The times they aren’t a changin’ in publishing—they already did. We all know the statistics. We’ve seen the monster of e-books and self-pub avenues emerge. Even though e-book sales have been down the last year, they’ve been down from the stratospheric heights to which they’d flown.
Folks are blogging all over the place about what this means, and while that’s the topic for another discussion, what does it mean to you, the writer?
Years ago, one of my writers decided to make his book available through Kindle. To his surprise, in a short time, he sold over 2000 downloads. With almost no promotion. Sound too good to be true? The reality is, he hit on a number of important cylinders, all at once.
Michael Marks’ book, Dominant Species, is Military Sci Fi. At a time when publishers (and therefore agents) were focused on Fantasy, Sci Fi, while not being ignored, was soft. Fantasy and Sci Fi sit on opposite sides of the teeter-totter; when one is up, the other is down. But that doesn’t mean readers have abandoned their first loves, and in this case, the demand for Sci Fi remains high to the reading public. It’s one of those odd conundrums in publishing, where what major houses are turning out is not the same as what readers want. (But don’t tell that to publishers—they’re all fixated on what is hot this second.)
Marks started with a great concept, and knows his stuff (he’s a Marine, and an avid Sci Fi fan). “Write what you know” remains a great axiom, no matter which genre is sizzling at the time. He had written—a lot—as well as reading a ton (axiom number 2). And last but absolutely not least, he dug in after being stunned by all the elements of great writing he didn’t know, learned his craft, revised, revised, revised (axiom number 3, with a bullet). The litany of reviews raves about the depth of characterization; about how intrinsically the writer put the reader in the scene.
Talk about making me smile! And as a good buddy of mine who’s a senior editor and vp at a major house is fond of saying, “Plot is important but without characters you care about, the best writing and plotting in the world ain’t gonna save your ass.”
As self-publishing has become the rage (due in large part to the fact that anyone, absolutely anyone, can now become a “published author” via inexpensive technology), agents, editors, and readers alike bemoan the dismal lack of quality in books. And while it’s true that so many are stringing together enough words for a book, spending one’s dollars on cover art and PR will only get you so far.
What has always been, and will come to the forefront again, is great writing. The cream does rise to the top. Readers aren’t stupid (you can’t imagine how many people grouse to me all the time that they can’t find a well-written book. But I can steer them to many). They want quality, in this vast sea of promoted schlock. They may be fooled once, but if so, won’t buy that writer’s books again—no matter in what format.
What sold my writer’s book is a great storyline, a wonderful plot, truly compelling characters, and a created experience that puts readers smack dab into the middle of it. In short, great writing.
And guess what? Marks contacted me recently to say he’d sold a book to a traditional publisher. Details to come.
As we go through these changing times, one thing remains constant. In the future, it’s the same thing that will cause readers to buy certain authors; that nebulous quality that puts some scribes above the rest:
It’s the writing. It’s the writing. It’s the writing.