Today I attended a small literary festival, specifically to listen to a talk about publishing. Oh, how depressing it was. This wasn’t for the usual reasons. There were no gloomy statistics on the odds stacked against aspiring authors. Rather the opposite, in fact.
The talk was billed as exploring how to get published the traditional way and the alternative option of self-publishing. The speaker was introduced to a rather elderly, middle class audience as a ‘bestseller author.’ I’m not sure how many of us had heard of him. Anyway, he spent around three minutes talking about the traditional route: buy the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and submit appropriately. For the remaining fifty-seven minutes he talked about self-publishing by eBooks which is, apparently, ‘purely a matter of mastering Amazon algorithms.’
Okay, here are some words of advice. Don’t bother publishing your own eBooks if you’re only going to write a book every three years. Heaven forbid you should spend that long writing just one book. No, you need to be churning out a couple a year, or more, if you want to make money.
Don’t bother writing a lengthy novel. In the world of eBooks, novels of 40k and 100k words sell for the same price, so writing more than 40k words is simply a waste. Someone in the audience did confess to having penned a novel of around 100k. No problem, the speaker reassured him. Just cut it in half. Stick an ending in the middle and, hey presto, you’ve got two novels! Price them both at £1.99 – in fact, give them away for nothing for a limited period and you will gain ‘traction’ i.e. more people will download it and you’ll be advertising yourself to Amazon as a potential bestseller.
Back this up with a shed load of automated tweets night and day via Tweetdeck and you’re away. Don’t forget to ask other writers to review your book, so you can quote their praise in your blurb, promising to return the favour, of course. What you’re aiming for is to one day appear in the Amazon recommendations toolbar down the bottom of the page. Then you’ll know you’ve cracked it.
Self-published authors on Amazon take a 70% share of the sale price as opposed to the usual 15% taken by those poor authors who get published the traditional route. I mean, you can make money out of this writing malarkey. Yay!
Somebody in the audience did actually mention the word, quality. The mic was thrust into their hands and they sort of muffled the word into it. Quality? Well, if the book’s rubbish it will only get awarded one star by readers and it won’t sell. Sorted.
Oh, one more thing. Don’t bother with literary fiction. Nobody wants to read that, obviously.
The talk should have been advertised as being about making money. That’s all the speaker concerned himself with. It certainly wasn’t anything to do with writing.
In every industry there is good and bad. There is quality and trash. Self-publishing can be a respectable and viable alternative to the traditional route. Traditional publishers can also publish populist rubbish. But I have never before experienced first-hand the invidious, cynical end of the industry where success is measured purely in sales. Neither, I believe, had most of the audience, who spent the majority of the question and answer session struggling to come to terms with the concept of hashtags.
It made me wonder about readers. Are there really people who go on Amazon and trawl through the £1.99 downloadable books in search of their reading material? I suppose there must be.
Back home, I went on Amazon myself and searched for this bestselling author. Maybe his work was really great. I found his books, lots of them, some with a ‘look inside’ option. So I dipped in and read a few pages.