The Publishing War

The world of book publishing is still in the hands of gatekeepers, but a war is going on, in a most civilized way. The people without whom a book can almost never be successful, used to be, and still are for most part:

  1. agents who propose a manuscript or an idea for a book to an editor/publisher;
  2. editors of the publishing houses;
  3. reviewers of literary and popular magazines, news papers, TV programs, and on line, who review and inform their readers of the book’s existence;
  4.  academic programs and their Fine Arts professors with connections in the publishing world who can recommend their graduates’ books to agents or editors they know already from publishing their own work;
  5. published  authors who can recommend another author to their own agent or publishing house.

In the last two years things have changed dramatically and we are not sure what the future will be going to look like.  Many writers were getting frustrated and tired of being kept out of paradise by the gate keepers. After years of producing books without being published, they started self publishing their work, at their own cost.

A development that helped this initiative took place in the mundane world of digital book formatting, printing, and ease of  access to the Internet: it had become easier and cheaper to format a book with the advancement of digital soft ware programs that began in the 1990s. It did not take long before the first popular E books were showing up on the Internet around 2009 after Sony and Amazon-Kindle released their E readers, followed by the iPad from Apple and The Nook from Barnes and Noble a year later. It was like a firestorm raged through the world of would-be authors.  In 2011 Amazon (basically a large bookstore) reported for the first time having sold more books on line as E books than it sold printed books.

Things in the book business are continuing to change very rapidly, away from  control by the gatekeepers. An army of writers are putting everything and anything on line, which makes for a massive tsunami of books flooding over the general public. Those works might, or might not be written well, edited, or not edited at all, and many disappear in the blue yonder. Readers do not know where to look and what to think and the reputation and the quality of E books might be in question.

Some E books are becoming screaming financial successes, whether well written or not, whether academically approved or not, and without a review by the usual media pundits. The readers voted with their finger that downloaded the book, and then passed the news on to their friends, and they passed it on to their friends, and so on. These books are exceptions, but are making their authors wealthy beyond their dreams within a year of publishing on line. The revolution has started.

In the last decade, the traditional publishing houses and book sellers have had difficulty maintaining their brick and mortar buildings for the storage, distribution, and the sale of printed books. Many could not make a living and closed shop. The slowing economy and the global crisis of 2008, as well as established practices in the industry, such as paying authors smaller royalties, maintaining large budgets for book promotions, maintaining expensive return policies, and giving large discounts to wholesalers such as Costco (which pretty well determine their own price for books), leaving only a small margin for profit for the authors and the publishers. The books are priced quite high in the regular book stores and are not very affordable for a large segment of the population, especially hard cover books. Publishers are scrambling.

The world of the printed book and its screening process to get to market was notoriously very difficult to crack into as a new author without an agent, especialy for authors who have come out of nowhere and just started writing and are not backed by an academic program. This is quite logical, if one understands the market forces that put pressure on the book business.

With diminishing profits in the traditional book industry and the competition becoming fierce, the editors of publishing houses try to predict what books might be best sellers. They are  comparing new book proposals to the books that were selling, and so  are taking less and less risk with new authors, in their quest for finding the next big hit, while avoiding future losses that come with publishing a dud. New authors have to have a perfect book ready for market in a certain style or genre before a big publishing house would consider taking it on. It’s no secret that especially series are best for a  secure investment, as they keep the readers hooked. Now that E books are cheaper than printed books and easier to carry anywhere in large numbers on a reading devise, this added factor has made publishers even more nervous.

Is it surprising that the middle of the road bestselling universal genre book (romance, sci-fi, teen vampire, or fantasy, etc.)  seems so much like all the others?  We see an everlasting stream of printed books of certain genres piling up in the drug stores, in Costco stores, and in other department stores that usually do not sell books — at discount prices. Who benefits? I wonder, but am pretty sure that the businesses are focused on maintaining their share of the pie.

In the meantime, smaller literary publishing houses that generally publish non genre books raise the bar. Beautiful books, well written, perfectly edited  and worth while, are still being published, but are not necessarily making a lot of money. Even the larger publishing houses seem to be spending their PR budgets on their top authors most of all. Authors that already have made a name are pampered with a big advertising splash on release of their new book.

This leaves the new authors to fend for themselves, for most part: even after having had a book published with a traditional publishing house — a hard thing to accomplish without an agent — it does not guarantee a budget for advertising is available and they still need to do most of their own marketing.

Why all this information on my blog?

I am attempting to motivate my readers to take a minute and think about whether you want to promote E books in general, whether you want to encourage new writers by buying their books,  or if you just like the idea of somebody self publishing their books. It might be you, or your offspring who will write a book at some point in the future! Any of those three reasons are good enough for me.

You know, it might just be that in ten years the market will have stabilized and the situation will look completely different from today and that most people don’t buy many printed books anymore, although it’s hard to imagine now.

An example of such development locally is how the A& B music store disappeared from downtown Kelowna.  Only some department stores are left in town that sell a small selection of CDs, while most CDs are sold on line, or the music is simply downloaded from websites and costs have gone down dramatically. Still musicians continue to create and record music. The term Indie has become a badge of honour, of integrity almost.

In the next ten years, the price of a book might stabilize, and arrive somewhere  between the price of $ 0.99  (cheapest E book) and $29.99 (for a hard cover) that you might be paying at present. Hopefully nobody will still give their work away, as desperate, or smart indie authors do at the moment to attract readers.

For lack of a promotion budget, success in creating a market for my book as for any independently published novel depends for a large part on social networking:  friends telling friends, and so on.  A number of other strategies are options as well:

–  I approach other writers on line, subscribe to their blogs, make comments, and ask questions about publishing and writing.

–  I approach reviewers, not very successfully I might add, to ask for a review, or for their recommendations on how to go about getting a review.

–  I signed up for the San Francisco Writers Conference taking place in February for  2 days where agents will hear book proposals and author workshops can be enjoyed that teach about certain subjects within the craft.

–  I am sending emails with details of my book and offer interviews to radio hosts on CBC, Globe and Mail and the local media. As it concerns an E book, I can’t just send a copy without their permission and an electronic address to send it to.

–  I am on Goodreads (the Amazon readers site) and encourage others to check out my profile and participate by entering their review of my book on Goodreads.

–  I am on Facebook keeping my friends informed on my writing and related events.

–  I maintain a writer’s blog since December 2010, a recommended strategy for building a wider readership over time (just like Margaret Atwood who wrote last week in The New York Times about her Twitter experiences,  starting her blog and creating a Facebook page; 2 fake Margaret Atwoods existed  before already on FB when she started).

–  I started a website specifically for the book On Thin Ice while I was writing and the book slowly took form.

–  I have written to all the Canadian publishers that take on my kind of book, so far to no avail.

–  I participate in writing contests and I send individual stories for publication to on line and printed literary magazines.

These are all recommended strategies for building familiarity and a “body of work” so to speak that I gleaned from others (on line) who have gone before me.

So, as you can see, there’s more to writing a book than meets your eye and I am doing most of the work. There’s nothing easy about getting a book out and then trying to sell it!  A tiny push with your finger on that BUY button is the easy part.

I hope you will participate in creating the buzz for my book and so help me with building a reputation as an author, and tell your friends about it. For the most adventurous among you, leave a comment or two on  the Goodreads website of my book, or on my blog…

Thanks so much for your presence in my world. Enjoy this spring weekend. Happy Mother’s day.


About BABYBOOMER johanna van zanten

My name is Johanna van Zanten. I am a baby boomer, interested in writing and connecting with other writers and readers to engage in discussions and information sharing, to share a point of view about current global issues, writing, and publishing, diversity, immigration, travel, music, life, specific baby boomer issues, and dating/relationship issues. I have written a novella, ON THIN ICE about baby-boomer Adrienne and will link this blog with the information website for this novella. Right now, I am trying out the blog.
This entry was posted in Agents, Author circles, Babyboomer, Canadian publishers, Creative fiction, E Books, eBook, latest news items, memoir writing, Publishing, Short story, Uncategorized, Writing life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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