It’s a Brave New World (and I’m Late to the Revolution.)
Over the past few years, the ongoing revolutions in print-on-demand and e-books have greatly changed the landscape for writers. And I’d been so focused on getting published the traditional route that the revolution, now in full bloom, snuck up on me. It’s now become simple, easy and inexpensive for authors to publish their work independently with services like Createspace, Kindle Direct, and others – and distribute them to readers worldwide through online giants like Amazon and Apple.
A lot of brave pioneers blazed this path with their hard work and perseverance, and now every writer (including myself) can follow the road of independent self-publishing with (relative) ease. And I want to thank them all.
One of the biggest problems with the old system has always been the finding and developing of new writers. Sure there are plenty of success stories, but for every writer who managed to get traditionally published, there were thousands who didn’t. (And all the recent self-publishing success stories should prove that some great books don’t make the cut under the old system.)
And for every new writer who becomes successful by being published traditionally, there are hundreds whose books fail to sell. That’s a horrible ratio, but it’s not that those books are bad – the problem is with the way the old system works.
It’s not the fault of the traditional publishers, it’s the result of the economic model under which they operate.
They need to find new writers to survive, so they do publish as many new writers as they can. But each new writer whose book they publish requires a huge upfront investment. And knowing most of those books will fail (under their system) they publish a new crop every year in the hopes that one or two will be big successes that help underwrite the cost of the rest.
But with independent publishing, the writers themselves can publish at little cost, which means more new writers can publish, and it’s easier for those books to be successful.
Traditional publishers push books by new authors out onto bookstores shelves for a limited time (and usually with little promotion) – and if the books don’t catch fire with readers right away, they fall by the wayside, because traditional book and mortar stores don’t want to waste shelf space with books that don’t sell.
But under the new system, self-publishers can keep their books available online indefinitely, giving them time to find an appreciative audience.
Because of their business model, traditional publishers need bestsellers to be profitable, so that’s what they look for. Editors love good books, but if the marketing people don’t know how they’d sell a book to a mass audience, it likely won’t get published. (And we’ve seen how well they know what sells.) It means the business of publishing isn’t concerned with what readers really like.
Who does know what readers want, what they enjoy? The readers themselves – and thanks to the internet, book lovers today can find what they want to read, either by browsing virtual bookshelves themselves or by following the recommendations of fellow readers who enjoy the same kinds of books.
So this revolution hasn’t just leveled the playing field for writers, it’s put more power into the hands of the readers, too.
Continue to Part 2
(*I’m not an expert on the publishing industry, but I’ve read enough about it over the years to have picked up a few things.)