It still amazes me when I look at sales numbers and actually see people buying my books. I mean, I’ve been a story teller for as long as I have had language, but I was never in a position to actually make any money at it until very, very recently. I know I tell good stories, but…
Today’s topic is the voracious reader, and their place in the ecosystem. I’m not TradPub(tm). Those are the writers who have an agent, and an editor, and a contract with a major publishing house, generally out of Manhattan but also out of Seattle, like my buddy Scott James Magner. Their books are the kind you will walk into a Barnes & Noble and see displayed on the shelf, or an end cap (depending on how much money the publisher paid for the space). Big time.
I won’t say that you will never see one of my books on a shelf at B&N, because my novels are now in the big distributor catalogs, so you could order paper copies for yourself. I’m just not holding my breath. I’m also a little bit too much of a control freak to sell my soul to TradPub just so I could see myself in the book store. TradPub writers generally get screwed for royalties. (As The Passive Voice asks: What part of 70% royalties confused you?) But they also have a different target audience. For TradPub writers, they are generally going after the Casual Reader or the Social Reader.
Social Readers only buy this year’s major breakout hit. A few years ago, they all discovered light BDSM, because everyone went gray. Before that, it was Suzanne Collins’s wonderfully dystopian olympic games. Before that, everyone’s favorite boy wizard. The big houses make big money by moving millions of copies of a single book. If you happened to have written that book, you get slobberingly wealthy overnight.
Most authors never write that book.
The Casual Reader reads a book or two per month, and used to keep the mid-list writers in rent money. Because TradPub is all about the block-buster these days, there are far fewer mid-list authors these days, and all of them are pressured to write bigger and more exciting monster books that can be turned into franchise hits. You’ll see them on the shelf, a whole series of books with the same cover and a number on the side. (I do that too, but for reasons we’ll discuss in a moment.) They are slowly starving.
My target audience is the Voracious Reader. They read 50-200 books per year. (I used to do that, before I committed to writing that much instead of reading that much.) They ask all their friends for recommendations about new authors, and then go read a book by that person. If they like the voice and the genre and the style, they’ll buy ALL of the books that writer has available.
I have some voracious readers out there. I can see that when my more obscure titles sell. I mean, really, I write mostly science fiction, with some low-end fantasy (as opposed to EPIC FANTASY!!!), but I have also published several books of poetry (I suppose you could call it epic fantasy and urban fantasy) and people buy them.
My approach from day one was to have a number of titles available for readers who wanted to explore these worlds with me. Fabulous Publisher Babe (TM) calls it the bakery model. Someone walks into your bakery with a want. You might have the greatest cheese danish the world has ever seen, but they wanted coffee. Or a bagel. Or a scone. Something. I try to have a little everything available. It might not be the greatest scone, but once you read it, you might decide you like my cooking, so you’ll try the cheese danish, and the coffee, and the juice, and…
You get the point. Voracious readers read a lot of books. TradPub thinks that ebooks are going away, because they have priced their own higher than the cost of a hard-cover version of the same book. Mind you, it costs them about a tenth or less, when you factor in pitiful royalties to the author and minimal distribution costs. Usually, they end up losing money because Jeff rewards authors with a 70% royalty, if the price of the ebook is between $2.99 US and $9.99. Outside that band, the royalties drops to 35%. (And I would have some for free, but he won’t let me charge anything less than $0.99 and gets upset if I have something for free anywhere else. But I diverge from my task.)
For a voracious reader, they have a book budget, like other people have a coffee budget or a clothing budget. Whatever it is you do with your mad money. And I’m competing with TradPub for those dollars, as well as every other hybrid/indie writer out there. I have to have a product that looks good (awesome covers, clean interior, friendly layout, etc.) Fabulous Publisher Babe handles that aspect of things. My job is making sure that after someone has liked the cover and read the blurb, that they read the first 10% and say “OMG, Must have!”
I can do that. I’m even pretty good at it on a good day. But it is a competition for money. Nothing more, nothing less. I exist because there are a lot of people out there with money who want to be entertained. If I’m on, they’re happy and come back for more books. They’ll come back for Queen of the Pirates because they liked Auberon. They will come back for Last of the Immortals (coming soon for pre-order) because I have entertained them.
I won’t (probably) ever see my books on a shelf in a Barnes & Noble. I probably won’t ever compete for major publishing awards. I’m not trying to. I want to make enough of a living telling stories that I can walk away from the day job, or at least go find something easier and part-time that I can ramp down from as I write more books and make more fans.
I doubt that I’ll ever write that book that bottles lightning. (Seriously, my best-ever single-day-sales just barely cracked 100 units moved. The big hitters move 50,000 units when that monster block-buster Gotta Have hits the bookstores. However, I’m not going to say never.) if I can sustain three digits per day in terms of selling spines, I can make enough to be happy. And every time I publish something, I do have that one chance in a million to bottle lightning.
With your help, we just might get there, too. But I’d rather have a bunch of happy fans telling their friends that I write good stuff. It warms me, and keeps me motivated to go home from here (where I have no access to the interwebs), and crawl down into a world that need telling.
Thank you for being fans, for being friends, for trusting me with your money.
shade and sweet water
west of the mountains, WA