The State Of Publishing

When I was in school, I read about the Industrial Revolution, and all the changes it brought, some good but some pretty harsh. I realized the other day that we’re in another one of those revolutions. I don’t know what they’ll end up naming it — the Communications Revolution, maybe, or the Technology Revolution, perhaps. Whatever, books are right there in the middle of the fray, it would seem.

Interestingly, five years ago, on this blog, an acquisitions editor for a reputable Christian publisher said, “As for Amazon sales, those are NOT indicative of true sales.” I doubt if anyone is saying that today. There’s been a revolution. In fact, I just read in The Writer magazine that projections say Amazon will have 50% of book sales by the end of this year. Fifty percent!

Of course this revolution isn’t happening without those who want to fight back. Amazon’s being accused of turning into a monopoly with plans, not just to become THE book seller but THE publisher, what with their print-publishing venture.

How you feel about this revolution probably depends on how you’re connected to the book industry. One thing most people in the know seem to agree upon: Amazon is ignoring the way things have been and has created a new model based on what’s best for the consumer ( i. e, the reader).

In an industry where publishers, distributors, agents, and occasionally authors bicker with one another about issues great and small, Amazon has simply turned its back and addressed the issues from the perspective of the customer. (“Consider The Elephant” by David Malki, The Writer, Nov/Dec 2011.)

Hence, readers can buy books at a lower price, with greater ease, and perhaps with more knowledge about the product, than ever before.

Authors have mixed feelings about the encroachment of Amazon on the publishing scene. They are changing the landscape, without a doubt. As traditional publishers hunker down, they have fewer and fewer slots available, so only The Big Name authors seem likely to be happy with traditional publishing. Those being squeezed out, not so much. Are they happy with Amazon? Not necessarily because they are competing with an ever-growing field of writers who have discovered the ease with which they can get their work in print or on e-reader screens. Make that, Kindle screens.

Publishers, acquisition editors, even possibly agents are in the opposition to this revolutionary take-over threat. After all, they’re losing their gate-keeper role. If they don’t come down on the side of opposing the greater Communication Revolution — that is, if they approach the changes in the business with vision, embracing the technology and the opportunities afforded by social media — they have a chance to maintain a small piece of the pie they so recently hoarded.

For an unpublished writer like me, this is an interesting time for certain. There are many more options available than ever before, but will they be paying ones? In other words, can a writer ever again make a living as a writer? Not that many did before the start of the revolution. But an accompanying question is this: will writing suffer if it becomes littered with hobbyists rather than professionals?

I suppose newspaper people thought the same thing when blogs first came out with all kinds of divergent opinion, but in the case of news and politics, I think consumers care more about facts and opinions than they do the prose with which those are expressed. Blogging suddenly made it possible for the guy who used to chaffed because his letter to the editor had once again been ignored, to suddenly have his own column and his own loyal readers and the chance to write those letters to the editor in the form of comments on other blogs. Suddenly his opinion was getting out there and getting read.

Fiction is a different animal. There’s a bit of art to entertainment, and passionate people who haven’t learned the craft may be disappointed that their books won’t find a way out of the growing morass of similar stories.

The new question — but really, it’s old — is, how does a writer separate from the pack and become noticed? Writers who find an answer will most likely be the ones who navigate the newest crossover — from digital/self-publishing, to traditional. Or will that be, from traditional publishing to digital/self-pubbed?

One closing thought. Thank God He knows what’s going on! 😀

Published in: on February 8, 2012 at 6:52 pm  Comments (2)  
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  1. Wow Rebecca! After returning from the Writer’s Digest Conference in January with my head spinning, I’ve been trying to blog and talk about this exact topic but you have just written a 100% better explanation/analysis than enything I have come up with . KUDOS!! Here’s my additional two pennies…with the vast number of books written by “hobbyists” getting published outside the traditional model, there’s quite a few unedited, poorly written books out there. The old slush piles are now getting published! I think it is becoming more and more difficult for a reader to find the good quality stuff. I HOPE the quality novels (and by quality I mean well-written, entertaining stories) will find their audience and thrive. Personally, as an avid reader as well as a pre-published author, I think the genius/entrepreneur who figures out how to rate, review, categorize and just generally pan the gold out of the mud so readers can “browse” the selections with more ease and success will be the one who truly “wins” in this revolution. I know there’s tools on Amazon and GoodReads, but…I don’t know. IMO, someone needs to come up with something better.


  2. Thanks, Trisha (she said while trying really hard not to be envious of Trisha’s attendance at the WD Conference! 😉 )

    Seriously, you’re so right that the slush pile is now being published, but I also suspect the slush pile has doubled or tripled in the last decade. The number of writing conferences or retreats has increased, the number of writing instruction books has swelled, the number of bloggers giving writing tips has mushroomed, the number of freelance editors has soared. I have to believe the number of manuscripts is likewise escalating.

    I heard one industry professional address the “how are readers going to know what to buy” question by suggesting that there will be a sorting out period (which we’re in), but eventually there will surface some trusted sources that prove to be reliable. They will have the ear of the public and can start genuine buzz. Think Oprah, when she announced what book her book club would feature.

    I don’t know that it will be a TV personality, though. I know there are other media personalities, however, that can sway a great number of people by their endorsement.

    But back to what this speaker (I can’t remember now who it was) said. He suggested writers start banding together in their own … guilds to help promote each other’s work. Not so different from what the publisher once did. I’ve already seen some writers move in that direction.

    I think there really could be a place for this kind of enterprise — someone honest, with nothing to gain by rating books, the way Publishers Weekly does, but for broad public consumption. Still, not everyone can read every book, so we’re still at the point where the author has to have some way of separating from the pack, even to get the new gatekeepers to notice.

    I come back to the final point in the article. Thank God He knows what’s going on!



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