.

Marketability?  Did I mention that writers in this new world also need to make decisions on pricing?  A low price might guarantee a large volume of sales, but would it generate enough income to cover the cost? Conversely, a higher price might be more appropriate, but only if the lower volume is sufficient to cover the cost.  Somewhere between bookstore trade paperback prices and $0.99 specials is the right price - but nobody seems to know what it might be. An excellent presentation from Smashwords describes the pricing strategies and data-driven results at:

An alternative is to provide work for free and depend on patronage through donations.  I recently did that with a novelette and got lots of readers but little money.   Depending on donations is not a very lucrative business model.

So this new world of publishing provides lots of choices that were previously unavailable. Choices that extend the reach of a writer's ideas, that enable more people to read their words.  The choices are seemingly endless and exquisitely nuanced. Choices that eat up time and precious resources.

And every choice steals precious moments from actually writing.

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