Friday, February 14, 2014

Hugh Howey's Bombshell Report and Important Self-Publishing Facts: Presented Without Any Supporting Evidence

So a huge battle exploded on dozens of ebook blogs, reported on by my favorite The Digital Reader, about self-publishing/vs. traditional publishing.  It started with some really nasty pieces written by traditional publishing supporters including: self-publishing is a shit volcano, self-publishers are cattle to be slaughtered, and Amazon is evil and self-publishers who use it will be punished like supporters of the French Vichy Regime.  There have been a lot of great responses from supporters of self-publishing, and generally level headed observers.  But the big turning point in the debate has arrived in the form of an amazing report by Hugh Howey, coming in like the calvary over the hill.  It points out the advantages of self-publishing with real honest to goodness facts.  Be sure to check it out:


Hugh is the man.  Seriously.  Wow.

I can't even imagine all the time that went into gathering those important facts about the advantages of self-publishing and then bulletproofing them by rechecking and rechecking, to be ready for the inevitable counter-attacks.  It's a real public service Howey did.

But I'm too lazy for that kind of fact checking here.  And based on all that info, I've got to get back to writing my novel and self-publishing it!  So for the Electric Gutenberg I'm going to introduce what I hope to be a regular feature:

"Important Self-Publishing Facts: Presented Without Any Supporting Evidence"

In this new feature, I will talk about something that I am absolutely sure is a true fact, but that I'm too lazy to try to prove.  Feel free to argue about it.  Feel free to do the work that I didn't to disprove (or better yet prove) what I have to say.  Let's start with a big one:

An absolutely true fact, that I'm completely sure of but too lazy to confirm with actual data, is that: the amount of money (and time) spend by Traditional Publishers on "literary fiction" vs. "genre fiction" is in direct reverse proportion with profits generated by them.  Let me explain.

In the footnotes of Howey's report is a real fact, which I will use since he went to the trouble to find it out.  That fact is: genre fiction (Romance, Mystery/Thriller, Sci-Fi/Fantasy) accounts for 69% of daily sales on Amazon, while "Fiction & Literature" account for only 5% of sales.  Big difference right?

But I am absolutely sure, even though I have no evidence, that 69% of a Trad publisher's budget is spent on promoting literary fiction and barely 5% is spent to promote genre fiction.  What do I base that on?  Nothing.  But I'm sure it's true.

Oh, maybe it works out more like 50% of their budget is spent promoting literary fiction and 20% is spent promoting genre, but I don't really care.  The point I'm trying to make is that Trad publishers don't care about genre fiction, except that it generates the real profits they can plow into promoting "serious" authors and trying to force literary fiction down the throats of readers who don't really care for it.

Why did I come to this conclusion?  Because I hate literary fiction?  No.  (Even though I do.)  Because I couldn't stand the fact that my high school English teacher made me read really boring novels while sneering at sci-fi and fantasy?  No.  (Even though she did and it made me miserable.)  This is all just based on my instinct, admitted emotional bias and antidotal evidence.  I've heard lots of stories about the fact that all the real money in book sales is in Romance, but Romance writers are treated pretty much like dirt.  And everywhere I turn I see an ad for some "serious" novel that I couldn't care less about, and yet is being promoted like crazy.   I also read some stuff about how the big publishers pay big money to put certain books up front in bookstores.  Why would they need to do that unless it's books people aren't that interesting in buying?  I match that with the fact that when I walk into a bookstore, I have to pass by racks of books I can't understand why anyone would buy.

This also fits into all the stuff I hear about the New York Times best seller list.  That it's rigged.  My guess is it's rigged to promote literary fiction, when no one is really reading it.  Likewise, all the ridiculous amount of space old newspapers used to devote to reviews of serious novelists.  I'm assuming there was some payola going on in the form of advertising by the big publishers.  It's also why the traditional publishing has such crappy data about sales.  They don't want people to know what is really selling, because it ain't literary fiction.  Why would the big Trads favor one genre over another?  I'm thinking first snobbery, then elitism, and also, they don't want the people who are really making the money (genre writers) to know how valuable they are.  There might also be a connection between the big Publishers and the university text book system.  Professors quickly learn, "publish or perish" and maybe there is a lot of quid pro quo going on in terms of publishing serious books from professors and students spending fortunes on writing degrees at big universities and selling those same universities text books.  It also may be left over from the 1930's when serious novels really were kind of interesting and popular and publishing execs pine for the good old days when Hemingway was riding around in a tank during WWII.

Now, I don't bring all this up just to trash on elite literary snobs, or stuffy English professors who think A Separate Peace is better than The Godfather, though that is fun.  I bring this up because I think it's a major opportunity for self-publishers.  As Hugh points out in his report (with real facts) genre fiction seems to be an under served market.

So I think there are some real opportunities for writers to strike out on their own in genre.  And I also think they need to be wary of going the traditional route, because I don't think they will be appreciated by the Trads.

Which is what I really think this big Trad vs. Self-Publishing war is all about.  The Trads are terrified that the new generation of genre writers will finally understand their real value.  And that on the internet it is harder and harder to buy eyeballs for things people aren't that interested in.  And that means publishing execs won't be able to have expensive cocktail parties with "best selling" authors of serious books about college professors having affairs before they head off to the symphony with that minimalist architect and his contemporary artist girlfriend.  I mean, do they really want to hang out with some Star Trek loving nerd who came up with a new spin on the Prime Directive?  Or a frumpy romance writer from Oklahoma who didn't graduate from high school?  Or a fat ex-warehouse worker who came up with a detective series about a fat ex-warehouse worker detective?

Horrors!  A shit volcano indeed.

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