Today, author Charlie Stross, from this month's book club selection, joined us for a Q&A, where he filled us his thoughts on how new writers get traction, the skyrocketing of ebook sales (from 1% to 50% of his sales in the last five years), and gave us the first line of his new book coming up in July.
Commenter RM Ambrose asked about how new writers can build their career, and Stross shared these thoughts on the business of writing and publishing:
In 2008, maybe 1% of my sales were ebooks. Today, make that 50%. We're in the middle of a gigantic format shift as the mass market paperback distribution system withers and dies but the ebook system explodes. Meanwhile, ebooks make self-publishing quite easy ... if you know what you're doing. Clue: authors are authors, not editors, typesetters, cover designers, marketing experts, and accounts clerks. (This is why I don't self-publish — I've got publishers to do the boring stuff for me. It's this quaint old-fashioned thing called "division of labour".)
[Robert J.] Sawyer is quite right that it's getting very hard for new writers to gain traction. All writers face two problems: how do you maximize your readership, and how do you maximize your revenue? These are orthogonal problems, and a strategy optimized to solve one may not optimally solve for the other.
Having said that, I don't think things are necessarily as bleak as all that. I keep seeing new writers who have somehow broken through all the obstacles that are so daunting to us old-timers, often with spectacular success. The key thing to remember is that, however much you may be devoted to it as an art form, writing is a business. It's definitely not a lifestyle. (If you want to hear sarcasm, get a group of well-lubricated writers gathered together over a bottle of wine or two and ask them what they think of the mass media depiction of novelists, as opposed to the reality!)
Stross also gave a release date for his next book, "The Rhesus Chart", due out in July next year — along with the first line of the upcoming novel:
"Don't be silly, Bob," said Mo, "everyone knows vampires don't exist!"
I, for one, am not holding out high hopes for Mo's fate...
Image: Ronnie Pitman