Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ten Points to the Rusch

I agreed so completely/entirely/emphatically with this post from Kristine Kathryn Rusch that all my head nodding action began to feel like a workout. All indie writers need to read this post. In fact, all indie writers need to lazer-etch this post into their cortex:

We all know how traditional publishing ignores readers. But how do indie writers ignore readers?

By focusing on sales and “promotion” and “discoverability” and downloads and free to the exclusion of everything else.

Many indie writers have one book and they promote the hell of out that thing. They give it away for free, they join Kindle Select to “maximize discoverability” (ignoring Nook & IBook readers), and they sell it for 99 cents, thinking that will increase their sales.

So…let’s imagine that these writers are successful. Let’s imagine that they do get millions of people downloading their books. Out of those millions, at least half a million will read that book, and out of that half million, 250,000 will like it.

Then what?

Then nothing. That’s the problem. Nothing happens. Even if those successful indie writers eventually write another book, they have to start all over from scratch, because the readers who like what they did—those 250,000 readers—they will have forgotten the indie writer in six months.

How many of you folks can tell me without looking what you were reading in the last week of January 2011? How many of you can tell me the name of the author who wrote the book? How many of you can tell me the name of an author who wrote one book—and only one book—that you read and liked five years ago?

I’d be surprised if any of you can.

You indie writers treat your readers as badly as traditional publishers do. And you do it in the exact same way. You deny your readers the next book.


The reason so many writers, like S.M. Stirling or Mike Shepherd or Patricia Briggs, hit the bestseller list with a book from the middle of their series is because readers who have been reading previous books in the series want that next book the moment it comes out. If you look at last week’s post on bestsellers, you’ll see that bestsellers are tied to velocity (the rapidity of sales) in the week of release. Well, what’s better suited to that than the next book in a beloved series?

The writer has earned that velocity, that instant readership for the new book, by writing excellent books in the past and building reader loyalty.

Until two years ago, the writer needed luck as well—the luck that they were with a publisher who was willing to build the book, or a sales force that was willing to promote backlist, or an editor who fought to have earlier titles in the series re-released. The writer also had to gamble that something bad didn’t happen during the week of release. (For example, Sara Paretsky had to recover from her bad numbers on one of her series books, which was released on 9/11/01—yep, that September 11.)

Now the writer has time to build readership. If a traditional publisher has taken books out of print, the writer can get her rights back and issue the book herself (sometimes with a hefty fight, but she can do it). The writer can continue a series that traditional publishing determines isn’t worth their time. The writer has time.

If she has the patience.

And what’s going on with so many indie writers is that they only look at the short term.

From the perspective of a long-term career, painstakingly built one reader at a time, I believe that the writers who are happy that they’ve had 10,000 downloads of a free book (and that’s their only book or their only mystery novel or their only romance novel) don’t understand what they’re doing.

Not only are they getting nothing for their years of hard work. They’re also pissing off the readers who think of a free book as a promise of more good things to come.

Save your promotions for your tenth book. Better yet, don’t promote at all. Write the eleventh book.

Read Rusch's whole article here.



Sterling said...

Agreed. If there's a good book, and it turns into a good series, I will gobble that up.

Speaking of which...

Derek Edgington said...

I understand the underlying arguments Rusch makes, but will not attest to forgetting an author in six months. When I pick up another author with genuine talent and prose, they get on my watch list. Periodic checks are implemented to see whether the next book is out. The fandom is still active. Also, this is a load of crud. Readers know they have to wait up to a year for the next book in a series. Self-publishing cuts that number in half. You're saying I can't remember the name Justin Shier in the interim? Lady, I just disproved your flimsy hypothesis. If you write 11 books with no promotion, you'll be blacklisted, waterlogged, and unnoticed by the reader society. If you have no sales, no reviews, you have no base audience. You have no credence- you're invisible. Flex promotional muscles and figure whether you have an audience to begin with. Now, if we're talking the free market, then we enter the twilight zone, uncharted territory. I agree, it's doubtful readership will get behind such a work. There's a number to hit that will entice a reader, but if you undervalue yourself from the get-go you'll have slim chances indeed. Again, examine motivations for writing. Do you write for monetary gain? If so, I would recommend jumping ship immediately. Now, if you write because without it you would be a wispy fraction of your true being, fluttering in the wind and in danger of destruction, then go for it. Write because you love it and would be incapable of continued existence without the release of tension it provides, not for superficial designs on fame and glory. We'll wait 6 months after your first month: hell, we'll wait a year if we have to, though we're likely to have acquired rabid tendencies. Quality over quantity, people. Its naive to think that good will come to you just because you've shat out 10 books over the course of whatever provided interim. There's plenty of books out there that will disprove the stated possibility. Talent is recognized and noted, especially in the indie community. Sorry for taking such an aggressive stance against your statement, Justin.

Clinton Lewis said...

Unfortunately the article is correct. When I finish a book that I am really interested in I will check on when the next book comes out. And if I can't find anything then I will kind of go away. After that it is luck if I ever get back to the series. If however they have a date I will usually put it on a calender just to remind me. That is why when I don't see even a tentative date of release I get leery. The published authors usually will have contract dates that the book is expected to come out. With indie authors not so much....The best author I have found is Ilona Andrews they update like crazy and also offer other snippets.

Anonymous said...

For the majority of people to follow and keep up with an author, I don't believe one needs to necessarily write books as a series, and always have a date for when the next book will be published. What an author should do, however, is maintain a blog which is updated regularly, and maybe a facebook or twitter page. But the blog is most important. It lets readers know that he/she is still around and writing. And if it is well written, helps readers connect with the author.

Then of course, there are numerous little tricks one can employ to keep up attention. For instance, if an author is willing to on occasion give away small snippets from the next upcoming book, or even write (on occasion as a surprise) short blog-only stories from a novel's universe, people will regularly check in. Same applies to humorous anecdotes from daily life, interesting tales about one's mother in law, a treatise on SOPA, and so on.

Basically, something to let readers know an author is alive, and that lets readers relate to said author.

B. Justin Shier said...

Great comments.

Jonathan Franzen's "Twenty-Seventh City" shook me in such a way that I'll always remember his name. And I'll also read him whenever he publishes. His plots tend to be a bit mushy, but segments of his prose could summit Everest. He doesn't need to blog. He doesn't need to grant interviews. He could just appear out of the mist every five years and I'd be there waiting for him.

Ilona (and) Andrews keep me hooked because they produce one hell of a drug. I'm itching for the next hit as soon as I finish the final page—but I might move on to another drug of choice if they left me hanging for more than two years. (they won't; they're machines.)

Timothy Zahn. I plain devoured that guy's Star Wars novels as a kid, but I've never read any of his other works. No idea why. He's a darn good writer. I should have, but for some reason I did not. I still remember his name, though. I find that very strange.

Chess Putnam's author. Her name is far simpler than ornithine transcarbamylase, but hers is the one I struggle with. Fortunately, that author has nothing to worry about. I'll always remember Chess Putnam's name and pick up the next volume when it shows up in the racks. (Mostly because of that scene in the bathroom with the Drano.)

There are even more variations out there, but what Rusch was trying to outline was a long term strategy for paying the bills with writing. The worst thing most of can do is write the first book and then go take a nap.

When it comes to publicity, I'm following a very simplistic strategy: promote a new release for no more than one month and then focus on producing new work. All my other promotional efforts combined produced only half the first book sales of releasing my second novel. In the end, the best way an author can promote is to produce.


Anonymous said...

You ever read Kelly McCullough Cybermage Series? Very good series in my opinion

Rob said...

You should take this to heart and drop everything to publish the next zero sight book ASAP. Definitely not basing this request on my personal desires. That would be silly.

B. Justin Shier said...

Nope, but will add it to the list. Thx!

Anonymous said...

Uh uh uh Shier, no reading for you. Back to writing =P

Anonymous said...

I just want to say that I am an Indies author, and while I agree with what was stated here for most cases, it is not true for all. I am 23yrs old, a single mother of two and a serious writer. I self published my first novel less than seven months ago and my second just a month ago. My first novel has held a spot on Amazons top 100 fantasy bestsellers for about a month and the second is fast approaching. I plan to finish my third by the end of April. My books are available on Barnes n noble and smashwords as well. I went back and edited my first book again just yesterday Bc I want to be sure everything I put out is the best it can be. I keep up w my growing fan base and am quite serious about what I do. I'm not looking for a one book overnight craze. I want a career. I constantly study my craft. I don't participate in Amazons promotion programs, my work speaks for itself. All I'm saying is that we are not all in the catergory prescribed above.

B. Justin Shier said...

Agreed, those authors exist. But if I was counseling a new author on how to build a career, I would point to what you are doing as the guide. The worst thing that could happen is that they'd have three books done with poor sales. If need be, they could then focus their efforts on promoting all three titles instead of just one. : )