Today a Twitter follower asked me how I felt about my four publishing experiences with Bantam vs my ebook publishing. I had to give it a lot of thought. Here’s my reply (obviously not on Twitter).
Okay. Sit back for the long version.
When I started writing back in the early 90s there were NO epublishers. Authors were just beginning to get sucked into the ‘self publishing’ industry of the time which was 99% scam. I decided around 1992 that I was going to become an author and make a living at it, and researching like crazy realized that NO ONE had successfully done so in fiction by self publishing. So, I spent the next 8 years perfecting my craft, writing 16-20 unpublished novels (I honestly can’t recall because some of them I totally rewrote) in several different genres starting with epic fantasy, horror, historical fiction, on to Dean Koontzesque cross genre works, etc. I had 4 agents over that period, 300 rejection letters from about every agent in the US and editor (including my current agent, Peter Rubie, who wrote me a long missive back then comparing me favorably to King but mentioning that horror had tanked for the moment). I also read everything on writing I could find. As I look up over my monitor I see approximately forty how to books on writing from The Complete Book of Novel Writing to Word Painting (which sucks unless you intend to become a poet). I always figured that if I learned ONE new thing from a twenty dollar book the purchase had been worth it.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the Million Word Rule, but over time I became a firm believer. There are exceptions, and everyone who ever reads the rule believes that THEY are it, but experience has shown me that 999 out of 1000 are wrong in thinking so. The Million Word Rule states that any writer has to write at least 1,000,000 words before they ever produce anything salable. King and Koontz will back me up on this from their own experience. The Rule works more often than most any other rule of the sort out there. And writers used to discover it all the time the same way I did. The hard way. Because by the time you have written one million words, 10-15 full length novels let’s say, you have either given up and quit or you have discovered 99% of what was wrong with the first ones and fixed it. Plus you have quit copying other people’s writing and fallen naturally into your own voice which does not come with 100k words.
But I digress. Sometime around 2001 I had had two events rummaging around in my subconscious. One was a shootout in a street outside a bank in LA in which the two perps were clad head to toe in body armor and armed with machine guns with armor piercing shells. The battle went on for almost an hour, several cops were killed and it was horrific. The other occurred when I lived in Alaska when a guy went crazy in a remote village and murdered 20+ people even going so far as to take potshots at the mail plane. I started writing without thinking of either, and 30 days later had completed Cold Heart. Within a week 5 agents contacted me and I chose the one I wanted. Two weeks later she had us a two book, $105k deal. And that began my first experience with professional editing. I won’t go into that here except to say that everything I had taught myself over nearly ten years of writing paled before what I was about to learn. If you are interested in knowing more about that I wrote a blog post on it which has been published around the net. Three years later my agent got us another 2 book $120k deal.
Now, all that being said, how do I feel about Bantam vs Self Publishing? I’m incredibly thankful that epublishing was not an option for me during the 90s. Had it been I would have published a lot of stuff that was not outright garbage, but which in no way could even touch the stuff that Bantam and I produced later. Writing is an incredibly difficult art to truly master, and I am not by nature a patient man although I have perforce grown a lot more patient through my time in the industry. And that is true for 999 out of 1000 of the people who are self publishing today including to a degree myself. Most authors today no longer even attempt a query to the big houses much less 300 and they then self-publish their first novel, most often eschewing any editing whatsoever except their own. This is about to do to epublishing what Publish On Demand managed to do to self publishing in the 90s only even more so, since Publish On Demand for the most part never was completely free. I read recently that published enovels had gone from something like 50k a year to one and half million in four years. Imagine that YOU are the exception to the Million Word Rule, that you have written the next Hunger Games. How do you differentiate yourself from the ten thousand other authors claiming to have done so? On Twitter where hundreds of thousands of authors tweet optimistically all day back and forth to Themselves? By getting hundreds of Amazon reviews? How do readers know you didn’t buy them?
My theory is that this will all shake itself out over the next 2-5 years. It has to or readers will be hard pressed to decide if they even want to buy ebooks any longer. Amazon is stumbling toward some sort of review of reviews to make them more trustworthy while publishing houses like Astor+Blue are cropping up which will only publish works they consider quality and which will provide professional editing and distribution for their ebook authors at no charge. Readers will begin to gravitate toward them the way they did to professional houses before over Vanity Presses (and I firmly believe that this will grow the midlist again, as these smaller houses will make money there). Caveat- my agent is about to sign a multi-book deal for me with A+B, but I would not give them good press if I didn’t believe in them or the new paradigm they represent.
So, where does that leave us? Somewhere in the middle I think. I am having a blast rewriting some of my old unpublished thrillers (I should have mentioned that along with my earlier works and my Bantam books I also managed to write another twenty or so thrillers and about 500k words in a Steampunk universe. The Steampunk may see print as my agent is touting it now) and epubbing them. I enjoy hearing from new readers and interacting with them in ways I never did with my hard published works. But I still want to see my books in print from major publishers. Luckily, though, in this new world I don’t have to be torn. Publishers are learning that they cannot hold writers down to contracts that tie them into years with the same house when they have so much writing they want to get out. This will help everyone since ebook readers also read regular books! I hope I answered your question. If not let me know what I missed. I also think I’m going to use this as a blog post!