Anatomy of a Gold Rush: Reinventing Ourselves in the New eBook Economy

Soon, hopefully this week, I’ll be taking the self-publishing plunge that so many  have taken before me, and I’m nervous.

Some very high-profile people have said time and again that the ebook boom isn’t a gold rush. But recently, I’ve been struck by the collective melancholy in the comments sections of the writing blogs I read. Around 60 to 70% report the same thing: everyone was doing “really well” last year…this year, not so much. And this, on the eve of my venture. Oh, boy.

Thinking I was being paranoid about the whole “gold rush” thing, I did some digging and learned about the life cycle of said gold rush. Double oh, boy. Too close to the present situation for my liking.

Stage One: Gold Panning – This required almost no expertise or cash outlay. All you had to do was hold your pan in a river and you got rich. Can’t tell you how many articles I read in 2010 where someone put up a book with a poorly designed cover and awful prose for .99 cents and made a gazillion dollars without any further effort. And remember all those people who started pet blogs or cooking blogs or cooking with pets blogs who got six-figure book deals? Yeah, me too. Good times. A few of these deals still happen, but they’re rare.

Stage Two: Opportunists Arise – In this stage, all of the people who thought they could get rich off the miners began selling pick axes, pans, and other gear (not to mention some nifty Levis). Remind you of anything? Book cover designers, freelance editors, formatters, PR and marketing firms, pop-up epublishers, etc., etc. Now, some of these people offer reputable and valuable services. I’ve used them myself. But some offer less than quality services to the unsuspecting or are out-and-out scams. Writer beware.

Stage Three: Placer Mining – Once the gold became harder to find in the streams, more equipment was needed to extract it, requiring more money and bigger organizations. Days of the individual miner were over. Smaller claims were bundled together into tracts that were sold off to large companies. Are we headed for this? Publishers like Penguin have already staked their claim by purchasing Author Solutions, a big, juicy tract of self-published writers all wrapped up with a bow.

Stage Four: Hard Rock Mining – Only deeply embedded gold is left and only large corporations with enough money to invest are able to capitalize during this stage. I don’t even have to draw a parallel here, do I? We’ve not arrived yet, but is this coming? Is this our future?

And where am I in all this? Running up an empty stream bed with my sluice box, shouting, “Wait for me! Wait for me!” Oy.

But I’m not one to wallow for long. So I did some more digging, er, mining, and I discovered that when the individual miners–the ones who were serious about it–couldn’t find any more gold, they sold their claims and moved on to silver mining, which led to copper mining, which led to zinc mining, which led to retirement. In other words, when one type of mining became unprofitable, they changed their strategy and switched to another type. The miners who weren’t serious about it went back to their day jobs tending bar at TGIFriday.

Thoughts on succeeding in the near future:

–Stay Adaptable. I’m not advocating schizophrenic writing, but I am advocating nimble writing. Assess the industry, assess your sales, assess the rising markets, and MEET THEM.  If your cozy mysteries aren’t selling, write a hard-boiled detective novel.

–Become Content Focused. Even the president of Hachette said it himself in a recent Publishers Weekly article, “The industry is now content-centric, not format-centric.” Don’t forget, you’re not writing a book, you’re writing a story. Where/how else can it be distributed? At least two people got book deals by posting their book on Twitter and Facebook back when these sites were the hot new things in social media. Stay at the frontier of technology. I can’t say this enough.

–Create a Quality Product. This means you’ll have to spend a little money. Buy that Amazon ad. Pay for that cover. Hire that editor. The days of falling down face-first in the stream and landing on a gold nugget are over, my friends. You have to put in more work and more money to mine the gold. That’s reality.

Maybe the current ebook boom is a gold rush. But does that mean someone won’t strike a vein of another precious metal somewhere else and lead the market? Opportunities abound, they just might not be the SAME opportunities as last year. I’ll go even further and state that the smart writer of the future will be the one who creates a demand for their own precious commodities: voice and style. These are something that no one can claim jump.

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Any words of advice on self-publishing would be greatly appreciated. And if anyone wants to offer evidence that 2012 has been a rockstar year for them, I’d love to hear about that, too. I could use some good news!

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6 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Gold Rush: Reinventing Ourselves in the New eBook Economy

  1. Really interesting entry. This is truly a new world of opportunities for authors and readers – as long as you can avoid the shoals. Good luck on your publishing.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. All we need here is a distinction – between writing for money, and writing because that’s important to you, regardless of the money. I self-publish. I don’t follow trends. I don’t worry about cycles. I write. I don’t make much money, but maybe that will change over the long haul. Or not. But I’ll still write.

    • Great point, Catana.

      There are those writers who are not looking for gold, but for self-expression. This blog post applies less to them.

      I guess it’s the business major in me…I’m looking to make money!

  3. In 2010, my husband and I made projections for sales and income based on slow and steady growth. Releasing more product, no tricks (like free promotions), just good work. We didn’t release as much product as we wanted to–we’re way behind, in fact–but our projections are spot on for 2011 and 2012.

    What that means is that even though we did less work than we planned, we grew at the rate we expected. In other words, we probably did better than we expected to do.

    But we’ve run businesses before, and more to the point, we’ve run publishing businesses before. We know that occasionally you have great successes and great failures, but usually sales increase at a steady rate–up to a point. That point is when there’s no new product. If you stop producing, you stop growing. It’s that simple–and that hard.

    Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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