A Toolkit And Compass for Romanceland
Because All The Roads Are Being Re-Built (Maybe)
How you shop for romance novels and how authors write and sell them is going through a fundamental revolution right now. You, the reader, will benefit from the massive changes that aren’t just coming down the pipe…they’re already here. They just haven’t popped into gear all over town yet.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you get this stuff. So you’ll like what I’m about to tell you, if you don’t already know it. Most of what I’m about to say you’ll understand intuitively. It just makes sense. But it takes someone saying it out loud to make it jell.
The publishing industry is transitioning from paper books to electronic books. Soon, paper books will be like candles: they’ll still exist, but they’ll be expensive specialty items, while the majority of the world uses e-books by default. Already, e-books outsell paperbacks and many publishers are already considering paperback rights to be subsidiary rights to e-book rights. About the only real mystery is how long the shift takes to happen.
But the next big revolutionary step is that authors are shrugging off royalty-paying publishers altogether, and moving to self-publishing, using a number of platforms that let them publish e-books directly to on-line booksellers like Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and All Romance E-books. They’re becoming independent authors.
This second revolution is the one that is causing the most angst in the industry right now, because it will topple the centuries old power structure that used to exist, where publishers used to dictate which books got published, usually with two year production schedules for each title. Now, authors publish their books as fast as they can write them, which means you, the reader, get to pick from all the books that are written, instead of just the books the publishers think you might like.
The other benefit of this revolution is that authors are pitching their prices very, very low. $2.99 and 99 cents are common prices. Free is not unheard of. Indie authors can afford to set these prices, because they are getting the lion’s share of the profit from each sale. Legacy publishers can’t afford those prices because they have huge expenses to off-set, and they are struggling to come to terms with the whole idea of “cheap equals more sales”.
Indie authors who have several titles out there already have noticed a buying pattern emerging: Readers will buy one “test” title. Then they’ll come back and buy every single title the author has released, in one buying session — because the prices are so low. Or they’ll buy all the titles in one series, in one shopping session. Then they’ll come back and buy the next series, later.
This group-buying and author-buying trend points toward the future.
So does indie-publishing in general. Because Amazon, Smashwords, and other on-line bookstores have virtual bookshelves, there is no competition for space. An author doesn’t have to get “permission” to upload. She just uploads. As long as her book is correctly formatted, and she follows a few simple rules, she can publish any novel she cares to.
This has huge implications for the future of popular fiction, and for you, the reader.
Whereas once upon a time, the bookshelves at your local store were strictly limited to “romance” and maybe “fantasy”, and you had to carefully comb through them to find the authors you knew, or an imprint you knew that published the sort of books you liked. However, with virtual book sellers, the game has changed.
Indie authors can publish any sort of cross-genred, out-of-genre, weird-mixed, wonderfully inventive, whole-new-unique-to-her-genre romance they want. It can have fairies and giants, krakens and mushrooms, as long as it has a happy-ever-after and a to-die-for hero (perhaps the only two constants of a romance, these days.) Her romance doesn’t have to fit into a pre-defined category anymore, because she doesn`t have to get an editor of the big six publishing houses to like it to get it published. If the romance works, the author can publish it and let the readers decide if it`s good, or not.
Of course, it helps that her romance be well written, or no one will read it. But that’s one of the joys of the indie publishing game. We enter it at our own risk. If an author can’t write for peanuts, she’ll soon find out — the hard way. Readers get to tell her with their wallets. The indie publishing scene is a perfect feedback mechanism, because authors get their feedback directly from the readers via sales and/or communications like blogs and emails. (But sales are more truthful.) No gatekeepers like agents and editors exist to filter and distort the information.
So what will happen to the romance industry in the near future?
Here’s what I think will happen. Here’s where I can see it going. Here’s where I think you, the reader, get to have it all.
More and more authors are going to go indie. And they’re going to realize they can write the books they really want to write, instead of staying in the straight jackets that the publishers, marketers and brick & mortar booksellers have insisted on for years.
That means the romance field is going to explode with interesting and varied romances the likes of which you have never seen before. The shackles will be off authors’ imaginations, and you are going to have a buffet of romances to choose from, and not too many signposts to guide you. If you thought the explosion of e-books from epublishers made it difficult, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
That means you will need to build your own tools and sources for finding decent romances. It will no longer be good enough to simply buy up everything a single publisher releases, because you`ll be limiting yourself to a tiny corner of the market and (possibly) quickly grow bored with your romances.
Word-of-mouth about hot new series and titles will become the best way to find out who to buy next, because there will simply be so many authors out there, you won’t know who will be a good fit for your tastes, after you’ve bought up every title of the last author you fell in love with. Amazon’s “if you like this, you’ll like that” links will help, but they won’t always tell you if the author they’re recommending can’t spell worth a damn or if the novel is full of grammar mistakes and typos…or if it’s just plain bad.
This is where you adding reader reviews and ratings becomes incredibly important, too. If you’ve never bothered before, think about starting now. Soon, readers will be the only guide for other readers.
The romance industry is already huge. It’s about to become a giant industry, because romance authors, who were at the forefront of e-books and e-readers, are also now embracing indie publishing with a vengeance, too. With their imagination, and with all the paranormal and fantasy worlds to explore, and the historical and romantic suspense fields to re-invent, mash-up, and re-live, you as a reader are in for thousands of special treats.
You just have to learn how to find them, because authors won’t be able to reach out and be heard across the whole industry. It’ll be too damn big. You’ll have to meet us half-way.
This series will offer you a set of tools, ideas, tips and tricks for finding good romances no matter where they’re hiding, and for making sure you’re staying on top of continual changes in the landscape of Romanceland.
Next: Finding Books.