It’s not hard to convince modern readers of the benefits of ePublishing. The popularity of the Kindle and Nook has given book lovers an unparalleled level of freedom akin to the invention of digital music players. The first iPod was released way back in late 2001 — ten years later and how many people do you know who don’t own an MP3 player?
But it’s not just bibliophiles who will benefit from new reading technology; savvy authors are in line to take advantage of the changing publishing landscape too. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we are actually benefiting more from this reading revolution than readers themselves.Think about this for a moment: all that has really changed for readers is how they purchase, store and read their books, but the act of reading hasn’t changed one bit,it has just become far more convenient.
The digital age has unleashed a new publishing paradigm on the world, but the true revolution isn’t happening for the reader, its happening for us, the authors. The equivalent of a tsunami is slowly sweeping its way across every aspect of publishing, and when the waters of change finally subside, the landscape will be unrecognizable, with few of the old establishments left intact.
The benefits for authors extend far beyond being able to publish one’s novel without the help of an agent or publishing house. It even exceeds the unprecedented commission payments and our ability to retain complete control over our work. This new business model forces indie authors to become socially active to succeed. We now have to reach out from wherever we write and actually talk to our readers, and our peers. As an author, I have an opportunity few writers in history have had: I can interact directly with my target market (fans of the post-apocalyptic genre and Science Fiction buffs) and ask them what they enjoy or dislike about the genre.
You’ve probably heard of Goodreads, it’s a site that brings readers and authors of every imaginable genre together, and that’s where I decided to put my theory to the test. I already had an outline for my new novel; I know how it starts and ends and the majority of what happens in-between, but I wanted to speak to lovers of post-apocalyptic stories and see exactly what it was they would like included.
I joined Apocalypse Whenever, a Goodreads group with over 1600 members from around the world interested in reading post-apocalyptic fiction. The group’s moderator, Gertie, was kind enough to allow me to post a request asking for their opinion on what makes a good end-of-the-world novel. The response I got from the members was absolutely phenomenal. I had well over 100 replies; each gave me invaluable insight into what readers look for from a post-apocalyptic storyline.
I now know they want believable but flawed protagonists; they don’t want the clichéd macho-soldier type who can overcome any obstacle or situation thrown at him, or the professor who’ll save the day with a miracle solution from out of thin air. They want intelligent characters they can care about who are involved in situations situations that require ingenuity to overcome. They want normal people, just like you and me; ordinary people who are forced to overcome extraordinary situations that none of us, as readers, hope we will ever have to encounter other than between the pages of a good book.
There was also a consensus that post-apocalyptic novels lacked strong female leads: so my new book’s protagonist will be female. She wont be an unbelievable characterture of what seems to pass for a strong woman in today’s TV and movies, instead I hope to create a true heroine, someone just like my female readers who (fingers crossed) they’ll associate with, but one with character traits my male readers will also recognize in women in their lives.
You may be asking whether this is a wise decision, letting go of some of the creative process involved in the development of my novel. Will this stifle creativity? Could this kind of writing-by-committee cause authors to abandon traditional development in favor of a narrowly targeted development process aimed directly at a particular stratum of readers? Could it kill organic story development and creativity?
Maybe. But it’s doubtful.
John Locke, in his recently released book “How I sold 1 Million e-books in 6 Months”, basically admitted that this process is the secret-sauce for his phenomenal success. Locke has found a niche readership that he caters to. He listens to them and writes exclusively for that audience, everyone else can go pound salt as far as he is concerned. He expects to get negative reviews from people outside of the narrow band of readers he has identified as being fans of his stories, but that doesn’t matter to Locke. He’s gone out of his way to cultivate a relationship with his readers and gives them exactly what they want. It’s hard to argue with the kind of success he has had, no matter what you think of his ability as a writer.
Am I advocating authors give up creative control of their next novel? No, of course not, but as writers we are lucky enough to be at the forefront of a revolutionary period that gives us greater access to the people we write for than at any other time in history. It would be a crying shame if we missed this opportunity to reach out and connect with our readers, because, in the end, that is who we are really writing for.
A quick plug: My new novel is called Extinction Point. It’s due out this December. You can sign up to be notified when I release it by using the form in the top-right hand side of this page