Ebooks and Hocking
No, not that Hocking. I'm talking about Ian Hocking. He's a science-fiction writer, when he's not a psychology lecturer. He nearly gave it all up though (you can read about it here). After years in the wilderness on the 'submit-and-reject merry-go-round' he was ready to call time and focus on his day job. Ian had managed to get one of his novels, Deja Vu, accepted by a small publisher in 2005, unfortunately this was far from a guarantee of success and he spent much of his own time trying to convince book shops to even stock it. It disappeared in the sea of novels released each year.
I keep quoting it as Cory Doctorow, but it looks like it was Tim O'Reilly who said: "Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy." I think Ian is very familiar with that sentiment. Before walking away entirely, Ian was convinced to try self-publishing in ebook format.
He's has written about his experience, giving some advice on the technical points of publishing via the Kindle store, he's also written about what he feels he did right and wrong and provided some sales figures and earnings. After the warm reception of his first novel he decided to release the sequel (which he had been sitting on for a number of years, unable to get published) the same way and talks through getting it properly edited and a professional designer to do his cover. He's also started to branch out into Smashwords and iBooks, as well as Lulu, as additional publishing channels, all the while providing more details about sales and returns (on investment). He's working on preparing his third novel for release and all seems to be going well. The story of his journey is a fascinating insight into how self-publishing has provided an avenue for a writer who previously couldn't get past the gatekeepers of the publishing world. Success is maybe overstating it, but any author wants to be read and Ian has managed that, even though it may be on a relatively small (but growing) scale.
Ian's not the only one who has found some success via self-publishing. Obscurity is something David Moody is familiar with too, having first been published in 1995 via a traditional deal, he found much more success in the very early days of self-publishing via the internet (we're talking 10 years ago). Using it to build a readership and gain exposure, Moody eventually landed a deal with a US publisher as well as selling movie rights to some of his novels; far more than he had achieved with his initial release via traditional channels.
It's interesting to read about how, away from the headlines of authors achieving millions of unit sales and previously published authors going electronic there are success stories of a different, more personal kind. The sort of success that is only possible because technology has blown the doors off an industry that had, intentionally or not, formed a semi-permeable barrier to entry, keeping most people out. That industry now needs to understand they're not just competing with each other, but with every author, published or not.