Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Business Model of Writers In a changing World Part 2: Google+

This post is about the career (not at all atypical) of a powerful Science Fiction/Fantasy writer as it relates to the Business Cycle (one of those boring economics things we have to force ourselves to pay attention to.)

I know many such life stories (from many decades of publishing career-stories), but I want to share this one with you because this fellow's success was particularly well deserved -- yet the business cycle swamped him, too. 

Tobias S. Buckell on Amazon

There he is on Amazon. 

He hit the brick wall of 2008, and now he's BACK!!!  And he's using the tools I've been telling you about since 2007 -- Web 2.0, social networking, interactivity, and now crowd sourcing.  We live in a new world, and some writers will grab hold of it and leverage it to commercial success.

I found the link to his blog on Google+  -- a social network that's recently added Communities (as Facebook has Groups, and others have other ways to sub-set your connections.)

Here's the blog entry I found on Google+


https://plus.google.com/u/0/116892646782163010765/posts  is the fellow who posted the link on Google+ 

2008 is widely acknowledged as the time when the Housing Market crumbled, and the USA went into severe financial crisis right in the middle of a big Presidential Election.  Yeah, but it was all easily predictable by SF writers in 2006 and 2007 -- you didn't even need to follow financials to see it coming.  Book sales told the story, a "Leading Indicator" as they say. 

Here's a quote from Buckell's blog post:

My first science fiction novel debuted in 2006. Crystal Rain was flavored with a science fiction stew of Caribbean refugees fled to a lost world, steampunk, a dangerous dreadlocked cyborg in a trench coat, and an ancient evil pressing down on our heroes. The first of my Xenowealth novels, it was followed by Ragamuffin in 2007 (a Nebula nominee), and Sly Mongoose in 2008. I was in my mid to late twenties. I wanted to write more. I wanted to grab the dream I had since I was 14 (and indeed in 2008, after much hustling, most of my money was coming from fiction and I was pretty much living the life I’d been striving toward).

The books didn’t do too well in chain bookstores, each time getting a smaller order. As we know from real estate: location location location. So each book sold less in bookstores. It was quite dramatic with the step between Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin (where a small buy-in from Wal-Mart even buoyed first time reader numbers, but was not repeated for following books). And yet…

…readers of the series compensated for the loss of chain bookstore placement by switching to ordering online off Amazon. Independent stores were still really nice to me (special shout out to Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, which always was responsible for moving the highest number of copies). Library orders still remained okay. Sales didn’t increase, but they weren’t dying. In fact, Sly Mongoose slightly grew in hardcover (it just came out in paperback this year after a 3 year delay, so those numbers are still trickling in). Tor had agreed to buy two more books in the series, giving me my planned 5 book series.

But I am nothing if not a realist. In later 2008, when I met my editor after seeing that Sly Mongoose was barely carried in any bookstores we had an honest discussion about the chances the 4th Xenowealth book would have. It would probably get even less bookstore placement, being harder for readers to stumble on. Based on the core, awesome, dedicated readers I already have, we guessed that it would do okay. Just like Sly Mongoose it would get enough readers to offset the loss in bookstore readers, and indies would help. But overall, I wouldn’t be growing sales much. Just ticking up slightly.

Some have wondered if my publisher killed the series. No. It was a mutual decision hashed out over a business lunch, the topic raised by me. My editor and I thought, hey, let’s change direction. I started working on a novel called Arctic Rising.
-------------END QUOTE------------

Now right after the end of that quote, Buckell tells of how life dealt him blow after blow -- a typical Pluto Transit situation but I don't know his natal chart, good things (wife pregnant with twins) and bad things (he had health disaster) along with a career wipe-out he attributes to health. 

And for him, that's true -- he might have leapt across the economic chasm of 2008 because he's that good a writer, but he got floored by a massive health problem while the rest of the world shattered.

As he came out of that long, dark tunnel a year later, he investigated self-publishing on Kindle -- but that route is chancy at best and he had a family to support.

Meanwhile, Kickstarter began to attract enough attention that his friends were telling him about it.  And in 2011, he launched into a Kickstarter project.

Now, go read how he researched Kickstarter.  There are a lot of "crowd-sourcing" websites operating now.  It's a trend.  But research - ah, that doesn't change.  Learn to do it for one kind of thing, and you know how to do it for everything, with only a few quirks to learn for each application.

Now I'm not expecting you to want to use a crowd-sourcing website for your Romance novel. 

Crowdsourcing works best for you if you already have a following or an "in" with a connected market, or a ready-made crowd to use as a source. 

But things like Google+ Communities are making crowds which will become "sources" -- imagine the world that capital raised this way will create.

It will be a different world than we've lived in -- some of the problems created by Big Business raising capital on Wall Street will go away, but other problems will be generated that we have to imagine and write about in Science Fiction Romance.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Are you reading Doonesbury this week? A couple of days ago, Leo (the disabled vet) started a Kickstarter project for a client's music album. When they told the boss about it, he said something like, "And now a bunch of strangers are going to send you money? Dream on, kids. The industry hasn't changed that much. You still have to send out your demos" etc. The final panel reads, "We just raised $2000 -- make that $3000." The boss walks off muttering something about playing with his 8-tracks.

  2. Margaret:

    Kickstarter and similar web-based crowd-sourcing sites are at least for now the "wave of the future."

    Certain business ventures do well using this model, and others can't no matter what they do. But I wish it had existed when Star Trek ToS was cancelled.

    Look at this one: www.thegrindstone.com/2013/03/14/work-life-balance/veronica-mars-movie-reaches-2m-kickstarter-goal-in-record-10-hours/

  3. The latest issue of F&SF has a very funny article in their "Plumage from Pegasus" feature with examples of Kickstarter projects that might be undertaken in the distant future.