ZOMG The Streams Are Crossing!
Posted on March 22, 2011 Posted by John Scalzi 48 Comments
Holy crap, a long-time print author is going to try self-publishing electronically! This changes everything!!!
Holy crap, a hot young self-published author is going to try being published conventionally! This changes everything!!!
(sprays everybody down with a garden hose)
Let’s entertain the notion that we live in a time in which there are a number of ways for authors to work their careers, and that various people will try various thing that will allow them to focus on the various things they would prefer to focus. To the extent that they have the ability to choose their options, they will choose. The right way for any of this to fall out is the way in which authors find a path to publication that is the most congenial for them to do their work, because then the work is produced and readers get to read new work from their favorite authors.
Might an author long in print want to try self-publishing? Possibly. Good luck to him with that. Hope it works out for him. Might an author who electronically self-published want to try working with an established publisher? She might, and might find that a better experience for her. Good luck to her too. Might there be people who do little of both, depending on project and inclination? Indeed. Good luck to them, too. I think the really smart folks look at the entirety what’s possible for them and say “Let’s see how I can make this work.”
It’s an exciting time in publishing. It’s an even more interesting time in publishing if you don’t think about it like it’s Rollerball with Team Print and Team ePub, and where the crowd is mostly just rioting in the stands.
As a devoted member of Team Reader I just want the books I like at decent prices – this could be a win-win for me. (Assuming I like either author.)
Unlicenced nuclear particle accelerators…
I confess that I have lived in the backwash of excitable Silicon Valley culture long enough that whenever I hear the ‘blah blah future blah revolutionizing digital blah blah buggywhips’ hype about [latest.newthing] I have a reflexive, irrational urge to give the speaker a swift kick in the agenda.
And of course, who doesn’t love a good rollerball death match?
But to the extent this all leads to more flexibility and smart practice by publishers in general, and better options for authors and readers alike, yay rah, I say.
Can’t I have just a little bit of riot?
I guess the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. -)
But, in some ways, it is a little Rollerball-ish (the James Caan movie, not the horrible, horrible, horrible remake (shame on you John McTeirnan)). It just that corporations are arranging the knockdown dragout murder…it’s authors trying to position themselves as kings of the format… especially Konrath. I don’t understand why Konrath hates paper, but boy does he.
So you’re saying that the New York team in Rollerball was sponsored by the publishing corporation?
I’m kinda amazed they got into the finals of 2018.
The sad thing out of all of this is that whoever survives the Amazon/Apple vs. Old Publishing war will be meaner than anyone is now. Too bad for the authors, that.
Note for readers: since I recently heard someone brag about not paying for a bunch of stories he had downloaded, just remember:
Writers have to eat too, and writing fiction pays worse than most other gigs that intelligent people can get. If you want your favorite author to spend 500 hours writing that novel you enjoyed reading, pay for it, okay? Otherwise, no matter how hard you beg, that author ain’t going to bother writing you a sequel.
I don’t think I’ll be buying any more of Hocking’s books than I was already buying.
I’d be happy if they have Jean Reno play, erm, something. He’s a pretty good actor. And having him throw steel balls at, erm, publishers, erm, editors, erm, writers, erm, people rioting in the stands could be pretty cool.
The latest book I’m working my way through is Taleb’s “Black Swan” (which has nothing to do with ballet or Oscar-winning movies). It more than just touches on this.
It points out a distinction between “scalable” and “non-scalable” activities. (The word “leveraged” could also apply mighty well.) Publishing is an example of a pretty “scalable” activity, in that you can get $billion$ of sales without necessarily doing any more work yourself.
Scalable is “good” in that it offers the opportunity to reap untold $billions$.
But scalable is “bad” in that what actually happens is that there’s so vastly much competition for those “untold $billions$”” that your chances of getting more than a pittance are pretty lousy.
We can all congratulate Mr Scalzi as one of those that is evidently getting something more than just a pittance. But he’s no Robin Masters, at least, not yet :-).
This is news? … there’s been a lot of crossing back and forth, over the last year, year and a half among HF writers – lots of discussion of this among indy writersn But hey – whatever gets my book in front of someone who wants to read it, is just jake with me.
*insert shameless product plug here* My next book, “Daughter of Texas” is already up on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc, release date in April … sort of the background on the Texas war for independence, from a woman’s point of view. Were I offered a chance to work with a traditional house? Maybe I’d take it. Maybe not. If I sell a boatload of my books, maybe I’ll hire someone to do formatting, cover design and marketing for me. Just depends on what seems to be the best idea at the time.
True even on the (relatively no-lasers or time portals) academic side…we’re wrapping up a second book with a great academic publisher, but I can definitely see a time when we may want to self-publish, because the market we want to reach is more amenable to e-pub formats, among other reasons. Any publisher of any stripe has to acknowledge that their authors may want to dip their toes into self-publishing, and can either support them or ignore them at their own peril (or profit).
Eh. I have no time for the “X will KILL Z” crowd – it’s a typical technology ‘analysis’ mode and it’s demonstrably wrong (CDs are still around despite MP3… hell vinyl is still around. Youtube is out there… and so is radio).
If you time the mass rise of ebooks from last year when the Kindle finally went very cheap and the iPad appeared, then you can assume we’re roughly where music was when the first iPod dropped. Did a lot change int he following decade for music? Yes. And a lot will change for publishing, books and authors over the next 10 years or so.
But 10 years from now we’ll still have paper books, some bookstores, etc. What we’ll ALSO have will be a plethora of new and cool things that exist because we ALSO have widespread electronic books. Just like the rise of mp3s and the web enabled bands to get discovered in new ways from MySpace and Youtube to Soundjam and others, we’ll see new venues open up for books. Creative people will play with the possibilities both in how books are made and perhaps even what they are. Paper books will be around too. All of this is good.
May we live in interesting times. Opps sorry – I didn’t mean to curse anyone.
but Mr Scalziiii, rioting is funnnnn.
I thought we weren’t supposed to cross the streams! Doesn’t that cause all life as we know it to stop instantaneously and every molecule in our body to explode at the speed of light?
I’d think a good mix of both would be ideal, judging from the Scalzi mantra of multiple revenue streams. I tend to look at things from that standpoint now, in terms of writing and heck, even my own IT career. (Thanks, John.)
On that note, there’s an author I read who has two traditionally published urban fantasy series going, one of which I like and one I don’t. S/he periodically puts some stuff on Amazon direct-to-Kindle. It is totally unedited, rife with misspellings and utterly devoid of even the least coherency. It’s like looking at the house before it’s been drywalled. I can’t decide what motivates that. Is it desire for a quick buck by tossing some unedited notes into Kindle format? Or simply figuring the fans will take anything they can get? It’s really put me off, not just on the author’s epub work but on the traditionally published stuff, as well. So, I think if you must mix and match, do it well.
speaking of stream crossing,
video killed the radio star
Yes, from what she said on her blog and getting an agent, I figured Hocking was going to get a deal with a publisher. Publishers love successful self-published authors — they offer them reprint deals. I’m sure Hocking will continue to do some self-publishing and have a self-published backlist. But given that she’d also moved some of her titles into paper editions, this all makes a lot of sense for her. As for the other dude, that happens routinely. I don’t know why it surprises people. The advance isn’t a purchase price, but an estimate by the publisher of what the author is likely to make in royalties. That estimate is a gamble and is often wrong, going either way. If it’s more than the author actually earns in sales, the author keeps it and the publisher eats the loss but is less interested in taking further gambles on that author. If it’s less than the author ends up earning, then everybody makes money and is happy. Barry is estimating that he will earn more than $500,000 on electronic sales alone pretty much. He may be right or wrong. He’s going in with more of a track record/fanbase than Hocking started with.
But the big hot button issue isn’t self-published versus published and never has been. It’s the electronic licensing rights, which, when they weren’t worth a lot, used to be automatically bundled with print rights to the publisher. So the negotiations between publishers and authors are whether e-books will be an included format/right of most deals, or whether authors are withholding the rights to sell them to electronic publishers like Rosetta (or possibly do them themselves,) as they do with most film rights. Barry estimated that his electronic rights were worth more than the publisher did and the publisher wanted those rights as part of the deal. Agents are trying to figure out what the best deals are for their author clients and we’ll see which way the majority of them jump in negotiations.
Jon-A-Than. Jon-… I mean…
John-Scal-Zi. John-Scal-Zi. John-Scal-Zi.
It rubs the lotion on it’s skin or it gets the hose!
Don’t cross the streams, Scalzi.
Because it would be bad.
Doesn’t anybody remember that Stephen King experimented with online, pay what you can novel serialization? If I recall correctly, he quit after three sections of the story because he wasn’t making as much money through it as he would have liked. I believe that every author has to find their own way to developing their audience. However, it makes sense to pay attention and (in the world of the ever shortening memory) remember the experience of others.
Two publishing business models enter!
One publishing business model leaves!
ZOMG! We are so far BEYOND THUNDERDOME!
Mostly it seems to me that people get the analogies wrong. Digital self-publishing isn’t like DVD vs VHS or even MP3 vs. CD. It seems like it’s more akin to indie filmmakers shooting their films on affordable HD camcorders and then doing independent distribution. Indie filmmaking will never destroy mainstream filmmaking, it’s just another avenue where folks with off-kilter ideas and/or small budgets can put their ideas out in the world. Sometimes those films turn out to be huge hits, and every once in a while Stephen Soderberg goes on to someday make Oceans 11 through 13.
The one thing that does concern me about digital self-publishing is the lack of craft I perceive going into the packaging. Book covers are important to me, and it seems like you can usually pick out the self-published book in a crowd because it’s the Photoshopped horror in the middle. If the author gets their first impression so terribly wrong, it does not reassure me that they’ve taken the necessary care with copyediting and proofing in the actual text.
Cory Doctorow is an outlier, but I wish that more self-published authors followed his example and spent the time and money on the nuts and bolts of putting out a well-made book. I’m sure he’s not the only one making the effort, but he definitely seems like an exception to the rule.
For some reason this reminds me of a Seinfeld episode.
George: “It’s all pipes! What’s the difference?”
Elaine: “Different pipes go to different places. You’re going to mix them up!”
George: “I’ll call a plumber right now!”
Ira @22 – but when did King do that? If it was even 5 years ago, I don;t know that the lesson is relevant. Things are changing FAST. The Android phone I have now is more powerful with more storage than the close to top of the line desktop I had 12 years ago. 4 years ago, there was no iPhone and smartphone meant Blackberry. Now there are 200 million iOS devices in the world and 300,000 Android phones are activated each day. A year ago, people scoffed at the idea of a tablet computer… now over 15 million people own one.
Jeff @ 24… Yuo’re one of several who confuse self-publishing and e-publishing. There are at least four distinct silos here:
1) traditional publisher, on paper. Might be a large press, might be a small one, but it’s a professional sale to a real press that prints paper books.
2) Traditional publisher, electronically. Ditto the above, but the book is electronic.
3) Self-published, on paper. From vanity presses to Lulu.
4) Self-published, electronic. Do the conversion oneself, deploy to B&N, Baen, Amazon, etc.
#3 will never amount to much. A few people will do it and fewer still wil do it well (good cover art, layout, etc), but it’s not going to change much. #1 will continue but smart presses will start publishing electronically TOO. The fourth category is where the innovation will be. How do we bring the high quality editing and cover art to a self-published ebook? CAN you? How does it get discovered (again, think of bands here or webcomics or short video series (The Guild is the postergirl here) )? This category could also give rise to actual publishers that ONLY publish electronically… what does that do to the model for running a publisher? What’s the value of the publisher in those cases – just having all of the various services in one house? What do the deal terms look like?
Anyone who believes publishing is not going to change a lot over the next 10 years is delusional. So are the people who think everything we know is going away. What’s not delusional is that we’ll see a lot of new things tried, many will fail, some will succeed. It will be fun, scary and always interesting.
Exactly, Kat #18 – Big Publishing has become skittish and kinda risk-adverse when it comes to gambling on a prospective book by a relatively unknown writer. I think perhaps they’ve become increasingly unsure of being able to predict accurately on who’s going to bring them respectable returns, who will bring OMG-fantastic returns and who is going to be a dud but who might just pay off in the long run. If an indy-writer, or an e-book writer actually goes out there on their own and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt (through talent and good marketing) that there is a substantial and lucrative audience for their particular book/books … well, of course Big Publishing is going to sit up and take notice. The author had already done the work of establishing that there is a demand – and in Ms Hockings’ case – proved in spades.
And a writer who already has established a fan-base? If they want a bigger chunk of royalties, and are OK with hiring editing, cover-design, layout and PR talent for their particular project and go indy? If it works, go for it. It’s not two streams – it’s more one of those interstates with a wide frontage road on either side.
Compared to all the people trying to make it as writers, I think that successful authors in print and in self published ebooks are outliers. Their very success makes them unusual. I am in favor of self-publishing, but not because I have anything against traditional publishing at all. I love the industry and the people in it, actually. I admire them.
I think my main reason for trying epublishing is that I spent years submitting things to agents and publishers and going through the torturous dance of crafting cover letters and making agent spreadsheets and tracking submissions and all that, and that was all time I could have spent writing and marketing my own work directly to readers. If I get one reader of a novel through self-publishing, that will be a success compared to what I went through in traditional publishing. For me, I’d love to make a living as a writer, but if I can’t do that, and I’m pretty sure that I can’t, I would at least like to share my work with some readers who might actually enjoy it, and that’s my main goal.
So in my case, I’m not convinced that either epublishing or traditional publishing offer me a living, I’m just trying to reach an audience, and I think epublishing is really my only option.
Sure, I’d love to make money, but that angle is secondary to my situation. That argument seems to upset a lot of traditional publishing writers because they think people like me are arguing that writers somehow don’t deserve to get paid or that we don’t care if writers get paid, but that’s not really true. I wish everyone success.
I’m just trying to find an audience for something I love to do, that I want to share. I’m not looking to break anyone’s business model, or prove anything about publishing in general. I’m trying to look at the industry with a realistic view and deal with it as pragmatically as possible, considering that I work away at something as impractical as writing fiction.
In short, I agree with this post very much. Everyone just has to find what works for them in a changing world. If you’re a succesful writer with an audience, then you’re in a much different position from those of us who don’t have much of a readership and are at an age where our career ambitions as writers are settling into the zone of expensive hobby rather than suppporting our families.
Rick @27 Haha that is actually the misconception I was trying to point out. I’m definitely clear on the distinction between digital publishing and self-publishing.
It’s absolutely true that everything is moving towards digital, and that is definitely going to change business models, but my argument is that it doesn’t follow that everything will go both digital and self-published. Just because Hocking had amazing success with self-publishing (the independents) doesn’t mean she shouldn’t give traditional publishing (the majors) a chance.
The great thing about digital is that it gives the independents a chance to wash away the stigma of traditional self-publishing. My concern is that the digitally self-published books I see rocketing up the charts on Amazon don’t seem like they’re stepping up their game yet.
I for one am a certified underdog rooter. Do you have an underdog that needs rooted?
Seriously, not everyone self-publishing will have a Hocking sort of success. Maybe damned few. In the end quality and persistence will win out as it always has. And the truth is, there are lots of persistent, quality writers that have been snubbed/trampled by the established publishing model. I don’t blame them a bit for giving a big middle finger to the establishment and self-publishing. It’s viable now.
#27: “This category could also give rise to actual publishers that ONLY publish electronically”
We’ve already had those for about fifteen years now. The romance sector has particularly had success with it. This is not to be confused with Amazon, which is acting as an electronic printer, not a publisher.
#28: “Big Publishing has become skittish and kinda risk-adverse when it comes to gambling on a prospective book by a relatively unknown writer.”
No it hasn’t. “Big” publishing lives off both established bestsellers with lucrative backlists and debut unknown authors on which they gamble. Unknown, first time authors starting fresh often have better prospects than mid-list authors who don’t have impressive enough sales numbers. Fiction publishing is and has always been largely unpredictable and sells mostly by unpredictable word of mouth. They would love to publish only books that will be hits, but they have no guarantees of what books will be hits. Publishing is always gambling and fiction publishing is total gambling. And there is no safety net of other income streams like other entertainment industries. The reality is that there are thousands and thousands of authors who would like publishers to publish them, but even the big publishers can only put out a small portion of that pool, maybe 5%. That’s not being risk adverse. That’s plucking some fruits that look good that you happen to spot from an entire orchard.
#31: “Do you have an underdog that needs rooted?”
All fiction authors are underdogs. Root for them all.
@ Kat Goodwin: Absolutely fiction writers are the long-odds guys (and gals). I know; I am one.
” They would love to publish only books that will be hits, but they have no guarantees of what books will be hits.”
This is true, but after fifteen years of being peripherally involved in the book business in one way or another, I have to say that the major publishing houses get in their own way as often as not, and on my more mendacious days I believe they succeed when they do despite themselves.
The mino publishing houses often succeed in spite of ourselves as well.
OH NOOOOOOO!!!! THE WORLD IS GOING TO END*slaps in the face* :)
That’s a singularity inducing event that has already happened: we’re all living in the “unknowable aftermath” right now….
Rick @27: King did it 11 years ago, with The Plant. Not bad, not great, but I think it failed because the entire enterprise was based on the idea that, should the experiment prove successful, he would finish the story. Without knowing you’d get an entire story, people were hesitant to shell out the cash (also at a time when micropayments were in their infancy, as I recall) with guarantee of a finished product on the other end.
Rather than assume the experiment is invalid due to the changing nature of technology, I would say it’s irrelevant because of the nature of the work. Serialized, unfinished, no promise of an ending… those things are all different than a known author promising a finished work in self-published electronic format. Of course, King did make money off the venture (I paid for the serials, still have them on a ZIP drive somewhere), but stopped after 5 chapters or so due to dwindling interest by both author and audience.
The Stephen King eBook publishing experiment was in the year 2000.
@Jason Williams #34,
Well you’d know much better than I :)
But seriously, it seems to me that ‘small’ press publishers (and I’m not sure this term really has much meaning anymore) have a very distinct advantage over supramegaMothra conglomerates in that you are able to focus on a project in a much more personal way. If you are putting out 50ish titles a year, you are by default much more heavily invested in each title’s success than Bertelsmann or any of its tentacles could ever be.
It boils down to attitude and ownership.
I love Night Shade books, by the way. Thank you for putting out great titles by great authors.
Jeff@30 Doh. Sorry, should have read closer. I agree with your point… to me, the availability of epublishing AND the growing size of an audience that reads books that way means that authors have a credible option to self-publish if they want to, not that everything will move that way.
Kat @32 I guess I’ve known that epublishing has been around for awhile, but pre-Kindle it didn’t matter, really. What’s different now is that far more people have devices that can read books and with the rise of Kindle, Nook and others, have or can easily get software that let’s them do that. Perhaps I should restate my point to be that we’ll now see electronic only publishers become more prominent in terms of sales and influence vs a tiny niche.
Chuck @37 – thanks for the info. I think you’re right, that model alone hurt King’s effort, regardless of technology considerations. But… 2000 was AGES ago in tech terms – not only the level of technology, but more importantly its adoption by mainstream people.
People in general seem to have short time horizons when looking back but 10 years isn’t much time really… yet look at all of the changes that have happened since 2001. Now look back a generation, to 1981. There’s no way publishing in 2041 looks like it does today.
#40: “Now look back a generation, to 1981. There’s no way publishing in 2041 looks like it does today.”
You’re confusing book publishing with the Internet. I’m not saying that there have not been changes in the industry or that there won’t be more in the future, but book publishing is not substantially different now in its basics than it was in 1981. And fiction is still sold mostly by word of mouth. That’s why the “its all different now!” parts of Scalzi’s bingo card are funny.
Kat – and if today’s publishers don’t adapt they will not exist 30 years from now in any meaningful way. Stasis will be death for them and sticking their heads in the ground and saying that change won’t happen will ensure that.
30 years from now the things we use as tablets and phones will be antiquated beyond belief. Information will long have been digital and virtually no one will be publishing exclusively paper books. They may well be publishing paper books in some form but not exclusively. Existing publishers will survive if and only if they adapt to a digital, mobile world. No child born in 2020 will consider, at age 21, paper books to be anything but odd.
This is what I meant above by people having a short tome horizon when looking back at the past. I’m 52. My family’s first TV had vacuum tubes and was black and white. The changes in just my life over the last 40 years or so have been enormous. Pretending the next 30 or 40 years will be substantially the same as it is now is a failure of imagination. The only reason publishing hasn’t seen much change over my lifetime is that there was nothing driving it. There is now – the advent of a connected, highly mobile populace, hundreds of millions of whom have devices capable of reading a book electronically. If you don’t think that will change publishing over the next generation you are, I respectfully submit, wrong.
Hmm…interesting…I was reading a bit about John, and I ran across a book he wrote that was a collection of his blog posts about writing. I was tempted to buy it (I’m a sucker for books about writing) but it seems that his stock has gone up. The book in question is OOP (“Laptop”) but is readily available as a used paperback in the range of $126.00 to over $200.00. That’s an appreciation of what, about 1,000% over its original cover price?
I would have clicked Amazon’s BIN button (that button has been the bane of me, it just makes it TOO DAMN EASY) but…$126.00 for a used paperback? I dunno…I think he’s a good writer but…
#42: “and if today’s publishers don’t adapt they will not exist 30 years from now in any meaningful way.”
Re John’s previous entry: Bingo! See you all keep saying stuff like that because you are focused on the tech stuff. Look at all the cool tech changes in our lifetimes! Yes, they’re there. Yes, tech stuff in publishing has changed. But books are still big blocks of text. Sometimes with pictures or enhancements (look, you can make the print font bigger!) but still blocks of text that are read. The process of looking for, acquiring, working with authors on, and in many ways marketing those big blocks of text has not substantially changed in 30 years, nor has it changed from being a moderately steady stream of income into being powerhouse income. That fiction sells primarily by word of mouth, including Amanda Hocking, has never changed. And while millions of people have been able to read books electronically for the last twenty years, we are only now getting our small but growing e-book market. The fact that people have devices capable of reading text electronically doesn’t mean that they will buy books, whether those books are streamed into their devices on a subscription basis or via some other model. And that Apple makes an iPad that can load e-books, along with many other, more profitable, far more interesting and bigger things for most people, does not mean that Apple wants to go looking for new authors and act like Random House. You’re confusing tech with publishing — they’re not the same thing. Even if we develop the tech to stream big blocks of text into your brain so you don’t need to use your eyeballs, there will still be publishers sorting out and making available to you some of those big blocks of brain text. I’m sorry but the fact that you and millions of others got a Kindle or a smartphone and developed a slightly increased interest in books does not really change much. Talk to me when you’ve quadrupled the book business and made it worth Apple’s time as more than just one more app for its products. Or make all those people stop buying e-books so the e-book market dies in an age of electronics (until the fuel runs out,) and publishing is left with just print. Then publishing has a problem. But in the meantime, publishing is developing and figuring out e-books as its new product method and having that small market grow just fine, imperfections, inconveniences and contract negotiating snarling notwithstanding. And since the big publishers are attached to massive global media conglomerates who are running the Web and most of the content on it, constantly pronouncing their imminent death because of the Web gets old. As for the changes in how the publishing industry operates tech-wise driven by the events of your lifetime — there have been many. You just didn’t care before you got your Kindle and wanted to put some e-books on it. But neither Amanda nor Barry are writing fiction with their feet and by asking questions of a monkey. They are writing fiction the usual way and it is impacting the marketplace same as before. If we’re lucky, we will get more sales on the electronic Web than before per author and better terms all around. Which is unlikely to kill publishing. If we are unlucky and e-books flop (no signs of that yet,) then publishing will still continue because there will still always be a market for big blocks of text in some form, but not a big enough one that any other industry wants to do it beyond being a bookseller perhaps. Change does not mean death. It usually means growth. Except for global warming.
@Kat Goodwin: Hi Kat! Hope you don’t mind if I discuss some of your ideas in a totally subjective way :)
True story: In July 2003 my fantasy novel (Thagoth) was published as an ebook by Ballantine. See, it won the Del Rey Digital Online Writing Workshop First Novel competition. Between the time it won and the time it was published, a regime change of sorts took place at Del Rey, with new people in and old people out, and all us ebook ‘winners’ (I think there were six, total) were sort of left to twist in the wind. Truly horrible covers, absolutely no marketing, nada, as Del Rey shifted their focus, from my purely subjective but absolutely dead-on view, to movie tie-in books. I was basically told in a ‘nice’ way that they were no longer interested in pursuing ebooks, with the unspoken being they were no longer interested in me. I was kinda crushed. My first novel- an award winner! a competition winner!- was in essence consigned to the scrap heap of corporate restructuring. Ebooks were relegated back to afterthought status, ‘also available as’. A bitter pill, because I was never going to get the book in print unless I pulled off major sales on the ebook. And that was the longest of long odds given the sales hurdles I was quoted for ‘consideration’ for print publishing.
The other bitter pill to swallow here, for me, was that the market just was’t ready for a first novel released solely as an ebook. Not in 2003. (Certainly not without some sort of marketing) The jury is still out on whether, from a business perspective, Betsy Mitchell was right to pull the plug on the ebook experement. I lean toward yes when I’m being brutally honest, because the market wasn’t ready in 2003. I think my book should have been considered for print on its own merits, but that’s another digressive axe I’ll avoid grinding :D
Now it’s 2011. A few days ago, after reading about Amanda Hocking, I let my facebook friends know that I had a novel out there in ebook format for $2.99 as an experiment. In 36 hours it jumped 353,134 spots on Amazon to #45,093 (yes, I know about Amazon’s weird algorithm issues, but still). It jumped 144k spots on B&N.
The moral of the story: Times have changed. Electronic self-publishing is a real, viable alternative to jumping through the traditional publishing hoops. It’s certainly not longer odds than finding an agent who will find a publisher etc., because let’s be honest, hundreds if not thousands of damn fine writers out there fail to find an agent or a publisher every day. If they turn their back on the established route in frustration or disgust and self publish, and fail to ‘make it’ a la Hocking, are they any worse off than if they shelve their writing aspirations after the hundredth rejection slip?
I look back on the changes of the last eight years with a sense of amazement.
#45: Yes, in 2003, you were screwed. Publishers had been burned on e-books before back in the early 1990’s. And there simply wasn’t a real set of working bookselling vendors in 2003 to sell much in e-books. (Amazon had not fully committed.) There were some companies doing some stuff, including self-publishing, so Del Rey tried the contest, but it wasn’t enough of a market then. When they decided to dump it, you should have been put into print, although that might have required a new contract, but you got “orphaned” — your editor and advocate left and the new ones didn’t want your stuff. Happens a lot; never meant that your book wasn’t worthy of an audience.
Now there is the viable market for e-books, we have the vendors, the publicity, the customers, and it’s great. That market has opened up, Hocking has used it — and sold lots of books on word of mouth — and you’re using it, and also used word of mouth. And Del Rey is using it too for more than just movie and game tie-in books though they are still doing those — they are hustling out e-books of all their titles. But that’s not publishing changing, that’s bookselling. It’s changes in tech that allow more books from more sources out into the marketplace to reach customers, not a change in publishing itself. Authors have always had the option of selling their own stuff instead of trying to licensing it; it was just harder to do. (Greg Bear used to sell books from the trunk of his car at conventions.) It got easier when desktop publishing developed and now it’s easier with e-books, so the book market expands. What a lot of authors are doing, and it will probably be more and more common, is using multiple options — Hocking has her self-published stuff, plus her own paper editions, and now is doing a deal with publishers. Barry E. still has books with publishers but is doing his new one self-published, as does Kornbluth and Doctorow. Authors are able to strike partnerships with publishers when it works for both, and stuff the publishers don’t want to invest in can be self-published or an author can try to get an electronic press interested.
Again, it’s not a competition, especially in fiction, where the market is symbiotic. Success for the self-publishing market does not mean the publishers lose. Success by the publishers does not mean that the self-published authors lose. Nobody is dying, e-books are growing for all, print sales are slightly up, back to normal growth levels. A lot of people, published or self-published, won’t make a lot of money, but they may not be doing it for the money. A small group of authors, published and self-published, will make a lot of money. There will be lots of people in the middle, but the hope is that the middle makes more money on average than it’s done the last two decades thanks to e-books. So we have more book-selling vendors, thanks to e-books becoming a more lucrative product, and we have more potential (and higher income) customers, thanks to the consumer excitement over gadgets that can load e-books — e-readers, tablets, smartphones. Having a much more viable electronic self-publishing market is definitely a good thing, but it’s not going to kill publishers. It grows the market for books altogether, especially for fiction.
@46: Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply I was advocating an either/or proposition. Ebooks will not kill the print star (or their publisher). My main point was that, while print publishers are looking at ebooks as a (finally) viable-reliable revenue stream, it’s just one more avenue for sales to them. Whereas authors now have a viable (but far from reliable) route to success independent from the traditional publishing grind. For many it will in fact be a dead end, but at least it will not be a Kafka-esque experience.
Well again, authors always had that route long before the Internet. It was just harder to do. So it’s great that it’s easier to do, so now we can have a lot of additional stuff, since publishers can only afford to publish so many books. And we can bring even more out of print stuff back into print.
I hope your career goes well as well. You should not have been dropped, but unfortunately, stupid mistakes happen everywhere.