In this emerging world of electronic publishing, everything is changing. For the traditional publishers, that may not be a good thing. For the authors, it spells opportunity.
As I discussed in the previous essay, the traditional publishing business model is not well equipped to deal with electronic formats. A lot of overhead is in place, and publishers really have no desire to modify royalty calculations just because the cost of production and storage decreases.
Does that mean there is no place for traditional publishers in the world? Today, the answer to that question is a resounding no. For a new author, being published by a traditional publisher is instant credibility, at least as in terms of implied quality of material. For the established author with a healthy career, a traditional publisher produces material and markets that material where the consumer–the reader–expects to find it.
Will this always be the case? Difficult to predict. However, the electronic market segment is growing and there is no doubt about that. But, with traditional publishers, the author loses a lot of opportunity in terms of potential income. Dean Wesley Smith coincidentally happened to post on his blog today a very similar topic. (My topic today was third on a list I drew up several days ago, so this essay would have appeared regardless of his.) In his essay, however, DWS tosses some figures around.
I firmly believe that DWS is correct in saying that the writers who will win in the new publishing model will be those who have a presence in many places. That includes print on paper. But, right now a lot of newer writers have material available only through a second party. This is especially true for short fiction, where much of it is published in small circulation print zines. Even if the zine publishes electronically, that copy is either removed after a set time, or it remains online indefinitely.
How can a writer exploit the new age of electronic literature? The answer is simple–backlist. Germane to this discussion is a definition of backlist. By backlist, in this essay I mean any work of fiction that is either completely out of print, or is possibly still available online but the author has the rights to do as the author pleases with the work in parallel.
The astute author will use those rights to make the material available for the public to find. Make it available for new fans from other work to discover and consume for years and decades into the future.
This is the approach I am taking, albeit I am woefully behind my target dates for uploading new material. Still, the theory is sound if you buy into the sampling philosophy where you offer the readers something for free and other things for pay if they like what the read.
In my case, I am following a model championed by Michael A. Stackpole. In this model, every [insert time period] a new electronic story is available for free. When [insert time period] has elapsed, you move the free story into your store and upload a new free story. That way, your biggest fans–your regular readers–always have something for free. They check back often and get them when they are posted. For fans who come along later, there is still something available for free, and they have an entire bookstore of your material to browse through and buy. The material in your pay area stays there forever.
An alternative approach might be to make audio fiction from your short stories and have the audio version free. If the listener likes the story well enough, the listener goes and buys a print copy.
Best of all, you retain control of your backlist. You make it available for anyone who wants to find it. And, it can keep creating a trickle of income as long as you keep it available, which can be a very, very long time.
This is where quantity helps. Being able to produce material quickly is an asset in this game. It always has been, but now there are that many more reasons to produce material and make it available.
So, you say you’re in. You are excited to get started but then it hits you. You don’t know how to go about making it happen. The next essay will address file formats for ebooks, but if you can’t wait, you can grab my free PDF ebook on creating ebooks. It’s called eBooks for the 21st-Century Author. It is a tutorial on creating an ebook that I wrote mainly so I could remember how to do it from month to month. There is a companion file that has all the examples, and you can use those as templates for your own work.
We’ll cover more details in the next essay.