Saturday, October 1, 2011

Top 5

Wow. I'm gonna enjoy this while it lasts:

I never expected to trip and fall into such rarefied air. Heck, Zero Sight is now in the Top 20 of ALL fantasy. I'm still trying to wrap my head around that one. I also want to again thank everyone who took the time to review the book and/or send me an Email with feedback. It's my first go at this novel thing. There were quite a few things I was tone-deaf to and didn't realize. Thanks for lending me your eyes, ears, and minds. I really do appreciate it.

A side note on the Top 5 in Contemporary Fantasy

Debora Geary is an indie author.

H.P. Mallory is an indie author.

So is that Shier guy.

In fact, eight out of ten of the top-rated contemporary fantasies are indie penned novels. And the current #1 rated fantasy novel on the Kindle?

That's right. It's Debora Geary again. An indie.

So where does this seismic shift leave us?

According to the only metric that matters—reader opinion—the indie wave is now competing evenly with the traditional publishing industry on quality. I feel insane even writing that down, but you can't argue with the data set. Sure, I'm pretty certain that A Hidden Witch isn't "better" than The Hobbit. But that's not the point. The point is that Ms. Geary has figured out what a select segment of readers want to read, and she is consistently delivering them a fantastic product. Her books are fun. Her books are accessible. She speaks to her intended audience, and her audience is rewarding her with rave reviews and just under a gazillion purchases...and that's exactly what the traditional publishing industry claimed that they (and only they) could do.

Turns out the reading public is capable of evaluating the quality of novels all by their lonesome. Dedicated indie spelunkers like Scott over at the Indie Book Blog rummage through the new releases and call out the gems. The core readership pays attention to these blogs. They snatch up copies of all the good ones. And then there is GoodReads. The service is invaluable if you are trying to cull through the many options. Or you could try Amazon's "also-bought" system. It suggests new titles based on the ones you've already read. And if you don't like those options, you can always turn to a more traditional review site like Fantasy Book Critic for detailed reviews and recommendations. The point I'm trying to make is that a whole new organic system has sprung up to replace the old gatekeepers. And IMHO, this system is better. None of the artificial barriers remain. You stand up on the stage and give it a shot. If the audience likes your first guitar solo, you keep playing. If not, it's back to the garage for some more practice.

What a difference

Three years ago, I couldn't have even told you what an indie novel was. The traditional publishing system was the only game in town. If you had a new novel, you sent a query letter off to twenty or so agents. You then waited up to six months. If they liked your concept, they asked for a draft. You then waited up to six months. If the agent liked your writing, they offered a few edits and started shopping it to publishers. You then waited up to six months. If a publisher liked the draft, they would offer you the standard contract. In fantasy land, the royalty rate was somewhere in the order of 6%-12%, plus a cash advance somewhere in the order of 1K to 6K. You took it or left it. A new author's negotiating power was minimal. After the contract was inked, the publisher re-edited the manuscript with you, generated the book's cover and layout, contacted the distributors, developed a marketing plan, and then slated a release date for the to two years in the future. Oh yea, and don't forget the book tours. I loved getting to see Jim Butcher in person too, but those months on the road could have been spent writing sequels. Imagine how many more Dresden novels we'd be enjoying if Mr. Butcher didn't need to complete a contractually obligated annual migration.

The traditional publishing process did produce some fantastic works—but never forget that there were gatekeepers that decided what you could and could not read and that it took freakin' eons to get a book out. The publishing world is different now. An indie can publish the instant he or she decides their work is ready. When they do, the novel can be purchased by anyone around the globe. No more waiting for a book to hit your market. No more wishing you could get more foreign titles. And no more clubbing people to death with Neal Stephenson anvils. Paper books are dying out faster than the dinosaurs. The new Kindle costs 79 dollars. B&N's brick and mortars have turned into giant toy stores.

But, indies! With great power comes great responsibility. As Kristine Rusch lays out in her excellent new polemic, the new rules are thus:

  • Writers Are Responsible For Their Own Careers.
  • Writers Are Professionals.
  • Writers Are In Business, And Should Behave Like Business People. 

There will be no more coddling. There will be no more stoking of egos. You cannot write #@$^ and expect to get a paycheck. If your book is a stinker, or if it's full of typos and errors, your readership is gonna let you have it. Don't expect to receive quarter or mercy. Never forget that you are asking them for their hard earned money. Instead, listen carefully to all their feedback. Remain positive. Remain gracious. Nowadays you get unlimited restarts. Don't be afraid to use them.

How have I fared?

I never had the traditional publishing experience. By the time a good friend (and traditionally published author) told me that Zero Sight might be nifty enough to get published, the game was already changing. I came upon Konrath's blog, and I was never more thankful those college business courses. He didn't bother with flowery prose. He showed cold hard numbers. And I'd done enough case studies to recognize a crumbling distribution channel when I saw one. I never sent in a single query letter. The deals other writers in my genre were signing simply did not pencil out. Now, I did have serious concerns that self-publishing my work might place me on a blacklist. Those rumors were flying around like crazy. The Knight Agency, a firm that I respected greatly, was warning that self-publishing a novel would spoil ensure it never reached a bookstore. (They appear to have since changed their tune.) Fortunately, I had minimal aspirations to see my book in a store. What I wanted was my stories read, and e-publishing me offered me the easiest, fastest option.

It's been a fantastic year for me as a person. I married my college sweetheart, I got to start working in the hospital, and my first novel has been read by thousands of people. Oh, yea. And a sequel. I managed to get that draft done too!

What lies in the future?

Who knows, but so far the kool-aid tastes great.



Bookblogger said...

Congrats on the ranking! It is well deserved for sure. I started reading the book again today to get ready for the sequel (and for the book club). Can't wait to see more work from you and hopefully see you in the number 1 slot.

B. Justin Shier said...

That would involve defeating Debora...and no one defeats Debora.

So cool about the book club, btw. I'm excited for the discussion!

Anonymous said...


Yours has been just about the only book I thought was an incredible value out of the deluge of self epublished scifi/fantasy that has flooded in.

From the consumer side of this epublishing phenomenon it is a frustrating yet hopeful time. As someone who enjoys pulp fiction and is a pretty voracious reader I am glad that more is being brought to market. The downside is that the overhelming majority of what is being published is pretty awful.

I am hoping that new institutions of gatekeeping, editing, and accurate reviews/ratings will evolve to the point where finding a quality yarn like Zero Sight isn't so difficult.

I'd happily pay an extra few bucks to have decent copyediting and a greater chance at ensuring an entertaining novel. Right now there are too many books with five stars, glowing reviews, and a kindle sample that doesn't immediately let you know that the book is crap.

Like food there is a certain level below which I don't care how cheap it is. I don't want to eat it (or read it).

My expectation is that the real values that old time publishers bring to a book will be developed. Not paying for printing costs and all the stuff that doesn't impact my reading experience like the manhatten offices and lifestyles of the CEOs of the publishing houses is great.

I'd be happy to contribute my buck or two to giving you an experienced editor. I hear that writing the second book is harder than the first. I want you to get to write the best book you can. Either the acknowledgements in novels are utter crap or a lot of entertaining writers couldn't write as well without a lot of experienced help from staff at their publishing houses. I hope that those things a publishing company can bring to a writer evolve with the epublishing phenomenon and people like you are able avail themselves of those services.

Anyway, as we celebrate the coming of epublishing I really hope (and somewhat expect) that much of what remains valuable from old time publishing will stay with us. The sooner this happens the better because Zero Sight is a gem in a deluge of mud.

Anyway, congrats again.

Anonymous said...

Just read Geary's most recent release, "Witches On Parole." At the end of the book, she asks her readers to review her book. She also asks that they email her to let her know about the review, so that she can "gift" them with a copy of her next book as a way of saying thanks. Might have something to do with her ranks if people see a bunch of reviews that might not have been written, otherwise.

B. Justin Shier said...

Smart lady.