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.