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Industry News: Smashwords Founder Says More Will be Spent on Author Services than Books (and other scary predictions)

December 29, 2012

It’s the holidays, so instead of our normal Industry News segment, we’re concentrating today on one specific story.

Mark Coker, Founder of Smashwords

Mark Coker, the guy who founded Smashwords, joined in one of the great traditions of the year-end, namely, making predictions about next year. Although he prefaced his predictions with a sunny, ebullient pep talk, several of the predictions should make you think hard about the business you and I are trying to be part of.

A couple of his predictions aren’t fun, but they’re, well, predictable. There will be even more books than there currently are, and it will be tougher to sell them. Not all of the books will be good, which is where you and I benefit. But it will be harder to get noticed in the avalanche.

Which brings us to a prediction that really shouldn’t be a surprise, but probably is–the money spent on author services will be greater than the money spent on books.

Think about that for a second.

Authors will spend more money working on their books than readers will spend reading them. Basically, Mr. Coker is saying there’s a lure of potential gold for self-published authors. John Locke, Amanda Hocking, etc., etc. made a lot of money. But with more competition and more difficulty in selling, a strong product is more important than ever. And you know you don’t want your deathbed littered by thoughts of what might have been…

Some of the people who will provide these services will be reasonable and ethical. They will view themselves as partners, almost, in your walk toward your literary goals. The Florida Writers Association has a loose confederation with many such providers–some of whom are mentioned periodically on this very blog.

Some will be like the people who sell plywood at enormous mark-ups before a hurricane. While these people may be dirt bags, you really need the plywood and you don’t have the time, money, or truck to drive to Valdosta, Georgia to get some. At least their incredibly overpriced product is something you already need–and everyone knows The Home Depot and Lowe’s sold out days ago.

Except maybe they aren’t sold out. Maybe a new truck arrives every day with plywood from stores in the upper peninsula of Michigan, which doesn’t typically worry about hurricanes. And maybe if you look a little harder, you could find a reputable editor, writing coach, or cover designer who doesn’t require you to mortgage your soul.

And some providers charge gobs of money based on a marketing promise that amounts to nothing. Services you can easily perform yourself, or that add no value. An extreme example is the guy who charged people to deliver their manuscript to JK Rowling. She had no knowledge of this guy and would probably never ready anything delivered to her. She wasn’t his business partner, but he never really claimed that.

As Mr. Coker suggests, maybe you should do it yourself, or consider bartering. Maybe your editor needs some work done around her house and you happen to be handy with a hammer and saw. Maybe you can build your book coach a website in exchange for an in-depth critique.

Maybe you should ask around (if you’re a member of the FWA, use the FWA Network for this) for suggestions of people who can help you out for a reasonable fee.

If Mr. Coker’s prediction is true, writing is a losing business model, where the cost of production exceeds the likely profit. But success in this business has always depended on increasing your odds by learning the rules. Almost no one gets published from the slush pile, so you write a sterling query letter. And though the overall cost of author services may be more than the money spent on the product of those services, it’s important for you to start increase the odds of spending your money wisely.

  1. December 29, 2012 8:13 am

    This is an informative and somewhat dismal state of affairs for todays publishing model. I do believe the are a number of professionals that an author can find through F w a and the chapters thereof that can help a new author hone their skills . Then it’s up to the author if they want to contend with the odds. As we embark on the new year and my third of writing fulltime i question the practicality of sticking with it, often. But I’m sure glad to ha’ve the the folk at FWA to help.

  2. Walter Knight permalink
    December 30, 2012 10:37 am

    How to get noticed among millions? Write for a niche market. Ther will be less customers in your niche, but the Kindle E-book market is in the millions, so it will not matter.

    This is the best time ever to be a new author.

  3. December 30, 2012 10:41 am

    Success in a niche market is like being a big fish in a small pond. Maybe you won’t get rich, but your goal is to be noticed, and make enough money to support yourself in the manner in which you would like to be accustomed. A few thousand a month for starts?

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