Write On!

24 06 2011

Way back in high school, when the glaciers were still receding in the Chicago area, my Dad set me down and changed my life. You see, in spite of having labored long and hard in Honors Math classes the first three years, my first love was journalism. I was on the staff of the Rebel Rouser (hmmm…that may explain a lot to my friends), and I thrilled at the prospect of writing stories and shooting pics. Never mind that the staff had special passes that allowed them to go off-campus to sell ads, visit Jack-In-The-Box, chase leads, get an early lunch, etc. We needed that flexibility, we argued. Not to mention food.

But my Father The Accountant told me, “Son, there’s no money in journalism. You need to be in Business.”

And like a good son, I listened. I enrolled in a Marketing class my senior year, and was accepted into the DECA program. The teacher helped me get a job at a local stationer (and if you remember what one of those is, you’re getting old). That, along with another year of Honors Math, helped me change course for a life in commerce, and one day academe.

I never gave up on writing, though. Which also helps explain why I insist on using blogs as a method of teaching and discourse with my students. It’s just that the writing is not what brings home the bacon (or in my case, tofu). It’s something I enjoy doing, but like anyone else with a hobby, it’s just for fun.

But that is all changing with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. Furthermore, one not need write entire books. Novellas and short stories are welcome. In fact, rank amateurs have the possibility of scoring big. John Locke (a current rendition, not the philosopher) is the first self-published author to sell 1 million Kindle ebooks.

And his strategy is sheer genius. He writes and publishes short stories, and sells them for 99 cents. Depending on which profit model a writer uses at Amazon, his margin is either 35 cents or 70 cents per download. Yeah. Each and every time someone buys it. Multiply that times a million, and you can see why I am wracking my brain trying to come up with the Next Bestseller.

And since the 70% royalty model is available in the US, it behooves all of us Yankee wannabe writers to get moving.

While self-publishing in itself is a liberating concept (who needs an agent or publisher anyway?), it is that low-ball price that really gets my attention. This is the app pricing model. Who cares if a $1 app stinks? “It was only a buck” is what most people will say.

And the same thing they will say if they don’t like your novella.

But if they do like it (and share it all over Facebook), then lots of little $1 sales will come tumbling in.

I rather like the idea of making writing an interactive process, writing (and selling) a book a chapter at a time, but inviting reader feedback along the way. This way the fans can help shape future chapters. Does the protagonist need to die? Get the girl in the end? Or give himself up to authorities? The readers can all chime in.

The beauty is in the large numbers. If the book lists for $25, you need 40,000 customers (which is actually enough to make you a stellar author), but there’s a lot of risk for those readers. If it’s priced $1 at a time, there is no risk…and it’s easier to find 1 million folks willing to drop a few quarters in the Amazon slot machine than 40,000 betting a nice dinner.

Maybe that’s what Dad was hinting at all along. Maybe he saw the future coming better than I give credit. And maybe I can turn what has been a lifelong hobby into a revenue stream.

But first I need to get some lunch. Old habits die hard.

Dr “Word!” Gerlich


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