Dan Wickline is a DWAP Productions convention-friend. We see him at shows and other comic book professional events. The last time I saw him, at the Long Beach Comic Con, we got into a great conversation about writing and self-publishing and paying the bills. I was a bit inspired by what he had to say and asked him to put it to 1′s and 0′s for MagnificentCreatures.com so here it is.
No Short Cuts: The Pros and Cons of Digital Publishing for New Authors
By Dan Wickline
We’ve entered a new age for writers, a digital age. With the advent of e-readers and tablets, society as a whole is starting to accept reading books electronically. The transition is slow but steady. As Amazon pushes the Kindle, Barnes & Noble the Nook and Apple the iPad we get closer to the day where a book won’t be looked down upon if there isn’t a printed version. Even though it’s a small industry at this point, now is definitely the time to jump in and figure out how to swim.
Right now authors look at the digital field in one of three ways: an additional revenue source, a way to try out new material different than their normal work or for new authors they see it as a way to get attention that will lead to getting a publishing deal. I see it differently. As a comic book writer, I’m not looking for the home run or the Great American Novel. I’m looking for a book I can put out and sell enough copies to cover my bills for a few months while I write the next one. The truth is, if you are a fast writer and can come up with a concept that you can create a good number of novels off of (think Nero Wolfe, Sherlock Holmes, etc) you can make a living just doing digital books.
I’ll demonstrate using my own Lucius Fogg e-novels. Fogg is an occult detective/horror series roughly seventy-five thousand words each and they take me about six to eight weeks to create. Now with Amazon and Barnes & Noble they have it set up that you get thirty-five percent of cover. But, if you are priced between $2.99 and $9.99 then you get seventy percent of cover. I picked $2.99 figuring my comic readers will be my most likely costumers and they are used to that price point. Each sale nets me $2.09. If I want to make roughly $40K off of writing that would mean I’d need to sell just under 20K books. That sounds rather daunting. Unless you are able to put out more than one book a year. My plan is to put out a new book every three months. In one year I will put out four books meaning that 20K gets broken down and each book only needs to sell 5K. That seems more plausible. Also keeping in mind that you will retain a certain number of your readers from the previous book and readers jumping on board with the new release could then go back to previous releases. Also, unlike with a single comic issue, each new book would be a jumping on point and self-contained, like having a new trade paperback to sell every three months.
It’s a very different business model than one that most comic writers are used to. But it has two massive advantages to the standard comic model. All of the work falls on the writer, there is no need for anyone else other than an editor and someone to do a cover. And if you can come up with a good series of covers you can do yourself, that’s even better. The second advantage is that there is no overhead cost. It’s just your time and effort. Also, in the literary world, if you are lucky to get a shot and have a book published your career rides on that book. If it fails then you’re not likely to get a second chance. With this, if you make a series that doesn’t sell the only thing you lose is the time and effort you put into it. You can start again.
With the good though there is always the bad. When I put out my first e-novel, LUCIUS FOGG: DEADLY CREATURES, I was one of 1500 horror titles that came out for the kindle that week. Read that again, 1500 books in one week and only three of them were from the established publishers. That means the other 1496 were just like me, self-published. I was just one tiny voice in a massive choir of people trying to get attention for their work. So as important as putting together a good book is, you need to take the time and figure out how you are going to get the word out to readers that you book exists. You can’t count on social media alone. You post something on Twitter or Facebook and you make get a few hits, but a minute later your post has scrolled off into the ether and everyone is looking at a picture of a cat doing something cute. And you can’t post about it constantly or you just become a
“spammer”. You have to really put some thought into your marketing plan.
Also, how many of those 1496 other books were written by someone with actual writing experience and edited by a professional editor/proof-reader? Not nearly as many as you’d hope. Just because your book isn’t being printed doesn’t mean it can be crap or filled with typos. If you put out an unprofessional looking book it’s just as detrimental as putting out a bad one. The idea is to build your name and your audience. Take the time to make sure the product you are putting out there is of the highest quality. Have other people read it and take their criticisms then look at your book again. Bring in someone with editing experience to go over it. Find people who are hyper-critical that will read it and let you know of any typos you missed. Even with multiple reads, typos can still slip through. This is your first impression to your audience, make it a good one.
E-novels can be the way new writers can make a living doing their craft if it’s done right. And with any luck, the ones who are just flooding the market with garbage will soon fall away. If you want to be with the survivors then remember, no short cuts.