There is a new paradigm in publishing. First came Amanda Hocking who hit the ball out of the park with her YA self-published vampire series. She published more than a million books before signing a deal with a traditional house.
Then came EL James who turned Twilight on its head with her Fifty Shades series. She mashed vampires and BDSM into a bestselling combination and is now worth about $50 million dollars. They are working on a follow up to the first Grey movie which made more than half a billion dollars! She also monetized the series with wine and sex toys and notebooks. Brilliant marketing whatever reservations some have about the writing.
The next big thing is Anna Todd who got more than a billion views on Wattpad for her story about a bad Brit boy and a college freshman. It was inspired by Harry Styles of One Direction so, just like Fifty Shades and Twilight, it had a built in fan base. After, the first book in the series, is being turned into a movie and there are more books to come.
Both Anna and EL harnessed not just the power of the internet but also the power of a dedicated fan base to drive them into the publishing stratosphere.
And now, Andy Weir. He wrote The Martian. He posted it for free, chapter by chapter, on his website. There was clamour for a book, so he put one together and sold it on Kindle for just 99 cents. It became a best seller, attracted the interest of an agent and now there’s a big screen version starring Matt Damon coming out this fall. (I’ve read The Martian and really, really liked it.)
All of these are black swans so don’t try and emulate this kind of lightning strike approach to actually making money as a writer. But they are instructive in another way–they prove that spending months and wringing your hands trying to find an agent and a traditional publisher only to be rejected, repeatedly, may be the wrong way to go. Maybe find a way to get your work to the masses and use social media (and a lot of prayers) to make enough money to keep writing.
Everything is changing so quickly and none of the so-called experts know anything about what’s coming next. Sometimes it’s a black swan.