So last week I posted a link to a hopping discussion on the changing face of the publishing industry, and promised some thoughts of my own. Let me say, for starters, that I commit myself to nothing ;). Any predictions at this point are just guesses, and I for one am very grateful for all the more knowledgeable people posting and talking about this.
My cousin Michael works for a major Christian publishing house in Grand Rapids, and he left a comment on the Facebook version of my post with some good thoughts. Here’s some of what he said:
It’s not obvious to me that publishers are going the way of the dinosaur. At least when it comes to subject areas where some quality control is in order. For instance, in the areas of Linguistics, Philosophy, Medicine, dare I say it, Theology…publishers with a track record, who have built and intend to keep a team that can vet and even partner with an author to ensure that the end result is stronger…that is still worth its money. Further, publishers that are worth their salt tend to service well both consumers and authors of works. Thus, from the gatekeepers to the publishing house that seek to select among the best in a given area; to the editing process, that intends to strengthen the message; to the marketing plan which these days will include everything from print adds to a viral marketing campaign, from mailings to prospective readers, to data-mining for groups, associations, fan clubs, and the like; to the distribution ties and networks that have been hard fought; to international representation through affiliations and associations; to seeking translation rights, movie rights (if applicable), media exposure…etc..etc. Few authors, in fiction or in the non-fiction-professional guilds, have the time or the reach to replace the institutional reach of publishers.
Although I am at this point in my life an indie author, publishing my own work online and in other formats and doing all my own marketing, I agree with Michael: I don’t think the traditional publishing house is going to die. Change, yes, and hopefully become more effective in its economic and marketing structures. But not die. The simple reason for that is that teams will always be better at doing certain things than individuals, and publishing houses are teams of people who know books and readers and writing very very well. Long may they prosper.
However, I also believe the star of the indie author and small niche publisher is in the ascendant. To say that the playing field is now more level is an understatement. It’s more like the walls around the playing field have been kicked down and now anybody can join the game. But — and this is important — if you want to play the game well, you have to learn the rules and gain the skills. More than ever, authors need to take the business side of writing seriously.
Indie author and self-publishing guru April L. Hamilton just announced that she’ll be publishing a new edition of her Indie Author Guide, NOT through her own indie publishing operation, but through Writer’s Digest. Her decision is practical and smart and exactly illustrates what I’m talking about:
Maven of self-pub I may be, but even I realize self-pub is just one option among several for getting one’s work to a readership. Though I honestly believe it’s the most practical option for most debut authors in today’s chilly trade publishing environment, self-pub is just a means to an end—and the end is the thing that matters.
When I wrote and self-published The IndieAuthor Guide, my goal was simple: for the book to reach as large an audience of would-be indie authors as possible . . .
Working with Writer’s Digest Books will do far more to help me reach my goal of maximizing readership than I could possibly do on my own. Writer’s Digest Books is an imprint that specializes in books for authors and about writing. Their title list is small and highly specialized, WD Books’ staff are experts in how best to reach their target demographic of authors and in this case, their target demo is the same as mine.
WD is no ivory-tower monolith of the “old ways” of publishing, its staff are quick to adapt to market and technological shifts in publishing, and WD was among the first to recognize the potential of self-publishing to help authors, both aspiring and established, reach their goals.
Long story short: I couldn’t possibly find a more desirable publisher for The IndieAuthor Guide than Writer’s Digest Books, and that’s including myself.
(April’s whole post is worth reading. She has that mix of business savvy and writer’s passion that I’m seeing more and more in indie publishing circles, and that’s what makes me more excited about the future of the industry.)
I’ve seen comments from writers who say it makes them “mad” that some writers can self-publish and not go through the submission process other writers have worked so hard to get through — many people seem to think self-publishing is a sign of laziness and impatience. Sometimes it is. But these comments show some ignorance about how hard indie authors who DO take their businesses seriously work. Bypassing the usual method of publication isn’t a way of bypassing work; it’s just choosing to work in a different way.
If you want to be successful as an author, either a traditionally or independently published one, you’re going to have to play the game and play it well. Yes, the Internet and POD technology makes it very easy to get a book published. But ease doesn’t equal success — that’s something we still have to work for.
More thoughts on the changing face of publishing coming soon, this time on the quality of self-published books, the role of gatekeepers, and just what readers think of all this.