Friday, August 10, 2012

Marketing: Why the Future is Bright for Writers

Many of you will remember this song. It was featured in the movie, Doc Hollywood starring Michael J. Fox:

I wanted to use this song to introduce a fantastic article by Randy Ingermanson, the publisher of the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine. Take it away, Randy!


A couple of weeks ago, there was a bit of a fuss among writer over the alleged impending death of writing as a profession.

The fuss focused around an article published by John Barber in The Globe and Mail. I would include a link to this article, but it's a long and convoluted link that won't fit on one line here.

You can find it by Googling "there will be no more professional writers in the future."

No, I'm not making that up. That is the real title of a real article that seriously claims that the future is dim for writers.

According to the article, the title is a direct quote from a UK writer, Ewan Morrison, "There will be no more professional writers in the future."

I don't believe it.

I believe that there's never been a better time to be a writer than now. I believe the future will be even better for writers.

I believe the future is bright for writers.

Now it's true that the future is going to look different from the past.

In the past, large corporations created publishing companies that guessed what readers would want to buy and then paid writers to create it.

The corporations took all of the financial risk and most of the financial reward. Authors didn't have to pay for cover art, editorial work, marketing, sales, distribution, printing, postage, or anything else.

In theory, authors took little financial risk and therefore got very little reward. (The author royalties for most paperback books are less than a dollar per copy. Royalties on hardcovers are typically a few dollars per copy.)

But in practice, authors took plenty of risk. Before getting published, a writer often worked for years to learn the craft of writing. It's common to hear a writer say, "I took ten years to become an overnight success." Most of that training time earned the writer nothing.

Let's be clear that a very few writers have done stupendously well with the old system. That's natural. In a free market economy, the 80-20 rule applies. Roughly 20% of the authors earn roughly 80% of the income. The top 1% of authors earn a lot of money.

The 80-20 rule has always been approximately true and probably always will be.

It's certainly true now as we watch the rise of independent authors. There are a very few big winners -- the new e-book elite. People like Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath, John Locke, and Bob Mayer have sold huge numbers of e-books and earned very good money.

Five years ago, nobody would have believed that could happen. Now, it's extremely believable. There's a new superstar every few months.

The gloom-and-doom people like to point out that the vast majority of e-book authors don't earn very much. The median income for e-book authors these days is said to be about $500 per year.

It's hard to see why that's a bad thing. That is a radical improvement over the old days, when the median income of all writers was zero. (Because the overwhelming majority of writers couldn't get published at all, which meant they earned nothing.)

If the 80-20 rule has always been true and will always be true, then you may think that nothing really has changed.

In the old days, there were a few hundred high-earning authors, a few tens of thousands of published writers who earned modestly well, and hundreds of thousands of wannabes who couldn't sell a thing.

In the new e-book market, which is still developing, we're seeing a few very self-published big winners, thousands who are doing moderately well, and many tens
of thousands who are earning only small amounts.

What's different now?

What's different is that writers now have more control. If you want to publish an e-book, you can do it. Nobody can keep you from doing it. You might not earn much, but if you don't, then you can't blame those pesky gatekeepers.

How is this better than the old days?

It's better because now a writer has more choices.

Remember, if you liked things the way they used to be, you still have that option. Nothing prevents you from working ten years, writing a brilliant novel, getting a top-notch agent, selling it to a big corporate publisher, and reaping huge rewards. If that's your wish and if you have the talent, go to it.

But if that's not your thing, you can write a book, make your own decisions on art, editing, and marketing, and live with your choices. If the novel hits big, then you get the rewards. The online retailers will take a small cut. You get the rest.

How could that possibly be bad?

Checking back to the article on "There Will Be No More Professional Writers In The Future," we find these reasons why that's supposed to be a Bad Thing:

* Advances from publishers are shrinking.

* Sales are shifting to "heavily discounted, royalty-poor and easily pirated ebooks."

* The Evil Empire Amazon is launching a predatory price war.

* The new "winner-take-all" economy somehow "doesn't allow young writers to flourish".

I'm not buying any of this. Let's look at each of these.

* Advances for most authors most of the time have always been small. It's a shame that they're shrinking, but even in the good old days they were rarely enough to live on, especially for debut novelists.

* An author earns a lot more royalties from a self-published e-book priced at $2.99 than from a
traditionally published trade paper book published at $14.99 or a mass market paperback published at $8.99.

So why is "heavy discounting" bad? It is pure double-talk to call that "royalty-poor." And piracy is a red herring. What evidence does anyone have that piracy hurts sales of e-books?

* If Amazon is truly evil and is truly engaging in predatory pricing, then the Department of Justice can sue them. Most readers I know like Amazon because it has low prices. Most self-pubbed authors I know LOVE Amazon because it pays vastly higher royalties than
traditional publishers. Where's the harm?

* The economy is not really "winner-take-all." The economy is "winner-takes-most." That's nothing new. All free market economies work that way and always have. The old book publishing industry was never friendly to young writers, who had to work in obscurity without pay for years before finally breaking in. And the average advance for debut novelists for decades has typically been quoted as $5k to $10k. Young writers never "flourished" on that level of support.

Here is the real reason the future is bright for writers.

There is a large market for books. The estimates I've seen are around $27 billion for net sales revenue for traditional publishers in the US. This does not include self-published books.

The trend that everyone seems to be worrying about is that traditional publishers might get less of that in the future and authors might get more. Yes, that's bad for traditional publishers. But for authors, it sounds pretty good. If traditional publishers have to treat their authors better in order to stay competitive, then that sounds great.

Writers now can control their own destinies in a large and vibrant free market. At low cost, they can create a product geared to any niche market they choose and easily post it for sale worldwide. They can earn 70% of the sales revenue and be paid promptly. Or not, if they really can't stomach all that freedom.

Readers who switch to using e-readers typically start buying more titles, especially the lower-priced ones. A book becomes an impulse buy. This is good for authors who now have a better shot at finding their audience. Now buying decisions can be based on quality, rather than on whether a publisher has bought space for a book on the front tables of bookstores.

Writers have more freedom, an international market, a bigger share of the pie, and a level playing field.

Oh, the horror of it all.

The future is bright for writers.

The future is incredibly bright for writers.

The future is amazingly incredibly bright for writers.

Go get it.


This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 32,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

Randy Ingermanson
Publisher, Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine


Sharon Cunningham Cooper said...

Nice post, Chicki! Great food for thought!

Suzanne EWhite said...

We all gotta wear shades cuz the future is ever so much brighter than when we worked for THE MAN. You don't like the cover of your book? Or it isn't selling as well as you'd like? You can go in and change the cover. You can change the beginning or remove that happy ending and just up and republish the new way. For nothing. I've been a published authors for 35 years. Never was I able to get a publisher (Macmillan, St Martins Simon and Shoestring, Harpers to name a few) to change a thing. They even left in the mistakes. Changes cost them money. In the 90's, one of my books remained in hardcover for 6 years and sold nada. I pleaded, begged and threatened for a paperback. The book was not hardcover material. I knew that. But St Martin (bless his heart) did not. Finally I convinced them. The paperback still sells well. I waited 6 years to make a royalty on that project. Writers used to starve. Jeff Bezos changed all that. And publishers are furious and the dinosaurs who predict a grim future are quite simple afraid of change.

Chicki said...

Great comment, Suzanne! You are so right. Everything has changed, and it's a wonderful time to be a writer. :)

J.D. Faver said...

Thanks so much for sharing, Chicki. I appreciate you for blazing the new trails.

Regina Duke said...

Thanks for sharing this article, Chicki! I will tweet about it, as well!

Chicki said...

I really appreciate you coming to visit me here, June and Regina, and thanks for the RT! :0)