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.
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.
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.
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
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.