Celebrating Five Years
Posted by KAREN WOJCIK BERNER
Today marks the fifth anniversary of the release of my first novel, A Whisper to a Scream. Five years ago, I uploaded my story on Kindle, pressed “Publish” and crossed my fingers.
I had no idea what I was doing.
I started learning about this relatively new thing called social media. I met all sorts of people crazy enough to do the same thing at Kindle Boards, people you might know like Al from BigAl’s Books and Pals, Lynne from Red Adept Publishing, and Karen McQuestion, the first indie darling of Amazon who had her work optioned for film. And yes, Amanda Hocking and Joe Konrath were there, too. We shared helpful hints as we all mitigated our way through this infant of an industry alongside birth announcements. It’s amazing what a close community can spring up from a virtual world.
Exciting. Rebellious. We made our own paths, blazed our own trails while Konrath banged the drum of independence.
My first sale was exhilarating. And the one after that. And the one after that. Five years ago, you could actually make sales without four-page marketing plans. The traditional publishers had yet to take e-books seriously and Amazon needed content to fill its new Kindle devices.
Those were the glory days of self-publishing. Some Kindle Board authors were offered traditional contracts, and we all toasted their successes. A win for them was a win for us all. Eventually, some hit the best-seller lists, even in the New York Times. Heady stuff.
Today, the climate is greatly changed. Discoverability is king as more and more books are published on Amazon every day. E-books live forever. There is no shelf life in virtual bookstores. Unlike their brick and mortar counterparts, shelf space is not a precious commodity and doesn’t need to be kept fresh to keep customers coming in.
This is both good and bad for self-publishers. Sure, our books will be on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and Barnes and Noble for as long as we want them. The bad news is so will the traditionally published authors. Have you seen the Amazon best-seller list lately? Some of those books have been out for years.
E-books represent a solid 25% of the total market share, and the Big Five have finally caught on.
Although Amazon’s KDP makes it possible for anyone to publish, which I’m grateful for, the company has also succeeded in devaluing the written word. Because of Amazon’s bargain-basement prices, the public never buys books at full price. Ever. For self-publishers, who usually sell their work for cheaper to begin with, this means a base price of around $2.99 -$3.99, which then turns into 99¢ or even free when the book is on sale, which is now pretty much all the time to make any steady sales. These basement-level prices have been fueled by the rise of the bargain book sites, like BookBub and all of its clones, and the auxiliary markets that make money off of cheap books.
Great for the consumer.
Horrible for authors.
For cultivating readers?
If a book (an entire book!) is only 99¢, will consumers read it or will they just fill their Kindles to the brim with free and 99¢ books and build insurmountable reading lists? 99¢ are expendable, practically worthless really, and can easily be deleted. I’ve done it, and I’m sure you have too.
With giveaways, bargain book sales every day, and book services like Oyster, Scribd and Kindle Unlimited, why ever pay full price?
99¢ for an entire novel.
That’s cheaper than iTunes for music, my fifteen-year-old pointed out to me the other day. A song is $1.29 for three or four minutes of entertainment.
Not 99¢ for hours or days of reading pleasure.
Awhile back, I had lunch with a traditionally published author of two really good books that orbit the Jane Austen world but don’t rip off Austen’s plot or characters. She had a two-book deal with one of the Big Five publishing companies.
And she was looking for a job.
Her kids were headed to college soon, and she needed to contribute a real salary to the household.
I don’t know if it’s possible to make a living writing fiction anymore. It’s always been difficult, but now, it seems almost impossible. According to Hugh Howey’s author earnings report last year, most Amazon best-selling authors are not making minimum wage.
I’m not writing this to be petty or to whine, but rather to state the facts as I see them.
When your head bubbles over with characters, situations, and themes, what are you supposed to do? Ever since I can remember, I’ve written things down. Used to be a time when I didn’t feel something was even real until I put it on paper. I have been a professional writer since my sophomore year in college, when I was a stringer for the local paper. I don’t know how to do anything else.
You see, writing wiggles its way first into your life, then into your very core.
Occasionally, I get on a roll, and it’s not even me in control anymore, it’s the characters, and they take over the scene, and I get butterflies in my stomach as the whole piece suddenly comes together.
That’s the magic of writing.
Thanks for taking this journey with me. Some of you have been around since the beginning, while others have recently discovered my work. Whether it’s one of the books, this blog, or any of the other pieces I’ve written over the years, I truly appreciate you taking the time out of your busy day to spend with me.
So, please raise your virtual glasses to five years of publishing. I’m excited to see what the next five bring.