Thursday, April 11, 2013

Publisher Monpolies and Indie Competition

The last few years have seen a tremendous amount of change in the world of books.  The Big Six are on the verge of becoming the Big FiveAmazon has cleared the way for a whole host of people who were previously ignored by traditional publishing to make their way in the e-book market.

Although some people will talk as if traditional publishing is still the only path to success, those of us who are read up on what's going on know better.  It used to be that in order for a writer to be taken seriously, he or she had to sign with a literary agent and land a deal with a traditional publisher.  Starry eyed authors were regaled with tales of how some agent found a diamond in the rough and brought that writer to the heights of stardom.  However, the slush pile is getting even slushier, and a lot of traditional publishers are reacting to current trends in the same tone deaf manner that the post office exhibits when it raises the price of stamps because its revenue stream is down.

While traditional publishing still has some level of success in getting books to market, the door for those not yet in the know is open less than a crack.  Traditional publishers know that most writers are so desperate to get a deal that they'll fork over all their rights for the chance to lick the boots of some New York editor, so the tiny fraction of talented people who find a way in are roped into servitude without even knowing what's going on.  Mid-list writers tend to stay there, and it takes an incredible stroke of good luck, translating into multi-million dollar sales, for an author to regain a smidgeon of control.

The demise of brick and mortar bookstores has had an impact on this.  With fewer distribution channels, there's less of a chance to get novels to market.  A book has to quickly prove itself or it's shoved out at the first opportunity to make way for the next hoped for success.  Unfortunately, this gives almost no time for casual readers to find that next great work.

But there's another aspect at play in this, and that's the indie writer.  Authors like Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey have shown that if a person of talent can just get their work in front of an audience, they can make quite a handsome living.  Even writers previously published through traditional houses, like JA Konrath, have come around to think that there is a better way to bring in the public than through a traditional house.  Many publishers and agents complain about the quality of work, but all the indie movement has really done is move the slush pile into the public eye, and the market is determining who succeeds and who fails, rather than an editor at a desk in Manhattan.
(Look who's crashing the gate)
Were I just to come into the writing market with no inkling of current trends, I'd bemoan my opportunities.  After all, small presses have mostly gone away, and fewer new writers seem to be getting picked up.  I'd be going to conventions and cold calling agents, probably begging them to listen.  I'd write off not being taken seriously as an indication of a dying industry, books in general, rather than understanding the paradigm shift that has occurred.  The new pathway into traditional publishing success now seems to be to make it on the indie circuit and get noticed, thus improving your bargaining position if a traditional publisher does indeed come calling.  And if not, then an indie author can still make a better living than most mid-listers who will toil in irrelevancy, criticizing "those self published hacks" while not realizing those hacks are making a better living with more control over their work than those shackled to a traditional publisher.

True success nowadays means controlling your destiny, something you're much more likely to do if you first demonstrate staying power in the indie realm first.  That way, you have the option of signing or staying indie, flexibility those who've signed contracts, all of which are heavily weighted towards the publisher, don't have.

So don't despair in the constricting world of traditional publishing.  Instead, rejoice in the leverage that the new world of indie publishing has given writers.  The inmates don't yet control the asylum, but we've now forced management to the bargaining table.

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