Home » Amazon, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing » The Sky is Falling (Again)

The Sky is Falling (Again)

24 April 2017

From The Crazy Chronicles by author  Elizabeth Barone:

I’ve been working in the indie publishing industry for five years, with a smattering of trad pub experience right before that. I mean a very tiny smattering; I had a couple short stories and poems published in journals before I got addicted to self-publishing, and I was with a small press for a year. But I’ve always been an introvert, and the thing most people don’t know about us introverts is that we’re super observant. We may not say much, but we see everything. And we pay attention.

Lately there’s been a lot of ugliness in the lit community. Some high profile authors were outed for attacking readers, there’s been a lot of mudslinging over diversity in fiction, and now I’m seeing a lot of authors griping about how “oversaturated” the industry is.

I get it. Amazon sales have tanked for everyone this month. In general, there’s been a decline in sales. The industry has been plateauing, trying to find its footing in the midst of this digital revolution. But I’ve noticed the panic really dig in to authors when Amazon changes something. And then things get ugly.

. . . .

For one, the market has always been full. Even before indie publishing took off—back when it was considered vanity publishing to go and print copies of your books and sell them out of your car—there was a vast traditional market. Book stores became more and more selective with who they gave shelf space to. It was a game of dollars—which publisher could pay the most to get their star author front and center in stores. And it still is.

. . . .

Authors, we’re not competitors. There are millions of readers around the world, with new markets opening up every single day. (Right now India and Nigeria’s ebook markets are booming, by the way.) Readers don’t play favorites. Sure, there are authors they love who they will always buy from right away. But most readers are just looking for something good to read that fits their tastes and their budget—especially while their favorites are in between releases.

Link to the rest at The Crazy Chronicles and thanks to A. for the tip.

Here’s a link to Elizabeth Barone’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Amazon, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing

45 Comments to “The Sky is Falling (Again)”

  1. a bit of context:

    The article is from last October.

  2. Authors, we’re not competitors.

    The dismal science of economics would say otherwise.

    • Economics is what tells you that you can become wealthy by paying half the people to smash windows and the other half to repair them.

      Writers compete far less against each other than they do against other forms of entertainment. More books people want to read == more readers == more sales in general.

      Just look at all the whining from publishers about lack of bestsellers. They wouldn’t be doing that if readers who can’t find a bestseller they wanted to read were spending the same amount of money on other books.

      • Yes. This makes sense to me.

      • “Economics is what tells you that you can become wealthy by paying half the people to smash windows and the other half to repair them.”

        In my household it’s, “the biggest contributor to the Gross Domestic Product is a cancer patient going through a divorce.”

        These are the same economists who tell unemployed coal miners that they should retrain as nurses’ aides for $10 an hour.

        • Ha! Yeah. Notice how all the “job growth” is in things like hospitality and healthcare. Oh, and call centers. Lots of trumpeting about whatever new call center is opening.

          Hot dang! All those $10/hr. jobs will just send the economy BOOMING!

          • Yes. I’ve seen a number of articles over the last six months or so about how the US government could slash the cost of healthcare by reducing regulations and enforcing laws that healthcare companies have been given exemptions from, but that would result in a 10% drop in GDP, which would be disastrous. Apparently.

            • History indicates a decrease in costs in one segment of the economy tends to increase spending in other segments. There is no reason to think a drop in health care costs would result in a decrease in the GDP. The productivity in health care would free up money for spending in other areas.

          • Don’t forget prisons are a big part of the GDP. Growth in that ‘industry’ doesn’t signify anything positive for anyone, yet there it is, an increase in incarceration is a growth in the economy!

        • These are the same economists who tell unemployed coal miners that they should retrain as nurses’ aides for $10 an hour.

          Economists would say the optimal choice for the miner is continued employment in the coal industry. If that is not available, then the next best alternative is the best available option.

          They would not say the best choice for miners is to stop mining and retrain.

      • Economics is what tells you that you can become wealthy by paying half the people to smash windows and the other half to repair them.

        That would be an example of creating a demand and then fulfilling it. As long as the cost of breaking is less than the revenue received from fixing, it fits the economic model.

        The same principle could be applied to selling razors at a loss to create a demand for razor blades.

        However, economics would also recognize that the windows business results in a net social loss, while the razors result in a social benefit.

        Economists would contend that close substitutes in the same market are strong competitors. This would apply to novels sold on Amazon

      • Actually, economics is what tells you that you CAN’T become wealthy by paying half the people to smash windows and the other half to repair them!

        This goes back to (at least) Adam Smith. It’s particularly well covered by Bastiat (whose works are always worth reading, and often very entertaining). For a more modern explanation, read Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson.”

        As for prisons as a “big part of GDP,” I’d love to see a citation. I’d be shocked if they’re big enough to be material—except, perhaps, as a cost.

    • We are, of course, always competing with each other as authors, but in a more discrete (and possibly discreet) manner. All authors do not compete with all other authors, living or dead, but authors who write SF, for example, clearly compete with other authors who also write SF. My thriller competes with other thrillers for readers’ attention. Every author who writes in a particular genre, or sub-genre, is competing with other authors who write very similar kinds of books.

      It’s lovely to be supportive of and assist other authors in their quests for success, but let’s not pretend (as the blogger does) that we are not also direct competitors at some level.

      • Hhmm, not sure how true that is.
        I know that as a reader, if I read and enjoy the book by one author, I look for similar books And authors to read.
        Just think of all the Twilight clones and erotica novels that would not have been written if The originals had not sold so well, people want more of what they like.

        • Agreed; however, because readers do not have unlimited time to search or unlimited time to read, this time constraint underpins the competitive nature of the business.

          For example, let’s say I love a book by Author A. There are 25 other authors who write very similar books, Authors B through Z. How much time do I need to expend to find them? How much time do I have to read their books, once I do manage to find at least some of them?

          I think as authors (most of whom are also voracious readers) we tend to vastly overestimate the amount of time the “average reader” is able to spend on either activity.

          • Actually if you love Author A, you will speed read your way through B-Z, your interest only waning when you find at Author F that they labelled it the new [whatever] but it didn’t deliver that promise.
            So I almost do think readers have unlimited time to read their favorite thing. You just want to make sure you are properly showcasing what you deliver, so your readers can find you.
            Cover, blurb, look inside all screaming ‘this is that thing you love and I’m going to deliver it better than anyone else. I’m going to be the go to person for that thing you love to read’

            Which sounds like competition, but really you’re just angling to be another one of their many providers of that unique fix they need to get through their day.

        • It’s true enough, if they’re reading you then they’re not reading me (at that time anyway. 😉 )

          Of course we have to make our writing interesting enough to not only keep them interested — but to keep them coming back for more. (And deities help us both if the would-be reader has gotten bored with trying to find a book they like and turns on the TV instead.)

          • Yes, but its also true that if they are reading you, they might decide to pick up a book by me later, whereas if they hadn’t started reading you, they might not know I exist in the first place.
            I’m not sure if I’m expressing myself well but my basic idea is that one author can lead to another in the same genre or style.
            For example, it would be silly in my opinion for Sylvia desDay to consider herself in competition with EL James, because while it’s true that some of her fans discovered her by themselves, she also has many fans who read the Fifty Shades of Grey series and who wanted more after the books finished.

            • The best promotional tools are Amazon’s “Also Read” lists and genre besteseller lists. Heck, that’s where I find my own next books to read, and I’m confident readers do the same. We give each other legs-up when we’re on these lists.

        • Agreed. When I find what I like, I want much, much more of it.

          • Agree with Liana, Gabby and Anon. I’m a voracious reader and when I really like something, I definitely want more. Also, I read something I really like within a day or two, while something that’s dragging may take 5 or more days.

        • There is *some* level of competition but it pales before the readers’ voracity. Few authors can write fast enough to satisfy even a six-books-a-year reader, much less the book a month or book a week reader.

          http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/13263/1/What-Is-the-Average-Reading-Speed-and-the-Best-Rate-of-Reading.html

          Back when I was in college and had the time I managed to put away a book a day for an entire summer. LORD OF THE RINGS took me a week…to read twice. It wasn’t even hard. These days I’m lucky to find time to do one a week. (Otherwise I’d be neck deep in KU.)

          People tend to forget that humans average 250 words *a minute* and even slow readers can polish off a 60,000 word novel in 5 hours. The limiting factors are time and money. Which is yet another reason why ebook economics favor Indies: for the price of a $15 BPH book a reader can easily 5 Indie titles *if* they have the time. That is how thousand book TBR list are created. 🙂

          The real challenges for readers are “Peak TV”, great video games, and this thing called “life”, all getting in the way of their reading time.

        • I know that as a reader, if I read and enjoy the book by one author, I look for similar books And authors to read.

          As a supplier, are you indifferent to 1) having your book purchased today, and 2) hoping the purchase of someone else’s book today results in results in the possible purchase of your book at some future date?

          • It’s just not that simple for books.
            Take the steam Punk genre, four example, which basically originated with Tim Powers Anubis Gates though it had its pre-cursers in other science-fiction as well.
            If someone read Tim Powers is novel, and decides that they like the blend of near Victorian culture with technology or magic, they are more likely to seek out books by other steam punk Writers.

            • Books aren’t special. It’s simple. Given a choice, which would you choose:

              1. Your book sells today, and that may prompt a purchase of my book at some future date.

              2. My book sells today, and that may prompt a purchase of your book at some future date.

              Choose. Today.

      • There is competition, but with thousands of thriller authors publishing, there’s no advantage to killing one thriller author. You’d have to kill them all, like … at … Thrillerfe–

        Hang on, I gotta write this down.

  3. I don’t think we’re competitors either. Reading a good book makes me hungry for more books just like it.

    Look at Michael Anderle who mentioned that he can’t keep up with reader demand for books in his world so he co-writes with many other authors.

    If I look at my Also Boughts, it’s all other books in the same genre.

    So as long as we are writing what the reader wants, there’s plenty of room. It’s when you’re not quite providing what the reader wants that you can see the edges of how much you can sell.

    But Yes, things have up and downs- time of year, day of the week, etc. But there’s room. I just have to keep working on my craft.

    • And those who really don’t co-write – they franchise. James Patterson comes to mind – and Tom Clancy before that.

      (Of course, Romance got into that a long time ago.)

  4. The idea that authors don’t compete seems to stem from the personal experience (expressed in all posts so far) of “voracious readers”. They are one subset of all readers. Are they more important a market than the subset which we could define as “casual readers”? (I dunno, you tell me.)

    An author does not have to compete for the attention of a “voracious reader” in a genre, one who reads enough to consume everything that fits their tastes.

    An author does need to compete for the “casual reader”, those who do indeed find other entertainments and “life” curtailing their reading time. If they read in a genre and they are only have time to read a subset of the books that appeal to their taste, then obviously those books are competing with each other and their authors are competing with each other.

    If rabid readers are enough to float your boat, then that’s great, but that doesn’t invalidate basic economics. Many, if not perhaps most readers make choices, and that means some books are competing with other books and some authors are competing with other authors.

    • Well, of course, they make choices. Just because a book of type serves as promotion for that type MORE than as competition for that type does not change the fundamental nature of choice-making. What it does change is how much the baggage of “competition” applies. Which is hardly at all.

      You are competing against a general standard and accessiblity (both platform and price) and the rest is just a matter of taste. You are rarely directly duking it out with another author, unlike with commodities. The only readers who do make book selection based on a commodity like comparison (any book of type and pricepoint will do) ARE voracious readers.

      • Nicely put.
        The expectations of the genre/subgenre are the baseline which against authors really compete. Every reader has their own yardstick based on what they’ve read and liked.
        You don’t see much A vs B direct comparisons. You do see, “Ohhh, it sounds like xxxx. Might be fun.”

    • The true ‘casual readers’ are the ones who buy whatever is on the front table at the airport book store. Indies rarely consider them, because we really have no way to get our books on that table.

      Otherwise, you have the scale from people who always read and have no interest in TV, computer games or anything else, to the ones who will take whatever entertainment comes along that interests them at the time. If your book interests the latter more than the latest Netflix show or PC game, they’ll spend their money on the book, instead.

    • The idea that authors don’t compete seems to stem from the personal experience (expressed in all posts so far) of “voracious readers”.

      Authors may not compete. Some are dead. But goods offered in the market compete regardless of what authors do.

      • Considering that the class “authors” includes tradpub authors, who can’t do much if anything to affect sales in a *positive* manner, that last clause is key. 🙂

  5. just speaking as one writer; there’s no competition that ought be paid attention to, in my book. Never looking over shoulder at who’s chipping dirt coins and coming up behind, nor scrying who’s out ahead showing rump and all four shoes. Just writing the best d book I can in my own voice –without judging who has sprung from the gate.

    Is it a race? Prob for some… publishers are like bettors. They do not own the horse. The horse belongs, despite contracts to race, to the one who feeds it, shelters it, trains it, runs it, made it.

    Im prob doing it all wrong. But our reach to readers is good to excellent, just as is. Are we in the top 100? Sometimes, but as you know, for moments. Bestseller lists? Yes. But again, like soap bubbles.

    Often enough people ask how to write a bestseller. I tell them write the best book you can, and pray for lady luck to come by and take you for a ride, but know, she will dump you for the next co-rider and the next. Thing is there are many many Lady lucks running about and plenty of room for a short time in the saddle with her.

    Someone wannas play the omg I’m a BIG competitor game, they can. It’s about as sure as betting on the ponies. How many kajillionaires do we know who got rich on pony betting.

    Now, those who own and breed the sires, those who hold the mares, there’s where the money comes from. Seems same as book; create the best horse you can, ride it well, sire others, carry through that live birth.

    My way is probably only simpleton economics, but I like everything everyone else said here. I always learn a lot from you guys.

    • “just speaking as one writer; there’s no competition that ought be paid attention to, in my book.”

      The movie ‘Gumball Rally’ the ‘ringer’ race car driver tears the mirror off an overpriced car declaring, “First rule in Italian racing — what is behind us doesn’t matter.”

      So it is a race to reach the reader, but watching what others behind you are doing isn’t what you should be doing, it’s the ones ahead of you that you might want to match/beat. 😉

    • I will bore everyone with reminisces of software product competition. I found myself in direct competition with several other companies that developed products to fill the exact same niche we had targeted. The competition was on price, features, reliability, performance, total cost of ownership, any way you can measure software, each player had collateral to prove they were the best, and as a junior product owner, I thought it was my job to make sure our collateral always matched the competitors point for point. And so did everyone else.

      I watched the competition like a hawk while they had equally beady eyes on me. Our team was young and energetic. We matched them feature for feature, ROI for ROI, price point for price point.

      And got nowhere. The market shares were immovable. What a mug’s game!

      But there was a way to win. Disruption. Obliterating the value of the competition by inventing something different that made their carefully constructed value scenarios and product swim lanes look silly.

      In that playbook, the competitor’s collateral is just a distraction from the big show. Don’t patch potholes, invent drones.

      What relevance does this have for authors? If you find yourself consciously competing with another author, or group of authors, rethink what you are doing. You have the wrong target. Be conscious of your readers, what they want and need; not your competitors. Your competitors don’t buy your books. What they do is irrelevant.

      Note: this does not apply to craft. Constructing a sentence, a scene, and a story are required skills across all literature. Lack of craft is a dis-qualifier; the presence of craft gets you to the door, not the dance floor. On the dance floor, you follow the band, not the other dancers.

      • that is a h of a story, and so true. Very instructive, thanks Democritus. I dig this “Don’t patch potholes, invent drones.” It is so Coyote. Right on.

  6. Your competitors don’t buy your books. What they do is irrelevant.

    If they start inventing drones, and ignoring the potholes, the competition might merit a glance.

    Traditional publishers decided independents’ market share gains were irrelevant. Then it was too late. Meanwhile, independents paid lots af attention to the taditionals.

  7. When authors start writing at or around a book every two days, then they would start competing for my dollars. Until then, I will have to read and spend my money amongst many different authors.

  8. What a surprise tonight to see that my little blog post made it here! Thanks, Passive Guy, for sharing, and thanks everyone else for reading.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.