Is the author dream of ‘getting picked’ by a publisher still possible when so many traditional publishers are in trouble? The answer is a resounding yes, but not for the reasons you may expect – as I’ll explain…
There’s no denying it – digital publishing in the US market will eventually eclipse print publishing, something that most traditional book lovers simply don’t wish to hear.
As much as we may love the idea of holding a printed book in our hands, the reality is that fiction paperback publishing is in steep decline. In 2011, Amazon announced that sales of Kindle Ebooks had surpassed their hardcover and paperback sales combined, and this trend will surely only accelerate from here.
E-readers such as the Amazon Kindle™ (or alternatively, e-reader apps on smartphones and tablets) will soon become as ubiquitous as cellphones are now. Eventually, printed books may well fulfil only smaller niche roles – such as beautiful, limited-edition hardbacks for collectors.
But it’s not just the publishers at issue here, book stores are disappearing, and without book stores, there is no function for a publisher that relies on them as outlets.
Furthermore there is yet another factor looming: Social peer pressure. I have noticed that people reading printed books in cafes and aircraft have to suffer the pitying glances from Kindle readers that indicate: “You are the only person in here reading an old fashioned paper book.” This alone will help accelerate the change.
But what does this mean for aspiring authors? What can they do?
If people are not buying so many printed books any more, does this mean there won’t be publishing houses? And if there are no publishing houses, who does a writer give their manuscript to? Will they be forced to self-publish, even if they’re not comfortable doing so?
The short answer is no. You’ll still be able to get a publisher, who will not only continue to publish some of these books traditionally, including through Amazon’s ‘Create Space’ print-on-demand service, but increasingly as an EBook, and promote it for you.
My view is that print books will take a long time to disappear – if ever – although what may eventually happen a decade or more from now is, as I surmised earlier, that traditionally printed books could become more specialized and viewed as ‘collectibles’. Even printed pulp fiction may last well into the future, because the cost of a cheap paperback is not hugely significant, and given that so many readers simply refuse to give up paper books, the demand is still there. And it is demand that drives the industry.
Fundamentally of course, the most effective pathway for authors is not so much to seek to ‘get published’, but to join forces with a publisher to jointly find their readers, and grow readership.
But overall, the ‘Author Dream’ of being published is alive and well, and in fact is going to be accessible to more authors than ever. And here’s why:
As Long As Authors Want Someone To ‘Publish Their Book’, There Will Be Publishers
Let’s be honest – the majority of writers don’t want to ‘handle the whole process themselves’, no matter how easy you tell them it is. For every indie author who’s willing to roll up their sleeves and cut out the publisher middle-man, there are five writers who simply refuse to do this. They steadfastly maintain that their skill set is writing, not publishing or marketing. This is despite the fact that authors clearly play a vital role in finding their readers.
Perhaps you fall into this camp yourself?
Most writers just want to write the best book they can, and hand it to a publisher to ‘do the rest’. “I’ll handle the creative writing process, you handle the rest in exchange for a percentage” goes the deal. That’s always been the author dream – write a great book, get picked by a publisher, and they do the rest.
So does the decline of print publishing spell the end of this ‘author dream’?
No – not at all. It might be hard to see the magnitude of this at first, but it’s the very demand arising from these ‘just want to write’ authors that will ensure that publishers remain key players in the Ebook-dominated future. As long as there are aspiring authors with great stories out there who are not willing to go down the DIY pathway, there will be big publishers offering such expertise.
But here’s the interesting thing: what these publishing houses will need to offer you (in exchange for taking a percentage of your profits) will change radically.
What Publishers Will Do For You In The Future E-Book World
Three of the major functions performed by print publishers today are printing , physical distribution, and negotiation with bookstores. But none of these things are relevant to digital publishing.
There is nothing to print, nor is any physical distribution required to get an Ebook into a digital marketplace such as on the Amazon Kindle, or the Apple iPad.
And perhaps most importantly, there is no limit on the number of titles that can be housed on the digital ‘shelves’ of Amazon. Where publishers currently negotiate with bookstores over which titles to stock, and how much physical space they can have in-store, no such negotiation is required with online Ebook stores (who have unlimited digital ‘space’).
Does this mean (shock, horror) that the great publishing houses, the New York ‘Big Six’ in particular, are redundant?
Hardly. Quite the opposite is the case in fact. They can potentially become MORE useful and appealing to ‘writing only’ authors.
Publishing houses, while still doing cover design, editing, formatting, uploading, are moving into promotion & publicity. This is where the publishers will make the difference that keeps them relevant in the EBook age. Editing, formatting, cover design and uploading books to Amazon alone will not be enough for publishers to maintain their position in the market alone, because freelancers are able to fill this space already.
Publishers wanting to take a percentage of profits are starting to provide writers with media publicity, building beautiful blogs for them to write for, offering training in social media promotion, arranging book blog tours, and going as far as running online advertising – because that’s what creates the ‘critical mass’ required to kick-start the process of word of mouth recommendation, and actually sell lots of books.
As I said before, the most effective pathway is for writers not to seek to ‘get published’, but to join forces with a publisher who will help them find their readers and grow readership.
To survive and thrive, in my view all publishers need to do this joint audience-finding process with authors, also become ‘author book publicists and promoters’, use simpler contracts, and dramatically increase the royalty percentage they pay authors from 10% to far northwards of 40%.
I am convinced that the current ‘Big Six’ publishers are aware of this and are planning to adapt quickly to this changing landscape. If they don’t they will be usurped by new, more enterprising publishing/publicist companies. In fact I can see several that have already emerged.
But either way, there will still be a publisher for your book.
These Changes Mean Your Author Dream Of ‘Being Published’ Is Alive And Well
These earth-shaking changes to the industry might seem confusing, but are great news for writers, because there’s more and easier options. In the old days, only a tiny percentage of writers ever ‘got published’, because publishing houses only ever picked a very small percentage to publish. Now, there is no barrier to getting published at all, and it’s very fast.
For those looking to stick to writing only, the new ‘promotional’ publishers will be accepting submissions. (Some already are.) These publishers are a little different to the ones you see right now – as I’ve just described. In fact, from this point forwards, we’ll also be seeing various ‘tiers’ of publishers charging different percentages or fees, depending on how much risk they take, and how much they promote their authors.
But If You’re A Writer Who STILL Can’t Find A Publisher, There’s Room For You Too
If you know you have a good book, but still fail to be picked by publishers, it’s now even easier to self-publish on the Kindle than ever. It’s increasingly straight forward to buy, at remarkably low cost, a proven quality, done-for-you package deal of outsourced editor, cover design, formatting and uploading.
As an author you then take time to learn the simple ways to effectively use social media such as Twitter and an author blog to find your readers, connect with them, and grow an increasing readership.
Furthermore, you can choose this indie pathway right from the outset to maximise profits. Earnings can potentially start from the moment it goes live on Amazon after upload. Normally it takes two years for book to see the light of day after acceptance of a manuscript.
And remember, it’s also an effective pathway to getting a deal with a publisher later on when you successfully publish on the Kindle first. In fact, you’ll find the information you need about this here: ‘How To Get A Six Figure Book Deal’
So I Don’t Have To Worry About Promoting My Book. The Publisher Will Do It All?
Sorry, that’s not how it is going to work. Traditional publishers will still be signing authors and shouldering the responsibility for the promotion of those books, but not in the way you think. In the new world of publishing authors will be required to MEET THE PUBLISHER HALFWAY and co-operate in building this online visibility.
Publishers will do high quality editing, formatting, cover design, and uploading to Amazon. They will also design beautiful blogs and websites for authors, plus they’ll structure, develop and manage all the promotional activity. But it is the author who’ll actually carry it out.
It is the author who appears on Facebook and Twitter, and who writes the blog posts. It is the author who actually picks and pins on their Pinterest page, and does the blog tour, even if it is organised by the publisher. Most authors I know are quite happy to do this as long as a publisher is guiding their activities in an organised way.
So which authors will be ‘picked’?
Here’s the reality. Given a choice between two books of equal quality to choose from, a publisher will always pick the author who can demonstrate they have some online promotional capability and can help promote their book.
This means that authors must learn the ropes long before they even think of approaching a publisher, because the publisher will not want to train an author in social media from scratch. Given a choice, they’ll pick the ‘already promotionally savvy’ every time.
In sum, there’ll always be a publisher for you if that is your dream, but only if you’re prepared to pitch in. These are the days – the greatest time ever to be an author.
What are your thoughts on the changes to the publishing industry? Do you still want to ‘get a publisher’? Or will you self publish?
This is an emotional issue for writers. Do leave a comment below.
Article written by Jonathan Gunson
Author / CEO Bestseller Labs
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