New Beginnings

It’s the first of January, 2014!

It’s hard to believe, but for a person like me who grew up in the late 60’s and 70’s, THIS is the future. And as a writer of science fiction, I’m a little disappointed that there aren’t permanent settlements on the moon and that we haven’t already landed people on the Mars. In other areas of science and technology, we’re right on schedule, with regards to computers and medicine. In other areas, we’re way behind the vision of the future we all had back then. I really can’t blame society that much, since we’ve already invented the airplane, the automobile and other major leaps in technology, and cellphones are pretty well on the way to Dick Tracy-type devices. Advances today are more subtle and they seem to creep up on us when we least expect them.

Even then, opportunity can reveal itself in the most unexpected manner. Here are a few examples:

In the mid-80’s I owned a print shop and one of my regular customers told me about this opportunity he had to invest in a thing called a ‘facsimile machine.’ I often wonder where he is today and whether or not he went through with it.

Also, in the mid-70’s I was in Washington DC and saw a table-top pong game. I was blown away. I was in the Navy at the time, but a buddy and I applied for an SBA-loan to buy some units and put them in the bars in the Hampton Roads area of southern Virginia. Unfortunately we didn’t qualify because we didn’t have enough minority employees at the time. (We didn’t have any, just two pasty white guys trying to get in on the ground-floor of a new technology.) Where would I be today if the loan had gone through? That, too, was a missed opportunity.

There was another moment I remember vividly back in the year 2000. I was thinking about ebooks, and realized that the only thing holding back that advancement from proceeding was the lack of a good reading device. With the internet and PDF’s, producing electronic books was easy, even back then, yet there wasn’t an economical way to read these books, and also in a format where the authors wouldn’t have their work reproduced and passed around without compensation. Needless to say, I wasn’t the one who came up with the Kindle or the Nook, yet I was proved right when these devices began to gain popularity — and changed the publishing industry forever. Now ebooks are the wave of the future, and there’s no turning back, even if the purists want to. There will always be paper books, but in the future they will become the novelty, and not their electronic versions.

It seems popular today for bloggers/authors to come out with their predictions for 2014, so I’ll give it a go myself.

1) Ebooks are here to stay and will dominate sales once again, gaining an ever-growing market share.

2) Traditional publishers will seek consolidation to survive and will change their business models to be more followers of trends rather that creators of trends. What I mean by this is that major publishers will pursue more of the successful indie authors, those who already have a proven audience, and will publish very few first-timers who do not already have a track record in the ebook market. So if you’re an aspiring author, forgo the traditional route and get your book up on Amazon as soon as possible. You’ll not only start making money right away, but you’ll begin to build the audience that the trade publishers will insist upon.

3) Publishing rights will become more fragmented, with successful authors successfully negotiating to retain the ebook rights for most of their books. And even if they do allow the trades to have a piece of the ebook royalties, the splits will be overwhelmingly in favor of the author and not the publisher.

4) More big-name authors will go the indie route, at least for their ebooks (see #3 above). This will put more pressure on the Big Six publishers to adapt or die in this new paradigm. Since paper books will not die completely, there will be survivors in the world of traditional publishing. How they’ll make it economically is still the sixty-four thousand dollar question.

5) Indie’s will become more professional in every way. The days of producing crap and making money off of it are gone. Readers are becoming more savvy and more demanding. However, there is a new sub-industry emerging to help us with regards to editing, formatting, cover design and even submissions to all the ebook outlets available. Soon, there will be no difference between a trade-published book and an indie-published book — except for who keeps the lion’s share of the royalties. And when indie authors have only pay-for-service expenses, rather than an on-going split of the royalties taken by the trades, then it will become easier to make a living as a writer.

6) More books will continue to be bought by readers. With the relatively low price of ebooks, readers appear to be buying more books than ever before, and this trend will continue. When two to three ebooks can be purchased for the price of one paperback, or four to five for the price of a hardcover, it comes as no surprise that readers are loading up their ereaders with more books than ever. Whether or not they’ll ever get around to reading them all is another question.

7) 2014 will be year of the author. Everything is trending in this direction. We’re making more money, selling more books and gaining more control over our destinies than ever before. But remember, you still need to produce a quality product. Ebooks are not the novelty item anymore. They are the accepted format for readers these days, and so your books must stand against all the big-names from the trades, as well as the every-growing ranks of very professional indies. The time for ground-floor entry into this business has passed. Opportunity and access has expanded because of technology and acceptance, yet just as every kid can’t grow up to be a pro basketball player, not everyone who aspires to write a novel will find success. Just do the best you can and accept the fact that there are no shortcuts. Learn your craft and accept the reality that successful authors are not lucky, they are skilled, just as in any profession. Acquire the skill, release your imagination, and then give it a go. There has never been a better time to be an author than right now … in 2014.

T.R. (Tom) Harris

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