A few weeks ago I gave a talk about the publishing revolution at the wonderful Write Stuff Conference in Allentown, PA. The talk was titled “Claim Your Victory in Today’s Publishing Revolution,” but it could have as easily been titled “Writers Win!” or “Entering the Age of the Author.” This upbeat presentation focused on how, yes, things are indeed changing, and some of these changes may seem scary, BUT many changes are benefiting us writers.
Anyways, since the chat was so well-received and motivating, and since, frankly, we’ve had enough doom and gloom chatter to last us a generation, I thought I’d share my points here with my fellow writers.
Okay, so remember that Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times? Well, we authors are absolutely plagued by interesting times right now. Yes, this indeed is a publishing revolution to rival the printing press. Really, two factors are colliding to create the perfect storm of sorts: 1. Ebooks, and 2. The Economy.
For a LONG time we have plodded along with certainties. And the main truth was that a big publisher = big success. Signing with big publishers meant contracts with great advances, reviews in prominent publications, your book would appear in all bookstores, you’d have tons of publicity and promotion, and you were well on your way to a long CAREER as an author.
Then this “given” started to erode as all the publishing models began to shift. A large number of editors were laid off in 2008. Authors were suddenly expected to do more of their own promotions. Book reviews in many print publications began to disappear. There was no guarantee that your book would appear in the major chains or indies (even before the demise of Borders). And now we hear a lot from authors about low advances, or no contracts being offered on a next book.
Yes, the economy has a ton to do with all of this. And Ebooks have come in at an especially crazy time. We fear they may pose a threat to print books. The pricing of Ebooks is a huge issue. Brick and mortar stores feel threatened by Ebook sales.
And let’s pile onto this, indie publishing, which is on the rise.
All these factors together add to an overall sense of instability in what was once a fairly predictable business model for publishers, booksellers and authors.
So, let’s get it out there…here are some of the scary things that we writer’s fear:
1. It may be the end of print books.
2. Bookstores may go the way of record stores.
3. Top publishers could fail.
4. That we’ll never see a book deal…and even if we did, we wouldn’t get any sort of an advance, or an editor who would have the time to edit, or the sort of promotion that would make us succeed, and so we would be labeled a failure and really NEVER EVER get another book contract, and…
BREATHE, EVERYONE, BREATHE!!!
No. Really. Deep breaths. Head between knees if necessary. See, this is the kind of stuff that feeds into our writerly despair. So knock it off already, guys. Isn’t it time to look at some decent facts that are out there? Walk on the positive side with me for a bit, okay?
1. We are writers! In all of the tumultuous changes, THE constant is the need for writers, for content, for great stories. That ain’t going nowhere.
2. Writing the best book you can is still the most important thing you can do for your career, and ain’t nothing changing that!
I’d also like to point out that despite the doom and gloom we writers sometimes share whenever a bunch of us get together and natter, the reality is that book deals are being made, as always. Great deals too! In the past 2 days alone, more than 100 deals were posted on Publishersmarketplace.com. These included film deals, international rights, and book deals in areas including YA, middle grade, debut fiction, non-fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, general fiction, women’s fiction, thriller, romance, memoir, mystery, picture books… There are multi-book deals, significant deals even (which are between $251,000-$490,000). But what about debut authors? I spotted 24 deals involving debuts in the past 2 weeks.
And as an agent myself, when I’m calling major publishers to pitch books, I’m finding editors eager to listen, eager to acquire great stuff, and they have wish lists for me of the types of titles they want to see in the future. Lots of stuff is happening, folks. So feel positive.
ALSO, I feel that this is a great time for more smaller focused presses to start appearing and succeeding big-time. With the changes in technology, books can now be printed on demand (means no warehousing costs), and a small press can now have great access to retail distribution with the aid of online sales. This will equal even more options for writers. At least that’s what my Magic 8 Ball tells me.
So what’s the upside about Ebooks? Well, studies are showing that Ebooks are leading to more readership. Score another one for writers! Some stats suggest readers buy 3 times as many books once they have an Ereader. And sales of Ebooks are climbing. Check out this article by Philip Jones of The Bookseller magazine, where he discusses some UK companies seeing a staggering 500% jump in Ebook sales, and how they expect a similar jump this year. Crazy, right? I’ve also found that impulse buys are a wonderful thing when it comes to Ebooks. A person hears about a book or meets an author at a festival, they click on their phone and ta-da! They now own your book.
Other Ebook thoughts: Young adult readers are poised for huge increases in Ebook sales as teens start to get their own Ereaders. And because of Ereaders, more readers are branching out to different types of books. For example, someone who wouldn’t be caught dead reading erotica in public can now do so discretely on their Ereader. This goes for adults reading YA, for men reading women’s fiction. And we writers? We benefit with a growing audience.
Obviously this Age of the Author stuff is a HUGE topic, so I’m breaking it down into a few posts. In my next post about this, I’ll talk a bit about how Indie Publishing is presenting writers with more opportunities, and how traditional publishers are switching things up to better serve their authors. And in my final post on this subject, I’ll talk about the 4 most important things we Age of the Author writers should be doing right now to build our audience and expand our careers.
Hey, it’s all good!
I just discovered that my contemporary young adult novel Over My Head is now listed as a #19 top seller in the multiculti category on Amazon!!! I’m especially honored because it’s just a few slots below Born Confused, another title that features Indian-American characters, and a book that I really love.
To celebrate, I’m putting my Over My Head ebooks on sale for just 99 cents. But, like summer, this won’t go on forever, so snag your copy while you can. For purchase links, just go here. (Note that this price change was just listed…Smashwords already shows it, the other sites will have the 99 cent price up in the next few hours or so…)
In Over My Head, high school senior Sang Jumnal puts her heart on the line for college-aged lifeguard Cameron. Is he the love of her life? Or a player out to stomp on her heart?
If you like The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, and novels by Sarah Dessen, then you’ll love Over My Head, with its summertime vibe and realistic, heartfelt conflicts. My novel features the Jumnal’s, a funny mixed Italian/Indian American family that appeals to fans of Bend it Like Beckham and Born Confused.
Here’s what Clean Romance Reviews said about Over My Head in their recent review: “Rarely have I encountered an author skilled enough to really get inside a sixteen-year-old mind and pull the reader along with them. All the crazy emotions, lack of focus, lack of maturity while trying to be an adult, and insecurities of wanting to fall in love… a good read, full of fun characters and twists.”
So check it out, and let a little summer shine into your dreary winter day!
When I think of ebooks, I marvel at the technology, and I’m thankful that I’m a writer cog in the whole process of bookmaking and selling. Stories will always be read, and someone will always have to write them. So in that sense, writers win.
I do wonder about the future of publishing and bookselling, though. It’ll exist in some fashion, but what shape will it take? I have a daughter interested in possibly becoming an agent or an editor someday, or she would love to own her own bookstore. But what will any of those careers look like 7 years from now? Who knows!
But writing, yes, writing will still be very much intact. Perhaps more lucrative and more accessible than ever to us all.
Another form of accessibility, however, has been preying on my mind lately. Books are the ultimate form of cheap entertainment, and culture, and knowledge. For a few bucks, and sometimes for less than a buck, a paperback can be had, held, owned, shared. That book doesn’t discriminate against its owner. You could be a wealthy person in a penthouse, or an impoverished child sitting on a dirt floor in a makeshift Third World schoolhouse, and still have the same access to that same information wedged between those pages.
But ereaders are another story. Could that child in that Third World school ever afford such a thing? And what are the ramifications for the poor worldwide? If the model shifts to follow the money, and paper books are replaced by ebooks, then will this lead to a Dark Ages of sorts for those who can’t afford them? Think about this for just a moment. Publishers no longer print in paper because it isn’t cost-effective. Want a new book? Or new information? Look to your computer or purchase it on your ebook. Unless you don’t have one of those…
I recently posed this scenario on a Facebook thread and on Twitter, with interesting results. There was a surprising number of “enlightened” folk who said, and I paraphrase, “Ereaders are so affordable now. I have one! I don’t see the problem.”
As Seth Meyer on SNL would say: “Really?”
I’ve traveled throughout India, and witnessed firsthand how people in countless villages don’t have what we consider the basics, such as electricity, or plumbing, or those 3-square-meals. How will they will be able to afford an ereader? Or have access to a wireless connection to download those spiffy ebooks?
Even in the city of Philadelphia, a ridiculous number of children go hungry every day. Are poor school districts going to be able to give every child an ereader and wireless access for books? Hm.
So, my worry is that if ereaders become the norm, and IF those low-tech paper volumes do disappear as a result, that we will be in effect cutting access to the written word for the poor. Limiting opportunity. Decreasing knowledge. Facing rising illiteracy.
Maybe I’m being slightly paranoid, or maybe it’s the fictional “what if” part of my brain hard at work. But still, I want to send this thought out across the airwaves, to remind the visionaries among us to keep this in their own brains. To include a model within all the innovation that remembers that books are not just entertainment, they are knowledge. Knowledge is power, and we must all strive to ensure this power is in everyone’s hands. Equally. Really.
I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this subject, so please chime in, share links to relevant topics and organizations, etc, and let’s get this discussion churning.
*Cross-posted over at the Liars Club blog
Here’s a question that’s been popping up at a lot of writer’s conferences where I’ve spoken about book marketing: Would I ever self-publish a manuscript? Hm. If you’d asked me a year or two ago, I’d have said NO. Self-publishing seemed to imply that no one else would take your book. That it was inferior somehow. That it wouldn’t be professionally edited. It felt like a giant step backwards.
Things are starting to shift a bit, as some established authors are starting to think: Do I really need that publisher? J.A. Konrath is an author with a following who is currently making a mint on titles he’s self-published. Imagine no middleman. Imagine the writer being able to put his work out there and collect payment, big payment, for it, instead of royalties from what’s left after all the other folks involved take their cut. Seductive. Definitely seductive.
Now we do need to distinguish between self-publishing a printed title and an ebook. With a printed title, you would ideally like for it to appear on bookstore shelves. Think that will work? I recommend you ask your local bookseller about that. Here’s the problem: distribution. First of all, how will you even pitch your book to all the stores nationwide? You will have no sales rep to do that. Say you do get a bookshop to stock your self-published title. But then it doesn’t sell. They typically can’t return it (especially if it’s a print on demand title). It’s a total loss for them. If they’ve got a book from Random House that doesn’t sell, they can return it to the publisher at no cost. So, which do you think the bookseller will refuse stocking on their shelves? Yeah.
This problem has become so prevalent, that it’s actually starting to affect the traditionally published authors. When I go to a bookshop to tell them about my title, they practically run away, convinced I’m one of the many many self-published authors who have come knocking on their door. I’ve learned to say my publisher’s name before I even say my own name. It’s tough out there.
Now, with ebooks, it’s all about the online action. Problem is, how will anyone ever find your book? If you have a household name, it’s a different story. I predict that with the rise of ebook readers, more and more big name authors will be jumping the publishing ship and going it alone. If a publisher won’t meet their pay demands, or otherwise pisses the author off, that author may not need the publisher anymore. They can just click a few buttons and their story is out there ready for purchase.
So what about me? I’d lie if I didn’t say I was tempted to self-publish. See, I’ve got three unpublished novels sitting on my bookshelf. And the wheels of publishing turn so slowly (especially with the recession), that deals are slooooow in coming. I’ve got readers asking for my next book. If I could just get it out there…
But wait. So much of this business is about faith. Faith in yourself. Faith in your writing. Yes, even faith in the publishing world. What if the next editor who sees my manuscript loves it? What if I were to self-publish the manuscript, and therefore that next editor never got to see it and fall in love with it in the first place? Editors can transform a manuscript from good to phenomenal. Then the book will reach the shelves it needs to. It’ll get reviews. It’ll be seen. Would I really want to miss out on that?
The most important thing for me is to operate with faith, and not out of fear. If you are thinking of self-publishing, I encourage you to ask yourself: Is this because I’m afraid it’ll never see the light of day otherwise? Or do I truly believe that this is the best way to reach my readers and continue on as a writer?
The answer won’t be the same for every author. If you are a non-fiction author with a killer way to reach your target audience that doesn’t even involve bookstore shelf space, then you can go for the non-traditional mode and do well. If you have a personal family story you want to share with relatives. If you have a collection of poems you want to print and sell at festivals. If you are such an unbelievable marketer that you know your self-published volume will get attention. If you are world famous and everyone is asking for your life story…
We all have our stories and our reasons and our personal goals.
As for me? I write fiction. I’m not famous. So I’m sticking with the traditional model.
And praying that it all works out.