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Interview with Jim Farris
by Lee Masterson
Author's Comment: I recently 'met' Jim through a mailing list community for writers and became intrigued by his wide and varied areas of knowledge. With the aim of gathering information for an article I was working on, I directed questions to him personally. His answers were so enriching for other writers considering the e- publishing industry, I decided to keep it in interview form. - 4/2/2001
Introducing JIM FARRIS
Fiction Factor - Would you consider e-publishing to be a viable stepping stone into the publishing world?
Jim Farris - Generally speaking, no. For the most part, the traditional publishers do not consider e-publishing to be a "published author" credit. Most industry sources I've queried about the subject say that no matter how many books you've had e-published, the Titans are only concerned about whether or not you've been traditionally-published and have an agent. Of course, most agents won't take you unless you've been traditionally published, and they don't consider e-publishing to be a writing credit, either.
FF - Has e-publishing helped or hindered your writing career?
JF - E-publishing is my career.
FF - What initial reactions did you receive from friends/family when you announced that you would be e-publishing your work?
JF - My wife is, and always has been, completely and utterly supportive of my writing.
FF - Does your writing schedule affect your family life at all?
JF - Not at all :) As I said before, my wife supports my writing completely. I'm quite fortunate in that regard.
FF - Did you submit your work to the traditional print publishers before embarking on your e-publishing career?
JF - Yes. I have a stack of over 20 rejection slips. All read basically the same thing. "Your work is terrific/incredible/outstanding, your novel is fresh/new/exciting, but unfortunately, it doesn't suit what we're looking for at this time."
For the most part, the print-published market is completely closed, now. They simply aren't accepting anything new from unagented authors who've never been print-published before. It's been like this for over ten years now.
Most of the e-fiction writers today were rejected by the Titans at one point or another before they decided to try their hand at e-publishing - which is another reason the e-fiction market is completely flooded with writers, and it's growing more and more difficult to sell your works.
This is not to say that all e-authors are "rejected writers" who all suck, and they've all turned to e-publishing because it's easy. Far from it - the real problem is simply that the Titans are no longer accepting manuscripts from unagented, unpublished writers. E-publishers still are. Unfortunately, those who try to get an agent so they can get their works traditionally published have discovered that the agents themselves are flooded with manuscripts from unpublished authors, and they're now only accepting authors who've already been traditionally published. It's a catch-22 for unpublished authors - you can't get traditionally published unless you have an agent. You can't get an agent unless you've been traditionally published. Hence, tens of thousands have turned to e-publishing, simply because there is no alternative.
It's not that it's easy to get e-published. In truth, getting e-published isn't easy, at all. The better e-publishers are extremely picky about the manuscripts they accept - and they can afford to be, as some of the better e-publishers are receiving as much as 50 to 100 new manuscripts a week. Some get that many in a single day. If your work doesn't shine, it doesn't make it out of their slushpile. It's only "easier" to get e-published compared to being traditionally published because the traditional markets are closed. The e-markets are still open. That doesn't make e-publishing "easy". It just makes it "not impossible."
FF - What specific pros and cons surround the e-publishing industry for fiction writers?
JF - Pros: It's fun. Say what you will about deadlines and editors and everything else, e-publishing is a lot of fun. It's a blast being on the cutting edge of a social and technological revolution unlike anything ever seen since the days of Gutenberg.
Cons: The money. You will never get rich at this. Most e-authors see less than $200 from any e-book they write - often far less. According to one industry insider I've spoken to, there are approximately 50,000 e-authors writing fiction on the internet today. Less than half a dozen of them are actually making more than $500 a year at it.
FF - What major differences have been most noticeable with e-publishing vs. traditional print publishing?
JF - Again, the money. There are no advances in e-publishing, and the current state of the market means that most people will never see more than $200 from any individual e-fiction novel they write - most see far less. In the print-published world, you can expect that if your manuscript is accepted, you'll receive a small advance - some of the Titans routinely forward advances of up to six thousand dollars. The e-publishing market simply doesn't work that way, and there isn't any money for advances. Instead, your money comes directly from sales. That's why royalties in e-publishing are substantially larger than in traditional publishing. Unfortunately, even with larger royalties, the market conditions for e-published fiction are such that there simply isn't any real money in it.
The problem is that the e-fiction market is flooded with writers, and there's not enough readers to support them all. According to one industry source I talked to a few months ago, there are about 50,000 e-fiction writers, and about half a million readers of e-fiction. That's a ratio of about 1 author to 10 readers. Simple economics shows nobody is ever going to get rich at this. There's simply too many sellers (authors) and too few buyers (readers) - and it's a buyer's market. The e-fiction market simply can't support all the people who keep jumping in every year, figuring they're going to write the next Great American Novel. Until the number of e-fiction readers rises or the number of e-fiction authors drops, nobody's going to make any real money at this.
And more, each year, the problem gets worse. Every year, someone gets a new computer, and discovers the joys of their word processor, notices some article about Stephen King making $600,000 from "The Plant" and he didn't even finish it, and decides they can get rich, too. The reality is that King sold "The Plant" because he was Stephen King - he could scribble his name on a napkin and sell it for a thousand bucks. In fact, I think he did, once, at a charity auction.
So, not realizing the market is flooded already, every day another 50 to 100 people decide they're going to be the next Stephen King, and start pecking away at the keyboard. Unfortunately, most of these people will never see their dreams realized - the e-fiction market is simply flooded right now with tens of thousands of hopefuls, and their numbers grow by leaps and bounds every day. It's a buyer's market - and nobody gets rich in a buyer's market.
An industry insider I talked to today, a published e-author and one of the few who actually makes a small living at e-fiction, put it this way: "...what's making (promoting your works) more difficult is trying to get promotion when everybody and their dog is attempting the same thing. This is exactly what happened when PCs first started to become a widely used tool in the home. Wannabes flooded the Titans with every kind of dreck humanly known. Why...because it is far easier to write a book on a computer than to type and retype on a typewriter. And that was the end of the slush-pile or even bothering to try to get an agent to represent you."
The non-fiction market in e-publishing is a different story - that market is wide open. The amount of readers is larger, at about a million or so, and the amount of authors is far less. Currently, there are only about two thousand e-authors who write non-fiction - one industry source says that the market may even be better than that, because of POD distribution reaching readers that ordinarily would avoid e-books. That's about 1 author to 400 readers, and probably more - it's a seller's market. Because of this, there is an enormous profit to be made in writing non-fiction e-books, particularly "Health", "Self-Help", "Marketing" and "Computer" books. And, because most people don't want to do the research necessary to produce a good non-fiction book (because it's work and it's boring and it's tedious), the number of authors in the market has remained very small. Seth Godin has made six figures from his non-fiction e-book "Unleashing the Idea Virus", and several previously un-published authors have made tens of thousands of dollars writing "Diet", "Health", "Home Repair" and "Computer" books. Yet most people who decide to be an e-author have no clue that kind of money can be made in non-fiction - and when you tell them, it still doesn't influence their decision. They want to write fiction, they have no interest in writing non-fiction. They've seen Stephen King's success on TV, that's all they know about, and that's all they want to do. So, the non-fiction market, I think, will remain the real place to make money in e-publishing - the e-fiction market is simply flooded with writers right now.
So, overall, the major difference I see between traditional publishing and e-publishing is the money. The economic structure of e-publishing is entirely different from that of traditional publishing.
FF - Would you personally recommend e-publishing as a starting point to newer writers?
JF - If they write non-fiction, definitely yes. The non-fiction market is wide open for good writers who can do their research, and a good, well-written and well-researched non-fiction book can easily bring in a tidy royalty over the course of a year or two of sales. If they write fiction, however, I'd have to say no. The e-fiction market is completely flooded with hopeful writers, and there simply isn't any profit in it at the moment.
FF - I notice that this seemingly writer-unfriendly environment has not curbed your enthusiasm for writing. Would you tell us a little about your current novel?
JF - The main focus of my work at the moment is The Oerth Cycle, an anthropomorphic science/fantasy adventure available in multimedia HTML e-book form. The Oerth Cycle is a series of four novels that are available from Cloudy Mountain Books, and also as a free e-serial. At the time of this writing (1/28/01), the third novel in that series is being e-serialized, the first and second novels are available from the publisher, and the fourth novel is a WIP. Each novel in the series includes a 3-hour MIDI soundtrack. The versions available from my publisher include extra tracks in the soundtrack not present in the e-serial versions, and the CD versions of the story also have an hour's worth of selected tracks from the soundtrack recorded in digital stereo CD audio, with a full orchestra. This means that the CD can not only be used to install the book on your computer, but can also be placed into your CD player and listened to.
As far as "Current Novel", I'm currently working on half-a-dozen different works =)
FF - Where can our readers find some of your work?
JF - Currently, "Duty and Love", a science/fiction novel with a romantic theme, is available from DiskUs Publishing. "Third Time's the Charm", a contemporary romance, will also be available from DiskUs soon. "Pandora's Box", my first release, is available from www.ebooksonthe.net - it's an epic-length science-fiction novel.
Excerpts from my novels are freely available from my website http://come.to/xaa
FF - Are you working on anything new at the moment?
JF - Well, I just completed "Muse" as part of the "Book In A Month" challenge, and have sold it to DiskUs Publishing. It's a science-fiction/detective novel with a twist. I have also recently completed an elementary HTML book written on a no-nonsense level for people who are tired of being treated like morons when they ask questions about HTML. I have completed the second book in the "Pandora's Box" series, and I have also completed a six-book series titled "Ronin" that I plan to have released sometime around December 2001, but nothing's certain, for it.
Currently, I am working on a three-book fantasy series called "Mage", which I also hope to have completed and released sometime around December 2001, or early 2002. I am also working on finishing up the music and HTML coding for the last two books in The Oerth Cycle, as I mentioned before. The books are available both from http://fictionforest.com, and as an ongoing free e-serial. People interested in the e-serial can check out http://xww.tripod.com/PopUp.htm. There's also several other projects I'm working on right now that are in the "Planning and Development" stages.
FF - Would you do anything differently if given the opportunity?
JF - Ah, that's difficult to say. If I had it all to do over again, I probably would have spent more time smelling the flowers and less time pounding the keys.
FF - What piece of parting advice would you give to aspiring authors?
JF - First, remind yourself that you can probably make more money pumping gas. A beginning author's work usually shows whether or not they've been published before - and in today's market, if your first book is anything less than incredible, it won't sell.
Once you have that firmly settled in your mind, you understand it, you've accepted it, ask yourself: Do I really want to be poor the rest of my life?
If your answer is "I won't be poor, I'll write a brilliant novel and make a million bucks!", then you need to go back to pumping gas.
If your answer is "So long as I'm following my dream, it doesn't matter!", then you need to go back to pumping gas.
If your answer is "Hmm... If the I'd better take a course in writing at the community college, and see if I can't join a critique group to improve my work so my first book will be good enough to sell!" ... Well, my friend, if that was your reply, then you have what it takes to be a writer.
FF - Thank you for your time, Jim. I'm sure all the staff and readers at Fiction Factor will wish you all the luck you deserve with your writing career.
© Copyright 2001 Lee Masterson. All rights reserved
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