This is a freelance article by Helen Grange
Is Digital Publishing the Only Way Forward for New Science Fiction Writers?
There has been much speculation that the only way for new authors to get works of science fiction published in this day and age is through digital publishing. What has become described as ‘the post-paper age’ new authors seldom see their work published in book form, taking the form instead of the eBook. But what exactly does this post-paper age entail?
Writing science fiction in the post-paper age
In a recent seminar at the Origins Game Fair in Columbus Ohio titled “Writing in the post-paper era,” science fiction writer Michael Stackpole gave his view on the subject of the modern science fiction publishing landscape. Stackpole was the first author to make short stories available through the iPhone App Store and is absolutely convinced that both science fiction writers that have been around for a long time and new science fiction writers need to get used to the new methods of delivering the content to their audience or fade into the abyss. He even went as far as to offer evidence that digital publishing will not only be the only option for all kinds of authors in all genres, but even that it will work in their favor.
The advantages of digital publishing for the modern market
Stackpole has had almost 40 published novels including eight from the lucrative star wars franchise. He argues that digital publishing offered more control and a greater reliability on receiving payments promptly and directly. When he sells a story through his website he is paid before the buyer has even finished downloading the story. Due to the directness of the processing of funds, Stackpole said that the opportunity for greater profits was much greater when he sold a book over his website as opposed to in book form. In comparing the two forms, he said the time lag for payment on a hard copy novel is most commonly between six and nine months during which time he is forced to take the publisher’s word that all accounting done by their department is totally accurate and fair.
Publishing online and the danger of piracy
A worry for many writers who continue to have reservations about publishing online is the easy opportunity for piracy. However, Stackpole was very quick to dismiss these concerns. He said that he truly believes that people illegally downloading his novels never had the intention of buying them in the first place and therefore is no money out of his pocket. He even admitted to downloading some of his own titles illegally using torrent sites if he didn’t yet have a digital copy of his own. He said he found the downloading was much easier than scanning the hard copy.
How do you get into publishing online?
Online publishing, at least when done by reputable online publishing companies, offers a certain freedom to new writer in that there are absolutely no barriers to starting their own websites, building an audience and creating a market for their work. All these processes used to involve a heavy cost on behalf of major publishers. By posting short stories or serialized fiction on their own website, new writers won’t cause any problems to the chances of their own career either as mainstream publishers seldom view digital publishing as a serious threat.
Publishing online not just changing the method of delivery
In his talk, Stackpole also raised the thought that a shift into the electronic market might not solely affect the delivery method of books but also change the nature of the stories themselves. It is inevitable that in order to get the best chance of success, new authors will tailor their stories to this new format. He referred to an emerging ‘commuter market’ that read one or two chapters on their way into work in the morning and back in the evening. He predicted that chapters would become easily digestible at around 2,500 words and said the days of serialised fiction, such as with the work of Dickens in Victorian era magazines or ‘Penny Dreadfuls’ could witness a resurgence. As readers today are very sophisticated he said that writers would put a lot more effort into devising new plans for delivery and inventive new methods would be thought of.
The future of science fiction publishing
Despite a willingness to fully embrace the digital world, Stackpole also stated that he did not think the end of the hard copy novel was imminent. While many professional online publishers and talented writers will embrace the online world fully, the paper copy was always going to have a market. He used the analogy that “cars did not kill off horses” and reiterated that digital publishing would change the way books are written and sold. For a fledgling science fiction writer, it is positive to hear an optimistic viewpoint of the digital publishing world that isn’t coated with doom and gloom.