Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Predictions for 2014, and free downloads!

It's a new year, and this is the time for resolutions, reflections, and predictions.I don't have much in the way of resolutions. I'm going to keep writing, of course. I have a few goals but no need to broadcast them here. This is quiet time for me. Time to plan; time to write. I'll discuss more when I have something down on paper. 

As far as reflections go, it was a tough year in publishing. E-publishing seems to have stabilized and it looks like paper is making a comeback -maybe- but there was a lot more competition across the board. There weren't any big breakouts, just tens of thousands of new books. Publishers fought to remain dominant. Indies fought for exposure. Barnes & Noble fought just to stay alive. I found my own sales fairly consistent with last year, bottoming out over the summer and gradually rising into the new year. Year over year, I've always had growth. I'm not sure yet if that will hold true for 2013-2014 (I often see the greatest increases through winter and early spring) but I'm thankful to be making a decent wage from books that otherwise couldn't even land an agent. I could probably tweak my settings on Amazon or put a bit more energy (and money) into marketing and land a few more sales, but I'm not in any hurry to do so. I'd rather let sales take their natural course, building slowly over time while I continue to produce more material. I'm really not very good at the marketing and promotion thing, so I use my time and energy where they're most effective. For me, that's being a writer rather than a PR company.

So where are we headed? Personally, I have little doubt that e-books represent the future. Some say e-books have peaked and we're headed back to paper, but that's like saying Henry Ford peaked just before the depression and auto sales would never grow again. In other words, despite all the hype, it's still a down economy and growth has been minimal in pretty much every sector except for the stock market. Which is good if you own stocks -at least until the bubble bursts- but not great for everyone else. Ultimately, readers will continue to find books cheaper and more plentiful on a tablet, and paper will continue it's downward spiral... even if that spiral has temporarily slackened. 

The big name in brick & mortar these days in Barnes & Noble. They're struggling. Frankly, they're hemorrhaging, and it's been that way for a while. I think -and hope- they will remain with us, but I believe they will continue to downsize. They will close unprofitable retail locations and downsize in other areas. This is what they must do to stay alive. In the future, I expect B&N to look less like a massive corporation and more like a small, independent chain. Here in NorCal we have a such a chain. It's called Copperfield's Books. This chain has been around since the eighties, and they're not going away. I remember shopping there before B&N, Borders, or that other one -whose name I forget- were even here. In those days, I often walked into Copperfield's looking for the latest fantasy novel. Something by Piers Anthony perhaps, or David Farland, or Robin Hobb. Usually, they didn't have it (they could order it, though) and they still don't. Copperfield's was always good at stocking the hit titles. They have the latest bestsellers, a list which usually includes names like Patterson, King, and whoever happens to be the big literary hit of the year. Back then it was The Accidental Tourist. A few years ago, it was The Kite Runner. Today? I don't know because I haven't been there in a while, but I'm sure it's something trendy and literary (translate non-genre). 

That, I'm afraid, is the model for a successful bookstore, both then and now. Those of us who walk into Copperfields looking for sci-fi, fantasy, horror, or other genre fiction can expect to order it. But if we want the book everyone is talking about, they've got it. And what about nonfiction? Well, don't expect to find that book you need to fix your car. Or your house. But do expect to find something to fix your relationship, your religion, your soul. If you want to expand your consciousness or embrace a new culture, ethnicity, or sexuality, they've got your book. It's the type of inventory journalists describe as eclectic, curated, and cultured.

I don't demean Copperfield's by saying this. The point is that a small bookstore must stock books it can move, and do so quickly. Some of these examples are generalizations based on what's popular on the bestseller lists, others are relative to location and local culture. If Copperfield's was in Idaho or North Dakota, they might have nothing to help your wounded soul, but an entire section devoted to firearms and and hunting. In short, they are a large enough chain that they don't look Indie, but compared to the big guys, that's what they are. Some might call it a niche, but it's a good one. A small business couldn't ask for a better position.

In 2014, I think Copperfield's will do just fine. Relatively speaking, they will probably be more fine than Barnes and Noble. I think Indie bookstores will continue to grow, and Indie authors will turn their backs on the stigma of self-publishing for good. This link, courtesy of The Passive Voice, is a great article about how Indie publishing may be doing even better than we think. Or, from The Digital Reader: If the eBook Market is Flattening Out Then Why did Smashwords' Revenues Grow by a Third in 2013?   (update: this link seems to be having issues, try this one)Excellent Question. Surprisingly, it has been postulated that the term 'Indie' might be as trendy in literature now as it is in movies and music. After all, there's something gratifying about buying a CD and knowing that the money is going straight to the people who made it rather than some big conglomerate recording label that does more to destroy good music than create it. The word is getting out about Indies, and just like music, independent literature is pretty good. In fact, some of it is great, and people have noticed. The future looks bright indeed for Indies of all persuasions.

Personally, I feel quite positive about the outlook for 2014, and I haven't felt that way about the new year in a long time. I believe there are great things to come!

-If you haven't downloaded them yet, my short stories "The Last Heist" and "The Vigilante Killer" will be free all weekend. Grab 'em while you can and share the link with a friend!