I just had a reader point out an ancient blog post of mine, and boy, does it make for an interesting read in light of the success of WOOL. A snippet:
Here’s what I was thinking: First, the books come out in a serial format, instead of one giant chunk. Each section would be around 30 pages (10K words) and have a basic beginning and end with a little hook to keep the reader enticed. At the end of ten sections, you have a completed work (and it just so happens, my first two books have this precise format).
You give the first section away on the Internet via your blog, scribd, etc. After that, each section is a mere $0.99. Half a cup of coffee. Two sticks of gum. One third a comicbook. The sections are released on your website with PayPal, cc, etc. and on the Kindle (their lowest price option is $0.99).
After 10 sections are released, you give away the epilogue (which hooks them for the next book) and they only have to wait another month to continue the journey! Meanwhile, that first book is bound and printed and sold via traditional means, on your website, at book conferences, in brick-and-mortar stores (if your book catches on enough) and to loyal fans that want a hard copy.
The constant micro-transactions replace traditional royalties. You stay connected with your reader year-round. It’s all about developing an excited fanbase that spreads the word. And at these prices, the entry can be an impulse-buy, not an agonizing internal debate.
With my first manuscript complete, and not yet turned into a book, I was thinking about publishing it in much the way that I would eventually publish WOOL. But all the advice I was given at the time was that I needed an agent and a publisher, that books must be books, and that you have to get into bookstores to have a career as a writer. I remember questioning these beliefs but being too scared and too aware of my own ignorance to take a chance and go with what made logical and creative sense to me.
It wasn’t until I saw how manuscripts are transformed into novels that I realized I could do this on my own or with a little one-time help. I ended up publishing with Nadene and NorLights—who I mention in that ancient blog post. It appears we hooked up a mere three days after I began querying Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue to agents and publishers. I learned a lot about writing and editing from Nadene (WOOL 2 was dedicated to her). And I watched NorLights Press employ print-on-demand technology that was open to anyone. I helped them get an ebook developed and published, and I saw that I could do this on my own. I became a little less ignorant and a little less afraid.
A year later, I started voicing ideas about where I thought the publishing world would go, and the more entrenched and expert my audience, the more vociferously I was told that I was crazy. Or just dumb. Or that I probably needed to work on my writing if I wasn’t making inroads with major publishers. I asked on a popular forum if agents would ever cull self-published books from the bestseller lists, and agents and fellow writers told me that this profession had better things to do with their time, that they were busy enough with slush piles. I suggested that authors might get better deals from publishers with an existing readership than they would with a promising manuscript, and I heard that this was what failed writers surely said.
The lesson here isn’t that I was right about anything. Anyone can get lucky. The lesson here is that I was afraid. I was cowed by those who purported to know better than me. In more than one case, I was practically bullied for thinking outside the box. Which is why I want to declare, right here, for those of you who email me or read my blog for tips, that I have no idea what I’m talking about.
Last summer, I was on a panel at WorldCon in Chicago about the changing publishing landscape. The moderator had us give introductions and make brief statements, and my opening remark was to tell a packed crowd that we were not experts up there on that panel. None of us are. I offered the position that everyone in that room was equally prepared (and unprepared) for the future of publishing, because the landscape is just changing so damn fast. The panel, then, should be thought of as a conversation, a collection of opinions and anecdotes, and those of us up on that dais have just as much to learn from the audience as the other way around.
At least a dozen people stopped me at some point over the next few days to thank me for this introduction. And I wanted to tell them that I know where they are coming from. They have bright ideas, new ideas, and they just aren’t sure about them. I urge you all to be braver than I was. Don’t sit on your dreams and ideas for two years before stumbling, luckily, down a path you spotted much sooner. Ask for opinions, but listen to your own.
Most of what I’ve learned in these last few years has been from other authors groping about alongside me. I found the Writers’ Cafe at KBoards, where people happily admitted that they were clueless or had problems, where they shared their experiences and their valuable data, and where authors help each other out. Where authors build each other up rather than tear each other down. Here was a place where new words were invented rather than the meaning of old words argued over.
At book conferences, I sat with rising stars at little tables off in the corner and listened more than I talked. I learned about audiobooks and metadata, about new outlets like Kobo; I studied other authors’ POD books and how they were paginated; and I kept reminding myself that I was just as dumb as everyone else. Which means maybe some of my ideas and thoughts might be as good as any other.
If you take anything away from this, it’s that you should listen to yourself. I didn’t, not nearly as well as I should have. But maybe you will. Maybe you’ll be the first person to act out a few scenes from your book with friends and post those scenes on YouTube. Or you’ll be the first person to spread the news of your novel with an album of music. Or you’ll go back to our roots and hand-sell your work to independent bookstores, one ARC at a time, one reader at a time. There is no idea that is wrong except the one not acted upon. There is no person who is wrong except the one who claims others are. Let’s flip this around: Why don’t I start emailing you all for advice? Or at least let me go back and read some of my old blog posts and be a little braver this time…