Adapting to a Changing Industry

It is now widely accepted that the publishing industry is changing–or rather, has already changed. Electronic books have been gobbling up an increasing share of the market, and the brick-and-mortar bookstores that have dominated in the past are struggling to stay afloat. Of course, such a huge change also affects how new and aspiring writers must conduct their own business–getting in.

The bad news first: the traditional publishing path is getting harder to break into. Even before e-publishing, big publishers were affected by the worsening economy, just like any other industry, and have had to become pickier when taking on new talent. And as I discovered talking to agents and editors at World Fantasy Convention last year (something which I highly recommend you do, if you can), not only are they becoming pickier about the talent, but also certain aspects of the goods you are offering. Book length, which wasn’t much of an issue ten or so years ago, is becoming critical in many of the eyes of these agents or editors. Doorstoppers, they say, are no longer in vogue in the marketing and accounting departments. Of course, exceptions apply, but one must keep in mind that they are exceptions.

It gets worse. E-publishing, which has garnered tremendous success for authors such as Amanda Hocking, isn’t a sure thing either. In traditional publishing, you get a fleet of editors, artists, publicists, as well as advertising–for free (in fact, they pay you). In self-publishing, you have none of these things unless you do them or pay for them yourself. While self-publishing has become far more attractive since the advent of e-publishing, you might still sink a hundred bucks into the cover art, only to make fifty bucks selling your book online, all the while thinking that you would not only profit from your venture, but become filthy rich. While I don’t have exact figures to back up my claim, I’m sure that people who have had that experience far outnumber those who have had successful careers e-publishing, even more so than the rockstars like Hocking.

Worse are those stuck in the middle, unsure of which path to take. Some people in the know claim that it is unwise to sell your e-publishing rights to big publishers, that it will end up costing you in the end. But that assumes you will achieve success, and how does one do that all by himself? I, myself, am plagued by these doubts, and I know other authors in the same position.

But despair not. There is a silver lining to these changing times. While publishing seems to have become a dangerous frontier where anyone can get lost, in it there can be discovery, and with that, opportunity.

Solutions can be found with perseverance, as well as something we all should have in excess–creativity. While it seems that there is an either/or type of dilemma–traditional publishing or e-publishing–one need not be bound in such a way. I shall describe to you what I am planning. It is untried, for me anyway, but I think there is a lot to recommend to it. Feel free to adopt it as your own, should you find value in it.

I am writing a novel which I hope to sell to a traditional publisher. But while I’m doing that, I am also writing a collection of short stories which will serve as an introduction to the world of the novel which I plan to release in electronic format in the very near future, at a low price. While this approach may not seem, ahem, novel, consider the implications.

If and when the novel is published by a traditional publisher, my potential readers will have an opportunity to check out my writing without spending $30 on a hardcover by reading my collection online. Also, anyone who reads the novel and likes it will be able to get more of the same by purchasing the collection as well. All the while, I’m using the publisher to indirectly promote and support my short story collection without them getting a dime from it–ever. All the rights and most of the money for the collection, I retain. Success in one venture feeds into success into the other.

Good idea or not, recipe for success or not, what this should show you is that there are ways of standing above the norm in these turbulent times. All you need to do is apply your mind to the task of building a world in which you achieve success.

5 responses on “Adapting to a Changing Industry

  1. Jason

    That’s actually exactly what I have been planning. (Insert “Great Minds Think Alike” cliche here.) I write a short story for every quarter of the Writers of the Future contest within the world of the novel I’m concurrently working on. Each story encompasses a key moment in the history of the world and will, when I have at least 7-8 stories completed, be published electronically as an anthology. At least, that’s the plan.

    Though I do hope to break into the publishing world through the traditional method of acquiring an agent and editor, I can’t deny the fact that, as with everything else affected by advancing technology and societal requirements for instant gratification, publishing is changing. E-publishing seems to be the vision of the future. Hopefully, as the popularity of this little site of ours increases and we gain a modicum of exposure, it will provide an effective outlet to promote our e-publishing endeavors, and possibly even help us break into traditional publishing.

    Great post!

  2. KylieQ

    It’s not a path I’m looking to take (or, at least, not at the moment) but I’ll be watching with interest to see how it pays off.

  3. Brandon M Lindsay Post author

    Thanks, Jason! I know, I’m kind of feeling the same way. I wrote this post a week or two ago, but I’ve been beginning to warm to going e-pubbing all the way after hearing about how New York publishers having been shorting their authors on ebook royalties. I heard about that from authors who have a big publisher, so I don’t think it’s merely a rumor, and some of those same authors are talking about jumping ship. Definitely scary times.

  4. Andrew

    Your strategy is an interesting one for sure. From a marketing perspective, I can envision a simple, perhaps one page, website to promote the short stories. It would contain links to downloads, re-posting links for people to share on twitter/FB, author’s bio, news and maybe even a “contact Acme publishing to request this series” button.

    The role of traditional cover art could be used to style the look and feel of the website. Here’s an example from another industry http://www.popcap.com/games/pvz/ . Perhaps you could team up with an aspiring artist and let them share in the promotions (and cost?). I’d imagine someone is doing this somewhere already. If so, I’d like to see it.

    Anyhow, let us know how it goes. Good luck.

    @andrewbarton

  5. clancy

    Brandon, I wish you luck. I think e-pubbed short stories are a great way to get your writing out there while waiting to get picked up by a big house. You’re building an audience and they can see your writing. I’m hoping to do the same.

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