BookWish: Big T, whose comment began with Thank you, Lynn. I try to use the train of thought, "Enjoy the journey, not just the destination" but faith is hard to keep.
Goodie Bag: Tamlyn Leigh
Winners, when you have a chance, please send your full name and ship-to address to LynnViehl@aol.com, and I'll get your prizes out to you. Thanks to everyone for joining in.
I. Writers of the E-Future
I often complain here about how tough it is for me to keep up with the current technology. I don't like having to get used to a new operating system every time I blow up a computer (every other year), and I am officially sick to death of having to teach myself Word all over again to cope with the latest version Bill Gates decides to dump in my lap (and hey, Bill, version 2007? It sucks.) Don't even talk to me about the slang for all this stuff; I'm still trying to figure out what the hell RSS is and why someone always wants me to feed it to them.
I'm not apologizing for this, either. I am cranky and I am maxed out on how much technobabble I can absorb at the speed of light. Enough already! Stop changing stuff before I can finish learning how to do the old version.
My frustration is really more with myself than the latest tools of our trade, however. I am an older person, and I didn't grow up immersed in technology. When I was a kid, our video games were pinball machines; if we wanted to see a movie we didn't rent or download it or buy it on DVD, we went to the theater. We didn't do math on calculators, we did it in our brains. Computers were enormous things that took up entire rooms, and belonged to fun people like the CIA and NASA and the IRS. You know what was the big technological breakthrough of my childhood? 8-track tapes (and I promise, I will smack the first one of you who asks what the heck that is.)
The bottom line is I was not born to the computer age -- I didn't actually see a personal computer until I was 26 -- and I don't think I'll ever catch up with those of you who were. That = frustration.
Despite my inadequacies as a technojunkie, I am in awe of this era -- I love living in it and seeing it unfold. I am enchanted with all the amazing things computers can do, and the way the internet has opened up the world and brought it together and interconnected us. Thirty years ago I could never have done what I'm doing right now, talking shop to people all over the world. Just think about it for a second. How many countries are represented here today? How many languages do we speak among us? Without the technology of this era, most of us would probably never have connected in any way -- even those of us who live here in the U.S.
When I was a kid, writers couldn't meet unless they did it in real life, or corresponded by letter. Whatever books I read were those I found at the library, or at the book store. There was no global community of writers. Most of us lived and worked and dreamed apart from each other, sometimes getting together with a few others in the immediate area but otherwise never crossing each others' path.
Right here, at this blog, gathered together at this post, we are the writers of the present. If you think of what the internet has done for our industry and for us just over the last ten years -- e-mail, web sites, blogs, list-servs, forums, communities, workshops, Jesus, even Twitter -- it makes your head spin. We are the first generation of the electronic age writers. Where is that going to take us, and what is it going to demand of us? How are we going to have to change to keep up? How can we play a part in shaping and influencing the E-Future?
I can tell you how we're not going to be a part of it -- by clinging to the past. If we are going to make a place for ourselves in the industry as it evolves, we have to start thinking ahead.
II. The E-book as Income Generator
I think the first instance I remember of the e-book being used as an income generator was when author Stephen King decided to play with the e-book in serial form back in 2000 by releasing The Plant exclusively online. While it didn't quite go the way he wanted it to (I think putting it on the honor system of payment might have been the problem there) it was an interesting experiment.
Today there is a growing trend of writers -- many of them pros -- who are now self-publishing their works in e-book form. In fact, self-publication has never been easier. Kindle's Digital Text Platform allows writers to self-publish for profit, as does
Whether it's self-published or published by an e-publisher, the e-book usually does generate a modest but steady income for many new and established writers. The traveling booksigner/Kindle self-pubber J.A. Konrath, has reported on what he's earned, as have e- and print-published authors like Sasha White. While it can't compete with my print sales, my one and only e-book for sale, a joint venture I did last year with my print publisher, also did nicely in the first quarter.
There are plenty of online readers and readers with electronic devices out there, and they're looking for content. Self-published e-books usually have a very reasonable price tag on them, and unlike print books they're readily available and instantly accessible. As more readers come into the E-Future with their gadgets and gizmos, reading preferences are going to change accordingly. Popular authors can use the self-pub e-book platforms to bypass the snail-pace of traditional publishing to round out their income, and new names can build their reps without ever having to endure the industry's laborious and often harrowing submission and acceptance process. What's not to like about the e-book as an income generator?
At the moment I'm sort of on the fence about selling e-books myself. Although the economy has taken its toll, I still make a decent living selling print novels, so right now I don't have the financial pressure to find additional income. E-books are more valuable to me as experimental playgrounds, where I can try out new ideas and see what the readers think, and marketing devices with which I can promote my work in print while not yelling Buy My Freaking Book in everyone's face. I don't see anything wrong with writing and self-publishing e-books for profit, as long as the writer produces a quality product and doesn't set their expectations too high. This new market is exciting, but it's still in its infancy.
III. The E-book as Marketing
After more than ten years of watching the industry, the internet and the development of e-book technology, market share, etc., I still see the e-book as the ultimate in cost-effective marketing. It has several big advantages over every other type of advertising and promotion out there, primarily in that e-books cost little to nothing to produce, and cost absolutely nothing to distribute globally. The e-book also provides the one thing readers always like: free content.
As the number of books people read seems to decrease every year, competition for book sales increases. Publishers throughout the industry are transferring more and more of the marketing responsibility for books squarely onto the authors' shoulders. So anything that can help us promote effectively while not emptying the checking account can be a huge benefit and an enormous relief. It can also give us a competitive edge over writers who are mired in the past and refuse to acknowledge that the E-Future has arrived.
Anyone who looks back over my career can see that a good chunk of my readership discovered me through the e-books I've distributed for free online. I'm not an overnight success, or a fortnight success, or even thousand and one nights success. I'm like every writer who ever got the business and didn't explode with the first novel, or the tenth, or the twentieth (which is pretty much every career writer.) To date, my first and only novel to rank in the coveted top twenty on the NY Times paperback bestseller list happened to be my 40th published novel.
I knew early on that I needed to build a readership, but I soon discovered that I had no talent or tolerance for the traditional ways of doing that. I'm not a pretty person or a gifted speaker. I'm not comfortable talking about my books. I have a terrible voice for reading out loud -- nails-across-a-chalkboard terrible. I did the con circuit for three years and utterly flopped; I never learned how to swim with the sharks or hang with the girlfriends or depend on the kindness of strangers.
What I can do -- maybe the only thing in life that I will ever do well -- is write. I write fast, and I write a lot. I write in a bunch of different genres, and I love doing it. Granted, it's not as cool as being a former beauty pageant contestant, or a 5'10 blond with great legs, or a scholar with a bunch of letters after my name, but readers seem to like it just fine. After failing so miserably at all things self-promo, it was the only thing left that I really wanted to do. I think when it comes to marketing, you should do only those things you feel comfortable doing. For me, writing was never a problem.
Several authors have tried the dandelion fluff approach of simultaneously releasing a free e-book version of their print novels, but while it's daring, I don't see that ever gaining widespread support among publishers (which will be explained two paragraphs down.) Also, it may work very well for an author who already has the most popular web site in the world (and likely makes a very nice living solely from the advertising dollars that weblog earns) but the average writer doesn't have that financial advantage -- they need the income from their work in print.
Offering free teasers and excerpts isn't enough; readers want more than a couple of chapters. What most readers tell me is that they really want something totally for free, and they don't want to jump through hoops to get it. A complete freebie minus the strings: no newsletter to sign up for, no embedded advertising, no limited-time access, no geographical restrictions. They want to be able to read it, back it up, print it out, and pass it around to their friends -- and they don't want to pay for it.
Publishers can't do this, or rather, they won't. The minute you say, "I want to give away this book for free to everyone on the planet with no strings attached" they shut you down or tune you out. I know, I've had that conversation. As it was explained to me by the head of one marketing division, if you want a publisher involved in distributing something to readers, they have to make money on it -- especially if it's available outside the U.S. I've argued until I'm blue in the face, but I've been stonewalled and ignored and told (repeatedly) that it's just the way it is with publishers.
That puts it back on us, the writers. It's not really fair when you compare what a single writer can do on their own to what can be done with the millions major publishing houses spend on marketing (but when was this gig ever fair?) I know how long it takes to write a story, or a novella, or a novel. When you give away your work, you are kissing goodbye the income you might have earned by selling it instead. The first thing we're told as professional writers is that we're paid to write. And that is correct, in the short-term scheme of things -- but not in the long-term.
IV. How the Free E-book Works as Marketing
Every time I post a free story or novella or book for anyone to have, I market directly to those readers with the absolute best advertising for my work that I've got: my work. No, I don't make any money on it. Where I make my money is from the readers who liked that freebie so much that they start purchasing the other stories that I'm not giving away for free. That's where I make my money and build my readership. And since I can't or won't do any of the other types of marketing available for authors, it's really the only place where I do spend money, not by spending it but by trading it for potential sales. I'm investing in myself when I give away original stories; I'm saying that I think my work is that good, that it will generate sales for me.
Look at it another way: how much would you pay to take out a five, ten or even twenty-page ad that shows your work at its best in a popular industry magazine read by many devoted fans of your genre? It's a ridiculous question, I know; no one but the biggest Name authors could afford something like that. Let's try another angle: how much would you pay to advertise directly to seven thousand readers who were interested in your work or your genre (this is assuming you could get their names and valid e-mail addresses for them)? How about mailing a free book to over two thousand of them, assuming again you could get their names and home addresses? I did both and it cost me a dollar.
How: to date, my free 102 page e-book novella Incarnatio has been viewed 7,615 times and downloaded 2,142 times. I wrote it, uploaded it to Scribd*, which hosts it for free, put up a link on my weblog, and that was it. The e-book sits there and attracts readers all on its own. What was the $1 for? I bought a royalty-free photo from Dreasmtime and photoshopped it to make the cover art. For one dollar. * Note 9/3/10: Since Scribd.com instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I have removed this document, and no longer use or recommend using their service. Incarnatio may be read online or downloaded for free from Google Docs here. See my post about this scam here.
Now show me a traditional form of self-promotion that reaches as many readers without SPAMming them for the same cost, and gives them as much content. I'll save you the trouble: you can't.
It is a risk to use free e-books as marketing tools, and I don't think it will work for everyone. It takes away from the time you could use to write stories to sell, and for writers who need more time to produce quality work, that's a big minus. You can forget about getting any significant support from your publisher; there is no money in it for them. And you can't just throw anything out there. It has to be the real deal; the best you've got to offer the reader. If you're not writing at a professional level, it can even work against you.
My advice is to start with something simple. Write a short story; the best damn story you can produce. Add your backlist, your web site URL and a little bio to the back of it. Post it on your blog, or on your web site, or at
V. On the Electronic Horizon
Sometimes, especially during snitfests like the most recent e-publishing smackdown, I get depressed. I'm no psychic, but there are times when I can catch glimpses of the future of Publishing in what the next generation of writers are doing. I don't see it as Bradbury did in Fahrenheit 451, a future where books are burned, or Phillip K. Dick did in The Minority Report, where everyone is digitized and retina-scanned. I see storytellers working their craft in innumerable formats: print, electronic, graphic, audio, and even some formats we haven't thought of yet. I see the signs, and dream about the E-Future.
The only time I feel blue is when I watch my colleagues working so desperately to hold it off or discredit any advances toward it. Why does the industry always have to be either/or? Why can't we embrace the future while bringing into it the best of the past? I don't want to give up my print books. Like many of you, for me nothing replaces a book I can hold in my hands. Does that mean there should be no other kind of book, ever? Not at all. Everyone is not me.
Why does such an old-fashioned writer and book collector like me feels so strongly about technology, advancements in Publishing and doing what we can now to help usher in the E-Future? As if in a hundred years, any of this matter. I won't be around to know what will matter, but maybe someone who reads the electronic book version of this post in 2109 will be kind enough to answer that question (alas, the print version will no longer exist.)
I feel that a universe of wonderful things are just around the corner for writers and books. Imagine going shopping and stopping by vending machine where you can select the novel of your choice to be printed and bound, and that book pops out in a few minutes (the machine already exists.) Or turning on a video panel that plays a novel in images and sound, creating virtual, customizable characters from the story's datastream to act out all the parts (maybe the folks who designed The Sims could get in on that.) We might have books someday that we can read in our minds via a neuroprosthesis while we sleep or bathe or fold laundry (my money is on the Australians and their development of the bionic eye for the blind.) Having one book made of real paper that we can program to show us any story we want to read (LiveScribe can download whatever we write on their smart paper into a computer, so why not the reverse?)
In the future, anything is possible. Writers who want to be part of that future can't cling to what Publishing was. We can bring our traditions with us, but we also should be open to making new ones.
Maybe, if we all work together and do it right, in a hundred years someone will still be reading something we wrote today.
VI. Related Links:
For those considering self-publishing, check out Henry Baum's article Why Do People Hate Self-Publishing So Much? and Slushpile.net's post Why People Hate Self-Published Authors.
Two DIYers tell you how to get it done for free: How To Create Your Own E-book For Free by Colin Galbraith and Create Your Own E-Book for Free by Nicholos Gene Poma.
Everyone's dream e-book: Oprah's free download of Suze Orman's Women and Money goes instantly e-platinum.
If you're interested in reader views on book promotions, check out Barbara Vey's advice in her article Author . . . Promote Thyself as well as some of the interesting comments.
Publishers Weekly cites some interesting stats in a report here on the number of on-demand and short run titles published in 2008.
Today's LB&LI giveaways are:
1) A signed set of all eight of my StarDoc novels published to date, plus the ninth, Crystal Healer, my August '09 release.
2) a goodie bag which will include unsigned new copies of:
Just After Sunset by Stephen King (hardcover)
Master of Shadows by Lynn Viehl (author-printed, signed and bound in a three-ring binder)
Halo ~ The Cole Protocol by Tobias S. Buckell (trade pb)
Wicked Ways by Donna Hill (trade pb)
The Pajama Girls of Lambert Square by Rosina Lippi (trade pb)
Wicked Hot by Charlene Teglia (trade pb)
The Missing by Shiloh Walker (trade pb)
My Prerogative by Sasha White (trade pb)
Taken by Sin by Jaci Burton
Amazon Ink by Lori Devoti
Hawkspar by Holly Lisle (paperback)
The Iron Hunt and Darkness Calls by Marjorie M. Liu
Nightlife, Moonshine, Madhouse and Deathwish by Rob Thurman
plus signed paperback copies of my novels Evermore and Twilight Fall, as well as some other surprises.
If you'd like to win one of these two giveaways, name something that you think will happen in the future of Publishing, or comment on this workshop before midnight EST on Friday, July 17, 2009. I will draw two names from everyone who participates and send one winner the set of signed StarDoc novels and the other the goodie bag.
Everyone who participates in the giveaways this week will also be automatically entered in my grand prize drawing on July 21st, 2009 for the winner's choice of either a ASUS Eee PC 1005HA-P 10.1" Seashell Netbook or a Sony PRS-700BC Digital Reader.
As always, all LB&LI giveaways are open to anyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past (and if anyone wants a peek at this year's LB&LI goodie room at Casa PBW, and see what's going in those goodie bags, stop by the photoblog today.)
Other LB&LI Workshop Links -- new links are being added every day, so keep checking the list for new workshops (due to different time zones, some of these will go live later in the day):
E-publishing: From Query to Final Edits and Beyond -- Authors Madison Blake, Paris Brandon, Cerise Deland, Fran Lee, Afton Locke and Nina Pierce provide helpful insights and tips on e-publishing. Today's author: Afton Locke
Writing Transformative Sex - Part One by Joely Sue Burkhart -- Any writer who has studied much of the craft at all knows that if a scene doesn’t move the story forward, it should be cut. But have you really thought about what that means for a sex scene?
Birds and Language by Suelder -- second in a series of workshops on birds that will focus on the science as well as how to adapt this information to writing.
Why You're Not Writing by JM Fiction Scribe -- Examining the reasons behind your writing block - because the identifying the 'why' of the problem is the best way of getting past it.
How-To Books that Saved My Life by Alison Kent -- a look at the three how-to books the author can't write without, and why.
Break through your fears and write! by Tamlyn Leigh -- One of the biggest obstacles on a writer's path is their fear. It can be for anything: fear people won't like their stories, fear they aren't good enough. In my workshop I want to offer tools to break through that fear, and get everyone writing!
Writing Prompt Series - Where? by Rosina Lippi -- Pick from the images supplied by Rosina and give your characters a context. You might have to rewrite What? to make it work.
Writing in the Labyrinth by Marjorie M. Liu -- Characters are people, too. And people are the story (second in a series of workshops about different aspects of writing and publishing.)
From Pantser To Plotter: How I Joined The Dark Side by Kait Nolan -- Thursday's topic: What I've Used In My Conversion (Part B)
Writing Sex Scenes That Matter by Jenna Reynolds -- Readers sometimes say they skip over the sex scenes in a book. And usually it's not because they have a problem with the sex. It could, however, be because, other than the sex, nothing else is going on. This workshop provides some suggestions on how to write sex scenes that matter and that readers won't skip over.
What eBook publishers look for: Loose Id by Midnight Spencer –- About Books, Accepted Genre’s, Sending a Proposal, Formatting your Submission, FAQ, and Contract Terms.
Left Behind and Managing Crazy by Charlene Teglia -- Sanity in a crazy business.
Epubs-wondering where to start? by Shiloh Walker -- Info for those curious about epubs and where to start.
Killer Campaigns: Podcasts by Maria Zannini -- Podcast an interview