There have been several trends in the publishing industry over the past few years. Some are worrisome but many are extremely exciting.
On the not-so-good side we have seen the consolidation of many publishing houses. Corporations have bought and merged many of the imprints we know and love. Publishing is now all about business where, in the past, there was a stronger emphasis on developing authors and building audience.
Treating writing as a business is extremely important but it does make it much harder (in an already difficult field to break into) for first time authors to sell their work.
It also has presented an opportunity. Many new, independent presses have sprung up to fill the void. Many of these publishers are interested in the new author and helping them to grow. They are the ones who are being innovative, using technology to reach new audiences and distribute the stories we all crave.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it is easy to get published. I’m simply saying there are now more points of entry that are open to the fledgling writer. Quality is still paramount.
But what kind of innovations am I talking about? Books have been around for a long time. How can publishers possibly do things any differently?
One way: delivery.
One of the major costs in the publishing industry is the shipping and delivery of content. Books are heavy and take up space. Getting them to consumers isn’t cheap and takes time.
So what if delivery was instantaneous and free? E-publishing is a way to do both. For those of us willing to read our stories on an electronic device, whether it be one of the myriad of e-readers, iPod, of computer, we can get our content more cheaply than we traditionally could, when we want it, wherever we happen to be.
For those of us that still want the paper version, there are technologies coming to address that too. The Espresso Book Machine is a good example. For those of you fortunate enough to be near one, you can buy and print any book in their catalog quickly and relatively cheaply. No delivery cost for the publisher.
Another big cost that is being addressed by technology is warehousing. As I said before, books are heavy and take up space. Publishers traditionally have large print runs to drive down per unit cost and handle the archaic return policies (a topic for another time) that still exist in the bookselling market. Those books have to be stored somewhere. POD goes a long way to eliminating the warehousing problem.
Print-on-demand has some benefits and some liabilities: on the liability side, it is more expensive per book and a lot of bookstores don’t stock POD publications because of the aforementioned return policies. On the benefit side, it is more environmentally friendly because only books sold are printed and you can still get them from your normal sources. You just need to be patient waiting for delivery since they must be ordered (that old delivery problem still exists, of course).
The final, and perhaps biggest, technical advantage that I’m excited about is that of distribution.
Distribution has long been one of the most important roles of the publisher. Getting an author’s books in front of eager fans is the difference between success and failure for any author. In the past, small presses simply didn’t have the reach to get their books out to the various markets.
That has largely gone away because of several excellent distribution networks that now exist. A small press can tap into those networks and have instant access to Amazon, Barnes and Noble and many other big chains. They can get their books listed on the myriad of bookseller catalogs that exist. In other words, they have access to the same networks as the big players have.
A Note of Caution
Before you think the new world is all sunshine and lollypops, there are challenges that authors must face. The biggest, in my opinion, is the changing role of the author.
It is no longer enough to write a great book. We authors must become adept at marketing, networking and innovation. Small presses (and, increasingly, large ones too) have very limited marketing budgets. That means the author has to find ways to build an audience and stay connected with them. Build the loyalty that translates into sales.
Shrinking Violets are in trouble. We no longer have the luxury of staying within our comfort zones.
There are plenty of tools available to do the networking that could translate into sales, but using them takes time. That’s time that many would rather spend writing. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring those tools.
At the end of the day, we writers have more options than ever before and more control of our destinies. We just have to be willing to put in the time and effort to be successful. But then, doesn’t anything worthwhile take hard work?
I’m now 1/3 of the way through my YA Novel edits. I’m quite happy with the results and hope (fingers crossed) that the revisions I’ve made will resonate with a publisher.
I’m also in the home stretch with GalaxyBillies. I’ve got five episodes left to write (about 20,000 words) and record. The good news is that I’m currently writing between 8,000 – 12,000 words per week so it shouldn’t take much longer to finish the story.