The floppy disk was retired in March of this year and Sony has now halted the manufacture and distribution of the cassette Walkman — both are now obsolete — it begs the question, “What is the future of print books?” With self-publishing now deemed reputable in our digital age, book stores such as Borders launching self-publishing platforms, e-Books hot and outselling print books http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2010-10-20-ebooks14_CV_N.htm, authors have more leverage over their writing works and are no longer held hostage to agents and large publication houses, unless they choose to go via that route. With that said, authors have the added responsibility to not only write, but to know how the industry works in order to leverage their literary efforts to generate book sales.
Here is an article that I lifted from Jerry D. Simmons of WritersReaders.com that outlines the pros and cons that will benefit authors.
Forget the doomsday scenario; printed books are not going away. Their relevance in the market is going to diminish over time, but there will always be printed books. The biggest publishers are struggling with the notion that within the next few years the major chains may well disappear. As sales continue to decline the two largest bookstore chains in America are barely hanging on and all indications seem to be that both are on the verge of insolvency.
Just like Blockbuster and Hollywood video the mega-bookstore may well be nothing more than an historical notation with empty buildings and faded memories from long removed or faded store signs. The credit squeeze from major publishers means these large companies can only order so many books to place on shelves. Should either of these two chains suddenly file bankruptcy the publishers that subsidize the inventory do not want to be in a position of holding the bag for unpaid and unsold books?
Without an unlimited supply of credit from major publishers to order more new copies it becomes a Catch-22. Publishers are limiting their exposure and the retailers need more copies of titles to sell. Ultimately the consumer is the loser because the older backlist titles that everyone shops for and buys will no longer be readily available aside from a special order. It is truly a sad day for the major publishing houses not to mention the few remaining readers of this country who actually buy books.
What Happens Next?
The big New York companies are doing two things, (1) they are systematically over time eliminating positions within the company, and (2) cutting their list of titles and reducing acquisitions of new manuscripts. It becomes a downward spiral where retailers point the finger at publishers for their problems and publishers point the finger at retailers for falling sales. This puts the squeeze on new writers and agents since each need an open market for selling new manuscripts. It also leaves writers without the open source for marketing their writing.
The result over the past several years has been an explosion of self-published books. The lack of new title publications that has cut the market for new writers only exacerbates the bigger problem–how do we sell more books? Many in publishing have left because they were frustrated with the big companies’ lack of innovation and unrelenting quest to do things as they have always been done, regardless of the results. This is why the major companies are suffering today and on the verge of what could become a meltdown similar to what we experienced in the financial world two short years ago. Do not misunderstand, I’m not equating what happened on Wall Street with what may happen inside the boardrooms of major publishing houses. I’m merely suggesting the publishing world could be on the verge of a meltdown.
There will be no Washington bailout of the publishing companies but there will be a transformation. Publishers are going to have to redesign their future in an environment where printed book sales and prominence are in decline, digital publishing is exploding and the rights of authors are being challenged by the writers themselves. This creates an opportunity for writers that never existed.
You have to start with the premise that content is king. Well written, professionally edited manuscripts that inform, entertain and even enlighten are going to become the new gold standard in publishing. Up to this point the major companies have shifted too much of their focus to publishing celebrity books with built-in publicity and not focused enough on the quality of the work itself. There is no plausible reason why a TV star should receive a seven figure advance for a single title when that money could have been invested in several potential bestselling authors who up to this point are unpublished and unknown.
For too long the major companies have searched for the quick bestseller as opposed to building a steady stream of consistent, predictable mid-list titles each with the potential for break-out. The seasonal lists of publishers became top heavy with bigger and bigger single titles while cutting the heart out of the very fabric that provided them with most of their revenue and profit, the mid-list author. During the transformation publishers will be forced to forget about a single seven figure advance and move toward signing more authors with quality content.
What Writers Should be Doing Today
You can’t worry over what may or may not happen, the important thing to do right now is write and market. Even though you may be unpublished or published with few sales you have to share your work with readers. It is very important to write articles, blogs, or anything that will allow readers to read your work. Building an audience via social media specifically and the worldwide web in general is the best and least expensive way to market your writing.
If you are worried about piracy, as I’ve told many that attend my presentations, the bigger concern should be obscurity. You do not need to copyright everything and you certainly do not need to concern yourself with someone stealing something you have written. Like myself, I’m the author of this piece and have stated that “all written material is Copyright 2010 Jerry D. Simmons.” If you add the universal copyright symbol “©” with your name and year you should be protected, as far as this protection allows. No one is completely protected from piracy even with a certified copyright from the US government.
Once the gates of acquisition again swing wide open, publishers will be searching for more quality content than ever before. However, the key will be how much content and how well written and edited. As the industry reinvents itself the single most important thing for writers is to create content. Work with a professional editor to refine, revise and rewrite your work making it the best it can possibly be. Then market yourself and your writing to as many web sites as possible. Place yourself in a position when the call finally comes that you are ready and have a lot of material to be published.
We will see a transformation and those that prepare will benefit the most.
Industry Knowledge Will Become Paramount
While the publishing business redefines its model, writers need to become market savvy. When a publishing committee evaluates manuscripts for possible purchase and publication they look at many things. One is whether or not the author is marketable but the new area of consideration will be whether they understand the basics of the business.
As the big companies take a new approach to the way they purchase and publish manuscripts the marketability and market knowledge each writer has will become more important than ever.
Publishers today spend entirely too much time dealing with the small, petty issues that authors come up with. Editors spend too much time on the phone explaining and comforting, while marketing people waste precious resources trying to make each author happy. Executives are struggling to figure out how to get themselves out of the mess. The coming meltdown will be the perfect exit strategy for the old ways of doing business while the new author profile will be created. That new profile equates to market knowledge, basic understanding of the business, and how to maximize opportunities with your publisher.
If you do not read your category competition then you need to start. If you don’t keep up with industry topics then start familiarizing yourself with them. If you have no clue how books are prepared for publication, worked through the system for marketing and sale, then you really need to start educating yourself about the business. Publishers are not going to take care of your individual personal needs in the future, they won’t have the time and will not expend the resources. Those days are over!
Read, learn, listen to how the business works. Visit bookstores before it’s too late and start to plug yourself into the marketplace by observing how it all works and how the pieces fit. The new author mantra will need to be “how can I help you (the publisher) sell books.” That along with lots of good content and market knowledge will elevate your value as an author and give you the best opportunity to signing a future contract.
What You Don’t Know
Over the past seven years I’ve attended more than one hundred writer’s conferences and what surprises me more than ever is the lack of information about publishing. I understand these conferences are for writers and learning to improve skills however the end result, the book, has to be sold. I’ve contacted many conferences across the country that has rejected the idea of speaking on topics that relate to publishing simply because their focus was on “writing.” That is a bit naïve for me since good writing should be published which eventually must be sold to someone somewhere.
The biggest shock to most writers is what they do not know and were not even aware an issue existed. Unless you’ve worked behind the scenes and actually watched the sausage being made (so to speak) you wouldn’t know what to avoid or be concerned about. My job has been and will always be to answer questions and provide guidance to writers in publishing their work. It’s unfortunate but this business is not complicated, it just takes experience in the process to understand the questions as well as the answers.
What you as a writer do not know about publishing may not only hurt you but damage or destroy your future career as an author. For those publishing on their own frequent mistakes include perception problems, packaging and pricing errors, lack of market positioning, plus an overall void in understanding what distribution actually means for your book. For those seeking an agent it includes how to market and position your career to the agent and eventually your editor and publisher.
This is a very competitive business that requires certain marketplace knowledge to survive.
Print Versus Digital
This is a question I get most often–why do I need an eBook when I have a print book? The answer is because it provides you with an entirely new market. An eBook is nothing more than a new format for your writing, much the same as a hardcover is a different format from a trade or mass paperback. Different formats provide new audiences since some eBook readers are not print readers and vice versa. If you must choose one over the other at the moment the eBook has advantages in open markets and distribution while the print does not.
The same concerns for eBooks exist as they do for print, mainly you must create a professional product that is packaged, priced and positioned for the market. There are already tons of companies offering low priced everything for eBooks and the same principles that hold true for print hold true for digital–buyer beware! In publishing you never want to rush and you absolutely never want to buy on price. In addition you must be knowledgeable about who is handling your content. Are they reputable? Were they recommended? Do you know anyone that has used the services of the company or person? Do they have a contact number in case of problems? Are they located in the US? And the list goes on and on. Due your research, network, and trust the company or individual handling your writing.
Copyright 2010 Jerry D. Simmons