Thursday, September 27, 2012

The New Reality for Writers

The publishing industry is changing beyond all recognition - but it seems that writers are the last to catch up.

I read an article the other day written by an established author of sixteen years. Her wisdom and experience echoed many of the things I've been saying for a long time...

The new reality is that it's getting harder and harder to get published by traditional publishers - for many reasons, which I'll outline below. But that it's getting easier and easier for authors to become successful independently of the traditional publishing industry.

The Internet - and Amazon in particular - has made it entirely possible for authors to circumvent the need for publishers at all!

A determined writer can now find their own fans and sell their books directly to their readers, without having to sign publishing contracts, spend years rewriting manuscripts to the publisher's satisfaction, or try to live on the pittance of royalties offered to them - if and when they ever get them!

In the old days, when publishing was young, writers like Dickens  and Conan-Doyle could make serious cash by selling their work to periodicals. They were also offered royalties of around 90% for the privilege of having their work published through 'distributors'.

Over the years, these distributors became the traditional publishers we know today and the royalty rates have dropped considerably. Down to around 5% to 15% IF YOU'RE LUCKY.

Now, publishing has always been a hit and miss affair. The ability to see a bestseller coming has eluded most everybody. It used to be that a publisher could afford to put out a hundred books if just one of them sold a truck load.

The music industry used to work the same way: one bestselling pop star in a hundred would fund the 99 other musicians who were trying to create something meaningful - art, in other words.

But commerce moves on - and the need for art - in music and books - and film for that matter, diminishes.

There is now only one concern.

The bottom line as they say.

Will it make money? 

We don't live in a world where talent is nurtured and art is given free reign - except if you do it alone.

We now live in a world where money is key to every commercial decision. Since the 1990s, publishing has become a much more corporate enterprise - where the need to make money overrides art almost every time.

Let's go back to the author I mentioned at the beginning of this article to look at her experience of the publishing industry - and be not fooled - it is indeed an industry.
Let's call her Nancy.
Nancy had a romance novel published once, over sixteen years ago. The publisher helped her to shape it into what they wanted. It had a shelf life of roughly a month with some translation rights coming through about a year and a half later.
So far so good.
She's written several books since in all sorts of genres and though she's got agents and publishers all over the world, the reality of being a published author is not quite as she'd once imagined.
As she points out, it takes anywhere from two to three years to get a manuscript from submission to publication - and the process is getting longer, not shorter - because the demands of marketing departments are making an horrendous impact on the writing process.
Nancy likes to write novels but - like many full time authors these days - now she spends much of her time writing proposals for novels instead.
Agents and publishers now feel the need to vet books before you write them. They want to be sure your novel presses all the right buttons for the target market.
Now, I don't know if you've ever been involved in an artistic project that is created by committee but what usually happens is that the art gets quickly diluted.
After just a few prods at a project by commercially oriented individuals, the project can begin to look very formulaic and unoriginal - which I must assume is just the way marketing people like it!
Nancy is now thoroughly disgusted by the way the publishing industry works.
It's slow, overly focused on money and not very conducive to creativity.  Worse, it doesn't even pay very well anymore!
Nancy was horribly disillusioned by the endless reworking of her proposals, the never ending rewrites to make her novels apparently more commercial - a pointless and destructive exercise in her mind.
After sixteen years, she was about to give up writing altogether.
Nancy found salvation online.
She now writes the novels she wants to, puts them on Amazon Kindle for free, and she sells them direct to her fans - usually within a week of finishing her books.
As she says, why would you want to make your fans wait two or three years for a sequel to a book they want NOW?
And why would you keep re-writing novels to publisher's whims and specifications when your fans like the way you write already?
Kindle is a writer's dream come true. 
The Internet is a writer's dream.
You write - you get paid. How easy could it get?
Plus of course the royalties you get from selling your own work is getting back to the way it should be. 70% on Amazon. 100% if you sell it yourself.
There's no reason in the world why you would want to go through traditional publishers anymore - unless you're a masochist or just can't see that the world has changed...
Enough with the lecture!
Go and get The Write Stuff - it's all in there!
Keep writing!
 rob at home

"Sit down, and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his  own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it."

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