Saturday, February 12, 2011

To Live is to Embrace Change (even in publishing.)

The brand new world of publishing, online book tours, webinar seminars, the e-book explosion, editors who continue to select books for publication but no longer have time to edit, writers’ conferences where speakers are more likely to advise on promotion and website programs rather than writing strategy, the daily demise of book stores, independents as well as major chains, and the explosion of Twitter and Facebook can be downright overwhelming to the writer who would like to spend most of her taxable working hours actually writing.

It’s difficult to come away from all this technology and not feel weighted down by numbers, by competition and by the unbelievable amount of new information that can’t possibly be mastered in a lifetime. Can writers gain or regain a feeling of competence in their craft if they must constantly scramble for a foothold, if sales determine continued publication, if the general consensus is that sell through alone determines good writing? I think so. In fact, I think the technology explosion is a reaction to the merging of publishing houses and the shrinking of markets. Consider what has happened to publishing over the last decade: sloppy editing of established writers because sales were assured, book slots in high traffic areas like airports and grocery stores filled with novels written by the same eight best-selling authors thereby continuing their sales records at the expense of new authors who write equally well but have not yet established an audience thereby denying readers the pleasure of variety, readers searching for books with strong reviews only to be told they are not in stock and must be ordered from the publisher.

This new world of publishing has a great deal to offer writers. Self-published print or e-books now remain on the market longer than the typical three month period customary to a print publisher. In fact, they can remain on the market for as long as an author would like to see them there, reaping royalties at a 70% return instead of the 8% offered by major publishing houses. This is very important for the new author whose books are typically no longer available to readers who have had the book recommended to them. Promotion and its reward depends on how hard an author wants to work selling her book rather than depending on an over-worked publicist who, for reasons unknown, must spends his time working on advertising for authors who are already best-sellers. Deadlines, like the 72-hour shifts of interns, are relegated to where they belong, the dark ages. Today, a writer can spend as much time as she needs on research, phraseology, fact-checking and polishing, thereby sending her best effort out to the public.

Are publishing houses evil, out-of-date muckrakers bent on denying new talent their fair share of the pie? Of course not. A comfortable advance, manageable publicity, the security of a contract are the goals of most writers. However, reality means something different. If you’re a traditionalist like me who spent her childhood enraptured within the walls of the local library, it is unfortunate but the market has spoken. It tells  us there is more to entertainment than reading in the traditional sense and in order to do what we love, writers must adapt with the times. “To live is to embrace change.”

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