But all the time working outside gave me time to think about the state of the publishing industry and some of the blogs I've read lately. Maybe folks in the industry are doing the same thing because con season is now in full swing. Maybe it's because Amazon's new payment scheme goes into effect in just a few days. Whatever the cause, the blogs are alive with thoughts about where publishing is going, whether or not the public is ready for the "inevitable" flood of self-published authors and what the next big thing is going to be.
Before getting into the heart of my post this morning, I just have to share this. I've made no secret of my dislike of sparkly vampires and emo werewolves. I'm a traditionalist at heart when it comes to ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night. So, imagine my glee to read that Stephanie Meyer, she of the Twilight series, is tired of vampires. All kidding aside, I have to applaud her desire "not to write it badly". So she is waiting until she can be excited about the story again. While she does, will someone please step in and write some non-sparkly vamps for YA and adults? Please?????
Laura Miller has a wonderful article that asks if the public is ready for the influx of self-published books that are already hitting the online stores:
One thing is true: Aspiring authors have never had more or better options for self-publishing the manuscripts currently gathering dust in their desk drawers or sleeping in seldom-visited corners of their hard drives. Writers can upload their works to services run by Amazon, Apple and (soon) Barnes and Noble, transforming them into e-books that are instantly available in high-profile online stores. Or they can post them on services like Urbis.com, Quillp.com or CompletelyNovel.com and coax reviews from other hopeful users. If a writer prefers an old-fashioned printed copy of his or her opus, then all of these companies (and many others) would be more than happy to provide print-on-demand services, producing one hard copy at a time whenever one is needed.
"Digital self-publishing is creating a powerful new niche in books that's threatening the traditional industry," a recent Wall Street Journal report proclaimed. "Self-published books suddenly are able to thrive by circumventing the establishment." To "circumvent" means, of course, to find a way around, and what's waiting behind all those naysaying editors and agents, the self-publishing authors tell themselves, are millions of potential readers, who'll simply love our books! The reign of the detested gatekeepers has ended!
She goes on to point out that what the public will find itself faced with is a huge slush pile. Freed from the need to find and agent and go through the submission process, there are fewer checks and balances on quality of craft and quality of formatting. What this will mean, in the long run, is still up in the air, in my opinion (and I'll have more on this below). In the meantime, it really is a situation of buyer beware and be aware when purchasing an e-book if you don't check to see who the "publisher" happens to be.
Agent Lucienne Diver has an excellent post this week on "The Next Big Thing". As writers, we are always trying to figure out market trends, what the public likes and doesn't like, what is getting bookstore placement and that always elusive critter -- what does the editor want to see. "Deciding what to focus your attention on is a necessary part of the business, and one of the reasons it’s good to have an agent on your side to brainstorm and do career planning with you. However, you need to keep in mind two things: 1) where your strengths lie and 2) you never know when family sagas will come back into vogue. . . The point is, if a saga, or a thriller, or a science fiction extravaganza is where your heart lies, if it’s where your strengths lie…not just based on your opinion, but those of critique partners or professionals around you…you should go for it." (the family saga was her example of what a client might be wanting to write.)
According to Ms. Diver, you should write what calls to you because if you, as the writer, aren't engaged by the story, there's a pretty good chance the reader won't be either. Remember, the books on the shelves right now were bought months, even years ago. She suggests reading the trade magazines to see what is selling now. Check out the post for a list of several very good magazines to watch for market trends. The caveat she throws out is, "I’m not saying that you should be deaf to the markets, either. If you’re writing within a genre, it’s important to know what’s intrinsic to that genre. . . It’s important to have an awareness of which market you intend to be your primary. Publishers can only put one thing on the spine, which helps bookstores decide where the books should be shelved and readers decide whether your book suits their tastes. Books that are not quite one thing or another pose a bit of a problem. There can be quite a bit of genre blending, but in the end, it’s the focus of your novel…is it saving the world or getting the girl, for instance…that decides it."
So, back to how this all fits together. There are authors bemoaning the advent of more and more venues where people can go to self-publish that book they haven't been able to get out through traditional means. There are others, like Ms. Miller, wondering if the public is ready to delve into the slush pile that will result from the influx of self-publishing options in this digital age. I'm not sure how the dust will settle. What I do know is the readers on the Kindle boards are starting to demand that Amazon put in place some sort of editorial minimum for anything published on the Kindle. Amazon has been known to pull e-books if there are too many complaints about poor formatting. To be included in the "premium" catalog at Smashwords, there are certain formatting requirements that must be met. Other e-book outlets such as Fictionwise require a minimum number of previously published books or a publisher or author with a minimum number of authors or pen names AND at least 10 books (iirc) to be offered through Fictionwise for inclusion in their catalog.
What does this mean? It means that some sites are requiring some minimum level of quality control already. I have a feeling we are going to see sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and others slowly requiring editorial minimums as well. But what I really think we'll see is the level of proof-reading will improve over time. Why this and not editorial requirements? Two reasons. First, for whatever reason, it seems easier to pick up on the oddly formatted paragraph or page, the misspellings, etc., in an e-book than in the paper copy. Or maybe it's that we are less forgiving in an electronic format because it is easier -- and cheaper -- to make the correction digitally than in recalling hard copy books, reprinting and redistributing them. The second reason is, in my opinion at least, one of the reasons the print book is suffering now and why so many e-book readers are willing to try small press and self-published e-books. There are too many books on the shelves now that aren't entertaining, aren't well-written and -- and this is what is inexcusable, in my opinion -- aren't well edited.
Will we, as readers, have to wade through a bunch of slush in our quest for good books? Sure we will. But we do that now. E-books have an advantage here. Most e-tailers allow you to download a sample of a book before you buy it. It may be a few pages or even a few chapters. That's more than enough to know if you like a writer's style and if the plot is going to grab you. All I know is that I've discovered a number of authors I'd never have read by checking out the freebies offered for the Kindle and by downloading samples of authors recommended by other readers on the kindle boards. As readers, we're going to have to educate ourselves to what is out there and the best way to decide who and what we want to read without wasting too much money. As writer, we're going to have to educate ourselves on the best way to reach and keep our readers.
I'm actually excited about the changes in the industry. Will there still be a need for agents and editors? Absolutely. They are, as we've said in the past, the gatekeepers. However, there is room in the industry for those authors who publish through small presses and who even self-publish. What do you think?