I don’t pay much attention to the news. And by much attention, I mean any attention. Occasionally I’ll listen to the radio if I’m driving into town, but that’s only if I finish an audiobook and don’t have another one on my iPhone. Someone will usually tell me if a space shuttle has exploded or if some creep shoots up a bunch of people, and on days like that, I think about moving to my off-grid writer’s retreat in the Great North Woods of New Hampshire. But I see way more news than I want to see in my Facebook feed, and now I’ve decided to weigh in on the AMAZON IS EVIL debate.
Here’s my story: Like many authors, I knew that I wanted to be a writer from a very young age. It is, literally, the only thing I ever wanted to do. I wrote a bunch of unpublishable garbage back in the 90’s, and when I had my first professional sale, it was a big one. I sold Isolation Ward 4 to Pocket Books for $1000 and won third prize in their Strange New Worlds contest and made the preliminary ballot for the Nebula Awards. Not too shabby, right? I sold two more Star Trek stories to Pocket Books and made a bunch of friends amongst the media tie-in crowd in the process. A few of these are people that are making a living writing Star Trek (and other) novels, but most are also working another job. They are doing it out of love and they are serious about their craft. I say this because literary elitists often look down their noses at tie-in writers. That is pure snobbery in my opinion, but I’m just a dumb farmer, so what do I know?
Actually, I know quite a bit. I know that after my opportunities for writing Star Trek dried up, I began writing original stories. I’ve sold quite a few stories for $20 and contributor copies, and managed to get the attention of some largish names in the publishing industry. I had an open door to pitch ideas to Vertigo Comics for a time, before my contact was laid off and the door was slammed shut. I signed books at conventions and received fan letters and all of that. I’m not saying this to brag, but to tell you that I wasn’t making any money. Nothing to speak of anyway. I was following the traditional model and it wasn’t working for me.
I was as critical about self publishing as any college professor. My main criticism was that there was no means of marketing your work. You paid your money and in return received a box of books that you could sell to your relatives and friends. It was a losing proposition. But I kept watching as the Kindle and Nook were released. I watched as I traveled across the country and saw an iPad in every other person’s hand. I knew that change was coming.
Amazon is, in large part, responsible for that change. The provided a platform for authors like me to put their work in front of readers. I can publish a story like Legendarium or The Bell Curse and people might buy it. Not just might, people have bought those stories. They paid actual money, and a lot more of that money came to me than I ever saw when I was dancing with the Indie Publishers. Now I’m not knocking those publishers, some of them are very good, but they are all struggling at doing the same thing I now do for myself: marketing books. Amazon (along with Smashwords and a few others) have created an opportunity, and it is up to us what we do with it. A smart author seizes this opportunity and turns out the absolute best work they can produce. They edit the heck out of that work, or hire an editor to do the job, and they create or buy a professional-looking cover. And then they spend hours and hours each week building their platform. They are looking for what my friend Michael Bunker calls “Superfans.” These are people that will buy and review your books, friend you on Facebook, ask you questions about your process, and basically make you feel like they believe in you and want to read your next story. J.K. Rowling has 50,000,000 superfans, and I have 19. I’m looking for #20, might that be you dear reader?
What used to be called self-publishing is now often called indie publishing. That’s an ok name for it, but I think a better name would be Outlaw Publishing. That’s how I see myself. I was an aspiring mainstream author, and then I turned heel (or did I turn face?) and started publishing my own work. I’m an outlaw, writing what I want to write for the people that want to read it. I don’t care what the critics think, and they have no idea who I am. I don’t care what agents or publishers think. It doesn’t matter one bit to me. I care about my readers, and that number is growing. I make money here and there, farming and editing and doing graphic design, but an increasing amount of my cash flow is coming from my writing, something I couldn’t say when I was mainstream.
So, here I am, an outlaw in the publishing world, and I’m saying that Amazon is not the bad guy. Amazon is making opportunities for people like me that would otherwise not be available to us. Do I think there is room for traditional publishing in this mix? Absolutely. Some of those publishers are well respected and have the opportunities to use their established platforms to sell directly to readers. But they need to figure out a new model. The readers have a lot more say in what they are willing to spend their money on, and if they can buy quality books like Wool, Pennsylvania and Eleanor for half the price of traditionally published books, why wouldn’t they?
Is Amazon evil? Is Hachette an innocent victim? They are both huge corporations looking to make a buck. I hate to see anyone lose their jobs on the backend, but from this author’s POV, there is only one company between the two that would give an outlaw like me the time of day, and that company is Amazon.