Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Future of Publishing

A popular post from July 2011

by Annette Lyon

The internet's filled with people rabidly taking sides on the debate about what the future holds for publishers and writers.

Will independent authors publishing e-books become the norm?

Will agents become obsolete?

Will publishers become obsolete?

Are agents and publishers quaking in their boots because people like J. A. Konrath, Amanda Hocking, and Victorine Lieske have made good (like, really good) money self-publishing e-books?

Some people take the side of the traditional publishing route, saying that while there are some random successes out there in the indie e-book world, that really the only good way to publish is still the mainstream way, and writers should shun the indie e-book path altogether.

Some on the opposite side of the spectrum insist that traditional publishing is somehow an evil plot and the gatekeepers (agents and editors) preventing great writers from breaking out are finally out of our way.

These last people are the ones who sort of wigged when Amanda Hocking signed a traditional publishing contract.

The others cheered when Barry Eisler turned down a contract to go indie.

From what I've seen online, it appears that neither writer is choosing one side or the other. They're pursuing both paths.

Which goes to show that there is no single right answer. It's a complicated issue.

Seth Godin (famous for Purple Cow, Tribes, and other books), insists that he'll no longer publish traditionally because he doesn't need anything the publishing houses offer. He can do it all on his own.

Well, sure he can. Now. His former publishers helped him get to the point he's at, with an eager audience just waiting to buy his next (self-pubbed) e-book. But he wouldn't be in that position without having had a traditional publisher first.

E-books are definitely going to be a big part of the future in publishing. I doubt anyone will argue that. How big a part and in what way is the question. More and more people own e-readers and devices that can read books (iPads, smart phones) than ever. Last Christmas reportedly had the biggest spike in e-book sales ever thanks to all the people who'd opened up Kindles that morning.

What's a writer to do? Should you embrace the indie e-book world? Shun that world and cling to traditional publishing?

How about shunning neither?

Educate yourself on what your goals are for your writing and what it takes to reach that goal. What does success look like to you?

Be realistic. Don't use Amanda Hocking as reason to self-publish e-books (that's just as silly as using JK Rowling as an excuse to go the traditional route).

I've done both: I've traditionally published seven novels and a cookbook. I've self-published a grammar guide (originally in hard copy, but now also in e-book form). After my first two novels went out of print and I got the rights back, I spit-polished them and made them available as e-books. Very soon I'll have a totally different e-book up too, one that's never been published (and one that's not in my usual genre: it's a YA fantasy).

I have every intention of publishing more e-books, because it's been as successful as I intended it to be.

But I also have every intention of pursuing traditional publishing as well, for different reasons.

When forecasting the future of publishing, the only thing we really know right now is that we don't know.

Bob Mayer is a hugely successful writer who straddles both worlds. (And he's got a great blog. Here and here are two posts to read if you're at all interested in this issue, but he's got lots more.)

By pretty much any definition, he's a success in both. First he published something like 40 books the regular route over the course of 20 years before dipping his toes in indie waters. He's been there for two, and now sells over 1500 books a day.

At the end of THIS POST, he says:

No one really knows what is going on. All the industry experts can predict all they want, but the reality is they’ve underestimated digital and the effects ebooks would have on authors and readers—the people who drive this business. It really is an exciting time to be an author. The key is to educate yourself, know and understand your options and make the right decision for yourself.
So write the best book you possibly can. Learn your options. Learn what to expect. Know what you're getting into. Define "success" for yourself and know the likelihood of reaching that through either path.

And then review that path (and your definition of "success") as the industry changes and grows, because what's true about publishing and e-books today very well may not be true in a year or two.


Sariah S. Wilson said...

I would also say that you could use one to do the other. You don't mention some of the highly successful "mid-listers," but there are many (MANY) indie authors who have used their self-published books to hook themselves a traditional deal (like Dee-Ann Black or Michael Sullivan or the guy who wrote that "The Ark" book). Mark Edwards and Louise Voss (who had both been through the ringer with traditional publishing) put out two suspense e-books, and were recently given a six figure advance for traditionally publishing their e-books. It happens often - it's not an anomaly, those authors are not outliers.

Some agents have even suggested that indie publishing will become the new slush pile - distinguish yourself and New York will want to work with you. There are, in fact, agents who actively troll the Amazon bestselling lists for indie authors to represent.

There are some publishers and agents who look down their noses and say that if you're indie publishing, you're obviously a sad and pathetic individual, but that is going to change.

And if anyone's concerned with "ruining" their chances with New York by self-publishing, it's called a pseudonym.

You could be making money while you're waiting for New York to discover you.

Sariah S. Wilson said...

P.S. - on Bob Mayer, his most recent numbers indicate he's selling 3,000 books a day, and has eight backlist books to put up, and six frontlist books to self-publish. He expects to make well over a million dollars this year from his self-published books.

Annette Lyon said...

I could list a ton of successful mid-listers. Not room for that. :) My point was that the two extremes aren't the only way.

Becky said...

Love this! I've heard too much from people insisting one way or the other is best. I agree: find out what works for you as an individual.

Sariah S. Wilson said...

Annette - I know you know this stuff. My comments were geared more towards any neophytes that may come across the blog. :) I just wanted them to know there was another option to getting your stuff in front of New York if that's where you want it.

RobisonWells said...

I totally agree that people can go either way.

My gripe: I get really sick of all the current self-pub hype by people who haven't self-pubbed anything. Go self-published a book, and then blog about it and tell us how it went.

I really don't understand the manic evangelism by people who haven't even tried it.

Heather B. Moore said...

Great summation, Annette.

folksinmt said...

I was wondering when you would address this issue! :) I love that now authors have OPTIONS. I also love that so many genre's that were out (like chick lit) are able to be on the internet, finding an audience again. That's great for authors who haven't been able to get their books on the shelves just because they wrote something that wasn't trendy.

I think that we are still evolving in the new publishing industry. My hope is that we can still have the control and the royalties of self-publishing, but find a way for it to be more of a collaborative process. Right now, I feel a bit like the Lone Ranger. :)

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

Great comments. I've joined the self-pub world again today with a new book available on Kindle. This is a book that didn't quite fit into the traditional slot with educational publishers, yet one that I've had lots of interest in from teachers and home school parents, so I decided to make the book available on my own, and without a huge bill to go with it. That doesn't mean I'm abandoning the traditional publishing world. I juts sent a manuscript in last week that is currently going through the evaluation process. Different market, different type of audience. Hopefully both will be successful and lead to many, many more published books for me.