copyright 2011 Marci Baun, all rights reserved.
The publishing world has exploded. The world of books as we know it is going to end. Publishing Armageddon is coming. Run for the hills! (g)
Okay, not really, but if you listen to some of the talk out there and read some of the articles, you’d think we were just a second away from being overrun by a tsunami. To some degree, we are. A tsunami of change, which is not a bad thing at all. The publishing industry has been bloated and dysfunctional for a long time. The business practices of both the bookstores and the big 6 publishers has seen to that. It needs some shaking up, perhaps even a big bang, to get it back on track.
Change is good; change is healthy; change will keep the industry moving forward, even if we have to go kicking and screaming into our future. (Remind me I said this when I’m having one of my fits. ;) ) The future is kind of scary. Not just for us publishers, but for the authors and readers as well.
Why us publishers? Well, the “new” rage is self-publishing via Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s PubIt, and Apple’s iBookstore or through POD technology (print on demand). A number of unpublished (and previously published) authors listen to J.A. Konrath or look at Amanda Hocking as an example and are saying they don’t need publishers. What they don’t realize is that Konrath already has a fan base, and Hocking knows how to work the social networking system. (However, she has signed a four-book, $2 million deal with one of the big 6.) Not everyone is going to have the same results as these two. Matter of fact, the vast majority won’t. And what frequently happens is when the book doesn’t do as well as the author had hoped, they bring the already published work to a publisher. Most publishers will not sign a book that has been published (whether it was for free on a website, or available at Amazon, Apple or Barnes & Noble or anywhere else one the web). It’s just not sound business practices…unless that author has an established track record or the story looks promising enough to invest in.
Personally, I think self-publishing will either become more sophisticated or will turn out to be the latest fad. Only time will tell.
One of the biggest draws of independent publishers in the past has been the ability to take a chance on a new author/genre as well as our short turnaround time from signing a contract to releasing a book (anywhere from one to three months). While we can still take chances on genres and new authors, the more established houses are finding their editing queues to make this nearly impossible. For instance, Wild Child/Freya’s Bower is, at this moment, a year from contract signing to release. We used to be able to go from contract signing to release in three months. This presents a problem for those of us who like to “pack light.” Our flexibility has been decreased quite a bit, and many of us are forced to close our submissions to new authors for months (and some permanently) at a time. When we are open, our guidelines are tighter and require more. Authors want to know that we are serious about our business. The same is true for publishers. We want to know the authors are serious about theirs.
For authors who truly want to see their books go somewhere but don’t have the know how to do it alone, this is also a scary time period. Many are still hooked on print. They don’t understand eBooks, and many have disdain for that format entirely. That attitude of disdain can only hurt them. eBooks are here to stay. Every year, this portion of the industry grows by astronomical percentages (last year was easily over 240%). Marketing eBooks is challenging, but so is marketing print. Authors are being asked to do a lot more now than they ever have before. You can’t be a hermit and still be a successful author. Not any more. Not even the blockbuster authors can do it. And, for many authors, who grew up with the idea that being a recluse is part of the author life, that’s scary.
So, what do they do now? They must educate themselves about the new publishing industry and social networking, treat publishing as a business (because that’s what it is), and really get a tough skin. This business can be brutal. As long as you don’t take anything personal and know it is business, you can survive, and even thrive.
Now, readers are also being forced to change. The closing of Border stores across the States has made it so many areas no longer have local bookstores. These chain stores put a lot of mom-and-pops out of business. Now there is a huge hole in the marketplace. Where do they go? Where can they go? This is forcing readers to buy differently. Either they buy online or go to what my sister-in-law said was “having to cave and buy a Kindle, even though I love the feel of holding a book in my hands.” She is mourning the loss of her local bookstore. (I don’t blame her. Yes, I publish eBooks, but I still enjoy holding a book sometimes. Some of my fondest memories are of combing the shelves for the latest novel from a favorite author. Alas, I don’t have that kind of time anymore, but when we do visit a bookstore, it can still take hours before you’ll drag me out of there. I must say, though, that the last time I visited one, I was highly disappointed with the selection. I’ve become spoiled from indie press. And you don’t see much indie press in bookstores. (grin)
The prices of the indie presses’ books lure readers to our eBooks, but there are still those who turn up there noses at us. Take my brother and nephews, for instance. They are avid readers. (Yay!) But, other than the Christmas I gave one of them a copy of a book we had published, they have never read any of our books. This is not meant to be a bad reflection upon them. This is just an example of the average person. There is definitely a biased about indie press books (and self-published books). It’s slowly changing. It’s one of the things we, as independent publishers and/or authors with independent houses or self-published, must take into consideration and work into our business/marketing plan. It still makes my blood boil a little, but it’s the reality, so I can either work around this and find the readers who want to read our material, or get angry and bang my head against the proverbial wall. Since anger is not productive, I’ll claw my way over that wall if I have to. (g)
This has also changed the landscape for organizations. I am the vice president of Electronic Publishing Internet CoalitionTM (http://epicorg.org). This organization was established in 1998 because RWA treated eBook authors as the redheaded stepchild (this has changed some and RWA isn’t the only writing organization to do this) and provide support for these authors. The new environment requires EPIC to redefine itself and think about what more it can bring to the table. It’s a wealth of information to its members, but it wants to be, and must be, more.
There is definitely an upside to this situation: there have never been so many opportunities in the publishing world as there are now. Truly, the opportunities are endless, but, and this is a big “but,” those entering this business, whether it’s in the capacity of a publisher, self-published author, or author, must be prepared for the long haul, have a marketing plan in place, have realistic goals, determination, and a thick skin, and do their homework. Oh, yes, and have talent. (A bit of luck never hurts either.)
With all of these in place, you’ll be prepared to ride out the big bang that is creating this new publishing universe. The ride will be exhilarating and scary with the potential of great things, but it will never be dull and will never guarantee you anything but a wild ride.
Marci Baun is the publisher of Wild Child Publishing and Freya's Bower. She is also the vice president pro-tem for two organizations Electronic Publishing Internet Coalition (http://epicorg.org) and Association of Independent Digital Publishers. Her career in electronic publishing began in 1999 with the e-zine Wild Child Magazine. Wild Child has since morphed into the publishing house and been featured in Writer's Digest in its Standout Market column. When she's not working (HAHAHAHAHAHA), she is a wife and mother to a very active, sweet six-year-old girl who, at present, is home for Spring Break and driving Mommy nuts. :)