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'Authors and readers to the forefront'

1 August 2011

American author Bob Mayer had published over 40 books with traditional publishers before he decided to take things into his own hands and convert his backlist into ebooks.

By January of this year the author of 40 books had reached a turning-point. After 20 years of writing, he had written himself out of his last contract.Mayer said: 'It was a good news, bad news situation.The good news was for the first time in two decades I could really sit down and think about what I wanted to write. The bad news is, that in traditional publishing, an author without a contract is unemployed.'

Mayer felt that publishing was changing rapidly. He had a treasure chest of backlist to which he owned the rights. Some of these titles had never been released in e-book format. Many had hit the print bestseller lists. He felt that he knew there was a market for them so he launched his own imprint, Who Dares Wins Publishing, and commenced loading his books, starting with his bestselling Atlantis series on various platforms, like Kindle. His primary focus, though, was still on New York and traditional publishing. He was working on a new thriller and a new historical novel and his plan was to go to his agent and go through the traditional publishing process, just as he had for the past 20 years.

But the world around Mayer seemed to be changing so fast, with exponential growth in ebook sales, that he decided to go it alone with all his books, the new ones as well as the backlist. He says: 'I was able to do this because I'd been a traditionally published author and have an extensive backlist. I also had a lot of help through my business partner with the technical side of going independent. This gave me a solid base from which to launch... I accelerated the publication of my backlist and published my first original title, Chasing the Ghost, at the infamous .99 cent price. Chasing soon hit the top 500 overall on Amazon and top five in Men's Adventure. After two months, we upped the price to a more realistic $2.99 and it didn't lose any traction.'

Mayer's conclusion, quoted in full because of its importance to writers:

'So where do I believe publishing stands? The author-reader relationship is key. Publishers focused so long on distribution to their consignment outlets, they never really focused on selling to readers. And because authors were mostly seen as replaceable parts, they were also not valued until they were a brand name.There would always be another writer willing to step in.

That's no longer true.The writers who are being successful now are those who understand promotion is an integral part of their success. Authors must connect directly with readers via social media. The published author with a strong backlist has the potential to connect to a whole new generation of readers and they don't need a publisher to do so.

So what do these changes mean for the unpublished author? It's a question I'm asked frequently and I've put a lot of thought into. For the unpublished author, my suggestion is they consider writing at least three manuscripts before leaping into self-publishing.Few traditionally published authors had the craft down so well on their first manuscript that they were able to sell it, I don't believe it's changed for new writers. The number one promotional tool for a writer is great content and having multiple titles available.

The bottom line is that the distance between authors and readers is shorter than it's ever been, both in terms of getting the book to the reader and for promoting. All the others involved, agents, publishers, bookstores, etc. must shift their focus from their traditional business template to one that puts authors and readers to the forefront.'