Friday, January 4, 2013

What I’m Learning about Book Publishing

Since June, I’ve been working with a personal trainer on core conditioning and general physical strengthening,  with a nice leavening of cardio work thrown in for good measure. On Monday, while I’m grunting and groaning with routines like “dead bugs” and “bear crawls,” He told me his grandmother was reading Dancing Priest, and couldn’t put it down. “She’s raving about what a great story it is,” he said.

Of course, I agreed.

Yesterday, as I’m staggering around trying to recover from TRX hamstring curls, “mountain climbing,” and more bear crawls with an eight-pound ball on my back, he told me his grandmother had finished it and was telling all her friends about it.

“When’s the next one coming out?” he asked.

“The day after Thanksgiving,” I said. “It’s out.” I told him he could get A Light Shining at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or could even call Barnes & Noble or small bookstores locally and order it. “If enough people call asking for it,” I said, “bookstores are much more likely to stock it in the stores, that is, if they’re still around next week.”

I’m learning about the book publishing, book marketing, and the book retail business. The industry is going through convulsions, and there’s no sign of settling down any time soon. Two local bookstores closed recently in St. Louis; the fact is that a small bookstore, the kind so many of us grew up with, simply can’t compete with an Amazon. The ones who are still trying to be general bookstores are going out of business; the ones finding specific niches are hanging on, at least for now. (One of the ones going out of business in St. Louis actually stocked Dancing Priest for a time.)

None of us likes change. When it comes to books, we like to think it’s still the era of Maxwell Perkins editing the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe at Scribner’s. Perkins died in 1947. The industry he knew continued on for another 25 years or so, and then disappeared forever. (If you want to read an excellent biography of Perkins, try Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg. It was originally published in 1979 and reissued in 2008.)

A statement of the obvious: Amazon is blowing the industry wide open. Not only has it upended the retail industry, it’s now moving into publishing in a major way. Want to guess why so many traditional publishers tried to establish prices of e-books with Apple? (And got into trouble with the Justice Department as a result?) The answer is a six-letter word that’s the name of a river in South America.

Amazon is a huge factor, but it’s not the only agent for change. Technology is upending the book industry, too. Print-on-demand printers essentially mean anyone can publish, for any length of time, a paperback book. E-books are starting to dominate adult fiction. Self-publishing is exploding. Did you know that even blockbuster bestselling author Jackie Collins is experimenting with self-publishing? Old forms of publication are new again, like serial publication – it worked for Dickens in the 19th century and it looks like it might be working again today. All kinds of digital magazines are promoting fiction, short stories, poetry, and “creative non-fiction.”

There are even publishers like Diversion Books that work like a traditional publisher with one exception – they handle only digital books.

The single most overused word in the book industry now is “platform,” as in, an author has to have one. Experts point to social media – go ye therefore and subdue Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube. Millions of writers are chasing millions of potential readers on social media to prove to publishers they have what it takes to sell books and make money.

If you’re a new writer, no matter who you’re publisher is, you’re going to be largely on your own. It’s a fact of life today in the book business. Yes, I know, I want to spend all my time writing, too, but that simply won’t work any more if you expect to be published and read. You’re going to be largely responsible for your own marketing and promotion, even if you have a traditional publisher.

One thing to always remember: It’s all coming apart, yes. But that is often the absolute best time to throw yourself into something and see what opportunities are there. And the opportunities are there.


Michael Dodaro said...

The way I like to frame the developements in publishing is that this could be the beginning of the end for superstar writers. A long time ago I realized that people among my friends and family are more interesting than most of the characters I've encountered in books and movies. When writers stop writing for the book deal, they may start noticing the people in their own orbits and writing things that will interest them and not for the market.

Wise Hearted said...

Your post was a good informative read for me. You were mention on a blog and I plan to read your books, hoping they are in the library, if not will buy through

Your ending sentence captured my throught process in this way..

One thing to always remember: It’s all coming apart, yes. But that is often the absolute best time to throw yourself into something and see what opportunities are there. And the opportunities are there.

My husband I have lived through enough things that came apart only to see God put together something great. The disciples thought things had "come apart" along with all who followed Jesus. There must be a dying before real new can grow. If one's foundation is firm it will withstand any change and God will get the glory.

As I said, good read for me for it started my creative wheels turning. Blessings.

Anonymous said...

Totally changing. And i think it calls for telling our stories in our community in some way. One must be creative to make changes that are unique or align with one's own perspective and place.

Anonymous said...

Looking at what's going on in the book-publishing world reminds me a bit of the punk-rock explosion of the 70's - at least here in the UK. Up until then there were a relatively small number of superstar acts and supergroups - the latter formed from members of other groups which had just collapsed. Punk rock put quitars and drumsticks into the hands of everyone, and put the often questionable musical output in the marketplace. For a few years after the shockwaves settled, music of all styles was avaiable - and found commercial success. Many of the indy record labels date from this period.

I think publishing is facing a similar explosion. E-publishing means that anyone can publish a book, irrespective of its literary value or quality. In time things will settle down, and then maybe for a while smaller independents will be able to generate some moderate commercial success. Of course, eventually the "big boys" will buy them all out and we'll be back to square one, much like we are with "popular" music.

Michael Dodaro said...

I might have to learn to spell... .

Glynn said...

Michael - I think you have an excellent point - stop writing for the fame and big book deal and celebrity at the writers conferences and instead write the stories staring you in the face. Betty - thanks for the comment. I do believe the opportunities are there -- we just have to find them or invent them.