The Frontiers of Publishing

The Frontiers of Publishing

A Guest Post By Jason Dyck


I should note up front that I am not an expert on the publishing industry. I am an editor and a bibliophile, and I have more than a passing understanding of marketing, but I currently have no books of my own for sale. This is my attempt to pass along what I learned from someone orders of magnitude more experienced than me.

I had the chance a few weeks ago to sit at the feet of the great Tracy Hickman and learn about his experiences in the new frontiers of publishing. Tracy and his wife Laura have been experimenting with new ways of reaching their readers, new ways of delivering content and getting paid for it. They have decades of experience in the industry, and they’ve recognized that the world is changing, and they need to keep up. The Hickmans have a series of books they’ve been using as subjects for these experiments called the Dragon’s Bard. The books use (among other things) the serial novel format, with chapters released regularly to subscribers, who also receive special collectible editions when the book is complete. This model is what led them to understand the changes in sales model that I’m about to share with you.

You see, the Dragon’s Bard publishing model was initially based very closely on the traditional publishing model. Being a lifelong bookworm, I was somewhat aware of that model, but in a fish-in-the-water sort of way. Until Tracy laid the whole thing out for me, I’d never really stopped to think about how it worked. The old sales model looks like a pyramid in three tiers, and works something like this:

* Hardcover- Initial sales are to hardcore fans, collectors and trendsetters. The publisher is looking to generate a great deal of hype with a beautiful book and rave reviews from the important people who will be the first one’s to own the book.

*Trade Paperback – Six months to a year later, the paperback is released. Sales are driven by the hype generated by the tastemakers who liked (they hope) the initial release. There is (as I understand it) less marketing push here: earlier sales are expected to drive these later sales.

*Mass Market / Discount books – This is just cleaning up the stragglers. Selling to people who would not otherwise have read the book, scraping up the bits of profit left in the book as you move on to the next one.

The old model is obviously very top-down, relying on 20th century-style media channels. Good Morning America and Oprah were the kind of outlets that would generate your initial buzz, which would trickle down into the lower enthusiasm and price brackets and direct them to your book.

That model is mostly dead. With the changes in publishing, distribution, the rise of ebooks, economic pain for buyers and sellers both, and the democratizing influence of the Internet, that top down approach has very limited effectiveness. There are still lessons to be learned from it, and ways it can be adapted for current trends. For example, since the gatekeepers are gone there is now a demand for guides to find the good stuff, a way to avoid the worst of Sturgeon’s Law. That’s what that top tier and the publishers themselves were needed for, and what still needs addressing today. However, the model itself is defunct.

That was roughly what Dragon’s Bard tried initially. Subscribers would receive chapters as they were written, and at the end receive a fancy, hardbound, numbered book. Paperbacks were introduced later, intended to be driven by the buzz from the subscribers. That didn’t work nearly as well as they hoped, and eventually led them to understand the right way to go about it. The new model flips the whole thing on its head, to become a funnel. Here’s what it looks like:

* Cheap or Free Content – Blogging, sample chapters, short stories, limited time giveaways of books. People today want to try your material before they will spend money with you. The Hickmans tried selling snippets of two chapters each week leading up to the release of one of the later DB books for two dollars. Fans bought them, and then bought the book as well. All of those people who now know you’re style and quality can be funneled down to buy your

* Ebooks – Low cost, easily available. The golden price range is between $2.99 and $4.99, which is essentially an impulse buy for someone on a modest but steady income. Many people will buy your book even if they aren’t raving fans at a price and convenience like that. Depending on their lifestyle and how much they liked the book, many of them may funnel down to buy your

* Paperbacks – There are several kinds of people who will buy paperbacks. I should note that this differs <em>heavily</em> between fiction and non-fiction. I’m going to deal strictly with fiction; you can probably apply the principles to non-fiction easily enough. Some may not have an ereader, though there are fewer and fewer of those. Some people buy the physical book just to better support an author they like, or to have something they can have autographed at the next con. A few want a copy to gift or lend, though many of those will opt for a nicer option for gifts. According to Tracy, most of the paperback sales are in trade paperback, rather than the smaller mass-market or pocket edition – those have mostly been replaced by the ebook. Among these people who want physical books, a few will be devoted enough to want

* Hardbound – These are the casual collectors and the old fashioned. Again, motivations may vary, but at this point they are mostly a matter of aesthetics (having a nice book on the shelf), or pride (having that book on the shelf), or for giving as a gift to someone else. A very few of these buyers are going to demand this.

* Collectibles – This is a high-quality hardbound, possibly with exclusive cover art, definitely signed and probably numbered. This is for the hard-core collectors and the rabidly devoted fen. There will be few of these sold (and if you can accurately predict how few, you can make them even rarer and make those collectors happier still) and the margin may be smaller, but they will make those customers happy and inclined to support you more, both morally and financially.

Sell to your widest audience first, and let them generate the buzz for your more expensive options. Make sure that you’re hitting all the sales avenues, but always from broadest to narrowest. This model isn’t exact; for example, some people may skip a level (for example, many people may buy a paperback instead of an ebook) but the general idea is solid, and your approach will be essentailly the same. As I mentioned earlier, there is still a need for guides, and as they appear they are worth engaging and courting, but there won’t be a few, controlled central message channels that you can dominate to create interest in your book.

Of course, all of this is logistics. The key to making a go of writing professionally is in your audience, which the Hickmans well understand. “It’s no longer about being published … it’s about being read,” Tracy told us. “It’s all about the audience today; acquiring direct contact with the reader, maintaining and growing that relationship. Anyone can get ‘published’ today. Being an author is all about having readership.” Understanding distribution is all well and good, but there has to be someone to buy those books. Without a story worth reading and people who know about it, you’ve got nothing to distribute.

The world is changing, the ground is broken up around us in this business, but from my own observations and the Hickmans’ experiences, this looks to be a pretty good roadmap for the new lay of the land.

*Full disclosure: at the same symposium where I met Mr. Hickman and listened to him explain all this, I also happened to win free tuition for the writing seminar that he and his lovely wife run. My name was drawn at random, not in exchange. You can find more information on that seminar here; I highly recommend it.

Jason Dyck is our very own Free Range Oyster (which is one of my favorite handles ANYWHERE) and his professional  site is here.  Jason is attempting to break in as something all of us need.  Well, no, not a multimillionaire, though that would help (us and him!).  He’s trying to break in as a freelance editor.  If you need one, consider giving a try to one of our very own ATH family.

©Jason Dyck 2013  If you wish to repost this, please seek permission from the author.

108 thoughts on “The Frontiers of Publishing

  1. In this brave new world of writing and publishing, the readers themselves are the screening mechanism – and you are right, there needs to be some kind of guideposting system to sort out the good stuff from the … umm, horrible. In a ham-fisted way, reader reviews on Amazon and on sites like Shelfari and Goodreads are a help. Having a website/blog and an active author page on Amazon are absolutely essential. I’ve also been told, over and over, that good word of mouth about a book is one of the best ways to market it. People who love the book rave about it to their friends, give copies as gifts, and they do the same in turn – but they say that word of mouth doesn’t really start to pay off until about five years. That is perfect for POD/self-published books and writers who take the long view (which traditional publishers didn;t – it was make or break in a year or less.) My own first HF novel came out in 2007, and it has been my consistent best seller, although I do hardly anything to market it, since I have written five since then. That one book usually counts for half to a third of monthly sales as an e-book and paperback.

  2. I’m still working on the part where I write good stuff people want to read, so no marketing for me–yet. I’m saving this article for the future.

  3. In books, with the new distribution methods, I still feel like we need new ways to get out word on new books and new authors. Either new review sites or something else. I would like to see a website developed by someone to aggregate reviews, news of new releases, discussions of genres and reading lists. The favorite book lists of Amazon is one example.

    1. One thing I’d like to do — if I had programming skills and you know, had updated my own site — is take the few writers here, the Human Wavers, who are doing free books posting and have an aggregator site where you could go and read them all. The writers could link their completed books at the end of the post, or even have a page where you can read samples of those per author, after you consume the free chapter.

      Anyone here up to this?

      1. Sounds similar to what Baen was doing with their free library section before it was mostly shut down for contractual reasons stemming from their new relationship with Amazon. Specific to their stable of course, but intended as that first free taste to hook the fishes as was the practice of snippets which are still done on occasion by some authors with Baen threads.
        Then too we still have devoted primarily to Baen product sample chapters though other books do show up on occasion.
        Neither has the broad open reach I think you’re after, but the mechanics and logistics would be similar. I try to never spend time reinventing a wheel that works, preferring to invest my resources on that flying car we still don’t quite have perfected.

      2. For posting free content, I came across a system at the same symposium where I met Mr. Hickman. It’s called WattPad, and one of the writers I met swore by it. Since she’s used it to make a living at writing YA novels, there must be something to it, eh? I can see the value of having something specific to HW, but if there’s already a tool available free of charge, we might as well use it.

        I really need to start putting up posts on all the awesome stuff I heard and learned at LTUE.

      3. I’d be glad to lend some programming muscle to the concept. Even considered a way to scan ‘n scrape posts for automatic inclusion in the library. The thing is, while I’m interested in building it, I’ve got no intent on curating it. (At least for now. Call me a few years from now when the seas of life aren’t so rough and I might be willing to pick it up.)

        Hey, maybe this is something that could be wrapped into that Human Wave Foundation you were talking about a while ago? Yet another benefit of membership? Does “Get your book promoted alongside such award-winners as…” sound like a perk?

        1. I’d be interested also – anything to get more people knowing about my books. (Which are historical fiction, and not science fiction, BTW.)

      4. Ok, since this thread will go by the wayside in a couple of days, I created a group to discuss the idea. Anyone interested, please go to:!forum/human-wave-preview-and-review-site

        And ask to be added. If your email address is different from your name here, you may want to add a note as to what name you go by here (if that’s possible when asking to join the group – I don’t see that page, and I’m too lazy to go to another browser to check. If you can’t, and I don’t recognize you, I’ll send an email first).

    2. Go to Larry Correia’s site — — for an example of new book promotion technique. Having an established and popular author recommend books has serious benefits.

      As few established and popular authors can crank out sufficient verbiage (much less adequate nounage or ample adjectivage) to sate their public’s desire this type of promotion is very low cost for the author (and, in states not beginning with CO, allows for a slight palm-greasing via Amazon.)

      BTW, if you have not yet purchased Sarah’s Darkship Renegades, note that it is linked by Larry. (“Linked by Larry” has a nice sound to it, don’ it?)

        1. Just finished Larry’s MHI books that are out. Great books– lots of fun. Now I am starting the Grimnoir books. The first book started a little slow (introduction of all the characters), but I am now hooked.

              1. Pfui – I haven’t the books right to hand and Wiki ain’t helping, so: POV novel for Owen Pitt’s wife* as she has their child and she has to deal with a monster all her experience growing up in the world’s first family of monster hunting has not prepared her to face: the terrible twos?

                *Can’t recall nor [SEARCHENGINE] her name. Dagnabbitt!

                1. Owen Zestava Pitt and Julie Shackleford Pitt.
                  And of course Earl Harbinger, the good wolf.

            1. Owen and Juli walk into the George, planning on getting take-out because they are on the way to investigate reports of demons rigging the tables (and eating a bus load of senior citizens) at Cripple Creek . . .

    3. One thing I’d like is a “raw rating” instead of a “rating and review”. I have no problem giving my sense of how good a book was, but usually hit a brick wall when I’m asked to explain WHY.

      1. I’m waiting to read “I hate this book because ten years ago the author stole my husband, drove through my flowerbed and killed my cat as the shameless hussy and worthless b-stard ran off!” It’s a better reason than some I’ve seen. 🙂

        Kobo seems to allow raw ratings as opposed to requiring a review.

          1. You flatter me. 🙂 Although for a while there was a betting pool as to if I would get done in by an angry wife after selling her husband an airplane.

      2. I’m of the opposite view, as its the “why” that reveals the trolls, stalkers and loons on Amazon’s reviews.

        1. Loons. I swear I bought a coffee maker that only had three reviews and was low-rated because one of them was “I tried to use this without water and it exploded. It’s unsafe.”

        2. Yes, the WHY matters, especially for conservative authors selling Human Wave type fiction.

          “This novel was completely unbelievable! Instead of complaining about the way Skyway Soap Corp. completely misled him and dashed his hopes, Kip Russell blithely accepts the piece of crap the corporate crooks fobbed off on him, wastes a summer doing tasks rebuilding an obsolete spacesuit that completely fail to prepare him for modern life and then stumbles into a plot where, instead of doing the smart thing and selling out the human effing race he risks his life pointlessly and to no avail multiple times. That he survives at all is merely dumb luck. This novel was boring and pointless.”

          1. For some reason, I always get comments to the extent that my women aren’t believable. Since They are a lot like me and my friends I have to agree. we’re not only not believable, we’re nearly impossible!

              1. Huh? Small words please? I really don’t feel like breaking out the dictionary… and if I translate it seems you are saying a mixture of lies. ummmmm…..

                1. Oh, I just want to know how much truth there is in the professional lies. Occasionally my vocabulary overcomes my good taste. I apologize.

                  1. *snort– 😉 I learned a long time ago that one-syllable Anglo-Saxon words are more expressive than the three-to-four syllable words. Or more precise in meaning. I just didn’t want misinterpretation to blind my ocular muscles.

                    1. Again, I apologize. I think I developed it as a defense measure to be deployed against my father, an irreverent reverend and inveterate punster. Like I said: occasionally I lose track and let things slip a little.

                    2. I employ the polysyllabic sesquipedalianisms to confound those doltish enough to conflate vocabulary with intelligence. As William F. Buckley, Jr. repeatedly demonstrated, it creates severe cognitive dissonance in the (self-identified) intellectual elite.

                      That, and years of reading William Safire “On Language” impressed on me the difference between striking lightning bugs and striking lightning.

                    3. Surely that is “sesquipedal polysillablism”?

                      Also, I got to use “conflate” in an interview today, and everyone nodded approvingly.

                    4. It sounds like he had it right: a convention for people who inflate balloon animals.

                    5. I was scrolling down through the screen fast, looking for comments I had missed and read that as Sasquatch polygamy.

                    6. I use exotic words because they’re not exotic to me. How am I supposed to know which words other people don’t know? (Ah, the delights of picking up your vocabulary through reading. Trouble pronouncing them is another.)

                    7. Words that end in -tion -ness -ize or other such endings came from the French inclusion in our language. There is usually a better word. For example, talk is a word that is nice and sweet. When some one on TV says dialogue instead I have a fit (they say– I want a dialogue– how dumb is that?) another word… government types like to use the word utilize instead of use. I see this a lot in government pubs to make the writer sound and look good, plus it obscures the meanings.

                    8. Good excuse ;-)… I keep trying to think of the author (the one about the pigs?) who said that it is better to use words based in the Anglo-saxon language. ARG– my mind is blanking… lol as usual.

                    9. Cyn, I think you are meaning Orwell, but I remember that Churchill liked to use the difference between germanic (anglo-saxon) and latinate words to drive subtext in his speeches. Usually the germanic rooted words have more punch and earthyness, where the latinate ones are more refined and airy feeling.
                      That was what I was tryingto play with in my comment about sasquatches v trolls.

                    10. Ah– you are right– As for the difference between Sasquatches and trolls (only height imho) I think you forgot that both come from earth. You would have to make a difference between dragons and trolls. 😉 air and earth

                    11. Depends on the sub-species of Trolls. Some are the same size as Sasquatches. Others could step on Sasquatches and some others have to worry about Sasquatches stepping on them. [Wink]

                      Oh, while most Trolls dislike sunlight, not all of them turn to stone when hit by sunlight. [Grin]

                    12. I was going to say — looking at this thread — that you people are amazing. But, actually? You people are nuts. I LIKE you, but you’re proof positive of the convergence of High IQ and Bugfunnuts.

                      ‘s highly entertaining.

                    13. To add further evidence to your statement, I loved the troll in the Monster Hunter books that the MHI team came across. Not only was he a monster troll, he was also an *internet* troll. [Very Big Grin]

                    14. I was going to say — looking at this thread — that you people are amazing. But, actually? You people are nuts.

                      Not both, you mean? I would think that “amazingly nuts” would fit quite well.

                  2. Sasquatches are actually renowned as paragons of fidelity and monogamy; like swans, in their undying marital devotions.
                    Tolls and the other Huldr-folk are known for their wandering and many-wifing ways; though seen as true to the day, many days come in a life.

                    1. I hate it when that happens.


                      Facts are stubborn things, but not nearly as stubborn as fallacies.*

                      On Tue, Mar 19, 2013 at 5:14 PM, According To Hoyt wrote:

                      > ** > accordingtohoyt commented: “That universe LEAKS. We’ll just say that, > m’kay?” >

                    2. I read this, then immediately read a forum post about someone’s chicken soup leaking into their purse.

                      Which makes me wonder if the universe smells like chicken soup.


                      Facts are stubborn things, but not nearly as stubborn as fallacies.*

                      On Tue, Mar 19, 2013 at 5:14 PM, According To Hoyt wrote:

                      > ** > accordingtohoyt commented: “That universe LEAKS. We’ll just say that, > m’kay?” >

                    3. STOP THAT! I was eating when I read that.

                      Of course, it was an hour later than you posted it…

                    4. So the chicken comes last, that still doesn’t answer the question of whether the chicken or the egg comes first.

                    5. When the Gnome King completes his conquest you can be sure the egg will not come, not at all, and declaring “I am the Eggman” will be a suicide cry.

                  1. Like I said elsewhere, I’ll never look at award-ceremony-chicken the same way again.

                    1. And– why do they always serve rubber chicken at banquet dinners? I have noticed this phenomenon since I was a 4-h’er in the early 70s.

                    2. This actually irritates me (the practice, not your comment). When I worked at a hotel, we served GOOD food at banquet dinners.

                    3. Cyn,
                      It’s logistics. Rubber chicken tends to degrade slowly, while other mass produced banquet fare, while more appealing at some point in its cycle, is even worse by the time everyone gets served. RC survives in a marginally edible form for much longer. For a very broad definition of edible of course.

              2. It’s all true. For certain values of truth, anyway.

                Those who agreed to be redshirted or tuckerized are recognizable. Everyone else has had observed traits mixed and mangled so that easily recognizable things from several different people will show up in a single character.

                All the con story type incidents are things I’ve heard from con-goers or friends – or I’ve seen myself – with serial numbers filed to protect the guilty or (more commonly) to serve the plot.

                The deaths are fiction. I sincerely hope the supernatural critters are also fiction. The costumes are not, although I might have exaggerated a little bit here and there. And I don’t have a perfect memory, so some things get blurred.

                What scares me is finding out after the fact that something I thought was purely fictional actually happened. Or worse, a character resembles a convention personality that I never knew existed but I’ve still managed to capture them damn near perfectly.

                This is why I say that universe leaks. Others say no, it doesn’t because leakage implies slow transfer and the thing is actively colonizing us.

                1. Conventions are generally nonviolent and pleasant experiences, but there are sometimes stupid things that happen, and there are annoying people who attend. Also, some convention attendees do not interact well with the outside world, and there are sometimes cases of vice versa.

                  In general, the bigger the convention is, the more varied the activities and attractions. However, the socializing is often more pleasant and calm at a smaller convention (assuming that attendance is still at least 75-100 people) or a relaxacon (which is usually just an oversized house party held at a hotel, sometimes tied to an sf club or to the folks who run a big convention).

                  Anime conventions tend to be queue-oriented, event-oriented, and constantly worried about fire and decency laws. Science fiction conventions usually don’t have these worries and are more freeform, because fannish traditions evolved earlier and differently. TV/movie/media/fanfic conventions are somewhere between the two, mostly depending on their organizers’ previous types of convention experience. Occasionally one gets fandoms full of vastly alternate tradition or newbies who totally reinvent the wheel thanks to never having gone to a con before, in which case the experience will be more like an academic symposium or banquet or sherry party (Sherlockians do them all in one) or a business conference.

                  1. I should have specified. I thought I HAD specified. I blame post-book brain for the absurd lack thereof (further compounded now that I’ve finished ConSensual). My apologies. Being married, I’ve gotten good at saying that. I meant specifically about the delightful Bosting … clan? horde? omen. An omen of Bostings. For omens – as all know – are ominous.

                    1. The Bostings are a special case. Sarah asked me to tucker her as a reformed succubus and include the whole family as well. I did. The rest… happened.

                      I’m told people have recognized her and her family from my descriptions in the Con books.

        3. I understand that, but how helpful is “It was an enjoyable way to spend time”?

          1. And, please, I’m a lazy SOB. If you demand more, I most likely won’t give a review unless the work is at one of the tails of the curve.

            1. Which is why reviews are helpful — they mean somebody cared enough to make the effort to comment — and why reviews tend to cluster at the 1-star and 5-star points.

            2. Its not. But seeing a low rating with a review that discusses the conspiracy between the British Queen and Masons can be illuminating…

              1. And contrary to accusations currently in my email, that was not a pun. After all, I didn’t capitalize the “I” …

            1. True and I’m a person who’d say “Good Read” as a review, but I understand why some want a more detailed review. IMO they’re wanting more info on “why it’s a Good Read”. IE what genre and what was the reader’s expectations.

              Oh, I’ve done a few “Good Read” reviews but I give very very few “Bad Read” reviews. A book/story has to be extremely bad before I give negative reviews.

      3. I’d prefer something along the lines of Amazon’s “people who bought this also bought” category. For ease of use, a reviewer (raw or explicated) lists five recent stories they’d consider “good reads,” allowing me to do the sifting on my own. For a more ambitious production, code it so that you can search by title and/or writer.
        “People who liked X also liked,” and it spits out a list: 50 people who liked DST also liked LFoD, 45 liked On Basilisk Station, only 3 liked Old Man’s War. That kind of thing.

        1. Back in the Eighties I worked part-time at a movie theatre and learned when people walked up to the ticket window and asked “What’s good?” that it was ALWAYS wise to ask two questions of them: “What was the last really good movie you saw?” & “What was the last really bad movie you saw?”

          This prevented sending fans of “The English Patient” in to see “Back To The Future” and verse vica.

          Any review/recommendation should contain sufficient information to communicate to its beneficiary what the reviewer’s biases are. Fans of grey goo or vampire porn are entitled to like what they like, but it is important to know whence their reviews come.

          When you ask your waiter “Is that dish spicy?” you need to know whether their idea of spicy starts at cinnamon on the oatmeal or at “Thai” hot.

  4. But, just to give back a little — I cannot recommend “The Martian” by Andy Weir strongly enough. Hard SF with an engaging character facing an interesting challenge.

    Best of all — just $.99. Worth more than that.

    1. Thank you. See, now, this is what we need. People who we know just enough to trust that when they say “is good” we can go take a closer look. I’ve been reviewing on my blog, but I have so little time it’s not a big help.

  5. I was at Life, the Universe and Everything too but I didn’t catch that panel. Nice write up.

    1. It wasn’t a panel, precisely. I was tempted – strolling by – to linger, just out of glare-range, but I figured I could pry it out of Der Mollusc later . . .

  6. What trying to aply logic and common sense to publishing…. It will never work… poppycock…. balderdash…. and all that..

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