I feel like I've known L.J. Sellers for a long time, yet in this digital age of publishing a long time is a couple of years. Sometimes you wonder whether the person on the other end of the computer monitor is really a friend or just someone angling for attention, but with L.J. I've never felt anything but warm, honest interaction without strings attached.L.J. Sellers is the author of the bestselling Detective Jackson mysteries along with several other stand alone thrillers. She began her writing career as a client of Al Zuckerman with Writers House Literary Agency and has recently signed an 11 book contract with Amazon's publishing house, Thomas and Mercer. Eleven books? That's confidence.
Right now a lot of authors are debating whether to go through the painstaking process of getting an agent and a publishing contract or going straight to Indieville. We all want to do what's right for our careers. I asked L.J for her insight because she's been an Indie and a traditionally published author, so she can speak from both sides of the fence.Here's L.J.—
1- At what point in your writing career did you sense that you could actually survive on the money you made from writing books?
I’d been writing novels for twenty years, then in 2010 everything changed. First I was laid off my journalism job, then ebooks started to really sell and Joe Konrath was blogging about making money on Kindle. I decided that if he could do it, so could I, and I set a goal of earning a living from ebooks by the end of 2011—giving myself a year. Then I did a month-long promotional push in October that really paid off, and by Christmas, I knew I was done freelancing. At that point, I realized the most cost-effective thing I could do was to write another novel. And that’s still holding true.2- You've had a stellar career as an independent author, what persuaded you to sign with Thomas an Mercer?
Being an indie author—writer, publisher, and marketer—is exhausting! And the ups and downs of ebook sales can be nerve wracking. Winter/holiday sales are terrific, but in August, the money can get tight. More important, I believe Amazon will take my career to a new level. Its marketing clout is unparalleled, and I’ll be able to reach thousands of readers who have never heard of me. And with Amazon taking some of the production and marketing off my shoulders, I’ll have more time to write…and spend with my family. I don’t want to work 70 hours a week forever.
3- As a client of T&M, did you ever get the sense that Amazon is plotting to take over the publishing world? Be honest, you saw Jeff Bezos rubbing his hands together when the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Apple and five publishers for price fixing, right?A lot of readers and writers were quietly cheering when the DOJ filed that suite. Big Publishing has been dominating the industry and colluding to keep prices high for decades. Jeff Bezos may dream of dominating publishing (he hasn’t confided in me yet), or he may just be a very competitive and successful bookseller who will end up at the top of the pile. If this were a different industry, he would be more respected than feared. But a lot of people have an emotional attachment to physical books and to bookstores, and the thought of losing either is difficult for them.
But blaming Bezos for the decline of physical books is like blaming the president for declining employment. We have fewer jobs now mostly because of technology and outsourcing—machines are doing the work that people used to do. We have fewer bookstores now because of technology—people are buying ebooks and reading on their devices, many of which are not made by Amazon. Change is disruptive, and if legacy publishing wants to compete, it has to innovate, rather than collude.4- What's the best choice for a new writer right now? Traditional or Indie?
For most authors, the traditional publishing route is a dead end. You can send query letters for decades and never land an agent or a contract—even if you’re really talented. Agents, editors, and successful legacy authors perpetuate the myth that if you’re talented and tenacious, you’ll eventually break through. They forget to add “or die trying.” The odds are against you. If you’re the kind of person who buys lottery tickets, go ahead, give traditional publishing a shot. But if you’re the kind of person who makes lists and goals and gets things done, then you might as well take charge of your writing too and self-publish.
5- What will the publishing industry look like 5 years from now? And will I be alive to see that?Five years? You’d better be around, Gary! I certainly plan to be. A lot of pundits say the rate of change in the industry will escalate and that within five years, the landscape will change completely again, but I don’t think that’s true. We already see a slowing in ebook growth—but that’s a slowdown in growth, not a slowdown in actual sales or adoption, which is still increasing. But reading-only devices will give way to tablets, and in five years, they may be almost as common as cell phones.
I think Amazon will continue to dominate the ebook market, at least for a few years. And it will sign more and more bestselling authors as they leave legacy publishing for a more profitable future. But Big Publishers are making changes too, consolidating, getting ebooks out faster, and streamlining their overhead and distribution structures, so a few players will survive. But most indie bookstores won’t make it, and B&N will have to expand into more retail goods, because most fiction will be read digitally.But it seems inevitable that the growth in the number of indie authors will slow down too. Fewer unprofessional authors will jump in with their first book when they realize the investment required and the lack of immediate return.
In that same vein, it seems that Amazon will eventually streamline Kindle Direct Publishing and start vetting books just to keep some of the absolute crap from clogging up their website. Someone will create a software program that can scan submissions and reject anything with a lack of grammar and punctuation. And I think all the digital distributors will start to drop books that don’t sell. Once their inventory hits a certain point, quality over quantity will become a factor.