Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Brave New World

The publishing universe really is in the midst of a full scale metamorphosis. What emerges when the pupae cracks, is anyone's guess. Will it be a miraculous, techno-colored butterfly? A ravenous alien invader sent to destroy life as we know it? Maybe just the same old, antiquated but functional, process in a new coat? It remains to be seen.

Still, change is a-coming. It's coming fairly fast, and the traditional model for getting published, if not lost in the shuffle, will at least have some substantial competition. It's already happening.

What does that mean for us, aspiring authors? It means both challenge and opportunity. Personally, I think this is one of the most exciting, and frightening moments in the history of publishing. We have a chance to ride the whirlwind, to catch the first wave. And when the dust settles, well, at least we can enjoy the ride, cross our fingers and pray we land on our feet.

Before we enter the brave new world of getting published, let's take a quick tour of the traditional process.

First, you write. Okay, maybe that's a bit obvious, but let's say you've written your opus. It's brilliant, and it's ready to get noticed! By the traditional route, you would either seek out an agent, or go straight to the publisher. To agent, or not, is a whole topic in it's own right, but either way, the process goes something like this. You submit, following the target's guidelines to the letter. You query, get a request for more, and send in your manuscript. Now, if you've just landed yourself an agent, then they take over submitting the piece to publishers. (For a percentage, of course) If you have landed a publisher, then the book goes through some serious editing. Both your agent and the publishing house are there to help you through the editing process until the book is ready for public viewing. The publisher, pays the editors, they pay book designers, cover artists, etc. They market your book, handle promotion, get reviews and make sure you're in the catalogs and subsequently in the book stores. Bring on the sales.
You receive an advance on your royalties up front (usually) and once the book sales have covered that amount, begin to get paid royalty checks. Kudos, you're on your way.

This is the way it's been done for an incredibly long time. The publishing word, that is, the print publishing world, hasn't really been one to embrace change. I've read that the account keeping has been antiquated and inaccurate, that the buy-back process is insane, and the amount of wasted paper should be criminal. Still, the big houses had their corner on the market, and they liked it just fine as is. Enter: the Internet.

The future is a difficult thing to dodge. Technology has a tendency to pop up and ruin the best laid plans. The situation as it stands, whether we like it or not, is fairly simple. With the Internet and modern print technology, it has become very easy for a small press to compete with the big guys. Print on demand companies can afford to produce tiny runs on any manuscript, and basically anyone with a computer can e-publish their writing in an instant. This has opened up a whole can of worms and they are running amok doing their best to confuse copyright issues, screw up traditional contracts and introduce entirely new snafus that no one had even contemplated before. Fun.

For those of us longing to be published, we have a whole new ballgame to learn. Aside from the dangers and borderline avenues, (see last blog post) there are a few big new possibilities opening up at light speed for our consideration. We still have the traditional model if we so choose, (at least for now) but if we poke your nose into the business even for a second, we're going to hear about Self Publishing and E-Publishing. The reviews on both are so mixed as to be mind boggling.

What the heck is Self-Publishing? Um. It's publishing something you wrote, by yourself. Too obvious? Okay, Self-publishing can range over a huge spectrum. Technically, posting a story or work onto your blog counts as self-publishing. (eek) Usually, however, what it refers to is taking on the task of editing, designing, printing, marketing, promoting, and selling your book on your own. Scary? Hell yes.

There are a lot of companies on the Internet that are basically Self-Publishing services. You can pay an editing service, or not. You can (and most do) pay a print-on-demand site to help design and print your book. You can even hire someone for promotion. Catching the theme here? YOU do all the hiring, and that means the paying as well. Some people swear by self-publishing. It seems to work well for some narrow interest non-fiction. If you have a lot of capitol to invest in your book's promotion, it might work. What I've noticed, however, is a zillion self-published books available online, but not many selling. Going through a service like LuLu or CreateSpace is really tempting. It's an automatic acceptance!! It's the yes you've been waiting for. It will get you a copy of your book to pet and drool over. (yes, I did.) What it wont do is sell your book. It won't get you readers, and it wont make you money unless YOU are prepared to do a lot of foot work, and a lot of investing.

There's another problem, and it's a biggie. It wont get you in bookstores. No it wont, don't argue with me. The print on demand and self published books on the market have set up a really poor impression for those wanting to follow. In the past, they haven't been edited well, sometimes at all. They have been poorly made, poorly written, and of poor quality in general. Think you can get B&N to put your self-published book on the shelf? I wish you luck, but don't hold your breath.


Okay, now we're talking. Here is a newbie that's here to stay! This is what I'm talking about when I shout: Bring on Star Trek! The e-book is where it's at. Or maybe, where it's going. Anyway...what were we talking about?

E-publishing struggled for a bit at first. I prayed for it. I crossed my fingers. It recovered despite naysayers clinging desperately to their ratty paperbacks. (I'm gonna step on a toe or two for sure here!) The technology caught up, got better, caught on. Sigh. The future is a hard thing to dodge.

I could go on and on. For the moment, let's just note that in the drooping economy, e-book sales are up. :-) Let's just say that you may cling to your paperbacks, swearing you'll never give them up... and you probably won't... but your grandchildren will. Sneaky buggers. They will. The generation that will toss out paper publishing, like the sad old rag it can be, is on the ground! Unless it makes some major changes, embraces the future, and evolves, print is in real danger.

Our children want ipods--tiny little screens that play music, movies, tv, utube, all in one package. If our grandchildren read at all, those books better fit in that little machine. I say, we concentrate on keeping them reading, and stop arguing about formats.
Check out some e-publishers. They're getting better. The e-readers are getting better. The writing is getting better. Print publishers are panicking. They're snatching at electronic rights. Amazon has a print on demand affiliate.... hmmm. Buy an e-book.

viva la evolution!


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