Recently, Amazon announced that an author named John Locke managed to sell one million ebooks on Kindle. (And no, it’s not that John Locke.)
To me, the most interesting fact about all of this isn’t that he did this on Amazon (Kindle), how he structured his prices (99 cents per copy) or what he writes about (mostly detective-stories) but the fact that he did so without a publishing contract!
That’s right. He’s what is generally called a “self-publisher.”
But what is a “self-publisher”?
John Locke wrote on his blog:
“Your friends and relatives know what an author is. To them, it’s the names they see on the shelves of bookstores. The ones who wrote the books that became movies. Until our books start selling, they consider us vanity authors.”
The Proof is in The Pudding
From this perspective, what makes you an author at the end of the day is neither your ability or talent for writing or if you secured a publishing deal or not but the fact whether or not you are selling.
To lonely self-professed geniuses this might come as a blow into the face. For most of us, however, it’s just the way things are.
True, there are historical examples of literary geniuses who lived in extreme obscurity and never made a dime. But that was before the Internet.
The good news for authors nowadays is that you don’t need a publishing contract to become a successful author. Nor do you need heavyweights like Amazon to do the distribution for you (more about this, later).
What you do need, though, is sales. Or downloads, in case it’s free.
In any case, this narrows things down.
From the First Paragraph to the Millionth Sale
There used to be very fixed stages in the production of a book. And not all of them were in the hands of one person.
Nowadays, however, as Seth Godin points out: “the author is the ringleader, cheerleader, ringmaster, organizer and jack of all trades of a process that might not ever end.”
As an independent author you now have the chance to write a book and make millions of sales. But, and that’s the tricky part: Your marketing and distribution has to be just as good (or even better) than the actual writing.
This is where some people cop out and say: “Nah, I’d rather continue being a failed genius before I’ll have to mess with stuff like marketing, myself.”
And while I also wouldn’t recommend putting scantily clad women on all of your book covers, like John Locke did, there is a great need for new distribution and marketing models that fit the changing nature of the game.
A Process That Might Not Ever End
Sometimes, the road to success seems full of holes and without end. But that’s totally fine if you’re not rushing to the finish-line.
In the case of online publishing, this road changes with every step you take. And as much as each provider would like you to see their way as the only and best way to publish ebooks, the big picture remains rather disorganized and… experimental.
The confusion of ebook-formats is just one example. Another one is the chaotic nature of price-structures. Yet another one is the growing amount of SPAM on services like Kindle. What used to be a good place to sell can turn into a swamp, tomorrow.
Furthermore, the boundaries between formats like blogging and book-writing are becoming increasingly blurred. But quintessentially…
The only constant here is change.
This also means that if you tried to reproduce the success of a John Locke by following in his exact footsteps it might become a total failure simply because the rules have changed.
But there’s one thing that you can rely on:
When the masses have moved on to the next “big thing” and the horse (Kindle, Nook, etc.) you bet on breaks down, your connections stay. So does your writing.
Whatever format you choose for your ebook, if you have the right friends you’ll swim where others sink.
Making “friends” on Twitter or Facebook works. But what’s even better is connecting outside of these platforms. Forming direct ties and alliances by building webs of connected authors and their blogs that work together like peer-to-peer networks bristling with high quality independent ideas and writing!