I guess you’ve had a chance now to digest the figures from Hugh Howey’s analysis of Amazon data. If you haven’t then you need to. (This post of mine will lead you to it) It changes, confirms and validates so many aspects of self-publishing that it’s hard to focus on it all, so in today’s post I want to discuss the importance of ‘product development and strategy’.
These two terms are obviously ripped directly from a business textbook, but I make no apologies for this. Writing is a business. If you don’t treat it as a business then that’s fine, but the chances are that you’ll possibly always need another job to pay the bills. Again, that’s fine if that’s what you want, if it’s a love thing that you just can’t live without then so be it. But, if you want to earn enough money writing to give up your day job and write full-time, then you need to treat it as a business.
Whatever people say about statistics and the industry, the polarised opinions which are vented from either side, the fact is that there has never been more of an opportunity to make something of your writing than there is right now, but it’s still going to take a lot of effort to succeed.
Apart from the hours and hours of writing that you’ll need to commit to, and the understanding that it’s definitely a long game that you’re signing up for, you’re also going to have to choose the right type of product to produce.
If you own another business then you’d need to make and sell products that people want to buy, otherwise you’ll never be a going concern. It’s the same with books. Although that conflicts with our opinion of the tortured author who sits outside cafes and writes the burning story within. Times are changing in the publishing world and the writer’s world. If we’re going to make enough money to live then we have to make something that people want.
Hugh Howey’s statistics show that genre fiction makes up 70% of what is sold on Amazon, a further 22% is non-fiction and the remaining 8% is made up of the rest, including literary fiction. Genre fiction gets a bad press and some of it is truly terrible, but it appeals to the masses just like The Sun newspaper in the UK outsells The Times 10 to 1.
If we’re creating a business then it would make sense to aim your product at 70% of the market, rather than 8%. A small share of 70% is hell of a lot compared to a small share of 8%.
Hugh Howey’s figures also explain that his ‘Genre’ category is made up of; Crime/Thrillers, Science-Fiction/Fantasy, and Romance. I doubt you’re going to win the Booker with any of this stuff but you’re more likely to shift units.
We all have a choice though about who we want to be. If you want to create books that will change the world, influence opinion, and be highly regarded then you may be best off persevering with the traditional route. Or, continue to produce these books and accept that you’ll need to supplement your income in another way.
As an author, I want my stories to be read by as many people as possible. I want to entertain people for a while. I want to produce more stories to entertain people for longer. In order to fulfil this objective, I will ideally spend as much time as I can writing. To be able to spend this time writing, it must be financially viable. It’s a model which needs to be followed through with conviction.
I can’t afford to ignore these demographics. As self-publishing creates opportunities it also affects the way we write. We’re all individual publishing houses now, and we must look at the world from their perspective. Self-publishing has given me a wonderful opportunity to make a living as a writer and I must now provide what the people want, not necessarily what I think they want.
This sounds so ruthless and non-author-y that I’m quite scared writing it down, but I believe this is the point. The challenge is to maintain your artistic integrity within the commercial parameters of the market. Only by doing this will we all be able to sustain careers.
Until next time…