|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.
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?