Buzzzzzz. I’m going to stir up the proverbial hornet’s nest a bit here, so buyer beware!
Would you rather be a Big Fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond?
Big fish make a big splash (you know, when doing their fishy acrobatics or whatever). That’s how I envision science fiction romance making a name for itself in the digital market.
With many agents currently re-evaluating their role in the publishing process and authors seemingly being dropped left and right, is going after that increasingly elusive traditional print contract worth an author’s time and investment?
Yes, it’s a lovely dream, with its promise of a nice advance and mainstream exposure, but I think it’s a dream tied to the publishing industry of the past. In other words, it’s tied into the myth that every book has bestseller potential, along with the idea of celebrity authors. Unfortunately, reality has painted an entirely different picture.
Another way of looking at the issue is that SFR means nothing—nothing—to NY without humongous sales to prove its worth. That is a fact. And Big 6 publishers aren’t willing to take the risk of releasing SFR in numbers/print runs large enough to generate those big sales. If they’re not doing it for established authors, then why would they bother with debut ones?
I once read that when submitting to publishers/agents, authors should start “at the top.” Well, what does “the top” mean any more? A top where the doors are firmly shut? A top where distribution venues are crumbling into dust (Borders, I’m looking at you)?
Yes, paranormal romance broke out of the niche and went mainstream. But that happened over six years ago (counting from the release of Christine Feehan’s DARK PRINCE). We’re in a different time. The publishing industry is a far, far different animal then when paranormal romance made its mark. Different times call for different approaches.
And when mega-publishers like Harlequin start creating digital arms, you know change is in the air.
So why should authors writing a niche subgenre like SFR view traditional publishers as the only brass ring in town? In the time it would take to submit and hear back from 50 agents (if even that many will look at SFR submissions), an author could conceivably have written three four, five, six, or even seven shorts/novellas and sold them to epubs/small press publishers. And have made money from them within a year’s time!
Can we ignore that kind of math?
Here’s some math that will shed more light on the situation from Everything You Wanted to Know About Digital Publishing But Were Afraid To Ask: A Q&A With Maya Banks:
It is absolutely true that last year I made more in digital publishing than I did with Harlequin, Berkley and Ballantine combined. (and the year before too) I think I nudged out thethree publishers by about 20k. I grossed about 600k so you can do the math there.
How does a 30k advance from a traditional print publisher stack up against 600k in ebook sales? 600k wipes the floor with 30k, that’s how. That’s also the type of “top” worth an author’s blood, sweat, and tears. I doubt Ms. Banks made any kind of advance on her first ebook, but it seems to me her risk (and hard work) paid off.
Here’s some more math (of the anecdotal kind): I have more sci-fi romance to read than ever before—with no thanks to Big 6 publishers. 99.9% of my new release TBR pile is SFR ebooks. In fact, I recently learned about three ebook sales within the same week—and that’s just what came to my inbox. Digital publishers have a much faster turnaround time than traditional print ones.
So, authors, if you want me and other SFR fans to read your books sooner rather than later, think about which strategy is more in your favor.
I propose that we forget about thinking in terms of “top.” SFR is a subgenre that demands a more creative kind of strategy. Like going sideways. Or diagonal.
Key elements of said strategy include, but aren’t limited to, the following:
*First and foremost, build sci-fi romance in the digital market. Feed the fish in the small pond until it’s too large to ignore.
*Take advantage of the freedom digital publishing offers to tell the stories you really want to write.
*Submit your SFR manuscripts where they’re wanted—needed—by folks who Get It. They already know this subgenre’s worth. They are also fans. With epubs, the doors are already open. You can’t beat that kind of validation.
*Treat the publication of SFR books like a business. There’s a creative side, a business side, and a marketing side. New markets and new technology demand the development of new skills. Learn them, or risk being left behind.
*Use the existing—and free—resources. The Web is loaded with information about navigating the ebook market at no cost to you. Have questions about epub contract terms? Plenty of authors are happy to help out. Have a sale to announce? Enlist those with blogs/Twitter/Facebook/Google + networks to help spread the word. And so on.
*Pay it forward by helping other authors in the same fashion (probably one of the most important strategies).
Undoubtedly for many writers, it’s a challenge to wrap one’s mind around the shift from the traditional publishing model to new ones. The publishing industry is in a period of transition. There are so many choices to make and goals to re-evaluate.
While print contracts are a laudable goal, and power to the authors who make it there, for most others it’s not realistic anymore. But that’s where the power of ebooks comes in. My hope is that by redefining the brass ring for science fiction romance, we (readers and authors) can benefit from a new approach to making this subgenre a success.
Whatever your thoughts on this subject, I would love to hear them.