The Kindle Store: The New Slush Pile?


We have spoken on this blog several times about what the future holds for agents in a world where publishers are disintermediated by the dominance of e-books and the marginalisation of bookstores.

Some agents are responding to the fall in advances and the collapse of print by seeking alternative revenue streams: editing services, creative writing classes, and, worst of all, becoming publishers.

However, it’s now becoming very clear that some agents have decided that the time spent dealing with the fire-hose of submissions would be better spent scouring the Amazon rankings for indie writers.

When I suggested this on a writing forum, I was told to “get real”. Some people are so scared of the changes occurring in the publishing industry that they are willing to go on record and deny basic, provable facts.

Noah Lukeman has been closed to submissions for some time. That in itself is not surprising, a simple glance at the list of awards his clients have won will tell you that this an agent in demand. What is notable is that he is now signing self-publishers.

The powerhouse agency Trident Media Group have been extremely vocal about what a terrible idea it is for agents to become publishers. What are they doing instead? They have signed five self-published writers this year.

To anyone who still doubts that this is occurring, or that it’s becoming more common, here are a list of self-published writers that have been approached by, and signed by, New York agents in the last twelve months: Mel Comley, LC Evans, Victorine Lieske, Scott Neumyer, Amanda Hocking, John Locke, Linda Welch, Lynda Hillburn, Christopher Smith, Nancy Johnson, Colleen Houck.

On top of those eleven writers, several more have been approached by publishers directly (both foreign and domestic), or have been approached by agents but haven’t signed anything yet. Over half were signed in the last three months.

This is far from an exhaustive list. This was an hour’s research on one self-publishing forum. I’m sure there are lots more. It doesn’t include indie writers who snagged an agent through querying with their impressive sales numbers, and it obviously doesn’t include successful indie writers who have no interest in retaining an agent.

I’m not sure why anyone would argue against this. It makes perfect sense. If a self-published writer is in the Top 200, they have something special on their hands. They have built a huge audience, often with no expenditure other than time.

Smart agents will realise that even though they have sold thousands of e-books, they haven’t come close to saturating the market yet. After all, over 70% of sales are still in print, and most indies either don’t bother with a print version, or haven’t been able to get it into stores.

And even if you go further down the rankings, and the quality becomes a little more uneven, it has to be better than looking through the dreck that makes up most slush-piles. On top of that, there is always the chance that you will catch a rising indie star before they have fully broken out.

I don’t want to get into the discussion now about whether writers should have agents at all. That’s a whole other can of worms, and I’m not opening it today.

Let’s just assume, for the purposes of this discussion, that any writer who’s smart enough to get a self-published book into the Top 200 is smart enough to make that decision for themselves, and to educate themselves about all the pitfalls surrounding contracts and whatnot.

That said, this development raises a number of questions for self-publishers. First is, do you even want a publishing deal? This might seem like a stupid question, but for writers that have been through the trade publishing mill, and have switched over to self-publishing, this is a real question.

They are enjoying the creative control, the reduced time to market, the lack of restrictions on titles released per year, the freedom to write anything, and, of course, the far superior royalty rates. Also, they have built an audience in print, and a trade deal wouldn’t have the advantage of exposing them to as many new readers.

However, for indie writers who haven’t been trade published before, there is at least 70% of the market they haven’t tapped yet. For them, a print deal with a large house that can get their books in stores across America, and boost their profile with a promotional push in mainstream media, is a very attractive proposition.

The main question for these writers is, what are you willing to give up for a print deal? Reduced royalties are a given. But are you willing to take your e-book off the market before a deal is signed? Are you willing to restrict your output? How much control are you willing to cede over the creative process? Can you still self-publish other work, and what restrictions will there be on that?

These are all tough questions, and each indie writer in this position will have to answer them for themselves. Obviously, the terms of the deal will be a big factor. But it’s not all about money. Would a big cheque be enough for you to risk losing the audience you have carefully built up by having no new work out for at least a year?

Ovolution & Other Stories by JJ Toner

Fellow Irishman – and all-round good egg – JJ Toner has released his first e-book, a collection of ten fun, humorous science-fiction shorts (although you get a lot of story in each one).

I bought it the other day, read the first one yesterday, and will enjoy dipping into the rest over the next week. If you like surreal, absurd stories, if you like science-fiction that’s not afraid to crack a smile, or if you like Douglas Adams or Grant Naylor (Red Dwarf), then you are sure to enjoy these.

Check them out at Amazon, Amazon UK, and Smashwords, and follow his blog here.

Let’s Get Digital

I still haven’t sent the manuscript off to the editor, but I have a good excuse. I’ve been playing around with the structure, but I think I’ve got it now.

The first part will be called “The Digital Revolution” and will encompass a lot of the themes I have been writing about on this blog: the challenges facing the publishing industry, piracy, the future for agents and booksellers, Amazon and so on.

This will be followed by a brief section on how you can make money in this changing climate with information on submitting to agents and publishing houses, short story magazine markets, and, of course, the various places where you can sell self-published work.

Next up is the heart of the book, a hands-on guide to digital self-publishing. This will be familiar to any of you who have been following my series INDIE PUBLISHING FOR INTERNATIONAL WRITERS, except all the information will be updated, rewritten, professionally edited, and put in a slightly more logical order.

The final section was a last-minute addition, and it’s called “Success Stories”. First, I thought of writing about 10 or 20 indie writers who have all achieved success in one way or another. Then, I thought it would be much better if we heard it from them directly, in their own words.

I have some amazing contributors who have generously agreed to take part, but I can’t reveal their identities just yet. But trust me, these stories are going to look amazing side-by-side, and I can’t wait to show them to you. The release date is pencilled in for the last week of the June.

And, as I mentioned before, the whole 50,000 word e-book will be available free in PDF format here on this blog. If you want a version that will work on your e-reader or smartphone, you will have to pay $2.99 for it.

I’m aware that this might be unfair for anyone with eyesight difficulties, and I am trying to come up with a solution. I’m toying with the idea of relying on the honesty of the general public, and asking those with eyesight difficulties to email me, and I will send them the mobi or epub file free of charge. If anyone has a better idea (and there’s got to be a better idea), please let me know.

I think the free version has a very good chance of being popular, especially considering that it’s based on a blog which has had over 11,000 views in its first two months.

I’m hoping that those that find the free version useful, will either spring for the paid version, gift it to someone else, or purchase on of my other titles. I will have costs to cover, and I may end up making a loss on it.

But if the free version is hugely popular, that will be its own reward.