Amanda Hocking and the Future of Publishing

Over the past few weeks, the Internet has been shuddering in delight at the story of Amanda Hocking, a 26-year-old writer who’s made a mint off self-publishing her books. There have been a lot of cheers that this heralds the death of traditional publishing and all its’ evil works.

She gets to keep 70% of her book sales — and she sells around 100,000 copies per month. By comparison, it’s usually thought that it takes a few tens of thousands of copies sold in the first week to be a New York Times bestselling writer.

I found out about it all from my LinkedIn connections, where people were batting around statements like “ebooks could be 50% of all book sales this year, and will definitely be 25%,” or “the world is changing rapidly, which is why all traditional publishers will go down, so to speak.” And lots of praise for Amazon.com, which I find disconcerting.

Amanda Hocking

But, as Ms. Hocking herself points out, it takes years of hard work to be an overnight success.

I don’t think people really grasp how much work I do. I think there is this very big misconception that I was like, “Hey, paranormal is pretty hot right now,” and then I spent a weekend smashing out some words, threw it up online, and woke up the next day with a million dollars in my bank account.

This is literally years of work you’re seeing. And hours and hours of work each day. The amount of time and energy I put into marketing is exhausting. I am continuously overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do that isn’t writing a book. I hardly have time to write anymore, which sucks and terrifies me.

She talks about plenty of other things, too, like the reality that ebooks are not the majority of the market and may never be so, or the fact that ebooks and self-publishing are not synonymous. You should go read the whole thing, it’s good. She even takes the time out to stand up for us “traditional” publishers.

I just don’t understand writers animosity against publishers. So much of what I’ve been reading lately has made me out to be Dorothy taking down the Wicked Witch.

Publishers have done really great things for a really long time. They aren’t some big bad evil entity trying to kill literature or writers. They are companies, trying to make money in a bad economy with a lot of top-heavy business practices.

I’d like to add that, for a lot of publishers, and especially a lot of editors, we’re in it for the literature.We want good literature and good ideas, we like good writers. Imagine the thrill of being the first editor to look at Harry Potter, or being the guy who approved Perdido Street Station.

Years ago, Tappan King wrote “The Sobering Saga of Myrtle the Manuscript,” a description of what really happens when you ship off a manuscript to some publication. He sums it up eloquently:

There is something you must understand. As strange as it might seem, the Editors of Shameless Stories truly love good fiction. They actually live for the moment when a fresh, interesting, or even basically competent and entertaining story will fall on their desks. They edit Shameless Stories, rather than taking a real job, because they, like you, really love this stuff. Really they do.

Amen.

Jumping into the discussion, I explained that publishers are more than just editing and layout.

It seems to me that publishers, in the new era, are going to consist of, at most, six people:
1) An editor (or editing room) to make sure the book/story is free of typographical errors and makes sense.
2) A digital layout artist, to handle all the visual aspects (cover, setting, branding).
3) An accountant, to make sure everyone’s royalties are precise and fair.
4) An IP lawyer.
5) Two marketing guys. [edit: one for market research and analysis, and one for campaign design.]

As Amanda noted, she’s put in years of work and continues to do so every day to sell her book. How’s it go? “It takes years to become an overnight success”? And publishers in the future are going to exist purely to cut down on that, to give the writer more time to, y’know, WRITE. The publisher makes it easier by delegating a lot of the work to specialists whose only job it is to promote books and make sure they sell. Sort of like holding the door open for a lady, it’s not that she can’t do it herself, it’s that she doesn’t have to.

At least, that’s how I’m running *my* publishing company. Fans first, writers second, everything else third.

Having thought about it for the past few hours, I’d like to add one more point to this kludged-together mission statement: For Glorious Dawn Press, our job is to find good books for readers, and find readers for good books. I spoke with my partners, and we agree: that is why we’re in business. That’s why we’ve started the company.

One of humanity's oldest symbols...the glorious dawn.

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“Not A Bunch of Softies” and the Singularity

A few years ago, Jack William Bell wrote an article complaining about the impact of the Singularity on science fiction writing.

“The Singularity is this enormous turd that Vernor Vinge crapped into the punchbowl of SF writing, and now nobody wanting to take a drink can ignore it.”

He believes that twentieth-century science fiction was about the possible, the possibilities of following one path or another, of one future or another. And that the Singularity, usually defined in shorthand as “the point where the future becomes unimaginable,” really puts a crimp on this one.

He boils it down to two options: “Our choices consist of either writing purely escapist fare or of asking hard questions about ultimately unknowable things.” Bell doesn’t go very far exploring the latter, but we’d like to at Glorious Dawn.

What do you think? Does the Singularity make traditional, future-telling SF impossible, or does it open new possibilities? Note that science fiction writers approaching the Singularity (Vinge, Stross, Goonan, Banks) either by showing its origins, or talking about those on its fringes. And why should it be unimaginable? Ishi the Indian could make sense of pre-WW1 San Francisco after forty years in the stone age, and that’s a larger leap than any between us and any Singularity (especially it comes as soon as predicted).

So, is there a future in SF? Or are all the futures unknowable?

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One Weird Idea #1 – Open For Submissions

One Weird Idea
One Weird Idea is a new take on an old concept. A mix of authors and stories, each one just big enough to read on the bus or over lunch. Not necessarily rivets and spacecraft, but each story is science fiction, that is, the literature of ideas. Each story takes a weird idea, and runs with it.

And here’s the twist: It’s available everywhere ebooks are sold. Your Kindle, your Nook, your iPad, wherever you want to read it, you can get it. And it’s only 99 cents. Welcome to the future.

We call it a “bimonthly anthology.” Some call it a magazine. Whatever you call it, we guarantee you’ll call it damn good science fiction.

Submissions
One Weird Idea is looking for science fiction short stories, 2000-8000 words. We don’t have a particular theme, but we do request a particular structure: You need to take a ‘weird idea’ (robotics, nanotech, climate change, genetic engineering, etc.) and build a story exploring its implications. Think of Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” (changing the past) or Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (lifelike robots). Think of Inception (dreams indistinguishable from reality) or Gattaca (genetic engineering and eugenics). Show us stories like that.

Rights

We will be buying first worldwide electronic rights for text, exclusive for the first year. After one year, we will hold non-exclusive worldwide electronic rights for text, audio, and other.

What that means is that you can’t print the story elsewhere on the net for the first year, but you could resell it in audio to, e.g., Escape Pod. However, we’re investigating the possibility of offering audio versions of all our publications, and we’d like the legal right to do so in the future. ‘Kay?

Payment

We will be unable to offer remuneration for the first issue for the first three or six months. We could offer you a pittance, but it would be less insulting to come out and say “we can’t pay yet.” However, we will be offering 12% royalties on sales of #1 from the day #2 comes out. Ebooks never go out of print, and the market has demonstrated that as people buy #2, and #3, and #4, they’ll go back and buy #1 too. If we can afford to, we’ll look into back-paying 12% for issue #1 at that time as well.

If you’re still interested, you can email your story (in .doc or .rtf format) to glorfinstein@yahoo.com.

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