Monday, December 27, 2010

A Bedtime Story

Once upon a time, there was a writer named Joe.

Joe very much wanted to make a living writing stories. But the market was very difficult to break into. It was controlled by the Gatekeeper, who was very picky, often arbitrarily so, about what he allowed to be published.

When Joe got out of college, he wrote his first novel. The Gatekeeper rejected it. So Joe wrote another one, and the Gatekeeper rejected that one too. Then Joe wrote a third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, a seventh, an eighth, and a ninth, but the Gatekeeper didn't like any of them.

Finally, after trying for over 12 years, and getting more than 500 rejections, the Gatekeeper bought Joe's tenth novel for $33,000.

Joe was very happy. Though it wasn't a lot of money, it allowed him to write full time, which had always been his dream.

But now Joe needed to make sure his dream wouldn't whither and die on the vine. He knew he had to sell a lot of books, or else the Gatekeeper could become fickle and turn his back on Joe.

So Joe worked hard to make sure he sold as many books as he could. He visited forty states in the US, and signed books in over 1200 bookstores. He created a popular blog. He spoke at hundreds of libraries, book fairs, and conferences.

But even though Joe's books sold well, they didn't sell well enough for the Gatekeeper, and Joe was dropped.

So Joe changed his name, and sold a book for $20,000. He worked very hard to make that book a success, traveling to over 200 bookstores, appearing on over 100 blogs in a single month.

The Gatekeeper seemed happy, but wanted changes in Joe's next book. Joe didn't want to make these changes. After all, he was the writer, not the Gatekeeper. But the Gatekeeper insisted, so once again Joe found himself without a publisher.

So Joe changed his name again, and sold another book... for $6000. He knew this was a small amount of money, but he also knew that he'd make it back very fast, because his other books had earned out their advances. Joe didn't understand why the Gatekeeper was being so fickle and cheap, when his books were selling well and making money. But then, there were a lot of things about the Gatekeeper that didn't make sense. And it wasn't like Joe had a choice. If he wanted to make a living, he had to take whatever crumbs the Gatekeeper offered.

In the meantime, Joe began selling some of his early, rejected books as ebooks on his website. When fans told Joe they couldn't read these on their new Kindle devices because the format was incompatible, Joe went to Amazon and uploaded the ebooks there.

Soon, Joe was making over $1000 a month on Kindle.

Joe was shocked by this. He thought the only way to make a living as a writer was with the Gatekeeper. The Gatekeeper offered advances. The Gatekeeper did the editing and the cover art. And most importantly, the Gatekeeper controlled distribution. There was no way to reach readers without the Gatekeeper.

But ebooks didn't need to be distributed in the same way print books were. So the Gatekeeper wasn't needed.

Because the Gatekeeper wasn't needed, writers could make a much better royalty rate.

The Gatekeeper gave Joe standard royalty rates. 8% on paperbacks. 10% - 15% on hardcovers. 17.5% on ebooks.

But on his own, self-publishing, Joe could earn 70% royalty rates. Instead of earning $2.50 on a Gatekeeper published $25 hardcover, Joe could earn $4.50 on a $14 trade paperback if he did it himself. Instead of earning $1.75 on a Gatekeeper published $9.99 ebook, Joe could earn $2.04 on a self-pubbed $2.99 ebook.

As the year went on, Joe's ebooks, and ebooks all over, began to sell in greater and greater numbers. Joe went from making $1000 a month, to $3000, then $6000, then $16,000.

Joe realized he could make more money without the Gatekeeper. He could write the books he wanted to, and he could publish them when they were finished, rather than having to wait a year for the Gatekeeper to publish them.

He didn't have to rely on the Gatekeeper getting him reviews, or buying coop space in bookstores, or sending him on tour, or offering discounts. He didn't have to compete for shelf space with the bestselling authors the Gatekeeper pushed.

For the first time ever, Joe had control.

And a funny thing happened. Once Joe didn't have the Gatekeeper determining his future, he became more successful than he ever dreamed.

Joe began to blog about what he was doing. He posted his sales figures. He encouraged other authors to self-publish. He got more publicity than he ever had in the past, all on his own.

Joe was very happy. He no longer had to worry about appeasing the Gatekeeper in order to get another contract. He no longer got paid only twice a year. He no longer had to cut things out of his books he didn't want to cut, or change his titles, or have zero say in cover art.

Joe was selling more books, making more money, and reaching more people than he ever had in the past, and he didn't have to go on any crazy two-month-long book tours, or mail out 7000 letters to libraries.

Best of all, Joe never worried about getting rejected ever again. Joe realized he was the brand, not the Gatekeeper. His fans would follow him, and retailers like Amazon and Smashwords and Barnes and Noble and Apple and Sony and Kobo and Borders and Android would allow Joe to find even more fans.

But the story doesn't end there. The Gatekeeper is still controlling the industry. Still looking for new writers, offering them 17.5% ebook royalties while he takes 52.5%. Still treating authors badly, while claiming they should be grateful. Still playing by the old rules, even though there are now new ones. Still trying to stay relevant in a changing industry and a dying business model.

But Joe knows that writers will eventually wise up. Why should authors live from advance to advance, hoping to get another contract? Why put up with heartache, depression, and abuse, when authors can, for the very first time, take control of their own career?

To put it another way, why sell your cow to a dairy for one lump sum, when you could make money forever if you just keep the cow and sell the milk yourself?

Joe began to preach this to writers. He preached long and loud. He wanted to spare his peers the angst and worry and pain and depression he went through while dealing with the Gatekeeper.

And writers began to listen.

Now Joe has a problem.

He doesn't have enough time in the day to answer all of the email he gets from authors, who want to thank him because they too have decided to self-publish. It seems like Joe wasn't the only one fed up with the Gatekeeper, and thousands of others have followed Joe's journey and embarked on similar journeys of their own.

Joe is humbled by all of the attention he's gotten, and all of the praise and thanks he's received. He's thrilled that so many authors are making money. And he's very excited about the future. Not just for himself, but for writers everywhere.

Once upon a time, there was a writer named Joe. He wanted to make a living writing stories.

Now he does.

Joe has made $22,000 in December, all without the Gatekeeper.

And he's just getting started...