30 April 2009

Writers Are Doin' It For Themselves -- A guest post by Vincent Eaton

A big welcome to Vincent Eaton, writer of fiction, plays, digital stories and more. This is his literary exercise from our workshop the other night... Essential reading!

(And for a tast of Vincent's wordplay, may I suggest The worm within.)

Now, over to Vincent.....

As I have been completing books during these last few years, I needed to consider whether I wanted once more to take the worn-out out route of script, agent, publisher. I began doing what has turned out to be three years of research into publishing. Gathering statistics. Acknowledging that the book business is using a broken business model where only two in eight books published make their money back. Thus, 3/4's fail. Logically, any business that runs that kind of business should be out of business.

Now, even the biggest brick and mortar bookstores stock less than 2% of books available. Anyway, they have basically become showrooms for bestsellers and prize-winners. According to Publishers Weekly, publishers and sales reps (editors are increasing referred to a product managers) they refer to the books on the shelves along the walls as “wallpaper”. It's there to give the look of a bookstore. What really makes the money is the 3for2 book deals.

However, for the first time, interesting, in the first three months of 2009, online books outsold bricks and mortar bookstores. This happened in 12 short years.

There was also my personal history with publishing to weigh and consider. Twenty long years ago I had my Fifth Avenue agent and my Viking Penguin publisher. My editor then is now a Vice President. She's gone places, I haven't. My book failed in the sales sense, and I was dumped with three sentences from my editor. Over the following years I have had a number of different agents, each tied to selling a different manuscript. One after another they got back to me with similar reactions from publishers rejecting each and every manuscript: “Good writing. Good dialogue. Interesting situations. Very professional. But...” there's the kicker... “we don't know what the market is.”

I don't do market. I can't, in fact. I tried to sell out to the best of my ability about ten years ago when I wrote what I thought was a pretty funny, commercial novel with tons of plot. Result: one after another said, “One of the best literary novels I've read but what's the market?” Even when I wanted to sell out, I failed.

Weigh and consider.

And now with two manuscripts done, and a third on its way (and actually, 18 in what I can self-importantly call my unpublished back catalog), I ask myself, Do I want to take the two years per agent, per manuscript, and wait for what I more or less know will be the inevitable repeats of previous years? The “Good this and that but what's the market?”

No, I just don't have it in me to give up the next half decade to the corporate gatekeepers.

So, there remains the choice of taking matters into my own hands. I've Wondered off and on for ten years now whether I should start my own little publishing company. I have the experience, ten years as a marketing communications manager with an international publishing magazine... I know all the steps involved in the process backwards and forwards.

I looked at bands launching their songs online, on MySpace. I looked at my talents and experience and my shortening days.

So I set-up a publishing company in the U.K. I have developed a publishing web site about to go live. I had my first book copy edited by a professional in the business. I am reissuing my first novel. I have a contract with the best print on demand company owned by the largest distributor in the Anglo-Saxon speaking world.

I had professional graphic designers create my cover, the inside layout, a first chapter published in an online journal so far—the cult of the printed journals are of no use to me. A series of videos, podcasts,and other excerpts being readied. Then there's submitting to online reviewers that statistically, with 5.6 reviews now done online, and 2.9% are off-line, such as the TheTimesOnline, and others, print is the dying thing.

I can look at thing as I would want them to be, or I can look at them as they are and how they apply to my ambitions.

I got more statistics at the international London book fair, where I attended numerous conferences, nosed around, made contacts.

Found out about ebooks. Currently they are just 1.8% of publishers sales. But it is also their fastest growing source of income. During 2008, ebooks grew 68%. In the first three months of this year, demand grew by 173%. Surprisingly, growth was biggest in the ages 55-64. Damn right I have a contract with an ebook distributor. The biggest sellers in ebooks is crime at 25%. Second is fiction, at 24%. And instead of writing and directing plays that few here in Brussels want to see, I am creating videos of scenes of my books and eventually I'll able to insert them and offer it as enhanced multimedia ebooks. Animation, text, voice over, text, video insert...

I heard a knowledgeable number of publishing professionals that the future of much of the industry will be dominated by electronic distribution, internet marketing to niche audiences, and reading by print-on-demand or hand-held electronic devices.

This I can do. In fact, this I would enjoy doing. The plan is to offer lots of small books making small turn-overs. It's about making a bit of a living, which is all my work will ever provide me.

I'll have to commit to blogging after speaking with Nick Harkaway (John le Carré's son—he probably gets a lot of that as an inevitable add-on), once a busy screenwriter, now a published novelists hot on the Internet (now my “friend” on Facebook), who stated he didn't want to blog, but once he did, he found amazing people, and connections, and new readers no doubt lead directly from this.

I'm on Twitter since yesterday (this is growing 3000% per month). Nick H. explained it's like a pub, where you can listen to conversations and participate in the one that interests you. And then connect, get known, get your name and books about.

So I've seen my book in print, so I do not seek that ego stroke. I have put my plays on locally, and have sparse attendance. I seek a wider, untidy audience “out there” that likes the odd stuff I like to write. I'm going where the future is: mine as well.

1 comment:

  1. Here's an article that proves Vincent's argument: http://www.newstatesman.com/books/2009/04/book-judy-richard-publishing