Publishing has been democratised by the web; Amanda Hocking and John Locke have shown that the indie author can not only go it alone and find the market that had been closed to them under the old, legacy publishing model, they can get a publisher that way too.
OK, so you’ve probably figured that has more to do with the old jargon-busting favourite, BS bingo (see John Scalzi’s hilarious version thereof http://whatever.scalzi.com/2011/03/20/the-electronic-publishing-bingo-card/) than it does with a serious article on publishing, but this kind of muddle-headedness is peddled out so often that we really do need, as writers, to be reminded as often as possible exactly what *has* changed. And what hasn’t.
Back in 2009 I wrote an article making the case that the digital revolution changed absolutely nothing about the literary canon (http://yearzerowriters.wordpress.com/2009/10/25/the-schlock-of-the-new/). It was simply a new way of delivering the same content. I believe I also said nothing new had happened in culture since Duchamp lifted a urinal from the local bogs and bunged it in a gallery. That’s still true. Though I’m open to being told Duchamp was a bit derivative after all.
Why does that matter? We’re not trying to do something new and trailblazing. We’re just trying to make a living – or a portion thereof – doing what we love, right? Maybe. But some of us are also in this culture game to make a mark, to push a boundary, to end up being talked about in 100 years’ time (though I’ve written many times recently I think if and when something new happens it will be thanks to someone totally untrained). The point is, to listen to people you’d think that anyone with broadband was part of a revolution. A revolution of content.
And the one thing I want to get across in this piece is that the former of those statements is true, but the latter isn’t.
Many of the people I most admire were among the first to test the water with ebooks, and among the first to find testing that water could make a sizeable splash (see, with metaphorical talents like that why don’t I have Amanda’s sales figures?). One of my heroes is Ali Cooper, author of The Girl on the Swing (http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Girl-on-the-Swing/dp/B003IX0HBS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&m=A3TVV12T0I6NSM&qid=1303240483&sr=1-1) and the just-released Cave (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cave/dp/B004VSYRUG/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=A3TVV12T0I6NSM&qid=1303240483&sr=1-2). She’s an incredibly talented writer, but she has also worked both hard and smart to show that there is a genuine place in the new landscape for those who write fantastic literary fiction. In 2010 she was a trail-blazer and her success has carried on into 2011.
But Ali’s success, and that of the likes of Marion Stein and other literary Kindle pioneers, has been somewhat overtaken in news and sales terms by the likes of Amanda Hocking, Stephen Leather, and John Locke.
But I don’t think Ali is going to fade without trace. I think her story gives us the following key points.
1. There are two reasons why literary midlisters were Kindle pioneers – they have a natural inclination to the new, and they of all groups they had the strongest disaffection with the old industry. So they were the first to head for the new frontier.
2. Readers are still readers, so what is being read remains the same. Genre fiction will always have the biggest readership so long as we have the same readers. Maybe when reading migrates to phones the demographic will change. E-readers haven’t done that. So why would we expect the charts, genre-wise, to look different.
3. E-books mean that the kind of books that paperback publishers just don’t have the money to take on, market and make viable have a home once again, and can make the kind of very respectable living that midlist print authors once made.
So, if you write genre fiction, wayhay! If you write great literary midlist fiction, the streets of Kindle aren’t paved with the gold you once heard about. But they might be coated with enough coppers to make you, in time, a decent at-least-partial living.
Dan Holloway writes in many genres. He is the author of the acclaimed midlist novel Songs from the Other Side of the Wall (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Songs-Other-Side-Wall/dp/B003LN1UBG); the Oxford-based thriller The Company of Fellows (http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Company-of-Fellows/dp/B004PLMHYC) which has spent 5 weeks in the Amazon top 100 thrillers chart; the postmodern novel The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Man-Who-Painted-Agnieszkas-Shoes/dp/B004QGYH6M), all royalties from which are being donated to the Tsunami Relief Fund; and the collection of transgressive poetry and prose from his prize-winning live shows (life:) razorblades included (http://www.amazon.co.uk/life-razorblades-included/dp/B003QTDLBW). This summer he will be touring festivals and fringes with the spoken word show The New Libertines (http://eightcuts.com).