It’s hard not to hate Dan Brown

But we should try. I mean, unless you know something I don’t – I assume he’s a perfectly pleasant guy. But it’s pretty much Dan Brown, then everyone else (See here via here).  Of course we’ll be at least a little annoyed at the guy who’s lapping the field.

And of course, we tell ourselves we don’t think this way, but we really do – we secretly maintain that anyone that popular can’t be any good.  If it appeals that strongly to the unwashed masses, it must be beneath us, the civilized and knowing.

The question comes down to, “Is Dan Brown’s success good or bad for other authors?”  It appears that, as his sales go up, overall sales are going down.  Dan Brown is an ever-increasing piece of a shrinking pie.  When the US economy turns around, maybe the pie will expand a bit again.  But for now, it’s his world.

Maybe I’m an optimist, but I think his success is good for authors.

He’s proving that people will buy (and perhaps more importantly, read) books if you get them excited.  Some may complain that it’s only the very biggest and most popular writers who are getting this kind of marketing and attention, and that the lesser-known authors are being ignored.  This may be true, but I choose to see that as opportunity rather than tragedy.  People are buying books.  If they aren’t buying yours, maybe you aren’t getting them excited enough.  But that means there’s something you can do.

If no one is buying any books, then authors are in trouble.  But if people are buying books, just not yours, then you have opportunity.  You can do a better job of selling your book, of promoting your book.  Maybe you even write a better book.  But you can do something.

I wish Dan Brown the best, though he doesn’t seem to need it.  And I’m excited about the opportunity to get people excited about books not by Dan Brown.

Fiction isn’t just going to disappear

If electronic publishing—and that includes the reality that it’s very easy to “pirate” electronic text—is a form of publishing that some authors and publishers have a hard time adapting to, then that’s just too damn bad for them. As my father liked to say whenever I’d whine about something as a boy, “things are tough all over.” If they can’t cut the mustard, then it’s just a fact that over time they will fade away.

A comment I left at Teleread prompted a contributor there to send me to an interesting article on the future of novels.  My first thought was, “that’s the biggest and most obnoxious tip jar I’ve ever seen on a website”.  That led me to think, “There’s no way the person who wrote this article has any concept of infinitely copyable digital content”.

But I was very wrong.  And the article comes from an author, someone who has experienced some of the changes in the world of publishing fiction, which puts him in a much more qualified position than many to speak about the industry.

He makes the point that some will be harmed by changes – the electronic revolution will mean that some won’t be able to make a living by writing any more.  That’s unfortunate – no one wants anyone to lose their livelihood.  Certainly when I say that you can’t charge for an ebook, I don’t mean that I think authors should work for nothing just so I don’t have to spend $9.99 at Amazon.

I do think that authors need to find new ways to make money, and it’s nice to see some authors agreeing with me.  People are thinking about new ways to publish fiction.  It’s not going to be the end of fiction, but it might be the beginning of the end of the way the publishing industry does business today.

Luckily, many authors will adapt, and many publishing companies will adapt, and people will still get to consume fiction.  But the way it gets paid for will probably be very different.  Not scary, but different.

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Well, that’s great for a band . . .

Anyone who reads Techdirt regularly will recognize many of the themes here, particularly those dealing with making money in an industry where it doesn’t make sense to charge for your content.  And every time they post about another band succeeding with a new business model, I try and imagine how that model could be applied to writers and books with any degree of consistency.

So far I’ve been frustrated.  Certianly there are opportunities for authors as we move into an age of reading digital books instead of paper ones, but I have yet to see or hear or imagine any model where authors will be compensated for their work at a level that will allow them to live while giving away electronic versions of all their work.  That is not to say that it can’t happen, or won’t, but it means that there is more work to be done, and it means that there is tremendous opportunity for someone who can solve the problem.

There is no question that people will continue to write if they aren’t being paid.  Thousands of fan-fiction sites, Nanowrimo, and any number of other groups, online and off, demonstrate that people like to write for themselves, or just for the sake of writing.

But if we can’t figure out how to pay writers enough to do it full-time, the quality of the writing will go down.  Sure, Nanowrimo has shown that one can write a substantial piece of fiction in a short time.  But to get something equal in quality to your average published novel takes more than a month.  And books like that will be hard to come by if no one can quit their day job and write full-time.

So readers and writers alike are in this boat together, in need of a new plan to compensate writers when people finally realize that it doesn’t make sense to pay for something you can copy instantly and perfectly, as many times as you want.

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