Author Earnings: an SF author’s perspective

What do authors really earn?

Author incomes have been in the news a lot recently. Look in one direction and you see a fresh influx of new full-time authors piling into a booming publishing industry in which pay rates for authors have dramatically increased over recent years. Look in another, and you see the grinding impoverishment of mid-list authors far below any prospect of ever achieving minimum wage levels. As always in publishing, and science fiction publishing in particular, abundance and scarcity coexist, powerful industry trends pass each other in opposite directions, and if you surround yourself only with individuals and communities on one side of the abundance/scarcity divide (or any one of the countless schisms), then you will be exposed to a highly distorted view of what’s actually happening in science fiction publishing.

In these articles on modern adult science fiction publishing (not YA – that works differently), I share some insights on the UK and US (because they are the markets I understand) from the perspective of somebody who has feet in multiple camps (being an SF author gives me license to extrude a multiplicity of limbs). I have not the slightest interest in persuading anyone that this way of writing is better than that, or that one publishing strategy is superior to another. I don’t even write them to help other authors make better-informed decisions, although I would be delighted if they help someone. I write them because science fiction publishing is such an exciting industry experiencing rapid change that sometimes I need to articulate what I think is going on. Once I’ve captured my thoughts in writing, my mind is then freed up to do what it really wants to do: create science fiction stories.

Constant calibration collaboration is a feature of modern SelfPub and NewPub publishing. Last month, I spent the day with one of the major new talents in British science fiction with the intention primarily of meeting them rather more than comparing notes on publishing. Yet within an hour or two, we were logging on to our Amazon publishing accounts and waving the graphs on our smartphones at each other to better discuss trends and strategies.

I had new book launches last month, and I’ve used them to check my working model of Anglo-American SF publishing in the area most important to me: Kindle sales. Neither excessive optimism nor pessimism helps me here. My family relies upon me to earn a decent living from my book sales, and I need to know how realistic it is for me to continue to do so.

And so I test my working model. Constant calibration. Since my income is derived from SF book sales, and not training, personal appearances, or Patreon, then my benchmark is the number of people I think are earning at least the national median income from selling science fiction books into the US and UK. I use sales in the loose sense to mean “someone reads/listens to my book and as a consequence I get paid”, and my working assumption is that around 250 to 300 people achieve that level of income, and around 75 to 80 percent of those individuals earn the majority of their income from self-publishing and NewPub (see this article for what I mean by NewPub ) as distinct from OldPub.

In order to check my figures, I’ll be using a tool called the Amazon author rank. This works in a similar way to the ranking for individual titles, but sums up sales for a particular author. And since I will be looking at the science fiction author rank, Amazon will only combine the titles published under my name that have been categorized as science fiction. It only considers sales from Amazon.com, and not other international stores. To begin with, we’ll also restrict author rank to Kindle sales only.

Before we jump into some graphs, I will note another change I spotted in science fiction publishing over the past six months. For many years now, if you looked at the science fiction authors whose book sales have reached a level that they can quit the day job and become a full-time writer (I emphasize again through sales rather than Patreon and other non-sales income) you will see that traditionally published authors have been outnumbered by self-published ones.

Until now.

A while ago, I explained the failure of the terms self-publishing and traditional publishing to describe a major new form of publishing that I call NewPub. In the past six months, of the authors quitting the day job to go full-time with whom I am personally acquainted, most are primarily NewPub. I find this an exciting moment that very few people are talking about. Right now, if you are becoming a full-time traditionally published science-fiction writer (and, again, I emphasize you are doing so through your book sales and not Patreon et cetera) it seems that you are less likely to be doing so through OldPub imprints such as Tor, Gollancz, Angry Robot, Harper Voyager, Transworld and the like; you will be doing so through the likes of Chris Kennedy Publishing or LMBPN.

I realize I’m being overly cautious here. The comparison is not even close. Maybe it’s a blip – I suspect it is – but as a vehicle to earning a living as an SF writer NewPub has been wiping the floor with OldPub recently.

Fascinating times.

A career in author rankings.

To begin with, let’s look at my author ranking since Amazon introduced the system in 2012. It’s a bit of a stroll down memory lane, but it does teach a few lessons. Nonetheless, if you want specific takeaways that we can learn about publishing today, you can skip to the next section and the graph from July 2018.

Although I had several books published on Amazon between 2011 and the end of 2014, my primary focus was publishing other authors through my Greyhart Press business. The author rank reflects my sales as Tim C. Taylor, and not the books from other authors that I published. So let’s skip to the dramatic jump at the start of January 2015. That was when I turned my focus from Greyhart Press to publishing myself and the launch of the first two Human Legion novels within days of each other over Christmas 2014.

I spent the first half of January as the fourth bestselling science-fiction author on Amazon.com (can you guess who was in the first three places?) That equated to an average of about 1,300 sales per day on Amazon.com. I then spent almost the entirety of the first six months in the top 100. (The answer, BTW: A.G. Riddle, Andy Weir, and George RR Martin whose Game of Thrones books were classified as science fiction. I didn’t mind being behind these three multi-million selling megastars!)

You can see another peak at June 2015. That was the release of Renegade Legion, the third novel in my series, which brought a big uptick in sales of the first two books.

The next peak is from the release of Book4 and the Empire at War anthology. OK, you ge the picture… a new release comes out, and you can see the author rank rise.

At least, as an author, that’s what you want to see. But by the time the fifth Human Legion book was released early in 2016, my co-writing experiment had broken down completely, and the wheels had temporarily come off the Human Legion cart. You can barely see the release in this chart.

Fast forward to the end of 2016 and things looked dire indeed. I was earning nowhere near enough to pay my cost of living, and my efforts to create a new successful series (Revenge Squad) been a commercial disaster.

With the earnings in 2015 still in my back pocket, I decided to call it a day. I started shutting down business relationships, readied to close down Greyhart Press, and decided to cap off the Human Legion and Revenge Squad series with books I didn’t expect to sell well. I also resolved to have a little fun by answering some of the many requests I get to write short fiction for anthologies. 2017 was to be my orderly withdrawal, after which I would shut the door and walk completely away.

However, the author rank graph belies my expectations. The big rise in sales didn’t come from a new release under my name, it was due to the success of JR Handley, an author I launched with his own spin-off series called the Sleeping Legion. You’re not seeing JR’s sales in this graph, but you are seeing the surge in interest his series caused in my backlist.

Fall 2017 sees another peak as two of the anthologies I’d written for launched and sold really well (one in the Four Horsemen Universe, and one in Nathan Hystad’s Explorations series). 2018 has seen further peaks from my novels released in the Four Horsemen and Human Legion universes.

So what does this tell us? It shows time and again the huge benefits if you have a deep backlist and can reignite interest in your earlier books.

It’s not my intention of interest in this series of articles to suggest that one publishing strategy is superior to another. However, my own takeaway for my own career is to write in multiple series and to write in styles and forms that vary, but don’t jump about too much. I am proud to have written fantasy, young adult, romance, hard SF, and philosophical science fiction. But most of those examples I have now removed from publication, and if I write in those styles again, I would do so with a pen name.

Close up on July 2018

Let’s jump to a close-up view of mid-July 2018.

The graph here is very spiky. Amazon has been making dramatic changes in their sales reporting in recent months. No one outside of Amazon is quite sure what’s happening, though we suspect it’s a side effect of trying to clamp down on fraud. The effect on me is to see my sales reported in fat chunks, where previously it had been a steady near real-time reporting.

Back in 2015, I could tell you that Monday through Thursday, I would see a surge in sales as East Coast America bought my books at lunchtime whereas West Coast America surged more when people got home from work. Now it’s lumpy. But it’s simple enough to average out over the course of a couple of weeks or so.

So, what are we seeing here exactly? And how have I used this to calibrate my model of science fiction publishing?

At this time, I was promoting the launch of the final Human Legion novels, and backing it up by a $0.99 special offer on all my previous Legion titles. Almost all of the sales you see reflected in this author ranking came from just ten titles, seven of which I self-published, and three were traditionally published.

My ranking (which is the Kindle sales only – we’ll get to audiobooks and paperbacks in a moment) is almost a spiky sine wave oscillating between 150 and 200.

What I’m about to do here is make a quick reality check: does this latest set of numbers appear to support my current model for science fiction publishing? I’m not trying to prove anything or persuade anybody – just a quick and dirty validation – so I’m perfectly comfortable in looking at this chart and saying my average ranking was halfway between 150 and 200. I’m going to say I ranked 175 over the period.

All right now. Let’s take a first pass of these numbers and challenge my assumptions in a later section.

Over the 16-day period, my self-published titles (under my own name) sold 945 copies and had 270,000 Kindle Unlimited (KU) page reads. Now, KU causes no end of problems with the numbers. In our case, the biggest problem is that people will have been borrowing the book in this period (downloading the title contributes toward the ranking) but I don’t see the page reads come in until later. Whenever I talk about sales, I mean a loose definition in which someone reads my book and I get paid for it. In the first pass, I’m going to simply count the page reads and divide by the Kindle Normalized Page Count for each title to get an idea of the number of people who have read my book in KU. Bear in mind that this will significantly undercount both my number of readers and my eventual revenue.

Anyway, add together conventional sales and KU reads, and I come to 92 sales per day that I can see in my sales reports.

But I’m only counting self-published titles, and the author ranking includes my traditionally published ones. I can safely ignore all but four (because they are anthologies that never sell) and having tracked their sales rank carefully, I’m confident in an estimated sales figure to bring me up to 110 sales per day.

Over the past two years, my average income per sale/borrow has been $2.63.

So that’s $289 per day of gross income. Or $106,000 per year.

But all of this only counts sales on Amazon.com.

When I look back over several years of my own sales data, I see that Amazon.com accounted for 77 percent of my Kindle sales. Factor in the rest of the world, and that brings us to an annual gross income of $137,000 for a science fiction author rank of 175.

Of course, as we saw from the earlier graph, an authors ranking goes up and goes down, but those who successfully develop depth in their backlist do often see a smoothing of the rank.

Also, I reckon that $2.63 average is fairly typical for an author who is largely self-published, but of course those traditionally published with OldPub will earn considerably less per sale.

And we haven’t even begun to talk about audiobooks, where many SelfPub and NewPub authors are earning a lot of money. (I’m going to say indie from now on to mean “ SelfPub + NewPub”)

On the other hand, we’re only talking about gross income here. We haven’t considered costs. I will state very strongly for the benefit of anyone who believes I owe them money (I’ll have the money next Tuesday, honest) that I haven’t just made big wads of cash. Firstly, the conventional sales of my $0.99 books only earn $0.35 (though when averaged with KU borrows of the same titles, during July my $0.99 titles have earned me an average of $1.10 and rising). Even more significantly for anyone thinking I’m now loaded, once I saw that sales were doing better than expected, I reinvested most of that money into advertising them. In fact I spent considerably more money on adverts last month than in the preceding seven years.

Two of the adverts. I tried out over 50 adverts with variations of text and images. The advert above with the spaceships outperformed this red one by 3 to 1.

But I’m moving ahead of myself and challenging the numbers too soon. I came into this exercise with a working assumption that there were around 250-300 science fiction authors earning at least the national median income for a full-time worker through book sales to the Anglo-American science fiction market, and that of this group, indie authors outnumbered their OldPub colleagues by about 4 or 5 to 1.

If anything, this exercise in calibration leads me to think that I may be too conservative in my estimates. At a rough guess, I would say an indie science fiction author who typically spends their time ranked 200-300 – maybe little lower even than that – but has significant peaks during major new releases, is probably bringing in a six-figure gross income from Kindle sales, and in many cases a significant amount on top from audio sales.

The doesn’t consider costs, of course. And many authors are reporting that costs are going up.

So let’s kick the tires

Kindle versus audiobook versus print editions.

Up until this point, I’ve selected the graphs so it considers the ranking only for sales of the Kindle editions. But you can also see author rank across all formats (i.e. includes paperback, hardback, and audiobook). How does that change things, especially given that traditional OldPpub imprints place much greater emphasis on print sales?

It would be tempting to think that if we switch to the all-formats ranking, that the indies who we know excel at Kindle sales would be displaced by a cohort of frontlist OldPub authors of the caliber of John Scalzi, N.K. Jemisin and Alistair Reynolds.

In fact, what we see is very interesting. If we look at the top 100, then we do see little of this displacement effect as the big publishers muscle in with their hardback and paperback sales. This is especially true of any titles linked with a major motion picture or TV series. But this only goes so far. Top-100 indies will typically see their ranking drop 10 to 15 percent when they switch from Kindle-only to all-formats author ranking. But as you go further down that ranking, the significance of switching from Kindle to all formats rapidly dissipates until as you get to the lower reaches of the top 1000, it’s barely noticeable.

Remember, I’m primarily doing this to figure out how likely it is that I can continue to earn a living writing science fiction books. And for that I want to try to estimate how big the market is. So this is not good news for me. If I switched from Kindle to all-formats ranking and saw my position drop several hundred places, it would tell me that there’s a very large number of print or audiobook sales that were getting read, but I wasn’t currently accessing. I don’t see that. Especially when combined with the claims that last year Amazon.com might have outsold Barnes & Noble as the biggest seller of paperbacks in the US (I’m not sure I believe that, but I do accept that Amazon.com online sales are fast approaching Barnes & Noble brick and mortar ones). Outside of the very top tier of titles (for example, Handmaid’s Tale) the most likely interpretation is that most science fiction sales on Amazon.com are in the Kindle format, which is where I already make my living.

There is an alternative explanation. Many of the top indie science fiction authors have extremely healthy audio book sales. Perhaps there are more science fiction paperback sales at Amazon.com then I realize, but that is obscured because midlist indie authors are not only outselling OldPub authors in the eBook formats, but in audiobooks too.

Yes, but you are doing a $0.99 sale!

In terms of revenue, I cut mine by putting almost an entire series on a deep temporary discount. I cut even more significantly by reinvesting most of the sales in advertising myself and JR Handley. So is it realistic to say an average revenue for an indie sale is $2.63?

It’s a very fair question, and difficult to answer. A temporary $0.99 sale of the title, aligned to a book deal, is certainly a way to spike sales and thus rankings. At any given time, a proportion of the top 200 authors are only there because of a $0.99 Bookbub deal (a very effective and much sought after form of advertising). But most are not. Bookbub deals are like hen’s teeth, after all. I’ve never managed to get one for myself. It’s much more common for top 250 authors to get the mass of their sales from a significant number of backlist titles that individually are modestly ranked (say, 5,000 – 20,000).

That $2.63 figure is from actual data, and does include promoted sales I have made at $0.99, but I accept that the ability of a $0.99 Bookbub deal to spike author rank means the average indie revenue of $2.63 is probably too high, but not by a huge amount.

 

And you write such big books!

There’s a definite trend in indie publishing to release titles more frequently, but for each title to be shorter. An SF novel of only 60,000 words is now commonplace (as it has been at various times in the past, such as the 1960s) whereas mine tend to come in at around 110,000. That’s significant, because under the Kindle Unlimited pay scheme, the bigger the book, the more you get paid when somebody reads all the way through. The first Human Legion novel, for example, is a meaty tome. I get paid around $4.00 whenever someone borrows it in Kindle Unlimited and reads to the end.

However, hold your horses! There’s also another trend for the more successful indie authors to take advantage of their branding success and raise prices. I haven’t done this. I want to do so, but my branding isn’t strong enough yet. So my $2.63 average revenue is high because most of my best-selling titles are in Kindle Unlimited and my books are relatively lengthy. And at same time, my $2.63 revenue is low, because most my titles are priced lower than the average. Which trend is stronger? According to my back of a beer mat calculations, roughly speaking they cancel each other out.

 

Uncle Jeff’s additional data point.

In a note to stockholders in the recent Amazon annual accounts, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos mentioned that in 2017, there were over 1000 authors paid in excess of $100,000 by Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. Kindle Science fiction is booming but not as much as romance. Thrillers and fantasy sell very well too. I could believe maybe 200 of those over-a-thousand science fiction authors were grossing six figures, but get much higher than that and you start to contradict Jeff Bezos, and Jeff really does know the data.

But we are doing a rough reality check here. I started with the assumption that maybe 250 to 300 people earn a full-time living solely from their science fiction book sales. I never said they earned that solely from Amazon book sales. Let’s pick a figure in the middle of 275, and then take off 50 OldPub authors to give us a target of 225 who earn a living.

The Bureau of Labour Statistics (May 2017) lists median annual income for employed individuals in the US as $37,690. The UK median income for full-time employees (2014) is £27,194 or at current exchange rate, $35,400

I’m saying that at $2.63 gross income per sale, that the top 175 ranked authors are on an annualized rate of $135k gross from Kindle sales.

If we want a neat annualized target of $100,000 gross sales, then it’s not too much of a stretch to say that the boundary where this is achieved is somewhere between the SF author ranks of 200 and 250.

But some authors find their author rankings fluctuate significantly over time, slipping back after the uplift of each new release. And in any case, $2.63 is slightly too high because the frequency of 99c sales, and is much too high in the case of OldPub authors, who earn much less from sales (though they do get advances).

What’s more, even Jeff Bezos doesn’t know how much authors are spending on advertising at platforms such as Facebook. Anecdotal evidence is that an increasing number of indie authors are spending serious money on advertising. I reinvested most of my income from my sale into advertising, after all. And yet there are others for whom all the advertising they ever needed to become million-selling authors is to write the next book.

How can I stretch from estimating gross income to a net one of around $37,000? Well, I can’t. This is where I move into conjecture.

But that’s to be expected. The data are noisy. We must make educated guesses. But I’m doing this for a reality check. Is this exercise compatible with the estimate that there are 250-300 individuals in the cohort in which I wish to remain (full-time SF writer earning median national wage from US & UK book sales — for which these days I need to apply a rolling average to fit in)?

No.

Looking over the numbers, I think I’m being a touch too pessimistic, so I’m upgrading the “250-300” estimate to “around 300”.

My next big project.

A Parting thought: things in SF might not be as bad as you think.

Talk to different science-fiction author communities and they will give you wildly different views on the health of current SF publishing. And that’s just considering the old heartlands of the US and UK market (very exciting things are helping elsewhere in the world). One thing everyone agrees upon is that it is very difficult to sustain a career as a science fiction author where sales and royalties are enough in their own to earn you a decent living wage. Even though it seems that more authors are earning a living writing adult SF than at any time in history, there is also more intense competition than ever before. And I reiterate: I have no interest in championing one group of authors over another, or in suggesting that any other author should follow the strategies and tactics that I have chosen for myself.

It pains me to see people who care about science fiction talk about it as if it’s in some kind of crisis. “Earning a living as a science fiction writer is no longer realistic prospect.” That’s something I continue to hear, mostly from legacy mid-list authors and legacy fandom.

I’ve spoken to authors myself who have found themselves out of contract and having to find new ways to keep writing, such as tie-in novels and writing for games companies. So I know the distress is real. I do not seek to diminish it by pointing out statistics that suggest other authors are currently enjoying a boom.

Nonetheless, a feature of modern science fiction publishing is that there’s a large number of people who are earning a living from books that never make the top 100 of major  Amazon sub-genre categories, such as space opera, and yet can still gross a six-figure income from book sales. If you’re not into the new waves of science fiction, then chances are, you will be completely unaware of their existence. And there are a lot of these people earning a living. Hundreds.

In the decade before I became a full-time writer/ publisher in 2011, I was fascinated by everything to do with science fiction publishing. I got my information from small publishers, traditional fandom, WorldCon, Eastercon, Fantasycon, SFWA, British Science Fiction Association, SFX Magazine, Guardian books, Strange Horizons and their ilk. I subscribed to Locus Interzone, Asimov’s, F & SF, and Analog. I bought books from Harper Voyager, Tor, Gollancz, Orbit, Transworld, Angry Robot, Solaris and the like.

With a handful of notable exceptions, commentators from this legacy side of science fiction are largely ignorant of and uninterested in indie SF, and never were much interested in tie-in novels and certain publishers who worked a different way, such as Black Library, and to an extent Baen Books.

And why should they? None of these publications and societies have a remit to represent all of science fiction. And I only call it legacy SF because it’s left over from what went before, not because it’s moribund. It’s exciting and is in flux too.

However, if you’re someone who doesn’t venture much outside of the legacy SF world, but are worried by talk of full-time SF writing no longer being a realistic prospect, then I hope you will take some comfort from the realization that most Anglo-American adult science fiction literature is being written, consumed, and commented on outside of this legacy community. Most full-time authors are content to sit on the outside. At a commercial level, at any rate, science fiction publishing is in robust health, and I for one am fascinated to see where it’s headed next.

 

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SF Publishing in 2018: The latest industry stats from Data Guy

This is part of a series of posts about recent developments in English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK that have caught my eye.

Data Guy, with the support of Hugh Howey setting him up at authorearnings.com back in 2015, has been one of the sources of data I use to try to figure out what’s going on in English Language science fiction publishing. His stats are by no means the only source I use, but with his methodology open to scrutiny, comment, and change (or it was until recently), it has been one of the most trustworthy.

Last night he gave his latest report into the state of science fiction and fantasy at the SFWA Nebula conference, which is a prominent group of science fiction and fantasy writers.

The various panels have been recorded and are viewable on YouTube. Some I found worth a look and perhaps I’ll dig into them here another time. There were talks about maximizing the value of your backlist, and how to use Kickstarter, but here I want to talk about Data Guy’s statistics in which he talks about the sales of science fiction and fantasy books across all formats in the US in 2017, and in trend terms since 2005.

Obviously I am interested, because this is principally where I earn my living. The UK statistics are more patchy, but every time I look into British science fiction sales, it does seem to be following very similar trends to the US.

I suspect Data Guy will post something official to authorearnings.com before long, but I thank Data Guy and SFWA for their generosity on sharing the presentation because you can find it on YouTube here.

https://youtu.be/2mqNUWHr0lM?t=8m59s

Here are a few thoughts.

The big picture

I’ve started blogging about the state of SF publishing in recent months, so I was apprehensive. Was Data Guy going to drop a bombshell and contradict my own assessments?

Fortunately, we matched pretty well. I’ve been saying that in the past decade US science fiction book sales have doubled and that earnings from authors have at least tripled. Consequently, there are significantly more full-time professional science fiction authors than ever before (although still only a small fraction of those writers who would like to earn enough to write SF full time). I’ll leave that to you to judge how closely those assertions fit with the set of stats presented at the Nebula Conference.

For me, the surprises came deep down when science fiction was broken into sub-genres.

But before I can comment on them, here is a cut-out and keep caveat regarding book classification.

Sub-genre Classifications

There’s an important caveat here. If a title sells 10,000 copies, and it is classified by the publisher as both military science fiction and space opera, then Data Guy’s figures will count 5,000 sales in the Military SF category and 5,000 in space opera. Some books get as many as five categories, and so their sales are split five-ways for the stats. I can’t think of any other practical way of handling this, but that will have an impact.

So too will the fact that categorization is a means for publishers to put their titles in front of the audience they want to buy it today. That might mean a different audience from last month as publishers move their proposition in front of fresh eyes. For our data analysis, we want categorization to be accurate, but that’s not why book categories exist.

 

Those caveats aside, here are a few of the standouts for me, and these came through specifically eBook sales:

Military SF is overwhelmingly the most popular category of eBook sale. No surprise there, but the degree of its dominance was shocking.

Military SF eBook sales are overwhelmingly dominated by indies, as was space opera. That wasn’t a surprise, but I had expected more sales from Amazon’s imprints (principally 47 North), and Big-Five publisher space opera eBooks sold even lower than I’d expected. I think if we had seen a trend then 47 North would appear more dominant a few years ago.

Anthology eBook are no longer predominantly traditionally published. When I started eBook publishing in 2011, a lot of science fiction and fantasy authors were selling short story collections and multi-author anthologies. And the vast majority sold only a handful of copies. That seems to have changed. Anthologies remain a small part of the eBook market but a majority are now SelfPub and NewPub. Back in 2011, the best sellers were the old-school “Year’s Best” anthologies. These still sell, but have been overtaken by new anthologists and new publishing. We need another caveat here because ‘anthology’ has come to mean more than a set of the kind of short stories that might have been published in Analog or Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Nonetheless, I feel I speak with some authority here. Anthologies carrying one of my short stories have collectively clocked up about four months at the #1 spot in the amazon sf anthologies bestseller chart in the past three years, and I’ve seen my peers at the top of the charts. It is as Data Guy says: they are mostly indies.

If you sum the space opera, military SF, adventure, galactic empire, and alien invasion categories (let’s call ’em the the Pew Pews) that comes to around 13 million eBooks sold in the US last year. Roughly. And overwhelmingly these are NewPub and SelfPub published. Furthermore, going very roughly by the charts, about 11.5 million of those sales are going unreported in any ‘official’ industry statistics.

It’s only one statistic, but that last one summarizes why I talk to science fiction fans and authors from different parts of the business and get a completely different view of the commercial health of the genre. And that’s not surprising when you consider that in my experience, the titles and authors of those 11.5 million annual US book sales (according to these stats) are almost unknown to the traditional side of fandom (though not to traditional publishing).

There’s a lot more going on in SF publishing than Pew! Pew! eBooks, but in terms of unit sales, according to Data Guy’s statistics, it’s about the same size as the entirety of print sales not only for all of science fiction, but all of fantasy too.

[And another vital caveat here – this is for adult science fiction and fantasy. Add in huge-selling books in YA and mainstream categories that could be regarded as science fiction and fantasy, and the results would be completely different. For example, at its peak, the Hunger Games series was selling a comparable amount to the entirety of adult science fiction according to official stats.]

That’s it from me. If you haven’t seen it, go watch the video. It’s about half an hour.

WHr0lM?t=8m59s

 

Tim C. Taylor is a British author of popular science fiction who quit the day job in 2011. For a free starter library of exclusive stories, which make great jumping off points into his multiple book series, and regular updates about the Human Legion Universe and more, join the Legionaries by following THIS LINK.


Join a mercenary company. See the galaxy. Fight the bad guys and get paid. A lot.

 

Join a mercenary company and give the galactic bad guys what they deserve in his latest novel, The Midnight Sun, published by Seventh Seal Press on April 27th, 2018 and currently free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

OR. Check out a free download of  a prequel novelette featuring the same characters via Instafreebie here.

If pulp adventures facing cosmic gods and Cthulhu cultists is your thing, back the Kickstarter for a Lovecraftian pulp anthology in which Tim has a story, set in Birmingham, England in 2015. If you’re American, your likeness could be drawn as a cosmic demon or cultist (this only works with Americans, for reasons of great cosmic complexity involving the terrifying cult known only by the eldritch name: US Postal Service). Legal notice: the campaign organizers do not guarantee backers against loss of sanity when the Old Ones awake from their slumber (though backing this anthology can’t hurt). The campaign closes May 25th.

 

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SF Publishing in 2018: The new writers of science fiction

This is part of a series of posts about recent developments in English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK that have caught my eye.

For an aspect of life that, let’s face it, is inescapable, growing old still throws up its fair share of surprises and shocks. On Monday nights, I write in the local village pub. In the dark days before I wrote full-time, starting the first evening of the working week on a high was a key part of my psychological strategy for surviving the next four days. It’s a habit I’ve kept because the beer is really very good, and… I love writing! I’ve been enjoying Monday writing nights since 2001, and in recent years I get a shock every once in a while when I meet new bar staff who hadn’t even been born when I moved to the village in 1997.

I was surprised to discover when I attended the excellent 20Books London conference back in February, that I was old all over again, but in a different way. [As an aside, I thoroughly recommend professional authors attend 20BooksTo50K conferences.]

I was made redundant from my old job the first day back after New Year 2011. By March 2011, I’d set up as a sole trader and re-published some short stories through Amazon KDP and Smashwords. I’d sold them previously to various short fiction publication since 2002. Back in 2011, if you hung around Kindleboards, Amazon’s KDP forums, and various other self-publishing forums and Facebook groups, you’d probably know who I was because I was pretty active online.

I wasn’t prepared for these memories of dusty old 2011 being ancient prehistory for so many of the wonderful writers I met at London. Not only was it clear that many authors had started their professional careers after me (at least, the self-published portion), but I was asked on more than one occasion: “what was it like back in the early days?” (The answer, by the way, is interesting, but a topic for another time.)

When I got home, I looked through the bios of the bestselling science fiction authors on Amazon.com (for which Amazon provides a convenient top 100 authors list) and stalked their websites, gauging when the top authors of today began their careers. The answer is clear: surprisingly recently.

Now we move to the part of this article where I commit extreme conjecture. As I’ve said several times in blogs this year, it’s clear the number of authors earning a living income from English language science fiction book sales has soared to an unprecedented level, but no one knows for sure what that number actually is (my estimate is around 250, which still isn’t very many). Without a solid divisor, I won’t estimate a percentage of those authors who began their publishing career since 2011, but it is clearly very high indeed. I would go so far as to say that most authors who write English language science fiction for a living today had never written a science fiction story when I went full time at the start of 2011, let alone had one published.

Probably.

It’s difficult to be certain about these things, but it seems beyond doubt that an enormous influx of fresh blood has entered professional SF publishing in only a handful of years.

For the image above, I grabbed today’s list of the top-10 bestselling science fiction authors. Admittedly, I grabbed the lower section because I recognized them as all being predominantly self-published authors. In fact, I needn’t have done so to indicate newness. In terms of debut novel, the full SF top-10 is: 2018, 1969, 2012, 2011, 2016, 2015, 2011, 2016, 2010. Margaret Atwood stands out as the veteran in that list. 

Across the hall in the top-10 bestselling fantasy authors, we have 2012, 1997, 1991, 1977, 2005, 1937, 2012, 2017, 2011, 2015, J.R.R. Tolkien perhaps a lesson in why sometimes medians are more telling than means! Still lots of new faces, but more veterans than with the SF. Also, with 60% female authors rather than 20% for the SF list.

My background is more conventional (or was until a few years ago when it flipped from conventional to old-fashioned). I came up through creative writing courses, critique workshops, and submitting short stories to magazines. Although I gained enormously from this experience, I also learned a great deal of limitations: all those things I was informed I should not do, because… reasons.

  • You shouldn’t write these stories, because they’ve been done before… (perhaps back in the 50s).
  • You shouldn’t write this way because that way is better.
  • You must never write this popular trope because it has to be subverted.
  • Don’t write this, because editors want that.
  • And what will appear to today’s writers to be the most asinine advice in the history of publishing: never write to please an audience!**

I think my personal revelation about the freshness of contemporary SF writers helps to explain why I enjoy the latest crop of SF novels so much more than the books of a decade or two ago. Many of today’s novels are written by authors who were never told what they shouldn’t write, so they simply wrote the stories they wanted to tell, and in the way they wanted to tell them. Some of those writers go on to connect with an audience that thinks they write great stories with great skill. Of these, some are rewarded with successful writing careers.

And some aren’t.

There are no guarantees in SelfPub and NewPub science fiction; no arbiters to say that this author deserves to succeed over that author (other than readers themselves). It’s not set up to be fair.

Well, perhaps it is up to a point. Being a good writer is no guarantor of commercial success, but in today’s incredibly competitive publishing scene, commercial success is only possible for writers whose stories are judged by their audience to be of high quality.

I think that’s part of the reason why the science fiction audience has seen such explosive growth. These whippersnapper new authors never learned the old lessons about what not to write.

And as a consequence, for a legion of new readers, science fiction literature has recently become a lot more relevant to them.

Where will the publishing youngsters lead us in the coming years? We’ve already moved at internet pace from the frontier era of SF self-publishing – rather like living an episode of Deadwood – to the backbone of slick professionalism we see today.

What’s our destination? Who can tell? Although we do seem to be fanning out toward multiple destinations, and with such rapid growth in the audience, it’s difficult to tell the degree to which newer authors are competing rather than co-existing with older ones. But I do know it’s a journey I’m excited to be a part of as both a writer and a reader.

Three cheers for the youngsters!

** Never write to please an audience.

Yes, astonishing as it will seem to many of today’s professional authors, I did receive variations on that well-intended advice on more than one occasion. It was given for a number of reasons, and in the days before Amazon KDP some were entirely valid. I remember an experienced agent and former acquisitions editor discussing this at a convention. He explained that he couldn’t sell manuscripts to publishers if they followed popular trends, and therefore he wouldn’t accept them as an agent. Essentially, the argument was that trad publishers only had a limited number of publishing slots, and for any significant audience they could define, they would have already filled them before you could get your book published. Terry Pratchett was extremely popular, he explained, which is why every major publisher had already jumped on the Pratchett-market bandwagon, and consequently why you shouldn’t try to write for that audience.

OK, that’s strictly the justification for the advice of don’t follow the market, but it was part of a whole battery of advice suggesting writers should avoid having the book-buying public in mind when they wrote their stories, which is pretty much the exact opposite of the philosophy behind the 20Booksto50k movement.

 


Tim C. Taylor is a British author of popular science fiction who quit the day job in 2011. For a free starter library of exclusive stories, which make great jumping off points into his multiple book series, join the Legionaries by following THIS LINK.


Join a mercenary company. See the galaxy. Kill the bad guys. Get paid. A

lot.

 

Join a mercenary company and give the galactic bad guys what they deserve in his latest novel, The Midnight Sun, published by Seventh Seal Press on April 27th, 2018.

If pulp adventures facing cosmic gods and Cthulhu cultists is your thing, back the Kickstarter for a Lovecraftian pulp anthology in which Tim has a story, set in Birmingham, England in 2015. If you’re American, your likeness could be drawn as a cosmic demon or cultist (this only works with Americans, for reasons of great cosmic complexity involving the terrifying cult known only by the eldritch name: US Postal Service). Legal notice: the campaign organizers do not guarantee backers against loss of sanity when the Old Ones awake from their slumber (though backing this anthology can’t hurt). The campaign closes May 25th.

 

Posted in Rebirth of the midlist, science fiction publishing in 2018 | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

20Books London Writers Conference 2018. My write up.

This time last week, I was on the train to London to attend the 20Books London writers’ conference. The event was a great success for me personally, and I heard nothing but praise from the other writers there. Since a lot of busy people gave up a great deal of their time to make this possible, I thought the least I could do is write up my experiences, and maybe persuade someone who would get a great deal out of these conferences to attend a future event. I want to thank the many people who made this event possible and such a great success, and in particular Craig Martelle for organizing and wearing the loudest shirts, and Michael Anderle for many reasons)

The event took place over the weekend at the Runnymede-on-Thames hotel (which was an excellent venue) and was billed at an education and networking event for (IIRC) 170 attendees. The conference sold out. I’ve mentioned the 20Booksto50K Facebook group recently here, and you can get details of speakers and timetable at the event website here: http://20bookslondon.com/ .

AL Knorr and Martha Carr both spoke at the conference and had plenty of good advice about what had worked (and not so much!) for them.

If you spend a lot of time with online groups of writer-publishers, you will have encountered most of the ideas explained by the guest speakers before, at least in outline. However, I can honestly tell you that every speaker introduced me to something that was both valuable and new to me, and that I can and will introduce into my writing business. Topics included keeping mental and physical health, advertising good practices, retailers beyond Amazon, how to engage readers at an emotional level, combining cover art and book descriptions to grab reader interest, professional networking, and many other topics besides (the list of topics is here).  At one point, I found myself scribbling frantically through 8 pages of my notebook when a passing comment made by one of the speakers triggered a complete rethink of my new series launch later in 2018 (thanks AL Knorr (Abby)).

Then in the breakout sessions, meals, and evening drinks there were plenty more discussions on potentially any and every aspect of writing and publishing. For example, one topic raised over beers was the return on investment for advertising English language books in Germany. Is it a good idea? The answer is… it depends. But that’s where this works so well, because several people had actively marketed in Germany, and those who hadn’t knew the right questions to ask to relate the experiences of other writers to their own context. And that’s what the 20Books attitude is all about: thinking of ways to hack publishing to make it work for you; hacking the way you write and work to increase the chances of achieving the success that you define on your own terms.

Personally, I found it very helpful to critically examine so many perspectives of my craft and my business in a single concentrated weekend. That whole-picture perspective was even more useful than I expected, and has helped me to prioritize changes to the way I work, which will make themselves felt when I move to my next book series in a few weeks.

As writers, we often look for the telling details that allow us to imply with a few carefully chosen words a great deal of depth to our imaginary worlds and their inhabitants. So, rather than list everything that happened in detail, I’m going to give you a telling detail that, to me, summarized the event, the people, and what the 20Books movement means to me.

A couple of writers mentioned that they had succeeded in making small changes to an existing book in a series that had led to a big increase in readthrough rates. One added an epilogue; the other added a few sentences to deepen the emotional engagement with a secondary character, who was an unexpectedly great hit with readers judging from their online reviews.

That’s it.

Just a single paragraph. Doesn’t sound much, does it? But I think the attitude behind that advice is something that the kind of writer who gets the 20Books idea will find natural, but I don’t think comes so easily to everyone in this business.

So let’s unpack that paragraph a little.

First off, readthrough rate for a title in a series is simply the proportion of readers who go on to read the next book. It’s true that it is partially a measure of your success in putting your product in front of the readers who will enjoy it, but assuming your marketing is largely consistent, it is also a very good measure of product quality.

When you take your artist’s hat off, and your business one on, your books are products, just the same as chocolate bars,  phones, and guitar amplifiers. In my own neck of the publishing woods – science fiction – there are currently about 150,000 science fiction books available on the Amazon Kindle store. Every one is a substitute product for mine. Why on Earth would anyone buy another book from an author if their previous ones were poor quality? Well, maybe they could earn a second chance if they had written a great book the reader enjoyed previously, but that’s it. You simply cannot succeed as a professional author if you churn out mediocre books, because consumers will desert you.

You can attract consumers through effective packaging and marketing, but once you’ve got them reading your book, the only way you can compete with all the other authors is through quality. That consumer on that day must feel that they are enjoying a quality reading experience. All the comments from critics, and reviewers in magazines and newspapers, comments made at convention panels, Goodreads reviews and all the rest is utterly irrelevant by that point. Does that reader on that day think your book is good enough to pay more to read another one of your books? That’s the only quality assessment that determines whether or not you can earn a living through the sales of your books.

In every other business where consumers can switch with frictionless ease between product suppliers, successful producers try very hard to measure customer perception of product quality. Publishing is no different; not anymore. And for those authors who choose to write in series, readthrough rates are a gold standard in quality metrics.

So here’s what those two authors did, expressed in non-writerly business language.

  • They measured customer perception of product quality (readthrough rate).
  • They made incremental changes to an existing product in order to improve quality (in both cases, by increasing reader engagement).
  • They remeasured their quality metric to see the effect.
  • Good or bad, they fed anything they learned into improving the quality of their other products, including those not yet built.

Now, I have to admit that my background is with quality management, so all this talk of quality metrics and the like is as natural as breathing to me. But strip out the business jargon, and this is really just common sense. Succeeding in business is hard, but success usually comes from a flexible attitude rooted in the bedrock of common sense.

Being a career novelist is a business too, and succeeding commercially is hard, just as with any other business. In some ways, to succeed in the US and UK markets today is even harder than a decade ago, because there are so many new authors attracted by the money that flows to authors so much more readily these days, and some of those authors are very smart at the business side too.

But there are still people new to writing and new to publishing who are succeeding at this today, as measured by their own idea of success. And there are people like me who have been around a lot longer but are upping their game (I was surprised how many writers at the conference regarded me as a veteran novelist – I hadn’t thought of myself that way). And the key to doing this is networking with your peers, and keeping abreast with the smorgasbord of techniques and good practice that professional writer-publishers are so generous at sharing. None of that is prescriptive. 20Books to 50K has never been about writing 20 books to earn $50k, it’s about having that flexible approach rooted in common sense, and using it to take advantage of both your network, and the techniques you learn or develop yourself, to hack publishing so you can succeed on the terms you desire.

There are no guarantees of success in this business, but nor is success down to random chance. Most authors who are succeeding today have engineered their own luck. And a perfect example of how to do that is to attend a writers’ conference such as 20Books London, where not everyone has published their first novel, but everyone has the attitude of a professional.

There’s another conference in Las Vegas November 2018, and one in Bali early in 2019. There may be more to come in Europe too. I recommend them to all professional authors. Fiction or non-fiction. Tradpub, Newpub, or SelfPub. Fifty books into your career, or gearing up for your debut release. It is well worth your time.

Crikey! I feel like I should be on commission! But that would be highly inappropriate, and I’ll leave you with the reason why. The speaker and organizers were volunteers, and the modest ticket price was meant to cover costs of putting on the event and no more. As it turned out, the costs were not as high as budgeted for in the ticket price, and so attendees are being refunded the difference. Perhaps that’s another telling detail.


 

Start reading Hill 435 today.

Hill435_02_small_mchimp

In the brutality of the Human Marine Corps, there had been no room for Marines who grew old; you served the alien masters until your usefulness ended, and then you were ended too. But then Marines rebelled to form the Human Legion and fight the War of Liberation. What now for Marines at the end of their career?

Tim C. Taylor is a British author of popular science fiction who quit the day job in 2011. For a free starter library of ‘Hill 435’ and other exclusive stories, which make great jumping off points into his multiple book series, join the Legionaries by following THIS LINK.

Posted in Rebirth of the midlist, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.5 The end of bookstores.

This is part of a series of posts about developments in English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK that caught my eye during 2017, along with predictions for 2018. I’ll explain why I’m restricting myself to these markets at the end*.

2037: Bookstores? Yes, I remember them.

Twenty years ago, every town in the UK had record stores. Go back thirty-five years and I’d often stop off on my way home from school to flick through the second-hand records at Mr. Toast in Crouch Street; they were some of my most precious memories from my youth.

Today I have to explain the concept of record stores to my son because he’s never seen one (not quite true, but that’s what he tells me).

In 2037, will my son have to explain book stores to his children?

Across retail (not just with book stores) 2017 saw a continuation of a general trend from brick and mortar to online. Toys “R” Us is the latest high-profile casualty, Sears looks like it’s in trouble, and so too is Barnes & Noble.

One of the trends for 2017 was the speculation about B&N’s demise and what that would mean for publishing.

B&N: Resistance is NOT futile!

I am certain that the health of B&N is significant for science fiction publishing, although maybe not in the way you would expect. However, I think there’s a danger of the talk of a collapse at B&N overtaking the facts on the ground.

Quarter after quarter, B&N reports losses and declining sales, but so did its closest UK equivalent, Waterstones, which made losses from 2008 until turning a profit in 2016. In Canada, the bookstore chain, Indigo, is expanding.

So recovery is possible, but it’s far from inevitable. Equally, while comparisons between each country’s leading physical book retailer are tempting, they may mislead.

Waterstones returned to profitability after what seemed like a perpetual death spiral, but it achieved this not by growth in book sales, but by running the business more efficiently, reducing rents, and breaking with long-standing traditions. And it did so with a clear strategy from James Daunt, its new CEO installed after it was bought by private equity in 2011. For example, Daunt described reducing the ‘co-op’ money Waterstones receives as being like “coming off heroin” (‘co-op’ is where publishers pay them to stock and promote the books the publishers want to get star billing). But by doing so, Waterstones has significantly reduced the rate of returns and improves efficiency use of store space by stocking books the customers want to buy, rather than stocking books the publishers want to sell.

I visited an Indigo store a couple of years ago, and it seemed to me that its closest UK equivalent was not Waterstones but WH Smith. In other words, Indigo was a much more generalist retailer than a bookstore with a few extra product lines and a coffee machine added on. Indigo’s latest accounts say that 58% of revenue came from books, magazines, and newspapers. (See this example of an Indigo opening in 2016). store

I don’t want to see the idea of a bookstore in every town disappear; nor do wish to see tens of thousands of people lose their jobs. Nonetheless, B&N doesn’t currently seem to have the same vision as their Canadian and British equivalents, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see the purpose of Barnes & Noble. They became dominant in the US by putting the existing book stores to the sword by using pretty much the same tactics that Amazon is now using against them. Except Amazon does it better. The big B&N stores hold a huge selection of books, but not as big as Amazon. With Amazon Prime and Amazon Kindle, why drive to the book store when you can get a better choice and often a better price without leaving home?

The result in 2017 was an increasing volume of articles written about Barnes & Noble’s imminent demise and the consequences for OldPub’s US imprints.

What happens if B&N goes under?

First of all, we must always remember that the parent companies of the major traditional imprints are true international conglomerates, and a great deal of their interest is placed on the growth markets of China, India, Malaysia and elsewhere. If B&N goes under, the long-term impact on US-centric imprints will be large (though not fatal) but it won’t mean an existential threat to the parent companies. Nonetheless, a key part of their current US success is their dominance of the sale of printed books through physical stores.

As a SelfPub and NewPub publisher myself, the moat around selling to bookstores is so impassible that I don’t waste my time even trying to sell through bookstores. Years ago I went through the rigmarole of setting up the bureaucracy to sell through B&N’s closest UK equivalent, Waterstones, and did sell a handful of copies, but lost money on every one. I shut it all down and officially mark all my books as out of print, even though they aren’t.

However, if B&N were to go under, amazon.com would reign supreme as the retailer of printed books in the US, and that’s a sales channel where I can compete very effectively with OldPub.

That, at least, is a common view of B&N, but the latest data from Bookstat/ Authorearnings, and discussed by veteran industry analyst Mike Shatzkin here, suggests that when combining physical and online channels, Amazon is already selling twice as many printed books in the US as B&N.

I think that once the excitement and wails of despair die away, we’ll find the full impact of a hypothetical collapse of B&N for those who don’t work there will take years to work the way through the industry. The biggest effect will be on the next generation of authors who will ask even more assertively than today why it is they should sign an OldPub contract with traditional publishing when TradPub can no longer entice with the possibility of getting their book into local book stores (because those stores no longer exist).

For many new authors in 2017, the dream of seeing their book on the bookstore shelves is still utterly compelling. For all their sales success, especially in science fiction, NewPub and SelfPub cannot offer that.

In 2037, I predict the likes of Wal-Mart and Target will continue to sell discounted bestsellers and sell even more than they do today. Academic bookstores linked to colleges, and specialist books linked to tourist attractions will remain healthy. Specialist and charismatic independent bookstores that can offer an experience that you cannot get online will survive, but the idea of a chain bookstore in most towns will be long dead.

Midlist fiction authors selling to the American market will no longer sign up the traditional publishers, which will be the reserve of celebrity authors, tie-ins to major franchises, and frontlist authors. The likes of John Scalzi and NK Jemisin will continue to be published by the major traditional publishers, but if B&N goes then the next generation of Scalzis and Jemisins will first have to deliver commercial success through NewPub and SelfPub.

My prediction for B&N in 2018

Barnes & Noble will stagger through 2018, attracting an increasing swarm of speculation about its demise. It will not go bankrupt in 2018. However, now that it has reduced the losses of its Nook division, I speculate it will try to sell it (possibly a strategic opportunity for Kobo).

My prediction for B&N in 2019

Barnes & Noble files for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 bankruptcy.


Books that caught my eye in 2017

Set in contemporary Northern Ireland, in Waters and the Wild (2017) by Jo Zebedee, Amy is off with the fairies, literally. But are the fairies she sees a symptom of mental health issues, or is she seeing a level of reality most people are blind to? The deaths, though. They’re real enough.

Waters Wild

Although I’ve enjoyed Jo’s science fiction books (such as Abendau’s Heir (2015) and Inish Carraig (2015) ) Waters and the Wild is more a short psychological thriller with a strong paranormal theme (which may well be delusional… read the book and decide for yourself). And it’s very good!

Jo is a hybrid author (by which I don’t mean she’s a cyborg, rather that she mixes traditional publishing with self-publishing and other work) and you can find out more about her here.

P.S. In an earlier post, I mentioned collaboration and the Explorations series edited by Nathan Hystad. Jo was in the first one Explorations: Through the Wormhole (2016), as well as the Andre Polk Memorial Anthology (2017), set up by the Space Opera: Writers FB group.

Books that caught my eye in 2017 AND in 2018

An author I got to know and appreciate through social media last year was Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, whose self-published futurism/ tech-thriller, Numbercaste (2017) came out last year. Yesterday, he announced that the book had been picked up by HarperCollins in a four-book deal together with the Commonwealth Empires trilogy he’s working on at the moment. Yudhanjaya says that this is a big deal for Sri Lankan science fiction. Well done, mate, and good luck. 😊

Numbercaste

P.S. In an earlier post, I mentioned collaboration and the Expanding Universe series edited by Craig Martelle. Yudhanjaya was in Expanding Universe 3 (2017).

Other posts in this series

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.1 – The year NewPub came to stay.

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.2 – Science fiction is still booming.

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.3 Collaboration: Let’s work together… and make a killing.

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.4 – Can I have dragons and man chests with my spaceship?


JOIN THE LEGION.

An alien race divided!

Humans or Hardits? Who should prevail?

Only the Night Hummers decide.

I_hum_the_future_560px

Members of the Legionaries group not only receive a Human Legion Universe starter library, but exclusive content through the Legion Bulletin. You can read Bulletin #17, which contained I Hum the Future here.

Tim C. Taylor is a British author of popular science fiction who quit the day job in 2011. For a free starter library of exclusive stories, which make great jumping off points into his multiple book series, join the Legionaries by following THIS LINK.


*So, why restrict myself to English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK? It’s not that nothing else is going on of importance. For me personally, I am greatly indebted to my loyal fans in Australia, Canada, and elsewhere. More generally, I suspect that in 25 years’ time, we’ll look back at this time and consider that not only were the biggest changes in SF publishing taking place outside of the English language, but that they will profoundly impact Anglo-American science fiction over the coming decade.

The reason is simply that it’s with the US and UK that I have the most meaningful data and consequently the deepest understanding of how those markets work. Also, I succeed or fail in earning my living as a writer by my success in selling to American readers, so I watch trends there like a hawk.

Posted in A review of 2017 in science fiction, Rebirth of the midlist | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.4 – Can I have dragons and man chests with my spaceship?

This is part of a series of posts about developments in English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK that caught my eye during 2017, along with predictions for 2018. I’ll explain why I’m restricting myself to these markets at the end*.

2017: The Year of Mashup.

Space opera is one of the key growth area of science fiction publishing. It’s an elastic term that can be stretched to encompass many writing modes and story styles. Always has been. I believe that what lies at the heart of both writing and reading space opera is a sense of wonder sparked by stories set on such an epic scale that our mundane lives feel drab in comparison. Space opera is often served up with lashings of adventure, fast pace, romance, and external threat (which is a writerly term to mean the characters are about to get blasted by a laser or gobbled up by a space monster).

When Kindle self-publishing kicked off the current science fiction boom in 2010, many of the books that were selling well fit into one of several tightly defined core areas within the wider category of space opera.

You had your science fiction romance bestsellers (not a surprise to me — I knew self-published authors making a good living writing science fiction romance as far back as 2001). Then there was military science-fiction, which often starts off with a boot camp before the space marine/ junior navy officer starts blasting bad people and aliens or the equivalent shipboard combat. Then you had your hard science-fiction in a space opera setting.

I can think of many reasons why this was so at the time, but in 2016, and more strongly in 2017, SelfPub and NewPub science fiction publishing decidedly pushed beyond. There is still a strong demand for classic military science fiction tales, and it is being satisfied by marvelous new stories. However, many authors who once restricted themselves to core areas, reached out from their jumping off points to go exploring within the wider universe of space opera, freely borrowing, being inspired by, and mashing up whatever took their fancy. Your space marine writers might now include sexy werewolves and spellcasters, taken straight from the pages of paranormal romance and urban fantasy. LitRPG is very influential. Westerns and superhero themes join in too. At the same time, romance writers are pushing deep into the territory of fleet combat, galactic empire, and political intrigue, stiffened by greater observance of science and engineering principles (something that has been on the up for many years now).

Yes, I know, those sorts of books were always being written (for example, the Napoleonic Wars with Dragons of the Tremeraire books by Naomi Novik that started in 2005), as were many other modes of science fiction, but in the earliest days of the self-publishing boom, there was a grain of truth to the criticism that successful SelfPub science fiction novels were cookie-cutter replicas of each other. Not much more than a grain, yet it was there. Take Ark Royal (2014) by Christopher Nuttall, Warship (2015) by Joshua Dalzelle, and Constitution (2015) by Nick Webb. All great books, all infused with the unique style of the author, and all highly successful. Nonetheless, if you read them back to back, you can see a resemblance in their surface features.

But that is much less true now.

Speaking for myself, one of the reasons why it was so tempting a few years ago to write a book about space marines featuring a prominent space soldier on the cover (as I did in 2014 with Marine Cadet) is because even in thumbnail, your cover and title effectively communicate what your book is about. Matching products with consumers who might enjoy them is, after all, what marketing ultimately tries to achieve.

 

Back in 2014, I deliberately chose to write Marine Cadet over the book I would have preferred to launch, because Marine Cadet was in a sub-genre that I could more easily communicate through the cover (and the title). It was the right decision. But in 2017, with the explosive growth in the science fiction literary audience now settling down, readers are less inclined to say ‘I’ll try this book because it’s cheap and got a picture on the front of a space marine/ dragon/ sexy man with big pecs’ and more inclined to say, ‘I’ll try this book because I recognize the author or publisher as a brand I trust.’

With readers increasingly trusting the top authors to take them someplace new, in 2017 I had an increased sense of successful SelfPub and NewPub authors feeling the confidence to break free of the prop offered by a cliché on the cover and freeing up their imaginations.

Of course, that’s always been the case for well-established writers. The recent release by Andy Weir, Artemis, has been a huge success because vast legions of readers trust Andy Weir to tell a compelling story. It almost didn’t matter what he wrote about (although Weir’s success in wowing readers with Artemis will profoundly affect his ability to sell books in the future). Same with Margaret Atwood, and John Scalzi. What changed in 2017 was the degree to which that reader trust extended far into the areas of NewPub and SelfPub.

Mashup Predictions for 2018

We will see mashups galore. Space opera with spells sold very well in 2017 and we will see that go in new directions. Also, paranormal hard sf, military fantasy blended with superhero romance… LitRPG and mecha everywhere. The works. We will see much more exuberance and more experimentation from the SelfPub and NewPub sectors. One key trend for 2018 will be already successful authors of paranormal romance and urban fantasy (and I predict the most successful will be women) pushing deep into traditional space opera territory.

Books that caught my eye in 2017

Chris Fox: Tech Mage.

Chris is a hugely prolific writer who caused a stir in 2016 when wrote a novel to break into a new genre in 21 days and he filmed himself every day of the challenge. The result was Destroyer, which sold like gangbusters.

Tech Mage (2017) is an exciting romp I read earlier this week and it was fantastic in every sense. It had Confederate Marines teaming up with tech mages and battleships to fight evil sorcerers and dark creatures who could have come from Mordor. Powerups, potions and spell cast levels give a subtle flavor of LitRPG. The series is titled Magitech Chronicles, which really says it all.  I’ve decided to show the cover for the sequel, Void Wrym (2017), because… well, it is space opera, it is military science fiction, and it does have a mean dragon on the front.  Very 2017, but it’s also going to be very 2018.

Void Wyrm

As I was hunting around Chris’s site looking for his 21-day novel videos, I came across this video from September 2017 in which Chris talks about many of the same things I do in this post, but from a more practical point of view.


Other posts in this series

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.1 – The year NewPub came to stay.

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.2 – Science fiction is still booming.

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.3 – Collaboration: Let’s work together… and make a killing.


Start reading The Sleeping Legion today.

SleepingLegion_Book0_eBook_01_590px

A lethal orbital defense platform.

A squad of green Marines.

A silent alien killer.

WHO DIES NEXT?

Classic military science fiction: The Sleeping Legion by JR Handley

Click or tap on the cover to join the Legion and start reading this novella.

 

Tim C. Taylor is a British author of popular science fiction who quit the day job in 2011. For a free starter library of exclusive stories, which make great jumping off points into his multiple book series, join the Legionaries by following THIS LINK.


*So, why restrict myself to English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK? It’s not that nothing else is going on of importance. For me personally, I am greatly indebted to my loyal fans in Australia, Canada, and elsewhere. More generally, I suspect that in 25 years’ time, we’ll look back at this time and consider that not only were the biggest changes in SF publishing taking place outside of the English language, but that they will profoundly impact Anglo-American science fiction over the coming decade.

The reason is simply that it’s with the US and UK that I have the most meaningful data and consequently the deepest understanding of how those markets work. Also, I succeed or fail in earning my living as a writer by my success in selling to American readers, so I watch trends there like a hawk.

Posted in A review of 2017 in science fiction, Rebirth of the midlist | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.3 Collaboration: Let’s work together… and make a killing.

This is part of a series of posts about developments in English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK that caught my eye during 2017, along with predictions for 2018. I’ll explain why I’m restricting myself to these markets at the end*.

2017: the Year of Collaboration.

Science fiction in 2017 saw a further deepening of cooperation between authors, particularly those in the SelfPub and NewPub areas. Collaborative anthologies and box sets that have proved so successful for several years in the romance and fantasy markets became yet more commonplace with some high visibility successes, such as last summer’s Dominion Rising anthology (Gwynn White & PK Tyler). For a while last summer, it seemed the whole of Facebook’s science fiction author community was cheering them to the rafters when they reached 28,000 sales by Day#6.

Other notable successes came from Woodbridge Press (the Explorations series by Nathan Hystad– which takes an essentially TradPub approach but tends to involve SelfPub and NewPub authors), Seventh Seal Press (Four Horsemen anthologies — NewPub), Craig Martelle (Expanding Universe series), and Samuel Peralta continued to demonstrate why he has established himself as one of the essential science fiction anthologists of recent years. There were many other examples; I have been particularly enjoying the pulp delights of The Syndicate Studio’s Adventures in the Arcane.

Explorations 4HU 6 in top20 highlighted

At one point in 2017, both the Four Horsemen Universe anthologies and all four of the Explorations anthologies were in the Amazon SF anthology top-20. Well done Woodbridge Press and Seventh Seal Press.

Co-writing

In 2017, even more noticeable than the collaborative anthologies was the increase in co-written novels.

The concept is hardly new. Science fiction has a long history of co-written fiction. L. Sprague de Camp described Henry Kuttner and C.L. (Catherine) Moore’s prolific mid-20th Century collaboration as so seamless that they would alternate at the typewriter, continuing mid-paragraph where the other had left off. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle co-wrote a dozen novels, including the classic The Mote in God’s Eye (1974). Most recently, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck have seen great success under the pen name James S.A. Corey and the Expanse series, starting with Leviathan Wakes (2011).

I tried this myself, recruiting Ian Whates early in 2015 to co-write the second half of my Human Legion series, starting with Human Empire (2015). I can tell you from experience that co-authoring demands much of both authors’ skill, ego, discipline, flexibility, and commitment. It’s a risky business, because you simply cannot be certain the partnership will be fruitful until you try working together for real.

humanempire_eBook_400px

Co-writing from yesteryear

The reason I recruited Ian was to keep up the speed at which the books were released, to keep up the quality, and to keep the writing fresh. I’m sure those same goals are driving the move to co-writing at a time when many science fiction readers are ever more demanding of quality and expect series to complete quickly.

Some co-writing that caught my eye in 2017

Ell Leigh Clarke  & Michale Anderle — The Acension Myth, starting with Awakened (2017)

Nick Cole & Jason Anspach – Galaxy’s Edge, starting with Legionnaire (2017)

Sarah Noffke, J.N. Chaney & Michael Anderle – The Ghost Squadron (2017)

Richard Fox & Josh Hayes — Terra Nova Chronicles, starting with Terra Nova (2017)

Craig Martelle & Scott Moon — Darklanding, which promises to deliver a new book every 18 days, starting with Assignment Darklanding (2017)

Michael Anderle co-writes with many people! Some of the others include Justin Sloan, PT Hylon, Ellen Campbell, and Craig Martelle.

Swapshop

Newsletter swaps and joint marketing became ever more commonplace and successful, sometimes based around collaborative web portals and newsletters (Discover Sci-Fi,  Sci Fi Explorations) and sometimes loosely allied to podcasts (Keystroke Medium,  The Dead Robots’ Society ) although podcasts are increasingly popular in any case (Creative Writing Career,  Tea & Jeopardy , and the not-on-often enough Dataslate).

rca-poster-wide_orig

Keystroke Medium branched out into hats and charity auctions. Also awards. Click or tap on the image to nominate in the Keystroke Medium awards.

One of the standout successes is the 20BooksTo50k movement, which was a goal Michael Anderle set himself (write 20 books that would generate $50k in annual  income). At the moment it most strongly surfaces in its Facebook group (>16,000 members), but delivered a successful Las Vegas conference in November 2017, organized by Craig Martelle. Next month I’m booked for the 20BooksTo50K’s writers’ conference in London, which I’m sure will be absolutely fabulous but also very useful on a practical level.

20BooksLondon

The past few years have seen several professional writer and small publisher conferences, in which science fiction has been strongly represented, but it wasn’t until 2017 that I personally saw these real-life training and networking events emerge from Facebook groups.

In fact, Facebook is becoming an ever more important means for author collaboration (Space Opera: Writers is another big and active group). For non-American writers like me, FB is particularly useful to network and agree deals with American authors and publishers (and I like to think the reverse is useful too, though admittedly to a lesser extent!).

I also saw OldPub getting in on the collaboration game, becoming more aggressive in cross-selling through coordinated deep discounts rather than discounting piecemeal. For example, in November 2017 Gollanz (a UK science fiction and fantasy imprint of MacMillan) were once again offering 50 titles for 99p each, mostly the most recent title from their list of active authors, and I dutifully helped myself to a handful (the sequel to War of the Worlds from Stephen Baxter, Principles of Angels (2010) from Jaine Fenn, Justina Robson’s Glorious Angels (2015), and an oldie, Revelation Space ( 2001) from Alastair Reynolds). Admittedly, these books are patiently waiting in the crush at the foothills of Mount TBR, but I will get around to reading some of them and I probably wouldn’t have bought these books otherwise. Limited time, heavily discounted cross-selling around a list of authors as powerful as Gollanz’s is a form of collaboration that makes a lot of sense.

Collaboration Predictions for 2018

The loose and temporary collaboration between SelfPub authors, and between SelfPub and NewPub will increase in frequency and effectiveness. Some of this essentially comes down to collaborating on the development of brands. This will accelerate the separation between authors and publishers who have brands that are recognized by consumers, and those who do not.


Books that caught my eye in 2017

CC Ekeke is a fabulous writer and I’m sorry to say that although I was aware of him and his Star Brigade series, I hadn’t read him until last year. I was missing out! He delivers greatly satisfying slugs of space opera wonder in which I recognize the best of EE Doc Smith’s, Lensmen, Star Wars, and 90s cyberpunk all brought up to date, secret ingredients added by Ekeke and given his own unique spin. Fabulous!

There were several Star Brigade releases in 2017, but the series relaunched a while back with Resurgent (2014). You can pick up this book by subscribing to Charles’s mailing list.

SB151uc3UbNF3L

Charles has had a very successful year and I think the collaboration angle may have helped (as did rebranding recently with new covers and new logo). I don’t know everything he’s been up to (because that would make me a stalker!) but during 2017, we’ve collaborated on group promotions, one of which he project managed. I see him and chat with him occasionally on a couple of the Facebook groups where I’m active (20Books50K and Space Opera: Writers), saw the Galactic Frontiers anthology he edited, and heard him on one of my favorite podcasts (Keystroke Medium Ep 2.40).

I’m not suggesting for a moment that I had anything to do with Charles’s successful year; rather that it’s interesting from my point of view to see a successful author spinning the wheels of collaboration behind the scenes.

 

Other posts in this series

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.1 – The year NewPub came to stay.

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.2 – Science fiction is still booming.

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.4 – Can I have dragons and man chests with my spaceship?


Start reading Hill 435 today.

Hill435_02_small_mchimp

In the brutality of the Human Marine Corps, there had been no room for Marines who grew old; you served the alien masters until your usefulness ended, and then you were ended too. But then Marines rebelled to form the Human Legion and fight the War of Liberation. What now for Marines at the end of their career?

Tim C. Taylor is a British author of popular science fiction who quit the day job in 2011. For a free starter library of exclusive stories, which make great jumping off points into his multiple book series, join the Legionaries by following THIS LINK.


*So, why restrict myself to English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK? It’s not that nothing else is going on of importance. For me personally, I am greatly indebted to my loyal fans in Australia, Canada, and elsewhere. More generally, I suspect that in 25 years’ time, we’ll look back at this time and consider that not only were the biggest changes in SF publishing taking place outside of the English language, but that they will profoundly impact Anglo-American science fiction over the coming decade.

The reason is simply that it’s with the US and UK that I have the most meaningful data and consequently the deepest understanding of how those markets work. Also, I succeed or fail in earning my living as a writer by my success in selling to American readers, so I watch trends there like a hawk.

Posted in A review of 2017 in science fiction, Rebirth of the midlist | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.2 – Science fiction is still booming.

This is part of a series of posts about developments in English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK that caught my eye during 2017, along with predictions for 2018. I’ll explain why I’m restricting myself to these markets at the end*.

The boom is slowing.

How many science fiction books were bought in 2017 in America and the UK? How many authors earned enough to make a decent living? Is the audience expanding or contracting?

For those of us who earn our living as science-fiction writers, these are vital questions we must keep asking. I can’t feed my family on daydreams; I need to know whether my career remains viable. And yet the answers are difficult to come by, and made harder when trade bodies such as the American Association of Publishers and the UK’s Publishing Association are so keen to spin misleading narratives such as the one that says eBook sales are down (Reality Check: these trade bodies represent only a tiny minority of eBook publishers and their figures only tell us that their eBook sales are down.)

Nor can we turn to all the surveys that tell us the pitiful amount professional writers earn (Reality Check: none of them are based on representative data, and some conflate earnings of novelists with those of journalists, script writers and other forms of writer).

Consequently we’re forced to collate anecdotal evidence from as many people as possible, read all the trade figures, and use our inside knowledge  and tools such as KDSPY to examine the charts and sales ranking on Amazon, where at the least a rough correlation can be made to unit sales and earnings (an attempt is made to summarize them at authorearnings.com).

BTW: This is why I urge anyone who wants to understand the state of science fiction publishing to spread their wings and consult widely different sources of data.

Anyway, here’s what I discerned during 2017.

The flood of science-fiction authors quitting the day job to write full time has slowed significantly, after peaking around 2013-14. However, quitting the day job was still a realistic possibility for some authors during 2017. Two of my friends have done so in recent weeks, and one of the surprises that impressed me personally in 2017 was discovering that authors I’d known for a while had actually been writing full-time for years.

The problem here is that it’s no longer possible to identify professional authors by visually inspecting the Amazon science fiction bestseller lists, something I once did. In 2017, a hypothetical self-publishing author earning a low six-figure income from Amazon sales of their science fiction books can do so while barely scratching the Top-100 of minor bestseller sub-lists, such as Space Marine and Galactic Empires. Being self-published, they will almost certainly never be mentioned in any traditional review or news medium (such as Locus Magazine — although there are a handful of review sites that freely mix up books from different types of publishing) and if they aren’t prominent in science fiction fandom (few are) then unless you move in the same social circles as the author you will probably never hear of them. And yet they will have sold hundreds of thousands of books; just not to you.

spaceoperachart

As I wrote this post, I grabbed today’s top-selling space opera Kindle books on amazon.com: 9 SelfPub, 2 NewPub, 1 OldPub/TradPub. This has been typical throughout 2017. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ‘Children of Time’ (a great read unless you’re terrified of spiders) is not only the sole TradPub title, but Adrian is the only author who got his professional break with traditional publishing. Also of note, five of the self-published titles are from Harper Voyager authors (i.e. these are TradPub authors who mix it up with SelfPub). The point here is that so many of the top SF authors at the moment only rose to prominence in the past five years, and if you don’t follow the newer means of discovering authors, you may never hear of them, and consequently have a highly distorted view of the state of science fiction publishing. Four of these authors between them have sold collectively over five million copies.  (Allan, Arenson, and Anderle are all million sellers, and Riddle has sold two million of his Atlantis Gene trilogy in the US alone).

Elsewhere in science-fiction world, friends of mine are reporting a difficult year. I’m one of them, so I know what it feels like and understand how exhausting it can be when so many of one’s friends are killing it with their sales. In fact, despite the huge growth in the science fiction market in recent years, during 2017 I still heard some people complaining of the ‘death of the midlist’ (by which they mean that unless you’re a huge star, you can’t earn a living as a writer).

Although my year, and those of some friends, were not great, my reading of the data is that science fiction sales and audience both continued to grow in aggregate, though at a reduced rate.

I add that emphasis because earning a living as a science fiction writer is still extremely hard, and there are no guarantees of success no matter the quality of your writing or marketing. Although the number of authors earning good money has soared, the number of authors vying to claim a spot as a full-time SF pro has grown by an even greater amount, and this showed no signs of slacking during 2017.

The ‘boom’ in context. The number of authors earning a good living writing science fiction novels appears to have grown, but remains tiny (I estimate a highly speculative 200-300 authors). But for every one in this group, I estimate there are about 50-100 authors earning less.

To put that in perspective, when I sell a book on amazon, it’s a competition in which the reader has to choose mine over 150,000 other competing Kindle titles in the category of science fiction, each one instantly available at a click of a button.

Many readers are responding to the enormous volume of professionally produced books by retreating to a comfort zone of brands. As in every other industry, if consumers are overwhelmed with choice, they will turn to brands they recognize as delivering quality products, and perhaps also to recommendations from voices they trust. Despite many flaws (oh, don’t get me started on #?&*ing Amazon reviews <grrr> ),  amazon.com has become the dominant voice of recommendation, and I would argue because it gives the most effective recommendations. I don’t get many things right in my predictions, but this is exactly what I said back in 2011, as did many others.

LindsayBuroker

More than just a great writer, podcaster, and dog whisperer, this author has been successfully developing her brand.

In 2017, John Scalzi, Margaret Atwood, Andy Weir, and Alistair Reynolds were successful consumer brands; so too were Sara King, Lindsay Buroker, Black Library, Star Wars, Baen Books, Christopher Nuttall, The Kutherian Gambit, and the Four Horsemen Universe (amongst many others).

Gollancz, Harper Voyager, Crown, and Head of Zeus are not successful consumer brands; most readers will tell you they have never heard of them. Bookstores, literary agents, and newspaper reviewers will certainly know these brands, but not everyday science fiction readers. These are business-to-business brands rather than business-to-consumer.

A key trend in 2017 was to see science fiction authors collaborating to boost their brands, or signing NewPub deals that would associate them with strong consumer brands.

Predictions for 2018

The race for brands will continue. Sales, audience, and also revenue will all increase during 2018, but only in aggregate. I predict 2018 will be the first year since 2010 when over 50% of professional science fiction authors selling into the Anglo-American market will report a year-on-year decline in earnings from their books.


Books that caught my eye in 2017

Wearelegion

The Bobiverse.

Space opera. Dark humor. Hard-as-diamond SF. The quirky Bobiverse books by Dennis E Taylor are all these things, but mostly to me these unique gems are just Bobiverse books. Like many of the key science fiction books that broke out of the core SF literary audience to sell in ridiculous amounts to mainstream readers, a great deal of that breakout was due to the huge success of the audio edition.

Kicking off in 2016 with the fabulously titled We are Legion (We are Bob), the books built strongly through word of mouth until at one point in 2017 Amazon’s new Amazon Charts was listing the first one as the most read fiction book. Taylor finished 2017 with the final book in the trilogy: All These Worlds.

All these Worlds

 

During 2017, We are Legion (We are Bob) was the book I saw with the most personal recommendations and from the most widespread of sources; it was fascinating to see it grow its reputation month by month. There were other titles plenty of people were talking about last year, the TV tie-in edition of Handmaid’s Tale (1986) by Margaret Atwood for one, but nothing came close to Dennis E. Taylor’s masterpiece.

In fact, with Dennis E. Taylor being so successful and Jodi Taylor continuing to show during last year why she is one of the UK’s leading SF authors, 2017 taught me that I am very much a junior in the ranks of Taylor science fiction authors 🙂

Other posts in this series

Part 1: 2017: they year NewPub came to stay

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.3 – Collaboration: Let’s work together… and make a killing.

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.4 – Can I have dragons and man chests with my spaceship?


Start reading The Battle of Cairo today.

TheBattleofCairo_560

Tim C. Taylor is a British author of popular science fiction who quit the day job in 2011. For a free starter library of exclusive stories, which make great jumping off points into his multiple book series, join the Legionaries by following THIS LINK.


*So, why restrict myself to English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK? It’s not that nothing else is going on of importance. For me personally, I am greatly indebted to my loyal fans in Australia, Canada, and elsewhere. More generally, I suspect that in 25 years’ time, we’ll look back at this time and consider that not only were the biggest changes in SF publishing taking place outside of the English language, but that they will profoundly impact Anglo-American science fiction over the coming decade.

The reason is simply that it’s with the US and UK that I have the most meaningful data and consequently the deepest understanding of how those markets work. Also, I succeed or fail in earning my living as a writer by my success in selling to American readers, so I watch trends there like a hawk.

Posted in A review of 2017 in science fiction, Rebirth of the midlist | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.1 – The year NewPub came to stay.

This is the first in a series of posts about developments in English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK that caught my eye during 2017, along with predictions for 2018. I’ll explain why I’m restricting myself to these markets at the end*.

It’s not just Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing. 2017 was about NewPub vs. OldPub.

Since around 2010, self-publishing has grown from barely noticeable in Anglo-American science-fiction to a powerful force. Not only that, but in doing so, SelfPub has grown the audience enormously. So it’s hardly a surprise that commentators on the state of science fiction publishing often talk about the dynamic of SelfPub versus TradPub, but 2017 saw the another key part of SF publishing come to maturity. I call this NewPub.

NewPub publishers produce books by authors, same as TradPub, but they use one or more of the innovations in publishing models to arrive at something that is not SelfPub but deviates so profoundly from traditional publishing that it can no longer be classified as TradPub either.

As much as anything, NewPub is an attitude. NewPub is innovation. NewPub shrugs away OldPub’s shackles of convention and forges a shining new path. At least, that’s how it looks when it works. It’s lean, agile, fast and learns quickly. Publishing is a brutally competitive business and NewPub does not win its proponents an exception. NewPub’s failures slough away to soon be forgotten except in the hearts of disappointed authors, but those that climb to the top do indeed shine brightly.

In comparison with TradPub, NewPub contracts may acquire rights for a more limited duration, and be more limited in the rights take. Often NewPub will offer a considerably more generous royalty rate too. A NewPub standard seems to be emerging of offering 40-60% of net revenue in return for exclusive publishing rights for 7-10 years. As part of this lean and collaborative attitude, NewPub will frequently bypass agents, making direct contact with successful authors who have retained the rights to their own intellectual property. That’s one of the unintended consequences about Amazon’s position: everyone can see how many books you’re selling through the most important retailer of the lot. Whether you’re succeeding or failing, it’s plain for all to see, and NewPub is watching.

Not all NewPub rolls the same way, but I said NewPub is as much about attitude and a key way this manifests is that NewPub is more of a collaborative partnership than the one-way IP grab of larger TradPub, or a small publisher who might be responsive but sells too few copies to pay more than hobby amounts.

Take as an example, last summer’s Dominion Rising anthology led by P.K. Tyler and Gwynn White (which sold 16,000 copies in pre-order and a further 12,000 copies in its first six days, and was available for only six months). That’s a co-operative of successful science fiction authors doing more than tweeting their new book has come out. The team worked hard together to pool their impact in a highly competitive market. Those sales figures are tiny in comparison with science fiction titles that break out of the science fiction homelands and out into the mainstream. Nonetheless, a few tens of thousands represents a nice slug of money for the contributors, and more importantly an introduction to tens of thousands of potential new readers in this crowded market.

woolreviews

Take a look at the huge number of reviews for Wool (2012) by Hugh Howey. It’s an example of a science fiction book that broke into the mainstream, and the movie version hasn’t even been released yet. But one of the changes wrought by NewPub and SelfPub is that you no longer need to sell anything like this number of books to earn a good living as a writer.

NewPub is Podium Publishing and other audio-only publishers. It’s the Michael Anderle publishing empire, and Four Horsemen Universe; it’s science-fiction anthology cooperatives that sell tens of thousands of copies and earn five figure sums to distribute for the authors (such as the Empire at War anthology I helped to launch). Many of the NewPub publishing imprints are being set up by science fiction authors who made a killing in the Kindle gold rush a few years ago.

NewPub will derive the majority of its sales through Kindle and audiobook sales, and may fund some titles through Kickstarter.

NewPub has transformed the careers of several of my author friends during 2017. I wouldn’t go that far to describe my own experience, but here are a few ways I’ve been involved myself.

I signed deals with Seventh Seal Press, who had an incredibly successful 2017. Not only have they delivered many high-selling books, but while they offer a traditional publishing contract (in the sense that I give them exclusive publishing rights and they pay me money) it is one that would make OldPub authors weep. So I class Seventh Seal as NewPub.

I’m still receiving plenty of royalties from the NewPub Empire at War (2016) co-operative anthology (possibly the most successful ever launched at a British science fiction convention).

During 2017, my own imprint, Human Legion Publications, published an entire book series from debut author JR Handley, securing an audiobook licensing deal with Podium Press, and sold tens of thousands of copies along the way.

For_a_Few_Mchimp

A NewPub anthology with a publishing model that had elements of the TradPub anthologies I’ve been in, but also elements of SelfPub cooperatives. Plus, great stories!

And to be clear, these ideas of OldPub vs NewPub and SelfPub vs TradPub are crude tools to help understand the nature of the rapidly changing nature of science fiction publishing. Nothing more. Other important developments fall outside of this model. One of these I watched during 2017 was the continued success of crowdfunding and Patreon. I’m going to cheat by going back beyond last year to May 2016, but it’s a wonderful story. TradPub author, NK Jemisin, pointed out that despite her high profile and success of her novels, she couldn’t see how she could earn a living as a writer. So she launched a Patreon campaign in which supporters pledge a certain amount of dollars each month. Within 24 hours, she had enough to quit the day job. As of today, 1,330 patrons pledge her a total of $5,633 per month.

Many other authors have run similar campaigns, although I haven’t heard of any in science fiction delivering such a large and stable income as Jemisin’s. Part of the argument for midlist authors to sign with NewPub or go SelfPub is the greater earnings per sale, but in Jemisin’s case, I suspect it is precisely TradPub’s ability to deliver prestige without necessarily great income that allowed her to earn so much from her pledges. Interesting.

2017 NewPub highlight.

Without a doubt, this is Michael Anderle and the runaway success of his LMBPN publishing empire (Its lead series sold a million copies in its first two years). Before 2017, Michael was merely one of the standout science fiction authors of the past decade with a knack for collaboration. But the end of 2017, Michael has become the James Patterson of science fiction, earning him what seems to be a permanent slot in the top-40 fiction authors on Amazon.

Predictions for 2018

NewPub will continue to expand. Yet more successful authors will launch spin-off series in collaboration with science-fiction authors who can boast a successful track record of writing high-quality books. Michael Anderle will reach mainstream new attention as the single most influential individual in the world of science fiction publishing.


Books that caught my eye in 2017

The year saw Amy DuBoff  release Scions of Change (2017), which closes out her Cadicle space opera series that opened with Architects of Destiny (2015). They’re epic multi-generational space opera books; kind of Dune meets Star Wars. But that wasn’t what most caught my eye from Amy (nor were the couple of anthologies we both wrote for). That would be Covert Talents (2017), the start of a spin-off trilogy to Michael Anderle’s Kutherian Gambit series, and co-written with Mr. Anderle.

Covert Talents

Speaking from experience, it’s nerve wracking as a professional author to  see whether the success you enjoyed with your first series will translate into success with subsequent ones. The trilogy was released over three months and the third book, Veiled Designs (2018) hit the #1 spot in amazon.com’s space opera bestseller lists for a while last week. I was delighted to see Amy prove to the world that she’ll be a major name in science fiction for many years to come.

 

Other posts in this series

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.2 – Science fiction is still booming.

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.3 – Collaboration: Let’s work together… and make a killing.

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.4 – Can I have dragons and man chests with my spaceship?


Start reading Damage Unlimited today.

Tim C. Taylor is a British author of popular science fiction who quit the day job in 2011. For a free starter library of exclusive stories, which make great jumping off points into his multiple book series, join the Legionaries by following THIS LINK.


*So, why restrict myself to English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK? It’s not that nothing else is going on of importance. For me personally, I am greatly indebted to my loyal fans in Australia, Canada, and elsewhere. More generally, I suspect that in 25 years’ time, we’ll look back at this time and consider that not only were the biggest changes in SF publishing taking place outside of the English language, but that they will profoundly impact Anglo-American science fiction over the coming decade.

The reason is simply that it’s with the US and UK that I have the most meaningful data and consequently the deepest understanding of how those markets work. Also, I succeed or fail in earning my living as a writer by my success in selling to American readers, so I watch trends there like a hawk.

Posted in A review of 2017 in science fiction, Rebirth of the midlist | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

I’m back at #1

Ebook Colony CoverIt’s been a while since I’ve been at #1 in an Amazon.com bestseller chart, but here I am again today as part of the team effort behind the latest Explorations anthology. I’ve had a busy schedule this year, but I decided last Christmas to make room to write a few stories for the fun of it rather than to tie in directly with my main novel series.

That’s why I wrote a novelette for the Four Horsemen Universe anthology, For a Few Credits More, which was released a  few weeks ago, and another for the Explorations themed anthology series. Simply put, I was already a reader of both series and what could be more satisfying than to deepen my appreciation than to get involved myself? Of course, in order to have a story commissioned, there was the minor detail of begging/ threatening/ fooling/ bribing the editors as appropriate.

Both series reflect a trend I’ve seen for a while in science fiction literature towards a sense of adventure and close attention to excellence in the basic mechanics of storytelling, and all this coupled with an increased interest in the ‘hard’ sciences and engineering (I say ‘increased interest’ but that’s not always quite the same as ‘rigorous scientific accuracy’!).

That may seem an odd thing to say (what writer aspires to mediocrity in storytelling?) but it’s really a question of emphasis. An award-winning British science fiction writer proudly stated on Twitter recently that he is not and has never been a storyteller; he is a writer. Good for him. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s been a big trend in science fiction over the past decade of readers searching out a fundamentally different mindset.

An example of this trend is Andy Weir’s The Martian, and in that I do include the scientifically inaccurate sandstorm at the beginning, a conceit Weir freely admits he added to turn the rigor of his speculative science blog posts about someone stranded on Mars into a blockbuster audiobook/ novel/ movie (there really are sandstorms and high winds on Mars, but Martian air lacks enough density to carry much force). I see authors in this trend taking a starting position of “let’s get the science, engineering, military, social, economic and other aspects right”  with varying degrees of “but let’s consider monkeying around with the realism in a few cases if it gives a big boost to the story”.

For_a_Few_200pxIn the Explorations series, for example, we have sentient stars, which don’t feature heavily in textbooks (unless you count the excellent Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon). On the other hand, in The Light of Distant Earth, the story I contributed to Explorations: Colony, the editor checked out my stellar geography and that the stars I mention match the data observed by real life astronomers. In For a Few Credits More, and my follow-up novel, Midnight Sun, the universe bible insists that we have no artificial gravity or inertial dampeners. Space battles need to observe such little details as the laws of physics. Starfighters don’t have a resistant medium to push against, so they cannot maneuver like airplanes or boats, and if you accelerate too rapidly, you crush your crew to death.

And always, the storytelling must be excellent.

While this trend has been apparent for years now with novels, it is only recently that I’ve seen it so prominently in short science fiction. I suspect what’s happening is that a critical mass of successful novelists – most of whom have established themselves through self-publishing or the new independent presses – are applying their same writing mindset and skills to writing shorter fiction simply for the love of it. Just like I did.

Of course, whenever we talk of trends in publishing and literature, it’s important to remember that there are many trends all  expressing themselves simultaneously, and often in apparently contradictory directions. Also that for every norm you suggest, there will be plenty of exceptions, and cases that don’t fit well with any attempt to categorize them.

Nonetheless, trends are real, and it’s part of my job as a professional writer to watch for them. Given that a decade ago, I canceled my last subscription to a science fiction periodical because I’d finally accepted that I rarely enjoyed the type of stories featured in any of the contemporary top-flight magazines, I find it significant that when I looked at the top-20 SF anthologies chart on Amazon.com today, I saw it contained all six of the Explorations and Four Horsemen anthologies ( at positions: #1, #6, #7, #11, #15 & #18)

Explorations 4HU 6 in top20

Congratulations to Explorations anthologist Nathan Hystad and his team at Woodbridge Press, and Mark Wandrey and Chris Kennedy at Seventh Seal Press.

They’re all great books, and not just the ones I’m in. Try them out! With the Explorations anthologies, there is a brief 99c/ 99p promotion on all the Kindle editions of the Explorations anthologies in most regions for the next day or so. Many of them are also free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. You can find the series in the US here and UK here.

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