STATUS: Okay, still haven’t remembered the entry I had planned to do on Friday. How lame is that?
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? MANIC MONDAY by Finn Wallace
This weekend I was at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs. I consider that one and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers to be my hometown conferences and so I almost always attend.
This year was perfect. Sara popped down on Saturday to take pitches all day (and she was hugely popular!) and I just got to have fun by teaching two workshops. On Sunday morning, I sat on a panel entitled Industry Changes with Scott Hoffman from Folio and Kathleen Gilligan from Thomas Dunne Books.
Since you can’t talk about industry changes without talking about electronic books these days, that pretty much dominated the conversation (and a lively one at that!).
One participant asked a particularly interesting question. She asked what the three of us thought about a writer putting an entire novel out on the web to build an audience.
I have a feeling that some of you might be interested in our response. I can’t speak for Scott or Kathleen but I’m happy to share some of my thoughts on the topic.
1. In general, I have no problem with writers giving out material for free to build a following. I’m a little bit leery about having an entire novel out there for everybody to read but it’s not going to destroy your chances of doing traditional publishing later. In fact, if you can track the number of downloads and can prove that thousands of people have voluntarily downloaded and read your novel, well, that just might be an interesting way to catch an editor’s attention. It would probably catch my attention. However, it would have to be verifiable—as in we can’t just take your word for it.
2. Another possibility is to have the writer serialize the work (as in only give portions of the work at a time to a subscription list) if intending to pursue traditional publishing later for that same work. That way the work in its entirety isn’t easily available online.
3. Along the same line of thought, a writer might put a novel out there that will always be available for free and use it to platform a totally different second novel that the writer plans to use to explore the more traditional publishing route.
The above discussion led (as you can imagine) into what we thought about self-publishing a work to build a similar audience. As self- publishing becomes more professional, accessible, and easy to manipulate, it certainly wouldn’t surprise us if writers were to explore this as a possibility.
Here’s something to keep in mind though (besides the fact that self published books need solid marketing efforts to succeed). Self-published books (through Lulu or similar) are assigned an ISBN—a sales identifier for that work. And here’s where the ISBN could hurt you. Once a book has an ISBN, then sales of that book can be tracked on Bookscan. If the books sell thousands and thousands of copies, not a problem but if the book sells only 20 copies, this could potentially make the road to traditional publishing more difficult. Editors often check Bookscan when considering previously published writers. Book Buyers at the major chains are looking at these numbers as well.
If the sales record is strong, no big deal; if it’s not, those low sales could create a roadblock unless the writer is willing to change his/her name to start with a clean slate.
I’m putting this out there because I imagine a lot of writers contemplating this route might not have considered the potential ISBN trap.