Today’s Publishing Environment
October 21, 2009 | Written by admin
Frank wrote to say, "Why don't you take fewer questions and do them more often?"
A good point. I've thought about that… I'll try to answer more questions, and do so more frequently. But first, a note on the self-publishing posts of the other day. I had an author named Nicole write and say, "A note on using iUniverse to self pub. I had a fine experience — it wasn't expensive (about $300), they actually read my manuscript and gave me feedback, which I used to revise, and the production values, while not lavish, were fine. I've got a paperback original that is sold as a POD, but looks fine on a bookshelf. So if you've got a family memoir or personal story that you want to have produced for a small group of readers, self-pub is the way to go. It's when you combine outside commercial expectations with self-publishing that you run into trouble."
Well said. Thanks for taking the time to write about your experience. As I noted, I have self-pubbed a few books (both paperback and hardcover), did it myself, and had a good experience. BUT I hired a professional editor to review the manuscript, used a copyeditor I trusted, reviewed the interior and cover designs carefully, and, most importantly, I knew how to sell the book. If you don't know how to sell the book, you're making a mistake if you have commercial expectations. Appreciate you writing to say that, Nicole.
Abigail asked, "As you look at today's publishing market, what's the most important development you see happening?"
I tough call to pick out one thing, Abigail. First is probably the news that Walmart and Amazon are having a price war, with both saying they'll sell their top books for less than ten bucks (even hardcover books). Yikes. Take a look at what David Young, the CEO of Hachette Book Group USA and my former boss, had to say in the Wall Street Journal and on Publishers Marketplace. He is quoted saying, "It worries me from the perspective of the independent bookseller community that is so vital when it comes to launching new careers." He's absolutely on target with that, coupled with Amazon's desire to make e-books cheaper than $10, there's not much money to stay in business. The implication is that booksellers will price each other out of business, publishers won't be making anything, and that leaves almost nothing for the author. Tough times.
Second is no doubt the growth of the e-book audience — today Barnes & Noble introduced the Nook, which is their proprietary e-reader. It includes some of the best of the Kindle features (cell phone technology, the ability to highlight text) with some cool enhancements (a color screen for covers, will get newspapers and magazines, can hold 1500 books, and allows you to move Word docs and PDFs as well as book text to your computer or to a friend's device). They sell for $259, and can be ordered starting today. The price will drop eventually, but this is the big battle brewing on the retail front.
Chuck wrote this: "You seem to spend a lot of time talking about marketing on this blog. Can't a writer just focus on writing these days?"
Thanks, Chuck. Actually, I'd love it if a writer could just focus on writing. But this is a blog about publishing AND writing, and the reality these days is that a writer is being called to be his or her own marketing director. I don't really enjoy saying that — I'm just calling it the way I see it as a longtime agent in the industry (as well as a former associate publisher for Time-Warner, senior editor for Harvest House, and author of a couple dozen books). I do think it's possible for a writer of literary fiction to just be a great writer, and choose not to get involved much with marketing… but I think that writer will always struggle in the marketplace (unless he or she hits the lottery and gets a ton of attention somehow — something that is happening far less frequently than it used to). What we're seeing these days is literary novelists choosing to be involved in some way with the marketing plan — whether that is doing a blog tour, or a booksigning and speaking tour, or a bunch of interviews and articles in print and web-based 'zines. So the idea of a writer doing his or her own marketing isn't something I'm pushing so much as it's the direction I see the industry has gone.
I just had a conversation with an author I represent. She's a literary writer, and she's never going to turn into a full-time marketer. That's fair — I wanted to represent her because I believe in her WRITING, not because I think she's going to be a world famous marketing expert. And I know it's a struggle for an introverted, solitude-loving writer to suddenly be called upon to talk to people, press the flesh, and make herself available to groups. So maybe a writer like that just trusts in her talent, and does as much as she feels comfortable doing, and lives with the results in a competitive book market. I can live with that, so long as the author understands the sales projections will probably be much more modest than if she threw herself into marketing. Again, I'm not trying to be The Marketing Evangelist. I'm just trying to help today's writers understand how the world has changed, and try to be as well-equpped as possible to face the new reality and find some success.
Remember, I sell as much literary fiction as anyone. So if you're a literary writer, I understand your struggle. And I long for the day when you'll be appreciated for your voice and talent, not for your ability to go onto a TV show and pitch your book in 30-second soundbites. Until we get there (IF we get there), I figure my job is to help authors know how to best spend their time trying to be successful.