Mark Staniforth’s tekst

My name is not Amanda Hocking. Hers was the name that came up in the e-book lottery, and that’s why you know hers, and not mine. Mine hasn’t come up yet. If I keep playing, maybe it will come up one day.

Amanda Hocking is just like you and I. She likes to write stories. She wrote some and sent them to publishers. Just like you and I, she got ignored. She probably figured her manuscripts weren’t even opened. So she put them online instead. She tweeted about them, Facebooked about them, and persuaded others to book blog about them. Then – and this is where our paths start to split – she started selling them. Hundreds of thousands of copies and over one million pounds later, she hasn’t stopped selling them.

We all wish to know what is Amanda Hocking’s secret. On her blog, she says:

From what I can guess, it happened because:
– the books are in a popular genre
– the covers are enjoyable
– the price is good
– the writing isn’t terrible (although, believe me, some people would argue that point)
– book bloggers recommended it
– accessibility [Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon]

So this is the secret to becoming an e-book millionaire: write cheap, not-terrible books about wizards or vampires. Talk about them as much as you can in one hundred and forty characters or less. And then, who knows, maybe one day it could be you.

Of course, the reality is we are not all going to be as successful as Amanda Hocking. Many of us do not wish to write mass-market books about wizards or zombies, no matter the potential financial reward. And yet in other respects, the opportunities us all by the so-called e-book revolution are just as great.

This is what it is all about: opportunity. There is space in cyberspace for all of us. We are not pulling down trees in the Amazon rainforest in order to satisfy our delusions of authorial grandeur. We are not lobbying for inclusion on Booker Prize lists. We can always be switched off or unfollowed. We are writing because we have the desire and the facility to write, and because there might be someone, somewhere out there who wants to read it.

‘We’ means e-book authors. That is, self-published authors, those whom it is presumed have had no luck banging on the permanently closed door of conventional publishers, and have instead uploaded our work via a platform such as Amazon Self-Publishing or Smashwords. Yet this is increasingly a misconception. To be an e-book author, you do not have to first have been a failure elsewhere. The success of the likes of Hocking, along with the much greater facility for e-book readership with the surge in sales of tablet e-readers, has changed the dynamic. The e-book option used to be the last resort. Now it is increasingly becoming the preferred option to begin with.

Of course, I cannot yet conceive a situation in which I, or Hocking, or any other e-book author, would reject an offer from a conventional publisher to turn my book into print. I can talk all day about the preferable nature of e-book publishing but the fact remains, each author wants to see his or her book in print. Hocking has already signed with a publisher. But in doing so she has not abandoned her independent e-book ethos any more than she has declared conventional publishing the best way forward after all. My point is this: there is no reason to have to choose between the two. The future is to take the best from both.

Here is my experience as a self-published author. I completed my book, a collection of inter-linked short stories called ‘Fryupdale‘, three years ago. I had it professionally edited, and posted it to Smashwords. For sale at a nominal price, it sold nothing. Of course it didn’t. It sat with hundreds of thousands, even millions of other manuscripts, all of which may well have contained the ingredients from the back of a crisp packet. Anyone could post what they liked, plonk a price on, and sit back and see.

My initial attempts to cultivate publicity via other blogs largely failed. My early tweets headed straight to spam bins. I seemed to be missing the point of the e-book revolution. But gradually it dawned on me to be more subtle, and it doesn’t come much more subtle than making your product free. When you are not promoting a paid-for product, people will start to take notice. When they take notice, they will spread the word. Within a year, my e-book had been downloaded fifty thousand times. It had been reviewed – they were mixed reviews, but that hardly matters – many times over. It had not made any money, but initially at least, that is not possible to be the point. The point is this: I have created a readership base. If a few of the fifty thousand who downloaded my previous book will pay a nominal fee for my next one, it will have a start, which is all Amanda Hocking needed. Writing and selling an e-book is according to some, an immediate art. I would venture the opposite: that achieving success as an e-book author requires a long-term, multi-book strategy.

What that strategy also must include is an understanding of the nature of the product and those who will most likely be interested in it. Some books convert to the e-book format better than others, for different reasons. Cook books, obviously, are not such a great idea. Likewise, long, tough, literary tomes are rather out of place in this zappy, electronic era. The rise of e-books and of tablet e-readers present an exciting opportunity for a new kind of fiction: more disposable, perhaps, but no less worthy.

The model has not yet had the chance to be adapted enough to decree the genre which will be the greatest success for e-books (beyond Hocking’s paranormal romances), but shorter fiction, and in particular short stories, which are notoriously difficult to place with conventional publishers, are likely to be best suited: if e-readers cater for a more mobile, time-conscious market then it only follows that shorter, sharper, more immersive and quickly concluded fiction will fit the bill.

The opportunities for us to examine this phenomenon at first hand, that is, to determine whether there is indeed a genre best suited to the e-book rather than the conventional paper format, will continue to grow. And I think ultimately, the decisions about which publishing model to pursue, and which format (electronic or paper) to adopt, will be made for us: that is to say, the market will delineate itself naturally, just as the consumer will think less and less about the medium by which they read, and simply which story suits their particular convenience.

Simply, there need not be a choice between physical or electronic books, or even between conventional or self-publishing: the two can co-exist to the mutual benefit of each other. E-books give the author an opportunity to test new work, to devise his own promotional campaigns, to shape his own career; a conventional publishing deal that might arise from his success is a bonus, but the e-book model is now advanced enough that it need not be seen as the over-riding aspiration.

Amanda Hocking’s success has proved what is possible, and given legitimacy to the e-book publishing model. It is here to stay, but alongside, not in place of the existing model. Many different factors – its legitimacy, its popularity and the universal rise in different e-reading formats – mean that while they are still a long way from winning the lottery, the prize for an e-book author now closer than ever.

Mark Staniforth’s website