A Bit of History
My first book was published in 1984. That was before the internet. It was before most business offices even had computers.
Back then, authors sold their manuscripts to publishers by sending a query letter and sample chapters. We watched our mailboxes like hawks because everything happened via mail. Publishers sold books into bookstores with sales reps who took samples of the front cover to offices to show buyers. They also sold through distributers into grocery stories and airports, etc. Readers spent a lot of time browsing shelves in physical stores, looking for their next read. Although there were review sources, I would venture to say that most book purchases were impulse buys based on cover, author, and back blurb.
Mass market novels had about six to eight weeks on shelves before they were replaced by the next month’s releases. Paperback books that didn’t sell had their covers torn off and returned to the publisher for a refund. Some distributors heated their warehouses by burning the unsold books (yes, I saw that myself). Only major bestsellers stayed on shelves longer than those six to eight weeks, and once a book was gone from the shelf, its life was over except for in used bookstores.
Through the years, some writers would suddenly disappear from the publishing landscape. For reasons beyond their control (changes in the market, changes in the publishing house, etc.), they stopped getting contracts, and that was it. As a reader, I can remember wondering more than once, What ever happened to XXXXX? I loved their books, but they were gone from stores.
When I got started writing, self-publishing was something one did when their book was of local interest. Like a book about a particular small town or about an obscure historical event with limited interest. A self-published author spent a ton of money, had 5,000 or 10,000 copies of their book in their garage, and they sold the book out of the trunk of their car to anyone they could interest in it. It wasn’t something most authors had the resources to do or wanted to do. And it definitely wasn’t a suitable way to publish fiction.
Enter the ebook reader
The Kindle ebook reader became available in November 2007. The next year, authors gained the ability to publish their own books to be read on the Kindle and other ebook reading devices.
Remember those authors I mentioned above who disappeared because a publisher didn’t want to pay them enough or wanted a younger author or decided they were dropping a line or weren’t going to publish a certain genre any longer? Well, those writers—and plenty of others—now had options, and the modern indie publishing business was born.
I first dipped my toes into the indie market with three of my backlist books (books previously published by a traditional house where the rights to the books had reverted to me). Overtime, the catalog of my indie releases has grown because of backlist books. Even better, indie books aren’t just ebooks these days. Authors have options to make their books available in print (paperback, hardcover, large print) and audio.
I have released 86 novels and novellas since 1984 (books #87 and #88 release in November and December), and I can’t tell you how wonderful it is that my books no longer “disappear” after only six to eight weeks (the norm for the majority of my career). For instance, it’s a thrill to hear from a reader who just discovered The Forgiving Hour (February 1999). That book is nearly 24 years old, and yet readers can easily obtain it and read it today. That’s amazing compared to how it used to be.
All of my books released in 1999 and after (meaning, all of my Christian fiction) are still available in ebook format and most are in print and audio, too. I’m so very grateful.
Have you discovered an author’s book from years or even decades ago and become a fan? How do you shop for most of your fiction? What’s your favorite reading format (paper, ebook, or audio) or do you like them all?
NOTE: I do not recommend the novels I published in the general mass market. I do not list their titles on my website. I prefer that readers avoid them (they can only be found used). A few of them, I “redeemed” and published in the Christian market with significant changes made. Most of them were released with new titles, although I didn’t retitle the Coming to America books, much to my regret since the original versions contain scenes I cannot endorse and readers sometimes buy them (used) by mistake. I recommend that readers look for publishing dates from 1999 and after. Or look for the name of a trusted Christian publisher or my own press, RobinSong, Inc.