New Paradigms in Publishing: Creativity from the Business End of Books
So, I am a writer.
I have no problem saying that. I know many creative types that hold back on calling themselves “writers”, “painters”, “sculptors”, etc. Why? Because they may not make a living at it. And we are defined by how we make a living, right?
We define ourselves. And even though I have a day job that pays the bills (almost), I define myself as a writer because that is what I do. I write. I create. I put words on the screen and that turns into paper books and ebooks that I sell. Can I support my family that way? No. But Van Gough couldn’t support himself with his painting alone and he is called a painter. I write therefore I am. Or something like that.
But, beyond the defining name of writer, I am also a businessman. An entrepreneur, if you will. I make half my income from my writing. That’s a pretty big deal. I have always, for most of my life, looked for the perfect small business to start. I’ve had a vegetarian jerky company (true story, tasty jerky), I have been an independent sales rep, and I have a massage school degree. But it wasn’t until writing happened for me did I find my business niche.
Who knew being creative would actually pay off?
The thing is, with writing as a business, is that there is no manual or plan that leads to success. Is there with other businesses? To a certain degree, yes. If you open a café in a good location, with a good menu, and good prices, and good marketing (and work your ass off) then you will have good success. With writing, though, you can have a great novel at a great price and have great marketing, but it can still flounder. Why?
That’s the thing about publishing, which is really the business I am in, no one has a freaking clue what will sell and what won’t.
This is why I have opened my writing career up to my fans and readers and I’m asking them to choose my next novel. (You can read all about it here). Since no one, from massive multinational publishing megagiant to little ole self-publisher, knows what will be a hit and what will be a miss I realized that I needed to go to the source. I had to ask the readers what they wanted instead of writing my next novel and forcing it on them in the hopes it is exactly what they are looking for.
What I’m doing isn’t so revolutionary. Many industries have focus groups after focus groups and take poll after poll to see what their customers want. You think Taco Bell just happened to throw the Doritos Taco up on the menu for shits and giggles? No way, Jose. They market tested that puppy before the first one was even wrapped and handed to a salivating code monkey. But, for a writer to hand over the direction of their next project to the readers? Crazy mad!
Or is it?
Why wouldn’t I ask? Why would I waste a couple months on a novel that only a small percentage of my fans want to read? Why go to all the expense of publishing something that may or may not sell? Isn’t that really madness?
Ah, there is the key. Gambling. It is well known in publishing that you aren’t in the book business. You are in the gambling business. And I don’t gamble. My game of choice? Poker. That’s not gambling. Not when you know how to play. I hate gambling. It’s a waste of time and money. I want to know I have at least some control over the outcome. Random throw of the dice? Watching a ball spin, spin, spin until it stops on whatever number/color it stops on? Pull a lever and pray? Come on 21? Nope, not for me.
Does my novel experiment have risks? Sure. Everything does. There are no sure things in life. If you are told otherwise then you are being lied to. No such thing as sure things. Chaos rules existence and always will. But I fancy myself a chaos surfer. I like to hop in and see where I end up. That is why I have taken the risk of handing my creative direction to hundreds of people I may or may not even know. Most of them I do not know. They are total strangers.
But they are readers, fans, customers.
Is the customer always right? No, of course not. But they are the ones with the dollars in hand and how they spend those dollars, that process of exchanging money for goods, is always right. I’m just hoping the customers’s/fans’s/readers’s choice of my next novel matches their desire to exchange money for the goods.
If it doesn’t Well then it was a good experiment and I’m just right back where I started. Just hanging out with all the writers, publishers, agents, book industry folks, waiting to see what novel hits the wall and sticks. Either way I am cool.
Because I’m a writer. And I’ll still get to write. And that is what matters.
Editors note added on May 5, 2013~
Jake’s readers and fans have selected his next novel and you can pre-order it HERE.