Thursday, April 03, 2014

A Wake Up Call for Tracy Hickman

Via PassiveGuy, who was linking to an article from ScienceFiction.com about a convention speech by bestselling sci-fi author Tracy Hickman to a room full of writers.

Quote Tracy:

“I have to do more now,” he said finally. A hush went over the audience as Hickman continued to describe the conditions under which authors are laboring under today. One can write 12,000 words and sell it for 4.95, he said. At that price point, his 120,000 novel would have be $49.50, which would be impossible to market.

“I’m fighting for my life as an author,” he admitted frankly, his voice solemn.

He then said that his audience of 6 million no longer find him because the book store is dying. A booksigning in older days would have fans lining around blocks just to have his signature, but a booksigning now might only get six people. “I have a 6 million following,” he said quietly, “and they don’t remember me.”

Now, he works 12-14 hours a day writing four times the books he’s comfortable writing because he makes a fourth of what he used to.

Tracy, I was really torn in how to respond to this when I read it. But I did feel compelled to respond, because I want to help you by offering some hard-won advice.

On one hand, I'm sorry the system that helped bring you fame and fortune can no longer do that for you. I was only entangled in the legacy system 1/3 of the time that you were, and it didn't treat me very well. But a look at the early years of my blog shows how hard I tried to be a part of it. I naively trusted those in NY Publishing to do their best for me, and I worked harder than any writer, before or since, to help my publishing partner sell as many books as possible. That including sending 7000 letters to libraries, visiting over 1200 bookstores, and doing events in 42 states.

My thriller series, though in multiple printings, got dropped, and I was forced to write horror under a pen name for half the money (going from $40k a book to $20k a book), and then that publisher screwed me and I did sci-fi under a pen name for 1/3 the money.

So I understand the mentality of running as fast as you can just to stay in place. I did it for eight years.

On the other hand, when all three of my major publishing relationships ended, it was mainly because I finally woke up and realized I was getting screwed.

So while I believed I'd gotten a raw deal, I didn't whine in public about it, or throw myself a pity party about how hard this business is. I realized that no one owes me a living. Even the fans who love me don't owe me.

That's when I took back all of my books--through great effort and expense--and self-published them, along with a slew of new titles.

I chose to give NY Publishing the finger. I encourage you to do the same.

Writing 4x as much to make what you used to make? Why the hell would you do something like that? If you have millions of fans, Tracy, they'll read whatever you publish. You're the brand, not your publisher.

You're upset that it's raining and you're getting wet, and right there next to you is a barrel full of free umbrellas. Reach for one, for crissakes.

If people can write 12,000 words and sell it for $4.95, what is preventing you from writing 12,000 words and selling it for $4.95? Have you heard of Hugh Howey? Wool? Or are you so entrenched in the legacy system that you feel there is really no other way?

I noticed this type of behavior way back in 2011. I called it Stockholm Syndrome. Read it. But a warning: it's gonna hurt. Truth and change always do.

Yes, I know you're wounded, and depressed, and frantic. But you need to take a few deep breaths and be brave.

Being brave means turning down shitty publishing contracts in favor of self-publishing.

I don't know you. I didn't hear your talk. I only have your quotes, and their interpretations, to go by. Maybe you're a forward thinking, deliberate, self-aware, brave writer who had a brief, public moment of nostalgia for the old days. Or maybe you're crying because someone moved your cheese.

It doesn't matter if that article painted a perfect picture of you. What matters is you feel you have to work four times as hard as you used to, and you're unhappy because fans aren't showing up to your signings.

So change.

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing, over and over, hoping for a different outcome.

I'll assume you aren't insane, but simply stuck in a rut.

Here's my advice:

1. Start reading my blog from this post in 2009 until present. It will take a day or two, and you'll get a Master's Degree in how to self-publish. This progression shows me going from $30 a day on Kindle, to well over $1000 a day.

2. Get as many rights back to your old work as possible. This may involve hiring a lawyer. That's what I did.

3. Buy out your current contracts. That's what I did.

4. Self-publish everything, and make sure it is as professionally done as possible. That's what I did.

5. Experiment. That's what I did, and still do.

I remember the feeling of impotence that legacy publishing instilled in me. No matter what I did, I wasn't good enough. Matters were out of my hands, and I didn't know what to do.

In hindsight, the answer is obvious.

When your career is out of your control, take control back.

It's risky. It's ALWAYS risky. But at least you'll have a say in your own fate. Working your ass off, begging for the crumbs your publishers hesitantly throw you, is indentured servitude. Especially when the industry has changed enough to give you many advantages and benefits you didn't have five years ago.

Now, I'm being intentionally provocative and critical because I believe you could use a wake up call. This is also a wake up call for the thousands of other legacy authors who are in your exact same position.

If you know a legacy author bemoaning their career and latest contract, forward this post to them. Don't let fear and despair and routine and impotence keep you from connecting with fans, making better royalties, keeping control of your IPs, and finding peace previously unheard of in this career.

I know I sound like a Zoloft commercial. But there really is an answer to your problems. It isn't a pill. It isn't crossing your fingers, hoping your publisher will treat you better. And it isn't the industry going back to the way it used to be.

It's self-publishing. And you need to embrace it fully, not in your spare time.

If you want to talk, Tracy, email me.

Addendum:

Tracy Hickman graciously responded on his blog. http://www.trhickman.com/wake-up-call-five-years-ago/