"Thar’s Gold in Them Thar Computers…"
by Robin Burcell
by Robin Burcell
E-Books, the new gold rush? This thought occurred to me as my kids were researching the California Gold Rush, learning about the pioneers of 1849 braving the deadly trek from the east coast to the west. I was struck by the similarity of the pioneers in search of the mother lode to the modern-day writers in search of an (as of yet) untapped market for their e-books.
Looking back to 1849, there are documented letters and newspaper articles about men discussing their lives in the west, some finding a large nugget and striking it rich, and some finding next to nothing and wondering how they were going to survive.
Fast forward to the computer age. History repeats itself, not in gold dust but in e-books, which for some writers amounts to the same thing. E-books aren’t anything new (nor was the search for gold back then). We undoubtedly know writers who have been e-publishing for years. Still, it wasn’t until internet sales of paper books started to take off that anyone sat up and noticed, especially when a vast number of brick-and-mortar bookstores ended up on life support. Suddenly (it seemed) e-books appeared on the horizon with a new zeal, bringing on a surge of writers who realized there was gold to be had on the hard drive of their computers. It didn’t matter if they had a legacy of being traditionally published or had never been able to crack that New York market.
This new type of reader was willing to embrace both the veteran and the novice author alike as long as their stories were entertaining.
Some writers struck the mother lode, the Amanda Hockings and John Lockes of the e-book craze. Articles in well-respected journals and blogs outlined their growing wealth. Additionally, these same editorials pointed not only to other writers who were eager to cash in, but to writers who gave up their New York contracts in favor of going digital, most vocally Joe Konrath and most surprisingly Barry Eisler. I was reading yet another blog by yet another writer who chose to be very open about the number of e-books she’d sold during a certain time period. One need only do the math to come to the stunning realization that many of these authors are earning a lot of cash.
Money aside, there are still writers who dream of that New York publishing house, and a few, like Boyd Morrison, used the internet sales of their e-books to land a print deal. And yet, sometimes through all the hype, it’s easy to miss the writers who are barely making a trickle, maybe a couple hundred dollars a month—if that—with their e-books. It’s nothing that puts them on any bestseller list or in the Wall Street Journal, or highlighted in any blog, but it’s certainly sales they didn’t have prior to putting their books online.
There was a time when an e-published writer was considered something of a fraud if they attempted to bypass the gates of New York. Those that dared to do so rarely received acknowledgment from their traditionally published peers, and some undoubtedly felt slighted or snubbed. Perhaps that’s why the success of these e-pubbed authors who were never published in print remind me of the scene in Gone With The Wind, when carbetbagger Emmie Slattery returns to town as one of the nouveau riche, and gets her chance to turn up her nose at the now-destitute Scarlett O’Hara (who once did the same to Emmie). But I digress. The Civil War was several years after 1849—which, according to history books, was a time of such excitement that perfectly respectable and civilized folks dropped everything to head west in search of gold. Or in the case of today’s writers, to eagerly turn on their computers in search of the next bestseller to e-publish.
So, writers, what’s on your hard drive? Anything besides backlist that you’re tempted to upload? And those of you who are readers, have you discovered a new-to-you writer via e-books that you’ve never before seen in print?