Saturday, March 14, 2015

From Typewriter to eBook

After many years in the wilderness, eBooks changed it all.

Back in the Typewriter Days

I took my first real serious stab at writing way back in 1984. I was always reading a lot of novels, especially Horror, which was huge back in the 80s. I'm not really sure how the idea came about, but I decided to try writing a novel in my favourite genre of the time. Apart from the experience of reading other writers' books, I had no idea what I was doing. Somehow I managed to put together some semblance of a book. It ended up being way too short for a full-length novel, coming in at a word count of less than 45,000.

In hindsight the book really sucked and I feel quite embarrassed to think back on what I wrote then. But still, I felt quite pleased with myself at the time. So much so that I hurriedly scribbled a very naive cover letter and shipped the 'typed' manuscript off to the biggest book publisher in Australia at the time: Pan Books in Sydney. To my surprise I received a reply from them in about 10 days.

Instead of the return of a rejected manuscript I received a letter with the Pan Books logo emblazoned on the top left corner. My heart hammered in my chest as I prepared to rip it open and read the contents. After all, it was obviously a letter of acceptance, right? Otherwise they would be returning the whole manuscript. I smiled as I confidently opened the letter. This writing and publishing gig was easy. I'd managed to ace it on my very first attempt. I was destined for literary greatness and riches. Everything I'd heard about the road to getting published being a long, tedious and frustrating one was obviously very wrong. Or perhaps I was just a writer of extraordinary talent. Gifted even.

The smile slipped off my face when I read the letter's contents. It was a rejection letter, the first of many more to come. The only reason I wasn't tearing open my returned manuscript in sheer humiliation was because I'd been too dumb and inexperienced to include return postage. My delusions of grandeur (who doesn't love a cliché?) were evaporating quickly in the summer heat.

Dejected, I sat down on my bed and stared at the pile of typed pages. I'd put so much time and effort into this story. What was wrong with these publishers? How could they possibly not want to publish my masterpiece? Were they too dim to realise this book was a potential bestseller?

I actually overcame the disappointment fairly rapidly. Okay, so this first publisher didn't want my book. They weren't the only publishers in the world. I would keep trying.

Bitten By the Writing Bug

I had a taste for writing fiction now, so I soon started work on a second novel, and then a third in a different genre. All the while I continued to shop my first manuscript around to publishers and agents the world over. I also did a comprehensive writing course which taught me how to write articles and features for magazines and newspapers. I even managed to get a few pieces published as a freelancer and received cheques in the mail for my efforts. Things were looking up a little and my confidence was growing. Although I enjoyed writing the nonfiction pieces and got a buzz when I saw them in print, what I really had a passion for was writing fiction, so I kept on writing novels, trying different genres and ideas, honing my craft and my skills. I was getting better at it, no doubt about it, but still the dream of being published as a novelist was eluding me.

In the end I wrote 13 novels without success and gave up writing for a long time. I was burnt out and disillusioned with the entire process and industry. I'd also spent quite a bit of money sending my manuscripts all over the world, which was a costly process at the time. There was no internet and email back then, and the Australian dollar was so weak against the Greenback that everything sent to the USA was costing me double. It worked out cheaper to photocopy the manuscripts, send a copy and tell the publisher or agent not to bother returning it if not interested, than to include return postage.

Print on Demand Publishing

The advent of POD (Print on Demand) Publishing renewed my interest. Finally there was a way to at least see my books in print and maybe sell a few copies. My last 4 novels had been written on a computer so I had digital files to upload. I joined and published those 4 books, ordered copies and once again marveled at my greatness. At the very least I could now see a nice shiny finished product for all those years of hard work and late nights, square eyeballs and nerves jangling from constant overdoses of caffeine. I did sell the odd copy, but the retail price of a POD book just couldn't compete with those published in the mass market. Still, it was definitely a buzz that a few people were willing to part with their cyber cash to buy my books.

I now had more control over my publishing destiny and, whether I sucked as a writer or not (I honestly don't think I'm too bad), I could put my works out into the marketplace.

The eBook Explosion

Things really started to happen for me in July 2010 when Amazon opened the doors to international authors to publish on their Kindle platform. At the time Apple's iBookstore was just starting to gain some traction as well. Everything was set for a eBook explosion and I was there to take advantage.

I published my 4 novels (those that I'd written on a computer and not typed on a typewriter) as eBooks and also a collection of short stories I'd written. I even broke that book up into its individual stories and published those as well. Immediately I started seeing a few sales within hours of publishing my works, and that gave me a lot of hope that I was finally on the pathway to something good, and possibly profitable as well.

While trying to think of ideas for stories to write up as eBooks, I did a Google search on that subject and ended up finding a humorous blog post about an Erotica author who had managed to snare the Number 1 spot on the iBookstore's Top 100 (or whatever it was at the time). It was just a very short erotic story. Curious, I bought a copy of the story and read it, then read a few others by various authors in the genre. These stories were all extremely short, to the point and pretty much all explicit descriptions of sexual encounters. Most importantly, they were SELLING!

A Change of Direction

Being the genius that I am, ideas of writing this smut myself flooded into my mind. After all, I was a writer, wasn't I? And I had experience too. I'd had sex once or twice in my lifetime, and I'd watched my fair share of porn on the net. Which proved to be highly educational for this style of writing. So I set to work churning out story after story, inventing characters and scenarios and couples and groups having sex in various positions and places. Sometimes there was the hint of a plot, most of the time not. The stories were all too short anyway. For each story I created a sexy cover and blurb and published them on Kindle, Lulu, Apple's iBookstore, as well as Smashwords and their distribution channels. To add even more books to my rapidly expanding portfolio of literary masterpieces, I started grouping the short stories together and selling them as anthologies at a higher price point.

Easy Sales and Easy Money

Sales on the iBookstore started to flood in, especially from the UK. Maybe the Brits are all sex-starved, I don't really know the reason. Sales on Kindle started out rather slowly, but the royalty cheques were getting bigger every month. By March 2011 it felt like it was raining money. I was literally raking in the cash now. I'd finally struck pay dirt after so many years in the publishing wilderness. For all those full-length novels I wrote, all that blood, sweat and tears toiling away for decades with no monetary reward whatsoever, it ended up being these short trashy sex stories that were making me the money.

Rather naively, I thought the sales were just going to keep soaring, making me more and more cash until I had accumulated so much of the stuff that I wouldn't be able to count it. But it didn't work out that way. More and more authors came into the eBook self-publishing game, and more and more decided to write Erotica because it was easy and profitable. Amazon and Apple started getting stricter on what content to allow, authors started dropping their prices to compete in a market that was seeing exponential growth in all facets, books were being given away by the virtual truck load thanks to initiatives like Kindle Select, and authors just wanting exposure for their work.

Today in 2015 things are very different to how it was in my stellar year of 2011. I still make some money and I get by, but I now have triple the amount of material out there than I did 4 years ago and making a tenth of the money if I'm lucky. Still, it was good while it lasted and I feel blessed to be a part of this modern era of Indie publishing.

My Kindle Books

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