Monday, October 5, 2015

What Business Are You In? (Turning Pro Part II)

In my last post, I posed this question to indie authors: Are You Ready To Turn Pro?  This current post continues my challenge to authors who want to more than get published--they want to earn a living with their writing.  I will tell you as hard as it is to do, it can be done. I am a professional writer.  I have earned a good living as a pro-writer for more than twenty years.  But enough about me.  This particular post is to help you distinguish the business we're in from the business of traditional publishers. This is a key component to having a professional career--understanding the competition.

First, a short history of paperback books. While the paperback or "dime store" novel first appeared in England in the 19th Century, paperback novels began being sold here in the US in the late 1930s when Robert de Graff started the company Pocket Books.  Yep, they've been around that long.  At first nobody cared, but when paperbacks took off in the late 40s, publishers started decrying that these books with their colorful often titillating covers were damaging the publishing industry. Then the media got involved, going so far as to attack the type of person who would read a paperback novel.  This hysteria reached it's peak in 1952 when Congress got involved with the House of Representatives Select Committee on Current Pornographic Materials.  The publishing industry was so concerned with the rising sales of paper novels that they tried to get them all declared pornographic.  Crazy, right?

Obviously that didn't happen.  But doesn't this hysteria sound familiar? In the 80s the movie industry claimed the advent of the VHS was going to destroy the industry.  Get it??? Innovation frightens industries not yet equipped to deal with it. I am telling this story because if you are an indie author, this debate over paper and digital books has nothing to do with you.  My advice, don't engage in it. It's not our fight. I am not here to decry the end of the paper book industry. I like paper books. I read lots of paper books. But I am in the ebook business, and engaging in this debate takes precious time away from what we should be doing--writing and selling books.  Just because a guy works for McDonalds doesn't mean he can't enjoy and In N Out burger.

Okay, let's get off the touchy subject, and talk about the business you are in versus the business the Big 5 publishers are in.  Big 5 publishers are in the homerun business.  It's no secret that one Harry Potter novel supports all the other novels that don't become hits. Big 5 publishers sign a number of authors, and publish a number of books each month in search of the homerun. When a book is in book stores for three months and the numbers (there's that word again) determine it's not going to be a homerun, the publisher abandons support of that book, putting their money behind the books that seem more promising. They are hedging their bets.  They are sitting at the roulette table spreading their money around. They know that out of the 400 books they publish this year, one of them will break out.

This is why if you've been with a traditional publisher, they either stop supporting your book, or they never support your book. Research to them indicates your book is a loser, so they cut their losses and move on.

We're not in that business.  At least, I'm not.  While I'd love to have a homerun. I don't need a homerun to survive.  They need it so they can have a profit after all the losers.  But I am sitting at the roulette table betting on ONE number.  MY OWN.  My job is to make MY number look as attractive as possible.  I don't need a homerun to earn a living.  I can live off a base hit, a double and I'm dancing in the streets, and a triple for me is bigger than a homerun for them, because I don't have to share the wealth.  What I'm saying here is publishers are not your competition.  But you do have competition, and lots of it.

So who is your competition?  Authors who write in your genre.  If you write thrillers, it's Lee Child; YA paranormal, it's Cassandra Clare; horror, it's Stephen King.  But here's the beauty of it, there are enough readers around to share.  So while James Patterson may be your competition, James Patterson readers don't only read James Patterson.  They read lots of authors.  Why not you? If you buy a Chevy you're probably not going to run out and also buy a Ford. But in our business you can! In our business, your competition can be your greatest resource.  All we need to do is hang out where our competition hangs out.  How do we do that?  That's for another post.

So, what business are we in?  We are in the business of identifying our competition, and hanging out where they hang out to improve our chances of making sales.  The beauty is we don't take business from anyone.  Their readers can be your readers and no one suffers.  How awesome is that?

Are you ready to turn pro?