Chicken Little, Go Home!

The publishing sky isn’t falling! At least not as far as I can tell. Last week there was some good news from the publishing world:

Amazon’s revenue beat forecasts and jumped 18% in the third quarter of 2008 compared to the year before. (Read the article.)

Fiction reading apparently had a significant increase from 2002 to 2008. (Read the article.)

It’s true that the publishing world is changing. The way people read is changing… we have many options besides ink-on-paper books. The way people buy is changing… whether it’s online versus brick-and-mortar stores, or new versus used.

The one thing that isn’t changing is the fact that people are still reading (even if we’re reading Facebook and Twitter and blogs). So the question we need to be asking ourselves is, how will we adapt to the changes? How will we keep on providing people with what they want to read, how they want to read it?

I think various options in self-publishing, niche publishing, and ePublishing are becoming more and more viable for writers. Many analysts are predicting the rise of self publishing. eBooks are the present and the future. This is especially true if you have a non-fiction book on a specialized topic. You may be able to reach your target audience much more effectively than a big publisher, and with focused marketing it’s possible you’ll sell more books and even make more money than if you went with a traditional publisher.

I’m noticing more independent regional publishers these days, and I think they’re a great option for people who aren’t having success going the usual route. Apparently, Colorado has more independent publishers than any other state, and you can contact the Colorado Independent Publishers Association (CIPA) to find them. Search the Internet for a similar organization in your own state. Small regional publishers can be a great alternative to the two ends of the spectrum—traditional large international publishers and self-publishers.

The downside of looking at these options is that they require you to be proactive and have an entrepreneurial spirit. Since my inbox is already overflowing with letters from writers who clearly don’t want to be anything but WRITERS (moan, whine, I’m not a marketer, moan, whine, I’m not a publicist, moan whine, I just want to write my books) I know these options may not look attractive to many of you.

The dream of writing the Great American Novel goes something like this: Author writes book. Publisher loves book. Author gets fat check. Publisher does everything else.

As you know, this dream is all but dead (and if it’s still alive in you, start putting it out of its misery right away). The truth is that if you want people to actually READ your work, it’s going to take more proactive involvement from you, no matter which route you choose.

I’ve met several authors who weigh the amount of work they’re going to have to do if they publish traditionally with the amount of work if they went the self-publishing route. They determine they may as well take matters into their own hands, keep control and self pub. This is mostly true for people who are writing non-fiction books, especially things like health, business and other self-help. However, if you’re writing “niche” fiction that’s harder to sell (like fantasy or sci-fi) you may find a niche or self-publisher serves your needs. (I’m hoping that as self-pubbing becomes even more accepted, it will be professionalized a bit more, with editorial and design help so that authors can present a quality product.)

Where will agents fit into all this? I think that as traditional publishing gets smaller, there will be fewer agents. Many of us will alter the type of work we do… moving more into packaging or becoming publishers ourselves. Some may choose to leave publishing altogether.

In any case, things are changing and we’re going to have to keep up with the changes rather than bemoan them if we’re going to be successful in the business of publishing. Traditional publishing is going to keep shrinking, in my opinion. Rather than be scared or depressed about that, let’s keep looking at options for getting our written work into the hands of those who want to read it.

P.S. Nathan Bransford blogged in a similar vein yesterday: It’s the End of Publishing as We Know It. (And for the record, I feel fine.)

Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent looking forward to many more great years in publishing!
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  • Lisa Jordan

    >Change is scary for many people because it forced them out of their comfort zones. Being a writer requires a bit of flexibility. No matter what your career is, you need to be willing to market yourself and abilities. Otherwise, how will the general public find you?

  • Sharon A. Lavy

    >Thanks for the positive comments. We need to be adaptable to change or we won’t survive in any aspect of our lives.

  • Richard Mabry

    >”It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” You know, maybe the guy who said that was a writer. Thanks, Rachelle, for the dose of reality contained within a coating of chocolate.

  • Yvonne

    >Ok… so since we are to be proactive in promoting our books, do you have some specific advice as to how we can do it? (especially if it’s fiction)

    How soon could we contact a bookstores or libraries to schedule booksignings? Wouldn’t we have to have a contract with a publisher first?

    What can we do while we’re waiting for an agent to read our manuscript? (did I say that out loud?)

    I want to be involved with the publicity area; I just don’t know how.

  • Marla Taviano

    >Thanks, Rachelle.

  • lynnrush

    >Thanks for the post, Rachelle.

  • Krista Phillips

    >It befuddles me at times to hear writers denounce the requirement to publicize their own work. I understand that as a stereotype, we’re all shy hermits that sit at our desk in a dark room and type on old typewriters and never see the light of day.

    And I can honestly say that I, who can be pretty introverted when I’m out of my element, understand and believe in the need to market and publicize. The story is the product, the author’s name is the brand, and I, the future author, need to get the ‘brand’ out there.

    Am I all giddy and excited about the thought of marketing my books when God makes the huge miracle and allows them to be published? Not really, but I’ll do it anyway and put my heart into it, because that’s the only way my books with get into people’s hands. (Anyone ever see the cutting edge, where the hockey dude turned figure skater stands beside the rink and is so nervous he pukes behind the curtain??? That’s me! ha!)

  • Timothy Fish

    >Authors making a living from self-publishing are the exception, not the rule and an increase in the number of self-publishers will only make them more of an exception.

    It may sound good to say that writers who only want to be writers are going to have to suck it up and get to work, but is the goal of a publisher is to produce the finest product possible, it is the wrong attitude to have. There is often truth to the saying that the Jack of all trades is the master of none. I suspect part of what has created this mentality is that publishers don’t have to pay authors, but I have worked for two very large companies. It blows my mind when I consider all of the thousands of people who are working off in their little corner and then to have all of that work come together into one extremely complex machine. Success is possible only because the people involved are focused on what they have the ability to do.

    I’m not saying that an author shouldn’t have part in marketing. For that matter, what would be the fun of writing if you don’t get out and see your fans? What I am saying is that the result will be better if the primary focus of the writer is to write and the publisher hires people to do the rest.

  • Kat Harris

    >… It’s the End of Publishing as We Know It. (And for the record, I feel fine.)

    Great. Now not only will I have this song stuck in my head all day, I’ll have that scene from “Tommy Boy” stuck there, too.

    :-)

    Great post today!

  • Rachelle

    >Kat, I totally feel the same way. Blame Nathan. I’ve had the song stuck in my head since I read his post yesterday.

  • Rachel

    >I’ve had a very interesting conversation with Terry Whalin about this same topic. Everybody check out his website (or ask him on twitter to link you to the page you need). He has a publishing plan that allows writers who aren’t as interested in marketing and distributing (but do want to make $$ and enjoy a significant readership). It sounds very appealing to me, although a writer would have to be very aggressive in securing a critique group and free-lance editor since no one is going to tell you “I won’t publish this stupid book…”

  • Dara

    >I was going to say: this sounds a lot like what I read on Nathan’s blog yesterday. It must be the big talking issue amongst agents. :)

    I know things are changing and beginning to shift, especially towards self-publishing. I’m really hoping I don’t have to go that route because it takes a great deal of money to do, which people like myself don’t have. (I got curious and checked Lulu’s site and it’s $350 for the basic package).

    I don’t mind trying to market myself (even though I haven’t the foggiet idea on how) but again, good marketing takes money, and often a great deal of time, for which many writers with day jobs and families may not be able to do.

    I’m hoping that if things begin to shift more towards self publishing, that it becomes a little more affordable.

    Perhaps I ought to start saving money now in case I am unable to go the traditional route :P

  • T. Anne

    >I feel fine as well! I agree with the poster above who mentioned the demand for good editors will be on the rise. Writers may see a future where they have to shell out the money for editing and promotion. I don’t object to that. Already you can go to a vanity press that offers editorial servies, then upload your book to Kindle. Then there’s Author’s Buzz who offer marketing services, or like websites.

    I worry for the future of big brick and mortar bookstores. Will they go the way of the big music stores, that don’t even exist anymore in my area? If so too bad, they helped foster my dream. It sure would be nice to walk in one day and see my novel.
    Anything you can do about that Rachelle? ;)

  • Timothy Fish

    >If the prices of self-publishing is the issue, CreateSpace.com (an Amazon.com company) has no setup fees.

  • Lea Ann McCombs

    >So, just speculating here…what do YOU see coming in the future for novelists?

    As an agent, and someone in the publishig business for long enough to understand the inner workings,you could give us your insights. What are your personal projections for the future of fiction, in particular?

    Don’t worry, we won’t hold you to it!

  • Kelly H-Y

    >Wonderful perspective! Thanks!

  • Achim Zahren

    >Most of us can no longer afford a new hard cover book at $35.00 plus (I know its a bit cheaper at Amazon) I think the market is going to take care of itself just as the music busness has to the dismay of some but to the delight of most of the rest of us. All this great new technology is bringing a democratization to this whole process none of us thought was possible.There are a lot of great bands that will never get signed but will continue to play because they love to play… and a lot of us writers will continue to write simply because we love to write…having said all that I would still be willing to accept a healthy advance on my next project.

  • Mama J

    >The whole publishing business morph raises some questions for me about self publishing, especially as I refer to Rachelle’s post of May 14 (which I recognize was an entire economic age ago).

    If it’s so hard right now to get a niche book published traditionally, will self published books still lack that stamp of approval that comes from “the endorsement of countless book professionals?” Also worth some post space might be the differences between publishing with indies and self publishing.

    Thanks to all for the timely thoughts.

  • Christina Katz

    >Rachelle,

    I’d be happy to send you a copy of my book, Get Known Before the Book Deal from Writer’s Digest Books, if you’d like to check it out so that you can offer the folks who fear self-promotion a primer on platform development. It doesn’t have to hurt!

    Cheers,

    Christina Katz

  • Avily Jerome

    >Thanks for the post, Rachelle!

    I, for one, am looking forward to the increase in smaller publishers. I think that will give everyone more opportunities, agents included.

    Thanks again for you blog!

  • elaine @ peace for the journey

    >Your a gem. Thanks for being fine with it all.

    peace~elaine

  • elaine @ peace for the journey

    >That would be…

    you’re a gem. Either way, you still shine bright.

    ~elaine

  • T. Anne

    >Rachelle,
    In response to your twitter feed… I love, love, looove Beth Moore! What a blessing.

  • Tessa McDermid

    >When I teach writing classes or workshops, I’m always asked about the marketing. For me, that’s part of my ‘writing’ time – finding the right market, promoting myself. If I don’t sell myself, who will? My publisher does some of the work but getting my name out there, letting people know the book is available, giving talks and workshops, that’s part of my job, too. Of course, I like talking about writing as much as I like writing (sometimes more!) so it’s not a complete hardship. Just another way to use my creativity.

  • Andrew

    >I suspect that the rise of self-publishing and easily-publishable e-books will flood the market with poorly-written work, and the imprimatur of a major publishing house will become, even more than it is today, a mark of quality. It’s happening now – just look at the wonderful choices we have in any major bookstore, and compare that to, say, 1990. E-books have been around for ten years or so, and self-publishing far longer…but commercial, genre, and literary fiction from established publishers are experiencing a bloom that’s remarkable. And that’s not all – twenty years ago, did you think you could get literary fiction in Wal-mart? At least in New Mexico, you can!

  • Jen and Kev

    >Rachelle: Overall, I was encouraged by this post. Thank you for brightening my day, which began with a car accident(no one was hurt but the car). On the other hand, I am confused. A few posts ago you said something to the effect of: “Don’t tell me in your query that you are a ‘published author’ and then list several self-publishing houses.
    Does this mean you, and other agents, will view self-publishing in a different light from now on? If we self-publish one project, will it still be difficult to find a decent agent for a future project? Or are agents changing their thinking?
    Jeanette

  • ~Jamie

    >I have been reading so much about the demise of the industry lately, and it is really stressing me out as a new author! I guess all I can hope is that if it’s good… then people will read it :)

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