Friday, February 3, 2012

A New (Publishing) World

Do you have tunnel vision when it comes to publishing?

I must tell you up front that I am one of those writers who has never really thought of—or at least, never consciously recognized—anything other than traditional publishing. It’s always been the *only* way to do it in my eyes, like I have tunnel vision and can only see the traditional route. As a writer, it goes something like this: write a book, edit & revise, get an agent, edit & revise with your agent, have your agent sub to publishers, get a book deal, see your book in print. Then repeat. 

I think I still see it this way. I…think.

The thing is, I got a Kindle last year and I thought I'd hate it. Nope, I ended up loving it. Now I do perhaps 80% of my reading on my Kindle. One simple device severely changed how I read in one calendar year. Pretty impressive. And this forced me to view the publishing world in a new way. Lately, I’ve been observing (and attempting to analyze) the many changes that are occurring in publishing. I’ve had discussions with my agent, my writing friends, and other people in the industry who are much more business-savvy than I, and we are all in agreement that publishing is changing. Drastically. Quickly. I have to be honest, though, that as I type this I am not sure how I feel about these changes. But it doesn't matter how I feel, or anyone else, since we are now in the midst of a new (publishing) world. And we better embrace it.


Let's start with self publishing. The self publishing realm not only has become more accepted by those in the industry, but it has also become a place to scout for new talent. Agents and publishers are now keeping an eye on self-published books (and authors) to see which books (again, and authors) have developed a following. Amazon is now a place for agents and publishers to visit and see who might be ripe for the proverbial picking. Not all agents and publishers, mind you. Some still look at those who self publish with the stink eye. But more and more, things are changing. In fact, I challenge you to visit the websites of some of your favorite BIG literary agencies—try visiting, say, 10—and see how many have some sort of e-pub or self-pub division. You might be surprised. Oh, and when it comes to publishers embracing self-publishing, perhaps you didn't see that Penguin has actually moved into the self-publishing world.

Getting back to that strange combination, literary agencies mixing with self-publishing, some authors say it is a conflict of interest for a literary agency to have one foot in the traditional-pub pool and one foot in the e-pub/self-pub pool, yet I say it’s simply a sign of how different things are, and how agents need to embrace this difference and help their authors better function—and succeed—in the new marketplace. Because let’s be honest, if there were ten pools, I would wish my agent had ten feet, one in each pool.


And while there once was a stigma attached to self publishing—and there still is for some people—that stigma has begun to fade as self-publishing success stories continue to surface. Yes, I know that many of you might be saying that those self-pub success stories are nothing compared to the many, many self-pub authors who have barely sold any copies of their books. “Few and far between” and all. But here is the thing: I have seen waaayyy too many traditionally published authors who have barely sold any copies of their traditionally-pubbed books. Even with the backing of that “Big 6” publisher, I’ve seen authors literally begging people for reviews, or begging for people to buy their books. So it goes both ways.

Anyone who has been “aspiring” for more than a couple years knows how slowly things move in publishing. Traditional publishing, that is. But there is a vast difference between the traditional route and the self route. First off, while things move very slowly on the traditional end, self publishing moves as fast as you want it to. For authors who write slowly and perhaps put out a book every few years, the glacial speed of the traditional route might be a good thing. The slowness might not bother those types of writers. For those who write quickly and pound out multiple books a year, the slow-motion traditional process may seem intolerable. Sometimes I shudder when I see a book deal announced on Publishers Marketplace and I see the pub date three years from the date of the announcement. It’s hard to imagine waiting that long for your book to appear on shelves. But the waiting aside, it’s hard to imagine NEEDING three years to get a book ready. Is that really necessary? And by the way, is it even good business?

Speaking of good and bad business, I have noticed that some publishing houses don’t have electronic versions of their books available, which severely limits the ability to get the book in many eager hands. What about people who read on e-readers exclusively? You've lost that segment of the market, which I mentioned is growing every day. Or sometimes the problem is that the e-book version comes out eons after the print version comes out. That's bad business as well, because you're not taking advantage of the buzz while it's at its height (on release date). And then there’s the inflated price of e-books through traditional houses, which seems to be the biggest disadvantage, in my mind. I mean, to spend $10 or more on an e-book is tough for some people to do when they have a family to provide for. Personally, I have no problem spending a couple dollars on an e-book, but the average price of most traditionally-published e-books is in the double-digits, so they lose my business, sorry to say, until there is some sort of sale or a drop in price. I just can’t rationalize spending that much money on an e-book. I hear authors gripe about this all the time, and they should. Some publishers are hiring e-marketing & e-pricing experts because they desperately need to have someone who specializes in the electronic market; they need help staying competitive electronically. 


And I’m sure these e-experts are noticing, as many people who sell electronics are as well, that sales of e-readers are blowing up. As a teacher, I have seen more and more of my middle-grade students sporting e-readers, as have some writer/teacher friends of mine out there, like Tracy Edward Wymer.

All this is to say, there are multiple ways to go about this crazy publishing game, and there are new and exciting changes taking place every day in this "new" world. In fact, the idea of writing a serial novel is intriguing. I’ve seen some news recently where writers have signed on to write a series of “chapters” that will be published at set periods of time. A lot of news. Did I mention I've read news about serial publishing? Other individual authors and small presses alike are trying out similar methods, where each “chapter” will be sold individually, and then when the entire book is complete there will be a full-book option for purchase.

Then there are other start-up publishing companies trying out other methods, and many of these companies I see in the vein of the throwback dot.com type ventures. And I love that! It gets me excited to see innovative people getting a read on the changing climate and then developing a new and fresh approach. Coliloquy is an example of a company trying out the exclusive e-book format, but they are attempting to make reading more interactive, as featured in Publisher's Weekly. A different approach, yes. And to that I say, "Go for it, Coliloquy! Take this new [publishing] world and put your stamp on it!" I hope it works, and I hope it fosters more innovation and growth.


Someone who has recently decided to write a YA novel in serial form is a writer I think has a wealth of talent, Shaun Hutchinson, author of DEATHDAY LETTER (SimonPulse) and the forthcoming A TALE OF TWO PARTIES (SimonPulse). The difference with Shaun’s serial novel, called THE DARK DAYS OF ME AND HIM, is that Shaun’s is completely free. He is writing what I call an “important” story in serial format, and has decided to put chapters up on a website every two weeks. The series began this past Wednesday with the first two chapters, and I encourage you all to visit the site and take part in his experiment. The website is HERE.

So now that I've had a chance to paint a picture of this new world, any thoughts from you out there about the changing publishing landscape around us?

23 comments:

  1. Very timely post, Mike. I love the changes in publishing, except I don't love the uneven pace of it in different sectors.

    For example, I want bookstores to reinvent themselves so they will not only survive but multiply. The browsing aspect of discovering new books and new writers is so important that I don't want that to disappear.

    I love the idea that writers can put books out that may not fit a huge market, but can attract readers anyway. Unfortunately, there's so much noise out there, I fear it will be hard for good books to find readers. That's still the problematic aspect to this all.

    And for middle grade, while ereadership is expanding greatly, it will take a couple of years for it to really be common among kids. Then there's the issue of getting the word out. Teachers and librarians are still a middle grade writer's best friends for getting books into the hands of kids, in whatever format that might be. How will that happen in the future? Will it change from the way it happens today, with the emphasis on reviews in major journals?

    For writers, I think now the best thing to do is write. Duh, right? The more well-written manuscripts you have, the better your options, whatever way you choose to go.

    Love that you posted this. I'll be interested in the comments.

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    1. Dee, I definitely agree with the "noise" out there that muddles some great work. That's why you hope that "cream rises" saying hold validity.

      And I'd normally agree with you about MG ereadership being a couple years away, but now that I've seen the e-readers around my small school in great numbers, I'm not so sure. I think it's speeding up.

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  2. It's absolutely fascinating. And this is an excellent post summarizing what's happening and how you feel about it. Thanks, Mike!

    I loved The Deathday Letter, and Shaun is a friend of mine, so I'm really looking forward to finding time to read THE DARK DAYS OF ME AND HIM. I think the first two chapters are available already.

    Did you see that the AAR officially announced that Agencies as publishers was a conflict of interest as far as they're concerned? I forget the exact wording, but it is what it is.

    The Guardian also had an interesting article on self-epublishing becoming a bubble much like the initial e-commerce bubble, but I don't think that says anything about ebooks in general.

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    1. You know, I read that Guardian article and thought it was interesting. Here's the link for anyone who's curious: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jan/30/self-e-publishing-bubble-ewan-morrison

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  3. Fascinating piece, Mike! You made me think of things in a new way.

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    1. Thanks, Mike G-G. Bob Dylan was right about the times, huh.

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  4. Great post, Mike. Lots of opportunities out there for people to try new things, and yeah, trying new things is essential in a changing environment.
    Thanks!

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    1. Interesting summary. I'm quite interested in the idea of serials.As a reader, it's not for me -- I already get frustrated with serial TV dragging on too long and rarely finish a trilogy -- but I think that young readers will enjoy this and it may be a great model for writers/publishers as well.

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    2. Kell, me too. Serials seem like such a refreshing spin on the e-reading thing. If handled effectively, I can see it working well.

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  5. Great post, Mike.

    I'm with you -- shuddering at the planned release dates, 2-3 years down the road, of a deal you see on Marketplace.

    Also, as you point out, It's just a hard business all the way around -- for both traditionally and self-published authors.

    David

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    1. Yes, those 2-3 year time periods must be killer for the debut author, right? I bet self-pubbing your debut, JACKPOT, was nice to be able to put it out when YOU wanted it out.

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  6. Such a great piece and recap of the changing landscape of publishing.

    Since I'm a relatively new writer (only ten years and four unpublished novels in) I find the change exciting. It's let me get over the first hurdle and find an audience. My book is starting to take off and that's exciting, really exciting!

    Change for the sake of change is never good but I don't think that's what we're seeing. These changes seem to reflect what's happening in the big, wide world and that's a good thing!

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    1. Hard to call someone who has been writing for ten years writing a "new writer" but I know what you mean. Good luck with the book; glad to hear it's going well thus far.

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  7. Well said, Mike. The best things a middle grade author can do these days are school or Skype visits. You can get paid (sometimes) and connect with kids and share your work with them. Kids come out of "good" school visits with a sense of urgency to get that author's books. With all the "books" available in so many different outlets, self-promotion is necessary. Introverted writers will have it tough in the future, unless they write something that catches on in a big way.

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    1. Yes, we both know (as teachers) how valuable those school visits are. We teachers make the best authors, huh?

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  8. Wow, fantastic post, Mike! You did a great job of summarizing the current state of publishing. I cringed at the thought of e-readers for a long time,and now I can't imagine being without my Kindle.

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  9. I think it was Harlequin who opened a self-publishing imprint a couple years back and I remember everyone aghast. It was a big scandal at the time. Now, it's really no big shake. It's so amazing how quickly things change. There is room out there for all types of authors. A good book, is a good book, is a good book! :)

    Great post, Mike!

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    1. Yes, Hilary, things changes so, so quickly. Hard to keep up sometimes.

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  10. It does feel like an exciting, albeit uncertain, time in publishing. I feel like e-books are kind of where we were with the internet fifteen years ago. Folks were trying it out, some used it regularly, and some barely knew what it was. But then the amazing changes and ordinariness of it developed at warp speed.

    I haven't invested in an e-reader device...yet, but I know it's coming! Great summary!

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  11. Marissa, if for no other reason than to see your debut in e-format as well as print (when it releases on April 3rd), you have to get an e-reader.

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  12. Mike - I very much appreciate the objective presentation of your solid points. No venom either way - refreshing. It's exciting to watch the momentum build. Ereader popularity among kids must be gaining - & I base that on (in my case anyway) the not-so-scientific data called January book sales ... with zero promotion. Royalty rates, publishing method, whatever - can't beat the thrill of getting an email from a kid or parent explaining how they look forward to the next book.

    Good job - great post.

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  13. David,

    Thanks. I do have my mind set on traditional publishing, but when I started out in attempt to really discover where we were at in the publishing world, I wanted to clear my mind of bias. And what I discovered was the fact that we are at a point in time where the possibilities are endless for people with initiative. I had an agent tell me not too long ago, "I'm not sure an editor is necessary anymore." I was a bit put off by that at first, but she might have a point. If one is able to write with life and vigor, and is technically sound, the only thing necessary otherwise is a solid cover design and a good marketing push. I think we're about to see some innovative ventures in the next few years.

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!