Rise of the Authorpreneur

By Jon F. Merz

The big news this morning from Publishers Weekly is that bestselling author Terry Goodkind is going to self-publish his next novel. This is yet another indicator that there are seismic shifts happening and the ground beneath the feet of traditional (or legacy) publishing is cracking open and threatening to swallow a whole industry that has grown complacent thanks to its massive ego and basic business incompetence. I’ve talked about this for awhile now. Publishers still do not get it. As recently as last week, Stephen Zacharius of Kensington Publications Corp. (yes, the very folks who published my first four novels) commented on another blog about the “benefits” that traditional publishers offer authors – in other words, he trotted out the same tired bullshit lines about marketing, editing, ad infinitum. I responded on the blog, but my comment was never approved due to the proclivities of the blog author himself, but regardless – Zacharius’ claims are still a heaping, steaming pile of BS.

Marketing? Of the novels I’ve had traditionally published, not one got any sort of marketing push behind it. And Kensington’s own marketing plans for the first four novels of the Lawson series were supposed to include “National TV, radio, and print campaign” as was written on the cover flats they sent me. Yeah, right. Those plans never amounted to anything and I was forced to send out my author copies just to try to drum up reviews in major trades at that time.

Editing? Of all my traditionally published novels, exactly ONE has ever gotten editing done on it. Editors don’t edit any longer; they spend their time trying to acquire products and then have to pitch them to rooms filled with so-called professionals who claim to know what the reading public wants, but are, in reality utterly clueless about that very thing. (Exhibit A: my YA novel THE NINJA APPRENTICE was rejected everywhere with comments like “boys don’t read,” and “no commercial appeal” – since its debut as an ebook on May 8th, it has sold more than 1500 copies, garnered seven 5-star reviews, and is on the summer reading list at North Providence High School)

The fact is we are seeing a fundamental change in the entertainment industry. For far too long, writers have been marginalized by the industries they support. Look at the film/TV industry – if you don’t have writers, you don’t have any of the other industries that rely on those writers. No actors, no editors, no VFX, no nothing. Without writers, the industry has squat. The same for publishing. Without writers, you don’t have agents, editors, copyeditors, cover artists, sales reps, etc. etc. You would think that because writers are so important to so many people, they’d be willing to give us a decent share of the profits. You would, of course, be wrong. Writers have always settled for pennies. No doubt this is partly due to the insecurity that plagues the profession. “Oh, you think my story is good? Really? Wow. Cool.” Writers – especially new writers – lack confidence in what they produce. This has enabled the other industries to undermine their worth and get away with paying us far less than we deserve.

Right up until a few years back when the Kindle debuted.

And now, look where we stand – at the door to a whole new world of opportunity. Writers, for the first time, have control. We can publish our work independent of the massive, bloated conglomerations that dominate NYC publishing and we can do so while earning a 70% royalty on our work instead of the 17.5% that NYC wants to pay. We can set our own prices and then test those prices to see what the market will bear. We can change cover art if it’s not drawing consumers. We can tweak product descriptions. We can even go back to our backlist and re-edit the books if they don’t read well enough. We can respond to market changes faster than ever before. We can interact with readers, build our audiences, and enjoy a richer future than we dreamed possible before. In the past, the only way to assure our financially secure future was to hope and pray that one day the gods of NYC publishing would look down and bestow upon us a gifted position on the NY Times bestseller list along with six and seven-figure advances. It happened for a tiny minority of writers. The rest had to be content to scrimp and save and work-for-hire on jobs that paid them just enough to stay above the poverty line. Some of these writers had no health insurance; some saw their savings vanish in the economic crisis.

No longer.

This is the time of the AUTHORPRENEUR – an author unafraid to step boldly into the future and embrace the technology that puts them in charge of their own destiny. Authorpreneurs are business-savvy: they study the industry and learn what is working, what is changing, and how they can position themselves to take advantage of it. Authorpreneurs are never complacent: they continuously work on their craft and goal of becoming better writers and they never settle for what worked yesterday. Authorpreneurs wear many hats: in the beginning, they do it all – editing, rewrites, cover artist hiring, formatting, marketing – and they study the business world constantly for new ideas and innovations that can help them reach their audience.

Most importantly, authorpreneurs remember the importance of their readers. Our lifeline is the people who read our work. Without them, we have nothing. But unlike NYC publishers, who have tried to price-gouge consumers with ridiculously high ebook prices and attempted to wave off complaints by insulting the intelligence of those readers with comments like “it costs a lot to make an ebook,” authorpreneurs will never take readers for granted. We will always appreciate readers and give them their esteemed position within the equation. Writers and readers are the two most important parts. Everyone else is just in the middle…or in the way, if you prefer.

The rise of the authorpreneur is at hand.

And it’s about time!

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