Based on more than a decade’s experience in pioneering e-books and non-traditional methods of publishing non-genre novels, I am embarking on a costly experiment to determine whether it is possible for an author of such works to take control of his own career, increase his readership and beat the odds in an increasingly confusing and destructive traditional publishing environment.
My latest novel The Serpent’s Bite will be published in September by my company Stonehouse Press. It will hopefully establish a new paradigm for an author of numerous novels to continue on a career path in an environment that does not favor an author of non-genre novels.
I define non-genre as mainstream novels, strong on both character and plot that tell stories that offer insightful revelations into the human condition that cannot be slotted into the traditional genre and sub-genre categories such as mysteries, fantasy, thrillers, romance, zombies, vampires, young adult, children’s books and on and on.
My hope is that following my experiment will be instructive to the vast numbers of non-genre novelists who believe their work is worthy of readership by discriminating serious readers, and who are either unknown or, like me, modestly branded but still determined to keep on writing and finding readers.
My objective is to inform, instruct and lay out what I will be doing over the course of a number of blog posts and to keep interested readers up-to-date on my progress and the various strategies to be employed. Essentially this is an experiment in marketing and although it might seem blatantly self-promotional, that is not the final objective of this instruction.
Whether or not my experiment works, to break out of the box will be largely dependent on the size of my investment and the choice of companies I have made to administer this experiment. I have incidentally experimented in other ways, having released five of my books simultaneously with Amazon exclusive, about which I have learned the hazards of multiple releasing.
For this marketing experiment and after careful research, I have hired Greenleaf Book Group for distribution, Media Connect for Public Relations and Verso for advertising. I will keep all those interested in how this is working out in future posts. As a further inducement we will be offering limited free downloads periodically of my earlier works in advance of publication and during the launch phase beginning with The Children of the Roses, the sequel to The War of the Roses. Keeping my back list viable will be an essential part of my promotion.
Beyond that will be the subject matter, style and interest in the novel, which is completely unpredictable and in the end, will decide its sales fate. In my case, I write only what interests me with little thought to its marketability until the book is finished and awaits public exposure.
Everything will be transparent and designed to instruct those who will hopefully profit by my experience or discover its flaws. There is no way to assess whether or not it will succeed or fail.
Below is the present reality that is the fate of the self-published non-genre novelist.
There are thousands of books being published every day, both by traditional publishers large and small and a growing band of intrepid self-publishers. The fiction category is dominated by genre novels.
Among the most successful are “factory” books, published under the name of branded authors who “supervise” and no longer write their books like Patterson, Cussler and many others, some acknowledged, many not. Yes, your favorite author may be a gaggle of ghosts.
The young adult category influenced by the astonishing success of the Harry Potter books and romance fiction aimed at women is currently in vogue for publishers, both traditional and self-published. Vampire and fantasy books are particularly strong.
In the non-fiction category, note the number of best-selling “authors” who flack their largely ghost written or committee written books daily on their own television programs.
Such books by authors branded by other industries, particularly entertainment, politics, finance, news and discussion TV personalities, are now the primary sweet spot for commercially minded publishers. This is why you see so many books by television personalities like O’Reilly and novels by Gingrich, et al, many of them out of context with their day jobs. That kind of “free” promotion is eagerly sought by publishers.
Books by celebrities, mostly ghost written, in categories like children’s books, memoirs and biographies are also the fare of choice by many publishers for their brand recognition sales potential.
The fact is that traditional publishers are reluctant to invest in promoting non-genre novels, especially by non-branded novelists, although they are attempting to brand a very limited number of first time authors hoping for a breakout. Many are quickly abandoned if their books don’t sell.
Even well-known novelists are falling off the sales cliff because of the revving up of technology, the reading tablet distraction factor, the shortening readership concentration spectrum and the swiftly widening generation gap. Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame has been reduced to fifteen seconds.
Add to this the reality that big box bookstores are imploding at a fairly rapid rate, with Borders gone and Barnes and Noble struggling and shifting to their Nook device and beginning to sell products other than books in their stores. Amazon, relentless and creative with its own publishing company, is eating the traditional publisher’s lunch.
Beyond all this gloom and doom meandering is my belief that there is still enough of a robust market out there for emersion reading, for books self-written by serious novelists who wish to engage with serious readers, who look for compelling stories that provide insight into the human condition, excite the psyche and offer a parallel world for people in search of meaning to explore and enjoy.
Serious novelists who self-define themselves in such a category are, of course, opening themselves up to discourse by peers, critics, and academics who believe themselves to be the expert arbiters of such interpretations. But then, that has always been the case. Such folks, who consider themselves keepers of the canon have strong and influential opinions and may look askance at the self-published and ignore their work.
So what is a serious novelist to do to gain readers in the hurly burly unpredictability of this revolutionary phase of modern publishing?
For those who are determined to stay or enter the non genre fiction arena and have exhausted the shrinking traditional publisher route, the only course of action is self-publishing. A giant industry has arisen to guide self-published novelists through the technical shoals to launch their work into cyberspace. This will give the novelist the possibility of discoverability in the huge open landscape of cyberspace.
Finding readers for even the genre self-published novelist is a tough slog. For the non-genre self-published novelist it is like scaling a sheer cliff without climbing equipment. Indeed, the list of free e-books is the fastest growing category of books, offered by writers trying to get a foothold into the reading public.
There is a huge cottage industry promising miraculous sales but in the end, those who have aspirations of self- supported economic independence will most likely be faced with financial disappointment.
Self-published authors will, of course, receive great psychic rewards e.g. the ability to be recognized by peers as an authentic novelist, join groups of common interest with other writers on the vast number of websites where writers with similar yearnings can share conversation and experience, widen one’s circle of readers through book signings, book club discussions, attract local media, and, if really really lucky, generate a following of loyal fans that will provide recognition, favorable feedback, some reviews and personal satisfaction. Not too shabby for hours spent in isolation pursuing one’s artistic bliss.
This is the reality for the self-published writer. My goal will be to help others transcend this outcome, increase their chances of greater visibility and sales and refine ways in which the present and future non-genre novelists will be able to increase their odds of success. In the end, of course, content rules and whether or not, once discovered, the novel connects with the reader will always be the wild card that will determine an author’s success.
Download a FREE copy of The Children of the Roses.