Wednesday, October 17, 2012
The end of traditional publishing
When I was thirteen I bought a lot of CD's. I would spend time flicking through the alphabetically lined racks for Madonna, Guns and Roses, or the soundtrack for Days of Thunder (actually that was on LP - oh God, I am old enough). I would turn it over and look at the pictures. I would pull out the little booklet and pray that the lyrics had been printed inside so I could learn them and prove that I was a real fan by singing along when it came on the radio. I loved the whole process of CD buying. I still love music, but yet I haven't bought a CD in at least three years. Why? Because instead of going out to the shop, I download all the music that I want. I open up my computer and within five minutes and five clicks the album is there. No wait, no petrol, no crazy shoppers, and no temptation into Zara to buy clothes that I have no need for. I also love reading the newspaper, but I don't buy those either. I have the internet for that too.
So what about books? I might buy the occasional book, but the last seven that I read were all on the Kindle, and the only time I went near the bookshelf lately was to dust it. So in a world where we are craving our information and our products instantly, the question for a writer like me is this. Is traditional publishing and the way we used to purchase our books dead?
According to one online source, yes. They even gave me a date, and for your information it happened sometime in 2008, just in case you missed it. I however am not so sure. When I go to the local store there are plenty of books. When I go to the beach, there are plenty of people reading books too, and I mean paperback ones that trap grains of sand and that by the time you get back home they emit the smell of coconut sun lotion and spilt mojito. I too worshipped at the house of the literary agent when I first finished my manuscript. I eagerly got myself a copy of the Writers and Artists yearbook and duly sent the 'finished' work to as many people I could. They sent it back too, along with a rejection letter which at first hurt like hell, but by the time I had read the twentieth didn't sting quite so much and at least made me re-edit. Now I thank the anonymous agents for the nudge in the right direction, but at the time all I wanted was their approval. I wanted them to love me. How needy I once was.
So why are so many people claiming that the world of traditional publishing is over? Well, for starters, people believe that publishing the traditional route is so elusive. Of the hundreds of manuscripts they receive only a few will be read, and out of those even less will get picked for reading by ‘a higher power’. Where does that leave hundreds of writers who want to be published? Ten years ago it left them on the doorstep with sore knuckles and a head full of broken dreams with their only hope self publishing, which at that time was considered almost as bad as remaining unpublished. Oh the shame of having a self published book back then. It was like beating Linford Christie when you knew you had only got through the dope test by sheer luck. It was tainted. Actually, it was worse. It was more like losing to Linford Christie and knowing that you had only got through the dope test by sheer luck. It was tainted, and it was failure. Now however it leads us directly to the door of Amazon, or Smashwords where there is no shame in self publication. Everybody knows now that there is quality to be seen in the indie publishing world, and the only people who don't want to say it out loud are the traditional agents and publishers.
It might also be because we see previously well respected traditionally published authors stepping over onto our side of the deal and releasing their own work and representing their own brand. And by this what I really mean is taking their own cut and making their own money. Why in a world where publishing electronically or print on demand is so easy that a ten year old could do it would a writer that stands to sell, let's say a million copies of his or her book willingly hand over a significant chunk of the profits to an agent, another significant chunk to the publishers, and only take the money that's left once everybody else has got paid. The alternative is to publish themselves, let Amazon take it's acceptably small chunk, and then keep the rest in their own overfilled pocket. Maybe we should ask Amanda Hocking. She is a great example of a writer who absolutely and undeniably made it on her own, and now she is happily signing a deal with St Martin’s Press. Why? Probably because it’s a damn sight easier than doing everything yourself.
So my belief is this. The world of publishing has changed. Anyone that thinks it hasn’t is clinging onto outdated ideas, and probably the arms of their editors or agents chair by their finger nails. My other belief is that traditional publishing is still alive. Maybe it’s not quite as healthy or powerful as it once was, but it is still there. Anyone who disagrees is probably (bring on the bad comments) an aggrieved self published writer who wants to dance on its grave. Would I still love a publishing deal? Maybe, if only to avoid the look of pity on people’s faces when they ask who my publisher is and I tell them me. But as a self published author who is sitting averagely comfortably in the 1,490, 779 books that are currently in the Kindle list on Amazon I’m pretty happy so far with the process. I’m not a millionaire yet, but I’m working on it. Traditional and self publishing are never likely to form a symbiotic relationship. But perhaps rather than spending our time trying to belittle each other we should as authors accept that the love of literature and books still exists. It is cherished by many, and as long as that remains true any decent author stands a chance. I’m happy to take my shot in whatever form is available to me.