The Wake Up Call Heard Five Years Ago

WakeupI received a phone call today to tell me that perhaps I should find this article on what I said in a speech and that I should read it. I’m often intrigued by what people say that I said … and in this case what someone said that someone said that someone said that I said.

It gets especially complicated when I get well-meaning advice on why I am wrong for saying something that I didn’t actually say or holding a position which I don’t actually hold. The delightful Betsy Dornbusch was interviewing me at the convention in front of a modest audience. Here is the entertaining, colorfully written quote:

“I have to do more now,” he said finally. A hush went over the audience as Hickman continued to describe the conditions under which authors are laboring under today. One can write 12,000 words and sell it for 4.95, he said. At that price point, his 120,000 novel would have be $49.50, which would be impossible to market.

“I’m fighting for my life as an author,” he admitted frankly, his voice solemn.

He then said that his audience of 6 million no longer find him because the book store is dying. A booksigning in older days would have fans lining around blocks just to have his signature, but a booksigning now might only get six people. “I have a 6 million following,” he said quietly, “and they don’t remember me.”

Now, he works 12-14 hours a day writing four times the books he’s comfortable writing because he makes a fourth of what he used to.

Wow. That was gripping drama! I have to admit that I thought that was a very well written piece of prose for a quote. J. A. Konrath then goes on to offer me well meaning, tough-love advice in ‘A Wake Up Call for Tracy Hickman.’

So here I am picking up a wake-up call five years after I already woke up.

The quote is, as far as it goes, only partially accurate. I am fighting for my life as an author but then those authors who are not are as rare as meteor strikes in my back yard. I do work 12-14 hours a day – but what the quote does not say is that I’m working those hours on self-publishing projects, or on an independent publishing contract I have with ‘Shroud of the Avatar‘, or my own self-promoted serial novels or my more recent successful kickstarter storytelling game project. I engineer my own ebooks, do my own layouts and generate my own epub and mobi format files. I design and provide content for my own websites, book my own appearances and sell my own content through my websites. I even occasionally pick up the phone when people call to tell me with concern that there is an article quoting me on the internet.

And, if you had the time, I could tell you exactly why I think ‘Legacy’ publishing is a dinosaur just begging for extinction.

Let me fill in some of the blanks for you. There is nothing preventing me from writing 12,000 word publications and selling it for $4.95. My actual point is that this very fact spells the death of the ‘Great American Novel’ as we once knew it. I’m a working writer, a professional for thirty years. It’s not a hobby for me; this is my bread, butter and mortgage payment. The economics of words is part of my career. It is precisely this fact that requires me to do exactly what this article asked: write shorter fiction in serialized format in order to be properly compensated for my time, my talent and my three-decades of craft. What perhaps needs to be said is that now that same 120,000 word novel I once sold as a whole now might have to be sold as a five-to seven-volume serial – and now ends up costing those who want to read the entire story that same $49.50 in order to get all of the installments.

I’ll be the first to stand up and say that hardly seems fair to my readers — and that, too, is my point: that the economics of publishing today are messing over writer and reader alike.

And I’ve been serial and self-publishing for years. Visit my website if you would like your own collectible copy of my book series produced entirely as an online serial directly for my subscribers. Alternately, visit the website to see where I’m writing a serial novel for that awesome computer game, itself being published independently. And you’re welcome to visit to see the storytelling board game we successfully kickstarted last year. For that matter, follow me on for the new projects we will be launching this fall.

As for my audience, it’s a dramatic picture that is painted here but inaccurate. Of course my audience remembers me (they’re very bright) but the world today — especially the internet — is a pretty distracting place. Where my readers once looked for my books in the local book store, the B. Daltons and Waldens are now gone from the malls that have vanished with them. The truth is that the old ways in which my readers and I once connected have disappeared. That is why so much of my efforts today are going to reconnecting with my audience in new ways and far more directly. I administer my own mailing list personally. My focus today is to be directly in contact with you here on my website, or through twitter or through my email updates or, better still, through meeting you at conventions and appearances in person. And I am constantly exploring new and innovative ways to do this. I am even developing a new way of doing that very thing more efficiently and effectively than ever before. I may even tell you about it once it’s out of testing at SLC Comic Con FanXperience in a couple of weeks.

The picture of me as a ‘spare-time’ ‘legacy author bemoaning their career’ and ‘stuck in a rut’ is very dramatic but also imagined fiction. I appreciate J. A. Konrath’s honest desire to help and his advice is certainly good. I would advise authors to take it’s lessons to heart – especially since  I’ve already been following it for about half a decade now.

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