Thursday, September 8, 2011

Letting Heather Albano do the Talking

Taking The Crazy Option
In September, I will be releasing my first novel in e-book form--a time-travel adventure about a girl, a pocket watch, Frankenstein’s monster, the Battle of Waterloo, and giant clockwork robots taking over London. (If this sounds intriguing to you, you should come on over to my website and put your name down, and I’ll e-mail you as soon as TIMEPIECE is on e-shelves.)

Why have I chosen to electronically self-publish rather than follow the traditional model of seeking an agent and publisher? There are a few interconnected reasons.

1. I have an MBA, and I know a disruptive technology when I see one. The e-book reader has opened up opportunities that may remain open for the long term or may shortly close; either way, the time to take advantage of said opportunities is now.

2. I have some professional contacts in the publishing industry, so I have an idea of the timeframe inherent in following the traditional model… and it’s not a quick timeframe, and the time to try electronic self-publishing is now.

3. I used to be in marketing, so I know something about brand management and loss leaders and how to manage an advertising campaign. Before that, I was in software, so I also know how to handle HTML editing.

4. I have historically been about as risk-adverse as it is possible to be, which means I tend to let opportunities amble past me while I calculate and recalculate the cost-benefit analysis. I never did start a podcast, for instance, despite researching every possible angle on the things. I need to make a different mistake this time--plunge in, take the crazy option, course-correct in real time, and learn something from it.

I don’t necessarily agree with the “e-books are going to replace traditional books in five years’ time” view--I think that’s one of the things that could happen, sure, but I think the horizon is farther out than that, and even if the five-year prediction is true, it does not follow that electronic self-publishing is going to likewise replace traditional publishing. That a) confuses the technology and the industry surrounding it, and b) implies the editorial and marketing functions provided by a publishing house are without value, which is manifestly untrue. Editors make books better. Professional marketing gets books in front of larger audiences. Of course these functions have value.

So while electronic self-publishing might replace traditional publishing in a new-world-order, no-barriers-between-writers-and-readers, publishing-houses-will-join-telegraph-operators sort of way, I’m not sure that’s where I’d put my money. That publishing houses will someday (soon) produce more electronic than paper products? Yes. That the publishing industry as such will disappear? Less likely. After all, blogs and podcasts and indie films and indie bands have been around for a while, and they haven’t replaced editorial columns, the traditional publishing model, Hollywood, or major labels.

What blogging and podcasting have done is provide additional platforms that people early in their creative careers can use to differentiate themselves. Some people are hitting the jackpot doing this, making millions on their own and/or being approached by representatives of the traditional model. Others are never approached by said representatives, but they never need to be; they quietly make respectable amounts of money doing everything themselves in what we might call the “small business” model. Still another model is that of the loss leader—those people whose podcast, blog, downloadable app, or self-published e-book did not make them rich, but whose download rates and/or follower numbers gave them additional street cred when they shopped their subsequent project to the representatives of the traditional industry.

Any of these three models would work fine for me. My goal is to spend my time writing things and selling them to people who want to read them, ideally making a living wage in the process. I’m agnostic as to distribution mechanism.

And a new distribution mechanism has presented itself, and the time to try it out is right now. If it turns out to be a true disruptive technology, changing the structure of the industry from the foundation up and relegating the output of traditional publishers to the same dustbin as Western Union’s highest quality telegram, those who get in on the game early stand to reap the greatest profits. If electronic self-publishing turns out instead to be the fad some people predict, that’s an even greater argument for trying it now. I’ve got this steampunky book, you see. Right now. If I try the traditional route and the traditional route doesn’t accept it for publication—by the time I can definitively say that the attempt has failed, i.e. by the time it’s garnered half a dozen or a dozen rejections, three years or more could have passed, and it would be foolish to wait that long. Electronic self-publishing has a greater likelihood of being a good decision now than three years from now. If I wait until then, I risk a decrease in demand for steampunk-flavored products, and perhaps also a decrease in demand for self-published e-books, and I get to wonder about the e-path not taken.

Whereas if I go the e-pub route in September, the possible outcomes are 1) jackpot model, 2) small business model, 3) loss leader model, 4) it doesn’t do well enough to even be a loss leader, in which case, oh well, I tried--and I’ll know what happened when I took the crazy option, and I will have learned something from taking it.

Heather Albano is a writer of speculative fiction, historical fiction, and roleplaying games. She is a graduate of Wesleyan University and the 2009 Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop.

Her short fiction has appeared or will soon appear in Electric Velocipede, Aoife’s Kiss, Spectra Magazine, Midnight Times, and the More Scary Kisses anthology from Ticonderoga Publications. Her first novel, TIMEPIECE, will be available in electronic format in September 2011. Additionally, she works as a game designer for Choice of Games, producer of award-winning text-based multiple choice games for the iPhone/iPad, Android, Kindle, Palm, and web.