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Monday, March 7, 2011

As Clear as Mud - The New World of Publishing

There is a line in the long running play Chorus Line, spoken by a young dancer, which goes something like, "Don't tell me Broadway is dead.  I just got here."

Sometimes I feel a little like that.  I finally have the chance to throw myself full time into my life long dream - that of seeing my book on the shelf of my local bookstore - and all I hear is bookstores are dying and good old fashioned books aren't far behind.  The reality of the future is the e-book. 

I'm trying to adjust.  I have a Nook.  It's not my favorite way to read but I do use it.  And I know several authors who have books out that were published in e-format only.  It's a legitimate form of publication.  But hope springs eternal and I'm still hoping to someday see my words in print.  Old fashioned print...on paper.

Unfortunately, everything I'm reading these days says the sad state of the brick and mortar bookstore is impacting the publishing world as well.  With less store shelves to fill, publishers will be publishing fewer books, especially from new and mid-list authors, and many may be published in e-format only.  Also, publishers are expecting authors do to more self-promoting and marketing these days.  This is leading a lot of authors to consider the option of self-publishing online.  Cut out the middle man (the publisher) altogether.  Increase the author's profits. 

I see the logic in it.  But to me the whole idea of "being published" has always meant someone, a professional in the publishing business, thought something I wrote was worth publishing.  That was a biggie.  Even if it wasn't a best seller (hey, we're talking dreams here) I would still be able to say, "Yes, I had a book published."  Putting it out there myself would feel a bit like selling my work at a garage sale because it wasn't good enough for a store.

I have concerns from a reader's perspective as well.  When I go into a book store or a library looking for something to read, I know I'm choosing among books that some professional editors/publishers thought were good enough to print.  Will I always agree?  Of course not.  But I will have a baseline level of expectation.  If I'm shopping online in a sea of self-published books, how much time will I have to waste separating the carefully crafted novel from sloppy first draft someone threw together and figured was good enough to put out there?  If this becomes an issue, will e-book sellers offer readers the option of shopping for "published"  e-books only and, if so, what would that do to the self-published market?

Lots of questions.  Very few answers.  What are your thoughts?

My current word count: 30,877 (took a writing break and editing those first 100 pages)

I'm currently enjoying: Lion in the Valley by Elizabeth Peters (poor Peabody, I've left her in the desert with no reading time to bring her home)

Groaner of the day: A hungry lion was roaming through the jungle looking for something to eat. He came across two men. One was sitting under a tree reading a book; the other was typing away on his typewriter. The lion quickly pounced on the man reading the book and devoured him.

Even the king of the jungle knows that readers digest, and writers cramp.

22 comments:

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

I agree with you. At this point in time, at this juncture in the history of the publishing world as we know it, things are changing rapidly. It will sort itself out - eventually! One can only hope!
I know the feeling. I grew up knowing that to be a published author meant exactly that - someone in the publishing world thought you were good enough as a writer to back with their bucks and their editors, cover artists, PR staff.
It don't work that way no more!

Gail Baugniet said...

Hi Linda,
Groaner joke!

Interesting take on the e-book market. You lamented the wasted time of leafing through all those lists on the Internet, but even in a book store, you are inundated with choices: bestsellers; store picks; sale items; new hardcover, paperback, tradebooks; buy one, get one free.

With my Kindle, I can shop at midnight, in my nightgown, and not be tempted to buy a $5.00 coffee. :)

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

Just like digital music didn't kill the industry (though it maimed certain portions of it!), digital books won't kill the market.

1. Bookstores can sell you google ebooks right on premises easily.

2. If you sell 10,000 copies and get 70% of 2.99, that can be better than selling 2500 copies and getting 15% of 24.99 (I think)....

3. We content creators need to be open to forms different from the novel. Serial "snacks" w/recurring characters at a lower per-item price point, or subscriptions? All kinds of possibilities.

Just like the way bands tour, writers need to define a new ecology, perhaps, but probably won't face extinction.

Maria Zannini said...

Ref: "Don't tell me Broadway is dead. I just got here."

I started before you and that's exactly what I thought too. ;-)

In the beginning, I craved the validation from the 'gatekeepers'. Now I realize the only validation I need is from the reader.

Do you know what the average traditional publisher is paying in advances for a debut SF author no one is fighting for? About 5-10k. Divide that by three because they won't pay that all at once. You used to be able to get half now and half on publication, but recent contracts are now keeping funds longer.

Here's a site that lists some averages. http://www.brendahiatt.com/id2.html
I know authors who are published with some of the outfits--and most earned *below* the average. And it is getting worse.

Publishers are hurting financially. Well, duh. But instead of changing business tactics or embracing new technology, they're tightening purse strings to both new and midlist authors.

It'll work itself out eventually. But until then we'll have to ride out this tidal wave.

morganalyx said...

I'm not averse to the idea of epubbing my book, but, like you, I'd rather have it accepted by a publishing company. I don't think that ink on paper books are doomed, by a long shot. I, for one, doubt I will ever own an e-reader, simply because I like the feel of holding an actual book in my hands.

Since we're still in the developmental stages of ebooks, I'd also say that it's too soon to tell what the future will bring. I also agree with Mysti's assertion that the digital inventions won't fully kill off their physical counterparts.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Julia - It's hard to let go of the things we "knew" growing up, don't you think?

Linda Leszczuk said...

Gail - Like you liked the groaner. I guess I just have to adjust to browsing online. Doesn't feel the same to me.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Mysti - good stats. Certainly another way to look at it.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Maria - I probably shouldn't admit this but I think I still crave the "validation" more than the money. But you're right, getting it from readers would be even better.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Alyx - Well, my Nook was a gift but it serves a purpose. I'm still hung up on that self-publish thing. Not there yet.

Ellis Vidler said...

I agree that you have a better chance of finding a good book through a traditional publisher, but that's no guarantee. I've picked up some terrible books, badly written and edited, by big publishers. I've also read some really excellent self-published books--and some really awful ones. But the odds are in favor of the traditional publisher. I don't think the format, print or e-book, has anything to do with the quality. I read both and expect to continue for a long, long time.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Linda:
I don't think we will see the printed word go away. There are options through several on demand distributors for authors to go that route as well as e-publish. It is my hope that the small book store will have a come back and will learn from the major players to add other conveniences to their stores, like coffee.

I've been trying to get published for years. This decline really started back in the 80's when a lot of publishers got rid of their low sells authors that used to line grocery store shelves. It has now come to a point in the last few years were most publishers want a sure thing. That means high profile celebrities, people who are promoting their craft, hobbies, weight loss method, etc.

The advent of e-publishing has opened the doors for all of us who want our stories to be read. There are a lot of people who aren't learning the craft or having their work edited. We will see those folks decline. Once people pay to read your book, you have branded your name as either a good writer or a bad one.

So be encouraged, the playing field is now level, author to publisher and it has been a long time coming. I hope you're enjoying my book.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I don’t own any type of eReader except for my computer. I’m a lover of the printed book. The first time I held my own book in my hands was an amazing experience - I can’t find words to express my feelings.

I liked the groaner.

mary kennedy said...

This is a fantastic blog, Linda, and raises some interesting questions. I wish I knew the answers! I've had 40 books published with NY publishers but I realize all that could change in a heartbeat. At the moment, amazon is only 4% of my sales...it's really going to be hard to predict what will happen after the bad news from Borders. Congrats on the 30 k plus word count--very impressive!

Linda Leszczuk said...

Ellis - I totally agree that having a traditional publisher is no guarantee. I guess we've all read books where we wondered how in the world it got published. But it would seem to improve the odds of finding a good one.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Nancy - I like the idea that the fall of the mega bookstore might bring back the local indie. That would be one bright spot in all this.

I haven't read Treasures yet - at least not beyond teasing myself with a few pages just to make sure the download worked. I had a couple others I swore I was going to finish before starting a new one. As soon as I finish the one I'm reading now, I get to start yours. Looking forward to it.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Jane - I don't see myself ever preferring the Nook over a printed book. I wasn't planning to buy an e-reader, I got the Nook as a gift.
But there were a couple books I wanted to read that were only available in e-format so it's been good for that.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Thanks, Mary. And as you and I have discussed - the whole situation is clear as mud.

Mary Vaughn said...

Right now moving slowly is all we can do. There are publishers for e-books and editors are still editing. Authors who are main stream are self-promoting only in different areas. They appear on TV dramas and late night shows and even take cameos in movies.
As the publishing world moves in a different direction we will change with it. We will have to be smart about t.
It is scary.

Liz Fichera said...

I think the changes that are happening now are for the better. I see the changes as positive things, not negative. There's room for everyone and everything--traditional, e-book, self-pub, large, small pubs.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Mary - so is this where we say, "Be afraid, be very afraid."

Linda Leszczuk said...

Liz - I'm still trying to get my old school head around these new school possibilities. Thanks for the vote of optimism.