So last week I was completely obsessed with the epic Q&A blog post and comments between Joe Konrath and Steven Zacharius, CEO of Kensington, on Joe’s blog. And when I say epic, I mean that I copied and pasted it into a Word document for easier reading and it was over 20,000 words. That’s a novella, folks. But the back and forth was so fascinating that I just had to read it all. I recommend that you do too, right here.
There were so many good points on either side. Points that could be used to prove one or the other points of view about which is “better”, traditional publishing or self-publishing and which you as a writer should pursue. Steven made the point over and over that only a teensy, tiny handful of self-published authors sell over 100,000 copies of a book and that most will never sell more than 1000 copies. Joe argued back that self-published writers don’t need to sell that many books to make a living of it and that the terms offered to authors by trad publishing amount to highway robbery. Steven fired back that most self-published authors don’t “make it”, and Joe countered by saying it’s an illusion to say most trad published authors DO make it, because those who never get a book deal in the first place aren’t counted. If you count the authors whose careers die on the slush pile, it evens up the chance of making it a lot more.
Anyhow, I’ll let you read the whole conversation. It was cool. But there was one point that both sides left out. I kept waiting to for someone to bring it up, but I don’t recall that either of them ever did. Ironic too, because it’s one of the key reasons I love self-publishing and wouldn’t really consider a traditional offer. And that reason is content.
It’s something that doesn’t get talked about a lot, but in my humble opinion, the best thing about self-publishing is that people are writing and publishing strange and unusual stories that push the envelope and think outside of the box. Yes, some of it is weird. I have no interest in reading monster porn, for example, but wow, does it sell a lot! A less extreme example and something I’ve read and enjoyed a lot more of myself is gay and lesbian romance. I think, and someone can correct me if I’m wrong, the bulk of the gay/lesbian romance I’ve seen out there is self-published or small press published. I don’t see traditional publishing as the leader in that newish genre, because I think they wouldn’t even consider it as an option.
Of course, I think it goes a little beyond that. It goes beyond what trad publishing thinks it can sell, actually. I think it all goes back to the advice I was given over and over back in my days of writing query letters. They tell you when you’re submitting a manuscript or an idea to an agent or a publisher to list your “comps”, also known as the books or authors who are like you. They also tell you that you should be able to define the genre that your story fits into.
What about all those fresh, original, wild ideas that don’t exactly fit into the box? There are stories out there that defy genre. It used to be that you would have a hard time selling them because no agent in their right mind would take on a book or author that they couldn’t turn around and classify to a publisher. But there are stories that are cutting edge, stories that are now being published because all the author needs to do is write a compelling blurb for the back of the book describing the story and choose a couple of categories that it could fit into and some keywords to match. And that, my friends, is what I see as the best thing about self-publishing.
My theory is that the next big hot genre will emerge from a handful of self-published authors writing something that is just plain strange. Or at least we think it’s strange now. It makes me wonder how the trend of writing YA dystopia, like The Hunger Games or Divergent started, or how the mid-20th century fantasy trend started by Tolkein and C.S. Lewis and others took off. And we all know how the current craze for BDSM erotica started. That was a self-published author, by the way. My prediction is that in the future of publishing, trends like these will be started by nimble self-published authors who don’t need to seek approval before publishing something truly out there. These same authors will have the ability to get four or five or more books into publication before trad pub catches up. And by the time it does, will we have moved on?
So that’s what I think. What do you think? Do you think it’s a realistic prediction of the future of genre popularity? What big sub-genre is going to hit next?