you’re an indie-published author, it means that your books might soon be losing their price advantage over Big Six authors, including the top sellers in every genre.
Then there’s The Tweak. The Tweak is what online booksellers do to keep their algorithms nimble, constantly shifting how they interpret sales and search data. Until about six months ago, The Tweak was less aggressive, and it was possible to perform a few simple tricks to get the algorithms to work to your advantage.
That isn’t the case any longer. While some writers do a brilliant job of staying on top of this, doing so effectively is akin to a full-time job. Since most of us already have full-time jobs, that’s something of a problem.
The Tweak has made things harder for indie authors. Unless you have a remarkable mailing list (and I know that some writers have great ones), the absolute best way for you to sell books in large quantities is through bookseller promotions like Kindle’s Daily Deal or B&N’s Daily Find. Unfortunately, indie authors have no easily available forum for pitching their books for these promotions. Understandably, booksellers can’t accommodate the pitches from hundreds of thousands of writers, so they request nominations exclusively from publishers and the handful of indies whose calls they’re willing to take. The same is true of co-op.
In many ways, this situation is similar to what the business was like before the advent of e-books. Those times were not particularly friendly for indie authors, though even then there were some who thrived.
These are a couple of enormous issues. They’re not insurmountable by any means, and I would never bet against the creativity and ingenuity of motivated novelists, especially the ones in this organization. But it’s clear to me that there’s a strong trend within NINC toward indie publishing, and I think that’s going to be a tougher road to success for writers entering that arena now than it has been for those already there. Maybe more to the point, if you haven’t begun to break out as an indie author already, there’s a good chance that it’s going to be tougher for you to do so now.
What remains largely unchanged in the face of this transitory phase are the two other fundamental points of our industry: the writer and the reader. Yes, writers need to do more now to stay competitive and, yes, readers expect more engagement from writers than they once did, but–and this is especially true for novelists– the writer’s job is still to delight and persuade readers. If the job ever becomes something other than that, I think we might be in serious trouble.
This brings me to the final point I want to make here. I want to implore you to remember to dedicate at least as much effort, if not more, to craft than you did before you started taking on so many of the business functions in the industry. Some of the advice I heard at the conference and see on the loop frightens me.
“Get as many books out as you can.” “Publishing frequency is key.” I’m not saying that this is bad business advice; it’s just not particularly sustainable. Again, I realize there are exceptions. I know that many of you can deliver two or three terrific books a year. I know some of you do even more than that. Simply never lose sight of the fact that readers expect you to bring your A-game consistently, and they have more incentive than ever to walk away if you disappoint them.
To look at this from another, more inspiring perspective, this is possibly the best time in decades for you to attempt to expand your creative reach. Readers have never been as concerned about categories as booksellers have, and they’re proving that now with their buying decisions. I can speak to this personally: Blue, my father-daughter/midlife crisis/fantasy novel is the most successful fiction work I’ve published and yet it almost certainly would have been rejected by publishers as being too difficult to categorize.
If that’s the case, if you’re truly free from the conventions that have bound so many of us for years, why not try to be more ambitious with your work? Why not take a shot at writing a book for the ages rather than another book for your publishing program? Why aren’t we talking about this at NINC? I’ve heard the rap that most of you have other outlets for this type of conversation and that you turn to NINC for strong business advice. I’m just not sure I’m buying it. I think instead, most of us have become so consumed by the business that we’re not giving anywhere near enough thought to craft. Don’t go down that road. It would be a terrible waste of the opportunities possible in the best book market in years.
I’m going to stop pontificating now. It has been an honor and a pleasure being NINC’s president the past year and I’m so glad it happened when it did.
— Lou Aronica