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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Oh how the publishing world has changed!

It’s a good time to be a writer.

Coming out of the ruins of the collapse of the publishing industry of 2008 is emerging a publishing world with a lot more options for writers than fifteen years ago.  Whether it’s a getting a manuscript sold at a publishing house, self-publishing print-on-demand, offering a title as an e-book, with some effort and a lot of perseverance an author can get a their work published and find an audience of readers.

But it wasn’t always this way. A long time ago in the olden days of the mid-1990’s a writer’s options for getting a book published were limited. Back then when an aspiring writer wanted to get their book published they had to buy an expensive annual directory like Jeff Herman's Writer’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents or the Writer’s Market. Then they had to comb through thousands of listings for an editor or a literary agent who represented their genre, print up query letters, synopses, envelopes, and SASEs (Self-addressed-Stamped Envelopes) and WAIT.

Depending on where a writer lived, they waited week, or two weeks for a response. Sometimes it took a year or more for a writer to hear back from a publisher or a literary agent. 99% of the time all an author received back then were rejection letters. Usually these terse photocopied notes were prepared by indifferent interns who wanted to clear the daily slush (unsolicited submissions). If a writer was lucky, an editor would send them a nice letter saying no on letterhead. If a writer was REALLY lucky, they got a request for a sample chapters and a synopsis. If a miracle happened, an editor or literary agent would a request for the whole manuscript.

A writer had a better chance of winning the lotto than getting published before the year 2000.

Working towards getting a book published back then wasn’t in favor of the author. Printing manuscripts, query letters, mailing envelopes and return postage all cost money. And Ink, paper, typewriter ribbons, (what I used until 2002) and envelopes didn’t run cheap. An author had to spend thousands of dollars towards and countless hours getting someone else to say yes about their story. And if an author beat all the odds got their story sold and published into a book at a publishing house, they could get a whole ten percent of the list price of a book once the advance paid out. And if a writer was REALLY lucky, the book would stay in print for more than six months.  Maybe the book would even get a promotion bugdet from the publishing house.

Not a lot of money for so much work and so much time.

Self-publishing in those pre-internet boom days was a dream for everyone but those authors who had large amounts of cash on hand. It usually cost $10,000 to $25,000 for an author to self-publish a book on an offset press. Back then, an author had to hire out an artist to design the cover, a page layout artist to design the interior, and an editor to review the manuscript before it went to print. Then they had to clear out space to store 5,000 copies of their book. Not a very economical option for us apartment dwellers with limited incomes.

In the 2000s Print-on-demand publishers and e-book publishers lowered the cost of getting a book published and the game started to change. As authors spent a decade working with POD publishers like iuniverse, Wheatmark,, and lulu and found a place for their material. Publishing houses and literary agents scoffed at the quality of the books being produced in these venues. Bookstores complained about the lack of discounts and returnability of titles. All complained about the amateurish covers, the poor quality of the editing, and poorer quality of the writing.

In spite of this complaining, some writers found a market for their titles. Others found an audience of readers. Sure the sales weren’t New York Times bestseller numbers for most titles, but self-published authors, print-on-demand authors, and e-book writers were making inroads and gaining ground. Slowly.

But this year I’m seeing things really start to turn around for Print-On-Demand books, self-published books, and e-books. For the first time I’m starting to see more of these titles gain market share with readers. And I’m starting to see more titles from these publishing mediums getting critical acclaim.

I’m also starting to see more authors who use these mediums taking control of their own destiny when it comes to the fate of their manuscripts. Instead of giving up when the publishing houses reject their manuscripts, many writers are now taking advantage of the numerous publishing options available to get their work on the market. For the first time the power in marketplace looks like it’s shifting from the publisher to the author.

And that has a lot of people who work at the publishing houses worried about actually competing with self-published books, print-on-demand books and e-books. With authors now becoming more knowledgeable about the publishing process and software like Adobe Photoshop, Acrobat, and Quark, and other desktop publishing software, the quality of self-published books, print-on-demand books and e-books is improving. From what I’ve seen on recent books, the covers are professional quality, and the editing on spelling and grammar inside most titles are almost equal to the quality of a book that made its way out of a publishing house. Retailer discounts are the same as the costs publishing houses offer bookstores and many authors have full returnability on their titles.

With so many options available to them, savvy writers are now spending their money on self-publishing fist rather than on the expensive query process. Resources an author would have spent on querying publishers are now being spent printing books and promoting them to readers.

And that has a lot of publishing professionals scared. As the marketplace for books changes, many in the publishing world have no idea if they’ll still be able to find employment when the dust clears. Who needs an agent to represent them if the writer is representing themselves? Who needs an agent to sell their book to a publishing house when an author is selling their own books to customers? Why sell all the rights for a small advance when the writer can keep all those rights to their work and control how they’re distributed? Why cut someone in for a meager ten percent royalty on the list price when an author can make thirty to sixty percent royalties on the same title?

And who needs an editor to approve a book project if the writer is approving their own projects for publication? Who needs distribution when authors are going direct to customers with Amazon and online retailers? And with bloggers, online book clubs, and social media, a writer can get the word out about a book to more readers faster than Kirkus or Publishers Weekly ever could.

Many who work the publishing industry are being forced to adapt to the changing state of the publishing world. Some literary agents and editors are pondering offering services to self-published authors like editing, proofreading, and consulting. Others are offering to write reviews for self-published books for a fee. Everyone is struggling to adapt and survive in a new and different publishing world.

The 2010 publishing world is a much different place than the one I entered in 1994. The playing field for writers is becoming a lot more level than it was back then and writers have a lot more power than they did sixteen years ago. I never thought I’d live in a world where a writer can publish a book for a couple hundred dollars and get it on amazon. With the popularity of the kindle and e-books I have a feeling that the publishing world is going to open up more and give writers more access to the reading audience than ever before.

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