A Brave New World

I wrote my first piece of creative writing when I was in grade school.  I’d shown from a very early age an interest and a tendency toward reading and writing.  I could barely add two numbers together but I rarely struggled to spell a word.  The rules of English just clicked in my head; I remembered most of the exceptions without much effort.  All through grade school I was always reading something.   I started writing poetry in high school, and finished my first short story when I was seventeen.  I took a couple years off to focus on my band, we broke up, and then I went back to writing.  Over that nine year period I wrote a few short stories, a couple novelettes, and a novel.  I had countless other false starts or unfinished works; works I lost interest in but figured I’d pick up again later.  I read hundreds of books.

I had dreams of becoming a successful published author.  But there were contracts, editors, publishers, agents, and numerous other formalities that would have to be taken care of.  It seemed overwhelming, something I couldn’t do myself.  Still it was a necessity; who else would print my books?  How would I share them with the masses?  I had stories to tell and I thought maybe some people might enjoy reading them.

It soon become impossible to me; a pipe dream, and when I graduated from college and began working in IT I just stopped writing creatively altogether.

I never lost the desire to create, mostly just the time.  I spent the better part of a year trying to start a new band.  That failed.  I had two kids and spent significant energy on them.  Being a good programmer means spending time behind the computer, time not spent writing.  The dream became a remnant of my past; something I’d toyed with for a while but had outgrown and tossed aside for the reality of making a real living.  The bulk of my creative writing after that amounted to drivel; blog rants about bullshit that no one read or cared about.

But things are always changing.

A year ago I purged this website and my life of some serious baggage.  The stories I’d written-the work I’d shelved for lack of an outlet-I now placed on my website for the world to download.  Sure, my reach is small and the impact minimal, but the act was personally monumental.  I now had the courage to show the world my work, blemishes and bruises included.  I also had a way to distribute it.  But I still wasn’t a “writer” or an “author”; I was just a guy who’d written some crap and put it on the Internet.  My interest was rekindled but I needed to find a new purpose for writing.

But now I’m learning it’s a brave new world.

Ten years ago the eBook was trivial, unimportant, and disorganized.  That’s not the case anymore.  Amazon may have almost single-handedly changed that.  I’ve been reading books on handheld devices now for about four years, ever since buying a Palm with eReader installed back in 2006.  Then Amazon released their Kindle reading device.  I  have the Kindle reader app installed on my iPhone now.  Sony and others have released eReaders as well.  The eBook is no longer a novelty; it’s a bona-fide content delivery medium.

I’m also learning that I can self-publish on the Kindle.

According to successful self-published author J. A. Konrath, a fair number of Amazon’s best-selling eBooks are self-published.  He also posted an interesting article comparing and contrasting his printed works versus his electronic works’ sales numbers.  Obviously everyone’s results will vary but this information changes a lot of the preconceived notions I once had.  Konrath does is own editing, for instance, a job I always felt I was capable of but thought I wasn’t supposed to do, at least not in the traditional model.  After all, isn’t that what an editor is paid to do?  It was a type of circular reasoning; as if the mere existence of the job proved the necessity.  Konrath seems to do just fine on his own.  Amazon.com (via Kindle) allows me to self-publish, utilizing their distribution channel.  That model allows me to take a 35% profit (on books sold for less than $2.99) or a 70% profit on books sold for $2.99 and up.

Admittedly I’m  not really in it for the money; the past ten years I’ve spent honing my programming skills are more than paying the rent.  My IT career takes up most of my time.  The flip side to that, however, is artistic freedom.  I subsidize myself.  In other words, I’m my own sugar daddy.  Sure, I can’t produce the volume of work I might produce writing full time, but I retain full creative control over what I do produce.  I’m under no pressure to compromise the work for someone else.  I’m under no one else’s deadline.  I can write because I love writing and whatever that returns monetarily is gravy.

Ten years has also allowed me to understand that a lot of the rules I used to think were immutable are bullshit.  I question everything now, including what I used to think about writing.  I used to think I couldn’t do any of this on my own; now I’m don’t think that’s necessarily true.

Will I be wildly successful, selling thousands of books along the way?  Probably not.  Will I create written works I’m proud of and maybe sell a few along the way?  Probably so.  The point of writing, for me at least, is for people to read what you’ve written.  I now have the tools make this a reality.  Sales will come from the right combination of luck, promotion, and the merit of the written work, the way it probably should be.

I’m currently working on a new novel and I plan on releasing that novel through Amazon in their Kindle format.  If I stay on the schedule I’ve set for myself it’ll be available in April of next year.  I’ll probably sell it for $2.99.  Konrath feels this is the sweet spot for an eBook and I think he’s probably right.  That’s the lowest I can sell the book for while keeping the 70% profit margin and is hopefully still cheap enough to make it attractive to readers.  I imagine I’d price short stories (or collections of short stories) for less.

The possibilities of self-publishing are changing the paradigm of publishing.  Although traditional publishing won’t go away any time soon – and maybe all the stars will align and I’ll cut an awesome deal with a traditional publisher – but eBooks are opening up a whole new channel for both readers and writers.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like the idea of bucking the system a bit too.  I’m excited about writing in a way I’ve never been before.

It’s a brave new world.

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