Pyramid Schemes, Market Bubbles, E-Publishing and Me

When I was a freshman in High School, I was introduced to the concept of Amway.  At the time I was young, naive, and also legally incapable of owning and running an Amway business thanks, mercifully, to various child labor laws  But one-day soon, wouldn’t I like to be a part of an Amway business? The idea had a powerful allure: you put in “X” hours per week (where “X” is some number less than what you’d need for a part-time job) talking to “Y” contacts (where “Y” represents some seemingly-reasonable number of friends, family, and poor schlubs who you can rope into a marketing pitch session) and if only “Z” of them join (where “Z” is some number less than “Y”, but one which is nonetheless unachievably high because some number “Z-prime” of them, which assymptotically approaches 100% of “Y”, have already heard of Amway and aren’t interested) then you’ve got a solid foundation for a growing business.  If each of your “Z” business associates goes out and does the same, and each of their associates the same again, why then, in like no time at all you’ll be raking in megabucks without any further committment of your own time and resources.  You’ll be on easy street.  That’s the way they sell it, anyway.

This is, classically, what we call a “Pyramid Scheme”.  This post isn’t a dig on Amway – they make perfectly fine, if overpriced food, cleaning, and dietary supplement products – nor is this post even about Amway.  Amway is just the starting point, an anecdote, a part of a story about how I developed a healthy skepticism of “get rich quick” schemes and grandiose claims.  And it’s true you can defend Amway: their business is legal, and they do market and sell actual physical products.  But with Amway the whole idea wasn’t so much that you made money by marketing and selling Amway products.  The whole idea was that you got other people to market and sell Amway products for you, and then you make a cut of their profits.  More recently, I read an exposé that told how the only people who ever got rich from Amway were the ones who made and sold the promotional materials and the motivational videos and books and went on the motivational talk circuit.  No one ever made a mint selling overpriced Amway products.

I had loved ones inolved with Amway.  One day, we anticipated, I would join their “organization” and get involved, too.  And things would snowball from there and we’d all be rich.  My loved ones never got rich.  But they did spend overmuch, for a little while, on Amway products.  Eventually, they parted ways with Amway, quietly.  And with that, I was already better prepared for my next encounter with pyramid schemes and “multi-level marketing”.

Several years ago, before I met Dear Wife, I left Small Town, Southern State, USA to move to Big City, Southern State, USA.  (I am not a Southerner, but the South became my home when my military father retired in the aforementioned Southern State.)  I was hieing out for hopefully better job prospects and almost certainly better personal life prospects.  Both turned out to be true, thankfully (I have my current job, for instance, and I met Dear Wife.)  But upon arrival in the Big City and putting forth my resumé in various venues for the putting forth of resumés, I was contacted for an interview from an insurance and financial services company.  Insurance and Financial Services weren’t my area of interest, but I was pretty desperate at this point.  Of course, I did not turn down the interview.  I don’t know why the fact that the interview took place late in the evening didn’t tip me off that something was amiss. Continue reading

“A Novel Venture” Revisited: Kickstarting a Writing Career

Quite a good long time ago, I wrote a post about one possible future publishing model that might rise up and replace (or co-exist with) the current traditional model.

I wrote about this before the real explosion in e-books that first started attracting attention sometime in November of 2010 – it’s here, all the way back in February 2010.  This was in the early days of my blog, before I had regular readers, so most of you will likely not have seen this post.

I called my idea the “Novel Venture Capital Model”, and the gist was that authors would somehow be able to tap into a network of “angel investors” or “venture capitalists” who were interested in finding and funding successful novelists.   The theory was that some authors would abandon traditional publishers because of crazy rights-grabs and depressed royalty rates – but they wouldn’t be able to fund the development, editing, cover art, printing and distribution of books themselves.  All of that costs money.  Traditionally, publishers fund all that, but the concept of this hypothetical model was to decouple the financing of book production from the physical process, allowing the authors themselves to be the business-people calling the shots.

And then, of course, the e-book revolution began.  And part of my hypothetical model actually started coming true.  Now, it wasn’t really a prediction – I included in my original post both a pro and a con for why it would succeed and why it would fail.  And I’m not interested in having been “right”.  What I am interested in is how reality is catching up to those proposals, and my own evolving thoughts on where the world of publishing is going, and what role I will be able to play in that future. Continue reading

Stuart Jaffe on “Lines in the Sand”

Author Stuart Jaffe, late of the multi-author writing blog “Magical Words” and now solo blogger straddling the self-publishing and traditional publishing worlds has an interesting blog post up.

As part of my apparently ongoing committment to bringing you the latest news and views that I read or find that touch on these subjects, here’s a link to Stuart’s post: “Lines in the Sand”, in which Stuart stakes the following position: Traditional Publishing is here to stay.  So is the new paradigm of self-publishing.  Other than that… figuring out what the future looks like is essentially a fool’s errand.

I really get behind this sentiment, especially his opener.

There are just so many variables — almost all of which comprise some human element — that to attempt a serious prognostication is to make gods laugh and mathematicians weep.

The world of publishing is changing, that’s for sure.  But whither the change leadeth, no man knoweth.

Er.  Pardon the faux King James English.

But seriously… I appreciate Stuart’s appeal to tone down the apocalyptic rhetoric about THE END OF PUBLISHING AS WE KNOW IT!

I don’t think I’ve been guilty, these past few weeks, of being rhetorically aggressive – except perhaps as concern Amazon in the specific.  I have concerns, it is true, about the new paradigm – but I tried to be careful to point out that I found the new options to be a mostly positive development, despite those significant concerns.

I can even imagine myself, at some future point, deciding that my current goal of attempting to publish through the traditional model is not achievable, and instead switch to a self-publishing model, if the conditions were right.  I don’t know what those conditions would be, yet.  But it’s an option and route I reserve for the future.

Anyway, Stuart’s take – as an author who has published some traditionally before, and now is self-publishing – was refreshing.

Books of a Certain Length

Author’s Note: This is a topic near and dear to my heart.  Thinking about yesterday’s post about the rise of YA fiction as a force majeure in the SF&F publishing world, it wasn’t far for me to start thinking about book length.  Also, to be entirely honest, Dear Wife suggested both topics.  I’ll also note: this is a very meaty (i.e. wordy) and at times contentious topic.  For that reason, I am going to do something I rarely ever do on my blog: I’m implementing sectional subtitles.  Why?  Because this turned out to be a real, long, in-depth, even semi-scholarly article on the topic of wordcount length, with quite a bit of data and market analysis.  Your conclusions will be your own, but I’ve tried to synthesize a lot of information for this article.  I considered splitting the article into several posts, as I often do when a single post grows this long, but I felt that it would weaken the analysis to have the disparate elements separated onto different pages.  So, instead: one long post with sectional subtitles.  Finally, you’ll find I prefer the compound word “wordcount” as opposed to splitting the word into two: “word count”, which is the more common usage.  The reason for this is that when I refer to “wordcount” I’m referring to a single, distinct idea: that is, the total number of words in a manuscript.  Splitting the word into two diffuses this unified notion. 


Books of a Certain Length

If you look around on the internet, it won’t be hard to come up with some solid advice for how long your book should be – depending on which genre and market you are writing for.  I encountered advice on the issue in this post on the Magical Words blog – where you’ll find me entering the fray in the comments.  There’s also this post on The Swivet.  I won’t quote all the genre length guidelines these two posts suggest (which are mostly in accord).  But if you’re either a fan of meaty Epic Fantasies or books like the Harry Potter series, and write in anything approaching a similar vein and genre, you might find some of these guidelines a trifle… strange.  Epic Fantasy is given a high-end wordcount length suggestion of around 120,000 words.  For YA it is suggested you stay under 80,000 words with some flexibility up to 100,000 in special circumstances.

For those of you unfamiliar with relative wordcount lengths, you may consider that and say to yourself: “Okay, so, what’s the big deal?”

The Challenge of a Verbose Writer

Let me first start by offering this full disclosure: my writing style tends toward the robustly wordful.  For example, I’ve participated in several “Flash Fiction” challenges during the history of this blog (with most results posted  here) with the goal of turning out a super-short story under 1,000 words in length.  I rarely reached that goal.  My first attempt at a novel, “Project SOA”, had reached the two-thirds complete mark at approximately 140,000 words before I abandoned that version of the story.  I’m planning on my current novel project, “The Book of M”, to be about 125,000 words… but I fully expect it to be closer to 175,000 (based on my experience of planned length versus actual final length for other, shorter works).

Of course, I’m no professional, as yet. Continue reading

Rational Numbers

One of my biggest beefs with all the alarmism and loud voices shouting about this and that and the other thing relating to the changes in the publishing industry is the lack of available, actual data.

In one corner you’ve got Joe Konrath and his henchman spreading the specious claim that you too can make a six-figure income in digital self-publishing.  (In three easy steps, I’m sure.  Step 1: Write.  Step 2: ???? Step 3: Profit.)  Their cheerleading efforts for the new world order of disintermediated publishing always bothers me because the big names on this side of the fence are largely pro writers who previously were published in the traditional model, benefited from the marketing efforts of traditional publishers, developed a platform and capitalized on that publicity, and now are making more by eschewing those publishers and going it alone.  Well yeah you’re doing fine self-pubbing.  You have a built-in audience.  Congratulations.

I mean, sure, it’s an astute business decision to dump publishers when the numbers are more favorable if you self-publish.  When you’ve got a branded author name, that’s a strategic decision you can afford to make.  But for an unpublished and undiscovered author, this a whole different ballgame.

And then along comes Amanda Hocking.  And now we’ve got living proof, tangible evidence that an unknown really can make it big.  Only wait, now that Hocking is doing fine with the digital self-pub regime, she switches sides and takes a traditional deal.  And then John Locke, he of the first digital self-pubbed author to cross the million-sales on Kindle threshold.  Last I heard he was sticking with his Kindle platform.  No traditional deal for him, no thank you.

But these are what we call statistical outliers.  We get those in the traditional publishing industry, too.  J.K. Rowling?  Stephanie Meyer?  Outliers happen.  There should be a big fat “Your Mileage May Vary” label on this bill-of-sale.  Because it will vary.  A lot.

And then you’ve got the other corner, filled mostly with traditionally published authors and their teams who are quite happy with their current deals.  They’re usually those that are making a living.  They recognize the value that traditional publishers bring to the table, and how that value has filtered to their own bottom lines.  A lot of them don’t like the new paradigm of digital self-pubbing.  It threatens their comfortable status quo, and challenges the long-standing industry prejudice against self-published work.  It’s not a stance wholly without merit, but it does seem to ignore the reality of the changes that are occurring in the industry – whether they like those changes or not.

Neither side has often been terribly keen in referring to actual, objective, and verifiable data.  But you do have a few gems: a few good souls who, like me, believe in good data.

So, all that said I’ve been keenly interested when those good souls share their data so the rest of us can see, and judge for ourselves.  In that vein, I thought I’d share some data recently made available by a digitally self-pubbed speculative fiction (sci fi, specifically) author by name of Ken McConnell on a year’s worth of his digital sales.  Link here.  (And a small update here.)

You can compare and contrast that with data like the sort provided by Tobias S. Buckell (here and here) and Jim C. Hines (here and here).

The upshot? While Ken’s figures aren’t magically phenomenal or anything, they help provide a clear view that cuts through the clutter of marketing hype.


ETA (09/12/2011):

Another Digital Self-published author posts her speculative-fiction sales numbers:

Tempest in a Teacup: Author Agents & Self-epublishing

I am, of course, an author whose “time has not yet come”, as it were.  (It remains to be seen if my time ever actually will, but I maintain hope.)  I’m not really in the industry – not yet.  (I’ve only had one professional sale.)  So in the long arc of publishing history, anything I say on the subject of the future of publishing, such as it stands now, is subject to all kinds of “I don’t really know what I’m talking about” caveats.  And as I look forward to the hopeful prospect of having a career as a writer, I worry about how what I say publicly may or may not qualify me or disqualify me for the having of that career – or in other words, I fear whether something I say now might potentially be damaging to future possible relationships with publishers, editors, or agents.  I don’t want to be a problem child or a prima donna, or appear as someone difficult to work with.  My goal is to be personable and pleasant to work with.

That said, I follow the news on the publishing industry with avid interest.  And I do have opinions about what’s happening, and the changes in the industry.  For instance, I feel that a lot of people are spouting off their opinions on what’s the “Gospel Truth” about the future of the industry when they, quite frankly, don’t really know a darned thing about what’s actually happening.  Everything is changing so fast that anybody who claims to know exactly what the future of book publishing looks like is probably selling something, and I’m very wary of these kinds of absolute pronouncements.  I take them as advice: here’s one version of how things might go down.  But as for me… I’m content to wait to see how things actually happen.  Besides, I have to focus right now on writing.  I can’t very well play any role in the industry until I have something written that’s worth reading.

All that said… I read an interesting post by Jim C. Hines today about one, shall we say, interesting development in the world of publishing.  This isn’t exactly coming out of nowhere – this change has been moving slowly for at least the last year (since I started paying attention to this stuff), and probably longer.

This change, specifically, concerns the roles that Author Agents will play in the Brave New World of Publishing, which Jim comments on here.

Reading that post lead me down a rabbit-hole of learning more about how Agents are changing their business models to survive the changes in the industry – and specifically to a very interesting Dust-up/kerfuffle.  Here are the relevant links:

I reserve comment on just what I really think of the whole situation.  At this juncture, it would be imprudent.  I will say: I don’t know any of these individuals personally.  I don’t have a horse in this race.  How can I?  I am genuinely interested in learning how this settles out.  And I will be following this going forward.  But I have my thoughts and reservation (which I’m happy to share privately, for any interested, but I doubt there will be any bites on that one).  I just think, for those of you who hadn’t seen this particular dust-up, yet, that this might be worth a read.

Additionally: be sure to check out the comments in those posts.  Some of them are at least as enlightening as the posts themselves.

Addenda: Here are some more links provided by others that I thought worthy to share (More Information = More Power):

If you’ve got some links to some places where agents and authors are talking about this issue, feel free to share them.  I’ll continue appending to this article as I have the chance to read more on the topic.

Final Note: Despite the title to this post, I really do think this is a pretty big – and important – issue.  The reason for the title has more to do with my incurable affection for alliteration that for how important I think this is.