The Long Tail
I had a dream where I was trying to find a job and realized, “Wait, I already have a job.”
The best thing for a writer these days is that every project is not a paycheck, it’s an evergreen annuity that provides income for the life of the copyright.
In the Old School, most writers turned the book in, got an advance check from the publisher, the book sold for a few months or, in the best of cases, a few years, and that was that. The advance determined everything about the book, from its treatment by the publisher to the number of copies ordered by stores to the perception among readers.
Almost without exception, bestsellers were made, not born. And some people get really angry if you point that out. They imbue publishing houses with a magical alchemy formula that somehow turns words into gold. But writers know that a lot of books wouldn’t be bestsellers unless they were published as bestsellers. In other words, if a publisher doesn’t pay an obscene amount of money for a book, it’s not going to get the stacks of books piled around the entrance of stores or the 40-percent-off stickers in Walmart.
That’s no accident. It’s a well-crafted system honed over centuries. The real surprise is when an ordinary book gets an audience. Because books aren’t cans of beans, and most readers want variety. That’s the only reason there are more than 100 books in a store.
Right now, it is not worth my time to write a book and hope a publisher wants it. A year to write a book, a year of shopping it, and a year waiting to get published. And that’s fighting upstream against a recession and a declining industry and closing bookstores.
Now, I will sign a paper deal if the terms are fair. This year I’ve discussed deals with several publishers and so far haven’t found one that makes sense—not just for the money, but for the time and loss of control. The reality is I can probably earn more on an e-book in one year than the publisher would pay me to not publish the book.
But the real difference comes on the back end, where the digital income stream not only continues but is likely to accelerate. Unless you are a bestseller, giving a publisher a long-term license is giving away the majority of the book’s income. You also lose the ability to fit the book in your overall brand, to change price, to package it with extra books, or sell it somewhere else.
The point of all this is not to slam publishers or convince all writers to self-publish. If you’re not a writer, you may not even care about all this. But it’s going to have long-term implications for you, despite how tightly you cling to your paper books and vow to never pick up an e-reader. Because this is going to affect you where it matters most and where you can’t escape: price and availability. You’re going to get all the cheap books you want. For a long time.
My daughter, reading this over my shoulder while impatiently waiting for the laptop, just asked me, “Don’t you ever tell anyone ‘Thanks for reading?’” Yes, I do. Thanks for reading.
Scott Nicholson is author of 12 novels, including the YA paranormal romance October Girls and the thrillers Disintegration, As I Die Lying, Speed Dating with the Dead, Drummer Boy, Forever Never Ends, The Skull Ring, Burial to Follow, and They Hunger. His revised novels for the U.K. Kindle are Creative Spirit, Troubled, and Solom. He’s also written four comic series, six screenplays, and more than 60 short stories. His story collections include Ashes, Curtains, The First, Murdermouth: Zombie Bits, and Flowers.
The Kindle Giveaway is part of Scott’s blog tour. Complete details at http://www.hauntedcomputer.com/blogtour.htm. To be eligible for the Kindle DX or Kindle 3, simply post a comment below with contact info. Feel free to debate and discuss the topic, but you will only be entered once per blog. He’s also giving away a Kindle 3 through the tour newsletter and a Pandora’s Box of free e-books to a follower of “hauntedcomputer” on Twitter. Thanks for playing!