Wednesday, February 10, 2010

10 Steps To Making Science Fiction Romance A Contender

Punch Out Little MacWhile the turbulent forces of publishing industry storms have been brewing, I’ve been wondering how science fiction romance readers, authors, and small press/digital publishers could take advantage of the changing times.

This isn’t to say that the traditional publishing model is on the way out—far from it. Mainstream print publishers will continue to be a driving force, but they are tightening their belts to maximus restrictus.

Even though SFR is a niche market, there’s no reason we can’t get creative about connecting the product with both current and new readers. Developing and implementing new strategies will require an innovative mindset and lots of elbow grease, but I believe there’s plenty of opportunity for science fiction romance to grow despite the sturm und drang. New seeds are being planted.

As I reflected on how to make science fiction romance a contender, ten points came to mind....

10) A new belief system is in order: The reader, not the bookseller, is the customer.

9) Customers are demanding affordable books, especially digital ones. (It bears repeating that paperbacks outsell hardcovers, and this article outlines “the shocking few [hardcovers] sold at that price [$20 plus dollars].” (Thanks to Jane from Dear Author for the link.)

8) Inexpensive ebooks can translate to higher profits. We can’t control the market, but we can control our own behavior. What, then, are specific, straightforward, and realistic strategies we can use to nurture SFR? How can we monetize the various components of our online community?

7) Authors could explore selling digital science fiction romances at competitive prices through their Web sites or in venues such as publication on the Kindle (more on this below the cut). In this case, you’re not just selling science fiction romance. You’re selling inexpensive digital content in an ever-expanding market. Plus, you’d reap a higher per-book income and reach new customers.

6) Aspiring authors should seriously consider bypassing New York altogether—at least for now—and either aim for a career in digital publishing or taking advantage of publication on the Kindle or through Smashwords (in which case, only serious entrepreneurs need apply (more on this below the cut). To refresh your memory, here’s a list of publishers who will consider science fiction romance.

5) Is there a small press/digital publisher willing to brand itself as the leader in quality science fiction romance? If not, it's an excellent chance to grab and own the brand. Opportunities like this don't come often, but here it is—a shiny apple waiting to be picked.

4) Readers (including those that are writers) can buy new, spread the word about their favorite books, and give feedback to authors about what they are willing to pay for ebooks. If you don’t have an e-reader but are willing to read a novella or short story on your laptop, let authors know.

3) Ebooks are the future and the future is here now. You may or may not be a fan of ebook readers in their present form (I know I'd like to see lower prices and better tech), but once a 10-ton train like this starts rolling—and it is—then it's either hop on and enjoy the ride or get out of the way. Paper will still be around for a long, long time, but digital is the future—something that blends well with this little thing called SFR.

2) People who like science fiction like gadgets. I know, who would ever guess? But, it's an important point to make. When this once-niche format called DVD first leaped onto the scene, the best selling discs were all SF related—first was STARSHIP TROOPERS, which was supplanted by THE MATRIX. People who like SF love new technology. And if that technology requires new media to drive it...well, you do the math. Hand meet glove.

1) The science fiction romance online community is its own marketing department. Not everyone can be a J.A. Konrath. But what might we accomplish if we start exchanging our skills and resources to help promote both authors as well as the subgenre? Sometimes it happens organically, but I’d wager an organized approach would benefit the community as well. How about we start the conversation right now?

I realize many of the ideas involve time and the building of new skill sets. And the idea of venturing out into the digital landscape, with its onus on the author to "Do Everything" can seem daunting. But in a niche subgenre like science fiction romance, I don’t believe anyone has to go it alone.

I’m also not alone in discussing alternate publishing business models:

Agent Nathan Bransford believes “It’s a Great Time to Be An Author” because, “In the e-book era, everyone will have a shot.” However, “this new era will require more of authors than just writing a book in a cabin in the woods and shipping it out for someone else to do the rest. It will require an entrepreneurial spirit and a whole lot of virtual elbow grease.”

From the comment section of Are free ebooks a good idea or not?

“…crowdsourcing of fiction is becoming ever more common and does have the potential to make a decent return. Two examples - Lee & Miller wrote the first drafts of their recently published (by er Baen) novels Fledgling and Saltation a chapter at a time visible for all to see on the Internet. As I understand it, they raised somewhere north of $20,000 doing so - I think it may have been over 30k but am niot sure. That's not too different from the typical midlist authorial advance.”

Michael A. Stackpole, in his commentary about authors who lost sales because of the Amazon-MacMillan face-off, posed the question,

“What could these authors do to get more income for their writing?
They could take all the stories for which they own the ebook rights, prep them for publication on the Kindle, and set them up for sale on their own websites. Sales of material from their own websites will pay them today. Kindle sales will pay them in sixty days. Between now and October, an author could easily and fairly effortlessly, pull in $1000 to $3000 via such digital sales. If they work at it, even more.”

He elaborates on the above in his next post:

“Make no mistake about it: the fight over ebooks is a fight by publishers to stay relevant. I’ve already pointed out that they are defending a grossly inefficient business model. Authors now have direct access to their audience and by going direct (even charging less than the publishers) authors can make money faster than the publishers will allow. Authors have plenty of content which they can sell digitally, and can generate more, faster. When you can make more off a $2 short story than you can off an $8 paperback set in the same world, and not have to wait 6-9 months for a publisher to send you your cut, you can take control of your own economy. [Emphasis mine]

Are digital sales to the point where they can supplant traditional publishing income? For some authors they are. Digital readers are proliferating, and the J. K. Rowling demographic is very comfortable with reading off a screen. They’re reading more. And if your work is not available digitally, you don’t exist to them.

It’s time for writers to stop lamenting how the inefficiencies of the old system treat them badly, and to embrace the future. If writers don’t take control of their future, they doom themselves to the obscurity that will swallow the current business model whole.”

In A Fix For Publishing Business Model, Jacqueline Lichtenberg proposes
an ambitious “"story-supported-advertising" business model…Writers wouldn't be selling their "intellectual property" at all. They'd give away their stories, and get paid for giving them away by manufacturers who see their products being bought in order to get access to the story.”

And I’d like to sign off with this inspiring quote:

As publishers pull back from buying the rights to as many books as they try to husband their capital in fewer, more successful titles, they will open the door for new hits to be developed outside of their control.

“New hits,” of course, must mean science fiction romance! That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

Joyfully yours,


Related posts: 25 Ways to Boost SFR