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.
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.
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
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.
Susan Kaye Quinn
I have no idea if anyone would by that, but dang I would have fun writing it.
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.