Kristine Kathryn Rusch

The Business Rusch: Audience

Written By: Kristine Kathryn Rusch - Apr• 04•12

 

The Business Rusch: Audience

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

 

Ah, the sound of bubbles bursting.  On television, bursting bubbles have an audible “pop!” so loud it almost sounds like a gunshot. In real life, bubbles make almost no sound as they pop, maybe a faint little wet smack as they cease to be, barely louder than a kiss.

Bubbles really are an apt analogy for dreams. Children get a jar of bubble water, often from a well-meaning adult who then shows the children how to make bubbles. First, dip the round wand into the bubble water, then blow gently, and watch the bubbles—catching light like a thousand rainbows—drift slowly away. Don’t touch them, because they’ll pop, sometimes spraying you with their remains. And even if you make new bubbles, they’ll never ever be quite the same as the old.

Dreams are that way. If you actually touch them, they shatter, revealing themselves to be something other than they appear to be.

Most writers want to be bestsellers—a long-term bestsellers. They want the kind of superstardom that Charles Dickens or J.K. Rowling had, the kind that influences not just one culture, but several cultures. The writers want the money that goes with the bestsellerdom which they imagine to be unlimited, and they want fame—the writerly kind—where people don’t necessarily recognize the writer on the street, but they do know the writer’s name (and whisper it with reverence, since said writer is A Bestseller).

The reality of bestsellerdom is much harsher—and I am not talking about the usual statistics of how many bestsellers there are.  I’m talking about something that Tracy Hickman had on his website this week.

For those of you who don’t know, Tracy Hickman is a New York Times bestselling author who has sold millions of books. He has published at least forty different novels in a variety of series, including Dragonlance. He has worked with his wife Laura Hickman and with New  York Times bestseller Margaret Weis.

The reason I added “for those of you who don’t know” isn’t because I’m being snarfy about Tracy or demeaning his work in any way. I am, in fact, reinforcing a point he made much better in a blog he posted this week.

That point: bestselling writers—even those like Stephen King—aren’t really well known.

In a post called “Writer Vs. The World,” Tracy explores fame and that desire to get recognized. He’s been a bestseller for more than twenty years now, yet he writes, “Whenever I get to feeling too proud of my career as a writer, I always tell myself the following: There are entire provinces in China [filled with people] who have never heard your name.”

Heck, there are probably entire counties in the United States where no one has heard of J.K. Rowling or Tracy Hickman or Nora Roberts or Stephen King.

Rather than settle for the personal side of the observation, however, Tracy adds this about Jurassic Park—not the movie, but Michael Crichton’s novel, which sold millions and millions of copies, and was the blockbuster novel in 1990 when it appeared. I don’t know where Tracy got his statistic—I couldn’t quickly back trace it (even to do the math myself)—but that didn’t stop me from falling in love with it.

Tracy writes: “Consider this: that book sold to 2% of the total number of readers in the United States.”

The reason I love that statistic is because it feels true. Most people who claim to be readers in the United States Census read no more than one book per year. Even if the statistic is off by a factor of ten (and doing some quick math, I think it is), it still comes out to this: Jurassic Park, one of the biggest if not the biggest novel of 1990, sold to a tiny fraction of the population of the United States.

Sold to.

That doesn’t mean that these people even read the novel. They might have been like some neighbors we had growing up—people who bought every single bestselling book and left it in the middle of their coffee table to spark discussion. Often that discussion would reveal that those neighbors of ours did not have time to read. They always intended to get to the books, but never did.

Tracy’s point about Michael Crichton comes from someone who has been there. Someone whose books have sold millions of copies but who is still, even in his hometown, mostly unknown.

Tracy’s point comes from that moment when sticky fingers touch a floating bubble and break it. Become a bestselling writer and become famous. Well, no.

But really, fame is not what writing is all about. Again, Tracy makes the point better than I ever could. He writes:

“The point here is that you do not have to feel as though you are in competition with the entire world. You don’t NEED the entire world to be a successful writer. What you need is an audience—just enough of an audience, mind you—who reads your words, is changed by them and wants to come back for more.”

An audience. More importantly, an audience that reads and “is changed by” your words. Not an audience who loves them, not even an audience who likes them. An audience who is changed by them, and because of that experience, “wants to come back for more.”

Simple. Important. Usually forgotten.

Most writers never make that realization, and the writers who do rarely share it.

Even when we achieve worldwide bestseller status, we never become super-famous. Writers are never as famous as movie stars, but movie stars aren’t even famous in every province in every country of the world. Very few people ever achieve that level of fame.

What about riches? Michael Crichton certainly didn’t die poor. Some estimates put his net worth when he died at 175 million dollars. But, you say, that’s all movie money. It’s not. For example, Nora Roberts who has been notoriously stingy about selling her work into Hollywood (with only half a dozen or so TV movies from her books) makes anywhere from $28.8 million to $60 million annually—and that’s on about 10% of the cover price of her novels. Imagine if she sold them indie, and got 50%-70%. Do that math. I dare you.

So the riches part can and does happen, even with the least known of the bestsellers. In fact, prolific writers who’ve never had a real bestseller can make six- or seven-figures annually.

The money bubble stays intact then. But the fame bubble—the “everybody knows your name” bubble—that one is a true fantasy. At the height of Stephen King’s fame, when he sold books at the rate J.K. Rowling would twenty years later, and every other movie had his name on it, I met a woman who had named her son Stephen King.

“After the writer?” I asked.

She said, “There’s some writer named Stephen King?”

Even writers like Nora Roberts or Stephen King or Michael Crichton have a limited audience. No writer reaches everyone, and no writer ever will.

Yet writers make all kinds of bad decisions in search of the biggest audience they can get. And writers think of that audience in singular terms.

These writers give their books away for free, hoping to hit some bestseller list and gain readers. They only sell in one marketplace because it’s the biggest one in its genre or its category. Or these writers will pursue a traditional publishing deal, not realizing that most writers who sell into traditional publishing never make much money and will never ever ever hit a bestseller list.

The key to developing an audience is to stop searching for one audience. The key to developing a lot of readers for your books—audiences plural—is to do what musicians do: play a lot of venues.

My husband Dean Wesley Smith has a great blog post, complete with nifty pie charts, on this very concept. He separates the approach into long-term and short-term thinking.

The short-term thinkers try only a few markets and attempt to goose sales inside those markets. The long-term thinkers try to develop audiences in dozens of markets, with the hope that the audience “will be changed” by what it finds and “will want to come back for more.”

An audience can’t be goosed. The audience must be built. And then it must be nurtured. Audiences aren’t fickle. They’ll return when they see a notice of something new from one of their favorites. But if their favorites cease to produce, the audience will move onto something else.

Because you must remember one thing about any audience: its free time and its entertainment dollars are finite. So if you fail to produce work your audience loves, eventually your audience will move onto other things. It won’t abandon you: audiences are very loyal. But your audience will think you abandoned it.

Another bubble floats by—and this one has quality written on its side in rainbow hues. What about quality? the bubble-chasers ask.

You don’t gain an audience if the quality of your work is poor.  How many people voluntarily go to concerts put on by grade-school music students just learning their instruments? Sure, parents and friends show up, mostly out of a sense of duty. But what about everyone else—the music lovers, the people who dish out hundreds of dollars every year to hear their favorite musicians in concert? Every town has dozens of free concerts a year by beginning musicians, and yet the only attendees are people forced to be there by blood or by some other obligation.

It’s the same with writing. If your writing grates, if your quality is poor, then you’ll get a handful of the family faithful to read your work and no one else.

If you have published work indie, and no one is buying it, then there’s something wrong. Maybe your blurb is poor or your cover sucks. Or maybe your writing is bad.

Or, perhaps, you have mislabeled your book. I adore music of all types, but I’m not going to sit through concerts filled with atonal jazz nor am I going to attend a two-hour long rap concert. But what if those concerts are mislabeled? What if the atonal jazz concert turns out to be American popular song from the 1940s? Then I probably missed something I would have loved. What if the rap concert is actually hard rock with just a bit of rapping thrown in? Then I’d feel bad that I missed it.

But most of the fans would miss anything that’s mislabeled. We all have prejudices and things we vow we’ll never read. Remember, our time is short and our entertainment dollars few. We’ll buy books in the genres we like and ignore the genres we don’t.

Most writers have no idea what genre their writing fits into. Dean teaches a genre structure workshop every year, and every year, only a handful of professional writers sign up for it. Yet when we assign professionals to write a story in a particular genre, they usually miss the genre entirely. When we ask professionals to label their novels in query letters or in pitches, the writers again put the wrong genre on it.

The correct label assists readers in finding a quality book, yet most writers never learn how to label their books correctly. And traditional writers suffer from this as much as indie writers do. Traditional writers often send their romance novels to science fiction markets, thinking the spaceship makes the story science fiction, when sf could care less about spaceships and happily-ever-after endings. More novels than you can imagine get rejected because the writer mislabels them and sends them to the wrong department in a publishing house. Does that department move the novel to the correct part of the publishing house? Of course not. That’s not their job.

Right away, the writer has failed to find an audience. Granted, the writer is trying for an audience of one—an editor—but the writer has approached the wrong person without even realizing it. (And getting an agent won’t help you here. Agents work by genre too. So a writer could easily send a book to an agent who doesn’t handle that genre.)

Traditional publishers try to build audience but they suck at it as much as writers do.  Traditional publishers usually get the genres right, but traditional publishers look at the bottom line too much, and never give books time to find an audience, let alone build one. Series novels or word-of-mouth novels are rarely on the shelf long enough for readers to finish the book and recommend it to five friends.

Indie writers have the advantage here: their books remain in print as long as the writers want them to remain in print. But if the books are mislabeled, they’ll just gather dust on whatever shelf they’re sitting on.

Worse, so many indies do exactly what Dean’s students made fun of in the second pie chart. Those indies don’t even search for one audience, let alone several. Those indies are chasing bubbles—that illusive dream of being a “bestseller” which will make them “rich and famous,” when really it will discourage them, and leave them with nothing except the droplets of burst bubble on the back of their hand.

In my opinion, Tracy Hickman gave the best advice of the week for all writers.

“It’s a big world out there,” he wrote, “but you don’t need the whole world to succeed as a writer. You just need a very small piece of it that is wholly your own.”

Exactly.

Take a cue from the musicians. Go to multiple venues. Learn how to appeal to readers. Make your work available in a variety of formats. Label it correctly. Most importantly, do the very best work you can.

And you will become successful by doing it the right way. One reader at a time.

Every Thursday for three years, I have posted a business blog in this space. If you had told me three years ago that I would have achieved such a thing, I would have laughed. I know I can be consistent, but I honestly didn’t believe there would be a readership large enough for me to give up my fiction writing one day per week.

But the audience built. You folks have returned, and some of you brought your friends. Others linked or tweeted. Many of you donated, because you understand the economics of this blog: it has to earn its way or I’ll take the fiction day back, and focus on the part of my writing that earns more than my daily bread.

As always, if you got some value out of this week’s post, please leave a tip on the way out.

Thanks! And thank you for three years of support.

Click Here to Go To PayPal.

“The Business Rusch: “Audience” copyright © 2012 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Send to Kindle

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

40 Comments

  1. David Lang says:

    You talk about how professional writers can’t define the genre of their story.

    think about anthogies, how many of them have stories in them that really don’t fit with the rest.

    This requires that not only did the authors not write to the correct genre, but that the editor and publisher either felt obliged to publish the incorrect genre (possibly because it was from a big name writer), or didn’t properly evaluate it themselves.

    • Kris says:

      Very true, David L. However, sometimes anthologists do that on purpose to introduce readers to something new. But very good point.

  2. Carradee says:

    I’ve been thinking about audience, lately, because I’m getting the best feedback for my “YA fantasy” novel from… middle-aged guys. Who love it and give the exact response I was aiming for. Even though the POV character is a girl who’s age 10-17 in the book and it’s a coming-of-age story. (Nothing against middle-aged guys; I just don’t know any guys in-person who would admit to reading that story.)
     
    Maybe it’s time to drop the “YA” from the label.
     
    Several of my friends are voracious readers—some read more than I do, even—and yet I’m more likely to know an author name than they are.
     
    Regarding Tracy Hickman… I own the Death Gate cycle. ^_^ Quite fond of it, though I wish the last three books in particular had been better proofread. So many typos.

    • Kris says:

      Leave YA, Carradee. What you’re seeing is that adults can now read whatever they want without someone leaning over their shoulder going, “You’re reading YA?????” You have no idea if those middle-aged men picked the book up because it was YA. I’m getting a lot of male readers on my romance novels now, where I didn’t before, for the same reason. I do love this new e-book world!

  3. Vera Soroka says:

    What a wonderful post! I’ve read Tracey and Margaret’s books. I enjoyed them. What they say and what you said is so true.
    I think you have to concentrate on the writing and making it the best it can be so your audience will want more and tell others.

  4. The great thing about a dream bubble breaking is that you can keep making more bubbles.

    I did want fame and fortune, but having achieved some of my writing goals and dreams, now I’m happy to connect with intelligent readers while earning some money and respect/recognition. Now that I’m more relaxed, I’m having more fun. I can work away, patiently writing, submitting, and publishing, knowing that I have my own audience.

    In Tracy Hickman’s article, he said that we’re in competition with the world. However, the corollary is, we’re also in demand around the world. This ties in to your scarcity/abundance mindset.

    Finally, thank you for your emphasis on ‘an audience that reads and “is changed by” your words. Not an audience who loves them, not even an audience who likes them. An audience who is changed by them, and because of that experience, “wants to come back for more.”’ I have to admit, for a while I was reading my Amazon reviews and was blown away by the vehemence of a few people who loathed my writing–not just disliked it, I mean that they seemed to take my words as a personal assault. When I constructed my dream bubble, I didn’t realize that I’d get such strong reactions. (I got five star reviews, too, but of course the negative ones shocked me.) In retrospect, I realize that’s part of the price of getting in the ring.

    In the meantime, I keep dreaming and working and making bubbles. Thanks.

    • Kris says:

      Melissa, great point on creating new bubbles. And I’m glad that Tracy’s comment about people being changed by the words helped. I think he’s spot-on there.

  5. Allison says:

    Kris, I swear you can read my mind, most every week your topic is exactly what I had been thinking about. I just created my website and I’ve been keeping a low profile while I build content and scour the Internet for things to get involved in and places where my work might legitimately interest people. It’s tougher than it looks (especially living in the North) and I can see where the discouragement lies in the slow approach but the thought of becoming famous actually terrifies me… I don’t want to be famous, I just want to tell good stories. And lots of them! Taking 10,15 years to get there doesn’t bother me.

    I am not trained as a writer, I am trained in fine art but it is the same concept… Only a tiny fraction of the population will like your work and more so after you die. An instructor once told me something that stuck with me. He said something to the effect of people are smarter than you think, they know when you’re intentions are false. This is what is wrong with the Get Rich Quick mentality… It’s not authentic and it’s not real and people will see through it, but work with passion and from the heart and like-minded people will find you… Eventually.

    Thanks for always being true to your beliefs, experiences and opinions. That’s probably what keeps people coming back week after week. I value this site greatly and have linked to it on my own site in hopes of sharing it with other Rookie writers! I hope that is alright.

    • Kris says:

      Allison, thanks. Your instructor was right: all those books written in a genre or a type because that genre or type is hot never quite worked, did they? They have to come from the heart. And I love that you share the blog with others. Of course it’s all right!

  6. HJ says:

    FYI – you have some extraneous lines appearing on your blog near the line, “An audience can’t be goosed.”

    • Kris says:

      Thanks, HJ. The problem plagued me all week, but my trusty website guru solved it with the click of a button. He’s great. :-)

  7. ABE says:

    Even if every word you wrote were wrong, it would still be worth reading. You make me THINK – a rare gift in a world where words compete for attention.

    Audience. How to get to the people who will enjoy a given kind of story. How to get them to like your stories enough to come back for more. And then, maybe, some of them will try your other kinds of stories. And some of them will tell other readers they like your stories. All extremely important long term considerations.

    Genre. Do people really read in only a few genres? Would some of them enjoy your work if you put in cross-genre elements? What happens if you get yourself mislabeled? And worse, what happens if you do not fall in a genre because your worldview is wider than that. Again, important long term considerations.

    I write what I have to write – the books I want to read. I hope I find the people who would like to read them.

    Fortunately, in a long-tail publishing climate, where books don’t go away after a month, you can keep expanding your marketing until you do find more of your readers – it matters not at all when they find you because some of the venues are not charging to keep your work available.

    Keep poking at these ideas with your stick: it’s fascinating and shiny.

    • Kris says:

      Thank you, ABE. Yes, people do read in only a few genres, but I hope that will change with e-readers. However, I am eternally optimistic. I write cross-genre all the time. Readers don’t mind. They mind if you miss on the genre label entirely. If you label something romance and miss the HEA (that’s happily ever after for you non-romance types), then your readers will be pissed at you. If you write a thriller and the book has no action, your readers will be pissed at you. Angry readers do not return. That’s why genre is important. Writing a romance with sf elements, no problem as long as the HEA is there. Writing a sf novel with romantic elements, no problem as long as the world-building is solid and the sf elements are good. It’s really tricky to label the work in a way that will bring readers back and not anger them. That’s why it’s important.

      I love love love your point about long-tail. Yep. If you screw up, you can redo. And that’s marvelous. Thanks for all the kind words.

  8. xdpaul says:

    One reader at a time is darn right.

    As far as labels go, count me as one of those few whose ears completely pricked up when I heard Dean was doing the genre class. That is exactly where I’m off the map – Clark Ashton Smith territory, I tell you…but weirder (I hear your readers saying in unison, “Good luck, son”, except for the majority who are saying “Clark Ashton who?”). I need Dean’s class like no other writer I know – unfortunately can’t apply for acceptance to it this year, but it is going into my biz plan for 2013. Hope he offers it again.

    My current solution? Play the hand I’m dealt: for online – push the best buttons I can to describe the work, but otherwise, leave the covers bland and uninteresting, and certainly uncategorized.

    Why? It’s an experiment to see if the writing is good enough to sell, even a trickle. That trickle is my baseline of: “Here is where my naked prose breaks even (i.e. my hourly rate x hours worked on writing and packaging + any packaging costs (usually zero)) and has “earned” its marketing stripes. Once it has earned out vs. the labor, the book then just needs to earn whatever it costs to get a good package and a genre i.d. (it’s label). For example, an anthology that cost me $3000 to produce (60 hours x $50/hr labor) needs to earn $3000 + $250 (est.) for it to “earn” a professional cover and a genre designation. Hopefully that $250 investment will vault the writing into the “better sales through better marketing territory” – but I can’t know if I don’t have a good idea of what “zero marketing” can do.

    Here’s what I don’t pay attention to right now: anything that isn’t
    growing inventory. If it is great marketing, but doesn’t produce a single word that someone will buy, it just has to wait while I stock the shelves as fast as I can. Then I let them (the writings) duke it among themselves for my annual review. The winners (if any) will get a little love and attention (in the form of packaging), and the losers will get their cover prices raised and that’s about it. I checking in once and again online to see how my books are fighting amongst themselves. It’s like hockey without the boring parts!

    I measure winners by books that break even on my production costs (mostly my time in a chair right now). Otherwise, I just write the novel or story, and move forward.

    Finally, it is hilarious to me to read Hickman’s post on the limits of fame – he’s been extremely famous to this dream-sotted farmboy (no, not Skywalker. A different one) since about 1985!

    Oh, and as to readers: generally my only feedback is to know that someone somewhere bought something I wrote, but the first reader email I ever got was from a descendant of the famous person I fictionalized in a ghost story.

    The weird thing? I had been very mindful of the deceased character’s real life descendants when writing it. In fact, I wanted to write the story for them. I couldn’t contain my delight that one of them actually discovered the book (again, I do zero promotion right now – literally none – it’s why I post here under a name that should not be able to be traced back to my for sale writings) and did the somewhat painful work of tracking me down to mention it.

    So, when I write a book, yes, I want it to earn out (short stories cost me anywhere from $500 to $2000 in production time, novels – about 20 times that), but really – I want it to find just one reader – the perfect one. If I find that one, I’ll pick up a lot of imperfect readers along the way in the effort.

    The fact that my one story that I know for sure found its perfect reader(i.e. the mystery descendant I had in mind when I wrote it) happens to right now be my second most successful seller, I think my business theory, at least at this very early stage, holds at least a little water.

  9. Dear Kris,

    One question about genre selection. If it’s so hard (and I do agree it is) then it would seem like failing at it’s not that big a deal. I mean realistically, it seems like not only authors, but agents, and publishers often have difficulty pigeon holing books. Really, to me, it seems like you just have to get in the ballpark to attract readers.

    For example, my own book is in Men’s Adventure and Technothriller, but it could as easily be Action-Adventure and Espionage (and I assure you it would be if Amazon allowed over two categories). On a broader scale it’s a thriller, and broader yet fall under the mystery/thriller listings.

    While obviously I wouldn’t attract my target readers were I to classify the book under Romance or Chick Lit, I think any of the tags in the above paragraph work. My gut tells me readers just aren’t that specific when they’re searching for the next read.

    Am I missing something here?

    Regards,

    Bob

    • Kris says:

      Bob, I think I answered your post when I answered ABE. No problem if you confuse Men’s Adventure/Thriller (TEchnothriller better have tech in it) with Action-Adventure, but Espionage better have espionage in it. Some genres have solid conventions–romance is one, mystery another–and you’d better know them so that you understand them when you’re labeling. That’s what’s important. Genres=expectation for the reader, and if you miss the expectation, you’re disappointing the reader.

  10. Camille says:

    “An audience can’t be goosed. The audience must be built. And then it must be nurtured.”

    YES YES YES YES!

    This goes particularly for us who color outside the lines — who write cross-genre or new genre (or very _old_ genre) to which current labels don’t exactly apply.

  11. Weirdly, I’ve never had the dream of a bestseller audience. I would like a larger audience, yes. I would like the bestseller money, sure.

    But I’ve tried — really I have — to analyze WHY I write. It’s advised in some writing books that if you don’t know why you write, it’s hard to set goals for your writing. And they also say, “I don’t know” isn’t an acceptable answer; but honestly, I can’t remember a time in my life when I DIDN’T write. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of writing stories. I still remember learning to use my brother’s typewriter so my stories looked like a “real book”. I just have always loved storytelling. And a storyteller wants AN audience; but it doesn’t have to be a bestseller audience to be a pleasing audience. When I was 5, my family and friends were plenty of audience for me. Today I’d like a LITTLE more than that, of course, but I don’t dream of millions. Thousands would make me feel pretty successful.

    I had hundreds for a while with a popular series of blog posts, and that was more than I could manage on some days. As the audience grew, inevitably some of them asked for things that I wanted to give them, and that took time. I think thousands would force me to learn to say “No” a lot more.

  12. nathan says:

    holy cow, Kris–you like rap-metal? Who knew. One more step closer to femme fatale every day.

    • Kris says:

      I love metal, rap & hip-hop, Nathan. I think I’m the only person on the planet whose iPod on shuffle will play a song from Annie Get Your Gun followed by Ne-Yo.

  13. Dario says:

    Another stellar post, Kris. Awesome. And I can personally attest to the item of publishers not leaving books on shelves long enough. My own nonfiction book, “Aegean Dream,” published by my own micro-imprint, Panverse, in July last year only started building in January, mostly on UK Kindle. Since then it’s gone from 100 to 180 and then 250 copies a month, and is suddenly now picking up in the US as well. This for no good reason I can discern other than a slow, word-of-mouth build (and now I suspect Amazon is cross-linking more as it hits the subcategory #1 spot often). I say this not to brag but more out of sheer surprise… Nothing much happened for six months after publication, then it begin climbing, and fast.

    One reader at a time. You nailed it.

  14. Zelah Meyer says:

    I will raise my hand and confess that I’d never heard of Tracy Hickman before this article. I’ve heard of Dragonlance but I didn’t know Tracy’s name. I read a lot (though mostly re-reading my favourite authors, or trying out Kindle freebies.) I even used to work in a library as a Saturday assistant once – but that was around 24 years ago now!

    I’m British, which may make a difference, as some authors might be better known in the US. I also have a hopeless memory for names. I have books on my bookshelves that I couldn’t tell you the author of – but I can visualise the cover and tell you the plot in great detail. I could probably get the title right but it’s the first two items that are clearest for me. Even if I haven’t looked at a cover for a decade or more, it will stick in my memory more than a name I glanced at last week.

    What I’m saying is – that it’s true, you can get avid readers/book lovers with no clue that certain major authors even exist. I’m not sure if I’d even heard of Nora Roberts before either. I’ve heard of Stephen King and Michael Crichton (I don’t quite live the life of a hermit!) but I know of the former because I re-shelved a LOT of his books back at the library and the latter because my mum had one of his books and I regularly saw it around the house.

    If I see a book by an author I haven’t read before, then I probably don’t know or care if they are a best-seller or not. What I want to know is whether they will write the type of book I like, in the way I like, and give it the type of ending I like.

  15. Steven Mohan says:

    >Even when we achieve worldwide bestseller status, we never become super-famous.

    Thank goodness, that’s the LAST thing I want to be!

    Kris, I think what you’re discussing is the kernel of why the whole indie phenomenon works (and not just indie publishing, but indie music, etc., too.) If you can go direct to the consumer and get a reasonable % of the cover price, you don’t need a huge audience to live a comfortably life. ESPECIALLY if you have lots of good product. A couple of percent of the reading public in the US is a huge number. I bet most writers could live off a percent of a percent. Man, gotta love this new world!

  16. Judith Boyer says:

    First time commenting here–I attended one of your and Dean’s workshops back in 1998. Since then various things (family, kids, grad studies) have slowed me in my writing goals, but I’m coming out of things now and getting back to business. I have a few published short stories and am working write a bunch more along with a second novel. (And I’m debating on trying any more traditional publishers on my first novel or just epublishing it myself.) I agree that the question of genre is a good one–I have found a lot of my short stories fall into a generic “Speculative” category because I like to play with myths a lot, placing them into a modern day scenario, often with a scientific twist. One question I have, however, is when writing in more than one genre under different pseudonyms, when you epublish, if you don’t have a website displaying your different names, will readers know that those names are in fact you? I have this concern particularly in clear cut genres such as erotic fiction under one name and YA under another.

    Thanks for all your thoughtful posts, They’re really opening my eyes to what has been happening recently in publishing.

  17. Kat says:

    I go through so many different emotions when I read through any of your blog posts, Kristine. Firstly, thank you again for an eye-opening article.

    When I came to the bit about making my work the best it can be, I felt despondent and hopeless about my writing again. I’m a new writer and I never feel my work is good enough to be published. Then I saw Carradee’s comment about how she wishes Tracy Hickman’s novel didn’t have so many typos in it.

    Despite the typos, it would appear Hickman sells her books. In which case I probably needn’t panic about my writing so much. I just abhor typos and I think that if any are found in my books, that will be it, no one will read me again. Or read me in the first place! I panic about editing and rewriting to perfection.

  18. Justin Jordan says:

    Heh, totally.

    I had a comic book out last year (and this year – it just finished) that was, by indie comic standards, ridiculously successful. But even within the comics field, only a pretty tiny percentage of comic readers have any idea who I am.

    There are probably a quarter million regular comic book readers in the US. At most, 15,000 might now who I am. And I say that, because that’s about what my highest selling issue sold. But it’s still less than ten percent.

    I have this sort of conversation with friends a lot, who think that things are waaaaauy better know than they are. If it’s not a very successful movie or a television show, it’s probably not known by a lot of people.

  19. David Lang says:

    @judith

    as a reader my thought towards pseudonyms is that the only valid reason to use them is if you _don’t_ want your readers to realize that the same person wrote both books.

    There are some valid reasons for this (separating almost sex-free YA and almost porn *-Romance for example), and I am learning that publishers have forced authors to do wierd things like this in the past.

    but overall, my reaction is that I can understand that authors write different types of books, and it’s nice to know how they are grouped, but if I find a book I really like, I’m going to search for more by that author (with there being good odds that I will buy them all and read them all at once), but if the author wrote books under another name, I will probably never know about it until the books are re-published under a name I know (and if I happen to learn a pseudonym first, shifting th publishing under your real name may mean that I think you have just stopped publishing entirely)

  20. After fifteen years on a very small (and ever-shrinking) Ontario disability pension, I don’t want to be famous–I just want to eat.

  21. John_W says:

    The central point, that fame doesn’t mean you reach everyone is sensible. Hickman is a much better example than King, since Hickman has fame in a specific niche and hasn’t crossed over quite so ludicrously and you can chart the edges a bit easier than the one weirdo who named a kid Stephen King and didn’t know. It’ll happen, though. There are people who don’t know who Jesus was. It’s very healthy to look at just who we reach and how deeply. And that’s a lovely lesson for Hickman to share, and for you to help on with. Thanks!

  22. [...] to fiction writers. Between Kris’s post about the importance of building a dedicated Audience for your work and Dean’s post about When to Mail Short Fiction to Traditional Publishers (as [...]

  23. Jim Heffmann says:

    Personally, I think that “genre” as a categorization only ever had meaning when shelf space was limited. Shelf space is now as big as the Internet, which is so big we don’t even have a word for how big it is.

    Tagging is a far better method of description, especially now that information agents do all our searching for us. I don’t have to worry about whether my work is Buddy or Sci-Fi or Speculative or Mystery. I just tag it “mystery”, “spaceship”, “quantum”, “detective”, “bromance”, “hard science”, whatever else I think is relevant, and let people look for those things.

  24. J. Anne Huss says:

    You have a new recurring Thursday reader, excellent article!

  25. [...] Wesley Smith, on indie publishing thinking (love those pie charts! ) – and Kris Rusch on audience: In my opinion, Tracy Hickman gave the best advice of the week for all [...]

  26. Kevin Cullis says:

    GREAT advice about numbers, fame, and fortune. The more I read your stuff the better it makes me and what I need to do with my book and web site.

    Forget the fame, chase the bucks, not the bubbles. :D

  27. [...] this week, as I was making the decision to re-enroll my books in the KDP Select Program, I read a post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, where she made the following [...]

  28. [...] Kristine Kathryn Rusch talks about what it really means to have an Audience in the business of [...]