There used to be a time when the author was like a rock star. The only thing people knew about them were the words they wrote, a brief bio on the back page of their book and an interview or two in the paper. Fans would wait with bated breaths for their next book, consuming it the day it hit stands, analyzing it, talking about it with friends and re-reading it. Since the advent of the internet and social media, the role of the author has become much different. He or she do not hide anonymously in a cabin the woods like J D Salinger, tirelessly punching away at their type writer as they construct their next masterpiece. Authors today have their own websites, Facebook pages and twitter accounts. They write in Starbucks, at the park or while taking public transportation. Their interviews at small book stores with 20 attendees are filmed, put on YouTube, and watched by hundreds of thousands. Also gone are the days when an author needs a publisher to make a living as a writer. With apps like Wattpad, the accessibility to Kindle Direct Publishing, and free advertising through Facebook and Twitter, anyone can become a successful author, and the future of those writing fiction is as wide open as the blank page.
The internet obviously changed everything. One of the biggest opportunities writers gained was the ability for anyone to have a voice and share it with the world. It gave people a way to express themselves and afforded them options to circumvent big publishing houses through self publishing and online advertising. Print on demand sites knocked down the barriers to entry, giving anyone the opportunity to publish their novel without having to beg, borrow and steal for a meeting with a literary agent or editor. This gave self published authors the means to make a living on their own merit. Today, sites like Create Space give writers the ability to upload their book, select the size, the formatting and cover, then sell that book on the Kindle store and in physical book stores.
Amazon’s introduction of the Kindle changed the way readers bought their books and discovered new authors. Realizing that there were many more aspiring authors than published, they introduced Kindle Direct Publishing. This branch of Amazon allows anyone to upload their manuscript, create their own cover for the book and distribute it through the Kindle store. Authors can publish their books within 24 hours, a life time faster than any publishing company ever could. Authors also get 70 percent of the royalties their books make, which is great for both the writer and Amazon. The writer does all the work and gets 70 percent, while Amazon hosts and sells the book, then takes 30 percent. It is really a win-win.
A few years ago Amazon introduced Kindle Singles. This was an area in the Kindle store that offered short form stories, generally 10,000 – 30,000 words. They are offered at low prices, from $4.99 to 99 cents. Authors often have ideas for compelling stories, but only for 60-100 pages long. Instead of fleshing it out to novel length and diluting the story with needless description and prose, they are able to write the story that is in their head and publish it the way they want. The Kindle Single has taken off and some authors are making a good deal of money from them.
One of the more popular authors to gain success through this process is Hugh Howey. Hugh was a boat captain and held other odd end jobs while he wrote. He published his short story, Wool, and after a few months his sales rose into the thousands. Capitalizing on this success he wrote four more installments of the story and sold them individually, as well as bundled; he ended up making over six-figures every month from sales alone and quit his job. The game for aspiring authors has changed dramatically. Kindle Direct Publishing gives authors a channel to sell their books, but other sites like Wattpad, are changing the way readers consume stories and interact with authors, ushering in the future of fiction writing.
There’s an old thought that goes; if it is good, it will always find an audience, and the author will be successful. Today, there is so much content that may not be as true as it once was. Book promotion has been drastically impacted by social media. First there was MySpace, then Facebook, now Twitter, Google+ and the other social media giants. Anyone can make their own blog or website and promote themselves. This is very effective for self-published writers. But outside of friends and family it can be hard to reach larger audiences. Sites like Wattpad are trying to change that. Wattpad is a free site that connects readers with authors from all over the world. What is different about their service, is that the stories are delivered to readers in short installments.
After is a story by Anna Todd, one of the more successful authors on Wattpad. A few times a week Ms. Todd issues another installment of her story about two people who met at college and started a relationship. The story has close to 300 installments. Most of the stories run about 2,000 words, which the company says, equals about 10 minutes of reading time. This is an ideal platform for Generation X and those on the go. 10 minutes of reading, Wattpad says, can be done on the subway, waiting in line or during down time. The site launched in 2006, struggled at first, but has erupted of late. Their website states they have 40 million stories, 23 million readers and have logged over 5 billion minutes of reading on Wattpad.
Wattpad also bridges the gap between the author and fan. Members can leave comments on the stories and send messages directly to the author. Todd says she currently has 14,000 messages in her inbox that she hasn’t been able to get to. The success of sites like this are something that big publishing houses are watching very closely. Trends here can reflect what consumers are interested in and publishers will apply them to the larger markets. It also gives them ideas on how to increase their reader’s interactions with their authors. Authors like Todd can gain a vast audience and valuable insights using these sites, which she has already done. But there is little money to be made by simply posting short installments of your story. Wattpad, like Facebook, is free for all to read and post; it only makes money through advertisements. What it does offer is the ability to grow an audience, which makes landing an agent or publisher more realistic if you can tell them you have 20,000 loyal fans.
Recently, Hugh Howey, author of the previously mentioned Wool series, signed a landmark deal with Simon & Schuster. After making over $1 million in royalties through his e-book, and selling the film rights to Ridley Scott’s production company, Mr. Howey sold his print rights to Simon & Schuster; it was a high six-figure deal. This is a landmark deal because he reportedly turned down seven-figure deals from other publishers in order to retain his e-book publishing rights. When Howey publishes his next book, it will be in book stores nationwide, he will go on a press tour, and Simon & Schuster will spend money to advertise the book; but all sales from the e-book version will go to him. This also gives him the option of releasing new stories in e-book format whenever he wants. This is the first deal of its kind, but it means that big publishing houses are starting to move with the trends. Kindle Direct Publishing was the beginning, Wattpad is altering the delivery of stories, and the future of authors and fiction writing is like the old west; few rules, plenty to go around and anyone can be successful.
Opinion by Chris Dragicevich