Norton’s Footsteps

Andre NortonI’m a science fiction fan. I’ve been one for almost as long as I can remember. I think I became a fan in one of the classic ways — I was infected by my father.

You see, he had all of these great books by Andre Norton. Back in the 70’s, apparently, women weren’t supposed to be writers, so Alice Mary Norton wrote under the pseudonym of Andre Norton. She was YA before YA even existed. And so many of her books had awesome covers. You couldn’t help but pick them up…

Her stories were science fiction adventures, with young heroes encountering danger on exotic worlds. She wrote four of these squeaky clean adventure stories every year for years and years. And my Dad and I would snap them up as soon as we saw a new one on the bookstore’s shelves (with his money, of course).

At age 11, I knew I wanted to be a writer.

Then life got in the way. High school, college, my first real job. With a B.S. degree in Computer Science, I was soon making too much money to consider taking the pay-cut necessary to be a full-time writer. Plus, I had bills, mortgages and other things to worry about. Thirty passed, and then forty.

Start Born, by Andre NortonI still wanted to be a writer, but every time I looked at what it would take to start a writing career, I balked. It just didn’t seem feasible to be a writer. I can think of no other field in which an accomplished practitioner, like your average mid-list writer, can’t make a livable wage.

There was clearly money to be made. Big international corporations wouldn’t have gotten involved in publishing if there wasn’t money in it. It’s just that very little of that money seemed to flow towards the writers. On a typical paperback book, priced at $8.99, the author only made about sixty cents. And if a book didn’t make it big, it was out of bookstores in less than six weeks.

It seemed like a rigged game to me. There were too many middle-men, each taking a share of the money. And too many gatekeepers deciding what was publishable according to their own personal tastes (without once consulting their actual audience).

So I diverted my creative urges into other pursuits. I crafted elaborate and detailed worlds for role-playing games, and ran game sessions for my friends that were like intricate novels. Some game sessions were fantasies, fantasy mysteries, or fantasy horror thrillers. There were science fiction stories, too. For all of them, I kept detailed notes on characters, events, background details, technologies…figuring it all might be useful someday.

Time Traders, by Andre NortonEverything changed in 2007, although I didn’t realize it at the time.

Amazon released the Kindle in 2007. For the first time, ebooks were a viable proposition for authors. It was possible for authors to connect with readers in a fair marketplace, and for the readers to decide which books (and authors) would be successful.

By contrast, bookstores weren’t fair marketplaces, you see, because publishers were allowed to “cheat.” Publishers dictated the choices that would be available to readers by virtue of what they published, and even anointed what they thought should be bestsellers via their promotional activities. They could pay extra for special promotions like displaying books on tables near the front of the store, or displaying books on the shelf face-out instead of spine-out. Additionally, there was no “long tail”…newly published books were out of bookstores in a month to six weeks unless there was a dramatic demand for them.

With the Kindle, Amazon created a level playing field. The disruption of publishing was hardly noticeable at first, but it kept accelerating.

I really noticed the disruption in 2012. I was already aware of the increasing impact of ebooks on publishing. After all, I’d seen Borders go under. But I hadn’t really embraced ebooks myself. At WorldCon 70 in Chicago, though, I encountered the raging debate between traditionally published writers and self-published writers, and I started to really realize the potential of self-publishing. I also ended up having dinner with Hugh Howey and some of his fans. Hugh is one of the most successful self-published writers, known for his international best-seller, Wool. After talking to Hugh, it became clear that publishing really had changed dramatically.

Star Guard, by Andre NortonWith the middle-men and gatekeepers out of the way, writers are now making real money. For a book selling between $2.99 and $9.99, a writer takes 70% of the sale price on Amazon. Writers can find their own audience, because they don’t need publishers anymore. Oh, it’s still work, but writers have upside potential that they never used to have.

I decided that it was time for me to go for it, to really take a hard run at writing professionally. Previously, whenever I looked at writing professionally, the business model just didn’t make sense. There were too many variables that were out of my control. But now, it feels like modern self-publishing was made for someone like me.

And besides, if not now, then when? There’s never going to be a better time for me to become a professional writer.

I believe I have the writing skills. I’ve certainly written many successful things in my life, including technical articles, proposals, dynamic speeches, well-received presentations, and hundreds of blog entries. I have the speaking skills for interviews, panels, presentations, classes and speeches — all that work in Toastmasters has paid off. I have the social media skills from my technical background, and have maintained the web presence for numerous organizations over the years.

Daybreak 2250 A.D., by Andre NortonIt might be a little later in my life than I had originally hoped for, but the dream that Andre Norton inspired in me at age 11, the dream of being a professional writer, is realistically within my reach for the first time. Many of the variables that were once completely outside of my control are now well within the grasp of a hard-working writer with extensive social media experience and a “can-do” attitude.

This is my time. Why don’t you come along for the ride?

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1 Comment

  1. Posted August 25, 2013 at 12:39 PM | Permalink

    It also occurs to me that this is also another danger sign for traditional publishers.

    I’m a seasoned professional in my technical field. I’ve been a Web Application Architect for years. I build large-scale web projects for customers, bringing a wide array of skills together to solve really hard problems. And nothing stops me. My customers don’t pay me to be stumped by problems.

    As I turn those skills and my professional capacity to accomplish long-term projects towards professional writing, the option of traditional publishing isn’t even on my radar screen.

    Think about that for a minute. Consider the ramifications.

    A seasoned and experienced professional with experience in both technology and business, after studying the field of publishing for the last year, has decided that traditional publishing is not even a viable solution for consideration when embarking on a writing career.

    I suspect I’m not the only one to come to this conclusion. It doesn’t seem like a great time to be a traditional publisher.

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