For those who’ve read the first of my Farley File diary entries, you know this is reserved for people of some note. I’ve so far put in authors published by the “Big Six” publishing houses. But Jim Doty is someone we should all be taking note of, including the larger publishing companies, because he’s managed to do something some Big Six authors don’t: he’s sold 40,000 copies of his books—independently.
Not only is this no mean feat, it’s an extraordinary one. Ever since I heard him speak up at Westercon 2013, I’ve wanted to meet and talk to him. You see, he popped up in the audience of a how to market your indie books panel, but as near as I can tell, he had outsold all the indie guests on that panel…and he didn’t know how. I invited him to dinner that night, but he had other plans. Bummer.
So as I was flipping through the guest list at Con-Volution 2014, who should I see but J.L. Doty. Having driven authors to book signings, I know that the signing table can be a lonely place, so I thought it might be a perfect time to trap him, er, I mean talk to him.
He was a changed man from a year ago when he was a bit gruff. He was happy and chatty and willing to while away the hour with me there. Several people came up and got his autograph, some for his horror line, some for his SF line, but the line that sells the best generally is his fantasy series, The Gods Within.
I asked him if he’d ever discovered how his books had gone viral. He didn’t know, but he had an idea that although The Gods Within isn’t strictly YA, it had appealed to a YA crowd and likely had done well there. He’d like to go the next step and publish The Gods Within with a big publisher, but of course they argue that he is already tapped out in sales.
I doubt that. In fact someone connected with the big publishers did tell him that it’s not the same thing to sell an indie e-book as it is to sell a hard copy through traditional means. To which I say, “Exactly!”
One thing I learned from John Scalzi’s tweets is that Tor is trying to figure out how to stay relevant in the changing market place. Scalzi has been working with Tor on alternative projects to see how nontraditional approaches might fare. For example, Scalzi wrote a book that was released chapter by chapter to subscribers to see if readers would appreciate a serialized approach. Turns out readers who tried it didn’t think it was as great as just waiting for the whole book to be available. But I applaud Tor for stretching their thinking.
Evidently Tor is forward-thinking enough that they have an R&D budget, through which this experiment with Scalzi was funded. Projects from R&D don’t have to make the same money as a book in the regular lineup. That means that Tor can literally afford to take a few risks.
Given that, I’d like to suggest another experiment: Publish someone like J.L. Doty. Someone who has a significant indie track record. Publish the series that launched the indie author’s success, in this case, The Gods Within. And instead of speculating that the sales are tapped out, prove it…because I’m thinking that what was told Jim Doty is true: indie e-sales aren’t the same as hardcopy traditional sales. This story has been vetted and proven by 40,000 readers and by its going viral. Let’s find out if the Fifty Shades of Grey approach was a fluke or a model for the future. Why not see if they can capture the momentum of indie publications and turn it into more sales for everyone all the way around. The publisher would benefit; the authors would benefit; and the readers would have another great offering to read.
So Tor…you up for another experiment?