An Introduction of Sorts

First, an explanation of the name I’ve chosen for this website, since I’m guessing there might be a few folks not terribly familiar with William Butler Yeats. The title comes from his poem, The Second Coming, specifically from its final two stanzas:

“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

“Slog” has several definitions, but the one most applicable to my situation would be this one:

Slog: to plod (one’s way) perseveringly especially against difficulty.

This is quite appropriate for my situation since, as of June 14, 2012, I took it upon myself to become an independent author.

‘Independent’. Sounds a tad more eloquent than ‘self-published’, which is a concept not only more easily grasped, but also comes laden with tons of baggage. To most readers, who cut their teeth on the product of what is quickly coming to be known as ‘legacy publishing’, this is the formula:

Self-Publishing = Vanity Publishing

The term ‘vanity press’ has been attributed to publisher Johnathan Clifford, who claimed to have created the term in 1959, though it had appeared in mainstream U.S. publications as early as 1941, according to Wikipedia. While a traditional press created earnings by selling its work to readers, a vanity press made money by selling its product to authors, who would then (typically) turn around and attempt to resell said product to their presumed (and largely theoretical) readers.

There were any number of problems associated with business model, not the least of which was the fact that the initial monetary outlay required to produce such books was the responsibility of the author. The primary difficult, however, was one of distribution. How to get one’s wares to those anxious readers slavering for the writer’s peerless prose?

For traditional publishers, this need has always been fulfilled by book distributors such as Baker and Taylor, Ingram, etc., who act as middle-men and go-betweens, taking the finished product and distributing it to the various book store chains and individual outlets. Cracking this nut was, to say the least, highly problematic for would-be authors with limited access to these businesses, little to no marketing expertise and even fewer funds.

Then came the ebook and the marketing muscle of Amazon.

Elaborating on this subject is beyond the scope of a post such as this, but suffice it to say that traditional publishing is still reeling from the aftershocks of this new paradigm. And they haven’t subsided yet. Now new authors could bypass the gated communities of the Big Five (formerly the Big Six) and take their wares directly to a market panting for their work in barely-suppressed anticipation. Right?

Not quite. One of the tenets of economics is the relationship between supply and demand. As demand increases, supply decreases. This has been a truism for most of human history, and is no less true here, as is its converse.

While production times vary with the author, the typical novel (or novel-length) work of fiction on average takes around a year or so to complete, sometimes longer (as fans who waited five years for A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin can attest to). And since traditional publishers have always kept the bar for new entrants high, product by the previously unpublished has always been kept on a limited and very short leash.

Then came the ebook and the marketing muscle of Amazon.

(There an echo in here?)

By eliminating barriers to entry in the marketplace, Amazon made it possible for just about anyone to create and market ebooks, thereby dramatically increasing supply. And what happens when supply increases?

Demand decreases.

With every new ebook which hit the market, the value (and corresponding price) of all other ebooks took a tiny hit. Not so much, individually.  But there are a lot of ebooks.

There is an ancient Chinese tale, about an emperor who had a problem, solved by a petitioner to his court. Filled with gratitude, the emperor offered much gold to the fellow, who waved off the offer and instead requested that the emperor simply take a chessboard, place a single grain of wheat on the first square, then double the amount for every following square (so that one became two, two became four, four became eight), and this would be his reward. The emperor, relieved not to have to part with his gold, agreed to this bargain, until he discovered that fulfilling the petitioner’s payment would require all of the wheat in the kingdom, whereupon he had the petitioner executed.

I guess sometimes it really is a shark tank.

While vast supply has resulted in a corresponding drop in ebook prices, the old business model is not completely broken. Traditional publishers, inside their aforementioned gated communities, still exist, as do the hurdles authors must transverse in order to publish with them. This means that there is still value in their product, which continues to be restricted, thereby keeping demand high for their own unique wares, and prices correspondingly higher as a result.

But these community walls are starting to crumble. Established authors are, more and more frequently, taking their product directly to the marketplace, experimenting with this new model. If this goes on (a longtime science fiction cliche) — well, you get the picture.

This new reality of publishing means the market is swamped with ebooks. Retail prices for new entrants have dropped dramatically, with new authors oftentimes being forced into massive giveaways in order to create brand-awareness. And on the heels of this have come those who can only under the most liberal of defintions be described as ‘writers’, but who are quite savy with how the ecommerce system works, and who are quite good at ‘gaming the system’ in order to market a questionable product. All of this means that good product is easily lost in the shuffle, and that the producers of quality work must slog their way along in terms of marketing it. And since ‘quality’ is a somewhat subjective term, there is little in the way of quality control other than a handful of reviewers who are themselves swamped by the tsunami of ongoing content, not to mention the aggrieved feedback of those whose wares they comment upon in a less-than-adulatory fashion.

This is the new reality, one the independent author must contend with.

Which means we independents have two basic options in marketing our work. Either we pay someone to do it for us (an expensive proposition), or we do it ourselves.

A hardcore truism is that one can only succeed in business by giving excellent value. Savy writers know this. And while there are no fees, there is another currency it demands, the reader’s time.

With this in mind, I promise I will do my best to make future posts here a commanding value for you, the readers.

This concludes our broadcast day.