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Why Now Is The Best Time In History To Be A Writer (Take Advantage of It)

Note: This is a guest post by Devlin Blake. Devlin is an accomplished fiction author and writing coach with over two dozen published books. If you’d like a complimentary copy of Devlin’s Plotting Alchemy, an easy way to plan a story, follow this link.

Let’s face it, a lot has changed over the past two decades, particularly when it comes to technology. However, nowhere has there been a bigger upheaval than writing and publishing.

In fact, we are living in one of the 3 biggest revolutions in writing history. And while change is scary, now is one of the best times to be a writer.

Before we talk about why NOW is the greatest time in the world for your story, let’s look at the other 2 big revolutions.

The First Revolution-The 1400’s

Moveable type in the western world in the 1400’s (yes, the East had it first, but it didn’t cross the ocean until decades later) was a huge deal. Suddenly, books didn’t have to be copied by hand and you didn’t have to be super rich to afford one. When books became readily available, reading was taught to more people. This perpetuated the cycle of more readers wanting more books. Once they finished with the bible and various classical stories and myths, they still wanted more. Hence, true modern fiction was born.

The Second Revolution-The Victorian Age

The creation of cheap publishing solutions in the later Victorian age used low cost and quality inks and papers to create books on a shoestring budget. This gave rise to mass market paperbacks, pulps and comics. While critics said this would devalue books, the opposite happened.

Since everyone could now have multiple books instead of just one or two, teaching people to read became a priority. People wanted to read. They wanted new stories and they eagerly consumed them. This built the careers of writers like Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and pulp fiction author Lester Dent. It also built empires; newspapers, magazines and comic books like DC and Marvel.

The Third Revolution- Modern Day

Now, we stand at the cusp of a new publishing revolution; the rise of the indie author, brought about by Amazon. Prior to Amazon, the only way to ‘indie publish’ was to go with a vanity press type operation where you paid for huge upfront costs and got stuck selling all those hundreds of books yourself. There was stigma around it. It reeked of desperation.

While it was true that some people, such as John Grisham, were able to sell books out of the back of their car and make it work, the majority of self-published writers just sank into obscurity with a garage full of books.

With the creation of KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), that all changed. Gone was the stigma. Gone was the desperation. Gone were the gatekeepers. And gone was the need to sell books out of the back of your car.

How To Take Advantage Of This Revolution

Under the old system, you’d send your manuscript off to a publisher, wait to hear back, and pray they liked your book. If they didn’t, it would go straight into the slush pile. There were many reasons for editors to pass on otherwise great stories, everything from the editor’s own preference to the fact that the publishing house already had a similar story in the works and yours was direct competition.

Fortunately, in the modern age, none of that matters. You are your own publisher. This gives voices that might not have been heard a chance to join the market. Now, the readers get to decide how great your book is.

It also no longer matters where you live. Under the old system, you had to live in a ‘good’ city for authors, like New York. However, today you can write and publish a book from anywhere in the world and have global distribution just be clicking a few buttons. Books written in places like England find an easy audience in America while and vice versa.

That means there are many ways a modern indie author can take advantage of the current revolution in the same way people like Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Arthur Conan Doyle, Lester Dent, Jerry Siegel, and Bob Kane, just to name  few.

The Midpoint Probability

The biggest problem with gatekeepers is that they need to sell multiple millions of books in order make money. Therefore, in order to make a living as a writer, you had to be one the highest paid. Otherwise, you only got the scraps.

Today, many writers are making a living with something called ‘the midpoint’. The midpoint is where you sell enough books every year to make a decent living, but not enough to be a millionaire or a household name. Still, there are plenty of writers out there who make enough money to write full time, and after all, isn’t that the goal?

With better marketing, you might even become a household name or sell your story to a movie studio, like Andy Weir’s The Martian, or have the big publishing house court you, the way they do for Hugh Howey.

The key to accomplishing this is to go into indie publishing with the mindset that this is your preferred way to publish instead of a fallback way or an easy way.

Take Advantage Of Highly Niched Markets

Since you no longer have to worry about selling mega millions of books or printing costs, books just a got a lot more interesting. New niches have sprung up that weren’t even around even 20-30 years ago. Some of these new niches include Steampunk, adult coloring books, Grimdark, and Dinosaur erotica. And while none of these are huge niches, you can sell enough books in any of them to make a decent living.

Another niche market has less to do with the topic, and more to do with the size of the book. Publishers have a sweet spot where a printed a book can turn a profit. Books that are too long, too short and serials didn’t have a chance.

None of this is true with ebooks. In fact, a smaller, well written story can enjoy just as much, if not more success as it’s full size counterpart. Novellas and short stories do particularly well on Amazon since readers can finish them in one sitting.

Very long stories of 300k words also find great success with the niche group of readers who love reading epics.  This is great news for epic writers who no longer have to figure out how to cut or split their books.

Then, you have serials; which are published a chapter at a time and sell for around .99 cents. This gives readers the literary equivalent of an episodic TV series and gets them excited about your next installment. A good serial, like a good TV show, can keep going and going. However, like a TV show, readers expect a new ‘installment’ weekly or bimonthly.

Write More Books

Author Stephen King wrote multiple books under the name Richard Bachman, in part to try out new ideas, but also because his publisher advised him not to put out more than one book a year.

Thanks to the new model, putting out multiples books a year is not only possible, but advised. In fact, authors like Hugh Howey and Amy Cross have put out close to a hundred books in only a few years. The good news is, you don’t have to put out a hundred books. But 10 well written and carefully marketed books can skyrocket you on the path to becoming a full time successful indie author.

Connecting With Your Audience

Even selling your work has become more exciting. Under the old system, the only time you got to connect with your readers used to be at book signing events. In the modern age, you can connect with them online; social, podcasts, video; the list is endless.

Readers who enjoy more of you are more likely to become super-fans, talking you up wherever they go and eagerly awaiting your next release. You can build a great following and living off your super-fans.

Both Stephanie Myer and E.L. James found their fame and fortune through their super-fans. J.K. Rowling keeps an active social media account so that all her fans feel loved and welcomed. This leaves them clamoring for her next book. Some love her work so much they even name their babies and pets after characters in the stories. Her fans will even read a book she simply endorses, even if she didn’t write it.

It’s a brave new world for authors. Though KDP has been out for a few years now, we are really only in the beginning of the indie publishing revolution. The old model has been permanently broken and will have to transform into something else to survive the next few decades. This is good news for authors and great news for readers. At last, a whole world of opportunity has opened up for us.

Are you brave enough to enter this world?

About Bryan Hutchinson

I'm a positive writer and when that doesn't work, I eat chocolate. I help fellow writers overcome doubt and thrive! In my free time, I love visiting castles with my wife, Joan. Join me on Twitter and Facebook.

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Like a good friend, Bryan guides you through the process of facing your inner demons, conquering the craft, and creating work that matters. ―Jeff Goins

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  • Curiouser Editing

    WAY TO GO, DEVLIN! So happy to see your name on here. Loved the post!

  • REALLY interesting, Devlin. I liked hearing about the different revolutions + a good reminder how authors have the PRIVILEGE to take charge of our own careers today. Since anyone can publish today, there’s a whole lot of crap out there, but talent can rise to the top. Thanks. m3

    • YES! THIS! I’m excited for authors today; We’re on a cusp, like the actors were in the early part of the last century. Back then, if you were an actor and ‘discovered’ by studios, it made your career, but you had no input on it. Everything from the movies you made to the amount you got paid was in someone else hands. Back then, it was impossible for even ‘stars’ to get paid when they can today. Once actors took control of their own careers, they weren’t guaranteed to have it easy, but they were in control and could rise to greater heights.

      The same is true with authors today. Though they can no longer count on ‘being discovered’ they can focus on ‘getting discovered’ which will enable more authors to rise to heights not possible just a few decades ago.

  • Matthew Green

    There’s a typo in this article. It’s John Grisham, not Grishom.

    • Oops. Even the best proofreaders miss things. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  • Harry Hotmann

    Really I enjoyed reading your post. I was so hesitant in writing a novel lived inside me for years, but now I decided to start. Your analyse of modern indie publishing contains much logic, but am still in doubt about practical application. Thank you for your appreciated effort to enlighten writers’ way.