This ability to collect payment directly and easily via one’s website opens a wide range of possibilities for the writer beyond crowdfunding and patronage, especially when combined with a broad selection of affordable, user-friendly new technologies.
For example, like many writers, I’ve taught writing workshops over the years, either for an honorarium or fee, or as a conference guest getting expenses comped in exchange for my appearance. These experiences are generally scheduled and structured to serve the goals of the organizers and the needs of their venue, and such appearances aren’t usually profitable for the presenter. (Indeed, many of us have discovered upon tallying our expenses against our speaking fee that we lost money by teaching a workshop, even without taking our time expenditure into account.)
But, I’ve realized while trawling the Web lately in search of Long Tail inspiration that a whole new horizon of opportunities is appearing before us to do this kind of work in ways structured to suit the writer’s needs, preferences, and individual niches, as well as to put the writer completely in charge of the economic aspects of the venture—and to make the writer the primary economic beneficiary of sharing her expertise with others. Because these days, the tools to create and mass-distribute professional-quality audio/visual presentations in exchange for payment are affordable and accessible to most of us. (Indeed, sometimes all you need is a teenage son and his personal tech devices.)
Bestselling fantasy spouses Tracy and Laura Hickman (see last month’s column), for example, run Scribe’s Forge (www.scribesforge.com/lyceum/100), where the duo offer online writing workshops and seminars. A selection of pricing plans allows customers to shape their own programs by picking and choosing which services they want to subscribe to; the choices include recorded videos, live webinars, downloadable workbooks, and online group forums, as well as in-person workshops.
In a similar but simpler example, romantic comedy authors Lani Diane Rich and Jennifer Crusie co-host the online Writewell Academy (www.writewellacademy.com). The offerings consist entirely of “downloadable lectures on the craft of story to use at your own pace. Lecture package includes slideshow with voiceover, audio track, and support materials.” The first lecture is free, and the rest cost $10 apiece.
There are more than 20 courses, and they’re listed and described in their recommended chronological order on the website, starting with basic classes (ex. Course 103: Introduction To Conflict) through advanced work (ex. Course 312: Time and Pacing).
Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, who’ve run popular in-person writing workshops for years, have also added online workshops and lectures to their quiver. They charge flat fees for each video lecture series and for each six-week workshop. The lecture and workshop topics cover a range of writing craft, publishing business, and (for self-publishing) production skills. The workshops include weekly writing assignments, and the instructors review the written assignments and work with the students via the internet.
Rusch and Smith have also combined crowdfunding with new publishing technologies to create Fiction River, a bi-monthly fiction anthology series scheduled to launch this month. Each installment in the series will be a themed short story anthology with a different editor, and it will be released in three formats: ebook, paperback, and signed limited-edition hardcover.
Setting $6,000 as their initial crowdfunding goal, the couple ended up with $14,056 in funding on Kickstarter. (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/403649867/fiction-river-an-original-fiction-anthology-series) I’ve been commissioned to write a short story for one of the early Fiction River anthologies by its editor, John Helfers.
But returning to the subject of how you can use Long Tail opportunities for your own writing, the written word needn’t be the only format of your stories that generates income. How about the spoken word? Due to the traditional production and distribution costs of audio books (a professional sound studio and team; producing and packaging the audio book as a set of cassettes or CDs; distribution through brick-and-mortar outlets), my audio rights have never been exploited—and that’s true for many midlisters. My market niche was never big enough to support such high costs for my product.
But things are changing.
Not long ago, I read a November 2011 interview on Salon.com with sf/f mega-seller Neil Gaiman, who was teaming up with Audible.com to launch a line of audiobooks under the banner Neil Gaiman Presents (http://www.salon.com/2011/11/23/neil_gaimans_audiobook_record_label/).