Earlier this year, I moved house. That involved packing my books into eight large boxes. I lugged those boxes out of my house, into the back of a van, and then into my new flat. It was crippling work, and I decided there and then that there had to be a better way of owning books. Whilst I have always been a huge fan of physical books, they just take up so much space. Whether it’s moving house, or going on holiday, it is clear that even paperbacks are heavy and take up a lot of space.
This summer, I visited the USA. Whilst in a Target store, I saw, and fell in love with, the Kindle. I bought two straight away, and when I got back to my hotel room, opened one. What immediately struck me was the quality of the screen. I thought that a printed sticker had been placed on the screen, because the text looked just like print. I was shocked – yes, shocked – when I realised that what I was seeing was not print at all – but the actual display of the Kindle. The text was so sharp, crystal clear, and, well, black!
The next task was to begin buying books. It was just so easy. I turned the Kindle on, clicked through to the store on the device itself and began selecting books. When I found a selection I wanted to buy, I clicked once, and within seconds, the books were on my device.
And it was so compact! By the end of my three weeks in the States, I had purchased about twenty books. Ordinarily, I would have needed a suitcase just to get my books back to the UK, and it would have cost me a fortune in excess baggage. Not with the Kindle, though. I had my light, slimline device, which I just dropped into my carry on bag. I was then able to sit on the plane reading to my heart’s content. The battery life is just so good that a long haul flight is no trouble for it at all.
By the time I returned home, I was convinced that I had seen the future of reading, and became positively evangelical about the Kindle to the extent that my friends began asking if I was on commission! (I was not, and am not!)
Then I began thinking of the implications of the Kindle for me as I writer. I had just finished writing a book, and had begun the arduous process of trying to secure an agent. My heart dropped, as I had been through this exact process with my first novel, Beyond the Door. I had tried for months and months to find an agent, had sent off a huge number of letters and opening chapters, and met with no success at all. Having not managed to find an agent, I tried to find a publisher. This time I sent out literally hundreds of letters, all of which came back with a negative response. I had just about given up hope when I finally secured a publisher.
I was lucky, and Beyond the Door was moderately successful. It certainly did not make me enough money to live off, but I made a few pounds. The problem is that once a book is published, there is no guarantee that it will ever reach a bookshop. There is to all intents and purposes only one ‘proper’ book retailer in the UK now, and that is Waterstones. If an author is extremely lucky, Waterstones might buy a book in bulk and place it at the front of the store as part of a three for two offer. More likely, though, it they even decide to buy it, is that it will sit in the “A to Z by Author” section at the back of the store for a few weeks, until the manager decides it won’t sell and it gets sent off for pulping.
Even if a book makes it into print, there is no guarantee whatsoever that it will sell. Even if it does, there’s not a lot of money to me made. I made £1 a copy on Beyond the Door. At that rate, an author has to sell an awful lot of books in order to make anything approaching a living.
Writing a book can take years of hard slog. (It took me four years to write Beyond the Door). Trying to get a book published can take years. Getting the book onto the shelves of a retailer can take years. Once there, it might sell a few copies and earn the author a few pounds before it disappears to make room for a newer book.
With the Kindle, though, or more particularly the Kindle store, I see a revolution in the process of buying books. Amazon enable anyone to submit a book to the Kindle store. At a stroke, the publisher disappears from the process. An author can write a book, stick it on the Kindle store, and within days of completing the book, it is available for sale and potentially making money for the writer. What’s more, with no costs to produce a physical book and no publisher to take a substantial cut, an author can potentially make more money per copy through the Kindle store than through a traditional retailer. An author therefore needs to sell fewer copies to make more money. What a fantastic situation to be in!
Of course, there is still the problem of promotion. A good publisher, who recognises the talent of an author, will help to promote a book, providing publicity and opportunities for the author to meet the general public. With the Kindle store, it is very much down to the author to promote their own book. And promotion is of vital importance. By making it so easy for anyone to sell a book, Amazon have ensured that hundreds of new books are hitting their metaphorical shelves every day. That means that if you and I submit a book, we find ourselves jostling for sales amongst many other authors, some of whom will be better than us, many of whom will no doubt be considerably worse writers than us. I firmly believe, though, that as with anything, the cream will rise to the surface, and, if our books are any good, they will sell.
As an experiment, I uploaded the text of Beyond the Door to the Kindle store. It had been out of print for several years, so I had nothing to lose. I’m not arrogant enough to claim that Beyond the Door is the greatest work of children’s fiction, but it did do moderately well in print form. Would it sell in the Kindle store? Well, with practically no promotion whatsoever, it is indeed selling. Not in huge volumes at the moment, and not enough for me to make a huge amount of money, but it is selling nevertheless, and I am earning money as a result.
If that’s possible with an old children’s book (I wonder how many children even own Kindles? I suspect not many), then I wonder what the potential is for selling fiction for a more adult market.
This month, therefore, I have decided to put to one side my literary masterpiece. If I am going to be successful as a writer, I need to earn money to pay the bills. (I can’t live off my wife’s earnings forever, after all!) Writing a masterpiece, finding an agent, securing a publishing deal, getting a book into print and into bookshops could take years – during which I will not be earning money. I decided that there must be a better way. I have therefore begun writing a novel specifically for the Kindle (and other eReaders). I’m going to write it as quickly as I possibly can and, as a consequence, try to make it topical. As soon as I have completed it, I will get it proofread, tweak anything that needs tweaking, correct anything that needs correcting, and get it out there for sale as an eBook as quickly as I possibly can. Then I’ll begin the process again, and get another eBook written and onto the store, and then another, and another, and another, the theory being that the more books I have available, the better. If I have one book in the Kindle store, people might buy it and like it. If I have five, or ten, or twenty, hopefully anyone who buys a book I’ve written and enjoyed it will buy another. Hopefully they’ll also tell their friends. The hypothesis, then, is quite simple. The more books I write, the more I sell, and the more money I make. I don’t expect to be a millionaire anytime soon, but it would be nice to make enough money to pay the bills.
That all depends, of course, on my books being any good, and people actually enjoying them. I’m currently thirty per cent of the way through my first new novel, however, and I am absolutely thrilled with how it’s going. But more on that in a future post.
I really do believe that I have seen the future of publishing, and it is the eBook. Why bother with a traditional publisher when it is possible to publish books quicker and easier without them, whilst also making more money? It looks to me like it’s going to be eBooks all the way from here on in.