‘In the book business all success is really just back pay.’
When the potential of the Internet dawned on the general public, there was talk about how traditional publishing would soon be a thing of the past.
Pundits also predicted that television would kill film, that film would kill live theatre and that radio would be killed by all of them.
None of these predictions has come true, and the Web does not look set to destroy traditional publishing, but it does offer the most enormous potential market for the professional writer.
The Pluses of Writing for the Web
In the business writing field there are all those websites that need professionals to design and write them.
In the magazine field there are the specialist e-zines, catering for just as diverse a marketplace as the traditional printed journals.
For fiction writers there is the possibility of downloading your work direct to your readers with minimal interference from publishers and other middlemen by using publishing sites like Lulu.com and Authorhouse.co.uk.
By actually creating finished books out of your work they are giving you something that you can show to other potential customers. Even if you don’t manage to make any money with that particular publication, you will still have demonstrated your seriousness and your determination and taken a first small step forward.
These websites all operate slightly differently from each other, and doubtless there will be many other new business models appearing over the next few years.
Most will not have time to make any serious editorial input into your work. They may not even have the time to read it before agreeing to publish. So the quality of the product is going to be down to you, with none of the safety nets traditionally supplied by publishers, editors and proofreaders.
The golden rule would seem to be that you should only link in with companies who don’t make any money until they sell your book for you (the traditional publishing business model), which means you should not pay anyone any fees for the privilege of being published by them.
Stephen King led the way for online publishing with a novel that he posted on the Net a chapter at a time. He managed to hook over half a million readers, which would have made most of us very happy, though it made him decide it wasn’t worth persevering.
The Minuses of Writing for the Web
The reason why people logged on to King’s work was because of his branding; he was already famous. He has a huge tribe of loyal followers and everything he does is extensively written about in the media. Everyone knew the book was there.
That is the essence of the problem for everyone else. You can certainly put your work on the Net, but how do you steer people towards finding it, when there is so much other stuff already there?
No one has yet come up with a convincing answer to this.
The Web is still pioneer territory for writers. Many are managing to find niches into which to sell their material, but most are using it as a way to promote their existing work to a new and bigger audience.
Be a Pioneer: Start Web Writing Today
If you have access to the Internet and time to explore, then do just that.
There are a lot of other people doing the same, but this doesn’t mean that you won’t come up with a market for your work that no one has ever thought of before.
It might well be worth joining websites like myspace.com in order to show your work to like minded-people who just might become fans and start to spread the word.
These sites are better known for providing exposure for musicians, singers and songwriters, but there is no reason why the same recipe shouldn’t work for other types of writing.
Hunt out the marketplaces of the future.
Is the Web an Infinite Resource for Writing?
No, it probably isn’t infinite, but we certainly aren’t using it to anything like its full capacity yet.
The use of e-mails and websites is bound to become more sophisticated and commonplace in the next few years as we all grow more accustomed to the technology.
But it may be the niche-marketing potential of the medium which will be most useful to freelance writers in helping you identify individuals who would be interested in hearing whatever it is you have to say.
Say you’ve written a learned book on the future of Britain’s education system.
Traditionally it would be marketed by copies being sent out for review and possibly some public relations activity to create controversy. Copies would be stacked up in bookshops (if you’re lucky) on the off chance that people will either come in and ask for it or will spot it as they browse around the shop. This is all very haphazard and deeply reliant on luck.
Supposing, however, you went on to the Internet and found a way of reaching everyone who’d ever registered an interest in education, or who listed their profession as teacher.
Let’s imagine you were then able to get a précis of your book on their screens, with a button to press that would take them directly to Amazon or some other on-line bookshop, or which would download the book directly to their printer.
That already happens, of course, but we’re still in the early stages of the system’s evolution. Few of us fully understand what’s happening out there or how to exploit it most effectively.
I’m certain, however, that our basic instincts for rationalisation and organisation will eventually make the Internet as accessible as any library, bookshop or supermarket.
We’ll establish marketing methods of such precision that every book will be brought quickly and cheaply to the attention of every person who has ever shown or expressed an interest in the subject or the author.
If you’ve managed to build up a following with one book, and you have a website that your fans pop into from time to time, it will not be hard to sell them another book through the same medium.
Stephen King was selling his book just as a television series producer sells future episodes, using cliffhangers, and in much the same way as Charles Dickens sold his stories through popular magazines over a century ago. It’s bound to be one way forward for any successful author.
E-Books: To Write or Not To Write?
There are already publishers like Lulu.com creating books online that can be printed on demand. This is definitely a trend that will grow, but will probably only benefit authors in certain sectors.
Printing on demand is, exactly as it sounds, a system that does not print up a finished book until the customer puts in an order.
The big problem for traditional publishers has always been the expense of committing to a large print run of a book before they know whether or not it will sell in large quantities.
With e-books, if only ten people want to buy your book only ten copies are printed. Consequently there will be no unsold copies that have to be transported, warehoused and eventually pulped.
Advances in technology mean that printing a book from a computer can be done in a matter of hours, rather than the days or weeks that publishers traditionally had to wait if sudden demand made a reprint necessary.
It’s a relatively cheap way to publish, so the barriers to entry are low.
Anyone can set themselves up as an e-publisher with virtually no capital. It’s likely, therefore, that the industry will be flooded very quickly, if it isn’t already.
Projects like novels will have a very hard time getting noticed among the competition, particularly if most of the famous names are still publishing their wares through the more traditional methods.
If you have a work of fiction that has failed to find a conventional publisher, then an e-publisher could be the next step. But that in itself suggests that all the slush piles in all the publishing houses and agents’ offices are eventually going to find their way on to the Net.
There aren’t going to be enough readers in the world with enough time to make them all successful.
But at least they’re out there and sooner or later some of them are going to hit it lucky and build a word-of-mouth following which will result in them coming to the reading public’s notice.
With non-fiction, particularly reference and schoolbooks, e-publishing may prove more fruitful.
If a school can download copies of a set text from the Net rather than ordering copies from book wholesalers, they may well do so.
If someone is looking for a definitive book on engineering by a professor from Cambridge, they may prefer to spend half an hour on-line finding it and printing it, rather than going out to bookshops to order it and then waiting anything up to a few weeks for delivery (assuming it’s still in print).
E-publishing is a great method of production and delivery, but it still requires the same marketing techniques to bring the books to the attention of potential buyers and to alert them as to how they can get hold of them.