Andy Straka Gives It to You Straight

October 20th, 2011

For Authors and Aspiring Authors: Why You Should Never Write Anything Ever Again

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, or off writing on a deserted island somewhere, you’ve probably noticed something big is happening in the book business these days.

Ebooks aren’t the future anymore. They’re the present.

Companies like Amazon, Apple, and Google have elbowed their way into a market with eye-popping sales growth, while traditional publishers, agents, booksellers, and libraries are scrambling to adjust to this new form of reading. The long-predicted ebook transformation is well upon us and many are pontificating about the future of books and publishing and what it all means.

If you’re a writer, what does the ebook revolution mean for you?

Let me be blunt. It means you should give up writing for good.

Seriously.

After all, aren’t more books flooding the already saturated market than ever before? Should you really add to the tsunami? There should be limits on how many books are published anyway, shouldn’t there? We wouldn’t want to attract too many readers, especially younger ones. Maybe we should all call our congressional representatives and demand caps on book publishing.

And it gets worse. Some of the mountains of new ebooks being published are not very good. We should all be shocked. Why, the writing and publication of bad books has never happened before in history.

Readers are changing their habits, too, migrating away from print to the screen and demanding lower pricing. This probably means, as some have implied, that many of them have suddenly fallen victim to electronic lobotomies at the hands of their e-readers, becoming incoherent, indiscriminate consumers of the written word, brain-dead zombies ready to lap up whatever swill of 99 cent ebooks comes floating along.

The new reader

I don’t know about you. But I’m going to keep my eyes open a little bit wider next time I venture onto the subway with a bunch of Kindle readers.

What about print books and the existing print distribution system and all the traditional publishers, booksellers, and agents? Won’t these companies, especially the big six, continue to offer a ray of hope, albeit a slim one, to unpublished and published writers alike?

Nope. When I signed my first book contract with Penguin-Putnam ten years ago, it was the fulfillment of a dream. But that’s long past.

Not a single traditional publisher, bookseller, distributor, or agent, will ever in a million years be able to adapt to the onslaught of ebooks. After all, the publishing industry has never ever dealt with changes in format before. As some have suggested, they’re all just such greedy people, anyway. Like big bankers, going the way of the Dodo. So forget all those queries and book proposals and on and on. Really, you should give up all hope of pursuing this avenue of publication altogether.

But didn’t self-pubbed authors John Locke and Amanda Hocking sell a couple of million ebooks last year? Haven’t a lot of legacy publishers seen big sales growth with ebooks as well? What about NY Times bestseller Barry Eisler? I heard him talking about his ebooks on NPR the other day. And what about all those mid-list authors and previously unpublished authors who claim to be making good money off their ebooks?

Come on. Give it up, will you? Ignore the fact that many midlist writers are making decent money with ebooks. I may have sold 35,000 ebooks on my own in the past four months, but that was probably just an aberration. And for every author suddenly making more money there must be at least five billion wannabes.

This, too, has never happened before in publishing history. Published or unpublished, you should probably just pack away all those indie writer dreams and forget about it.

It’s way too hard to publish ebooks, anyway, what with all the formatting and conversions, meatgrinders, dot-epubs, dot-prcs and dot-whatevers. You’ll never be able to figure it all out on your own. No one is available to help you, either. I’m surprised Smashwords, Create Space, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Kobo, etc. haven’t all been run out of business by now.

I also expect to see John Grisham, JK Rowling, and Stephen King—not to mention Locke, Hocking, and the like—headed to the poorhouse soon. The ebook revolution is going to ruin everything for everybody. The only books left to read won’t be worth their pixels in literary merit.

The bottom line is there are so many more profitable things you could be doing with your time than writing books.

You could be getting more sleep. You could be watching more TV. You could be occupying Wall Street.

So, please. Take your hands off that keyboard, author, and stop right now. Only you can decide to be a healthier, happier human being by never writing another word again.

If nothing else, do it for the kids.

Mine, that is. I can do without the competition.

*****

(Once featured by Publisher’s Weekly as one of a new crop of “rising stars in crime fiction,” Shamus award-winning author and licensed falconer Andy Straka has moved on to writing e-books out of his garage, and selling a hell of a lot more of them than I do. For more information about his Frank Pavlicek private eye series and other novels, as well as an entertaining, Charles Dickens-inspired nod to the e-publishing phenomenon, check out Andy’s free short story “Too Dark For Superheroes,” where a near-future author confronts the ghost of publishing past. You’ll find it on his blog/website “The Hawk Writer’s Guide to the Galaxy” at www.andystraka.com.)

15 Responses to “Andy Straka Gives It to You Straight”

  1. Linda Hamlett Childress Says:

    I’m glad I got my “self-published” books out hen I did! 20,000+ copies. I did put my books on Kindle- just because I didn’t care about becoming rich off of it!

    Question: Can writers really ever quit? I am a dental hygienist by trade, but those stories, real and fiction, are always lurking and sometimes begging to get out into the world! I guess if you want to make a living writing books you might be in trouble, but if you write for the joy of it- go for it!

    PS I LOVE Andy’s books!

  2. Everett Kaser Says:

    Sheesh, there for a second I though you were being sarcastic.

    But all’s well that ends well. So, Tim, what are you going to do with all your free time, now that you won’t be writing anymore?

  3. Sharai Says:

    Thank you for this. I am forwarding it to all my wannabe writer friends and family!

  4. John Lindquist Says:

    Taking advantage of one’s opportunity, there are new frontiers yet to be discovered, explored, analyzed and communicated. And new ways to do the communicating. Can one turn the derivation of a mathematical equation and its proof into a beautiful love story or a piano sonata? Betcha Philip Glass would say yes to the latter.

    Unless you’re dealing with absolute mathematics – or absolute fiction for that matter (talk about extremes) – some things may be expected to be left unresolved. That’s just a theory, though.

    The preceding came to mind while filling up a whiteboard with numbers, trying to resolve something arithmetical that I first noticed as a kid. Thanks for letting me publish it here, Tim.

  5. Debbi Says:

    Thank you, Andy! Nice to have someone else do the typing. 🙂

    I also write because I love doing it. But you can love your work and make a living off it. I’m doing it.

  6. Andy Straka Says:

    Thanks so much for your comments. As I hope you can tell from my satire, I believe the opportunities in the current publishing climate have never been greater for writers. You only need the courage and the savvy to go after them.

  7. John Lindquist Says:

    Hi Andy, I knew that was satire. 🙂 Dickens probably never could have anticipated this revolution. I downloaded “Too Dark for Superheroes” last night and enjoy it immensely. What irony.

  8. Sheri Hart Says:

    Thanks for the great guest post Andy. It’s nice to hear positive news from someone in the trenches.

  9. Fay Moore Says:

    We wannabes are standing in a brilliant moment in time when we have equal access to the reading masses via e-publishing. If we fail to take advantage of the moment, before someone figures out how to control it, we lose — forever! So write, fellow weenie, write, then ePublish.

  10. Robert DeVere Says:

    Andy, Tim,
    As is my wont, I will be contrarian here. I think there is a real issue here that has not yet been adequately addressed. That is that not all aspiring writers deserve publication, no matter how sincere and dedicated they are and no matter how long they persevere. I am yet undecided if I am among that group or not, but that is a decision that is ordinarily made, by default if not by design, by the professional publishing world. If I can persuade an editor to give me a shot, or find a professional agent to represent me, chances are not good for me, but better than if I can find neither. Finding neither should suggest that my writing may not be as immortal as I was lead to believe by my mother. Mom wouldn’t lie, would she?
    Now, if you view that screening process as unfair, then bypassing it sounds attractive. I tend to view it more as fair but brutally painful. Do the professionals make mistakes and sometimes pass over worthy gems in the process? Of course. Many examples of that. Every successful author in this process can point to masses of rejection notices. But out of 1000 rejection letters sent out, how many do you suppose are sent in error? I have no data to back this up, but I suspect the number is low. 10%? Less? More? I don’t know. But that editor (and his or her prejudice in favor of respected and trusted agents) has probably kept a lot of dreck off the shelves. Who will do that for e-publishing? Amazon? Or will they make available anything offered? And if so, how do we, the reading masses, find the real gems? At the moment I rely upon the recommendations of family and friends, the major book reviews, and of course anything new by those authors I’ve previously read and enjoyed. If a book cover catches my eye and it is a book by someone I don’t know, I no longer trust the hyperbolic praise of other authors, who are evidently compelled to recommend so many new authors as part of their contract. At least that has been my conclusion after buying the new author’s work based on the roaring praise of authors instead of the more measured praise of book reviews. But even so, I will frequently gamble $10 or so on a paperback that has successfully jumped the many hurdles to publication. I am less enthusiastic about spending 99 cents to download something that hasn’t jumped those same or equivalent hurdles. What do you say?
    Bob

  11. EverettK Says:

    Robert: The “new world” of e-publishing will be different than the “old world.” Better in some ways, worse in others, different in many. You’re suggesting that the old publishing business provided a usual function as a ‘filter’, saving us poor readers from the junk. There is some truth to that. But there will be similar means in the “new world” of filtering out the junk. (Reviews, sample chapters, professional reviewers, word of mouth, sales numbers, etc.)

    Tim’s Crashed and Little Elvises are a good case in point. He’s a published author (in the “old world”), many successful novels under his belt, and yet he couldn’t find a publisher for those books. And they’re two of the books I’ve enjoyed the most in the past year.

    And then, of course, there’s all those books that HAVE been published by the “old world” and are (in my not-so-humble opinion 🙂 ) complete junk. So in my mind the “old world” really hasn’t done any better (and in many cases worse) than I expect the “new world” to do.

    And we haven’t even addressed the issue of profit. In the “old world” it was very difficult for an author to make a good living without having a “day job,” too (unless you were Stephen King or James Patterson, etc). The publishers and distribution chain took 80% to 90% of the profits and sometimes much more, and you had to COMPLETELY trust them to be honest about their sales (and even MORE so in the “new world” if your ebooks are run through an “old world” publisher, as many authors are finding out there’s rampant …er… mistakes in the accounting of e-book sales numbers). In the “new world” the author keeps the lions share of the proceeds.

    Different strokes and different mileage and all that, but I’m happy to see the new freedoms made possible by the advent of self e-publishing.

  12. Andy Straka Says:

    Bob,
    I agree with most of what you say. But you miss a big part of the picture–the fact that legacy publishers have become victims of a mass market print distribution system (mostly of their own making) that, as production costs continue to escalate, forces them into ever smaller margins and bigger risks. The legacy publishing business has evolved from a gentlemanly, cottage trade into a tournament (winner take all) industry with the ripple effects being felt all the way down the line, most especially at the entry level, where agents and editors attempt to sift the wheat from the chaff. I can’t fault anyone for wanting to stick with the old “gatekeepers.” But you need to recognize the gate they are keeping is not the gate of twenty or thirty years ago, or even two or three years ago. Fewer and fewer print books are published with any type of meaningful marketing support. Of the books that are “published” (the term itself now begs reexamination) in the traditional sense, only those that meet a critical mass of sales stay in the stores.
    I remain an optimist. I see the entire system evolving with ebooks, including self-published ebooks, playing an important role. Remember William Goldman’s famous line: “Nobody knows anything.” While New York can publish good product, they can no more capture magic in a bottle than you in your basement with nothing but your word processor. And ebooks, as problematic and messy as they are, offer a direct channel to readers that has never existed before.
    So the hurdle facing most unpublished writers today is no longer publication–it’s validation. Who validates yours or anyone else’s book? (You’ve correctly put your finger on this problem.) I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Who will decide what makes a good book in the future? Many readers, with the help of their ereaders that give them a significant sample of nearly any book at the touch of a button, have already begun to answer this question. They’ve already begun to move beyond the traditional gatekeepers and distribution system in search of books they like on their own. Maybe we as writers need to consider following suit. I don’t believe the old gatekeepers are going away. They’ll evolve just like the rest of us. Indeed, many already are. Personally, I only really started paying attention to JA Konrath and the like about ten months ago. I figured, what did I have to lose? If your concern is producing good books, it’s not easy being both writer and publisher. I would never say it’s for everyone, and in many ways, I feel like I’m still getting started. But the results so far have been worth it, no matter how I publish in the future.

  13. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Everyone – Thanks for playing, and special thanks to Andy for putting such a thought-provoking piece out there.

    Robert, Everett, Andy — I agree with all of you. Traditional publishing has been in its Final Days for decades now, and somehow it’s managed to survive. It’s far from perfect, but I can’t think of an industry that gets anywhere near to perfect. Like the music industry, publishers first reacted to e-texts with whimpers of terror before it occurred to them that there was MORE MONEY THERE and NEW MARKETS and all the other things they’d been bewailing the lack of since the debut of the mass market paperback. But they were too slow on the uptake to realize that they were sitting on King Solomon’s Mines in the form of their backlista, all of which could be reissued as ebooks for practically nothing. So the writers caught on first and people all over the world demanded rights reversions and put out their own old titles as ebooks, pocketing most of the money.

    Ebooks are still in their infancy — look, we’re arguing over formats, just as we did with video and every other tech breakthrough, and there’s no question but that a great deal of sewage has been released into the Mississippi of American literature, but fortunately shit is biodegradable and we’ll eventually get some kind of sifting mechanism — which may well be just as elitist as the tradpubs are.

    For someone like me, ebooks are a godsend. For the first time in my life, I can write AND put out anything I want. So there. Take that, New York.

  14. Robb Royer Says:

    At last. What I’ve always wanted. License to loaf.

  15. Jan Hurst-Nicholson (@just4kixbooks) Says:

    Thanks for the interesting take on this subject.

    @ Robert DeVere

    They say that everyone has at least one book in them – and that’s usually the best place for it.:)

    Glad I did a long apprenticeship in writing and had several books ready when e-publishing kindly came along. Thrilled to have sold over 30 000 e-books that had been sitting brooding in my computer for many years.
    Don’t have to write any more as I still have a backlog of books to e-publish 🙂

Leave a Reply

 

 
 

 

 
©2006-2014 TIMOTHY HALLINAN, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED WEBSITE CREDITS