It's time to deep dive into tenet two of the Pirate Author Code: Covering your assets. This is gonna include everything from the debate on "Wide vs. Exclusive" to gathering personal information on your readers. All of it will be in the context of using your assets for empowering your author brand as opposed to empowering a broker brand. This is also going to be a two-part post, so if you are reading this every week as I post, hang in there until next week!
Pirate Authors cover their assets on as many levels as possible.
Pirate Authors have to build long-term assets for themselves whenever possible, rather than building them for others. The key for Pirate Authors attempting to empower their author brand is to understand that there are three distinct levels of covering your assets. There's plumber's crack, saggy pants, and full moon. Just kidding. There's ownership, control, and access.
The first level is maintaining the rights to your intellectual property (IP). In general, this is referred to as ownership. In the specifics, it gets much more complicated than this. And I am not the guy to break it down for you. I recommend you read what Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch have to say about IP rights and ownership. (The link above will take you to Dean's famous "Killing the Sacred Cows" post. Read it!)
For the purposes of Pirate Publishing, I'll simply say ownership and rights are pretty damn important. And they are getting more so. In the last few years, we've seen the emergence of potential new rights to be licensed such as visual captioning, podcast or audio streaming, audio drama, and voice synthesization. As a content creator, you need to be in a position to license those rights, rather than having already forfeited ownership to a broker who can now hold your content hostage.
Wait a second, some of you are thinking. You've looked ahead, and you know collaboration is a big part of the Pirate Author Code. Collaborating at the IP level means giving up aspects of ownership and control right from the beginning! Yes, this will often be the case. And sharing Intellectual Property can get tricky. But there are an increasing number of solutions emerging to help with this.
PublishDrive has released a service called Abacus that helps authors split up royalties. My company, StoryShop, is by far the best collaborative fiction writing platform available. We've combined some of the best aspects of Google Docs with powerful world-building and story-planning features.
Anywho, this leads into the second level of covering your assets: control. Controlling your brand assets is rooted in the two-sided challenge of distribution and discovery. For authors, it's a matter of distribution. For readers, it's a matter of discovery. They are opposite faces of the same coin. Controlling brand assets has to deal with getting your stories out to your readers.
The easiest way to think of this second level of covering your assets is "access to eyeballs."
This is where Pirate Authors run into real problems on the current high seas of publishing. When it comes to markets, the value has always been at the bottlenecks. If a company or industry can create bottlenecks and then control them, those access points become extremely profitable for the companies that own them.
This is the driving force behind the massive amounts of energy information brokers have put into abolishing net neutrality. Net neutrality would largely hinder profitable bottlenecks within the largest information distribution network on earth. Information brokers stand to lose billions upon billions of dollars.
To best envision this problem, and to hopefully see our way to a solution, we need to approach the bottleneck as a reader. The problem for readers is not distribution. The problem for readers is discovery. The digital revolution and self-publishing movement have led to the opening up of the narrative oceans. Content is covering most of the planet! "Stories, stories everywhere, but nothing to read." Much like cable television of old, the current platforms for discovering fiction leave readers adrift and befuddled by the sheer number of options.
At the same time, readers know whatever it is they want to read next, they can find it on Amazon. Amazon has it all. While Amazon's discovery engine is far from perfect, it utilizes reviews, past purchasing behavior, and targeted advertising to help users discover the next thing to read or buy. The cost for access to all this is, ultimately, platform loyalty to Amazon via convenience and the cunning temptation of Amazon Prime membership.
Most readers, including myself, have been willing to pay this cost. This means that Amazon owns the largest access point to readers, and if authors want access to those readers, we have to navigate Amazon-controlled waters. More specifically, we'll have to battle the twin hydra heads of Kindle Unlimited and Amazon ads.
But first, let's address the possibilities outside of Amazon-controlled waters. Yes, there is a livelihood to be made without battling the hydra heads of Amazon.
Going Wide Vs. Exclusivity with Kindle Select
The first decision any author has to make when reaching their audience is to go wide or go exclusive with Kindle Select. There are numerous reasons to do either. Your asset coverage must be taken into consideration while choosing. And of course, it should be said that Pirate Authors have the prerogative to shift this up with every book or series. There is nothing that says you can't go wide with one series and exclusive with another.
First off, what type of story are you creating? Genre fiction, such as romance, sci-fi, and thriller, is widely considered to do extremely well on Kindle Unlimited where so-called "whale readers" live. (Yes, whaling is still legal for authors.) But genre fiction can still thrive on retail platforms such as Kobo and Barnes & Noble, if you have the patience for it. Visually-driven content is said to have a higher chance of success on iBooks, although I've never tested this.
Geography can play a part in the wide vs. exclusive decision. While Amazon has a large share of the readership in the United States, they fare less well in other parts of the world. And while Amazon is gradually rolling out ad features across Europe, several critical pieces of their infrastructure remain available only to their American consumers (and in some cases their American content creators).
What formats are you wanting to focus on? If ebook is your main money-maker, Amazon might be hard to ignore. If print is your focus, Amazon is much less necessary. If audio is going to be central to your strategy, that opens up a whole other can of scurvy. You should be aware that alternatives to Audible (owned by Amazon) are building welcoming ports for Pirate Authors. We'll dig into those resources in a couple of sections.
Last but not least, a simple desire for universal accessibility can influence some authors to choose going broad over exclusivity with Amazon. While Amazon has the largest share of readers, there are plenty of readers who choose to look elsewhere or simply don't have access to Amazon.
For more information on this important decision, I recommend you check out the Alliance of Independent Authors. If you choose to go wide, the next section will dig into some of the possibilities and resources out there. If it exists, I've probably played around with it. I'm only gonna mention the ones that didn't give me a rash...
So you've decided to spread your creative oats?
Remember, this second level of covering your assets is all about getting your content to your audience. Boundless means exist. Most are niche or experimental. I'm going to quickly run through a list with the purpose of priming your creative pump. It's not feasible within the scope of this short tome to attempt any sort of instructions on how to make the most of these platforms. I'll provide links and recommendations for more research when I am able.
If direct monetization is not critical to you, the possibilities expand greatly. Wattpad is a massive platform that should be considered by writers of young adult and romantic content. The vast majority of the users (in the many millions) are girls and young women. Wattpad Stars is a program that compensates the most visible writers on Wattpad, but for the most part, content on Wattpad has remained free for all.
Fanfiction sites, personal blogs, and social media are all tried and true, niche methods that have been used to publish entire books and to build traction for authors.
If you need to generate direct monetization for your content, Radish is a newer platform that originally poached many of its authors from Wattpad (including myself back in Radish's early days). Radish has attempted to expand outside of romance and erotica, but has not fared well in those efforts.
Tapas is another serial fiction service I've tested out in the past. Their reading app is beautiful and their content is curated and high quality. Mostly, their audience is graphic novels, comics, and manga.
For a couple of years, impressive effort was put into high-production, interactive reading apps. A couple of small companies are still engaged in this and have a loyal following. But overall, one-off-books-as-paid-mobile-apps has failed to take off, mostly due to the total lack of profitability for the app creators. That isn't to say it can't be done.
Next week, we'll pick back up with part two of this post to explore the established alternatives to Kindle Select and then dig into the third level of covering your assets--access to your audience!