Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Ebooks: The Innovation Cauldron

My original title for this post was: The Incredible Lightness of Being Indie
(I'm telling you just cuz I like it. But the new title is more descriptive. Ah, marketing wins again.)

Let us set aside the self-pub vs. trad-pub flame wars, the debates about the merits of the DOJ lawsuit, and whether Amazon will or will not become a monopoly that will start to eat puppies.

Let's talk for a moment about the freedom that the ebook revolution is bringing, for every writer, no matter how they are published.

This comment struck me (via Nathan Bransford's blog), from a trad-published author, Kate Milford (abbreviated):
I’m not blind to the opportunities of self-pub. Here’s why, having started, I will continue to self-pub companion pieces: 
1) I can continually offer readers more content. When I get an email from a kid asking if I’ll write more about a particular character, if the idea catches me I can run with it and not worry about whether or not a publisher thinks there’s enough of a market for it to justify the costs. I can tailor my content more directly to my audience’s wishes. 
2) I can make risky choices. In one of my 2014 titles, the story hinges around a book of local folklore, so the companion novella will be the folklore book itself. My publisher isn’t likely to want to publish it, and I perfectly understand why. But I can do it myself, and I think readers will love it. 
3) I can move quickly. I’d been kicking this idea around for a while, but I only got the idea for the 1st story, The Kairos Mechanism, in February. By April it was written and I had a budget; as of a wk ago it was funded on Kickstarter (and it’s still raising money), and it’ll be ready to go right on schedule in September.  
4) I can do innovative things that involve readers directly (for instance, Kairos has a digital reader-illustrated edition). And I can choose increased reach and finding new readers over income and offer the novella free, if I want. 

I love that authors like Kate are jumping in and taking advantage of the freedoms that epublishing allow: you can literally write anything you want and publish it. Detractors of ebooks and self-publishing focus on the downside of publishing anything you want, but authors (both self-pub and trad-pub) are just beginning to explore the upside of publishing anything you want. While many authors have focused on publishing the novels that they wrote (recently or long-trunked) that were intended for traditional publishing once upon a time, we're just beginning to move into the era where works are being created solely, from conception to completion, for publication as ebooks.

I think of the ebook revolution as a cauldron of innovation. And it's just getting started.

Here's some of the things I'm seeing:

Playing with length: a proliferation of short stories, anthologies, prequels, after-stories, novellettes, novellas. I haven't seen as many people (successfully) selling longer novels, but in theory that could work too - no limit on bits! The Indelibles put out an anthology that continues to have a lot of success.

Serialization: a series of 6 or 7 or more shorter novels, really serialized novellas, rather than novels; or writing a novel chapter-by-chapter on your blog, then editing and turning it into an ebook; or building a fanbase for a mystery story by blogging the first half of the book, but leaving readers with a cliffhanger until the final novel is published (go Becca Campbell!). Several authors I know are planning on writing serialized short novels going forward, or have already found success with them (I'm looking at you Sarra Cannon).

Companion books: mining the research already done to produce a novel or series, authors are branching sideways, writing companion stories, background material. I'm putting out a series of short stories (Mindjack Origins) based on this concept of branching sideways, writing about secondary characters.

Mixing formats: short stories tagged onto novels; shorts mixed with poetry; writing travel guides with links built into the ebook; putting front matter (ISBN, etc) in the back to get readers right to the story; adding sample chapters to the back; cross-promoting with different authors; people are playing with formats, where there are literally no rules anymore. If you purchase Closed Hearts or Untraceable, you will see that S.R. Johannes and I have swapped samples in the back of our books, saying that if you liked one of our books, you'll probably like the other (which is true, based on how often Shelli and I end up on each other's "also boughts" on Amazon).

Playing with price: authors using different price points, including free, to entice new readers, either with novels or short stories or anthologies. Free seems to work best with introductory material to a series, and I'm seeing many authors having success with this. I'm also seeing some authors using higher price points to make each sale more lucrative. My short story, Mind Games, just went free on Amazon, so we'll see what that experiment yields.

Playing with genre: literary novels, poems, other less-commercial forms are finding a new home in ebooks. I'm seeing a LOT of authors switching genres, crossing from YA to adult and vice versa. Switching from SF to mystery to romance. Sometimes they use pennames, sometimes not. There's a lot of freedom to try new things without having to worry about whether you're fitting into your "brand" or not.

Playing with apps: The world of apps makes all kinds of amazing things possible with ebooks. One author has made a series of "hidden picture books" where kids can find hidden pictures within the ebook.


I think this kind of freedom is what I love most about self-publishing, and it's equally open to trad-pub authors like Kate above (assuming you don't have a non-compete clause in your contract) as it is to self-published authors.

Having that kind of freedom comes with the problem of dreaming up too many things you want to try, and not having the time to do them all. Things I would love to do:
  • Write an adult SF/romance that is serialized with a kickin' female MC, possibly a full-on, unrepentent space opera
  • Write some adult SF shorts: think Twilight Zone meets I, Robot
  • Write that 6 part boy POV space academy MG series that absolutely no one will buy: think Starship Troopers meets Harry Potter
This is all in addition to the actual novels I plan to write.

And then there's the fake novels I've already started: here's a fictitious query letter I wrote for a contest (remember this, Rick Daley??), that I would love to turn into a five-part serial:
Dear Agent Awesome, 
I am querying you because you represent young adult novels and have expressed interest in Steampunk on your blog. 
As the third daughter of the queen, seventeen-year-old Aniri is consigned to a life of elegant teas, diplomatic dinners, and an arranged marriage when she comes of age. She consoles herself by peering through her aetherscope and sneaking visits to Sasha, a charming courtesan from the rival queendom of Samir. 
Rumors of a powerful flying machine push Aniri’s country toward war with the barbarians to the north. When a barbarian prince proposes a peace-brokering marriage to Aniri, duty requires her to turn her back on Sasha, a boy she has no right to love. But when Sasha reveals that the weapon is a ruse, intended to distract her country while the Samirians invade, Aniri fears she may be marrying into a trap that will bring war, not peace. 
As mysterious accidents threaten her life, Aniri dodges her would-be assassin and searches for the truth about the secret weapon. But when she discovers Sasha is lovers with the Samirian ambassador, Aniri must decide who she can trust and whether refusing her arranged marriage will trigger the very war she is trying to prevent.
THIRD DAUGHTER is a 95,000 word young adult novel filled with political intrigue, steampunk weaponry, and courtesans trained in the arts of love, etiquette, and deception.
Thank you for your time and consideration. 
Regards,
Susan Kaye Quinn
I have no idea if anyone would by that, but dang I would have fun writing it.

If you were free to publish anything, what would you write?

p.s. A special thank you to all the troops and their families today. It's never far from my mind that the many freedoms we have are not free. You have paid a dear price for them.

27 comments:

  1. Jeez, Sometimes I think self publishing might be a good avenue because I tend to genre - hop a lot. From paranormal to urban fantasy to contemporary and romantic comedy. I like to dabble in different genres and I know tradi publishers are a lot less tolerant of this. Great post!

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    1. To be fair, I think some forward thinking trad-pubs are rethinking this old paradigm as well (along with encouraging their authors to write faster, like indies, and publish side material, also like indies). This is why I think the indie innovation cauldron benefits everyone - people are free to try stuff out at no/low cost, and the big guns (along with everyone else) can see what works.

      I still think the idea of writing series, in the same genre, is the best way to build a fanbase of your work. At the same time, the idea that you can ONLY do that is what is falling away (I think).

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  2. I'm not sure if I have the answer to that question. I write what I want to read and write: stand alone novels. I'd like to write a sequel to the one WIP I'm working on. :)

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    1. Even before I self-pubbed, my thinking about sequels radically changed. It used to be you shouldn't write the sequel until you sold the first. Now I think writing the sequel is smart (if you have self-pub as any kind of a backup plan to your trad-pub ambitions). Plus having just written a sequel, I can tell you that it stretches your writing muscles, big time (way more than I expected).

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  3. I'm a bit surprised to find out a big traditional publisher would allow an author to publish a companion work in the same canon as something they were publishing. I guess I thought they were totally against that for some reason. Nice to hear that isn't true.

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    1. I'm sure some still are stuck in the old paradigm that somehow publishing "competing" material will drain off book sales. But that mode of thinking is changing - RAPIDLY. Why? Because the idea of having a herd of turtles (lots of titles available, expanding your digital footprint) is being picked up by trad-pub (from indies, who are proving it a way to boost book sales).

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    2. Thanks for the mention, Susan, especially in such a wonderful post. Popping in just because it bears mentioning that publishers don't buy the rights to a particular world, character, canon, etc--you're just contracted for that book (or that series). But the characters and world are always yours, and you don't need a publisher's consent to use them.

      Of course I let my editor know what I'm up to, for all the obvious reasons--communication, transparency, long-term planning, etc. She's very supportive because she trusts me to ensure I'm going to release a quality product, plus my additional content costs her nothing and expands the reader base.

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    3. Kate! Thanks for stopping by. :)

      I guess I've heard of non-compete clauses that prohibit the publication of any novels (not just in that series/characters/world) that would be considered "competing" (i.e. in the same genre):

      “The Author agrees that during the terms of this Agreement he will not, without written permission of the Publisher, publish or authorize to be published any work that might compete with the Work.” - from The Passive Guy

      Clearly, you don't have that issue with your editor/publisher, and bravo for that!

      Thanks for stopping by and letting me use your name/comment to kick off this post! :)

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    4. Just read that post from The Passive Guy. That kind of thing would never make it past my agent, but no, I've never been asked to sign anything like that.

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    5. I'm glad your agent is looking out for you! :)

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  4. Great points Susan as to why self publishing can be a good choice. I agree that the flame wars should stop. It's just nice to see all the options out there.

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    1. I think the flaming will calm down (stop is probably wishful thinking) when the two sides see some of the benefits of each other more clearly. :)

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  5. Hey! I love that new story! Write it!!! :o) <3

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    1. The steampunk one with Aniri? I seriously fall back in love with that story every time I look at the query. I wrote the first 5 pages, too, so I even have her voice in my head. OH MAN it would be fun to write steampunk. :)

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  6. Well ebook publishing and self-publishing are two different things. Those terms get mixed up a lot. We were publishing my books before it was as easy to penetrate into the market. And then, my ebook sales were little to none. But now with the number of devices out there making it easy to read ebooks - ebook publishing has opened the doors for many publishers or self-publishers to produce books at a minimum expense to printing them. Some small presses are going strictly ebook only for formats and distribution to cut cost. I don't blame them. However, for me the ebook market has allowed me to flex a bit with short stories and diversity in my books that aren't usually accepted by many bookstores. I love this new direction publishing is going. It's giving authors choices and the ability to be more involved in the growth of their work.

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    1. Ebooks and self-pub are definitely two different things (obviously trad-pubs have ebooks too). Where the innovation is happening is where the two (ebooks and self-pub) are intersecting - the freedom of self-pub with the flexibility of the form is giving rise to a lot of cool things. Trad-pub is doing some of these innovative things too, but they're more bound by profitability. Print books have a similar cost-inhibition. So self-pub ebooks is where things get interesting.

      I love that you're playing with short fiction too! :) Thanks for the great comment!

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  7. Wonderful observations in this post. Also, I quite agree with LTM about your Steampunk story: hope you write it!
    Elle

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    1. Thanks Elle! I would love to write that story … it’s funny how things you write up on a lark keep coming back to you …

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  8. Love this post. I too have way too many ideas and things I want to write and publish some day. I have to keep reminding myself not to rush and to enjoy the ride.

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    1. True - I'm always rushing; it's just who I am. But patience is a virtue I'm going to be learning my entire life. :) Thanks for stopping by!

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  9. Great post and conversation - it's interesting to think of all the companion options. I've been thinking about a short story/poetry combo for a while now . . .so I think ebooks have opened up doors for all of us and there's no reason for publishers not to take advantage of that, instead of having a war between self-pub and traditioan pub.

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    1. We're still in a transition time, which is always turbulent. But as things evolve, I can't see smart people all over not taking advantage of some of these kinds of things. The mere fact that writers can do these things, regardless of whether they will make any money or not, warms my heart.

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  10. Rockin' post.

    Do you know Catherynne M. Valente? She's a brilliant writer who seems to really be taking advantage of the freedom of this new world, finding ways to reach audiences through both trad pub and self-pub options, and combinations thereof. A little from Cauldron A, a little from Cauldron B...

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  11. Oh my, I would totally buy that! Romantic intrigue and steampunk and rival queendoms??? So hooked already.

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  12. I think that publishing both ways is a great idea. Did Elana Johnson self publish Regret? For some reason I'm thinking it was only an ebook.

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    1. No, that was put out by her publisher (Simon Pulse) - but it's a good example of publishers taking the lead from indies and putting out "side" material to help with sales!

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  13. Wow, great post. Completely agree that the world is the author's oyster right now. So much room for innovation, creativity and experimentation.

    It should be amazing to see what emerges from all this. Maybe some new genres, and even new art forms. It's wonderful! Thanks for highlighting that side to the changes, I think the (understandable) anxiety can overshadow some of the amazing possiblities. So, it's great that you're bringing that to the forefront.

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