Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Understanding the New Publishing Market

The advent of eReaders has changed the publishing landscape for good. Everyone is struggling to understand just what this means, but a trend is beginning to develop. Here is what it means for the next three to five years.

For a while now I’ve been suspicious about two things:
  1. As a self-published author, if you can meet or exceed the same kinds of sales figures that a traditional publisher would require, then they WILL notice you and be interested. 
  2. Even if you land a contract with a traditional publisher, you have the same amount of work to find your readers and market your work.

Everyone knows that #2 is true. Even still, I couldn’t believe #1 until I had multiple editors tell me to my face that they had—in recent months—signed contracts with writers who were previously self-published.

So really, what’s the difference whether I self-publish or not?

  1. Other writers will stick their noses up at me.
  2. Being traditionally published lends a certain amount of credibility that my work has met a minimum bar of quality.
  3. A publisher will set me up with lots of great marketing opportunities.
Let’s address these one by one.

First, you need to get over what others think about you. If people are reading your stuff, that’s really all that matters. That’s the bottom line. Period. Have you ever heard the phrase, “the customer is always right?” Success talks. Your readers know if you’ve got the goods. You have no control what other writers think. So focus on your craft. Focus on doing your best work. Write consistently and write often. Focus on understanding your target audience and building a connection with your readers. Focus on finishing your books and getting the word out.

You were told that as an aspiring writer you’d need a thick skin. This hasn’t changed, and it never will.

Second, if a publisher prints something, does that make it inherently better than something independently written by me or you? Maybe a little, but consider this. Few books these days ever get reviewed by a copy editor. Anyone who has been traditionally published will tell you that. You can meet or exceed that bar on your own if you have at least two beta readers who are willing to line-edit. If not, then you can always hire an editor.

And what about story quality? Do you really think editors are infallible here? When was the last time you took a look at the bargain bin at the local grocery store?
Do you know who I think is the ultimate judge of quality? Readers. Honestly, does anything else matter?

That said, would I ever consider taking a contract with a traditional publisher? That depends on a lot of things, but the general answer is YES! A traditional publisher can get you into a lot of markets that you will never reach. A good agent will maximize your success with foreign rights and subsidiary rights, and help you get an audio book made, and all that other juicy stuff. But this time you will have LEVERAGE. You will have a proven track record for success, which gives you negotiating power. Just remember to be professional. You can never afford to be a jerk.

So now the game has changed. Think of Amazon and Smashwords as the new slush pile. Here is how this is going to play out. It’s easy:

  1.  Step 1. You write a book. Make it enjoyable. Do the very best you can with story, character, and style.
  2. Step 2. Get input from some friends—your beta readers. If they don’t like it then do some revision, or go back to step #1 and write a different book.
  3. Step 3. Keep doing 1 and 2 until you have something they really like.
  4. Step 4. At the same time, learn to blog. Learn the ins and outs of social networking. Learn to connect with other readers and other writers. Help promote their work and become part of the community.
  5. Step 5. When you have a finished book, have someone edit it. Get someone to do cover art. Get someone to do layout. Or, you can do this stuff yourself; many people do. It’s up to you.
  6. Step 6. Publish on Amazon. Publish on Smashwords.
  7. Step 7. Go back to step #1 and repeat. Learn to balance step 1 and step 4. Set goals and pace yourself.
  8. Step 8. Continue networking with the traditional side of the industry. If a traditional publisher offers you a contract, make darn sure you aren’t signing away your ePublishing rights. And never, ever trust an agent unless they treat you with respect and they’re willing to actually read your work.
Who will determine whether or not you are successful?

  1. You. You will never be successful unless you sit down and do it. You will never be successful unless you believe in yourself, and that you can produce quality work. That has never changed, and never will.
  2. Your readers. Readers are your life-blood. If you are producing quality material, then your success is limited only by your ability to connect with people, and convert them into readers. That’s the one thing that will remain constant no matter what route you take.
I read a blog post by Kerry Wilkinson, who recently shot to the top of the charts. I suggest you go through it, yourself. (http://futurebook.net/content/misadventures-publishing)

Here’s a quote:

“I've read a few articles predicting the end of the traditional publishing industry and don't really agree with it. What I suspect will happen is that the industry will pick up on the type of methods people like myself use and adapt them into their own business models. I guess the key thing is how quickly they can do that.”

Here’s a really insightful blog post by Jon F. Merz. Jon has published several books traditionally, and has recently switched to ePublishing. His story is very compelling: http://jonfmerz.net/2012/01/30/ebooks-are-a-game-changer/

Here’s some stats from author John Brown’s blog: http://johndbrown.com/2012/02/ebooks-set-to-become-largest-trade-category-in-2012/


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