Get a Clue, a Clue, or a Clue

“There is no expiration date on your dreams.”

Looking back, I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on the first clues three years ago.

Okay, yes, I’ve been away from the publishing industry for a while, but I could have started connecting the dots in 2008. That was the year I joined a fledgling website called Ravelry.com, a free social networking hub for knitters.

What does knitting have to do with book publishing? Plenty. Keep reading.

Ravelry started with a couple of stitchers from New England — and exploded almost overnight into an international phenomenon. The site has brought together more than 1 million yarn enthusiasts (we call ourselves “yarnistas” or “Ravelers”) from around the world. We post photos of projects, share tips and ideas, talk about favorite yarns…and buy the latest patterns directly from designers.

Before Ravelry, pattern designers had to go through an arduous process to reach their knitting audience. First, they had to submit patterns to an editor or creative director at a knitting magazine, book publisher, or yarn company. Then they had to wait for a response. And wait and wait. After months or years of rejections, they might finally get a design published — but they received only a flat fee, or sometimes a modest royalty, while the publisher pocketed most of the profits. It took years for a designer to make a name for herself, never mind make a living.

Then Ravelry came along and changed everything. Knitting designers have gone “indie.” No more begging for scraps from the magazines, book publishers, or yarn companies. Designers post their patterns on Ravelry as secure PDFs, set their own prices, and sell directly to knitters. Ravelry handles the electronic transactions with the help of Paypal and collects a small fee per download.

Now an industry once dominated by a handful of “star” designers is an equal playing field. Knitting-scene newbies are going from complete unknowns to international sensations in a matter of months, not years. And as for making a living? With pattern prices around $5 each, a designer can earn a decent salary, even if only a fraction of Ravelry’s 1,319,311 registered users buys her stuff.

For an avid knitter like me, Ravelry is pure heaven. I love getting the latest designs as soon as they’re released. I enjoy the fresh, unique, “different” patterns that are now available. And I’m especially happy that my purchase price goes directly to support these indie artists — not some big conglomerate in New York. Before Ravelry, I used to subscribe to a half-dozen knitting magazines and I bought all the new pattern books as soon as they were published. Today, I’ve let all those magazine subscriptions lapse and I rarely buy knitting books anymore.

It’s much more fun to go indie.

So you’d think maybe a light bulb might have appeared over my head, right? Nope. I didn’t see any connection between those indie designers and their patterns and me and my books. Clue #1 sailed right past me.

Clue #2 came my way in 2010. I get together with a group of local knitters at a cafe every week. (Um, why yes, now that you mention it, I have been knitting quite a bit the past few years, why do you ask?) Anyway, the cafe where we meet is a popular neighborhood gathering spot. While we Ravelers stitch the evening away, there are usually at least one or two reading groups meeting at the same time. Last fall, I started noticing something disappearing from these book clubs.

The books.

Reading-group women who used to walk in hauling a hardcover or trade paperback were suddenly breezing in empty handed. They would sit down, open their purses — and whip out e-readers.

And these were not tech-happy twenty-somethings. These were women in the 50+ age bracket. Settled, suburban, mid-life moms. Not your typical adopters of the latest electronic gadget. Yet here they were, spending half their book-club time showing each other the features on their new e-readers and debating the merits of Kindle vs. Nook.

Wow, I thought, looks like e-readers are catching on with the Baby Boomers in a big way. Guess we can’t call it a fad anymore.

Hello? Big giant clue, anyone? Light bulb? Anyone, anyone? Nope. I still didn’t get it. It didn’t occur to me that those reading groups and their e-readers might have anything to do with me and my books.

Sheesh.

At Christmas, clue #3 arrived. This should have been the kicker. I always pick up the “Year in Review” issue of People magazine, and the 2010 edition had a headline that shouted E-BOOKS GAINING GROUND in big capital letters. Right next to a big color photo of a romance novel on an e-reader.

To give myself a little credit, I did clip out the article and save it. I mean, how could any romance writer not, with statistics like these:

  • In 2010, for the first time ever, digital books outsold hardbacks on Amazon
  • Romance novels are now the fastest growing segment of the e-reader market

Of course romance is popular, I thought, remembering all those women in the cafe with their e-readers. Most book-buyers are women, and women buy more romance novels than any other kind of fiction. It’s a $1.36 billion industry. More than a quarter of all books sold in the U.S. are romance novels. One quarter. It’s only natural for that to translate to the e-book world.

I was happy for my former colleagues, thinking they must be cleaning up as their publishers released their books in electronic format. (I had no idea how wrong I was about the “cleaning up” part.) I assumed that the only way to become a successful e-pubbed author was to be e-pubbed by your publisher. My books have been out of print for years, so I figured I had missed the boat.

So nope, even clue #3 didn’t spur me to take any kind of action.

I was still thinking of the e-book phenomenon in terms of the traditional publishing system. To me, “publishing” still meant bricks and mortar and huge corporations and lots of dead trees. I was part of that system for ten years. Traditional publishing had been firmly imprinted on my psyche. I just couldn’t imagine the industry operating in any other way.

Then one month ago, on March 9, my husband came home from work carrying a copy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Splashed across the front page was an article about some local author I’d never heard of.

An author named Amanda Hocking.

  • Meg

    The world has indeed changed… and FAST!!

  • Hi Meg! Great to see you here! Such fun re-connecting with my old RWA buds. Can’t get over how everything in publishing has changed. The most shocking part is that the changes actually benefit authors! Power to the writer-people!

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